The first sight to greet visitors as they enter the courtyard of the Long Shop is the barrel of a gun. (It belies of course the warm welcome of this wide-ranging museum.)
It’s there because this was one of the weapons made at the Garrett Works during the Second World War – alongside bigger, twin barrelled Naval artillery, more nimble anti-aircraft guns, and shells by the thousand.
The piece on display is the QF (Quick Firing) 12 pdr Mk V. It was a well-proven design introduced by the Royal Navy as long ago as 1894 (the Mk I) as a ship to ship weapon, but it was still playing a major role during the Second World War when no less than 3,494 Mk V’s were manufactured in a number of factories including Garretts. They were used on Destroyers and armed merchant ships for surface bombardment and as an anti-aircraft weapon. Others were used on land in fixed positions for Coastal Defence.
This one was on board an armed trawler
While this one was installed in a fortified coastal position at Hurst Castle
Here in Leiston several guns made at the works were given to the local Home Guard to defend the town against enemy attack – early in the war the low-lying East Anglian coast, including nearby Sizewell Gap, had been identified as a possible invasion route. The Home Guard manned permanent 12-pounder emplacements on Aldeburgh Road, Abbey Road, Valley Road and Sizewell Road. In the event of ‘Action Stations’ two more guns were to be taken from the Works and deployed to protect Saxmundham Road and West End Road. Firing armour piercing and high explosive shells they were more than capable of destroying any German tanks that crossed a Suffolk beachhead.
The 12-pounder fired a 3” shell (weighing 12 pounds) up to a distance of 10,740 metres. (Putting this in context – if the Long Shop ever declared war on Saxmundham Museum they’d be in range).
Shells were manufactured in workshops at the Station Site, naturally under blackout conditions.
Garretts designed special lathes to turn the shell casings more efficiently
The other guns made here were the Oerlikon and the Naval 4 inch Twin Gun.
The Oerlicon quick-firing machine gun was usually mounted on the deck of a ship as a short-range anti-aircraft gun. Ironically it was based on a pre-war German design which sometimes resulted in Allied AA guns firing at Messerschmitt 109s armed with mechanically almost identical weaponry.
The QF 4 inch Mk XVI Twin Gun armed Battleships, Cruisers and Aircraft Carriers. It could hit a target at 18,150 metres (Southwold would be in range). Sadly we only have a painting by war artist Edward Swann of the manufacturing workshop
But HMS Belfast still has a real one.