Last Firing of 25 Pounder Guns in Europe
By Mike Humphreys
the end of July the Irish Army bade farewell to one of its’ main
artillery pieces for the last 60 years – the 25 Pounder gun/howitzer
of WW2 fame.
Ireland bought 48 of these guns in 1949 after they had served through the
1939-45 War. Six of these were destined to fire live rounds for the very
last time on the afternoon of Thursday 30th July in front of
a large crowd of veteran gunners gathered in the Glen of Imaal to
witness their passing. This very picturesque spot in the Wicklow Mountains became a firing range in the days of Empire and has been used by the Irish Army since.
As members of The
Garrison we were very privileged to be invited to Ireland to provide a
display centre piece for the event and witness the final shoot.
We had travelled the
day before and taken Mike Peacock’s Morris Commercial CDSW Gun Tractor
which is a rare survivor of 19 bought by the Irish Army in 1938. This
was transported, with a limber, on the back of Jeff and Melvyn Bean’s
company DAF from Leeds to Liverpool, and then via P&O cargo ferries
to Dublin. I kept Melvyn company whilst the other members went via the
As guests of the
Director of Artillery, Colonel Ray Quinn, we were extremely well looked
after throughout our time there. For our accommodation we had the delights of a barrack hut, in Coolmoney
Camp, a few miles from the range. In the event this proved very spacious
and comfortable and we all slept soundly, but perhaps that was the
The Morris and limber
moved up to the range late morning to be coupled with a high gloss 25
pounder used for ceremonial purposes. Alongside was parked an French ALM
4.4 ? bought to replace the CDSW and also attached to a ceremonial gun.
Thursday proved to be
a beautiful day apart from a very heavy shower, whilst the Army was
serving a hot lunch. We were treated to one of their new 105mm guns
being competently flown in by an Air Corps Westland Augusta helicopter
and then fired. Apparently this was the first time this had been done.
Our host was the very friendly
Colonel Eamonn Fogarty of Curragh Command whilst the welcoming
address was made by Director of Artillery, Colonel
Ray Quinn who is soon to retire. Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Dermot
Earley, then replied. Both spoke affectionately of the 25 pounder
and its long association with the Irish Army. The list of VIPs included
the US and Russian Attaches.
highlight, of course, was to see the final firing of the 25 pounder,
albeit from a safe distance. Quite something, I must say, having
previously only ever seen the same on film. The job of firing the very
last round fell to Colonel Quinn himself, which no doubt will remain a
very memorable event for him. The
crowds soon dispersed afterwards, but we remained to pack up and see the
6 guns towed from the range.
Barbeque at the camp followed, and then a great night was had by all at
the local pub despite the cost of drinks. Even a Ceidlh band turned up
at 10:00pm to help things along whilst earlier there had been a gunners
sing along in the other bar.
The Garrison Chairman, and founder of the group, Jonathan Catton was
presented with a 3.7” cartridge by the Director of Artillery in thanks
for the help in setting the scene on the day with the CDSW and limber
display, Jonathan passed the cartridge on to Melvyn to improve his
3.7” anti aircraft gun display!
said of the occasion, “It was great to attend the event, a moment in
history that we can say “we were there”. It was good to meet so many
gunners and gunner / drivers and Sunrays ( CO’s of batteries ) with
vivid memories of using this equipment. We can now tell another aspect
of the life of the 25pdr field gun – the Irish link, when we display
our gun detachments with blank firing displays of the gun. Surely this
gun is a good example of value for money and those who designed the late
1930’s should be proud of producing such an efficient and reliable
piece of equipment.”
very early start on Friday was needed to catch ferries home, which
limited any further discussion on the trip. The other members of the
group were Chris Symth, Edward Seymour and Joseph Gabbott. We had been
very privileged indeed to be part of a unique event and I for one had
thought that I would never witness a live firing of the most famous
field gun of WW2.
The Garrison – Living History group, a UK based group who re-enact
with groups in Belgium and Malta , who have focused on re-creating a
field battery of 25pdr guns and the life of gunners during the 2nd
WW over the last 20 years.
6 guns are to be kept in Ireland for ceremonial and State occasions
whilst others will find new homes in museums at home and abroad.
These guns are still in service in Pakistan and that is where the ammunition was made for the firing.
After WWII, the 25 pounder was used in Korea, between Israel and Arab nations, and as recently as 2003 by Kurds against Saddam
The last time a 25 pounder was used in action by the British was 1972.
It was manned by SAS Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba, a Fijian, at Mirbat,Oman. Sadly Sgt Labalaba was killed in action. He had continued to fire the
gun by himself, although seriously wounded, and his actions helped to keep the insurgents pinned down until a relief
force arrived. You can see this gun at the Firepower Museum, Woolwich.
The creeping barrage laid down in the 1977 film a Bridge Too Far is
being ‘fired’ by the Irish Army 25 pounders.