Royal Naval Museum




The Field Gun Run


The Field Gun Run is a tribute to the Royal Navy’s involvement in the relief of Ladysmith during the Boer War in 1900, when guns from HMS Powerful were hauled to Ladysmith by the ship’s Naval Brigade to defend the town against the Boer attack.  

The field gun run competition first took place at the Royal Tournament of 1907. It is estimated that 15,000 men of the Royal Navy have taken part in the competition.

The gun run is divided into three sections. The first represents the guns being unloaded from HMS Powerful at Durban; the second the overnight transport of the guns from Durban to Ladysmith as the Boers surrounded the town; the third is the guns being put into position at Ladysmith to face the Boers.

The first section is called the run out. The guns are raced from the start position down the sides of the arena and manhandled over a five foot wall. Wooden spars weighing 170lb are erected and wires rigged across the 28 foot chasm. The first men are hauled across, carrying 120lb wheels for the gun carriage. The gun carriage and gun barrels follow, the gun barrels each weigh 900lb. The remainder of the gun carriages’ wheels and limbers are pulled through a hole in the second wall, called the enemy wall. Each gun crew then engages the enemy with three rounds.

The second section is the run back. All the men and the field gun have to be carried over the enemy wall, and back across the chasm. The combined weight of the gun barrel and gun carriage is 1250lb; and it goes over the wall in one piece! As soon as the last man of each gun crew - nicknamed the flying angel - is across the chasm, the rig is collapsed, and three rounds are fired in a rearguard action.

The third section is called the run home. At the sounding of the G on the bugle the final phase is to take all their equipment through the narrow gaps in the home wall. In a matter of seconds the wheels are on, pins are in, and the gun crews race flat-out to the finishing line.

The average time for the run out is one minute twenty-five seconds; for the run back one minute and for the run home twenty-one seconds. All three stages are carefully timed and these are added later to the crew’s actual running time to give the official time for each crew. Each crew competes seven times against each of the other crews. Only two crews run during each performance. A four minute run was first recorded in 1948, and three minute run in 1962. Nowadays runs in less than three are fairly commonplace. The last competition in this form took place in 1999.        

The Field Gun Run is still renacted in some degree by enthusiasts of the sport and public demonstrations and competions held. For more information, see the Portsmouth Action Field Gun website.


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©Royal Naval Museum Library, 2000

The information contained in this information sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available