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A post on a model railway Boche buster model train pack highlighted an event that would be know as 'The King's Shot'. 


It is an event that is recorded in the The Royal Artillery War Commemoration Book (The  King's  Shot (pages 295 - 296)


The Royal Artillery War Commemoration Book



During May, 1918, there arrived in France two 14-inch "railway" guns - the heaviest used by the British Army during the war.

Each gun weighed 270 tons with its mounting, 90 feet in length, moved on four "bogies" having a total of 20 wheels, and fired a shell three-quarters off a ton to a range of 20 miles.

These guns were taken over by the 471st Siege Battery R.G.A., and no battery could have been prouder of its equipment - the finest guns yet manned by the Royal Regiment. One known as his Majesty's Gun "Boche Buster'" was sent to the neighbourhood of Arras under Major S.M. Cleeve R.G.A. ; the other, His Majesty's Gun "Scene Shifter", under Captain M.B. Elderton, to the vicinity of Bethune.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  


At 2 o'clock on the afternoon of Thursday, August 8th, 1918, H.M.G. "Boche Buster" was waiting at the firing position at Maroeuil with the gun detachment , a fine burly lot of men, specially selected for their physique and experience, formed up alongside under Lieutenant R. W. Tickner, R.G.A.


Suddenly a ripple of excitement spread over the waiting parade. Congratulatory murmurs could be heard, and broad smiles of felicitation appeared on the faces  of all present. It was the colonel of the "group", resplendent in a brand new and glistening pair of French gaiters, donned for the occasion.


Soon after this a number of motor-cars came around the corner, and from the leading one  out stepped H.M. the King, who went straight up to the gun and climbed on to the loading platform, followed by the battery commander, who accompanied him around the top of the mounting. The King frequently stopped for explanations. Arriving at the loading platform, General Sir Henry Horne, who was with the party, asked his Majesty whether he wished to see the gun fire. The King answered "Yes", and asked what target it was proposed to engage, and was told the railway station of Douai, some 18 miles distant.


The gun detachment sprang to their positions in action, and the gun was loaded and elevated. The section commander, who was on the gun sight, did not know the King was looking on just behind him, and turning suddenly round from the sight,  was surprised by finding himself confronted by someone on the very narrow gangway. His look of extreme indignation, followed by a barely suppressed and somewhat vigorous expletive, tickled the King immensely, who, suggesting they were apparently in the way, led the file back on the loading platform and down the latter to a position some little way off.


The gun then fired, and thus began the opening phase of the bombardment of Douai railway station that was not without its effect on the big push by the 4th Army that started that day east of Amiens.


The King suggested, as Douai station was a very important railway centre, that if a certain number of rounds were fired from the gun at uncertain intervals during the night it would probably hamper the enemy in sending re-enforcements from the north  to the big battle of the 4th Army down south. The night saw twelve more three-quarter-ton shells put into Douai station.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  


After the armistice, when the civilian population returned to the town, evidence was obtained  from them showing that this first shell to land in Douai was an absolute "O.K.", bursting right in the centre of the railway line and causing enormous damage both to the permanent way and to German rolling stock concentrated in the station. It came as a complete surprise to the Germans, who from that day onwards never used the railway station again (though they repaired the actual line each time it subsequently became damaged), excepting for clearing the forward area preparatory to retreating.


This, when it came to light, was a source of much satisfaction to the battery, as the round had always been known among the men as "The King's Shot," and was looked upon them as having marked the turning point of the war, bringing luck to the battery and victory to the British Armies.



THE KINGS SHOT [Source: Imperial War Museum]




Two 14  inch (356mm) Railway Guns were constructed at the Elswick Ordinance Work, Newcastle Upon Tyne. The barrels came from an uncompleted order on a Japanese battleship and were offered to the War office in August 1916. The offer was accepted and the barrels were mounted as railway guns. [1]




Once completed the guns were shipped to France via the Military Port of Richborough arriving in France 26th May 1918. [2]




The 471st Siege Battery was formed on the 17th July 1917 in Press Heath. [3]  When the guns deployed, they were allocated to First Army [4] coming under their control on 8th June 1918. [5] The guns would operate as two subsections, each allocated to a separate Heavy Artillery Group (HAG) ; Left Section, HMG Scene Shifter was allocated to 55 HAG; [6]  Right Section HMG Boche Buster was allocated to 26 HAG. [7]


The gun was hauled by its own locomotive. It could be loaded from a purpose built ammunition wagon or by cranes on the gun lifting  ground dumped ammunition. A separate train carried gun stores and personnel.






On the afternoon of the 20th June 1918, Boche Buster conducted its first mission firing 14 rounds at Libercourt Station (15km NE of Lens), which was observed by aeroplane. One round hit a building and one on a railway siding. [8]  Boche Buster was in action again at 5:36pm on the 31st July 1918, firing two rounds on Dechy Station (2km SE of Douai) observed by aeroplane. The pilot reported an "excellent burst and round fell on siding". [9] 


Boche Buster was garaged at Savy when not firing [10], moving to Maroeuil where the shooting log of the 26th HAG records the rest of the group was located [11].  Boche Buster was located on a specially built curved spur built of a siding next to Maroeuil Station. [12]







The War Diary of the 26th Heavy Artillery Group records "H.M. THE KING visited 471 S.B. (14" Gun) at 2pm 8/8/18 saw gun fire at DOUAI [13]


On the day of the visit the British Fourth Army had launched an offensive eastward from Amiens, which was the start of the 100 Days Offensive that would ultimately result in the ending of the first World War. Douai was an important rail junction through when reinforcements and materiel for the battle to the south would pass.








IWM Q 11462 King George V watching a 14-inch railway gun of the 471st Siege Battery



IWM Q 11463 King George V inspecting the breech of a 14-inch railway gun of the 471st Siege Battery



IWM Q 11464 King George V watching the laying of a 14-inch railway gun of the 471st Siege Battery







King George V and Boche Buster


The 'Kings Shot' was fired at 2:50 pm, unobserved, the fire mission classified as a Harassing Fire. [14]




From 4:30 pm and through the night, the 26th Heavy Artillery Group conducted a series of Destructive Shoots and Harassing Fire, targeting railway stations and junctions. The batteries within the HAG fired 196 x 6 inch rounds (488 SB & 527 SB) and 162 x 9.2 inch rounds (461 SB & 521 SB). The 12 inch rail howitzers of 52, 65, 444 Siege Batteries fired 27 rounds on  dugouts and billets. Boche Buster engaged Douai Station firing 12 rounds. [15]


It would seem from evidence collected after the armistice that the 'King's Shot had been a target round " that this first shell to land in Douai was an absolute "O.K." [16]









The Imperial War Museum holds a film of the Kings Shot which was recorded as part of a film entitled   WITH BRITAIN'S MONSTER GUNS IN ACTION. The relevant section starts at 12 minutes - H.M. King George V inspecting 14" Railway Gun known as the "Boche Buster"  8th August 1918


Catalogue number IWM 218: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060008215


An oral history recorded by Stewart Montagu Cleeve, the Battery Commander of 471 Siege Battery at the time of the Kings Shot, recalls this time with the Battery including an account of King George V visit. 


Catalogue number IWM 7310: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80007113


An account of The King's Shot written by Jeff Dorman is attached and can also be found on the web archive:


The Kings Shot https://web.archive.org/web/20110718094804/http:/www.chakoten.dk/cgi-bin/fm.cgi?n=770


Great War Forum thread: Boche buster model train pack



[1] British Artillery Weapons and Ammunition 1914-1918 - IV Hogg & LF Thurston page 196

[2] Allocation of Units - 471 Siege Battery

[3] Lineage Book of British Land Forces 1660 - 1878 Vol 2 page 705  - JMB Frederick

[4] Allocation of Units - 471 Siege Battery

[5] WO95-187-5 War Diary First Army Deputy Director Ordnance  Services  June 1918 - 8-June-1918

[6] WO95-545 War Diary 55 HAG - 8-June-1918

[7] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - 8-June-1918

[8] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - 20-June-1918

[9] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - 31-July-1918

[10] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - 2-Aug-1918

[11] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - Shooting Report 8-Aug-1918

[12] CLEEVE, STEWART MONTAGU (ORAL HISTORY) Tape 15 Catalogue number IWM 7310: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80007113

[13] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - 8-Aug-1818

[14] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - Shooting Report 8-Aug-1918

[15] WO-95-218-4-1  War Diary 26 HAG - Shooting Report 8-Aug-1918

[16] The Royal Artillery War Commemoration Book- The  King's  Shot page 296




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