By Heracles, this is the end of man’s valour!

(backdated a bit)

Back home, bros have broken up, and it is time to FRANCE! But first, to Portsmouth, and Fort Nelson on the cliffs above. One of “Palmerston’s Follies” (so named because it and its sister forts never saw action, due to the French, er, not invading) it is an utter tricksy bastard of a nineteenth century fortification, a squat damn-near-artillery-proof polygon fort defended by massive earthworks, sneaky invisible mortar batteries and caponiers (killzone ditches, think moats except instead of water there’s bullets). This, along with three identical mates, was intended to protect Portsmouth from land attack. And it is now the southern branch of the Royal Armouries.

So we rolled in at lunchtime, and it turned out that there was an Easter weekend wargeek event, hence the place was clogged with enthusiastic blokes dressed in WW2 gear with authentic weapons, and a hell of a lot of people I’d politely term “punters”; generally either right-wing patriotic /k/ommando types who muttered “shoot ‘em anyway” when the German reenactors surrendered, or just annoying fat old blokes trying to impress their grandchildren, getting their war story on and rambling about how the Lee-Enfield is the greatest weapon ever created. I’m an academic-type war nerd, and while it’s entirely the fault of my own elitist distaste for other kinds of war nerd, shit is lonesome.

So the cafe was ridiculously full of beefy people wearing khaki and feldgrau, and among them we nommed overpriced pastries and shortcake before exploring an exhibition of artillery down the ages, featuring foundry reconstructions, giant bronze culverin, an iron vase that fired arrows, and some truly beautiful dragon-shaped guns. We watched an actor type fellow in Soviet uniform talk about having fun as a sniper in Stalingrad (sounding fairly authentic in a rambling, mildly insane way, not sure about the tin can suppressor on his moist nugget though.) Great exhibition, with a truly huge range of artillery – highlights included Gerald Bull’s supergun and one of the bombards that downed Constantinople. Took tonnes of pictures but am unsure what to do with them, as most image sharing sites seem to be complete wank. Recommendations welcome.

Finally, all the reenactors (forty or so) loaded up with blanks and acted out a WW2 battle over the fort to an enthusiastic commentary and a hell of a lot of squibs going off.
“So did the Germans have any heavier calibre machine guns for vehicles and aircraft during WW2, or was it just the 8mm MG42?”
“Just? Son that’s all they needed, have you ever heard the sound an MG42 makes?”
And now I have.

Following the extreme wargeekery, a trip to another Portsmouth castle similar in function but completely different in form, and satisfactory if costly (a taste of things to come) fish and chips on the harbourfront by the RNLI station. Then to the ferry, through miles of flat tarmac staging areas crammed with heavy machinery and odd French lorries, and once the new car (same as the old car) was secured below decks in an echoey canyon of iron walls we found our berth (tiny, uncomfortable) and, er, abandoned it pretty quick as soon as we got under way. Later in the evening we saw Sherlock Holmes in the ship’s tiny cinema, replete with all the trappings of an over-the-top landlubber cinema except for a decent-sized screen, while the ship pitched and rolled around us, driving slowly south through the Channel to St. Malo.

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