Appendix 7: A Note on Artillery Weapons
(For particulars of the performance of anti-tank guns see Appendix 8. See also photos 21 to 31.)
On the outbreak of war the field and medium artillery equipment of the British Army and the various Commonwealth contingents was in a very backward state, consisting as it did of weapons which, with some improvements, were legacies from the First World War. The decision to abolish the shrapnel shell had made it possible for the War Office to consider replacing the existing 18-pdr gun and 4.5-inch howitzer by a single weapon which, by using different charges, could combine the steep angle of descent of a howitzer with the relatively long range of a gun. This led to the design of the 25-pdr ‘gun-how’, which was to make such a name for itself in the desert. But in the stress and urgency of the general rearmament of the Services it was impossible to produce everything at once, and many stop-gap measures had to be adopted. One of these was to alter some of the existing 18-pdrs to serve as ‘18/25-pdrs’, with many but not all of the merits of the new 25-pdrs. Some of these converted guns were in the Middle East in June 1940 when the war with Italy began, but there were also many unconverted 18-pdrs and old 4.5-inch howitzers which had a very short range; there were also some 3.7-inch howitzers—light weapons designed for carriage by pack-animals or porters. The reason was that from September 1939 to May 1940 the French front had had priority, and the Middle East had to make do with what was left over. The loss in June of all the British equipment in France made things even worse for the Middle East, because very little could be spared from the United Kingdom until the forces there were at least partly re-equipped. There was an added difficulty over ammunition, because production for the 18-pdrs and 4.5-inch howitzers had ceased on the introduction of the 25-pdr, so that the position was bound to be bad until the rearming of the Middle East with 25-pdrs could be completed. As it turned out, they did not even begin to arrive until November 1940, and as late as May 1942 there were still some 18-pdrs in use as anti-tank guns.
On the outbreak of war the medium artillery was in much the same state, for the existing 60-pdr gun and 6-inch howitzer were badly out-ranged by their continental counterparts. To remedy this serious defect the 60-pdr was re-lined and its bore reduced from 5 inches to 4.5, pending the production of a new 4.5-inch gun. An attempt was made to convert the 6-inch howitzer, but this was unsuccessful, and a new 5.5-inch ‘gun-how’ was evolved. These two new equipments, the 4.5-inch gun and the 5.5-inch gun-how, had a much longer range than the weapons they replaced, but here again their appearance in the Middle East was 427
long delayed. To supplement the 6-inch howitzers a number of American 155-mm howitzers were sent out towards the end of 1941, though they too lacked range. By May 1942 the first of the 5.5-inch gun-hows were on the way, and the 4.5-inch guns were arriving in good numbers, though their use was limited for some time by unreliable ammunition.
The question of mobility had naturally become of great importance with the replacement of the horse by a mechanical vehicle for drawing the gun and its limber. In 1935 the vehicles known as ‘Dragons’, which had been developed for this purpose on tank and tractor chassis, were discarded in favour of four-wheel-drive vehicles. The mobility of the existing British medium pieces had been improved by fitting them with pneumatic, in place of steel, tyres.
Another system, which was used for the anti-tank guns, was to mount the whole gun on a carrying vehicle from which it was run off before coming into action. This was known as the ‘portee’. A further development was for the gun to fire from the platform of its carrying vehicle. This method had been adopted in the Desert at the beginning of the war, when the 37-mm Bofors guns had practised firing from their 15-cwt trucks. When the 2-pdr anti-tank gun was introduced the War Office did not consider that it need be able to fire from the vehicle, and stipulated only that the gun should be capable of moving port& or towed. In spite of this view the Middle East made its own arrangements for strengthening a 30-cwt truck chassis to take the shock of discharge of a gun firing from the port& position. This method met with considerable success, and these guns sometimes fired off their own wheels and sometimes off the portees, but by 1942 the habit of firing from the port& was discouraged because the gun and its vehicle were so conspicuous that a great many had been knocked out.
The British had themselves very nearly solved this problem as far back as 1927, when, in connexion with the Experimental Armoured Force, they had carried out trials with an 18-pdr mounted on a tracked chassis, not as an anti-tank gun but as a close support weapon. The 18-pdr was not a suitable gun for this purpose and there may have been some confusion between the role of a tank which carried a gun and that of a gun which looked like a tank; at all events the idea of the self-propelled (SP) gun was dropped for the time being. There was an attempt to revive it in August 1940 for the anti-tank role, and a year later some 2-pdrs were mounted on a lightly-armoured carrier chassis for the purpose, but this was not a success and in any case the 2-pdr was already recognized as being too weak. At about the same time the experiment was tried of mounting a 25-pdr in an armoured box on the chassis of a Valentine tank, to serve as a support weapon for armoured formations. The first of these ‘Bishops’, as they were called, reached the Middle East during July 1942, but they had a poor range and were too slow. They were supplemented, and eventually replaced, by the ‘Priest’, which was an American toy-mm howitzer mounted on the chassis of a Grant tank. The Priest began to reach the Middle East during September 1942.
In 1937 an urgent need arose for the Army to have a mobile antiaircraft gun of comparable performance to the naval 2-pdr, and it was decided to adopt the 40-mm Bofors, which was already in production in Sweden. For heavier guns there were still some 3-inch veterans of the First World War. The new 3.7-inch was being given either a static or a mobile mounting, the former being for use in the Air Defence of Great Britain and at certain ports overseas. With these two guns—the 3.7 and the Bofors—the heavy and light anti-aircraft batteries in the Middle East were mainly equipped. (See also p. 28n).
In 1940 an attempt was made to find a dual-purpose anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapon for issue to arms other than the artillery, but no suitable weapon was readily available. Even if the Bofors could have been obtained in the necessary numbers, it was regarded as unsuitable for use by the infantry.
To reinforce the light anti-aircraft defence of such places as airfields, ports, railheads and field maintenance centres it was decided to issue 20-mm guns. Most of these were Oerlikons, but a large number of captured weapons, especially Italian, were also used.
By 1939 the Germans had standardized five artillery equipments, which were all still in use in 1942. These were the 10.5-cm gun, the I o• 5-cm light field howitzer, the 15-cm gun, the 15-cm medium field howitzer, and the 21-CIII howitzer. Two infantry guns—the 7.5-cm light and the 15-cm medium—had likewise been introduced by 1939 and were still in use in 1942. German guns were normally towed by half-tracked vehicles. This means a vehicle with a pair of wheels in front and a pair of tracks behind. The Germans set great store by them and had developed a whole series, of which the biggest could tow 18 tons. They were much used also for troop-carrying. By Spring 1942 the Germans in Libya had few of their own guns mounted on tracks, but the need had been foreseen by OKH in the previous August and experiments had been made with improvised mountings. In the following months many guns of Czech and Russian make were brought over, mounted on Pzkw I or half-tracked chassis and used principally as anti-tank guns.
The 8.8-cm Flak 36 deserves particular mention. Its conspicuous successes against tanks during BATTLEAXE in June 1941 had been gained by siting it in defended localities and concealing it as well as possible—not an easy matter for such a big weapon. A new trailer (No. 201) was then introduced, towed by an 8-ton half-tracked vehicle, which enabled the gun to come into action against ground targets extremely quickly. Drawn in this way the gun was able to take part in mobile actions, and did so with great effect.
The Italians entered the war with a large number of artillery equipments, many of which were old and of foreign make, and many unsuitable for
desert warfare. The low capacity of the armament industry made it very difficult to replace their heavy losses of 1940 and early 1941, but under German influence they made great efforts and produced several good weapons. They also made much progress with tractors of various kinds and with self-propelled guns mounted on tank chassis. Some of their new equipments came into use in Libya early in 1942; for example, a battery of the new 90/53 anti-aircraft gun (SP version) and two batteries of the 75/18 SP gun came over with the Littorio Division at the beginning of the year and went into action with the Ariete. Some of the less well equipped Italian divisions were helped by the loan of German weapons, notably the 8.8-cm dual-purpose gun.
The Italian weapons in the following table are typical examples of mobile equipments; there were too many varieties to give a complete list.
Some particulars of the principal Field Branch Artillery weapons used in the Middle East before September 1942
|Weapon||Weight in action(tons)||Calibre (inches)||Weight of HE projectile (lb.)||Maximum range(yards)||Remarks|
|3.7-in. howitzer||0.75||3 ‘ 7||20||6,800|
|25-pdr gun/how||1.75||3’45||25||13,400||Also fired an AP shot.|
|US 155-mm how||4||6 .1||95||12,775||Increased in a later Model to 16,500 yds.|
|Weapon||Weight in action (tons)||Calibre (inches)||Weight of HE projectile (lb.)||Maximum range (yards)||Remarks|
|7.5-cm (IG 18) light infantry gun||0.39||2.95||12||3,800||Also fired hollow charge.|
|15-cm (s.IG 33) medium infantry gun||1 • 5||5,9||83.6||4,700|
|10.5-cm (Ie. FH 18) light field howitzer||2||4.14||32.5||11,700||Also fired AP, tracer and hollow charge.|
|10.5-cm (K. 18) medium gun||5.5||4.14||33.3||20,860|
|15-cm(s.FH18) medium field howitzer||5.4||5.9||95.7||14,600||Also fired hollow charge.|
|21-cm (Mrs. 18) howitzer||16.4||8.2||250||18,250|
|Weapon||Weight in action (tons)||Calibre (inches)||Weight of HE projectile (lb.)||Maximum range (yards)||Remarks|
|47/32 gun (Mod. 35)||0.26||1.85||5.2||3,800||Normal close support and anti-tank weapon of Italian Army. See also page 444.|
|75/27 gun (Mod. 11 and 12)||1||2.95||14||9,000||Also fired hollow charge.|
|75/18 gun/how (Mod. 34 and 35)||SP approx 12||2.95||14||10,280||Replacing 75/27. SP version on M 13/40 chassis.|
|too/17 how (Mod. 14)||1’4||3.94||29||10,000||Of old Austrian design. Also fired hollow charge.|
1. The second figure in the Italian title is the length of the weapon in calibres.
2. For explanation of hollow charge ammunition sec page 438.
The British anti-aircraft guns shown below were all provided with SAP, AP and HE types of ammunition. The German and Italian anti-aircraft guns were also provided with suitable natures of ammunition for field and anti-tank roles.
|Weapon||Weight in action (tons)||Calibre (inches)||Weight of projectile (lb.)||Muzzle velocity (feet per second)||Ceiling (feet)||Practical rate of fire (rds per minute)||Remarks|
|Bofors (40-mm)||2.0 to 2.5||1.58||2||2,800||23,600||120|
|3-in.||8||3||16½||2,000||25,200||20 to 25|
|3- 7-in. (Marks I to III)||7.5 to 8||3.7||28||2,600||41,000||8 to 10*||Later increased to 20 by use of automatic loading and fuse-setting gear.|
|2-cm Flak 30||0.72||o 79||0.25||2,950||12,460||120|
|8.8-cm Flak 36||5.5||3.46||20||2,690||34,770||15 to 20||See also p. 443|
|20-mm M/35 Breda||0.32||0.79||0.297||2,750||8.000||120|
|75/46 (Mod. 34)||3.3||2.95||14.3||2,350||27,200||20||Many other 75s existed of various nationalities.|
|90/53||5.1||3.54||22.2||2,756||39,300||15 to 20||Towed. Also a SP version on M 13/40 tank.|