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The 17-Pounder
By Jason Rahman
August 2012

In a previous article we looked at Britain's early and mid-war anti-tank guns; now it's time to look at Britain's mid- and late-war anti-tank gun.

While the 6-pounder was a powerful weapon when it was designed, by November 1940 talk of a replacement began. The 6-pounder wasn't even in production at this time. Some argued for an 8-pounder gun to be the replacement, but that gun wouldn't have enough power compared to the 6-pounder it was to replace. Shortly afterward a new request for a gun capable of penetrating 120-150mm of armor plate at 800 yards was issued; this was of course a very demanding requirement.

Several possible gun/shell combinations had been calculated to meet this requirement, one of which was a 3-inch gun firing a 17-pound shell at 2700 feet per second. It was this design that was chosen as the replacement for the 6-pounder. Before a new gun was designed the possibility of modifying an existing gun to meet the request was mulled over, but due to the demanding specifications no satisfactory conversion could be found. Shortly thereafter the Armaments Design Department prepared a wooden mock-up, but some were "perturbed" by the enormous size of the gun and carriage. This wasn't a problem because the gun was to be towed and in July an order for four pilot models was issued.


An Australian 17-pounder seen post-war.

 
Testing continued through early 1942, and in May 1942 the 17-pounder was finally accepted for production. That summer production started, but the very large and complex carriage presented trouble. When word of the new Tiger tank arrived, the British had to find a way of getting the 17-pounders into the field, but the shortage of carriages prevented this. As an expedient it was suggested that the gun be mounted on modified 25-pounder carriages. Testing of the new carriage/gun combination took place in September and amazingly it worked, though the firing platform couldn't be used and the gun had restricted traverse. The hybrid 17/25-pounder guns, codenamed "Pheasant," were quickly sent off to North Africa late that year to combat the newly-arrived Tiger tanks. Despite the 17/25-pounder's effectiveness, it remained a compromise design and once the proper carriage was available in large numbers the hybrid equipment went out of service.

The 17-pounder was given a solid steel shot as its initial service round. An improved APC shell with a penetrating cap shortly replaced this. The addition of a penetrating cap allowed greater penetration against the face-hardened armor that protected almost all German armored vehicles, but it gave no benefit against homogenous armor. Soon a newer shell with a ballistic cap in addition to the penetrating cap appeared and became the service round for the rest of the war; the ballistic cap helped reduced drag on the shell and gave it much better long-range performance. When equipped with this APCBC round the 17-pounder was the by far the best anti-tank gun on the Allied side, and was able punch straight through the frontal armor of the feared Tiger.

While the normal full-caliber AP rounds used by the 17-pounder were quite powerful, shortly after the introduction of the 17-pounder the idea of a discarding sabot shot for the 17-pounder was being investigated. Work on this round proceeded throughout 1943 and by April 1944 the round was ready for production. The APDS round was finally issued to the troops that August and proved incredibly effective, it could penetrate well over 200mm of armor at 1000 meters. This shell was highly demanded and there was always a shortage of these rounds. After the war APDS rounds became the standard AP round for all tank and anti-tank guns.


Firing the 17-pounder in North Africa.

 
While the many of the later AP rounds for the 17-pounder were very effective the original HE round was found to be lacking severely. First of all, the shell had an unusually small filling of explosive. This was because the high velocity of the gun forced the designers to give the shell thick walls to withstand the high G-forces during acceleration. Secondly, the high velocity of the shell often caused the round to ricochet off the ground before exploding some distance beyond the target. Once these problems became apparent a new HE round with a reduced propelling charge and thinner shell wall was designed. This new round was a major improvement over the old HE round.

In addition to the towed gun, the 17-pounder had many self-propelled versions. The first of these was the Archer, which was a Valentine tank with a fixed superstructure built on top. This superstructure had to be mounted backwards due to the size of the gun, but this wasn't too much of a problem as the crews often used it as a ambush weapon; retreating after firing. By far the most famous self-propelled 17-pounder was the modified Sherman known as the Firefly. Another self-propelled 17-pounder was the Achilles. This started life as a lend lease M10, but the British found the original 3-inch gun weak and replaced it with the 17-pounder.


The Archer, a 17-pounder mounted on a Valentine tank chassis.

 
The final self-propelled 17-pounder was the experimental Straussler conversion. It was a heavily modified 17-pounder that was fitted with an auxiliary power unit so it could move under its own power when a vehicle wasn't available to tow it. Although the Straussler conversion did not enter service due to concerns about its large size, the concept of an auxiliary power unit did not die out. During the 1980s many armies began to fit auxiliary power units (APUs) to their artillery guns so that they could move on their own to avoid counter battery fire. While the Straussler conversion was never produced, Panzer Grenadier players will hear none of that and so they will want to use it, so a free download of Straussler conversions have been included. It uses motorized movement and can be towed normally, when moving on its own it can be targeted by AT opportunity fire. It has an armor value of 0 for this purpose, but this armor value cannot be used to avoid direct or indirect fire results.

While the 17-pounder was a powerful weapon, by 1942 a replacement was already being designed. The intended replacement, the 32-pounder, never entered service because the weapon was bogged down in development and the 17-pounder was able to handle any German tank except perhaps the King Tiger. Also, the 32-pounder was so large that it, along with the American 105mm and German 128mm designs, had proven that the conventional anti-tank gun had reached the pinnacle of its development. The anti-tank gun would be replaced after the war by newer (and much lighter) weapons such as the recoilless rifle and eventually the anti-tank guided missile, with which the Germans had experimented with late in the war.

You can download the variant 17-pounder Straussler-equipped units here.

The 17-pounder gets a chance to smash Nazi tanks in Beyond Normandy and the upcoming Cassino '44 order now and start smashing!