By Jason Rahman
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
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.
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.
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 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!