Road to Dunkirk:
By Jason Rahman
At the beginning of World War Two anti-tank guns were small
weapons pushed about by their crews, but by the end of the
war anti-tank guns could weigh as much as 12 tons and needed
a huge tractor to move them about the battlefield. The British
were no exception. They started the war with the tiny 2-pounder
and when the war ended a huge 32-pounder gun was in development.
By the end of the war anti-tanks guns were no longer practical
because of their huge size and unwieldiness. Here are just
a few of the anti-tank guns used by the British Empire during
the early part of World War Two.
The origins of the 2-pounder began in an early 1930's request
for an anti-tank gun with a maximum range of at least 1000
yards that could also be fitted in a tank turret. While the
requirement that the gun fit in a tank turret reduced its
effectiveness, the 2-pounder was still the best of its time
when introduced in early 1936 even though it was a heavier
than the other pieces of its generation. That summer an improved
carriage was introduced and the new piece was known as the
QF 2-pounder Mk 2. It was this improved version that was the
main model of the 2-pounder.
The gun was mounted on a three-legged carriage that allowed
360 degrees of traverse. To deploy the gun for action, the
five-man crew first removed the wheels, then lowered the two
front legs and the gun was ready to fire. Often the 2-pounder
was transported on the back of a truck to reduce unnecessary
wear on the carriage. It was only a matter of time before
the gunners decided to fire the gun off the back of the truck
to make it more mobile. Guns mounted like this, known as
portees, were very effective despite the lack of protection.
In fact, before the war began, there were numerous experimental
portee designs based on the Bren and Lloyd carriers, but these
projects never finished development.
The 2-pounder was originally provided with an armor-piercing
(AP) shell with a small explosive charge in the base much
like other AP shells. However the fuse and explosive didn't
work well so this shell gave way to a solid steel shell. Later
the 2-pounder was provided with an AP shell with both ballistic
and penetrating caps to increase its effectiveness against
the face-hardened armor of German tanks. Contrary to popular
belief, the 2-pounder actually had a high-explosive shell
but it wasn't issued in great numbers to the anti-tank gunners
and even less to tank crews. It was the low usage of the explosive
shell that causes many to believe that no such shell existed.
During the desert campaigns of 1941 through 1942 the 2-pounder
was so outclassed by its German rivals that its crews had
nicknamed it the "popgun" among other things. Despite
its ineffectiveness, it still was able to kill Axis tanks
if it could get a good shot. For example, the anti-tank gun
of Sergeant Gould was able to kill six German tanks by hiding
and waiting for the enemy tanks to pass by before firing. During the desert war of 1941 and 1942,
anti-tank gunners began developing new tactics to counter
enemy tanks that proved very useful when the newer 6- and
17-pounders came into service. Until those improved guns came
into service the 2-pounders were supplemented by 25-pounders
firing AP ammunition.
By 1942 the 2-pounder was finally replaced by the 6-pounder
in anti-tank units and was handed over to infantry and home
guard units. Eventually by late 1943 even many infantry units
had their 2-pounders replaced by 6-pounders. The 2-pounder
saw service for the rest of the war in the Asian Theater until
1945 at which time it was finally declared obsolete and removed
from service. The 2-pounder appears in Road to Dunkirk.
By 1938 it was clear to the British that the 2-pounder was becoming
obsolete and the 6-pounder was designed as its replacement.
In 1939 several prototypes of the 6-pounder were built and tested.
Plans for production were even being drawn up, but then came
Dunkirk. The loss of as many as five hundred 2-pounders caused
the British to delay the production of the 6-pounder to build
as many of a known gun as possible until there were enough to
satisfy the Army's needs before production could begin on the
new gun. Production finally began in November 1941 and the first
models began to arrive at field units in early 1942.
The 6-pounder was originally equipped with a mechanical traversing
gear, but during the development process it was deleted and
replaced by the gunner pushing the gun left and right to traverse
it. Two of the features that were added to the 6-pounder during
its life was the addition of a muzzle brake and a longer barrel,
both of which were introduced in the Mk IV model. There was
also an airborne version with various lightening measures as
well as trail legs that could be taken apart into two pieces.
During the war twelve 6-pounders were equipped with an autoloader
and mounted on Mosquito fighter-bombers for anti-submarine work.
A modified 6-pounder was also produced by the Americans as the
57mm M1, which saw extensive service throughout the war.
The 6-pounder was supplied with regular AP and HE shells,
but soon the improved APC and APCBC shells were issued and
took the place of the regular AP shell, giving it even more
punch. For a short time around the fall of 1943 it was supplied
with an APCR round that dramatically increased penetration
at ranges shorter than 1000 meters. In June 1944 it became
the first gun to have an APDS round as its service round.
When the 6-pounder arrived at the front, anti-tank gunners
finally had something that could kill German tanks at
a reasonable distance. It was capable of penetrating any German
tank in service; in fact the 6-pounder even claimed the first
Tiger tank knocked out in North Africa. A wide variety of
experimental self-propelled 6-pounder designs were produced,
but none were accepted in quantity because of the British
Army's reluctance to adopt the tank destroyer concept. However,
like the 2-pounder, there were still plenty of portee guns
mounted on the back of a truck.
The 6-pounder continued in use throughout the entire war
and even after the war before finally being removed from service.
During the war the 6-pounder was mounted on a wide range of
tanks just like the 2-pounder before it. At one point it was
the standard gun for all British tanks. The 6-pounder appears
in Liberation 1944.
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