ARM: Book Review - 17-pounder Anti-Tank Gun in Canadian Service

Book Review: =93Weapons of War=94 Series; The 17-Pounder Anti-Tank Gun in
Canadian Service by Doug Knight; Service Publications, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada, 2009; 24 pp. with B&W photos and 1/35 scale plans;
price CDN $9.95; ISBN 1-894581-53-0
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Advantages: good all around book on the history and use of the 17-pdr
in Commonwealth service
Disadvantages: probably not enough for modelers (for which there are
still no plastic kits in 1/35 scale)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all Allied =93Gonners=94 and antitank gun fans
There are two guns which rise to the top when one discusses World War
II antitank guns: the German 8.8 cm L/56 and L/71 guns, either mounted
in tanks or on carriages; and the British designed 76.2mm gun better
known as the =93Seventeen Pounder=94. This new little book by retired
Canadian artilleryman Doug Knight covers the history of the latter =96
something sadly missing in comparison with the reams written about the
German weapons.
When tanks were invented in WW I it did not take long before the
Germans realized it would take specialized guns to knock them out.
Originally the early tanks were so poorly armored that a direct hit
from a standard 77mm field gun would either stun the crew or knock the
tank out completely, but it was only after the war was over serious
consideration was given to sch a class of weapons.
In the 1930s all of the major countries developed antitank guns =96
Germany and the USSR developed a joint 3.7 cm design (which the
Soviets later boosted to 45mm), the US worked on a 37mm one, France
and Czechoslovakia created 47mm ones, and Britain created a 40mm
weapon known in service as the 2-pounder due to the weight of the
projectile it fired.
But while all of these worked on prewar tank designs, once the war
began and the thickness of armor protection began to escalate they
were found wanting. The British had figured some of this out early on
and created a 57mm weapon, the 6-pounder, in 1938, but even so it too
was soon found to be limited in its capabilities.
In November 1940 the British decided to work on a dominant weapon,
and after some trials and testing a 76.2mm weapon firing a 17-pound
projectile was seen as most promising. But high power means large size
and there was some argument over the size and bulk of the carriage for
this weapon.
Nevertheless the =93Ordnance Quick-Firing 17-pr=94 (Quick-Firing in
British parlance meaning it used unitary rounds) was developed and
adopted for service in May 1942. Over the course of production seven
different barrel designs were created for use on towed carriages, self-
propelled mounts, and with some modification, in the mount for the
75mm M3gun in the M4 Sherman tank series and also the 3-inch gun in
the M10 gun motor carriage.
While a large propellant charge and long barrel imparted velocity to
the gun, its real achievement was in the design of the projectile
used. Initially using a hard steel slug (AP shot) it began to fall off
against face hardened armor. The result was the development of a soft
metal cap added to the tip of the projectile (APC shot) that helped
with penetration, but caused a loss of velocity. As a result an
improved ballistic cap was added to the soft metal cap and the result
(APCBC) became the standard shot for the rest of the war. But as
monsters like the Tiger II and Jagdtiger began to appear, the British
went back to their 1942 research and were among the first to use a
discarding sabot projectile (APDS) in which a small hard core tungsten
projectile is inserted in a full caliber shoe (sabot) for firing,
exiting the barrel at much higher velocity but with better accuracy
due to the use of the sabot, which fell off immediately after exiting
the barrel. This round could penetrate any armor on the battlefield at
ranges of up to 1825 meters in 1944-1945.
As with many other purpose designed antitank guns, the 17-pounder was
not good at general artillery functions due to high velocity and low
projectile weight, so its HE ammunition was not the preferred choice.
The Canadian Army used all of these antitank guns during WW II and
formed seven antitank regiments, one for each Canadian division and
one extra for each Canadian corps,. Each regiment had four 12-gun
batteries or 48 guns per regiment, with the guns allocated by troops
of four guns each. In 1943 each infantry division regiment had two
troops of 6-pounders and one of 17 pounders per battery (e.g. 32 6-
pounders and 16 17-pounders per regiment) with all four batteries in
armoured divisions 17-pounder-equipped - two towed, two self-
propelled. Each towed gun had a crew of seven.
The carriages were low but heavy and could not easily be moved by the
crew once detached from their tractors. They were also quite long
which made movement of any sort in tight quarters or rough ground
problematic. Occasionally the No. 27 limber (same as with the 25-
pounder field gun) was used for extra ammo storage, but it did
increase the overall length of the gun under tow).
Probably the most famous of the 17-pounder installations was its
fortuitous mating with the Sherman tank as the Sherman Firefly,
signified by adding a =93C=94 after the British designation. Most
conversions were on the M4A4 chassis (Sherman VC) but there were also
some added to the composite M4 model (Sherman IC). The bow gunner was
deleted from the crew and his position used to add extra ammo. As
these were quickly identified by the Germans as Panther-killers, they
were prioritized for elimination and to counter that attempts were
made to disguise the much longer barrels. At least one in every four
Shermans in Canadian regiments was a Firefly.
Canadian units had success with the Firefly, one tanker knocking out
five Panthers with five rounds in June 1944 and in April 1945 a troop
of Shermans managed to knock out a Tiger II with the use of their
The Canadians kept their 17-pounders after the war and did some work
to develop new ammunition, but it did not enter production. They also
used them in Korea with the 25th Canadian Brigade.
Overall this book is a nice, concise history of the weapon as well as
its Canadian service.
Thanks to Clive Law for the review sample.
Cookie Sewell
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