The British 17-pdr anti-tank gun excelled in its intended role of countering the dreaded tank.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Credit: Right side view of the Ordnance QF 17-pdr anti-tank gun
With full scale war across Europe in full swing, the battle tank was the forefront of any offensive armored spearhead. As the war raged on, developments in armor for such systems advanced as a bewildering pace. The Germans learned much with their initial Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks and the proceeding Panzer III and Panzer IV series proved capable up to a point. However, armor advancements would not stop there for heavy tanks such as the Panther and Tiger series were in the works. British authorities were not blind to the evolution of the tank and realized that their QF 6-pdranti-tank guns would soon - if not rather quickly - be outmoded on the modern battlefield, a fate shared by the preceding QF 2-pdr series as well.
As such, by 1941 work had already begun on a larger caliber anti-tank gun system to supply British Army artillery forces in dire need of a more capable tank-stopping weapon. The next logical evolution of the anti-tank gun fell within the 76.2mm caliber and, for the British, the weapon type would be issued with a new 17lb projectile suitable for defeating any known enemy armor of the time. With the requirements now set, design proceeded quickly and ultimately gave birth to the larger and heavier "Ordnance, Q.F., 17-pounder" anti-tank gun family.
The Ordnance QF 17-pdr anti-tank gun was a vast upgrade from the preceding QF 2-pdr and QF 6-pdr gun designs (each system was so-named based on the weight of their respective projectiles). The QF-17 relied primarily on a new Armor-Piercing, Discarding Sabot (APDS) round that improved basic penetrative abilities of British ammunition and this round type was first introduced with the arrival of the QF 6-pdr.
With its larger design and dimensions, the QF 17-pdr naturally utilized a heavier projectile. The QF 17-pdr design was characterized by its conventional arrangement consisting of a long barrel, gun mount and carriage. The long, double-baffled gun barrel sat on an adjustable mount that featured a large breech block for loading at the rear. The gunnery crew was partially protected by a flat, thick angled armored shield. A pair of rubber-tired steel wheels straddled either side of the gun mount and a split trail carriage served as both the towing arms and recoil legs. A dedicated recoil system was fitted to a cylinder system underneath the barrel base. The barrel was formally classified as the "L/60" and measured in at 180 inches in length. Elevation was limited to -6 and +16.5 degrees with a 60-degree traverse. Muzzle velocity varied across the different ammunition types but ranged between 3,000 and 4,000 feet per second. As a whole, the QF 17-pdr weighed in at 4,619lbs and required a crew of at least seven personnel.
The weapon was cleared to fire a standard Armor-Piercing (AP) round, an Armor-Piercing, Discarding Sabot (APDS) round and a base High-Explosive (HE) round. Armor-piercing projectiles were naturally used to tackle armored targets such as tanks while High-Explosive projectiles were used against soft-skinned vehicles and troop concentrations. Maximum range was approximately 10,000 yards. The 76.2mm weapon could penetrate up to 130mm of armor thickness at 1,000 meters and her elevation capabilities (coupled with HE shells) allowed her to be used as a makeshift field howitzer for dislodging enemies. A well-trained and combat experienced gunnery crew could let loose with up to 10 rounds per minute.
British industry took on production of the QF 17-pdr and, while pre-production versions of the guns themselves were already available in August of 1942, the special carriages they were to rely on were not. As such, this forced the mating of the QF 17-pdr gun barrel with the existing carriages of the Ordnance QF 25-pdr artillery field guns for the interim until full production standards could be attained. This allowed the new gun to be fielded quickly to desperate British Army forces fighting the German Army across North Africa where the stout Tiger heavy tank series was to make its combat debut in numbers. At least 100 guns were airlifted to British Army forces stationed in North Africa where they were quickly set into action after being installed on QF 25-pdr mounts. These "mutt" variants took on the designation of "QF 17/25-pdr". With the conversions complete, the British were able to bring the new guns to bear against the equally new German Tiger tanks with success.
Once the proper QF 17-pdr carriages had become available, the guns finally appeared in their intended and completed production forms. However, these new carriage mounts proved rather heavy and required much in the way of manpower to reposition and a mover-type vehicle to transport over long stretches of terrain, precluding their use as an infantry-level weapon. Conversely, these same weapons sported a lower profile ideal for ambush and their penetrative powers spoke volumes. With the North African Campaign completed and Germany moved off of the continent, the finalized QF-17 production models were made available just in time for combat actions in the Italian Campaign of 1943 along the road to Rome and, finally, Berlin proper.
In 1945, the QF 17-pdr formally moved into position as the primary anti-tank gun of the British Army, serving primarily with her Royal Artillery batteries. The weapon proved so valuable to the Allied cause that she was furnished to Commonwealth forces in need of such a weapon. For the British Army themselves, the QF 17-pdr would go down in their military history as the last foray into dedicated anti-tank gun development, bring an end to a rather successful, though sometimes overlooked, contribution to the field of artillery. British Forces utilized the QF 17-pdr into the 1950s before discontinuing operational use and more combat actions greeted the type in the upcoming Korean War. The weapon survived a longer tenure in other armies however.
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