Tanks with 6-Pounder in 21 Army Group

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by TTH, Oct 25, 2013.

  1. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I have a question about British tanks in 21 Army Group, specifically those armed with 6-pounder guns. I have read John Buckley's book on British armor in Normandy and I know why the British army went to the 75mm instead of retaining the 6-pounder as main armament on tanks. The plan was to have most tanks armed with the 75, which experience in Tunisia and Italy had shown to be the best weapon against German infantry and artillery and which was still just adequate against the Panzer IV. A proportion of tanks (1 in 4) would carry the 17-pounder, which was an even better anti-tank weapon than the 6-pounder and capable of dealing with the latest German tanks and SP's. Units equipped with the Sherman would get the Firefly, while those equipped with the Cromwell would get the Challenger as an anti-tank vehicle. The 17-pounder would not fit in the Churchill and the Black Prince project was dragging on, so a proportion of Churchill III's and IV's retained the 6-pounder to give infantry tank units some AT capability.

    As we know, things did not work out as hoped in Normandy. The Allies got stuck there for longer than they expected, and Allied armor had to fight German armor more often and on less equal terms than had been anticipated. The Panther was available in quantity and proved to be a nasty surprise. The Challenger was not ready in time for D-Day, and did not reach 21 Army Group until the campaign was well along.

    I have already alluded to the employment of the Churchill III/IV with the 6-pounder. When provided with APDS, this gun could knock out even a Tiger from certain angles. I have looked at the Trux pages here as well as other sources, and I have found that a small number of Valentine X's with the 6-pounder were employed in subsidiary roles (command vehicle in AT regiments, etc) alongside the Valentine XI. (I am puzzled about that though---Trux says that OP tanks of all types (or some of them?) retained their main armament, while Chamberlain and Ellis say they did not. Who is right?)

    As far as I know, no early mark Cromwells, Centaurs, or Canadian Rams with 6-pounders were ever used in action. Is that correct? Now, given the problems 21 Army Group was having with German armor and the shortage of Fireflies and Challengers, it seems to me that issuing some 6-pounder tanks to units might have been helpful, at least on a temporary basis until the 17-pounder was more readily available. Was this ever discussed at the time? If anyone has any thoughts or facts about this, I would be glad to hear them.
  2. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I can't remember precisely where I've seen it, but I have read a report. suggesting that a proportion of 6-pr armed tanks would have been useful. It was certainly during the Normandy campaign and almost certainly somewhere between 7 Armd Div and 30 Corps. I also have a feeling that I've mentioned it on an earlier thread...
  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    TTH / Idler
    Probably the main reason for no 6drs in 21st Ag was the fact that we were using them all up in Italy as they were all we had from near Algiers to near the Alps..and APDS rounds were

    ONLY available..late late late out there…as for Firefly's…I never did see one..and that was the major Armoured Division - 6th AD. You guys were pretty well off…Comets - Cromwells - Challengers -

    Firefly's et al

  4. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    I think the answer to why were more 6pdr armed tanks used in NW Europe is that there were not any battleworthy ones to send. Centaur, Ram and Valentine were not considered battleworthy as far as use in armoured regiments was concerned.

    Who is right on OP tanks? Both are. There are problems with definitions. 'OP tank' was used for tanks which were modified for RA use and for those which were more correctly command or control tanks or for use by Forward Observation Officers with armoured regiments. The first had armament removed and various internal modifications while the others did not. The Valentines used in AT units were not modified.


    PS. I can not fault your clear and concise outline of the situation.
  5. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Thanks for the comments, Mike.

    How was 'battleworthy' defined? If a Churchill III/IV with a 6-pdr was battleworthy, then it is not clear to me why another 6-pdr tank would not be the same. Or did the gun not enter into it?

    The Centaur had the old Liberty engine, which had proved unsatisfactory in the Crusader. I can see why armored regiments would not be enthusiastic about it, but the Centaur CS version did see combat service with the Royal Marines in Normandy and Centaurs with the 6-pdr were used for years after 1945 by the Greek army. (As I recall, the Greeks liked them too.)

    There were no mechanical problems with the Ram, which was compatible with the Sherman and had the same engine as the M4 and M4A1 models. The Dutch took some Rams as gun tanks postwar, though these had been re-armed with the 75mm gun.

    Perhaps I am making too much of this, but it still seems like a mystery to me.

    As to the two varieties of OP tanks, modified and unmodified...am I to take it, then, that some Sherman, Ram, Cromwell, and Centaur OP tanks did indeed retain their guns, while others did not?
  6. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    My father's unit in Italy was issued with Sherman OP tanks in late 1943. They had the main weapon removed and replaced with a wooden barrel as the turret was full of radio sets and could not accommodate the comms and the weapon. They retained this type until the end of the war.

    All of the mobile arty units I've researched in BLA also had the same type of OP Shermans - with no weapon.
  7. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Can only agree with Paul - any OP I ever saw had a wooden pole sticking out front as two #19 sets and a map table took up a lot of room in a Turret

  8. Pak75

    Pak75 Member

    It is interesting to note that one of the reasons Epsom was delayed was for 6 pounder SABOT on ships unable to unload because of gale to be available to Churchill crews 31T Bde.
    Having embarked on conversion programme pre Overlord, some Churchill equipped regiments were re converting or had halted programme altogether. See war diary Coldstream Guards in 6 Guards Tank Bde.
    This seems to have been in response to the flurry of reports out of 7th Armoured and XXX corps post failure Operation Perch and Villers Bocage re perceived inadequacy and inferiority British tanks.
    Epsom planners recognised an urgent need for 17 pounder anti tank guns and new 6 pounder ammunition as part of solution to Panther and Tiger problem.

    In Bluecoat there were still reports of 6 pounder SABOT bouncing off German tanks

  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....


    I am not sure I agree with some of the things you have written.

    There is a doctrinal point. The British model of war fighting in 1944 was based on the lessons learned from North Africa. After the debacle in mid 1942 things changed under Montgomery. Tank battles stopped being seen as duels between tanks. At Alem Halfa and Medennine Rommel's tank attack was killed cold dead by a fire-plan of dug in 6 pdr anti tank guns backed by tanks in a one sided battle. At El Alemein in October 1942 German armoured counter attacks were blunted by the 6pdr anti tank guns of the infantry and artillery which had accompanied the infantry in their attack. Google "Snipe action Rifle Brigade." to read about this inspiring story..

    The main forces for defeating German tanks in 1944 were the Ant-Tank guns of the RA with the 6 Pdr and 17 Pdr guns and the armoured brigades with a proportion of 17Pdr Fireflies. The purpose of the Churchill equipped infantry tank Brigades was support infantry formations assaulting enemy positions, which mainly consisted infantry and anti tank guns with some tanks and SP guns. The 6 Pdr wasn't as good in dealing with dugouts buildings or bunkers; the kinds of targets, that made up a German defensive position as a 75mm.

    I don't know how many tanks in Normandy were equipped with the 6 pdr.

    BTW which part of the Normandy Campaign worked out badly? The Germans chose to put the weight of their defences, the schwehrpunkt" on the Caen sector defences and chose to burn troops rather than give ground. When they ran out of troops the allies broke out on the St Lo Front. It took three months, which was where the logistic planners expected them to be, but having destroyed the ability of the Germans to defend France..
  10. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Due to the inflamed enamour of the 75mm gun, one of the great tragedies of the war was the sending of Churchill units to France equipped with them.

    The first two Tigers ever to be knocked out by tanks were Churchills of North Irish Horse in Tunisia. One frontal at 500/600 yards. another on her starboard side at 900 + yards. Thus started a continuing penetration tests by 25th Tank Brigade (later 21st TB) until war's end. The material results were transmitted to the UK but unfortunately were ignored in favour of the 75mm gun, When the Mark IV conversions were delivered they only deployed as mobile artillery as were the later delivered Mark VIIs.

    From the NIH archives here is a consolidation of the reports: http://northirishhorse.net/documents/25thTB-Tiger.html

  11. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    The "doctrinal issue" as you say was solved at Alam Halpha by Monty by ordering the Tanks to stay put rather than they had been chasing after their Panzers and running on to the 88mm's

    but it was not until Medennine that he could get rid of Lumsden who was fighting a la Balaclava - then Monty was well aware of Ultra and packed the Battlefield with many 6 pdrs - 4 -17 pdrs and a

    few 3.7 AA guns firing horizontally - by that time Rommel had been fired - and we were dealing with the Italians in charge - later at El Hamma the cab rank support was successfully launched with

    British " blitzkrieg " tactics - and again at Tunis - and once more at the great swan to Antwerp etc

    The FOUR - 17pdrs of Medenine war taken back to the UK for a better platform - and next we saw of them was at Sicily with a Canadian battery - they were all lost at Cassino

  12. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    The Centaur, Ram and Valentine were all considered unsuitable for use in 21 Army Group for reasons other than the gun.

    The Centaur was unreliable. The Centaur CS used by the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group were originally to be used without engines. They would be shackled down in Landing Craft and fire either while afloat or when beached. It was later decided that they should be landed and provide artillery support until the SP Field Regiments landed. In the event some managed to stay in action for a couple of weeks.

    Valentines were slow and cramped, having only a three man crew. The biggest disadvantage was probably not having a machine gun.

    There are two other threads somewhere which deal with Valentines as OP tanks. They were used in SP AT units and retained their armament. Although referred to as OP tanks, even in War Establishment tables, they were in fact control tanks for troop and battery commanders. Similarly in field regiments there were OP tanks which were converted and stripped out but there were also tanks provided by armoured brigades for the use of Forward Observation Officers working with armoured units. These had RAC drivers and retained their armament.

  13. Trackfrower

    Trackfrower Member

    Mike, I thought the Valentine was a 4 man crew?

    4 of us squeezed into one at Muckleborough a few years ago. We even had a seat each.

    We "took out" a T55 in a public battle.


  14. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....


    You are quite correct that the big difference was the defensive stance, digging in 400 tanks alongside 200 Gunner and 100 infantry manned Atk guns and backed by 240 Field and 16 medium guns. I mentioned it to challenge the TTH's premise that tanks were needed to kill other tanks and that thr 6 Pdr was a suitable weapon.

    By 1942 it had been realised that the big threat to a tank was a dug in anti tank gun. In "The development of Artillery Tactics and Equipment" (HMSO 1950) Pemberton wrote that on 17th July 1942 for every British tank KO by a tank three had been KO by anti tank guns, The introduction of the 75mm gun with a useful HE round and an AP round was seen as far more useful than a mix of 75mm and 6 pdr equipped tanks.
  15. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    Only a three man crew in the Marks of Valentine we are talking about. That was largely the problem with the later marks. With the 6pdr or 75mm gun there was no room for a third man in the turret. Another disadvantage in 21 Army Group was the diesel engine. Reliable but meant an extra fuel item to supply.


    Rams had been relegated to training roles. It would have been difficult to get them up to operational standard again.

  16. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....


    There is another issue with the Rams. The Ram offered no advantage over the M4 Sherman, available in large quantities lease lend from the USA for use as tanks. . However, while the Americans were happy to lend tanks to its allies for fight the Germans, they were less happy for these vehicles to then be used for other purposes.

    The Ram was key to providing a SP carriages for British 25 pdr SP gun. (The Americans were unwilling to produce a British version of the M7 Priest with the 25 pdr, which they thought was inferior to the UIS 105mm. Nor might they have been willing to supply Sherman Kangeroos - so the Ram becomes the first heavy APC.
  17. TTH

    TTH Senior Member


    Yes, I had surmised that the Centaur's engine was a problem. As to the Valentine, the later marks were indeed very cramped especially once bigger guns were installed, but the Mk X did have a coaxial Besa where earlier 6 Pdr marks had not.


    You misunderstood me. I was merely laying out the outlines of the tank armament issue, not trying to argue that only a tank could kill another tank. That was not my premise. I have read Buckley, as I said, so I know what the tactical ideal was. However, there were occasions when tanks with the 75mm had to defend themselves against more powerfully armed German tanks, and they were at a disadvantage in such situations. This was considered to be such a serious disadvantage that the Briitsh made all haste to get as many 17-pdr armed tanks and SPs into the field as soon as they could. The US Army did much the same, bringing in more 76mm Shermans, M36 TD's, and finally the Pershing. Given this need for more powerful AT armament in tanks (or perceived need), I was simply wondering why the Briitsh did not deploy some of the 6-pdr armed tanks they had in stock, at least as a short-term solution. They accepted the need for the Churchill III/IV in infantry tank brigades and it struck me as odd that other 6-pdr armed tanks were not deployed as well, at least until 17-pdr armed vehicles were available in greater quantity.
  18. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    This is beginning to sound as if the Tank wallahs in NWE were saying - and believing - that Tank fighting in Africa- Italy was a case of "what do they know "……all we knew was that we had to get

    on with it as there was nothing else coming out of the Uk…..FOUR - 17 Pdrs until Cassino - then nowt until around October '44….and we ONLY lost 1200 Tanks….

  19. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day paul reed.super moderator.yesterday.06:06pm.#6.re:tanks with 6-pounder in 21 army group.i have been reading this thread with interest.i am not a tank person.but what interested me re:your post.is the wooden poll instead of a gun.what would you do if enemy armour was attaking?or did you stay in the rear,i don't think I would feel safe with a broomstick instead of a rifle.interesting post.have a good day regards bernard85
  20. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Thanks for the clarification. You wondered why the British did not deploy 6 Pdr armed tanks alongside 75mm armed Churchills for the occasions where they might meet tanks too heavily armoured for the 75mm to penetrate.

    1) In 1944, the 75mm gun in the Church hill tank was regarded as good enough to deal with most targets. For the first half of the war the British tank fleet composed of a mix of tanks, some armed with guns optimised for engaging other tanks (Cruisers) and some optimised for engaging infantry and soft targets (Close support). This was fine if fighting a co-operative enemy, but embarrassing and frustrating when the Germans deployed such a way that 2 Pdr or 6 Pdr tanks faced dug in anti tank guns. In 1942 the British thought they had the solution with the 75mm gun which offer a decent AP and HE capability, in the same armament, creating a "universal tank" which could engage both types of target - thus also giving David Fletcher a name for the second volume of the official history of British AFV design and development. (The fact that then British then ended the war with tank fleet with a mix of 17Pdr and 75mm guns suggests that this theory did not quite work out tidily in practice, but the difference in capabilities was less marked than with a kix of 75mm and 57mm tanks.

    2) Infantry tank brigades were not expected to fight tank duels on their own against the small number of heavier armed and armoured tanks longer ranged tanks, but operate as part of an all arms team with the infantry and gunners. An all arms attack led by Churchill tanks should have been accompanied by the 6 Pdrs of the Infantry and the 6 Pdrs. 17 Pdrs and SP 76mm and 17 Pdrs M10 SP atk guns of the RA Anti tank Regiment. When things worked well, a counter attack by German tanks would have been met by anti-tank gun fire. The action at St Pierre on 9th June 1944 is a good example. There is an article here http://www.theobservationpost.com/blog/?p=132

    3) The British were not alone in spurning tanks armed with guns below 75mm calibre in 1944. The Germans had withdrawn tanks equipped with the 50mm L60 from their operational units. Some reappear at Arnhem from the Sennelager training unit.

    I hope this clarifies the answer.

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