What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Discussions on all aspects of the The United Kingdom & its Empire and Commonwealth during the Inter-War era and Second World War. Hosted by Andy H
User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4062
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Urmel » 31 Aug 2019 23:52

That argument doesn't really stack up.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

User avatar
Sheldrake
Member
Posts: 2178
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Sheldrake » 01 Sep 2019 10:45

Andy H wrote:
31 Aug 2019 22:39
Hi

My apologies but I've not read all the 30+ previous pages but thought I'd add this (please ignore if already mentioned)
from 'Fire-Power (British Army Weapons and the Theories of War 1904-45) by Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham.
Pg230-231:-

"There has been much argument at the time, and since, over the refusal to use the 3.7 heavy AA gun in the same manner as the German 88.
Although to a non-military eye it looked very similar to the 88, it was in fact a much heavier gun altogether, depended on a more sophisticated fire-control system and was without a telescopic sight, but these technical challenges could have been overcome.

The REAL REASON for retaining it for its proper role was that the outcome of the Desert War depended on the winning of air control by the RAF. This required that's irs fighters should be freed as far as possible from the close defence of the base installations, vital to all three services and the airfields. Air defence was based on a combination of guns and aircraft, so clearly any reduction in the number of guns would rquire an increase in the number of fighter aircraft reserved for purely defensive work. IT WAS A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES.

The number of guns required to make a significant impact would have been 2 regiments, or 48 guns plus a reserve of around 50%, as casualties in gun versus tank engagements were always heavy. These two units would have required complete retraining and reorientation, for the two types of work require different patterns of deployment, different attitudes, perhaps even different CO's...….In any case even if the guns had been made available, its doubtful if the desert commanders would have made use of them correctly, in view of the hash they made of the employment of all their other artillery"

Regards

Andy H
That was from Firepower 1984 one of a couple of books Bidwell wrote in colaboration with Dominic Graham. Shelford Bidwell gave a fuller and more plausible explanation in his earlier work Gunners at War. (1970) He takes about 1000 words (pp 174-6) to explain:-

1. Organisational barriers. i.e the AA Command is for practical purposes a separate regiment to the field arm with its own Major General AA not answerable to the Director Royal Artillery. (which is why it took a senior Gunner GOC Home Forces, who outranked both MGAA and the DRA to demand that resource was spent in anti tank ammunition and training for AA artillery in the UK)

2. Likely Inter-service opposition by the RAF for diversion of AA assets, not from the airfields but from the ports.

3. Lack of pressure by the army. "It took some time to grasp that the majority of casualties to our tanks were from guns not tanks" (p175).

4. He gives the example of 2 RHA receiving four 3.7" guns on trial during the Gazala battle and sent two away. No space to deploy and the troops "unbattleworthy" (CO 2 RHA horrified to see the HAA gunners setting up tables and chairs in the middle of the Coldstream Guards position.)

5. His final comment (p176) is that whether the British were right not to weaken their AA defences was a finely balanced question. The Germans were faced with exactly the same problem and decided differently, and most people agree they were right.

This is a slightly different slant to the argument in Firepower, which ends with the dismissive comment that the Army would have made a hash of using them.

There may have been an institutional factor in defending the decision. Regimental image matters. The components of the armed forces are always in competition for resources and to avoid being merged or cut. I don't know how Gunners at War was received by the Royal Regiment, but I suspect pp 174-176 may not have gone down well in some quarters. During the 1980s the Gunners were quite sensitive about historic criticism. A letter to the Royal Artillery Journal from a former worked at an ammunition factory on whether the 3.7" Gun was ever used in the anti tank role in the AA role received a very dismissive reply from a senior retired officer in the Royal Artillery Institute to the effect that it was technically impossible for the 3.7" to be used, as if Gunners in War had never been written. At the time this smelled to me of a bit of a cover up. Royal Regiment never wrong etc.

I was never privileged to meet Shelford Bidwell or Professor Dominick Graham, both distinguished Gunner officers. Brigadier Bidwell had commanded a battery in North Africa, where he was mentioned in dispatches and then served at Salerno and for tjhe rest of the war in Italy. Graham commanded an AA Battery in Norway in 1940, where he was wopunded, captured outside Tobruk in 1941, but escaped during the Italian armistice. He then commanded 373 battery of 55 field regiment of the Guards Armoured Division in NW Europe where he was awarded the MC and wounded again.

Besides their distinguished war records , these men were a rare breed. They were artillery officers who cared enough about their arm to write about the history of employment of artillery in battle. There may have been some informal pressure on Bidwell and Graham to tone down the criticism of the Royal Regiment in Firepower.

PS At the time that Firepower was written, the Gunners were engaged with a tussle with the RAC over who was responsible for long ranged anti tank defence using the Swingfire Missile. It is all shades of 1941-2 The ATGM technology went to the armoured corps while the Gunners were able to reform 3rd Regiment RHA, for the disbandment of one battery (M) The RAC were never great fans of Swingfire and the ATGM scrapped.

MarkN
Member
Posts: 2319
Joined: 12 Jan 2015 13:34
Location: On the continent

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by MarkN » 03 Sep 2019 11:29

Sheldrake wrote:
01 Sep 2019 10:45
That was from Firepower 1984 one of a couple of books Bidwell wrote in colaboration with Dominic Graham. Shelford Bidwell gave a fuller and more plausible explanation in his earlier work Gunners at War. (1970) He takes about 1000 words (pp 174-6) to explain:-

1. Organisational barriers. i.e the AA Command is for practical purposes a separate regiment to the field arm with its own Major General AA not answerable to the Director Royal Artillery. (which is why it took a senior Gunner GOC Home Forces, who outranked both MGAA and the DRA to demand that resource was spent in anti tank ammunition and training for AA artillery in the UK)

2. Likely Inter-service opposition by the RAF for diversion of AA assets, not from the airfields but from the ports.

3. Lack of pressure by the army. "It took some time to grasp that the majority of casualties to our tanks were from guns not tanks" (p175).

4. He gives the example of 2 RHA receiving four 3.7" guns on trial during the Gazala battle and sent two away. No space to deploy and the troops "unbattleworthy" (CO 2 RHA horrified to see the HAA gunners setting up tables and chairs in the middle of the Coldstream Guards position.)

5. His final comment (p176) is that whether the British were right not to weaken their AA defences was a finely balanced question. The Germans were faced with exactly the same problem and decided differently, and most people agree they were right.

This is a slightly different slant to the argument in Firepower, which ends with the dismissive comment that the Army would have made a hash of using them.

There may have been an institutional factor in defending the decision. Regimental image matters. The components of the armed forces are always in competition for resources and to avoid being merged or cut. I don't know how Gunners at War was received by the Royal Regiment, but I suspect pp 174-176 may not have gone down well in some quarters. During the 1980s the Gunners were quite sensitive about historic criticism. A letter to the Royal Artillery Journal from a former worked at an ammunition factory on whether the 3.7" Gun was ever used in the anti tank role in the AA role received a very dismissive reply from a senior retired officer in the Royal Artillery Institute to the effect that it was technically impossible for the 3.7" to be used, as if Gunners in War had never been written. At the time this smelled to me of a bit of a cover up. Royal Regiment never wrong etc.

I was never privileged to meet Shelford Bidwell or Professor Dominick Graham, both distinguished Gunner officers. Brigadier Bidwell had commanded a battery in North Africa, where he was mentioned in dispatches and then served at Salerno and for tjhe rest of the war in Italy. Graham commanded an AA Battery in Norway in 1940, where he was wopunded, captured outside Tobruk in 1941, but escaped during the Italian armistice. He then commanded 373 battery of 55 field regiment of the Guards Armoured Division in NW Europe where he was awarded the MC and wounded again.

Besides their distinguished war records , these men were a rare breed. They were artillery officers who cared enough about their arm to write about the history of employment of artillery in battle. There may have been some informal pressure on Bidwell and Graham to tone down the criticism of the Royal Regiment in Firepower.

PS At the time that Firepower was written, the Gunners were engaged with a tussle with the RAC over who was responsible for long ranged anti tank defence using the Swingfire Missile. It is all shades of 1941-2 The ATGM technology went to the armoured corps while the Gunners were able to reform 3rd Regiment RHA, for the disbandment of one battery (M) The RAC were never great fans of Swingfire and the ATGM scrapped.
It's interesting how British professional soldiers are generationally inclined to put their regiment or their branch or their arm before doing the "right" thing. And how "covering up" failure is the preferred path over learning from mistakes.

Certain historical realities are clear when it comes to understanding the 3.7" ATk scenario.

1) The Army, collectively, had decided how ATk should be done doctrinally, and with what equipment, at an early stage and were institutionally moribund in effecting change.
2) The RA, collectively, had decided how they would doctrinally do the various tasks assigned to them and were institutionally moribund in effecting change.
3) Individual unit commanders had neither the intellectual capacity to experiment or moral courage to go against group think.

The reasons why 3" and 3.7" AA guns were not roled as ATk are numerous and understandable. For me, it is no surprise that history is at it is.

Others seem confused by the (lack of) decisions made. However, that seems to flow from an inaccurate understanding of history: e.g. the false belief that huge quantities of 3" and 3.7" AA guns were lying around idle in warehouses or similiar.

Did the Germans get the balance right and the British wrong? Personally, l don't believe it is possible to say without a far greater effort being put into researching and understanding the outcomes and consequences of each party doing the alternative.

User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4062
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Urmel » 06 Oct 2019 20:57

MarkN wrote:
02 Jul 2019 14:42
Two snippets I've bumped into relating to earlier discussion in this thread.

Extract from General O'Moore Creagh post BATTLEAXE notes:
It is the GUN that wins the Tank v Tank Battle. Incidentally our 2pdr proved to be excellent.
Extract from VCIGS note to CIGS, 25 August 1941.
I have stressed the need for getting the 6pdr gun into our Cruiser tanks as soon as possible at recent Tank Bosrd meetings, but at the moment there is, l'm afraid, rather a tendency in the Ministry of Supply to put this off for fear that the total number of tanks produced might be reduced.
A non-scientific firing test was done on a captured Panzer IV and reported on in July or August which showed that the 2-pdr absolutely drilled it at broadside at combat ranges out to 1,100 years, and penetrated at 500 yards frontally with the exception of the lower frontal plate where only 2 out of 3 shots penetrated. Conclusion was that the frontal arc over 'much greater ranges' than 500 yards was unlikely to yield to the 2-pdr.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

User avatar
Kingfish
Member
Posts: 2776
Joined: 05 Jun 2003 16:22
Location: USA

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Kingfish » 07 Oct 2019 00:52

Urmel wrote:
06 Oct 2019 20:57
A non-scientific firing test was done on a captured Panzer IV and reported on in July or August which showed that the 2-pdr absolutely drilled it at broadside at combat ranges out to 1,100 years
Kudos to the war department for really taking their time with that test
The gods do not deduct from a man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing.
~Babylonian Proverb

User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4062
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Urmel » 07 Oct 2019 21:53

Blimmin’ autocorrect
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

User avatar
Don Juan
Member
Posts: 569
Joined: 23 Sep 2013 10:12

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Don Juan » 16 Oct 2019 12:36

Urmel wrote:
06 Oct 2019 20:57
A non-scientific firing test was done on a captured Panzer IV and reported on in July or August which showed that the 2-pdr absolutely drilled it at broadside at combat ranges out to 1,100 years, and penetrated at 500 yards frontally with the exception of the lower frontal plate where only 2 out of 3 shots penetrated. Conclusion was that the frontal arc over 'much greater ranges' than 500 yards was unlikely to yield to the 2-pdr.
This is a test on the hull and not the turret isn't it?

This is one of the aspects of this issue I can't understand. If you look at the range table that I posted in post #64, it clearly indicates that the Panzer III Ausf H and Panzer IV could be penetrated in the front of the turret at 1300 yards by the standard 2 pounder. This is because the 30mm mantlet on these tanks could not have additional armour mounted on it

The front of the turret on these tanks is at least as large an area as the vulnerable plates on the front of the Crusader hull. So the obvious advice to British tank and anti-tank crews ought to have been to aim for the turret if you are positioned to the front of these tanks. However, I have never seen any such advice, which suggests that the front of the turret on the Panzer III Ausf. H especially was a tougher nut to crack than its nominal 30mm armour basis suggested - perhaps because of the ballistic shape of the mantlet.

However, if the mantlet was indeed tough enough to withstand the 2 pounder, this does not explain why on the Pz. III Ausf. J the mantlet was thickened to 50mm, which suggests the Germans thought that the previous 30mm was inadequate. Perhaps this was due to experience in Russia, I dunno. Another point about the Panzer III mantlet especially is that it seems to be ideally shaped to deflect AP shot into the hull roof.

There's another contradiction here in that after the episodes of British tanks brewing up during Operation Crusader, there was an interim order not to store loose ammunition in the turret but to store it low down in the hull. This indicates that the British considered the turrets of their tanks as being the primary targets of enemy tank and AT guns. However, when it came to penetrating the Panzer III and IV in return, there seems to have been almost no interest in hitting the turrets, and all the commentary is directed toward the invulnerability of their front hulls. A later Ministry of Supply penetration test conducted in early 1943 tested the 2 pounder against a turretless Pz. III Ausf. H hull and a complete Pz. III Ausf J, in which the front of the turret was attacked. So there is no record of an official, objective firing trial against a Pz. III Ausf. H turret, which in itself suggests that such a trial was not necessary, as it was not a particularly resistant target.

The total radio silence on this issue is all very strange. If the Pz. III Ausf. H turret front was indeed penetrable by the 2 pounder from 1300+ yards, it means that even the Crusader was not particularly "out-gunned" by German tanks up until mid-1942. However, if the turret front of this tank was as invulnerable as the hull front, you would think there would be at least one mention of this somewhere.
"The demonstration, as a demonstration, was a failure. The sunshield would not fit the tank. Altogether it was rather typically Middle Easty."
- 7th Armoured Brigade War Diary, 30th August 1941

Juha
Member
Posts: 265
Joined: 29 Sep 2005 10:38
Location: Finland

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Juha » 16 Oct 2019 14:17

Maybe because the hull of a Pz III was much larger frontal target than its turret. British A/T artillery changed to 'centre of mass' aiming point in 1942, I do not know when if ever the RAC made this change.
"In the first years of the war training material was issued detailing the most vulnerable areas of enemy tanks. This may have had some use for very short range engagements with infantry anti-tank weapons. It was unrealistic at longer ranges and the 1942 doctrine of 'centre of mass' ended it as far as anti-tank artillery was concerned. Trials also established that a 2 or 6-pdr at the end of its barrel wear life would hit only 18 inches low at 1000 yards."
http://nigelef.tripod.com/anti-tank.htm

User avatar
Don Juan
Member
Posts: 569
Joined: 23 Sep 2013 10:12

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Don Juan » 16 Oct 2019 21:33

The 9th Lancers did an impromptu test on a Panzer III at the beginning of March 1942, as described in their war diary:

9L1.jpg
QL2.jpg

Again, no mention of any attack on the turret, which is most frustrating. This tank was picked up on 28th February and was classed as a "derelict", so it may not have had a turret. Although I think the Ausf. J was around by this point, so this tank may have been of that variant.
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
"The demonstration, as a demonstration, was a failure. The sunshield would not fit the tank. Altogether it was rather typically Middle Easty."
- 7th Armoured Brigade War Diary, 30th August 1941

User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4062
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: What prevented the QF 3.7-inch AA gun being used in the Anti Tank role.

Post by Urmel » 18 Oct 2019 21:12

My understanding is that they were in the general vicinity of Hacheim at the time, so I doubt this was a J. More likely a relict from the November/December battles. First Js didn't make it until January and wouldn't have been encountered before the end of that month.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

Return to “The United Kingdom & its Empire and Commonwealth 1919-45”