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"The 17-pounder AT gun. Best in WW2?" Topic


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Warspite111 Jan 2022 8:26 a.m. PST

YouTube's Matsimus posits the question, was the 17-pounder the best?

YouTube link

My late father would agree with him as he was a REME fitter with 86th Anti-Tank Gun Regiment, RA, in Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Two batteries of towed 17-pounders and two batteries of M-10 17-pounders. And no, my Dad never heard their M-10s being called 'Achilles' during his service. It was probably a post-war creation.

Dad's unit was at Hill 112 in Normandy and its guns were later photographed holding the approach road to the Nijmegen bridge in Holland and shooting up river. In addition to the 17-pounders the fitters (including my father) were firing rifles and Bren guns at any object drifting down the river from German territory. Several of these blew up as they were camouflaged mines which the Germans hoped would strike the bridge supports.

The 86th's towing vehicles were initially Quads for the D+11 crossing to Normandy but soon exchanged these for turret-less and gutted Crusader tractors, a vehicle my father was very fond of driving. The 86th's fitters 'monkeyed' with the governors and removed them. The result was that the 27 mph Crusader (with turret) could now do 55mph without its turret and without it governors.

During the breakout the Crusaders were taken away from them for a few weeks and used to lead the advance. The drivers later told the rest of the regiment that the open-topped Crusaders had sandbags put on their floors and two 3-inch mortars were put in, firing semi vertically. Firing the mortars, often on the move, the Crusaders dropped bombs into the ditches beside the roads to discourage bazooka and Panzerfaust teams.

Also during the breakout the Crusaders were moving so fast and suffering so much wear that – against practice – they would simply stop and remove one track plate rather than use the adjustors. This shortened the tracks and reduced the 'lash' on the top run and the risk of throwing a track.

Barry

advocate11 Jan 2022 8:43 a.m. PST

I can't tell if it was more effective than the 88mm, but I suspect it would come down to the ammunition used in either. Both could take out the opposition's heaviest vehicles at range. Maybe I'd give it to the 88 for its longevity.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2022 9:15 a.m. PST

17 pounder for sure.
Only it started to get to be a beast to move around in the towed versions, which goes pretty much the same for all the really effective anti tank guns. Probably still came out ahead vs the US 90mm or the 88mm though.

Those things were still around for quite a while after.
The Canadians took the guns themselves and even the M10 verssions to Korea, where the US troops laughed the open topped M10s and then gave over a squadron of US M4A3E8s. The AT guns sat in the rear until the someone noticed the stockpiled amm was "sweating". A couple of the more experienced gunners decided to use it all u in a couple of indirect shoots that garnered a bit of attention.

When the UK retook the Falklands, believe it or not, one of their big fears was Argentine 17 pounders in Shermans. Never panned out.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2022 10:06 a.m. PST

I would also go with 17 pdr – the 88 (at least the more commonly used FLAK version) had a pretty high silhouette and while the Pak 43 88 mm ATG was impressive the Germans only made about 600 of them (as opposed to more than 20,000 of the FLAK version)

Also good point about the "Achilles" name – at least in US service, the "Wolverine" name for the M-10 is almost certainly post-war; during the war when referring to the M-10 it was called a "TD"

pmwalt11 Jan 2022 2:40 p.m. PST

I think a great deal depends on what stage of the war we're talking about. One could argue that the PAK 75 or Russion 76.2 were the ATGs of their time. Same I'm sure could be said of the 6 pounder too.

AndreasB11 Jan 2022 3:43 p.m. PST

I'm with the Russian 7.62 – the reason being that it had a clear influence on German tank design and a universal applicability that the other AT guns lacked. You find reference to the 'Ratschbumm' (whizz bang) gun in many Landser accounts.

For the weight/performance combo it's hard to find something to beat it. It was really bad news for almost any German armoured vehicle right until the end of the war, made infantry lives miserable/shortened them, and was reasonably portable at a weight just over 1/3rd that of the 17-pdr. It was also produced in absolutely insane numbers.

All the best

Andreas

Blaubaer11 Jan 2022 4:56 p.m. PST

My choice would be the german 88 mm Flak. Fast shooting in any direktion (RoF up to 20 p. min.), AA, AT + direkt point attacks. Hypersonic ammunition, ground targets are hit, before they can hear the sound of the gunfire and take cover. Could have a big gun shield. Electric fire controll is possible, but not necesary. Plenty ammunition, because in use for air defense.
The gun can shoot from the carriage, but normaly it sit on its "turntable" direkt on the ground. I see some of this old guns, they don't look so big to me. But at their time the most men had been smaler.

4th Cuirassier11 Jan 2022 5:13 p.m. PST

@ andreas

Do you mean the ZIS-3? I thought those couldn't defeat the side of a Tiger I or the front of a Panzer IV at any range?

Wolfhag11 Jan 2022 6:20 p.m. PST

You might want to consider the Russian D-10. It is a high-velocity gun of 100 mm calibre (bore diameter), with a barrel length of 53.5 calibres. A muzzle velocity of 895 m/s gave it good anti-tank performance by late-war standards.

With its original ammunition, it could penetrate about 164 mm of steel armor plate at 1,000 m, which made it superior to the German 75 mm KwK 42 mounted on the Panther tank as well as the Tiger I's 88 mm KwK 36 gun. Testing against Panther tanks at Kubinka showed the D-10T could penetrate the Panther's glacis up to 1500 m.

Armor penetration performance increased further with the development of APDS (Armor-Piercing, Discarding Sabot) and other more modern ammunition types after WWII. A more effective high-explosive shell was also developed after the war, taking advantage of the larger 100 mm bore.

Mounted in the SU-100, Egyptian T-34/100 and as an anti-tank gun.

Most anti-tank guns fired from a fairly close concealed position in a surprise flanking ambush so for the most part a 75mm gun will suffice and is easier to relocate and move around. The German Pak 40 and Russian 76mm probably knocked out the most tanks.

Wolfhag

Mark 111 Jan 2022 11:11 p.m. PST

My vote would go for the PaK40. It was really just about the best you could do for a kinetic energy punch at the size / weight that a towed gun could be for useful employment in mobile combat. They were barely within the threshold that the gun's crew could man-handle the gun into or out of position, and even extend it or rotate it if the tactical situation required.

The ZiS-3 was certainly a good general purpose gun -- an exceptional example of getting the most out of a given weight. But it lacked the anti-armor punch of the German PaK. Also the PaK was lower in height, which matters when you are trying to dig-in and camo an AT gun to ensure you get the first shot.

The German 88s (FLAK or PaK), the US 90mm … these guns were too large to be effective in anything but a static defense. Place them, and they hold or die. The 17pdr was also beyond the threshold of being man-handled, although not by as much. Maybe a bit too big to be convenient, but worth it for the extra punch? IDK. But the dispersion (the technical accuracy), in most test firing results I have seen, kind of turns me off to the gun.

I would place the Russian D-10 (better referred to as the BS-3 or M1944) in the same category. A good gun, one that would see service for 50 years or more (it rivals the French Mlle1897 75mm gun for it's longevity in service). But in the same weight class as the 17pdr, it's just too big for the crew to man-handle.

The Russian D-44 85mm gun is an interesting bit between the BS-3 (M1944) and the ZiS-3 (M1942). But for all the stats quoted for it (180mm penetration at 1,000m using HVAP, weight only about 60% of a BS-3 or 17pdr), it never saw wide service, leaving me to suspect it had serious under-reported flaws (there are some descriptions of problems with projectile shatter). But it could just be a Red Army preference for larger bores for the advantage of HE performance.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

AndreasB11 Jan 2022 11:28 p.m. PST

@Wolfhag

"Do you mean the ZIS-3? I thought those couldn't defeat the side of a Tiger I or the front of a Panzer IV at any range?"

No, I mean the other ZIS-3, the one which forced the Germans to up-armour their Panzer IVs with negative consequences for the tank's performance and make the Tiger an overweight complex piece of pointless armour, and that still managed comfortably to get through the Panther side armour at any meaningful range.

All the best

Andreas

Martin Rapier11 Jan 2022 11:35 p.m. PST

Pak 40, a medium weight AT gun on a carriage it is fairly easy to move but packed the punch of a heavy AT gun.

The 17pdr might pack a punch, but it is huge.

All the 75/76mm AT guns were pretty much obsolete by 1945 in any case.

AndreasB12 Jan 2022 2:16 a.m. PST

In fairness, movability became an issue with the introduction of the PAK38. This is noted in German documents, e.g. in the excellent 'The German Army in Russia'. I doubt they would have considered the PAK40 an easy gun to move.

In the German forces gun mobility issues were further excerbated by a continuous lack of prime movers. This wasn't so much an issue with the Allied armies, but it's clear that the performance of the 17-pdr came at a hefty price.

All the best

Andreas

Wolfhag12 Jan 2022 6:00 a.m. PST

AndreasB,
My references show the ZiS-3 having about a 50% chance of penetrating the 80mm side armor on the Tiger I turret up to about 400m and the Panther and Panzer IV over 1000m. There is also a good chance of immobilizing the Tiger from a side shot. The Russian tactic was to coordinate the fire of numerous anti-tank guns at a single target essentially making them more effective and life very difficult for the tankers. Considering how few Tigers there were (except in the games we play) I don't think it's a big deal.

The German tankers thought the Russian anti-tank guns were the most dangerous to go up against and that's mainly the Zis-3. The ZiS-3 could be man handled by the crew over short distances on good terrain as it weighted about 600 pounds less than the Pak 40. It could also be used for indirect fire too. It's not the best in any category but it is very versatile and if used correctly very effective. If your anti-tank gun is engaging tanks frontal armor someone has done something tactically wrong.

Moving ZiS-3 across a stream: link

When you are asking for the "best" there are many interpretations. For me that's the most bang for the buck, practical to use tactically, easy to conceal, easy to deploy, and handles most threats. A battle is a combined arms effort, no one weapon system handles everything. Comparing stats is interesting but does not always translate into a battle winner.

I think overall I'd go with the Pak 40. When entrenched there is only about 1 foot of vertical target to hit. It also had flashless powder that made it harder to spot the further away you were meaning it can get in multiple shots before being detected. No allied gun can claim that. It could penetrate the side armor of almost all allied tanks within the normal ranges it would engage them. I recall seeing a video of a Pak 40 crew bringing a horse drawn gun into position and setting it up and going into action in about 15 seconds.

The problem with all anti-tank guns was when you opened fire it was just a matter of time before being knocked out. That's why the normal tactic was to open fire at close range to guarantee a hit and shoot as quickly as possible.

Wolfhag

AndreasB12 Jan 2022 6:26 a.m. PST

Totally agree on all of the above. To me it's versatility, numbers and being good enough. I recognise the point you make about what German tankers said they feared most, as well as the one about combined arms. I think these are critical in the assessment of any weapon system.

All the best

Andreas

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2022 7:37 a.m. PST

The really heavy types were pretty well flak guns. The 88mm, the US 90mm, the soviet 85mm and the British 3.7". They would all punch holes in whatever appeared on the foeld. They were all just plain and simply way too much to try and push around, even using a prime mover on a flowing battlefield. Even a supposed AT gun dedicated version like the late PAK43, no one mentions it was nicknamed Barn Door, because the crews hated it it and called it that because they had to push it around for final placement. Stunning no one compares the 88mm to the 3.7" for performance.

The AT guns really plateaued in performance for weight at the height with the US three inch gun and the 17 pounder. They just started getting too heavy. That is a big reason for postwar abandonment of the AT guns. You got an equivalent performance through shaped charges and light weight guns such as BAT/WOMBAT/MOBAT and the 75mm and 106 recoilless.

Perhaps the better all round perormer was the Russian Zis3 due to it being considered a field gun and designed for whatever appeareed on the field to include tanks. It could threaten tansk and still had a very useful HE round. Most other AT guns simply did not have an HE round of any worth or value.

The Zis3 was also fairly mobile compared to the later beasties of guns. It was produced in stupid numbers. People forget it was also widespread adopted by the Germans and found everywhere from North Africa to Normandy besides on the eastern front.

The rest of the world decided on dedicated anti tank guns only and tended to suffer from a lack of other worthwhile ammo types.

Wolfhag12 Jan 2022 7:50 a.m. PST

I never mentioned the Pak 43 for the same reasons. I've seen one at the Army Carlisle Base in PA. They might as well have put it in a pillbox. Ridiculous. As was the 12.8 cm Pak 44.

Wolfhag

AndreasB12 Jan 2022 8:55 a.m. PST

"That is a big reason for postwar abandonment of the AT guns."

Polite cough in Russian:

link

All the best

Andreas

4th Cuirassier12 Jan 2022 10:55 a.m. PST

I'm still a bit bemused by the ZiS-3. The wiki page has the following AP stats for it:

range 60° 90°
100 67 82
500 61 75
1000 55 67
1500 49 60
2000 43 53

Unless square-on to the side or rear, and at < 100 metres, it looks like it would struggle to defeat a Tiger I. It would defeat the turret armour of a Panzer IVH, but not the hull front. So, competitive up till about 1943 but after that likely to struggle.

I guess with its rate of fire it could unnerve a crew, but compared to the (admittedly later) 17-pounder's 130mm at 1,000 metres, i.e. twice as much, it doesn't seem in the same league. The 100mm looks much better, with 170mm at 1,000 metres; it weighed more but then it would.

What am I missing?

AndreasB12 Jan 2022 12:22 p.m. PST

"What am I missing?"

Thinking of systems, employment and tactics instead of individual weapons.

Would you rather have 10 ZIS-3 with relatively flexible deployment options or one 17-pdr weighing >3 tons? Because those are the production and weight ratios.

All the best

Andreas

4th Cuirassier12 Jan 2022 1:04 p.m. PST

Well, that's a slightly different proposition; that's asking which is better, one 17-pounder or ten ZiS-3s? As opposed to which was better, the 17-pounder or the ZiS-3?

I am always slightly sceptical of arguments that boil down to "quantity has a quality all its own", because these often amount to accepting the defeated German generals' contention that they were defeated by limitless Russian manpower and matériel. They were actually defeated by Russian tenacity, skill and courage.

Heedless Horseman12 Jan 2022 2:56 p.m. PST

Think 17pdr was a very good A/T gun…whether in a Firefly, 'Achilles', or towed… but not perfect. Just better than anything else British had.
Not particularly accurate, (Certainly if compared to an 88!), but a pretty heavy 'Punch'.

A drawback for the towed ATG, was its weight. I have heard that at Arnhem, the 17pdrs that survived landing did excellent service. But once specialised prime mover damaged they could not be moved… and so lost.

AndreasB13 Jan 2022 2:11 a.m. PST

"They were actually defeated by Russian tenacity, skill and courage."

Like Pakfronts? It's always the problem with these questions – if you put the guns on a range and define 'best' in terms of penetration performance, sure it's an easy contest. But if you consider real-life employment the picture changes dramatically. Penetration ratio drives weight, which drives mobility, which drives employment potential. Nothing in life comes for free.

I would expect a 3-ton gun to be massively better at it's primary purpose (in this case, punching holes into armour) than a 1-ton gun. If it weren't, the designers would be utterly incapable and should be sent to clear mines without equipment. But they are just not the same gun. You could do fundamentally different things with the ZIS-3 or the PAK38 then you could do with a 17-pdr. So…

You can as well ask what is the best vehicle and not constrain your range of vehicles? Oh it's a Ferrari, it goes fastest! But what if what you want to do is take your family and the dog for summer vacation in Italy? The Ferrari no longer looks so good, and maybe an SUV or estate is now 'best'?

All the best

Andreas

4th Cuirassier13 Jan 2022 3:56 a.m. PST

Surely the weight and performance properties are mutually consequential though? A ZiS-3 shell is to a 17-pounder shell as a pistol round is to a rifle bullet. If you want to fire high velocity rounds downrange, you need a big shell, which means you need a big breech, which means you need a more robust barrel, which means you need a heavier carriage and trail legs.

The western anti-tank gun whose properties are closest to those of the ZiS-3 is the 6-pounder. It weighs about the same, its rate of AT fire is about the same, and its AP performance is about the same, or slightly better. The corresponding German gun would be the PaK 38, of which all the same are true. Neither's HE performance would be as good as the ZiS-3, but then again, the question was "best AT gun", not "best general-purpose gun" or "best HE performance by an anti-tank gun".

The ZiS-3 seems comparable to the Sherman 75mm.

AndreasB13 Jan 2022 5:10 a.m. PST

"Surely the weight and performance properties are mutually consequential though?"

Not necessarily. Compare the PAK40 and PAK41.

Or the 3.7cm PAK and the sPzB41.

Of course, squeeze bores have other issues.

All the best

Andreas

Wolfhag13 Jan 2022 6:59 a.m. PST

One of the drawbacks of any anti-tank gun is getting it deployed correctly and it is mainly used as a somewhat expendable defensive weapon. The Brits and Americans never really got a chance to use them because the Germans were rarely attacking and you can't advance and have the guns deployed at the same time.

When being attacked by a tank/infantry team the ZiS-3 can fire HE to suppress the infantry forcing the tanks to advance without infantry support so it could be considered a dual purpose gun. They can keep their gun out of sight and then quickly roll it into place to shoot. Stealth and concealment are the real only defenses an anti-tank gun has. The 17dr is about twice the height as a ZiS-3 or Pak 40.

Also, the Russians deployed them in an integrated defensive position with mines, anti-tank rifles and machine guns. Don't laugh at anti-tank rifles, the Germans didn't. They'll decrease the crews Situational Awareness making all other weapons more effective. Firing at Anti-Tank Rifle crews takes pressure off the Zis-3 crews too.

The 17pdr appears to be an excellent weapon if it has an elevation advantage and clear long range field of fire to take advantage of it's muzzle velocity. It's just not as versatile as the Zis-3 which is a 1940 design which fulfilled all of the requirements to engage the German tanks of that time.

The Zis-3 and Pak 36 could be pushed along with advancing infantry giving them a way to deal with defensive positions and tanks.

My opinion: The Zis-3 was the "best" one for the Russians. The 17pdr the "best" for the Allies and the Pak 40 the "best" for the Germans.

Wolfhag

donlowry14 Jan 2022 10:25 a.m. PST

For a pure (towed) anti-tank role, I'd say the Pak 40 was hard to beat. Maybe not quite the punch of the 17-pdr, but good enough. Smaller overall and thus easier to hide.

The 17-pdr in SP versions (Achilles, Archer, Firefly), however, was great!

Personal logo SHaT1984 Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2022 10:29 a.m. PST

I'm not in comparison mode anyway. but my fathers experience in the 2NZDiv in both North Africa and Italy with all their various pieces (he went from regiment to regiment 25pdrs to A/t 2 pdrs etc.
Loved the 17 pdr, it was he recalled well balanced and mobile [despite the weight claims], could outshoot anything that opposed them except indirects and was as suggested, low profile enough that they turned the 'sniping' role on the nazis.

In Italy after discovering the old panther in the haystack trick the kiwis manhandled their pieces forward under cover and 'sniped' haystacks and barns in the valleys that may have contained concealed enemy. They even made infantry gun pits run away as the ground penetration of the shot was significant.

They became infamous for shooting 'through' canal Bleeped texts in Nthn Italy to dislodge defenders on the other sides of rivers. Haven't seen that in any rules,
cheers d

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