Monday, October 1, 2012

The 17 pounder Anti-Tank Guns at Operation 'Market Garden' - 1944

It’s full nomenclature is Ordnance, Quick Firing, 17 pounder Anti-Tank Gun, Mk I (Carriage Mk I or II). The gun has been commonly adjudged to be one of, if not the best, Allied anti-tank artillery pieces of World War II. Even though the II SS Panzer Corps (9th and 10th Waffen-SS Panzer Divisions) was largely ignored or written off by the staffs of British 21st Army Group and the 1st Allied Airborne Army during the planning for Operation Market-Garden, the potential threat of German armor, overall, was not.

A important factor which is often overlooked is that anti-tank artillery, including the 17 pdr, is by its very purpose and resultant design, defensive in nature. Although having more than adequate traverse the elevation (-6 to +16 1/2 deg) inherently restricts its flexibility, and precludes its use in any significant offensive capacity. The ballistics of the weapon's projectiles are intended for flat high velocity trajectories in direct fire mode. An indirect fire mission is a virtual impossibility. The weight of the 17 Pdr at 4,624 lbs further restricted its mobility. But properly sited the gun was more than capable of destroying the newest and most heavily armored tanks the Germans had in operational inventory. With the Armored Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) round, at a muzzle velocity of 3950 fps, it could penetrate 200 mm of armored plate at 1,000 m. The Pz.Kpfw Tiger Aust.B ('Konigstiger'), aka Tiger II, had maximum frontal armor of 180mm (7.1in). Effective range was nominally 4,000 yds, with maximum range being 10,000 yds. 

A rare series of stills from a AFPU film of personnel from 2nd
(Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA at Arnhem in a C.8/AT
Mk III towing a 17 pdr Mk I

The vintage film footage from which the above still frames were taken can be seen on this video from the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Museum, Airborne Assault ParaData web site;,  (See page 2 of the videos) which shows both the Morris C.8/AT Mk III and the 17 pdr Mk I AT Gun in tow. Full acknowledgement and gratitude is extended to the museum.

Attached to the British 1st Airborne Division were two batteries of anti-tank artillery. These were the 1st Airlanding Ant-Tank Battery, RA and the 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA. Each battery was organized in 6 Troops, four of which were each equipped with 4 of the Ordnance, Quick Firing 6 pounder Anti-Tank Gun, Mk  IV (L/50), mounted on the Mk III (Airborne) Carriage. A total of 16 guns. The remaining 2 Troops were equipped with the newer and more formidable 17 Pdrs, each with 4 guns per Troop, for a total of 8 guns (‘D’, ‘P’, ‘F’ and ‘X’ Troops). In summary 1st AB Division had a total of 32 of the 6 pdr AT Guns and 16 of the 17 pdr AT Guns. All guns were supplied with the newly introduced, and highly effective, ‘Sabot’ round.

As described on another page of this blog, two Hamilcar gliders, each carrying a 17 Pdr and its tractor were lost in route to their landing zone. Two more of the 17 pdrs in the 1st Lift were effectively lost on landing at LZ ‘Z’ when their Hamilcar gliders overturned. One gun being a total loss the other sustained a damaged buffer system (or the system was previously damaged prior to flight). So upon completion of the 1st Lift, four out of an intended eight 17 Pdrs were on the operable condition. Two of these guns were assigned by the CRA to accompany and protect the 75mm Pack Howitzers M1A1 of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, RA.

The following photographs are believed to be of one of the 17 pdrs close to the church on Benedendorpsweg which were protecting the gun positions of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, RA.

This rough map shows the two 17 Pdrs sited
in positions along Benedendorpsweg pointing
 east towards Arnhem on the primary threat axis

One of the remaining 17 pdrs of ‘Z’ Troop, under the command of Lt G. Ryall, had been moved into position next to a house providing protection down a main road (probably Utrechtseweg). A message was received that infantry elements were withdrawing back along that same road into Oosterbeek, and that the gun should do the same. Unfortunately in great haste the gun’s tractor bogged down in heavy sand, and even with the assistance of a Universal Carrier, the weapon could not be extracted in a timely manner and was ordered to be abandoned. The author has not yet been able to determine the fate of the final gun.

At the outset of the 2nd Lift a Hamilcar glider carrying a 17 pdr of ‘F’ Troop was lost flying over the North Sea. Two other Hamilcars landed short of their designated LZ, both carrying 17 Pdrs of the now unlucky ‘F’ Troop. One was successfully salvaged, and the gun brought into the fray by its tractor, and eventually reporting to Divisional Headquarters. The three Hamilcars carrying bulk ammunition stores (including 17 pdr rounds) all successfully landed,  and the reserve ammunition was offloaded from two of the gliders.

By Tuesday 19 September, all elements of the 4th Parachute Brigade were under heavy enemy pressure, and were withdrawing to what would become the Oosterbeek Perimeter around the Hartenstein Hotel (Divisional Headquarters). Lt G. A. Paull was directed to support the withdrawal of the 156th Parachute Battalion. With his position coming under heavy enemy fire and taking casualties he was ordered by his Battalion Commander to retrieve the guns that he could, back over the railroad line. Lt Paull was personally able to successfully withdraw two 17 pdrs down the rail line to a crossing and temporary safety. He subsequently was separated from the troop, wounded and taken prisoner. For all that he finally received a belated ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’ in 1948.

By Wednesday 20 September the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA still had three 17 Pdrs in action. These guns were positioned along Benedendorpsweg in Lower Oosterbeek, still protecting the guns of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, RA (See previous map).  The 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank, RA was able to match that number with their three remaining 17 pdr guns. Having initially succeeded in getting as far east as the Rijn Hotel one 17 pdr and crew were forced to fall back to position near the intersection of Benedendorpsweg and Veerweg covering the approach from Westerbouwing at the southwest area of the final Oosterbeek Perimeter.

The following three photographs are of one of a pair of 17 pdrs now residing on the grounds of the Airborne Museum Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek. The hotel served as MGen R.E. Urquhart's Divisional headquarters within the Oosterbeek Perimeter.

Disabled 17-pdr on Benedendorpsweg, east of the church
Gun was named "Pathfinder"

 Initially believed to be the identical gun on display adjacent
 to the Airborne Museum Hotel Hartenstein Note the similarity
in shape and nature of the damage which remains

Another view of the same gun showing the detail of the
battle damage  incurred Another gun which is "Pathfinder" is
also on display nearby See link of same name 
The second 17 pdr on display at the grounds of the Airborne Museum was recovered from its final firing position at Sonnenberglaan, approximately 200 yards northwest of its current location.

On the last day, 25 September 1944, prior to complete withdrawal from the Oosterbeek Perimeter later that night, there were still three 6 pdr AT guns and a single 17 pdr AT gun operational. Unfortunately there is no known summary account that the author has been able to discover to date that details all the engagements of the 17 pdrs during the span of Operation 'Market Garden' from 17 - 25 September 1944. There is, however, an excellent book which provides a photographic survey of the German tanks and AFVs either disabled or destroyed during the course of the battle in both Arnhem and Oosterbeek. The book is titled: German Armored Units at Arnhem September 1944, M. Zwarts, Concord Publications, Hong Kong, 2003, ISBN 962-361-691-0. One German tank unit who fared particularly badly was Panzerjager-Abteilung 657, Panzer-Kompanie 224. In the course of two days, 20-21 September 1944, they lost 6 tanks. The unit's tanks bore the German designation Pz.Kpfw.B2 (f) 'Char' ('f' connoting 'Flammpanzer', i.e. flamethrower), and were originally French Char B1 and B2 tanks. War diaries specifically cite that at least one of these tanks was 'put paid' by a single round from a 17 pdr in the Oosterbeek Perimeter. The following photograph is from the book cited above and was taken in 1945. This specific Flammpanzer B2 (f) was destroyed on 20 September in Sonnenberglaan by a 17 pdr AT gun of 'X' Troop, 2nd (Oban) Anti-Tank Battery. A large hole entirely through the tank can be clearly seen.

Martin Middlebrook in his highly respected book, ARNHEM 1944 The Airborne Battle, 17-25 September, reiterates another eye-witness account by Gunner George Hurdman, also of 2nd (Oban) Anti-Tank Battery, describing an engagement by another 17 pdr of another Pz.Kpfw.B2 (f) 'Char' on either 20 or 21 September. In this case a single APDS projectile effectively destroyed the tank with a single direct frontal shot. It may or may not be the same tank previously described, but the gunners put a second shot into the tank to make certain. In 1945, when Gunner Hurdman was amongst those sent back to Arnhem to film the movie, "Their's is the Glory", he relates that he found the very same tank where his gun had originally engaged it. Those who may be interested can see excerpts from the movie on another page of this blog;, or view the entire film from a link on that page.

 For those seeking additional information an excellent reference is: The Gunners at Arnhem, P. Wilkinson, Spurwing Publishing, East Haddon, Northton, 1999, ISBN 0-99535754-0-3. Also the following is a link to the War Diary of the 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, written by Lieut. E.H. Ellis, RA (H-Troop), .

In addition the following video is an excellent walk-around of a Q.F. Ordnance 17 pdr Mk I-II: , and is provided with both full acknowledgement and gratitude to with acknowledgement and gratitude to NET-MAQUETTES


Hans said...

The two pictures you took of the 17 pounder are wrong. The correct ond is a picture of "Pathfinder" (also near the Airbornemuseum).


Dave Rees said...

Magnificent article! I knew the 17 Pdrs were there but photographs and maps of where they were are hard to find. I have an enormous interest in the Battle of Arnhem/Oosterbeek so this article was to me a real god-send! Take a bow mate!


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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog.
You might want to check out the website of the computer game Combat Mission Beyond Normandy which has a Market Garden module and there is quite some debate there about what equipment the paras had (Nov 2014).

David Tallboys

Andy Kitchingman said...

Hi great blog about the 17pdr. I am trying to find out more about my uncle Lionel Kitchingman. He was a 17pdr gunner at Arnhem, he claims his gun was knocked out early on by a Tiger tank killing several of his crew.

Jimmy E said...

The rare photograph of the crew is actually a still from a film that was made. It can be seen on the website of the Imperial War Museum (IWM).
This scene takes a couple of seconds. In the complet scene you can see that they wait for a signal from the camera man to start driving /walking past the camera.
You will see the entire morris and 17pdr pass the camera and it follows them till they are out of vieuw. The crew is known! This is the gun of X-troop 2nd Oban that ended up at the Sonnenberglaan. I know that the driver is one of the glider pilots that flew the glider it was transported in. During a rememberance he posed with the(rare original) morris C8 of a friend. I will look up the names of the crew and the glider pilots. It its said that also this gun was named.

nadine jesko said...

Hi there my uncle thomas stanley warwick was a gunner on a 17 pounder,he was killed manning his gun near to the hartenstein oosterbeek,maybe same gun

Geoff Cruz said...

I love these types of anti tank guns
. I saw a lot of this in Hawaii when I went on vacation.

michael .van den brink said...

the Char B1 which was Knocked out by the 17pdr of the borderers near de koude herberg is not the one on your picture. The char in your picture seems to be the three Char tanks destroyed on, or near de westerbouwing (heights ''westerbouwing) also by the borderers but D-company

Arnhemjim said...

Dear Michael,
My best available limited reference data indicates that there were 2 Char B1’s destroyed on 20 September 1944, and 4 destroyed on 21 September 1944, all from Panzer-Kompanie 224.

20 Sept - Char B1, Sonnenberglaan, by 17 pdr, X Troop 2 Oban AT Bty.
20 Sept – Char B1, Utrechtsweg opposite Koude Herberg restaurant, by 6 pdr, C Co. 1 Bn Border Regt. (located near Borsselenweg)
21 Sept – Char B1, near ‘De Westerbouwing’, by 6 pdr, 13 Plt B Co. Border Regt.
21 Sept – Char B1, open country near Veerweg, by 6 pdr, 14 Plt B Co. Border Regt.
21 Sept – Char B1, on Oude Oosterbeekseweg (now Benedendorpsweg) near ‘De Westerbouwing’, by PIAT, 12 Plt B Co. Border Regt.
21 Sept – Char B1, on Borsselenweg, by probable 6 pdr, 26th AT Plt, Border Regt. (tank was 20 meters from positions of 22 Plt D Co. Border Regt.)

Unfortunately have not personally been to each and every site; so could you please correct any errors in my understanding and captioning.

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