Saturday, December 10, 2016

The 6 pounder Anti-Tank Guns at Operation 'Market Garden' - Arnhem 1944

In the document AIRBORNE OPERATIONS, Pamphlet No. 1 GENERAL, 1943 (Provisional), May 1943, under General Considerations for Airborne Operations, one of the highest ranking concerns was the vulnerability to tank attack. Inherent by their very nature airborne troops are limited in their T.O. and E. to the antitank artillery organic at each organizational level. See; 

The 1st Airborne Division as it jumped and glided in at Operation Market Garden had the following anti-tank artillery assets, which were limited to the two Airlanding Anti-tank Batteries RA contained within the 4th Airlanding Brigade.

The basic antitank gun team was embarked in two Airspeed AS.51 Horsa gliders. The first glider carried a jeep, 2 ammunition trailers, a 6 pdr Anti-Tank gun, a sergeant as gun commander, and three members of the gun detachment. A second glider also carried a jeep, two ammunition trailers, and an NCO and remaining member of the gun crew. The ammunition allowance carried in the three trailers was comprised of 15 armor piercing, and 27 Sabot, totaling 42 rounds per gun. This was less than half the normal Royal Artillery ammunition allowance of 96 rounds, due to airborne logistics limitations.

In addition 30 panniers of 6 pdr Anti-Tank APCBC (Mk 9T) rounds were included in the bulk cargo loads planned for delivery in three Hamilcar gliders in the second lift. Based on the size of a pannier which contained two metal cases of 6 pdr ammunition (4 rounds/case), this would be 240 rounds. See: There were 500 rounds of 6 pdr Anti-Tank ammunition which was air dispatched by pannier, and recovered by the British during the course of the battle.

Each gun was an Ordnance, Quick Firing, 6 pdr, Anti-Tank Gun Mk IV (L/50 barrel with muzzle brake) on a Mk III (Airborne) Carriage. Significant major modifications were required to reduce weight and requisite to fit the gun into the 4 ft. 6 in. confines of a Horsa glider. These included:

            • Incorporation of L/50 barrel with muzzle brake
            • Reduction of the wheel track, restricting traverse to 37 deg. left or right
            • Reducing the size and shape of the Main Shield
            • Reducing the sides of the Lower Shield
            • Reducing the width of the lower Splinter Shield
            • Providing hinges in the middle of each trail leg
            • Reduction of the weight of the trails
            • Relocation of the Elevation Wheel
            • Modification of the Transport Lock and Towing Eye

The effective range of the 6 pdr was 1650 yds, with the maximum firing range at 5500 yds. It is interesting to note that while elevation/depression of the gun was effected by the elevation wheel geared to the body of the breech, the weapon used "free traverse" (not geared) by the crew pushing and nudging the back of the breech block. Apparently this design reduced both complexity and weight.

The following drawing, with acknowledgement and gratitude to the Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) Club, summarizes the modified and unmodified configurations of the gun.

Assembled the AFV Club 1:35 scale model provides an excellent replication of the real gun, as can be seen in the following photographs.

The completed model in full "battledress" to be compared with the real thing.

Photographs of the standard 6 pdr Anti-Tank Gun followed by the Airborne configuration.

Further, with acknowledgement and gratitude to NET-MAQUETTES, the following video series shows first the basic Ordnance, Q.F., 6 pdr (7 cwt), Ant-Tank Gun Mk II on a standard Mk I Carriage, and the second video the Airborne configuration, showing detailed photographs of those modifications.

Prior to the Arnhem operation the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA, was reformed into six troops. Four troops were each equipped with four 6 pdr AT guns each (16 guns total), and two troops each with four of the heavier 17 pdr AT guns. These weapons were assigned in direct support of the three Para Bns (1st Para, 2nd Para and 3rd Para Bns) comprising the 1st Parachute Brigade.

A second battery, the 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Ant-Tank Artillery Battery, was comprised of three troops of four 6 pdr AT guns (12 guns), and two troops each equipped with four 17 pdr AT guns. These weapons were assigned in direct support of the three Para Bns (10th Para, 11th Para and 156th Para Bns) comprising the 4th Parachute Brigade.

In addition to these two anti-tank batteries, each of the respective Support Companies, of the 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment (Airlanding), 1st Battalion The Border Regiment (Airlanding), and 7th Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers (Airlanding) had two Anti-Tank Platoons. Each of these platoons was comprised of four 6 pdr AT guns with associated crews, supporting jeeps, and ammunition trailers. This provided an additional 24 anti-tank guns.

The action of the 17 pdr Ant-Tank Guns (all  delivered by Hamilcar gliders) has already been discussed in detail in: 

The only guns to fight all the way from the landing zones to the division’s primary objective were five 6 pdrs of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery which successfully joined LtCol John Frost’s 2nd Bn Para at the north side of the main Arnhem road bridge.They would provide what was to prove critical support in the ensuing battle at the bridge. These guns were principally credited with the complete destruction of  Waffen-SS HauptstrumfΓΌhrer Viktor Graebner's reconnaissance battalion at the north side of the main road bridge on 18 September. Amongst the 21 vehicles of Graebner's SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 9 shown destroyed, are 8 Sd.Kfz.250/1 ‘alt’ half-tracks.

Based on War Diary entries, altogether four 6 pdrs and two 17 pdrs of the Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery supporting the 4th Parachute Brigade, and three 6 pdrs from "E" Troop, successfully reached the Divisional Troops Area, i.e. the Hartenstein Hotel/Oosterbeek Perimeter.

This iconic photograph is of the gun crew of a 6 pdr ironically named Gallipoli II, within the Oosterbeek Perimeter, engaging a German tank at a range of 80 yards. The only man with his face toward the AFPU camera is unidentified. The rest of the gun crew (L-R) are LCpl R. Eccles, Pvt G. 'Taffy' Barr and Pvt Joe Cunnington (No. 25 Anti-Tank Platoon, 1st Bn, Borders Regt (Airlanding)). The target, a PzKpfw B2 (f), was knocked out of action.

 In a significant action a Section (two) of 6 pdr Anti-Tank Guns were brought into position and sited on either side of a critical road junction at Bendendorpsweg and Acacialaan in Oosterbeek. On 20 September 1944 a coordinated major German attack was mounted on Bendendorpsweg towards the positions of the 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment (Airlanding). This gun position commanded by LSgt John Daniel Baskeyfield of the South Staffords, was reported to have engaged and destroyed two Tiger I tanks and  a Sturmgeschutz III self-propelled gun. Subsequent extended in-depth research has concluded that it was probably three Sturmgeschutz IIIs, hardly a small feat. Although badly wounded in the leg, and with his entire gun crew killed or badly wounded, and his 6 pounder put out of action, he crawled across the road to the other still operable gun, whose crew had been killed, and single-handedly engaged and destroyed another Sturmgeschutz III. While reloading, his position sustained a direct hit from another German tank and he was killed. LSgt John Daniel Baskeyfield was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

A 1:35 scale model 6 pdr in the author's collection. It is observed from a similar orientation as the weapon LSgt Baskeyfield was serving when he engaged the last Sturmgeschutz destroyed before his position sustained a direct hit, and he was killed. Particularly sharp-eyed individuals and ex-artillerymen will notice that the lever to disengage the gun from the hydro-pneumatic recoil/counter-recoil cylinder is incorrect in the model. This detail has since been rectified.

The following photograph is a destroyed Sd.Kfz. 142/1 Sturmgeschutz III Ausf. G 'late version' of Sturmgeschutz-Brigade 280 Kgr. 'Harder'. Due to its location on Bendendorpsweg, it is probably one of the Sturmgeschutz destroyed by LSgt Baskeyfield's gun. Given the effective range of a 6 pdr, and an estimate of distances from the previous painting and Google earth, the engagement range appears within 100 hundred yards or so. This range is corroborated by the modern nominal standard distance between light posts (about 23 m or 75 feet) in the Netherlands. 

LSgt Baskeyfield's gun position on the horizon, as seen from behind the Sturmgeschutz III shown above.

The following two photographs are from Google Earth. The first is a bit out of focus in order that I could exploit the existing legends for the intersection of Benedendorpsweg and Acacialaan. The roadway is now obscured by trees, however the curvature which would have partially screened the gun positions is discernable. The second image is much clearer and shows the area on either side of Benedendorpsweg where the gun positions were sited. The location in Oosterbeek is just north of the northern bank of the Nijer Rhine.

Terence Tenison Cuneo CVO, OBE, RGI, FGRA, was a preeminent British artist. One of his specialties was depicting historical military actions. Given his impeccable credentials, his painting of LSgt John Daniel Baskeyfield VC, shown above, is deemed likely to be historically basically accurate. Having said that, this author would question whether the 6 pdr depicted by Cuneo is the correct airborne configuration. The reader should note the space between the right wheel and the trail, the size of the splinter shield, and the absence of the hinge assembly on the trail. Aside from those significant details, apparently all the buildings in vicinity which existed contemporary with the action were badly damaged, if not destroyed. In any event they were totally razed and replaced after the war, with the exception of the buildings on the south side of Benedendorpsweg which were never rebuilt, judging from recent Google Earth imagery.

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