AT weapons WW2 British AT Weapons

Ordance QF 2 Pounder

Standard AT gun – UK.
About 12,000 built 1936-44.

The main British Antitank gun

From 1935, the Ordnance QF 2-pounder was the staple Anti-Tank weapon used by the British Army, throughout the Empire. It only started to be replaced in 1942 as the 6-Pounder became available. However, its history was unusual for the time. It began as a specially designed gun for a tank, the Cruiser Mk.I, and as such, had to be compact, light, and fast to reload. At a time of budgetary cuts, the Director of Artillery chose it in 1934 also as the main AT gun for the infantry, mainly for standardization purposes. The three-legged mount construction was attributed to Woolwich Arsenal.

General Conception :

Vickers won the contract for Ordnance QF 2-pounder Mark IX on Carriage Mark I, and a few prototypes were assembled and tested in 1936-37. The carriage was innovative, with a combination of small road wheels and legs, one of which, at the rear was also used as a towing tail, and the two on the front, shorter, were folded up for transport. When deployed, the wheels were lifted up and the three legs platform formed a strong support on all types of grounds, also allowing the mount a 360 degree traverse.
A second Mk.II carriage, simplified for mass production, included fully removable road wheels. Both the caliber and rate of fire of the 2-Pdr (a 40mm caliber) outperformed the German Pak 36 and similar 37mm guns in foreign armies. However, it was bigger, taller, heavier and thus easier to hit and slower to deploy. Also no HE round was never provisioned for it, despite such round was studied in 1940 but never materialized int production.

The QF 2-Pdr in action

The Ordnance 2 Pounder found itself the only AT gun of the British army from 1939 to 1942 at least, when the 6-Pdr was introduced on the frontline. It saw action for most of the war in many theaters of operations with the Commonwealth armies, in France, Italy, Norway, North Africa, Eastern Africa, India, the Eastern Indies, and New guinea, not only as a standard infantry AT gun, but mounted on a variety of vehicles.
However in North Africa against up-armoured Panzer III and IV it proved useless but only at short range on vulnerable spots, and the situation would come to worsen over time. However, it was found adequate on the southern Pacific and eastern Indies against weekly protected Japanese tanks. Whoolwich’s only began to replace it by the spring of 1942. Both the range and efficiency of the ammunition used were improved in the meantime.
One improvement made to the gun was the adoption of the Little John Adapter on 2-Pounder Tank Guns. This adapter worked on the Squeeze Bore principal and fired a special APCNR (Armor-Piercing Composite Non-Rigid) high-velocity shell. It almost doubled the armor piercing capability of the weapon and would see service until the end of the war on vehicles such as the Daimler Armored Car.

AFVS Equipped with a 2 Pounder

The High-Explosive Controversy

It has long been thought that the 2-Pounder gun was never equipped with High-Explosive (HE) shells, this is not the case however. HE was available to the 2-Pounder gun, but British military thinking was that firing Explosive Shells was the job of the Artillery. As such, towed 2-Pounder crews deployed by the Royal Artillery were equipped with HE ammunition, but Tanks, designed for infantry support such as the Matilda II, were not equipped with them.
The 2-pounder actually had two types of exploding shell produced for it, namely the 1934 – 1937 pattern APHE shell and the HE fragmentation shell. The shell weighed 1.87 Pounds and used the Hotchkiss base fuse Mark IV. The shell is a blunt-nosed serrated cylinder made of cast iron designed to strike the ground and pitch back into the air then explode, scattering fragments into enemy infantry and animals such as horses.
This shell was used by tanks of the BEF in France 1940 but although available in North Africa, was out of favor with crews preferring to stock their ammo racks with AP ammunition. However, anti-tank units always carried a supply for deterring infantry assaults against them.
The 1934 -1937 pattern APHE shell was produced before trials of the 2 Pounder gun took place but failed to meet the War Department’s specifications of being able to have a 70% (7 in 10) probability of penetrating 14mm. of vertical face hardened rolled homogeneous armor plate (Vickers “Vibrax” at a range of 500 yards.
In tests the Hotchkiss Mark.IV. base mounted fuse either fell out in the barrel during firing or fell out when the shell hit the test target despite the actual unexploded shell actually penetrating. In other instances, when the fuse stated in the shell would explode with no or partial penetration.
Because of this, the British Army elected to dispense with APHE ammunition from 1937 to the present day. Maximum penetration was 48mm. at 100 yards versus vertical FHRHA as live APHE and 59mm. at 100 yards versus vertical FHRHA fired inert/unfilled. 562,000 were produced between 1934 and 1937, none were fired in combat or even issued. Instead, stocks were used up on firing ranges in the UK for training and issued to home defense anti-tank units during 1940 after Dunkirk.
Information Provided by A. Reid, a former employee of The Tank Museum, Bovington

P2-pdr AT gun
The standard 1939 2-pounder was the main infantry antitank weapon in service with the BEF in may-june 1940.
A 2 Pounder Anti-tank Gun Carrier
A 2 Pounder Anti-tank Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier) used by Australian forces in North Africa, 1941.
Chevrolet 32 CWT 2pdr portee
Chevrolet 30 CWT (WA/WB) 2pdr portee, the same type used by the LRDG in North Africa. This was a widespread solution, also declined on the Morris 15 cwt truck, CMP Ford F30 or Chevrolet C30, until the US-supplied lend-lease M10 tank hunter made them obsolete.

A British Army illustration of the 2 Pounder gun.

A Royal Artillery towed 2 Pounder gun, in service in North Africa. Source: –

Ammunitions :

    • AP/T Mk.I : (Armour Piercing, Tracer) total weight: 2.04 kgs, Muzzle velocity: 792 m/s. – Arm. Penetration 457m (500yds) 37mm
    • APHV/T : (with increased charge). total weight: 2.04 kg Muzzle velocity: 853 m/s – Arm. Penetration 457m (500yds) 54mm
    • AP/CNR : (Armour-piercing, composite non-rigid*), 1.9 kg?, muzzle velocity 1280 m/s (Mk.II 1189 m/s)- Arm. Penetration 457m (500yds) 53.5mm

*Using Littlejohn adaptator

Characteristics :

  • Weight (full gear): 814 kgs (1790 ibs)
  • Dimensions (L* overall) : 2m/2,08m L50/L52 (6.10/6.70 fts)
  • Crew : 3-5 : Commander, gunner, loader, suppliers/servants
  • Shell : 2-pdr (40mm) 40×304 mm (1.57in)
  • Elevation/Traverse : -13° +15°/360°
  • Rate of fire : 22 rpm
  • Muzzle velocity : 792 m/s (2,600 ft/s) with AP shot
  • Effective range : 915m (1000 yds)
  • Max range : 1000m (1093 yds)

*barrel only. Around 3m total with the three-legs platform carriage.

Links & Resources:

The 2-pdr on Wikipedia
Osprey Publishing, New vanguard #98, British Anti-Tank Artillery 1939-45

By David.B

Tank Encyclopedia's Creator, webmaster and illustrator since 2010.

8 replies on “Ordance QF 2 Pounder”

As far asI’m aware, it was the idea of the British at the time that HE should be in the hands of the Artillery, not for those in the Anti-Tank role. This is why the Matilda did not carry HE.

“From 1935 to 1945, the Ordnance QF 2-pounder was the staple of British army antitank means throughout the Empire. ”
This simply isn’t an accurate statement. 2 pdrs may have remained deployed against the Japanese in some cases simply because it could still defeat the obsolete Japanese tanks encountered; but it was the 6 Pdr, introduced in April of 1942, and after June 6 1944 the 17 Pdr, that saw British Commonwealth troops through WW2 in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and North West Europe. Even the US bought the 6 Pdr, which was of 57mm, and fielded it as the 57mm Anti Tank Gun M-1. You should correct this in your post.

Originally 6-pdr production in the US was exclusively for Britain but it was adopted on paper as Lend-Lease legislation required all material manufactured under its provisions be either adopted or suitable for use by the US military. (which is the reason some Rifles No 4 made in the US or Canada carried “US Property” on their receiver – it was never intended they be issued to US troops but the law had to be obeyed) It wasn’t until later that the US Army began to use the gun itself.
The 57mm M1 had a British carriage and wheels with geared traverse and a 50 caliber rather than 43 caliber barrel (British gun lathes couldn’t make the longer barrel until Lend-Lease provided US lathes)
Changes were introduced to the 57mm M1, mainly in the carriage component that utilized American wheels and tires, and this gave rise to the “M1A1” model.
An improved “free-traverse” capability added in mid-1942 generated the “M1A2” designator
An all-new carriage design greeted the “M1A3” of 1943. This model featured a new towing hook and became the initial M1 version to be officially taken into service by the U.S. Army.
The carriage component saw further changes to produce the “M2” of 1944 and “M2A1” of 1945 – the former had caster wheels on the right trail arm, relocated trail handles and an all-new utility box while the latter introduced an improved elevation gear arrangement
The gun remained in service into the 1950’s
A Historical Footnote – It should be noted that in June 1944 the US Airborne Division TO&E specified use of the 37mm gun.
“Preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy highlighted an additional need. The Airborne Command had rejected the 57 mm M1 in the summer of 1943, claiming that it was unfit for airlanding by glider due to its weight and the TO&E of February 1944 still had airborne divisions keeping their 37 mm guns. To increase firepower, the 82nd and the 101st airborne divisions were re-equipped with British-manufactured 6 pounders on the narrow carriage Mk III designed for glider use—24 in AA battalion, and 9 in each glider infantry regiment—for the Normandy airdrops. In the fighting after the Normandy landings, the paratroops used them against German armour near St Mere Eglise and Carentan. However, few tanks were encountered and they were mostly used for support, which made the lack of an HE shell more significant.
The British 6 pounder with the MK III carriage was also used by 442 AT Company as part of the glider invasion force assigned at that time to the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, First Airborne Task Force, during Operation Dragoon; the invasion of Southern France.
Subsequently, the guns were officially introduced under the TO&E from December 1944. According to the TO&E, a division was issued 50 pieces: 8 in the divisional artillery, 24 in the AA battalion, and 18 in the glider infantry regiment; parachute infantry regiments did not have anti-tank guns. The British guns were referred simply as ’57 mm guns’. “

The 17pdr was used earlier than June 1944. There were difficulties with a gun carriage. In Feb 1943 the 17pdr made it to the front line in Tunisia. It was a stop-gap, 100 were mounted on 25pdr carriages to counter the Tigers in Tunisia. Called a “Pheasant.”
Also deployed in March 1943, there was the Archer AFV mounting the 17pdr in a fixed superstructure (no turret). It used a Valentine chassis with the gun actually pointing to the rear of the original tank.
I don’t have an exact date but the 17pdr was ready with its own carriage for the Italian Campaign mid 1943.

On the 2pdr lacking an HE round. A crazy situation, a huge blunder given the extensive use of the the gun in ATGs, tanks and armoured cars. There are pictures of the Red Army entering Germany with 2pdr armed lend lease Matilda 2 tanks, why stick with these tanks in 1944? I have seen a post that an HE round was made from 1942-44 with a million produced for the Armoured cars using the 2pdr. This makes sense when you consider how useful an armoured car with only solid shot would be and the available 37mm gun as a good substitute with an HE round and a cannister round. Were the HE rounds made for the Red Army only?. Is this all to hide a huge blunder? No HE round makes no sense, if made where did the 1 million rounds go?

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