Ordnance Q.F. 25-pdr
The gun that was to become one of the most famous of all British artillery pieces had its origins in operational analysis after World War I that indicated that it would be possible to provide the Royal Artillery with a light field piece that could combine the attributes of a gun and a howitzer. Some development work on this concept was carried out in the 1920s and 1930s, but funds for the project were very limited and it was not until the mid- 1930s that the go-ahead was given to develop the new weapon to replace the British Army's ageing stock of 18pdr field guns and 114-mm (4.5-in) howitzers.
Since there were large stocks of the old 18-pdr guns still around in the 1930s the Treasury dictated that some way would have to be found to use them. From this came the Ordnance, O.P., 25-pdr Mk 1, which was a new barrel placed on an 18-pdr carriage, and it was with this gun that the BEF went to war in 1939. The old carriages had been updated with new pneumatic wheels and other changes (some even had split trails), but the 25-pdr Mk 1 had little chance to shine before most of them were lost at Dunkirk.
By then the 25-pdr Mk 2 on Carriage 25-pdr Mk 1 was on the scene. This was a purpose-built weapon that was intended to be the full replacement for the old pieces, and was among the first examples of what can now be described as a gun-howitzer. It used an ammunition system with variable charges but could be used for lowerregister firing with no loss in efficiency. The barrel itself was orthodox and used a heavy vertical sliding breech mechanism, but the carriage had some unusual features. It was a humped box trail carried on a circular firing table that enabled one man to make large changes of traverse angle easily and quickly. The design was intended from the start for powered traction, the usual tractor being one of the large 'Quad' family.
Almost as soon as the first 25-pdr guns saw action in North Africa they were pressed into use as anti-tank guns. The little 2-pdr anti-tank gun proved to be useless against the Afrika Korps' tanks, and the 25-pdr had to be used as there was nothing else to hand. It was then that the circular firing table came into its own, for the guns could be rapidly moved from target to target, but the 25-pdr had to rely on shell power alone for its effects as there was no armour-piercing ammunition. Such a round was developed, but it entailed the use of an extra charge which in turn dicated the use of a muzzle brake, and in this form the 25-pdr was used throughout the rest of World War II.
Some changes were made to the carriage design to suit local requirements. A narrower version was developed for jungle and airborne warfare (25-pdr Mk 2 on Carriage 25-pdr Mk 2) and a version with a hinged trail (25-pdr Mk 2 on Carriage 25-pdr Mk 3) was produced to increase elevation for hill warfare. The Australians produced a drastic revision for pack transport, and there was even a naval version mooted at one time. The 25-pdr went 'self-propelled' in the Canadian Sexton carriage and there were numerous trial and experimental versions, one classic expedient being the stopgap mounting of 17-pdr anti-tank barrels on 25-pdr carriages, Captured examples were designated 8.76-cm FK 280(e) by the Germans.
The 25-pdr provided sterling service wherever it was used. It had a useful range, and the gun and carriage proved capable of absorbing all manner of punishment and hard use. It remained in service with numerous armies for many years after 1945 and is still in service with many. The 25-pdr was one of those artillery pieces that will go down in history as a 'classic', and many gunners remember the weapon with what might almost be termed affection.
Specification Ordnance, Q.F, 25-pdr Mk 2
Calibre: 87.6 mm (3.45 in)
Length of piece: 2.40 m (94,5 in)
Weight: travelling and in action 1800 kg (3,968 lb)
Elevation: -5∞ to +40∞
Traverse: on carriage 8∞
Muzzle velocity: 532 m (1,745 ft) per second
Range: 12253 m (13,400 yards)
Shell weight: 11.34 kg (25 lb)