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British Interwar Self Propelled Artillery

JFC Fuller

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The British Army effectively invented what has unfortunately been termed Blitzkrieg in the latter stages of WW1. One of the outputs of this was the Mk 1 gun carrier based on a tank chassis it could carry a 6 inch or 60lb howitzer. However the vehicle was largely used as a pack mule. However towards the end of the war an improved variant called the Mk 2 was being developed and was likely built in mock-up form (any images would be great).

Post war the British Army pursued it Dragon range of vehicles (derived from drag-gun). Armstrong-Siddeley submitted a prototype that was later abandoned but the Vickers concept appears to have been procured in very small numbers and in two variants, medium and light, with various marks. However these were effectively gun tractors rather than SPG's.

The latter came in the form of the Birch Gun, the first had an 18 pounder mounted in a fixed armoured superstructure whilst the second mounted a 75mm Vickers DP gun (likely an early variant of what later became the Vickers 75mm AA gun?) in an open vehicle. There are suggestions that a third variant was planned but I have no idea how this was to be equipped.

This is just a very brief summary and i will happily provide more detail if anyone wishes, I anyone has any information regarding the Mk-III Birch gun or the Mk-2 Gun carrier I would be very grateful!

Thank you in advance sealordlawrence
 

robunos

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I've got some stuff for you, but I'll need a little while to get it scanned up and typed out.

Shall we just say Gun Carrier Mk2 mock-up pic, plus Birch Gun stuff.....

Hope to get it done by this time tomorrow....

cheers,
Robin.
 

JFC Fuller

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robunus,

That would be fantastic, thank you very much!

sealordlawrence.
 

robunos

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Here it is........

From 'British Tanks and fighting Vehicles 1914 - 1945', B.T.White, pp241-244 :-

'...A Gun Carier, Mark II was designed in 1917 although apart from a wooden mock-up, was not built. It was similar in form to the Mark V tank, with overall tracks. The 6in howitzer or 60pr gun (complete with wheels) was carried at the rear, hauled in to position by means of a block and tackle apparatus mounted on the roof of the vehicle and attached to the trail of the carriage...

...and in the next self propelled artillery carriage, ordered from Vickers at the end of 1923, the mounting was an integral part of the vehicle. The 18pr gun was given all round traverse and could be elevated to 75deg for anti-aircraft fire. in other respects the new vehicle, which was the first type of what came to be known as the 'Bich Gun ( after the Master=General of Ordnance, Sir Noel Birch, who was a protagonist of the idea of making the artillery more mobile) resembled the Vickers 18pr Transporter. It was longer, however, and the suspension (road wheels in pairs sprung on vertical coil springs) had extra units added and was improved, together with the tracks, in many ways. The engine- an 82hp Armstrong Siddely air-cooled unit-was at the front and the final drive sprockets at the rear. This vehicle was issed to the 28 Field Battery of IX Field Brigade, Royal Artillery for trials. The weapon showed promise and an order for four further 'Birch Guns' incorporating modifications was given to Vickers towards the end of the year.
Teh battery of four new Birch Guns of the second type in 1926 were also issued to the IX Field Brigade (20th Field Battery) and were tested extensively over the next few years. The principal external differences between the new vehicles and the first type were the armoured skirting over the suspension, the addition of a gun shield, and the mounting of the 18pr so that the recuperator was now under rather instead of on top of the barrel. The fire control instruments were improved (and differed in arrangement between all four vehicles) and could be linked to a predictor for anti-aircraft fire...

...Two vehicles of a third and final type of Birch Gun were ordered from Vickers in December 1927 and delivered just over a year later.these do not appear to have been issued to a Royal Artillery unit for field trials (as were the earlier types) and seem to have been regarded as close support tanks rather than self-propelled artillery weapons.They had full all round protection for the gun crew in the form of a large circular armored structure, in corporating the shield of the 18pr gun, which was not capable of anti-aircraft fire...
...Little was heard of the Birch Guns after the 1930s-there were mechanical difficulties arising from lack of power and faults in the design of the steering system- and for various reasons effort in the Royal Artillery was instead concentrated on the development of towed field artillery.
The Birch Guns were quite capable of development into vehicles...
...For convenience, the three types of Birch Gun that appeared in 1925, 1926 and 1929 have been referred to here as 'Birch Guns', 1st, 2nd, or 3rd types, respectively, although the official designations for these vehicles was "Mounting, SP, QF 18pr"-Mark 1 (the 1st vehicle), Marks 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D ( the second batch of four), and Mark 1E (the last two vehicles).'

Hope this is what you're looking for....

cheers,
Robin.
 

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smurf

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For the story of the early gun carriers, see David Fletcher in Wheels and Tracks No 58 pp28-37

For the Birch guns, DF again, W&T No 66 pp29-33 and No 67 pp23-29
These show photos of three versions of the Birch Gun, all with 18pdrs:
the first (prototype) with an open mount, and elevation up to 90degrees;
the second with a shield - four built and used together on exercises;
the last (2 built) having a cylindrical armoured turret with a half-cone higher shield, and elevation restricted to about 45deg.
DF also mentions but does not reproduce, Vickers drawings similar to the third version, which were apparently not built.
The Vickers literature he refers to has all dimensions metric, referring to the gun as an 83mm, apparently aimed at foreign buyers when the British army lost interest.

The article in W&T66 also describes, with photos, a different machine, the C1E1. That has the 13pdr gun, a version of the 18pdr, lined-down to 3in for AA use (approx 75mm - 76.2 in fact). That is a transporter, rather than an SP gun. Of very low profile, the steering wheel was removed before firing, but again high angle firing was possible.
EDIT, as what I said elsewhere about 13pdr was clarified for me. This 13pdr was the 13pdr 9cwt, essentially a relined 18pdr for use as an AA gun. It is not the lighter, shorter Royal Horse Artillery field gun.
These are quite long and detailed articles, well illustrated, by the then curator of the Tank Museum. The information in them differs from some of that published elsewhere, but I would expect David Fletcher, writing with Bart Vanderveen as Editor, to have it right.

For a briefer account, see "Moving the Guns" Ventham & Fletcher, HMSO 1990, pp31-34.
This is in fact a history of the mechanization of the Royal Artillery 1854-1939. Lots of interesting stuff. Second hand from about £20.
 

lastdingo

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sealordlawrence said:
The British Army effectively invented what has unfortunately been termed Blitzkrieg in the latter stages of WW1.
You don't know what "Blitzkrieg" means.
It's not only about having tanks. It's about an encirclement-centric rapid operational breakthrough exploitation.


I saw many AFV prototypes of interest from the inter-war years. The British, the French, in the later years the Germans and to a limited degree the Russians and Japanese had all interesting prototypes, including half-tracked French "cuirassier" units (close to mech infantry), an early AFV with a long 7.5cm gun, R/C tanks and engineer AFVs.
 

smurf

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You don't know what "Blitzkrieg" means.
It's not only about having tanks. It's about an encirclement-centric rapid operational breakthrough exploitation.
Good grief! Even the German is shorter than that. In fact, shorter than "Lightning war" or "rapid encirclement"

If you want to know who invented it, see Panzer Leader by Heinz Guderian, page 20.
It was principally the books and articles of the Englishmen, Fuller, Liddell-hart and Martel, that excited my interest and gave me food for thought. These far-sighted soldiers were even then trying to make of the tank something more than just an infantry support weapon. ...
I learned from them the concentration of armour, as employed at the battle of Cambrai. Further, it was Liddell-hart who emphasised the use of armoured forces for long-range strokes, operations against the opposing army's communications, and also proposed a type of armoured division combining panzer and panzer-infantry units. Deeply impressed by these ideas, I tried to develop them in a sense practicable for our own army.
 

robunos

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The article in W&T66 also describes, with photos, a different machine, the C1E1. That has the 13pdr gun, a version of the 18pdr, lined-down to 3in for AA use (approx 75mm - 76.2 in fact). That is a transporter, rather than an SP gun. Of very low profile, the steering wheel was removed before firing, but again high angle firing was possible.

Is this the vehicle you're referring to? Again from 'British Tanks and fighting Vehicles 1914 - 1945', B.T.White, pp 244-245 :-

"A contempory of the Birch Guns, although designed for lighter field pieces, was the Light Artillery Transporter built by Sir W.G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd in 1924.
This vehicle, which carried a 13pr gun (although a 3.7in howitzer could be substituted) had the engine-a 48hp AEC 4-cylinder type-at the rear and the gun mounted low at the front. There was no armour protection for the crew, but the Transporter was designed to be inconspicuous to make more suitable for close support work. Only the prototype of this experimental machine was built."

cheers,
Robin.
 

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JFC Fuller

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Smurf, Robunos, thank you very much for your contributions, they have filled in a lot of gaps for me!

lastdingo; I strongly recommend that the best way to correct your ignorance would be to purchase and read the following book:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Blitzkrieg-Bryan-Perrett/dp/0812829271/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247354387&sr=8-5

Although most writings about the evolution of armoured warfare in First World War will point you in the right direction.
 

smurf

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Again, thanks for the picture, Robin.
Yes, that is C1E1. The driver sat alongside the gun. Fletcher's article has a picture with a civilian driver with a high trilby hat, who does nothing for the 'inconspicuous low silhouette'!
 

robunos

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Sealordlawrence, Smurf, glad to be of help.

Now, this is strictly speaking OT, but it follows on from above; the source I've used is fairly comprehensive, in that it covers effectively every tank, armoured car, carrier, and specialised AFV built between 1917-1945, albeit briefly.
However it is nearly 40 years old.
Given that AFVs are not my _main_area of interest, are there any one or two books available that effectively update this book?
Sorry, but buying the complete back issues of W&T is not an option!! ;D

cheers,
Robin.
 

lastdingo

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smurf said:
You don't know what "Blitzkrieg" means.
It's not only about having tanks. It's about an encirclement-centric rapid operational breakthrough exploitation.
Good grief! Even the German is shorter than that. In fact, shorter than "Lightning war" or "rapid encirclement"

If you want to know who invented it, see Panzer Leader by Heinz Guderian, page 20.
It was principally the books and articles of the Englishmen, Fuller, Liddell-hart and Martel, that excited my interest and gave me food for thought. These far-sighted soldiers were even then trying to make of the tank something more than just an infantry support weapon. ...
I learned from them the concentration of armour, as employed at the battle of Cambrai. Further, it was Liddell-hart who emphasised the use of armoured forces for long-range strokes, operations against the opposing army's communications, and also proposed a type of armoured division combining panzer and panzer-infantry units. Deeply impressed by these ideas, I tried to develop them in a sense practicable for our own army.

The key here is that the British developed a completely different use of the tank, just like the Russians had their very own concept.

Only the Germans came up with what's now known as "Blitzkrieg" (and I think I described it accurately).
Their tradition of subsidiary principle in command (Auftragstaktik) and the encirclement focus 'rediscovered' by Moltke led to Blitzkrieg.

Liddell-Hart's "Expanding Torrent" was a completely different thing. He didn't want to encircle corps and armies, but to ravage the rear units of divisions and corps. He also failed to understand the importance of combined arms and placed more emphasis on the tank's role in the breakthrough than actual German practice in 1939-1945 had (with the exception of Op. Zitadelle and the destruction of bridgeheads).

By the way; it's quite natural that the Germans hadn't much self-propelled artillery until later when they had outdated tank chassis (designs) available: The motorization of the British Army was great, while Germany had trouble to keep its armour and mot. infantry divisions motorized. They truck production was barely strong enough to replace non-combat losses (trucks weren't very durable then; about four years in average afaik).


By the way; I had a reprint of a early 30's book on the world's tanks at a local library.
The development (and the existence of many crude vehicles from later third world countries) was quite easily visible in that book.
Self-propelled artillery didn't seem to have played much of a role in the 20's and early 30's.
I remember only the use of very heavy guns as SP guns.
 

smurf

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Lastdingo, I think this is as much an issue of general semantics as of military terminology.
"invent" create by thought, originate new method, instrument etc OED
"develop" make or become fuller, more elaborate or systematic OED
Guderian is clear who is doing which.
"blitzkrieg" a violent campaign intended to bring about a speedy victory OED
I did look at Wikipedia for a definition of Blitzkrieg, but the historians have been at it.

It seems to me questionable to insist that a word introduced by a Times newspaper reporter to describe methods of armoured warfare which rely at least as much on general speed, surprise and shock as on a particular pattern of arrangement of forces on the ground, should be confined to a single such pattern.
Would the following (not mentioning 'encirclement') come within your rather limited and convoluted definition of Blitzkrieg?
...the essential was that we use all the available limited offensive power of our armour in one surprise blow at one decisive point; to drive a wedge so deep and so wide that we need not worry about our flanks; and then immediately to exploit any successes gained without bothering to wait for the infantry corps.
 

JFC Fuller

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lastdingo,

You are merely trying to seperate minor variations of the same theme. To take an example, you claim that Fuller and Hart (whose views are in many ways a repitition of Fullers) focussed more on the Breakthrough: Of course they did they were expecting to contend with something approaching the Hindenburg line in physical defensive capacity, such an obstacle requires greater focus on the breakthrough. When faced with the heavily fortified Kursk saliant, as you point out, the Germans also shifted their focus to the breakthrough.
 

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Given that the Birch MkIII had 45 degree elevation, why was the gun in the Bishop limited to 15 dgree with the resulting reduction in range.

Could the Priest (M7) and Sexton have had a turret mount more like post war SPG with the same or better elevation?
 

robunos

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Given that the Birch MkIII had 45 degree elevation, why was the gun in the Bishop limited to 15 dgree with the resulting reduction in range.

see http://ww2db.com/vehicle_spec.php?q=159


cheers,
Robin.
 

smurf

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Put briefly:
Birch Weight c 12tons Length 5.80 m Width 2.40 m Height 2.30 m 18pdr gun
Bishop Weight17.0 t Length 5.53 m Width 2.63 m Height2.83 m 25pdr gun
The Birch gun was designed for its task - an artillery weapon.
The Bishop was a lash-up with a bigger gun on a cramped chassis, armoured as a tank, initially intended as an anti-tank gun, as Robunos link tells.
 

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