Artillery in the Western Desert


B.L. 6in. 26cwt Howitzer
B.L. 6in. 26cwt Howitzer of 7th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, Bardia/Libya, early Jan 1942
First blood at Bardia

As it moved into position around Bardia in late December 1940, the 6th Australian Division was still experiencing shortages.
It had only two of its three artillery regiments and only the 2/1st Field Regiment was equipped with the new 25-pdr, which it had received only that month. The 2/2nd Field Regiment was still equipped with twelve 18-pdr and twelve 4.5-inch howitzers.

To make up for this, O'Connor augmented Brigadier Edmund Herring's 6th Australian Division Artillery with part of the XIII Corps artillery:

  • the 104th (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, equipped with sixteen 25-pdr,
  • F Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, with twelve 25-pdr,
  • the 51st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, with twenty four 25-pdr and
  • the 7th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery equipped with two 60-pdr, eight 6-inch howitzers and eight 6-inch guns (Captured Italian 152/37?).
There were also two antitank regiments, the 3rd and 106th Regiments, Royal Horse Artillery, equipped with 2-pdr and Bofors 37mm guns.

[Source : Wikipedia]

Gunner leaning to the huge 15.00-24 wheel of the modernized Mk.IP carriage
Rear view of the vintage 6in.26cwt Howitzer and its "Number One" holding the "rammer"
Everybody in place !
Howitzer typically jumping on launch, due to the extreme recoil of the 152mm barrel
Keen on watching the 6-inch on the move ? Look here

QF 25pdr. Mk.II Field Gun
25pdr. w/No.27 Ammunition Limber
25 pounders fighting tanks
The fighting for Tobruk in April 1941 saw the direct confrontation of 25-pounders against tanks.

At a range ol 400 yards the guns of A/E Battery, 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, engaged German tanks forming the defences ol Tobruk. The continuous shooting set tanks on fire and allegedly blew the turrets off. The openness of desert warfare meant that guns and tanks were often pitted directly against one another. What is more, it meant that the 25-pounder was also engaged frequently against the 88 mm flak guns.

Often, the 25-pounder was used in desparation against tanks.
On 21 January 1942, forty enemy tanks, mostly Panzer IIls and Panzer IVs, attacked Baron column from about 4,000 yards. After a five-hour battle, it was decided to conduct a fighting withdrawal whilst being attacked by Stuka dive-bombers and the advancing armoured units. During this action, C and D troops of A Battery were firing over open sights at the enemy. Three guns were destroved and although two guns continued firing, reports suggest that they only did real damage by indirect fire at ranges over 600 yards.


Gause and Rommel
Rear view of the Limber with space for 32 shells
25 pounders fighting tanks


According to reports front November 1942, indirect fire on tank formations was considered to be far more effective. If enemy tanks in numbers were seen by an observation post, a concentration of fire was brought down upon them. It was difficult to judge the effect of this fire because it was obscured by dust and heat waves.

In one case, a regimental concentration fired on some 30 enemy tanks with the result, it is alleged, that 5 were set on fire, a few others were stopped and the rest withdrew. The main conclusion was that the concentration of a regiment of guns on tank groups invariably led to withdrawal of the tanks.

Firing direct in its secondary role a troop of 25-pounders can knock out tanks at short ranges, but as an A/tk weapon a 25-pdr is far inferior to the 6-pdr.

A high-explosive shells would normally only destroy or immobilise a tank if it hit a track or the top of the turret. There are many examples of the 25-pounder being used as a short-range weapon against tanks, but it was the ease with which the gun could be trained on a target that meant it was more suitable than other field guns for this use.

25 pounders at El Alamein
Of all the great artillery barrages, that preceding the battle of El Alamein was one of the great deployments of the 25-pounder gun.
The opening barrage utilised at least 834 guns coordinated in a fire plan designed to cover engineer parties that were intended to clear a way through the barbed wire and land mines that protected the Italian and German forces from attack. The deafening roar of this massive bombardment filled the night of 23 October 1942.

Over one and a half million rounds were expended. The only limitations on the guns were how quickly the ammunition could be brought up. The average expenditure of rounds per gun was 102 per day over 12 days.

The attack of the 2nd New Zealand Division on the night of the 1/2 November was accompanied by a barrage of 25-pounder guns that was able to give a concentration of one gun per 21 yards of barrage frontage. The average rate of fire was 2 rounds per gun per minute.

For the man on the ground, El Alamein was a time of great activity. Gunners were involved in firing at night, constantly firing and being resupplied by trucks from the Canal Zone area.


105mm M7 "Priest" Howitzer Motor Carriage
105mm M7 "Priest" HMC of A Squadron, 11th Regiment RHA, 1st Armoured Division, El Alamein, Oct/Nov 1942
The U.S. Army required a fully-tracked Howitzer Motor Carriage capable of keeping up with armored divisions. The lower chassis and suspension of the M3 Lee and later the M4 Sherman was selected to have a 105mm M2A1 Howitzer placed on top with a crew area open to the elements.
In September of 1942, 90 samples of the new SPG were delivered as the "M7 HMC" (Howitzer Motor Carriage) to the British forces in NA. They referred to the M7 as the "Priest” because of the high rounded .50- caliber Machine Gun position resembling the pulpit of an Anglican priest.
The formidable 105mm M2A1 Howitzer raised by 20 degrees
The British 1st Armoured Division was originally formed in October 1937. It took part in the 1940 ill-fated British Expeditionary Force sent to France and had to be evacuated. The 1st AD left England for Egypt arriving on November 13, 1941. One of the 1st AD artillery units was the 11th Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) that served from August 24, 1942 on. The 11 RHA was equipped with 24 M7 Priest SP 105mm Howitzer and played an important role in the last Battle of El Alamein in Nov of 1942 by finally suppressing the deadly German 88mm flak guns.

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Last Updated: Feb 01, 2024