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WW2 & 63 (Oxf Yeo) Anti-Tank Regiment RA TA

WW2 & 63 (Oxf Yeo) Anti-Tank Regiment RA TA

     These pages expand on the era covered by World War Two.  Much of the information has been collected from the Regiment’s six War Dairies, plus appendices, covering their time of activities from when they were mobilized on 2nd September 1939 to 25th March 1946.  Recording of these events then ceased, whilst the Regiment had been stationed at Kiel, North West Germany.  Other information has come from ex serving members of the Regiment, written for publication in the QOOH Association’s newsletters, and the “Yeomanry Memories” book.
     The accompanying pages cover the nearly eight years of WW2 describing where the Regiment was and what they were doing.  These pages cover the years – 1939-1940;  1941-1942;  1943;  1944;  1945;  1946.
     The second part of this page explains the anti-tank artillery tactics and gunnery used by the Royal Artillery[source – Nigel F Evans at www.britishartillery.co.uk]
     But first an introduction to how the ‘Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars’ unit’s title reorganised to the ‘Oxfordshire Yeomanry’ after the First World War in 1920.

     In 1920, the Territorial Force (TF) was reconstituted and officially named the Territorial Army (TA).  The title “Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars” had been changed to “Oxfordshire Yeomanry” though they still kept their badge bearing the Queen Adelaide cypher.  The men now formed the 399th (Oxford) and 400th (Banbury) Batteries of the 100th (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (TA), with their sabres and rifles now replaced with 18pdr field guns and 4.5″ howitzers.
     A further change in role came in November 1938, when the Regiment was converted from its field artillery role to that of an anti-tank artillery unit, and again merged with the Worcestershire Yeomanry into the renamed 53rd (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA).
     This decision for a change in their role would have heartened the traditional Yeomanry/Hussar soldier, because anti-tank gunnery was more akin to them than their previous role with field guns.  Field artillery was, in a Battery/Regiment formation, firing at larger targets which were mainly unseen by the guns themselves, their fire being directed by observers closer to the targets.  Whereas anti-tank gunnery was usually in a Troop formation (or even an individual gun), firing directly at its target directed by the gun’s No 1 (sergeant or bombardier).  They chose their own target and could see their results (much like an infantry soldier), relying on concealment and surprise.
     The guns were now 2pdr anti-tank guns and the batteries renumbered 211 at Oxford and 212 at Banbury.  War with Germany was looming again (after the Munich Crisis of September 1938) and there was a demand for increases in the armed forces.  Prime Minister Chamberlain decided to double the establishment of the Territorial Army and this resulted in the QOOH/OY becoming a separate regiment again.
     On mobilization they now became the 63rd (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA) with its Headquarters in Oxford, with 2 batteries (249 and 250) in Oxford and 2 batteries (251 and 252) at Banbury.  Along with this change in title came the decision to make them a second-line regiment, and part of the 61st Infantry Division.  The Regiment was charged with the responsibility of home defence and of training men to feed into the first-line.  The Worcestershire’s however, retained their title of the 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment RA (TA), becoming a first-line regiment and went to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  With this increase in the quantity of regiments the guns and equipment had become a scarce commodity, and one of the 63rd AT Regt’s first actions was to hand over all their 2pdr guns and associated equipment to the Worcesters to enable them to be an efficient part of the BEF. This must have had some effect on morale, and with new recruits wondering just what sort of unit they were joining.

To move on, this next section covers the anti-tank artillery tactics and gunnery

     The need for anti-tank artillery arose with the emergence of tanks.  Since tanks were ‘point targets’, and moving ones at that, the obvious way of engaging them was with direct fire [much the same as an infantryman would do with his rifle].  This meant having the guns deployed where they could see and engage tanks.  Of course, from an artillery perspective this meant abandoning firepower mobility, although during World War 2 both concentrated and destructive indirect artillery fire was used effectively against tanks [the essence of indirect fire means that guns can attack any target in range not merely in view from the gun position, but requires an observer watching where the shells fall and corrects them onto the target].
     In mid-1940 the British view was “tanks, well served and boldly directed, have established a superiority on the battlefield which is out of all proportion to their true value” and “It has been proved that tanks, for all their hard skin, mobility and armament, achieve their more spectacular results from their moral effect on half-hearted or ill-led troops“.  The latter was encouraging to the cavalry traditionalists, the great believers in ‘shock action’.  It is often forgotten that in WW2, tanks were not the primary anti-tank weapon.  This was the role of anti-tank guns, whether self-propelled (SP) or towed.

     During the First World War anti-tank was regarded as just another role for normal field artillery.  In the 1920s the British Infantry Division organisation included a ‘light brigade’ (regiment) equipped with the 3.7-inch Howitzers, its task being ‘accompanying artillery’ for the infantry and one of its roles was anti-tank.  This organisation was abandoned in 1935/6 and the light brigades were converted to army Field Brigades.  However, the traditional role of the RHA [Royal Horse Artillery] was supporting mobile formations and when the first ‘mobile division’ was formed in 1937 it was supported by two RHA regiments with 3.7-inch Howitzers [fig 1]. This was most unsatisfactory, not least because the 3.7-inch was useless for anti-tank (until new ammunition arrived in 1944), and it was swiftly changed in 1938.  The anti-tank role remained a secondary role for field and anti-aircraft batteries, as a primary role it meant they deployed as individual guns or sections as part of an anti-tank plan.  The primary anti-tank weapons until 1938 were anti-tank mines and rifles

3.7" Howitzer

     In 1938 British Infantry Division anti-tank regiments, with 4 batteries, were formed by converting five Regular and five TA Field Regiments, and five TA Infantry Battalions to the new role by 1939, and then doubling the number of TA regiments that year.  This gave 100 anti-tank batteries formed or forming at the outbreak of war.  They were equipped with the new 2-pdr anti-tank gun designed in 1935.  The result was that at the outbreak of war anti-tank practices were under-developed because it was not a well-established specialist discipline and specialist units had existed for barely a year.  Unit organisation and doctrine for anti-tank deployment, tactics and gunnery all evolved rapidly during the following three years.  Nevertheless, key elements of doctrine had been established.  First, anti-tank guns used defilade or reverse-slope positions whenever possible to provide defence in depth on the most likely tank approaches.  They accepted a field of fire limited to 500 yards if necessary.  Second, anti-tank tactics emphasised not opening fire too soon.  While the obvious reasons were doubtful-accuracy and penetration at longer ranges, the critical factor was that guns were stationary and could be out-manoeuvred by the attacking tanks.  Although not well recognised before the outbreak of war another issue was that an anti-tank gun that revealed itself too soon was vulnerable to neutralisation by both indirect and direct fire including machine guns.

Organisation – Whereas field artillery organisations were stable from 1940 onwards, the situation for anti-tank regiments was similar to Armoured Divisions; organisations evolved throughout the war.  Of course, part of the issue was that anti-tank gun technology evolved to meet the threat of increasing armour protection and the need for both offensive and defensive tactics.  Added to this was the introduction of more powerful but heavier towed and self-propelled (SP) anti-tank guns.  The unit structure followed the artillery pattern, albeit with more guns than field artillery.  Regiments comprised of 3 or 4 batteries, each with 3 or 4 troops, which in turn had 2 sections each with 2 guns.  Total strengths varied with the number and type of guns.
     In the aftermath of Dunkirk, in 1940 the Bartholomew Committee recommended the introduction of Corps Anti-Tank Regiments.  At the beginning of 1943 the scale of anti-tank regiments was fixed at one per armoured and infantry division and one per corps formation.  In mid-1943 the regimental structure for anti-tank regiments in Europe was finally fixed at 4 batteries, each with 3 troops, totalling 48 guns.  The standard army wide organisation was to be 4 batteries, each with 12 guns, with ⅓ being 17-pdrs rising to ⅔ when stocks permitted.   However, after Dunkirk there was a severe shortage of anti-tank guns.  Anti-tank equipment priority was given to formations in the UK and the mainly Dominion Divisions arriving in the Middle East from 1940.
     By September 1943 the official position for European Theatres was :-
          Regiments in Infantry Divisions – 4 batteries, each with 8 × 6-pdr guns and 4 × 17-pdr guns in 3 troops.
          Regiments in Armoured Division – 2 batteries each of 12 × 6-pdr, and 2 batteries each of 12 × M10 (SP) in 3                  troops.    Corps Regiments – as for Armoured Divisions.
     At the beginning of 1944 the official War Establishment permitted the following :-
          Regiments in Infantry Divisions – 4 batteries, each with 8 × 17-pdr guns and 4 × 6-pdr guns in 3 troops.
          Regiments in Armoured Division – 2 batteries, each 12 × 17-pdr, and 2 batteries each 12 × M10 (SP) in 3                      troops.    Corps Regiments – as for Armoured Divisions.

Ammunition – Most British anti-tank ammunition during WW2 was solid shot [much the same as a rifle bullet], which relied on kinetic energy (KE) to penetrate armour.  KE is the product of the mass (weight) and velocity of the shot.  Wartime developments in anti-tank (and tank) gun ammunition addressed two matters, improving penetration of shot and flashless propellant.  The importance of concealment for anti-tank guns meant that their flash and smoke was significant because it made them easier to spot when they fired, particularly at night.  Flashless propellant, using added mineral salts became available in WW2.  The problem was that while salt additives reduced the amount of flash, they also increased the amount of smoke, which hindered the layer [gun-aimer] and betrayed them in daylight.
     However, in early 1944 high-explosive (HE) ammunition was authorised for direct fire tasks.  The concern had been that too much HE would mean too much wear to the gun-barrel of anti-tank guns and consequently loss of accuracy for their anti-tank role.   This led to anti-tank guns being used in their secondary role for direct fire against hard targets such as bunkers, ‘pill-boxes’, machine gun posts, snipers in houses, OPs, etc.

Equipment – Guns
2-pdr Mk II, selected in 1936 from prototypes designed by Vickers Armstrong, trials showed its armour penetration was some 50% better than its equivalent German 37-mm.  The 2-pdr had a 5-man detachment and weighed 1760 lbs in action.
6-pdr 7-cwt Mk II, production deliveries started at the end of 1941, and reached N Africa in about April 1942.  The 6-pdr gun had a 6-man detachment, weighed 2520 lbs in action and a top-traverse of 45 degrees left and right.
17-pdr Mk 1, design of this 3-inch gun started in early 1941 and deliveries started to N Africa at the beginning of 1943.  The 17-pdr had a 7-man detachment, weighed 4625 lbs in action and a top-traverse of 30 degrees left and right.
3-inch M10, the need for a SP anti-tank gun led to the US M10 being introduced in mid-1943, mounted on a M4 medium tank carriage with an open top turret giving all-round traverse.

2 Pdr A/Tank Gun
6 Pdr A/Tank Gun
17 Pdr A/Tank Gun
M10 (SP) A/Tank Gun

Mobility – British anti-tank doctrine emphasised the need for tactical mobility equal to infantry.  This meant fast reconnaissance and battle procedure, rapid cross-country movement and rapid obstacle crossing.  However, anti-tank guns also needed good concealment and therefore sometimes had to be man-handled into position.  The 17-pdr, being larger still, presented another challenge, making any manhandling hard work.
     However, anti-tank gun tractors were the real problem and a good one did not appear during the war.  The problem was the need for a vehicle that had the necessary tactical mobility for the forward areas while towing the gun, and carrying its detachment and ammunition.
     The 2-pdr gun was towed by an 8-cwt truck, and one of the problems with 2-pdr towing was the gun’s small diameter wheels, which required a lowered towing hook on the vehicle.  Various vehicles were tried for towing the 6-pdr, and eventually, the Loyd Carrier became the norm and a re-configured Lloyd carrier with the engine forward instead of at the rear gave more space.  Before this, towers included the Field Artillery Tractor [Quad].  An armoured 15-cwt, that was unable to carry the full detachment and first line ammunition, was also used in the mid-war period.
     The 17-pdr provided further challenges, not least because it was heavier than a 25-pdr gun and its ammunition was a lot larger and heavier than the 6-pdr.  Initially ‘3-ton portee’ were used for towing, but the Field Artillery Tractor was used, as was a modified 3-ton with lowered body and a 30-cwt 4 × 4.  Lloyd Carriers were also employed, and when M5 halftracks became available in the summer of 1944 these were used as both tractors and section ammunition vehicles.  However, the innovation was to use tanks.  Most of the work centred on the Crusader Mk 3, although stocks were limited.  It involved removing the turret, providing seating and ammunition space, and adding tow hooks, back and front (for pushing the gun into a concealed position).  They eventually entered service with some Corps Anti-Tank Regiments as the Crusader Gun Tower Mk 1 in mid-1944.  M10s were also modified to enable them to tow 17-pdr.
    Three SP [self-propelled] forms emerged :-
          Archer, a new design based on a Valentine tank carriage entered service in late 1944.
          Re-gunned M10 named Achilles entered service in mid-1944.
          SP using the A30 Cromwell tank carriage, did not complete trials until the war was over.

8 cwt Truck
Loyd Carrier
Field Artillery Tractor
Crusader Gun Tractor

Ancillaries and Small Arms – A useful ancillary was the 2-inch mortar.  One was issued to each anti-tank section starting in 1943, and provided with smoke and illuminating ammunition.  The former enabled the gun to screen itself if it had to move, the latter gave a capability to engage targets at night.  However, it wasn’t until mid-1942 that every man was issued with a small arm.  Until that time each gun detachment had a LMG and 2 rifles.  Use of enemy anti-tank guns was part of anti-tank training.
     One of the problems with the open top Crusaders was their vulnerability to HE bursting in the trees above them as well as normal airburst shells.  The edges of woods were good places to hide because they provided concealment.  In consequence steel plates were fitted to some Crusaders about a foot above the top of the fighting compartment.  Because surprise was a key element in anti-tank tactics, camouflage and concealment was vital, and guns had to conceal themselves against both air and ground observation.

Communications – Anti-tank units were not well endowed with wireless.  Regiments had a rear-link detachment provided by a Section of the Divisional Signals Regiment, this linked Regimental HQ to Divisional HQ.  Wireless was also provided to link Regimental HQ to each Battery HQ.  However, the battery was not in wireless contact with Brigade HQ (whom it was supporting), neither did Troops have wireless to communicate with local Infantry Battalions.
     There were changes in mid-1944, by this time SP guns were issued and were fitted with wireless sets.  Wireless sets were issued to towed guns in the Corps Anti-Tank Regiments.  The need for wireless sets with towed guns in Divisional Regiments was recognised, but the resultant need to increase the number of repair technicians in the Divisional Signal Regiments made it impossible due to manpower shortages.
     Line remained the means of communication from Troop HQ’s to guns.  However, in early 1943 a pair of sound powered telephones with head and chest sets had been authorised for each gun to enable fire control when the detachment commander was positioned some distance to the flank of his gun.

Gunnery – Anti-tank gunnery was primarily concerned with laying [aiming] and the drills the detachment should use.  Anti-tank gun detachments numbered from 5 to 7 men depending on the equipment.  The 3 most important members were :-
          No 1 who commanded the gun, selected the targets and controlled the fire.
          No 3 who layed [aimed] the gun according to the No 1’s orders.
          No 2 who loaded the gun to achieve a rate of fire of up to 12 rounds per minute if required.
     The other detachment numbers ensured that No 2 had ammunition and were ready to move the gun-trails if required.  However, Number 6 might also act as ‘link number’ immediately behind the gun to relay orders from the No 1 when he was observing from his gun’s flank, to confirm that the layer had acquired the correct target and that the opening range was correctly set on the range drum – duties of the No 1 when he was at his gun.  The key was that the No 3 did exactly what the No 1 ordered.
     Target selection evolved during the war, but it was always stressed that tanks operated in groups, not individually, so anti-tank engagements were not assumed to be one-to-one.  This also reflected the tactical reality that tanks could concentrate far more easily than anti-tank guns could.  Initially the general principle was to engage the nearest tank when it reached a range at which the No 1 was confident it would be hit.  However, tactics evolved so the principle became to engage tanks in the order of the threat they presented.  2-pdrs were supposed to open fire at a range of not more than 500 yards, and have a maximum range of 600 yards.  The corresponding ranges for 6-pdr were 800 and 1600 yards; and 17-pdr were 1600 and 10,000 yards.  However, the tactics of an anti-tank engagement were also critically important.  These were the responsibility of the Number 1.  These circumstances of an NCO always engaging the enemy according to his own judgement, without immediate direction or orders from his Troop or Platoon Commander, appears to have been unique to anti-tank.  The Troop Commanders’ role was mostly reconnaissance and administration, he did not control the fire of his Troop when engaging tanks.  By 1943 experience had taught that there was usually an hour or two’s warning of a tank attack and its direction, this gave time to adjust anti-tank positions to meet the threat.  In defence the gun tractors were held in Troop wagon-lines, although were ready to move guns to other positions.

Training – In 1939 it was stated that the ‘essence of anti-tank artillery tactics is surprise action from well concealed positions at effective range‘.  This placed a premium on well-trained detachments that operated independently once battle started.  Anti-tank guns selected their own targets and engaged them independently.  This all meant that the training of the Numbers 1 of anti-tank guns was of paramount importance.  Of course, training the Numbers 3 (layers) was also vital, although British doctrine was that ‘the Number 1 hits the tank aided by the layer’.  A 1942 artillery training instruction described the Number 1 as being ‘what the eyes and brain are to the rifleman’ while Number 3 was ‘as the muscles and co-ordination of eye and hand are to the rifleman’.  It also emphasised ‘selection of the correct type of NCO for training as a No 1 is the first essential.  Requirements are, a stout heart, a quick eye, and plenty of common sense‘.  Anti-tank gunnery was not easy, in the first years of the war first-round hits occurred in less than 50% of occasions in training, but in the second half it rose to over 70% as training methods improved.  The main problems were bad judgment of distance and speed, incorrect fire orders by Numbers 1, bad loading and Numbers 3 not continuing to traverse after firing.  The key skill for the layer was to be able to keep the telescope and hence the gun continuously on correct point of aim at a tank moving in his arc of fire.  The Number 1’s job was to judge range and speed so that he could give the correct orders to his Number 3, and order corrections instantly.  He also had to prioritise his targets and judge the moment to open fire.  None of this was as easy as it sounds.  Besides the variety of military skills required of any soldier involved in direct fire against the enemy and plenty of training in tank recognition, the main emphasis of anti-tank training was on gunnery and fire control.  Units in UK undertook monthly live firing on anti-tank ranges.  Non-firing exercises were also vital to teach range estimation.  Finally anti-tank gunners were routinely trained to use captured enemy equipment.

Higher Level Tactics – Generally, the Batteries of an Anti-Tank Regiment in an Infantry Division were assigned one Battery to each Infantry Brigade with their Battery Commanders receiving orders from the Brigade Commanders.  This left one in reserve in a 4-battery regiment.  Brigade Commanders and the CRA [Commander RA] would coordinate the anti-tank guns and any anti-tank tasks for field guns.  Later it became usual for artillery anti-tank Troops to be allocated to Infantry Battalions, with the artillery Troop Commander being the overall anti-tank advisor for the battalion.  Battery Commanders had this role at Brigade level and the anti-tank Regiment Commander at Divisional level.  Corps Anti-Tank Regiments’ tasks included accompanying covering forces, flank protection with other arms, reinforcing Divisional anti-tank layouts, give depth to the defence of a Corps area, guarding HQs and administrative areas and defending bottlenecks on main Line of Communication.
     Anti-tank guns were not decentralized to Armoured Regiments in Armoured Divisions.  Their usual tasks were flank protection (armoured formations were likely to have open flanks), supporting the motorised brigade or establishing a fire base.   SP anti-tank guns would accompany the Reconnaissance Regiment’s advance guard.  With the motor brigade they would secure ‘pivots’ that provide the base for attacks.  Unlike tanks, SP anti-tank guns did not use hull down positions, they sought defiladed ones.  Of course, there was sometimes a tendency for SPs to act as if they were tanks.  However, they were far more lightly armoured, which also made them vulnerable to short range infantry anti-tank weapons.
     All-Arms planning and coordination was vital and artillery anti-tank guns were allocated to where the ground was most suitable for enemy tanks.   The need for both concealment and for the detachment to administer themselves meant that villages and woods were preferred to positions in the open.  However, anti-tank guns were vulnerable to infantry attack and this meant that they were generally sited within defended localities.

Post World War 2, in 1949, anti-tank ceased being a Royal Artillery task and all responsibilities were transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) and Infantry.

Please also look at the further pages which depict :

19391940;     19411942;     1943;     1944;     1945;     1946.

     The 1944 page also details the merger with the 91st (A&SH) AT Regt.
     In the 1946 page can be found more information as to what happened to 250 and 252 Bty’s post the merger.  There is also a list of the Commanding Officers of the 63rd AT Regt.

     One part of the Regiment’s history in WW2, covering the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp and its liberation, involving 249 Bty, 63rd A/Tank Regt, RA, has been covered more fully on the pages of the QOOH/OY website – Liberation of Belsen – qooh.org.uk

     A further page will cover the outcome of the 85th AT Regt RA at the hands of the Japanese when Japan  entered WW2 on 7th December 1941 with the attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbour, and the invasion of Malaya on the 8th December.  Then with the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, and Japanese forces capturing all the Allied Forces there.  251 Bty, 63rd A/Tank Regt, RA had been transferred into the new 85th A/Tank Regt RA in September 1941, being formed (along with batteries from three other regiments) at Clacton-on-Sea.  The 85th AT Regt had been in a sea convoy heading for Basra, Iraq, then re-directed to Singapore to reinforce the Garrison there.

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