World War II: Ordnance QF 25-Pounder Field Gun

QF 25 field gun
Mark II Ordnance QF 25-pounder Field Gun. (Public Domain)

The Ordnance QF 25-pounder was the standard artillery piece used by British Commonwealth forces during World War II. Designed to be an improvement over the World War I-era 18-pounder, the 25-pounder saw service in all theaters and was a favorite with gun crews. It remained in use through the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Nation: Great Britain & Commonwealth Nations
  • Dates of Use: 1938-1967 (British Army)
  • Designed: 1930s
  • Variants: Marks I, II, III, Short-Mark I
  • Crew: 6

Specifications

  • Weight: 1.98 tons
  • Length: 18 ft. 2 in.
  • Width: 7 ft. wheelbase
  • Barrel Length: 31 calibers
  • Breech: Vertical Sliding Block
  • Feed System: Separate Loading
  • Shell: Normal, Super
  • Caliber: 3.45 in.
  • Elevation: -5 to 45 degrees
  • Traverse: 360 degrees on platform, 4 degrees on carriage
  • Rate of Fire: 6 to 8 rounds per minute
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,700 ft./sec. Charge Super
  • Range: 13,400 Charge Super
  • Sights: Direct Fire - Telescopic Indirect Fire - Calibrating and Reciprocating

Development

In the years after World War I, the British Army began seeking a replacement for its standard field guns, the 18-pdr, and the 4.5" howitzer. Rather than design two new guns, it was their desire to have a weapon that possessed the high-angle fire capability of the howitzer along with the direct fire ability of the 18-pdr. This combination was highly desirable as it reduced the types of equipment and ammunition needed on the battlefield. After assessing their options, the British Army decided that a gun of approximately 3.7" in caliber with a range of 15,000 yards was needed.

In 1933, experiments began using 18-, 22-, and 25-pdr guns. After studying the results, the General Staff concluded that the 25-pdr should be the standard field gun for the British Army. After ordering a prototype in 1934, budget restrictions forced a change in the development program. Rather than design and build new guns, the Treasury dictated that existing Mark 4 18-pdrs be converted to 25-pdrs. This shift necessitated reducing the caliber to 3.45". Beginning testing in 1935, the Mark 1 25-pdr was also known as the 18/25-pdr.

With the adaptation of the 18-pdr carriage came a reduction in range, as it proved incapable of taking a charge strong enough to fire a shell 15,000 yards. As a result, the initial 25-pdrs could only reach 11,800 yards. In 1938, experiments resumed with the goal of designing a purpose-built 25-pdr. When these were concluded, the Royal Artillery opted to place the new 25-pdr on a box trail carriage which was fitted with a firing platform (the 18-pdr carriage was a split trail). This combination was designated the 25-pdr Mark 2 on a Mark 1 carriage and became the standard British field gun during World War II.

Crew & Ammunition

The 25-pdr Mark 2 (Mark 1 Carriage) was served by a crew of six. These were: the detachment commander (No. 1), breech operator/rammer (No. 2), layer (No. 3), loader (No. 4), ammunition handler (No. 5), and a second ammunition handler/coverer who prepared the ammunition and set the fuses. The No. 6 usually served as second-in-command on the gun crew. The official "reduced detachment" for the weapon was four. Though capable of firing a variety of ammunition, including armor piercing, the standard shell for the 25-pdr was high explosive. These rounds were propelled by four types of cartridge depending on range.

Transport & Deployment

In British divisions, the 25-pdr was deployed in batteries of eight guns, which were composed of sections of two guns each. For transport, the gun was attached to its limber and towed by a Morris Commercial C8 FAT (Quad). Ammunition was carried in the limbers (32 rounds each) as well as in the Quad. In addition, each section possessed a third Quad which towed two ammunition limbers. Upon arriving at its destination, the 25-pdr's firing platform would be lowered and the gun towed onto it. This provided a steady base for the gun and allowed the crew to rapidly traverse it 360°.

Variants

While the 25-pdr Mark 2 was the most common type of the weapon, three additional variants were built. The Mark 3 was an adapted Mark 2 that possessed a modified receiver to prevent rounds from slipping when firing at high angles. Mark 4s were new build versions of the Mark 3. For use in the jungles of the South Pacific, a short, pack version of the 25-pdr was developed. Serving with Australian forces, the Short Mark 1 25-pdr could be towed by light vehicles or broken down into 13 pieces for transport by animal. Various changes were made to the carriage as well, including a hinge to permit easier high angle fire.

Operational History

The 25-pdr saw service throughout World War II with British and Commonwealth forces. Generally thought to be one of the best field guns of the war, the 25-pdr Mark 1s were used in France and in North Africa during the conflict's early years. During the British Expeditionary Force's withdrawal from France in 1940, many Mark 1s were lost. These were replaced by the Mark 2, which entered service in May 1940. Though relatively light by World War II standards, the 25-pdr supported the British doctrine of suppressing fire and proved itself highly effective.

After seeing American use of self-propelled artillery, the British adapted the 25-pdr in a similar fashion. Mounted in the Bishop and Sexton tracked vehicles, self-propelled 25-pdrs began to appear on the battlefield. After the war, the 25-pdr remained in service with British forces until 1967. It was largely replaced with the 105mm field gun following standardization initiatives implemented by NATO.

The 25-pdr remained in service with Commonwealth nations into the 1970s. Heavily exported, versions of the 25-pdr saw service during the South African Border War (1966-1989), the Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1979), and the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus (1974). It was also employed by the Kurds in northern Iraq as late 2003. Ammunition for the gun is still produced by the Pakistan Ordnance Factories. Though largely retired from service, the 25-pdr is still frequently used in a ceremonial role.​​