FIRE! - The 25-Pounder in Australian Service
Written by Michael K. Cecil
Mike Cecil titles are always a tour-de-force and his third book for Trackpad is no exception. All fans of this classic British field gun should be interested in this volume which describes the subject like no other previous book.
The 25-pdr gun-howitzer was, for many gunners in British Commonwealth countries, the quintessential field gun. Rugged, reliable, steady and accurate, the 25-pdr served the armies of Britain and the British Commonwealth well from the early days of the Second World War, through the war in Korea and the Emergency in Malaya. Many gunners lamented the passing of the 25-pdr when it was finally withdrawn from service in the early 1970s.
Although the 25-pdr field gun was designed in the UK, three countries manufactured the field gun in quantity – the UK, Canada and Australia. While the field gun was also adapted to the role of a Self-Propelled gun by the UK and Canada, only the Australians developed the gun to serve in four distinct roles, making the Australian experience with the 25-pdr gun unique. Only Australia adapted the 25-pdr field gun to the Self-Propelled gun, a light pack gun, and as a tank gun. Only Australia developed modifications to the field gun such as the foot-firing gear and the double air-spaced shield, and only Australia parachuted 25-pdr field guns into battle during the Second World War.
This publication details the 25-pdr gun, its ammunition and ammunition trailer. It examines in detail the range of Australian adaptations of the 25-pdr as a pack gun and Self-Propelled gun, and the 25-pdr carriage as the basis for the 17-pdr anti-tank gun. It demonstrates how the 25-pdr really was an adaptable piece of ordnance.
What do you say?
Here is a great review of Trackpad's latest book from Stephen White.
Few pieces of military hardware are remembered with affection and respect by their users. The 25-pdr is a rare exception. It stands with such as the Spitfire, the Jeep and the Dakota as equipment whose form, function, performance and reliability outlasted the competition and cemented an enduing reputation as one of the greats of military technology. Artillerymen regard their guns with the respect due to a colour or standard. The 25-pdr stands in a league of its own.
Gunners celebrated the 25-pdr for “Reliability, sturdiness, steadiness and accuracy”. From the perspective of the supported arms, it's not the size of the bang which matters, it's the confidence that when you call for fire, it's going to land where you intend and not kill you. The 25-pdr was able to deliver rounds at "Danger Close" reliably and with confidence.
Amongst users of the 25-pdr, perhaps the Australians made the most extensive, innovative and effective use. Their record of operational service in many theatres spanning WW2 in the Western Desert, Malaya, SW Pacific and again in Malaya during the Emergency. Mike Cecil describes in detail the British built guns in Australian service, the industrial and technical challenges of setting up indigenous production and goes on to provide a unique account of Australian development of the "Stubbie", the 25-pdr Short, a 25-pdr Lite, optimised for use in the jungles of the SW Pacific. The "Stubbie" sacrificed some of the 25-pdr's legendary accuracy and range but was used to considerable effect, even being parachuted, into the jungles of New Guinea. One of the most striking and emotive photos in the book shows a 25-pdr Short being manhandled up the Kokoda Trail, a precursor to one of Australia's defining military victories.
He also covers the fascinating story of the adaptation of the weapon as a tank gun, in the Australian AC3 Sentinel Cruiser tank. The bulky carriage of the gun limited gun depression, vital to shooting from a hull-down position and he describes how the overhead carriage was developed to overcome this handicap.
Australia mirrored a number of Imperial and Commonwealth armament programmes, with local adaptations. Mike covers the 17/25-pdr anti-tank gun (a parallel development of the Pheasant in British service) and the Yeramba Self-Propelled 25-pdr, otherwise known to Army Quartermasters as the ‘Ordnance QF 25-pounder Mark 2/1 on Mounting Self-Propelled 25-pounder (Aust) Mark 1 on Carrier, Grant, SP 25-pounder (Aust) Mark1’. You couldn't make it up. Based on the M3 Grant/Lee, this development was inspired by the successful Canadian Sexton.
The price of the book reflects the many years of research Mike has put into it and the very high production values the publisher has delivered. The book is printed on high quality paper and the illustrations and technical illustrations are crystal clear and well colour balanced. Mike has researched and captioned all the photos in great detail and it makes for a book which is a delight to handle, browse and read. It's worth it for the illustrations alone.
The author is a former Head of Military Heraldry and Collections at the Australian War Memorial and has a long and successful record of research and authorship. He has delivered a definitive book on one of the most significant weapons to be developed, one which reveals why the 25-pdr achieved such an outstanding reputation.
In the end, weight of fire did for the 25-pdr. In many respects, it was better than its 105mm successors but the need for longer ranges and bigger bangs lead to standardisation on 155mm as the benchmark for field artillery.
On 17th July 1992, a veteran Gunner called for fire from a 25-pdr manned by the Honourable Artillery Company on the UK training area on Salisbury Plain. His previous fire order had opened the barrage at Alamein, 50 years earlier. It was fitting that on this final live firing of the 25 Pdr, he was airborne in a WW2 Air Observation Post Auster aircraft. I was fortunate to be the pilot on that occasion and could see how much the gun meant to those who operated it. The Austers were picketed for the night on the Plain - the wake for the 25 Pdr lasted long into the night.