From specifications to operations: the evolutionary journey of the Ordnance QF 2-pounder Anti-Tank Gun

The Ordnance QF 2-pounder, a vital British anti-tank gun during WWII, had exceptional firepower and mobility. Initially deployed in infantry and armoured divisions, it was tested in North Africa against better Axis tanks. Despite its decline, it served in a variety of positions until the end of the war, contributing to the changing environment of anti-tank artillery.

The Ordnance QF 2-pounder, sometimes known as the 2-pounder gun, was a 40 mm (1.575 in) British anti-tank gun and vehicle-mounted weapon used during the Second World War. Known as a quick-firing (QF) gun, it served as the principal anti-tank weapon for artillery troops during the Battle of France. Its importance was maintained throughout the North African campaign, as it was kept in service because of the pressing necessity for speedy rearmament following the Dunkirk evacuation.

In its vehicle-mounted version, the 2-pounder was a common main gun on early British tanks during World War II. It also served as the standard main armament for armoured cars such as the Daimler throughout the war. However, as Axis tank armour improved, the 2-pounder’s usefulness diminished, and it was gradually replaced by the more powerful 57 mm QF 6-pounder beginning in 1942. 

Despite its decreasing importance aboard tanks, the 2-pounder was nevertheless used to equip infantry battalions’ anti-tank platoons, initially replacing anti-tank rifles and ultimately giving place to the 6-pounder. Surprisingly, it stayed in service until the war’s end.

It is important to note that the QF 2-pounder detailed here is not the same as the naval anti-aircraft gun known as the QF 2-pounder “pom-pom” gun used by the Royal Navy. The naval version, a 40 mm autocannon, was primarily used for anti-aircraft defence and should not be confused with the land-based anti-tank variant deployed by the British Army during WWII.

Specifications:

The Ordnance QF 2-pounder was a British anti-tank gun used during World War II that was notable for its small size and effectiveness against armoured vehicles. This artillery piece weighed 814 kg (1,795 lb) and had an overall barrel length of 2.08 m (6 ft 10 in), a bore length of 2 m (6 ft 7 in), and a calibre of 40 mm (1.575 in). Its crew was normally composed of three to five people.

The QF 2-pounder was placed on a three-leg platform carriage and featured a semi-automatic vertical sliding-block breech mechanism as well as a hydro-spring recoil system. The cannon featured an outstanding 360° traverse capability and could be raised from -13° to +15°, giving adaptability on the battlefield.

The weapon had a breech-loaded feed system that fired 40×304mmR ammunition at a rate of 22 rounds per minute. When employing armour-piercing (AP) shot ammunition at a muzzle velocity of 2,600 ft/s (792 m/s), the effective firing range was 1,500 yards (1,400 m), and the maximum firing range was 1,800 yards (1,600 m).

In terms of specifications, the QF 2-pounder demonstrated an impressive mix of firepower and mobility, making it an important asset in anti-tank combat during its active duty. The gun’s design and capabilities contributed to its battlefield efficiency, earning it a prominent place in artillery development history.

Variants:

The Ordnance QF 2-pounder, a critical anti-tank gun employed during World War II, underwent numerous notable production modifications. The Mk IX is the major pre-war production version, distinguished by its barrel built using autofrettage, which increases longevity. With the goal of mass-production simplicity, the Mk IX-A evolved as a streamlined iteration that retained the fundamental functionalities of its predecessor.

As the battle proceeded, the Mk X took the stage as a later-production version with a forged barrel. The Mk X-A, an advancement of the Mk X, introduced lower dimension tolerances, further improving the design. Notably, the Mk X-B became the primary late-war vehicle variant, famous for its incorporation of the Littlejohn adapter, which improved its anti-armour capabilities.

The deployment of the QF 2-pounder was highlighted by two unique designs on its carriage front. The Mk I carriage, built by Vickers, demonstrated one aspect of the gun’s versatility. The Mk II carriage, constructed by the Royal Arsenal, offered an alternate platform for deploying this excellent anti-tank artillery. These numerous gun and carriage versions highlight the Ordnance QF 2-pounder’s adaptability throughout its service lifespan.

Operations:

The Ordnance QF 2-pounder cannon debuted in 1938 and was an essential component of the Royal Artillery during WWII. It was initially deployed to infantry division anti-tank regiments and light anti-aircraft/anti-tank regiments of armoured divisions, and it saw service in both the Western and Far East wars. During the early phases of the conflict, infantry division anti-tank regiments were equipped with four batteries, each with 12 2-pounder guns. Armoured divisions, on the other hand, had light anti-aircraft/anti-tank regiments equipped with two 12-gun anti-tank batteries. As the war proceeded, organisational structures evolved, with distinct 48-gun anti-tank regiments being formed in armoured divisions in October 1940.

The 2-pounder saw its first battle with the British Expeditionary Force during the German invasion of the Low Countries and subsequent Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. Unfortunately, the majority of these guns were abandoned in France, greatly weakening the infantry’s anti-tank capacity. The captured weapons were assigned to German service as 4.0 cm Pak 192 (e) or 4.0 cm Pak 154 (b), which denoted their English or Belgian origins.

Despite the availability of a successor, the 6-pounder gun, the British Army chose to continue employing the 2-pounder owing to the possibility of a German invasion. This decision was made to prevent the requirement for adaptation, re-training, and adjustment to a new weapon. As a result, 6-pounder production was delayed until November 1941, and frontline availability didn’t come about until spring 1942.

During the North African Campaign, the 2-pounder’s anti-armour capability was challenged by developing German tank designs. Its reputation suffered as a result of its open topography, which made concealment difficult, as well as poor tactical judgements. The “en portee” system, which mounted the 2-pounder on trucks for shipment, helped to minimise the gun’s deficiencies. This provided better mobility, but firing from the vehicles resulted in more casualties.

As the war proceeded, the 2-pounder was reassigned to infantry anti-tank platoons, Home Guard troops in Britain, and the Far East. Its effectiveness was maintained against smaller, more weakly armoured Japanese tanks. The cannon was formally withdrawn in December 1945, but it was nonetheless utilised as a vehicle weapon throughout the war, particularly on armoured cars.