Ordnance QF 25-pounder Short

The Ordnance QF 25-pounder Short was an Australian variant of the British Ordnance QF 25-pounder field gun/howitzer. The gun was developed by modifying the 25-pounder's design to improve its mobility during jungle warfare. Development began in 1942, and the weapon first entered service with the Australian Army the next year. It was used by several Royal Australian Artillery regiments during fighting in the South West Pacific Area, before being declared obsolete in 1946.

The development of the Ordnance QF 25-pounder Short was an important achievement for Australia's defence industry, and provided the Army with a weapon suited to conditions in the South West Pacific. Nevertheless, the gun's performance was inferior to that of the standard 25-pounder, and it received a mixed reception from artillerymen.

Country Name Origin Year
Australia 1943
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1943
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia 1943 1946 View

The difficulty of deploying artillery in New Guinea led to a need for a gun which could be broken down into light parts and transported by aircraft or jeeps. The Army had only a small number of British 3.7 inch Mountain Howitzers, and Australia's request for United States M116 75mm pack howitzers was not immediately filled. In September 1942, the Army's Director of Artillery, Brigadier John O'Brien, suggested that a variant of the 25-pounder be developed to meet this requirement. This proposal was agreed to, and all development work was conducted in Australia by the Army, the Ordnance Production Directorate and Charles Ruwolt Pty Ltd. The process of designing the gun began in September 1942, and an acceptable weapon was ready by January the next year. The three agencies cooperated well as they were strongly motivated to provide the Army with a useful light artillery piece as quickly as possible. During this period, the Army received thirty-eight 75mm pack howitzers, and deployed some of these guns to New Guinea.

Two artillery guns mounted on wheeled gun carriages photographed inside of a building. The weapons have a large plate mounted about half way down the length of their barrels.

The new gun used as many standard 25-pounder parts as possible, but included a number of major differences in order to reduce the weapon's weight. Modifications included shortening the gun's barrel and recuperator, making the trail lighter, and incorporating the new recoil system which had been developed to allow 25-pounders to be mounted in the Australian-designed Sentinel tank. The guns weighed 1.25 tons, had a 49.825 inches (1,266 mm) long barrel and a maximum range which was approximately 87 percent that of the standard gun. The QF 25-pounder Short could use three standard charges to obtain a range of up to 10,400 yards (9,500 m). This range could be extended to 11,500 yards (10,500 m) if a super charge was used, though standing instructions warned against doing so except in emergencies due to the strain these charges placed on the gun carriage. The gun could fire the same variety of ammunition as the standard 25-pounder; namely high explosive, armour piercing, smoke, gas, propaganda and illumination shells. While the prototype gun was fitted with a gun shield, this was later removed and not incorporated into the production weapons.

The QF 25-pounder Short incorporated a number of design features which sought to increase its mobility. The gun could be broken down into 13 or 14 parts in under two minutes, allowing it to be air dropped from aircraft or packed into Jeeps. Of these parts, only the recuperator and front trail weighted over 135 kilograms (298 lb). Assembled guns could also be towed by a Jeep, which was advantageous as it was possible to transport these vehicles inside of aircraft. The gun carriage was very different from that in the standard 25-pounder, and included a new cradle, trail and axles. The guns were initially fitted with stabilisers to reduce stress on their wheels when firing, but these were later removed as they caused problems when reversing or running up the guns in action.

Initial testing of the prototype QF 25-pounder Short was completed in early December 1942. The 2/1st Field Regiment also trialled the gun in New Guinea during early 1943. Large-scale production began in early 1943, after minor modifications were made to the design, and the Army placed an initial order for 112 guns. A second order was later placed for 100 more. This lot incorporated the Mark II carriage, which had larger wheels and tyres to prevent the problem with wheel bounce encountered by the first lot. Altogether, 213 guns were manufactured by the time production ceased in 1944. As completed, the gun's full designation was Ordnance QF 25-pounder Short (Aust) Mark I, but it was nicknamed the 'snort' by Australian soldiers.

QF 25-pounder Short guns were first issued to front line artillery regiments in August 1943 as part of the reorganisation of the Australian Army's fighting units to the "Jungle division" structure. Under this structure, one of each field regiment's three batteries was re-equipped with the new guns. Field batteries equipped with the guns normally consisted of a headquarters and two troops each with four guns, seven jeeps and a D6 tractor. Like the standard 25-pounder, each gun had a crew of six men. The commander of New Guinea Force's artillery, Brigadier L.E.S. Barker, preferred the 75mm pack howitzer to the 25-pounder Short, and tried to prevent the new gun being issued, but was overruled by Brigadier O'Brien. The guns were first used in action by the 7th Division during the landing at Nadzab, when a detachment of the 2/4th Field Regiment was dropped by parachute with two guns. One gun was assembled and ready to fire within an hour, but the buffer and recuperator of the other took two days to locate in the long grass. The QF 25-pounder Short continued to be used by some Australian artillery units in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Borneo until the end of the war, and was declared obsolete in 1946.

The QF 25-pounder Short received a mixed reception from gunners, and was particularly unpopular among members of AIF artillery units which had used the standard 25-pounder during the fighting in the Middle East. Guns were sometimes put out of action by damage caused by the absorption of violent recoil. The gun also had a tendency to tilt at low elevation; this was remedied by its crew standing on the trails, an expedient that had previously been used with the QF 4.5 inch Howitzer. Other limitations included a low rate of fire (three or four rounds per minute) and difficulties towing the weapon.[19] Concerns were also raised over the quality of workmanship, and the commander of the 2/4th Field Regiment rejected a batch of Short 25-pounders sent to his unit before the Nadzab operation in the belief that they had been poorly manufactured. Inspectors subsequently concluded that most of his criticisms were unfounded, however. The most important deficiency compared to the regular 25-pounder was the shorter range. As a result of its experience with the gun, the 9th Division recommended that they be pooled and reserved for their special role rather than be employed in a day-to-day role alongside the regular 25 pounder.

Post-war assessments of the gun's performance are generally positive. The Australian official history acknowledged the QF 25-pounder Short's limitations, but argued that these were the result of it being developed to perform a specialised role for which some trade-offs in performance were needed, and that on balance it was a successful weapon. Historian and retired Major General Steve Gower has assessed the gun as being "undoubtedly one of the more significant Australian weapon developments of the Second World War" as it represented a success in adapting a foreign-designed weapon to meet the Australian Army's requirements. Similarly, Australian historian Adrian Threlfall noted the shortcomings of the gun, but stated that its rapid development and introduction into service provides an example of the Army's success in adapting to the demands of jungle warfare. British historian Chris Henry has also written that the QF 25-pounder Short "gave good service, and was robust enough to survive life in the jungle even though many modifications were needed".

Type Field gun / howitzer
Place of origin  Australia /  United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1943–1946
Used by Australian Army
Wars World War II
Production history
Designed 1942
Unit cost £3,300
Produced 1943–1944
Number built 213
Specifications
Weight 1,315 kg (2,899 lb) (gun and carriage)
Length 49.8 inches (1.26 m)
Crew 6
Shell Various, with normal (3 charges) and super charge
Calibre 3.45 inches (87.6 mm)
Breech Vertically-sliding wedge
Recoil Hydropneumatic, variable
Carriage Two wheel, box trail
Elevation -5° to +40°
Traverse 4° on carriage
Rate of fire 3-4 rpm
Muzzle velocity 1,230 f/s (375 m/s)
Effective firing range 10,200 yd (9,300 m)
Maximum firing range 11,500 yd (10,500 m) (using super charge)

End notes