Britain entered World War Two with the 2-pounder (40mm) gun as its standard anti-tank weapon. Its inadequacy was recognised way before the war, and the design of its successor – the 6-pounder (57mm) – was well under way by the outbreak of hostilities. The 6-pounder appeared in the Western Desert in 1942 (thanks, Wikipedia!) and was capable of handling the Panzer IIs, IIIs, and IVs of the day. However, the escalating arms race on the Eastern Front was producing monsters like the KV series and Tiger, so in 1940 design work started on a new high-pressure 17-pounder gun of 3-inch (76.2mm) bore to tackle these threats.
The first hundred or so 17pdr barrels were ready in mid-1942, but work on a new carriage wouldn’t be completed until early 1943, so these first barrels were adapted to existing 25pdr Mk.II carriages and shipped to Africa in early 1943 to tackle the Tigers that had just arrived in-theatre. This combination, officially known as the “17/25pdr Mk. II on Mk. I carriage”, plugged a gap until the proper 17pdr carriage became available during the invasion of Sicily. Since the 25pdr carriages were effectively “borrowed” for this conversion any combination of existing 25pdr spotting features might be found on the carriages. Of course the 25pdr carriage was never designed for the abuse of a gun firing at nearly 3000 ft/second muzzle velocity, but the riveted box-trail lived up to its steam-engine appearance by absorbing the punishment. According to Chris Henry & Brian Delf in their British anti-tank artillery 1939-1945 (Osprey New Vanguard 98) the Pheasant set-up “was a gun working on the limits of the carriage and proved to be something of a lively weapon.”
These early 17pdr barrels differed from later guns in that they had a cylindrical muzzle brake instead of the more familiar “boxing glove” rounded brake as seen on Fireflies etc. Variations in the 25pdr carriages mostly involved a choice of riveted or welded parts to make up the gun cradle (the box under the gun in which the buffer/recuperator block slid) and saddles (the vertical sides of the carriage that hold the trunnions). There is a good description of the variations on Missing Lynx at (http://www.network54.com/Forum/47208/thread/1287841178/25PDR Help please). I’ve included a few shots of the 25pdr at the Imperial War Museum that has the welded-style cradle and saddle.
To date Bronco
have offered the 17pdr on its “proper” towed Mk. II carriage, as well as in the Archer SP based on the Valentine hull. The Pheasant kit offers us a first look at the carriage parts for their upcoming 25pdr.
There are 4 sprues holding 233 parts in tan styrene, as well as 73 brass parts on two photo-etch frets, a piece of string for the tow cable, and two decal sheets. The instruction book runs to twenty pages! Fortunately some of this is duplication to cover the two build options.
All the parts look to be very sharply moulded, with plenty of rivet detail, (the 25pdr carriage is a real rivet-counter’s nightmare! Victorian engineering at its best…) There is no flash to be seen anywhere, and precious few ejector-pin marks to deal with – the only ones I could see are on the underside of the circular firing platform. The cost of this blemish-free tooling is a lot of those extraneous ejector-lugs to be trimmed off the outer edges of the bigger parts.
The gun barrel comes as a single piece, with its chamber hollowed out through slide-moulding so you could pose the weapon with a shell being loaded. There is a faint seam along the length of the barrel to remove by gentle scraping or sanding. The muzzle brake is also one-piece, with slide-moulded bore and a seam to sand down. Be careful not to remove the fragile-looking locking bolt though – the real things actually had this awkward bolt sticking up! The gun shield comes on the 17pdr gun sprue, suggesting it is slightly different from a standard 25pdr shield. Its details are very crisp compared to the old Tamiya offering.
What is surprising is that this is Bronco’s third outing with a 17pdr (the normal carriage and Archer kits came before) and yet the sprues for the gun parts are completely different in all three! I can’t see any evidence of “mix & match” tooling components like on Tasca sprues, so it looks like they cut new tooling from scratch. Now that’s dedication!
There are several choices in this kit. First, there is towed position or firing position, mainly dependent on the circular firing platform since the linkage isn’t workable. Then there is shield-top up, or folded. Finally there is riveted cradle and saddle or welded cradle and saddle. Both riveted and welded parts could be seen in service on 25pdrs throughout the war, and as the Pheasant was new ordnance retro-fitted to existing carriages I suppose either could be correct. (There are surprisingly few on-line pictures of the 17/25pdr to go by…)
Starting with the gun, this is simply a beautiful rendition of the ordnance. The joint between the brake and gun tube is keyed for correct alignment, but is held by a shallow rebate so make sure it is glued square-on and not skewed as that would really spoil the effect. The breach has a sliding block that looks to actually operate from the lever with a tiny camshaft so the builder doesn’t need to make a choice of open or closed positions. That’ll be worth further investigation…
Moving down to the cradle and saddle, the parts look spot-on compared to photos. The one gimmick is the “working” elevation gear (part B13) – this gear and its pivot B25 are microscopic! There are extra bolt heads (on the face of the sprue) to add to the trunnion caps. The carriage is made up of lots of parts so each surface could be moulded with all its riveted glory. It all looks good, but I’ll need to build it to test the fit. The one thing that really bothers me is the gratuitous use of tiny multi-folded photo-etched parts without offering plastic alternatives for those who hate brass origami. Sure, some of them need the fine-ness of PE, but all too many of them could have been done just as easily in plastic. I fear this puts the kit way out of the beginner’s league.
The wheels are worth special note. The detail is superb, including the “Dunlop Trak Grip” markings. The outer and inner faces are slipped inside a separate ring of tread, trapping the backing detail that rotates.
Virtually all the markings relate to the 17pdr ammunition rather than the gun, and look very thorough. However, on a light blue background they are hard to see and even harder to photograph!
This looks to be a stunning kit of an excellent weapon that has been sadly overlooked until now in the flurry of PaK guns of every description. The tooling looks great, and with a lot of patience it should build up to a very delicately detailed Tiger-killer. It also gives us a peek at Bronco’s forthcoming 25pdr, which promises to be light-years ahead of the old Tamiya offering. Just be aware of the tiny details and necessary etch skills before tackling this beast…
For a review of the Bronco figures for this kit see:
Pheasant Gun Crew