The general view on the issue of 2-pdr high-explosive (HE) is that there was none, and that the guns were only equipped with armour-piercing (AP) rounds. While sometimes one comes across references to 2-pdr HE (see e.g. at this link), these are vague and from memory, written years after the fact. So you can imagine my surprise when I came across a short statement in the war diary of 11 Royal Horse Artillery (R.H.A. – the famous ‘Honourable Artillery Company’ of the City of London), in which German tank methods and ways of dealing with them are discussed.
15. The 2-pr H.E. has been used most effectively against soft vehicles but it is doubtful if there is much more in the country.
11 R.H.A. was a 25-pdr regiment, but it would have worked closely with 2-pdr equipped AT regiments during January 1942, when the Allied forces were operating in mixed columns. Nevertheless, this report does not pertain to operations during the Axis counter-offensive. The relevant appendix is part of the February 1942 war diary. The report was issued by HQ R.A. 1 Armoured Division on 20 January 1942, so it would be based on experience in fighting up to that date.
The document can be found in Kew, under WO169/4560. I’d be interested in comments on this.
Thanks to user ‘idler’ on WW2talk, here is a link to the 2-pdr equipment page with ammunition production statistics.
And here is a comment on WW2 Talk that should resolve this: The confusion is caused by the fact that the 2 pounder APHE round was colloquially referred to as “HE”, and so there is the erroneous view that 2 pounder HE was available in the early war period, when it wasn’t. The line “but it is doubtful if there is much more in the country” refers to the fact that the APHE was the original AP shell for the 2 pounder, but was discontinued in favour of the more effective (against armour) solid AP round, and so there were only limited stocks available. Many of these had had their burster charge replaced with sand to provide practice rounds.
A proper HE shell, the HE Mk.2T, only became available during 1943, with 55,000 (iirc) being available in War Office stores by June 1943 (but not necessarily in the Middle East).
The whole saga of the various types of 2 pounder ammunition and their availability is covered in anally retentive detail here: http://tankandafvnews.com/tag/a15-cruiser-mk-vi-crusader-tank-a-technical-history/ – my copy is on order, I’ll try to review it when I get it.
Thanks to have ended that mystery.
Just to add to the matter of 2pdr HE rounds, some details of the effect of APHE rounds is in file WO.169/952 A.F.V. G.H.Q. MEF War Diary 1941 at the National Archives in Kew –
August section – Appendix 14
Subject: – 2-pdr A.P. H.E. Shells
13 Aug 41
The question has arisen as to what, if any proportion of 2-pdr ammunition is to be A.P. HE.
Resulting from inspection of Italian M.13 Tanks after the BEDA FOMM action, and the remarkable number of Tanks found with the whole crew dead after a single hit by a 2-pdr. shell, a trial was held by 2 R.Tanks. At this trial the 2-pdr. H.E. Shell entered the M.13 Tank through the front plate and splinters were found in all sandbags which had been placed to represent the crew in position. The range was 900 yards.
It is realised that the German armour plate is of better quality than the Italian. But it is felt that if the H.E. Shell would penetrate the German tanks at say – 600 yards or less, it would be worth having a proportion of H.E. Shell to be used at the Tank commander’s discretion, to administer a “Coup de Grace” at short range.
The War Office have stopped production of 2-pdr. H.E. at home as a result of poor reports of its penetration power in FRANCE. We do not know, however, at what range it was used.
We would like to have your opinion as to whether in the light of an experience in the M.E. representations should be made to the War Office for renewed production.
Brigadier, General Staff
Copy to: – HQ., 7 Armd. Div.
Thanks a lot Peter
The pre-war stockpile of 2pdr rounds was almost one million rounds. Of that, two-thirds were 2pdr shell(APHE) and one-third 2pdr shot(AP).
It should be noted, also, that the company producing these rounds was only able to make fewer than 1,000 rounds per month, which was far short of requirements. These rounds were also of high quality due to a special procedure used. When production was expanded, the new manufacturers reported that they could only meet the pre-war standard with difficulty or not at all. This resulted in irregular performance by the new rounds, and may explain some of the derogatory comments about them.
Thanks for the additional background!