Out of all tanks currently available, only the Valentine could lift enough weight. It was decided to use it as a platform for the new gun, installing it in a casemate with limited traverse. The first modifications of the vehicle used a traditional layout, but the center of mass was shifted due to the long gun, and front wheels were overloaded. The gun was flipped around, spreading the weight out equally. The length of the vehicle was reduced drastically, as the gun only stuck out a little bit over the engine compartment.
A downside of this layout was a difficulty of use: the driver looked in one direction, and every other crew member looked in another. This made maneuvering in battle difficult. Additionally, the fighting compartment became very cramped. As a result, the gun could only traverse slightly in each direction and the vehicle had to turn often.
Another, more critical, downside was that the gun breech was placed above the driver's seat. If he wanted to keep his head, he had to leave his position before the shooting started, or leave the vehicle entirely, as there was not much room inside. It is not difficult to imagine how much this added to the aforementioned problems.
The vehicle was indexed "Self Propelled 17 pdr, Valentine, Mk I", more often known as the Archer.
Happiness of Artillerymen
Production of the vehicle began in the middle of 1943, but it arrived in the army much later, in October of 1944, when the fighting on the Western Front was at its most intense. The vehicle was adopted by artillery units of the British and Canadian armies.
It is unknown what tankers would have thought of such an untraditional vehicle, but the artillerymen were satisfied. It was no wonder: even the uncomfortable Archer provided much greater protection for its crew than the towed 17-pounder they had to use before. It is also known that they often preferred the Archer over the more traditional Achilles, due to the Archer's smaller profile.
The small size and low profile of the vehicle determined the most common tactic for its application: ambushes. The Archer took its position, aimed in at an area, and waited until German tanks approached to a viable combat distance. Then the crew of the Archer would fire a few times with minimal intervals between shots, and retreat to another prepared position. These tactics compensated for the limited traverse angle, and the position of the driver was even an advantage, as the Archer could retreat at maximum speed without wasting time on turning around.
The high penetration of the QF-17 bailed Archer crews out of trouble many times. It could successfully penetrate nearly any enemy vehicle at any distance with aimed fire. Not only that, but there is even a recorded event of an Archer firing at a Tiger, but missing their first shot. The Tiger retreated behind a building. The Archer's commander received the location of the enemy from a scout airplane, and fired directly through the building, destroying the Tiger through its side.
Aside from fighting tanks, Archers were used to support infantry, destroying field fortifications, machinegun nests, and other obstacles. Using an HE shell with a reduced muzzle velocity, the Archer could fire from entrenched positions, hiding the weakly armoured hull from harm.
Archers were used in Western Europe and Italy, remaining in the army until the end of the war. After victory, Archers remained in use for some time. It is known that the British Army on the Rhine kept then Archers until the mid-1950s. Some Archers were sold to Egypt, where they fought in local conflicts, including the Suez Crisis in 1956-57.
The rapid evolution of armoured vehicles rendered the 17-pounder quite unexceptional, denying the Archer its trump card, the penetration of the gun. This led to the vehicle's rapid disappearance from the battlefield.
Article author: Aleksandr Grebnev. Aleksandr Grebnev is an editor, translator, columnist, and article author for a number of magazines and websites. He took part in the localization of computer games, specifically military and historical ones. Currently, he is a historical consultant and a member of the Wargaming archive group.
- Chris Henry: "British Anti-Tank Artillery, 1939-45", New Vanguard, Osprey Publishing, 2004
- Peter Chamberlain, Chris Ellis, "British and American Tanks of the Second World War", (AST, Astrel, 2003)
Original article available here.