Posted: 2 March 2010 11:14

An unexpected present last Christmas was a manual for the 2-pounder anti-tank gun. A diagram of the gun pit to be excavated when digging in led me up onto the Downs to see if any were evident.

Finding the gun pits

The manual is actually an unofficial publication and dates to 1944; whether the 2-pounder was destined for the Home Guard is not clear, but the gun was seen as ineffective against the latest German armour even in 1940.

The manual blames this on gunners opening fire at extreme range and giving away the gun position: "it is not too much to say that any loss of reputation which the gun may have acquired was almost entirely due to mishandling in this respect". Whether blaming the shortcomings of the gun on those using it was a wise thing to do is open to question.

Whatever the case, the manual came complete with a nice colourful folding wall chart kept in a pocket inside the back cover.

However, it was a diagram of the gun pit that drew my attention, as I had hitherto been curious as to what it would have looked like in order to try and identify gun positions.

The photo below shows the awkward shape of the gun in action:

Finding the gun pits

So how do you start looking for a 2-pdr gun pit in an area as large as the Downs? Well, I had already 'found' the pits using the treasure map seen below; the guns are represented by the red boxes.

Map 2

I also had a document that listed the grid references and arcs of fire of all the guns. I mentioned last year that I had found some locations, including the one shown below.

I actually found this position twice; firstly by walking the area recording the various slit trenches. I couldn't make out what this earthwork was at that time. However, after subsequently finding the above map and location list, I converted the map reference from Cassini grid to National grid and used GPS to navigate. On my next trip I fought my way through some dense undergrowth from an unfamiliar direction and emerged to find myself staring at this same earthwork that had previously confused me.

The photo shows a standard slit trench at left, with the main earthwork behind. This comprises an L-shaped trench (red) that emerges from the sloping hillside and opens out into a platform of sorts (yellow); the actual arrangement is more complex than can be depicted here and even a few visits have not really made sense of the platform area.

Finding the gun pits

I would love to be able to say that this earthwork matches the textbook diagram of a gun pit, but sadly, no. Nothing like it. However, the unusual arrangement of this earthwork does not rule it out as a gun position. Using the data from the documents, I got my compass out and investigated the given arcs of fire for this gun. It was apparent that a gun in this position would be able to cover these arcs, whilst being partly protected by hugging the hillside contours on one side. A given strength of the 2-pdr was its 360° traverse and guns were supposed to be sited to permit this. However, the nature of the Downs is such that a gun able to use a full traverse would be in an exposed position with a lot of dead ground surrounding it and so a loss of traverse to fit in with local conditions would have been more than acceptable.

A second nearby position was located from the maps and documents and seemingly comprised a rectangular cut that provided a more level surface. Again, the arcs, map overlay and grid reference all matched and so it would seem that there is no reason not to record the first earthwork as a 2-pdr gun position. Even though neither position matched the textbook, the manuals never have all the answers as each military situation will be subject to different conditions. In this case I believe that the Downland landscape took precedence over the printed guidelines.

- Pete



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Cassini Grid

Cassini Grid was the map reference system in use on British military maps from 1919 until the introduction of the National Grid Reference system still used today on Ordnance Survey maps. The two systems are not related, and so wartime Cassini references need to be converted to modern National Grid. More information can be found on the maps page.

Slit trench

Small, narrow trench designed to provide protection against shrapnel and other battlefield hazards. Technically distinct from a weapon pit (which was intended soley as a defensive position) slit trenches were also used as defence works.

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Hibbs, Peter Finding the gun pits (2018) Available at: Accessed: 18 June 2018

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