2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA

2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA

The 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, Royal Artillery, operated as a unit of the British 1st Airborne Division from 1942-45, and was formed from 204 (Oban) Anti-Tank Battery, RA.

204 Battery was originally part of the Argyll based 51st (West Highland) Anti-Tank Regiment, RA, a Territorial Army unit which had been created in 1938 following the conversion and redesignation of the 54th (West Highland) Field Regiment RA. After the war started, 204 Battery was equipped with obsolescent 12 x two pounder guns, in three troops of four.

By February 1940, 204 Battery was at the Maginot line in France with the British Expeditionary Force, although it did not fire its guns in anger until the retreat began in May. Lieutenant Harry Dunn said that the 2 pounders were only effective against the German tanks at a range of less than 200 yards, otherwise the shells bounced off. Two thirds of the 51st (Highland) Division was forced to surrender when the ammunition ran out. However, 204 Battery avoided capture at St Valery and Dunkirk, because it had been assigned to ARKFORCE on 9 June 1940 and sent to the west. The battery came back to England with its guns, via Cherbourg, thanks to Major Carmichael who insisted the guns were loaded onboard prior to the men's embarkation.

Subsequently 204 Battery was split into two parts; one part  was assigned to  1st Airborne Division on  5 August 1942 and redesignated as 2nd (Oban) Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery on 23 October 1942. Many men from Oban continued to serve in it under different officers in North Africa , and Italy, finally landing by gliders at Arnhem.

The battery's planned deployment to Sicily on 10 July 1943 for Op Husky was cancelled at the last minute and it later suffered heavy losses during the amphibious landings at Taranto, Italy,in September 1943 when one of the Royal Navy’s new fast-mine-laying ships struck a mine in the harbour and sank in just a few minutes. The battery lost its Commanding Officer, Major James Wilson, Lieutenant George Thomason and 22 Other Ranks.

To make up the battery's strength an airborne officer appealed for volunteers to a parade of artillery reinforcements at a camp in North Africa. Gunner George Hurdman describes the result: "Only one man, a Jew, stepped forward. The officer then walked down the ranks selecting the required fifty of the fittest-looking men and these were sent to the battery. I never regretted it for one moment; it was a fantastic mob to be in."

The original establishment of each battery of four troops, each with four 6-pounder guns, was reorganised in 1944 to accommodate the larger and more powerful 17-pounder gun, which had been developed to counter the growing thickness of German tank armour. One 6-pounder Troop had been converted and three extra troops had been formed for this new gun, which could be carried, along with its towing vehicle in the Hamilcar glider. This development took place only just before Arnhem; the Germans did not know that the 17-pounder was capable of being transported by glider and were surprised by its appearance at Arnhem.

During Operation Market Garden the 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, Royal Artillery was based at Harrowby. Under the command of Major AF Haynes the battery flew in 24 Horsas from Blakehill Farm and 8 Hamilcars from Tarrant Rushton. Of the 158 men that went one officer and 58 other ranks were evacuated across the river to safety at the end of the battle.

Following Arnhem, the 1st Battery, 2nd Battery and newly formed 5th Airlanding  Anti-Tank Battery became part of 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Regiment RA, which was created on 25 March 1945.

The battery and 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Regt were disbanded  later that year, shortly after their return from the liberation of Norway

Battery Commanders

1943 Major JR Wilson (KIA 10 September 1943 Taranto)
1943-44 Major AF Haynes (PoW Arnhem)

Major GBS Lardner

Compiled by Bob Hilton with the kind assistance of the 51st Highland Division Trust.

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