In 1939, when the Territorials of the 51st (Highland) Division were mobilised, many men from Oban joined the Argylls, but as many joined the Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Artillery. Each of its batteries were recruited from different parts of Argyll; the 204th (Oban) Battery was equipped with twelve 2-pounder guns in three of its four troops. It had been trained as a mountain battery, and Isobel Black of Torwood remembered the antique guns being towed up Pulpit Hill by horses. In August 1939, the 204th Battery, along with the local unit of the Argylls, was in a state of alert at the drill hall between Albany Street and Druimvagie Road. On Sunday, 3rd September, 2nd Lieutenant Harry Dunn took the codeword to his Battery Commander, Major Donald Carmichael at the Park Hotel.
In February 1940, the 204th Battery was serving on the Maginot line. They did not fire their guns in anger until the retreat began in May, and Lieutenant Dunn observed that their 2-pounders were only effective against German tanks at a range of under 200 yards, anything longer and the shells bounced off. Almost two-thirds of the 51st (Highland) Division were forced to surrender at St Valery, however the 204th Battery escaped as they had been assigned to Arkforce on the 9th June and despatched to the west. They returned to England via Cherbourg, complete with their precious guns as Major Carmichael would now allow his men to embark until the guns had been put onboard. Initially based at Aldershot, the Battery's losses were replaced and, in early 1942, they returned to Scotland.
The 204th Battery was later split into two parts, one of which, in October 1942, became the 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery of the 1st Airborne Division. Posted to North Africa with the 2nd Parachute Brigade, it took part in the landings at Italy but suffered a disaster in Taranto Harbour when the ship in which it was being carried, HMS Abdiel, struck a mine and sank. The Battery lost its commander, Major James Wilson, Lieutenant George Thomason and 22 other ranks. The losses were replaced after an airborne officer appealed for volunteers from a camp of artillery reinforcements in North Africa: Gunner George Hurdman recalls, "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."
Returning to England as part of the 4th Parachute Brigade, the Battery was based at Harrowby in Lincolnshire. Originally equipped with four 6-pounder guns in each of its four troops; E, F, G and H, the Battery was reorganised once it was found that the larger and much more powerful 17-pounder could be carried, with its towing vehicle, in the new Hamilcar glider. It was hoped that this gun would counter the increasing thickness of German armour, and so F Troop were duly converted and a fifth troop, X, was formed around these guns. This development took place shortly before Arnhem; the Germans did not know that the 17-pounder was capable of being carried in gliders and were much surprised by its appearance. 24 Horsa gliders from Blakehill Farm and 8 Hamilcars from Tarrant Rushton flew the Battery to Arnhem on Monday 18th September 1944. 168 men were taken in, 25 were killed, 27 were evacuated, and 106 were posted missing.
The 4th Parachute Brigade was disbanded on its return from Arnhem, but the 2nd Battery survived as part of the newly formed 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank regiment. It took part of the liberation of Norway in May 1945, and was disbanded on its return home towards the end of the year.
1943 Major J. R. Wilson
1943-44 Major A. F. Haynes
1944-45 Major G. B. S. Lardner
Source: The Pegasus Archive, http://www.pegasusarchive.org/arnhem/batt_2ndATBat.htm
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