These British Howitzers Crushed Nazi Forces

    Robert Beckhusen

    History, Europe

    The Bishop, Deacon, Sexton and Abbot provided plenty of fire support

    In 1940, the United Kingdom went to war with the Axis in North Africa and quickly encountered an unnerving tactical problem.

    The nature of warfare in the flat, open desert inevitably favored tanks, which could easily outrun the range of supporting artillery that could not move unless towed. Limbering and unlimbering artillery was time consuming, so the British Army hastened development of a 25-pounder self-propelled howitzer called the Bishop.

    Weapons rushed into combat often make for poor weapons — and the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company’s self-propelled Bishop howitzer was exceedingly poor indeed.

    Foremost was the technical problem of affixing a howitzer onto a chassis. The company took a Valentine tank, a rugged workhorse of the British armored forces, and swapped the turret for an enormous, boxy superstructure which increase the vehicle’s height to 10 feet. That became the inspiration for its name, and gave the Bishop a tall profile.

    A high profile for a howitzer was not a serious problem, in theory, as artillery is supposed to stay far away from the lines. But the Bishop couldn’t stay very far back given the howitzer’s limited vertical elevation which tapped out its firing range to 5,900 meters — well within the range of the fearsome German 88-millimeter gun and half the 25-pounder cannon’s normal maximum range.

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    In the open desert, the Germans could see the Bishop coming, and with the right weapons, destroy it before it could get close enough to fire its own cannon.

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