History of Archers (Self-Propelled 17pdr, Valentine, Mk I)

In order to "upgrade" their available tank kill stockpile to better withstand the increasing armor thickness of German tanks during WWII (1939-1945), the British Army modified their existing "Valentin" infantry tanks ( See elsewhere for details). on this page) to mount the more lethal 76.2mm gun (also known as the "17-pounder"). The "Archer", as a modified model, is unique in that it mounts the main gun in a fixed superstructure designed to fire through the rear engine compartment. As such, the vehicle can be deployed in key strategic locations and used more as an assault tank, waiting to ambush enemy targets.

With the driver and the front of the vehicle already deviated from the action, the Archer crew was able to fire the weapon and quickly move to a new vantage point to repeat the action. Combining these guerrilla-style hit-and-run tactics with the vehicle's natural low profile, the Archer would be successful on the battlefield in the second half of World War II, serving in the Royal Artillery Regiment.

In the early stages of the war, the British authorities were very keen to improve their anti-tank capabilities, although this may not have been as necessary as their German counterparts in the North Sea. The Germans took rapidly aging and less capable tracked chassis and remanufactured these still-available forms to produce makeshift armored kill systems and hastily fitted these hulls with increasingly powerful weapons. Realizing that their 57mm (6lb) anti-tank guns would inevitably meet an adversary on the modern battlefield, the British sought a successor compatible with self-propelled tracked chassis.

This turned out to be quite unique to the British experience in this war as the 57mm weapon was a relatively new addition to the artillery stockpile and switching to an unproven new gun was a blind step forward step. The new weapon systema 76.2mm caliber, dubbed the "17-pounder"was originally developed as a towed gun. However, the gun turned out to be fairly large and relatively heavy to be towed at any speed, and a chain case design that proved suitable for mounting this gun was still months away from becoming a reality.

Therefore, in mid-1942 it was decided to install it on the existing tracked chassis as a temporary solution.

Initially, the proposed idea revolved around converting the Bishop SPG into an anti-tank system. Bishop herself fitted a powerful 25pdr main gun, but if redesigned, she'd be fitted with an updated 76.2mm system. This conversion idea failed, and the other idea failed with the Crusader tank, which lacked the required armor protection for the crew, guns, etc. Ultimately, it was decided that the Valentine tank would prove to be the best fit for the project.

Valentine's Day is a tried-and-true item in the British Army's stockpile, and it's readily available in limited quantities. Overall, it turned out that the Valentine hull was generally better at accommodating the new weapons required by the 17-pdr.

Interestingly, Valentine was considered a candidate for an earlier artillery project as early as 1941, but at the time it proved logistically easier to simply retrofit the Crusader turret to accomplish the task.

Work on the project steadily increased until early 1943 as Valentine became a viable candidate for the refit process. The rear-facing gun mount is ready for evaluation.

The vehicles underwent an intensive evaluation period from March to April, and the authorities finally decided that the rear mount was indeed the best option for the required needs. This particular design has a low profile, making it a smaller target, and the rear-facing artillery has an inherent tactical advantage when firing at alert enemies as the vehicle itself retreats.

This prototype was selected for series production and was designed to share many of the same components as the production Valentine tank to speed up assembly - minus the turret of course, which was built by a solid, welded, Superstructure with open top replaced (later models will include light armor). The new car will use the same body, transmission and engine as its birth lover - the latter being a 6-cylinder diesel engine from General Motors. In addition, the new gun mounts installed a new aiming system, as well as a new engine cooling system, while improving the gun's traversing capabilities.

The Vickers-Armstrong company was licensed and awarded a government contract to build 800 cars under the official name "SP 17-pdr Valentine". Production will begin in late 1943. During its first few months of service, the car eventually became known by the more familiar name "Archer."

The crew of the archers will perform firing operations from the superstructure position while being exposed to the elements and battlefield hazards such as artillery and mortar fire. The driver remains in a concealed position in the forward fuselage.

Gun emplacements are located at the front of the vehicle for balance. The main gun actually backs up very close to where the driver is in the fuselage when firing, so this requires him to get out of the vehicle at the start of the firing process. Although the main gun is mounted on a fixed superstructure, it can only move within a limited range. The vehicle will be driven by four people, consisting of a driver, commander, loader and gunner.

A 7.7mm Bren machine gun was set up for self-defense against enemy infantry and low-flying enemy aircraft.

After entering service, the British crew took some time to get used to the odd rear-facing artillery arrangement. Conventional wisdom holds that all weapons in an armored vehicle are forward facing, and the driver is also designed to face forward - watching the action unfold with the rifle group.

In practice, however, the crew quickly learned to play to their new archers' strengths, and the system lived a healthy life on the battlefield. Members of the Royal Artillery Company acquired the Archer, and for obvious reasons, most preferred its rifled 17 pdr counterpart.

With production numbers steadily increasing, the Archers officially entered the European theater in October 1944, eventually seeing action in Allied landings throughout Northwest Europe and Italy. British artillerymen generally preferred their archers to their leased American-made M10 Achilles tank destroyers.

The usual combat strategy of archers is to use ambush as an ambush weapon. Low profile usually makes the target harder to spot, allowing it to hide behind dirt hills, dense forests and buildings.

With the unsuspecting enemy pulling in the range of the 76.2mm main gun, the archer crew "fired" and fired as many bullets as possible in a shorter window, while maintaining momentary initiative. Before the enemy can respond with a counterattack, the archer will retreat or retreat to a more favorable position, and possibly repeat the process.

The 17pdr gun became a proven tank killing system, capable of penetrating the armor of almost every German vehicle available at the time, except for heavier, thicker armor systems. This advantage of first and likely first kills gives the Archer system a unique strategy that few other tank kill systems in war can match.

Archers are not without their drawbacks, however - the fact that the driver must stand outside the vehicle for the rifle group to fire can add costly time to quickly escape enemy fire. Additionally, her weapons are limited in movement, basically requiring the entire machine to be pointed in the direction of the enemy.

This also leaves the artillery with little protection on top due to its open design at the top, while the surrounding light armour walls are fairly thin and are designed to deflect small arms fire and possible artillery jets.

As the war in Europe came to an end in June 1945, these disadvantages ultimately proved less important to Allied war planners - Hitler committed suicide in late April and the Germans formally surrendered in May. The Archer was still in production at the end of the war, and the contract for 800 had been cancelled, leaving only 655 in circulation. Such operations have proven to be common practice around the world, where much of the expensive war production was cut or shut down completely, leaving many projects in limbo if they existed in physical form.

In any case, the archer has completed her legendary journey in the most famous world war. She served in the British Army until her full retirement in the mid-1950s.

Archer (17pdr Self-Propelled, Valentine, Mk I) Specification

Basic

Year:
1944
Staff:
4
Manufacturing:
State Factory - UK
Production:
655 units

Roles

- anti-tank/anti-tank

- fire support/attack/damage

Dimensions

Length:

6.68m

Width:

2.76m

Height:

7.38 ft (2.25 m)

Weight:

18 tons (16,257 kg; 35,841 lb)

Performance

1 x General Motors 6-71 6 cylinder 192 hp diesel engine driving a conventional track and wheel arrangement.

Performance

Maximum Speed:

32 km/h

Maximum range:

140 miles (225 km)

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Armor

1 x 76.2 mm (17-pdr) main gun in fixed hull superstructure (limited traverse).

1 x 7.7mm BREN General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG).

Ammo:

39x76mm projectile.

1,000 x 7.7mm ammo.

Changes

SP 17-pdr Valentine ("Archer") - Name of the base set.

Self-propelled 17pdr, Valentine, Mk I, Archer - long designation.

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