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British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

British Anti-Tank Units and Markings in Normandy
with James MacMillan
For anyone interested in the historical and modelling side of the hobby, there can be fewer subjects more confusing and convoluted than WW2 British and Commonwealth unit markings. This is especially true when applied to Royal Artillery anti-tank regiments. 

An often-asked question when building any collections is “so which unit do the M10s belong to?”. 

I hope to provide some detail as to what that answer could be, although I will refrain from getting into which divisions formed parts of which corps. Given the changeable nature of divisional attachments, I’m afraid it would be up to you to establish the where and when if you intend to build a historical formation.

One of the key things to realise about British, Canadian or Polish anti-tank units in the Normandy theatre is that there were a lot of them, at all levels - with guns held at battalion, division or corps level.

One tricky thing to note when researching these anti-tank units is that they very seldomly referenced any difference between M10s armament. Often the war diaries only mention M10s and not whether they were 3” armed or 17-pdr armed. Pictorial evidence therefore becomes quite important.

Infantry, Para, and Recce Battalion Anti-tank Guns
At the forefront of British and Canadian anti-tank defences in Normandy would be the 6-pdrs, with each standard (or lorried) infantry battalion within a division containing a support company, which included six 6-pdr Anti-Tank guns plus transport.  These were infantry-crewed guns, rather than belonging to the Royal Artillery. Along with the PIATs, these formed the basic infantry anti-tank defence. 

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

Motor battalions (within the various armoured divisions plus those in 4th and 8th Armoured Brigades) had a different organisation, but maintained a support company which included two platoons of four 6-pdrs. These would also be infantry-crewed.

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

Another place you would find 6-pdrs within an infantry division would be the divisional recce regiment. Along with their armoured cars, these units would have an anti-tank battery consisting of two troops of four 6-pdrs each. 

In all cases, 6-pdrs would most often be towed by carriers. The transports for these guns would typically be marked with the division symbol and the ‘Arm of Service’ (AoS) number for that battalion. 

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

The ‘AoS’ number is the white number on a red/green/brown/blue and green square. This number sequence remains the same for most infantry divisions, although (as usual) there were some exceptions. 

So 6-pdr transports of the Support Company of 8th Battalion, Royal Scots, would have the division symbol on the front right hull, and a red square with 55 in white on the front left hull. On the rear of the vehicles, the same markings would be repeated (although which side these markings were on appears to vary between units).

Note that the AoS numbers for 4th and 8th Armoured Brigades motor battalions, along with the infantry within armoured divisions, can be seen here.

Infantry Anti-Tank guns in the 6th Airborne Division were organised slightly differently. A Parachute battalion would not include any guns, while the glider borne air landing battalions each included two platoons of four 6-pdrs (for 8 per battalion). These would be landed by glider and were crewed by airborne troops. It’s worth researching these guns, as they looked slightly different from the standard 6-pdr, being made lighter for air transport – an easy conversion with the new plastic kits.

From the infantry unit’s own guns, we now look at the main anti-tank punch of the divisions! 

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944 British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

Divisional Anti-tank Regiments
Each infantry and armoured division had its own anti-tank regiment. The organisation of these units varied, with major differences existing between those found in the D-Day assault infantry divisions, standard infantry divisions and armoured divisions.

There were two main varieties of infantry division anti-tank regiment organisations used in Normandy.  

The first organisation would be those used by the D-Day ‘Assault’ divisions of the British and Canadian armies. In order to support their beach landing and move inland and off the beaches quickly, the standard compliment of towed 17-pdrs were replaced by 3” M10s. These units were:

  • Gold Beach: British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division with 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. Also supported on D-day by the XXX Corps 73rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, which provided a battery of 17-pdr M10s.

  • Juno Beach: Canadian 3rd Infantry Division with 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. Equipped with 3” M10s and towed 6-pdrs. The 3” M10’s also supported 48 Royal Marine Commando’s alongside Royal Marine Centaurs during D-Day. This division also had attached one battery of I Corps’ 62nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery equipped with 3” M10s.

  • Sword Beach: British 3rd Infantry Division with 20th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. 

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

The assault divisions' anti-tank regiments ‘official’ organisation consisted of:

  • 4 x batteries, each with:

    • 1 x troop of four 3” M10s (12 total in regiment)

    • 2 x troops of four towed 6-pdrs (36 total in regiment)

Of course, being operational units, variation existed with some fielding all the 3” M10s in the same battery. This mix of 6-pdrs and 3” M10s was supposed to be temporary for these divisions, but they retained this unique combination well beyond the end of the Normandy campaign. 

6-pdrs in these units would be towed by carriers as usual. 

The organisation used by Anti-Tank Regiments in the standard British and Canadian infantry divisions in Normandy were less mobile. These regiments consisted of four batteries:

  • 2 x batteries each with three troops of four towed 6-pdrs each (24 total)

  • 2 x batteries each with three troops of four towed 17-pdrs each (24 total) 

The infantry divisions would generally use carriers (for the 6-pdrs) or lorries (which might include Quads) for the 17-pdrs.

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

Regardless of the version of organisation, these infantry division anti-tank regiments’ markings would consist of a white 46 on a red and blue square. As described previously, the other marking on these units would be the divisional sign. Note that this infantry division AoS number for an anti-tank regiment is different from those found on Armoured or Corps Anti-Tank Regiments. To use our 15th Scottish Infantry Division example again.

These anti-tank regiments would be used as part of the divisions anti-tank reserve and would normally be issued out in sub units to support or re-enforce the infantry battalions or associated armour units as well as providing the divisions ‘in depth’ anti-tank defence. 

Armoured Divisions

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

In most Armoured Divisions (1st Polish, Guards, 7th and 11th Armoured), the Anti-Tank Regiment’s organisation had more of a focus on mobility. In June 1944 these units consisted of:

  • 2 x Batteries each with three troops of 4 towed 17-pdr guns (24 guns total)
  • 1 x Battery with three troops of four 3” armed M10s (12 x 3” M10s total)
  • 1 x Battery with three troops of four 17-pdr armed M10s (12 x 17-pdr M10s total)

Later in the campaign these units lost the 3” M10s and began switching to 2 batteries of 17-pdr M10s. However, conversion of M10s to carry the 17-pdr gun only began in May 1944 and numbers initially were small, which gives us the option of having 3” M10s in Armoured Divisions. This is evidenced by pictorial and film footage, as well as documentary evidence:

“It was decided that this gun should be issued to complete 50% of unit S.P. equipment in all regiments in Second Army and in First Canadian Army, followed by issues to the Armoured Replacement Group and to the Polish Armoured Division. By 31st May twelve equipments had been issued or were in transit, to each Armoured Divisional and Corps Anti-Tank Regiment in the two Armies, and issues to the Armoured Replacement Group were in hand” - (The National Archives (UK) (TNA) WO171/155 – Appendix ‘A’ to R.A. Branch Headquarters 21st Army Group War Diary May 1944).

These units would be marked with the Divisional symbol, with an Arm of Service number of 77 on a red and blue square:

The composition and use of these units did vary – for example Guards Armoured Division may have used mixed batteries of 2 x 3” and 2 x 17-pdr M10s (doable using the D-Day: British, if you have two support choices of two M10s each – but probably not recommended from a survivability perspective. Best to stick to the D-Day: British book options).

The 4th Canadian Armoured Division did deploy with an increased allocation of 17-pdr M10s. The regimental diaries for the 5th Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, show that the regiment received twenty-four 17-pdr M10s prior to deployment to Normandy, and hence no 3” M10s.

Transport for these regiments towed 17-pdrs would often be halftracks, although Crusader and Ram tows were used.

Airborne Division

Though 6th Airborne Division did not have an Anti-Tank Regiment, it did have two batteries of divisional anti-tank guns. 3rd and 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Batteries each comprised of:

  • Three troops, each with four 6-pdrs (12 total per battery)
  • One troop with four 17-pdrs (4 total per battery)

Corps Anti-Tank Regiments
The British and Canadian armies in Normandy also included corps anti-tank regiments. These regiments were held at corps level and attached to divisions as required, whilst also forming a corps anti-tank reserve. While these regiments are reported to have used roughly the same organisation as those in the Armoured Divisions, there were some variations.

In organisational terms, British and Canadian forces in Normandy were under the control of 21st Army Group. 21st Army Group comprised of British 2nd Army and eventually Canadian 1st Army. Between these two armies were split into five corps, with each corps being made up of a varying number of divisions. Divisions would move between corps depending on the planned operations, geography, etc.

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

From a modelling perspective, these corps-level units are tricky due to the lack of decals for them. However, they also offer the option if you are building a historical force to include equipment which your division may not have had access to themselves. This is due to the method in which corps troops were often divided up to support other formations. If you are building a historical force, my recommendation is always to pick a specific time period or operation, and focus on what attached assets were available at the time. 

Transport for these regiments towed 17-pdrs would also be halftracks or turretless crusaders.

Formation badges for the British and Canadian Corps in Normandy are:

British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944

Note that I have also found images of 1 Corps badge in red and black, and of the 8 Corps badge reversed (the horse and knight pointing to the left). I currently can’t explain why there may have been a difference, other than ‘variations’ in the design. The AoS number for corps anti-tank units were also different, being a white number 2 on a red over blue background, with a white bar along the top of the red segment (signifying corps troops). 

The assigned anti-tank regiments to each corps were:

  • 1 Corps:  62nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (Despite some documents saying this unit had 2 x batteries of 17-pdr M10’s and 2 x batteries of towed 17-pdrs, pictures exist of 3” M10s in this units markings suggesting the standard Armoured Division structure was used). 
  • 8 Corps: 91st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (no 17-pdr M10’s until ‘later’ in the campaign, but two 3” M10 batteries and two towed 17-pdr batteries. I’ve been unable to establish when the 17-pdr M10’s arrived).
  • 12 Corps: 86th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (who’s M10s knocked out 5 Tigers, a Panzer IV, a ‘scout car’ and shot down a FW190 with their .50cals all in one day during the fighting around Hill 112!)
  • 30 Corps: 73rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (landed on D-Day in support of 50th Infantry Division).
  • 2 Canadian Corps: 6th Canadian Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (No 17-pdr M10s until September 1944, but 2 x batteries of 3” M10’s and 2 x batteries of towed 17-pdrs prior to this).

Short Answers
Some answers to often asked questions for historical forces:

British or Canadian Paras – fighting on the easternmost flank of the invasion, the paras would most likely have seen M10s supporting them from 1 Corps, which they formed part following the landings. 

Commandos – during the initial landings, 48th Commando was supported by Canadian 3” M10s from Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, however for D-day actions any of the assault division or corps anti-tank regiments would work (dependent on which Commando/beach). Post D-Day, both commando brigades were in support of the paras, so 1 Corps M10s.   

Armoured Divisions infantry, motor infantry, armoured or armoured recceformations – Would have their own 3” and 17-pdr M10s from the divisional anti-tank regiment, but may also have been supported by additional batteries from corps anti-tank regiments. 

Churchill or Non-armoured Division Sherman formations – M10s could come from supporting infantry or armoured divisions, but most likely from corps anti-tank regiments. In particular, Churchill units with their lack of Fireflies very often had attachments of M10s from appropriate corps anti-tank regiments. 

Assault infantry formations – the assault divisions had their own 3” M10s but 17-pdr M10s would come from the associated corps anti-tank regiments or neighbouring armoured divisions. 

Standard infantry formations - Corps anti-tank regiments or neighbouring armoured divisions would be their only source of either 3” or 17-pdr M10s. 

For any of the above, the best advice I can give is to pick a particular timeframe or operation you have an interest in for your force and research that. From the information I have given, if you can establish the corps involved, you can get a better idea of what your anti-tank options would be.

Modeling Options

With such a large number of anti-tank units, you would be right in thinking that there are a lot of options for making your M10s look interesting. A little research and you can turn up interesting info such as:

  • Images exist of Guards Armoured Division M10s covered in ‘hessian’ style camo strips
  • There is a strong argument that most M10s would not have been repainted from their original US green into SCC 15, as images exist of these vehicles in combat bearing the original US shipping markings. You could use Olive Drab (Vallejo 887 Olive Drab – as per painting US vehicles) as an option
  • There is evidence that some anti-tank units used the black and green ‘mickey mouse’ camo scheme on their M10s
British Anti-Tank units and markings Normandy - June – August 1944
  • During operation Totalize, the Canadian 6th Anti-Tank regiment were ordered to add armoured roofs to their 3” M10s. I have also seen reference to British 3rd Infantry Division M10s having a ‘folding armoured cover’ of some description. 
  • Some M10s can be seen with either the .50cal mounted on the front right of the turret, or with an additional .30cal mounted here as well as the .50cal at the rear.
  • Most M10s (especially for D-Day) were very heavily laden with stowage.
  • Tree branches added for camouflage appears to have been common. Modelling wise, less is generally more when it comes to adding this type of thing.  
  • Some M10 crew retained the US issue tankers helmets which arrived with the M10s, consider using some of the US crew figures in your turrets for variety. 
  • Beret colours for Royal Artillery troops of M10s would be the same shade as the uniform, not black (which was a Royal Armoured Corps beret).
  • The War Department (WD) number on M10s would begin with an S, not a T. The M10 was considered a self-propelled gun, and not a tank. 
  • Some older M10s in British service may have been painted SCC 2 (Vallejo 880 Khaki Grey). 
  • .50 cals were on the rear of the turret, as the vehicle often travelled with the turret traversed to the rear (so the .50 cal would be at the front). 
  • Some of the towed 17-pdrs were towed by turretless RAM tanks (for the Canadians) or turretless Crusader AA tanks, as well as by ‘Crusader Tow’ vehicles, which used a rebuilt Crusader tank hull. These looked like tank-sized carriers.

Final Thoughts
Always remember, your collection is yours and there is no right or wrong way of building your own collection. The information above might be useful if you decide to go down a historical route, but there is no requirement for you to do so. And also remember that when it comes to WW2, there was almost always an exception – official sources are often wrong or incomplete. Your own research is often worthwhile and can be a very interesting part of the hobby!
~James


Last Updated On Friday, June 5, 2020 by Alexander at Battlefront