Toy ranges often include items that work best in combination with others. Sometimes this combination is essential – without one item, a second has no purpose. For example, what use is a tank transporter without a tank to transport? At other times, items have a more generic role and can work well with many other models. A bridge-layer, for example, lays a bridge that a whole convoy can cross over, and a recovery tractor may pull a variety of wayward vehicles out of ditches or bogs, and tow them to a repair depot.
These combinations provide great play scenarios, and manufacturers like them as they encourage sales and provide natural subjects for sets. Dinky made many. Let’s take a look at one of the most well-known of these, the 25-pounder gun, limber and tractor.
25-pounder Field Gun Set
Dinky 697 25-pounder Field Gun Set
Year first produced:1957
L242xW64xH46, Metal 213g, Scale 1:60, Components: 3
To begin with, we’ll take a look at the box the set was sold in. Made from stout cardboard, the lid lifts off to reveal the contents arranged in a blue display tray. Display boxes produced before World War 2 were prettier, incorporating a flap-down side, and a backdrop decorated in colour with a rural scene, as if the contents were motoring through the summer countryside (which they often did). The 1950s issues made do with a simpler presentation, and in this set, there is no decoration inside the box.
The lid illustrates the contents, and also carries on the top the following information “This set comprises Dinky Toys No. 686 25-pounder Field Gun, a finely detailed miniature of a British Army artillery piece, Dinky Toys No. 687 Trailer for the 25-pounder Field Gun and Dinky Toys No. 688 Field Artillery Tractor. These components can be coupled together to form a complete unit.”
At one end of the box can be seen in pencil “8/9”, presumably added by the retailer, indicating a price of 8 shillings and 9 pence (43.5 pence in decimal currency). A quality inspection stamp on the underside of the box lid is dated March 1958. Allowing for inflation, the retail price equates to just over £10 in today’s money (August 2020) – which seems quite reasonable.
Turning to the models, the main item and the raison d’etre for the remaining components, is the 25-pounder field gun. Three mazak castings make up the gun: the carriage, shield and gun. A single axle and two wheels are fitted into the carriage. The gun pivots on a small bar fixed into the carriage just behind the shield, and can thus elevate. Sadly, like all of the Dinky artillery of this era, there is no provision for the gun to fire projectiles. It’s a shame, but the 1:60 scale was probably too small to allow for a hollow barrel, and fit a spring-loading mechanism without gross distortion.
On the other hand, the model looks really good, and is one of the most intricate in the range. Amazingly Dinky have managed to cram nearly all of the usual identifying marks on the underside of the model:
DINKY TOYS, 25PR GUN, 686, MECCANO LTD and ENGLAND.
The next item in the set is the ammunition trailer (or limber), which is a simple one-piece mazak casting. The underside is formed from a steel plate on which is embossed:
DINKY TOYS, TRAILER 25 PR GUN, MECCANO LTD and ENGLAND.
Note here that, no doubt owing to the lack of space, the model number (687) is omitted. A tow hook and a single axle with two wheels complete the model.
The largest component in the set is the tractor. This follows the standard Dinky construction, comprising a mazak body, steel base plate and two axles with 4 wheels. On the roof sits a spare wheel, and at the rear is a tow hook. The spacious interior is completely unadorned save for the usual army driver figure. Underneath are the following not entirely unexpected markings:
DINKY TOYS, FIELD ARTILLERY TRACTOR, 688, MECCANO LTD and MADE IN ENGLAND.
The entire set is painted overall army green, the only other adornment being the silvered single headlight and the red-over-blue transfers indicating the Royal Artillery, applied to the tractor.
It’s a lovely set, and the items fit together particularly well through the use of S-shaped tow hooks which make for a more secure coupling. However, there are two omissions that have to be mentioned. Firstly, there is no crew! Well, I suppose they must be inside the quad, but it’s a shame that Dinky made no figures to represent the gun in action. Secondly, there is no firing platform, either slung underneath the gun or carried atop the limber. To understand the significance of this omission, we need to understand how the real items operated in wartime.
The 25-pounder Described
The 25-pounder field gun had a long and distinguished career in the British Army. It entered service just too late to see action during the 1940 campaign in France, but soon afterwards was thrown into the battles in North Africa, and subsequently served through the Second World War and Korean War and into the 1960s (and beyond with other nations).
The gun had a range of c7.5 miles (just over 12 kilometres), typically fired 3 rounds a minute, and was served by a crew of 6. Thirty-two rounds of ammunition were carried in the type 27 limber, and the crew together with some tools and further ammunition were carried in the tractor (nicknamed a ‘quad’) which, of course, towed the limber and gun.
The most common example of quad used in the British Army was the 4×4 Morris C8 Commercial, and this is the vehicle modelled by Dinky. It was retired in the 1950s along with the limber, and replaced by a special version of the Bedford RL truck.
The key to the success of the 25-pounder was its flexibility and efficiency.
The gun was flexible because it could fulfil the role of both a field gun and a howitzer, as well as – in dire emergencies – acting as an anti-tank weapon. A field gun is optimised to fire shells as far as possible. A howitzer, on the other hand, is designed to throw shells in a high trajectory, which sacrifices some range, but is useful for attacking targets that are frontally protected or concealed in depressions.
The gun generally utilised indirect fire methods, meaning that it would aim at targets which it usually could not see, using information provided by a spotter or from maps. However, if necessary, the 25-pounder could also fire directly at a target in line of sight. In the fluid conditions of mobile warfare in the North African desert, this was required on more than one occasion when German tanks unexpectedly attacked. Fortunately, the 25-pounder was provided with armour-piercing shot, and fitted with a gun shield which could provide some protection for the crew, and thus could make a fist of defending itself.
The 25-pounder was also intended to be used with a firing platform, a circular metal disk stored either underneath the gun carriage, or on top of the limber. Placed upon it, the gun could be rapidly traversed by the crew if required. This was not only useful in swivelling to meet short-range threats such as the tank attacks mentioned above, but more generally provided a stable base which allowed the gun to operate efficiently on soft or rocky ground. How disappointing then, that Dinky chose not to supply the platform!
In action, the gun would be towed into its firing position, and the firing platform lowered. The tractor would pull the gun onto the platform, and then retreat to a distance behind the gun where it would be less exposed to enemy fire. The limber would be kept close to the gun, as it contained the ammunition.
Connect the components of the set together and they come alive when moved along. Turning the tractor causes the limber and gun to successively follow in its wake, and you can snake the whole convoy around some fairly tight corners. Hit some rough ground and they take it in their stride. Unlink the gun and limber, and your gun can be in action at a moment’s notice.
There’s little doubt that as in life, the tractor, limber and gun belong together and give each other purpose. Although only consisting of three vehicles, the ensemble is impressive and they make a perfect present.
Which prompts one final observation. There is one type of combination – a crucial one given the nature of any army – that Dinky didn’t produce. Ask yourself, who is your gun being fired at? A German tank? An enemy convoy? Every gun needs a target, but Dinky never provided any!
Dinky released several sets of artillery pieces and their tractors. In the 1930s, they made a set of the precursor to the 25-pounder and quad tractor, the 162 18-pounder Quick Firing Field Unit. This also contained three items: the 162a Light Dragon Motor Tractor, 162b Trailer and 162c 18-Pounder Gun.
After the war, they released set 695 7.2” Howitzer & Tractor (comprising 689 Medium Artillery Tractor + 693 7.2” Howitzer). The Dinky factory in France did not release military vehicles in sets, but notwithstanding this, it was possible to purchase separately an 818 Berliet Truck and the 819 155mm Howitzer that it could be used to tow.