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The War Archives

British Cruiser Tanks


of World War 2

7.95

Archive photographs and contemporary drawings

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INTRODUCTION

eveloped according to a specification drawn up


by Lieutenant-Colonel E D Swinton, and
designed by William Tritton, the tank was the
brainchild of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the
Admiralty. Churchill hoped that his massive, armoured
landships would be able to break the stalemate that
was the inevitable result of the opposing armies
becoming entrenched on the Western Front.
The name, tank, was derived from the cover story
that the machines, which were initially built by
William Foster & Company and the Metropolitan
Carriage, Wagon & Finance Company, were water
tanks intended for use in Mesopotamia.
The first tanks went into battle with the British
Army on the Somme in 1916 and, by the end of the
war, hundreds of these machines had been
constructed and deployed, with varying degrees of
success. Production ceased after the Armistice in 1918
although the development of medium tanks, as well
as a smaller, faster machine, described as a light
infantry tank, continued. Strict controls on military
expenditure during the 1920s meant that any

development was slow, but, by the end of the decade,


a consensus had emerged that saw light tanks being
developed for infantry support, with faster, so-called
medium tanks intended for a more mobile role.
By 1937, this policy had progressed further, with
the War Office describing three types of machine...
light tanks were intended for the scouting and
reconnaissance role; cruiser tanks were designed to
break through enemy lines and to exploit targets of
opportunity; and infantry tanks, as the name
suggests, were intended to support advancing
infantry.
It soon became clear that the light tank was of very
limited value and, aside from the airborne role, this
type of machine was not developed further. But,
throughout World War 2, British tanks were developed
specifically for use either as cruisers or as infantry
tanks, with those tanks of US manufacture in service
with the British Army, similarly assigned to one of
these two roles. With hindsight, the policy was clearly
flawed but, of far more serious consequence was the
fact that, at least during the early years of the war,

British tanks were generally brought into service


before development was complete and before
teething troubles had been ironed out. The British also
lagged behind the Germans in the development of
armoured protection and in the provision of
sufficiently powerful tank guns.
It would be fair to say that most of the British tank
designs of World War 2 were either inadequate or
mechanically unreliable... or, in the worst cases, both
inadequate and unreliable! It was only when the
Allied troops stormed the D-Day beaches in June 1944,
that the British, at last, had a tank that could face the
heavier German machines on a more-or-less equal
footing... in the shape of the Cromwell and the
re-gunned Sherman Firefly, and, later, the Comet.
By the time the war was over, the out-dated
cruiser and infantry tank concept was being
questioned in favour of a more universal design based
on the more successful cruisers.
Pat Ware
Editor

Providing a fitting memorial to the 7th Armoured Division, who were stationed in Thetford Forest between January and May 1944 while they prepared for the
invasion of Normandy, this Cromwell IV, nick-named Little Audrey, stands on a plinth alongside the A1065 road in Norfolk, north of Mundford. The Cromwell was
one of the best British tanks of the period, and provided much of the tank strength of the British Army in Normandy. (Simon Thomson)
The War Archives

Mechanised Warfare
British Cruiser Tanks of World War 2
Editor Pat Ware. Design and layout Rob Terry. Scanning assistant Lizzie Ware. Image restoration Paul Sanderson.
Picture credits All photographs from the Warehouse Archive unless otherwise credited.
Published by Kelsey Publishing Group, Cudham Tithe Barn, Berrys Hill, Cudham, Kent TN16 3AG. Telephone 01959 541444. Fax 01959 541400. www.kelsey.co.uk
Printed by William Gibbons & Sons Ltd, Willenhall, West Midlands.
2014 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is forbidden except with prior permission in writing from the publisher. The publisher cannot accept responsibility for errors in articles or advertisements.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Editor or Publisher. ISBN 978-1-909786-31-8

The War Archives British Cruiser Tanks of World War 2


3
6

INTRODUCTION
THE DESIGN OF BRITISH TANKS TO 1945

The first tanks appeared on the battlefield in September 1916 but nobody was really sure what to do with them.
By 1939, British tank doctrine called for two types of tank... cruiser tanks that were designed to break through
enemy lines, and infantry tanks, designed to support advancing foot soldiers.

10 CRUISER TANK MK I

Cheap to build, and simple to operate, the Vickers cruiser tank Mk I of 1937 replaced existing medium tanks.

12 CRUISER TANKS MKS II AND IIA

Originally intended as an infantry tank, the Vickers cruiser tank Mk II evolved into an improved and up-armoured
version of the earlier Mk I.

14 CRUISER TANK MKS III, IV AND IVA

Under the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel G Martel, the cruiser tanks Mk III, IV and IVA were the first to employ
the patented Christie suspension that allowed tanks to travel at high speeds across country.

24 CRUISER TANK MK V, COVENANTER

Officially designated cruiser tank Mk V, the Covenanter was the first British tank to be given a name.
Unfortunately it proved to be unreliable and prone to over-heating.

30 CRUISER TANK MK VI, CRUSADER

The Crusader was described as a heavy cruiser and was constructed using as many components as possible of the
earlier Covenanter... but was no more reliable.

12

44 CRUISER TANK MK VII, CAVALIER

Like the Crusader II, the Cavalier was armed with a 6-pounder (57mm) main gun, but the addditional weight of
armour proved too much for the automotive components, and the tank was both slow and unreliable.

46 CRUISER TANK MK VIII, CROMWELL

The Rolls-Royce Meteor powered Cromwell was possibly the first British tank design of the war that that did not
prove to be disappointing. More than 4,000 examples were constructed.

58 COMET

Based on the Cromwell, but mounting a more-powerful 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun, the Comet was fast, wellprotected and hard-hitting... sadly it arrived too late to affect the outcome of the war.

66 CRUISER TANK MK VIII, CENTAUR

Based broadly on the hull and turret of the Cavalier, the Centaur was designed to allow subsequent upgrading
once Rolls-Royce Meteor engines were available in quantity.

70 CHALLENGER

With its big 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun, the Challenger was an attempt at coming up with a design that could
defeat the heavily-armoured German tanks. A lack of adequate development meant that problems with the
handling and suspension were never resolved.

74 CENTURION

The Centurion was the best British tank of World War 2... unfortunately, it was not completed in time to see any
action. Nevertheless, the Centurion remained in production for 20 years and proved enormously successful.

14

83 USBUILT MEDIUM TANKS IN BRITISH SERVICE

For almost the entire duration of the conflict, British industry was unable to manufacture sufficient numbers of
tanks, and thousands were supplied by the USA in the form of the M3 Lee/Grant and the M4 Sherman.

88 HEAVY TANKS

Since the mid-1930s, British tank doctrine had called for a mix of medium and light tanks, with the former
described either as cruisers or infantry tanks. Light tanks were largely discontinued after 1940 but, as German
tanks grew ever more monstrous, it seemed that the age of the heavy tank was not over.

94 THE DESIGN OF BRITISH TANKS FROM 1945

Despite the, inevitably muddled tank policy of the immediate post-war years, the most successful British tank
of the period was the Centurion, which had started life being described as a cruiser... but the appearance of the
massive Soviet IS-3 was seen as something of a game-changer, resulting in the development of the Conqueror
heavy tank.

Contents

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46

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94
58

THE DESIGN OF BRITISH TANKS TO 1945


The tanks that the British Army put into
battle on the Somme in September 1916
were crude devices. Poorly armoured,
mechanically unreliable and, with their
sponson-mounted guns, often difficult to
manoeuvre into a firing position. During
their first deployment, just 32 out of a total
of 49 tanks were considered to be
sufficiently mechanically fit to take part in
the action... which was only partially
successful. It wasnt until November 1917, at
Cambrai, that British tanks achieved a
significant result when more than 400
machines penetrated almost six miles into
enemy-held territory across a seven-mile
wide front. Unfortunately, the infantry failed
to exploit the breakthrough, and much of
the territory gained was swiftly recaptured
by the Germans.
Development of the British heavy tank
continued through the war, with a smaller
design, described as the tank, medium Mk
A, also going into production in 1917. British
heavy and medium tanks remained in
service into the 1920s, eventually being
superseded by the Vickers-designed tank,
medium, Mks I to III, and tank, light, Mks I to
VI. Armed with a Hotchkiss 3-pounder

(47mm) gun, the Vickers medium was the


first British tank to have a rotating turret, a
feature that had first appeared on the
French Renault FT-17 light tank of 1917.
The Vickers medium became the
backbone of British armoured forces
between the wars. Despite having entered
service in 1923, some even survived as
training aids into the early years of World
War 2. However, in the late 1920s, the War
Office came up with a new design of tank
that reflected the then-current thinking
regarding the deployment of armoured
forces. Eventually going into production in
1937 to replace the existing medium, Mks I
and II, the new tank was described as tank,
cruiser, Mk I, or A9. War Office thinking of the
period held that highly-mobile cruiser tanks
sometimes known as cavalry tanks
would be deployed in an independent role,
reflecting naval practice, which described
large warships as cruisers. Lightly armoured
and lightly gunned, the cruiser tank was
intended to make reconnaissance forays
deep into enemy territory, much as horsemounted cavalry had in former conflicts. The
more heavily armoured infantry tanks would
be used for support during infantry

A male Mk I heavy tank, complete with the original tail


wheels, designed to aid trench crossing, photographed
on the Somme in September 1916. The Mk I was the first
armoured tracked vehicle to be put into production.

assaults... the weight of armour meant that


they were appreciably slower than the
cruisers, but, since the role of the infantry
tank was to support foot soldiers during an
attack, this was considered unimportant.
The A9 was the first of a series of similar
cruisers, all too many of which were,
unfortunately, poorly designed and rushed
into production.
Next came the cruiser Mks III, IV and IVA
(A13) of 1938, which featured Christie-style
suspension that permitted high road speeds
to be attained, but which was powered by
the archaic Liberty V12 aero engine dating
from World War I. This was replaced by the
Meadows-powered Mk V, although the
adoption of names for British tanks in 1938
saw this subsequently known as the
Covenanter. The Crusader heavy cruiser of
1939 was more successful, fighting in the
Western Desert in 1941, and subsequently
being up-gunned and up-armoured.
The Cavalier and Centaur designs of 1942
were described as heavy cruisers, but both
proved to be underpowered, and often
unreliable, and the situation did not improve
until the appearance of the Rolls-Royce
powered Cromwell, which was amongst the

Mk V male heavy tank that has come to grief in a trench. Dating


from 1918, the Mk V was the first British tank that could be driven
by one man... previous models had required a driver, two
steersmen and a commander, the latter also operating the brakes.

British tank design

fastest tanks of World War 2. In Cromwell V


form, it was also the first British tank to
feature all-welded construction. Challenger
was a modified Cromwell mounting a
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun, but it was the
Comet, a much-modified Cromwell
equipped with improved suspension, a
highly-accurate 77mm gun, and heavier
armour that proved to be the most
successful tank of the period.
The concept of cruiser and infantry tanks
survived through the war with new designs
of both types being put into production.
There was also a brief reprise of the heavy
tank... but, if the Centurion had made it into
production before VE Day, not only would it
have been Britains best cruiser tank of the
conflict, but it would also have been one of
the best tank designs of the war.

Dating from 1917, the Renault FT-17 was the first tank to feature a revolving
turret and was, perhaps, more representative of future tank development than
the heavy British machines. Removable tail skids aided trench-crossing
performance.

Originally described as a light tank, the medium tank Mk I provided the


backbone of the Royal Tank Regiment between the wars, with around 160
examples constructed by the Royal Ordnance Factory and Vickers-Armstrong
between 1923 and 1928. The main gun was a 3-pounder (47mm), and there
were three 0.303in Vickers machine guns.

The medium Mk II was similar to the earlier Mk I, but featured thicker armour, up
from 6.5mm to 8mm, armoured suspension skirts and improved accessibility to
the engine. Some of these tanks were still in use as training aids as late as 1941.

Period cut-away illustration of the medium Mk II showing the general internal


layout and disposition of the crew (one man is not shown).

Designed as a possible replacement for the medium Mk II, the A6 medium tank
often described as the 16-tonner was designed by Vickers-Armstrong in
1928. The 3-pounder (47mm) main gun was retained, and there were machine
guns in small, auxiliary forward turrets. Three prototypes were built A6E1,
A6E2 and A6E3 before the project was abandoned.

In 1930, even before trials on the 16-tonner had been completed, three more
prototypes, this time described as tank, medium, Mk III were constructed by
Vickers-Armstrong. Fabricated using what was described as cement tank armour
(CTA), with a thickness of 10mm, the Mk III was armed with the usual 3-pounder
(47mm) main gun, together with three Vickers machine guns, one installed
co-axially with the main gun. Again, just three examples were constructed.

The A6 was followed by yet another experimental design, now designated A7,
again with three examples constructed. A7E1 and A7E2 were powered by an
eight-cylinder air-cooled Armstrong-Siddeley engine, whilst E3 used twin AEC
diesels. The main gun was the 3-pounder (47mm) weapon that had been used in
earlier medium tanks and there were two Vickers machine guns, one of which
was in a ball mount at the front of the hull.

With the A6, the sixteen-tonner and the A7 all proving way too costly, it was obvious
that a cheaper medium tank was required. It finally appeared, in the form of the cruiser
tank Mk I, in 1936, signalling the beginning of a line of development that would
continue to the Centurion. However, there were still one or two blind alleys to be
explored and one of these was the experimental A14E1 heavy cruiser of 1938. There
was no series production, but lessons were learned that could be put into practice later.

Dating from 1938, the A16 was another dead-end design that was used to
investigate transmission and steering systems. It was effectively a development
of the A13 Covenanter (cruiser tank Mk V) with heavy-duty Christie suspension,
and a Merritt-Brown controlled differential steering system. Like the A6 and the
A14, there were also twin forward turrets.

Strategic thinking of the period recognised that a medium tank was not always
the most appropriate tool for the job and War Office doctrine called for a mix of
medium and light tanks, with the design of the latter based on the Carden-Loyd
Mk VII. Entering service with the British Army in 1929 as the light tank Mk I, the
vehicle was operated by a crew of two and was armed with a single Vickers
machine gun.

BRITISH TANK DESIGN

The final development of the light tank series, the Mk VI, came into service in
1936 and was widely used during the early years of World War 2, with three
subsequent variants (Mk VIA, Mk VIB and Mk VICC).

Light tank Mk VIA, recognisable by the multi-sided cupola, being loaded onto a
six-wheeled truck during some kind of public demonstration. Note the coil
spring Horstman suspension system.

Somewhat inappropriately nick-named Demon, this infantry tank Mk I, otherwise


known as Matilda or A11, shows off the ungainly appearance of the type.
Restricted by strict budgetary constraints, the engine was a Ford V8 unit and the
leaf-spring suspension was similar to other Vickers-Armstrong tracked vehicles.
Production started in 1937, with 139 examples built... it was not especially
effective, but was not easily penetrated by German anti-tank guns of the time.

Originally produced by Vickers-Armstrong as a private venture, the Valentine, or


infantry tank Mk III, borrowed heavily from the cruiser Mks I and II. The design
was offered to the War Office two days before Valentines Day 1938, with a
contract placed in 1939. Some 8,275 examples were built before production
ceased in 1944, with around 1,400 built in Canada. The type was heavily
involved in the North African campaign.
Although armed with only a
2-pounder (40mm) main gun, the
infantry tank Mk II, otherwise
known as A12, or Matilda I*, II, III
or IV, depending on the detail
modifications, was a far more
successful design. A pilot model
appeared in 1938 and a total of
3,000 were constructed, with some
seeing action in France and the
Western Desert.

10

CRUISER TANK Mk I
The cruiser tank Mk I was designed by
Sir John Carden of Vickers-Armstrong in
1934 to meet a General Staff Requirement
for a medium tank of simple design and
relatively low cost that could replace the
medium tank Mks I and II.
The design, which was designated A9 by
the Department of Tank Design, was based
on work that had been carried out by
Vickers for the cancelled medium tank Mk
III (A6), and the tank went into limited
production in 1937. A total of just 125
examples were constructed, 50 by Vickers
and 75 by Harland and Wolff, before it was
superseded by the improved cruiser Mk II.
The boat-shaped hull, which was
constructed from riveted armour plate, had
a maximum thickness of armoured
protection of 14mm at the front (hull and
turret), and a minimum of 6mm, giving a
combat weight of 28,728 lb (13,058kg). The

Designed by Sir John Carden of VickersArmstrong, the A9 was the first tank to be
described as a cruiser and was armed with either
a 2-pounder (40mm) main gun or, for the close
support role, with a 3.7in mortar. Power came
from an AEC A179 six-cylinder engine.
Production started in 1937, and just 125
examples were constructed, but the type saw
some action in France and the Middle East.

layout of the vehicle conformed to what


had, by this time, become the norm for
tanks, with the engine placed at the rear,
the driving compartment at the front, and
the turret and fighting compartment in the
centre, and there was somewhat cramped
accommodation for a six-man crew,
consisting of commander, gunner, loader,
driver, and two machine gunners. This was
the first type of British tank to be fitted
with a powered traversing system for the
turret.
Unlike previous medium tanks, which
had tended to be armed with a 3-pounder
(47mm) gun, the A9 carried a 2-pounder
(40mm) quick-firing (QF) main gun that
provided improved penetration against
enemy armour by virtue of its higher
muzzle velocity. In addition, there were
three 0.303in Vickers machine guns, one
alongside the main gun in the turret, and

one each in two auxiliary turrets at the


front of the hull, to either side of the driver.
A close-support version was also produced
(cruiser, Mk I CS) in which the 2-pounder
(40mm) main gun was replaced by a 3.7in
howitzer.
It was originally intended that the
vehicle would be powered by the engine
of the Rolls-Royce Phantom II motorcar,
but, when this proved inadequate, a
modified AEC Type A179 six-cylinder petrol
engine of 9.64 litres was selected. The
engine produced 150bhp, and was
arranged to drive the rear sprockets
through a Meadows five-speed slidingpinion crash gearbox and epicyclic final
drive. The tracks were supported on a pair
of triple-wheeled rubber-tyred bogies on
either side, with so-called Vickers slowmotion suspension provided by a pivoted
beam with coil springs and hydraulic shock

CRUISER TANK Mk I
Cruiser Mk I photographed from the
side. This example, which is clearly
operating in the desert, has been
fitted with extended sand skirts.

absorbers. Maximum speed on the road was 24mph


(39km/h), with a range of 100 miles (162km);
maximum speed across country was 15mph
(24km/h).
The medium Mk I remained in service to 1941,
and was deployed against German Pz Kpfw I, II, III
and IV tanks by the 1st Armoured Division in France
and Belgium, and by the 2nd and 7th Armoured
Divisions in North Africa.

Above: Photographed in France in May 1940, this knockedout cruiser Mk I belonged to the British 1st Armoured
Division.
Right: Cruiser tank Mk I photographed in action in the
Middle East. Note the twin Vickers machine guns carried in
twin auxiliary turrets flanking the opened drivers hatch.

11

12

CRUISER TANK Mks II and IIA


DESIGNATED A10, AND originally intended as
an infantry tank, the cruiser tank Mk II was
developed by Vickers-Armstrong in parallel to
the A9. Work started in 1934, although the
tank was not ready for production until 1938
and, when the A10 finally entered production,
it had evolved into a much-improved version
of the A9 and was described as a heavy
cruiser tank.
Whilst the hull and turret followed the
same basic design as the A9, as would befit
the tank in its original infantry role, the
thickness of the frontal armour was increased,
initially to 25mm, and on production
machines, to 30mm, using appliqu plates...
this was the first use of appliqu armour on a
British tank. The use of additional armour had
the effect of increasing the weight to 31,696
lb (14,407kg) and thus reducing the
maximum top speed on roads to 18mph
(29km/h), with 8mph (13km/h) available

across country.
The 2-pounder (40mm) main gun of the A9
was retained, together with the co-axial
0.303in Vickers machine gun, but the auxiliary
turrets were deleted. In the Mk IIA variant,
which appeared in 1940 after just 13
examples had been built, the mount for the
main gun was redesigned, and the co-axial
Vickers machine gun was replaced by a Besa
7.92mm machine gun, with a second gun of
this type mounted in the nose, alongside the
driver. As with the A9, there was also a
close-support variant (cruiser Mk IIA CS)
armed with a 3.7in howitzer and two 7.92mm
Besa machine guns. By removing the third
machine gun, it was possible to reduce the
crew to five men, consisting of commander,
gunner, loader, driver, and hull machine
gunner.
The basic automotive details and
suspension were identical to the cruiser Mk I,

although the gear ratios were altered to help


compensate for the increased weight.
A total of 175 vehicles were constructed
between 1938 and 1940, by which time the
design was considered to be obsolete: 10
were constructed by Vickers-Armstrong, 120
by the Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon
Company, and 45 by the MetropolitanCammell Carriage & Wagon Company. Just 30
of the total were of the cruiser Mk IIA CS
variant.
A10s fought alongside A9s with the 1st
Armoured Division in France and in the
Western Desert until around the end of 1941.

Late production examples of the cruiser


tank Mk IIA lacked the hull machine gun
that was fitted to earlier versions.
Above: Photographed in France in 1940, this
cruiser tank Mk IIA belongs to the British 1st
Armoured Division.

CRUISER TANK Mks II and IIA

Entering production in 1938, cruiser tank


Mk II, or A10, was an improved version of
the earlier A9, with increased armoured
protection to the hull using appliqu
plates and without the auxiliary turrets.
Production was very limited, but, again,
the tank saw action in France and the
Middle East.

Side elevation of the pilot version of the A10 cruiser


tank Mk II showing the Vickers slow-motion coil-spring
suspension and the distinctive 2+1 twin bogies. The
main gun, on both the Mk II and Mk IIA variants was
the ubiquitous 2-pounder (40mm), whilst the Mk IIA CS
close-support variant was armed with a 3.7in howitzer.

13

14

CRUISER TANK Mks III, IV and IVA


In 1936, Lieutenant-Colonel G Martel,
Assistant Director of Mechanization at the
War Office, decided that future British
cruiser tanks would use a version of
J Walter Christies suspension system.
Using large-diameter rubber-tyred road
wheels that were carried on swinging arms
and supported on coil springs, Christies
suspension allowed greater vertical
deflection of the wheels than existing
systems which, in turn, allowed the tank to
run at much higher speeds on difficult
terrain. The system also permitted the tank
to operate without tracks using just the
road wheels.
A pair of Christie tanks were procured
from the USA and subjected to a series of
trials, in which it was decided that the
trackless facility was of little interest, and
that the hulls were too short and narrow to
accept the proposed Liberty V12 aero
engine and Nuffield four-speed
transmission. Morris-Commercial Cars,
through their subsidiary Nuffield

The cruiser tank Mk III, or A13,


was developed by MorrisCommercial, and was the first of
the series to feature the Christie
suspension system that allowed
high cross-country speeds to be
attained. The first Morris-built
prototype was designated A13E2.

Rear view of the A13E2 prototype showing the twin exhaust systems of the Nuffield Liberty V12 aero
engine, the characteristic large-diameter road wheels, and the curious flat track sections.

CRUISER TANK Mks III, IV and IVA

15

Above: Production cruiser tank Mk III (A13). Constructed by


Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero, the first examples were
delivered in late 1938 and some were deployed to France in
1940 with the 1st Armoured Division.
Right: Lacking its main gun, this Mk IV was photographed
cresting a rise during training. The angle of the photograph
shows off the redesigned turret.
Left-hand side elevation of the cruiser tank Mk
III. The turret, which mounts a 2-pounder
(40mm) main gun, is similar to that used on
the cruisers Mk I and Mk II.

Mechanizations & Aero, were asked to


design and build two prototypes for a
cruiser tank incorporating the Christie
suspension system in a new hull. The first
of these prototypes, designated A13E2
the original Christie design having been
identified as A13E1 was ready for trials in
October 1937, with the second (A13E3)
following in early 1938. Once the initial
difficulties were ironed out, production of
what was now described as tank, cruiser,
Mk III (A13) was entrusted to Nuffield
Mechanizations, and the first of 65
examples was delivered in early 1939, with
the contract completed by the summer of
that year.
The new hull carried a turret that was
similar to that used on the cruiser Mk II,
mounting a 2-pounder (40mm) main gun,
together with a co-axial 0.303in Vickers
machine gun. The use of a single machine

gun allowed the crew to be reduced to


four men commander, gunner, loader
and driver and, with a combat weight of
31,808 lb (14,458kg), the new tank had an
excellent power-to-weight ratio and was
capable of a maximum speed of 30mph
(49km/h) on roads, and 24mph (39km/h)
across country. Unfortunately, this turn of
speed was at the expense of protection,
with armour that was just 14mm thick at its
maximum... a figure that was quickly
shown to be inadequate.
Experience gained in action led to the
decision, taken in early 1939, to produce
an up-armoured version of the A13, using
a new undercut turret, in the form of the
cruiser tank Mk IV (A13 Mk II). The
maximum thickness of armour on the
nose, glacis plate and turret front was
increased to 30mm, thus increasing the
weight to 33,040 lb (15,018kg), and some

early Mk III variants were subsequently


re-worked to Mk IV standard. The final
variant, known as the cruiser tank Mk IVA,
used a 7.92mm Besa machine gun in place
of the Vickers, and saw the Nuffield
transmission supplemented by a Wilson
epicyclic gear-change and steering system.
A total of 655 examples of the cruiser
Mks IV and IVA were produced by Nuffield
Mechanizations, the workshops of the
London Midland Scottish Railway (LMS),
Leyland Motors, and English Electric.
Production of the type was eventually
halted in favour of the Covenanter (A13 Mk
III) in early 1940.
The cruisers Mk III, IV and IVA were
deployed in France by the 1st Armoured
Division in 1940, and in Libya by the 7th
Armoured Division during 1940 and 1941,
in both cases, coming up against German
Pz Kpfw I, II, III and IV tanks.

16

The cruiser Mk IV was used by the 1st Armoured Division in France, where this example was photographed busy demolishing a house, as well as in Libya. The type
had an excellent top speed, but was not particularly reliable.

Nick-named Snow White, this Scammell Pioneer TRMU20 tank


transporter, with its 20-ton TRCU20 semi-trailer was
photographed in France in 1940 with a cruiser Mk IV load.

Column of cruiser tanks Mk IV or IVA of


1st Armoured Division, photographed
during a training exercise in Britain.

In 1938, the Scammell Pioneer tank transporter was


uprated to 30 tons by the use of a new semi-trailer,
changing the tractor designation to TRMU30 and the
trailer to TRCU30. The fact that the cruiser Mk IV
load, which, incidentally weighed scarcely 15 tons,
lacks its main gun suggests that this might have
been an exercise.

CRUISER TANK Mks III, IV and IVA

17

Wonderful period cut-away illustration of the medium Mk IV from the rear, showing the position of the Liberty V12 aero engine and the accommodation provided for the four-

ided for the four-man crew. Note the German armoured car pushed into the ditch as the Tommies sweep by.

The major change between the Mk III and the Mk IV (A13 Mk II) lay in the design of the turret, which, on the Mk IV and the subsequent Mk IVA, had additional armour and featured under-cut sides. Initially, the arm

des. Initially, the armaments were unchanged, but the Mk IVA had a 7.92mm Besa machine gun in place of the previous Vickers.

22

Front three-quarter view of


the cruiser Mk IV or IVA.
Total production of the Mk
III, IV and IVA amounted to
335 examples.

Cruiser tanks Mk IV or IVA photographed


during training. The type offered a maximum
speed of 30mph (49km/h) on the road, and
14mph (23km/h) across country.

CRUISER TANK Mks III, IV and IVA

Somewhere in England. As yet ignorant of how


British tanks will be outclassed by the Germans,
locals stand and watch as a column of cruiser Mk
IV or Mk IVA tanks pass down their lane.

23

24

CRUISER TANK Mk V, COVENANTER


In 1937-38, the workshops of the London
Midland Scottish Railway (LMS) undertook
the construction of a prototype heavy
cruiser tank using the bell-crank Horstman
suspension and a Thornycroft type RY V12
petrol engine producing 500bhp.
Preliminary trials of the vehicle, designated
A14, showed it to be noisy, slow and
mechanically unreliable, and, by 1939, the
project had been cancelled. Meanwhile,
attention had turned to producing an
improved version of the A13 Mk II, initially
described as the A13 Mk III, but
subsequently named Covenanter thus
beginning the tradition of naming British
tanks using words beginning with the
letter C.
A wooden mock-up was produced in
1939 based on the lower hull of the A13 Mk
II, but demonstrating an admirably low
profile, which was made possible by the
use of a horizontally-opposed engine
configuration. The low-silhouette turret
featured heavily angled sides in order to

offer the maximum protection, and the


thickness of armour ranged from a
maximum of 40mm to a minimum of 7mm.
The hull, which was of riveted construction,
provided accommodation for a crew of
four, consisting of the commander, gunner,
loader, and driver.
The main gun was the trusty 2-pounder
(40mm), with a co-axial 7.92mm Besa
machine gun; a roof-mounted 0.303in Bren
gun was generally provided for anti-aircraft
protection. A close-support variant (cruiser,
Mk V CS) was also produced, fitted with a
3in howitzer in place of the 2-pounder
(40mm) gun.
The tank was powered by a purposedesigned Meadows type DAV flat-12 petrol
engine, producing 280-300bhp, arranged
to drive the rear sprockets through a
Meadows four-speed gearbox and Wilson
epicyclic steering/braking system; earlier
plans to use a Wilson gearbox were
abandoned due to fears about production.
Despite a combat weight of 40,320 lb

Although also described as cruiser tank Mk V (A13 Mk


III), the Covenanter was the first British tank to be given
a name. A purpose-designed Meadows flat-12 engine
helped to maintain a low profile, whilst the use of Christie
suspension ensured good cross-country performance. The
main gun was the QF 2-pounder (40mm).

(18,327kg), the Covenanter was capable of


a top speed on the road of 31mph
(50km/h), whilst the use of the Christie
suspension from the A13 Mk II gave a
creditable cross-country speed of 25mph
(40km/h).
A total of 1,7771 examples were
constructed by LMS Workshops, Leyland
and English Electric, with the latter
companies operating under the parentage
of the LMS. Unfortunately, despite
considerable potential, the Covenanter
proved to be a disappointment with
breakdowns due to over-heating being all
too common. Various modifications were
made, leading to the appearance of the
Covenanter II, III and IV, but the problem
was never resolved satisfactorily and the
type was never used in combat. Many were
used for training in Britain and the Middle
East, whilst others were converted to
bridgelayer, observation post (OP),
command, and armoured recovery vehicle
(ARV) roles.

CRUISER TANK Mk V, COVENANTER

Head-on view of the Covenanter showing the 7.92mm Besa


co-axial machine gun. A close-support variant was also
produced with a 3in howitzer.

Covenanter being carried on a US-built White 920 18-ton tank


transporter. Originally intended for the French Army, these trucks
were diverted to Britain and fitted with the tank-transporter
body after the fall of France in 1940. (Tank Museum)

25

26

Column of three Covenanters photographed during


training. Note the louvres alongside the drivers opened
hatch, designed to ensure that the engine was kept cool.
Despite several modifications, cooling always remained a
problem and the tank never saw combat.

CRUISER TANK Mk V, COVENANTER

27

The angle of this photograph emphasises the low profile of the Covenanter hull, achieved through the use of a
horizontally-opposed engine.

The cooling problems meant that the Covenanter was never really satisfactory as a gun tank, but the chassis
was also developed for use as a bridgelayer. Here, the 30-foot (9.15m) long scissor bridge is raised on the
hydraulic ram ready to be launched across the gap.

28

The bridge is unfolded across the gap and the


nose is dropped down on the opposite side.

Once the bridge is placed in position, the tank is disengaged and


withdrawn. Once the bridge has been used, it can be reconnected
to the tank and lifted into the stowage position.

Celebrating 40 years of business


36 1974-2014

30

CRUISER TANK Mk VI, CRUSADER


Work on the Crusader cruiser tank
Mk VI, or A15 started in 1938, with the
first examples running in trials by the
summer of the following year. Described
as a heavy cruiser, the Crusader utilised
components of the A13 series but was
powered by a Liberty V12 aero engine,
and featured a lengthened hull,
necessitating an additional road wheel,
and increased thickness of armour.
The big Liberty engine, produced
under licence by Nuffield Mechanizations,
produced around 340bhp, and in
combination with a Nuffield four-speed
crash gearbox, gave a top speed on the
road of 27mph (44km/h). At the same
time, the Christie suspension provided a
high standard of off-road performance.
In the initial Crusader I variant, frontal
armour was 14mm on the hull and 20mm
on the turret; by the addition of appliqu
armour, this was increased to 20mm and
30mm, respectively, for Crusader II, and
20mm and 32mm for Crusader III.
Crusaders were produced by nine companies
under the design parentage of the Nuffield
Organisation.This is the original Crusader I,
which was fitted with a auxiliary front machine
gun turret.

The pilot model for the A16 Crusader (cruiser tank Mk VI) was completed in March 1940, with a total number
of 5,300 tanks manufactured once production got underway. The pilot model suffered from overheating,
inadequate ventilation and problems with the gearchange.

CRUISER TANK Mk VI, CRUSADER

31

Crusader I production line at the


Wolseley plant in Birmingham.
Minimum thickness in all cases was 7mm.
The lengthened hull provided a little more
internal space for the crew, with four men
required to operate Crusader I and II, and
three men for Crusader III.
Crusader I and II carried the familiar
2-pounder (40mm) main gun, together
with a co-axial 7.92mm Besa machine
gun, with a second 7.92mm gun carried in
a small auxiliary turret in the nose;
anti-aircraft protection was provided by a
0.303in Bren gun mounted on the turret
roof. The auxiliary turret was deleted from
the subsequent Crusader III, and the main
gun was replaced by a harder-hitting

6-pounder (57mm) gun; the co-axial and


anti-aircraft machine guns were retained.
A close-support version (cruiser Mk VI CS)
was produced, in which the main gun was
replaced by a 3in howitzer.
The Crusader remained in production
until 1943 by which time nine companies,
operating under Nuffields design
parentage, had constructed a total of
5,300 vehicles. The type first went into
action at Capuzzo in June 1940 and was
used in most of the major engagements
in the North African desert, including
6-pounder equipped Crusader IIs that
were deployed in the Battle of El Alamein

in 1942. Initially, the heat of the desert


brought an inevitable toll of breakdowns,
including failed fan drives and clogged air
cleaners, but the tank was fast and
well-regarded by crews, even if it was not
really a match for the superior Pz Kpfw III
and IV tanks against which it was often
pitched.
Although withdrawn from front-line
service in mid-1943, the tank continued to
be used as a training aid. Many were also
converted to other roles, including
anti-aircraft, gun tractor, armoured
recovery vehicle (ARV), dozer, and
crane.

32

Whilst Crusader I and II were fitted with the familiar 2-pounder


(40mm) main gun, Crusader III had a more powerful 6-pounder
weapon (57mm). Cleaning the gun after action was a tedious,
but very necessary, task.

CRUISER TANK Mk VI, CRUSADER


Crusader I captured at
speed in the desert.

Brand-new Crusader I photographed


outside the Wolseley plant.

33

34

Period coloured
postcard showing a
Crusader I at speed.

Crusader I cresting a rise. The patented


Christie suspension used on almost all British
cruiser tanks gave excellent high-speed crosscountry performance by providing
independent suspension for each road wheel,
using a system of pivoted bell cranks and
heavy coil springs.

CRUISER TANK Mk VI, CRUSADER

35

Crusader I being towed by an experimental 6x6 modification of the Scammell R100 Pioneer. Normally equipped with a 6x4 drive-line, this particular Scammell
variant was intended for use as a heavy artillery tractor.

Crusader (foreground) and Covenanter tanks training in Yorkshire.

Running tanks on their tracks, particularly in desert conditions, is very heavy on


maintenance. In order to save undue wear and tear, these Crusaders are being
carried on US-built White-Ruxtall 922 18-ton tank transporters, originally
intended for France but later diverted to Britain. A 10-ton winch was provided to
help load disabled tanks.

36

Crusader III also lacked the


auxiliary machine-gun turret at
the front but, in addition, both
the hull and turret were
up-armoured, and the tank was
equipped with a 6-pounder
(57mm) main gun. Production
started in May 1942.

Below: The anti-aircraft variant of the Crusader was produced in four versions,
with either a single 40mm Bofors gun or twin 20mm Oerlikon cannons; a
training version was also produced with triple Oerlikon cannons. The
photograph shows the Crusader III, AA (anti-aircraft) Mk II with a new turret
carrying twin Oerlikon cannons.

Above: Crusader III, AA (anti-aircraft) Mk I mounting a single 40mm Bofors gun


in an open-topped turret.

CRUISER TANK Mk VI, CRUSADER

37

Official stowage diagram showing a front view of the


turret and fighting compartment of the Crusader III.

Official stowage diagram showing a rear view of the


turret and fighting compartment of the Crusader III.

Official stowage diagram showing the exterior rear, and


right-hand side of the hull of the Crusader III.

Official stowage diagram showing the exterior front, and


left-hand side of the hull of the Crusader III.

42

In 1944/45 a number of Crusader II and III chassis


were stripped of their turrets and converted for use
as gun tractors. This is possibly a prototype.

Crusader III gun tractor photographed during towing trials with a


17-pounder anti-tank gun and limber, the latter in the form of the
number 27 artillery trailer. The trial report concluded that the
modified Crusader performed satisfactorily in this role.

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44

CRUISER TANK Mk VII, CAVALIER


In late 1940, dissatisfaction with the
Covenanter and the Crusader led to
demands for a new heavy cruiser,
designated A24, with improved levels of
armoured protection, more power, and a
larger diameter turret ring that would
permit the use of a bigger turret, and
perhaps also allow subsequent upgunning. Unsurprisingly, mechanical
reliability was also considered to be a
priority.
Leyland Motors, and Vauxhall both put
forward proposals, but it was Nuffield
Mechanizations & Aero who were asked
to build six pilot vehicles based on the
hull and automotive components of the
existing Crusader. Unfortunately the
weight penalty resulting from increasing
the armour to a maximum of 76mm on
forward-facing surfaces of the turret, and
63mm on the front of the hull, combined

with the use of the existing, and


increasingly archaic, Nuffield Liberty V12
engine, and four-speed Nuffield
transmission, meant that the automotive
performance was actually inferior to that
of the Crusader, as well as being even
more unreliable. Top speed was down to
24mph (39km/h), although the improved
Christie suspension allowed a maximum
cross-country speed of 14mph (23km/h).
The main gun was the 6-pounder
(57mm) that had been used in Crusader II,
albeit mounted in a new, rectangular
turret; some examples were fitted with
the later Mk V version of this gun, which
can be identified by the use of a
counterweight on the muzzle. Additional
armaments included a pair of 7.92mm
Besa machine guns, one co-axial with the
main gun, the other in a ball mount in the
hull front, with an 0.303in Bren gun

provided for anti-aircraft use.


Initially dubbed Cromwell I, the A24
was subsequently renamed Cavalier,
with a total of 500 tanks ordered, off the
drawing board, in June 1941. The pilot
model was delivered in January 1942,
but the tank was immediately assigned
to training duties, with none used in
combat. About half were subsequently
converted to the observation post role
(OP), whereby a few found themselves
with the Royal Artillery in northwest
Europe following the Normandy
landings; others were converted to
armoured recovery vehicles (ARV).
As much as anything, it was the lack of
success with the Cavalier that brought to
an end the process of ordering new
tanks sight unseen, with future tank
design being put onto a more sound
footing.

Retaining the Liberty V12 aero engine, the Nuffield-designed Cavalier (A24, or cruiser tank Mk VII) was similar to the Crusader, but with heavier
armour. Like the Crusader III, the Cavalier mounted a 6-pounder (57mm) main gun, but the additional weight of armour had a negative effect on
performance. Just 500 were built with many converted to the observation post (OP) or armoured recovery (ARV) role.

CRUISER TANK Mk VII, CAVALIER

45

Built under licence by the Nuffield Organisation, and


used in cruiser tanks A13 Mks I and II, A15 and A27L, the
Liberty L-12 had its origins in an aircraft engine designed
by Jessie G Vincent and Elbert J Hall back in 1917. For the
Cavalier, the engine was uprated to what was described as
Mk IV configuration and, although capable of producing
more than 400bhp from its 27,030cc, it was, nevertheless,
an old-fashioned design, and required a capacious engine
compartment. (US Department of the Navy, Bureau of
Aeronautics, Aeronautical Engineering Laboratory)

46

CRUISER TANK Mk VIII, CROMWELL


The design of what was initially described
as Cromwell III or Cromwell M was
undertaken by the Birmingham Railway
Carriage & Wagon Company with assistance
from the Department of Tank Design (DTD),
and Rolls-Royce Limited, who supplied the
engines. The project started in 1941 when
Rolls-Royce converted a batch of Merlin V12
aero engines for tank use, removing the
superchargers and detuning the engine to
provide 600bhp. Two of these engines were
installed in a pair of Crusader tanks for test
running and, following the inevitable debugging, the go-ahead was given to develop
the tank further. The first mild steel prototype
was completed in March 1942.
Designated A27M, and now identified
simply as Cromwell, production started in
January 1943, with Leyland appointed as
design parent for the whole A27 series. The
use of the superb Rolls-Royce engine which,
in tank form, was known as the Meteor
combined with a five-speed Merritt-Brown
transmission and a modified version of the

Similar in appearance to the original Centaur, Cromwell I mounted a 6-pounder (57mm) main gun and was
protected by a maximum of 76mm of frontal armour.

Rear three-quarter view of one of the development Cromwells (A27M, or cruiser tank Mk VIII) produced in 1942. The Cromwell was designed by the Birmingham Carriage
& Wagon Company, in conjunction with Rolls-Royce, and, although always inferior to the heavier German tanks, was one of the best British tanks of World War 2.

CRUISER TANK MK VIII, CROMWELL

47

The suspension was described as an improved Christie system and used


trailing swing arms supported on coil springs and heavy-duty shock absorbers, thus suspending each wheel independently.
Christie suspension, ensured that the A27M
was one of the fastest tanks of the war with a
top speed on the road of 38mph (62km/h),
and with 18mph (29km/h) available across
country; later variants saw the top speed
reduced to 32mph (52km/h) to reduce
suspension wear.
On early variants, the hull was
provided a maximum of
76mm of armoured
protection on the turret
front, with a minimum of
14mm; on the Cromwell Vw
and VIIw, the hull was of all-welded
construction, with a maximum
thickness of 101mm. As regards the
main armament, Cromwells I, II and III
were equipped with the 6-pounder
(57mm) gun, together with a pair of
7.92mm Besa machine guns, one installed
alongside the main gun, the other in a ball
mount at the front of the hull; the usual
0.303in Bren gun was provided for antiaircraft defence. Cromwells IV, V and VII were
fitted with a dual-purpose 75mm main gun
capable of firing both high-explosive (HE) and
anti-tank rounds, whilst for Cromwells VI and
VIII the main gun was of 95mm calibre.

The Cromwell was powered by the Rolls-Royce V12


Meteor engine, a normally-aspirated and
downrated version of the Merlin aero engine. The
engine produced some 600bhp from a capacity of
27,022cc and the tank was capable of a top speed
on the road of 38mph (63km/h).

The Cromwell was designed to be operated


by a crew of five men consisting of
commander, gunner, loader/radio operator,
co-driver/machine gunner, and driver.
The hull was rather narrow, which
must have made the crew
conditions somewhat cramped, as
well as preventing the tank from
being readily adapted to mount the
very successful 17-pounder
(76.2mm) gun.
Eight major variants were produced,
with total production amounting to
4,016 examples. Despite not being up to
the standard of the German Pz Kpfw IVs
Panther, the Cromwell was one of the best
and most significant British tanks of the
war, and was deployed by the Armoured
Reconnaissance Regiments of all of the British
Armoured Divisions in northwest Europe as
well as by the Armoured Brigade. With the
turret removed, the Cromwell also provided
the basis for an armoured recovery vehicle
(ARV); other variants included an armoured
observation post (OP), with a dummy gun
fitted, and a command vehicle. A few were
equipped with the Canadian indestructible
roller device (CIRD) for clearing minefields.

48

Front right-hand three-quarter view of the up-armoured Cromwell II


development vehicle... sometimes identified as Cromwell D. The 25mm thick
appliqu armour can clearly be seen on the face and sides of
the turret and on the front of the hull...

... this eventually went into production as Cromwell VII.

CRUISER TANK Mk VIII, CROMWELL

49

Cromwell IV was actually a


re-engined Centaur III
with a 75mm main gun in
place of the standard
6-pounder (57mm) of the
early Cromwell.

By the time Cromwell production got underway in 1943, Leyland


Motors had been appointed as design parents for the entire A27
series. These new tanks were photographed at Leylands Ministry
of Supply plant in Lancashire.

50

Modelled in 1:76 scale, the Airfix


Cromwell IV is a fine plastic model kit
depicting what was one of the most
successful British tanks of World War
2. Visit www.airfix.com

CRUISER TANK MK VIII, CROMWELL

51

52

Left: Although otherwise identical to


the Cromwell IV, Cromwell Vw was the
first British tank to use an all-welded
hull. Here, the upper plate of the hull,
with the turret ring clearly visible, is
seen in the jig that was used to
support it during the welding
operations.

Below: Completed Cromwell hull


ready to be transferred to the
assembly line... note the apertures
along the sides to accommodate the
swinging arms of the Christie
suspension system.

Below: Cromwell VII was a reworked Cromwell IV, with the 75mm gun, that had
been up-armoured with an additional 25mm of appliqu armour welded to the
front of the hull. Wider tracks were also fitted and the suspension was improved
to cope with the increased weight.

CRUISER TANK MK VIII, CROMWELL

53

The Cromwell remained in service into the post-war period. This chart was one of a series produced as part of an AFV Recognition Handbook in 1952; the
document included similar data for the major British, American and Soviet tanks in use at the time.

Cromwell with a battle-damaged turret.


The scoop out of the side of the turret
was caused by a 75mm armour-piercing
ballistic-capped (APBC) shell... the turret
traverse was unaffected.

54

Prime Minister Winston


Churchill inspects a Cromwell
IV belonging to the 2nd
Battalion Welsh Guards.

Cromwell VI was intended for the


close-support role, and was
identical to the Cromwell IV, but
had the 75mm main gun replaced
by a 95mm howitzer.

CRUISER TANK MK VIII, CROMWELL

Copy of Department of Tank Design (DTD)

drawing showing outline dimensions for the

Cromwell IV, V and VII.

DTD diagram showing the thicknesses of welded plate used in the construction of the Cromwell hull.

55

56

A30 Avenger self-propelled gun (left) photographed


alongside a proposed improved Cromwell. Nothing is known
of the improved version although it appears to be armed
with the 17-pounder (76.2mm) or 77mm gun of the Sherman
Firefly or Comet, in a larger cast turret.

CRUISER TANK Mk VIII, CROMWELL

57

Department of Tank Design (DTD) drawing showing outline dimensions for what was described as Comet I... although, there never was a Comet II or subsequent variant.

nt variant.

DTD diagram showing the thicknesses of welded plate used in the construction of the, all-welded, Cromwell hull.

62

COMET
Fast and reliable, the Rolls-Royce
Meteor-engined A34 Comet was the
most successful wartime iteration of the
British heavy cruiser tank concept and,
with its 77mm main gun and maximum
101mm of frontal armour, was almost a
match for the formidable German Tiger
and Panther tanks. The design work was
carried out by Leyland Motors, with the
pilot model completed by February 1944.
Many detail improvements were made
before production started in late 1944,
and, although it was based on the
Cromwell, the Comet was virtually a
brand-new tank.
Perhaps, the most significant change,
compared to the Cromwell, was the
adoption of a compact version of the
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun that had been
used to such effect in the Sherman Firefly.
Designed by Vickers-Armstrong, and
described as the Vickers HV (high

Appearing in 1944, the A34 Comet was designed by


Leyland Motors to overcome the problems that
were being encountered with the A27M Cromwell.
It was armed with a compact 77mm version of the
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun that had been used to
such good effect in the Sherman Firefly.

velocity) 75mm... although it quickly


became known simply as the 77mm, the
gun was designed to fire the same type
of ammunition as the 17-pounder
(76.2mm) with only a slightly reduced
penetrating power. There was also a
co-axial 7.92mm Besa machine gun, with
a second, identical weapon in a ball
mount at the front of the hull.
Although similar in appearance, the
all-welded hull was longer than that of
the Cromwell, with a new, larger welded
turret placed further back and closer to
the centreline of the vehicle. The
improved Christie suspension system was
adopted, now with the addition of track
return rollers, and the Comet was
powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteor Mk III
V12 petrol engine producing 600bhp,
and driving the rear sprockets through a
David Brown five-speed manual gearbox.
The 78,800 lb (35,818kg) Comet was

capable of 30mph (49km/h) on the road,


and 16mph (26km/h) across country.
Inside, there was space for a crew of
five, consisting of the commander,
gunner, loader, machine gunner/codriver, and driver.
Total production amounted to 1,186
units, with the first Comets issued to the
11th Armoured Division in March 1945.
Unfortunately, the Comet arrived too late
to have much effect on the outcome of
the war in Europe, but here, at last, was a
British tank that was reliable, hardhitting, fast and well protected. Indeed,
the Comet offered a sufficiently
impressive performance to remain in
service for a further 15 years after VE Day,
with a number seeing service in Korea.
Surplus Comets were sold to Burma,
Finland, South Africa and Ireland, with
the latter purchasing eight at the end of
the 1950s.

COMET

63

The code on the front of the hull A34 P1.MS


identifies this as the first A34 pilot model constructed from
mild, as opposed to armoured, steel. The pilot model borrowed
the Cromwell suspension, lacking the track-return rollers that
were added when the tank went into production.

A34 P1.MS pilot model viewed from the right-hand side. Note how the 77mm
gun requires a completely-new design of cast turret.

By the time the Comet entered production, so many changes and improvements
had been made that it was virtually a new tank. Most noticeable of these was
the stronger suspension with the addition of four track-return rollers.

Comets were all produced by Leyland at their factory in Lancashire, with total
production amounting to 1,186 vehicles.

The production Comet was a handsome, purposeful vehicle and, through a


combination of speed, reliability and firepower, was almost a match for the
German Tiger and Panther heavy tanks. Sadly, it appeared too late to play any
significant part in the Allied war effort in northwest Europe.

64
Sectional view through the Comet showing the driving compartment
at the front, the turret and fighting compartment in the centre, and
the engine and transmission located at the rear.

Liberally draped with camouflage netting, this Comet demonstrates the length of the barrel
on the hard-hitting 77mm gun.

Like the Cromwell, many


Comets remained in
British service into the
post-war period. This
chart was one of a series
produced as part of an
AFV Recognition
Handbook in 1952;
similar data was included
for all of the major
British, American and
Soviet tanks in use at the
time.

Production Comet showing the hull-mounted 7.92mm Besa machine


gun; a second, identical gun, was installed co-axially with the main
gun. Note the spare track link sections on the turret side. Although
not apparent in this example, a canvas cover was used to help
weatherproof the aperture provided in the turret for the gun mantlet.

COMET

Comet at speed... despite what is undoubtedly a considerable amount of engine


and mechanical noise, the tank is apparently not disturbing the cows grazing in
the field behind!

Cresting a small rise, this Comet demonstrates the weakness of most armoured
fighting vehicles... the relative lack of protection to the armoured floor, which,
in this case, is just 14mm thick. Any experienced tank commander would avoid
exposing the belly of his tank to the enemy.

DTD drawing showing the arrangement of the Rolls-Royce Meteor V12 engine, the David Brown
five-speed gearbox and the controlled-differential system as installed in the engine compartment
of the Comet hull.

Comet TYI 499 (previously with the British post-war registration 16ZR26) was
the last of the eight Comets supplied to the Irish Army. Here, Lieutenant Kelly
demonstrates the finer points of the machine to a group of trainee officers.
(Colin Stone)

65

In 1958, the Irish government purchased the first four of,


what ended up as, eight Comets at a price of 22,000 each,
with deliveries to the Irish Army taking place the following
year. The vehicles were withdrawn in 1977, with one
preserved in running, but not operational, condition, and
with two more in service as gate guardians. (Colin Stone)

Looking well-weathered, a Comet remains on station


as a gate guardian at the Curragh Camp, although it is
now mounted on a low plinth. (Colin Stone)

66

CRUISER TANK Mk VIII, CENTAUR


The A27 saga would not be complete
without mentioning the Centaur. As part of
their proposals for the, then, A24 project,
Leyland Motors had suggested using a
modified version of the Cavalier chassis,
powered by the Rolls-Royce Meteor V12
engine, which, as we have seen, was
derived from the Merlin aero engine. At the
time, there was no spare capacity for
producing a tank version of the Merlin
engine and an interim version of the A27
heavy cruiser tank was developed using the
existing Liberty engine together with a
Merritt-Brown five-speed gearbox. The
work was carried out in such a way that the
Liberty engine could subsequently be
replaced by the Meteor with the minimum
of re-engineering.
Named Centaur, and designated A27L
to differentiate it from the subsequent
Rolls-Royce engined version, which was
identified as A27M the design work was
initially entrusted to the Birmingham
Railway Carriage & Wagon Company, and
then English Electric, with manufacture by
Leyland Motors. In 1943, Leyland, who
already had design parentage of the
Cromwell and the Comet, also took on
design responsibility for the Centaur.
Designed for a crew of five, the pilot
model appeared in June 1942, with the first
production vehicles completed later that
year. The maximum thickness of armour
was 76mm to the turret front, with a

Head-on view of the Centaur I with the original 6-pounder (57mm) gun; in the Centaur III variant, this was
replaced by a more-powerful 75mm gun; a 7.92mm Besa machine gun can be seen to the right of the main
gun, with a similar weapon in a ball mount in the hull.

Designed in 1941, the Centaur (A27L, or


cruiser tank Mk VIII) was effectively a
Cromwell powered by the Nuffield-built
Liberty V12 engine hence the L in the
code rather than the Rolls-Royce
Meteor.

CRUISER TANK Mk VIII, CENTAUR

67

Rear view of a Centaur I showing the


side stowage bins and the heavy
pistol port in the turret side.

Above: High-level rear three-quarter view of a Centaur I showing the flat rear deck and the air outlet from
the engine compartment. Note the prominent counterweight on the business end of the gun barrel.

minimum of 20mm, giving a combat


weight of 63,600 lb (28,909kg). Maximum
speed on the road was 27mph (44km/h),
with 16mph (26km/h) available across
country.
The design was developed through
three major variants: Centaurs I and II were
equipped with a 6-pounder (57mm) main
gun, together with two 7.92mm Besa
machine guns, one installed co-axially with
the main gun, and an 0.303in Bren gun for
anti-aircraft protection; Centaur III used a
75mm main gun in place of the 6-pounder;
and Centaur IV was equipped with an
up-rated engine and a 95mm howitzer.
Some of the latter were deployed by the
Royal Marines Armoured Support Group to
provide covering fire during the assault
phase of the D-Day landings.
A total of 950 Centaurs were built, but,
once the development work for the Meteor
engine had been completed, many were
retrofitted with the new engine, and were
identified as Cromwell X or, later, as
Cromwell III. Others were converted to
various roles, including artillery
observation post (OP), with a dummy gun
fitted to the turret; anti-aircraft tank, with
either an Oerlikon or Polsten gun; dozer;
armoured recovery vehicle; and armoured
personnel carrier, in all cases, with the
turret removed.

68

Department of Tank Design (DTD) drawing


showing right-hand exterior and front stowage
arrangements for the Centaur I.

DTD drawing showing interior turret and


front of hull stowage arrangements for the
Centaur I.

CRUISER TANK Mk VIII, CENTAUR

DTD drawing showing left-hand exterior


and rear stowage arrangements for the
Centaur I.

DTD drawing showing drivers


compartment stowage arrangements
for the Centaur I.

69

70

CHALLENGER
Experience gained during encounters
with German Panzers in the first three years of
the war had indicated that most British, and
for that matter American, tanks were
effectively out-gunned. The A30 Challenger
was an early attempt at producing a British
heavy cruiser tank with increased penetrating
power that could meet the German tanks on
their own terms. By utilising a lengthened and
widened Cromwell hull, together with a new,
larger turret, it was possible to mount the new
Ordnance quick-firing (OQF) high-velocity
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun, together with a
co-axial 0.30in Browning machine gun.
Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon
Company undertook the redesign of the
Cromwell hull, lengthening it sufficiently to
require an extra road wheel, whilst Stothert &
Pitt provided the huge, angular cast turret.
Elsewhere, Cromwell components were used
wherever possible and the Challenger, which
weighed a massive 72,800 lb (33,090kg), was
powered by the Rolls-Royce Meteor engine
driving through a David Brown five-speed
gearbox. The frontal armour of the turret on
the pilot model was a maximum of 102mm,
although this was subsequently reduced to
63mm in an attempt at keeping the weight
under control, with a maximum of 30mm on
the hull.
The inadequacies of British tank guns
became apparent during the campaign
in the Western Desert in 1941 and the
A30 Challenger was an attempt to get
around this problem without resorting
to designing yet another brand new
tank. It consisted essentially of a
lengthened A27M chassis on which was
mounted a new, cast turret carrying a
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun.

The A30 was never successful, and just 200 were constructed. The additional weight placed too much of a
load on the suspension and the sheer height of the turret must have presented a tempting target.
Nevertheless, Challengers were used in northwest Europe in 1944.

CHALLENGER

71

Sectional view through the


Challenger hull and turret showing
the internal arrangements.
Also designated A30, the
Avenger self-propelled gun
consisted of the Challenger
hull, on which was mounted
a new cast, open-topped
turret for the 17-pounder
(76.2mm) gun.

Although the top speed was a creditable


32mph (52km/h), the increased weight
ensured that there would be problems with
the suspension, and the enormous height of
the turret created handling problems.
Nevertheless, needs must, and in 1943 an
order was placed for 200, or possibly 260,
Challengers. The first production examples
were completed in March 1944, and
although never more than a stopgap
measure, the Challenger was at least able to

match the firepower of the 75mm and


88mm guns of the German Tiger and
Panther heavy tanks. Although the tank saw
action in Normandy in 1944/45, the
Sherman Firefly, also equipped with the
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun was seen as a
better option.
An improved Challenger II was planned,
using a redesigned turret, but this never
passed the prototype stage.
There was also a self-propelled gun (SPG)

variant of the Challenger described as A30


Avenger. Designed by Leyland Motors
during 1943, the Avenger consisted
essentially of the Challenger hull, with the
suspension modified to include track-return
rollers. The 17-pounder (76.2mm) OQF gun
was mounted in a new, lower turret with a
mild-steel canopy and a large rear
counterweight. A contract was issued for
230 Avengers in 1944, but delivery was not
completed until 1946.

72

View of the breech of the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun from inside the
turret... the breech components appear to be manufactured from
timber, which would suggest that this is the development vehicle
produced by Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Company.

CHALLENGER

73

The pilot model for the A30 Avenger was produced by Leyland Motors, who were design parents for the A27 series, in 1944, and an order for 230 vehicles was placed
that same year, with deliveries arriving from 1946... too late to affect the outcome of the war.

Even with the curious mild-steel canopy in place, the low, open-topped turret meant that the Avenger was almost two feet (610mm) lower than the Challenger. In
this shot, the turret is traversed to the rear, showing the large counterweight.

74

CENTURION
The fact that design work for the A41
Centurion heavy cruiser tank later to be
described as a medium gun tank started
in 1943 should firmly establish its
credentials as a World War 2 tank, despite a
career that did not really get underway
until 1946. Designed by the Department of
Tank Design under Sir Claude Gibb, the
Centurion was a response to a War Office
request for a new universal tank.
Significant improvements were called for
in the key areas of firepower, mobility and
protection, as well as in reliability and
durability, and the Centurion was also the
first British tank to be designed without
regard to the maximum weight and
dimensional restrictions that had
previously been imposed by adhering to
the railway loading gauge.
AEC Limited was appointed as the
design parent with work getting underway
on a heavy cruiser variant, designated
Centurion Mk I, and intended to mount the
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun that had proved
capable of defeating the heavier German
tanks of the period. A mock-up appeared
in May 1944, featuring a welded boat-

Work on the Rolls-Royce powered A41


Centurion started in July 1943, with AEC
producing a mock-up by May of the
following year. The first of 20 pilot vehicles,
seen here, was delivered in May 1945.

shaped hull with a sloping 76mm thick


glacis plate and a welded rolled-steel
turret; the maximum thickness of armour
on the turret face was 127mm. As with the
successful A27M Cromwell and A34 Comet,
power was provided by the Rolls-Royce
Meteor engine, this time driving through a
Merritt-Brown Z51R five-speed
transmission with two reverse gears. The
anticipated overall weight meant that the
Christie suspension was no longer felt to
be appropriate and a modified Horstman
coil-spring design was adopted.
The hull provided accommodation for a
crew of four, consisting of commander,
gunner, loader, and driver, with the role of
machine-gunner omitted in favour of more
stowage space for ammunition. Maximum
road speed was 23mph (37km/h), with
15mph (24km/h) available across country.
A contract was placed for 20 pilot
models, all to be equipped with the
17-pounder main gun... although, in
practice five of them ended up mounting a
77mm gun. In addition, there were various
combinations of 20mm Polsten cannons
and 7.92mm Besa machine guns, with the

intention being to gauge user response to


help decide on the most appropriate
secondary armament. Five of the pilot
vehicles designated A41S were also to
have been fitted with the SinclairMeadows Powerflow SSS (synchromesh
self-shifting) twin-range automatic
transmission, offering four forward gears
and three reverse.
Six of the pilot vehicles were shipped to
22nd Armoured Brigade in Germany for
testing in the spring of 1945, but, by this
time the war in Europe was over, and no
Centurions were used in anger during the
conflict. By January 1945, work had started
on the A41* and on the up-armoured
A41A, or Centurion Mk 2, which featured a
new cast turret. Centurions started to enter
service with the British Army in December
1946.
The Centurion was eventually
developed through 13 major marks and 25
variants over a period of 20 years and,
despite its prodigious thirst and relatively
low top speed, it went on to be recognised
as one of the best tanks in the world.

CENTURION

75

Designated Centurion I, and produced in various


configurations featuring Polsten and Besa
machine guns, the pilot models were all equipped
with the 17-pounder (76.2mm) main gun and
featured Horstman suspension.

Another view of pilot vehicle number 1, showing the cast turret carrying the 17-pounder (76.2mm) main gun, with a 20mm Polsten cannon in a co-axial mount. The
sloped armour at the front of the hull was a first for a British tank, and was intended to be able to withstand German 88mm rounds.

76

The Centurion I was produced at the Royal Ordnance Factories (ROF) at Barnbow, Nottingham and Woolwich; Centurion II was produced at ROF Barnbow and at
Vickers-Armstrong.
Fighting Vehicles
Development Department
(FVDD) drawing showing the
outline dimensions for the
Centurion I and IV.

CENTURION

FVDD drawing showing transportation dimensions for Centurion II and III.

Rear view of the first Centurion I pilot vehicle showing the rear turret escape hatch fitted to pilot vehicles 1-10.

77

FVDD stowage sketch for the interior of the turret and the left-hand hull front of Centurion II.

FVDD drawing showing the exterior front and left-hand side stowage arrangements for Centurion II.

78

Following the production of 20 pilot vehicles, the


Centurion was put into production in late 1945 as the
A41A Centurion II, retaining the 17-pounder (76.2mm)
main gun, but with a new turret and numerous detail
improvements.

FVDD diagram showing plate thicknesses for the hull and turret of Centurions I and IV.

US-BUILT MEDIUM TANKS IN BRITISH SERVICE

US-BUILT MEDIUM TANKS


IN BRITISH SERVICE
Total British tank production during
the conflict amounted to 25,116 vehicles,
but it was never enough. Following the
evacuation from Dunkirk, where so much
equipment, including 400 tanks, was
abandoned, the War Office turned to the
USA for help and, in June 1940,
representatives of the British Tank
Commission arrived in the USA with the
intention of buying medium tanks the
closest US equivalent to the British cruiser
tank concept. When the M3 medium tank
went into production in April 1941,
alongside an initial contract for 1,000 tanks
being constructed for the US Army, the
British had placed orders for a further 1,686
for which the government was forced to
pay on a strict cash and carry basis. By
1942, the first batch of M3 medium tanks
started to arrive on British shores.
M3 variants were produced with either a
cast, welded or riveted hull, having a
maximum thickness of 37mm and a
minimum of 12mm, and, according to the
specific variant, the power unit was either a
Wright or Continental radial engine, twin
GM diesels, or a Chrysler 30-cylinder
multi-bank engine. The suspension was by
means of a vertical volute-spring system
(VVSS), and the tank was capable of a top

First appearing in 1941, the US-built M3 medium


tank was known either as the General Grant or the
General Lee, according to whether it was built to
US or British Army specification. The US Armys Lee,
seen here, had a commanders cupola on top of the
turret, this was not present on the Grant.
(US Department of Defense)

speed of around 26mph (42km/h) on roads,


reducing to 16mph (26km/h) across
country. Unfortunately, the hull was too
small to accept a turret that could
accommodate the 75mm gun, meaning this
had to be mounted in a side sponson but,
on top of the hull, there was a small
revolving turret mounting a 37mm gun,
and, on top of this was the commanders
cupola, mounting a 0.30in machine gun.
Unsurprisingly, the War Office was not
entirely happy with some features of the
design, and the British version mounted a
larger cast turret, without the cupola. This
version was described as the General Grant,
whilst the US version was the General Lee...
although the word General was rarely used.
The M3 was fast and reliable, but it was
difficult to aim and, due to its height, stuck
out like a sore thumb.... but it had the
advantage of being available in relatively
large numbers and 2,900 examples were
supplied to Britain before it started to be
superseded by the M4 Sherman from early
1942.
The Sherman retained the lower hull,
volute-spring suspension, and automotive
equipment of the Lee/Grant, but all
Shermans were either of cast or welded
construction, eventually with a maximum

83

thickness of 64mm on the hull and 76mm


on the turret face; there was also an assault
tank variant (M4A3E8) with 102mm and
178mm of armour, respectively. The radial
engine was also retained as was the
Chrysler multi-bank and the twin GM
diesels, but there was one other production
engine option in the shape of the Ford V8,
as well as experimental Caterpillar radial
diesels. The vertical volute-spring
suspension eventually gave way to an
improved design using wider tracks and
horizontal volute springs (HVSS).
The 75mm main gun of the Lee/Grant
was now mounted in a proper turret,
although it was eventually replaced by a
76mm weapon; there was also a closesupport variant mounting a 105mm
howitzer. Nevertheless, the Sherman was
still out-gunned by the heavier German
tanks and it wasnt until the British
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun was fitted into
what became the Sherman Firefly in
1943/44, that the M4 was finally, almost, a
match for the German Tigers and Panthers.
The Sherman remained in production
until 1945 and was used by all of the
Allies, with a total of 17,181 supplied to
Britain out of a total production of almost
50,000.

84

Above: British Army M3 Grant photographed in North Africa in 1942. The M3 was in
front-line service with the British between 1942 and about March 1944 and played
a significant role in the fighting at El Alamein. (US Department of Defense)

Above: Designed for a crew of six, the first version of the M3 had a riveted hull...
a manufacturing technique that was also still being used for British tanks at
the time There were five subsequent variants (M3A1 thru M3A5), with
differences in the method of construction riveted, cast or welded hull and in
the engine. Not all were supplied to the British. (US Department of Defense)

The M3 was never considered to be more than a stopgap design. The


difficulties of fitting the 75mm main gun into a turret were
insurmountable and a sponson was provided on the right-hand side of
the hull. A 37mm gun was mounted in a small cast turret giving an
unacceptably-high profile: in the US Armys Lee version also supplied to
the British this was made worse by the use of a rotating commanders
cupola. (US Department of Defense)

US-BUILT MEDIUM TANKS IN BRITISH SERVICE

85

With a pilot model constructed by the Lima Locomotive Works in February 1941, the M4 Sherman was a replacement for the earlier M3 Lee/Grant. Although the
lower part of the hull and the automotive arrangements were derived from the M3, the 75mm gun was now mounted in a rotating turret. This example is a
Ford-built M4A3, but the tank was also built by nine other companies, with both cast- and welded-hull versions produced. (Ford Motor Company)

Sectional drawing of the GM-built Sherman M4A2, which was powered by a pair of water-cooled Detroit Diesel 6-71 truck engines operating through a common
transmission. Other engines included the Ford GAA V8, Chrysler A-57 30-cylinder multi-bank, and a Wright or Continental R-975 air-cooled radial; there was also an
experimental Caterpillar air-cooled radial diesel.

86

Above: The original 75mm gun was eventually superseded by a 76mm weapon that,
unfortunately, proved to be little better. There was also a Sherman close-support variant
equipped with a 105mm howitzer. The photograph shows this variant, in M4A3 guise, in British
Army service. (Tank Museum)
Left: Whilst the US Armys nomenclature for Shermans is complex enough, the British Army
decided it would be a good idea to rename them all... thus the M4 became Sherman I, Hybrid I, IB
or IBY, the M4A1 was referred to as the Sherman II, IIA, etc, the M4A2 was described as Sherman
III, or IIIAY... and so on. This training pamphlet covers the Sherman III.
Almost 50,000 Shermans were constructed between
1942 and 1945 and, alongside service with the US and
British Armies, the type was used by all of the Allies,
including these examples operated by the Free French.
(US Department of Defense)

US-BUILT MEDIUM TANKS IN BRITISH SERVICE

87

The Sherman was reliable,


easy to drive and available in
large numbers, but,
compared to the heavier
German tanks, it was poorly
armoured and undergunned. It was not easy to do
anything about the levels of
armoured protection, but, by
turning it sideways, the
British found a way to fit a
17-pounder (76.2mm) gun
into the cast Sherman turret.
Described as the Sherman
Firefly, with a C appended to
the British designation (eg
Sherman IVC) to indicate the
modification, here, at last
was an Allied tank that could
take on a Tiger or Panther.
(Tank Museum)

For the amphibious phase of the D-Day landings,


Shermans were fitted with twin propeller drive
and collapsible rubberised-canvas wading
screens that allowed them to swim ashore from
landing craft. Known as DD (duplex drive) tanks,
once on dry land, the screen was collapsed and
the propeller drive disengaged allowing the
vehicle to perform as a standard gun tank.
(Firestone)

88

HEAVY TANKS
The production of heavy tanks had
ended in 1918, with all subsequent designs
described, initially, as medium and light
tanks. The light tank had also fallen from
favour by 1940, by which time, British Army
tanks were being described as either
cruiser or infantry tanks. However, when
Britain had declared war on Germany in
1939 many feared a return to trench
warfare, realising that, if this were the case,
then heavy tanks, with the emphasis on
their trench-crossing performance, would
be required once again. As things turned
out, World War 2 was essentially a war of
movement... but, nevertheless, this didnt
stop the War Office from commissioning a
real old-fashioned heavy tank.
In February 1940, Sir Albert Stern, who
had been involved in designing tanks
during World War I, assembled a team of
his former associates and set about
designing a tank capable of operating
across the shattered ground that had been
typical of the Western Front. Dubbed TOG
meaning the old gang the first
prototype, TOG I, was produced by William
Foster & Company, and was ready for trials
in October 1940. Featuring un-sprung
wrap-around tracks, the tank was powered
by a 600bhp Paxman-Ricardo 12-cylinder
diesel engine, driving a pair of generators
that fed power to electric motors, giving
the machine a maximum speed of 8.5mph
(14km/h). It had originally been planned to
incorporate sponson-mounted guns but,
when the prototype appeared, these had
been replaced by the turret of a Matilda II
infantry tank mounting a 2-pounder
(40mm) main gun, together with a hull-

Named TOG for the old gang design team who produced it, TOG I was a heavy tank intended for fighting in
the typical trench conditions that had prevailed on the Western Front during World War I. In its original
form, there was a 77mm gun in the nose, with a turret-mounted 2-pounder (40mm) borrowed, in its
entirety, from the A12 Matilda infantry tank; side sponsons were also intended to house a pair of 2-pounder
(40mm) guns. The drive system was originally diesel-electric using a Paxman-Ricardo V12 engine coupled to
a pair of generators and electric motors.
mounted 17-pounder (76.2mm). TOG 1
became TOG IA when it was subsequently
fitted with a hydraulic drive system.
A second prototype, TOG II, appeared in
March 1941, using the original dieselelectric drive system, but with lower tracks.
TOG II initially carried a square turret
mounting a 6-pounder (57mm gun), but
this was subsequently replaced by the
Stothert & Pitt turret intended for the
Challenger, with a 17-pounder (76.2mm)
gun. A planned TOG IIR, which would have
been shorter and equipped with torsionbar suspension, was never completed...

TOG II had lowered tracks, and mounted a much larger turret which carried
a 6-pounder (57mm) gun; it was also intended that there would be side
sponsons, but, as with TOG I, these were never completed.

and there was no series production of any


version.
The question of designing heavy tanks
came to the fore again in 1943, but, this
time, it was driven by the imperatives of
firepower and protection, and the resulting
A33 heavy assault tank was an attempt to
produce a standard or universal tank
chassis adaptable to either the infantry or
cruiser roles. Two prototypes, sometimes
described as Excelsior, were constructed by
English Electric using a modified A27 hull,
up-armoured to a maximum thickness of
114mm... resulting in a combat weight of
100,800 lb (45,818kg). The engine was the
by-now familiar Rolls-Royce Meteor,
driving the rear sprockets through a
five-speed Merritt-Brown transmission.
Although both prototypes were armed
with nothing more lethal than the
6-pounder (57mm) gun, it was envisaged
that, if the tank went into production, this
would be replaced by a 75mm weapon.
The work was terminated in May 1944 with
no further vehicles constructed.
Finally, mention must be made of the
A39 Tortoise heavy assault tank.
In 1942, the War Office was seeking a
heavy tank destroyer that would be able to
penetrate the armour of all other tanks
and tank destroyers of the period, without
putting itself at risk. Design work was

HEAVY TANKS

89

View of TOG II from the rear. There was no series


production of either TOG variant, but this example
has been preserved at the Tank Museum, Bovington.

Based on a widened and strengthened A27M Cromwell hull, the A33 heavy assault tank or Excelsior was
constructed in 1943. The track and suspension system used on the first example to be built was a version of
that used on the American M6 heavy tank; the second vehicle used a strengthened Cromwell-type
suspension.

entrusted to Nuffield Mechanizations &


Aero in 1944, with the intention of having
the first vehicle ready the following year. A
full-size wooden mock-up was eventually,
produced for approval, but it wasnt until
1947 that Nuffield completed six running
prototypes.
Designed around a massive one-piece
casting, 230mm thick at its maximum, the
hull lacked a conventional turret, thereby
eliminating the potential weakness
resulting from the need for a turret ring,
and the 32-pounder (94mm) main gun was
carried in a huge ball mount. Power came
from a Rolls-Royce Meteor petrol engine
driving the front sprockets through a
Merritt-Brown six-speed gearbox, and
there was torsion-bar suspension, with
eight wheel stations per side.
Aptly named Tortoise, the resulting
machine weighing some 174,720 lb
(79,418kg). The quoted top speed was just
12mph (20km/h) on the road, and with
4mph (6.5km/h) achievable across country.
Unsurprisingly, the project was abandoned
soon after the delivery of the prototypes.

90

Just two pilot vehicles for the A33 project were constructed and there was no series production. The project was abandoned in 1944.
Although it was originally envisaged
that a 6-pounder (57mm) would be
used, by the time the prototypes
appeared this had been superseded by
a 75mm gun, together with two
7.92mm Besa macine guns, one
installed co-axially in the turret.

HEAVY TANKS

Dimensional diagram showing the


colossal size of the Tortoise...
overall length is shown as 33ft
(9.9m); the width was 12ft 10in
(3.3m) and the vehicle had a
combat weight of 174,720 lb
(79,418kg).

The A39 Tortoise was a heavy assault tank although these days it would be considered a self-propelled gun designed to take on the biggest German
tanks and tank destroyers. The hull consisted of a one-piece huge casting, with the gun carried in a ball mount at the front; power came from a
Rolls-Royce Meteor engine and the machine rode on 16 pairs of bogies either side. This wooden mock-up was produced in 1943/44.

91

92

HEAVY TANKS

93

Not surprisingly, the huge size and


weight of the Tortoise created
transportation difficulties. Here
prototype one is loaded onto a
Pickfords eight-line solid-wheeled
trailer that is coupled to a pair of
Scammell drawbar tractors.

94

THE DESIGN OF BRITISH TANKS


FROM 1945
By the time the Allies landed on the
D-Day beaches, the main tanks in service
with British armoured units were the A27M
Cromwell, officially described as tank,
cruiser, Mk VIII, the A22 Churchill, or tank,
infantry, Mk IV, and the M4 Sherman,
which was also considered to be a cruiser.
Within weeks of the landings, FieldMarshal Montgomery was openly
proposing that the distinction between
infantry and cruiser tanks be abandoned.
In the post-war period, some 200
Cromwells were fitted with a new turret
and 20-pounder (84mm) anti-tank gun; in
this form the tank was renamed Charioteer.
The vehicles were issued to Royal
Armoured Corps units in Germany, but
were phased out from 1956, with many
subsequently sold to Austria, Finland,
Jordan and Lebanon.
However, the emergence of the huge
Soviet IS-3 main battle tank in 1944, had
led the Allies to re-assess some of the
conventional wisdoms regarding levels of
firepower and protection, and it wasnt
until the end of the war that British tank
designers had the opportunity to take

stock of existing tanks. At the same time,


through the work of the Combined
Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee,
they were able to appraise all German
technical research into aspects of tank
design and technology.
Meanwhile, the A41 Centurion had
started to enter service in 1946. It had
been designed as a cruiser tank under the
old World War 2 doctrine, and, in the light
of a document drawn up in 1947, was likely
to have a short service life. Drawing on
experiences gained by 21 Army Group in
1944/45, the document proposed that, for
the future, the British Army would be
equipped with three types of tank the
100-ton FV100 assault tank, the 50-ton
FV200 universal tank, and the 10-ton
FV300 light tank. The Centurion did not
feature in this scheme and was viewed as a
stopgap measure to be superseded as the
new tanks entered service.
The FV100 and FV300 were soon
abandoned, but initial work started on the
FV200 universal tank, using an enlarged
version of the Centurion chassis, with
additional road wheels and suspension

units. The original mild-steel Centurion


hull, which had been produced by AEC in
1944, was rebuilt and widened for use as a
development vehicle, and English Electric
was eventually appointed as the main
contractor. The first FV200 prototype was
completed in 1948 but, within a year, this
project, too, had been cancelled, but the
shockwaves created by the appearance of
the Soviet IS-3, with its 230mm armour and
122mm main gun, continued to
reverberate and there were many in the
West who argued that bigger was better.
It was felt that there was still a need for
a new gun tank in the 50-60-ton weight
range, and this led to the FV200 chassis
being adapted to provide the basis for the
FV214 Conqueror heavy gun tank.
However, nothing was straightforward, and
delays in finalising the specification for the
Conqueror led to the appearance, in 1954,
of a test-bed vehicle comprising the hull of
the Conqueror, onto which was mounted a
Centurion turret. Described as the FV221
Caernarvon, it was planned that once 60 of
these had been constructed, production
would switch to the Conqueror.

Replacing the A30 Avenger, the post-war Charioteer was


a refurbished A27M Cromwell that had been fitted with a
new, larger turret and 20-pounder (84mm) anti-tank
gun. The gun was traversed to the rear during transport.

THE DESIGN OF BRITISH TANKS FROM 1945

95

In August 1945, with the war in Europe over, contracts were issued for 100 examples of the A41* Centurion Mk
I with the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun in a rolled-steel turret, and 100 examples of the A41A Centurion Mk 2
with a cast turret. The photograph shows the first production A41* at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Woolwich.

Recognition data for the Charioteer


taken from the AFV Recognition
Handbook of 1952.

The first Conqueror appeared the


following year, in 1955. Designed for a crew
of four, it was a huge machine, featuring a
welded hull, with a maximum thickness of
178mm, onto which was mounted a massive
one-piece cast turret carrying a 120mm
rifled gun. Power came from an upgraded
and fuel-injected version of the Rolls-Royce
V12 Meteor, producing 810bhp, and driving
through a Merritt-Brown Z52 or Z52R
transmission, both systems offering five
forward speeds and two reverse. The
Horstman suspension was similar to that
used on the Centurion, with horizontal
coil-springs acting in opposed pairs.
Production started in 1956 with the total
number of vehicles constructed reaching
180-185, including conversions of
Caernarvon.
The Conqueror was never felt to be
satisfactory and, by the late 1960s, both it
and the Centurion had been replaced by the
Chieftain... which, despite being described
as a main battle tank (MBT) followed many
of the successful design principles of the
Centurion... the last of the old cruisers!

96

Designed to be able to wade into deep water, the Centurion beach armoured
recovery vehicle (BARV) replaced a similar vehicle based on the M4 Sherman,
and was intended to keep beaches clear of disabled vehicles during amphibious
assaults.

Photographed in 1965, this Centurion Mk 3 is being used as a training vehicle for


junior leaders.

The Centurion hull, in both Mk 3 and Mk 5 configuration, was also used as the basis of a bridgelayer, mounting a Class 80 bridge, tank, number 6. Consisting of
parallel trackways, the 52ft (15.86m) long bridge was deployed by means of hydraulics driven by an auxiliary engine.

THE DESIGN OF BRITISH TANKS FROM 1945

97

Originally designated A45, and often


described as a capital tank, just one
example of the FV200 was constructed
before the project was abandoned. The
prototype mounted a Centurion turret
and 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun on a
new, larger hull.

Whilst the details of the Conqueror project were being finalised, the FV221 Caernarvon appeared, using the Conqueror hull onto which was mounted a Centurion turret.

98

The abandoned FV200 project was used as the basis for the FV214 Conqueror heavy gun tank. Intended as a response to the appearance of the Soviet IS-3 tank, the
Conqueror mounted a 120mm gun; the maximum thickness of armour on the welded hull was 178mm.

FV3802 was a self-propelled gun that used a shortened version of the Centurion chassis, mounting a 25-pounder (87.6mm) gun in an armoured box-like
superstructure. The vehicle was prototyped, but never put into production.

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