Friday, March 03, 2006
The British tank situation by early 1941
The British had all but ceased experimentation with tanks during the 1930's. Prior to the development of the 2pdr ATG, which was high velocity, the only tank gun available was the medium velocity 3pdr 47mm gun. The Medium Mk.III and its predecessors was armed with that gun. As early as April 1938, the development of the 6pdr 57mm gun was started, but it was not pursued with much energy. In the 1930's, the light tank series continued in development. By 1935, the Lt.Mk.V entered service. The following year, the first Lt.Mk.VI tanks entered service, with production being reduced by 1940. The first cruiser tank, the A9 Cru.Mk.I entered service in 1937. 125 were built. From 1937 until 1940, the small, machine gun-armed Inf.Mk.I was produced. They saw some service in France in 1939 and 1940. The A10 Cru.Mk.II started life as a "heavy cruiser". 100 were ordered in July 1938 and a further 75 in September 1939. The A13 Cru.Mk.III (and later the Cru.Mk.IV and IVA) were inspired by Lt-Col. Martel's visit to Russia, where he saw the fast Russian BT tanks with the Christie suspension. About 50 Cru.Mk.III were built, and some saw service in France in 1940 and later in North Africa. The best infantry tank of the early was was the Inf.Mk.II Matilda. 2,987 were eventually produced. The were (inappropriately) pressed into service with the armoured divisions as there was often no alternative. The Cru.Mk.IV and IVA were built in much larger numbers, as 655 were produced. They provided the core of the 7th Armoured Brigade in North Africa. The Cru.Mk.V Covenanter was a failure and was only used for training, except for special purpose vehicles. The next cruiser tank, the Cru.Mk.VI Crusader went into service in 1941. A total of something like 5,300 were eventually built. British tanks were only starting to mature by 1943, around the end of the North African campaign. Before that, the army had to do the best they could with an odd assortment of vehicles. This is inspired by a passage in Vol.II of the Official History and draws heavily upon Chamberlin and Ellis's old book about British and American tanks.