Categories
WW2 British Prototypes

Morris-Martel Tankettes

United Kingdom (1925)
Tankettes – 10 built

Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel was arguably one of the most important men in early British tank development. During the First World War and in the immediate aftermath, he served in the Royal Engineers. During this period, he became heavily involved in the development of tanks and bridging. As a gifted engineer, during his life, he would construct no less than three armored vehicles at home. His first design was a one-man tank.

Martel driving the second of the AFV’s he built at home. Here, he is in his four track tank, which he built while serving in India. Source: Locomotion Horsenomes

Major Martel began work on his one-man machine in January 1925. He looked at recent developments in warfare exposed by the Great War. The basic problem was to protect the infantryman and enable him to advance while giving enough firepower that he might outfight the enemy. This had, eventually and after much technical and doctrinal evolution, led to the tank.

However, a tank grouped several soldiers into one large target. In order to counter enemy anti-tank weapons, there seemed to be two possible alternatives. The first consisted of having the speed and mobility to avoid getting hit. The other option was to dramatically increase the armor protection of the tank. Major Martel saw this latter option as feasible from an engineering point of view. However, in a cash strapped post-war British Army, Major Martel knew that financial constraints would prevent such a solution. Building a large heavily armored tank would require stronger engines, thus increasing the cost above what the Treasury was willing to fund.

Major Martel saw a third way. What if the tank concept was boiled down to its smallest, most minimalistic design possible? By making a one-man tank which is immune to enemy small arms and armed with only a light machine gun, armoured units could vastly outnumber any potential anti-tank weapons and overwhelm them. Equally, the small size would make it significantly easier and cheaper to create such a vehicle with good mobility characteristics and would also make it harder to detect and easier to conceal.

The Martel One-Man Tankette

With this in mind, Major Martel started drawing up plans for a new class of vehicle, one he named “the Tankette”. These plans were completed by February 1925, and he started construction of the tank on a rotating table in his garage.

The Martel Prototype made of wood and painted grey. The large stabilizer wheels were replaced by smaller versions with solid rubber tyres on the later models. Source: Alternative Finland

The prototype one-man tankette was powered by a Maxwell 20 hp petrol engine, mounted on the front of the vehicle, connected to an axle taken from a Ford car. The tracks and suspension were purchased from Roadless Traction Ltd, while the large spoked wheels at the back came off an old Federal lorry. The body was made of wood, but Major Martel was careful to add extra ballast to represent the weight of armor. Work was completed in August, and the first trials showed some minor problems, such as the tail stabilizer being too lightly sprung.

At the time, Major Martel lived at the Brown Cottage in Camberley. This town was home to the British Army’s Staff College. One afternoon, Captain B.H. Liddell-Hart, who worked at the college, was taking a walk through the countryside when he came across Major Martel, who was calmly taking his home-built tank for a drive. He stood there dumbfounded and watched as Major Martel took his creation through its paces over the surrounding countryside. He went away and wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph, drawing upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s Ivanhoe for mental imagery. This piece published on 28th August 1925 brought the idea to the attention of the larger world.

‘Surprise changed to awe when this twentieth century man-at-arms, mounted on his mechanical charger, climbed out of the road up an almost perpendicular bank at least four feet high, raced across a stretch of rough gorse country at a speed no runner could have approached and no horseman would have cared to attempt across such ground, turning abruptly in such a narrow circle that would have been the envy of a London taxi-driver. Next it headed for a small but steep hill, climbed it unfalteringly at a speed of 6-7mph, then threaded its way through a tree plantation which a horse or pack-mule could barely have traversed.’
Captain B.H. Liddell-Hart, Daily Telegraph, 28th August 1925

Nearly all British service tanks prior to this time had been large and relatively slow machines. Here, in front of Captain Liddell-Hart, was a tank that he described as about the size of a horse, with mobility that exceeded the cavalryman’s. There was a loophole that a small arm, likely a light machine gun, could be fired from. Captain Liddell-Hart saw this machine as a cavalryman who was immune to small arms. A series of demonstrations of the machine followed, many of which were held at the Staff College.

One becomes Two

The result of these demonstrations was that the War Office commissioned two vehicles to be built. Major Martel suggested Morris Commercial Motors Ltd. as the manufacturer. This involved changing the engine to a Morris 16 hp petrol one. Of the two tankettes to be manufactured, one would have a one-man body, while the other would have a two-man body. The bodies of each vehicle could be changed at will. The armored hulls for these were mostly identical, apart from the fighting compartment, which was wider on the two-man version. Morris designed the chassis to be identical in both cases. For example, the steering wheel, and gear levers, were in the center of the compartment, while the pedals were set to the left-hand side. This meant that, while the driver of the two-man machine would have access to all the controls, the gunner would be limited to the steering wheel only.

This interchangeability was because Morris’ designers were thinking ahead. They thought that, if the War Office was to pay for the tankettes to be produced, then the chassis without an armored body could be sold separately as a tractor. Thus, the company could use the government to pay for all the expensive items such as developing, fault correcting, and setting up the production facilities. Then, when the chassis rolled off the production line, either a one-man or two-man armored body could be bolted onto it, or a soft skin tractor body could be installed. Such a scheme could, theoretically, create significant profits.

The Morris-Martel one- (top) and two- (bottom) man machines, handily demonstrating the minor differences, and the wider crew compartment. Source: Live Journal

As it would turn out, the chassis was wholly unsuited for use as a tractor, so this plan came to naught. Although unrecorded as to why the venture failed, it is likely down to the differing needs of tractors and tanks. A tractor would need the ability to pull objects such as plows and trailers, while the tankette would need speed and mobility. Thus, a tractor’s gearbox has to operate under a different load profile than a tankette’s.

The Morris-Martel tractor. This was a tractor body (consisting of little more than a bonnet) fitted over the same basic chassis that was supplied for both of the tankette versions. Source: Live Journal
Two pictures of the naked Morris-Martel chassis showing off the steering arrangements and mechanical layout, as well as the basic controls.
Source: IWM, Martel Papers

In late 1925, Major Martel completed his detailed drawings liaising with Morris Ltd., and construction began. The first vehicle, a one-man machine, was completed in February 1926, its body was made from 8 mm mild steel. When weighed, it came in at 1 tonne over its projected weight of 2 tonnes. To reduce this 3-tonne weight, a redesigned chassis was developed with all spare weight savings that could be engineered incorporated, along with a reduction of the armor to 6 mm, which would not have been bulletproof. Trials at an abandoned mine showed that the 3-tonne weight was not that great a problem, so the armor was increased back to 8 mm, which was the same armor value as the standard British tank of the time, the Vickers Medium.

After testing during 1926, the War Office finally settled on the two-man design. This selection was down to the number of crew. The two-man design was seen as a better choice due to the extra crewman. In December, eight two-man machines were ordered. These, along with eight competing Carden-Loyd Mk.IV machines were used by the Experimental Mechanised Force in August and September 1927. Despite the small numbers involved, the Experimental Mechanised Force which ran the testing immediately demanded more machines for use during the 1928 maneuvers.

Morris-Martel two-man on maneuvers with the Experimental Mechanised Force
Source: IWM, Martel Papers

Due to the failure of the Morris plan to modify the chassis into tractors for the civilian market, Morris did not want to spend any more effort on developing the Morris-Martel. This quickly led to the death of the series and of the type.

In comparison, Carden-Loyd was happy to undertake the development of their machine in-house, freeing the War Office of the financial burden. This in-house development led very shortly to the successful Carden-Loyd Mk.VI, and in turn through to the Universal Carrier. From there, it is possible to trace a line of development that ran all the way up to the FV432 in the mid-1960s.

Publicity shot with a Carden Lloyd Mk.VI loaded with Vickers Machine gun, three archers and a halberdier. This picture seems to be trying to link with battles such as Agincourt and Crecy. Source: War Thunder

Description of the two-man version

The Morris Martel Two-Man tankette had its engine at the front of the vehicle, with the fighting compartment behind the engine. A radiator was at the front, under the bonnet. The bonnet nose was angled, with louvers in it. The transmission was behind the engine, running under the fighting compartment, being connected to the two drive sprockets. The exhaust ran on the left side of the fighting compartment, outside the armor. On either side of the engine were the tracks of the vehicle. The drive sprocket at the rear and the idler wheel at the front were both large and made contact with the ground. Two small double rubber-rimmed road-wheels completed the running gear. It is unclear how or even if any of the wheels had a suspension attached to them. A mud chute was present above the two road-wheels, meant to prevent mud from falling from the track onto the road-wheels.

The fighting compartment had the gunner on the right, manning a .303 Lewis gun with limited traverse and elevation. It is unknown how much ammunition could be stored onboard. The driver was on the left. The seats for both men could be raised and lowered to allow them to drive head-out or behind the armor. The driver had a vision slit to see when he was driving behind armor. It is unclear if this was in any way protected by a blind or by a bulletproof vision block.

At the rear of the tank were the stabilizer wheels. These had multiple purposes. They were meant to prevent the tank from tipping backward when running up slopes or hard terrain. These wheels also acted as a complementary means of steering the vehicle. Steering in other tanks at the time was done by braking one of the tracks and keeping power to the other, somewhat similar to how a small boat is steered using paddles. However, this means that the vehicle slows down because one of the tracks is stopped, that half of the power of the engine was wasted (differentials and Cletrac systems were not yet invented or in common use), and that significant wear and tear was applied to the brakes, clutches, and tracks.

On the Moris-Martel, the rear wheels worked as a very useful alternative when going on roads or hard terrain and doing relatively shallow turns. The vehicle could then turn using the wheels only, functioning like when a car is driven in reverse (wheels turn to the left when the vehicle turns to the right). This could be done without applying the brakes, without wasting engine power, and reducing wear on components.

When harder turns were required or when running on soft ground or gravel, the tracks could steer as usual. While this dual system did have its advantages, it was largely abandoned due to the added complexity and weight implied in having a secondary steering system.

Two headlights were placed in front of the fighting compartment, on either side. Two mudguards were placed at the rear of the vehicle, running from the fighting compartment to the rear wheels.

Conclusion

While the Morris-Martel would never go beyond the handful of chassis used for experimentation, it would give birth to the idea of the tankette, a class of vehicle that would become one of the oddities of the interwar period found in many countries’ arsenals. These descendants would take part in the wars leading up to, and the first stages of the Second World War.

In the United Kingdom, the concept of the tankette would go through several permutations such as the Crossley-Martel and Carden Loyd One-man machines. Martel would return to the concept that gave birth to the Moris-Martel one-man tank in the mid-1930s with the Mechanical Coffin. In the end, all these ideas would die out. However, the two-man machine would lead into the most produced armored vehicle in history, and one of its most successful, the Universal Carrier.

Morris-Martel Tankette Prototype
Morris-Martel One Man Tankette
Morris-Martel Two Man Tankette

Illustrations by Mr. C. Ryan, funded through our Patreon campaign.

Morris-Martel Tankettes specifications

Total Weight, Battle Ready 3 tons
Crew One or two depending on the body.
Propulsion Morris 16 hp petrol
Armament 1x .303 Light machine gun, or personal weapons
Armor 8 mm
Total Production 10

Sources

Martel Papers, IWM.
Private correspondence with Oliver Boyle

Additional images:
These images all come from the IWM, Martel papers.
Commercial Motor Magazine article on the Morris-Martel tractor

Categories
Cold War British Other Tanks

Tank, Medium Gun, FV221 Caernarvon

United Kingdom (1953)
Medium Gun Tank – 11 Built

In 1949, the British Armed Forces were subjected to a ‘financial blizzard’ that swept through the military procurement. As usual, it was driven by the Treasury in an effort to save money. One of the casualties of this storm of cuts was the Army’s newest tank, the FV201, which was already behind schedule, having originally been planned to have been in service two years earlier.

Under fire from the other services over the cost of the program, the Army saw a chance to save some of the development work, and get the new vehicle into service a lot quicker than normal. To achieve this, they needed an intermediary tank to bridge the development gap, this tank was the FV221 Caernarvon.

FV201 Prototype 1, fitted with a Centurion Mk.III turret and a spare 17-pounder gun. Source: Tankograd Publishing

Born Again Tank

The FV200 series, the British Army’s new universal tank chassis, had been under development since 1944. Nearly all the development work had been done on the hull, and was quite advanced. The turret was less well evolved. Since 1948, there had been a constant desire to improve the anti-tank performance of the FV201. With the cancelation of the FV201 in July of 1949, the Army saw a chance to achieve their aim.

By fitting the L1 120 mm gun in a new turret on the old FV201 hull, they could push the maximum range that the tank could knock out an IS-3 out to 1,000 yards (900 m) when using Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS). Beyond that range, the L1 120 mm gun could use High Explosive Squash-Head (HESH) warheads. These were judged capable of knocking out the IS-3 and, as they were chemical energy warheads, they could work at any range the new tank could score a hit at. It might seem odd to use the IS-3, a Second World war tank, as a target to measure against. However, this Soviet heavy tank was considered the hardest target in the Soviet arsenal in the post-war period. This was then used as the requirement to beat for most British anti-tank weapons of the time.

The new tank was called the FV214 Conqueror or, officially, the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214, Conqueror‘. The chassis was a simplified variant of the FV201 series. The main simplification was in the engine bay, where the power take-off for the additional devices that the FV200 series was to have been fitted with was removed. This simplification meant the tank was slightly shorter. Both of these factors reduced the weight. These savings in weight were reinvested in the tank’s frontal protection, with the glacis being thickened and sloped back slightly more.

A FV214 Conqueror Mk.1 next to a 20-pounder armed Centurion. The colossal size of the devastating L1 can be seen when comparing the two tanks. Source: Profile Publications

There was a problem. Whilst some elements of the hull design were complete and had been tested as part of the development process, troop trials had not been carried out. Troop trials are where the front line soldiers are given some of the pre-production models and asked to test them out in the field. It is a vital step to any tank development and will usually show up a host of problems that need fixing.

In 1949, the chassis was at the stage it could be used for troop trials, after the extensive work having been done on the FV201. However, the turret of the FV214 had not yet been looked at. As it turned out, the design work on the Conqueror’s turret would not start until 1950. Development work on the turret, followed by the troop trials of the complete tank would push the in-service date ever further back until the late 1950s.

During the development of the FV200 series, a couple of the prototypes had been fitted with A.41 Centurion turrets. It was proposed to use the new chassis, fitted with a new roof plate and complete Centurion Mk.III turrets, armed with the standard 20-pounder gun. This new vehicle was to be called the FV221 Caernarvon. The name Caernarvon is the Anglicised name for the town of Caernarfon and its attendant castle in North Wales

A FV221 Caernarvon. The prototype vehicle had a co-driver’s hatch which was leftover from the A.45 design. However, as can be seen in this production version, that hatch has been removed. Source: Tankograd Publishing

Design

The FV221 is a bridging step in the design of British Cold War tanks. On the FV201, there was to be a five man crew, like most Second World War tanks, consisting of a commander, gunner, loader, driver and hull gunner. The last crew member, meant to operate the hull-mounted weapons, usually a machine gun, was deleted from the FV214 design. On the FV221, as it was using the FV201 hull, the hull gunner’s hatch was maintained. However, it lacked the guns and optics such a position would usually entail.

Other than this oddity, the design was entirely standard and followed the now common design of an engine in the back, three crew in the turret and the driver at the front of the hull. The tank itself was largely analogous to the Centurion Mk.III in regards to its performance. Even armed with the same 20-pounder gun that the Centurion had, and was armored the same on the turret.

Side aspect of the FV221, with the upper part of the skirts removed. This shows off the four return rollers, an increased number over the A.45, which only had two. Note also the Centurion turret with 20-pounder main gun. Source: weaponsandwarfare.files.wordpress.com

The hull armor is a lot harder to pin down. On one hand, the FV201 had 76 mm to 89 mm on the front of the hull. However, the requirement was for 130 mm, sloped at least 60 degrees. From documentation, it is not entirely clear what the armor values were, as even official documents give blatantly wrong information, and some contradict each other. This applies even to plans.

Because the tank was conceived in such a haphazard way and outside the normal way tanks were designed, there is limited data on the automotive components. However, from the designated role of that tank, that of providing troop trials for the Conqueror chassis, it can be reasonably speculated that most of the components are the same as the service FV214. According to the website of the Bovington Tank Museum, the FV214 Conqueror had a Rolls Royce Meteor M120 engine giving 860 bhp connected to a Merritt-Brown transmission with 5 forward and two reverse gears. Caution should be taken in translating these characteristics to the Caernarvon, as later events resulted in a re-work to the Conqueror’s engine, so some of these details may have been different for the FV221.

Crew member performing track maintenance on a Caernarvon of the British Middle East Land Forces (MELF). Photo: @KitsAndCoffee

The suspension on the FV221 Caernarvon was of the Horstmann type, coupled in pairs to the Horstmann suspension bogeys. The bogeys were not evenly spaced, with a larger gap being present between the middle two bogeys. The idler wheel was at the front, while the drive sprocket was at the back. The track return was supported by four return rollers hidden behind the upper part of the side skirts.

The Old Foe

The British Army has a long history of being defeated by the Treasury. The FV221 was to fall victim to this department.

Originally, about 160 Caernarvons were planned, but that meant producing 160 chassis that had no fighting potential if a war was to break out. These chassis would be awaiting turrets taken from the normal Conqueror production line, and such a process would take as long as three years. The other option was to purchase a special batch of Centurion turrets, only to throw them away after the troop trials. This was because the tanks used in the troop trials would be converted to Conquerors at a later date. All they needed was their roof plate changed and they could accept a FV214 turret. The purchase of a special batch of Centurion turrets was the preferred option.

Equally, in an effort to begin troop trials, there would be no pre-production version. The first two prototypes would be hand-built and used for component testing only.

Then the Treasury stepped in, aghast at the £70,000 projected unit cost. In comparison, a fully equipped Centurion would cost just £45,000 (£1,404,387.00 today). The Treasury was under pressure from other departments over the Army’s tank project and its costs. A wide-sweeping cull of Army tank development was carried out and numerous tanks, such as the FV4004 Conway and FV217 tank destroyer, were canceled. The reaper also struck at the FV221 project, claiming one of the prototypes and reducing the number of tanks built to about seventy. Even this was not enough and, later, the number was reduced even further to just ten vehicles.

The decision to skip both pre-production tanks did pay off, with the first troop trials starting in 1953. If the usual pre-production step had been carried out, the troop trials would not have started until 1955 at the earliest.

A Caernarvon and a Centurion are put through their paces at Bovington during a demonstration to the press, hence the nameplates on the side of the tank, helpfully identifying the vehicle to journalists. One can instantly see the similarities between the two tanks, with only the suspension and side skirts giving a clue to the casual observer. Source: Royal Armoured Corps Center

Service

Six FV221s were sent out for the troop trials. One went to British Army of the Rhine, one to Bovington and one to the 4/7th Dragoon Guards. A further two were sent to the Middle East Land Forces (MELF). The last, the prototype, was sent to Bovington. At least two of the tanks were fitted with a strange barrel extension on the end of the 20-pounder gun. It is possible that this was included to simulate the length of the L1 120 mm gun of the Conqueror during the trials process. The tanks, as issued, used FV201 top plates, which retained the hull machine gunner’s position, although no such weapon was fitted. This meant that there was an extra seat, although any crewman sited there would have no actual job to do.

A rather poor-quality image of one of the MELF FV221s with the barrel extension. Photo: @KitsAndCoffee on Twitter

The troop trials very quickly had an effect. It was found that the three episcope arrangement was extremely difficult for the driver to use while driving unbuttoned. This was later changed to a single unit. There was a workshop bulletin posted requiring that the two side episcopes be removed and the holes blocked off with wood. Other changes included work being done on the driver’s hatch locking system and the engine cooling system. The latter was a critical point, as just running the auxiliary generator on the tank could, under the worst-case scenario, cause the cooling system to boil in just 45 minutes.

By 1954, the FV221s owned by MELF had completed over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) running each. The only issues that had been discovered were the aforementioned problems relating to the cooling of the power plant. The troop trials did confirm one series of tests carried out at Bovington, namely that it was impossible to throw a track on this chassis.

One of the MELF FV221s on the move in the desert. Photo: @KitsAndCoffee on Twitter

In 1955, the Conqueror began to enter service, and the FV221’s were all converted to that type. The only Caernarvon left in existence was the prototype. It soon lost its turret and was used for testing a gas turbine for a period. Then it was used as a dynamo vehicle at Bovington for many years, before finally being converted into the commentary box for the Bovington museum arena. Its final fate in the late 1990s, was to be scrapped when Bovington redeveloped the arena, and this irreplaceable one of a kind tank was handed to the scrap merchants and disappeared from history.

Conclusion

It is estimated that the FV221 managed to cut a year or two off the Conqueror’s service time, and could then claim to have achieved its goal. However, in 1958, shortly after the Conquerors introduction, the entire fleet of the new tank had to be taken off-road due to dust build-up in the engine. This was down to the positioning of the air intake, and should have been caught by the FV221. It may be that this dust problem was exacerbated by a similar, but unrelated problem due to metal build-up caused by unclean standards at the factory, in which case, the carefully constructed FV221 would not have shown the problems up.



Illustration of the ‘Tank, Medium Gun, FV221 Caernarvon’ produced by Tank Enyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet with additions from Brian S. Gaydos.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W) 13 feet 1 inch* x 25 feet 4 inches* (3.99* x 7.72 meters*)
Step 3 ft (0.9144 m)*
Trench 11 ft (3.3528 m)
Total weight, battle ready 55 tons*
Crew 4 (Driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 810 hp (604 kW)
Suspension Hortsmann
Speed (road) 22 mph (35 kph)
Armament 20-pounder gun
.30 cal Browning.
Armor Up to 6in (152 mm)**
Total production 11

*Approximate, taken from A.45, which is almost identical.
**Taken from the Centurion Mk.III gun mantle, which is identical.

Sources

WO 185/292: Tanks: TV 200 Series: Policy and Design, 1946-1951, The National Archives, Kew
E2014.747 FV221, Bovington Tank Museum
E2014.627 FV221, Bovington Tank Museum
E2014.1372, Bovington Tank Museum
FV221 Caernarvon – Instructions for User Trials – REME aspect, September 1953, The Tank Museum, Bovington
Maj. Michael Norman, RTR, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, AFV/Weapons #38, Profile Publications Ltd.
Carl Schulze, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Britain’s Cold War Heavy Tank, Tankograd Publishing

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Categories
WW2 British Armored Cars

Guy Light Tank (Wheeled)

UK (1939)
Armored Car – 101 built

In 1937, the British Army had just completed re-equipping its reconnaissance formations with a new armored car, the Morris CS9. However, the CS9 had one critical flaw: it only had two-wheel drive. The War Office was well aware of the superiority of a four-wheel drive armored car, however, time pressure had meant that they had selected the CS9, which was based off a commercial truck chassis, for service. With the CS9 in service, this gave breathing space to develop a four-wheel drive armored car. The first port of call was again Morris Ltd, with a joint venture with Steyr of Austria. They produced a large 4×4 vehicle that was delivered for tests. The trials went badly, with the report citing terrible mechanical performance. The final nail in the coffin for this vehicle was the Anchluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, which meant that Steyr now belonged to a hostile foreign power.

The failed Morris-Steyr armored car. Source: WO 194/44

The Morris company then adapted the technology obtained from Steyr for a new design, which also performed poorly in trials. A new contender was sought, and found, in the form of Guy Motors. The starting point for the Guy armored car, was their Quad-Ant field artillery tractor that was being trialed for use by the Army. The tractor had an armored body fixed over the chassis. The exact source of the body design is unknown, but the Guy armored car does have more than a passing resemblance to the Morris armored car, which had its body designed by the Woolwich Arsenal.

A Guy Quad-Ant FAT towing a 18-pounder Mk.IV gun on exercise somewhere in Britain. Some secondary sources state it too was equipped with a 4 cylinder Meadows engine, which produced some 58 hp. Source: www.oldcmp.net

Originally, the Guy armored car was meant to mount a turret very similar to that of the CS9, which was an open-topped cylinder armed with a Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren light machine gun. However, before production began, the War Office changed the specifications and requested a fully enclosed turret with armament standardised to that of the Vickers Light Tank Mk.VI. This mounted both a .50 and a .303 Vickers heavy machine gun in a square fully enclosed turret. With this weapon change, the vehicle was reclassified as a ‘Light Tank (Wheeled)’. The suspected reasoning behind this change is that a 4×4 armored car could come close to the performance of a light tank, but at a much-reduced cost. At least one of the five Guy prototypes was placed in comparative trials against the Morris four-wheel drive armored car and an Alvis-Straussler built design. The Guy entry comprehensively beat its competitors in every field.

Following this, two prototypes were placed under troop trials with the 2nd Dragoon Guards. One was sent to Egypt where it suffered from severe cooling problems. The troop trials caused some minor modifications to be implemented, with the size of both the tyres and the gap between the wheels and the mudguards being increased.

The Guy Light Tank would begin to enter service in 1939, and would have a very short but interesting career.

Three views showing the prototype Guy Light Tank (Wheeled). The opening in the turret where the weapon mount would go is plated up for the trials. Ssource: WO 194/44

Design

The Guy Light Tank had a body made of 14 mm of armor, with a centralised driving compartment and a box-like structure around the driver’s head. Behind this, the main superstructure mounts a square turret. The sides of the body sloped slightly outwards from the chassis to the widest point, giving an appearance similar to modern Mine Resistant Vehicles, although there is no suggestion that this was done for protection from mines. From the superstructure roof, the rear engine deck sloped backwards to the rear plate.

The first prototype Guy Light Tank had riveted construction, along with all the usual weaknesses this entailed. At the time, the idea of welding the armor plate was considered impossible. Guy Motors, however, offered the War Office a deal. They thought they had cracked the problems with welding, and they wanted to try it on the new light tank. Guy Motors signed a contract that allowed them to experiment with welding, but should it fail, then the company would absorb the cost. The welding was a total success. It made the Guy better protected against small arms and more waterproof, thus being able to ford water bodies easier. Welding even made the vehicle slightly lighter. In addition, it made the vehicle a lot cheaper and quicker to build. The Guy Light Tank became the first vehicle in British service to be of entirely welded construction. The welding technique was then given to the War Office, for free, for use during the Second World War. After the war, the invention attracted an award from the Royal Commission for inventions.

The Guy Mk.I. This view is useful as it is nearly the same as the prototype pictured above, and allows the spotting of the differences. Note how the mudguards now run along the crease in the sides of the front hull instead of below them as on the prototype. (source Wikipedia)

The Guy was a rear-engine vehicle, with a petrol 4-cylinder Meadows 4.E.L, with a 95 mm bore and 130 mm stroke. The horsepower produced by this unit is up to some debate, as one primary source, albeit for the prototype, states the output as 22.38 hp. In contrast, most of the modern secondary sources state the output is 55 hp. The answer could be differing RPM’s when the measurement was taken, or the jump from prototype to production may have included a change in gearing.

The engine on the prototype was cooled by a gallay type radial-pump, linked to a four-bladed fan with 3.75 gallons of water. Ignition was of the coil type. The engine also had a Solex 25 RFGVL carburetor. The engine output fed through a four-speed gearbox, with one reverse gear. The forward gear ratios ranged from 7.33 to 1.1, the Reverse gear had a ratio of 10.41. The clutch was a Borg & Beck Dry plate. The wheels fitted to the prototype were Dunlop TG 10.50-16, but these would be increased in size on the production model. Breaking ot the wheels was both foot and hand, linked to Bendix 14in Ferodo systems on each of the wheels. Fuel capacity was 20 gallons, with a 9.5 mpg. Lubrication was provided by 1.5 gallons of oil.

In 1939, the War Office changed the standardised armament for light tanks, switching away from the .50 and .303 Vickers guns. Instead, the new weapons were to be 15 mm and 7.92 mm BESA machine guns. Thus, the design of the Guy Light Tank was updated as well. To differentiate between the two vehicles, those armed with Vickers Guns became the Mk.I, and those armed with BESA’s became Mk.IA. The changeover happened exactly halfway through production, with fifty Mk.I’s produced, and fifty-one Mk.IA’s.

Action Guy

In 1940, the War Office was requesting much-increased production from Guy Motors. However, even with the savings in man-hours that welding provided, the company was just unable to cope with the increased workload without prejudicing its other commitments such as building trucks. Thus, the design was handed to the Rootes group, which produced an almost identical vehicle which became known as the Humber Armoured Car. This was a Guy Light Tank body placed on a Karrier KT 4 artillery tractor chassis. In this guise, it became one of the outstanding success stories of British armored cars from the Second World War.

A column of Guy Mk.IA’s somewhere in the UK. Source: www.warwheels.net

The switching of production to Rootes Group left 101 Guy Light Tanks in service with the Army. The Guy had one unique property, it had enough space to carry around 10cwt (0.56 tons) of stores. This is a remarkably large volume of space, especially considering that the standard truck of the British Army was only rated to carry 15cwt (0.84 ton). This large capacity and roomy interior meant that the Guy Light Tank would be used for two very special roles.

Six Guy Light Tanks were formed into two troops, and joined by a platoon of motorcyclists. The formation carried many names. Officially, they were called either Mission No.11 or the GHQ Liaison Regiment. They also had the code name Phantom. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Frederick Hopkinson, the force consisted of about 120 personnel, a large portion of which were trained signallers. The role of Phantom was to provide liaison between foreign armies and perform intelligence gathering duties. This information was then passed to No.3 Air Mission in order to allow the RAF to perform accurate close air support, with relatively up to date information on the ground situation. The reconnaissance was also passed directly to the British Expeditionary Force HQ without having to go through the usual chain of command, thus the data could be acted on in a much more timely manner. Phantom also utilized signal intercepts to obtain information on German movements. Although the intercepts would be encoded, the originating type of unit could be determined, which helped place German formations.

One of Phantom’s Guy Light Tanks captured in France. This vehicle collection point is stated to be at Dunkirk. Source: ww2talk.com

During the battle for France, all the Guy Light Tanks sent to France were knocked out or captured. As the formation was atypical, it lacked the War Diaries that would normally be associated with combat and so we lack any detailed reports on how the Guy’s performed. One action involving a Guy can be pieced together from subsequent accounts and photographs.

On 27th May, Phantom was requested to support the 144th Brigade west of Wormhoudt. The area to their front was contested and the situation very confused. A Guy Light Tank, possibly commanded by Second-Lieutenant Piers Richard Edgcumbe, with Lance-Corporal Leonard Frank Webber as one of his crew, was approaching a café on the Esquelbecq to Zegers-Chappel road, named Hunter’s Rest. It appears from photographs that the Guy pulled out of a T-junction, and was immediately hit by a German anti-tank gun. The car rolled forwards off the road, and stopped partially in a shallow ditch. It was hit a second time, and started to burn. One of the crew was killed outright, the other two managing to get inside the Hunter’s Rest. It then appears SS personnel attempted to close with the two unarmed British soldiers and a bitter round of hand to hand fighting ensued. The British were using what items they could lay their hands on to defend themselves, even resorting to using the cast iron stove lids as weapons. Both British crew were killed.

Two shots of the Guy knocked out at the Hunter’s Rest, which can be seen in the background on the second shot. The two penetrating hits can be seen on the left hand side in the first photograph. One is just in the door, the other in line with the top of the mudguards. Source: ww2talk.com

After the six Guy’s were lost in France, the next role was as part of the Coats Mission. This was a close protection detail formed from the Grenadier Guards to protect the Royal Family. The guns and ammunition on the Guy Light Tanks were removed, and an extra seat fitted in the roomy hull. This, in effect, gave the vehicle the ability to function as an APC carrying three soldiers, or as a VIP transport able to seat one of the royal family, plus two bodyguards. The driver in both cases could double as a fighting-man or stay with the vehicle. Around eight of the Guy Light Tanks were so converted.

A column of four Guy Mk.IA Light Tanks, oddly they are all lacking guns and even smoke dischargers. Could they be from the Coats mission? Or are they simply training machines on exercise? There is unfortunately no way to tell from this photograph alone. Source: wardrawings.be

The remaining Guy’s were handed out to various regiments, most notably Belgium, Danish and Dutch units being formed in the UK. The Belgium forces received fourteen Mk.IA Guy’s on 2nd October 1941. That winter during an exercise, a local Home Guard platoon blocked a road with a hay cart to spring an ambush on a column being led by a Belgium Guy Light Tank, named Calamité. The Belgium driver reacted exactly as one should when in an ambush; get out of the killing zone. Thus he rammed into the hay cart at full speed. Needless to say, this gave rise to an inquiry, as the Home Guard had to explain to the local farmer why he would not be getting his cart (and hay) back, and the Belgium forces were billed for the damages caused.

The Guy’s remained in their role of training vehicles until they could be replaced with more standardised equipment, and were phased out of service in February 1943.

Dutch Guy Mk.I’s during the Week of Victory parade, held in Birmingham. The Dutch markings can be seen on the front right hull. On Belgium Guy’s they carried a roundel on the mudguards. Also of interest is the large lightly colored square under the gunners view port on the turret front. This may be a patch of gas warning paint, which would change color when it encountered contaminants. Such paint was often placed on tanks in France in 1940, although it disappeared after that campaign. Source: Nationaal Archief

In Dutch use, around four to five Mk.I Guy Light tanks were issued to reinforce the Humber Light Recognizance Cars the Armoured Car Squadron was then equipped with. After brief service as training vehicles, the Guy’s were withdrawn in January 1943. The Dutch soldiers took great pains to refurbish the Guy’s back up to the best standard they could, working hard to replace worn parts and get them in to the best condition possible. They were rather annoyed when the cars were simply sent for scrapping when they handed them over.

A Dutch Guy Mk.I arriving, with the Dutch Father Christmas, Sinterklaas (Sint Nicolaas) and two Zwarte Pieten (one is mounted in the Humber LRC behind) on board to give out presents to all the well behaved soldiers, such as the officer climbing on the side. The Germans did not get presents, only .50 Vickers Machine gun fire! (source: Nationaal Archief)

Conclusion

Although short lived and of a small production run, the Guy’s were Britain’s first truly modern armored car, with four-wheel drive and a welded hull. Up until this point, the armored cars had all been two-wheel drive, with a bolted armored body dropped onto a commercial car or truck chassis. The Guy would show that Britain was on the right course, as the Guy quickly morphed into the excellent Humber, which could keep pace with the other outstanding success story of British armored cars, The Daimler Dingo, which appeared the following year to the Guy.



Guy Mk.1 Armoured Car, standard livery, 1940.


Guy Mk.1a Armoured Car, armed with a Besa 15 mm heavy machine gun. Anti-invasion exercises with the Southern Command, 7 May 1941

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Prototype Mk.I Mk.IA
Height (turret roof) 7ft 6in 7ft 6in 7ft 6in
Width 13ft 9in 13ft 6in 13ft 6in
Width 13ft 9in 13ft 6in 13ft 6in
Length 7ft 1.5in 6ft 9in 6ft 9in
Crew Commander, gunner, driver
Armor 14mm max, rivetted 14mm max, welded 14mm max, welded
Firepower None fitted 1x .50 & 1x .303 Vickers machine guns 1x 15mm & 1x 7.92mm BESA machine guns
Engine Meadows 4.E.L
Horsepower 22.38 hp 53 hp 53 hp
Weight 4.5 tons 5.28 tons 5.28 tons
Speed Requirement asked for 40mph 53 mph 53 mph
Range 190 miles 210 miles 210 miles
Turning circle, Left 57ft
Turning circle, Right 47ft 6in

Sources

WO 194/44 Medium tanks and armoured cars, National Archives, Kew.
Mechanised Force, David Fletcher, ISBN-10: 0112904874
Armoured Car, Issue 16, March 1993
Tussen paard en pantser [Between Horse and Armour] written by Jan Hof, published by ‘La Riviere & Voorhoeve’ in 1990.
www.royalsignalsmuseum.co.uk
sussexhistoryforum.co.uk
ww2talk.com (1)
ww2talk.com (2)
ww2talk.com (3)
www.historywebsite.co.uk
www.warwheels.net

Sponsor

This article has been sponsored by mSpy, a phone tracker app that aims to help parents keep their kids safe. Visit their website by clicking the image below.


Categories
WW2 British Prototypes

Johnsons Light Tropical Tank

United Kingdom (1922)
Light Tank Prototype- 1½ built

In 1919, an English man stepped off of a boat onto the soil of India. This was Colonel Philip Johnson, one of Britain’s few tank designers. Although Johnson would never design a tank that was accepted into service and had a habit of designing what he wanted, not what was required, at the time he was the Government’s only tank designer. He was in charge of the Department for Tank Design, and had been tasked with undertaking a study into the use of Tanks in the heat and rugged terrain of India, and the north-west frontier.
Johnson’s report filed in 1920 suggested that the use of tanks in those conditions was entirely possible. He went even further to suggest a family of vehicles all based upon a common chassis would be needed. The family was to consist of a tank, an amphibious vehicle, a supply carrier and gun carrier variants. As far as it is known, only the tank version, known as the Light Tropical Tank, and the Supply Carrier were built.

Design

A single photo of the Light Tropical Tank has survived. However, a good deal of information can be extracted about the design of this little-known vehicle.
The engine of the vehicle is placed at the front of the vehicle, on the left side. It was a 45hp Taylor engine. Interestingly, the vehicle has a rear transmission. This front-mounted engine rear-mounted transmission combination is quite peculiar in tank design history, although it is shared with the famous Medium Mark A Whippet and the following Medium Mark I and II. The gearbox was of the sliding bevel type, with four forward and one reverse gear. Another interesting feature, reminiscent of WWI-era armored cars, is the placement of the radiator intakes, which are situated at the front of the vehicle.

The rear of the Supply Carrier, which was based on the same chassis as the Light Tropical tank. The rear transmission is visible. Source: https://topwar.ru/121848-bronemashiny-light-infantry-tank-i-light-supply-tank-velikobritaniya.html
The suspension is almost impossible to observe due to the poor contrast of the photo and the large mud chutes which cover the outer part of the sides of the tank. It consisted of coil springs attached to small roadwheels. The vehicle has a solid front idler (although the supply carrier has a different, pressed type of idler) which can be adjusted to change the track tension. The drive sprocket is at the rear. Based on the pictures of the Supply Carrier, which is quite similar in design, five return rollers are also present. It could reach 15 mph (24 km/h) on road, with half that off road (7 mph or 11 km/h).
The superstructure of the vehicle was composed of two parts. The front part, containing the engine and the driver’s location, was quite boxy. However, its rear part was irregular in order to make room for the offset turrets. The front seems to have been slightly angled, but the rest was vertical. The rear part of the superstructure comprised the fighting compartment, being taller and irregular in shape. The right-hand side extended more to the front than the left side. Again, it comprised vertical armor plates with almost no angling. While it is hard to observe from the single available picture, it seems as though the fighting compartment also extended over the tracks, thus giving more internal space. Behind the fighting compartment was an armored cover for the transmission.
The Light Tropical tank had two turrets mounted to the rear, on top of the fighting compartment. The two turrets were offset due to the placement of the engine, and resembled those on an Austin Armoured Car, although no direct link between the two vehicles is known. No weapons were fitted but it is highly likely they would have been a pair of machine guns.
The driver was placed on the front right, having a raised compartment just in front of the right-hand side turret. This was low enough so that the weapon could traverse over it. It is unclear how the crew accessed the vehicle. The armor was flat and vertical, consisting of riveted rolled armor plates.

Johnson’s Light Tropical Tank. Photo: SOURCE


Illustration of ‘Johnson’s Light Tropical Tank’ produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign

Construction and Testing

After the design work was done, the plans were turned over to Vickers who started construction at their Erith plant. On the 7th of October, the right hand track was connected to the machinery of the tank and run for an extended period while the tank was lifted off the floor. At the time, the left hand track was still awaiting connection. Five days later, the tank was completed and run for a very short distance. Even this short run showed a number of defects which needed work. By the end of the month, more involved trials were carried out and showed some problems with the tracks, which were deemed noisy and unreliable.
Throughout November, further mechanical problems arose, including within the gearbox which had to be sent back to its makers for fixing. These mechanical problems were still plaguing the tank in June 1922, when a hopeful internal report at Vickers suggested the tank would be complete in about two months. In July, a notification was sent that a second tank had started construction. By the 10th of November 1922, the tank had been turned over to the British army and was undergoing testing at Farnborough.
During these tests, the tank had several persistent problems, such as the cables that formed the suspension stretching and fraying. The bogies were considered very weak and kept on moving out of position, causing damage to the tracks. The tracks themselves had almost constant problems with the rivets in them shearing off. Despite all this, the British army did convert the tank to use a steering wheel instead of its original levers. After 238 miles (380 km) of testing, the tank was abandoned.

The Light Supply Carrier – Source: Bovington Tank Museum on Twitter

Conclusion

In 1923, after the series of failures, Philip Johnson’s tank design department was closed down, and Johnson disappears from the records. Of the Tropical Light Tank, no further record can be found. It was likely scrapped, or used as a range target.

A Note on Dates:

There are two documents involved in creating this article. However, they contradict each other when it comes to dates. The dates used above came from “E.2011.1667 Vickers tanks notes” held at the Bovington Tank Museum. However, a second document held at Bovington, and quoted by David Fletcher in Mechanised Force, states that the Light Tropical Tank had been delivered for testing by the army in June/July 1922, a time when the previous document still had the tank at the Vickers works at Erith.

Specifications

Total weight 5 tons, 3Cwt (5.15 metric tons)
Propulsion 45hp Taylor engine
Suspension Spring cable, and Rackham steering clutches.
Transmission Sliding Bevel Gear box ( Speeds: 4 forward, 1 reverse)
Speed (road) 15 mph (24 km/h) road, 7 mph (11 km/h) Cross country
Armament Likely two machine guns in two separate turrets.
Total production 1 Completed, 1 Half-built
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Mechanised Force (ISBN: 0112904874), Page 5, David Fletcher, HM Stationery Office Books, 1991.
Unknown document, Bovington tank museum.
E2011.1667, ‘Vickers, post war’, Bovington tank museum