WW2 British Armored Cars

Bison Mobile Pillbox

United Kingdom (1940)
Mobile Pillbox – ~200 Built

In the years since the Second World War, the Bison has been roundly mocked for being a terrible AFV and a bad idea. This is often held up as part of the ‘Declinist’ view of Britain’s war effort, an attempt to ridicule the entirety of the British armor design process or just as a meme on the internet. However, with an understanding of the context and the intended use of these vehicles, their merits and worth are apparent.

On the 18th of June 1940, Winston Churchill stood up in the House of Commons and gave the first of three speeches which would become some of his most famous works. One passage was:

‘Our Army and 120,000 French troops were indeed rescued by the British Navy from Dunkirk but only with the loss of their cannon, vehicles and modern equipment. This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks, the battle in France has been lost.‘

He was, of course, talking about the evacuation from Dunkirk. The second sentence, where Churchill talks about the losses in equipment being made good, might seem quite peculiar, especially given the extent of the losses incurred in France. However, this was quite accurate, as the British war machine was rapidly churning out weapons to fill the ranks. However, the problem was the massive increase in the size of the armed forces. For example, the Home Guard was a quarter of a million men strong by the end of May. Three months later, it was a million men strong. Equally, the regular armed forces were undergoing massive expansion, and all of these new troops required weapons and equipment far in excess of what had been available even before the debacle in France.

On top of this situation, there was the threatened invasion by the Germans. While a daunting prospect for many in the English public and administration, the realistic chances of success of such an operation were non-existent at best. This was not common knowledge in the UK at the time, and the country lept to face the threat. This common drive was a useful tool for the British Government, as the emergency reinforced in people’s minds the need to come together, and that they were in a very real war. This enabled the complete conversion of the British economy to a wartime footing.

Mr J. G. Ambrose and Mr C. B. Mathews, founders of Concrete Ltd. Source:

Like most inhabitants of the UK, John Goldwell Ambrose and Charles Bernard Mathews turned their minds to the apparently impending German invasion after Dunkirk, and asked themselves: ‘what can we do?’ As they were the owners of Concrete Ltd, a company based at the Stourton Works near Leeds, they could do quite a bit more than most. Both Ambrose and Mathews were ex-Royal Engineers, and had served in the First World War. They had met each other when both began working on the problem of bunkers for the front lines and the time it took to erect them. Together, they had created pre-cast concrete bunkers which could be installed relatively quickly. After the First World War, they had formed Concrete Ltd, which specialized in the construction of precast structures. During the Invasion Scare, they hit upon the idea of using reinforced concrete pillboxes on the back of trucks. Mathews set the company to work and soon, a prototype was ready. This was demonstrated as a proof of concept vehicle to the military authorities, who gave some helpful criticism. The feedback was incorporated into the designs and production was begun. The vehicles were named after the logo of Concrete Ltd, a blue bison.

An unusual Bison. There are secondary sources stating there are more pictures to this sequence, and you can see it under construction. It is possible that this is the prototype Bison. Some modern historians suggest it is a third type of Bison, but it is the only time this style has been photographed, which raises questions about that suggestion.


No two Bison’s were alike, although they can be pigeonholed into two distinct types. It should be stressed that it appears the two types do not appear to be official designations, and are nomenclature added after the event by historians.

The first and more common design featured a separate octagonal bunker, which was elongated along its length, on the bed of a heavy truck, which could be either four- or six-wheeled. The driver’s cab and engine were protected by a thick square concrete body.

The partial reconstruction of a Bison. The bunker is original, however, the cab is made from fiberglass. The chassis also seems to be a bit too modern to have been used for a Bison, dating from just 1931. Source:

The other type of vehicle was a lengthened bunker that incorporated the flatbed and the cab into one structure, again on a heavy goods vehicle chassis. In both cases, the concrete was around six inches thick, which would have rendered the Bison immune to any contemporary infantry anti-tank or tank based gun the Germans had access to, apart from rare and extreme cases, like the 15 cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B, or other large caliber artillery pieces.

The second, rarer type of Bison, with the bunker assembled as a complete unit with the cab. Source:

These bunkers all had loopholes for armed men to fire from with their personal weapons, and had a coverage of 360 degrees, apart from the areas where the cab’s superstructure blocked them. Of course, the vision slits in the cab could cover this blind spot.

Total crew numbers, their dispositions during combat, and even what they were armed with was entirely down to the unit operating them, and what they saw as beneficial to their local conditions, although the weapons had to be of a personal nature, as the loopholes would not accept any mounted or crew-served weapons. The crew accessed the bunker through an opening cut in the base of the flatbed and reportedly climbed into the cab through the roof.

Due to the nature of the Bison, it could be adapted to any number of truck chassis, with a variety of engines, drive systems, and wheels. However, they all shared common features. They were of civilian stock, and all not useful to the current war effort. This would mean most of the trucks were of older designs, often dating back to the First World War, or earlier. There is even an example of a steam engine-powered truck being converted to a Bison, although, in this case, the steam engine and associated equipment were removed from the outset, and the chassis was designed to be a trailer.

It is unknown if the chassis were requisitioned, bought, or donated. While the Home Guard modified a great number of vehicles and operated even more, these were all arrangements between a local vehicle owner and the Home Guard unit in question. In the case of the Bison, it was an official program run by the government for use by the armed forces. This meant that a more permanent and official status would be required. Certainly, for the one vehicle for which there is something approaching a detailed history, the original owners never seem to have made any move to reclaim it, even when abandoned. This again suggests that ownership was obtained, and some form of reimbursement given by the Government by some means.


Although each Bison was a different shape, usually around the cab and bonnet, the means of construction were the same. When the donor vehicle arrived at the Concrete Ltd works, it was first stripped of all the bodywork and spare weight. Then, wooden shuttering was built up around the cab and bonnet. Into this, several layers of expanded metal were placed, then concrete poured in. On the flatbed of the truck, the precast bunker was installed. This was constructed in the same manner as the cab protection. Finally, a precast roof was attached.

The exact numbers of how many Bisons were produced are unknown. Several secondary sources suggest that the number was around 200 vehicles converted.

Bison Pillbox at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. You can clearly see the expanded metal that was used to add strength to the preformed body. Source: Gary Binden, via Pillbox Study Group


The only hostile gunfire a Bison would ever encounter was in the imaginations of children playing over the discarded wreckage of Bisons. Even so, the Bison served an important role in both the RAF and the Army.

Army Service was very very limited. For example, there is one entry in the war diary of the 40th Royal Tank Regiment, where seven Bisons were collected from Leeds. This is dated to the 5th of October 1940. At the time, the 40th RTR only had two tanks on its strength, one light, and one cruiser. Thus, the Bisons seem to have been a useful addition, giving them some vehicles to train on, and the manpower of the regiment received a bit more muscle in case of an invasion. The Bisons are never mentioned again and it is likely they were discarded by the following year, when the regiment was shipped to North Africa. Except for this example, very little is known of their use by the British Army, which seems to have been meant as a jury-rigged expedient.

A veritable herd of Bison. These are all of the separated body versions, which was likely cheaper to make than the single unit type. Of note is the different arrangements of the bonnets, showing how each forward part of the donor chassis needed the concrete covering modified. Also, ‘Bison’ is written on the front of each vehicle. Source:

In regards to RAF service, even less is known, as just about the only sources we have are photographs of Bisons at assorted airfields. As with most ill-documented vehicles that served but never saw combat, it is quite difficult to give a clear idea of what they did. However, in the case of the Bison, there are reasonable details on one such vehicle, which will hopefully give an idea of their service and eventual fate.

This specific vehicle was based on a 1915 Leyland box van as a donor chassis, with solid rubber tires, and a chain drive. It was owned by a company called Cammocks, in Lincolnshire, and used as a removal van. In 1940, it was sent to be turned into a Bison. After being fitted with its concrete overcoat, it was sent to active duty at RAF Digby station, also in Lincolnshire. It remained at RAF Digby until the later part of 1944 when the station was downgraded to non-combat duties. At that point, the Army Transport Corps was tasked with its collection and removal to storage at Ferrybridge in Yorkshire. It is quite possible that a large number of Bisons ended up here.

As was the case with many Bisons, the weight of the modifications caused severe strain on the chassis. The Bison from RAF Digby was no exception, and the condition of the chassis was found to be extremely poor. Thus, the Bison was donated to the Home Guard, where it was moved about nine miles from RAF Digby to Quarrington near Sleaford. There, it was placed in a copse of trees and served as a bunker in support of a Home Guard checkpoint on the A15. On the 3rd of December 1944, the Home Guard was stood down, and the Bison was abandoned in the copse. At some point, a local farmer decided to salvage the chassis. The concrete parts were pulled off the chassis, with the bunker laying upside down on its roof. The chassis was converted to a farm trailer. The abandoned bunker in the copse of trees was well known locally and often played over by local children. In 1988, a local heritage society was tipped off about the strange bunker, and in 1991, the remains were recovered and placed on display at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre.

Pictures taken of the Sleaford Bison just before recovery. There is an oddity in these remains, as the Bison at first glance seems to have two left panels for the cab. It is likely that one of the panels is actually from somewhere else on the cab, however, without a photograph of the original vehicle, it would be difficult to work out where. Source: Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (, colourized by Jaycee “Amazing Ace” Davis

Most other Bisons were likely scrapped or met similar fates. Today, only the remains in Lincolnshire and a half-authentic mock-up at Bovington Tank museum survive.

The Combat Role

The Bison should not be seen as a conventional AFV. The fact that some Bisons were reportedly constructed without a power plant, and even that the massive weight of the concrete modifications caused Bison engines to fail did not stop them from remaining in service. The Bison was a mobile pillbox.

Such a device was very practical for the defenders of the airfields where they were stationed. Any attack on the airfields would quickly run afoul of a Bison for several reasons. Firstly, the German Fallschirmjager would have an anti-tank rifle at their disposal at best, which would lack the ability to harm the bunkers, even assuming the Germans could get to their weapon containers. Secondly, the ability to move strongpoints about at random on the airfield grounds meant that planning any assault would be extremely difficult, as the attacker did not know in advance where the bunkers would be.

Other things could be done with a mobile pillbox. Flying from some airfields was a day time only event. Overnight, a Bison could be placed in the middle of the airfield, blocking the airstrip, and left there until flying needed to resume again. This could be done in order to prevent enemy airplanes from disembarking troops on the airfield in case of invasion.

A single unit Bison at RAF Speke, which is now John Lennon international airport in Liverpool. There may be another Bison on the far side of the De Havilland aircraft. It would be impossible to construct a permanent bunker in this location on the taxiway, but as the Bison can move, strongpoints could be placed covering the hangars. Source:


The Bison was not a typical AFV, but a mobile pillbox. In that role, Bisons provided a flexible defensive tool for the Local Defence teams of each airfield they were stationed at, and they provided it cheaply without drawing on any scarce resources, such as armor plate. They could also be used for training, when nothing better was available. Unfortunately, their use has been ill-documented and even the vehicles themselves have disappeared, with partial remains of just two vehicles surviving.

While the Bisons were a vehicle born out of a feeling of urgency and desperation, they made sense in the context in which they were built, and they provided supplemental defensive tools without drawing on important materials which were in high demand elsewhere.

Bison, Type 2. This type featured a separate fighting compartment.
Bison, Type 2. This type featured a separate fighting compartment.

Bison, Type 3, late model. As seen in a government photo from 1940/1.
Bison, Type 3, late model. As seen in a government photo from 1940/1.


Mace, Martin (July 2001). Vehicles of the Home Guard. Historic Military Press. ISBN 1-901313-08-5.
Wheels and tracks, Issue 41 (1992).
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (

Has Own Video WW2 Japanese AT Weapons


Empire of Japan (1939)
Anti-tank Weapon – ~1,200 Made

There is a saying, Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (also known as the 7 P’s). In 1939, the Imperial Japanese Army proved this to be true by winning a battle against an overwhelming enemy armored force, without a single tank of their own. At the heart of this preparation was a small bottle of soft drink.

Japanese soldiers posing with captured Soviet armor at Nomonhan.

The story starts along the China/Mongolia border, near the town of Nomonhan. In the first part of the 20th century, this wilderness was inaccurately mapped. There was a small patch of land that both the Japanese client of Manchuria and the Soviet client of Mongolia claimed. The competing claims would lead to five months of fighting between the Russians and the Japanese. The Japanese named this war after the town closest to the border, Nomonhan, while the Soviets named it after the river in the area, Khalkhin Gol (the Japanese called the river the Halha).

To recount the entire story of the battle would be a major undertaking, and there are many such works already in existence. However, suffice to say that, from the initial skirmishes starting on the 11th of May 1939, both sides began to escalate, drawing in more men, tanks, guns and aircraft as time wore on.


One of the units swept up in this escalation of forces was the veteran and fully motorized Japanese 26th Regiment, commanded by the competent Colonel Shinichiro Sumi. When his regiment arrived at the logistics base at Hailar on the 22nd of June, Col Sumi dispatched officers to visit the various units that had already been in combat, and find out more details about what facing the Russians would be like. It is almost certain that these officers would have encountered stories of the Soviet’s tanks, the BT-5 and BT-7. At the time, the Japanese infantry would have had what they termed ‘rapid-fire infantry guns’, but today we would recognise them as 37 mm anti-tank guns. These would, of course, wreck the lightly armored BT tanks. However, the 26th Regiment had none of these weapons. Indeed, it was extremely short of heavy weapons, having just six machine guns and an equal number of battalion guns. The other anti-tank weapon the Japanese infantry had was the Type 93 mine, dismissively nicknamed Anpan by the troops, as it resembled the small sweet bread rolls of the same name. This small round mine was fixed to bamboo poles and shoved under the tracks of any attacking tank. The problem was that, on the sandy soil of the area, a tank would push the mine into the ground and not trigger the fuse.

Japanese soldiers of the 72nd Regiment loading into trucks for movement to the front. Type 93 mines can be seen attached to the poles used to shove them under attacking tank’s tracks.
(Source: Unknown Japanese publication, quoted in Coox, 1985)

It is quite possible that, during these investigations, the officers would have interviewed Private, First Class Okano Katsuma from the 23rd Division. During the skirmishes in May he, along with two other men, were assigned as truck drivers to help bring supplies forward. During one such trip, they were chased by a Russian tank. In desperation, PFC Katsuma started to throw cans of petrol off the back of the truck in an attempt to impede the pursuing Soviet tank. Much to the soldier’s surprise, when the tank hit one of these cans, it burst into flame, allowing them to escape.

The idea of petrol as a weapon against tanks and AFVs was not entirely new to the Japanese. Major Nishiura Susumu had been an observer during the Spanish Civil War and had seen the combatants use wine bottles filled with petrol to attack armored vehicles. In July 1937, he had sent a report back to Japan. This was seen with incredulity by the Ordnance Bureau. However, Major Susumu’s insistence convinced them to conduct trials. These failed utterly. In the cold Japanese weather, the stationary tank stubbornly failed to burst into flame. Thus, the Ordnance Bureau concluded there was nothing to this idea.

Back at the supply base supporting the Japanese efforts, Colonel Sumi had no other ideas to help defend his soldiers from tanks, and he had been ordered to move forward to the front. When the Regiment marched out, he left behind 26-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Negami Hiroshi from the regiment’s Quartermaster detachment. He had orders to secure as many bottles as he could from the army supply chain and ship them to the regiment via truck. Lieutenant Hiroshi found the supply dump stocked with thousands of bottles of soft-drink, and he immediately attempted to requisition these. Like in nearly every army ever, the Quartermaster did not want to issue the bottles. ‘Stores are for storing, not for issuing’. Lieutenant Hiroshi’s task was made all the harder, as he could not divulge what he wanted such a large number of drinks bottles for, due to security concerns. It seems odd to consider security in this situation, however, a large portion of the logistics effort was entirely civilian. Indeed, the trucks that the 26th Regiment were mounted in were commandeered from civilian service, and many still were driven by their original owners in their civilian clothes.

Eventually, Lt Hiroshi managed to obtain crates of the soft-drink by being persistent and striking some form of deal with the Quartermasters. He obtained around 1,200 bottles and shipped them to the regiment. The supplies caught up with the soldiers at Chaingchunmiao. There, they were distributed and the men warned not to throw the bottles after they had emptied the contents. Trials were held to determine the best way of creating the weapon. It was determined the best design was to fill the bottle about ⅓ with sand to give it ballast and the ability to be accurately thrown, and the rest topped off with petrol. To complete the weapon, a small wad of cotton, taken from the soldier’s rifle cleaning kit, acted as a bottle stopper and fuse when lit. This weapon was named Kaenbin. There was still one unsolved flaw. The flat open countryside often had a strong wind blowing, which made lighting even something like a cigarette difficult, if not impossible, let alone having to light the wick in battle. With this problem unsolved, each man temporarily filled his bottle with water and tied it to his waist with a string. Lieutenant Hiroshi had acquired enough drink to provide one bottle to every man in the regiment, including Colonel Sumi. There were a few other bottles leftover and these were shared with neighbouring infantry units.

Illustrative picture only: These Japanese bottles were prepared for use as Molotov cocktails during the Sanrizuka Struggle (1966-present) against the Narita International Airport.

To Battle

Starting on the 1st of July, the Japanese launched their counter offensive. They were to cross the river at its narrowest point, forces would hold the bridgehead, and the 26th regiment in its trucks would push round behind the Soviet forces and encircle them, at the same time overrunning the large Russian artillery reserves that had caused so many casualties in the previous two months.

Like so many plans from the Japanese command structure, this plan was powered by no small amount of delusion, passing over some very critical problems that the command structure simply ignored or talked themselves into not believing the issues were important.

The foremost of these was the pontoon bridge to be used to cross the river. It was the only pontoon bridge that the Japanese had in all of China, and it dated from 1900. What is more, there was insufficient construction material. Thus, the bridge was only 2.5 m wide and the pontoons had to be spaced out further than was desirable. The infantry crossing the bridge had to take off their packs. Only one truck was allowed on the bridge at a time, and that had to be unloaded first. Even with these precautions, the bridge still took damage, and so crossing had to be halted every 30 minutes to repair the structure. To make matters worse, the current at the narrowest point of the river was also the strongest, which made the bridge curve.

Japanese soldiers marching across the inadequate bridge over the Halha.

It is no surprise that, by the morning of the 3rd of July, only one of the 26th Regiment’s three battalions was across the river, along with the 71st and 72nd Regiments to hold the bridgehead. The choice was simple, attack with one battalion, or wait for all three to cross. It will come as no surprise that the Japanese chose to attack. Colonel Sumi ordered his men to cross in boats as fast as possible to join the defence, as the lead battalion began its attack.

Faced with a Japanese bridgehead, the Russians reacted immediately. Elements of the 36th Motorized Rifle Division were based at Tamsag. These were the 11th Tank Brigade, 7th Motorized Armored Brigade, and the 24th Motorized Rifle Regiment. In total, they had 186 tanks and 266 armored cars. These were ordered forward to assault the Japanese position. This required a long fast road march in the baking sun and 40 degree Celsius heat. The Soviet armor surrounded the Japanese bridgehead and began probing attacks, while the main column, in no formation, ploughed straight into the lead battalion of the 26th Regiment, and shortly afterwards the remaining two battalions who were trying to advance on foot to catch up.

The terrain of the battlefield was utterly flat and desolate. There were no features, trees or bushes to hide behind, just endless flat soft sandy soil, with very short grass. In such a situation, the tanks should have obliterated the Japanese infantry caught out in the open.

The 71st and 72nd Regiments had access to rapid-fire infantry guns, as well as the 13th field Artillery Regiment, armed with modern Type 90 75 mm guns. Thus, they were able to hold off most of the attacking tanks. Where these guns or Kaenbin were not available, the infantry resorted to Nikuhaku Kogeki (Human Bullet) attacks. In these, the Infantry would hold their ground until the target tank was within about 40 m, then leap up and charge at the tank. The infantry would swarm the tank, attempting to wrench open hatches or cause damage with grenades. This was pure close combat, man against machine in the blistering heat. Soviet tanks would hose their colleagues down with machine gun fire, or, if the crew was quick enough, they could rotate their turret at full speed, throwing Japanese soldiers off. The scalding hot metal plates of the tank’s hull, further heated by running the engine for so long in the direct sun, also proved somewhat of an impediment.

Painting by Tsuguharu Fujita from 1941 showing Japanese Nikuhaku Kogeki teams assaulting Soviet tanks.

At the 26th Regiment, they had no rapid-fire infantry guns. Their only support was from twelve Type 38 75 mm regimental guns. These dated from 1905 and only had HE ammunition. As the tanks bowled towards the 26th Regiment, these guns opened fire at a range of 1,500 m, but were largely ineffective. At 800 m, the handful of Type 90 70 mm battalion guns the regiment owned opened fire, but these could only score a hit with about a third of their shots and were also largely ineffective. At 500 m, the few HMG’s the regiments owned opened fire. As there was no Russian infantry, these machine guns aimed for vision slits, and also had no effect.

A Japanese Type 92 machine gun set up on the plains of Nomonhan. You can clearly see the exposed nature of the terrain and total lack of cover. Two destroyed Soviet armored cars lie in the background.

Then the tanks reached 40 m, and the Nikuhaku Kogeki teams began to attempt to light their Kaenbin. The harsh wind kept preventing ignition. As a tank bore down on him, in desperation, one soldier hurled his unlit bottle. It smashed on the armor of the tank. To everyone’s surprise, the tank burst into flames. Eyewitness accounts describe how a tank struck by Kaenbin burned:

‘…the bottle would shatter, the gasoline contents would splatter quickly, and the sheet of fuel would ignite in the heat of the sun and vehicle. Flames would appear from the bottom of the tank, the way newspaper burns, giving the impression the ground was on fire. When the flames licked the top of the tank, the fire would subside with a puff, for the fuel tank had been entered. Now the inside of the tank would catch fire and burn furiously.’

The suggestion by surviving soldiers was the heat radiating off the armor plate was sufficient to ignite the fuel. However, the accounts miss a few important details. First, from the information we have on ammunition usage, it seems each of the tanks destroyed by Kaenbin were hit by multiple bottles, on average approximately three each, although an accurate figure is hard to determine. This would mean that the tank would be absolutely drenched in petrol, seeping into every opening, especially the engine bay. Here, there are several possible means to ignite the fuel, such as the exhaust, which would be running at several hundred degrees from the long hard drive. Equally, the hours of driving, in the extreme heat, would have meant the transmission in the tank was scaldingly hot.

In the swirling dust, heat haze and smoke-shrouded battlefield, confusion reigned supreme. However, it was a situation the Japanese were ideally suited to. Any officer or NCO would take charge of the men around him, indicate a target and it would be hit by a volley of Kaenbin. Even Colonel Sumi was directing and organizing his soldiers. The Russian tankers were largely ignoring the infantry, trying to concentrate their fire on the support weapons that the Russians assumed to be wreaking so much havoc on their armored force, when it was the infantry who were the main threat. As the battle progressed, some Russian tankers abandoned their vehicles before they were hit, attempting to flee on foot. Those crews that had bailed from burning tanks were also trying to retreat to friendly lines. They had to endure the attention of the Japanese heavy machine guns.

However, the Japanese were not having it all their own way. Casualties were mounting, and on a few occasions, poor coordination between the Battalion Guns and the Infantry meant that Nikuhaku Kogeki teams were killed by friendly fire. By 1500 that afternoon, mere hours after the attack was launched, the Russians withdrew. As they pulled back, they left a field of burning vehicles. These would burn for 3-4 hours after they were hit. Ammunition would suddenly cook-off in the flames, randomly sending turrets flying, or sprays of small arms fire out from their wrecks.

That evening, Colonel Sumi tallied events. The regiment had claimed 83 tanks knocked out, although Col Sumi reckoned this involved some overclaiming. He calculated that the total was around 70. The force, as a whole, had knocked out some 280-230 AFVs from the attacking Russians.

However, the Japanese force was spent. It had taken about 10% casualties and was all but out of ammunition. For example, the 26th Regiment could find just thirty-six Kaenbin. The lead battalion had no ammo left for its Battalion Guns, the other two battalions only had one serviceable gun each, with just one box of ammunition left.

With no hope of resisting the following day, and with Russian Artillery coming more into play, the Japanese began to withdraw. However, through a miscommunication, the lead battalion of the 26th Regiment did not get the message until too late, and took even heavier casualties.

Like many of the Japanese plans from this campaign, the attack was overly ambitious. This overconfidence and lack of ability from the Japanese chain of command would lead, in September, to the total destruction of the Japanese force, and utter victory for the Soviets. Throughout this long battle, the Kaenbin would serve where possible. Today, Nomnhan/Khalkhin-Gol is largely overshadowed by the Second World War, which started just as the battles were winding down.

In the Pacific

The Kaenbin or some other variant of the idea would see service in the latter part of the Second World War. Once again, the Japanese would face a superior armored force in the shape of the Allies. A standard part of the Japanese anti-tank tactics was the Kaenbin. Japanese anti-tank tactics called for an ambush, preferably where terrain limits the mobility of the tank and slows it down. In an ideal engagement, the tanks supporting infantry would be pinned, or forced to withdraw. Then the tank would be immobilized by mines, or whatever was on hand. Then the crew of the tank would be forced to dismount. One such tactic suggested for this was to attack the tank with Kaenbin, although other weapons, such as the Type TB gas grenade could be used.

Japanese soldiers attack a M3 Stuart tank with a Kaenbin, or similar device. From the quality of the picture, and the utter lack of covering fire against an exposed enemy, it suggests that this is a propaganda picture.

With the tank unmanned and immobilized, it could be destroyed, or booby-trapped at leisure by engineers. Of course, if it was the only weapon the Japanese infantryman had, he would go straight to the attack with the Kaenbin, although success was unlikely. Even in the last days of the fighting at Nomonhan, the Japanese reported that Russian tanks had tarpaulins draped over their rear decks to render the Kaenbin ineffective.


Drea, E. J. (1981), Leavenworth Papers: Nomonhan. Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute.URL: (accessed 1/1/2021)
Coox, A. D. (1985), Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939. Stanford: Stanford University Press.ISBN: 0804718350.
Japanese tank and Anti-tank warfare (1945) Washington: United States Government Printing Office. Series #34. URL:,_No._34_Japanese_Tank_and_Antitank_Warfare_1945.pdf (accessed 1/1/2021)
Taki’s Home Page (2004) Imperial Japanese Army Page Available at: (accessed 1/1/2021)

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-Loyd 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.


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


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

Cold War British 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


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:

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


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.


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.


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.


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

Click the image to buy the book!

WW2 British Armored Cars

Guy Light Tank (Wheeled)

United Kingdom (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:

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


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:

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:

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:

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:

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)


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


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. (1) (2) (3)


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.

WW2 British Prototypes

Johnson’s Light Tropical Tank

United Kingdom (1922)
Light Tank – 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.


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:
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.

High-quality images of the Johnson Tropical Tank. Source: Ed Webster


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


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.


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

WW2 Japanese Prototypes


Empire of Japan (Mid 1930s)
Heavy Tank – Prototype/Paper Design

After the First World War, most nations started looking at their armed forces, specifically to how advances in weapons technology affected the way they would and could fight. The Japanese were no exception, especially in armored vehicle development. In many respects, the Japanese Army avoided many of the dead ends that other nations experienced and arguably came closer to getting armored warfare right than any other nation. This was quite likely an accident forced upon the Japanese by circumstances.
One of the few dead ends that the Japanese did encounter, however, was the multi-turreted tank, the Mitsu-104, which was most likely a development of the Type 97 Heavy tank, which was the one heavy tank the Japanese had that went into service.
Schematics of the Mitsu 104 Heavy Medium Tank found in the UK National Archives.


All the information on the Mitsu-104 comes from a British military intelligence dossier on enemy tanks, which was compiled between January 1939 and March 1943. This information was then later passed on to the rest of the Commonwealth and the United States, who included it in their own enemy equipment handbooks that were issued to the armed forces.
The British information came from original Japanese documents, obtained before the Second World War, although no details of where or how these documents were obtained is included in the files. The paper type and size are all identical to the Japanese standards used at the time, both of which were different from the conventions used by the British, all of which implies that the documents are original, and thus credible.
There does appear to have been some confusion within the documents about the exact location of weaponry on the tanks though. This is likely because of some inaccuracies in the Japanese text, which again raises the mystery about where the documents came from. Despite this, the translations includes original, archaic Japanese measurements (which are re-created in the specifications table).
The British documents describe the Mitsu-104 as a ‘Heavy Cruiser’, despite the fact that Japanese documents clearly referred to it as a Heavy.

Drawing of the Mitsu 104 from a Swedish intelligence document. Source


Japan spent a large part of the 1920’s obtaining examples of foreign armored vehicles and concepts. One such example is the A1E1 Independent, which the Japanese obtained plans for, resulting in the Ishi-108 that has been ascribed as being designed/constructed by the Japanese Empire by British documents, although no other evidence of its existence has surfaced. One of the few failures of tank design the Japanese picked up was the idea of multi-turreted tanks. This likely came from their interest in the British A1E1 Independent and the Soviet T-28 tanks.

Multi-turreted tanks are almost universally considered to be a bad idea because they add weight to the tank from items such as gearing and the structure required to mount a turret as well as making the vehicle much harder to command. On a single turret tank, this weight could be used for more armor or bigger guns and engines. Multiple turrets also comprise the armor integrity by having a series of holes in the armor to mount the turrets.

The Mitsu 104 from a 1944 British-issued recognition handbook on Japanese equipment.
This unfortunate trend in design existed in all the Japanese heavy tank projects, apart from the AI-96 from 1936.
One such multi-turreted design was the Mitsubishi 104, which is shortened in the documentation to “Mitsu-104”.
There seems to be no evidence the Mitsu-104 was ever built, unlike the Type 97 Heavy Tank. Design wise, it seems to have been a logical development of the Type 97, looking far more refined and capable, although the exact date of the tank’s design is unknown.
The Mitsu-104 had three slightly conical turrets. The main turret mounted a 75mm low velocity gun possibly based off one of the Japanese field artillery guns of the same calibre. Two sub-turrets were mounted on the front hull, each with a machine gun.

Original Japanese drawings of the Mitsu 104 found in the British National Archives.
There was some confusion about the armament for the tank. A pair of 37mm guns were listed, however, the British were confused as to their location. The Type 97 Heavy tank from 1937 had the option of two 37mm guns or a single 75mm guns mounted in the turret. This is likely because the Japanese considered the heavy tanks for the support of the infantry, and in the Japanese military 37mm guns were called ‘rapid fire infantry guns’. The British documents suggest the Mitsu-104 could have had 37mm guns in the sub-turrets, which certainly look big enough to mount such a weapon. This could, of course, be a translation mistake for the twin guns in the main turret.
The rest of the hull was conventional in its layout with the engine at the rear of the tank. Although the tank is rather wide for its size.
The suspension was the same style of Bell Crank suspension used on most Japanese tanks of the period and indeed lived on until the failed O-I Super Heavy Tank design.

The Mitsu-104 with 37mm main armament.

The Mitsu-104 with 75mm main armament.

Both illustrations are by William ‘Richtor’ Byrd, funded by DeadlyDilemma through our Patreon campaign

United States tank recognition chart showing the Mitsu 104 in the lower left corner.


The design, from the particulars written down, does seem to be over-optimistic in regards to its mobility and speed. This was a common fault with Japanese heavy tank plans, with tanks such as the Ishi-108 and O-I having suspiciously overinflated claims of speed from engines that seem to produce far too little power to propel such masses at such speeds. For example, a 30 ton Sherman tank with a 350hp engine could obtain about 22mph. The Japanese predicted that the same power output would move the 29 ton Mitsu-104 at 30mph. To achieve similar figures, a Sherman needed over 400hp.

3D reconstruction of how the Mitsu 104 might have looked like. Source: Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s  by David Lister

The Mitsu 104 being mentioned in the Japanese military forces. Report No. 12-b(11), USSBS Index Section 6.

Mitsu-104 specifications

Designer Mitsubishi
Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.30 x 3.20 x 2.80 m (27.2 x 10.6 x 9.3 ft)
Weight 29 tons (58000 lbs)
Crew 8
Propulsion Water cooled, Mitsubishi 12 Cylinder Petrol engine, delivering 350hp at 2200rpm. Fitted with a 12 volt electrical starter.
Armament A combination of 75mm and 37mm guns, and several machine guns.
Armor 25-30mm (0.98-1.18 in)
Speed 12 Ri (25mph, 40kph)
Gradient 40 degrees
Step 1.20 m (3.11 ft)
Trench Crossing 3.90 meters (12.10 ft)
Fording 1.20 meters (3.11 ft)

WO 208/1320, UK National Archives in Kew, London
Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s  by David Lister
World War II United States recognizition chart
British 1944 Japanese-equipment recognition handbook
Japanese military forces. Report No. 12-b(11), USSBS Index Section 6,
Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940sForgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s

By David Lister

History forgets. Files are lost and mislaid. But this book seeks to shine a light, offering a collection of cutting edge pieces of historical research detailing some of the most fascinating arms and armament projects from the 1920s to the end of the 1940’s, nearly all of which had previously been lost to history.Included here are records from the UK’s MI10 (the forerunner of GCHQ) which tell the story of the mighty Japanese heavy tanks and their service during the Second World War.

Buy this book on Amazon!

WW2 British Prototypes

Vickers No.1 & No.2 Tanks

United Kingdom (1921)
Tank – 2 Prototypes Built

In early 1921, the British government’s Tank Board and its General staff representative Colonel John Frederick Charles Fuller were considering their next tank design. The result of their deliberations resulted in a set of very loose requirements. These requirements stated that this new tank would need to be usable in the tropics. The policy gave a list of areas that were seen as likely to be trouble spots in the future which included the Balkans, Russia, India, and South America. The latter two regions were the cause for the ‘tropics’ requirement. Furthermore, it was envisioned that the best way to combat a tank was with another tank.
Col. Fuller discovered that the Master General of Ordnance (MGO) had been working with the firm of Vickers on a new tank. He was shocked and saw it as a usurpation of his authority when in reality it was not. Col. Fuller has, in some of his works, tried to portray himself in a good light, and a British tank of this period that did not have his oversight would be rather difficult to explain, especially when he was involved with the failing Department for Tank Design and Experimentation, run by Philip Johnson.
The MGO ordered three prototypes of the new tank design to be built, these were constructed at the Vickers Erith plant near London. The first being completed and delivered to the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment (MWEE) in Farnborough for trials in November 1921.

Vickers No.1 Tank. Photo: Crown Copyright expired


The No.1 tank was a rhomboid in shape, with a striking resemblance to a miniaturized First World War tank, although the front was more curved. On top of this sat a superstructure, with a semi-circular front. The sides of the superstructure were inside the width of the track run. On top of this superstructure was a domed turret, with a centrally placed cupola. Three barbettes were placed every 120 degrees within the turret, these held ball mounts for Hotchkiss machine guns. A fourth ball mount was placed in the turret roof for anti-aircraft work.

The driver sat at the front, in a chair that was described as ‘sumptuous’, and had ‘barber chair’ like controls to get the perfect driving position. The controls featured a large steering wheel, with two circular wheels for adjusting the transmission and which could, in theory, have a continuously variable number of gears.

These gears were provided by a Williams-Jenney hydraulic transmission, made by Variable Speed Gears Ltd. of Crayford, London. This was the same model of transmission that had been fitted to the failed Mk.VIII Tank. And which had originally been used onboard ships to power winches. Power was provided by a six-cylinder Wolseley engine, located behind a firewall at the rear of the vehicle. The tracks were extremely basic design being nothing more than a flat plate with a pressed indentation which was filled with a wooden sole plate.

Williams-Jenney hydraulic transmission at Dollis Hill. Photo: Crown Copyright expired

The trials

When the No.1 tank was completed Vickers decided it was too noisy and not reliable enough but despite this it was still sent to the MWEE at Farnborough for trials. There it was found that the transmission was prone to severely overheating. One of the tests the tank was subjected too was a race between the No.1 tank and the Light Infantry Tank and, according to Col. Fuller, a Medium D. The No.1 tank lost and came dead last. In 1922, the No.1 tank was returned to Vickers and fitted with better tracks and a more powerful engine. In March of the same year, she was handed back to the War Office. However, no further tests were carried out, and by March 1923 she was listed as derelict and in the tank testing sections stores.

Shot of the rear of the No.1 tank, you can see the access ports to the engine and transmission, as well as the basic track design. Photo: Crown Copyright expired

The Vickers No.1 Tank armed only with machine guns.

The Vickers No.2 Tank armed with the 3-Pounder 47mm Gun and a Hotchkiss machine gun
Both Illustrations are by William ‘Rhictor’ Byrd, funded by DeadlyDilemma through our Patreon Campaign.

The No.2 Tank

Vickers No.2 tank was published in The Tank - Journal of the Royal Tank Regiment This drawing of a Vickers No.2 tank was published in The Tank – Journal of the Royal Tank Regiment October 1948.

Work started on the No.2 tank in July 1922 and would be completed in July 1923. There was one big change in this design over the No.1 tank. On the 15th March 1922, the Director General of Artillery’s (DG of A) office issued an order that all future tanks must be armed with a quick firing (QF) gun. Thus, the No.2 tank was equipped with a 3-pounder (47mm) gun. This was a higher velocity weapon than was normally fitted to tanks of the period and followed the General Staff policy about countering other tanks. This combination of policy and dedicated high-velocity armament means that the No.2 tank was likely the first ever tank to be armed to fight other tanks.

The Vickers No.2 was also armed with a Hotchkiss machine gun. It could be fired from one of three positions in the turret. An anti-aircraft mount was fitted in the turret roof and the machine gun could be used in that mount to fire upwards at threats from the sky. 6,000 rounds for the machine gun found be stored inside the tank along with 50 3-pdr rounds.

Hydraulic steering was by a pair of Williams Janney V.S.G.s, handwheel controls. The suspension used articulated bogies with springs in vertical trunk guides. The front and rear single rollers had independent springing.

During trials at the MWEE it was discovered that “the hydraulic variable speed gears which formed the cross drive were not suited to this application, being much overloaded,” The Vickers No.2 machine was scrapped in 1927.

The No.2 tank, you can see in this picture the rear access ports are wide open. This is an attempt to cool the transmission. The cooling problem was down to the oil in the hydraulic system rapidly becoming overheated. Photo: Crown Copyright expired

The third machine ordered was built as a gun carrier, with a field gun being loaded onto the bed through a ramp at the rear of the tank. Some websites claim that this prototype led to the Dragon gun tractors, although no hard evidence has been advanced for this theory.


Although ultimately the Vickers No.1 and No.2 failed to produce a successful design, it was likely one of the world’s first modern tanks, taking design features from the Renault FT, such as rear-mounted engine behind a firewall and a single weapon in a turret. Yet it refined these ideas, increased the crew size to something respectable, and included a gun designed for hunting and killing enemy tanks. The idea that the best counter to a tank is another tank is today widely accepted as a truism. Just a handful of years after the tank had been developed this was considered a new concept, one which ultimately proved right.
It should be mentioned here that the speculation on the role of the No.3 machine might have a part to play. There is a theory, although at the time of writing an unfounded one, that the Dragon gun tractor led to the development of the Vickers Medium Mk.I. If this is the case then the No.1 and No.2 were even more important as designs than originally thought.

Specifications (No.1 & No.2 tanks)

Total weight, battle ready 8.75 – 10 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion No.1: Wolseley six cylinder, Water-cooled, 73hp petrol engine
No.2: Lanchester 40, Six Cylinder, Water-cooled, 86hp petrol engine
Speed 15 mph (24 km/h)
Fuel capacity 100 Gallons
Range 120 miles (190 km)
Armament No.1: 4x Hotchkiss machine guns
No.2: 1 x QF 3-pdr (47 mm/1.85 in) gun (50 rounds) , 1x Hotchkiss machine gun.(6,000 rounds)
Armour 1/4 inch
Turret Ring/td>

67 inches in diameter
Total production 2

Links & Resources

Mechanised Force: British Tanks Between the Wars, David Fletcher, ISBN 10: 0112904874 / ISBN 13: 9780112904878
The Tank – Journal of the Royal Tank Regiment June 1948
The Tank – Journal of the Royal Tank Regiment October 1948

Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940sForgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s

By David Lister

History forgets. Files are lost and mislaid. But this book seeks to shine a light, offering a collection of cutting edge pieces of historical research detailing some of the most fascinating arms and armament projects from the 1920s to the end of the 1940’s, nearly all of which had previously been lost to history.Included here are records from the UK’s MI10 (the forerunner of GCHQ) which tell the story of the mighty Japanese heavy tanks and their service during the Second World War.

Buy this book on Amazon!

WW2 British Medium Tanks

Vickers Medium Mk.I & Mk.II

United Kingdom (1924)
Medium Tank – 286 Built

The early 1920’s were a difficult time for the British Royal Armoured Corps (RAC). Their First World War tanks were becoming worn down and obsolete. Equally, a series of projects designed in house, such as the Medium D, Medium C, and Light Infantry tank, had all failed. Other external designs such as the Vickers No.1 design had failed to be taken up.
This was a major issue to the RAC as the Treasury had provided a sum of GB£220,000 for the purchase of tanks to totally re-equip the RAC. If, however, a new tank could not be found then this money would be reclaimed by the Treasury, and any new purchase of equipment would be subject to new reviews. These would push the acquisition of new equipment back by years and leave the RAC with its First World War Mk.V Tank and Medium A Whippets well into the late 1920’s.
Then, in 1923, the army received two new tanks. Although unarmored, these tanks were the forerunners of a design that would see service all the way until at least 1941. These two tanks were the first of the Vickers Medium Mk.I, and almost no clue can be found to their origin. David Fletcher (Mechanised Force, p.8) suggests these tanks may have been created out of spare parts and designs lying around by Vickers in collusion with the War Office.
The only other clue might come from a copy of The Commercial Motor magazine of October 1933. In an article talking about a tractor, the designer of the tractor is introduced as Mr. C. S. Vincent-Smith, whom it is claimed designed tanks for the Army. This is the only tenuous link to the creation of the Mediums.

Medium Mark I Design

The first two tanks (one with the registration T15) were designated A.2E1, Tanks, Light, Mk.I. Later, as the design improved, the tanks were renamed to Tanks, Medium, Mk.I. Today, they are usually called the Vickers Medium Mk.I. A short time later, in 1923, a single A.2E2 arrived. This was named ‘David’ and had the registration T18. It was the only Close Support (CS) Mk.I variant ever built. Uniquely, it also mounted the sole 15-pounder tank mortar prototype.
The Close Support tanks were designed to fire smoke shells to cover the advance of friendly armor and protect them from enemy anti-tank guns. During this period, the weapon chosen was a 3.7” weapon that could only fire smoke. No other working round was produced. Although several other types of shell were designed, or designated, in effect the 15-pounder only ever had smoke shells.*
*For a complete story on the 15-pounder tank mortar, and its shell types see: Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940s, ISBN 9781-5267-14534, By David Lister.

Mk.II* CS tank. Photo: SOURCE
On the gun tanks, the circular turret mounted a 3-pounder Mk.I, L32 gun, with a Hotchkiss machine-gun in a separate ball mount to the right of the turret. A visually distinctive feature of British armor of the time was the bevelling of the turret sides. The turret had three ball mounts for Hotchkiss machine-guns.
Two of these were placed about 180 degrees apart with the first one a few degrees to the right of the main gun. The third was placed on the aft right quarter of the turret. This meant that to bring a machine-gun to bare on a target to the front the 3-pounder had to be slewed off to one side. Two additional Vickers machine guns were mounted, one on either side, in the hull.
The V8 Armstrong Siddeley engine was mounted in a chamber separated from the rest of the fighting compartment on the left of the hull, with the driver sitting beside it. The driver’s head was in a cowl with a D shaped front plate that opened sideways. This plate hinged on the right side of the cowl, and mounted vision ports allowing the driver a view to the front, but was not intended as an entry or exit route. The rear plate of the hull mounted a large door on the right. This, along with two smaller hatches just in front of the Vickers guns, provided entry and egress to the crew.

Crew entering a Mk.IA*. Of note is the counter-weight on the back left of the turret, and the plated over opening of the third Hotchkiss machine gun location to the right of the counter-weight. Photo: SOURCE

Evolution of the Medium

The Medium went through several variants and two marks during its life. Often, these can seem confusing at a first glance. Identification is not made any easier by the fact that some components were retrofitted to earlier marks outside of the following official designations.

Author’s table

Identification Guide

As the Vickers Mediums are a complex subject with many submarks, this is a simple identification guide. First, it has to be determined if the vehicle is a Mk.I or a Mk.II. The three easiest ways of identifying this is to look at the tracks, front hull or main gun.


The clearest item is if the bogies are exposed or covered.

Front Hull:

Notice the shape and how the front hull looks bulkier and bigger on the Mk.II. Also, on the Mk.I, the roof of the driver’s hood is roughly in line with the roof of the rear part of the hull.

Main Gun:

The 3-pounder Mk.I has a shorter, stubier looking barrel. However, the easiest way of telling the two apart is the recoil recuperator (the tube under the gun barrel). On a 3-pounder Mk.I it sticks out much further, while on the 3-pounder Mk.II it is contained almost wholly within the turret.

Drivers Hatch:

The following image illustrates the differences between the driver’s hood for the Mk.I (left) and the Mk.IA and subsequent marks. On the Mk.I the entire hood is hinged upwards. On the later marks the hood is split into three parts, with the roof folding back and the sides folding outwards.

Commanders Position:

The ‘Bishops Mitre’ is the triangular shaped cupola that was added to the commander’s position. In the earlier tanks there was a simple two piece hatch. It was located further to the rear of the turret roof.

Turret Shape:

This image shows the bevel at the back of the turret that was introduced in the Vickers Mk.IA, and seen on the rest of the Mk.I series and the first Mk.II.

In the below image, one of the Hotchkiss machine-guns has been dismounted from the tank, while two more Hotchkiss machine guns remain in their ball mounts in the turret. These were added on the *(star) versions of both the Mark I and Mark II, replacing the turret Vickers machine-guns. A Vickers machine-gun can be seen in the hull of the tank. It is far bulkier than the Hotchkiss due to its water cooling jacket.

Photo: Getty

Medium Service

The Vickers Mediums equipped the RAC from about 1924 until the mid-1930s. At first, each of the four Battalions in the RAC were to have three CS tanks. However, for some unknown reason, these tanks were not produced. This led to the use of stand-in vehicles during exercises. To mark them as CS tanks, their gun was painted white and the letters ‘CS’ were painted on the turret.
During these exercises with the Experimental Mechanised Force, the Vickers Mediums were to have a profound effect, and seal the fate of the medium tank in the British Army. In 1927, they took part in an exercise against an infantry force. Both the commanding officers agreed that tanks needed speed and mobility as their priority, with firepower a close second. This would allow the tanks to overwhelm the infantry as they moved from a first tank proof location to another, or failing that allowed the tanks to relocate away from any enemy strong point where they had concentrated their anti-tank weapons, and attack where the line was weakest.
Medium tanks, moving at about 12-15mph (about the same speed as the later Churchill tank), were not seen as able to provide enough speed. It is from this exercise that the British thinking about tanks began to move towards the idea of the cruiser tank. In the early 1930s, some twelve tanks were converted to CS standards as the 15-pounder guns were manufactured.

Mk.I and Mk.IA* tanks masquerading as CS tanks during manoeuvres. Photo: Aviarmor
In 1933, a fifth battalion was created in Egypt, from personnel in two armored car companies. These were supplied with the ten Mk.IIA tanks, of which one was converted to CS. It appears two of these Mk.IIA* were still in service in 1940 when the Italians invaded Egypt. Both were reportedly used to help defend Mersa Matruh (not to be confused with the battle of the same name in 1942). From photographs, one appears to have been dug in as a turret bunker, the other appears to have been left exposed. However, there is no indication if this was because it was mobile or there was no time to dig it in.
In the UK, the remaining Vickers Mediums were mostly dragged out onto ranges and used as targets for anti-tank weapon testing. However, a few remained in service during the invasion scare period and were reactivated for use in defense of the UK.

Surviving Mk.II in the Tank Museum, Bovington. Photo: Mark Nash

Vickers in Foreign Service


Australia’s first tanks were a quartet of Medium Mk.II’s ordered in 1927, and arrived in 1929. These tanks were slightly modified as Australia did not use the Hotchkiss machine-gun. Therefore, the ball mounts that would normally be on the turret were replaced with Vickers guns in exactly the same locations. The AA machine gun and the bevel in the turret for this mount were removed. In addition, the Vickers guns had a much larger breech. In order to accommodate this, the bevels on the side of the turret were significantly reduced in size.
Between 1930-1937, these were the only tanks Australia had in the 1st Tank Section. They were used solely as training machines for the Australian Army to gain experience of operating tanks.
One such example exists in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Tank Museum, Puckapunyal.

Two Australian Mk.II’s. Note the reduced bevel in the turret. Photo: AWM

A 1924 Medium Mk.I, equipped with radio and serving as a command tank during the 1927 manoeuvres at Salisbury plain.
Medium Mk.I with a thicker fake barrel to make it seem like a CS (Close Support) version. The CS tanks were usually tasked with creating smoke clouds to mask the tank and infantry advance from the enemy. This concept was still used during the North African campaign, nearly twenty years after.

Vickers Mk.II CS (Close Support), 1930.
Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

A Vickers Medium fitted with a radio set mounted in two boxes at the rear of the turret. Also note the aerial replacing the rear-top turret machine-gun mount.

Vickers Medium Mark IIA* fitted with asbestos plates on the outside to help with cooling in the scorching sun of the desert. These saw service in Egypt before WWII.
Illustrations by William ‘Rhictor’ Byrd, funded by Golum through our Patreon campaign


In the late 1930’s the British tank forces in Egypt were re-equipped with cruiser tanks. It is possible that some of the surviving Mk.IIA’s were handed over to the Egyptians so they could gain experience in operating tanks. The exact details of what happened in Egypt to the Vickers Mediums is currently unknown, however there were at least eighteen still operational in 1939, four in August 1940, and at least two were dug in at Mersa Matruh until early 1941.

South Africa

In August 1934, two Mk.I CS tanks were shipped to South Africa. One of these was ‘David’, the original CS tank. In the ten years after its delivery, it had been used for a variety of experiments including having its engine replaced with a new 120hp Armstrong Siddeley engine. This necessitated the rebuilding of its forward hull, and the first gear being disabled. After these trials were complete, the hull was once again returned to Mk.I standards and used as a training hull at Bovington, before being shipped to South Africa.
One tank survives at Bloemfontein barracks, but it is not known if it is ‘David’.

Soviet Union (USSR)

In 1931, the Soviet Union purchased fifteen Mk.II’s. These were called the ‘English Workman’ by the Soviets. Like the Australian versions, they replaced the Hotchkiss machine-guns with larger water cooled weapons, in this case Maxim guns. Thus the turret incorporated the same modifications to its shape. Only one was supplied fitted with a 3-pounder gun. As these were to see service, one presumes they would have been fitted with Soviet weapons. A number were sent to the Karelian Isthmus to be dug in as bunkers. About six of these were quickly overrun by the Finnish forces at the outbreak of the Continuation War, but were deemed useless and not recovered. Most likely because they were scrapped in place.

An ‘English Workman’, fitted with its Maxim guns. Photo: Aviarmor

Variants and Special Cases

Birch Gun

In the late 1920’s, several Vickers Medium Mk.II chassis were converted to self-propelled guns to take part in experiments into the future of armored warfare. These were fitted with an open fighting compartment onto which an 18-pounder field gun was fitted with a 360-degree traverse. There appears to have been at least three versions of the Birch Gun, the first with an exposed driver’s position and the second with a semi-enclosed driver’s position. The final version had a completely enclosed driver’s seat and a huge gun shield that almost fully enclosed the rest of the fighting compartment.
Some commentators state that the Birch Gun could double as an Anti-Aircraft gun, however, this is likely due to a misunderstanding. One of the batteries equipped with Birch Guns was given static AA guns to practice with before receiving its Birch Guns. This was likely as a Royal Artillery battery they needed some form of artillery to use for training and routine day to day tasks.

Final version of the Birch Gun. Photo: Public Domain

Mk.II Bridge Carrier

In 1926, there was an attempt to create a bridge carrier. A set of brackets was fitted to the outside of a Vickers Medium tank’s hull on both sides. These contained the components to create a short bridge. Upon arriving at an obstacle the crew would dismount and assemble the bridge before laying it over the obstacle.
Unsurprisingly, this was entirely useless as the crew would be exposed to enemy fire the entire time and so was never proceeded with.

The Mk.II Bridge Carrier. Photo: SOURCE

Tank, Medium, for Radio and Wireless

This conversion occurred in September 1926, and consisted of a large box body replacing the fighting compartment and turret. As the name suggests, it was used as a command tank to house several radios. It was named as ‘Boxcar’ officially, however, due to the dislike aimed at it within the ranks, it was nicknamed ‘Thunderbox’, a reference to an English slang term for a toilet.
Despite this dislike, in 1927 another four were ordered. However, the order was never completed.

The Communications variant of the Vickers Medium. Photo: SOURCE


This was an attempt to create a command tank as a cheaper alternative to Boxcar. Essentially, a Mk.II with a large box applied to the rear to house radios. While, at first glance, it appears to be similar to the Mk.II**, it lacked the other features of a Mk.II** such as the ‘Bishop’s Mitre’ cupola and the Vickers machine-gun. In the latter case, the Hotchkiss ball mount to the right of the main gun was retained.

Mk.I Wheel-Cum-Track

In 1926, T15, the first Mk.I delivered, was returned to Vickers. There, it was fitted with a set of subframes both front and rear. On these were a pair of wheels with solid rubber tyres. The idea was for the subframes to be lowered and a power take off engaged which would drive the rear set of wheels. Steering was done from a tiller bar inside the cabin.
As well as adding complexity to the design, the added mass would raise the tank’s total weight to over twelve tons. In addition, the wheels had to be placed inside the run of the tracks meaning the axle track was extremely narrow. This, along with the heavy weight, meant a high centre of gravity was balanced on a very narrow axle track. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in significant instability and the project was scrapped after a very short period.

Front view of the wheel-cum-track prototype. Photo: Public Domain.

Medium Artillery Tractor Mk.I and Mk.II

Know as ‘Dragons’, because of a play on words between the words ‘Drag’ and ‘Gun’. The exact date when the first of these was built is in contention. However, the Imperial War Museum’s website says 1922, which is before the Vickers Mediums were delivered. All sources agree that there is a link between the two, but which one came first is unknown and, considering the mystery of the Medium’s creation, it maybe that the Vickers Medium is based upon the Dragon.

Dragon Mk.I towing an artillery piece with full gun team. Photo: Overlord Blog

The Dragon Mk.II. Photo: IWM
Two of these were fitted with Rolls Royce armored car bodies and used in combat in 1941 to help defend RAF Habbaniya.

The two RAF Habbaniya Dragons, named Seal (Left) and Walrus (right). In this picture Seal has had her body changed from the original Rolls Royce armoured car style, and it is thought this is the configuration she saw combat in. Photo: Overlord Blog

This vehicle is HMAT Walrus, although she obviously bore another name at the time this picture was taken. HMAT stands for His Majesties Armoured Tank. At the time No1 RAF Armoured Car squadron used HMAC (His Majesties armoured Car) prefix for all their Rolls Royce armoured cars. Photo: Overlord Blog

Vickers Medium Mk.II specifications

Dimensions 5.33×2.78×2.82 m (17ft6 x9ft1 x 9ft3)
Total weight, battle ready 11.7 long tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Armstrong Siddeley V-8, [email protected] rpm
Speed 15 mph (24 km/h)
Range 120 mi (190 km)
Armament QF 3 pdr (47 mm/1.85 in)
2 x 0.303 Vickers machine guns (7.7 mm)
4 x 0.303 Hotchkiss model 1914 machine guns (7.7 mm)
Armor From 4 to 6.25 mm (0.16-0.25 in)
Total production 140 Mk.I & 167 Mk.II between 1924-1933

Links & Resources

Mechanised Force, David Fletcher ISBN 10: 0112904874 / ISBN 13: 9780112904878
Pen & Sword Publishing, Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, David Lister
Classic Military Vehicle Magazine #188

Forgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940sForgotten Tanks and Guns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s

By David Lister

History forgets. Files are lost and mislaid. But this book seeks to shine a light, offering a collection of cutting edge pieces of historical research detailing some of the most fascinating arms and armament projects from the 1920s to the end of the 1940’s, nearly all of which had previously been lost to history.Included here are records from the UK’s MI10 (the forerunner of GCHQ) which tell the story of the mighty Japanese heavy tanks and their service during the Second World War.

Buy this book on Amazon!

Cold War French Fake Tanks Fake Tanks

Projet Tigre (Fake Tank)

France (1959)
Light SPG – Fake

This article has been published on Tanks Encyclopedia on the 1st of April 2018, as part of our April’s Fools Day celebrations. The information contained is mostly fictional but with some parts that are actual truth, like the German use of Renault UEs and the Wurframen conversion.

A German Idea

After the fall of France in 1940, some 3,000 Renault UE’s were captured by the German forces. As the Germans always needed more items to equip their under-mechanised army, they started to use these Beute vehicles for their own purposes. Indeed, the Renault UE became one of the more common small armored vehicles in German service for a time.

As the threat of the Allied Invasion loomed, German forces began to modify some of these captured vehicles into self-propelled rocket launchers mounting Wurfrahmen 40 28cm rockets on both the Renault UE and Hotchkiss H35. These saw service during the Invasion of Normandy.
After the war, the French began to look at re-equipping their army, and in some cases used captured German tanks such as the Panther as a stop gap. It’s during this time that a French designer working for Renault, Mr. Rennie Neufpierre, came across a German UE fitted with the Wurfrahmen 40. Its layout sparked an idea, and he began working on a concept which he presented to Renault. In 1959, the French Government became involved and the project received official funding for a study into the idea under the Finabel No. 83T86 requirement. Renault named this study Project Tigre.

Mr. Neufpierre’s original sketch of Tigre

Tigre Description

The Tigre copied the layout of the UE, with just two crewmen seated under separate domed cupolas that could rotate. The crew consisted of a Driver and a Commander who acted as a layer as well. Some of the bad ideas from the French armor development were copied over to this, such as the French insistence on having the entrance hatch on the rear of the dome, unlike contemporary vehicles which had the hatch on the roof of the cupola. Equally, the early war French tanks had incorporated binocular sights into their cupolas for the tank commander to use. This was also applied to Project Tigre. Communication between the two crew was again directly copied from the Renault UE, a series of colored lights were controlled by the commander to transmit movement orders to the driver’s position.

The model of the Tigre. The weapon system on Project Tigre was a unique design, consisting of a rack of eighteen cut-down Brandt Mle CM60A1 guns. Only one round was loaded in each gun, however, a full set of reloads was stored under the weapons rack. The breaches of the gun mortar were exposed on the lower side of the weapon rack. Thus, they could be reloaded by the crew sheltering behind the vehicle.The inspiration for this was tied to a French-Canadian improvised weapon system deployed in 1945. They mounted fourteen PIAT’s in a rack on the back of a Universal Carrier, which were discharged in two volleys of seven by pulling on a lanyard. In Project Tigre, the mortars could gimbal through a few degrees allowing the layer to aim his salvo, whereupon he could select either 3, 6, 9 or 18 rounds to be fired. This adherence to multiples of three was imposed on the project by the Renault management citing the French Tricolour and the Fleur-de-lis as both having ties to the number three, and thus was seen as a patriotic number.
The mortars themselves were fairly low-velocity weapons, only firing at 127 m/s, thus a three round burst was needed to help hit the target. Rounds provided were either HE or HEAT.

The End of the Tigre

After completing the study, Renault presented its findings to the Government in 1961. During the course of the study, they had created a model, even placing it into a short film to promote the idea. However, the French army was concerned about several features carried over from the pre-war tanks, the lack of modern communications and the excess weight required for the 18 guns, which limited the amount of armor that could be fitted to just 10mm, even if it was highly sloped.

A still taken from the promotional film of the Tigre
In addition, the Tigre had a large overhang on the front of the tank, which previous French experience on the St Chamond had shown was an undesirable trait. Therefore, no further work was done and Project Tigre was buried in an archive. The exact fate of the model is currently unknown, however, the recent find of three wheels and one of the tracks of the models at the Saumur museum appears to indicate the model may have ended up there.


French documents probably