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WW2 Belgian Armor

Carden-Loyd Mk.VI in Belgian Service (Mk.VI with 47 mm)

belgian tanks Belgium (1931-1940) Tank Destroyer – 6 built

For the British firm Vickers-Carden-Loyd, the Mark VI armored carrier was a great commercial success, with worldwide sales of both vehicles and building licenses. It was cheap, and its military potential looked promising. At the end of 1930, the Belgian Army joined the list of buyers when six were ordered as gun towing vehicles and delivered next year. They did not perform great, however, and at the end of 1933, it was decided to place the 47 mm gun, which it originally towed, on top of the vehicle. Although it disrupted balance, decreased mobility, and overwhelmed the crew, it did equip the army with an armored mobile anti-tank gun, allowing the use of faster and better mobile tactics. This concept would be perfected with the T.13 tank destroyer that can be seen as its successful successor.

Here, a Belgian Mk.VI with registration number 0483 is seen towing a 47 mm gun on a special four-wheeled trailer during tests at Beverlo in 1932. The trailer, equipped with pneumatic tires and leaf spring suspension, also allowed the transport of ammunition. The vehicle itself was unarmed. Source: Belgian Tank Museum

Background

In 1929, the Belgian ‘Permanent Commission for Motorization’ observed military maneuvers in Britain and France. During the British maneuvers at Salisbury, they saw the light and cheap Vickers-Carden-Loyd armored carriers in action. The officers of the commission were quite impressed and considered obtaining a few. By the end of 1930, the Belgian Army placed an order at Vickers for the purchase of six Mark VI vehicles with some technical modifications. They were delivered to the Army in 1931 and immediately trialed to find out if they could successfully tow 47 and 76 mm guns. Tests continued into 1932 but were not a great success, as the general mobility of the vehicle was judged inadequate and the vehicle’s off-road speed was very low, at just 9 km/h. Despite this, their military value was present, and, according to the Popular Science Magazine of October 1932: “army experts believe that a fleet of those swift “destroyers” could set up their mobile artillery in time to repel a surprise advance of enemy tanks”.

It has to be noted that already from the beginning, there was an interest within the army to actually mount the 47 mm gun on top of the vehicles but, initially, these studies were not pursued.

Vehicles No. 0482 and 0483 with their crews, sometime between 1931-1933. Weirdly, 0483 has no return roller while it has one on other photographs. Source: Belgian Tank Museum

Design of the Mk.VI

The Carden-Loyd Mark VI is one of the most basic armored vehicles ever designed. Small, equipped with a commercial Ford engine and gearbox, thinly armored, and in the Belgian case, unarmed, it was very cheap compared to other contemporary armored vehicles. It was propelled by a 40 hp Ford Model T engine, located in the middle of the vehicle, in between the two crew members. Power went through a 2-speed epicyclic gearbox to the front-mounted sprockets. The sprockets were of simple design and were basically disks with thirty teeth, moving the 117 track links around. Four small road wheels on each side, providing ground contact of roughly one meter, were only suspended with small leaf springs, insufficient to provide a steady drive when driving fast. Unlike the regular Mark VI design, which had a beam as a track return guide, the Belgian vehicles had a single return roller, identical to a regular roadwheel. Other vehicles from Vickers that had a similar arrangement were the Carden-Loyd Mk.VIa and VIb which had two return rollers, and the Light Patrol Tank, which had one.

Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Patrol Tank. Source: unknown
The Mark VIb. Source: vickersmg.blog
A Belgian Mark VI in service with the 3rd Chasseurs Ardennais at Vielsalm. Compared to the vehicles shown above, they feature a similar kind of return roller arrangement. Source: Belgian Tank Museum

The F.R.C. C.47/L30 gun

During the 1920s, the Belgian Army sought to acquire new infantry guns capable of firing with a straight or with a curved arc. Studies continued until the adoption of two guns during the early 1930s, designed by Fonderie Royale des Canons de Liège (F.R.C.), the Royal Gun Foundry Works. The gun selected to fire with a straight arc, and designed as an anti-tank gun, was a 47 mm gun, known as the C.47/L30 Model 1931. Reportedly, up to a thousand of these guns were produced for the Belgian Army before World War 2 broke out.

The armor-piercing round weighed 1.550 kg. With an initial velocity of 675 m/s, it could penetrate armor plates of 40 mm up to 600 m away and around 30 mm at a thousand meters. The high explosive round with a weight of 1.655 kg, had 175 g explosive material in it and, with a velocity of 450 m/s, was effective up to 3,000 m. The barrel had to be replaced after approximately 8,000 rounds fired. The muzzle flash was quite large, reportedly up to 6.5 m long, which made the position of the gun easier to spot for a potential enemy during firing.

Vehicles No. 0481 and 0483 during a maneuver in an open field with the armored shields folded up, providing better visibility for the crew. Source: Nationaal Archief

The need for a more mobile gun

On 11th October 1933, the Belgian cabinet endorsed the establishment of new units of Chasseurs Ardennais and Cyclistes-Frontière (NL: Ardeense Jagers, Grenswielrijders, EN: Hunters of the Ardennes, Frontier Cyclists). They were to be equipped with effective and mobile anti-tank weapons. It was realized, however, that the Mk.VI towing the 47 mm would not fulfill this role effectively. Decoupling the gun from the vehicle and placing it into position took too much time, which made it easy to be spotted by an enemy. Furthermore, during the time of deployment of the gun, the crew lacked any protection as the gun was not equipped with a gun shield. A solution to these problems was to place the gun on top of an armored chassis, so it could be driven to the desired position and immediately be able to harass the enemy. Given the rough terrain of the Ardennes, in which area the vehicle would operate, a tracked chassis was necessary.

Taking these points in mind, it was decided it would be a good idea to place the gun on the Mark VI. Therefore, Vehicle no. 0483 was sent to the FRC to be converted into such a gun carrier. As its initial inception was well-received, the other five vehicles were quickly converted as well and, by the end of 1933, all six had been transformed into tank destroyers. In February 1934, they were assigned to the Chasseurs Ardennais units, with each of three regiments receiving two of them. The doctrine called for individual deployment in a defensive position, but on the offense, they were to be deployed in pairs.

Five Carden-Loyds lined up beside the road. It is unknown when this picture was taken. Source: Forum ATF40 (member avz94)

Not a perfect vehicle

Although the gun could fire, and the vehicle could drive, it was not a match made in heaven. The C.47 had a significant recoil that burdened the chassis too much while firing, so use had to be made of two retractable supports on the back of the vehicle that had to support the suspension. The traverse of the gun was very narrow, with only ten degrees, five degrees to each side. Furthermore, mounting the gun on the front made it front-heavy, destabilizing the vehicle, which caused it to wobble when driving too fast. The wobble was worsened by the fact that the tracks provided only roughly a meter of ground contact. British engineers from Vickers-Carden-Loyd were not very fond of the solution and one apparently called it ‘putting an elephant on a mosquito’.

The armor plates of the Mark VI varied in thickness between 5 to 9 mm, the added gun shield on the front had a thickness of 5 mm. The armor was not always thick enough to protect against regular infantry weapons, let alone greater caliber guns. Furthermore, the crew was not protected from the sides nor above, leaving them vulnerable to flanking maneuvers and thrown grenades. One of the vehicle’s major advantages was its small size that made it easy to conceal on the battlefield and harder to spot from the air. It also carried a decent amount of ammunition, 54 rounds divided into 27 armor-piercing, and 27 high explosive rounds. Furthermore, each section of two vehicles was supported by a truck that carried another 312 rounds.

Vehicle no.0484, next to T.13 no.0514. Although fielding the same gun, the T.13 was far more effective, but would not have been there had the Mark VI with C.47 not existed. Source: Belgian Tank Museum

Further developments

The shortcomings made it clear this was not a permanent solution. While the core idea was good and fitting to Belgian defense policy and tactics, a new but similar vehicle was needed. In 1933, an offer made by captain Loyd that involved equipping the improved Mk.VI* with the C.47 gun was turned down by the Belgian Army. Instead, attention was turned to a new armored tractor developed by Vickers, the Carden Loyd Light Dragon Mk. I. Compared to the Mk.VI, this vehicle was bigger and would be far better suited to serve as a base for the C.47. Further developments would result in the T.13 tank destroyer that was taken into production from 1935 onwards.

Abandoned Mk.VI with C.47 on top of a hill is being inspected by a German soldier. The Belgians lost most, if not all, of their Mk.VIs on 10th and 11th May. Source: eBay

Into service

After the six vehicles were accepted into service in February 1934, another major shortcoming was revealed, namely that the crew of two was overwhelmed with their multitude of jobs. The driver, seated to the left of the gun, not only had to drive the vehicle, but also had to lower the supports at the back whenever necessary and had to aim the gun after that action, prolonging the time between target spotting and shooting. In the meantime, the commander had to prepare the projectiles and load the gun while having to keep an eye on the surroundings. This was also true for the driver, as the vehicle was vulnerable from the sides, and a flanking maneuver by enemy infantry could be fatal if unnoticed.

After the T.13 was taken into production, it was decided that once enough of them had been produced, the Mk.VI was to be taken out of service while the guns would be repurposed. During December 1937, however, the General Staff decided against this and instead wanted to relocate the six vehicles to the Frontier Cyclists stationed near Visé. This happened in 1938. At the time, they were worn out and some were unable to move. As such, they were reportedly dug in to form stationary defensive positions along the River Meuse between the villages Vivegnis and Lixhe.

Source: eBay
No.0481 was probably dug in before it retreated, as clumps of dark soil are still stuck to the front and its suspension, visible on the right photograph. It shows signs of damage too, with a bent gun shield and destroyed headlights. However, none of this is visible on the top image, which was presumably taken in the same time period. This could mean the vehicle was not damaged during the fighting, but after. Source: Belgian Tank Museum

On 15th March 1940, the Frontier Cyclists was split into a 1st and 2nd Regiment. The 8th Company of the 2nd Regiment was equipped with six T.13 and four Mk.VI with C.47. When the German Army initiated Fall Gelb and attacked the Low Countries and France, starting on 10th May 1940, the vehicles were stationed on the western bank of the river and probably fired some shots at Germans that appeared on the eastern bank. In the evening of 11th May, the 2nd Regiment was ordered to retreat. Engine failures or similar problems meant all Mk.VIs had to be left behind and were subsequently found by advancing German troops. Rumors that some were dumped into the Albert Canal remain unverified. At least three to four abandoned vehicles were photographed by German soldiers, which were the former vehicles of the 8th Company. Where the other two out of six went is unknown. The Germans collected the remaining vehicles, after which they were scrapped, with none surviving the war.

Source: bunkergordel.be
No 0482 was left behind on the western bank of the River Meuse. In the background, the city of Visé can be seen. Whether the right photograph also is No. 0482 and slightly moved, or another vehicle abandoned at the same place is hard to determine. It is not unlikely that this vehicle fired a few shots against the attacking Germans before being abandoned. Source: 18daagseveldtocht.be

Conclusion

With mounting a 47 mm anti-tank gun directly on top of the light Mark VI, the Belgian Army tinkered with the very weight limit the chassis could handle. Lack of sufficient armor, dubious mobility, and nonideal circumstances for the crew meant the vehicle was not that great. However, it was the first attempt to create an armored self-propelled anti-tank gun capable of supporting and moving with the infantry in harsh terrain at a low financial cost. The experience gained would help the Belgian Army greatly in creating a totally new doctrine for this kind of armored vehicle which allowed them to develop the far better T.13 tank destroyer that was produced in relatively large numbers. That they were still in use by May 1940 was largely thanks to their very competent guns, instead of their overall usability.

The 47 mm armed Vickers Carden Loyd Mark VI in Belgian service. Illustration gifted by Felix Asmaryan.

Mk.VI 47 mm specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3,2 x 2 x 1,6 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 1,8 tonnes (3,968 lbs)
Crew 2 (Commander/loader, driver/gunner)
Propulsion Ford T 4-cylinder petrol, 40 bhp
Speed 32 km/h (19,9 mph)
Off-road speed 9 km/h (5,6 mph)
Range 144 km (89 miles)
Armament F.R.C. 47 mm L30 Modèle 1931 (1.9 in)
Armor 9 mm front and back, 6 mm sides, 5 mm gunshield
Total Production 6

Sources

Carden Loyd Mk.VI, Profile Publications no. 16, Robert J. Icks, 1967.
Le T.13 (1934-1940) : un blindé parmi les Hommes : histoire anthropologique d’un « bac » de l’Armée belge, Pierre Muller, Faculté de philosophie, arts et lettres, Université catholique de Louvain, 2017. Prom. : Emmanuel Debruyne. http://hdl.handle.net/2078.1/thesis:10081.
Les Chars et les Vehicules Terrestres du Musée Royal de l’Armée à Bruxelles, R. Surlemont, Tank Museum A.S.B.L., 1984. P.22-23.
Popular Science, Belgium’s tank destroyer tows guns on wheels, October 1932, p.24.
Tank Museum News no.125, Le 47 mm sur Mark VI, ou l’histoire de l’éléphant et de la puce, Pierre Muller, June 2017. academia.edu.
The armoured vehicles of the Belgian Army 1914-1974, Jacques P. Champagne, G. Everling s.p.r.l., 1974.
Beschrijving Cavalerie-eenheden, bunkergordel.be.
2e Regiment Grenswielrijders, 18daagseveldtocht.be.