Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 British Infantry Tanks

Churchill NA 75

United Kingdom (1944)
Infantry Tank – 200 converted

The NA 75, a workshop improvised Churchill variant, is a testament to the ingenuity of one British officer, Captain Percy H. Morrell. An officer of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), Captain Morrell served in Tunisia and was charged with disassembling and breaking down battle damaged tanks, in particular, M4 Shermans.
The Captain noted that many of the 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 guns equipping the Shermans were still in an operational condition. As such, he began formulating a plan to make use of them by mounting them into the turret of Mk. IV Churchills.
These tanks would be designated as the Churchill NA 75. This was attributed to the vehicle’s place of birth, NA – North Africa, and the transferred 75 mm M3 gun.
Percy Hulme Morrell enlisted at Leeds on June 29th, 1940.
Percy Hulme Morrell enlisted at Leeds on June 29th, 1940. He rose through the ranks to be granted an emergency promotion to Second Lieutenant on February 6th, 1943. He was posted to North Africa in the April of that year – Photo: track48.com

Advantages

Morrell aimed to achieve 2 goals with one action. A noted weakness with the Churchill was the inability of its main armament to fire an effective HE (High Explosive) round. This was a problem faced by the Mk.I and II with their 2-Pounder guns, and the Mk. III and IV with the 6-Pounder. Both of these guns lacked a powerful HE round, so anti-infantry and emplacement operations were difficult. Because of this, ironically, an Infantry Tank was not able to properly support infantry. The Sherman’s 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 gun did not have this issue, as it was able to fire quite a potent HE round.
Morrell had also noted that many Churchills lost in battle around the Medjerde Valley and similar engagements, had received hits to the gun area. It was apparent that in the bright sun of the desert, the recessed mantlet caused a visible shadow, providing a clear aiming point for German gunners. High-velocity 75 mm (2.95 in) or 88 mm (3.46 in) shells hitting this area would either jam the weapon in place, pass straight through the mantlet or knock the whole thing clean off its trunnions.
The Sherman’s external mantlet, specifically the M34 type, provided a quick fix to this problem, giving this weak area a much need boost in armor protection. It was hoped that its curved shape might induce a ricochet and also obviously remove the dark recess aiming point.

Operation Whitehot

Captain Morrell’s concept drew enough interest for Major General W.S. Tope, Commander of REME in the Mediterranean theater, and John Jack, a civilian engineer from Vauxhall Ltd. to join him in Tunisia. They would assist Morrell with the project at the workshops in Bone. It was classified as “Top Secret” under the codename of “Operation Whitehot”.
A turret with the face re-cut for the adoption of the new mantlet and gun. The extra piece cut on the right is for the coaxial machine-gun - Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
A turret with the face re-cut for the adoption of the new mantlet and gun. The extra piece cut on the right is for the coaxial machine-gun – Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
Some 48 Mk.IV Churchills were the first to undergo the modification in North Africa. The method of inserting the gun was thus:
1: The Churchill Mk.IV’s standard issue armament, the Ordnance QF 6-Pounder (57mm), was removed. The removed 6-Pounder guns were returned to Ordnance Stores.
2: The original mantlet hole on the turret was widened.
3: The gun was rotated 180 degrees to suit the crew positions in the turret, and inserted, complete with the M34 mount.
4: The gun was welded in place, including the new external mantlet.
The turret also saw the addition of a counterweight in the rear due to the increased size of the armament. Room was also made on the left of the gun for the addition of the Sherman’s coaxial 30 cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 machine gun. The machine gun only had a limited range of motion due to the cramped conditions. As such, it could not elevate as high as the main armament.
Almost complete turrets waiting to be mounted back onto their hulls. The mantlet is not yet added - Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
Almost complete turrets waiting to be mounted back onto their hulls. The mantlet is not yet added – Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
The tanks were tested under the supervision of Major ‘Dick’ Whittington, Gunnery Instructor at the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) Training Depot at Le Khroub. The Major commandeered a deserted Arabic village, which was ranged at 8,000 to 8,500 yards. The tanks, now armed with an effective HE round, rained shell after shell on the abandoned buildings. The tests were a success. It was surmised that the Churchill provided a much more stable firing platform which, unlike the Sherman, stood fast to the recoil of the gun, meaning the fire would be much more accurate.

The crew of an NA 75 with the name Boyne, take a break in the Italian sun. Boyne was part of 1 Troop 'B' Squadron.
The crew of a Churchill NA 75 with the name “Boyne”, take a break in the Italian sun. Boyne was part of 1 Troop ‘B’ Squadron. Commander Lieut B.E.S.King MC. The crew in the photo: Gunner, L/Cpl Cecil A.Cox with Operator, Cpl Bob Malseed. Boyne was later knocked out by a Panzer IV – Photo: www.ww2incolor.com
A group of NA 75s in Italy await action while the crews perform basic maintenance - Photo: Imperial War Museum
A group of Churchill NA 75s in Italy await action while the crews perform basic maintenance – Photo: Imperial War Museum
One of the first NA 75s photographed at the workshops in Bone, Tunisia.
One of the first Churchill NA 75s photographed at the workshops in Bone, Tunisia. Note how limited the elevation of the coaxial MG is. At full elevation, it is still a few degrees away from being inline with the 75 mm (2.95 in) – Photo: Haynes Publishing

Service

In total, 200 Churchill Mk.IVs were upgraded to the NA 75 standard. These would go on to serve in the Italian campaign, where Major General Tope commended their service with the 21st and 25th Tank Brigades in the month-long fighting between Arezzo and Florence.
A shortage of tanks meant that the Churchills would work alongside Shermans. Because of this, the Churchills would, for once, be used in their intended role as infantry support tanks. The Churchills would blast their way through the battlefield, while the faster Shermans and infantry exploited any breakthroughs.
Witnessing their success first hand, Tope sent a letter back to Morell: “I should be glad if you would congratulate the REME concerned on doing a quick job which had been most valuable to this brigade.” The NA 75 would go on to serve in Italy until the end of the war in 1945.
A Churchill NA 75 of the 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944
A Churchill NA 75 of the 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944.

Fate

Following the success of his upgrades and the flood of praise accompanying it, Captain Morrell was awarded the Military MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and received the promotion to Major.
Despite the lessons learned with the external mantlet, the Churchill would see out its career with its original recessed mantlet design. Had it have gone into service, the Churchill’s intended replacement, the Black Prince, would finally have done away with the recessed mantlet and used an external curved one.
It is not known whether any of the NA 75s survive today, but the vehicles remain a testament to “British Ingenuity”, and one man’s work to improve the fighting capabilities of his army.

An article by Mark Nash

Churchill NA 75

Dimensions 24ft 5in x 10ft 8in x 8ft 2in
(7.44 m x 3.25 m x 2.49 m)
Total weight Aprox. 40 tonnes
Crew 5 (driver, bow-gunner, gunner, commander, loader)
Propulsion 350 hp Bedford horizontally opposed twin-six petrol engine
Speed (road) 15 mph (24 km/h)
Armament 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 Tank Gun
Browning M1919 .30 Cal (7.62 mm) machine-gun
BESA 7.92mm (0.31 in) machine-gun
Armor From 25 to 152 mm (0.98-5.98 in)
Total production 200 upgraded

Links & Resources

Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #7 Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-51
Haynes Owners Workshop Manuals, Churchill Tank 1941-56 (all models). An insight into the history, development, production and role of the British Army tank of the Second Wold War.
Schiffer Publishing, Mr. Churchill’s Tank: The British Infantry Tank Mark IV, David Fletcher
Article about the NA 75


Tanks Encyclopedia’s own rendition of the Churchill NA 75 by David Bocquelet. This particular vehicle, “Adventurer”, is from A Company, as represented by the yellow triangle. A box would represent B company, A circle would be C company and a Diamond would be a HQ vehicle.


British Churchill Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

British Churchill Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

Sally forth in with confidence in this Churchill tee. A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project. Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!


Categories
WW2 British Infantry Tanks

Churchill, Infantry Tank Mk.IV, A22

United Kingdom (1941)
Heavy tank – 7368 built

The last “infantry tank”

The A20 British infantry tank design was a prewar General Staff specification, meant to be a replacement for both the Matilda and the recent Valentine. Just like the former, it incorporated typically trench-warfare features. It was envisioned as slow (infantry pace), heavily protected with an armament only suitable to deal with fortifications (low velocity, high caliber, high explosives), crushing barb wire in the process. The tracks had to be long enough to allow large trench crossings, including anti-tank ditches.
British Churchill MkII A22 Infantry Tank
British Churchill MkII A22 Infantry Tank on display outside the Tank Museum, Bovington, England
The first design had a strong WWI flavor, with two QF 2-pdr ordnance guns placed in side sponsons, a reminder of the “lozenge design” of the Great War. But this obsolete design soon incorporated a 60 mm (2.36 in) steel protected turret, like the one on the Matilda. The initial engine was the 300 hp flat-12 Meadows already used by the Covenanter cruiser tank. The A20 final design was approved and a contract order was signed for two prototypes, to be assembled by Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff (original makers of the famous Titanic). These two prototypes were delivered in May 1940.
Various weapons combinations were tried, ending with a 3 in (76.2 mm) howitzer. However, the A20 proved sluggish, its 43 tons overwhelming the engine. One prototype was shipped to Vauxhall Motors, at Luton, to try to enhance its performance with a revised, lighter design, and more powerful engine. They devised a strange arrangement, called the “twin six”, in fact a “flat-12” Bedford. This was the blueprint for the A22.

The A22, Tank, Infantry Mark IV

During the battle of France, the initial design, based on trench warfare, was proved to be obsolete, and a new one was envisioned by Dr. H.E. Merritt, the Woolwich Arsenal Tank Design director. This model was then shipped to the Vauxhall factory at the end of June 1940. An initial order was given for two prototypes, delivered by Vauxhall in December 1940. But, more refinements, trials and modifications were needed before production could start, and the first Mark I rolled out of the factory line in June 1941.
The A22, Tank, Infantry Mk.IV (the Mk.III was the Valentine) might seem like it was named after the iconic British leader of the time. But -according to Churchill himself- the name honored the memory of his XVIIth century ancestor, Sir John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. It could also have commemorated the instrumental leadership of Sir Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and the head of the “Landship Committee”, the initiator of British tank development during the Great War.

Design of the A22

Suspension and drivetrain

At the opposite spectrum compared to the nimble Cruisers, with their Christie-style suspensions, the Churchill was a kind of “back to basics” and had a suspension system only tailored for large trench crossing and impassable or extremely muddy terrain. Since protection was also paramount, both the size and weight had to be compensated by minimal possible ground pressure. The engineers did it the old way, by adding multiple small road wheels, each sprung by sturdy coil springs, interlocked with the biggest and heaviest track links designed for a British tank up to that point. The 58 track links rolled under 22 paired ground 10-inch (25.3 cm) roadwheels (11 bogies), of which two were posted at the front for unditching and two at the rear, serving as track tensioners.
There were no return rollers, as the tracks ran above “panniers”, which cleared the sides for an access hatch. The drive sprockets were at the rear, and idler at the front. At first, the upper tracks were left completely unprotected, like the typical WWI “lozenge” tanks. But this was changed in 1942 (with the Mk.III), and the upper tracks were entirely covered by “catwalks”, while the ends received massive mudguards. This WWI appearance owed to the hull being significantly shorter than the tracks, which protruded a good 40 in (1.2 m) to the front. This was done with cratered terrain and deep trenches in mind.
These mudguards were often removed from the tanks in theater. One reason was that mud would get clogged up inside them and cause them to be ripped off. Another reason was that the blast from the gun distorted them or blew them clean off.

Engine

The Churchill’s Bedford was a specifically built twin engine in an opposite horizontal configuration, mated on a common crankshaft. It was called the “flat twelve”. It had a 1.296 cubic inch capacity, rated at 350 bhp@2000 rpm (261 kW), giving a 960 lb/ft (1,300 N/m) torque for an rpm ranging from 800 to 1600.
Four Solex carburetors, with their own manifolds, each served three cylinders, forming a single head. All the engine components were ventilated around to provide easier access and maintenance inside the compartment. The air needed to cool the engine was drawn from the fighting compartment, dragging gun fumes through air cleaners when opening a flap between the two compartments. The engine fumes were exhausted into two large side louvres, one of the most recognizable features of the Churchill. These had various shapes during production, the early type being the “cylindrical” style. The cooled air was blown through the radiators by a fan actioned by the clutch. This fan also blew air onto the gearbox and towards the hull rear.

Transmission

The Merritt-Brown 4 speed constant mesh epicyclic gearbox was characterized by a regenerative steering system controlled by a tiller bar, instead of brake levers or a steering wheel. This caused concerns when training drivers, but the unconventional system had advantages of its own. It was rendered necessary by the sheer weight of the tank, which would have made it difficult to control with a modern hydraulically-driven servo assistance. A system, mirroring the complex oil-driven steering mechanism on the French B1 tank, which was also meant to aim very precisely the hull’s main gun, an armament configuration also adopted on the first Churchill. The system also allowed to change the relative speed of each track, providing, ultimately, a “neutral turn” capability. The tank could turn entirely on the spot, which was a crucial capability given the size and weight of the hull. The drive sprockets were planetary-type final reduction gears.

Hull

The 1940 specifications (A20) called for a riveted hull. This was the norm until the Mk.VII (A22F), on which all plates were welded. These were simple flat armored plates, bolted to the steel chassis. The hull was long, but relatively narrow, in accordance with the standard wagon lorries of the Army. Access to the inside was performed through two side hatches, round or squared. Two massive storage boxes were fitted to the rear, on each side of the engine compartment. The driver compartment was not separated from the fighting compartment in the middle, which was roomier than usual.
The original armor specifications called for 0.63 to 4 in armor thickness (16 to 102 mm), which was greater than that of the Matilda, and promised near immunity against most antitank guns of the time, or heavy shrapnel. It was, in 1941, the most heavily protected tank in the world (the Russian KV-1 being second). The Germans had nothing comparable until the Tiger I was out, but, in the meantime, the armor was considerably reinforced. By the time the Mark VII was operational in 1943, the frontal armor had reached a staggering 6 in (152 mm), while the minimal thickness (bottom) was raised to 0.98 in (25 mm), with sides up to 102 mm (4 in). Only the rare Tiger II and Jagdtiger surpassed it on this matter. The only problem was that the armor was vertical, losing efficiency compared to a sloped one. Nevertheless, this protection gave tremendous confidence to the crews.

Turret

The early turret was relatively small compared to the hull, entirely cast, rounded, and wide enough to accommodate the commander and servants of the standard 2-pdr (40 mm/1.57 in) gun. The mantlet, both for the main gun and coaxial Besa machine gun, was internal. There were three vertical slots, with the rangefinder optics at the right, gun in the center and coaxial machine-gun on the left, slightly off-centered. A small storage bow was later fitted to the turret’s rear, at first to give extra storage, but, at the end of the Churchill development, also to provide a counterweight following gun upgrades. A second storage was added to the left side. The Vickers Tank Periscope Mk.IV was soon adopted. There were two of them, one for the gunner, another for the commander, on each side of the turret, and, behind them, two half-door hatches. Two other periscopes were fitted on the hull, over the hull gunner and driver positions, both of them being provided with roof exit hatches. As customary, the radio compartment was fitted at the rear of the turret, with two antennae.
With the Mk.III, the turret was enlarged, in order to house the bigger 6-pdr (57 mm/2.24 in). It was now hexagonal, with flat sides, welded, and significantly taller and wider. The gun and machine-gun were now narrowly coupled on the same mantlet, which was internal.
The last evolution came with the Mk.VII. The turret, still hexagonal and angular, was partly cast and welded, asymmetric, and lengthened at the rear, to house a bigger 75 mm (2.95 in) gun. The internal mantlet was holding together, in a narrow configuration, the main gun, the coaxial Besa and the gunner optics. Two deflector bulges were welded on each side of this opening, to deflect incoming rounds from sensitive angles.

Armament

The early idea of lateral barbettes being dropped, there were still concerns about the main armament. In the end, a compromise inspired by the French B1 was chosen, with a 3 in (76.2 mm) hull howitzer to deal with concrete fortifications, while retaining antitank capabilities with the standard 2-pounder (40 mm/1.57 in), mounted in the turret. In 1940, it was certainly superior to most 37 mm (1.45 in) guns in service throughout the world at that time, with an excellent muzzle velocity and a great rate of fire. Another early variant was the Mk. II CS (Close Support), fitted with a 3 in (76.2 mm) howitzer, which was only capable of firing smoke shells. The hull gun proved inefficient and was replaced, on the Mk.III, with a hull machine-gun. Only in 1942, when the real AT capabilities of the puny 2-pdr appeared blatantly inefficient against superior German armor, did concerns appear about upgrading the main armament, which also required a new turret.
This came along with the Mk.III, fitted with the standard 6 pounder (57 mm/2.24 in) gun, and a completely new turret and internal configuration. This gave the Churchill the long-awaited capability of going against up-armored Panzer III/IVs in North Africa and proved instrumental during the second battle of El Alamein. However, by the time of the Tunisian campaign, the upgraded Panzer IV Ausf.F2 proved to have superior range and penetration power.
Once again, a new upgrade was envisioned. But even before that, a clever and resourceful officer, named Percy Morell, managed to fit spare US-built 75 mm (2.95 in) guns inside the regular Churchill IV turrets, obtained from countless disabled Sherman tanks. The result, known as the “NA-75”, fought during the final phase of the Tunisian campaign, and again in Normandy. But even the Sherman main gun was not up to the task, and the Mk.VII, or “heavy Churchill”, was the first to introduce the QF 75 gun (75 mm/2.95 in), which had better characteristics than the 6-pdr, but still lacked punch against the latest German tanks, like the Tiger or Panther. The final attempt to fit the “long” 17-pdr version came too late, with the “Black Prince”. Only prototypes were built, and never saw action. By that time, more modern tanks were in the final development stage, like the Centurion.

Production & evolution

The early A22 Mk.I was not so different externally from the later Mk.VII/VIII. However, almost everything had been changed in the meantime, making these later versions the best of any. This triggered a wave of upgrades and modifications of previous versions (leading to the Mk.IX, X, XI). This renders it tricky to determine, in the study of photographic evidence, if the tank was of one the upgraded types, or a late “regular” one. The turret shape is a good clue, as are the side details. The late Churchills were the most heavily armored, best armed, but also the slowest of the entire series. A famous offspring of this lineage, the A43 “Black Prince”, was an attempt to give the British Army a heavy tank capable of dealing, on equal terms, with its latest German counterparts, but had nothing to do with the early infantry tanks.

Churchill Mk. I

First series, with 303 built in 1941. The tracks were entirely unprotected. This series was characterized by an early rounded turret with the 2-pdr QF standard gun, coupled with a 3 in (76.2 mm) hull howitzer. Plagued by teething problems, they were relegated to training or reconverted into special versions.

Churchill Mk. II (Churchill Ia)

The hull howitzer was replaced by a Besa machine-gun, in order to gain extra space and simplify production. 1127 delivered until mid-1942. Many problems had to be overcome until 1943. Also relegated to the second line or reconverted.

Churchill Mk. II CS (close support)

The turret 2-pdr and the hull 3-in howitzer swapped places. Supplied with smoke rounds. Proved quite unsatisfactory. Only a handful built.

Churchill Mk. III

The first major set of modifications. For the first time, the turret was welded and housed a 6 pdr gun. It had a coaxial Besa machine gun, another one replacing the former hull howitzer. Many changes to the engine, transmission and protection were made, including the “catwalk” above the upper tracks. 675 were delivered in 1942.

Churchill Mk. III*

Field conversion replacing the 6-Pounder gun of Mk. III Churchills with the 75mm Gun.

Churchill Mk. IV

The biggest production of all series, with 1622 tanks. It was given the cheaper and less labor-intensive cast turret. The early production models had a counterweight to balance their 6 pdr gun, and many were retrofitted with the new long barrel 6 pdr (57 mm/2.24 in) Mk.V gun.

Churchill Mk. V

This was basically a Mk.IV for close support, with a 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer and 47 rounds. 241 built in all in 1943.

Churchill Mk. VI

A minor upgrade of the IV, with the new 6 pounder Mk.V gun. 200 were built, but production was quickly swapped for the new VII, and the factory lines were then busy upgrading III/IV versions to the new standard.

Churchill Mk. VII

A major modification, which was also called “heavy Churchill”, was two ton heavier, better protected than ever, with 152 mm (6 in) of frontal armor, and the new QF 75 (75 mm) gun. This version was reclassified as the Ordnance A42 in 1945. Production was around 1400, built until late 1944.

Churchill Mk. VIII

This last version was a close support one, fitted with a 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer and 47 rounds. Around 200 were built in 1944.


Upgraded versions
The following marks were not new production vehicles, but completely overhauled and upgraded earlier models, so production figures are irrelevant. Many were also modified as more radical variants and sub-variants.

Churchill Mk.IX

Mk.III/IV refitted with the new Mk.VII turret, transmission and suspension. Some only received the latter improvements and kept their old turret. These were known as Mk.IX LT (for “light turret”). No upgrades in armor.

Churchill Mk.X

Mk.VI upgraded to the Mk.VII standard.

Churchill Mk.XI

Mk.V upgraded to the Mk.VII standard, but also receiving extra armor.

Churchill NA-75

Around 200 Churchill Mk.IVs were upgraded to the NA 75 version with 75 mm (2.95 in) guns and mantlets of discarded or destroyed Shermans. To mount the gun, the front turret section had to be cut off and the gun introduced, followed by mantlet slot, and then the whole package was welded over.

Operation Bertram

Another way of hiding your tank was to change its shape. This type of deception tactic had been used by the Royal Navy in WW1. They changed the outline of destroyers to look more like merchant ships. When the WW1 German U-boat surfaced to attack the ship with its main gun the screens would drop to enable a full broadside of high explosive shells to be fired at the submarine. These type of ships were called ‘Q’ boats.
During Operation Bertram in the months leading up to the second Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in September – October 1942 camouflage and dummy vehicles were used to deceive the Germans where the next attack was going to come from. Real tanks were disguised as trucks, using light “Sunshield” canopies. To achieve the deception, trucks were parked openly in the tank assembly area for some weeks. Real tanks were similarly parked openly, far behind the front. Two nights before the attack, the tanks replaced the trucks, being covered with “Sunshields” before dawn.
Churchill tank operation bertram
The tanks were replaced that same night with dummies in their original positions, so the armour remained seemingly two or more days’ journey behind the front line. Interviews with captured German senior officers showed that this type of deception was successful: they believed the attack was going to come from the south where they had seen the dummy tanks and vehicles and not in the north. The idea for the Sunshield came from Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Wavell.
The first heavy wooden prototype was made in 1941 by Jasper Maskelyne, who gave it the name Sunshield. 12 men were needed to lift it. The Mark 2 Sunshield was made of canvas stretched over a light steel tube frame. On 11th November 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced victory at El Alamein in the House of Common.
Churchill tank disguised as a lorry
During his speech he praised the success of Operation Bertram, “By a marvellous system of camouflage, complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert. The 10th Corps, which he had seen from the air exercising fifty miles in the rear, moved silently away in the night, but leaving an exact simulacrum of its tanks where it had been, and proceeded to its points of attack.” (Winston Churchill, 1942)

Special versions

Presented in chronological order. Many were derived from earlier series, never upgraded to the Mk. VII standard. These were popularly known by the common soldiers as “Hobart’s funnies”.

Churchill Oke

In mid-1942, prior to the upcoming raid on Dieppe, Major J.M. Oke devised a flame-throwing modification, applied to three prototype vehicles, named “Boar”, “Beetle” and “Bull”. A pipe apparatus, with the tank fitted at the rear, was linked to the front left hull Ronson flame projector, leaving the right-hand hull machine-gun unobstructed. The three vehicles were part of the first wave at Dieppe.

Churchill AVRE

The Churchill AVRE was most common modification of all genie versions, designed after the painful raid of Dieppe. This was the typical armored vehicle of the Royal Engineers, equipped with the Petard, a 290 mm (11.41 in) Spigot mortar, which fired an 18 kg (40 lb) warhead and had a practical range of 137 m (150 yards). Its purpose was to clear concrete bunkers and all kind of enemy fortifications and obstacles. It was a basis which could serve for many other purposes, like the mine-flail version, explosive carrier, fascine carrier, brideglayer, etc.

Bobbin carrier

This version was used during landings, on sandy beaches and soft grounds (extremely muddy) in general. A 10 feet large (3 m) canvas bobbin was carried at the front of the leading Churchill AVRE, released to create a rolling path for the following vehicles.

Double Onion

The Double Onion was the successor of the single carrot explosive device. It consisted of two large explosive charges placed on a metal frame, that was laid on a concrete wall and exploded from a safe distance. Another variant was the Churchill Goat.

Churchill ARV

The “Armored Recovery Vehicle” was based on a turretless Mk.I. The front jib had a 7.5 ton capacity and had a counterweight at the rear. The rear jib had 15 ton traction, while the winch could pull 25 tons. The small tailored turret had a dummy gun. A single Besa machine gun served for close quarter defense, and there was enough room inside to carry the damaged tank’s crew.

Churchill ARK

For “Armoured Ramp Carrier”, this turretless vehicle carried a folding bridge. When unfolded, it spanned 65 ft (20 m). The sub-Marks 1 and 2 had trackways either on the tracks or directly on the vehicle itself. In 1945, ten Churchill Great Easterns were delivered. These were conceived by officer engineer and inventor Cecil Vandepeer Clarke. The folded bridge spanned 60 feet and was deployed in seconds using rockets. It seems they never saw action.

Churchill Crocodile

One of the most famous versions of the Churchill, around 800 were built. It was the main Allied flamethrower tank (in Europe), generally a Mark VII with a flamethrower replacing the hull Besa machine gun. The fuel tank was carried in a trailer. The range was 150 yards (137 m), firing one-second bursts.

Churchill Kangaroo

A turretless variant used as an armored personnel carrier (APC). These were the roomier and best-protected versions of the Kangaroo.

Gun Carrier, 3in, Mk I, Churchill (A22D)

This was probably the only attempt to build a tank-hunter based on the Churchill. It was modified to house an anti-aircraft 3 in (76.2mm) Mk.I gun, in a ballmount inside a 3.5 in (88 mm) thick superstructure. Fifty were built in 1942, but their fate remains uncertain. Large scale conversions were dropped, due to the adoption of the 17 pounder.

Black Prince (A43)

By 1943, the Churchill was the most heavily armored tank in British service, and it was seen as an adequate response to the German Tiger and Panther if rearmed with a more potent weapon, the 17 pounder. It was designed in 1944 on the basis of the Mk.VII at Vauxhall Motors, and adopted the turret developed for the Comet. But weighing ten tons more and having the same old engine, its performances were mediocre at best.

FV3902 Churchill Toad

The last use of the Churchill in military service. This heavy mine-clearing flail tank entered service, under the designation FV3902, in 1956 and was a descendant of the famous “Hobart’s Funnies”. 42 of the vehicles were produced, they served with the Royal Engineers but were never used in a combat environment.

FV3903 Churchill AVRE

The lesser-known update to the famous Second World War AVRE. The 290mm Petard Mortar was replaced with a 165mm Demolition gu which had a much-improved range. It had a short service life, before being replaced by the FV4003 Centurion AVRE.

Active service

When the A20 was first planned, the general staff wanted a trench warfare tank. The specifications evolved by the summer of 1940, giving birth to the A22. It was more powerful, and ease-of-manufacture simplifications were applied in order to reduce the time until it could enter production, which became paramount. Simply put, when the very first copies rolled off the line in July 1941, the Churchill had been rushed without proper trials and corrections. These would take place later and gradually, which hampered this tank early on, earning it an ill-deserved reputation, strengthened at Dieppe one year later.

North Africa

The most pressing problem, even more pressing after the first Mk.I/IIs arrived in North Africa, was the unreliability of the Meadows engine. Plus, it had been conceived for a mild climate and suffered heavily under the blistering sun of Libya. Ventilation was all-time poor and access limited, preventing efficient monitoring and maintenance. Despite being fitted with a 75 mm (2.95 in) howitzer, aiming the tank proved more difficult than expected and, by early 1942, the Germans introduced up-armored versions of their main battle tank, the Panzer III, fitted with a 50 mm (1.96 in) gun. The 2-pounder, shared with nearly all other British tanks of the time, was found lacking. Their presence was not felt before the second battle of El Alamein, when the first up-gunned and upgraded Mk.IIIs were first committed in action. The “King’s force”, comprising six Mk.IIIs, decisively supported the 7th Motor Brigade, destroying many German antitank gun positions. None was heavily damaged, and one was found with no less than 80 non-penetrating impacts. This success made the War Office send more, creating three armored regiments and a full brigade, that arrived in February 1943. All older version were withdrawn and shipped back to Great Britain for an overhaul.

The Dieppe Raid

Planned long before August 1942, Operation Rutter was to involve 6000 Canadians and several companies of Commandos. The force was meant to test German defenses and learn about landing operations. 60 Churchills of several types took part in the landings, including three flame-thrower versions, a Bobbin version, demolition and bridging vehicles. The operation proved a failure for a number of reasons.
It is a common myth that the Churchill tanks were stuck on the beach and could not cope with the shingle beach. Most of the Churchill tanks did get off the beach but could not get past some of the concrete tank traps. The few that could not get off the beach had their tracks clogged or broken by the pebbles. The reason most of the Churchill tanks ended up on the beach at the end of the raid is because they were called back to be taken off. Because of enemy fire, the landing craft could not get near the beach to take them off. The Churchill tanks that were knocked out were hit on their track and suspension system. They could not move so were abandoned by their crew. The German 3.7 cm (1.46 in), 5 cm (1.97 in) Pak and French 7.5 cm (2.95 in) guns had difficulty penetrating the Churchill tank’s armor. Only one tank had its armor penetrated.

Tunisia

When the Churchill began to arrive en masse in North Africa, the second battle of El Alamein had been won, and German forces were on the run west, to Tunisia. At the same time, the US and British forces landed in French Algeria and Morocco (Operation Torch), creating a giant pincer movement for the retreating Afrika Korps and what remained of the Italian divisions. Meanwhile, Marshal Kesselring was sent to Tunisia with massive reinforcements, including the German brand new beast, the Tiger. The Churchill III and IV, equipped with 6-pdr guns, were no match for it, but proved their tremendous protection and superior crossing abilities on many actions. Tunisia has a mountainous terrain, and over it, the Churchill motricity was second to none. It could climb up slopes which were deemed impassable for a tank, and so was able to provide infantry support where it was needed, often in areas unexpected by the enemy. On one occasion, a Churchill scored a lucky hit in the turret ring of a Tiger tank, jamming the turret. The crew hastily deserted it, leaving the Tiger as a prize. It was invaluable to British intelligence and now stands at the Bovington museum.

Italy

With its reputation firmly re-established, the Churchill was massively involved during the whole Italian campaign. The main reason was the terrain, favoring infantry, which in turn needed a sturdy support tank, able to deal with the difficult terrain. The Churchill was first in line for this task. The specialized versions of the armored engineers were vital to the entire VIIIth Army and many other Allied forces operating in Italy. The experience gained here also paved the way for better versions, which were massively engaged in Normandy. Most of the modified NA75s saw action there. Their range and efficiency were better than those of a standard Sherman, due to the fact that the Churchill was a sturdier and more stable platform.

Western Europe

Although the Allies massively employed Shermans, the Churchill was always a welcome sight. Many specialized versions took part in the landings on the Normandy beaches, with mine-flail and Bullshorn plough versions, Bobbin versions, even salvage models. The Churchill, with its large tracks and many small boggies, proved invaluable in this sandy terrain. The heavy mortars of most of the AVREs (“petard”) dealt with any fortifications of the Atlantic Wall which had been missed by the planes. The excellent motricity of the Churchill was proven once more during Operation Bluecoat (30-31 July 1944), while capturing a key position, Hill 309. They also saw heavy fighting in the Low Countries.
On the Rhine border, equally fortified, the Churchill again proved highly efficient, especially with the arrival of the Mark VII, impervious to most German AT guns, or when combining a heavy mortar and flame-thrower versions. The “Crocodile” became infamously known for its macabre efficiency, so much so that in some cases, the simple view of one rolling towards a blockhouse triggered a prompt surrender. The Crocodile’s crews also knew too well that, in case they were captured, they could expect no mercy from the enemy. Churchills of all versions were massively engaged during Operation Veritable (the invasion of the Reichland).

Russia & Eastern Europe

The Churchill was also delivered to the USSR via Lend-Lease, a total of 301 Mk. III/IVs were shipped via Murmansk (43 lost en route). Their most memorable action occurred at Kursk, when the 5th Guards Tank Brigade successfully counter-attacked at Prokhorovka. The Russians appreciated the good mobility and large tracks of the vehicle, and excellent protection, comparable to the KV-1.

The Pacific

Less well-known, a few Churchills were also sent to the Australian forces operating in New Guinea, at the end of the war. By mid-1944, it was tested alongside the Sherman, with the Matilda already in service as a reference. The Australians eventually chose the Churchill, which was found very efficient for jungle warfare. However, only 46 of the 510 ordered ever reached the ANZACS, as the order was canceled at the end of the war.

Postwar

The last engagement of the Churchill came in Korea. In 1950, a Crocodile squadron took part in the third Battle of Seoul. Later on, four Churchills decisively supported the defense led by the 1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, helping to maintain the Allied position there. The regular Churchill was retired from service in 1952, while special versions, like the bridgelayer, were still on active duty in 1970. Many survived and are on display in various museums and collections, some in running condition.

6pdr Main Gun penetration figures

Official British War Department test figures show that the 6pdr Mk.III anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 79.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 66.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 55 mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 87.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 72 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 57.4 mm. When firing armour piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 89.6 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 79.6 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 70.7 mm. When fired at slopped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.
Official British War Department test figures show that the 6pdr Mk.V anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 85.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 72.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 60.4 mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 93.8 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 76.3 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 61.25 mm. When firing armour piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 95.9 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 86 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 76.7 mm. When fired at slopped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.

A22F Churchill Mark VII specifications

Dimensions 24ft 5in x 10ft 8in x 8ft 2in (7.44 x 3.25 x 2.49 m)
Total weight, battle ready 40 tonnes
Crew 5 (commander, driver, co-driver/hull gunner, gunner, loader/radio)
Propulsion Bedford twin-six petrol, 350 hp (261 kW) at 2,200 rpm
Transmission Merritt-Brown 4 speed constant mesh epicyclic gearbox
Suspension 22 vertical coil spring bogies
Top speed 15 mph (24 km/h)
Range (road) 56 mi (90 km)
Armament Vickers QF 75 (75 mm/2.95 in)
2x 0.303 (7.7 mm) Besa machine-guns
Armor From 25 to 152 mm (0.98-5.98 in)
Total production (Mk.VII-VIII combined) 1600

Links about the Churchill tank

The Churchill on Wikipedia

Gallery

A20 prototype, 1939A22 prototype on trials, 1940Churchill III of the King's Force, 1st Armored DivisionChurchill IV in Italy, summer 1944 - Credits: WikipediaArtist impression, Dragon boxart, Churchill Mk.III, 145th Rgt RAC, Tunisia, 1943.Churchill Mk.IIIMk.III, early typeChurchill Mk.IV, with the cast turretMk.V Close SupportChurchill Mk.VIChurchill Mk.IXChurchill Mk.X LT (light turret).Churchill II AVRE with Jib Crane - Credits : WikipediaChurchill Ark, from the North Irish Horse, at work crossing the River Senio in Italy, April 1945 - Credits : WikipediaChurchill Mk.IV, model kit boxart, artist impression.The ARK (Armoured Ramp Carrier) in action.Royal engineer's AVRE Double Onion special demolition vehicle.AVRE Goat demolition vehicle.AVRE Goat demolition vehicle.Churchill Great Eastern RampChurchill Oke (experimental flame-thrower version), abandoned at Dieppe.

Churchill Mk.I with the early cylinder type side exhaust muffler, Great Britain, 1941.
Churchill Mk.I with the early “cylinder” type side exhaust muffler, Great Britain, 1941.
Churchill Mk.I, late production version, with deep wading gear, 14th Canadian Armored Regiment, Dieppe, August 1942.
Churchill Mk.I, late production version, with deep wading gear, 14th Canadian Armored Regiment, Dieppe, August 1942.
Reworked Churchill Mk.I, North Africa, fall 1942.
Reworked Churchill Mk.I, North Africa, fall 1942.
Churchill Mk.II from a training platoon on the Salisbury Plain, England, October 1942.
Churchill Mk.II from a training platoon on the Salisbury Plain, England, October 1942.
Churchill Mk.II Saurian, 43rd Royal Tank Regiment, 33rd Armored Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
Churchill Mk.II “Saurian”, 43rd Royal Tank Regiment, 33rd Armored Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
Reworked Churchill Mk.II CS, 21st Armored Tank Brigade, North Irish Horse Regiment, Company B, Normandy 1944.
Reworked Churchill Mk.IICS (close support with a 95 mm/3.74 in howitzer), 21st Armored Tank Brigade, North Irish Horse Regiment, Company B, Normandy 1944. Notice the crew had managed to fit a captured Panzer III commander cupola over the main hatch.
Churchill Mk.III (A22B), early type, 43rd RTR, Italy 1944. Notice the late commander cupola fitted instead of the normal hatch.
Churchill Mk.III (A22B), early type, 43rd RTR, Italy 1944. Notice the late commander cupola fitted instead of the normal hatch.
Early Mk.III from the 21st Tank Brigade, fall 1943.
Early Mk.III from the 21st Tank Brigade, fall 1943.
Reworked Mk.III, King Force detachment, battle of El Alamein, November 1942.
Reworked Mk.III, “King Force” detachment, battle of El Alamein, November 1942.
Reworked Mk.III, 152nd Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, Tunisia 1943.
Reworked Mk.III, 152nd Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, Tunisia 1943.
A late Churchill Mk.III in Russian service, Northern front, spring 1943.
A late Churchill Mk.III in Russian service, Northern front, spring 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV, cast turret model, 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV, cast turret model, 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV, welded turret model, Tunisia, fall 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV, welded turret model, Tunisia, fall 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV, cast turret,
Churchill Mk.IV, cast turret, “A” Squadron, North Irish Horse, Tunisia, 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV with cast turret, Russian 10th Guards heavy breakthrough Tank Regiment, 23rd Armored Corps, 1st Tank Army, Voronezh, 1943.
Churchill Mk.IV with cast turret, Russian 10th Guards heavy breakthrough Tank Regiment, 23rd Armored Corps, 1st Tank Army, Voronezh, 1943.
Churchill Mk.V or Mk.V CS, close support version armed with a 95 mm/3.74 in howitzer, 6th Guards Armored Brigade, fall 1944.
Churchill Mk.V or Mk.V CS, close support version armed with a 95 mm/3.74 in howitzer, 6th Guards Armored Brigade, fall 1944.
Churchill Mk.VI, 4th Guards Armoured Brigade, Western Europe, 1945.
Churchill Mk.VI, 4th Guards Armoured Brigade, Western Europe, 1945.
Churchill Mk.VII (A22 F)
Churchill Mk.VII (A22 F) “heavy Churchill” from the 34th Tank Brigade, 107th RAC, 1944.
Mk.VII CS, or
Mk.VII CS, or “close support”, 95 mm/3.74 in howitzer.
Churchill Mk.VII during the winter of 1945, western bank of the Rhine.
Churchill Mk.VII during the winter of 1945, western bank of the Rhine. The smaller round side hatch reduced the stress on the armored plate.
Churchill Mk.VII Bert, (unknown unit) with spare track links as additional protection.
Churchill Mk.VII “Bert”, (unknown unit) with spare track links as additional protection.
Churchill Mk.IX LT (
Churchill Mk.IX LT (“light turret”), with welded appliqué armor, 9th RTR, summer 1944.
Churchill Mk.XI CS, Holland, winter 1944.
Churchill Mk.XI CS, Holland, winter 1944.


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WW2 British Infantry Tanks

Valentine, Infantry Tank Mk.III

United Kingdom (1939)
Infantry Tank – about 6,855 built

Genesis: A cruiser with increased protection

The British tank doctrine split tanks into Light Tanks, used for reconnaissance, Cruiser tanks, fast and well armed, meant to act as the cavalry of old, and Infantry tanks, slow and heavy, meant to support the infantry. The A11 Infantry Tank Mk.I and A12 Matilda belonged to the latter category.
The development of another Infantry tank, which would become known as the Valentine, started without a specification from the War Office (hence the absence of an army designation), as a private design by Sir John Carden, and was submitted on February, 10, 1938, to the authorities. By then, the Matilda had been chosen for production, but the Valentine was something different.
Vickers engineers basically tried to enhance their A10 Cruiser II tank design, with a dramatic increase in protection (up to 60 mm/2.36 in). This choice allowed the use most components and parts of the already produced Cruiser I and II, therefore creating an efficient and cheap solution to the need of new infantry tank models. By then, the Matilda was found to be far costlier than the Infantry Tank Mk.I, and not suitable for mass-production. Comparatively, the Valentine seemed a good compromise. The name itself still is a mystery. It could have originated either from Sir John Carden’s middle name, or the date of its first submission (St. Valentine day), or a composed Vickers factory codename. However, most historians agree that Valentine was just a simple codename used during development.

Development

Basically, the Valentine’s lower part was almost identical to the A9-A10 Cruiser tank designs. The engine was also the same, as well as the transmission, drivetrain, steering, tracks, and roadwheels, but the upper hull was lowered, and the specially designed turret was more compact and also lowered. This resulted in a compact, if somewhat cramped design, easier to protect. And its armor was massive, although 20 mm (0.79 in) less than the Matilda, but similar to that of the Infantry Tank Mk.I (A11), and much superior to the best German tanks of the time, the Panzer III and IV. The armament was the same puny QF 2-pdr Mk.III(40 mm/1.57 in ), already shared by virtually all British armor.
The War Office was concerned by the small size of the turret, which only allowed two men to operate in it. They would have preferred a three-man turret to allow the commander to be fully cleared of other tasks. But, by 1939, war was looming on the backstage of European affairs, and the design was finally approved in a stroke in April, in exchange for a fast delivery schedule. Vickers prepared itself for an order, which came at the end of 1939 with absolute priority, asking for the first deliveries in May 1940. However, by the deadline, the first -and only- prototype was barely on trials. Meanwhile, the evacuation of Dunkirk left Great Britain devoid of any heavy equipment. Mass production started without a pilot or pre-production series, under the denomination of Tank, Infantry, Mark III.

Design

The general layout was straightforward, with a clear compartmentalization in three sections, the driver, fighting and engine compartments. The transmission was short, directly connected to the drive sprockets at the rear, keeping the hull as low as possible. The driver was located at the front center, along with all the steering levers and clutches, which acted on control rods running through the entire length of the hull to the rear gearbox. The driver had good peripheral vision through a direct vision port and two periscopes. Access was possible through two hatches (one per side), and a small escape hatch behind his seat. The early two-man turret had a cylindrical shape, made of rolled plates, with a squared bulkhead protecting the mantlet at the front and a short rear basket.
The gun was positioned just between the gunner (left) and the commander (right), whom also loaded it. When the new turret was introduced with the Mark III, the commander was relocated further back. The manufacturers included the original Vickers-Armstrong factory, Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co, Metropolitan-Cammell (in three plants), and Canadian Pacific Railway (Angus Shops, Montréal) for Canada.

Production: The Mk.I

The Mark I set the tone for the entire series of eleven main variants, with many sub-variants, and a staggering total of 8300 units. The main armament and turret design, as well as the engine and protection, were continuously improved while keeping roughly the same general appearance until 1945. The Mk.I was recognizable by its original two-man turret and 2-pdr (40 mm/1.575 in) gun. From the start, a coaxial Besa machine-gun constituted the secondary armament. The crew was formed of only three men due to the cramped interior, and the commander was also busy acting as gun loader, machine-gunner and radio operator. The production was rushed to such a point that many problems were later detected and fixed with the next Mk.II. The main engine was the AEG A189 petrol delivering only 135 hp, and the hull was riveted. 350 were delivered in all, most seeing action in Libya, while others stayed at home for training.
A Valentine Mk.II with simple side skirts mounted
A Valentine Mk.II with simple side skirts mounted.

The Mk.II

This version appeared in 1941 and twice as many were completed (700 for some sources, but for Osprey publuishing this was 1,511 Mk.II’s were built with 350 being built by Vickers, 494 by Metropolitan Cammell, and 667 being built by Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Company). By June, the “Valentine” designation was made official. This version had a 6-cylinder AEC A190 diesel delivering 131 hp, but at a lower rpm and with more torque. The autonomy was raised dramatically by adding a left-side external tank (one at the rear was more common practice). This became a trademark of the Valentine.

The Mark III and the three-man turret

The Valentine III appeared in late 1941 and was one of the most produced versions of the entire series. The great improvement came with a completely redesigned turret, with a new internal mantlet and an enlarged turret basket, giving the much needed extra room to accommodate a loader to operate the gun, freeing the commander for other tasks. As a compensation for the added weight, the side armor was somewhat downgraded from 60 to 50 mm (2.36-1.97 in). The main gun was now a QF 2 pounder Mk.V.
A Valentine Mk.III in the Libyan desert, carrying Scottish infantry on its way to the front.
A Valentine Mk.III in the Libyan desert, carrying Scottish infantry on its way to the front. Notice the worn-out side skirts.

Mark.IV and V and their US engines

The shortage of British-built engines led to the adoption of US-built GMC (General Motors) engines instead for the Valentine. The Mark IV was based on the Mark II, but was equipped with a 138 hp GMC 6004 diesel coupled with an American transmission. Reliability, fewer vibrations and less noise were the results of these process, which were precious in North Africa, although it also meant a smaller range. The Mark V produced in 1942 was virtually identical to the Mark III, but equipped with the same GMC diesel and transmission.

The Canadian Valentines: Mark VI and VII

Both these versions were derived from the Mark IV and were two-man turret models, but with many modifications. The production line was set up in 1941 and entered full swing in 1942. These vehicles had more US and Canadian built parts, and the Besa coaxial MG was replaced by a Browning cal.303 (after the 15th delivered). The nose glacis was modified during the production. It was cast rather than assembled in parts, as well as many other parts of the hull and turret. They also shared some components with the Ram. The Mark VII introduced a new N°19 radio set and some internal modifications. The Mark VIA appeared in late 1942 with wider, new studded tracks, jettisonable fuel tanks, an oil cooler and protected headlights. In all, 1420 Canadian Valentines were produced, but they were never really incorporated into active Canadian Armoured Divisions, most being retained in Great Britain and at home for training.

The up-gunned Valentines: Mark VIII, IX and X

Since the 2-pounder was found inadequate against the main German tanks of 1942, Vickers engineers worked frantically on a way to adapt the much more massive, long-barrel 6-pounder (57 mm/2.24 in) into the cramped Mark III turret. They succeeded, but at the expense of the coaxial Besa machine-gun. The Mark VIII received the British AEC A190 diesel, but the Mark IX, an upgunned Mark V, retained the US-built GMC 6004 diesel, which was upgraded towards the end of the production in 1942, now giving 160 hp. Both had somewhat downgraded armor. The Mark X was virtually identical to the IX, but at the start incorporated the new GMC diesel, a redesigned turret which reintroduced the coaxial machine-gun, and it used welded construction and some cast parts.

The last Valentine: The elite Mark XI

In 1944, when this model, only produced in small numbers, appeared, they were only given to unit commanders. The Mk.XI had the Mark III three-man turret, and received the long-barrel ROQF 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, basically a 6-pounder (57 mm/2.24 in) rebored to 75 mm (2.95 in). It was also equipped with the latest and most powerful version of the US GMC engine, now giving 210 hp. It had an all-welded construction with many cast parts, including the Canadian design hull nose.

Valentines in action (1941-45)

The Valentine never earned a particular surname, perhaps because it was so commonly seen by troopers. At the same time, the Infantry Tank Mk.III cumulated some of the usual shortcomings of British tanks, like a cramped turret and interior with small hatches and a partly riveted hull.
Most of all, it had the mainstream 2-pounder QF (40 mm/1.57 in) gun, which lacked penetrating power as well as explosive force and concussion (HE shots), despite a good initial velocity. But, at the same time, it was dependable, sturdy, well protected, relatively easy to maintain and, most of all, had a low silhouette, especially compared to the Sherman.
They were hard to hit and easy to conceal with a little cover, in any sizable depression in the ground. They showed exceptional endurance. Some Mk.Is and IIs from the VIIIth RTR had roamed 3000 miles of desert before reaching Tunisia in 1943. They were found capable of running 500 miles without maintenance.
The Valentine was first called to action in Libya, when the 8th RTR of the 1st Royal Army took Capuzzo, on 22 November 1941, part of Operation Crusader. Most of the eleven marks saw their baptism of fire in the wide expanses of the desert, until the end of the Tunisian campaign.
In January 1942, they were found instrumental in support of the 2nd South African Division, in the taking of Bardia. Some (from the 7th RTR) were also trapped in Tobruk and actively took part in the defense of the city. Those of the 23rd Armored Brigade took part in the first battle of El Alamein. At the second battle of El Alamein, the few front-line Valentines were upgunned versions (Mark VII).
However, in Sicily and Italy, they arrived in growing numbers. Despite this, the QF 2-pdr stayed the norm for most of the conflict, and, because of this, they were gradually phased out for secondary duties, or were converted for other tasks. Some were stationed in Gibraltar, Madagascar, Malta. In total, the 6th, 8th and 11th Armoured Divisions, as well as the 1st Polish division (trained in Scotland and deployed in Italy 1944-45), were mostly equipped with the Valentine.
In a general way, they kept their original assignment as close support infantry tanks and were seen carrying men to the frontline as improvised APCs. In France, in June 1944, half the Valentines in service were 6-pdr versions, which were found more suitable for frontline action. However, their armor was no match for most of the German tanks of the day. The type was obsolescent by now, and they were definitively withdrawn to second line duties, stationed at the rearguard, sent back to Great Britain for training (like most of the Canadian-built models) or abroad (to serve with ANZAC troops).
New Zealand received 255 Mk II, III and V Valentines, of which the New Zealand 3rd Division used 34 in their 1944 Pacific campaign. They modified 9 Mk III to the MK IIICS (Close Support) standard by replacing the standard 2 pdr gun with 3 inch (76.2 mm) howitzers from surplus Matilda Mk IV CS versions, and were instrumental in the Pacific Campaign until the end of the war. Other users of the Valentine included the Australians (mostly in North Africa), the Poles, and the Free French (a few) in Tunisia and Italy.
Six Valentines from B Special Service Squadron, RAC, also took part in the attack on Diego Suarez on Madagascar (5-7 May 1942). One squadron was posted to Gibraltar.
Not well known is their service in Burma: The 146 RAC (9th Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) received their Valentines by October 1942 and others with three-man turrets in February 1943. This was the only regiment using this tank in Burma. Valentines from C Squadron took part in an amphibious assault on Donbiak in the Arakan. Three tanks were lost in hidden ditch (rediscovered in 1945). They proved to be immune to Japanese anti-tank fire but the assault failed nevertheless. No Valentines were committed for the second Arakan offensive in 1944. The 25th Dragoons briefly used Valentines during a second spell in India, but converted to the Sherman late in 1944.

Soviet Service

A total of 2690 British Valentines were sent to Russia (some Canadian-built), and 400 were lost (sunk) en route to the Northern and Southern front via the Murmansk line, or the Caucasus line, through Iran and the Persian gulf. The Russians Designated as the “British Mk.III”.
The Valentine was one of the preferred “mounts” of the Soviet tank crews. They appreciated the low silhouette, reliability and protection, but found the narrow tracks and wheeltrain was not very well suited to heavy snow, which clogged behind or packed the wheels. A problem shared with the Matilda.
The gun, like the Matilda’s, not liked. Seen as too weak when facing armor and infantry as it lacked a HE (High-Explosive) shell. There was a plan to upgun the Valentine in the same way as the attempted 76mm armed Matilda, but the Valentine’s turret was much to small. As such, Vasiliy Grabin’s bureau was tasked with developing a suitable mount to equip the Valentine with the Soviet’s own 45mm 20-K Tank Gun, the same gun found on the BT Seriess of light tanks. This didnt get far as the gun did not provide any greater performance than the original 2-Pounder. The Soviets were extremly happy when the British started sending them the 6-Pounder (57mm) armed Valentine Mk. IXs.
They were gradually phased out of the frontline and delegated to subsidiary duties in 1943-44.

Variants

Valentine Mk.V DD, with folded canvas.
Valentine Mk.V DD, with folded canvas.

Valentine DD

For “Duplex Drive” (kits invented by Nicholas Straussler), one of the famous so-called “Hobart’s funnies” amphibious tanks intended for D-Day. 625 to 635 were converted in 1943-44 by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Works Co. Ltd, but they mostly served to train crews for the Sherman DDs.
The Valentine DD was never used in combat – more for training in the run up to D-Day. The beach at Studland (south of Poole, Dorset, England) was judged to be similar to some of the proposed landing zones in Normandy. Unfortunately, during a training launch in Operation Smash in April 1944, watch by Eisenhower, Churchill and King George VI, the Valentines all sank, with a loss of 6 lives.
Valentine DD tanks
Amphibious, Valentine Duplex Drive tanks of B Wing, 79th Armoured Division School lined up on the hardened loading ramp at Stokes Bay, Gosport prior to embarking aboard an LCT during exercises. (IWM H35177)
Valentine DD tank being launched
Valentine DD tank being launched from a Landing Craft Tank LCT during exercises. (Tank Museum Bovington)

Valentine OP

Or “Command Post”, for artillery observation, equipped with a powerful radio kit. The gun was replaced by a dummy.

Valentine CDL

For “Canal Defense Light”. These receive a new turret with a searchlight projector. Experimental only.

Mine-flail versions

Two prototypes were tested, the Valentine Scorpion II and the AMRA Mk.Ib, as well as a few Snake mine-exploders. Some sources stated some 150 used operationally.

Valentine Bridgelayer

A genie turretless version equipped with 34 ft (10 m) long scissor class 30 bridge (30 tons). Around 60 produced, used by nearly all the Allies including the USSR.
Valentine 9.75 inch flame mortar
Experimental Valentine 9.75 inch flame mortar firing phosphorus bombs (Photo – IWM H-37906)

Valentine 9.75 inch flame mortar

The Valentine 9.75 inch flame mortar experimental vehicle had its turret replaced by a fixed heavy mortar intended to fire 25 lb TNT incendiary phosphorus shells to demolish concrete emplacements. It was used for trials only by Petroleum Warfare Dept, Barton Stacey, 20 April 1944. The effective range was 400 yards (370 m). Maximum range 2,000 yards (1,800 m).
Experimental Valentine 9.75 inch flame mortar
Side view of the experimental Valentine 9.75 inch flame mortar

Other experiments

One Valentine experiment had a fixed 6 pdr anti-tank mounting. This was dropped when the new 6-pdr turret finally appeared. Two flamethrower version served as testbeds, in 1942, for the future Churchill Crocodile. Another tested, in 1944, a flame-mortar, firing TNT 25 lbs incendiary shells. The Burmark was a late ramp version scheduled for the Far East, but never produced.

Derivative AFVs

Bishop SPH

The Bishop was developed on the basis of the most sturdy, reliable and common platform available for desert warfare. The goal was to provide quick artillery deployment in the context of fast-moving desert operations in North Africa.
The gun was the same standard 25 pdr howitzer (87.3 mm/3.44 in) in use by the Royal Artillery, protected by a large fixed enclosed shield. Only 149 units of this SPH were produced by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, in 1942-43, as the Ordnance QF 25-pdr on Carrier Valentine Mk 1, but quickly replaced by the faster M7 Priest.

Archer tank hunter

This unusual vehicle was the first fully indigenous British tank-hunter of the war. It was developed around the excellent AT 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in), on a Valentine chassis, by Vickers-Armstrong. Due to the nature of the chassis and the gun, the SP 17 pdr, Valentine, Mk I, Archer was given a rearward-firing configuration.
It was seen more like a mobile AT position, and not an active tank-hunter, contrary to the British/US Sherman Firefly. 655 units were delivered, in service in Italy, France and Germany in 1944-45. Some saw action in the Egyptian army during the war of 1956 around the Suez canal.

Valentine Mark I, from the first delivered batch, in factory olive green livery, Great Britain, October 1940.
Valentine Mark I, from the first delivered batch, in factory olive green livery, Great Britain, October 1940.Valentine Mk.I, in the standard homeland camouflage, in February 1941
Valentine Mk.I, in the standard homeland camouflage, in February 1941. Many of the 350 Mk.Is built were kept for training.Valentine II in Libya, May 1941. The Valentine came too late for Operation Compass against the Italians or the ensuing conquest of Libya.
Valentine II in Libya, May 1941. The Valentine came too late for Operation Compass against the Italians or the ensuing conquest of Libya.
Valentine Harry II during Operation Crusader, November 1941.
Valentine “Harry II” during Operation Crusader, November 1941.
Valentine Mk.II, Operation Crusader, 1st Army Tank Brigade, December 1941.
Valentine Mk.II, Operation Crusader, 1st Army Tank Brigade, December 1941.
Valentine Mk.II HQ, 1st Army Tank Brigade.
Valentine Mk.II HQ, 1st Army Tank Brigade.
Valentine Mk.II, 40th RTR, Middle East, February 1940.
Valentine Mk.II, 40th RTR, Middle East, February 1940.
Valentine Mk.II Lana Turner, late production version, with the new roadwheels and 2-Pdr Mk.V, from an unidentified unit, Tripoli, January 1943
Valentine Mk.II “Lana Turner”, late production version, with the new roadwheels and 2-Pdr Mk.V, from an unidentified unit, Tripoli, January 1943.
Captured Valentine Mk.III, Libya, fall 1942. This version had a better Mk.V 2-pdr and a three-man turret.
Captured Valentine Mk.III, Libya, fall 1942. This version had a better Mk.V 2-pdr and a three-man turret.
Valentine Mk.III in Tunisia, February 1943.
Valentine Mk.III in Tunisia, February 1943.
Valentine Mk.III, late production version, Operation Husky, Sicily, July 1943
Valentine Mk.III, late production version, Operation Husky, Sicily, July 1943
Valentine IV, early production version, battle of Moscow
Valentine IV, early production version, battle of Moscow, winter 1941/42.
Valentine Mk.IV in Russian service, Northern Front, summer 1943
Valentine Mk.IV in Russian service, Northern Front, summer 1943.
Russian Valentine IV on the Caucasus front, summer 1943. The usual livery was a lighter olive drab.
Russian Valentine IV on the Caucasus front, summer 1943. The usual livery was a lighter olive drab.
Valentine Mk.V in Malta, fall 1942, with the famous spotted pattern applied to local AFVs.
Valentine Mk.V in Malta, fall 1942, with the famous spotted pattern applied to local AFVs.
Valentine Mk.V (GCM diesel), Soviet Union, Guard Unit, Northern Front, 1943.
Valentine Mk.V (GCM diesel), Soviet Union, Guard Unit, Northern Front, 1943.
New Zealand Mk.V CS (Close Support), 3rd Special Tank Squadron, Green Island, Pacific, February 1944.
New Zealand Mk.V CS (Close Support), 3rd Special Tank Squadron, Green Island, Pacific, February 1944.
A Canadian-built Valentine Mk.VI, early type (1942), in Russian service.
A Canadian-built Valentine Mk.VI, early type (1942), in Russian service.
Canadian Valentine Mk.VI, Sussex, Great Britain, summer 1943.
Canadian Valentine Mk.VI, Sussex, Great Britain, summer 1943.
Valentine Mk.VII of the 6th Armoured Division, North Africa 1943.
Valentine Mk.VII of the 6th Armoured Division, North Africa 1943. These were manufactured in Montreal and saw action in Tunisia and Italy, but most served for training with the Canadian Armoured Division, ulterior equipped with Shermans.
Valentine Mk.VIII in Italy, Operation Baytown, VIIIth Army, Salerno, September 1943.
Valentine Mk.VIII in Italy, Operation Baytown, VIIIth Army, Salerno, September 1943. The Valentine VIII was the first of the three upgunned late versions, equipped with the standard 6-pdr (57 mm/2.24 in) gun, far more effective against German tanks. But the first versions of the Mk.VIII turret was so cramped that the coaxial Besa machine gun was sacrificed.
British Valentine Mk.VIII of the VIIIth Army, Italy, 1944.
British Valentine Mk.VIII of the VIIIth Army, Italy, 1944.
Valentine Mk.IX of the Northern Front, Poland, fall 1944, without front mudguards.
Valentine Mk.IX of the Northern Front, Poland, fall 1944, without front mudguards.
Valentine IX of the Red Guards, Operation Bagration, June 1944.
Valentine IX of the Red Guards, Operation Bagration, June 1944.
British Valentine Mark XI, a specially equipped version with the 75 mm OQF, only given to tank hunter unit commanders (Archer units), Holland, fall 1944.
British Valentine Mark XI, a specially equipped version with the 75 mm OQF, only given to tank hunter unit commanders (Archer units), Holland, fall 1944.

Valentine gallery

Russian Lend-Lease Valentine II at KubinkaValentine III with the three-man turretDefense minister C.D. Howe inspecting the first Valentine VI, coming right out from the Montreal factory, at the Canadian Ministry of Munitions and Supply, in May 1941Valentine VIIIValentine Scorpion

Myth – Rocket Powered Valentine tank

Myth - Rocket Powered Valentine tank
This is not an attempt by British tank designers to improve the speed of their armored vehicles or a gap jumping tank prototype. This was in fact a SADE mine clearing experiment using the blast from a jet engine to detonate anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. A Valentine tank chassis was used as the testing platform because the tank was obsolete at the time of the experiment.
The Americans were also conducting the same research using M26 and M46 medium tanks.

Gap jumping rocket powered Valentine tank experiment

Gap jumping tank
This is a photograph of the SADE experiment using a Valentine tank fitted with 26 rockets, 13 each side in four containers, to see if it was possible to make a tank jump over large gaps and minefields. It did not work and never entered production.
A similar system was fitted to Universal Bren Gun carrier but with fatal results. The Carrier kept landing upside down during trials.

6pdr penetration figures

Official British War Department test figures show that the 6pdr Mk.III anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 79.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 66.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 55 mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 87.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 72 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 57.4 mm. When firing armour piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 89.6 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 79.6 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 70.7 mm. When fired at slopped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.
Official British War Department test figures show that the 6pdr Mk.V anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 85.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 72.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 60.4 mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 93.8 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 76.3 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 61.25 mm. When firing armour piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 95.9 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 86 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 76.7 mm. When fired at slopped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.

Links

The Valentine tank on Wikipedia
Video playlist about the Valentine
The Shadock list of surviving Valentines

Valentine Mk.II specifications

Dimensions (L/w/h) 17.9 x 8.7 x 7.5 ft (5.41 x 2.62 x 2.27 m)
Total weight, battle ready 16 long tons (17 short tons)
Crew 3 (commander, driver, gunner)
Propulsion AEC A190 diesel, 160 hp
Top speed 15 mph (24 km/h)
Range 90 mi (140 km)
Armament QF 2 pdr (40 mm/1.57 in), 90 rounds
2 x 7.62 mm (0.3 in) BESA machine-guns, 3150 rounds
Armor From 8 to 65 mm (0.31 – 2.56 in)
Total production UK only – 6855 of all versions

British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)

Categories
WW2 British Infantry Tanks

Matilda II, Infantry Tank Mk.II, A12

United Kingdom (1937)
Infantry tank – 2987 built

A complete overhaul of the infantry tank concept

The former Infantry Tank Mk.I was a product of the 1929 financial crisis, a rather limited and compromised vehicle, badly suited to real battlefield operations. In 1936 it entered production. During the very same year, another parallel specification (A12) asked for a larger, better-armed model, derived from the A7 prototype. In fact, the A12 was completely different from its “little brother” in terms of size, weight, drivetrain, armament and crew.
Development at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (which already designed the A7) lasted until 1938 when war seemed highly plausible. The final A12 prototype trials were passed with urgency. A production order came soon after, Vulcan Foundry having to build the first batch of 140 units until mid-1938.

The Matilda II?

Many sources claim that the Infantry Tank Mark I was also known as the Matilda, with several name variations being given, like Matilda Mk.I, Matilda I or Matilda Junior. However, there is little proof that such designations were used for this vehicle officially before 1941. By that time, the Infantry Tank Mark I was out of production and relegated as a training vehicle only.
There are similar designations used for the Infantry Tank Mark II as well, being called the Matilda Mk.II, Matilda II or Matilda Senior.
There is a document, “‘Cabinet Officer Papers 120/354 August 1940 to September 1942: Tank Nomenclature and Classification”, that shows the Infantry Tank Mark I as being named the Matilda after June 1941 and proposing the use of Matilda I instead. It similarly shows the Infantry Tank Mark II being named Matilda, with the proposal to redesignate it as the Matilda II.
The two vehicles shared almost nothing from the design or development points of view. They are completely different vehicles. All that can be said is that they share a vague visual resemblance.
This article will use the Matilda designation for the Infantry Tank Mark II (A12). The A11 will be called Infantry Tank Mark I.

Design of the Matilda

Three prototypes of the A7 Medium Tank were built by Vickers, requested internally for potential Army contracts. They were built from 1929 to 1933, incorporating elements which largely influenced the A9 Cruiser Mk.I (notably the turret), and the A12 Matilda, including the drivetrain, suspension, and part of the armor design. It also had an impact on the A14, A16 and ultimately the Valentine.
The third and last prototype, the A7E3 (1933-37), probably had the biggest influence on the Matilda. It incorporated twin diesel AEC C1 engines and a QF 3-pdr (47 mm/1.85 in) antitank gun. However, it was too lightly protected to serve as an infantry tank.
The Matilda was a 60,000 lbs (27 tonnes) machine, armed with the new Ordnace QF 2-Pounder (40 mm, 1.57 in) gun. This was one of the many derivatives of the licence-built Swedish Bofors gun, which had an excellent rate of fire. The caliber seemed sufficient against most tanks of the time. Generally, tanks of the time were equipped with a 37 or 47 mm (1.46-1.85 in) gun. Secondary armament varied. Early models of the Tank were equipped with a coaxial Vickers Water-Cooled .303 (7.92 mm) Machine Gun. These models are identified by a large armored block to the right of the gun, and a cast outlet on top of the turret for the steam given off by the Vickers MG to vent through. Later models would have this replaced by the famous BESA 7.92 mm Machine Gun. This was a simpler set up which did not require the huge armored box to the right of the gun, it also meant the deletion of the steam port on the turret roof.
The hydraulically-powered three man fully traversing turret was cast in one solid piece of hardened steel. It was almost cylindrical (slightly sloped) and large enough to accommodate the main gun and a coaxial machine-gun, as well as the gunner, loader, and commander. The gun elevation was -15 +20 degrees. The gun’s elevation was not mechanical or geared in any way. The Gunner elevated and depressed the gun by hand, supporting the weight on his shoulder with a large shoulder pad. The small size of the 2-Pounder gun meant it was not an uncomfortable task to manipulate as needed. It also had the added bonus of providing rudimentary the gun stabilization, as the gunner could easily keep the gun on target while the tank was moving.
The tank was only supplied with anti-tank rounds. The lack of HE ammunition was somewhat compensated by the machine-gun. But the emphasis was clearly put on armor. And indeed, this compensated easily for all its drawbacks during the war. With a 78 mm (3.07 in) thick frontal glacis and turret, far beyond any tank produced at the time (and even late into the war), the Matilda was thought immune to most antitank guns, and naturally other tanks as well.
This tank became legendary precisely for this rare quality. By comparison, the contemporary Panzer III and IV had only 30 mm (1.18 in) of armor at the time. and The French B1, the most heavily armored tank on the continent, sported “only” 60 mm (2.36 in) of protection.
The Matilda glacis was completed by thinner but sloped nose plates, a design feature largely influenced by the Christie tanks. The sides were 65-70 mm (2.56-2.76 in) thick, while the rear protection was 55 mm (2.17 in) strong. The turret roof, hull roof and engine deck were all 20 mm (0.79 in) thick.
The weight of such armor imposed important conditions on the other features of the design. It had a rather peculiar engine arrangement, with two AEC diesel engines. They were coupled to a Wilson epicyclic pre-selector gearbox, 6 speed transmission, with a Rackham clutch for steering. The weight also imposed the numerous double wheel bogies, with paired bellcranks with a common coil spring suspension. This was a rather classical solution based on the old Vickers Medium C design, which was intended to distribute the sheer mass of steel with moderate ground pressure while sacrificing speed.
Quite logically, its overall performances were quite limited. It could only achieve infantry pace, which was precisely suited to the task given to the A12 type, infantry support. However, the most troublesome piece of equipment were the paired “double decker” bus engines, linked to a common shaft. This solution which proved complicated to maintain, with many redundancies which often prevented movement when one of the two engines was damaged or broken down.
On the back of some Matildas, near the exhausts, was a so called ‘Door bell’. This bell was designed for infantry men outside of the tank to get the attention of the crew. The Australians would later elaborate on this by adding an infantry telephone in this position.

Production of the Matilda

The very first models formed a sort of pre-series. They were equipped with several features which would disappear with the production Mark II version. First, the suspension had three return rollers. They were replaced later by track skids, to ease production and maintenance. The turret was equipped (on the right) with a set of three smoke grenade launchers, in fact, modified Lee Enfield mechanisms. On the left side of the turret was placed a set of leather belts, meant to suspend a large protecting, rolled canvas. Later, these were replaced by a simpler metal tubular structure.
When the war broke out in September 1939, only two Matilda IIs were serviceable. The other deliveries were pressed into service quickly after training.
The same year, another order was placed to Ruston & Hornsby. In 1940, John Fowler & Co. of Leeds was also contracted, and later, in 1941-42, so were London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Harland & Wolff (Belfast, the famous shipbuilder of the Titanic), and, eventually, the North British Locomotive Company in Scotland. Production ended in August 1943 after a total of 2,987 units. It was a relatively costly tank and difficult to manufacture, requiring some special skills.

Evolution from the Mk.II to the Mk.V

The Mk.I was never really officialised, being the first, early batch delivered in 1939. Most were lost during the French campaign, in May 1940. They were characterized by a massive trench-crossing tail, as it was thought that a stalemate style warfare was still to be expected. This feature proved useless, and the tail was never mounted on the first large-scale production variant, the Mark II. Like the Mark.I, it was equipped with a Vickers machine-gun, characterized by a large armored mantlet.
By late 1940, this model was replaced by the lighter and more recent Besa model, of the same caliber, without a mantlet. This was known as the Matilda Mk.IIA. The Besa was a British version of the Czechoslovak ZB-53. It was compact, air-cooled and belt-fed.
The next model, the Mark III, saw the replacement of the old AEC engines for more modern twin Leyland diesel engines. These were sturdier and increased the range significantly.
The Mark IV (1941-42) introduced an improved Leyland diesel, and the turret leather belt fixation replaced by a fixed tubular mounting. The turret lamp was also removed. It was the main production version, with perhaps 1200 units built throughout 1942.
The Mark V (1943), was the last version, fitted with an improved gearbox and Westinghouse air servo. Some attempts were made to replace the old QF-2pdr (40 mm/1.57 in) with a more efficient 6-pdr (57 mm) high-velocity gun, already tested on the Cromwell, Cavalier and Centaur. In this hope, a Cromwell turret was tested with the Matilda hull, but production never materialized.
Despite promising characteristics, combining firepower with an efficient armor, the age of the model, suspension design and lack of speed led to the cancellation of any other developments.

Matilda chassis adaptation and derivatives

The sturdy and largely available chassis of the Matilda seemed ideally suited to be adapted in many variants. However, in fact, its slow speed and small turret ring prevented the development of many upgrades. Although, through special adaptation, the Matilda survived in many forms until the end of the war, it was retired from active duty in Africa by the end of 1942.
Matilda CS: (Close Support): a variant produced in small quantities and generally attached to mobile HQs. It was equipped with a 3″ (76 mm) howitzer, firing innocuous smoke shells. It was also capable of firing HE shells. The number of conversions is unknown. They were widely used in Europe, and later in Asia by Australian forces.
Matilda Scorpion: an operational mine-flail version, produced in two sub-versions, used at El Alamein, and in some British and Canadian operations in 1943 and 1944.
Matilda CDL: (Canal Defence Light), a late conversion, in mid-1944, with a new cylindrical turret containing a powerful searchlight. The CDL were converted either from a Mark II or a Mk.V chassis.
Matilda Hedgehog: an Australian regular Mk.V fitted with a folded 7-chambered spigot mortar, mounted on the rear engine hood. 6 were built, tested in May 1945, but never used operationally.
Matilda Frog & Murray, Murray FT: Australian flamethrower versions used in the SW Pacific. Only 25 Frog conversions. Murray figures are unknown.
Matilda Tank-dozer:  An Australian bulldozer variant, mostly used by genie units to clear road obstacles and forested areas.
Other experiments : the Matilda Baron, three prototypes, mine-flail version; the Matilda MK.IV ZiS-5, a Lend-Lease Soviet prototype equipped with the high velocity ZiS 76 mm (3 in); the Matilda with A27 turret, to test the Ordnance QF 6 pounder (57 mm/2.24 in); and the Black Prince, a radio-controlled planned to be used for spotting antitank gun positions and demolition tasks. The conversion cost surged because of the fitting of a Wilson transmission, and the 60 ordered was cancelled.
Matilda II with A27 turret (Black Prince)
Matilda II with A27 turret (Black Prince)
The Matilda Black Prince prototype:This vehicle features a 6-pounder gun fitted in the A27 turret. Only one prototype was produced, after which development was discontinued due to complications with the turret mounting. The vehicle never entered service. Called the Matilda II with A27 turret. It is sometimes wrongly called the Matilda Cromwell (because of the A27 Cromwell turret).
So far no documentation has been found, only this photograph of the prototype. It is commonly called the Matilda Black Prince but that name relates to a different radio-controlled prototype produced in 1941 using A12E2 with Wilson transmission. Planned uses included use for this RC Matilda was as an operational battlefield mobile target, for drawing fire and so reveal hidden enemy anti-tank gun positions, or for demolition missions. Planned order for 60 cancelled as it would require conversion of Rackham clutch transmission to the Wilson type. Fitted with a QF 6-pdr Mk. V A gun.
Although the turret did not enter production a number of hulls were produced and subsequently sent to Australia fitted with standard turrets and guns. The hulls can be identified by the raised rectangular armour collar around the turret ring. Speed, range and weight of this new prototype would have been an issue. The original Matilda II was already slow but the bigger turret, gun and ammo would add 3-5 tons – ie 20% plus to the weight. This would reduce the tanks speed and manoeuvrability even lower.
The Matilda’s parent manufacturing factory was the Vulcan Foundry in Warrington. Vulcan (who were set up in the 1840s to produce railway locos) were taken over by English Electric in the late 1950s. In 1962, EE had a literal bonfire of Vulcan’s paperwork going back over a century, including the wartime documents relating to the Matilda. Sadly, there may be no remaining documents to be found. The Vucan works itself was shuttered shortly afterwards, and demolished in the 1970s. The site is now a housing estate.

The Matilda in action: The campaign of France

When war broke out, only two pre-series Matildas had been barely put in active service. They were soon joined by 20 others, passing the year in drilling exercises, before being shipped to France. There they came to serve with the 7th RTR, part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Armored Division.
They represented a minority of this unit’s strength, the bulk of infantry tanks companies being taken by the older A11 Infantry Tank Mk.I. However, their armor was superior to the formidable French B1 bis, and they proved it during a single battle, at Arras.
The entire Matilda force available was committed during the hopeless attack of Arras, during the afternoon of May 21, 1940. After some success owed to the lack of an efficient German response, they were ultimately terminated by a handful of German 88 mm (3.46 in) FlaK 18 and 105 mm (4.13 in) field guns.
Rommel had remembered how these AA guns were used in Spain years before. The surviving units withdrew from the field and were abandoned along with hundred of trucks and light vehicles at Dunkirk. They were sabotaged, but the Germans captured two of them, later repaired for tests.

The “Queen of the desert”

When the war enveloped North Africa, the Matilda truly became legendary, being nicknamed the “Queen of the desert” by its crews. The Matilda’s armor was a powerful advantage in all tank-to-tank engagements against Italian armor and AT guns during the early stage of the war (Operation Compass, late 1940). After that it proved itself time and time again against the DAK XVth Panzerdivision, still largely equipped with light Panzer IIs and early models of the Panzer III and IV, using inadequate guns.
But Rommel’s imaginative ambush tactics using AT guns proved a serious threat for the Matilda. It was hampered by its slow speed, a somewhat troublesome, overheating engine and troublesome steering under the harsh conditions of this specific theater of war. The already famous 7th RTR, reborn in Britain, fully reequipped with Mark IIs, took part both in the late 1940 campaign, and still ruled the battlefield until late 1941. Battle records included the conquest of Libya, seizing of Tobruk and Bardia, and later, Operation Battleaxe.
The Germans used well-placed AA batteries of 88 mm (3.46 in) guns with full efficiency against the Matilda. No less than 64 were lost during a single day of attack. Such a heavy toll raised questions about Matilda’s fighting capabilities, but, nevertheless, it still proved efficient where opposing forces had nothing to respond with. The Pak 36, Pak 41, Pak 97/38 and sPzB-41 were all but useless. But the rapid-firing, accurate 88 mm (3.46 in), served by skilled crews and taking full advantage of the flat ground with good visibility and the Infantry Tank Mk.II’s limited mobility, condemned large-scale frontal attacks using the Matilda.
Another factor led to its demise. Like the Crusader, it was armed with a 1939-standard AT gun, good against 20 to 30 mm (0.79-1.18 in) armor, but not against the upgraded versions of the Panzer III and IV, which came in Africa in late 1941. However, with their limitations well-understood by the British command, they were once more successful during Operation Crusader, especially the 1st and 32nd Army Tank Brigades, which were pivotal in the battle.
By mid-1942, the Germans had devised efficient infantry tactics using the Pak 38 and the long-barrel 50 mm (1.97 in) version of the Panzer III (Ausf J), which could deal with the Matilda. One solution for the British design was to upgrade the main gun, but with a turret ring of only 1.37 m (4.49 ft), no superior gun could be mounted without a major overhaul of the entire hull.
Such a project was attempted in 1942, but after a single prototype was tested, the production was dropped in favor of more modern late-generation cruiser tanks. In Africa, the Matilda was gradually phased out by the Valentine. Damaged and worn out Matildas were retired and replaced by other models. Some were shipped to less threatening theaters, like in South and Eastern Africa, for operations against Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, in 1941.
They were part of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, taking part in the battle of Keren and all other operations in this sector. But the mountainous terrain prevented any efficient large-scale use. Others were shipped to Greece (during the Balkan campaign), Crete and Malta, to prevent any German landing there.
Matildas took part in the battle of Gazala (summer 1942) and the first battle of El Alamein, with further losses, and, just like the Crusaders, which were their opposite (fast, lightly armored, low silhouette), many were converted for other uses. It was no surprise that, when the second battle of El Alamein began in October 1942, around 25 Matilda Scorpions (equipped with mine-flail) were the only ones used in the front-line. When the M3 Lee and the M4 Sherman, faster and equipped with more potent guns, became available in numbers, the remaining Matildas were shipped back to Britain. Some were employed for training, others as a reserve for further conversions.

In Russia

Already, by early 1942, the British were supplying the Red Army with Matildas. As many as 1084 Mk.II, III and IVs were shipped on the perilous Arctic sea trip to Murmansk. Mines, submarines, E-boats and the Luftwaffe sent 166 of them to the bottom of the sea. Most were of the diesel type, a kind of propulsion favored by the Russians. The first batch is reported to have taken part in the battle of Moscow in January 1942.

Matildas in Europe

The bulk of the last version, Mark V, was shipped to Eastern Asia by 1943, where they had a second active life, serving well until the end of the war. However, in Europe, surviving units were converted to other uses. In Italy, specialized versions for mine-warfare (Scorpion Mark.I and II) and HQ close defense versions armed with a smoke-firing howitzer, took part in the Allied offensive, and again during D-Day. During late 1944, modified Matilda CDLs (Canal Defense Light versions) were posted along canals, for night patrols against possible German counter-attacks. But they were a rare sight.
At the later stage of the war in Africa, plans were drawn for a heavy artillery support version, equipped with a 152 mm (5.98 in) howitzer protected by a half-turret, like the Bishop. But its slow speed and large supplies of US-built Priests stopped the project before any prototype were built.

The Matilda in Asia

The last chapter of Matilda’s wartime career came in 1943 when Allied forces were once more on the offensive. Large supplies of the Mk.IV and Mk.V were shipped to Australia. They took part in many operations throughout the reconquest of the south-eastern Pacific, favored by the lack of adequate Japanese AT guns or tanks.
The Australian 4th Armoured Brigade took advantage of its sturdiness in the battle of Huon (October 1943), but also 1944 and 1945 during the Wewak, Bougainville and Borneo campaigns. The Australian forces also modified many of them for other purposes, like the flamethrowers Frog and Murray, or the genie tank-dozer. A heavy rocket-carrying version came too late for active operations. They also extensively used CS (close support) conversions.

Captured Matildas

In May 1940, the Germans seized two Matildas hastily sabotaged during the days of Operation Dynamo, and shipped them to the Kummersdorf Heer Test Center. They were fully aware of its armor thickness and devised appropriate tactics. An experimental conversion, the “Oswald“, fitted with a shielded 5 cm KwK L/42 gun and two MG 42s. It was used for training at some point, but its fate is unknown. Later, with the war in Africa turning in their favor, the DAK managed to capture a dozen more in May-June 1941. They were repaired and affected to the 5th Pz.Rgt. of the 21st Pz.Div., and the 8th Panzer-Regiment of the 15th Panzer-Division.
They were popular with their crews because of their armor, but caused confusion on the battlefield, despite the profusion of large painted crosses, large Nazi and army flags, and makeshift camouflages in some cases. Under the crude light of the desert, its silhouette was unmistakable, but the associated symbols difficult to spot. Those captured in too bad shape for repairs were kept as reserves for spare parts.
At least two or three had their turrets removed and mounted in concrete pillboxes, guarding strategic road junctions. On the Eastern Front, records of captured tanks are even more difficult to appreciate. But at least a dozen or so were seen with the Balkan cross in 1942-43, as testified by photographs of a German facility in Budapest, and in the field, or in Russian archives.

Matilda specifications

Dimensions 15.11 x 8.6 x 8.3 ft (5.99 x 2.60 x 2.50 m)
Total weight, battle ready 25 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, loader, commander)
Propulsion 2 diesel 6-cyl AEC/Leyland 94/95 hp
Speed (on/off road) 16/9 mph (26/14 km/h)
Range 160 mi (257 km)
Armament 2-Pdr QF (40 mm/1.575 in), 94 rounds
Besa 7.92 mm machine-gun, 2925 rounds
Armor From 20 to 78 mm (0.79-3.07 in)
Total production 2987

Links & Resources

The Matilda II on Wikipedia
The Matilda II on Tank-Hunter.com
About captured Matildas (and other British tanks) in German service: Beutepanzers
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #8, Matilda Infantry Tank 1938-45

Britsh Matildas

Infantry tank Mk.II (A12) Matilda Mk.I pre-series, Gamecock, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), western Belgium, May 1940
Infantry tank Mk.II (A12) Matilda Mk.I pre-series, “Gamecock”, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF), western Belgium, May 1940. This is an early “long” version, equipped with the trench-crossing tail, mufflers, and Vickers coaxial machine-gun, protected by a large armored mantlet.
Matilda Mk.I, Good Luck, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
Matilda Mk.I, “Good Luck”, 7th RTR, 1st Armoured Brigade, British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The “Good Luck” was not true to its name for its crew. It blew up after a direct hit through the frontal hull from a German 88 mm (3.46 in), during the counter-attack at Arras, on May, 21, 1940.
Matilda Mark II, Libya, 1941
Matilda Mark II, Libya, 1941 (one of the first delivered with the new compact Besa machine-gun, without mantlet). This is a vehicle from the First Armoured Division, the blue lozenge identifying it as a tank of a major of a junior regiment.
Matilda Mk.III, Lybia, fall 1941.
Matilda Mk.III, Lybia, fall 1941. This a tank from the 7th RTR, the white and red markings identifying the Royal Armoured Corps. The three color pattern with straight separations became mandatory. Such schemes, adapted to desert warfare, were adopted after visual disruption tests.
Matilda Mk.II in Libya, 1941, now preserved at Bovington.
Matilda Mk.II in Libya, 1941, now preserved at Bovington. Notice the dark olive green variant three-tone camouflage.
Matilda Mk.III Gulliver II, 7th RTR (Royal Tank Regiment), Libya, fall 1941.
Matilda Mk.III “Gulliver II”, 7th RTR (Royal Tank Regiment), Libya, fall 1941. The camouflage is a variant of the three-tone one, with dark-grey or dark-blue.
Matilda Mk.III at Malta, 1942.
Matilda Mk.III at Malta, 1942. These tanks had a unique livery, with large sand color spots over the olive green factory color. The best known is the “Griffin”, of the 4th Independent Tank Platoon of the Malta Tank Squadron, RTR.
Matilda Mk.IV with a particular spotted camouflage, reminiscent of the Malta livery seen above.
Matilda Mk.IV with a particular spotted camouflage, reminiscent of the “Malta” livery seen above. This vehicle was photographed towing a crashed Boston hull, probably between Egypt and Libya.
Matilda Mk.IV (late production) Defiance of the 4th Royal Armoured Regiment, part of the VIIIth Army.
Many Matildas had been lost during the battle of Gazala, Operation Crusader, and the first battle of El Alamein. Surviving ones were placed in the reserve or used as reinforcements, like this Mk.IV (late production) “Defiance” of the 4th Royal Armoured Regiment, part of the VIIIth Army. The second battle of El Alamein, October 1942.

Captured Matildas

Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e), Libya, early 1942.
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e), Libya, early 1942.
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e) (captured Matilda), 8th Panzer-Regiment, XVth Panzerdivision, Libya, 1942
Infanterie-Kampfpanzer Mark II 748(e) (captured Matilda), 8th Panzer-Regiment, XVth Panzerdivision, Libya, 1942. Notice the makeshift camouflage and the absence of any Balkankreuz. In some cases a simple flag was displayed instead.

Gallery

A7 Medium Tank
The A7 Medium Tank
Matilda tank on its way into Tobruk, displaying an Italian flag, 24 January 1941, during Operation Compass.
Matilda tank on its way into Tobruk, displaying an Italian flag, 24 January 1941, during Operation Compass.
Captured Matilda, Libya, 1941 - Credits: BundesarchivMatilda during Operation Compass, December 1940 - February 1941Technical drawing of a Matilda's suspensionsMatilda with a 6-pdr in a Cromwell turret, experimental prototype.Matilda Mk.III Griffin at Malta, displaying its unique liveryA Matilda with a spotted pattern, towing a shot down Blenheim bomberMatilda Scorpion Mk.I, mine-flail version, similar to those engaged in the first line during the opening of the second battle of El Alamein, October 1942.Experimental mine-flail Matilda Baron during testsMatilda Hedgehog during tests in 1945

Surviving Tanks

Surviving Matilda II British Infantry Tank A12 called Defiance at the French Tank Museum
Surviving British Infantry Tank A12 Matilda Mk.III called Defiance at the French Tank Museum
Preserved Matilda British Infantry Tank A12 Mk.V at the Imperial War Museum Duxford
Preserved Matilda British Infantry Tank A12 Mk.V at the Imperial War Museum Duxford

1940 desert camouflage

The official British tank livery camouflage Caunter Colours’ shown in an official document dated July 1940 were Portland Stone (BSC No.64), Light Grey (BSC No.28) or Silver Grey and Slate Grey (BSC No.34). The grey paints were apparently originally from Royal Navy paint stocks in Alexandria, Egypt.
There is no Blue shown in the official document. The Imperial War Museum in London painted their Matilda II tank light blue instead of Light or Silver Grey by mistake. Because the museum used this colour scheme it was copied by the French tank Museum and many Model kit companies.
The confusion may have come from veterans accounts. A tank crew member who had served with 7th RTR in 1940-41,recollected that their tanks being “a god awful shade of blue”. I suspect that given a few weeks in the dust, heat and high UV of the desert, the paints would weather to a very different appearance to their “official” tone.
official British Camoflauge pattern July 1940

Operation Bertram

Another way of hiding your tank was to change its shape. This type of deception tactic had been used by the Royal Navy in WW1. They changed the outline of destroyers to look more like merchant ships. When the WW1 German U-boat surfaced to attack the ship with its main gun the screens would drop to enable a full broadside of high explosive shells to be fired at the submarine. These type of ships were called ‘Q’ boats.
During Operation Bertram in the months leading up to the second Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in September – October 1942 camouflage and dummy vehicles were used to deceive the Germans where the next attack was going to come from. Real tanks were disguised as trucks, using light “Sunshield” canopies. To achieve the deception, trucks were parked openly in the tank assembly area for some weeks. Real tanks were similarly parked openly, far behind the front. Two nights before the attack, the tanks replaced the trucks, being covered with “Sunshields” before dawn.
Real tanks were disguised as trucks, using light Sunshield canopies.
The tanks were replaced that same night with dummies in their original positions, so the armour remained seemingly two or more days’ journey behind the front line. Interviews with captured German senior officers showed that this type of deception was successful: they believed the attack was going to come from the south where they had seen the dummy tanks and vehicles and not in the north. The idea for the Sunshield came from Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Wavell.
T 6947 Dangerous so 4th Btn RTR Matilda II tank.
The first heavy wooden prototype was made in 1941 by Jasper Maskelyne, who gave it the name Sunshield. 12 men were needed to lift it. The Mark 2 Sunshield was made of canvas stretched over a light steel tube frame. On 11th November 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced victory at El Alamein in the House of Common. During his speech he praised the success of Operation Bertram, “By a marvellous system of camouflage, complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert. The 10th Corps, which he had seen from the air exercising fifty miles in the rear, moved silently away in the night, but leaving an exact simulacrum of its tanks where it had been, and proceeded to its points of attack.” (Winston Churchill, 1942)

This is not a Matilda II Tank prototype

Italian M-14 tank camouflaged to look like a British Matilda II tank.
The British Army were not the only ones that tried to disguise the identity of their tanks. This is an Italian Carro Armato M13/40 tank camouflaged to look like a British Matilda II tank. The exact reason this was constructed is not known. It may have been a tank recognition aid, a target or to be used in deception on the battlefield.
British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)