Categories
WW2 British Other AFVs

Churchill ARV Mk. I & Mk. II

United Kingdom (1942-44)
Armored Recovery Vehicle – Unkown Amount Converted

To quote Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery – in not so few words – “the REME keeps the punch in the Army’s fist”. To do this, the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) utilize specially adapted versions of existing vehicles. The Churchill Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), developed in the middle of the Second World War, was one of the first of these REME-specific vehicles.

The Churchill ARV was one of the first tank-based ARVs to serve in the British Army. The vehicle first appeared in 1942, the same year that the REME was created. The initial ARV was simply a turretless Churchill outfitted with various pieces of towing equipment – this became known as the Mk. I. A second version, equipped with a faux turret, lifting jibs, and a powerful winch, appeared in 1944 – this became the Mk. II.

Both the Mk. I and Mk. II ARV served until the end of the Second World War, with the Mk. II’s service continuing into the Korean War of the early 1950s. It wasn’t long after this that it was finally replaced by the FV4006 Centurion ARV.

The Churchill ARV Mk. II. These were based on the Mk. III and IV gun tank. Photo: Author’s own

The Churchill

Officially designated as ‘Tank, Infantry, Mk.IV, A22’, the Churchill entered service with the British Armoured forces in 1941. It was named, contrary to popular belief, after an ancestor of the famous Winston Churchill, not the man himself. It was the last ‘Infantry Tank’ to serve in the British Military.

The armament of the Churchill evolved during its time in service, starting off with the 2-pounder (40 mm) gun (Churchill Mk. I & II). It then progressed to the 6-pounder (57 mm) gun (Mk. III & IV), before progressing to a 75 mm gun from the Mk. VI onwards. Armor protection also evolved, progressing from 4 to 5.9 inches (102 – 152 mm). The crew consisted of the commander, gunner, loader, driver, and bow machine-gunner/wireless operator.

The Churchill was not fast. A lumbering beast at approximately 40 long tons, its top speed was only 15 mph (24 km/h). It was powered by a Bedford 12-cylinder engine producing 350 hp. The tank was supported on a complicated suspension with 11 small wheels per side, each one attached to an independent coil spring. The drive wheel was at the rear with a sprocketed idler at the front. Though it was slow and heavy, the Churchill made a name for itself as being one of the best cross-country tanks ever built and could climb higher gradients and cross harder obstacles than most other tanks then in service.

Churchill Mk. IIIs taking part in training exercises, southern England, 1942. Photo: Brittanica

ARV Mk. I

The Mk. I Churchill ARV appeared in 1942. This initial model was based on the Churchill Mk. I and Mk. II. Initially, both of these Churchill types shared the same turret and 2-pounder (40 mm) gun main armament. The difference was that the Mk. I featured a bow-mounted 3 in howitzer, while in the Mk. II this was replaced by a BESA 7.92 mm machine gun.

For the ARV Mk. Is, conversion into a recovery vehicle was relatively simple as the only major modification was the removal of the turret. This allowed more stowage room for recovery equipment. A simple, shallow conical tower – for want of a better word – was built over the turret ring with a large rectangular hatch built into it. This tower was often used for the stowage of tow cables, which were loosely wrapped around it. Also installed on this ‘tower’ was a mounting point for two .303 Bren light machine guns in an anti-aircraft mount. Boxy, more angular fenders were also installed over the idler and sprocket wheels, replacing the standard rounded fenders of the gun tanks.

A Mk. I ARV pulling a Churchill Mk. II atop a 45-ton Tracked Recovery Trailer. This trailer was built by Boulton-Paul and featured 4 unpowered Orolo track units with an armored winch compartment at the front. Note also the Matilda II in the background. Photo: felixshara.com

Recovery equipment on the Mk. I consisted of an A-frame jib with an approximately 7.5 long ton (7.6 tonnes) capacity that could be mounted on the front or rear of the hull via eyelets. It was anchored to the hull via a length of high-tensile cable. The jib did not use a powered winch-line; rather it would be used in conjunction with a block and tackle or chain hoist, either of which would be carried aboard the ARV. The jib was used to assist in engine lifts and other lighter-duty lifts. The ARV’s main method of recovery was the raw torque of the engine. The vehicle was equipped with a drawbar to facilitate the towing of fellow Churchills or other armored vehicles. When not in use, both the jib and drawbar were carried on the hull.

A three-man crew operated the vehicle, consisting of the driver, bow gunner (the bow-mounted BESA machine gun was retained on the ARV), and commander. All three men would have been REME engineers. The lack of a turret also provided enough room to carry the crew of any tank being recovered.

Churchill ARV Mk. I alongside an A27L Centaur. Note the chain-hoist in use at the end of the jib and the boxy fenders. Photo: felixshara.com

ARV Mk. II

To meet the needs of British forces fighting in Europe from 1944 onwards, a new version of the Churchill ARV was produced on the hulls of the Mk. III and Mk. IV tanks. Both tanks carried the same 6-pounder (57 mm) gun main armament but had different turrets. The Mk. III had a welded turret while the Mk. IV had a cast turret. Mk. III and IV Churchills were also used as the bases for the famous Churchill AVRE.

The ARV Mk. II conversion process was far more extensive than that of the Mk. I ARV. Rather than the ‘make do’ nature of the original ARV, the Mk. II was much more of a purpose-built machine. Like the Mk. Is, the original turret of the Churchill was removed, but instead of the simple ‘tower’, a faux turret was installed. This faux turret was large, boxy, and constructed from welded steel armor plate. It was also completely fixed in place and had no horizontal rotation. Placed atop the turret were two simple hexagonal cupolas with two-part hatches. There were no viewports anywhere on the ‘turret’. On the rear of this structure, a large stowage box was added. A dummy gun was fashioned from a length of pipe, which was also added to the face of the faux turret. This was put in place to make it look like a standard Churchill gun tank, as there was a fear that the enemy would mercilessly shoot at the vehicle if it was visibly unarmed. The addition of the dummy gun was an effort to deter possible attackers. The gun was mounted slightly off to the right so it didn’t interfere with the forward jib.

Two views of the faux turret and its dummy gun. The two simple, hexagonal cupolas are extremely prominent. The hooks that cover the structure would be used to carry spare track links, recovery equipment, and crew sundries. Photo: Author’s own

The purpose of the faux turret was to serve as a protective housing for the 3-man crew as well as the crew of any vehicle being recovered. A new piece of equipment was also housed within – a winch. With a capacity of 25 long tons and a 250 foot (76 meter) long cable, the winch made the Mk. II ARV a far more effective recovery vehicle, as it could now pull vehicles or heavy equipment from a static position. The winch also worked in conjunction with another new addition, a permanently affixed A-frame jib placed on the rear of the vehicle. This was rooted directly to the hull with a large pulley wheel at the top. This jib had a capacity of 15 long tons (15.2 tonnes) and was mostly used to pull vehicles or heavy equipment. It could also be used to lift, but due to its relatively low height, this wasn’t practical.

On the left is a view of the fixed 15 long ton capacity jib and fairlead welded to the hull below it. On the right is a view of the winch cable emerging from the rear of the ‘turret’. Surrounding it is the large stowage box. Photos: Author’s own

The winch also worked with a feature carried over from the Mk. I ARV, the erectable A-frame jib. This could be attached to the bow of the vehicle. When not in use, it was broken down into its component pieces with one section of the tubular arms carried on each side of the hull, just above the suspension bogies. The pulley wheel that sat at the top of the jib was carried in a cradle on the left side of the bow. As its primary role was to pull from the rear of the vehicle, the winch cable emerged from the rear of the ‘turret’. To get the cable to the forward jib, the cable was passed through a fairlead, over the rear jib’s pulley, and over the ‘turret’ roof. It then passed over a smaller pulley in between the two cupolas and down to another pulley at the front of the bow. From here, it finally passed up and over the pulley atop the jib.

This image shows the direction of travel of the winch cable to the forward jib. Photo: IWM with additions by Author.

The forward jib had a lift capacity of 7 ½ long tons (7.6 tonnes) and was much longer than the rear unit, thus higher off the ground. This made it perfect for engine and equipment lifts. The jib was anchored to the vehicle via a high-tensile cable, attached to an eyelet beside the roof cable pulley. The cable was also brought to the front like this to facilitate pulls from the front without the use of the jib. The engine deck was modified to allow passage of the winch cable. It was completely flattened, cleared of any obstruction. This included the exhaust system which was altered from the single, horizontal bar which ran the width of the deck on the standard gun tank. For the ARV, the exhaust pipe was split into two separate pipes mounted over the sprocket wheels. Protective cowlings were placed over the mufflers. To anchor the vehicle during lifts and pulls, a large ‘spade’ was placed on the rear of the vehicle. When needed, this was lowered by the winch. When not in use, it was folded up against the rear hull plate.

Rear view of the Mk. II ARV showing the spade and large exhaust muffler. Note also one section of the forward jib carried above the suspension units. Photo: felixshara.com

Other Details and Equipment of the Mk. II

Like the Mk. I, the Mk. II ARV’s fenders were more angular and boxy than that of the standard Churchill’s. On both the Mk. I and II, however, the air intakes towards the rear of the vehicle on the sides of the hull were vastly simplified and stripped back. On later models of the Mk. II, they were even more basic, taking the form a simple, shallow rectangular box with a thin layer of mesh covering the intake aperture. Another feature carried over from the Mk. I was the retention of the bow 7.92 mm BESA machine gun. Unlike the Mk. I, however, there was no mounting point for the twin Bren LMGs.

While the dimensions of the Mk. I matched those of the standard Churchill (barring the lack of a turret), the Mk. II was slightly larger in a few respects. With the introduction of the rear jib, the vehicle’s length increased to 27 feet 6 in (8.38 meters) from the original 25 feet 5 inches (7.74 meters). The faux turret also increased height from 8 feet 2 inches (2.49 meters) to 9 feet 9 inches (2.96 meters).

The ARV also housed various other items used for repair or recovery tasks. These included jacks, hoists, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow bars, spare track links and lengths of steel cable up to 100 feet (30 meters) long. All of these were stowed on various points around the exterior of the vehicle via simple steel hooks which were welded to the chassis and ‘turret’. New, large stowage boxes were added behind the exhaust mufflers. In some cases, a vice was even added on the left of the bow plate for small-scale repairs.

Numerous sets of wooden blocks were also carried on both the Mk. I and Mk. II. These were used for several purposes. If winching a vehicle from a steep embankment, the wooden blocks were piled on the crest of the embankment so the cable would not bite into the earth. They were also used in conjunction with jacks, either to support the vehicle or give the jack a firm base to stop it sinking into soft ground.

Top left: The bow of the Mk. II showing the cradle for the forward jib’s pulley wheel. Note the twisted metal plate on the left, this is where a vice would have been attached. Top right: The winch cable pulley at the front of the ‘turret’ roof combined with the anchor eyelet for the forward jib. Bottom left: The simplified air-intake on the hull side and, above it, one of the added stowage boxes. Note the REME tricolour on the fender. Bottom right: This view shows the dummy gun, one of the sets of wooden blocks and a set of tow-bars. Photos: Author’s own

Some of the only items carried on the now barren engine deck were a couple of pioneer tools, consisting of a pick-axe and a sledge hammer. Two shovels were also carried and were stowed on the exterior of the large stowage bin on the back of the ‘turret’.

Much of the equipment carried by the Churchill was shared by the Sherman ARV. The Sherman ARV was a unique British conversion, developed independently of the American M32 variant of the M4 Sherman medium tank. Like the Churchill, the Mk. I Sherman ARV was a turretless tank with an erectable jib. The Mk. 2 Sherman ARV featured a similar faux turret with a dummy gun and the same fixed 25 long ton capacity rear jib.

Service

Unfortunately, there is not much detail out there regarding the Churchill ARV’s time in service. Initially, the ARV was designed to support armored units equipped with the Churchill tank. At the time it entered service, no other vehicle was capable of pulling the 40 long ton tank. From 1942 onwards, both the Mk. I and Mk. II were in operation with REME troops attached to armored units, and served through the Italian and North West Europe campaigns. The Mk. I was also used heavily in training exercises in the UK.

Churchill ARV Mk. I. The presence of a Canadian Ram in the background suggests this photo was taken in the UK. The turretless Sherman chassis (also in the background) is likely a Mk. I Sherman ARV. Photo: felixshara.com

We do know that the ARV played a crucial role during the March 1945 crossing of the Rhine. As part of 835 Heavy Recovery Section REME, at least two Mk. II ARVs were present. The ARVs were among the first heavy vehicles to be rafted across to the enemy occupied bank. Working alongside the Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV) – another REME specific vehicle – as well as Scammell trucks, D4 and D8 Tractors, the Churchill ARVs were put to use recovering Sherman DDs (Amphibious, Duplex-Drive Sherman tanks) that had become bogged down while emerging from the Rhine. At least 8 Sherman DDs were recovered in this manner. The Churchill was also used to pull lighter vehicles such as the DUKW up the steep banks of the river.

The Churchill ARV’s service continued into the 1950s and it was even deployed in support of British Armoured units fighting in the Korean War (1950-1953). It is often forgotten that the Churchill, specifically the Churchill Crocodile, was deployed during the Korean War. That conflict was the last active combat deployment of the Churchill Tank. It was not until 1956 and the emergence of the FV4006 Centurion ARV that the Churchill ARV was finally retired. However, it hung on in service into the late 1950s with British forces stationed in Hong Kong. Further information on its deployment there is scarce, unfortunately.

A Mk. II ARV in Sek Kong, Hong Kong 1957-58. Photo: Bryan Panter, Gwulo.com

The Churchill ARV was one of the last Churchill types used by the British Army, surpassed only by the FV3902 Churchill Toad and FV3903 Churchill AVRE.

Conclusion

The ARV version is a testament to the versatility and flexibility of the Churchill tank. It is also an important vehicle in the history of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, being one of the first vehicles specifically converted to be operated by their personnel.

Unfortunately, not many of the vehicles survive today. It is possible that only three are still in existence, all Mk. IIs. One of these can be found at the REME Museum in Lyneham, UK. For many years this served as a range target at Borden Camp in Hampshire before being retrieved in the late 1970s and semi-restored and placed in the REME Museum collection. Two others can be found in India, one at the Cavalry Tank Museum, Ahmadnagar and the other at the Military College Of Electronics And Mechanical Engineering (MCEME) in Secunderabad.

Churchill ARV Mk. II at the MCEME, Secunderabad. Photo: warbirdsofindia


Churchill ARV Mk. I. Based on the Mk. I and II Churchill gun-tank, the Mk. I ARV was simply a turretless ‘tug’. It was equipped with a jib that could be erected at the front of the vehicle but its main role was towing. The red, yellow, and blue tri-color on the side of the vehicle is the REME flash.


Churchill ARV Mk. II. The upgraded ARV was based on the Churchill Mk. III and IV. The turret was removed and replaced with a fixed, welded superstructure housing a powerful winch. It had the same erectable forward jib, but was also equipped with a fix rear jib. So the winch cable could be used at the front of the vehicle, the cable had to be threaded around a series of pullies.

These illustrations were produced by Pavel Alexe, based on work by David Bocquelet, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications (Mk. II)

Dimensions 24ft 5in x 10ft 8in x 9 ft 9 in
(7.44 m x 3.25 m x 2.96 m)
Total weight Aprox. 40 tonnes
Crew 3 (driver, bow-gunner, commander – all REME)
Propulsion 350 hp Bedford horizontally opposed twin-six petrol engine
Speed (road) 15 mph (24 km/h)
Armament BESA 7.92mm (0.31 in) machine-gun
Equipment 25-ton capacity winch with 250 ft (76 m) cable
15-ton (15.2 tonne) capacity rear jib
7 ½-ton (7.6 tonne) erectible forward jib
Armour From 25 to 102 mm (0.98 – 4 in)
Total Production N/A

Sources

David Fletcher, Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-51, Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #7
Nigel Montgomery, 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 World War.
David Fletcher, Mr. Churchill’s Tank: The British Infantry Tank Mark IV, Schiffer Publishing
Mike Sibbons, From the Archives: An Eclectic Mix of Stories from the History of REME, Osprey Publishing
John Dutton, The Forgotten Punch in the Army’s Fist: Korea 1950-53- Recounting REME Involvement, Las Atalayas Publishing
The REME Museum, Lyneham, UK
www.desertrats.org.uk
www.armourinfocus.co.uk
leicestermodellers.weebly.com


Categories
WW2 British Other AFVs

Morris-Commercial C9/B Self-Propelled 40mm Bofors

United Kingdom (1943-45)
SPAAG – 1680 built

This rare Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) began development in 1941 as a private venture by the Morris-Commercial company. Morris was one of Britain’s most famous motor companies, renowned for their cars. They also built a number of vehicles for the military, such as the Morris CS9 Armoured Car and the Morris Light Reconnaissance Car. One of their most famous military vehicles was the Morris C8 Field Artillery Tractor (FAT) also known as ‘Quad’. The Morris C9/B is based on this Tractor and was armed with the 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft Gun.
The British War Office liked the combination and placed an order. They were put into production in time for the D-Day operations of summer 1944.
The rarity of this SPAAG is somewhat frustrating to the researcher, as the contents of this article represent the majority of the available information out there, despite a relatively large number of produced vehicles.

A factory-fresh Morris C9/B. Photo: Historic Miltary Vehicle Forum

Development

A three-man team designed and developed the C9. They worked under the direction of Mr. Percy Rose at the Morris plant at Adderley Park in Birmingham. Construction of the first prototype was completed by late 1942, and subsequently took part in trials. The trials were successful and the SPAAG entered production. A total of 1680 vehicles were built in total.
The C9/B, officially designated the ‘Carrier, 30 cwt, SP, 4×4, 40 mm AA (Bofors)’ was intended to be a mobile gun platform for the defense of convoys and columns against air attack. Light anti-aircraft regiments were usually outfitted with a battery of six self-propelled guns.

British troops demonstrate the C9. Photo: Warlord Games

The Morris C8 FAT

The C8 Field Artillery Tractor (FAT), also known as the ‘Quad’, was a 4×4 utility vehicle used by British and Commonwealth forces during the Second World War, starting in 1939. It was used to tow weapons such as the 25-Pounder howitzer and 17-Pounder anti-tank gun.
A 70hp Morris EH, 4-cylinder 3.5 liter petrol engine propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h). It was an extremely reliable vehicle, seeing service in the European and South-Eastern theaters. Around 10,000 C8s were built in total.

The Morris C8 FAT or ‘Quad’ artillery tractor, towng a 25-pdr field gun. It is this vehicle that the C9/B was based on. Photo: IWM

Design

Gun, 40mm Bofors

The chosen armament for this self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was perhaps one of the most famous anti-aircraft (AA) guns in history. This 40mm autocannon, designed and built by the Swedish company Bofors, entered military use in 1934. It became one of the most reliable and deadly guns of the time, seeing use with multiple armies during and after the Second World War.
It had a number of uses, being placed on warships, towed into battle or mounted on various tank chassis. The gun fired a 40 mm (1.6 in) shell, weighing 0.2 kg (2 lbs), up to a maximum vertical range of 7,160 m (23,490 ft). The rate of fire was 120 rounds per minute. Elevation range was from −5 degrees to +90 degrees.

British troops operating the 40mm Bofors on the Morris. The exact location is not known, but judging by the uniforms it is a hot climate, suggesting the Far East. Photo: SOURCE:


Illustration of the Morris-Commercial C9/B Self-Propelled 40mm Bofors, produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Chassis

The C8’s chassis was lengthened slightly for this new variant. The engine and drive systems remained the same as the C8 base vehicle, retaining the 70 hp Morris EH, 4-cylinder 3.5 liter petrol engine mounted at the front. It also stayed a 4×4 vehicle.
A simplistic, almost skeletal body was installed on the frame, including a cab area at the front that was open to the elements, even lacking doors, with seats for four personnel. Two seats were placed on the right (one for the driver) and two on the left. A canvas cover could be placed over the cab area to provide some protection from the elements. Only the very earliest of vehicles had a windshield installed.
A fully enclosed cab was avoided as its addition would have prevented the gun from having a 360-degree arc of traverse. Even the steering wheel was hinged so it could be folded out of the way of the gun. The 40 mm gun, with a shield, was mounted centrally on the chassis. A flat platform was constructed behind the gun, with stowage for 40 mm ammunition boxes over each of the back wheels. Pioneering tools and crew stowage were located under this flat platform. Apart from the gun shield, the vehicle was completely unarmored.
To provide a stable gunnery platform, four jacks were added to the chassis. One was at the front under the bumper, one at the rear, and one on the left and on the right on arms that folded out. Four conical ‘shoes’ were also used under the jacks to spread the weight of the vehicle over a wider area, with the combination of the two lifting the C9 off its wheels. Only the engine compartment at the front of the vehicle bared any resemblance to the C8 base vehicle, yet even this was distorted thanks to the stowage of the conical ‘shoes’ in stacked pairs on the fenders over the front wheels.
The vehicle sometimes towed a small, wooden two-wheel trailer with a canvas cover. This was likely used to tow extra supplies for the vehicle such as ammunition and possibly fuel.

Service

The service life of this vehicle is not well recorded, unfortunately, despite a relatively large production total. The largest user of the C9/B was the Manx Regiment of the Isle of Mann. The Regiment was equipped with the Morris early in 1944, in preparation for operations in Europe. We do know that this SPAAG served in both theatres, fighting the Germans in Europe, and the Japanese in the East. At the point they were in Europe, their use as anti-aircraft vehicles would have continuously dwindled as the German Air Force gradually ran out of aircraft.
Such AA vehicles found alternate uses, however, as infantry support vehicles. The 40 mm Bofors would have been an extremely deadly weapon against enemy infantry, or light vehicles. It certainly would have been a devastating weapon against the thinly armored Japanese tanks in the Far East. Using it to engage both ground and air targets, the Manx Regiment became one of the highest scoring Anti-Air units of the Second World war.
At least one of the vehicles was sent to Australia. It took part in comparative testing alongside the locally produced self-propelled 40 mm SPAAG based on the Ford CMP chassis.

Surviving Vehicles

Thankfully, despite the rarity of the vehicle, a number do survive in the UK in various museums, but also in the hands of private restorers.
One such example can be found in the Cobbaton Combat Collection, near Barnstaple North Devon. Another can be found at the Douglas Aviation Museum on the Isle of Man.

The Cobbaton Combat Collection’s Morris C9/B. Photo: Author’s own.

An article by Mark Nash

Specifications

Weight Around 3 tons
Crew At least 4
Propulsion 70hp Morris EH, 4-cylinder 3.5 liter petrol engine
Speed (road) 50 mph (80 km/h
Armament 40mm Bofors AA Gun
Armor N/A
Total production 1680

Links & Resources

Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, England.
www.maps.org.im
www.flamesofwar.com

Categories
WW2 British Other AFVs

Bison Mobile Pillbox

United Kingdom United Kingdom (1940)
Improvised Self-propelled Pillbox – 200-300 built

Make do and Mend… To the Extreme

Amid fears of a German invasion of British soil in 1940-1941, Britain began preparing for the worst. The fear was, in particular, the capture of airfields by German paratroopers – a fear that would come true in the Battle of Crete, May, 1941. Recognizing the danger, tanks and other AFVs were seen as an effective means of defending airfields, but due to the loss at Dunkirk, there was no real means of equipping airfields with AFVs. The ‘Bison Mobile Pillbox’ was the ideal solution. The idea was to take available trucks and place concrete bunkers on the rear, thus making a mobile pillbox. As many as 300 were built, with one, and the remains of another, still in existence today.

Design process

The idea of a concrete bunker came from Charles Bernard Matthews, the owner of Concrete Limited, and his commercial partner, John Goldwell Ambrose. They had both previously served in the Royal Engineers during WWI, thus meaning that they had serious expertise in designing concrete bunkers. 24 old trucks were bought for testing, and a prototype was made to be shown to local military officials. After some minor design changes, production began in Stourton, Leeds. The name “Bison” was chosen, as it was the company trademark at the time. Due to the sheer weight of the concrete, only heavy lorry chassis could be realistically suited to the conversion. Nevertheless, lorries of all types and ages were used in the production of the Bison, and each Bison varies from the next, but there appear to have been three main types.
Type 1 was a fully armored cab and a small fighting compartment with a canvas roof. Type 2 had an armored cab with a separate concrete pillbox on the rear. Type 3 was a fully armored cab and adjoining fighting compartment, fully covered in concrete.
The bodywork was stripped from each vehicle and replaced with wooden formwork, and some expanded metal was placed in between the new structures. Fast setting concrete was then poured on to create the armor, which was up to 152mm (6 inches) thick. Roofed versions had a pre-cast roof. Some were also built on steam-wagons, which were not self-propelled due to their boilers being removed, but could be towed.
Type 3 fully enclosed Bison, government photograph circa 1940/1.
Type 3 fully enclosed Bison, government photograph circa 1940/1.

Combat capabilities

Bisons were primarily intended to defend airfields, but also reportedly saw service with the Home Guard. Testing revealed that the concrete was resistant to Bren guns and armor piercing rounds, and this would certainly be sufficient defense against German paratroopers. However, this protection was not a calculated trade-off. They could hardly be described as ‘mobile’ pillboxes due to the weight of the concrete, poor radiator cooling, and poor driver situational awareness. They were, therefore, towed or abandoned after breakdowns.

Surviving examples

One full type 2 Bison semi-replica was reconstructed at Bovington Tank Museum using remaining Bison parts and a Thornycroft 3 ton 6×4 truck, military type (although it is suggested that a military lorry would probably not be handed over for these purposes). A hatch has been cut into the lorry’s decking for access to the pillbox, and the cab is open-topped, access being granted through climbing over. The pillbox design is a late-type – the sloped design saved on weight, whereas earlier designs were rectangular. A small steel plate has been placed to protect the engine and radiator, but would be insufficient to protect against small arms fire.
Parts of a Bison stand at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center today. This particular Bison had originally been used by the Home Guard to defend RAF Digby. Later in the war, airfield protection at Digby was not needed, and the vehicle was stored, only defending a roadblock on the A15 (a major road) near Sleaford. Before the war’s end, it was abandoned, vandalized, and the chassis was used as a farm trailer. In 1988, the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group found out about the vehicle and on 22nd March 1991, the remains were taken to the museum.

Sources

Vehicles of the Home Guard” by Martin Mace
The Times”, 10 December 1940, Newspaper article entitled “Mobile Concrete Pill Boxes – Easy Construction
The Bison on Wikipedia
Warwheels.net
Warwheels.net  (A walkaround of the replica Bison at Bovington)
Pillbox-study-group.org.uk
Preserved Military Vehicle Registry Project

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

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

Type 2 Bison at Bovington. Some parts are original, but the truck chassis is not one that would originally have been used
Type 2 Bison at Bovington. Some parts are original, but the truck chassis is not one that would originally have been used.
Small type 3 Bison, early model, as shown by the rectangular type. The engine handle crank is seen below, as well as two ventilation slits for the engine.
Small type 3 Bison, early model, as shown by the rectangular type. The engine handle crank is seen below, as well as two ventilation slits for the engine.
Remains of a Bison on display at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center. Whilst they may look like meaningless, unimpressive slabs of degrading concrete, their historical significance is considerable.
Remains of a Bison on display at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center. Whilst they may look like meaningless, unimpressive slabs of degrading concrete, their historical significance is considerable.
Originally published on 26 April, 2016.

Categories
WW2 British Other AFVs

Sherman Tulip Rocket Firing Tanks

United Kingdom (1944)
Rocket firing tank

The idea came from the Canadians

During WW2, men of the Canadian 12th Manitoba Dragoons, part of the 18th Armoured Car Regiment, were looking for a way to increase the firepower on their American built Staghound Armored Cars. They were only armed with a 37 mm (1.46 in) anti-tank gun. The Dragoons’ job on the battlefield was reconnaissance and to call in artillery support. If they ran into enemy opposition they needed a more powerful weapon to help them get out of trouble and get back to the safety of their own lines.
On 19th November 1944, four Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Rocket Launcher Rails Mk1 were attached to the turret of an HQ Company Staghound, two on each side. They were loaded with 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rockets that were normally fitted to planes like the Hawker Typhoon, Hurricane, Republican Thunderbolt, Mosquito, Liberator, Swordfish, Fairey Firefly and Beaufort.
The rocket launcher rails were attached to the 37 mm gun’s mantlet. This enabled them to be moved up and down. Rotating the turret moved the rockets left or right. During tests, it was found that accuracy, especially in the terms of range, was poor. Some rockets failed to explode when fired at targets close to the vehicle. The maximum range achieved was 3,000 yards (2750 meters). No Staghounds fitted with rockets were used in action. This was a battlefield prototype.
Canadian Staghound Armoured Car Rocket Launcher
The turret of this Canadian 12th Manitoba Dragoons Staghound Armored Car was fitted with four 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails in November 1944.

The Sherman Tulip Tank

Lieutenant Robert Boscawen, from the British 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division and his friend Captain Dermot Musker, were the first to add the 60lb rocket firing capability to a Sherman tank. The Rocket Launcher Rails Mk.I and RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) rockets were obtained from an RAF Typhoon aerodrome near Nijmegen. Captain Musker had heard that the Canadians had fitted some Typhoon rockets to a tank as an experiment but had never developed the idea.
The first Sherman tank was equipped with the two rockets on Friday 16th March 1945. Lt Boscawen welded rocket launching rails on his tank on the following day and conducted a successful test firing. The decision was then made to arm the whole squadron and later the battalion with rockets.
It was a short-range blunderbuss weapon that would deliver a very impressive loud explosive immediate response to being ambushed as tanks advanced along close-country roads and village streets in the Netherlands and Germany. It was not meant to be a highly accurate weapon that could hit moving targets. They were designed to saturate the immediate area, kill and shock any surviving enemy combatants into surrender.
By Friday 23rd March 1945, with the help of the Brigade’s L.A.D. (Light Aid Detachment) fitters, nearly all the tanks of No.2 Squadron had been fitted with double rockets on either side of the turrets. On Wednesday, 28th March 1945, a demonstration of the rocket’s capabilities was organized for the General. Sixteen rockets were successfully fired at once into a sandpit. It was like the equivalent of a Navy destroyer’s broadside. The rockets were given the code name ‘Tulips’ because of their shape.
Lt Robert Boscawen, No.2 Troop commander, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division
Lt Robert Boscawen, No.2 Troop commander, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division. In his book, Armoured Guardsman, Lt Boscawen’s comment on this photo was, “Fitting a single rocket – code name Tulip – to one of my tanks. Shortly after we bolted a second rocket beneath to double up the warheads and improve trajectory.” No photograph of that four rocket configuration on a Sherman tank turret has yet been found.

RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3 inch)

This British unguided air to ground rocket projectile was designed to be used by fighter-bomber aircraft like the RAF Typhoon, against targets such as tanks, trains, buildings, ships and U-boats. The RP-3 was also known as the 60 lb rocket because of its 60 pound (27 kg) warhead. The three-inch designation referred to the diameter of the rocket.
The rocket was 55 inches (140 cm) in length. Eleven pounds (5 kg) of cordite propellant were packed inside the 3 inch (76 mm) steel tube rocket body. This was ignited by an electrical wire entering the tube at the rear of the rocket between the fins. Seven different warheads could be screwed onto the top of the rocket body.
The normal one was the six inch in diameter (150 mm) 60 lb HE/SAP high explosive semi-armor piercing shell (27 kg). A solid 25 pound (11 kg) 3.44 inch (87 mm) AP armor piercing shell could be fitted instead. The AP rockets were not used by the tanks of the Coldstream Guards. They wanted the rockets to deal with infantry and anti-tank guns.
RAF 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket
This photograph of RAF aircrew connecting the body of two RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground rockets to their high explosive 60lb warhead, gives you an idea of how long they were.

The Tulip tanks see action

Tulip equipped Sherman tanks, belonging to the 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, were involved in the action near the bridge over the Twente Canal between Enschede and Hengelo, in the Netherlands, on the 1st April 1945.
Lt Boscawen’s No.2 Troop of five tanks was leading the way at maximum speed down a concrete canal road to take the bridge by surprise. No.2 Squadron’s armored car had managed to rush over the bridge first. Sergeant Caulfield’s Sherman Firefly had turned right to cross the bridge and follow the scout car but spotted a German four gun 8.8 cm flak battery to his left. He opened fire as he crossed the bridge.
Lt Boscawen’s Sherman Mk.V tank was following. His tank fired its 75 mm (2.95 in) gun and machine guns at the German gun emplacement. It was protected by high earth mounds so he launched both his rockets. At the same time, the canal bridge was blown up by German engineers and his tank was hit in the petrol tank by a German shell that caused the tank to catch fire. Only Trooper Bland and Lt Boscawen managed to get out of the burning tank. Both were badly burnt.
On a second occasion, British infantry was being troubled by enemy infantry in a wood. Two troops of tanks fired two rockets each from about 600 yards. Thirty to forty German infantrymen, including “Brandenburgers” came out of the wood afterward and gave themselves up. They were extremely shaken. There were several other occasions of this nature.
Rockets fired from Sherman tanks of the Coldstream Guards were used in action in Germany as the division headed towards Hamburg. Near Lingen, because of the devastating effects of the rockets, a German officer complained to his captors that he believed the rockets were against the Geneva Convention and not allowed.
Sherman Firefly Mk.IC behind a Sherman Mk.V tank. Both are armed with 'Tulip' rockets.
Sherman Firefly Mk.IC behind a Sherman Mk.V tank of No.2 Troop, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division. Both are armed with ‘Tulip’ rockets.

Post-War report on the use of rockets fired from tanks

This is a summary of a report submitted by 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division – It was decided to have one rocket set to hit anything that got in its way up to about 400 yards and the other one up to about 800 yards. This required the setting of the brackets to be at 150 mm and 160 mm above the horizontal respectively.
The morale effect, especially against ordinary troops, was tremendous. It often resulted in the enemy surrendering after witnessing a rocket barrage. In the type of fighting encountered in Germany, it was found that rockets were the most effective against troops in woods and buildings. On one occasion, after a squadron had fired all its rockets and a number of other missiles at a barracks, it was found that there were about 40 dead in the buildings after the battle was over. The hitting power is like that of a shell. The explosion caused by the rocket is slightly greater than that of a medium shell.
The rocket was found effective in removing road blocks and barricades when they were covered by enemy fire. It worked better than ordinary HE and AP shells. They were not used against any enemy tanks chiefly because very few AFVs were encountered at close range and because they lacked aiming accuracy.
The general conclusion from the report was that the performance of the rockets when deployed ‘proved most satisfactory’. The results were limited because many of the tanks of No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division were lost in action or through normal mechanical break-downs.
There was only one accidental launch of a rocket caused by a German air burst artillery shell fragment that severed the electrical wire and generated enough electrical charge to ignite the rocket propellant. No rocket attached to the side of a Sherman tank turret was exploded by enemy small arms fire. SAP warheads need a good primary charge to set them off. It would be possible to set off the propellant in the 3-inch tube, but the amount of propellant was small and would not damage the tank turret.
It was not seen as a weapon that would replace the main gun as a precision weapon but as a secondary armament of the one-shot variety against large targets.
An article by Craig Moore

Sources

MilArt – Staghound Rocket Launcher by Roger V Lucy
Armoured Guardsmen by Robert Boscawen
Sherman Tulip Fine fleur des Guards by Ludovic Fortin – Tank Zone No.16
Appendix ‘B’ to 21 Army Group AFV Technical Report No. 26.

The turret of this Canadian 12th Manitoba Dragoons Staghound Armored Car was fitted with four 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails in November 1944.
The turret of this Canadian 12th Manitoba Dragoons Staghound Armored Car was fitted with four 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails in November 1944.
Sherman Mk.V (M4A4) Tulip tank 2, belonging to No.2 Troop, commander Lt Robert Boscawen, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, the Netherlands, March 1945
Sherman Mk.V (M4A4) Tulip tank 2, belonging to No.2 Troop, commander Lt Robert Boscawen, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, the Netherlands, March 1945
Sherman Mk.V (M4A4) Tulip tank 2A, No.2 Troop, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division fitted with four rocket rails, the Netherlands, March 1945
Sherman Mk.V (M4A4) Tulip tank 2A, No.2 Troop, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division fitted with four rocket rails, the Netherlands, March 1945
Sherman Firefly Mk.Ic Hybrid Tulip tank 2C, No.2 Troop, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, the Netherlands, March 1945
Sherman Firefly Mk.Ic Hybrid Tulip tank 2C, No.2 Troop, No.2 Squadron, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, the Netherlands, March 1945
Cromwell tank fitted with 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails.
Cromwell tank fitted with 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails.

Operational Photographs

British Sherman Mk.V tank fitted with 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails
British Sherman Mk.V tank fitted with 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails.
British Sherman Firefly Mk.IC Hybrid tank, 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division fitted with two 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch)

Main Gun penetration figures

Official British War Department test figures show that the 17pdr anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armor plate at these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 119.2 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 107.3 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 96.7mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 132.9 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 116.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 101.7 mm. When fired at slopped armor it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.
Official British War Department test figures show that the 75 mm M2 gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armor plate at these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 64.4 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 55.9 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 48.5 mm. When firing armor piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 64.5 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 56.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 50 mm. When fired at slopped armor it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.
Official British War Department test figures show that the 75 mm M3 gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armor plate at these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 73.2 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 63.2 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 54.5 mm. When firing armor piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 73.75 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 65.4 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 57.8 mm. When fired at slopped armor it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.
British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
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Categories
WW2 British Other AFVs

Bishop SPH 25 Pdr

United Kingdom (1942)
Self-propelled howitzer – 149 built

One of the rare British SPHs

The backbone of the Royal artillery had been, since 1940, the efficient quick-firing 25 pdr (87.6 mm/3.45 in) howitzer. But, in 1941, in the North African desert, a new, very mobile kind of warfare showed the importance of quick deployment of artillery, need to support the troops. One solution for this, already well put in practice by the Afrika Korps, was the self-propelled gun solution. This led to a requirement for such a vehicle, armed with the aforementioned 25 pdr. In June 1941, the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company won the bid, having to launch production in the shortest time, and presented a prototype in August. In November 1941, a first order of 100 was secured. For the Royal Ordnance, it was known as the “Ordnance QF 25-pdr on Carrier Valentine 25-pdr Mk 1”, called the “Bishop” by the average infantryman, related to its high mitre-like boxy superstructure.

Design

In order to be ready in a timely fashion and at an affordable price, BRC wisely chose the Valentine II chassis and mounted a fixed boxy superstructure on top. Access was possible through large doors at the rear of this turret-like assembly. It housed the 25-pounder (87.6 mm/3.45 in) gun-howitzer and three of the crew, plus side ammunition racks. The Bishop had a very high silhouette and was much heavier than the original tank, stressing the suspension and chassis. Top speed was only 15 mph (24 km/h), due to a 7.4 hp/tonne power-to-weight ratio. Elevation for the gun was only 15 degrees with a 5-degree depression, reducing the range to about 6,400 yards (5,900 m), half of the original howitzer range. Traverse was 8 degrees in all. The secondary weapon was a loose Bren light machine gun for self-defense or AA defense.

Production & service

In July 1942, the first batch of 80 was delivered, then another two batches of 20 and 50, with an option for 200 more in early 1943. But as the new American M7 105 mm (4.13 in) SP gun “Priest” was made largely available to the British through Lend-Lease, this order was canceled, and the Bishop was gradually replaced and diluted in numbers. The first engagement came during the second battle of El Alamein. The Bishop soldiered for the whole North African campaign with the VIIIth Army in Tunisia, then in Sicily and Italy.

Bishop 25-pdr QF self propelled howitzer

Dimensions (L/w/h) 18’6” x 9’1” x 9’10” (5.64 x 2.77 x 3 m)
Total weight, battle ready 17.5 tons (38,580 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion AEC Type A190, 6-cylinder, petrol, 131 hp (98 kW)
Suspension Two triple wheeled bogies with coil springs
Top speed 15 mph (25 km/h)
Range (road) 90 mi (240 km)
Armament QF 25 Pdr (105 mm)
Armor From 12 to 45 mm (0.47-1.77 in)
Total production 149 in 1942-43

Ordnance QF 25 pdr on Carrier Valentine 25-pdr Mk.I Bishop of the VIIIth Army, El Alamein, fall 1942.
Ordnance QF 25 pdr on Carrier Valentine 25-pdr Mk 1 “Bishop” of the VIIIth Army, El Alamein, fall 1942.
Bishop of the VIIIth Army in Southern Italy, February 1944.
Bishop of the VIIIth Army in Southern Italy, February 1944.
The 25 Pdr carrier Bishop in the North African desert in September, prior to the 2nd El Alamein battle. Despite its appearance, the superstructure didn't rotate.
The 25 Pdr carrier Bishop in the North African desert in September, prior to the 2nd El Alamein battle. Despite its appearance, the superstructure didn’t rotate.

Links on the Bishop SPG

The Bishop SPH on Wikipedia
British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)