Budgong Gap may not be the sort of world-famous location associated with great architecture or magnificent structures of the ancient world. Nor is it a place with any association in the world of armored fighting vehicle manufacturers, yet this somewhat obscure location, lying nearly a 3-hour drive south of Sydney, New South Wales in Australia, does have one claim to armored vehicle fame – the Gerreys. World War 2 broke out for Great Britain on 3rd September 1939, when it declared war on Germany after the Wehrmacht had invaded Poland. Australia followed suit, with Prime Minister Robert Menzies announcing that Australia was also once more at war. Within a month, the Gerreys had submitted a design for their own tracked and turreted weapon of war. Looking like a tracked motor car with a turret, the Gerrey design is perhaps yet another of those well-intentioned designs submitted in wartime but is also one of, if not the first of Australia’s homegrown armored vehicle designs of the war.
The Gerrey family were ranchers/farmers from a very rural part of Australia and had been established in the area from at least the turn of the century.
The two inventive members of this family were Bernard Bowland Gerrey and James Laurence Gerrey. Although it is not known what their relationship was, it is surmised that they were brothers. Both men gave their occupations in Budgong Gap in 1939 as Timber Hauliers. Bernard had previously been in the National Press in 1931, relating of a possible sighting of the wreckage of the Southern Cloud, an Avro 618 which was lost in bad weather in March that year over densely forested wilderness. There would be no fame or reward for Gerrey for that foray into the public eye and the plane was not found until 1958.
In October 1939, when the Gerreys (both Bernard and James) submitted their design, the vehicle was intended to fulfill a single simple objective – to provide a “motor propelled armoured vehicle” with a turret “in which a series of automatic machine guns are mounted in superposed groups”.
Shaped like a giant boot, the vehicle effectively had the appearance of a tracked saloon car with a giant cylinder sticking up on the back of it. Access to the vehicle was via a pair of large rectangular doors on the right-hand side of the vehicle. The left side is not shown in the drawing, but it can be assumed that these doors were duplicated on the left side as well. The first door was directly accessing the cab area of the ‘car’ part of the vehicle, roughly halfway along the side. The second door was at the back of the vehicle, below the cylindrical turret. Judging from the size of the doors, it would indicate enough space inside for perhaps as many as three men, although a crew of two is perhaps more reasonable as only one man would be needed to drive the vehicle and another to operate the weapons. One final note on access is what appears to be a series of 5 or 6 parallel steps on the right-hand side (and presumably the left as well to match). These steps were on the sides of the vehicle running vertically just behind the door to the driver’s position and running up to the roofline. There appears to be a third hatch shown on the side view just above and behind the side door as well, although it is neither mentioned in the text of the patent application nor in the plan view drawing.
The other very notable feature of the design is the very elegantly sculpted cowls for the pair of headlamps on the wings of the vehicle over the tracks. Such a design feature provided zero military advantages and was clearly inspired by a civilian style of automobile instead.
A crew of two would also match the plan view of the vehicle, which shows just a single opening in the front for the driver and no such opening or weapon on the left of the cab to indicate the need for a second crewman in the ‘car’. Likewise, in the turret, the plan view clearly shows a tractor-style seat for the weapon operator to sit on, indicating just a single man in the turret. At most, therefore, a crew of three could be hypothesized with the third man presumably languishing inside the passenger side of the ‘car’, occupied perhaps with managing a radio.
Both the 1931 report of a possible aircraft sighting and their employment as Timber Hauliers in 1939, as well as the rugged terrain in which they lived, indicate that they should have had at least a working knowledge of vehicles off-road, such as log-hauling tractors. This may account for the flat style of tracks used, as they have the appearance of the type more associated with industrial plant-like crawler tractors and even tracked cranes than the sort of tracks associated with military vehicles, which usually have a well-defined and raised leading front edge for the track.
Indeed, the flat style of track selected is not usually a problem on industrial machines, as the front and back of the bodywork rarely project the way they do on this vehicle. The projection over the back of the vehicle would, for this design, severely limit the steepness of a slope that could be climbed and likewise, at the front, the projecting bodywork would foul on the ground reducing trench crossing ability. This is perhaps the most surprising weakness of the design of the machine from the Gerreys.
The ‘car’ shape of the body of the vehicle is misleading, as the means of propulsion is decidedly not-car-like. Instead of running on rubber-tired road wheels, like a normal passenger motor car, this vehicle instead used a pair of full-length and rather narrow tracks. The Gerreys described the means of propulsion for these tracks as consisting of an “internal combustion motor of ordinary type and associated with the usual driving and change speed gear”. However, despite showing the vehicle on tracks, the Gerreys also suggested that this type of turret and armament system could be mounted upon “any kind of transport vehicle”.
The side view available from the patent indicates 20 or so large flat links per track with power delivered via a toothed sprocket located at the back. Each link is overly large for such a small vehicle with a large pitch and would indicate that the vehicle would have serious limitations on its top speed. Likewise, the positioning of the drive sprocket and idler, both in contact with the surface, would create a most uncomfortable ride even if there was any suspension shown or described, which there was not.
The engine, as shown in the plan view, lay at the front, under the bonnet, as would in the case of an ordinary passenger motor car, with the radiator in front of it. In order to protect the radiator from enemy fire, a set of hinged and moveable plates were fitted to the front, which could be opened in order to access the radiator and also allow more air in to improve cooling. Although the lines of the front of the car suggest a bonnet that could be opened in order to access the engine, there is none showed, which would mean a difficult time for anyone trying to do maintenance on the vehicle.
The primary weapons for the Gerrey design were a series of automatic machine guns. All of them were connected together in the wall of the turret and provided with a slot or other opening through which the barrels could protrude. All of the machine guns could be operated by a single crewman using a simple one-pull trigger, firing all of them at the same time. This wall of fire was no doubt an impressive thought. Assuming perhaps a rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute from each of the unspecified machine guns, it would be essential that each one was fed by a belt, or else the only job of the gunner would be changing magazines. With three rows of machine gun pairs fitted within the large cylindrical turret, a total of at least 6 machine guns (and as much as 18) are shown with their barrels projecting from small loopholes. Six machine guns firing 600 rounds per minute would be 3,600 rounds per minute fired in the general direction of an enemy through a narrow opening, allowing for very limited vertical movement of the guns.
As the vehicle, as drawn, would be using weapons compatible with British supplies, it would suggest weapons like the Browning machine gun and a bullet caliber of .303 or 7.92 mm, like that fired from the BESA machine gun. Belts for the Browning machine gun came in lengths of 500 rounds with two belts to a crate. Assuming the crates or boxes were dispensed off, the weight of the ammunition alone to serve these weapons is a significant burden the Gerreys failed to take into account, as one belt alone weighed in the region of 7 kg. One minute of sustained fire therefore would demand:
((No. of guns x rate of fire) / rounds per belt) x weight of belt
((6 x 600) / 500) x 7 kg = 50 kg of ammunition per minute
That is 50 kg of ammunition per minute, so even a modestly useful combat load of just 10 minutes-worth of fire would mean carrying half a tonne in ammunition alone. For anything other than perhaps anti-aircraft work, the six machine guns were simply adding the weight of the guns, complexity of the mechanism, and weight of the extra ammunition for no particular benefit. Given that the design of the Gerrey vehicle would preclude the anti-aircraft option due to the limited elevation of the guns, it has to be considered that a far more useful and practical arrangement of the firepower from this vehicle would have been served with just a pair of machine guns.
It was, however, these superimposed rows of automatic weapons, all operated by a single person, which was the crux of the patent invention, as they felt that this style of turret was both novel and important. Thus, the Gerreys patented something novel but inherently unusable.
Few specifics of the armor on the vehicle were described in the patent application, other than to say that the chassis was relatively lightly armored. From this, it can be inferred to be protection against small arms fire rather than the type of protection that would be needed against anti-tank shell fire.
The turret was sat recessed slightly into the body of the vehicle, which would reduce the chances of it being jammed by enemy fire and prevent splash from entering the vehicle through the gap.
The vehicle submitted by the Gerrys was a simple one, well within the technical abilities of the day to produce, but it was also redundant and somewhat naive. Even assuming the engine would have had sufficient power to propel the machine off-road, it was poorly laid out in terms of using space and was therefore going to be heavier than it needed to be. The same is true of the mechanism in the turret – heavily burdened with large gearing more akin to a heavy drive system than one for simply moving and firing machine guns.
They may be excused for some lack of knowledge when it comes to tank design, but it is hard to explain how they might see this vehicle moving across the sort of terrain they would have been familiar with. Overall, the design is crude and relatively poor, showing a great deal of naivety when it came to military vehicle design, with poor use of space and layout. The inherent problems of command and control between the driver and gunner and the excessive multitude of weapons would make any serious operation of the Gerrey vehicle problematic, to say the least, and likely one which would not be able to be operated efficiently under the stresses of combat. Indeed, only the US Army of the era might have been interested in a machine with such a preposterous number of machine guns, but regardless of the military faults, it is the tracks that are the biggest surprise.
For a pair of men who clearly have experience outdoors and almost certainly had seen or used vehicles in that terrain, it is easy to imagine the inspiration for the shape of the tracks they selected. What is less clear, however, is why the overhangs were not identified as a problem.
Nothing became of the design from the Gerreys, which is not really much of a surprise. As skilled as they may have been as timberers or as rugged outback pioneers, their ideas, whilst well-meaning, were simply too naive, too crude, and not fully thought-through – they simply were not what Australia or Britain needed in the war. This design, unofficial as it was, at least started the multitude of ideas coming from Australia for its own armored vehicle programs. Forgotten perhaps almost as soon as it was patented, the vehicle is little more than a short misstep in Australia producing what eventually became a very competent independent tank program. What became of the Gerreys is not clear, but they seem to have dropped their military ideas, submitted no more patents, and likely returned to what they knew best.
British Patent GB537405, ‘Improvements in Armoured Motor Vehicles provided with Machine Guns’, filed 16th October 1939, granted 20th June 1941.
Kangaroo Valley Voice July 2008: An insight to life back then.
New South Wales Parliament, Proceedings of the Legislative council Votes and Proceedings Volume 6
The Sun (Sydney) 11th July 1931 ‘Southern Cloud Search’
Northern Times (Carnarvon) 16th July 1931 ‘Wreckage of Plane Discovered’
Sidney Morning Herald 25th October 2019 ‘From the Archives, 1958: The Southern Cloud mystery solved after 27 years’
United Kingdom/Poland (1944-1945)
Armored Carrier – Design only
Poland had been crushed in WW2. Hitler had invaded Poland from the west on 1st September 1939, followed by a Soviet invasion from the east 16 days later. Despite dogged resistance, it was all futile and the country was split between the two ideologically opposing powers. Thousands of Polish nationals and soldiers had, however, escaped the invaders and many of them fled to Great Britain, which had declared war on Nazi Germany on 3rd September, although not on the Soviet Union following their part in the invasion. With their country occupied and terrorized, many of the escaped and exiled Poles and Polish nationals living in the UK either joined up with the British to fight for a free Poland or put their skills to use in other areas, such as inventions or contributing to war production.
One Polish national, Stanisław Sochaczewski, would submit an idea for an improved armored carrier in concert with a British woman and would produce an unusual idea for a variation on the Universal Carrier.
Isabel Smeaton (British) and Stanisław Sochaczewski (Polish) both provided an address of 4 Clarence House, London, for their September 1944 patent application for improvements in motor vehicles. The relationship between them is unclear, and we have no information of either of them except that Stanisław Sochaczewski could be General Stanisław Zygmunt Sochaczewski (27/8/1877 – 14/7/1953), a retired Polish Army Officer who had been living in Britain since May 1939, where he was a critic of General Władysław Sikorski. General Sikorski was the Prime Minister of the Polish Government in exile starting from September 1939 and Sochaczewski’s criticism of Sikorski even led to Sochaczewski being imprisoned in Scotland for a short period of time.
This was not Sochaczewski’s first attempt at a small carrier-type vehicle. In December 1943, he had sent a somewhat self-aggrandizing letter to the War Office suggesting what he called ‘Armoured Trolleys’, roughly the size of a Universal Carrier, which could be used to rapidly assault enemy positions. Evaluated by the Canadians, that suggestion had rightly been rejected as impractical. He had, however, ended that letter with a hint of his thinking – thinking which would shape this application with Mrs. Smeaton.
“During the few weeks taken by polishing up and duplicating which has been said above [his idea for the Armoured Trolley amongst others], there has been disclosed that an armoured fighting vehicle [emphasis added by Sochaczewski] which is perfectly suitable for the purpose described is already developed and mass produced. It is the British Army’s Universal Carrier (Lloyd-Carrier) [sic: Loyd Carrier] which can very easily be accommodated for carrying in a comfortable prone laying posture not three as had been suggested, but five-men, in two layers; two Bren-gunners below and three automatic-riflemen on top of the latter, all comfortably posted, fully protected by armour, aiming through periscopes and, if there is need, fully covered from bullets or splinters coming from above (very important for the street fighting and under strafing air attacks).
When out of enemy’s fire, men are comfortably sitting and there is plenty of room for fuel, ammunition and water. No better accommodation can be found”
As it happened, Sochaczewski was to tone down the prospective crew of 5 to just 3 for his patent application, but it cannot be left unremarked that he was somehow unaware in late 1942 of the existence of the ‘Universal Carrier’.
The goal of the design was the production of an armored vehicle using tracks that could be used to haul a number of men and their equipment safe from enemy fire as well as allowing them to position their weapons to facilitate fire on the enemy.
To create this vehicle, an open-topped armored box-body was formed from two sections, allowing for men to sit or lay at different heights. In normal usage, the men inside would sit upright for comfort but for protection would be able to lie down inside and still operate the vehicle. The body was described as:
“The vehicle comprises an armored body, mounted on an undercarriage composed of a plurality of wheels and an endless track of known form, which undercarriage constitutes no part of the present invention”
What this meant was that their invention was not for a complete vehicle in its own right, but a modification to an existing vehicle and the obvious visual similarity here to the Universal Carrier-type vehicle is unmistakable although, it should be clearly noted that, with four road-wheels, the design actually most clearly matches the American-built T16 carrier rather than the 3-roadwheel carrier
The body would be new, to facilitate the new and improved layout and protection, but the running gear, suspension, and tracks would be the same.
The seating in the back of the vehicle was to go on top of the sponsons, forming two rows of bench seating behind the driver’s space in the front. Using removable covers for those benches and rolled matting meant that, if the vehicle went into combat, then the benching could be quickly folded up, the matting unrolled and the men lay down in relative comfort. The compartment was also arranged with a type of false floor forming a shelf. This allowed for one soldier to lie at the lower tier of the vehicle, with another on the shelf above him, meaning more men would be able to face forwards to fire.
The driver, however, was different. In normal driving, he would be sat up like the others, but in combat, his seat would recline backward so as to position him in a semi-lying position. This, therefore, is one of, if not the first use of a reclined driver’s station for an armored fighting vehicle. This is something considered a significantly valuable feature of the Chieftain main battle tank and still in use as a concept today.
At the back left-hand side of the vehicle, there was a protected space, under the stowed sections of roof armor for the stowage of stores, and ammunition.
No specific engine was detailed in the design, but it was positioned in the rear center of the vehicle, with fuel tanks on the right side of the rear section, with a reserve oil tank on the right side above the sponson. Although no claim over the suspension system is made, the notable exception to anything being mentioned is the transmission. On the Universal Carrier, the rear-mounted engine was connected by a drive shaft to a transmission mounted across the front and, although there would still be room on this design for the transmission in the front, it would have been a tight fit against the face of the lower man. The other option perhaps was to put the transmission in the rear, but none of that was mentioned by the designers, who were preoccupied with layout and fightability.
No thicknesses of armor were specified in the patent and the vehicle was nominally open-topped in much the same style as the ‘Bren’ or ‘Universal’ Carrier. During normal operations, the men sat upright but, for combat, the men could lie down inside. The armor at the front was shaped in such a way as to provide a convenient aperture for the rifles, providing a rest for them. Although there is no thickness, the designers wanted the frontal armor to consist of two main plates, with the upper of the two fitted with two gun apertures and the lower plate with just one. The low-tier man would be able to fire from the lower aperture and the two upper-tier men from the upper two apertures. To allow for better traverse of fire, each aperture was also provided with a second plate to overlap the edges of the armor around each aperture to ensure that no gap was permitted.
Adding to the overall protection was the provision of moveable roof armor stowed at the back of the vehicle, which would be brought forward covering the roof of the vehicle when the men were lying down. No hatches were provided, so, to get out, the men would simply have to move up or back the armored roof plate. If this vehicle was to roughly match the Universal-type carrier’s armor would be bulletproof, up to 10 mm thick or so.
No specific armament other than rifles is mentioned in the patent. Four men, with one driving, meant potentially three weapons facing forwards at the same time and, although the British .303 SMLE was a famously quick-firing bolt action rifle, three such rifles was not a tremendous amount of firepower, especially considering the ‘Universal’ or ‘Bren’-type carrier was usually seen carrying a Bren .303 light machine gun (LMG).
The side view of the combat positions, however, clearly shows that the lower position was drawn with a weapon using a curved magazine coming out of the top and a distinctive flared muzzle – features matching the Bren LMG. If this was the case, then the armament would be limited to just a pair of rifles in the top tier and a light machine gun below them.
Isabel Smeaton is hard to track down but, as of September 1944, was likely still living at 4 Clarence House, as there is a recorded death of a John Stuart Smeaton (presumably her husband or father) on 7th July 1944. His occupation was given as a ‘sanitary engineer’. It was with John Smeaton that both Isabel and Stanislaw had submitted a patent application back in January 1942 for a small mirror system for shooting from behind cover and reference was specifically drawn in the carrier-patent to that design. Other inventions of war time relevance involved training devices for the army but, as far as can be ascertained, none of them were successful.
The work of Smeaton and Sochaczewski on this carrier had taken a lot of thought to try and consider the problems of improving protection and fightability. Creating a roof, adding firepower and useability were all good and noble ideas. Several key factors of note within the design were particularly credible such as:
Removable flooring rolled up when not in use
Interior divided longitudinally into compartments
Driver’s seat able to adjust from sitting up to a reclined position
Armored movable roof plates to protect the men from above
Additional apertures for rifles and/or other weaponry in the front
The problems with the design are readily apparent, however. The vehicle was never going to be of significant combat potential and all that work to create an extra tier of firepower when a simple Vickers machine gun on top would more than quadruple the firepower of the existing vehicle without having to completely retool a manufacturing line for the tens of thousands of carriers produced. None of these Smeaton Sochaczewski carriers were ever made, as the design simply offered far too little to warrant replacing a mass produced vehicle already in widespread use.
Smeaton Sochaczewski Carrier specifications
1 (driver) – up to three more fighting men
2 x .303 rifles and 1 x .303 light machine gun
Universal Carriers https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/vehicles/universalcarriers/universalcarriers.htm
UK Patent 568636 ‘Improvements in or relating to Armoured Vehicles, filed 6th September 1944, granted 13th April 1945
UK Patent 645416 ‘ Improvements in automatic small arms’, filed 11th December 1947, granted 1st November 1950
UK Patent 627207 ‘ Improvements in or relating to Recoil Operated Small Arms’, filed 21st August 1946, granted 3rd August 1949
UK Patent 555356 ‘ Improvements in or relating to Rifles and Like Guns’, filed 18th February 1942, granted 19th August 1943
UK Patent 567121 ‘Improved Wheeled Carrier for Bandoliers or Belts Packed with Ammunition’, filed 14th July 1944, granted 29th January 1945
UK Patent 540079 ‘Improvements in or relating to Appliances for Musketry and the like Training’ filed 27th March 1939, granted 3rd October 1941 (address formerly Mokotowska No.3, Warsaw, Poland – now at 20 Chesney Court, Shirland Road, London W9)
Biography of Stanisław Zygmunt Sochaczewski at iPSB https://www.ipsb.nina.gov.pl/a/biografia/stanislaw-zygmunt-sochaczewski
Sochaczewski, S. (1943). New Fighting Equipment – Modified Infantry Tactics. London 1943. Canadia Archives Reference C-5829: 55/6276/1
The London Gazette, 22nd September 1944, page 4419
United Kingdom (1940)
Amphibious tank – Design only
The Old Gang (TOG) was an informal and perhaps derogatory name applied to the men who had been primarily responsible for delivering British tank designs in WW1. With a new war started in 1939, these men, under the leadership of Sir Albert Stern, were formed into the Special Vehicle Development Committee (S.V.D.C.), although they soon adopted the TOG moniker as a badge of honor. More commonly known for work on the large heavy tank projects TOG-1 and TOG-2, the SVDC were actually a body utilised for their expertise for a number of projects and one of those, in the Summer of 1940, was the need for an amphibious tank.
With a flair for design and the ability to work unencumbered by the normal military and political bureaucracy, the SVDC delivered one of the most unusual ideas for an assault tank of the war – one which approached the enemy from under water.
On 30th July 1940, Mr. Burton, the Director General of Tank Technology (D.G.T.T.), approached Sir Albert Stern to request S.V.D.C. assistance in solving two tank design questions: a tank suitable for an airborne invasion, and a tank for a seaborne invasion.
General Pope, the Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles (D.A.F.V.) had actually issued the original requirements for an amphibious tank back in March and clearly, the task was so difficult that the S.V.D.C.’s help was now being sought. This difficulty is hardly a surprise given the almost utter absence of any work on amphibious or wading of tanks in the preceding decades, asides from some like the Mk. V and VI Light Tanks, and of course the minuscule Vickers Carden-Loyd Amphibian (A.4.E12). All of these were vehicles which were barely bulletproof and utterly useless for any invasion of the French mainland with an opposed amphibious landing against a prepared enemy.
This need for an amphibious tank was less obvious in March 1940, when it was ‘something we might want’, as opposed to a post-Dunkirk point when the British had been pushed off continental Europe. Any new attempt to bring a land war against Germany in France would guarantee the need for an amphibious landing and this would have to be led by tanks. The small problem was that virtually no work had been done on the subject and there was no suitable vehicle available.
“the War Office considers it very important that an amphibian tank should be developed to meet modern requirements… It seems to me that this is a problem that might well be studied by your Committee, and the scheme developed possibly up to the stage of making pilot models… the development of an amphibian tank of real use is a matter of great importance.”
Letter from Sir Albert Stern to Mr. Burton, dated 9th August 1940
On 9th August 1940, Stern wrote back to Mr. Burton agreeing that the S.V.D.C. would assist in the design of an amphibious tank and that they would need £100,000 for the production of a pilot model.
Sir Albert Stern Stern invited Mr. Burton and General Pope to meet directly with the SV.D.C. on 12th August to discuss the exact requirements for this amphibious tank. General Pope, however, was unable to attend but forwarded to them the requirements as document ‘Specification 1.A Amphibious Tank Operations’ with the clear goal “to land tanks on an open beach in the face of enemy resistance and to gain a bridgehead 3 to 5 miles [4.8 – 8.0 km] deep to cover the landing of other troops”, certainly no small requirement.
The S.V.D.C. were to be tasked with investigation of a design which could be launched 200 yards (183 m) from the beach and navigated to shore above or below water if necessary and both of those options came with advantages and disadvantages alike. There was even the possibility of considering “fitting the necessary tracks and armour to a boat with some sea going powers but limited cross country performance” although the obvious impracticalities of such an idea were as apparent then as they are now. The S.V.D.C.-designed amphibian would have to be designed, trialled, and approved, and built in large numbers to be available by 1st April 1941 – less than a year away!
Armor was not going to be ignored as it had on the very limited attempts at amphibious tank work beforehand. This vehicle would have to be proof against all enemy small arms fire, including armor piercing bullets at normal impact at all ranges as a minimum. Further, the front of the tank should be able to resist the German 37 mm gun at normal impact at 300 yards (274 m). Armament, as dictated by General Pope’s requirements, was not the 6 pdr. Stern had been looking at the venerable 2 pounder. This was obviously going to be a disappointment in terms of not getting the bigger gun mounted but was a logical move given the incredibly tight time constraints needed. Adoption of a known and proven gun meant a lot of savings in development time. Alongside this gun was to be a 7.92 mm Besa machine gun and both weapons were to be mounted in a turret. Interestingly, there is no mention at all of a hull-mounted weapon of any kind.
Crewed by 3 men, a commander, gunner, and a driver, the tank would have to be able to manage 8 – 10 mph (13 – 16 km/h) on land cross country and negotiate water (either above or below the waves) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h).
Dimensions of the tank would be somewhat dictated by the need to cross trenches and climb steps but these requirements were far below those set for the other TOG tanks back in September 1939. This time, the need was to cross a gap 5’ 6” (1.7 m) wide and a step just 3’ (0.9 m) high. The vehicle would only need a range of operation of 50 miles (80 km) but would have to be able to climb up wet, loose, shingle beaches and be “capable of operating under tropical and European conditions”. The inclusion of a No.11 wireless set (or equivalent) as well as an inter-troop radio set completed the needs identified by the Army for the tank.
By 19th August, just 10 days after receiving the order, the SVDC had finished their design whilst still working on TOG-1, a new hydraulic system for TOG-1A, and the new primary heavy tank TOG-2, amongst other work.
The SVDC surmised the amphibious tank into 3 key considerations. Firstly, it had to be ready for action the moment it got to the beach – there would be no time to shed buoyancy packs or screens. Secondly, it would have to be immune to enemy fire, including strafing or bombing by enemy aircraft during the water phase of the assault and be as light and small as possible. Thirdly, by making the vehicle as small as physically possible, the armor requirements would likewise be kept as small as was possible whilst still meeting the requirements for protection which had been set. When Stern released the SVDC designs of the tank, it was to be 18’ 9” (5.7 m) long and just 7’ 9” (2.4 m) wide with the hull an incredibly small 3’ (0.9 m) high.
Accounting for a ground clearance of just 15” (0.38 m), this would mean that the top of the hull would be a mere 51” (1.3 m) from the ground. The driver would likely have to be lying a little supine in order to fit. What this tight design would do was to keep the weight to just 14 tons (14.2 tonnes) (plus or minus 10 %) (12.6 to 15.4 tons / 12.8 to 15.6 tonnes). The design produced was a tank which was only slightly lighter than the 16-ton (16.3 tonnes) Valentine (Infantry Mk. III) tank which also mounted a 2 pounder gun and was a little shorter than this vehicle. It proved to be unsuitable for amphibious wading.
“war should not be handled in this way.”
Report of Interview between Sir Albert Stern and Herbert Morrison, dated 3rd September 1940
Work continued through 23rd August with General Pope still adamant on the need for an amphibious tank and it was one of three topics of discussion at a meeting held on 3rd September 1940 and also to discuss the growing rift between Sir Albert Stern and Mr. Hopkins, the Director of Naval Land Equipment (N.L.E.). The N.L.E. felt out of sorts that the S.V.D.C. had been tasked with designing a tank to operate at sea, when the sea was something they felt was in their domain.
Yet, at the same time, Mr. Hopkins was perfectly happy to be carrying on a programme of development of an enormous trench digger which took engines from the S.V.D.C.’s own projects, having no qualms about his Department developing a land-based vehicle.
It is hardly any wonder that efforts at a high level took place to keep Mr. Hopkins away from meetings where Sir Albert Stern was going to be present, likely to protect him from the critique of that hypocrisy which would be inevitable. The split in the relationship of the two was not helped by the decision by Mr. Burton in September to strip from the S.V.D.C. of the role (still officially unofficial) of design responsibility of the amphibious tank and hand it to Mr. Hopkins at the N.L.E. telling Stern to “give out advice” – an optimistic sentiment all things considered and a slap in the face of Stern and the S.V.D.C. who had completed their design. With the obviousness that Stern would not work like that, Mr. Burton did eventually relent and agreed that the N.L.E. and S.V.D.C. should work together on the design and produce a working model.
That issue, amongst others connected with the other TOG designs, only served to illustrate and prove Stern’s point to Mr. Morrison that there was a need for a separate body solely in charge of tank design. A point he omitted no chance to press for and would not get. S.V.D.C. work officially ceased on 10th September 1940, all work was to go to the N.L.E. instead although the N.L.E. did continue to use the expertise of Mr. Ricardo for his engine expertise for some time afterwards.
Under the Sea
The biggest difference between this SVDC vehicle and preceding designs was going to be that this vehicle was not going to try and float, but drive on the sea floor instead. The logic for this decision was as simple as it may be initially counter intuitive. Whilst on the surface, on pontoons or with a screen (like a Straussler system), a tank would be visible to the enemy the entire time and unable to fire back. At the mercy of enemy gunnery, casualties could be inflicted even before they reached the beach, at which point the encumbrance of the floatation equipment would be a big problem. Indeed, in 1940 this had not yet been overcome with Straussler equipment, explosive removal of wading equipment and waterproofing compounds to seal the vehicle.
The 1940 solution for the SVDC was both unusual and innovative in that, whilst on the seafloor, the tank would be completely immune to enemy fire and be able to rise out of the water at the surf instantly ready to fire on the surprised enemy watching these poseidon-esque vehicles rising from the depths.
On the sea bed, the tracks would be able to engage with the sand and shale at a higher speed than on the surface without worrying about a rip tide or breakers. In fact, the SVDC estimated a sea floor speed of 6 knots and, at the same time, completely removed the complications of a propeller or the as-yet-to-be-designed steerable water jets from Messrs. William Foster and Co. As the vehicle was in contact with a tractable surface (sand and shale of the beach) there were no worries about the vehicle becoming trapped in the surf onshore, as could easily happen with a floating tank with little purchase on the beach at this key point. A large vulnerable floating target therefore stranded on the foreshore like a whale could be avoided by just being underwater could the equal risk of becoming damaged on the way to shore with a pontoon becoming holes and the tank capsizing or sinking.
The obvious question over an underwater vehicle is the problem of keeping water out, however this is not as big of a problem as may be imagined. With a submersion duration of just 3 minutes, a small bilge pump capable of pumping 30 gallons (136 litres) per minute against a head of 25 ft. (7.6 m) of water was more than adequate for the task. The next obvious problem is air for the crew and engine. For the engine, this was provided for with tanks of compressed air and for the crew by simply battening down the hatches to prevent air escaping. There was plenty of breathable air inside the volume of the hull and turret for the time submerged. It is not that there was no time for escape either. Designed for submarines, the Davis Escape Apparatus was already available in 1939 and, by 1944, the Tank Underwater Escape Breathing Apparatus would also be widely available. That piece of kit provided up to 7 minutes of oxygen for each crew man to get to the surface of the water in case of a problem requiring escape.
Navigation underway was to be aided by means of a spot lamp on the turret and a compass, although it was accepted that submerged rocks might be a problem for which there was no easy solution, although most of the large ones had already been well charted.
In order to protect the vehicle during the water phase of the assault, Sir Albert Stern, a man who was himself an amateur sailor with some experience in boats, proposed the use of a large ship to deliver the tanks. That ship would have to have a draft of at least 18 to 20 feet (5.5 – 6.1 m) and launch the tanks into water about 25 feet (7.6 m) deep via a ramp. As many tanks as possible should be packed onto that ship to maximise the weight of tank-force being delivered to the shore and this, with the ship size, meant deploying up to 600 yards (549 m) from shore instead of 200 yards (183 m).
In an October 1940 report, Mr. Ricardo suggested a suitable ship as a repurposed whaling vessel about 10,000 to 20,000 tons (10,160 to 20,320 tonnes) in weight, as they had ramps capable of dealing with whales weighing 80 to 100 tons (81 to 102 tonnes) and could launch “several hundred small submersible tanks” very quickly.
The TOG amphibian had to be proof against all enemy small arms fire including armor piercing bullets at normal impact at all ranges as a minimum. In addition to this, the vehicle should ideally be able to resist the German 37 mm gun at 300 yards (274 m) at normal impact although absolute immunity was accepted as unattainable for the tank.
To meet these needs, the first step was to make the tank as small as possible so as to present the minimum possible target to the enemy.
On top of that, armor not less than 2 ½” (63.5 mm) was proposed on the front, although 2” (50.8 mm) would probably be sufficient if needs be, especially where normal impact was unlikely. Side armor was to be substantially thinner, just ⅞” (22.2 mm) thick and with floor and roof plates between 3/8” and ½” (9.5 to 12.7 mm) thick.
The primary manufacturer for pilot models for the S.V.D.C. was Messrs. William Foster and Co. of Lincoln and they had no experience in building amphibious vehicles. They did, however, have experience building barges for the Admiralty. Those barges were specifically designed to obviate the need for propellers for propulsion, as a propeller would be damaged by hitting a beach. The same sort of thing was going to be true of this tank design and the solution offered was to be the same too. If the tank was going to float, it would use jet propulsion instead of a propeller, even though the lack of a keel made those barges hard to steer and this would be the case with a floating tank too. The solution was to create a new design of a steerable jet instead.
Ground clearance was to be 15” (0.38 m) and the tank would run on tracks 18” wide producing a ground pressure of just 6 lbs. sq. in. (41.4 kPa). This very low ground pressure would assist in the obviously saturated ground it would have to drive on under the water but the bigger problem of being underwater was buoyancy.
Buoyancy was obviously essential if you wanted to float but here the important part was to not be buoyant. Floating was to be avoided and buoyancy was a function of the mass of water displaced. This tank was to weigh 14 tons (14.2 tonnes) so, if it displaced more than 14 tons (14.2 tonnes / 14.2 m3) of water, it would float.
The S.V.D.C. calculated the actual buoyancy of the tank as just 8.5 tons (8.6 tonnes), meaning that the effective weight of the tank when submerged was just 5.5 tons (5.6 tonnes) reducing the ground pressure to an incredible 2.5 lbs.sq.in. (17.2 kPa). Bearing in mind an average human exerts a pressure of about 8 lbs.sq.in. (55.2 kPa) reducing this to just 2.5 lbs.sq.in. (17.2 kPa) was exceptional.
A lesser-appreciated problem of running a vehicle underwater is that of engine cooling. With the engine compartment having to be sealed off during transit, the radiators would be out of action and this meant that the cooling would have to be able to work with a high water temperature, something which ruled out the possibility of simply cooling the engine with sea water.
This issue was resolved by use of a heat exchanger arranged in series with the radiator so that a fresh water cooling system could be retained, which could be the primary cooling on land. When submerged, the air intake shutters could be closed to keep sea water out and have the heat exchanger dump the engine heat to the external sea water. Even less of a problem was the exhausting of gases from the engine. Even against a head of 20 ft. (6.1 m) of water, the engine exhaust could comfortably bubble out the gas, although this would cause large bubbles on the surface of the water (the bubbles will expand on their way to the surface courtesy of Boyle’s law). If complete secrecy was needed, then these bubbles bursting out on the surface of the water could be disguised by means of a simple canvas pipe from the exhaust pipe of the tank to the small float on the surface. As soon as the tank surfaced on the beach, the canvas tube would drag behind and rapidly burn off from the heat, removing the need for someone to get out to take it off.
Air for the engine was to be provided for by one of two possible solutions. The first was the use of a 3” (76.2 mm) diameter telescopic tube to the surface of the water, but this was vulnerable to damage. The alternative, and the solution which was selected, was provided for by means of compressed air. It was calculated that the effort of driving the tank in the water-medium instead of air would waste 50 hp of the engine, so that 5 knots was the realistic submerged speed. At that speed, it would take 3 minutes to reach fresh air and, with the engines consuming around 1.3 cu. ft. (3.68 x 10-3 m3) of air per hp. per minute, a 3 minute journey would require 200 cu. ft. (5.66 m3) of air. In order to allow a margin of safety, two 400 cu.ft (11.3 m3) cylinders would be fitted, providing a 4:1 safety factor. With the engine power wastage through water and at the sprocket (an additional waste of 0.5 hp per ton per mph) and with a mechanical transmission efficiency of around 80%, the minimum engine size of 70% in an ideal world would actually would have to be 87.5 hp, which led the S.V.D.C. to decide an engine of not less than 90 hp was needed.
In considering an engine, there were two options. The first was a Ford V8, and the second was an engine from Vauxhall Motors, as used in the Bedford lorry. Both could produce the 90 hp required from 67 octane petrol but would also consume more air than previously planned for, specifically around 350 cu. ft (9.9 m3) of air for that 3 minutes of submerged driving. The adoption of the two 400 cu. ft. (11.3 m3) air tanks would still be sufficient and reduced the margin of safety from 4:1 to just 2.25:1.
Of the two engines, the Ford V8 was shorter, so this was chosen as the preferred motor.
At the time of the instigation of the TOG Amphibian programme in July 1940, the primary British tank gun was still the 2 pounder. A gun of 40 mm calibre, the 2 pounder was an excellent weapon capable of knocking holes very effectively through the armor of even the heaviest German tanks of the day. It was, however, seen by General Pope as having had its day. There was another gun on the drawing board for tanks and that was a 6 pounder gun. Not the low velocity 6 pounder of WW1 era tanks, but a new gun firing an armor piercing capped (APC) round as well as a usefully large high-explosive round. The old 2 pounder did have a high-explosive shell for it but it saw little service due to the very small charge it carried.
The Army, however, at this time, had at best an ambivalence towards this new gun, due in no small part no doubt to the lack of any tank able to carry it at the time.
The only design, in fact, for which the 6 pounder had even been tried on by this time was the A.12 and that project had ended that month, leaving Sir Albert Stern and the SVDC as the only people interested in it.
Sir Albert Stern was pressing the case hard at this time for adoption of the 6 pounder, in part for TOG-2 but also because he, like General Pope, clearly saw the need for a bigger gun than the 2 pounder for tanks. When Mr. Burton approached him that month then, it would have been no surprise at all if the 6 pounder formed the basis of the armament for both the airborne and amphibian designs the S.V.D.C. considered. Other than a note of the gun for the airborne vehicle, however, it was not to be. General Pope’s requirements were clear and called for a 2 pounder gun instead, and a 2 pounder gun it would have to be.
The gun had been chosen for them but the turret and diameter had not. Stern proposed the adoption of a turret with a diameter of 4’ 6” (54” / 1,372 mm), which would be armored to match the hull, producing a turret around 3.75 tons (3.81 tonnes) in weight when fully armed. This turret ring was slightly smaller than that used on the A.12 Matilda (54.3” / 1,379 mm) and A.22 (54.25” / 1,378 mm) but was exactly the same size as the turret diameter for the Cruiser Mk. III and IV (A.13). This is suggestive that it was to be an A.13 turret which would have been used, although it would have to have been uparmored to meet the frontal armor requirement.
When the N.L.E. did finally finish their own amphibian tank designs in December 1940, they were nothing like the design from the S.V.D.C. Gone was any notion of being underwater. The N.L.E. machines would float. The N.L.E. continued to use the expertise of Mr. Ricardo even after 10th September 1940 and he revealed his views of their alternatives that October. In his report, Mr. Ricardo still emphasized the importance of a secret and safe underwater approach, still pushed for the S.V.D.C. design, and bemoaned the idea of a small floating tank. If a floating assault tank was to be used it should, he argued, be substantially larger and better armed. Mr. Ricardo felt that Mr. Hopkins made far too much of the water-elements of an amphibian tank considering it was only going to be in the water for a few minutes. Further, Mr. Ricardo set-aside much of Mr. Hopkins’ objections especially when it came to the engine stalling underwater and he was on good ground to do so – Mr. Ricardo had, after all, extensive experience dealing with engines for submarines. The result was that no S.V.D.C. Amphibian tank was ever built and for that matter, the British never fielded a dedicated amphibious tank at all during the war.
David Bocquelet’s possible rendition of the TOG amphibian
TOG Amphibian Specifications
18’ 9” (5.7 m) x 7’ 9” (2.4 m) x 4’ 3” (1.3 m), ground clearance 15” (0.38 m)
Total weight, battle ready
14 tons (14.2 tonnes) (plus or minus 10 %) (12.6 to 15.4 tons / 12.8 to 15.6 tonnes)
3, commander, gunner, and driver
Ford V8 90 hp petrol or Vauxhall 90 hp petrol
8 – 10 mph (12.9 – 16.1 km) on land cross country and negotiate water (either above or below the waves) at 4 knots (7.4 kph)
50 miles (80.5 km)
5’ 6” (1.7 m)
2 pounder gun and 7.92 mm Besa in turret
Proof against any small arms AP fire at any range. Proof against 37 mm AT fire at 300 yards (ideal) at 90 degrees.
Front: 2 ½” (63.5 mm) thick, if needs be down to 2” (50.8 mm) thick where normal shell impact was unlikely.
Sides: ⅞” (22.2 mm) thick
Floor and roof: 3’8” to ½” (9.5 to 12.7 mm) thick
No.11 wireless set (or equivalent) as well as an inter-troop radio set
Hills, A. (2017). The Tanks of TOG: The work, design and tanks of the special Vehicle Development Committee 1939-1945. FWD Publishing, USA
Hills, A. (~2021). Striding Ashore. The History of British Tank and Armoured Fighting Vehicle Amphibious Wading Development in World War II. FWD Publishing, USA
Letter from Sir Albert Stern to Mr. Burton, dated 9th August 1940
Report of Interview between Sir Albert Stern and Herbert Morrison, dated 3rd September 1940
Notes made by Chairman; Visit to Lincoln 14th and 15th August, by Sir Albert Stern
Letter from G. D. Burton to Sir Albert Stern, dated 12th August 1940
Secret note entitled ‘Amphibious Tank Operations’ 1A, undated
Recommendation from Sir Albert Stern for an Amphibious Tank, dated 19th August 1940
Memorandum by Mr. Ricardo on the subject of the ‘Amphibious Tank,’ dated 21st October 1940
War Office Training Film: The D.D. Amphibious Tank: Sherman III D.D., Mark II
Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel was arguably one of the most important men in early British tank development. During the First World War and in the immediate aftermath, he served in the Royal Engineers. During this period, he became heavily involved in the development of tanks and bridging. As a gifted engineer, during his life, he would construct no less than three armored vehicles at home. His first design was a one-man tank.
Major Martel began work on his one-man machine in January 1925. He looked at recent developments in warfare exposed by the Great War. The basic problem was to protect the infantryman and enable him to advance while giving enough firepower that he might outfight the enemy. This had, eventually and after much technical and doctrinal evolution, led to the tank.
However, a tank grouped several soldiers into one large target. In order to counter enemy anti-tank weapons, there seemed to be two possible alternatives. The first consisted of having the speed and mobility to avoid getting hit. The other option was to dramatically increase the armor protection of the tank. Major Martel saw this latter option as feasible from an engineering point of view. However, in a cash strapped post-war British Army, Major Martel knew that financial constraints would prevent such a solution. Building a large heavily armored tank would require stronger engines, thus increasing the cost above what the Treasury was willing to fund.
Major Martel saw a third way. What if the tank concept was boiled down to its smallest, most minimalistic design possible? By making a one-man tank which is immune to enemy small arms and armed with only a light machine gun, armoured units could vastly outnumber any potential anti-tank weapons and overwhelm them. Equally, the small size would make it significantly easier and cheaper to create such a vehicle with good mobility characteristics and would also make it harder to detect and easier to conceal.
The Martel One-Man Tankette
With this in mind, Major Martel started drawing up plans for a new class of vehicle, one he named “the Tankette”. These plans were completed by February 1925, and he started construction of the tank on a rotating table in his garage.
The prototype one-man tankette was powered by a Maxwell 20 hp petrol engine, mounted on the front of the vehicle, connected to an axle taken from a Ford car. The tracks and suspension were purchased from Roadless Traction Ltd, while the large spoked wheels at the back came off an old Federal lorry. The body was made of wood, but Major Martel was careful to add extra ballast to represent the weight of armor. Work was completed in August, and the first trials showed some minor problems, such as the tail stabilizer being too lightly sprung.
At the time, Major Martel lived at the Brown Cottage in Camberley. This town was home to the British Army’s Staff College. One afternoon, Captain B.H. Liddell-Hart, who worked at the college, was taking a walk through the countryside when he came across Major Martel, who was calmly taking his home-built tank for a drive. He stood there dumbfounded and watched as Major Martel took his creation through its paces over the surrounding countryside. He went away and wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph, drawing upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s Ivanhoe for mental imagery. This piece published on 28th August 1925 brought the idea to the attention of the larger world.
‘Surprise changed to awe when this twentieth century man-at-arms, mounted on his mechanical charger, climbed out of the road up an almost perpendicular bank at least four feet high, raced across a stretch of rough gorse country at a speed no runner could have approached and no horseman would have cared to attempt across such ground, turning abruptly in such a narrow circle that would have been the envy of a London taxi-driver. Next it headed for a small but steep hill, climbed it unfalteringly at a speed of 6-7mph, then threaded its way through a tree plantation which a horse or pack-mule could barely have traversed.’
Captain B.H. Liddell-Hart, Daily Telegraph, 28th August 1925
Nearly all British service tanks prior to this time had been large and relatively slow machines. Here, in front of Captain Liddell-Hart, was a tank that he described as about the size of a horse, with mobility that exceeded the cavalryman’s. There was a loophole that a small arm, likely a light machine gun, could be fired from. Captain Liddell-Hart saw this machine as a cavalryman who was immune to small arms. A series of demonstrations of the machine followed, many of which were held at the Staff College.
One becomes Two
The result of these demonstrations was that the War Office commissioned two vehicles to be built. Major Martel suggested Morris Commercial Motors Ltd. as the manufacturer. This involved changing the engine to a Morris 16 hp petrol one. Of the two tankettes to be manufactured, one would have a one-man body, while the other would have a two-man body. The bodies of each vehicle could be changed at will. The armored hulls for these were mostly identical, apart from the fighting compartment, which was wider on the two-man version. Morris designed the chassis to be identical in both cases. For example, the steering wheel, and gear levers, were in the center of the compartment, while the pedals were set to the left-hand side. This meant that, while the driver of the two-man machine would have access to all the controls, the gunner would be limited to the steering wheel only.
This interchangeability was because Morris’ designers were thinking ahead. They thought that, if the War Office was to pay for the tankettes to be produced, then the chassis without an armored body could be sold separately as a tractor. Thus, the company could use the government to pay for all the expensive items such as developing, fault correcting, and setting up the production facilities. Then, when the chassis rolled off the production line, either a one-man or two-man armored body could be bolted onto it, or a soft skin tractor body could be installed. Such a scheme could, theoretically, create significant profits.
As it would turn out, the chassis was wholly unsuited for use as a tractor, so this plan came to naught. Although unrecorded as to why the venture failed, it is likely down to the differing needs of tractors and tanks. A tractor would need the ability to pull objects such as plows and trailers, while the tankette would need speed and mobility. Thus, a tractor’s gearbox has to operate under a different load profile than a tankette’s.
In late 1925, Major Martel completed his detailed drawings liaising with Morris Ltd., and construction began. The first vehicle, a one-man machine, was completed in February 1926, its body was made from 8 mm mild steel. When weighed, it came in at 1 tonne over its projected weight of 2 tonnes. To reduce this 3-tonne weight, a redesigned chassis was developed with all spare weight savings that could be engineered incorporated, along with a reduction of the armor to 6 mm, which would not have been bulletproof. Trials at an abandoned mine showed that the 3-tonne weight was not that great a problem, so the armor was increased back to 8 mm, which was the same armor value as the standard British tank of the time, the Vickers Medium.
After testing during 1926, the War Office finally settled on the two-man design. This selection was down to the number of crew. The two-man design was seen as a better choice due to the extra crewman. In December, eight two-man machines were ordered. These, along with eight competing Carden-Loyd Mk.IV machines were used by the Experimental Mechanised Force in August and September 1927. Despite the small numbers involved, the Experimental Mechanised Force which ran the testing immediately demanded more machines for use during the 1928 maneuvers.
Due to the failure of the Morris plan to modify the chassis into tractors for the civilian market, Morris did not want to spend any more effort on developing the Morris-Martel. This quickly led to the death of the series and of the type.
In comparison, Carden-Loyd was happy to undertake the development of their machine in-house, freeing the War Office of the financial burden. This in-house development led very shortly to the successful Carden-Loyd Mk.VI, and in turn through to the Universal Carrier. From there, it is possible to trace a line of development that ran all the way up to the FV432 in the mid-1960s.
Description of the two-man version
The Morris Martel Two-Man tankette had its engine at the front of the vehicle, with the fighting compartment behind the engine. A radiator was at the front, under the bonnet. The bonnet nose was angled, with louvers in it. The transmission was behind the engine, running under the fighting compartment, being connected to the two drive sprockets. The exhaust ran on the left side of the fighting compartment, outside the armor. On either side of the engine were the tracks of the vehicle. The drive sprocket at the rear and the idler wheel at the front were both large and made contact with the ground. Two small double rubber-rimmed road-wheels completed the running gear. It is unclear how or even if any of the wheels had a suspension attached to them. A mud chute was present above the two road-wheels, meant to prevent mud from falling from the track onto the road-wheels.
The fighting compartment had the gunner on the right, manning a .303 Lewis gun with limited traverse and elevation. It is unknown how much ammunition could be stored onboard. The driver was on the left. The seats for both men could be raised and lowered to allow them to drive head-out or behind the armor. The driver had a vision slit to see when he was driving behind armor. It is unclear if this was in any way protected by a blind or by a bulletproof vision block.
At the rear of the tank were the stabilizer wheels. These had multiple purposes. They were meant to prevent the tank from tipping backward when running up slopes or hard terrain. These wheels also acted as a complementary means of steering the vehicle. Steering in other tanks at the time was done by braking one of the tracks and keeping power to the other, somewhat similar to how a small boat is steered using paddles. However, this means that the vehicle slows down because one of the tracks is stopped, that half of the power of the engine was wasted (differentials and Cletrac systems were not yet invented or in common use), and that significant wear and tear was applied to the brakes, clutches, and tracks.
On the Moris-Martel, the rear wheels worked as a very useful alternative when going on roads or hard terrain and doing relatively shallow turns. The vehicle could then turn using the wheels only, functioning like when a car is driven in reverse (wheels turn to the left when the vehicle turns to the right). This could be done without applying the brakes, without wasting engine power, and reducing wear on components.
When harder turns were required or when running on soft ground or gravel, the tracks could steer as usual. While this dual system did have its advantages, it was largely abandoned due to the added complexity and weight implied in having a secondary steering system.
Two headlights were placed in front of the fighting compartment, on either side. Two mudguards were placed at the rear of the vehicle, running from the fighting compartment to the rear wheels.
While the Morris-Martel would never go beyond the handful of chassis used for experimentation, it would give birth to the idea of the tankette, a class of vehicle that would become one of the oddities of the interwar period found in many countries’ arsenals. These descendants would take part in the wars leading up to, and the first stages of the Second World War.
In the United Kingdom, the concept of the tankette would go through several permutations such as the Crossley-Martel and Carden Loyd One-man machines. Martel would return to the concept that gave birth to the Moris-Martel one-man tank in the mid-1930s with the Mechanical Coffin. In the end, all these ideas would die out. However, the two-man machine would lead into the most produced armored vehicle in history, and one of its most successful, the Universal Carrier.
Illustrations by Mr. C. Ryan, funded through our Patreon campaign.
Morris-Martel Tankettes specifications
Total Weight, Battle Ready
One or two depending on the body.
Morris 16 hp petrol
1x .303 Light machine gun, or personal weapons
Martel Papers, IWM.
Private correspondence with Oliver Boyle
Light tank (1938-41)
United States, United Kingdom, Belgium – Single Partial Prototype
Many people interested in tanks have likely heard the name Walter Christie and are aware that he produced several prototype tanks during the period between WW1 and WW2. Whilst his vehicles had some good features, overall they were not a commercial success for Christie, who had amassed a lot of debt in developing and building them. The result was that some of his assets, his tank prototypes included, ended up being used to pay off his debts and his ‘high-speed tank’ was one of them.
Sold to pay off Christie’s debts, this vehicle ended up in the hands of a German-born American businessman, Siegfried Bechold. This new owner rebranded the tank, had some additional design changes made and then, at the start of WW2, tried to sell the ‘new’ design to both the Belgians and the British.
The Belgians needed tanks urgently but this design would come too late to help them. The British expressed interest as the light weight of the machine was suited to their need for a tank for airborne operations, and by 1940 the British Purchasing Commission was actively considering the vehicle for production. Nonetheless, the idea was over by 1941, when British attention switched to a vehicle with more armor and firepower than the ‘Bechold’ tank. Even so, this early design and the consideration of it adds to the story of how the British were trying to develop their own ideas for a new kind of mobile warfare and airborne operations.
The enigmatic Mr. Bechhold
The name Siegfried Bechhold means very little even to the most ardent tank enthusiast. However, just prior to WW2 and into its first years, Bechhold was one of the most prominent men involved in tank design and production in America, despite never having produced any tanks. This peculiar state of affairs takes some digging to get to the bottom of, as does the man himself, not helped by his name appearing variously as Bechhold, Bechold, and Buchhold.
Siegfried Bechhold appears to have been born in Bavaria, Germany in 1900, although a newspaper article from January 1941 puts his birthplace as Holland. This is likely one of those situations where people de-Germanized themselves to try and disguise their German ancestry, something which was a common occurrence at the time, especially with the switch from ‘Deutsch’ to ‘Dutch’ in terms of self-description. Another account of his early life (from April 1941) stated that he was born in Bavaria and lived in Germany until he was 11 – so maybe his family moved to Holland or maybe he was just hiding his background.
Bechhold recounted his story that, at the age of 16 (so ~1916), he was, like tens of thousands of other German boys, drafted into the German Army during World War One, although it is not known if he saw any active service or not. By 1922, with WW1 behind him but in a country ravaged by economic and social problems, he managed to make the transatlantic voyage to the United States, arriving in New York with just US$40 to his name.
His first jobs were very poorly paid but, by the late 1920’s, he was living as a tenant at 34 East 62nd Street between Madison and Park Avenues (this house was demolished in an explosion in July 2006). He had been learning English at night school and had managed to get a job as a salesman, which proved very successful for him. So successful was it, that this man, who had arrived in the USA just a few years before, could now afford to travel back and forth to Europe. He would later claim that he used these trips to pass on information about German rearmament efforts during the early 1930’s and that he believed that Germany was far ahead of other countries in weapons development, although this sounds more like his sales-speak for selling tanks than the serious recollections of an international spy.
What is known though is that during this time, he, like many others, saw the tanks of Walter Christie. These were very well covered in the newspapers and newsreels of the age with Christie’s penchant for publicity stunts. Seeing a potential business opportunity, Bechhold was interested in these tanks which were significantly faster than other tanks of the age, and in many ways the most advanced tanks in the USA at the time.
Bechhold later reported that he was encouraged in his interests by Congressman Ross Collins of Mississippi, although how these two men knew each other is unknown. It was, according to Bechhold, Collins who encouraged him to produce tanks in the United States but Bechhold was not a technical man nor an engineer despite being Vice President of the Bethlehem Engineering Export Corporation of Wall Street, New York. He was skilled in salesmanship and finance. He was, however, despite his lack of engineering skills, to be credited in the US press as coming up with the idea of putting lightweight aircraft engines into tanks in place of ordinary diesel or petrol engines, although this too sounds more like the pitch of a salesman, as Christie had already done this years beforehand.
As an aside to his tank work and to give a flavour of the way in which Bechold was trying to avoid being labelled as anything other than as a patriot, he embarked on a vigorous self-justification campaign in the media, making sure no one was in any doubt as to his loyalties. As a result, in June 1941, it was reported that Bechhold, a naturalized citizen and “intense” patriot, had refused to sell his tanks to the Russians at the time of the War against Finland. Furthermore, it was claimed that, in the new war against Hitler, he would only sell them when the Russians went to war with Hitler, even though there seems to be no evidence whatsoever for this claim.
The Tank Company
By the end of the 1930’s, Bechhold had his opportunity. Walter Christie, a man of undoubted technical gifts, was running short of investors who wanted to keep losing money on his tanks. One vehicle of his, a “high-speed tank”, had to be handed over to the partners of the Hempsted Welding Company of New York, William and Alfred Christ, as a lien against unpaid debts owed to them by Christie. Exactly which of Christie’s vehicles this was in unclear but as the M.1938 was later presented by a Mr. Bigley with some involvement from Christie suggests that Bechhold got hold of the M.1937 high speed tank from Christie as the basis of his design. However, whilst exactly which vehicle may not be known, Christie’s creditors were to be appeased with a tank available for purchase to pay his debts.
Bechhold had, through Bethlehem Engineering Co. been engaged in a commercial contract with Christie which started on 9th August 1938 whereby Bechhold and his company were granted exclusive rights to sell and manufacture the design from Christie for the princely sum of US$5,000 (just over US$91,000 in 2020 values). The idea of the partnership was simple. For this initial outlay of cash to Christie, Bethem Engineering would take the full blueprints of the design, market them globally and grant manufacturing licences for US$50,000 to each national licensee. This US$50,000 (US$915,000 in 2020 values) would be split 50:50 between Bethlehem Engineering and Christie for which the licence got not only the blueprints but also a master mechanic or draughtsman from Christie. This agreement simply fell apart not least in part to how appallingly badly written and complicated it was. In the words of the New York Second Circuit of Appeals in July 1939 ruling on whether to grant an injunction against Christie for breach of his contract:
“This contract is so obscure, and, strictly taken, so incoherent, that nobody can be sure of its meaning, but so far as we can spell it out, this is what it was. The defendants made the plaintiff its exclusive agent to sell licenses to prospective manufacturers of their tank in foreign countries — perhaps also in this country as well, though apparently it was not included. The plaintiff was not free to sell such licenses generally, but only for those countries where the parties thought it “practical” to do so. The minimum license fee was to be $50,000, but the plaintiff was to try to get more, and the parties were to discuss the amount in advance: probably this implied that they should agree upon it.”
105.F.2d 933 (2nd Cir. 1939)
With the case between them ending in confused acrimony, Christie and Bethlehem Engineering’s relationship was over. Christie had won that case due not least in part to how confusing the agreement was between them over rights and whilst he had retained his rights over his design he was also financially crippled.
Bechhold too had moved on and was no longer involved with the Bethlehem Engineering Expert Company and, instead, on 25th July 1939 (just 2 weeks after the ruling), formed the Armored Tank Corporation (A.T.C.), incorporated in New York. Initially, this company had just 100 shares of stock (30 Class A, and 70 Class B) at a value of US$50 each (Total nominal value US$5,000).
The purpose of the company was to acquire the Walter Christie high-speed tank from William and Alfred Christ. On 31st July 1939, this tank was purchased for an undisclosed sum along with 34 shares (Value US$1,700) in the new company (6 more were given to the attorney for their legal services). The Armored Tank Corporation (A.T.C.) of New York was now in possession of the Christie High-Speed Tank, the rights over which had fractured the relationship between Christie and Bethlehem Engineering. Bechhold now had the vehicle and also the more difficult task of making money from it.
Within a few months of formation of the company and the purchase of this High-Speed tank, Bechhold was recruiting a draughtsman. Between December 1939 and January 1940, A.T.C.’s draughtsman prepared blueprints and drawings of this Christie tank with some modifications. During this time, a license agreement for the production of this modified Christie high-speed tank was acquired in Belgium. The Belgium firm, Ateliers de Construction de Familleureux, paid an advance royalty of US$10,000 for this license. Whatever plans there were in Belgium for this vehicle though are unknown, as the nation was overrun by the Germans in May 1940, with no Christie tanks produced.
By the end of 1940, the first glimpse of what A.T.C. was working on can be seen. In November-December that year, it was advertising ‘Super-Tanks’ in the US Army Ordnance Magazine as being “built in all weights” by the Armored Tank Corporation at 30 Church Street, New York. This was formerly the location of numerous businesses such as the National Manufacturing Company, American Locomotive Sales Corporation, and the New York Railway Club (close to the site of the World Trade Center Complex today and now the location of the Century 21 Department Store). The same advert appeared that same month as being constructed by the Pressed Steel Car Co. as well.
Although the tank was never built as shown in the 1940 image with the low cylindrical turret there was a photo of a mockup of the Bechold tank was circulated in the press by least the early part of 1942. This vehicle had the same distinctive rounded nose glacis and two hatches in the driver’s plate. Off-center to the left of the driver’s plate, next to the left hatch was a mockup of a gun of unknown type although it appears too large to be a simple machine gun. The gun is roughly in the same position as what appears to be a small machine gun on the 1940 artist’s impression. The most noticeable difference between the 1940 drawing and the mockup (other than the lack of turret on the mockup) is that 3 wheels can clearly be counted on each side along with what appears to be a pair of return rollers instead of 4 wheels with no return rollers. Also apparent is that whilst the return rollers appear to be real, the photo may have been editted to make the vehicle appear shorter than it was.
Based on the available photograph, the drawing, and information from the company’s advertising of it being “Built in all weights”, a brief analysis of the vehicle shown is possible.
In December 1940, Bechhold was reported to have been producing ‘Medium Tanks’ for the British and had also submitted a design for an airborne tank. This tank was at the time being reported in the press as weighing 10 tons (9.1 tonnes), 14 ½ feet (4.42 m) long, fitted with armor one-inch (25 mm) thick with a single 37 mm gun and a machine gun. Also noted was that it would carry two sub-machine guns, suggesting a crew of just 2 or 3. A final note is that it was designed to be carried under “a Douglas plane”.
This description is immediately reminiscent of the Christie promotional idea of an underslung high-speed tank from 1936. In that artwork, a 3-wheel Christie turretless high-speed tank was pictured being carried under an Air Corps bomber.
An idea of quite how a system for carrying a tank in this manner under a plane would work can be found in a May 1941 Patent. This was filed by Alfred Anderson, assignor to the Armored Tank Corporation for a ‘Hook-on-and-Release-Mechanism for Fighting Tanks’. This invention describes an invention for attaching tanks to aircraft, specifically slung below the plane, and for dropping the tank when in flight. This is a different system to the one from Christie – that one used a pair of scissor arms to grab and retract the tank.
Instead, four upside-down triangular fittings would be attached on the underside of the fuselage of the aircraft. Each held a hydraulically controlled actuator with a large stud pushed out on a spring. When hydraulic pressure was applied, this spring would compress withdrawing the stud back inside the actuator. This would release the tank, as these four studs were attached via holes into the body of the tank. These would not be disengaged simultaneously, but in pairs. The rear pair would disengage first, allowing the bottom of the tank to hang down as the carrying plane swooped in suicidally low over the ground. At a suitable point, the front studs would also then be disengaged releasing the front of the tank. The back end of the tank was then supposed to hit the ground first from a lower height, with the front end following. This method was intended to overcome the turning effect on the vehicle. The dangers to the vehicle crew and to the aircraft performing this maneuver cannot be overstated; this was really a system designed to get the plane and its tank shot down. Even if it did work and the tank was deposited safely to the ground, one wonders how long it would take the crew to become operational after such an experience.
The vehicle shown in that 1936 promotion art for Christie is different from the vehicle in the 1940 ATC advert though. For sure, ATC got a Christie High-Speed Tank but its vehicle is much closer to a vehicle the size of the M3 Stuart or even the M1 Combat Car. What can be seen from the advertising image is that it was a small tank with a distinctive rounded back end to the hull running on four closely-spaced Christie type wheels (and presumably Christie spring suspension too). No track guards or mudguards at all are shown. The track itself is very similar to the flat plate track of the Christie tanks.
The nose lacks any indication of the pointedness of the earlier Christie High-Speed tanks but is uniformly rounded leading to a long glacis sloping up to a slightly inclined driver’s plate. Where the glacis meets the driver’s plate, there are two structures that appear to be mounts for fixed hull machine guns. In 1940, it should have been obvious that fixed, forward-firing machine guns were utterly useless but it was an easy way to add what was thought of as additional firepower to a design and many tanks subsequent and independent of this one retained this feature, including the M3 Grant, M4 Sherman, and Canadian Ram.
The driver’s plate featured two rectangular hatches, each with a vision slit. Out of the front of the left-hand hatch was what appears to be a heavy machine gun. From the position of the hatches and hull weapons, it would appear to have had a driver mounted on the right and hull machine gunner on the left. A third man, the commander, would most likely occupy the turret. The turret itself, as drawn, is very unusual, looking like an overturned cooking pot. On the roof was a full size (it occupies the entire roof) hatch in two parts, each opening sideways. A series of slits were placed around the exterior of the turret and at least two machine guns, one forwards and one to the left. In total, the firepower for this vehicle as drawn was 4 machine guns and one heavy machine gun.
Presumably, the part about being built in ‘all weights’ was to mean that different options in terms of fittings, armor, and weapons were potentially on offer. Certainly, the specifications and look of the vehicle were very up to date given the parlous state of US tank development at the time. The T4 medium tank, for example, from 1935/1936, was a very promising design but was 13.5 tons and capable of just 35 mph with 3 machine guns. The Bechhold tank was, at least on paper, better armed, better armored, smaller (about 50 cm shorter), and faster. No surprise then that it was an interesting prospect for investors interested in lucrative future army orders.
The potential of the A.T.C. tanks from Bechhold’s company had indeed gained attention. In June 1940, a British Purchasing Commission had arrived in the USA to look at the possibility of producing and purchasing tanks for the war effort. Great Britain had, of course, been at war since September 1939, and June 1940 was just after the evacuation of Dunkirk, a time when a lot of British armor had already been lost on the continent with the fall of France. Great Britain and its Empire now stood resolute against the Axis of Germany and Italy but it desperately needed tanks and arms to fight the war.
The same month, Bechhold managed to interest John MacEnulty, the President of the Pressed Steel Car Company, in tank production and a five-year contract (renewable for up to 2 years) was signed on 23rd July 1940. Under the terms of this contract, Pressed Steel would gain exclusive rights to the production of tanks from A.T.C. (notwithstanding that a non-exclusive Belgian production license had already been signed). Under the terms of the contract, Pressed Steel would pay A.T.C. a royalty of $750 for each vehicle of A.T.C.’s design ordered for production by the US or Foreign Governments at Pressed Steel. A.T.C. was to provide plans, drawings, technical advice and, if required, a skilled engineer to assist in production.
On 25th October 1940. Pressed Steel entered into an agreement with the British Purchasing Commission for the production and delivery of 501 M3 Medium tanks. These were not tanks designed by A.T.C. but Bechhold did assist in the completion of the contract arrangement and the British sent an advance of US$500,000 to Pressed Steel. The next month, November 1940, Pressed Steel paid A.T.C. US$75,000 under the terms of the July 1940 contract with US$300,000 remaining to be paid.
It is not clear though why Pressed Steel paid this commission to A.T.C. as the vehicles being produced were Grant tanks and not the Christie-based tank design from A.T.C. Despite the huge sum paid to ATC, it was in trouble. Bechhold had finagled matters so that after October 1940, only he held all of the Class A shares in the company, and therefore had exclusive voting rights for A.T.C. He had also increased the number of shares available from 100 to 10,000 (3000 Class A and 7000 Class B) with a reduced value of just US$1 each.
The desperate need for tanks meant that the British were rapidly building their own in industries repurposed from civilian work to war work, but they were also looking for American production too, as this would not be affected by the manpower shortage in Britain or by German bombing. As well as the order for the M3 tanks from Pressed Steel, various other options were being considered and the work of the Purchasing Commission continued into 1941.
One particular type of vehicle that the British were interested in was an airborne tank,namely a tank which could accompany parachute or glider-borne troops. The lightweight and compact Bechhold tank was obviously of specific interest. On 27th February 1941, on behalf of the British committee in charge of evaluating tank designs, a telegram was sent to the Consul General in New York regarding the tank situation. The British were clear on what they needed from an airborne tank:
3 man crew
37 mm gun and .30 calibre Browning in a 360 degree rotating turret (quite why a 37 mm gun was specified in preference to the 2 pounder which was already an excellent gun and fielded on the A.17 Tetrarch is unknown but it is probably to do with the 37 mm being easier to produce in the USA)
Space for a wireless
Maximum Speed 40 mph (64 km/h)
Radius of Action 200 miles (320 km)
Armor basis ‘preferably’ 40-50 mm on the front and turret. 30 mm thick sides
Weight about 9 tons (9.1 tonnes) (anything under 9 tons was felt to lack the fighting qualities required) (for reference: the A.17 Tetrarch weighed just 7.6 tonnes)
“Not very interested in dropping Tank from a height of two feet”
In other words, the idea of dropping the tank from a plane was not wanted at all. Either it had to be landed directly (some various schemes for adding wings to tanks were considered), or it had to be unloaded from an aircraft. Dropping it from underneath a plane was, quite rightly, seen as a terrible idea. These requirements exceeded those of the Bechhold tank from A.T.C. That vehicle lacked the armor and firepower required and was inferior to the available A.17 Tetrarch when what was wanted by the British was basically a better armored version of the Tetrarch. The British were also anxious to get an airborne tank as soon as possible and were hoping for interest from the USA in manufacturing the vehicle. The Bechhold tank was, therefore, not suitable for their needs as it was noted that a pilot model had not yet been built.
By the end of March 1941, British plans for “the Bechold [sic: Bechhold] Project” were over. Having analyzed the tank, the British reported that: “The tank will not have the essential fighting qualities for the operations in view” and would also divert production from heavy bombers. The matter was left in the hands of American authorities to pursue and oversee its development. In its place came consideration of a 9-ton (9.1 tonnes) tank to be carried by towed glider. A final comment on the matter, from 30th April 1941, was that it had become clear to the British that the “American War Department feel they have no capacity to devote to the development of air-borne tanks”. As the decision was that Bechhold’s tanks should be overseen in America rather than from Britain it was decided that no action be taken on the Bechhold tanks.
The British had not been convinced by Bechhold’s salesmanship. They had, after all, already been down the Christie suspension vehicle route with the purchase of a Christie M.1931 which became the A.13E1 in 1936/7 and they had extensive experience with light Cruiser type tanks already. They also had plenty of small light tank designs including the A.17 Tetrarch. They had been clear on what they wanted but Bechhold was either unable or unwilling to comply, or simply could not produce a prototype, which was required before a decision could be taken. With the British unconvinced and an already lucrative deal with Pressed Steel in place, Bechhold had other plans.
Shenanigans and Taxes
In February 1941, A.T.C. sold its original Christie tank for just US$3,500, (Bechhold had bought it for US$5,000 in 1939) and on 18th August that year, A.T.C. incorporated as a corporation in Delaware to avoid payment of New York franchise taxes. This was completed on 20th August and the shares changed to just 100 Class A and 9,900 Class B shares with Bechhold, of course, retaining all the Class A shares and the voting rights that went with them (he also held 6,400 of the Class B shares too). Between 2nd and 4th September 1941, A.T.C. signed over all assets and the July 1940 contract (with Pressed Steel) to a newly incorporated body in Delaware, meaning the New York ATC effectively disappeared, although it was not formally dissolved until 11th September 1941. Mr. MacEnulty of Pressed Steel wrote to Bechhold on 4th September 1941 informing him that the July 1940 contract was now canceled due to alleged misrepresentations by Bechhold and a legal fight ensued.
Bechhold was insistent that he was owed money from Pressed Steel and, despite being offered US$300,000 (the remaining balance from the British Purchasing Commission contract), Bechhold refused due to the tax liability involved. His counter-offer was US$1.5m and this was immediately rejected. Instead, Pressed Steel suggested it should buy all of the remaining shares of ATC for US$50 per share (10,000 shares at US$50 would mean a US$500,000 payday). This would mean the end of Delaware A.T.C, which would have to surrender all its designs including an “aero” (airborne) tank concept, a full size model of the hook and release mechanism for releasing a tank from an airplane, designs of various other tanks and flamethrowers, and cash. This offer was considered and changed on 3rd October 1941 with a value of US$37.50 per share (US$375,000), but this would be only the existing July 1940 contract, no other plans or designs. This was agreed to by the voting members of Delaware A.T.C., which was just Bechhold, who of course approved of this arrangement.
In order to facilitate this transaction, the Delaware incorporated A.T.C. was changed from any mention or use of Armored Tank Corporation to the ‘Illinois Tank Corporation’ (I.T.C.) on 14th October 1941. On this day, just as Armored Tank Corporation (Delaware) was bought out by Pressed Steel and changed to Illinois Tank Corporation, Bechhold started a new company in Delaware. He called this new company the ‘Armored Tank Company’ once more receiving all of the assets from the original A.T.C., other than the contract, which had now gone to I.T.C. The next day, the new A.T.C. handed over all of its shares to I.T.C. which was then distributed to the stockholders, which also included Bechhold.
From these corporate shenanigans, Bechhold netted himself a cool 100 Class A shares (100% of the voting power), and 6,400 Class B shares valued at US$243,750 in total. This 15th October 1941 payment of US$375,000 (tax year 1941-1942) was to have serious consequences for Bechhold and his creative accounting.
Following this 15th October takeover though, the original July 1940 contract was finished. Bechhold probably felt he had made enough money and the entire business of the Illinois Tank Company was wound up suggesting that what assets in terms of tank designs it might have had leftover had little to no value. I.T.C. formally dissolved on 22nd November 1941.
The substantial pay-off which Bechhold had received was classed as personal income. He, and the other stakeholders, were found to be personally liable for taxes of this income. If there is one certainty greater than death and taxes, then it is taxation in time of war. Taken to court for non-payment of taxes, Armored Tank Corporation admitted an error in its tax liabilities and was assessed to be liable for the sum of US$390,144.91 (including US$78,028.98 in tax penalties on top of its original 80% tax liability of US$312,115.93).
This was not the end of it either, for the individual shareholders of the Armored Tank Corporation/Illinois Tank Corporation were also found personally liable for back taxes and penalties. Stockholders Philip Steckler and Hamilton Allen were found liable for US$33,750, and US$22,500 respectively, and Max and Siegfried Bechhold were found liable for US$243,750 and US$45,000 respectively. A massive combined penalty of US$735,144.91 (over US$12.8m in 2019 dollars) for not paying taxes on that US$375,000 (US$6.5m in 2019 dollars) income demonstrated the danger of trying to dodge taxes in wartime.
A.T.C. did not just produce a tank design. One of the more unusual things it designed and produced was a trailer for vehicles. This design appears in a letter dated 19th May 1942 from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance to the Commanding General of Aberdeen Proving Grounds (A.P.G.). Confusingly though, the product in question was produced by the ‘Armored Tank Corporation’ of Jersey City, New Jersey, suggesting that Bechhold kept working on designs incorporated in a different state. It is unlikely to be a mistake as A.T.C. (NY) had ended in September 1941 and I.T.C. (DE) ended November 1941. It is undoubtedly the same firm reborn, however, as the person providing information to A.P.G. on behalf of A.T.C. (NJ) was none other than ’Mr. Bechhold’ himself.
The proposal to the military was not this time a tank, but a trailer capable of being used for hauling supplies, equipment, or fuel. According to Mr. Bechhold, the British were interested in this trailer and the report recommended that APG experiment with it over a 250 mile (402 km) course to assess its viability, showing it off to the army and British representatives respectively.
This trailer was known as the ‘ROTA-TRAILER’ and the name stenciled on the side during trials stated this was the ‘Model 4’, suggesting the other 3 models or designs were less well refined. This Model 4 trailer consisted of two large hollow wheels fitted with a 40 inch (101.6cm) rubber tire 5 inches (12.7cm) wide. The wheels were unsprung but could hold up to 60 imperial gallons (272.8 liters) of fuel, either petrol or diesel, and were covered in rubber to provide a ‘self-sealing’ effect if the wheel hub were punctured by ammunition up to .50 caliber. Between the two wheels was a large rectangular cargo compartment made from ⅛” thick (3.175 mm) thick welded steel. This large space inside could be fitted with an ammunition rack for tank or artillery shells (34 rounds of 75 mm or 108 rounds of 37 mm), small arms ammunition boxes, ration boxes, water or fuel cans, or other items that were required. A second, smaller compartment below this was specifically designed to hold four boxes of .30 ammunition.
At the back of the trailer lay a third compartment, smaller than the first, and which contained a hand-operated fuel pump and supply hose long enough to feed the towing vehicle. Below this compartment lay a fourth compartment (just like the one at the front) which held stowage space for tools.
Overall, the trailer was very complex containing many bespoke parts that made for complicated maintenance. The doors to access the items inside were fitted with wing nuts (butterfly nuts) but were overly laborious to unscrew to access the contents. This is something that could easily have been rectified in a production model.
The Rota-Trailer not only had these internal compartments for stowage but also the ability to have a multitude of items carried on top. A special frame was fitted which held three 5-US gallon (18.9 liter) oil cans, and various tie-downs allowed other accessories such as nets or tarpaulins or other stores to be lashed to the top of the trailer.
Despite looking good on paper, capable of extending the fighting range of a tank, the trailer had serious problems. It was tested by an M4 Sherman and two different half-tracks over a 26 mile (42 km) cross country course and 250 miles (400 km) of gravel roads and, whilst it was on a flat surface, like a road, it worked well with little bouncing. The trailer was heavy too: each wheel weighed 400 lbs (180 kg) empty and 800 lbs (360 kg) when full in addition to the weight of the other material carried. The weight of the trailer placed additional strain on the drivetrain of the towing vehicle and, during rough travel off-road, the stress and strain on the trailer risked serious damage. On top of this, the trailer reduced the maximum speed of the vehicle towing it because the instability of the load caused by the sloshing liquid in the wheels threatened to result in sideways skids at high speeds.
Even as it was, the semi-rough terrain traversed ended up with all of the cans of water inside or on top of the trailer becoming deformed and leaky but the trailer did at least provide self-floatation in mud due to the width of the fuel cells. Another downside was that the lower front compartment, just 8.75 inches (222 mm) from the ground had a tendency to become filled with mud which was forced into it.
A final problem with the trailer was that it made reversing more difficult. During testing with an M4, the trailer skewed to one side and the stress caused damage to the towing arm and the tank tracks rubbing against the trailer body.
Overall, the tests of this A.T.C. product were a failure and the vehicle was not recommended for use. Its main faults were:
Difficult to reverse
Additional strain on the drivetrain of the towing vehicle
Reduces maximum possible speed of the towing vehicle
Too heavy to move easily by hand
Too little ground clearance
Steel body is not resistant to small arms fire
None of these faults were to stop further ideas, designs, and experimentation with trailers for hauling fuel or stores by tanks, but the work from A.T.C. (NJ) on this matter was effectively dead. No more is known of A.T.C. after this time; possibly Bechhold’s resources had simply run out and this venture failed, although it is noteworthy that on 1st February 1943, despite the failings of the Rotatrailer, the British still ordered 600 of them anyway, although how many were finished or delivered is less clear.
In the Army
Siegfried Bechhold, aged 42, in October 1942 joined his second Army. His first was a German one in WW1, his second, an American one in WW2. He served as a private being sent to Camp Lee in Virginia. He is not believed to have been sent overseas.
Re-born once more?
The back end of the hull of the Bechhold Tank seen in the November/December 1940 advert is very similar to the vehicle shown to the US Army Ordnance Department in May 1942 known as the Bigley Gun Motor Carriage suggesting a possible link to that vehicle. Was, in fact, the Bigley GMC the M.1938 High-Speed tank from Christie, bought and modified by A.T.C. and then sold off, redeveloped and re-submitted by another firm? Or is it in fact the other Christie tank, the M.1937 sold off by his creditors to Mr. Bechhold. On the balance of the evidence, the former case appears to be correct.
By the end of WW2, Bechhold had left the field of tanks and the complications of military work. By 1948, he was living in Florida where he headed the Ribbonwriter Corporation of America, selling parts for typewriters. Siegfried Bechhold died in California in 1956.
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The precipitous plunge into a new major European land war against Germany in 1939 found the British utterly unprepared for the type of intense combat fought a generation earlier on much of the same ground in Northern France and Belgium. As Britain and France raced desperately to design and deliver a new series of heavy tanks able to break the inevitable German defensive lines to beat them on this old battlefield, the mud of Flanders loomed large in British military thought.
The French Army and the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) had tanks and a lot of modern equipment of a bewildering variety and utility, from the diminutive unarmed UE tracked resupply vehicle and obsolete WW1 Renault FT light tanks, to the giant Char B1 Heavy Tank for the French, and the ‘Universal Carrier’ and Mk.IV Light tank to the A.11 and A.12 Matildas of the British. These forces were meant, as succeeded by their parents’ generation, to blunt and stall the German advance through the Low Countries (Belgium and Holland). After that, the Allies would bring over new forces and push the Germans back. A fine plan maybe in the first months, September and October 1939, with the obvious problem that the Germans did not want to play that game and instead when in May 1940 the attack came, it was launched with greater speed and focus of intensity than the British and French could cope with.
Picturing a need in the first months of the war for a new and improved heavy tank for special purposes, there was no suitable vehicle at all, as the heaviest tank available was the A.12 Matilda. A new tank was to be rapidly considered and one of the first of these came from a team led by Sir Albert Stern – a team of men largely responsible for most of the British tanks of WW1. Stern was the chairman of the Special Vehicle Development committee – more commonly known by its adopted nickname; The Old Gang (TOG) and this was to be the first TOG tank of WW2, although it never left the drawing board.
It has to be acknowledged that, in these first few months, the requirements for a new ‘Special’ or heavy tank were fluid. Despite the issuance at the end of September 1939 by the General Staff of a set of improbable and perhaps impossibly optimistic requirements for a tank, the team led by Stern took liberties with their task. It is clear from reading the letters of the time that, right from the start, the TOG team favored only a turreted tank. Adding heavy armor and a high front track to help climb an enemy parapet or wall, the vehicle design resembled almost a hybrid between the existing A.12 Matilda and a rival vehicle of sorts being built to a different set of demands, known as the A.20.
When the specifications for this new tank were finally revealed at the end of September 1939, the demands were extreme. The vehicle would have to be able to cross a 16’ (4.9 m) wide trench without the use of a bridge or fascine, be heavily armored, and capable of climbing a 7’ (2.1 m) high obstacle. The 300G was simply unable to cross such a huge gap. In an effort perhaps to assuage the General Staff and have them come around to a more conventional turreted option, the vehicle was even redrawn in a longer form capable of crossing a gap 10 to 12’ (3.0 to 3.7 m) wide. Although the goal was to produce this new special tank at just 32 tons (32.5 tonnes), this longer option would obviously mean more weight, perhaps around 40 tons (40.6 tonnes), and a reduced performance (assuming the same power plant was to be used).
Based on the drawing for the outline of the tank, it would measure around 20’ to 25’ (6.10 to 7.62 m) long for the ‘compact’ and ‘lengthened’ options respectively. The width is easier to gauge, as it is shown in a railway tunnel. Railway tunnels were the size-limiter for width. The 300G vehicle completely filled the tunnel allowable width, indicating a vehicle some 10’ (3.05 m) wide.
It is difficult to consider the automotive elements of 300G because the design simply never got that far. The requirements of TOG were to produce a diesel-engined vehicle and eventually that led to the adoption of the excellent Paxman-Ricardo series of diesel engines for the TOG 1 and TOG 2. In the early days of that part of the work of TOG, the lack of a suitable diesel motor prompted a look at various alternatives, including the use of petrol boat engines to provide sufficient power.
The designers involved in work on the S.V.D.C. project also considered alternatives to the ‘normal’ kind of mechanical transmissions, eventually considering alternatives including hydraulic and electric types. However, just like the engine, this was after the 300G idea had been replaced with work on a Mk.VIII-shaped machine for the General Staff. As a result, the engine and transmission choices or options for a TOG tank built to the outline of 300G remain unknown.
Other than a single figure on the original drawing of a somewhat awkward-looking driver, no crew is shown, so it is hard to know how many crew were planned. The ‘special’ tank discussion originated with an idea for a tank with a crew of up to 7. Examining the design, it can be assumed this would be at least 5 or maybe 6 crew members, consisting probably of a driver in the front left of the hull, a hull gunner on the front right to operate the primary armament and BESA, and three more men, commander, gunner, and loader in the turret, just as they were on the A.12.
Comparison between A.12 Matilda and TOG 300G Design
Weight (ton / tonne)
25 tons (25.4 tonnes)
32 tons (32.5 tonnes) to est. 40 tons (40.6 tonnes)
Length (ft / m)
18’ 5” (5.61 m)
20’ to 25’ (6.10 to 7.62 m)
Width (ft / m)
8’ 6” (2.59 m)
10’ (3.05 m)
Height (ft / m)
8’ 3” (2.51 m)
est. 8’ 9” (2.75 m)
~8’ (2.44 m)
~8’ (2.44 m) to
10 – 12’ (3.05 – 3.66 m)
7.92 mm BESA plus HV gun
2 pdr. / 7.92 mm BESA
2 pdr. / 7.92 mm BESA
3” (76 mm) basis
3 – 4” (76 – 102 mm)
3” (76 mm) basis
3” (76 mm) basis
While the tank resembled an A.12, it certainly was not one. This tank was going to have to be able to take out heavily-fortified enemy positions and, as such, a variety of guns was being considered to find whichever was best suited to the task. Amongst these were the 2” (as used on the A.12), a 3” howitzer, a 3.7” howitzer, the Naval 6 pounder, and the French 75 mm gun. These last two were certainly too large in an A.12-style turret. Both the 3” and 3.7” options were abandoned quickly due to them being low-velocity weapons. No design studies are known to have been carried out for this turret. The solution would, therefore, be to mount the ‘big’ gun in the hull, much in the manner of the French Char B, and use the otherwise perfectly adequate 2 pounder in the turret on top. The requirements for a front-mounted Besa machine gun in the driver’s plate and another in the turret were to complete the complement of weapons.
Although a thickness of armor is actually shown on the blueprint, this was not a ‘to-scale’ drawing, just an illustrative one. The armor is shown, quite rightly, as being focussed on the front with a thick and slightly angled glacis, a cut-back lower front and a vertical and slightly thicker driver’s plate. No armor is shown on the turret, which is assumed to be identical to that of the A.12, which makes it cast armor 3” (76 mm) thick all around.
If 76 mm is to be assumed as the basis, this would give the 300G a 3” thick glacis and a driver’s plate perhaps as thick as 4” (102 mm). It is certainly not possible to consider the armor to be 60 mm or so, as the ‘rival’ A.20 design was already known to be woefully under-protected with armor of that thickness, unable to keep out German 37 and 47 mm anti-tank guns even at generous combat ranges. The other reason to discount the idea that the armor was less than around 3” is that the armor designer on the TOG team was Kenneth Symes. Symes was an expert in armor protection and a strong proponent of face-hardened armor plates made in flat slabs. The slabs meant ease of production not available to castings, which needed machining, but also the ability to produce a uniform hardening on the surface. Against uncapped anti-tank shot, this face-hardened armor provided improved protection over the ‘softer’ homogenous or cast armor plate. The side armor, being vertical, would have to at least match the nearly vertical turret sides, so once more 3” (76 mm) is the most reasonable estimate for this.
If the relationships between thicknesses on the only surviving drawing (drawing 477G) are reliable, then the rear armor was about half the thickness of the front, probably around 1.5” (38 mm) thick.
Death of the Project
The death knell for what would basically have been a heavier Matilda-type tank came almost as soon as the idea was born. The General Staff were insistent that they wanted an all-round track machine with heavy unditching gear on top, which meant no turret. Lengthening the 300G would not suffice and the attention of The Old Gang would be diverted into producing a tank they very much did not want to make to meet the exacting criteria issued by the General Staff in September 1939 as ‘RMB-17’.
The opportunity of TOG 300G, however, was small. The Army did not need a bigger, heavier, and wider Matilda-type tank even with the benefit of a little more armor, a little more obstacle-crossing capability, and the benefit of a large front-mounted gun. They wanted something much larger, inevitably much heavier, better protected, and even more capable of crossing obstacles. That was the direction TOG was to take, against their better judgment, and it is perhaps with some irony that the 300G-style option was eventually the one adopted after years of messing around, as the A.22 Churchill. That tank was to start life as much the same layout, a small cast turret with a 2 pounder gun and a 3” howitzer in the front and got off to a rough start with serious design flaws, reliability issues, mobility problems, and inadequate armor and firepower. A similar fate might have been expected from 300G but, given that the A.22 went on to be a very successful design by the end of the war, after years of upgrades to every feature, it is hard not to project that the 300G had the same sort of potential.
United Kingdom (1922)
Light Tank Prototype- 1½ built
In 1919, an English man stepped off of a boat onto the soil of India. This was Colonel Philip Johnson, one of Britain’s few tank designers. Although Johnson would never design a tank that was accepted into service and had a habit of designing what he wanted, not what was required, at the time he was the Government’s only tank designer. He was in charge of the Department for Tank Design, and had been tasked with undertaking a study into the use of Tanks in the heat and rugged terrain of India, and the north-west frontier.
Johnson’s report filed in 1920 suggested that the use of tanks in those conditions was entirely possible. He went even further to suggest a family of vehicles all based upon a common chassis would be needed. The family was to consist of a tank, an amphibious vehicle, a supply carrier and gun carrier variants. As far as it is known, only the tank version, known as the Light Tropical Tank, and the Supply Carrier were built.
A single photo of the Light Tropical Tank has survived. However, a good deal of information can be extracted about the design of this little-known vehicle.
The engine of the vehicle is placed at the front of the vehicle, on the left side. It was a 45hp Taylor engine. Interestingly, the vehicle has a rear transmission. This front-mounted engine rear-mounted transmission combination is quite peculiar in tank design history, although it is shared with the famous Medium Mark A Whippet and the following Medium Mark I and II. The gearbox was of the sliding bevel type, with four forward and one reverse gear. Another interesting feature, reminiscent of WWI-era armored cars, is the placement of the radiator intakes, which are situated at the front of the vehicle.
The rear of the Supply Carrier, which was based on the same chassis as the Light Tropical tank. The rear transmission is visible. Source: https://topwar.ru/121848-bronemashiny-light-infantry-tank-i-light-supply-tank-velikobritaniya.html
The suspension is almost impossible to observe due to the poor contrast of the photo and the large mud chutes which cover the outer part of the sides of the tank. It consisted of coil springs attached to small roadwheels. The vehicle has a solid front idler (although the supply carrier has a different, pressed type of idler) which can be adjusted to change the track tension. The drive sprocket is at the rear. Based on the pictures of the Supply Carrier, which is quite similar in design, five return rollers are also present. It could reach 15 mph (24 km/h) on road, with half that off road (7 mph or 11 km/h).
The superstructure of the vehicle was composed of two parts. The front part, containing the engine and the driver’s location, was quite boxy. However, its rear part was irregular in order to make room for the offset turrets. The front seems to have been slightly angled, but the rest was vertical. The rear part of the superstructure comprised the fighting compartment, being taller and irregular in shape. The right-hand side extended more to the front than the left side. Again, it comprised vertical armor plates with almost no angling. While it is hard to observe from the single available picture, it seems as though the fighting compartment also extended over the tracks, thus giving more internal space. Behind the fighting compartment was an armored cover for the transmission.
The Light Tropical tank had two turrets mounted to the rear, on top of the fighting compartment. The two turrets were offset due to the placement of the engine, and resembled those on an Austin Armoured Car, although no direct link between the two vehicles is known. No weapons were fitted but it is highly likely they would have been a pair of machine guns.
The driver was placed on the front right, having a raised compartment just in front of the right-hand side turret. This was low enough so that the weapon could traverse over it. It is unclear how the crew accessed the vehicle. The armor was flat and vertical, consisting of riveted rolled armor plates.
Illustration of ‘Johnson’s Light Tropical Tank’ produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign
Construction and Testing
After the design work was done, the plans were turned over to Vickers who started construction at their Erith plant. On the 7th of October, the right hand track was connected to the machinery of the tank and run for an extended period while the tank was lifted off the floor. At the time, the left hand track was still awaiting connection. Five days later, the tank was completed and run for a very short distance. Even this short run showed a number of defects which needed work. By the end of the month, more involved trials were carried out and showed some problems with the tracks, which were deemed noisy and unreliable.
Throughout November, further mechanical problems arose, including within the gearbox which had to be sent back to its makers for fixing. These mechanical problems were still plaguing the tank in June 1922, when a hopeful internal report at Vickers suggested the tank would be complete in about two months. In July, a notification was sent that a second tank had started construction. By the 10th of November 1922, the tank had been turned over to the British army and was undergoing testing at Farnborough.
During these tests, the tank had several persistent problems, such as the cables that formed the suspension stretching and fraying. The bogies were considered very weak and kept on moving out of position, causing damage to the tracks. The tracks themselves had almost constant problems with the rivets in them shearing off. Despite all this, the British army did convert the tank to use a steering wheel instead of its original levers. After 238 miles (380 km) of testing, the tank was abandoned.
The Light Supply Carrier – Source: Bovington Tank Museum on Twitter
In 1923, after the series of failures, Philip Johnson’s tank design department was closed down, and Johnson disappears from the records. Of the Tropical Light Tank, no further record can be found. It was likely scrapped, or used as a range target.
A Note on Dates:
There are two documents involved in creating this article. However, they contradict each other when it comes to dates. The dates used above came from “E.2011.1667 Vickers tanks notes” held at the Bovington Tank Museum. However, a second document held at Bovington, and quoted by David Fletcher in Mechanised Force, states that the Light Tropical Tank had been delivered for testing by the army in June/July 1922, a time when the previous document still had the tank at the Vickers works at Erith.
The officially named ‘Tank, Cruiser, A34, Comet I‘, is widely regarded as the finest tank produced in Britain to see combat in the Second World War. Carrying the 77mm HV (High Velocity) main gun in, basically, an improved Cromwell (A24) chassis, the tank combined mobility with firepower.
The design though was not without its flaws. Despite early hopes, it could not mount the formidable 17 pounder gun and the armor was insufficient at the front to protect against the armor piercing (AP) shell fired from the German Panther. This vehicle was considered a significant enough threat that, whilst the next Cruiser tank was being developed, ideas were considered as to improving the Comet, in particular, the armor, to correct this weakness.
Work had begun on the Comet in 1943 but the first deliveries did not start to arrive until the end of 1944. The Department of Tank Design (DTD) was never entirely happy with the compromises made for the design, and the disappointment is reflected in the War Diary of the 29th Armoured Brigade when they received their first batch of the new A34 Comets in February 1945.
“A total of 100 fit Comets had been issued to the Bde [Brigade] by 20 Feb. Everybody was pleased to get the Comet tank, though there were criticisms. Particular disappointment was expressed at the absence of a sloping front glacis plate; however, everyone felt that this tank is a great improvement on the Sherman, and felt honoured that we were the first armoured brigade to be equipped with these new tks [tanks]”.
– 29th Armoured Brigade War diary, February 1945.
It was indeed an improvement for them over the American made M4 Sherman, as the new gun offered the firepower craved to combat German armor, but having gone from a Sherman with the large sloping glacis to the stepped-front design of the Cromwell was seen as a stepback. The armor over the glacis on the Comet was just 32mm thick, albeit steeply angled back leading up to the driver’s plate which was just 76mm thick and vertical.
The reason this driver’s plate was retained was simply that it offered a port for the driver, a mounting for a forward firing hull mounted machine-gun (although the value of such a machine-gun was already in question) and that to change it required a redesign of the hull. Redesigning the hull would have taken time and this vehicle was effectively just a stop-gap awaiting the new Cruiser, the A41 Centurion, so a redesign was out of the question. The question was, therefore, how to improve the armor to provide increased protection against the German 75mm High-Velocity AP round from the Panther tank.
A conference was held on that question and other potential modifications on 3rd February 1945 at the Headquarters of the 29th Armoured Brigade, with a follow-up meeting held at Farnborough just two weeks later on the 17th. The primary complaint was the lack of a glacis, expressed in the report as:
“Some disappointment was expressed that the hull front still had the vertical visor plate and that the sloping glacis plate of the Panther had not yet been adopted. The opinion was expressed that crew would prefer this even if it means that the driver always had to drive through his periscope and hull gun had to be abandoned. It was even suggested that the space set free by abandonment of the hull gunner should be used for the stowage of additional 77mm ammunition”
The Department of Tank Design, however, did not seem swayed by the demand for a sloping front glacis. The design of the German Panther tank had significantly affected the thoughts of men who had faced them in combat but not yet those at the DTD. Perhaps unwilling to abandon the hull machine-gun, they suggested instead a compromise of adding an additional 1″ (25.4mm) of armor plate to the 3″ (76.2mm) vertical visor plate, bringing it up to 4″ (101.6mm) across that part. The DTD were clearly unhappy with even this compromise though as they demanded further trials to see what difference this additional weight might make on the vehicle.
A24 Cromwell tank front armor. 64mm vertical plate over 25mm sloped glacis.
A34 Comet hull with new 25mm thick sloped glacis.
A34 Gets its Glacis
Adding just another inch of armor to the three the Comet had would leave it with four inches of armor on its vertical plate, which would still not provide the protection from the German gun. The following solution was simpler – do what the soldiers wanted. Remove the hull machine-gun and accept a restricted driver’s view for additional protection. The other advantages of this being the removal of the hull gunner and additional space for ammunition in the front left of the hull. The turret still retained its machinegun, so the loss of the one in the hull was of no significance compared with being able to carry a dozen or more shells for the primary armament and increased armor. The question had therefore become what thickness of a plate was needed.
A34 Comet with 25mm thick plate fastened by bolts to the front of the hull of an existing Comet. The turret is turned backward to avoid damage. Photo: PM Knight
The plan was to use a single 25mm thick plate made from I.T. 80 armor steel (the same as the tank hull’s primary armor) angled at 49 degrees from the horizontal over the front of the Comet from the nose to above the visor. The plate was fixed by means of three steel brackets welded to the old glacis to which the new glacis plate was fastened with 3 rows of 6 bolts each.
The A34* (Star) Comet. Note the added plate at the front of the tank. Illustrated by Alexe Pavel, based on an illustration by David Bocquelet.
For the purposes of the test, rather than remove the BESA machine-gun mount and plate, it was added over it, as would have to be done if the modification was adopted; the mount was simply left in situ. The test Comet was shot at using the German 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 gun as mounted in a captured Panther tank brought to Shoeburyness Ranges. The round fired was the Panzergranate 39/42 Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Capped (APCBC) shell at 2578 fps (785.8 m/s). The results were perhaps predictably poor, this 25mm plate effectively made no difference. The shell pierced both it and the original visor behind it completely. A second shell penetrated both the new glacis plate and the original glacis plate behind it completely as well.
A 25mm plate angled at 70 degrees should have provided an equivalent of an additional 38mm of armor on the visor plate and an additional 13mm on the glacis and a 45mm thick (32mm + 13mm) glacis should not have been penetrated by the shell traveling below 2700 fps (823 m/s), yet both areas had been penetrated by a shell some 122 fps (37.2 m/s) slower.
The target was then moved 30 degrees to the side to test for oblique impacts. Two shots were fired at the upper part of the new glacis with the original visor behind. The first shot only penetrated the outer plate and did not penetrate the original visor, but a second shot penetrated both layers of armor even at this angle. Two more firings were carried out at the lower section of the new glacis and the results were not good. A firing limit of 2600 fps (792 m/s) equivalent to 1000 yards was established for this area of armor. The improvement of the new glacis was marginal. Head-on against this shell the plate made no difference at all and was completely penetrated at test ranges. When the vehicle was angled 30 degrees to the line of fire from the enemy vehicle this new armor added just 130 fps (40 m/s) equivalent to a range of 200 yards (183 m) to the protection of the vehicle compared to the original armor scheme
In summary, the firing trials determined that:
“Against normal attack from 7.5cm A.P.C.B.C, the additional protection plate is inferior to plates of equivalent thickness in contact with the visor and glacis, but against 30 degree attacks the protected offered to the visor is slightly higher than that given by an equivalent increase in thickness”
The protection plan was simply not as effective as it was thought it would be. The sloping glacis should either have been thicker and uniform comprising the entirety full frontal armor, or the equivalent armor 25mm simply added to a 76mm visor and 32mm glacis by welding it on as applique and retaining the stepped shape. Other than at very oblique angles this would be superior to this unusual spaced-armor glacis arrangement. It would also retain the bow machine-gun and the driver’s port.
30-Degree Oblique Impact
The tests were a failure. The German gun was too powerful even for this temporary fix of a temporary tank. The thinking had been good, but there was to be no substitute for a properly angled plate of the correct thickness in the first instance. For that, the British would have to wait for their A.41 afterall. A tank which became a legend in its own right, albeit, one too late to ever fight the Panther itself.
Despite the visor being substantially thicker than the glacis, the tests had shown the vulnerability of the visor plate as it was penetrated by enemy fire from that shell even out to 2650 yards (2423 m). The whole of the frontal hull armor could still be penetrated even when angled at 30 degrees, but with the glacis plate the visor and glacis were only penetrate-able at 1000 yards (914 m) instead. For the Department of Tank Design, the problems with losing a hull machine-gun and obstructing the driver’s view just outweighed any merit. The increased protection demanded could be simply provided by welding on 25mm of applique to the front anyway. The age of the stepped front tank was over.
It was felt by the Army that certain tactical roles, presumably the same sort which required the use of the 95mm howitzer like the C.S. (Close Support) role, would benefit enormously from this increased level of protection but the DTD were not to be swayed. The testing had not shown the benefits to outweigh the drawbacks and the project was nixxed and forgotten about. The A41 provided a single glacis thicker and stronger than this attempt and Comets were replaced in service as Centurion were delivered.
Although the article refers to this vehicle as ‘A34*’ there is no information available as to what any official name for this vehicle would have been had she entered service although an asterix is a common British addition to a name to denote a technical modification.
L x W x H
6.55 m x 3.04 m x 2.67 m
(21ft 6in x 10ft 1in x 8ft 6in)
The A38 Infantry Tank, codenamed as ‘Valiant’. Much has been said about this widely maligned British tank design, perhaps too much when one stops to look at the vehicle and its very short lived story. Reports of unsettling injuries to crewmen, horrendous shot traps, and poor comparison to existing infantry tanks to name but a few. However, how much truth really exists behind these statements?
Tank, Infantry, A38 Valiant, a Misunderstood Failure. Photo: Osprey Publishing
‘An Urgent Project’
Development of A38 Infantry/Assault Tank started in August of 1942, when Vickers Armstrong were awarded a contract to produce three pilot models of a ‘heavy assault tank’ by the Ministry of Supply. This had followed discussions from the Tank Board of improvements and possible successors to the Valentine Infantry Tank series. This design was classed as ‘urgent’ by the Tank Board and would be focused on along with improvements to the existing Valentine series. There was also a specific emphasis placed on the implementation of side skirting plates in this design. However, the design of the Valiant had origins in an existing project by Vickers; the Vanguard.
Vanguard was an existing design that had been presented and designed earlier by Vickers as a possible replacement for early infantry tanks such as the A11 Matilda I and early models of the Valentine. The design was interesting in that it utilized a unique suspension system, sharing some commonality in smaller components with the Valentine. The system consisted of independently sprung pairs of road wheels, each supported by external wishbones. This chassis had been used in the first trials of the QF 17 pounder AT gun in what would eventually become the Archer SPG, which was a 17-pdr mounted to a rear-facing Valentine chassis. With this design already drawn up and built, Vickers simply designed the new tank on top of this existing object.
The original design for the assault tank, which continued to be referred to as ‘Vanguard’ for at least the few months of its development, was very similar to the final vehicle that was built. The weight of the vehicle was 23 tons, as required by the contract, making it a much lighter alternative to the A33 “Excelsior” and A22 Churchill tanks that were in development at the same time. This reduced weight was achieved by reducing the turret from a 3-man configuration to a 2-man configuration.
The design drawing for the A38 Valiant. Photo: The Tank Museum Archives
The design was armed with the proven 6 Pounder (57mm) gun, with a 7.92mm BESA machine gun mounted coaxially. The 6pdr was a preferred weapon to the more commonly available 2 pounder (40mm) due to its wider range of ammunition and ability to perform outside of an anti-tank role. Two 2 inch (51mm) smoke mortars were to be included, with 18 smoke bombs being provided. Frontal hull armor was listed at 4 ½ inches (114mm) thick, with the sides having 4 inches (102mm) and the rear 3 inches (76mm). This gave the vehicle very impressive protection for the time, especially in comparison with early war designs such as A.11. The design also featured a pike nose design, utilising two plates that were ‘pre-angled’ to give greater armor obliquity angles. This shows a level of forward-thinking that would not be seen on a tank until the reveal of the Soviet IS-3 heavy tank in 1945. The turret was a small design, bearing in mind that it was meant only to accommodate 2 crewmen. It bore a resemblance to the Valentine MK. X turret, however, its design had some variance in features. It featured a large single door hatch in the left side, as to allow for a quick escape in the case of the tank being knocked out, as well as allowing for easier loading of the proposed 55 rounds of 6pdr ammunition to be carried. The top of the turret featured a single split-door hatch for the commander, as well as two periscopes for vision under closed-down position and two antenna mounts.
The original wooden mock-up of the A38 Valiant. Photo: The Tank Museum Archives
Mobility was listed at 16 mph (25.75 km/h), made possible by the Rolls-Royce Meteorite; a proposed 8-cylinder engine capable of 400 horsepower. The road range, or ‘circuit of action’ as described by the design specification, was 100 miles (161km). The design was to have a 30-degree minimum climb angle, as well as the ability to clear a 3 inch (76mm) obstacle. Steering was to be conducted in the traditional ‘clutch and brake’ configuration. The design was specified with a 5-speed synchromesh gearbox. Interestingly, later in the development of Valiant, The Department of Tank Design conducted a report on the amount of effort required in gear changing with Valiant, Valentine and the M4 Sherman. It was found that little difficulty would be experienced with Valiant, except for some difficulty when changing from second to third; this was suggested to be improved by fitting a diesel or ‘oil’ engine which would enable the engine to pick up at lower speeds. The suspension was of the aforementioned ‘Vanguard’ type. This consisted of six pairs of road wheels per side. These pairs of rubber-tired road wheels are mounted onto independent transverse spring units, each supported by an internal spring and a wishbone mount. Shock absorbers in the form of 8 hydraulic double piston stations are present on wheel stations 1, 2, 5 and 6. There are 3 top rollers provided to support the upper weight and tension of the track. The track itself was specified as 20 inches (50cm) wide and of manganese construction. Featuring twin guide horns, these tracks were specified to produce 10.5lb./sq.in. (7g/sq.cm) of ground pressure.
This initial design can be compared favorably to existing tanks that were in production, considering that these were designed in the late 1930s. The armament was superior to that on previous infantry tanks such as A11 and A12, as well as early models of Valentine. This gun not only allowed it to be effective at engaging enemy armor, but also allowed it to perform its primary function of infantry support, something that existing British guns in the form of the 2 Pounder were not capable of. The armor profile was designed fairly ahead of its time with the use of slopes and pike noses, no major shot traps existed on this original vehicle.
From Vickers to Rolls-Royce, Rolls-Royce to Ruston and Hornsby
The vehicle continued to be developed at Vickers for a few months after the contract had been awarded, with amendments regarding engine power. The contract now called for six pilots, four to be designated as Mk.I using existing engines found on the Valentine series; these were the A.E.C produced A189 petrol engine and the General Motors Company produced diesel engine, producing 135 and 138 horsepower respectively. The remaining two pilots were Mk.II, equipped with the originally specified Meteorite by Rolls-Royce or an unspecified V8 petrol engine produced by Ford. Due to poor reception of the 6pdr in the Valentine IX, the Tank Board suggested in February of 1943 that a 75mm armament was worked into the design of the tank, however, this was never implemented. A 3-man turret was also specified. Shortly following these changes, Vickers decided that the project was to receive a new parent designer. The reason for this was stated as a response to increased workload and a priority shift at the Chertsey facility; the project had already been declared as of lower priority by the Tank Board, stating that the bulk of Vickers’ workload was to focus on the continuation of existing tank production, as well as building American tanks. The new parentage of the design was undecided at the time, however, it had been agreed that Rolls-Royce would be responsible for developing the engine and transmission compartment; this work would be completed at their facility at Belper (Derbyshire); the engineers here had previously worked on the A.33 Assault Tank design in 1941.
This is where the first design alterations were made from the original Vickers design. The exhaust openings were moved from facing the sides of the vehicle to the engine deck, where they now faced upwards. Along with this, the transmission housings were up-armored. This was done by welding several large plates below the transmission. These alterations were the first that began to have negative impacts upon the Valiant, as it added an imbalance of weight towards the rear suspension. The original ground clearance of the design was 16.9 inches (43cm), an average value in comparison to tanks of the time. However, 4 ½ inches of armor plate reduced this value not only with the physical thickness of the material, but also by weighing down the rear suspension and causing the whole vehicle to sink to the rear. By the time the ground clearance data had been taken in May of 1945, the suspension gave an eye-watering 10 inches (25cm) of ground clearance at the rear and 8.9 inches (27cm) from the rear suspension units. By May of 1945, the suspension had been in existence for a few years and had been the basis of the Valiant prototype since 1944, giving a year for these additions, as well as the engine to drop the ground clearance. Thus, it can be assumed that the ground clearance was perhaps greater upon the completion of the prototype than in its suspension trials.
The rear transmission armor. Note the downward drop in suspension caused by the additional plate of armor. Photo: Author’s own
Two months following the decision to transfer responsibility to Rolls-Royce, the Ministry of Supply named a new parent for the project, now known as A.38 Valiant, as Ruston and Hornsby (R&H), and terminated the existing contract with Vickers Armstrong. Ruston and Hornsby had experience in building diesel and steam locomotives, as well as producing A.12 Matilda II. However, they had no prior experience in designing armored vehicles. R&H made several amendments to the design. The front armor profile was altered, whilst the pike nose was retained, a new superstructure was added to the front, creating a large bulge which not only added weight to the design, but also created a massive weak spot in the armor. The new 3-man turret was also designed at this stage. To accommodate the larger turret, the turret ring was increased by welding two elliptical plates to either side of the hull, further increasing weight. The new turret itself was much larger than the original turret, with a central bulge that presented a severe shot trap. The turret ring itself was unarmoured, causing further vulnerability to it being damaged by enemy fire.
The altered front profile. Note the retention of the pike front underneath. Photo: Author’s own
One of the added turret ellipticals. Photo: Author’s own
The air intake vents, moved upwards by R&H. Photo: Author’s own)
The final turret design. Photo: Author’s own
A38 Valiant specifications
5.4 x 2.8 x 2.1 m (17 ft 8.6 in x 9 ft 2 in x 6 ft 10.7 in)
Special thanks to Ed Francis for his personal assistance and his discovery of the information on Vanguard that assisted in this piece.
Archives of The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK.
Examination of the A38 by the author, Bovington Tank Museum
Illustration of the A38 Valiant by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet, with corrections from Alexe Pavel.
The ‘Heavy Valiant’ was a separate design to Valiant that appeared in February of 1944, presented to the Tank Board by Rolls-Royce. It is not a ‘Valiant Mk.III’, nor is it a development of Valiant Mk.II. It is also a completely different machine from the A.33, also known as ‘Excelsior’ or ‘Heavy Cromwell’, although it was to use several components from this vehicle. The purpose of this design was to produce an ‘assault tank with exceptional protection’, as stated by the design brochure, specifically to have 50% greater armor than on any current British or American design. The intent was to produce a vehicle that could reach these requirements by compressing internal volume and reducing the crew number to 3, which would solve the problems of increased weight and dimensions. From the design brochure, it seems that this vehicle was pitched as an improvement on the A33 Excelsior, which had been designed previously by Rolls-Royce at Belper.
The initial plan for ‘Heavy Valiant’. The HVSS suspension system from T1/A.33 is clearly visible. Photo: The Tank Museum Archives
Upon viewing the design for Heavy Valiant, many visual similarities are shared from the Valiant, albeit in its final form. Dimensions were 20 feet 10 inches (6.3m) long with the armament forward and 10 feet 4 inches (3.1m) wide, larger than Valiant Mk.I, but smaller than the A33 Excelsior, which had the problem of being unable to cross the standard Bailey Bridge used by the British Army. The pike nose was present, with a frontal thickness of 9 inches (220mm) on the frontal upper plate and 8 ½ inches (210mm) on the lower plate. Side armor was listed 5 ½ inches (140mm), along with additional skirting that covered much of the suspension. The final weight of the vehicle was 42.27 tons (38.34 tonnes), making it more than twice the weight of the original specification of what became Valiant. The thickness of the belly plate was 25mm thick, a 5mm increase from that on the A33. The turret of the Heavy Valiant was almost identical in shape and design to that on A.38 Valiant, however, the frontal thickness of the casting is a staggering 10 inches thick, with an armored recess for the turret ring to prevent it from being damaged in combat.
The armor profiling of ‘Heavy Valiant’. Note the retained pike nose of the A.38 Photo: The Tank Museum Archives
The armament on the Heavy Valiant was varied. The main armament was a selection of 3 guns; the American 75mm as used in the T1 Heavy, the 6-pdr as used in the existing Valiant design, or the 95mm howitzer, a gun most famously used on the A27L Centaur in a close support role. This armament was to be accompanied by a 7.92mm BESA machine gun in a coaxial mounting, as well as one 2 inch smoke mortar. Alternatively, .303 machine guns and even the 20mm Oerlikon cannon were suggested for ‘increased man-killing proposition’. As an infantry support vehicle, the design states reliance on special ammunition types such as sabot, hollow charge and squeeze bore to increase penetration in case the vehicle is required to destroy other armored targets, highlighting the emphasis of this vehicle not being primarily intended to engage other tanks.
The maximum speed of the vehicle was to be 13 mph (20.92 km/h), slower than originally envisioned with the Valiant’s speed of 16 mph, however, given the increase in weight the difference is quite small. The engine was to be the same Meteorite V8 engine as on the Valiant Mk.II, tuned to 330 bhp. The road range was to be 60 miles (90.56 km), provided with a full tank of 63 gallons of petrol fuel, a reduced range from Valiant. The transmission was a 5-speed Rolls-Royce synchromesh gearbox, with a 16 inch (41cm) triple plate clutch. Steering was to be conducted through an epicyclically controlled unit built by Rolls-Royce. The suspension was a Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS), the same used on the T1 Heavy Tank design from the U.S.A; this was carried over from the A.33 also, a possible reason as to why these two designs are sometimes mistaken as the same. The suspension had 3 units per side, each carrying two pairs of rubber-tired road wheels. The track system was also carried over from the T1/A.33, this was a 25 ½ inch (65cm) wide track with rubber insert pads. Both of these units had already completed 1000 miles of testing from A.33, so they were seen to have been proven. Suitable mobility was a primary focus for this design, as it was seen as a part of the vehicle’s offensive capability. Additionally, the design utilized the same turret traverse gear as the A.33 Excelsior. The power to weight ratio of 8hp per ton was not appreciably worse than that of the A.22 Churchill, which was in service at the time.
As a design concept, the Heavy Valiant was a significant improvement over both the A38 Valiant and A33 Excelsior designs that had preceded it; understandable given the time gap between the designs. The Heavy Valiant would have been a more suitable vehicle for 1944, with its heavy armor and proven infantry support armaments. However, the design did not get past design stages, with rumors of a prototype being completed and sent for trials at Lulworth (the British Army Armoured Fighting Vehicle Gunnery School located in Dorset) being unproven at best; no reliable sources pinpoint this occurring at all. This fate was shared with many similar designs for heavier vehicles such as A43 Black Prince or the A39 Tortoise. All of these designs came at a time when the ‘Universal Tank’ concept had been introduced, a concept that eventually culminated in the Centurion.
The Suspension Trial
The suspension trials for Valiant have probably become the most well-known stage of the vehicles development cycle, with good reason. These trials are well known for the sheer amount of problems that were encountered by the testing team. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that these trials were for the suspension only; the trials took place in May of 1945, after the end of the war in Europe. Due to the Tank Board’s decisions to press on with continued production and development of existing vehicles such as the A22 Churchill, as well as contemporary designs such as A43 Black Prince that mounted more capable armaments, the Valiant became an extremely low priority, with only a single prototype of a Mk.I having been completed by R&H in early 1944, by which time it was essentially obsolete. On these grounds, serial production of the Valiant had not been entertained since the first half of 1943. However, the Vanguard suspension system was seen to be ‘novel’ on a heavy vehicle and thus worthy of further trials; the previous trials had only occurred on lighter SPG mounts for the 17-pdr.
A view of the Vanguard suspension system. Photo: Author’s own
The Valiant was delivered to the Fighting Vehicle Proving Establishment at Chertsey, Surrey, on 7th May 1945; this was the primary facility for the proving and trials of armoured fighting vehicles at the time. The vehicle was the sole produced prototype; the proposed 3 vehicles were never built and never equipped as Mk.II tanks with Ford or Meteorite engines. The prototype was weighed at 27 tons (24 tonnes); the additions made by R&H, as well as Rolls-Royce at Belper had added 4 tons (3.6 tonnes) to the specified weight of the design.
The first action conducted by the test team was a measurement of the vehicle’s unladen weight; without crew or ammunition loaded, but filled with fuel, water and oil. The result of this was 26 tons and 13 hundredweights (27.1 tonnes). The next stage was the measurement of ground clearances. This was the first major fault that the test team recorded; the ground clearance was found to be unacceptably low. With the ground clearance at the rear at 9.6 inches (24cm) and rear suspension clearance at 8.9 inches (22cm), the vehicle would have had great difficulty on uneven terrain, with a high possibility of suffering suspension bolt shearing and being susceptible to high centers. The results, however, also record the hull ground clearances at 17.45 inches (44cm) for the front and 14.1 inches (36cm) for the rear. This would indicate the sinking of the vehicle suspension to the rear, where Belper and R&H made alterations to the transmission armor. This is also a feature that can be seen to those who visit Valiant in the Tank Museum today.
The next part of the trials involved a road test on cross-country terrain, conducted to establish the general quality of the ride, as well as the suitability of the suspension system for cross-country operation. Pitch tests were to be conducted as a part of the run, however, these trials were not conducted as the vehicle was unable to reach the cross-country trail. The vehicle was run on road conditions for approximately 13 miles (21km), during which several observations were made. Firstly, the engine oil tank had been overfilled, which was causing the oil breather to spit oil and thus cause the test team to suspect an oil leak. The reason for the overfilling was determined due to the lack of a measuring stick with the vehicle. The steering tillers of the vehicle were found to be excessively heavy; the driver was unable to continue due to fatigue. After the trials, the vehicle was placed in the workshops to determine whether this was a fault of the design or due to improper adjustment of the tillers; the heaviness of the clutches used for the steering was found to be responsible.
The footbrake also required assistance from the steering tillers, as to disengage the steering clutches before braking could occur. Furthermore, the footbrake placement in the hull necessitated the use of the heel to use it. During operation, it was speculated that there was a risk for the driver of having his heel trapped between the footbrake and the floorplate, causing ‘serious injury’. Contrary to a commonly held belief, there is no mention of a foot amputation risk on this vehicle, at least not on the official trial report. It was found that there was so little space between the gear lever in the 5th position and the right steering level, there was a risk of the driver’s wrist being broken by the violent action of moving the gear lever. The 1st gear position was located behind the battery boxes of the vehicle, where it was found to be extremely difficult to engage and physically impossible to disengage without the use of a lever or crowbar to assist. The driver’s position was also subject to criticism. It was noted that the driver had to occupy a crouched position, which presented to him a risk of serious injury from the hatch doors. The trial also pointed out the underpowered nature of the GMC engine that the tank was equipped with, noting that the vehicle encountered powertrain difficulties when dealing with even slight inclines. The suspension system, the main purpose of the trials, was found to have exposed lubrication points; the grease nipples. These grease nipples were quite fragile and would have been liable to destruction by cross-country terrain.
There were also some major letdowns in terms of maintenance. The vehicle did not include a level plug for the right-hand final drive, making any final drive servicing impossible. The final observation made by the team was the process for checking the gearbox levels and adjusting the steering brakes. Both of these necessitated the removal of the rear access louvers; these are extremely heavy on this vehicle. The procedure would require three men and a considerable amount of time to complete. At 13 miles (21km), the team decided that the vehicle was unsafe for continued operation and thus had the vehicle recovered and towed back 13 miles (21km) to the FVPE. After this, the vehicle underwent some extensive mechanical investigations in the workshops on the site, as to determine the causes of some of the technical faults found earlier.
A closer view of the exposed lubrication lines. Photo: Gabe Farrell
The trial report made several conclusions. Firstly, it was noted that the basic design of the vehicle was at fault in so many respects that there would be no useful purpose in its continued development or trials. A major concern made in the report was also that the vehicle was entirely unsafe to be put on the road and would present a danger to other road users. These limitations, as well as the technical limitations of the suspension, were seen to render any favourable points of the wishbone suspension system as “utterly valueless”. Due to the vehicle being undrivable beyond 13 miles (21km), the team stated that it would be unfair to expect anyone to risk the injuries that are presented to the driver. A final conclusion was that the design would require sufficient modifications to be introduced to make the design driveable and reasonably safe, with no mention of the further modifications that would be required to produce a serviceable vehicle.
With these conclusions, the FVPE recommended that the vehicle be immediately withdrawn from the suspension trials and returned to its makers at R&H. The report also suggested that the entire project be cancelled; a recommendation that was followed ultimately.
Conclusion: A Stinker or A Tragedy
At face value, this tank may indeed seem to be deserving of its moniker as the worst tank design in the history of AFVs, especially given the more dubious claims of the suspension trial regarding the risk of the driver losing his foot. Indeed, the final prototype suffered horrendous design traits and was outclassed in the time of 1943-1945. However, it must be remembered that the design was early war in nature; the suspension system was a pre-existing design and even the original Vanguard design was pre-1942. In this respect, the original design was actually very favourable and was an improvement on the infantry tanks that came before it, such as Valentine and A.11 Matilda, with innovative armour angling and an improved armament. Additionally, the original specification for a Meteorite engine would have made the vehicle far more reliable in terms of mobility. It is only after the vehicle is evaluated after the design alterations that it becomes more difficult to find praise. The additions made by Belper and R&H were responsible for increasing the weight of the vehicle, which had negative effects on the suspension system and overall mobility, as well as failing to implement the improved engine of the Mk.II. The wishbone system had proved itself as notable of further development from its performance on lighter SPG trials, the problem was its use on a vehicle that was 19 tons heavier than on these trials.
After the trials had seen the prototype be rejected, it was decided that it would be retained by the School of Tank Technology for educational purposes. While at the school, students were often invited to point out as many flaws as they could with the design; even as a failure, the design seems to have served some purpose in this regard. During the 1950’s, the vehicle was withdrawn by the Ministry of Supply and added to the collection books of the RAC Tank Museum in Bovington. Whilst here, it spent time indoors, as well as outside in the car park, before finally being kept inside the World War Two hall, where it can be observed today, alongside other British design oddities.
The A38 Valiant as it sits today in the Bovington Tank Museum. Photo: Author’s own.
1941 – Sketches Only
Kahn’s Obstacle Ball or Rolling Fortress tank, a giant concrete ball-shaped tank, comes from the unlikely source of Mandatory Palestine. Mandatory Palestine is, perhaps, not the first place which comes to mind when considering military inventions, but what it did have was a large number of immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants from Europe, settling there. Seeing his home country of Poland overrun and under occupation, Mr. L. Kahn, a Polish-born engineer living in Palestine in June 1941, decided to send his inventions into the Ministry of Works in Mandatory Palestine for potential use in the war. No doubt he could see in the newsreels or read in the papers the ravages of this new World War and decided to turn his skills to the creation of weapons. His letter, written in June 1941, did not go very far though; his ideas were mostly poorly conceived or impractical and lay forgotten for decades. Of his ideas, it is perhaps his ‘tank’ which by virtue of its novelty is most worthy of remembrance.
Kahn, an engineer working for Technotrade Engineering and Technical Supply, Herzl Street, Tel Aviv, sent his suggestions in on the 16th June 1941 along with sketches and some explanation of the ideas.
Kahn’s is not the only ‘ball tank’. In fact, there were far earlier designs, such as the “Tumbleweed tank”, designed by the Texan inventor A.J. Richardson in 1936. There was also a mysterious German attempt known as the ‘Kugelpanzer’.
Plans for Kahn’s Rolling Fortress and method of towing. The area lined-off in the bottom right includes sketches of his anti-torpedo related ideas. Photo: National Archives of Israel
This design by Kahn was in an unorthodox shape for a vehicle, a sphere. Whilst there were other ideas for ‘ball-tanks’ being developed elsewhere at the same time, perhaps none of them were on this scale, which combined the ideas of the ‘ball’ with the size of the ‘big-wheel’ landships. Whereas a big wheel was needed to reduce the high ground pressure of a small wheel, in this case, a giant sphere was needed to reduce the ground pressure of a small sphere. Being big would have other advantages too for an obstacle ball.
This vehicle was to be enormous, 20 to 50 feet (6.1m to 15.2m) in diameter with walls 20 to 50 inches (0.5m to 1.3m) thick made from iron-reinforced cast concrete.
The ball was to be cast and then pressurized with high-pressure steam of 100 lb per sq. in. (6.9 x 105 Pascals) and impregnated with carbon dioxide for several hours to help cure the mix of cement, stone chippings, and sand. There was no rebar added within the mix but it was bound with circular irons to provide support for the concrete body.
Kahn is not clear in his letter as to how he expected a hollow sphere to be cast, so the assumption is that it would instead be cast in two halves and then bolted together across one of these boundary ‘irons’. On the smallest end of the scale, this design is a 6.1m diameter ball with walls just 0.5 m thick which would use approximately 49.4 m3 of concrete weighing about 123 tonnes just for the armor. On the upper end, however, the maths shows what a poor idea it really was, as with a diameter of 15.2 m and walls 1.3 m thick, this would mean over 726 cubic meters of concrete and would weigh not less than 1,800 tonnes.
The reason for the pressurization and carbon dioxide infused concrete is that, according to Kahn, this would increase not just the curing time (the time taken for the concrete to set and harden), but also significantly increase the strength by a factor of 5 to 8 times. Kahn elaborated that using this method his ‘light’ wall scheme just 20” (0.5m) thick provided the equivalent strength of a wall 6 feet (1.8m) thick. As Kahn claimed that this 6’ thick armour would be able to resist the shock from even the largest of enemy guns and howitzers, it is unclear as to why a scheme with walls 1.3m thick would ever need to have been considered.
Inside the Ball
Within the ball, things became more interesting. Behind these very thick concrete armour walls was an internal ‘car’ which, attached along an axis by hollow steel pins to the shell, rotated independently of the shell. Thus, as the ball moved, the internal car rotated inside it staying level regardless of the position of the ball.
There was not, however, a double rotation axis, meaning that this stability was not duplicated when the ball obstacle was to move along a sidegrade. There was to be sufficient space (69m3 min. to 1499m3 max.) within the ball for crew, weaponry, and stores.
Towing the Ball
To move these balls around, Kahn did not foresee an internal engine, but instead, two different methods of towing. One was to use a bespoke carriage trailer which was towed behind a standard truck and attached to the ball by the same axial rotation points. Even at 14.4 tonnes though, this ball would likely have done considerable damage to any prepared road surface and would tax the towing ability of a truck uphill as well as being dangerous on any downwards slope although Kahn did consider the need to brake the axial shaft on this carriage for presumably this exact reason. For the larger idea, no truck was capable of moving such an enormous ball and 15.2m was wider than most roads anyway.
On top of this, Kahn foresaw these balls being attached together to form trains behind a truck with between 3 and 5 hooked together meaning a weight being towed between 369 tonnes and somewhat ambitious 9,000 tonnes.
Illustration of the 23 tonne and 1,800 tonne Obstacle Ball or ‘Rolling Fortress’. Modeled by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon campaign.
As a defensive fortress, the idea of these giant balls perhaps had some merit to them. They could be anchored together and would be impassable to vehicles, hard to bridge over due to their shape, and hard to destroy. One advantage and clever feature of the design was the low-grade materials used. Apart from pressurizing the concrete, the castings were at least simple enough along with the irons that it could be manufactured locally in theatre rather than in a factory which would have saved time, money and engineering to focus of other things as well as remove the problems of strategic transport. It was not the only vehicle during the war to use concrete as armour. The Bison mobile pillboxes (truck-based pillboxes) were a similar idea and even some tanks used concrete too, but the scale of the concrete used as well as the shape of the vehicle is what sets it apart.
Multiple balls would be connected together through a simple double-ended bolt passed through the hollow axles, and then with nuts tightened up on the inside drawing the balls together. These balls would then be anchored together firmly whilst still able to rotate and move along a common axis, although Kahn made no mention of moving the balls whilst connected, simply drawing a train of three balls fastened together. After connection as a fortress, these balls could then be armed, therefore not just forming a physical barrier, but a fighting fortress line too, or at least, that was Mr. Kahn’s idea. Smaller balls would be fitted with machine-guns or mortars and the larger ones would be able to take cannons or even a flamethrower with the fuel tank held under the fighting platform in the bottom of the ball, although the actual positioning of the loopholes to fire from was poorly considered. The field of fire from each ball was very tightly constrained by an inability to traverse, meaning no matter how well armed a single ball was, it would be surrounded and overwhelmed. They had to, therefore, rely on flanking supporting fire, and although he foresaw these could be ‘quickly deployed to the front’, did not consider the problem for the unarmoured trucks moving these under fire. Later in his letter, Kahn describes the ‘anti-tank flamethrower’ as firing not through a loophole in the ball, but actually fixed to the axial shaft of the ball and projecting from two nozzles, with one in each direction coming from this mounting point.
Also within the area under the fighting platform was to be a tank of water for cooling the machine-guns, indicating perhaps his thoughts of Vickers water-cooled machine-guns or Maxim guns as the primary armament.
For crew access, there were to be two doors also made from concrete and the same thickness as the walls. They were set at opposite ends at the front and rear, meaning whichever angle the ball was at, one door would face down to allow the crew to escape. The other door would obviously be too heavy to open above the crew compartment and this also meant that there was a good chance that the escape door would face in the direction of enemy fire.
Kahn was very thorough in one regard with his idea. He seems to have understood that simply towing these balls together was not possible, or at least was unfavorable, due to enemy fire against the unprotected towing vehicles, and consequently, his unpowered towed concrete ball gained an engine. Kahn did not use the term ‘tank’ to describe this adaption though, instead, he used the term ‘self-moving fortress’.
For movement, it was to use a ‘petrol motor… installed inside with both ends driving a geared cadran or V grooved cadran, with single disengaging drive”.
It is hard to envisage how in the relatively small space provided such a motor would power such a heavy ball across even hard ground, let alone on soft ground, and despite this being, in effect, a ball-shaped tank, it was supposed to drive two internally mounted, circumferential and parallel toothed gear wheels with the motor fixed to a stationary platform so as to drive the gear wheel. Kahn does, later in his letter to the Ministry, describe that the engine could also be a diesel unit. To steer the ball, the drive from the engine was switched from either driving both toothed wheels or to one, which would impart an uneven force on one side of the ball steering it in the opposite direction. Vision was provided by a periscope sticking out of each end of the axle.
The whole idea of this ball-shaped tank was poorly conceived, albeit well-intentioned. The idea was, perhaps, unsurprisingly rejected as impractical by the Mandatory’s authorities on behalf of the British Ministry of Supply.
It is worth noting that Kahn’s other suggestions for weapons to the Mandatory’s authorities also met the same level of success as this ‘ball fortress’. Examples of these were electrified shells and electrical landmines to electrocute tanks; an electrified wire carpet to entangle and electrify tanks; concrete escort boats to protect convoys from enemy torpedoes; the fitting of propellers to the sides of ships spinning at 5,000 to 10,000 rpm to break up torpedoes before they hit; These all fell on deaf ears as ideas, as did his idea for a sound-induced death ray for destroying enemy submarines; an infrared morse code apparatus; a tethered shell for shooting down planes; and a tailless fighter aircraft. The Ministry of Supply evaluated all of these ideas as well and all were considered to add nothing new to knowledge and therefore rejected.
Sphere 20 to 50 feet (6.1m to 15.2m) in diameter
Total weight, battle ready
123 tonnes to 1,800 tonnes
Iron-reinforced cast concrete, 20 to 50 inches (0.5m to 1.3m) thick
Petrol or Diesel
Variously water-cooled machine-guns, mortars, cannon, or flamethrower
Links & Resources
Government of Palestine Archive File C/273/41 1941
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