The Irish were relative latecomers to the idea of tank warfare. Prior to the 1930s, the only experience they had had with armored vehicles was with a single Vickers Mk.D, a derivative of the Vickers Medium Mk.II, and a few types of armored car which included the famous Rolls-Royce model.
In 1934, the Defence Forces of Ireland (IDF, Irish: Fórsaí Cosanta, officially: Óglaigh na hÉireann) became interested in a new Swedish vehicle that was then in development, the Landsverk L-60 Light Tank.
L-60 1 in training. Note the distinctive ‘Glengarry’ hat worn by the Driver. This is the traditional headress of the Cavalry Corps. Photo: Irish National Archives
Probably the most innovative tank in 1934, the L-60 was the first equipped with a torsion-bar suspension system, an invention bought from Ferdinand Porsche. It was quite revolutionary at the time, providing a far smoother and efficient ride than the old leaf springs, and proved more reliable and sturdy than the Christie system. It was largely based on the previous L-10 m/31, and no less than ten versions were drawn before the first prototype was built. It was a light tank, but with larger front drive sprockets, four double road wheels of the same diameter as the idler wheel, and two return rollers.
The hull was entirely welded. The L-60 weighed only 7.9 tonnes, with light armor (15 mm / 0.59 in max). It was propelled by a Bussing-Nag V8 7.9-liter engine developing 150-160 bhp at 2500-2700 rpm.
The most common weapon of the L-60 was the Bofors 37mm M/38 gun, but early versions, including the two ordered by Ireland, were armed with a 20 mm (0.79 in) Madsen QF autocannon. The turret also carried a .303 (7.7 mm) Madsen machine-gun. There was also an option to mount a Madsen MG on the roof.
A board of inquiry established in 1933 found that the L-60 would be most suitable for Ireland’s tank needs. This board included the Director of the Armored Car Corps, Major A. T. Lawlor, and OC (Officer Commanding) of the Cavalry Workshops, Commandant J. V. Lawless. Their choice of the tank was sound, as the L-60 incorporated many features that would become standard in tank design over the following decades. This included a welded construction, angled armor, and the torsion bar suspension.
The L-60s that were destined for the Emerald Isle was built in August 1934. One of the L-60s was demonstrated to an Irish delegation headed by Major Lawlor. The tests, for the most part, were a success and the Irish contingent was pleased. There was one major incident that occurred. While starting the tank, a case of driver error caused a catastrophic fire which engulfed the tank, destroying most of the vehicle. How this actually happened, though, we do not know, and a more extensive description cannot be found. Landsverk were made to pay for the replacement.
Due to a very small budget, the Irish were only able to purchase two of the tanks. The Swedes were happy to oblige but continued to look for countries that might make a large order, including Hungary and Switzerland. The first of Ireland’s tanks arrived in November 1934, at North Wall in Dublin. The second tank would not arrive until the following year, bolstering Ireland’s entire tank force a grand total of 3 vehicles. No further orders would be placed due to those budgetary shortages.
The tanks were to be part of the newly formed Cavalry Corps (Irish: An Cór Marcra) which began service in 1934. The L-60s were assigned to 2nd Cavalry Squadron, based at Cathal Brugha Barracks (Irish: Dún Chathail Bhrugha) in Rathmines, Dublin. The two tanks were known simply in Ireland as the ‘Landsverk Tank’. They were designated L-60 1 and L-60 2, literally meaning “Landsverk Tank, L-60, Number 1/2”.These identifiers were applied on the lower-left of the tank’s upper glacis in stenciled white paint. The L-60s were painted a dull grey and shared the 2nd Armoured Squadron with the Vickers Mk.D.
One of the L-60s follows the Mk.D in cross country training. Photo: Aaron Smith
The slow and cumbersome Mk.D was largely outdated compared to the L-60. Irish crews tested the tanks rigorously at the Glen of Imaal (Irish: Gleann Uí Mháil) in the Wicklow Mountains. 5,948 acres of the Glen had been used by the Irish Military as an artillery and gunnery range since 1900. The crews fell in love with the tank, which was fast and nimble, perfect for Ireland’s countryside as it was small and unobtrusive. The tanks were transported to and from the Glen by means of a small trailer that could be towed behind a truck.
Having just the Mk.D prior to this, it was very hard for Irish troops to train for anti-tank and cooperative tank-infantry operations. The arrival of the L-60s changed this, allowing for more extensive training to take place.
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour since 1922 by Karl Martin
Tiger Lily Publications, Irish Army Orders of Battle 1923-2004, Adrian J. English
Mushroom Model Publications, AFVs in Irish Service Since 1922, Ralph A. Riccio
Ireland’s L-60, seen here in the dull grey paint that they would’ve served in. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet
Training at the Glen of Imaal would be the closest these L-60s got to combat. In 1941, Irish experience with tracked vehicles grew immensely due to a large order of Universal Carriers from the U.K. The carriers would be one of the most plentiful vehicles Ireland’s arsenal, with a total of 226 of the vehicles operated.
The L-60s crossing rough country. Photo: SOURCE
In 1949, the L-60s were joined by four Mk.VI Churchill tanks purchased from the U.K. These were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Squadron and would be Ireland’s first experience with a heavily armored vehicle. The L-60s would remain in service with the Irish army until 1953, when they were stood-down from active duty due to wear and a lack of parts. They were officially declared obsolete in 1968 because stocks of ammunition for the 20mm Madsen had run out.
There were plans to increase the service of the L-60 by introducing a new engine to replace the aging Bussing-Nag. The engine chosen was the Ford V-8. At the time, there were not adequate funds to introduce this upgrade. However, in later years, the Landsverk L-180 Armored Cars in service with the Cavalry received this very upgrade.
L-60 1 and L-60 2 in motion. Photo: Irish National Archives
In 1959, Ireland began to receive a small number of Comet Tanks from the UK, this would be their first delivery of a relatively modern tank which had a good balance of armor, mobility and firepower.
Both of the Irish L-60s still survive. L-60 1 is currently on display at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin. L-60 2 can be found at Curragh Camp Museum, Kildare. The tank at Curragh is still in a running condition and is sometimes displayed on parades.
L-60 1 on display at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin. Photo: Will Kerrs
|Dimensions (L-w-h)||4.80 x 2.07 x 2.05 m (15 x 6.9 x 6.8 ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||9.11 tons|
|Propulsion||Bussing-Nag V8 7.9-liter engine developing 150-160 bhp|
|Top speed||45 km/h (28 mph)|
|Range||270 km (168 mi)|
|Armament||Madsen 20mm autocannon
Madsen cal.303 machine-guns
|Armor||From 5 to 50 mm (0.2-1.97 in)|