British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War)


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The first complete chassis with armour was demonstrated at Souain on 9 December , to the French Army, with the participation of Colonel Estienne. On 12 December, unaware of the Schneider experiments, Estienne presented to the High Command a plan to form an armoured force, equipped with tracked vehicles. It was delivered to the Yukon in Hornsby's tractors were trialled between and on several occasions with the British Army as artillery tractors, but not adopted.

Hornsby sold its patents to Holt Tractor of California. Without a load, the Holt tractor managed a walking pace of 4 miles per hour 6. Towing a load, it could manage 2 miles per hour 3.


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Most importantly, Holt tractors were readily available in quantity. In July , Lt. Ernest Swinton , a British Royal Engineer officer, learned about Holt tractors and their transportation capabilities in rough terrain from a friend who had seen one in Antwerp , but passed the information on to the transport department. Swinton proposed in a letter to Sir Maurice Hankey , Secretary of the British Committee of Imperial Defence , that the Committee build a power-driven, bullet-proof, tracked vehicle that could destroy enemy guns.

The machine would then drag the girder behind until on flat terrain, so that it could reverse over them and set them back in place in front of the vehicle. The machine proved much too cumbersome and was abandoned. When Winston Churchill , First Lord of the Admiralty, learned of the armoured tractor idea, he reignited investigation of the idea of using the Holt tractor.

The Royal Navy and the Landship Committee established on 20 February , [27] at last agreed to sponsor experiments and tests of armoured tractors as a type of "land ship". In March, Churchill ordered the building of 18 experimental landships : 12 using Diplock pedrails an idea promoted by Murray Sueter , and six using large wheels the idea of T. Instead of choosing to use the Holt tractor, the British government chose to involve a British agricultural machinery firm, Foster and Sons , whose managing director and designer was Sir William Tritton.

After all these projects failed by June , ideas of grandiose landships were abandoned, and a decision was taken to make an attempt with US Bullock Creeping Grip caterpillar tracks, by connecting two of them together to obtain an articulated chassis deemed necessary for manoeuvring. Experiments failed in tests made in July Another experiment was conducted with an American Killen-Strait tracked tractor. A wire-cutting mechanism was successfully fitted, but the trench-crossing capability of the vehicle proved insufficient. A Delaunay-Belleville armoured car body was fitted, making the Killen-Strait machine the first armoured tracked vehicle, but the project was abandoned as it turned out to be a blind alley, unable to fulfil all-terrain warfare requirements.

After these experiments, the Committee decided to build a smaller experimental landship, equivalent to one half the articulated version, and using lengthened US-made Bullock Creeping Grip caterpillar tracks. Development continued with new, re-engineered tracks designed by William Tritton , [28] : 29 and the machine, now renamed Little Willie , [28] : 30 was completed in December and tested on 3 December Trench-crossing ability was deemed insufficient however, and Walter Gordon Wilson developed a rhomboidal design, [28] : 30 which became known as "His Majesty's Landship Centipede " and later " Mother ", [28] : 30 the first of the "Big Willie" types of true tanks.

After completion on 29 January very successful trials were made, and an order was placed by the War Office for units to be used on the Western front in France, [25] : [26] : on 12 February , [7] : and a second order for 50 additional units was placed in April France started studying caterpillar continuous tracks from January , and actual tests started in May , [7] : — two months earlier than the Little Willie experiments.

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At the Souain experiment , France tested an armoured tracked tank prototype, the same month Little Willie was completed. The name "tank" was introduced in December, as a security measure and has been adopted in many languages. William Tritton, stated that when the prototypes were under construction from August, they were deliberately falsely described in order to conceal their true purpose.

In conversation the workers referred to them as "water tanks" or, simply, "tanks. The name "tank" was used in official documents and common parlance from then on, and the Landships Committee was renamed the Tank Supply Committee. This is sometimes confused with the labelling of the first production tanks ordered in February, with a caption in Russian. It translated as "With Care to Petrograd," probably again inspired by the workers at Foster's, some of whom believed the machines to be snowploughs meant for Russia, and was introduced from May 15, The Committee was happy to perpetuate this misconception since it might also mislead the Germans.

The naval background of the tank's development also explains such nautical tank terms as hatch, hull, bow, and ports. The great secrecy surrounding tank development, coupled with the scepticism of infantry commanders, often meant that infantry at first had little training to cooperate with tanks. Vasily Mendeleev, an engineer in a shipyard, worked privately on a design of a super-heavy tank from to The design envisioned many innovations that became standard features of a modern battle tank — protection of the vehicle was well-thought out, the gun included automatic loading mechanism, pneumatic suspension allowed adjusting of clearance, some critical systems were duplicated, transportation by railroad was possible by a locomotive or with adapter wheels.

However, the cost was almost as much as a submarine and it was never built. Two small wheels either side were provided for steering but while the vehicles could cross ground well its steering was ineffectual. In post-revolution Russia, the Vezdekhod was portrayed in propaganda as the first tank. The Tsar Tank , also known as the Lebedenko tank after its designer — was a tricycle design vehicle on 9 m high front wheels.

World War II Tanks Found in Iraq

It was expected that such large wheels would be able to cross any obstacle but because of a flawed design most of the weight was forced through the smaller rear wheel, which became stuck when tested in The designers were prepared to fit larger engines but the project — and the vehicle — was abandoned. A prototype was built in early for trials, with production of the vehicles beginning in October of the same year. They were used on about six occasions from March Only twenty were produced.

The first offensive using tanks took place on 15 September , during the Battle of the Somme. Forty-nine of the Mark I type were committed, of which 32 were mechanically fit to take part in the advance and achieved some small, local successes. Not until 20 November , at Cambrai , did the British Tank Corps get the conditions it needed for success. Over tanks penetrated almost six miles on a 7-mile wide front. However, success was not complete because the infantry failed to exploit and secure the tanks' gains, and almost all the territory gained was recaptured by the Germans. The British scored a far more significant victory the following year, on 8 August , with tanks in the Battle of Amiens.

Parallel to the British development, France designed its own tanks. Both types saw action on numerous occasions but suffered consistently high losses. In the Renault FT light tank was the first tank in history with a "modern" configuration: a revolving turret on top and an engine compartment at the rear; it would be the most numerous tank of the war. A last development was the superheavy Char 2C , the largest tank ever to see service, be it some years after the armistice.

The German response to the Cambrai assault was to develop its own armoured program. Soon the massive A7V appeared. The A7V was a clumsy monster, weighing 30 tons and with a crew of eighteen. By the end of the war, only twenty had been built. Although other tanks were on the drawing board, material shortages limited the German tank corps to these A7Vs and about 36 captured Mark IVs. The A7V would be involved in the first tank vs. Numerous mechanical failures and the inability of the British and French to mount any sustained drives in the early tank actions cast doubt on their usefulness—and by , tanks were extremely vulnerable unless accompanied by infantry and ground-attack aircraft, both of which worked to locate and suppress anti-tank defences.

But Gen. John J. George Patton. Patton became interested in tanks. They were then unwieldy, unreliable, and unproved instruments of warfare, and there was much doubt whether they had any function and value at all on the battlefield. He was the first officer so assigned. The first American-produced heavy tank was the Armed with two 6-pounder cannons and five rifle-caliber machine guns, it was operated by an man crew, and had a maximum speed of 6.

Because of production difficulties, only test vehicles were completed before the War ended. The American-built 6. It had a maximum speed of 5. Again, because of production delays, none were completed in time to see action. It was powered by two Ford Model T , 4-cylinder engines, armed with a. It was considered unsatisfactory as a fighting vehicle but to have possible value in other battlefield roles.

An order was placed for 15,, but only 15 were completed, and none saw service in the War. American tank units first entered combat on 12 September against the Saint-Mihiel salient with the First Army. Patton, under whom they had trained at the tank center in Bourg, France, and were equipped with the Renault FT, supplied by France. Although mud, lack of fuel, and mechanical failure caused many tanks to stall in the German trenches, the attack succeeded and much valuable experience was gained. By the armistice of 11 November , the AEF was critically short of tanks, as no American-made ones were completed in time for use in combat.

The Germans had been too late in recognizing their value to consider them in their own plans. Even if their already hard-pressed industry could have produced them in quantity, fuel was in very short supply. Of the total of 90 tanks fielded by the Germans during , 75 had been captured from the Allies. The U. Nonetheless, their work was sufficiently impressive to imbue at least a few military leaders with the idea that the use of tanks in mass was the most likely principal role of armour in the future. Highlights of U.

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Army appraisal for the development and use of tanks, developed from combat experience, were: 1 the need for a tank with more power, fewer mechanical failures, heavier armour, longer operating range, and better ventilation; 2 the need for combined training of tanks with other combat arms, especially the infantry; 3 the need for improved means of communication and of methods for determining and maintaining directions; and 4 the need for an improved supply system, especially for petrol and ammunition.

At the war's end, the main role of the tank was considered to be that of close support for the infantry. Although the tank of World War I was slow, clumsy, unwieldy, difficult to control, and mechanically unreliable, its value as a combat weapon had been clearly proven. But, despite the lessons of World War I, the combat arms were most reluctant to accept a separate and independent role for armor and continued to struggle among themselves over the proper use of tanks.

At the outset, thought of the tank as an auxiliary to and a part of the infantry was the predominant opinion, although a few leaders contended that an independent tank arm should be retained. In addition to the light and heavy categories of American-produced tanks of World War I, a third classification, the medium, began receiving attention in The meaning of the terms light, medium, and heavy tanks changed between the wars.

During World War I and immediately thereafter, the light tank was considered to be up to 10 tons, the medium produced by the British was roughly between 10 and 25 tons, and the heavy was over 25 tons. For World War II, increased weights resulted in the light tank being over 20 tons, the medium over 30, and the heavy, developed toward the end of the war, over 60 tons. During the period between the world wars, the weights of the classifications varied generally within these extremes.

The Act's stipulation that "hereafter all tank units shall form a part of the Infantry" left little doubt as to the tank role for the immediate future. George Patton had argued for an independent Tank Corps. But if, in the interest of economy, the tanks had to go under one of the traditional arms, he preferred the cavalry, for Patton intuitively understood that tanks operating with cavalry would stress mobility, while tanks tied to the infantry would emphasize firepower.

Tanks in peacetime, he feared, as he said, "would be very much like coast artillery with a lot of machinery which never works. At a time when most soldiers regarded the tank as a specialized infantry-support weapon for crossing trenches, a significant number of officers in the Royal Tank Corps had gone on to envision much broader roles for mechanized organizations.

In May , Col. Fuller , the acknowledged father of tank doctrine, had used the example of German infiltration tactics to refine what he called " Plan ". This was an elaborate concept for a large-scale armoured offensive in The Royal Tank Corps had to make do with the same basic tanks from until British armoured theorists did not always agree with each other. Liddell Hart , a noted publicist of armoured warfare, wanted a true combined arms force with a major role for mechanized infantry. Fuller, Broad, and other officers were more interested in a pure-tank role.

The Experimental Mechanized Force formed by the British to investigate and develop techniques was a mobile force with its own self-propelled guns, supporting infantry and engineers in motor vehicles and armoured cars. Both advocates and opponents of mechanization often used the term "tank" loosely to mean not only an armored, tracked, turreted, gun-carrying fighting vehicle, but also any form of armored vehicle or mechanized unit.

Such usage made it difficult for contemporaries or historians to determine whether a particular speaker was discussing pure tank forces, mechanized combined arms forces, or mechanization of infantry forces. British armoured vehicles tended to maximize either mobility or protection. Both the cavalry and the Royal Tank Corps wanted fast, lightly armoured, mobile vehicles for reconnaissance and raiding—the light and medium or "cruiser" tanks. In practice the "light tanks" were often small armoured personnel carriers. On the other hand, the "army tank battalions" performing the traditional infantry-support role required extremely heavy armoured protection.

As a consequence of these two doctrinal roles, firepower was neglected [ citation needed ] in tank design. Among the German proponents of mechanization, General Heinz Guderian was probably the most influential. Guderian's service with radiotelegraphs in support of cavalry units led him to insist on a radio in every armoured vehicle. By , when many British students of armour were tending towards a pure armour formation, Guderian had become convinced that it was useless to develop just tanks, or even to mechanize parts of the traditional arms.

What was needed was an entirely new mechanized formation of all arms that would maximize the effects of the tank. The German tanks were not up to the standards of Guderian's concept. The Panzer I was really a machine-gun-armed tankette, derived from the British Carden-Loyd personnel carrier. The Panzer II did have a mm cannon, but little armour protection. These two vehicles made up the bulk of panzer units until In the twenties France was the only country in the world with a large armour force.

French doctrine viewed combined arms as a process by which all other weapons systems assisted the infantry in its forward progress. Tanks were considered to be "a sort of armoured infantry", by law subordinated to the infantry branch. This at least had the advantage that armour was not restricted purely to tanks; the French army would be among the most mechanised. Tanks proper were however first of all seen as specialised breakthrough systems, to be concentrated for an offensive: light tanks had to limit their speed to that of the foot soldier; heavy tanks were intended to form a forward "shock front" to dislodge defensive lines.

The doctrine was much preoccupied with the strength of the defender: artillery and air bombardments had to destroy machine guns and anti-tank guns. The envelopment phase was neglected. The Army placed urgent orders for the new tank designs, but there was not enough time or industrial capacity to turn them into reality. Work had to be given to a wider group of commercial companies with no prior experience of tank building, resulting in slow production and quality control issues.

The newly established Royal Armoured Corps had only infantry tanks and cruisers available in September They lacked spares and equipment, and very few crews had been trained to fight with them. The campaign in France in quickly revealed how ill-equipped Britain's tank force was. The cruisers and light tanks lacked the armour to withstand German anti-tank guns.

The tougher Matildas were more effective, and caused brief alarm to the Germans during the Anglo-French counterattack at Arras. But such actions only delayed the inevitable and all British tanks in France were either destroyed or abandoned in the retreat. Brigadier Vyvyan Pope, tank adviser to the commander of the British Expeditionary Force Lord Gort, reported back on the consequences of poor tactics and equipment.

Tank factories of the Second World War, 1940-1945

Piecemeal attacks against concentrated German forces were bound to fail. Reliability was a major concern, with many tanks breaking down on long road marches. Most vital of all was the need for better protection and hitting power: 'We must have thicker armour on our fighting tanks and every tank must carry a cannon. The 2-pdr is good enough now, but only just. We must mount something better and put it behind 40 to 80mm of armour'. A fundamental problem was that the width of British tanks had to keep within the limits of the standard railway gauge for transportation.

And unlike those of Germany and other nations, British designs kept the fighting compartment slung between the tracks and suspension to give the tank a lower overall profile. This constrained the diameter of the turret ring, which in turn affected the size of the turret and gun that could be fitted. Weight was an issue too, and tanks had to be light enough to be shipped overseas and use standard military bridges.

All of this meant that there was no way of easily upgrading existing tanks, or improving those still on the drawing board. Another wider factor was the complex and bureaucratic organisation behind tank design and production. The old Tank Design Department of the War Office, set up in , had never had much say over the designs offered by Vickers. Its task had been to issue specifications and suggest improvements to the final products, a situation which continued as Britain re-armed and other firms were brought into tank production. In August the new Ministry of Supply took over responsibility for the supply of weapons to the army.

Its key objective was to galvanise production, especially the supply of tanks, but it meant even less collaboration between producers and end users. A new Directorate of Tank Design was established, but once again, it was to act as consultant and had only limited influence over the what the manufacturers came up with. In an attempt to co-ordinate tank development and production, a new committee — the 'Tank Board' — was set up in On it were representatives from the Ministry of Supply, the War Office and the manufacturers. At first it served only to advise and report, and there were frequent changes of chairmen, members and terms of reference.

Only slowly was it given more executive powers over design and procurement.


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  • Not until the end of was tank policy properly synchronised between the War Office, Ministry of Supply and the manufacturers. Tank supply continued to be affected by the artificial division between infantry tanks and cruisers, and the imposition of changing War Office requirements.

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    In December , in anticipation of re-fighting the First World War, the General Staff had demanded that two-thirds of production be given over to infantry tanks. A year later, after experiences in France, priority was given to the development of cruiser tanks. Light tank production had been quickly terminated and the divisional reconnaissance role taken over by armoured cars. Cruisers would equip the armoured divisions or independent armoured brigades for mobile operations, while infantry tanks were grouped in separate tank brigades for infantry support.

    This basic division remained in place for the rest of the war. Whatever the Army's operational requirements, production took precedence over design in the early years of the war. A massive increase in production was needed to make good the losses suffered in France and to provide for Britain's defence.

    One unfortunate consequence was that development of a more powerful tank gun was also delayed. Design of the new 6-pdr was already complete, but production of the 2-pdr could not be interrupted. The 6-pdr would not be fitted into a British tank until May It entered service in but was so unreliable it had to be relegated to training duties. This focus on quantity over quality was the main reason the next two cruiser tanks, which entered service in , were built in such large numbers despite very obvious flaws. The A13 Covenanter was a low-profile, 'heavy cruiser' derivative of the original A Ordered off the drawing board in April , it was nothing less than a spectacular failure.

    The tank was plagued by engine cooling problems that were never resolved and it had to be relegated to training duties. The A15 Crusader was another development of the A Rushed into production without adequate development trials or quality control, it quickly gained a reputation for unreliability. A total of 5, were built. Initial success against the Italians was encouraging. The cruisers did well at first too, racing across the desert in pursuit of fleeing Italians. But in later battles against the Germans they were decimated while making suicidal attacks against anti-tank gun screens without infantry support.

    The British tanks were unable to respond to this threat effectively because the 2-pdr couldn't fire a powerful enough high-explosive HE round. Trying to fire accurately on the move, in accordance with British doctrine, also proved impossible. German tanks wisely preferred to fire while stationary.

    However, its turret was too small to mount the 6-pdr gun, and it was retired from service in The standard German tanks of the time were not significantly better, but had more effective optics and crew layouts. They could also be more easily up-gunned to keep them effective. The Crusader's failure in particular led to Britain requesting supplies of American tanks, of which the M3 Grant and later the M4 Sherman were the most effective. Both were equipped with a dual purpose 75mm gun, which significantly increased hitting power against German tanks, and also gave British crews the chance to knock out dug-in anti-tank guns and other 'soft' targets.

    Despite the General Staff's preference for cruisers, production of infantry tanks continued in the early years of the war, and two major new designs came into service. The Valentine was a private venture by Vickers and ordered into production as war loomed. The Valentine was used both as an infantry tank and cruiser, and unusually for a British tank, was very reliable.

    It was built in greater numbers than any other British design, with many of these being shipped to the Soviet Union. The most famous infantry tank of the war was the A22 Churchill, which stemmed from a specification for a large First World War-type tank suitable for another bout of trench warfare. In the design was refined by Vauxhall Motors and ordered into production as urgently as possible. But the Churchill suffered reliability problems at first and needed a major programme of modifications before it was ready for action.

    Improved versions went on to perform valuable service in the second half of the war. It also formed the basis of a range of specialised armoured vehicles. By the later stages of the North African campaign the infantry tank concept had fallen from favour. Mobility was now prioritised over protection. However, the need to keep production running at full tilt meant that Matildas, Valentines and Churchills were churned out in large numbers, at the cost of other more promising tanks then in development.

    The Churchill — due for retirement in — gained a reprieve after proving its ability to cope with the hilly terrain of Tunisia. Its thick armour also gave it an advantage and it soldiered on for the rest of the war. Meanwhile, the search for a more effective cruiser tank continued. After the Battle of France, the War Office had issued a specification for a new tank with thicker armour and a turret big enough to take the 6-pdr gun.

    Most of these advanced tanks were created during World War II. What is a Tank? A tank is a vehicle, such as a car, that is protected with thick armor. It has a large gun and is mobile, so that it can be used in front-line battles. The crew is protected by the armor, and there are two large tracks that move the vehicle instead of wheels. The tracks help the vehicle to move to where it is needed and it rough terrains such as mountains. The soldiers are in the large vehicle and fire from openings that are called gun tanks.

    When tanks were first invented they were big, bulky, and moved slowly.

    British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War) British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War)
    British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War) British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War)
    British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War) British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War)
    British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War) British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War)
    British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War) British Tanks: The Second World War (Images of War)

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