The M2 Light Tank was brought into life in 1935, at the Rock Island Arsenal as an infantry support tank. At first, the M2 was equipped with two machinegun turrets installed in parallel. After analysis of the Spanish Civil War experience, the tank received one large turret with a cannon instead. The modification with a 37 mm gun was indexed M2A4.
The M2's armour was up to 25 mm thick and was equipped with a 7-cylinder gasoline engine. Over the production run, the design of the suspension, transmission, and cooling system improved. Mass production ran between 1940 and 1942, and 375 vehicles were produced.
Despite the fact that the M2 was used exclusively as a training vehicle at the time, the British government ordered 100 units. Only 36 were delivered, since production lines were already converted to the M3 Stuart.
By the Spring of 1942, all British M2s were lost in Burma.
The Stuart, or Light Tank, M3, was delivered to Britain and other allies of the United States. The armour of the Stuart was up to 2 inches or 51 mm thick and was comparable with the armour of British cruiser tanks. In Britain, the M3A1 with a gasoline engine received the index Stuart III, while the same tank with a diesel motor was indexed Stuart IV. These tanks were armed with a 37 mm M5 gun, which was superior to the British 2-pdr, and five (later three) 7.62 mm machineguns.
The mobile Stuarts, with speeds up to 58 kph, were used by Britain and the Commonwealth as reconnaissance tanks. British crews in Stuarts were often the first to enter battle.
In the desert of North Africa in the fall of 1941 (Operation Crusader), Stuarts carried white stripes for easy identifications. By the end of the war, Stuarts without turrets were used as ammunition carriers in Europe.
In June of 1940, a commission arrived in the United States, whose goal was to organize production of vehicles for the British armed forces. One of the vehicles that was of interest to the British was the M3 Lee.
A portion of purchased tanks was modernized to meet British requirements. They received new turrets, without cupolas or machineguns. As a result, the height of the tank decreased. This modification was indexed Grant I.
The Grants first went into battle in May of 1942, at Gazala, in Africa. Despite the German-Italian victory, the appearance of the Grant was a nasty surprise. The Grant surpassed all British tanks that Rommel had to deal with so far. Its armour was no worse than that of best German tanks at the time, and armament was even better. The Grant made up the main British striking force all the way until the battle at El Alamein, at which point it was largely swapped out for the Sherman.
Remaining Grants were converted to M7 Priest SPGs, engineering vehicles, and spotlight carriers. In this capacity, they served until the end of the war. A small amount of Grants was sent to Burma, where they fought until the end of the war due to the weakness of Japanese anti-tank measures.
The Sherman III was a modification of the famous American M4A2 Sherman tank. The tank was equipped with a pair of six cylinder diesel engines, with the combined power of 375 hp. The Sherman III was often called simply "Sherman, diesel" for simplicity. The crew was composed of 5 men. The hull was welded. Externally, the tank could be identified by engine service hatches, rear deck shape, and exhaust system.
The main armament of the Sherman III was the 75 mm M3 gun. The standard ammunition loadout contained HE, AP, and smoke shells with white phosphorous. The Sherman was also armed with 7.62 and 12.7 mm machineguns.
By the end of the African campaign, a cast transmission cover and a vertical volute spring suspension were introduced. Vision slits were also replaced with periscopes.
After Tigers, Panthers and modernized PzIVs appeared on the battlefield, the British found themselves in need of a weapon that could defeat these well protected targets. The answer was a powerful gun installed on a Valentine chassis, called Archer.
Since the QF-17 gun had a very long barrel, an attempt to install it in the traditional way made the vehicle very large, and overloaded the front road wheels. The gun was placed backwards in an open casemate. This meant that the tank had to drive into battle backwards, and maneuvering on the battlefield was difficult.
Due to the crampedness of the fighting compartment, the breech recoiled right over the driver's head. He had to leave the vehicle before shooting started, which did not let the SPG change positions quickly after firing. However, the powerful gun that could take on any German tank from nearly any range made up for this drawback.
800 vehicles were ordered, and between 655 and 665 were built before the end of the war. Archers first entered battle in October of 1944, and were widely used on the Western Front and in Italy.
Read more about the Archer here.
The Sherman Firefly owes its creation to two British officers: George Brighty and George Witheridge. The first came up with the idea of using the British 17-pounder gun in the Sherman, and the second put in the effort to bring the hybrid to life.
The idea of the Sherman's modernization was bold: a medium tank with a powerful anti-tank gun. The problem with space was solved by removing one crew member. He was replaced with additional ammunition.
These Shermans proved themselves when fighting in Normandy in 1944. Here is where they go the nickname Firefly, due to the flash caused by firing the gun.
The upgraded gun allowed these tanks to fight enemy heavy tanks. Even the recognizable silhouette of the Firefly was enough to cause alarm. The Germans hunted the Fireflies relentlessly, leading to the British camouflaging their tanks, including fake barrels for regular Shermans.
Aside from British and Canadian armies, Libya and Pakistan used these tanks until 1974.
The Achilles tank destroyer was based on the M10. The major difference between the two vehicles was that the Achilles used the 17-pounder, a much more dangerous weapon. The British gun surpassed the American gun in penetration by 50%.
Due to typical wartimes supply problems, there were only 124 Achilles among Allied forces that landed in Normandy in 1944. By the end of the year, there were 816 of them. In total, about 1100 vehicles were converted to use this gun, making it the second most popular vehicle with the 17-pounder (after the Sherman Firefly).
The British envisioned the Achilles as a highly mobile anti-tank gun, which compensated for some drawbacks of the design. While tractors with towed guns slowly came up the rear, Achilles could already be in position, ready to meet a Tiger or Panther counterattack.
The most successful battle in the history of the Achilles was during Operation Charnwood, where B company of the 245th Battery of the 62nd Anti-Tank Regiment. The company knocked out 13 German tanks, losing only 4 of their own.
During WWII, Britain found themselves in need of an effective tank destroyer. In 1942, as a part of the A30 project, the development of the Challenger cruiser tank and the Avenger open topped tank destroyer began.
In order to achieve its combat mission, the vehicle needed the most powerful gun available at the time, the 76 mm 17 pdr Ordnance QF. It was installed in a turret based on the TOG II design. The hull was borrowed from the Cromwell, with minimal changes. The vehicle received a new Rolls Royce Meteor engine, allowing it to accelerate to 52 kph. After trials, it was found that the suspension needs work. The chassis was lengthened like in the A34 Comet, and the tracks were widened.
Mass production of these new vehicles started in 1944. The main role of the Avenger was support of attacking tanks. By 1946, 200 Challengers and about 250 Avengers were built.
After the end of WWII, the British discovered that their tanks are inadequate against Soviet armoured vehicles. Great hope was laid upon the Centurion, but its production was just beginning. An intermediate model was needed, simple in production and with sufficient firepower.
The FV4101 Charioteer was this kind of vehicle. It consisted of the Cromwell tank armed with a new turret and a 20-pounder (84 mm) gun. Due to the gun's large size and weight, the turret could only fit two crewmen (the commander was also the loader), and its armour fairly thin. According to various sources, 200 to 442 Cromwells were converted.
Charioteers were used by the British until 1956, when production of more modern vehicles ramped up, at which point they were sold abroad.
In March of 1978, during Operation Litani, Lebanese Charioteers fought against the Israeli forces. After that, they were periodically used be various factions fighting in Lebanon and Palestine. The last documented use in combat was as recently as 1993.
WWII ended, giving way to the Cold War. The creation of the IS-3 by the Soviet Union required a response by Western nations. This is how the FV (Fighting Vehicle) 4004 Conway SPG came to be.
The intention was to combine the mobility of the Centurion A41 medium tank and the firepower of a 120 mm gun. The size of the gun required the use of a large turret, twice as tall as the existing one. The SPG was significantly taller, but the armour was on the same level as the Centurion.
Compared to its base tank, the Conway was not only taller, but heavier (over 50 tons). The 120 mm gun would have allowed it to destroy vehicles of the potential enemy from a great distance. At the same time, the Centurion's mobility was negated. The SPG could not reach a speed of 35 kph even on a highway.
This drawback, combined with the difficulty of producing 120 mm guns, was the end of the program. Trials of a prototype were held for a few months in 1951, and then the project was cancelled.
FV4005 Stage 2
The FV4005 project was developed during the Cold War as a means of destroying heavily armoured enemy vehicles.
As with the Conway, the tank was based on the Centurion chassis. The vehicle had a powerful 183 mm gun, which could destroy any tank produced in the 1950s. There was not a turret as such. At first, the prototype had the gun, its mount, and a loading mechanism on a rotating platform. The protection of this SPG was not significant.
A turret with thin armour was made. It was placed in the middle of the hull, holding the ammunition and a part of the crew. The rear had a rectangular hatch. The engine was in the rear, same as on the Centurion.
The new tank destroyer was superior to the Conway in terms of firepower, turret size, and weight, which reached 60 tons. It's not surprising that the Rolls Royce Meteor engine provided a maximum speed of only 29 kph. The tank destroyer's range was approximately 250 miles.
Original article available here.