Sunday, 13 March 2016

Valentine Mods in the USSR

The Infantry Tank Mk.III, or Valentine, was the most produced British tank of WWII. However, the British themselves actively used Valentines from 1941 to the first half of 1943. The Soviet Union, who received almost half of these tanks, used them much more actively. Known as "Valentin" or MK-3/MK-III, these tanks debuted in the Battle for Moscow in the fall of 1941 and survived until the end of the war in some units. The Valentine was one of a few foreign tanks that saw a large scale conversion effort.

Swap the Gun

In the summer of 1941, when the issue of shipping tanks to the USSR was first explored, the Soviet side scrupulously studied them. Cruiser tanks were rejected outright. Among light tanks, only 20 Tetrarchs were ordered. Mainly, the Valentine and Matilda were chosen. The slow speed was compensated by thick armour for their class and a diesel engine, which was an especially important feature for the Soviet purchasing commission. It is worth mentioning that these sales had nothing to do with the Lend-Lease program. The tank were not rented, but paid for in full, partially with gold.

The first Valentine tanks arrived in the USSR on October 11th, 1941. During their use, many defects were discovered. According to "memorandum on the issue of English Mk-III* tanks" dated November 20th, 1941, track pins broke very easily. Trials showed that the track pins broke due to excessive tightening of the tracks performed by British instructors. In the winter, it was discovered that the tracks had to be equipped with spurs, as the tracks were packed full of compressed snow and ice and lost traction. There were many instances of the tires slipping off the wheels. The tank was poorly protected from incendiary fluid, as there were openings in the turret roof and gun mantlet. The protection of the engine compartment was similarly poor.

The main problem was with armament. British tank doctrine excluded HE-fragmentation shells from the ammo racks of vehicles using 2-pdr guns. According to tank theorists, machineguns were enough to fight off infantry. The gun was meant for fighting tanks. There were also no APHE shells; the gun fired solid AP shot. This fact caused confusion among the Soviets. According to intelligence information, the shells existed, and even a sketch was provided. In reality, no such shells existed. The Valentine also had 50 mm grenade launchers which were only equipped with smoke rounds, even though the British had a 50 mm infantry mortar with HE-fragmentation rounds.

"40 mm APHE-T shell. We did not receive these. The shell's mass is 1038 g."
The shells that, according to intelligence reports, the British had, but did not send.

The ammunition nomenclature was far from the only problem. Tanks that came with the first convoys weren't fully equipped. Bren machineguns and Thompson submachineguns were missing. There were several cases of tanks arriving with no guns. In addition, there were no spare barrels, and only 5-6 loads of ammunition per tank, which was very little. The situation was very grim: as soon as the tank's barrel was damaged or ammunition consumed, it became a tankette.

GABTU considered the installation of the Soviet 45 mm gun as the best option. This work was assigned to Major-General V.G. Grabin's factory #92 in November of 1941. P.F. Muravyev was put in charge of the project. A Valentine II with registration number 27526 was selected for conversion.

A Valentine II with a 45 mm gun, December 1941.

According to the report, only the main gun and BESA machinegun were removed, replaced with the Soviet 45 mm gun and DT machinegun, solving the ammo shortage for both weapons. The 50 mm grenade launchers remained. Factory #92 designed new armour for the front of the turret and gun mantlet, far better than the British originals. The shorter brass catcher and other conversions allowed increasing space inside the turret, which the Valentine didn't have an excess of. The tank's ammunition capacity also grew from 59 2-pdr shells to 91 45 mm shells. The gun was indexed F-95.

The freed up main gun would be sent to repair bases and the machinegun would be given to infantry. The greatest benefit was the use of a domestic gun and sights, removing the dependence on foreign delivery. The sorely lacking HE shell was also introduced into the tank's repertoire.

The same tank, front view. Unlike the stock mantlet, this design could not be jammed by enemy shells.

Trials showed that the re-armed Valentine was no harder to load than the stock variant. The gunner's working conditions also did not suffer. A trial run over a 20 km track did not reveal any defects in the gun or sight. After successful factory trials, the tank was sent to Moscow and presented to members of the government.

45 mm F-95 gun and coaxial DT machinegun.

A proposal to build a batch of these guns was raised even before the trials were completed. However, the very successful program was suddenly shut down by GABTU. One of the reasons for this unpredictable end can be found in a report by GABTU chief, Lieutenant-General Fedorenko, to L.P. Beriya on January 9th, 1942.

"Chief Designer of factory #92, Major-General of the Technical Forces comrade Grabin, installed domestic armament into two English tanks, the Matilda and Valentine.

In the Valentine, our 45 mm gun and the DT machinegun are used instead of the English 40 mm gun and 7.92 mm machinegun. Experimental prototypes were tested at factory #92 in Gorkiy and then sent to Moscow.

Based on personal observations and trials of the materials, I conclude that the re-armament of English tanks should not proceed for the following reasons:

1. Valentine tank. The 45 mm gun has almost identical penetration compared to the 40 mm gun, and it is reasonable to leave the armament in place, saving our guns for domestic vehicles.
..."

In reality, there were several reasons for why the re-armament process was stopped. One of them is cooperation from the British side, which quickly reacted to GABTU's complaints. The archives preserved correspondence between representatives of GABTU and the British military mission in the USSR, headed by General Frank Noel Mason-MacFarlane (referred to as Macfarlan in the letters) in 1941-1942. This correspondence had results. Starting in December of 1941, tanks shipped to the USSR were filled with antifreeze, which drastically reduced the amount of defective engines. Lubricant suitable for use in winter was also introduced. Changes were made to the batteries and oils for recoil mechanisms. Starting in December, the amount of ammunition shipped with each tank increased to 520 rounds.

Another important reason was that there was no one free to re-arm the tanks, and there was nothing to re-arm them with. In the winter of 1941-1942, tank guns were in deficit and repair bases were overloaded with existing work.

New front turret plate.

This doesn't end the story of modified Valentines. Increasing the amount of ammunition that was shipped with the tanks didn't solve the issue of HE shells. In 1942, there was an attempt to combine the propellant and casing with a 40 mm Bofors AA gun shell. Trials were carried out, but the idea didn't reach production.

At about the same time, halfway around the world, the Australians were solving the same problem. They had greater success and mass production began in January of 1943, which were used in Matildas and Valentines until the end of the war. The British only got around to making HE shells for the 2-pounder in 1944.

Light Tanks with Heavy Armour

If the re-armament of the tank was mostly an experimental affair, then the improvement of protection was widespread. The only surviving tank in Russia, displayed at Patriot Park, is one of such vehicles. Additional 30 mm plates are welded to the front of the hull and splash protection plates are placed around the turret.

There is a theory that this is no more than an experiment, but that is not so. For instance, the tank saw combat. It arrived in the USSR on December 12th, 1941, and was included in the 171st Independent Tank Battalion fighting on the Kalinin Front on December 16th. The extra armour and front of the turret have marks from bullet impacts. It's doubtful that the Kubinka proving grounds, where the tank arrived in 1945, would perform such trials. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, a photo exists with several of these tanks with identical front armour and a ring around the turret, dated 1943.

Valentine II with additional armour, registration number T.27543, Patriot Park.

Official GABTU correspondence doesn't have a single line about applique armour. Work on improving the Valentine's protection was done unofficially, most likely within a single unit. The improved armour was directly connected with the introduction of long 75 mm guns in both towed (Pak 40) and mounted (KwK 40/StuK 40) variants in the spring of 1942. For this gun, 60 mm was not much of a challenge, and the Valentine lost one of its main advantages. An extra 30 mm of armour drastically improved the chances of nonpenetration if the shell struck the front of the tank.


Tanks with the same armour as the Valentine II in Kubinka. The photo is labelled as being taken on the Western Front in 1942, but judging by the tankers' shoulderboards, it was taken no earlier than 1943.

As the extra armour was improvised, there was no systematic approach. Each unit performed their upgrade individually. Usually, the applique armour was added to the front plates, and the thickness could vary based on available armour. The ring around the turret, like on the Patriot Park tank, was a rare occurrence. Both early and later models were equipped with additional armour. With this addition, Valentine Mk.IX tanks armed with a 6-pounder (57 mm) gun approached the KV tank in terms of armament and armour. The mass of the armour was relatively small and did not impact the characteristics of the tank.

Valentine with additional armour in Vilnius, 1944. There is no splash guard around the turret ring. Judging by the impact mark, the tank benefited from this extra armour at least once.

The only place where any information about this phenomenon exists is the GABTU Department of Inventions archive. On November 10th, 1942, a letter arrived from technical assistant to the commmander of the 167th Tank Brigade, Engineer-Major A.G. Aranovich. The gist of his proposal can be inferred from the title: "Applique armour for the MK-3"

"Combat experience from the tank brigade on the South-Western, Stalingrad, and Don Fronts shows that the MK-3 needs applique armour in the following places:
  1. The upper front plate can be penetrated by a 75 mm gun from all distances due to its vertical placement and is too thin. The extra armour should be installed on a slope (see blueprint).
  2. The lower front plate must also be reinforced, with the extra armour being placed on an angle (see blueprint).
  3. The weakest place is the turret ring, where the armour is weakened by connections with the side plates and the rotation mechanism. Evacuated tanks from the battlefield show that enemy gunners aim for this point first in order to jam the turret, and always penetrates due to the tank's weakness. It is necessary to protect the turret ring with armour plates and rubber liner so that the trajectory of the shell changes on impact and penetrations are prevented."
Aleksandr Grigoryevich knew what he was talking about. He personally recovered three Valentines and one T-70 from the battlefield. The vehicles were repaired within a day and were sent into battle. For this act, Engineer-Major Aranovich was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

"Sketch of the front part of the Mk-III. Armour thickness: 45 mm"
Applique armour for the front of the Valentine tank, developed by Engineer-Major Aranovich.

This method was the thickest and best designed among all proposed. not only was the resulting armour 105 mm thick, but it was placed at an angle, increasing the effectiveness. The protection of the turret ring is also a well thought out idea. However, GABTU declined the idea, making the brief excuse that it is not desirable to increase the tank's mass.

"Sketch of the Mk-III turret (the turret ring is protected).
Protection of the turret ring from being jammed by shells.

This could be the end, since the materials ended up in the Department of Inventions archive, but in his accompanying memo, Engineer-Major Aranovich says that his unit managed to install this armour on three tanks, perhaps the three tanks that he personally pulled from the battlefield. The memo says that the vehicles went into battle multiple times, and the extra armour was indeed effective.

In the summer of 1943, Engineer-Major Aranovich distinguished himself at Ponyri. For skilled actions during evacuation and repairs of tanks, he received the Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class. He finished the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Spurs for the Valentine

Although less so than the Matilda, the Valentine still suffered from problems with traction. This problem was most prevalent during the winter, which was confirmed by trials of a Valentine II at Kubinka.

"Trials of the tank in winter conditions showed that the shape of the track links does not provide traction with the ground, as a result of which the performance of the tank is insufficient in winter."

The solution was discovered during the trials. Engineers from the attached research institute developed two types of spurs that were produced and tested. The first type involved welding on 35 mm long grousers. The second type was better designed and allowed removal when necessary. It was held in place by the stock track pin. According to results of the trials, both types of spurs were deemed reliable. Seemingly, both were sent into the army.

Two types of spurs developed in the winter of 1942.

Work on spurs did not end here. In November of 1943, a certain Zakharenkov proposed permanent spurs produced from "angled iron made into a wavy shape" and welded onto the track. Having studied the proposal, the proving grounds concluded that it did not make sense to produce this design. It was difficult to produce in the field and the nature of the spurs made them impossible to remove when driving on good quality roads.

In May of 1943, a group at the proving grounds research institute consisting of Technician-Lieutenant A.S. Lobakov, Engineer-Major A.M. Zenin and Engineer-Captain I.A. Kondrashev designed an improved type of removable spurs. The biggest change was in the shape of the grouser, which made driving on snow easier. Trials showed that this design radically improved performance on snow.

Improved spurs for the Valentine.

According to the instructions developed by the proving grounds research institute, each track had 8 spurs (with 12-13 track links between them). These spurs were produced in repair workshops. For the development of a well designed and simple spur, Marshall Fedorenko declared his gratitude and awarded 1000 roubles to each member of the group. A patent was filed on March 5th, 1944.

For Production

In conclusion, let me tell you about another vehicle that was far from unique. Sadly, aside from mentions in text, no information is available.

In the summer of 1944, repair factory #12 in Baku, mostly tasked with repairs of British and American vehicles, was moved to Saratov. In addition to foreign tanks, 12 (later 10) T-26 tanks and one BA-10 armoured car were present at the factory in the summer of 1944. Two T-26es were converted to tractors to be used at the factory.

This report is the first mention of a Valentine tractor.

Another item interests us. This report of vehicles present in August of 1944 lists a tractor on the MK-III chassis. The report states that it was used by the factory. There were no mentions of any more such conversions at factory #12, but factory #82 (Moscow) mentions the construction of two tractors on the chassis of British tanks in April of 1945. 11 more vehicles were made in June and 14 in July. According to the reports, there were enough tanks to make 5 more tractors. There is also information on conversion of Valentines into tractors after the war. Abroad, the conversions of Valentine tanks into turretless training vehicles or even mobile water tanks were rather common.


1 comment:

  1. A really interesting read, thank you for taking the time to translate it! Valentine is a charming little tank, too bad it is rather underwhelming in World of Tanks.

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