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Cruiser tank

Cruiser tank

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The cruiser tank was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

 concept of the inter-war period. This concept was the driving force behind several tank designs which saw action during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

In British use, the cruiser formed part of a doctrine paired with the "infantry tank
Infantry tank
The infantry tank was a concept developed by the British and French in the years leading up to World War II. Infantry tanks were tanks designed to support the infantry in the attack. To achieve this they were generally heavily armoured compared to the cruiser tanks, to allow them to operate in...

".

Background


Like the ships of the same name
Cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

, cruiser tanks were intended to be fast and mobile, and operate independently of the slow-moving infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 and their heavier infantry tank
Infantry tank
The infantry tank was a concept developed by the British and French in the years leading up to World War II. Infantry tanks were tanks designed to support the infantry in the attack. To achieve this they were generally heavily armoured compared to the cruiser tanks, to allow them to operate in...

s.

Once gaps had been punched in the enemy front by the infantry tanks, the cruisers were intended to penetrate to the rear, attacking lines of supply and communication in accordance with the theories of J.F.C. Fuller
J.F.C. Fuller
Major-General John Frederick Charles Fuller, CB, CBE, DSO was a British Army officer, military historian and strategist, notable as an early theorist of modern armoured warfare, including categorising principles of warfare...

, P.C.S. Hobart
Percy Hobart
Major-General Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart KBE CB DSO MC , also known as "Hobo", was a British military engineer, noted for his command of the 79th Armoured Division during World War II...

, and B.H. Liddell-Hart. The cruiser tank was designed to be used in way similar to cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 in its heyday and thus speed was a critical factor, and to achieve this the early cruiser designs were lightly armoured and armed.

This emphasis on speed unbalanced the British designs; insufficient attention was paid to armour protection. At the time it was not well understood that lightly armoured vehicles would not survive on the battlefield. An even bigger problem for most cruiser tanks was the small calibre of their main gun. Most cruisers were armed with the QF two-pounder
Ordnance QF 2 pounder
The Ordnance QF 2-pounder was a British anti-tank and vehicle-mounted gun, employed in the Second World War. It was actively used in the Battle of France, and during the North Africa campaign...

 (40 mm) gun. This gun had adequate armour penetration, but was never issued high explosive ammunition. This made the cruisers vulnerable to towed Anti-tank guns. However, as fighting enemy tanks was part of the projected role of the cruiser tanks, they were the first to be upgraded to the heavier 6 pounder
Ordnance QF 6 pounder
The Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-pounder 7 cwt, or just 6 pounder, was a British 57 mm gun, their primary anti-tank gun during the middle of World War II, as well as the main armament for a number of armoured fighting vehicles...

 (57 mm) gun when it became available, and a great deal of effort was put into developing (admittedly unsuccessful, such as with the Cromwell tank) cruiser tanks armed with the powerful 17 pounder QF
Ordnance QF 17 pounder
The Ordnance Quick-Firing 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm gun developed by the United Kingdom during World War II. It was used as an anti-tank gun on its own carriage, as well as equipping a number of British tanks. It was the most effective Allied anti-tank gun of the war...

 (76 mm) gun.
Ironically, given the emphasis on high mobility, most cruisers were plagued by mechanical unreliability, most noticeably the Crusader tank
Crusader tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI or A15 Crusader was one of the primary British cruiser tanks of the early part Second World War and perhaps the most important British tank of the North African Campaign...

 in the North Africa Campaign. This problem was usually caused by insufficient development as most of the early cruiser tank designs were ordered "off the drawing board" and was not fully solved until the debut of the Cromwell tank
Cromwell tank
Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell ,The designation as the eighth Cruiser tank design, its name given for ease of reference and its General Staff specification number respectively and the related Centaur tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second...

 in 1944, with its powerful, reliable Rolls-Royce Meteor
Rolls-Royce Meteor
The Rolls-Royce Meteor was a British tank engine of the Second World War.It was developed from the Rolls-Royce Merlin aero-engine by W. A. Robotham and his chassis design and development division at Belper, as they were not involved in aero-engine work...

 engine.

History


In 1936 the British War Office
War Office
The War Office was a department of the British Government, responsible for the administration of the British Army between the 17th century and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence...

 designated two different kinds of tanks for future development: heavily armoured infantry tank
Infantry tank
The infantry tank was a concept developed by the British and French in the years leading up to World War II. Infantry tanks were tanks designed to support the infantry in the attack. To achieve this they were generally heavily armoured compared to the cruiser tanks, to allow them to operate in...

s to be used in close co-operation with infantry during attacks, and fast mobile cruiser tanks designed to make forays deep into enemy territory.

In 1934 Sir John Carden of Vickers-Armstrong had produced a new medium tank
Medium tank
Medium tank was a classification of tanks; the medium being intermediate in size and weight and armament between heavy tanks and light tanks.The medium tank concept has been eclipsed by the main battle tank.-History:...

, the A9, which was subsequently designated the Cruiser Tank Mark I
Cruiser Mk I
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk I was a British cruiser tank of the interwar period. It was the first cruiser tank: a fast tank designed to bypass the main enemy lines and engage the enemy's lines of communication, along with enemy tanks...

. It incorporated the best features of the earlier Mk III light tank, and was made lighter and was powered by a commercial petrol
Gasoline
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

 engine. A prototype was tested in 1936 and it went into production the following year as an interim design until the introduction of a Christie suspension design. In 1937 and 1938, 125 examples of the A9 were produced. Its combat experience during the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 in 1940 was to reveal several shortcomings, including inadequate armour and a lack of space for the crew, but it nevertheless saw useful service in the Western desert in 1941.

The follow-up to the A9, the A10
Cruiser Mk II
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk II , was developed alongside the A9, and was intended to be a heavier, infantry tank version of that type. In practice it was not deemed suitable for the infantry tank role and was classified as a "heavy cruiser"....

, was also designed by Carden. Designated as a "heavy cruiser" tank, it was put into production in July 1938. It resembled the Cruiser Mk I, but had heavier armour, and was one of the first British tanks with spaced armour
Spaced armour
Armour with two or more plates spaced a distance apart is called spaced armour. When sloped it reduces the penetrating power of bullets and solid shot as after penetrating each plate they tend to tumble, deflect, deform, or disintegrate; when not sloped it increases the protection offered by the...

  and the first to be equipped with the Besa machine gun
Besa machine gun
The Besa Machine Gun was a British version of the Czechoslovak ZB-53 air-cooled, belt-fed machine-gun, which in the Czechoslovak army was marked as the TK vz. 37...

. A total of 175 Mk IIs were produced by September 1940 and saw action in France, North Africa and Greece
Battle of Greece
The Battle of Greece is the common name for the invasion and conquest of Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941. Greece was supported by British Commonwealth forces, while the Germans' Axis allies Italy and Bulgaria played secondary roles...

.

Orders for the Mk I and Mk II Cruisers were restricted, since the British Army had decided to produce a more advanced and faster cruiser tank which would incorporate the Christie suspension
Christie suspension
The Christie suspension is a suspension system developed by American engineer Walter Christie for his tank designs. It allowed considerably longer movement than conventional leaf spring systems then in common use, which allowed his tanks to have considerably greater cross-country speed and a lower...

 designed by American inventor J. Walter Christie
J. Walter Christie
John Walter Christie was an American engineer and inventor. He is best known for developing the Christie suspension system used in a number of World War II-era tank designs, most notably the Soviet BT and T-34 series, and the British Covenanter and Crusader Cruiser tanks, as well as the Comet...

 and have better armour.

In 1936, General Martel
Giffard LeQuesne Martel
General Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC , familiarly known as "Q Martel", was a British Army officer during World War I and World War II....

, a pioneer in tank design who had published works on armoured warfare and pioneered the lightly armoured "tankette
Tankette
A tankette is a tracked combat vehicle resembling a small tank roughly the size of a car, mainly intended for light infantry support or reconnaissance. Colloquially it may also simply mean a "small tank"....

" to enhance infantry mobility, became Assistant Director of Mechanization at the War Office. Later that year Martel witnessed demonstrations of Soviet tank designs including the BT tank, which had been influenced by Christie's work. He urged the adoption of a tank that would use the suspension system and also follow Christie's practice of using a lightweight aircraft engine such as the Liberty Engine
Liberty L-12
The Liberty L-12 was a 27 litre water-cooled 45° V-12 aircraft engine of 400 horsepower designed both for a high power-to-weight ratio and for ease of mass production.-History:...

 or a Napier Lion
Napier Lion
The Napier Lion was a 12-cylinder broad arrow configuration aircraft engine built by Napier & Son starting in 1917, and ending in the 1930s. A number of advanced features made it the most powerful engine of its day, and kept it in production long after contemporary designs had stopped production...

. The government authorized purchase and licencing of a Christie design via the Nuffield Organization.

The tank was very rudimentary and too small for British use, but the suspension was very effective and this became the basis of the Cruiser Mk III
Cruiser Mk III
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk III was a British cruiser tank of the Second World War. It was the first British cruiser tank to use the Christie suspension system which gave higher speeds and better cross-country performance, previous models of cruiser tanks having used triple wheeled bogie...

 (A13). Following testing of two prototypes, the A13 was ordered into production and a total of 65 were manufactured. The Mk III weighed 31400 pounds (14,242.8 kg), had a crew of 4, a 340 hp engine which gave a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48.3 km/h) and was armed with a 2 pounder gun
Ordnance QF 2 pounder
The Ordnance QF 2-pounder was a British anti-tank and vehicle-mounted gun, employed in the Second World War. It was actively used in the Battle of France, and during the North Africa campaign...

 and a machine gun. However, when it was introduced into service in 1937, the Army still lacked a formal tank division.

The Cruiser Mk IV
Cruiser Mk IV
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk IV was a British cruiser tank of the Second World War. It followed directly on from the Tank, Cruiser, Mk III . The first Mk IVs were Mk IIIs with extra armour fitted to the turret...

 (A13 Mk II) was a more heavily armoured version of the Mk III.

World War II




During early World War II, the Crusader
Crusader tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI or A15 Crusader was one of the primary British cruiser tanks of the early part Second World War and perhaps the most important British tank of the North African Campaign...

 was probably the best-known cruiser, it was first used in mid 1941 and thereafter used in large numbers in the Western Desert Campaign
Western Desert Campaign
The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign was heavily influenced by the availability of supplies and transport. The ability of the Allied forces, operating from besieged Malta, to...

.
The contemporary Covenanter
Covenanter tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk V, Covenanter was a British Cruiser tank of the Second World War. It was named for the Covenanters, a Scottish religious faction in the British Isles at the time of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 had reliability issues and was retained in the UK for training use.

The Cavalier
Cavalier tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk VII Cavalier was an unsuccessful design of British cruiser tank during World War II. It suffered from an underpowered engine, and problems because of the rush to design and build it.- Development :...

, Centaur and Cromwell
Cromwell tank
Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell ,The designation as the eighth Cruiser tank design, its name given for ease of reference and its General Staff specification number respectively and the related Centaur tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second...

 came out of the planned successor to the Covenanter and Crusader. Intended to be in production by 1942, the project was delayed and the Crusader was upgunned as an interim measure to the 6 pounder gun. Cavalier was a development of Crusader. Centaur and Cromwell were an alternative design using the same engine as the Cavalier and the new Rolls-Royce Meteor engine respectively.

The Centaur and Cromwell saw action from Normandy onwards. The Comet
Comet tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Comet I was a British cruiser tank that first saw use near the end of World War II. It was designed to provide greater anti-tank capability to Cromwell tank squadrons. It was armed with a 77mm HV, a derivative of the 17 pounder, with the result it was one of the few British...

 was a development of the Cromwell using a modified 17 pounder gun and was fielded in the beginning of 1945. By this point in the war, the firepower and armour protection of the cruisers made them indistinguishable from medium tanks.

In the course of the war, technological improvements enabled heavier tanks to approximate the speed of the cruisers, and the concept became obsolete. The last of their line was the Centurion
Centurion tank
The Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period. It was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades...

. The Centurion was designed to satisfy the "Heavy Cruiser" criteria by combining the mobility of a cruiser tank and armour of an Infantry tank into one chassis. This idea - and the Centurion along with it - then evolved into the "Universal tank" concept, a single design that could "do it all". Ultimately, the Centurion tank transcended its cruiser tank origins and become Britain's first modern main battle tank
Main battle tank
A main battle tank , also known as a battle tank or universal tank, is a tank that fills the heavy direct fire role of many modern armies. They were originally conceived to replace the light, medium, heavy and super-heavy tanks. Development was spurred onwards in the Cold War with the development...

.

The cruiser-tank concept was also employed by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 in the 1930s, as exemplified by the BT tank series .