Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Ironsides, Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle Museums and Monuments


Major Hal Skaarup has woven together an informative and detailed synopsis of the carefully preserved and restored armoured fighting vehicles on display in Canada. He highlights the importance of these upon key turning points in history when these AFVs were in use as tools of war at home and overseas. We often associate the evolution of military prowess with the advancement of sophisticated technology. Major Skaarup's descriptions of Canadian armour as it evolved to the level it has today reveals that military planners have had to be continuously creative in adapting to the changes in modern combat. They had to devise many intricate techniques, tactics and procedures to overcome the insurgents and opposition forces faced in Afghanistan and future overseas missions where Canadian armour will be brought into play. This guide book will show the interested reader where to find examples of the historical armour preserved in Canada, and perhaps serve as a window on how Canada's military contribution to safety and security in the world has evolved.

Lieutenant-General Steven S. Bowes

You may order the book "Ironsides" on line at these websites:

Data current to 20 Aug 2018.


Armoured Fighting Vehicles played a constant role throughout my 40 years of service with the Canadian Forces.  My father served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for many years, retiring as a Warrant Officer in 1974.  As a dependent member of his family, we lived at a number of bases and stations including overseas in Germany and at home in Canada during his service.  As both a dependent back then, and in my service as an Army Intelligence Officer, I have had the chance to see NATO firepower when its list of combat ready AFVs numbered in the thousands.  Today, to have hundreds of Canadian combat vehicles available at any given time would be unusual.

I served as an Army Intelligence Officer (G2) in Germany with HQ Canadian Forces Europe from 1981 to 1983, and with 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, 1st Canadian Division Forward from 1989 to 1992.  During this time, the brigade’s Intelligence Section was provided with a large number of various Soviet-made AFVs and equipment used to familiarize our soldiers with foreign weapons while training on various NATO bases such as Hohenfels, Grafenwohr and Munster.

Author with Russian T-62 Tank, Hohelfels, Germany, 1989.

The equipment we handled included T-55 and T-62 tanks, a T-80 tank mock-up and BRDM-2, BTR-60, BRT-152, BMP-1 and BMP-2 AFVs.  On exercises we (Blue Force) fought against mock enemy (Red Force) forces (sometimes called “Fantasians”) from other nations, and would often observe our Leopard C1 tanks engaging American M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley IFVs, German Leopard tanks and Marder IFVs and British Challenger Tanks, Chieftain Tanks and FV432 APCs.  We moved every night and hid by day in our M577 Command Post Vehicles in duplicate sets of HQ vehicles leapfrogging each other from hide to hide and laager to laager.  We often covered hundreds of kilometres as the exercise unfolded while ranging from the south-eastern area of Germany near Regensburg on up to the Rhine and Mosel Rivers near Koblenz and beyond.

Major Radley-Walters receives the Military Cross from General Bernard Law Montgomery in Ghent, Belgium, October 1944.

During a battlefield tour of Normandy with the Canadian Land Forces Command and Staff College in May 1989, our course had the privilege of being escorted and briefed by Brigadier-General (Retired) S.D. Radley-Walters, CMM, DSO, MC, CD.  Listening to him describe the battles he took part in while standing on the ground in bare farmer's fields where the action took place was a fascinating experience.  The stories have been told that "General Rad" had been shot out of four tanks and two armoured cars during his earlier visit to Normandy. We stayed in Caen, and by day were driven by bus to St Aubin-sur-Mer and the Normandy beaches with a group of Canadian and German veterans. Our group hosted Colonel (Retired) Helmut Ritgen of the Panzer Lehr Division, and his perspective of the actions that took place on the ground we were standing on was sobering to say the least. There are always two sides to a battlefield story, and it is rare to speak with people who were actually there when things recorded later took place. Suffice it to say, there is a lot that isn't in the history books from the participants perspective.  We visited Bernières-sur-Mer and Courseulles-sur-Mer, both invasion beach landing sites, as well as Creully, Putot-en-Bessin, Buron, and Villons les Buissons.  (We were also provided with a French Army box lunch, which included a bottle of red wine). 

The Canadian and German vets described their experiences at Marcelet, Carpiquet, Caen and a number of other battlefield sites, with lectures and briefings on site at Hill 112, St André, Troteval Farm, Bourgebus, “Tilly” and the area covered during “Operation Totalize.”  The tour ended with a visit to one of the Canadian cemeteries some of which had a large number of unknown Canadian soldiers.  Our visit ended with a Hercules flight from Carpiquet Airport, the site of a major battle involving Canadians early after the D-Day landings.  If you have not had the opportunity to do so, please visit these sites for yourself.  It is a moving experience to walk the battlefield grounds of Normandy where our soldiers fought – and where many are buried - for what we have today.

Throughout our training at home and abroad and during preparations for operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan, we had to become familiar with how effective our own equipment was and what we were likely come up against in engagements with opposition forces.  Seeing the damage that could be and often was inflicted by the wide variety of AFV weapons we had to confront brought home the very real need to ensure our troops were well-trained and familiar with equipment recognition, both friend and foe.  As such, we taught courses that trained men and women in how to recognize the difference in armoured vehicle glacis plates, bore evacuator placement, road wheel spacing, camouflage patterns, and signature weapons and equipment for vehicle and unit recognition.

It would seem that the value of AFVs is such that once the vehicles have served their use; many have been disposed of as range targets or sold as surplus.  A few have been set aside for display in Museums, outdoors as gate guards or as memorials. There are, for example, at least 82 Sherman tanks in various versions on display in Canada.  Even fewer captured enemy vehicles have been kept for display, although Canadians have a good number of German, Italian and former Warsaw Pact AFVs preserved.

This handbook is one attempt to identify historical AFV survivors in Canada and to list them in a catalogue format that will enable the serious researcher and AFV enthusiasts to find them.  The list includes AFVs in Canada that have been or are currently being salvaged and preserved, particularly where they are of significant historical interest.

There are unfortunate numbers of Canadian-related military firepower and combat equipment that saw service on the battlefields of Europe where no examples exist.  A good number brought back to Canada, including captured war prizes, were destroyed on the ranges (a German Panzer V Panther tank at CFB Petawawa, for example) or sold to support a Museum that had it (a German StuG III Assault Gun formerly on display at CFB Shilo, for example).  Many others have been lost to scrap yards burned up in fires (at least ten captured AFVs at CFB Borden in 1951, for exampel), or sold to people in other countries.  On the up side, there is a wonderful collection of historic AFV survivors in Canada that can still be found and viewed in Museum collections, and many are on display as gate guards, monuments and memorials.

The purpose of this handbook is to provide a simple checklist of where the surviving AFVs in Canada are now, and to provide a photograph of each of the major types mentioned for recognition purposes.  This list is also appended with a brief summary of the AFVs presently on display within each province by location, and a bit of the vehicle’s history in the Canadian military.  Due to space limitations, the details contained in this handbook are limited to a selection of only those AFVs that can be found in or have a connection with Canada. 

If you are interested in other books on military equipment like this one, they are available through online bookstores (including the Warplane Survivor series).  It is my sincere hope that the list of Canada’s preserved historically significant armoured fighting vehicles will continue to grow as more of them are recovered and restored.  Grant that you find this handbook useful. 

Harold A. Skaarup

Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel for 3 Intelligence Company (Halifax)

Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicles, History and Technical Data

Current to 14 Nov 2016


To outline the history of Canada’s AFVs, one has to look at the Canadian Army and its training and operations from the beginning of its transition from horsepower to its modern use of armour in battle.  The history of the tank began in First World War, when armoured all-terrain fighting vehicles were first deployed as a response to the problems of trench warfare, ushering in a new era of mechanized warfare.  Though initially crude and unreliable, tanks eventually became a mainstay of ground armies.  By Second World War, tank design had advanced significantly, and tanks were used in quantity in all land theatres of the war.  The Cold War saw the rise of modern tank doctrine and the rise of the general-purpose main battle tank.  The tank still provides the backbone to land combat operations in the 21st century, as demonstrated by the Canadian Forces serving in Afghanistan.

The advent of First World War generated new demands for strongly armoured self-propelled weapons which could navigate any kind of terrain, leading to the development of the tank.  The great weakness of the tank’s predecessor, the armoured car, was that it required smooth terrain to move upon, and new developments were needed for cross-country capability.

The tank was originally designed as a special weapon to solve an unusual tactical situation: the stalemate of the trenches on the Western Front.  “It was a weapon designed for one simple task: crossing the killing zone between trench lines and breaking into enemy defences.”  The armoured tank was intended to be able to survive artillery bombardments and machine-gun fire, and pass through barbed wire in a way infantry units could not hope to, thus allowing the stalemate to be broken.

Few recognized during First World War that the means for returning mobility and shock action to combat was already present in a device destined to revolutionize warfare on the ground and in the air.  This was the internal combustion engine, which had made possible the development of the tank and eventually would lead to the mechanized forces that were to assume the old roles of horse cavalry and to loosen the grip of the machine-gun on the battlefield.  With increased firepower and protection, these mechanized forces would, only some 20 years later, become the armour of Second World War.  When self-propelled artillery, the armoured personnel carrier, the wheeled cargo vehicle, and supporting aviation - all with adequate communications - were combined to constitute the modern armoured division, commanders regained the capability of manoeuvre.[1]


Numerous concepts of armoured all-terrain vehicles had been imagined for a long time.  With the advent of trench warfare in First World War, the Allied French and British developments of the tank were largely parallel and coincided in time.  One of the earliest tank designs was a machine developed and completed in December 1915 in the UK that was nick-named Little Willie.  Its trench-crossing ability was deemed insufficient however, leading to the development of a rhomboidal design, which became known as the Centipede and later Mother, the first of the Big Willie types of true tanks.  After completion on 29 January 1916 very successful trials were made, and an order was placed by the British War Office for 100 units to be used on the Western front in France, on 12 February 1916, and a second order for 50 additional units was placed in April 1916.  Although the French were also testing tank designs, the British were the first to put tanks on the battlefield, at the battle of the Somme in September 1916.

An early model British Mark I "male" tank, named C-15, near Thiepval, 25 September 1916. The tank is probably in reserve for the Battle of Thiepval Ridge which began on 26 September. The tank is fitted with the wire "grenade shield" and steering tail, both features discarded in the next models.(IWM Photo Q 2486, Collection No. 1900-09)

In an effort to keep the real purpose of the early models Secret, when they were being shipped to France, the British labelled them as “tanks” - for use as water tanks by Russia, instead of the official designation of “Landships“.  Also some of the early “special tanks” were built at North British Locomotive Works in Glasgow at its ironically named Tank shops.  Thus originated the name “tank” for the new weapon.  There was a naval element in the background of the tank’s development, which also explains the use of such nautical tank terms as hatch, hull, bow, and ports in its nomenclature.  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 before they engaged in battle.[2]

Canadian commanded British First World War tank being painted with a Maple Leaf war crest before a battle in France, Aug 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395392)

Australians engaged in combat ca 1918 noted, "Canadians advancing on our right were assisted by Tanks".  (Australian War Records Section Photo)

Canadian commanded British First World War tank painted with "Toronto" and a Maple Leaf passing 8th Field Ambulance, Hangard. Battle of Amiens. August, 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395386)

First Tank Battles

British Tank, July 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395261)

British Tank in action, July 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3521956)

Canadian soldiers alonside a British tank, examining a German anti-tank rifle captured during the Battle of Amiens,  August, 1918.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395388)

British tank with 5 CMR troops, Amiens, Aug 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN NBo. 3405525)

The first offensive operation which made use of 31 British Mark I tanks took place on 15 September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, under Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, meeting with limited success.  Not until 20 November 1917, at Cambrai, did the British Tank Corps get the conditions it needed for success.  During this battle, about 400 tanks penetrated almost six miles on a 7-mile front.  This was their first large-scale deployment in combat.  Unfortunately, success was not complete because the infantry failed to exploit and secure the tanks’ gains.  The British scored another victory the following year, on 8 August 1918, with 600 tanks in the Amiens salient.  General Erich Ludendorff referred to that date as the “Black Day” of the German Army.

German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Tank "Hagen".  (German Army Photo)

German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V mounted on a railway flatcar.  (German Army Photo)

The German response to the Cambrai assault was to develop its own armoured program.  Soon the massive A7V Tank appeared.  The A7V was a clumsy monster, weighing 30 tons with a crew of eighteen.  By the end of the war, only fifteen had been built.  Although other tanks were on the drawing board, material shortages limited the German tank corps to these A7Vs and some captured Mark IVs.  The A7V would be involved in the first tank vs. tank battle of the war on 24 April 1918 at Villers-Bretonneux - a battle in which there was no clear winner.

Captured British Mk. V tank in German markings.  (Library of Congress Photo cph.3c36088)

French Schneider CA1 tank, GTR yards, Toronto, Ontario, 2 Nov 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3401750) 

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 1918, tanks were extremely vulnerable unless accompanied by infantry and ground-attack aircraft, both of which worked to locate and suppress anti-tank defences.

Renault tank, Arras, France, Sep 1919.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3522273)

Allied Mark VIII Liberty Tank.  (US Army Photo)

The first American-produced heavy tank was the 43.5-ton Mark VIII, a US-British development of the successful British heavy tank design.  (The Mark VIII would see service in Canada when a few were purchased from the US in Second World War).  Armed with two 6-pounder guns and five .30-calibre machine guns, the Mk VIII was operated by an 11-man crew, had a maximum speed of 6.5 miles per hour, and a range of 50 miles.  The American-built 6.5-ton M1917 light tank (which also was put in service as a tank trainer in Canada early in Second World War), was a copy of the French Renault FT-17.  It had a maximum speed of 5.5 miles per hour and could travel 30 miles on its 30-gallon fuel capacity. The US program was augmented in the summer of 1918 by the development of a 3-ton, 2-man tank, (Ford 3-Ton M1918) originated by the Ford Motor Company.  This third tank to be mass-produced during 1918 was powered by two Ford Model T, 4-cylinder engines, armed with a .30-calibre machine gun, and had a maximum speed of 8 miles per hour.  By the armistice of 11 November 1918, the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) was critically short of tanks, as no American-made ones were completed in time for use in combat.

After the Great War, General Erich von Ludendorff of the German High Command praised the Allied tanks as being a principal factor in Germany’s defeat.  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 1918, 75 had been captured from the Allies.[3]

Canada did not employ its own battle tanks in combat during the Great War, although it did successfully engage the German army using the Canadian Autocar Machinegun Carrier in a motorized machine gun Corps.  A Canadian Tank Corps was created in 1918, with three battalions that were disbanded in 1920.

British tank "Britannia" taking part in the Victory Loan Parade, Toronto, Ontario, on 21 Nov 1917. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3408624 and MIKAN No. 3395405). This tank has been preserved in the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center (Formerly known as the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum) that is currently located at Fort Lee, outside Petersburg, Virginia.

"Britannia" being demonstrated to the US Army at Camp Yaphank, New York on 1 Feb 1918.  (NARA Photo)

 (DZGuymed Photo)

"Britannia", British Mk. IV tank, now with the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, Fort Lee, outside Petersburg, Virginia.

Autocar Machinegun Carrier

Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, France, April 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395367)

The first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) arrived in England on 16 October 1914, equipped with a “motor machine-gun corps” of twenty armoured cars.  This formation - the first in the First World War designed and equipped right from the start as an armoured force - was the outcome of the enterprise shown by Raymond Brutinel.  Brutinel had served in the French Army and became convinced of the value of the machine-gun.  Living in Canada at the outbreak of war in 1914, he persuaded wealthy business contemporaries led by Sir Clifford Sifton to join with him in raising and equipping a brigade of motor machine-guns.  Brutinel purchased a total of 20 Autocars: 8 were made into Machine Gun Carriers, 5 were for Ammo and supply carrying, 4 were for Officer Transport, 1 was a gasoline carrier, 1 was a repair vehicle, and the 20th one was an Ambulance which the Autocar Co. donated.  All were made mechanically identical so parts could be swapped around.

Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, France, April 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395368)

The cars were ordered from the Autocar Company, of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, USA.  They were standard commercial chassis with solid tires armoured with 9.5-mm plate supplied by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.  The armour gave all-round protection but was unusual in that it not only offered no head cover for the driver, but had no vision port in the front plate.  However, the cars were not intended to go into action as fighting vehicles but to act as carriers for the two machine-guns normally provided in each car.  These machine-guns were originally air-cooled, American-made Colt Model 1895 (which the German workers at the Colt Plant tried to stop from being shipped, so they were smuggled out at night).  Later, with the Canadian Corps in France, from 9 August 1916, 0.303 inch Vickers water-cooled machine-guns (on a swivel mount allowing them 360 degree rotation) were used instead.  These guns could also be off-loaded and used on normal ground tripods.

A normal “Ground” Vickers Machine Gun Crew consisted of 6 men: No. 1 was the gunner who also carried the tripod to the setup position, No. 2 was the belt feeder who carried the gun to the setup position, Nos. 3 & 4 were in charge of the ammo boxes, cooling water and spare parts, No. 5 was a scout and runner, No. 6 was a range taker and spare body.  All men in the Crew were trained in all positions and could strip and reassemble the weapon blindfolded.  The cramped size of the Canadian Autocar Machinegun Carriers only allowed 3 men each for the two Vickers plus one driver and one officer who had the option of using a Lewis Machine Gun mounted in front.  Each Car could carry 10,000 rounds.

King George V, when inspecting the 1st Canadian Motor Machine-Gun Brigade at Aldershot in the UK shortly after their arrival from Canada, expressed the opinion that the unit should prove very useful - a view that did not coincide with general military opinion at the time.  The Canadian Autocar Machinegun Carriers were, however, of great value in France, from their arrival in 1915 to the end of the war - perhaps at their best in holding the German offensive of March 1918 - in providing a mobile reserve of fire power.  However, because of the light armour (only to waist height) their crews suffered an exceptionally high casualty rate.  At war’s end only 4 of the 8 gun carriers were still operational and one more repaired after.[4]

Many members of BGen R. Brutinel‘s force came from the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion.  They were included in the establishment of the Canadian Independent Force when it was formed in 1918 as a heavily armed (machine-guns and mortars) mobile force.  Later, General A.W. Currie strengthened his defences against the German offensive with extra machine-gunners from the Cyclists and the Canadian Light Horse.  In August, at Amiens, the Cyclist Battalion covered the right flank of the cavalry.  They formed part of BGen Brutinel‘s Automobile Machine Gun Brigade’s thrust through the Hindenburg Line, and were active in the pursuit of the Germans around Mons.  During the Battle of Amiens, 7 Aug 1918, “Cavalry…was to pass through the Infantry…seize area “Blue Line” supported on its right flank by the Canadian Independent Force, which consisted of two Motor Machine Gun Brigades, two sections of heavy trench mortars which could be fired from trucks and the Canadian Cyclists Corps, all under the direction of BGen Brutinel, CMG, DSO, commanding the Canadian Machine Gun Corps.[5]

On 15 September 1916, seven British tanks attached to Brutinel‘s Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade supported the Canadian attack on Courcellette, France during the battle of the Somme.  British tanks also supported the Canadian Corps during the 8 August 1918 Amiens offensive.[6] 

One detachment of three tanks was tasked to support the 2nd Canadian Division‘s 4th Infantry Brigade.  Another detachment of three was to work with the 6th Brigade, while the seventh tank was held in reserve.  One of the first tanks Brutinel inspected was a male tank, which meant that it was equipped with two 6-pounder Hotchkiss guns, was given the nickname Crème de Menthe.  The second tank, named Cordon Rouge, was a female version with a complement of Vickers machine-guns.  Two more tanks in the section were named Cupid, a male, and Cognac, a female.  During the battle, only one of the tanks, Crème de Menthe, was able to get into the German lines.  A soldier described seeing “a landship named the L.S. Crème de Menthe pass ahead, and go right up to the walls…its guns blazing…and the monster roared into the fort, while we could see the Germans streaming out behind it, offering an excellent target to the riflemen in the shell holes.”[7]

Although the 1st Canadian Tank Battalion was formally created by an Order-in-Council on 19 April 1918, the war ended before it could be employed.  Canada raised three tank battalions that together with a brigade headquarters, supply and workshop companies and a depot, would have comprised the Canadian Tank Brigade.  The 2nd Canadian Tank Battalion was formed in the UK and the 3rd Canadian Tank Battalion was being organized in Canada when the armistice was signed.  Originally, these tank units were designated as part of the Canadian machine Gun Corps, but on 29 Nov 1919, they were assigned to the very short lived Canadian Tank Corps.[8]

A number of Internet websites report the British First World War Whippet Medium Tank Mk A now on display in the main hangar of the CFB Borden Military Museum was called “Judith” by General Worthington after Judith Robinson of the Globe and Mail, who wrote a feature article in 1940 on this tank.  The tank, damaged in combat, had been taken from the battlefields of France and brought to Canada in 1919. 

Judith” was discovered on the Exhibition grounds in Toronto and obtained by General Worthington for the Armoured Fighting Vehicles Training Center from the directors of the CNE.  It was claimed that this was one of the veteran tanks which fought in an action on the Roye Road near the Ypres salient on 7 August 1918, an action in which General Worthington took part with his battery of the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade during which he won the Military Cross.[9]

Major-General Frederic Franklin Worthington, MC, MM, CD (September 17, 1889 – December 8, 1967), nicknamed "Worthy" and "Fighting Frank", is considered the father of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.  and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232846)

In October 1982, CFSAOE Vehicle Company, CFB Borden, provided a Leopard ARV to lift the 14 ton tank onto a lowbed for transporting to the Militia Training Centre AVGP Hangar.  During the next eight months, militiamen employed servicing the AVGPs, volunteered their spare time to gut the Whippet, remove the two engines, replace the floor and control mechanism and finally repaint it for presentation.  A plexiglas door was installed to allow visitors a clear view of the fighting compartment and driver’s station and controls.  On completion, the Leopard ARV once again was called upon to pull the much lighter Whippet into the Museum hangar, where the Whippet took up its last resting spot beside a much younger Centurion.[10]

Whippet Medium Tank Mk A

Whippet Medium Tank Mk A, Tpr Harold J. Skaarup, 8CH, Camp Borden, Ontario, 1941.  (Family Photo)

The Whippet Medium Tank Mk A was a British tank of the First World War.  It was intended to complement the slower British heavy tanks by using its relative mobility and speed in exploiting any break in the enemy lines.  Possibly the most successful British tank of First World War, the Whippet was responsible for more German casualties than any other British tank of the war.  Whippets later took part in several of the British Army’s postwar actions, notably in Ireland and North Russia.[11]

This armoured fighting vehicle was intended for fast mobile assaults. Although the track design appears more “modern” than the British Tanks Mark I to V, it was directly derived from Little Willie, the first tank prototype and was unsprung. The crew compartment was a fixed square turret at the rear of the vehicle, and two engines of the type used in contemporary double-decker buses were in a forward compartment, driving one track each.

When driving in a straight line the two engines were locked; turning the steering wheel gradually closed the throttle for the engine of one track and opened the throttle for the engine driving the other.  The two engines were joined at their cross-shafts, from which the final drive to the tracks was by chains to sprockets on either side.  When steering the clutches joining the cross-shafts were released, one engine sped up while the other slowed down, the turn being on the side opposite to that of the faster running engine.  The steering effect could be increased by use of the brakes on one engine or another.  This arrangement had the advantage over that of earlier tanks of being controlled by one man only, but called for great skill on the part of the driver, because one or both of the engines could be stalled if care was not exercised.  Although in theory a simple solution to give gradual steering, in practice it proved impossible to control the speeds of the engines, causing the vehicle to take an unpredictable path.  Drivers grew wary and stopped the vehicle and locked one track before every turn; this caused many track breaks, as the movement became too abrupt.

The fuel tank was in the front of the hull.  The sides featured large mud chutes which allowed mud falling from the upper treads to slide away from the tank, instead of clogging the suspension.

Armament was four 0.303 in Hotchkiss Mk 1 machine guns, one covering each direction.  As there were only three crewmen, the gunner had to jump around a lot, though often assisted by the commander.  Sometimes a second gunner was carried in the limited space, and often a machine gun was removed to give more room, as the machine guns could be moved from one mounting position to another to cover all sides.

Whippets arrived late in the First World War, at a time when the entire British Army, crippled by the losses in Flanders, was quite inactive.  They first went into action in March 1918, and proved very useful to cover the flight of the infantry divisions recoiling from the German onslaught during the Spring Offensive.  Whippets were then assigned to the normal Tank Battalions as extra “X-companies” as an expedience.  In one incident near Cachy, a single Whippet company of seven tanks wiped out two entire German infantry battalions caught in the open, killing over 400.  That same day, 24 April, one Whippet was destroyed by a German A7V in the world’s second tank battle, the only time a Whippet fought an enemy tank.

 German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Tank.  (German Army Photo)

British losses were so high however that plans to equip five Tank Battalions (Light) with 36 Whippets each had to be abandoned.  In the end only the 3rd Tank Brigade had Whippets, 48 in each of its two battalions (3rd and 6th TB).  Alongside Mark IV and V tanks, they took part in the Amiens offensive (8 August 1918) which was described by the German supreme commander General Ludendorff, as “the Black Day of the German Army”.  The Whippets broke through into the German rear areas causing the loss of the artillery in an entire front sector, a devastating blow from which the Germans were unable to recover.  During this battle, one Whippet “Musical Box” advanced so far it was cut off behind German lines.  For nine hours it roamed at will, destroying an artillery battery, an Observation balloon, the camp of an infantry battalion and a transport column of the German 225 Division, inflicting heavy casualties.

The Germans captured fewer than fifteen Whippets, two of which were in running condition.  They were kept exclusively for tests and training purpose during the war, but one of them saw action afterwards with the Freikorps in the German Revolution.  The Germans gave them the designation Beutepanzer A.

Whippet Medium Tank.  (British Government Photo)

After the war, Whippets were sent to Ireland during the Anglo-Irish War as part of the British forces there, serving with 17th Battalion, Royal Tank Corps.  Seventeen were sent with the Expeditionary Forces in support of the White Russians against the Soviet Union.  The Red Army captured twelve, using them until the 1930s, and fitted at least one vehicle with a French 37-mm Puteaux gun.  A few (perhaps six) were exported to Japan, where they remained in service until around 1930.[12]

Five Whippets survive: A259 Caesar II, Bovington Tank Museum.  This is the tank in which Cecil Harold Sewell won the Victoria Cross.  A347 Firefly, The Royal Museum of the Army, Brussels.  This tank, part of B-Company, is still in its original paint and markings.  It still carries battle damage from when it was hit on 17 August 1918.  United States Army Ordnance Museum, previously at Aberdeen, New Jersey, now at Fort Lee, Virginia (census number unknown).  Army College, Pretoria, South Africa.  This tank was originally dispatched to South Africa to put down labour unrest.  A371 Judith, CFB Borden Military Museum, Ontario.[13]

Between the Wars

At the war’s end, the main role of the tank was considered to be that of close support for the infantry.  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.  Although the tank of First World War 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 First World War, the combat arms were most reluctant to accept a separate and independent role for armour and continued to struggle among themselves over the proper use of tanks.

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 1918, Col. J.F.C. Fuller, the acknowledged father of tank doctrine, had used the example of German infiltration tactics to refine what he called “Plan 1919”.  This was an elaborate concept for a large-scale armoured offensive in 1919.

The Royal Tank Corps had to make do with the same basic tanks from 1922 until 1938.  British armoured theorists did not always agree with each other.  B.H. Liddell Hart, a noted publicist of armour, 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 demonstrated a mobile force with its own self-propelled guns.

Both advocates and opponents of mechanization often used the term “tank” loosely to mean not only an armoured, tracked, turreted, gun-carrying fighting vehicle, but also any form of armoured vehicle or mechanized unit.  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 in tank design.

Among the German proponents of mechanization, General Heinz Guderian was probably the most influential.  Guderian‘s 1914 service with radiotelegraphs in support of cavalry units led him to insist on a radio in every armoured vehicle.  By 1929, 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.[14]

The Canadian Army had learned a great deal about the use of armour in the Great War, but with cost reductions needed, the Canadian Machine Gun Corps was disbanded in 1922.  The Canadian Department of Militia and Defence began to look into the acquisition of armoured vehicles again in 1927, and in 1930 purchased six Carden Loyd Machine Gun Carrier Mk VI from the Vickers Company in the UK, followed by the purchase of six more in 1931.  These tanks were distributed among the three Permanent Force infantry regiments, including two to the R22eR in Quebec City, four to the RCR in London, Ontario, and six to the PPCLI in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  They served as training vehicles taking part in experimental cold weather exercises at Fort Osbourne, Manitoba.  These early tracked vehicles formed the basis of what eventually became the Canadian Armoured Corps, and they were used at the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School at Camp Borden, Ontario.[15]

Canadian Carden Loyd Machine Gun Carrier Mk VIa, Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, Camp Borden, Ontario.  (DND Photo)

Carden Loyd Machine Gun Carrier Mk VI

The Carden Loyd MG Carriers were a series of British pre-Second World War tankettes, the most successful of which was the Mark VI, the only version built in significant numbers.  It became a classic tankette design worldwide, was license-built by several countries and became the basis of several designs produced in several different countries.

Considered a reconnaissance vehicle and a mobile machine gun position, the Mark VI was the final stage of development of Carden Loyd series of tankettes.  (Vickers Armstrong bought out Carden Loyd in 1930, continuing to develop AFVs eventually producing the Universal Carrier, for which the Carden Loyd tankette had been the prototype).

Production started in 1927 and lasted until 1935.  From 1933 to 1935 production was by the Royal Ordnance Factories.  Some 450 were made in all.  The British Army used at least 325 mark VI tankettes (other data: 348) in several variants, mostly as machine gun carriers, but also as light gun tractors, mortar carriers or smoke projector vehicles.  12 Carden Lloyd tankettes were supplied to Canada between 1930 and 1931, remaining in service until 1938.  None are on display in Canada, but the Bovington Tank Museum in the UK has two.[16]

In 1937, Canada purchased the Light Dragon Mk III, another member of the Carden Loyd AFV family, for use as an artillery tractor.  The Light Dragon was similar in appearance to the Universal Carrier, which Canada opted to produce instead.

1935 Armoured Cars

During the 1930s, the USA, UK, and Germany were dabbling with new armoured vehicle designs, the French were determining the direction in which they wanted to move, and only the USSR was ploughing away full steam on developing and building armoured vehicles.  Canada too decided to dip its toe into the waters of modern armoured combat, and the option they chose was the creation of a heavy armoured car.  It must be noted that it was proposed in 1927, but it was 1932 before any action was taken on that proposal.  Mechanization had begun in 1929, and the natural place to turn was to Ford (Canada) and GM (Canada) as they had both the expertise in mechanicals and the production capability to carry this out.

Between 1932 and 1935, both companies proceeded to work on candidate vehicles to meet the proposal for a 6 x 4 heavy armoured car armed with two .303 machine guns, and in 1935 prototype designs emerged.  Based on a 1931 Crossley 6 x 4 Light Armoured Car design, the chassis chosen were the Ford BB 4 x 4 truck chassis and the Chevrolet Maple Leaf 4 x 4, both of which had a 131” wheelbase.  Input was received from the War Office in London as to designs of some components, specifically the turrets, but the rest was of Canadian design.

While the Ford prototype had no problems in conversion to the dual rear axle (similar to the Ford Model AAA truck design, but using a Sussex bogie modified to become what was called the Warford axle bogie) GM (Canada) did not have a bogie unit, and had to purchase one from Leyland to meet the specifications.  Most of the haggling was over price and not technicalities, and the vehicles were delivered to Petawawa, Ontario, for testing in May 1935.

Both were similar, but the Ford design wound up being a 10 wheel design whereas the GM one used six large “balloon” tires.  Both used stub axles with free rolling mounts located between the front wheels and the first bogie axle.  Both underwent two years of mechanical testing before their machine guns showed up in 1937, one mounted in the armoured windscreen in front of the co-driver and one in the rotating UK designed turret.  Both provided valuable information, but were deemed obsolete by 1939.  While kept around for training, once the units they were attached to deployed to the UK for wartime service, they seem to have vanished from Canadian service and appear to have been scrapped after 1941.[17]

1935 Chevrolet Armoured Car.  (DND Photo)

The Ford differed from the Chevrolet in that it had dual wheels on the second and third axles, an eight cylinder gasoline engine, and the armour plating was welded rather than riveted and bolted.  Both armoured cars had a maximum speed of 30 mph and the Ford was able to do 8 mph in reverse.  Plans called for arming the vehicles with the Vickers Mk. VI medium machine gun but these were delayed as the feed mechanisms were on the wrong side, having been originally designed by the British for right hand drive vehicles.  The cars underwent testing at Petawawa, Ontario with the Royal Canadian Dragoons where it was found that both performed satisfactorily.

1935 Ford Armoured Car, Camp Petawawa, Ontario.  (DND Photo)

The ten-wheel Ford performed the best in off-road tests and the six-wheel Chevrolet excelled on roads.  Orders for further cars failed to materialize due to budgetary limitations and the Ford experimental car was shipped to Winnipeg for use by the Lord Strathcona’s Horse.  The Chevrolet remained with the RCD.  Other than the handful of Carden Loyd Machine Gun Carrier Mk VIs obtained in the early 1930s, these two armoured cars were the only armoured vehicle procurements by the Canadian Permanent Force until the acquisition of a number of British Vickers Mk VIb Light Tank in 1938.[18]

Tank Acquisition

A long acquisition process began in which Canadian-built wheeled armoured cars were developed.  The Canadian Militia (as the Army was known until 1940) was slow to mechanize, and the value of horses versus the value of tanks was hotly debated between the wars.  Horsed cavalry units stayed in existence until after the Second World War began in 1939.

 Six infantry regiments were designated (Tank) units in 1936, but remained part of the infantry branch.  Initially, no tanks were available for training.  A Canadian Tank School was established in Camp Borden that year, becoming the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School (CAFVS) in 1938.  As mentioned above, a handful of Carden Loyd Machine Gun Carrier Mk VIs had been purchased in the early 1930s for training, and some British Vickers Mk VIb Light Tanks arrived in Canada in 1938.  Still, no tanks were available for the six Tank regiments, nor at the school - all part-time units of the Non-Permanent Active Militia - to train with.  The first large delivery of modern tanks arrived in the summer of 1939.[19]   The CAFVS became the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle Training Centre (CAFVTC) after the outbreak of war. 

Vickers Mk VIb Light Tank

Vickers Mk VIb Light tank in the Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (JustSomePics Photo)

The Tank, Light, Mk VIb was a British light tank, produced by Vickers-Armstrongs in the late 1930s, which saw service during Second World War.  Canada purchased two in 1937, five in 1938 and seven in 1939 for a total of 14, (plus one British Infantry Tank example).

The Vickers Mk VIb Light Tank was the sixth in the line of light tanks built by Vickers-Armstrongs for the British Army during the interwar period.  The company had achieved a degree of standardization with their previous five models, and the Mark VIb was identical in all but a few respects. The turret, which had been expanded in the Mk V to allow a three-man crew to operate the tank, was further expanded to give room in its rear for a wireless set.  The weight of the tank was increased to 10,800 pounds (4,900 kg), which although heavier than previous models actually improved its handling characteristics, and an 88 horsepower (66 kW) engine was added to the model to increase its maximum speed to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).  It had the Horstmann coil-spring suspension system which was found to be durable and reliable, although the fact that the tank was short in relation to its width and that it pitched violently on rough ground made accurate gunnery whilst moving exceptionally difficult.  The Mk VI possessed a crew of three consisting of a driver, gunner and commander who also doubled as the radio operator, between 4-mm (0.16-inch) and 14-mm (0.55-inch) of armour, which could resist rifle and machine gun bullets, and its armament consisted of one water-cooled .303 inch and one .50 inch Vickers machine gun.

Production of the Mk VIb began in 1936 and ended in 1940 with approximately 1,000 mark VI tanks having been built.  Many of those produced were actually variants designed to solve problems found with the original design.  The Mk VIa had a return roller removed from the top of the leading bogey and attached to the hull sides instead, and also possessed a faceted cupola. The Mk VIb was mechanically identical to the Mk VIa but with a few minor differences to make production simpler, including a one-piece armoured louver over the radiator instead of a two-piece louver, and a plain circular cupola instead of the faceted type.

The Mk VIc, which was the last in the MK VI series, had the commanders cupola removed and had wider bogies and three carburettors to improve engine performance; it was also more powerfully armed than the other models, replacing the .303 and .50 Vickers machine guns with co-axial 15-millimetre (0.59 inch) and 7.92-millimetre (0.312 inch) Besa machine guns.  A small number of specialized variations were also built based on the Mk VI chassis.

The Tank, Light, AA Mk I was built in the aftermath of the Battle of France and was intended to act as a counter-measure against attacks by German aircraft. It featured a power-operated turret fitted with four 7.92-mm Besa machine guns; a Mk II was produced which was mechanically similar but had improvements, such as better quality sights for the machine guns and a larger turret for easier access. A variant on the Mk VIb was produced for service with the British Indian Army, in which the commander’s cupola was removed and replaced with a hatch in the turret roof.

When the Mk VI was first produced in 1936, the Imperial General Staff considered the tank to be superior to any light tank produced by other nations, and well suited to the dual roles of reconnaissance and colonial warfare.  Like many of its predecessors, the Mark VI was used by the British Army to perform imperial policing duties in British India and other colonies in the British Empire, a role for which it and the other Vickers-Armstrongs light tanks were found to be well suited.

When the British government began its rearmament process in 1937, the Mk VI was the only tank with which the War Office was ready to proceed with manufacturing; the development of a medium tank for the Army had hit severe problems after the cancellation of the proposed “Sixteen Tonner” medium tank in 1932 due to the costs involved, and cheaper models only existed as prototypes with a number of mechanical problems.  As a result of this, when the Second World War began in September 1939, the vast majority of the tanks available to the British Army were Mk VIs; there were 1,002 Mk VI Light Tanks, seventy-nine Mk I and Mk II Cruiser Tanks and sixty-seven Mk I Infantry Tanks. Of these tanks, only 196 light tanks and fifty Infantry Tanks were in use by operational units of the Army.

When the Battle of France began in May 1940, the majority of the tanks possessed by the British Expeditionary Force were Mark VI variants; the seven Royal Armoured Corps divisional cavalry regiments, the principal armoured formations of the BEF, were each equipped with twenty-eight Mk IVs.  The 1st Armoured Division, elements of which landed in France in April, was equipped with 257 tanks, of which a large number were Mk VIb and Mk VIcs.  The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, which formed part of the division’s 3rd Armoured Brigade, possessed by this time twenty-one Mark VI light tanks.

The Mk VIb was also in action in North Africa against the Italians late in 1940 with the 3rd Hussars and the 7th Armoured Division.  Late in 1940, the British had 200 light tanks (presumably the Vickers Mk VIb) along with 75 medium tanks (A9, A10, A13) and 45 Matildas.  An attack by the 3rd Hussars on 12 December 1940 resulted in them getting bogged down in salt pans and severely mauled.  The 7th Armoured Division had 100 left on 3 January 1941 and 120 tanks on 21 January at which time they were used in flanking far into the rear and gathering up scattered Italian troops, sometimes joining or leaving the main attacks to the Cruiser and Matilda tanks.  2nd RTR continued to battle the Italians with light tanks as late as 6 February 1941.

Being widely used by the British Army, the tank participated in several other important battles.  The Mk VIb made up a significant amount of the tanks sent over to the Battle of Greece in 1941, mostly with the 4th Hussars.  Ten Mk VIb tanks fought with the 3rd The King’s Own Hussars during the Battle of Crete.  The same armoured unit had previously embarked three MK VIb tanks for the Norwegian Campaign but they were lost in transit to a German aircraft attack.[20]

The Second World War

The Second World War officially began on 1 September 1939, with the German invasion of Poland.  Britain and France declared war on the Nazi Third Reich on 3 September 1939.  Seven days later, on 10 September 1939, the Parliament of Canada likewise declared war on Germany, the country’s first independent declaration of war and the beginning of Canada’s participation in the largest combined national effort in its history.  By the end of the war, one million Canadian citizens had served in military uniform, and Canada possessed the fourth largest air force and third largest surface fleet in the world.   Canada later also declared war on Italy on 10 September 1940, and Japan on 7 December 1941, and other Axis powers.  Wikipedia.

Before its armoured divisions could go into action, considerable training was required.  In order to train, equipment, including tanks, was needed, and at the time there was a severely short supply in Canada.  Procurement officers began to make inquiries into the American tank situation, and a number of sources were found for “used” equipment to fill the gap.

Military Cooperation between Canada and the United States officially began in 1940, when “the Prime Minister and the President met to discuss their mutual problems of defence in relation to the safety of Canada and the United States.  The two leaders agreed to set up a Permanent Joint Board on Defence“ (PJBD).[21]  Following this agreement, the US agreed to sell surplus equipment to Canada for use in continental defence.  This included 236 M1917 Light Tanks and a number of First World War era Mk VIII heavy tanks.  The Canadian Army had purchased the 236 surplus M1917s at scrap value (about $240 each) and the Armoured Corps gained valuable experience and training on them before going to Europe and using more modern equipment.  Wikipedia.

By 8 October 1940, the first vehicles were being issued to units of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade at Camp Borden.  The M1917tanks remained in service until 1943.  One is in the Canadian War Museum and one is on display in the CFB Borden Military Museum.

M1917 Light Tank

M1917 Light tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo) 

On 14 June 1940, General Worthington advised NDHQ of the existence of a number of surplus First World War tanks in the USA.  The Six Ton Tank (or Special Tractor) M1917 was America’s first important mass produced tank.  The M1917 was a license built copy of the French Renault FT 17, and was accepted by the American Army in October 1918.  (They were commonly called “Renaults” in Canadian service).  The US Army ordered approximately 4,440 M1917s between 1918 and 1919, receiving about 950 tanks before cancelling the contract.  No US manufactured tank reached Europe in time to participate in First World War.

Thirty-one M1917 tanks were built during First World War and ten were sent to Europe.  After the war Van Dorn Iron Works created 950 more.  374 had cannons and 526 had machine guns and 50 were signal tanks.  The American version of the M1917A1 was a lengthened, rebuilt updated version compared to the French one with a 100 hp Franklin engine and an electric self-starter rather than a crank starter.  The crew, mainly a driver and gunner, were separated from the engine by a bulkhead.  The M1917 was armed with one 37-mm cannon or one Colt 7.62-mm machine-gun. All steel wheels were fitted as well as a turret, which were found on some French examples.  It had a range of 48 km and a maximum speed of 8kph.  Wikipedia.

Colonel F.F. Worthington inspecting one of the American-built M1917 tanks on arrival at Camp Borden, Oct 1940.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3325256)

US M1917 tanks were purchased by the Canadian government at $20 a ton plus a 100% mark up which means that each tank actually sold for $240.  The 236 tanks were shipped to Camp Borden where for nearly 2 years they proved a useful training vehicle.  They were known to break down often, catch fire, and gave a bone jarring ride due to the lack of a suspension, but the soldiers learned maintenance and endurance.  Since there was no onboard radio, the soldiers learned hand and flag signals and became proficient dealing with poor communications while still maintaining and executing formations.[22]

The M1917s were described by the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s) Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) as “low-slung things with a sort of pillbox cab for the men.”  They had no suspension tracks and consequently the men were given a pretty rough and jarring ride.  There was very little room for two people inside the tank, but the second man was needed as things were “always catching fire and a bucket of water or sand had to be kept handy to put the fire out.”  Although the M1917 could go 10-15 kph, they seldom got very far, due to mechanical breakdown.[23] 

Mark VIII Liberty Tank


Allied Mark VIII Liberty Tank.  (US Army Photo)

The Tank Mark VIII or Liberty was an Anglo-American tank design of the First World War.  Initially intended to be a collaborative effort to equip France, the UK and the US with a single tank design, it did not come to fruition before the end of the war and only a few were produced.  Wikipedia.

A rhomboid shaped Anglo-American Tank, it was also known as the International Tank, the Mark VIII Heavy Tank, and the Liberty Tank.  In the summer of 1917, the United States decided to establish a “Tank Corps” to aid in the Allied efforts.  Planners were immediately drawn to the qualities of the British Mark IV tank.  The problem was that the Mark IV was, at that time, barely beyond the design phase.  The Allies agreed that in order to standardize equipment that a new design was needed.  So began the birth of the Mark VIII tank.[24]

The Mark VIII kept many of the general features of the Mark I-V series: it had their typical high track run and no revolving turret but two sponsons, one on each side of the tank, armed with a 6-pounder (57-mm) gun.  But it also resembled the Mark VI-project in that it had more rounded and wider tracks and a large superstructure on top directly beneath the front of which the driver was seated.  An innovative feature was the departure from the concept of the box tank with its single space into which all accessories were crammed.  The Mark VIII was compartmentalised with a separate engine room at the back.  This vastly improved fighting conditions as a bulkhead protected the crew against the deafening engine noise, noxious fumes and heat.

There were no machine guns in the sponsons, only the 6-pounders each manned by a gunner and loader.  The side machine guns were to the rear of the sponsons mounted in the hull doors.  Under the direction of Major Alden the sponsons were designed to be retractable (they could be swung in at the rear by the crew, being pivoted at the front), to reduce the width of the vehicle if enemy obstacles were encountered.  Five more machine guns were mounted in the superstructure: two at the front - left and right next to the driver - and one on each of the other sides.  As there was no machine gun position covering the back of the tank there was a dead angle vulnerable to infantry attack.  To solve this problem a triangular steel deflector plate was attached.  The rear superstructure machine gunner could use it to deflect his fire down into that area behind the tank.  The tank carried 208 shells and 13,848 machine gun rounds, mostly in a large ammunition locker in the centre which formed a platform on which the commander stood behind the driver observing the battlefield through a cupola with four vision slits.

The twelfth crew member was the mechanic, seated next to the 300 hp V-12 Liberty engine.  Three armoured fuel tanks at the rear held 200 Imperial gallons (909 litres) of fuel giving a range of 89 km.  The transmission used a planetary gearbox giving two speeds in either forward or reverse.  Top speed was 5.25 mph (8 km/h).

To improve its trench crossing ability to 4.88 m the vehicle had a very elongated shape.  The track length was 34 ft 2 in (10.42 m) but even though the hull width was an impressive nominal 3.76 m, the actual length-width ratio of the tracks was very poor as that width included the sponsons.  Combined with wide tracks it proved difficult to turn the tank. During testing many tracks twisted and broke in a turn and it was decided to use longer, stronger 13.25-inch (337-mm) links made of hardened cast armour plate, stiffened by webs formed by recesses in the track plate.

Another effect of the narrow hull was that the fighting compartment was also very narrow.  This was made worse by the fact that now the gap between the double track frames at each side was very wide; earlier types had only the tracks themselves widened. Nevertheless the tank was supposed to accommodate another twenty infantry men in full gear if necessary.  In absolute terms the vehicle was very large: at 3.13 m tall the Mark VIII was the second largest operational tank in history, after the French Char 2C.  However its weight was only 37.6 metric tons as the armour plate was thin with a thickness of 16-mm - a slight improvement over the Mark V but very thin by later standards.  The roof and bottom of the hull were protected by only 6-mm thick armour plate, so the tank was very vulnerable to mortar shells and landmines.  Wikipedia.

The Mark VIII remained in service in the USA until at least 1934, undergoing various upgrades during its life to improve and extend its service capabilities.  Soldiers of the United States Army Infantry (Tank) Regiment were the primary users.  By 1939, all Mark VIII units were in storage at Aberdeen Proving Ground until sent north to Canada in 1940.[25] 

A Liberty tank survives at Fort Meade in Maryland.  The tank is displayed in the Post Museum and was made in 1920 at the Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.  It was assigned to the 301st Tank Battalion (Heavy), later redesignated the 17th Tank Battalion (Heavy). Throughout most of 1921-1922, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded this unit.  A second American vehicle is on display at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia as of 2010.  Wikipedia.

Battle Tanks

The fall of France and the loss of most of Britain’s armour at Dunkirk put new life into negotiations to produce tanks in Canada.  In June 1940, an order was placed for the production of 488 Valentine Infantry Tanks Mk III by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Angus Shops in Montreal.  The earliest examples were sent to the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicles Training Centre at Camp Borden, Ontario.[26]

Valentine Mk VII Infantry Tank

Valentine Mk VII Infantry Tank, Main Hangar, Base Borden Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Balcer Photo)

The Tank, Infantry, Mk III, Valentine was an infantry tank produced in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.  More than 8,000 of the type were produced in 11 different marks plus various purpose-built variants, accounting for approximately a quarter of wartime British tank production.  Over its lifetime it went from a riveted construction to entirely welded, and from a petrol powerplant to a two stroke diesel engine produced by GMC which was less likely to catch fire.  It was supplied to the USSR and built under license in Canada.  Developed by Vickers, it proved to be both strong and reliable.  Wikipedia.

Based on the A10 Cruiser Tank, the Valentine was privately designed by Vickers-Armstrongs (hence its lack of a General Staff “A” designation) and was submitted to the War Office on 10 February 1938.  The development team tried to match the lower weight of a Cruiser Tank - allowing the suspension and transmission parts of the A10 heavy cruiser to be used - with the greater armour of an infantry tank.  The result is a very compact vehicle with a cramped interior and two-man turret.  Its armour was weaker than the Matilda Infantry Tank, but, due to a weaker engine, the lighter tank had the same top speed; however, the new design was easier to produce and much less expensive.

The British War Office was initially deterred by the size of the turret since they considered a turret crew of three necessary to free the vehicle commander from direct involvement in operating the gun.  Concerned by the situation in Europe, however, it finally approved the design in April 1939.  The vehicle reached trials in May 1940, which coincided with the loss of much of Britain’s materiel in France during the evacuation at Dunkirk.  The trials were successful and the vehicle was rushed into production as the Infantry Tank Mk III Valentine; no pilot models were required as much of the mechanics had been proven on the A10, and it entered service from July 1940.

The first Valentines used a petrol engine with conventional steering.  The Mark II used a diesel version of the engine and the Mark IV a GMC diesel; these were the majority of those used in the North African desert campaigns. Improved tracks were added and the No. 19 Wireless replaced the No. 11.

The Valentine remained in production until April 1944, becoming Britain’s most-produced tank during the war with 6,855 units manufactured in the UK (by Vickers, Metropolitan-Casmell Carriage and Wagon and Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon), and a further 1,420 in Canada.  They were the Commonwealth’s main export to the Soviet Union under the Lend-lease Act, with 2,394 of the British models being sent and 1,388 of the Canadian Pacific built models, and the remaining 30 being kept for training.

The tank first served in Operation Crusader in the North African desert, when it began to replace the Matilda Tank.  It was extensively used in the North African Campaign, earning a reputation as a reliable and well-protected vehicle.  The Valentine shared the common weakness of the British tanks of the period: its 2-pounder gun lacked high-explosive (anti-personnel) capability, and soon became outdated as an anti-tank weapon too.  The small size of the turret and of the turret ring made mounting larger guns a difficult task.  Although versions with the 6-pounder and then with the Ordnance QF 75-mm gun were developed, by the time they were available in significant numbers better tanks had reached the battlefield.  Another weakness was the small crew compartment and the turret for only two men.  A larger turret with a loader position added was used in some of the 2-pounder versions, but the position had to be removed again in variants with larger guns.

By 1944 the Valentine had been almost completely replaced in front-line units of the European Theatre by the Churchill Infantry Tank and the US-made Sherman.  In the Pacific the tank was employed in limited numbers at least until May 1945. It was used in New Zealand service, some with the main armament replaced by the 3 inch howitzer taken from Australian Matilda CS tanks, on the Solomons in 1943.

In Soviet service the Valentine was used from the Battle of Moscow until the end of the war. Although criticized for its low speed and weak gun, the Valentine was liked due to its small size, reliability, and generally good armour protection.  Wikipedia.


Valentine Mk III

A larger turret was installed, allowing the addition of a dedicated loader to ease the duties of the commander.  The side armour was reduced from 60-mm to 50-mm to save weight.

Valentine Mk IV

A Mark II using an American 138 hp GMC 6004 diesel engine and US-made transmission. Though it had slightly shorter range, it was quieter and more reliable.

Valentine Mk V

Valentine III with the GMC 6004 diesel engine and US-made transmission.

Valentine Mk VI

Canadian-built version of IV.  It used some Canadian and American mechanical parts.  Late production vehicles had cast glacis detail.  First few produced with a 7.92-mm Besa coaxial machinegun, soon replaced by a 0.30 inch Browning coaxial machinegun.

Valentine Mk VII

Valentine Mk VII, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

Another Canadian version, it was essentially the Mk VI with internal changes and a different radio set.  Of the 1,420 Canadian produced Valentines most were sent to Russia.  30 remained in Canada.  Two of these tanks survive.  Valentine Mk VIIA Infantry Tank, No. 838, built May 1943, was a Lend-Lease tank shipped to the Soviet Union.  It fell through the ice of a boggy river near Telepino (Telepyne, Ukraine), during a Soviet counter-offensive on 25 January 1944.  In 1990 a 74-year old villager helped locate the tank, and it was recovered and offered as a Glasnost-era gift to Canada.  It was presented to the Canadian War Museum by independent Ukraine in 1992, and stands on display in the LeBreton Gallery.  Wikipedia.  One is on display in the Main Hangar of the CFB Borden Military Museum.

Canadian Armour Overseas

As the Canadian black hats moved to England they began training on American and British equipment.  The 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s) went to Ogbourne St. George, an 800-year old village near Marlborough, England.  Shortly afterwards, they were introduced to their first new tank, an M2A4, which arrived on 11 November 1941.  It soon broke down.  The eight M2A4 tanks initially used by the Canadians were replaced with two older model M3 General Lee Medium Tanks, the number of which eventually increased to 47.

M2A4 Light Tank

American M2A4 Light Tank.  (US Army Photo)

The Light Tank M2 was an American pre-Second World War light tank.  The M2A4 was the immediate predecessor of the M3 Stuart light tank.  As the Light Tank T2E1, the M2 was developed in 1935 by Rock Island Arsenal for the infantry branch of the US Army and went through a series of modifications and variants.  After conversion, it was re-designated as the M2A4. 

The new light tank was equipped with an M5 37-mm main gun, 1 inch (25-mm) thick armour, and a 7 cylinder gasoline engine.  Production of the M2A4 began in May 1940, and continued through March 1941; an additional ten M2A4s were assembled in April 1942, for a total production run of 375 M2A4 light tanks.

In March 1941, the ½-inch thicker (1½-inch total thickness) armour, and Continental W-670 gasoline engined M3 Stuart light tanks replaced the M2A3 on the assembly lines.  The original riveted M3s closely resembled the M2A4, and indeed the two types occasionally served in the same units; the easiest recognition feature is the aft (rear) idler wheel.  On the M2A4, the idler is raised; on the M3 it trails on the ground, increasing the flotation of the heavier vehicle.

The M2’s importance lies in the sound basis it provided for US M3-series light tanks early in Second World War.  The M3’s high speed and mechanical reliability were legacies of the M2 program.  By December 1941, the M2A1, M2A2 and M2A3 were used for training only.  Approximately 50 M2A4s were deployed during the Battle of Guadalcanal while assigned to the US Marine Corps 1st Tank Battalion, and remained in service in some areas of Pacific until 1943.

Britain ordered 100 M2A4s in early 1941.  After 36 of them were delivered, the order was cancelled in favour of an improved M3 Stuart.  Canadians trained on these tanks in the UK early in the war.  Wikipedia.

M3A1/M5A1 Stuart Light Tank

M3A1 Stuart light tank in service, ca. 1941.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3607530)

M5A1 Stuart light tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The M3 Stuart, formally Light Tank M3, was an American light tank of Second World War and supplied to British and Commonwealth forces under lend-lease prior to the entry of the US into the war - and used thereafter by US and Allied forces until the end of the war.

The name General Stuart or Stuart given by the British comes from the American Civil War Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and was used for both the M3 and the derivative M5 Light Tank.  In British service, it also had the unofficial nickname of Honey after a tank driver remarked “She’s a honey”.  To the United States Army, the tanks were officially known only as “Light Tank M3” and “Light Tank M5”.  The M3 Stuarts were the first American-manned tanks in Second World War to engage the enemy in tank versus tank combat.

Observing events in Europe, American tank designers realized that the Light Tank M2 was becoming obsolete and set about improving it.  The upgraded design, with thicker armour, modified suspension and new gun recoil system was called “Light Tank M3”.  Production of the vehicle started in March 1941 and continued until October 1943. Like its direct predecessor, the M2A4, the M3 was armed with a 37-mm M5 gun and five .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns: coaxial with the gun, on top of the turret in an M20 anti-aircraft mount, in a ball mount in right bow, in the right and left hull sponsons.

Internally, the radial engine was at the rear and the transmission to the driving sprockets at the front.  The prop shaft connecting the two ran through the middle of the fighting compartment.  The radial engine compounded the problem having its crankshaft high off the hull bottom.  When a turret floor was introduced the crew had less room.

To relieve the demand for the radial aero-engines used in the M3, a new version was developed using twin Cadillac V-8 automobile engines and twin Hydra-Matic transmissions operating through a transfer case.  Such installation produced a quieter, cooler and roomier variant and was easier to train on the automatic version. The new model (initially called M4 but redesignated M5 to avoid confusion with the M4 Sherman) also featured a redesigned hull with sloped glacis plate and driver’s hatches moved to the top.  Although the main criticism from the units using it was that the Stuarts lacked firepower, the improved M5 series kept the same 37-mm gun.  The M5 gradually replaced the M3 in production from 1942 and was in turn succeeded by the Light Tank M24 in 1944.

The British Army was the first to use the Light Tank M3 as the “General Stuart” in combat.  From mid-November 1941 to the end of the year, about 170 Stuarts (in a total force of over 700 tanks) took part in Operation Crusader during the North Africa Campaign, with poor results.  Although the high losses suffered by Stuart-equipped units during the operation had more to do with better tactics and training of the Afrika Korps than the apparent superiority of German armoured fighting vehicles used in the North African campaign, the operation revealed that the M3 had several technical faults.  Mentioned in the British complaints were the 37-mm M5 gun and poor internal layout.  The two-man turret crew was a significant weakness, and some British units tried to fight with three-man turret crews.  The Stuart also had a limited range, which was a severe problem in the highly mobile desert warfare as units often outpaced their supplies and were stranded when they ran out of fuel.  On the positive side, crews liked its relatively high speed and mechanical reliability.  The high reliability distinguished the Stuart from Cruiser Tanks of the period, in particular the Crusader, which composed a large portion of the British tank force in Africa up until 1942.

Stuart recce tank, LdSH (RC) at a crossroads in Italy, ca 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4166584)

Stuart recce tank, 1st Tp, C Sqn, Governor General's Horse Guards, Cervia, Italy, 19 Jan 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3240406)

In the summer of 1942, when enough US medium tanks had been received, the British usually kept Stuarts out of tank-to-tank combat, using them primarily for reconnaissance.  The turret was removed from some examples to save weight and improve speed and range.  These became known as “Stuart Recce”.  Some others were converted to armoured personnel carriers and were known as “Stuart Kangaroo", and some were converted command vehicles and known as “Stuart Command”.  M3s, M3A3s, and M5s continued in British service until the end of the war, but British units had a smaller proportion of these light tanks than US units.

The other major Lend-Lease recipient of the M3, the Soviet Union, was even less happy with the tank, considering it undergunned, underarmoured, likely to catch fire, and too sensitive to fuel quality.  The narrow tracks were highly unsuited to operation in winter conditions, as they resulted in high ground pressures under which the tank sank into the snow.  Further, the M3’s radial aircraft engine required high-octane fuel, which complicated Soviet logistics as most of their tanks used diesel.  However, the M3 was superior to early-war Soviet light tanks such as the T-60, which were often underpowered and possessed even lighter armament than the Stuart.  In 1943, the Red Army tried out the M5 and decided that the upgraded design was not much better than the M3.  Being less desperate than in 1941, the Soviets turned down an American offer to supply the M5.  M3s continued in Red Army service at least until 1944.

Though the Stuart was to be completely replaced by the newer M24 Chaffee, the number of M3s/M5s produced was so great (over 25,000 including the 75-mm HMC M8) that the tank remained in service until the end of the war and well after.  In addition to the US, UK and Soviet Union, who were the primary users, it was also used by France, China (M3A3s and, immediately post-war, M5A1s) and Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia (M3A3s and few M3A1).

The Stuart Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier was a variant used by the British Army, based on a turretless Stuart. Additional seats were installed.  Wikipedia.

Matilda Mk II Infantry Tank

Matilda Infantry Light Tank, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Balcer Photo)

The Infantry Tank Mark II known as the Matilda II (sometimes referred to as Matilda senior or simply an ‘I’ tank) was a British infantry tank of the Second World War.  It was also identified from its British General Staff Specification A12.  It served from the start of the war to its end and became particularly associated with the North Africa Campaign.  It was replaced in service by the Valentine Mk III Infantry Tank.  When the earlier Infantry Tank Mark I which was also known as “Matilda” was removed from service the Infantry Tank Mk II simply became known as the Matilda.  Wikipedia.

Matildas served in regiments of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade from July through October 1941 until replaced by Churchill Infantry Tanks.  One is on display in the main Hangar of the CFB Borden Military Museum.

The Churchill Infantry Tank Mk II was designed at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich to General Staff specification A.12 and built by the Vulcan Foundry.  The design was based on the A7 (which had started development in 1929) rather than on the Infantry Tank Mk I, which was a two man tank with a single machine gun for armament.  When war was recognised as imminent, production of the Matilda II was ordered and that of the Matilda I curtailed.  The first order was placed shortly after trials were completed with 140 ordered from the Vulcan Foundry in mid 1938.

The Matilda Senior weighed around 27 tons, more than twice as much as its predecessor, and was armed with a QF 2-pounder (40-mm) tank gun in a three-man turret.  The turret traversed by hydraulic motor or by hand through 360 degrees; the gun itself could be elevated through an arc from -15 to +20 degrees.   One of the most serious weaknesses of the Matilda II was the lack of a high explosive round for its main gun.  A high explosive shell was designed for the 2-pounder but for reasons never explained it was never placed in production.  With its heavy armour the Matilda II was an excellent infantry support tank, but had to rely on its machine gun when operating with infantry units.

Like other infantry tanks it was heavily armoured; from 20-mm at the thinnest it was 78-mm (3.1 inch) at the front, much more than most contemporaries.  The turret armour was 75-mm (3.0 inch) all round, the hull side armour was 65 to 70-mm (2.6 to 2.8 inch), and the rear armour, covering the engine, was 55-mm (2.2 inch).  The frontal armour was 75-mm (3.0 inch), although the nose plates top and bottom were thinner but angled. The turret roof was the same thickness as the hull roof and engine deck: 20-mm (0.79 inch). 

Tank crew of the Three Rivers Regiment with a German PanzerIV tank they destroyed, Termoli, Italy, 9 October 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397568)

The German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, of the same period, had 30 to 50-mm (1.2 to 2.0 inch) thick hull armour.  The shape of the nose armour was based on the US Christie design, and came to a narrow point with storage lockers added on either side.

The heavy armour of the Matilda’s cast turret became legendary; for a time in 1940–41 the Matilda earned the nickname “Queen of the Desert” although its weaknesses made this nickname difficult to justify.  At the time it was designed, this armour protection was impervious to the 37-mm and 50-mm calibre anti-tank guns employed by the German forces, as well as the 47-mm used by the Italians in North Africa; only the 75-mm PAK 40 could tackle it although having to fire at dangerously close range, as well as the scarce 88-mm anti-aircraft gun used as an anti-tank gun.

The weight of the armour, together with the relatively weak twin-engine power unit (the engine was adapted from that of a bus) and complex, troublesome suspension severely limited the speed of the vehicle.  In the desert terrain of North Africa the Matilda could average only about 10 km/h.  This was not thought to be a problem because the Matilda was specifically designed in accordance with the British doctrine of infantry tanks, that is, heavily-armoured but slow-moving vehicles designed to provide support to infantry; a speed equal to the walking speed of a man was considered sufficient.

Each engine had a coolant and lubrication system.  The radiators were to the rear of the engine compartment over the transmission.  The twin engine design doubled the maintenance effort for crews and often resulting in uneven wear and tear of components. The twin engines gave some redundancy.  If one engine broke down, the tank could “limp along” on the other.

The tank was carried by 5 double wheel bogies on each side. Four of the bogies were paired on a common coil spring.  The fifth, rearmost, bogie was sprung against a hull bracket. Between the first bogie and the idler wheel was a “jockey wheel”.  The first Matildas had return rollers, these were replaced in later models with track skids which were far easier to manufacture.

The turret carried the main armament with the machine gun to the right in a rotating internal mantlet.  Two smoke grenade launchers were carried on the right side of the turret.  The grenade launcher mechanisms were cut down Lee-Enfield rifles, each firing a single smoke grenade.

The first Matilda was produced in 1937 but only two were in service when war broke out in September 1939.  Some 2,987 tanks were produced with the last delivered in August 1943.  Peak production was 1,330 in 1942, the most common model being the Mark IV.

The Matilda was difficult to manufacture.  For example, the pointed nose was a single casting that, upon initial release from the mould, was thicker than required in some areas.  To avoid a needless addition to the tank’s weight, the thick areas were ground away.  This process required highly skilled workers and additional time.  The complex suspension and multi-piece hull side coverings also added time to manufacturing.

Up to early 1942, in the war in North Africa, the Matilda proved highly effective against Italian and German tanks, although vulnerable to the larger calibre and medium calibre anti-tank guns.  In late 1940, during Operation Compass, Matildas of the British 7th Armoured Division wreaked havoc among the Italian forces in Egypt.  The Italians were equipped with L3 tankettes and M11/39 medium tanks, neither of which had any chance against the Matildas.  Italian gunners were to discover that the Matildas were impervious to a wide assortment of artillery.  Matildas continued to confound the Italians as the British pushed them out of Egypt and entered Libya to take Bardia and Tobruk.  Even as late as November 1941, German infantry combat reports show the impotence of ill-equipped infantry against the Matilda.

Ultimately, in the rapid manoeuvre warfare often practiced in the open desert of North Africa, the Matilda’s low speed and unreliable steering mechanism became major problems.  Another problem was the lack of a high-explosive shell (the appropriate shell existed but was not issued).  When the German Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa, the 88-mm anti-aircraft gun was again pressed into service against the Matilda, causing heavy losses during Operation Battleaxe, when sixty-four Matildas were lost.  The arrival of the more powerful 50-mm Pak 38 anti-tank gun also provided a means for the German infantry to engage Matilda tanks at combat ranges.  Nevertheless, during Operation Crusader, Matilda tanks of 1st and 32nd Army Tank Brigades were instrumental in the breakout from Tobruk and the capture of the Axis fortress of Bardia.  The operation was decided by the infantry tanks after the failure of the Cruiser Tank equipped 7th Armoured Division to overcome the Axis tank forces in the open desert.

As the German army received new tanks with more powerful guns, as well as more powerful anti-tank guns and ammunition, the Matilda proved less and less effective. Firing tests conducted by the Afrikakorps showed that the Matilda had become vulnerable to a number of German weapons at ordinary combat ranges.  Due to the “painfully small” size of its turret ring - 54 inches (1.37 m) - the tank could not be up-gunned sufficiently to continue to be effective against more heavily armoured enemy tanks.  It was also somewhat expensive to produce.  Vickers proposed an alternative the Valentine tank, which had the same gun and a similar level of armour protection but on a faster and cheaper chassis derived from that of their “heavy cruiser” tank.  With the arrival of the Valentine in autumn 1941, the Matilda was phased out by the British Army through attrition, with lost vehicles no longer replaced.  By the time of the battle of El Alamein (October 1942), few Matildas were in service, with many having been lost during Operation Crusader and then the Gazala battles in early summer of 1942.  Around twenty-five took part in the battle as mine-clearing, Matilda Scorpion mine flail tanks.

In early 1941, a small number of Matildas were used during the East Africa Campaign at the Battle of Keren.  However, the mountainous terrain of East Africa did not allow the tanks of B Squadron 4th Royal Tank Regiment to be as effective as the tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment had been in Egypt and Libya.  A few Matildas of the 7th RTR were present on Crete during the German invasion, and all of them were lost

The Red Army received 1,084 Matildas.  The Soviet Matildas saw action as early as the Battle of Moscow and became fairly common during 1942.  Unsurprisingly, the tank was found to be too slow and unreliable.  Crews often complained that snow and dirt were accumulating behind the “skirt” panels, clogging the suspension.  The slowness and heavy armour made them comparable to the Red Army’s KV-1 Heavy Tanks, but the Matilda had nowhere near the fire-power of the KV.  Most Soviet Matildas were expended during 1942 but a few served on as late as 1944.  The Soviets modified the tanks with the addition of sections of steel welded to the tracks to give better grip.

Following Operation Battleaxe a dozen Matildas left behind the Axis lines were repaired and put into service by the Germans.  The Matildas were well regarded by their German users although their use in battle caused confusion to both sides, despite extra-prominent German markings.  Wikipedia.

Canadian Mobilization and Deployment

While Canada’s response to the war was initially intended to be limited, resources were mobilized quickly.  The Convoy HX-1 departed Halifax just six days after the nation declared war, escorted by HMCS St. Laurent and HMCS Saguenay.  The 1st Canadian Infantry Division arrived in Britain on 1 January 1940.  By 13 June 1940, the 1st Battalion of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment was deployed to France in an attempt to secure the southern flank of the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium.  By the time the battalion arrived, the British and allies were cut off at Dunkirk, Paris had fallen, and after penetrating 200 km inland, the battalion returned to Brest and then to Britain.

After Dunkirk, the defence of the British Isles was left in disarray.  There were only two fully armed and mobilized divisions ready to defend against invasion: the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, and the Scottish 52nd.  Consequently, the bulk of the Canadian army overseas did not engage in sustained combat until mid-1943.  Many of the young soldiers of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, overseas since December 1939, could claim, by 1943, to have spent more of their adult lives in England than in Canada.  Nevertheless, this guard duty served as a bulwark, along with British counterparts, in combating the threat from German-occupied Europe during the time when the threat of invasion was at its greatest.

The Dieppe Raid

The Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) of 19 August 1942, landed nearly 5,000 soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Division and 1,000 British commandos on the coast of occupied France, in the only major combined forces assault on France prior to the Normandy invasion of June 1944.  Despite air support from Allied fighters and bombers and a naval fleet of 237 ships and landing barges, the raid was a disaster.  While Dieppe did provide valuable information on the absolute necessity of close communications in combined operations, of nearly 6,000 troops (composed mainly of Canadians) landed over a thousand were killed and another 2,340 were captured.  Churchill Infantry Tanks were used in action by Canadians at Dieppe.

Dingo Scout Car abandoned on the beaches of Dieppe, post-raid.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194752)

Churchill tank from the Calgary Regiment being examined by German soldiers after the raid on Dieppe, 19 Aug 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 319473)

Two Canadians were recognized with the Victoria Cross for actions at Dieppe; Lieutenant Colonel “Cec” Merritt of the South Saskatchewan Regiment and Honorary Captain John Foote of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.  The value of the Dieppe Raid is a matter of some controversy; some historians feel that it was largely because of Dieppe that the Allies decided not to attempt an assault on a seaport in their first invasion of occupied western Europe, others would point to the large number of amphibious operations before and after Dieppe as evidence that nothing new was learned there.

Churchill Infantry Tank

Churchill tanks on exercise in the UK, July 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404613) 

The Churchill Infantry Tank was a heavy British infantry tank best known for its heavy armour, large longitudinal chassis with all-around tracks with multiple bogies, and its use as the basis of many specialist vehicles.  It was one of the heaviest allied tanks of the war.  This series of tanks was named after Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Minister of Defence at the time, and had been involved with the development of the tank as a weapon during the First World War.

Initially specified before the outbreak of the Second World War the (General Staff designation) A20 was to be the replacement for the Matilda Mk II and Valentine infantry tanks.  In accordance with British infantry tank doctrine and based on the expected needs of First World War-style trench warfare, the tank was required to be capable of navigating shell-cratered ground, demolishing infantry obstacles such as barbed wire, and attacking fixed enemy defences; for these purposes, great speed and heavy armament was not required.

The tank was specified initially to be armed with two QF 2-pounder guns each located in a side sponson, with a coaxial BESA machine gun.  A third BESA and a smoke projector would be fitted in the front hull.  The specification was revised to prefer a turret with 60-mm of armour to protect against ordinary shells from the German 37-mm gun.  Outline drawings were produced based on using the A12 Matilda turret and the engine of the Covenanter tank.  Detail design and construction of the A20 was given to the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff who completed four prototypes by June 1940.  During the construction period the armament was reconsidered which including fitting either a 6-pounder or a French 75-mm gun in the forward hull.  In the end a 3 inch howitzer was chosen.  The A20 designs were short-lived however, as at roughly the same time the emergency evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk occurred.

At 43 tons, with a 300 hp Meadows engine, the A20 had limited power.  Vauxhall were approached to see if they could build the A20 and one example was sent to Vauxhall at Luton to see if they could provide an alternative engine.  To this end they developed a flat 12 petrol engine.

With France conquered, the scenario of trench warfare in Northern Europe was no longer applicable and the design was revised by Dr. H.E. Merritt, Director of Tank Design at Woolwich Arsenal, based on the combat witnessed in Poland and France.  These new specifications, for the A22 or Infantry Tank Mark IV, were given to Vauxhall in June 1940.

With German invasion looking imminent and the United Kingdom having lost most of its military vehicles in the evacuation from France, the War Office specified that the A22 had to enter production within the year.  By July 1940 the design was complete and by December of that year the first prototypes were completed; in June 1941, almost exactly a year as specified, the first Churchill tanks began rolling off the production line.  A leaflet from the manufacturer was added to the User Handbook which stated that it had great confidence in the fundamental design of the tank but that the model had been put into production without time for proper honing and that improvements would be made in time.  The document then covered for each area of the tank affected, the fault, precautions to avoid the fault and what was being done to correct the problem.

Churchill tank of the Three Rivers Regiment taking part in Exercise Spartan, England, 8 March 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3209253)

Canadian infantry riding on a Churchill III tank during Exercise Spartan, England, 9 March 1943. (IWM Photo H27924)

Canadian Churchill tanks during Exercise Spartan, 9 March 1943.  (IWM Photo H27922)

This hasty development had not come without cost though, as there had been little in the way of testing and the Churchill was plagued with mechanical faults.  Most apparent was that the Churchill’s engine was underpowered and unreliable, and difficult to access for servicing.  Another serious shortcoming was the tank’s weak armament, the 2-pounder (40-mm) gun, which was improved by the addition of a 3 inch howitzer in the hull (the Mk IICS had the howitzer in the turret) to deliver an HE shell albeit not on a howitzers usual high trajectory.  These flaws contributed to the tank’s poor performance in its first use in combat, the disastrous Dieppe Raid in August, 1942.

Churchill Infantry Tank, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

Production of a turret to carry the QF 6-pounder gun began in 1941 but problems with the plate used in an all-welded design led to an alternative cast turret also being produced.  These formed the distinction between the Mark III and the Mark IV.

The poor performance of the Churchill nearly caused production to be ceased in favour of the upcoming Cromwell Cruiser Tank; it was saved by the successful use of the Mk III at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942.

The second major improvement in the Churchill’s design, the Mk VII was first used in the Battle of Normandy in 1944.  The Mk VII improved on the already heavy armour of the Churchill with a wider chassis and the 75-mm gun which had been introduced on the Mk VI.  It was primarily this variant, the A22F, which served through the remainder of war and was re-designated as A42 in 1945.

The Churchill was notable for its versatility and was utilized in numerous specialist roles.  The hull was made up of simple flat plates which were initially bolted together and welded in later models.  The hull was split into four compartments: the driver’s position at the front, then the fighting compartment including the turret, the engine compartment, and the gearbox compartment.  The suspension was fitted under the two large “panniers” on either side of the hull, the track running over the top.  There were eleven bogies either side, each carrying two 10 inch wheels.  Only nine of the bogies were taking the vehicle weight normally, the front coming into play when the vehicle nosed into the ground or against an obstacle, the rear acting in part as a track tensioner.  Due to the number of wheels, the tank could survive losing several without much in the way of adverse affects as well as traversing steeper terrain obstacles.  As the tracks ran around the panniers, escape hatches in the side could be incorporated into the design.  These were retained throughout the revisions of the Churchill and were of particular use when the Churchill was adopted as the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE).

The Bedford Vehicle's engine was effectively two engines in horizontally opposed configuration (“flat twelve”) on a common crankshaft.  There were four Solex carburettors each on a separate manifold that fed three cylinders formed as a single cylinder head.  The elements of the engine and ancillary components were laid out so they could be reached for maintenance through the engine deck covers.  Air for the engine was drawn from the fighting compartment through air cleaners.  Cooling air was drawn into the engine compartment through louvers on the sides, across the radiators and through the engine compartment by a fan driven by the clutch. This fan blew the air over the gearbox and out the rear of the hull.  By opening a flap between the fighting compartment and the engine compartment this airflow could be used to remove fumes produced by firing the armament.  The 1,296 cubic inch capacity engine was rated at 350 bhp at 2,000 rpm delivering 960 lb.ft over an engine speed range from 800 to 1,600 rpm.

The gearbox featured a regenerative steering system that was controlled by a tiller bar instead of the more commonplace brake levers or a steering wheel.  The tiller was connected with servo assistance, hydraulically to the steering brakes.  The Churchill was also the first tank to utilise the Merritt-Brown gearbox, which allowed the tank to be steered by changing the relative speeds of the two tracks; this effect became more pronounced with each lower gear, ultimately allowing the tank to perform a “neutral turn” when no gear was engaged where it could fully turn on its own axis.  There were final reduction gears, of the planetary type, in the driving wheels.

The first turrets were of cast construction and were rounded in shape, providing sufficient space to accommodate the relatively small 2-pounder gun.  To fulfil its role as an infantry support vehicle the first models were equipped with a 3 inch howitzer in the hull in a layout very similar to the French Char B.  This enabled the tank to deliver a useful high-explosive capability while retaining the antitank capabilities of the 2-pounder.   However, like other multi-gun tanks, it was limited by a poor fire arc - the entire tank had to be turned to change the aim of the hull gun.  The Mk II dispensed with the howitzer and replaced it with a bow machine gun and on the Mk III; the 2-pounder was replaced with the 6-pounder, significantly increasing the tank’s anti-tank capabilities.  The tank underwent field modification in North Africa with several Churchills being fitted with the 75-mm gun of destroyed M4 Shermans.  These “NA75” variants were used in Italy.  The use of the 75-mm, which was inferior as an anti-tank weapon to the 6-pounder but better as an all-around gun was soon made standard on successive versions.

Churchills made use of the Vickers Tank Periscope Mk IV.  In the Mark VII, the driver had two periscopes as well as a vision port in the hull front that could be opened. The hull gunner had a single periscope as well as the sighting telescope on the BESA mounting.  In the turret the gunner and loader each had single periscope and the commander had two fitted in his hatch cupola.

The armour on the Churchill Infantry Tank, often considered its most important trait, was originally specified to a minimum of 16-mm (0.63 inch) and a maximum of 102-mm (4.0 inch); this was increased with the Mk VII to a range from 25-mm (0.98 inch) to 152-mm (6.0 inch).  Though this armour was considerably thicker than its rivals (including the German Panzer VI Tiger I tank, but not the Tiger II) it was not sloped, reducing its effectiveness.  Earlier models were given extra armour by the expedient of welding extra plates on.

On the Mark VII, the hull front armour was made up of a lower angled piece of 5.5 in (140-mm), a nearly flat 2.25 in (57-mm) plate and a vertical 6 in plate.  The hull sides were for the most part, 3.75 in (95-mm).  The rear was 2 in (51-mm) and the hull top 0.525 in (13.3-mm).  The turret of the Mark VII was 6 in (150-mm) to the front and 3.75 in (95-mm) for the other sides.  The turret roof was 0.79 (20-mm) thick. Plate was specified as IT 80, the cast sections as IT 90.

The A22F, also known as “Heavy Churchill” was a major revision of the design. The most significant part was the use of welding instead of riveted construction.  Welding had been considered earlier for the Churchill but until its future was assured this was no more than testing techniques and hulls at the firing ranges.  What welding reduced in the overall weight (estimates were around 4%), the thicker armour of the A22F made up for.  Welding was also required fewer man-hours in construction.  The hull doors changed from square to round which reduced stresses.  A new turret went with the new hull.  The sides, which included a flared base to protect the turret ring, were a single casting while the roof which did not need to be so thick was a plate fitted to the top.

Since the engines on the Churchill Infantry Tank were never upgraded, the tank became increasingly slower as additional armour and armament was equipped and weight increased; while the Mk I weighed 39,118 kg (40 long tons) and the Mk III weighed 39,626 kg, the Mk VII weighed 40,643 kg.  This caused a reduction in maximum speed of the tank from its original 26 kilometres per hour (16 mph) down to 20.5 kilometres per hour (12.7 mph).  The engines also suffered from many mechanical problems.

Another problem was the tank’s relatively small turret that prevented the use of powerful weapons; definitive versions of the tank were armed with either the QF 6-pounder or the derivative QF 75-mm gun, both having reasonable powers against armoured and soft targets respectively but with limited performance against the other.  Although earlier Churchills could out-gun many contemporary German medium tanks, like the Panzer IV with the short-barrel 75-mm gun and the Panzer III‘s 50-mm gun, with its 6-pounder, and the thick armour of all Churchill models could usually withstand several hits from any German anti-tank gun, in late war Germans had 75-mm High-velocity cannons as their main armament and increased protection, against which the Churchills’ own guns often lacked sufficient armour penetration to fight back effectively.

The Churchill had many variations, including many specialised modifications.  The most significant change to the Churchill was that it was up-gunned from 2-pounder to 6-pounder and then 75-mm guns over the course of the war.  By the war’s end, the late model Churchill Mk VII had exceptional amounts of armour - considerably more than the German Tiger tank.  However, the firepower weakness was never fully addressed.  The Mark VII turret that was designed for the 75-mm gun was of composite construction - cast with top and bottom plates welded into position.

It is important to note that, despite its weaknesses, the Churchill had a significant advantage that was apparent throughout its career.  Due to its multiple bogie suspension, it could cross terrain obstacles that most other tanks of its era could not.  This feat served well, especially during the fighting in Normandy particularly the capture of Hill 309 between the 30 and 31 July 1944 in operation Bluecoat conducted by VIII Corps.

A few Churchills were in use for the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942.  The six Mk III tanks (with the 6-pounder gun) of “KingForce” went into battle in support of the 7th Motor Brigade.  Although all were heavily shelled by German anti-tank guns, only one received more than light damage; one tank was said to have been hit up to 80 times.  KingForce was disbanded afterwards - the Churchills had been sent to Africa to see if they could operate there - but a Tank Brigade (three tank regiments) was sent to Africa going into action in February.

In one encounter a Churchill Infantry Tank Mk IV tank got the better of a German heavy tank, Tiger I, when a shot lodged between the Tiger’s turret and turret ring.  The crew abandoned the Tiger, which was subsequently captured by the British.  As the first Tiger captured by the Western Allies it was particularly useful, and is now on display at Bovington Tank Museum in the United Kingdom.

As the mainstay of the Tank Brigades, which operated in support of the infantry, Churchill units were in operation more often than other tank units.

The “NA75” conversions of Churchill Mk III to carry the US 75-mm gun were used in Italy.  As the Churchill proved to be a better gun platform, the effective range of the 75-mm was increased.

Churchills saw widespread action in Normandy as well as subsequent operations in the Low Countries and into Germany such as the fighting in Reichswald during Operation Veritable.

In tests conducted in the Madang by the Australian Army in mid-1944, at the request of Britain’s War Office, the Churchill was tested against the M4 Sherman and found it to be, overall, a superior tank for jungle warfare.  However the Churchill was not used in the Far East.

In late 1950, a Churchill Crocodile squadron was sent to Korea.  In action against the Chinese they mostly fought as gun tanks.  These were the last use of the Churchill in action by the British.  The tank remained in the service of the British Army until 1952 with one, a bridge-layer, remaining in service well into the 1970s.

The Soviet Union received a total of 301 Churchill Mk III and Mk IV types as part of the Lend-Lease programme.  Wikipedia

Variants and numbers built:

Churchill Mk I (303)

Equipped with a 2-pounder gun in the turret (150 rounds), and a coaxial Besa machine gun.  There was a 3 inch howitzer in the hull (58 rounds). It was a tank that was noted for poor mechanical reliability.  It was the main tank issued to the Canadian forces at Dieppe.

Churchill Mk II (1,127)

Replaced the hull howitzer for another machine gun to reduce cost and complexity. Sometimes referred to as Churchill Mk Ia.

Churchill Mk IICS (Close Support)

Placed the gun in the hull and the howitzer in the turret, available in very limited numbers. Sometimes called Churchill Mk II.

Churchill Mk III (675)

The Mk III was the first major armament overhaul of the series, eliminating the hull howitzer and equipping the tank with a more powerful 6-pounder gun (84 rounds). Unlike early versions, it had a welded turret.

Churchill Mk IV (1,622)

The Mk IV was the most numerous Churchill produced, and was virtually identical to the Mk III, the largest change being a return to the less costly cast turret.

Churchill Mk V (241)

A Churchill Mk III/IV which was equipped with a close support 95-mm Howitzer in place of the main gun (47 rounds).

Churchill Mk VI (200)

Along with several minor improvements, it was produced as standard with the 75-mm Mk V gun.  Few were built due to the near release of the Mk VII and current upgunning of the Mk III/IV.

Churchill Mk VII (A22F) (1,600 with Mk VIII)

The second major redesign from previous models, the Mk VII used the 75-mm gun, was wider and had much more armour.  It is sometimes called the Heavy Churchill.  This version of the Churchill first saw service in the Battle of Normandy, and was re-designated A42 in 1945.

Churchill Mk VIII

A Churchill Mk VII which replaced the main gun with a 95-mm Howitzer (47 rounds).

Refitted previous versions:

Churchill Mk IX

Churchill Mk III/IV upgraded with turret of the Mk VII.  Extra armour added along with gearbox and suspension modifications. I f the old 6-pounder had been retained, it would have had the additional designation of LT (Light Turret).

Churchill Mk X

The same improvements as for the Mk IX applied to a Mk VI.

Churchill Mk XI

Churchill Mk V with extra armour and Mk VIII turret.

Churchill NA75 (200)

Churchill Mk III/IV with upgraded weaponry using the turret and mantlet from a destroyed or scrapped Sherman (known as NA 75 from North Africa where the conversions took place), or having their current gun re-bored to 75-mm (III/ IV (75-mm)) (84 rounds).  More Mk IVs were modified than Mk IIIs, and their performance is virtually identical to the Mk VI.  To fit the Sherman mantlet required cutting away the front of the Churchill turret before it was welded in place, then the mantlet slot had to be cut away to give sufficient elevation.  The Sherman 75-mm gun was designed for a left hand loader and the Churchill in common with British practice had a right hand loader.  The gun was therefore turned upside down and the firing controls adapted.  The conversion of about 200 tanks was carried out between March – June 1944 and the conversion project earned the officer in charge an MBE as well as promotion.

Churchill Infantry Tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

Churchill Oke (3)

A Churchill Mk II or Mk III with a flamethrower.  The Oke flamethrowing tank was named after its designer, Major J.M. Oke.  The design was basically for a Churchill tank fitted with the Ronson flamethrower equipment.  A tank containing the flame fuel was fitted at the rear, with a pipe from it leading to the mounting on the front hull to the left, leaving the hull machine gun unobstructed.  There were three (named “Boar”, “Beetle” and “Bull”) present, in the first wave, at Dieppe which were quickly lost, and abandoned.

Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers)

A Churchill Mk III or Mk IV equipped with the Petard, a 290-mm Spigot mortar, throwing the 40 lb (18 kg) “Flying dustbin” with its 28 pound high explosive warhead; a weapon designed for the quick levelling of fortifications developed by MD1.  The AVRE was designed after the Canadian Dieppe Raid, and could also be equipped with numerous other attachments, such as mine flails, fascine rollers, explosive placers etc.  Post war the Churchill AVRE was re-armed with a breech-loaded low velocity 165-mm demolition gun which was less dangerous for the loader (the hull gunner) as he previously had to stick his head and torso out of the Spigot Mortar armed AVRE to load the Mortar.  The crew of six were drawn from the Royal Engineers, except for the driver who came from the Royal Armoured Corps.  One of the RE crew was a demolitions NCO sapper responsible for priming the “Flying dustbin” and who led the crew when they dismounted from the tank to place demolition charges (“Wade” charges).

Churchill ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle)
Mk I - A turretless Mk I with a jib.  Mk II - A Churchill with a fixed turret/ superstructure with a dummy gun. It was equipped for recovering other tanks from the battlefield.  Mounted a front jib with a 7.5 ton capacity, a rear jib rated for 15 ton and winch that could pull 25 ton.  Crew was 3 with enough room to carry the crew of the tank being recovered.  Armament was single Besa machine gun.

Churchill ARK (Armoured Ramp Carrier)
A turretless Churchill with ramps at either end and along the body to form a mobile bridge.  The Mark 1 had trackways over the tracks for vehicles to drive along.  The Mark 2 was an improvised version and crossing vehicles drove directly on the Churchill’s tracks.  The Link Ark (or “Twin Ark”) was two ARKs used side-by-side to give a wide crossing.  The ramps on these were folding types giving a longer - 65 ft (20 m) - crossing.  This was used for the post war Conqueror heavy tank. 

Churchill Great Eastern Armoured Ramp Tank

Churchill Great Eastern Armoured Ramp Tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Churchill Great Eastern was a ramp tank designed to overcome much greater obstacles (both horizontal and vertical) than could be bridged by the ARK.  The tank carried a long ramp which sloped upwards from rear to a height of some 20 feet at the front.  A second “flying” ramp was hinged to the first at the front and was stowed folded back a top the lower ramp.  Hinged to the rear of the lower ramp was a third short ramp that reached the ground.  This would usually be held raised at a near 45 degree angle whilst stowed.  The Great Eastern was deployed by first driving as close as possible to the obstacle, and then the upper ramp was propelled upwards and over by two groups of 3 inch rockets.  The Great Eastern could provide a span of some 60 feet being able to cross a 12’ high 5’ wide wall.

Development of the Great Eastern was by MD1, an experimental establishment.  The prototype was built on a Churchill Mk I hull and when initial trials were successful a further 10 vehicles were built using Churchill Mk IV chassis with the heavier Mk VII suspension units fitted to take the 48 ton weight.  Two vehicles were delivered to the 79th Armoured Division in early 1945 but they were never used in action.

The Great Eastern at the Canadian War Museum‘s Vimy House has the ramp in the stowed state and is missing the support brackets which when operational would mount the ramp at an angle from rear to back.  The rear ramp has been detached from its hinges and laid flat on top of the “flying” ramp.

Churchill Crocodile (no more than 800)

Churchill Mk. VII Crocodile, Military Museums, Calgary.  (Author Photo)

The Crocodile was a Churchill Mk VII which was converted by replacing the hull machine gun with a flamethrower.  The fuel was in an armoured wheeled trailer towed behind.  It could fire several 1 second bursts over 150 yards.  The Crocodile was one of “Hobart’s Funnies“, another vehicle used by the 79th Armoured Division.

Gun Carrier, 3in, Mk I, Churchill (A22D) (50)
This variant had a fixed 88-mm (3.5-inch) thick superstructure with the gun in a ball mount.  The gun was an otherwise obsolete 3 inch anti-aircraft gun.  Fifty were built in 1942 but none are known to have been used - the 17-pounder anti-tank gun gave the British the necessary firepower.

Churchill Flail FV3902 or Toad
A post-war (1950s) mine-clearing flail tank built on a Churchill chassis.

Churchill Goat
A chargelayer like the Double Onion device.

Churchill Kangaroo
Churchill hull converted to an APC.

Black Prince A43

In 1943 an attempt was made to up-gun the Churchill by using Heavy Churchill tanks modified to take a 17-pounder gun, as was done with the Sherman Firefly.  This resulted in the Tank, Infantry, Black Prince A43 in May 1945.  Six prototypes were built, but the project was cancelled due to the emergence of the new and less complicated Centurion Mk 1 which offered the same armament and armour and had just entered production.  Wikipedia

Canadians Training in England, 1940-1943

After the Dieppe Raid, the frustrated Canadian Army fought no significant engagement in the European theatre of operations until the invasion of Sicily in the summer of 1943.  With the Sicily Campaign, the Canadians had the opportunity to enter combat and later were among the first to enter Rome.  Until then, armour played a major role in the intense training underway.

Between the fall of France in June 1940 and the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, Canada supplied Britain with urgently needed food, weapons, and war materials by naval convoys and airlifts, as well as pilots and planes that fought in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.  If the planned German invasion of Britain had taken place in 1941, units of the formation later known as I Canadian Corps were already deployed between the English Channel and London to meet them.  Wikipedia.

M3 Lee Medium Tank

Lee tanks, BCD, Headley Down, UK, 12 Mar 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3223022)

M3 Lee Medium tanks on a railway flatcar.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3285353 and 3285354)

M3 Lee Medium Tank, Canadian War Museum.  (Author Photo) 

The Medium Tank M3 Lee was an American tank used during Second World War.  In Britain the tank was called “General Lee”, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and the modified version built with a new turret was called the “General Grant”, named after US General Ulysses S. Grant.

Design commenced in July 1940, and the first “Lees” were operational in late 1941.  The US Army needed a good tank and coupled with Great Britain’s demand for 3,650 medium tanks immediately, the Lee began production by late 1940.  The M3 was well armed and armoured for the period, but due to design flaws (high silhouette, archaic sponson mounting of the main gun, below average off-road performance) it was not satisfactory and was withdrawn from front line duty as soon as the M4 Sherman became available in large numbers.

German Panzer IV tank, examined by Lance-Bombardier T. Hallam and Signalman A.H. Wharf, HQ, RCA, 5th Canadian Armoured Division, near Pontecorvo, Italy, 26 May 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3405800)

The Panzer III and Panzer IV‘s success in the French campaign in 1940 led the US Army to order a new medium tank armed with a 75-mm gun in a turret.  This would be the M4 Sherman.  However, until the Sherman was in production, an interim design with a 75-mm gun was urgently needed.

The M3 was the solution.  The design was unusual because the main weapon - a larger calibre, low-velocity 75-mm gun - was in an offset sponson mounted in the hull with limited traverse.  A small turret with a lighter, high-velocity 37-mm gun sat on the tall hull.  A small cupola on top of the turret held a machine gun.  The use of two main guns was seen on the French Char B, the Soviet T-35, and the Mark I version of the British Churchill tank.  In each case, two weapons were mounted to give the tanks adequate capability in firing both anti-personnel high explosive ammunition and armour-piercing ammunition for anti-tank combat.  The M3 differed slightly from this pattern having a main gun which could fire an armour-piercing projectile at a velocity high enough for efficiently piercing armour, as well as deliver a high-explosive shell that was large enough to be effective.  Using a hull mounted gun, the M3 design was produced quicker than if a turret mount gun had been manufactured.  It was understood that the M3 design was flawed, but Britain urgently needed tanks.

The M3 was tall and roomy: the power transmission ran through the crew compartment under the turret cage to the gearbox driving the front sprockets.  Steering was by differential braking, with a turning circle of 11 m.  The vertical volute suspension units included a return roller made with self-contained and readily replaced units bolted to the chassis.  The turret was power-traversed by an electro-hydraulic system - an electric motor providing the pressure for the hydraulic motor.  This rotated the turret fully in 15 seconds.  Control was from a spade grip on the gun. The same motor provided pressure for the gun stabilizing system.

The 75-mm was operated by a gunner and a loader. Sighting the 75-mm gun used a M1 periscope - with an integral telescope - on the top of the sponson.  The periscope rotated with the gun.  The sight was marked from zero to 3,000 yd (2,700 m) with vertical markings to aid deflection shooting at a moving target.  The gunner laid the gun on target through geared handwheels for traverse and elevation.

The 37-mm was aimed through the M2 periscope, though this was mounted in the mantlet to the side of the gun.  It also sighted the coaxial machine gun.  Two range scales were provided: 1,400 m for the 37-mm and 0-1,000 yd (910 m) for the machine gun.

The British ordered the M3 when they were refused permission to have their tank designs (the Matilda infantry tank and Crusader Cruiser Tank) made by American factories.  British experts had viewed the mock-up in 1940 and identified several flaws - the high profile, the hull mounted gun, radio in the hull, smooth tracks, the amount of armour with insufficient attention to splash-proofing the joints.  The British agreed to order 1,250 m3, to be modified to their requirements - the order was subsequently increased with the expectation that when a superior tank was available it could replace part of the order.  Contracts were arranged with three US companies, but the total cost was approximately 240 million US dollars.  This sum was all of the British funds in the US and it took the Lend-Lease act to solve the financial problems.

The prototype was completed in March 1941 and production models followed with the first British specification tanks in July.  The British cast turret included a bustle at the back for the Wireless Set No. 19 radio.  It had thicker armour than the US one and removed the US cupola for a simple hatch.  Both American and British tanks had thicker armour than first planned.  The British design required one fewer crew member than the US version due to the radio in the turret.  The US eventually eliminated the full-time radio operator, assigning the task to the driver. The British realized that to meet their requirement for tanks both types would be needed.

The US military utilized the “M” (Model) letter to designate nearly all of their equipment.  When the British Army received their new M3 medium tanks from the US, confusion immediately set in, as the M3 medium tank and the M3 light tank were identically named.  The British army began naming their American tanks, although the US Army never used those terms until after the war.  The M3 tanks with the new turret and radio setup received the name “General Grant”, while the original M3s were called “General Lee”, or more usually just “Grant” and “Lee”. The M3 brought much-needed firepower to British forces in the African desert campaign.

The chassis and running gear of the M3 design was adapted by the Canadians for their Ram tank.  The hull of the M3 was also used for self-propelled artillery and recovery vehicles.

Of the 6,258 M3s produced by the US, 2,855 M3s were supplied to the British army, and about 1,368 to the Soviet Union.  Consequently, one of the American M3 medium tank’s first actions during the war was in 1942, during the North African Campaign.  British Lees and Grants were in action against Rommel’s forces at the disastrous Battle of Gazala on 27 May that year.  They continued to serve in North Africa until the end of that campaign.  A regiment of M3 Mediums was also used by the US 1st Armoured Division in North Africa.  In the North African campaign, the M3 was generally appreciated for its mechanical reliability, good armour and heavy firepower.

In all three areas, it outclassed the available British tanks and was able to fight German tanks and towed anti-tank guns.  The tall silhouette and low, hull-mounted 75-mm were severe tactical drawbacks.  Since they prevented the tank from fighting from hull-down firing positions.  The use of riveted armour led to a problem called “spalling,” whereby the impact of enemy shells would cause the rivets to break off and become projectiles inside the tank.  Later models were welded to eliminate this problem.  The M3 was replaced by the M4 Sherman as soon as these were available, though several M3s saw limited action in the battle for Normandy as armoured recovery vehicles with dummy guns.

Over 1,300 diesel-engined M3A3 and M3A5s were supplied to the USSR via lend-lease in 1942-1943.  All were the Lee variants, although they are sometimes referred to generically as Grants.  The M3 was unpopular in the Red Army, where its faults were shown up in engagements with enemy armour and anti-tank weapons, with the Soviets bestowing it the nickname of “coffin for seven brothers.”  Few were seen in combat after about mid-1943, though some M3s were used on the Arctic Front in the Red Army’s offensive on the Litsa front towards Kirkenes in October 1944.  On this front the Germans had only a relatively few obsolete French Hotchkiss tanks that they had acquired during occupation, consequently the M3’s inferior tank-to-tank capabilities were of limited importance.

Overall, the M3 was able to cope with the battlefield of 1942.  Its armour and firepower was the equal or superior to most of the threats it faced.  Long-range, high velocity guns were not yet common on German tanks.  However, the rapid pace of tank development meant that the M3 was very quickly outclassed.  By mid-1943, with the introduction of the German Panthers and Tigers, the up-gunning of the Panzer IV to a long 75-mm gun, and the availability of large numbers of Shermans, the M3 was withdrawn from service in the European Theatre.  Wikipedia.

Ram Cruiser Tank

Ram II tanks on manouevres in the UK, ca. 1943. (Library and Archives Canada Mikan No. 4233146)

The Ram Cruiser Tank was a tank designed and built by Canada in the Second World War, based on the US M3 Medium tank.  It was used exclusively for training purposes and was never used in combat.

Tank production in the UK at the start of the war was insufficient to supply Canada as well, so it was decided to manufacture locally.  The Montreal Locomotive Works, which was a subsidiary of the American Locomotive Company, was designated the Canadian Tank Arsenal.  Initial production was of Valentine tanks, many of which would be supplied to the USSR.  Although the Valentine used a number of US produced parts, limitations in the availability of armour plate affected Valentine production.  The Canadians were interested in production of the M3 Medium, and the British Tank Mission contributed a tank expert to design a new hull that could take a larger turret while retaining the lower hull of the M3.  The new hull was cast rather than welded or riveted and lower than that of the M3

Although the ability to mount a large 75-mm gun was suggested, the turret was built to take the QF 6-pounder.  As it was not immediately available, early production (55 tanks) were fitted with the two pounder gun.

A prototype Ram I was completed in June 1941.  General production of the Ram I began in November of the same year.  This was fitted with side doors in the hull and an auxiliary machine gun turret in the front - these features would be discarded in later modifications.  By February 1942, production had switched to the Ram II model with a 6-pounder gun and continued until July 1943, when a decision was made to adopt the Sherman tank for all British and Canadian units.  By that point 1,948 vehicles, including 84 artillery observation post vehicles, had been completed.

As built, the Ram was never used in combat as a tank, but served well for crew training in Great Britain up to mid 1944.  The observation post vehicles and conversions of the Ram did see active service in Europe.  The tanks were rebuilt in army workshops near the front line.

In 1945 the Royal Netherlands Army got permission from the Canadian government to take possession for free of all Ram tanks in army dumps on Dutch territory.  Those not already converted into Kangaroos were used to equip the 1st and 2nd Tank Battalion (1e en 2e Bataljon Vechtwagens), the very first Dutch tank units.  These had a nominal organic strength of 53 each.  However it proved to be impossible to ready enough tanks to attain this strength, as the vehicles were in a very poor state of maintenance. 

In 1947 the UK provided 44 Ram tanks from its stocks that were in a better condition.  Forty of these had been rebuilt with the British 75-mm gun; four were OP/Command vehicles with a dummy gun.  This brought the operational total for that year to just 73, including two Mark Is.  In 1950 only fifty of these were listed as present.  The Ram tanks (together with the Sherman tanks of the three other tank battalions, in part simply taken without permission) were replaced by Centurion Tanks leased by the US Government in 1952.  Some Ram tanks were used in the fifties as static pillboxes in the Ijssel Line; their hulls dug in and embedded within two feet of concrete.  One Dutch Ram tank, an OP/Command vehicle, survives at the Dutch Cavalry Museum in Amersfoort.

MGen F.F. Worthington with a Ram tank.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232847)

Ram tanks can also be seen at the Canadian War Museum, in Worthington Park at Canadian Forces Base Borden, in front of the Beatty Street Armoury in Vancouver, and at the Bovington Tank Museum (Ram and Ram Kangaroo Armoured Personnel Carrier).  Wikipedia

Ram Variants:

Ram I Cruiser Tank

First Ram I Cruiser Tank, Montreal Locomotive Works.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3554045)

Ram I tank crew, 5th Canadian Armoured Division, Aldershot, UK, 24 Dec 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3525210)

The Ram I was armed with an Ordnance QF 2-pounder/40-mm gun (171 rounds). 

Ram II Cruiser Tank


Ram II tank, turret swung right.  (DND Photo)

Ram II tanks, Camp Borden, Ontario, ca 1943.  Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232610)

Ram II Tanks, ca 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, Mikan No. 4232743)

Ram II Tanks in service at Camp Borden, ca. 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232758

Ram II Cruiser Tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The early production Ram Mk III was armed with a QF 6-pounder/57-mm gun (92 rounds).  The late production Ram Mk V was also armed with a QF 6-pounder gun, but had the auxiliary turret and sponson door removed. A Browning .303 in (7.7-mm) machine gun was fitted in ball mount.

Badger Flamethrower Tank

A flamethrower equipped tank.  The first Badgers were Ram Kangaroos with the Wasp II flamethrowing equipment (as used on the Universal Carrier) installed in place of the bow MG. Later models were turret rams with the equipment in place of the main gun. 

Ram Kangaroo

Kangaroo APC with Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, Wertle, Germany, 11 Apr 1945.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3223906)

The Ram Kangaroo Armoured Personnel Carrier, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Ram Kangaroo is an armoured personnel carrier for 11 men plus 2 crew.

Ram OP/Command (84)

An armoured vehicle to function as a mobile observation posts for the Forward Observation Officers (FOO) of Sexton self-propelled gun units, based on Ram II.  The gun was replaced by a dummy, and two Wireless sets were fitted.  Crew of 6.  84 were built in 1943


Like the OP but with special equipment for gun position officers of SP artillery regiments.  The vehicle had Tannoy loudspeakers mounted.

Sexton SP Gun

Sexton 25-pounder SP Gun ca. 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3197576)

Sexton 25-pounder Self-Propelled Gun Howitzer, Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo) 

The Sexton is a self-propelled artillery vehicle armed with a QF 25-pounder gun in an open-topped superstructure


Armoured ammunition supply vehicle, carried 25-pounder ammunition for the Sexton

Ram ARV Mk I

Armoured recovery vehicle based on Ram I.  Winch added.


ARV based on Ram II.  Jib and earth spade added, turret replaced by dummy.

Ram Gun Tower

 Armoured artillery tractor for use with Ordnance QF 17-pounder towed Anti-tank gun.  Wikipedia.

M4A1 Grizzly Cruiser Tank

M4A1 Grizzly Cruzer Tank, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Grizzly I was a Canadian built M4A1 Sherman tank with some modifications, it had thicker, more sloping armour, had a longer range, and, most notably was fitted with Canadian Dry Pin (CDP) tracks. 

After the fall of France in 1940, it was decided that Canada should manufacture its own tanks, rather than be supplied from the UK or with US-built tanks, for the armoured divisions that were being formed.  For speed of introduction, the native design would be based on the US M3 tank.  The limitations of the M3 design led to extensive reworking of the design to give the Ram Cruiser Tank.  This was produced at the new factory of Montreal Locomotive Works. 

The Ram was suitable for training but the M4 Sherman which quickly followed the M3 design was superior and the Ram production line was switched over to Grizzly production in August 1943.   Production of the Grizzly was halted as US tank production would be sufficient for all the Allies and the production line was switched instead to the Sexton self-propelled gun Mk II.  The Sexton was designed after the US M7 Priest SP Gun which used the M3 and then M4 chassis.  The Sexton Mk II used the Grizzly chassis, the upper hull modified to carry the Commonwealth standard QF 25-pounder gun instead.

Priest M-7 105-mm SP Gun, RCHA.  (DND Photo)

The Grizzly differed in the suspension from the M4, having a 13, instead of 17, tooth idler and CDP tracks.  Some were planned for conversion to the Skink anti-aircraft tank with a turret mounting four 20-mm cannon.  Following the war, a number of Grizzly tanks and Sexton self-propelled guns were sold to Portugal as part of the NATO military assistance program where they served until finally being retired in the 1980s.  Wikipedia.

Priest Kangaroo

Priest Kangaroo, 4th Cdn Armoured Division moving into Delden, Netherlands, 4 Apr 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194297)

Skink 20-mm Quad AA Tank

Skink 20-mm Quad AA Tank.  (DND Photo courtesy of Clive Law)

The Tank AA, 20-mm Quad, Skink was a Canadian self-propelled anti-aircraft gun.  It was also designated as “Project 47” by the Canadian Army.  When Canadian Ram tank production ceased in 1943, the lines at the Montreal Locomotive Works were turned over to Grizzly Is.  It was rapidly realized this was unnecessary, as US factories were more than able to meet the demand, and only 188 Grizzlys were built, most retained for training.

As the invasion of Europe was impending, and it was felt a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun able to keep up with armoured formations might be required, the Canadian Ministry of Defence (MOD) arranged with Waterloo Manufacturing Company for the design of a cast turret with four Hispano-Suiza 20-mm cannons (later changed to the simpler British Polsten, a derivative of the Oerlikon) capable of firing about thirty rounds per second combined.  They were aimed by periscope or roof-mounted reflector sight via electro hydraulic joystick control.

Early in 1944, the first test models were ready.  Plans to build these, as well as conversion kits for existing Grizzly and Sherman tanks, were quickly superseded by the realization that Allied air forces had achieved air supremacy over Normandy.  Since the Skink was now redundant, the project was cancelled in April 1944 after only three vehicles and eight conversion kits were completed.  The original program had planned for the production of 135 Skinks for the Canadian Army and 130 Skink turrets for the British forces.

Reportedly the sole Skink sent to Britain for evaluation actually saw action.  After being transhipped to Antwerp on 24 January 1945, it reached the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade a few miles south of Nijmegen, Holland, on 4 February, and entered combat in support of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (CAR) north of Nijmegen Bridge, later with 22nd CAR at the Battle of Hochwald Forest.  The name Skink was also applied to a flamethrower tank based on the Sherman.  Wikipedia.

Two stripped and shot-up Skink turrets are known to exist, with one in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and another at CFB Shilo, Manitoba.  Others are being searched for.  The Skink was a very advanced design for its time.  Its nearest equivalent was the German Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind, a 20-mm Quad AA Gun in an open topped powered turret on a Panzer IV chassis, some 100 of which were built and saw service with the German Army during Second World War.[27]

Crusader Cruiser Tank AA Mk III

The Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI Crusader was one of the primary British cruiser tanks of the Second World War and perhaps the most important British tank of the North African Campaign.  However, due to its reputation for unreliability and relatively thin armour, it was replaced by American tanks for the invasion of Italy.  Over 5,300 were built. 

The Canadian Army did not have Crusader tanks but did use variants.  At least one Anti-Aircraft unit of the British 7th Armoured Division equipped with Crusader AA Mk III tanks landed on Juno Beach on 7 June 1944 in support of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division during the invasion of Normandy.  Others served with the 1st Polish Armoured Division, also in support of the Canadians.  Documents indicate 27 were held by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and 20 with the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade under 21 Army Group in June 1944.  By 31 December 1944, these numbers had dropped with 10 still held by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and 1 with the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade.[28]

The Crusader had five road wheels on each side to improve weight distribution.  The 32 in (810-mm)-diameter wheels were of pressed steel with solid rubber tyres.  Hull sides were of two separated plates with the suspension arms between them.  A small hand-traversed auxiliary turret armed with a Besa machine gun was mounted at the left hand side of the front hull.  The auxiliary turret was awkward to use and was often removed in the field or remained unoccupied.  The turret was polygonal - with sides that sloped out then in again - to give maximum turret space on the limited turret diameter. Early production vehicles had a “semi-internal” cast gun mantlet, which was quickly replaced in production by better protected big cast mantlet with three vertical slits - for the main gun, for a coaxial Besa MG and for a sighting telescope.  There was no cupola for the commander who had instead a flat hatch with the periscope mounted through it.

The main armament was balanced so the gunner could control its elevation by hand rather than using gearing.  This fitted well with the British doctrine of firing on the move.  When it was understood that there would be delays in the introduction of successor heavy cruiser tanks - what would become the Cavalier, Centaur and Cromwell - the Crusader was adapted to use the 6-pounder gun.

After the completion of the North African Campaign, the availability of better tanks such as the Sherman and Cromwell relegated the Crusader to secondary duties such as anti-aircraft mounts or gun tractors.  In these roles it served for the remainder of the war.

The Crusader III, AA Mk II was armed with twin Oerlikon 20-mm guns for anti-aircraft use.  The Mk III only differed from the Mk II by the position of the radio, which was moved to the hull in order to free some space inside the turret.  A variation with triple Oerlikon guns was produced in very limited quantities.  Due to Allied air superiority none of the AA versions saw much action.  The Crusader anti-aircraft guns were designed for use in North West Europe. However with the Allied domination of the air they were largely unneeded and the AA troops were disbanded.  The Crusader gun tractors operated with the Armoured Divisions, but were supplanted in part by the 17-pounder Archer self-propelled gun.  Wikipedia.

Archer 17-pounder self-propelled gun.  (Dennis Berkin Photo)

According to author Peter Brown,

 “All the effort which went into designing, testing and building these vehicles, training crews, issuing them and taking them to France seems to have had little result.  So far, no account of them bringing down any aircraft has come to light, and the AA Troops were disbanded in July/August 1944…A series of  reports of AFV and RA Equipment State recorded on 21 Army Group Form 42 and marked TOP SECRET show(s)…the number of vehicles with the various Delivery Squadrons, for 256 ADS the number of vehicles rises from four on 2 August to 34 on 4 Aug and 52 on 10 Aug, which suggests that most withdrawalswere carried out at the start of August. 257 CDS also held 10 at this period, and    most vehicles were classed as “unfit”.  Numbers fell in these two units, but the other British and Canadian Delivery Squadrons had smaller numbers.  By the end 15 at the end of September and down to 9 at the end of October, with none in the Canadian squadrons.”

“While most units handed over all or at least most of their vehicles, one regiment not only kept them, but also increased their stocks.  The South Alberta Regiment, which was the Sherman-equipped Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, acquired one extra vehicle to their original six - they appear to have operated on the War Establishment of an Armoured Regiment and not an Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment - to give them seven in all. This may have come from the Polish 10th Mounted Rifles, who were Recce for 1st Polish Armoured Division”[29]

Cromwell Cruiser Tank

Cromwell Tank moving into position for an attack south of Caen, France, June 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233175)


Canadian Cromwell Tank, Normandy, 1 July 1944.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No.)

Canadian Cromwell Tank, Normandy, July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN 4233766)

Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell (A27M), and the related Centaur (A27L) tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second World War. The Cromwell tank, named after the English Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell, was the first tank put into service by the British to combine a dual-purpose gun, high speed from the powerful and reliable Meteor engine, and reasonable armour, in a balanced package. Its design formed the basis of the Comet tank.  The Cromwell and Centaur differed in the engine used. While the Centaur had the Liberty engine of the predecessor cruiser tank, the Crusader (and the interim A24 Cavalier), the Cromwell had the significantly more powerful Meteor. Apart from the engine and associated transmission differences, the two tanks were the same and many Centaurs built were fitted with the Meteor to make them Cromwells.  The Cromwell first saw action in the Battle of Normandy in June 1944.

Centaur (A27L)

Centaur (A27L) AA Mk II, Elbeuf, France, 28 August 1944, Canadian Grenadier Guards, 1st Canadian Composite Centaur Bty, one of 6.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3593377)

The Cromwell and Centaur differed in the engine used. While the Centaur had the Liberty engine of the predecessor cruiser tank, the Crusader (and the interim A24 Cavalier), the Cromwell had the significantly more powerful Meteor. Apart from the engine and associated transmission differences, the two tanks were the same and many Centaurs built were fitted with the Meteor to make them Cromwells.  The Centaur, AA Mk II used a Crusader III, AA Mk III turret with twin 20 mm Polsten AA guns. 

M4 Sherman Medium Tank

M4A2 Sherman Tank, "Acorn", 8th Princess Louise's (New Brunswick) Hussars, Italy, spring 1944.  (Skaarup Family Photo)

Sherman tank in Vaucelles, France, ca 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Mikan No. 4233126)

The M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, was the primary tank used by the United States during Second World War.  Thousands were also distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and Soviet armies, via lend-lease.  In the United Kingdom, the M4 was named after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, following the British practice of naming their American-built tanks after famous American Civil War generals.  Subsequently the British name found its way into common use in the American Shermans which were used by the Canadian Army extensively and remained in service into the 1960s in reserve units.  The variant used post WW2 was the M4A2E8 76-mm (W) “Easy Eight” Sherman Medium Tank, (diesel engined) called the Sherman IIIAY in Canadian service.

The Sherman evolved from the Grant and Lee medium tanks, which had an unusual side-sponson mounted 75-mm gun.  It retained much of the previous mechanical design, but added the first American main 75-mm gun mounted on a fully traversing turret, with a gyrostabilizer enabling the crew to fire with reasonable accuracy while the tank was on the move.  The designers stressed mechanical reliability, ease of production and maintenance, durability, standardization of parts and ammunition in a limited number of variants, and moderate size and weight. These factors made the Sherman superior in some regards, to the earlier German light and medium tanks that had swept across Europe in the blitzkrieg campaigns of 1939-41, and which still made up the majority of German Panzer forces - albeit usually in up-gunned and up-armoured variants, in the later stages of the war.

Sherman tank in Vaucelles, France, ca 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Mikan No. 4233133)

The Sherman ended up being produced in large numbers and formed the backbone of most Allied offensives, starting in late 1942.  The original Shermans were able to defeat the relatively small German tanks such as the Panzer II and III they faced when first deployed in North Africa.  Later, they found themselves seriously outmatched against newer up-gunned and up- armoured PzKpfw IV and Panther medium tanks and wholly inadequate against the armour and range of the Tiger I and later Tiger II heavy tanks, suffering high casualties against their heavier armour and more powerful 88-mm and 75-mm cannons.  Mobility, mechanical reliability and sheer numbers, supported by growing superiority in supporting fighter-bombers and artillery, offset these disadvantages to an extent at a strategic level.

M4A2 Sherman III, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo) 

Later versions of the Sherman introduced 76-mm guns, giving them better armour penetration than the original 75-mm gun, though still insufficient at range against late war German heavy tanks.  In the Pacific Theatre, the Sherman was used chiefly against Japanese infantry and fortifications; in their rare encounters with much lighter Japanese tanks with weaker armour and guns, the Sherman’s superiority was overwhelming.

Production of the M4 exceeded 50,000 units, and its chassis served as the basis for numerous other armoured vehicles such as tank destroyers, tank retrievers, and self-propelled artillery.  Only Mikhail Koshkin’s design of the Soviet T-34 tank was ultimately produced in larger numbers during Second World War.  Many German generals and many historians considered the T-34 the best tank of the war, but even so the Russians recognized the Sherman’s particular advantages when they used them in certain niche situations.

The US Army had seven main sub-designations for M4 variants during production: M4, M4A1, M4A2, M4A3, M4A4, M4A5, and M4A6.  These designations did not necessarily indicate linear improvement: for example, A4 was not meant to indicate it was better than the A3.  These sub-types indicated standardized production variations, which were in fact often manufactured concurrently at different locations.  The sub-types differed mainly in engines, although the M4A1 differed from the M4 by its fully-cast upper hull; the M4A4 had a longer engine system that required a longer hull, a longer suspension system, and more track blocks; M4A5 was an administrative placeholder for Canadian production; and the M4A6 had an elongated chassis, but fewer than 100 of these were produced.

Early Shermans mounted a 75-mm medium-velocity general-purpose gun.  Although Ordnance began work on the Medium Tank T20 as a Sherman replacement, ultimately the Army decided to minimize production disruption by incorporating elements of other tank designs into the Sherman.  Later M4A1, M4A2, and M4A3 models received the larger T23 turret with a high-velocity 76-mm M1 gun, which reduced the number of HE and smoke rounds carried and increased the number of anti-tank rounds.  Later, the M4 and M4A3 were factory-produced with a 105-mm Howitzer and a new distinctive mantlet in the original turret.  The first standard-production 76-mm gun Sherman was an M4A1, accepted in January 1944, and the first standard-production 105-mm Howitzer Sherman was an M4 accepted in February 1944.

M4A2 Sherman tank, "Bomb", Sherbrooke Hussars, Quebec.  (Author Photo)

There were many remarkable tankers in the Sherbrooke Hussars.  According to BGen Radley-Walters, one example was "Sergeant Ralph "Pop” Beardsley, who had returned to the Squadron (Sherbrookes) after being wounded outside of St. André in France, and he was once again one of Radley-Walter’s Troop Leaders.  One of Pop’s idiosyncrasies was that he never talked on the radio.  He always listened, but never spoke.  Pop was well loved and respected in the Regiment not only because he was a real character but also because of his physical courage.  During the attack on Bourgtheroulde, Pop again displayed uncommon courage.  Pop was knocked out.  He wasn't very far from me to the left.  I saw him bail out and then he came walking toward my tank.  I thought he was badly wounded, but when he got there [to my tank] and I spoke to him, he said, “No, No, I’m fine. Nothing is wrong with me.  But that is poor old Paul Elliot spread all over me.  It just made mincemeat out of him when the round came through." He was rubbing all these bits and pieces of him [Elliot] off his battle dress.  So I said to him, “Go on back Pop and pick up a tank and I'll see you in a couple of days time.”  So we kept on moving towards Bougthorould and about a half an hour later I see this tank whizzing by in the field and it's Beardsley again.  He just kind of waves as he goes by and moves forward to the left and up about 300 yards and Bang!  He gets hit again.  This time his driver was badly hurt and lost his legs.  Pop managed to get him out and save his life and then went back to get another tank.  I didn’t talk to him that particular time.  We got into Bougthorould with the Black Watch and into a defensive position.  Night was coming on and the echelon was moving in and the Sergeant-Major came up with the echelon to replenish [the squadron].  And I said, “Beardsley got knocked out a couple of times with us and see that he is looked after when he gets back to the echelon.  I think he has gone back for another tank."  He says, “My God Sir!  Beardsley is right here!"  He just pulled in behind me with a new tank and he was all ready to go again.  I think that just shows the courage that man had.  Getting knocked out of two tanks in a short period of time...But that was Beardsley and that was the way he operated."

In June–July 1944, the Army accepted a limited run of 254 M4A3E2 Jumbo Shermans, which had very thick armour and the 75-mm gun in a new, heavier T23-style turret, in order to assault fortifications.  The M4A3 was the first to be factory-produced with the HVSS (horizontal volute spring suspension) suspension with wider tracks to distribute weight, and the smooth ride of the HVSS with its experimental E8 designation led to the nickname Easy Eight for Shermans so equipped.  Both the Americans and the British developed a wide array of special attachments for the Sherman; few saw combat, and most remained experimental.  Those that saw action included the bulldozer blade for the Sherman dozer tanks, Duplex Drive amphibious tanks with waterproof float screens. (When in the water the float screen was raised and the rear propellers came into operation).  The three regiments of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, when used in the assault role in Normandy, had 38 DD or Duplex Drive Shermans issued.  Other variants included the R3 flamethrower for Zippo flame tanks, and the T34 60-tube Calliope 4.5” rocket launcher for the Sherman turret.  The British variants (DDs and mine flails) were among “Hobart’s Funnies“, named after their commander, Percy Hobart of the 79th Armoured Division.

M4A4 Sherman Duplex Drive tank with waterproof float screen.  (Wikipedia Photo)

Sherman DD Swimming Tanks inflated, preparing for launch from an LCT on exercise in the UK prior to D-Day.  (IWM Photo H35179)

Sherman ARV moving into positions for an attack south of Caen, France, June 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3512561)

The M4 Sherman’s basic chassis was used for all the sundry roles of a modern mechanized force: roughly 50,000 Sherman tanks, plus thousands more derivative vehicles under different model numbers.  These included M32 and M74 “tow truck”-style recovery tanks with winches, booms, and an 81-mm mortar for smoke screens; M34 (from M32B1) and M35 (from M10A1) artillery prime movers; M7B1, M12, M40, and M43 self-propelled artillery; and the M10 Wolverine and M36 Jackson tank destroyers. 

M74 Tank Recovery Vehicle, Military Communications and Electronics Museum, CFB Kingston, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

M4A4 Sherman Crab

Sherman Flail tank, Fort Garry Horse, Op Tractable, Bretteville-le-Rabet, France, 14 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396203)

Sherman Flail tank coming ashore from an LCT, Walcheren Island, Netherlands, 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3614385)

M4A4 Sherman Crab, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The M4A4 Sherman Crab was equipped with a mine flail.  A mine flail is a vehicle-mounted device that makes a safe path through a mine-field by deliberately detonating land mines in front of the vehicle that carries it.  They were first used by the British during Second World War.  The mine flail consists of a horizontal, rapidly-rotating rotor mounted in front of the vehicle on two arms.  Fist-sized steel balls are attached to the rotor by chains, with each length of ball-ended chain comprising a flail.  The rotor’s rotation causes the flails to spin wildly and to continuously and violently strike the ground.  The force of a flail strike above a buried mine mimics a person or vehicle passing over it and causes the mine to detonate, but in a safe manner that does little damage to the flails or the vehicle.  Wikipedia.

During Second World War, approximately 19,247 M4 Shermans were issued to the US Army and about 1,114 to the US Marine Corps.  The US also supplied 17,184 to Great Britain, while the Soviet Union received 4,102 and an estimated 812 were transferred to China.  These numbers were distributed further to the respective countries’ allied nations.

The United States officially did not list Canada as a Lend-Lease recipient, but did create the 1941 Joint Defense Production Committee with Canada so “each country should provide the other with the defence articles which it is best able to produce” and American Locomotive Company enabled its Canadian subsidiary, the Montreal Locomotive Works, to build M4A1 variants in Canada.  Canada received four Shermans under Lend-Lease; the mechanism of this is not fully understood.  The MLW built 188 Shermans called the Grizzly I cruiser in Canadian service, which were restricted to training.  MLW investment in Sherman production was turned to production of the Sexton self propelled gun.  In European combat the Canadian Army used American-built Shermans supplied by the UK.  These were armed with 75-mm, 105-mm and 17-pounder guns.  Wikipedia.

The Sherman was being issued in small numbers for familiarization to US armoured Divisions when there was a turn of events in the Western Desert.  Rommel had taken Tobruk, and Egypt (and the Suez Canal) was threatened.  The US considered collecting all Shermans together so as to be able to send the 2nd Armoured Division under Patton to reinforce Egypt, but delivering the Shermans directly to the British was quicker and 300 had arrived there by September 1942

The M4A1 Sherman first saw combat at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 with the British 8th Army.  The first US Shermans in battle were M4A1s in Operation Torch the next month.  At this time, Shermans successfully engaged German Panzer IIIs with long barrelled 50-mm L/60 guns, and Panzer IVs with short barrelled 75-mm L/24 guns.  Additional M4s and M4A1s replaced M3 Lees in US tank battalions over the course of the North African campaign.  The M4 and M4A1 were the main types in US units until late 1944, when the Army began replacing them with the preferred M4A3 with its more powerful 500 hp (370 kW) engine.  Some M4s and M4A1s continued in US service for the rest of the war.

Encounters with a company of Tiger Is, with their heavier armour and 88-mm L/56 guns, in Tunisia were typical of the mid-war period: the fearsome quality of a few German heavy tanks and their crews could be overcome by the quantity and mobility of the Shermans, supported by artillery and airpower, but sometimes at a great cost in US tanks and crewmen.  By June 1944, the Panzer IV had been up-gunned with a 75-mm L/48 weapon, and 75-mm Shermans were out-gunned on a regular basis. 

The first Sherman to enter combat with the 76-mm gun in July 1944 was the M4A1, closely followed by the M4A3.  By the end of the war, half the US Army Shermans in Europe had the 76-mm gun.  The first HVSS Sherman to see combat was the M4A3E8 76-mm (W) in December 1944.

In 1943, most German AFVs (later models of the Panzer IV, StuG III, and Marder III) mounted 7.5 cm KwK 40.  As a result, even weakly-armoured light German tank destroyers such as the Marder III, which was meant to be a stop-gap measure to fight Soviet tanks in 1942, could destroy Shermans from a distance. 

M4A2E8 Sherman IIIAY

The disparity in firepower between the German AFVs of 1943 and the 75-mm M4 tank was the impetus to begin production of the 76-mm M4 tank in April 1944.  The merican 76-mm gun proved to be comparable in penetrating power to the 7.5-cm KwK 40, the most common German tank gun encountered during the fighting in France. 

The Sherman, due to its 75-mm gun, had major difficulty penetrating the glacis of Panther tanks. The Sherman had a gun that could penetrate roughly 88-mm at 1000 m. The average combat range noted by the Americans for tank vs. tank action was around 800 m to 900 m. This was just enough to penetrate a Panzer IV frontally, a tank designed in 1939.  In order to deal with a Panther, a Sherman would have to get relatively close, due to both the armour and low-flash powder of the Panther.  Sherman crews also had issues with firing from range as the Sherman’s high flash powder made their shots easy to spot.  Summer 1944, after breaking out of the bocage, saw US tank crews assaulting German defensive positions with sometimes 50% casualties before spotting where the fire was coming from.

Although tests against armour plate suggested that the new M1A1 76-mm gun would be adequate, testing against Panther tanks was never done.  This would have shown that the gun could not penetrate the glacis plate of the Panther at any distance, and could only penetrate the center of the gun mantlet at 100 meters.

In testing prior to the invasion of Normandy, the new 76-mm gun on the M4 Sherman was found to have a undesirable muzzle blast that kicked up dust from the ground and obscured vision for further firing.  The addition of a muzzle brake solved this problem by directing the blast sideways.  It also had a much weaker high-explosive shell than the existing 75-mm gun. Standard Army doctrine at the time emphasized the importance of the infantry support role of the tank, and the high-explosive round was considered more important.  Hence the 76-mm M4 was not initially accepted by various US Armoured Division commanders, even though a number had already been produced and were available.  All of the US Army M4s deployed initially in Normandy in June 1944 had the 75-mm gun.

Note: M4 Sherman letter code variations: M4 - Model Number, A1 - Continental Radial Engine, A2 – twin General Motors Diesel Engines, A3 - Ford GAA V-8 Engine; 75-mm, 76mm - calibre of main gun; (W) – Pressurized wet stowage of ammunition; HVSS - widetrack Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension.

Ordnance QF 17-pounder Anti-Tank Gun, Military Museums, Calgary, Alberta.  (Author Photo)

The British were more astute in their anticipation of the future development of German armour - beginning development of a 3 inch anti-tank gun even before its predecessor entered service and planning for its use in tanks that would replace the M4.  Out of expediency driven by delays in their new tanks designs, they mounted a high-powered Ordnance QF 17-pounder gun in a standard 75-mm M4 Sherman turret. This conversion became the Sherman Firefly.  The 17-pounder still could not penetrate the glacis plate of the Panther but it could easily penetrate the Panther’s gun mantlet at combat range; moreover it could penetrate the front and side armour of the Tiger I at nearly the same range that the Tiger I could penetrate the Sherman.

German Panzer V Panther tank being examined by Infantrymen of the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade Authie, France, 9 July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3401771)

The higher-velocity 76-mm M1 gun gave Shermans anti-tank firepower at least equal to most of the German vehicles they encountered, particularly the Panzer IV, and StuG.  However, with a regular AP (Armour Piercing shot) ammunition (M79) or APCBC (M62) shells, the 76-mm might knock out a Panther only at close range with a shot to its mantlet or flank.  At long range, the Sherman was badly outmatched by the Panther’s 75-mm gun, which could easily penetrate the Sherman’s armour from all angles.  This contributed to the high losses of Sherman tanks suffered by the Allied forces in Europe.

The Sherman would finally give way to post-war tanks developed from the M26.  Various original and updated versions of the Sherman would continue to see combat effectively in many later conflicts, including the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli Wars, and Indo-Pakistani Wars into the late 20th century, against the T-34 and sometimes much more contemporary Soviet tanks.  Wikipedia.

Canadians in Italy

While Canadians served at sea, in the air, and in small numbers attached to Allied formations and independently, the invasion of Sicily was the first full scale combat engagement by full Canadian divisions since First World War.  Canadian soldiers went ashore in 1943 in the Allied invasions of Sicily and mainland Italy, and then fought through the long Italian Campaign.  During the course of the Italian Campaign, over 25,000 Canadian soldiers became casualties of war.

The 1st Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in Operation Husky, 10 July 1943 and also the Allied invasion of mainland Italy on 3 September 1943.  Canadian participation in the Sicily and Italy campaigns were made possible after the government decided to break up the First Canadian Army, sitting idle in Britain. 

Public pressure for Canadian troops to begin fighting forced a move before the awaited invasion of north-eastern Europe.  Troops fought on through the long and difficult Italian campaign until redeployed to North-West Europe in February–March 1945 during Operation Goldflake.  By this time the Canadian contribution to the Italian theatre had grown to include I Canadian Corps headquarters, the 1st Division, 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division and an independent armoured brigade.  Three Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian Army troops in Italy; Captain Paul Triquet of the Royal 22e Régiment, Private Smokey Smith of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, and Major John Mahoney of The Westminster Regiment (Motor).  Notable battles in Italy included The Moro River Campaign, the Battle of Ortona and the battles to break the Hitler Line.  Wikipedia.

Normandy and Northwest Europe

On 6 June 1944, the 3rd Canadian Division landed on Juno Beach in the Battle of Normandy and sustained 50% casualties in their first hour of attack.  By the end of D-Day, the Canadians had penetrated deeper into France than either the British or the American troops at their landing sites, overcoming stronger resistance than any of the other beachheads except Omaha Beach.  In the first month of the Normandy campaign, Canadian, British and Polish troops were opposed by some of the strongest and best trained German troops in the theatre, including the 1st SS Division, the 12th SS Division and the Panzer-Lehr-Division.

Caen-Falaise Road, 8 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4164905)

Canadian tanks move into position for attack toward Falaise, between Hubert-Folie and Tilly-la-Campagne, Normandy, 8 Aug 1944.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, PA-132904)

Soldier of Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (4th Canadian Armoured Division) passing a destroyed Canadian tank in St. Lambert sur Dive, Normandy, 19 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No.)

Several costly operations were mounted by the Canadians to fight a path to the pivotal city of Caen and then south towards Falaise, part of the Allied attempt to liberate Paris.  Canadian troops played a heavy role in the liberation of Paris.  Suggested that Canadian inexperience during the battle to close the Falaise Gap allowed German forces to escape destruction, but by the time the First Canadian Army linked up with US forces, the destruction of the German Army in Normandy was nearly complete.

Major David V. Currie, V.C., South Alberta Regiment, Breda, Netherlands, 25 November 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3224834)

Humber Mk. I, Maj David V. Currie, VC, SAR, Halte, NE, 12 Nov 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3227188)

Three Victoria Crosses were earned by Canadians in Northwest Europe: Major David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment won the Victoria Cross for his actions at Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive.  Captain Frederick Tilston of the Essex Scottish and Sergeant Aubrey Cosens of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada were awarded the Victoria Cross for their service in the Rhineland fighting in 1945, the latter posthumously.

M4A4 Sherman 17-pounder Firefly

Sherman Firefly Vc tank of The Fort Garry Horse near the Beveland Canal, Netherlands, ca. 29 October 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3228088.  Lt Ken Bell)

Sherman 17-pounder Firefly 1c, 5th Canadian Armoured Division, Putten, Holland, 18 April 1945. (Library and Archives Canada Photo)

M4A2 Sherman Firefly V, "Cathy", Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.  (Author Photo)

The Sherman Firefly was a Second World War British variant of the American Sherman tank, fitted with the powerful British 17-pounder anti-tank gun as its main weapon.  Originally conceived as a stopgap until future British tank designs came into service, the Sherman Firefly became the most common vehicle with the 17-pounder in Second World War.

Although the British expected to have their own new tank models developed soon (and were loath to consider using American tanks), British Major George Brighty championed the already-rejected idea of mounting the 17-pounder in the existing Sherman.  With the help of Lieutenant Colonel Witheridge and despite official disapproval, he managed to get the concept accepted.  This proved fortuitous, as both the Challenger and Cromwell Cruiser Tank designs experienced difficulties and delays.

After the problem of getting the gun to fit in the Sherman’s turret was solved, the Firefly was put into production in early 1944, in time to equip Field Marshal Montgomery’s forces for the Normandy landings.  It soon became highly valued as the only British tank capable of defeating the Panther and Tiger tanks it faced in Normandy at standard combat ranges.  In recognition of this, German tank and anti-tank gun crews were instructed to attack Fireflies first.  Between 2100 and 2200 were manufactured before production wound down in 1945.  Wikipedia.

The nickname “Firefly” is not found in wartime official documents.  It was sometimes used at unit level (Brigade/Regiment) war diaries from March 1944, with another nickname being ‘Mayfly’.  During the war, Shermans with 17-pounder guns were usually known as ‘1C’ ‘1C Hybrid’ or ‘VC’, depending on the basic mark of the vehicle.  In British nomenclature, a “C” at the end of the Roman numeral indicated a tank equipped with the 17-pounder.  The Firefly had no armour or mobility advantages over the normal Sherman tank, although the gun mantlet was some 13-mm thicker.

The main armament of the Sherman Firefly was the Ordnance Quick Firing 17-pounder.  Designed as the successor to the British QF 6-pounder, the 17-pounder was the most powerful British tank gun of the war, and one of the most powerful of any nationality, being able to penetrate more armour than the Tiger I’s 88-mm KwK 36, the Panther tank’s 75-mm KwK 42, or the M26 Pershing’s 90-mm gun.  Although when supplied with M304 HVAP rounds the 90-mm could still penetrate some 15-mm additional armour at 500 m than even the APDS of the 17-pounder, though neither round saw much use during the war.

The Firefly 17-pounder was able to penetrate some 140-mm of armour at 500 m (550 yd) and 131-mm at 1,000 m (1,100 yd) using standard Armour Piercing, Capped, Ballistic Capped (APCBC) ammunition at a 30 degree angle.  When supplied, Armour Piercing, Discarding Sabot (APDS) ammunition could penetrate some 209-mm of armour at 500 m and 192-mm at 1,000 m at a 30 degree angle, which on paper was able to counter almost every German tank at any likely range.  However, early production APDS rounds lacked accuracy and being a sub-calibre shot, the actual penetrating shot at around 50-mm wide was less destructive after it had penetrated enemy tank armour than the 76-mm APCBC shell.  In any case, APDS ammunition was rare until late 1944.

Despite the Firefly’s superior antitank capabilities, the tank was regarded as inferior to the regular Sherman against soft targets such as enemy infantry, buildings and lightly armoured vehicles. As the war in Europe neared its close, the Allies found themselves encountering these more often than heavy German tanks. Allied tank units therefore typically refused to completely switch to Fireflies. A good HE shell only became available in late 1944 and even then was not as potent as the standard Sherman 75-mm HE shells.

Another problem was that the powerful blast from the 17-pounder gun kicked up large amounts of dirt as well as smoke, making it difficult for the gunner to observe the fall of the shell and thus relying on the commander to observe the fall of the round and to order corrections.  Dirt and dust revealed the position of the tank, so Sherman Fireflies would have to move every few shots to avoid detection.  The recoil and muzzle blast could be severely jarring to Firefly crews and the muzzle blast frequently caused night blindness as well.  This was a common problem on any tank armed with a high velocity gun, including Panther and Tiger tanks.  The cramped nature of the turret meant that loading the large 17-pounder shell was difficult so Fireflies had a reduced rate of fire compared to regular M4 Shermans.  Since the Firefly was a stopgap to get a 17-pounder gun mounted on a tank, these problems were never eliminated as the Firefly was to be retired with the introduction of the new British tank designs.

Three different variants of Sherman Firefly served during the Second World War, each based on different variants of the M4 Sherman.  The Firefly conversion was carried out on Sherman I (M4), Sherman I Hybrid (M4 Composite) and Sherman V (M4A4) tanks.  Some sources state that several Sherman IIs (M4A1) were converted and used in action, but photos allegedly showing these conversions are in fact views of the front half of Sherman I Hybrid Fireflies. 

To complicate matters, a very small number of Canadian licence-built Sherman IIs (M4A1), the Grizzly, were converted to Fireflies in Canada and used for training, but none saw action.  The majority of Shermans converted were the Sherman V/M4A4 model, of which the British received about 7,200.  The Sherman VC and IC variants are easily distinguished by their lower hulls; the VC having a riveted lower hull with a curved shape while the IC has a welded and angled lower hull.  The Hybrid can be distinguished by its upper hull which is cast and which gives it a distinctive curved look in comparison to the boxier hull of a typical Sherman.

Production of the Firefly started in early 1944, and by 31 May, some 342 Sherman Fireflies had been delivered to Montgomery’s 21st Army Group for the D-Day landings.  As a result, British tank troops were composed of three regular Shermans and one Firefly.  The same distribution occurred in Cromwell Cruiser Tank units, but this caused logistical problems, as each Cromwell troop now needed to be supplied with parts for two different tanks, and the Fireflies were slowly replaced by Challenger tanks as they came out.   Churchill Infantry Tank units received no Fireflies, and as a result often had to rely on any attached M10 or M10 Achilles SP 17-pounder units to provide increased firepower to deal with tanks their 75-mm guns could not eliminate.

Production was limited by the availability of suitable tanks, with the phasing out of 75-mm Sherman production.  To make up numbers the Mark I “hybrids” were employed.  From D-Day in June to the end of the Battle of Normandy in late August, some 550 Sherman Fireflies were built, more than sufficient to replace any permanent tank losses during the battle.  In late 1944, with the creation of an effective High Explosive shell for the 17-pounder gun, British units started to receive two Fireflies per troop.  By February 1945, some 2,000 Sherman Fireflies had been built and British armour troops were equipped with a 50/50 mix of 75-mm and 17-pounder armed Shermans.

In the spring of 1945, production of the Firefly was scaled down, with the last tank being delivered in May 1945.  This was the result of several factors, from superior home-grown designs like the Comet and Centurion coming into service which would replace the Firefly, to the impending defeat of Nazi Germany, and the inferior design of Japan’s tanks, which it seemed, would be the next opponents the British would have to face after the fall of Germany.

Overall production of the Sherman Firefly reached some 2,100 - 2,200 tanks; exact numbers are hard to determine as documents give contradictory totals.  Jane’s Second World War Tanks and Fighting Vehicles gives a production of 1,783 over 1944 and 563 over 1945, for a total of 2,346.

The Firefly’s secondary armament was the standard .30 inch coaxial machine gun in the turret.  The hull mounted machine gun had been removed to increase ammunition storage for the main gun.  A top-mounted .50 cal machine gun was also attached, though many crews removed it due to awkward mounting and position near the commander which limited a full 360 degree view when unbuttoned in battle.  Wikipedia.

Fireflies were introduced to armoured brigades and divisions in the 21st Army Group in 1944 just in time for the Normandy landings.  The timing was fortunate as the Allies discovered that the Germans were fielding a much larger number of formidable tanks, such as the Panther, than had been expected in the Normandy theatre.  In fact the Allies had mistakenly assumed the Panther, like the Tiger, would be a rare heavy tank with a limited production run, rather than a total replacement for their medium tanks, and the larger-than-expected number of Panthers came as a nasty shock to the Allied commanders as well as the tank crews forced to engage them with guns that could not penetrate the frontal armour at long range.

Fireflies were deployed as one tank per troop of Cromwell Cruiser Tank or Sherman tanks.  The deployment with Cromwell troops made servicing and supply of those units more complex.  The Firefly was also slower than the Cromwell.

Panthers and Tigers only accounted for some 30% of the nearly 2,500 German tanks deployed in Normandy (the rest being Panzer IVs, Sturmgeschütz IIIs and other tanks that the standard Shermans were able to effectively handle).  However, the importance of Caen and Montgomery’s operations, which pinned German armoured forces in front of the British positions so the American units could break out to the west, meant that British and Commonwealth units had to face over 70% of all German armour deployed during the Battle of Normandy, as well as over half the elite, well-equipped SS units.  As a result, the Sherman Firefly was perhaps the most valued tank by British and Commonwealth commanders, as it was the only tank in the British Army able to effectively defeat the Panthers and Tigers at the standard combat ranges in Normandy.

This fact did not go unnoticed by the Germans, who realized that these long-barrel Shermans posed a much greater threat to their heavy tanks than the regular Shermans, and German tank crews and anti-tank gun crews were instructed to eliminate Fireflies first.  Similarly, the Firefly crews realized that the distinctive long barrel of their 17-pounder gun made the Firefly stand out from regular Shermans, so crews attempted to disguise their tanks in the hope they would not be targeted.  Some crews had the front half of the gun barrel painted white on the bottom and dark green or the original olive drab on the top to give the illusion of a shorter gun barrel.  Another suggestion was for a shorter wooden dummy gun would be mounted on the rear of the turret and point forward; however, this tactic does not appear to have been used in combat.

Despite being a high priority target, Fireflies appear to have had a statistically lower chance of being knocked out than standard Shermans; this was probably due more to how they were employed than to the actual effectiveness of the attempted camouflaging of the long barrel. 

 Given the high value placed on Fireflies, a common tactic was for commanders to reconnoitre the battlefield before a battle to look for good hull down positions.  During the battle, Firefly tanks would stay behind in those position and cover the regular Shermans as they pushed forward, eliminating any enemy tanks that revealed themselves when they opened fire on the advancing Shermans and only moving forward when the regular Shermans had secured the area, or when they could no longer cover them from their current position.  Similarly, when on the move, troop commanders tended to position Fireflies in the rear to reduce the chance of them being knocked out.  However, given the relatively unpredictable nature of battle, this setup was not always practical or possible, and many times, Fireflies were forced to engage enemies in the open where they could be identified.

Despite this, the Firefly’s increased firepower was much valued, and during many engagements, the Firefly proved its worth, knocking out Tigers and Panthers at long range, as well as less formidable tanks like the Mark IVs and StuG IIIs.

One example of this increased firepower was displayed by Lt. G. K. Henry’s Firefly during the defence of Norrey-en-Bessin on 9 June against an attack by the 3rd Company of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Division.  Determined to capture the town in preparation for a larger offensive to drive the British and Canadians back into the sea, Kurt Meyer ordered an attack by 12 Panthers of the 3rd Company and infantry to attack Norrey-en-Bessin and drive the Canadians out of the town.  The attack got under way at 1300 hours with the Panthers racing to the town at full speed only to stop to fire their guns, quickly outrunning their infantry support which was forced to the ground by Allied artillery fire.  Within 1,000 m (1,100 yd) of the town, nine Shermans of the 1st Hussars opened fire into the advancing Panthers’ flanks.  Lt. Henry’s gunner, Trooper A. Chapman, waited until the Panthers “lined up like ducks in a row” and quickly knocked out five with just six rounds.  The attack was repulsed with the loss of seven of the 12 Panthers. 

A similar example occurred on 14 June, during Operation Perch.  Sgt. Harris of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, along with three standard Shermans, set up defensive positions along with the infantry after successfully driving out the Germans in the village of Lingèvres, near Tilly-sur-Seulles.  Looking through his binoculars, Sgt. Harris spotted two Panthers advancing from the east.   He opened fire at a range of 800 metres (870 yd), knocking out the lead Panther with his first shot, and the second Panther with his second.   Relocating to a new position on the other side of the town, he spotted another three Panthers approaching from the west.  From his well-concealed flanking position, he and his gunner, Trooper Mackillop, eliminated all three with just three rounds.  Harris and his gunner had knocked out five Panthers with as many rounds, demonstrating the potency of the Firefly, especially when firing from a defensive position on advancing enemy tanks.

Sherbrooke Fusiliers Sherman accompanied by soldiers of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal on rue de Falaise, 17 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo)

In perhaps its most famous action, a group of seven Tiger tanks from the 3rd Company and HQ Company, Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 supported by several Panzer IV tanks and StuG IV assault guns were ambushed by Fireflies from A Squadron, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 33rd Armoured Brigade, A Squadron, the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and B Squadron, The 144th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, 33rd Armoured Brigade.  Tanks of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and elements of the 51st (Highland) Division reached the French village of Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil on the morning of 8 August 1944 during Operation Totalize.  While B Squadron stayed around the village, A and C Squadrons moved further south into a wood called Delle de la Roque.  C Squadron positioned themselves on the east side of the woods and the understrength A Squadron in the southern portion with No. 3 Troop on the western edge of the wood.  From this position, they overlooked a large open section of ground and were able to watch as German tanks advanced up Route nationale 158 from the town of Cintheaux.

Under strict orders from the troop commander, they held their fire until the German tanks were well within range.  Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly Velikye Luki (A Squadrons tanks were named after towns in the Soviet Union) had yet to fire his gun in action.  With the Tiger tanks in range, the order was given to fire.  What followed was an almost 12 minute battle that saw Ekins destroying all three Tigers that No. 3 Troop could see; there were actually seven Tiger tanks in the area heading north along with some other tanks and self propelled guns.  A short time later, the main German counterattack was made in the direction of C Squadron.  A Squadron (less Sgt Gordon who had been wounded and had already bailed out of the Firefly) moved over to support them and in the resulting combat, Ekins destroyed a Panzer IV before his tank was hit and the crew were forced to bail out.  One of the Tigers Ekins is credited with knocking out was that of Michael Wittmann, though there is still some controversy over whether Ekins really killed Wittman, as Fireflies of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment also fired at the Tigers from a closer range of 150 m. 

Overall the Firefly proved itself a very successful tank despite the fact it was only intended as a stopgap tank until future British tanks like the Comet and the Centurion came into service.  While Normandy had priority, Fireflies also served with distinction in Italy in British and Commonwealth units.  British units in Italy also used the Sherman with the US 76-mm gun.  Wikipedia. 

M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyer

M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyer.  (US Army Photo)

The M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyer, formally the 3 inch Gun Motor Carriage, M10 was a United States tank destroyer of Second World War based on the chassis of the M4 Sherman tank.  It was numerically the most important US tank destroyer of Second World War and combined a reasonably potent anti-tank weapon with a turreted platform (unlike the previous M3 GMC, whose gun was capable of only limited traverse).  Despite the introduction of more-powerful types as replacements, it remained in service until the end of the war.  Some of those replacements were in fact modified and/or rebuilt from the M10 itself.

It was christened the Wolverine by the British, although unlike other vehicle names such as the M4 Sherman, the name was not adopted by American soldiers, who called it TD (a nickname for any tank destroyer in general) beyond its formal designation.

US combined-arms doctrine on the eve of Second World War held that tanks should be designed to fulfill the infantry support and exploitation roles.  The anti-tank warfare mission was assigned to a new branch, the tank destroyer force.  Tank destroyer units were meant to counter German blitzkrieg tactics.  Tank destroyer units were to be held as a reserve at the Corps or Army level, and were to move quickly to the site of any enemy tank breakthrough, manoeuvring aggressively to destroy enemy tanks.  This led to a requirement for very fast, well-armed vehicles.  Though equipped with turrets (unlike most tank destroyers of the day), the typical American design was more heavily gunned, but more lightly armoured, and thus more manoeuvrable, than a contemporary tank.  The idea was to use speed and agility as a defence, rather than thick armour, to bring a powerful self-propelled gun into action against enemy tanks.

The 3 inch Gun Motor Carriage T35 was the prototype of the M10. It was equipped with a 3 inch (76.2-mm) gun in a new sloped, circular, open-topped turret, developed from the Heavy Tank T1/M6 turret, and mounted on an early-production Medium Tank M4A1 hull.

This prototype was further developed by sloping the hull, using an M4A2 chassis, and replacing the circular turret with a pentagonal version; this model was designated 3 inch Gun Motor Carriage T35E1.  In June 1942 the T35E1 was finalized as the 3 inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 and ordered into full production.  Towards the end of production the 76-mm gun M1 was installed in the last 300 or so M10’s, as it was being fitted into the new production M4 Sherman tank at the time.  The 76-mm M1 offered slightly better anti-armour performance than the previous 3 inch gun M7.

A British variant designated M10 Achilles SP 17-pounder was developed by mounting the successful 17-pounder anti-tank gun in a modified turret.  The 17-pounder was of a similar bore, but had far superior armour penetration capability.  It was used by the British, Canadian and Polish armies in Italy and North-West Europe.

The M10 used a Medium Tank M4A2 chassis (M10A1s used M4A3 chassis) with an open-topped turret mounting a 3 inch gun M7.  This gun fired the Armour Piercing M79 shot that could penetrate 3 inches of armour at 1,000 yards at 30 degrees from vertical.  Other ammunition carried throughout its service life included the Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap (APCBC) M62 projectile, High Velocity Armour Piercing (HVAP) M93 shot, and Armour Piercing High Explosive (APHE); 54 rounds of 3 inch ammunition were carried.  The rear of the turret carried two large counterweights which gave it a distinctive shape.  The main shortcoming of the M-10’x 3 inch cannon was its APHE round, which was the round most commonly used for engaging tanks.  The 3 inch APHE round was based on the naval 3 inch round and had a small charge in the rear of the round which was supposed to explode after penetration of the targeted tank’s armour plating.  Unfortunately it was discovered that it exploded on impact or shortly thereafter, causing the round not to penetrate.  It is still a puzzling mystery as to why this problem was never addressed with a better base fuse or by deleting the small HE charge in the rear of the round.  This was also the problem with the towed version of the 3 inch cannon, the M-5, in the antitank role.

A .50-calibre Browning M2HB machine gun could be mounted on the top rear of the turret for use against enemy infantry and for anti-aircraft use, along with 1000 rounds.  The crew were also equipped with their personal weapons for self-protection.  Wikipedia.

In its combat debut in Tunisia in 1943 during the North African campaign, the M10 was successful as its M7 3 inch gun could destroy most German tanks then in service.  Later in the Battle of Normandy, the M10’s gun proved to be ineffective against the frontal armour of the newer German Tiger and Panther tanks unless firing HVAP rounds, but was effective against lighter tanks such as the Panzer IV medium tank and other lighter vehicles and self propelled guns.

British M10s were designated as (Gun) 3 inch Self Propelled Wolverine (3in SP Wolverine) or “M10 3 in SP” and as with all British self-propelled guns were operated by Royal Artillery units.  They saw action in Italy and France, many being upgunned with the more effective 17-pounder gun (M10 Achilles SP 17-pounder) from 1944 onwards.

The M10’s open-topped turret left the crew vulnerable to artillery and mortar fire as well as infantry close assault, especially in urban combat and wooded areas.  By the end of the war its armour was too thin to provide protection from the newer German tanks and anti-tank guns.  The other main disadvantage of the M10 was its very slow speed of turret rotation, as the turret traverse was unpowered and the crew had to hand-crank the turret around.  It took approximately two minutes to rotate a full 360 degrees.  US tank destroyers fired many more high-explosive shells than anti-tank ammunition, indicating that they were employed much like the tanks they were supposed to support.  Wikipedia.

M10 Achilles SP 17-pounder

M10 Achilles Tank Destroyer (TD), Courselles, Normandy, 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233767)

M10 Achilles Tank Destroyer (TD), possibly Normandy, late 1944.  (DND Photo) 

M10 Achilles of 245 Battery, 62nd Regiment, Royal Artillery, knocked out in Normandy, 1944. Three penetrating hits are visible on the turret.  (Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-299-1818-05)

The 17-pounder, Self Propelled, Achilles was a British variant of the American M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyer armed with the powerful British Ordnance QF 17-pounder anti-tank gun in place of the standard 3 inch (76-mm) Gun M7.  With a total of 1,100 M10s converted, the 17-pounder SP Achilles was the second most numerous armoured fighting vehicle to see service armed with the 17-pounder gun, behind the Sherman Firefly.

The name “Achilles” was officially a designation applied to both the 3 inch gun and 17-pounder versions (as Achilles I/II and Achilles Ic/IIc respectively) but was little used during the Second World War; at the time, the vehicle was called 17-pounder M10, or 17-pounder SP M10, or even occasionally, “Firefly”.  It has since become identified almost exclusively with the 17-pounder version.

In the wake of Germany’s successful 1939-41 campaigns, US armour doctrine had incorporated the idea of fast, lightly armoured vehicles carrying high velocity anti-tank guns as the best way to deal with the fast moving armour spearheads of the German Blitzkrieg.  The M10 was based on the chassis of the M4 Sherman but carried thinner although more sloped armour in order to comply with the high speed requirement for the tank.  At the same time, the British had been examining the possibility of designing a low-silhouette self-propelled tank destroyer, preferably with a 360-degree traversing turret, with armour that would be able to resist the German 50-mm at 800 yards and mounting the 17-pounder.  However with the arrival of the M10 on the battlefield in late 1942, British plans for a turreted self-propelled gun were cancelled.

The M10 was first made available to the British in 1943.  These vehicles were open topped and mounted a 3 inch American gun, which was significantly more powerful than the Ordnance QF 6-pounder that was mounted on British tanks of the period and was of equal power to the 75-mm KwK 40 used by the Panzer IV and Sturmgeschütz III.  When introduced into service in late 1942, the thin but sloped armour of the M10 provided good protection against the standard 50-mm gun mounted on most German tanks and anti-tank guns, and the 3 inch (76-mm) gun was able to easily defeat all German armour except for the handful of Tigers deployed against the Western Allies.

The M10 Achilles SP 17-pounder was little more than a modified M10.  The main difference between the Achilles and the original M10 was the gun.  The main armament of the Achilles was the Ordnance QF 17-pounder, a gun with greatly superior anti-tank performance over the standard American 3 inch anti-tank gun.

The 17-pounder mounted on the Achilles was able to penetrate some 140-mm of armour at 500 m and 131-mm at 1,000 m using standard Armour Piercing, Capped, Ballistic Capped (APCBC) ammunition impacting at a 30 degree angle.  When supplied, Armour-piercing discarding sabot (APDS) ammunition could penetrate some 209-mm of armour at 500 metres and 192-mm at 1,000 metres at a 30 degree angle. In comparison the 3 inch (76-mm) gun on the standard M10 using the same type of ammunition (APCBC) would penetrate 98-mm of armour at 500 m at a 30 degree angle, and 88-mm of armour at 1,000 meters at a 30 degree angle.  Only with HVAP ammunition did the 3 inch (76-mm) gun compare with the 17-pounder, the ammunition being able to penetrate 140-mm at 500 m at a 30 degree angle, and 127-mm at 1,000 m at a 30 degree angle.  However HVAP ammunition was in very short supply and it only just compared with the standard 17-pounder ammunition that was available in huge amounts for the British.

The 17-pounder required a counterweight fitted behind the muzzle brake on its long barrel.  This gave the Achilles a distinctive appearance compared to the M10 and there were attempts to disguise this by painting the brake and counterweight in order to disguise them.

The only other change carried out on the Achilles was the addition of 17-mm thick armour plates welded to the front and sides of the M10 to increase armour protection, as well as a 20-mm thick shield fitted to the top of the turret to provide protection from overhead threats that resulted from the M10 having an open top turret.

The desire to mount the 17-pounder on the M10 was governed by the degree of difficulty involved in mounting the 17-pounder on the tank itself.  Luckily for the British, the initial batches of M10s had an easily modified gun mounting to facilitate the future replacement of the older 3 inch M7 gun with the newer 76-mm M1 gun.  This gun mounting design allowed for the British to replace the 3 inch gun with the 17-pounder gun.  The British took delivery of some 845 vehicles in 1943, but of the second version of the M10, only the T71 mark could carry the 17-pounder, the T70 mark being designed to only allow the lighter American 76-mm M1 gun.

The British had planned to convert some 1,000 M10s into 17-pounder armed variants for Normandy, but for some reason conversions were not started until April 1944.  By D-Day only some 124 M10s had been converted, however the number of conversions post D-day increased and by the end of the year 816 M10s had been converted, 152 vehicles in November alone.  However the low numbers at D-day meant that many British units went ashore fielding standard M10s rather than 17-pounder armed Achilles, and losses in Achilles units could at times be hard to replace, the crews receiving regular 3 inch armed M10s as replacements for their lost 17-pounder Achilles much to their dismay.

As a self-propelled anti-tank gun, Achilles as well as standard M10s were distributed to and operated by the regiments of the Royal Artillery.  Around 1,650 M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyers were received by the British during the war, of these 1,100 were converted to the 17-pounder by the end of the war.  Wikipedia.

Unlike the Americans, who saw the M10 as a tank hunter, the British viewed the Achilles as a mobile anti-tank gun.  The standard anti-tank gun used in infantry units in the British Army was the 6-pounder anti-tank gun, a small, light gun able to defeat the more common German Panzer IV and Sturmgeschütz with regular ammunition but not the heavier Tigers and Panthers.  The next generation British gun, the 17-pounder anti-tank gun, was able to deal with Tigers and Panthers but was a heavy and unwieldy weapon that could take over 12 hours to move into position, dig in and camouflage.  The British knew from experience that the Germans would quickly counterattack and it took too long to set up the 17-pounders before the German heavy tanks could overrun the infantry’s position.

As a result, the British used the Achilles as a quickly deployable anti-tank gun, able to reinforce a position taken by infantry and engage counter-attacking German forces while the slower towed 17-pounders were pulled up and dug in for a more long-term defensive presence.  This had the advantage of mitigating the weak armour protection of the Achilles as being used defensively usually allowed it to fire the vital first shot.  Usually, the only time the British used the M10 and Achilles offensively was in support of Churchill tank units as they did not have associated 17-pounder armed tanks like Sherman and Cromwell tank troops did.

Achilles went ashore on D-Day, equipping units of the Royal Artillery and Royal Canadian Artillery in Armoured Division or Corps Anti-tank Regiments.  A typical Anti-tank Regiment would have 4 Batteries, 2 x Towed 17-pounder Batteries, 1 x Achilles and 1 x M10 Battery.  The M10 Battery was replaced by a second Achilles Battery as more vehicles became available.  Perhaps the most successful action of the Achilles was conducted by B troop, 245th Battery, 62nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery attached to the Hamilton Light Infantry during Operation Charnwood.  A mixed German force of Mark IVs and Panthers from the 12th SS Panzer Division attempted to retake the town of Buron.  The eight Achilles of B troop had set up in an orchard looking south towards Abbaye d’Ardenne and were ideally placed when the Panzers began their counter-attack. In the brief action, 13 German tanks were knocked out and the attack fell apart.  Wikipedia.

Canadian Operations in the Low Countries

One of the most important Canadian contributions in 1944 was the Battle of the Scheldt, involving the II Canadian Corps.  The Corps included the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division.  Although nominally a Canadian formation, II Canadian Corps contained the Polish 1st Armoured Division, the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade, the Royal Netherlands Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division.

The British had liberated Antwerp, but that city’s port could not be used until the Germans were driven from the heavily fortified Scheldt estuary.  In several weeks of heavy fighting in the fall of 1944, the Canadians succeeded in defeating the Germans in this region.  The Canadians then turned east and played a central role in the liberation of the Netherlands.  Wikipedia.

Universal Carrier

Universal Carrier (Ford).  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3626704)

The Universal Carrier, also known as the Bren Gun Carrier is a common name describing a family of light armoured tracked vehicles built by Vickers-Armstrong.  Produced between 1934 and 1960, the vehicle was used widely by Allied forces during the Second World War.  Universal Carriers were usually used for transporting personnel and equipment, mostly support weapons, or as machine gun platforms.  With some 113,000 built in the United Kingdom and abroad, it was the most numerous armoured fighting vehicle in history.  28,992 were built in Canada, along with 5,000 Windsor Carriers.[30]

The origins of the Universal Carrier family can be traced back generally to the Carden Loyd tankettes family which was developed in the 1920s, and specifically the Mk VI tankette.

The carrier put the driver and commander at the front sitting side-by-side; the driver to the right.  The engine was in the centre of the vehicle with the final drive at the rear.  The suspension was a mixture of the Vickers light tank and Horstmann springs Directional control was through a (vertical) steering wheel.  Small turns moved the front road wheel assembly warping the track so the vehicle drifted to that side. Further movement of the wheel braked the appropriate track to give a turn.

The hull in front of the commander’s position jutted forward to give room for the Bren gun (or other armament) to fire through a simple slit.  On each side of the engine were two areas in which passengers could ride or stores could be carried.

Initially, there were several different types of Carrier that varied slightly in design according to their purpose: “Medium Machine Gun Carrier” (the Vickers machine gun), “Bren Gun Carrier”, “Scout Carrier” and “Cavalry Carrier”.  However, production of a single model came to be preferred and the Universal design appeared in 1940; this would be the most widely produced of the Carriers.  It differed from the previous models in having a rectangular body shape in rear section, with more space for crew.

Production of these combat vehicles began in 1934 and it ended in 1960.  Before the Universal design was introduced, production was by Aveling and Porter, Bedford Vehicles, the British branch of the Ford Motor Company, the Morris Motor Company, the Sentinel Waggon Works, and the Thornycroft Company.

The Universal was produced in Great Britain by Aveling-Barford, Ford, Sentinel, Thornycroft, and Wolseley Motors.  By 1945 production amounted to approximately 57,000 of all models, including some 2,400 early ones.

The Ford Motor Company of Canada manufactured about 29,000 of the Universal Carriers.  Smaller numbers of them were also produced in Australia (about 5,000) and New Zealand (about 1,300).

Ordnance 2-pounder Anti-Tank Gun is service with the RCA in the United Kingdom, ca 1940.  (UK Government Photo H498)

Universal Carriers were issued to infantry units for carrying support weapons (initially 10, 21 by 1941, and up to 33 per battalion by 1943). Artillery units used them as an artillery tractor (US: “prime mover”) for the Ordnance QF 6-pounder anti-tank gun.  Wikipedia.  A small number (at least 24) Tank Hunting Universal Carriers were equipped with 2-pounder anti-tank guns in 1942.  At least one unit was shipped to England in May 1942.  The remainder provided emergency airfield defence on the Canadian northwest coast.[31]


Mk I.  Initial model.

Mk II.  Equipped with a towing hitch.

Universal Carrier, Military Museums, Calgary, Alberta.  (Author Photo)


Wasp flamethrower, Camp Petawawa, Ontario, ca 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234056)

Wasp flamethrower crews, Queens Own Rifles of Canada, Vaucelles, France, 29 Jul 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3205139)

Wasp flamethrower, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

A flamethrower-equipped variant, using the “Flame-thrower, Transportable, No. 2”.  The Mark I had a fixed flamethrower, the Mk II had the projector in the co-driver’s position.  Both had the fuel tank within the rear compartment.  The Mk IIC (C for Canadian) moved the fuel tank to the rear of the vehicle.  The flame thrower was known as the “Ronson Lighter” (later improved as the Barracuda).

The Queen’s Own Rifles, a unit of the 3rd Canadian Division equipped with Wasps landed on Juno Beach on 6 June 1944.  The original design for this flame equipment came from Canadian military forces in the United Kingdom.  Although considerable development problems were experienced, over 1,300 units were produced, starting in 1942.  Flame range was 65 to 90 metres.[32]


The Carrier, Universal, T16, Mark I. was a significantly improved vehicle based upon those built by Ford of Canada, manufactured under Lend Lease by Ford in the United States from March 1943 to 1945.  It was chiefly used by Canadian forces during the war as an artillery tractor.  After the war, it was used by Swiss and Netherlands forces.  It was longer than the Universal with an extra road wheel on the rear bogie; the engine was a Ford Mercury delivering the same power.  Instead of the steering wheel controlling the combination brake/warp mechanism, the T-16 had track brake steering operated by levers (2 for each side).  Wikipedia.

Exactly 5,000 four-bogie Windsor Carriers were produced from 1944 to 1945.  Unlike the American T-16, the Windsor retained the traditional Cam plus Brake steering wheel of the Universal Carrier.  The extra bogie wheel provided excellent stability, especially when towing a trailer or anti-tank gun.[33]

Canadian Tracked Jeep (Willys)

Canadian Tracked Jeep (Willys), Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

In late 1942, the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND)’s Directorate of Vehicles and Artillery (DVA) began work at No.1 Proving Ground in Ottawa on a small tracked vehicle using largely Jeep automotive components. DVA anticipated that there was a potential requirement for the smallest practicable tracked vehicle, for use by airborne troops and in the Pacific theatre. The project was formalized by the Army Technical Development Board (ATDB), on 10 January, 1943, as project 49, and assigned to its proponent DVA. The vehicle came to be referred to successively as: the Bantam Armoured Tracked Vehicle, the Light Recce Tank, and finally as the Tracked Jeep. Its envisaged roles included: intercommunication (running messages over contested ground), armoured reconnaissance, and engaging unarmoured troops in airborne and combined operations. Follow-on versions of the vehicle were to be amphibious, with twin propellers for water propulsion; although fully laden, it had a very low freeboard.

One of two surviving Tracked Jeep Mk.I pilots now on display in the Canadian War Museum’s Lebreton Gallery. This example may be Pilot No.2, which underwent extensive reliability  trials at No.1 Proving Ground, in Orleans, Ontario (just east of Ottawa).

Daimler Dingo Armoured Car

Canadian Daimler Dingo Armoured Car captured at Dieppe, being examined by German soldiers, Aug 1942.  (Bundesarchiv Photo. Bild 1011-291-1207-11)

Dingo Armoured Car, 8th Royal Scots & 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion after crossing the Rhine, Bergerfarth, Germany, 25 Mar 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524486)

The Daimler Scout Car, known in service as the "Dingo" (after the Australian wild dog), was a British light fast four-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle also used in the liaison role during the Second World War.

Morris Light Reconnaissance Car (LRC)

Morris Mk II "Carol", 4 July 1944, Norrey en Bassin possibly RCE, 3rd Division.  (DND Photo)

The Morris Light Reconnaissance Car (LRC) was a British-built light armoured car for reconnaissance use.  The vehicle had an unusual internal arrangement, with three-man crew sitting side by side by side with the driver in the middle, a crewman manning a small multi-sided turret mounting Bren light machine gun at the right side, and another with Boys .55 inch anti-tank rifle (mounted in brackets in the hatches on the hull roof) and access to radio set at the left.  From 1940 to 1944 over 2,200 were built.

Humber Armoured Car

Humber Mk. I Scout car, Falaise, France, 17 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3206554)

Personnel of the 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars in their Humber Mk IV armoured car in Normandy, France, 18-20 July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, LAC MIKAN No. 3378681, Lt Ken Bell)

Although at the outbreak of the Second World War the British Army already had the excellent Daimler Dingo Armoured Car, the need for scout cars could not be met by Daimler alone, so other companies were required to produce similar vehicles.  One of these companies was Rootes Group, which in 1942 built a vehicle similar to the Dingo in layout.  The Canadian Army used a number of them throughout the war.

To comply with the official requirement to keep the weight down, the Daimler “Dingo” had an open top (the Humber had an unarmoured floor).

The vehicle carried a crew of two, with an emergency seat for a third member.  It was equipped with a No. 19 radio set.  The armament consisted of one Bren light machine gun with a 100-round drum.  A second Bren could be added if necessary.  This was mounted above the roof, and could be operated from inside the vehicle using a system looking similar to bicycle handlebars, where the “brake” levers fired the triggers of the Bren guns.

Humber Armoured Recconnaissance Car, France ca. 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233288)

Production of the vehicles continued until 1945.  At least 4,298 were ordered and at least 4,102 delivered, 1,698 of them Mk I.  They were used by British armoured units for scouting and liaison and were generally considered less capable and reliable than the Dingo Armoured Car.  After the war, the vehicle was used by some European armies. Belgian police continued to use the car until 1958.  Most of the vehicles were destroyed in the 1960’s by the British Army using them as tank target practice. There are now currently only about 20 known to exist.  Wikipedia.

Fox Armoured Car

Fox Armoured Car, with Major-General Frederic Franklin Worthington, MC, MM, CD, nicknamed "Worthy" and "Fighting Frank". He is considered the father of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.  He is seen here in a Fox on Parliament Hill.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232408)

Fox Armoured Car Mk IV, outside the old Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Fox Armoured Car was a wheeled armoured fighting vehicle produced by Canada in the Second World War.  The Fox was built by General Motors, Canada, based on the British Humber Armoured Car Mk IV but using Canadian components.  The four man crew consisted of the vehicle commander, the driver, a gunner and a wireless operator.  1506 vehicles were manufactured in 1943.  The Fox saw operations in Italy, UK and India.  After the Second World War many of them went to the Portuguese Army, which used them from 1961 to 1975 in counterinsurgency in Angola, Guinea and Mozambique.  Wikip

The Fox and Humber Armoured Car Mk IV were armed with a 37-mm gun, a 7.92-mm Besa machine gun and .303 Bren gun.  The Fox was powered by the GMC 270 cubic inch six-cylinder engine and its hull was manufactured by the Hamilton Bridge Company.[34] 

Dingo Armoured Car

Dingo Armoured Car of the Canadian Army being examined by German soldiers after the vehicle was abandoned during the August 1942 Dieppe Raid.  (Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-291-1207-11)

The Daimler Scout Car, known in service as the Dingo Armoured Car“ (after the Australian wild dog), was a British light fast 4WD reconnaissance vehicle also used in the liaison role during the Second World War.  Arguably one of the finest armoured fighting vehicles built in Britain during the war, the Dingo was a small two-man armoured car.  It was well protected for its size with 30-mm of armour at the front.  The engine was located at the rear of the vehicle. One of the ingenious features of Dingo was the transmission; a pre-selector gearbox and fluid flywheel that gave five speeds in both directions.  The original version had four-wheel steering; however this feature was dropped in Mk II because inexperienced drivers found the vehicle hard to control.

Although the Dingo featured a flat plate beneath the chassis to slide across uneven ground, it was extremely vulnerable to mines.  No spare wheel was carried, but it was not really necessary because of the use of run-flat (nearly solid) rubber tyres instead of pneumatic.  Despite the hard tyres, the independent suspension gave it a very comfortable ride.  A swivelling seat next to the driver allowed the other crew member to attend to the No. 19 wireless set or Bren gun when required.  It had the ideal quiet engine and a low silhouette.  Wikipedia. 

Lynx Scout Car

Lynx Scout car, "Flash", Bagnacavallo, Italy, 3 Jan 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3240447)

Lynx II Scout Car, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Lynx Scout Car was a closely related vehicle to the Daimler Scout Car.  It was produced by Ford Canada in Windsor, Ontario.  The Lynx took a Dingo-type hull and set it on a chassis with four wheel drive taken from the rear mounted engine.  While the engine was more powerful than the Dingo’s, the gearbox and suspension were inferior.  3,255 units were built, entering service sometime around 1943.  Wikipedia.  Over 3,200 Lynxes (Mk I & II) were built at Windsor, Ontario.  The hulls were fabricated by the International Harvester Company, Hamilton, Ontario.[35]

In Canadian service the Lynx was used by Armoured Car Regiments, Armoured Recce Regiments, Armoured Regiments, Reconnaissance Regiments, HQ Armoured Division and by RC Signal Corps in armoured formations.

General Motors Otter Light Reconnaissance Car

Otter Light Reconnaissance Car, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo) 

The Otter Light Reconnaissance Car (LRC) was an armoured car produced by Canada during the Second World War.  The Otter LRC was a front-engine armoured car with a 270 cubic inch GMC powerplant.  It was developed by General Motors Canada as a replacement for the Humber LRC.  Between 1942 and 1945, 1,761 units were produced in Oshawa, Ontario.  The vehicle was based on the Chevrolet C15 CMP truck.  The armament consisted of a hull-mounted Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren light machine gun in a small open-topped turret.

The Otter served with Canadian units in the Italian Campaign and Northwest Europe.  It was also employed by some British units.  After the war the Otter was used by the Jordanian Army and Dutch Army during the Indonesian Revolution.  Wikipedia.

M20 Greyhound Armoured Utility Car


 M8 Greyhound Armouored Car, (Serial No. F268708), Oshawa Military Museum.  (Photo courtesy of Andre Blanchard)

The M8 Light Armoured Car was a 6x6 armoured car produced by the Ford Motor Company during Second World War.  It was used by the US and British troops in Europe and the Far East until the end of the war.  The vehicle was widely exported and as of 2006 still remains in service in some third world countries.

In British service, the M8 was known as the Greyhound.  The British Army found it too lightly armoured, particularly the hull floor where anti-tank mines could easily penetrate (crews’ solution was lining the floor of the crew compartment with sandbags).  It was produced in such a large volume and, coupled with its off-roading capabilities, that this shortcoming was largely overlooked.  The M8 Greyhound could virtually go anywhere, which made it a great supportive element to the advancing American and British armoured columns.

The M20 Greyhound Armoured Utility Car, also known as the M20 Scout Car, was a Greyhound with the turret removed.  This was replaced with a low, armoured open-topped superstructure and an anti-aircraft ring mount for a .50 in M2 heavy machine gun.  A bazooka was provided for the crew to compensate for its lack of anti-armour weaponry.  The M20 was primarily used as a command vehicle and for forward reconnaissance, but many vehicles also served as APCs and cargo carriers.  It offered high speed and excellent mobility, along with a degree of protection against small arms fire and shrapnel.  When employed in the command and control role, the M20 was fitted with additional radio equipment.  Originally designated the M10 Armoured Utility Car, it was redesignated M20 to avoid confusion with the M10 Wolverine tank destroyer.  3,680 M20s were built by Ford during its two years in production (1943–1944).  Wikipedia.

Daimler Armoured Car

Daimler Mk. 1, Sallenelles, France, Library Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233183)

The Daimler Armoured Car was a parallel development to the Daimler Dingo “Scout car”, a small armoured vehicle for scouting and liaison roles.  It was a larger version designed upon the same layout as the Dingo fitted with the turret similar to that of the Mark VII Light Tank and a more powerful engine.  Like the scout car, it incorporated some of the most advanced design concepts of the time and is considered one of the best British AFVs of the Second World War.  The 95 hp engine was at the rear linked through a fluid flywheel to a preselector gearbox and then by propshafts to each wheel.  Four wheel steering similar to early models of the Scout car was considered but not implemented following experience with the Dingo.

The prototypes had been produced in 1939, but problems with the transmission caused by the weight of the vehicle delayed service entry until mid-1941.  1,694 armoured cars were built by Daimler.

The Daimler had full independent suspension and four wheel drive.  Epicyclic gearing in the wheel hubs enabled a very low ratio in bottom gear - it was credited with managing 1:2 inclines.  The rugged nature combined with reliability made it ideal for reconnaissance and escort work.  Wikipedia

In Canadian Army service the Daimler Armoured Cars were used by Armoured Car and Reconnaissance Regiments for short and long distance recce and for special missions such as raids, securing tactical features, collecting intelligence information and for protective duties with HQs and convoys.  It was armed with a 2-pounder gun and a 7.92-mm machinegun.[36]

T17E1 Staghound Armoured Car

Staghound T17E1, A Sqn, 12th Manitoba Dragoons, Hochwald, Germany, March 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3202099)

Canadian Staghounds on parade in Amsterdam, 28 June 1945.  (Netherlands Nationall Archief Photo)

General Motors T17E1 Staghound Armoured Car, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

T17E1 Staghound Armoured Car was an American armoured car produced during the Second World War.  They did not see service with frontline US forces but were supplied via the United Kingdom to British and Commonwealth forces during the war and received the service name Staghound.  T17E1 production started in October 1942 and continued for the United Kingdom.  Approximately 4,000 Staghounds were produced in total.  A number of countries used the Staghound after the war, with some of the vehicles continuing to serve into the 1980s. 

The Staghound was an innovative design that incorporated some advanced features.  It had two rear-facing 6-cylinder engines with automatic transmissions (with 4 forward and 1 reverse gears) feeding through a transfer case to drive both axles.  Either two or four-wheel drive could be selected.  Either engine could be shut down while in motion and taken out of the drive train.  Additionally, a power steering pump was incorporated which could be switched on or off manually from the driver’s instrument panel depending on steering conditions.  Steering and suspension components were directly attached to the hull as the structure was rigid enough to dispense with the need for a separate chassis.

The Staghound entered service too late for use in the North African campaign where its combination of armour, range and main armament would have been an advantage.  As a result it first saw operational service in Italy, where many units found its large physical size too restrictive in the narrow roads and streets of Europe.  As a result it saw most service at squadron and regimental headquarter level. 

Built by Chevrolet for Britain, 2,687 - 2,844 units were produced.  The T17E1 was armed with a 37-mm M6 gun, a coaxial Browning 1919A4 .30 cal machine gun and a 2 inch smoke mortar in a rotating turret.  In the hull was mounted a Browning 1919A4 .30 cal machine gun.  Some T17E1 had an additional Browning 1919A4 .30 cal machine gun for anti-aircraft defence.  The turret had power traverse and featured a turret basket (which limited the amount of internal crew storage).  The 37-mm gun was gyroscopically stabilized.  The Staghound had a crew of 5, commander, loader, gunner, and hull machine gunner.  It saw combat with the British, Free Polish, Canadian, New Zealand, Indian, and Belgian armies in Italy, Greece and Northwest Europe.  After Second World War, it saw further action in Cuba, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Rhodesia.  Wikipedia.

Primary users of the Staghound in Canadian armoured car regiments overseas were the 12th Manitoba Dragoons and the Royal Canadian Dragoons.  Initially 58 and later 72 T17E1 Staghounds were allocated per regiment.  In addition, there were two rear link armoured cars and five T1E2 AA Staghounds (armed with twin .50 calibre Machine-guns on a co-axial mounting) in the regimental HQ squadron, and two Staghounds armed with 3 inch howitzers or 75-mm guns in each squadron’s heavy troop.  Staghounds, mainly the command, control, or rear link versions, were issued to the headquarters of 2nd Canadian Corps (two cars), 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (three cars), 4th Canadian Armoured Division (two cars), and 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade (four cars).  Staghounds were also issued to HQ 1st Canadian Corps, HQ 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (one for the GOC), and HQ 4th Canadian Armoured Division.  The 7th Canadian Recce Regiment received Staghounds in mid-July 1944.[37]

Canadian armoured car regiments had a regimental HQ, an HQ Squadron, and four fighting squadrons.  Each squadron had five recce troops (each with two scout cars and two Staghounds), a heavy troop with two Staghound II or IIIs, and a support or assault troop of four 10-man infantry sections mounted in White scout cars (or later Canadian 15-cwt armoured trucks).[38]

After the war, more than 100 Staghounds (90 Staghound I, four Staghound II, six Staghound III, ten Staghound AA, the Rocket Launcher, and three Command versions) were brought to Canada.  Many went to various schools or were held in Ordnance depots.  Ten were issued to the Princess Louise Dragoons Guards, four to the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, 19 to the 14th Canadian Hussars, and 8 to the 19th Alberta Armoured Regiment.  The last Staghound in Canadian service was retired in 1964.[39]

AEC Armoured Command Vehicle

An ACV of the British Army's 23rd Brigade HQ at Francolise, Italy, 1944.  (Sgt Hewitt, No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit, IWM Photo NA 12991)

The AEC Armoured Command Vehicle was a series of command vehicles built by the British Associated Equipment Company during the Second World War.  During Second World War the United Kingdom was the only country to develop and widely employ purpose-built armoured command vehicles.  Those were essentially armoured buses based on truck chassis.

The most common ACV of the British Army was the AEC 4x4 ACV.  The vehicle, based on the AEC Matador chassis, entered production in 1941.  A total of about 415 units were built.  The vehicle was used for the first time in the North African Campaign and remained in service until the end of the war.  Big and comfortable, it was nicknamed Dorchester by the troops, after the luxury hotel in London.  Three ACVs of this type were captured by the German Afrika Korps.  Two of them, named “Max” and “Moritz”, were employed by Rommel and his staff throughout the campaign.

In 1944 a larger AEC 6x6 ACV was developed.  The vehicle was based on the AEC 0857 lorry chassis and was powered by the AEC 198 150 hp engine.  The hull was welded from 9-mm thick rolled steel.  The weight of the vehicle reached 17 tons.  One hundred and fifty one units were built.  Both vehicles were built in two configurations, called LP (Low Power) and HP (High Power), with different radio equipment.  Wikipedia.

AEC ACVs were used by the Royal Canadian Signal Corps at Armoured Division HQ as High Power wireless control terminals for communications between main and rear Corps and between main and rear division.  The vehicle also served as an office for members of the divisional staff.  High Power equipment was used for longer rangers than Low Power vehicles.[40]

M3A1 Armoured Scout Car

White M3A1, Roermond, the Netherlands.  (Dammit Photo)

The White Motor Company M3A1 15-cwt armoured truck was used as an armoured personnel carrier,  a reconnaissance scout car and on occasion as an ambulance.  It had a canvas tarpaulinover an open top and could seat six soldiers.  It was equipped with a mount for a Brownking .50 cal Machine-gun.  The vehicles engine, hood and body were covered with armour plate.

M3 Halftrack Armoured Personnel Carrier

M3 Halftrack Armoured Personnel Carrier “Slow Poke”, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Carrier, Personnel Halftrack M3 was an armoured vehicle used by the United States, the British Empire and the other Allies during Second World War and the Cold War.  Nearly 43,000 were produced, and supplied to the US Army and Marines, as well as British Commonwealth and Soviet Red Army forces, serving on all fronts throughout the war.  Wikipedia.

Between the world wars, the US Army sought to improve the tactical mobility of its forces.  With the goal of finding a high-mobility infantry vehicle, the Ordnance Department had evaluated the halftrack design by testing French Citroën-Kégresse vehicles.  The White Motor Company produced a prototype halftrack using their own chassis and the body of the M3 Scout Car.

The design, using as many commercial components as possible to improve reliability and speed production, was standardized in 1940 and built by the Autocar Company, Diamond T Motor Company, and the White Company.

Offered with a choice of White 160AX or IHC RED 450 engines, the M3 was driven through a manual constant-mesh (non-synchromesh) transmission with four forward and one reverse gear, as well as a two-speed transfer case.  Front suspension was leaf spring, tracks by vertical volute spring.  Braking was vacuum-assisted hydraulic, steering manual, without power assist.  The electrical system was 12-volt.

M5 Halftrack Armoured Personnel Carrier, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The M3 was the larger counterpart to the M2 Half Track Car.  The M2 was originally intended to function as an artillery tractor.  The M3 had a longer body than the M2 with a single access door in the rear and seating for a 13-man rifle squad.  Ten seats were arranged down either side of the vehicle, with three in the cab.  Racks under the seats were used for ammunition and rations; additional racks behind the seat backs held the squad’s rifles and other stowage.  A small rack for mines was added on the outside of the hull just above the tracks.  In combat, most units found it necessary to stow additional food, rucksacks and other crew stowage on the outside of the vehicle.  Luggage racks were often added in the field, and very late vehicles had rear-mounted racks for this crew stowage.

Halftrack 75-mm gun carrier, Royal Canadian Dragoons, Larino, Italy, 20 Mar 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3574238)

Early vehicles had a pintle mount just behind the front seats mounting a .50-calibre (12.7-mm) M2 Browning machine gun.  The later M3A1 adopted a raised, armoured ‘pulpit mount’ for the .50-calibre, and .30-calibre (7.62-mm) machine guns could be used from mounts along the sides of the passenger compartment.  Many M3s were later modified to the M3A1 standard.  The body was armoured all around, with an adjustable armoured shutter for the engine’s radiator and a bulletproof windscreen.  The variant in the CFB Borden Military Museum is an M3 - White Halftrack with White 386 cu in (6,330 cc) 160AX engine.  It was fitted with either an M32 anti-aircraft machine gun mount or a pedestal mount, both featuring an M2HB machine gun.

The halftracks were initially extremely unpopular and dubbed “Purple Heart Boxes” (a grim reference to the US Army’s decoration for combat wounds) by American troops.  Chief complaints centered on the complete lack of overhead protection from airbursting artillery shells and that the armour was inadequate against machinegun fire.

Total production of the M3 ran to nearly 41,000 vehicles.  To supply the Allied nations International Harvester produced several thousand of a very similar vehicle, the M5 half track for Lend-Lease.  Wikipedia.

C15TA Armoured Truck

GMC C15TA with RHLI, Krabbendijke, Netherlands, 27 Oct 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3205115)

GMC C15TA, Z5822762, on display in the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The C15TA Armoured Truck was an armoured vehicle produced by Canada during the Second World War.  The C15TA was developed by General Motors Canada along a concept lines of the American M3 Scout Car.  The vehicle utilized the chassis of the Chevrolet C15 CMP truck.  Between 1943 and 1945 a total of 3,961 units were built in Oshawa, Ontario.  Armoured hulls were supplied by the Hamilton Bridge Company.

The C15TA was used by the British and Canadian units in the Northwest Europe as armoured personnel carrier and ambulance.  After the end of the hostilities, many vehicles were left in Europe and were subsequently employed by armies of the liberated European countries, including Belgium, Denmark (as M6 Mosegris), the Netherlands (received at least 396 units), and Norway.  In addition about 150 were sold by Canada to Spain.

Trucks left by the British forces in Vietnam were taken over by the French, which used them in Indochina and later transferred to South Vietnam.  Many C15TAs were employed by the police forces of the Federation of Malaya.  In 1955 Portugal received a number of vehicles, known as “Granadeiros” that were later used in the African wars.  Some vehicles remained in service until the 1960s.  Wikipedia.

LVT-1 Amphibious Vehicle

LVT-1, Swords and Ploughshares Museum, Kars, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) was a class of amphibious vehicles introduced by the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Army during Second World War.  Originally intended solely as cargo carriers for ship to shore operations, they rapidly evolved into assault troop and fire support vehicles as well.  The types were all widely known as amphtrack, amtrak, amtrac etc., for the amphibious tractor. 

The LVT 1 could carry 18 fully equipped men or 4,500 pounds (2,041 kg) of cargo.  Originally intended to carry replenishments from ships ashore, they lacked armour protection and their tracks and suspension were unreliable when used on hard terrain.  However, the Marines soon recognized the potential of the LVT as an assault vehicle.  Armoured versions were introduced as well as fire support versions, dubbed Amtanks, which were fitted with turrets from Stuart series light tanks (LVT(A)-1) and Howitzer Motor Carriage M8s (LVT(A)-4).  Among other upgrades were a new powerpack, also borrowed from the Stuarts, and a torsilastic suspension which significantly improved performance on land.  Production continued throughout the war, resulting in 18,621 LVTs delivered.  Wikipedia.

LVT-2 Buffalo II Amphibious Landing Tracked Vehicle 

Buffalo II amphibious troop carrier of the 79th Armoured Division with soldiers of the North Shore Regiment of New Brunswick near Terneuzen in the Netherlands, 13 Oct 1944. (Library and Archives Canada Photo)

The American LVT-2 Water Buffalo, British designation Buffalo II (1942) featured a new powertrain (taken from the M3A1 light tank) and torsilastic suspension. Its performance on hard terrain was much better compared to the LVT-1.  2,962 units produced.   The US, British and Canadian Armies used the Buffalo in the Battle of the Scheldt, during Operation Plunder, along the Po River in Italy, across the river Elbe, and in a number of other river crossing operations.  Wikipedia.

The LVT-4 Water Buffalo, British designation Buffalo IV (1943), had the engine moved forward and a large ramp door was added to the rear, allowing troops to exit from the rear of the vehicle.  This innovation also greatly facilitated the loading and unloading of cargo.  Some vehicles received armour kits.  It was by far the most numerous version of the LVT, with 8,351 units delivered.  Many of the British LVT versions were armed with a Polsten 20-mm cannon and 2 × .30 cal Browning MGs.

DUKW Amphibious Truck

DUKW, ferrying Canadian troops, in Normandy, June 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233777) 

The DUKW (colloquially known as duck) is a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck that was designed by a partnership under military auspices of Sparkman & Stephens and General Motors Corporation during Second World War for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious attacks.  Designed to last only long enough to meet the demands of combat, productionized Ducks, a modification of the 2-ton capacity “deuce” trucks used by the US military in Second World War, were later used as tourist craft in marine environments.  Approximately 800 were in service with the Canadian Army.

The designation of DUKW is not a military acronym - the name comes from the model naming terminology used by GMC; the “D” indicates a vehicle designed in 1942, the “U” meant “utility (amphibious)”, the “K” indicated all-wheel drive and the “W” indicated two powered rear axles.  The DUKW prototype was built around the GMC ACKWX, a cab-over-engine (COE) version of the GMC CCKW six-wheel-drive military truck, with the addition of a watertight hull and a propeller.  The final production design was based on the CCKW. 

The vehicle was built by the GMC division of General Motors (which was still called Yellow Truck and Coach at the beginning of the war).  It was powered by a GMC Straight-6 engine of 270 in³ (4.416 L). The DUKW weighed 6.5 tons empty and operated at 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) on road and 5.5 knots (10.2 km/h; 6.3 mph) on water.  It was 31 feet (9.4 m) long, 8 feet 2.875-inches (2.51 m) wide, 7 feet 1.375-inches (2.17 m) high with the folding-canvas top down and 8.8 feet (2.6 m) high with the top up.  21,137 were manufactured.  It was not an armoured vehicle, being plated with sheet steel between 1/16 and 1/8 inches (1.6–3.2-mm) thick to minimize weight.  A high capacity bilge pump system kept the DUKW afloat if the thin hull was breached by holes up to 2 inches (51-mm) in diameter.  One of every four vehicles was produced with a ring mount for machine gun, which would usually have held a .50-calibre (12.7-mm) Browning heavy machine gun.

The DUKW was the first vehicle to allow the driver to vary the tire pressure from inside the cab, an accomplishment of Speir’s device.  The tires could be fully inflated for hard surfaces such as roads and less inflated for softer surfaces - especially beach sand.  This added to the DUKW’s great versatility as an amphibious vehicle.  This feature is now standard on many military vehicles.  Wikipedia.

DUKW, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

One GMC DUKW is in the Canadian War Museum, another is on display in the Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.

M29 Weasel

M29C Water Weasel Tracked Amphibious Cargo Vehicle, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The M29 Weasel was a Second World War tracked vehicle, built by Studebaker, designed for operation in snow.  The idea for the Weasel came from the work of British inventor Geoffrey Pyke in support of his proposals to attack Axis forces and industrial installations in Norway.  Pyke’s plan to hamper the German atomic weapons development became Project Plough for which he proposed a fast light mechanised device that would transport small groups of commando troops of the 1st Special Service Force across snow.  In active service in Europe, Weasels were used to supply frontline troops over difficult ground when wheeled vehicles were immobilised.

The first 2,103 Weasels had 15-inch (380-mm) tracks; a later version had 20 inch (510-mm) tracks.  The M29 was amphibious, but with a very low freeboard; the M29C Water Weasel was the amphibious version, with buoyancy cells in the bow and stern as well as twin rudders.  Wikipedia

Canadian Army Operations Post War, Cold War & Peacekeeping

Bombardier snowmobile with PPCLI soldier.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233989)

One of the 7 Hägglunds Bv206 acquired for the Canadian Forces.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3930991)

It was during the Cold War Canada began to assert the international clout that went along with the reputation it had built on the international stage in First World War and Second World War.  In Korea, during the Korean War, the moderately sized contingent of volunteer soldiers from Canada made noteworthy contributions to the United Nations forces and served with distinction.  Of particular note is the effort of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry contribution to the Battle of Kapyong.

Canada’s major Cold War contribution to international politics was made in the innovation and implementation of “Peacekeeping”. Although a United Nations military force had been proposed and advocated for the preservation of peace vis-a-vis the UN’s mandate by Canada’s representatives Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his Secretary of State for External Affairs Louis St. Laurent at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in June 1945, it was not adopted at that time.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, the idea promoted by Canada in 1945 of a United Nations military force returned to the fore.  The conflict involving Britain, France, Israel and Egypt quickly developed into a potential flashpoint between the emerging “superpowers” of the United States and the Soviet Union as the Soviets made intimations that they would militarily support Egypt’s cause.  The Soviets went as far as to say they would be willing to use “all types of modern weapons of destruction” on London and Paris - an overt threat of nuclear attack.

Canadian diplomat Lester B. Pearson re-introduced then Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent’s UN military force concept in the form of an “Emergency Force” that would intercede and divide the combatants, and form a buffer zone or ‘human shield’ between the opposing forces.  Pearson’s United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) - the first peacekeeping force, was deployed to separate the combatants and a cease-fire and resolution was drawn up to end the hostilities.  Wikipedia.

Ferret Scout Car

4 Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers, man a Ferret scout car while a armoured personnel carrier of the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, swims the Weser River during NATO's exercise Rob Roy, Germany, ca 1970s.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4221644)

Ferret Scout car, Lord Strathcona's Horse, Cyprus.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4235910)

The Ferret armoured car, also commonly called the Ferret Scout car, is a British armoured fighting vehicle designed and built for reconnaissance purposes.  The Ferret was produced between 1952 and 1971 by the UK company, Daimler.  It was widely adopted by regiments in the British Army as well as Commonwealth countries throughout the period.  Canadians had 124 in service from 1954 to 1981.

The Ferret was developed in 1949 as a result of the British Army’s need to obtain a replacement model for its Second World War light armoured vehicles.  Due to the success of their Reconnaissance Scout Car, the “Dingo“, Daimler was employed to design and manufacture the Ferret.

The Ferret Scout Car shared many similar design features with the Dingo and Canadian Ford Lynx, but featured a larger fighting compartment and an optional small machine gun turret.  It was built from an all-welded monocoque steel body, making the vehicle lower but also making the drive extremely noisy inside as all the running gear was within the enclosed body with the crew.  Four-wheel drive was incorporated together with “Run flat” tires (which kept their shape even if punctured in battle thus enabling a vehicle to drive to safety).

Ferret Scout Car with Turret, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The turret, though not fitted to all models, carried a single machine gun.  Six grenade launchers fitted to the hull (three on each side) could carry smoke grenades.  It is fast and small enough to be used in an urban environment but strong enough to negotiate rugged terrain off road.  The Ferret is no longer in service in the British Army, although several Commonwealth countries still operate them to this day.  They have been popular with private collectors due to the compact size and affordable price e.g. around $20,000 to $30,000 in the USA.  A total of 4,409 Ferrets, including 16 sub-models under various Mark numbers, were produced between 1952 and 1971. 

There are several Marks of Ferret, including those with varying equipment, turret or no turret and armed with Swingfire anti-tank missiles. Including all the marks and experimental variants there have probably been over 60 different vehicles.  It is possible to upgrade the engine using the more powerful FB60 version from the Austin Princess 4-Litre-R.  This upgrade would provide 55hp over the standard B60 engine.  Wikipedia.

Bobcat Armoured Personnel Carrier

The Bobcat was an armoured personnel carrier (APC) designed and built in Canada in the 1950s and early 1960s.  A lengthy development period and changing requirements drove the price up while not improving the basic design, and the project was eventually cancelled in late 1963 in favour of purchasing the ubiquitous M113.

During Second World War the Canadian Army introduced the fully tracked APC to the world when they converted a number of M7 Priest SP Gun and Ram tanks to expedient personnel carriers before Operation Totalize.  Existing designs were almost universally halftracks, or lightly armoured tracked vehicles not really designed for the APC role, like the Universal Carrier.  The expedient vehicles, named “Kangaroos,” were considerably better armoured and had much better cross-country performance.  Similar vehicles were soon in use by other allied forces as well, converted from broken or out-of-date tanks.

In the post-war period the Canadian Army, like its other western counterparts, underwent a period of dramatic downsizing.  By the late 1940s it was essentially identical in formation and equipment as it had been during the war, but much smaller.  With the cooling of international relations that marked the start of the Cold War, and especially with the opening of the Korean War, the Canadian armed forces started the process of rapidly modernizing their equipment, which was by this point extremely outdated.

The Bobcat Armoured Personnel Carrier project started in 1952, intending to produce a fully modern replacement for the Kangaroo in the APC role.  Over the next four years of design the requirements changed several times, adding an amphibious capability, as well as another version as a replacement for the Universal Carrier in the battlefield cargo role.  When the requirements were finally stabilized as the XA-20 in 1956, a prototype contract was offered to Leyland Motors (Canada) under Project 97.

While the prototype was being built, Leyland Motors was purchased by Canadian Car and Foundry (CCF).  A mock-up was produced and sent to the Canadian Armour School at Camp Borden, and a number of improvements were suggested.  While this process continued, CCF itself was purchased by the ever-growing Avro Canada.  Work continued on the design, and the first mild steel prototype was delivered in the APC layout, followed by two additional prototypes, another APC version, and a self-propelled artillery version intended to mount the M101 105-mm Howitzer, although this was not fitted.

Testing was relatively positive, and in 1959 the Ministry eventually secured an order for 500 of the APC version.  However in 1960 the defence budget was slashed and it was not until February 1961 that the Cabinet finally approved the budget.  By this point the Bobcat had been in development for nine years, and no replacement for the Kangaroos or Universal Carriers had been purchased in the meantime.  There was some discussion of modifying remaining Shermans and Universals for the interim, but this was dropped.

In 1962 Avro dissolved CCF, and moved production of the Bobcat to their aircraft plants in Malton, Ontario, which were underused since the cancellation of the Avro Arrow in 1959.  A prototype of the complete production version started testing in February 1963, and by June it had completed 75% of its 2,000 mile qualification test run.  However, the test report on the Bobcat was extremely negative.  Pointing out a variety of problems, from tripping hazards in the cargo area to the extremely loud operating sounds, the report concluded that the vehicle was in need of additional development. Further confusing issues, in 1963 Avro itself was dissolved and rolled into its parent operating company, Hawker Siddeley Canada.  In July the company met with the Ministry again to work out a program to fix the remaining problems, but neither side was willing to invest any more of their own money.

Given that no immediate solution seemed in sight, in November 1963 the Chief of the General Staff requested that the Bobcat project be terminated and the US M113 purchased in its place.  Although the Bobcat had a number of advantages in comparison to the M113, notably in terms of size and its amphibious ability, the M113 by this point had entered service around the world and its huge production numbers led to a very low unit cost.  Final cost for the Bobcat program was CDN$9.25 million.  All that remains of the project is the qualification prototype at the Base Borden Military Museum.

The Bobcat was a relatively typical post-war APC design, with the engine located at the front, infantry area with rear-exit doors at the back, and a crew of two between the two sections.  In the case of the Bobcat, the engine was located behind a large access door mounted in a glacis that was tilted slightly forward, meeting a deck that sloped upward to the cockpit area.  The two operators, driver and commander/gunner, were housed under hemispherical cupolas with a ring of vision blocks below them offering relatively good all-round vision except to the rear, where the infantry area was raised and blocked the view.  The front half of the cupola could be flipped up and back, opening to allow the seats to be raised for heads-out operation when not “buttoned up”.

Overall the design was smaller than the M113, and considerably less “boxy,” more in keeping with contemporary European designs like the FV432.  The small size meant there was no room for a transverse transmission in the front of the vehicle, so a rear-drive was use with a drive shaft and transaxle housed under the cargo section.  These required boxy protrusions into the cargo area, and the transaxle in particular, mounted just in front of the doors, was a major tripping hazard.  Additionally, the drive shaft was extremely noisy in operation.  Wikipedia.

The prototype Bobcat with a mild steel hull was sent to the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Museum, with enough components (but no engine) to have a complete vehicle for static display.  It now preserved with the CFB Borden Military Museum.  The other vehicles were scrapped.[41]

M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier

M113 operated by soldiers serving with R22eR, 4 CMBG.  The APC is armed with a Recoiless Rifle and a .50 cal HMG, SW of Wurzberg, Germany, Oct 1975.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4692424)

The M113 is a fully tracked armoured personnel carrier.  The M113 introduced new aluminum armour that made the vehicle much lighter than earlier vehicles; it was thick enough to protect the crew and passengers against small arms fire but light enough that the vehicle was air transportable and moderately amphibious.  The M113’s versatility spawned a wide variety of adaptations that live on worldwide, and in Canadian service.  To date, it is estimated that over 80,000 M113s of all types have been produced and used by over 50 countries worldwide, making it one of the most widely used armoured fighting vehicles of all time.

The 10.5-ton M113 is built of 5083 aircraft-quality aluminum alloy which gives it some of the same strength as steel at a slightly reduced weight, as the greater thickness allows structural stiffness.  Its weight allows the use of a relatively small engine to power the vehicle, a 6V53 Detroit 2-stroke six cylinder diesel, with an Allison tx100-1 3 speed automatic transmission, and allows the vehicle to carry a large payload cross-country and to be transported by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.  The M113 can swim without deploying flotation curtains, and is propelled in the water by its tracks.

The Canadian Forces acquired 1,143 M113s, purchased from the mid-1960s through the 1990s.  Mostly declared surplus, 289 are to be upgraded to various configurations and retained until 2020.  Wikipedia.


M113A2 MTV-E (Mobile Tactical Vehicle Engineer) Military engineering version equipped with a large plough blade on the front, a hydraulically powered auger on the rear driver's side, and hydraulic hoses for use with hydraulic tools opposite the auger.

M113A2 MTV-E, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

M113 TUA

Tube-launched optically-guided anti-tank (TOW) under armour (TUA) version, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, ca 1998.  (Author Photo)

M548 Cargo Carrier

M548 Cargo Carrier, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The M548 is an unarmoured cargo carrier equipped with a rear cargo bed.

M577 Command Post 

M577 Command Post, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

With the M577 Command Post variant, the roof over the rear troop compartment is higher. The vehicle also carries additional radios and a generator. 


The M579A is a fitter and repair vehicle equipped with a crane. 


The M806 repair and recovery vehicle is equipped with an internal winch and two earth anchors mounted on the rear hull.   

M113 Lynx Command & Reconnaissance Vehicle

M113 C & R Lynx, "Radley-Waters", Armour School, Combat Training Centre, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The M113 C & R Lynx reconnaissance vehicle (M113 Command and Reconnaissance Vehicle) is a United States-built tracked armoured fighting vehicle, which was employed by the armed forces of the Netherlands and Canada.

The Lynx is a smaller command and reconnaissance vehicle built as a private venture in 1963 by FMC Corp., the manufacturer of the M113 armoured personnel carrier.  The Lynx uses M113A1 components, including aluminum armour, but with only four road wheels on each side and the engine mounted in the rear instead of the front.   The Lynx was employed in the reconnaissance role by the Netherlands and Canada (where it was officially designated the Lynx).

The Lynx is amphibious, propelled in the water by its tracks.  Before swimming, a trim vane is erected at front, bilge pumps started, and covers mounted on the air intake and exhaust.  In practice, crews would close the hatches and ford shallow streams at high speed.

The Canadian Forces accepted 174 vehicles from 1968, replacing the Ferret armoured car.  Lynxes were issued to the reconnaissance squadron of an armoured regiment (D Sqn).  The squadron consisted of three troops, each equipped with seven Lynxes - three two-vehicle patrols plus the troop leader’s vehicle (Militia armoured reconnaissance units trained for the role with Jeeps or Iltis ¼- ton 4×4 trucks.  Nine Lynxes also equipped the reconnaissance platoon of an infantry battalion’s combat support company.

M113 C &R Lynx, Sherbrooke Armoury, Sherbrooke, Quebec.  (Author Photo)

In the Canadian Lynx, the crew commander’s cupola is located on the middle-right, and the observer’s hatch at the rear-left.  The commander operates the manually-traversed M26 heavy machine gun cupola from inside the vehicle, but reloads it with the hatch open.  The rear-facing observer operates the radio and fires the pintle-mounted 7.62-mm machine gun.  The Canadian Lynx was withdrawn from service in 1993, and replaced by 203 Coyote eight-wheeled reconnaissance vehicles by the end of 1996.  Wikipedia.

M24 Chaffee Light Tank

M24 Chaffee Light Tank, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

M24 Chaffee Light Tank, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo) 

The Light Tank M24 Chaffee was an American light tank used during Second World War and in postwar conflicts including the Korean War and with the French in the First Indochina War and war in Algeria.  In British service it was given the service name Chaffee, after the United States Army General Adna R. Chaffee, Jr., who helped develop the use of tanks in the United States armed forces.

Combat experience indicated several shortcomings of the Light Tank M3/M5, the most important of them being weak armament.  The T7 design, which was initially seen as a replacement, evolved into a mediocre Medium Tank M7 and was eventually rejected in March 1943, which prompted the US Ordnance Committee to issue a specification for a new light tank, with the same powertrain as the M5A1 but armed with a 75-mm gun.

In April 1943 the Ordnance Corps together with the Cadillac division of General Motors started work on the new project, designated Light Tank T24.  Every effort was made to keep the weight of the vehicle under 20 tons.  The armour was kept light, with the glacis plate only 25-mm thick (but sloped at 60 degrees from the vertical).  A new lightweight 75-mm gun was developed, a derivative of the gun used in the B-25H Mitchell bomber.  The gun had the same ballistics as the M3, but used a thinly walled barrel and different recoil mechanism.  The design also featured wider (16-inch) tracks and torsion bar suspension.  It had a relatively low silhouette and a three-man turret.

On 15 October 1943 the first pilot vehicle was delivered and production began in 1944 under the designation Light Tank M24.  It was produced at two sites; from April at Cadillac and from July at Massey-Harris.  By the time production was stopped in August 1945, 4,731 M24s had left the assembly lines.  Some of them were supplied to the British forces.

The M24 started to enter widespread issue in December 1944 but they were slow in reaching the front-line combat units.  By the end of the war many armoured divisions were still mainly equipped with the M5.  Some armoured divisions did not receive their first M24s until the war was over.

Reports from the armoured divisions that received them prior to the end of hostilities were generally positive.  Crews liked the improved off-road performance and reliability, but were most appreciative of the 75-mm main gun, as a vast improvement over the 37-mm.  The M24 was not up to the challenge of fighting German tanks, but the bigger gun at least gave its crews a chance to fight back when it was required.  The M24’s light armour made it vulnerable to virtually all German tanks, anti-tank guns, and hand-held anti-tank weapons.  The contribution of the M24 to winning the war in Europe was insignificant, as too few arrived too late to replace the worn-out M5s of the armoured divisions.

In the Korean War M24s were the first US tanks to fight the North Korean T-34-85s.  The M24 fared poorly against these much better-armed and armoured medium tanks.  M24s were more successful later in the war in their reconnaissance role.

Like other successful Second World War designs, the M24 was supplied to many armies around the globe and was used in local conflicts long after it had been replaced in the US Army by the M41 Walker Bulldog.  France employed its M24s in Indo-China in infantry support missions, with good results.  They employed ten M24s in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.  In December 1953 ten disassembled Chaffees were transported by air to provide fire support to the garrison.  They fired about 15,000 shells in the long siege that followed before the Viet Minh forces conquered the camp in May 1954.  France also deployed the M24 in Algeria.  The last time the M24 is known to have been in action was in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, where some 66 Pakistani Chaffees stationed in Bangladesh were easy prey for Indian Army T-55s, PT-76s, and anti-tank teams.  Although both Iran and Iraq had M24s prior to the Iran-Iraq War, there is no report of their use in that conflict.  Wikipedia.

Centurion Main Battle Tank

Centurion, B Coy, RCD, 3 Mechized  Commando, Oct 1973, Neustift, Germany.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4694259)

Centurion Main Battle Tank, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

Centurion Main Battle Tank, 1 Canadian Division Headquarters, CFB Kingston, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Centurion was the primary British main battle tank of the post-Second World War period, and was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades.  The chassis was also adapted for several other roles. Manufacture of the Centurion began in January 1945, and six prototypes arrived in Belgium soon after the war in Europe ended in May 1945.  The Centurion has served in more wars than any other western tank.

Centurion tanks on exercise in Germany, 1964.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 42357)

It first entered combat with British forces in the Korean War in 1950, in support of the UN forces.  The Centurion later served in the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971, successfully fighting US supplied Pakistani M47s.  It served with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps in Vietnam.  It was sold to Israel which used Centurions in 1967, 1973, and during the 1975 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon.  Centurions modified as APCs were used in Gaza, the West Bank and the Lebanese border.  South Africa used its Centurions in Angola.  The Royal Jordanian Land Force used Centurion tanks on the Golan Heights in 1973.  The first of 274 Centurion Main Battle Tank Mk 3 tanks were delivered to the Canadian Army between 1952 and 1953.  Training of Canadian Centurions had not been completed in time for them to see service in Korean, but the first 21 were delivered to the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Germany in March 1952.  Nine Centurion Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) were purchased in 1954, and four armoured vehicle bridge layers (AVBL) in 1966.[42]

Centurion tanks on exercise in Germany, 1964.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4235690)

It became one of the most widely used tank designs, equipping armies around the world, with some still in service until the 1990s.  As recently as the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict the Israel Defense Forces employed heavily modified Centurions as armoured personnel carriers and combat engineering vehicles.  Wikipedia.

Centurion tanks on exercise in Germany, 1964.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4235689)

In 1943 the Department of Tank Design was asked to produce a new design for a heavy Cruiser Tank under the General Staff designation A41. After a series of fairly marginal designs in the A series in the past, and bearing in mind the threat posed by the German 88-mm gun, the War Office demanded a major revision of the design requirements, specifically: increased durability and reliability, a maximum weight of 40 tons and the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88-mm gun.

Tank Design responded by extending the long-travel 5-wheel suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a sixth wheel and an extended spacing between the second and third wheels.  The Christie suspension with internal vertical spring coils was replaced by a Horstmann suspension with external horizontal springs.  The hull was redesigned with welded sloped armour, and featured a partially cast turret mounting the highly regarded 17-pounder main gun and a 20-mm Polsten cannon.  With a Rover-built Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, a version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, the new design would have excellent performance.

Shortly after the programme commenced, it became clear that the requirement to withstand 88-mm artillery would be impossible to meet within the permitted weight.  The original specification had been set so that the A41 could be carried on the existing Mark I and Mark II transport trailers, which were limited to a 40-ton load.  The War Ministry decided it would be wiser to build new trailers than hamper what appeared to be a superb design.  Even before prototypes of the original 40-ton design were completed, the design of a heavier version was well under way.  The new version carried armour equal to the heaviest infantry tanks, and cross-country performance was superior to even the early Cruiser Tanks.  The A41 was the first British tank that could “do it all”, leading to the new designation “universal tank”.

Centurion tanks on exercise in Germany, 1964.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4235688)

Prototypes of the original 40-ton design, the Centurion Mark I, had 76-mm of armour in the front glacis, thinner than the then current infantry tank designs such as the Churchill Infantry Tank which had 101-mm, but the glacis plate was highly sloped and so the effective thickness of the armour was very high - a design feature shared by other effective designs such as the German Panther tank and Soviet T-34.  The turret was extremely well armoured at 152-mm.  The tank was also extremely mobile, and easily outperformed the Comet in most tests.  The uparmoured Centurion Mark II soon arrived, featuring a new 118-mm-thick glacis and side and rear armour increased from 38-mm to 51-mm.  Only a handful of Mk Is had been produced when the Mk II replaced it on the production lines.  Full production began in November 1945 with an order of 800 with production lines at Leyland, the Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds and Woolwich, and Vickers at Elswick.  The tank entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.

Centurion tank, RCD, Germany, 1960s.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234065)

Soon after the Centurion’s introduction, Royal Ordnance finished work on the extremely powerful 20 pounder (84-mm) tank gun.  By this point the usefulness of the 20-mm Polsten had been called into question, so it was replaced with a Besa machine gun in a completely cast turret.  The new Centurion Mark III also featured a fully automatic stabilisation system for the gun, allowing it to fire accurately while on the move, dramatically improving battlefield performance.  Production of the Mk 3 began in 1948.  The Mk 3 was so much more powerful than the Mk 1 and Mk 2 that the earlier designs were removed from service as soon as new Mk 3s arrived, and the older tanks were then either converted into the Centurion ARV Mark 1 armoured recovery vehicle for REME use or upgraded to Mk 3 standards.  Improvements introduced with the Mk 3 included a more powerful version of the engine and a new gunsight and gun stabiliser.

Centurion tank, Armour training.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 42342260)

The 20 pounder gun was used only for a short time before the Royal Ordnance Factories introduced the now famous 105-mm L7 gun.  All later variants of the Centurion, from Mark 5/2 on, used the L7.  A total of 24 variants and sub-variants were produced.  Design work for the Mk 7 was completed in 1953 with production beginning soon afterwards.  Wikipedia.

Centurion tank on exercise, Camp Gagetown, summer 1963.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4235424)

Centurion tank, Royal Canadian Dragoons last roll, Lahr, Germany, 21 June 1977.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4728208)

Centurions remained in Canadian service until 2 June 1977 when the Royal Canadian Dragoons held their final parade in Lahr, Germany.  A handful soldiered on in Canada after the official retirement as late as 1979 until the Leopard MBT began to arrive in sufficient numbers.  Many were turned into hard targets on the ranges at CFB Gagetown (28); CFB Petawawa (8); and CFB Suffield (11).  A few were used in indoor ranges as training aids, and a number of Mk 5 variants are on display in Museums or as gate guards.[43]


Centurion AVBL, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The Centurion was used as the basis for a range of specialist equipment, including engineering variants with a 165-mm demolition gun Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE), the Armoured Vehicle Bridge Laying (AVBL), and the Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV).  It is one of the longest-serving designs of all time, serving as a battle tank for the British and Australian armies from the Korean War (1950–1953) to the Vietnam War (1961–1972), and as an armoured engineer vehicle during Operation Desert Storm in January - February 1991.

Centurion ARV, CFR 54-81334, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

Centurion Mk 5 had Browning machine guns fitted to coaxial and commander’s cupola mounts, stowage bin on glacis.  About 4,423 Centurions were produced between 1946 and 1962, consisting of thirteen basic marks of the Centurion tank.  The Centurions in use in Canada were replaced by Leopard C1.  Many of the tanks were sold to Israel which converted them to diesel. Some are still in use as variants.  Wikipedia. 

Leopard C1 Main Battle Tank

Leopard C-1 tank crosses the Mainz river on a french amphibian bridge during exercise Royal Sword.  Oct 1987.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4730771)

Leopard C1 Main Battle Tank, Fall Ex, Sep 1977, Germany.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4728086)

Leopard C1 Main Battle Tank, Base Borden Military Museum, CFB Borden, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

The Leopard (or Leopard C1) is a main battle tank designed and produced in Germany that first entered service in 1965.  Developed in an era when HEAT warheads were thought to make conventional heavy armour of limited value, the Leopard focussed on firepower in the form of the German-built version of the British L7 105-mm gun, and improved cross-country performance that was unmatched by other designs of the era.

The design started as a collaborative project between Germany and France in the 1950s, but the partnership ended and the final design was ordered by the Bundeswehr, production starting in 1965.  In total 6,485 Leopard tanks have been built, of which 4,744 were battle tanks and 1741 were utility and anti-aircraft variants, not including eighty prototypes and pre-series vehicles.

The Leopard quickly became a standard of European forces, and eventually served as the main battle tank in over a dozen countries worldwide.  Since 1990, the Leopard 1 has gradually been relegated to secondary roles in most armies.  In the German Army, the Leopard 1 MBTs have been phased out in 2003 while Leopard 1 derived vehicles are still widely used.  The Leopard 2 MBTs have taken over the MBT role. Leopard hulls have been re-used in a wide variety of roles.

Canada acquired 127 Leopard C1 tanks (equivalent to Leopard 1A3 with laser rangefinder), in 1978–79 for its Land Forces, with 114 being put into service.  Most of these tanks were stationed in Germany during the Cold War, with a few retained at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick for training.

While investigating the possibilities of increasing the Leopards’ armour prior to a refit, turret armour upon close-up inspection was 1.5” + turret wall cast .75” steel, ‘belly’ armour was approx. 2.25” + cast frame steel 0.75” steel, skirt covering treads (tracks) was 1” rubber - not steel, but additional armour was applied on the forward half of the skirt during the refit - although only a small handful of C1s received a complete refit.  The refit also included adding thermal night-vision equipment, five or six Leopard C1 tanks had an extremely thick MEXAS appliqué armour kit applied, made by German firm IBD Deisenroth Engineering.  These tanks, designated Leopard C1A1, served with Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) in the 1999 KFOR mission in Kosovo.  They were later upgraded with the same sights and fire-control system as the Leopard C2.

Leopard C2, 1 Canadian Division Headquarters, CFB Kingston, Ontario.  (Author Photo)

Starting in 2000, the 114 Leopard C1 tanks in service were upgraded to C2 standard at a cost of CAD $139 million.  The turrets of 123 surplus Leopard 1A5 tanks purchased from the German Defence Ministry were fitted into the existing hulls (nine turrets were reserved for spare parts and training), and the German tank hulls sold back to the upgrade contractor.  The Leopard C2 is also equipped with thermal sights and EMES 18 fire-control system.  Eighteen Leopard Crew Gunnery Trainers were purchased at the same time.

Canada also operates the Leopard 1-based Beaver Bridgelayer and Taurus Armoured Recovery Vehicle, bought with the original Leopard C1, and the Badger Armoured Engineer Vehicle with a dozer blade and excavator bucket, which entered service in 1990.

A number of the Canadian Leopard tanks were pulled out of service during the 2000s in anticipation of replacing them with the eight-wheeled Mobile Gun System, but these plans were put on hold.  Of the obsolescent tanks, 23 were sold to companies in North America, 4 put in Museums or used as monuments (including two at the Bovington Tank Museum), and 21 used as hard targets on ranges.  The Canadian Army web site list indicates that 66 Leopard C2 remain in service.

Canadian Leopard C2 tank being driven onto a  USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster III named the "Spirit of McChord" for the transport 7 Oct 2006, from Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, to Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.  (Master Sgt. Mitch Gettle, USAF Photo)

Canadian Leopard C2, LdSH, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 3 Dec 2006.  (Hellopple Photo)

Canada sent a squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) to Afghanistan in the fall of 2006, equipped with fifteen Leopard C2 tanks with add-on armour, as well as two recovery vehicles and two engineering vehicles.  The armoured squadron is intended to provide convoy protection, supporting Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams and other organizations equipped with lighter vehicles.  The first tanks arrived in Kandahar in mid-October 2006.  On 2 December 2006 the Leopards stationed in Kandahar entered the field, marking the first time since the Korean War that a Canadian armoured squadron had sent tanks into an active war zone, and fired their guns in combat for the first time in as many years on the following day in response to a Taliban rocket attack.

After an initial assessment of the performance of the Leopard C2 in Afghanistan, Canada decided to invest in Leopard 2 tanks.  It was determined that the lack of adequate air conditioning (essential in the searing heat of Afghanistan,) was degrading the tank crew’s war fighting ability.  The Army later downplayed this factor, citing increased armour protection and the main gun armament as reasons for upgrading to the Leopard 2.  After some public speculation, Canadian Defence minister Hon. Gordon O’Connor clarified the situation on Thursday, 12 April 12, 2007.

Leopard 2A6 Main Battle Tank, Combat Training Centre (CTC) Armour School, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

To meet immediate needs in Afghanistan, twenty of the Bundeswehr’s stock of Leopard 2A6s were upgraded to 2A6M standard and loaned to Canada at no cost by the German government.  Two Leopard 2 Büffel Armoured Recovery Vehicles were acquired at the same time.  These vehicles were shipped from Germany to Afghanistan, with the first arriving on 16 August 2007.

For the long term, Canada plans to replace the borrowed Leopard 2 tanks with a purchase of 100 surplus vehicles from the Netherlands, including 40 Leopard 2A6Ms for combat service, 40 Leopard 2A4s for training, and 20 support vehicles, such as Armoured Recovery Vehicles, Bridge-Layers and Armoured Engineer vehicles.

The older Leopard C2 tanks are considered to become completely obsolete by 2015, but specific plans for them have not yet been announced.  Up until deployment with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan the Leopard 1 C2 had never seen active combat.  Wikipedia.

Beaver AVLB

Beaver AVLB, Canadian Military Engineer Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The Beaver is an armoured, fully tracked vehicle built on the chassis of a Leopard Tank. It is a highly mobile, rapidly deployable assault bridge that can be used to span natural and man-made obstacles on the battlefield.  The vehicle’s 22 meter-long bridge can support vehicles as heavy as 60 tonnes over streams and anti-tank ditches.

The Beaver is powered by a V-10, twin super charged, 830 HP, multi-fuelled engine.  It is equipped with an NBCD system that provides protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical agents.  It is also equipped with eight smoke/HE grenade dischargers.[44]

Badger AEV

The Badger armoured engineering vehicle is designed to provide engineer support to mechanized combat forces.  It is capable of performing a wide range of tasks under battlefield conditions including dozing, ripping, excavating, craning, grappling, welding, cutting, winching, and towing.  The CF has nine in service, each operated by a crew of 2 to 4 personnel.

The Badger AEV is capable of dozing 270 cubic meters per hour with a maximum dozing speed of 8 km/h.  The dozer blade is equipped with two ripper teeth that are used when backing up.  The vehicle is also capable of excavating up to 140 cubic meters per hour when fitted with a 1.5 meter wide bucket.  It can also be fitted with a smaller 0.8 meter-wide bucket with a capacity of 0.6 cubic meters.

The AEV is capable of operating in a crane mode with a maximum lifting capacity of 7.8 tonnes.  The excavator arm can be fitted with two grappling teeth for picking up large objects.  The Badger is also equipped with an electric welding and cutting unit and a CAPSTAN winch.  The winch has a pulling capacity of 35 tonnes and a cable length of 90 metres.

The Badger is capable of carrying and deploying the class 60 Track Way (portable road sections) as well as fascine (a large bundle of tubes used to fill in anti-tank ditches, creating a crossing site).  The class 60 Track Way is carried on the dozer blade and is deployed by the winch.  The fascine is carried on the back deck and is placed using the excavator arm with the grappling teeth.

The AEV is powered by a V-10, twin super charged, 830 horsepower, multi-fuelled engine.  It is equipped with an NBCD system that provides protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical agents.  It is also equipped with eight smoke/HE grenade dischargers.[45]

Taurus ARV

Taurus Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), 4 CMBG, Ex Certain Sentinel, Germany, Feb 1979.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4886180)

The Taurus is an armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) used to repair battle- or mine-damaged as well as broken-down armoured vehicles during combat, or to tow them out of the danger zone for more extensive repairs.  The Taurus ARV is built on the chassis of a Leopard main battle tank (MBT).  ARVs are usually built on the basis of a vehicle in the same class as they are supposed to recover; a tank-based ARV is used to recover tanks, while an APC-based one recovers APCs, but does not have the power to tow a much heavier tank.  Wikipedia.

Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tank

Leopard 2A4, C Tp, RCD, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, 6 Oct 2016.  (Author Photo)

The Leopard 2 is a German main battle tank (Kampfpanzer) developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s and first entering service in 1979.  The Leopard 2 replaced the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army.  Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and twelve other European countries, as well as several non-European nations.  More than 3,480 Leopard 2s have been manufactured.  The Leopard 2 first saw combat in Kosovo with the German Army and has also seen action in Afghanistan with the Danish and Canadian ISAF forces.

There are two main development batches of the tank, the original models up to Leopard 2A4 which have vertically-faced turret armour, and the “improved” batch, namely the Leopard 2A5 and newer versions, which have angled arrow-shaped turret appliqué armour together with a number of other improvements.  All models feature digital fire control systems with laser rangefinders, a fully stabilized main gun and coaxial machine gun, and advanced night vision and sighting equipment (first vehicles used a low-light level TV system or LLLTV; thermal imaging was introduced later on).  The tank has the ability to engage moving targets while moving over rough terrain.

The Canadian Forces acquired 100 Leopard 2A4 tanks from the Netherlands in 2007.  Twenty Leopard 2A6M were borrowed from Germany from mid-2007 to support the Canadian deployment in Afghanistan, with the first tank handed over after upgrading by KMW on 2 Aug 2007, and arriving in Afghanistan on 16 Aug 2007.  Two Bergepanzer 3 Büffel were purchased or loaned from the German Bundeswehr for use with the Canadian deployment in Afghanistan.  An additional fifteen Leopard 2A4 tanks were being purchased from Germany for spare parts.  An additional 12 surplus Pz 87 were purchased from Switzerland in 2011 for conversion to protected special vehicles.  Canada will be able to deploy 40 combat tanks (20 2A4M CAN and 20 2A6M CAN) with 42 2A4s for training, all supported by 13 to 18 AEVs, 12 ARVs and 15 Logistic Support Vehicles.  Wikipedia. 


The AVGP (Armoured Vehicle General Purpose) is a series of three armoured fighting vehicles ordered by the Canadian military in 1977.  The three vehicles are the Cougar, Grizzly and Husky.  These vehicles were based on the six-wheeled version of the Swiss MOWAG Piranha I.  They formerly had propellers and trim vanes for amphibious use, like the eight-wheeled Bison.  Recent retrofits have removed the marine drive system, as it is no longer used and service is expensive. 

The Canadian Armed Forces’ LAV III, the United States Marine Corps’ LAV-25, and the US Army’s Stryker are other variants of the Piranha family. 

The AVGP variants were introduced into Canadian service in the 1970s.  Intended for use only in Canada, they were pressed into service for several United Nations missions, including UNPROFOR and the mission to Somalia.  One Grizzly was captured by Croatian forces in the late 1990s.  Wikipedia.

AVGP Cougar

 (Author Photo)

AVGP Cougar, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo) 

The Cougar is used as a tank trainer and fire support vehicle on United Nations missions, the Cougar is manned by a three-man crew.  It is equipped with the turret of a British Scorpion reconnaissance vehicle (76-mm main gun).

AVGP Grizzly

 (Author Photo)

AVGP Grizzly, Infantry School, 5 Canadian Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The Grizzly is an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with a three-man crew.  The Grizzly is designed to carry a section of infantry.  It mounts a Cadillac-Gage 1 metre turret, armed with a .50 ca HMG and a 7.62-mm machine gun.


 (Author Photo) 

AVGP Husky, New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  

The Husky is an Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) manned with a two-man crew.  The Husky is designed to provide mechanical support for the other two vehicles.

The Cougar is only used for training in Canada as a reconnaissance vehicle.  The Grizzly is no longer in front line service but is being converted to support vehicles such as Command Post and Mobile Repair Team Vehicle.  The Husky still serves in its original role.  The majority of vehicles have had their marine propulsion systems removed.

In June 2005, the Canadian government announced plans to loan 105 AVGPs (100 Grizzlys and 5 Huskys) to African peacekeepers in the Darfur region.  The AVGP was considered sufficiently modern to be useful in this low-intensity conflict.  The Canadian government planned to arrange for civilian contractors to maintain these vehicles.  As the vehicles contained some US-manufactured or licensed parts, US permission would be required to loan the vehicles.  Initially, the vehicles were to be shipped without their Cadillac-Gage turrets.

The vehicles arrived in Senegal in the late summer of 2005.  The Sudanese government required various kinds of assurances before they would allow peacekeepers to use the vehicles in Sudan.  On 18 November 2005 the vehicles started arriving in Sudan, in white livery, with their turrets.

The loan of vehicles for peace-keeping service in Sudan was originally for one year.  But the loan was extended, and transferred from the African Union to the United Nations.  According to Amnesty International the soldiers who used the loaned vehicles served in Sudan for too short a term to be properly trained, and become experienced.

One of the vehicles was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade.  A second vehicle was damaged when it rammed a more heavily armed, but unarmoured technical.

In May 2007, the Edmonton Police Service accepted the donation of a disarmed Grizzly from the Canadian Forces.

In 2008, the Uruguayan Army bought 44 Cougars from the Canadian Army (surplus to requirements).  They were rebuilt without the turret by the Chilean MOWAG-Piranha builder FAMAE, as they will act as armoured personnel carriers for the UN deployment in the Republic of Congo (MONUC), and domestically.

In 2009 Uruguay bought 98 Grizzlys and 5 Huskys that they were on loan with the AMIS/UNAMID mission in Darfur.

In March 2010, the Canadian Forces Donated 2 disarmed Cougar AVGPs to the British Colombia area Royal Canadian Mounted Police for use by the Emergency Response Team. They were retrofitted to transport ERT assault teams into hazardous areas where transport in unarmoured vehicles wouldn’t be safe.

(Canadian Forces Land Force Command) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - As the TAV 2 variant (Cougars modified for ERT tasks); these were given for free by the Canadian Forces to the BC RCMP in March 2010.

African Union (AMIS mission) - 100 (-1 lost in combat) Grizzlys, 5 Huskys.

Uruguay - 44 refurbished Cougars with turrets removed.  98 Grizzlys and 5 Huskys given directly from the AMIS/UNAMID mission in Sudan.  Wikipedia. 

Bison Armoured Personnel Carrier

Bison Armoured Personnel Carrier, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, 24 Nov 2016.  (Author Photo)

The Bison is an armoured personnel carrier based on the 8x8 MOWAG Piranha II platform, and was produced by General Motors Diesel Division (now General Dynamics Land Systems Canada) in London, Ontario.  They are primarily operated by the Reserve Force of the Canadian Army, but have been adopted by the Regular Force as well.

By starting with a basic Piranha II, the Bison design process took only 7 days.  The Bison differs from the baseline Piranha II by raising the height of the roof, removing the turret ring, placing a commander’s cupola behind the driver, and incorporating a rail mount system in the cargo/passenger compartment to quickly change mission specific equipment.  The driver is seated in the front-left of the crew compartment.  The commander has a slightly raised position directly behind the driver with access to his own hatch and mounted machine gun.  The engine is to the right of the crew compartment.

The Canadian Forces began upgrading the Bison between 2002 and 2008.  The upgrades include improved engine power, new torsion bars, fittings for add-on armour, air conditioning, and the VRS respirator system for NBC defence.

The Bison’s rail mount system allows it to be adapted to a variety of roles without any major modifications.  199 Bisons used by the Canadian Forces, have been adapted for use as armoured personnel carriers (original configuration - mostly replaced in this role by the LAV III), 81-mm mortar carriers, ambulances (32), Mobile Repair Team (MRT) vehicles (32), Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) (32), Electronic Warfare (EW) vehicles (25), and Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Reconnaissance vehicles (4).  Wikipedia.

Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle

Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

The Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle is a lightly armoured fighting vehicle built by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada for the Canadian Forces, for use in the reconnaissance role.  Its eight-wheeled design is a licensed version of the Swiss MOWAG Piranha 8x8.  In service since 1996, the Coyote is a later generation of the six-wheeled Canadian AVGP, also developed from the Piranha.  It is of a similar family and similar generation as the, Bison APC, USMC LAV-25 and the Australian ASLAV.

The Coyotes mount a 25-mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun and two 7.62-mm C6 general purpose machine guns.  One of the machine guns is mounted coaxial to the main gun while the other is pintle-mounted in front of the crew commander’s hatch.  The main gun is equipped with dual ammunition feeds that allow for separate weapons effects, selectable by the gunner/crew commander; the standard load is a belt of AP sabot rounds and a belt of HE-T explosive/fragmentation rounds.  The main gun and coax machine gun are 2-axis stabilized.  The turret is equipped with a laser rangefinder, but no ballistic computer; elevation and lead corrections are applied manually by the gunner using multi-stadia reticules in the day, thermal, and image intensification sights.  The turret is also equipped with grenade dischargers that can be loaded with smoke and fragmentation grenades.

The Coyote is powered by a Detroit Diesel 6V53T engine developing 275 horsepower, and can reach speeds of 120 kilometres per hour.  The coyote has a maximum road range of 660 kilometres.  The Coyote uses a larger wheel than initially used on the Bison and AVGP (these vehicles were later retrofitted with this wheel).  Compared to the later LAV-III family of vehicles, the Coyote is physically smaller, uses smaller wheels and tires, has a “sharp” rather than “rounded” nose profile, and has a smaller, oval driver’s hatch. Like the LAV-III, the Coyote can be fitted with additional ceramic bolt-on armour panels for increased protection. The Coyote can be transported on a Hercules C-130 transport plane but their turrets have to be removed first.

Coyotes come in three variants: Command, Mast, and Remote. The Mast and Remote variants have a sophisticated suite of electronic surveillance equipment including radar, video, and infrared surveillance night vision devices.  The mast variant has this equipment mounted on a 10 m telescoping mast that can be extended to raise the surveillance suite out from behind cover.  The remote variant of the Coyote has its surveillance suite mounted on two short tripods, which crew can deploy remotely using a 200 m spool of cable.

Unlike the USMC LAV-25 from which it was derived, the Coyote was not equipped with an amphibious propulsion system.  The areas where the marine drive propellers would normally be mounted were replaced by external fuel tanks, and the trim vane has been deleted.

When first purchased, the Coyote was designated for service with both the Regular Force and Reserve Force, with the Mast variants earmarked for the Regular units and the Remotes designated for the Reserves.  Shortly after taking delivery of the vehicles, but before they were assigned to the Reserve units, all Coyotes were reassigned to the Regular Force.

Since the introduction of the Coyote in the Canadian Forces, this vehicle served national interest and also served overseas.  The Coyote served during the United Nations mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo.  A task group of Coyote were deployed during “Operation Grizzly” to Kananaskis to secure the 28th G8 summit.  The Coyote reconnaissance vehicle currently serves in Afghanistan and has served in Canada to defend the 36th G8 summit and the G-20 Toronto summit.  Wikipedia.


 (Author Photo)

LAV III, 2 RCR, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, 2 May 2011.  

The LAV III light armoured vehicle (LAV) is built by General Dynamics Land Systems, entering service in 1999.  It is based on the Swiss MOWAG Piranha IIIH 8x8.  It was developed in Canada and is the primary mechanized infantry vehicle of the Canadian Army and the New Zealand Army.  The United States Army uses a more lightly armed LAV III derivative named the Stryker.

By July 1991, the Canadian Forces had identified the need to replace their aging fleet of 1960s and 1970s era armoured personnel carriers.  As a result, $2.8 billion was earmarked for the Multi-Role Combat Vehicle (MRCV) Project by the sitting Conservative government.  The mandate of the MRCV project was to provide a series of vehicles based on a common chassis which would replace the M113 armoured personnel carrier, Lynx reconnaissance vehicle, Grizzly armoured personnel carrier, and Bison armoured personnel carrier.  The project was, however, deemed unaffordable and cancelled by March 1992.

By 1994 after the Liberal Party had returned to government, the army was still in need of new vehicles.  As a result, the army embarked on the Light Armoured Vehicle Project, which would adapt parts of the MRCV Project, and be implemented incrementally to spread out the costs.  Also, the requirement to replace the Bisons was dropped.  The first phase of the project saw the selection of the Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle to replace the Lynx.  On August 16, 1995, it was announced that General Motors Diesel Division (later renamed GM Defense, and subsequently purchased by General Dynamics Land Systems) of London, Ontario, had been awarded the contract to produce the LAV III which would replace the Grizzly and a large portion of the M113 armoured personnel carriers.  The LAV III would incorporate the turret and weapon system used with the Coyote (which was produced at the same location), and the latest, heaviest version of MOWAG’s Piranha family which would be “Canadianized” and built locally.

The LAV III is powered by a Caterpillar 3126 diesel engine developing 350 horsepower, and can reach speeds of 100 kilometres per hour.  The vehicle is fitted with 8x8 drive and also equipped with a central tire inflation system, which allows it to adjust to different terrain, including off-road.  The LAV III is fitted with a modern anti-locking brake system (ABS) and a traction control system (TCS).  Unlike earlier versions of the LAV, the LAV III does not have any amphibious capabilities.

The LAV III faces the same concerns that most other wheeled military vehicles face.  Like all wheeled armoured vehicles, the LAV III’s ground pressure is inherently higher than a tracked vehicle with a comparable weight.  This is a result of the fact that tires will have less surface area in contact with the ground when compared to a tracked vehicle.  Higher ground pressure results in an increased likelihood of sinking into soft terrain such as mud, snow and sand, leading to the vehicle becoming stuck.  The lower ground pressure and improved traction offered by tracked vehicles also gives them an advantage over vehicles like the LAV III when it comes to managing slopes, trenches, and other obstacles.

The LAV III can somewhat compensate for these effects by deflating its tires slightly, meaning that the surface area in contact with the ground increases, and the ground pressure is slightly lowered.  However, wheels offer several advantages over tracked vehicles, including lower maintenance for both the vehicle and road infrastructure, quieter movement for improved stealth, greater speed over good terrain, and higher ground clearance for protection against mines and improvised explosive devices.

The LAV III‘s turret gives the vehicle a higher centre of gravity than the vehicle was initially designed for.  This has led to concerns that the vehicle is more likely to roll over on uneven terrain.  While there have been several recorded rollovers (about 12), the most common cause was found to be unstable terrain, specifically road shoulders unexpectedly giving away beneath the vehicle.  The weight balance of the LAV III is taken into consideration during driver training, largely mitigating the chances of a rollover.

The basic armour of the LAV III, covering the Standardization Agreement STANAG 4569 level III, which provides an all-round protection against 7.62x51-mm NATO.  Ceramic appliqué armour (MEXAS) can be added, which protects against 14.5x114-mm Heavy calibre rounds from 500 meters.  In December 2008 the Government of Canada awarded EODC Engineering, Developing and Licensing Inc. C$81.5 million worth of contracts to provide for add-on-armour kits, modules and spares for its LAV III wheeled armoured personnel carriers.  This armour kit is intended to provide increased protection against Improvised Explosive Device (IED), Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) and 30-mm calibre armour piercing rounds.  The LAV III can be also fitted with cage armour, which provides protection against shaped charges.  The LAV III is fitted with a nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) filtration system accompanied with a GID-3 chemical detector and AN/VDR 2 radiation detector systems.  The LAV III was designed to produce a very low and very compact structure to minimize radar and IR-signatures.  The LAV III also uses heat-absorbing filters to provide temporary protection against thermal imaging (TIS), image intensifier and infrared camera (IR).

The majority of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan have occurred during a patrol aboard a LAV III.  This can be explained by the fact that the LAV III is the most commonly used Canadian armoured personnel carrier in theatre, and simply represents a normal association between use and likelihood to encounter a mine or improvised explosive device.  The LAV III offers comparable or better protection than most other infantry carriers used in Afghanistan.  In an effort to improve protection as a result of experiences in Afghanistan, future LAV III upgrades will likely include improved mine and IED protection.

The LAV III is fitted with a two-man turret, armed with the M242 Bushmaster 25-mm calibre chain gun and coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun.  One more 5.56-mm or 7.62-mm machine gun is positioned on top of the turret.  The LAV-III have also has eight 76-mm grenades in two clusters of four launchers positioned on each side of the turret.  The grenade launchers are intended for smoke grenades.

The LAV III is equipped with a daytime optical, Thermal Imaging System (TIS) and Generation III Image Intensification (II).  The LAV III is equipped with a Tactical Navigation System (TacNav) to assist them in navigation and target location tasks.  The LAV III is equipped with a LCD monitor directly connected to the vehicle’s external cameras, providing real-time images of the battlefield for the passengers.

In July 2009, the Canadian Department of National Defence announced that $5 billion would be spent to enhance, replace and repair the Army’s armoured vehicles.  Part of the spending would be used to replace and repair damaged LAV IIIs due wear and tear from operations in Afghanistan.  As much as 33 percent of the Army’s light armoured vehicles were out of service.  Furthermore, the LAV IIIs will be upgraded with improved protection and automotive components.

Of the $5 billion announced, approximately 20% of it will be used to upgrade LAV III models.  The upgrade will extend the LAV III life span to 2035.  The remaining $4 billion is to be spent on a “new family of land combat vehicles”.  The Department of National Defence is considering the purchase of a vehicle meant to accompany the Leopard 2 and to sustain the LAV-III into combat.  The CV90, the Puma (IFV) and the Véhicule blindé de combat d’infanterie are the most likely candidates for the role.  A contract of 108 with an option for up to 30 more is under consideration.  Wikipedia.

651 LAV IIIs have been in service with the Canadian Forces at home and abroad on United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), Kosovo (UNMIK), Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), Haiti (UNMIH), as well as in the War in Afghanistan with the Kabul Multi-National Brigade and in Kandahar with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).  Wikipedia.

LAV III variants:

TOW Under Armour (TUA) - Standard LAV III turret replaced with TOW Under Armour launcher for anti-tank purposes.

Infantry Section Carrier (ISC) - Surplus LAV TUA hulls fitted with a Nanuk Remotely Controlled Weapon Station.

Observation Post Vehicle (OPV) - Standard LAV III equipped for use by a Forward Observation Officer (FOO).

Command Post Vehicle (CPV) - Standard LAV III equipped for command post duties.

Engineer LAV (ELAV) - LAV III equipped with a dozer blade and other engineering equipments.

RG-31 Nyala Armoured Patrol Vehicle

 (Author Photo)

RG-31 Nyala APV, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  

The RG-31 Armoured Patrol Vehicle (APV) is a 4 x 4 wheeled multi-purpose mine-protected armoured personnel carrier and patrol vehicle.  Manufactured in South Africa by Land Systems OMC, it is based on the Mamba APC.  The Nyala is designed to provide a high level of protection for troops while they conduct patrols, command and liaison, and reconnaissance tasks in complex urban and mountainous terrain.  Canada has  75 X RG-31 Mk 3 equipped with Protector M151 Remote Weapon Stations.

The RG-31 is built from a V-shaped all-steel welded armour monocoque hull and high suspension, typical of South African mine protected vehicles, providing excellent small-arms and mine blast protection.  The vehicle is designed to resist a blast equivalent to two TM-57 anti-tank mines detonating simultaneously.  The vehicle accommodates a crew of 8 or 10, including the driver, depending on model.  Dismounting is provided via a large rear door and two front doors.

The RG-31 has become the multi-purpose vehicle of choice of the UN and other peacekeeping and security forces.  It is finding favour with non-governmental organisations requiring a vehicle with a non-aggressive appearance to protect their personnel against the threat of land mines.  Wikipedia.

Future Projects

In the near future between 2015 to 2017, the Canadian Army will receive a new family of combat vehicles including 138 close combat vehicles meant to accompany the main battle tank into combat and to increase combat capabilities of Land Force Command. Land Force Command will also receive a new family of tactical armoured patrol vehicles which will eventually replace the RG-31 Nyala and Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle.

Dismounted soldiers will be equipped with the long-awaited Integrated Soldier System designed to improve command execution, target acquisition and situational awareness. Land Force Command will receive a new family of engineering vehicles especially designed to clear pathways for troops and other vehicles through minefields and along roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices. This new family of vehicles will eventually replace the aging fleet of AEV Badger, ARV Taurus and AVLB Beaver.  Wikipedia.

[1] Internet:

[2] Internet:

[3] Internet:

[5] LCol C.S. Grafton, VD, The Canadian “Emma Gees,” p. 141.  “D & E Batteries were supported by a platoon of Cyclists [who] worked their way SE of Folies and with the infantry entered Bouchoir in the evening.” p. 153.

[6] Roger V. Lucy, Early Armour in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2009), p. 5.

[7] Michael R. McNorgan, Great War Tanks in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2009), p. 5.

[8] Roger V. Lucy, Early Armour in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2009), p. 6.

[9] Internet: The Canadian Whippet – Landships WW1 Forum.

[10] Internet: MapleLeafUp net.forums.

[11] Internet:

[12] Internet:

[13] Internet:

[14] Internet:

[15] W.A. Gregg, Blueprint for Victory, The story of military vehicle design and production in Canada from 1937-45, Canadian Military Vehicle Series, Vol III, (Rockwood, Ontario, The Canadian Military Historical Society Inc, 1981), p. 15.  Roger V. Lucy, Early Armour in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2009), p. 8.

[16] Internet:

[20] Internet:

[21] The Ogdensburg Declaration, 18 Aug 1940.  Jon B. McLin, Canada’s Changing Defence Policy, 1957-1963, The Problems of a Middle Power in Alliance, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1967), p. 9.

[22] Internet:

[23] Douglas How, The 8th Hussars, A History of the Regiment, Maritime Publishing, Sussex, NB, 1964, pp. 131-132.

[26] Roger V. Lucy, Early Armour in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2009), p. 23.

[27] Roger V. Lucy, The Skink in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2005), p. 24.

[28] Peter Brown, Internet:

[29] Peter Brown, Internet:

[30] W.A. Gregg, Ed., Canada’s Fighting Vehicles, Europe 1943-45, Canadian Military Vehicle Series, Vol. 1, (Rockwood, Ontario, The Canadian Military Historical Society Inc., 1980), p. v.

[31] W.A. Gregg, Blueprint for Victory, p. 51.

[32] W.A. Gregg, Blueprint for Victory, p. 52.

[33] W.A. Gregg, Blueprint for Victory, p. 101.

[34] W.A. Gregg, Blueprint for Victory, p. 53.

[35] W.A. Gregg, Blueprint for Victory, p. 62.

[36] W.A. Gregg, Ed., Canada’s Fighting Vehicles, Europe 1943-45, Canadian Military Vehicle Series, Vol. 1, (Rockwood, Ontario, The Canadian Military Historical Society Inc., 1980), p. 3.

[37] Roger V. Lucy, The Staghound in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2007), pp. 11-14.

[38] Ibid., p. 14.

[39] Ibid., p. 24.

[40] W.A. Gregg, Ed., Canada’s Fighting Vehicles, Europe 1943-45, Canadian Military Vehicle Series, Vol. 1, (Rockwood, Ontario, The Canadian Military Historical Society Inc., 1980), p. 9.

[41] Doug Knight, The Bobcat APC in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2007), p. 21.

[42] Don Dingwall, The Centurion in Canadian Service, (Ottawa, Service Publications, 2005), pp. 3-7.

[43] Don Dingwall, The Centurion in Canadian Service, pp. 18-19.

[44] Internet:

Major-General Frederic Franklin Worthington, MC, MM, CD.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233949)