British Tanks of World War 2

After World War I, the British began to produce a series of similar light tanks and developed them right up to World War II; the Light Tanks Mk II through to the Mk V.

Eventually, by the 1930s, British experiments and their strategic situation led to a tank development programme with three main types of tank: light, cruiser, and infantry.

The Infantry tanks were tasked with the support of dismounted infantry.

The maximum speed requirement matched the walking pace of a rifleman, and the armor on these tanks was expected to be heavy enough to provide immunity to towed anti-tank guns.

Armament had to be sufficient to suppress or destroy enemy machine gun positions and bunkers.

Cruiser tanks were tasked with the traditional cavalry roles of pursuit and exploitation, working relatively independently of the infantry.

This led to cruiser tank designs having great speed.

To achieve this they were lightly armoured, and tended to carry anti-tank armament. Light Tank Mk.VIA of the 3rd King's Own Hussars.

Vickers Light Tank Mk VIC knocked out during an engagement on 27 May 1940 in the Somme sector.

British Vickers light tanks cross the desert, 1940 The light tanks were tasked with reconnaissance and constabulary-type colonial roles, with cheapness the major design factor.

They saw use in training, and in limited engagements with British Empire units such as the South African Army during the East African Campaign against forces of the Italian Empire.

Up until the Mk V, they had a crew of two: a driver/commander and gunner.

The Mk V had a crew of three: a driver, a gunner, and the commander helping on the gun.

The light tanks were kept in use for training until around 1942.

Some saw active use in the Western Desert Campaign or Abyssinia.

They were followed by the Light Tank Mk VI from 1936.

The Mk VI 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 VI was identical in all but a few respects.

Production of the Mk VI began in 1936 and ended in 1940 with approximately 1,000 Mark VI tanks having been built.

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.

The British and Commonwealth forces employed a relatively small number of these light tanks and armoured vehicles in East Africa against the forces of the Italian Empire from June 1940 to November 1941.

For the most part, an assortment of armoured cars was used.

However, B Squadron 4th Royal Tank Regiment did include small number of Matilda II infantry tanks. Cruiser Mk I (A9) Cruiser Mk II (A10) A Cruiser Mk III (A13) A Cruiser Mk IV tank.

In 1934 the best features of the earlier Mk III light tank were incorporated into a cruiser tank design.

Sir John Carden of Vickers-Armstrong produced this new tank, to General Staff specification A9, which was subsequently accepted as the Cruiser Tank Mark I.

A prototype was tested in 1936 and it went into production the following year, 125 examples being produced in 1937 and 1938.

The follow-up to the A9, the A10, was also designed by Carden.

Designated as a "heavy cruiser" tank, it was put into production in July 1938.

It resembled the Cruiser Mk I, but had heavier armour, and was one of the first British tanks with Spaced armour[citation needed] and the first to be equipped with the Besa machine gun.

Orders for the Mk I and Mk II Cruisers were restricted, since the British Army had already decided to produce a more advanced and faster cruiser tank which would incorporate the Christie suspension acquired from the American inventor J. Walter Christie and have better armour.

In 1936, General Martel, a pioneer in tank design who had published works on armoured warfare and pioneered the lightly armoured "tankette" to enhance infantry mobility, became Assistant Director of Mechanization at the War Office.

Earlier that year Martel had witnessed demonstrations of Soviet tank designs including the BT tank, which had been influenced by Christie's work.

He urged the adoption of a tank that would use the suspension system and also follow Christie's practice of using a lightweight aircraft engine such as the Liberty Engine.

The government authorized purchase and licensing of a Christie design via the newly formed Nuffield Mechanisation and Aero.

The vehicle obtained from Christie became the basis of the Cruiser Mk III (General Staff number A13 Mk 1) though Christie's tank required extensive redesign as it was too small.

Following testing of two prototypes, the A13 was ordered into production and a total of 65 were manufactured.

The Mk III weighed `14 long tons (14.2 metric tonnes), had a crew of four, a 340 hp engine which gave a top speed of 30 mph (48 km/h) and was armed with a 2 pounder gun and a machine gun.

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

The Cruiser Mk IV (A13 Mk II) was a more heavily armoured version of the Mk III and was used in some of the early campaigns of the war.