WW2 British Tanks
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This guide features several classic tanks of World War II.
Matilda Infantry Tank
The A12 appeared in 1938 and became known as the Matilda 2, the earlier model being now the Matilda 1. Matilda Two was a much better design, with heavy armour, a 2-pdr gun as the main armament and a well-protected and much better suspension. Both Matilda I and Matilda II went to war in 1939 and their thick armour proved invulnerable to all German anti-tank weapons. Of the 136 Matilda Is built, those which returned from France were retained for training purposes, due to their lack of effective armament. The Matilda 2s though served well in the Western Desert until eventually replaced by M3 Grants and M4 Shermans.
Valentine Infantry Tank
The Valentine was one of the most important British tanks and in 1943 totalled nearly one quarter of British tank output. The Velentine was difficult to drive, but was reliable and robust, and well-liked by its crews. The turret was somewhat cramped and deficient in vision arrangements, but this was not unusual in tanks of that period. The principal armament of the original version was a 2-pdr gun, though a few mounted a 3in howitzer for close support, Later production models carried a 6-pdr or 75mm gun. A total of 11 different marks eventually appeared, differing in type of engine or armament.
Churchill Infantry Tank
The fourth in the British series of infantry support tanks, the Churchill proved to be a successful and reliable design. It had the heaviest armour of any British tank in service in 1942, and an adequate cross-country speed with excellent cross-country ability. However, like its predecessors, the infantry Mk1, Matilda and Valentine, the Churchill suffered from inadequate armament. Its ability to fire high explosive, except from the close support howitzer in the hull, was a serious weakness. Only a few were actually equipped with the howitzer, the majority mounting a 7.92mm machine gun in the hull instead.
Crusader Cruiser Tank
Crusader was the fastest and best of the British tanks used by the 8th Army in the desert war in North Africa. It could be unreliable, but was much respected by the enemy, having a top speed of almost 40mph (64km/h), which could be exploited at its best in desert conditions. In all, 4,350 Crusader gun tanks were produced between 1940 and 1943.
Cromwell Cruiser Tank
The Cromwell was the most important British cruiser tank of WWII, forming the main equipment of British armoured divisions in 1944-1945 together with the America-built M4 Sherman. However, even with a 75mm gun it was still, by 1944 standards, inferior to the best German tanks. Fitted with a Meteor engine it was then the fastest and most powerful of British tank designs, but the narrow hull prevented it being up-gunned further and considerable redesign was necessary to turn it into a vehicle capable of carrying the very desirable 17pdr gun armament.
Comet Cruiser Tank
The Comet was the last British tank type to enter service before the war ended, though its planned successor, the Centurion, was just starting troop trials as the war finished. A feature of this design was the "compact" version of the famous 17pdr gun, the 77mm, designed to fit the Comet's small turret ring which was not large enough to take a standard 17 pounder gun. In essence the Comet was a redesign of the famous Cromwell tank, retaining its layout and engine, but with improved armour and firepower. Comets served the British Army well into the 1960s.