Canal Defence Light

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Canal Defence Light
M3 Canal Defense Light.jpg
A CDL turret fitted to a M3 Grant tank; the CDL turret is fitted with a dummy gun
Type Non–lethal weapon
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Service history
Used by
  • British Army
  • United States Army
Wars World War 2
Production history
Designer A V M Mitzakis
Number built
  • 300 (Matilda variant)
  • 335 (M3 variant)

The Canal Defence Light (CDL) was a British "secret weapon" of the Second World War.

It was based upon the use of a powerful carbon-arc searchlight mounted on a tank. It was intended to be used during night-time attacks, when the light would allow enemy positions to be targeted. A secondary use of the light would be to dazzle and disorient enemy troops, making it harder for them to return fire accurately. The inaccurate name Canal Defence Light was used to conceal the device's true purpose. For the same reason, in US service they were designated the T10 Shop Tractor.[1]


The idea is credited to a Greek citizen, A V M Mitzakis, who devised the system in 1937. The British War Office showed no interest until 1940, when a prototype was constructed using a Matilda II tank. The tank's normal turret was replaced with a cylindrical one containing both a 13 million candlepower (12.8 million candela) searchlight and a machine gun.[1]

The searchlight turret included a station for an operator, who had the task of changing the light's carbon electrodes when they burned out.[1] The light emerged from a vertical slit that was just 2 inches (5.1 cm) by 24 inches (61 cm), a small size which reduced the chance of battle damage to the optical system. The beam diverged at 19° horizontally and 1.9° vertically, forming a pool of light of around 34 by 340 yards (31 m × 311 m) at a distance of 1,000 yards (910 m). The turret could rotate 360° and the light beam could be elevated or depressed by 10° from the horizontal.[2]

Blue and amber filters allowed the light to be coloured as well as white. A shutter could flash the beam on and off up to twice a second. It was found the blue light caused the CDL tank to appear to be at a greater distance, and blue and amber light beams from two CDL tanks could combine to illuminate a target with white. A flashing beam would further dazzle and disorient enemy troops by not giving their eyes a chance to adapt to either light or darkness.[2]

The Matilda tank was later replaced by the US M3 Grant, which was superior in several ways. It was a larger, roomier and better-armoured tank, and also faster and better able to keep up with tanks such as the Sherman. It was armed with a 75 mm gun mounted in the hull rather than the turret, which bore the searchlight.[1] A dummy gun-barrel fitted to the turret made it resemble a normal M3 tank.

The project was shrouded in secrecy. It was tested during Exercise Primrose in 1943 at Tighnabruaich, Scotland; it was concluded that it was "too uncertain to be depended upon as the main feature of an invasion".[citation needed]

Deployment and combat[edit]

The system was highly secret as surprise was considered essential to its use. This hampered its employment as commanders were often unfamiliar with it and did not consider it when drawing up plans for attack.[2] CDLs were never used for their intended purpose; however, they saw use by US forces in protecting bridges after the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945. The Germans attempted to attack the bridges at night using swimmers and floating mines, dropped into the river upstream. The armour of the CDL's made them more suitable for this task than conventional searchlights as, in some sectors, the East bank of the river was held by German forces who subjected the CDL tanks to considerable artillery and small-arms fire. Curiously, the actual use of the system resembled its name, which was intended to be spurious.

Later, the battle moved East and the CDLs were used to illuminate the bridges for the benefit of engineers carrying out maintenance. Conventional searchlights would have been more suitable, but none were available. The CDLs were eventually replaced by captured German searchlights.[2]


The 11th Royal Tank Regiment was raised in January 1941 and designated for the CDL role in May 1941. The unit trained at Lowther Castle near Penrith, and were based at Brougham Hall, Cumberland, spent 1942 and 1943 in the Middle East without seeing action, and returned to the UK in April 1944. They landed in Normandy on 12 August 1944, and saw no action until 29 September 1944 when they were ordered to transfer all their equipment to the 42nd and 49th Royal Tank Regiments, and were retrained to operate the American amphibious LVT-4, known by the British Army as the Buffalo Mark IV.

In their turn, the 42nd and 49th Royal Tank Regiments were largely inactive for the remainder of the war, when all three units were disbanded after the end of hostilities.

Battalions of the American 9th Tank Group trained using the Grant variant of the CDL tank at Camp Bouse in the Arizona desert. Before deployment in the European Theatre of Operations. They continued training in 1944 on the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

At 06:00, before dawn, on 18 November 1944, giant searchlights ("canal defence lights") of the 357th Searchlight Battery, Royal Artillery provided hazy indirect light for the mine-clearing flail tanks supporting the infantry in Operation Clipper.

Surviving examples[edit]

The only surviving CDL-equipped Matilda tank is in the collection of the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Museum at Bovington, Dorset, in Britain. One CDL-equipped M3 Grant is displayed at Armoured Corps Museum, Ahmednagar, in India.[3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Tank Infantry Mark II A12, Matilda CDL (E1949.353)". Collections. Bovington Tank Museum. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d The General Board, United States Forces, European Theater (1946). "Armored Special Equipment". Lone Sentry. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  3. ^
  4. ^


  • Fuller, J.F.C. (1949). The Second World War - 1939-45 - A strategical and Tactical History. Duell, Sloan and Pearce. 

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