Light tanks of the United Kingdom

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Tank, Light, Mk I to Mark V
The British Army in North Africa 1940 E443.2.jpg
Vickers light tanks cross the desert, 1940
Type Light tank
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Production history
Designer Vickers-Armstrongs
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
Variants Mk I, Mk II, Mk III, Mk IV, Mk V
Specifications (Light Tank, Mark V)
Weight 4.75 long tons (4.83 t)
Length 12 ft 10 in (3.91 m)
Width 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Height 7 ft 3 in (2.26 m)
Crew 3 (commander, gunner, driver)

Armour 12 mm maximum
Main
armament
.50 in Vickers machine gun
Secondary
armament
.303 in Vickers machine gun
Engine Meadows 6-cylinder petrol
88 hp
Suspension Horstmann inclined springs
Operational
range
130 mi (210 km)
Speed 32.5 mph (52.3 km/h)

The Light Tank Mark I to Mark VI were a series of related designs of light tank produced by Vickers for the British Army during the interwar period.

Between the First and Second World Wars, the British produced a series of similar light tanks. They saw use in training, and in limited engagements with British Empire units such as the South African Army during the East African Campaign of 1941. All were around 5 long tons in weight and capable of 30 mph (50 km/h) on roads and around 20 mph (30 km/h) cross-country.

The British did not expect their light tanks to be used against anything except other light tanks at most and as such armament was a machine gun only — Vickers machine guns firing either a .303 inch or .50-inch (12.7 mm) round. Suspension was Horstmann coil spring on bogies. The engine was a Meadows 6-cylinder petrol. 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 various marks were produced in relatively small numbers. By the Mark V, the design was more or less optimized and it was the final development of in the form of the Light Tank Mk VI which was chosen for the British Army expansion programme in expectation of war.

The following designations in the sequence Light Tank Mk VII "Tetrarch" and Light Tank Mk VIII "Harry Hopkins" were produced by Vickers but unrelated to the series of Light Tanks Mk I to Mark VI.

Development[edit]

A Carden-Loyd tankette towing a howitzer.

Following the activities of the Experimental Mechanized Force in the late 1920s, the British Army identified a need for two light tracked vehicles; one to carry a machine gun for the infantry and one with a turret for the Royal Tank Corps.[1] The Carden-Loyd tankette became the infantry vehicle, at the same time Carden developed privately a number of light two-man tank designs. Carden's Mark VII design was accepted as a prototype for the Army's light tank. By that point Carden-Loyd was part of Vickers-Armstrong. Only a few of the first light tanks were built and although never issued per se gave useful information for subsequent development.

The Mark VII was a small machine gun-armed vehicle with a 59 hp Meadows engine which gave it maximum speed of 35 mph (56 km/h). Suspension was two two-wheel leaf sprung bogies either side with an external girder to give the suspension strength.

Tank, Light, Mk I[edit]

British Light Tank AA Mk I

The Mark I differed in a few points from Carden's Mark VII. The external suspension girder was dropped by strengthening the suspension at the hull supports. The bevelled turret was replaced by a cylindrical design but still carrying a single 0.303 Vickers machine gun. Giving it 14mm "basis" of armour increased weight and dropped top speed to 30 mph.

The Meadows engine drove the tracks though a four-speed gearbox to the front drive wheels. Steering was a combination of declutching the drive to one track and braking to increase the turn. The track was tensioned by a rear idler - which being set at the same height as the drive sprocket was new in British tank designs - and returned over three rollers.

The Mark IA had a larger superstructure and a larger turret to give room for operating the machine gun. Horstmann suspension with horizontal coil springs replaced the leaf springs of the Mark I. Although it could give an easy ride under moderate conditions, the springs could under certain circumstances cause an uncontrollable bounce.

The Mark IA tanks sent to India in 1931 for trials received modifications to improve engine cooling in the hotter climate and various means were experimented with to reduce the heat for the crew as well.

  • Mk I: 4 or 5 made, based on Carden Loyd Mk VIII
  • Mk IA: 5 produced, 4 of these sent for trials in India

Tank, Light, Mk II[edit]

Light Tank Mk II.

The Mark II used a 66 hp Rolls-Royce engine which was, along with Wilson preselector gearbox and transmission, positioned on the right hand side of the tank. This gave the left-hand side free for the crew of driver and commander. Tanks for use in India had an 85 hp Meadows engine and a "crash" gearbox.

The turret was rectangular in form and the machine gun was modified for vehicle use with a pistol grip instead of the spade grips of the infantry version.

Tank, Light, Mk III[edit]

The Mk III Vickers Light 5 ton tank

The Mark III light tank suspension was made out of Horstmann coil spring resting on bogies with two rubber-lined wheel sets per bogie. This design, invented by Sidney Horstmann and exclusively used on lightweight vehicles, was also used up to the Light Tank Mk VI of the British Army. Apart from being relatively easy to built, compact and lightweight, it had the advantage of having a long travel, and of being easy to replace when damaged in the field.[2] The drive sprocket was in the front, the idler-wheels were placed in the rear, with two return rollers. Power came in the form of a Henry Meadows 6-cylinder gasoline engine, producing 88 hp, coupled with a four speed preselector gearbox. Steering was a combination of declutching the drive to one track and braking to increase the turn. The traverse of the turret was electrically actuated.[3]

  • 42 Produced from 1934. Rolls-Royce engine and Wilson gearbox. Extended rear superstructure. Revised suspension. 36 sent to Egypt.[4]

Tank, Light, Mk IV[edit]

Light Tank Mk IV.
  • A Vickers design of 1933, 34 built from 1934.

They saw use in training, and were about 5 tonnes, the models had a crew of two and were armed with a Vickers machine gun.

Although some were still in use at the start of the war, they were removed as not fit for service in armoured divisions.

Tank, Light, Mk V[edit]

Light Tank Mk V

The biggest change from the Mark IV to the Mark V was the introduction of a three-man crew. The turret now carried the commander and the gunner who was also the radio operator. The increase in the crew size made a lot of difference to the tank's effectiveness and spread the maintenance load. Until then, the commander had to direct the driver, navigate, and operate the gun. If troop commander, he also had to direct the other tanks and their fire.

The armament of the Mark V was an improvement over the earlier Marks; a 0.5 inch Vickers machine gun was added to the existing 0.303. This gave the tank a reasonable anti-tank capability against other light tanks - at the time most European light tanks had around 12–14 mm of armour - but it was not updated as more armoured light tanks came into use. It was half a ton heavier - and about 18 inches longer - than the Mark IV. The weight increase had the effect of reducing the top speed to 32 mph though range was largely unchanged.

The first tanks produced were sent along with a team from Vickers to the 1st Battalion RTC. This unusual level of cooperation between manufacturer and user led to rapid resolution of problems and implementation of improvements. A total of 22 were produced during 1936.

Light Tank Mk VII[edit]

The side and rear of a Tetrarch light tank, with trees in the background
Side and rear view of a Tetrarch light tank

The Light Tank Mk VII, also known as the Tetrarch, was produced by Vickers-Armstrong in the late 1930s and deployed during the Second World War.

The Tetrarch was originally designed as the latest in the line of light tanks built by the company for the British Army. It improved upon its predecessor, the Mk VIB Light Tank, by introducing the extra firepower of a 2 pounder gun. The War Office ordered 70 tanks, an order that eventually increased to 220. Production was delayed by several factors, and as a consequence, only 100 to 177 of the tanks were produced.

Commercial Carden Loyd tanks[edit]

The basic form of the Light Tank was used by Vickers for export markets. This included the 1933, 1934, 1936 and 1937 models. Buyers included Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Argentina, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Dutch East Indies and China.

Forty-two were produced for Belgium in 1935, based on the Mark III with a different turret on request of the Belgium armed forces. Armed with a French 13.2 mm Hotchkiss machine gun, they were designated T-15 Light tank by the Belgians

The Netherlands ordered some of the 1936 Model. Those which were not delivered by the outbreak of the Second World War were taken into service with the British Army as the "Tank Light, Vickers Carden Loyd, Model 1936" - in practice they were referred to by the nickname "Dutchmen".

Service history[edit]

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

The light tanks were kept in use for training until around 1942. Some saw active use in the invasion of France, the Western desert or Abyssinia.

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

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.[5][6]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Duncan 1969, pp. 1–20.
  2. ^ Horstmann history
  3. ^ Chamberlain, Peter; Ellis, Chris (2001). British and American Tanks of World War Two: The complete illustrated history of British, American, and Commonwealth tanks 1933–1945. Cassell & Company.
  4. ^ Duncan
  5. ^ Bishop, p. 23
  6. ^ Tucker, p. 48

References[edit]

  • Bishop, Chris (2002). The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,500 Weapons Systems, Including Tanks, Small Arms, Warplanes, Artillery, Ships and Submarines. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 1-58663-762-2. 
  • Chamberlain, Peter; Ellis, Chris (2001). British and American Tanks of World War Two: The complete illustrated history of British, American, and Commonwealth tanks 1933–1945. Cassell & Company. ISBN 0-7110-2898-2. 
  • Duncan, Major-General N W, "Light Tanks Marks I-VI", AFV Profile No. 5 
  • Fletcher, David (1989). The Great Tank Scandal: British Armour in the Second World War Part 1. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 0-11-290460-2. 
  • Flint, Keith (2006). Airborne Armour: Tetrarch, Locust, Hamilcar and the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment 1938–1950. Helion & Company Ltd. ISBN 1-874622-37-X. 
  • Harris, J.P. (1995). Men, Ideas, and Tanks: British Military Thought and Armoured Forces, 1903–1939. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-4814-2. 
  • Tucker, Spencer (2004). Tanks: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-995-3. 
  • Rickard, J (11 September 2009) "Light Tank Mk I, A4"

External links[edit]