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
Unit cost £7,700 (1927, excluding the gun)[1]
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
.50 in Vickers machine gun
.303 in Vickers machine gun
Engine Meadows 6-cylinder petrol
88 hp
Suspension Horstmann inclined springs
130 mi (210 km)
Speed 32.5 mph (52.3 km/h)

The Light Tank Mark I to Mark V 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 (5.1 t) in weight and capable of 30 mph (48 km/h) on roads and around 20 mph (32 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 .0.5 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 were crewed by a driver-commander and gunner. The Mk V had 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 optimised 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.



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.[2] 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.

A Carden-Loyd Mk.VI

The Mark VII was a small machine gun-armed vehicle with a 59 hp (44 kW) 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. Considered a reconnaissance vehicle and a mobile machine gun position, the Mark VI was the final stage of development of the Carden Loyd series of tankettes. The Carden Loyd tankette was the prototype for the Universal Carrier.

Tank, Light, Mk I[edit]

Light Tank AA Mk I.

The Mark I differed in a few points from Carden's Mark VII tankette. 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 14 mm (0.55 in) "basis" of armour increased weight and dropped top speed to 30 mph (48 km/h).

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.
Light Tank Mk IIA at Bovington Tank Museum

The Mark II used a 66 hp (49 kW) 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 (63 kW) 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 springs controlling 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 build, compact and lightweight, it had the advantage of having a long travel, and of being easy to replace when damaged in the field.[4] 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 (66 kW), 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.[5]

  • 42 produced from 1934. Rolls-Royce engine and Wilson gearbox. Extended rear superstructure. Revised suspension. 36 sent to Egypt.[3]

Tank, Light, Mk IV[edit]

Light Tank Mk IV.

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. The idler wheel was removed, with the bogie wheels being respaced.[6] Although some were still in use at the start of the war, they were removed as not fit for service in armoured divisions.

  • A Vickers design of 1933, 34 built from 1934.

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.[6] This gave the tank a reasonable anti-tank capability against other light tanks—at the time most European light tanks had around 12–14 millimetres (0.47–0.55 in) 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 (51 km/h) 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 co-operation between manufacturer and user led to rapid resolution of problems and implementation of improvements. A total of 22 were produced during 1936.[3]

Light Tank Mk VI[edit]

Light Tank Mk VIB

The Light Tank Mk VI was a continuation of the Mark V design. It also had a three-man crew but a larger turret to accommodate a radio set and an 88 hp engine for higher speed despite the heavier weight. Between 1936 and 1940 1,342 Mark VIs were built in several variants that represented solutions to problems with the initial design.[3]

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 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 Char Léger de Reconnaissance Vickers-Carden-Loyd Mod.1934 T.15 by the Belgians.

After two tanks had been bought for trials in 1937, the Dutch East Indies in 1938 ordered a further 73 tanks of the 1936 Model which was "mechanically similar" to the Mark IV but with an hexagonal turret and armament of a Mark II. Only 20 tanks arrived on Java before the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, and those which were not delivered 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 "Dutchman". They were used for training duties only.[7] A number of these tanks were delivered to Greece.

Service history[edit]

The light tanks were kept in use for training until around 1942. Some saw active use in the Battle of France, the Western desert or Abyssinia from 1940–1941.[6] 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.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Worthington-Evans, L (7 July 1927), "Tanks", House of Commons Debates, millbanksystems, 208, c1427, retrieved 21 May 2016 
  2. ^ Duncan 1969, pp. 1–20.
  3. ^ a b c d Ness 2002, p. 19.
  4. ^ Horstmann history
  5. ^ Chamberlain & Ellis 2001.
  6. ^ a b c Williamson, Mitch. "Light Tank Mk V with twin 15mm Besa guns". Allied Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II. Retrieved 6 October 2017. 
  7. ^ Chamberlain & Ellis 1988, p. 21.
  8. ^ Bishop 2002, p. 23.
  9. ^ Tucker 2004, p. 48.


  • 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. ISBN 1-58663-762-2. 
  • Chamberlain, Peter; Ellis, Chris (1988) [1969]. British and American Tanks of World War Two: The Complete Illustrated History of British, American and Commonwealth tanks 1939–1945 (2nd US ed.). Arco. ISBN 0-668-04304-0. 
  • 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. ISBN 0-7110-2898-2. 
  • Duncan, Major-General N. W. (1969), Light Tanks Marks I–VI, AFV (5), Windsor: Profile, OCLC 54349403 
  • Flint, Keith (2006). Airborne Armour: Tetrarch, Locust, Hamilcar and the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment 1938–1950. Helion. 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. 
  • Ness, L. (2002). Jane's World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide (PDF) (online ed.). London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-711228-9. Retrieved 8 April 2017. 
  • Rickard, J. (11 September 2009). "Light Tank Mk I, A4". History of War. Retrieved 8 April 2017. 
  • Tucker, Spencer (2004). Tanks: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-995-3. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]