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The Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI Crusader was one of the primary British cruiser tanks of the Second World War and perhaps the most important British tank of the North African Campaign. However, due to its reputation for unreliability and relatively thin armour, it was replaced by American tanks for the invasion of Italy. Over 5,300 were built.

Design and development

In 1939 Nuffield Mechanisation and Aero was offered the opportunity to take part in the production of the A13 Mk III cruiser tank design (this would enter service as the "Tank, Cruiser Mk V" known in service as "Covenanter", which was still in design stage. Nuffield, however, preferred to work on its own version of the A13. This new tank was adopted as Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI Crusader, under General Staff specification A15. Although Crusader is often referred to as an improved version of the Covenanter, in fact it was a parallel design. Despite a later start, the prototype of the Crusader was ready six weeks before the first Covenanter.

Unlike earlier "Christie cruisers", Crusader had five road wheels each side to improve weight distribution . It had a different engine than the Covenanter, different steering system and a conventional cooling system with radiators in the engine compartment. At the left hand side of the front hull - a place occupied by the engine radiator in the Covenanter - was mounted a small hand-traversed auxiliary turret armed with a Besa machine gun. The auxiliary turret was awkward to use and was often removed in the field or remained unoccupied. Both (A13 Mk III) and (A15) designs shared the same main turret. Early production vehicles had a "semi-internal" cast mantlet, which was quickly replaced in production by better protected big cast mantlet with three vertical slits - for the main gun, for a coaxial Besa MG and for a sighting telescope.

Combat history

Crusader tanks in Western Desert, 26 November 1941.
Note "old" gun mantlets.
The tank first saw combat during Operation Battleaxe in June 1941 and played a crucial role in the following Operation Crusader which was named after it.

Although the Crusader was faster than any tanks it opposed, its potential was limited by a relatively light QF 2-pounder gun, thin armour and mechanical problems. A particular tactical limitation was the lack of a High Explosive shell for the main armament - these existed but were never supplied. Axis tank forces developed an extremely effective tactic of engaging Commonwealth tank forces by retiring behind a screen of concealed anti-tank guns. The pursuing tanks could then be engaged by the artillery. With the German anti-tank guns out of range of the tanks' machine guns and without a high explosive shell to return fire, the tanks were left with the equally unpalatable options of either withdrawing under fire or trying to overrun the gun screen.

After the completion of the North African Campaign, the availability of better tanks such as the Sherman and Cromwell relegated the Crusader to secondary duties such as anti-aircraft mounts or gun tractors. In these roles it served for the remainder of the war.

Variants

Crusader I (Cruiser Mk VI)

Original production version. The auxiliary turret was often removed in the field, eliminating the hull machine gunner position.
  • Crusader I CS (Cruiser Mk VI CS) (Close Support) mounted a 3 inch howitzer in the turret instead of the 2-pounder.
Crusader I.
This vehicle has the auxiliary turret in place.


Crusader II (Cruiser Mk VIA)

The Crusader II had increased armour on hull front and turret front. As with the Mk I, the auxiliary turret was often removed.
  • Crusader II CS (Cruiser Mk VIA CS) mounted a 3 inch howitzer in the turret.
  • Command tank version existed with dummy gun and two No. 19 radios.


Crusader III

Due to delays with the Cavalier, the Crusader was upgunned with the 6-pounder, the first British tank to mount this gun. The larger gun restricted turret space so the crew was reduced to three, with the commander acting also as gun loader. The Crusader III first saw action at the Second Battle of El Alameinmarker in October.
  • Observation post version existed with dummy gun, two No. 19 radios and No. 18 radio.
Crusader Mk III.


Crusader III, AA Mk I

The 6-pdr was replaced with a Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun with an autoloader and powered mounting in an open topped turret. The crew numbered four: gun commander, gun layer, loader, and driver.


Crusader III, AA Mk II / Mk III

A Crusader armed with twin Oerlikon 20 mm guns for anti-aircraft use. Mk III only differed from the Mk II by the position of the radio, which was moved to the hull in order to free some space inside the turret. A variation with triple Oerlikons that was produced in very limited quantities. Due to Allied air superiority none of the AA versions saw much action.


Crusader II, Gun Tractor Mk I

A Crusader tank hull with a simple boxy superstructure, used to tow 17 pounder anti-tank guns. Served in NW Europe 1944-5.
Crusader gun tractor.


Crusader ARV Mk I

Armored recovery vehicle based on turretless Crusader hull. One prototype was built in 1942.
Crusader ARV.


Crusader SP Guns

  • A post-war modification was built, probably for testing purposes only, with 5.5 inch gun installed at the front of the vehicle, facing back.
  • Some Crusaders sold after the war to Argentinamarker were converted to self-propelled guns, with Frenchmarker 75 mm or 105 mm gun installed in a large, boxy superstructure.


Additional equipment

  • Anti-Mine Roller Attachment (AMRA) Mk Id - a mine clearing device consisting of four heavy rollers suspended from a frame. Weight of the rollers could be increased by filling them with water, sand etc.
  • Floatation kit, consisting of two pontoons attached to hull sides, special blades attached to tracks to propel the vehicle in water and a cowl over engine air intakes and cooling louvres.


Notes

References

  • Fletcher, David, and Peter Sarson. Crusader and Covenanter Cruiser Tank 1939–1945 (New Vanguard 14). Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-85532-512-8.


External links




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