Cruiser tank

Cruiser tank
Cruiser Tank Mark I (A9)

The cruiser tank (also called cavalry tank or fast tank) was a British tank concept of the inter-war period. This concept was the driving force behind several tank designs which saw action during the Second World War.

In British use, the cruiser formed part of a doctrine paired with the "infantry tank".



Like the ships of the same name, cruiser tanks were intended to be fast and mobile, and operate independently of the slow-moving infantry and their heavier infantry tanks.

Once gaps had been punched in the enemy front by the infantry tanks, the cruisers were intended to penetrate to the rear, attacking lines of supply and communication in accordance with the theories of J.F.C. Fuller, P.C.S. Hobart, and B.H. Liddell-Hart. The cruiser tank was designed to be used in way similar to cavalry in its heyday and thus speed was a critical factor, and to achieve this the early cruiser designs were lightly armoured and armed.

This emphasis on speed unbalanced the British designs; insufficient attention was paid to armour protection.[citation needed] At the time it was not well understood that lightly armoured vehicles would not survive on the battlefield. An even bigger problem for most cruiser tanks was the small calibre of their main gun. Most cruisers were armed with the QF two-pounder (40 mm) gun. This gun had adequate armour penetration, but was never issued high explosive ammunition. This made the cruisers vulnerable to towed Anti-tank guns. However, as fighting enemy tanks was part of the projected role of the cruiser tanks, they were the first to be upgraded to the heavier 6 pounder (57 mm) gun when it became available, and a great deal of effort was put into developing (admittedly unsuccessful, such as with the Cromwell tank) cruiser tanks armed with the powerful 17 pounder QF (76 mm) gun. Ironically, given the emphasis on high mobility, most[citation needed] cruisers were plagued by mechanical unreliability, most noticeably the Crusader tank in the North Africa Campaign. This problem was usually caused by insufficient development as most of the early cruiser tank designs were ordered "off the drawing board" and was not fully solved until the debut of the Cromwell tank in 1944, with its powerful, reliable Rolls-Royce Meteor engine.


In 1936 the British War Office designated two different kinds of tanks for future development: heavily armoured infantry tanks to be used in close co-operation with infantry during attacks, and fast mobile cruiser tanks designed to make forays deep into enemy territory.

In 1934 Sir John Carden of Vickers-Armstrong had produced a new medium tank, the A9,[1] which was subsequently designated the Cruiser Tank Mark I. It incorporated the best features of the earlier Mk III light tank, and was made lighter and was powered by a commercial petrol engine. A prototype was tested in 1936 and it went into production the following year as an interim design until the introduction of a Christie suspension design. In 1937 and 1938, 125 examples of the A9 were . Its combat experience during the Battle of France in 1940 was to reveal several shortcomings, including inadequate armour and a lack of space for the crew, but it nevertheless saw useful service in the Western desert in 1941.

The follow-up to the A9, the A10, was also designed by Carden. Designated as a "heavy cruiser" tank, it was put into production in July 1938. It resembled the Cruiser Mk I, but had heavier armour, and was one of the first British tanks with spaced armour[citation needed] and the first to be equipped with the Besa machine gun. A total of 175 Mk IIs were produced by September 1940 and saw action in France, North Africa and Greece.

Orders for the Mk I and Mk II Cruisers were restricted, since the British Army had decided to produce a more advanced and faster cruiser tank which would incorporate the Christie suspension designed by American inventor J. Walter Christie and have better armour.

In 1936, General Martel, a pioneer in tank design who had published works on armoured warfare and pioneered the lightly armoured "tankette" to enhance infantry mobility, became Assistant Director of Mechanization at the War Office. Later that year Martel witnessed demonstrations of Soviet tank designs including the BT tank, which had been influenced by Christie's work. He urged the adoption of a tank that would use the suspension system and also follow Christie's practice of using a lightweight aircraft engine such as the Liberty Engine or a Napier Lion. The government authorized purchase and licencing of a Christie design via the Nuffield Organization.[2]

The tank was very rudimentary and too small for British use, but the suspension was very effective and this became the basis of the Cruiser Mk III (A13). Following testing of two prototypes, the A13 was ordered into production and a total of 65 were manufactured. The Mk III weighed 31,400 pounds (14,200 kg), had a crew of 4, a 340 hp engine which gave a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) and was armed with a 2 pounder gun and a machine gun. However, when it was introduced into service in 1937, the Army still lacked a formal tank division.[3]

The Cruiser Mk IV (A13 Mk II) was a more heavily armoured version of the Mk III.

World War II

2 pdr-armed Crusader in the desert

During early World War II, the Crusader was probably the best-known cruiser, it was first used in mid 1941 and thereafter used in large numbers in the Western Desert Campaign. The contemporary Covenanter had reliability issues and was retained in the UK for training use.

The Cavalier, Centaur and Cromwell came out of the planned successor to the Covenanter and Crusader. Intended to be in production by 1942, the project was delayed and the Crusader was upgunned as an interim measure to the 6 pounder gun. Cavalier was a development of Crusader. Centaur and Cromwell were an alternative design using the same engine as the Cavalier and the new Rolls-Royce Meteor engine respectively.

The Centaur and Cromwell saw action from Normandy onwards. The Comet was a development of the Cromwell using a modified 17 pounder gun and was fielded in the beginning of 1945. By this point in the war, the firepower and armour protection of the cruisers made them indistinguishable from medium tanks.[citation needed]

In the course of the war, technological improvements enabled heavier tanks to approximate the speed of the cruisers, and the concept became obsolete. The last of their line was the Centurion. The Centurion was designed to satisfy the "Heavy Cruiser" criteria by combining the mobility of a cruiser tank and armour of an Infantry tank into one chassis. This idea - and the Centurion along with it - then evolved into the "Universal tank" concept, a single design that could "do it all". Ultimately, the Centurion tank transcended its cruiser tank origins and become Britain's first modern main battle tank.

The cruiser-tank concept was also employed by the Soviet Union in the 1930s, as exemplified by the BT tank series (Russian: bystrokhodniy tank, "fast tank").

See also


  1. ^ Its General Staff number
  2. ^ Milsom, John The development of the Crusader tank'
  3. ^ Steele, Brett D. (2005). Military Reengineering Between the World Wars. RAND. p. 14. ISBN 0833037218. 


  • Tucker, Spencer (2004). Tanks: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. pp. 49–51. ISBN 1576079953. 
  • Milson et al., Classic Armoured Fighting Vehicles Their History and How to Model Them Crusader 1976 Patrick Stephens

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