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British Armour Between the Wars

Light tanks
yearmarkGS *nametonsgunbuilt
193_Mk.I Vickers57.7mm10
193_Mk.V Vickers415mm22
193_Mk.VI Vickers5pdr1652
193_Mk. VII A17Tetrarch 82pdr177
193_Mk. VIII A25Harry Hopkins102pdr100
193_Mk. E Type BVickers 6 Ton747mm153
Medium tanks
yearmarkGS *nametonsgunbuilt
193_M4 Firefly3017pdr2100
Heavy tanks
yearmarkGS *nametonsgunbuilt
193_TOG I646pdr1
193_TOG II8117pdr1
193_Mark IV A22 Churchill4175mm7368
Cruiser tanks
yearmarkGS *nametonsgunbuilt
193_ MkIA9142pdr125
193_ MkIIA10162pdr175
193_ MkIIIA13162pdr65
193_ Mk.IVA13 Mk.II16 2pdr655
193_ Mk.V A13 Mk.IIICovenanter182pdr1771
193_Mk VIA15 Crusader196pdr5300
193_Mk.VII A24 Cavalier276pdr500
193_Mk.VIIIA27L Centaur276pdr950
193_Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell276pdr3066
193_A30 Challenger3217pdr200
193_A33 Cromwell4175mm2
193_A34 Comet I3477mm1186
193_A35 Cromwell 3675mm0
193_A41 Centurion I6217pdr4423
Infantry tanks
yearmarkGS *nametonsgunbuilt
193_Mark I A11 MatildaMG140
193_Mark II A12 Matilda2pdr2890
193_Mark III A13 Valentine162pdr65
193_Mark IV Valentine176pdr8275
193_A38 Valiant 2757mm1
193_A43 Black Prince 4917pdr6
Self-propelled guns
yearmarkGS *nametonsgunbuilt
193_Mk IDeacon AEC126pdr175
193_A30Avenger3017pdr 230
193_Mk.IBishop 1825pdr149
193_A39 Tortoise7894mm6
* General Staff specification
see G.Matthews for complete list
cal.303 7.7 mm.30 in
59 cal 15mm.59 in
2pdr 40mm1.57in
3pdr 44mm1.73in
6pdr 57mm2.24in
17pdr 76mm3.00in
25pdr 88mm3.46 in
The British Royal Tank Corps was notable exception to the views prevalent after the Great War. Although reduced to only four battalions, it was saved from the postwar fate of the French and American tank units. Its independence and the possession of new tanks, the Vickers Mediums with mechanical performance greatly in advance of anything previously built created conditions favorable to further progress.

The independence and the early experiments were only achieved because of a hard struggle by a small band of enthusiasts against an abysmal lack of understanding and prejudice. The most prominent in this group of pioneers was Fuller, but it included others like CPT Basil Liddell Hart and GEN Giffard Martel. Fullers own ideas evolved from his Plan 1919 and were on the lines of formations composed almost entirely of tanks. Their operations were to resemble those of fleets at sea this landship influence, incidentally, being quite strong in all early British tank philosophy. Other arms were at best regarded as subsidiary. Such all-tank views, which, of course, corresponded to the tank corps natural wishes, exerted a strong influence on the experiments carried out in England in the 20s and early 30s.

While great stress was placed on developing the advantages of mechanized mobility, striking power tended to be overlooked. This and financial stringency produced a crop of fast, light tanks with very limited combat power. And while the strategic potential of mechanized forces were rightly stressed, the tanks tactical limitations were glossed over. The result was that instead of being a versatile, dominating arm as the exponents of the all-tank views originally claimed tank formations developing on those lines became of somewhat limited utility. Suitable perhaps, for the role formerly performed by the cavalry i.e., that of a complementary mobile arm but, like the cavalry of the previous 50 or hundred years, incapable of really profitable participation in all stages of the battle.

Tanks from Independent in 1926 until the end of WW II were mostly given 'A-number' General Staff (GS) ordnance designations. Other GS designations included B for tractors and carriers, D for armoured cars and L for light tanks. Before this they had descriptive titles, with a Mark and possibly a name, such as Tank, Medium Mark A 'Whippet' or Tank, Mark I. British tank doctrine split tanks into Light Tanks, used for scouting and reconnaissance roles of light horse cavalry, Cruiser tanks, fast and well armed, meant to act as the heavy cavalry of old, and Infantry tanks, slow and heavy, meant to provide direct support to the infantry.

At the end of the Great War, Britain led the world in tank design, production, and tactics. At the start of World War II, she trailed the world in all categories, and never reached parity with the Germans during the War. Generally speaking, British armored vehicles tended to maximize either mobility or protection. Both the cavalry and the Royal Tank Corps wanted fast, lightly armored, mobile vehicles for reconnaissance and raiding -- the light and medium (or "cruiser") tanks. On the other hand, the "army tank battalions" performing the traditional infantry-support role required extremely heavy armored protection in order to advance successfully against prepared enemy defenses that included antitank guns.

By the late 1920s the standard tanks in use were the Mark I, Mark IA and Mark II light tanks. The average cost of these three marks varied slightly, but, excluding the guns, was approximately 7,700. Apart from these, by 1927 there were some tanks of wartime manufacture which were gradually being replaced as opportunity offered. There were 336 tanks and 158 armored cars in possession of the Department. Some 199 of the tanks are of war design and many of them would require overhaul before they would be fit for active service. Just 16 of the armored cars required complete reconditioning, and 16 tanks and five armored cars were under construction. In 1937 the British resolved to motorize all divisional artillery units and create a division of mechanized and motorized elements. After two years, however, there was little progress toward these goals.

The British Army held a prominent position in the eyes of many American officers in the 1930s. Its mechanized development since the Great War placed it foremost in the field, and its ranks included officers who envisioned a future battlefield radically different from that of the Great War. Chief among them was Col. John F. C. Fuller, whose vision of future warfare forecast the tank as the preeminent weapon. The impression was of the British dramatically modernizing their army through widespread incorporation of motor vehicles.

British armored theorists did not always agree with each other. Basil Liddell Hart, a noted publicist of armor, wanted a true combined arms force with a major role for mechanized infantry. Fuller, Broad, and other officers were more interested in a pure-tank role, in part because they experienced difficulty cooperating with the other arms. G.L.Martel, one of the most innovative theorists and tank designers of the period, was fascinated with the idea of using extremely small armored personnel carriers, capable of transporting one to three men and a machine gun, to assist the infantry in its attacks. Unfortunately, the machine gun carriers designed at Martel's instigation participated in experiments both as reconnaissance vehicles and infantry carriers, and proved inadequate for either function. Not until the eve of World War II did the British develop a reliable machine gun carrier, and even then it was dispersed in small numbers within infantry battalions that attacked on foot.

Despite these differences of opinion, the next step in developing the role of armor was to form an independent mechanized force of division size. This was undertaken as an experiment in 1934, using Col. Percy Hobart's 1st Tank Brigade, a newly formed unit of the type envisaged by Broad, and Maj. Gen. George Lindsay's partially mechanized 7th Infantry Brigade. Unfortunately for the British, personality differences, lack of training, and artificial restrictions from the umpires turned the resulting exercise into a disaster. General Lindsay, one of the few senior officers who was genuinely committed to the development of a combined arms mechanized division, was so discredited by the fiasco that he ceased to have any influence over policy.

Instead, the conservative Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Gen. Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd, chose to create a permanent "Mobile Division" by mechanizing large portions of the British cavalry. The Mobile Division authorized in December 1937 consisted of two armored cavalry brigades, each almost entirely mounted in light tanks and armored cars, plus one tank brigade, two mechanized Infantry battalions, and limited amounts of artillery, engineers, and support units. Such a formation was quite appropriate for performing the functions of reconnaissance and security, whether in the empire or on the continent. It did not, however, integrate the different arms at a sufficiently low level to fight in fluid operations as an armored formation against a sophisticated enemy. In most cases, reconnaissance, medium armor, infantry, and artillery were under separate brigade-level commands. with various minor changes, this mobile division became the 1st Armoured Division, which sacrificed itself piecemeal in France in 1940. A second mobile division formed in Egypt, providing the basis for later British operations there.

In the period up to the end of 1938 British armored forces consisted of eight battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment equipped with light tanks, which were armed only with machine guns, obsolescent medium tanks, also armed with machine guns, and two cavalry armored car regiments. This, of course, was during the period of disarmament. The mechanized cavalry and tanks could not coordinate their actions during maneuvers. The Armoured Divisions evolution marked an effort to find a balance of infantry, artillery, armor, antitank, and antiaircraft elements that would be manageable and versatile. The division organizations, however, remained tank-heavy and deficient in their combined-arms ability. The German preparations had already long begun and were being carried out with great thoroughness and on a tremendous scale.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 02-05-2019 13:55:09 ZULU