6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment and the Locust by Peter Brown

 
 
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Following their use of Tetrarch tanks landed by glider in support of the D Day landings, 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment RAC’s next action was as part of Operation VARSITY, the airborne part of the Rhine Crossings. On this operation they used the American T.9 or M22 tank known as the Locust.

The design of an American airborne light tank began in late February 1941 with the British Purchasing Commission indicating a strong interest. A wooden model was ready by August 1941. After rejecting another proposal a development contract was awarded to Marmon-Herrington. The T9 pilot tank was ready by April 1942, this was sent to Fort Benning to check if it could be fitted to the C54 aircraft. It was intended that the turret would be removed and carried inside the aircraft with the hull slung underneath using four attachment points.

However the tank’s weight was more than originally specified so the design was modified to make it lighter by removing the turret power traverse mechanism and the two fixed hull machine guns. Other changes to improve the hull design and give the turret crew separate hatches resulted in the T9E1. Two pilot models were authorised, the first was ready for trials in November 1942 while the second was sent to the UK. 830 were ordered, production began in April 1943 and continued until February 1944. The tank’s designation was changed to M22 in September of that year while in the UK it was known as Locust. A total of 260 were supplied under Lend-Lease on contract S/M1280, 500 serial numbers being allocated in the range T158877-159376.

6AARR received “17 American T.9 Locust light tanks” in late October 1943. At the end of November a Squadron of them went to the Warcop ranges where they fired 37mm High Explosive shells while Squadron HQ fired 3″ HE, presumably from Tetrarch CS tanks. In a summary the operational AFVs in the UK at the end of 1943 the Regiment is listed as having 17 Locust along with 16 Tetrarch 2pdr and another four with the 3″ Howitzer.

As part of the build-up towards the D Day landings, Hamilcar gliders were being prepared to carry vehicles and heavy equipment. Those to be used by 6AARR were covered in the article “Hamilcars in Action”, part 20 of Michael J F Bowyer’s series on “Army-air Colours 1937-45” in the May 1977 edition of Airfix Magazine. In it Mr Bowyer states that in March 1944 38 Hamilcars were to be modified for the specific loads they were to carry –

Class A – 23 (17 plus 6 reserves) for T9 tank and three men

Class B – 6 (4 plus 2 reserves) for three Rotatrailers each

Class C – 3 for Tetrarch 3” Howitzer and three men

Class D – 3 for two Universal Carriers and six men

Class E – 2 for Carrier 3” Mortar, ten motorcycles and ten men

Class F – 1 for Slave Battery Carrier, Car 5cwt (Jeep) and six men

This suggests that it was planned to use the Locust supported by Tetrarch CS on D Day. However only the Tetrarch was used as described in my previous article on these tanks with 6AARR.

The National Archives at Kew, London has a copy of the Regimental War Diary for 1945 reference number WO.171/4161. At first reading it appeared to have little to say in the main narrative of the diary which mostly covers the seaborne element with its Cromwell tanks, Daimler Scout Cars and Universal Carriers, which, with formation badges and vehicle markings removed or erased, had travelled from England under the cover name “Stewart’s Horse”, no doubt after its Commanding Officer, Lt Col G R de C Stewart. Luckily a half-page of paper listed as Appendix D to the March 1945 section of the War Diary contained a short account. This covers the airborne operations of the tanks, and also that of the 4.2” Mortar Troop under Capt O’Hanlon. The tank component account is reproduced as written, apart from references to the Mortar Troop having been left out.

“Appendix D – Tank Half Sqn 8 T.9s commanded by C.O.

Took off from Woodbridge 0730 in good weather. Flight without incident under perfect conditions. Cast off 1050 approx. LZ obscured by smoke and covered with intense flak. CO’s tank landed very wide of RV and within one field of another which had somersaulted and landed on its back, crew OK. En route to RV, CO picked up one more which had gone through a house, a runner but guns out of action. The rear link tank (Lt Kenward) landed OK in right area and was in action immediately, only to be brewed up by an 88 while supporting Americans who were clearing up a farm building. Of the remainder, one (Sgt Dawson) was reported to have been shot out of the air and another, damaged en route to the RV, remained in action all day in front of 12 Para Bn positions. Four tanks eventually reached the RV and occupied the high feature 1847 and railway embankment. They came under fire almost at once and were given 1 platoon Devon in support. During the ensuing fight casualties were suffered both by ourselves and the Devons, one Tp Sgt being wounded and the Platoon Commander being killed, both forward tanks were hit by MMGs and fired upon by heavier guns. During the night, all tanks were moved into section areas, and the sections themselves were reinforced with glider pilots. The enemy attempted to infiltrate during the night, but after suffering casualties withdrew. In the early hours of the morning contact was established with the 8 Para Bn and the enemy drew off. This position was vital to us in that it commanded Div HQ from a range of 800x.”mini-32-H1

Of the abbreviations, LZ was the Landing Zone where the gliders were to land, and RV the rendezvous point where units would congregate if separated. Devon refers to 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment who were glider-borne infantry. Tp Sgt was a Troop Sergeant and will refer to the 6th, the Platoon Commander would have been from the Devons. Para Bn refers to a Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

As to the tank which had crashed, the book “Go To It! The Illustrated History of the 6th Airborne Division” by Peter Harclerode (Caxton Editions, London ISBN 1-84067-136-X) has an account by Trooper K W Dowset. He records that when the Hamilcar glider he was in approached the LZ, the tank’s guns were loaded and its engine started. Light flak hit the glider and shot part of the wing off, resulting in a crash. Coming to rest held upside down held by his safety harness, he and his fellow crew members managed to crawl out with great difficulty. His Sten gun which had been strapped to the outside of the turret as there was no space inside was bent and useless. As he moved to the RV on foot, his CO’s tank passed with the CO himself “bedecked in his brightly coloured cavalry forage cap, sounding his hunting horn as he stood upright in the turret”! Like many officers and other ranks in 6AARR, Col Stewart had transferred from another unit. He came from 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own) so his forage cap would have been white and dark blue.

Some comments and explanations may help. First, note the use of the designation T.9 for these tanks. As described above this was their designation while under development, those built were T9E1 though they were later type-classified as M22. The vehicle data plate on the tank displayed at the Tank Museum describes it as a “Tank, Light, T9E1”. They were called Locust in the War Diary of 73rd Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, when demonstrated to officers of that unit in February 1945 with a view to their being used as “Officer’s Chargers”, only to be turned down as unsuitable.

It seems the Locusts were useful, even if of the few which were available only half were landed and only half of these were completely fit for action. Not a great service record for so many built. Cost was quoted as about £7,175, not cheap as a Cromwell cost about £10,500. Other than the fleeting airborne use, five were listed as “Chargers” in the Canadian 1st Army on 8th May 1945, while there were 82 in 21st Army Group stocks, mostly in depots, at the end of June 1945. A few photos of the 6th’s Locusts loading into and from gliders exist, but as far as I know none of them in action, which, given the small numbers involved, is hardly surprising. Despite this, I think their story is one worth telling.

Photo captions

32/H1 A T.9 Locust in place in a Hamilcar glider. The tank is shackled down and a similar arrangement was used on the Tetrarch. Markings are for the Reconnaissance Regiment of 6th Airborne Division, 41 in white on a green over blue Arm of Service square, the Bridge Classification of 7 on a solid yellow circle and the “Bellerophon” which appears to be painted without the maroon background though other photos of the tank from behind clearly show the darker background colour and also that the signs are on the opposite sides ie Bellerophon on the left as viewed and 41 on the right. Other photos show the tank’s serial T-159184 painted in white on the hull sides. Squadron tactical sign on the turret is a white square with a dark- possibly black – background and the number 1 in it, it also appears on the other side towards the turret rear. 4″ smoke grenade dischargers are fitted.

 

3019/C6 is an intriguing photo. Pasted on the rear of one print at the Tank Museum are details which say the photo was passed by the censor in April 1945, just after the Operation VARSITY landings, and was a press photo credited to the Topical agency so it is probably a posed publicity shot. The tank carried no visible markings apart from the white Allied star on the hull front, and there are two slightly different prints in the Museum collection. One very dark print shows the Littlejohn adapter while a better version has it airbrushed out. This is actually a composite I have mocked up of the better image with an adapter grafted on from another photo. Other shots of vehicles in 6AARR markings do not show the adapter, I suspect it was not used in action which would allow the use of 37mm High Explosive shells though I have no proof of this.

 

Peter Brown November 2012

More about the author:

“Peter Brown was born in Derbyshire, England in 1956. He has been interested
in armoured vehicles since he was a teenager, at first as a model maker but
increasingly in studying their design, development, production and use. As
his main interest is in British AFVs he found coverage in print was limited
so had to do his own research from original sources in the Tank Museum
Library, Imperial War Museum and the National Archives at Kew. His articles
have appeared in magazines in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, the
Netherlands, Poland and the USA as well as on websites around the world.
After years of research he believes he still has much to find but at least
now knows what questions to ask and where to look!”

KAGERO Publishing House

Thanks to Tomasz Basarabowicz – editor and author of over a hundred articles and several books on Allied and so called “minor powers’ ” AFV’s such as Finland, Hungary, the Balkans etc. Operational in submtting Mr Browns article.