Great Photos! The Versatile British Crusader Tank of WWII

 
 
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The Crusader tank, also known as Mk VI or A15 Crusader was among one of the primary tanks used by the British army during World War II. During the North African Campaigns fought in the deserts of Libya and Egypt, in Tunisia, and Morocco, the Crusader tanks were instrumental in the victories of the British army.

The introduction of the Crusader tank marked the beginning of a new turn in armored warfare for the British, having finally produced a lighter and swifter cruiser tank on a tight budget.

Cleaning the barrel of the 6-pdr in Tunisia.1943
Cleaning the barrel of the 6-pdr in Tunisia.1943

The first variant of the Crusader was designed in late 1939 by Lord Nuffield and manufactured in 1940 by Nuffield Mechanization Ltd. The Crusader’s design had come shortly after the design of the Covenanter tank and was seen as an improved version of the Covenanter.

Unlike the Covenanter and other earlier cruisers, the Crusader was built with five road wheels on each side to improve weight distribution, having weighed up to 20 long tons.

Also, the Crusader made use of the already available Liberty engine and a conventional coolant mechanism with radiators in its engine compartment.  Although having different engines and steering systems, the Crusader adopted the same turret design with the Covenanter.

Cruiser Mk VI Crusader III (A15)
Cruiser Mk VI Crusader III (A15)

The earliest Crusader had a semi-internal cast gun mantlet, a polygonal turret which conserved space on the limited diameter of the turret ring. A flat hatch with an attached periscope was used instead of a cupola, and its main armament was balanced so as to enable accurate shooting while on the move.

During the campaign at Libyan deserts in 1939, these features proved substantially effective. The Ordnance QF 2 Pounder main gun of the Crusader outmatched the 37 mm guns of enemy tanks.

 

Crusader AA Mk II
Crusader AA Mk II

The Crusader was first used by the 6th Royal Tank Regiment, who combated alongside the Matilda Infantry Tanks. Their speed and screening tactics were a major problem for Italian tanks until Rommel joined the war with his Panzer III.

The advent of the Panzer III led to the improvement of the Crusader. The Crusader tanks were equipped with large side protective panels to provide better shielding against the 50mm main gun of the Panzer III.  The improvements became a permanent feature of the later version of the Crusader, the Crusader Mark II.

Crusader AA tank variant mounting a triple Oerlikon gun in a hull-down position, 19 July 1944
Crusader AA tank variant mounting a triple Oerlikon gun in a hull-down position, 19 July 1944

The Crusader II came with improved armor of 49 mm. But just like the first variant, the secondary turret was often removed to save weight. While its speed, light protection, and armament dealt with the Panzer Is and IIs, they still couldn’t face the Panzer IIIs and IVs.

The Crusader II also had limitations and was unreliable due to cases of engine overheating, oil leaking, and damages to the cooling system due to sand erosion.

Before the battle of El Alamein, the Crusaders I and II had been relegated to reconnaissance operations.

Crusader AA with 40 mm Bofors gun, at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, Gunnery Wing at Lulworth in Dorset, 25 March 1943
Crusader AA with 40 mm Bofors gun, at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, Gunnery Wing at Lulworth in Dorset, 25 March 1943

They were replaced by the more effective M3 Lee/Grant tanks and the M4 Shermans. However, due to problems with the design of the Cruiser Mark VII Cavalier, the Crusaders were brought back to the front line, they came back better and deadlier, with the designation: Crusader III.

The Crusader was upgraded with an Ordnance QF 6 pounder gun. It became the first British tank to mount the 57 mm gun. The larger gun resulted in space reduction which consequently reduced the crew size, with the captain also serving as a loader.

The Crusader III featured the Liberty Engine Mk IV which solved the reliability challenges of previous Crusaders. And after production from May to July 1942, 100 Crusader IIIs were deployed for their first action, in the second battle of El Alamein.

More Photos –

 

Crusader I tanks in Western Desert, 26 November 1941, with “old” gun mantlets and auxiliary Besa MG turret.
Crusader I tanks in Western Desert, 26 November 1941, with “old” gun mantlets and auxiliary Besa MG turret.

 

Crusader I with its auxiliary turret in place
Crusader I with its auxiliary turret in place

 

Crusader II, and Covenanter at rear, training in Yorkshire, 1942
Crusader II, and Covenanter at rear, training in Yorkshire, 1942

 

Crusader III before Alamein, with ‘Sunshade’ camouflage
Crusader III before Alamein, with ‘Sunshade’ camouflage

 

Crusader III Cruiser tank Mk VI at the Tank Museum.Photo Rodw CC BY-SA 4.0
Crusader III Cruiser tank Mk VI at the Tank Museum.Photo Rodw CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Crusader Mk III tanks in Tunisia, 31 December 1942.
Crusader Mk III tanks in Tunisia, 31 December 1942.
Crusader Mk III.1943
Crusader Mk III.1943

 

Crusader tank of ‘A’ Squadron, 24th Lancers, 11th Armoured Division at speed during an exercise in Sussex, 15-16 July 1942.
Crusader tank of ‘A’ Squadron, 24th Lancers, 11th Armoured Division at speed during an exercise in Sussex, 15-16 July 1942.

 

Newly-arrived Crusader tanks being driven from the docks in Tripoli to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers port workshops, 15 March 1943.
Newly-arrived Crusader tanks being driven from the docks in Tripoli to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers port workshops, 15 March 1943.

 

Tank Cruiser Mark VI A15, Crusader III & Rotatrailer.Photo Simon Q CC BY 2.0
Tank Cruiser Mark VI A15, Crusader III & Rotatrailer.Photo Simon Q CC BY 2.0

 

Tank Cruiser Mark VI, A15 Crusader III British serial– T126272. Built by Nuffield Mechanisations & Aero Ltd.Photo Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0
Tank Cruiser Mark VI, A15 Crusader III British serial– T126272. Built by Nuffield Mechanisations & Aero Ltd.Photo Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 1939-45; Crusader ARV with A-frame jib and twin Bren AA mount.
THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 1939-45; Crusader ARV with A-frame jib and twin Bren AA mount.

 

The King inspects a line-up of 26th Armoured Brigade Crusader tank crews in Scotland, 15 October 1942.
The King inspects a line-up of 26th Armoured Brigade Crusader tank crews in Scotland, 15 October 1942.

 

Read another story from us: The Bob Semple Tank: One Of The Most Ridiculous Tank Designs Ever

 

Captured_Crusader_tank_and_Afrika_Korps
Captured_Crusader_tank_and_Afrika_Korps

 

Crusader_III_AA_Tank_Armed_with_Twin_20_mm_Oerlikon_Guns
Crusader_III_AA_Tank_Armed_with_Twin_20_mm_Oerlikon_Guns

 

Crusader_III_tank fitted with Sand Guards
Crusader_III_tank fitted with Sand Guards

 

Crusader_tank_in_german_service_Afrika_Korps
Crusader_tank_in_german_service_Afrika_Korps
 
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