20 Specialist Armored Vehicles of World War Two

Soldiers of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion and tank of the 22nd Tank Battalion, 11 Armored Division, move through smoke filled street. Wernberg, Germany.

The Second World War saw massive numbers of armored vehicles deployed on all sides. While most were tanks, artillery, and transports, there were also lots of more unusual vehicles.

Matilda Hedgehog

Created by the Australian Army, this was a British Matilda tank with a difference. A rotating platform was installed above the engine, carrying seven naval spigot mortars. Though designed to attack submarines, these mortars were perfect for smashing open Japanese bunkers on Pacific islands, and the Hedgehog let the Australians carry them close enough to hit their targets.

Matilda Hedgehog. By Bukvoed CC BY 2.5
Matilda Hedgehog. By Bukvoed CC BY 2.5

Ronson Flamethrower

A Canadian built flamethrower, the Ronson was sold to the US Marine Corps. They installed it on M3 and M5 tanks as well as LVT3 amphibious vehicles. It was effective at burning out enemies in defensive positions and earned the nickname of Satan for its burning effect.

Ronson flamethrower on a tank
Ronson flamethrower on a tank

Befehlspanzer Panther

German officers commanding tank formations needed a way to keep up with their troops. Traveling in unusual looking vehicles could attract enemy fire, so they often used adapted tanks. The Befehlspanzer Panther was a late war example in which ammunition space was sacrificed in favor of radio gear.

A Befehlspanzer Panther standing in a field. By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0
A Befehlspanzer Panther standing in a field. By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0

Borgward B IV

A German demolition vehicle, the Bogward IV was a tracked vehicle with a large explosive attached to the front. The driver drove as close to an obstacle as he safely could, then finished the job of steering and detonation by remote control.

Borgward IV  with releasable ordnance container in place.
Borgward IV  with releasable ordnance container in place.

Bruckenleger IV

The Bruckenleger was a German bridge layer designed to help armor cross ditches. It was used in the invasion of France, where surprise proved better for crossings than specialist vehicles, leading to its abandonment.

An abandoned Bruckenleger IV
An abandoned Bruckenleger IV

Goliath

A German remote-controlled demolition vehicle, the Goliath was less than five feet long and two feet high. Cheap enough to be disposable, it was fitted with a 132lb explosive charge. Directed against enemy defenses or into a minefield, it then exploded, breaking through barriers or detonating mines.

German soldiers with a Goliath and its remote control. By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0
German soldiers with a Goliath and its remote control. By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0

PzKpfw III (Flamm)

Designed to help with fighting in built up Russian terrain, this was a German flamethrower tank that replaced the less successful PzKpfw II (Flamm). Increased armor at the front let it get close enough to effectively use its weapon.

Two PzKpfw III (Flamm) 1825 and 1827 in training
Two PzKpfw III (Flamm) 1825 and 1827 in training

Raumer-S

Consisting of two massive steel boxes on heavy steel wheels, this was designed to clear minefields simply by driving over the mines and surviving. Like several late war German weapons, it was not ready for action before the fighting ended.

CV 33 Bridgelayer

One of the earliest bridge-laying tanks, this was an Italian CV 33 light tank with an added bridge. The short, lightweight bridge could be winched over the tank and into position for crossing narrow obstacles.

Italian CV-33 Flamethrower. By Hohum CC BY 3.0
Italian CV-33 Flamethrower. By Hohum CC BY 3.0

Churchill Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers

The disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 taught the British that engineers needed the tools and protection of specialist vehicles. They converted Churchill tanks to this purpose, replacing their ammunition racks with demolition and engineering supplies, their main guns with short-range demolition mortars. This became the first Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers (AVRE).

Churchill ARVE Mk II
Churchill ARVE Mk II

Churchill Assault Bridge AVRE

Created by the Canadian Army, this was a variation on the Churchill AVRE. It carried a 34ft small box girder bridge which could be dropped to cross ditches or in pairs to get across walls.

A Churchill bridge layer of 51st Royal Tank Regiment in action during a demonstration in the Mezzano area, 30 March 1945.
A Churchill bridge layer of 51st Royal Tank Regiment in action during a demonstration in the Mezzano area, 30 March 1945.

Churchill Carpet

The British were the masters of specialist engineering tanks, which they called funnies. Among these absurd sounding but effective vehicles was the Carpet, a Churchill tank with a drum of hessian matting suspended from the front. As it advanced across barbed wire, it flattened the wire and covered it in a pathway of hessian, creating a safe route through for infantry.

Churchill AVRE Carpet with Bobbin.
Churchill AVRE Carpet with Bobbin.

Churchill Demolition Tanks

To destroy solid enemy obstacles, more Churchills were turned into demolition vehicles. These were fitted with a series of explosive devices, known as Carrots, Onions, and Goats, carried in front of the tank and detonated to destroy obstructions.

Churchill Ark Mk II  bridging vehicle.
Churchill Ark Mk II  bridging vehicle.

Grant Special-Purpose Tank

Another British invention, this was an American Grant tank mounted with a specialist Canal Defense Light (CDL) turret. Far from a defensive tool, the CDL was a powerfully bright light meant to dazzle enemies during night fighting. It was never effectively used in this way, and mostly just illuminated Allied river crossings.

An M3 tank fitted with an armoured searchlight turret, known as a Canal Defense Light. IWM Collection description is “Grant CDL (Canal Defence Light) with searchlight and dummy gun mounted in turret.”
An M3 tank fitted with an armoured searchlight turret, known as a Canal Defense Light. IWM Collection description is “Grant CDL (Canal Defence Light) with searchlight and dummy gun mounted in turret.”

Scorpion

Invented by the South African Major A. S. du Toit, this was a tank with a revolving drum covered in chain flails attached to the front. As it advanced across a minefield, the chains detonated the mines, destroying them before they were close enough to damage the tank. The same device was later used for the more effective Sherman Crab.

Matilda Baron flail tank very similar to the Scorpion tank
Matilda Baron flail tank very similar to the Scorpion tank

Wasp

Instead of attaching the Ronson flamethrower to a tank, the British installed it in their Universal Carrier vehicle, creating the Wasp. The weapon could only be aimed by turning the whole vehicle, but the Canadian-designed Wasp Mark 2C remained in use well past the end of the war.

A Wasp flamethrower tank on display in the Canadian War Museum
A Wasp flamethrower tank on display in the Canadian War Museum

M4 Tankdozer

The Americans soon discovered that bulldozers were invaluable for clearing roadblocks and damaged roads, but that their drivers were dangerously vulnerable to enemy fire. They, therefore, developed the Tankdozer, a modification kit that fitted a bulldozer blade onto the front of a Sherman M4 tank, for safer road clearance.

M4 Sherman Dozer named Apache Equipped with Pusher Blade Co A 746th Tank Battalion France July 1944
M4 Sherman Dozer named Apache Equipped with Pusher Blade Co A 746th Tank Battalion France July 1944

Rhinoceros

In the summer of 1944, the Allies faced a serious challenge. The dense hedgerows of the Norman bocage provided ideal defensive terrain for the Germans and were hard to destroy with conventional tools. The American Sergeant Curtis D. Culin created the solution known as the Rhinoceros, a set of steel plates inspired by plow shares which were welded onto the front of tanks, allowing them to rip up hedgerows as they advanced.

60th Infantry soldiers alongside of a Sherman “Rhino” tank in Belgium
60th Infantry soldiers alongside of a Sherman “Rhino” tank in Belgium

T10 Mine Exploder

The American solution to the minefield problem, the T1 Mine Exploder was a tank with heavy rollers in front of and behind it. These detonated mines, clearing a path. Though effective, early T10s were unwieldy to drive, leading to several variations as engineers sought to improve them.

Remote controlled T10 mine exploder, July 1944
Remote controlled T10 mine exploder, July 1944

T31 Demolition Tank

M4 Sherman Flail Tank Moves Up Through The Blazing Town Arnhem 1945
M4 Sherman Flail Tank Moves Up Through The Blazing Town Arnhem 1945

Read another story from us: Turning Up the Heat – 26 Photos of the Flammpanzer II/III Flame-Thrower Tanks

An American response to the Churchill AVRE, the T31 Demolition Tank was a specially adapted Sherman, with thick belly armor, a bulldozer blade, rocket launchers, and other specialist fittings. It proved ineffective in tests in 1945 and so was abandoned in favor of more modern designs.