The Cruiser Tank Mk II (A10) was a more heavily armoured version of the Cruiser Tank Mk I (A9), originally designed to work with infantry. By the time it entered service it was judged to be too lightly armoured to serve in that role, and instead was classified as a 'heavy cruiser' tank.
Work on the A9 began in the summer of 1934. Three months later, in September 1934, the War Office informed Vickers that they also wanted a more heavily armoured version of the same tank, and work began on the new A10 design. The main difference between the two models was an increase in armour thickness. On the A9 the thickest armour was only 14mm, but on the A10 extra armour plates were bolted on top to bring it up to 30mm.
As first designed the Cruiser Tank Mk II was armed with the same 2pdr gun as the Mk I, and carried a single coaxial machine gun. The two auxiliary machine gun turrets were removing, allowing the designers to give the tank neatly sloping frontal armour. After the prototype a single machine gun was mounted in the hull, eliminating the sloping armour. A few Mk IIs were built with a Vickers machine gun in the turret and a Besa gun in the hull, but most were the Mk IIA in which both machine guns were the Besa model.
The mild steel prototype was completed in July 1937 and the first production order, for 100 tanks, was placed in July 1938. Production was to be split between Vickers, the Birmingham Railway Carriage Co and Metropolitan-Cammell. Eventually around 175 were built, with production ending in September 1940. Production of the Cruiser Tank Mk I and Mk II ended after the War Office decided to use Christie suspension and moved onto the A13 Cruiser Tank Mk III. A number of features from the A10 were used on the Valentine tank.
The A10 tended to serve alongside the A9 Cruiser Tank Mk I. On 3 September 1939 there were only 77 Mk Is and Mk IIs in service, but that figure rose to 117 by October, and by May 1940 there were 158 cruiser tanks with the army in France (although that figure included the Mk III).
The Cruiser Tank Mk II made its combat debut with the 1st Armoured Division in France in May 1940. One regiment was landed (and lost) at Calais, but the rest of the division landed at Cherbourg and took part in the fighting on the Somme. It was then forced to retreat back to Cherbourg to be evacuated. After the fighting the Cruiser Tank Mk II's engine was criticized for being underpowered and unreliable. The tracks were judged to be too narrow, have a poor grip, prone to come off the wheels and overly complex to replace.
The A10 Cruiser Tank Mk II saw most combat in North Africa, where it served alongside the A9 and an increasing number of A13 Cruiser Mk IIIs. By June 1940 all four tank regiments in the 7th Armoured Division had enough cruiser tanks to equip at least one squadron. The A9 had been first to arrive, and early experience had shown that a new two-stage sand filter was needed but after that the A9 and A10 proved to be reliable designs. Reinforcements arrived in Egypt in September 1940 and amongst them was the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, which had a small number of A9s and A10s although was mainly equipped with A13s.
The A10 first saw action in North Africa in the Sudan, where the Italians had captured the British border fort at Gallabat. In November 1940 a force under General Slim, with five A10s, attacked and retook this fort. The A10s took a limited part in the battle and all five suffered broken tracks on the rocky ground.
The A10 took part in the Battle of Sidi Barrani (December 1940), where its role was to swing around the Italian southern flank and prevent reinforcements reaching the front line. The Matilda infantry tanks carried out the main assault on the Italian positions. The cruiser tanks played a more important role during the fighting at Beda Fomm (January-February 1941), taking part in an advance across the desert to cut off the retreating Italians. After these two battles the A9 and A10 were praised for their reliable engines!
In June 1941 the 2nd Tank Regiment (7th Armoured Brigade, 7th Armoured Division) had two mixed squadrons of A9 and A10 cruiser tanks, and a third make up of A13s. The squadrons played a small part in Operation Battleaxe, an attempt to lift the siege of Tobruk.
By November 1941 and Operation Crusader the A9 had gone, but the 7th Hussars (7th Armoured Brigade) still had a small number of A10s which took part in the battle. After this the A10 Cruiser Tank Mk II was withdrawn from front line service.
The A10 was also modified to act as a bridging tank, using a scissors bridge. The prototype was a success, and carried a bridge that could bridge a 30ft gap and carry a 24ton vehicle. The type didn’t enter production, and instead work moved onto a bridge-laying version of the Covenanter.
A10 Cruiser Tank Mk II
Hull Length: 18ft 4in
Hull Width: 8ft 8 1/2in
Height: 8ft 8 1/2in
Crew: 5 (commander, loader, gunner, driver, hull machine gunner)
Engine: AEC Type A179 6 cylinder petrol engine, 150hp
Max Speed: 16mph (road) 8mph (cross-country)
Max Range: 100 miles road radius
Armament: One 2pdr QFSA, two Besa machine guns
Armour: 6mm minimum, 30mm maximum