The Black Prince Infantry Tank (A43) was produced in an attempt to mount the 17-pounder anti-tank gun on a tank that used as many components from the Churchill as possible.
Draft specifications for the A43 were issued on 2 December 1943. The new tank was effectively an updated version of the Churchill, to be armed with a 17-pounder anti-tank gun, with a 3.7in gun as an alternative. Sloped armour was suggested, and it was to weigh around 50 tons.
The aim of the project was to produce a tank capable of carrying the new 17-pounder gun. This had been developed by Vickers as a 77mm gun, and in September 1943 it was selected for use by the Director of the Royal Armoured Corps, who preferred it to the US 76mm high velocity gun that was used in later Shermans. In turn the most successful wartime tank to carry the 17-pounder was the Sherman Firefly, a British modification of the tank. The A30 Challenger had run into problems, and work on the A41 Centurion was at a very early stage, so in September 1943 Vauxhall was asked to produce a version of the Churchill that could carry the new gun.
Vauxhall came up with an initial design that would have used a 350hp Bedford engine. In order to test this they took a Churchill, gave it a new five speed gearbox and added weights to bring it up to 50 tons. On 28 December 1943 this vehicle was tested against the Heavy Assault Tank A33 (Excelsior), another design that didn’t go anywhere, and reported that it was 'hardly worse'.
In May 1944 an order was placed for six prototypes, with three different configurations. The first was to carry a 17-pounder and an independent 20mm cannon in the turret. This had the highest priority. The second was armed with a 77mm gun and the third with a 95mm gun. If all went well 300 of the 17-pounder armed variant would be ordered, with deliveries to begin in May or June 1945. They would be followed by a version powered by a 600hp Meteor engine. Some, including the Director of the Royal Armoured Corps, pointed out that the original version would thus be underpowered, but their protests were brushed aside. When the A43 was completed it had a top speed of only 11mph, proving their case.
A full sized wooden mock-up was ready by August 1944, and the first prototype of the A43 Black Prince was completed by January 1945. It resembled an enlarged Churchill, with a wider hull to take the larger turret required and stronger suspension to cope with the extra weight. Otherwise it was visually similar, with a series of small road wheels, a horizontal return track, and the top of the superstructure level with the top of the tracks. It had the same frontal armour as late production Churchills, and the turret was similar in layout to the Churchill turret. It was armed with the 17-pounder and a coaxial Besa machine gun, with another Besa gun in the hull.
The third prototype of the Black Prince was examined at the tank ranges at Lulworth, and a report was produced in March 1945. The armament and turret was seen as a success, but the flat front to the hull and the turret mantlet were both criticised.
Work on the Black Prince was cancelled after the end of the war, in favour of the superior A41 Centurion, which was almost ready to enter service as the fighting ended.
Tank, Infantry, Black Prince (A43)
Production: 6 prototypes
Length: 28ft 11in
Hull Width: 11ft 3.5in
Crew: 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, co-driver/ hull gunner)
Weight: 112,000lb battle weight
Engine: 350hp Bedford twin-sxi
Max Speed: 11mph road, 7mph cross country
Max Range: 80 miles road radius
Armament: One 17-pounder OQF, two 7.92cal Besa machine guns