Cruiser Tank Mk IV (A13 Mk II)

The Cruiser Tank Mk IV (A13 Mk II) was an up-armoured version of the Cruiser Tank Mk III (A13 Mk I) and was produced in much larger numbers than the earlier tank. The Mk III was the first British cruiser tank to use Christie suspension, and this combined with a more powerful engine than the earlier Mk I or Mk II greatly improved the performance of the tank.

Early in 1939 the War Office conducted tests on the A14, which had been designed as a more heavily armoured cruiser tank. The new design was somewhat disappointing, and compared badly to the A13 Mk I prototype modified to carry the same 30mm armour. The A14 was cancelled and attention switched to an up-armoured version of the A13. The London Midland and Scottish Railway, who had been working on the A14, moved on to the A13 Mk IV Cruiser Tank Mk V Covenanter, while Nuffields added more armour to the A13 Mk I to produce the Cruiser Tank Mk IV (A13 Mk II).

At about the same time as the first batch of Cruiser Tank Mk III A13s was close to complete. During 1938 the General Staff decided to continue production of the basic design, but with the armour increased to the new 30mm standard. On the fuselage this was achieved by bolting extra plates of armour directly onto the existing armour. The turrets were given spaced armour, with the extra plate carried in a V-shape on the sides, giving the turret of the Mk IV a distinctive diamond profile from the front (also seen on the Covenanter and Crusader although these were totally new turret designs).

The Mk IV entered production in 1938. The first 168 were delivered in 1939, another 256 in 1940 and the last six in 1941, for a total of 430 tanks. Nuffield built over 200, the LMS at Crewe were responsible for 65 and others were completed by Leyland and English Electric.  

The Mk IV was produced in two versions. The basic Mk IV carried a Vickers machine gun while the Mk IVA had a Besa machine gun. Some Mk IIIs were given the extra amour to bring them up to Mk IV standard.

The A13 Mk II Cruiser tank Mk IV made up part of the equipment of the 1st Armoured Division when it was rushed to France in May 1940. One regiment was sent to Calais, where it lost all of its tanks very quickly. The rest of the division landed at Cherbourg and advanced to join the new French line on the Somme. After a limited attack on the German lines the division was forced to take part in the retreat into western France, eventually returning to Cherbourg. As at Dunkirk the tank crews were rescued but the tanks left behind.

After the fighting the Cruiser Tank Mk IV came in for some criticism. Its Liberty engine was unreliable and had an average lifespan of only 100 hours. The tracks were too thin, too smooth and came off too easily. The commander's cupola was also flawed, and on a number of occasions was swept away complete with the commander's head. Even the high speed wasn't much of an asset, and was said to have been of most use during the retreat.

Some of these faults were due to the inexperience of the crews, many of whom had been issued with their tanks in the days before the fighting began. In the Western Desert the engine at least was more reliable, and the A13 took part in some cross-country journeys of several hundred miles without any problems.

In September 1940 the A13 arrived in Egypt as part of the equipment of Second RTR (alongside a few A9s and A10s). The regiment became part of the 4th Armoured Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, and took part in the early victory over the Italians at Sidi Barrani in December 1940. The regiment took part in the final fighting of this phase of the war, helping to capture the fort of Sidi Omar after a ten minute attack.

In January 1941 the regiment took part in the campaign that ended with the destruction of a large Italian army at Beda Fomm. The British aim was to prevent the Italians escaping from Cyrenaica by cutting across country to block the coastal road. The first target was El Mechili, where the A13 helped defeat a force of Italian medium tanks. Although the records are often poor at distinguishing between the Mk III and the Mk IV, photographs from the campaign suggest that the A13 Mk II Cruiser Tank Mk IV was the version used in North Africa. 

The next target was the coast between Agheila and Benghazi. The dash across the desert began on 4th February 1941 with 4th Armoured Brigade supporting the infantry and wheeled transports and armoured cars. At mid afternoon on 4 February the wheeled vehicles of the 11th Hussars reached the road south of Bade Fomm, just ahead of the Italians. The A13s made a 30 mile dash to join them, and over the next two days played a major part in the total defeat of the retreating Italians.

After these battles the 7th Armoured Division was withdrawn for a rest and was replaced by 2nd Armoured Division. This included the 5th RTR which was also equipped with A13s, but had less experience than the 2nd RTR. During the advance from Egypt to the front line the new regiment wore out most of its tracks.

During Operation Battleaxe (June 1941) the A13 was used by 6th RTR, part of the Seventh Armoured Brigade. The brigade was given the task of getting around the Axis right flank, capturing the Hafid Ridge and then advancing towards the besieged garrison of Tobruk. 2nd RTR, which was equipped with older A9s and A10s broke through the frontier positions. 6th RTR then advanced onto the Hafid Ridge, but after achieving some successes the A13s were repulsed. A second attack by two squadrons of Crusaders did no better.

By November 1941 and the start of Operation Crusader the A13 was still in use with the 7th Hussars, 7th Armoured Brigade. Once again the brigade was posted on the British left, giving it the longest distances to travel but the fastest tanks. This was the A13's frontline swansong, and it was gone for the battles of 1942.

Cruiser Tank Mk IV A13 Mk II

Production: 655
Hull Length: 19ft 9in
Hull Width: 8ft 4in
Height: 8ft 6in
Crew: 4 (commander, gunner, loader and driver)
Weight: 33,040lb
Engine: 340hp Nuffield Liberty V12
Max Speed: 30mph road, 14mph cross country
Max Range: 90 miles road radius
Armament: One 2pdr OQF, one Vickers MG or one Besa MG
Armour: 6-30mm

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 February 2012), Cruiser Tank Mk IV (A13 Mk II) ,

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