Sir John Valentine Carden survives.

12 March 1941. London, England.
12 March 1941. London, England.

Lieutenant General Norman Macready (Assistant Chief of the Imperial General Staff) had invited the main military figures on the Tank Board for drinks in his office in Whitehall. The three senior officers on the Tank Board were Major General Edward Clarke (Director of Artillery, Ministry of Supply); Major General Kenneth Stewart (Commandant of Royal Armoured Corps Training Establishment); Major General Vyvyan Pope (Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles, War Office). Macready asked that they were joined by Major-General Gifford Martel (General Officer Commanding Royal Armoured Corps).

Macready wanted to sort out among the Generals most involved in the development and use of tanks what exactly the army wanted to put before the next Tank Board meeting, so that there was a unified voice from the army. He’d asked ‘Q’ Martel to give a summary of the current state of AFVs in the army, then Vyvyan Pope to provide a summary of what was on the drawing board for the next couple of years.

The loss of the majority of the Light Tanks in France had left the RAC with a terrible shortfall in fighting vehicles, but, as Martel pointed out, it was also an opportunity to put proper fighting vehicles into the hands of the men. As for the Infantry Tanks, there were very few of the A11 Matilda I left, and those were mostly in Egypt. The A12 Matilda II was in full production and equipping most of the Tank Brigades in Britain. The Vickers Valiant I was likewise in full production and was, so far, generally being sent to the Middle East. The Cruisers Mark I and II (A9 and A10), now ended in production, were mostly in the Middle East, and quite worn out. The Cruiser Mark IV (A13) was the main cruiser tank in Britain, though one Brigade was on its way to Greece. The Valiant I* Cruiser was also mostly in the Middle East, and looked mostly likely to be sent overseas in the first instance.

The fighting in France had shown that the 2-pdr armed A13 Cruisers had performed adequately when not being used in place of an Infantry Tank. Martel noted that 1st Armoured Division never had much chance to show what such a Division could do. The A9 and A10s had done well in Egypt and Libya, but the Valiant I had been the star of the show. Martel believed that the main battles fought so far by the Royal Armoured Corps were skewed towards the Infantry Tank. At Arras it was the A11 and A12s which had done well against the German Panzers. General O’Connor’s successes against the Italians had been primarily with Infantry Tanks, though cutting off Benghazi had been achieved by 7th Armoured Division’s Cruiser Tanks.

Everyone at the meeting knew that Martel had been the main force behind the desire to use the Christie suspension in British tanks, and it obviously rankled him that the A13, the fruits of that labour, hadn’t exactly covered itself in glory. Unless they could do something extraordinary in Greece, it looked as if Martel had backed the wrong horse. The various Vickers tanks, along with the A12 Matilda II, had been responsible for the majority of the successes of the RAC so far.

Once Martel finished, Pope reminded his fellow generals of the current production plan. Regarding Infantry Tanks, Vulcan Foundry’s A12 Matilda II production would continue throughout 1941. Vickers Valiant I would likewise continue, becoming the Valiant II as more were equipped with the 6-pdr gun. Regarding Cruiser Tanks, the Valiant I*, also becoming the Valiant II* with the 6-pdr, was the priority production model, as corrective work on the Nuffield A15 Cruiser was necessary before full production could commence. An extra order for another 100 of the A13 had had to be made to avoid too much of a shortfall in the Cruiser Tank output. The only Light Tank now in production was the A17, Vickers Light Tank Mark VII, which was beginning to appear in training establishments.

The planned successor Infantry Tank for the A12 Matilda II was the A22, designed by Vauxhall. The prototypes were still being tested, and while it was in some ways an improvement over the A12 (at least in protection) it had the same gun and roughly the same speed. The planned successor for the Valiant from Vickers was the Victor. The prototype had been well received, especially with the new Rolls-Royce engine. Equipped initially with the 6-pdr gun, but work was continuing on another gun in the 3-inch range. At this point, Pope noted that Vickers were suggesting that the Victor, with its gun, armour, and, with the Meteor engine, its speed, that it would fill the need for both an Infantry and Cruiser Tank. Gifford Martel snorted in derision at the comment.

Beyond the A22 and the Victor, Pope reported that Nuffield were at an early stage of work on a follow-on Christie Cruiser Tank to the A15, which would increase its armour to around 60mm and to take at least the 6-pdr gun. Vauxhall were suggesting that they could, with enough time and help, look at a follow-on tank with a bigger engine and turret ring to allow the A22 to grow. In both cases these wouldn’t be available until at least 1943 at the earliest. Therein lay the reason for Macreadie calling this meeting. The current plan for tanks, with the distinction between Infantry and Cruiser tanks was settled at least until 1942. The Tank Brigades would be a mixture of Matilda and Valiants, the Armoured Divisions would be a mixture of Valiant I* and A15s. The Vickers Victor would, with the new Rolls-Royce engine, be a good successor to the Matilda and Valiant, though there was some doubt about Sir John Carden’s claim that it would supplant both the Valiant I* and A15.

Pope then reported that the Americans were beginning to get into their stride, as far as production was concerned. It was expected that the first of the American designed and built tanks would start arriving later in the year. Work was progressing on the M3 tank with the side-sponson 75mm gun and 37mm on the turret, following the French Char B1-bis design. General Douglas Pratt had sent his assessment of the vehicle, which wasn’t at all complimentary. He did however note that the Valiant tank the Americans were studying had helped them progress the design of a tank turret capable of taking the 75mm gun, which had the designation M4 currently. Pratt did express his opinion that this tank was likely to be ‘quite good’.

Major General Kenneth Stewart asked about Light Tanks. While the Vickers Mark VII was being produced with the 2-pdr, there was a limited number being produced. He’d read Pratt’s report from Washington and wondered about the American Light Tank, the M2A4 and its planned successor, confusingly also called the M3. Stewart knew that the reconnaissance role needed something with a proper gun, with good speed and some protection. Steward noted that the M3 looked like it might fit the bill for the Divisional Cavalry Regiments and the new Reconnaissance Regiments. Pope wasn’t so sure that light tanks were the best fit for that role, more and better armoured cars, especially with a half-decent gun would probably be the better choice. It was agreed that a request for some M2A4s for assessment would be put to the Americans, with an openness to the possibility of using the M3, if it was any good.

Major General Edward Clarke interjected at this point his objection to the American tanks being armed with the 37mm and 75mm gun. These weren’t standard British artillery calibres, and would mean that the RAOC would have problems with an extra level of supply of imported ammunition. There wasn’t any spare capacity within the Royal Ordnance Factories to begin manufacturing two new types of ammunition, which would mean that the army would be at the mercy of getting convoys across the Atlantic.

After some discussion among the gathered Generals, they agreed to recommend that the American medium tanks would be offered in the first instance to the Australian, Indian and possibly South African and New Zealand Armoured Divisions or Brigades. If they were being shipped across the Pacific, they were more likely to be delivered safely. Between the factories in Britain and Canada, it was estimated that the needs of the British and Canadian Tank and Armoured formations could be met from domestic production, at least in the short to medium term. If something changed, and more tanks had to come from America, then that decision could be made quite quickly.

Vyvyan Pope did mention that the plan for the Armoured Divisions would be dependent on the A15 being an adequate tank. He also wondered whether Vauxhall’s A22 might be better cancelled in favour of more Vickers’ Victors, which was already better than the A22 prototype and with more room to improve. General Clarke, noted that the Ministry of Supply had considered this, but the problem would be having enough engines, especially if the new Rolls-Royce was chosen. Vauxhall’s engine was admittedly less powerful, but a couple of successful German air-raids in the wrong place, could mean that tank production could be delayed. Martel noted that was true for a lot of things, there was already a shortage of 2-pdr anti-tank guns and that had nothing to do with the Luftwaffe. This would be something that would need to be debated properly at a proper meeting of the Tank Board

General Macready poured some oil on the troubled waters and then asked about their assessment of what the Germans were likely to be doing. All of the men had had a thorough look at the captured German tanks, and while General Martel was quite dismissive, the rest of the group all recognised that, a bit like the Valiant and Victor, the Germans seemed to have designed their tanks with an eye to allowing them to be developed. Clarke was strongly of the opinion that the captured 2-pdrs would have been thoroughly tested and that, since the German tanks were very vulnerable, he could easily imagine that the Germans had been bolting on more armour. There was some evidence from the captured Panzer IV that the Germans were toying with using face-hardened steel, and so production of capped ammunition for the 2-pdr and 6-pdr had been ordered to hedge their bets.

General Pope concurred and thought that the captured Matildas and French B1s would have meant that the Germans would be increasing the size of their guns. Both the Panzer III and IV turrets were capable of taking a bigger gun. There was some pre-war intelligence to suggest that the Germans were looking at something around the 50mm size, which would likely have much the same capability as the new 6-pdr. If the Americans were playing around with a 75mm, and the Germans had captured a lot of French guns, he wouldn’t be surprised if the next wave of Panzers might not be armed with something in that size that could defeat the Matilda and Valiant from a half decent range.

General Stewart had concentrated on what had been learned about the German fighting tactics. He felt that the reports of the German use of their armoured formations confirmed that they were very well trained and had a number of advantages. He had been particularly interested in the way in which they used their radio net to coordinate, and it was clear that they saw their tanks very much as one part of a larger, coordinated system, including artillery, infantry and air power. The problems the 1st Armoured Division had encountered on the Somme had shown up that the British doctrine had severe weaknesses. Martel bristled at this. The fact that the Division hadn’t been used as it should have been was the cause of the problem, not the training or tactics. Stewart and Martel had had this argument before, and Macready knew that it could easily get out of hand. The only real way to answer the question was to play it out in wargames and exercises, to see who had it right. The experience of Cunningham in the desert wasn’t terribly helpful as the Italians hadn’t offered the same level of opposition that the German Panzer Divisions had done. The evidence for a growing German presence in both North Africa, and at the borders of Greece, would likely soon give the British army another shot at finding out just who was right about armour and the tactics to use it most effectively.

The question was therefore what would need to happen in 1943. The new Rolls-Royce engine was easily chosen as the designated tank engine for future use. The question about a diesel version was shelved for the moment. The 6-pdr gun was obviously the gun of choice for as many tanks as possible, which should have the measure of whatever the Germans did in response to their experiences with British tanks. General Pope and Stewart agreed, but insisted that an effective HE shell was a necessary addendum. The 3-inch gun being developed by Vickers looked promising, and should deal with armour of around 4 inches. After that, Clarke had previously noted, a tank would need to be able to carry something more like the 3.7-inch AA gun or a High Velocity version of the 25-pdr. The Victor’s successor would likely need something more like 6 inches of armour, which for the size of the gun, would likely need to be nearly 50 tons. General Pope knew that Sir John Carden had been thinking along the same lines, and so the group agreed, after a lot of griping from General Martel, that a specification would be issued perhaps following the same principles as the Valiant I and I*: one version more heavily armoured and one with less armour but more speed. If the Nuffield Group couldn’t come up with a satisfactory successor to the A15 within the time frame, then perhaps the American M4 might fit the bill as an alternative fighting tank, though General Clarke again insisted that he wanted to make sure it would be able to take a British gun.
 
So, there is a bit of covering old ground here, but I thought it was a useful summary. The month of March was relatively quiet OTL, so we'll be skipping through it quite quickly. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up the almost daily updates you have been used to, but we'll see how it goes.
Allan.
 
Iiits Baaack! And yes, there was a bit of retreading here, but that's okay, a bit of recapping will probably help people get back into it, and it's framing the debate in an official, in-story way.

Missing threadmark BTW.
 
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I do like the way you have shown some of the British views on the use of tanks - particularly those who have a "Theory of Armoured Warfare" and will stick to it no matter what the facts may show.
 
I do like the way you have shown some of the British views on the use of tanks - particularly those who have a "Theory of Armoured Warfare" and will stick to it no matter what the facts may show.
Yeah, Martel is not being swayed by events, is he? The cruiser split must be maintained, and any weakness of the cruiser branch must be down to misuse, rather than equipment or doctrine.

If the Victor can meet the speeds Vickers expects it'll be capable of, he might, might, be forced to think again. Perhaps.
 
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Yeah, Martel is not being swayed by events, is he? The cruiser split must be maintained, and any weakness of the cruiser branch must be down to misuse, rather than equipment or doctrine.

If the Victor can meet the speeds Vickers expects it'll be capable of, he might,cmight, be forced to think again. Perhaps.
Yes Martel is the Villain of the piece
 
Once a person in power has set his mind to a certain way of thinking it is near impossible to make them change it to suit reality! I speak from bitter experience in the workplace.
After one "expert Consultant" gave a seminar to improve critical thinking my boss had the carpenters in maintenance to make a box to sit in his office so he could "think outside the box".
 
So, there is a bit of covering old ground here, but I thought it was a useful summary. The month of March was relatively quiet OTL, so we'll be skipping through it quite quickly. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up the almost daily updates you have been used to, but we'll see how it goes.
Allan.
Lovely to hear from you again. Refreshed?
 
Could be worse, it could be Hobart insisting on balancing the gun to shoot on the move - and put those machine gun turrets back!
Or sticking rotating drums with dozens of flails or massive flame throwers or hoofing great petard mortars.....oh hang on that comes later
 
Excellent as always, so it seems the Churchill's not been killed off (yet) because of the percived need for an infantry tank. Hopefully it will at least enter service with the 6lb gun on it! Whilst the Chritie Suspension's good, its positives are probably too badly offset by its negatives and the British army's probably doing itself a favour by not going full ham on it! Hopefully the Crusader will be stopped.
 
Ah, good old General 'I'm not wrong, the war just hasn't proven me right yet' Martel. Nice to see him get his war games to prove his ideas against real (simulated) Germans.
Not surprised the M3 ends up as OTL, I wonder if the M4 will end up materially different from OTL. Regardless, I agree with Pratt that it will end up being 'quite good' indeed.
 
Ah, good old General 'I'm not wrong, the war just hasn't proven me right yet' Martel. Nice to see him get his war games to prove his ideas against real (simulated) Germans.
Not surprised the M3 ends up as OTL, I wonder if the M4 will end up materially different from OTL. Regardless, I agree with Pratt that it will end up being 'quite good' indeed.
Even if it's not up to the standard of the Vickers Victor!
 
Just a thought - the Sherman M4 as the best "cruiser" tank the British have paired with the "infantry tank" that is the Victor. Best of all worlds - punch, mobility and numbers

EDIT - put a 3" Vickers in the Sherman as per Firefly and the ammunition conundrum is solved as well
 
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Just a thought - the Sherman M4 as the best "cruiser" tank the British have paired with the "infantry tank" that is the Victor. Best of all worlds - punch, mobility and numbers

EDIT - put a 3" Vickers in the Sherman as per Firefly and the ammunition conundrum is solved as well
A 3" armed Victor should prompt the US to pull their fingers out about putting a 76mm gun in the Sherman earlier. Provided of course they get get the high command to stop putting theory before actual combat effectiveness.
 
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