| Continued from above… Mk VIII, Cromwell (A27M), named after the English Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell. It was one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in World War II. It was the first tank in the British arsenal to combine a dual-purpose gun, high speed, and reasonable armor. Its design formed the basis of the Comet. |
The Cromwell was a boxy tank constructed of flat armour plates on a steel frame. It was based around the wonderful Christie suspension, used in British Cruisers going back to the A13 and the superb Rolls Royce Meteor engine. It had rear drive sprockets, a low silhouette and was armed with the 6 Pdr gun, 95mm close support gun or the British 75mm QF, although only the latter two weapons seem to have seen combat.
Cromwell tanks made some spectacular advances in their pursuit of the Germans across Northern France, Belgium and Holland. The Cromwell served again in Korea and was finally retired in the late 1950's.
The A27M Cruiser Tank Mark VIII Cromwell was fitted with a 600 horsepower V12 Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, which made it the fastest, most reliable Cruiser tank in existence at the time it was built.
In other respects, it resembled the Cavalier and the Centaur. From 1944 to 1945, the Cromwell and the American Sherman M4 were the main equipment of British armored divisions.
After it entered service, the Cavalier was used more than any other British cruiser tank in World War II..
Photo right: A27M Cromwell Tank
The Cromwell compared favorably with tanks of similar weight such as the Sherman and Panzer IV. Ordered in 1941 and intended to replace the lightweight Crusader "cruiser" tank by being more heavily armoured, and, it was hoped, more survivable in battle. Its greater weight was to be driven by a 600-horsepower Rolls Royce Meteor engine, a derivative of Rolls Royce's line of aircraft engines. Initial models, however, were powered by other engines and were designated Cavaliers and Centaurs when they entered service in mid-1942. The first genuine Cromwell's with Meteor engines entered service in early 1943. |
In most respects the two variants were identical, as both were designed to take the Meteor engine as soon as they were available. Indeed, all of the Centaur vehicles eventually had their engines replaced, and the Cromwell went into production in January 1943. The Cromwell used the Christie suspension system, which, when married to the Meteor engine, gave it an impressive speed and superb maneuverability.
The new engine was also far more reliable than anything that had ever been used in a British tank before. To begin with, the tanks were armed with a 6-pounder (57 mm gun), but this was later replaced with a 75 mm British-designed gun capable of using American-made ammunition. This would much simplify matters in terms of ammunition supply.
The need for more armour and a bigger gun was finally realized (and a more powerful engine would be required) and in 1941 a new specification was issued. It was answered by two main entrants to the same basic A27 design, one the A27L with a Liberty engine (this was to become the Centaur) and the other the A27M with a Rolls-Royce Meteor that was to become the Cruiser Tank Mk VIII Cromwell.
The first genuine Cromwells were produced in January 1943. The first three marks (Cromwell I with one 6-pdr and two Besa machine-guns, Cromwell II with wider tracks and only one machine-gun, and Cromwell III produced by installing the new engine into a Centaur I) all had as their main armament the 6-pdr (57- mm/2.244-in) gun, but by 1943 it had been decided that something heavier would be required and a new 75-mm (2.95-in) gun was demanded.
It is virtually impossible to tell versions apart as the identifying features are often hidden. The obvious changes such as the main gun or the hull crew hatches not withstanding, detail differences to the engine deck hatch layout and the welded or riveted hull form. Two Cromwells can for example be of different marks, but have the same hull form are hard to see.
The Cromwell first saw action during the Normandy campaign, where it was at a disadvantage as it could not use its superior speed and agility, but this changed after the fighting moved to open country.
In the United Kingdom the differentiation between 'Cruiser' and 'Infantry' tanks persisted almost until the end of the war despite the fact that most other nations had never entertained, the notion.
This persisted even after the unfortunate experiences of the early 'Cruiser' designs had highlighted the drawbacks of producing a lightly armed and armoured main battle tank, and continued even when a replacement for the Crusader was being sought.
(Photo: France, Villers-Bocage, June 1944. Knocked out British Cromwell Cruiser tank)
The Cromwell was the first British tank to have an all welded hull...
The Cromwell's armour ranged from 8 mm up to 76 mm thick overall but the maximum thickness was later increased to 102 mm with applique armour plates which were welded on.
For once things were able to move relatively swiftly on the production lines and the first 75-mm (2.95-in) Cromwell Mk IV tanks were issued to the armoured regiments in October 1943. Thereafter the 75-mm (2.95-in) gun remained the Cromwell's main gun until the Cromwell Mk VIII, which had a 95-mm howitzer for close support.
Another important value of the Cromwell to the British armoured regiments during 1943 was as a training tank, for at last the troops had a tank that was something of a match for its German counterparts. There was better armour (8-76 mm/0.315-3 in) on the Cromwell than on any previous 'Cruiser' tank and the 75-mm (2.95-in) gun, which shared many components with the smaller 6-pdr, at last provided the British with a viable weapon.
Many were used by the 7th Armoured Division in the campaigns that followed from the Normandy landings. Here the excellent performance provided by the Meteor engine made the Cromwell a well-liked vehicle: it was fast and reliable, and the gun proved easy to lay and fire.
The Cromwell was also a stepping stone to the later Comet tank which was to emerge as perhaps the best all-round British tank of the war years. But the Cromwell was an important vehicle, not just as a combat tank but for several other roles, Some were used as mobile artillery observation posts (Cromwell OP) with their main gun removed and with extra radios installed. Others had their turrets entirely removed and replaced by all the various bits and pieces required for the Cromwell to be used as the Cromwell ARV armoured recovery vehicle.
| The Cromwell proved extremely useful in the breakouts in Normandy in 1944. It could exploit gaps with its speed and reasonable armor. |
However, it was no match for Tigers or Panthers; they could knock the Cromwell out with relative ease, whilst the Cromwell itself had great difficulty in penetrating their armor even at point-blank range.
It was faster and had a lower profile than the Sherman tank. However, while its armour was of equivalent thickness, it was not sloped and therefore less effective than that of the Sherman.
(Photo right: France, Villers-Bocage, June 1944. Knocked out British Cromwell Cruiser tank)
The Cromwell proved itself a good machine if somewhat under Armoured. But it was to be the Chassis of the Cromwell which was used for the best British Tank design to see service before the war's end the Comet. This was a far superior design to anything that had gone before and gave the British the edge in Tank Design up to the creation of the Centurion.
It was the first tank in the British arsenal to combine a dual-purpose gun, high speed, and reasonable armour all in one balanced package.
(Photo: May 3 1945, A Cromwell tank guards a bridge over the Elbe river in Hamburg.)
| Fact File: |
Britain's Cruiser Mk VIII, A27M - Cromwell
After the failings of the A15 Crusader, a new Cruiser Tank was needed to give British Armoured Units better Mobility and Firepower on the battlefield.
The Cromwell was introduced in November 1943, and was also known as the A27, or the Cruiser Mark VIII. Back in 1941 a production order was given for 500 A24s, as the project was then known, which were essentially up-rated Crusaders or Cavaliers. They would use an adapted Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine. Because of the shortage of these engines, two variants were created, the Centaur, with a Liberty engine, and the Cromwell, with a Meteor engine. The new Meteor Engine produced 600 hp which was double that of the old Nuffield Liberty installed in the Crusader.
The only area where the Cromwell fell down was in Armour Protection which was slightly worse off than the Sherman in the early models but steadily increased in later variants to as much as 102mm. The earlier Cromwells were fitted with Applique Armour which could be fitted in the field to augment it's existing Armour. Although it couldn't match the later German Tanks it was still far more maneuverable and could use it's speed to get out of trouble in most circumstances.
A new version of the Rolls Royce Merlin Aircraft Engine was made available for use in vehicles called the Meteor. Rolls Royce was however already stretched producing the Merlin, so production switched to the Rover Car Company for the Meteor. It took Rover some time to gear up to full production of the Meteor but once they became available in quantity the newly designed A27M Cromwell Tank was a very fast machine indeed with an ungoverned speed of 40 mph.
The original Mark I, which went into production in 1943 with the 6-pounder and two machine-guns, was replaced by the Mark II, which had wider tracks but lacked the front machine-gun in the hull. The Mark III was essentially the Centaur Mark I with a refitted Meteor engine, and the Mark IV a Centaur Mark III that had been similarly refitted. The Mark V was not only issued with a 75 mm gun but also had a welded hull instead of a riveted one. The Mark VI was converted into a close-support tank with a 95 mm (3.7 in) howitzer. The Mark VII was a Mark IV with added armour and wider tracks, whilst the Mark VIII was a Mark VI modified in a similar manner.
There was also a Cromwell armoured observation tank, which was given a dummy gun and additional radio equipment. The final variant was the Cromwell ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle), which had its turret replaced with a crane and winch.
The Cromwell crews in North-West Europe succeeded in the Cromwell with superior speed, maneuverability and reliability outflanking the heavier and more sluggish German tanks; however, the Cromwell was still not a match for the best German armour and British tank design would go through another stage, the Comet tank, before going ahead in the tank development race with the Centurion tank.
The Cromwell was a very important tank and does not get the credit it deserves. It was second only in importance to the Churchill as the prime British tank in 21st Army Group. It was in service from 1943 until about 1960. It was the first British tank, to combine reliability, high speed, an acceptable general purpose gun and reasonable armour. In 1943 it would have been a winner as on most counts it was superior to the Sherman (especially if you factor in the far lower silhouette), but it did not reach the troops in a usable version until just in time for D Day.