Friday, 3 November 2017

Infantry Sweet Spot

The Valentine infantry tank was the most common British tank of WWII. Like the Matilda, it didn't last long as a front line tank in the British army, but commander versions and SPGs on the chassis made it to Germany. Its career in other countries was even more eventful. The Red Army used them until the end of the war, and they were widely used in the Pacific theater of war. In some nations, these tanks served as training tanks until the 1950s. What was the history of the creation of this extraordinary tank, and how did the first modifications of the Valentine serve?

Intermediate variant

One interesting quirk of the Valentine's history is that the British system of armament did not envision such a tank. According to requirements from the War Ministry, two types of infantry tanks were to be built. One was armed with machineguns, weighed about 6 tons, and would be crewed by two men. These requirements formed the foundation for the Infantry Tank Mk.I. The second type of tank would be armed with a cannon and have a crew of four men, three of which were housed in the turret.

Leslie Little, a brilliant engineer, overshadowed by John Carden and Vivian Loyd.

The Vickers-Armstrongs design bureau worked on the Infantry Tank Mk.I under the direction of John Carden. Leslie Francis Little, an employee of Carden and Loyd since the company's beginning, played the role of lead engineer. The company, already absorbed by Vickers-Armstrongs, ceased to exist after John Carden's tragic death in December of 1935. Vivian Loyd tried his luck in another field (and created the Loyd Carrier), and Little became Vickers-Armstrongs' chief tank designer.

Little's position caused the loss of the contract for development of the second infantry tank to the Royal Arsenal Woolwich. Of course, there was a competition. Overall, Little opposed the concept that evolved into the Infantry Tank Mk.II Matilda. It was clear that a three-man turret would raise the mass of the tank. This also meant that the tank would need a more powerful engine, and British industry had issues in that regard. Finally, a bigger and heavier tank means more metal, more investment into production, and a higher cost. Little's prediction was right: 2987 Infantry Tanks Mk.II were built between September of 1939 and August of 1943. That sounds like an impressive number, until you consider that six factories were involved in its production.

The first Infantry Tank Mk.III, registration number T.15946, Elswick Works, April 1940.

Little was not opposed to the idea of an infantry tank armed with a cannon. However, he wanted such a tank to be smaller, lighter, have a two-man turret, and minimal use of cast parts. This kind of tank turned out to be cheaper and easier to produce.

Little began working on such a tank on his own initiative in 1937. Two tanks were taken as the basis: the infantry A11 and cruiser A10, accepted into service under the index Cruiser Tank Mk.II. Little took the overall shape of the hull from the A11, and adapted it for a larger turret. The wedge shape of the front hull was deleted, and two hatches on the sides replaced one on the top. This solved the issue of entering the driver's compartment that plagued the A11. The suspension of the A10, suitable for an infantry tank, was taken with nearly no changes. The mass was estimated at 16 tons. Initially, the two-man turret contained a Czech ZB 60 high caliber machinegun.

The same tank from the rear. Initial production tanks had the same air intake in the rear of the turret.

The project was presented to the War Ministry on February 10th, 1938. The British tried to "improve" Little's creation by proposing that the turret should fit three people and that the armour should be 75 mm thick. All of those changes were rejected by the creator, who understood that they would increase the mass of the tank and nullify its advantages. One of the compromises that Vickers accepted was the installation of a 2-pounder cannon and a coaxial machinegun instead of the ZB 60. The thickness of the side armour increased from 50 to 60 mm. The idea of a commander's cupola was rejected, since it increased the mass. On March 24th, Vickers presented a model of the tank that had a Gundlach periscope instead of a commander's cupola.

The first Infantry Tank Mk.III at the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment in Farnborough.

Initially, this bickering caused the War Ministry to reject the project, unofficially named Valentine. The tank never received an A index, since it was an external project. Little was not too disappointed, since this was hardly the first time that the British military rejected one of his tanks.

Time set things straight. In the spring of 1939, the military returned to the Valentine project. One of the causes was that work on the Infantry Tank Mk.II was taking too long. Additionally, it became clear that the design of the Infantry Tank Mk.I was not that good.

The turret of the Infantry Tank Mk.III sans roof. As you can see, there is not much space inside.

On April 4th (other sources say April 14th), another model was presented. It appears that Little decided to taunt the War Ministry. He made a three-man turret, but with a 1270 mm wide turret ring. In the end, common sense won, and the military accepted a two-man turret.

However, the "improvements" did not end here. A proposal was made to cover up the suspension with skirt armour, like on the Infantry Tank Mk.II. The idea was rejected, since the onboard ammunition storage would have to be reduced to 50 rounds to maintain the weight at 16 tons. The use of the  Fowler Coulter Plough was rejected as well, since Little couldn't guarantee a top speed of 25.6 kph.

One can only envy Little's courage. If not for the upcoming war (the British had no illusions about this), the Valentine would not have made it past the model stage. This is one of the few cases in British tank building where not only did an external project get accepted, but without any of the military's "improvements". 

This photograph demonstrates the design of the chassis and suspension. The Canadian Valentine VI is pictured, but the hull and suspension were identical to the British variant.

One Cruiser Tank Mk.II was loaded to 16 tons to check if the suspension would hold out. Trials showed that it functioned normally. This served as a green light for production of the Infantry Tank Mk.III. The name "Valentine" temporarily vanished. To be clear, the name had nothing to do with Valentine's Day or "John Valentine Carden".

AEC A189 engine used on the Valentine I. The military insisted on using a gasoline engine, and then suffered from their choice.

However, the War Ministry had its revenge. The first contract, T7221, for 125 tanks, signed on June 29th, 1940, was signed not with Vickers, but with the Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company (MCCW). However, in practice, MCCW was essentially a division of Vickers-Armstrongs. Contract T7222 was signed on the same day with Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (BRC&W) for 125 tanks. As for contract T7220 for 50 tanks that went to Vickers-Armstrongs, it was only signed on July 1st, 1940. The Elswick Works factory was used for production.

Tracks and engines switcharoo

In reality, a delay of two days meant nothing. The first Infantry Tank Mk.III was built by Elswick Works anyway. The vehicle with registration number T.15946 was completed in April of 1940, and it was sent to the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment in Farnborough. Overall, its design was identical to the model. It received a two-man turret with a 2-pounder gun with a coaxial BESA machinegun, as well as a 2" breech-loaded mortar. The suspension was identical to that of the Cruiser Tank Mk.II, aside from the tracks, which were widened to 356 mm.

Another significant change was the engine. Vickers supported the use of a diesel engine, but the War Ministry insisted on a gasoline one. As a result, the tank was equipped with an AEC A189 9.64 L 131 hp engine, which was designed for use in busses. This engine gave the tank 8.18 hp/ton. This was not an exceptional value, but it was enough to give the tank a top speed of 25.7 kph.

The new tanks replaced the Cruiser Tank Mk.II on the assembly line.

Trials gave a satisfactory result, and a green light was given for mass production. Contract T7220 activated on July 12th, 1940. Elswick Works delivered 7 tanks in the first month. These tanks were the most expensive: 14,900 pounds Sterling each. To compare, the first 10 MCCW Valentines cost 11,600 each, and the price dropped to 10,400 after that. MCCW completed its first tanks on August 1st, 1940, and BRC&W began its production on August 3rd. 101 tanks were delivered in the 3rd quarter, and 236 tanks in the fourth.

Little was absolutely right: three factories built nearly twice as many Infantry Tanks Mk.III by the end of the year than Infantry Tanks Mk.II at six. The upcoming war forced the government to increase the contracts to 275 tanks from Vickers and 200 from BRC&W.

The last 100 Infantry Tanks Mk.III looked like this. They were equipped with new track links and Infantry Tank Mk.III* type engine compartment vents.

Early Infantry Tanks Mk.III had a number of differences from later ones, since the tank was changed during production. One of the differences was the air vent in the back of the turret. Initially, its design was poor. The tank was meant for fighting in warm countries, and thus had a plethora of air intake openings. The powerful engine cooling system circulated the air. However, the number of openings in the turret roof meant that the tank was vulnerable to Molotov cocktails.

The air intake in the back of the turret was an even worse idea. It turned out that one could fit a whole hand into it, or worse, a grenade. During production, its shape was altered. However, as study of the tanks in the USSR proved, the issue was not completely resolved.

The AEC A190 diesel engine replaced the unreliable A189 in production. Tanks with this engine were indexed Infantry Tank Mk.III*.

Another traditional headache for infantry tanks were swapping of track links. Unlike the stamped links for the Infantry Tank Mk.II, the Infantry Tank Mk.III used cast track links. Issues arose not only from poor quality casting, but low traction off-road. The track links were complicated (especially their connection). Two pins were required to connect them, and not two halves, like in later types. The pins were pushed through two connectors. This system was unreliable and broke constantly.

Towards the end of Infantry Tank Mk.III production, stamped track links finally appeared, which were later used on early Infantry Tanks Mk.III*. They had better traction with terrain, but the unreliable connectors remained. Predictably, these track links did not last long in production. They were quickly replaced with cast "skeleton" tracks, which were more reliable and simpler.

Early Infantry Tanks Mk.III* with stamped track links. The design was not the most reliable, and they did not last in production too long.

Changes were made to the hull as well. The Infantry Tank Mk.III used a complex, but effective, system of air intakes in the engine compartment. This allowed the engine to receive air, while being impervious to Molotov cocktails. The first variant of shutters was ineffective, and it was later replaced. The muffler cover was also altered. Towards the end of production of the first batch, the mesh design was replaced with a simpler and more reliable solid plate.

Types of track links used by Valentine tanks in 1940-42.

The biggest change in the tank's design happened towards the end of 1940. The use of the tank revealed many issues with the AEC A189 engine. The engine was quite unreliable. Something had to be done. A solution was quickly found: the A190 engine, still an AEC product with bus ancestry. At 9.65 L, it put out 131 hp, largely the same as its predecessor. More importantly, it was much more reliable.

The engine was put into production without delay. As a result, the number of Infantry Tanks Mk.III built for the first contracts was less than planned: only 308. Elswick Works produced 175 tanks of this type (T.15946-T.16120), MCCW produced 66 (T.16221-T.16264 and T.20419-T.20440), and BRC&W produced 67 tanks (T16356-T16421). The AEC A190 modification received the index Infantry Tank Mk.III*.

Like the Matilda, Valentine tanks were equipped with the Parrish-Lakeman Mounting.

Thanks to the nearly identical dimensions of the A189 and A190, the later versions of the Infantry Tank Mk.III and Infantry Tank Mk.III* were identical externally. The only way to tell them apart is by registration numbers. Early vehicles had stamped tracks, which were later replaced with cast skeletal tracks.

Another major change during the tank's production was the radio. Initially, the tank used the Wireless Set No.11 with a rather complicated antenna mount. In the second half of 1941, it was replaced with the more compact and reliable Wireless Set No.19. It remained a standard for British tanks until the end of the war. It was also installed on American tanks that were sent to Britain through the Lend Lease program. The antenna mount was also changed with the introduction of the Wireless Set No.19. It was moved to the turret roof, towards the rear wall. A hatch for discarding spent shell casings was introduced at the same time. It also doubled as a pistol port.

Valentine II tanks from the 6th Armoured Division, September 1941. The later tanks have ports on the left side of the turret.

The Infantry Tank Mk.III* was the most common variant of the tank. 316 vehicles were delivered in the first quarter of 1941, 372 in the second, and 407 in the third. In total, 1493 vehicles were produced, 350 by Elswick Works, 494 by MCCW, and 649 by BRC&W. This was a record for British tanks, which was only beaten by the Cromwell IV. Not surprisingly, this version became the most common among tanks fighting in North Africa.

The tank was renamed in the summer of 1941. Since new versions were developed, the old index became inconvenient, and the tank was named Valentine. The Infantry Tank Mk.III became the Valentine I, and the Infantry Tank Mk.III* became the Valentine II. Around the time that the Valentine II index was introduced, the tank received an additional fuel tank on the left fender.

Diagram of the GM 6004 engine.

This modification was quite good. Nevertheless, towards the end of 1941, it departed from the scene. The engine was to blame. AEC, the manufacturer of the engine, was overloaded with orders, and could not keep up with growing tank production. Second, Lend Lease was not just a source of tanks. A suitable engine was found overseas. This was the two-stroke 6-cylinder General Motors 6-71 diesel. The military version was indexed General Motors 6004.

The 6.98 L engine was used in GM busses. What's more important, the dual variant was proposed for M3A3, M3A5, and M4A2 medium tanks. This variant had a nominal power of 188 hp and a maximum power of 205 hp. For the Valentine, the power was reduced to 138 hp. This was quite enough for an infantry tank.

Late Valentine IIs and Valentine IVs looked identical.

The GM 6004 engine variant entered production in the fall of 1941, under the index Valentine IV. The jump with indexes should not be surprising, as another vehicle already received the index Valentine III, and it will be covered in a separate article. It was built at the BRC&W factory, which did not build Valentine IVs. It's worth mentioning that Birmingham started to distance itself from Valentine tanks, since the Cromwell became higher priority in 1942.

As for the Valentine IV, it had no external differences from late production Valentine IIs. Aside from the engine, the new variant received a new gearbox, which was good news for drivers. Until then, the tank hard a 5-speed Meadows Type No.22 gearbox. The Valentine IV used a 5-speed Spicer synchronized gearbox, which made the lives of drivers easier.

The vehicle had an extra fuel tank on the left side.

The introduction of the Valentine IV mixed up production contracts yet again. Some of them had to be altered. There were also financial changes: now, the price of the unit was separated into the price for the tank and the price of the engine and transmission. For instance, contract T9824 with Vickers, signed on May 31st, 1940, proposed the production of 300 Valentine I. Later, they were replaced with Valentine IIs, and finally split between 250 Valentine IIs and 50 Valentine IVs. The Valentine II cost 11,000 pounds Sterling per tank. The Valentine IV cost 7210 for the tank and 4490 for the engine and other components.

The Valentine IV was built in fewer numbers than its predecessor. Only 660 tanks were built, 425 of which were built at Elswick Works and 235 at MCCW. Most of them (520 units) were sent to the USSR. This process lasted until 1944, and many of the tanks were used. By 1942, the Valentine V had higher priority.

Wrong theater of war

The first recipient of the Infantry Tank Mk.III was the 21st Tank Brigade, which started receiving the tanks on August 3rd, 1940. They replaced the obsolete Medium Tank Mk.II, which temporarily returned into service with the start of the war. The rapid rate of production allowed the brigade to be fully equipped by mid-September.

After that, tanks began to arrive in the 6th Armoured Division, formed in September of 1940. The next recipient was the 8th Armoured Division, formed on November 4th, 1940. Then, the tanks filled the 11th Armoured Division, formed in March of 1941. From the spring of 1941, the Valentine I was replaced with the improved Valentine II. By the end of June of 1941, 203 Valentine I and 569 Valentine II tanks were issued. The 6th Armoured Division had 324 Valentine tanks, and the 8th had 290.

Tankers of the Polish Tank Brigade swear an oath. January 1942.

My mid-August, the number of Valentine Is dropped to 180, and the number of Valentine II tanks grew to 696. The 6th, 8th, and 11th Armoured Divisions remained in Britain as reserves, and they were not sent out into battle for a long time. The Polish Tank Brigade, which received 24 tanks, was also in reserve.

Tanks of this type were perfectly suited for fighting in Europe. Even though the threat of German invasion was gone by mid-1941, the collection of infantry tanks was not out of place.

A typical set of desert equipment, installed starting in the summer of 1941.

The first unit to use the Valentine in combat was the 8th Royal Tank Regiment, in November of 1941, during Operation Crusader. Practice showed that the use of infantry tanks in the desert was, if not a mistake, then a questionable endeavour. This theater of war favoured quick cruiser tanks, and slow infantry tanks became a tempting target. The German and Italian forces were saturated with powerful anti-tank artillery, which meant that the tank's armour was less decisive than imagined. However, it was clear that the Valentine surpasses the Matilda, especially when it comes to maneuverability.

The same tank from the rear.

The same thing was observed in the winter of 1942. On one hand, tankers complained about the weak gun and cramped two-man turret. This explains the priority of Valentine III and V tanks. On the other hand, tankers of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment remarked on the Valentine's superior speed compared to the Matilda. The smaller size was not just a drawback, but a benefit, since a smaller target is harder to hit.

It's hard to be surprised that the Valentine served for longer than the Matilda. In the Battle of El-Alamein, the Matilda already departed from the front lines, and were mostly used as minesweepers. Meanwhile, the 23rd Tank Brigade had 135 Valentines of various types. The 8th Armoured Division, which arrived in Egypt in June of 1942, had the same tanks. The 6th Armoured Division also turned up in North Africa, but it quickly swapped its Valentines for Shermans.

The Valentines proved their worth in the desert, but this theater of war was unsuitable for this kind of tank.

Tanks that were shipped to North Africa underwent preparations. The first tanks received special racks for fuel cans, which were later replaced by an external fuel tank. Sand shields were attached to the fenders, which significantly reduced the amount of dust kicked up during movement.

Valentine tanks remained in service at home for a long time. This photo shows vehicles of the 6th Armoured Division, which kept using them until the summer of 1942.

The Valentine fell out of favour after the fighting in North Africa. It's worth pointing out once more that this theater of war was ill suited for these tans. In Tunis, especially in places that were not deserts, the Valentine fought better. However, the British already made up their mind. North Africa was the last place where these tanks went into battle in the front lines.

The use of the Valentine II in Burma in 1942 also went poorly. The heavy armour was not needed against the Japanese. It also did not prove useful in Madagascar in May of 1942, when Vichy forces knocked out several Valentines with 75 mm field guns. One must also mention New Zealand, which received 98 Valentine II tanks. They did not get to fight, but Valentine III-V tanks that New Zealand received did.


  1. "The Valentine IV was not built in fewer numbers than its predecessor."

    The 'not' seems to be incorrect based on the next sentence. Was this in the original article?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Excellent information about the origins of this tank.