The Cruiser Tank Mk III (A13) was the first in a long series of British cruiser tanks to feature Christie suspension, giving it much better performance than the A9 and A10 cruiser tanks that it replaced.
In 1936 Lt Col G. Le Q. Martel visited the Soviet Union, where he saw the BT tank with Christie suspension. This tank performed so well that Martel believed the British should adopt this form of suspension. Christie suspension, in which the tank was given a small number of large road wheels and compression spring suspension, had been developed by the American inventor J. Walter Christie. After some difficulties the British were able to get their hands on an original Christie tank without its turret (which was given the designation A13E1) and on Christie himself.
During 1936 the Christie tank was examined and tested, and it was decided to take the suspension and use it on a slightly larger vehicle (5.5in wider and 10in longer), to be armed with the new 2pdr gun. Lord Nuffield's Morris Commercial Cars Ltd had conducted the negotiations with Christie, and his industrial group was now given a contract to produce two prototypes, A13E2 and A13E3. Nuffield formed a new subsidiary to carry out armament work – Nuffield Mechanisations and Aero Ltd. This firm would construct both the A13 tank and the American designed Liberty engine that powered it. The Liberty was a late First World War design, but could reliably provide 340hp and performed well in the A13. Unfortunately Nuffield insisted on producing the Liberty engine well into the Second World War, by which time heavier tanks had appeared and the engine was operating under too much stress, making it increasingly unreliable.
That was all in the future. For the moment Nuffield performed impressively. A13E2 was ready in October 1937, less than a year after being ordered. It reached a top speed of 35mph (compared to 16mph for the A10 Cruiser Tank Mk II). In fact this high speed caused so many problems that the A13 had to be limited to 30mph.
The basic configuration of the A13 would be carried over into most British cruiser tanks of the Second World War. It had the engine and transmission at the rear and the fighting compartment at the front. The fuselage was an oblong box with a step at the front. The suspension was carried between the side plates of the main fuselage and an outer hull plate. The A13 had four large road wheels, and no return rollers. The turret was similar to that of the A9, and was a flat sided rectangular construction. A drum-shaped cupola was installed.
Early in 1938 a production order was placed for 65 A13 Cruiser Tank Mk IIIs. The first production tank appeared early in 1939 and production was completed by the summer of the same year.
The A13 Cruiser tank Mk III 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 III 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.
The Cruiser Tank Mk III probably made up part of the equipment of the 2nd RTR, which arrived in North Africa in September 1940, but when this unit entered battle it appears to have only used the A13 Mk II Cruiser Tank Mk IV with its thicker armour.
A13 Cruiser Tank Mk III
Hull Length: 19ft 9in
Hull Width: 8ft 4in
Height: 8ft 6in
Crew: 4 (commander, gunner, loader, driver)
Engine: 340hp Nuffield Liberty V12
Max Speed: 30mph (road), 24mph (cross-country)
Max Range: 90 miles road radius
Armament: One 2pdr QFSA, two .303in Vickers machine guns