The Cruiser Tank Mk VIII Cavalier (A24) was a heavy cruiser tank based on the Crusader but with thicker armour and a 6pdr gun. It was produced in small numbers but was rapidly superseded by the Rolls-Royce Meteor powered A27M Cromwell.
During 1940 the Ministry of Supply issued a specification for a new Heavy Cruiser tank. This was to be armed with the 6pdr tank gun, 64-75mm of frontal armour, a 60in turret ring, be capable of at least 24mph, weight no more than 24 tons and be more reliable than the Covenanter or Crusader.
Three different (but rather similar) designs were submitted. Vauxhall suggested the A23, a cut-down version of the Churchill. The Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company produced a heavy cruiser somewhat similar to the Crusader but with different suspension and tracks. Nuffield Mechanisation and Aero produced the A24, effectively a version of the Crusader modified to carry the 6pdr gun and powered by an up-rated Liberty engine.
The Tank Board examined all three designs on 17 January 1941 and decided in favour of Nuffield's A24. On 29 January six pilot tanks were ordered, but production was expected to begin in the spring of 1942, so there would be little time to modify the design based on any experience with these tanks.
The A24 had a fairly simple layout. The fuselage was rectangular, with a stepped front to make space for a hull mounted machine gun. The Christie suspension was mounted between inner and outer panels, and the tank had five road wheels on each side. The turret was also flat sided. This basic layout would also be used in both versions of the A27.
The pilot tanks took over a year to produce, and eventually arrived four months late. By this time the A24 had been overtaken by a new development. A team of under-used Rolls Royce engineers had developed the Merlin engine into the Meteor tank engine. It was clear that Meteor-powered tanks would outperform the Liberty powered A24, and early tests with a Meteor powered Crusader confirmed this. A new A27 Cruiser tank, also developed from the Crusader, was ordered into production (as the Liberty powered A27L and Meteor powered A27M).
In January 1942 the General Staff decided to scale down production of the A24 to only 500 tanks and instead continue to produce the Crusader until the Meteor powered cruiser was ready for production. Even so Nuffield were expected to be building Cavaliers and Crusaders until September 1943. They would then move on to production of the Centaur, under Leyland control.
A certain level of confusion was now introduced by the decision to use the name Cromwell I for the A24, Cromwell II for the Liberty engine powered A27L and Cromwell III for the Meteor powered A27M. The A24 only became the Cavalier in November 1942.
By December 1941 the first A24 was almost ready for trials, and was said to only need its turret, but this didn't arrive for some time, and it wasn't ready for trials until 19 March 1942, two months after its Meteor powered rival. The first set of trials reveals problems with the cooling system, fan-drive and engine bearings, all faults also seen on the Crusader. The second trials went even worse when the tank suffered a major engine failure. Farnborough reported that it was not yet a satisfactory design, but by this point production had already been scaled down. Lord Nuffield attempted to save the Cavalier in February 1943, submitting a list of eight 'advantages' it apparently had over the Centaur. All of these were quickly dismissed and produce ended as planned.
During 1943 most Cavaliers were completed as observation post tanks, with a dummy gun and extra radio equipment. Some of these tanks saw active serve with artillery regiments in armoured division in northern Europe, but the gun tanks were only ever used as training tanks.
To November 1942: Cruiser Tank Mk VII Cromwell (A24)
From November 1942: Cruiser Tank Mk VII Cavalier (A24)
Production: 500 (160 as gun tanks, 340 as OP tanks)
Hull Length: 20ft 10in
Hull Width: 9ft 5.5in
Crew: 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, co-driver)
Weight: 26.5 tons / 59,360lb
Engine: 410hp Liberty
Max Speed: 24mph road, 14mph cross-country
Max Range: 165 miles road radius
Armament: One 6pdr gun, one or two Besa 7.92mm machine guns