The Museums Crusader Collection
The Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI or A15 Crusader I, II, III was one of the primary British cruiser tanks during the early part of the Second World War. Over 5,000 tanks were manufactured and they made important contributions to the British victories during the North African Campaign. The Crusader tank would not see active service beyond Africa, but the chassis of the tank was modified to create anti-aircraft, fire support, observation, communication, bulldozer and recovery vehicle variants.
Crusader I (Cruiser Mk VI)
Original production version. The auxiliary turret was often removed in the field, eliminating the hull machine gunner position.
Crusader II (Cruiser Mk VIA)
The Crusader II had increased armour on hull front and turret front. As with the Mk I, the auxiliary turret was often removed.
Crusader Mk III
Due to delays with the Cruiser Mark VII Cavalier and the need for cruiser tanks, the Crusader was up-gunned with the 6-pounder, the first British tank to mount this gun. Design work for a new turret started in March 1941, but Nuffield was not involved until late in the year, when they adapted the existing turret with a new mantlet and hatch.
The turret also received an extractor fan to clear fumes from the firing of the gun. The larger gun restricted turret space, so the crew was reduced to three, with the commander also acting as gun loader, a role previously performed by the wireless operator. The auxiliary turret space was given over to ammunition stowage.
Crusader III also saw the introduction of the Mk. IV Liberty engine, fixing many of the reliability issues previously encountered. This featured the Mk. III engine's later updated water pumps along with a shaft drive replacing chain drive for the cooling fans.
Production started in May 1942 and 144 were complete by July. The Crusader III first saw action, with about 100 participating, at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942.
Crusader Observation Post
This was a tank converted to a mobile armoured observation post for direction of artillery. The turret was fixed in place, the gun was removed and a dummy barrel fitted to give it the same outward appearance of a regular tank. With no requirement for ammunition, the interior was given over to the radios, two No. 19 radios and No. 18 radio, map boards and related equipment. The Royal Artillery could then operate the OP tank up front among the fighting units directing artillery fire in their support.
Crusader III AA Mk I
The 6-pounder was replaced with a Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun with an autoloader and powered mounting in an open-topped turret. The crew numbered four: gun commander, gun layer, loader, and driver. However, those Crusader III, AA Mk I used in NW Europe from D-day on did not have the turret, but a 40 mm Bofors gun mounted directly on the hull top with its standard shield.
Crusader III, AA Mk II: Turret replaced by twin 20mm Oerlikon AA. Turret replaced by new enclosed turret. First tests occurred in June 1943. Had a crew of 4, and carried 600 rounds of ammunition. A Crusader armed with twin Oerlikon 20 mm guns for anti-aircraft use and a single .303 Vickers GO machine gun. The turret was a small polygonal turret with heavy armour, but poor situational visibility for spotting approaching aircraft.
Crusader III AA Mk III:
Same as AA Mk II but with radio equipment by driver instead of turret. The Mk III only differed from the Mk II by the position of the radio, which was moved to the hull in order to free some space inside the turret.
Crusader with Triple Oerlikon
A variation with triple Oerlikons was produced in very limited quantities but seem to have been used only for training.
Due to Allied air superiority over the battlefields of north-west Europe, none of the AA versions saw much action against aircraft but a few - especially with the Polish Armoured Division - were used against ground targets. The AA troops - attached to HQ squadrons - were disbanded after the Normandy landings.
Crusader II Gun Tractor Mk I
The Crusader gun tractor came out of a need for a vehicle to tow the heavy QF 17 pounder anti-tank gun. It was a Crusader tank hull with a simple boxy superstructure replacing that of the gun tank. The 14 mm thick structure protected the driver and the gun crew of six. The tractor also carried ammunition on the rear and within the crew area.
Although nearly as heavy as the gun tank, it was still capable of high speed and was officially limited to 27 mph (43 km/h). This was still hard on the towed 17 pounder guns. They were used in northwest Europe from the Normandy landings of 1944 to the end of the war in 1945.
One such unit was the 86th Anti-Tank Gun Regiment, Royal Artillery, part of XII Corps. In the 86th, the Crusader gun tractor replaced earlier Morris C8 gun tractors in two out of the four batteries. Unit veterans reported that the Crusader was popular with the crews and were often driven by former Armoured Corps drivers seconded to the Royal Artillery because of their driving experience. 86th veterans claimed that they removed the 'governors' that normally limited tank speeds. Thus adapted, they credited an empty Crusader with speeds up to 55 mph (89 km/h) and claimed to be able to outrun Military Police motorcycles, which were limited to a wartime speed of just 50 mph (80 km/h) due to low grade petrol.
Some vehicles were also used by battery commanders as armoured command and reconnaissance vehicles.
Crusader ARV Mk I
Armoured recovery vehicle based on turretless Crusader hull. One prototype was built in 1942.
Turretless version with a jib crane on front.
Crusader Dozer: Turretless version used by the Royal Engineeers.
Crusader Dozer and Crane (ROF): Used by Royal Ordnance Factory in bomb disposal.
Crusader with Anti-Mine Roller Attachment (AMRA) Mk Id:
A mine clearing device consisting of four heavy rollers suspended from a frame. Weight of the rollers could be increased by filling them with water, sand etc.
Crusaders were used for experimentation such as a flotation kit, consisting of two pontoons attached to hull sides, special blades attached to tracks to propel the vehicle in water and a cowl over engine air intakes and cooling louvres.
Crusader self-propelled gun of the Argentine Army