Crusader Down Under
by Paul D. Handel
The Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) Memorial and Army Tank Museum at Puckapunyal in Victoria is the home to several interesting British tanks of the early Second World War period. One of these is a Crusader Mark 1 Cruiser Tank. It is believed that the Crusader Mark I tank in the museum is a very early example of this family, and how this vehicle came to be in Australia is related in the following article.
The Crusader at a demonstration in Puckapunyal during 1941. The vehicle is relatively new and the Australian Registration C 6900 can be seen on the fright front trackguard.
The use of the tank in Australia is not well documented, but certainly its intended purpose of “Design Data” was met. A comparison of the Crusader turret shape with that of the Australian Cruiser Tank shows a very close resemblance, bearing in mind that the Australian tank used a cast steel turret. The Pilot Model No. 1 Australian Cruiser Tank had a turret hatch similar in shape to that of the Crusader, and it operated in a similar manner, by sliding to the rear. In addition, the Heavy Armoured Car “Rhino” had a turret of very similar shape, although it was of welded construction. It would appear therefore that the Crusader served Australian AFV designers well.
The vehicle was also used for training at the Armoured School at Puckapunyal
in late 1941 and 1942. Much use was also made of the vehicle for propaganda
purposes. Newsreels and newspapers of the period would often feature the
Crusader as being “ the modern cruiser tank of the type which will eventually
equip the Armoured Division”. Photos appeared of the vehicle driving on the
Puckapunyal range at speed and generally “showing the flag”. It would appear to
have been returned to Melbourne after this, as it appeared in several parades.
The Crusader on exercise again, this time in the company of some Vickers Medium Mark II Tanks of the AFV School at Puckapunyal.
At some stage in 1942, the 2 pounder main armament was removed. This has remained a mystery, but some years ago the author interviewed a former member of the Directorate of AFV Production (DAFVP), who was responsible for the turret design of the Australian Cruiser Tank, and he indicated that in early 1942 there was a shortage of weapons following the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, and the armament was used on one of the pilot model Australian Cruisers.
The vehicle apparently remained at the DAFVP for quite some time, as it appeared in 1943 with the Cromwell Mark I during winching trials of the Recovery Tank Aust. No. 2 (based on the M3 Medium Lee).
The Crusader is currently finished in a Dark Olive Green, with the shipping marks on the glacis plate. These markings have been taken from photos of the actual vehicles during their time in Australia. At present it is fitted with the barrel of a 37mm gun, but it is hoped to obtain a 2 pounder barrel in order to finish off the vehicle correctly.
Crusader tanks were also used by an Australian Cavalry Regiment (Reconnaissance) unit in the Middle East. The 9th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment were withdrawn from their occupation duties in Syria in early June 1941 and returned to Egypt. There they returned their worn out Vickers Light Mark VIB tanks and were equipped with more modern vehicles, in the form of M3 "Stuart" Light Tanks and Crusader Mark 2 Cruiser tanks. By the beginning of July the Regiment moved into the desert where they provided two squadrons for the protection of the Headquarters of the 9th Australian Division, becoming involved in several tank versus tank engagements. During these actions several Universal Carriers were destroyed and some Crusaders were damaged.
At the time of El Alamein the regiment had on strength:
5 x M3 "Stuart" Light Tanks
15 x Crusader Mk 2 Cruiser Tanks
52 x Universal Carriers Mk 1
The Crusaders used were issued from British stocks held in Egypt and it would appear all were Mark 2 tanks. A typical registration number was T45128. At least one was used as a command tank and one mounted a Besa Machine Gun on the turret roof as an AALMG. Most appear to have had stowage boxes on the rear of the turret.
The Cavalry did not play a major role during the battles of Alamein, being held in divisional reserve. In early November the regiment was chosen as the advance guard to lead the division in the westward advance. The Eighth Army's advance, however, was too fast, and as the Division was being withdrawn to serve in South West Pacific theatre, the Cavalry did not take part in the pursuit of the Afrika Korps. The equipment was returned to British stocks and by January 1943 the unit was on its way back to Australia.
A few photos of the Crusader Mark II tanks of the 9th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment around El Alamein can be seen on the Australian War Memorial Photo Database.
Thanks to the staff of the RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum; Mr Arthur Bruce formerly of the DAFVP; Mr David Fletcher of the Tank Museum Bovington for a copy of the Contract Card, and Mr Laurie Wright for assisting with photographs.
|Driving at speed in Melbourne during a Munitions Parade. The left front trackguard is now missing. The Covenanter style headlight is clearly visible. The crew appears to consist of the driver and commander who is sitting in the machine gun turret next to him. (crusader04.jpg)
|The Crusader in the RAAC Tank Museum, showing the markings as applied when it arrived in Australia. Both trackguards are now missing. (crusader02.jpg)
|The Crusader from the left side showing the sub-turret and the early pattern air cleaner box on the rear of the trackguard. (crusader01.jpg)
Article Text and Photographs Copyright ©
2001 by Paul D.
Page Created 09 December, 2001
Last Updated 09 December, 2001
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