Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger
|Tank, Cruiser, Challenger (A30)|
Cruiser tank Challenger (A30)
|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|Used by||United Kingdom
Polish Armed Forces in the West Czechoslovakia
|Designer||Birmingham Carriage & Wagon Company|
|Weight||31.5 long tons (32.0 t)|
|Length||26 ft 4 in (8.03 m)|
|Width||9 ft 6.5 in (2.91 m)|
|Height||8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)|
|Crew||5 (Commander, gunner, loader, co-loader, driver)|
|Armour||20–102 mm (0.79–4.02 in)|
|Ordnance QF 17 pounder (76 mm)
|0.30 in Browning machine gun|
|Engine||Rolls-Royce Meteor V-12 petrol engine
600 hp (450 kW)
6 road wheels
|105 mi (169 km)|
|Speed||32 mph (51 km/h)|
The Tank, Cruiser, Challenger (A30) was a British tank of World War II. It mounted the QF 17-pounder anti-tank gun on a chassis derived from the Cromwell tank to add heavier anti-tank firepower to the cruiser tank units.
The design compromises made in fitting the large gun onto the Cromwell chassis resulted in a tank with a powerful weapon, but with less armour. The extemporised Sherman Firefly conversion of the US-supplied Sherman was easier to produce and, combined with delays in production, meant that only 200 Challengers were built. However, it was able to keep up with the fast Cromwell tank and was used alongside them.
The driving force in the development of Challenger was Roy Robotham. Robotham had been a Rolls-Royce executive in the car division who, with no work to do, had led a team to develop a tank powerplant from the Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine. The Rolls-Royce Meteor gave the British a powerful, reliable engine, which would power the A27M Cruiser Mk VIII Cromwell tank. Robotham's contributions gained him a place in the Ministry of Supply and on the Tank Board, despite his lack of experience in tank design.
Initially, Vickers had been working on a "High Velocity" 75 mm (3.0 in) gun to be fitted to the Cromwell, but it was realised that the Cromwell's turret ring was too small to mount it. There were longer-term plans to develop improved tanks to replace the Cromwell - this would deliver the interim Comet tank and, at the end of the war, the Centurion tank.
The General Staff brought forward specification A29 for a 17-pounder-armed cruiser tank. This was passed over for the alternate specification, A30 for a 17-pounder-armed tank.
In 1942, an order for a 17-pounder-gun-armed tank was placed with Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (BRC&W) expecting it to be based on the A27M components. Turret and gun mounting was in the hands of Stothert & Pitt. Birmingham Carriage had to modify the Cromwell hull to take a bigger turret.
The hull machine gun was removed to provide stowage space for the long 17 pounder cartridges. It was expected this larger ammunition, together with its stowage forward, would require two loaders and hence a larger turret. To accommodate the large weapon and a second loader, a turret larger than that of the Cromwell was required and the hull had to be lengthened; and an extra road wheel added. This change in length, without a corresponding change in width across the tracks, reduced mobility compared to the Cromwell.
In order to keep the weight under control, compromises had to be made and armouring was reduced. It was not possible to reduce hull armour, so it was reduced on the turret - 63 mm on the front and 40 mm on the side compared to 75 mm and 60 mm on the Cromwell. As the base of the turret was unprotected, a jacking feature was fitted to clear any jam resulting from enemy action.
The first Challenger was completed in 1942. When the second was tested at Lulworth, it was criticized that, although it would be effective at long range against the current best-gunned tank in German service (the Panzer IV "Special" with the long 75 mm gun), at shorter ranges it would be at a disadvantage due to slow firing rate and thin armour.
An order for 200 was placed in February 1943. In November of that year it was announced that no more would be ordered.
The vehicle was initially unpopular in service, with crews complaining of track-throwing, lack of armour, and high silhouette.. No provision had been made for deep wading trunking and the A30 was unable to participate in the Normandy landings. Challenger crews had to wait until ports had been secured and the Mulberry harbours completed.
The track throwing saw a great deal of attention and confidence in the vehicle increased. Conversion of the Sherman Firefly was easier to build however, and production of the Challenger was stopped with about 200 built.
Both Challenger and Firefly were armed with the 17pounder and they were used in the same role within British and Commonwealth Forces, accompanying larger tank squadrons to deal with heavy threats. Many of those built were issued to units using Cromwells, simplifying maintenance as they shared many parts. In comparison with Firefly, the Challenger was liked by its crews as it was faster and more agile, while the Firefly had an even larger silhouette.. In small numbers, the vehicle struggled to overcome it's initial bad reputation though.
Other allied forces were also issued with the Challenger. The 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade used the Challenger during its operations besieging Dunkirk. After the war the Czechoslovak government purchased 22 Challengers from the brigade inventory. These vehicles served in the Czechoslovak army (first with 11th, later with 23rd Tank Brigade and finally they were concentrated into the 13th Independent Tank Battalion) until put in reserve in 1951 and scrapped in 1959.
The Avenger or SP 17pdr, A30 (Avenger) was a variant on the Challenger idea with a differently shaped open topped turret to help reduce weight. With priority production at Vauxhall Motors for the Comet tank, those built in 1945 were not ready for use until after the end of the war in Europe. Some 250 were built and these formed part of the British Army of the Rhine in Germany.
Two vehicles survive. One is at the Overloon War Museum in the Netherlands. The other is awaiting restoration at the Isle of Wight Military Museum in the United Kingdom. Once restored, it will be displayed at the Bovington Tank Museum.
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