The War Archives - British Cruiser Tanks of World War 2

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British Cruiser Tanks of World War 2

Developed according to a specification drawn up by Lieutenant-Colonel E D Swinton, and designed by William Tritton, the tank was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill hoped that his massive, armoured ‘landships’ would be able to break the stalemate that was the inevitable result of the opposing armies becoming entrenched on the Western Front. The name, ‘tank’, was derived from the cover story that the machines, which were initially built by William Foster & Company and the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Company, were water tanks intended for use in Mesopotamia. The fi rst tanks went into battle with the British Army on the Somme in 1916 and, by the end of the war, hundreds of these machines had been constructed and deployed, with varying degrees of success. Production ceased after the Armistice in 1918 although the development of medium tanks, as well as a smaller, faster machine, described as a light infantry tank, continued. Strict controls on military expenditure during the 1920s meant that any development was slow, but, by the end of the decade, a consensus had emerged that saw light tanks being developed for infantry support, with faster, so-called medium tanks intended for a more mobile role. By 1937, this policy had progressed further, with the War Office describing three types of machine... light tanks were intended for the scouting and reconnaissance role; cruiser tanks were designed to break through enemy lines and to exploit targets of opportunity; and infantry tanks, as the name suggests, were intended to support advancing infantry. 

It soon became clear that the light tank was of very limited value and, aside from the airborne role, this type of machine was not developed further.