Sunday 12 January 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Airborne Tanks

The question of reinforcing airborne infantry with armoured vehicles was explored in all countries that played a major part in WWII. Earlier, we talked of flying tanks, but that went nowhere. For countries with mature aircraft industries, a simpler and more effective method was to transport vehicles using transport planes or cargo gliders.

From the late 1930s, engineers from various countries developed special tanks for airborne forces. These vehicles were lightly armoured, weighed less than 10 tons, and were armed with machine guns or small caliber cannons.

The British light Mk. VII tank was developed by the Vickers-Armstrong company as a reconnaissance vehicle. The main quality of the vehicle was its speed, as its armour was very thin, 4-14 mm. The suspension consisted of four large road wheels on each side, built using the ideas of American engineer Christie. The tank was armed with a 2-pounder gun and a 7.7 mm machine gun.

In 1942, the British decided to use the Mk. VII in an airborne role. This is when the tank received its name: "Tetrarch". The Hamilcar glider was developed to transport the Tetrarch. During transit, the tank was held in a special compartment. The crew remained inside. Tetrarchs were used during landings in Normandy in June of 1944, as well as during crossing of the Rhine in 1945. The Mk. VII did not have a large effect on the flow of battle.

Another vehicle was built on the Tetrarch chassis, the Mk. VIII Harry Hopkins, which had thicker armour than its predecessor (38 mm), as well as a differently shaped hull and turret. 90 of these vehicles were built, but they never saw combat.

In the US, a T9 light tank was developed for airborne units. The vehicle was designed by the Marmon-Harrington company's plans, weighed 7.7 tons, and was armed with a 37 mm gun. In 1942, the tank was modernized, and received an improved turret, increased front armour, and a gyroscopically stabilized gun. The new vehicle received the index T9E1. 1900 tanks of this type were planned, but only 930 were built. In 1944, the tank was renamed to M22, nicknamed "Locust" on the battlefield. The vehicle was used by the British army, using the same Hamilcar gliders meant for the Tetrarch.

Germany's engineers, possessing the heaviest airplane of the war, the Me.323 Gigant, also worked on an airborne tank. The VK 601 project was developed by Krauss-Maffei and Daimler-Benz, from fall of 1939 to the middle of 1942. Formally, the vehicle was a modified PzI, but realistically, it was a radically new vehicle. The tank, indexed Pz.Kpfw. I Ausf. C had a Kniepkamp suspension with a 150 hp engine, allowing it to achieve a speed of 79 kph. The turret housed a semi-automatic 7.92 mm anti-tank rifle and an MG-34 machine gun.

Different sources claim that between 40 and 46 of these tanks were built. Two vehicles were sent for testing to the Eastern Front in 1943, the rest were included in the 58th reserve tank corps and were lost in France after the Allies landed in the summer of 1944.

Original article available here.

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