Monday, 31 July 2023

Soviet Armour for the British Valentine

History knows many tanks that were created from a grassroots initiative and treated with scepticism by the army, but evolved to become some of the most popular tanks. There are at least two such tanks that made their mark in the Second World War. The first was the Pz.Kpfw.IV. Krupp was originally only entrusted with the turret, but the conglomerate successfully pushed for permission to build two prototypes. As a result, the B.W. (Kp) easily demolished the B.W. (Rh) and survived several attempts to take it out of production. The first battles showed that the Pz.Kpfw.IV was the best tank Germany. had. In 1942 it also turned out that the Pz.Kpfw.IV could take on a long 75 mm gun, but the Pz.Kpfw.III could not. As a result, the Pz.Kpfw.IV became Germany's most numerous tank.

The second example is the Infantry Tank Mk.III or Valentine. Its creation was entirely opposed by the British army but in the end were forced to order it anyway. It turned out that Leslie Little, Vickers' main tank designer, made the right decisions. He successfully fought off the War Ministry's attempts to "improve" his creation and avoided overloading the chassis. The result was the most numerous British tank of the war. Formally, the British withdrew it from the front lines in the spring of 1943, but in reality it kept fighting until May of 1945, again against the army's best attempts.

A Soviet Valentine lost to a hit from a 75 mm Pak 40. The appearance of this gun was a big contribution to work on improving the tank.

The Infantry Tank Mk.III also has a special place in the history of the Red Army. It is overshadowed by the Medium Tank M4A2, but comparing raw numbers is misleading. The M4A2 was only used in large numbers after 1944. As for the Valentine, also known as the Valentin, MK-III or MK3, the first tanks of this type arrived in October of 1941 and saw their first battles in November, playing a part in the Battle of Moscow. Later the tank remained a workhorse. It would not attain the glory of the KV or T-34, but it became a suitable replacement for the T-50, potentially the best light tank of the Second World War. The Valentine was classified as a medium and quite a bit slower than the T-50, but it could be produced in large numbers successfully. It also had quite a large reserve for development. It first gained a 3-man turret and then, by removing the third turret crewman once again, a 6-pounder gun. Most importantly, it could be shipped consistently. This was the only foreign tank received by the Red Army without breaks in deliveries. Over 3000 tanks were received, a large portion of which were built in Canada.

Valentine II or IV on the Eastern Front, 1943. These tanks have the same applique armour as the tank from Patriot Park.

The Valentine tank initially received 60 mm of armour to protect from the 3.7 cm Pak at all ranges, but more powerful weapons were available by the time the tank went into battle. The Germans first got 50 mm tank and anti-tank guns and then 75 mm KwK 40, StuK 40, and Pak 40 guns starting in the spring of 1942. These guns could handle not just the Valentine, but even the KV-1. The British themselves did not consider thickening the tank's armour, since the chassis had its limits. The Red Army had a different opinion. There were no official projects to improve the armour, but several variants of applique armour were developed independently. One such tank is even displayed in Patriot Park. Let us discuss the history of these solutions.

This is what the tank on display at Patriot Park today looked like in 1943.

Even though there are no documents remaining that recorded the upgrades of Valentine tanks, we can tell when these upgrades took place. The need to improve the tanks' armour arose in the second half of 1942 and the idea was born in several places at the same time. Let us begin with the tank presently displayed in pavillion #1 of Patriot Park. This is one of the few Valentine II tanks to arrive in the USSR. These were the first of the Infantry Tanks Mk.III to be sent. 161 tanks arrived, a tiny percentage of more than 3300 tanks of this type. This specific tank was build for contract T9866 (WD numbers T.27421-T.27720) at Metropolitan-Cammell. There is no exact date but since the name plate still says Infantry Tank Mk.III**, we can assume it was finished before the end of September 1941. It was sent to the USSR with convoy PQ-3 and issued to the 171st Independent Tank Battalion on December 12th, 1941.

Like tanks from the 1943 photo, this tank received armour plates on the hull and a collar around the turret ring.

There are no details about where the tank fought and who crewed it, but dents on the turret prove that it fought somewhere. It was likely damaged in battle and the repair base that it was sent to performed the modernization. The front was augmented with extra 30 mm plates welded to the hull and turret platform. The overall armour grew to 90 mm, close to the KV-1 in effectiveness. The 75 mm Pak 40 could still penetrate this armour, but only at close range. A collar was also added to the turret platform to protect the turret ring from jamming.

It is not yet known what units used these tanks.

There is no information on who performed this modernization and when. All we have is a photograph where several such tanks can be seen, so the tank at Patriot Park is not unique. It was most likely that the modernization was applied on the Western Front and the tank arrived in Kubinka with the upgrade. After the war, it just so happened that this was the only tank of its type left at the proving grounds. It was displayed outdoors for some time, but later moved inside the park.

The same tank today.

The fact that this modernization was not unique is very important. At least one such idea was recorded in documents, and so its time and place is known. It was thought up by Engineer-Major A.G. Aranovich, at the time the technical deputy commander of the 167th Tank Brigade. The 167th Tank Brigade was armed with Valentine tanks (called MK-3 in the documents) from the very beginning. Here they played the role of ersatz medium tanks. The brigade was formed with Valentines and T-60 tanks, later T-70s replaced the T-60s. Aranovich excelled in battle in the summer-fall of 1942. According to his award papers, the engineer-major personally evacuated three Valentine tanks and one T-70 from the battlefield. A day later the tanks were restored and returned to battle. This was in September of 1942 on the Stalingrad Front. Several analogous events took place, earning Aranovich the Order of the Red Star. Later he was awarded the Defense of Stalingrad medal.

Proposal to protect the turret ring.

It was around this time that Aranovich developed his armour upgrade for Valentine tanks. These ideas were recorded by the GABTU Department of Inventions. The department didn't just catalogue death rays and perpetual motion machines, but also useful ideas as well. This was one of those ideas. Aranovich reported that several vehicles were already upgraded according to the engineer-major's personal observations. The problem with the tank was not just that its armour was not sloped. Aranovich also reported that the turret ring jams often.

A more detailed turret ring protection diagram.

One of the primary tasks in upgrading the Valentine's armour was the protection of the turret. Aranovich took a different route than the tankers of the Western Front. On one hand, the design was more complex. On the other hand, the entire perimeter of the turret ring was protected. Also, in the event that a section of the armour was damaged, it could easily be replaced with a new one. Fragments of rubber tires were used to absorb shock behind the armour. This was an unusual idea, but according to the description it proved itself in battle.

Thickening of the hull front. The total thickness was 105 mm, plus a little extra from the slope.

Aranovich addressed the question of applique armour thoughtfully. Analysis of damage in battle showed that most tanks were knocked out by hits to the front of the hull. He also installed applique armour, but his was sloped. This was the correct decision, as resilience against shells improved. These tanks could take a hit even from a 75 mm gun and return alive. The applique armour was 45 mm thick, giving a combined thickness of 105 mm.

The turret ring was similarly protected.

The GBTU did not take Aranovich's idea well and responded with a stock dismissal. This explains why the proposal ended up with the Department of Inventions even though it was useful. Either way, for the 167th Tank Brigade and Engineer-Major Aranovich the war continued. After the 167th TBr was reformed into the 167th Tank Regiment, Aranovich was reassigned to the 237th Tank Regiment. There, he continued to excel in service with Soviet tanks (T-34s and T-70s) instead of British ones. At Ponyri Aranovich evacuated 8 T-34s and one T-70. This time he earned an Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class. He finished the war as a Deputy Chief of Staff of the 3rd Tank Brigade. Here Aranovich also proves himself to be an excellent organizer, which earned him an Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class.

Engineer-Colonel Aranovich. The only known inventor of applique armour for Valentine tanks, but not the only such inventor.

This was not the end of the history of up-armouring Valentines. No one performed this work centrally, but these tanks do show up in photographs, particularly in 1944-45. As a rule, the upgrade was quite simple, without a collar. It was more important to protect the front hull from 75 mm shells.

Valentine IV tank with applique armour, Vilnius, 1944.

Valentine tanks with improved armament also received extra armour. This happened during refurbishment and clearly on someone's own initiative. There were plenty of people like Aranovich. No one cared that the extra armour loaded the suspension. Tankers wanted to live, and so applique armour pops up here and there. Even the rare Valentine X received this armour. One such tank was photographed in the spring of 1945 near Magdeburg.

Valentine IX tank in the same area with the same reinforced armour.

The history of applique armour on Valentine tanks is an example of a grassroots revolution. The idea would have been discussed at the top for months and it's not guaranteed that it would have been approved, if Aranovich's experience is to be considered typical. This is why improvements were done with permission from unit commanders using whatever was on hand. A similar phenomenon took place in American units where extra armour was made from concrete and sand bags with no regard for what anyone thought.

Original article by Yuri Pasholok.

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