Sunday, July 26, 2015
The Crusader had some good features:
1. The 40mm gun.
2. Speed, and a pretty good ride over uneven terrain.
But tanks are, like ships at sea, a balance of:
Armor, Firepower and Speed.
It is with the firepower that the Crusader had problems.
While the 40mm (2pdr) gun was very good (with nearly the same penetrating ability of the American 37mm gun) it failed to have an HE round. This was a serious deficiency. One of the most common tricks of the Afrika Korps was to fight, and when necessary withdraw behind a screen of AT guns. A tank is a pretty good target, but AT guns are difficult to see, and more difficult to hit directly. With an HE round you could do damage to the gun and/or crew with a near miss, but not with an AP round. Without the HE rounds the British had to make a direct hit, not very likely.
In a frontal combat situation here are some penetration figures:
Crusader II vs. Pz. IIIF (its main opponent).
Turret Front: 1650 yrds.
Driver's Plate: 1650
Hull Front: 1650
Pz. IIIF vs. Crusader II
Turret Front: 1900 yds.
Driver's Plate: 950
Hull Front: 150
Crusader III vs. Pz. IIIJ
Turret Front: 2500 yrds.
Driver's Plate: 1800
Hull Front: 1800
Pz. IIIJ vs. Crusader III
Turret Front: 0 yds.
Driver's Plate: 1350
Hull Front: 600
Penetration does not always tell the whole story. When an AP round hits a tank a variety of things could result.
1. Metal fragments from the shell and the armor can fly around killing the crew.
2. Fragments might set off the ammunition, causing an explosion.
3. Fragments might kill one or two crew members, or possibly no one at all.
An OUTSTANDING BOOK - "Brazen Chariots" by Major Robert Crisp (a British tank commander in Africa - fighting not from a desk, but in "Honey's."
His tank, and others under his command were hit, and he recounts the different types of damage as a result.
The summary of this is that the Germans had a higher chance of destroying a hit tank with HE rounds than the British with AP rounds. From time to time the Germans ran out of HE rounds and had to use AP rounds, with the same disadvantage as the British had ALL the time.
People are always interested in the time it takes for a turret to traverse 360° so here it is for the Crusader:
10 seconds for a full circle. The Germans could do about the same on the Pz.IIIF. I'm not sure if the IIIF was any different, possibly not, but I cannot be sure.
The Pz. III had a three-man turret crew, as opposed to the Crusader's two. This was an advantage for the Pz. III since the Germans had a full-time loader, but the British commander also had to double as a loader.
The German tank commander had an armored cupola, an advantage that allowed him to observe while in combat, a far more risky job for the British commander without any protection.
The Pz. III had a gun elevated with gears, where as the Crusader II had a gun whose elevation was adjusted by the shoulder of the gunner pushing the rear of the gun up and down. The tightness of the up/down movement was controlled by a clamp. I cannot say if this was a plus or a minus. I would assume possibly a minus since the British eventually dropped the system. (It was probably no problem in the hands of a well trained, experienced gunner, but a problem for lesser trained personnel.)
There were mechanical problems, how serious they were I cannot say. The Germans had their problems as well, but had outstanding repair units. As Major Crisp commented, "We outnumbered the Germans, but it seemed they always had more tanks than we did." This was due to the German repair units that kept returning knocked out tanks to combat. (And remember AP rounds have less chance of starting fires or blowing up the tank, thus it was easier to repair.)
It was a better tank than it is given credit for. The main problem of the British was not the "front-line" tank, but the direction of the battle from Generals many miles away in the comfort (and ignorance) of their headquarters.