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British Covenantor in North Africa

Discussion in 'North Africa: Western Desert Campaigns 1940 to Ope' started by Vince Noir, Mar 4, 2007.

  1. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    From mid-1942, the Detroit Arsenal was going to flood Britain, and everywhere else, with tanks. I don't understand the argument about better tanks waiting to be built, when from this point onwards Britain didn't really need to build another tank.

    Well, it's better than not having any equipment to train on at all. Soviet crews were lucky to have had even a couple of hours in a tank prior to allocation during the Battle Of Moscow, according to some articles I've read.

    And again, was it as unreliable as its reputation suggests? Some solid availability data would be useful, I would suggest.
     
  2. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    Nevertheless - the British continued developing their full anti-invasion preparations on into the Spring of 1942 in case the Germans should attempt a rapid invasion.

    Ah, but WAS there? For LMS??? What tanks did THEY build after the Covenantor? ;)
     
  3. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Re 1 . The LMS were good at making railway engines. If they had stuck to making railway engines Britain might not needed to have imported 800 railway engines lease lend from the US.

    Re 2. No one should have made the Covenanter, certainly not in the numbers built. It was a poor design based on a pre war specification to find a cheaper and lighter cruiser tank. It crept into production at a time of emergency and was mass produced at a time when production figures were all important. After the immediate emergency passed, i.e. June 1941, production should have been closed down and the capacity used for something else, perhaps for tanks capable of fitting the 100+ 6 Pdr tank guns in production in 1941 which were subsequently fitted to field carriages for want of tanks capable of mounting them.

    Re 3 it is only unproven if you choose to ignore the evidence presented. a) the verdict of the official historian, David Fletcher, drawing on official source material documents and in his role as curator of the RAC Centre Bovington access to a good collection of British WW2 AFVs. b ) The historic fact that no one ever seems to have asked for the vehicle. c) On a good day a Covenentor might have performed as well as a Crusader Mk II. Almost as good as a mediocre, under armed and armoured unreliable tank doesn't promise success. If you feel strongly about the matter come and visit the national Archives or the records held at Bovington.

    Re 4. The Churchill was rushed into service before its teething problems were resolved. It was designed to take a 6 pdr gun and offered a 3" Howitzer/75mm gun option in the hull and potential for development. The Covenentor was designed to be as small as possible was already at the weight limit of its suspension. Its flaws were not teething problems but fundamental to the design, probably as a result of designing for minimum cost and entrusting the job to a firm with no experience in AFV manufacture!
     
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  4. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    ...who is not infallible, and has been known to correct his own earlier mistakes and opinions. HOW old is The Great Tank Scandal now?

    Does it for example mention the dozen or so Covenanters that saw service in North Africa?


    My point wasn't about locomotives - it was about was the Covenantor the best tank that LMSR could have built? ;)

    Also, it's worth remembering that... "It crept into production at a time of emergency and was mass produced at a time when production figures were all important"...tanks weren't actually included in the Emergency Production period ;) See Postan's British War Production. Tank production just went on at its "normal" pace at that time.


    Much as I'd like to I'm on the wrong side of the Irish Sea. But my point about "unproven" was that it now appears that a small number might have seen combat in North Africa - and it would be interesting to see what the unit war diary says about the event...
     
  5. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    Well, this isn't really true. If it was built to design it would have had aluminium wheels, an all-welded turret, and a larger cooling fan due to a more compact drivetrain and steering mechanism.

    Unfortunately, aluminium was prioritised to the aircraft industry, welders were prioritised to shipbuilding, and the urgent need for production led to the use of a more conventional drivetrain.

    All these things could have been amended if totally reliable tanks were the top priority. But they weren't, and the Mk.I Covenanter reflected this.
     
  6. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Really? What is the evidence that any tank crews ever went into battle in the Covenentor in the Middle East?



    http://www.missing-lynx.com/articles/britain/covenanter.htm
    The Covenentor's chronic cooling and ventilation problems resulted it deemed unsuitable for overseas use. Who in their right mind would consider asking tank crews to risk their lives in this vehicle in the Middle east? What would be the purpose of taking a battlefield trial of a vehicle known to be inferior to the Crusader? If such a trial existed, where is the report? Or for that matter the court martial documentation for the eejitt who order it?

    If you want to look at War Diaries you need to identify the unit which might have used them. It could not have been issued without the appropriate spares.
     
  7. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    How can we definitely declare they didn't without identifying any unit they could have been issued to and checking their war diary?


    Yet up to a dozen WERE sent ;)

    How many "official captions" actually noted that the Covenanter was crap??? :) It's not the kind of thing that official captions said - the blunt truth!
     
  8. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    In fact, that official caption MIGHT indeed be somewhat astray of the mark!

    This is not actually the case! Because TWO COVENANTERS and a Crusader were actually issued to "A" Sqn of the embryonic New Zealand 19th Armoured Regiment, a unit that was converting over from infantry at Abbasia - Abbasia was actually the Armour School. It's "formation", training, and its sojourn at Abbasia and elsewhere in the Delta is detailed HERE - http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-19Ba-c15.html It was formed with the 171 survivors of the NZ 4th Infantry Brigade's 19th Infantry battalion...

    ...and noone could say THEY were newly arrived in North Africa!...

    ...and it notes that the Squadron used the three tanks until they were completely worn out! They only seem to have had these three plus one or more Shermans..see the text...until the whole unit was re-equiped with Shermans months later. By then, over those many months of training, the British tanks were completely worn out - and one of the three tanks was destroyed in a remarkable training incident!!!

    Perhaps a coincidence that the Covenanter in the pic seems to be damaged???

    The fact that Abbasia was the Armour School MIGHT also account for the multiplicity of types in that pic...going by that account, mechanics were trained there too...
     
  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    We have an explanation. The photo was taken at a training camp and the activity was sufficiently late in the war for shipping to send training vehicles were send for use there for conversion of NZ infantry to armour. None of which supports the idea of this officially un-battleworthy tank being used in combat.
     
  10. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    It was the Crusader that got written off according to the blurb. And from the photo it looks as if they had a Valentine there as well.

    From the text they were issued with the Covenanters in Dec '42, and the photo is dated March '43, so they got at least 3 months use out of them, despite whatever cooling problems they may have had. Note that the tanks were "worked overtime".

    Edit: used until Sept '43 according to this source: http://antipodeanarmour.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/cruiser-tank-mk-v-covenanter.html

    Don't know if they were running for all this time, but it's 9-10 months if they were.

    Also a Dec '42 handover would tend to go along with the rumour that 6-10 were issued to make up the numbers for El Alamein. I doubt two would have been shipped just for the New Zealanders. I would guess a number were originally shipped along with either a batch of Crusaders, or with Kingforce, used for whatever they were going to be used for, and then handed over to the needy and desperate.
     
  11. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    Are we grading on a curve now? :)

    Do they get extra credit for trying really, really hard to do something they had no business attempting?

    Further if it was not part of some "build whatever you can now" program, then constructing over a thousand of them is even more of a unjustified waste of resources for a type that may or may not have gotten a dozen units close to enemy action.
     
  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    While it might have been understandable for the Mk I's to have been built on speculation that they might work with all the half measures and substitution's the following "Mark's" cannot. There was no prospect of Aluminum Wheels, Welded turret or suitable Drivetrain, only lash-up quick fixes, which never seemed to do the job, or when they did, the result created another problem that required another lash-up quick fix.
     
  13. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    That looks like an Abbasia School pic, rather than a 19th Armoured pic ;)

    ...for TWO of the North African Covenanters...

    Well, someone was impressed enough....for the Covenanter wasn't ordered in one bulk lot! The number produced was the total of almost a dozen seperate batches ordered from LMS, English Electric and Leyland over a period of time!

    Then again - see the reliability test remarks!
     
  14. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    According to the Peter Brown article, the service/reliability test results are in WO185-6, so it would be interesting to see the extent of the trial, and just what the defects with the Covenanter (and the other tanks) were.

    Service data is apparently in WO185-5,6 and 8, so it would again be interesting to see how this compares or contrasts with the above test.

    ACI 52/43 of 9 January 1943 "Disposal of Obsolete A Vehicles" apparently gives dispositions for further usage or scrapping of tanks in North Africa, so Covenanters might be listed there. I live nowhere near Kew or Bovington, but someone may be able to get hold of these records.

    Finally there's an odd quote from Fletcher's Osprey book on the Crusader/Covenanter:

    It's strange because it's tautological - it's accusing the instruction book of fibbing when the book itself is stating that efforts to improve the cooling further are still ongoing.
     
  15. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    ...possibly going on the evidence of the equally famous pic of three convenaters sort if side by side, with three types of louvre cover...

    ...but the gun mantlets are also different! It's more like three different marks of Covenanter than ongoing changes within a particular mark.

    And also...

    ...possibly forgetting that three separate manufacturers produced Covenanters? ;)
     
  16. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    It would be interesting to find out when the update to the instruction book, indicating adequate cooling in temperate climes, was enacted.

    I would guess it would have been prompted by the results of the July '42 trial. (Note also the trial was conducted during one of the hottest months of the year).

    So we would kind of have a timeline of:

    1000 mile service test > apparently satisfactory result > update to instruction book > tanks sent to Egypt for desert trials*



    *possibly after further attempts to improve cooling
     
  17. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    I know AP publicatons by the Air Ministry were "document controlled", with an index listing and dating any changes, but I've never seen it in Army manuals, they just seemed to print a new edition if there were major amendments :(

    ( Earlier editions MAY simply have been destroyed on receipt of the new - It's proved difficult for the guys on HMVF to turn up early Austin K5 manuals for example, only later ones after the 1943 lubrication specification changes :( )
     
  18. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    Covenanter II, Covenanter III and Covenanter IV and Covenanter II C.S., Covenanter III C.S. and Covenanter IV C.S. : instruction book, 1942

    Genre/Form: Handbooks, manuals, etc
    Material Type: Government publication, National government publication
    Document Type: Book
    All Authors / Contributors: London Midland and Scottish Railway Company.
    OCLC Number: 506084912
    Notes: Technical manual.
    Includes amendment no. 1 dated January 1943.
    Includes 1 fold-out lubrication diagram in book pocket.
    Chilwell catalogue no. 62/399.
    Description: vi, 94 p., [13] folded p. of plates : ill. ; 28 cm.



    Note that all Covenanter I's were modified to become Covenanter II's from April '42, and IV's started production in June '42, so this instruction book would have dated from this month at the earliest i.e. the original Covenanter I would have been covered by a different instruction book.

    So the note about adequate cooling would most likely have been in the first issue (mid-42), with a smaller possibility it was added in the 1 Jan 43 amendment.
     
  19. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    From Peter Brown's article...

     
  20. Don Juan

    Don Juan New Member

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    There are some interesting straight-from-the-horses-mouth memoirs from veteran Covenanter trainees (mainly drivers) here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=covenanter%20tank&items_per_page=10&page=5

    I listened to about seven of them, and there isn't one complaint about cooling or breakdowns. Some of them enjoyed the Covenanter, some abhored it, but the consistent problem seems to have been with brake failure due to a loss of air pressure. The solution seemed to be to ease back on both steering sticks, thereby slowing both tracks, and not to use the brake at all!

    Even then, it sounds like the brake problems were accentuated by overuse.

    Can't help but suspect that the whole cooling issue with the Covenanter is overblown. It seems to have had lots of niggling faults (such as driver entry and exit) that made it more appropriate for training than combat, but hopeless mechanical unreliability doesn't appear to be one of them.
     

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