Mechanical Issues of British/US Tanks during CRUSADER

Background

Stefan very kindly pointed me to this old post by Rich on Feldgrau. I think it is quite interesting data regarding the mechanical issues that British repair workshops had to deal with in the desert.  Note that this only covers the workshops of 7th Armoured Division, not those of 1st or 32nd Army Tank Brigade, even though it appears to me that at least some of their vehicles found their way into the workshop. This is likely because 8 R.T.R., operating the Valentine tanks, was better located for access to 7 Armoured Division workshops than those of 1 Army Tank Brigade.

Crusaderrepaired

A Crusader tank being put on a transporter ready to be taken back to the forward areas after receiving repair work at a tank repair depot, 10 December 1941. IWM E7014

The full description at the back of the picture is of interest. The picture is part of a series, which also features a Stuart and a Valentine tank being repaired, so it may well be of 7 Armoured Division workshops.

THE BATTLE IN THE WESTERN DESERT

TANK HOSPITAL IN THE WESTERN DESERT

During battle many tanks are put out of action, and these are collected by Recovery units and repaired behind the Battle front, often enough they are back in the Battle within a few days.

A Cruiser tank all ready for battle once again being put on a transporter to be taken to the forward areas.

Taken by Lt. Cash 10.12.41 W.O.Ass. No. 350.

Observations

The number of jobs and tanks does not match, since some tanks had more than one repair required to become serviceable again. 

Numberical Analysis and Context 

By 26 November, the workshop had received a total of 252 tanks, equivalent to 56% of 30 Corps tank strength on 17 November. Of these 119 had been repaired (47%), and 129 had been evacuated (51%), indicating that 4 tanks were still in the workshop. The return of 119 tanks to frontline service was a critical element in enabling the frontline tank strength of the Empire to keep up, and allowed a continued pursuit. A few days later, 30 Corps had only 84 tanks operational – i.e. without the returned tanks it would not have had any operational tanks left.

There was also a long-term effect. On 24 December, the total number of tanks in the forward area was 101 in 22 Armoured Brigade (35 Stuarts in 2 Royal Goucester Hussars and 66 Cruisers (34/32 each in 3 and 4 County of London Yeomanry), and 24 Stuart tanks in 3 RTR, who had just been hammered by the Afrikakorps losing ten tanks, and had 11 tanks stripped off them because of a lack of petrol.

In other words, without the activity of 7 Armoured Division’s workshop, the Empire forces would have been left with 17 tanks at the end of December.

Analysis by tank type

The Crusader tank was the most numerous tank in Eighth Army. About 1/2 of the Crusaders present on 17 November had been to the workshops by 26 November. While most of these came in for mechanical issues (about 70%), the good news from the Empire perspective was that a high proportion of these (71%) could be fixed onsite, without the need for evacuation to main workshops.

The other major tank mark was the US-built M3 Stuart. Mechanically much more reliable, and only about 1/3rd of the tanks present on 17 November (including reserve) had been through the workshop by 26 November. While most of these were again for mechanical faults, it appears that most of these could not be repaired locally – maybe the fitters did not have the skills or tools to deal with the Stuarts? The low number of battle casualties maybe reflective of the higher vulnerability of this much smaller vehicle. But overall these numbers raise questions about training and equipment and the ability to maintain a sizable forward force of Stuart tanks.

The older cruiser types were quickly evacuated, Over 80% of Cruiser A.13 Mk.IV and Cruisers A.9/10 Mks. I & II were simply evacuated, indicating that they were not priorities for repair, and/or a lack of spare parts at the forward workshop. 

The Report 

Summary of Work, 7 Armd Div Workshops R.A.O.C., Covering Period 18 November-26 December 1941 (WO 169/3861: Appendix C to CRME/1915/AFV, February 1942)

I. Received – Repaired – Evacuated

Crusader 134 – 95 – 39

Cruiser Mk. IV 30 – 5 – 25

General Stuart 61 – 11 – 50

Cruiser Mk. I & II 17 – 2 – 15

Valentine 10 – 6 – 4

II. […]

III. Summary of Common Repairs

(a) Crusader (Mechanical Faults 114)

  • Engine Oil Filter Leak 7
  • Engine Oil Leak main gallery pipe 16
  • Water leak, pump 15
  • Water leak, hoses and gaskets 5
  • Main fan driving sprocket 29
  • Fan idler sprockets 2
  • Fan idler sprocket spindles 7
  • Compressors 12
  • 2-pdrs, faulty 6
  • 2-pdrs, changed 7
  • Gearbox and steering levers changed 5
  • Front suspension lever 3

Total 120 (Battle Casualties 39)

 

(b) Cruiser Mk. IV (Mechanical Faults)

  • Gearbox adjusted 1
  • Engine overhaul 2

Total 3 (Battle Casualties 2)

(c) General Stuart [no mechanical faults noted]

Battle Casualties 9

 

(d) Valentine (Mechanical Faults)

  • Engine clutch 2
  • Suspension overhaul 1
  • Injection overhaul 2

Total 5 (Battle Casualties 3)

 

IV. Common Reasons for Evacuation [mechanical only, battle damage not transcribed]

(a) Crusader

  • Engine seized, gaskets burned out 4

(b) Cruiser Mk. IV

  • Brake drum 2
  • Engine clutch 8 

7 thoughts on “Mechanical Issues of British/US Tanks during CRUSADER

  1. Pingback: Some more on the mechanical reliability of Crusader Tanks « The Crusader Project

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  6. It is interesting that the Crusader, which had a reputation for being unreliable mechanically, was something that the workshops could repair.

    The older Mk. I, II and IV also had lower repair rates. These would probably be the original issue vehicles from pre-war which were, by this time, pretty worn out and due for replacement.

    The Stuarts had radial engines which were radically different from the ‘normal’ engines in the other tanks. I would agree that unfamiliarity would result in more evacuees — probably with the notation US – GOKW (UnServicable – God Only Knows Why).

    OT joke: During a NATO exercise, an American major stopped beside an RHA M109 sitting on the verge of a road. When he asked if there was a problem, the driver responded with “Bloody thing is US”. It apparently took twenty minutes to calm the major down enough to explain that US meant UnServiceable.

    Like

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