The History of the Cavalier

Source: ASIA Portal

The Cavalier became one of the many cruiser tank designs adopted by the British Army during World War II. The specification for what would eventually become the A24 tank also evolved to include two other wartime designs, the Centaur and the Cromwell.


Cavalier prototype

Cruiser tanks were developed as part of British Army doctrine, which called for light and fast vehicles to exploit breaks in the enemy lines created by heavier, better-armed infantry tanks like the Churchill.

The Cavalier eventually ended up serving as an interim combat tank design that fulfilled some battlefield needs, but never quite delivered the levels of tactical value that its counterparts in the war did.

Nuffield’s Cruiser Tanks

In the mid-1940s, the Ministry of Defence tasked the Directorate of Tanks and Transport to issue design specifications for several types of tanks which would be developed around the new Royal Ordnance QF 6 Pdr AT gun. These included the A23 Cruiser, a version of Vauxhall’s Churchill tank, and the A24 Cruiser, based on plans to replace the Crusader.

The A24 Cruiser project was tendered to two firms involved in the Cruiser Mk.VI, namely Nuffield Mechanization & Aero Limited and Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company. Nuffield won the contract and started working on the new project at the end of 1940.

Their design was reliant on the new (410 hp) Liberty engine and had 70 mm of armor and a larger turret ring to accommodate the 6-pdr. In January 1941, the Tank Board met and decided that the new cruiser should be ready for production by early 1942, and based on an existing design to short circuit the prototype phase, ordered Nuffield to build six pre-series vehicles of their new design.

Nuffield worked on the A24 project, then known as the Cromwell, until the end of 1941. Subsequently, the design was passed on to Ruston and Hornsby for final mass production. However, considerable delays were encountered due to prior commitments, including the conversion of the Crusader to fit the 6-pdr gun.

Trials began in March 1942, revealing serious problems with the new Nuffield Liberty engine. The engine issues eventually led to a triple design, the A24 (with the old Liberty engine), A27L (with a redesigned Liberty engine) and A27M (Meteor engine). All three designs were named Cromwell originally, but were soon renamed by General Staff to the Cavalier (A24), the Centaur (A27L), and the Cromwell (A27M) to avoid confusion.

A24 Cavalier Design

The A24 Cavalier was roughly the same as the Crusader in terms of size but completely redesigned in many areas. First, the hull was made of homogeneous rolled steel plates welded together with minimal bolted-on elements. The maximum armor thickness was 76 mm on the front glacis flat plate. Its hull front was sloped, and the hull sides were flat with armour 20 mm thick.

The drivetrain was made up of a set of six large road wheels, a rear drive sprocket and a front idler wheel. It had small track links similar to the ones on the Crusader, short and relatively narrow. Four armored storage boxes were mounted on the track guards and acted as extra side protection. The exhausts at the rear were also covered and armour protected.

The internal compartments consisted of the driver compartment, the fighting compartment, and engine compartment, each separated by bulkheads, with the bulkhead for the engine compartment being fireproof. There was also a fireproof bulkhead separating the engine from the transmission.

The turret was brand-new and roomier, for three men to operate around the bigger 6-pdr gun; it was a boxy and six-sided design, with an internal mantlet, and protected by 50 mm thick bolted-on appliqué armor. This became a trademark of the 1942 Cruiser series.

The 6-pdr gun was a real improvement over previous designs, as it had an effective range of 1510 m, a 850 m muzzle velocity (1,151 m/s with 1944’s APDS rounds) and was capable of penetrating 85 mm of armor at 100 m. Its secondary armament comprised two Besa machine-guns, one manned by the co-driver mounted in the hull, and the other coaxial, manned by the gunner.

Production and Variants

Cavalier profile view

500 vehicles were ordered, but production was delayed and started in mid-1942, lasting until mid-1943. By then, better designs were available, and most of the Cavaliers were soon re-purposed to take on other roles.

The two variants of the Cavalier that managed to see action in World War II were:

  • The OP (Observation Post) Cavalier, used for spotting and reporting artillery range, equipped with a dummy gun, to make more room in the turret for extra radios.
  • The Cavalier ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle) had its turret removed, and an A-frame jig and associated lifting and maintenance equipment fitted.

Both these versions served actively in the European theatre in 1944.

The Cavalier in Action

Bovington Tank Museum’s Cavalier

Due to engine reliability issues, Cavaliers were mainly used for training or auxiliary armored vehicle roles, with many being converted into the OP and ARV versions.

By 1945, at least 12 Cavaliers had been given to the Free French Forces of the 12th Dragoons. This was the only foreign use of the Cavalier.

However, due to a rushed design based on the unsatisfactory Nuffield Liberty power plant, the Cavalier suffered badly from reliability issues, and its fighting variant was mainly assigned to British tank training schools for the duration of World War II.