AFV Alphabet: S is for Sexton

Sexton 25-Pounder Self-Propelled Gun Howitzer

By 1942, the British army in North Africa had decided that it needed self-propelled guns, and the hastily-created Bishop self-propelled 25 pounder wasn’t good enough. They had adopted the American M7 Priest, but this was a logistical nightmare, since they were the only vehicles in British service that used a 105mm gun. What the British army really wanted was something like the Priest, but with a 25 pounder instead of a 105mm gun.

The Canadians supplied the answer. They mounted a 25 pounder gun-howitzer on the hull of a Ram tank (Canadian copy of the M3), in a similar mounting to that used on the Priest. After trials, the Canadian government ordered 124 vehicles, and the vehicle was designated “Sexton” in May 1943. Following trials in the UK, the British government ordered 300 vehicles, although these were to be built on the hulls of Grizzly tanks (Canadian copy of the M4A1 Sherman). To distinguish between the two, the Ram-based vehicles were designated Sexton Mark I, and the Grizzly-based vehicles were Sexton Mark II. A Sexton GPO (Gun Position Officer) variant was also built. This had no gun, but an extra radio, map tables, etc, and was used to direct artillery fire.

With the Sexton, the British army finally had a self-propelled 25 pounder that it was happy with. Sextons saw combat in Italy and north-western Europe, including the D-Day landings. It remained in British service until 1956.

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In defence of the Tetrarch

Yesterday, Bovington Tank Museum posted a photo on their Facebook page, of a Tetrarch light tank being loaded onto a Hamilcar glider. I don’t mind admitting that I have something of a soft spot for the Tetrarch, probably because they could be air-landed in a glider.

A couple of comments on the photo caught my eye. I didn’t respond to them, because I’m not really a fan of Facebook in general, and I particularly dislike getting into arguments there. Instead, I decided to use them as prompts for a blog post :)

Tetrarch - Light Tank Mark VII

One person said that the Tetrarch was “obsolete at the start of the war, never mind 1944“. Although I agree that it was obsolete by 1944, I certainly don’t agree that it was obsolete in 1939. It must be remembered that the Tetrarch was a light tank. Its role was reconnaissance, not fighting other tanks. None the less, the Panzer III, which was intended to fight other tanks, had a 37mm main gun, comparable to the Tetrarch’s 2-pounder (40mm). Armour protection on early models of the Panzer III was also comparable to that of the Tetrarch.

A second person suggested that the British would have been better served using Daimler armoured cars instead of the Tetrarch. He notes that the Daimler had similar armour, identical armament, and better performance. On the face of it, this seems like a good point. While I don’t know the actual reasons Tetrarchs were used, I can suggest some possible ones.

First, performance. The Daimler was about 10mph faster on roads. A quick check didn’t reveal how they compared off-road, but tracked vehicles generally perform better than wheeled, so I suspect the Tetrarch’s off-road performance was at least comparable, if not better.

Second, size. The Daimler was 6″ taller and 6″ wider than the Tetrarch. The Tetrarch was a tight fit in the Hamilcar glider, so it’s entirely possible that the Daimler simply wouldn’t fit.

Finally, morale. Tanks, even small ones, are more impressive than armoured cars. The Tetrarchs were landed late on the first day of the Normandy landings. German defenders seeing the tanks wouldn’t necessarily realise that they had been landed by glider. That could lead them to believe that the invasion was progressing at a rapid pace, reducing their morale and their willingness to fight. Conversely, the men landed by glider and parachute would probably get a larger morale boost from having tanks, rather than armoured cars, alongside them, regardless of the actual effectiveness of the two vehicles.

The Tetrarchs were certainly obsolete as tanks by 1944, though probably still better than no armoured support at all. They were all retired in late 1944, replaced by the M22 Locust, a light tank purpose-built to be carried by glider.

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Operation Nimrod available for pre-order

Operation Nimrod coverI’m very happy to announce that Operation Nimrod will be available in October. This is an account of the 1980 Iranian embassy siege, when six terrorists held twenty-six hostages at the Iranian embassy in London. It was finally ended when the SAS launched a daring rescue mission, as millions watched live on television.

Ebook copies can be pre-ordered now at Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play. Pre-orders are not available for the paperback or audio book editions, but both should be available at the same time as the ebook.

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Tank Fest 2015

I spent last weekend at Bovington Tank Museum, attending Tank Fest 2015. For those who aren’t aware, Tank Fest is an annual event, where the museum brings out a selection of vehicles and has them drive around the arena. It’s a chance to see the vehicles running, rather than stationary in a display hall.

Modern vehicles are often driven at speed, which can be a spectacular sight. Older vehicles tend to be driven slowly, and may even stop if the engine appears to be having trouble. The museum is keen to keep the vehicles in driving condition, so would rather halt a display than do potentially irreparable damage. Given that most of the historical vehicles are very rare, and in some cases the only running example, this is a sensible policy.

There were other attractions, too. The museum itself was open. There were living history displays from military re-enactment groups, and there were WWII-themed entertainers. There were fly-pasts by a Spitfire and a Hurricane. I spent most of my time in the arena, watching the various AFVs.

A particular highlight for me was the Polish T-72M, especially as it demonstrated its ability to make smoke by injecting diesel into the exhaust.

It was also good to see the Tiger running. I’ve seen it in the display hall before, but it’s even more impressive on the move. Other highlights included the Matilda 1, Panzer 38(t), Leopards, Challenger 1 & 2, and the Tank Pull.

That last one is exactly what it sounds like – teams of twelve men pulling an 8-ton Scorpion tank. I’m not much of a sports fan, but if that was included in the next Olympics, I might tune in.

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Lidice Shall Live!

Last night, my wife and I went to see the Lidice Shall Live! festival at the Victoria Hall theatre in Stoke on Trent. The festival marked the destruction of Lidice, and celebrated the part of North Staffordshire miners in rebuilding the village. It was an appropriate venue – Sir Barnett Stross started the Lidice Shall Live movement in the Victoria Hall in 1942.

My number at the Lidice Shall Live! festival
My number

Before the show started, we were each given a number. It was explained that the show would start in the foyer, and we would be called into the theatre by number, just as death camp inmates would have been. Our numbers weren’t consecutive, leading us to consider what we would do if we were split up. That simple question helped us to understand a little more of what the survivors of Lidice suffered. If we were split up, we might have to be apart for an hour or two. Still, it made us think about how different that question would be in different circumstances.

The show itself was very good. It started in the foyer, with the actors playing people from Lidice going about their ordinary lives. News came of Heydrich’s death, and then soldiers started to arrive, leading the people to worry about what was happening. A particularly poignant moment was a mother telling her daughter to get dressed because they had to go to the school. Knowing the story, we knew exactly what was happening, even though they didn’t. As we were led into the theatre, we passed actors relating personal stories of Lidice survivors. It was heart-rending stuff.

The main performance was a series of dances. Each was performed by local children, with a particular theme. They were all performed well, with a great deal of energy and emotion. At the end of the second dance, the children briefly came together in a way that was reminiscent of the children’s memorial at Lidice. I was very pleased that the final dance had themes of community, solidarity, togetherness, and hope. It was good to see it end on a note of hope.

I’m really pleased that the people of Stoke on Trent have begun to remember how they helped the people of Lidice. The atrocity of Lidice should never be forgotten, nor should the miners who gave so much to help unknown strangers in a foreign land.

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