ASL Gear - The Crusader Tank


Every now and then I might meander into a discussion of some of the specific counters that ASL uses, if it attaches to a subject I find interesting.. So, as my first example, here is a discussion concerning the British Armies Crusader tank..
The Crusader was a  ‘Heavy Cruiser tank’ that had its genesis in a visit by General Wavell (and others) to the Russian army in the 1930’s. Here they had seen in operation the new Russian BT tanks with their Christie suspension and the speed and manoeuvrability made a big impact on the General Staff present. The British High command was use to the World War I ‘Close Infantry support’ type tanks which only needed to move at the speed of the infantry and this opened up an entire new vista of strategy that they obviously liked. When they returned they instantly requested a light tank using the same ‘Christie’ suspension. This resulted in several small and nasty little tanks which, after the experience of the retreat from France were evaluated to have been under-armoured for the job they were intended to do.
The intentions behind the cruiser tanks were excellent and still quite valid. The army wanted a tank that was fast and manoeuvrable (helping with survive ability). In any fast moving war ,as the Panzers themselves proved, having fast tanks is often better than having stronger tanks. Having very slow, powerful tanks is only really useful when you are in a war where the  combatants stay in the same area or know exactly where the enemy has to come (i.e the trenches in world war One or the Germans use of Tigers and larger later in World War II when they were more defensive than before). If a campaign if fluid then a slow tank will either slow you down or cause your formations to have to separate allowing you to be defeated in detail.  The earlier Cruiser derivatives had not been entirely unsuccessful and the War office saw the need for one with better armour to improve capabilities. This was the genesis of the Covenanter and Crusader tanks.
If the intentions were good then its failure was comprised by three separate strands. The first was in the design and production which was resistant to change and not helped by the fact that Britain possessed no industrial military tank capability due to politics and the ever present ‘peace dividend’ after world war I..(Curiously this lesson has been learnt since and the British Governments aggressive and very expensive support of BAe can be mainly explained by the recognition that the country needs at least one cutting edge military organisation that has the capability to design and produce military equipment. Relying on other countries military superstructure would be a lot cheaper but then makes the country dependent on a foreign power) The second problem lay in strategic thinking. The British leadership had not learnt the lessons of the fall of France and organisationally did not form or utilise their tank formations in the most efficient manner. Whereas tanks operate base in combined arms scenarios the General Staff and Churchill saw the armour as a self contained formation that could move anywhere and not worry about flanks. A virtue was made of the dubious fact that British tank crews were trained to fire whilst moving with the 1939 Instructions saying that this is a major advantage as
the Germans have not trained much in shooting from moving tanks, and up till recently it was known that their tanks stop to shoot
Probably because this allowed them to hit things. The British were a little ahead of themselves here and it would require much better equipment to allow ‘move and shoot’ to be a useful proposition.
Finally tactical usage was less than appropriate, especially in the ex-cavalry regiments, where often the tanks would charge forwards pennants waving much like the charge of the Light Brigade often with the same results. The RTR who had never sat happily with the sudden arrival of the Cavalry regiments often worked things out more carefully. As Bob Crisp said
At the same time I completely discounted the possibility of shooting accurately from a moving tank, which was what we had all been taught to do when it was not possible to take up a hull down position. So I worked out a system in my troop whereby, after the target had been indicated, a more or less automatic procedure followed if the circumstances were favourable. The objective was to get close enough to the enemy tank to destroy it. The first order, then, was “Driver advance; flat out”. The gunner would do his best to keep the cross wires of his telescopic sight on the target all the time we were moving. The next order, heard by the gunner, driver and loader would be “Driver halt”. As soon as the tank stopped and he was on target, the gunner would fire without further command from me. The sound of the shot was the signal for the driver to let in his clutch and be off again. From stop to start it took about four seconds. All I did was control the movement and direction of the tank.
The Cruiser tanks were never intended to be used as main battle tanks yet often that was exactly the role in which they were often forced and though they were capable of coping with the Panzer III and II the Panzer IV (and higher) plus effective tactical use of German anti-tank weapons placed an almost intolerable strain on the crews who had to ‘fight’ them.
Crusader II in North Africa with the secondary turret
 Design and Prototypes
The two heavy cruiser designs are almost an object lesson in how compromise in a fighting vehicle is dangerous in war. Neither design was helped by the urgent need for a new tank (caused by the British Governments lack of foresight and the British publics unwillingness to pay for it in the interwar years, perhaps an object lesson for today’s government but not one I expect to see recognised)
Anyway the Covenanter was designed to take 30mm minimum armour (using direction of attack so angled armour could be thinner hence slightly explaining the weird angles of the early cruiser tanks. When presented to the General Staff they requested the armour was increased to 40mm minimum. Now the designers worked out that this was the maximum the suspension could cope with but rather than strengthen the suspension it was left alone hence one more reason for mechanical difficulties in difficult terrain. Other ‘compromises’ were introduced, due to the demand for aluminium for aircraft production the wheels were switched to steel adding more weight. The hull manufacturers were not happy the tank was supposed to be welded together and complained that a shortage of welders could affect mass productions so they were allowed to rivet the hull adding even more weight. The tank ended up at the limits of the capacity for its suspension to cope with. This essentially caused its rapid redundancy as it could not be up-armoured or up-armed without  an entire re-design so by the time the technical difficulties had been ironed out the tank was redundant it had been designed to fulfil a function without any understanding as to the speed with which technology can move in war and had no spare capacity for evolving further..
 Crusader Design
Lord Nuffield, who controlled the Nuffield Mechanisations and Aero company, had been asked to join in production of the Covenanter but disliked the idea. Partially because his company had made the earlier cruisers and he did not see the need to start on an entirely new design wasting knowledge and manufacturing expertise. Showing a lot of ‘power’ the government allowed this and so another heavy Cruiser design was generated (with a prototype arriving six weeks earlier than the first Covenanter one). This may represent a weakness in the manufacturing of Britain but can be seen in a lot of other countries plus in the end proved fortuitous as otherwise the Covenanter would have had to be taken to the north African campaign and as the Experimental officers had noted – its suspension coped as long as it was driven ‘carefully’ and that it was only suitable for temperate climates.
Working Crusader III at Bovington
Anyway  the Crusader was initially designed with 40mm front armour and 30mm elsewhere also using the Christie suspension which was extended to cope with the extra weight. Nuffield did not get everything his own way as the War Office required him to ‘share’ components with the Covenanter leading to an initially bad steering system  being installed. The design almost got shot down early when the prototype performed badly in shooting trials in 1940 along with complaints about the cooling system. Fortunately for the Crusader the design was lent to Rolls Royce for them to install their adjusted for land use Meteor engine giving the design time to evolve from its initial bad impression and  by 1941 it was producing an excellent impression as a fast gun platform. When the requirement eventually filtered through to provide more amour and a better gun the tank was able to cope and be enhanced.
The biggest problem the tank faced was that it was forced into combat use before its glitches were worked out and in one of the most unforgiving environments of the desert. Things were not helped by the tanks being manoeuvred onto the container ships  without having any coolant added to their system or with adequate protection on the ship  so a lot even arrived damaged. Eventually a lot of these glitches were worked out and shipping methods improved but by this point it was far to late for the tanks mechanical reputation.
The Crusader in ASL.
There are no less than 5 Crusader variants in the ASL mix (unless something pops up in West of Alamien). Two relate to the Crusader CS (Close support) variant which was armed with a 76 with smoke ammo but will be ignored here.
Of the rest the counters represent the adjustments in the design quite well. The first counter – the Crusader I has a fast turret, reasonable speed (with fifteen though as with all the models it is mechanically unreliable matching expectations of most allied tanks in the desert and particularly the Crusader ). Its armament is a 2 pounder so a 40L and it has a nice rate of fire of two.  The gun thus has a basic to kill of ten with bonuses for 0-2 hex range of +1 so if you get close it is eleven.  There is no special ammo or even HE (though an HE shell existed it was never supplied to the vehicles perhaps partially explained by the expected role of the tank).  The vehicle is a small target which can help and has a default front armour of four with  three at the sides and rear increasing to four  for the turret caused by the unusual shape  which was designed that way to increase interior space but had an incidental extra value in providing an angled approach to incoming fire at sides and rear.. Depending on counter there is a range of support weapons.
As some Crusader models were equipped with an unpopular small turret side machine gun the Crusader I models all get this which fills the bow machine gun slot. It has a nice coaxial with a firepower of 4 and some models get an Anti-aircraft gun with a firepower of 2 (this was actually a standard infantry Bren light machine gun which could be mounted on top of the tank). Crew survival is a reasonable 4 though  the tank has an increased chance of becoming a burning wreck (due to the unprotected ammo racks that tended to light up when the tank was penetrated) and finally…it has a good smoke mortar chance with an 8 required.
 Crusaders, presumably I or II’s in Yorkshire on exercise in 1942
After early (bad) casualties due to strategic and tactical miscues the tank was slightly up-armoured which is represented by the Crusader II. Not much has changed here except the front turret has increased from 4 to 6. The vehicle loses the unpopular side gun and the crew survival drops one to 4.
The final counter is the Crusader III. Here the General Staff responded to complaints about the difficulties of taking on the Germans with the two pounder. Originally they had intended to supply a new cruiser tank (called the ‘Cavalier’) but as that was going to be late they tried to use the temporary stop gap of slapping a six pounder (57L) into the Crusader.
This introduced some changes with the gun being the most blindingly obvious with its AP kill number of a much more reasonable fifteen still with the same 0-2 range +1 advantage. This tank does have a chance at HE with a seven required allowing a shot with a kill of six versus armoured and ten unarmoured. This did cause the vehicle some difficulties as the tank was not designed for a gun of that size and to fit it in they made the commander be the loader and the gunner had to double up as the radio operator – this has caused the turret to move from a fast turret to a slow turret. The coaxial machine gun still exists at four firepower but the anti-aircraft has gone. Smoke wise this is the best of the Crusader crop with the old smoke mortar at eight still around but also with smoke dispensers needing 7. Due to the bloody big gun in the turret the crew survival drops further to an appalling three as it is more difficult to exit the tank and also (presumably) due to the extra weight of the gun this particular model has high ground pressure so is more likely to bog….
Cleaning a Crusader III gun barrel in Tunisia
By now many of the mechanical problems had been sorted out though the initial impression would never entirely go away Major Ward of 5 RTR (summarised in Mark Urbans book)
The squadron was equipped with Crusader tanks armed with the very effective 57mm or six-pounder anti-tank gun. Ward did not like the Crusader when it first appeared , because it was mechanically less reliable than the Honey they had used before. Eventually though he had given in to the army way of doing things , accepting that the British made tank did have some advantages when armed with this powerful new weapon; it was faster than the Sherman and Grants that equipped the other two squadrons, and more squat than them (being two feet lower than the Sherman and nearly three feet than the Grant)
When you compare the counter to its intellectual equals of the Panzer III and the Stuart and it does do not to badly. The Stuart was much more favoured by tank crews mainly due to its reliability and the comfort of the coolant system was funneled through the tank thus also cooling the crew. US manufacturers were also much faster at responding to problems and correcting them quickly.. Neither factor relates heavily to ASL. From a purely tactical view point the Stuarts 37LL has one greater to kill but with a slow turret. It is faster by three with no mechanical reliability problems and has better armour than the Crusader I but worse than the II or III it is also a standard sized target with a rate of fire comparable with the III of 1.  All in all the two tanks are fairly equal in terms of tactical strength (strategically you would prefer the Stuart by a mile as they did not break down so frequently merely getting to the battle). For the main opponent  all Crusader models out class the Panzer II   which was only a scout tank at this point so this is not surprising, along with any Italian tanks. The Panzer III though has a better kill by 1 but also have access to Apcr of 14 on a roll of 4 or less from 1941 upwards. Apart from this the armour is slightly better and the speed slightly worse. Panzer IVs are a much harder proposition as they were in real life.
So ASL does a good job of following the vagaries of the tank (when doesn’t it really..). Of the models the my favourite is probably the Mark II though it is obviously less hard hitting than the III. Tactics wise following the real life methods of the more successful front line commanders is best. Robert Crisp estimated it took (any) Cruiser types in a ratio of 3 to 1 to take out a Panzer IV and even against a Panzer III they needed to get close fast. In ASL the effective range problem does not exist to the same level so can also be ignored.  Scenario wise you would expect to find these tanks most commonly in desert scenarios between 1942 and 1943. They were still used (though more in a scouting role) by the 8th Army after that point in Sicily and the Italian mainland. Other variants were equipped as tank tractors, anti-aircraft platforms for the invasion of France but not in large numbers and not in representations that exist within the counter mix.

Some example scenarios using these tanks (compiled from the ASL scenario archive) are

Crusader ITH14Midsummers Nights Dream 
Crusader I & IIS6Half a Chance(Hollow legions)
 G9Sunday of the DeadThe General 25 No 6 (from VFTT)
Crusader II37Khormsin(West of Alamein)
 DR6Killing Field 
Crusader II & IIIAK5Action along the Rahman Track 
 O45.2King of the Hill 

This might seem a limited list for what was one of the most numerous British tanks but as most tank memoralists served in Stuarts most ‘actions’ to attract the eye of scenario designers are thus targeted in other directions.  So perhaps this is also a call for some of the excellent scenario designers out there to produce a few more Crusader scenarios for the soon to be re-released West of Alamein/Hollow Legions..

O give me a home where no Jerry tanks roam
Where no Mark IVs or armoured cars stray
Where flap is a word that seldom is heard
And no Stukas or Messerscmitts play
 O give me a land where there’s no blinking sand
To get in your ears and your stew
Where no B echelon with another flap on
Goes screaming out into the blue
 For I’d rather exchange the thirty yards’ range
And a couple of cities quite near
And instead of this we would watch Arsenal score
And replenish ourselves with more beer.
 Poem by men of 5th RTR to the theme of ‘Home on the Range’

Other References
I used the Men At Arms on the Crusader/Convenanter for this. It was written by David Fletcher who is the Director of Bovingdon Tank Museum.
Most photos were gleaned off the web and Wikipedia especially
Counter art is MMP copyright as always
Finally I can recommend ‘Brazen Chariots‘ as an interesting read concerning British tank tactics in the desert. The writer served in Stuarts mainly but his general experience would cover other vehicles.
Mark Urban’s recent book  The Tank War on 5 RTR follows the men of one unit through the war ( a style of history I appreciate)

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