A Valiant Attempt
Securing its place on our shortlist of worst tanks of all time, the A38 gained this title by having one of the shortest testing sessions in history. Indeed the sole prototype (of the three ordered) made its only test run in may 1945. After only a few miles, on a road, in a straight line, the officer in charge decided to terminate this experience. The war was over in Europe, but not in the Far East, where this tank was expected to fight. The A38 eventually became, after the war, a perfect example of how to do it all wrong by the School of Tank Technology. It is now displayed at the Bovington Tank Museum.
Two Year Development
The General Staff specification A38 came out in 1943, asking for an “assault tank”, in fact very much an infantry tank, extremely well protected and designed for the Far East theater of operations. It was a parallel development to the 40-ton A33 Excelsior. At that stage of the war, the other medium infantry tank, Matilda II, was obsolete in Europe but soldiered on in the south eastern Asia area with Commonwealth troops and proved quite useful there. No serious consideration was given to armament, as the common 6-pdr gun was already adequate against any tank the Japanese could throw at it. The two main points of attention for this design, quite contradictory, were the frontal protection of 114 mm, while keeping the overall weight no more than 27 tons; the same as the M4 Sherman already in service. But since the latter was a lend-lease product, a domestic design was preferred.
Vickers started work on the design, intending have it share as many components with the Valentine as possible. The design was later passed to Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon, then finally to Ruston & Hornsby. The latter would eventually produce a prototype in 1944, at the price of many adjustments made to the original design, and at the end, only the powerplant was kept.
The A38 Valiant prototype was made of boiler plates, cast in sections which were bolted (not welded) together. This created weaknesses in the armor, and the system was repeated with the tall and flat-sided turret. The armor thickness ranged from 114mm on the turret front, 100 to 34 mm on the sides, 76 mm on the hull front (effective around 114 mm), and 34 mm on the rear. The frontal section was relatively narrow because of the large tracks. The driver was placed in the center of the hull, with a two-piece hatch above him with a periscope. The suspension system consisted of independent wishbone suspension units for each roadwheel, six on each side. The propulsion relies on the same 210 bhp General Motors 6004 two-stroke diesel also used by the Valentine.
Maintenance was to be easier than on the Valentine, but the engine proved much too feeble for the intended weight; resulting in a top speed of just 19 km/h (12 mph) and theoretical off-road speed of 11 km/h (7 mph), which was basically infantry pace, in accordance to the assault tank concept. The armament relied on a 6-pdr (57 mm) QF gun, complimented by a single coaxial 7.92 mm Besa machine gun. Both were housed in a massive three-man turret. The commander and gunner both had their own hatch side by side. The odd shape of the frontal armor prevented a supplementary bow machine gun. The QF 75 mm from the Valentine Mk.XI was also envisioned, but never tested.
Causes of Rejection
Designs flaws were already apparent in the bolted parts design, the shot-trap effect created by the rounded turret front, the feeble engine, the extremely tall turret, and the dubious suspension (which was never seriously tested). The prototype was completed in late 1944 but was not tested until May 1945 at the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment at Chertsey. This first and only trial consisted of easy, on-road driving; however the vehicle was so poorly designed, the test was abandoned after only 21 kilometers (13 miles).
The reasoning was that the driver was exhausted, having to force steering levers with all his body weight and therefore the seat, foot brake and gear lever placement were not conceived for such manipulations. Obviously this aspect of the design escaped all previous inquiries and was blatantly overlooked or would have needed post-trials adjustments if the design was sound enough. But the officer in charge noted in his report that “in his view the entire project should be closed”. This was added to the insufficient ground clearance (only 9 inches) and problematic weight distribution. Overall at that stage of the war it was not worth pursuing it any longer.
The single Valiant prototype has been kept as a guide how not to build a tank. Students of the School of Tank Technology are often invited to find as many flaws with it as they can.
There are two variants of the Valiant tank, Valiant II and the “Heavy Valiant”, however due to the fact very little known about them they might have been one and the same.
The so called “Heavy Valiant” came from a discussion in February 1944. It was an attempt to combine the driver’s compartment and turret of the A38 Valiant, with the hull and suspension of the A33 Excelsior. This gave a tank with superior armor to both its parents, with 9 inches on the hull and 10 on the turret, while still keeping the weight at a modest 42 tons. It was propelled by a 400 bhp Rolls Royce Meteorite engine, going through an improved transmission. Armament was the QF 95mm howitzer from the Centaur IV. Supposedly a prototype was built and sent to the Lulsworth Ranges for trials in January 1945, but its fate and what it may have looked like are unknown. Although the concept was sound in a cold war context against Soviet tanks armed with 122mm guns, its slow speed, related to the concept of the infantry tank, was no longer relevant, was the Valiant’s doom.
David Fletcher’s The Universal Tank
P.Chamberlain & C.Ellis British and American Tanks of World War Two
A38 Valiant specifications
|Dimensions||5.4 x 2.8 x 2.1 m (17 ft 8.6 in x 9 ft 2 in x 6 ft 10.7 in)|
|Total weight, battle ready||27 tons|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||GMC 6004 diesel 210 hp (157 kW) 7,8 hp/t|
|Suspension||Individual coil springs, double-wishbone|
|Speed (road)||19 km/h (12 mph)|
|Range||130 km (80 miles)|
|Armament||QF 6 pdr (57 mm) gun, coaxial Besa 7.92 mm|
|Armor||34 to 114 mm (1.3 to 4.5 in)|
|Total production||1 in 1944|