Britain’s finest tank, the A34 Comet Mk 1.
The Comet was arguably Britain’s best tank during World War Two. Though only introduced in early 1945, it became a beloved tank by its tank crews owing to its speed and its formidable 77mm gun. For Reg Snowling, who was a gunner on a Comet for the 23rd Hussars Regiment, and Fred Preston, a Recce Trooper in the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, it feels like an encounter with an old friend. A friend that protected their lives and helped them to defeat a strong and stubborn enemy.
The two veterans, Reg Snowling and Fred Preston, will be guests of honour of the Dutch company BAIV B.V. at the War & Peace Revival 2016. Back in early 2012 the company discovered the Comet tank in Finland and brought it to The Netherlands for an extensive restoration, which was only recently finalized. As the organisers of the War & Peace Revival Show we are proud to announce the first appearance of the restored Comet at our show for 2016.
The Comet will be on display at BAIV’s boot on Row A0-A14 from, 19th – 23rd July.
For most of WW2 the British Army operated with ‘cruiser tanks’, (formerly described as medium tanks), and ‘infantry’ tanks, (tanks to support infantry). During the war numerous tank types were developed and improved, with the Centaur and Cromwell as renowned names of cruiser tanks. There were a number of problems with the British tanks. First, was the limited speed of around 24mph. For that reason, the Cromwell tank was later fitted with a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, which increased the top speed to around 40 mph. Second, was the 6-pounder gun mounted on the tanks! This gun proved to be inadequate when it came to penetrating the heavy armour of the German tanks, such as the Panzer IV, Panther V and the widely feared ‘Königstiger’, with its 88mm canon. Therefore, the War Office requested the development of a better-armed cruiser tank. The Department of Tank Design suggested mounting a 3-inch gun, (76.2mm), in order to use the same ammunition as the 17-pounder towed anti-tank gun. The 17-pounder cartridge case, however, proved to be too large, so the casing was modified and shortened by Vickers. This resulted in a 77mm gun, which was mounted on a new tank type, the Challenger. Because of its extended hull and huge turret, the Challenger was not a success, which is why Leyland Motors started to develop a new tank in July 1943. In February 1944 the first prototype of the Comet was ready for testing.
In appearance, the Comet was very similar to the Cromwell tank, although it could easily be recognized by its longer-barrelled gun which, unlike the 6-pounder, incorporated a muzzle brake to reduce recoil. The welded turret had a 360o cupola for the commander. The armour of the welded hull was increased in thickness to give 76mm of protection to the front. To save weight the sides had a minimum of 14mm armour. Power was provided by a Rover or Morris built Meteor Mk III engine. However, the Comet was considerably heavier than the Cromwell, with a combat weight from 27 tons to around 33 tons. This resulted in a top speed of 32mph, (52km/h). Nevertheless, the Comet proved to be an excellent opponent for the German tanks.
Starting in late 1944, Leyland Motors managed to construct 143 Comet tanks by January 1945. The 29th Armoured Brigade, (11th Armoured Division), was thrilled when three of her regiments were refitted during early 1945 with Comet tanks. With the Comet and its 77mm canon the tank crews finally had a fast, reliable, well-armed tank and started training. To their disappointment they had not fully completed their training when they had to rush to the Ardennes for the Battle of the Bulge in their old Sherman tanks. But, by March 1945 the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 23rd Hussar Regiment and 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry pulled up in Comet tanks for Operation Plunder, the crossing of the Rhine. From then on the Comets proved to be a decisive weapon to finally beat Nazi-Germany. As Squadron Leader Major Bill Close of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment stated: “We found it to be an excellent tank. It was better armed than the Sherman, had a much lower profile, was very fast and manoeuvrable and the 77mm gun was an extremely efficient weapon”.
The Comet tank was so successful that it served in the British Army until 1958. The Finish Army purchased around 40 Comets of the British Army in 1960. They stayed in active service up to 2007! The best proof that the Comet was a successful tank in every way.
Employment in the war
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