I think I might decide all of my next comps with polls! Thank you all for the Feedback! Tankettes beat out Finland by 7 votes and just blew every other option out of the water, so here we are!
Interwar Armour on a Budget: Tankettes through the ages
Martel's self-built Tankette Prototype, 1925
The concept of the Tankette was brought to light by a man named Maj. Giffard Q. Martel ("Q. Martel"/"Q" as he was more famously known). After the end of WW1, Q constantly kept pushing the boundaries of tank design in the interwar period, and ended up fulfilling the dream of every tank nerd out there:
The man built his own tank in his garage.
Major Giffard LeQuesne Martel
The tank he built was incredibly cheap, made with readily available automobile & tractor parts. The tank fit a single man and only had proper armour protection on the sides, but was seen as being able hold it's own better than the average WW1 MG-armed infantrymen.
Crossley-Martel Prototype, made by a different company and using Kegrese tracks.
The low price tag and easy accessibility made the War Office interested, with 8 more being ordered in for evaluation in 1925. Despite the interest, the vehicles performed poorly, as it was difficult for a single man to aim effectively and drive well simultaneously. Later on, one of the 8 "Morris-Martels" were rebuilt to accommodate a two-man crew. Several other companies also took interest, one of them being Carden-Loyd Tractors Ltd.
Carden-Loyd Mk I
Various Mks of Carden-Loyd's tankette were tested, with slight changes until Mk III, where they realized the issue. The tank was light and incredibly easy to transport, but was poorly protected and lightly armed. The only solution was to make a bigger vehicle, the Mk IV, suited for 2 people. Bigger, lower, more stable, with a more powerful engine but sharing a rather similar, although reinforced suspension.
Carden-Loyd Mk IV, 1926
The famous brand of Vickers-Armstrong took interest in the development, and purchased Carden-Loyd for a respectable sum of cash. They then developed the Mk V, which showed the dual-purpose of tankettes by acting as a gun-tractor, capable of tugging along a 2-pdr field gun, a 3.7in howitzer, or the 20mm Oerlikon AT gun (Yes, AT. This was 1927.)
The design was finally improved with the Mk VI, primed and ready for. export
Carden-Loyd Mk VI Export Variant. Note the 2 sloped domes where your head went.
The Mk VI was a little steel bucket, weighing in at only 1.5 tons (A Mercedes Benz Smart Car weighs a little under 2 tons) that was customizable and multi-use, fitting a .303 Vickers, a .50 cal MG, or an infantry mortar, and could act as a scout, portable artillery, an MG emplacement, or a field-gun tractor. The final version of the Mk VI, made in 1930, was by far the cheapest, lightest, and mass produced variant.
Open-topped British Mk VI with .303 Vickers in Bovington
The Mk VI was a quarter of the cost of a Renault FT.
Thanks to Vickers worldwide antennas, the word got out about the tiny tank sensation. More industrial nations would build their own versions of the tankette, with others purchasing unchanged Mk VIs.
By 1939, it was the widest used tank in the entire world.
Countries who purchased the Carden-Loyd:
Made their own versions
France (Renault UE)
Japan (Type 92, Type 94 TK, Type 97 Te-Ke)
Built under license
The T-27 was the main force of Soviet reconnaissance armour in 1932, with 2540 being built in total. The T-27 was scaled-up slightly, with minor improvements to cope with the Russian climate and terrain, as well as a standard 7.62mm DT MG as armament.
Russian Footage of the T-27. Note the openness of the vehicle, and relatively pathetic armour
Unfortunately, the lack of experience and poor adaptation to Russian weather made the T-27 horridly unusable.Lack of radios, Already poor suspension crippled by Russian terrain, and loud, hot, cramped crew compartments were among the list of issues. Even in Finland, the tankette reportedly "sank" into the snow, and was unable to move in the marshy springtime terrain.
Despite all it's issues, the T-27 kick-started the industrial monster that was Russia into modern tank production.
A T-27 strapped to the fuselage of a TBD-3 bomber, for use by airborne troops.
The Carro Veloce 33 (AKA L3/33) was the Italy's answer to it's poor armour situation in the mid-30s. The lack of resources and need for colonial defense made the fast and light Carden-Loyd ideal for Italy. The 14mm armour and upgraded workings made for a slightly heavier tankette, at 3.2 tons. In 1938, all CV-33s were upgraded to CV-35 standards, providing improvements and an upgraded armament, from a Breda 7.92mm MG to twin 8mm MGs.
L3/33 Lanciaflamme in Spain, battle of Guadalajara. Note the fuel trailer.
The Carro Veloce had an extensive record, with variants including a small bridge-layer, the "Lanciaflamme" flamethrower tank, and a "controcarro" AT variant, armed with the Solothurm 20mm AT rifle. It was also popular for export, being bought by Chinese Nationalists, South America. Brasil, Bolivia and Paraguay, Venezuela, Iraq, Spanish Nationalists, Austria, Bulgaria, and Albania (Despite Albanian CV-35s being taken back during WW2).
L3 CC (ControCarro) AT variant
The CV family's career is an extensive one, spanning almost 10-12 years of combat, from Ethiopia to the German surrender. However, by 1942, it was clear the CV was no match for the increase in American and British vehicles rolling into North Africa, and by 1943, were handed off to small units for anti-partisan duties. Their customizability and affordability made them a good choice for a country in need of armour.
It wasn't too well received by it's crews however, calling it names like “scatola di sardine” (sardine box) or “cassa di morto” (dead man’s box), or even “bara d’acciaio” (iron coffins).
A walk-around of a CV-33 in the Canada War Museum, Ottawa.
A Polish military delegation first witnessed the Carden-Loyd in action at a demonstration near Warsaw, and immediately obtained a license for local production. The local changes included a much more lax suspension and a local 7.92 mm wz.30 MG, along with being a tad heavier & slower than the original.
TKS on parade
The TKS improved on the TK design, with added weight and armour. This type also received a commanders periscope and an improved exhaust. A set of 20 TKS' were also modified to carry the 20mm Solothurm AT rifle, similar to the L3 CC. These "TKS-NKM" as they were called, saw moderate success in the defense of Poland in 1939.
TKS-NKM,armed with a locally produced Solothurm AT rifle
Of course, as we know, German and Czech tanks were far beyond the capabilities of the TK3 and S, and both the German and Russian vehicles wiped the floor with the Polish tanks, with the only success that the tankettes found being from ambush attacks from the 20mm-armed NKMs. One of the more famous Polish tankettes was the one commanded by Edmund Roman Orlik, who claimed 13 tank kills in 3 direct-actions against German forces. One such action resulted in the death of lieutenant Victor IV, Duke of Ratibor..
TKS Tankette demonstration
Japan: Type 92/94/95/97
Japan was in a similar situation with Italy when it came to tank production. Most of their steel was going into the Navy, and their forces in Manchuria were struggling to get their armoured cars over the rough terrain. The IJA's cavalry corps looked into various light tank options, with the Carden-Loyd coming out as the real winner. Japan had the most diverse and powerful tankette force, compared with other nations of the time.
Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha armed with a hull-mount 13.2mm HMG.
The tankette was on the larger side, accomadating 3 crew members and a fully-rotating turret. Early vehicles were armed with twin 6.5mm MGs, one in the turret, and one in the hull-mount, just like every other Carden-Loyd copy. Later vehicles were up-armed by replacing the hull MG to a heavy 13.2mm MG, which had adequate armour penetration (for the time, of course.) Unfortunately, despite it's advantages, the Type 92 found itself out matched in Mongolia, had poor off-road capabilities, and was eventually fazed out for the Type 94.
A captured Type 94 TK rests on the back of an M4 Sherman, note the size difference.
The Type 94 was made out of a requirement from the army to have their own tankette, one capable of supporing infantry whenever it was needed. The design was basic, and more closely based on the Carden-Loyd. Like the other Japanese tankettes it was armed with a turret covering a single 6.5/7.7mm MG. Costing half the price of a Type 89 Medium, they served their purpose well.
That is, until the Americans arrived with Bazookas and M3 Stuarts.
Type 95 rolling down the railroad tracks with with Japanese forces on board, Manchuria, 1940
The Type 95 So-Ki is a very unique case. The concept came across after Chinese guerillas began destroying Manchurian railways in order to halt Japanese supplylines. While the armament and armour was par for the course, the underside of the tankette featured retractable railroad wheels, allowing it to travel quicker and with more stability over long distances, and as means of defending the railways from guerilla attacks. The tank served it's purpose surprisingly well, ferrying troops and supplies with proper protection, and was used in the Chinese Civil War by both sides.
An abandoned Type 97 Te-Ke tankette in Burma, note the small size compared with the proper tank cannon
Arguably the strongest tankette when it came to the firepower to weight ration, the Type 97 Te-Ke (AKA TK, both the Type 94 & 97 had the same name of “Kyuyon-shiki keisokosha”, or light armored car.) The armament was the same 37mm gun that was used on the Ha-Go Light tank, making the Type 97 a strong opponent to China's pitiful CV-33s and Renault FTs.However, with the gun being in high demand for like 3 tanks, some Te-Kes had to be given MG main guns.
6 Minutes of footage of various tankettes, mostly of the Type 97.
Britain: The Upgraded Universal Carrier
While everyone else was enjoying their Carden-Loyds, Britain was busy working to improve their open-topped Mk VIs (The Export variant was enclosed.) The design moved towards more of an APC role, with the prospect of 6 people in a larger armoured bucket. This was the design that would become the "Bren Carrier" or, more commonly, the "Universal Carrier" in 1935.
A Universal Carrier armed with an infantry mortar, a Bren gun in an AA mount, and a .55in Boys AT rifle in the hull-mount.
After almost all of the Carden-Loyds were lost at Dunkirk, the Universal Carrier became the main focus, with the Mk II becoming the mainstay of Britain's carrier force.
One of their biggest upsides was their customizability, with armament including:
Bren LMGs in both hull mounts and AA mounts
Boys AT Rifles
Vickers .303 MMG
Ronson No. 2 Flamethrower
40mm 2-pdr AT guns (for training)
20mm Flak mount (used by Wehrmacht for airfield defense.)
Aussie Mk I 3in Mortar Carrier
While the Carden-Loyd was more of a trendsetter, the UC was the British tankette, with over 110,000 built compared to the meager 450 Mk VIs. This was due to their heavy involvement in the war, as they were the main APC of the Commonwealth, and had no real equal until the conception of the Kangaroo. While less popular for export, the UC was still thrown around to the Belgian, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Norwegian, Greek and the French free forces.
A prototype for a gap-jumping Bren Carrier. The white logs on the sides are rocket boosters.
All of the main Commonwealth countries helped pitch in with production, and with the help of AMERICA the UC was never in short supply. The tankette was so popular that production of 31,000 units continued into the 60s, and the use of the UC for training only stopped in 1984 (Everyone's favourite year.)
The gap-jumping Bren Carrier was canned for... obvious reasons
Other tankettes I couldn't be arsed to write about:
Russia: T-37: Amphibious light tankette armed with single MG
Germany: Panzer I: While not classified as a tankette, the light armour and MG armament fit the bill
Russia: ASU-57: Light SPG with 57mm AT gun, for use with Airborne troops
France: Renault UE: Carden-Loyd Copy, used by Germans as testbed for rockets
CV-35 Lanciaflamme in action
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Finland is Next!