Tank Medium, Mark II* (E1949.330)
In 1923 Vickers Ltd. of Sheffield and Newcastle, started to manufacture tanks for the British Army. They were the first representatives of a new generation of tanks, designed to fight on the move and restore mobility to the battlefield The Medium Mark I was the first British tank in service with a sprung suspension and rotating turret. The Medium Mark II, which appeared in 1925, was an improved version of the Mark I. It was powered by an air-cooled Armstrong-Siddeley V8 engine.
As designed the Medium tanks had a 3 pounder gun in the turret; a Vickers machine-gun in each side of the hull and Hotchkiss light machine-guns in the turret. These last were later eliminated in favour of a single Vickers machine-gun, mounted alongside the main gun and described as co-axial, since it elevates on the same axis as the main gun. This modification altered the design from Mark II to Mark II* Using these tanks the Royal Tank Corps established standards of gunnery which, in their day, were never equalled.
Medium tanks formed the backbone of the Experimental Mechanised Force of 1928, a revolutionary combat formation that carried out manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain. Some of these tanks served with the RTC in Egypt and a few were buried, as part of the fixed defences of Mersah Matruh, during the early part of the desert war. Others, supplied to the Soviet Union, fought briefly in the Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1940/41.
Restoration carried out by Vickers Plc., Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Our exhibit was employed as a training tank at Bovington in the early years of the Second World War.
One of a contract for thirteen "Light Mark IIs" (Wool/506/25) dated 5th January 1926. Modified with co-axial Vickers mg, abolition of Hotchkiss guns and relocation of commander's position towards turret rear. Has counterweight at turret rear, 'mitre' cupola, six turret rollers, rubber-tyres on top rollers, No. 3 link tracks, small shutters, front starting handle hole.
Precise Name: Tank Medium, Mark II*
The Vickers Armstrong Medium Tanks were the core of the Royal Tank Corps from 1923 until 1938.
Introduced in 1923 the Vickers Mediums were the first British tanks to see service fitted with a sprung suspension and a rotating turret. Designed to fight on the move, their high speed of 30 mph restored mobility to the battlefield. The hull was riveted. The engine, an air cooled Armstrong Siddeley, was mounted in the front of the tank, alongside the driver. Originally described as a light tank, the advent of even smaller tanks weighing about five tons, resulted in the Vickers’ design being reclassified as a medium tank.
The first version, the Medium Mark I, had a 3pdr (47mm) gun in the turret, a Vickers machine gun in each side of the hull and Hotchkiss light machine guns in the turret. The 3pdr gun fired an armour piercing high explosive projectile (APHE) that weighed 3 pounds 4 ounces at 1,840 feet/second. It could penetrate 1 inch (25mm) of homogenous steel armour at 1,000 yards and had a maximum range of 2,000 yards. This was more than adequate to fight contemporary tanks but was useless against field fortifications and anti-tank guns. These were supposed to be dealt with by a close support version, armed with a 3inch mortar fitted in the turret.
The Mark I was succeeded by a series of improved models.
- The Mark IA had the maximum armour thickness increased from 6mm to 8mm, a redesigned driver’s hatch and an anti-aircraft mounting for an additional Hotchkiss machine gun.
- The Mark IA* was fitted with a commander’s cupola; the Hotchkiss machine guns were all replaced by a single Vickers machine gun mounted co-axially with the 3pdr main gun.
- The Mark I (Indian Pattern) was only armed with machine guns.
- The Mark II, introduced in 1925 was similar to the Mark I; armoured skirting plates protected the tracks.
- The Mark II* dispensed with the Hotchkiss machine guns and had a co-axial Vickers machine gun instead.
- The Mark II**, converted from Mark II* tanks, had separate mountings for the 3pdr and a 0.303 inch Vickers machine gun; an armoured container for a radio was fitted to the rear of the turret.
- The Mark IIA had the ventilator, fitted to the left side of the tank, covered by an armoured box.
In addition to the gun tanks there were also command post and bridge laying versions. The tracks used on these early tanks had a short life. Vickers built an experimental vehicle in 1926, based on the Medium Mark I that had both wheels and tracks. The wheels were to be used when travelling on roads; unfortunately the vehicle proved to be dangerously unstable.
Vickers Mediums formed the backbone of the British Army’s Experimental Mechanised Force of 1928. This was a revolutionary combat formation that carried out manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain. Unfortunately economic recession and the conservatism of the General Staff stifled the revolution.
The Medium Mark II was completely obsolete by the beginning of World War II. The survivors were used for training during the first few years of the War. Some were issued to combat forces to make up their strength after the loss of most British first line tanks during the retreat from France in 1940. Others were sent to Egypt as training vehicles and were pressed into service with the Western Desert Force. They were buried as fixed defences at Mersa Matruh and Tobruk.
Vickers sold 15 Medium Tanks to the Soviet Union in 1930. Not adopted for production, they were used for training and were known as the ‘English Workman’ tanks. Rather surprisingly, the Finns captured half a dozen of these relics from the Russians in the autumn of 1941. At least one other went to Australia, while a single example of a developed version, the Mark C, was sold to Japan. This vehicle formed the basis of the Japanese Type 89 tank design. A single example of the final version, the Medium Mark D, was sold to Eire where it remained in service until 1940.
Vickers and the Royal Ordnance Factory built about 160 Vickers Mediums for the British Army between 1923 and 1928. The Tank Museum’s example is a Mark II*, one of 13 built under a contract issued in January 1926. The Vickers design is important, as it is the first recognisably ‘modern’ tank.
Summary text by Mike Garth