Light Tanks for India

David Fletcher MBE, former Tank Museum Historian, presents another in a series of exclusive articles inspired by the historic documents and photographs held in the Archive.

17th April 2014

Leafing through back issues of The Royal Tank Corps Journal particularly around 1930 and 1931, one is struck by the number of short articles by Royal Tank Corps officers concerning the future of tanks in India. Mostly they seem to be aware that the few tanks that had been shipped out there so far, in previous years, were unsuitable. They seem to have been more impressed by the performance of two Carden-Loyd Mark VI Carriers which had been evaluated by 8th Armoured Car Company in Waziristan in April 1930, although they were considered underpowered and lacking adequate protection for the crew. With service on the North West Frontier in mind they are looking forward to receiving some real light tanks, developed from the Carden-Loyd, which are due to arrive in the not too distant future.

The tanks they are expecting are a type known as the Light Tank Mark IA, four of which had been ordered from Vickers-Carden-Loyd Ltd. in July 1930. They appear to have been the same as five such tanks built for the British Army at home as Carden-Loyd Mark VIII by the manufacturers but designated Light Tanks Mark IA by the War Office, following on from four Light Tanks Mark I, all acquired for evaluation purposes, as of course were the four ordered for India.

The four tanks arrived in India at the end of January 1931. They were sent to Chaklala, near Rawalpindi for preliminary running-in trials which commenced on 25 February and then sent to the Chaklala testing ground, where they were tested over a series of obstacles, most of which had been designed to test wheeled vehicles. These they seem to have found too easy so other, more difficult obstacles were found that were too difficult for wheeled vehicles. These included a steep slope, sand and water.

The Light Tank Mark IA was powered by a Meadows, six-cylinder water-cooled petrol engine rated at 66bhp. It drove the front sprockets through a two-speed primary and two-speed auxiliary gearbox and used clutch and brake steering. The only differences between the Indian and British tanks was that the Indian tanks were fitted with Horstman suspension with a horizontal coil spring, whereas those built for the British Army had, at least to begin with, quarter-elliptical leaf springs. Also those tanks built for India had a series of five armoured ventilation louvres over the engine compartment on the off side, which you would not find on their British counterparts.

When the tests at Chaklala were complete the four tanks set out for Razmak, by road. They travelled in a convoy with other types of transport and seem to have done quite well. The total distance was 270 miles, which took four days, and they maintained an average speed of 15 mph. However on a speed trial one of them got up to 30mph which was reckoned to be quite good. A few track pins were broken when they struck stones on the road but they were easily replaced.

Once at Razmak trials were carried out on the surrounding hills. Of course it was appreciated that no vehicle yet built could cope with the steep sides of Waziristan’s mountains but in ordinary hilly country, the foothills, they could easily cope with slopes of 1 in 2.5, much to the dismay, it is said, of any local tribesmen who witnessed the performance. The hillsides were largely composed of shale, which was loose anyway, but it had been made a lot worse by the actions of frost, sunshine and snow, which broke it up and loosened it even more. There was still a lot of snow lying about, much of it only an inch or two thick although in places it had drifted into patches that were twelve inches or even two feet deep. The tanks could cope with loose shale and light snow, but the deeper drifts proved too much for them. A combination of snow and stones working its way into the tracks caused them to come off and, on the second day of the trial, this happened to two of the tanks.

Once the trials around Razmak were over the tanks made the long trip back to Chaklala. Here a second trial was staged for the benefit of the Commander-in-Chief, India, Sir Philip Chetwood, and senior Royal Tank Corps officers serving out there. Indeed they had so many spectators that sixteen six-wheeled lorries (Morris-Commercial 30 cwts.) were required to carry them all about. These trials included an attack on a barbed wire entanglement, breaking through a mud wall 18 inches thick and crossing a trench five feet wide. They then had to tackle some boulder strewn ground, cross water two and half feet deep and climb up and work their way down a steep hill. All of which was completed successfully, so hopefully the C-in-C was happy. Up to that point each tank had run about 1,500 miles, and in that time it had only proved necessary to remove three links from each loop of track due to stretching.

The tanks were then to be removed and stripped for inspection, after which they would take part in gunnery trials. At some stage, probably after the events recorded above, each tank was fitted with a different type of turret cupola. Received opinion in India at the time reckoned that any armoured vehicle operating on the North West Frontier should have a cupola, mounted on top of the turret, which the vehicle commander could use to observe what was going on without falling victim to a sniper. The four tanks had been delivered without any such thing, so four different patterns were fitted and tested. We don’t know the results but since the next tank sent out there, the Light Mark IIB Indian Pattern was fitted with a box-shaped one with drop down sides presumably that was the most successful.