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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Medium Mirage

For the last three weeks I have been looking at the Vickers Medium tanks of the inter war period, and I think I might have discovered some bits and pieces. Now I posted some of this on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, but I'm going to repeat it here so it’s in a more permanent location, and because the subject has been about as easy to nail down as a mirage is. This why I've been wrestling with it for so many weeks. It didn't help that when I thought I had all my facts lined up I did one last search and bang, new information appeared that tipped everything on its head.

First off, the Vickers Medium is often stated as appearing mysteriously (see Mechanised Force by David Fletcher, for an example) in 1923 with none of the usual development reports having survived. Equally its often stated that the Dragon Gun Tractors (named, as the story goes, for a pun on Drag-Gun) are developments of the Vickers Medium, as they both share a striking similarity in their running gear. As well as the Dragon there was an 18-pounder gun carrier which would carry a field piece portee style and could be dismounted from ramps.
Both these projects are dated from 1922, the year before the Vickers Medium appeared. Therefore, it's likely the other way around and the Medium is a development of the Dragon. You would just need to stick an armoured body on it with a turret on the chassis.
Some websites claim these are prototype Vickers Mediums, they're not. But you can see Seal in the background.
Two Dragons were so converted in the mid-1930's and served at RAF Habbaniya. These had the body of a Rolls Royce Armoured Car fitted and served the RAF's No 1 Armoured Car Company. In the company Rolls Royce had a name with a prefix before it, which read HMAC. This stood for His Majesties Armoured Car. The two converted Dragons were named HMAT Walrus and HMAT Seal. The "T" being for Tank. HMAT Seal went through several modifications during its life, eventually in 1941 she was fitted with a large box body as an APC. Both served in combat against besieging Iraqi troops in 1941, helping to defend the main gate with long range machine gun fire.
Seal, Walrus and a Carden-Loyd carrier of some sort. These are the versions which both saw action
Walrus once had another name...
A hot dusty climate is where the Vickers Medium may have seen combat, this time in Egypt against the Axis, and this is where things become difficult. Google will provide all sorts of stories about where and how the Vickers Mediums were used. The first big difficulty is to lock down exactly how many Mediums were in service. Only the Mk.IIA and Mk.IIA* were built for use in Egypt, and the exact number is unknown, although many sources say there were ten Mk.IIA's built. Other documents point to about twenty four in service with 6th Royal Tank Regiment. Critically the war diary for three months in 1940 are missing and I suspect these might shed some light on what exactly happened to the Mediums. What follows is the data points I do have.

In August 1939 A Squadron of 6th RTR converts from Mediums to Cruiser tanks, leaving B and C squadrons still operating eight Mediums. By October B Squadron had converted as well. In January 1940 C Squadron followed suit bringing 6th RTR up to its full complement of Cruiser tanks. After the Squadrons converted to Cruisers their Mediums were to be handed over to the RAOC. However, when C squadron converted the 6th RTR retained their Mediums. On paper they had twelve, so presumably when B squadron converted they passed over four vehicles.

This collection of twelve vehicles was further reinforced by six Mediums drawn from the RAOC depots, and together the eighteen tanks formed a demonstration squadron used for teaching the use of infantry tank tactics. This squadron put on demonstrations on 18th of January and 18th of February 1940. What happened to the demonstration squadron after that is unknown as that period is within the missing three months I mentioned earlier.

At the same time, we are missing some six or so Mediums. A clue might be found from Egyptian sources. Some sources state that the Egyptians were using the missing Mediums. This is partially backed up by two Egyptian officers being attached to the 6th RTR for two weeks in February to observe how a tank unit functions. In June these Mediums were requisitioned by the British for the fight against Italy. In August four tanks, crewed by non-Egyptian soldiers were at Siwa oasis. Some sources state that is the location where they saw combat as the Allies withdrew from Siwa, but as the Germans occupied it by an air lift it is unlikely they saw combat at this location.
One of the dug in Mediums. It is suggested that the soldiers are Australians, as the European nations tended to keep their shirts on in Africa. but past that there is no clue who owns this tank.
The next data points we have is in January 1941, when preparations were made for the twelve Mediums dug in at Mersa Matruh as part of the defensive line were to be exhumed. This work included surveys to see which could be mobilised, what spare parts and personnel could be arranged and the like. The party tasked with this left on the 6th of February 1941. From that point on the paper trail dries up.

We do have several pictures which show two different Vickers Mediums, all of which have been captured by the Axis forces.

Tank #1: It's named 'Crusader'. She seems to have suffered a fire centred around the crew compartment.


Tank #2: this one has a curious fitting just behind the gun barrel, and different markings to Crusader. Including the number 45. It's often said she suffered a fire caused by mechanical break down, bu as you can see there's no sign of fire. Maybe Crusader is a better candidate for this break down? Also of interest is the broken track on the right hand side.
As a final data point we have a photograph of US soldiers posing next to two Vickers Mediums, one of which could be one which had been pictured earlier, and another one that is brand new. It is rumoured that one of these tanks was seized by the Americans and shipped to the US. 
The US soldiers in front of the tanks. The left hand tank has the number 46. While the right hand one has features similar to No45.
This means we have at least three Mediums which fell into enemy hands. It appears they could not have been from the positions dug in at Mersa Matruh, as those were presumably excavated, and several of the pictures show tanks that were at least in some way mobile.

This would mean there is an armoured unit operating in the area which is not British, as all the tank units belonging to the British have records which show no signs of the Mediums. It can't be Egyptian, as Egypt didn't declare war on the Axis powers until 1945.

A possible contender might be Australian. These Australian armoured units were equipped with all sorts of non-standard equipment, most famously the captured Italian tanks, which sported a giant white Kangaroo emblem. Equally they were equipped with some very old, worn out and obsolete Vickers Light Tanks Mk.III. Australia at that time did have four Vickers Mediums of her own which would have been used for training at least some of the crews up.

I must stress this last idea is nothing more than a theory, as there appears to be not a scrap of evidence to support it apart form a few coincidences. But it defiantly appears that someone was using these Vickers Mediums in the North African desert, and documentation is scarce. I suspect time may well tell on this one as more research is done into the formations.

3 comments:

  1. You'll probably find something here;

    https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1417305

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    Replies
    1. I've mentioned it to someone I know whose currently poking through those unit records. Lets see if he finds anything.

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