September 23rd 1938 – British Anti-Aircraft Units Mobilise During Munich Crisis

On September 22nd 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler to discuss the issue of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. After the political map of Europe was redrawn following World War I, many ethnic German speakers found themselves living in Czechoslovakia and Hitler had vowed to return them to the Fatherland. Chamberlain had agreed to allow Germany to annex the Sudetenland but Hitler made demands that he wanted to seize Czechoslovakia completely.

Naturally, Czechoslovakia was opposed to this as were most European powers and began to mobilise for war. As the situation deteriorated, Britain began making preparations for war and on September 23rd 1938 the anti-aircraft units of the Territorial Army were activated.

Among the units mobilised were;

  • 26th Anti-Aircraft Brigade protecting London with just 41 AA guns
  • 35th Anti-Aircraft Brigade protecting the important naval base at Portsmouth
  • 42nd Anti-Aircraft Brigade protecting Glasgow
  • 43rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade protecting Teeside
  • 54th Anti-Aircraft Brigade protecting towns and cities in the West Midlands

Many of these units found themselves armed with little more than World War I Lewis machine guns until heavier weapons could be distributed to them.

The crisis was eventually resolved as far as Britain was concerned with the Munich Agreement  and Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to Hitler’s will. The Czechoslovak government could not hope to fight the Nazis alone and reluctantly agreed although they felt betrayed by Britain and France.

On September 30th 1938, Chamberlain returned to Britain and gave one of history’s most notorious speeches proclaiming “peace in our time” however the Territorial Army anti-aircraft units would remain mobilised right up until the following September when peace was finally shattered in dramatic fashion.

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British Army officer who helped liberate Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp dies at 95

lt col leonard berney

Lt Col Berney (Sky News)

Ex-British Army Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard Berney has passed away at the age of 95. During his military career, Lt Col Berney was among the British and Canadian forces who liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15th 1945. The camp was located in modern day Lower Saxony in northern Germany and during the 5 years it was in operation nearly 70,000 prisoners died there from execution and disease. Lt Col Berney was part of the British 11th Armoured Division when the camp was liberated.

During an interview with Sky News last year he said;

We’d been fighting battle after battle from Normandy for 10 months up to that time when we got to the camp, and we were used to seeing casualties and people killed, but never, never had we seen anything like this at all…The people that were there were mostly emaciated, walking skeletons, in a complete daze. They didn’t really realise they were being rescued. There were a few in a better condition, some wearing prison clothes, some wearing rags.

Lt Col Berney passed away yesterday from a heart attack.

 

Tough to Sink

S.S. Laurentic before her conversion to armed merchant cruiser in 1939 (u-boat.net)

S.S. Laurentic before her conversion to armed merchant cruiser in 1939 (u-boat.net)

It has long been the practice in wartime for the British government to requisition civilian vessels for war service. Often these vessels are used in the logistics role supporting the Royal Navy at sea or the British Army and Royal Air Force in foreign lands. The practice has been used as late as the 1982 Falklands War where perhaps most famously the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II was used to ferry over 3000 troops to the South Atlantic. Using civilian ships in wartime is a precarious business at best. They are seldom designed with the same level of protection a warship is afforded making them very vulnerable and their vital role in supporting the war effort makes them highly prized targets for the enemy.

One such civilian ship taken over for use by the Royal Navy was the Cunard White Star Line passenger ship the Laurentic. Requisitioned by the Admiralty a week before Germany invaded Poland on September 1st 1939 the vessel was put in to dock for conversion to an armed merchant cruiser which was completed in a remarkably short space of time. HMS Laurentic F51 was accepted in to service on October 15th 1939. As part of her conversion she was armed with seven Breech Loading 5.5inch (140mm) Mk I guns and three QF 4inch (102mm) Mk.XVI naval guns. She was also fitted with a quantity of depth charges for use against submarines.

The vessel was, like many of her kind, primarily employed on patrol and escort duties; armed merchant cruisers were effectively the last line of defence with the Royal Navy’s main fleet and aircraft being the first. Her start to the war was relatively uneventful but all that changed on the evening of November 3rd 1940. A little after 2140 hours her commanding officer, Capt E.P. Vivian RN, was informed that the radio room had received a distress call from an unescorted merchantman, the Casanare, stating it had been attacked by a U-Boat. Along with another armed merchant cruiser, HMS Patroclus, Laurentic raced to the scene west of Ireland at a place called Bloody Foreland.

A sister-ship to Casanare (wrecksite.eu)

A sister-ship to Casanare (wrecksite.eu)

Unknown to Captain Vivian and his men they were about to face off against one of Germany’s greatest U-Boat aces, the brash and skilled Kapitänleutnant Otto Kretschmer (known as “Silent Otto”) and his crew of U-99. Kretschmer’s attack had been a textbook example of U-Boat warfare, catching the Casanare completely by surprise. The torpedo struck just aft of the vessel’s bridge and she began to list heavily enough for the crew to begin abandoning ship. The wireless operator aboard U-99 suddenly found his headset alive with messages between their victim and the two approaching ships all of which were transmitted uncoded and in plain language.

Kretschmer continued to shadow the sinking Casanare while surfaced and it was not long before he detected the two ships coming to its aid. Picking his moment carefully, Kretschmer waited for the Laurentic to come in to his sights and at 2250hrs he unleashed his deadly arsenal on his second unsuspecting victim of the night (this early in the war few ships had radar to detect a surfaced U-Boat at night but by 1945 this kind of operation would have been suicide for a U-Boat commander). Launched from a distance of one and a half kilometres and incredibly while the U-Boat was turning the torpedo struck the Laurentic amidship near the boiler room tearing open a gaping hole in her side. Kretschmer watched the ship expecting it to sink and indeed a number of her crew had leapt overboard in the chaos of the blast but as the smoke dissipated the Laurentic proved that she was not done for yet and remained stubbornly afloat.

Kretschmer made two more attacks on the Laurentic, one at 2320hrs and another at 2330hrs with the range now having decreased to just 250m. The crew of the Laurentic briefly spotted the U-Boat on the surface and began shelling the submarine which quickly slipped away. The Laurentic was now heavily damaged and was riding much lower in the water than it should be convincing Kretschmer that the ship was finally done for and so he turned his U-Boat away to assess his situation.

hms patroclus

HMS Patroclus (u-boat.net)

In the meantime, HMS Patroclus had arrived on station and began efforts to rescue the crew of the Laurentic many of whom were abandoning the ship. The Patroclus’ Captain, William Wynter, ordered that two depth charges be launched over the side in an effort to frighten the U-boat away. He couldn’t have known that Kretschmer was still on the surface unseen in the night. Believing he had successfully drove off the U-Boat, Wynter’s crew began to rescue their comrades but Kretschmer had come about and at 0022hrs the Patroclus was hit by a torpedo from U-99 killing an unknown number of men aboard a lifeboat from the Laurentic that was being hauled aboard at the time. Like the Laurentic the Patroclus refused to sink and twenty minutes later at 0044hrs a second torpedo was launched in to the ship. The torpedo malfunctioned and missed its aim point hitting below the foremast. No doubt gritting his teeth Kretschmer fired a third torpedo at 0118 hrs but as he did so the British lookouts spotted the U-Boat and Kretschmer found his vessel taking fire forcing him to flee yet again.

Dumbfounded by his enemy’s refusal to sink, Kretschmer searched for his first target, the Casanare, to confirm it had indeed sunk. Two lifeboats bobbing in the water at her last known position offered the proof he was looking for when suddenly the air around him growled with the sound of aeroengines as an RAF Shorts Sunderland flying boat appeared over the scene. Kretschmer ordered his U-Boat to dive and the RAF aircraft was unable to launch its weapons but remained on station trying to locate the submarine.

Kretschmer used his time submerged wisely and reloaded the torpedo tubes. With the sound of the Sunderland’s engines dissipating he felt confident enough to surface at 0330 hours. Rather arrogantly he went back to the site of his attack on the two armed merchant cruisers and saw that Laurentic and Patroclus had still yet to sink! At 0435hrs he fired a fourth torpedo at Laurentic which struck astern. The blast ignited the depth charges stored in that area resulting in a huge explosion. The Laurentic’s luck ran out and the ship began to sink by the stern disappearing forever.

Kretschmer then turned on the Patroclus but as he did so his own lookouts spotted a destroyer, HMS Hesperus, approaching on the horizon. Rather than be satisfied with sinking the Casanare and the Laurentic he made a hasty attack on the Patroclus. At 0516hrs a fifth torpedo struck the ship fired from U-99 but the British ship refused to go down one last time prompting Kretschmer to fire a sixth torpedo. That was the end of the Patroclus and the hull crumbled into pieces before finally sinking. 114 sailors had been killed in the whole incident.

Kretschmer and the crew of U-99 celebrate in late 1940 (commons.wikimedia)

Kretschmer and the crew of U-99 celebrate in late 1940 (commons.wikimedia)

Kretschmer immediately ordered his U-Boat to dive as the destroyer zeroed in on him. Kretschmer and his men now paid for their victory as they were repeatedly depth charged by the Hesperus but the destroyer failed to score a direct hit and Kretschmer returned to Germany a hero.

So just what was the secret behind the Laurentic and the Patroclus that kept them afloat for so long? Was it excellent damage control techniques? Perhaps it was superb craftsmanship in the construction of the two vessels? Actually it was neither. It was in fact the placing of thousands of empty oil drums inside the hull of the ship. This dramatically increased the overall buoyancy of the vessels which meant that despite several gaping holes in the hull the barrels kept the vessels afloat making them very tough to sink.

Personnel File: Wing Commander Forest Yeo‐Thomas

Forest Yeo-ThomasThe White Rabbit

Few men in history can claim to have fought such a hard war against tyranny as Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas. Born in London on the 17th June 1902 to parents of Welsh origin, his family later moved to Dieppe, France while he was very young. As a result when Germany invaded in 1914 Yeo-Thomas felt it personally so much so that he tried to enlist in any army that would take him eventually finding his way in to the U.S. Army in 1917 who were a little lax about checking his age (he was 16 at the time).

Having seen combat on the western front in the closing stages of the war he viewed the post-war situation in the east with a popular sense of mistrust regarding Lenin and his supporters who had seized power in Russia during the October Revolution of 1917. When in 1919 fighting spilled over in to Poland over the Kievan Rus’ area of what is modern day Ukraine, Yeo-Thomas volunteered for service with the Polish Army.

While fighting with the Poles, Yeo-Thomas experienced his first taste of life as a prisoner of war (PoW) when he was captured by communist Russian forces in 1920. The Russians took a very dim view on “mercenaries” especially in light of the number of foreign troops that had fought alongside Kolchak’s “White” Russians against the new communist regime (see Britain’s Forgotten Tank War). He was therefore sentenced to death by his Russian captors however an opportunity presented itself for his escape and he took it. A guard spotted him and the two became locked in a fight forcing Yeo-Thomas to strangle him to death.

Having successfully escaped and with his second war over he returned to France to start a new life eventually marrying a young woman named Lillian. Together they had two daughters but the married life was not to last and in 1936 after ten years of marriage they separated though they never formally divorced. Then in 1939 Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany over the invasion of Poland. Yeo-Thomas was determined to put his previous experience to good use and found his way in to the Royal Air Force. The RAF were keen to accept him but for them a combat role was out of the question due to his age (37) and so he found himself involved in a frustrating administrative role.

As France fell he found himself caught up in the chaotic evacuation from Dunkirk leaving behind the land that had been more of a home to than Britain. Once in the UK Yeo-Thomas spent much of what was left of 1940 and the beginning of 1941 working as an interpreter/liason with De Gaulle’s Free French forces that had escaped to the British Isles before the fall of France. His ability to speak fluent French coupled with his own intimate relationship with France eased his relationship with the French soldiers despite the fact he wore the uniform of His Majesty’s Royal Air Force. However it was these traits that brought him to the attention of a different organization altogether – the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

The Maquis

The Maquis

The SOE was formed on the 22nd of July 1940 at a time when it was realized that traditional force alone was not going to be enough to combat Nazi Germany which now dominated all of Western Europe. One of the most secretive forces against the Third Reich it was tasked to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe and this required working heavily with resistance cells including the French who would later call themselves the Maquis. What the organization needed were men like Yeo-Thomas who could not only exist both in the English-speaking British military and the French-speaking resistance but also had a certain spirit to resist and fight. He was therefore recruited in February 1942.

Finally in 1943 Yeo-Thomas was allowed to enter the field and a plan was concocted to get him in to France along with two of De Gaulle’s representatives; André Dewavrin (known as “Colonel Passy”) and Pierre Brossolette, a pre-war socialist leader in France who it was thought would be more appealing to the French-communist resistance cells. Under the codename Operation: Seahorse the three men were parachuted in to occupied France on the night of February 25th 1943. For two months the three men toured the French countryside meeting with representatives of the French resistance to pledge British support, presenting possible targets for attack by the Maquis and training them in the latests methods of sabotage. In return the three men got more of an idea of the picture on the ground which aided planning back in London upon their return in April 1943. So that the Maquis knew they were dealing with the right people Yeo-Thomas was codenamed Le Lapin Blanc (The White Rabbit).

De Gaulle was so pleased by Yeo-Thomas’ work that he intended to decorate him accordingly with the Croix de Guerre with Palm but because De Gaulle was not technically the legitimate leader of France Yeo-Thomas was not able to receive it. He did receive the Military Cross from his own superiors. Celebrations were short lived however as soon after a high profile member of the Maquis, Jean Moulin, who had been largely responsible for organizing the resistance behind De Gaulle was killed.

Fearing that the Maquis cells would lose cohesion or even turn on themselves Yeo-Thomas was ordered back in to the field in September 1943. Between September and November 1943 Le Lapin Blanc was a name used to repair the damage left in the wake of Moulin’s death. Unfortunately this only raised his profile with the Gestapo who launched in to a series of operations to attempt to catch him ranging from torture to bribery all of which failed. This time Yeo-Thomas’ return to the UK was filled with contempt for his superiors. Actually being on the ground had made Yeo-Thomas appreciate just how little support the Maquis were getting in the previous months from the Allies and he was understandably touched by their commitment to resist the Germans with whatever they had available to them. He pleaded with his superior officers on behalf of the French resistance for more aircraft to be made available for supply drops and agent insertion/extraction missions. With the Americans now fully committed with their own aircraft he felt confident that the RAF could spare more aircraft for the cause but he was bitterly disappointed by their seemingly lack of interest in aiding the Maquis.

14033

Churchill was impressed by Yeo-Thomas’ passion and ideas

Frustrated by this, Yeo-Thomas did something that was considered unthinkable in the stern British military. He used the powerful contacts he had made to set up a meeting with the man at the top – Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He was granted one hour alone with the Prime Minister to make his case. Yeo-Thomas launched in to a passionate and exhaustive speech about the conditions the Maquis were working in, just what support the Allies were giving them and perhaps more importantly how useful they could be for any future invasion of occupied Europe. Churchill had a history of embracing covert operations and the speech struck a chord with him. Churchill agreed and ordered Yeo-Thomas’ superiors to release more aircraft for the Maquis’ cause. It had cost him the high regard of some of his superior officers but nevertheless he had come through for the Maquis who revered him.

By 1944 he was one of the foremost officers in the SOE regarding the Maquis and for that reason it was decided that he was now too valuable to risk again in the field. Then Yeo-Thomas received word that Pierre Brossolette, the socialist leader who had accompanied him in to France on his first mission, had been captured. An operation was conceived to send an agent in to France to ascertain whether or not there was a possibility of rescuing Brossolette who had extensive knowledge of the Maquis and to carry out damage control regarding Maquis operations. With a personal interest in the success of the mission coupled with the fact that the Maquis were at this advanced stage distrustful of new people it was decided to send Yeo-Thomas in for a third time.

For Yeo-Thomas it would prove to be one mission too many for the Gestapo were now well aware of his description and his reputation. Having landed in France on the night of the 24th February 1944, sustaining an ankle injury upon landing under parachute, he continued the work he had carried out on his previous insertions in to occupied France. His luck ran out however when during a meeting in Paris on the 21st March 1944 he was apprehended in a counter-espionage operation. Yeo-Thomas attempted to hide his true identity claiming to be a downed RAF airman but the Gestapo weren’t fooled; his age was a major factor as well as his description. As for Brossolette he would die in captivity just a few hours after Yeo-Thomas was apprehended.

In what were probably the worst four days of his life Yeo-Thomas was subjected to horrific acts of torture in order to make him talk. Although he suspected the Gestapo knew who he was he maintained the story that he was a downed RAF airman. The Gestapo frequently beat him for extended periods of time until the guards became tired. They offered him his freedom if he gave them the name of a local Maquis leader but Yeo-Thomas simply repeated that he was a downed airman and that he had no knowledge.

Infuriated by his lack of cooperation the Gestapo then bound his arms and legs with chains so that his movement was restricted to such a degree that he was barely able to wriggle and kept him that way for days. The chains were so tightly bound that they cut in to his wrists eventually causing blood poisoning that became so bad that he nearly lost his left arm. The Gestapo then proceeded to immerse Yeo-Thomas in bitterly cold water that brought him close to hypothermia and early onset hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). Throughout all this he never broke and repeated his cover story.

Buchenwald camp

Buchenwald Concentration Camp

For the next few weeks he was moved around several detention centres along with a number of other confirmed or suspected SOE operatives before eventually being taken to Buchenwald concentration camp where his group were separated for special treatment. Then in September, sixteen of the group were taken to the main gate and executed but Yeo-Thomas was not selected.

As the Russians had found out almost 25 years earlier Yeo-Thomas was not a man who could be detained for long and working with another SOE operative and a French agent the three of them worked together and amazingly were able to switch identities with three men who died of Typhus. Using his fluent French tongue he became a man named Maurice Choquet and was transferred to a handful of other concentration camps where he worked as medical orderly during which time he witnessed the true horrors of the Holocaust first hand. It was also during this period that he began to suffer from troubles with kidney stones for which he never received proper medical attention.

Then in April 1945 he was one of a number being transferred to the Czech frontier when he took the opportunity to escape. Sleeping rough for two days he was eventually caught only to escape yet again and with the help of two other escapees the almost completely exhausted Yeo-Thomas managed to reach an American unit that repatriated him. With France liberated and Germany on the verge of defeat most men who had been through his experiences would have called it a day but not Yeo-Thomas. He instead volunteered for yet another SOE operation that was intended to hunt down officers and guards of concentration camps who had made themselves known to the Allies for acts of brutality against those in the camps. Some sources claim that Yeo-Thomas and his compatriots brought some of these men to justice while others claim it was an assassination unit.

Croix de guerre

Croix de Guerre

In the years after the war he continued to fight the Nazis by testifying at the Nuremburg trails. During examination by the prosecution he recounted all the scenes he had witnessed in the camps especially regarding the execution of his fellow SOE agents and his time posing as a medical orderly. He had not come out of the war unscathed however and his lack of proper medical attention in the camps left him with long term problems regarding his kidneys and by 1960 he begun to suffer from immobilising headaches and the loss of his manual hand-eye coordination. Despite putting up one last valiant battle against the odds he finally passed away in 1964 from a severe haemorrhage but not before officially receiving the Croix de Guerre with Palm given to him by De Gaulle in 1943.

He died in his home located in the capital city of the country he had done so much to free, France. His legacy however goes beyond the Second World War however as his story inspired a naval intelligence officer by the name of Ian Fleming who would later claim that Forest Yeo-Thomas was the inspiration for a certain literary character named James Bond.

Multi-Turreted Tanks

In the 21st century the idea of what a tank should look like and how it should be used has become embedded in the shape of the modern military. It is therefore easy to forget that back in the 1920s and 1930s there was still a lot of speculation and experimentation involved in this newest form of warfare and it would take the greatest tank war of all time, World War II, to properly forge the tank in to the formidable weapon it became.

In Britain and the Soviet Union especially, the 1920s saw tank designers dabbling with the idea of multi-turreted tanks. Put simply the concept of the multi-turreted tank was to combine the breakthrough tanks (known as “Cruisers” in Britain) with their big guns and speed with the defensive machine guns of an infantry support tank. The benefits of mutl-turreted tanks were seen that they could be “master-of-all-trades” and effectively be the final word on the battlefield.

Vickers Medium Mk.III

Vickers Medium Mk.III

The first tanks that appeared during the Great War didn’t feature turrets. Their armament were carried in sponsons between the tracks that carried around the circumference of the vehicle. They bore a striking similarity to naval sponsons mounted on warships and this was no accident because it was the Royal Navy (in particular First Sea Lord Winston Churchill) who first contemplated building tracked armoured vehicles. In fact the first tanks were called landships and some even carried warship names such as HMS Centipede. The problem with sponson-mounted weapons however was that their mechanisms for training on to an enemy offered a structural weakpoint, could not be trained on to targets directly ahead or behind and also if one sponson was knocked out or malfunctioned then the tank was vulnerable from that side. Turrets on the other hand had the ability to attack every angle around the tank and could be designed to cover their own mechanism thus increasing protection. They could also be fired from behind an embankment without exposing the entire vehicle and so turrets became the standard form of armament in tanks in the post war years and has remained so to the present day.

a1e1 independent

A1E1 Independent

In 1924 a mechanical engineer named Walter Gordon Wilson, a former Royal Naval Air Service officer and one of the engineers who worked on the original tank (landship) program, responded to an Army requirement for a new heavy tank with a design that mounted four .303 machine gun turrets atop of the hull covering all four quarters while sandwiched in between them was a larger turret housing a 3pdr (47mm) main gun for breaking through enemy defensive lines and engaging other tanks. The aft-left gun turret was able to elevate higher than the others to give a certain level of defence against aircraft. The tank was intended to operate in large groups independently of supporting tanks and overwhelm the enemy with superior firepower. For that reason the tank, built by Vickers, became the A1E1 “Independent”.

T28 tank captured

Soviet T-28 – the similarity to the A1E1 is obvious

What happened next shocked the British military. The tank was not put in to production but rather served as a military test vehicle for future multi-turreted designs. While the potential was there the shortcomings in terms of power and weight were apparent as well and it was felt that time was needed to perfect the concept. At the same time as the trial program was under way the Soviet Union began to take an interest in the design but from afar. The Soviets responded by developing the T-28 tank which was remarkably similar. Too similar some would say. It remains unclear exactly how but it was uncovered later that plans for the A1E1 found their way to Moscow most likely as the result of a Soviet intelligence operation concerning the Vickers company.

Another country was also taking an interest in the A1E1 and it’s unique features; Nazi Germany. By the time Adolf Hitler had came to power the A1E1 was slowly running out of steam after years of trials but Nazi engineers were impressed enough by it and the Soviet T-26 to design their own and to do that they needed the results from the British tests. Nazi officials managed to contact a BritIsh Army officer named Norman Baillie-Stewart who they knew to be a Nazi sympathizer. They convinced him to send copies of the A1E1’s specifications among other secrets and these were used to help design the Neubaufahrzeug series of tank prototypes. Baillie-Stewart was discovered and court martialled. In true British fashion he was held in the Tower of London serving a five year sentence.

Cruiser mark i

Cruiser Mk.I

The A1E1 debacle meant that any lead Britain could have had in the development of multi-turreted tanks was lost. Regardless of this, development continued with the Vickers Medium Mk.III derived from the “A6” arriving in 1930. Again this did not enter production but continued to serve as a trials vehicle proving not only the technology but the operating principles taking part in British Army exercises. Trials proved that five turrets like in the A1E1 was just impractical and so the Medium Mk.III resorted to three turrets; the main gun centrally mounted and two machine gun turrets flanking either side of it on the forward glacis. To help address the reduction in guns a third machine gun was mounted co-axially to the main gun in the turret. It was in this configuration that the fruits of the multi-turreted testing could be seen in the Cruiser Mk.I tank which entered service in 1937 just as war clouds were looming.

Crusader I

Crusader I

In the early months of the war the Cruiser Mk.I did well enough considering the superior tactics used by the Germans that was ultimately the downfall of the British and French armies. The Cruiser had sufficient firepower to penetrate the armour of some of the German tanks such as the early Panzer III but the fatal flaw of all multi-turreted tanks quickly became obvious. The smaller turrets at the front could not be sufficiently armoured as German tank weapons grew in calibre leaving them wide open to being destroyed in the front. The same was found by the Germans and the Soviet Union both of whom quickly turned to heavy frontal armour over defensive firepower although most tanks retained a hull mounted machine gun but even this was dropped eventually.

The last multi-turreted design in British service was the Crusader which featured a 2pdr main gun and a single machine gun turret on the forward glacis. While reasonably successful against the Italians in the desert the tank needed a heavier punch when Germany’s Afrika Korps appeared and the fitting of a 6pdr gun forced the removal of the machine gun turret. Multi-turreted tanks survived longer in the Soviet Union but their success was limited. There the main problems were again lack of armour but also a lack of mobility due to the sheer size and weight of the vehicles produced such as the T-100.

Char 2cAfter the outbreak of the war development of multi-turreted tanks stopped (the US M3 Grant/Lee was not a multi-turreted tank as it’s 75mm gun was mounted in a sponson) but not before a true behemoth of a tank was produced in France. Entering service in 1921 the Char 2C’s physical dimensions put it as the largest tank ever built. It featured two turrets; a forward main turret armed with a 75mm gun and a rear turret armed with an 8mm machine gun for rear defence. Additionally the tank bristled with three more 8mm machine guns fired through gimbals. Weighing a road-shattering 69 tonnes the Char 2C survived long enough to serve with the French Army at the outbreak of World War II where they had a rather undeserved reputation in the French press as being invincible super tanks. In reality they were knocked out comparatively easily due mostly to their total lack of mobility. A single example was captured and presented to the Nazi party as a war trophy.

The story of the Char 2C highlights an important point about multi-turreted tanks; they looked more impressive than they actually were. While the concept is remembered largely as a failure it is important to remember that the spirit behind their conception (tailoring a single tank to be able to carry out many functions) remains today. Modern tanks have main guns that are capable of firing a wide variety of weapons such as anti-tank shells, anti-personnel shells, high explosive shells, and even anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles. This means the modern tank with its single turret and main gun is a far more versatile machine than tanks of the 1940s and 1950s.