CRUSADER MK. 2
Combat Mass:19,3 mt
Armament: QF 2 pdr Mk 1 (40mm); 1 X 7,92 mm BESA Machine-guns; 2-in Smoke Bomb Thrower;
Ammunition: APCBC/T; APDS/T; HE; Smoke
Engine: Nuffield Liberty Mark II, III, or IV; 27-litre V-12 petrol engine 340 bhp (254 kW) at 1,500 rpm
Transmission: Nuffield constant mesh 4-speed-and-reverse
Speed: 42km/h - Road; 24km/h - Off-road
Operating Range: Road 322km - Cross Country 235 km
Crusader Mark I
The Mark I was quickly put in production after the prototype was tested, in mid-1940. None was ready for the campaign of France however, but they were quickly shipped in Egypt and took part in the first phase of the war against the invading Italian forces. The Mark I of early production had a “semi-internal” cast gun mantlet, which was replaced on the late models by a bigger cast mantlet with three vertical slits, for the gun, machine-gun and periscope. The large sloped turret, also designed for maximum internal space, had no cupola, but a flat hatch with the periscope mounted inside. In practice, it was open most of the time. The gun was balanced through a paddle shaft, making pointing easier and more accurate, and allowing efficient fire on the move.
On the very flat terrain encountered in the Libyan plains, this feature was of great proficiency. The 40 mm (1.57 in) armor was designed to deal with most tanks of the time (in 1939), armed with 37 mm (1.46 in) guns. The frontal glacis was sloped, like the turret, but the rear and sides were flat and more vulnerable. Early production models were given provisional armored side panels, usually protecting the rear part of the tank (engine and fuel tanks). The first unit to fight with these brand-new Crusaders Mark I was the 6th Royal Tank Regiment, part of the 7th Armoured Brigade. They fought alongside Matilda infantry tanks, using their speed for screening tactics. No Italian tank was a threat, but this would change with the arrival of Rommel and his Panzer IIIs in Africa, in January 1941.
Crusader Mark II
Late production Mark Is were given large side protective panels, attached to the upper hull, providing better protection against the 50 mm (1.97 in) gun of the Panzer III and Pak-40 AT gun. These panels became permanently attached from the factory starting from the Mark II. This new version also received a large increase in armor, from 40 to 49 mm (1.57-1.93 in), on the frontal glacis and turret. The added weight was coped with by a more powerful Nuffield Liberty Mk.III. To save weight and a crew member, the awkward turret was often removed. The only machine-gun that remained was the coaxial one. The large “three slit” cast mantlet was also serial. This evolution arrived in 1942, just in time for some major battles of the campaign of Africa. Some were converted on the stocks as infantry support tanks, or CS (Close Support), equipped with a 3 in (76.2 mm) howitzer launching smoke grenades.
If the Mark I and II turned to be effective in Libya against Italians, it was another affair against the “Desert Fox”. While its speed, light protection and armament could deal with most German Panzer I and IIs, the Panzer III, equipped with the long barrel 50 mm (1.97 in) gun, and the Panzer IV and its 75 mm (2.95 in), were more than a match. Plus, German tactics, using a feint retreat under the cover of well-placed AT guns, including the fearful 88 mm (3.46 in), proved deadly effective. The Crusaders at Gazala and around Tobrouk, forming the biggest part of the British armored forces in Africa, had few options but to retreat or try to outrun the well-concealed German gunners.
There were also severe limitations from the tank itself. Starting with poor handling in African ports, repairs, premature use of their train and tracks because of the lack of transportation infrastructure, and then conception problems in the field. For example the lower part of its angled turret acted like a lever at each shell impact, dislodging the turret from its mounting, or a hull vulnerable spot above the ammunition racks, where, if red hot metal fragments penetrated, they triggered a fire. There were also issues with the engine overheating, oil leaking, and problems with the cooling filter system, mostly caused of sand erosion