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Tank, Cruiser, Comet I (A34)
Comet tank 1.jpg
Comet tank in the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
Type Cruiser tank
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Service history
In service December 1944 - 1958 (UK)
Used by British Army
Wars World War II
Korean War
Production history
Designed 1943
Manufacturer Leyland Motors Ltd
Produced September 1944
Number built 1,186[1]
Specifications
Weight 33 long tons (33.53 tonnes)
Length 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m)
Width 10 ft 1 in (3.04 m)
Height 8 ft 6 in (2.67 m)
Crew 5 (Commander, gunner, loader, driver, co-driver)

Armour 4 in (102 mm)
Primary
armament
77 mm HV
61 rounds
Secondary
armament
2 x 7.92 mm Besa MG
Engine Rolls-Royce Meteor V12 petrol
600 hp (447 kW)
Power/weight 17 hp/ton (18 hp/tonne)
Suspension Christie
Ground clearance 18 in (0.5 m)
Fuel capacity about 120 Imperial gallons
Operational
range
250 km
Speed 32 mph (50 km/h)

The Tank, Cruiser, Comet I (A34) was a British tank that first saw use near the end of World War II. It was designed to provide greater anti-tank capability to Cromwell tank squadrons. It was armed with a 77mm HV, a derivative of the 17 pounder, with the result it was one of the few British tanks with the firepower to challenge late war German designs. It remained in British service until 1958 seeing further combat during the Korean war. Comets sold to other countries continued in some cases to operate into the 70s.

Contents

Design and development

Combat experience against the Germans in the Western Desert Campaign demonstrated to the British many shortcomings with their cruiser tanks. Hence a request was made in 1941 to the Nuffield Organisation and Leyland Motors Ltd for a new heavy cruiser tank that could achieve battle superiority over German models. For reasons of economy and efficiency it had to use as many components as possible from the current A15 Cruiser tank Mk VI Crusader tank.

The initial designs submitted were the A24 Cruiser Tank Mk VII Cavalier tank from Nuffield powered by a Nuffield-Liberty L-12 engine and the A27L Cruiser tank Mk VII Centaur tank from Leyland which was also powered by the Liberty L-12 but would be able to use the more powerful Rolls-Royce Meteor when it became available.

The Cruiser tank Mk VII A27M Cromwell was the follow up to the Cavalier/Centaur. The Cromwell's Meteor engine proved to be very reliable and gave the Cromwell good mobility but some problems did appear. The tank was prone to throwing its tracks if track tension was not maintained properly or if it turned at too high a speed or too sharply. There were also some problems with suspension breakage, partly due to the Cromwell's high speed.

With the Cromwell a 17 pounder version, the A30 Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger tank was under development. To handle the large gun the Cromwell hull had to be lengthened and a large turret set on top. Due to the slow production of Challenger, the Sherman Firefly (a Sherman tank fitted with the 17 pounder gun) conversion received official support. Until the Challenger was available one Firefly would be issued to each Cromwell troop (giving three Cromwells and one Sherman Firefly) but this was unstatisfactory due to the different maintenance requirements and associated supply complication of two tank models as well as the performance difference between Cromwell and Sherman.

With the A34 Comet the tank designers opted to correct several Cromwell flaws; the track shedding and broken suspension problems and enhance the Cromwell's main strengths, low height and high speed. The designers used a new gun, the "77mm HV". This gun used the same calibre (76.2 mm) projectile as the 17 pdr but the shell casing was from the older QF 3 inch 20 cwt gun (loaded to higher pressures) and was different to 17 pdr ammunition. It had a lower muzzle velocity than the 17-pounder but the ammunition was much more compact and more easily stored and handled within the tank. Several other improvements were made, armour protection was increased, the hull and turret were welded with a cast gun mantlet, ammunition was stored in armoured bins, the suspension was strengthened, return rollers were added and the turret was electrically traversed (a design feature taken from the earlier Churchill tank), with a generator powered by the main engine.

The Comet tank's top speed was limited, from the Cromwell's 40+ mph to a slower but respectable 32 mph to preserve suspension and engine components and to reduce track wear.

The prototype was ready in February 1944 and production models began to be delivered by September 1944. Intended to be in service by December 1944, crew training was delayed by the German Ardennes offensive. By the end of the war, 1,200 had been produced.

Service history

The 11th Armoured Division was the first to receive the new tanks in December 1944 and the only division to be completely refitted by the end of the war. Because of its late arrival, the Comet did not participate in any major battles though it did see combat against the Germans. The Comet was involved in the crossing of the Rhine and the later Berlin Victory Parade in July 1945. The Comet's maximum speed of 32 miles per hour was greatly exploited on the German Autobahns.

During the following Korean War, the Comet served along with the heavier Centurion, a successor tank introduced in the closing days of World War II on an experimental basis, but too late to see combat. The Centurion was formally adopted in 1949 and was partly based on the Comet's design. The Comet remained in British service until 1958, when the remaining tanks were sold to foreign governments; up until the 1980s, it could be found in the armies of various nations such as South Africa.

41 Comet Mk I Model Bs were also used by Finnish Defence Forces armoured brigade until 1970. The tanks were stored until 2007, when four of them were auctioned out.

Eight Comets were delivered to the Irish Army, beginning in 1959. Severe budget cutbacks were to severely harm the service lives of the Comets, as not enough spares were purchased. The Comet appealed to the Irish Army as it was cheap to buy and run, had low ground pressure, and good anti-tank capability. In retrospect, it was an excellent buy, and would have stood the army in good stead had vital spares been supplied initially.[citation needed] However, faulty fuzes meant the withdrawal of the HE ammunition, limiting the tank's role to an anti-tank vehicle. With stocks of 77 mm ammunition dwindling in 1969, the army began an experiment to prolong the life of the vehicle. It involved replacing the turret with an open mounting with a 90 mm Bofors Pv-1110 recoilless rifle. Lack of funds saw a cancellation of the project. The last 77 mm Comet shoot occurred in 1973 and the tanks were withdrawn soon afterwards. One is preserved in the Curragh Camp, one in the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, and two more survive in other barracks.

Operators

Notes

References

External links

British armoured fighting vehicle production during World War II
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