The Tank, Infantry, Valiant (A38) was a British tank design of the Second World War that only reached the prototype stage. The design was so infamously bad that the sole example was retained by the School of Tank Technology post-war as a dire lesson to its students.
OriginsEditThe A38 Valiant began as a candidate for an assault tank, with the thickest armour on the lowest possible weight. It was to be similar in intention to the A33 Excelsior, but far lighter than its 40 tons. As the Valiant managed the same 114mm frontal armour with only 27 tons, it managed to achieve its primary goal, but only by making unacceptable compromises elsewhere. At a time when British tank design was already at its nadir, this "terrible price for the weight concession" coupled with the wartime exigency of passing tank design work to any heavy-engineering firm despite a lack of AFV design experience, led to what is probably the worst British tank of the war.
The design brief of December 1943 called for three prototypes of a small, heavily armoured tank for the Far East. Speed across open country was less important, as was performance against armour. At first Vickers were involved, but they soon passed it to Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon, then finally Ruston & Hornsby, who built the single boilerplate prototype in 1944. Vickers' original intention may have been to use parts of their Valentine where possible, but this did not survive the production choices of the other manufacturers, nor was the running gear of the far lighter Valentine compatible with the needs of such heavy armour. The largest point of commonality was the choice of engine, the 210 bhp General Motors 6004 two-stroke diesel, as used in later marks of Valentine.
Construction was like the Matilda, of large cast armour pieces bolted together. Suspension was by six equally-sized wheels on each side, with independent wishbone suspension units for each, rather than bogies. Concern was expressed as to the fragility of these units in combat, but Valiant was never taken seriously off-road to test them. Drive was to the rear, from a single 210 bhp diesel. This low power limited the tank to a predicted top speed of 12 mph, although this was still acceptable to both the infantry tank and assault tank concepts.
Following from the later Valentine VIII & XI models, the turret was to accept either the 6 pdr or the 75 mm, whilst still having space for a turret crew of 3 (commander, gunner, loader). This was achieved at the cost of a large heavy turret with near-vertical faces and a massive cast front face with distinctively prominent bolts. The mantlet was internal and a weak point against accurate fire at close range. Another weakness of the up-gunned Valentine was avoided by retaining a co-axial machine-gun, although the single driver position didn't allow for a bow machine gun.
Valiant's moment of glory was a trial of its suspension by the Fighting Vehicle Proving Establishment at Chertsey, in May 1945. The first day gave minor problems and was abandoned after a mere 13 miles of easy on-road driving. However the driver was already exhausted by this time: finding that the steering levers needed his full weight to actuate and the seat, footbrake and gearlever all carried risk of physical injury in using them. The Officer in Charge decided to abandon the trials there and then as it was impossible and unsafe to continue and, "in his opinion the entire project should be closed". And so it was.
A Valiant II was mentioned in late 1943, but little more was heard of it. In February 1944 there was more detailed discussion of a Heavy Valiant, which may have been the same and has been reported as such in some sources.
The Heavy Valiant was a substantially different vehicle, merely using the turret (although up-armoured) and driver's compartment of Valiant on a hull derived from the A33 Excelsior and its T1 suspension, but with armour of 9 (hull front) and 10 inches (turret) thickness. Weight was now estimated at 42 tons, which is comparable with the original Excelsior despite almost doubling the armour thickness, and so this must have been a much smaller tank. Power was doubled to cope with the weight, using the new and compact 400 bhp Rolls Royce Meteorite engine (a cut-down V8 Meteor) and an improved transmission. The mistake of the Valentine was to be repeated, where the turret was up-gunned to the 95mm howitzer of the Centaur IV at the cost of forcing the commander to take over the loader's task in a two-man turret. There is a record of a prototype having gone to the ranges at Lulworth Cove for trials in January 1945, but no other record of what it looked like.
The sole Valiant was retained by the School of Tank Technology, where students were treated to an inspection of it at the end of their course and invited to find fault. "One hopes they started early in the morning."
The Valiant can now be seen at the Bovington Tank Museum.
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