The Missunderstood Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 - Tank Historia

The Missunderstood Medium Cruiser Mk. 1

The Vickers Medium Cruiser Mk.1 is a lightweight British tank from the post-Second World War period, which was one of the most fascinating times for tank development. The story of this tank is marred with confusion as it is often mixed up with the closely related FV301.

The tank was a private project by Vickers to produce a simplified version of the FV301 light tank for the export market. It was not as refined nor modern as other vehicles of its day, but it was intended for customers who did not want a full-blooded main battle tank and their associated costs.

Top view of the Vickers Medium Cruiser Mk. 1.
Top view of the Vickers Medium Cruiser Mk. 1.

This unique tank was eventually cancelled for reasons that are not yet understood. Sadly, since then, Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 has mostly been forgotten, and on the odd occasion it is discussed, it is often confused for the FV301.

Read on to pull back the veil on this mysterious footnote in British tank history.

Contents

Background

The story of this obscure tank technically dates back to the 1940s, when Britain laid out a number of fighting vehicle series to cover the military’s requirements. These include the FV200 series, which produced the Conqueror and the FV4000 series, which produced the Centurion.

However less known is the FV300 series, which was intended to result in a wide range of vehicles that covered multiple roles, such as armored personnel carriers, self-propelled guns and armored recovery vehicles.

FV303 tank destroyer.

Particularly important to the Cruiser Mk. 1’s story is the FV301, a light tank from the FV300 series developed by Vickers. With their experience from that project, they began work on an export tank of similar specifications in 1954.

The tank was aimed at the French, or at least a French-speaking market, indicated by its associated documentation.

Visually, it was similar to the British FV301 light tank development of around the same time, but it was marginally heavier and slightly longer. In fact, the two appear to have shared some parts, so its likely that Vickers dipped into the formers budget to produce this export tank.

A preliminary sketch of the FV301 light tank.
A preliminary sketch of the FV301 light tank.

This new tank was a rather dated design, especially compared to more recent vehicles such as the US M48 and British Centurion. However it was never intended to be a contemporary of these types of tanks, instead it was aimed towards nations who had a more restrained budget and did not require cutting edge equipment.

Tiger 1 starting up
Tiger 1 starting up

Medium Cruiser Mk. 1

The Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 had a crew of four in a conventional layout; with the driver in the front right of the hull and the commander, gunner and loader in the turret. The driver was able to access the fighting compartment through a bulkhead behind them.

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As mentioned, the Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 was not heavily armored at all, featuring only 44 mm of armor on its front. This was angled back at 36 degrees, resulting in an effective thickness of 75 mm. The hull sides and rear were 19 mm thick and mounted vertically.

Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 from the front.
The Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 from the front. Note the bulge in front of the driver.

This may seem thin, but it is actually comparable to equivalent tanks of the era, such as the AMX-13.

In the center of the hull was the six-sided turret, which was a similar to that found on the FV301 but of more simplified shape and a slightly different crew arrangement.

The front of the turret was a large cast piece 50 mm thick, set at a slight angle. The rest of the turret was of welded construction. It sat on a caged ball race over a 64-inch (1625.6 mm) diameter turret ring.

Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 side view.
The turret sides and rear were 25 mm thick.

The gunner, positioned to the right of the gun, had a periscope, while another three were provided for the commander located behind and above him. To the left of the breach was the loader who had a single periscope and his own hatch.

The commander’s cupola offered 360 degree vision, but unlike the FV300 did not have the Reflector-cum-Periscope (a device that enabled the commander to view the gunner’s sight) which was also still under development.

BANNER

The main armament was the high pressure 77mm gun, the same type used on the Comet and FV301. Unlike the FV301 though it did not have the experimental automatic loader developed by Elswick (Vickers plant) and instead had a semi-automatic breech.

Medium Cruiser Mk. 1
Plans for the Medium Cruiser Mk. 1. Note the ammunition for the 77 mm stored beside the driver and under the turret.

The traverse was electric although it could be hand wound for fine tuning. The gun fired armor-piercing capped ballistic capped (APCBC) ammunition at 820 mps (2,700 fps) and could punch through around 120 mm of steel at 900 meters (1000 yards). A 7.92 mm Besa machine gun was mounted coaxially beside the main gun.

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Power was provided by a 530 hp Rolls Royce Meteorite Mk. 2. The Meteorite was a cut-down, V8 version of the V12 Meteor, itself a derivative of the famous Merlin engine.

Meteorite V8 engine mockup.
A mockup of the Rolls-Royce Meteorite. This V8 engine displaced 18 litres (1098 cu in).

It was coupled to a V52 gearbox that drove the rear sprockets. This gearbox would later be used by the FV4202 test bed, which was also powered by a Meteorite.

All in the tank weighed 21 tons, and had a top speed of 30 mph (48 kph).

Only a single mockup for the Cruiser Mk. 1 was made before Vickers cancelled the project.

Confusion

As we’ve mentioned, this tank is regularly mixed up with the FV301. While these tanks have a number of similarities, they are separate designs with many differences.

The main difference between the Vickers Cruiser Mk.1 and the FV300 series is the suspension – this is the easiest way of quickly identifying the two.

Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 right side view.
The Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 has three return rollers and wheels with holes in them.

The Cruiser Mk. 1 has five 28 inch rubber-rimmed road wheels, each with distinct holes punched into them. It also has 3 return rollers, two of which are located close together toward the rear of the tank.

Meanwhile the FV300 series – including all wooden mockups such as the FV301 and FV303 tank destroyer – all have five larger wheels, positioned closer together and with five distinct heavy bolts and no holes.

FV303 tank destroyer.

In addition, vehicles from the FV300 series only have two return rollers per side.

Both designs use torsion bar suspension and shock absorbers of a Newton and Bennet type, but the latter are located on different points of the hull. The FV300 suspension eventually ended up on the Contentious tank test bed, where they remain today.

FV301 top view drawing.
These drawings of the FV301 also show a differently shaped turret.

Fate

Exactly who ordered the Vickers Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 is still a mystery. Documentation and excerpts written in French would indicate it was for France, or a French speaking nation elsewhere.

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Other small details, such as the brass plaque attached to the front that might contain Arabic text, may hold further clues. Sadly this will remain unknown until more information can be uncovered on these elusive vehicles.

The Medium Cruiser Mk. 1's rear end.
The Medium Cruiser Mk. 1’s rear end.

However, not only do we not know who ordered it, we also don’t know why it was cancelled.

It may have been linked to the dwindling interest – and therefore funds – in the FV300 project. It is also possible that the funding for one was leached from another. Developing its own projects on the back of government contacts was something Vickers was known to do.

The most likely explanation though is that the unidentified potential customer, for whatever reason, no longer required the tank.

MBT Mk. 1 in India.
Vickers’ work on the Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 and FV300 series would later assist in the creation of the Vickers Mk.1 (shown here is an Indian Vijayanta). Image by Biswarup Ganguly CC BY-SA 3.0.

Although it was never put into production, the work carried out on the development of the Medium Cruiser Mk. 1 and FV301 would go on to help Vickers build the Vickers MBT Mk. 1 via the Vickers VAPT.

Unfortunately since then this tank has often been confused with the FV301, with many publications mixing the two vehicles up. Only recently has the story of this tank finally been corrected.