Ram - Canada's Only Homemade WWII Tank - Tank Historia

Ram – Canada’s Only Homemade WWII Tank

The Ram is a Canadian cruiser tank from the Second World War that shared a similar appearance to the M4 Sherman. It was armed with the potent 6 pdr gun, but the Ram would most famously serve without a turret in the Kangaroo role.

It was originally designed to fulfil Canada’s tank requirements, as the UK was prioritised by the US for tank deliveries. Unfortunately, challenges in the design of the Ram resulted in delays and by the time the tank was fully brought into service it was already being replaced by the superior M4 Sherman.

Ram and a Sherman tank.
A Ram (left) beside the more advanced Sherman (right).

It was not a wasted endeavour though, as the Ram would serve in a number of notable roles, including as an early armored personnel carrier (APC), and proved its worth to the Canadian Army during the War.

Contents

Development

In 1940, the Canadian Army possessed only a small handful of tanks and, due to her own requirements and insufficient tank production, the United Kingdom (UK) would be unable to provide Canada with further tanks.

Therefore, it would be necessary for Canada to locally manufacture its own tanks. To that end, the Canadian Pacific Railway Angus Shops in Montreal was the only available facility to build tanks.

Initially, Canada produced 1,420 Valentine tanks but, as these were infantry tanks and the Canadian Army required cruiser tanks, only 30 Valentines were kept for training and the remainder were shipped to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease act.

Valentine cruiser at Kubinka Tank Museum.
The Valentine was not desired by Canada. Many Valentines, including this one, were sent to the USSR as part of the Lend-Lease Act. Image by Mike1979 Russia CC BY-SA 3.0.

One issue with the Valentine was that it was a British design and while it had a number of American produced parts; it relied heavily on British components. As a result, the Canadian Army in September 1940 decided that its new cruiser tank would be based on an American rather than a British design as this would be quicker and enable the use of American parts already in production.

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To this end, the American M3 medium tank was selected by the Canadian Army as the base of their new cruiser tank. However, the Canadian Army would require the hull of the M3 to be redesigned to accept a turret that could traverse the full 360 degrees rather than having the main gun mounted on the side of the hull in a sponson with limited traverse like the M3 had.

M3 Lee at Kubinka.
The M3 would serve as the basis for the Ram. The M3 had formidable firepower and was reliable, but suffered from limited traverse of its 75 mm gun and a very high profile. Image by Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0.

The first prototype tank was completed by the Montreal Locomotive Works in June 1941 and was named the Ram I. Only 50 Ram Is were produced before production switched to the Ram II and nearly 1,900 of these tanks were manufactured before production ended in July 1943 as more and more newer M4 Shermans were coming online.

The Ram I would remain in Canada as a training tank and would not deploy overseas.

As Canada was new at developing tanks and it took time for Canadian factories to gear up for manufacturing the numerous components of the Ram, production ran into several delays and problems.

The Ram Mk i.
The Ram Mk I, armed with a 2 pdr and based on the M3. Note the side escape hatch and frontal auxiliary turret.

Although the Ram was based on the American M3, Canadian factories had to produce their own parts to avoid becoming too reliant on the United States as the Americans had their own manufacturing priorities.

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With all of these delays, it would not be until mid-1943 that Canadian armoured regiments stationed in the UK would have their full complement of Ram II tanks. In fact, the Canadian Army was so desperate to get the limited number of Rams overseas for training that some tanks were even shipped over without their main armament!

Design

The Ram I had a hull of all-cast construction. The driver was seated at the front of the hull on the right with a small machine-gun turret to his left that was operated by the co-driver.

This turret had a 7.7mm machine-gun and could only traverse 120 degrees to the left and 50 degrees to the right.

The other three crew members (commander, gunner, loader) were in the turret which possessed a main armament of a 2-pounder gun (40mm) and a M1919A4 co-axial machine-gun. A similar machine-gun could be mounted on the commander’s cupola for anti-aircraft purposes.

Ram Mk IIs.
The Ram had improved protection over the M3, thanks to its thicker cast armor and significantly lower height.

In total, the Ram I carried 171 rounds of 2-pounder and 4,275 rounds of machine-gun ammunition.

The Ram I, and early Ram IIs were fitted with side doors on the hull, but this weakened the hull and complicated production so they were eventually discarded. While earlier production models of the Ram II still maintained the small machine-gun turret, later Ram IIs did away with this too and the machine-gun was placed in a more conventional ball-type mounting.

The co-axial and anti-aircraft guns remained and a total of 4,000 rounds were carried.

The main gun on the Ram II was changed to the 6-pounder gun (57mm) with 92 rounds stowed.

Ram Mk II at The Tank Museum, Bovington.
This later Ram Mk II has updated running gear and no side hatches. This particular example was used as a target for light weapons, which is why all openings have been covered. Image taken at The Tank Museum Bovington by Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0.

The 6-pounder had been the initial choice as the main armament for the Ram, however neither the gun nor the Canadian designed mounting were immediately available, so early production tanks were fitted with the 2-pounder. Further, the Ram II eliminated the side doors, received a updated suspension and clutch as well as new air cleaners.

Both the Ram I and II were powered by the Continental R-975 9-cylinder radial gasoline engine that could produce 400 horsepower. Maximum speed was 25 mph (40 km/h) with an operational range of 140 miles (230 km).

Service

The Ram II started to equip Canadian armoured regiments stationed in the UK in 1943; however it was already being replaced by the newer M4 Sherman.

Although there was some discussion in First Canadian Army Headquarters about modifying and improving the Ram (such as adding a 75-mm gun) it was eventually decided that these modifications would be costly and that the Sherman was the superior tank and would soon be available in large numbers.

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As such, the Ram II would not see combat action as a tank. When the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade (renamed 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade in August 1943) took part in Operation Husky on 10 July 1943 (the Allied invasion of Sicily), it would be equipped with Shermans and not Rams.

Canadian Shermans in Italy.
Canadian Shermans in Italy, 1944.

Other Canadian armoured formations: 5th Canadian Armoured Division (Italy) and 4th Canadian Armoured Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (both Northwest Europe) would also go into battle with the Sherman rather than the Ram.

However, this would not mark the end of the Ram in Canadian service. Although the tank was outdated and replaced by 1943, the Ram would serve the Canadian Army in a variety of roles from 1943 to 1945 and beyond.

Even prior to 1943, the Ram hull would be utilized as the basis for the Sexton Mark I self-propelled howitzer equipped with the 25-pounder (87mm) cannon. 125 of these vehicles would be delivered to the Canadian Army during the Second World War.

A Sexton I, Ram Kangaroo and Ram Mk II in the Netherlands.
A Sexton I, based on the Ram, on the move in the Netherlands. In the background is a Ram Kangaroo (left) and a Ram Mk II (right).

A Sexton Mark II, based on the Grizzly (the Canadian designed Sherman tank) would also see extensive combat with the British and Canadian armies. Some Rams would also be converted into ammunition carriers for the Sexton and called the Wallaby.

The final 84 production Ram II tanks would be converted into mobile observation posts (OP) for Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) Forward Observation Officers (FOO) of the self-propelled artillery regiments of the Canadian Army. These particular vehicles would have their main armament replaced with a dummy gun, carry additional radios and a crew of six.

To further support the RCA self-propelled artillery regiments, some Rams were converted into Gun Position Officer (GPO) vehicles. This particular variant was mounted with Tannoy loudspeakers to allow GPOs to properly position their battery’s guns prior to firing.

A Sexton GPO.
A rare Sexton GPO. These vehicles would have been in contact with scout or frontline units to control and relay fire orders to Sexton SPGS. Image courtesy of Peter M Garwood.

Another Ram variant for the RCA was the Ram Gun Tower. This Ram would have its turret removed and changed into an armoured artillery tractor for towing the 17-pounder anti-tank gun used by RCA anti-tank regiments.

Not all Rams were adopted into vehicles for supporting the RCA; some Rams were converted into Armoured Recovery Vehicles.

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Later, other Rams would be transformed into flamethrower tanks called the Badger. Early editions would have the turret removed and the flamethrower in place of the bow machine-gun, while later versions would keep the turret but have the 6-pounder gun replaced with the flamethrower.

Perhaps the most famous conversion of the Ram tank would be the Ram Kangaroo Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). The Kangaroo come about in July 1944 as the Canadian Army recognized that it did not possess enough protected mobility for its infantry. As there were not enough APCs immediately available, the Canadian Army would convert surplus armoured vehicles into APCs.

The first 72 Kangaroos were converted from the M7 Priest self-propelled howitzer. Further Kangaroos were required and numerous Ram tanks were transformed into APCs with the first Ram Kangaroos entering into service with the Canadian Army in September 1944.

These Ram Kangaroos would soon equip the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment and the British 49th Armoured Carrier Regiment, with both units serving under the British 79th Armoured Division (also known as “Hobart’s Funnies”) and providing yeoman service until the end of the war in Europe.

Ram Kangaroo troop transport.
The Ram Kangaroo, perhaps the most well known use of the Ram chassis. Image taken in The Tank Museum, Bovington.

The Ram Kangaroo would continue to serve for some time in the British and Canadian armies after the Second World War.

Although the gun tank version of the Ram would not see combat during the Second World War, it would serve in the Royal Netherlands Army after the war. Canada and the UK would provide some 70 Ram gun tanks to the Netherlands in 1945 with 40 of these being mounted with the same British 75-mm gun that equipped variants of the Cromwell and Churchill tanks.

These Rams, along with Shermans, would serve the Dutch Army until 1952 when they were all replaced with the Centurion tank.

A Ram Kangaroo 1945.
A Ram Kangaroo in Germany, 1945. They were designed to carry around eight to 12 troops, but most of the time as many men as possible would be squeezed inside.

However, the Ram would continue to serve in the Royal Netherlands Army throughout the 1950s and 1960s as static pillboxes in the Ijssel Line; the Dutch portion of the NATO line of defence for Western Europe during the early Cold War period. Ram tanks used in this line would have their hulls dug in and embedded within two feet of concrete with only the turret visible.

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Sadly, only a few examples of the Ram still survive today: One each of an OP and Kangaroo variant in the Netherlands, tank versions at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Canadian Forces Base Borden and Beatty Street Drill Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia (armoury for the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own)) and tank and Kangaroo variants at The Tank Museum, Bovington. There is also a Ram tank at Bovington Camp.