Secret Weapons of the Canadian Army
During the Second World War the Canadian Army experimented with a variety of home grown vehicles and weapons systems as well as improvements or modifications to existing British and US designs. The Sexton self-propelled 25-pdr gun may be one of the best known but there existed many others which never progressed beyond single examples. Based in great part on the Army Technical Development Board reports as well as the Army Engineering Design Branch work, this book will show many previously unknown experimental variants.
Roger V Lucy.
Canada’s Weapons of War Series
A5 size softback, 128 pages
Review by Peter Brown
“Necessity is the mother of invention and war provides many necessities. Some inventions turn out to be exactly what is wanted at the right time, some are overtaken by events, others are good in theory but cannot be developed in time to be of use, still others lead to something eventually while some which appeared to be what was wanted at the time do not seem so good later. Canadian weapons development in World War Two included ideas which fell into all these categories. A few have come to light over the years in related studies but this book brings them all together and will mean something altogether new or at least more information on the better known items for all but the most knowledgeable reader.
During the wartime years Canada’s military doctrine closely followed that of the United Kingdom while parts of its industry were closely linked to the United States. Many projects were begun at British request which made sense as the UK was subject to direct enemy action, not least from the air, for most of the war and Canadian production should never be overlooked as a source of supply. Natural conditions such as cold winters were ideal for testing equipment which might be needed in those types of areas, while there was the expertise present to develop, design and build prototypes. The many projects pursued are covered here, type by type.
A few, such as a better design to replace the Sten gun or longer range mortars, may not be the main interest for all readers but there are plenty of armoured and related subjects which take up the greater part of the book. Some may have seen photos of a 2pdr-equipped Lynx scout car but have they seen both types and do they know much about them or the 6pdr on the Fox armoured car? At least those on Carrier chassis were built and issued even if only for home defence. There were also developments to produce better anti tank guns, souped-up 2pdrs to 6pdrs with both longer barrels and Littlejohn attachments and even a dual-role antitank and antiaircraft type. Some details of the M10 Tank Destroyer based on Ram have appeared in print but it is dealt with in more depth here, along wide a proposed 17pdr version of Sexton. Anti aircraft projects range from a quadruple Bren gun mounting which was overly complicated to a Canadian 20mm cannon on towed and lorry mountings as well as the Skink (which is the subject of The Skink in Canadian Service). Mounting a Bofors on a truck was one of the projects which did see production and service although another using a Loyd Carrier was not a success. 3.7″ AA gun on a Ram was maybe not the best idea but how it almost saw use on D Day and another idea to produce a dedicated assault gun are explored.
Sometimes ideas were tried in the field, several PIAT anti-tank launchers on Carriers saw action but were not a success. A 3″ mortar on the back of a Sherman turret was not needed once 105mm howitzer tanks were available. Even more ambitious was fitting aircraft rockets onto armoured cars. Those Staghounds with no less than four launching rails are less well known than British adaptations of Shermans and the idea showed enough promise for a more elaborate system with even more rockets to be developed and tested and there was another type using a haltrack. Not as successful was the Mobile Armoured Rotating Carriage for the 25pdr gun, mentioned in passing in many books on artillery, both towed and truck-mounted versions get more coverage here alongside more practical artillery developments.
Wheeled armour is not forgotten. A planned “wheeled tank” may not have got far even if it offered better firepower than some other designs of the time, but best of all is good information on the Wolf, an eight wheeler with Ram turret which might have lead to something had it not been passed over by something else. The multipurpose CAPLAD was maybe trying to put too many roles into one small vehicle, though the Universal Scout Car combining the roles of Car, Scout and Car, Light Reconnaissance showed promise. Even less well-known was the six-wheeled Low-Silhouette light armoured gun tractor though at least the Tracked Jeep is mentioned in Jeep books.
Several flamethrower concepts were tried but were not as good as the Ronson or the Wasp. Some of the other ideas were obviously impractical but still deserve attention. Few could have expected a Universal Carrier to react well when rebuilt as a half-track but someone had enough faith in it for one to be built. Other designs only existed on paper, such as an unusual proposal for a Close Support cum Antiaircraft conversion of the M3 Lee yet the odd looking Hippo mine clearing vehicle was at least given the chance of a trial, though I for one would not have volunteered to drive it in anger.
Some of the above you may know about or – like Wolf – think you know about though several will be new to you. Photo coverage is good, there are more photos of the Ram 3.7″ in one place than I have seen plus several of the wheeled AFVs which I for one have not seen before. Even some of the proposals are illustrated with a sketch which in some cases was as far as they got. While many were dead-ends in the end they are all fascinating, either for their historical value or as unusual modelling projects they make for absorbing reading.
My thanks to Clive Law at Service Publications for sending a review copy, and for having the faith to publish such a good account of a neglected subject.
“When I opened the packet that the review copy of this book came in, my first impression was “yeah, right, and the next one will cover Guatemalan Atomic Secrets!” It is something of a misnomer, as what the book actually provides is a very good listing of all of the Canadian efforts to contribute to Commonwealth and Allied scientific developments in ground arms during WWII.
Canada had some problems during WWII due to its location and trading partners. By culture, government and forces it was linked to the United Kingdom, as it was still an integral part of the Empire at the time albeit with virtual self-government. However, industrially it was tightly linked to the United States, and many Canadian companies were offshoots of American ones (Ford, Chevrolet and the best known one of all, the Montreal Locomotive Works or MLW, which was the Canadian branch of the famous American Locomotive Company – ALCO.) As such the Canadians were caught in the middle: generally armed with British pattern weaponry and trained in the British mold, but with industries better suited to produce American weapons.
The individual responsible for Canadian war materiel production was the Master General of Ordnance or MGO Branch, and all of the programs flowed through this office. As such, they received a number of requests both directly from Canadian forces and from the War Office in the UK for specific items, all of which they tried to meet.
The book covers a host of systems – roughly 70 different systems broken down as infantry weapons, antitank weapons, self-propelled artillery, mines, antiaircraft weapons, artillery, combat vehicles, tracked vehicles, miscellaneous items, and tank-based projects. Where the weapons system did make it into production, such as with the M3-derived Ram cruiser tank and the Sexton 25-pdr SP gun, only minimal mention is made of the system (as it is better covered in other Service publications.)
Some of the weapons seem logical, such as rechambering the Bren Gun to fire the US standard .30-06 rimless cartridge (which was successful but considered irrelevant by the end of the war.) Some were marginal, such as trying to upgrade the 2-pdr antitank gun to deal with modern German armor.
There are also some really bizarre ones, which seem somewhat incredulous but still show there was an “NIH” syndrome at work in the UK. One case in point was the concept of converting the US M10 3″ GMC tank destroyer to take the British 17-prd antitank gun. The US could not send them a complete M10, so they sent the plans to MLW and they took a Ram (M3) hull and with minor changes produced an early model M10 from it. Theirs worked a bit better as it kept the air-cooled radial engine of the M3/M4 series tanks, but suffered the same problems with overbalanced gun.
While that was felt to be a solvable problem, the idea of installing the 17-pdr was more of a challenge. One officer did some work and showed that a simple boring down of the rear 17 inches of the gun barrel in front of the breech by 5mm, which would not harm its reliability, would then permit it to be installed easily and quickly in the existing 3″ mount. The British ignored the idea and instead went through a number of unsuccessful concepts, with the result that it took too long to get what would have been a valuable weapon into service.
Overall this is an excellent little book, and if nothing else proves that Canada was more than an unassailable production adjunct to Britain.
Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.”