Improving protection from air attack for armored formations proved to be a major concern for every combatant during World War II.
Let’s look at a British response to that concern.
This post could look a lot like the last AFV I put up, the “Wirbelwind“. Its safe to say two combatants with similar concerns came up with similar solutions.
The Crusader was a British cruiser, or cavalry, tank of the early war years. It served mainly in North Africa where it could make good use of speed to compensate for its thin armor. Early on, mainly against Italian forces, it was a capable enough tank. But when the Africa Korps arrived with bigger tanks and guns it became clear improvements were needed. And the Crusader WAS improved, by its Mk III variant it had a 57 mm anti-tank gun.
But by mid-1942 the Crusader was more equal to a Stuart or Panzer III than a main battle tank. So newer Lee and Sherman tanks became the main force. By the end of the North Africa campaign, with Tigers arriving on the scene, it was obvious the Crusader’s day had passed. This combined with the type’s mechanical unreliability led to it being phased out of armored divisions.
Crusaders did remain in service with training units in England however. When an anti-aircraft solution was sought in the build up to D-Day the Crusader platform was looked at as a good candidate. It was big enough for heavy automatic weapons, fast, and its mechanical reliability was less problematic with a good supply line (something the allies were getting much better at).
The Crusader Anti-Aircraft Mk I carried a single 40mm gun. The Mk II switched to twin 20mm guns. Both of these types were used for training only, the improved Mk III followed the form of the Mk II pretty closely with improvements to armor and radios to make it combat ready. The Mk III was issued to British and allied armored units for the Normandy invasion, usually attached to Headquarters formations. Summer of 1944 it was quickly realized that the Luftwaffe was no longer a meaningful threat and organic anti-air defense was not a high priority. The twin 20mm was effective against any sort of soft target and that is mostly how the type was used. It was decided however it wasn’t worth the trouble of supporting the type in the field any longer and most were withdrawn, freeing up the crews for traditional tanks. Except, the 1st Polish Armored Division favored the type and used it to the end of the War.
This is from the Tamiya kit. It is an example attached to the 7th Armoured Division, better known as “The Desert Rats” because of their exploits in North Africa. The Division landed on Gold Beach on June 7, 1944 and fought across northwest Europe from there. I can’t find a date for the withdrawal of the anti-aircraft tanks but my best guess would be sometime around the breakout (Operations Goodwood and Cobra) in mid-July; I say that because that’s when the need for more traditional armor became most apparent.