Crusader Anti-Aircraft Mk III

Improving protection from air attack for armored formations proved to be a major concern for every combatant during World War II.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Crusader Mk III with the Crusader Anti-Aircraft Mk III.

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It is interesting to me how two such similar projects came about at the same time.  In building I noticed both vehicles used magazine loaded guns (not belt fed), perhaps that makes sense in a rotating turret.  But it appears the Crusader’s magazines are significantly larger.  So if the Wirbelwind can lay down more automatic weapons fire in an instant, the Crusader can sustain it longer.  It also worth noting far more of the British tanks were made, 600 vs 100.

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So one of these targets would be very appealing to a Crusader crew, the other not so much…

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.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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15 Responses to Crusader Anti-Aircraft Mk III

  1. Jeff Groves says:

    Interesting type. I suspect the Poles used them in the infantry support role, they would be devastating against unarmored targets.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    Interesting build Dave. I was totally unaware of this type (or rather modification, I was well aware of the Crusaders a tank in North Africa).

    • atcDave says:

      I’m not sure which it technically is! I know the Wirbelwind was actually converted from Panzer IVs. But the Crusader AA is listed as “construction” numbers. Are they new builds? Maybe. British construction is often confusing. I know older airframes were often re- manufactured as later marks. This seems likely here, but I don’t see any actual statement to that effect.

  3. jfwknifton says:

    Really informative, yet again. The Desert Rats symbol is on the left rear mud-flap of the Crusader. There are still arguments about what animal it represents with its kangaroo-like rear legs.
    Wikipedia says:
    “The name “Desert Rats” was coined by the first divisional commander, Major-General Percy Hobart. There he met Rea Leakey, then GSO 3 Intelligence, who had a pet jerboa, or “desert rat”. Hobart took to the animal and decided to adopt “The Desert Rats” as a nickname for the division. The shoulder flash was designed by the wife of his successor, Major-General Michael O’Moore Creagh, using a jerboa from Cairo Zoo as a model. The resulting shoulder patches were made of scarlet thread. These were unofficial; the War Office did not adopt the flashes until the summer of 1943 and then redesigned them to look, in the opinion of Leakey, more like a kangaroo than a jerboa. The colour was also changed to black.”
    Trust the War Office to spoil everybody’s fun!

    • atcDave says:

      That’s funny John! I know a lot of American units simply never applied for official recognition of patches and logo, that may be exactly why.

  4. Very interesting Dave. It looks like a useful adaptation to an ageing vehicle.

  5. Ernie Davis says:

    Just as an aside, it is interesting that there is no 1/48 scale model of the American halftrack with the D45 quad .50 mount but there is one of this pretty obscure variant of the Crusader.

    • atcDave says:

      Interesting is one word for it!
      There actually isn’t any American halftrack at all. Or Stuart or Lee tank. Or anything Italian or Japanese. Well, not quite true. I think there is one Italian armored car and a couple of Japanese trucks.
      I think the problem is only one manufacturer has a very active vehicle line in this scale at all. So once they did a Crusader tank they were going to do every major variant of it. All things considered they’ve done well, Tamiya started their vehicle line about 15 years ago and they already have well over 100 kits available. That includes 6 variants of Sherman
      (but no Jumbo yet!) and 4 King Tigers. Hasegawa, Airfix and Italerie have also done vehicles in this scale, but each has less than 10 (less than 5?).
      But I would guess 60-70% of Tamiya’s vehicles are German. So although I’m most interested in Allied subjects, my vehicle rotation is Something German/something else/something German/something else…

      Every now and then they choose a more modern subject and I’m left out. They’ve done a Humvee, M1 Abrahms, T-55, and a couple of modern Japanese Vehicles. I keep thinking Stuart! But not yet.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I guess that makes some sense that they would try and get the most out of their investment. Then again Tamiya has a VEEERY extensive 1/35th collection of vehicles, so maybe they feel no real need to expand the 1/48 line too much.

      • atcDave says:

        I think the 1/48 line been quite successful for them, but yeah its clearly secondary to 1/35. There is some scaling up or down between subjects, but I’ve been disappointed with a few new 1/35 subjects that never made the leap.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        It doesn’t sound like they have a lot of competition in 1/48th so you’d think they’d exploit that. Then again while having established scale dimensions for a vehicle, translating from 1/35 to 1/48 may be a simple matter, but my guess is that actual production is the cost that holds them back.

      • atcDave says:

        Yes I think you’re right.
        They definitely need to do some re-engineering, the smaller scale needs to reduce parts count and fine detail. But I’ve noticed reviewers mention several times when different scale kits are clearly related to each other.
        It is funny, I’ve seen Tamiya’s 1/48 line referred to as “very successful”. I’m not sure why other company’s efforts have been so half hearted. It may have something to do with a large volume of subject research already done and deep enough pockets to make things happen. And I suppose its all good news for them that my biggest complaint is MORE!
        After I finish the Stug III currently on my bench I think my next effort will be an Airfix 1/48 fuel truck. Every manufacturer has their own way of doing things, so that is bound to be a very different project!

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I have my answer… 1/48 scale.

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