Worst Tank of WWII

T34

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Having watched all the videos from the Bovington Tank Museum on bad tanks, I'm trying to nail down what is the single worst tank of WWII. Let's keep in mind that all tanks are a compromise between 1) Firepower, 2) Mobility and 3) Protection. We can throw in some other features like a) crew friendliness, b) reliability and c) ease of production. There is certainly some room to argue about its role and context of the period in which it is being produced. (For example, I would say that while in most respects it is a decent design, the Jaegdtiger--a gas guzzling ton of steel the Germans really didn't have at the time that couldn't cross water obstacles except on railroad bridges--was the wrong tank at the wrong time.) I will try to concentrate on the tanks I would not like to have in an ASL scenario.

And the nominees are:

First and foremost, the Italian L3 series. Just like when Meryl Streep is nominated for an academy award, the L3 instantly becomes a favorite for worst tank of WWII and ASL. What happens when you take a vehicle that shows itself to be woefully inadequate in prior conflicts (Spanish Civil War, China) and do nothing to upgrade it and expect to use it as your main battle tank almost a decade later? The L3. The L3 trades off protection and firepower for speed--and doesn't get a whole lot in the trade off. The L3 has a top speed of around 25 MPH, but that's on a British copied bogey suspension. The top speed of a KV I is 22 MPH! To be fair, the L3 is used in the desert and on roads, so the bogey suspension isn't a huge disadvantage, but still. The L3 is armed with a MG or, in a few cases kitted out with a retrofitted ATR (is there an ASL counter for this?) Later, it got a flamethrower, but in order to hold sufficient fuel for the flamethrower they attached a trailer to let every single anti-tank weapon know exactly which tank to shoot at!

The L3 proved nearly worthless against the T26 in Spain, but that's OK, Italian doctrine didn't figure on tank vs. tank warfare. The L3 also operated in China where it couldn't stand up to any Japanese anti tank weapons and wasn't built for inadequate roads and viscous terrain. It's awfully bad when the PzKwI was preferred. The truth is, when the L3 was deployed, it was really only good for badgering and bullying pockets of communist resistance in Italian urban areas.

Not only was the L3 still on the battlefield in 1941, but it was the main Italian armored weapon, being the official tank filling Italian Armored Divisions. It didn't become obsolete so much as being wiped off the battlefield as so much scrap metal.

Now, Italy has to be forgiven for the L3 in that it was a poor country trying to build a powerful, modern army in a short period of time. The L3 was cheap and quick to produce, allowing the Italians to field a number of armored divisions rather early on in the war. Also, Italy's early opponents did not have an answer for the L3. But you definitely need to think that while Ethiopians and Albanians are terrified of your mechanization, the French and the British are not. Even by 1937, the Germans (potential rivals in Yugoslavia and Austria) are not at all afraid of your armor.

In ASL, the L3 appears simply as a way to cut rout paths and create smoke. In a desert scenario they are virtually useless and (as it says in Beowulf) "unloved by God." They don't have sufficient firepower to do any damage to anything other than infantry without any kind of cover. The flame version is a bit more interesting, but good luck getting anywhere near close enough to torch your opponent.

So my first nominee is the Italian L3 series.

 
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I've also been enjoying this series of videos. In terms of worst tanks it's hard to go past the Covenanter, the nominee the museum director made in one of the most recent episodes. I realise that it's not depicted in ASL but producing 1,700 tanks, none of which saw action (except for some bridgelayer variants) at the very time the British army was crying for almost any AFV it could get its hands on is extraordinary.
 

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I have a small bit of sympathy for the L3. Allied to severe industrial limitations, late '20s, early '30s Italian Army outlook was that Germany was the main threat. So they concentrated on something small that could manage nasty mountain roads and trails. That coincided with their colonial needs. It wasn't until '38 that Hitler and Mussolini came to agreement over Austria, a much earlier Anschluss could have met Austrian and Italian resistance. The ASL L3 cc has the 20mm Solothurn S-18/1000 ATR.

We have to make allowances for '20s and early-mid '30s designs as the future of tanks and their roles were unclear. In '39 even the Red Square parade float T-35 was better than and as reliable as the British A9 and A10.

I agree about the Covenanter. A criminal waste of scarce industrial resources. The Germans produced the Pz I Ausf F which at 20 tonnes weighed nearly as much as an early Pz III but with only 2 MG. At least they only produced 50 of them. Ditto the Pz II Ausf J, but only 22 built.
 

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Having watched all the videos from the Bovington Tank Museum on bad tanks, I'm trying to nail down what is the single worst tank of WWII. Let's keep in mind that all tanks are a compromise between 1) Firepower, 2) Mobility and 3) Protection. We can throw in some other features like a) crew friendliness, b) reliability and c) ease of production. There is certainly some room to argue about its role and context of the period in which it is being produced. (For example, I would say that while in most respects it is a decent design, the Jaegdtiger--a gas guzzling ton of steel the Germans really didn't have at the time that couldn't cross water obstacles except on railroad bridges--was the wrong tank at the wrong time.) I will try to concentrate on the tanks I would not like to have in an ASL scenario.

And the nominees are:

First and foremost, the Italian L3 series. Just like when Meryl Streep is nominated for an academy award, the L3 instantly becomes a favorite for worst tank of WWII and ASL. What happens when you take a vehicle that shows itself to be woefully inadequate in prior conflicts (Spanish Civil War, China) and do nothing to upgrade it and expect to use it as your main battle tank almost a decade later? The L3. The L3 trades off protection and firepower for speed--and doesn't get a whole lot in the trade off. The L3 has a top speed of around 25 MPH, but that's on a British copied bogey suspension. The top speed of a KV I is 22 MPH! To be fair, the L3 is used in the desert and on roads, so the bogey suspension isn't a huge disadvantage, but still. The L3 is armed with a MG or, in a few cases kitted out with a retrofitted ATR (is there an ASL counter for this?) Later, it got a flamethrower, but in order to hold sufficient fuel for the flamethrower they attached a trailer to let every single anti-tank weapon know exactly which tank to shoot at!

The L3 proved nearly worthless against the T26 in Spain, but that's OK, Italian doctrine didn't figure on tank vs. tank warfare. The L3 also operated in China where it couldn't stand up to any Japanese anti tank weapons and wasn't built for inadequate roads and viscous terrain. It's awfully bad when the PzKwI was preferred. The truth is, when the L3 was deployed, it was really only good for badgering and bullying pockets of communist resistance in Italian urban areas.

Not only was the L3 still on the battlefield in 1941, but it was the main Italian armored weapon, being the official tank filling Italian Armored Divisions. It didn't become obsolete so much as being wiped off the battlefield as so much scrap metal.

Now, Italy has to be forgiven for the L3 in that it was a poor country trying to build a powerful, modern army in a short period of time. The L3 was cheap and quick to produce, allowing the Italians to field a number of armored divisions rather early on in the war. Also, Italy's early opponents did not have an answer for the L3. But you definitely need to think that while Ethiopians and Albanians are terrified of your mechanization, the French and the British are not. Even by 1937, the Germans (potential rivals in Yugoslavia and Austria) are not at all afraid of your armor.

In ASL, the L3 appears simply as a way to cut rout paths and create smoke. In a desert scenario they are virtually useless and (as it says in Beowulf) "unloved by God." They don't have sufficient firepower to do any damage to anything other than infantry without any kind of cover. The flame version is a bit more interesting, but good luck getting anywhere near close enough to torch your opponent.

So my first nominee is the Italian L3 series.

Compared to other tanks, the L3 surely is crappy.

Unfortunately, there seem to be not many books around on the Italian army and its doctrine between the World Wars and during WW2. At least, this is my impression when you browse through what bookstores have on offer in a number of countries where I had the chance to look (Germany, Austria, USA, UK, Australia). In Italy, there might be more, but - of course - they would have no reason to sell books on Italian forces in Italy in English language...

I believe that some aspects of the Italian armed forces between the World Wars weren't too bad. This is true for the airforce and for the navy. Then there are also some aspects of doctrine, that not many people know about. I am no exception. However, at least some of the Italian forces were intended to make fast advances to penetrate deep into enemy territory before resistance could bolster. Fast units were supposed to transport infantry in trucks and supported by relatively quick and light tanks. This is where the tankettes come in.

The trouble was, that the armament for such a type of deployment was too light to overcome more stubborn points of resistance. And if the fast advance was held up as a consequence, this had the doctrinal concept go awry.

Some of the Italian 'hardware' wasn't bad (if not excellent) for the time between the wars. But it was already obsolete or outdated, when WW2 began. To make matters worse, the Italian economy was not ready for war when Italy entered it. It would have needed an extra two or three years to gear up. But Mussolini was afraid that the Germans would get all the cake with nothing much left for the Italian ambitions. The industry not being ready made it very difficult for Italy to catch up with events - and in effect, it never did.

But back to the L3 in ASL.

I like to imagine the L3 in a context that the Italians envisioned: Fast advances vs. very light or surprised resistance.
In ASL terms, make that some scenario in which some of the enemy units 'have already expended 50% of their MF/MP in turn1' or 'may not move/fire until an enemy unit comes into LOS' or 'may not move/fire until attacked by the enemy'. Something in this line. Of course, such situations might have been some wishful thinking by the Italians and bear witness to some doctrinal lack of judgement. But let's put this aside.

I see the L3 as something like a 'squad on steroids':
  • It has the same Firepower as many squads - 4.
  • It moves way faster than a squad under most circumstances.
  • It has longer range than a squad.
  • It is an 'armored' squad - not entirely bulletproof with regard to MG, ATR, a lucky MTR hit, but still.
  • It might carry Riders given the correct time frame, at least a lone Leader anytime.
  • It has - unfortunately - no anti-tank capability... ;)
Alas, commanders (the honor of the former be saved) and scenario designers think of the L3 as a 'tank' and not as a 'squad on steroids' and pit it against enemy units you wouldn't pit a squad without AT-capability against. Consequently, they have their 'best squads' die like flies.

Maybe this is quite an unconventional approach though.

von Marwitz
 

Michael Dorosh

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Someone on my YouTube channel complained about Italian tanks being useless. One of my friends, with a deep interest in Italian tanks, pointed out that everyone laughed about Italian tanks - until it was time for them to drive through the Apennines in their own vehicles.

Panther, considered one of the "best" all round tanks of the war, was considered unsuitable for Italy. Too wide, and too hard to get up the mountain roads.

Where you fight is as important as who you're fighting when you're trying to judge how good or bad the equipment is.
 

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Unfortunately, there seem to be not many books around on the Italian army and its doctrine between the World Wars and during WW2. At least, this is my impression when you browse through what bookstores have on offer in a number of countries where I had the chance to look (Germany, Austria, USA, UK, Australia).
Iron Arm: The Mechanization of Mussolini's Army, 1920-40, Stackpole Books, John Joseph Timothy Sweet
Stops at Italian entry to WW2, but I can recommend it.
 

T34

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were intended to make fast advances to penetrate deep into enemy territory before resistance could bolster. Fast units were supposed to transport infantry in trucks and supported by relatively quick and light tanks. This is where the tankettes come in.

I see the L3 as something like a 'squad on steroids':
  • It has the same Firepower as many squads - 4.
  • It moves way faster than a squad under most circumstances.
  • It has longer range than a squad.
  • It is an 'armored' squad - not entirely bulletproof with regard to MG, ATR, a lucky MTR hit, but still.
  • It might carry Riders given the correct time frame, at least a lone Leader anytime.
  • It has - unfortunately - no anti-tank capability... ;)
Now that you mention it, I wonder how much of the Italian military plan was based on the Italian civil war, when blackshirts rushed in on trucks frequently overcame leftists building barricades. The fascists seized many cities by a coup de main. Success always breeds doctrinal errors.

The L3 cannot carry riders, it is a tankette.

It does have some anti-tank ability (MG vs. armor) but this is pretty pathetic.

I do like the idea of thinking of them as a squad on steroids, but they are more vulnerable than a squad, which breaks and comes back, rather than gets hit by a MG, is shocked and then becomes an UK and then dies. Any AT weapon is effective against it.

Someone else mentioned mountain passes and the advantages of having a nimble tank. However, the Italians had absolutely no success in mountain combat (beside the fact that the Alpini were arguably the best arm of the Italian army.) At St. Bernard Pass, which I go through every time I go to Italia ASL Gathering, the Italians got held up by a French bunker, caught in a freak summer snowstorm and suffered horrendous casualties. They also made little headway against a bunch of French naval auxiliaries along the Mediterranean coast. Not to mention their failure in Greece. The L3 gets no credit for helping them in mountainous regions.

I think that ASL Italians are underrated somewhat. Surely, they represent troops hard pressed and let down by equipment failures. I like the LFT remake.
 

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I might be inclined to go the other way and declare the Maus the "worst" tank, by being far too big as opposed to the too small L3. Certainly it was too heavy to go anywhere without extensive logistical support. It consumed a massive quantity of fuel to get wherever it actually could go. And I'm sure there was no defined role for it. Even the SturmTiger at least had a job - it was used to flatten urban defences. The Maus, if I understand it correctly, was supposed to be a "breakthrough" weapon - aim it at a schwerpunkt and roll through by relying on its invulnerability. I suppose they are lucky they never actually tried it.
 

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The Italian army developed 'The War of Rapid Decision" as their doctrine. It was in line with other nations views on using the ICE in modern war. As noted above the Italian industry had no experience with developing armoured vehicles and they were caught on the wrong foot with the start of the war in 1940 (the economy was no star either).

The L3 was never intended to combat enemy tanks, it was, for better or for worse, as reconnaissance and infantry support vehicle.

I like to look on the L3/35 (and Polish TKS copy) as proto-assault guns and tank destroyers. Et in nomine Roma ait. Vini, Vidi, Vici!!!

They are inexpensive, easy to produce, possess an extremely low profile (double small target), are comparatively nimble - just like a StuG III, JgPz IV, Jg Pz V or SU-100. In fact,.... dare I say, the Italians were ahead of their time. :unsure: Note that the L3/35 served in frontline service longer than did many other so-called "better" models.

Properly deployed the L3 can engage many early war tanks from the late 30s such the MK VIb, Pz IB, Pz IIA, T-37, T40. Under certain conditions this killer can defeat the A9, Pz IIID, Pz IVA, T26 M33 or BT-5 and 7. Only the French have armour that need not fear the L3/35 tank buster. Not bad for a 3 ton design dating back to the L3/33 (in 1933).

Full marks to the French for recognising and meeting the threat in advance of 1940. :whistle:

Finally,...the L3 can upset the plans of infantry forces that lack any serious AT weapons (as do most infantry companies in 39-40) with more than blocking rout paths. Like the TKS, Pz IB, Mk VIb, the L3 is is a potential killer of infantry and breakthrough tank.

Give "Italian Brothers" (Annual 95) a try. This one pits Italian troops with L3s against the Republicans (Allied Minors) and is a lot of fun.
 
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T34

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I would agree about the Maus, but it was a prototype and for a prototype, even a failure is some kind of success. Which brings us to...

My second nominee is the London, Midlands and Scottish Railway Company's Covenanter tank. As mentioned above, it was a production vehicle of which 1771 were built during the hottest part of WWII, but none saw combat, apart from a few that had their turrets removed and were converted to bridge layers.

The A13 MkIII was designed to be a new, heavier cruiser tank. The British Army had rightly deduced that their cruiser tanks were far too vulnerable to German anti-tank weapons. The Covenanter (named after a kind of Scottish warrior monk) was designed to be more heavily armored and have a more powerful engine. Surprisingly all this came before the war.

Like any cruiser tank, the Covenanter traded protection and firepower for mobility. Even though an upgrade, it retained the 40mm 2lbr anti-tank gun that proved largely inadequate against German PzKwIII (and an insufficient challenge even to PzKw38t's) and lacked a HE anti-personnel round. It also had only one 7.92mm Besa machine gun. This is not a lot of firepower for a unit supposed to be an exploitation tank.

Protection was supposed to be of a 30mm standard, meaning that all armor was supposed to be 30mm at 90 degrees or equivalent protection if angled. This would also prove inadequate for an exploitation tank, which generally faced armored counterattacks when on the attack.

However, the big problem with the Covenanter was its 12 cylinder engine, which was laid out in a flat, opposable format. The general idea was to keep the profile of the tank low (an admirable goal.) However, it also made it impossible to adequately mount radiators to cool the engine. Somehow, no one on the design team considered this to be a big drawback. In 1938, the tank was ordered into production without any prototyping.

How a colonial power designs a tank which lacks an adequate cooling system and then orders it into immediate production seems like the plot of a Charlie Chaplin or Marx Brothers film. However, LMS continued building these and rushing them out the door despite their shortcomings.

Now, it is true that following the disaster at Dunkerque, the British Army had a need for tanks to refill their armored divisions and shore up the home army. In this sense, the Covenanter was a high priced, overproduced training vehicle. It consumed an enormous portion of British tank production at a time when Cairo was in danger and Covenanters were of absolutely no use (they easily overheated in the desert.)

The Covenanter never overcame the overheating problem and, being designed around the flat 12 (which didn't produce the horsepower one might imagine for a 12 cylinder engine) and, with an inadequate turret, armament and MG compliment, the Covenanter was relegated as obsolete before it ever fired a shot in anger.

Has any third party put out a Covenanter counter for ASL with some hypothetical Sea Lion pack? Don't know. Don't care. Bad name. Bad tank. Moral of the story: Never rush a new tank into production without prototyping it. Better to stick with what you know and do upgrades rather than try something as new as a flat 12 engine to lower the vehicle profile. Also a moral of the story: Seriously, you trust British railways to build you a tank?



Covenanter: A tank so bad that the British didn't even lend-lease them to the Soviet Union...
 

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A colonial power didn't really need anything larger than armoured cars and light tanks. With government spending cut to the bone in the early 30s the British army did not have the money for any serious development. The army's experimental Mobile Brigade exercises in 1931 could not be followed up on except by "concepts". This meant only a few models with low production numbers for trials and testing. This largely explains why Britain went to war with the A9 and A10, with the A13 Mk II just starting to go into larger scale production in 1940.

The British did waste efforts on vehicles such as Covenanter (and thanksfully didn't send it the desert) but it did lead to Crusader and then to Cromwell, Comet and Centurion.

Considering where the British army was in March 39 when the blinders finally fell from Whitehall's eyes the fact that they put Comet and Centurion in the field in 1945 is actually, quite remarkable.
 

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POINTS TO WATCH
on early production models of the Infantry Tank Mark IV
to crews, mechanics and workshop personnel

WE TAKE YOU INTO OUR CONFIDENCE


It's interesting to note that the Churchill was a dud at first also - to the point that the manufacturer, Vauxhall, actually printed up apology slips (see above for the header on these notes) and left them inside the user handbooks of the first vehicles that were delivered, begging anyone that read them for patience as they worked the bugs out.
 

Michael Dorosh

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Imagine getting assigned to a new tank, taking the user manual home to study, and reading this:

14907

They couldn't even get the apology slip correct.
 

Michael Dorosh

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A colonial power didn't really need anything larger than armoured cars and light tanks.
Except Britain had been back and forth on its Continental policy for centuries. And had intervened on the continent too often to count - or, shall we say, discount.
 

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Yes but the historical interventions were based on providing money to the continental powers while the Royal Navy dominated seal lanes around Europe. Britain's army was always small and not intended (or capable) of a solo fight on the continent. That is, until 1914.

After 1919 the army was designed to be a colonial security force. This is why one seldom saw forces much larger than a brigade (mostly just battalions) deployed across the empire. Divisional exercises were rare and only held by the small regular army in Britain on Salisbury Plain. Overseas it was all about battalion posts covering large administrative area. The British troops were mobile (trucks) but heavy equipment was limited to a few guns with armoured cars and light tanks for patrol activity.

This didn't stop theoretical development and development of a modern doctrine, however. The British army (and government) were very conscience of the fact that the population would never again support the type of blood baths seen in WWI and developed its doctrine around firepower and manoeuvre. Artillery doctrine was well developed and the British (and US) fine tuned this during the war to the point a single observer team could access large numbers of guns in just a few minutes (accurately).

Britain's problem prior to 1st Alamein (July 42, Auckinleck's last desert battle) was that most regimental commanders had not had time, equipment or personnel to train their units to use that doctrine. Wavell and Auchinleck understood this even if Churchill didn't and this is one of the reasons the desert generals were always pressing London for more time before launching new offensives. This lack of training and kit led to very uneven performance of British and Commonwealth battalions, brigades and divisions in the early war. Once the British (and CW armies) actually had the equipment and training, the British began to win their battles but it would take nearly three years of setbacks and defeats before these changes would make themselves felt on the battlefields in Africa and Burma.

Proper employed British doctrine was not German, it was not American,... it was British,... and it worked quite well.
 

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Yes but the historical interventions were based on providing money to the continental powers while the Royal Navy dominated seal lanes around Europe. Britain's army was always small and not intended (or capable) of a solo fight on the continent. That is, until 1914.
Well - perhaps 1915, they were called Old Contemptibles for a reason. ;-)
 

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I would agree about the Maus, but it was a prototype and for a prototype, even a failure is some kind of success. Which brings us to...

My second nominee is the London, Midlands and Scottish Railway Company's Covenanter tank. As mentioned above, it was a production vehicle of which 1771 were built during the hottest part of WWII, but none saw combat, apart from a few that had their turrets removed and were converted to bridge layers.

The A13 MkIII was designed to be a new, heavier cruiser tank. The British Army had rightly deduced that their cruiser tanks were far too vulnerable to German anti-tank weapons. The Covenanter (named after a kind of Scottish warrior monk) was designed to be more heavily armored and have a more powerful engine. Surprisingly all this came before the war.

Like any cruiser tank, the Covenanter traded protection and firepower for mobility. Even though an upgrade, it retained the 40mm 2lbr anti-tank gun that proved largely inadequate against German PzKwIII (and an insufficient challenge even to PzKw38t's) and lacked a HE anti-personnel round. It also had only one 7.92mm Besa machine gun. This is not a lot of firepower for a unit supposed to be an exploitation tank.

Protection was supposed to be of a 30mm standard, meaning that all armor was supposed to be 30mm at 90 degrees or equivalent protection if angled. This would also prove inadequate for an exploitation tank, which generally faced armored counterattacks when on the attack.

However, the big problem with the Covenanter was its 12 cylinder engine, which was laid out in a flat, opposable format. The general idea was to keep the profile of the tank low (an admirable goal.) However, it also made it impossible to adequately mount radiators to cool the engine. Somehow, no one on the design team considered this to be a big drawback. In 1938, the tank was ordered into production without any prototyping.

How a colonial power designs a tank which lacks an adequate cooling system and then orders it into immediate production seems like the plot of a Charlie Chaplin or Marx Brothers film. However, LMS continued building these and rushing them out the door despite their shortcomings.

Now, it is true that following the disaster at Dunkerque, the British Army had a need for tanks to refill their armored divisions and shore up the home army. In this sense, the Covenanter was a high priced, overproduced training vehicle. It consumed an enormous portion of British tank production at a time when Cairo was in danger and Covenanters were of absolutely no use (they easily overheated in the desert.)

The Covenanter never overcame the overheating problem and, being designed around the flat 12 (which didn't produce the horsepower one might imagine for a 12 cylinder engine) and, with an inadequate turret, armament and MG compliment, the Covenanter was relegated as obsolete before it ever fired a shot in anger.

Has any third party put out a Covenanter counter for ASL with some hypothetical Sea Lion pack? Don't know. Don't care. Bad name. Bad tank. Moral of the story: Never rush a new tank into production without prototyping it. Better to stick with what you know and do upgrades rather than try something as new as a flat 12 engine to lower the vehicle profile. Also a moral of the story: Seriously, you trust British railways to build you a tank?



Covenanter: A tank so bad that the British didn't even lend-lease them to the Soviet Union...
They've recently shown up in World of Tanks.
 
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