The Baron was a mine-clearing vehicle based on the Matilda II infantry tank, but despite entering production it was superseded by more effective vehicles and was only used in training.
The Baron was developed by Major A S J du Toit, a South African who produced the first prototype while working in Pretoria. He suggested fitting a chain or flail in front of a slow moving tank and using it to detonate mines, clearing a path through minefields. The idea showed promise, and so in November 1941 Du Toit was sent to Britain to work on the design.
The Baron Mk I was produced by AEC, following Du Toit's designs. It was built around a Matilda II infantry tank (A12), which kept its normal turret and main 2pdr gun. A flail assembly was mounted about 10ft in front of the tank, with a Chrysler engine to provide power for the rotor and flails. The entire mounting, which was carried on two arms, could be raised or dropped using the hydraulic turret traverse system. The arms were mounted in houses at the rear at the vehicle, on either side of the turret, and were thus much longer than the 10ft gap between the flail and the front of the tank. The Mk I underwent trials in January 1942, and both sources of power were found inadequate.
The Baron Mk II was produced to sold this problem It was given a 6 cylinder Bedford engine which powered both the flail and the flail arms. The Baron Mk II underwent trials between April and June 1942. Once again the flail was underpowered, tended to over-heat and didn't hit the ground satisfactorily.
The Baron Mk III was produced by September 1942. It used two Bedford engines to power the rotor and flails. The rotor itself was lowered, so that the flails hit the ground 'flatter', covering a bigger area. The cooling system was also improved. The Baron Mk III was a heavier vehicle, and its performance now suffered. In order to save weight the turret was removed and replaced with an operator's cab.
The final version of the design was the Baron Mk IIIA, which was only slightly modified from the Mk III. It wasn't a quick machine, operating at ½ mph when clearing mines. The Mk IIIA underwent trials at the end of 1942 and was accepted for production, even though it was too wide for landing craft. Sixty were ordered from Curran Brothers of Cardiff.
The production vehicles were ready by the middle of 1943, but by then the design was obsolete. Back in the Middle East Du Toit's colleagues had also worked on his idea, and produced the superior (and narrower) Matilda Scorpion. Early in 1943 this was accepted for production in Britain, although matched to the Valentine tank instead of the Matilda. At the same time the Sherman Crab was under development. The Baron was thus never used in combat, but did see use as a training vehicle.