The Infantry Tank Mk III, Valentine, was the most numerous British-built tank of the Second World War, with over 8,000 built between 1940 and 1944. It was a rare example of a private venture tank design that was accepted for mass production, and thus didn't have an 'A' number like most British tanks.
Although it was produced in large numbers, the Valentine was something of a compromise design. It was really too lightly armoured to act as a true infantry tank. Most Valentines had a two-man turret, which reduced its efficiency in combat. It was slower than most cruiser tanks.
On the plus side it was reliable and popular, and for a period in the middle of the Second World War was the main British tank.
The Valentine had more potential to be upgraded than the A12 Matilda II. Like that tank it was originally armed with the excellent 2-pounder anti-tank gun or the poor 3in howitzer, but it was later upgraded to carry the 6-pounder anti-tank gun and finally a 75mm gun.
There are two main alternative stories that explain the tank's name. The first is that the plans were submitted four days before Valentine's Day, on 10 February 1938. The second is that it commemorated Sir John Valentine Carden, a Vickers tank designer responsible for the A10. Carden had been killed in an air accident on 20 December 1935.
The Valentine was descended from two previous Vickers cruiser tanks, the A9 and the A10. The A9 specification of June 1934 called for a cheaper version of the excellent but expensive A6 Vickers 'Sixteen tonner', which was too expensive for the British Army. Three were built as the Medium Tank Mk III. The A9 was light enough to use a commercial engine, in this case an A.E.C. petrol bus engine. It carried the 2-pounder anti-tank gun, and three machine guns, two in separate machine gun turrets. It used the same suspension that would later appear on the Valentine, with six road wheels on each side, carried on two three-wheel bogies, with a single spring acting as a shock absorber on each bogie. The A9 was accepted as the Cruiser Tank Mk I in 1937, and a total of 125 were built with deliveries starting in 1939.
Next came the A10. The earlier medium tanks had been intended to serve as multi-role weapons, equally capable of acting in the infantry support role or in more mobile warfare. In the late 1930s the War Office decided to produce two different types of tanks - lightly armoured but mobile Cruiser Tanks and more heavily armoured but slower Infantry Tanks. The A10 was to be an infantry tank version of the A9, with thicker armour (25mm compared to 14mm), but a speed as low as 10mph. It used the same suspension as the A9, the same 2pdr gun, but the machine gun turrets were eliminated. By 1937, when the A10 was ready, it was no longer well armoured enough to serve as an infantry tank, but in 1938 it was ordered into small scale production as the Cruiser Tank Mk II.
In 1938 Vickers-Armstrong put forward a proposal for an improved infantry tank, having been involved in the production of the A11 Matilda I Infantry Tank Mk I. The new vehicle was to have a low profile, carry a 2-pounder gun in a two-man turret, carry the same 60mm armour as the Matilda I, and use as many components from the A9 and A10 as possible. In the original design the chassis, suspension, engine and transmission were all inherited from the earlier tanks.
In 1938 the War Office wanted three-man turrets for its tanks, and it rejected the Valentine. When it became obvious that war was imminent the War Office relented, and the first order for the Valentine was placed in 1939.
The Valentine had a simple hull with vertical sides, a vertical rear plate and a vertical front plate. A sloped glacis plate connected the front plate to the top of the chassis. The hull was split into three compartments. The driver sat in the centre of the front compartment, with the steering controls. The central fighting compartment carried the turret, with two crew in most versions (commander/ loader on the right and gunner on the left) or three in the Mk III and Mk V (commander at the rear, gunner on the left, loader on the right). The rear compartment contained the engine, gearbox and bevel drive. The drive wheel was at the back.
The Valentine used Vickers' 'slow motion' suspension. This had three large road wheels carried on a pivoting beam, with a coil spring linking the one wheel to the top of the suspension housing to cushion the ride. The three wheels ran in a groove down the middle of the track.
There were two of these bogies on each side. Each had one larger wheel (24in diameter) and two smaller wheels (19.5in diameter), with the larger wheels at each end of the tank (where the tracks rose up off the ground) and the smaller wheels at the centre and inner positions. The springs linked the inner small wheels to the top of the suspension and acted as the shock absorbers. The suspension was attached to the side of the hull. This meant that there was no storage room between the tracks, unlike in the A12 Matilda II.
The Valentine appeared in twelve main variants, which fell into four main groups.
The first group carried the 2-pounder anti-tank gun in a two man turret. This included the Mk I, Mk II, Mk IV and the Canadian built Mk VI, Mk VII and Mk VIIA.
The second group saw the introduction of a new three-man turret, but retained the 2-pounder gun. This group contained the Mk III and the Mk V.
The third group carried a 6-pounder gun in the larger turret, but the bigger gun only left space for two men in the turret. This group contained the Mk VIII, Mk IX and Mk X.
Finally the fourth group contained the Mk XI, armed with a 75mm gun produced by boring out the 6-pounder gun.
The Valentine used three different main guns.
The Valentine Mk I to Mk VII used the QF 2-pounder Mk IX or Mk X. This fired a 2.4lb armour piercing shell with a muzzle velocity of 792m/s.
The Valentine Mk VII to Mk X used the QF 6pdr Mk III or Mk V. This fired a 6.3lb armour piercing shell, with a muzzle velocity of 853m/s on the Mk III or 892m/s on the Mk V.
The Valentine Mk XI used the QF 75mm Mk V. This had a superior high explosive shell. Its armour piercing shell weighed 14.9lb, and had a muzzle velocity of 620m/s. It was slightly superior to the 6-pounder AP shell, but significantly worse than the 17-pounder anti-tank gun.
All but the Mk VIII and Mk IX carried a coaxial 7.92mm Besa machine gun.
All models could carry a Bren anti-aircraft gun on a collapsible mounting on the turret roof, with 600 rounds carried on the Valentine Mk II.
The first order for the Valentine was placed in July 1939. 300 had been ordered by the time war broke out, and Vickers was then ordered to give the Valentine their top priority. By June 1940 1,729 had been ordered from four firms (Vickers, Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon, Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon, and Vauxhall Motors).
The first Vickers-built Valentine was completed in May 1940, and the first eight were delivered in June. Metro-Cammell weren't far behind, and their first tank appeared in July 1940. Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon's first tank appeared soon afterwards. By September 1940 Vickers had produced 87, Birmingham Car Co 14 and Metro Cammell 8, but production soon sped up and over 1,500 tanks were delivered in each of 1941, 1942 and 1943.
In the end production was split fairly evenly between the three companies, with Vickers producing 2,515, Metro-Cammell 2,135 and Birmingham around 2,000. The 2-pounder version was in production from 1940 to 1943, with production peaking in 1941-1942 when over 1,600 were built in each year. The 6-pounder version was produced from 1942 to 1944, with over 1,100 produced in 1943.
The Valentine was also put into production in Canada, where the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. built 1,420 tanks for export to the Soviet Union between June 1941 and mid-1943.
A total of 8,275 Valentines were built between 1940 and 1944. Of those 6,855 were built in the UK and 1,420 in Canada.
The Valentine was shipped to Russian in large numbers. 1,388 of the 1,420 Canadian tanks went to Russia (with the remaining 32 staying in Canada for training), as did 2,394 from British production, for a total of 3,782. All of the Canadian tanks carried the 2-pounder gun, so it is perhaps not surprising that the Soviets believed that they were being sent second-line equipment.
The Valentine entered service in Britain in the desperate days after the fall of France. It entered service with the Army Tank Brigades, where it was used as an infantry tank. During 1941 the number of new armoured divisions was outstripping the availability of cruiser tanks. To fill the gap the Valentine was issued to several divisions, and by October 1941 the 6th, 8th and 11th Armoured Divisions were equipped with the type, with 900 on strength. The 11th Armoured Division was reequipped with cruiser tanks before going into combat, but the 6th and 8th used their Valentines in combat.
The Valentine had been withdrawn as a gun tank by 1944, replaced by the large numbers of Shermans. However the 17-pdr Archer, which was based on the Valentine, and Valentine OP/ Command tanks remained in use to the end of the war. The 75mm armed Valentine XI was also used as a Battery Commander's vehicles in Self Propelled AT regiments to the end of the war in Europe.
The Valentine saw most active service with the British Army in North Africa, but was also used in small numbers elsewhere. One squadron was posted to Gibraltar. It also saw some service in Burma, with New Zealand forces in the Pacific and with the Red Army.
The Valentine began to enter service in North Africa late in 1941, just as General Auchinleck replaced General Wavell in command of the 8th Army. By November 1941 the 8th RTR had arrived in the desert with its Valentines, and was allocated to 1st Army Tank Brigade. The other two regiments in the brigade had the Matilda II.
The 8th RTR took part in Operation Crusader, Auchinleck's attempt to knock Rommel out of North Africa. The plan was for one force to pin the Axis forces in place near the coast, while the main striking force swept around the Axis right flank and advance towards Tobruk. 1st Army Tank Brigade was part of the blocking force near the coast. Most of the tanks involved were Valentine IIs and Valentine IVs. Their reliability was impressive, but the two man turret was unpopular, as was the arrangement of driver's hatches, which meant they couldn't drive with their head out of the tank. The battle ended as British victory, after Rommel's own counterattack failed. The siege of Tobruk was lifted, and the Axis forces were forced to retreat.
In January 1942 Rommel attacked, catching the British by surprise. 8th RTR, with its Valentines, was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to defend Benghazi, before joining the retreat back to the Gazala Line.
By May 1942 the Valentine was present in large numbers. Each division in the Eighth Army had a army tank brigade attached, with a total of 167 Valentines (compared to 110 Matildas). These forces took part in the fighting on the Gazala line, which resulted in a disastrous allied defeat and the loss of Tobruk on 21 June 1942. During this battle one squadron of Valentines from 8 RTR took part in the attack on the German armour in the Cauldron on 5 June, and suffered heavy losses. 4 RTR, also equipped with the Valentine, reached the front until after the start of the battle. 4 RTR and 7 RTR were caught up in the second siege of Tobruk and lost all of their tanks,
The 23rd Armoured Brigade arrived during this retreat, equipped entirely with the Valentine tank. The Brigade's 40 RTR and 46 RTR were almost immediately thrown into battle at Ruweisat Ridge on 22 July, suffering heavy losses (First Battle of El Alamein). Only 11 of their 97 tanks survived and the brigade as a whole lost all but thirty of its tanks.
Late August 1942 saw the start of Rommel's last offensive in the desert, the battle of Alam Haifa. By this date the Valentine III and Valentine V, with the 2-pounder gun but a three man turret, was beginning to appear in the desert.
During the Second Battle of El Alamein the Valentine tanks were concentrated in the 23rd Armoured Brigade, which contained 40 RTR, 46 RTR and 50 RTR, with 8 RTR and a regiment of Bishop self-propelled guns attached. The Bishops made up for the lack of a Valentine close-support tank.
During the Tunisian campaign the 23rd Armoured Brigade contributed 40th RTR, which operated in support of the 51st Highland Division. It earned the nickname 'Monty's Foxhounds' for its efforts, a name that was later officially approved by Montgomery. The brigade's other regiment, 50th RTR, took a smaller role in the fighting. Both began the Tunisian campaign equipped with the Valentine, probably using the Mk II and Mk IV as combat tanks and the three-man turreted Mk III and Mk V for troop and squadron leaders.
The Valentine was used during the attack on the Mareth Line in March 1943. A few Mark IXs with the 6-pounder gun were used by the 50th RTR during this battle. Fifty one Valentines were used to support the attack by 151st (Durham) Brigade. This made early progress against fierce resistance, but was eventually forced back almost to its starting line, with the loss of most of the tanks.
The most impressive feature of the Valentine was its reliability. The 23rd Armoured Brigades travelled thousands of miles across the desert during the fighting, making it a popular vehicle with tank crews used to the unreliable British cruiser tanks.
At the end of the North African campaign the 23rd Armoured Brigade converted from the Valentine to the Sherman, using the American tank during the fighting on Sicily and in Italy.
The Valentine was also used during Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. The 17th/ 21st Lancers, part of 'Blade Force', landed at Algiers on 13 November 1942. It was equipped with an odd mix of the Valentine and the Crusader cruiser tank. The Crusader was twice as fast as the Valentine, but much less reliable. The Valentine was also used by the other regiments in the 6th Armoured Division, the 16th/5th Lancers and the 2nd Lothian and Border Horse.
In January 1943 the 16/th/5th Lancers were ordered to prepare to convert to the Sherman. This move was delayed during the battle of Kasserine pass, but by March 1943 the regiment, along with the rest of the 26th Armoured Brigade, had made the switch. The new tank was far more reliable than the Crusader, and faster, more heavily armoured and far more heavily armed than the Valentines, and was eagerly welcomed.
Six Valentines from B Special Service Squadron, RAC, took part in the attack on Diego Suarez on Madagascar (5-7 May1842).
The 145 RAC (9th Battalion the Duke of Wellington's Regiment) had the Valentine tank by October 1942. Another three, with three-man turrets, arrived in February 1943. 145 RAC was the only regiment to use the Valentine gun tank in Burma. During 1943 eight Valentines from C Squadron took part in an amphibious assault on the Japanese at Donbiak in the Arakan. Three of the tanks were lost when they drove into a hidden ditch (and were only discovered in 1945). The Valentine proved to be immune to Japanese anti-tank fire (including some from captured British 2-pounders), but the entire operation ended in failure. By the time of the second Arakan offensive of 1944 the regiment had moved away from the Valentine, although still had some as training vehicles.
Other units did receive the Valentine in the Burma-India theatre, although didn't take them into action. The 25th Dragoons used the Valentine Mk V, Mk II and Mk III, but converted to the Stuart in the spring of 1943 before going to Burma. They used the Valentine again during a second spell in India, but converted to the Sherman late in 1944.
New Zealand used the Valentine in fairly large numbers. The first 30 were delivered in 1941, and by the end of 1942 around 250 2-pounder equipped Valentines had arrived. They were meant to operate alongside the Matilda Mk IVCS, with the 3in howitzer, but when the tanks were finally taken into action the decision was made to focus on the Valentine. The Matilda guns were removed and installed in a number of Valentines,
The Valentine was sent to the Soviet Union in large numbers, and were used in front line armoured units. In August 1942 the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission asked for more Valentines, praising their combat performance. The 2-pounder gun wasn't so popular, but the simple reliable design of the tank and its reasonable speed meant it compared well to other British tanks sent to Russia.
The Valentine I was the only version to be powered by a gasoline engine, a 135hp A.E.C. engine. It was armed with the 2 pounder anti-tank gun and the standard 7.92mm Besa machine gun and had a two-man turret.
The Valentine II saw the switch to a 131hp A.E.C. Diesel engine. It was otherwise similar to the Mk I.
The Valentine III was similar to the Mk II, but with a new three-man turret.
The Valentine IV saw the introduction of a new 138hp G.M.C. 6-71 diesel engine. It was otherwise similar to the Mk II, with the 2-pounder gun and two man turret.
The Valentine V was the Mk IV with a three-man turret.
The Valentine VI was the first in a series of marks produced in Canada. It was largely based on the Mk IV, with the two-man turret, G.M.C. engine and 2-pounder gun. The first few had the Besa machine gun, later production used a US .30in Browning machine gun.
The Valentine VII was the second Canadian version. It had a new radio set and other internal changes.
The Valentine VIIA was the last Canadian-build version. It was similar to the Mk VII, but with a jettisonable fuel tank and other minor changes.
The Valentine VIII was the designation given to Mk IIIs that were up-gunned to carry a 6-pounder anti-tank gun. In order to make space for the larger main gun the coaxial machine gun had to be removed, and only two men could be carried in the turret.
The Valentine IX was the designation given to Mk Vs that were up-gunned to carry a 6-pounder anti-tank gun. Like the Mk VIII it lacked the coaxial gun and only had room for two men in the turret.
The Valentine X was the designation given to tanks that were built from new with the 6-pounder.
The Valentine XI was the final production version of the tank, and was armed with a 75mm gun produced by boring out the 6-pounder.
The Valentine CDL carried a powerful searchlight in an armoured turret and was designed for night time battles. The CDL idea wasn't tested in combat until the crossing of the Rhine in 1945.
Valentine Scorpion III
The Valentine Scorpion III was a mine-clearing flail tank developed from the Matilda Scorpion I. 650 were produced, but they were replaced by the Sherman Crab before going into combat and were used as training vehicles.
Bishop, Carrier, Valentine, 25pdr gun
The Bishop was an improvised self-propelled gun, carrying a 25pdr field gun in a boxy and rather inflexible superstructure. It was used in North Africa and on Sicily, but was phased out once the American M7 Priest became available.
The Valentine Bridgelayer carried a scissors-bridge on top of the structure, with the turret removed. It was the most important special purpose version of the Valentine, and remained in use to the end of the Second World War.
The Valentine DD was the first production of the floating tanks used on D-Day, but was replaced by the Sherman DD tank before the big day and only saw limited combat use in Italy.
Stats (Valentine III)
Hull Length: 5m 56cm/ 18ft 3in
Hull Width: 2m 63cm/ 8ft 7.5in
Height: 2m 27cm/ 7ft 5.5in
Weight: 16,700kg/ 16.4 tons
Engine: 131hp AEC A 160
Max Speed on road: 24km/h/ 15mph
Max Speed off road: 18km/h / 11mph
Max Range: 176km/ 109 miles
Armament: QF 2-pounder Mk IX, 7.92mm Besa machine gun
Stats (Valentine IX)
Hull Length: 6m 32.5cm/ 20ft 9in
Hull Width: 2m 63cm/ 8ft 7.5in
Height: 2m 27cm/ 7ft 5.5in
Weight: 17,200kg/ 16.9 tons
Engine: AEC A 160
Max Speed on road: 24km/h/ 15mph
Max Speed off road: 18km/h / 11mph
Max Range: 176km/ 109 miles
Armament: QF 6-pounder Mk III
Turret front: 65mm
Turret sides: 60mm
Nose: 60mm at 21 degrees
Glacis plate: 30mm at 68 degrees
Hull sides: 60mm vertical