DOUG'S 'HEAVY METAL' GALLERY

 

T A N K SC A R R I E R SG U N SA R M O U R E D   C A R S

 

“ENTRY LEVEL RESTORATION”

(British Understatement at its best).

   (Ver 2)

This article originally appeared in the Military Vehicle Trust magazine, "Windscreen",
the copywrite to it is retained by the author and owner of the vehicle - John Pearson.

 

My first restoration was my first military vehicle and is an incomplete, almost unknown, amphibious tank. I first saw it in 1968 and patiently waited for it to come on the market. The first sight of the vehicle was not impressive, at the back of a disused part of a working factory, covered in debris. There were so many parts missing that it was difficult to identify it. No part of the engine covers, driver’s roof or hatches was there and only one of the radiator doors remained. The track guards had been trimmed either side by about 8 inches and the rear part removed entirely.

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The part of the turret that remained was the gun mounting, mantlet and front right quarter only. The front left hand quarter of the turret was found, along with the traverse motor and parts of the turret roof.

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  On the other hand, the basic hull was sound and contained all of its components, dirty but intact and apparently workable. There was also the more complete hull of a Mk III Valentine; subsequently this went to the Budge Collection.

Following the owner’s death a sale was organised for July 1984, I was just successful in purchasing the Mk IXDD but had someone else bid another £50 they would have got it as I had completely used up all the money had and all of the credit I had arranged. I got a handbook from the auctioneers and this contained the original receipt when it had been sold in 1948 for £450.

I turned the engine over on the tank and discovered all the controls worked with the exception of the engine to gearbox clutch. I collected some batteries, connected them up and hopefully pressed the starter button but nothing happened. I realised however that it was fitted with a pre engaged starter motor, which means it does not turn until it is engaged. Close inspection showed it trying to engage but not moving far enough. Bit of oil and levering freed it up. Another push on the button and it turned over briefly. One more press and after about 3 seconds of turning it started and ran cleanly on all six cylinders on the original wartime diesel. Ran like a dream in fact!

I drove it by pulling both steering levers back, engaging the gear and then engaging both levers at the same time to move as the engine to gearbox clutch would still not free. It seemed probable that there was something wrong or broken inside the clutch itself as the linkage was intact but the pedal just hung lifelessly on the hull floor. I went up onto a lowloader without directions but this time with the added complication of not being able to stop and gently correct the steering. I had to get straight on the road and go up and on in one movement.
I secured some storage on a farm amongst preserved busses and then “restoration” started. I knew about engines but had never welded, angle ground or bent metal before in my life. In fact I never even did metalwork at school. The fact that the engine ran was if anything a hindrance as I was reluctant to do work that meant it could not be driven (storage was a somewhat insecure tenancy). I did however have plenty of ancillary work to do.
After I bought the tank but before I moved it from the factory, I was approached by a scrap man who had purchased the rights to all the scrap in the fields around the building, old tractors combine harvesters etc. He said he thought he had found a part of my tank and indeed he had. It was the rear right hand quarter of the turret. This was secured at a very reasonable sum and later he found the missing quarter and the centre section of the engine covers. Once he had finished he gave me permission to search and with a metal detector I found 3 of the missing 4 engine cover doors, the cut off rear of the platform and the turret basket.

(Note from Doug: Whoever this scrapy is, he must be the most personable and considerate one I have ever heard of: what a pity there are not more like him!)
The latter two were in the very last stages of collapse due to corrosion but yielded very valuable construction and dimensional details. From inside the factory came the missing pieces of the turret roof and bustle but the latter had been used for cutting practice and consisted of several chunks of metal not much bigger than 2 fists together.

The propeller power take off also appeared, the shaft where the propeller should have been was still shiny but the propeller itself never came to light.
I dismantled the engine covers and taught myself thread cutting, riveting and some fabrication. The missing fourth engine cover seemed an insurmountable problem, as was the missing radiator door. All the time I was looking for information and discovered that there is almost nothing in the public domain about these tanks. I got into contact with some divers in Dorset who had recovered some parts from seven wrecked DD’s off the Dorset coast. Sometimes they has almost useable pieces made of bronze and sometimes fragmentary steel components but all the information was useful to make sense of the parts list and start the long process of doing technical drawings of the pieces I needed to fabricate. I spent a lot of time at Bovington Tank Museum in the archives and this contact eventually resulted in me joining a group of Museum friends doing Range Recovery. While on the artillery ranges I always had my eyes open for Valentines. Pirbright in Surrey gave me a drivers roof panel and doors, Sennybridge gave me a radiator door, Warcop gave me a 2 pdr turret in pieces to stop it looking like a bulldozer and Salisbury Plain yielded a number of small components. I was originally looking for a turret ring to use as the “former” to rebuild my own turret but found all of the bolts were in different places and anyway I had found enough Mk I components to make a whole turret. This temporary cosmetic expedient actually lasted from 1988 to 2000 or about 4 times as long as the original turret remained in place! By 1988 this “temporary” turret was in place and the trackguards extended back to their original size, albeit only tacked in place. The platform rear was similarly fabricated by tack welding and the tank had been road registered.

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My reluctance to take it off the road had been overcome by a friend from Wigan who arrived with a team and in one day almost removed the engine. In fact it took several months to complete this removal as the transmission had to be partly dismantled and the day after I had swung the engine/gearbox out I received a phone call from Tyne Tees Television wanting to book my tank for a film in 2 weeks time. There was now a frenzied period to fix the clutch and get the engine and gearbox back in. Finished work at 2 am on the day the lowloader was coming at 5am. The test run at about 12.30 am came as a considerable shock to 3 courting couples who had parked their cars in the lane leading to the barn.

My tank joined 2 Churchills, a Mk III from Budge and a Mk IX from Vickers, which had been recovered from a bog in Northern Ireland and restored, to running order. The Mk III looked magnificent having been restored to the very highest standard, money no object. That was to be the start of a long period of excuses and subject changing whenever I was questioned about progress “the Mk III is finished, why isn’t yours?” “Well I had less to start with/less money/had to earn my living/doing a degree in my spare time/4 children etc. In fact I knew I had bitten off far more than I could chew but would never have admitted it then.
For the filming in Newcastle, the tanks were props to give the illusion of a tank factory production lines and mine was painted in pretend red primer, in fact red poster paint. The weekend afterwards, the 2nd turret had arrived from Sennybridge, courtesy of the TA and was craned on. At last it looked like a tank not a piece of construction equipment. In the autumn of 1989, the group of friends from Wigan came down to try out their handiwork. We took it in a quarry and had a drive about for a bit and then disaster! While going over a soft crest the tracks filled with sand and rocks and then on a steep decline the overtight and packed tracks tore the front right hand idler from the hull and severely strained the left one. Within an hour, we had short tracked the machine taking the track around the middle top roller and front road wheel instead of the missing idler and we drove it home towing the removed section of track. It proved possible to find a right-hand idler bracket on Sennybridge eventually and fit it. It is of an earlier and weaker pattern and no amount of searching produced a left-hand one so all driving had to be seriously curtailed. The turret proved more of a hindrance than a help as it has to be turned to gain access to the engine and because of the state of the ring this had to be done with a crane. There was a lack of money as I was on a University Course and I had realised the enormity of the restoration task I had taken on. I lost the storage due to a disagreement with the farmer necessitating outside storage under a sheet and imperceptibly work came to an almost complete stop. A few parts were made, each one being a minor triumph in itself due to the lack of information and my lack of skill and I took to spending more time on other vehicles I had acquired. I missed my original target of getting it to France exactly 50 years late (The Valentine DD never made it on D Day, being replaced y the Sherman DD just before the invasion.) When looking for photos of work on the tank for this article there is an almost complete lack from 1989 to 2000 and that is an accurate reflection of the activity. In the early 1990’s I booked myself on a casting course and a number of things including frame clamps and a propeller were cast but general progress was so slow I did not bother to fettle (clean) them up. By the end of the 1990’s I was in the dreadful situation of having “reverse” restored the vehicle in that although some work had been done, the overall condition of the tank was worse than it had been 15 years before.
In 1998 I had a contact from a man in New Zealand who was also restoring a Valentine Mk V. We exchanged letters and phone calls. General discussion led naturally on to me asking if any turret rings were available. Yes, he had several. Would he part with a ring? Eventually, after a couple of years of negotiations, Yes! He also included a replacement bustle because of the damage to mine and also a Mk V roof plate to act as a former when welding my turret back together which in the end was not used. With the turret parts on the high seas (Jan 2001) it was time to take stock. Could I get it restored, to fully working order by the 60th anniversary of D-Day in June 2004? Even better than that, could its first public appearance be 3/4 April 2004 at the 60th anniversary of the exercise when the Valentines were lost off the Dorset coast? Decided to have a bloody good try!

End of Part 1

Restoration of Valentine IXDD, T82527. Part2

I was thinking of calling this “Zen and the art of tank restoration” but common sense get the better of me.
I do not know how other people set about restoring vehicles but to me there are three sections: to fix what you have got, to get or make what is missing and to deal with the philosophy. THE WHAT?
Well, I am someone who could not hacksaw a straight line so knowing you are capable of doing it and being happy with what you can do is important. I am not talking of confidence. All the confidence in the world will never make me a mountain climber or teach me to weld come to that. It is a willingness to have a go, then another go then another until you get it right. Practice on new stuff, not old. It costs money to break a new part you have just made but it is better than breaking an irreplaceable original. If you do modifications, do them to the new replacement bit so if an original piece turns up then you can replace the pattern part. Recognise there is no such thing as complete authenticity, I mean how far do you want to go? Wartime fuel in the tank or wartime air in the tyres? A case in point: most of my tank is made from metric sized armour plate and imperial sized mild steel. To all intents and purposes, the only thing I have available now is metric mild steel. Do I use it or do I wait and search for original material? How much do I replace due to rust or damage? You have to make your own choices and compromises. The only thing I have made a point of doing is to record when I have compromised, for future reference.

Up to the point of the turret ring being expected, (see last issue) I had no real plan. Just do whatever I could was the order of the day and I “messed about” in a number of areas. If the work was ever going to be finished, I had to make some decisions. Due to the nature of my tank and the reasons for its survival, I was presented with 3 different restoration situations, all of which had to be dealt with differently. The basic hull, engine, transmission etc was very good, having spent the whole time since the war under cover. I had to choose whether to retain the rather poor but original paint, hoses, wiring and fanbelts etc. I decided largely to clean and save with maintenance. In particular, the engine was not disturbed.
The second situation was the damaged parts. The turret had been cut up and this along with some other bodywork parts had been left outside for 40 years. The damage had to be made good and repainted but as far as possible, original parts were retained. This even extended to brass bushes and nuts and bolts recovered from absolutely rotted steel components, even though it would have been easier in some cases to make new.
The third situation was the missing parts: bodywork, frames, screen and the external parts of the hydraulic and pneumatic system for the DD equipment. As a unique survivor, there is no other one to copy but there are several under the sea, lost on exercises. Divers tend to collect souvenirs and if they recover bronze parts then they could be used straight away after cleaning. Brass appears sound but in fact the alloy has been affected by seawater and is very brittle. Even rotted steel parts are useful in giving general dimensions. In fact, to determine an original tube size, I used rust alone! As a special request, a diver recovered about a foot length of tubing and did not clean off the barnacle type growth, called concretion. When cut open, the tubing had entirely disappeared but by measuring the empty cast I could determine the outside and inside sizes which perhaps unsurprisingly turned out to be 2 inch bore (nominal) water piping.

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What was really surprising is that this is now called 60.8 mm o/d mild steel tubing, exact imperial size and readily available, just now measured in millimetres. Identifying the dimensions was difficult but actually making the frames was nearly impossible. I realised that I could not do the corner bends by hand as these need to be to a fixed radius. That was simple, pay money and get a local company to bend them. After that, a friend and I set to with a hydraulic hand bender and over a single weekend made the remainder of the two frames completely although it took several weeks to persuade another friend to help with the critical and difficult job of welding them together. Some parts of the mechanical props were copied from items recovered from the sea but one part out of four is a hypothesis of knowing what each end has to fit into, how long it is and one very poor photograph. Knowing the same designer made this and the steering components, I copied the general arrangement. Many parts were made from plans drawn up by myself by scaling up the parts list and free use was made of money for commercial flame cutting of profiles and blanks. One piece of engineering I had to pay for was to have the frame hinges milled. These were just too big for my converted lathe to handle although that is the only piece of milling or turning that I had to get someone else to do. I do not want to tell you how many parting tools I have broken though! In some ways, the research involved in making pieces has been the most rewarding part of the job, reverse engineering so to speak. You get to recognise the designer’s “style” and say to yourself “now how would Cyril Hutton have dealt with this?” He was Metro Cammel Asst. Works Manager during the war.
I am getting ahead of myself. While awaiting the turret ring, I decided on a plan of attack. This was to build the turret basket first, then fit the turret to the ring. Then complete the exterior bodywork, then the DD equipment. Before fitting the screen, take the whole thing apart for needle gunning/sandblasting and then painting. Re-assemble, final painting and fit the screen. Good plan, pity I could not stick to it!

As time went on and 2004 approached, I realised that I would have to look for shortcuts. Perhaps only remove the turret and engine, and then paint inside in situ. Do I really need the turret stowage? Do I need to disturb the engine at all etc?
It has been said that restorations take twice as long and are twice as expensive as you think Ha Ha again. Try 100 times of each!
The work itself was fairly easy, technically but of course very heavy. It is a major undertaking to remove rusted bolts and the turret has more than 70 inside and about 50 outside up to 7/8 inch in diameter. All were rusted in with the heads rusted away and in most cases both the metal and the bolt are made of armour that is almost as hard as a drill or a tap. Say half a day on each on average? Anyway, all bolts out by the time the turret ring appears from New Zealand.
Ring was fitted to hull and the turret basket fabricated. The only original parts are the centre casting and cover, recovered from Sennybridge range. The basket itself was a complete fabrication, built with details from the fragmentary remains recovered in 1984 and scaled up plans from the parts list. The curved sides were rolled in a Probation Service workshop one weekend by offender labour. (I earn my living as a Probation Officer). Good to see them doing something useful! Next, try my turret sides on the ring, of course they do not fit. English tanks were built “in situ” and boltholes were individually marked out and drilled. Result is that even parts from consecutive vehicles off the line have boltholes in slightly different places so do not fit. Some hole slotting and the use of knecked bolts etc and I managed to fit all but about 4 of the turret ring to turret bolts. Dismantle again and shotblast, reassemble. Then the turret roof. I had to compromise due to the damage and retained and repaired the front half and three doors. The rest I made from mild steel.
When the turret had been welded, I decided to leave the welds showing. Why? Well this turret (not just the correct type but it is actually original to this hull remember) was complete for 4 years then apart for 53. The cuts are a genuine part of this vehicle's history so I have “retained” them.

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The missing engine cover is partly made from original pieces recovered from under the sea with the large slab being flame profile cut. This is actually two layers of 15mm steel, cut with the nozzle at an angle and to two slightly different sizes. Result is a 30mm slab with almost all of the milling already done. Originals were riveted; replacement is welded and bolted for of ease of construction.
Missing radiator door came from a range wreck. This was from a Mk I, which had armour sides 17mm thicker than the Mk IX. This entailed reshaping the (armour) hinges to make allowances for the thinner sides. Three half inch countersunk rivets could not be replaced so these are now bolts and nuts. The labour involved in closing rivets seems to go up in a geometric series: 1/4 is easy, 5/16 is hard, 3/8 needs a large hammer, 7/16 a sledgehammer and I could not effectively do a half inch one with anything I had, hence the bolts. Rivets of that size do not seem to be made anymore either. Some 5/8 rivets in the turret roof were also replaced with screws for the same reason. Welding the trackguards was a major problem due to the thinness and length involved, it was just asking for major distortion. The reinforcing bulges are lengths of tubing, slit lengthways and the rounded end forged and then welded on over slots pre-cut in the trackguards. A tedious job but it has come out ok, I think, particularly as I had to teach myself to do this welding with no prior instruction.
The pneumatic system is a major problem as there is not the slightest possibility of obtaining the correct mazac castings. To have some blanks sand cast with all of the attendant machining was going to cost £1000 plus and would still not be correct. I thought I had secured a supply of American bronze ones, recovered by a French diver but when I went all the way to Normandy he changed his mind and refused to sell. As a result I have ended up fabricating them from mild steel with plumbing fittings. They look similar to the originals and they work but in any case cannot be seen. More importantly, they should enable me to demonstrate the machine but can be readily replaced at any time in the future if either English Mazac or American bronze originals ever appear or more accurate copies are made.
The canvas is the part that most people assume was the most difficult but in fact it was one of the easiest. My son and I made the prototype (to get shape and size) from a lorry sheet in an afternoon by fitting it to the frames, rather than trying to cut and shape it on the floor. We draped it on, cut to fit; temporarily “stitched” it together with Copydex glue and then took it off to use it as the pattern for the proper one. Quite easy really and it gave us some great photos for publicity purposes. More about this later however.
Quite a bit of the work done over the years by myself was in fact unfinished and a sole destroying part of the last period has been spent in finishing parts I thought were already finished or indeed scrapping poorly made items and starting again.
In between this, there was a host of small parts to be made, aerial brackets, controls, radio tray fittings etc.
The first 5 years and the last year the restoration has been under cover with the intervening years being worked under a canvas sheet. The conditions were not good, even though it was under a roof and the floor was frequently a quagmire. This necessitated wellingtons and the certain knowledge that any spanner or small part dropped was a “goner”. The time spent in 2003 building a lean to building to work in has transformed the job, which could not have been done without it.
Simultaneously with finishing the restoration, I was organising its first public appearance, to commemorate a pre D-Day exercise that went wrong due to the weather. This is Exercise Smash, not the better known Operation Tiger when German E boats attacked an American rehearsal. I had originally pictured myself and tank on the beach and a brass plate on the wall but as things went on it became more and more complicated, involving several ex service associations, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, (both regulars and TA), and the Royal Airforce. A number of other organisations were involved, particularly the Tank Museum and the organisers of Beltring. At one point, 3 landing craft were involved, later reduced to 2.

By the autumn of 2003, I was clearly not going to be anything like finished but an appeal at the Birmingham MVT meeting drew several volunteers who performed sterling work in truly appalling conditions. It would be invidious to name them but I must mention Don who almost single-handedly scraped and painted the whole of the inside, sometimes with ear defenders on as someone else was needle gunning the outside. Ken took away many parts and brought back beautifully welded assemblies. Andy came straight from a nightshift to help and for most of one of the days he was there he lay in the mud under the tank and needle gunned the inside of the suspension! Gaz spend hours re-tapping out holes to ease bolt replacements, Dave was a whiz on the angle grinder and Colin was a jack of all trades. Any visitors were set to work including Phil and Greg, even my sons next door neighbours were roped in. Dag helped me with the frames and Bob the master welder welded those frames and the turret although he was unable to assist with the track guards. That job fell to me. 4 weeks before the first appearance, as much fabrication as was going to get done was done and the last parts were removed. Quite frankly, in its partially stripped condition, the tank looked so appalling that I was genuinely worried it would not be complete enough to appear, let alone be finished. There then followed a frenzied period of work to clean, paint and reassemble. On the Sunday of the last weekend I worked until 3.45 am and restarted at 6.30. The canvas was still not fitted, the air system was not tested and the propeller drive was not assembled as the Royal Engineers called for it, exactly to the minute as arranged.
We followed it down to Bovington with a car full of tools and unfitted parts and work continued late into each evening. The landing craft was loading on 2 April so the evening of 1 April was our last chance to try to get the pneumatics to work and to fit the canvas. This had to be the prototype canvas as the correct one had not been completed but as it was the correct shape, no problems were envisaged. As we drove it into the workshop it laid a trail of oil and inspection showed a broken main oil pipe that links the sump to the oil cooler. Instead of sorting out the pneumatics, we spend until the early hours making and fitting a new pipe, which entailed removal of the tanks belly plates.

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Did I make it? Well, almost I suppose is the answer. I had such high hopes of it being absolutely finished and perfect. In truth it looked the part and it performed faultlessly over the weekend and drew many positive comments. However, it had an inoperative, prototype screen and a propeller drive that was held out of engagement by string as the lock required some attention with an angle grinder to fit the parts together. Neither the pneumatic nor hydraulic systems are 100% and the turret lacks a lot of internal fittings and ammo storage. The (working) 19 radio set is fitted but not wired in. The engine compartment is just steam cleaned, not painted.
The tank is now at Bovington and will stay there for a few months. It then does a series of appearances at shows before coming back to the Midlands in the early autumn. Then it is back to work on it to complete it. I have been congratulated for doing a restoration lasting 20 years. Unfortunately the job was a 21 year one!

John Pearson 11/04/04



Photo list (that were in the original article)

A: Turret ring in box from New Zealand
B: Bending frames
C: Welding frames
D: Parts to make up screen props
E: Screen props fitted
F: (R to L) Original hinge recovered by diver
Milled blanks
Blanks bored and hinge pin
Finished hinge.
G: Removing bolts from turret section
(H: No photo! Missed the sequence!)
I: Cutting turret floor centre casting from a wreck on Sennybridge Range
J: Turret basket made, assembled and fitted to ring
K: 3 sections of turret on ring for trial fitting
L: Turret roof plates
M: My welding! Trackguard extension and reinforcing bulges.
N: Inside prototype screen
O: MUD (and propellor guard/trackguard rear being welded)
P: Don at work in drivers compartment
Q: Gaz needlegunning and Andy re tapping holes
R: Dave angle grinding
S: Colin blacksmithing
T: 4 weeks only to go!
U: Ditto
V: 48 hours to go until transporter arrives
W: Ditto
X: Away on Royal Engineers transporter. Still no screen or propeller drive fitted
Y: At Bovington awaiting further transport to landing craft. Little and large!


My thanks to John.

 

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