What it is like to drive various tank types - by John Pearson.
   (Ver 1)


As a volunteer at Bovington Tank Museum for 18 years, I have had the luck to drive a variety of older tanks.
Just a few words about some of them:

  • WW1 Heavy Mk V (co drove actually): the most vile thing I have ever been in, all wizzing unguarded parts, noise, fumes, etc. You can feel every small stone you go over. A bit like being inside the rocker cover of an engine when it is running. I would not have missed it for the world!

  • Vickers Medium: crash gearbox, heavy steering but gets along ok for its age. Suspension a bit harsh.

  • Matilda I: you dont get into it, you put it on. Mechanics are new (auto gearbox) so does not compare with original. Very nice, easy Rackham (sp?) clutches for steering.

  • Matilda II: a joy to drive, easy preselect gearbox, Rackham clutches. Each trackpad vibrates your teeth as it hits the ground. VERY poor power, can barely manage about 6mph if you have to turn on loose ground.

  • Valentine (AEC): Almost impossible to get into and very poor vision, difficult gearbox, very heavy steering. Petrol model lacks low down torque, very difficult to change up on soft ground, diesel is ok but 135hp not really enough.

  • Valentine (165hp GMC): Gearbox is much better as is the engine but heavy steering still remains.

  • Churchill III and VII: I put them together as I could not tell the difference despite the extra weight of the later model. Goes a lot faster than you would expect and the steering is geared so it can run in continuous curves in each gear (larger circles the higher the gear). Air powered steering can literaly be done with one finger. Crash gearbox which I found a lot easier to change down than up. Engine does not seem to have a powerband, it just gets louder when you press the accelerator!

  • Crusader III: air powered steering, very light, variable radii of turns but you are never quite sure how much turn you will get. The best sounding engine I have ever heard and it goes like the clappers. Crash gearbox a bit hard to master. Suspension does not work at low speeds, you get thrown about but above about 8mph and it just glides over anything.

  • Comet: very difficult to get into but once in, fine. Joint 2nd best engine sound. Steering heavier than Crusader but more predictable.

  • Centurion: the other joint 2nd engine sound. Just like a heavier Comet.

  • Tetrach: Very quick(40 mph), very strange to drive: steering wheel bows the tracks laterally for all steering except skid steer which is on a single lever, like a gearlever. Very heavy to drive which can catch you out because it is so quick. Everyone that drives it loses their knuckles on the dashboard edges. Universal carrier very similar but has a gearbox that has the gears in all the wrong places.

  • M548, FV432, Lynx, Jagdpanzer Canone, Tracked Rapier: very easy, full auto, press gas and go. (In the 548 it could not be any louder if you were inside the engine.)

  • Russian stuff(T-54,55,59) Brutal is the only word to decribe them, or perhaps agricutural and unbreakable. They seem to have a very strange, metal to metal clutch wich does not like to be used but apart from that you have the impression that it would take a direct thermo nuclear strike to stop it. Very odd gearbox which locks itself in each forward gear as you engage it, nececitating the use of a catch to get it out of each gear, not much need however as 2nd will take you anywhere you want to go. T34 Similar but even cruder. Was built for drivers with short legs and arms of a gorilla. If you press the clutch down too far it stays down (intentionally) and you have to persuade it to come back (with a piece of rope in the one I drove).

  • Combat Engineer Tractor: odd, can be driven by either crew member in either direction. Steering comes in 2 phases: to start with you get hardly any then it suddenly lurches off to one side with just a slight extra turn of the steering. NOT one for the road at speed. Feels like it has no suspension.

  • Sherman M4A1: engine power characteristics completely wrong for a tank, no low down torque, no power at all in fact until up to about 2/3 revs. Steering and suspension fine and even a fat git like me can get in easily.

  • Sherman twin GMC almost perfect for its time, a real joy to drive and steer. All Shermans have enormous turning circles however which takes bit of getting used to if you are more familiar with clutch and brake steering.

  • Scorpion family: Ah, perfection! Fast, easy steering, gearchange like a motocycle and proper vision when head out! Magic!

  • Stridsvagen 41: Lethal! If you start the engine and leave the gearlever unattended in neutral, it will vibrate out and drop into gear. If it falls into 1st or 3rd then a fluid flywheel/torque converter operates and it moves off if the tickover is too high. If it falls into 2nd or 4th, it takes off immediately as it is a mechanical clutch that slams home. It takes about 100lbs force to change gear as the gear lever is depressing and engaging the mechanical clutch and slams home with enough force to break a bone if you put one in the way. If ever you see one of these running, keep right out of the way of it! NEVER AGAIN will I go near it!

  • My thanks to John.


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