Great Britain was not doing well in the war in the summer of 1940. The Expeditionary Force was forced to flee the continent, abandoning many of Britain’s tanks. The tank fleet had to be rebuilt anew, this time not just for Britain, but also its dominions. Some nations of the empire could send more than just troops. For instance, Canada turned out to be an unexpected source of tank building, providing the Allies with Valentine VI and VII tanks.
An armoured force from scratch
Unlike the United States or Great Britain, Canada had no tank building tradition. The Canadian armoured battalions that were established during the First World War came too late to take part in the fighting. The Canadian army was not mechanized during the interbellum, and had almost no tanks at the start of the Second World War. After the fall of Poland in 1939, a proposal was made to create a Canadian tank force once more. Mechanization of cavalry units of the Permanent and the Non-Permanent Active Militia was on the table. It quickly became clear that it would be impossible to arm a tank force without having a local source of tanks. The 219 obsolete M1917 light tanks that were purchased from the United States at scrap value were useful for training and not much else. The Department of National Defense also bought 14 Vickers Light Tanks Mk.VIB in 1938/1939. These tanks were proudly displayed in newspapers as “steel monsters”, but the reality was somewhat more humble than that. These tanks were also nearly worthless without ammunition for their heavy machineguns or a stock of spare parts. There was but a handful of modern tanks in Canada: the British government sent one Infantry Tank Mk.IIA and one Infantry Tank Mk.III to the army base at Borden, but these tanks were intended for demonstrations rather than training.
The issue of which tanks to build was a pressing one. Since production was not expected to start before mid-1941, there was plenty of time to think things over. Knowing that the war will not be easy, the British Ministry of Supply had already proposed an order of Infantry Tanks Mk.III from Canada. The order, initially set at 25 tanks, increased to 100 tanks by September 11th, 1939, and numbers as high as 200 units were mentioned. According to plans, the Canadians would continue building the tanks for their own needs once the order had been fulfilled. However, no final decision was made, and the British side continued to drag their feet on the issue. The Canadians requested blueprints of the Infantry Tank Mk.III from Vickers-Armstrongs on September 29th, 1939, but only fragments ever arrived.
Because of this delay, the Canadian military considered many other tanks for production. Specifications for a large number of tanks were sent to Canada, including British infantry and cruiser tanks, the American Medium Tank M2, and the French SOMUA S 35 and Char B.
The Infantry Tank Mk.I was barely considered as a serious option. The Infantry Tank Mk.II was also out, as it was not considered satisfactory due to its high ground pressure and complexity. There were conflicting opinions about other infantry tanks. Brigadier General Pratt was of the opinion that the Infantry Tank Mk.III was too difficult to produce and that it was only a temporary measure. Instead, he preferred the Infantry Tank Mk.IV. Not wishing to build anything but the best, General McNaughton agreed. However, Brigadier General Crawford, a proponent of the Infantry Tank Mk.III, managed to convince them that the this tank was no temporary measure, but a truly modern tank. These tanks were no more difficult to assemble than the Infantry Tank Mk.IV, and had the additional advantage of actually being finished. The Infantry Tank Mk.IV was still in development at the time. Various important issues, such as a choice of armament, were not yet resolved. It would be several months before blueprints would be available. Only a mockup was complete at the time of discussion, but it was already clear that loading Canada’s nascent tank industry with a 41 ton machine would be an exercise in frustration. The Cruiser Tank Mk.VI, another suitable candidate, was only entering production in Britain. The tank’s growing pains would have been resolved by the time Canadian production would begin. However, an inspection of Canadian production facilities revealed that it would be unlikely that the tank could be produced there successfully. Further development along this line of inquiry led to the production of another famous Canadian tank, the Ram, but that is a tale for another article.
The non-British tanks were also eliminated one by one. The SOMUA S 35’s armour was considered too thin, and the Char B was too complex and expensive. The Medium Tank M2 was entirely unsatisfactory, as it had thin armour and a cramped fighting compartment.
The spring of 1940 was a turbulent time for Canadian tank production. As late as mid-March, Canada still had no tank factory, and a large number of components would have to be ordered from the United States. The British government decided to take on the startup costs of $3 million (half a million of which went to suspension and transmission production facilities). An offer was also made to train a Canadian engineer in the art of tank production. This duty fell to one Captain F.V. Jones, who proved to be an enthusiastic and talented student. Meanwhile, the Infantry Tank Mk.IV lobbyists had their way. On April 2nd, the order for 100 Infantry Tanks Mk.III was cancelled.
The situation in Europe only grew more dire. On May 10th, 1940, the Germans began the invasion of France. On May 27th, the British once again made a request regarding Canada’s ability to produce tanks. On June 7th, 1940, the Ministry of Supply changed their mind yet again, this time ordering 300 Infantry Tanks Mk.III.
A well made choice
The Canadian tank was not simply a copy of the British design. Talk of using a diesel engine instead of a gasoline one on the Canadian tank began as early as the summer of 1940. It was clear that using British engines, which had to be shipped overseas, would only complicate production. Instead, a General Motors 6-71 (also known as GM 6004) diesel engine was used in the Canadian variant of the Infantry Tank Mk.III.
Another replacement was made compared to the British version of the tank: a 7.62 mm Browning machinegun was installed instead of the 7.92 mm BESA. This change was also deemed controversial. One side argued that Brownings would be easier to obtain in North America than BESAs. The other argued that there was no shortage of these guns and therefore no reason to introduce a new caliber into the supply chain. However, forecasts showed that rates of BESA production could not keep up with increasing tank production. It was estimated that eventually as much as one third of British armoured divisions would have to be equipped with Browning machineguns anyway. Trials also showed that the Brownings generated a lot less fumes than BESA when firing. The concentration of harmful gases did not noticeably increase when firing the Browning, but a dangerous concentration of carbon monoxide built up in the fighting compartment of a tank after firing off 9 ammunition belts within 30 minutes from the BESA with the engine running, or 5 belts with the engine off. Nevertheless, the first 15 tanks were still equipped with BESA machineguns. In addition to Browning machineguns, Canadian-produced tanks could also be distinguished from their British cousins by their distinctive headlights.
In the fall of 1940, an Infantry Tank Mk.III with W.D. number T.16356 was sent from Great Britain to Canada to serve as a sample. Unlike other tanks produced in Britain, this tank had a diesel engine.
Production in Canada slowly ramped up. CPR (Canadian Pacific Rail), the company which received the order, promised to begin shipments of the 300 tanks in March of 1941 and complete the order by September. The profit from this contract was set at 5% of the cost. On January 4th, 1941, the Canadians also received an order for 149 tanks from India, who offered to pay £15,585 per tank, under the condition that shipments would begin before the end of the year. At the time, such a commitment appeared possible. The proposed rate of production allowed Canada to think of equipping its own armoured force with these tanks. Plans to order 488 tanks in addition to the 300 already on order were made, but the British got in the way. Their offer was to buy all Canadian tanks, and equip the incoming Canadian tank brigade with British-made Infantry Tanks Mk.II and Mk.IV instead. The Canadians managed to argue for the retention of 30 of their own tanks for training purposes: the first 10 to be produced, tanks 14 through 23, and ten more tanks to be chosen at a later date. These tanks received W.D. numbers between CT.138916 and CT.138945. All other tanks would be sent to Europe. Even this additional order was not enough, and the British claimed all of CPR production until March 31st, 1943.
A mockup of the Canadian tank was presented in February of 1941. It seemed that things were going well, but the inexperience of the Canadian industry showed itself. The first Infantry Tank Mk.III, triumphantly shown off in the spring, was quietly returned to the factory afterwards, as it was still missing a number of important components. Production only began by fall, but the rate left much to be desired. For example, Angus Shops only built 14 tanks in September, instead of the 47 that were planned. Delays in production were just another reason why the Canadians never went into battle in their own tanks.
On September 23rd, 1941, the British decided to assign their tanks names, rather than numbers. The name “Valentine”, already occasionally used in correspondence, finally became official. Canadian-built tanks now had two names. Tanks with a GMC diesel and the BESA machinegun were called Valentine VI, and tanks built with the Browning machinegun were called Valentine VII. Later, when tanks received a number of improvements, the index changed to Valentine VIIA. This change was introduced starting with the 789th tank. However, the tanks are often called simply “Canadian Valentine” in British documents, which makes identification of a specific model difficult. Valentine VI tanks received W.D. numbers in the T.23204-T.23218 range, and Valentine VII tanks had W.D. numbers ranging from T.21219 to T.23503. Tanks built to fulfil contract CAN 279/SM1021 had W.D. numbers in the T.40981-T.41430 and T.73554-T.74193 ranges.
Some insights into the design changes can be obtained from a memo titled “On the design changes of the Canadian Valentine VII tank”, written by Captain Sokolov, the Soviet military representative at the Angus Shops on November 7th, 1942. The biggest visual difference was the addition of an external 26 gallon fuel tank, installed on the left side of the hull. The fuel in this tank was sufficient for an additional 80 km of driving, extending the tank’s total range to 230 km. During battle, the fuel tank could be jettisoned without exiting the Valentine, using a lever in the driver’s compartment. This external fuel tank was connected to the tank’s fuel system, and the fuel from it was used up first. The external fuel tank protruded above the engine deck, and could be knocked off by the gun barrel or the blast from firing the gun. A recommendation was made to either jettison the tank before firing or avoid lowering the gun below horizontal in the rear left quadrant of traverse. There was another notable visual difference: splash guards were welded on most tanks (##821-839, 895-1420) to protect the turret ring from bullets and shell fragments. The turret race was also reinforced.
There were also plenty of other, less noticeable chances. Tanks starting with T.23335 had improved electrical systems. Instead of two 12 V batteries, the tanks now had four 6 V ones. The electric circuits were rearranged so that each battery was evenly loaded, which was not the case with the old layout. New tanks also had convoy lights, but they were initially missing due to supply difficulties. The openings for lights in these tanks were plugged. Starting with tank T.23334, Canadian Valentine tanks used only the No.19 Wireless Set, and it was no longer possible to replace them with a No.11 Wireless Set used on older models. The memo suggest that, if such a replacement needs to be made, one should find a Valentine VII, replace its radio with the No.11, and then place the freed up No.19 into the newer tank.
The Valentine VIIA also had a battery of smoke bomb launchers on its engine deck. The driver could fire two grenades to the left or to the right (or all four simultaneously) with the push of a button. Other changes included a new mechanical engine shutoff switch (in lieu of the old electromagnetic one), a new layout of the cooling system, an addition of an oil radiator, and a new instrument panel for the driver. The hand pump for starting the engine in cold weather was removed from the left panel and placed behind the driver. A compass was installed in a binnacle in front of him. The driver’s seat was simplified. Some levers were altered, which resolved control issues present in older tanks.
The turret crew also experienced some changes. A new turret traverse mechanism controller was added, which allowed for smoother traverse. New triggers for the cannon and machinegun were also installed. Due to reordering of magazines, the amount of ammunition carried from the Bren gun increased from 700 rounds (25 magazines of 28 rounds each) to 764 (13 magazines of 28 rounds and 4 aircraft-style magazines of 100 rounds). The toolkit also changed, and a new toolbox was installed on the tank’s right fender.
There were also changes in the suspension. The adjustable idler carrier was reinforced, and the hydraulic shock absorbers were simplified. The new parts were interchangeable with the old ones. The rubber rims on the drive sprocket were also changed.
It seems that the British tank designers knew the aphorism “perfect is the enemy of good”. Despite radical changes in other Valentine models, such as a three-man turret or a 6-pounder gun, nothing new was asked of the Canadians. The tank continued to be produced with a two-man turret and a 2-pounder gun, which was drastically insufficient by the end of its production in 1943.
The British desire for more Valentines was not selfish. Britain itself only kept two Canadian tanks for trials. The two tanks were sent to England in the fall of 1941 for demonstration to a delegation from Vickers. One of the tanks was given the WD number T.41063, the other T.41105. Trials of Canadian tanks were completed by December of 1942, but a report on the acceptance trials of T.41105 was ready by October 19th. The tank functioned splendidly, failing after an impressive 2943 miles (1500 miles of which was on a road, 1443 cross-country) due to a breakdown of the second final drive. Canadian made tracks lasted almost for the entire march, 2431 miles, before they had to be replaced entirely with British tracks. During that time, only 12 track links failed. The report discusses minor faults, such as insufficient performance of the cooling system, failure of five shock absorbers, issues with electrical contacts, and short lifespan of Canadian-made brake linings. A stripped tyre also resulted in the destruction of one of the wheel rims, as the driver didn’t notice that the tyre was gone in time. With the exception of these issues, the reliability of the Canadian tank was judged to be equal to that of British production. Examination of the tank in detail showed that the parts that didn’t break down were still in excellent condition. The engine was found to be within specification, without any excessive wear. Gunnery trials also showed that the Canadian Valentine tank was up to British standards.
A Canadian Valentine tank on a railcar with many more behind it waiting to be shipped.
T.41063 performed better than its brother, having completed the 3000 mile trial in its entirety. The one defect that both tanks shared was water entering the tank and causing rusting of the controls. Some tyre failure was also observed, but it was not as critical. This tank was used to measure the Canadian Valentine’s speed and fuel consumption. The tank’s top speed was measured to be 16 mph during the flying quarter mile trial. Fuel consumption was 2.48 mpg (113.9 L/100 km) on roads and 1.83 mpg (154.4 L/100 km) cross-country. Oil consumption was 139.5 mpg (2 L/100 km).
The tanks continued to be used for experiments after these trials were finished. One of these two tanks served as a testbed for a gyroscopic stabilizer in the fall of 1942. At least one tank had its Browning machinegun replaced with a BESA. T.41105 was equipped with an external oil cooler. Trials showed that this addition reduced the temperature of both oil and water in the tank.
Valentines for Russia
Most Canadian-built Valentine tanks were sent to the USSR as military aid. 15 Canadian tanks (all Valentines VI) were sent to the USSR in November of 1941, on the American transport ship SS City of Flint. Interestingly enough, Lieutenant General Martel, then the head of the British Military Mission in the USSR, did not mention that Canadian-built tanks were being sent until February 16th, 1942. Martel also warned that the first 100 Canadian tanks had aluminium idlers. The Valentines arrived at their destination on February 22nd, as a part of convoy PQ-11. Upon inspection in Gorky, 13 of the tanks had their idlers damaged by corrosion. The next batch of Valentine VII tanks, delivered by convoy PQ-13, seems to have fared better, as only 17 tanks were recorded to have suffered from corrosion of idlers and turning mechanisms. Damage from freezing, common on British vehicles, was not observed on Canadian tanks.
30 more Valentine tanks were allocated for November, 55 for December, 78 for January and February of 1942, 80 for March and April, 90 for May and June, 100 for July, 110 for August, and 120 for September. It quickly became clear that these kind of numbers were impossible. The production prognosis was reduced to 60 tanks in May and June, and further reduced 50 in August. The amount of tanks allocated for the USSR was also reduced to 75 units per month until the end of production. Even this amount was no easy feat. In October of 1942, the factory only delivered 13 tanks (likely because of the improvements introduced into the design).
Tanks kept coming to the USSR. After the aforementioned convoy PQ-13, which carried 55 tanks, PQ-15 delivered 70 Valentine VII tanks, as well as spare parts. PQ-16 delivered 40 tanks. Soviet specialists noticed that some of these tanks had cast hulls and turrets. The infamous PQ-17, an Allied convoy that lost 24 of its 35 merchant ships on its way to the USSR, did not carry any Canadian tanks.
Due to the losses sustained by PQ-17, a decision was made to deliver tanks to the USSR through Iran. By September 1st, 1942, 6 Canadian tanks had made it to Baku, where a foreign vehicle reception center was set up. 50 more tanks were on their way. This southern delivery route explains the high amount of Canadian tanks that could be found in Red Army units fighting in the South Caucasus in the fall of 1942. In total, 323 Valentine Mk.VI and Mk.VII tanks arrived in the USSR in 1942.
The British War Ministry chose this as the main route for delivery of Canadian tanks. 709 Valentines Mk.VII arrived in 1943, more than any other foreign tank at the time. From June to October of 1943, the Valentine was the only type of foreign tank being shipped (barring small batches of 8 Churchill IV tanks, 2 Medium Tanks M3, and 5 Light Tanks M5A1). This was caused, in part, by rearmament of British and American armies, who were transitioning to more modern tanks.
The tank remained in production for a little longer than anticipated. Production ended in June of 1943. In total, Angus Shops put out 956 tanks in 1941-42 and 464 in 1943. However, the end of production did not mean the end of shipments. Tanks were still being sent, although the rate decreased drastically. The last 10 tanks were sent in November of 1943. 9 tanks arrived in the USSR in 1944, the last two arriving in Baku in March.
In total, 1388 tanks were sent to the USSR, 1041 of which reached their destination. The number of tanks allocated for the Red Army remained at 1420 until the fall of 1943, meaning that the Canadians were committed to sending every single Valentine they produced to fight in Europe. Supplying tanks to the USSR was a priority for the British. Spreadsheets with tank distributions started with three lines typed on a typewriter: the total number of tanks produced, the number of tanks allocated for the Red Army, and the remainder. Allocations for all other nations were made from that remainder, written in by hand.
Valentine with factory number #1420 was the last to leave the Angus Shops. A decision was made in the fall of 1942 that CPR’s production lines were best used to produce components for the Montreal Locomotive works, another Canadian tank assembly plant.
The Soviets recorded Valentine configurations separately, even separating the VII and VIIA. Since the first Canadian tank that arrived was noticeably different from the Valentine II, a decision was made to put one of these tanks through trials. Tank T.23383 was chosen for this task. According to accompanying documents, it was built in January of 1942, and arrived in the USSR with convoy PQ-15. It had an initial production type turret and front hull. Aside from the machinegun and headlights, the tanks stood out due to the large manufacturer’s mark and registration number, painted on the turret. These markings were painted on every Canadian Valentine tank until the end of production.
One of the peculiarities of the Valentine VII was that the engine could put out up to 165 hp, but the manual specified a different power output: only 130 hp. The tank that arrived for trials had its engine tuned to maximum possible power at the factory. This difference was noted in the trials programme.
The tank was first driven on a dirt road at maximum engine power. The tank travelled a total of 1360 km, demonstrating an average speed of 18.1 kph. Fuel expenditure was a total of 163 L per 100 km, with a cruising range of 105 km. The engine power was then lowered to 130 hp, and the tank ran through a 130 km long course, showing an average speed of 17.3 kph. The range increased to 115 km, with the fuel expenditure dropping to 153 L per 100 km. The fuel economy was not greatly improved, but the tank’s mobility was drastically reduced. As for the average highway speed, it was the same for both engine configurations: 25 kph. The tank traveled a total of 160 km on a highway, consuming 144 L of fuel per 100 km, with a cruising range of 125 km. The top speed was 26.4 kph: less than that of the Valentine II, but still within claimed range.
Trials of the Canadian tank coincided with trials of other foreign tanks. It turned out that, despite a lower top speed, the average speed on a highway was the same as that of the Pz.Kpfw.38(t) Ausf. F. On dirt roads and off-road the Valentine was superior not only to the Czech tank, but also the American Medium Tank M3. The Canadian tank burned 8-12 more Liters of fuel on the highway than the American or Czech. Only the Pz.Kpfw.38(t) had superior off-road fuel economy, and even then it wasn’t much: only by 3-5 Liters. The Valentine VII took second place behind the German Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. H in climbing hills (a maximum grade of 32 and 35 degrees, respectively). The Canadian tank didn’t do as well in tilt tests, slipping after being tilted by 26 degrees, although that was still far from last place.
The tank showed surprising results during fording trials. Despite being the lowest of the competitors, the results of the trials were satisfactory. The tank forded a 1400 mm deep river confidently, only stalling when attempting to do it in reverse. Neither the Pz.Kpfw.38(t) not the Pz.Kpfw.III managed this feat, stalling during the crossing.
The Canadian tank behaved well in swamps. It was the heaviest vehicle that managed to cross the chosen section. Thanks to wide tracks, the ground pressure was the lowest among its competitors: only 0.6 kg/cm2. The tank confidently crossed the swamp in second gear. It only bottomed out when it tried to cross the swamp across freshly made tracks. The tank could escape this trap on its own with the help of an unditching log.
The biggest drawback of the Canadian tank was the reliability of its suspension. Its road wheel rims were destroyed easily, starting at the 1200 km mark. Another issue, which all British tanks of the era suffered from, was the armament. In addition to not having an HE shell, the armour piercing capabilities of the cannon were also limited. The 2-pounder gun could not penetrate 50 mm of armour even at point-blank range.
Nevertheless, the results of the trials were positive. Like the British, the Soviets deemed the tank no worse than British-made tanks. Winter trials between the Valentine Mk.VII and a British Valentine II conducted from January to March of 1943 proved this further. The Mk.VII drove for another 1161 km, for a total of 3019 km, including summer trials. Even after this distance, the engine of the Canadian tank was more reliable than the British AEC 190. The Valentine Mk.VII was also noticeably faster, due to its more powerful engine. The cost for this speed was higher fuel expenditure. The Canadian and British tanks were approximately equal at crossing obstacles.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the same Valentine VII tanks were undergoing winter trials in Canada. The trials were held in Camp Shilo, Manitoba, where Canadian and American armies often train in harsh winter conditions. With standard diesel fuel and a cartridge starter, the Valentine could be started up at a cylinder temperature as low as −20°F (-29°C). When the tank was fuelled up with kerosene, it could be started at −25°F (-32°C). In order to start the tank at lower temperatures, the engine had to be warmed up first, or started with the use of ethyl ether. With a proper type of oil in the transmission, the tank could be satisfactorily driven at temperatures as low as −43°F (-42°C). The lubricant in the turret ring had to be thinned with gasoline to satisfactorily turn the turret at a temperature lower than −10°F (-23°C). A more complex blend allowed the gun to function at a temperature as low as −30°F (-34°C). The tank’s suspension performed satisfactorily. Tracks with cleats held well on ice, but helped little against perpendicular slipping. The cleats allowed the tank to climb snowy grades up to 11°. As expected, the cleats reduced the tank’s top speed somewhat, but that was not too important for a slow infantry tank. The report noted that the batteries should be kept warm in the cold weather and recharged as often as possible.
The combat characteristics of the Canadian tank did not distinguish it from its British brethren. The MK-7 or MK-VII, as it was referred to in the Red Army, did not noticeably stand out among other Valentines. It faithfully served as an infantry support tank, sharing their advantages and drawbacks. The more reliable engine was a benefit, but the British Valentine IV had the same engine. The tanks were most commonly used in the North Caucasus, where they were shipped en masse starting with September of 1942. This is where most of the tanks built in Montreal were photographed.
To wrap things up, let us tell the tale of one particular Valentine VIIA tank. The tank with factory number #838 was built in May of 1943, towards the end of the Valentine production run at Angus Shops. Like his brothers, this Valentine was sent to the USSR, where it was issued to the 5th Guards Tank Army. As of January 23rd, 1944, the 18th Tank Corps of this Army had 30 Valentine tanks of various marks: V,VII, and IX. Interestingly enough, Army level documents make no distinction between the different models, and refer to all of them as “Mk.3”.
On January 25th, 1944, tank #838 was lost while crossing an iced over river at night. According to the Army’s reports, the Germans fired on the crossing, and the tank was written off as destroyed by enemy fire. The tank was raised in the summer of 1990, and it was returned to Canada in 1992. This tank is one of the two Canadian Valentines that survives to this day.
- Photo archive of the Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada;
- Archive of the Canadian Military Headquarters, London (1939–1947) RG 24 C 2;
- Canadian Pacific Railway Archives;
- Documents of the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation;
- Documents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation;
- “Valentine VII” technical manual;
- Russian State Archive of Cinema and Photo Documents;
- Into the Vally: The Valentine Tank and Derivatives 1938–1960, Dick Taylor, MMP Books, 2012, ISBN 978–83–61421–36–8;
- British Infantry Tank Mk III Valentine, Part 1, Dick Taylor, Progress Publishing, 2011, ISBN 978–83–60672–13–6.