When the Canadians decided to produce their own armoured vehicles in 1940, they had a whole world of tanks to choose from. British, American, and even French vehicles were considered. A suitable infantry tank was quickly found, but not a single foreign cruiser tank was entirely satisfactory. As a result, the Canadians created a hybrid tank that combined American, British, French, and original solutions. This tank became known as the Ram.
War against bureaucracy
Selection of an infantry tank was simple for Canada. The Infantry Tank Mk.II was already unsatisfactory by 1940, and the Infantry Tank Mk.IV was too unrefined, plus the design was too complex and heavy for Canada’s fledgling tank industry. The choice was made in favour of the Infantry Tank Mk.III, which was successfully put into production in Montreal at the Canadian Pacific Rail company’s Angus Shops. The cruiser tank would have to be produced in greater amounts. Unlike the Infantry Tank Mk.III, which was produced for export, this tank was meant for Canada’s own army. It was decided on August 13th, 1940, that Canada would raise its own armoured force and it required 1100 cruiser tanks for this purpose.
On one hand, Great Britain was already working on the promising Cruiser Tank Mk.VI. On the other hand, the Americans had just designed the Medium Tank M3 to replace their unsatisfactory M2. The British initially insisted that all of their dominions must build British tanks, but after inspecting Canadian facilities Brigadier Pratt came to the conclusion that the chances of successfully producing the Cruiser Tank Mk.VI here were low.
The final decision was made in favour of cooperation with the neighbour to the south, even though their tank was not entirely satisfactory either. The Hyde Park Declaration signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King on April 20th, 1941, declared that “…each country should provide the other with the defense articles which it is best able to produce, and, above all, produce quickly, and that production programmes should be co-ordinated to this end.” This declaration bypassed the main obstacle for American-Canadian cooperation: a shortage of American currency in Canada. According to the declaration, Canadian industry helped the Americans, and the Lend Lease program was expanded to cover Canadian goods made for Great Britain.
Great Britain itself agreed to buy 3000 American medium tanks on October 30th, 1940, before the blueprints of the new tank were even completed. They modified the design of the Medium Tank M3 by expanding the turret, removing the commander’s cupola, and installing smoke grenade launchers. The Canadian tank was going to go even further than this half-measure.
To make development of the new tank easier, an unlimited exchange of blueprints was set up between the American Locomotive Company (ALCo) and the Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW). This project was referred to as the “Anglo-American Cruiser” in documents or by the designations M.3 or M4C. New names appeared in the summer of 1941: Cruiser Tank Mk.X (armed with a 40 mm 2-pounder gun) and Cruiser Tank Mk.XA (armed with a 57 mm 6-pounder). These names did not last long either. Like British tanks, this tank received a name rather than a number in the fall of 1941. It was named “Ram” in honour of the symbol used by the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade. The tank with the 2-pounder gun was called Ram I and the tank with the 6-pounder was called Ram II. Nevertheless, the association with the Medium Tank M3 left its mark. Canadian archives have plenty of photos of Ram tanks labelled “M3”.
Canada began preparing for production of the quasi-American tank in the winter of 1940-1941. Since there was no experience in production of cast armour in the country, the Canadians hired Martin Preval, who formerly worked on the SOMUA S 35 tank in France. Penetration trials of the first armoured castings made with his help showed that they were no worse than the armour produced in Great Britain. Engines, transmissions, and other components not produced in Canada were ordered in the United States, although the American representatives warned that it might be difficult to get transmissions and that production should be set up in Canada.
The Canadians left out the American sponson mounted gun, but installed a machine gun cupola like the one used on the British Cruiser Tank Mk.VI. Similar to the British tank, the driver of the Canadian tank sat in a bulge to the right of the cupola.
Reshuffling the hull components allowed the turret ring to grow from 54.5” (1380 mm) in diameter on the Medium Tank M3 to 60” (1524 mm) on the Ram. This allowed a larger gun than the 37 mm to fit in the fully rotating turret. To match the British standard, the tank was designed to carry the 57 mm 6-pounder gun. In addition to the gun, it also had a 2” bomb thrower for firing smoke bombs. The turret was initially based on the Cruiser Tank Mk.VI turret, but over time it morphed into a completely original design.
The turret also housed a Wireless Set No.9, unlike the American tank, which had its radio installed in the hull. The turret was equipped with the same Logansport traverse mechanism, which allowed it to make 3.5 rotations per minute.
There were plenty of changes “below the belt”. The driveshaft that ran across the length of the hull like in all American tanks was moved, and the driver was placed beside the transmission. This allowed the hull to be lowered. The weight savings from the lower hull and use of casting rather than rivets allowed the designers to increase the thickness of the armour to 60 mm.
While the Ram was originally supposed to have a 6-pounder gun, the British came up short on their end of the bargain. No tank mount for the 6-pounder gun existed by the time the Canadians had finished their tank prototype. No samples of the gun were available either, as production was only scheduled to start in October of 1941. The Canadians sent over Captain D.M. Loomis to Great Britain to try and speed up development of the gun and obtain documentation on it. Loomis replied that the design of the gun mount was in constant flux, plus there was no guarantee that the mount designed for the Cruiser Tank Mk.VI would fit in the Canadian tank. In the end, an original gun mount was developed in Montreal. In the meantime, the Ram tank prototype and the first 50 production tanks ended up being built with the 40 mm 2-pounder Mk.IX instead.
The first Ram I left the factory on June 30th, 1941. On July 18th, the tank was shipped to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the United States. After thorough trials, the tank was returned to Canada along with a list of defects that needed to be corrected. Nevertheless, the Americans liked the tank. Some researchers even credit the vehicle for affecting the development of the Medium Tank M4, although this is unlikely. The characteristics of the Medium Tank M4 were set back in August of 1940 and a model of the Medium Tank T6 was finished in April of 1941, long before the Ram arrived at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Despite being a distant relation of the American tank, the Ram eventually received the index Medium Tank M4A5.
The Ram I was also put through trials in Canada. The Canadians were very concerned about the concentration of fumes in the fighting compartment, but firing the coaxial and hull machine guns at a rate of 1000 and 500 RPM respectively for 15 minutes failed to create harmful concentrations of gas. The report stated that the crew would be safe even at a higher rate of fire. When the 2-pounder gun was fired at a rate of 36 shots over the course of 15 minutes, the concentration of fumes increased, but the engine running at 1000 RPM successfully sucked fumes out of the fighting compartment. The concentration of fumes could exceed acceptable limits if the engine was not running, and installation of another exhaust fan was recommended in the event that a more powerful gun was used.
The first Ram II tanks were built quite simply. The second Ram I merely had its 2-pounder gun mount replaced with one for the 6-pounder. The gun mantlet was held on with bolts, and so this conversion was very easy to perform. However, the larger gun impeded the crew’s function. Now it was harder for the gunner to look into his sight while aiming, and there was no longer any room to install a gun stabilizer. The aiming flywheels and extractor lever had to be moved. The changes did not fully resolve the issues the larger gun introduced, but at least somewhat alleviated them. Permission to produce the Ram II was given on November 3rd, 1941.
The subcontractor delivery schedule was composed with the goal of producing two tanks daily. Production was set to begin in September or October of 1941, and 200 tanks were due before December. As it often happens, these plans were never realized. The Department of Munitions & Supply (DM&S) reported in July that no more than 71 tanks could be expected by the end of the year. This estimate kept falling; by October 24th only 48 tanks were expected. Production issues were exacerbated by bureaucracy. It was unclear who was responsible for ordering parts: the British or the Canadians. The Ram was also not a priority for the Americans who were reluctant to part with engines and transmissions.
15 Ram tanks were delivered by January 2nd, 1942. 39 more were running, but assembly was not complete. The assembly process had not yet worked out all its kinks. The tank was still being modernized, and new parts were mixing in with the old ones at MLW. The Master General of Ordnance wrote a furious letter to DM&S stating that not a single Ram tank had been delivered in fighting condition. The letter was dated June 15th, 1942, by which point one could reasonably expect the factory to have gotten over the tank’s growing pains.
Complaints also arrived from the tank’s end users. The quality of castings was low and cast running gear components broke. The cast armour was also under scrutiny. The side of a tank towing a target at a shooting range was accidentally hit by a 2-pounder shot at a range of 275 meters and penetrated. An investigation followed to determine if the quality of the steel was up to scratch, but ultimately the investigators concluded that Canadian armour performed no worse than British cast steel would have under the same conditions.
The armament also left much to be desired. Precision of the 2-pounder gun was poor and the coaxial Browning machine gun overheated often. Low quality of the traverse mechanism made aiming the gun difficult. During trials, the gunner hit a moving target at a range of 650 yards one time out of five and could not hit it at 1000 yards at all. Loose tolerances in the turret ring also made the turret vibrate when the tank was moving. The gun cradle could crack during intensive shooting.
Complaints about the engine were also common. The Continental R975-EC2 was the least reliable of any engine used on the M4 family of tanks. It also didn’t work on British 80 octane gas and needed higher quality 87 octane fuel. Ram II tanks used the newer R975-C1 engine, but that did not solve all problems. The Canadians complained about the poor quality of the engine, which lasted for 1500-2000 miles of driving, and other components. The final variant of the engine, the R975-C4, worked better, but required on average 82.5 hours of maintenance for every 100 hours of runtime.
These complaints were not in vain. The tank was gradually modernized and rates of production picked up. MLW put out 150 tanks per month by July. There were plans to increase production to 300 units per month with the help of the Americans, but this was not meant to be. A decision was made to use MLW to produce the Grizzly tank (a Canadian copy of the Medium Tank M4A1) and Sexton SPG on the same chassis. The last Ram II left MLW on August 11th, 1943. MLW produced a total of 1948 tanks, 1671 of which were sent to Great Britain (100 of them were lost en route). 277 tanks remained in Canada.
The design of the tank did not stand still for two years. It began to change relatively quickly. The first Ram II had more differences from the Ram I than just the gun. For one, it had a ventilation fan on the left hull door instead of a pistol port. A sight was also added to the machine gun cupola. This was a considerable improvement over the Ram I, where the machine gunner had to walk his gun onto its target by following a stream of tracers.
The side doors disappeared starting with the tank with registration number CT.40101, but the ventilation fans remained. There are also photos of earlier tanks where these doors are welded up, but the pistol ports remain. The ventilation ports disappeared starting with tank CT.40438, with only small bulges remaining where they used to be. These tanks also lost their pistol port on the side of the turret. It was replaced with a simpler firing port closed by a plug when not in use. Starting with tank CT.159503, the Ram no longer had a machine gun cupola. The hull was altered to fit a machine gun in a ball mount like on the Sherman tank. Also like the Sherman, these tanks had new VVSS bogeys with the return roller moved back. Starting with tank CT.159540 (also tanks CT.159534 and CT.159538) had the longer 6-pounder Mk.V gun. These guns had a lighter barrel, as a result of which a counterweight had to be installed by the muzzle.
Further changes to the tank’s armament were considered almost as soon as it went into production. British tank classifications included a Close Support variant for its tanks, and the Ram would have to have one too. The 75 mm gun or 3” howitzer were considered. However, appetites began to grow quickly. The British almost immediately proposed the 3.7” and then 95 mm howitzers. There was one problem: the turret ring. A 70” (1778 mm) wide turret ring would be needed to support such a large gun. Canada would have to redesign the entire tank as a result, plus import equipment in order to produce turret rings of this size. In the end, close support Ram tanks were not built at all.
The idea of a 75 mm gun returned in 1943. The tank was considered obsolete by then and gradually fell to second line duties. An order for 1000 75 mm guns was discussed as early as the spring of 1943 in order to make them useful as front line tanks again. A decision to modernize 700 tanks (600 for an operational reserve and 100 for training) by installing OQF 75 mm guns (6-pounders converted to fire a 75 mm shell) was made in August of 1943. The reserve tanks would also receive a full set of modernizations with their conversion, the training tanks would only be partially modernized. 250 out of 600 reserve tanks would also receive deep wading gear. These conversions would be done in the UK. The UK would also provide the guns for the reserve tanks, while guns for the training tanks would come from Canada. The remaining 900 Ram tanks would not be modernized.
An experimental tank with a 75 mm gun went into trials on April 21st, 1943. The trials did not proceed well. Out of 15 armour piercing rounds loaded into the gun, 8 jammed and the shells had to be knocked out with the rammer. The gun fired six HE and eight smoke shells without problems. Only one of the 16 shots fired at a moving target hit it, which was a miracle considering the tank was still equipped with a sight meant for the 6-pounder and the same flawed Logansport traverse mechanism. Despite these drawbacks, the tank was judged to be the Sherman’s equal. The concentration of fumes was satisfactory while the engine was idling.
More thorough trials were conducted at Lulworth. Tank CT.159506 was used. This was one of the last Rams built. It had a Westinghouse stabilizer, new improved Logansport traverse mechanism, and additional splash protection. This tank no longer had a machine gun cupola.
Trials showed that even the new traverse mechanism needed work. The traverse was smoother if the tank was level, but at a tilt of 15 degrees the turret was jerky when turning to the left. Changing the direction of traverse from left to right was also unpredictable. Sometimes the turret would not change direction of traverse until the traverse handle was tilted to 25-30 degrees, and sometimes it would not change directions at all.
The testers approved of the removal of the machine gun cupola. Even though the machine gun’s traverse range was reduced, the machine gunner now had a lot more room to breathe. It was harder to see through the gun sight in the new mount, but the machine gunner gained a Vickers periscope to improve his visibility instead.
The stabilizer was the most effective addition. The tank could confidently engage targets at a range of 800-1000 yards with its AP shell, 900-1250 yards with HE, and up to 400 yards with its machine gun while moving at 12-15 mph. The telescopic sight jumped rapidly when the stabilizer was engaged, and so the gunner could not use it while driving down a very bumpy road. The firing mechanism was very tough to use, and the testers recommended a solenoid type electric firing mechanism. Indirect fire at a range of 2400-3500 yards was judged inadequate, as the elevation flywheel was ill-suited for such precise work.
The tank passed trials, and the modernization was approved. 100 guns (34 Mk.V and 66 Mk.VIA) arrived by the start of September. Meanwhile, it was still unclear which tanks were going to be modernized. Initially the proposal was to modernize tanks CT.159402 – CT.159501, but seven of them (CT.159413, CT.159414, CT.159440, CT.159448, CT.159453, CT.159460, CT.159501) never made it to the UK. A recommendation was made to install the rest into tanks in the CT.159502 – CT.160193 serial number range. The fact that the new guns would need a new sight only came up on September 14th, and so the Canadians ordered 100 No.50 telescopic sights.
The 30 tanks earmarked for training were not delivered before September 12th, and so the Canadians ended up training on Shermans. The tanks also did not make it in time for the extended September 22nd deadline, and on October 4th the deadline was moved to December 15th. This was undesirable, since the Ram tanks were needed to conserve the lifespan of the far more useful Shermans. The first two Rams with 75 mm guns were only finished by October 15th. Due to issues with the recoil brake, a recommendation was made to thoroughly test each tenth tank where this gun was installed.
This modernization was cancelled on December 14th, the day before the rearmament program was supposed to finish. It was clear by then that the Ram would not go into battle and there would be enough Shermans to train with. Conversion of the 600 reserve tanks never began. A list of all Ram tanks with 75 mm guns was composed on December 27th. 29 tanks were converted fully, 10 more had guns installed but needed about one hour of work each to complete, and one more experimental tank was still at Lulworth.
10 converted tanks were sent to E Group for training purposes by February 7th, 1944. It seems that they were well received, as E Group ordered 19 more. Another order for 15 Rams with 75 mm guns was made on April 22nd, but this time it had to be denied because there were not enough tanks of this type left. E Group eventually collected all 75 mm Rams with the exception of the one at Lulworth. Interestingly enough, Lulworth was done with this tank and was ready to part with it by December 6th, 1943.
It was clear by the spring of 1943 that the Ram couldn't keep up with the latest Shermans. The narrow turret ring wouldn’t fit a gun more powerful than the 75 mm, the unreliable engine couldn’t handle a greater weight, and most importantly, there simply weren’t enough of them. MLW struggled to produce 200 tanks per month, a drop in the ocean compared to what American automotive giants could offer. Canadian and British units slowly transitioned to American tanks. The Rams were gradually converted into forward observer vehicles, personnel carriers, and other specialized vehicles, but that’s a story for another article.
At the end of the war Canada ended up with 258 used and 47 brand new Ram tanks. They were not needed even after the war, as Canadian armoured vehicle needs were more than covered by cheap M4A2E8 tanks purchased from the US. A decision was made to scrap all Ram tanks and vehicles on their chassis in June of 1946. 30 tanks were kept as shooting range targets and four were transferred to a training facility in Barriefield.
44 vehicles (40 tanks with 75 mm guns, two Ram OP forward observer tanks, and two Ram ARVs) were given to the Netherlands. The number of vehicles in service with the Dutch reached 73. These tanks remained in service until 1952 when they were replaced with Centurions. The tanks were dug in as a part of the IJssel line of fortifications. Their main guns were replaced with machine guns.
It’s hard to call the Ram a bad tank. Its armour was thick and its 57 mm gun was very potent for its time. Production of such a tank at a factory that had never built tanks before was an achievement all on its own. Unfortunately, Canadian industry just couldn’t compete with the torrent of Shermans coming from the USA, and the Canadian tank that was rapidly developed at a crucial time in the war never had a chance to fight.
- Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives, Canada;
- Canadian Military Headquarters, London (1939-1947) RG 24 C 2;
- Roger V. Lucy. Canada's Pride. The Ram Tank and its Variants — Service, 2014.