The concept of a single-man tankette was born in a garage.
Royal Engineer Major Giffard Le Quesne Martel worked on the tactical development of tanks during WW1. Even after the war, Martel never stopped theorizing about the future of tank warfare: what’s next? How can I improve what’s already available? Where do we go from here? Eventually, in his own garage, he built a very small tank—the first prototype of the tankette.
Tankettes were unlike anything on the battlefield. They were small size and light weight, which made them perfect for scouting and reconnaissance, and they provided protection for individual soldiers attacking enemy lines. It was a revolutionary idea, but no one wanted it: how could a single man steer and fire effectively at the same time? A two-man tankette design banished any doubts, and the Carden Loyd Company was the first to bring their one-man tankette model before the war office. Carden Loyd’s designs went through a few evolutions: increased suspension durability, increased speed, and the design was made bigger and lower. In 1926, Carden Loyd produced a successful two-man tankette prototype that was picked up and improved upon by Vickers-Armstrong in 1927. Vickers-Armstrong’s Mark VI was the first tankette to be mass produced. It could reach and average top speed of 25 mph and had a 90 mile weapons range. Eventually, the British army took over a majority of tankette production, and reshaped it so that the men inside would be better protected.
In 1929, the Russian army took an interest in British tanks, and the Vickers Carden-Loyd (VCL) Mk VI tankette was the first to arrive on the red army’s side. Despite the Soviet’s respect for British tank design, they felt that a few changes needed to be made to the Mk VI to suit their needs. Engineers altered the outside design, made the engine more powerful, and armed it with a 7.62mm machine gun. They called this new design the T-27. This tankette had flaws, though. Because of the state of electricity in Soviet tanks at the time, the T-27 didn’t have a radio and couldn’t communicate. Because of the tank’s light weight, heavier, powerful guns weighed the chassis down too much. There also wasn’t enough room for ammunition. The T-27 became the model for the improved T-37 amphibious light tank.
Still, small tankettes weren’t going down without a fight. In the 1930’s, T-27 tanks were successfully used to suppress the Basmachi uprisings in Central Asia. By the end of 1932, the Red Army had 65 battalions, and each battalion had at least 50 tankettes.
Learn more about tanks used by the Soviets in Tim Bean and Will Fowler’s new book Red Army Tanks of World War II: A Guide to Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the Red Army.
Red Army Tanks of World War II is an authoritative history of Soviet armored forces before 1945, detailing their development, tactics and equipment from the early days of the tank arm in the 1920s, through the purges of the late 1930s and the German invasion in 1941, to the epic tank battle of Kursk, and eventual victory in the streets of Berlin.
The growth and development of Stalin’s armored might is illustrated with 170 rare black-and-white photographs, some of which have never been previously published. These include images of tank training in the 1920s and 1930s, photographs taken on active service, and pictures of the major tank battles of the war. The photographs are complemented by detailed artworks of Soviet tanks and exhaustive specifications.
A must for any enthusiast, Red Army Tanks of World War II is the definitive study of the equipment and tactics of the Soviet armored forces that defeated the might of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Purchase Red Army Tanks of World War II here.