NEW FROM AIRFIX A1373 1/35 Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell Mk.IV-Expected: Winter 2020-2021

With our popular range of 1/35th scale armoured fighting vehicles now boasting an impressive selection of many of the most iconic tanks, tank destroyers and mobile artillery pieces from the Second World War, any new addition to this range is obviously going to receive quite a bit of attention from military modellers. That certainly proved to be the case at the beginning of the year, when the launch of our 2020 model range included details of a newly tooled British Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell kit to join the range later in the year. As we are now unveiling of the dramatic box artwork which will grace the release of A1373 Cromwell Mk.IV (featured above), we are pleased to report that these two kit variations on the Cromwell theme are well on the way towards their early 2021 release date.

One of a series of fast and relatively well armed cruiser tanks developed by the British during the Second World War, the Cromwell can trace its history back to late 1940 and the decision to find a replacement for the widely used Crusader tank. Unfortunately, a relatively protracted development has dictated that there is generally some confusion with different variants of these tanks, as similar looking machines could both be named Centaur or various marks of Cromwell. They were all derived from the A24 Cruiser Mark VII Cavalier, the name given to the original intended Crusader replacement programme. The main reason for the different names revolves around three different engine types used to power the different vehicles, different manufacturers and several different hull types.

The A27M Cromwell Mk.IV was the most heavily produced version of the new Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII and matched the Centaur hull with the highly effective Rolls Royce Meteor engine (A27Meteor), a development of the Merlin engine which famously powered the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain to victory. This powerful and extremely reliable engine allowed the tank to travel at impressively high speeds, which is just as well, as in operation, these relatively lightly armed tanks would be required to get rather close to their targets, using stealth and speed to outflank them.

The tank also featured a quick firing 75mm gun, which was a re-bored version of the ubiquitous British 6 pounder gun and allowed the commander to have the option of using American produced armour piercing or high explosive rounds. Further underlining the strategic effectiveness of the tank, its turret could traverse through 360 degrees in just 15 seconds, thanks to the impressive hydraulic system it employed.

During the final few months of the Second World War, when the Allies were slowly pushing German forces back towards their homeland and their enemy were finding it increasingly difficult to mount strong, sustainable counter offensives, the speed and agility of the British Cromwell tank would come into its own. Deployed in large numbers in the wake of the Normandy landings, the Cromwell was perhaps not as numerous as the ubiquitous Sherman and certainly didn’t possess the hitting power of the new Firefly, but when situations required the speed and initiative of an armoured cavalry thrust, the Cromwell was ideally suited to this dangerous task. As with all armoured units involved in combat throughout the European Theatre, tank crews were allowed a certain amount of discretion when it came to applying camouflage to their machines and were free to utilise foliage and netting to give them as much protection as possible in the combat locations in which they were operating. The addition of field applied paint was a different matter and in most cases, only the use of a water based whitewash during periods of heavy snowfall would be allowed.

Compared to the Sherman tanks which fought along side the Cromwell in Europe, the British tank had a much lower profile, something which may have sometimes been a disadvantage for the commander when attempting to assess the battlefield situation, but something which could prove extremely beneficial when units were being targeted by Wehrmacht guns. It appears as if the crew of this particular Cromwell only elected to whitewash the turret of their tank, presumably deciding not to bother spending time painting the hull due to its extremely low profile. The 7th Armoured Division ‘The Desert Rats’ would be heavy users of the Cromwell and following the Normandy landings, would use the tank during many actions throughout France, then into Belgium and Germany itself.

During the savage fighting in the narrow hedgerow lined lanes of the Normandy battlefield, the excellent mobility of the Cromwell was somewhat nullified, even though its low profile would allow it to pass relatively unnoticed by watching German armour. When a situation required a Cromwell commander to move from the protection of the narrow lanes and into the surrounding fields, the initial climb up the steeply banked hedgerows could prove fatal. Exposing the lightly armoured lower hull of the vehicle during the manoeuvre , they were at risk of being destroyed by either an enemy tank of by Wehrmacht infantry equipped with one of the plentiful Panzerfaust hand-held anti-tank weapons. An ingenious and rather simple solution to this problem was to attach a steel ‘hedge cutter’ blade to the front of the tank, which allowed the commander to scythe through the foliage obstacle, keeping his tank level and still able to bring his guns to bear on any potential target. This addition even provided some welcome natural foliage camouflage for the tank as it passed through the hedgerows, just so long as the trees and bushes it collected didn’t obstruct his gun aiming sights – if this did happen, it would require a crew member to leave the safety of his armoured chariot to clear it.

The armoured units of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry would also see heavy action following the Allied landings in Normandy, but as their role was to provide armoured support for infantry units engaged in combat, they would usually be deployed in smaller numbers and spread across several locations at the same time. A gunner from the Northamptonshire Yeomanry was thought to have been responsible for firing the shot which ended the fearsome reign of German Tiger tank commander Michael Wittmann on 8th August 1944, although he was assigned to an up-gunned Sherman Firefly at the time.

The majority of the 11th Armoured Division landed on Juno Beach on 13th June 1944, but would be thrust straight into the action, where they would be involved heavily with most of the British Second Army operations in northern France. They would continue fighting as the push moved to Belgium, Holland and eventually into Germany itself. It is interesting to note that like many other British Army tanks of the period, other than the single Allied star on the rear of its turret, this Cromwell has very little decoration or markings on its hull, other than its relatively inconspicuous unit markings.