An exclusive first look at built sample models featuring both of the impending new 1/35th scale Cruiser Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell Tank kits, due to arrive in our warehouse over the next few days
For the millions of people who are fascinated by the various armoured fighting vehicles which have roamed the world’s battlefields over the past 104 years, we all manage to find a real aesthetic appeal in these massive ‘ships of the land’, which are basically not much more than mobile lumps of metal, with a plethora of offensive armament. With each machine possessing its own unique list of impressive qualities, along with an equally long list of manufacturing/operational deficiencies, these powerful machines transformed the way ground warfare has been conducted over the past century, with the machines which contested the Second World War possessing an enduring fascination which shows absolutely no sign of abating. With the inspirational stories of the brave men who took these machines to war only serving to strengthen our interest, the shape, markings and colour schemes used on the world’s tank legion are as fascinating as they are sometimes confusing, however, in scale form, these metal monsters are irresistible to the modelling hobbyist.
With an impressive new selection of 1/35th scale military vehicles joining the Airfix kit range back at the start of 2019, the following year’s range announcement included news of a completely new tooling addition to this popular range and one which certainly seemed to appeal to many Workbench readers, as well as the wider modelling community. In fact, just like the actual tank on which the project was based, the new model would allow a number of variations of the same basic tank design to be modelled, a tank which would see its combat introduction in the Normandy countryside, following the successful Allied D-Day landings in June 1944, the British Cromwell cruiser tank. Marking the latest in a long line of Workbench exclusives for our readers, thanks to the prestigious modelling talents of our Product Designer Paramjit Sembhi, we can now bring you the first built models from this impressive new Cromwell kit, showcasing what we all have to look forward to in just a few weeks’ time – this Cromwell pair are already in our modelling sights.
This dramatic box artwork will announce the arrival of these two new additions to our 1/35th scale Military Vehicles range
Tracing its origins back to the early armoured skirmishes between British and German units at the start of WWII, the Cromwell was a development of the famous line of cruiser tanks which served the British Army with distinction throughout the Second World War. At first glance, you could be forgiven for dismissing the Cromwell as not possessing the same visual impact of many of the tanks in service around the time of the D-Day landings, specifically the German heavy panzers, but also arguably the Allied Churchill and Sherman Firefly, but in its own way, the story of this relatively small British tank is more interesting than all of its contemporaries. The Cromwell suffered from such a painfully protracted development that it was almost obsolete by the time it made its combat debut during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944, however, the new tank possessed two essential qualities which would ensure its success – speed and reliability. Operated by brave and well trained crews, these extremely effective new tanks were available in large numbers as the Allies broke out of their Normandy beachheads and once in open country, their stealth and speed allowed them to really show the impressive fighting qualities of the Cromwell.
Understanding the lineage of Cromwell production and variant details is definitely a headache inducing process, with so many differences in engines, components, hull and turret designs to negotiate, in some cases, what appears to be a Cromwell may not actually be so. The most heavily produced version of the new Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII A27M, the Cromwell Mk.IV 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 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, or by Wehrmacht infantry troops equipped with one of the plentiful Panzerfaust hand-held anti-tank weapons they were equipped with. 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.
Even though the new British A27M Cromwell Tank would not make its combat introduction until the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the speed and mobility of this excellent new tank would soon earn it an enviable reputation amongst Allied troops, who came to rely on the support they provided. The majority of Cromwell Tanks were armed with the standard 75mm ROQF gun, however, the less numerous Mk.VI variant would provide specialist infantry close support with its 95mm Howitzer and were consequently never too far away from the action. Firing a high explosive hollow charge shell, the tank was used to overcome fortified positions, such as concrete bunkers and pillboxes which stood in the way of the infantry’s advance and could even lay smoke-screens if required.
With its distinctively short barrel, the Mk.VI also featured a large counterweight on its main armament, which was necessary in helping to balance the gun. Approximately 340 of these specialist tanks were eventually produced, which would prove to be extremely effective as Allied ground units pushed German forces back towards their homeland. Despite their impressive speed, the Cromwells were no match for the firepower of the German heavy tanks and would have to rely on speed and stealth for their battlefield survival.
An army unit made up of expatriate Czechoslovak troops equipped and under the command of the British Army, the 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade landed in Normandy during August 1944 and would be handed the essential task of containing and weakening the beleaguered German garrison occupying the port town of Dunkirk. Allowing the Allies to concentrate on operations across wider Normandy without fear of a German breakout, the Czech unit would actually be involved in heavy fighting, as both sides repelled enemy advances, before launching their own counter offensives. The brigade were equipped mainly with Sherman and Cromwell tanks, including a number of the specialist Cromwell Mk.VI variants with their 95mm Mk.I Howitzers, tanks which were ideally suited to dislodging particularly stubborn areas of enemy troop resistance. A real asset to troops fighting these aggressive skirmishes, often at close quarters, the support nature of these tanks dictated that they would never be found too far from the action, with their legendary speed allowing them to confuse and outflank the enemy.