By looks alone, it becomes easy to dismiss the Carden-Loyd Tankette series as nothing more than an expensive (albeit dangerous) child's toy but the "little tankette that could" went on to revolutionize mechanized warfare throughout the 1930s and 1940s and proved a success on the foreign market, eventually spawning a generation of similar systems worldwide. Her design became the foundation for a new breed of tracked vehicles throughout Europe and Asia. Interested nations licensed produced or outright copied the original British design and most often times improved it for the better - either by speed or functionality. Others simply ordered the tankette from her British originators with their own set of national specifications in place. The tankette was pressed into service by her hapless operators in an offensive role against the might of the German Army in the early stages World War 2. However, it was only the British Army that truly utilized the light mobile system to her advantages in these early years. The tankette also served as the springboard to the excellent multi-role British "Universal Carrier", the Soviet T27 light tank, the German Panzer I light tank, the Polish TK light tanks and the Italian CV series (among others). In short, there were few mechanized designs in the 1930s and 1940s that were left untouched by the arrival of the Carden-Loyd Tankette.
There were some in the military ranks (particularly in France) that subscribed to the idea of an offensive method of waging war in which the light tank could be used in an effective offensive skirmish-minded role. Such a force would move both armor and men across the battlefield at speed and ultimately overwhelm enemy positions in the process. World War 1 brought about the use of armor in a variety of light- and medium-class roles but there were some that saw a future where medium- and heavy-class tanks would become the norm. When the war ended, others still pursued the idea of light tanks as effective battlefield solutions. The "tankette" was seen as a potentially effective and mobile machine gun carrier and reconnaissance vehicle. In practice, the type would be further evolved into a myriad of other forms including that of mortar or field gun tow vehicle and even a self-projecting smoke system. One such person to focus his attention on the tankette became British Major Gifford LeQuesne Martel.
Martel set to work from his own garage to produce a capable one-man "tankette". From his vision (and using his own finances), he constructed a working prototype. The pilot vehicle was completed in 1925 and combined a variety of existing components into one compact system. The engine was of a Maxwell-brand and the tracks were delivered by the Roadless Traction Company. The axle originated from a Ford truck. The main structure was comprised of wood and featured slab-sides completing a most utilitarian appearance. Martel then took his creation in front of the War Office and tried to sell the British Army on the idea of his light tank system. The War Office took note and teamed with Morris Commercial Motors to produce four such pilot vehicles (under the "Morris-Martel" name) for further evaluation. The first was made ready in 1926. The following year, a further eight vehicles were ordered with the intent of fielding a new trial group of light reconnaissance machines for the British Army. The order officially came to naught when it was discovered that a single crewmember could not effectively wield the steering controls and operate armament all by himself.
Martel then teamed up with Morris to develop a slightly improved form of the one-man tankette - resulting in a two-man design. Though the vehicle's appearance had not changed for the better, she now followed a more "crew-friendly" approach and attempted to fit whatever ergonomic measures could be found. The tracked system was dominated by the drive sprocket and idler straddling a pair of small road wheels. There was a further (larger) road wheel mounted to the rear via an extension of the main hull. The crew sat within an open-topped, high-profile superstructure. The vehicle was powered by a Morris engine of 16 horsepower and weighed in at 2.75 tons. Armament was a single light machine gun and performance equaled 10 miles per hour off road and 15 miles per hour on road. Despite the improvements, the second Morris-Martel design still lacked definitive qualities to consider her a viable solution but progress was made nonetheless.
Crossley and Martel teamed up to produce yet another tankette design once again revolving around the concept of a one-man system. This particular approach saw rubber tracks fitted as well as a Crossley engine of 14 horsepower. Again, a single light machine gun figured prominently as armament and top speed was 18.6 miles per hour from the 1.8 ton design. The design appeared in 1927 and attempted to fit more ideas into the original Morris-Martel attempt. The Crossley-Martel approach maintained some of the appearance of the Morris-Martel design before it.
Enter Carden-Loyd, Ltd
Carden-Loyd Tractors, Ltd, a firm headed by self-educated engineer Sir John Valentine Carden, became another firm to jump on the tankette bandwagon and took the base idea several steps further. The original Carden-Loyd one-man model was produced at Kensington in 1925 and a single pilot example was ordered by the War Office for evaluation.
The Mark I
The Carden-Loyd Mark I one-man tankette then followed and attempted to increase the original's speed and overall track life. She was fitted with a Ford Model T engine of 14 horsepower and weighed in at 1.6 tons, allowing for speeds of up to 15- to 31-miles per hour depending on whether a tracked or wheeled base was utilized (respectively). Fourteen steel road wheels dominated the track sides. The Carden-Loyd Mark II one-man tankette was essentially of the same mold as the Mark I but a new track suspension system was trialed. Four rubberized bogies replaced the original's fourteen steel wheels. The Carden-Loyd Tankette Mk III was another Mark I off-shoot fielding a new track suspension layout. By this time, however, the idea of a one-man tankette was beginning to wane and the prospect of a two-man system took center stage.
The Two-Man Tankette
The Carden-Loyd two-man tankette was developed in 1926 and deviated slightly than previous Carden-Loyd tankette offerings. She still maintained her utilitarian look about her but made room for a second crewmember in the superstructure. The two-man design was bettered in the definitive Mark IV that featured a modified suspension and (ultimately) five return rollers. Instead of the previous .303 Vickers machine gun, the Mark IV made use of a .50 caliber Vickers heavy machine gun. There existed a Mark VIa and VIb model offering.
The Mark V later appeared as eight pilot vehicles. Though essentially the Mark IV, these were somewhat unique in their use of a tricycle wheel and track device arrangement. The Mark IV was contracted at about the same time as the eight Morris-Martel pilot systems mentioned above.
Carden-Loyd Tankette Production
Vickers-Armstrong was selected to manufacturer the diminutive machine in all its varied forms. Production of the tankette began in 1927 and ran through 1935 to which some 450 examples were ultimately delivered. Most production was handled by the Royal Ordnance Factory during that stretch (1933 to 1935).
Carden-Loyd Tankette Walk-Around
The Carden-Loyd Tankette promoted a small and squat profile from every angle. Standard operating crew was two personnel and armament (optional) came in the form of a single .303 caliber Vickers machine gun mounted to the front right superstructure. The Vickers system had limited traverse but the Tankette was intended to "bring" the machine gun to the battle and not serve so much as an offensive infantry deterrent. Additionally, the 7.7mm system could easily be replaced by a .50 heavy caliber machine gun if needed. As such, the applicable machine gun tripod was also carried on the tankette and clamped down to the front left side of the forward hull. Armor protection was between 5- and 9-mm thick across the various panels though she still sported an "open-topped" superstructure. While something of a drawback to the crew, the open-topped approach allowed for unfettered all-around views as well as keeping the weight of the tankette to a minimum. Total weight was registered at 1.5 tons (approximately 1,525 kilograms). Overall length was 2.46 meters with a width of 1.75 meters. Total height was 1.22 meters. Make no mistake, the tankette was every bit her classification - a small tank.
The design was characterized by her large forward-mounted drive sprocket and thin tracks. The tracks ran under four small road wheels to a track side and were wrapped back into play by a rear mounted idler. The suspension system was of a bogie type. The engine was mounted to the forward section of the hull while the crew area was fitted to the rear. The superstructure was nothing more than low-set slab panels winding around the crew compartment. The powerplant was managed by a single Ford-brand Model T series gasoline engine of 4-cylinders and producing 40 horsepower at 2,500rpm. Top speed was a respectable 25 miles per hour on ideal surfaces and road conditions and operational range was limited to about 90 miles.
Carden-Loyd Tankette Operators
Foreign sales were key in solidifying the legacy of the Carden-Loyd Tankette. Considering the war-weary world, any military sales of quantity made their respective products instant successes. Militaries were always on the lookout to modernize their stables and cost effective solutions had always been the norm. Purchases and license production of the tankette was handled throughout Europe and Asia. Operators ultimately included (along with the British Army) Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy, Belgium, Canada, France, India, Italy, Siam, the Netherlands, Bolivia, Greece, Thailand, Taiwan, Finland, Portugal and Chile.
In Poland, the Carden-Loyd design formed the basis for the upcoming indigenous TK tankette and (ultimately) the TKS tankette series. Czechoslovakia produced a slightly modified version of the British tankette as the Tancik vz. 33. The Soviet Union made good use of purchased Carden-Loyds to design and create the larger and much improved T-27 series to which several thousands were produced. The Belgians made good on their tankette acquisitions as well, fielding the little machine as both a machine gun carrier and a modified tank killer. The Italians produced license copies as the CV-29, these ultimately becoming the basis for their L3/35 indigenous tankettes. Many British tankettes were studied and reverse engineered to achieve results and further exploration into new developments.
The Carden-Loyd Tankette in World War 2
The original Carden-Loyd Tankette design saw actions in the early stages of World War 2, most often against the German invaders and were of little offensive value. However, the vehicle still showcased some of its universal qualities quite well and is credited with pushing the design of the machine gun-minded German Panzer I light tank series in the process. The Tankette would also form the ground work to the ubiquitous British "Universal Carrier", an open-topped vehicle that served the British Army in a variety of forms throughout the Second World War. Additional actions saw the tankette in the Souther American Chaco War of 1932-1935 and Southeast Asian French-Thai War of 1940-1941.
The Carden-Loyd Tankette was a known carrier of the Stokes mortar system, a 37mm howitzer and a 20mm Oerlikon anti-tank gun. A trailer known as the "GS" could be latched to the rear of the Tankette and proved useful in the carrying of ammunition. Essentially, the tankette was flexible enough to be used in whatever way its owners required, making for one truly universal and highly-respected little machine by the end of her tenure.
The fact she was studied and copied as she was shows us the revolutionary aspects of the design originally begun with the introduction of the Martel design. Though sometimes classified as a "light tank", the Carden Loyd Tankette actually falls into a category of tanks all its own, known simply as "tankettes".