The Cavalier Cruiser Tank became one of the many Cruiser Tank forms adopted by the British Army during the fighting of World War 2 (1939-1945). The specification for what would eventually become the A24 tank also evolved to include two other wartime designs - the "Centaur" and the classic "Cromwell". Cruiser Tanks were British Army doctrine staples which called for light and fast Cruiser Tanks exploiting breaks in the enemy lines caused by heavier, better armed Infantry Tanks (such as the famous "Churchill" line). In the end, the Cavalier proved itself a stepping-stone, interim combat tank design that fulfilled some of the battlefield need but never reached the levels of popularity or tactical value that its counterparts of the war would.
Even as a new generation of Cruiser Tanks were coming online for the British armored corps in 1940, thought was already being given to design of a newer generation of combat vehicles. One of the chief qualities of a new Cruiser Tank design was standard implementation of the QF 6-pounder main gun, a weapon that gave considerably better battlefield performance over the original QF 2-pounders that were used in many early-war British tanks. Several specifications were drawn up to satisfy the requirement and three primary submissions were reviewed - the chosen design becoming the "A24" from Nuffield Mechanization & Aero Limited and some 500 of the type being considered for production. The two other submissions came from Vauxhall (the A22) and BRC&W.
Due to the tight development/production schedule planned, the A24 was based on the existing Crusader Cruiser Tank (A15) - the Crusader already forming the armored spearhead of British armored groups in the early stages of the war. Design work progressed into 1941 and it was agreed upon by authorities that the vehicle should be in serial production by the beginning of 1942 to help shore up tank limitations in the ongoing war. The vehicle was to be well-armored and armed and feature an in-house Nuffield "Liberty" engine. As with other Cruiser types, the A24 would provide good road speeds and strong inherent mobility. The prototyping stage was skipped altogether for expediency and six evaluation models were ordered instead. At this time, the tank was called the "Cromwell" - though the name would eventually become associated with another, altogether different British Army tank design by war's end.
Mounting delays in the A24 project meant that serial production did not begin in early 1942 as planned. Trials involving a Crusader hull and 6-pdr gun were just being undertaken to help prove the pairing sound but these tests showed the pairing to be a less-than-stellar solution. Appropriately the original order of 500 tanks was reduced. The A24 was eventually joined in development by the A27L from Leyland and the A27M, the latter featuring the Rolls-Royce "Meteor" engine - all successively named "Cromwell" (as in "Cromwell I", "Cromwell II", and "Cromwell III"). Before the end, the A24 was officially designated the "Cavalier", the A27L became the "Centaur", and the A27M became the "Cromwell" - this was done to formally distinguish the individual designs.
The finalized 27 tons (short) Cavalier vehicle featured a length of 6.3 meters, a width of 2.8 meters, and a height of 2.4 meters. The standard operating crew was five and included a driver, co-driver/machine gunner, commander, main gunner, and loader. Armor protection ranged from 13mm to 76mm across the tank's various facings. Power was provided by a Nuffield Liberty Mark IV gasoline-fueled engine of 410 horsepower which, when coupled to the "improved" Christie suspension system, supplied the vehicle with a road speed of up to 24 miles per hour and an operational range of 165 miles. Off-road speeds maximized at 14 miles per hour. Primary armament was a QF 6-pounder (57mm) main gun which was fed from a stock of sixty-four projectiles. Secondary armament were 2 x 7.92mm BESA machine guns (one bow-mounted, the other fitted coaxially in the turret) for local defense. 4,950 rounds of 7.92mm ammunition were carried.
Externally, the Cavalier carried a conventional tank arrangement with a front-mounted driving/crew compartment, the turret fitted directly aft, and a rear-mounted engine installation. Typical British design was in play for the vehicle relied heavily on thick, near-vertical surfaces along the hull superstructure and turret alike. The driver sat at front-right with the co-driver/bow machine gunner to his left. The remaining crew held positions in the center of the hull within the turret. The running gear was of a traditional track-and-wheel arrangement that utilized five large road wheels to a hull side with the drive sprocket at rear and track idler at front. Barrel hang was decidedly minimal to prevent the vehicle becoming stuck when traversing down steep trench walls. The driving controls were aided by pneumatic power.
The Cavalier was in service from 1942 into 1945 and eventually stocked the armored corps of both the British Army as well as Free French Forces. For the former, these were relegated to secondary roles and for tanker crew training and typically not used as frontline combat vehicles due to better alternatives being made available. One variant of the line became the Cavalier ARV, an Armored Recovery Vehicle model that lost its turret to have an A-frame jib set atop the hull. The Cavalier OP was an Observation Post vehicle to serve artillery groups in accurizing their indirect ranged fire. The vehicle carried a "dummy" main gun barrel and was outfitted with extra communications equipment for the role. For the French, some twelve vehicles were operated under the banner of the 12th Dragoon Regiment of the French 14th Infantry Division.
The end of the war in 1945 effectively ended the widespread use of the Cavalier. Its selection of the Liberty engine to power the line was never truly satisfactory, leaving the tank an underpowered vehicle. At one point it was considered as a successor to the Crusader series it was developed from.