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Canal Defence Light (CDL)

Special Purpose Searchlight Tank

United Kingdom | 1942

"The Canal Defence Light initiative proved itself a novel concept in the scope of World War 2 - destined to never be used as intended."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 06/02/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The British War Office became convinced of the idea of high-powered searchlights to blind enemy combatants and illuminate battlefields as early as 1937. Design studies and practical trials were then ordered resulting in production of a special tank turret sporting a powerful searchlight for 1939. World War found Europe for a second time with the German invasion of Poland on September 1st and development work on what would become the "Canal Defence Light" system continued with greater resolve.

The Matilda II infantry tank of the British Army was selected as the first recipient of the concept. The standard turret - complete with its main armament fit - was wholly removed and, in its place, the CDL turret installed. Other internal modifications were forced by the installation of this turret but the general form of the Matilda tank remained. The searchlight component lay behind a shutter that was manually operated. With a fast "open-close" action, the bright light was intended to disorient the enemy at range as allied tanks closed in on their position for the kill.

From this work spawned an order for three hundred such turrets to be affixed to existing British Army tank hulls. The initial large-scale offering was the Matilda II which produced the "Matilda CDL" designation. The vehicles were too late for service in the North African Campaign so attention turned to using the newfound "weapon" in the planned Normandy Invasion landings of Northern France. By this time, the Matilda was an aging, ill-equipped combat vehicle so the turrets were set upon American M3 Grant Medium Tanks then in British Army service - thus the "Grant CDL" designation was born.

Even in this guise the CDL concept was never used as intended despite the crucial nature of the Normandy landings in retaking Europe. During the major river crossings of early-1945, the CDLs were in place solely to illuminate nighttime operations but never forced upon the awaiting enemy as designed. They also served in other post-invasion actions as searchlight vehicles and little more.

For a time, the Americans believed in the CDL concept and ordered 355 searchlight-equipped turrets all their own. These were installed on outgoing M3 Lee Medium Tanks to produce the "T10 Shop Tractor" designation (the name intended to hide the vehicle's true battlefield role). Like the British design, the T10 was not used as intended during the last push towards Berlin (and Tokyo for that matter) and the concept eventually fell to history for all interested parties.

The "T52" was a short-lived 1944 American attempt to convert M4 Sherman tanks to the CDL form. This did not proceed as regular searchlight-equipped Shermans could easily handle the role of the specialized CDL at a lower cost with little conversion work to be had.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one land system design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Canal Defence Light (CDL) Special Purpose Searchlight Tank.
Matilda II: 2 x Leyland E148/E149 diesel engines developinng 95 horsepower each.
Installed Power
15 mph
24 kph
Road Speed
162 miles
260 km
The physical qualities of the Canal Defence Light (CDL) Special Purpose Searchlight Tank.
18.4 ft
5.6 meters
O/A Length
8.5 ft
2.6 meters
O/A Width
8.2 ft
2.5 meters
O/A Height
51,996 lb
23,585 kg | 26.0 tons
Armament & Ammunition
Available supported armament, ammunition, and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Canal Defence Light (CDL) Special Purpose Searchlight Tank.
1 x High-Powered Searchlight in turret
1 x 7.92mm BESA coaxial machine gun for local defense.
Not Available.
Nightvision - NONE.
Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Protection (CBRN) - NONE.
Notable series variants as part of the Canal Defence Light (CDL) family line.
Canal Defence Light (CDL) - Base Series Name
Matilda CDL - Matilda II hulls equipped as CDL tanks.
Grant CDL - M3 Grant hulls equipped as CDL tanks.
T10 Shop Tractor - U.S. Army designation for M3 Lee hulls equipped as CDL tanks.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Canal Defence Light (CDL). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national land systems listing.

Total Production: 655 Units

Contractor(s): State Factories - United Kingdom
National flag of the United Kingdom National flag of the United States

[ United Kingdom; United States ]
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Image of the Canal Defence Light (CDL)
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted. Matilda II CDL form pictured.
2 / 3
Image of the Canal Defence Light (CDL)
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted. Matilda II CDL form pictured.
3 / 3
Image of the Canal Defence Light (CDL)
Image from the Public Domain; Grant CDL form pictured.

Design Qualities
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to battlefield requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Canal Defence Light (CDL) Special Purpose Searchlight Tank appears in the following collections:
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