The Comet saw combat and 26 were destroyed but due to its late arrival in the war in north west Europe, it did not participate in big battles.
The British Comet was a further development of the Cromwell cruiser tank. In 1943, it was realized that a new British tank was needed that had a high-velocity gun that could take on and knock out the new Panther and Tiger tanks, but was also fast and had a low profile.
The Churchill tank had good armor but was slow and had a weak gun. The Sherman tank was tall. The Cromwell tank was fast and low but its turret could not take a larger gun.
The Cromwell had originally been designed to carry the 57 mm Ordnance QF 6-pounder, also retrofitted to the Crusader tanks. In combat, these were found to be useful against other tanks but lacking any reasonable high explosive load they were ineffective against anti-tank guns or static emplacements.
Prior to the Cromwell entering combat service, the Ordnance QF 75 mm was introduced which equipped the majority of Cromwells, an adapted version of the 6-pounder firing shells from the US 75 mm gun from the Sherman. This offered somewhat lower anti-tank performance than the 6-pounder but its much larger shell provided an effective high explosive load.
Recognising that a common low profile vehicle was required to replace the mixed fleet of Cromwell, Challenger and Firefly tanks, a new specification of tank was created. This removed the Challenger’s need for a second loader and mounted the newer Vickers High Velocity weapon intended for the Cromwell.
Design work started in May 1943. The Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company was the design parent of the British Cromwell Tank and the A34 Cruiser Tank Comet. Other companies were involved in the construction of this AFV, the biggest being English Electric, Fowlers, Leyland and Metropolitan-Cammell.
The new Comet tank, mounting the new 77 mm HV gun in a new lower profile and part-cast turret. This gun was effective against late-war German tanks, including the Panther at medium range, and the Tiger. The tank was widely respected as one of the best British tanks of the war, and continued in service afterwards. A total of 1,186 vehicles were manufactured from September 1944 through to late 1945.
The Comet saw action in the closing stages of World War II and remained in British service until 1958. In some cases, Comets sold to other countries continued to operate into the 1980s.
When you look at the hull of the Comet and compare it with the Cromwell tank it was replacing, there are more similarities than differences. This was because there was a conscious decision by the wartime tank designers to avoid complications in production when the new Comet tank was introduced. This design restraint meant that a fully sloped armored front was not introduced even though it would have improved protection from enemy Armor-piercing shell.
A new lower-profile welded turret was created using a cast gun mantlet for the 77 mm. The turret was electrically traversed, with a generator powered by the main engine rather than the hydraulic system of the Cromwell.
The turret featured slightly angled facings for some ballistics protection but was overall a straight forward design. The gun sported a single-baffled muzzle brake for recoil. The hull was squat, allowing for a lower profile cross section and five rubber-tired road wheels dominated a track side. The drive sprocket was located to the rear of the design and the track idler was at the front.
The engine was fitted to a compartment in the rear for maximum protection. Crew accommodations were for five personnel, include the driver, commander, gunner, loader and radioman. Ammunition for the 77 mm gun was stored in armoured bins.
The engine was Rolls-Royce Meteor Mark VIII V12 engine providing 600 horsepower. The Comet’s suspension was strengthened, and track return rollers were added. The top speed was 32 mph and an operational range of approximately 125 miles.
Several other improvements were made and many Cromwell design revisions were incorporated, such as safety hatches for the driver and hull gunner. The hull was fully welded as standard and armour was increased, ranging from 32 mm to 74 mm on the hull, while the turret was from 57 to 102 mm.
The British 11th Armoured Division was the first formation to receive the new tanks, with deliveries commencing in December 1944 and the 29th Armoured Brigade. The 11th Armoured would be the only division to be completely refitted with the Comet by the end of the war. The Comet saw combat and 26 were destroyed but due to its late arrival in the war in north west Europe, it did not participate in big battles.
During the following Korean War, the Comet served alongside the heavier Centurion tank, a successor introduced in the closing days of the Second World War on an experimental basis but too late to see combat. The Centurion was formally adopted in 1949 and was partly based on the Comet design.
The Comet remained in British service until 1958, when the remaining tanks were sold to foreign governments; up until the 1980s, it was used by the armies of various nations such as South Africa, which maintained several as modified recovery vehicles. Two examples were still being held in reserve by the South African Army as late as 2000.
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