Developed at the same time as the Covenanter, the Crusader was intended to fulfill the role of a “medium” cruiser tank for independent operations. Produced in Mark I–III and CS versions, it was the principal British tank from 1941 onward. Special models: antiaircraft tank (turret removed in favor of 40mm Bofors mount); command tank; armored recovery vehicle; dozer; antimine roller; gun tractor for the 17-pounder (76.2mm) antitank gun.
The A15, which became the Mark VI Crusader, stemmed from the same requirement for a medium cruiser tank for independent action. Essentially an enlarged A13 Mark III, it was adopted over contending designs in large part because it included many elements of the A13 series, including the modified Christie suspension, and thus could be put into production faster. Its greater length (one additional bogie wheel on each side) offered improved trench-spanning capability. Ultimately nine firms produced the tank, designated the Crusader.
Produced in Marks I–III, the Mark I version weighed 42,560 pounds, had a crew of three men, a 340-hp engine for a speed of 27 mph (often exceeded), and was armed with a 2-pounder main gun and one machine gun. It carried maximum 40mm armor. Marks II and III carried heavier armor and also did not have the small front auxiliary machine gun turret, which proved of limited value. Its removal allowed greater ammunition storage. The Mark III also substituted a 6-pounder (57mm/2.24-inch) gun.
The Crusader first saw action in North Africa in June 1941. With a total of 5,300 produced by nine different firms, the Crusader was from 1941 the principal British-designed tank of the war. Fast and maneuverable, it was nonetheless insufficiently armored and outmatched by the German PzKpfw III’s 50mm main gun. It also fell victim to German 50mm, 75mm, and 88mm antitank guns. As soon as possible the British Army replaced the Crusader with the U.S. M3 and M4 mediums. Although obsolete as a medium tank, the Crusader was subsequently modified and served in a variety of roles until the end of the war, as an antiaircraft tank, tank recovery vehicle, antimine tank, combat engineer tank, and artillery tractor for the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun.
The deficiencies of the Covenanter and Crusader medium cruiser tanks, demonstrated in the Battle for France and early fighting in North Africa, led to a crash British effort to develop a heavy cruiser tank capable of taking on and defeating the German Panzer PzKpfw III. Among specifications sought for the new tank were heavier armor (65mm on the hull front and 75mm on the turret), larger (60- inch) turret ring, more powerful engine, heavier (6-pounder) gun, weight of not more than 24 tons, speed of at least 24 mph, and above all greater mechanical reliability.