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The Tetrarch was not designed as an airborne tank

The British A17 Tetrarch light tank is best known for its role in Operation Overlord, where they landed in Hamilcar gliders in support of the airborne troops. It’s often said that the Tetrarch was designed from the outset as an airborne tank, but that’s a myth.

Vickers designed the Tetrarch, which followed on from their Light Tanks, Marks I to VI, in 1938. The Tetrarch was the Light Tank, Mark VII and was designed for the same roles as the earlier marks. The British army accepted it for service and production was due to begin in 1940. Few were built, as the War Office concentrated on cruiser tanks and infantry tanks after the Battle of France.

Britain sent twenty Tetrarch tanks to the USSR under lend-lease, where they served in the light tank role. Six others went to Madagascar, forming half of B Special Service Squadron of the Royal Armoured Corps. They took part in the initial amphibious invasion and capture of Diego Suarez, operating as standard light tanks. They were later re-embarked for Operation Stream to take Majunga, but in the event they were not needed.

Britain didn’t start creating an airborne force until 1940, two years after the Tetrarch was designed. Trials of Tetrarchs as airborne tanks, carried in Hamilcar gliders, began in 1944, almost six years after it was designed and accepted for service as a light tank. These airborne tanks were fitted with Littlejohn adaptors or had their 2-pounder guns replaced with 3″ howitzers for use as infantry support tanks.

Published inAFVMythSecond World War