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Flames of War

 

The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure

The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure

The Ram:
Canada’s Most Successful Failure
with Andrew J. Lucas

The Ram tank was one of Canada’s most notable contributions to the Allied war effort and deserves a place in history, if only as a tank shipped to the frontline only to be promptly disassembled and repurposed in a number of roles other than a battle tank.

The situation which would lead to the need for a unique Canadian-designed and -built tank began at the end of World War One. After the end of the war, the number of enlisted personnel in the Canadian Army dropped from more than 200,000 to a peacetime level of around 4500 soldiers. The armoured portion of this force consisted of a handful of Vickers Mk VI light tanks and a dozen or so Carden Loyd machine gun carriers - hardly an impressive force, but one which the politicians believed would be sufficient to serve the country and support the Commonwealth in the event of war. It was believed that the British Army would provide the bulk of any military forces required, especially the armoured vehicles. This belief changed in May of 1940 when Britain was struggling to defend itself, let alone Canada.

With France falling into German hands, a number of things changed for Canada and the world in general:
■ Tactics changed from armoured units providing light support from static positions to fast-moving, heavily armoured units which packed a hard punch, rendering most Commonwealth tank designs immediately obsolete;

■ Britain’s armoured forces were gutted and her ability to replace them was severely curtailed by U-boat blockades;

■ Canada realised that they would have to expand their armoured forces for their own troops as well resupply Britain with tanks;

■ Canada had disbanded its tank school;

■ And most importantly, Canada did not have a tank-building industry!

The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
The state of Canada’s army in 1940 was adequate for the inter-war years, but incapable of aiding Britain in the new European conflict. With Britain losing almost all of their tanks during the rapid Blitzkrieg advances in France, the rest of the Commonwealth rallied when it become apparent that the required armour could not be manufactured in England. Conservative estimates put Canada’s contribution at over 1200 units: enough to outfit two armoured divisions. All of the equipment, production lines and even the training would have to be created from scratch. An order was placed with the Angus Shops of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Montreal for 488 Valentines. However, the remaining tanks were to be a new cruiser design.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure The Inter-departmental Tank Committee had plans to fulfill Canada’s quota with the American M3 Lee, utilising a design already in production which could be easily adapted to Canada's manufacturing capacity. Colonel F.F. 'Fighting Frank' Worthington, commander of the Canadian Tank School before its disbandment, and again now that it had been resurrected, pushed for an entirely new design. This was to be superior to the M3 and better suited to British and Canadian requirements. In early 1940 the green light was given for the production of what would be known as the Ram tank.
The Ram was designed not from the ground up as Worthington had pushed for, but as a compromise between a quick start-up using an established design (the M3) and a superior design as Worthington envisioned. An M3 chassis was retained due to its successful use in the Lee and the ease with which it could be manufactured. However, the upper hull was to be entirely new, designed by an amalgamation of Montreal Locomotive Works, the British Tank Mission, the Inter-departmental Tank Committee and the Tank School in the form of Colonel Worthington, whose advice continued to shape the form of Canada’s armoured forces.  This combined effort resulted in the Ram Mk I, the first of which rolled off the assembly line in a mere six months.
The pilot model combined the proven M3 chassis with and an entirely new cast hull, which was significantly sleeker, eliminating shot traps (a shot trap occurs when an incoming shell deflects off the armoured exterior only to impact a weaker or more vulnerable point of the vehicle). Ironically, the hull and turret were too big to be cast in Canada, at least initially, and were commissioned for production in the United States. The turret was originally designed to accommodate a 75mm gun but was reduced in size to house the 2 pdr gun.

Right: The Ram I featuring the 2 pdr main gun.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
Fortuitously, the turret design featured a removable faceplate which allowed different gun mantlets to be fitted. This feature was utilised in the up-gunned Mk II, armed with a 6 pdr main gun, which was always the Army’s intent once the 6pdr became available in any quantity. Only fifty of 2 pdr armed versions known as Ram I were produced; the main production model was the Ram II, equipped with the 6 pdr gun.

Left: The Ram II featuring the 6 pdr main gun.
Other differences between the Lee and the Ram included the removal of the turret cupola, lowering the tank’s silhouette; situating the No. 19 radios in the turret rather than the chassis; and the addition of a left-side forward .30 cal machine-gun turret, which did have a cupola. The resulting tank was sleek and, for its time, one of the most advanced cruiser tank designs in production. Between November 1941 and July 1943, 2122 Rams were produced, with the design constantly being further refined. Some of the changes were small, such as instrument panel switch-outs and clutch lever links changed. Others, like the removal of the MG cupola for a cast ball mount, and moving from the Wright engine to a Continental, were more significant. By the end of its production, the Ram was a lean and trim cruiser tank, which promised to acquit itself well. Unfortunately it would never make it to the battlefield, despite over 1900 Ram I and Ram IIs being shipped to England.
What happened to the Rams which were shipped to the England? The short answer is that the United States of America happened. The American production of the M4 Sherman far outstripped the Canadians' piecemeal efforts in the production of the Ram, and it made sense to outfit all units with similar equipment rather than the Lee/Ram combination Canada initially proposed. Once the Allies encountered the Panther in Normandy the significance of the Sherman Firefly with its 17 pdr was realised and the Ram was truly mothballed once and for all as a battle tank. Those vehicles already in England were relegated to training units.

Right: The Ram being used on the training grounds.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure Once the decision was made not to outfit the armoured divisions, the Ram was converted to Command / Observation Posts for field artillery regiments. A number of modifications were made to Rams during construction, including fitting a dummy gun, plotting tables, sighting equipment and extra radios. These observation posts were very well respected by their crews and prized by the British units they served with.

Left: An example of a Command / Observation Post Ram.
Another variation on the Ram was as an ammunition carrier. 28 were manufactured without turrets or ammunition fittings, to allow for artillery ammunition to be hauled to artillery regiments.  A pretty simple modification to Rams on the Continent allowed more of these to be fielded in Europe. The OP, Command and Ammunition Carrier (sometimes called a Wallaby) were the only unmodified production models to see combat as they were intended. But they were far from the only Rams to visit the frontlines.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. While the plentiful supply of Shermans meant most of the Rams shipped to England were left languishing in supply depots on the wrong side of the Channel, the Ram would get a second lease on life as the fortunes of war changed.  The chassis was still considered robust enough and shared many components part with the Sherman, making it easy to maintain in the field. More importantly it had sufficient armour protection that it could easily be modified to create an armoured transport vehicle to provide protection for troops as the Allies broke out of Normandy.

Right & below: The Ram Kangaroo.

The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure The Ram Kangaroo
The first and best-remembered by the troops who rode in them was the Ram Kangaroo. Following the successful deployment of Defrocked Priests during Operation Totalize, it was recognised that the lightly armoured Priests were underpowered and susceptible to enemy antitank weapons. They had also been in continuous service since August 1944, and keeping them in service was becoming a herculean task.
The 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron was refitted Ram Kangaroos in October 1944 for deployment. They were organised into four vehicles per section, three sections per troop and four troops in total. With headquarters, this totalled 64 Ram Kangaroos, each manned by a two-man crew and capable of carrying ten soldiers into combat.
Each Ram was modified by removing the main turret and moving about a few of the interior systems such as the No. 19 radio and intercom. Most did not have the auxiliary turrets but kept the .30 cal machine-gun in the ball mount of the later production models. Occasionally the lucky soldiers being carried would have benches installed for their comfort, though by all reports they were more appreciative of the bulletproof protection the vehicle offered than by its level of comfort.

Right: A example of the Ram Kangaroo with the ball-mount hull machine-gun.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
As each vehicle was a modification of an existing design, many of the Kangaroos were further modified by the workshops and their operating crews.  All had an open top to accommodate their passengers and a machine-gun mounted in either a ball mount or auxiliary turret.  Most also added either a .50 cal machine gun or another .30 cal machine gun.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure The Ram Badger
Fighting against fortifications demonstrated how effective new weapons such as the flame-thrower could be in ferreting out dug-in troops. But the survivability of infantry using flame-throwers was always an issue. The Wasp carrier, which mounted 75 gallons of fuel in a light armoured vehicle, was very successful and crew survivability was increased. However, it was still very susceptible to antitank weapons and most small-arms fire. Therefore, it was concluded that a sturdier vehicle was required. There were already Churchill Crocodiles and M4 conversions in the field, but more and faster vehicles were also needed.

Left:
An example of the Ram Badger; note the auxiliary turret.
The Ram chassis was ideal, especially when the main turret was removed to make room for the Wasp fuel tanks. Conversions of Ram tanks with the Wasp II flamethrower gear were used by the 5th Canadian Armoured Brigade in the Netherlands in 1945.

Most of these Ram conversions, designated Badgers, mounted the Wasp’s flame projector in place of the forward .30 cal machine-gun, allowing a broad arc of fire. The projector was actually mounted upside down, but this did not affect the accuracy of the weapon. The rear held the fuel for the flamethrower, and most but not all Badgers covered the open turret with armoured plate. Later versions featured an auxiliary turret on top of the armoured plate, which provided a cupola for the tank commander as well as a .30 cal machine-gun to repel any enemy infantry who wandered too close.  The final version of the Badger was a near-intact Ram Mk II which included the original turret and armament as well as the Wasp flame projector replacing the hull machine-gun. This version of the Badger was the closest thing to a standard production model of the Ram seeing actual frontline service. But even then it is not know whether the main gun ever actually fired a shot in anger.
The RAM Armoured Recovery Vehicle
Two recovery vehicles were developed from the Ram chassis: the ARV I, which was essentially a towing vehicle modified by simply adding an A-frame, tolls and a chain hoist; and the ARV II, which replaced the main turret with a casemate and dummy gun but had a much more substantial winch, boom and rear spade, allowing the vehicle to recover a full 25-ton load.  These tanks were of course unarmed, but they served well as just another modified Ram tank, and were well received by the units they assisted.


Right: The Ram ARV II; note the dummy gun.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure Other variants
Searchlight
The Ram also served as test bed or chassis for a few other purposes.  A 40-inch searchlight was added to a few Ram Kangaroos in 1944 to serve as airfield illumination and occasionally providing illumination during night operations.

Gun Tower
A version with a much higher hull adaptation was modified to tow 17 pdr anti-tank guns and stow their ammunition.  Different from the Wallaby which was only an ammunition carrier this vehicle was to serve alongside the gun crews.

Left: An example of the Gun Tower Ram.
3.7" Self-propelled Gun
Inherently unstable due to the high center of gravity caused by the massive gun; this version of the Ram did not see action as was most likely as dangerous to the crew as it was to the enemy.


Right: An example of the 3.7" Self-propelled Ram.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure AVRE
Two Rams were seconded to the Royal Engineers for trials as battlefield engineer support, but were not deployed as Churchills were better suited to the task.

Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle
The Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle or BARV or Ram Porpoise were modified vehicles intended to recover other vehicles swamped or knocked out during a beach landing.  Like the Ram itself, these vehicles were unable to compete with Sherman variants already designated for the task.

Left: An example of the Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle.
In Summation
By July 1943 a total of 2122 vehicles, including 84 artillery OP vehicles, had been completed for deployment to England.  While the majority of those vehicles never served in the role for which they were built, each acquitted itself well and left a lasting impression on those that served in or alongside them.

After the war the majority of the surviving Ram chassis were given by the Canadian Army to the 1st and 2nd tank battalions of the Royal Netherlands Army, which were in the process of building their first tank units. Using the Rams stored in Dutch army dumps and supplemented by 44 British Rams, the two units were soon brought up to a strength of 73 tanks, despite of the poor maintenance that the hard-driven Rams had been subjected to.
The Ram: Canada’s Most Successful Failure
Ironically, these Dutch tanks were the only Rams fielded as armoured cruisers close to their initial design parameters. 40 of the tanks were even refitted with 75mm guns; it would have been interesting to see how these tanks might have compared to the Sherman and Sherman Fireflys which eclipsed them in Europe.

~ Andrew.
Bibliography

■ Tools of the Trade – Equipping the Canadian Army, Service Publications.

■ The Kangaroo in Canadian Service, Service Publications, Mark W Tonner.

■ The Ram Development and Variants Vol I, II, Service Publications, Paul Roberts.

■ No Holding Back, Robin Brass Studio, Brian A Reid.

■ Cinderella Army, University of Toronto Press, Terry Copp.

■ The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps: An Illustrated History, The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Association, John Marteinson & Michael R McNorgan.