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Tanks

World War II: Tanks for Russia from Canada

During the Soviet Times they used to say: Russia won the war exclusively by its own might and economic strength. In the light of recent events it looks a slightly different. The facts speak for themselves: military equipment and armoury from the West helped Russia a lot. In particular, land lease automobiles’ supplies was 70 %, tanks – 12 %, airplanes – 10 %, and marine airplanes – 29 %.

Last year I happened to go to Ottawa where I visited the newly opened Wars Museum. There is a huge hall there filled with armoury and the stuff. By chance I came across a small battle tank called Valentine. I learned that those tanks had been supplied to the Soviet Union from Canada during the World War II. Intrigued, I decided to find out how many of them did Canada supply to Russia during the Great Patriotic War.

The first order connected with tank production was received in October, 1939. Drawings and specifications in connection with this order were received from the United Kingdom in January, 1940 and a conference was immediately summoned.

Although this particular order was cancelled it appears to have had the effect of indicating the CPR Angus Shops as the plant that could be organized for tank production at the shortest notice. Canada was prepared to build tanks and notified the United Kingdom to this effect. As a result, in June, 1940 the first order requiring the production of complete tanks was received. This was an order for 300 Valentine tanks and other contract to produce the tanks was awarded to the CPR Angus Shops.

During October, 1941 the United Kingdom arranged to take over the entire output of Valentine tanks being built by the C.P.R. to the end of 1943. In view of the military situation at that time it was the intention to ship all Canadian-built Valentine tanks to Russia. The original British order of 300 tanks was increased to 1,420; this included the Canadian order for 488 which was accordingly cancelled. Canada, however, required a small number of the tanks for training purposes and the United Kingdom agreed to allot 30 of the 1,420 to Canada. The remaining 1,390 tanks were shipped to Russia in the course of the next two years. The Russians were pleased with the Valentine tank and continued to show a strong preference for this type after it was considered to be obsolete.

The final shipments of the Valentine were made in May, 1943 (23) and the C.P.R. Angus Shops discontinued assembling tanks and concentrated upon producing components for tanks being assembled by the Montreal Locomotive Works.

With Britain unable to afford to send many of its tanks to Russia under the Lend-Lease program, all Canadian-built Valentines were allocated to the Russians. Montreal Locomotive Works (Canadian Pacific) produced 1,420 Valentines, Marks VI, VII, and VIIA.

The decision to send all-out aid to Russia was as courageous in its way as the decision last year to defend the Mediterranean at a time (just after Dunkirk) when the British had nothing with which to defend themselves “but a few rifles and a few good boys in good planes. Since that time the British have brought their home strength somewhere near to the point of adequacy, but the sacrifice of major quantities of materiel from Britain and Egypt will be more than a noble gesture. It will be a real military risk.

Finishing this story I’d like to remember the convoy PQ17. This Arctic convoy sailed from Iceland on 27 June 1942, guarding supplies destined for Russia. The supplies were essential to support the Red Army in the battle against the German forces who had invaded the previous year. The convoys constantly faced threat and those who took part became familiar with mountainous seas, biting cold and the continual fear of attack by air or sea.

When PQ17 sailed in July 1942, it was thought by the Admiralty that the convoy faced imminent attack from four battleships: the 42,000-ton Tirpitz, the cruisers Hipper and possibly Admiral Scheer, along with the pocket battleship L?tzow. Ultra intelligence could not prove this, but had suggested that the four ships were gathered at Altenfjord, Norway, poised for attack.

A series of signals were issued on 4 July, culminating in the order from First Sea Lord Admiral Pound for PQ17 to ‘scatter’. Believing that they were steaming to intercept a bigger force in order to protect the convoy, the British destroyers and cruisers headed west.

Mitch Grigori

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