A34 Comet – Mk 1 Model A
The A34 Comet -the last in the production series of British cruiser tanks- began in July 1943. Leyland Motors, already engaged in producing Centaur and Cromwell tanks, turned a whole factory over for tank production. The design brief called for a tank to be armed with the new 77mm gun and to retain as many features of the Cromwell as possible in order to reduce development time. A mock-up was ready by September 1943. The first prototype was ready for testing in February 1944. Production was initially scheduled for mid-1944 but there were initial problems with the suspension which required some modification, as well as other small changes.
Mechanically, the Comet was very similar to the Cromwell. Power was provided by a Rover or Morris built Meteor Mk III engine, similar to the one used in the Cromwell. Power output was 550 bhp from 27,022 cc. The tank was designed to be operated by a five-man crew consisting of commander, driver, gunner, loader and ‘bow gunner’, the latter operating the bow machine gun.
The Comet tank entered service with the 29th Armoured Brigade, replacing the unit’s Sherman’s. The 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars (from August 1944 Reconnaissance Regiment of 11th Armoured Division) were also issued with Comets. The tanks saw first action during ‘Operation Plunder’, the Rhine crossing in March of that year.
Early 1945 three regiments of the 29th Armoured Brigade (11th Armoured Division) were refitted with Comet tanks: 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 23rd Hussar Regiment and 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. Training started in Gravelines by end of January. With the Comet the crews finally had a fast, reliable and well-armed tank. Its 77mm canon could even pierce through the armour of Tiger tanks.
By March 1945 they pulled up in Comet tanks in Operation Plunder, the crossing of the Rhine. On April 12 3rd Royal Tank Regiment crossed the river Aller near Essel and was stopped by three Tiger tanks of Gruppe Fehrmann. Two Comets were knocked out,.The next morning two Comets pulled up again and managed to knock out the Tiger tank of Oberleutnant Fehrmann. Two days later they liberated the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.
Trooper Dennis Frederick Pannell was the driver of one of the two Comets which knocked out the Tiger of Oberleutnant Fehrmann. His tank was named ‘Celerity’.
At the War and Peace Revival Show 2016: