How did British tank factories operate?

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Chris C, May 15, 2019.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    An image on another forum prompted this question in my mind again, enough to actually post about it. Does anyone know what sort of process British tank factories used?

    Take this image for instance:


    Looking at the leftmost line (from our POV) one tank has a turret and the rear sloping louvres mounted (I think) (but raised up vertically). I am unclear whether the tank in front or behind have those louvres attached. None of them seem to have the louvres that cover the flat part of the hull behind the turret. If this was an assembly line I would have thought to expect tanks reaching a more complete status as they progress, so the first tank in this line should be in a more advanced stage than the one behind it.

    On the other hand, on the rightmost line, 2nd tank up, a tank DOES have covering on the flat part of the hull behind the turret. And the tank closer to us does not.

    The middle section looks like a specialty area for mounting tracks, so that's somewhat by-the-by, but it's unclear to me that the tanks are progressing in a linear less-to-more completed state in that picture.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  3. Dave

    Dave Junior Member

    the picture is very much like Crewe railway works, 10 shop/Erecting shop... but Wikis search says they produced over 150 Covenanter tanks, and those in the picture don't look like Covenanter's...
    Also in the photograph it looks like the completed tanks are coming towards the camera, the 2 outside belts building the frames up, then lifting it into the middle belt for tracks to be fitted.

    Chris C likes this.
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    I never get the impression there was an 'official' process. Factories allocated war orders used systems largely depending on facilities available.
    Places like Vickers' greater tank experience might mean smoother lines & more efficient processes than somewhere that traditionally produced railway gear, but the end product can still be the same.
  5. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    The top photo features Matilda II and the lower photo an early War 'light tank' (I can't remember its proper name). Both photos therefore illustrate early War manufacture. Not sure how relevant that is though to the original question!
    Chris C likes this.
  6. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    It might be possible from the serial number to identify exactly which model of Light Tank is being built, but they were just Light Tank Mark VIB and so on, so far as I know.
  7. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    Chris, it's a Mk VI without suffix - the clue is the return roller being part of the Horstmann suspension unit - which I assume makes it a prewar image.

    There is a similar looking set of photos to your first image from the Montreal Locomotive Works in the summer of 1943 depicting four lines, three of Grizzlies and one of Sextons, that you may be familiar with Chris.

    Grizzlies not Rams - I stand corrected - schoolboy error!
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
    Chris C likes this.
  8. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    These are not Rams on the production line but M4A1 Grizzlies, AKA the M4A1 Sherman, 188 of which were produced at Montreal between Oct and Dec 1943. Note the hull machine gun port on the RHS of the vehicle.

    Production of the Ram ceased in July 1943.
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  9. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    The Matilda was a particularly unusual tank to manufacture, because it needed an enormous amount of "dressing" i.e. grinding away of the large castings that made up its hull, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if the production line for this tank looked somewhat haphazard.
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  10. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    The idea of the production line would have been known to British tank manufacturers. Photos of Mk V tanks under construction in 1918 show a very clear line of progression and it would seem unlikely that this would have been abandoned by WW2
  11. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    It is not unlike a photo I saw of the GE Factory at Stafford last I heard it was Alstrom. They built tanks there in WW2 and afterwards they tested them on Cannock Chase. I think they did a lot of development there. The Comet was tested on the Chase. Sorry I cant be more helpful but if I can find the photo I saw some time ago I will be back.
    Chris C likes this.
  12. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

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  13. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Great photo!! I think that must be from 1944 as those are clearly Comets, from the turrets.

    Also see how close to the near end we have a tank with a turret and then one without. That was a thing that confused me (see my original post) but clearly this was nothing unusual.
  14. Aeronut

    Aeronut Junior Member

    I think neither photo shows a 'travelling production line' as we now expect a motor vehicle production line to look like. Whilst the Matilda line look like it should be one (or three) lines, I think it is actually three rows of individual builds.
    The clue to how the builds progresses is the vantage point used by the photographer, the travelling crane. The crane would be busy lifting and moving the heavy components into place for the team of fitters to work on. Completed tanks could also be lifted out before a bare chassis filled the empty space and the process begun again. A system suited to peacetime manufacture of low volume heavy engineering such as rail locomotives or the generating equipment produced by English Electric as mentioned above.
    The Light tank photo looks reminiscent of the 'bay production' system I worked on as an apprentice building dumpers in the early seventies, again well suited to low volume of vehicles that differ from each other. However, for volume production of near identical vehicles the moving production line is better.
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  15. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    The production lines at the Austin Motor Factory at Longbridge Birmingham built Whippet tanks don't know for how long. Being quite small they were no doubt built in a similar way to their cars but must have ceased production in favour of other vehicles as the war progressed. The whole of the area south and west of Birmingham was for some time a huge park for military vehicles awaiting trains to be taken away. Anti aircraft defences for the whole South Midlands were for the purpose of defending the Austin Works using mobile and static guns and several decoy fire sites using gas and oil fires. Anyone have details on what Austin actually built.
    Birmingham itself was a centre for munitions with Fort Dunlop and IMI in Aston heavily defended with Balloons and Guns even mounted on the towers of Fort Dunlop.
    The Main BSA Plant at Small Heath, Reynolds Tubes making Aluminium Air frame components, the Tyseley Locomotive Works and Railway Yards. Not to mention Castel Bromwich making Hurricanes, Spitfires, Mosquitos, and Heavy Bombers.
    Elmdon Airport (now Birmingham) was used for training pilots for the RAF amongst other things. Mosquitos and other prototypes were tested there.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2019
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  16. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Thank you Aeronut, I think that really helps me understand how they operated :)
  17. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    For the Austin Motor Company you might find this interesting: War Years 1939-45
    Lots of pics for you vehicle and equipment fans.
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    This jogs my memory of the manufacturing management modules from Warwick Business School and, based in Coventry, we looked a lot at the motor industry. The type of production process depends on product volumes.

    If you know what you want to make and want to make a lot of them then you can build an assembly line for the product. Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory was built to manufacture Spitfires designed to be built in numbers - and the design of the spitfire changed to suit the process. The main difference between the Spitfire Mk 1 and MkII is that the Mk II was designed to be built at Castle Bromwich. But it can take a long time to set up an assembly line for mass manufacture. It took until summer 1940 to turn out any Spitfire Mk II.

    I mention the aircraft industry because the idea of the shadow factories was to use Britain's motor industry to mass produce aircraft. So tank production was left to companies that weren't into mass manufacture. The Crewe railway works notorious for struggling with the the Covenentor, but Vickers engineering Limited built the Valentine and commercial vehicle manufacturers such as Leyland and Vauxhall turned out tanks. Luxury car manufacturer Daimler turned out armoured cars.

    The Mk VI may be pre-war, A few tanks on in a pretty empty assembly shed. The Matilda assembly shed is cramped and probably would be in contravention of a zillion health and safety rules - but don't ya know there s war on! This is just the assmebly shed. The manufacturing process involves sub-assemblies and components from many subcontractors. It was also a long time before Baldridge, Total Quality or Just in Just in Time made a step improvement in vehicle manufacture. Back in the day there was a lot of rework and hand finishing.
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  19. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

  20. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    Nice photos but some of the captions are woefully incorrect

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