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Published May 26, 2013

The A33 Excelsior is being introduced to the in-game store in 8.6. Does this new Tier V Premium tick enough of the right boxes to make it a worthy while purchase? Lets take a look.

History of the A33

The A33 never entered production, despite having the potential to be a worthy tank for its era. Born from the fallout caused by the lackluster performance of the Churchill, the A33 never entered full scale production because of the same tank. Although it wasn't perfect, its demise was almost certainly caused by politics rather than design flaws. However, it showed. for a brief moment, that in the darkest years for the British tank industry Britain could build something approaching a good tank. Even if it would be 2 years before the world-beating Centurion entered service.

The A33 Project started with the the Churchill, a tank which proved to be a complete disaster when first used in the Dieppe raid of 1942. It's easily argued that Dieppe was a poorly planned operation that never would have succeeded - even if the British were armed with the best tanks in the world at that time - but the Churchill showed itself to be mechanically unreliable and poorly designed, unable to get off the beach and make an impact on the battle.

If any more proof was needed as to just how poorly the Churchill performed, the Germans - who had a reputation for pressing captured equipment into service - completely ignored the Churchill, citing it as clearly obsolete and of no use to them. This decision is obvious when you compare the lumbering Churchill - capable of only 15mph and armed with a 6-pounder - to the Tiger 1. With its massive 88mm Kampfwagenkanone (KwK) 36 L56, which fired a shell weighing 22lbs, the Tiger 1 could charge around the battlefield at 24mph while remaining nearly impervious to anything currently being fielded by the Allies. To the Werhmacht, the Churchill looked like a bad joke, and this had fatal consequences for the crew.

That first poor showing at Dieppe almost sealed the Churchill's fate; a replacement was immediately requested. Among the companies that answered this tender was English Electric, a company known for building trains, trams and engines. English Electric also dabbled in aviation design, built planes and tanks under license for other companies, and had just purchased Napier & Sons, an engine manufacturer known for its innovative designs and a potential competitor to the mighty Rolls-Royce.

English Electric would later go on to carve out its own niche in history when it designed and produced the Canberra Bomber - a first generation jet bomber known in the US as the B57 - and the Lightning fighter, both record-breaking aircraft with performance figures that are still impressive today.

At this time, English Electric was one of the companies licensed to built the Cromwell Tank - a Cruiser tank I'm sure you're all familiar with - so instead of starting their own design they modified the Cromwell. They put forward two prototypes: the first featured the suspension and track from the the M6 Heavy Tank, and the second featured a wider Cromwell track to spread the load better. Both featured a new thicker armor layout. The first prototype was canned, but the second was deemed a success and was shortly signed off for production. This prototype also inherited the powerful Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, (a Rolls-Royce Merlin, but without the supercharger or reduction gear and with many of its lighter alloy components replaced with steel) from the original Cromwell along with its tried and trusted Merit Brown transmission.

The A33's armament was the QF-75mm. While not the most fearsome of guns, it did fire a 15lbs shell, and was more impressive than the 6-pounder found on the Churchills at Dieppe. It was certainly enough to take on the Panzer III, IV, and Sturmgeschütz III, all of which populated the bulk of the German armored units at that time.

So here's the mystery: The A33 has the same mobility and armor as the Tiger and an ample enough gun, making it probably the best all-around British tank design until the Centurion. From a logistics standpoint, it used many of the same parts as the Cromwell, a very common and well developed tank engine already in mass production. Despite the lack of angled armor and the small hatches it inherited from the Cromwell, it was, on a whole, a much better tank than either the Cromwell or Churchill. So why did it get cancelled?

The official line is that the Churchill's problems were worked out and its own order to cancel production was revoked, so a replacement wasn't required. However, in reality, there were political considerations to take into account, the most important being that you can't just cancel a tank called the Churchill. Winston was not pleased that he or the Duke of Marlborough was associated with a failure, and he made comment to that effect. Secondly there's the Rolls-Royce factor. Rolls-Royce also attempted, and failed, to build a Churchill replacement - the A31 - using the Cromwell as a base. Although its not on record if RR did try and scupper the A33, they did repeatedly thwart Napier's engine production through political means.

It's worth pointing out that the Napier Sabres were advanced and extremely powerful aero engines - way ahead of the Merlin and Griffon in terms of design - but they needed government funds and Rolls-Royce engineers help to work out the problems, especially with the Supercharger. Rolls-Royce continually used its huge political clout with the various ministries to prevent that; English Electric made trains and Napier were men in sheds with great ideas, but Rolls Royce was a national icon that, among other things, designed and built the Merlin. In an era which spawned iconic machines not seen before or since, the Merlin powered many of them. The sort of gratis that achieved with the British public and establishment will likely never be eclipsed, so you can imagine how easily that kind of clout could be abused.

So when all was said and done, many of the Churchill's deficiencies were indeed fixed and it went on to be a reliable and adaptable tank. Its robust suspension meant it could go places other tanks couldn't reach, and the internal space originally allocated for a bow gun allowed for additional equipment. Often seen with mine flails, flamethrowers, and bridge-laying equipment, it eventually redeemed itself in battle and was the last of the British Infantry tanks. You can see the second Prototype A33 - the one passed over for the improved Churchill - at Bovington in the UK.

Knobber
QA manager by day, avid World of Tanks and EVE Online player by night. Having worked on AAA MMO titles in the past, I bring the perspective of both the gamer and former games industry professional.

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