Kangaroo Armoured Personnel Carrier
Image Collection 11
Gavin K. Watt
The Kangaroo was the world’s first successful, heavily-armoured and fully-tracked vehicle for transporting infantry cross-country into close combat. The concept for the Kangaroo is credited to Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds.
Commonwealth infantry casualties after D-Day had been dreadful in the battles to tie down the German armoured forces and force a breakout from the Normandy perimeter. After much agony, the Americans had broken out of the difficult bocage country and were rampaging behind German lines. In order to keep the maximum commitment of German armour and infantry in the Caen sector, 1st Canadian Army was given the task of driving a wedge through the German positions toward the road junction at Falaise where there was an excellent chance of the British and American armies trapping the German army before it could withdraw eastward. Simonds developed a plan for a night attack using dense armoured columns to thrust through and push aside German resistance. As tanks could not attack without infantry support, it was recognized that a method had to be immediately found to protect the infantry from small arms and shellfire during the advance.
For the Normandy invasion, the field artillery regiments of 3CID had been equipped with the 105mm M7, an American-designed and manufactured Self Propelled Gun based on the Lee tank chassis with a pulpit-like machine gun position which gave the gun its nickname, “Priest.” The original intention had been to re-equip the regiments with their 25 pdr, towed guns soon after the landings, but the pace of fighting did not allow that to happen. By the end of July the changeover took place and the Priests were set aside.
While Simonds and his staff were ruminating over the problem of protecting the infantry, they apparently observed the Priests in action and concluded that, with the main gun removed and the armour upgraded, the result would be an ideal solution for carrying troops. On July 31, LCol Carl Boehm, the assistant director RCEME, was consulted about how long it would take to remove the guns from seventy-six Priests and prepare them for carrying infantry, and after giving an estimate of three weeks, he was told he had a week to accomplish the deed. That very evening, a conference of senior Canadian engineers met to discuss the project and plan how to proceed. Meanwhile, Simonds obtained approval of the concept from LGen Harry Crerar, C-in-C 1st Canadian Army and permission to proceed was requested from the US Army, from which the Priests had been originally loaned for the invasion. The Americans were assured that the process of conversion could be reversed in the future if and when necessary.
Major George Wiggan, RCOC was given direction of about 250 men from some fourteen RCEME, RCOC, RSASC and British REME workshops and set up an ad hoc Advanced Workshop Detachment. By the end of the August 2nd workday, fourteen Priests had been stripped of their main armament, giving rise to the temporary nickname “Defrocked Priests;” however, Major Gil Pointer thought Kangaroo was more appropriate, as the troops would going to be protected in mommy’s pouch. On the afternoon of the 3rd, the prototype model, which had the gun, gun mantlet, crew seats, and ammunition bins removed and armour plate welded in position where the gun had been mounted, was driven by an officer and driver from the 25th Canadian Armoured Delivery Regiment (Elgin Regiment) to the headquarters of II Corps, where Simonds inspected the conversion.
Meanwhile, LCol Boehm sourced steel plate. He first turned to the bone yard where British and Canadian tanks, carriers and armoured cars that had been written off due to enemy action were stored. Parties of engineers descended on these vehicles and cut out all the useful armour plate, but it was not enough. A nearby steel mill was stripped of steel plate and parties visited the landing beaches and cut plate off damaged landing craft, although neither source proved useful. Prodigious amounts of welding rod were required and Boehm liberated a large supply of captured German rod.
A test using a .50 cal HMG was made against a Kangaroo’s armour and it was found that the plate punctured. So, in many cases, the plate was double-layered and filled with sand to increase its resistance. It was also recognized that there was no point in converting Priests with faulty engines or tracks, so each vehicle was carefully examined. The job consisted of overhauling the radial engine (a mandated 100 expired hours’ check), transmission, controlled differential, brake linings and running gear (collectively, this was normally a seven day job.) Ultimately, twenty-eight engines were replaced. Working round the clock, the engineers were able to deliver seventy-six Kangaroos by the morning August 6, an incredible feat.
For the initial commitment, each Kangaroo had only a driver and carried a section of ten infanteers. When the APC’s went into their first action on August 8, the drivers were primarily drawn from the Elgin Regiment which also supplied the leadership element. Others were recruited from the Artillery regiments which had earlier employed the Priests and from Armoured Corps reinforcement depots.
The Kangaroos were used successfully by British and Canadian infantry in Operation TOTALIZE and the follow-on Operation TRACTABLE. By August 28, a decision was made to form the 1st Armoured Carrier Squadron with an establishment of four troops with twenty-five APC’s each armed with a .30 cal Browning MMG. Establishment or not, only fifty-five Priests had survived for immediate employment. About 60% of these were equipped with radios. The squadron supported another thirteen assaults throughout September with equal success; however, the Priests had reached the end of their useful life and needed excessive maintenance to keep them running. Replacements were needed.
Fortunately, there was an answer sitting idle in England. Five hundred Canadian-made Ram tanks, which had been used for training in Canada and Britain, were badly undergunned and, due to their turret configuration, incapable of upgrading. As such, they were unsuitable for employment against German armour. The tank was also underpowered; however, with the removal of the turret and main gun – a reduction of five tons in weight – the vehicle made an ideal personnel carrier, as its silhouette was three feet lower than the gun tanks. As well, its track pressure was considerably lower than the gun tanks which proved to be a great advantage on muddy, wet ground. Like the Priest, dismounting from the Ram was still over the side, a disadvantage that was not addressed until postwar designs were developed. Various sources claim that the Priest Kangaroos had carried twenty infantrymen and that the Ram was “uneconomical,” as it could only carry eight; however, the official history gives the number carried as ten infanteers for the Priest and eleven for the Ram plus the 2-man crew. The first Ram Kangaroos were delivered to the squadron on October 1. A history of the regiment states that the carrier’s armament had been upgraded by adding a second .30 Browning mounted on the turret ring, which is confirmed in original photographs. The addition of a .50 cal Browning HMG mounted to the turret ring also occurred at times. The establishment of the squadron was altered to four troops of sixteen carriers each and a headquarters troop of between three to five carriers. Each carrier now had a crew of two. Every carrier was now equipped with the standard Armoured Corps wireless set and an intercom. After several additional assault operations, the squadron was expanded to a full regiment and given the name 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Regiment, the only Canadian regiment to be created overseas. The British soon followed suit and created their own APC regiment. Both formations were attached to 79th British Armoured Division, Hobart’s famous “Funnies,” and served with distinction for the rest of the war. It is highly unlikely that the Perth Regiment employed Kangaroos during their service, although Priests and Sherman tanks were converted to APC’s in the Italian theatre.
Grodzinski, John R., “Kangaroos at War” The History of the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment,” Canadian Military History
Ramsden, Kenneth R., The Canadian Kangaroos in World War II – The Story of 1st Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment – Canada’s Foreign-born Secret Regiment (Cavan, ON: Ramsden-Cavan Publishing, 1998)
Spoelstra, Hanno. “The Ram Kangaroo”
1. An illustration of an M7 Priest in its original role. US Army Self Propelled Gun in Carentan, France.
2. One of Simond’s armoured columns ready to participate in Operation TOTALIZE. The vehicles ‘pulpit-like’ feature is obvious in the foreground.
3. A side view of a Priest Kangaroo with infantry mounted near Conselice, France. At least nine men can be counted and the ‘pouch’ appears crowded, which would seem to refute the claim that Priests could carry twenty. (IWM, NA24043)
4. A restored Ram Kangaroo at The Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset, England.
5. Ram Kangaroos lined up during the advance on Groningen, Holland.
6. Ram Kangaroos parked on a street in Germany.
7. A Kangaroo with a second .30 Browning MMG mounted on the turret ring in Wertle, Germany, 11Apr45. (LAC, PA159065)
8. 3BID infanteers boarding a Kangaroo, Kervenheim, Germany, 02Mar45.