At the end of World War II, the British cruiser tank known as the Comet tank (official designation Tank, Cruiser, Comet I (A34)) appeared and was instrumental in the invasion of Germany by the Western Allies. It improved over the previous Cromwell tank, with a newly mounted 17-pounder High Velocity (HV) gun (known as the 77mm) in a lower-profile, partly cast turret. This advanced technology was extremely successful, especially at medium ranges, against German tanks from the late conflict, especially the Panther and the Tiger.
The arrival of the Comet rendered the Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger obsolete and cleared the path for the construction of the Centurion tank. When using Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds, the 77mm HV cannon demonstrated better armour penetration capabilities than the 75mm KwK 42 gun used by the Panther, the Axis counterpart.
The Comet joined the British military in January 1945 and served valiantly until 1958. Comets sold to other countries continued to operate far into the 1980s, therefore its influence lasted beyond its immediate era. The technological innovations and combat effectiveness of the tank not only cemented its position in military history but also aided in the continued development of armoured warfare tactics.
The Comet tank measured 21 feet in hull length and 25 feet 1+1⁄2 inches in overall length. It weighed 35 long tons (36 t; 39 short tons). It is 9 feet 10+1/4 inches wide and 8 feet 9+1⁄2 inches tall. The crew operated within an armour range of.55–4 in (14–102 mm) and included a commander, gunner, loader/operator, driver, and hull gunner.
Capable of firing 61 rounds from its powerful 77 mm HV main gun, the Comet was also fitted with a 2 × 7.92 mm Besa MG secondary gun that could fire 5175 rounds. This powerful tank was propelled by a 600 horsepower (450 kW) Rolls-Royce Meteor Mark III V12 petrol engine, which converted into a power-to-weight ratio of 18.3 horsepower/long ton (13.4 kW/t).
The Comet’s gearbox, a Z5 Constant Mesh with five forward gears and one backward, was coupled with webbed and spudded rails for propulsion. The suspension gave eighteen inches of ground clearance and was based on the Improved Christie design with return rollers. With its gasoline capacity of 116 imperial gallons (530 L), the tank could travel 123 miles on the road and 74 miles over the country.
The Comet’s top speed was 14.3 mph cross-country and 32.4 mph on the road.
Two hull variations of the Comet Tank were available: Type A had an exhaust vent at the top rear, just like the Cromwell, and cowls were an option to divert exhaust fumes. The Type B was an improvement from the war that did away with the necessity for cowls by having twin fishtail exhaust pipes that passed through an armoured plate facing the rear. A few initial Type B Comets maintained the previous Model A configuration, with armoured covers covering the exhaust holes.
Additional Comet-based variations included the Comet Crocodile, which included a fuel trailer and a flamethrower but is otherwise unknown. Furthermore, South Africa used the Comet as the basis for an Armoured Maintenance Vehicle to service their main combat tank, the Olifant Mk1A. This variant demonstrated the adaptability of the Comet by including numerous maintenance tools, a welding machine, a crane, smoke grenade launchers for self-defence, and other features.
The British 11th Armoured Division relied heavily on the Comet tank during World War II. The tanks were quickly put into action during the Ardennes Offensive in response to the German offensive after being first unveiled in December 1944. The Comet saw action, although it came late in the conflict in northwest Europe, which limited its involvement in the main engagements. It is significant that, by the end of the war, the 11th Armoured Division was the only one fully equipped with Comets. The tank was part of major events such as the Rhine Crossing Operation Plunder and later took part in the July 1945 Berlin Victory Parade.
Followed by the larger Centurion tank, the Comet continued to be used in postwar Britain until 1958. The Comet was used by militaries outside of Britain into the 1980s; South Africa kept the tanks until 1970 and Finland used them as recovery vehicles after they were modernised. Budgetary restrictions limited the lifespan of the Comets, but the Irish Army was able to utilise them for anti-tank purposes and found them to be cost-effective when they were acquired in 1959 and 1960. The few Comet tanks in Cuba were retired in 1959 following the fall of the Batista dictatorship and were replaced by Soviet-supplied T-34/85 and T-54/55 tanks. The Comet tanks were purchased in Cuba in 1958 in turbulent political conditions.
In the latter half of the 1950s and the early 1960s, Burma (then known as the Union of Burma) acquired about 25 Comet tanks from their former colonial overlords. These tanks demonstrated the Comet’s continuing employment in combat operations during Armed Forces Day in March 2021.
Operating in several environments, from the harsh conditions of the European areas during World War II—including the Ardennes Offensive and the Rhine crossing—to postwar deployments in multiple countries, the Comet tank proved its adaptability. Its versatility made it an invaluable tool in both past battles and contemporary military drills.