The Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Supply issued a Joint Memorandum in April 1943 which gave a vague specification for an Assault tank, classing it as a special purpose vehicle to operate in heavily defended areas as part of the specialist 79th Armoured Division.
The Nuffield Organisation responded with 18 separate designs (AT1 through AT18) drafted between May 1943 and February 1944, each design larger and heavier than the last. By February 1944 design AT16 was complete and was approved by the Tank Board who proposed that month that 25 be produced directly from the mockup stage without bothering with a prototype, to be available for operational service in September 1945. An order for 25 was placed by the War Office and work was begun.
Following the end of the war the order was reduced and only 6 vehicles were built. One example was sent to Germany for trials where it was found to be mechanically reliable and a powerful and accurate gun platform, however at a weight of 80 tons and a height of it proved difficult to transport. One of the 6 production Tortoises has been preserved at the Bovington Tank Museum, UK.
Internally it was split into three compartments, the transmission to the front, the crew in the centre and the Rolls-Royce Meteor engine at the rear. The suspension consisted of four bogies on each side each of the hull. Each bogie had two pairs of wheels, with each pair linked to a transverse torsion bar. The Merritt-Brown transmission was fitted with an all speed reverse, giving approximately as high a speed backwards as forwards.
The 32-pdr gun was mounted in a power-assisted limited traverse mounting; rather than being mounted on the more traditional trunnions, it protruded through a large ball mount in the front of the hull, protected by 225 mm armour. To the left of it was a Besa machine gun in an armoured ball mount. A further two Besa machine guns were mounted in a turret on the top of the hull to the right.
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