(Author's note: I am an original WoT beta tester and have played it ever since. I started with Germany and then played Russia during the various beta resets. I have now completed the US heavy tree and I am one tier short of the other branches. I chose the British tanks, introduced in December, as a break from those and as something to get back into the game.)
With the 8.4 patch on March 7, Wargaming.net expanded the British tree to include tank destroyers. This article, written from a player perspective, is a follow-up of the initial 8.1 preview. It's intended as an overview of the pre-8.4-patch British tanks in turn and not as an in-depth analysis or guide to grinding the British tree in the most efficient manner. This article covers the first four tiers of traditional tanks.
Figure 1: The British tank tree prior to the 8.4 patch.
The British tanks don’t have a sole defining characteristic or gimmick. They can be grouped by hull classes for more defined trends within a given line, but they do not fit within Wargaming’s simple classification system; the light tanks are matchmade at their tier and there are no scout tanks as of yet. The individual properties are based more upon the class and the specific hull involved. However, there are a few features that are always present:
Weak subsystems: individual subsystems have less health. HE shells can damage multiple subsystems at once.
Superior gunnery: you can have accuracy, rate of fire, or penetration, but not all three simultaneously.
Higher overall health.
Typically, the British tanks play a support role using their range or making use of cover and hulling down, a technique whereby the tank is placed such that only the turret is visible over cover instead of directly trading shells. With the introduction of premium rounds for credits, there are tanks which are now viable with careful use of premium rounds to gain higher penetration or damage. Frequent premium ammo usage also works in reverse, meaning heavily armored tanks are now largely undesirable. On an unrelated note, while guns are often shared between tanks, turrets affect various stats such as the rate of fire and the accuracy. Therefore tanks can be vastly different while using the same guns.
A Brief History of British Infantry and Cruiser Tanks
The tanks of the British Expeditionary Force based in France at the opening of WWII remained largely unused and were abandoned in Operation Dynamo. These British tanks were not involved in any notable pitched battles. Ultimately, the sacrifices were made by the French crews during the Fall of France. However, these tanks saw significant action in the North African campaign. The wide empty desert terrain was an ideal battleground for tank warfare. Famous tank battles during the North African campaign included the Siege of Tobruk—finally ending after 241 days of stalemate—and Operation Battleaxe, the first time the German forces were put on the defensive, which ultimately was a failure. These were followed by Operation Crusader, the first British victory over German-led forces, and finally the Second Battle of El Alamein, which represented a turning point in the war that led to victory in North Africa.
Design requirements rapidly changed in the environments of WWII and the realities of tank warfare. Following WWI, Britain's initial innovations with the Mark I were not built upon. Tank development in the UK largely stagnated for over a decade, a time period that included the Great Depression. Most of the tank regiments were disbanded and investment was limited. Various light tanks were built during the 1920s, but they do not appear in WoT. The first British tank featured in WoT is the Vickers Medium Mark I.
In 1936, prompted by rising tensions in Europe, including various wars, the British War Office was spurred into action. It was at this time that the concepts for the Cruiser and Infantry tank doctrines were born. Both tank doctrines were designed to be able to destroy enemy tanks. The Infantry tanks were designed based on the experience gained from the introduction of tanks and their effects on trench warfare. Intended to lead the charge, the defining requirement was that the tanks could advance at the rate of the infantry and not become bogged down in the mud due to their heavy armor.
The first Infantry tank design to feature in WoT was that of the Matilda (Mark II), followed by the Valentine. Despite the limited firepower of these tanks, they remained in service until the end of World War II. The Valentine tank was the most numerous of the British designs made. Although designed as an Infantry tank, it was produced in large numbers to replace the Cruiser Mark II tanks still in service in North Africa because it was both faster and better armored. However, both shared the common weakness of British tanks of the era: the guns became quickly outdated.
The Cruiser tanks replaced the cavalry of previous eras. They were fast and agile, an overriding design priority that ultimately rendered the tanks undergunned and underarmored. The Cruiser series tanks were developed in parallel. They were not iterations but instead separate projects. The A13 in particular was designed to make use of the Christie suspension developed by an American inventor. The Covenanter (the Mark V) never saw service due to the introduction of the later Crusader. It was instead used for training. Cruiser series tanks were largely retired around 1941.