Life is full of surprises! Most museums have odd objects which don’t seem to fit into their collecting policy; acquired as part of a bigger deal, or donated, they are often tucked away ‘into a corner’ and forgotten about. My friend David and I were visiting Quonset Air Museum, Rhode Island, on a snowy Sunday in the middle of what became known as the 'Infamous Ice Road Trip', when I turned a corner and gasped, ‘What are the 7th Armoured doing here?’ I had run slap into a SPG (Self-Propelled Gun), carrying the famous red sign of the Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus) forever associated with the 7th Armoured Division, the ‘Desert Rats’, of the British Army. Wait a minute though, the sign looks to be too ‘dated’ for the 7th Armoured Brigade (part of the 1st Armoured Division, headquartered in Germany) which was the successor to the 7th Armoured Division, and who had their red jerboa sign ‘pricked out’ in white on a black background. Ah, well, could just be a slip of the paintbrush! There was no mistaking the shape of the turret, the prominent muzzle brake and the fume extractor on the 105mm gun – it was an FV433 Abbot.
During the later half of WW2, the British Army decided that a new self-propelled gun, based on the ‘Ram’, a Canadian version of the US-designed, Chrysler-built, M3 Lee tank and carrying the British QF 25 pounder gun would be a useful piece of artillery. A few of these entered service in 1943 as the Sexton I, but were followed by over 2,000 of the Sexton II, which was based on the Canadian ‘Grizzly’ tank, a version of the famous M4 Sherman. The British Army also used the US M7 SPG, calling it the Priest. These served until 1956, when it was realized that a new SPG was needed which would meet a NATO Standardization Agreement (or STANAG); this ensured that there was commonality of gun calibres across the Alliance. Since the 25 pounder had a calibre of only 87.6mm, and the standard for medium artillery (and SPGs) was going to be 105mm, it was obvious that a new design would be needed.
The FV433, or ‘Gun Equipment 105mm L109 (Abbot)’, was designed by Vickers to mount a 105mm L13A1 gun on the FV430 chassis. It was powered by an unusual, multi-fuel, 6-cylinder, vertically opposed, 6.5 litre Rolls-Royce K60 engine producing 240 hp. It carried a crew of four (plus two other crew members in the accompanying Stalwart Mk 2 High Mobility Load Carrier, which carried the extra ammunition).
The 105mm L13A1 gun could throw a shell out to a range of 10.5 miles, using ‘Field, Mk 2′ ammunition, at a rate of better than 6 shells a minute. Gun elevation was between +70º and -6º, which, along with the 6 rounds of High Explosive Squash Head ammunition carried, gave the Abbot some anti-tank capability.
The Abbot was quite successful, with Vickers producing 146 for the British Army; the Indian Army bought 68 examples of a version known as the ‘Value Engineered Abbot’, which basically removed a lot of the ‘extras’ such as the flotation gear, the NBC equipment, power traverse and loading. These had been retired by 2009. The British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS), had 20 Abbots on charge at the training base near Suffield, Alberta, Canada, and I think that the vehicle at Quonset Air Museum is one of these. The BATUS vehicles were disposed of when the Abbot was replaced by the AS-90, the current 155mm SPG of the British Army. Abbots became scattered all over Canada and the USA (there is one at the Oshawa Military Museum, Ontario, for example), and they are used as ‘tanks’ on AFV driving courses, as they are much cheaper to run than, say, a Russian T-72.
Whatever you might think of ‘split collections’ in aviation museums, (or armored vehicles, for that matter) this Abbot is a fine example of an efficient AFV.