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Hikers find rare WW II Canadian tank 'rusting peacefully' in English field

A group of British hikers has captured footage of a rare Canadian tank built during the Second World War and left abandoned in an English field. 

Youtube explorers come across relic of a Ram, the only tank ever designed and built in Canada

This still from Destination Discovery's video shows the Canadian-built Ram tank remains in remarkable condition. (Destination Discovery )

A group of British hikers has captured footage of a rare Canadian tank built during the Second World War and left abandoned in an English field. 

Destination Discovery members took a hike through moorlands in the Peak District in northern England. The marshy area has been used as a military firing range and the abandoned tank sits in open land. 

"Not a sight you see everyday and probably don't expect to," the group said. "However, here is how it looks in all its glory."

A member of the group said they didn't realize the importance of the tank when they found it and posted the video in 2020.

It was only when British historian Mark Felton posted a followup video in March 2022 that the tank was identified as a Canadian-built Ram.

Proving it's a Ram

Jeff Noakes, a historian of the Second World War at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, studied the video. He confirmed it shows a rare Ram tank — specifically a Ram 2 from the middle of the production run that lasted from 1941 to 1943. 

He said boxy fenders extending over the treads, details in the hull, and the presence of a machine-gun turret show it's a Ram, not the more common U.S. M3 tank.

"You'll see on the tank in the video, on either side there are these bulges that come out. In early production Ram tanks, there were actually doors there that could be opened. Later on they got rid of those doors, in part because they were a weak point in the tank's armour," he said. 

"Ultimately the combination of these details are what lead people to say yes, this is a Canadian-made Ram tank sitting on this former firing range in the U.K."

Canadians operate a Ram in England in 1942. (Library and Archives Canada)

Noakes said Canada built more than 1,900 Rams, and fewer than 30 survive in any condition. The War Museum has one fully restored Ram and is restoring a second. A few others exist in the U.K., the Netherlands and Australia. 

The gun turret is missing from the Ram in the video. It might have been shot off and removed during target practice, or removed in a bid to convert it into a troop-carrier known as a Kangaroo.

Canada's fighting Kangaroos

Bill Miller is the archivist and historian for 1st Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment, a Second World War unit better known as the Kangaroos. 

"My father was a member of that regiment during World War Two and subsequently I got interested in preserving their history and getting to know the veterans," he said from his home in Calgary. 

Bill Miller Jr. has been researching the history of Kangaroos for 25 years. He said the rare Ram tank spotted in England could likely be completely restored. (Photo supplied by Bill Miller Jr.)

He explains how they can narrow this particular tank down to a mid-production version, of which only 100 were built. 

"It has a lower running gear that is very similar to a Sherman, the suspension of a Sherman, and it has a little auxiliary turret for a machine gun on the front. It's the only hull of that type that still survives," he said of the tank in the video.

Canada's answer to the Nazis

The Rams date to Canada's declaration of war on Germany in September 1939.

Canada did not have proper tanks, and certainly nothing to take on the Germans. Britain was desperate for vehicles after the 1940 disaster at Dunkirk, where they managed to evacuate most of their troops from France, but left much of the machinery behind. 

Canada first built Valentine tanks. In 1941, Canada decided to design and build a new tank based on an American vehicle.

The Americans were not in the war at that time and weren't building tanks in big numbers. Most of the M3 tanks they did build went to the British in North Africa. 

"Canada decided to build a tank based on the M3, but the M3 had one major flaw: it didn't have a main gun that could swivel around. It was fixed in the one spot and it could go up and down, but if you wanted to turn the gun, you had to turn the whole tank around," Miller said. 

Target practice

Canada built a turret that could target a full circle. Production started at Montreal Locomotive Works in 1941 and continued to the summer of 1943. But by then, the Americans had joined the conflict and were building a mighty war machine.

The Allied armies chose the U.S. Sherman tank as the main cruiser tank for the liberation of France. 

That left the Rams without a job. About 1,500 were sent to England and used extensively for training and target practice. That's likely how the Ram tank in the video ended up in an English field. 

The tank still has its treads — and bullet holes from training exercises. (Destination Discovery)

"The thing that struck me first of all in seeing the video is how complete and unmolested this hull is. A lot of the artillery range targets, there's not a whole lot left of them."

He compared it to ones he'd seen pulled off the Meaford Range near CFB Borden that were shot to pieces. 

"This hull is quite restorable, it's quite intact. The fact that there is still some remnant of track there is just amazing."

Miller said while the Ram tanks didn't see combat as tanks, they were modified into transit units to protect soldiers heading to combat operations. In Normandy, about 70 per cent of Canada's infantry casualties happened when the men were walking to their objective. 

'My dad was a tank driver'

"We had a very bright young general, Guy Simonds, who decided to use tank hulls to carry infantry, so they gave them the outer protection of a tank against small arms fire and mortar splinters — things that were flying around on the battlefield. And it worked very successfully," Miller said. 

The modified Rams were called Kangaroos. 

"My dad was a tank driver. He joined the Canadian army in 1943, went overseas in 1944. He landed in Belgium in the fall of 1944 and was put in a new regiment that had been created in Holland in October 1944: the 1st Armoured Carrier Regiment."

Bill Miller Sr. drove a modified Ram tank in combat operations during the Second World War as part of the Kangaroos. (Photo supplied by Bill Miller Jr.)

Miller has previously written about his father's service for CBC, including how he stayed with a dying friend on the battlefield. His father said little about the war, which inspired his son's research. His father was wounded in January 1945 and unable to return to frontline duties. 

"He never forgot his service and he told me the story of the Kangaroos. I spent a long time trying to find information on these fellows because there's not a lot written about them in our history books," he said. 

"Once all of the veterans are gone, it's really only these artifacts that remain as our only tangible or hard link to the past and these events, both tragic and important. And certainly the Ram is an important part of our industrial capacity during the war, and our inventiveness." 

After the war, the Kangaroos were disbanded and their vehicles given to the British and Dutch armies. 

The British used Rams into the 1950s, after which most were sent to scrap yards and melted down for steel. About a dozen were left on army ranges as hard targets, likely including the one in the video. The Rams in Canada were scrapped shortly after the war ended and the army restocked with American Sherman tanks. 

Miller thinks the Ram in the video is a good candidate for a complete mechanical restoration, with the Ontario Regiment Museum as a possible home. 

"Not that I am a pessimist by nature, but I have a hunch I will be a very old man one day and the Ram will still be rusting peacefully in a field in England," he said.