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THE PRIEST KANGAROO
by Hanno Spoelstra
Priest 105 mm SP Gun
After entering service at El Alamein, the Priest 105 mm SP Gun proved to be a successful AFV. Since the Royal Artillery wanted to standardise on the 25 pounder gun, a Commonwealth counterpart was developed. Thus the Sexton 25 pdr SP Gun was largely identical to the Priest. Replacement of the Priest started (shortly) before D-Day but was not completed until after the Normandy landings. The Priests struck off charge by the artillery units of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in France were quickly converted for their new role: armoured personnel carrier

The Priests are 'unfrocked' by AWD Kangaroo
In the evening of 31 July the DDME 1st Canadian Army, Brig. G.M. Grant, was instructed to set up an organization to convert 72 Priest SP Guns, to APCs by 9 August. The date, however, was soon changed to 6 August with 'as many as possible'.
The job consisted of removing the 105 mm guns with mount and mantlet, welding armour plate across the gap left, overhauling the radial engine (100 hour check), transmission, controlled differential, brake linings and running gear (the overhaul itself would normally take seven days to complete). 
An AWD (Army Workshops Detachment), code named 'Kangaroo', was set up in two fields near Bayeux with the camp sited in the protection of a neighbouring orchard, about twenty miles from the start line. Fourteen Canadian and British units contributed and pooled their efforts and skills in the project. The unit was led by Major G.A. Wiggan and totalled 250 men.
The first arrived at the Kangaroo site late on the afternoon of the 2nd of August and had 14 equipments stripped before dark that night. The hours of work were 0500 to 1100, 1230 to 1700 and 1800 to 2200. But as Cfn. A.M. Campbell of 2 Tank Troops Workshop later recalled, he worked steadily for the four days from 0400 to 2300. He was so busy he didn't even know what the next fellow was doing. Each had his assigned job, for example, Cfn. Campbell was track tightening or engine changing using his Diamond-T wrecker. 
All the RCEME/REME units were canvassed for the electric and gas welding equipment with the tradesmen to go with them. Almost unlimited access to welding rod, armour plate, radial engine parts, oxy-acetylene welding sets and gases and radial engine overhaul stands was required. 
The armour plate came from the Help-Yourself-Park of "W" crocks (those tanks declared beyond repair). After this source ran out, mild steel from the steel mills in the south of Caen was tried. The Navy also complained at this time that Canadian soldiers were cutting pieces of plating out of craft stranded on the beaches. Maj. Wiggan recorded in his war diary that 'An examination of steel plate in wrecked naval vessels and from the Schneider Steel Works in Caen showed that metal to be unsuitable.' Hence it was necessary to fall back on mild steel plate welded over the openings in the form of spaced armour, that is, one plate welded over the opening from the outside and a second plate welded over the opening from the inside. The gaps between the plates were filled with sand.
All carriers were completed on time by 2000 hours on the 5th. In addition, 6 more were ready by noon on the 6th. LGen H.D.G. Crerar, GOC 1st Canadian Army, telephoned his thanks and congratulations to Brig. Grant in the afternoon of 5th and asked him to convey these to all the officers and men responsible for doing such a splendid job in so short time.

The 72 Priest Kangaroos were baptised in battle on the night of 7 August 1944 and were used in action throughout the rest of the month. When on 28 August a squadron of carriers was organised, only 55 out of the planned 100 (four troops of 25 each) Priest Kangaroos were available. They were were armed with a M2 .50 calibre heavy machine gun and about 60% were equipped with wireless. The crew usually consisted of the driver, with at times an added member, either an officer or NCO.

More Priests were not available and a replacement was found in the Ram Kangaroo. The Priest Kangaroos were phased out of service at Pierreval, near Rouen, France during the latter part of September.

 

(For Further Details 
Click to Enlarge Any Photo Below)
Priest 105 mm SP Gun
Priest 105 mm SP Gun
Priest 105 mm SP Gun in Canadian service
Priest 105 mm SP Gun in Canadian service
Priest interior
Priest interior
Priest Kangaroos on the move
Priest Kangaroos on the move
Priest Kangaroos at Boulogne
Priest Kangaroos at Boulogne
Priest Kangaroo in use as armoured command post
Priest Kangaroo in use as 
armoured command post
Continental R975 radial engine
Continental R975 radial engine

Sources and recommended reading:
  • Fletcher, David, ' [Sexton article] '. Wheels & Tracks, issue No. [..]
  • Hunnicut, R.P. Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank. Second edition. Novato: Presidio Press, 1978.
  • Johnson, Murray C. Canada's Craftsmen at 50, the story of mechanical and electrical engineering in the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • Ramsden, Kenneth R. The Canadian Kangaroos in World War II. Cavan: Ramsden-Cavan Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0-96996-97.
  • Storey, Ed. 'The 1st Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment, 1944-1945'. Militaria Magazine, No.20, October 1995, p.36-41.
  • 'Mediterranean Area AFV Technical Report 27 17 April 1945' (via Peter Brown).

  • Hanno Spoelstra is the founder of the world-acclaimed SHERMAN REGISTER, and was the driving force behind the establishment of the 1CACR MEMORIAL  at Mill, the Netherlands. Hanno is also the European Representative of  MAPLE LEAF UP and remains active in many aspects of the preservation and dedication of historical military artefacts.

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    Last update: 17-12-1999
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