M3A1 Lee CDL- First Look
Introduction and History
The Canal Defence Light, or CDL, was a top-secret British project based around the use of a powerful carbon-arc lamp that could be used to illuminate enemy positions in night attacks as well as disorient the enemy troops. It could produce a light as bright as 13 million candle-power (a very similar output to some lighthouse beams). Arc-lamps produce light via an arc of electricity suspended in air between two carbon electrodes. To ignite the lamp, the rods are touched together, forming an arc, and then slowly drawn apart, maintaining an arc. The carbon in the rods vaporizes, and the vapor produced is extremely luminous, which produces the bright light. This light is then focused by a large concave mirror. Using a series of mirrors to reflect it, the intensely bright beam of light passes through a very small vertical slit on the left of the turret face. The slit was 24 inches (61cm) tall, and 2 inches (5.1cm) wide and had a built in shutter that would open and close two times per second, giving the light a flickering effect. The theory was that this would dazzle enemy troops, but also had the added bonus of protecting the lamp from small-arms fire. The field covered by the beam was a 34 x 340 yards (31 x 311 m) area at a range of 1000 yards (910 m). The lamp could also elevate and depress 10 degrees.
Schematic of the CDL design
Light test of the CDL at Lowther Castle near Penrith
The CDL was first installed in Matilda and Churchill tanks based on a design credited to Albert Victor Marcel Mitzakis, who had served in the First World War. The first prototype was presented to the French military in 1934 and they thought it too fragile. In 1942, the CDL was demonstrated to American officials, including Generals Eisenhower and Clark. They were intrigued and decided to develop their own version using the plentiful and heavily armored M3 Lee. During development, due to the top-secret status, they were designated as T10 Shop Tractors, but were later known as "Gizmos".
M3 Lee CDL "Gizmo"
The turret containing the CDL was occupied by a single crew member, called the "observer". He was present in one section of the turret and was issued with a pair of asbestos gloves which were used when the carbon electrodes that power the light burned out and needed changing. He also had the role of operating the tank’s only weapon, a BESA 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun, which was positioned on the left of the beam slit in a ball mount. In the Lee CDL, the BESA was replaced with a Browning M1919 .30 cal. gun.
In 1943, Major E.R. Hunt of the 49th RTR was detailed in late 1943 to lay on a special demonstration for Prime Minister Churchill and op generals. Major Hunt recalled the following experience:
“I was detailed to lay on a special demonstration with 6 CDL tanks for him (Churchill). A stand was erected on a bleak hillside in the training area at Penrith and in due course, the great man arrived accompanied by others. I controlled the various maneuvers of the tanks by wireless from the stands, ending the demo with the CDLs advancing towards the spectators with their lights on halting just 50 yards in front of them. The lights were switched off and I awaited further instructions. After a brief interval, the Brigadier (Lipscomb of the 35th Tank Brigade) rushed up to me and ordered me to switch on the lights as Mr. Churchill was just leaving. I immediately ordered the 6 CDL tanks to switch on: 6 beams each of 13 million candlepower came on to illuminate the great man quietly relieving himself against a bush! I immediately had the lights extinguished!”
The service history of the CDLs was pretty sparse. Many believe the top secret nature of the project was its undoing. Unfortunately, very few armored commanders were even aware of its existence, which hampered any planning of operations where the vehicles may have actually proved quite useful. The only real action, however, was at the hands of United States forces during the Battle of Remagen, specifically at the Ludendorff Bridge where they assisted in its defense after the US 9th Armored Division captured it. The CDLs proved very useful in spotlighting German frogmen who were attempting to swim to the bridge to place explosives to blow it up. The CDLs were 13 M3 “Gizmos,”, from the 738th Tank Battalion. Some British M3 CDLs did make it to India under the 43rd RTR and were stationed here for the planned invasion of Malaya in February 1946, but the war with Japan came to an end before this occurred. The CDLs did see a form of action however, by assisting the Calcutta Police in the riots of 1946 with great success.
What's in the Box
There are ten light grey sprues in their own individual bags, a lower and upper hull bagged together, a clear parts sprue, small sheet of PE, and a set of decals for four different schemes. Detail on the parts is very crisp with no flash, and sink marks are well hidden on the back sides of the parts.
Instructions come in a booklet style with clear diagrams. My only qualm would be that the decal and painting instructions are quite small and difficult to read- I was unable to do so without my Optivisor.
The upper and lower hull parts come bagged together as previously mentioned. The lower hull has excellent rivet details and the upper hull has excellent cast texture detail.
There are two sprue A's and they consist of the bogie assemblies, including wheels, suspensions, and housings. The final drive sprocket and axle, headlights, and exhausts are also present. On one side of the sprues are a row of rivets that can be used to add more detail.
There are two small sprue B's which contain more parts for the bogies and suspensions.
Sprue D contains the final drive covers (with cast number detail), right fender, tow cable, and some tools. There is also a jig to use to bend the PE headlight guards. There are a lot of empty spaces on this sprue which probably has a lot to do with the many Lee variants Takom offers.
Sprue E contains a gun barrel with shield, various tools and antenna base, the rear engine hatch, and a jig to aid in assembling the link and length tracks.
Sprue L contains the various track lengths. Sink marks are located on the bottom side of these- every fourth link for the longer runs, and every other link for the shorter ones.
Sprue U contains another gun barrel and housing, as well as the parts for the turret roof, sides, and rear. While the Grant did retain one gun in the hull sponson. the turret gun was a fake gun. The Lee instructions do not feature the turret gun, only the sponson gun.
Sprue V contains the tool box parts, barrel for the .30 cal on a ball joint, the rear hull, and the turret front with the slit for the CDL present. There is also a jig to use to bend the guard for the blackout light. One thing to note- the turret front and rear hull are the only cases where pour stubs are quite evident. Nothing difficult to remove but surprising nonetheless.
Pour stubs- lower left
Sprue X contains the rear deck, tools and hatches, left fender, and the transmission cover with excellent cast texture.
The clear sprue contains periscope and headlight lenses, as well as the CDL lens. The photo-etch sheet contains the light guards, engine screen, and various small parts for the exhausts. Decals sheet contains two stars and vehicle registration markings for four US Army vehicles:
- D-11, 736th Tank Battalion- "Project Cossack", Camp Bouse, AZ 1943
- C-35, 738th Tank Battalion, ETO, 1945
- B-23, 740th Tank Battalion- Rosebush Camp, Southwest Wales, March 1944
- A-14, 739th Tank Battalion- ETO 1945
Takom has provided a crisply detailed kit of a rather obscure variant of the M3 Lee series. The build looks pretty straightforward and should create a nice representation of a CDL tank. Some of the attachments points on the sprue seem very fragile, so care should be taken. However, I have built a few Takom kits where that was the case, and yet had no issues. The whole series of Lee and Grant kits gives early war armor modelers something to rejoice about, but if you are like me, the chance to build something out of the ordinary like this CDL kit is an added appeal.
Highly Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to Takom for this review kit.
Reviewed by Michael Reeves, AMPS Albany
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