Canada's Anti-Aircraft Sherman
THE SKINK
(all images courtesy Chris Johnson)
Schematical drawing of the Skink

    In planning the invasion of NW Europe, Allied high commanders had anticipated one major problem---the Luftwaffe. Several ideas to counter the aerial threat to the invasion armada were thought of, but one stood out as possibly the best mobile AA/infantry support tank of the war, the Canadian Skink. The vehicle was officially called "Tank AA, 20mm Quad, Skink", keeping up with the Canadian practice of naming vehicles after animals (ie: Ram, Kangaroo, Grizzly).

    The Skink was based on the chassis a Grizzly I, the Canadian-built and used version of the American M4A1 Sherman II. Hispano-Suiza 20mm cannons were intended for the tank, but as these were in great demand for fighter aircraft, the armament was later changed to Polsten guns. Polstens were simplified versions of the Oerlikon 20mm cannon, and fired Oerlikon High Explosive Incendiary Tracer (HEIT) rounds. The turret traversed 360 degrees in either direction at speeds of up to 60 degrees per second---three times as fast as the M4A1
Sherman.

    The Skink carried a crew of five, the driver and radio operator being stationed in the hull. There were four more seats in the turret basket, two of them for the commander (one was placed high and the other was lower). All of the men in the turret had a hatch with a rotating periscope fitted with armoured shields and rear-vision devices. When the hatches were closed, the gunner aimed his weapon using a periscope in his hatch. When the hatches were open, he used a US Navy Mk IX reflector gunsight.

    It took six months to build the first Skink prototype. The vehicle performed very well at the testing grounds and was recommended by the senior War Office staff. Full scale production started in January of 1944, but it soon became apparent that the Luftwaffe was being defeated by Allied fighters. In all, only three Skinks and eight turrets were completed before the project was cancelled.

    Although the Skink's production run was brief, it did actually see action against the Germans. One of the three completed Skinks was sent to England, and from there to Europe, landing at Antwerp on January 24 1945. On the fourth of February, the Skink reached the Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade a few miles south of Nijmegen, Holland, and joined the Allied push on the Rhine.

    The Skink first entered combat while supporting the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (CAR) north of Nijmegen bridge. From there, it moved south and east into Germany, joining the 22nd CAR at the epic battle at Hochwald Forest, finally halting a mile east of Udem, 5 miles from the Rhine. In battle, the Skink worked with a couple of Shermans and a platoon of infantry. The infanty moved out ahead of the tanks and dropped to the ground at the first sign of resistance. Then the tanks would move up and fire, the Skink joining them and firing about 30 HEIT rounds per second.

      A First Canadian Army evaluation report on the Skink read "In a ground support role, the vehicle was an infantry mop-up weapon, advancing with the second wave of armour to clean out infantry positions bypassed by the first wave. Using HEIT ammunition, the Skink proved most valuable in setting fire to buildings, thus forcing the enemy out into the open." Other field reports described the effects of a burst of 20mm HEIT rounds directed at enemy-occupied buildings or hedgerows. In one instance, the Skink attacked a building occupied by 50 enemy soldiers. Ten of them were wounded by HEIT fragments, the others surrendered in terror. Another time, the Skink commander was fired on by a sniper. Unhurt but furious, the commander directed the Skink's guns to fire in the direction of the sniper. The 20mm's blasted away everything in the surrounding area and in moments the shaken sniper emerged.

    Today, the only remnant of the mighty Skink is a forlorn turret at CFB Shilo in Manitoba, which is used for gunnery practice.

Colin Macgregor Stevens, of Maple Leaf Up! magazine, writes:
The Skink turret at CFB Shilo was used on a target range in Ontario until Dr. William Gregg found and saved it. I was one of the appraisers for the Gregg Canadian Collection so I got to see it. It is now with the RCA Museum's collection. It hopefully is NOT on the ranges now!

I found a second Skink tank turret, also ex-ranges. Unconfirmed rumour (good source) of a third survivor.



I would like to thank Chris Johnson for his permission to use the excellent Skink images found on his website. To find out more about the great Canadian armoured tradition, visit his website at  http://www3.sympatico.ca/chrjohnson/index.htm

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