The term Kangaroo was applied to both field-modified Armoured Personnel Carriers and later purpose built APCs used during the Second World War, and after.
The Unfrocked Priest
The M7 Priest, a US-designed Self Propelled Gun, had been issued to Canadian field regiments of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in anticipation of the Normandy Landing. Four regiments had been so equipped in the autumn of 1943: the 12th, 13th and 14th Field Regiments of the 3rd Division, as well as the 19th Army Field Regiment (Self-Propelled). It was the goal of 21st Army Group to have all their artillery equipment standardized and using the 25-pounder Gun, and the 105mm guns of the M7s were to be a temporary measure.
With the 3rd Division so hotly engaged in the Battle of Normandy, there had been no time to re-equip the field regiments with 25-pounders as planned; by the end of Jul 1944 the opportunity finally presented itself. The 12th and 13th Field Regiments re-equipped with towed guns on 1 Aug, and the 14th Field Regiment 2 days later on 3 Aug. The 19th Army Field Regiment (Self-Propelled) re-equipped with Sextons on 24 Aug 1944.
During the planning for Operation TOTALIZE, the commander of II Canadian Corps, Lieutenant General Guy Simonds proposed that the newly released self propelled guns be converted to infantry carriers (his outline plan also indicated that they could be converted back to artillery vehicles afterwards, if desired.) While the concept of using armour to protect infantry was nothing new (and in the modern sense had been attempted by Canadians as early as 1918), the doctrine of all nations was for armoured infantry to dismount before making contact. The armoured vehicles employed for moving infantry (ranging from Universal Carriers to halftracks) during the Second World War were lightly armoured, and generally only used by specially trained troops in armoured divisions, such as the Motor battalions of the Commonwealth armoured divisions, the Mechanized Infantry of the US Army, and the Panzergrenadiers of the German Army. "TOTALIZE would be the first time that troops in infantry divisions would ride into battle mounted in vehicles with the same armoured protection and mobility as the tanks they accompanied."1
The first true APCs, then, offering armour protection and mobility equal to tanks, were improvised. Simonds gained inspiration from observing Priest SPs in action, and asked General Crerar, the commander of First Canadian Army, for permission to convert the now purposeless vehicles, which were technically the property of the United States Army. On the evening of 31 Jul, anticipating a favourable US response to the request, he ordered Brigadier G.M. Grant (Deputy Director, Mechanical Engineering at Headquarters, First Canadian Army) to have the Priests converted by 9 Aug (and the deadline later moved up to 6 Aug). Grant's duties were maintenance and repair of all of the Army's equipment.
Crerar's approval of the innovative concept was in tune with his own thoughts on modern warfare; before D-Day in Normandy, he had made an address emphasizing that "a matter of the highest importance is to get the infantry over and through the enemy's prearranged zones of defensive fire in the shortest possible time after the intention to attack has been revealed."2
An ad hoc Advanced Workshop Detachment nicknamed "Kangaroo" was set up under a Major G.A. Wiggan, the Officer Commanding 2 Tank Troops Workshop, RCOC,3 and some 250 soldiers of various RCEME, RCOC, RCASC and British Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers units eventually participated in the conversion project. Work started on the afternoon of 2 Aug 1944 almost immediately after official approval from 21st Army Group was granted. While guns were stripped out of vehicles (15 being completed by dusk on the 2nd), the focus on the 3rd was construction of a prototype APC for final approval and helping with a time appreciation for the other conversions.
On the afternoon of the 3rd, the prototype model was driven by a Lieutenant Green and a driver from the 25th Canadian Armoured Delivery Regiment (Elgin Regiment) to the headquarters of II Corps, where General Simonds inspected the conversion. The gun, gun mantlet, crew seats, and ammunition bins had all been removed, with armour plate welded in position where the gun once was mounted.
During the conversion process, later vehicles had mild steel plates welded in place of armour plate due to a shortage of the latter; sand was used to fill the space between mild steel welded to both the inside and outside of the mantlet gap. Armour plate was also found on abandoned landing craft on the landing beaches, and material was also taken from the Schneider Steel Works in the city of Caen. Complete engine overhauls were also performed - normally a seven day job, "Kangaroo" managed to do each engine in 100 hours.
Some of the Priests retained the .50 calibre Browning anti-aircraft machine gun, and 60% of the vehicles also kept a No. 19 Wireless Set.
A total of 76 Priests had been converted by the morning of 6 Aug, completing the intial production of Kangaroos. "D" Squadron of the Elgins carried out the final task of delivering the finished products. AWD "Kangaroo" had established in two fields near Bayeux, about 20 miles from the start line of TOTALIZE where they would be needed. Drivers from No. 9 Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion and "E" Squadron of the Elgins drove the vehicles. The vehicles were divided between British and Canadian troops forming for the operation, with 36 vehicles going to the Canadians.
The vehicles were used successfully in TOTALIZE and later also in Operation TRACTABLE. By 20 Aug 1944, the Canadian squadron of personnel carriers was organized into the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron. The vehicles were used througout Sep 1944, and were ordered turned over to a British REME workshop near Cassel on 30 Sep 1944. The squadron refitted with Ram Kangaroos in early Oct 1944.
The Ram Kangaroo
As the Priest Kangaroo was only an interim measure, once it had proven its worth in combat, an improved vehicle had to be obtained. The solution was the conversion of Canadian Ram tanks, previously used as a training vehicle and deemed unsuitable for combat employment. The turrets were removed from 100 Ram Mark II, and internal fittings were removed for conversion to troop carriers. The vehicles were more heavily armoured than their predecessors, and much lower in silhouette than both the Priest Kangaroo as well as contemporary gun-armed tanks which would accompany the Kangaroos into battle. The Ram Kangaroo also was much lighter with lower ground pressure than the Sherman Tanks (and British Cromwells and Churchills) that made up accompanying armoured units. The new vehicles were issued from No. 17 Advanced Ordnance Depot at Bayeux at the start of Oct 1944.5
Most vehicles lacked the auxiliary front turret seen on some Ram tanks, and incorporated both a .30 calibre Browning machine gun in a bow mount, and intercom system allowing the crew to communicate with infantry passengers. Many also had a No.19 wireless set.6
The expansion to Regiment status saw the issue of additional Ram Kangaroos. Both early and late production Rams can be seen converted to Kangaroos (the largest visible cue being the location of the return rollers on the suspension trucks.)
The Kangaroo is included in the Advanced Squad Leader games, including the Operation Veritable Historical Module, in which extra Kangaroo counters are included, and special rules for which are included in the campaign game rules. The original Squad Leader series had one scenario featuring Ram Kangaroos, as part of the "Rogue Series 200" scenarios.
Kangaroos are also included in two of the Combat Mission PC game series titles.