The Heavy Assault Tank or Assault Gun, Tortoise, was a British tank design developed in World War II but never put into mass production. It was developed for the task of clearing heavily fortified areas and as a result favoured armour protection over mobility.
In the early part of 1943, the Allied forces anticipated considerable resistance in the projected future invasion of Europe, with the enemy fighting from heavily fortified positions such as the Siegfried Line. As a result, a new class of vehicles emerged, in the shape of Assault tanks, which placed maximum armour protection at a higher priority than mobility.
The Nuffield Organisation came up with 18 separate designs which were drafted between May 1943 and February 1944, each design larger and heavier than the last. By February 1944, design AT16 was complete and was approved by the Tank Board, who proposed that month that 25 should be produced directly from the mockup stage without bothering with a prototype, to be available for operational service in September 1945. An order for 25 was placed by the War Office and the work began.
Following the end of the war, the order was reduced, and only six vehicles were built. One example was sent to Germany for trials, where it was found to be mechanically reliable and a powerful and accurate gun platform. However, at a weight of 80 tons and a height of 10 feet, it was extremely slow and proved difficult to transport.
Since the Tortoise had a fixed casemate superstructure instead of a turret, it can be classified as a self-propelled gun or an assault gun and not a tank. The crew included a commander, driver, and gunner, with two loaders for the 32-pounder gun and two machine gunners.
One of the six prototype Tortoises constructed has been preserved at The Tank Museum in Bovington, England. The vehicle is in running condition. A 2011 overhaul saw it running under its own power for the first time since the 1950s. It was shown to the public in June 2011 at Tankfest 2011, the Bovington museum’s annual display of running vehicles.