It’s no secret that life inside a tank is dangerous, cramped and stressful. During combat operations, tank crews sometimes spend entire days inside their vehicles, unable to stretch their legs or enjoy refreshments. Shortly after World War II, the British Army designed special tea kettles to fit inside their tanks to help alleviate some of the difficulties. The quintessential British drink boosted morale and even increased the survivability of tank crews.
In June 1942, following a devastating defeat in the Libyan desert at the Battle of Gazala, British Army morale sank to a new low and soldiers relied on hot tea to keep their spirits up. moral. Troops typically used the so-called Benghazi burner – a tin fuel canister, sometimes placed in a hole in the ground, filled with burning wood or gasoline mixed with sand – to brew the tea.
“I heard that at that time, without the tea ration, we could have easily thrown in the towel,” WWII military historian James Holland told the Tank Museum in 2020. This is to say how important tea was for the British Tommy.
In Europe, with fighting extending across the countryside to towns and even city streets, British tankers did not have the luxury of spotting their enemies from afar in remote desert terrain. Tank crews often descended from their armor for short tea parties nearby. This exposed armored formations to enemy attack.
During the Battle of Normandy in 1944, Michael Wittmann, a German Tiger tank commander, destroyed 14 tanks in 15 minutes while British crews were outside their tanks during a tea break. Two years later, the British Medical Research Council published a survey of armored units in North West Europe which determined that “37% of all armored regimental casualties from March 1945 to the end of the war a few months later were crew members outside their vehicles”.
After the war, the British Army came up with the solution: fit “boiling vessels”, or BVs, inside every Centurion tank. The BVs and the British tank crews turned out to be a perfect match.
Ask any tank crew, and every crew member will say that the most crucial piece of equipment on the entire tank is the BV, as the tea kettle serves as a one stop shop for boiling tea. water, making tea, heating food packets and other necessary comforts.
“You can never underestimate the importance of crew comfort in the turret,” Richard Cutland, a veteran of the British Royal Tank Regiment, told the Tank Museum. “We used to spend, sometimes, days inside that turret – so having that capability there to run the BV to get your hot water was fantastic.”
The BVs operated without the need for the main engine to be running, thanks to auxiliary generators that powered the BVs, as well as radios and other minor technology in the tank. Under the BV, a blue box stored cups and tea bags.
“We’ve always used cups in China because a cup of tea doesn’t taste the same as if it’s in a cup in China,” Cutland said. “I can’t imagine, in my 30 years of service on the tanks, what life would have been like without a cup of tea.”
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