Canadians serving in besieged Sarajevo in the 1990s could well have come under fire from an M-36 tank destroyer built in the Montreal Locomotive Works.

The production of these tank destroyers represented the culmination of a major armoured vehicle manufacturing effort on the part of the Montreal company. However, the war in Europe had ended when 85 of the M-36s rolled off the production line, so the armoured vehicles are thought to have ended up in Tito’s Yugoslavia under an American military assistance plan.

The Ram I tank was the first vehicle to be produced by this subsidiary of the American Locomotive Company, which was already involved in U.S. tank production. The Ram tank took its name from the central feature of General F.F. Worthington’s family crest. Worthington, considered by most to be the founder of the Canadian Armoured Corps, recommended a turret ring that could accommodate at least a 75mm gun; British opinion held that a 2 pounder (40mm) was enough. Worthington’s advice was ignored and, as a consequence, the 50 Ram I tanks and the 1899 Ram II tanks never saw combat.

The actual design placed a Canadian turret designed in accordance with British concepts on an American Grant tank chassis. The Grant had a sponson mounted 75mm gun, which limited its usefulness from the British viewpoint. Ironically, the 8th Army used this American type of tank in the Western Desert. The British in this African theatre are thought to be the source of the so-called expertise that led to the Ram’s deficiencies.

Montreal Locomotive Works’ 1949 Rams, combined with the 1400 Valentine tanks manufactured by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Angus Workshop, gave Canada a tank production total that exceeded that of either Italy or Japan, Germany’s Axis allies. The Montreal Locomotive Works went on to complete 188 variants of the M4A1 Sherman tank, a version also produced by their American parent, designated the “Grizzly.”

A decision to concentrate M4 production south of the border ended the manufacture of tanks in Montreal. However, this led to the production of 2150 Sexton Self Propelled Artillery (SPs) that made the Montreal company so notable as an armoured arsenal. Among the major belligerents of World War II, only the U.S. produced more self-propelled guns than this Montreal facility.

The U.S. refused to mount the 25 pounder on M4 chassis, as requested by the British after American success with mounting their 105mm gun in a version labeled the “Priest.” Montreal Locomotive Works stepped in to mount 25 pounders on the Ram chassis in what came to be known as the “Sexton.” The 25 pounders were also Canadian made, coming from Marine Industries in Sorel – yet another major Canadian contribution to the Commonwealth war effort.

The Montreal Locomotive Works also developed an anti-aircraft self-propelled armoured vehicle mounting four Polsten 20mm guns in a turret. However, only three prototypes were completed as the German air threat faded.

Versions of the Ram did see combat, but not as tanks. Eighty-four were configured as Observation Post vehicles for forward observers of the Sexton-equipped artillery units of the Commonwealth Armoured Divisions. Ram chassis with their turrets removed saw service as Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) in the 1st Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment. It is estimated about 300 Ram chassis saw service as “Kangaroos,” as these APCs were called. Some were utilized as flame throwers under the designation of “Badger.” Some even saw service as armoured ambulances.

Service did not end when War World II did. Grizzly tanks served in the Portuguese Army, delivered under a NATO military assistance plan. Whether these Montreal Locomotive products saw combat in Portugal’s wars to retain colonies in Angola and Mozambique cannot be confirmed. Some Grizzly’s may have had their turrets removed to serve as APCs fighting African freedom fighters.

Finally, there are the M-36s tank destroyers, completed in Montreal, of which an unknown number may have served in the Balkan wars as the millennium ended, at a time when the Canadian Army itself was prematurely considering abandoning the use of tracked fighting vehicles with big guns.

The Montreal Locomotive Works, after returning to locomotive manufacture in the post-war, was acquired by Bombardier, as had been CANCAR in Fort William, then reverted to General Electric ownership, and finally ceased production in 1993. Remnants of the once enormous complex that survived a 2001 fire were demolished in 2004. GE apparently plans to use the space for a warehouse for shipping out washing machines.

Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC), served in the FGH, LdSH (RC) and 8 CH, and attended the year-long tank technology course at the Royal Armoured Corps School, Bovington, Dorset. Research assistance by Sgt MH Thomas, CD.