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The Centurion was the primary Britishmarker main battle tank of the post World War II period, and was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades. The chassis was also adapted for several other roles.

Manufacture of the Centurion began in January 1945, and six prototypes arrived in Belgium soon after the war in Europe ended in May 1945. The Centurion served in more wars than any other western tank. It first entered combat with British forces in the Korean War in 1950, in support of the UN forces. The Centurion later served in the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971, successfully fighting US supplied Pakistani M47, then with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps in Vietnammarker. It was sold to Israel who used Centurions in 1967, 1973, and during the 1975 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon. It became one of the most widely used tank designs, equipping armies around the world, with some still in service until the 1990s. As recently as the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict the Israel Defense Forces employed heavily modified Centurions as armoured personnel carriers and combat engineering vehicles.

History

In 1943 the Department of Tank Design was asked to produce a new design for a heavy cruiser tank under the General Staff designation A41. After a series of fairly marginal designs in the A series in the past, and bearing in mind the threat posed by the German 88 mm gun, the War Officemarker demanded a major revision of the design requirements, specifically: increased durability and reliability, a maximum weight of 40 tons and the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88 mm gun.

Tank Design responded by extending the long-travel 5-wheel suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a sixth wheel and an extended spacing between the second and third wheels. The Christie suspension with internal vertical spring coils was replaced by a Horstmann suspension with external horizontal springs. The hull was redesigned with welded sloped armour, and featured a partially cast turret mounting the highly regarded 17 pounder main gun and a 20 mm Polsten cannon. With a Rover-built Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, a version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, the new design would have excellent performance.

Shortly after the programme commenced, it became clear that the requirement to withstand 88 mm artillery would be impossible to meet within the permitted weight. The original specification had been set so that the A41 could be carried on the existing Mark I and Mark II transport trailers, which were limited to a 40-ton load. The War Ministry decided it would be wiser to build new trailers than hamper what appeared to be a superb design. Even before prototypes of the original 40-ton design were completed, the design of a heavier version was well under way. The new version carried armour equal to the heaviest infantry tanks, and cross-country performance was superior to even the early cruiser tanks. The A41 was the first British tank that could "do it all", leading to the new designation universal tank.

Prototypes of the original 40-ton design, the Centurion Mark I, had 76 mm of armour in the front glacis, thinner than the then current infantry tank designs such as the Churchill which had 101 mm, but the glacis plate was highly sloped and so the effective thickness of the armour was very high—a design feature shared by other effective designs such as the German Panther tank and Soviet T-34. The turret was extremely well armoured at 152 mm. The tank was also extremely mobile, and easily outperformed the Comet in most tests. The uparmoured Centurion Mark II soon arrived, featuring a new 118 mm-thick glacis and side and rear armour increased from 38 mm to 51 mm. Only a handful of Mk I's had been produced when the Mk II replaced it on the production lines. Full production began in November 1945 with an order of 800 with production lines at Leylandmarker, the Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds and Woolwichmarker, and Vickers at Elswickmarker. The tank entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.

Soon after the Centurion's introduction, Royal Ordnance finished work on the extremely powerful 20 pounder (84 mm) tank gun. By this point the usefulness of the 20 mm Polsten had been called into question, so it was replaced with a BESA machine gun in a completely cast turret. The new Centurion Mark III also featured a fully automatic stabilization system for the gun, allowing it to fire accurately while on the move, dramatically improving battlefield performance. Production of the Mk 3 began in 1948. The Mk 3 was so much more powerful than the Mk 1 and Mk 2 that the earlier designs were removed from service as soon as new Mk 3s arrived, and the older tanks were then either converted into the Centurion ARV Mark 1 armoured recovery vehicle for REME use or upgraded to Mk 3 standards. Improvements introduced with the Mk 3 included a more powerful version of the engine and a new gunsight and gun stabiliser.

The 20 pounder gun was used only for a short time before the Royal Ordnance Factories introduced the now famous 105 mm L7 gun. All later variants of the Centurion, from Mark 5/2 on, used the L7. A total of 24 variants and sub-variants were produced.

Design work for the Mk 7 was completed in 1953 with production beginning soon afterwards.

The Centurion was used as the basis for a range of specialist equipment, including engineering variants with a 165 mm demolition gun (AVRE-Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers). It is one of the longest-serving designs of all time, serving as a battle tank for the British and Australian armies from the Korean War (1950-1953) to the Vietnam War (1961-1972), and as an AVRE during Operation Desert Storm in January-February 1991.

About 4,423 Centurions were produced between 1946 and 1962, consisting of thirteen basic marks of the Centurion tank.

Korean war

On 14 November 1950 the British Army's 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, equipped with three squadrons of Centurion Mk 3 tanks landed in Pusanmarker. Operating in sub-zero temperatures, the 8th Hussars learnt the rigours of winter warfare: their tanks had to be parked on straw to prevent the steel tracks from freezing to the ground, and engines had to be started every half hour, with each gear being engaged in turn, to prevent them from being frozen into place. During the Battle of the Imjin Rivermarker Centurions won lasting fame when their tanks covered the withdrawal of the 29th Brigade, with the loss of five tanks. Centurions were also involved in the second Battle of the Hookmarker where they played a significant role in repelling Chinese attacks. In a tribute to the 8th Hussars, General John O'Daniel, commanding the US 1st Corps, stated: "...In their Centurions, the 8th Hussars have evolved a new type of tank warfare. They taught us that anywhere a tank can go is tank country: even the tops of mountains."

Vietnam War

Tanks used by the allied forces in the Vietnam War were the M551 Sheridan, US 90 mm (medium) Gun Tank M48A3 Patton, M24 Chaffee and 76 mm (light) Gun Tank M41 Walker Bulldog light tank, and the Australian Centurions.

In 1967 the Royal Australian Armoured Corps' (RAAC) 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) Squadron transferred to "A" Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. Although they successfully conducted combat operations in their areas of operation(s) (AOs), reports from the field stated that their light-armour (M-113 ACAVs) were unable to force their way through dense jungle limiting their offensive actions against enemy forces. The Australian government, under criticism from Parliament, decided to send a Squadron of Australian Centurion tanks to South Vietnam. The 84 mm-gunned Australian Centurions of 'C' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment landed in the Republic of South Vietnam on 24 February 1968.

After the battles at firebases Coral and Balmoral in May 1968 a third Centurion troop, which included two tankdozers, was formed. By September 1968 'C' Squadron was brought to its full strength of four troops, each equipped with four Centurion tanks. By 1969, 'B' Squadron, 3rd Cavalry; 'A' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment; 'B' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment; and 'C' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, had all made rotations through South Vietnam. Originally deployed as 26 Centurion tanks, after three and a half years of combat operations, 58 Centurions had served in country; 42, of which 6 were beyond repair, suffered battle damage, and two Centurion tank crewmen had been killed in action.

Nuclear Tests

An Australian Army Mk 3 Centurion Type K, Army Registration Number 169041, was involved in a nuclear blast test at Emu Field in Australia in 1953 as part of Operation Totem 1. Built as number 39/190 at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Barnbow in 1951 it was assigned the British Army number 06 BA 16 and supplied to the Australian Commonwealth Government under Contract 2843 in 1952.

It was placed less than from the epicentre and left with the engine running. Examination after detonation found it had been pushed away from the blast point by about and that its engine had stopped working only because it had run out of fuel. Antennas were missing, lights and periscopes were heavily sandblasted, the cloth mantlet cover was incinerated, and the armoured side plates had been blown off and carried up to from the tank. Remarkably the tank could be driven from the site. Had it been manned the crew would probably have been killed by the shock wave.

169041, subsequently nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was later used in the Vietnam War and is now located at Robertson Barracks in Palmerston, Northern Territorymarker. Although other tanks were subjected to nuclear tests, 169041 is the only tank known to have withstood atomic tests and subsequently gone on for another 23 years of service, including 15 months on operational deployment in a war zone.

Variants

UK variants

Centurion AVRE 165
Centurion ARK.
Centurion ARV Mk 2.


FV 3802: Self-propelled 25-pdr artillery prototype based on Centurion—engine at rear as in gun tank—no production
FV 3805: Self-propelled 5.5in artillery prototype, again based on Centurion—engine at front—no production
FV 4004 Conway: "FV 4004 Self-propelled gun, 120 mm, L1 gun, Mk 3" prototype based on Centurion 3 with a larger calibre 120 mm L1 gun. To be an interim design until Conqueror tank entered service. One built
FV 4005: experimental 180 mm gun with concentric recoil and auto-loader mounted on Centurion - 183 mm version also built, with hand loading and conventional recoil. Known as FV 4005 Stage 1: gun in limited traverse open mount and FV 4005 Stage 2: gun in enclosed mount.
FV 4007 Centurion Mk 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8/1, 8/2:
FV 4011 Centurion Mk 5:
FV 4012 Centurion Mk 7/1, 7/2:
FV 4015 Centurion Mk 9:
FV 4017 Centurion Mk 10:


A41 [20 mm]: Centurion prototype with coaxial Polsten cannon
A41 [Besa]: Centurion prototype with coaxial BESA MG—later fitted with experimental CDL
FV 4202 40 ton Centurion: Used to develop various concepts subsequently used in Chieftain


Centurion [Low Profile]: Variant with Teledyne Low-profile Turret
Centurion [MMWR Target]: Cobbled together radar target tank.
Centurion Marksman: Fitted with Marksman air defence turret
Centurion Ark aka FV 4016: Assault Gap Crossing Equipment (Armoured ramp carrier)
Centurion ARV Mk I: Armoured Recovery vehicle
Centurion ARV Mk II: Armoured Recovery Vehicle with superstructure
Centurion AVLB: Dutch armoured vehicle laying bridge
Centurion AVRE 105: Combat Engineer Version armed with 105 mm gun
Centurion AVRE 165: Combat Engineer Version armed with 165 mm gun
Centurion BARV: Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle
Centurion Bridgelayer aka FV 4002: Class 80 bridgelayer


Centurion Mk 1: 17pdr armed version
Centurion Mk 2: Fully cast turret
Centurion Mk 3: Fitted with 20pdr, 2 stowage positions for track links on glacis
Centurion Mk 4: Projected close-support version with 95 mm CS howitzer
Centurion Mk 5: Browning machine guns fitted to coaxial and commander's cupola mounts, stowage bin on glacis
Centurion Mk 5/1 aka FV 4011: Increased glacis armour, two coax machineguns: one Browning .30 & one Browning.50 caliber for ranging the 84mm (20 pounder) main gun
Centurion Mk 5/2: Upgunned to 105 mm
Centurion Mk 6: Upgunned and uparmoured Mk 5
Centurion Mk 6/1: Mk 6 fitted with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 6/2: Mk 6/1 fitted with ranging gun
Centurion Mk 7 aka FV 4007: Revised engine decks
Centurion Mk 7/1 aka FV 4012: Uparmoured Mk 7
Centurion Mk 7/2: Upgunned Mk 7
Centurion Mk 8: Resilient mantlet and new commanders cupola
Centurion Mk 8/1: Uparmoured Mk 8
Centurion Mk 8/2: Upgunned Mk 8
Centurion Mk 9 aka FV 4015: Upgunned and uparmoured Mk 7
Centurion Mk 9/1: Mk 9 with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 9/2: Mk 9 with ranging gun fitted
Centurion Mk 10 aka FV 4017: Upgunned and uparmoured Mk 8
Centurion Mk 10/1: Mk 10 with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 10/2: Mk 10 with ranging gun fitted
Centurion Mk 11: Mk 6 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Mk 12: Mk 9 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Mk 13: Mk 10 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun


FV 4010 aka Heavy Tank Destroyer G.W. Carrier: Malkara Anti Tank Guided Missile launcher vehicle


UK specialist variants

FV 4003 Centurion Mk 5 AVRE 165: (1963) - AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) vehicle with 165 mm demolition gun and a hydraulically-operated dozer blade or a mine plough. Can carry a fascine bundle or a roll of metal Class 60 Trackway; and tow the Giant Viper mine-clearance equipment or a trailer for another fascine. This variant had a five man crew. The vehicle was used in the Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm (1991).
Centurion Mk 12 AVRE 105: - Ex-Forward Artillery Observer vehicles converted to AVRE role.
FV 4019 Centurion Mk 5 Bulldozer: (1961) - Centurion Mk V with a dozer blade identical to that of the Centurion AVRE. One such tank was usually given to every Centurion-equipped squadron.
FV 4016 Centurion ARK: (1963) - Armoured Ramp Carrier. Can span a gap of up to 75 feet, can bear up to 80 tons.
FV 4002 Centurion Mk 5 Bridgelayer: (1963) - Mk 5 chassis with a No 5 Tank Bridge. The bridge can be launched in less than two minutes, can span a gap of 45 feet and can bear up to 80 tons.
FV 4013 Centurion ARV Mk 1: (1952) - Based on Mk 1 / Mk 2 hull. Turret replaced by a superstructure housing a winch driven by a 72 hp Bedford QL truck engine. About 180 units were built, some of them were used in the Korean War. After 1959 were used as training vehicles only.
FV 4006 Centurion ARV Mk 2: (1956) - Mk 1 / Mk 2 / Mk 3 hull with turret replaced by a superstructure housing a winch. The winch is powered by an auxiliary engine and is capable of pulling of up to 90 tons using a system of blocks. Armed with single .30 inch machine gun on the commander's cupola.
FV 4018 Centurion BARV (1963): Beach armoured recovery vehicle. The last Centurion variant to be used by the British Army. As of 2003, one vehicle was still in use by the Royal Marines. Now being replaced by the Hippo based on Leopard 1 chassis.


Non-UK variants

Sho't Kal Alef
MAR-290 / Eshel ha-Yarden.
Nagmachon APC
Olifant: Centurion tanks modernised by South Africa, considered the best indigenous tank design on the African continent.
*Semel (1974): 810 hp fuel-injected petrol engine, three-speed semi-automatic transmission.
*Olifant Mk 1 (1978): 750 hp diesel engine, semi-automatic transmission.
*Olifant Mk 1A (1985): Retains the fire control system of the original Centurion, but has a hand-held laser rangefinder for the commander and image-intensifier for the gunner.
*Olifant Mk 1B (1991): Torsion bar suspension, lengthened hull, additional armour on the glacis plate and turret, V-12 950 hp diesel engine, computerised fire control system, laser rangefinder.
*Olifant Mk 2: redesigned turret, new fire control system. Can mount LIW 105 mm GT-8 rifled gun or 120 mm smooth bore gun.
Sho't: An Israelimarker designation of the Centurion.
*Sho't Meteor: Centurion Mk 5 tanks with the original Meteor engine purchased in 1959.
*Sho't Kal Alef/Bet/Gimel/Dalet: Modernised Centurion tanks with 105 mm gun from 1963, a new powerpack (the Continental AVDS-1790-2A diesel engine and the Allison CD850-6 transmission). Entered service in 1970; by 1974 all Israeli Centurions were upgraded to Sho't Kal (Mk 13 armour) and had a pintle mounted .50 cal HMG. Subvariants indicate upgrades received by Sho't Kal tanks during their operational life, including a new turret rotating mechanism, a new gun stabiliser, a new fire-control system and preparations for the installation of the Blazer ERA.
Nagmashot / Nagmachon / Nakpadon: Israeli heavy armoured personnel carriers based on Centurion tank's chassis.
Puma: Israeli combat engineering vehicle on Centurion tank chassis.
Eshel ha-Yarden: a quadruple tubular launcher for 290 mm ground-to-ground rockets mounted on Centurion tank chassis. The project was cancelled after a single prototype was built. Both this vehicle and an earlier version based on Sherman chassis are often referred to as MAR-290.
Tempest: Operated by Singaporemarker, modernised with Israeli assistance, similar to Israeli variant, with diesel engine and new main gun, and possibly reactive armour. "Tempest" is the English translation of "Sho't".
Stridsvagn 81: Swedish Army designation for its 240 Mk 3 Centurions (20 pdr gun) with Swedish radios, etc.
Stridsvagn 101: Swedish Army designation for its 110 Mk 10 Centurions (105 mm gun) with Swedish radios, etc.
Stridsvagn 101R: Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 101 upgraded in early 1980s with laser range finder, etc.
Stridsvagn 102: Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 81 upgunned in early 1960s to 105 mm.
Stridsvagn 102R: Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 102 upgraded in early 1980s with laser range finder, etc.
Stridsvagn 104: Swedish Army designation for 80 Stridsvagn 102 modernised in early 1980s with laser range finder and diesel engine, etc. (along the same lines as the Israeli Shot Kal).
Stridsvagn 105: Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 102R upgraded with new suspension, etc. Prototype only.
Stridsvagn 106: Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 101R upgraded with new suspension, etc. Not built.
Bärgningsbandvagn 81: Swedish Army designation for Centurion ARV.


Operators



Combat history



See also



References

Notes

  1. Dunstan & Sarson, Centurion, p. 8
  2. Munro, Centurion, p. 40
  3. Munro, Centurion, p. 46
  4. Starry, Mounted Combat in Vietnam, p. 113
  5. Munro, Centurion, p. 48
  6. Munro, Centurion, p. 62
  7. Dunstan & Sarson, Centurion, p. 36-37
  8. Dunstan & Sarson, Centurion, p. 22
  9. Dunstan & Sarson, Centurion, p. 16
  10. Dunstan & Sarson, Centurion
  11. Munro, Centurion, p. 158-162
  12. Dunstan & Sarson, Centurion, p. 17
  13. Hunnicutt, Patton
  14. Dunstan, Vietnam
  15. Starry, Mounted Combat in Vietnam
  16. Cecil, M: Classic Military Vehicle October 2004 Issue 41, pages 43-46. Kelsey Publishing Group, 2004.
  17. Tim Huxley, Defending the Lion City: The Armed Forces of Singapore p.131
  18. C.F.F.Foss, Jane's Main Battle Tanks p.186


Bibliography



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