Debut: February 2015

 




   

.: Tony McGoldrick's Centurion Tank Diorama - waiting for details

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1/35

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Centurion tank

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Centurion
Centurion cfb borden 1.JPG
Centurion Mk3
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1946–2012 (derivatives still in service)
Production history
Number built 4,423[1]
Specifications
Weight 51 long tons (52 t)
Length Hull: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Overall: 32 ft (9.8 m) with 20pdr
Width 11 feet 1 inch (3.38 m) with side plates
Height 9 feet 10.5 inches (3.01 m)
Crew 4 (commander, gunner, loader, driver)

Armour 51-152 mm
Main
armament
105 mm L7 rifled gun
17 pdr
20 pdr
Secondary
armament
.30 cal Browning machine gun
Engine Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speedMerrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox
650 hp (480 kW)
Power/weight 13 hp/tonne
Suspension Horstmann suspension
Ground clearance 1 ft 8 in (50.8 cm)
Operational
range
280 miles (450 km)
Speed 22 mph (35 km/h)

The Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period. It is widely considered to be one of the most successful post-war tank designs,[2][3][4][5][6][7] remaining in production into the 1960s, and serving, with upgrades, for many decades. The chassis was also adapted for several other roles, and these have remained in service to this day.

Development of the tank began in 1943 and manufacture of the Centurion began in January 1945, six prototypes arriving in Belgium less than a month after the war in Europe ended in May 1945.[8] It first entered combat with the British Army in the Korean War in 1950, in support of the UN forces. The Centurion later served in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, where it fought against US-supplied M47 and M48 Patton tanks and they served with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps in Vietnam.

Israel used Centurions in the 1967 Six Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War, and during the 1978 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon. Centurions modified as armoured personnel carriers were used in Gaza, the West Bank and on the Lebanese border. The Royal Jordanian Land Force used Centurions, first in 1970 to fend off a Syrian incursion within its borders during the Black September events and later in the Golan Heights in 1973. South Africa used its Centurions in Angola.

It became one of the most widely used tank designs, equipping armies around the world, with some still in service until the 1990s.[9] As recently as the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict the Israel Defense Forces employed heavily modified Centurions as armoured personnel carriers and combat engineering vehiclesSouth Africa still employs over 200 Centurions: The vehicles of the SANDF were modernized in the 1980s and again in the 2000s, and the resulting model is known as the Olifant.

Between 1946 and 1962, 4,423 Centurions were produced,[10] consisting of 13 basic marks and numerous variants. In British Army use it was replaced by the Chieftain.

Development

In 1943, the Directorate of Tank Design, under Sir Claude Gibb, C.B.E.F.R.S., was asked to produce a new design for a heavy cruiser tank under the General Staffdesignation A41. After a series of fairly mediocre designs in the A series in the past, and bearing in mind the threat posed by the German 88 mm gun, the War Officedemanded a major revision of the design requirements, specifically: increased durability and reliability, the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88 mm gun and providing greater protection against mines, while remaining within a maximum weight of 40 tons. Top speed was not vital, while agility was to be equal to that of the Comet. A high reverse speed was also required.[9]

The department produced a larger hull by adapting the long-travel five-wheel suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a sixth wheel, and extending the spacing between the second and third wheels. The Christie suspension, with vertical spring coils between side armour plates, was replaced by a Horstmann suspension with three horizontally sprung, externally mounted two-wheel bogies on each side. The Horstmann design did not offer the same ride quality as the Christie system, but took up less room and was easier to maintain.[11] In case of damage by mines, individual suspension and wheel units could be replaced relatively easily. The hull was redesigned with welded, sloped armour and featured a partially cast turret with the highly regarded 17 pounder as the main gun and a 20 mm Polsten cannon in an independent mounting to its left. With a Rover-built Rolls-Royce Meteorengine, as used on the Comet and Cromwell, the new design would have excellent performance.[9]

Shortly after the programme commenced, it became clear that the requirement to withstand 88 mm weapons 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, rather 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, while improved suspension and engines provided cross-country performance 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".[9]

The design mockup built by AEC Ltd was viewed in May 1944. Subsequently, 20 pilot models were ordered with various armament combinations: ten with a 17-pdr and a 20 mm Polsten gun (of which half had a Besa machine gun in the turret rear and half an escape door), five with a 17-pdr, a forward Besa and an escape door, and five with a QF 77 mm gun and a driver-operated hull machine gun.[12]

Prototypes of the original 40-ton design, the Centurion Mark I, had 76 mm of armour in the front glacis, which was thinner than that on the then current infantry tanks (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 well armoured at 152 mm. The tank was also highly mobile, and easily outperformed the Comet in most tests. The uparmoured Centurion Mark II soon arrived; it had a new 118 mm-thick glacis and the side and rear armour had been increased from 38 mm to 51 mm. Only a handful of Mk I Centurions had been produced when the Mk II replaced it on the production lines. Full production began in November 1945 with an order for 800[13] on production lines at Leyland Motors,Lancashire the Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds and Woolwich, and Vickers at Elswick. The tank entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.[14]

Centurion Mk 3 at Eastbourne Redoubt

Soon after the Centurion's introduction, Royal Ordnance finished work on the Ordnance QF 20 pounder (84 mm)[15] tank gun. By this point, the usefulness of the 20 mm Polsten had been called into question, it being unnecessarily large for use against troops, so it was replaced with a Besa machine gun in a completely cast turret. The new Centurion Mark III also featured a fully automatic stabilisation system for the gun, allowing it to fire accurately while on the move, dramatically improving battlefield performance.[16] Production of the Mk 3 began in 1948.[17]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 Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) Mark 1 for use by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers 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.[17]

The 20 pounder gun was used only for a short time[dubious – discuss] before the Royal Ordnance Factories introduced the 105 mm L7 gun. All later variants of the Centurion, from Mark 5/2 on, used the L7.[9]

Design work for the Mk 7 was completed in 1953, with production beginning soon afterwards.[18]

The Centurion was used as the basis for a range of specialist equipment, including combat engineering variants with a 165 mm demolition gun Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers(AVRE).[19] 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 the Gulf War in January–February 1991.[19]

Service history

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 Pusan.[20] 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, with engines having to be started every half hour, with each gear being engaged in turn to prevent them from being frozen into place.[21] During the Battle of the Imjin River, Centurions won lasting fame when their tanks covered the withdrawal of the 29th Brigade, with the loss of five tanks, most later recovered and repaired.[22] In 1953, Centurions of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment were also involved in the second Battle of the Hook where they played a significant role in repelling Chinese attacks.[22] 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."[23]

Vietnam War

Troops of the 1st Armoured Regiment during a briefing at Vung Tau

In 1967, the Royal Australian Armoured Corps' (RAAC), 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) Squadron transferred to "A" Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment Vietnam. Although they successfully conducted combat operations in their areas of operations, reports from the field stated that their light-armour (M-113 ACAVs) were unable to force their way through dense jungle[24] 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.[24] The 20-pdr armed[25] Australian Centurions of 'C' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment landed in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on 24 February 1968, and were headquartered at Nui Dat in III Corps (MR3).[26]

Colonel Donald Dunstan, later to be governor of South Australia, was the Deputy Task Force Commander of the Australian Forces in South Vietnam[27] Col. Dunstan had quite possibly been the last Australian to use tanks and infantry in a combined arms operation during World War II, during the Bougainville campaign. And, for the first time since World War II, Dunstan would be commanding Australia's tanks and infantry in combat.[28] When he temporarily took over command during Brigadier Ronald Hughes' absence, he directed that the Centurions be brought up from Nui Dat to reinforce the firebases at Coral and Balmoral, believing that they were a strong element that were not being used. Besides adding a great deal of firepower, Dunstan stated, he "...couldn't see any reason why they (Centurions) shouldn't be there..."[29] His foresight enabled the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) to inflict approximately 267 enemy casualties during the six-week-long Battle of Coral–Balmoral, as well as capturing 11 prisoners, 36 crew-served weapons, 112 small arms, and other miscellaneous enemy weapons.[30]

After the battles at firebases Coral and Balmoral, in which the 1 ATF defeated the 141st and 165th NVA Infantry Regiments[31] 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 had suffered battle damage with six beyond repair and two crewmen had been killed in action.[24]

The Centurion crews, after operating for a few weeks in country, soon learned to remove the protective armoured side skirts from both sides of the tank, to prevent the vegetation and mud from building up between the track and the mudguards. Each Centurion in Vietnam normally carried a basic load of 62 rounds of 20 pounder shells, 4,000 rounds of .50 cal and 9,000 rounds of .30 cal machine gun ammunition for the tank commander's machine gun as well as the two coaxial machine guns.[32] They were equipped with petrol engines, which necessitated the use of an extra externally mounted 100-imperial-gallon (450 L) fuel tank, which was attached to the vehicle's rear.[25][33]

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