History Of The CENTURION Tank

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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 Office demanded a major revision of the design requirements, specifically: increased durability, reliability, a maximum weight of 40 tons, plus the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88mm gun.Tank Design responded by extending the long-travel 5-wheel suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a 6th wheel and an extended spacing between the 2nd and 3rd 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 20mm 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 fill with the given weight requirements. The original specification had been set so that the A41 could be carried on the existing Mark I and Mark II transport trailers, both of 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 underway. The new version carried armour equal to the heaviest infantry tanks, and 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.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 like 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. It was, however, extremely mobile and able to easily outperform the Comet in most tests. The uparmoured Centurion Mark II soon arrived, featuring a new 118 mm thick glacis and the sides and rear 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[2] with production lines at Leyland, 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[3].Centurion Mk. 3 at Eastbourne RedoubtSoon after introduction, Royal Ordnance finished work on the extremely powerful 20 pounder (84mm)[4] 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.[5] 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.3's arrived, and 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, a new gun sight and gun stabilizer.[5]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.The design work for the Mk7 was completed in 1953 with production beginning shortly afterwards.[6].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).[7] 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.[7]Between 1946 and 1962, approximately 4,423 Centurions were produced,[8] consisting of thirteen basic marks of the Centurion tank. Korean warOn 14 November 1950, the British Army's 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, equipped with three squadrons of Centurion Mark 3 tanks landed in Pusan.[9] Operating in sub-zero temperatures, the 8th Hussars learnt the rigours of winter warfare, where their tanks had to be parked upon 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.[10] During the Battle of the Imjin River Centurions won lasting fame when their tanks covered the withdrawal of the 29th Brigade, losing 5 tanks in the process.[11] Centurions were also involved in the second Battle of the Hook where they played a significant role in repelling Chinese attacks. [11] 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."[12]Vietnam WarIn 1967, the Royal Australian Armoured Corps' (RAAC) 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) Squadron transitioned to "A" Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. Although they successfully conducted combat operations in their areas of operation(s) (AO's), reports from the field stated that their light armor (M-113 ACAVs) were unable to force their way through dense jungle[13] thus limiting their offensive actions against enemy forces. Consequently, the Australian government, under a considerable amount of criticism from Parliament made the decision to send a Squadron of Australian Centurion tanks to South Vietnam.[13]The 84mm gunned[14] Australian Centurions of "C" Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment (equivalent to a US Army battalion) landed in the Republic of South Vietnam on 24 February 1968. Aside from the M551 Sheridan, US 90mm (medium) Gun Tank[15] M48A3 Patton, M24 Chaffee and 76mm (light) Gun Tank[15] M41 Walker Bulldog light tank, the Australian Centurions were the only other different type of tank used by the allied forces in the Vietnam War.[14] After the battles at firebases Coral and Balmoral in May 1968, a third Centurion troop was formed, which included two tankdozers. By September of 1968, 'C' squadron (equivalent to a US Army company/troop) was brought to full strength of four troops; each troop (equivalent to a US Army platoon) containing 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 3 1/2 years of combat operations, 58 Centurions had served in country; at a cost of 42 battle damaged tanks, six of which were damaged beyond repair, and two Centurion tank crewmen had been killed in action.[13]Nuclear TestsMk 3 Centurion Type K ,British Army number 06 BA 16, later devolved under Contract Demand 2843 to the Australian Army, who gave it registration number 169041, was involved in a nuclear blast test at Emu Field in Australia in 1953.It was placed about 500 meters from the device being detonated and left with the engine running. Upon return to the tank for subsequent examination it was found to have been pushed away from the blast point by about 2 meters and that its engine had only stopped working because it had run out of fuel. Antennas were missing, lights and periscopes were heavily sand blasted and the cloth mantlet cover was heavily carbonised but the tank was able to be driven away from the site. Had the tank been manned, it is unlikely that the crew would have survived due to the shock wave created by an atomic blast.169041, subsequently nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was later used in the Vietnam War and is now located at Robertson Barracks in Palmerston, Northern Territory. 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.[16][17]