UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Centurion tank

The Centurion Tank was the main British tank of the post war period, also being purchased by the Australian Army from 1951 and by many other armed forces. Prototype Centurions had been built by the end of WWII. Australian Centurion Tanks served in Vietnam from 1968 until 1971. The Centurion remained in service in Australia until 1977 when replaced by the Leopard Tank.

By 1950 the new Centurion tank, which could give a very good account of itself against any other known tank, was said to be "in full production" and was already in service in considerable numbers. It had a gun on it that will knock the ace out of the ace of spades at 3,000 yards in two shots. It may or may not be a good tank, but the designer left out of account the lap gunner, or co-driver. In a tank crew the lap gunner or co-driver is the vital man. When things are getting pretty hot, he is the man who brings up the brew of tea; and furthermore, when everything seems wrong, he is the man whose extra muscles enable a track-pin to be extracted or changed.

In the concept of the Centurion tank one of the most important development goals was to retain the most reliable tank possible. Therefore, to the extent possible, proven components of older vehicle types were used. This is true, for example, for the V12 Rolls Royce Meteor petrol engine, which represented a throttled-back version of the Spitfire airplane engine and which had already been built into the Cromwell and Comet tanks. And the Merritt-Brown steering gears came from older vehicles. Thus, the only important new components remaining were the hull, turret housing, main gun and tracks. The Centurion is supported by six pairs of road wheels on each side, each track also passing over a rear drive sprocket, a front idler wheel and four double and two single guide rollers. The road wheels are rubber tyred and are mounted on swing-arms fitted with coil springs and shock absorbers (dampers).

Eventually, however, the constant increase in vehicle weight during the course of developing the Centurion tank led to problems with the service life of the engine, transmission and brakes. As could be expected, these deficiencies were especially apparent under extraordinary climatic conditions (Near East, for example). As a whole, the technically obsolete engine put heavy demands on operating, maintenance and repair personnel. In addition, the operation of the Centurion tanks with gasoline required constant and painstaking monitoring" of the fuel system, so that possible leaks could be detected in time. The Ranging Machine Gun (RMS) fire control system was developed for use in the up-gunned Centurion tank (105 mm. APDS and HESH) and the new medium tank Chieftain (120 mm. APDS and HESH).

By the end of 1950 no sales of Centurion tanks had been authorised except to Egypt [16] and certain Commonwealth countries. By late November 1950 the number of Centurion tanks delivered to Egypt iwa nine, of which seven left the UK in May and two in October. The production of weapons and equipment for the Army in 1951–52 was almost double what it was in 1950–51, with the emphasis on tanks and new types of combat vehicles — especially the Centurion tank, for which two new tank factories were set up.

By 1960 Centurion tank's 105 mm tank gun was in full production for the British Army and for several other countries, and there was no doubt that it was the best tank gun in the world at that time. The equipping of British tanks with this gun had to be phased in with the production of its ammunition, and it had to be spread over a period. This gun made the Centurion so much more formidable than it was that when armed with it it is virtually a new class of tank. Existing tanks would retain their superiority over any likely opposition till the new battle tank came into service.

The Canadian Army Trophy was initiated in 1963 at the suggestion of Canada. At that time Canada donated a replica of the Centurion Tank known as the Canadian Army Trophy for NATO Tank Gunnery. This Trophy was to be competed for by teams of the member countries stationed in the Central Region. The Canadian Army Trophy is a model ofa Centurion tank in silver, mounted on a black stand. It remainsthe property of Canada, which offers it for the competition. It is presented by CINCENT to the winning Army Group which retains it until the time fixed for the next competition. The winning Army Group is responsible for the safe custody of the Canadian Army Trophy. Since 1963 the competition format has undergone numerous changes. Originally, single tanks fired from fixed points at known ranges. Following the 1968 and again after the 1975 competitions, the rules and procedures of the competition were changed to more accurately reflect combat conditions.

As early as April 1965, discussions had been held on the deployment to Vietnam of armored units from other nations beyond the USA. The Royal Thai Army forces that arrived in Vietnam in 1967 brought with them an M113 platoon and a cavalry reconnaissance troop. By 1969 this force had been increased to three cavalry troops and a total of over 660 armor soldiers. The Koreans asked permission to deploy a tank battalion, but the request was disapproved in midsummer 1965 on the grounds that the area was inappropriate for tanks. Later, Korean and American tank-infantry operations in the area enabled the Koreans to acquire APC's on permanent loan from the United States, and these were employed as ACAV's. Finally, in 1968, the Australians sent twenty-six Centurion tanks and an additional cavalry platoon. The Centurions, the only tanks other than U.S. tanks used in Vietnam by the free world forces, had 84-mm. guns and successfully operated east of Saigon near Vung Tau.

After initial skepticism as to the capabilities and reliability of the British-made Centurion tank in the jungle environment, the infantry came to rely upon the tank’s firepower and protection during decisive engagements. Much of this skepticism was due to the fact that many of the infantrymen had never personally seen tanks, let alone trained with them before fighting in Vietnam. The value of the tank and infantry cooperation was most obvious during bunker clearing operations. The infantry soon came to appreciate the decisive advantage of the combined arms team in the assault.

The rifle sections were crawling forward and clearing about 5 or 10 meters in front of the tanks, which would then drive slowly forward and come just past the men lying on the jungle floor. The Centurion would then engage any bunkers they could see and hit them with high explosive shell and machine gun fire. The golden rule was not to get forward of the second road wheel, as the 84mm main armament blast would severely injure the infantrymen hugging the ground whenthey fired. If the tanks couldn’t see anything to their front they let rip with a canister round to clear the vegetation.

In 1971, Australia began to withdraw troops from Vietnam. While the decision was made to redeploy the Centurion tanks to Australia, the infantry battalions of the Task Force continued to be employed on offensive operations. The Australian infantry soldiers who continued to fight without armored support criticized this decision. The deployment of the Centurion tank three years after the initial infantry battalion deployment provided the much-needed heavy armored support for future infantry battles, particularly those against bunker style defensive positions. Once deployed, the tank proved to be highly versatile in both jungle and urban environments, especially when integrated at the lowest levels to support individual platoons and sections.

In 1973, the outbreak of war between Israel and its Arab neighbors provided armied an opportunity to study the capabilities of new Soviet weapons in use by the Arab armies. The war included the largest clashes of armor since WWII and witnessed the combat employment of American M60 tanks in Israeli hands. This tank did not prove invulnerable. Israeli tankers preferred the British Centurion tank, since rupture of the M60 hydraulic lines tended to burn crews and turret hits too often ignited the ammunition stored there. Moreover, the high tank loss rates on both sides indicated that the battlefield had become much morelethal, in part because of the widespread use of antitank guided missiles and more powerfulrocket propelled grenades.

While protective measures increased survivability, other life-saving elements were also introduced by the IDF. These include a turretless Centurion APC, which is far better armored than an armored personnel carrier. A steel roof is added, rendering very good protection in a firefight. But because of the vehicle’s lack of a rear exit, infantry have difficulty dismounting under fire.The Puma, which is the name for thisturretless Centurion, was initially designed for service with armored engineers, but given to infantry as a stop-gap solution until a further improvement was introduced, the Achsarit vehicle, based on the T-55 hull.

To achieve increased speed,greater mobility and longer range it is necessary to improve the performance of the propulsion system and this has been the basis for most of the retrofit programs undertaken on vintage tanks. The Vickers retrofit package for the CENTURION involves substituting a GM V-12 diesel engine and David Brown TN 12 gearbox. In their upgrading of the CENTURIONS in their possession, the Swedes developed a laser range finder to replace the optical sight thus combining a laser sight with range finder.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list