The need for a heavily armed tank was highlighted for the British Army in 1945, when the Soviet Army unveiled its newly developed heavy tank – the IS-3 – at the Berlin Victory Parade. The Armies of Britain, France, and the USA realized they had nothing to counter this new threat. In later years, the IS-3 would prove to be a far less threatening tank than originally thought. At the time, however, these armies were concerned. In response, the US would develop the M103 while the French would experiment with the AMX-50. Great Britain would develop the FV214 Conqueror and FV215 Heavy Gun Tanks.
Decades later, the popular online game World of Tanks (WoT) – published and developed by Wargaming (WG) – was preparing a new British tank line. Due to poor research or possibly completely intentionally, the top of the tree appeared as the Heavy Gun Tank FV215b, a fictional marriage of a FV215 chassis with the FV214 turret and gun with a fictional engine. Fortunately, Wargaming has withdrawn this fake vehicle, although they replaced it with an equally questionable one.
That being said, elements of this tank did exist in one form or another, so those shall be explored.
The WoT Representation
A small ‘history’ is provided for the vehicle by Wargaming:
“A proposed plan for a heavy tank based on the Conqueror Mk. II. Unlike the production model, this modification featured rear placement of the fighting compartment. Never saw production or service.”
– WoT Wiki Extract
The FV215b is presented as a vehicle of the FV200 series. The FV200s date back to the final stages of the Second World War, when the British War Office (WO) was looking for a ‘Universal Tank’. The ancestor of today’s Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), the idea of the Universal Tank was that one chassis would spawn many variants, thus reducing costs, development and making maintenance and supply far easier. The FV215b is also presented as a variant of the planned FV215, or to give its officially long-winded title, the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183mm Gun, FV215′. This tank was set to be the replacement of the FV214 Conqueror (Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120mm Gun, FV214).
Reality: Heavy Gun Tanks
The term ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ is a uniquely British designation. It refers to the size and power of the gun, not the size and weight of the tank. Heavy Gun Tanks were specifically designed to destroy enemy tanks and/or fortified positions.
The Conqueror was the first and only ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ that Britain would build and put into active service. Based on the FV200 chassis, the Conqueror was an imposing vehicle. It measured 25 feet (7.62 meters) long – not including the gun, 13.1 feet (3.99 meters) wide and 11 feet (3.35 meters) tall. It weighed 65 long tons* (66 tonnes), had armor up to 13 inches (330 mm) thick and was armed with the powerful L1 120 mm gun. Firing Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds, this gun was able to punch through up to 17.3 inches (446 mm) of 55-degree angled steel armor at 1,000 yards (914 meters). Entering service in 1955, the Conqueror had a short service life, being retired in 1966 after just 11 years of service. It was replaced by the FV4201 Chieftain.
*Long tons are a unit of mass unique to the United Kingdom; for ease it will be shortened to ton. 1 long ton is equal to about 1.01 metric tonnes, or 1.12 US ‘Short’ tons.
The next step would have been the FV215. This was in development just as the Conqueror entered full-scale production. This vehicle used a modified chassis that was slightly narrower than the FV214 at 12 feet (3.6 meters) compared to 13.1 feet (3.99 meters). The FV215 would also have had a rear-mounted turret, and would have been equipped with a powerful L4 183 mm Gun. To accommodate the rear-mounted turret, the powerplant was moved to the center of the vehicle. It would appear that this fake ‘FV215b’ is based on the hull of the real FV215.
In-Game Design of the FV215b
The ‘FV215b’ is basically a rear-turreted Conqueror, although it is based on the real FV215 chassis as stated above. There was never a ‘b’ variant of any description planned for the FV215. In-game specifications record the vehicle as weighing 70 tonnes or 68 long tons. This is heavier than both the FV214 and the real FV215 by about 4 long tons (4.06 tonnes). Hull armor is listed as 152.4 mm (6 inches) on the front, 101.6 (4 inches) on the sides, and 76.2 (3 inches) on the rear. This is nowhere near accurate. On the real FV215 hull, armor was planned to be 4.9 inch (125 mm) sloped at 59 degrees on the upper glacis and just 1 ¾ (44 mm) on the sides and rear.
Despite errors like this, the FV215b does share some accurate parts of its design with both the FV214 and FV215 respectively. These include the 4-man crew (commander, gunner, loader, driver), Horstmann suspension system, the turret and integral ‘Fire Control Turret’, and the 120 mm L1 gun.
In-game, the FV215b is equipped with the Rolls-Royce Griffon. This is, in reality, an aircraft engine. While Rolls-Royce aero engines have been adapted for use in armored vehicles, there is no evidence at all to suggest that there was ever a plan to make an AFV variant of the Griffon. An example of a converted Rolls-Royce aero engine is the Meteor – as used in the Conqueror. This was an adaption of the Merlin, an engine famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2.
The Griffon was a 37-liter, 60-degree V-12, liquid-cooled engine. It was the last V-12 aero engine built by Rolls-Royce, with production ceasing in 1955. It was used on such aircraft as the Fairey Firefly, Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Sea Fury. The engine produced over 2,000 hp in its plane configuration, but in game it is listed as producing just 950 hp. This is not far fetched, as converted aero-engines were often de-rated for use in armored vehicles. Meteor is an example of this. As the Merlin, it produced up 1,500 hp depending on the model. When de-rated as the Meteor, it produced just 810 horsepower.
The real FV215 was set to be propelled by the Rover M120 No. 2 Mk. 1 producing 810 hp and propelling the vehicle to a top speed of just under 20 mph (32 km/h). In this fake tank, the installed Griffon engine is recorded as propelling the vehicle to a top speed of 21 mph (34 km/h). While faster than the real FV215, this is the same top speed as the Conqueror which was propelled by a less powerful engine. As with the real FV215, the engine is mounted centrally, separating the Driver (located in the right front corner of the hull) from the rest of the crew in the turret.
The Horstmann suspension of the FV215b is one of the accurate parts of this vehicle. It has been used on all the FV200s including the Caernarvon and Conqueror, but also on the Centurion. On the FV200s, the suspension system had 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels would be made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the vehicle, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There would also be 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The drive sprockets were relocated at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front.
Turret & Armament
Both the turret and main armament of the FV215b were taken straight from the FV214 Conqueror.
The main armament of the FV215b consists of the 120mm L1A1 ‘A’ gun. While there were two versions of the 120 mm Gun – the L1A1 and L1A2 – there was never an ‘A’ subvariant. Maximum penetration in-game is listed as 326 mm (12.8 inches).
To give it its full name, the ‘Ordnance, Quick Firing (QF), 120 mm Tank, L1 Gun’ was an extremely powerful weapon with dimensions to match. Muzzle to breach, it measured 24.3 ft (7.4 m) and alone weighed 2.9-tons (3 tonnes). The gun was designed to fire both Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) ammunition. The in-game penetration of 326 mm is far lower than that of the real gun. Firing the APDS round at a muzzle velocity of 4,700 fps (1,433 m/s), the L1 could penetrate up to 17.3 inches (446 mm) of 55-degree angled steel armor at 1,000 yards (914 meters). Elevation is listed as +15 to -7 degrees. This is accurate to the Conqueror, although a limiter prevented the gun from depressing past -5 degrees.
The turret is a fairly accurate representation of the one designed for the FV214 Conqueror. Even so, the armor values are way off. In game, it is listed that the turret is protected by 254 mm (10 inches) of armor on the face, 152.4 mm (6 inches) on the sides, and 101.6 mm (4 inches) on the rear. In reality, it is hard to pin-point the exact armor thicknesses on the Conqueror’s turret, thanks largely to conflicting sources. We do know that armor on the turret was between 9.4 – 13.3 in (240 – 340 mm) sloped at 60 degrees on the face, with a 9.4 in (239 mm) mantlet. The sides were 3.5 inches (89 mm) thick, while the rear was 2 inches (51 mm) thick.
A couple of features unique to the Conqueror turret also remain present. One of these is the Fire Control Turret (FCT) – located at the rear of the turret. This replaces the traditional commander’s cupola, and is a self-contained unit that can rotate independently of the main turret. The FCT features an integral range-finder for use by the commander. He would scan around looking for targets, range it, and then pass the data onto the gunner who would then engage.
The other feature is the hatch on the right wall of the turret. This hatch is the ejection port for spent main-gun casings. They were ejected from the turret via the troublesome ‘Mollins gear’, a piece of equipment that frequently broke down on the Conqueror.
The FV215b is, without a doubt, a fake vehicle. It is not the worst of Wargaming’s fake tank crimes, as many of the components used in its design did exist. In reality, there would not have been a need for this tank. The real FV215 was designed to replace the Conqueror and have more firepower, so a tank created by mating the FV215 and FV214 would have been completely pointless.
The Tank was introduced to ‘World of Tanks’ in 2014 just to fill the British ‘Tier X’ heavy tank role. In 2018, it was replaced by another less-than-authentic tank, the ‘Super Conqueror’, at least on PC. The FV215b remains in the console and Blitz versions of the game.
Illustration of the fake FV215b Heavy Gun Tank produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
United Kingdom (1950-1957)
Heavy Gun Tank – 1 Mock-Up & Various Components Built
Viewing the public debut of the Soviet Union’s IS-3 heavy tank at the Berlin Victory Parade of September 1945, the Western powers – including Great Britain – were shocked. As heads of the British, American, and French Armies watched these machines clatter down the Charlottenburger Chaussee, they saw the shape of a new generation of heavy tanks. From the exterior, the IS-3 was a tank with well-sloped and – apparently – heavy armor, a piked nose, wide tracks, and a gun at least 120 mm in caliber. At least in appearance, this was superior to anything being fielded by the other victorious Allied powers at the time.
The respective officials knew that they had nothing in their arsenal capable of potentially combatting this menacing tank that was now in service with an increasingly aggressive USSR. In response, the militaries of these countries began to develop heavy tanks that – they hoped – would be able to combat the IS-3. The United States would develop the M103 heavy tank, while the French experimented with the AMX-50. Britain went in a different doctrinal direction and created a ‘Heavy Gun Tank’. This was a uniquely British designation that was not governed by weight, but the size of the gun. This vehicle was based on the experimental FV200 ‘Universal Tank’ chassis and given the official and somewhat long-winded title of ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214’. This vehicle would be better known as the ‘Conqueror’.
Weighing in at 65 long tons* (66 tonnes) with armor up to 13.3 in (340 mm) thick, the Conqueror was one of the largest and heaviest tanks Britain would ever field. Like the M103 and AMX-50, the Conqueror was armed with a powerful 120 mm Gun, specifically the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 120mm, Tank, L1 Gun’. This gun could punch through an impressive 17.3 inches (446 mm) at 1,000 yards (914 meters) firing Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) ammunition. This was more than enough to combat the IS-3 but, at the time, this was unknown to the British War Office (WO). As such, even greater firepower was investigated.
What followed was the FV215. With its monstrous, 183 mm gun, this vehicle has become something of a legend among enthusiasts of a particular age, largely due to a popular video game. Unfortunately, this has meant a number of falsehoods have been spread about the vehicle. This article will highlight the truth behind this uniquely British vehicle.
*As this is a British vehicle, mass will be measured in ‘Long Ton’ otherwise known as the ‘Imperial ton’. It will be shortened to ‘ton’ for ease with a metric conversion alongside.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the War Office reviewed the future of the British Army’s tank arm. In 1946, it did away with the ‘A’ designator used on tanks such as the Churchill (A.22) and Comet (A.34). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. In an attempt to streamline the tank force and cover all the bases, it was decided that the military needed three main families of vehicles: the FV100, the FV200, and FV300 series. The FV100s would be the heaviest, the FV200s would be slightly lighter, and the FV300s would be the lightest. It should be noted that the rest of the FV series 400, 500 etcetera were not in weight order although these first 3 serials were. All three projects were almost canceled due to the complexity that would have been involved in producing the respective series. In the end, both the FV100 and FV300 series were canceled. The FV200 hung on in its development, however, as it was projected that it would eventually replace the FV4007 Centurion.
The FV200 series included designs for vehicles that would fill various roles ranging from a gun tank to engineering vehicles and Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). It was not until later years that the other uses of the FV200 chassis were explored, such as with the FV219 and FV222 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs). The first of the FV200 series was the FV201, a gun tank that started development in 1944 as the ‘A45’. This tank weighed around 55 tons (49 tonnes). At least two or three FV201s were built for testing, but the project went no further than that. Work on the project ceased in 1949.
As the ‘Heavy No. 2’ part of its designation implies, the FV215 was intended to be a follow up to the FV214 Conqueror – ‘Heavy No. 1’. The vehicle was also known as the ‘FV215, Heavy Anti-Tank Gun, SP’ (SP: Self Propelled). The project started life in mid-1949, and was aimed at increasing the firepower of the ‘Heavy Gun Tanks’. A requirement was formulated for a tank armed with a gun capable of defeating a 60-degree sloped plate, 6 inches (152 mm) thick, at up to 2,000 yards (1,828 meters), a feat impossible even for the powerful 120 mm L1 gun of the FV214. By 1950, Major General Stuart B. Rawlins, Director General of Artillery (D.G. of A.) had concluded that there was no such gun available with that level of ballistic performance. Initially, the British Military looked at the development of a 155 mm gun that would be standardized with the USA. However, even this lacked the required punch and, as such, 6.5 and 7.2 inch (165 and 183 mm respectively) High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) shells were looked at.
At this time, the British Army was of the non-doctrinal opinion that a ‘kill’ did not necessarily mean the complete destruction of an enemy vehicle. For example, a blown-off track was also seen as a kill as it took the enemy vehicle out of action; today this is known as an ‘M’ (Mobility) kill. A ‘K’-Kill would be the destruction of a vehicle. The term used for this method at the time was ‘disruption not destruction’. The 6.5 in/165 mm HESH was not thought to be powerful enough to ‘kill’ a heavily armored target in this manner unless it hit bare armor plate. Attention therefore turned instead to the larger 7.2 in/183 mm shell which – Maj.Gen. Rawlins thought – would be powerful enough to render the target inoperable, and therefore ‘kill’ it, wherever it impacted.
The projected gun was designated the 180 mm ‘Lilywhite’. The background of this name is unknown. It may be an interpretation of the ‘Rainbow Code’ used by the WO to identify experimental projects. The ‘Red Cyclops’ flame gun attachment for the FV201, and the ‘Orange William’ experimental missile are examples of this. If this was the case, however, the name should be ‘White Lilly’. It may even simply be named after a Lieutenant Colonel Lilywhite of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. It must be said that this is all speculation, and no evidence exists to support the theory.
It was not until December 1952 that the designation of the gun was officially updated to 183 mm. The design of the gun was accepted and was serialized as the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183 mm, Tank, L4 Gun’. The 183 mm L4 became one of the largest and most powerful tank guns in the world. With the gun developed, the rest of the vehicle had to be designed around it. It is estimated that the vehicle would have cost between £sd44,400 and £sd59,200 (£1,385,662 – £1,847,549 in today’s Pounds) per unit.
The FV215 in Detail
Based on the Conqueror adaption of the FV200 chassis, the hull of the FV215 would have shared some similarities. For example, the hull would have been 25 feet (7.62 meters) long. It would have been slightly narrower than the FV214 at 12 feet (3.6 meters) compared to 13.1 feet (3.99 meters). With a planned height of 10.6 feet (3.2 meters), the FV215 would have been slightly shorter than the FV214. Unladen, the vehicle would weigh 61 tons (62 tonnes) while being in ‘battle order’ – i.e. fully equipped – would have seen the weight climb to 65 tons (66 tonnes).
The FV215 would have been operated by a 5-man crew consisting of the commander (turret left), the gunner (turret front right), two loaders (turret rear), and the driver (hull front right).
While the basic chassis and running gear remained the same as the FV214, the layout of the rest of the vehicle was completely changed. Three turret layouts were considered – front, middle, and rear. A rear-mounted turret was chosen as was considered more advantageous to balance. The power plant was also moved to the center of the vehicle.
The driver remained at the front right of the hull. Like on the Conqueror Mk. 2, he had a single periscope – in this case, a No. 16 Mk. 1 periscope with a 110° field-of-view – mounted at the top of the upper-glacis plate for vision. He would have had a large hatch above his head that would pop up and swing to the right. As with the FV214, two traditional tiller bars would have been used to operate the vehicle. Also, the driver’s seat could be placed at various heights and positions, allowing the driver to operate head-out or under the protection of a closed hatch. Extensions atop the tiller bars would allow easy operation when driving head out.
The glacis is listed as being a 4.9 inch (125 mm) thick steel plate, sloped at 59 degrees. Side armor was to be 1 ¾ inch (44 mm) thick plus the 6 mm thick ‘bazooka plates’ added over the running gear. The floor would have been 0.7 inches (20 mm) thick, with an extra 0.6 inch (16 mm) ‘mine plate’ installed below the driver’s position. The roof of the hull would have been 1 ¼ inches (32 mm) thick.
Mounted at the rear of the hull, the new turret was large and boxy. Unlike the Conqueror’s cast turret, the FV215’s turret was to be of welded construction. Existing dimensions list the turret as 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide sitting on a 95 inch (2.4 meter) diameter turret ring. Overall, the turret would have weighed 20 tons (20.3 tonnes). Unfortunately, the exact thickness of the turret armor is unknown as records list the turret face only as “will protect from a 100 mm gun in a 30-degree arc”. The rear of the turret and the roof would have been 0.6 inches (17 mm) thick.
A feature carried over from the Conqueror was the rangefinder. On the FV215, this would have been used by the gunner, not the commander as with the FV214. This was placed laterally across the front of the turret roof, and was made by the York-based company of Cook, Throughton & Simms. The rangefinder had a 6 foot (1.8 meter) sight-base and used the ‘coincidence’ method of ranging. This method consists of laying two images on top of each other. When the two images completely overlap, the range measurement is taken. This information is then used by the gunner to accurately range the gun.
The commander – located on the left of the turret – would have been equipped with a large rotating cupola designated the ‘Cupola, Vision, No. 5’ mounting a ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 11’ along with a ‘Periscope, Tank No. 20’ and ‘No. 21’ providing an uninterrupted view of 140 degrees. A collimator was also provided that would display the view of the gunner’s main sight.
Two smoke dischargers, presumably the ‘Discharger, Smoke Grenade, No. 1 Mk. 1’ as on the Conqueror, would have been placed on the sides of the turret. Each launcher featured 2 banks of 3 tubes and were fired electrically from inside the tank. Atop the roof, on the hatch for the two loaders, was an air-defense mounting point for a machine gun. This was set to be a .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun – known simply as the .5 Browning in British service. This was an uncommon choice for British vehicles of this era. The machine gun could elevate to +70 degrees and depress 5 degrees. Four boxes totaling 950 rounds were carried for the .50 Cal.
The ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183mm, Tank, L4 Gun’ was one of the only parts of the FV215 that was built and tested. A small number of the guns were built, but it is unclear just how many. Records suggest at least 12 were built. In an effort to get it into service before the development of the FV215 had finished, the W.O. explored the idea of mounting it on the Centurion chassis. This resulted in the development of the experimental FV4005, a vehicle that would have been rushed into production should the Cold War have turned hot. A similar connection can be found with the Conqueror and the FV4004 Conway. Unfortunately, the exact length of the 183 mm gun is currently unknown to the author, but it was somewhere in the region of 15 feet (4.5 meters) long. It was fully rifled with a large ‘bore-evacuator’ (fume extractor) placed roughly half-way down its length. The gun alone weighed 3.7 tons (3.75 tonnes) while its mount weighed 7.35 tons (7.4 tonnes). Although the turret was capable of full 360-degree traverse, firing was physically limited to a 90-degree arc – 45 degrees over the left and right of the vehicle. It could also fire directly to the rear. A safety lockout prevented the gun from firing over the ‘broadside’ position. The gun would have a vertical traverse range of +15 to -7 degrees, however, it is unclear whether – as with Conqueror – it would have been fitted with a limiter that halted it at -5 degrees.
The gunner sat on the left of the gun, in front of the commander. This was unusual for British tanks as it was more common for the gunner to be located on the right of the gun. He had hand controls for elevation and traverse, both of which were electrically powered. Duplicate controls were also available to the commander, but only the gunner was equipped with manual backups. The elevation controller also featured triggers for the main gun and coaxial machine gun. The gunner would aim the main armament via the ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 14 Mk. 1’.
High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) was the only ammunition type to be produced for the 183 mm gun. Both the shell and the propellant case were of gargantuan proportions. The shell weighed in at 160 lbs. (72.5 kg) and measured 29 ¾ inches (76 cm) long. The propellant case weighed 73 lbs. (33 kg) and measured 26.85 inches (68 cm) long. The case contained a single charge that propelled the shell to a velocity of 2,350 fps (716 m/s). When fired, the gun produced 86 tons (87 tonnes) of recoil force and recoil length of 2 ¼ feet (69 cm).
HESH shells have an advantage over regular kinetic energy rounds as their effectiveness does not decrease with distance. This shell works by creating a shockwave on detonation. Once this wave reaches a void, it reflects back. The point at which the waves cross causes tension feedback which rips apart the plate, carrying a scab with approx half the energy forwards, scattering shrapnel around the interior of the target. Test firing of the L4 against a Conqueror and a Centurion proved how powerful the round was. In 2 shots, the 183 mm HESH shell blew the turret clean off the Centurion, and split the mantlet of the Conqueror in half. HESH could also serve as a dual-use round just as capable of engaging enemy armor as for use as a high-explosive round against buildings, enemy defensive positions, or soft-skinned targets.
This oversized ordnance is the reason the vehicle would be manned by two loaders. Between them, they could achieve a rate of 2 to 2 ½ rounds per minute. Also, due to its size, ammunition stowage was limited to just 20 rounds. Twelve of these would have been ‘ready-rounds’ stowed in the turret against the interior of the walls.
The size and power of the gun were also why the rear-turret design was chosen for the FV215. Because of its – estimated – 15 foot length, the gun would overhang the front of the vehicle considerably should it have been placed in a centrally mounted turret. This could lead to the gun being buried in the ground when approaching or descending steep inclines, fouling the barrel. Having the gun at the rear also made the vehicle a more stable firing platform as the front half of the vehicle acts as a counterweight to the recoil force, preventing the vehicle from tipping too far backward.
As well as the roof-mounted machine gun, secondary armament consisted of a coaxial L3A1 .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine gun – the British designation of the US Browning M1919A4. This was not coaxial in the traditional sense, as it was not integral to the main gun mount. Rather, the machine gun was placed in a blister, cast into the roof with the range-finder and located on the top-right corner of the turret. The L3A1 had the same vertical traverse range as the main gun at +15 to -5 degrees. Six boxes totaling 6,000 rounds were carried for the ‘coaxial’ machine gun.
While the Conqueror was equipped with the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 petrol engine, it was planned that the FV215 would use the Rover M120 No. 2 Mk. 1. This 12-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine produced 810 horsepower at 2,800 rpm. This would have propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 19.8 mph (32 km/h). A Merritt-Brown Z5R gearbox would also be installed, providing 5 forward gears and 2 reverse. Due to the turret being relocated to the rear of the vehicle, the power plant was placed centrally in the hull, separating the driver’s compartment from the fighting compartment. The engine was also placed 6 inches (15 cm) off the centerline, but whether this was to the left or right is unknown. The exhaust pipes would emerge from the sides of the hull roof, just in front of the turret and terminate in large trumpet-like tubes. The reason for these are unknown. The Rover engine would be fed by 250 UK gallons (1,137 liters) of fuel. As with the Conqueror, a small, auxiliary 4-cylinder petrol engine was provided to drive a generator that would supply the vehicle with electrical power, with or without the main engine running.
Like the FV201, Centurion and Conqueror before it, the FV215 was set to utilize a Horstmann suspension system with 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels were made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The idea behind this was that it would be more efficient on the rubber and would not need to be replaced as often. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the vehicle, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There were also 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The advantage of using bogies lies in maintenance and crew comfort. Having externally mounted bogies means there is more room inside the tank and also, should the unit become damaged, it is relatively easy to remove it and replace it with a new unit.
Despite the engine being repositioned, the drive sprockets remained at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front. Going by the pre-production imagery, it would appear the spoked idler of the FV214 was replaced with a solid wheel. The track was 31 inches (78.7 cm) wide and had 102 links per side when new. The suspension gave the vehicle a ground clearance of 20 inches (51 cm), and the ability to climb a 35 inch (91 cm) vertical object. It allowed the tank to cross trenches up to 11 feet (3.3 m) wide, negotiate gradients up to 35 degrees, and ford water obstacles up to 4.5 feet (1.4 m) deep without preparation. The vehicle had a turning circle of 15 – 140 feet (4.8 – 42.7 m respectively) depending on gear selection. It could also pivot or ‘neutral’ steer on the spot with each track turning in opposite directions.
So Close, Yet So Far
In 1951, the company of Vickers had filed a report on the concept of the FV215 and, by June 1954, a contract had been signed for the production of a prototype vehicle known as ‘P1’ (Prototype No.1). In October that year, it was also clear that the AA mount for the .50 cal machine gun would not be ready, and as such an L3A1 was substituted. In March 1955, the same year the FV214 entered service, the order had increased to include two pre-production vehicles. A full-scale mock-up – including interior components and a faux engine – was completed between July 1955 and January 1957, with 80% of accompanying schematics also produced. Work started on P1 in September 1955 with a selection of spare parts. The two pre-production vehicles were canceled in early 1956, but work went ahead on P1 which was set to be completed at some point in 1957. Troop trials would then take place by the end of that year. This, however, is where the FV215 story ends.
In 1957, with just the gun, a couple of turret faces, and a number of other smaller parts built, the FV215 project was officially canceled. This decision was largely down to the Army. From the outset, the Army was not keen on the concept of the vehicle, mostly due to the fact that large-caliber weapons provide a number of logistical issues, mostly caused by the sheer dimension of the weapons. One only has to look at the Conqueror and the issues its size presented to operators during its time in service to understand this hostility to the FV215. At the same time, there was a new contender in the race to find an opponent for the USSR’s heavy armor. Of course, by the mid-1960s, the FV215’s intended opponent, the IS-3, would prove to be a far less threatening tank than the Allies had imagined roughly 12 years prior in 1945.
The new contender was the FV4010, a heavily modified, turretless vehicle built on the Centurion chassis and armed with the newly developed Malkara Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM). This vehicle offered the same damage potential as the 183 mm gun, but in a lighter vehicle and with better accuracy at long ranges. Even though this vehicle also went through full-scale development, it too would not see production or service. The Malkara missile, however, was accepted for service.
Had the FV215 entered service, it would have filled the role much the same as the Conqueror. Its role on the battlefield would have been to support other friendly troops, rather than strike out on its own. It was designed to destroy enemy tanks from afar, covering the advance of the lighter tanks such as FV4007 Centurion. In offensive operations, the FV215 would be placed in overwatch positions and fire over the heads of the main force as it advanced. In defensive operations, the vehicle would again take an overwatch role, but this time from key, pre-set strategic positions to meet an advancing enemy.
Busting a Myth: FV215A & B
Over the years, a couple of erroneous designations have emerged concerning this vehicle. These are the ‘FV215A’ and ‘FV215B’. The ‘FV215A’ is the false designation, probably mistaken for the planned AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) vehicles of the FV200 series. The FV215B is simply a fictional designation for the FV215 Heavy Gun Tank.
Had it entered service, there is no doubt that the FV215 would have been one of the most deadly gun-tanks to have ever existed. At the same time, it is not hard to see why it was not accepted for service. The Conqueror on the other hand, would end up staying in service for 11 years, finally being retired in 1966. It was Great Britain’s first and last ‘Heavy Gun Tank’.
The logistical and high-cost nightmare of the Conqueror would have only continued with the more heavily armed FV215. Heavy vehicles are expensive, not only to build, but to maintain. The heavier a vehicle, the harder the wear and tear on parts, so parts have to be replaced more often increasing maintenance time and burden and so on.
On top of this there was another issue: the feared Soviet heavy tanks like the IS-3 were not being made in the massive numbers expected indicating a shift in policy to lighter, more maneuverable, and more lightly armored tanks. The need for the Conqueror and FV215 from this perspective was simply becoming absent. Other changes were also taking place as technology-wise, larger caliber guns with their huge ammunition were becoming obsolete by the improved anti-armor performance of smaller guns and by the appearance of a new generation of accurate Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM).
It is perhaps ironic that the Soviet tank which perhaps started this fear, the IS-3, was itself found to be seriously wanting in combat. Losses during the invasion of Prague to little more than lightly armed civilians showed serious tactical failings in the way in which tanks were handled along with the utter disaster of their use in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. Here, Egyptian IS-3s were lost in large numbers to mechanical failures and to ‘inferior’ lighter tanks like the British-supplied Centurion and American-supplied M48. The paper-tiger had had its day and the IS-3-smashing Heavy Gun Tanks were as obsolete as the tanks they were designed to counter.
An article by Mark Nash, assisted by David Lister, Andrew Hills & Ed Francis.
Illustration of ‘Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183mm Gun, FV215’. The representation of a 6 ft (1.83 m) gives some idea of the scale of the vehicle and its 183 mm L4 gun. The vehicle is represented in the standard British Army green. As the vehicle never entered service, some of the smaller details – such as the wire reel and lifting eyes – are speculative. This illustration was produced by Brian Gaydos, based on work by David Bocquelet, and funded by our Patreon campaign.
25 feet x 12 feet x 10.6 feet (7.62 x 3.6 x 3.2 meters)
61 – 65 long tons (62 – 66 tonnes)
5 (Driver, commander, gunner, 2 loaders)
Rover M120 No. 2 Mk. 1, 12-cylinder, water-cooled, 810 hp
19.8 mph (32 km/h)
Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 183 mm Tank L4 Gun (20 rounds)
Sec. 1 – 2 L3A1 (Browning M1919A4) .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Gun (6000 rounds)
.5 Browning (Browning M2) .50 Cal (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun (950 rounds)
Front (Upper Glacis): 4.9 inch (125 mm) @ 59 degrees
Sides: 1 ¾ in (44 mm) + 0.2 in (6 mm) ‘Bazooka Plates’
Roof: 1 ¼ in (32 mm)
Floor: 0.7 in (20 mm) + 0.6 in (16 mm) ‘Mine Plate’
Face: “protection from a 100 mm gun in a 30-degree arc”
Rear: 0.6 in (17 mm)
Roof: 0.6 in (17 mm)
In 1989, the initial Indiana Jones trilogy of movies – created by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas – was coming to an end with the final installment; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The film, set in 1938, sees the swashbuckling fictional archeologist, Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones Jr., race against a band of Nazis in the hunt for the legendary cup of Christ – The Holy Grail.
The film includes an elaborate chase scene featuring a tank owned by the fictional ‘Sultan of Hatay’, the ruler of a republic located somewhere in the region of Turkey. In appearance, it is similar to that of the real-world Tank Mk. VIII ‘Liberty’. While portrayed in the movie as a real tank operated by ‘The Army of the Republic of Hatay’ – with great similarity to a real World War I tank – it is, however, a completely fictional vehicle.
Officially, this tank was never named. It is often just referred to as ‘The Indiana Jones Tank’ or ‘The Last Crusade Tank’. For the purpose of this article, the vehicle will be identified as the ‘Hatay Heavy Tank’, based on its country of origin and appearance.
The Film Representation
This Heavy Tank is vaguely reminiscent of the Tank Mk. VIII ‘International Liberty’. The Mk. VIII appeared in 1918, and was the most modern iteration of the ‘quasi-rhomboid shaped tank’ design, made successful by the British in 1916, starting with the Tank Mk. I. The Mk. VIII was a joint project between Britain and the United States, with plans to construct the vehicles in France – hence the name ‘International Liberty’, often shortened to just ‘Liberty’. The idea of the joint project was to give both nations a common tank for their respective armies. In total, 125 Mk. VIII tanks were built, but they entered service too late to see action in WW1.
Where the Hatay tank differs is the presence of a large Churchill-esque turret mounted atop the vehicle, instead of the small superstructure present on the real Mk. VIII. It is unclear whether this is supposed to be a modification made by the fictional country or whether it is supposed to be an ‘original’ feature. In reality, no British production tank of World War 1 era was equipped with a turret like this, and armament was primarily carried in sponsons projecting from the flanks of the vehicle. The first turreted British tank to enter service did not, in fact, appear until 1924 in the shape of the Vickers Medium Mk. I.
Overview of the Heavy Tank
Reminiscent of the Mk. VIII, the Hatay Heavy Tank is quasi-rhomboidal in shape and around 36 feet (11 meters) long and weighing 28 tons (25 tonnes). These statistics are not too far off the Mk. VIII’s length and weight, at 34 ft 2 in (10.42 m) and 41 tons (37 tonnes) respectively. The vehicle’s tracks, as is typical with British heavy tanks of WW1, travel around the entirety of the hull. There are rollers hidden by the side plating at the bottom of the track run. No springing system of suspension was used but, given the low speed of the vehicle, just 5 to 6 mph (8 – 10 km/h) for the Mk. VIII, it was not necessary either. Despite the vehicle’s similarities to the Mk. VIII, the forward track sections are slightly different. On the real Mk. VIII, the forward track sections revolve over a large curve. On this Heavy Tank, the track sections are much more sharply angled, more like the early British Mk. I to V tanks.
Despite the size of the tank, it would appear to be operated by just a four-man crew, unlike the real Mk. VIII which needed a crew of 10 to 12 men. However, there does seem to be room inside the Hatay tank for 8 to 10 people standing fully upright. There also appears to be ample room for a 4-man fist-fight. The crew consists of the driver located front and center of the hull who controls the tank via the traditional method of two tiller bars. His primary vision is via a suicidally large hole – for want of a better word – in the front of the tank. This hole is at least 6 inches/15 cm in height and a foot/30 cm wide and would offer no protection to him at all in a battle situation. It does appear to be part of a larger hatch that opens out and down. This is probably his main point of entry.
The vehicle requires two gunners – 1 for each sponson gun. They would aim, load, and fire the weapon themselves. The last member of the crew is an overworked commander positioned in the turret. He appears to be responsible for loading and firing the turret’s gun, as well as commanding the tank. The engine of the tank is located in the large ‘tail’. It is of an unknown type and the speed of the vehicle is unknown. It is, however, certainly faster than the 5 to 6 mph (8 – 10 km/h) of the Mk. VIII.
For armament, the tank is equipped with two sponson-mounted cannons. These are presumably Hotchkiss 6-pounder (57 mm) guns – as would be found on the real Mk. VIII. These guns were operated a bit like giant rifles and were aimed completely by hand without gears and fired via a pistol grip. On the Hatay tank, these were augmented by the addition of a fully rotatable turret on the roof of the vehicle. This is a one-man turret – visually similar to the turret of a Mk. III Churchill, albeit much smaller and pre-dating it by about 5 years (film setting) – mounting an unknown gun, identified simply as a “six-pound gun” by Indiana Jones when first laying eyes on the vehicle. This turret does not seem to have a basket, but there is a platform suspended from the roof underneath it for the commander to stand on. This platform does not appear to rotate with the turret. The commander’s primary vision from the turret is a large slit in the turret face on the left of the gun. This appears to be part of a larger port that can swing up and open, but the gun seems to lack an accurate sight of any description, be it periscopic or telescopic. There is a large circular hatch in the turret roof that opens up and back but this has no vision devices.
The tank is completely devoid of any machine gun armament which would have been far more useful for shooting someone on horseback in the movie than the 6-pounder. On the real Mk. VIII, machine guns would be found in ball mounts in the large access hatches behind the sponsons, and in the roof superstructure. Even without machine guns, a large amount of small arms ammunition cans do appear to be carried. Of course, fitted with machine guns, poor Indiana would have been gunned down much more quickly, so perhaps omitting them was a convenience for the movie rather than anything attempting to mirror historical reality.
The only periscope present on the tank would be more at home on a submarine. It is a literal periscope, located behind the turret. It is manually pushed up from inside the tank and is capable of 360-degree rotation. The periscope is completely useless in this position, as forward vision would be blocked by the turret. Also, raising the periscope would be impossible if the turret was traversed to the rear as the main gun barrel would collide with the scope. There is a reason these devices are not found on tanks and quite why this was added to the movie is unclear as its sole purpose seems to be to provide an attempt at humor when Indiana kicks it sending the control handle spinning into the back of the operator’s head.
The exterior of the tank is absolutely festooned with the stowage of auxiliary equipment. Tarpaulins, shovels, netting, reels of cable, unditching beams, bundles of other sundries, and even spools of barbed wire are carried. While many real-world tanks carry a mix of such equipment – excluding the barbed wire – the sheer amount present on the Hatay tank is absurd.
The tracks bear no resemblance to the tracks used on the Mk. VIII or any British tank of the First World War or interwar period. They are more akin to industrial excavator tracks – not a surprise given the vehicle the tank was built on for the movie. World War 1 British tank tracks, like those used on the Mk. VIII, were deceptively simple consisting of a frame on the back of the track link (for the driving gear to engage) with a plate bolted to the front for contact with the ground. The links were pinned together through this frame, with bulges on one side to accommodate the curve of the track.
Battle in the Desert
The trail of the Holy Grail leads to the Republic of Hatay. Hatay is a fictional country in the approximate vicinity of Turkey in the movie. A real Hatay does exist as a province in modern-day Turkey, although at the time of the setting of the film, a Hatay did exist as an autonomous state before unifying with Turkey in 1939. A small Nazi team competing with Dr. Jones for the Grail – lead by American treasure hunter and Nazi-sympathiser Walter Donovan and SS Colonel Vogel – visits the Sultan of Hatay to ask for safe passage through his country (nonsensically, Hatay is a Republic led by a monarch in the movie) The Nazis and Donovan offer the Sultan coffers of gold and various treasures as ‘payment’. He refuses the treasure and instead takes the Nazi delegation’s Rolls-Royce Phantom II (the Sultan even liked the color). In return, The Sultan then promised them a fully armed escort with transport vehicles and tanks, although only one actually appears in the film. (Clip)
Equipped with the tank and large unit of Hatay infantry, the Nazi contingent advances on the fictional ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’, the supposed location of the Grail. Indiana, along with his ally, Sallah, and father – Prof. Henry Jones Sr. – await them in the valley. The Nazi’s are holding Indiana’s friend – Prof. Marcus Brody – prisoner, so he plans to retrieve him before progressing onto the Grail. As Indiana spots the tank, the tank fires a round at his position, blowing Sallah’s brother-in-law’s car to bits.
The Nazi contingent is attacked by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, a group dedicated to keeping the location of the Grail a secret. In response, the Nazi’s move Marcus Brody into the tank, and slaughter the attackers. Donovan and a small team leave them to battle each other, and progress to the Grail. Taking advantage of the distraction, Indiana steals a small group of horses from the Hatay forces. Unknown to him, Henry Jones Sr. then sneaks into the tank to attempt to rescue Marcus, despite his son (Indiana) telling him to hide. Jones Sr. is foiled by Colonel Vogel who takes him prisoner inside the tank. Indiana, not knowing that his father has been taken prisoner, flees with the stolen horses. Vogel then takes command of the tank and uses it to pursue Indiana. Linking up with Sallah, Indiana is told his father has been locked up in “the belly of that steel beast”.
The tank starts to fire upon Indiana, narrowly missing him a few times. Indiana runs rings around the tank, causing it turn sharply and run headfirst into a column of reinforcing Nazi/Hatay troops. The tank then hits a Kubelwagen-esque vehicle, flipping the small car upwards and impaling it on the barrel of the turret gun. For some minutes, the vehicle continues the case with the car stuck on its front, before Vogel coldly instructs the turret gunner to load the gun and blast the car off the front of the tank (this would not work in reality). With the barrel obstruction cleared, the tank then continued to run over the wrecked car which was propelled quite a distance off the front of the vehicle.
Taking advantage of this commotion, Indiana rides alongside the left flank of the tank, and jams a rock into the muzzle of the left sponson’s 6-pounder. The gunner pulls the trigger attempting to hit his target, only for the gun to blow up, causing him to fly across the interior of the tank.
As a result of the explosion, the interior fills with smoke. Vogel emerges from the top hatch and begins taking potshots at Indiana – who is now pursuing the tank on horseback – with his Walther P38 9 mm semi-automatic pistol (a weapon which did not enter production for about 3 years after the film is set). Indiana responds in kind with his trusty Webley (.455/.475 caliber Webley 1896 W.G. Army Revolver – the Webley ‘Green’, made between 1885 and 1912). Indiana gains on the tank, eventually leaping onto the engine deck. He is subsequently joined by a group of Nazis who leap aboard from an alongside truck. After dealing with them, he gets into a one-on-one fist-fight with Vogel.
One of the guards inside raises the incongruous submarine-style periscope and enjoys the view of the brawl going on atop the tank. He turns away to make a clumsy joke about “Americans fighting like women”. As he does, Indiana accidentally kicks the raised periscope, causing the internal handle to whack the guard on the back of the head, knocking him out. Henry Jones Sr. and Marcus Brody take advantage of this and begin brawling with the guards. Knocking one guard out, Jones Sr. mans the right sponson gun, and proceeds to blow another truck full of Nazi troops away.
The blast knocks Indiana off the back of the tank. He gets carried along the top of the track-run, falls off the side, and he is left hanging off the broken left gun barrel. Colonel Vogel takes one of the shovels stowed on the turret and attempts to beat Indy, and instructs the driver to drive the tank into the canyon wall to grind him off. Inside the tank, Henry Jones Sr. and Marcus attempt to escape through the turret hatch, only for the Nazi soldier previously subdued by Henry Jones Sr. to return for a second bout. He drags Jones Sr. down from the turret and grabs a stray P38 pistol lying on the hull floor. Before the Nazi could fire, Marcus bashes him over the head with a spent 6-pounder casing, causing a negligent discharge of the pistol. The bullet ricochets around the interior of the tank before striking the driver – who has been completely oblivious to the brawl taking place just feet away – and striking him fatally between the eyes. His dead body slumps against the controls causing the tank to lurch to the right, away from the canyon wall but towards a deep canyon.
Indiana manages to climb back onto the tank as Vogel has now fallen onto the front of the vehicle. Jones Sr. and Marcus now proceed to climb out onto the roof of the tank. Vogel comes back for another go at Indiana, knocking Marcus off the back of the tank. Vogel takes a swing at both Joneses with yet another shovel, missing Jr. but striking Sr., causing him to fall onto the upper track run. He gets carried along the track run before Jones Jr. manages to snag his father’s leg with his trusty bull-whip. This has the unfortunate side effect of grating his father’s skin against the rotating metal track. Fortunately, Jones Jr.’s friend, Sallah, rides to the rescue on horseback, and proceeds to grab Jones Sr. from the tank, and takes him to safety. The brawl between Indiana and Vogel continues as the tank careens towards the canyon. Indiana manages to jump off at the last minute, but Vogel is carried over the edge of the canyon wall with the tank. The tank and its unfortunate rider are then smashed to pieces on the canyon floor, thus ending the service life of Hatay’s one and only tank. A significant continuity error of note occurs here in the film, whereupon crashing the model of the tank which was destroyed in the film loses its turret, but in the following scene has the turret back on as the vehicle rolls over. (Clip)
Building the Tank
For the filming of the movie which took place between May and September 1988, the tank was designed and built by special effects artist George Gibbs, who took inspiration from the real tanks of the First World War. The Tank Museum, Bovington, in the UK allowed measurements of their Mk. VIII to be taken. As a thank you, the production team gave Bovington one of the Nazi Eagle standards from the first Indiana Jones film, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. This now resides in the museum’s artifacts archive. Both director Steven Spielberg and writer George Lucas wanted the tank to look as real as possible. As a result, Gibbs decided to build a full-scale working prop. It was built using parts of a 28-ton (25 tonnes) excavator, especially the tracks, which weighed 7 tons (6.3 tonnes) alone. The vehicle was built almost completely out of steel instead of the usual lighter materials such as plastics, wood, or fiberglass. The idea was that it would enhance the visual appearance of the tank, but also to make the prop tough enough to survive the violent terrain that its scenes were shot in. This terrain was a canyon in Almeria in the south of Spain.
In the words of Gibbs himself:
“World War I tanks did not have suspension, so we built ours without suspension also. Because of that, I knew the vibration inside that tank would be absolutely tremendous and would shake a mockup vehicle to pieces. For that reason, I decided to build the tank from steel. Also, if any of it ever broke apart we could quickly weld it back together. As it turned out, the tank went down the sides of mountains and over really hard, rocky surfaces without any damage at all-and I knew then that I had made the right decision.”
The vehicle was propelled by two Range Rover V-8 petrol engines, connected to two hydraulic pumps – 1 per track unit. A motor from a bulldozer was also installed to provide electrical power. All 3 of the guns were real, and all of them fired blank charges.
It took Gibbs and his team 4 months to build the tank. It was flown to Almeria aboard a Short Belfast heavy freight aircraft. To transport the vehicle to location, it was loaded onto a heavy transport truck.
According to Gibbs:
“We were lucky, shooting went smoothly and the tank only let us down twice. The first time was because the rotor arm in the distributor broke and it took us a day to get a new one from Madrid. The second time, it was so hot that the solder in the oil coolers actually melted and flowed around with the oil into the valves, shattering two of them to pieces. So we had to change one of the engines and that also took one day. I think everyone expected to lose a lot more time, but the tank worked really well.”
The only real part of the interior was the driver’s seat. The rest of the interior scenes were filmed in a studio. The tank was driven in the film by special effects technician Brian Lince.
“Brian did an excellent job. Being in that tank was like being in an oven, and he was in there every day for nearly eight weeks. We had ten industrial electric fans inside to try and keep Brian cool, the engine cool and the hydraulic oil cool. Not only was it hot in there, but since the tank had no suspension, Brian got rattled around so much that when he came out and tried to take a cup of tea, he would spill it before he could get it to his lips.”
To safely accommodate the filming of the elaborate fight scenes that took place atop the vehicle, Gibbs duplicated the upper half of the tank to identical detail – complete with rotating tracks – and mounted it on a large 4-wheel trailer – reportedly an ex-army searchlight trailer. Alone, this semi-tank weighed around 8 tons (7.2 tonnes). Unlike the full tank, it was made from aluminum, and the tracks were made of rubber so stunts could be performed safely. ‘Catchers’ were also installed around the vehicle to catch anyone that fell off – on purpose or accidentally.
In total, it took 10 days to film the ten minutes-worth of tank scenes at a total cost of US $200,000 a day. For some of the long-range shots, and the scene where the tank drives off the cliff, a smaller scale remote control model was constructed. It was an exact replica of the full-size vehicle, down to the smallest detail. This model was about 6 feet (1.83 m) long and 2 feet (60 cm) high.
Where is it Now?
It is unknown what happened to the tank in the years directly after filming. However, for a number of years it simply sat rotting in the ‘boneyard’ of Hollywood studios – an area full of forgotten movie props. After some time, it was moved to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and put on public display. It was not repainted or restored, however, and left in poor condition.
Sometime later, in around 2010, 2011, the vehicle was repainted in plain desert-tan scheme, and placed in a mock scene with prop WW2 German equipment, complete with MG34 machine gun nest. This is how it remained until around 2015 or 2016, when the vehicle was completely overhauled and repainted back to its movie appearance – complete with Hatay markings – with a large set built around it, again with German Army-themed props. This is how the vehicle continues to sit today.
The Hatay Heavy Tank, often just referred to as ‘The Indiana Jones Tank’ or ‘The Last Crusade Tank’. The vehicle was inspired by the real world, WW1-era Tank Mk. VIII, but featured a number of fictional additions such as the large turret. Illustration produced by Pavel Alexe, based on work by David Bocquelet, funded by our Patreon campaign.
In 1954, the British, of C. A. Parsons Ltd. made history. At a public display of armored vehicles, they unveiled an odd-looking, silver turretless tank hull. This vehicle was a world first. Inside the engine bay was a new, experimental turbine engine.
The vehicle was a testbed, serving to illustrate the future possibility of mounting a turbine engine in an armored vehicle. Other countries, notably Nazi Germany in the Second World War, had considered turbine technology in a tank, but it was this British tank which was to make history as the first armored vehicle in the world to be propelled by a turbine engine. However, despite proving that the technology worked, the project ended without adoption by the British Army and it was not until a generation later, with the appearance of the Swedish Strv 103 ‘S-Tank’ and the later American M1 Abrams or Soviet T-80, that this engine type would be seen in a production vehicle.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the War Office (W.O.) reviewed the future of the British Army’s tank arm. In 1946, it did away with the ‘A’ designator used on tanks such as the Churchill (A.22) and Comet (A.34). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. In an attempt to streamline the tank force and cover all the bases, it was decided that the military needed three main families of vehicles: the FV100, FV200, and FV300 series. The FV100s would be the heaviest, the FV200s would be slightly lighter, and the FV300s would be lightest. While the FV100 and 300 series were canceled, the FV200 hung on in its development, as it was projected that it would eventually replace the Centurion.
The FV200 series included designs for vehicles that would fill various roles ranging from a gun tank to an engineering vehicle and Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). It was not until later years that the other uses of the FV200 chassis were explored, such as with the FV219 and FV222 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs). The first of the FV200 series was the FV201, a gun tank that started development in 1944 as the ‘A.45’. The most well-known member of the FV200 family is the FV214 Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank.
Armored fighting vehicle design is commonly conceived as revolving around a pyramid of factors: firepower, armor, and mobility. An AFV can rely on two of these, but not all three. For instance, a heavily armed and armored tank will sacrifice mobility, a fast tank will sacrifice armor, and so on. The idea behind installing a turbine engine into an armored vehicle was to overcome this ‘pyramid’. If an engine could be developed that would provide the same performance yet weigh less, then thicker armor and a more powerful gun could be carried.
The idea of using a turbine engine in an AFV was championed by none other than the father of British jet aircraft, Sir Frank Whittle. While aircraft powered by engines of his design – the Gloster Meteor – were engaging V1 rockets by the end of WW2, he was not the first to develop the jet engine.
Even before the Second World War, Nazi Germany was experimenting with jet propulsion. By War’s end, Germany had become the first nation to actively employ jet-powered aircraft in combat, namely in the form of the Messerschmitt Me 262. The end of the War brought the British capture of equipment, documents, and German scientists. With them came insight into some of the AFV plans the Germans were hoping to employ in the later years of the War. One of these plans was for a turbine-engine powered Panzer variant. This project reportedly even had the backing of the Waffen SS.
In late-1948, the Power Plant branch of the Fighting Vehicle Research And Development Establishment (F.V.R.D.E.), based in Chertsey, filed a report on this German AFV turbine project. This lead to a project to investigate the possibility of developing a turbine engine for use in future British tanks and armored vehicles. To this end, in January 1949, a contract was signed with C. A. Parsons Ltd. of Newcastle upon Tyne for the development of this new turbine engine. It was outlined that the engine was to be capable of developing 1,000 hp at 15℃ (60℉), or 900hp at 43℃ (110℉). Although various types of turbine were in development at this time, Parsons opted for a simple, cycle-based engine with a centrifugal compressor driven by a single-stage turbine, in conjunction with a two-stage ‘work’ turbine.
The Turbine Engine
Turbine engines consist of four main components; the compressor, combustion chamber, the turbine, and the heat exchanger. Simply explained, they all work in conjunction thusly:
The compressor serves to compress airflow, in-turn raising the temperature before the fuel injection. The combustion chamber’s role is to provide a continuous flow of fuel into the turbine while keeping it at a constant temperature.
Quite obviously, the turbine is the heart of this engine type. A turbine is simply a propeller propelled by the force hitting it; in the case of this engine that would be hot, vapourised fuel. The main turbine drove the compressor while a separate ‘work’ turbine would transfer the rotary propulsion directly to the gearbox.
The heat exchanger increased the temperature of air before it entered the combustion chamber, reducing the amount of fuel that was consumed bringing the air up to the required temperature. Unlike regular combustion engines where overheating is detrimental to performance, the opposite is true for turbines. The hotter it runs, the greater the power output.
C. A. Parsons Limited. Btd., based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, was founded in 1889 by Charles Algernon Parsons and quickly established itself as a leading manufacturer of steam turbine equipment on land and for naval use. This work continued into the development of the turbine engine envisioned by the Power Plant branch of the FVRDE. To assist with the project, 5 German scientists from the late WW2 project were assigned to the developmental team.
Unfortunately, one of the benefits of the turbine engine could not be met by Parsons: the weight. It was found that, at the time, only be using thinner gauge materials and inferior lighter alloys could the engine be brought to a weight equal to a standard engine. At the time, a standard engine was projected to weigh around 4,100 lb (1,860 kg), while the turbine weighed in at 5,400 lb (2,450 kg).
The final design of Parsons’ Turbine received the model number ‘No. 2979’. It featured a single-stage centrifugal compressor, driven by an axial flow turbine. Only the turbine disc was air-cooled. The smaller ‘work’ turbine was of the two-stage axial flow type, which ran in conjunction with the compressor. A reduction gear unit was fitted to reduce the work-turbines revolutions-per-minute from 9,960 rpm to 2,800 rpm. Lucas Ind., a Birmingham-based company, provided a fuel pump and an air-fuel ratio control unit with an integral throttle unit. To prevent the work turbine from over-speeding during gear changes, it could be mechanically connected to the compressor turbine. This also provided engine-braking. When starting, the compressor turbine was rotated via a 24-volt starter motor and the fuel ignited by a torch-igniter. The rest of the starter sequence was automatic, commencing with the press of the starter button on a new dashboard which was made by the Austrian company Rotax.
For trials, it was decided that the engine would be placed in the hull of a vehicle from the FV200 series, Prototype ‘P7’ (No. 07 BA 70) of the FV214 Conqueror trials to be exact. The hull was one of three FV221 Caernarvon hulls built at Royal Ordnance Factory, Leeds.
The engine bay was modified with a new support structure to hold the turbine engine. A standard five-speed gearbox was introduced with Merritt-Brown steering. The gearbox compartment of the hull had to be lengthened to accept the new gearbox. What was the fighting compartment was completely gutted to make way for a cyclone air-cleaner unit, consisting of 192 cyclone units mounted in 8 24-unit banks. Two new fuel tanks were also introduced into the fighting compartment, along with a homelite generator. This was required as the turbine lacked a generator drive. The driver’s compartment – which remained at the front right of the bow – was largely unaltered, apart from the addition of a new instrument panel with 29 separate dials, gauges, and instruments which were all crucial to monitor the engine.
The new engine and cyclone air-filter also necessitated some external modification. A large circular plate was placed over the fighting compartment/air-filter bay with a large vent in the roof. The engine deck saw the heaviest modifications. The old deck, which was covered in hinged louvers, was replaced with 3 flat panels that were bolted down. The left and right panel featured 3 small vents, while the central featured one large vent. A taller section with two vents was built up at the rear of the engine deck to provide extra room. The rear plate also saw the addition of a large ventilation ‘box’, through which exhaust gasses and excess heat would escape.
Most other features of the hull remained identical. The Horstmann suspension, tracks, fenders, and fire extinguisher system were all standard to the FV200 series of vehicles. A small addition to both the left and right fender was a folding ladder placed over the idler and sprocket wheels. This allowed the test crew to easily scale the vehicle. An unexplained feature of the test vehicle was the second hatch placed next to the driver. This hatch was without a door, and it is unclear whether it was an original feature of P7 or introduced for the tests. Altogether, the vehicle weighed about 45 long tons (45.7 tonnes). The hull’s overall dimensions were unchanged at 25 feet (7.62 m) long and 13.1 feet (3.99 m) wide.
By September 3rd, 1954, the FV200 test vehicle was ready for trials at the FVRDE in Chertsey. The race was on to get the vehicle ready for its first public display on the 30th of that month. On the 4th, the engine was started and allowed to idle for 10 minutes. It would not accelerate past 2,700 rpm and had to be turned off after the throttle became stuck open. By the 9th, repairs had been made and the vehicle was towed onto the FVRDE test track ready for its first driven trial. Under its own power, the vehicle successfully moved out onto the track. Moving off in 4th gear with the turbine running at 6,500 rpm, the vehicle successfully completed a full circuit of the track in 15 minutes.
Between the 21st and 22nd, P7 ran the same circuit again, achieving a combined running time of 2 hours 3 minutes. In general, the vehicle ran well with only minor issues arising that were easily fixed. Occasionally there were starting troubles, but it was found that the addition of four extra batteries dealt with this. The first major breakdown came on the 23rd. The driver attempted to change from 4th to 5th gear but it would not engage. The vehicle was halted with the driver attempting to get it down into 3rd. Instead of 3rd, it slipped into reverse and jammed. The vehicle then had to be towed to the onsite workshops for repairs.
By the 27th, repairs had been completed. Static and short road checks were undertaken and showed that the vehicle was back in full running order. All that remained was to give the vehicle a fresh coat of silver paint for its public display.
P7 made history when it was demonstrated before a large crowd of military and public spectators on September 30th. The vehicle ran without fault, but it was not pushed too hard, achieving a top speed of just 10 mph (16 km/h). For the test, the vehicle was operated by one man, the driver, accompanied by another man next to him under the mystery hatch. What the role of this man was is unknown. On the 30th, they were joined by FVRDE staff members who sat on the rear of the engine deck. Staff present on that day recalled that the onlooking crowd was visibly impressed. Even the film news company, British Pathe were present to record the demonstration.
Results & Further Trials
Parsons’ turbine had now reached a total running time of almost 12 hours. Through tests up to and including the public display of September 30th, the acceleration of the vehicle was found to be acceptable. Deceleration, however, proved to be a recurring issue. It was far too slow, making gear changes prone to malfunction. The engine was also found to be extremely loud. How loud, exactly, is unknown, but it was loud enough that the operator’s appeared to require ear-defenders (as seen in the video of the 1954 display). Attempts were made to reduce the noise level to 92 decibels or under. Following the public display, running trials were paused and the engine removed from the hull. It was completely stripped down and rebuilt, incorporating new modifications.
By April 19th of 1955, the engine had been reinstalled and P7 was ready to re-commence trials. Despite some initial faults, the engine was running well by May 24th. During tests on this day, the vehicle successfully negotiated 1:6 and 1:7 gradient slopes and performed successful hill-starts.
On June 8th, the final turbine tests were undertaken, consisting of cold and warm starts. Further tests would be carried out utilizing a second turbine engine, ‘No. 2983’. This was an improved engine with much of the initial teething troubles fixed, and an increased output of 910 hp. This increased power would allow P7 to be ballasted in order to compare its performance with the weight of vehicles in operation at the time. The last report from C. A. Parsons came in April 1955. By March 1956, the FVRDE had completely taken over the project. From there, unfortunately, we do not know what happened to the turbine project.
After the Trials
As discussed, we do not know what happened to P7 in the immediate years following the turbine trials. At some point in the early 1960s, P7 was turned into a dynamometer vehicle and served with the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE) in Christchurch, on the south coast of England. Strictly speaking, it was not a true dynamometer, but an ‘active’ or ‘universal’ dynamometer as it could be driven under its own power or absorb energy. A standard dynamometer is simply a means of measuring force, moment of force (torque), power, or any combination thereof. This is a chassis dynamometer as it used a full power train on its own, and was basically used not only to measure the engine power of a unit connected to it, but also to calibrate said unit.
To convert it to this role, a new diesel engine was installed and a large welded ballast superstructure was built over the chassis, with a large glazed cab at the front. A large wheel on a pivoting arm was added to the back of the vehicle which was used to gauge travel distances accurately – an upscaled version of a ‘Surveyor’s Wheel’. At some point, the vehicle’s original all-steel tracks were replaced with the rubber-padded tracks of the FV4201 Chieftain. The vehicle was also painted bright yellow and received the new registration number of ’99 SP 46′.
It is unclear how long the vehicle was in operation before it was retired. The last use of the vehicle, however, was an interesting one. The vehicle ended up at The Tank Museum, Bovington. It did not go on display though, it was turned into a commentary box beside the museum’s vehicle arena. For this, a larger cab was built atop the dynamo cab. This is how the vehicle sat for a number of years, before it was scrapped in the early 2000s.
P7 and C. A. Parsons’ engine made history in 1954. The trials proved that a turbine did have a place as the powerplant of Britain’s heavy AFVs of the future. Despite this, the engine type would never be adopted by the British Army. Even today, the British Army’s current serving Main Battle Tank (MBT), Challenger 2, uses a conventional, combustion diesel engine. It was not until the appearance of tanks like the Strv 103, the later M1 Abrams and T-80, that the turbine engine became a front line AFV engine.
Unfortunately, the vehicle no longer exists. Despite its technologically important history, the vehicle ended up being scrapped by The Tank Museum, thus marking the end of a unique chapter in the history of British military technology.
An article by Mark Nash, assisted by Andrew Hills.
The FV200-based turbine test vehicle made history when it debuted on September 30th 1954 before a public and military audience. For the public display, the vehicle was painted in a shiny silver livery, with dark grey highlights on the ‘bazooka plates’ and road-wheels. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
United Kingdom (1942-44)
Armored Recovery Vehicle – Unkown Amount Converted
To quote Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery – in not so few words – “the REME keeps the punch in the Army’s fist”. To do this, the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) utilize specially adapted versions of existing vehicles. The Churchill Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), developed in the middle of the Second World War, was one of the first of these REME-specific vehicles.
The Churchill ARV was one of the first tank-based ARVs to serve in the British Army. The vehicle first appeared in 1942, the same year that the REME was created. The initial ARV was simply a turretless Churchill outfitted with various pieces of towing equipment – this became known as the Mk. I. A second version, equipped with a faux turret, lifting jibs, and a powerful winch, appeared in 1944 – this became the Mk. II.
Both the Mk. I and Mk. II ARV served until the end of the Second World War, with the Mk. II’s service continuing into the Korean War of the early 1950s. It wasn’t long after this that it was finally replaced by the FV4006 Centurion ARV.
Officially designated as ‘Tank, Infantry, Mk.IV, A22’, the Churchill entered service with the British Armoured forces in 1941. It was named, contrary to popular belief, after an ancestor of the famous Winston Churchill, not the man himself. It was the last ‘Infantry Tank’ to serve in the British Military.
The armament of the Churchill evolved during its time in service, starting off with the 2-pounder (40 mm) gun (Churchill Mk. I & II). It then progressed to the 6-pounder (57 mm) gun (Mk. III & IV), before progressing to a 75 mm gun from the Mk. VI onwards. Armor protection also evolved, progressing from 4 to 5.9 inches (102 – 152 mm). The crew consisted of the commander, gunner, loader, driver, and bow machine-gunner/wireless operator.
The Churchill was not fast. A lumbering beast at approximately 40 long tons, its top speed was only 15 mph (24 km/h). It was powered by a Bedford 12-cylinder engine producing 350 hp. The tank was supported on a complicated suspension with 11 small wheels per side, each one attached to an independent coil spring. The drive wheel was at the rear with a sprocketed idler at the front. Though it was slow and heavy, the Churchill made a name for itself as being one of the best cross-country tanks ever built and could climb higher gradients and cross harder obstacles than most other tanks then in service.
ARV Mk. I
The Mk. I Churchill ARV appeared in 1942. This initial model was based on the Churchill Mk. I and Mk. II. Initially, both of these Churchill types shared the same turret and 2-pounder (40 mm) gun main armament. The difference was that the Mk. I featured a bow-mounted 3 in howitzer, while in the Mk. II this was replaced by a BESA 7.92 mm machine gun.
For the ARV Mk. Is, conversion into a recovery vehicle was relatively simple as the only major modification was the removal of the turret. This allowed more stowage room for recovery equipment. A simple, shallow conical tower – for want of a better word – was built over the turret ring with a large rectangular hatch built into it. This tower was often used for the stowage of tow cables, which were loosely wrapped around it. Also installed on this ‘tower’ was a mounting point for two .303 Bren light machine guns in an anti-aircraft mount. Boxy, more angular fenders were also installed over the idler and sprocket wheels, replacing the standard rounded fenders of the gun tanks.
Recovery equipment on the Mk. I consisted of an A-frame jib with an approximately 7.5 long ton (7.6 tonnes) capacity that could be mounted on the front or rear of the hull via eyelets. It was anchored to the hull via a length of high-tensile cable. The jib did not use a powered winch-line; rather it would be used in conjunction with a block and tackle or chain hoist, either of which would be carried aboard the ARV. The jib was used to assist in engine lifts and other lighter-duty lifts. The ARV’s main method of recovery was the raw torque of the engine. The vehicle was equipped with a drawbar to facilitate the towing of fellow Churchills or other armored vehicles. When not in use, both the jib and drawbar were carried on the hull.
A three-man crew operated the vehicle, consisting of the driver, bow gunner (the bow-mounted BESA machine gun was retained on the ARV), and commander. All three men would have been REME engineers. The lack of a turret also provided enough room to carry the crew of any tank being recovered.
ARV Mk. II
To meet the needs of British forces fighting in Europe from 1944 onwards, a new version of the Churchill ARV was produced on the hulls of the Mk. III and Mk. IV tanks. Both tanks carried the same 6-pounder (57 mm) gun main armament but had different turrets. The Mk. III had a welded turret while the Mk. IV had a cast turret. Mk. III and IV Churchills were also used as the bases for the famous Churchill AVRE.
The ARV Mk. II conversion process was far more extensive than that of the Mk. I ARV. Rather than the ‘make do’ nature of the original ARV, the Mk. II was much more of a purpose-built machine. Like the Mk. Is, the original turret of the Churchill was removed, but instead of the simple ‘tower’, a faux turret was installed. This faux turret was large, boxy, and constructed from welded steel armor plate. It was also completely fixed in place and had no horizontal rotation. Placed atop the turret were two simple hexagonal cupolas with two-part hatches. There were no viewports anywhere on the ‘turret’. On the rear of this structure, a large stowage box was added. A dummy gun was fashioned from a length of pipe, which was also added to the face of the faux turret. This was put in place to make it look like a standard Churchill gun tank, as there was a fear that the enemy would mercilessly shoot at the vehicle if it was visibly unarmed. The addition of the dummy gun was an effort to deter possible attackers. The gun was mounted slightly off to the right so it didn’t interfere with the forward jib.
The purpose of the faux turret was to serve as a protective housing for the 3-man crew as well as the crew of any vehicle being recovered. A new piece of equipment was also housed within – a winch. With a capacity of 25 long tons and a 250 foot (76 meter) long cable, the winch made the Mk. II ARV a far more effective recovery vehicle, as it could now pull vehicles or heavy equipment from a static position. The winch also worked in conjunction with another new addition, a permanently affixed A-frame jib placed on the rear of the vehicle. This was rooted directly to the hull with a large pulley wheel at the top. This jib had a capacity of 15 long tons (15.2 tonnes) and was mostly used to pull vehicles or heavy equipment. It could also be used to lift, but due to its relatively low height, this wasn’t practical.
The winch also worked with a feature carried over from the Mk. I ARV, the erectable A-frame jib. This could be attached to the bow of the vehicle. When not in use, it was broken down into its component pieces with one section of the tubular arms carried on each side of the hull, just above the suspension bogies. The pulley wheel that sat at the top of the jib was carried in a cradle on the left side of the bow. As its primary role was to pull from the rear of the vehicle, the winch cable emerged from the rear of the ‘turret’. To get the cable to the forward jib, the cable was passed through a fairlead, over the rear jib’s pulley, and over the ‘turret’ roof. It then passed over a smaller pulley in between the two cupolas and down to another pulley at the front of the bow. From here, it finally passed up and over the pulley atop the jib.
The forward jib had a lift capacity of 7 ½ long tons (7.6 tonnes) and was much longer than the rear unit, thus higher off the ground. This made it perfect for engine and equipment lifts. The jib was anchored to the vehicle via a high-tensile cable, attached to an eyelet beside the roof cable pulley. The cable was also brought to the front like this to facilitate pulls from the front without the use of the jib. The engine deck was modified to allow passage of the winch cable. It was completely flattened, cleared of any obstruction. This included the exhaust system which was altered from the single, horizontal bar which ran the width of the deck on the standard gun tank. For the ARV, the exhaust pipe was split into two separate pipes mounted over the sprocket wheels. Protective cowlings were placed over the mufflers. To anchor the vehicle during lifts and pulls, a large ‘spade’ was placed on the rear of the vehicle. When needed, this was lowered by the winch. When not in use, it was folded up against the rear hull plate.
Other Details and Equipment of the Mk. II
Like the Mk. I, the Mk. II ARV’s fenders were more angular and boxy than that of the standard Churchill’s. On both the Mk. I and II, however, the air intakes towards the rear of the vehicle on the sides of the hull were vastly simplified and stripped back. On later models of the Mk. II, they were even more basic, taking the form a simple, shallow rectangular box with a thin layer of mesh covering the intake aperture. Another feature carried over from the Mk. I was the retention of the bow 7.92 mm BESA machine gun. Unlike the Mk. I, however, there was no mounting point for the twin Bren LMGs.
While the dimensions of the Mk. I matched those of the standard Churchill (barring the lack of a turret), the Mk. II was slightly larger in a few respects. With the introduction of the rear jib, the vehicle’s length increased to 27 feet 6 in (8.38 meters) from the original 25 feet 5 inches (7.74 meters). The faux turret also increased height from 8 feet 2 inches (2.49 meters) to 9 feet 9 inches (2.96 meters).
The ARV also housed various other items used for repair or recovery tasks. These included jacks, hoists, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow bars, spare track links and lengths of steel cable up to 100 feet (30 meters) long. All of these were stowed on various points around the exterior of the vehicle via simple steel hooks which were welded to the chassis and ‘turret’. New, large stowage boxes were added behind the exhaust mufflers. In some cases, a vice was even added on the left of the bow plate for small-scale repairs.
Numerous sets of wooden blocks were also carried on both the Mk. I and Mk. II. These were used for several purposes. If winching a vehicle from a steep embankment, the wooden blocks were piled on the crest of the embankment so the cable would not bite into the earth. They were also used in conjunction with jacks, either to support the vehicle or give the jack a firm base to stop it sinking into soft ground.
Some of the only items carried on the now barren engine deck were a couple of pioneer tools, consisting of a pick-axe and a sledge hammer. Two shovels were also carried and were stowed on the exterior of the large stowage bin on the back of the ‘turret’.
Much of the equipment carried by the Churchill was shared by the Sherman ARV. The Sherman ARV was a unique British conversion, developed independently of the American M32 variant of the M4 Sherman medium tank. Like the Churchill, the Mk. I Sherman ARV was a turretless tank with an erectable jib. The Mk. 2 Sherman ARV featured a similar faux turret with a dummy gun and the same fixed 25 long ton capacity rear jib.
Unfortunately, there is not much detail out there regarding the Churchill ARV’s time in service. Initially, the ARV was designed to support armored units equipped with the Churchill tank. At the time it entered service, no other vehicle was capable of pulling the 40 long ton tank. From 1942 onwards, both the Mk. I and Mk. II were in operation with REME troops attached to armored units, and served through the Italian and North West Europe campaigns. The Mk. I was also used heavily in training exercises in the UK.
We do know that the ARV played a crucial role during the March 1945 crossing of the Rhine. As part of 835 Heavy Recovery Section REME, at least two Mk. II ARVs were present. The ARVs were among the first heavy vehicles to be rafted across to the enemy occupied bank. Working alongside the Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV) – another REME specific vehicle – as well as Scammell trucks, D4 and D8 Tractors, the Churchill ARVs were put to use recovering Sherman DDs (Amphibious, Duplex-Drive Sherman tanks) that had become bogged down while emerging from the Rhine. At least 8 Sherman DDs were recovered in this manner. The Churchill was also used to pull lighter vehicles such as the DUKW up the steep banks of the river.
The Churchill ARV’s service continued into the 1950s and it was even deployed in support of British Armoured units fighting in the Korean War (1950-1953). It is often forgotten that the Churchill, specifically the Churchill Crocodile, was deployed during the Korean War. That conflict was the last active combat deployment of the Churchill Tank. It was not until 1956 and the emergence of the FV4006 Centurion ARV that the Churchill ARV was finally retired. However, it hung on in service into the late 1950s with British forces stationed in Hong Kong. Further information on its deployment there is scarce, unfortunately.
The ARV version is a testament to the versatility and flexibility of the Churchill tank. It is also an important vehicle in the history of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, being one of the first vehicles specifically converted to be operated by their personnel.
Unfortunately, not many of the vehicles survive today. It is possible that only three are still in existence, all Mk. IIs. One of these can be found at the REME Museum in Lyneham, UK. For many years this served as a range target at Borden Camp in Hampshire before being retrieved in the late 1970s and semi-restored and placed in the REME Museum collection. Two others can be found in India, one at the Cavalry Tank Museum, Ahmadnagar and the other at the Military College Of Electronics And Mechanical Engineering (MCEME) in Secunderabad.
Churchill ARV Mk. I. Based on the Mk. I and II Churchill gun-tank, the Mk. I ARV was simply a turretless ‘tug’. It was equipped with a jib that could be erected at the front of the vehicle but its main role was towing. The red, yellow, and blue tri-color on the side of the vehicle is the REME flash.
Churchill ARV Mk. II. The upgraded ARV was based on the Churchill Mk. III and IV. The turret was removed and replaced with a fixed, welded superstructure housing a powerful winch. It had the same erectable forward jib, but was also equipped with a fix rear jib. So the winch cable could be used at the front of the vehicle, the cable had to be threaded around a series of pullies.
These illustrations were produced by Pavel Alexe, based on work by David Bocquelet, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Specifications (Mk. II)
24ft 5in x 10ft 8in x 9 ft 9 in
(7.44 m x 3.25 m x 2.96 m)
Aprox. 40 tonnes
3 (driver, bow-gunner, commander – all REME)
350 hp Bedford horizontally opposed twin-six petrol engine
15 mph (24 km/h)
BESA 7.92mm (0.31 in) machine-gun
25-ton capacity winch with 250 ft (76 m) cable
15-ton (15.2 tonne) capacity rear jib
7 ½-ton (7.6 tonne) erectible forward jib
The ‘Tank, Medium Gun, FV221’, otherwise known as ‘Caernarvon’, appeared in the early 1950s and was a mating of an FV200 series chassis and the turret of an Mk. III Centurion. It was designed as an interim vehicle to fill the gap while Britain’s first Heavy Gun Tank, the FV214 Conqueror, was in the final stages of development.
Decades later, in 2018, and despite the real FV221 Caernarvon already being present, the popular online game World of Tanks (WoT) – published and developed by Wargaming (WG) – was looking for a new premium tank (a vehicle bought with real money that provides special in-game benefits) to add to the British ‘tech tree’. The result was a ghastly blend of 4 separate parts (engine, turret, armor plates and hull), all to create a fake tank with a double fake name. It is known in-game as the Caernarvon ‘Action X’.
While all of the constituent parts used to make this tank did exist in one form or another, they were never put together in this way.
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The WoT Representation
A small ‘history’ is provided for this vehicle by Wargaming:
“A further development of the vehicles designed by the English Electric company under the “universal tank” concept (FV200). The project was discontinued in favor of the A41 tank (Centurion). No prototypes were built.”
– WoT Wiki extract
The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is portrayed as a variant of the real FV221 Caernarvon, which is in turn part of the FV200 series of vehicles. Despite not being given its ‘Fighting Vehicle (FV)’ number, this fake is presented as a vehicle of the FV200 series produced in the early 1950s, in the early years of the Cold War.
The FV200 dates back to the final stages of the Second World War, when the British War Office (WO) was looking for a ‘Universal Tank’. The ancestor of today’s Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), the idea of the Universal Tank was that one chassis would spawn many variants, thus reducing costs, development and making maintenance and supply far easier. The first in the series was the FV201.
Despite a long development period, the FV201 project was canceled in 1949, with development moving onto the FV214 Conqueror, and in turn, the FV221 Caernarvon. As such, only four vehicles of the FV200 series were ever produced and entered into service. These were the FV214, and FV221 gun tanks, and the FV219/FV222 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs).
Reality: FV221 Caernarvon
In 1950, the gun and turret of the FV214 Conqueror was still in the development phase. The hull and chassis, however, were already in the final stages of development. The chassis was a simplified variant of the FV201 series. The main simplification was in the engine bay, where the power take-off for the additional devices that the FV200 series was to have been fitted with was removed. This simplification meant the tank was slightly shorter. Both of these factors reduced the weight and these savings in weight were reinvested in the tank’s frontal protection, with the glacis being thickened and sloped back slightly more.
With this part of the FV214 complete, the Tank, Medium Gun, FV221 Caernarvon project was launched. The aim of this project was to speed up the development of the Conqueror, while giving crews experience in the operation of the vehicle. The FV221 consisted of an FV214 hull mated with a Centurion Mk. III turret armed with a 20-pounder gun.
With an initial prototype built in April 1952, just 10 of these vehicles were built, the last one in 1953. These had a brief career, nonetheless, seeing extensive trial service in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and the Middle East Land Forces (MELF).
In-Game Design of the Caernarvon ‘AX’
This fake tank is simply a fictional ‘upgrade’ to the FV221 Caernarvon ‘Medium Gun Tank’. As this vehicle is also equipped with a 20-pounder (84 mm) gun, it also fits the ‘medium gun tank’ designation. The term ‘Medium Gun Tank’ is a uniquely British designation. It refers to the size and power of the gun, not the size and weight of the tank. The role of a ‘Medium Gun Tank’ was to provide support for assaulting infantry by the sheer volume of fire and engaging lighter enemy armored vehicles. The role of engaging heavily armored vehicles and defensive positions fell to the ‘Heavy Gun Tank’, such as the Conqueror.
The hull armor for this vehicle is listed by WG as 130 mm on the hull front, 50.8 mm on the sides, and 38.1 mm on the rear. This is not too far off reality, however, it is still unclear as to just how thick the upper glacis of the tank was due to conflicting sources. That said, it is believed that the upper glacis is between 4.7 and 5.1 inches (120 – 130 mm) thick. The side armor is accurate, at about 2 inches (50 mm) thick, while the rear plate is actually around 0.7 inches (20 mm).
Despite the countless falsehoods present on this vehicle, the Caernarvon ‘AX’ does share some accurate parts of its design with the real FV221. These include the 4-man crew (commander, gunner, loader, driver), Horstmann suspension system, and the layout of the hull.
The ‘Action X’ Turret
The ‘Action X’ turret is where this mutated tank gets its name. In its own right, the ‘history’ of this turret is a comedy of errors but, nonetheless, it must be clearly stated that the turret, by itself, WAS a real project. Unfortunately, the history of this turret is long lost, leading historians to piece together its history from fragments of files. The following information has been compiled by amateur military historians and TE members, Ed Francis and Adam Pawley.
The first falsehood to tackle is the name ‘Action X’. The official name for this turret was the ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’, so called because it was a design for a new turret for the Centurion. The name ‘Action X’ appeared in a book published in the early 2000s, after the author cited seeing the name written on the back of a photo of the turret. What he fails to mention is that this was written in the 1980s, and does not appear in any official material.
Evidence suggests that the turret was developed alongside the Centurion and Chieftain, as a means of creating a method for poorer countries to upgrade their Centurion fleets if they could not afford to invest in the Chieftain. Despite popular belief, its development had nothing to do with the FV4202 project. The design was quite different from the standard Centurion design.
Where the standard Centurion turret had a large mantlet that covered the majority of the turret face, this design was mantletless. A large sloped ‘forehead’ replaced the mantlet, with the coaxial machine gun being moved to the top left corner. The rest of the turret remained rather similar to the standard turret. The bustle stayed the same basic shape, the commander’s cupola remained at the back right, with the loader’s hatch on the back left. Unfortunately, the real armor values are currently unknown. In-game, they are listed as 254 mm (10 inches) on the front, 152.4 mm (6 inches) on the sides, and 95.3 mm (3 ¼ inches) on the rear.
Other than the fact that just 3 of these turrets were made, with 2 of them fitted and tested on Centurion chassis and 1 destroyed in a firing trial, little more official information remains on the project. One of these three originals still survives, and currently sits in the car park of The Tank Museum, Bovington, England.
Second to the name, the next error is the fact that this turret was never intended to be installed on any member of the FV200 series of vehicles. For one thing, this turret was developed almost a full decade after the FV221 Caernarvon. Another issue is the addition of the additional armor on the turret cheeks. The design of these has been taken straight from another WoT fake, the ‘Super Conqueror’. No such name was ever used. The tank was, in fact, a mere static test vehicle, a guinea pig that was pummeled by High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) ammunition to test their effects on armored vehicles. For this, the vehicle was covered with additional 0.5 – 1.1 inch (14 – 30 mm) armor plates over its bow and turret cheeks. There was never any intention – or even a need – to place these plates on the ‘Mantletless Turret’. In the World of Tanks game, a single Browning M1919A4 .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun was also added to the commander’s cupola on the turret roof. This was known as the L3A1 in British service.
The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is not the only vehicle in WoT to use the false name. The other vehicle is the Centurion ‘Action X’, which is based on the Centurions which were tested with the ‘Mantletless Turret’.
The armament installed on this spurious vehicle is the Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 20-pounder Gun with ‘Type B’ barrel. There were two types of 20-pounder: the ‘Type A’ without a fume extractor, and the ‘Type B’ with a fume extractor. The gun is, at least, an accurate choice, as the ‘Mantletless Turret’ was tested with both the 20-pounder and L7 105 mm gun. The 20-pounder was the successor to the 17-pounder gun of the Second World War and had a 3.3 inch (84 mm) bore. A range of ammunition was available to it. When firing an Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (A.P.D.S.) round at a muzzle velocity of 4,810 ft/s (1,465 m/s), the gun could penetrate up to 13 inches (330 mm) of armor at 1,000 yards (914 m). In-game, maximum penetration is listed as just 10 inches (258 mm).
Despite the accurate selection of a gun, there remains an error in the presentation of it in that there is a thermal sleeve around the barrel. Thermal sleeves are used to provide consistent temperature to the barrel, in turn preventing distortions due to thermal expansion caused by the temperature fluctuations around the tube. There were no such sleeves added to the barrels of the 20-pounder gun (either A or B) or the 105 mm until the 1960s.
The 20-pounder gun – both ‘A’ & ‘B’ types – was installed on multiple vehicles. It served on the Centurion from the Mk. 3 to the Mk. 5/2, after which it was replaced by the 105 mm L7. It was also the main armament of the FV4101 Charioteer Medium Gun Tank and, of course, the real FV221 Caernarvon.
As with the equally fake FV215b, the Caernarvon ‘AX’ is equipped with the Rolls-Royce Griffon. This is, in reality, an aircraft engine. While Rolls-Royce aero engines have been adapted for use in armored vehicles, there is no evidence at all to suggest that there was ever a plan to make an AFV variant of the Griffon. An example of a converted Rolls-Royce aero engine is the Meteor, as used in the real FV221 Caernarvon. This was an adaption of the Merlin, an engine famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2.
The Griffon was a 37-liter, 60-degree V-12, liquid-cooled engine. It was the last V-12 aero engine built by Rolls-Royce, with production ceasing in 1955. It was used on such aircraft as the Fairey Firefly, Supermarine Spitfire, and Hawker Sea Fury. The engine produced over 2,000 hp in its plane configuration, but in-game it is listed as producing just 950 hp. This is not too far fetched, as converted aero-engines were often de-rated for use in armored vehicles. Meteor is an example of this. As the Merlin, it produced up 1,500 hp depending on the model. When de-rated as the Meteor, it produced just 810 horsepower.
On the real FV221, the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 No. 2 Mk. 1 produced 810 hp and propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 22 mph (35 kph). In this fake tank, the engine is listed as propelling this vehicle to a top speed of 36.3 km/h (22.5 mph).
The Horstmann suspension of the Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is one of the accurate parts of this vehicle. On the FV200s, the suspension system had 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels were made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the vehicle, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There would also be 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The drive sprockets were relocated at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front.
Fake, Pure and Simple
The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is just one of a litany of convenient or lazy fakes by Wargaming. Not only do they erroneously mate a turret with a hull that was never intended to carry it, they also use a completely false designation for said turret. To cap it all, they then adorn the turret with false additions, such as the armor plate.
Had this tank ‘existed’, it would have been completely redundant. The turret itself was not developed until the 1960s, after the Caernarvons had all been retired or turned into Conquerors. By this time, the FV4201 Chieftain was in development, and the Conqureor was about to leave service, showing just how obsolete the chassis was, not to mention the 20 pounder gun.
Illustration of the fake Caernarvon ‘Action X’ produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
On September 7th, 1945, military heads of the Western Powers were horrified by what they saw rumbling towards them along the Charlottenburger Chaussee in central Berlin during the 1945 Victory Parade celebrating the end of the Second World War. During that parade, the increasingly threatening Soviet Union unveiled its latest tank to the world: the IS-3 heavy tank. As these machines clattered down the parade route, a sense of fear enveloped the representatives of the British, US, and French Armies. What they saw was a tank with well-sloped and – apparently – heavy armor, a piked nose, wide tracks, and a gun at least 120 mm in caliber.
The race was on. France, Britain, and the US immediately began the design and development of their own heavy or heavily armed tanks. The Americans would create the 120 mm Gun Tank M103 while the French experimented with the AMX-50. Both of these tanks had 120 mm guns that would – it was hoped – be able to combat the IS-3 threat. The British, on the other hand, would pursue the development of the ‘Universal Tank’, what we know today as a ‘Main Battle Tank’ or ‘MBT’. The FV4007 Centurion was also in development well before the IS-3 appeared. At this time, however, it was only armed with the 17-Pounder gun. It was projected that it would be equipped with the 20-Pounder (84mm) in the future, but a more powerful gun was desired.
This is where the FV200 series of vehicles come in. The FV200s were a projected series of vehicles based on one common chassis, hence ‘Universal Tank’. The FV214 was one of the vehicles in this series, and was a design for a ‘Heavy Gun Tank’. It would become known as the Conqueror. The Conqueror or – to give its officially long-winded title – the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214 Conqueror’, was an impressive vehicle. Weighing in at 63 long tons* (64 tonnes), armed with a powerful 120 mm gun, and protected by thick steel armor. The Conqueror – as mighty as it was – had an extremely short service life, in operation between 1955 and 1966. Conqueror was one of the heaviest and largest tanks Great Britain ever produced that made it to active service.
*As this is a British vehicle, mass will be measured in ‘Long Ton’ otherwise known as the ‘Imperial ton’. It will be shortened to ‘ton’ for ease with a metric conversion alongside.
The FV200 Series
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the War Office (WO) reviewed the future of the British Army’s tank arm. In 1946, they did away with the ‘A’ designator used on tanks such as the Churchill (A22) and Comet (A34). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. In an attempt to streamline the tank force and cover all the bases, it was decided that the military needed three main families of vehicles: the FV100, the FV200, and FV300 series. The FV100s would be the heaviest, the FV200s would be slightly lighter, and the FV300s would be lightest. All three projects were almost canceled due to the complexity that would’ve been involved in producing the respective series. In the end, both the FV100 and FV300 series were canceled. The FV200 hung on in its development, however, as it was projected that it would eventually replace the Centurion.
The FV200 series included designs for vehicles that would fill various roles ranging from a gun tank to an engineering vehicle and Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). It wasn’t until later years that the other uses of the FV200 chassis were explored, such as with the F219 and FV222 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs). The first of the FV200 series was the FV201, a gun tank that started development in 1944 as the ‘A45’. This tank weighed around 55 tons (49 tonnes). At least two or three FV201s were built for testing, but the project went no further than that. Work on the project ceased in 1949.
Need vs Availability
In June 1949, an official requirement was made for a new Heavy Gun Tank with enough firepower to defeat the toughest armor of the time from a long-range. The term ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ is a uniquely British designation. It refers to the size and power of the gun, not the size and weight of the tank. Heavy Gun Tanks are specifically designed to destroy enemy tanks and/or fortified positions. Work on the new tank began that July, when the FV201 project transitioned into the FV214 project. Designers working on the new specifications soon realized they had a few problems, not the least of which was that they did not have a gun, a turret, or a hull.
The requirement for the new heavily armed tank called for the vehicle to be armed with a large caliber gun. A 4.5 in (114 mm) gun that was first considered for the FV205 in 1946 was explored first, before moving on to a 120 mm gun. The problem was there was no such gun in existence or development in the United Kingdom at that time. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Americans were developing a 120 mm gun for their T43/M103 heavy tank project. This gun had a chamber pressure of 17 long tons (17.2 tonnes), but they were planning to increase this value to 22 long tons (22.3 tonnes). The higher the chamber pressure, the higher the velocity, meaning longer range, and increased penetration. With the US and UK working closely, the UK also designed a gun with a 22-ton (22.3 tonne) chamber pressure. Efforts were even made to standardize the guns between each other. On the British side, Royal Ordnance took charge of the development of the gun, resulting in the Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 120 mm Tank, L1A1 Gun.
Weighing in at 2.9 tons (3 tonnes) with a length of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters), the 120 mm L1 gun was monstrous. A new turret would be needed to carry it, but this would have to be designed from the ground up. Work started in 1949, with the turret set to be constructed at Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Barnbow. It was clear from the outset that a turret would not be ready for a considerable amount of time.
Another issue was developing a suitable chassis that would be strong enough to carry the immense gun and – what would probably be – a proportionately large and heavy turret that was set to be constructed from cast steel. Instead of going back to the drawing board, the designers decided to use the chassis of the nearly complete FV201.
FV221 Caernarvon, an Interim Development
By 1950, with the gun and turret still in the development phase, it was clear that prototype production and troop trials of the FV214, now known as ‘Conqueror’, were a long way off. The hull and chassis, however, were already in the final stages of development. The chassis was a simplified variant of the FV201 series. The main simplification was in the engine bay, where the power take-off for the additional devices that the FV200 series was to have been fitted with was removed. This simplification meant the tank was slightly shorter. Both of these factors reduced the weight. These savings in weight were reinvested in the tank’s frontal protection, with the glacis being thickened and sloped back slightly more.
With this part of the FV214 complete, the Tank, Medium Gun, FV221 Caernarvon project was launched. The aim of this project was to speed up the development of the Conqueror, while giving crews experience in the operation of the vehicle. The FV221 consisted of an FV214 hull mated with a Centurion Mk. III turret armed with a 20-Pounder gun. With an initial prototype built in April 1952, just 10 of these vehicles were built, the last one in 1953. These had a brief career, nonetheless, they saw extensive trial service in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and the Middle East Land Forces (MELF).
Finalizing the Conqueror’s Design
Come 1951, work on the FV214 had progressed and, by the end of the year, firing trials of the new Ordnance L1 120 mm gun had concluded with the weapon being accepted for service. A program to create a stop-gap carriage for this gun resulted in the Centurion-based FV4004 Conway, although this project was halted after prototype trials. There was also an idea to mount the gun in a casemate style tank destroyer built on the FV200 chassis and designated the FV217 – nothing came of this project either. The design of the turret had also been finalized and it was set to include a number of innovative features, such as an automatic rammer for assisting the loader, a shell ejection system, and a ‘Fire Control Turret’ for the Commander.
By 1952, four pre-production turrets and 3 guns were available to start trials. These were mated with existing FV221 hulls. At least four prototypes were constructed in this manner. Several other hulls were tested with the ‘Windsor’ ballast turret – named after Windsor Castle. It consisted of a large cast steel ring with interchangeable plates and simulated the weight of a fully equipped Conqueror turret.
These vehicles took part in mobility and endurance trials conducted by the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (F.V.R.D.E.) between September 1952 and July 1953. Together, the vehicles covered around 7,911 miles (12,732 km, divided between test locations) – just cross country – at speeds of up to 15 mph (23 km/h). Road trials covering 99 miles (160 km) were also conducted. As it performed well in these trials, 5 more pre-production vehicles were ordered for further F.V.R.D.E. tests. For troop trials, 20 vehicles were ordered in 1953, all to be built at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Dalimur, Scotland. Construction of these vehicles was completed in summer 1955.
Mk. 1 and Mk. 2
While the trial versions were in production, certain details of the vehicle were adapted based on the test results of the first batch of vehicles. This resulted in two types of FV214. Vehicles produced before the alterations were implemented became the Conqueror Mk. 1, while vehicles built with the modifications became the Conqueror Mk. 2.
The most noticeable differences between the Mk. 1 and 2 are the exhausts, fume extractor, and driver’s periscopes. On the Mk. 1, the exhausts were equipped with mufflers whereas the Mk.2 featured straight-through exhausts. The Mk. 2 is also distinguishable from the Mk. 1 as it featured a much larger fume extractor on the 120 mm gun. As a carryover from the FV221 Caernarvon, the Conqueror Mk. 1 had three No. 16 Mk. 1 periscopes installed in a crescent in front of the driver’s hatch. This was seen as a weak point in the armor and, as such, just the center periscope was retained in the Mk. 2. The profile of the upper glacis plate was also changed and the plate made larger. It was also far more common for the Mk. 1 to not be equipped with the turret bustle stowage basket, a feature present on most Mk. 2s.
The other differences between the two are relatively minor. On the Mk. 1 engine deck, fluid filler caps were left exposed, while on the Mk. 2 they were concealed by the engine bay cover plates. On the Mk. 1, there was a crank to turn over the engine by hand, this was deleted on the Mk. 2. Other changes included an improved switch-box in the driver’s compartment and improved hatches for the commander and driver.
The Conqueror in Detail
Weighing in at 65 tons (66 tonnes), the Conqueror is worthy of its name. Measuring 25 feet (7.62 meters) long – not including the gun, 13.1 feet (3.99 meters) wide and 11 feet (3.35 meters) tall, the FV214 cuts an imposing figure. A four-man crew operates the vehicle, consisting of the Commander (turret rear), Gunner (turret right), Loader (turret left) and Driver (hull right). All crew members had access to their own hatches which popped up and swung open, instead of the two-part doors that had been present since before WW2. The Conqueror was one of the first British tanks to have this style of hatch. The older two-piece type persisted on the Centurion for the entirety of its service.
The hull was of an all-welded construction, formed from plates of rolled homogeneous steel armor. At the front of the hull, the upper glacis was between 4.7 and 5.1 inches (120 – 130 mm) thick, sloped at 61.5 degrees from vertical. This would give an effective thickness of either 11.3 or 12.3 inches (289 – 313 mm)*. The lower glacis was 3 inches (77 mm) thick, angled at 45 degrees from vertical. This gave an effective thickness of 4.2 inches (109 mm). The armor profile changed between the Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 due to the deletion of the left and right No. 16 Mk. 1 periscopes. On the Mk. 1, the hull roof that the hatch was installed in was slightly sloped. On the Mk. 2, this part of the roof is flat.
The rear plate and hull floor are 0.7 inches (20 mm) thick, while the hull roof and sides are 2 inches (51 mm) thick. There was also an extra 0.3 inch (10 mm) ‘mine plate’ under the driver’s position. Protection on the sides of the hull was increased by the installation of two sets of armored side skirts or ‘bazooka plates’. These were approximately 0.2 inches (6 mm) thick and detachable, allowing easy maintenance and replacement. The upper set was attached to the track guards, while the lower set was attached to struts in between the suspension bogies and was fixed directly to the hull side, covering the suspension. These plates were designed to counter shaped-charge warheads by detonating them away from the hull sides and reducing the power of the jet from the shell. Tests of skirting plates had also established a high level of effectiveness for relatively little additional weight against other types of shells too, including Armor-Piercing (AP) and HESH (High Explosive Squash Head).
*There is a lot of confusion over the upper plate thickness, so that is why both possible thicknesses are given. Until a tangible measurement becomes available, it cannot be known for sure.
Designers believed that the 2 inches of side armor, together with the added plates, would be enough to counter the IS-3’s 122 mm gun. This, of course, was never tested in combat. By way of illustration, trials in 1959 proved that even a relatively thin single skirting plate just 10 mm thick helped provide significant protection against Soviet 100 mm UBR-412B Armor Piercing High Explosive (APHE) shells fired at a Centurion, justifying the conclusions of the designers of the time.
On the left of the rear hull plate there was an infantry telephone which allowed friendly troops to communicate with the vehicle’s commander. On the upper right corner could be found the gun crutch (travel lock). Three large stowage boxes were placed on the left and right fenders. Behind these were mountings for pioneer tools (shovel, axe, pick etc.), spare track links, and other sundries.
The driver was located at the front of the hull, on the right. Two traditional tiller bars were used to operate the vehicle, with the gear stick situated between the driver’s legs. At his feet were the clutch (left), brake (center), and accelerator (right) pedals. Other instruments included a hand throttle, claxon (horn), battery and generator switches, fuel/temperature/speed gauges, and a gun position indicator. The driver’s seat could be placed at various heights and positions, allowing the driver to operate head-out or under the protection of a closed hatch. Extensions atop the tiller bars allowed easy operation when driving head out. The compartment to the left of the driver was used for ammunition storage. A semicircular hatch that pivoted open to the right provided the main route of access to the compartment. At least one prototype hull (used for testing a turbine engine) was also fitted with a second hatch but this feature was not carried over onto production vehicles. An additional means of escape for the driver was via a passageway into the turret basket so he could enter or exit the vehicle through the turret hatches. Behind the driver was the fighting compartment and turret. The engine bay was separated from the fighting compartment by a bulkhead.
The beating heart of the FV214 was the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 No. 2 Mk. 1A engine. This water-cooled, petrol-injection engine developed 810 horsepower at 2,800 rpm and was a derivative of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2. The transmission consisted of the 7-speed (5 forward, 2 reverse) Z52, and various models from Mk. A to Mk. C were used. Combined, this powerpack gave the FV214 a top speed of 21 mph (34 km/h) on the road. Maximum fuel capacity was 212 UK-gallons (964 litres). This capacity was split between 3 fuel tanks of 115, 85, and 20 gallons (523, 386, 91 litres) capacity respectively. In all, the vehicle would consume 144 gallons (655 litres) per 62 miles (100 km) when traveling on roads, or 188 gallons (855 litres) per 62 miles (100) km cross-country.
Like the FV201 and Centurion before it, the Conqueror utilized the Horstmann suspension system with 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels were made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The idea behind this was that it would be more efficient on the rubber and would not need to be replaced as often. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the Conqueror, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There were also 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The advantage of using bogies lies in maintenance and crew comfort. Having externally mounted bogies means there is more room inside the tank and also, should the unit become damaged, it is relatively easy to remove it and replace it with a new unit.
The drive sprocket was at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front. The track – made of cast manganese steel – was 31 inches (78.7 cm) wide and had 102 links per side when new. When the track was close to wearing out, it could use as little as 97 per side. Suspension gave the vehicle a ground clearance of 20 inches (51 cm), and the ability to climb a 35 inch (91 cm) vertical object. It allowed the tank to cross trenches up to 11 feet (3.3 m) wide, negotiate gradients up to 35 degrees, and ford water obstacles up to 4.5 feet (1.4 m) deep without preparation. The vehicle had a turning circle of 15 – 140 feet (4.8 – 42.7 m) depending on gear selection. It could also pivot or ‘neutral’ steer on the spot with each track turning in opposite directions.
The turret of the Conqueror was a single steel casting. It was an odd shape, with a wide, curved face and a long, bulbous bustle. The turret face was between 9.4 to 13.3 inches (240 – 340 mm) thick, angled at around 60 degrees. This would make the effective thickness either 18.8 inches or 26.7 inches (480 – 680 mm). The mantlet is also estimated to be at least 9.4 inches thick. Armor on the turret sides was around 3.5 inches (89 mm) thick, while the roof and rear were around 2 inches (51 mm) thick.* The roof over the gun was formed by a large rectangular steel plate that was bolted in place. When removed, this allows access to the gun for maintenance. The roof on the right was also slightly stepped to accommodate the gunner’s periscope. The turret was divided into three crew positions with the gunner on the right, loader on the left, and the commander at the rear in his own dedicated position known as the ‘Fire Control Turret’. Both the gunner and loader had their own hatches.
External features of the turret included two ‘Discharger, Smoke Grenade, No. 1 Mk. 1’ launchers. One of these was placed on each side of the turret, roughly centrally along its length. Each launcher featured 2 banks of 3 tubes and were fired electrically from inside the tank. Other notable features include the large rack on the rear of the bustle – used to carry tarpaulins, crew sundries, and other stowage – and the circular wire reel mounted on the left side of the bustle. This was a spool of telephone wire – known as the ‘Cable, Reel, Continuous Connection’ – that was carried by most British tanks of the time. It would be used in bivouac areas when the tanks were in their defensive positions. The wire was hooked up to each tank and allowed them to discreetly communicate without broadcasting their positions via radio.
*Much like the hull armor thicknesses, there is much disparity between turret thicknesses depending on the source.
Fire Control Turret
One very important title is held by the Conqueror. It was the first tank in the world to feature what we now call a ‘Hunter-Killer’ system. These systems provide the vehicle’s commander with the ability to spot targets for himself and take manual control of the turret and armament. This allows them to either lay their gunner on to target or take the shot themselves. In Conqueror, this system took the form of the ‘Fire Control Turret (FCT)’, a separate unit manned by the commander at the very rear of the main turret. It was capable of full 360 degree powered traverse (there was no manual override, a sore point among Conqueror commanders) independent of the main turret’s traverse. The FCT features its own defensive armament, consisting of an L3A1 .30 Cal (7.62 mm) machine gun – the British designation of the US Browning M1919A4. This gun was operated internally by the commander via mechanical linkages and, unlike the main gun, could be fired on the move. Although fired from the safety of the turret, the gun was fed by standard 200 to 250-round boxes – 3 of which were carried in the FCT. The commander would have to leave the safety of the FCT to reload and cock the weapon.
The FCT featured a number of optics. In front of the commander’s hatch were his three main viewing devices. The sight for the machine gun – the ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 6 Mk. 1’ – was mounted centrally, with an ‘Episcope, Tank, No. 7 Mk. 1’ on either side. Rangefinding for the main gun was done via the ‘Rangefinder, AFV, No. 1 Mk. 1’. This was placed laterally at the front of the FCT and had a 47-inch (1.19 meters) sight base, with the apertures appearing on each cheek of the FCT. The rangefinder used the ‘coincidence’ method of ranging. the system laid to images on top of each other. When the two images completly overlap, the range measurement is taken. The system could gauge ranges from 400 to 5000 yards (366 – 4572 meters). Initially, the designers of the Conqueror turned to the Royal Navy for the development of the rangefinder. However, the Navy had trouble downsizing, and as such, the designers turned to the Glasgow based company of Barr & Stroud Ltd. The ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 8 Mk. 1’ – was placed below the rangefinder in the face of the FCT. This had x7 magnification and was the commander’s primary sight for the main gun.
The ‘FCT’ system allowed the commander to set up the next attack while the gunner was finishing his current one. This would work in the following method; the commander spotted the target, measured the range, lay gunner on to it, who began targeting. He then hands off to the gunner who makes the fine adjustments and takes the shot. This allowed the commander to move onto the next target, starting the process over again. Alternatively, the commander could do it all by himself, including firing the main gun or coaxial machine gun with his own controls. The Conqueror was the first British tank to incorporate a range finder.
Both the 120 mm L1A1 and L1A2 guns were used on the Conqueror. The A1 and A2 were basically identical, other than the A2 being threaded at the muzzle end. The weapon system consisted of 4 major components: the gun, the mount, sighting systems, and ejection gear. The 120 mm barrel was forged and rifled with an overall length from muzzle to breech block of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters). A bore evacuator (fume extractor) was placed roughly halfway down the barrel’s length. The gun was mounted on trunnions placed at the front of the turret. The aperture in the turret was protected by a large, flat-sided frustoconical cast mantlet wrapped around the base of the barrel. The gap between the mantlet and the turret face was sealed by a material baffle. On the left and right of the gun were the large buffers of the hydraulic recoil system. The gun mount also carried an L3A1/Browning M1919 coaxial machine gun, which was located on the left of the main gun.
As well as the 360-degree power traverse of the turret, the gun was also equipped with power elevation with a range of -7 to + 15 degrees. Despite the maximum 7 degrees, a limiter prevented the gun from depressing past -5 degrees. The turret was traversed via the ‘Controller, Traverse, No. 1 Mk. 1’ spade grip found in front of and to the right of the gunner. A full rotation using powered traverse took 24 seconds. Elevation for the gun was achieved via the ‘Controller, Elevation, No. 2 Mk. 1’. This controller was on the gunner’s left, and also incorporated the electrical trigger for the main gun. Both elevation and traverse had manual overrides. As a safety feature, once the tank passed 1.5 mph (2.4 km/h), a micro switch engaged a system that disconnected the gun from the elevation system. The idea behind this ‘carry mode’ was that it put less stress on the gun cradle if the 2.9 ton gun was not locked into the system as the tank negotiated terrain. This effectively meant that the gunner was just along for the ride, having no control over the free-floating gun. A ‘trimming’ dial at the gunner’s station was used to stop the gun drifting too far up and down. As the tank was never designed to fire on the move, this was not seen as an issue. Still, it took several seconds after the tank had stopped before the gunner could operate the weapon once more. The gunner aimed the main gun via the ‘Sight, No. 10 Mk. 1’ which utilized two views with two eyepieces. One of these was a unity sight which granted an unmagnified field of vision. Integral in this view is a marked circle, this circle would show the view available to the eyepiece of the primary sight. The primary sight eyepiece was installed bellow the eyepiece for the unity. The sight had x6 magnification.
Just two types of ammunition were carried by the Conqueror in a combat loadout, these being Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH). Both ammunition types were ‘two-stage’, meaning the shell was loaded separately of the propellent. The gun was loaded manually by the loader. It was not the easiest of tasks as the projectiles were heavy and cumbersome. The APDS projectile weighed in at 21.4 pounds (9.7 kg) while the HESH shell weighed in at 35.3 pounds (16 kg). The gargantuan brass propellent cases were equally hefty, with the APDS’ case weighing in at 60.9 pounds (27.6 kg), and the HESH’s weighing in at 41.5 pounds (18.8 kg). The APDS round had a muzzle velocity of approximately 4,700 fps (1,433 m/s) and could penetrate up to 15.3 inches (390 mm) of flat steel armor – or 120 mm (4.7 in) of 55-degree angled steel armor – at 1,000 yards (914 meters). The HESH projectiles had the advantage of consistent effectiveness regardless of the target range. The shell, which had a velocity of 2,500 fps (762 m/s), created effective spalling on armour of up to 4.7 inches (120 mm) thick, angled at 60 degrees. It also served as a dual-use round just as capable of engaging enemy armor as for use as a high-explosive round against buildings, enemy defensive positions, or soft-skinned targets. Between 35 and 37 rounds were carried, divided between the ammunition types.
The Conqueror’s loader had one of the hardest tasks. He had to load the 20-pound projectile and up to 50-pound propellant case by hand. This arduous task was made worse by an initial War Office (WO) requirement that the loader be able to load 4 rounds in 1 minute, 16 rounds in 5 minutes, and be able to expel all rounds in 55 minutes. Tests performed at the Lulworth Ranges in Dorset soon confirmed that this was an unreasonable demand. The story goes that a special training course aimed at maximising loading speed was arranged for personnel set to become Conqueror loaders. This cannot be confirmed, however.
The War Office also looked into mechanical methods of assisting the loader in his tasks. The Army contracted Mullins Ltd., a company that specialised in the design and manufacture of cigarette dispensers. They developed two devices. One was a hydraulic rammer that would ram all of the ammunition components into the breech once the loader had placed them onto a tray behind it. The other was an automatic ejection system. The idea behind this was that it would stop the turret from being overtaken by the large propellent cases when they were ejected. It would also save the gunner from having to dispose of them manually by throwing them out of a turret hatch. The War Office opted to serialise the ‘Ejection Gear’ over the rammer, installing it on all Conquerors. The rammer was rejected as it was found that a well-trained loader could outrun the rammer by 1 second.
As it turned out, the ejection gear was fraught with problems that were never fully resolved during the Conqueror’s time in service. The system came into action after the gun was fired. When the spent propellant case was ejected, it fell down a channel until it was stood vertically on a platform, engaging a micro switch. The platform would then carry the shell up a long chute and out of the tank via an armored door towards the rear of the right side of the turret. The system would then reset in time to receive the next casing, with the whole process taking around 5 seconds. This was when the gear worked as intended, something of a rarity as the following quote describes:
“I hated the ejection gear, it had a mind of its own. The ejected case should have gone up a track and out of a hatch at the back of the turret but, occasionally, it came loose and ended up on top of the breach. Once there it caused havoc and the unlucky loader – me – would have to retrieve it risking being trapped between the breach and the turret roof!”
– ex-Conqueror Loader Allen Whittaker, 17th/21st Lancers, 1965 – 1987.
There was a manual override however, consisting of a hand crank that was operated by the commander. This was not an enjoyable task for the commander as – even empty – the shell lift was heavy. Manually, the process could take over 5 minutes.
A separate smaller engine in the engine bay was used to operate a generator that provided the tank with electrical power – necessary for the turret’s power traverse, radio, and, most importantly, the tea maker (aka the ‘Boiling Vessel’ or ‘BV’) – whether the main engine was on or off. The 29 hp, 4 cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine produced 350 amps at 28.5 volts.
Various radio sets were equipped on the Conqueror. These included the ‘Wireless Set No. 19 Mk. 3’, ‘Wireless Set No. C12’, ‘Wireless Set No. 88 Type A AFV (VHF)’, or ‘Wireless Set No. 31 AFV (VHF). On vehicles built later in the production run, a number of these were replaced by such units as the ‘Wireless Set No. A41’, ‘Wireless Set No. C42’, or ‘Wireless Set No. B47’. The radio was installed on the turret wall behind the loader’s station.
The Loader was also responsible for the most important feature of a British tank, the ‘tea maker’. Otherwise known as the ‘Boiling Vessel’ or ‘BV’, this was a hot water boiler that was used not only to make tea, but also to heat rations. This is a feature that continues to be present on most tanks today. In the Conqueror, it was located on the right of the hull, behind the driver.
Conqueror finally entered service in 1955, with the last vehicles being produced in 1958. Its role on the battlefield was to support its allies, rather than strike out on its own. It was designed to destroy enemy tanks from afar, covering the advance of the lighter FV4007 Centurion. In offensive operations, Conquerors would be placed in overwatch positions and fire over the heads of the main force as it advanced. In defensive operations, Conquerors would again take an overwatch role, but this time from key strategic positions to meet an advancing enemy.
The majority of FV214s went straight to the West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany – FRG) based units of the British Army Of the Rhine (BAOR). A small number of vehicles were retained in the UK for training and development, and to keep as donor vehicles for spare parts. Right from the start of its operational life, it was clear that the sheer size of the Conqueror was going to cause problems. The initial delivery of tanks – consisting of 4 Conquerors – landed at Hamburg Docks in mid-1955. From there, they were to be taken to Hohne on the back of Antar tank transporters. What should have been an approximately 2-hour, 90 mile (146 km) trip instead took 12 ½-hours. This was largely due to the combined mass of the tank and the Antar, a combined weight of 120 tons (122 tonnes). No bridge would take this weight, so every time the convoy came to one, the Conqueror’s had to be dismounted. Each vehicle would then be driven across separately.
At this time of the FV214s adoption, armored regiments were equipped with various marks of the Centurion. Generally, 9 Conquerors were issued to each regiment, although this did occasionally differ. Regiments would deploy their Conquerors in different manners, the majority placing them in troops of 3, with one ‘heavy troop’ to one armored squadron. Others placed them into single ‘heavy squadrons’, while some integrated them into mixed squadrons of 3 Centurions to 1 Conqueror.
1958 almost saw the premature end of the Conqueror. That year, 5 tanks succame to engine failure in quick succession. Two failed due to metal filings found in the oil system which had ground against bearings and other moving parts. Two others failed due to dust contamination, while one failed due to poor engine construction. Thankfully, the issues were fixed. The metal filings originated at the factory where engines were not being kept clean during construction. The solution was changing oil filters every 100 miles. The dust issue came from the fact that the air intakes on Conqueor were near the tracks, so debris shaken off them would sucked into the system. Following this, air filters were cleaned far more regularly.
Mobility-wise, and contrary to a popular perception of heavy tanks as being slow and somewhat hapless, the Conqueror performed better than most at the time had expected. On road marches, the tank was able to keep up with the smaller Centurion, despite being around 15 tons heavier. On rough ground, it was found that the Conqueror was less likely to become bogged down, largely due to its wider tracks. Thanks to its metal-on-metal running gear, it was also very rare for the Conqueror to throw its tracks of boggy ground – a much more common occurrence on the Centurion due to the rubber on the wheels flexing away from the track’s guide horns. The Centurion did have the advantage on softer ground as it was lighter, but if it was driven to the limit, the Conqueror was able to keep up.
Conqueror’s were operated by the following units in the BAOR: The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th (The Desert Rats), and 8th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers, 16/5th Queen’s Royal Lancers, 17/21st Lancers, 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’), 3rd Kings Own Hussars, The Queen’s Own Hussars, 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’ Own), 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own), The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, 14/20th King’s Hussars, 13/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own), 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guards), and the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons).
One of the first units to receive the Conqueror was the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards based at Fallingbostel, West Germany. This unit had to adapt to the size of the Conqueror. The 4/7th was based in a Second World War-era ex-German Army base, complete with tank hangars. The problem was the hangars were built for smaller tanks – such as the Panzer IV – not something the size of the FV214. At a squeeze, the tanks would fit in the pens, but the 24-foot (7.3 meter) long gun would be left protruding out of the doors. Unable to close them, the crews cut squares out of the doors so they would shut (this led to the rather comical image below). The gun’s length also effected how the tank crossed rough terrain. If the tank descended a steep incline, there was a danger that the muzzle could get driven into the ground – filling it with mud or causing damage in the process. To overcome this, the turret had to be traversed to the rear.
Unfortunately, mechanical faults plagued the Conqueror throughout its service life. Constant engine breakdowns and recurring fuel leaks would often keep tanks off the front line. Continuous malfunctions of the ejection gear also brought combat effectiveness of the tank into question as it greatly reduced the vehicle’s rate-of-fire.
The sheer size of the vehicle also caused numerous logistical and tactical problems. Small country roads were all but destroyed due to the weight of the vehicle, coupled with its bare manganese-steel tracks. Country bridges were also unable to accommodate the vehicle, causing delays in deployment. The tank’s long gun also caused problems if the tank had to operate in constricted locations such as small villages or heavily wooded areas. Its size also caused problems when it came to placing the vehicles under shelter when bivouacking or for maintenance.
In 1959, the Conqueror’s fate was sealed. That year, Royal Ordnance had begun the final tests of the famous 105 mm L7 tank gun. It was found that, ballistically, the performance of the smaller 105mm almost matched that of the larger L1 120 mm gun of the Conqueror. This new 105 mm was set to be mounted in all future models of the Centurion. This simple act made Conqueror obsolete almost overnight. The vehicle, however, remained in service until 1966, when the final nail in the coffin was hammered home; the arrival of the Chieftain. The FV4201 Chieftain was leaps and bounds ahead of the Conqueror technologically and also featured a new, even more powerful L11 120 mm gun. So, after just 11 years of service, the Conqueror was retired, just 8 years after the last Conqueror rolled off the assembly line.
The Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) was the only variant of the FV214 gun tank to reach production and service. Weighing in at 65 tons (66 tonnes), the Conqueror outweighed the British Army’s existing recovery vehicles. As such, in 1959, a recovery vehicle based on the Conqueror itself was developed. This would be designated as the FV219 Conqueror ARV Mk. 1. In 1960, the second incarnation followed as the FV222 Conqueror ARV Mk. 2. Just 8 Mk. 1s were built before production shifted to the FV222. Twenty of these were built.
The two ARVs differ in appearance (the Mk. 1 featured a small superstructure in place of the turret whereas the Mk. 2 featured a larger structure and sloping glacis plate at the front) but their equipment was identical. Both vehicles carried 2 x tie-bars, a wooden bumper/buffer bar, 2 x heavy-duty single-sheave snatch blocks, and 3 x steel cables – 1 x 98 foot (30-meter), 2 x 15 foot (4.5 meter).
While the FV214 gun tank was retired in 1966, the ARV continued to serve after this. Although it was officially replaced in service by the FV4006 Centurion ARV (a similar vehicle, just built on the Centurion hull) which entered service in the early 1960s, a few were retained in operation in various locations. Records show that at least one Conqueror ARV was still in operation in Germany in the 1990s. One is also reported to have been in operation at the Amphibious Experimental Establishment (also known as ‘AXE’) at Instow in North Devon. It was used for beach tank recovery practice.
The engine was designed and built by the firm of C. A. Parsons Ltd., based in Newcastle upon Tyne, and was tested by the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE). Turbine engines were investigated as a means of providing an armored vehicle with a more powerful engine without increasing the vehicle’s weight. Turbine engines are generally made of lighter materials than traditional combustion engines. A turbine engine operates thusly: In an open cycle, a rotary compressor mixes air with combusting fuel. The expanding air is forced over power output, in this case, a turbine, which provides rotation to the drive shaft.
In FVRDE tests, it was found the engine could develop 1,000 hp at 6,500 rpm. Although a general success, the project ended in 1956, with the last official report on it being filed in 1955.
However, the vehicle was not scrapped. Later, it found use as a Dynamometer Vehicle, used to measure engine power. A welded superstructure was placed atop the hull, with a large cab placed at the front and was painted bright yellow. Later still, it found use at The Tank Museum, Bovington as a commentary box in their arena. For this, an additional cab was fitted atop the Dynamometer cab. Sadly, despite the vehicle being one of a kind and a unique piece of tank history, the vehicle was later sent to the scrapper by the Museum.
Shaped Charge Trial Vehicle
In recent years, a number of myths have been propagated over this variant, with two large games companies (Wargaming and Gaijin, makers of World of Tanks and War Thunder, respectively) labeling it as a ‘Super Conqueror’. No such name was ever used. The tank was, in fact, a mere static test vehicle, a guinea pig that was pummeled by High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) ammunition to test their effects on armored vehicles. For this, the vehicle was covered with additional 0.5 – 1.1 inch (14 – 30 mm) armor plates over its bow and turret cheeks.
The vehicle was constructed from spare parts. The tests started in 1957, with prototype versions of the American T42 ‘Dart’ HEAT shell and a single Malkara warhead tested against the armor. Internally, the vehicle was fully stocked with a standard APDS and HESH ammunition loadout. The crew positions were filled with life-size dummies or a more grisly alternative; live rabbits.
For the British Army, the Conqueror was the last of its kind. Just a couple of years after it entered service, most of the world’s major powers realized that the day of the heavy tank had passed and that the Main Battle Tank (MBT) would dominate the battlefields of the future. With the British Army investing in the Conqueror’s replacement – the FV4201 Chieftain – the Conqueror was retired, never having got the chance to combat its rival, the IS-3. By this time, the IS-3 had been replaced in Soviet front line units. It would later see combat in the Middle East where the fear placed in it by the Allies in 1945 was shown to be overblown.
Upon retirement, the majority of Conqueror’s went straight to gunnery ranges across the United Kingdom and West Germany. A number of gutted, rusted hulks still remain on ranges such as Kirkcudbright and Stanford (UK) and Haltern (Germany).
Unfortunately – of the approximately 180 vehicles built – only a handful remain intact. In the UK, examples can be found at The Tank Museum, Bovington, and the Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight. An example can also be found at Musée des blindés, Saumur, and at Patriot Park, Moscow. Other examples of varying conditions can be found dotted across the world.
An article by Mark Nash, assisted by David Lister & Andrew Hills.
FV214 Conqueror Mk. 2. Weighing in at 65 tons (66 tonnes), the Conqueror is worthy of its name. Measuring 25 feet (7.62 meters) long – not including the gun, 13.1 feet (3.99 meters) wide and 11 feet (3.35 meters) tall, the FV214 cut an imposing figure. It was one of the largest and heaviest tanks ever to serve with the British Army.
FV214 Conqueror Mk. 2 with turret fully traversed. The powerful, 2.9 ton (3 tonne), 24.3 foot (7.4 meter) long Ordnance QF 120 mm Tank L1A2 Gun is resting in the travel lock. Note the hatch in the turret bustle. This was where shells ejected by the troublesome Mollins gear were jettisoned from the tank.
These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon Campaign
Specifications (Conqueror Mk. 2)
25 feet (without gun) x 13.1 feet x 11 feet (7.62 x 3.99 x 3.35 meters)
Total weight, battle ready
65 tons (66 tonnes)
4 (Driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 810 hp (604 kW)
22 mph (35 kph)
100 mi (164 km)
Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 120 mm Tank L1A2 Gun
Sec. 2x L3A1/Browning M1919A4 .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Guns
Front (Upper Glacis): 4.7 – 5.1 in (120 – 130 mm) @ 61.5 degrees
Front (Lower Glacis): 3 in (77 mm) @ 45 degrees
Sides & Roof: 2 in (51 mm) + 0.2 in (6 mm) ‘Bazooka Plates’
Floor: 0.7 in (20 mm) + 0.3 in (10 mm) ‘Mine Plate’
Face: 9.4 – 13.3 in (240 – 340 mm) @ 60 degrees.
Mantlet: 9.4 in (239 mm)
Sides: 3.5 inches (89 mm)
Roof & Rear: 2 inches (51 mm)
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German Empire (1912) Land-Train
The brain-child of the famous Professor Ferdinand Porsche, the Landwehr Zug, literally meaning “Land Train”, was one of the first ever hybrid power vehicles. This heavy haulage machine was designed to transport heavy equipment to troops in the field, powered by both diesel and electrocortical drives. There were three versions, each bigger and more powerful than the last. The A-Zug, B-Zug, and C-Zug. They were produced by Austro-Diamler Generator Wagon.
These vehicles entered use in 1912 but would go on to serve through the First and Second World Wars.
Porsche developed his diesel/electric engine in 1900. The first vehicle equipped with this drive was his Semper Vivus road car. It was powered by two gasoline engines that were connected to generators. This formed a charging unit that provided the batteries and motors mounted in the wheel hubs with power. The generators also served as the starter. The vehicle could drive a long distance on electric power alone until the combustion engines were used to charge the batteries. This technology would be used again for the Landwehr Zug, minus the batteries.
The assembly of the vehicle started with a small tractor at the head of the train. It held a 100 hp gasoline engine that powered a generator. This provided current to the tractor’s rear axle motors, propelling the vehicle. With the help of a long cable that spanned the length of the train, this generator also provided power to the wheel-mounted motors of the individual carts. This, of course, meant the trailers were self-propelled and not towed, meaning the vehicle was able to traverse the harshest of road conditions with relative ease. Tangled mountain side roads were no issue either as the individually powered carts could handle the tightest serpentine movements.
This power cable also allowed a relatively heavy vehicle to cross weak or temporary bridges. The tractor would go across on its own, the carts would then propel themselves over the bridge one by one. With a small exchange of wheels, the Land Train could become a regular train, able to run on rails.
With the A-Zug fulfilling the basic rolls, there was a need for a more powerful vehicle. This gave rise to the B and C-Zug. The B-Zug was more powerful than the previous vehicle, able to transport heavier loads such as light cannons and their heavier ammunition supply. More information on this vehicle is not known, unfortunately.
The C-Zug was the largest of the Landwehr-Zugs and was known as the Artilleriegeneratorwagon. It was designed to make Škoda’s 380 mm (15 in) and 420 mm (16.5 in) siege mortars transportable. For this, the tractor’s generators were powered by a 150 hp gasoline engine. This tractor pulled a single trailer with 8 powered wheels. Fully loaded, this train could weigh up to 38 tons, yet it could still reach the respectable speed of 24 km/h (12.5 mph). This particular vehicle would stay in service into the Second World War.
Porsche would continue to make use of his hybrid design. It would prove an integral part of his later tank designs. This includes the VK 30.01 (P) Medium Tank, the VK 45.01 (P) otherwise known as the Tiger (P) and, later, his crowning glory, the infamous Maus super-heavy tank. The power-sharing system would also be transplanted into these vehicles.
The VK 30.01 (P) on the right and the VK 45.01 (P) on the left practicing the power-share system – Photo: Schiffer Publishing
The VK 30.01 (P) on the right and the VK 45.01 (P) on the left practicing the power-share system – Photo: Schiffer Publishing
To the “Average Joe”, Porsche is simply known as a luxury sports car producing company. What is much less known is how important one of his earliest developments is. The petrol-electric hybrid is seen as the next step in the life of the combustion engine, but even today, it is still a largely unexplored and sparsely used technology. Only recently has worked really begun again on this type of engine, with vehicles like the Toyota Prius or BMW i8 fitted with this low emission alternative.
Illustration of the Landwehr Zug, produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Medium Tank & Assault Gun – 61 Pz. IIIs & 10 StuGs Obtained
Norway was left battered and bruised by a 5-year long German occupation (April 1940 – May 1945) that only ended with the capitulation of German forces at the end of the Second World War in Europe. Retreating German forces left a large quantity of equipment in their wake. Rifles, machine guns, anti-tank guns, tools, and even some aircraft were left behind and claimed by the now free and rebuilding Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”). Many armored vehicles were also left behind, mostly consisting of various types of the Panzerkampfwagen III medium tanks (both long-barrelled 50 mm and short-barreled 75 mm gun-armed models) and a few Sturmgeschütz III assault guns.
Eager to protect their newfound freedom, the Forsvaret adopted these surplus vehicles. They would sit in storage for a few years until 1948 , when the Norwegian Military – preparing for a possible Soviet invasion – devised a defensive plan for Norway’s strategic airfields. Not wanting to relegate their small M24 Chaffee force to guard duty, the Army activated the obsolete Panzers.
The ex-Wehrmacht Panzers and StuGs, which were renamed Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III respectively, filled this role until the early 1950s, when they started to be replaced by an increasing number of M24 Chaffees donated by the United States.
Stridsvogn KW-III (Panzer III)
The Panzerkampfwagen III (Sd.Kfz. 141) medium tank was developed in the mid-1930s and was designed to fight enemy tanks alongside its larger brother, the Panzer IV, which was originally intended to support the Panzer III and friendly infantry.
The Panzer III had very good mobility for its time. It was powered by a 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM 300 PS, producing 296 hp. This propelled the 23-tonne vehicle to a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). A running gear consisting of 6-road wheels per side supported the tank’s weight. The road wheels were attached to a torsion bar suspension. The drive sprocket was at the front, while the idler was at the rear. The return of the track was supported by 3-rollers.
The tank was operated by a 5-man crew consisting of a Commander, Gunner, and Loader in the turret, with the Driver and Radio Operator/Bow Machine Gunner in the hull.
Two main types of Panzer III were left behind and reused by the Norwegians. These were both later model Panzers, being the Ausführung N and mix of Ausführung J, L, & Ms. The N was the last model of Panzer III. Armed with a short 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 gun, it was intended to act as an infantry support vehicle firing mostly High-Explosive (HE) shells. It could also fire Armor Piercing (AP), High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and Smoke shells. The Ausf. J, L, and Ms were all armed with the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60. This was a tank-killing gun, and could penetrate up to 130 mm (5.11 in) of armor firing an Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) shell. All of these variants were equipped with a coaxial and bow-mounted 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun.
As later model Panzer IIIs, the majority of the tanks were equipped with an add-on armor kit known as ‘Vorpanzer’. This consisted of armor plates being added on the upper hull plate and gun mantlet. This boosted the original armor thickness of 15 mm to 50 mm. A few of the vehicles were also equipped with Schürzen add-on armor on the turret and hull sides.
Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III)
The Sturmgeschütz were a series of assault guns that found a successful role as tank destroyers. The StuG IIIs were based on the chassis of the Panzerkampfwagen III medium tank. The Panzer III’s turret and superstructure were removed from the hull and were replaced with an armored casemate. Armor on the vehicle was 16 to 80 mm (.62 to 3.15 in) thick.
The StuG was powered by the same 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM as the Panzer III, which propelled the 24-tonne (26 ton) vehicle to 25 mph (40 km/h). The StuG was manned by a crew of 4, consisting of a Commander, Gunner, Loader, and Driver.
At least 2 types of StuG III were reused by the Norwegians. These were the Ausführung F/8 and the Ausführung G. There were only minor differences between the two, with the Ausf. G being based on Panzer III Ausf. M hull with a redesigned (and widened) superstructure. Both StuGs were armed with the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 (an anti-tank gun derived from the PaK 40). This was a powerful anti-tank gun, with a maximum penetration of 176 mm (6.9 in) firing an APCR shell.
The first Panzer IIIs to see deployment in Norway were from the Panzer-Abteilung z.b.V. 40. This unit had been originally created for the invasion of Norway and was originally equipped with Panzer I, Panzer II, and Neubaufahrzeug tanks. However, during the invasion, it lost several tanks during the fighting against the Norwegian and British forces, including multiple Panzer Is and one of the Neubaufahrzeugs. To replace these losses, the last five production Panzer III Ausf. Ds were sent from Germany. Later on, the unit was further reinforced with around 15 more Panzer IIIs of Ausf. G and Ausf. H variety. These tanks arrived after the Invasion of Norway and didn’t partake in any fighting. They did, however, get their baptism of fire in June 1941 when the Pz.Abt.z.b.V. 40 was sent to secure the Finnish Lapland front as the Continuation War began with German and Finnish Forces fighting against the Soviets.
The Pz.Abt did not leave Finland until December of 1942, when they were re-deployed in Norway, leaving some of their obsolete equipment behind. Amongst other things, 16 Panzer Is and the three remaining Panzer III Ausf. Ds were left in Finland for the newly formed Panzer-kompanie 40 to use. Pz.Abt. z.b.V. 40 itself saw no further action and was disbanded on June 10th, 1943. It is then believed that its remaining equipment and personnel were passed on to the 25th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht) which was, at the time, based in Oslo.
The 25th Panzer Division had originally been formed as the “Schützenverband Oslo”. Early on, it operated mainly captured French Somua S35 and Hotchkiss H35 tanks but later received Panzer III and IV tanks as well as a few StuG III assault guns. Its original intended purpose was to serve as a potential rapid response force for the invasion of Sweden. However, as the war with the Soviet Union dragged on, it was decided that most of the 25th Panzer division would depart from Norway in the fall of 1943 and be moved to the Eastern Front. Those parts of the 25th that would stay in Norway would form a new unit called the “Panzer Division Norway ”. This arrangement, however, would not last for long as, in May 1944, it was transferred to Denmark in order to reinforce the 25th Pz. division. What remained in Norway was briefly reorganized into the Panzerabteilung Norwegen. This however, would also not last long as the unit again went through several restructurings before finally ending up as the Panzerbrigade Norwegen. The unit remained in this form until the end of the war. At the moment of its surrender to the British forces in May 1945, it had 25 Panzer IIIs with the 5 cm KwK 39, 36 Panzer III Ausf. Ns, and 10 StuG III assault guns of Ausf. F/8 and Ausf.G variety. How most of these tanks ended up in Norway is, however, a bit of a mystery.
Fahrgestell Numbers – meaning chassis numbers – help us track the unique history of German vehicles. Thanks to these, we know the specific history of 4 Panzer IIIs, as they survive today in Norway. These are Fahrgestell 66158, 73651, 74352 and 76219. 66158 was an Ausf. H, built by Motorenwerke Augsburg Nuremberg (MAN) in 1941 and would have been equipped with the short 5 cm KwK 39 L/42 gun. At some point, however, its turret was replaced with an Ausf. N or M turret with the short 75 mm. 73651 is an Ausf. J, originally built by Henschel und Sohn in May, 1941 before being upgraded. 74352 had an interesting history. It served with the infamous SS Division “Das Reich” between 1942 and 1943 in France and on the Eastern Front. Lastly, 76219 was built by MAN in 1943. It was part of one of the first batches of Ausf. Ms produced and was deployed by Panzer-Grenadier Division “Grossdeutschland” on the Eastern Front in 1943. The number 76149 is also recorded in relation to one of the Pz.Kpfw III, Fgst.Nr 73651. This has led to some confusion as 76149 is actually one of the StuGs, an Ausführung G.
Thanks to the Fahrgestell numbers, this information is known to us, but quite how these things ended up in Norway by the war’s end is currently a mystery. After 1943, many of these units were re-equipped with more powerful and newer tanks, so it is possible that these tanks were sent to Norway as it was a less crucial part of Germany’s war effort, ergo, units stationed there were not in need of the latest armored vehicles. It is also possible that these vehicles were damaged during fighting, sent back to Germany for capital repair and refurbishment and then allocated to quieter sectors. This would explain the fact that some of the known vehicles are older models that had been upgraded.
The origin of the StuGs is less well documented, unfortunately. It is unknown how many of the 10 StuGs remained operable, and what their origins were. At least 4 StuG III Ausf. F/8s were operated in Norway during the War by Panzerjäger-Abteilungen 14, 14th Luftwaffen-Felddivision, so this may be where at least 4 came from. There were at least two Ausf. Gs handed over, but their origins are unknown.
Adoption by Norway
The Panzers that were adopted into the Norwegian Army were of varying quality, some of them had even been sabotaged by the Allies. Like the majority of Panzer IIIs that were still in service at war’s end, many of them were upgraded older models, having been upgunned or up-armored. Many were also equipped with Schürzen armor and/or Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste. A vast majority of them were handed over as the Germans surrendered. For example, at least 15 Panzer IIIs of various types were handed over with the surrender of Panzer-Brigade “Norwegen” at Trandum, southeast Norway, in May 1945.
With the mysterious origin of the StuG, it is unclear as to what condition the vehicles were in upon adoption. Assuming 4 Ausf. F/8s came from Pz.Jg.Abt 14, and taking into account the two known Ausf. Gs, that accounts for 6 StuGs. The stories of the 4 outstanding vehicles are unknown also, though, as with the Panzers, it is possible that these were simply kept as donors for spare parts.
With the end of the Second World War, Norway was once again facing the possibility of invasion, this time from the Soviet Union with which it shared a northern border. In 1945, Norway began to receive aid under the US-led ‘MAP’. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. In the case of Norway, this meant the delivery of the M24 Chaffee light tank, starting in 1946. The Chaffee would give the military their first taste of operating a relatively modern armored vehicle, having not had a tank since the L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ of the late 1930s.
In 1948, with the perceived threat from the USSR, the Norwegian Military decided that it was crucial to keep its major air bases protected. It was decided that the most important of these were Gardermoen, Eggemoen, Sola, Fornebu, Værnes, and Bardufoss. To give an idea of the strategic importance of some of these airports, Gardermoen was located near Oslo, the capital of Norway, and was the main base of the Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Airforce). Sola, located on Norway’s south-eastern coast, was an important link with the western Allies. Værnes, located roughly in central Norway, allowed transit to the North and South of the country.
It was decided that each airport would need its own unit consisting of armored vehicles and platoons of troops. At this time, however, Norway only had 17 Chaffees to its name, and the Army was not going to allocate its only ‘modern’ tank to guard duty. With the surplus Panzers in storage, it was decided that it was time for them to fill a role.
Only around 25 of the Panzers IIIs were in operable condition. The remaining 36 vehicles were mostly used as donors for spare parts. The best of these were themselves repaired and rearmed as best as possible. This work was carried out at Trandum, an Army base just north-east of Oslo. It is unknown how many of the Panzer IIIs with the short 7.5 cm KwK 37 guns were true Ausf. Ns. With the recycling of various parts from the stock of spare tanks, it is highly likely that many of them were artificial, being older models with later guns. This may also be true for some of the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60 gun-armed tanks. One detail to mention is that the Norwegian crews kept an MG42 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on the Commander’s cupola. Another unknown is if the tanks were re-painted, and if so, what color. At this time, the tanks would have remained in their original, Wehrmacht colors.
Understanding fully that the Panzers and StuGs – now renamed the Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III, respectively – were all but obsolete at this point, they were not going to field them as front line tanks, but rather keep them as defensive vehicles. The 25 Strv KW-IIIs and 10 Stkn KW-IIIs were divided between the newly created Airport Defense regiments. These regiments were raised between November and December 1948. They consisted of the 1st Dragoon Regiment (raised at Akershus) stationed at Sola and Fornebu, the 2nd Dragoon Regiment (raised at Oppland) assigned to Gardermoen and Eggemoen, and the 3rd Dragoon Regiment (raised at Trøndelag) assigned to Værnes and Bardufoss. The Norwegian army found the 5 cm gun of the Strvs to be lacking in tank-killing power, so each unit was equipped with at least one StKn KW-III or a towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. These guns also came from ex-Wehrmacht stocks adopted at the end of WW2. In October 1949, the Dragoon Regiments officially began to garrison the airports. The tank crews consisted of 22 men. Also at their disposal were motorcycles, Willys Jeeps, and Fordson ¾-ton (.68 tonne) trucks.
Also in 1949, Norway and the west became an even more united front. In April, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born with Norway a founding member. As it shared a border with the USSR, it was seen as a crucial partner. Thanks to this, Norway began to receive more military aid, and the number of M24 Chaffees available to the Army vastly increased. By 1951, the entire KW-III force had been replaced by the 125 Chaffees Norway now had. By 1949, it would appear, the vehicles seem to have been painted in the same basic olive green used on the Chaffees. For winter, they were covered in a rough white-wash haphazardly lashed on by hand. This method of whitewashing lasted into the 1980s.
With more Chaffees at their disposal, the Army began to phase out the recycled KW-IIIs. Both the Stridsvogn and the Stormkanon stayed on in service at Bardufoss as training vehicles for future Norwegian tankers. We know that Fgst.Nr 74352 – known as ‘Yellow 3’, Fgst.Nr 66158 – known as ‘Yellow 2’, and Fgst.Nr 76219 – known as ‘Yellow 1’ were among them*. The tanks served here until 1953, when the Army found a rather unique role for them to fill…
*These tanks are known by these names due to the fact that they had large yellow numbers painted on the sides of their turrets. The function of these numbers is unknown, however.
In 1953, the garrison of Bardufoss Airfield began to dig their 7.5 cm gun-armed Stridsvogns into static defensive positions connected to Fort Bjørnåsen, ‘Yellow 3’, ‘2’, and ‘1’ amongst them. This fort was located in the grounds of the airfield, and was a system of former Luftwaffe bunkers built during WW2. For the defense of the airfield, the Norwegians expanded upon it. The purpose of the bunker and the static tanks was to cover the airfield from as many angles as possible, should an enemy attempt to storm it. The priority target of the 7.5 cm guns would be any aircraft that attempted to land. The tanks were dug into pits roughly 4 meters (13.1 ft) wide, 5.5 meters (18 ft) long with a 3.25 meter ramp, and 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) deep, leaving just their turrets above the ground. A simple wooden shelter was constructed over them. Inside, the tanks were completely stripped. The engine, transmission, driveshaft and other components housed in the hull were completely removed. With all power-providing components removed, the turrets would have been traversed manually. A hole was cut into the hull of the tanks, to which a concrete tunnel was connected, which allowed direct access to the fort, provided a protected entranceway for the crew, and allowed a direct means of ammunition resupply.
The KW-III turrets remained in place into the 1960s, by which time they became obsolete. The turrets were replaced with 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. For these, new concrete emplacements were built beside the buried tanks. A new hole was cut into the side of the buried tanks to connect them to the new structures to allow the use of the old ammunition tunnels. Earth was then built up around the new emplacements, completely burying the tanks.
Rather frustratingly, despite extensive searches and inquiries by both writers, no pictures can currently be found of the Panzer turrets in situ during their time in operation.
The majority of the Stridsvogn and Stormkanon KW-III fleet was retired by 1953. Much of the fleet was scrapped with the rest ‘sentenced to death’ as targets on various ranges. The Strvs that were dug into the bunker complex at Fort Bjørnåsen were simply forgotten once they were buried.
From 1943, Finland, Norway’s eastern Scandinavian Neighbour, had operated a fleet of StuG IIIs. These were initially bought from Nazi Germany, but they remained in service post-war. By the late 1950s, however, there was a severe spare parts shortage. In 1958, the inspector of the Finnish Army’s tank section and member of the Ordnance Division, Aaro Manskinen, traveled to the Norwegian Fjords on leave. While there, he by chance happened upon a stock pile of Panzers in various states of disrepair. It soon became clear that the Norwegian Ministry of Defense was looking to sell this pile of – what was then considered – scrap. After some initial troubles due to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty – which blocked Finland from purchasing equipment from or of German origin – a deal was agreed. 20 Panzer IIIs, 1 StuG, 10 Maybach engines, and a pile of spare parts were sold to Finland. Upon arriving in Finland, the tanks were disassembled and all useful parts were stored for later use. This kept Finland’s StuG fleet in operation well into the 1960s.
It wasn’t until November 2007 that the first Fort Bjørnåsen Panzers (Fgst.Nr 74352, 66158, 76219) began to be excavated, with a second two being uncovered in August 2007.
Today, just 7 of the Panzer IIIs (of various types) and 2 of the StuG III Ausf. Gs survive. Panzer IIIs Fgst.Nr 74352 (‘Yellow 3’), Fgst.Nr 66158 (‘Yellow 2’), and Fgst.Nr 76219 (‘Yellow 1’) are among them. ‘Yellow 3’ currently resides at Troms Forsvarsmuseum, Setermoen, awaiting restoration. ‘Yellow 2’ is currently undergoing full-scale restoration at Muzeum Broni Pancernej, Poznań in Poland, where it has been since 2013. ‘Yellow 1’ was transferred to Finland in 2013.
Fgst.Nr 73651, a Panzer III Ausf. J, was put into storage at the Oslo Defence Museum in 1964. In 1988, it was loaned to Memorial de Caen, Normandy. It was recently returned to Norway. A ‘Tankenstein’ Panzer III consisting of a Ausf. G/H hull and an Ausf. N turret can be found at the André Becker Collection in Belgium. The vehicle left Norway in the late 1940s and was located in Sweden until the 1980s. The others, an Ausf. N and an Ausf. M, can be found at Rena Military Camp, Norway, and the Wheatcroft Collection, UK, respectively.
As for the two StuG III Gs, Fgst.Nr 76149 has been cosmetically restored and currently resides in storage at the Forsvarsmuseet, Trandum. Another, which is simply the remains of a rusting hulk, can be found at Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum.
Norway’s use of the Panzer III and StuG III is a prime example of ‘make do and mend’. Eager to defend themselves from the increasingly threatening Soviet Union, they activated equipment that was obsolete years before the Second World came to an end. What effect these vehicles could have had on Soviet Tanks is debatable. This, however, was not their intended role. Being assigned to airport garrison forces, their primary role was to engage troops and aircraft attempting to land.
The use of the Panzers and StuGs allowed the recovering Norwegian army to train their first batch of tank crews and allowed them to practise and train on a scale that would have been impossible with only the initial number of M24s. This allowed Norway to build up its fleet of more modern M24 Chaffees, and save them for active duty in a combat scenario, should the need have arisen.
An article by Mark Nash and Konsta Pylkkönen.
Illustration of Stridsvogn KW-III ‘Yellow 1’ (Fgst.Nr 76219). Originally built as an Ausf. M, it was later brought to Ausf. N standard and fitted with the short 7.5cm KwK 37. ‘Yellow 1’ was also one of the tanks buried at Bardufoss airfield.
Illustration of one of the 10 Stormkanon KW-IIIs (StuG IIIs) operated by Norway, this example being a StuG III Ausf. F/8. The vehicle is covered in the roughly painted white-wash camouflage pattern. This type of winter camouflage was used by the Norwegian Army well into the 1980s.
These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Stridsvogn KW-III (Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. N)
5.49 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(18ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
7.5 cm KwK 37
2 × 7.92 mm MG34
Up to 50mm (2 in)
5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator/bow machine-gunner)
In 1946, Norway began to operate a fleet of M24 Chaffee light tanks given to it under a United States-led Military Aid Program (MAP). By the 1960s, the M24 was still in service with the Norwegian Army (Hæren) and was starting to show its age.
In the late-1960s, the Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”) began an upgrade program with the company of Thune-Eureka A/S, based in the country’s capital, Oslo. This program was aimed at drastically upgrading the M24 Chaffee fleet with the introduction of a new 90 mm main gun, a new, more powerful engine, a new transmission, and various other modernizations.
While this upgrade program was underway, it was also decided that the upgraded Chaffee – which would receive the designation NM-116 ‘Panserjager’ (tank hunter) – would need a support vehicle. As such, the NM-130 Bergepanser (Armored Recovery Vehicle, ARV) was conceived. Just four vehicles would be converted, but they would all go on to support the NM-116 throughout its service life.
Foundation: The M24 Chaffee
The M24 Chaffee, named after Army General Adna R. Chaffee Jr., entered service in 1944, largely replacing the M3 and M5 Stuarts. It was a small tank at 16 foot 4 inches (5.45 m) long, 9 foot 4 inches (2.84 m) wide, and 5 foot 3 inches (2.61 m) tall. It was also light at just 20.25 tons (18.37 tonnes). Armor on the vehicle was ¾ inch to 1 ½ inch (19 – 38 mm) thick. It was armed with the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6. It was operated by a 5 man crew, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, driver and assistant driver/radio operator.
It was a very maneuverable vehicle, powered by a Twin Cadillac 44T24 8-cylinder petrol engine producing 220 hp. The transmission and drive wheels were located at the front of the vehicle. The Chaffee rolled on 5 roadwheels attached to a torsion bar suspension. The fifth road wheel was attached to the idler wheel at the rear of the running gear. This is because the idler was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacted to terrain, the idler was pushed out or pulled in accordingly, keeping constant track tension.
Norway received its first Chaffee’s from the US under the ‘MAP’ in 1946. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. Norway was one of these countries that was rebuilding after the lengthy Nazi Occupation of the country. Other countries that benefited from the MAP included France, Portugal, and Belgium, but also former enemy nations such as West Germany and Japan. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed and NATO was born, resulting in the United States prolonging its Military Aid Programs.
The initial 1946 delivery consisted of just 9 vehicles. These were sent directly to Trandum leir, a Norwegian Army Camp (now closed) near Ullensaker. From 1946 until the early 1950s, Norway received a total of 125 M24s. The M24s gave the Norwegian Army (Hæren) excellent service for many years, until the late-1960s. Some went on to serve with the Heimevernet (Home Guard).
The NM-116 was the result of a military on a small budget trying to improve the lethality of its tank arsenal. The NM-130 was the result of the same sort of dilemma; how do you provide a new tank with a new support vehicle without breaking the bank?
Of the Hæren’s 125 M24s, 72 would go on to be used in the NM-116 upgrade program. To develop the ARV, four extra M24s were set aside. As said above, most of the remaining M24s went into service with the Heimevernet. Any remaining vehicles were likely scrapped. It is not uncommon for recovery vehicles to be based on the same chassis as the vehicle they are designed to support. The American M103 heavy tank-based M51 Heavy ARV and German Leopard 1-based Bergepanzer 2 are prime examples of this.
The conversion work to turn the vehicles into ARVs was undertaken by Kvaerner Eureka AS. The four Chaffee hulls went through the same automotive upgrades as those being upgraded to the NM-116 standard. The turrets, however, were completely removed and replaced with a large crane. A small dozer blade was also installed on the vehicle’s lower glacis.
The NM-130’s crew consisted of three personnel; Commander, Crane Operator and Driver. The driver sat at the front left of the vehicle, as on the original Chaffee. The Commander sat in a position roughly halfway down the length of the hull, on the right side, under a large circular hatch with an incorporated periscope. The Commander was also responsible for the vehicle’s only weapon, a German-made 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. This was a defensive weapon only. The crane operator sat in an external, unarmored position on the crane unit when it was in operation. When it was not in operation, it is unknown where he would have sat. It is likely that he sat in what would have been the bow gunner’s position on the standard Chaffee, at the front right of the hull. Concrete evidence of this escapes the author at the time of writing.
Dag Rune Nilsen, ex-commander of an NM-116 from Panserverneskadron, Brigade Nord (PvEsk/N, Eng: “Tank Squadron, Northern Brigade”), describes here the working relationship with the NM-130 and its crew:
“The NM-130 crew was an important part of the Panserverneskadron. It was manned by the mechanics who maintained our vehicles at base, so we had a close working relationship. I got the impression that they were very happy with the vehicle and [they were] proud to operate it. It had a strong winch, a solid crane and other tools including a welding machine. Our squadron operated M113s, NM-142s and, of course, the NM-116. The NM-130 were capable of assisting us in all the situations we encountered. No problems whatsoever.”
The Chaffee’s Twin Cadillac 220hp petrol engine was replaced by a Detroit Diesel 6V-53T two-stroke diesel engine that was liquid-cooled and equipped with a turbocharger. Diesel engines perform better in cold temperatures and are also somewhat safer as diesel is less volatile than petrol (gasoline). The engine gave the tank more power as it produced 260 hp, but slowed the tank down to a top speed of 47 km/h (29 mph). This was not too big of an issue as the increased torque gave it the power to navigate Norway’s tough terrain. Two, 208-liter (55 gallons) fuel tanks also gave it a greater range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) compared to the 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the original powerplant. Four heat exchangers were also installed to cool the engine’s oil.
The original ‘Hydramatic’ transmission was also replaced with an Allison MT 650/653 pre-selector 6-speed (5 forward, 1 reverse) gearbox. An additional gearbox was installed to control the speed transferred to the differential housed at the front of the tank.
In this crane adaption, two hydraulic pumps were installed in the engine compartment to power the hydraulically operated crane, winch, and dozer blade.
The crane (No: kran) chosen for the Bergepanser was the BK710MIL made by Moelven-Brug A/S – now known as CHSnor. For the installation of the crane, a solid metal plate was welded over the turret ring. The base of the crane was then fixed to the top of this. The crane is capable of full 360-degree rotation. When not in operation, the crane is rested at 0 degrees, with the boom fully retracted. The whole unit is then swung 180 degrees so it points over the vehicle’s engine bay.
The crane consists of a large boom with an integral, external control position. The crane’s boom is of the telescopic type, being able to extend from 3.4 meters (11.1 ft) to 5 meters (16.4 ft). The boom can travel on its vertical axis from 0 to +55 degrees. It is raised and lowered via a hydraulic ram underneath the boom, at its base.
A hydraulically driven winch was mounted at the base of the crane boom. The winch cable runs externally up the spine of the boom to a large single guide wheel at the tip of the boom. The cable ends in a simple clevis rather than a hook. A large cable-guard safety grate was also mounted at the base of the crane to protect the operator.
The crane had a maximum lift capacity of 7 tonnes (7.7 tons), as long as the boom was not raised over 25 degrees upwards. If the crane was raised to 25 degrees of elevation or over, the maximum load was reduced to 2 tonnes (2.2 tons). The crane had a relatively low lift capacity as it was not designed to lift the entire vehicle, but just its components. The 2-7 tonnes lift capacity was more than enough to hoist the NM-116’s Detroit Diesel engine which weighed just 600 kgs (1323 lbs).
While Dag Rune Nilsen never required the use of the Bergepanser personally, he was witness to it assisting his comrades as he describes in the following story about a powerpack lift:
“The NM-130 did assist my good friend Sergeant Storli when he had to change the engine on his tank, callsign 12, name of ‘Aratos’, in the field. I remember the mechanics requesting if they could tow the broken NM-116 to the nearest military garage. The request was denied and they had to change the engine in freezing cold weather in the open during the night! Good realistic practice even though the crew disagreed!”
The steel-wire cable utilized by the crane was 22 mm (0.8 in) in diameter and had a capacity of 19 tonnes (21 tons). Despite the crane having a meager capacity of 2-7 tonnes, it was necessary that the cable be stronger so it could tow or retrieve the NM-116. For this, the cable was threaded through fairleads (a device that guides a line, rope or cable) placed behind the drum. This allowed the vehicle to tow vehicles behind it. To do this though, the crane would have to be traversed 180 degrees. Judging from the few available photos of the NM-130 in service, it would appear that crane’s boom was used as a stowage point for the crew’s personal packs and effects, as well as camouflage nets and other sundries.
Crane Operator’s Position
The Crane Operator’s position was incorporated into the crane boom and was mounted on its right. The position consisted of a padded seat and a control desk. It was completely open to the elements and was without armor protection. Operation of the boom was rather simple, with basic levers that raise, lower, swing, extend/retract the boom, and let-out/reel-in the winch cable.
Much like the dozer blade (No:bulldozerblad) found on the American M88 ARV, the NM-130’s dozer blade performed three main roles: light earthmoving operations/obstacle clearance, support during lifting operations, and anchorage when winching.
The hydraulically operated blade was shallow but roughly vehicle width at 2.84 meters (9 ft 4 in) and was mounted on the bow. It moved up and down via two large hydraulic rams mounted above it. The blade was operated by the driver. To avoid breakages while earthmoving, the front-wheel stations of the vehicle were reinforced. During the lift and winching operations, the blade acted much like outriggers on a conventional crane and lifted the front end of the vehicle off the ground to stop it shifting on its tracks.
As with the NM-116, the Bersepanser received the same 73-link split rubber block tracks made by the German company Diehl. At some point, the NM-130 also received the same sprocket upgrade as the NM-116. The new sprocket wheel had smaller and fewer teeth. The original Chaffee sprocket had 13 teeth while the newer one had 12. This was likely done to improve the compatibility with new track types. Also, while the NM-116 kept just two of the original four shock absorbers, the NM-130 kept three, with two at the front, and one at the rear.
The same eight smoke-grenade launchers, or Røyklegginganlegg (Smoke Laying Device), that were added to the turret of the NM-116 were also installed on the NM-130. They were mounted on the left and right fenders in single banks of four. These German-made devices were electrically fired, and were used to launch the 76 mm (3 in) Røykboks (smoke grenade) DM2 HC grenade. In total, 16 smoke grenades were carried and, if necessary, all loaded grenades could be fired at once.
Other features included the introduction of large tool/stowage boxes on the rear of the left and right fenders. On the back right corner of the engine deck, there was a stowage point for extra pulleys and clevises for winching and hoisting. There was also a point on the right rear of the hull for carrying a spare NM-116/130 roadwheel. Steel-wire tow cables were carried on the right fender, with tools such as an axe and sledgehammer carried on the hull wall above them.
It was not uncommon for crews to carry their own selection of preferred equipment, as Dag Nilsen describes:
“NM-130 mechanics improvised and added additional equipment that experience had shown they needed. The crew that assisted Sergeant Stoli, for instance, carried a welder. In my own experience of NM-116 crews, we would regularly amend the tanks for comfort and for practical purposes. I believe NM-130 crews did the same.”
Unfortunately, much like the NM-116, details of the Bergepanser’s time in service are scarce. The vehicles entered service in the mid-1970s; an exact year is unknown but it was probably around the same time as the NM-116, in 1975. How the four ARVs were split between the 72-strong NM-116 fleet is also unknown. However, it is known that he only full-time operator of the NM-116 was the Panserverneskadron, Brigade Nord (PvEsk/N, Eng: “Tank Squadron, Northern Brigade”). At least two NM-130s were part of this Brigade. The vehicle was also capable of supporting Norway’s fleet of US-made M113 Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and derivative there of, such as the NM-142 (TOW) Rakettpanserjager.
This quote from Dag Rune Nilsen provides a small insight into the NM-130’s use:
“I never required assistance myself (pure luck!) but I did indeed witness the recovery team rescue many of my comrades. The terrain we operated in was brutal all year around and absolutely not ideal for tanks. It was quite common to lose the tracks or to sink into deep snow. Most of the time we managed to do self-recovery through various tricks but the NM-130 could always be counted on. It would cost the commander a case of beer though! The winch was the multipurpose tool for recovery and could drag an NM116 easily onto safe ground.”
Like the NM-116, the vehicle initially entered service in an olive drab livery but, in the mid-1980s, a new ‘Splinter’ camouflage pattern was introduced. The NM-130 would see out its service in this livery.
The NM-116 was retired in 1993. It is unclear when exactly the NM-130 was retired, but there is a possibility that it stayed on in service a little longer to serve Norway’s fleet of M48s and Leopard 1s, but concrete evidence of this cannot be found.
In the NM-130, the Forsvaret achieved its goal of providing an effective recovery vehicle to not only the NM-116, but the Hæren’s other light vehicles too, all while sticking to a strict budget. Just like the NM-116, the NM-130 was an ingenious use of what was – at the time of its development – an almost thirty-year-old piece of Second World War hardware.
Dag Rune Nilsen perhaps describes it best:
“I would describe the NM-130 as a fit for purpose recovery tank, and thus a very successful modification. Much more successful than the NM-116 itself since the NM-130 did exactly what it was intended for and remained effective for its entire service life.”
It is unclear how many of the four NM-130s survive. The one featured in most of the photos used in this article was located – until recently – at the Rena Army Camp, eastern Norway. Where it is now is unknown. At least one NM-130 can still be found at the Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum, also in Norway.
An article by Mark Nash, assisted by Steffen Hjønnevåg.
An NM-130 Bergepanser in ‘Splinter’ camouflage with the Crane in its travel position. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
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