United Kingdom (1960s)
Experimental Turret – 3 Built
In recent years, thanks largely to erroneous publications and popular video games such as ‘World of Tanks’ and ‘War Thunder’, a comedy of errors has surrounded the history of the officially named ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’. This redesigned turret – intended for installation on the Centurion – is often incorrectly identified as the ‘Action X’ turret, with the X being the Roman numeral for 10. It is also known as the ‘Action Ten’ or simply as ‘AX’. In turn, vehicles fitted with the turret, such as the intended Centurion, then have a false suffix attached to them, ‘Centurion AX’ being an example. There is also a false belief that the turret is associated with the FV4202 project, however as we will see, this is not the case.
But what is the truth behind the awkwardly titled ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’? (for ease this will be shortened to ‘CMT’ throughout the article) Unfortunately, that is currently a hard question to answer, as much information surrounding the turret and its development has been lost to history. Thankfully, due to the efforts of amateur historians and Tank Encyclopedia members Ed Francis and Adam Pawley, some fragments of its story have been recovered.
The first falsehood to tackle is the name ‘Action X’. 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.
By the late 1950s, early 1960s, the FV4007 Centurion had been in service for over 10 years and had already proved to be a reliable vehicle, highly adaptable, and well-liked by its crews. In those 10 years of service, it had already been in use with two types of turrets. The turret of the Mk. 1 Centurion was built to mount the famous 17-Pounder gun. It was roughly hexagonal with a gun mantlet on the leading edge. This gun mantlet did not run the entire width of the turret, but to the left-hand side was a step in the turret face with a large bulbous blister mount for a 20 mm Polsten cannon. The Centurion Mk. 2 brought with it a new turret. While still roughly hexagonal, the large bulbous front was changed to a slightly narrower casting, with a mantlet that covered most of the turret face. The 20 mm Polsten mounting was also removed. Large stowage boxes were added to the outer circumference of the turret and gave the tank its instantly recognizable appearance. This turret would stay with the Centurion for the rest of its service life.
The FV4201 Chieftain was also in development in the early 1960s, and well on its way to becoming the British Army’s next frontline tank. The Chieftain featured a new mantletless turret design. The mantlet is a piece of armor at the breach end of the gun barrel that moves up and down with the gun. On a ‘mantletless’ turret, the gun simply protrudes through a slot in the turret face. With the Centurion proving to be a great export success, it was hoped the Chieftain would follow suit. The Chieftain was, however, expensive.
This would appear to be where the story ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’ comes in. 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.
The design was quite different from the standard Centurion design, but it remained somewhat familiar to existing Centurion operators, foreign or domestic, making the transition easy on potential crews. A large sloped ‘forehead’ replaced the mantlet of the standard turret, with sloping cheeks replacing the vertical walls of the original. The coaxial Browning M1919A4 machine gun was moved to the top left corner of the ‘forehead’, with the aperture of the coaxial gun surrounded by 3 raised ‘blocks’ in the cast armor. The machine gun was connected to the main gun via a series of linkages.
The gun mount was designed to be adaptable and could carry either the Ordnance 20-Pounder (84 mm) gun or the more potent and infamous L7 105 mm gun, making it ideal for operators of both guns. The gun would pivot on trunnions placed in the slightly bulbous turret face, the location of which is identified by welded ‘plugs’ visible in the turret cheeks. The gun would be aimed via a unity sight that emerged from the turret roof, in front of the Commander’s cupola.
One of the things that the mantlet helps to protect from is shrapnel and debris entering the fighting compartment through the gun mount. In this mantletless design, plating was installed on the inside of the turret to ‘catch’ any fragments that made it through.
Internally, the layout of the turret was pretty standard, with the loader on the left, gunner front right, and the commander behind him in the right rear corner. The decision of what cupola would be equipped on the turret would likely have fallen to the end-user. For the trials, the turret was predominantly equipped with a ‘clam-shell’ type cupola – possibly a version of the Commander’s Cupola No.11 Mk 2. It had a domed two-piece hatch and around 8 periscopes and there was a mounting point for a machine gun. The loader had a simple flat two-piece hatch and a single periscope at the front left of the turret roof.
The turret bustle stayed the same basic shape, with mounting points for the standard bustle rack or basket. A feature carried over from the standard turret was a small circular hatch in the left turret wall. This was used for loading in ammunition, and throwing out spent casings. On both the left and right turret cheeks, there were mounting points for the standard ‘Discharger, Smoke Grenade, No. 1 Mk. 1’ launchers. Each launcher featured 2 banks of 3 tubes and were fired electrically from inside the tank. The typical Centurion turret stowage bins were also installed around the outside of the turret, although they were modified to fit the new profile.
Unfortunately, most of the armor values of the turret are currently unknown, although the face is around 6.6 inches (170 mm) thick.
Not an FV4202 Turret
It is a common misconception that the ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’ and the turret of the FV4202 ‘40-ton Centurion’ prototype are one and the same. The FV4202 was a prototype vehicle developed to test many of the features that would be employed on the Chieftain. However, these turrets are not the same. While they are extremely similar, there are noticeable differences.
The CMT is far more angular in its geometry compared to the FV4202 turret, which has a much rounder design. The cheeks of the CMT are straight angles where the FV4202 is curved. The trunnion holes on CMT are both in a downward angled section, while on the 4202 the slope is facing up. The armor ‘blocks’ around the coaxial machine gun are also shallower on the FV4202. It would also appear that the gun was mounted slightly lower in CMT. It is not clear as to whether there are any internal differences.
While the turrets are not identical, it is evident that they do share a similar design philosophy, both being mantletless designs with a similar placed coaxial machine gun.
Just three of these turrets were built, all of which took part in trials undertaken by the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE). Two turrets were mounted on a regular Centurion chassis and put through a series of tests. The remaining one was used for gunnery trials. While info on most of the tests has disappeared, details of the gunnery trial that one of the turrets – casting number ‘FV267252’ – underwent in June 1960 at the request of the ‘Turret’s and Sighting Branch’ are available.
The turret was subject to fire from rounds as small as .303 (7.69 mm) and .50 Caliber (12.7 mm), through 6, 17 and 20-Pounder rounds, as well as 3.7 in (94 mm) rounds. Both Armor-Piercing and High-Explosive rounds were fired at the turret. The results of the test are displayed below in an extract from the report ‘Trials Group Memorandum on Defensive Firing Trials of Centurion Mantletless Turret, June 1960’.
Of the 3 built, just one of the turrets – casting number ‘FV267252’ from the 1960 report – now survives. It can be found in the car park of the Tank Museum, Bovington. One turret has disappeared, while the other is known to have been destroyed in further firing trials.
Large chunks of the history of the Mantletless Turret remain missing, unfortunately, and the history we do know has been twisted and contorted. The name ‘Action X’ will no doubt continue to plague this turret for years to come, thanks in no small part to Wargaming.net’s ‘World of Tanks’ and Gaijin Entertainment’s ‘War Thunder’ online games. Both have incorporated a Centurion equipped with this turret into their respective games, identifying it as the ‘Centurion Action X’. World of Tanks is the worst offender, however, as they have also mated the turret with the hull of the FV221 Caernarvon and created the entirely fake ‘Caernarvon Action X’, a vehicle that never existed in any form.
Centurion fitted with the Mantletless turret equipped mounting the L7 105mm gun. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
United Kingdom (1950-57)
Heavy SP Anti-Tank Gun – One Stage 1, Two Stage 2s Built
In the late 1940s, the British War Office (WO) was concerned that – after the debut of the IS-3 in 1945 – the Soviet Union would continue to develop heavily armored tanks. As such, the War Office filed a requirement for the development of a gun capable of defeating a 60-degree sloped plate, 6 inches (152 mm) thick, at up to 2,000 yards (1,830 meters), and a suitable vehicle to carry it.
This requirement led to the development of the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183 mm, Tank, L4 Gun’, the largest purpose-built anti-tank gun to have ever been created. It was intended that this gun would be mounted on a new ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ based on the FV200 series chassis. This was designated the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183 mm Gun, FV215’.
A project was also launched to find a way to get the gun into action quickly on an existing hull. This could then be constructed quickly should the Cold War turn hot before the FV215 was ready.
This is where the FV4005 project comes in.
The Quest for Firepower
The development of the L4 started in 1950, and was aimed at increasing the firepower of the ‘Heavy Gun Tanks’. This was a uniquely British designation that was not governed by tank weight, but the size of the gun. 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 (1,830 meters), a feat impossible even for the powerful 120 mm L1 gun of the FV214 Conqueror. By 1950, Major General Stuart B. Rawlins, Director General of Artillery (D.G. of A.) had concluded that there was no gun available with that level of ballistic performance and an investigation was launched. 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 came to the conclusion that a ‘kill’ did not necessarily mean the complete destruction of an enemy vehicle, and just damaging it was enough to take it out of action was enough. For example, a blown-off track is 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 currently 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’. In reality, only the HESH shell underwent further development and the number of charges was dropped to one. The 183 mm L4 became one of the largest and most powerful tank guns in the world.
Background of the Project
From the start, the FV215 was the intended mount for the 183 mm gun, with development starting around the same time as the gun in 1950. The vehicle was based on the FV200 series chassis, with similarities to the FV214 Conqueror. The turret, however, was moved to the rear of the vehicle. The turret was capable of full 360-degree traverse, but it had a limited firing arc due to the size and power of the gun. This ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ would take a while to develop, so, in November 1950, the WO filed a requirement for a stop-gap vehicle capable of carrying the weapon into service should hostilities erupt before the completion of the FV215. A similar connection can be found with the Conqueror and the FV4004 Conway.
Following the end of General Rawlins’ investigation, and with some degree of urgency to get the 183 mm gun into service as quickly as possible, a carrier design was finalized, as this extract from a 1951 ‘AFV Development Report’ describes:
“A limited traverse, lightly armoured S.P. mounting based on the Centurion hull and weighing some 50 tons[*]. This would be known as F.V.4005 and could be in production by December 1952. Because of the use of parts in existing production, it was considered that quick limited production could be achieved. It was also clear that much would be learned about the hitherto unknown art of mounting so large a gun as an S.P. mounting.”
*50 long tons. Long tons are a unit of mass unique to the United Kingdom; for ease, it will be shortened to ton when used again. 1 long ton is equal to about 1.01 metric tonnes, or 1.12 US ‘Short’ tons.
The design of the vehicle would be held in limbo, ready to go into production if necessary. This stopgap vehicle would be based on the Centurion of the FV4000 series, with the original turret removed. The vehicle would go through two ‘Stages’ or ‘Schemes’. ‘Stage 1’ was built to test the gun and its mount on the Centurion chassis. The ‘Stage 2’ was a finalized design and would be the production standard. The vehicle was given the designation of ‘Heavy Anti-Tank, SP, No. 1’ – ‘SP’ standing for ‘Self-Propelled’. Officially, the FV4005 was never given the traditional British ‘C’ name such as the FV4101 Charioteer and FV4004 Conway before it. However, extensive account files of Vickers Ltd. from 1928 to 1959, shed some light on what it may have been. This particular extract – graciously provided by researcher Ed Francis – is from December 1952:
“Design and manufacture of equipment for mounting 180 mm gun on “CENTAUR” Tank – FV4005. Trials have now been carried out at Ridsdale and certain modifications to design have been found necessary… ”
In total three prototypes were ordered – a single Stage 1, and two Stage 2s. The FV4005 would fill the role of a ‘Heavy Gun Tank’. As such, the vehicle would engage targets from long-range, firing over the heads of attacking lighter tanks.
The Centurion Hull
The Centurion was chosen as the basis for this vehicle and three Mk. 3 hulls were removed from service for the prototype development. Other than the removal of the turret and various small additions, the hull would remain mostly unaltered. Armor on the hull remained the same thickness, with about 3 inches (76 mm) at roughly 60 degrees on the front slope. A 650 hp Rolls-Royce Meteor petrol engine, located at the rear of the vehicle, propelled the tank. The Centurion used a Horstmann style suspension, with 3 bogies per side carrying 2 wheels each. The drive sprocket was at the rear with the idler at the front. The driver was located at the front right of the hull.
Details of the 183 mm L4
Just a small number of the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183mm, Tank, L4 Gun’ were built, but it is unclear just how many. Records suggest at least 12 were built. Unfortunately, the exact length of the 183 mm gun is currently unknown, 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).
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 had a 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 approximately half the kinetic 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 two 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.
In a 1951 Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division ‘AFV Development Report’ – regarding the development of an AFV mounting of the 183 mm gun – the ‘Stage’ or, ‘Scheme 1’ is described as such:
“Embodies a concentric recoil system in a mounting in trunnions on an undercarriage, the whole of which rests on the existing turret race rings. No crew protection is provided and one prototype only will be made to obtain experience of firing such a large gun from the Centurion hull.
It is anticipated that although all round traverse will be possible, firing will be confined to a limited angle forward on either side of the fore and aft line.
Prototype should be completed by 31st December, 1951”
The Stage 1 was built as a test vehicle, as such, it lacked a few components. On the Stage 1, a bespoke platform was constructed that was installed over the original turret ring. This platform was a solid floor, did not incorporate a basket, and was not, in any way, enclosed. The L4 gun was installed in a rigid mount and was completely fixed in elevation. The platform was capable of full horizontal traverse, but firing would be restricted to a limited arc over the front and rear of the vehicle. As mentioned in the report, the gun used a concentric recoil system. This utilized a tube placed around the breech end of the barrel, acting as a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders.
Space on the platform was limited, as such, there were only positions available – presumably – for the gunner and loader. The gunner was seated on the left of the gun in a well-padded seat complete with a back-rest. Behind him was a large rack for ammunition stowage. The fact that the gun was fixed in elevation allowed the installation of a mechanical ‘loading assist’ device to help the loader handle the combined 233 lb (105.5 kg) weight of the ammunition by aligning it with the breach. This was not an automatic loader as it lacked a rammer. There was no seat for the loader. The driver’s position – the front right of the hull – was unchanged.
The only other changes to the Centurion hull were the addition of a large recoil spade at the rear and a large folding travel lock or ‘gun crutch’ to use the British term. The spade was used to transfer recoil forces from the chassis directly to the ground, easing the strain on the suspension. When the vehicle was in position, it would be lowered to the ground. When the gun was fired, the spade provided a back-stop by digging into the ground.
The ‘Stage/Scheme 1’ was subjected to numerous firing trials. Despite some issues with the concentric recoil system, the trials were a general success. Work then progressed to the ‘Stage/Scheme 2’ vehicle.
In the same 1951, Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division ‘AFV Development Report’, the ‘Stage/Scheme 2’ was described as the following:
“Embodies two conventional recoil systems with a hydropneumatic recuperator and an independent run out control. Undercarriage similar to above [Stage 1] but of fabricated construction.
A superstructure for crew protection will be provided but weight considerations will preclude more than a limited degree of splinter protection.
A sight is being designed in which the body is fixed with relation to the gun mounting, and internal moving parts apply angle of sight, target elevation and correction for trunnion tilt. The range scale is visible in the sight eyepiece.
Layout designs have been prepared and details will be completed shortly.
A prototype should be available by March, 1952.”
The Stage 2 was built closest to what a production version of the FV4005 would consist of. As such, a number of changes were made between the two Stages. The biggest change was the design and construction of a fully enclosed turret to the form of little more than a large box. The loading assist for the loader was also deleted, and the concentric recoil system was replaced by a hydropneumatic type.
The turret was welded and fabricated from ½ inch (14 mm) thick steel and was there to protect the crew from small arms fire and shell splinters. As this was intended to be a second line vehicle that would keep out of the range of enemy AFVs, the FV4005 did not need really thick armor. Also, with the addition of this impressive gun, the chassis and engine could not take any extra weight. The turret was split into two parts: a sloped face and a completely boxed rear end. The turret face was mantletless, with a large face-plate angled at a very shallow angle. The cheeks were also slightly angled. These angled sections terminated in completely vertical turret walls and a flat roof. The roof stepped up as the rear section of the turret was taller and box-like, with external structural ridges. Internally, this rear section was where the ammunition was stowed against the walls. In total, 12 rounds were carried.
There were two hatches on the roof and one large door on the rear. The roof hatches were two-piece and, in front of them, were two single periscopes installed in the turret roof. The large rear door was used for crew access, but it was also used for ammunition resupply via a winch and rail. Charges would be placed on the rail and then winched into the turret. Turret crew would consist of four men including the gunner and commander. As the loading assist of the Stage 1 was deleted on the Stage 2, two loaders were required. One loader would handle the charge, the other the projectile.
On the turret face, to the left of the gun, was a large square bulge. This was the housing for the primary gun sight. The particulars of this sight are unknown, however, there is a suggestion that it was based on the TZF-12A of Panther fame. This, however, cannot be corroborated. While the turret was capable of full 360 degrees horizontal traverse, firing was limited to a limited arc over the front and rear of the vehicle. This was a safety feature necessitated by the power of the gun.
Like the Stage 1, the Stage 2 featured a recoil spade installed at the rear of the vehicle. However, on the Stage 2, a hand-cranked winch was installed on the rear of the vehicle to lower the spade.
Like the Stage 1, the Stage 2 went through a number of firing trials. Where the Stage 1’s concentric recoil system suffered some faults, the Stage 2’s more typical hydro-pneumatic system operated without issue. In total, 150 rounds were fired during the tests at Ridsdale, Northumberland. In a 1955 Fighting Vehicle Division ‘AFV Development Liaison Report’ of the Ministry of Supply it is stated that: “General functioning [of the Stage 2] has proved satisfactory”.
Despite the general success of the project, the FV4005 suffered much the same fate as the FV215. The feared Soviet heavy tanks, like the IS-3, which these vehicles were designed to defeat, 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 ‘Heavy Gun Tanks’ like the Conqueror, FV215 and the FV4005 stand-in, 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 improved anti-armor performance of smaller guns and by the appearance of a new generation of accurate Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM).
The FV4005 project was officially canceled in August 1957, around the same time as the FV215. The three constructed prototypes were divided between various establishments. The Stage 1 was given to the Shoeburyness Proof and Experimental Establishment where the turret was removed and the Centurion hull returned to service. One Stage 2 was offered to the Royal Military College for Science, while the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) kept the other Stage 2. The Centurion chassis were also likely returned to service. At some point, one of the turrets found its way to The Tank Museum, Bovington, where it sat alone for a number of years before being mated with a spare Centurion hull owned by the Museum. The vehicle now sits as a ‘Gate Guardian’ outside the museum, alongside a Sherman Grizzly.
Illustration of the FV4005 Stage 1 with the open top gun platform, produced by Pavel Alexe.
Illustration of the FV4005 Stage 2 with enclosed turret, produced by Pavel Alexe, based on work by David Bocquelet.
Both Illustrations were funded by our Patreon campaign.
Specifications (Stage 2)
7.82 (without gun) x 3.39 x 3.6 m
(25’7″ x 11’1″ x 11’8”)
5 (driver, gunner, commander, x2 loaders)
Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox 650 hp (480 kW), later BL 60, 695 bhp
United Kingdom (1954)
Mine Clearing Flail Tank – Approx. 42 built
Some of the most important vehicles to hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 6th June 1944, were ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ of the 79th Armoured Division, Royal Engineers. These vehicles – named after the 79th’s Commander, Major-General Percy Hobart – were specialist variants of armored vehicles, all with a specific role to fill. One of the most successful of the ‘Funnies’ was the Sherman Crab.
The Sherman Crab was a mine-clearing variant of the Sherman V (M4A4 to the Americans). It utilized a powerful flail suspended from a frame at the front of the tank. This flail consisted of a large drum with multiple long chains attached to it. Spun at high speed, the chains beat the ground, either blowing up mines where they sat, ripped them from the ground, or beat them into deactivation. The Crab served admirably for the remainder of the Second World War. After the War, however, and with the removal of the Sherman from British Service, designers began to look for a new flail vehicle based on a new, British-built chassis.
Initially, consideration was given to making a flail variant of the FV200 series of universal tanks, then in development as a replacement for the Centurion. However, when the development of the FV200 was canceled, the flail version went with it. As such, designers turned to an old faithful – the Churchill, a heavy and obsolete vehicle available in large numbers, and cheap.
What would emerge from this became known as the FV3902 Churchill Flail, or as it is more commonly known, the ‘Toad’. Entering service in 1954, the Toad featured one of the most powerful mine flails ever created and became one of the last Churchill types to see service – albeit in a training capacity – with the British Army. It is in the Army that the vehicle gained the name ‘Toad’. Quite why is a mystery, although it may just be because it is a rather ugly vehicle – depending on the eye of the beholder, of course.
The Flail tank was originally thought up in 1942 by a South African officer named Capt. Abraham du Toit. The first flail tank to be used by the British Army was the Matilda Scorpion. This consisted of a basic frame carrying the flail drum mounted on the front of the tank. The drum was propelled by a separate engine mounted on the side of the tank. Development of flail tanks would continue to evolve throughout the War, before culminating in the famous Sherman Crab. The Crab was a more advanced, purpose-built variant, compared to the rather haphazard construction of the Matilda Scorpion. The flail was now carried by a purpose-built frame that could elevate or depress as required. The Crab did not require a secondary engine, as the flail was driven by the tank’s own power plant by a power take-off. A key feature of both the Matilda Scorpion and Sherman Crab was that they were to remain combat effective as they kept their turrets and main guns although they would usually have to operate with the turrets reversed in order to prevent damage when ‘flailing’ its way through a minefield.
By 1945, the development of Britain’s next generation of tanks was well underway. Immediately after WW2, 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 original Churchill (A.22). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. This resulted in vehicles of the Churchill family becoming members of the ‘FV3900’ series. 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.
Many variants of the FV200 were planned, including gun tanks (such as the FV201, previously known as the A.45), flame throwers, recovery vehicles, and even a flail tank. This vehicle was to be designated FV216 but, unfortunately, there is no indication of what this vehicle would have looked like. In 1949, the FV200 series of common vehicles were canceled in favor of the Centurion, taking the FV216 with it. A few FV200s were built, however, these being the FV214 and FV221 Gun tanks, and the FV219/FV222 recovery vehicles.
The Churchillian Choice
With the cancelation of the FV200, and no plans to convert the Centurion, designers were left wanting. Eventually, they chose to adapt the hull of the Churchill, specifically the Mk. VII. The Churchill Mk. VII was the last big upgrade to the Churchill gun-tanks. Like all Churchills, it was built by Vauxhall Motors, based in Bedfordshire. This version – sometimes termed the ‘heavy Churchill’ or ‘A.42’ – saw the addition of a new turret design and thicker hull armor up to 6 inches (152 mm) thick. It was powered by the same 350 hp Bedford 12-cylinder, 4 stroke, water-cooled, horizontally opposed, petrol engine as all Churchills, which propelled the vehicle to a rather lackluster 15 mph (24 km/h). The Mk. VII used the standard Churchill suspension of individually sprung road wheels with a rear-mounted sprocket wheel. One of the more famous conversions of the Mk. VII was the Crocodile flamethrower tank. It was also the basis of the post-war version of the AVRE, the FV3903.
The Mk. VII was chosen for a few main reasons:
There was a large number of hulls available. Production of the Mk. VII Churchill did not cease until after the Second World War, in October 1945. As a result, large numbers of brand-new tanks were simply lying in storage unused.
This vehicle would be employed by the Royal Engineers (RE). Thanks to vehicles such as the Churchill AVRE and Churchill ARK, the Engineers were familiar with the type, making driver training and maintenance far easier.
The Churchill was obsolete. So, rather than carve up the newer front-line Centurion, it made sense to cannibalize an older vehicle. Despite the obsolescence, it must be said that the Crocodile variant of the Churchill did serve in the Korean War.
At a glance, the Churchill may not seem a wise choice for a mine-clearing vehicle. This was due to the position of the driver in the front of the hull and the fact that – during WW2 – the Churchill proved to be vulnerable to mine damage, especially the hull floor. Tests were mounted to assess this by towing a Mk. VII Churchill over mines. The detonations highlighted weaknesses in the weld seams which split open. This fault was dealt with by strengthening and reinforcing the welds. In between and behind the ‘horns’ of the track, the driver had extremely poor visibility. Adding a flail to the front hindered his vision even further due to how low he sat in the hull. This necessitated the raising of the driver’s position, however, this had regressive consequences. One of the most valuable features of both the Scorpion and Crab vehicles was that they retained their turrets and armaments. By raising the Driver’s position – and with it, the superstructure – there was no room for a turret. The tank has now lost its ability to defend itself, or act as a gun-tank when so required.
Another point of regression was down to the Churchill’s lack of horsepower. The Crab made powering the flail unit far less complicated by using a power take-off from its own engine to propel the flail. However, the Churchill’s Bedford ‘twin-six’ 12-cylinder petrol engine was not powerful enough to begin with, without propelling an extra component. As such, like the Scorpion, a secondary engine was to be installed to drive the flail.
With these considerations, a design was finalized as the FV3902. It would end up being one of the most extensive adaptations of the Churchill ever devised. The design of the vehicle would revolve around a large flail assembly suspended from the front of the hull and driven via a secondary engine. Large springs in cylindrical housings were installed on the hull sides to act as a counter-balance for the flail. The secondary engine would be placed behind the 2-man crew compartment at the front of the new armored superstructure. When not in use, and for travel, the flail assembly could be folded back over the superstructure of the vehicle. The rear of the vehicle would also include an automatic safe lane marker system contained in a long box, a relatively advanced feature at the time.
The Cumberland-based Distington Engineering Company was contracted to produce schematics and act as the overseer of the entire project. Two other firms were also brought on; Robinson and Kershaw Ltd. and British Railway Workshops (BRW). Robinson and Kershaw, based in Dukinfield, would be responsible for the modification of the hulls and the fabrication of the new superstructure. BRW, based in Horwich, was responsible for the mechanical equipment and fitting of the flail assembly. Between them, 42 Toads would be built, comprising 2 Prototypes, 6 interim/pre-production models, and 34 service vehicles.
Prototypes and Interim Models
The first FV3902 prototype was completed at the Horwich Works in April 1954. For the most part, this was identical to what would become the production model, however, it did differ in one respect. On this pilot model, a hydraulic system was installed. It was placed in the secondary engine bay and was driven by a take-off from the secondary plant. The hydraulics had three purposes. Firstly, it would power a winch system used to raise and lower the flail boom. Secondly, it would retract the lane marker system at the rear of the vehicle. Lastly, it would power a contouring device that would keep the flail at the same constant height while deployed, no matter how rough the terrain. Prototype 2 followed in about September the same year. This featured a worm-drive for the retraction of the boom and a sensor system for contouring. Both No. 1 and No. 2 prototypes used multiple springs in the counterbalance cylinders on the sides of the hull.
The prototype vehicles were followed by 6 interim, pre-production models built between April and July 1955. The pre-production versions carried some different features to the prototypes, some would be carried over to the production versions, some would not. Retraction equipment for the lane marker system was removed, meaning it would be permanently carried in the deployed position. The same applied to the flail boom. It was still possible to fold the boom back, but this was now a matter of cables and brute force. Inside the counterbalance cylinders, the multiple springs were replaced by single, concentric springs. Another addition was a ‘splash board’ placed across the track ‘horns’ at the front of the tank. This would help to control the amount of debris being thrown up by the flail. Also, fuel for the flail engine was now drawn from a separate fuel tank. An electromagnetic ‘station-keeping’ device was also installed – basically a rudimentary guidance system that would keep the vehicle on a straight path.
Overview of the Production Model
Production models of the FV3902 began to be delivered in January 1956. At 56 long tons* (56.8 tonnes), the Toad was 14 tons (14.22 tonnes) heavier than the standard Mk. VII, and was one of the heaviest of the Churchill-based vehicles. It was even heavier than the Centurion by around 4 tons (4.06 tonnes). As a result of the increased weight, the already slow 15 mph (24 km/h) top speed of the Churchill was reduced to 12.7 mph (20 km/h). The vehicle’s dimensions also changed quite dramatically. While the basic length and width of the hull remained the same at 24 ft 5 in (7.44 m) long and 10 ft 8 in (3.25 m) wide, the new components added a lot of girth. With the addition of the boom arms of the flail, the width increased to 13 ft 6 in (4.11 meters). With the addition of a splashboard between the track ‘horns’ and the lane marker system at the rear, the length increased to 26 ft 3 ½ in (8 meters). With the flail deployed, this jumped to 37 ft 2 ¾ in (11.34 meters). Height wise, the new superstructure increased height to 8 ft 7 in (2.61 meters), only a few inches more than the original 8 ft 2 in (2.49 meters). With the flail in the stowed position, the height jumped to 12 ft 4 in (3.75 in).
*Long tons are an archaic measurement used in the UK – 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 Fastest Flail in the West
The huge flail designed for the FV3902 was, and still is, one of the most powerful chain-flails ever mounted on a vehicle. Equipped on the Toad, it required its own engine. Unlike the Scorpion predecessor, the engine would not be placed outside of the hull, rather it would be built into the new superstructure. The engine chosen was the Rolls-Royce M120 water-cooled, petrol-injection engine, a derivative of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2. Versions of this engine were also used in the Cromwell, Centurion, and Conqueror tanks, among others. This particular version produced 650 hp, and was placed in the rear of the new superstructure in lengthwise orientation, behind the crew compartment. The clutch and drive end faced towards the front of the tank. The engine bay also housed the fuel and lubrication tanks, as well as the ventilation and air cleaning systems for both engines. Cooling air was drawn in through a large panel of louvers on the rear of the superstructure. After passing over the engine, It was vented through large fan and radiator systems located on the sides of the hull. Access to the engine bay was granted by 4 large, interlocking plates on the roof. Exhaust from the secondary engine was carried along pipes mounted atop the fenders, just above the typical Churchill air-intakes for the Bedford engine (the main engine exhaust pipes remained on the engine deck).
The flail was carried by two large arms, approximately 10 feet (3 meters) in length that were attached to large pivot points on the sides of the hull. Large cylindrical housings placed towards the rear of the hull were placed on the hull sides as well. These were slightly smaller than those of the prototype and interim vehicles and also sat higher to grant better ground clearance. They were still large at around 4 feet (1.2 meters) long and just over a foot (30 cm) in diameter. They were not too dissimilar to the piston housings found on steam locomotives – not a surprise considering the manufacturers. Like the interim vehicles, they contained large concentric springs connected to long rods which were, in turn, connected to the pivot hubs of the flail arms. These acted as counterbalances for the large flail rig. On the production models, the contouring device was removed, meaning there was now no need for the Hydraulics. Instead, the arms would rest on large skids with built-in steel caster wheels. The skids would glide over soft ground while the casters would role on hard surfaces. These casters would also swivel so the vehicle could still pivot with the boom deployed. It was found in tests that even if the skids were blown off by mine detonation, the counterbalance springs were strong enough to keep the boom rigid on their own.
To drive the flail, power would be taken forward from the Rolls-Royce engine via a dog clutch into a bevel gearbox in the nose of the tank, under the crew compartment. The drive passed into the pivot mount of the left boom arm to a second bevel box and driveshaft within the arm. Because of this, the left arm was noticeably thicker than the right. Yet another bevel box was located at the flail hub, which transferred power to a drive shaft that ran the length of the flail drum to an epicyclic reduction final drive at the opposite hub.
The 650 hp engine would revolve the drum clockwise at 150-revolutions per minute. The drum itself was about 11 feet (3.3 meters) wide, about 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter and consisted of two hemispherical halves that were bolted together over rubber drive bands. Sixty eyelets were welded to the drum for attachment of the flail chains. These chains were about 4ft 10 in (1 ½ meter) long and terminated in a large ‘bob’ or ‘element’ weighing 2 ½ lbs (1.13 kgs). These ‘bobs’ consisted of large diamond-shaped clubs on the early vehicles, while simple solid balls would be used on the production models. Rotating at 150 rpm, the chains would be traveling at around 61 ½ mph (99 km/h), meaning each of 2 ½ lbs/1.13 kg ‘bobs’ would be impacting at 5.5 x 10 to the power 9 Joules per strike.
While it was designed to detonate mines, the flail could also be used for light obstacle clearance. The spinning chains would have no trouble tearing through hedgerows (known as ‘bush-bashing’) or barbed wire. On the interim vehicles, cutters, and deflector plates were installed below the boom arms to stop debris – particularly barbed wire – getting caught up in the tracks. These were not installed on the production models as they interfered with the skids. The flail was not to be started unless the vehicle was in motion, otherwise, a large trench would be dug in front of the tank. When flailing, the vehicle moved at just 2 mph (3 km/h). Spare chains would be stowed on the engine deck, at the rear of the vehicle.
When not in use, and for travel, the boom arm had the ability to be folded back over the superstructure of the Toad, where it came to rest on horn-like protrusions emerging from the sides of the secondary engine compartment. The folding of the boom shortened to the overall length of the vehicle by about 10 feet (3 meters). While early versions used either hydraulic or cable systems to mechanically hoist the boom up and back, the production model was devoid of these and as such, and a manual method was employed. Carried on the splashboard were two cables of 50 and 100 feet (15 & 30 meters). These would be attached to an extra eyelet on the flail drum, trailing in front and behind the vehicle. A cable guide placed on the hull roof between the crew hatches was also installed. This was attached as required and was otherwise stowed on the splashboard. Should a friendly tank be available, it was possible for it to physically pull up or lower the boom into the required position. Alternatively, if there was a handy immovable object present – like a tree for instance – the cables could be attached and the vehicle would perform the task itself by slowing moving forwards or backward. Deployable ground anchors were also available for this purpose. A safety lockout was installed to prevent the flail drum spinning in the travel position – for obvious fatally messy reasons.
Lane Marker System
The Churchill Toad was equipped with a sophisticated flag marker system, housed in the large box overhanging the rear of the vehicle. For the time, it was a rather ingenious and complex system, and it was one of the first purpose-built units.
The box housed 59 marker poles on an endless chain. The chain was driven from the left final drive via an external rod. The flags were automatically dispensed every 50 feet (15 meters) with a maximum markable distance of 968 yards (885 meters). The markers were propelled by a .303 caliber blank cartridge at the top of each pole. An automatic hammer in the outer edges of the box fired blank. A long spike would emerge from the compact flag as it was propelled into the ground. The pole then telescoped up, extending to four times its stowed length. The poles were painted red and yellow. If the vehicle was clearing solo, both sides would fire. If two vehicles were operating side by side, the driver could select which side fired, be it left or right. Assuming they could be retrieved, the markers were reusable.
The crew compartment was located at the front of the tall new superstructure built atop the front of the Churchill chassis. A large, sloping, 5 ½ inch (140 mm) thick front plate stretched from the bottom of the bow to the compartment roof. This protected the crew compartment from mine explosions or errant flail links and, to a certain degree, enemy gunfire. The splash board was placed roughly midway on the plate, stretching across the track horns. The board was made of thin sheet metal and mounted on a frame, which in turn rested on two long supports rooted to the bottom of the bow. The sloping front plate featured 12 smoke grenade launchers, consisting of 4 banks of 3 tubes. Two banks were angled off to the left, the other two to the right.
A small, two-man crew operated the Toad, consisting of the commander and the driver. Located on the right, the driver’s controls were much the same as the standard Churchill with a few new additions to control the flail, such as a hand throttle and clutch control. He had a single-piece circular hatch above him with padding on the inside. For vision, when ‘buttoned-up’, he had two periscopes that protruded from the compartment roof, just in front of the hatch. Sat to his left was the commander who sat under a derivative of the No. 1 Mk. 2 Allround Vision Cupola with 7 pericopes placed around the circumference. The cupola featured a two-piece ‘clam-shell’ style hatch that opened to the left and right. As the circular hatches in the hull sides of the standard Churchill were welded over to make room for the boom pivots, the room hatches were the only way in and out for the two crew members.
The vehicle was covered in ample stowage points. Stowage bins covered the outer walls of the superstructure. There were two large bins on the left and right wall, with the rearmost bin double the size of the forward bin. These would be used for both the personal items of the crew, but also for spare chains and other vehicle-related items. Spare track links were carried on the air intakes on the hull sides, while tarps and netting would be bound upon the splashboard. Pioneer tools (shovels, pickaxes) were stowed on the fenders at the rear.
Headlamps were placed on top of the track fenders at the front of the vehicle, just underneath the splashboard. Not the best of locations in hindsight, as these would surely be blown off or damaged during flailing.
At the point the Toad was developed, the Churchill was about 12 years old. Yet the use of the hull proved that the reliability and hard-wearing nature of the vehicle was still valued. Alongside the FV3903 AVRE and the Mk. II ARV – which was also deployed in the Korean War – the Toad would be one of the very last uses of the Churchill tank in the British Army.
The Churchill Toad was posted to units of the Royal Engineers, but would never get a chance to chew up a battlefield in a combat situation. However, it would go on to be used in training exercises. The vehicle was also tested in beach assault scenarios where it would be launched from a landing ship and wade onto the beach. These tests would regularly take place at Instow in North Devon. For the tests, it was equipped with wading extensions to the air intakes. With the intakes fitted, the flail boom could not be retracted, so the vehicle would wade in with it deployed.
During the Cold War, other anti-mine technologies developed during WW2, such as rollers, ploughs, and line charge launchers, continued to evolve, while flails somewhat fell out of favor. Although the Toad was by no means the last of its kind.. Various types of flail vehicles are still in use by militaries around the world today, such as the German M48-basedKeiler – developed in the 1970s, and the British Aardvark Area Mine Clearing System (AMCS) – developed in the 1980s. As well as serving in military operations, they are also often used for United Nations land mine clearing missions.
Only one Churchill Toad survives today, ‘35 ZR 10’, with the designation “4A”, and it has been on quite a journey. For many a year, it sat on various Army Bases open to the elements and rotting. Between 2006 and 2008, RR Services in Kent, England began a long process of restoring the vehicle. After an extensive restoration, the now fully operational vehicle was unveiled on 16th May 2008 and demonstrated before an audience. As a safety precaution, the chains were shortened, and the flail was run at half-speed. It was then handed over to the late Jacques Littlefield, of the famous Littlefield Armor Collection or ‘Military Vehicle Technology Foundation (MVTF)’ in Portola Valley, California, USA.
This vehicle was part of the Littlefield Collection until Mr. Littlefield’s untimely death in 2009, after which the collection began to be sold off. On Saturday, July 12, 2014, the Toad was put on the auction block. The winning bid of US$80,500 went to the Australian Armor and Artillery Museum of Cairns, where it continues to stand on display today.
The ‘Toad’ in flailing position. With the boom extended, the vehicle was 37 ft 2 ¾ in (11.34 meters) long. The large spring cylinders support the flail when it is deployed.
The ‘Toad’ with the flailing drum in the ‘transport’ position. This allows the vehicle to move around relatively unhindered. Although, its 56 long ton* (56.8 tonne) weight did make it very sluggish.
These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Churchill Toad specifications
9.38 x 4.01 x 3.20 m (30’7” x 13’2” x 10’5”)
2 (Driver and Commander)
Bedford twin-six petrol, 350 hp (261 kW) at 2,200 rpm
The British FV214 Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank was developed in the early 1950s in answer to the increasingly hostile Soviet Union, and its newly developed heavily armored tanks, such as the IS-3. The 120 mm gun-armed Conqueror was the first and last Heavy Gun Tank produced and operated by the British Army. It had a short service life of just 11 years, from 1955 to 1966. While the Conqueror was based on a hull that was designed to be adaptable, no Self-Propelled Gun was ever built using this hull.
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 artillery tech tree appeared as the ‘Conqueror Gun Carriage’ or ‘GC’, a completely fictional adaptation of the Conqueror chassis which utilizes an archaic 9.2 inch (234 mm) ‘siege gun’ placed in a fixed superstructure.
That being said, elements of this tank did exist in one form or another.
The WoT Representation
A small ‘History’ is provided for this vehicle by Wargaming:
“A proposal to mount a 234-mm howitzer on the chassis of the Conqueror. The power unit was placed in the front. Existed only in blueprints.”
– WoT Wiki Extract
Despite not being given its ‘Fighting Vehicle (FV)’ number, the Conqueror GC is presented as a vehicle of the FV200 series produced in the early 1950s, in the early years of the Cold War. 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 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. As such, only four vehicles of the FV200 series were ever produced and entered into service. These were the FV214 Conqueror and FV221 Caernarvon gun tanks, and the FV219/FV222 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs).
Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) variants of the FV200 were planned. These were based on the FV201. The SPGs were designated the FV206 and FV207. The FV206 was classed as ‘Self-Propelled Medium Artillery’ while the FV207 was ‘Self-Propelled Heavy Artillery’. While it is unknown what gun the FV206 would have used, it is known that the FV207 was to mount a 155 mm howitzer. Neither of these vehicles made it further than plans, and no drawings of them exist today.
A representation of the FV207 exists in World of Tanks, but as no official documents remain, it is hard to believe that this representation is in any way accurate. Neither the ‘blueprints’ mentioned in WG’s claim to the historicity of the vehicle ‘Conqueror Gun Carrier’ nor this FV207 have ever been publicly presented either. The FV207 appears to be based solely on the real FV3805 instead. Either way, there is no way to confuse the alleged and invented FV207 with an even more invented Conqueror GC.
Cold War British SPGs
For much of the Cold War, the Royal Artillery – the part of the British Army responsible for this kind of vehicle – relied on one Self-Propelled Gun, the FV433 Abbot. The Abbot was built on the hull of the FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and was equipped with a 105 mm Howitzer in a fully traversable turret. The Abbot appeared in the late 1950s, but before this was in development, there were experiments with other SPG designs.
After the Second World War, the United Kingdom was still using the Sexton as its primary SPG. A long development program was launched to find a replacement and, while ultimately resulting in the Abbot, other vehicles also went through development. The design that came closest to completion was the BL 5.5 inch howitzer-armed FV3805 which was based on the Centurion. While this made it to prototype trials, it never entered service. The Abbot would serve as the UKs front line SPG until the early 1990s, when it was finally replaced by the 155 mm gun-armed AS-90.
In-Game Design of the ‘GC’
‘Gun Carriage’ is a uniquely British term used to describe Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). Although this fake one is labeled as being based on the FV214 Conqueror, the layout of the hull suggests that it is actually based on the FV215. The FV215 never entered service, but it was designed to be the Conqueror’s replacement and, while sharing many components, had a narrower hull, a rear-mounted turret, and a centrally mounted engine. This layout is shared by the fake ‘GC’ with a fixed fighting compartment at the rear and centrally mounted engine.
This fixed compartment, or casemate, holds the 9.2 inch main armament. The design of the compartment seems to take a lot of cues from the FV3805, featuring the same cylindrical, ‘limited traverse turret’ and a similar layout of periscopes, sights, and hatches. There is also a large hatch and recoil spade installed on the rear of the vehicle. Real SPGs, as they are operated in pre-arranged fixed positions, usually operate with the large rear hatch, or ‘tail-gate’, open. It provides easy access for resupplying ammunition during a fire-mission and also, by being open to the elements, provides ventilation by letting smoke and fumes from the gun escape. The spade is used to transfer recoil forces from the chassis directly to the ground, easing the strain on the suspension. When the vehicle was in position, it would be lowered to the ground. When the gun is fired, the spade provides a back-stop by digging into the ground.
Armor on the hull is listed as 130 mm (5.11 in) for the front of the hull, 50.8 mm (2”) on the sides, and 76.2 mm (3”) on the rear. This is not too far off the armor thicknesses of the Conqueror, however, it is tricky to pin-point the exact thickness of the hull armor due to conflicting sources. The upper hull 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). Side armor was 2 inches (51 mm) thick. This is not the same for the more similar FV215 however, with planned thicknesses of 4.9 inch (125 mm) sloped at 59 degrees on the upper glacis and just 1 ¾ (44.5 mm) on the sides and rear.
The crew is also closer to that of the FV215, being made up of a 5-man team. This consists of the commander, gunner, driver, and 2 loaders. It must be said though, that two loaders would be expected in a vehicle such as this due to the scale of ordnance. As with all FV200s, the driver of this fake SPG sits at the front right of the hull.
Despite the closer similarity to the FV215 which would have used a Rover engine, this fictional SPG is listed as having the same engine as the Conqueror, consisting of the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120. This was a water-cooled, petrol-injection engine developing 810 horsepower at 2,800 rpm. It was a derivative of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2. In-game, this propels the SPG to a top speed of 34.3 km/h (21 mph) forwards, and 10 km/h (6 mph) in reverse.
The Horstmann suspension of the ‘GC’ is one of the accurate parts of this vehicle. 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.
One of the most illogical choices in the design of this spurious gun carriage is its armament consisting of the BL 9.2 Inch Howitzer Mk. II. The BL (Breech Loading) 9.2 inch (234 mm) Howitzer was a ‘heavy siege howitzer’ designed in 1913. It saw service with the Royal Artillery in the First World War as a counter-battery weapon.
In its day, this howitzer was an extremely powerful weapon, firing a high explosive shell that weighed up to 290 pounds (130 kg). These shells could vary from 28 to 32 inches (71 – 81 cm) long, with a High-Explosive (HE) payload – of either Amatol, Lyddite, or Trotyl (TNT) – weighing anywhere from 25 – 40 pounds (11 – 18 kg). There were two versions of the 9.2-inch howitzer – the Mk. I and the Mk. II. It is the Mk. II that was chosen for this fake SPG.
With a 13 ft 3 in (4 m) barrel, the Mk. II appeared in late-1916 in response to a request for greater range. The Mk. I had a range of 5.7 miles (9.2 km) while the Mk. II had an increased range of 7.9 miles (12.7 km) with a muzzle velocity of 1,600 ft/s (490 m/s). The complete gun weighed around 6 long tons* (6.1 tonnes) and had a maximum elevation of 55-degrees. The in-game depiction limits it to 45 degrees, probably due to internal space limitations. On this fake SPG, the gun is mounted in a thinly armored cylindrical housing – known as a ‘limited traverse turret’ – that gives it a horizontal traverse arc of 60 degrees. The exposed parts of the gun, such as the recoil-buffer, are also covered in a representation of protective armor.
*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.
Just over 500 BL 9.2-inch Howitzers were produced. While there is no question that it was a powerful weapon, the howitzer would have been completely obsolete in the early-Cold War era that this vehicle is set in. The weapon was officially retired during the Second World War, and was replaced by much more accurate and advanced weaponry.
God Save the Truth
The Conqueror Gun Carriage is, without doubt, a fake vehicle. It is not the worst of Wargaming’s fake tank crimes, as at least a few of the components used in its design did exist in one form or another. In reality, there would not have been a need for this ‘Gun Carriage’. Had there been a need, it is highly unlikely that designers would turn to an almost-antique weapon to arm it, especially as the gun was officially retired almost 10 years before this vehicle would have ‘existed’.
Illustration of the fake Conqueror Gun Carriage (GC) produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
The Second World War was rough for Norway. Falling to German invasion in April 1940, the country suffered 5 long years of occupation which only ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Following this, Norway had to rebuild its military from the ground up. Luckily, after their surrender, the German Wehrmacht left behind vast stocks of equipment. This included rifles, machine guns, anti-tank guns, tools, and even some aircraft, all of which were adopted by the Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”).
A small number of tanks were also among the equipment left behind, a mix of various types of Panzer III and StuG IIIs. These were mostly of poor condition, however, so they went straight into storage. Fortunately for the Norwegian Military, the United States were keen to keep their European allies strong in the face of an increasing threat from the Soviet Union. As such, in 1946, Norway received 17 M24 Chaffees from the United States.
The Chaffee would give the Norwegian Army (Hæren) their first taste of operating a relatively modern armored vehicle, having not had a tank to operate since the single L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ of the late 1930s. Eventually, Norway would operate a total of 141 Chaffees and, through upgrades, would keep them in service until the early 1990s.
The M24 Chaffee
The M24 Chaffee, named after Army General Adna R. Chaffee, 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 twin Cadillac 44T24 8 cylinder petrol engines producing 220 hp combined. The transmission and drive wheels were located at the front of the vehicle. The Chaffee rolled on 5 paired 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, keeping constant track tension.
Armament consisted of the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6 which had a concentric recoil system (this was a hollow tube around the barrel, a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders). Variants of this gun were also used on the B-25H Mitchell Bomber, and the T33 Flame Thrower Tank prototype. The gun had a muzzle velocity of 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and had a maximum penetration of 109 mm. The elevation range of the gun was around -10 to +13 degrees. Secondary armament included the coaxial .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun, and the .50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun which was mounted on the rear of the turret roof.
Norway received its first Chaffees after the Second World War, when US troops stationed in the country left the Norwegians 17 M24s when they withdrew. Further military aid came from the US under the ‘MAP’, starting 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. Other countries that benefited from the MAP included France, Portugal, and Belgium, but also former enemy nations such as West Germany and Japan. The initial 1946 delivery was sent directly to Trandum leir, a Norwegian Army Camp (now closed) near Ullensaker.
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 Soviet Union, it was seen as a crucial partner. With this close proximity to the potential enemy, invasion was expected. The focus of the Norwegian military at this time was defending its strategically important airfields. For this, three Dragoon Regiments were created; ‘DR 1’, ‘DR 2’ and ‘DR 3’. These were split between various airfields. These included 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.
Initially, the garrison forces were equipped with recycled Panzer IIIs and StuG IIIs left behind by the surrendering German forces. In Norwegian service, these were called Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III, respectively. Due to a lack of available M24s, the garrison forces were equipped mostly with these aging vehicles. Thanks to the birth of NATO, however, 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 plentiful Chaffees. As a result, all airport garrison dragoon regiments were re-armed with the Chaffee*. Norway received its last Chaffee in 1955; however, MAP did not just provide tanks. Through this program, the Norwegians received 300 fighter aircraft, 8,000 vehicles of various types, 800 field guns, and 100,000 tonnes (110,200 tons) of ammunition.
Norwegian Chaffees also had a royal connection. From 1955 to 1957, Prince Harald (now King Harald V) served in a Chaffee crew during his conscription years in the Norwegian Armed Forces.
The M24s gave the Hæren excellent service for many years, but come the late-1960s, the M24 was obsolete, and an upgrade program began. This resulted in the NM-116 and NM-130. Four unmodified M24s were given to the Heimevernet (the Norwegian Home Guard) which operated them well into the late 1970s. Any leftover vehicles were either sent to the ranges, or placed into storage.
The majority of tanks that remained after their retirement from the Heimevernet were either scrapped or sent to military firing ranges. A small number of vehicles – exact amount unknown – were used as static coastal defenses. For this, their turrets were removed and placed on concrete plinths. When not in use, the turrets were covered with a camouflaged metal ‘shed’ to keep them concealed. When needed, the ‘sheds’ were raised via hydraulics. In a fashion similar to the KW-III turret placements at Ft. Bjørnåsen, these turrets were part of a larger bunker system. An example of this is a bunker system was located in Harstad, in the far north of Norway. The turrets remained in place until the end of the Cold War (early-1990s), after which they started to be removed. The last use of the standard Chaffee came in 2002, when it featured in a rather risqué Norwegian mineral water commercial.
By the late-1960s, the Chaffee was getting a little bit long in the tooth. Naturally, the Forsvaret began looking for a way to increase the lethality of their tank arm. At this time, however, Norway was not the richest of countries so, instead of spending millions of Kroner on a new vehicle, they chose to upgrade the Chaffee. The Oslo based company of Thune-Eureka A/S was chosen to develop the upgrades, which incorporated a new 90 mm main gun, a new, more powerful engine, a new transmission, and various other modernizations.
The upgrade program centered around a new main armament, consisting of a French D/925 Low-Pressure 90 mm gun. Firing a Hulladingsgranat M62 High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round, the weapon was capable of defeating up to 320 mm (12.6 in) of armor, a vast improvement over the M24s original 75mm gun. This was complimented by a new coaxial Browning .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun, and a laser range-finder placed over the barrel. The main automotive upgrade was the replacement of the original engine with a new Detroit Diesel 6V-53T. Other, smaller modifications included a new Leopard 1-style rubber-pad track, a new sprocket wheel, new radios, and German-made smoke dischargers.
This upgraded vehicle, now designated NM-116, entered service in 1975. With the new upgrades came a new role. The upgraded Chaffee went from being a light tank, to a tank destroyer, hence ‘Panserjager’. The NM-116 was an ‘ambush predator’, and would use its small size and good maneuverability to outflank the enemy, engage, and then withdraw along pre-arranged lanes of engagement. The NM-116 was a successful conversion, but by the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the tank was becoming obsolete. Its gun simply did not have the penetrative power to combat modern armored fighting vehicles. This led to the NM-116 receiving the nickname ‘Pansernager’, literally meaning ‘Armor Nibbler’ due to the weapon’s lack of killing power. Nevertheless, the tank served the Norwegian Army well for 18 years, finally being retired in 1993.
To support the new NM-116, it was also decided that a new Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV), or ‘Bergepanser’, be developed. For this, four Chaffees were separated from the NM-116 project. 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 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.
This ARV was designated the NM-130 Bergepanser. The large pivoting crane was telescopic and could be raised or lowered by a hydraulic ram. It had a 2 to 7 tonne (2.2 – 7.7 ton) capacity, with integral 19-tonne (21 ton) capacity winch. The crane had a relatively low lift capacity as it was not designed to lift an entire vehicle, rather 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). It was necessary that the cable have quite a high tensile strength 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 winch drum. This allowed the vehicle to tow vehicles behind it. To do this though, the crane would have to be traversed 180 degrees. The NM-130’s dozer blade performed three main roles: light earthmoving operations/obstacle clearance, support during lifting operations, and anchorage when winching.
The Bergepanser entered service around the same time as the NM-116 and left service with its tank-killing brother in the early 1990s. 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.
The Chaffee gave the Norwegian Army one of its earliest experiences in the operation of relatively modern armor after the Second World War, and served as its primary tank for many years. In total – thanks to the NM upgrade programs – the M24 gave the Hæren approximately 47 years of service, making it one of Norway’s longest-serving armored vehicles. This is surpassed only by the now 56 years of the M113 which – again thanks to upgrade programs – has remained in Norse service since around 1964.
Not many unmodified Norwegian Chaffees remain, however, there are a few. In the late-90s, early-2000s, the Norwegians began removing the Chaffees from their ranges and storage. A few vehicles went to Museums around Norway, but Museums around the world also began buying them and restoring them for display. An example of such a vehicle can be found at The Museum of the American G.I. in College Station, Texas, USA. The vehicle has since been restored to a fully operational condition.
A Stridsvogn M24 of Stridsvogneskadron Sola. The emblem on the turret side is one still commonly used in the Kavalerieskadronen (Armoured Cavalry), and is a representation of the Norse God Odin and his Ravens. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
5.45 (without gun) x 2.84 x 2.61 m (16’4″ x 9’4″ x 5’3″)
Even into the 1930s, Norway was not one of the more industrially advanced countries in Europe. As such, Norway was a relative latecomer to the idea of mechanizing its armed forces. It was not until the mid-1930s that the Royal Norwegian Army (No: Hæren) began to express an interest in Armored Fighting Vehicles. It was around this time that it developed its first armored vehicles – 3 improvised armored cars built on commercial truck chassis. By 1936 though, the Army was looking for something a little tougher. The Army became interested in the L-120, a prototype light tank in development by its fellow Scandinavian neighbor, Sweden. While the L-120 – built by Landsverk – would not become a success in Sweden, 1 prototype hull was purchased by and delivered to the Norwegians.
The tank was delivered without a turret, leaving the Hæren to build a basic one of its own design, equipped with a machine gun. The L-120 was Norway’s first-ever tank and would be known by many names, including ‘Kongstanken’ (Royal Tank) and ‘Norgestanken’, (Norwegian Tank); however, it is most popularly known as the ‘Rikstanken’ (The National Tank).
In Norwegian service, the tank would never see combat. Although it was used in training in 1938 and 1939, it was left in storage when the German Army invaded in April 1940. After the invasion and subsequent occupation, the vehicle remained in storage. By war’s end, however, the tank had disappeared.
What’s in a Name?
According to the Forsvarsmuseet (Norwegian Armed Forces Museum) in Oslo, the names given to the L-120 have some interesting history in their own right. The names ‘Norgestanken’ and ‘Kongstanken’ were actually double entendres. In Norwegian, the word ‘tanken’ means both “the tank” and “the thought”. The noun ‘Norgestanken‘ can therefore also mean ‘The Norway thought’, an old nationalistic term for the idea of an independent Norway – Norway had only gained independence from Sweden in 1905. ‘Kongstanken’ can also mean “the royal thought”, and can signify grand, bold, or idealistic thinking. This generation of Norwegians remembered the struggle for independence, so it is easy to see why so much reverence was placed in the name.
In 1936, the Swedish Military was looking to replace the Stridsvagn m/21-29 and Stridsvagn m/31. A requirement was put out for two new tanks, one armed with a 37 mm gun, and a lighter vehicle armed only with machine guns. Landsverk would design two vehicles to fill these roles, the L-60 and the L-120. The L-60 would fill the medium tank role, and would later enter service as the Strv m/38. The L-120 was under consideration for the role of the light tank. At least 3 prototypes were built, each with slight differences, mostly regarding the design of the radiator grills and the design of the driver’s hatch. Design-wise, the L-120 was extremely similar to the previous L-100 light tank concept. The design was typically Swedish, being quite a narrow vehicle, with a hull that sloped to the rear, and a large diameter sprocket wheel at the front of the running gear. The L-120 has a claim to fame in that it is one of the first-ever tanks to feature a torsion bar suspension.
By 1937, two prototypes had been produced, and by May were taking part in trials. The trials highlighted that their engines left them underpowered, and they were extremely unreliable. As a result, the Swedes canceled development of the L-120, with the military instead opting for the Czechoslovakian-built AH-IV tankette.
Despite the tank’s failures in the eyes of the Swedish military, the Norwegians expressed interest in the L-120 to see whether it would be compatible with their dragoon and cavalry units. Initially, the Norwegian Army was granted a budget of 20,000 Kroner. However, the shipping costs of a complete tank would have risen to 50,000 Kroner due to the weight. As a result, the vehicle was shipped in a stripped-down condition without armor plating, a turret, or any armament. The Norwegian Army took delivery of this basic tank hull in 1938.
Overview of the ‘Rikstanken’
Unfortunately, not much information regarding this L-120’s unique specifications survive today, but there are fragments that can be retrieved. The L-120 weighed between 4 and 4.5 tonnes (4.4 – 4.9 tons), measured 4 meters (13 ft 3 in) in length and was about 1.7 meters (5 ft 8 in) wide. With the original turret, it measured 1.65 meters (5 ft 4 in) in height. Propulsion was provided by an 85 hp, 6 cylinder Volvo Type DC – presumably, petrol – engine, reportedly taken from the Volvo LV93 series of commercial trucks. This ran through a 5 speed (4 forwards, 1 reverse) gearbox, also apparently taken from the LV93 truck. The engine was located at the rear of the tank and powered the forward-mounted sprocket wheels, propelling the vehicle to a top speed of about 50 km/h (31 mph). The running gear consisted of 4 split, spoked, and rubber-tired road wheels per side on a torsion bar suspension. There was a larger diameter, spoked trailing idler wheel at the rear, and the return of the track was supported by two return rollers. The track was of quite a short pitch, and quite narrow at about 15 cm (5.9 in) wide.
The L-120 hull that made it to Norway was unique in appearance compared to the other prototypes. The front of the vehicle was dominated by a large sloping upper plate that extended back to the turret ring. There is a suggestion that the tank was delivered without armor, and as such, iron plates were installed on the vehicle. This cannot be corroborated at the time of writing, however. The sides of the hull also sloped inwards. A simple box-like hood was added over the driver’s position, placed slightly to the left of the centerline. Three simple vision ports in the hood provided vision for the driver, one of only a two-man crew. The steering tillers were also reportedly missing when the vehicle arrived, leading to their replacement with a steering wheel. This is another detail that currently can not be corroborated.
The other crew member was the commander/gunner who would be located in the turret. As the vehicle arrived without a turret, the Norwegians had to fabricate their own. They came up with a simple cylindrical turret with a flat roof and a single-piece hatch. This seems to be quite crude in nature and simply hinges backward at a crease in the middle of the roof plate. The only way the commander could see out effectively would be to operate head out, as there do not appear to have been any vision devices in the walls or roof of the turret. However, in some of the surviving photos, it would appear that there may be simple slits cut into the sides of the turret. Considering the rudimentary nature of the turret, it must be assumed that horizontal traverse was manual, but whether this was by gearing or brute force is unknown. It is also unknown how thick the metal used to fabricate the turret was, and whether it made it taller or shorter than the original turret.
For armament, the Norwegians installed an American made Colt M/29 ‘Mitraljøse’ (heavy machine gun) in a simple circular cut out in the ‘face’ of the turret. This weapon was a Norway-specific version of the Colt MG38, the export version of the Colt M1928, which in turn was an export version of the famous Browning M1917. It was chambered in the Norwegian 7.62 x 61 mm round, and remained a water-cooled, recoil-operated machine gun, and had a rate-of-fire of 590 rounds-per-minute. This gun was a sensible choice, as it was the most plentiful – perhaps only – heavy weapon in service with the Norwegian Army at this time, with around 1,800 in operation.
Other details on the vehicle include simple headlights on the fenders over the sprocket wheels, the exhaust pipe on the right rear fender, a larger stowage box on the left rear fender, and pioneer tools (pickaxes, shovels, etc) stowed around the back end of the vehicle.
The service history of the ‘Rikstanken’ can be described as patchy at best. What remains are a series of fragments, mostly consisting of second- or even third-hand accounts.
Between 1938 and 1939, the L-120 was predominantly used in training exercises alongside the cavalry and the 3 improvised armored cars. All 4 vehicles were passed around the cavalry and dragoon units so they could all train with and gain experience operating with armor. As part of the cavalry, the tank received the number ‘PV-1’, which was painted on both of the fenders over the sprocket wheels. It would appear that the tank was predominantly based at Gardermoen, just North of Oslo, at the base of the 1st Dragoon Regiment.
It would appear that the mechanical issues that emerged during the Swedish trials once more reared their heads during Norway’s time operating the vehicle. The Norwegians also came to the conclusion that the engine was far too underpowered. There were also brake issues, once reportedly causing the vehicle to crash into a tree. A Colonel by the name of Christopher Fougner – Commander of the 2nd Dragoon Regiment, was of the opinion that the tank was a waste of money and time, reportedly stating that the only working tank the Norwegian Army would ever see would belong to an attacking enemy. This is ironic considering the events that would transpire just a couple of years later, in 1940.
April 1940 would, of course, bring the invasion of Norway by Nazi Germany, and subsequent occupation. The L-120’s role in the invasion is, again, uncertain. There is a possibility that the tank did see some action in defense of Norway, but it would appear this was not the case. Even so, its ability to combat the more advanced Panzers of the Wehrmacht is highly questionable, although it may have done well against infantry. However, it seems more likely that the tank – along with the armored cars – were left at the Gardermoen base when the garrison forces left to face the invaders. Indeed, there are many post-invasion photos of German troops posing with the vehicle to suggest this.
This, unfortunately, is where the trail runs cold. It is unknown what happened to the vehicle during the duration of the occupation, or whether it survived to the end of the war. Nothing is thought to remain of the vehicle today.
Successful or not, the L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ is an important vehicle in Norway’s military history. Despite the mechanical issues, it gave the Norwegian Army their first experience in the operation of a tank.
Landsverk 120 (L-120). In Norwegian service, it was known as the ‘Rikstanken’ meaning ‘National Tank’. It was fitted with an improvised turret mounting an M/29 machine gun. The grey color is speculative as it is unknown what color the vehicle would have been. This illustration was produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
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.