Categories
Cold War British Fake Tanks

Caernarvon ‘Action X’ (Fake Tanks)

United Kingdom (1950s ?)
Medium Gun Tank – Fake

The ‘Tank, Medium Gun, FV221’, otherwise known as ‘Caernarvon’, appeared in the early 1950s and was a mating of an FV200 series chassis and the turret of an Mk. III Centurion. It was designed as an interim vehicle to fill the gap while Britain’s first Heavy Gun Tank, the FV214 Conqueror, was in the final stages of development.

Decades later, in 2018, and despite the real FV221 Caernarvon already being present, the popular online game World of Tanks (WoT) – published and developed by Wargaming (WG) – was looking for a new premium tank (a vehicle bought with real money that provides special in-game benefits) to add to the British ‘tech tree’. The result was a ghastly blend of 4 separate parts (engine, turret, armor plates and hull), all to create a fake tank with a double fake name. It is known in-game as the Caernarvon ‘Action X’.

While all of the constituent parts used to make this tank did exist in one form or another, they were never put together in this way.

The ghastly ‘Caernarvon AX’ as it appears in ‘World of Tanks’. Photo: ritastatusreport

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The WoT Representation

A small ‘history’ is provided for this vehicle by Wargaming:

“A further development of the vehicles designed by the English Electric company under the “universal tank” concept (FV200). The project was discontinued in favor of the A41 tank (Centurion). No prototypes were built.”

– WoT Wiki extract

The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is portrayed as a variant of the real FV221 Caernarvon, which is in turn part of the FV200 series of vehicles. Despite not being given its ‘Fighting Vehicle (FV)’ number, this fake is presented as a vehicle of the FV200 series produced in the early 1950s, in the early years of the Cold War.

The FV200 dates back to the final stages of the Second World War, when the British War Office (WO) was looking for a ‘Universal Tank’. The ancestor of today’s Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), the idea of the Universal Tank was that one chassis would spawn many variants, thus reducing costs, development and making maintenance and supply far easier. The first in the series was the FV201.

Despite a long development period, the FV201 project was canceled in 1949, with development moving onto the FV214 Conqueror, and in turn, the FV221 Caernarvon. As such, only four vehicles of the FV200 series were ever produced and entered into service. These were the FV214, and FV221 gun tanks, and the FV219/FV222 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs).

The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ in-game. Image: WoT player & TE Community member, Nisstro.

Reality: FV221 Caernarvon

In 1950, the gun and turret of the FV214 Conqueror was still in the development phase. The hull and chassis, however, were already in the final stages of development. The chassis was a simplified variant of the FV201 series. The main simplification was in the engine bay, where the power take-off for the additional devices that the FV200 series was to have been fitted with was removed. This simplification meant the tank was slightly shorter. Both of these factors reduced the weight and these savings in weight were reinvested in the tank’s frontal protection, with the glacis being thickened and sloped back slightly more.

With this part of the FV214 complete, the Tank, Medium Gun, FV221 Caernarvon project was launched. The aim of this project was to speed up the development of the Conqueror, while giving crews experience in the operation of the vehicle. The FV221 consisted of an FV214 hull mated with a Centurion Mk. III turret armed with a 20-pounder gun.

With an initial prototype built in April 1952, just 10 of these vehicles were built, the last one in 1953. These had a brief career, nonetheless, seeing extensive trial service in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and the Middle East Land Forces (MELF).

The FV221 Caernarvon, an amalgamation of the FV214 hull and Centurion Mk. III turret. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

In-Game Design of the Caernarvon ‘AX’

This fake tank is simply a fictional ‘upgrade’ to the FV221 Caernarvon ‘Medium Gun Tank’. As this vehicle is also equipped with a 20-pounder (84 mm) gun, it also fits the ‘medium gun tank’ designation. The term ‘Medium Gun Tank’ is a uniquely British designation. It refers to the size and power of the gun, not the size and weight of the tank. The role of a ‘Medium Gun Tank’ was to provide support for assaulting infantry by the sheer volume of fire and engaging lighter enemy armored vehicles. The role of engaging heavily armored vehicles and defensive positions fell to the ‘Heavy Gun Tank’, such as the Conqueror.

The hull armor for this vehicle is listed by WG as 130 mm on the hull front, 50.8 mm on the sides, and 38.1 mm on the rear. This is not too far off reality, however, it is still unclear as to just how thick the upper glacis of the tank was due to conflicting sources. That said, it is believed that the upper glacis is between 4.7 and 5.1 inches (120 – 130 mm) thick. The side armor is accurate, at about 2 inches (50 mm) thick, while the rear plate is actually around 0.7 inches (20 mm).

Despite the countless falsehoods present on this vehicle, the Caernarvon ‘AX’ does share some accurate parts of its design with the real FV221. These include the 4-man crew (commander, gunner, loader, driver), Horstmann suspension system, and the layout of the hull.

In-game profile shot of the Caernarvon ‘Action X’ showing the Horstmann suspension, one of the only realistic parts of this vehicle. Photo: WoT player & TE Community member, Nisstro

The ‘Action X’ Turret

The ‘Action X’ turret is where this mutated tank gets its name. In its own right, the ‘history’ of this turret is a comedy of errors but, nonetheless, it must be clearly stated that the turret, by itself, WAS a real project. Unfortunately, the history of this turret is long lost, leading historians to piece together its history from fragments of files. The following information has been compiled by amateur military historians and TE members, Ed Francis and Adam Pawley.

The first falsehood to tackle is the name ‘Action X’. The official name for this turret was the ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’, so called because it was a design for a new turret for the Centurion. The name ‘Action X’ appeared in a book published in the early 2000s, after the author cited seeing the name written on the back of a photo of the turret. What he fails to mention is that this was written in the 1980s, and does not appear in any official material.

Centurion fitted with the Mantletless Turret undergoing trials in the 1960s. Photo: ritastatusreport

Evidence suggests that the turret was developed alongside the Centurion and Chieftain, as a means of creating a method for poorer countries to upgrade their Centurion fleets if they could not afford to invest in the Chieftain. Despite popular belief, its development had nothing to do with the FV4202 project. The design was quite different from the standard Centurion design.
Where the standard Centurion turret had a large mantlet that covered the majority of the turret face, this design was mantletless. A large sloped ‘forehead’ replaced the mantlet, with the coaxial machine gun being moved to the top left corner. The rest of the turret remained rather similar to the standard turret. The bustle stayed the same basic shape, the commander’s cupola remained at the back right, with the loader’s hatch on the back left. Unfortunately, the real armor values are currently unknown. In-game, they are listed as 254 mm (10 inches) on the front, 152.4 mm (6 inches) on the sides, and 95.3 mm (3 ¼ inches) on the rear.

Other than the fact that just 3 of these turrets were made, with 2 of them fitted and tested on Centurion chassis and 1 destroyed in a firing trial, little more official information remains on the project. One of these three originals still survives, and currently sits in the car park of The Tank Museum, Bovington, England.

The surviving ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’ in the car park of The Tank Museum, Bovington. Note the position of the coaxial machine gun at the top left. Photo: Adam Pawley

Second to the name, the next error is the fact that this turret was never intended to be installed on any member of the FV200 series of vehicles. For one thing, this turret was developed almost a full decade after the FV221 Caernarvon. Another issue is the addition of the additional armor on the turret cheeks. The design of these has been taken straight from another WoT fake, the ‘Super Conqueror’. No such name was ever used. The tank was, in fact, a mere static test vehicle, a guinea pig that was pummeled by High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) ammunition to test their effects on armored vehicles. For this, the vehicle was covered with additional 0.5 – 1.1 inch (14 – 30 mm) armor plates over its bow and turret cheeks. There was never any intention – or even a need – to place these plates on the ‘Mantletless Turret’. In the World of Tanks game, a single Browning M1919A4 .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun was also added to the commander’s cupola on the turret roof. This was known as the L3A1 in British service.

On the left, the real Conqueror target vehicle, on the right, the fake Caernarvon AX. Photos: themodellingnews and WoT player & TE Community member, Nisstro, respectively

The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is not the only vehicle in WoT to use the false name. The other vehicle is the Centurion ‘Action X’, which is based on the Centurions which were tested with the ‘Mantletless Turret’.

Armament

The armament installed on this spurious vehicle is the Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 20-pounder Gun with ‘Type B’ barrel. There were two types of 20-pounder: the ‘Type A’ without a fume extractor, and the ‘Type B’ with a fume extractor. The gun is, at least, an accurate choice, as the ‘Mantletless Turret’ was tested with both the 20-pounder and L7 105 mm gun. The 20-pounder was the successor to the 17-pounder gun of the Second World War and had a 3.3 inch (84 mm) bore. A range of ammunition was available to it. When firing an Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (A.P.D.S.) round at a muzzle velocity of 4,810 ft/s (1,465 m/s), the gun could penetrate up to 13 inches (330 mm) of armor at 1,000 yards (914 m). In-game, maximum penetration is listed as just 10 inches (258 mm).

The Caernarvon ‘AX’ in-game showing its ‘firepower’. Photo: Wargamming.net

Despite the accurate selection of a gun, there remains an error in the presentation of it in that there is a thermal sleeve around the barrel. Thermal sleeves are used to provide consistent temperature to the barrel, in turn preventing distortions due to thermal expansion caused by the temperature fluctuations around the tube. There were no such sleeves added to the barrels of the 20-pounder gun (either A or B) or the 105 mm until the 1960s.

The 20-pounder gun – both ‘A’ & ‘B’ types – was installed on multiple vehicles. It served on the Centurion from the Mk. 3 to the Mk. 5/2, after which it was replaced by the 105 mm L7. It was also the main armament of the FV4101 Charioteer Medium Gun Tank and, of course, the real FV221 Caernarvon.

The 20-pounder-armed Centurion Mk. 3 (left) and FV4101 Charioteer (right). Both of these are equipped with the ‘Type A’ 20-pounder. Photos: acemodel & peda.net

Erroneous Engine

As with the equally fake FV215b, the Caernarvon ‘AX’ is equipped with the Rolls-Royce Griffon. This is, in reality, an aircraft engine. While Rolls-Royce aero engines have been adapted for use in armored vehicles, there is no evidence at all to suggest that there was ever a plan to make an AFV variant of the Griffon. An example of a converted Rolls-Royce aero engine is the Meteor, as used in the real FV221 Caernarvon. This was an adaption of the Merlin, an engine famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2.

The Griffon was a 37-liter, 60-degree V-12, liquid-cooled engine. It was the last V-12 aero engine built by Rolls-Royce, with production ceasing in 1955. It was used on such aircraft as the Fairey Firefly, Supermarine Spitfire, and Hawker Sea Fury. The engine produced over 2,000 hp in its plane configuration, but in-game it is listed as producing just 950 hp. This is not too far fetched, as converted aero-engines were often de-rated for use in armored vehicles. Meteor is an example of this. As the Merlin, it produced up 1,500 hp depending on the model. When de-rated as the Meteor, it produced just 810 horsepower.

The Rolls-Royce Griffon V-12 Aero-engine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On the real FV221, the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 No. 2 Mk. 1 produced 810 hp and propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 22 mph (35 kph). In this fake tank, the engine is listed as propelling this vehicle to a top speed of 36.3 km/h (22.5 mph).

Suspension

The Horstmann suspension of the Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is one of the accurate parts of this vehicle. On the FV200s, the suspension system had 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels were made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the vehicle, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There would also be 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The drive sprockets were relocated at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front.

Left, a schematic drawing of the Conqueror’s four Horstmann suspension bogie units. Right, this view of a Mk. 2 Conqueror being unloaded from a flatbed trailer shows how the suspension actuates. Sources: User Handbook for Tank, Heavy Gun, Conqueror Mk. 1 & 2 – 1958, WO Code No. 12065 & Rob Griffin

Fake, Pure and Simple

The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ is just one of a litany of convenient or lazy fakes by Wargaming. Not only do they erroneously mate a turret with a hull that was never intended to carry it, they also use a completely false designation for said turret. To cap it all, they then adorn the turret with false additions, such as the armor plate.

Had this tank ‘existed’, it would have been completely redundant. The turret itself was not developed until the 1960s, after the Caernarvons had all been retired or turned into Conquerors. By this time, the FV4201 Chieftain was in development, and the Conqureor was about to leave service, showing just how obsolete the chassis was, not to mention the 20 pounder gun.

The Caernarvon ‘Action X’ was released into ‘World of Tanks’ with this optional gaudy ‘Fearless’ camouflage scheme. A fake camouflage scheme for a fake tank. Photo: Wargaming.net


Illustration of the fake Caernarvon ‘Action X’ produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Wargaming.net
WO 194/388: FVRDE, Research Division, Trials Group Memorandum on Defensive Firing Trials of Centurion Mantletless Turret, June 1960, The Tank Museum, Bovington
WO 185/292: Tanks: TV 200 Series: Policy and Design, 1946-1951, The National Archives, Kew
FV221 Caernarvon – Instructions for User Trials – REME aspect, September 1953, The Tank Museum, Bovington
Maj. Michael Norman, RTR, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, AFV/Weapons #38, Profile Publications Ltd.
Carl Schulze, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Britain’s Cold War Heavy Tank, Tankograd Publishing

Categories
Cold War British Other Tanks

Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214 Conqueror

United Kingdom (1953)
Heavy Gun Tank – Aprx. 180

On September 7th, 1945, military heads of the Western Powers were horrified by what they saw rumbling towards them along the Charlottenburger Chaussee in central Berlin during the 1945 Victory Parade celebrating the end of the Second World War. During that parade, the increasingly threatening Soviet Union unveiled its latest tank to the world: the IS-3 heavy tank. As these machines clattered down the parade route, a sense of fear enveloped the representatives of the British, US, and French Armies. What they saw was a tank with well-sloped and – apparently – heavy armor, a piked nose, wide tracks, and a gun at least 120 mm in caliber.

The race was on. France, Britain, and the US immediately began the design and development of their own heavy or heavily armed tanks. The Americans would create the 120 mm Gun Tank M103 while the French experimented with the AMX-50. Both of these tanks had 120 mm guns that would – it was hoped – be able to combat the IS-3 threat. The British, on the other hand, would pursue the development of the ‘Universal Tank’, what we know today as a ‘Main Battle Tank’ or ‘MBT’. The FV4007 Centurion was also in development well before the IS-3 appeared. At this time, however, it was only armed with the 17-Pounder gun. It was projected that it would be equipped with the 20-Pounder (84mm) in the future, but a more powerful gun was desired.

This is where the FV200 series of vehicles come in. The FV200s were a projected series of vehicles based on one common chassis, hence ‘Universal Tank’. The FV214 was one of the vehicles in this series, and was a design for a ‘Heavy Gun Tank’. It would become known as the Conqueror. The Conqueror or – to give its officially long-winded title – the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214 Conqueror’, was an impressive vehicle. Weighing in at 63 long tons* (64 tonnes), armed with a powerful 120 mm gun, and protected by thick steel armor. The Conqueror – as mighty as it was – had an extremely short service life, in operation between 1955 and 1966. Conqueror was one of the heaviest and largest tanks Great Britain ever produced that made it to active service.

*As this is a British vehicle, mass will be measured in ‘Long Ton’ otherwise known as the ‘Imperial ton’. It will be shortened to ‘ton’ for ease with a metric conversion alongside.

Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, Conqueror. ‘William the Conqueror’ is a surviving example of a Mk.2 Conqueror and can be found at the Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight, UK. Photo: Author’s own

The FV200 Series

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the War Office (WO) reviewed the future of the British Army’s tank arm. In 1946, they did away with the ‘A’ designator used on tanks such as the Churchill (A22) and Comet (A34). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. In an attempt to streamline the tank force and cover all the bases, it was decided that the military needed three main families of vehicles: the FV100, the FV200, and FV300 series. The FV100s would be the heaviest, the FV200s would be slightly lighter, and the FV300s would be lightest. All three projects were almost canceled due to the complexity that would’ve been involved in producing the respective series. In the end, both the FV100 and FV300 series were canceled. The FV200 hung on in its development, however, as it was projected that it would eventually replace the Centurion.

The FV200 series included designs for vehicles that would fill various roles ranging from a gun tank to an engineering vehicle and Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). It wasn’t until later years that the other uses of the FV200 chassis were explored, such as with the F219 and FV222 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs). The first of the FV200 series was the FV201, a gun tank that started development in 1944 as the ‘A45’. This tank weighed around 55 tons (49 tonnes). At least two or three FV201s were built for testing, but the project went no further than that. Work on the project ceased in 1949.

The FV201 (A45) test vehicle with Centurion turret and 17-Pounder gun. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Need vs Availability

In June 1949, an official requirement was made for a new Heavy Gun Tank with enough firepower to defeat the toughest armor of the time from a long-range. The term ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ is a uniquely British designation. It refers to the size and power of the gun, not the size and weight of the tank. Heavy Gun Tanks are specifically designed to destroy enemy tanks and/or fortified positions. Work on the new tank began that July, when the FV201 project transitioned into the FV214 project. Designers working on the new specifications soon realized they had a few problems, not the least of which was that they did not have a gun, a turret, or a hull.

The requirement for the new heavily armed tank called for the vehicle to be armed with a large caliber gun. A 4.5 in (114 mm) gun that was first considered for the FV205 in 1946 was explored first, before moving on to a 120 mm gun. The problem was there was no such gun in existence or development in the United Kingdom at that time. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Americans were developing a 120 mm gun for their T43/M103 heavy tank project. This gun had a chamber pressure of 17 long tons (17.2 tonnes), but they were planning to increase this value to 22 long tons (22.3 tonnes). The higher the chamber pressure, the higher the velocity, meaning longer range, and increased penetration. With the US and UK working closely, the UK also designed a gun with a 22-ton (22.3 tonne) chamber pressure. Efforts were even made to standardize the guns between each other. On the British side, Royal Ordnance took charge of the development of the gun, resulting in the Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 120 mm Tank, L1A1 Gun.

The Royal Ordnance QF 120 mm Tank L1 gun. This particular version is the L1A2 with a threaded muzzle, mounted on ‘William’ the Conqueror, IOW. Photo: Author’s own.

Weighing in at 2.9 tons (3 tonnes) with a length of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters), the 120 mm L1 gun was monstrous. A new turret would be needed to carry it, but this would have to be designed from the ground up. Work started in 1949, with the turret set to be constructed at Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Barnbow. It was clear from the outset that a turret would not be ready for a considerable amount of time.

Another issue was developing a suitable chassis that would be strong enough to carry the immense gun and – what would probably be – a proportionately large and heavy turret that was set to be constructed from cast steel. Instead of going back to the drawing board, the designers decided to use the chassis of the nearly complete FV201.

FV221 Caernarvon, an Interim Development

By 1950, with the gun and turret still in the development phase, it was clear that prototype production and troop trials of the FV214, now known as ‘Conqueror’, were a long way off. The hull and chassis, however, were already in the final stages of development. The chassis was a simplified variant of the FV201 series. The main simplification was in the engine bay, where the power take-off for the additional devices that the FV200 series was to have been fitted with was removed. This simplification meant the tank was slightly shorter. Both of these factors reduced the weight. These savings in weight were reinvested in the tank’s frontal protection, with the glacis being thickened and sloped back slightly more.

With this part of the FV214 complete, the Tank, Medium Gun, FV221 Caernarvon project was launched. The aim of this project was to speed up the development of the Conqueror, while giving crews experience in the operation of the vehicle. The FV221 consisted of an FV214 hull mated with a Centurion Mk. III turret armed with a 20-Pounder gun. With an initial prototype built in April 1952, just 10 of these vehicles were built, the last one in 1953. These had a brief career, nonetheless, they saw extensive trial service in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and the Middle East Land Forces (MELF).

The FV221 Caernarvon, an amalgamation of the FV214 hull and Centurion Mk. III turret. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Finalizing the Conqueror’s Design

Come 1951, work on the FV214 had progressed and, by the end of the year, firing trials of the new Ordnance L1 120 mm gun had concluded with the weapon being accepted for service. A program to create a stop-gap carriage for this gun resulted in the Centurion-based FV4004 Conway, although this project was halted after prototype trials. There was also an idea to mount the gun in a casemate style tank destroyer built on the FV200 chassis and designated the FV217 – nothing came of this project either. The design of the turret had also been finalized and it was set to include a number of innovative features, such as an automatic rammer for assisting the loader, a shell ejection system, and a ‘Fire Control Turret’ for the Commander.

By 1952, four pre-production turrets and 3 guns were available to start trials. These were mated with existing FV221 hulls. At least four prototypes were constructed in this manner. Several other hulls were tested with the ‘Windsor’ ballast turret – named after Windsor Castle. It consisted of a large cast steel ring with interchangeable plates and simulated the weight of a fully equipped Conqueror turret.

FV221 Cearnarvon hull with the Conqueror-weighted ‘Windsor’ Ballast Turret, 1952. Photo: Tankograd

These vehicles took part in mobility and endurance trials conducted by the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (F.V.R.D.E.) between September 1952 and July 1953. Together, the vehicles covered around 7,911 miles (12,732 km, divided between test locations) – just cross country – at speeds of up to 15 mph (23 km/h). Road trials covering 99 miles (160 km) were also conducted. As it performed well in these trials, 5 more pre-production vehicles were ordered for further F.V.R.D.E. tests. For troop trials, 20 vehicles were ordered in 1953, all to be built at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Dalimur, Scotland. Construction of these vehicles was completed in summer 1955.

One of the Conqueror prototypes built using an FV221 hull. This photo was taken during the trials of the early 1950s. Photo: Tankograd

Mk. 1 and Mk. 2

While the trial versions were in production, certain details of the vehicle were adapted based on the test results of the first batch of vehicles. This resulted in two types of FV214. Vehicles produced before the alterations were implemented became the Conqueror Mk. 1, while vehicles built with the modifications became the Conqueror Mk. 2.

The most noticeable differences between the Mk. 1 and 2 are the exhausts, fume extractor, and driver’s periscopes. On the Mk. 1, the exhausts were equipped with mufflers whereas the Mk.2 featured straight-through exhausts. The Mk. 2 is also distinguishable from the Mk. 1 as it featured a much larger fume extractor on the 120 mm gun. As a carryover from the FV221 Caernarvon, the Conqueror Mk. 1 had three No. 16 Mk. 1 periscopes installed in a crescent in front of the driver’s hatch. This was seen as a weak point in the armor and, as such, just the center periscope was retained in the Mk. 2. The profile of the upper glacis plate was also changed and the plate made larger. It was also far more common for the Mk. 1 to not be equipped with the turret bustle stowage basket, a feature present on most Mk. 2s.

Conqueror Mk. 1 (left) and Conqueror Mk. 2 (right). Note the differences between the fume extractor and the driver’s pericopes. Photos: Profile Publications

The other differences between the two are relatively minor. On the Mk. 1 engine deck, fluid filler caps were left exposed, while on the Mk. 2 they were concealed by the engine bay cover plates. On the Mk. 1, there was a crank to turn over the engine by hand, this was deleted on the Mk. 2. Other changes included an improved switch-box in the driver’s compartment and improved hatches for the commander and driver.

The Conqueror in Detail

Overview

Weighing in at 65 tons (66 tonnes), the Conqueror is worthy of its name. Measuring 25 feet (7.62 meters) long – not including the gun, 13.1 feet (3.99 meters) wide and 11 feet (3.35 meters) tall, the FV214 cuts an imposing figure. A four-man crew operates the vehicle, consisting of the Commander (turret rear), Gunner (turret right), Loader (turret left) and Driver (hull right). All crew members had access to their own hatches which popped up and swung open, instead of the two-part doors that had been present since before WW2. The Conqueror was one of the first British tanks to have this style of hatch. The older two-piece type persisted on the Centurion for the entirety of its service.

With two of its crew stood before it, the Conqueror’s scale can be appreciated. Note also the swung open hatches. This is a Mk. 1 Conqueror of the 3rd Kings Own Hussars, BAOR in 1957. Photo: Conqueror Appreciation Society, Facebook.

Hull

The hull was of an all-welded construction, formed from plates of rolled homogeneous steel armor. At the front of the hull, the upper glacis was between 4.7 and 5.1 inches (120 – 130 mm) thick, sloped at 61.5 degrees from vertical. This would give an effective thickness of either 11.3 or 12.3 inches (289 – 313 mm)*. The lower glacis was 3 inches (77 mm) thick, angled at 45 degrees from vertical. This gave an effective thickness of 4.2 inches (109 mm). The armor profile changed between the Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 due to the deletion of the left and right No. 16 Mk. 1 periscopes. On the Mk. 1, the hull roof that the hatch was installed in was slightly sloped. On the Mk. 2, this part of the roof is flat.

The rear plate and hull floor are 0.7 inches (20 mm) thick, while the hull roof and sides are 2 inches (51 mm) thick. There was also an extra 0.3 inch (10 mm) ‘mine plate’ under the driver’s position. Protection on the sides of the hull was increased by the installation of two sets of armored side skirts or ‘bazooka plates’. These were approximately 0.2 inches (6 mm) thick and detachable, allowing easy maintenance and replacement. The upper set was attached to the track guards, while the lower set was attached to struts in between the suspension bogies and was fixed directly to the hull side, covering the suspension. These plates were designed to counter shaped-charge warheads by detonating them away from the hull sides and reducing the power of the jet from the shell. Tests of skirting plates had also established a high level of effectiveness for relatively little additional weight against other types of shells too, including Armor-Piercing (AP) and HESH (High Explosive Squash Head).

*There is a lot of confusion over the upper plate thickness, so that is why both possible thicknesses are given. Until a tangible measurement becomes available, it cannot be known for sure.

Top, the heavily armored nose of the Conqueror. Below, the protective ‘bazooka plates’ covering the suspension. Both photos are of ‘William’ on the IOW. Photos: Author’s own.

Designers believed that the 2 inches of side armor, together with the added plates, would be enough to counter the IS-3’s 122 mm gun. This, of course, was never tested in combat. By way of illustration, trials in 1959 proved that even a relatively thin single skirting plate just 10 mm thick helped provide significant protection against Soviet 100 mm UBR-412B Armor Piercing High Explosive (APHE) shells fired at a Centurion, justifying the conclusions of the designers of the time.

On the left of the rear hull plate there was an infantry telephone which allowed friendly troops to communicate with the vehicle’s commander. On the upper right corner could be found the gun crutch (travel lock). Three large stowage boxes were placed on the left and right fenders. Behind these were mountings for pioneer tools (shovel, axe, pick etc.), spare track links, and other sundries.

Rear view of a surviving Mk. at the Gunfire Museum, Belgium. Note the infantry telephone box, left, and the gun crutch (travel lock) right. Photo: Jan Wim Hasselman‎

The driver was located at the front of the hull, on the right. Two traditional tiller bars were used to operate the vehicle, with the gear stick situated between the driver’s legs. At his feet were the clutch (left), brake (center), and accelerator (right) pedals. Other instruments included a hand throttle, claxon (horn), battery and generator switches, fuel/temperature/speed gauges, and a gun position indicator. The driver’s seat could be placed at various heights and positions, allowing the driver to operate head-out or under the protection of a closed hatch. Extensions atop the tiller bars allowed easy operation when driving head out. The compartment to the left of the driver was used for ammunition storage. A semicircular hatch that pivoted open to the right provided the main route of access to the compartment. At least one prototype hull (used for testing a turbine engine) was also fitted with a second hatch but this feature was not carried over onto production vehicles. An additional means of escape for the driver was via a passageway into the turret basket so he could enter or exit the vehicle through the turret hatches. Behind the driver was the fighting compartment and turret. The engine bay was separated from the fighting compartment by a bulkhead.

Schematic view of the Driver’s position. Note the periscope in the roof, the tiller bar extensions and the large central gear stick. Source: User Handbook for Tank, Heavy Gun, Conqueror Mk. 1 & 2 – 1958, WO Code No. 12065

Mobility

The beating heart of the FV214 was the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 No. 2 Mk. 1A engine. This water-cooled, petrol-injection engine developed 810 horsepower at 2,800 rpm and was a derivative of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, famous for powering the British Spitfire and American Mustang fighter aircraft of World War 2. The transmission consisted of the 7-speed (5 forward, 2 reverse) Z52, and various models from Mk. A to Mk. C were used. Combined, this powerpack gave the FV214 a top speed of 21 mph (34 km/h) on the road. Maximum fuel capacity was 212 UK-gallons (964 litres). This capacity was split between 3 fuel tanks of 115, 85, and 20 gallons (523, 386, 91 litres) capacity respectively. In all, the vehicle would consume 144 gallons (655 litres) per 62 miles (100 km) when traveling on roads, or 188 gallons (855 litres) per 62 miles (100) km cross-country.

Schematic of the engine bay. The Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 No. 2 Mk. 1A is located in the center. Source: User Handbook for Tank, Heavy Gun, Conqueror Mk. 1 & 2 – 1958, WO Code No. 12065

Like the FV201 and Centurion before it, the Conqueror utilized the Horstmann suspension system with 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels were made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The idea behind this was that it would be more efficient on the rubber and would not need to be replaced as often. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the Conqueror, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There were also 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The advantage of using bogies lies in maintenance and crew comfort. Having externally mounted bogies means there is more room inside the tank and also, should the unit become damaged, it is relatively easy to remove it and replace it with a new unit.

Left, a schematic drawing of the Conqueror’s four Horstmann suspension bogie units. Right, this view of a Mk. 2 Conqueror being unloaded from a flatbed trailer shows how the suspension actuates. Sources: User Handbook for Tank, Heavy Gun, Conqueror Mk. 1 & 2 – 1958, WO Code No. 12065 & Rob Griffin

The drive sprocket was at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front. The track – made of cast manganese steel – was 31 inches (78.7 cm) wide and had 102 links per side when new. When the track was close to wearing out, it could use as little as 97 per side. Suspension gave the vehicle a ground clearance of 20 inches (51 cm), and the ability to climb a 35 inch (91 cm) vertical object. It allowed the tank to cross trenches up to 11 feet (3.3 m) wide, negotiate gradients up to 35 degrees, and ford water obstacles up to 4.5 feet (1.4 m) deep without preparation. The vehicle had a turning circle of 15 – 140 feet (4.8 – 42.7 m) depending on gear selection. It could also pivot or ‘neutral’ steer on the spot with each track turning in opposite directions.

A Conqueror Mk. 2 is refueled while on exercise in Germany, 1963. Photo: r/TankPorn

Turret

The turret of the Conqueror was a single steel casting. It was an odd shape, with a wide, curved face and a long, bulbous bustle. The turret face was between 9.4 to 13.3 inches (240 – 340 mm) thick, angled at around 60 degrees. This would make the effective thickness either 18.8 inches or 26.7 inches (480 – 680 mm). The mantlet is also estimated to be at least 9.4 inches thick. Armor on the turret sides was around 3.5 inches (89 mm) thick, while the roof and rear were around 2 inches (51 mm) thick.* The roof over the gun was formed by a large rectangular steel plate that was bolted in place. When removed, this allows access to the gun for maintenance. The roof on the right was also slightly stepped to accommodate the gunner’s periscope. The turret was divided into three crew positions with the gunner on the right, loader on the left, and the commander at the rear in his own dedicated position known as the ‘Fire Control Turret’. Both the gunner and loader had their own hatches.

Head-on view of the Conqueror’s heavy cast turret. The hole in the mantlet is the aperture of the coaxial machine gun. Note the gunner’s periscope sight mounted on the roof in the top left corner of the photo. ‘William’ the Conqueror, IOW. Photo: Author’s Own.

External features of the turret included two ‘Discharger, Smoke Grenade, No. 1 Mk. 1’ launchers. One of these was placed on each side of the turret, roughly centrally along its length. Each launcher featured 2 banks of 3 tubes and were fired electrically from inside the tank. Other notable features include the large rack on the rear of the bustle – used to carry tarpaulins, crew sundries, and other stowage – and the circular wire reel mounted on the left side of the bustle. This was a spool of telephone wire – known as the ‘Cable, Reel, Continuous Connection’ – that was carried by most British tanks of the time. It would be used in bivouac areas when the tanks were in their defensive positions. The wire was hooked up to each tank and allowed them to discreetly communicate without broadcasting their positions via radio.

*Much like the hull armor thicknesses, there is much disparity between turret thicknesses depending on the source.

Two views of the Conqueror’s turret, from the front and back. Note the Fire Control Turret at the rear with .30 Cal MG, the bolted plate above the gun, and one of the two smoke discharger sets. On the rear, note the stowage rack on the bustle and the wire reel. Photos: Tankograd Publishing.

Fire Control Turret

One very important title is held by the Conqueror. It was the first tank in the world to feature what we now call a ‘Hunter-Killer’ system. These systems provide the vehicle’s commander with the ability to spot targets for himself and take manual control of the turret and armament. This allows them to either lay their gunner on to target or take the shot themselves. In Conqueror, this system took the form of the ‘Fire Control Turret (FCT)’, a separate unit manned by the commander at the very rear of the main turret. It was capable of full 360 degree powered traverse (there was no manual override, a sore point among Conqueror commanders) independent of the main turret’s traverse. The FCT features its own defensive armament, consisting of an L3A1 .30 Cal (7.62 mm) machine gun – the British designation of the US Browning M1919A4. This gun was operated internally by the commander via mechanical linkages and, unlike the main gun, could be fired on the move. Although fired from the safety of the turret, the gun was fed by standard 200 to 250-round boxes – 3 of which were carried in the FCT. The commander would have to leave the safety of the FCT to reload and cock the weapon.

The FCT and its L3A1/M1919A4 armament. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The FCT featured a number of optics. In front of the commander’s hatch were his three main viewing devices. The sight for the machine gun – the ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 6 Mk. 1’ – was mounted centrally, with an ‘Episcope, Tank, No. 7 Mk. 1’ on either side. Rangefinding for the main gun was done via the ‘Rangefinder, AFV, No. 1 Mk. 1’. This was placed laterally at the front of the FCT and had a 47-inch (1.19 meters) sight base, with the apertures appearing on each cheek of the FCT. The rangefinder used the ‘coincidence’ method of ranging. the system laid to images on top of each other. When the two images completly overlap, the range measurement is taken. The system could gauge ranges from 400 to 5000 yards (366 – 4572 meters). Initially, the designers of the Conqueror turned to the Royal Navy for the development of the rangefinder. However, the Navy had trouble downsizing, and as such, the designers turned to the Glasgow based company of Barr & Stroud Ltd. The ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 8 Mk. 1’ – was placed below the rangefinder in the face of the FCT. This had x7 magnification and was the commander’s primary sight for the main gun.

The ‘FCT’ system allowed the commander to set up the next attack while the gunner was finishing his current one. This would work in the following method; the commander spotted the target, measured the range, lay gunner on to it, who began targeting. He then hands off to the gunner who makes the fine adjustments and takes the shot. This allowed the commander to move onto the next target, starting the process over again. Alternatively, the commander could do it all by himself, including firing the main gun or coaxial machine gun with his own controls. The Conqueror was the first British tank to incorporate a range finder.

Left, Diagram of the turret roof with the ‘Fire Control Turret (FCT)’ at the rear. Source: User Handbook for Tank, Heavy Gun, Conqueror Mk. 1 & 2 – 1958, WO Code No. 12065. Right, a photograph looking down into the FCT. Note the various eyepieces, the MG control handle on the left, and FCT traverse control on the right. Photo: Profile Publications.

Armament

Both the 120 mm L1A1 and L1A2 guns were used on the Conqueror. The A1 and A2 were basically identical, other than the A2 being threaded at the muzzle end. The weapon system consisted of 4 major components: the gun, the mount, sighting systems, and ejection gear. The 120 mm barrel was forged and rifled with an overall length from muzzle to breech block of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters). A bore evacuator (fume extractor) was placed roughly halfway down the barrel’s length. The gun was mounted on trunnions placed at the front of the turret. The aperture in the turret was protected by a large, flat-sided frustoconical cast mantlet wrapped around the base of the barrel. The gap between the mantlet and the turret face was sealed by a material baffle. On the left and right of the gun were the large buffers of the hydraulic recoil system. The gun mount also carried an L3A1/Browning M1919 coaxial machine gun, which was located on the left of the main gun.

A Conqueror Mk.1 of the 3rd King’s Own Hussars, Hohne Ranges, Germany 1956. This shot was fired by Gunner Barrie Ashwell, the man in the Commander’s seat was Sergeant Alan Wallace. Unfortunately, the man standing on the engine deck is only known as Lieutenant Sherwin. Photo: militaryimages.net

As well as the 360-degree power traverse of the turret, the gun was also equipped with power elevation with a range of -7 to + 15 degrees. Despite the maximum 7 degrees, a limiter prevented the gun from depressing past -5 degrees. The turret was traversed via the ‘Controller, Traverse, No. 1 Mk. 1’ spade grip found in front of and to the right of the gunner. A full rotation using powered traverse took 24 seconds. Elevation for the gun was achieved via the ‘Controller, Elevation, No. 2 Mk. 1’. This controller was on the gunner’s left, and also incorporated the electrical trigger for the main gun. Both elevation and traverse had manual overrides. As a safety feature, once the tank passed 1.5 mph (2.4 km/h), a micro switch engaged a system that disconnected the gun from the elevation system. The idea behind this ‘carry mode’ was that it put less stress on the gun cradle if the 2.9 ton gun was not locked into the system as the tank negotiated terrain. This effectively meant that the gunner was just along for the ride, having no control over the free-floating gun. A ‘trimming’ dial at the gunner’s station was used to stop the gun drifting too far up and down. As the tank was never designed to fire on the move, this was not seen as an issue. Still, it took several seconds after the tank had stopped before the gunner could operate the weapon once more. The gunner aimed the main gun via the ‘Sight, No. 10 Mk. 1’ which utilized two views with two eyepieces. One of these was a unity sight which granted an unmagnified field of vision. Integral in this view is a marked circle, this circle would show the view available to the eyepiece of the primary sight. The primary sight eyepiece was installed bellow the eyepiece for the unity. The sight had x6 magnification.

The 24.3 foot (7.4 meter), 2.9-ton (3 tonne) L1A2 of ‘William’ the Conqueror, IOW. Photo: Author’s own

Just two types of ammunition were carried by the Conqueror in a combat loadout, these being Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH). Both ammunition types were ‘two-stage’, meaning the shell was loaded separately of the propellent. The gun was loaded manually by the loader. It was not the easiest of tasks as the projectiles were heavy and cumbersome. The APDS projectile weighed in at 21.4 pounds (9.7 kg) while the HESH shell weighed in at 35.3 pounds (16 kg). The gargantuan brass propellent cases were equally hefty, with the APDS’ case weighing in at 60.9 pounds (27.6 kg), and the HESH’s weighing in at 41.5 pounds (18.8 kg). The APDS round had a muzzle velocity of approximately 4,700 fps (1,433 m/s) and could penetrate up to 15.3 inches (390 mm) of flat steel armor – or 120 mm (4.7 in) of 55-degree angled steel armor – at 1,000 yards (914 meters). The HESH projectiles had the advantage of consistent effectiveness regardless of the target range. The shell, which had a velocity of 2,500 fps (762 m/s), created effective spalling on armour of up to 4.7 inches (120 mm) thick, angled at 60 degrees. It also served as a dual-use round just as capable of engaging enemy armor as for use as a high-explosive round against buildings, enemy defensive positions, or soft-skinned targets. Between 35 and 37 rounds were carried, divided between the ammunition types.

Ammunition of the Conqueror: (L to R) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS), High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH), propellent case. Photos: Bob Griffin

Loathing Loading

The Conqueror’s loader had one of the hardest tasks. He had to load the 20-pound projectile and up to 50-pound propellant case by hand. This arduous task was made worse by an initial War Office (WO) requirement that the loader be able to load 4 rounds in 1 minute, 16 rounds in 5 minutes, and be able to expel all rounds in 55 minutes. Tests performed at the Lulworth Ranges in Dorset soon confirmed that this was an unreasonable demand. The story goes that a special training course aimed at maximising loading speed was arranged for personnel set to become Conqueror loaders. This cannot be confirmed, however.

Men of the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) restock their tank, 1962. This photo provides a sense of the scales involved with the Conqueror. We can see the man on the fender loading an APDS round into the turret, followed by the man on the ground who is waiting to pass up a propellant case. All the men are visibly dwarfed by the size of the Conqueror. Photo: Tankograd Publishing, HorsePower Museum.

The War Office also looked into mechanical methods of assisting the loader in his tasks. The Army contracted Mullins Ltd., a company that specialised in the design and manufacture of cigarette dispensers. They developed two devices. One was a hydraulic rammer that would ram all of the ammunition components into the breech once the loader had placed them onto a tray behind it. The other was an automatic ejection system. The idea behind this was that it would stop the turret from being overtaken by the large propellent cases when they were ejected. It would also save the gunner from having to dispose of them manually by throwing them out of a turret hatch. The War Office opted to serialise the ‘Ejection Gear’ over the rammer, installing it on all Conquerors. The rammer was rejected as it was found that a well-trained loader could outrun the rammer by 1 second.

As it turned out, the ejection gear was fraught with problems that were never fully resolved during the Conqueror’s time in service. The system came into action after the gun was fired. When the spent propellant case was ejected, it fell down a channel until it was stood vertically on a platform, engaging a micro switch. The platform would then carry the shell up a long chute and out of the tank via an armored door towards the rear of the right side of the turret. The system would then reset in time to receive the next casing, with the whole process taking around 5 seconds. This was when the gear worked as intended, something of a rarity as the following quote describes:

“I hated the ejection gear, it had a mind of its own. The ejected case should have gone up a track and out of a hatch at the back of the turret but, occasionally, it came loose and ended up on top of the breach. Once there it caused havoc and the unlucky loader – me – would have to retrieve it risking being trapped between the breach and the turret roof!”

– ex-Conqueror Loader Allen Whittaker, 17th/21st Lancers, 1965 – 1987.

There was a manual override however, consisting of a hand crank that was operated by the commander. This was not an enjoyable task for the commander as – even empty – the shell lift was heavy. Manually, the process could take over 5 minutes.

Left, this internal diagram shows the chute of the ejection gear (circled). Right, the armored door that the shell was ejected through. Images: David Lister & Jan Wim Hasselman, respectively

Other Systems

A separate smaller engine in the engine bay was used to operate a generator that provided the tank with electrical power – necessary for the turret’s power traverse, radio, and, most importantly, the tea maker (aka the ‘Boiling Vessel’ or ‘BV’) – whether the main engine was on or off. The 29 hp, 4 cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine produced 350 amps at 28.5 volts.

Various radio sets were equipped on the Conqueror. These included the ‘Wireless Set No. 19 Mk. 3’, ‘Wireless Set No. C12’, ‘Wireless Set No. 88 Type A AFV (VHF)’, or ‘Wireless Set No. 31 AFV (VHF). On vehicles built later in the production run, a number of these were replaced by such units as the ‘Wireless Set No. A41’, ‘Wireless Set No. C42’, or ‘Wireless Set No. B47’. The radio was installed on the turret wall behind the loader’s station.

The Loader was also responsible for the most important feature of a British tank, the ‘tea maker’. Otherwise known as the ‘Boiling Vessel’ or ‘BV’, this was a hot water boiler that was used not only to make tea, but also to heat rations. This is a feature that continues to be present on most tanks today. In the Conqueror, it was located on the right of the hull, behind the driver.

Service

Conqueror finally entered service in 1955, with the last vehicles being produced in 1958. Its role on the battlefield was to support its allies, rather than strike out on its own. It was designed to destroy enemy tanks from afar, covering the advance of the lighter FV4007 Centurion. In offensive operations, Conquerors would be placed in overwatch positions and fire over the heads of the main force as it advanced. In defensive operations, Conquerors would again take an overwatch role, but this time from key strategic positions to meet an advancing enemy.

The majority of FV214s went straight to the West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany – FRG) based units of the British Army Of the Rhine (BAOR). A small number of vehicles were retained in the UK for training and development, and to keep as donor vehicles for spare parts. Right from the start of its operational life, it was clear that the sheer size of the Conqueror was going to cause problems. The initial delivery of tanks – consisting of 4 Conquerors – landed at Hamburg Docks in mid-1955. From there, they were to be taken to Hohne on the back of Antar tank transporters. What should have been an approximately 2-hour, 90 mile (146 km) trip instead took 12 ½-hours. This was largely due to the combined mass of the tank and the Antar, a combined weight of 120 tons (122 tonnes). No bridge would take this weight, so every time the convoy came to one, the Conqueror’s had to be dismounted. Each vehicle would then be driven across separately.

Conqueror Mk. 2 on the back of an Antar Tank Transporter. Photo: Conqueror Appreciation Society, Facebook

At this time of the FV214s adoption, armored regiments were equipped with various marks of the Centurion. Generally, 9 Conquerors were issued to each regiment, although this did occasionally differ. Regiments would deploy their Conquerors in different manners, the majority placing them in troops of 3, with one ‘heavy troop’ to one armored squadron. Others placed them into single ‘heavy squadrons’, while some integrated them into mixed squadrons of 3 Centurions to 1 Conqueror.

1958 almost saw the premature end of the Conqueror. That year, 5 tanks succame to engine failure in quick succession. Two failed due to metal filings found in the oil system which had ground against bearings and other moving parts. Two others failed due to dust contamination, while one failed due to poor engine construction. Thankfully, the issues were fixed. The metal filings originated at the factory where engines were not being kept clean during construction. The solution was changing oil filters every 100 miles. The dust issue came from the fact that the air intakes on Conqueor were near the tracks, so debris shaken off them would sucked into the system. Following this, air filters were cleaned far more regularly.

Mobility-wise, and contrary to a popular perception of heavy tanks as being slow and somewhat hapless, the Conqueror performed better than most at the time had expected. On road marches, the tank was able to keep up with the smaller Centurion, despite being around 15 tons heavier. On rough ground, it was found that the Conqueror was less likely to become bogged down, largely due to its wider tracks. Thanks to its metal-on-metal running gear, it was also very rare for the Conqueror to throw its tracks of boggy ground – a much more common occurrence on the Centurion due to the rubber on the wheels flexing away from the track’s guide horns. The Centurion did have the advantage on softer ground as it was lighter, but if it was driven to the limit, the Conqueror was able to keep up.

Brothers in Arms: A Centurion Mk. 3 alongside a Conqueror Mk. 1. Photo: Profile Publications

Conqueror’s were operated by the following units in the BAOR: The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th (The Desert Rats), and 8th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers, 16/5th Queen’s Royal Lancers, 17/21st Lancers, 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’), 3rd Kings Own Hussars, The Queen’s Own Hussars, 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’ Own), 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own), The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, 14/20th King’s Hussars, 13/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own), 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guards), and the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons).

A Conqueror Mk. 2 of the 17/21st Lancers under guard by troopers in full dress uniform. The turret marking indicates that this tank is from ‘No. 1 Troop, A Squadron’. The markings on the front of the hull are (from left to right) the bridge classification (80), the vehicle’s registration number, the formation sign of the 4th Guards Brigade (atop the glacis) and finally the unit badge. Photo: Profile Publications

One of the first units to receive the Conqueror was the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards based at Fallingbostel, West Germany. This unit had to adapt to the size of the Conqueror. The 4/7th was based in a Second World War-era ex-German Army base, complete with tank hangars. The problem was the hangars were built for smaller tanks – such as the Panzer IV – not something the size of the FV214. At a squeeze, the tanks would fit in the pens, but the 24-foot (7.3 meter) long gun would be left protruding out of the doors. Unable to close them, the crews cut squares out of the doors so they would shut (this led to the rather comical image below). The gun’s length also effected how the tank crossed rough terrain. If the tank descended a steep incline, there was a danger that the muzzle could get driven into the ground – filling it with mud or causing damage in the process. To overcome this, the turret had to be traversed to the rear.

The 4 barrels of the 4/7th Dragoon Guards’ Conquerors protruding from the hangars. Photo: Crowood Press

Unfortunately, mechanical faults plagued the Conqueror throughout its service life. Constant engine breakdowns and recurring fuel leaks would often keep tanks off the front line. Continuous malfunctions of the ejection gear also brought combat effectiveness of the tank into question as it greatly reduced the vehicle’s rate-of-fire.

The sheer size of the vehicle also caused numerous logistical and tactical problems. Small country roads were all but destroyed due to the weight of the vehicle, coupled with its bare manganese-steel tracks. Country bridges were also unable to accommodate the vehicle, causing delays in deployment. The tank’s long gun also caused problems if the tank had to operate in constricted locations such as small villages or heavily wooded areas. Its size also caused problems when it came to placing the vehicles under shelter when bivouacking or for maintenance.

Conquerors of the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards passing through a German village. The parked VW Beetle provides a good sense of scale. Photo: Conqueror Appreciation Society, Facebook.

In 1959, the Conqueror’s fate was sealed. That year, Royal Ordnance had begun the final tests of the famous 105 mm L7 tank gun. It was found that, ballistically, the performance of the smaller 105mm almost matched that of the larger L1 120 mm gun of the Conqueror. This new 105 mm was set to be mounted in all future models of the Centurion. This simple act made Conqueror obsolete almost overnight. The vehicle, however, remained in service until 1966, when the final nail in the coffin was hammered home; the arrival of the Chieftain. The FV4201 Chieftain was leaps and bounds ahead of the Conqueror technologically and also featured a new, even more powerful L11 120 mm gun. So, after just 11 years of service, the Conqueror was retired, just 8 years after the last Conqueror rolled off the assembly line.

Variants

FV219 & FV222, Conqueror ARV Mk. 1 & 2

The Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) was the only variant of the FV214 gun tank to reach production and service. Weighing in at 65 tons (66 tonnes), the Conqueror outweighed the British Army’s existing recovery vehicles. As such, in 1959, a recovery vehicle based on the Conqueror itself was developed. This would be designated as the FV219 Conqueror ARV Mk. 1. In 1960, the second incarnation followed as the FV222 Conqueror ARV Mk. 2. Just 8 Mk. 1s were built before production shifted to the FV222. Twenty of these were built.

Left, the FV219 Conqueror Mk. 1. Right, the FV222 Conqueror Mk. 2. Photos: Tankograd Publishing

The two ARVs differ in appearance (the Mk. 1 featured a small superstructure in place of the turret whereas the Mk. 2 featured a larger structure and sloping glacis plate at the front) but their equipment was identical. Both vehicles carried 2 x tie-bars, a wooden bumper/buffer bar, 2 x heavy-duty single-sheave snatch blocks, and 3 x steel cables – 1 x 98 foot (30-meter), 2 x 15 foot (4.5 meter).

While the FV214 gun tank was retired in 1966, the ARV continued to serve after this. Although it was officially replaced in service by the FV4006 Centurion ARV (a similar vehicle, just built on the Centurion hull) which entered service in the early 1960s, a few were retained in operation in various locations. Records show that at least one Conqueror ARV was still in operation in Germany in the 1990s. One is also reported to have been in operation at the Amphibious Experimental Establishment (also known as ‘AXE’) at Instow in North Devon. It was used for beach tank recovery practice.

An FV222 ARV Mk. 2 tows a Mk.2 Conqueror in Germany, 1960s. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Turbine Test Vehicle

Between 1954 and 1956, a petrol-operated turbine engine was tested in the turretless hull of a Conqueror. When it was publicly unveiled in September 1954, the vehicle made history as it was the first armored vehicle in the world to be propelled by a turbine engine. It was not until much later in the 20th Century, with the appearance of the Swedish Strv 103, American M1 Abrams and Soviet T-80, that this engine type would be seen in a production vehicle.

Rear view of the Turbine Test Vehicle. Photo: FineArtsAmerica

The engine was designed and built by the firm of C. A. Parsons Ltd., based in Newcastle upon Tyne, and was tested by the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE). Turbine engines were investigated as a means of providing an armored vehicle with a more powerful engine without increasing the vehicle’s weight. Turbine engines are generally made of lighter materials than traditional combustion engines. A turbine engine operates thusly: In an open cycle, a rotary compressor mixes air with combusting fuel. The expanding air is forced over power output, in this case, a turbine, which provides rotation to the drive shaft.

In FVRDE tests, it was found the engine could develop 1,000 hp at 6,500 rpm. Although a general success, the project ended in 1956, with the last official report on it being filed in 1955.

However, the vehicle was not scrapped. Later, it found use as a Dynamometer Vehicle, used to measure engine power. A welded superstructure was placed atop the hull, with a large cab placed at the front and was painted bright yellow. Later still, it found use at The Tank Museum, Bovington as a commentary box in their arena. For this, an additional cab was fitted atop the Dynamometer cab. Sadly, despite the vehicle being one of a kind and a unique piece of tank history, the vehicle was later sent to the scrapper by the Museum.

Left, the Turbine vehicle in its secondary use as a Dynamometer Vehicle. Right, its last use as a commentary box at The Tank Museum, Bovington. Photos: Crowood Press, Conqueror Appreciation Society, Facebook, respectively

Shaped Charge Trial Vehicle

In recent years, a number of myths have been propagated over this variant, with two large games companies (Wargaming and Gaijin, makers of World of Tanks and War Thunder, respectively) labeling it as a ‘Super Conqueror’. No such name was ever used. The tank was, in fact, a mere static test vehicle, a guinea pig that was pummeled by High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) ammunition to test their effects on armored vehicles. For this, the vehicle was covered with additional 0.5 – 1.1 inch (14 – 30 mm) armor plates over its bow and turret cheeks.

The test vehicle in tests. Note the additional armor plates. Photo: themodellingnews

The vehicle was constructed from spare parts. The tests started in 1957, with prototype versions of the American T42 ‘Dart’ HEAT shell and a single Malkara warhead tested against the armor. Internally, the vehicle was fully stocked with a standard APDS and HESH ammunition loadout. The crew positions were filled with life-size dummies or a more grisly alternative; live rabbits.

Conclusion

For the British Army, the Conqueror was the last of its kind. Just a couple of years after it entered service, most of the world’s major powers realized that the day of the heavy tank had passed and that the Main Battle Tank (MBT) would dominate the battlefields of the future. With the British Army investing in the Conqueror’s replacement – the FV4201 Chieftain – the Conqueror was retired, never having got the chance to combat its rival, the IS-3. By this time, the IS-3 had been replaced in Soviet front line units. It would later see combat in the Middle East where the fear placed in it by the Allies in 1945 was shown to be overblown.

Upon retirement, the majority of Conqueror’s went straight to gunnery ranges across the United Kingdom and West Germany. A number of gutted, rusted hulks still remain on ranges such as Kirkcudbright and Stanford (UK) and Haltern (Germany).

Conqueror Mk. 1 on the Kirkcudbright ranges with the turret traversed to the rear. Photo: Conqueror Appreciation Society, Facebook

Unfortunately – of the approximately 180 vehicles built – only a handful remain intact. In the UK, examples can be found at The Tank Museum, Bovington, and the Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight. An example can also be found at Musée des blindés, Saumur, and at Patriot Park, Moscow. Other examples of varying conditions can be found dotted across the world.

Left, Conqueror Mk. 1 at The Tank Museum, Bovington. Right, Conqueror Mk. 1 at Musée des blindés, Saumur. Photos: The Tank Museum & Mechtraveller, respectively

An article by Mark Nash, assisted by David Lister & Andrew Hills.



FV214 Conqueror Mk. 2. Weighing in at 65 tons (66 tonnes), the Conqueror is worthy of its name. Measuring 25 feet (7.62 meters) long – not including the gun, 13.1 feet (3.99 meters) wide and 11 feet (3.35 meters) tall, the FV214 cut an imposing figure. It was one of the largest and heaviest tanks ever to serve with the British Army.


FV214 Conqueror Mk. 2 with turret fully traversed. The powerful, 2.9 ton (3 tonne), 24.3 foot (7.4 meter) long Ordnance QF 120 mm Tank L1A2 Gun is resting in the travel lock. Note the hatch in the turret bustle. This was where shells ejected by the troublesome Mollins gear were jettisoned from the tank.

These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Specifications (Conqueror Mk. 2)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 25 feet (without gun) x 13.1 feet x 11 feet (7.62 x 3.99 x 3.35 meters)
Total weight, battle ready 65 tons (66 tonnes)
Crew 4 (Driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 810 hp (604 kW)
Suspension Hortsmann
Speed (road) 22 mph (35 kph)
Range 100 mi (164 km)
Armament Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 120 mm Tank L1A2 Gun
Sec. 2x L3A1/Browning M1919A4 .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Guns
Armor Hull
Front (Upper Glacis): 4.7 – 5.1 in (120 – 130 mm) @ 61.5 degrees
Front (Lower Glacis): 3 in (77 mm) @ 45 degrees
Sides & Roof: 2 in (51 mm) + 0.2 in (6 mm) ‘Bazooka Plates’
Floor: 0.7 in (20 mm) + 0.3 in (10 mm) ‘Mine Plate’
Turret
Face: 9.4 – 13.3 in (240 – 340 mm) @ 60 degrees.
Mantlet: 9.4 in (239 mm)
Sides: 3.5 inches (89 mm)
Roof & Rear: 2 inches (51 mm)
Total production Aprx. 180

Sources

WO 185/292: Tanks: TV 200 Series: Policy and Design, 1946-1951, The National Archives, Kew
E2004.3658: RAC Conference Notes, 1949, The Tank Museum, Bovington
E2011.1890: Development report,1951, The Tank Museum, Bovington
Letter from Captain R. A. McClure, MELF, to the Ministry of Supply, December 1954, The Tank Museum, Bovington
FVRDE Report No. Tr. 7, Firing Trials of the 120mm Gun, February 1957.
FV221 Caernarvon – Instructions for User Trials – REME aspect, September 1953, The Tank Museum, Bovington
User Handbook for Tank, Heavy Gun, Conqueror Mk. 1 & 2 – 1958, WO Code No. 12065
Rob Griffin, Conqueror, Crowood Press
Maj. Michael Norman, RTR, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, AFV/Weapons #38, Profile Publications Ltd.
Carl Schulze, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Britain’s Cold War Heavy Tank, Tankograd Publishing
David Lister, The Dark Age of Tanks: Britain’s Lost Armour, 1945–1970, Pen & Sword Publishing
Inside the Chieftain’s Hatch: Conqueror, Part 1 – 4.
overlord-wot.blogspot.com

Videos

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Categories
WW1 German Empire vehicles

Landwehr Zug


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German Empire (1912) Land-Train

The brain-child of the famous Professor Ferdinand Porsche, the Landwehr Zug, literally meaning “Land Train”, was one of the first ever hybrid power vehicles. This heavy haulage machine was designed to transport heavy equipment to troops in the field, powered by both diesel and electrocortical drives. There were three versions, each bigger and more powerful than the last. The A-Zug, B-Zug, and C-Zug. They were produced by Austro-Diamler Generator Wagon.

These vehicles entered use in 1912 but would go on to serve through the First and Second World Wars.

The A-Zug with a full trailer load demonstrating how tightly it can curl – Photo: porscheforever.hu

Porsche’s Hybrid

Porsche developed his diesel/electric engine in 1900. The first vehicle equipped with this drive was his Semper Vivus road car. It was powered by two gasoline engines that were connected to generators. This formed a charging unit that provided the batteries and motors mounted in the wheel hubs with power. The generators also served as the starter. The vehicle could drive a long distance on electric power alone until the combustion engines were used to charge the batteries. This technology would be used again for the Landwehr Zug, minus the batteries.

The Zug

The assembly of the vehicle started with a small tractor at the head of the train. It held a 100 hp gasoline engine that powered a generator. This provided current to the tractor’s rear axle motors, propelling the vehicle. With the help of a long cable that spanned the length of the train, this generator also provided power to the wheel-mounted motors of the individual carts. This, of course, meant the trailers were self-propelled and not towed, meaning the vehicle was able to traverse the harshest of road conditions with relative ease. Tangled mountain side roads were no issue either as the individually powered carts could handle the tightest serpentine movements.
This power cable also allowed a relatively heavy vehicle to cross weak or temporary bridges. The tractor would go across on its own, the carts would then propel themselves over the bridge one by one. With a small exchange of wheels, the Land Train could become a regular train, able to run on rails.

The Zug running on rails. Note the open engine compartment.
Another Landwehr Zug in Austria in 1913. Photo: Schiffer Publishing

Larger Zugs

With the A-Zug fulfilling the basic rolls, there was a need for a more powerful vehicle. This gave rise to the B and C-Zug. The B-Zug was more powerful than the previous vehicle, able to transport heavier loads such as light cannons and their heavier ammunition supply. More information on this vehicle is not known, unfortunately.

The C-Zug was the largest of the Landwehr-Zugs and was known as the Artilleriegeneratorwagon. It was designed to make Škoda’s 380 mm (15 in) and 420 mm (16.5 in) siege mortars transportable. For this, the tractor’s generators were powered by a 150 hp gasoline engine. This tractor pulled a single trailer with 8 powered wheels. Fully loaded, this train could weigh up to 38 tons, yet it could still reach the respectable speed of 24 km/h (12.5 mph). This particular vehicle would stay in service into the Second World War.

The largest of the vehicles, the C-Zug or “Artilleriegeneratorwagon”, hauling a large Škoda mortar. This type went on to be used into the Second World War.

Legacy

Porsche would continue to make use of his hybrid design. It would prove an integral part of his later tank designs. This includes the VK 30.01 (P) Medium Tank, the VK 45.01 (P) otherwise known as the Tiger (P) and, later, his crowning glory, the infamous Maus super-heavy tank. The power-sharing system would also be transplanted into these vehicles.

The VK 30.01 (P) on the right and the VK 45.01 (P) on the left practicing the power-share system – Photo: Schiffer Publishing

The VK 30.01 (P) on the right and the VK 45.01 (P) on the left practicing the power-share system – Photo: Schiffer Publishing

The VK 30.01 (P) on the right and the VK 45.01 (P) on the left practicing the power-share system – Photo: Schiffer Publishing
To the “Average Joe”, Porsche is simply known as a luxury sports car producing company. What is much less known is how important one of his earliest developments is. The petrol-electric hybrid is seen as the next step in the life of the combustion engine, but even today, it is still a largely unexplored and sparsely used technology. Only recently has worked really begun again on this type of engine, with vehicles like the Toyota Prius or BMW i8 fitted with this low emission alternative.



Illustration of the Landwehr Zug, produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Schiffer Publishing, Kampfpanzer Maus, The Porsche Type 205 Super-Heavy Tank, Micheal Frolich. Pg 15-17.
The Landwehr-Zug on www.porscheforever.hu (Hungarian)

Categories
Cold War Norwegian Armor

Stridsvogn & Stormkanon KW-III (Panzer & StuG III in Norwegian Service)

 

Norwegian tanks Norway (1948-1953)
Medium Tank & Assault Gun – 61 Pz. IIIs & 10 StuGs Obtained

Norway was left battered and bruised by a 5-year long German occupation (April 1940 – May 1945) that only ended with the capitulation of German forces at the end of the Second World War in Europe. Retreating German forces left a large quantity of equipment in their wake. Rifles, machine guns, anti-tank guns, tools, and even some aircraft were left behind and claimed by the now free and rebuilding Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”). Many armored vehicles were also left behind, mostly consisting of various types of the Panzerkampfwagen III medium tanks (both long-barrelled 50 mm and short-barreled 75 mm gun-armed models) and a few Sturmgeschütz III assault guns.

Eager to protect their newfound freedom, the Forsvaret adopted these surplus vehicles. They would sit in storage for a few years until 1948 , when the Norwegian Military – preparing for a possible Soviet invasion – devised a defensive plan for Norway’s strategic airfields. Not wanting to relegate their small M24 Chaffee force to guard duty, the Army activated the obsolete Panzers.

The ex-Wehrmacht Panzers and StuGs, which were renamed Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III respectively, filled this role until the early 1950s, when they started to be replaced by an increasing number of M24 Chaffees donated by the United States.

A Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III) follows a Stridsvogn KW-III (Panzer III). Bardufoss, 1951. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

The Vehicles

Stridsvogn KW-III (Panzer III)

The Panzerkampfwagen III (Sd.Kfz. 141) medium tank was developed in the mid-1930s and was designed to fight enemy tanks alongside its larger brother, the Panzer IV, which was originally intended to support the Panzer III and friendly infantry.

The Panzer III had very good mobility for its time. It was powered by a 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM 300 PS, producing 296 hp. This propelled the 23-tonne vehicle to a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). A running gear consisting of 6-road wheels per side supported the tank’s weight. The road wheels were attached to a torsion bar suspension. The drive sprocket was at the front, while the idler was at the rear. The return of the track was supported by 3-rollers.

The tank was operated by a 5-man crew consisting of a Commander, Gunner, and Loader in the turret, with the Driver and Radio Operator/Bow Machine Gunner in the hull.

Two main types of Panzer III were left behind and reused by the Norwegians. These were both later model Panzers, being the Ausführung N and mix of Ausführung J, L, & Ms. The N was the last model of Panzer III. Armed with a short 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 gun, it was intended to act as an infantry support vehicle firing mostly High-Explosive (HE) shells. It could also fire Armor Piercing (AP), High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and Smoke shells. The Ausf. J, L, and Ms were all armed with the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60. This was a tank-killing gun, and could penetrate up to 130 mm (5.11 in) of armor firing an Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) shell. All of these variants were equipped with a coaxial and bow-mounted 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun.

As later model Panzer IIIs, the majority of the tanks were equipped with an add-on armor kit known as ‘Vorpanzer’. This consisted of armor plates being added on the upper hull plate and gun mantlet. This boosted the original armor thickness of 15 mm to 50 mm. A few of the vehicles were also equipped with Schürzen add-on armor on the turret and hull sides.

Stridsvogn KW-III (Pz.Kpfw. III Ausf. N) in training at the Trandum Tank School, southeast Norway. Photo: Pz III IN Norway, Facebook

Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III)

The Sturmgeschütz were a series of assault guns that found a successful role as tank destroyers. The StuG IIIs were based on the chassis of the Panzerkampfwagen III medium tank. The Panzer III’s turret and superstructure were removed from the hull and were replaced with an armored casemate. Armor on the vehicle was 16 to 80 mm (.62 to 3.15 in) thick.

The StuG was powered by the same 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM as the Panzer III, which propelled the 24-tonne (26 ton) vehicle to 25 mph (40 km/h). The StuG was manned by a crew of 4, consisting of a Commander, Gunner, Loader, and Driver.

At least 2 types of StuG III were reused by the Norwegians. These were the Ausführung F/8 and the Ausführung G. There were only minor differences between the two, with the Ausf. G being based on Panzer III Ausf. M hull with a redesigned (and widened) superstructure. Both StuGs were armed with the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 (an anti-tank gun derived from the PaK 40). This was a powerful anti-tank gun, with a maximum penetration of 176 mm (6.9 in) firing an APCR shell.

The Crew of a Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III). Date and Location unknown. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

Origin

The first Panzer IIIs to see deployment in Norway were from the Panzer-Abteilung z.b.V. 40. This unit had been originally created for the invasion of Norway and was originally equipped with Panzer I, Panzer II, and Neubaufahrzeug tanks. However, during the invasion, it lost several tanks during the fighting against the Norwegian and British forces, including multiple Panzer Is and one of the Neubaufahrzeugs. To replace these losses, the last five production Panzer III Ausf. Ds were sent from Germany. Later on, the unit was further reinforced with around 15 more Panzer IIIs of Ausf. G and Ausf. H variety. These tanks arrived after the Invasion of Norway and didn’t partake in any fighting. They did, however, get their baptism of fire in June 1941 when the Pz.Abt.z.b.V. 40 was sent to secure the Finnish Lapland front as the Continuation War began with German and Finnish Forces fighting against the Soviets.

The Pz.Abt did not leave Finland until December of 1942, when they were re-deployed in Norway, leaving some of their obsolete equipment behind. Amongst other things, 16 Panzer Is and the three remaining Panzer III Ausf. Ds were left in Finland for the newly formed Panzer-kompanie 40 to use. Pz.Abt. z.b.V. 40 itself saw no further action and was disbanded on June 10th, 1943. It is then believed that its remaining equipment and personnel were passed on to the 25th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht) which was, at the time, based in Oslo.

Two Panzer IIIs prepare to cross a river via pontoon in Norway. Exact date and location unknown. Photo: historyofwar

The 25th Panzer Division had originally been formed as the “Schützenverband Oslo”. Early on, it operated mainly captured French Somua S35 and Hotchkiss H35 tanks but later received Panzer III and IV tanks as well as a few StuG III assault guns. Its original intended purpose was to serve as a potential rapid response force for the invasion of Sweden. However, as the war with the Soviet Union dragged on, it was decided that most of the 25th Panzer division would depart from Norway in the fall of 1943 and be moved to the Eastern Front. Those parts of the 25th that would stay in Norway would form a new unit called the “Panzer Division Norway ”. This arrangement, however, would not last for long as, in May 1944, it was transferred to Denmark in order to reinforce the 25th Pz. division. What remained in Norway was briefly reorganized into the Panzerabteilung Norwegen. This however, would also not last long as the unit again went through several restructurings before finally ending up as the Panzerbrigade Norwegen. The unit remained in this form until the end of the war. At the moment of its surrender to the British forces in May 1945, it had 25 Panzer IIIs with the 5 cm KwK 39, 36 Panzer III Ausf. Ns, and 10 StuG III assault guns of Ausf. F/8 and Ausf.G variety. How most of these tanks ended up in Norway is, however, a bit of a mystery.

Fahrgestell Numbers

Fahrgestell Numbers – meaning chassis numbers – help us track the unique history of German vehicles. Thanks to these, we know the specific history of 4 Panzer IIIs, as they survive today in Norway. These are Fahrgestell 66158, 73651, 74352 and 76219. 66158 was an Ausf. H, built by Motorenwerke Augsburg Nuremberg (MAN) in 1941 and would have been equipped with the short 5 cm KwK 39 L/42 gun. At some point, however, its turret was replaced with an Ausf. N or M turret with the short 75 mm. 73651 is an Ausf. J, originally built by Henschel und Sohn in May, 1941 before being upgraded. 74352 had an interesting history. It served with the infamous SS Division “Das Reich” between 1942 and 1943 in France and on the Eastern Front. Lastly, 76219 was built by MAN in 1943. It was part of one of the first batches of Ausf. Ms produced and was deployed by Panzer-Grenadier Division “Grossdeutschland” on the Eastern Front in 1943. The number 76149 is also recorded in relation to one of the Pz.Kpfw III, Fgst.Nr 73651. This has led to some confusion as 76149 is actually one of the StuGs, an Ausführung G.

Thanks to the Fahrgestell numbers, this information is known to us, but quite how these things ended up in Norway by the war’s end is currently a mystery. After 1943, many of these units were re-equipped with more powerful and newer tanks, so it is possible that these tanks were sent to Norway as it was a less crucial part of Germany’s war effort, ergo, units stationed there were not in need of the latest armored vehicles. It is also possible that these vehicles were damaged during fighting, sent back to Germany for capital repair and refurbishment and then allocated to quieter sectors. This would explain the fact that some of the known vehicles are older models that had been upgraded.

A Panzer III Ausf. J, L, or M is driven through Akershus to a collection point for surrendered German equipment, May 1945. Photo: digitalmuseum.no

The origin of the StuGs is less well documented, unfortunately. It is unknown how many of the 10 StuGs remained operable, and what their origins were. At least 4 StuG III Ausf. F/8s were operated in Norway during the War by Panzerjäger-Abteilungen 14, 14th Luftwaffen-Felddivision, so this may be where at least 4 came from. There were at least two Ausf. Gs handed over, but their origins are unknown.

Three of the possible 4 StuG III Ausf. F/8s of Pz.Jag.Abt 14 in Norway, 1944-45. Photo: PeKo Publishing

Adoption by Norway

The Panzers that were adopted into the Norwegian Army were of varying quality, some of them had even been sabotaged by the Allies. Like the majority of Panzer IIIs that were still in service at war’s end, many of them were upgraded older models, having been upgunned or up-armored. Many were also equipped with Schürzen armor and/or Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste. A vast majority of them were handed over as the Germans surrendered. For example, at least 15 Panzer IIIs of various types were handed over with the surrender of Panzer-Brigade “Norwegen” at Trandum, southeast Norway, in May 1945.

The surrender of Panzer-Brigade “Norwegen” in Trandum, May 1945. On the left, the nearest of the two officers in the berets is the Lieutenant Colonel of the British army O.J. O’Conner, who accepted the surrender of the Nazis. Photo & Caption: albumwar2.com

With the mysterious origin of the StuG, it is unclear as to what condition the vehicles were in upon adoption. Assuming 4 Ausf. F/8s came from Pz.Jg.Abt 14, and taking into account the two known Ausf. Gs, that accounts for 6 StuGs. The stories of the 4 outstanding vehicles are unknown also, though, as with the Panzers, it is possible that these were simply kept as donors for spare parts.

Norsk Service

With the end of the Second World War, Norway was once again facing the possibility of invasion, this time from the Soviet Union with which it shared a northern border. In 1945, Norway began to receive aid under the US-led ‘MAP’. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. In the case of Norway, this meant the delivery of the M24 Chaffee light tank, starting in 1946. The Chaffee would give the military their first taste of operating a relatively modern armored vehicle, having not had a tank since the L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ of the late 1930s.

A Norwegian Army Chaffee on maneuvers in the 1950s. Photo: Pinterest.

In 1948, with the perceived threat from the USSR, the Norwegian Military decided that it was crucial to keep its major air bases protected. It was decided that the most important of these were Gardermoen, Eggemoen, Sola, Fornebu, Værnes, and Bardufoss. To give an idea of the strategic importance of some of these airports, Gardermoen was located near Oslo, the capital of Norway, and was the main base of the Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Airforce). Sola, located on Norway’s south-eastern coast, was an important link with the western Allies. Værnes, located roughly in central Norway, allowed transit to the North and South of the country.

It was decided that each airport would need its own unit consisting of armored vehicles and platoons of troops. At this time, however, Norway only had 17 Chaffees to its name, and the Army was not going to allocate its only ‘modern’ tank to guard duty. With the surplus Panzers in storage, it was decided that it was time for them to fill a role.

Only around 25 of the Panzers IIIs were in operable condition. The remaining 36 vehicles were mostly used as donors for spare parts. The best of these were themselves repaired and rearmed as best as possible. This work was carried out at Trandum, an Army base just north-east of Oslo. It is unknown how many of the Panzer IIIs with the short 7.5 cm KwK 37 guns were true Ausf. Ns. With the recycling of various parts from the stock of spare tanks, it is highly likely that many of them were artificial, being older models with later guns. This may also be true for some of the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60 gun-armed tanks. One detail to mention is that the Norwegian crews kept an MG42 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on the Commander’s cupola. Another unknown is if the tanks were re-painted, and if so, what color. At this time, the tanks would have remained in their original, Wehrmacht colors.

Three Stridsvogn KW-IIIs (Pz.Kpfw III Ausf. Ns) and one Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III) of a Norwegian Army Platoon in Bardufoss, 1949. The vehicle on the end is a Canadian-built CMP truck. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

Understanding fully that the Panzers and StuGs – now renamed the Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III, respectively – were all but obsolete at this point, they were not going to field them as front line tanks, but rather keep them as defensive vehicles. The 25 Strv KW-IIIs and 10 Stkn KW-IIIs were divided between the newly created Airport Defense regiments. These regiments were raised between November and December 1948. They consisted of the 1st Dragoon Regiment (raised at Akershus) stationed at Sola and Fornebu, the 2nd Dragoon Regiment (raised at Oppland) assigned to Gardermoen and Eggemoen, and the 3rd Dragoon Regiment (raised at Trøndelag) assigned to Værnes and Bardufoss. The Norwegian army found the 5 cm gun of the Strvs to be lacking in tank-killing power, so each unit was equipped with at least one StKn KW-III or a towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. These guns also came from ex-Wehrmacht stocks adopted at the end of WW2. In October 1949, the Dragoon Regiments officially began to garrison the airports. The tank crews consisted of 22 men. Also at their disposal were motorcycles, Willys Jeeps, and Fordson ¾-ton (.68 tonne) trucks.

Also in 1949, Norway and the west became an even more united front. In April, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born with Norway a founding member. As it shared a border with the USSR, it was seen as a crucial partner. Thanks to this, Norway began to receive more military aid, and the number of M24 Chaffees available to the Army vastly increased. By 1951, the entire KW-III force had been replaced by the 125 Chaffees Norway now had. By 1949, it would appear, the vehicles seem to have been painted in the same basic olive green used on the Chaffees. For winter, they were covered in a rough white-wash haphazardly lashed on by hand. This method of whitewashing lasted into the 1980s.

Left, an Strv KW-III (Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. H/L amalgam) taking part in a Military Parade at Værnes, June 1950. Right, ‘Yellow 1’ at Bardufoss, 1951. Photo: Sverresborg Tröndelag Folkemuseum & Pz III in Norway, Facebook

With more Chaffees at their disposal, the Army began to phase out the recycled KW-IIIs. Both the Stridsvogn and the Stormkanon stayed on in service at Bardufoss as training vehicles for future Norwegian tankers. We know that Fgst.Nr 74352 – known as ‘Yellow 3’, Fgst.Nr 66158 – known as ‘Yellow 2’, and Fgst.Nr 76219 – known as ‘Yellow 1’ were among them*. The tanks served here until 1953, when the Army found a rather unique role for them to fill…

*These tanks are known by these names due to the fact that they had large yellow numbers painted on the sides of their turrets. The function of these numbers is unknown, however.

StKn KW-III (left) and Strv KW-III (right) at Bardufoss in 1951. Note the rough white-wash winter camouflage on the Stormkanon. ‘Yellow 2’ is one of the Panzers that was buried. Note the M.G. 42 machine gun. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

Fort Bjørnåsen

In 1953, the garrison of Bardufoss Airfield began to dig their 7.5 cm gun-armed Stridsvogns into static defensive positions connected to Fort Bjørnåsen, ‘Yellow 3’, ‘2’, and ‘1’ amongst them. This fort was located in the grounds of the airfield, and was a system of former Luftwaffe bunkers built during WW2. For the defense of the airfield, the Norwegians expanded upon it. The purpose of the bunker and the static tanks was to cover the airfield from as many angles as possible, should an enemy attempt to storm it. The priority target of the 7.5 cm guns would be any aircraft that attempted to land. The tanks were dug into pits roughly 4 meters (13.1 ft) wide, 5.5 meters (18 ft) long with a 3.25 meter ramp, and 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) deep, leaving just their turrets above the ground. A simple wooden shelter was constructed over them. Inside, the tanks were completely stripped. The engine, transmission, driveshaft and other components housed in the hull were completely removed. With all power-providing components removed, the turrets would have been traversed manually. A hole was cut into the hull of the tanks, to which a concrete tunnel was connected, which allowed direct access to the fort, provided a protected entranceway for the crew, and allowed a direct means of ammunition resupply.

Original diagram showing how the Strv KW-IIIs were to be buried. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

The KW-III turrets remained in place into the 1960s, by which time they became obsolete. The turrets were replaced with 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. For these, new concrete emplacements were built beside the buried tanks. A new hole was cut into the side of the buried tanks to connect them to the new structures to allow the use of the old ammunition tunnels. Earth was then built up around the new emplacements, completely burying the tanks.

Left: Diagram showing how the panzers were buried when they were replaced by 40mm Bofors. Right, note the cut out rear section on Fgst.Nr 74352 ‘Yellow 3’. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook, edited by Konsta Pylkkönen

Rather frustratingly, despite extensive searches and inquiries by both writers, no pictures can currently be found of the Panzer turrets in situ during their time in operation.

Fate

The majority of the Stridsvogn and Stormkanon KW-III fleet was retired by 1953. Much of the fleet was scrapped with the rest ‘sentenced to death’ as targets on various ranges. The Strvs that were dug into the bunker complex at Fort Bjørnåsen were simply forgotten once they were buried.

From 1943, Finland, Norway’s eastern Scandinavian Neighbour, had operated a fleet of StuG IIIs. These were initially bought from Nazi Germany, but they remained in service post-war. By the late 1950s, however, there was a severe spare parts shortage. In 1958, the inspector of the Finnish Army’s tank section and member of the Ordnance Division, Aaro Manskinen, traveled to the Norwegian Fjords on leave. While there, he by chance happened upon a stock pile of Panzers in various states of disrepair. It soon became clear that the Norwegian Ministry of Defense was looking to sell this pile of – what was then considered – scrap. After some initial troubles due to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty – which blocked Finland from purchasing equipment from or of German origin – a deal was agreed. 20 Panzer IIIs, 1 StuG, 10 Maybach engines, and a pile of spare parts were sold to Finland. Upon arriving in Finland, the tanks were disassembled and all useful parts were stored for later use. This kept Finland’s StuG fleet in operation well into the 1960s.

It wasn’t until November 2007 that the first Fort Bjørnåsen Panzers (Fgst.Nr 74352, 66158, 76219) began to be excavated, with a second two being uncovered in August 2007.

The excavation of the Panzers. Left, the first to be uncovered in November ‘06, Right, one of the second two uncovered in August ‘07. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

Today, just 7 of the Panzer IIIs (of various types) and 2 of the StuG III Ausf. Gs survive. Panzer IIIs Fgst.Nr 74352 (‘Yellow 3’), Fgst.Nr 66158 (‘Yellow 2’), and Fgst.Nr 76219 (‘Yellow 1’) are among them. ‘Yellow 3’ currently resides at Troms Forsvarsmuseum, Setermoen, awaiting restoration. ‘Yellow 2’ is currently undergoing full-scale restoration at Muzeum Broni Pancernej, Poznań in Poland, where it has been since 2013. ‘Yellow 1’ was transferred to Finland in 2013.

Fgst.Nr 73651, a Panzer III Ausf. J, was put into storage at the Oslo Defence Museum in 1964. In 1988, it was loaned to Memorial de Caen, Normandy. It was recently returned to Norway. A ‘Tankenstein’ Panzer III consisting of a Ausf. G/H hull and an Ausf. N turret can be found at the André Becker Collection in Belgium. The vehicle left Norway in the late 1940s and was located in Sweden until the 1980s. The others, an Ausf. N and an Ausf. M, can be found at Rena Military Camp, Norway, and the Wheatcroft Collection, UK, respectively.

On the left, Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. J (Fgst.Nr 73651) in storage. On the right, Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. N (Fgst.Nr 66158), also known as ‘Yellow 2’, undergoing restoration at Muzeum Broni Pancernej, Poznań in Poland. Photos: the.shadock.free.fr

As for the two StuG III Gs, Fgst.Nr 76149 has been cosmetically restored and currently resides in storage at the Forsvarsmuseet, Trandum. Another, which is simply the remains of a rusting hulk, can be found at Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum.

Sturmgeschütz III Ausf. G (Fgst.Nr 76149) as it looks now after being repainted. Photo: the.shadock.free.fr

Conclusion

Norway’s use of the Panzer III and StuG III is a prime example of ‘make do and mend’. Eager to defend themselves from the increasingly threatening Soviet Union, they activated equipment that was obsolete years before the Second World came to an end. What effect these vehicles could have had on Soviet Tanks is debatable. This, however, was not their intended role. Being assigned to airport garrison forces, their primary role was to engage troops and aircraft attempting to land.

The use of the Panzers and StuGs allowed the recovering Norwegian army to train their first batch of tank crews and allowed them to practise and train on a scale that would have been impossible with only the initial number of M24s. This allowed Norway to build up its fleet of more modern M24 Chaffees, and save them for active duty in a combat scenario, should the need have arisen.

A StKn KW-III (left) with two Strv KW-IIIs at Bardufoss, 1951. Note ‘Yellow 2’ on the far right. Photo: Pz III in Norway, Facebook

An article by Mark Nash and Konsta Pylkkönen.



Illustration of Stridsvogn KW-III ‘Yellow 1’ (Fgst.Nr 76219). Originally built as an Ausf. M, it was later brought to Ausf. N standard and fitted with the short 7.5cm KwK 37. ‘Yellow 1’ was also one of the tanks buried at Bardufoss airfield.


Illustration of one of the 10 Stormkanon KW-IIIs (StuG IIIs) operated by Norway, this example being a StuG III Ausf. F/8. The vehicle is covered in the roughly painted white-wash camouflage pattern. This type of winter camouflage was used by the Norwegian Army well into the 1980s.

These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Stridsvogn KW-III (Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. N)

Dimensions 5.49 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(18ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 7.5 cm KwK 37
Machine Guns 2 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor Up to 50mm (2 in)
Weight 23 tonnes
Crew 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator/bow machine-gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TR V-12 265hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Total Operated 25

Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III Ausf. G)

Dimensions
(L-W-H)
4.95m x 2.97m x 2.16m (22ft 6in x 9ft 9in x 7ft 1in)
Track width 41 cm
Track length 12.5 cm
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 24 tonnes
Armament 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48
Armor Up to 80mm (3.1 in)
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Maybach HL120TRM V-12 watercooled gasoline, 300 bhp (221 kW)
Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Suspension Torsion bar
Operated 6 – 10

Sources

Dick Taylor & Mike Hayton, Panzer III: Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A to N (Sd.Kfz. 141), Haynes Publishing/The Tank Museum
Thomas Jentz, Hilary Doyle, Panzer Tracts No. 3 – 1: Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C & D
Parola Tank Museum, Finland
Pz III in Norway, Facebook
www.nuav.net
www.armedconflicts.com
armchairgeneral.com
ww2talk.com
www.axishistory.com
www.kystfort.com (1) (2)
tv.nrk.no (1) (2) (3)
the.shadock.free.fr (Surviving StuGs)
the.shadock.free.fr (Surviving Pz IIIs)


Categories
Cold War Norwegian Armor

NM-130 Bergepanser

Norwegian tanks Norway (mid-1970s)
Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) – 4 Conversions

In 1946, Norway began to operate a fleet of M24 Chaffee light tanks given to it under a United States-led Military Aid Program (MAP). By the 1960s, the M24 was still in service with the Norwegian Army (Hæren) and was starting to show its age.

In the late-1960s, the Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”) began an upgrade program with the company of Thune-Eureka A/S, based in the country’s capital, Oslo. This program was aimed at drastically upgrading the M24 Chaffee fleet with the introduction of a new 90 mm main gun, a new, more powerful engine, a new transmission, and various other modernizations.

While this upgrade program was underway, it was also decided that the upgraded Chaffee – which would receive the designation NM-116 ‘Panserjager’ (tank hunter) – would need a support vehicle. As such, the NM-130 Bergepanser (Armored Recovery Vehicle, ARV) was conceived. Just four vehicles would be converted, but they would all go on to support the NM-116 throughout its service life.

The M24 Chaffee-based NM-130 Bergepanzer (Bjvg) was developed to support Norway’s new NM-116 ‘Panserjager’, itself based on the M24. Source: hestvik.no

Foundation: The M24 Chaffee

The M24 Chaffee, named after Army General Adna R. Chaffee Jr., entered service in 1944, largely replacing the M3 and M5 Stuarts. It was a small tank at 16 foot 4 inches (5.45 m) long, 9 foot 4 inches (2.84 m) wide, and 5 foot 3 inches (2.61 m) tall. It was also light at just 20.25 tons (18.37 tonnes). Armor on the vehicle was ¾ inch to 1 ½ inch (19 – 38 mm) thick. It was armed with the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6. It was operated by a 5 man crew, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, driver and assistant driver/radio operator.

It was a very maneuverable vehicle, powered by a Twin Cadillac 44T24 8-cylinder petrol engine producing 220 hp. The transmission and drive wheels were located at the front of the vehicle. The Chaffee rolled on 5 roadwheels attached to a torsion bar suspension. The fifth road wheel was attached to the idler wheel at the rear of the running gear. This is because the idler was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacted to terrain, the idler was pushed out or pulled in accordingly, keeping constant track tension.

Norsk Chaffees

Norway received its first Chaffee’s from the US under the ‘MAP’ in 1946. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. Norway was one of these countries that was rebuilding after the lengthy Nazi Occupation of the country. Other countries that benefited from the MAP included France, Portugal, and Belgium, but also former enemy nations such as West Germany and Japan. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed and NATO was born, resulting in the United States prolonging its Military Aid Programs.

The initial 1946 delivery consisted of just 9 vehicles. These were sent directly to Trandum leir, a Norwegian Army Camp (now closed) near Ullensaker. From 1946 until the early 1950s, Norway received a total of 125 M24s. The M24s gave the Norwegian Army (Hæren) excellent service for many years, until the late-1960s. Some went on to serve with the Heimevernet (Home Guard).

An M24 Chaffee of the Heimevernet (Home Guard) taking part in range exercises in 1977. Photo: modellnorge.no

The Conversion

The NM-116 was the result of a military on a small budget trying to improve the lethality of its tank arsenal. The NM-130 was the result of the same sort of dilemma; how do you provide a new tank with a new support vehicle without breaking the bank?

Of the Hæren’s 125 M24s, 72 would go on to be used in the NM-116 upgrade program. To develop the ARV, four extra M24s were set aside. As said above, most of the remaining M24s went into service with the Heimevernet. Any remaining vehicles were likely scrapped. It is not uncommon for recovery vehicles to be based on the same chassis as the vehicle they are designed to support. The American M103 heavy tank-based M51 Heavy ARV and German Leopard 1-based Bergepanzer 2 are prime examples of this.

The conversion work to turn the vehicles into ARVs was undertaken by Kvaerner Eureka AS. The four Chaffee hulls went through the same automotive upgrades as those being upgraded to the NM-116 standard. The turrets, however, were completely removed and replaced with a large crane. A small dozer blade was also installed on the vehicle’s lower glacis.

An NM-130 parked in front of an NM-116. This gives an idea of the drastic modifications. Photo: Thor Christoffersen

Crew

The NM-130’s crew consisted of three personnel; Commander, Crane Operator and Driver. The driver sat at the front left of the vehicle, as on the original Chaffee. The Commander sat in a position roughly halfway down the length of the hull, on the right side, under a large circular hatch with an incorporated periscope. The Commander was also responsible for the vehicle’s only weapon, a German-made 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. This was a defensive weapon only. The crane operator sat in an external, unarmored position on the crane unit when it was in operation. When it was not in operation, it is unknown where he would have sat. It is likely that he sat in what would have been the bow gunner’s position on the standard Chaffee, at the front right of the hull. Concrete evidence of this escapes the author at the time of writing.

Dag Rune Nilsen, ex-commander of an NM-116 from Panserverneskadron, Brigade Nord (PvEsk/N, Eng: “Tank Squadron, Northern Brigade”), describes here the working relationship with the NM-130 and its crew:

“The NM-130 crew was an important part of the Panserverneskadron. It was manned by the mechanics who maintained our vehicles at base, so we had a close working relationship. I got the impression that they were very happy with the vehicle and [they were] proud to operate it. It had a strong winch, a solid crane and other tools including a welding machine. Our squadron operated M113s, NM-142s and, of course, the NM-116. The NM-130 were capable of assisting us in all the situations we encountered. No problems whatsoever.”

The Driver’s position (left) and Commander’s position (right). Photos: hestvik.no (left), Erik Torp, primeportal.net (right)

Automotive Upgrades

The Chaffee’s Twin Cadillac 220hp petrol engine was replaced by a Detroit Diesel 6V-53T two-stroke diesel engine that was liquid-cooled and equipped with a turbocharger. Diesel engines perform better in cold temperatures and are also somewhat safer as diesel is less volatile than petrol (gasoline). The engine gave the tank more power as it produced 260 hp, but slowed the tank down to a top speed of 47 km/h (29 mph). This was not too big of an issue as the increased torque gave it the power to navigate Norway’s tough terrain. Two, 208-liter (55 gallons) fuel tanks also gave it a greater range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) compared to the 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the original powerplant. Four heat exchangers were also installed to cool the engine’s oil.

The Detroit Diesel 6V-53T engine that replaced the M24’s original Twin Cadillac. Photo: NM-116 Handbook via modellnorge.no

The original ‘Hydramatic’ transmission was also replaced with an Allison MT 650/653 pre-selector 6-speed (5 forward, 1 reverse) gearbox. An additional gearbox was installed to control the speed transferred to the differential housed at the front of the tank.

In this crane adaption, two hydraulic pumps were installed in the engine compartment to power the hydraulically operated crane, winch, and dozer blade.

Crane

The crane (No: kran) chosen for the Bergepanser was the BK710MIL made by Moelven-Brug A/S – now known as CHSnor. For the installation of the crane, a solid metal plate was welded over the turret ring. The base of the crane was then fixed to the top of this. The crane is capable of full 360-degree rotation. When not in operation, the crane is rested at 0 degrees, with the boom fully retracted. The whole unit is then swung 180 degrees so it points over the vehicle’s engine bay.

The crane consists of a large boom with an integral, external control position. The crane’s boom is of the telescopic type, being able to extend from 3.4 meters (11.1 ft) to 5 meters (16.4 ft). The boom can travel on its vertical axis from 0 to +55 degrees. It is raised and lowered via a hydraulic ram underneath the boom, at its base.

The NM-130 with its crane arm fully extended to 5 meters (16.4 feet). Note the hydraulic ram underneath. Photo: hestvik.no

A hydraulically driven winch was mounted at the base of the crane boom. The winch cable runs externally up the spine of the boom to a large single guide wheel at the tip of the boom. The cable ends in a simple clevis rather than a hook. A large cable-guard safety grate was also mounted at the base of the crane to protect the operator.

The single guide wheel at the end of the crane boom (left) and the clevis at the end of the cable (right). Photo: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

The crane had a maximum lift capacity of 7 tonnes (7.7 tons), as long as the boom was not raised over 25 degrees upwards. If the crane was raised to 25 degrees of elevation or over, the maximum load was reduced to 2 tonnes (2.2 tons). The crane had a relatively low lift capacity as it was not designed to lift the entire vehicle, but just its components. The 2-7 tonnes lift capacity was more than enough to hoist the NM-116’s Detroit Diesel engine which weighed just 600 kgs (1323 lbs).

While Dag Rune Nilsen never required the use of the Bergepanser personally, he was witness to it assisting his comrades as he describes in the following story about a powerpack lift:

“The NM-130 did assist my good friend Sergeant Storli when he had to change the engine on his tank, callsign 12, name of ‘Aratos’, in the field. I remember the mechanics requesting if they could tow the broken NM-116 to the nearest military garage. The request was denied and they had to change the engine in freezing cold weather in the open during the night! Good realistic practice even though the crew disagreed!”

Sergeant Storli stands next to his tank’s engine as it is held aloft by the NM-130 which is unfortunately out of shot. Photo: Dag Rune Nilsen

The steel-wire cable utilized by the crane was 22 mm (0.8 in) in diameter and had a capacity of 19 tonnes (21 tons). Despite the crane having a meager capacity of 2-7 tonnes, it was necessary that the cable be stronger so it could tow or retrieve the NM-116. For this, the cable was threaded through fairleads (a device that guides a line, rope or cable) placed behind the drum. This allowed the vehicle to tow vehicles behind it. To do this though, the crane would have to be traversed 180 degrees. Judging from the few available photos of the NM-130 in service, it would appear that crane’s boom was used as a stowage point for the crew’s personal packs and effects, as well as camouflage nets and other sundries.

The cable-guard on the left. On the right, the winch drum at the base of the crane. Note the fairlead just above the ‘P3’ stencil. Photo: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

Crane Operator’s Position

The Crane Operator’s position was incorporated into the crane boom and was mounted on its right. The position consisted of a padded seat and a control desk. It was completely open to the elements and was without armor protection. Operation of the boom was rather simple, with basic levers that raise, lower, swing, extend/retract the boom, and let-out/reel-in the winch cable.

The Crane Operator’s position (with control panel inset) was mounted directly to the base of the crane and was completely open to the elements. Note the vice under the seat. Photos: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

Dozer Blade

Much like the dozer blade (No:bulldozerblad) found on the American M88 ARV, the NM-130’s dozer blade performed three main roles: light earthmoving operations/obstacle clearance, support during lifting operations, and anchorage when winching.

The hydraulically operated blade was shallow but roughly vehicle width at 2.84 meters (9 ft 4 in) and was mounted on the bow. It moved up and down via two large hydraulic rams mounted above it. The blade was operated by the driver. To avoid breakages while earthmoving, the front-wheel stations of the vehicle were reinforced. During the lift and winching operations, the blade acted much like outriggers on a conventional crane and lifted the front end of the vehicle off the ground to stop it shifting on its tracks.

The Dozer Blade of the NM-130 performed standard earthmoving tasks, but also acted as an outrigger during lifts by lifting the front end of the vehicle off the ground. Note the two large hydraulic rams. hestvik.no

Other Features

As with the NM-116, the Bersepanser received the same 73-link split rubber block tracks made by the German company Diehl. At some point, the NM-130 also received the same sprocket upgrade as the NM-116. The new sprocket wheel had smaller and fewer teeth. The original Chaffee sprocket had 13 teeth while the newer one had 12. This was likely done to improve the compatibility with new track types. Also, while the NM-116 kept just two of the original four shock absorbers, the NM-130 kept three, with two at the front, and one at the rear.

The newer sprocket wheel and Diehl tracks. Photo: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

The same eight smoke-grenade launchers, or Røyklegginganlegg (Smoke Laying Device), that were added to the turret of the NM-116 were also installed on the NM-130. They were mounted on the left and right fenders in single banks of four. These German-made devices were electrically fired, and were used to launch the 76 mm (3 in) Røykboks (smoke grenade) DM2 HC grenade. In total, 16 smoke grenades were carried and, if necessary, all loaded grenades could be fired at once.

One of the two banks of German-made Røyklegginganlegg (smoke grenade launchers). Photo: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

Other features included the introduction of large tool/stowage boxes on the rear of the left and right fenders. On the back right corner of the engine deck, there was a stowage point for extra pulleys and clevises for winching and hoisting. There was also a point on the right rear of the hull for carrying a spare NM-116/130 roadwheel. Steel-wire tow cables were carried on the right fender, with tools such as an axe and sledgehammer carried on the hull wall above them.

It was not uncommon for crews to carry their own selection of preferred equipment, as Dag Nilsen describes:

“NM-130 mechanics improvised and added additional equipment that experience had shown they needed. The crew that assisted Sergeant Stoli, for instance, carried a welder. In my own experience of NM-116 crews, we would regularly amend the tanks for comfort and for practical purposes. I believe NM-130 crews did the same.”

Above we see the left tool/stowage box, spare roadwheel, and extra pulleys and clevises. Below can be seen the right fender, note the tow cables, tool/stowage box, smoke grenade launchers, sledgehammer, and axe. Photos: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

Service

Unfortunately, much like the NM-116, details of the Bergepanser’s time in service are scarce. The vehicles entered service in the mid-1970s; an exact year is unknown but it was probably around the same time as the NM-116, in 1975. How the four ARVs were split between the 72-strong NM-116 fleet is also unknown. However, it is known that he only full-time operator of the NM-116 was the Panserverneskadron, Brigade Nord (PvEsk/N, Eng: “Tank Squadron, Northern Brigade”). At least two NM-130s were part of this Brigade. The vehicle was also capable of supporting Norway’s fleet of US-made M113 Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and derivative there of, such as the NM-142 (TOW) Rakettpanserjager.

This quote from Dag Rune Nilsen provides a small insight into the NM-130’s use:

“I never required assistance myself (pure luck!) but I did indeed witness the recovery team rescue many of my comrades. The terrain we operated in was brutal all year around and absolutely not ideal for tanks. It was quite common to lose the tracks or to sink into deep snow. Most of the time we managed to do self-recovery through various tricks but the NM-130 could always be counted on. It would cost the commander a case of beer though! The winch was the multipurpose tool for recovery and could drag an NM116 easily onto safe ground.”

NM-130 and crew on exercise in the Norwegian mountains, 1988. We can see the Commander (rear), Driver (far right) and closest to the camera, the Crane Operator making use of the empty bow position. He is also manning the vehicle’s defensive MG3 machine gun. Note the amount of stowage lashed to the crane boom. Photo: Dag Rune Nilsen

Like the NM-116, the vehicle initially entered service in an olive drab livery but, in the mid-1980s, a new ‘Splinter’ camouflage pattern was introduced. The NM-130 would see out its service in this livery.

The NM-116 was retired in 1993. It is unclear when exactly the NM-130 was retired, but there is a possibility that it stayed on in service a little longer to serve Norway’s fleet of M48s and Leopard 1s, but concrete evidence of this cannot be found.

Norwegian Military camouflage application guide for the ‘Splinter’ pattern on the NM-130. Photo: modellnorge.no

Conclusion

In the NM-130, the Forsvaret achieved its goal of providing an effective recovery vehicle to not only the NM-116, but the Hæren’s other light vehicles too, all while sticking to a strict budget. Just like the NM-116, the NM-130 was an ingenious use of what was – at the time of its development – an almost thirty-year-old piece of Second World War hardware.

Dag Rune Nilsen perhaps describes it best:

“I would describe the NM-130 as a fit for purpose recovery tank, and thus a very successful modification. Much more successful than the NM-116 itself since the NM-130 did exactly what it was intended for and remained effective for its entire service life.”

It is unclear how many of the four NM-130s survive. The one featured in most of the photos used in this article was located – until recently – at the Rena Army Camp, eastern Norway. Where it is now is unknown. At least one NM-130 can still be found at the Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum, also in Norway.

The NM-130 that was kept at Rena Camp until recently. Photo: Erik Torp, primeportal.net

An article by Mark Nash, assisted by Steffen Hjønnevåg.



An NM-130 Bergepanser in ‘Splinter’ camouflage with the Crane in its travel position. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.45 x 2.84 x 2.61 meters (16’4″ x 9’4″ x 5’3″)
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 18.3 tonnes (20 tons)
Crew 3 (commander, crane operator, driver)
Propulsion Detroit Diesel 6V-53T, 260hp
Max Road Speed 47 km/h (29 mph)
Range 300 kilometers (186 miles)
Armament 1x 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun
Equipment 2 – 7 tonne (2.2 – 7.7 ton) capacity crane
19 tonne (21 ton) winch
2.84 meters (9 ft 4 in) wide Dozer Blade
Front Armor 25 mm (1 in)
Front Side 2/3 Armor 25 mm (1 in)
Rear side 1/3 Armor 19 mm (3/4 in)
Rear Armor 19 mm (3/4 in)
Production 4

Sources

2nd Lieutenant Dag Rune Nilsen, Former NM-116 Commander, retired
Teknisk Håndbok, Panserjager NM-116: Beskrivelse, Behandling, og Brukerens Vedlikehold (Eng: Technical Manual, Panserjager NM-116: Description, Treatment, and User Maintenance). Available at modellnorge.no (Flash player required).
Clemens Niesner, Norge – Hærens Styrker, Vehicles of the Modern Norwegian Land Forces, Tankograd Publishing
hestvik.no
modellnorge.no
www.primeportal.net


Categories
Cold War Norwegian Armor

NM-116 Panserjager

Norwegian tanks Norway (1975)
Light Tank/Tank Destroyer – 72 Conversions

After the Second World War, as part of the United States-led Military Aid Program (MAP), Norway received around 130 M24 Chaffee light tanks to help rebuild its military. In the early years of the Cold War, the Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”) was happy with the M24 Chaffee, as it fitted its needs. Its small size made it perfect for operations in the harsh Scandinavian terrain.

By the 1960s, however, it was apparent that the 75 mm gun-armed Chaffee was in need of an upgrade if it was to combat the threat represented by the USSR. The 75 mm gun would be no match for the thick armor of Soviet tanks such as the T-54/55 or T-62. It was decided that the vehicle needed a new, more powerful gun, as well as many other new internal and external components.

An upgrade program began in the late-1960s, with the first prototype of what would be designated the ‘NM-116’ being unveiled in 1973. The vehicle would enter service under that designation in 1975. This new variant of the M24 would be used in an anti-tank role, leading it to be unofficially called the ‘Panserjager’ (armor hunter/armor chaser). It would serve the Norwegian Army well into the late 1990s.

The NM-116 ‘Panserjager’ was the result of an upgrade program to keep the M24 Chaffee relevant in the Cold War era. Photo: reddit

Foundation: The M24 Chaffee

The M24 Chaffee, named after Lieutenant 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 a Twin Cadillac 44T24 8 cylinder petrol engine producing 220 hp. The transmission and drive wheels were located at the front of the vehicle. The Chaffee rolled on 5 roadwheels attached to a torsion bar suspension. The fifth road wheel was attached to the idler wheel at the rear of the running gear. This is because the idler was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacted to terrain, the idler was pushed out or pulled in, keeping constant track tension.

Norsk Chaffees

Norway received its first Chaffees from the US under the ‘MAP’ in 1946. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. Norway was one of these countries that was rebuilding after a lengthy Nazi Occupation of the country. Other countries that benefited from the MAP included France, Portugal, and Belgium, but also former enemy nations such as West Germany and Japan. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born with Norway a founding member. This resulted in the United States prolonging their Military Aid Programs.

The initial 1946 delivery consisted of just 9 vehicles. These were sent directly to Trandum leir, a Norwegian Army Camp (now closed) near Ullensaker. From 1946 until the early 1950s, Norway received a total of 125 M24s.

Norwegian Chaffees also have a royal connection. From 1955 to 1957, Prince Harald (now King Harald V) served in a Chaffee crew during his conscription years. The M24s gave the Norwegian Army (Hæren) excellent service for many years, but come the late-1960s, the M24 was obsolete, and the upgrade program began. Just 72 tanks would be upgraded to NM-116 standard. Some of the remaining vehicles were turned into NM-130 Bergepanser recovery vehicles, while 4 unmodified M24s were given to the Heimevernet (Eng: Home Guard) which operated them well into the late 1970s.

The majority of tanks that remained from this were scrapped, though it is believed at least one was taken by the Navy and turned into a static turret placed on a fort. (Further information on this escapes the Author at the time of writing.) The last use of the Chaffee came in 2002, when it featured in a rather risqué Norwegian commercial for mineral water.

An M24 Chaffee of the Heimevernet taking part in range exercises in 1977. Norwegian Chaffees retained the standard US Olive Drab until the mid-1980s when a new camouflage pattern was introduced. Photo: modellnorge.no

Upgrade Program

Due to the poor economic strength of Norway, funding was limited in the early parts of the Cold War, forcing the government to make incremental modernizations to its military equipment. As such, rather than invest millions of Kroner (the currency of Norway) in the development or purchase of a brand new tank, the Forsvaret began working with the far-cheaper idea of upgrading the Chaffee fleet. Thune-Eureka A/S, based in the country’s capital, Oslo, was chosen to develop an effective upgrade solution. At first, the company was given just one of the Hæren’s M24s to experiment with. Certain new features were prioritized in the program, including a new main armament, a new engine, and a new transmission.

Design schematics of the NM-116. Photo: NM-116 Handbook via modellnorge.no

Automotive Upgrades

The Chaffee’s Twin Cadillac 220 hp petrol engine was replaced by a Detroit Diesel 6V-53T two-stroke diesel engine that was liquid-cooled and equipped with a turbocharger. This was the same engine used in later models of the Swedish Strv 103 ‘S-Tank’. Diesel engines perform better in cold temperatures and are also somewhat safer as diesel is less volatile than petrol (gasoline). The engine gave the tank more power, as it produced 260 hp, but slowed the tank down to a top speed of 47 km/h (29 mph). This was not too big of an issue as the increased torque gave it the power to navigate Norway’s tough terrain. Two 208-liter (55 gallons) fuel tanks also gave it a greater range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) compared to the 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the original powerplant. Four heat exchangers were also installed to cool the engine’s oil.

The Detroit Diesel 6V-53T engine that replaced the M24’s original Twin Cadillac. Photo: NM-116 Handbook via modellnorge.no

The original ‘Hydramatic’ transmission was also replaced with an Allison MT 650/653 pre-selector 6-speed (5 forward, 1 reverse) gearbox. An additional gearbox was installed to control the speed transferred to the differential housed at the front of the tank.

The heat exchanger for the transmission and differential were installed in the engine compartment, while the exchanger for the additional gearbox was incorporated into an existing radiator. This presence of additional heat exchangers in the engine compartment resulted in the addition of larger ventilation intakes being installed on the engine deck, close to the turret ring.

Diagram showing the original M24 engine deck (left) compared with the upgraded NM-116 engine deck (right). Photo: Squadron/Signal Publications

Armament Upgrades

One of the most crucial aims of the upgrade program was to increase the Chaffee’s lethality – the old 75 mm gun was now obsolete. The Norwegian military wanted more punch but understood that the small chassis of the M24 probably wouldn’t stand up to the punishment of the recoil force produced by a large 90 mm (3.5 in) – or larger – gun. As such, the Norwegian Military turned to the French and decided upon their D/925 Low-Pressure 90 mm Gun. This 90 mm (3.5 in) gun was similar to that installed on France’s own Panhard AML 90, which was equipped with the D/921. To accommodate this new weapon, the gyrostabilizer had to be removed. The original concentric recoil system (this was a hollow tube around the barrel, a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders) from the 75 mm gun was retained. The muzzle of the barrel was equipped with a single baffle muzzle brake to further reduce the force of recoil. The gun could be elevated from +15 to -10 degrees.

The French D/925 Low-Pressure 90 mm Gun. Photo: NM-116 Handbook via modellnorge.no

The D/925 was capable of firing three ammunition types: High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT, Nor: Hulladingsgranat M62), High-Explosive (HE, Nor: Sprenggranat MF1) and Smoke (Nor: Røykgranat MF1). All of these shells were fin-stabilized, so they would all have the ‘-FS’ suffix. The Hulladingsgranat round had a velocity of 750 m/s (2460 fps), and a maximum effective range of around 1,500 meters (1,640 yards). It could penetrate 320 mm (12.6 in) of vertical armor, or 120 mm (4.7 in) of armor sloped at 65-Degrees from vertical. In total, 41 rounds of 90 mm ammunition were carried.

The 3 shell types fired by the D/925 90 mm gun. Left to right: Hulladingsgranat M62 (HEAT-FS), Sprenggranat MF1 (HE-FS) and Røykgranat MF1 (Smoke-FS). Photo: NM-116 Handbook via modellnorge.no
A view inside the turret of the NM-116 showing one of the 90mm ammunition racks. Also note the .50 Cal (12.7 mm) ammunition run at the top right, and the rear of the .50 Cal AN/M3 gun at the top left. Photo: Thor Christfferson

Changes also came for the tank’s secondary armament. The coaxial Browning M1919 .30 Cal (7.62 mm) machine gun was replaced by a Browning AN/M3 .50 Cal (12.7 mm) machine gun. These were reportadly recycled from F-86 Saber Fighter Jets, around 180 of which were operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force (No: Luftforsvaret) from 1957 to 1967.

Dag Rune Nilsen, a former NM-116 commander, recalled that they were…

“great fun to shoot with due to the extremely high rate of fire and [were very] precise since they were fixed in the turret.”

The roof-mounted Browning M2HB .50 Cal machine gun was retained for ‘air defense’, however, an additional position for it was installed in front of the Commander’s cupola. The bow .30 Caliber machine gun position was completely deleted, reducing the crew to four-men and making room for 90 mm ammunition stowage.

A driver operates his vehicle head-out as he disembarks his NM-116 from a landing ship, 1988. The blanked-off machine gun position is clearly visible on the front of the hull. Photo: Dag Rune Nilson

Other Changes

Numerous other upgrades were incorporated into the NM-116. Gunnery was further improved with the addition of an NM128 (otherwise known as Simrad LV3) laser rangefinder which was installed atop the barrel of the 90 mm, at the mantlet’s end. The NM-116 was the first tank in Norwegian service to incorporate such a device. Provision was also made for the installation of passive-night vision/infrared sights for the commander, gunner and driver positions.

Eight smoke-grenade launchers or Røykleggingsanlegg (Smoke Laying Device) were added to the left and right side of the turret in two banks of four tubes. These German-made devices were electrically fired, and were used to launch the 76 mm (3 in) Røykboks (smoke grenades) DM2 HC grenade. In total, 16 smoke grenades were carried and, if necessary, all loaded grenades could be fired at once.

On the left we see the Simrad LV3 laser rangefinder installed atop the 90 mm barrel (note also the additional .50 Cal. MG position in front of the commander’s cupola), and on the right, one of the 76 mm smoke launcher banks, installed on the right of the turret. Photo: Photo: Erik Torp, net-maquettes.com

Another improvement to the operation of the tank came with the introduction of new radios. NM-116’s assigned to platoon leaders were equipped with an AN/VRC44 unit, while other tanks were equipped with the AN/VRC64. A new intercom system for the crew was also installed.

The NM-116 was also given two types of new tracks, which could be switched between depending on terrain. The tanks were initially equipped with the original US T85E1 rubber chevron tracks. In the upgrade program, the tanks were equipped with new split rubber block tracks made by the German company, Diehl. With the T85E1 tracks, there were 75 links per-side, but with the Diehl tracks, there were 73 per-side.

The split-rubber block tracks produced by the German company, Diehl. Photo: Photo: Erik Torp, net-maquettes.com

Crew comfort was not ignored in the program, with a new internal heating system being installed to keep them warm in the cold Norwegian climate. Also, the original 4 shock absorbers per-side were replaced with 2 more effective shock absorbers per-side. These were made by the Swedish company Hagglunds.

Further Upgrades?

It would appear that throughout its service, the NM-116 went through a number of ‘incremental improvements’. Exact details are currently unavailable, but there are some features that can be discussed. At some point, the single-baffle square muzzle brake of the 90mm gun, installed on the prototypes, was exchanged for a tubular ‘T’ shaped muzzle brake, similar to those used on US tanks such as the M48 Patton. As Norway operated a fleet of 90 mm gun-armed M48s, it is not too outrageous to say that they could’ve been recycled from them. The 90 mm M48s were upgraded between 1982 and 1985 to 105 mm gun-armed M48A5 standard, so there would’ve been a surplus of 90 mm parts.

Another change saw the addition of a new sprocket wheel with smaller and fewer teeth. The original had 13 teeth while the newer one had 12. This was likely done to improve the compatibility with new track types.

Another addition was an infantry or ‘Grunt’ phone, installed on the right rear fender of the NM-116. A protective frame was also built around it. This phone would allow infantry outside of the tank to communicate with the vehicle commander and give him fire directions or other important messages. It is possible that this piece of equipment was also recycled when the M48 fleet was upgraded.

Further upgrades included the installation of equipment racks on the rear of the turret. A common field addition was the installation of stowage boxes to the tanks hull and fenders.

The three features discussed. Left to right, the ‘T’ muzzle brake, the sprocket wheel with smaller teeth, and what appears to be the ‘grunt’ phone. Photos: Left; reddit. Middle; primeportal. Right; Erik Torp, net-maquettes.com

Service

The single upgraded M24 prototype began trials in January 1973. After a lengthy trial period, the Hæren accepted the vehicle and a contract for the conversion of an additional 71 tanks was signed with Thune-Eureka A/S. The tank finally entered service in January 1975, with the last units delivered in October 1976.

An NM-116 is restocked with practice ammunition at a range shoot with a number of Norsk M48A5s. This vehicle features a few of the additional upgrades that appeared through its service (new sprocket, ‘T’ muzzle brake, possible ‘grunt phone’). This photo was reportedly taken in the late-1980s. Photo: Dag Rune Nilsen

With the new upgrade came a new role for the tank, now designated the NM-116. It was decided that the vehicle would operate as a tank destroyer with the capability to act as a light reconnaissance tank. This lead the vehicle to be unofficially designated the ‘Panserjager’. The NM-116’s small size made it perfect for both roles, as it could conceal itself in hidden positions to either engage an enemy or provide overwatch and intel for friendly forces.

The only full-time operator of the NM-116 was the Panserverneskadron, Brigade Nord (PvEsk/N, Eng: “Tank Squadron, Northern Brigade”). This squadron operated both the NM-116 and the M113 APC-based NM-142 (TOW) Rakettpanserjager, and was the only squadron that was permanently operational. All other NM-116 equipped units were kept in reserve for rapid mobilization or for use by reservist troops. Each Panserjagr Company (Eskadron) had 2 NM-116 platoons, 2 NM-142 (TOW) Rakettpanserjager platoons, a CSS platoon with several M113 and a single NM-130 Bergepanser. There was also a Command element with 2 M113s, as well as a Logistics element with some M621/Scania lorries and MB240 jeeps.

In 1983, a new 4-tone ‘Splinter’ camouflage was introduced that replaced the original olive-drab paint scheme on many of the tanks. Vehicles belonging to Brigade Nord used the same pattern as Norway’s Leopards as, at the time, there was no official pattern provided for the NM-116.

Dag Rune Nilson describes that…

“during wintertime, we applied a thick white cover of chalky paint over the light green and brown areas of the camouflage. The chalk was then washed off at springtime.”

NM-116 in winter camouflage, 1988. Photos: Thor Christoffersen

NM-116s were organized into Panserjager platoons with 4 vehicles per platoon. Only 3 vehicles were manned at all times.
The fourth vehicle of the platoon was left in reserve, and would only be mobilized (by reservist troops) in an emergency – eg, an enemy attack. These reserve vehicles were never painted in the ‘Splinter’ scheme, and were only painted in light olive green.

The NM116 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. Here, Dag Rune Nilsen describes how the vehicles were employed:

The NM-116 wasn’t regarded as much of a tank and there were many jokes about it. However, none of us who actually used it were under any illusions and knew that we had to be smart when using it. Especially when considering fighting positions so that we could fire effectively and at not too long range, and then move quickly to the next planned fighting position. Most of the time our task was to delay an approaching enemy, fire a few rounds and then pull back to reposition. I do honestly believe that we could have caused some damage due to the tactics. The NM-116 was very easy to maneuver and we managed several times [on excercise] to trick Leopards battle tanks into short-range traps in wooded areas where their overconfident crews were unable to turn their turrets due to trees making them extremely vulnerable!

To augment the ambush tactics used with the NM-116, the vehicles would be covered in ‘live’ camouflage. This consisted of layers of moss and peat, with shrubbery applied over the top. The moss and peat would last for at least 3 weeks, but the shrubbery would be replaced every other day. Thor Christoffersen, another ex-tanker, inherited command of Dag Rune Nilsen’s NM-116. Here he describes how effective the camouflage was:

Our vehicles were almost invisible to the naked eye, and also to thermal sights [thanks to the peat and moss]. On one exercise, a Canadian Recon Patrol Unit stopped in front of my vehicle and made a brief sweep of the area. A couple of them took the chance to have a piss. Unknown to one of the Canadians, the whole time he was there, there was a very anxious gunner with a .50 caliber MG pointing at him. One of the Canadian Recon soldiers actually pissed on the vehicle’s tracks without noticing! What was more impressive, is that the Canadian Recon Patrol left our position without noticing the other 9 armored vehicles (6 NM-116 + 3 NM-142) sat alongside us! There was hell to pay the next day…

An example of a well-camoflauged NM-116 on exercise. Photo: Thor Christofferson

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.

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (also known as the CFE Treaty, signed in 1990, effective as of 1992) also played a big part in the retirement of the NM-116, as it mandated comprehensive limits of conventional military equipment in European states. This included the destruction of excess weaponry. It is likely that because of this, most NM-116s were scrapped after they were retired.

A surviving NM-116 at Rena Camp in Splinter Camoflauge. Photo: Erik Torp, net-maquettes.com

Foreign Interest

The US firm of NAPCO Industries Incorporated – a producer of military vehicles – were impressed with the Norwegian upgrade program. So much so, that they bought the rights to produce the vehicle for the international arms market.

NAPCO demonstrated the NM-116 to Greece and Taiwan. However, neither country invested in the vehicle, opting instead for less complicated upgrades for their respective M24 fleets.

Variants

NM-130 Bergepanser

To support the new NM-116, it was also decided by the military that a new Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) be developed. For this, four Chaffees were separated from the 116 projects.

The hulls of the tanks went through much of the same changes as the NM-116 (new engine, transmission, shock absorbers, etc.). The turret, however, was completely removed and replaced by a large folding crane. A small dozer blade was also installed on the lower glacis.

This ARV was designated the NM-130 ‘Bergepanser’ (Eng: Armored Recovery Vehicle). It entered service around the same time as the NM-116 and left service with its tank-killing brother. 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 NM-130 Bergingswagen, the ARV variant of the M24/NM-116. Photos: hestvik.no

Driver Trainer

Two NM-116s were converted into driver training vehicles. For this, the entire turret was replaced by a large, hexagonal protective cab. This cab featured four large windows, the front two fitted with wiper blades. There was room in this cab for two trainees and one instructor.

According to former Commander Nilsen…

“The removed turrets were used for the basic training of gunners and loaders. These two turrets could be easily mounted on the trainers in case of mobilization.”

Left, An NM-116 driver trainer is washed down by its crew after a training session. Right, the dismounted turrets are used for gunner and loader training. Photo: Dag Rune Nilsen

Conclusion

The NM-116 is a good example of an under-equipped and underfunded nation finding a solution to a critical dilemma: how do you equip a military with effective weapons while dealing with a tight budget? The Norwegians took what was – at the time – an almost 30-year-old piece of World War 2 technology and turned it into an effective tank killer for the late-20th century. This extended the service life of the M24 Chaffee to around 50 years. Having operated the Chaffee and NM-116 from 1946 to 1993, the Norwegian Army is one of the longest operators of the tank in the world, surpassed only by countries like Chile.

Unfortunately, these tanks are now something of a rarity, with not many surviving today. Some survivors can be found in Museums, however. One can be found in the Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum, Norway. The tank in the Splinter camouflage pattern featured in this article remains on static display at the Rena Military Camp in eastern Norway. Another tank can be found in the Musée des Blindés, France.

The Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum’s example of a surviving NM-116. Photo: Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum

Personal Connection

Much of the detail in this article was provided by Dag Rune Nilsen and Thor Christofferson, former NM-116 Commanders of Panserverneskadron, Brigade Nord (PvEsk/N). Thor took over Dag’s tank when he was promoted. Below, Dag outlines some personal history with the tank…

Sergeant (at this time) Dag Rune Nilsen (extreme left) NM-116 Commander, stands with his crew alongside his tank, callsign 11, ‘Atilla’. Photo: Dag Rune Nilsen

“The NM-116 was the first tank I commanded in the cavalry. I served as a sergeant after completing the Norwegian cavalry academy at Trandum from 1986-1987. From 1987 to 1988, I served at a combat unit in the northern parts of Norway (Setermoen, Troms). From 1989 to 1990, I served as a 2nd lieutenant and instructor at the academy. Around this time, I was retrained to serve in the Leopard 1A5NO as a reservist. I also had some experience in the NM-142 (TOW) Rakettpanserjager.”

In the collection of pictures below, note that one of the tanks has the cartoon character ‘Snoopy’ painted on it. Dag explains why:

“That was actually my NM-116, callsign 11, named ‘Atilla’. The squadron commander did not like the Snoopy icon and wanted us to remove it. He changed his mind when a delegation of US Marine officers found it hilarious to see Snoopy being a mascot on a Norwegian tank!”

In this quote, Dag describes what equipment NM-116 crews would carry, and how it was stowed on their tanks:

“There were detailed plans [of] what each unit should have equipment-wise, and where the equipment was to be packed on the vehicles. However, during my years at (PVEsk/N), these plans were amended locally. The reason being that this unit could be described as a “field unit” and spent lots of time on exercise, far more than any other NM-116 unit previously. Some example of improvized equipment on the NM-116s at PvEsk/N was the turret racks added by our mechanics and the way we packed the vehicles with gear that was not included in the packing instructions made in the 70s. On the NM-116 driving off the landing ship,* one can see a large tent, rolled up and attached to the front. This type of tent was not included in the original plans and if you never served in my unit, one would not know of the use. The same goes for the additional storage boxes, tent oven, firewood, extra oils and other things that we brought with us. The point is that all tank crews will regularly amend the tanks for comfort and for practical purposes.”

*pictured above in ‘Armament Upgrades’

A collection of photos of the NM-116 provided by Dag Rune Nilsen. Clockwise: 1, An NM-116 heavily camouflaged with foliage. 2, an NM-116 fires its 90mm gun in a night shoot. 3, Dag’s gunner in the turret of their tank, ‘Atilla’ (note Snoopy). 4, an NM-116 on exercise in the Norwegian mountains. 5, an NM-116 parked beside a Norwegian Leopard 1A5. These photos were taken between 1986 and 1988. All Photos: Dag Rune Nilsen

An article by Mark Nash, assisted by Steffen Hjønnevåg, Dag Rune Nilsen, & Thor Christofferson



The initial NM-116 ‘Panserjager’ as it appeared in 1975 during the prototype phase. At this time, the vehicles remained in the same Olive Drab scheme used on the M24 Chaffees. The .50 Cal (12.7mm) Browning machine gun is placed in the added position infront of the commander’s cupola.


The NM-116 in the later years of its service during the mid-1980s. It is adorned with the ‘Splinter’ camouflage pattern introduced at that time. Note also, the other upgrades that appeared such as the ‘T’ muzzle brake and the new sprocket wheel.

These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.45 (without gun) x 2.84 x 2.61 meters (16’4″(without gun)x 9’4″ x 5’3″)
Total weight, battle ready 18.3 tonnes (20 tons)
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Detroit Diesel 6V-53T, 260hp
Max Road Speed 47 km/h (29 mph)
Range 300 kilometers (186 miles)
Armament D/925 low-pressure 90mm gun, 41 rounds
Browning AN/M3 .50 Cal (12.7 mm) machine gun
Browning M2HB .50 Cal machine gun
Front Armor 25 mm (1 in)
Front Side 2/3 Armor 25 mm (1 in)
Rear side 1/3 Armor 19 mm (3/4 in)
Rear Armor 19 mm (3/4 in)
Turret Armor 25 mm (1 in)
Gun Mantel Armor 38 mm (1 1/2 in)
Production 72

Sources

2nd Lieutenant Dag Rune Nilsen, Former NM-116 Commander, retired
Thor Christofferson, Former NM-116 Commander, retired.
Teknisk Håndbok, Panserjager NM-116: Beskrivelse, Behandling, og Brukerens Vedlikehold (Eng: Technical Manual, Panserjager NM-116: Description, Treatment, and User Maintenance). Available at modellnorge.no (Flash player required).
Clemens Niesner, Norge – Hærens Styrker, Vehicles of the Modern Norwegian Land Forces, Tankograd Publishing
Jim Mesko, M24 Chaffee in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications
www.net-maquettes.com
modellnorge.no
krigshistorisk-museum.no
hestvik.no
sturgeonshouse.ipbhost.com


Categories
Cold War French Tanks

AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11

France (1954)
Improvised Light Tank – 5 Built

By February 1952, the French had been fighting in the First Indochina War (1946 -1954) for six years. This war was fought between the French and Việt Minh (Việt Nam độc lập đồng Minh, Fr: Ligue pour l’indépendance du Viêt Nam, Eng: League for the Independence of Vietnam). The Việt Minh wanted to put an end to French rule and take control of Indochina. The French Minister of State for Relations with Associated States, Jean Letourneau, requested that the French Military’s latest tank, the AMX-13, be sent to Cavalry units battling the Việt Minh. The tanks equipping the Cavalry at the time – namely the M5A1 and M24 Chaffee light tanks – were too heavy and poorly armed to fight a guerilla war in a dense jungle environment.

However, the AMX-13 was also unsuitable for such warfare in its current configuration. Its large FL-10 turret and long, high-velocity 75 mm (2.9 in) gun was simply impractical for this Asian environment. There was also a requirement for air-transportability, but the AMX was just a bit too heavy to achieve this.

To meet the requirements, it was decided that modifications were needed for the AMX-13 to be suitable for constricted environments and light enough to be transported by air, thereby allowing it to be fielded in colonial policing operations, no matter the environment or enemy. This was achieved by mating the newly developed FL-11 turret – designed for the Panhard EBR (Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance, Eng: Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle) – with the existing AMX hull. This created the AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11 (AMX-13 with FL-11 Turret). While it was a successful conversion that saved 1.5 tonnes (1.6 tons) of weight, the vehicle, for a number of reasons, would not go into large scale production.

The AMX-13 with FL-11 turret. This mated the hull of the AMX light tank with the turret of the Panhard EBR armored car. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

The AMX-13

Designed and built by Atelier d’Issy les Moulineaux or ‘AMX’, the officially titled Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51 (Tank, 13 tonnes, 75mm gun, model of 1951) – often shortened to Mle 51, was more commonly known as the ‘AMX-13’. The tank was designed in the late 1940s and appeared in service in the early 1950s. It was designed to be a lightweight, highly mobile tank destroyer that could also perform the reconnaissance tasks of a light tank.

It was lightly armored, with the toughest plates being just 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. Its main armament consisted of the 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50, often known simply as the CN 75-50 or SA-50. The design of this gun was derived from the powerful Second World War German KwK 42 gun mounted on the Panther. The gun was mounted in an innovative oscillating turret and was also fed via an autoloading system.

The AMX weighed in at around 13 tonnes (14 tons) and was 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in, with gun) long, 2.51 m (8 ft 3 in) wide, and 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in) tall. It was operated by a 3-man crew consisting of the Commander, Driver, and Gunner. The tank went through many upgrades with many variations based on its highly adaptable chassis. The French Military only retired the AMX in the 1980s, but many other nations retain it in service.

The Standard AMX-13 Light Tank or, as it is officially known, the Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51. Photo: weaponscollection.com

Fives-Lille (FL) Turrets

The engineering company Fives-Lille – shortened to FL – was responsible for the design of the turrets used on the AMX-13 series of light tanks. They were based in Fives, a suburb of Lille in Northern France.

The FL-10 turret. Note the long, high-velocity 75 mm SA 50 gun and the large turret bustle containing the autoloading system. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

For the AMX-13 program, FL produced the 2-man FL-10 turret. This became the standard turret for the 75 mm armed Mle 51s. The high-velocity 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50 was fed via an auto-loading system which consisted of two revolving cylinders located in the turret bustle. It was an oscillating turret. These consist of two parts that move on a separate axis. The first is the top ‘roof’ section which holds the rigidly mounted main armament which moves up and down. In a conventional turret, the gun moves separately from the turret body, on its own trunnions. The second is the bottom ‘collar’ part attached to the ‘roof’ via trunnions and fixed directly to the turret ring, allowing conventional 360-degree traverse. The gap between the ‘collar’ and ‘roof’ could be covered with either a canvas or rubber covered material screen known as bellows. The FL-10 turret was the source of the problem for military heads that wanted the tank to operate in constricted environments, such as the dense jungle of Indochina, to provide close infantry support, not an ideal task for the SA 50. The high-velocity gun was long and, due to the autoloading mechanism, the turret bustle was large.

The FL-11 Turret

As the AMX-13 was in development, so too was the Panhard EBR armored car, which utilized a smaller oscillating turret produced by Fives-Lille – the FL-11. These turrets were manufactured alongside those destined for the EBR by Société des Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France (SACNF, Eng: ‘Society of Construction Workshops in Northern France’) and the Société Alsacienne de Constructions Mécaniques (SACM, Eng: ‘Alsatian Society of Mechanical Constructions’).

It was decided that the FL-11 turret would replace the FL-10 on the AMX-13 hull. The FL-11 had the same level of armor protection as the FL-10 at 40mm (1.57 in) thick. The FL-11 turret was much smaller than the FL-10. This was because it lacked the bustle, due to the fact that the FL-11s gun was manually loaded.

Production diagram of the FL-11 turret. A: roof section, B: collar, C: turret basket. Note the lack of bustle and shorter 75mm SA 49 gun. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publications

The new gun was the 75 mm SA 49. It was shorter and had a lower velocity of 625 m/s (2050 fps) compared to the 1000 m/s (3280 fps) of the 75mm SA 50. This made the use of High Explosive (HE) shells far more effective, making the tank far more appropriate for close support tasks. The lower velocity, however, made it less effective against armored targets. Even so, firing Armor-Piercing Ballistic Capped (APBC), the gun could punch through 80 mm (3.14 in) of armor at 1000 meters (1093 yards). Secondary armament consisted of a coaxial 7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun located on the left of the main gun. Elevation range of the gun in this turret was +13 to -6 degrees. Four smoke-grenade launchers were also installed with two on each side of the ‘collar’.

The manually loaded 75 mm SA 49 gun. It was much shorter and had a lower shell velocity than the 75 mm SA 50 gun. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

Like the FL-10, the FL-11 was a two-man turret with the crew consisting of the Commander and Gunner. However, with the lack of an auto-loader, the Commander also had the responsibility of loading the SA 49 gun. The Commander sat on the left of the turret with the gunner on the right. Both men had their own turret hatch. The Commander sat under a large cupola featuring 7 periscopes around its circumference. A mounting for an external machine gun could be installed on the cupola but, while it was used occasionally on the EBR, it is unknown if it was utilized on the AMX. The vehicle’s antennae were installed into the turret’s ‘collar’ with a base on the left and the right side.

Production diagram of the rear of FL-11 turret. Note a few details such as B: Commander’s cupola, H: Gunner’s hatch, P: smoke grenade launchers, K: ventilator, and J: stowage straps. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

The AMX Hull

The AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, as well as its forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.

Production

The conversion was approved by the French Military, with an order for 5 vehicles being placed in February 1954. One was to be built immediately for test purposes. Air transport tests then commenced in March of 1954. By May of that year, the remaining 4 vehicles had been built and troop testing was underway. At this time, an additional 15 vehicles were also ordered.

Left side view of the AMX-13 FL-11 test model. The FL-11 turret was placed on an unmodified AMX hull. Photo: chars-francais.net

Air Transportability

One of the key aspects of this conversion was to give the AMX-13 the ability to be air-transportable in the Armée de l’Air’s (French Air Force’s) cargo aircraft. The typical cargo aircraft of the Air Force’s fleet at this time was the Nord ‘Noratlas’. The original AMX-13, weighing in empty at 13.7 tonnes (15.1 tons), was too heavy. Replacing the FL-10 for the FL-11 resulted in the vehicle losing 1.5 tonnes (1.6 tons) of weight, making the new variant 12.2 tonnes (13.4 tons). This was still too heavy for the Nord, which had a load capacity of 6.7 tonnes (7.5 tons). Because of this, further tests were carried out using the larger English-built Bristol Type 170 Freighter, with a capacity of 7.9 tonnes (8.75 tons).

In the end, it was found that the vehicle was compatible with air transportation, but there was one small snag; the vehicle had to be completely stripped down and disassembled. The only way engineers could achieve the task of transporting the AMX was to take it apart and strap it down to three separate pallet loads of roughly 4 tonnes (4.4 tons) each. One pallet carried the entirety of the turret and rolled up tracks, the second carried the suspension and most of the automotive components, and the last pallet carried the entire hull unit with integral components. One aircraft could only carry one pallet, this meant that there would three aircraft to one tank, assuming three were available. If not, one craft could be making three round trips.

The AMX-13 FL-11 disassembled into three separate loads. Left to right we have the hull unit, suspension components, and the turret and track. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

Not only did this result in the logistical nightmare of transporting the loads, but also of reassembling the thing at the destination. This may not have been an easy task depending on the environment of said destination. The split also presented the risk of things going missing, not ideal when you need an operational tank on the front lines.

Service

Unfortunately, not much is known about the service history of this AMX-13 variant. By the time the initial batch was built in 1954, the First Indochina War had come to an end and the need for this tank had evaporated, resulting in the cancellation of the order for 15 more units.

An AMX-13 FL-11 is taken down a steep embankment. Both the driver and gunner are visible in this photo. Date and location unknown. Photo: chars-francais.net

The 5 vehicles that were built were dispatched to Morocco (still a French Protectorate in the early-mid-1950s) to be operated by the 2e Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie, (2e REC, Eng: 2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment), a cavalry regiment of the French Foreign Legion, based in Oujda, Northeast Morocco. Their time here is not well documented, but it is known that in 1956 – when Morocco gained independence – the tanks were sold to the fledgling Moroccan Army. Details of their service here are also unknown. They were still present in the Moroccan arsenal in 1973.

There is a possibility that the Moroccan Army used the tanks in combat. In 1963, Morocco fought a border war with Algeria – the ‘Sand War’. Morocco fielded AMX tanks in that conflict, so the FL-11s may well have been among them.

In a typically French fashion, the crew (the three closest to the tank) of this AMX-13 FL-11 relax with what appears to be a bottle of wine next to their vehicle with an unknown guest. Date and location unknown. Photo: chars-francais.net

Conclusion

It is currently believed that no examples of the AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11 survive today. How long they served and what happened to them in Morocco is currently a mystery.

This variant of the AMX-13 highlights what can happen when tanks that are designed for a specific purpose arrive too late to serve that purpose. They become destined to see out their service in obscurity, never having the chance to prove themselves in combat. The vehicle was also a bit of a failure when it came to the illogical air-transport element of its design. A feature that was one of its most important aspects. Despite this, however, the vehicle was a stepping stone to more French experiments with the concept of an air-transportable tank. These experiments would lead to the ELC EVEN and AMX-ELC programs.

As for the FL-11 turret, that too was destined for a short service when it came to its initial host, the Panhard EBR. Numerous upgrade programs were undertaken during the EBR’s service life. Early programs resulted in the 75 mm gun being replaced with a short 90 mm gun, while later programs saw the FL-11 completely replaced by the AMX-13’s original turret, the FL-10.



The AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11. This was a mating of the AMX’s 13-tonne light tank and the Fives-Lille FL-11 turret, more often found on the Panhard EBR. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet, modified by Andre ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.36m (4.88m without gun) x 2.5m x 2.3m
(20’9″ (16’0″) x 8’2″ x 7’5″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 15 tons
Crew 3 (Commander, Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion Renault gasoline, 8-cylinder water-cooled 250 hp
Suspension Torsion arms
Maximum speed 60 km/h (40 mph)
Range (road) 400 km (250 mi)
Armament 75 mm SA 49
7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun
Armor Hull & turret 40 mm (1.57 in)
Production 5

Sources

M. P. Robinson, Peter Lau, Guy Gibeau, Images of War: The AMX 13 Light Tank: A Complete History, Pen & Sword Publishing
Peter Lau, The AMX-13 Light Tank, Volume 2: Turret, Rock Publications
Olivier Carneau, Jan Horãk, František Kořãn, AMX-13 Family in Detail, Wings & Wheels Publications.
R. M. Ogorkiewicz, Profile Publications Ltd. AFV/Weapons #39: Panhard Armoured Cars
National Intelligence Survey #48, Morocco; Armed Forces, March 1973.


Categories
Cold War French Tanks Improvised AFVs

AMX-US (AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee)

France
Improvised Light Tank (1957) – 150 Built

In 1956, the French Army and the Direction des Etudes et Fabrications d’Armements (Directorate of Studies and Manufacture of Armaments, DEFA, an institution within the French Military) were looking into affordable methods of modernizing their fleet of aging M24 Chaffee light tanks. One method was to somehow combine France’s new domestic light tank, the AMX-13, with the M24.

The officially designated AMX-US was a result of this. It would ‘mate’ the turret of the M24 with the hull of the AMX-13. The AMX-13 would become one of the world’s most popular light tanks to come out of the Cold War era, appearing in the early 1950s. While this particular variant goes by the official name of ‘AMX-US’, there are many other unofficial names, including ‘AMX-13 Chaffee’ – as it was known by troops – or ‘AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee (with Chaffee Turret)’.

Just a small number of these vehicles were produced. They initially found service in French Military Units tasked with policing colonies such as Algeria. They eventually found use as driver training vehicles once they were discharged from frontline service.

Two AMX-US’, ‘Lamarck’ and ‘Lagalissoniere’, sit side by side in Algeria in the early 1960s. The AMX-US was a convenient improvisation, ‘mating’ the new AMX-13 hull, with the older turret of the M24 Chaffee. Photo: chars-francais.net

French Chaffees

After the Second World War, France’s armored force consisted, almost entirely, of US-built vehicles, such as the M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing, and M24 Chaffee (among others). France received these vehicles as aid as part of the Marshall Plan and the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (MDAA). These aid pacts also financed the reconstruction of France’s economy and armed forces from 1948 until the late 1950s. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born, resulting in the United States extending the MDAA. This resulted in France receiving newer vehicles, such as the M47 Patton II tank.

In total, France would operate around 1,250 M24s which were identical to their US counterparts. It was a small tank at 5.45 meters (16 ft 4 in) long, 2.84 meters (9ft 4in) wide, and 2.61 meters (9ft 3in) tall. It weighed 16.6 tonnes (18.37 tons), utilized a torsion bar suspension, and was armed with a 75 mm gun. The tank had a 5 man crew: Commander, Gunner, Loader, Driver, Bow Gunner. The ‘Chaffee’ was named after WWI US Army General, Adna R. Chaffee Jr.

The French Army deployed its M24 in both the 1954-1962 War in Algeria, and the 1946-1954 First Indochina War. It served with distinction in both theatres but would ultimately end up being fully replaced by the AMX-13.

M24 Chaffee of the French Army’s 3rd Company, 1st Light cavalry Regiment (3/1 RCC), in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam. Photo: Osprey Publishing

The AMX-13

Designed and built by Atelier d’Issy les Moulineaux or ‘AMX’, the officially titled Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51 (Tank, 13 tonnes, 75mm gun, model of 1951) – often shortened to Mle 51, was more commonly known as the ‘AMX-13’. The tank was designed in the late 1940s and appeared in service in the early 1950s. It was designed to be a lightweight, highly mobile tank destroyer that could also perform the reconnaissance tasks of a light tank.

It was lightly armored, with the toughest plates being just 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. Its main armament consisted of the 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50, often known simply as the CN 75-50 or SA-50. The design of this gun was derived from the powerful Second World War German KwK 42 gun mounted on the Panther. The gun was mounted in an innovative oscillating turret and was also fed via an autoloading system.

The AMX weighed in at around 13 tonnes (14 tons) and was 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in, with gun) long, 2.51 m (8 ft 3 in) wide, and 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in) tall. It was operated by a 3-man crew consisting of the Commander, Driver, and Gunner. The tank went through many upgrades with many variations based on its highly adaptable chassis. The French Military only retired the AMX in the 1980s, but many other nations retain it in service.

The Standard AMX-13 Light Tank or, as it is officially known, the Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51. Photo: weaponscollection.com

Char Meets Chaffee

In 1956, DEFA and the French Military were investigating ways to efficiently upgrade the aging Light Tank M24. Initially, this led to the mating of the Mle 51’s FL-10 oscillating turret to the hull of the Chaffee. While cheap and feasible, this configuration never went further than trials. This was largely due to a perceived safety issue with the High-Explosive (HE) rounds fired by the CN 75-50 cannon. Inside the FL-10 turret, the CN 75-50 gun was fed via an automatic loading system, which was reloaded externally. If an alternate shell-type needed to be fired, HE, for example, it had to be loaded into the breach manually by the Commander. This was a tricky task in the tight confines of the turret on the standard AMX, made worse by the notoriously sensitive fuze of the HE rounds. This process would be even more dangerous on the smaller hull of the Chaffee. As a result, the inverse of this mounting was decided upon, mounting the Chaffee’s turret on the Mle 51’s hull.

M24 Chaffee hull fitted with the Mle 51’s (AMX-13’s) FL-10 Oscillating turret. This version of the mating of the two tanks was not pursued, largely due to the sensitivity of the fuses on the HE shells fired by the CN 75-50 gun. Photo: reddit

Avec Tourelle Chaffee

By 1957, work on the inverse of mounting the Chaffee turret to the AMX hull had begun. This was seen as a safer and easier alternative. It was also a convenient way of recycling useful Chaffee turrets by separating them from their worn hulls. It also created a vehicle lighter than the regular Chaffee, meaning it was easier to transport.

The M24 turrets went through very little modification for their installation, retaining all the same main features. The only modification necessary was the introduction of an adapter or ‘collar’ to the AMX hull’s turret ring. This was needed as the Chaffee turret had quite a deep basket. The collar granted the basket clearance from the hull floor for uninterrupted, full 360-degree rotation.

This photo shows what happened to these tanks once they were retired from active service. They were disarmed and became training vehicles. However, this photo also shows the adaptor ‘collar’ installed on the Mle 51s turret ring to allow the attachment of the Chaffee’s turret. Photo: chars-francais.net

Turret Details

The Chaffee turret was a standard design with a typical 3-man crew of the time: Gunner, Loader, and Commander. The Commander sat at the left rear of the turret under a vision-cupola, the gunner sat in front of him. The loader was located at the right-rear of the turret under his own hatch. Armor on the turret was 25 mm (.98 in) thick on all sides, with the gun mantlet being 38 mm (1.49 in) thick. 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 shell velocity was 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 weapons were also retained. This 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.

A regular M24 Chaffee (left) sits alongside a Mle 51 ‘Avec Tourelle Chaffee’. The Mle 51 is noticeably lower. Photo: chars-francais.net

The AMX Hull

Apart from the adaptor or ‘collar’, the AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, and forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.

Service

Trials with what would be designated the ‘AMX-US’ were undertaken between December 1959 and January 1960. The vehicle was well received, with an order for 150 conversions being placed by the French military in March 1960. Conversion work was carried out at a plant in Gien, North-Central France.

A French tank platoon consisting of 3 AMX-US’ and a single M8 HMC enter an urban area in Algeria during the conflict. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

The AMX-US was operated by a four-man crew, as opposed to the three-man crew of the standard Mle 51, due to the three-man turret of the Chaffee. The AMX-US saw brief service in the War in Algeria – otherwise known as the Algerian War of Independence or Algerian Revolution. They served well, but a few were lost in combat. One known operator was the 9e Régiment de Hussards (9th Hussar Regiment) based in Oran. There is no evidence to suggest they served in any other location with the French military, such as in France or West Germany based regiments.

After the conflict in Algeria, the vehicles were returned to France. They did not last long in active service after this, with many vehicles being repurposed into driver trainers. For this, the vehicles were disarmed, with the 75 mm gun and mantlet removed from the turret face. In its place, a large plexiglass windscreen was installed. In this capacity, the AMX-US stayed in service until the 1980s, when they were finally completely retired. After this, many were ‘sentenced to death’ as range targets or simply scrapped.

An AMX-US Driver Trainer with removed armament. Photo: chars-francais.net

Conclusion

The AMX-US is an example of an effective improvisation. It ‘mated’ old technology with new technology, creating a cheap yet effective light tank that did its job without issue. It also solved the problem of what to do with useful surplus and excess material. An interesting observation is that this is the only AMX-based upgrade or conversion that resulted in the hull being used and not the turret – apart from the AMX-13 (FL-11). The M4/FL-10 is a successful example of this.

Due to the AMX-US’ fate, the vehicles are now extremely rare, with almost none surviving. Some, however, do still sit rusting away on military ranges.

The crew of two AMX-US tanks take a break in Algeria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


AMX-US ‘Lamarck’ during the Algerian Conflict of the early 1960s. The combination of the Mle 51’s hull with the M24 Chaffee’s turret was achieved with a simple adaptor ‘collar’ placed on the turret ring.


When they were retired from active service, many AMX-US’ were turned into driver trainers. They were completely disarmed, with a large window on the front of the turret replacing the gun and mantlet.

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.36m (4.88m without gun) x 2.5m x 2.3m
(20’9″ (16’0″) x 8’2″ x 7’5″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle-ready Aprx. 15 tons
Crew 4 (Commander, Loader, Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion Renault gasoline, 8-cylinder water-cooled 250 hp
Suspension Torsion arms
Maximum speed 60 km/h (40 mph)
Range (road) 400 km (250 mi)
Armament 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6
.30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun
.50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun
Armor Hull 40 mm (1.57 in), turret 38 mm (1.49 in)
Production 150

Sources

M. P. Robinson, Peter Lau, Guy Gibeau, Images of War: The AMX 13 Light Tank: A Complete History, Pen & Sword Publishing, 2019.
Olivier Carneau, Jan Horãk, František Kořãn, AMX-13 Family in Detail, Wings & Wheels Publications.
Steven J. Zaloga, New Vanguard #77: M24 Chaffee Light Tank 1943-85, Osprey Publishing
Jim Mesko, M24 Chaffee in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications
www.chars-francais.net


Categories
Cold War British Other Vehicles

FV4003 Centurion AVRE

United Kingdom (1955)
Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) – Aprx. 40 Built

In 1944, a new type of armored vehicle, designed specifically for use by the Royal Engineers (RE), entered service. This was the Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers). It was based on the Mk. III and IV model of the Infantry Tank, and was famously armed with the devastating 290 mm Petard Mortar.

The Churchill AVRE served honorably throughout the Second World War as part of the 79th Armoured Division, famous for being the home of ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. In 1947, it underwent a limited upgrade program based on the Churchill Mk.VII. This vehicle was designated the FV3903 and was armed with a new 165 mm Demolition Gun. By the mid-1950s, however, the Churchill was obsolete and the Royal Engineers were in need of a new, modern vehicle.

In the late 1940s, the British Army’s new Universal Tank, the FV4007 Centurion, entered service. In 1953, the Engineers’ needs were answered in the form of this new vehicle. At the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) in Chertsey, design work began on a new generation of AVRE (The nomenclature now being ‘Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers’), based on the Centurion. Once designs were approved, production began with the AVREs based on the Mk. 5 Centurion.

The Centurion AVRE. This is a preserved example kept at the Norfolk Tank Museum. Photo: Norfolk Tank Museum.

The Mk. 5 Centurion

At the time of the Centurion AVRE’s development, the Mk. 5 gun tank was a brand new tank, only entering service in the summer of 1955. The biggest difference between this model and its predecessors was a change in coaxial machine guns. The BESA 7.92 mm machine gun had been used on British tanks since the Second World War, but in an effort to standardize ammunition types, it was replaced by the American Browning 7.62 mm (.30 Cal).

In all other major aspects, the Mk. 5 was almost identical to the Mk. 3. The standard main armament of the Mk. 5 consisted of the Ordnance QF 20-Pounder (84mm) gun. It had armor from 51 mm up to 152 mm thick. The vehicle was powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine producing 650 hp and giving the tank a top speed of 22 mph (35 km/h). The tank’s weight of 51 tons was supported on a Horstmann suspension with three two-wheel bogies per-side. The Centurion had a 4 man crew, consisting of commander, gunner, loader and driver. The fact that this variant was based on the Mk.5 tank led it to sometimes being called the ‘Centurion Mk. 5 AVRE’.

Development

Obviously, the Centurion AVRE carried much the same equipment as its Churchill predecessor. This included a dozer blade, fascines (large bundles of branches or pipes to fill in a trench) and, of course, a powerful demolition gun. After designs were finalized at the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE), trials were undertaken in 1954. A standard Centurion was used to test the chassis with the additional weight of a load of fascines and other equipment. The design met the approval of the War Office in July of 1955, and the first prototype Centurion AVRE was delivered to the FVRDE in August 1957.

165mm L9A1 Demolition Gun

Though the 290 mm Petard Mortar of the Churchill AVRE was an extremely powerful demolition weapon, it had had a few flaws. Namely, a limited range of just 100 yards (91 meters) and the fact that the weapon was loaded externally.

Close up of the L9 gun on ‘Bombastic’, a surviving AVRE preserved at the Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, UK. Photo: Authors own.

The Petard was replaced by the Ordnance BL 165mm (6.5 in) L9A1 Demolition Gun. This weapon was a vast improvement over the Petard in both respects. It was breech loaded and had a vastly improved range. The gun fired a 64 lb (29 kg) High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) shell up to 2,400 m (2,600 yds). The gun was reportedly accurate enough to blast a bridge girder at 600 yards (549 meters) or hit a pillbox or bunker at 1400 yards (1280 meters). At greater ranges, it was an effective Area-Of-Effect (AOE) weapon. The gun could elevate 20 degrees, and depress 10 degrees, though depression was limited over the engine deck.

The shell contained around 32 lbs (14.5 kgs) of PE4 explosives, equivalent to six 120mm HESH rounds. The round had no shell case in the traditional sense. Instead, the charge was placed inside a perforated base connected directly to the warhead and remained attached to the projectile as it flew. The gun and shell were never intended for use as an Anti-Armor weapon. This is not to say that a 165 mm HESH round from the L9 wouldn’t have been able to do so in an emergency, but it was never meant for that purpose.

Cross-section of a 165mm HESH shell. Photo: David Lister

Equipment

The role of the Centurion was much the same as the original Churchill. As well as its demolition gun, the AVRE carried a vast array of battlefield engineering equipment.

Fascines

Just like the Churchill before it, the Centurion could carry a large fascine over its front end in a cradle mounted on the upper glacis. Fascines had been carried by tanks since their earliest days on the devastated battlefields of the First World War, most notably at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. Fascines are used to fill wide trenches or ditches to allow tanks to cross. They are usually fabricated from brushwood, bound tightly together into a cylinder. These wooden fascines were 8-10 feet (2.4 – 3 meters) in diameter, and up to 16 feet (4.8 meters) wide. They were heavy at six to seven tons, increasing by an extra ton when wet. They also had the effect of damming when placed in boggy ground or in a stream. This was not ideal as it caused the bundle to shift or even float away. The Royal Engineers soon developed a new type, fabricated from large sections of PVC piping. This new type only weighed around two tons, and fixed the damming issue as water passed straight through the pipes.

The new PVC pipe fascine. They were also known as ‘Maxi-pipes”. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The fascine was held in place by cables connected to explosive blow-off pins with the turret traversed to the rear. Carrying the fascine, the vehicle was limited to a speed of 10 mph. Usually, the commander would have to sit atop the turret to guide the driver. This precarious option was rarely used, however, as the driver had suitable vision under the bundle. The technique to deploy the fascine was to drive up to the ditch and brake sharply, simultaneously setting off the blast pins. The inertia of the braking would thereby propel the fascine off the front of the tank and into the ditch.

Dozer Blade

This hydraulically operated dozer blade was shared by the FV4019 Centurion Mk. 5 Dozer, and was made by T.B. Pearsons Limited of Newcastle. It was a standard part of the AVRE’s loadout, being permanently fitted to almost every vehicle. However, they were sometimes removed to make way for mine clearing plows. The blade was fitted directly to the upper glacis at the front of the Centurion. In its raised position, the Dozer had the added bonus of acting as extra armor.

The large dozer blade of the AVRE was the same as the blade on the Centurion Mk. 5 Dozer. Above it can be seen the fascine cradle. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The blade had an output capacity of 30 cu yds (23 cu m) per hour and was used for a number of tasks. These included carving out hull-down positions for gun tanks (this could be achieved within 7 minutes), digging gun emplacements, route denial (creating and filling anti-tank ditches), and improving bridge approaches. It could also be used aggressively to push barricades or debris from the path of attacking allies, and even clear inert and unexploded mines. The blade was also used to flatten ground for the application of Class 60 Trackway by ‘back-blading’, dragging the blade back over the ground to grade a uniform surface for the roadway to lie on.

12 BA 55, a preserved AVRE at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight, UK. Note the attachment points on the lower glacis for the Dozer blade at the front of the tank. Also, note the cradle for the fascine atop the upper glacis. Photo: Author’s own

Class 60 Trackway

An extremely versatile piece of kit, this portable metal matting could be used for a number of roles. These included forming a safe bridge approach, helicopter landing pad, stable road over boggy or soft ground, and a safe riverbank exit. The trackway was carried in the same cradle used by the fascine and was deployed in the same manner.

Towed Equipment

Trailer

The AVRE could haul a 7½-ton four-wheel trailer designed to carry a fascine roll, two rolls of Class 60 Trackway, demolition charges, No. 7 Anti-Tank mines, RDD (Radiological Dispersal Device) explosives, and other engineering equipment. The trailer could traverse any terrain the tank could, without hindering it. It could be jettisoned when required via an exploding pin in the jointed towing hook.

The 7½-ton four-wheel trailer carrying two rolls of Class 60 Trackway. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Barmine Mechanical Minelayer

Two of these devices could be towed by the AVRE. These were attached to the back of the trailer for mine laying operations. The trailer could carry and deploy 864 mines, compared to the 114 of the FV432 APC when it was fitted with the minelayer.

Giant Viper

Another trailer borne-device which was towed by the AVRE. A development of the World War Two ‘Conger’, the ‘Giant Viper’ was a mine clearing device used to clear large areas of explosive devices such as IED’s or landmines or clear a path through barbed wire. The Viper was mounted on a trailer that was towed by the tank. It consisted of a 750ft (229 m) long, 2 ⅝ inches (6.6 cm) diameter hose filled with plastic explosives. The Viper would be launched over the tank via a cluster of eight rocket motors, then landing in the area that had to be cleared and exploding. The blast would clear a pathway 24ft (7.3m) wide and 600 ft (183 m) long. The device was carried on the back of a unique two-wheel trailer.

The Giant Viper trailer. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Designations

There would be two variants of the Centurion AVRE. These were the standard 165 mm Demolition gun armed version, known as the Centurion 165 AVRE, and the 105 mm L7 armed Centurion 105 AVRE. Both vehicles shared common AVRE equipment.

The 105 AVREs appeared in the early 1980s and were based on Mk. 12 Centurions, apart from a solitary Mk. 13 used for tests. There were two versions, the standard AVRE Mk. 12, and the AVRE Mk. 12 H (H for Hydraulic). These versions were equipped with hydraulic systems that allowed them to use the Dozer Blade or Mine Plough. The standard Mk. 12 AVREs could only carry the Mine Plough. They retained the standard 105 mm L7 tank gun, but they were limited to just firing HESH rounds. This gave the 105 AVREs the ability to carry out the same demolition jobs like the 165 AVREs at a greater range, but with slightly less explosive power.

The 105 AVRE could still carry a fascine with the turret traversed. The standard Mk. 12s became specialized mine-clearing variants of the AVRE. Instead of the standard dozer blade, the tanks were fitted with track-width mine ploughs. The AVRE would use this in conjunction with the Giant Viper. The AVRE, with mine plow lowered, would drive the path cleared by the Viper’s detonation. The turret would be traversed so the gun was off to one side or positioned over the engine deck to protect it from any detonations. The plough would push any unexploded or pressure-insensitive mines to the side of the path, out of the way of following allied armor.

The Centurion 105 AVRE outfitted for anti-mine operations with Giant Viper trailer and mine plow. As this is a demonstratory photo, the turret remains pointed forwards. In actual operation, the turret would be turned away from any possible explosions. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Service

Trials with the Centurion AVRE began in February 1962. It finally entered service with the Royal Engineers in 1963 alongside the FV3903 Churchill AVRE, as it gradually took its place. It was assigned to the three Armoured Engineer Squadrons of the 32nd Assault Engineer Regiment. These consisted of the 26th, 31st, and 77th Armoured Engineer Squadrons. Originally, each squadron’s arsenal consisted of three AVREs (105s and 165s), two Centurion Bridge Layers and a troop of four FV4016 Centurion ARKs (Armoured Ramp Carriers). This would later become more flexible to suit the tactical situation at hand. The AVRE’s roots in the 79th Armoured Division and ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ were never forgotten. To this end, most of, if not all of the Centurions had the famous Bulls Head insignia of the 79th applied somewhere on their armor.

Only the British Army would ever use the Centurion AVRE. It took part in annual training exercises in the UK, Germany, and even BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Canada. It famously saw action in ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, and later in the First Gulf War in the 1990s. It is these situations that will be focussed on in this article.

AVRE of the 32nd Armoured Engineers, part of the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine). Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Operation Motorman

In response to the ‘Bloody Friday’ bombings of Belfast, the British Army initiated Operation Motorman. The aim of the operation was to take back the ‘no-go’ areas in Irish Nationalist (A group that wanted Ireland to be a unified country, free from the rule of the UK) communities and dismantle the barricades that surrounded them. Barricades had sprung up in many Northern Irish Communities in response to sectarian attacks. The Irish Nationalists built barricades in their communities to defend from attacks by Loyalists (A group that wanted Northern Ireland to remain British) and to deny access by the Police force in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Although some Loyalist communities also erected barricades, the most famous ‘no-go’ area was in the Bogside neighborhood of Londonderry, known simply at the time as ‘Derry’ to the Nationalist community.

Preparation for the commencement of Operation Motorman started with the drafting in of an extra 4,000 troops. This brought the estimated total of troops in the area to 21,000, including 27 infantry and two armoured battalions. With the cover of darkness, HMS Fearless, an amphibious assault ship, unloaded a number of Centurion AVREs with Dozer Blades ready.

Centurion AVRE of the Royal Engineers traverses the debris left by the destruction of the Nationalist barricades in the Creggan Estate of Londonderry. The AVREs never fired a shot from their 165 mm guns, which remained fully traversed and under their protective canvas covers. Photo: Ed Francis

At 4 am on the morning of 31st July 1972, the Army moved into all ‘no-go’ areas. The AVREs would not fire a shot during the operation. Instead, they advanced with turrets fully traversed and used their heavy dozer blades to smash through the barricades. They then swept a path through the debris, pushing brickwork, bollards, concrete metal scrap, and even cars from the roads of the neighborhoods, clearing the way for the Army’s smaller wheeled armored vehicles.

The operation was intended to be a bloodless one as, knowing they were outgunned and outnumbered, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) had mostly fled the areas putting up little resistance. Unfortunately, two local teenagers were shot and killed which, regardless of the circumstances, simply further inflamed the community. However, the operation did substantially quell the levels of violence in the province.

An AVRE passes an FV604 Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV) – a variant of the FV603 Saracen – on an estate in Belfast. Photo: Belfast Telegraph

Gulf War

The AVRE remained in service long after its gun tank cousins had been retired by the British Army. The Centurion AVRE was still a key part of the Royal Engineer’s arsenal in the early 1990s. By this time, however, it was a struggle to keep them going due to lack of spare parts, and the age of the vehicles. Some were almost 40 years old at this point. Units operating them became known as the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. Even so, 12 Centurion AVRE’s were sent to the Gulf for Operation Granby, the codename given to British operations in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It is known that one of the Centurions that went to the Gulf had also been part of Operation Motorman some 19 years prior.

With the expectation that the Armoured Engineers would lead the charge against the Iraqi Army’s formidable field fortifications and anti-tank defenses, the AVRE were drastically up-armored. This was one of the first tasks undertaken by the Engineers. Explosive-Reactive Armor (ERA) was applied all over the front half of the vehicle in an attempt to defend it against most of the enemy’s anti-tank weapons. In the event, the breaching would actually be achieved by the United States 1st Infantry Division.

AVRE with added ERA armor is worked on in a maintenance area. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The second task undertaken by the Engineers was training to operate the 165 mm gun. Because of safety regulations, the 165 mm on the AVREs had not been fired under-armor (from inside) since the late 1960s. Instead, the crew would load the gun while the tank was in a static position, and then fire via lanyard from outside. Due to an end of production of the 165 mm ammunition in the UK, stocks were low. To solve this, a number of AVREs were issued American 165 mm ammunition, usually issued to the M728 CEV (Combat Engineer Vehicle). The American ammunition was two inches longer than the British ammo, so storage became limited inside the tank.

The AVREs didn’t have the best of times in the Gulf. Three were lost in two separate training incidents, both involving vehicle fires and subsequent detonation of ammunition stored inside the tank. A single AVRE was destroyed in the first incident on 5th February 1991 and two were destroyed in the second incident on 6th February 1991. The incident on the 5th seems to have been caused by petrol fumes that ignited whilst cooking took place in the vehicle. The incident on the 6th was due to accidental ignition of the Giant Viper launch rockets while testing the firing circuits. There was a gigantic explosion, with debris flying hundreds of meters away. Fortunately, the crew only sustained minor injuries.

The catastrophic explosion that claimed two Centurion AVREs. Fortunately, no crew members were killed in the incident. It was claimed by some witnesses that road wheels were landing in artillery bases up to two miles away. Photo: SOURCE

In the event, the AVREs would never take part in a combat operation. After the cease-fire, however, they did take part in an important mission. The Multa Pass, North of Kuwait, was the Main Supply Route (MSR) to the Northern Border with Iraq and it was heavily blocked with wrecks of tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, civilian vehicles, rubble, and all kinds of unexploded ordnance thanks to numerous attacks by marauding US A-10 Warthog ground-attack aircraft. All other routes were compromised as there were minefields everywhere on the side of the Basra Road connecting Kuwait City to Iraq. Centurions were dispatched to the area as well as Chieftain AVREs. The Chieftains were used to haul vehicles that were still able to roll out of the area, while the AVREs were used to shunt armored vehicles around with crew under armor just in case they ‘cooked-off’ (ammunition blew). The US Graves service was supposed to have cleared the area of the dead, but numerous corpses littered the site. For example, when one of the Centurions tipped over a mangled bus, 30 bodies of people attempting to hide from the A-10 strikes were exposed.

The old engineering workhorses completed the grisly task, and the crews were commended for their work. It was the last military operation undertaken by the Centurion AVREs.

‘Easy Posse’ shunts a wreck of a T-54 off the highway. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Fate

Upon their return from the Gulf, the AVREs were gradually phased out. By 1992, both 165 and 105 AVREs had been retired. The AVREs had extended the service life of the Centurion to 45 years. Only the Centurion BARV (Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle) exceeded this lifetime, remaining in service until 2003.

The Centurion AVRE would be replaced in service by the Chieftain AVRE, also known as the ‘CHAVRE’, which started life in 1989. The CHAVRE was however, unarmed, making the Centurion the last armed AVRE to serve in the British Army. It continued to carry fascines, trackway and also retained the ability to clear mines and tow heavy loads. The CHAVRE also served in the Gulf alongside the Centurion.

Fortunately, a number of AVREs do survive in a number of museums across the UK. One can be found in the desert colors of the 1990-1991 Gulf War at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. The Norfolk Tank Museum has an almost pristine running example that they run at the ‘Armourfest’ festival. It has the ID number 02 BA 58 and is known to be a veteran of the Gulf War. Another AVRE can be found at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight. Its ID number is 12 BA 55. It is a Gulf War veteran and remains in Desert colors. One more AVRE can be found at the Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon. Their vehicle, named ‘Bombastic’ had survived action in the Gulf War, but while it was being craned onto a transport ship to head back the UK, a lifting lug broke and it plunged into the ocean. It was recovered, and some years later ended up in the Collection. Despite its salty bath, and its age, the vehicle is still running.

12 BA 55 at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight. Note the attachment points for the Dozer blade. The vehicle does retain the blade but is not attached when the vehicle is usually displayed inside the museum. It is often placed in front of it to present the illusion though. This photo was taken in May 2019, when the museum was going through a reshuffle. That is why it is outside. Photo: Author’s own
‘Bombastic’, Cobbaton Combat Collection’s preserved AVRE. Photo: Author’s own
An article by Mark Nash, assisted by David Lister



The standard Centurion AVRE entered service with the Royal Engineers (RE) in 1963. It was armed with the 165mm L9A1 Demolition Gun and equipped with a bulldozer blade. Also, note the fascine cradle on the bow.


A Centurion AVRE of the Royal Engineers as seen during Operation Motorman, Creggan Estate, Londonderry, Northern Ireland 1972. The L9 guns never fired a shot and only the tank’s dozer blades were used.


A Centurion 105 AVRE with mine-plow and Giant-Viper trailer. The 105 AVREs started to appear in the early-1980s. These variants of the AVREs were based on Mk. 12 Centurions and retained their 105mm L7 guns.


Centurion AVRE ‘Easy Posse’, Operation Granby, 1990-1991. The last operational use of the Centurion AVRE came during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The tanks were so old that units operating them became known as the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. While here, the tanks were up-armored with panels of Explosive-Reactive Armor (ERA) over the front of their hulls and turrets.

These four illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.82 m without gun x 3.39 m x 3 m
(25’7″ x 11’1″ x 9’87” ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 57.1 tons (114,200 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader).
Propulsion Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox 650 hp (480 kW), later BL 60, 695 bhp
Speed 48/30 km/h road/cross-country (29.82/18.64 mph)
Range/consumption 190 km (118 mi)
Armament 165 AVRE: 165mm L9 Demolition Gun, 105 AVRE: 105mm L7 gun.
One coaxial 7.62 mm L8A1 (0.3 in) machine-gun
Armor Turret front 7.6 in, glacis 4.72 in, sides 1.37 in (195/120/35 mm)
Ammunition used High explosive squash head (HESH), Armor-piercing discarding sabot (APDS)
Total production Aprx. 40

Resources & Links

Account of ‘Operation Motorman’ (PDF)
www.militaryimages.net
norfolktankmuseum.co.uk
www.arrse.co.uk
Shortest Gap, Story of the Armoured Engineer Vehicles of the Royal Engineers, Micheal Osbourne
Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Images of War Special: The Centurion Tank, Pat Ware
Haynes Owners Workshop Manual, Centurion Main Battle Tank, 1946 to Present.
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #68: Centurion Universal Tank 1943-2003
Dorling Kindersley/The Tank Museum, The Tank Book: The Definitive Visual History of Armoured Vehicles
The Tank Museum, Bovington
The Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon
Imperial War Museum (IWM)


Categories
Irish Cold War

M113 APC in Irish Service (Congo Crisis, 1960 – 65)

IrelandRepublic of Ireland (1960-64)
Armored Personell Carrier – 6 Used

Militarily speaking, the Republic of Ireland is officially a ‘non-aligned state’. This means that the country is mostly neutral but it will engage an enemy if necessary, or if the country is threatened. The Republic of Ireland is, however, an extremely active member of the United Nations (UN), and has taken part in numerous UN peacekeeping missions.

In the early 1960s, Irish Troops, under the UN flag, fought with distinction during the Congo Crisis as part of UNOC (United Nations Operations in the Congo). It was during this time that the Irish would get a chance to utilize a small number of the ubiquitous American Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), the M113.

This poor quality photo is thought to be the only visual record of the M113’s in Irish use, in the Congo. The vehicle is parked next to three of Ireland’s own Ford Mk. VI Armoured Cars. The soldier crouching atop the nearest armored car is an Irish Serviceman. Photo: Sgt. John ‘chubby’ Griffin.

The M113

The M113 is one of the most famous armored personnel carriers ever built and continues to serve in not only the US Military but also in the inventory of many of the world’s militaries. The vehicle has been in service for 60 years, making it one of the longest-serving armored vehicles in history.

Developed and built by the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC), the M113 is a basic vehicle, little more than an armored box on tracks. It is 15 ft 11.5 in (4.8 m) long, 8 ft 9.7 in (2.6 m) wide, and 8 ft 2 in (2.5 m) tall. The vehicle’s structure is almost completely fabricated from aluminum, including the armor, which is between 0.4 and 1.4 inches (12 – 38 mm) thick. The vehicle started out with a Chrysler 75M petrol engine, although this would later be changed to a General Motors 6V53 diesel type. The power plant is located at the front of the vehicle, along with the transmission. The vehicle is supported by torsion bars connected to five road-wheels. The idler wheel is at the rear with the drive sprocket at the front.

The APC has a crew of two, a Driver and a Commander, who are located at the front of the vehicle, with a passenger compartment taking up the rear of the vehicle. Eleven passengers can be carried in the vehicle. The APC’s usual armament would be a single Browning M2 .50 Cal (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun, located at the commander’s position.

The American M113 Armored Personel Carrier (APC). Photo: Wikimedia

The Congo Crisis

The Congo Crisis (also known as the Congo Civil War) was a period of political unrest and violence which began in the Republic of Congo (the largest country in the center of the African Continent) in 1960. It began soon after the country gained its independence from Belgium.

In June 1960, Belgium negotiated mining rights with the future independent ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’. Within days of this, Congolese troops mutinied, demanding increased pay and removal of white officers. Belgium launched a military retaliation, resulting in the rebellion of more Congolese troops. Then, with Belgian support, Katanga seceded from the DRC. Congolese President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba asked and received a peacekeeping force from the United Nations (UN).

Five years of conflict would follow this, eventually resulting in the rise of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the rule of a dictator, and 100,000 deaths. This was also a proxy war between the USA and USSR. Both super-powers were supporting opposite sides during the conflict; the Congo was sympathetic to the Soviets, while the US favored the Kantangese due to its mineral exports, one being Uranium.

Irish Involvement

Irish troops arrived in the Congo between 1960 and 1961. Their most famous engagement during the conflict was the Siege of Jadotville on September 13th, 1961, when “A” Company, 35th Battalion (UN service) of the Irish Army UNOC contingent was attacked by Katangese forces. Despite a valiant, four-day stand, the Irish troops were overwhelmed. Remarkably, no Irish troops were killed in the battle, although they were all taken prisoner for a month.

Irish Ford Mk. VI Armoured Cars in the Congo: militaryimages.net

There were other Irish engagements during the conflict, such as the Ambush at Niemba in November 1960, and the Battle of the Tunnel in December 1961. A total of 6,000 Irish troops served in the Congo from 1960 to 1964. Of this number, 24 men lost their lives.

Irish M113s

The story behind Ireland’s procurement of the M113’s is not very well documented. While in the Congo, the Irish Contingent obtained six M113s. Allegedly, these vehicles were US Army vehicles, donated to the UNs armored vehicle inventory sent to the Congo. It is from here that the vehicles were subsequently loaned to the Irish. It is unknown as to when the UN received these M113s but it would have to have been after 1961, as that is when the vehicles first entered service with the US Military. The Congo Crisis, therefore, may well prove to be one of the first combat deployments of the M113. When the Irish deployment came to an end in 1964, the vehicles were returned to the UN inventory. The Irish would never use the M113 again, although it would become a staple UN vehicle.

The M113 would have been a quantum leap compared to what the Irish Military was used to at this time. It was the only tracked APC to ever see use by the Irish. The only previous experience the Irish had with a tracked APC-like vehicle would have been the long-outdated Universal ‘Bren’ Carrier which was, remarkably, only just leaving service with the Irish at the time of the Congo Crisis. The M113 was a far cry from the only armored vehicles that Irish Military deployed in the Congo, the archaic Ford Mk. VI Armoured Cars which had been in service since 1941. These were little more than Ford commercial trucks up-armored by the Irish military, who also installed a machine gun turret.

Due to a lack of photographic and literary records, it is unknown what markings would have adorned the M113s or whether it was even painted white like most UN vehicles. It is known that the US markings were painted over. There is no evidence to suggest that the Browning M2 .50 Cal (12.7 mm) machine gun being installed, though a .30 Cal (7.62mm) may have been.

Conclusion

The six M113s utilized by the Irish Contingent would be the only time an American-built combat vehicle would be used by any element of the Irish Military. The Ford Armoured Cars, despite their archaic nature, served the Irish well in the Congo. They may just have been little more than up-armored trucks with a mounted machine gun, but they were more than capable of dealing with an enemy armed almost exclusively with small arms and no heavy, or anti-tank, weaponry.

The blend of mobility and armor protection granted by the M113 were unparalleled by anything in Ireland’s own arsenal, which was still full of outdated vehicles such as the Universal Carrier and Comet tank. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Irish Military would have a modern Armoured Personel Carrier. This came in the shape of the wheeled 4×4 Panhard M3 VTT (Véhicule de Transport de Troupes) armored personnel carrier, a wheeled vehicle built by the French.

The M113 became a staple UN vehicle after the Congo, as this Canadian Operated vehicle shows. Photo: captmondo.com


The American M113. It is unknown what markings adorned the vehicle while it was in Irish use. All that is known is that the US markings were painted over, and the vehicle was without its Browning .50 Cal (12.7mm) Machine Gun. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Leander Jobse.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 4.86 x 2.68 x 2.50 m (15.11 x 8.97 x 8.2 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 12.3 tonnes (24,600 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Driver, 11 infantry)
Propulsion Detroit 6V53T, 6-cyl. diesel 275 hp (205 kW) P/w 22.36 hp/tonne
Transmission Allison TX-100-1 3-speed automatic
Maximum speed 42 mph (68 km/h) road/3.6 mph (5.8 kph) swimming
Suspensions Torsion bars
Range 300 miles/480 km
Armor Aluminum alloy 12–38 mm (0.47–1.50 in)
Used 6

Sources

Karl Martin, Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour since 1922
Adrian J. English, Irish Army Orders of Battle 1923-2004, Tiger Lily Publications,
Ralph A. Riccio, AFVs in Irish Service Since 1922, Mushroom Model Publications] www.theirishstory.com