Cold War British MBTs

FV4201 Chieftain

United Kingdom (1966)
Main battle tank – around 2,281 built

Introduction: Better than the “Cent”

The Chieftain was a development of the legendary Centurion, which introduced the world to the MBT concept in 1945, dominated the battlefield in the Middle East and imposed its main gun as “the” NATO standard during the Cold War. However, the fast pace of Soviet advance in ammunitions triggered a study for a new main battle tank aimed at exceeding all expectations and setting up a new reference for the Cold War. And in 1966, when it entered service, the Chieftain was, indeed, the most formidable main battle tank in the world. The Chieftain’s rifled Royal Ordnance L11A5 120 mm (4.72 in) gun was specifically tailored for it and also became the new NATO standard caliber. Its cross-country speed was better than that of the Centurion, and it could maintain it longer than the lighter Leopard I. The Chieftain also had the best protection of the time. The Chobham armor became a milestone in tank protection development.
Chieftain Mk.10 at Bovington
Chieftain Mark X at Bovington Tank Museum, England


The Chieftain originated from a British Leyland design of a new tank, dating as early as 1950, when the War Office requested a replacement for the Centurion, as the Medium Tank No 2. The Centurion itself was not seen as ideal in firepower since the arrival of Soviet heavy tanks armed with 120 mm (4.72 in) guns like the IS-3 and following models up to the T-10. The British Conqueror heavy tank (1955) tried to respond with a high velocity, long 120 mm (4.72 in) gun, but not surprisingly failed on the mobility aspect. The next tank had to have a heavier gun on a more mobile package.
Two main features had to be included, a brand new L11 120 mm (4.72 in) main gun, and protection by new thicker sloped armor, capable to sustain an impact from the new Soviet HEAT and improved AT rounds. It also had to be fitted with the new Leyland L60 engine.
For at least twenty years the “magic triangle” speed-armor-armament was not achieved as well as the Centurion had, because the new engine did not fill all expectations and the sheer weight of armor was not met by an adequate power-to-weight ratio. Although having excellent mobility, the Chieftain was the slowest of the three Cold War British MBTs. The Centurion before and especially the Challenger after, were faster.
Design of the Fv4201 started in 1958, and the first prototype was built in 1959. Six other prototypes and a pre-production series of 40 tanks followed from 1961 to 1963. It was eventually accepted for service in May 1963, officially designated the Chieftain Mark V MBT, accompanied by an order for the production of 770. In 1966 the first Mk.Is entered fully active service with the tank units.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Chieftain P5 prototype in 1962 (British Leyland).


The Chieftain emerged from a brand new hull and turret design. Apart from the tracks and some elements of the wheel train and some mechanical parts linked to the new engine, nothing was shared with the Centurion. The initial design combined some unique features, including a mantle-less turret, allowing superior depression angles. The turret was well sloped and roomy, allowing the loader, commander and gunner to be comfortably housed.
A large infra-red searchlight was installed on the left side of the turret. Smoke grenade launchers were mounted on the front of the turret, while the rear received a large gallery to house spare parts and magazines, acting as extra protection. Large storage bins were also mounted on the track covers, and after its introduction into service in 1966, side skirts were added to protect the main part of the tracks.
An old Mark I or II preserved at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, USA.


The Mk.I was equipped with the Leyland opposed-piston two-stroke diesel L60, an ingenious design for multi-fuel use. But this engine proved unreliable and not powerful enough to allow speeds even close to those achieved by the first Centurion, with an average 19-22 mph (30-35 km/h).
The particular feature of this engine was that, for good combustion, it needed the ignition delay be reduced, thus requiring the internal temperature inside the cylinder after compression to be higher than usual. Engine research started in 1952 and led, in 1956, to the adoption of a family of 6-cylinder opposed-piston engines, like the two-stroke truck diesel, the Rootes TS-3. The latter inspired the LM L60, but with a different mechanical layout. Whereas in the TS-3 pistons were connected by rocker levers to a single crankshaft, the L60 took the path of the 1930s Junkers Jumo diesel, with two crankshafts geared together. But this formula experienced substantial thermal stress problems.
The technical solution adopted for the diesel proved unfit for multifuel use and prevented it from reaching the planned output of 700 hp without consequences for the piston and cylinder lining. These issues and the overall weight resulted in a catastrophic 90% breakdown rate in exercises for the Mark I series, never really completely solved, but the output was raised in 1967. Later, additional armor and equipment added their own weight to the problem. In 1974, the newly introduced Belzona variant gave 850 hp, which was a great improvement compared to the original BL with 450 bhp. The final speed was around 48 km/h (30 mph) on road, but this was still below the Challenger performances and dictated a specific tactical use when operating in combination with the latter. With years of tactical exercises and well-understood limitations, the Chieftain proved a formidable asset in the British Army arsenal.
Chieftain Mk.I.
This powerplant’s output was passed to the rear drive sprockets, served by a supine driver’s “hot-shift” epicyclic gearbox. The weight was distributed among the six doubled roadwheels, three double return rollers and one idler per side. However, the suspension was the same Horstmann type as that of the Centurion, but poorly suited for the L-60 two-stroke diesel. The latter was specially developed for it, as an ideal engine to meet the contemporary demand for multi-fuel types, because of its opposed piston configuration. But this choice made it inherently troublesome, a fact which would appear later.
The Leyland L.60 diesel also mirrored the adoption, on the other side of the Channel, of the Hispano-Suiza HS 110 diesel for the contemporary French AMX-30. These engines helped achieve the 1957 NATO objective to run fuels ranging from light diesel to aviation high octane aviation gasoline (AVTAG/JP-4). But, in this case, refueling operations and training needed extra care, maintenance was an issue and combustion was sometimes difficult to achieve without delays, especially for 80 octane combat gasoline. The AMX-30 multifuel engine was equally troublesome in this respect.


The muzzle velocity and accuracy of the new main Royal Ordnance L11A5 rifled gun easily compensated for the early lack of mobility. It fired separated ammunition with fully combustible bagged propellant charges. The turret was fitted, since the beginning, with a coaxial L7 and later L8A1 7.62 mm (0.30 in) machine-gun, with a second one in commander’s cupola and a Marconi FV/GCE Mk.IV A cal.50 (12.7 mm) ranging gun was mounted over the main gun, capable of ranges up to 2400 meters (1.49 mi), but 1800 m (1.2 mi) was more usual. But at 2000+ meters machine guns cannot be used practically, and the gunner had to rely on visual magnification, his graduated sight and own skills. Ammunition comprised HESH (high explosive squash head) and APDS (armor-piercing discarding-sabot), with 62 rounds carried. It took more time to engage successive targets with it than with the contemporary fire control system of Leopard 1, which was based on an optical rangefinder.
All this and the development of other, more accurate means of determining the range of targets, confined the use of ranging machine guns to only three major types of tanks. The first of them was the Centurion, the improved 105 mm (4.13 in) gun versions having begun the use ranging machine guns in 1962. By then the 12.7 mm (0.5 in) ranging machine gun had also been adopted for the Chieftain, which was produced with it until the mid-1970s.


The Chieftain introduced a supine (reclining backward) driver position, allowing a heavily sloped front hull -and thus better protection- while remaining lower. The 1990s Chieftain incorporated the “Stillbrew” armor named after Colonel Still and John Brewer from the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE), the Improved Fire Control System (IFCS) and the Thermal Observation Gunnery Sight (TOGS). The NBC lining was continuously improved. The front armor, made of steel, had an equivalent thickness of 220 mm (8.66 in). Alternative armor versions were also tried, like the ROMOR-A armor kit, and the Varma passive/reactive explosive armor bricks. Major addition was the Stillbrew add-on package, covering a few areas of the turret, made of concrete with rubber blocks sealed with a plastic coating.
Stillbrew armor
Close-up of the Stillbrew armor (official documentation).

Turret features

The large rotating commander’s cupola had nine openings, a periscope, an infra-red projector with up to x8 magnification power and an alternative IR vision system. The commander’s sight had a unit power channel and the binocular periscope had x10 magnification (later x12 on the mark II and x15 on the Mark V). The turret’s main infrared range-finder was coupled with an armored searchlight with a maximum range of 0.93 miles (1.5 km). The interior was lined with a complete NBC system. Nine prismatics blocs/periscopes formed a completely separated ring mounted on ball bearings. The principal advantage of this was a substantial mass reduction of the cupola, which could scan the horizon independently of the turret.


A “low-tech”, more economical method of ballistic ranging was first developed for the Centurion and was also used by Chieftain gunners. It involved a modified 12.7 mm (0.5 in) machine gun to find the range by firing successive bursts in a precise pattern to calculate the trajectory. The gunner had to pick the corresponding mark appropriate to the type of gun ammunition to be fired, laying it on the target. The range of the target was so determined with a high degree of accuracy, also having the advantage of considering trunnion tilt and crosswinds.
However, it could disclose the position of the tank prematurely. Although simple and robust, it took a substantial time and precious time. This was not such a disadvantage at that time, as the T-54/55 and especially the T-62 had long reload and traverse times. In the 1980s it appeared as a “B-plan” in case of a failure of the other systems, as much faster and more precise electronic ballistics computers prevailed. Both the gunner and commander had a firing switch for the gun, while the commander had an override.


FV 4201 MBT specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 35’4″ (24’6″ without gun) x 11’5″ x 9’5″
(10.79m (7.51m) x 3.5m x 2.89m)
Total weight, battle ready 55 tons (11000 Ibs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader).
Propulsion British Leyland diesel BL 40, 450-650 bhp, later BL 60, 695 bhp
Speed 48/30 km/h road/cross-country (29.82/18.64 mph)
Range/consumption 500 km (310.68 mi)
Armament One L11A1 120 mm (4.7in) with Marconi cal.50 gun
One coaxial 7,62 mm L8A1 (0.3 NATO) machine-gun
One cupola mounted AA L37A1 7,62 (0.3 NATO) machine-gun
Armour turret front 7.6in, glacis 4.72in, sides 1.37in (195/120/35 mm)
Ammunition used Antipersonal HESH, armour-piercing APDS.
Total production 900 for Great Britain alone, up to 1381 export variants


The Chieftain remained front-line in British service until 1996 and its development went through 12 different marks and some additional submarks.
Outside an updated infrared/white light searchlight online with the gun for target illumination, the FCS evolved to a laser rangefinder. A digital computer was soon introduced to automatically set up the ballistic solution, preparing the respective offset laying for each target. There were also minor electronics or protection upgrades (new NBC lining), improved classified armor, Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight improved or upgraded to the Challenger I level. However, most of the evolution was aimed at solving the mobility issue, calling an upgraded powerplant.
Chieftain 900
The experimental Chieftain 900 with Chobham armour, which served as a testbed for the future Challenger-I.

  • The Mk.1 (1965) first batch of 40 pre-production vehicles was so underpowered that the whole lot was quickly re-affected for training duties.
  • The Mk.2 (1967) were fitted with a more powerful 650 hp engine.
  • The Mk.3 was fitted with additional equipments, dry-air cleaner element, modified No 15 Mk 2 commander cupola, upgraded engine and gave birth to Mk 3/2 (Improved electrical equipment and air cleaners), Mk 3/3 (ER RMG, laser rangefinder, 720bhp engine & modified NBC pack), Mk 3/3P (Iranian version), Mk 3G (Prototype with turret air-breathing for engine aspiration), and the Mk 3S (Mk 3/G with turret air-breathing and commander\’s firing switch).
  • The Mk.4 were two prototypes with increased fuel capacity and other minor modifications.
  • The Mk.5 (1970) was the final production (based on the 3/3) version with a new 850 bhp engine and improved NBC protection (turret bustle).
  • The Mk.6 (1979) was an upgraded version, a Mk 2 rebuilt to Mk 5 standards. All previous tanks were fitted to this new standard which introduced Clansman radios and many other improvements.
  • The Mk.7 was a Mk 3 rebuilt to Mk 5 standards. The 7/2c was supplied to Oman.
  • The Mk.8 was a Mk 3/3 rebuilt to Mk 5.
  • The Mk.9 was essentially a Mk.6 fitted with IFCS. including the fitting of new Clansman radios.
  • The Mk.10 (1985) were Mk.6 and Mk.7 fitted with IFCS & Stillbrew. The Stillbrew crew protection package was applied to the turret front and ring and became the new standard.
  • The Mk.11 (1988-1990) were Mk.8s fitted with IFCS, Stillbrew, No 11 NBC system, and TOGS. The TOGS (Thermal Observation and Gunnery System) was manufactured by Barr and Stroud and was completed by the addition of a laser range-finder.

Other Mk.12/13 upgrades were canceled as the Challenger II entered service. However the cancelled Iranian version that was used as the basis for the Challenger 1 MBT.
Chieftain Sabre
The experimental Chieftain Sabre SPAAG. (credits : jedsite).

Chieftain Tank Variants

Chieftain 900

This was a testbed for the Chobham armour. The hull glacis and sides, the turret, were entirely new, and this version formed the basis for the next generation of MBTs, the Challenger 1.

FV4204 ARV

This was an armed recovery and repair vehicle.


The bridge-layer version (designated n°8 to N°12 bridge) equipped with a scissors-type bridge. A Close Support Bridge System was also tested. The AVLB Mk 6 was a Chieftain Mk 1/4 converted with mountings for FWMP and fitted with additional armor.


The main combat engineering vehicle, used by the Royal British engineers.

Chieftain Marksman

This SPAAG was a twin-gun anti-aircraft version, with a Marconi Series 400 radar and swiss Oerlikon 35 mm autocannons. None was exported.

Chieftain Sabre

It was another SPAAG prototype, with a flat-plate turret, multi-angle front, tapering bustle, and a Twin barrel, 30mm, with multi-perforated muzzle-brakes.

Other prototypes

Outside the initial production prototypes PP1, G1 and GT, a mine clearer version kit was developed, as well as the Chieftain Casement Test Rig, the Chieftain SID (modifications set to reduce its signature), another tested the ROMOR-A armour kit, the Varma ERA set, or to test the Vickers/Air-Log Ltd Hydrostrut suspension.
Chieftain AVRE with the Royal 12th squadron of engineers, training in Canada.

Operators and service

The Chieftain, like the Centurion before, was largely exported to the Middle East, but failed to be adopted by any country within NATO, choosing the German leopard instead. The Chieftain was proven in combat and showed adaptability to upgrades such as overall improvement or for local modifications on the export market. A new commander’s cupola was devised, an uprated engine introduced and additional equipment added to make the Mk 3 variant. The final definitive Chieftain production model became the Mk 5 and these added NBC protection units at the turret bustle as well as further uprated engines.


An agreement was cancelled by the British Government in 1969, despite the efforts already put into the local adaptations of the tank for IDF, including the use of an improved hull-down firing capability which served the Israeli Centurions so well in 1967. However this development served as a blueprint for the creation of the Merkava, led by General Israel Tal, largely involved in the local Chieftain project.

Jordanian Chieftains

The first main export variant was the Khalid Shir (Lion) also known as the 40302PJ for Jordan, which included the running gear of the Challenger Mk.I he Jordanian Shir 1 comprised 274 tropicalized tanks which were delivered from 1980 to 1985.

Iranian Chieftains

The FV4030/1 (Mark V 3P) was exported, then the Shir 2 (FV4030/3) which was a Jordanian Shir 1 (FV4030/2) upgraded at Leeds for Iran, with a reworked rear which allowed to mount the more recent Rolls Royce CV8 engine of the Challenger. The Shir 2 was basically an improvement of the Chieftain Mk.V built exclusively for Iran, which still remains today in first line service.
These were upgraded locally as the Mobarez package. Other variants of the Chieftain were sold to Iran from 1975 to 1979, with 707 Mark 3P and 5P, 125-189 FV-4030-1, 41 ARV and 14 AVLB being delivered before the revolution.
The Iranian Chieftain was used extensively in the Iran–Iraq War of 1980-88 apparently with mixed results resulting mostly of engine breakdowns. In early 1981 the Iranian Chieftains and M60A1 took part in the biggest tank battle of the war, loosing some 200 tanks while Iraq lost 50 T-62 tanks.

Iraqi Chieftains

About 50-75 Chieftains (ex-Kuwaitis) were in service with the Iraqi Army in 1990. They were later upgraded to Khalid-level (4030P2J) with Air-conditioning and reinforced armour, plus improved night vision. Their fate in 2001 is not known.

Kuwaiti Chieftains

Kuwait (267 from 1976 to 1995). The Kuwaiti 35th Armored Brigade saw heavy action at the Battle of the Bridges, against some elements of the Iraqi Hammurabi and Medina divisions. After crippling losses, they had to withdrew over the Saudi border and a total of 136 tanks were captured by Iraq. Apparently only 7 tanks managed to survive the war.
Omani Chieftains
Omani Chieftains in 1981.

Omani Chieftains

Oman took delivery of 27 Chieftains Vs, later upgraded to the Qayd Al Ardh standard fitted with L20 sight and Type 520 laser rangefinder. All these are still in first line service.

A test-bed for the Challenger

The Challenger was planned in 1985 to replace the Chieftain, but was largely based on the Chieftain FV4030/4, cancelled Iranian Shir 2 and late Chieftain 800, 900, 1000 and 2000. Technological improvements were mostly new electronic and numeric device and range-finders, communication system, ammunition loading, updated armour and a much more powerful Rolls-Royce engine.
The latter provided a much needed greater speed, although the mechanical gear train and hull were basically unchanged since the Chieftain. The first tanks were delivered in 1990.

Inside the Chieftain’s hatch

Inside a Chieftain Tank Mk2/3
Inside a Chieftain Tank Mk2/3. Gunner’s and commanders seat. The gunner had to rest his back against the commander’s legs. There was no back rest.
The main gun inside a Chieftain Tank Mk2/3
The main gun inside a Chieftain Tank Mk2/3 belonging to the Norfolk Tank Museum
Two-part ammo storage bins inside the Chieftain Tank
Two-part ammo storage bins inside the Chieftain Tank belonging to the Norfolk Tank Museum

Links about the Chieftain

The Chieftain MBT on Wikipedia
The FV4201 at
Norfolk Tank Museum


FV4201 prototype in 1965
FV 4201 prototype as delivered for trials in 1962. Notice the small commander cupola, absence of side skirts or thermal sleeve around the main gun.
40 fiest vehicles, 1965/1966
Chieftain Mk.1 main battle tank. The first production version were used until the year 2000 as training tanks.
Chieftain Mk.II with the standard 1976 OTAN two-tone green pattern used in Great Britain and Germany. Identification number and a small union jack were painted on the front glacis and forward track cover
Chieftain Mark 2.
chieftain Mk.3
Chieftain Mk.3 in the 1970s.
chieftain mkIII
The Chieftain Tank Mk.3 BAOR of the West Berlin infantry brigade in the 1980s, with this famous 1980s urban livery by Lt.Col. Clendon Daukes.
MkV early
Early Chieftain Mark 5 in manoeuvers in the 1970s.
MkV Belgium
Chieftain Mark 5 BAOR of the British Army stationed in belgium, 1979.
chieftain Mk.V 4th RTR
Chieftain Mk.7 from the 4th battalion Royal Tank Regiment stationed near Tilworth in 1984.
Chieftain Mark 10 BATUS British Army training unit at Suffield in the 1990s.
Chieftain Mark 11 BATUS (camouflage), equipped with TOGS, British Army training unit at Suffield, early 1990s.
Omani Chieftain
Omani Chieftain Mk.11
Shir I Al Khalid
Jordanian Shir-I Al-Khalid.
Shir II
Iranian Chieftain Mihr. Shir-II update.

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Cold War British MBTs

FV4007 Centurion

United Kingdom (1945)
Main battle tank – 4,423 built in all

Too late for WW2

The Centurion was simultaneously the last of the cruiser type and the first main battle tank. It was one of the most influential design in history, the embodiment of Darwinian evolution in solid cast steel, summed up in a few years of bloody fighting. Compared to prewar designs, like the Cruiser I, the incredible technological acceleration that culminated in the Centurion says it all. At the very roots of this evolution was the Christie suspension, the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun and late the German tanks designs. Just like the Soviet IS-3 and American M26 Pershing, the Centurion came too late for World War Two, but right on time as a precursor of today’s main battle tanks. Fifty years after, the Centurion is still around, in many shapes and colors.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Design of the A41

The Centurion was born as the A41 Cruiser tank, under the pen of the Directorate of Tank Design. It followed precise specifications that tried to erase faulty past designs and enhance durability, reliability, protection and mobility. For firepower, the 17 pounder still seemed up to the task of dealing with German heavy armor. Protection minimal specs included the ability to resist a frontal direct hit of an 88 mm (3.46 in) shell or the blast of a mine. All was to be encompassed within a strict 40-ton limit. In short, it had to be superior to the Comet, while retaining the same mobility.


The first step was creating a longer hull, with by the same set of long-travel five-wheel suspension, lengthened by a sixth pair. The original Christie suspension vertical spring coils sandwiched between side armor plates were replaced by a Hortsmann suspension. By nature, these were housed outside of the hull, allowing more internal space. So the entire roadwheel train was made of three bogies with two double-wheels each. The forward bogie set was further apart than the others. There were also six return rollers. The Hortsmann suspension, widely used before on the whole Vickers light tank series, had other advantages. They were easy to replace and to maintain, but they also procured a rougher ride. This time, contrary to the Comet where many elements were still bolted, the hull was entirely welded, with sloped front, sides and slightly less pronounced downslope at the rear. Drive sprockets were at the rear, near the engine, and idlers at the front. The tracks were made of a hundred and nine manganese steel links, each 24″ wide (60.7 cm). Total length with the gun was 29 ft (7.34 m) and 24 ft (6.1 m) hull alone.


The cast turret extremely thick, featuring an impressive 152 mm (5.98 in) of armor on the mantlet. The sides were also well sloped, 38 mm (1.5 in) thick, but additional protection was provided by the large storage boxes on the mudguards, the drivetrain and suspension on the lower part of the hull. The lower/upper hull plates were 76 mm (2.99 in) strong, hull rear was 38 mm (1.5 in), the frontal hull deck was 29 mm (1.14 in) and the engine deck 14 mm (0.55 in), while the hull floor was 17 mm (0.67 in) thick. The armor thickness for the turret front (without mantlet) was 127 mm (5 in), roof 25 mm (0.98 in), sides and rear 76 mm (2.99) and the bottom was 38 mm (1.5 in).


The turret was completely redesigned compared to the one on the Comet. It was partially cast, made roomier to accommodate a three-man crew and the latest development of the famed British 17 pounder. Another big difference was the 20 mm (0.79 in) Polsten cannon in an independent mount just on its left. The turret traverse was electric with a backup manual cranking wheel. The main gun had an elevation of 20 degrees and depression of 12. The turret ring size was 74″ (188 cm). Aiming was performed using No.43X3ML Mk2 optics. Provision for the main gun was 75 rounds, with an equal repartition of HE and AP shells.
The turret itself was a hexagon, with sloped upper parts. The basket was long enough to accommodate extra ammo. Additional storage boxes were mounted on later versions until the turret was loaded with a makeshift protection made of spare parts, metal boxes, tools and haversacks. The original Mark 1 turret featured two extra rear storage boxes on the sides. On the top was located the commander cupola, rotatable with six long prismatic blocs of plexiglass. It was closed by a twin-part hatch and surrounded by a railguide for an extra AA machine gun. At its right was located the gunner’s hatch, also in two parts. An escape round hatch was also placed on the right side. Fasteners were welded on the front and two rear basket corners.

Engine & transmission

To propel the expected 40 tons of this Cruiser, the Rolls Royce Meteor engine was chosen. It already equipped the Cromwell and Comet, was dependable and maintenance was easy due to the numbers of spare parts available and maintenance technicians already being familiarized with it. This version was the one produced by Rover-Tyseley (others were produced during the war by Meadows and Morris). It was derived from the world-famous Merlin engine which propelled the two best Allied fighters of the war, the Spitfire and the Mustang P-51.
To be adapted as the Meteor, the V-12 27-liter engine was stripped of its supercharger, reduction gear and other equipment, making it more compact and simpler to produce. Other major changes were the cast pistons (instead of forged), rate output reduced to 600 bhp (447 kW, 23 bhp/ton power-to-weight ratio) and fed by lower-octane pool petrol instead of usual high-octane aviation fuel. Another point was the light alloys cast parts replaced by more common, cheaper ones due to less important weight constraints. These engines gave both reliability and the extra power required for the task, perfectly completing the A41 design.
The transmission gearbox type was a Merrit-Brown Z.51.R with 5 forward and 2 reverse gears.


Preseries & Mark 1

In May 1941 a mockup, built by AEC Ltd, was shown to the general staff, followed by an order for twenty pilot vehicles armed with different combinations of weapons. These included:
– 5 equipped with a 17 pdr and 20 mm (0.79 in) Polsten gun, with a Besa machine gun in the turret rear
– 5 with the same armament as above and an escape door instead of the machine gun
– 5 with a 17 pdr gun, forward Besa machine-gun and rear escape door
– 5 with the new QF 77 mm (3.03 in) gun and a remote-operated hull machine gun for the driver.
The final weight was eventually 42.5 short tons (38.55 metric tons), two and a half short tons above the required limit. The ground pressure was 11 kg/cm2. This was due to the realization that providing sufficient armor protection against a direct hit from a German 88 mm (3.46 in) within the weight limits, was proven quite impossible in the later development phase. These limits were tailored for the maximum load allowed by the standard Mark I/II transport trailers. When it was clear for the war Ministry that there was no way to meet these limits without serious performance sacrifices, a new transport trailer was devised and the limits raised.
The final design incorporated a well-sloped armored glacis, 3 in (76 mm) thick. This was way better that the previous Cromwell and Comet, but still inferior to the 101-150 mm (3.98-5.9 in) of the Churchill, or even the 80 mm (3.15 in) of the Matilda II, a prewar design. But still, the effective thickness was much higher due to the high slope of the glacis plate.
The pilots underwent long trials sessions before production, and the A41 was quickly recognized as better than the Comet, previous cruisers or any other British tank design so far, rendering obsolete a late-attempt to produce an interim design based on the Churchill, the A43 Black Prince. It was capable of replacing both the Churchill and the Cruiser tanks, and was probably the first successful attempt to produce a true “universal tank”. Only the pilots and a few production vehicles were produced until 1945. Three were sent for extensive trials near to the front in Belgium in March-April 1945, too late for any operations.

The Mark 2

The Mark 1 was considered highly successful, but in 1946 the Soviet tank threat forced the devising of an up-armored version, known as the Mark 2, which featured a frontal plate thickness increased to 110 mm (4.33 in) and 56 mm (2.2 in) thick sides. It also had a newly designed fully cast turret. This vehicle quickly replaced the Mark 1 on the production line, as 800 were ordered in November 1945 from Leyland Motors, Vickers (Elswick), the Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds and Woolwich. The Centurion II entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment. After being replaced by the Mark 3, all Mark 1/2s were either converted as recovery vehicles or upgraded to the Mark 3 standard.

The Mark 3

This version introduced a brand new gun, the Ordnance QF 20 pounder (84 mm/3.3 in), providing far better accuracy due to a newly-developed fully automatic stabilization system. This allowed the gunner to fire on the move, as stated in prewar British doctrines, but rarely efficient. The rounds also were quite heavier and able to cope with the frontal protection of the T-34/85 and IS-2/IS-3. Little was known about the T-54 then. The second modification was the replacement of the Polsten 20 mm (0.79 in) by a much lighter standard 7.62 mm (0.3 in) Besa machine-gun. It was indeed shown that the Polsten was an unnecessarily large caliber to deal with regular infantry troops. There were also 2 stowage positions for the track links on the glacis. The Mark 3 was introduced in 1948 and production was higher than that of the Mark 2. They served in Korea extensively and proved somewhat more effective than the 90 mm (3.54 in) armed M26 Pershing and M46 Patton on the battlefield.

The Mark 5

The Mark 4 was an abandoned close-support version with a 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer, but the concept was proven ineffectual and never tried again. The Mark 5 however, was a new league of the Centurion development. It introduced a more powerful version of the Meteor engine, a new gun sight and gun stabilizer. The Mark 5 also had Browning machine guns fitted to the coaxial and commander’s cupola mounts, and stowage bins fitted on the glacis. The Mark 5/1 (FV4011) introduced an increase in frontal glacis thickness and a twin-arrangement of coaxial machine guns, one .30 cal (7.62 mm) Browning and one heavy .50 cal (12.7 mm) with tracers, used for ranging for the 20 pounder main gun.
The Mark 5/2 introduced the latest gun developed by the Royal Ordnance Factories. The famous L7 105 mm (4.13 in) gun. Outside of the caliber, this new rifled gun was much longer (L/52 or 52 calibers) and fitted with a bore evacuator. The breach had a horizontally-sliding breechblock. This L7 was first designed after tests performed against the T-54A, of which a single vehicle was captured on “British soil” -the British embassy in Budapest- driven there by its Hungarian crew during the revolution of 1956. The L7 became the staple of western main battle tanks gun, adopted by the upgraded US M60 and M1 Abrams, Germany’s Leopard, but also Japan, India, Israel and even China. It stayed in the first-line of the British inventory until the new L11 (120 mm/4.72 in rifled) was available.

From the Mark 6 to the Mark 13

The versions which followed up until the production ceased, and even after for the British Army, were more basic upgrades like the Mark 6, former Mark 5s & Mark 5/1s upgraded with the L7 gun, then IR equipment and ranging gun. The Mark 7 (FV4007) had revised engine decks, was up-armored and up-gunned, the Mark 8 had a resilient mantlet and new commander cupola, while the Mark 9 (FV 4015) had IR equipment fitted and ranging gun, and the following Marks were upgraded with the same equipment.
Mk.13 Centurion tank used by the British Army Royal Engineers now restored to working condition by Armourgeddon in the UK
Mk.13 Centurion tank used by the British Army Royal Engineers now restored to working condition by Armourgeddon in the UK


Some were mere prototypes, others were built in short series.

Self-Propelled Guns

  • FV4004 Conway (1951): an interim project armed with a 120 mm (4.72 in) L1 gun Mk.3, finally dropped in favor of the Conqueror.
  • FV4005 Stage I and 2 (1951-55): an experimental tank-destroyer fitted with the Ordnance L4 183 mm (7.2 in) gun. The Stage I had an open turret, while the second was enclosed. Only one prototype of each was ever built.
  • FV3802 (1954) & FV 3805 (1956): prototype SPGs, with 25 pdr or 5.5 in (139.7 mm) guns. The first was accepted in 1954, but the next FV 3805 was preferred and itself was dropped in favor of the FV 433 105 mm (4.13 in) SP Abbot.

FV3805 Centurion SPG
FV3805 Centurion SPG. Only one made. Currently being restored to running condition on the Isle of Wight, England

Royal Engineers Variants

  • FV4002 Centurion Bridgelayer: the standard model equipped with the Type 80 folding bridge. The AVLB was a Dutch-adapted version.
  • FV4003 Centurion AVRE (1963): designed for the Royal engineers, equipped with a 165 mm (6.5 in) demolition gun, a hydraulically operated dozer blade or a mine plough, could carry either fascine bundles, a metal trackway or tow the Viper mine-clearance system. This jack-of-all-trades was still in service in 1991. There were two types, the AVRE 105 (Combat Engineer Version armed with a 105 mm/4.13 in gun) and the AVRE 165 (165 mm/6.5 in L9A1).
  • FV4006 Centurion ARV Mk. 2 (1956): It was derived from Mk.I/II/III turretless vehicles fitted without (Mk.I) of with (Mk.II) a fixed superstructure housing a 90-ton lifting capacity winch.
  • FV4016 Centurion ARK (1963): Mark 5-based Armored Ramp Carrier, with a 75 feet (23 m) span, and could bear 80 tons of load.
  • FV4019 Centurion Mk 5 Bulldozer (1961): used the same kit as the standard AVRE. They equipped every squadron.

The FV4003 Centurion AVRE, armed with the 165mm L9 Demolition Gun. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Special Versions

  • FV4008 Duplex Drive Amphibious Landing Kit: This system consisted of twelve lightweight panels forming a jettisonable skirt and fixed floatable deck around the Centurion.
  • FV4018 Centurion BARV (1963): Beach Armored Recovery Vehicle, used by the Royal Marines until 2003.
  • “Low Profile” Centurion: fitted with a Teledyne low-profile turret (prototype).
  • MMWR Target: a late conversion for radar targeting exercises, possibly still in service.
  • Marksman: fitted with a Marksman air defense turret (prototype).


The Commonwealth

Australia and Canada both received their Centurions early on. The Australian ones saw heavy fighting in Vietnam, while the Canadians saw early action in Korea in the 1950s. Former Canadian Centurions were sold to Israel and are still in service, converted. New Zealand also acquired twelve of them, now retired.

The Europe

The Dutch, Swiss, Danes and Austrian armies all acquired Centurions tanks. Most of this export success was attributed to the laurels gained in Korea. They were all replaced in the eighties-nineties with Leopard I or Leopard II tanks. Former Austrian Centurions are now fixed blockhouses.
The case of Sweden
In 1953, the Royal Swedish army purchased 80 Mk. 3s (20 pdr) and in 1955, 160 Mk. 5s. However, their instrumentation had to be changed into the metric system and they swapped their original radios for Swedish ones. Since these vehicles pre-dated NATO standardization, they had to be made compliant later. These vehicles were called Stridsvagn 81. Another batch of 110 Mark 10s purchased in 1958 with the new L7, called Stridsvagn 101, also converted to NATO standards. By the 1960s, these vehicles were gradually updated to the Stridsvagn 102 (former Stvg 81s) and Strisdvagn 101R standards. The former was upgraded with the REMO system. Other upgrades Strisvagn 102R and 104 consisted of armor increase and Sho’t Kal Alef motorization. The 105 and 106 were prototypes. Earlier models were also converted into Bärgningsbandvagn 81 (Swedish ARV). These have been replaced by the local version of the Leopard 2, known as the Stridsvagn 122.

The Middle East

Egypt acquired some, but replaced them later with Soviet and US models. They saw combat in the 1967 war, against Israeli Centurions. Iraq also purchased some vehicles, but they were in reserve or deactivated before the First Gulf War (1991) and apparently never saw action against Iran in the 1980s. Jordan also acquired some vehicles, their chassis later re-used for the Temsah APC. Kuwait and Lebanon also used the Centurion for years. They are also now retired.
The case of Israel
The IDF owns a great deal to these vehicles, and adapted them as the Sho’t. They are now retired but played a crucial part of the nation’s early survival wars.
Many hulls were converted to the Nagmachon/Nagmashot heavy APCs, Nakpadon ARVs and Puma CEVs.


South Africa is the longest time user of this vehicle. South African Centurions were converted to a highly modernized version, with the help of IDF engineers and modernization kits. This became the Olifant, still in service today. Somalia also used some Cents (later used by Somaliland rebels) and for some time the Libyan Free Army fielded a Centurion AVRE 105 mm (4.13 in) from Jordan.


India also acquired Centurions Mk.7 (L7 gun), later replaced by the Vickers Mk.II. They saw intensive action during the Pakistani war of 1965. Singapore purchased sixty-three Centurion Mk. 3 and Mk. 7 from India in 1975, followed by others ex-Israeli Sho’t tanks in 1993. All have been upgraded to the latest IDF standards, under the name of “Tempest”, with a new main gun, diesel engines, and possibly reactive armor. Now retired from first-line service, they have just been replaced by Leopard 2SGs.

The Israeli Sho’t

The Israeli Army took the best the Centurion had to offer. The first purchase of Centurions Mk. 5, in the early sixties, arrived right in time to help improve an army which was until then equipped mostly with Sherman tanks and light French AMX-13s among other types. The Centurion was the IDF’s first and main battle tank for years, as it became legendary in 1967 and saw extensive modernization campaigns. The biggest change for the local Sho’t (Hebrew for “scourge” or “whip”), was the Continental AVDS-1790-2A diesel engine coupled with the Allison CD850-6 transmission (1970). The Sho’t Kal upgrade (1974) saw the introduction of Mk. 13 armor and pintle mount 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) HMG. The Kal Alef, Bet, Gimel and Dalet were upgrades for the turret rotating mechanism, gun stabilizer, fire-control system and ultimately a new ERA composite armor (Dalet). Now retired or sold, their chassis are still in use through conversions.

The South African Olifant

Probably the most far-reaching modernization of the venerable Centurion today. Initial orders were placed in the 1950s and additional vehicles were purchased later from Jordan and India. Due to ONU’s later trade embargo, the SAF government sought to modernize its existing machines. The IDF helped to create the Semel in 1974, a re-engineered version with an 810 hp fuel injection petrol model and semi-automatic transmission. It was followed by the Olifant Mk.I (1978), with a 750 hp diesel engine and semi-automatic transmission, then the Mk.IA (1985), with a laser rangefinder and image-intensifier. But the Olifant Mk.IB (1991) was a new league with completely new armor, hull, suspension, a V-12 950 hp diesel engine, a computerized fire control system and new laser rangefinder. The Mk.II is even more radical with a new turret, new fire control system and features a rifled 105 mm (4.13 in) GT-8 or a 120 mm (4.72 in) smooth bore main gun. They are still frontline today.

Battle records

Korean war 1951-1954

British Centurions from the Commonwealth divisions operated with certainly the best results of all allied AFVs present on the battlefield. Their 20-pdr could destroy any long-range targets with pinpoint accuracy. This started with the involvement of the British Army’s 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars which landed at Pusan, on 14 November 1950, followed by other units. Engagements included the Battle of the Imjin River in 1951 and the second Battle of the Hook in 1953. Their success led Allied CIC General John O’Daniel, to official praise the mobility of the Centurion fielded by the 8th Hussars in joint operations. They proved vastly superior to the Chinese or NK T-34/85s.
This is an example of the organisation of Centurion armed British units in the Korean War
8th Army, 29th Brigade (British)
Hq 8th Hussars – 4 Centurion Tanks
A Squadron – 20 Centurion Tanks
B Squadron – 20 Centurion Tanks
C Squadron – 20 Centurion Tanks
8th Army, 7th Royal Tank Regiment
C Squadron – 20 Centurion Tanks
Cooper Squadron – 14 Cromwell Tanks

Suez crisis 1956

British Centurion were deployed with some limitations due to high command’s initial hesitations on how to combine in the right proportions sea, air and land power projections. However General Hugh Stockwell firmly supported the idea of methodical and systematic armored operations served by the Centurion to gain a quick victory. The Royal Marines landed at Port Said on 5-6 November as well as the 6th Royal Tank Regiment, facing T-34s and SU-100s, quickly gaining the upper hand, with no losses.

Indian-Pakistani war of 1965

Four Indian Armored Regiments were equipped with the Centurion in 1965. At the Battles of Assal Uttar, Khem Karan, Phillora, Chawinda and others they proved superior to Pakistani M47 Pattons. Most of the Indian 32 losses at Assal Uttar alone were M4 Shermans while the Pakistanis lost nearly 70 Pattons. India’s Centurions were also committed to the liberation of Bangladesh (War of 1971).

In the Middle East

By the time the Six-Day War began, the IDF fielded 293 Centurions out of a total of 385 tanks. Their outstanding success was due to tactics, training and some luck, but they managed to destroy large numbers of enemy tanks and even some enemy Centurions, while managing to capture 30 of the 44 fielded by Jordan. But their fame really came during the battle of “The Valley of Tears” (Golan Heights, 1973 Yom Kippur War). Outnumbered one to five, they nevertheless managed to wipe out or repel the bulk of the Syrian army made of five hundred T-54/55 and T-62s. Modernized Sho’t tanks were also heavily engaged in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The actual Merkava MBT took a great deal on the Sho’t improvements and the Centurion itself.

The Vietnam war

Australia fielded Centurions with the 1st Armored Regiment (1949), based at Puckapunyal, Victoria. They replaced aging Churchills in 1952. They began their engagement with the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) arrived in 1967 at Nui Dat (Phuoc Tuy province). The first tank unit, C Squadron, arrived in February 1968, equipped with eight tanks, two dozer and two bridgelayer versions. Until August the squadron was reinforced until it reached a strength of 20 tanks, with some modifications. Until 1971 they had been heavily engaged, described by the troops and officers alike to be “worth their weight in gold”. It should be noted that a single Mk. 3 was tested in the 1953 nuclear test, now preserved at the Robertson Barracks in Palmerston as the “atomic tank”.

The Angolan Civil War (1975-2002)

SAF ground forces involved their newly-modernized Olifants, in various variants, in this protracted, 26 year conflict, although South Africa disengaged in 1989. Their most severe engagement came with the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, against Cuban supported MPLA’s forces, largely equipped with Soviet tanks.

Centurion’s reverence (1972-1991)

British forces operated Centurion variants, first in Operation Motorman in Ireland 1972, when 165 mm (6.5 in) AVREs equipped with dozer blades destroyed barricades set up by the IRA. Second, in the Falklands War, a single BARV was operated. Third, a single unit of British AVRE’s was deployed during Operation Desert Storm (1991).


Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.82 m without gun x 3.39 m x 3 m
(25’7″ x 11’1″ x 9’87”
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 One L7 105 mm (4.1 in) gun
One coaxial 7.62 mm L8A1 (0.3 in) machine-gun
One cupola mounted AA L37A1 7.62 mm (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 Antipersonal HESH, armor-piercing APDS
Total production 1,200 for Great Britain alone, up to 3,000 export variants

Links about the Centurion

The Centurion and variants on Wikipedia
About Australian Centurions in Vietnam
The Centurion tank at
Video: Centurion overhaul
Video: Israeli Sho\’t in action in 1967 (M Channel – Greatest Tank Battles)
Video: Australian Centurions in Vietnam (war footage archives)


Centurion Mk.10 of the Muckleburgh collection.Centurion alleged to be a Mark 10.British Centurion of an unknown type 11 or 13.Centurion Mark 13 at Tankfest.centurion turret details1st Australian Armored Regiment troops receiving a briefing, in front of Australian Centurions (Mk. 5), Vung Tau, 1968.Shot Kal Alef at the Batey ha-Osef museum, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2005IDF Sho't from the 7th Armored Brigade kept as memorial in the northern sector of the Valley of Tears (Oz 77), commemorating the epic fight at the Golan Heights, Yom Kippour war, 1973Oliphant in maneuvers, September 2008Gulf war AVRE 165 (FV 4003) in British service.Ex-IDF Centurion ARK bridgelayer at Latrun museumCenturion ARV Mk.2 of the Royal Armored Corps of EngineersIndian Centurion Mark 7 at the Officers Training Academy entrance, Chennai, IndiaFV 4005 at the Bovington museumMk3 Switzerland - Former Swiss Mark 3 at the Thun museum and army baseAustralian Centurion in VietnamAnother photo of the same. Notice the overall paint is a dark brownish olive greenUnknown Centurion Mark 13Centurion AVRE, 165 mm (6.5 in) mortar version, possibly used in the 1990 Gulf WarUnknown Mark at the Gunnery school entrance, Lulworth Camp, DorsetAVRE 165 mm (6.5 in), Cobbaton Tank Museum, 2007Dutch Centurion Luitenant Kolonel GPM, Cavalerie museum, Amersfoort, The Netherlands Another view of the sameCent of an upgraded Mk. 5 or later type from the Koninklijke Landmacht (Royal Dutch Army) at the Dutch Cavalry MuseumFormer Swedish Mark V at the Aalborg base.Swiss Centurion Mk. 7, at army base Thun>A side view of the same Swiss Mark 7.Dutch Mark 5-2 at Legermuseum Delft Museum.A turret detail of the same vehicle.

FV4401 prototype in 1945
FV 4401 prototype, testing in Germany, April 1945.
Mark II
Centurion Mark 2, 5th Royal Tank Regiment, without side skirts, 1947.
Mark III, 1st RTR, Korea 1953
Centurion Mk. 3 “Arromanches”, 3rd Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment, Commonwealth Division, Korea, 1953.
8th Kings Irish Hussars, Korea 1951
Mark 3 “Abbot’s pride” from the 8th King’s Irish Hussars in support of the 29th Infantry Brigade, Korea 1951.
Mk3 C Sqdn, 5th RDG Korea 52
Mk.3 from the C squadron, 5th Royal Dragoon Guards, Commonwealth division, winter 1951-52, Korea.
Mark 3 IDF 1967
Israeli Mk.3, Six-Day War, 1967.
Jordanian Mark 3 1967
Mk.3, from the Royal Jordanian Armored corps, Six-Day war, 1967. Other actions included the 1970 Syrian incursion and 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Mark III OTAN camo 1950s
Centurion Mk.3, unknown unit stationed in the UK, camouflaged in the regular NATO colors, late 1950s.
Mark V
Centurion Mk. 5, unknown unit stationed in the UK, in maneuvers, 1960.
Mark V
Camouflaged Mark 5 from the Royal Guards Hussars, early 1960s.
Viet Nam Mk V Australian
Australian Mark V in Vietnam, 1968.
IDF Sho\'t, based on the mark 5
Mark 5 based Israeli Sho\’t, Yom Kippur War, 1973.
Canadian Mark 5-2
Mark 5-1, 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise\’s) Exercise Holdfast, Northern Germany, September 1960.
Mk V-2
Canadian Mark 5-2, Lord Strathcona\’s Horses (Royal Canadians), Soltau, West Germany, September 1966.
Mark 6
Centurion Mark 6, unknown unit, England, 1970.

IDF Sho’t Kal from the second company, third batallion, Lebanon, 1982. The 12.7 mm (0.5 in) and two 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine guns provided extra firepower in urban warfare.
Indian Cent Mark 7
Indian Centurion Mark 7, left from the 1971 war with Pakistan, now at the Officers Training Academy at Chennai. This tank was apparently repainted recently with a three-tone livery.
Mark 7 urban camo
Mark 7 with a “what if” urban camouflage. There is no evidence any was painted this way.
Swedish Strv. 104, 1980s.
Can Mk8
Canadian Centurion Mark 8, with the three-tone camo of the 1970s.
Mark 10
British Centurion Mark 10, 1970s.
Netherland centurion
Dutch Centurion Mk. 5-2 upgraded to the Mk. 11 standard from the Huzaren Prins van Oranje unit.
Mark 11
British Centurion Mark 13, without thermal sleeve, but with a Chieftain cupola and LMPG.
Olifant Mk.IA
SADF Olifant Mark IA main battle tank, 1985.