Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

FV4005 – Heavy Anti-Tank, SP, No. 1 “Centaur”

United Kingdom (1950-57)
Heavy SP Anti-Tank Gun – One Stage 1, Two Stage 2s Built

In the late 1940s, the British War Office (WO) was concerned that – after the debut of the IS-3 in 1945 – the Soviet Union would continue to develop heavily armored tanks. As such, the War Office filed a requirement for the development of a gun capable of defeating a 60-degree sloped plate, 6 inches (152 mm) thick, at up to 2,000 yards (1,830 meters), and a suitable vehicle to carry it.

This requirement led to the development of the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183 mm, Tank, L4 Gun’, the largest purpose-built anti-tank gun to have ever been created. It was intended that this gun would be mounted on a new ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ based on the FV200 series chassis. This was designated the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183 mm Gun, FV215’.

A project was also launched to find a way to get the gun into action quickly on an existing hull. This could then be constructed quickly should the Cold War turn hot before the FV215 was ready.

This is where the FV4005 project comes in.

The FV4005 Stage 2, also unofficially known as ‘Centaur’. The two visible crew members give an idea of the scale of the gun. Photo: The Dark Age of Tanks, David Lister

The Quest for Firepower

The development of the L4 started in 1950, and was aimed at increasing the firepower of the ‘Heavy Gun Tanks’. This was a uniquely British designation that was not governed by tank weight, but the size of the gun. A requirement was formulated for a tank armed with a gun capable of defeating a 60-degree sloped plate, 6 inches (152 mm) thick, at up to 2,000 yards (1,830 meters), a feat impossible even for the powerful 120 mm L1 gun of the FV214 Conqueror. By 1950, Major General Stuart B. Rawlins, Director General of Artillery (D.G. of A.) had concluded that there was no gun available with that level of ballistic performance and an investigation was launched. Initially, the British Military looked at the development of a 155 mm gun that would be standardized with the USA. However, even this lacked the required punch and, as such, 6.5 and 7.2 inch (165 and 183 mm respectively) High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) shells were looked at.

At this time, the British Army came to the conclusion that a ‘kill’ did not necessarily mean the complete destruction of an enemy vehicle, and just damaging it was enough to take it out of action was enough. For example, a blown-off track is seen as a kill as it took the enemy vehicle out of action; today this is known as an ‘M’ (Mobility) kill. A ‘K’-Kill would be the destruction of a vehicle. The term used for this method at the time was ‘disruption not destruction’. The 6.5 in/165 mm HESH was not thought to be powerful enough to ‘kill’ a heavily armored target in this manner unless it hit bare armor plate. Attention, therefore, turned instead to the larger 7.2 in/183 mm shell which – Maj.Gen. Rawlins thought – would be powerful enough to render the target inoperable, and therefore ‘kill’ it, wherever it impacted.

The monstrous 183 mm L4 installed in the open-turret of the FV4005 ‘Stage 1’. The location appears to be ‘Workshop 5’ (the so-called ‘secret shed’ at Elswick) Photo: Ed Francis

The projected gun was designated the 180 mm ‘Lilywhite’. The background of this name is unknown. It may be an interpretation of the ‘Rainbow Code’ used by the WO to identify experimental projects. The ‘Red Cyclops’ flame gun attachment for the FV201, and the ‘Orange William’ experimental missile are examples of this. If this was the case, however, the name should be ‘White Lilly’. It may even simply be named after a Lieutenant Colonel Lilywhite of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. It must be said that this is all speculation, and no evidence currently exists to support the theory.

It was not until December 1952 that the designation of the gun was officially updated to 183 mm. The design of the gun was accepted and was serialized as the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183 mm, Tank, L4 Gun’. In reality, only the HESH shell underwent further development and the number of charges was dropped to one. The 183 mm L4 became one of the largest and most powerful tank guns in the world.

Background of the Project

From the start, the FV215 was the intended mount for the 183 mm gun, with development starting around the same time as the gun in 1950. The vehicle was based on the FV200 series chassis, with similarities to the FV214 Conqueror. The turret, however, was moved to the rear of the vehicle. The turret was capable of full 360-degree traverse, but it had a limited firing arc due to the size and power of the gun. This ‘Heavy Gun Tank’ would take a while to develop, so, in November 1950, the WO filed a requirement for a stop-gap vehicle capable of carrying the weapon into service should hostilities erupt before the completion of the FV215. A similar connection can be found with the Conqueror and the FV4004 Conway.

A developmental image of the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183 mm Gun, FV215’ – the intended carrier of the 183 mm L4 Gun. Photo: Rob Griffin, Conqueror

Following the end of General Rawlins’ investigation, and with some degree of urgency to get the 183 mm gun into service as quickly as possible, a carrier design was finalized, as this extract from a 1951 ‘AFV Development Report’ describes:

“A limited traverse, lightly armoured S.P. mounting based on the Centurion hull and weighing some 50 tons[*]. This would be known as F.V.4005 and could be in production by December 1952. Because of the use of parts in existing production, it was considered that quick limited production could be achieved. It was also clear that much would be learned about the hitherto unknown art of mounting so large a gun as an S.P. mounting.”

*50 long tons. Long tons are a unit of mass unique to the United Kingdom; for ease, it will be shortened to ton when used again. 1 long ton is equal to about 1.01 metric tonnes, or 1.12 US ‘Short’ tons.

The design of the vehicle would be held in limbo, ready to go into production if necessary. This stopgap vehicle would be based on the Centurion of the FV4000 series, with the original turret removed. The vehicle would go through two ‘Stages’ or ‘Schemes’. ‘Stage 1’ was built to test the gun and its mount on the Centurion chassis. The ‘Stage 2’ was a finalized design and would be the production standard. The vehicle was given the designation of ‘Heavy Anti-Tank, SP, No. 1’ – ‘SP’ standing for ‘Self-Propelled’. Officially, the FV4005 was never given the traditional British ‘C’ name such as the FV4101 Charioteer and FV4004 Conway before it. However, extensive account files of Vickers Ltd. from 1928 to 1959, shed some light on what it may have been. This particular extract – graciously provided by researcher Ed Francis – is from December 1952:

“Design and manufacture of equipment for mounting 180 mm gun on “CENTAUR” Tank – FV4005. Trials have now been carried out at Ridsdale and certain modifications to design have been found necessary… ”

In total three prototypes were ordered – a single Stage 1, and two Stage 2s. The FV4005 would fill the role of a ‘Heavy Gun Tank’. As such, the vehicle would engage targets from long-range, firing over the heads of attacking lighter tanks.

The Centurion Hull

The Centurion was chosen as the basis for this vehicle and three Mk. 3 hulls were removed from service for the prototype development. Other than the removal of the turret and various small additions, the hull would remain mostly unaltered. Armor on the hull remained the same thickness, with about 3 inches (76 mm) at roughly 60 degrees on the front slope. A 650 hp Rolls-Royce Meteor petrol engine, located at the rear of the vehicle, propelled the tank. The Centurion used a Horstmann style suspension, with 3 bogies per side carrying 2 wheels each. The drive sprocket was at the rear with the idler at the front. The driver was located at the front right of the hull.

The Centurion Mk. 3. The FV4005 prototypes were based on the hulls of Mk. 3s. Photo: super-hobby

Details of the 183 mm L4

Just a small number of the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183mm, Tank, L4 Gun’ were built, but it is unclear just how many. Records suggest at least 12 were built. Unfortunately, the exact length of the 183 mm gun is currently unknown, but it was somewhere in the region of 15 feet (4.5 meters) long. It was fully rifled with a large ‘bore-evacuator’ (fume extractor) placed roughly half-way down its length. The gun alone weighed 3.7 tons (3.75 tonnes).

High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) was the only ammunition type to be produced for the 183 mm gun. Both the shell and the propellant case were of gargantuan proportions. The shell weighed in at 160 lbs. (72.5 kg) and measured 29 ¾ inches (76 cm) long. The propellant case weighed 73 lbs. (33 kg) and measured 26.85 inches (68 cm) long. The case contained a single charge that propelled the shell to a velocity of 2,350 fps (716 m/s). When fired, the gun produced 86 tons (87 tonnes) of recoil force and had a recoil length of 2 ¼ feet (69 cm).

Artist’s representation of the 183 mm HESH shell and its propellent case, in scale with a 6 foot (1.83 meter) man, based on recorded dimensions. The markings and colour of the shell are purely speculative but are based on British markings of the time. Image produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s Mr. C. Ryan.

HESH shells have an advantage over regular kinetic energy rounds as their effectiveness does not decrease with distance. This shell works by creating a shockwave on detonation. Once this wave reaches a void, it reflects back. The point at which the waves cross causes tension feedback which rips apart the plate, carrying a scab with approximately half the kinetic energy forwards, scattering shrapnel around the interior of the target. Test firing of the L4 against a Conqueror and a Centurion proved how powerful the round was. In two shots, the 183 mm HESH shell blew the turret clean off the Centurion, and split the mantlet of the Conqueror in half. HESH could also serve as a dual-use round just as capable of engaging enemy armor as for use as a high-explosive round against buildings, enemy defensive positions, or soft-skinned targets.

Stage 1

In a 1951 Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division ‘AFV Development Report’ – regarding the development of an AFV mounting of the 183 mm gun – the ‘Stage’ or, ‘Scheme 1’ is described as such:

“Embodies a concentric recoil system in a mounting in trunnions on an undercarriage, the whole of which rests on the existing turret race rings. No crew protection is provided and one prototype only will be made to obtain experience of firing such a large gun from the Centurion hull.

It is anticipated that although all round traverse will be possible, firing will be confined to a limited angle forward on either side of the fore and aft line.

Prototype should be completed by 31st December, 1951”

The Stage 1 was built as a test vehicle, as such, it lacked a few components. On the Stage 1, a bespoke platform was constructed that was installed over the original turret ring. This platform was a solid floor, did not incorporate a basket, and was not, in any way, enclosed. The L4 gun was installed in a rigid mount and was completely fixed in elevation. The platform was capable of full horizontal traverse, but firing would be restricted to a limited arc over the front and rear of the vehicle. As mentioned in the report, the gun used a concentric recoil system. This utilized a tube placed around the breech end of the barrel, acting as a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders.

Two down view of the FV4005 ‘Stage 1’ at ‘Workshop 5’. Note the concentric recoil system at the breech end of the gun, and the gunner’s seat on the left of the gun. Photos: The Tank Museum, Bovington

Space on the platform was limited, as such, there were only positions available – presumably – for the gunner and loader. The gunner was seated on the left of the gun in a well-padded seat complete with a back-rest. Behind him was a large rack for ammunition stowage. The fact that the gun was fixed in elevation allowed the installation of a mechanical ‘loading assist’ device to help the loader handle the combined 233 lb (105.5 kg) weight of the ammunition by aligning it with the breach. This was not an automatic loader as it lacked a rammer. There was no seat for the loader. The driver’s position – the front right of the hull – was unchanged.

A look at the breach end of the L4 and with the ammunition rack on the left, and the ‘loading assist’ on the right. Photo: The Tank Museum, Bovington

The only other changes to the Centurion hull were the addition of a large recoil spade at the rear and a large folding travel lock or ‘gun crutch’ to use the British term. The spade was used to transfer recoil forces from the chassis directly to the ground, easing the strain on the suspension. When the vehicle was in position, it would be lowered to the ground. When the gun was fired, the spade provided a back-stop by digging into the ground.

Rare image of the ‘Stage 1’ traversing a vehicle-deployed bridge. Note the large ‘gun crutch’. Photo: Ed Francis

The ‘Stage/Scheme 1’ was subjected to numerous firing trials. Despite some issues with the concentric recoil system, the trials were a general success. Work then progressed to the ‘Stage/Scheme 2’ vehicle.

Stage 2

In the same 1951, Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division ‘AFV Development Report’, the ‘Stage/Scheme 2’ was described as the following:

“Embodies two conventional recoil systems with a hydropneumatic recuperator and an independent run out control. Undercarriage similar to above [Stage 1] but of fabricated construction.

A superstructure for crew protection will be provided but weight considerations will preclude more than a limited degree of splinter protection.

A sight is being designed in which the body is fixed with relation to the gun mounting, and internal moving parts apply angle of sight, target elevation and correction for trunnion tilt. The range scale is visible in the sight eyepiece.

Layout designs have been prepared and details will be completed shortly.

A prototype should be available by March, 1952.”

The Stage 2 was built closest to what a production version of the FV4005 would consist of. As such, a number of changes were made between the two Stages. The biggest change was the design and construction of a fully enclosed turret to the form of little more than a large box. The loading assist for the loader was also deleted, and the concentric recoil system was replaced by a hydropneumatic type.

Original blueprint of the FV4005 ‘Stage 2’. Photo: Ed Francis

The turret was welded and fabricated from ½ inch (14 mm) thick steel and was there to protect the crew from small arms fire and shell splinters. As this was intended to be a second line vehicle that would keep out of the range of enemy AFVs, the FV4005 did not need really thick armor. Also, with the addition of this impressive gun, the chassis and engine could not take any extra weight. The turret was split into two parts: a sloped face and a completely boxed rear end. The turret face was mantletless, with a large face-plate angled at a very shallow angle. The cheeks were also slightly angled. These angled sections terminated in completely vertical turret walls and a flat roof. The roof stepped up as the rear section of the turret was taller and box-like, with external structural ridges. Internally, this rear section was where the ammunition was stowed against the walls. In total, 12 rounds were carried.

There were two hatches on the roof and one large door on the rear. The roof hatches were two-piece and, in front of them, were two single periscopes installed in the turret roof. The large rear door was used for crew access, but it was also used for ammunition resupply via a winch and rail. Charges would be placed on the rail and then winched into the turret. Turret crew would consist of four men including the gunner and commander. As the loading assist of the Stage 1 was deleted on the Stage 2, two loaders were required. One loader would handle the charge, the other the projectile.


A view of the large door at the rear of the turret showing the resupply rail. Note also the breech just visible inside the turret. Photo: Ed Francis.

On the turret face, to the left of the gun, was a large square bulge. This was the housing for the primary gun sight. The particulars of this sight are unknown, however, there is a suggestion that it was based on the TZF-12A of Panther fame. This, however, cannot be corroborated. While the turret was capable of full 360 degrees horizontal traverse, firing was limited to a limited arc over the front and rear of the vehicle. This was a safety feature necessitated by the power of the gun.

Like the Stage 1, the Stage 2 featured a recoil spade installed at the rear of the vehicle. However, on the Stage 2, a hand-cranked winch was installed on the rear of the vehicle to lower the spade.

Rear view of the FV4005 Stage 2 showing the recoil spade and winch above it. Photo: Ed Francis

Like the Stage 1, the Stage 2 went through a number of firing trials. Where the Stage 1’s concentric recoil system suffered some faults, the Stage 2’s more typical hydro-pneumatic system operated without issue. In total, 150 rounds were fired during the tests at Ridsdale, Northumberland. In a 1955 Fighting Vehicle Division ‘AFV Development Liaison Report’ of the Ministry of Supply it is stated that: “General functioning [of the Stage 2] has proved satisfactory”.

Fate

Despite the general success of the project, the FV4005 suffered much the same fate as the FV215. The feared Soviet heavy tanks, like the IS-3, which these vehicles were designed to defeat, were not being made in the massive numbers expected, indicating a shift in policy to lighter, more maneuverable, and more lightly armored tanks. The need for ‘Heavy Gun Tanks’ like the Conqueror, FV215 and the FV4005 stand-in, from this perspective, was simply becoming absent. Other changes were also taking place as technology-wise, larger caliber guns with their huge ammunition were becoming obsolete by improved anti-armor performance of smaller guns and by the appearance of a new generation of accurate Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM).

The dismounted turret of the FV4005 Stage 2. Photo: Ed Francis

The FV4005 project was officially canceled in August 1957, around the same time as the FV215. The three constructed prototypes were divided between various establishments. The Stage 1 was given to the Shoeburyness Proof and Experimental Establishment where the turret was removed and the Centurion hull returned to service. One Stage 2 was offered to the Royal Military College for Science, while the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) kept the other Stage 2. The Centurion chassis were also likely returned to service. At some point, one of the turrets found its way to The Tank Museum, Bovington, where it sat alone for a number of years before being mated with a spare Centurion hull owned by the Museum. The vehicle now sits as a ‘Gate Guardian’ outside the museum, alongside a Sherman Grizzly.

The FV4005 Stage 2 ‘Gate Guardian’ as it stands today at the entrance to The Tank Museum, Bovington. Photo: warspot.ru


Illustration of the FV4005 Stage 1 with the open top gun platform, produced by Pavel Alexe.


Illustration of the FV4005 Stage 2 with enclosed turret, produced by Pavel Alexe, based on work by David Bocquelet.

Both Illustrations were funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications (Stage 2)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.82 (without gun) x 3.39  x 3.6 m
(25’7″ x 11’1″ x 11’8”)
Total weight 50 tons
Crew 5 (driver, gunner, commander, x2 loaders)
Propulsion Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox 650 hp (480 kW), later BL 60, 695 bhp
Speed (road) Apx. 30 km/h (19 mph)
Armament QF 183 mm (7.2 in) L4 Tank Gun
Armor 76mm @ 60º upper glacis. Turret, 14mm all over.

Sources

2011.2891: Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division, AFV Development Progress Report, 1951, The Tank Museum, Bovington
2011.2896: Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division, AFV Development Liaison Report, 1955, The Tank Museum, Bovington
2011.2901: Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division, AFV Development Liaison Report, 1957, The Tank Museum, Bovington
Vickers Ltd. Account Records, 1928 to 1959 (Provided by researcher, Ed Francis)
Bill Munro, The Centurion Tank, The Crowood Press
Pat Ware, Images of War Special: The Centurion Tank, Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
Simon Dunston, Haynes Owners Workshop Manual, Centurion Main Battle Tank, 1946 to Present.
Simon Dunston, Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #68: Centurion Universal Tank 1943-2003
David Lister, The Dark Age of Tanks: Britain’s Lost Armour, 1945–1970, Pen & Sword Publishing
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Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183 mm Gun, FV215

United Kingdom (1950-1957)
Heavy Gun Tank – 1 Mock-Up & Various Components Built

Viewing the public debut of the Soviet Union’s IS-3 heavy tank at the Berlin Victory Parade of September 1945, the Western powers – including Great Britain – were shocked. As heads of the British, American, and French Armies watched these machines clatter down the Charlottenburger Chaussee, they saw the shape of a new generation of heavy tanks. From the exterior, the IS-3 was a tank with well-sloped and – apparently – heavy armor, a piked nose, wide tracks, and a gun at least 120 mm in caliber. At least in appearance, this was superior to anything being fielded by the other victorious Allied powers at the time.

The respective officials knew that they had nothing in their arsenal capable of potentially combatting this menacing tank that was now in service with an increasingly aggressive USSR. In response, the militaries of these countries began to develop heavy tanks that – they hoped – would be able to combat the IS-3. The United States would develop the M103 heavy tank, while the French experimented with the AMX-50. Britain went in a different doctrinal direction and created a ‘Heavy Gun Tank’. This was a uniquely British designation that was not governed by weight, but the size of the gun. This vehicle was based on the experimental FV200 ‘Universal Tank’ chassis and given the official and somewhat long-winded title of ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214’. This vehicle would be better known as the ‘Conqueror’.

Weighing in at 65 long tons* (66 tonnes) with armor up to 13.3 in (340 mm) thick, the Conqueror was one of the largest and heaviest tanks Britain would ever field. Like the M103 and AMX-50, the Conqueror was armed with a powerful 120 mm Gun, specifically the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 120mm, Tank, L1 Gun’. This gun could punch through an impressive 17.3 inches (446 mm) at 1,000 yards (914 meters) firing Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) ammunition. This was more than enough to combat the IS-3 but, at the time, this was unknown to the British War Office (WO). As such, even greater firepower was investigated.

What followed was the FV215. With its monstrous, 183 mm gun, this vehicle has become something of a legend among enthusiasts of a particular age, largely due to a popular video game. Unfortunately, this has meant a number of falsehoods have been spread about the vehicle. This article will highlight the truth behind this uniquely British vehicle.

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

An original half-photo, half-drawn representation of the FV215 and its monstrous 183 mm gun. The addition of smoke launchers, radio antenna, headlamps, and other small details suggest that this was a finished design, and it is the closest representation of what the finished vehicle may have looked like. Photo: Rob Griffin, Conqueror


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The FV200 Series

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the War Office reviewed the future of the British Army’s tank arm. In 1946, it did away with the ‘A’ designator used on tanks such as the Churchill (A.22) and Comet (A.34). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. In an attempt to streamline the tank force and cover all the bases, it was decided that the military needed three main families of vehicles: the FV100, the FV200, and FV300 series. The FV100s would be the heaviest, the FV200s would be slightly lighter, and the FV300s would be the lightest. It should be noted that the rest of the FV series 400, 500 etcetera were not in weight order although these first 3 serials were. All three projects were almost canceled due to the complexity that would have been involved in producing the respective series. In the end, both the FV100 and FV300 series were canceled. The FV200 hung on in its development, however, as it was projected that it would eventually replace the FV4007 Centurion.

The FV200 series included designs for vehicles that would fill various roles ranging from a gun tank to engineering vehicles and Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). It was not until later years that the other uses of the FV200 chassis were explored, such as with the FV219 and FV222 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs). The first of the FV200 series was the FV201, a gun tank that started development in 1944 as the ‘A45’. This tank weighed around 55 tons (49 tonnes). At least two or three FV201s were built for testing, but the project went no further than that. Work on the project ceased in 1949.

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

Background

As the ‘Heavy No. 2’ part of its designation implies, the FV215 was intended to be a follow up to the FV214 Conqueror – ‘Heavy No. 1’. The vehicle was also known as the ‘FV215, Heavy Anti-Tank Gun, SP’ (SP: Self Propelled). The project started life in mid-1949, and was aimed at increasing the firepower of the ‘Heavy Gun Tanks’. A requirement was formulated for a tank armed with a gun capable of defeating a 60-degree sloped plate, 6 inches (152 mm) thick, at up to 2,000 yards (1,828 meters), a feat impossible even for the powerful 120 mm L1 gun of the FV214. By 1950, Major General Stuart B. Rawlins, Director General of Artillery (D.G. of A.) had concluded that there was no such gun available with that level of ballistic performance. Initially, the British Military looked at the development of a 155 mm gun that would be standardized with the USA. However, even this lacked the required punch and, as such, 6.5 and 7.2 inch (165 and 183 mm respectively) High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) shells were looked at.

‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120 mm Gun, FV214 Conqueror’. The FV215 – ‘Heavy No. 2’ – was a follow up to this tank. This is a surviving Mk. 2 Conqueror known as ‘William’ and can be found at the Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight, UK. Photo: Author’s own.

At this time, the British Army was of the non-doctrinal opinion that a ‘kill’ did not necessarily mean the complete destruction of an enemy vehicle. For example, a blown-off track was also seen as a kill as it took the enemy vehicle out of action; today this is known as an ‘M’ (Mobility) kill. A ‘K’-Kill would be the destruction of a vehicle. The term used for this method at the time was ‘disruption not destruction’. The 6.5 in/165 mm HESH was not thought to be powerful enough to ‘kill’ a heavily armored target in this manner unless it hit bare armor plate. Attention therefore turned instead to the larger 7.2 in/183 mm shell which – Maj.Gen. Rawlins thought – would be powerful enough to render the target inoperable, and therefore ‘kill’ it, wherever it impacted.

The projected gun was designated the 180 mm ‘Lilywhite’. The background of this name is unknown. It may be an interpretation of the ‘Rainbow Code’ used by the WO to identify experimental projects. The ‘Red Cyclops’ flame gun attachment for the FV201, and the ‘Orange William’ experimental missile are examples of this. If this was the case, however, the name should be ‘White Lilly’. It may even simply be named after a Lieutenant Colonel Lilywhite of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. It must be said that this is all speculation, and no evidence exists to support the theory.

It was not until December 1952 that the designation of the gun was officially updated to 183 mm. The design of the gun was accepted and was serialized as the ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183 mm, Tank, L4 Gun’. The 183 mm L4 became one of the largest and most powerful tank guns in the world. With the gun developed, the rest of the vehicle had to be designed around it. It is estimated that the vehicle would have cost between £sd44,400 and £sd59,200 (£1,385,662 – £1,847,549 in today’s Pounds) per unit.

The FV215 in Detail

Overview

Based on the Conqueror adaption of the FV200 chassis, the hull of the FV215 would have shared some similarities. For example, the hull would have been 25 feet (7.62 meters) long. It would have been slightly narrower than the FV214 at 12 feet (3.6 meters) compared to 13.1 feet (3.99 meters). With a planned height of 10.6 feet (3.2 meters), the FV215 would have been slightly shorter than the FV214. Unladen, the vehicle would weigh 61 tons (62 tonnes) while being in ‘battle order’ – i.e. fully equipped – would have seen the weight climb to 65 tons (66 tonnes).

The FV215 would have been operated by a 5-man crew consisting of the commander (turret left), the gunner (turret front right), two loaders (turret rear), and the driver (hull front right).


Photo of a scale model of the FV215 taken as part of the Fighting Vehicle Research & Development Establishment (FVRDE) report. Photo: Ed Francis

While the basic chassis and running gear remained the same as the FV214, the layout of the rest of the vehicle was completely changed. Three turret layouts were considered – front, middle, and rear. A rear-mounted turret was chosen as was considered more advantageous to balance. The power plant was also moved to the center of the vehicle.

The driver remained at the front right of the hull. Like on the Conqueror Mk. 2, he had a single periscope – in this case, a No. 16 Mk. 1 periscope with a 110° field-of-view – mounted at the top of the upper-glacis plate for vision. He would have had a large hatch above his head that would pop up and swing to the right. As with the FV214, two traditional tiller bars would have been used to operate the vehicle. Also, the driver’s seat could be placed at various heights and positions, allowing the driver to operate head-out or under the protection of a closed hatch. Extensions atop the tiller bars would allow easy operation when driving head out.

Photo of the full-scale mockup vehicle showing the open hatch of the driver’s position. Note also the pericope in the upper glacis. The purpose of the hatch beside the driver’s is unknown. Photo: Ed Francis

The glacis is listed as being a 4.9 inch (125 mm) thick steel plate, sloped at 59 degrees. Side armor was to be 1 ¾ inch (44 mm) thick plus the 6 mm thick ‘bazooka plates’ added over the running gear. The floor would have been 0.7 inches (20 mm) thick, with an extra 0.6 inch (16 mm) ‘mine plate’ installed below the driver’s position. The roof of the hull would have been 1 ¼ inches (32 mm) thick.

Turret

Mounted at the rear of the hull, the new turret was large and boxy. Unlike the Conqueror’s cast turret, the FV215’s turret was to be of welded construction. Existing dimensions list the turret as 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide sitting on a 95 inch (2.4 meter) diameter turret ring. Overall, the turret would have weighed 20 tons (20.3 tonnes). Unfortunately, the exact thickness of the turret armor is unknown as records list the turret face only as “will protect from a 100 mm gun in a 30-degree arc”. The rear of the turret and the roof would have been 0.6 inches (17 mm) thick.

Another view of the FV215 scale model showing the turret at the rear of the vehicle. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

A feature carried over from the Conqueror was the rangefinder. On the FV215, this would have been used by the gunner, not the commander as with the FV214. This was placed laterally across the front of the turret roof, and was made by the York-based company of Cook, Throughton & Simms. The rangefinder had a 6 foot (1.8 meter) sight-base and used the ‘coincidence’ method of ranging. This method consists of laying two images on top of each other. When the two images completely overlap, the range measurement is taken. This information is then used by the gunner to accurately range the gun.

The commander – located on the left of the turret – would have been equipped with a large rotating cupola designated the ‘Cupola, Vision, No. 5’ mounting a ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 11’ along with a ‘Periscope, Tank No. 20’ and ‘No. 21’ providing an uninterrupted view of 140 degrees. A collimator was also provided that would display the view of the gunner’s main sight.

Internal view of the full-scale FV215 mockup showing the Commander’s position and instruments. Photo: Ed Francis

Two smoke dischargers, presumably the ‘Discharger, Smoke Grenade, No. 1 Mk. 1’ as on the Conqueror, would have been placed on the sides of the turret. Each launcher featured 2 banks of 3 tubes and were fired electrically from inside the tank. Atop the roof, on the hatch for the two loaders, was an air-defense mounting point for a machine gun. This was set to be a .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun – known simply as the .5 Browning in British service. This was an uncommon choice for British vehicles of this era. The machine gun could elevate to +70 degrees and depress 5 degrees. Four boxes totaling 950 rounds were carried for the .50 Cal.

Armament

The ‘Ordnance, Quick-Firing, 183mm, Tank, L4 Gun’ was one of the only parts of the FV215 that was built and tested. A small number of the guns were built, but it is unclear just how many. Records suggest at least 12 were built. In an effort to get it into service before the development of the FV215 had finished, the W.O. explored the idea of mounting it on the Centurion chassis. This resulted in the development of the experimental FV4005, a vehicle that would have been rushed into production should the Cold War have turned hot. A similar connection can be found with the Conqueror and the FV4004 Conway. Unfortunately, the exact length of the 183 mm gun is currently unknown to the author, but it was somewhere in the region of 15 feet (4.5 meters) long. It was fully rifled with a large ‘bore-evacuator’ (fume extractor) placed roughly half-way down its length. The gun alone weighed 3.7 tons (3.75 tonnes) while its mount weighed 7.35 tons (7.4 tonnes). Although the turret was capable of full 360-degree traverse, firing was physically limited to a 90-degree arc – 45 degrees over the left and right of the vehicle. It could also fire directly to the rear. A safety lockout prevented the gun from firing over the ‘broadside’ position. The gun would have a vertical traverse range of +15 to -7 degrees, however, it is unclear whether – as with Conqueror – it would have been fitted with a limiter that halted it at -5 degrees.

The Ordnance, Quick-Firing (QF), 183mm, Tank, L4 Gun. Here it is mounted on the Centurion-based FV4005, a stop-gap vehicle designed to bring the 183mm into service quickly should the Cold War turn hot. The two visible crew members give an idea of the scale of the gun. Colorized by Jaycee “Amazing Ace” Davis. Photo: The Dark Age of Tanks, David Lister

The gunner sat on the left of the gun, in front of the commander. This was unusual for British tanks as it was more common for the gunner to be located on the right of the gun. He had hand controls for elevation and traverse, both of which were electrically powered. Duplicate controls were also available to the commander, but only the gunner was equipped with manual backups. The elevation controller also featured triggers for the main gun and coaxial machine gun. The gunner would aim the main armament via the ‘Sight, Periscope, AFV, No. 14 Mk. 1’.

High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) was the only ammunition type to be produced for the 183 mm gun. Both the shell and the propellant case were of gargantuan proportions. The shell weighed in at 160 lbs. (72.5 kg) and measured 29 ¾ inches (76 cm) long. The propellant case weighed 73 lbs. (33 kg) and measured 26.85 inches (68 cm) long. The case contained a single charge that propelled the shell to a velocity of 2,350 fps (716 m/s). When fired, the gun produced 86 tons (87 tonnes) of recoil force and recoil length of 2 ¼ feet (69 cm).

Artist’s representation of the 183 mm HESH shell and its propellent case, in scale with a 6 foot (1.83 meter) man, based on recorded dimensions. The markings and color of the shell are purely speculative but are based on British markings of the time. Image produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s Mr. C. Ryan.

HESH shells have an advantage over regular kinetic energy rounds as their effectiveness does not decrease with distance. This shell works by creating a shockwave on detonation. Once this wave reaches a void, it reflects back. The point at which the waves cross causes tension feedback which rips apart the plate, carrying a scab with approx half the energy forwards, scattering shrapnel around the interior of the target. Test firing of the L4 against a Conqueror and a Centurion proved how powerful the round was. In 2 shots, the 183 mm HESH shell blew the turret clean off the Centurion, and split the mantlet of the Conqueror in half. HESH could also serve as a dual-use round just as capable of engaging enemy armor as for use as a high-explosive round against buildings, enemy defensive positions, or soft-skinned targets.

This oversized ordnance is the reason the vehicle would be manned by two loaders. Between them, they could achieve a rate of 2 to 2 ½ rounds per minute. Also, due to its size, ammunition stowage was limited to just 20 rounds. Twelve of these would have been ‘ready-rounds’ stowed in the turret against the interior of the walls.

Photo looking inside the full-scale mockup of the FV215. Here we can see the ammunition stowage on the right interior wall of the turret. Photo: Ed Francis

The size and power of the gun were also why the rear-turret design was chosen for the FV215. Because of its – estimated – 15 foot length, the gun would overhang the front of the vehicle considerably should it have been placed in a centrally mounted turret. This could lead to the gun being buried in the ground when approaching or descending steep inclines, fouling the barrel. Having the gun at the rear also made the vehicle a more stable firing platform as the front half of the vehicle acts as a counterweight to the recoil force, preventing the vehicle from tipping too far backward.

As well as the roof-mounted machine gun, secondary armament consisted of a coaxial L3A1 .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine gun – the British designation of the US Browning M1919A4. This was not coaxial in the traditional sense, as it was not integral to the main gun mount. Rather, the machine gun was placed in a blister, cast into the roof with the range-finder and located on the top-right corner of the turret. The L3A1 had the same vertical traverse range as the main gun at +15 to -5 degrees. Six boxes totaling 6,000 rounds were carried for the ‘coaxial’ machine gun.

Mobility

While the Conqueror was equipped with the Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 petrol engine, it was planned that the FV215 would use the Rover M120 No. 2 Mk. 1. This 12-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine produced 810 horsepower at 2,800 rpm. This would have propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 19.8 mph (32 km/h). A Merritt-Brown Z5R gearbox would also be installed, providing 5 forward gears and 2 reverse. Due to the turret being relocated to the rear of the vehicle, the power plant was placed centrally in the hull, separating the driver’s compartment from the fighting compartment. The engine was also placed 6 inches (15 cm) off the centerline, but whether this was to the left or right is unknown. The exhaust pipes would emerge from the sides of the hull roof, just in front of the turret and terminate in large trumpet-like tubes. The reason for these are unknown. The Rover engine would be fed by 250 UK gallons (1,137 liters) of fuel. As with the Conqueror, a small, auxiliary 4-cylinder petrol engine was provided to drive a generator that would supply the vehicle with electrical power, with or without the main engine running.

An original schematic of the FV215 from the 1950s. Note the centrally-placed engine. Source: The Tank Museum

Like the FV201, Centurion and Conqueror before it, the FV215 was set to utilize a Horstmann suspension system with 2 wheels per-bogie unit. The wheels were made of steel, measuring approximately 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, and constructed from 3 separate parts. These consisted of an outer and inner half, with a steel rim in contact with the track. Between each layer was a rubber ring. The idea behind this was that it would be more efficient on the rubber and would not need to be replaced as often. The Horstmann system consisted of three horizontal springs mounted concentrically, guided by an internal rod and tube. This allowed each wheel to rise and fall independently, although the system did struggle if both wheels rose at the same time. Four bogies lined each side of the hull of the vehicle, giving it 8 road-wheels per side. There were also 4 return rollers, 1 per bogie. The advantage of using bogies lies in maintenance and crew comfort. Having externally mounted bogies means there is more room inside the tank and also, should the unit become damaged, it is relatively easy to remove it and replace it with a new unit.

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

Despite the engine being repositioned, the drive sprockets remained at the rear of the running gear, with the idler wheel at the front. Going by the pre-production imagery, it would appear the spoked idler of the FV214 was replaced with a solid wheel. The track was 31 inches (78.7 cm) wide and had 102 links per side when new. The suspension gave the vehicle a ground clearance of 20 inches (51 cm), and the ability to climb a 35 inch (91 cm) vertical object. It allowed the tank to cross trenches up to 11 feet (3.3 m) wide, negotiate gradients up to 35 degrees, and ford water obstacles up to 4.5 feet (1.4 m) deep without preparation. The vehicle had a turning circle of 15 – 140 feet (4.8 – 42.7 m respectively) depending on gear selection. It could also pivot or ‘neutral’ steer on the spot with each track turning in opposite directions.

So Close, Yet So Far

In 1951, the company of Vickers had filed a report on the concept of the FV215 and, by June 1954, a contract had been signed for the production of a prototype vehicle known as ‘P1’ (Prototype No.1). In October that year, it was also clear that the AA mount for the .50 cal machine gun would not be ready, and as such an L3A1 was substituted. In March 1955, the same year the FV214 entered service, the order had increased to include two pre-production vehicles. A full-scale mock-up – including interior components and a faux engine – was completed between July 1955 and January 1957, with 80% of accompanying schematics also produced. Work started on P1 in September 1955 with a selection of spare parts. The two pre-production vehicles were canceled in early 1956, but work went ahead on P1 which was set to be completed at some point in 1957. Troop trials would then take place by the end of that year. This, however, is where the FV215 story ends.

Head-on view of the small scale mockup. Photo: Ed Francis

In 1957, with just the gun, a couple of turret faces, and a number of other smaller parts built, the FV215 project was officially canceled. This decision was largely down to the Army. From the outset, the Army was not keen on the concept of the vehicle, mostly due to the fact that large-caliber weapons provide a number of logistical issues, mostly caused by the sheer dimension of the weapons. One only has to look at the Conqueror and the issues its size presented to operators during its time in service to understand this hostility to the FV215. At the same time, there was a new contender in the race to find an opponent for the USSR’s heavy armor. Of course, by the mid-1960s, the FV215’s intended opponent, the IS-3, would prove to be a far less threatening tank than the Allies had imagined roughly 12 years prior in 1945.

The new contender was the FV4010, a heavily modified, turretless vehicle built on the Centurion chassis and armed with the newly developed Malkara Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM). This vehicle offered the same damage potential as the 183 mm gun, but in a lighter vehicle and with better accuracy at long ranges. Even though this vehicle also went through full-scale development, it too would not see production or service. The Malkara missile, however, was accepted for service.

Line drawing of one of the designs for the Centurion-based FV4010, armed with the Malkara ATGM. This drawing was produced by Ed Francis, based on line drawings found in the archives of The Tank Museum, Bovington.

Had the FV215 entered service, it would have filled the role much the same as the Conqueror. Its role on the battlefield would have been to support other friendly troops, rather than strike out on its own. It was designed to destroy enemy tanks from afar, covering the advance of the lighter tanks such as FV4007 Centurion. In offensive operations, the FV215 would be placed in overwatch positions and fire over the heads of the main force as it advanced. In defensive operations, the vehicle would again take an overwatch role, but this time from key, pre-set strategic positions to meet an advancing enemy.

A Centurion Mk. 3 alongside a Conqueror Mk. 1. The FV215 would fulfill the same role as the Conqueror – providing heavy fire support to attacking lighter tanks. Photo: Profile Publications

Busting a Myth: FV215A & B

Over the years, a couple of erroneous designations have emerged concerning this vehicle. These are the ‘FV215A’ and ‘FV215B’. The ‘FV215A’ is the false designation, probably mistaken for the planned AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) vehicles of the FV200 series. The FV215B is simply a fictional designation for the FV215 Heavy Gun Tank.

‘FV215b’ is also used as a vehicle in Wargamming’s ‘World of Tanks’. This vehicle is an FV200 chassis with a rear-mounted Conqueror turret and the 120 mm L1A1 gun, and is almost certainly a fake vehicle.

Conclusion

Had it entered service, there is no doubt that the FV215 would have been one of the most deadly gun-tanks to have ever existed. At the same time, it is not hard to see why it was not accepted for service. The Conqueror on the other hand, would end up staying in service for 11 years, finally being retired in 1966. It was Great Britain’s first and last ‘Heavy Gun Tank’.

The logistical and high-cost nightmare of the Conqueror would have only continued with the more heavily armed FV215. Heavy vehicles are expensive, not only to build, but to maintain. The heavier a vehicle, the harder the wear and tear on parts, so parts have to be replaced more often increasing maintenance time and burden and so on.

On top of this there was another issue: the feared Soviet heavy tanks like the IS-3 were not being made in the massive numbers expected indicating a shift in policy to lighter, more maneuverable, and more lightly armored tanks. The need for the Conqueror and FV215 from this perspective was simply becoming absent. Other changes were also taking place as technology-wise, larger caliber guns with their huge ammunition were becoming obsolete by the improved anti-armor  performance of smaller guns and by the appearance of a new generation of accurate Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM).

It is perhaps ironic that the Soviet tank which perhaps started this fear, the IS-3, was itself found to be seriously wanting in combat. Losses during the invasion of Prague to little more than lightly armed civilians showed serious tactical failings in the way in which tanks were handled along with the utter disaster of their use in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. Here, Egyptian IS-3s were lost in large numbers to mechanical failures and to ‘inferior’ lighter tanks like the British-supplied Centurion and American-supplied M48. The paper-tiger had had its day and the IS-3-smashing Heavy Gun Tanks were as obsolete as the tanks they were designed to counter.

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



Illustration of ‘Tank, Heavy No. 2, 183mm Gun, FV215’. The representation of a 6 ft (1.83 m) gives some idea of the scale of the vehicle and its 183 mm L4 gun. The vehicle is represented in the standard British Army green. As the vehicle never entered service, some of the smaller details – such as the wire reel and lifting eyes – are speculative. This illustration was produced by Brian Gaydos, based on work by David Bocquelet, and funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 25 feet x 12 feet x 10.6 feet (7.62 x 3.6 x 3.2 meters)
Weight 61 – 65 long tons (62 – 66 tonnes)
Crew 5 (Driver, commander, gunner, 2 loaders)
Propulsion Rover M120 No. 2 Mk. 1, 12-cylinder, water-cooled, 810 hp
Suspension Hortsmann
Speed (road) 19.8 mph (32 km/h)
Armament Ordnance Quick-Firing (QF) 183 mm Tank L4 Gun (20 rounds)
Sec. 1 – 2 L3A1 (Browning M1919A4) .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Gun (6000 rounds)
.5 Browning (Browning M2) .50 Cal (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun (950 rounds)
Armour Hull
Front (Upper Glacis): 4.9 inch (125 mm) @ 59 degrees
Sides: 1 ¾ in (44 mm) + 0.2 in (6 mm) ‘Bazooka Plates’
Roof: 1 ¼ in (32 mm)
Floor: 0.7 in (20 mm) + 0.6 in (16 mm) ‘Mine Plate’
Turret
Face: “protection from a 100 mm gun in a 30-degree arc”
Rear: 0.6 in (17 mm)
Roof: 0.6 in (17 mm)
Total Production N/A

Sources

WO 185/293: Tanks: TV 200 Series: Policy and Design, 1946-1951, The National Archives, Kew
E2014.1520: Heavy Gun Tank No. 2, FV215, FVRDE Specifications, 25th August 1954, Second Issue, The Tank Museum Bovington
2011.2891: Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division, AFV Development Progress Report, 1951, The Tank Museum, Bovington
2011.2896: Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division, AFV Development Liaison Report, 1955, The Tank Museum, Bovington
2011.2901: Ministry of Supply: Fighting Vehicle Division, AFV Development Liaison Report, 1957, The Tank Museum, Bovington
Vickers Ltd. Account Records, 1928 to 1959 (Provided by researcher, Ed Francis)
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

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Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

FV200 Turbine Test Vehicle

UK (1954)
Test Vehicle – 1 Built

In 1954, the British, of C. A. Parsons Ltd. made history. At a public display of armored vehicles, they unveiled an odd-looking, silver turretless tank hull. This vehicle was a world first. Inside the engine bay was a new, experimental turbine engine.

The vehicle was a testbed, serving to illustrate the future possibility of mounting a turbine engine in an armored vehicle. Other countries, notably Nazi Germany in the Second World War, had considered turbine technology in a tank, but it was this British tank which was to make history as the first armored vehicle in the world to be propelled by a turbine engine. However, despite proving that the technology worked, the project ended without adoption by the British Army and it was not until a generation later, with the appearance of the Swedish Strv 103 ‘S-Tank’ and the later American M1 Abrams or Soviet T-80, that this engine type would be seen in a production vehicle.

The Turbine Test Vehicle used a modified FV200 hull. It made history in 1954, being the first-ever armored vehicle to be propelled by a turbine engine. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

The FV200

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the War Office (W.O.) reviewed the future of the British Army’s tank arm. In 1946, it did away with the ‘A’ designator used on tanks such as the Churchill (A.22) and Comet (A.34). The ‘A’ number was replaced by the ‘Fighting Vehicle’ or ‘FV’ number. In an attempt to streamline the tank force and cover all the bases, it was decided that the military needed three main families of vehicles: the FV100, FV200, and FV300 series. The FV100s would be the heaviest, the FV200s would be slightly lighter, and the FV300s would be lightest. While the FV100 and 300 series were canceled, the FV200 hung on in its development, as it was projected that it would eventually replace the Centurion.

The FV200 series included designs for vehicles that would fill various roles ranging from a gun tank to an engineering vehicle and Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs). It was not until later years that the other uses of the FV200 chassis were explored, such as with the FV219 and FV222 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARVs). The first of the FV200 series was the FV201, a gun tank that started development in 1944 as the ‘A.45’. The most well-known member of the FV200 family is the FV214 Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank.


FV201 (A45), the first vehicle in the FV200 series. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Background

Armored fighting vehicle design is commonly conceived as revolving around a pyramid of factors: firepower, armor, and mobility. An AFV can rely on two of these, but not all three. For instance, a heavily armed and armored tank will sacrifice mobility, a fast tank will sacrifice armor, and so on. The idea behind installing a turbine engine into an armored vehicle was to overcome this ‘pyramid’. If an engine could be developed that would provide the same performance yet weigh less, then thicker armor and a more powerful gun could be carried.

The idea of using a turbine engine in an AFV was championed by none other than the father of British jet aircraft, Sir Frank Whittle. While aircraft powered by engines of his design – the Gloster Meteor – were engaging V1 rockets by the end of WW2, he was not the first to develop the jet engine.

Even before the Second World War, Nazi Germany was experimenting with jet propulsion. By War’s end, Germany had become the first nation to actively employ jet-powered aircraft in combat, namely in the form of the Messerschmitt Me 262. The end of the War brought the British capture of equipment, documents, and German scientists. With them came insight into some of the AFV plans the Germans were hoping to employ in the later years of the War. One of these plans was for a turbine-engine powered Panzer variant. This project reportedly even had the backing of the Waffen SS.

In late-1948, the Power Plant branch of the Fighting Vehicle Research And Development Establishment (F.V.R.D.E.), based in Chertsey, filed a report on this German AFV turbine project. This lead to a project to investigate the possibility of developing a turbine engine for use in future British tanks and armored vehicles. To this end, in January 1949, a contract was signed with C. A. Parsons Ltd. of Newcastle upon Tyne for the development of this new turbine engine. It was outlined that the engine was to be capable of developing 1,000 hp at 15℃ (60℉), or 900hp at 43℃ (110℉). Although various types of turbine were in development at this time, Parsons opted for a simple, cycle-based engine with a centrifugal compressor driven by a single-stage turbine, in conjunction with a two-stage ‘work’ turbine.

The Turbine Engine

Turbine engines consist of four main components; the compressor, combustion chamber, the turbine, and the heat exchanger. Simply explained, they all work in conjunction thusly:

The compressor serves to compress airflow, in-turn raising the temperature before the fuel injection. The combustion chamber’s role is to provide a continuous flow of fuel into the turbine while keeping it at a constant temperature.

Quite obviously, the turbine is the heart of this engine type. A turbine is simply a propeller propelled by the force hitting it; in the case of this engine that would be hot, vapourised fuel. The main turbine drove the compressor while a separate ‘work’ turbine would transfer the rotary propulsion directly to the gearbox.

The heat exchanger increased the temperature of air before it entered the combustion chamber, reducing the amount of fuel that was consumed bringing the air up to the required temperature. Unlike regular combustion engines where overheating is detrimental to performance, the opposite is true for turbines. The hotter it runs, the greater the power output.

Simple diagram showing how a turbine works. Author’s Illustration.

Parsons’ Engine

C. A. Parsons Limited. Btd., based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, was founded in 1889 by Charles Algernon Parsons and quickly established itself as a leading manufacturer of steam turbine equipment on land and for naval use. This work continued into the development of the turbine engine envisioned by the Power Plant branch of the FVRDE. To assist with the project, 5 German scientists from the late WW2 project were assigned to the developmental team.

Unfortunately, one of the benefits of the turbine engine could not be met by Parsons: the weight. It was found that, at the time, only be using thinner gauge materials and inferior lighter alloys could the engine be brought to a weight equal to a standard engine. At the time, a standard engine was projected to weigh around 4,100 lb (1,860 kg), while the turbine weighed in at 5,400 lb (2,450 kg).

The final design of Parsons’ Turbine received the model number ‘No. 2979’. It featured a single-stage centrifugal compressor, driven by an axial flow turbine. Only the turbine disc was air-cooled. The smaller ‘work’ turbine was of the two-stage axial flow type, which ran in conjunction with the compressor. A reduction gear unit was fitted to reduce the work-turbines revolutions-per-minute from 9,960 rpm to 2,800 rpm. Lucas Ind., a Birmingham-based company, provided a fuel pump and an air-fuel ratio control unit with an integral throttle unit. To prevent the work turbine from over-speeding during gear changes, it could be mechanically connected to the compressor turbine. This also provided engine-braking. When starting, the compressor turbine was rotated via a 24-volt starter motor and the fuel ignited by a torch-igniter. The rest of the starter sequence was automatic, commencing with the press of the starter button on a new dashboard which was made by the Austrian company Rotax.

The Vehicle

For trials, it was decided that the engine would be placed in the hull of a vehicle from the FV200 series, Prototype ‘P7’ (No. 07 BA 70) of the FV214 Conqueror trials to be exact. The hull was one of three FV221 Caernarvon hulls built at Royal Ordnance Factory, Leeds.

‘P7’ (07 BA 70) in a previous life as a Conqueror Prototype taking part in mobility trials in 1952-53. The Vehicle is fitted with a ‘Windsor’ ballast turret that simulated the projected weight of the Conqueror’s turret. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

The engine bay was modified with a new support structure to hold the turbine engine. A standard five-speed gearbox was introduced with Merritt-Brown steering. The gearbox compartment of the hull had to be lengthened to accept the new gearbox. What was the fighting compartment was completely gutted to make way for a cyclone air-cleaner unit, consisting of 192 cyclone units mounted in 8 24-unit banks. Two new fuel tanks were also introduced into the fighting compartment, along with a homelite generator. This was required as the turbine lacked a generator drive. The driver’s compartment – which remained at the front right of the bow – was largely unaltered, apart from the addition of a new instrument panel with 29 separate dials, gauges, and instruments which were all crucial to monitor the engine.

Internal view of the gutted engine bay inside P7’s hull. Note the new support structure welded to the hull floor and the transmission at the rear. Photo: Conqueror.

The new engine and cyclone air-filter also necessitated some external modification. A large circular plate was placed over the fighting compartment/air-filter bay with a large vent in the roof. The engine deck saw the heaviest modifications. The old deck, which was covered in hinged louvers, was replaced with 3 flat panels that were bolted down. The left and right panel featured 3 small vents, while the central featured one large vent. A taller section with two vents was built up at the rear of the engine deck to provide extra room. The rear plate also saw the addition of a large ventilation ‘box’, through which exhaust gasses and excess heat would escape.


Rear view of the modified FV200 hull. Note the engine deck and round plate over the turret ring. Photo: FineArtsAmerica

Most other features of the hull remained identical. The Horstmann suspension, tracks, fenders, and fire extinguisher system were all standard to the FV200 series of vehicles. A small addition to both the left and right fender was a folding ladder placed over the idler and sprocket wheels. This allowed the test crew to easily scale the vehicle. An unexplained feature of the test vehicle was the second hatch placed next to the driver. This hatch was without a door, and it is unclear whether it was an original feature of P7 or introduced for the tests. Altogether, the vehicle weighed about 45 long tons (45.7 tonnes). The hull’s overall dimensions were unchanged at 25 feet (7.62 m) long and 13.1 feet (3.99 m) wide.

The Trials

By September 3rd, 1954, the FV200 test vehicle was ready for trials at the FVRDE in Chertsey. The race was on to get the vehicle ready for its first public display on the 30th of that month. On the 4th, the engine was started and allowed to idle for 10 minutes. It would not accelerate past 2,700 rpm and had to be turned off after the throttle became stuck open. By the 9th, repairs had been made and the vehicle was towed onto the FVRDE test track ready for its first driven trial. Under its own power, the vehicle successfully moved out onto the track. Moving off in 4th gear with the turbine running at 6,500 rpm, the vehicle successfully completed a full circuit of the track in 15 minutes.

Rear views of the FV200 Test Vehicle prior to painting. Photos: Tankograd Publishing

Between the 21st and 22nd, P7 ran the same circuit again, achieving a combined running time of 2 hours 3 minutes. In general, the vehicle ran well with only minor issues arising that were easily fixed. Occasionally there were starting troubles, but it was found that the addition of four extra batteries dealt with this. The first major breakdown came on the 23rd. The driver attempted to change from 4th to 5th gear but it would not engage. The vehicle was halted with the driver attempting to get it down into 3rd. Instead of 3rd, it slipped into reverse and jammed. The vehicle then had to be towed to the onsite workshops for repairs.

By the 27th, repairs had been completed. Static and short road checks were undertaken and showed that the vehicle was back in full running order. All that remained was to give the vehicle a fresh coat of silver paint for its public display.

P7 made history when it was demonstrated before a large crowd of military and public spectators on September 30th. The vehicle ran without fault, but it was not pushed too hard, achieving a top speed of just 10 mph (16 km/h). For the test, the vehicle was operated by one man, the driver, accompanied by another man next to him under the mystery hatch. What the role of this man was is unknown. On the 30th, they were joined by FVRDE staff members who sat on the rear of the engine deck. Staff present on that day recalled that the onlooking crowd was visibly impressed. Even the film news company, British Pathe were present to record the demonstration.

P7 during the public display at the FVRDE, Chertsey on September 30th 1954. Note the driver on the left and the three extra passengers. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Results & Further Trials

Parsons’ turbine had now reached a total running time of almost 12 hours. Through tests up to and including the public display of September 30th, the acceleration of the vehicle was found to be acceptable. Deceleration, however, proved to be a recurring issue. It was far too slow, making gear changes prone to malfunction. The engine was also found to be extremely loud. How loud, exactly, is unknown, but it was loud enough that the operator’s appeared to require ear-defenders (as seen in the video of the 1954 display). Attempts were made to reduce the noise level to 92 decibels or under. Following the public display, running trials were paused and the engine removed from the hull. It was completely stripped down and rebuilt, incorporating new modifications.

By April 19th of 1955, the engine had been reinstalled and P7 was ready to re-commence trials. Despite some initial faults, the engine was running well by May 24th. During tests on this day, the vehicle successfully negotiated 1:6 and 1:7 gradient slopes and performed successful hill-starts.

P7 undergoing road trials with additional engineers riding on the hull. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

On June 8th, the final turbine tests were undertaken, consisting of cold and warm starts. Further tests would be carried out utilizing a second turbine engine, ‘No. 2983’. This was an improved engine with much of the initial teething troubles fixed, and an increased output of 910 hp. This increased power would allow P7 to be ballasted in order to compare its performance with the weight of vehicles in operation at the time. The last report from C. A. Parsons came in April 1955. By March 1956, the FVRDE had completely taken over the project. From there, unfortunately, we do not know what happened to the turbine project.

After the Trials

As discussed, we do not know what happened to P7 in the immediate years following the turbine trials. At some point in the early 1960s, P7 was turned into a dynamometer vehicle and served with the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE) in Christchurch, on the south coast of England. Strictly speaking, it was not a true dynamometer, but an ‘active’ or ‘universal’ dynamometer as it could be driven under its own power or absorb energy. A standard dynamometer is simply a means of measuring force, moment of force (torque), power, or any combination thereof. This is a chassis dynamometer as it used a full power train on its own, and was basically used not only to measure the engine power of a unit connected to it, but also to calibrate said unit.

To convert it to this role, a new diesel engine was installed and a large welded ballast superstructure was built over the chassis, with a large glazed cab at the front. A large wheel on a pivoting arm was added to the back of the vehicle which was used to gauge travel distances accurately – an upscaled version of a ‘Surveyor’s Wheel’. At some point, the vehicle’s original all-steel tracks were replaced with the rubber-padded tracks of the FV4201 Chieftain. The vehicle was also painted bright yellow and received the new registration number of ’99 SP 46′.

’99 SP 46′, the Dynamometer vehicle. Note the wheel at the rear. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

It is unclear how long the vehicle was in operation before it was retired. The last use of the vehicle, however, was an interesting one. The vehicle ended up at The Tank Museum, Bovington. It did not go on display though, it was turned into a commentary box beside the museum’s vehicle arena. For this, a larger cab was built atop the dynamo cab. This is how the vehicle sat for a number of years, before it was scrapped in the early 2000s.

The vehicle in its last use as a commentary box at the arena of the Tank Museum, Bovington. Photo: Public Domain

Conclusion

P7 and C. A. Parsons’ engine made history in 1954. The trials proved that a turbine did have a place as the powerplant of Britain’s heavy AFVs of the future. Despite this, the engine type would never be adopted by the British Army. Even today, the British Army’s current serving Main Battle Tank (MBT), Challenger 2, uses a conventional, combustion diesel engine. It was not until the appearance of tanks like the Strv 103, the later M1 Abrams and T-80, that the turbine engine became a front line AFV engine.

Unfortunately, the vehicle no longer exists. Despite its technologically important history, the vehicle ended up being scrapped by The Tank Museum, thus marking the end of a unique chapter in the history of British military technology.

An article by Mark Nash, assisted by Andrew Hills.



The FV200-based turbine test vehicle made history when it debuted on September 30th 1954 before a public and military audience. For the public display, the vehicle was painted in a shiny silver livery, with dark grey highlights on the ‘bazooka plates’ and road-wheels. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

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

Video of the 1954 test:

Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

RO2004 Light Tank

United Kingdom (1985)
Light Tank – Partly Built

The RO2000 series of vehicles was a late Cold War attempt by the Royal Ordnance PLC to standardize the vehicle fleet of the British Army and for export to Middle Eastern countries. The central idea of the RO2000 was a common platform encompassing the engine, transmission, chassis and suspension, with just the rear combat module varying between vehicles. The vehicles were meant to be easy to manufacture, mechanically simple and cheap both due to their small size and due to parts commonality.
Of the four RO2000 vehicles, the most potent was the RO2004 light tank, armed with an adaptation of the still-potent L7 105 mm gun made famous by the Centurion.

This is the modular hull of the Vickers RO2000 AFV series of vehicles. (Source: Royal Ordnance/ Tank Museum)

RO2004 Light Tank

The Royal Ordnance RO2004 light tank was to be built on the RO2000 universal lightweight chassis and come fitted with a version the famous L7 105 mm gun firing standard NATO ammunition. While its basic armor is unknown, it was to be upgradeable with a new ‘dynamic armor’ that was in development. The 105 mm gun was to be a low recoil version on the L7 with a new distinct pepper pot-style muzzle break called the Improved Weapon System (IWS) which had been developed in 1989 by Royal Ordnance.
The new gun was conventionally rifled and made from Electroslag Refined Steel (ESR) with a fume extractor, thermal sleeve horizontal sliding breech mechanism, and distinctive pepper pot muzzle brake that reduced recoil forces by 25 percent. Royal Ordnance also offered an automatic muzzle reference system (MRS) that could be fitted to the gun to greatly improve the accuracy of the weapon system. RO also developed. alongside the IWS, a new 105 mm APFSDS (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot) round that they claimed to have a penetration of 540 mm of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) at a range of 2,000 meters.
A high rate of fire was expected due to the use of a bustle-mounted autoloader coupled with a state of the art gun control and computerized Fire Control System (FCS). Passive Thermal Imaging (TI) and image intensifiers came as optional extras. The Royal Ordnance dynamic armor (not to be confused with the later Electrical Armor of the same name) was, in essence, a mix of a conventional laminated plate with Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) built into it, providing protection against kinetic and shaped charge attacks. On top of this would also be more conventional ERA blocks as a preliminary line of defense.
The crew of three consisted of the commander, gunner, and driver. The layout was somewhat atypical with the driver front left while the commander and gunner were situated adjacent to each other with the gunner in the normal loader’s location by UK standards. Vision was provided by a panoramic sight for the commander as well as 7 episcopes and an individual laser sighting system for the gunner. The driver had full day-night low light thermal vision (LLTV).
Power was to be provided by a Perkins TV8-640, 320 hp 8-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine coupled through a T320 automatic 6-speed epicyclic gearbox. The top speed was estimated at 55 km/h (34 mph).
The suspension consisted of transverse torsion bars, 5 per side. Each was connected to a pair of roadwheels, leading to a total of five pairs and 10 wheels per side. Two return rollers per side were also present. Later proposals by Royal Ordnance included hydraulic adjustable suspension.


The RO2004 Light Tank. This illustration was produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Conclusion

A single turret of a RO2004 was built and displayed. The vehicle was advertised at many arms expositions and even proposed to the British Army but, like the rest of the series, did not receive any orders. The fate of the built turret is unknown. The Royal Ordnance PLC was bought by British Aerospace in 1987, currently known as BAE Systems.

Side drawing of the RO2004 light tank taken from a Royal Ordnance RO2000 series Technical Datasheet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W) 6.3 x 2.81 x 2.41 meters
Weight 21.5 tonnes
Crew 3 (Driver, Commander, Gunner)
Propulsion Perkins TV8-640, 320 hp 8 cylinder turbocharged diesel with T320 automatic 6-speed epicyclic unit
Suspension Transverse torsion bar, 5 per side, telescopic dampers 1,5
Speed 55 km/h
Armament 105mm Low Recoil Gun IWS
1x 7.62 mm Hughes chain gun
Total Production None built

Sources

Royal Ordnance files relating to the RO2000 program in the Bovington Tank Museum archives
Royal Ordnance RO2000 series Technical Datasheets
Armoured trials and development unit, Bovington Camp, Report on the RO2000 series, 9 June 1986
Royal Ordnance RO2000 sales brochure
Royal Ordnance RO2000 press release

Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

RO2001 Self-Propelled Gun

United Kingdom (1986)
SPG – 1 Built

The RO2000 series of light vehicles came about as a government evaluation into developing a new generation of vehicles known as Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV). FFLAV began to progress swiftly after the 1990-1991 Gulf War, which had highlighted key areas of concern in the older vehicles used by the Army, notably the FV430 and CVRT series which were already three decades old. FFLAV was to streamline at least three key series of vehicles into one family; the FV430 series, the FV510 Warrior family, and the CVRT (Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance Tracked). This would have left an opening for up to 7000 replacement vehicles, leading to one of the largest modern defense contracts ever issued.

122 mm Vickers R02001 Artillery Self-propelled Gun prototype (Source: Royal Ordnance/ Tank Museum)

The RO2001 Self Propelled Howitzer

The Royal Ordnance RO2001 self-propelled howitzer was designed for the export market and was based on the UK’s RO2000 universal chassis. Had it been accepted for UK service, it was proposed to mount a L13A1 105 mm gun similar to that of the FV433 Abbot Self Propelled Gun or, alternatively, the Royal Ordnance L118 light 105 mm gun.
The export version for Egypt was meant to be armed with a 122 mm D30 howitzer which was manufactured in Egypt by Abu Zaabal Engineering Industries Company. It was based on the Russian designed howitzer. It had a computerized gunsight system for both direct and indirect fire modes.
Although the prototype was fitted with the 122 mm D30 howitzer, the vehicle hull and superstructure could be adapted to fit most 122 mm howitzers. The superstructure and gun mount enabled the gun to have a traverse of + 30 deg from the centreline: +70 deg elevation and -5 deg gun depression. There was enough storage space for 84 rounds for the main gun.
The hull was to be rolled steel with the driver to the front left and the other 4 crew including commander and loaders in the rear. Unlike the Abbot, the RO2001 did not have a fully rotating ‘turret’, with the rear superstructure being built up and designed to fit a variety of weapons or possible refits including the D30 122mm gun. Secondary protection was by means of a 7.62 mm machine gun as well as L8 grenade dischargers with VIRSS (Visual and Infrared Screening Smoke).
It was powered by a Perkins TV8- 640 8-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine but had a maximum horsepower of 320 hp. It had a maximum road speed of 55 km/h. Fuel tank capacity 454 liters. The transmission was an engine – gearbox coupling with a Twyflex centrifugal clutch. The T320 gearbox had self-changing gears. It was an automatic 6-speed epicyclic unit with manual hold controls. It had regenerative, disc brake steering. The main breaks were Lockheed disc brakes that were hydraulically operated. The suspension consisted of traverse torsion bars: 5 stations per side with telescopic dampers on the front and rear wheel stations. The track was cast steel link drive pin type with rubber bush inserts and rubber road pads.
The vehicle electrical system was a screen suppressed and waterproofed 24V electrical system. There were two 6TN batteries giving 100 amp-hour capacity for engine starting. An additional two 6TN batteries gave 100 amp-hour capacity for auxiliary systems.
The prototype RO2001 lightweight artillery self-propelled gun (SP122) fired over 300 rounds during trials in Egypt and covered 10,000 km. It was shipped to Britain so that it could be put on show at the British Army equipment exhibition arms fair in the summer of 1986. It stood on the Royal Ordnance stand next to the 120 mm mortar (RO 2003).

Front view of the 122mm Vickers RO2001 Artillery Self-propelled Gun (Source: Royal Ordnance/ Tank Museum)


The RO2001 Self-Propelled Gun (SPG). This illustration was produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign


Conclusion

Only one vehicle was built and was sent to Egypt, where it was fitted with a D30 howitzer made by Abu Zaabal Engineering Industries with sighting systems for both direct and indirect fire. However, no advanced fire control was attached to this version. The competition was from a US platform but neither was accepted for service. Unfortunately, like so many good ideas put forward, political bickering and incompetence saw interest wain and the UK once again began the ongoing waste of money that became synonymous with its research and development process.

Artist’s impression of the 122 mm Vickers RO2001 Artillery Self-propelled Gun. (Source: Royal Ordnance/ Tank Museum)

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.2 x 2.81 x 2.70 m (excluding gun)
20 ft 4 in x 9 ft 2 in x 8 ft 10 in
Armament 105 mm or 122 mm Howitzer
7.62 mm or 12.7 mm Machine-Gun
Traverse 30° left and right
Elevation +70°
Depression -5°
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Driver, 2 x Loaders)
Optics One vision periscope, 360° panoramic sight, day/night driving optional
Weight 20 tonnes
Ground clearance 0.46 m
Maximum road speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Maximum gradient 30°
Maximum trench width 2.2 meters
Maximum vertical obstacle 0.75 meters
Ground pressure 0.5 kg/cm
Propulsion Perkins TV8-640, 320 hp 8 cylinder turbocharged diesel with T320 automatic 6-speed epicyclic unit
Main brakes Lockheed disc brakes
Fuel capacity 454 liters
Steering Regenerative, disc brake steering
Suspension Transverse torsion bar, 5 per side, telescopic dampers 1,5
Track Cast steel link dry pin type
Radio Clansman or customer-specific
Total Production One built


Side view of the 122mm Vickers R02001 Artillery Self-propelled Gun (Source: Royal Ordnance/ Tank Museum)

Sources

Royal Ordnance files relating to the RO2000 program in the Bovington Tank Museum archives
Royal Ordnance RO2000 series Technical Datasheets
Armoured trials and development unit, Bovington Camp, Report on the RO2000 series, 9 June 1986
Royal Ordnance RO2000 sales brochure
Royal Ordnance RO2000 press release

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Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

RO2000 Platform

United Kingdom (1986)
Multi-Role Platform – Several Built

The RO2000 series of light vehicles were a part of a government initiative into developing a new generation of vehicles, known as the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV). This was a follow up on the Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FLAV), whose origins can be traced back to the 1980s when it had failed to deliver a workable platform.

This is the Vickers RS2000 AFV series of vehicles modular hull. (Source: Royal Ordnance/Tank Museum)

FFLAV

FFLAV began to progress swiftly after the 1990-1991 Gulf War. This conflict had highlighted key areas of concern with the older vehicles used by the Army, most notably the FV430 and CVRT series which were already three decades old. One highlighted area of concern was the overlapping roles that the equipment fulfilled, with roles duplicated on the FV430, CVRT, and even old Centurion types in service. Not only did this lead to a bigger logistic footprint than required, but was also expensive to maintain and required extensive manpower and training in familiarity to keep them operating successfully.

The MOD concluded that, if the units could be consolidated by using a more coherent approach and creating a family of vehicles that fulfilled all roles on a universal chassis, it would go some way to reduce the issues noted above.

The FFLAV was meant to streamline at least three key series of vehicles into one family; the FV430 series, the FV510 Warrior family, and the CVRT (Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance Tracked). This would have meant that up to 7000 replacement vehicles would have been needed, leading to one of the largest modern defense contracts ever issued in the United Kingdom. Such an opportunity did not go unnoticed and nearly all the major defense firms showed interest. Given the size and scope of the project, these firms began to form consortiums to increase their odds of winning any sole contract for the program. However, at this stage, it was still officially a study and not an official development/procurement request.

RO2003 Self-Propelled Mortar based on the RO2000 platform, the other vehicle built on the platform. Source: Technical spec sheet on sale on Ebay

Three key consortiums were formed:

  1. Alvis/Hagglunds/Panhard/ENASA
  2. GKN/Mowag
  3. Royal Ordnance PLC/BAE

As is typical in any large multinational defense design and procurement project, the three consortiums promptly settled on trying to push their own nation’s domestically-made vehicles as the best possible option, while retaining civility amongst themselves.
The first consortium chose to propose the Panhard VBL, Alvis CVRT upgrades, the ENASA BMR-600, and Hagglunds CV90. The second one submitted the GKN Warrior 2000 and MOWAG’s own Piranha APC.

However, the third team was the only group to seemingly understand that the MOD did not want yet more variants of the vehicles they already had and wanted to reduce the existing collection into one single family. It was the Royal Ordnance PLC that drew up and actually made some of the RO2000 series.

Despite various levels of research being carried out and several pre-production vehicles having been made, the UK once again decided to go through a different route and opted to proceed with the fiscally disastrous MBAV, MRAV, TRACER and later FRES programs.

Black and white drawing of the RO2002 APC variant.

RO2000 Series

According to a report from the Armoured Trials & Development Unit at Bovington, the RO2000 series stemmed from a design, called SP122, done by the Royal Ordnance for a self-propelled howitzer for the Egyptian army, a design which would become the RO2001. The vehicle was meant to be built in Egypt, the industry of which was not well developed, and thus the vehicle had to be simple and easy to manufacture. It was then decided to use the chassis for a family of vehicles, four of which would actually be designed. Other reports indicate that all the vehicles were designed at the same time and only after that was the SPG version offered to Egypt.

Publicity poster for the RO2000 series. Image: Andrew Hills

The basic RO2000 vehicle had a steel chassis, with a Perkins TV8-640 V8 turbocharged diesel giving 320 hp coupled to a 6-speed epicyclic automatic gearbox, both placed at the front of the vehicle, leaving the rear space empty for the addition of the fighting compartment. The suspension consisted of 5 double wheels mounted on torsion bars, with an idler at the rear and two return rollers per side. These features were meant to be simple, cheap and low maintenance. It was also advertised as being easily upgradeable for the needs of the British army, mainly because the stock configuration was technologically primitive for the day and era. The vehicle could manage a gradient of 30o, a trench measuring 2.2 m or an obstacle 75 cm high.

The armor values are not specified, although they were probably very low given the low weight of just 13.5 tonnes for the base vehicle. However, it was advertised that a new armor package could be installed to optimize protection against kinetic and HEAT shells.
Maintenance-wise, the vehicle was meant to be easily pulled apart, taking just 40 minutes to take out the engine, 35 minutes to take out the gearbox and 25 minutes to take out the final drive unit, all with ‘the simplest of equipment’.

The RO2000 chassis, probably in the form of the RO2001 howitzer, underwent at least 10,000 km of testing in ‘arduous conditions’.

Side drawing of the RO2004 light tank

Conclusion

The RO2001 and RO2003 were built, while RO2004 was only partially constructed. The vehicles were displayed at various private arms exhibitions. On paper, they filled the role needed and would have been valuable assets to the British Military. Unfortunately, like so many ideas put forwards, political bickering and incompetence saw interest wain and the UK once again began the ongoing waste of money that became synonymous with its research and development process.

However, the technical simplicity and small size of the RO2000 series were double-edged swords, as they also meant that the vehicles were seen as unsophisticated and hard if not impossible to upgrade and improve. The Royal Ordnance PLC was bought by British Aerospace in 1987, currently known as BAE Systems.

RO2001 Self Propelled Gun that was pitched to the Egyptian army, based on the RO2000 platform. Source: Think Defence


The RO2000 common platform without any combat module installed on the back. This illustration was produced by Brian S. Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W) 6.2 x 2.81 meters
Weight 13.5 tonnes
Propulsion Perkins TV8-640, 320 hp 8 cylinder turbocharged diesel with T320 automatic 6-speed epicyclic unit
Suspension Transverse torsion bar, 5 per side, telescopic dampers 1,5
Total Production None built

Sources

Royal Ordnance files relating to the RO2000 program in the Bovington Tank Museum archives
Royal Ordnance RO2000 series Technical Datasheets
Armoured trials and development unit, Bovington Camp, Report on the RO2000 series, 9 June 1986
Royal Ordnance RO2000 sales brochure
Royal Ordnance RO2000 press release


Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

Comet Crocodile

USA/Great Britain (1946)
Trial Tank

The Crocodile flamethrower was a successful piece of equipment and is probably best well known for being used by the Churchill tank, and to a lesser extent the M4 Sherman, during World War 2. Immediately after the war, however, a new Universal tank, the A41 Centurion, was being delivered and was replacing the A34 Comet and other tanks as the mainstay of Britain’s tank fleet for a generation to come. The Centurion was significantly faster and a modern tank compared to the ponderous and archaic design of the Churchill, and it makes good military sense to have a single platform for a variety of weapons rather than multiple specialist single-role platforms.
One role the Churchill had performed well was that of the Crocodile, where its slow speed was not a hindrance. If the Centurion was going to replace all the older types of vehicles completely, it would need to be evaluated in the Crocodile role as well. With a view to this, in April 1946, the British military took a standard A34 Comet and having made minor modifications for the purposes of towing – namely the fitting of the Crocodile towing link – and attached a Crocodile fuel trailer to it.

The previous Crocodiles. The famous Churchill on the left with the lesser known Sherman version on the right.
There is no information to suggest that the flame projector itself was ever fitted, and photographs of the project show that the test vehicle retains the hull BESA machine-gun mount rather than the flame projector. This confirms that this vehicle was a non-functional flamethrower prototype and just a test vehicle for towing rather than an actual flamethrowing tank in its own right. This is because the key aspect of the Comet which the Churchill lacked was speed. This was to be a speed trial to test the trailers being towed by a fast tank, like the Comet, and indeed, to be later towed by the Centurion which was already in production at the time.

The Trial A34 Comet fitted with Crocodile Flamethrower trailer. Photo: The Tank Museum.

The Tests

A34 Comet serial number ‘T.336092’ was used for the trial. It had been fitted with 15 ½″ wide tracks and a new final drive with the ratio 4.5:1. This was to be a speed and endurance trial for tank and trailer alike along Long Valley, Surrey, in Southern England.
Trials commenced in April 1946 as the modified A34 ‘Crocodile’ set off on its 500 miles (805 km) journey along the course at top speed of which half was to be on the road and a half to be across country.

Close up view of the Crocodile flame projector during trials on a Churchill tank, April 1944. This is notably absent on the Comet indicating that a conversion to a flamethrower did not take place. Photo: IWM

Close up of the coupling as fitted to the A.34 (seen here on a Churchill). The notable difference is the fuel pipe with is not believed to have been fitted to the A.34 as it had no projector. Photo: Mark Nash

Results

The tests proved too extreme. While it is not known if the trailer was even loaded, it is likely it was ballasted to match the weight of a full trailer. Hauling one full of fuel was probably just too hazardous. The ground was hard and dry to start with, becoming progressively muddier with occasional stops to check on the condition of the trailer and hitch. At the 148-mile point, the problems began. The bolts securing the coupling started to work loose from the vibration and had to be re-tightened. This happened again at the 191-mile point with loosened bolts and one which had completely sheared off, and again a retightening after 260 miles.
After 100 miles of off-road driving (300 miles of the 500 miles total), the entire coupling failed. The Tank Museum at Bovington recounts that the tests ended when the trailer broke its axle and damaged its tires “while crossing a half-timbered trench against a 26″ step”.
Army Trials Report No. 1771 however, provides an alternative account. The shock, vibration, and forces on the coupling during the journey meant that the entire coupling link sheared its securing bolts and came off the trailer, causing damage to the bottom housing plate. Whichever account is correct, the trials for that trailer were over.

A photograph taken during the trials shows the trailer completely off the ground towed over a timber beam at high speed by the Comet, something inadvisable full of fuel. Photo: David Fletcher
The tank too had suffered from the severity of the tests with the steering brakes being severely scored (deep radial scratches indicating severe wear) and damaged, but the remainder of the mechanicals remained in good condition. Despite the high speeds, long journey, and towing a trailer, there was no evidence of the wheels or wheel bearings being badly worn, and despite the high wear on the steering brakes, the drivers reported that the steering was normal with no adverse effects on- or off-road. With a completely broken coupling though, the trial had to end before it had been completed.

Close up of the Crocodile trailer being towed by a Churchill tank in August 1944. Photo: IWM

Conclusion

The test of the A34 with the Crocodile fittings was neither a success nor a failure. The tank survived the extreme tests rather well and the trailer had never been intended for such rough treatment, yet survived 300 miles of the roughest possible handling. Other than the mechanical strength of the coupling there was nothing, in theory, preventing the use of the trailer at high speed other than the terrifying nature of it going wrong.
A report following the test concluded that the standard Crocodile trailer was not capable of withstanding fast towing or normal cross country towing, but that a fix was already in the works. A new one-piece fully cast connecting link was designed to replace the existing bolted type and it was suggested that a further trial of a trailer with that link should be tested, although it does not appear to have taken place.

Centurion Crocodile tank during trials. Photo: Tank Museum
The Centurion tank was also eventually trialed with the Crocodile trailer equipment as well, building on the work done on the Comet Crocodile trailer towing trials. The A34 Comet Crocodile was, therefore, not a true flamethrowing tank in its own right although there was nothing to prevent the flame equipment being fitted if the military had chosen to do so. She was really just a towing modification test rig for the Centurion Crocodile but flamethrowers had mostly fallen out of favor with the British military by then anyway. There is no information to suggest that the Comet tank was ever even planned to be fitted with a flame projector unit and no special name or mark was applied to the modified A34 used.

Specifications

Dimensions
L x W x H
6.55 m (w/o trailer) x 3.04 m x 2.67 m
(21ft 6in x 10ft 1in x 8ft 6in)
Total weight, battle ready 33.53 tonnes (32.7 long tons)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader/radio op, hull gunner)
Propulsion Rolls Royce Meteor Mk.III V12 Petrol/gasoline engine, 600 hp (447 kW)
Suspension Christie system
Top speed 32 mph (51 km/h)
Range (road) 155 miles (250 km)
Armament Flame Thrower
1x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) BESA machine guns
1x Flame thrower
Armor From 32 to 102 mm (1.26-4.02 in)
Total Production 1

Links & Resources

Tank Museum, Bovington
A.34 Comet – A Technical History, PM Knight (LINK)
British Battle Tanks, David Fletcher
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #136: Churchill Crocodile Flamethrower, David Fletcher


The Comet Crocodile trial vehicle. Illustrated by Alexe Pavel, based on an illustration by David Bocquelet.

Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

A46 Light Tank

United Kingdom (1946-47)
Light Tank – None built

The origins of the A46 and its descendants, the FV300 family, began in the middle of 1943 during the Second World War. At this point, the United Kingdom and the United States discussed that for a while at least, the US would provide enough tanks and war materials so that the UK could begin to scale back its industrial output that had been operating in high gear since the retreat from France and concentrate on new industrial capacity.
The UK, whilst seeing the attractiveness of such an offer in the short term, did not want to be indebted more than it was to the US after having grudgingly been compelled to share all of its indigenous technology so far. The thought of being further chained to its creditors was not something the UK wanted. It’s also worth noting that the US believed the UK would lose to Germany early in the war and, as such, regarding payments of Lend Lease, they did not want payments in pound sterling. UK gold reserves and the liquidation of British assets in America had, instead, to be sold to the US at a fraction of their value. The final debt would be US$1.2 trillion to be repaid finally in 2006.
The UK had decided that further reliance on US technology and control was unacceptable both from a sense of fiscal foresight and partly out of a wounded sense of national pride. Britain, therefore, proceeded to build and develop light and medium tanks of its own. Whilst many of the American Lend-Lease tanks were adequate, the UK also desired to adjust the balance in its own forces and sense of self-dependence by producing its own light tanks to replace the American M3/M5 light tanks in service.

Background

When the War Office settled on designing the next generation of light tanks, the platform chosen was to be based on the A17 Tetrarch and A25 Harry Hopkins light tanks that were in service, notably reusing their unusual steering systems. This required any steering to be done by curving the track via a steering wheel along with additional skid steering using Girling internal expanding brakes that could be used for sharp turns. The whole suspension was carried on four bulbous independently sprung wheels on each side.
The ‘Tetrarch’ or ‘Light Tank Mk VII A17’ had been produced by Vickers-Armstrong in the late 1930s and saw limited action in WW2. Armed with a 2 pounder (40 mm) gun and only lightly armored, its overall career was unremarkable, but it saw limited service with the UK and Soviet forces, and smaller trials in Switzerland.
The second tank, Light, Mk VIII, A25 also known as the ‘Harry Hopkins’ after President Roosevelt’s chief diplomatic advisor, was a later design also built by Vickers-Armstrong in 1941, and used many of the lessons gained in developing the A17s.

The failed Harry Hopkins tank was the forefather of the A46 Light tank. Source: tankmuseum.org

The A25 did not fare much better. During the early design phase, the light tank concept was out of favor due to the losses in France the prior year, and ongoing problems with the vehicle’s development, which led to large delays. By 1943, only six A25s had been produced and the UK was now equipped with the American M3/M5. Once the order in 1943 came through for a late war/post-war light tank to be developed, Vickers quickly picked up the contract, as, although its previous light tanks had not been a combat success, they did employ one of the essential criteria listed; namely to employ a steering system that required little power, such as that found on the A17 and A25. Vickers must have been laughing all the way to the bank with that contract.
The official reason for wishing to reuse this steering system stemmed from the fact it required a smaller engine and lighter transmission over conventional ones. Thus, a smaller frame could be built, which was highly desirable in a light tank. This feature was particularly important for the A46, which was expected to be air portable without disassembly, although the ability to be easily dismantled prior to transport was included if required for long-distance flights.

Development

Lessons from the Tetrarch and, to a lesser extent, the M3/M5 tanks had also been taken into consideration. Vickers decided they wanted a gun capable of being effective against other light and medium tanks yet have a useful High Explosive (HE) round and ideally share a commonality in parts or munitions with guns in service. The new vehicle was therefore to mount the 77mm QF gun which Vickers had been testing on the new A34 Comet medium tank. The new 77mm gun had been prioritised for A46 development initially, over that of even the Comet. Although debates were held at the Tank Board about this, where some saw the turretless Stuarts tanks fulfilling these roles while the UK was at war and felt instead that the 77mm should be prioritised for the Comet which should actually see combat.
Two prototypes were to be designed, a version with a rear-mounted engine and another with a forward-mounted engine. The gun tank type would initially have a rear engine whilst the load carriers and self-propelled guns would have front engines. Vickers happily agreed as it saw future growth in this system and it was one of the UK’s first modular designs that could allow the chassis to be reused for a variety of roles. Although Vickers had not even presented any official plans, the War Office ordered 80 to be built in 1944.

Line drawing of the A46 Light Tank based on the original development files and blueprints. Source: Ed Francis

Fast forward to November 15th 1944, and the 44th meeting of the Tank Board took place. It is recorded in the minutes that a meeting had taken place at Chertsey on the 14th November to consider the paper proposals as requested for the light tank roles. Mr. Little explained the layouts were in the same building and the board agreed to review them after the meeting was over. The next minutes held on 3rd January 1945 noted a mock-up of the gun tank would be ready by the end of the month for inspection and that no real issues had thus far hindered the project. Production should have begun around mid-1946. It was noted during minutes that the light tank concept “looked extremely good and should appeal psychologically to the troops”.


Vickers Light Tank A46. The resemblance to the Tetrarch and Harry Hopkins can be seen in the tank’s running gear. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign

The A46

The 46th Tank Board minutes also give the first full description of the A46, or to use the Vickers codes; ‘M132’ and ‘M131’. The former had a front engine and the latter the rear mounted block.
Vickers had managed to build one full-size mock-up gun tank before the war’s end, as well as a series of wooden display models. By late 1944, the War Office was looking at three new lines of tanks. These would consist of the A45 series, which would go on to become the FV200 heavy line, the A41 line based around the universal tank concept including Centurion, and the new Vickers light line.
Each of these lines would have its own gun tanks, command, bridge layers and support vehicles. By 1946, a new threat began to loom on the horizon with American and Soviet clashes of ideology mounting. Europe was still in tatters but, with the Soviet threat looming, the British began a slow but steady rearmament program. The aim was to do away with much of the wartime stock and instead to focus on this series of standardised vehicles. Each class and category would come under a new Fighting Vehicles designation commonly referred to as an ‘FV’ number.
These were detailed in the Fighting Vehicle Divisional notes 15, dated November 1946, where it was outlined how all vehicles were to be classified in categories between 1 to 19 with 00 as the basic platform and subsequent numbers to be sub-variants of this. For example, FV200 was to be a series of heavy vehicles with ’00’ the stock model, FV201 the gun tank etc. Each possible vehicle combination had been considered although the numbers would stretch far further than the original 19 and deviate over the years. A46, therefore, has the dubious honor of being the last ‘A’ series number. With these FV numbers, a standard series of engines would also be introduced. Heavy tracked vehicles were to have the 800 hp Meteor (fuel injected) engine, medium tracked vehicles the 350 hp Meteorite and light tracked vehicles the B80 Rolls Royce. The UK wanted to move away from a reliance on US components, but the General Motors 6-71M Diesel engine producing 207 hp at 2000 rpm was an option.
By 1947, A46 testing had switched to a front-engined arrangement and design progress was making steady headway. It was hoped that all vehicles developed from this would have the same layout. The engine and gearbox would be to the front right-hand side, and connect to the rear-drive sprocket via a centreline shaft. Vickers decided to add stowage bins to the back of the vehicle to increase ammo capacity, and modified their drawing accordingly. It was realized that a four-man crew would have been too cramped for the long-distance type of activity a light recon tank might have been required to carry out. As there was no compromise on the gun, Vickers passed it over to the Elswick department who began working on an autoloader for the 77mm gun. This would enable the crew to be reduced to three.

The Vickers Elswick works were a part of the development of the A46 light tank took place. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fate

A46 did not go much further from this point. Work had begun on a full size mock-up, however. The design specifications had changed completely and the project had become an experimental fully enclosed APC named CT-26 that still retained the front-mounted engine and track/suspension system from A46 but was otherwise its own project from now on. The requirement for a new light line would instead move over to a new family, the FV300 series.

The A46 Light Tank project morphed into the CT-26 APC seen above. This vehicle was not successful either. Source: Aviarmor.net

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 16 ft (21ft 5in Gun Forward) x 9 ft 6 in x 6ft 6 in

(6.52 x 4.87 x 2.89 m)

Total weight, battle ready 16 tons (32,000lbs)
Crew 3 (commander, Driver, Gunner/Loader)
Propulsion (various choices) Rover Meteorite Mk 204 1,099 cu in (18.0 L) petrol V8 at 350 hp
Rolls Royce Meteor supercharged (Merlin) V12 engine. In excess of 1000 hp
Rolls Royce B80 5575 cc 160 hp engine
General Motors 6-71M Diesel engine producing 207 hp at 2000 rpm
Transmission Splicer synchromesh gearbox. (5 forward, 1 reverse.)
Speed 28 mph
Armour Turret: front 75mm, sides 50mm, rear 40mm, top 14mm
Hull: upper 76mm, lower 50mm, side 25mm, upper 19mm, rear lower 25mm, top Front 14mm, belly 19mm
Armament 1 x 77 mm HV rifled gun with 50 rounds
1 x 7.62mm coaxial machine gun with 2,250 rounds
Elevation: +20/-12 Degrees
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Sources

A46 development files at the Bovington Tank Museum Archives

Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

FV4010 & Malkara

United Kingdom (1954-60)
Heavy Tank Destroyer – 3 Hulls Built

The story of FV4010 and its missiles begins in the strange post-war phase, following the collapse of the Third Reich and the Rise of the Soviet Union as the perceived global antagonist. It had long been appreciated during the Second World War that the Soviets were capable of making excellent tanks and in large numbers but despite a few mutterings at the top levels nobody was quite prepared for how quickly relations between the Allies would cool off and then fall apart altogether. The first real taste of what the UK might face came during the victory parades which passed through Berlin in 1945. The US and UK had already displayed their armor when columns of IS-3 tanks drove past the spectators and they came as quite the shock.
Those that were able to get a good view, including a number of intelligence officers, noted that these new tanks were, at least on paper, far more powerful and numerous than anything the Allies had encountered, including the German heavy tanks which had caused them quite a headache. With their excellent armor, large 122mm guns, good mobility, and huge production capacity, the IS-3 sent both the UK and the US into a tank designing frenzy focused on how to combat these should either side decide to mobilize.
Two distinct lines of thought began to evolve. The first involved the use of conventional kinetic energy (KE) guns to defeat the Russian armor. These would be based on the L1 120mm gun, itself based of the US M58, and a temporary, but not satisfactory solution had been found in the FV4004 Conway tank destroyer. An even larger platform was proposed to be built on the FV200 chassis known as the FV215 Heavy Tank Destroyer wielding the L4 183 mm Anti-Tank gun, the largest dedicated tank killing gun ever made. A more financially prudent line of reasoning was to use Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM’s) on tank chassis already in service.

Early and late FV4010 heavy missile tank destroyer versions. Drawings by Ed Francis based on original documents held at the Bovington archives.

Development

FV4010’s birth begins sometime around the 32nd FVDDL (Fighting Vehicle Design Department Liaison) report. In the report, the notion of a mobile platform developed to mount very large guided missiles able to tackle any Soviet tank in service or likely to enter service in the foreseeable future is mentioned. Design work had already been carried out by several FVDD groups and Tank Technology Officers at the School of Tank Technology (STT) in the UK. These designs, such as the Cento, Apollyon, and Cerebos, were exercises for just such a vehicle and, as such, a lot of preliminary work had already been carried out.
The 34th FVDDL report dated July 1955 recorded that preliminary design investigations into a tank-sized vehicle with the FV or Fighting Vehicle reference number 4010 could soon be carried out. No clear description is given at this stage other than it should ideally carry 20 guided weapons or if this were not advisable that a smaller tracked vehicle, able to carry 3 or 4 missiles, should also be considered. This smaller version would turn out to be the FV426. The vehicle and its missile launching arm were actually built and the mock-up missile tested for weight and balance. Sadly, it ended up as a range target at Lulworth before being recovered by the Tank Museum, which promptly chopped the launching arm of and left it as a semi-restored FV400.
The hull chosen for FV4010 was to be Centurion based, much like those in the STT papers, although a smaller version using the A34 Comet chassis was considered. The Comet version was to mount three to four missiles on launching rails on a turretless hull. One such vehicle was reportedly sent out to Libya in the 1950s for testing. However, to date, no further reliable information or photos have surfaced. The one thing the FV4010 and FV215 did have in common was that both platforms were to be heavily armored as both were built around the weapon first and foremost, which in this case was the Malkara missile.


Two original drawings of the early Centurion Mark III-based FV4010 missile tank destroyer. Source: User Ogopogo on the Facepunch forums, initially discovered by Mike Verrel

The Missile

The development of the Malkara missile, a heavy anti-tank wire-guided weapon system, began in 1952 at the Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) in Australia, along with the Aeronautical Research Laboratory (ARL) and Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) which were working on a heavy missile named Project J. This was a radio-guided 6ft (1.8 meter) long, 8 inch (203 mm) missile with a 55 lb warhead and a total weight of 173 lb (78 kg). Australia had also been working on a smaller ATGM known as Project E, a 70 lb (31.7kg) wire-guided missile with a 15 lb 4.5 inch (6.8 kg – 114 mm) HEAT warhead and a maximum range of about 2000 yards (1.8km).
The missiles creator was Dr. William Butement CBE who had taken over the role as the first Chief Scientist in the Defence Scientific Service of the Australian Department of Supply and Development in April 1949. Before this, he had been living in the UK, serving the Crown during the Second World War where his work on using radar to track targets and direct searchlight made him just one of the many unsung heroes of that war.
Although he assumed a more managerial role during the initial Malkara development, he was responsible for the semi-solid paste fuel used to power the missile and is oft quoted as giving the platform the name Malkara, an Aboriginal word meaning shield. The weapon’s guidance and control were developed by Prof J.M. Evans OAM, a research scientist specialising in the stability and control of flight vehicles at the ARL, and Chief Designer of Malkara’s shape and performance.
The UK, meanwhile, was running a parallel project called Heavy GW (Br), as well as a smaller HEAT based version named Light GW (Br), similar to projects J and E. Heavy GW was to mount a 7.5 inch (190 mm) 60lb (27kg) HESH warhead. With a 2ft long warhead, this missile was going to measure in at some 8ft (2.4 meters) long! With both teams working and operating on near identical projects, it was decided to drop one and merge with the Australian project. Those working on the UK’s version were sent over to Australia to begin testing at the Woomera missile range, a journey that still took over a week by air alone.
The Malkara missile itself was and remains the largest wire-guided anti-tank missile of its type ever made. Its 8 inch (203 mm) HESH warhead has a whopping 56 lbs (25 kg) of explosive filler alone. To put that into perspective, a modern 155mm HE shell has about 15 lb (6.8kg) of filler. This ensured any target struck by Malkara was, if not destroyed outright, left unable to take part in the battle any longer. Later tests against Conqueror MBT range targets cracked the front glacis in half. The UK ordered 150 of these missiles outright.

A Carrier For the Malkara

With the missile in place, a series of design projects were started and a rough idea of what they wanted was drawn up. The first iteration was based on a Mk III Centurion and consisted of a well-sloped casemate mounted to the rear, with the engine placed forward. The missile was assembled inside and came out at a 45 degree angle from the rear, facing up. This version often creeps up on the internet as being the actual final platform. A simple glance would inform most that there would barely be enough room for the crew, let alone 20 missiles. The final design mentioned below would be built on a Centurion Mk VII.
Before they got to chopping up perfectly good tanks, the team decided that the best approach would be to build up the basics of the fighting compartment and how it would all work. Unlike the Americans, who had the budget to build a vehicle from scratch only to then discover it didn’t work, the UK placed a lot of emphasis on detailed drawings, followed by wooden models, mockups, soft steel shells and then production. Using this approach, each phase could be stopped easily at minimal cost, obvious faults found and inevitably allow for the usual political interference that comes with any AFV development.

One of the few images of the FV4010 available online. Although often presented as the final version, this is an earlier variant based on the Centurion Mark III. Source: Warthunder forums.
The team decided to build the fighting compartment as a complete module with launching arms and stowage, but the rest of the vehicle could wait as it was not expected the Centurion would change so radically over the next few years. In the meantime, the mockup was mounted on a standard 4 wheeled truck chassis with a generator to the front for power, where the engine would be in any finished design. This, it was reasoned, would allow them to iron out any faults and issues with launching and other parts of the vehicle.
The FVDDL report number 35 dated June 1956, noted the first of the mock-up hulls was ready to go to Australia and it was planned to have at least three of these mock-up’s built and the firing platforms then tested in both Woomera and at the Lulworth ranges in the UK. They were fully fitted and furnished inside to the FV4010 specs, with every detail in place including spare missiles (wooden), crane arm, cupolas and even provisional stowage. The first rig was mostly made of wood and the second of mild steel armor. FVDDL report 36 dated June 1957 states the mobile test rig was now equipped to fire both Malkara and Orange William and a second rig was nearing construction for Malkara trials for early 1958.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, FVDDL report 36 from June 1958 states that test rig one had expended all its munitions and test rig two was now up and running with some 150 missiles to be fired at the Long Range Weapons Establishment, Woomera. These missiles were essentially duds made out of wood and concrete. After firing, they could be recovered and reused, with only the rockets motors replaced.
Unlike the first rig, the stage 2 rig was armored all round and had a working butterfly hatch on top. This allowed one missile to be fired onto the target while a second was being prepped below. Once fired, the launching arms would rotate around 180 degrees on a pair of centrally mounted pinions and a new missile would be in the launch position.
Each missile came in several parts for storage, with the body and wings separate. Each of the four main wings and four secondary fins were clicked onto the missile, once the butterfly launcher had rotated a cable was pulled out and the missile was now armed. The total time for each missile to be laid, fitted and rotated into firing position was 15 seconds. The whole rotation was powered, although it could be done by hand in an emergency. Once on the hull roof, the missile could be panned left and right 30° from within the hull.

Sources

Assorted Malkara development papers, Bovington
Assorted FV4010 development papers, Bovington


Malkara missile and one of the FV4010 test rigs in the bottom half. The images were taken in June 1960 at the Royal Armoured Corps Centre in Lulworth. Source: Ed Francis

Loading/Firing Procedure

1) Attach missile to underside launching plate, allow missile amplifier plate to heat up – max 10 seconds.
2) Connect firing circuit connection
3) Connect wings and fins
4) Missile control wire plug placed in the clip on the underside of the missile.
5) Launching plate to be turned over-loader makes sure arms are clear
6) Control wire and plug to be transferred from the plate to roof point
7) Connection points retract
8) Programmed flight data added, wind speed, temp, elevation etc.
9) Missile fired, launcher plate revolved to present fresh missile.
Three mounting points were provided for the missile, two fore and one to the rear. The forward mounts were located just behind the wings and consist of pins projecting from the body of the missile. The rear pin provided lateral restraint, a further forward mount was designed by GAF to help stabilise the missile during rough cross-country travel experienced in Australia. The pins were designed to be strong enough to allow the missile to undergo the 180-degree swing from hull to the deployment position but weak enough to offer little resistance if the missile fired and they were still accidentally in place.

Rig 3

Once the second rig had completed its trials, the third and final rig was to begin testing. This would have had a full crew and be fully armored to the levels required of it when coupled with Centurion. Engine, tracks, suspension, fuel capacity and width were to be the same as Centurion Mk 7, with the length and height to be the minimum possible.

Malkara missiles mounted on a Humber Hornet at the Bovington Tank Museum. The blue on the warhead indicates that this was a practice round. Source: User growler2ndrow on Flickr.
The third rig was to be as close as possible to the real thing. The engine was to be mounted at the front with the louvers and decks moved over. Towards the rear was a large raised superstructure, heavily armored and able to stop any Soviet return fire with 8 inches (212 mm) at 45° for 300 mm effective plate over the front of the superstructure. The lower nose plate was 4 inches 101 mm at 45° for 142 mm effective armor. Upper hull front was 6.5 inches at 50° for 256 mm of armor. Sides were just 2 inches (50 mm) at 12° with the upper sides and rear at 17 mm and 12 mm respectively. 6 mm skirting plates were attached as standard.

Conclusion

The project stopped due to two main issues. The first was that Malkara was a bit of a black sheep in the missile family,
Then, as now, politicians tried to find faults in projects that they had little influence over, and rival firms with strong bonds were able to put a lot of influence over these men. Secondly, the project had moved back to the UK and despite several attempts to run demonstrations at Kirkcudbright, on each occasion the demonstration was put off due to bad weather and strong winds, and each time new invitations were sent out less people would respond. The media then waded in and highlighted issues which were duly unfair or outrightly not true but public opinion and support had gone.
With newer projects and firms, notably Vickers, putting more pressure on the government to support their new missiles, like the Vickers Vigilant, the end of Malkara seemed certain. Those in service were instead used on Humber Hornet as mobile air portable heavy anti-tank units in the Parachute Squadron, Royal Armoured Corps which came into existence on 3 February 1965, raised from cadres of Cyclops Squadron 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and The Special Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS). Malkara, however, was not quite finished. The Australians redesigned and altered the bits they had and ended up with the Ikara ship-borne long-range anti-submarine guided weapon that was developed for the Royal Australian Navy.
The Royal Navy had also shown interest in Malkara and a close-range anti-ship missile and although it was never taken in for direct service, it did end up forming the basis of the Sea Cat missile after Short Brothers of Belfast converted it over.

Malkara missile during testing in South Australia, at the Woomera Rocket Range in 1959. The flare on one of the fins, that was used for aiming, is visible on the lowest fin. Source: https://guides.naa.gov.au/

All Details for Malkara Unless Stated Otherwise

Malkara specifications

Project J Max range 2000 yards
Malkara Max range 1500 yards Mk I and 4000 yards Mk2
Malkara min practical range 400-500 both Mks
Project J min range 300 meters
Max direct fire unguided (loss of controls) 1000 meters
Boost acceleration 22g
Boost duration 0.6 secs
Sustainer duration 25 to 4000 yards
Velocity during sustained flight 137 m/s
Roll stabilized 2 pairs of wings
Control type Command Cartesian
No of wire cores 4 cores (2 on service model)
Control type of signal Shaped D.C.
Launch angle 3.5° above LOS target
Fuse type Eclectically operated
Fuse arming distance 250 yds
Arming delay 2 secs
Power type thermal batteries
Ground equipment sight monocular x 10
Cone diameter 8”
Explosive weight 56 lbs
Chance of hit on stationery 75% at 500 m 95% at 3000 m on 2.3 m sq target
Chance of hit on moving target similar to above with 2.3×4.4 m at 4.5m/s crossing
Malkara Penetration 150 mm at 60 degrees equivalent
Project J Penetration about the same
Max angle of fire +20/- 10 degrees
Firing weight 189.5 lbs
½ cruise wt 172.5 lbs
Roll 0.450 lbs. ft. sec2
Pitch 15.7lbs. ft. sec2
Yaw 15.7lbs. ft. sec2
Malkara Length 77 inches
Project J length 75 inches
Wingspan 31 inches
Wing weight 3 lbs each
Rate of Fire 4 rpm
Lethal blast radius > 100 meters
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index


Illustration of the Mk. III FV4010.

Illustration of the Mk. V FV4010
Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker. Paid for by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
Cold War British Prototypes

Chimera 1984

United Kingdom (1984)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – None built

Chimera was a British School of Tank Technology study design to develop a casemated Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) that could make constructive use of the remaining, dated FV4201 Chieftain Tanks then still in service. It is worth noting that there are several ‘Chimeras’, the UK not being one to throw a good name away and recycled it for several other projects. For the sake of brevity, all reference to Chimera in this text will refer to the 1984 version.
The project was part of the British LAIC (Long Armour Infantry Course), formerly known as the Tank Technology course. It had been renamed due to the expanding mechanization meaning that infantry now had an equivalent need to understand the technical aspects of the equipment they were operating and officers were invited from various Commonwealth nations.
This particular Chimera began in 1984 as part of LAIC number 35 at the Armour School, part of the Royal Armoured Corps Centre at Bovington, Dorset. The course involved a study to find a cheap and effective way to make a Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun on the Chieftain chassis that was to utilize new armor and technology but still be cheaper to produce and operate than the new FV4030 Challenger 1 main battle tank that was entering service.

Design

The result was a casemated design; the turret was removed, the gun was built into the hull and traverse was done by moving the whole vehicle left or right, much in the same way as the Jagdpanzer IV or Jagdpanther late war German tank destroyers. This design concept has several pros and cons over conventional turreted tanks. It lowers the overall profile of the vehicle and allows the placing of heavier armor over the front of the vehicle increasing its survivability. It often allows a more powerful gun to be fitted, however, this comes at a cost of only being combat effective to targets approximately 45° in front of it and less able to defend itself against threats to its flank and rear like a turreted MBT. This type of vehicle is ideally used as an ‘ambush’ weapon: laying in wait in a concealed location then changing location as soon as it fires its gun to another preplanned position to avoid detection.
As mentioned above, aiming was done by steering the vehicle to the left or right should the target be out of the vehicle’s primary arc of fire and therefore such machines are particularly vulnerable if the tracks are damaged. Having to start the tank’s engine and move the whole vehicle to bring the gun into position to fire on an enemy vehicle can reveal its position. This is not ideal. As the Germans found out in the Second World War, if used as a defensive vehicle they can excel, however, it’s their unsuitability for offensive deployment that highlights their greatest flaws. Used in place of conventional tanks, they will inevitably struggle against anything not approaching head-on. Finally, as a side note, they tend to be very long which can cause logistics issues and maneuvering issues around bends or corners.
The overall hull of the Chieftain was lengthened and an extra road wheel added to help take the weight of the Chobham frontal armour which was to be twice that of Challenger 1. It also helped to move the centre of gravity more to the centre. One issue found by the Germans and the Russians, particularly in the later heavily armored casemated vehicles, was that the extra frontal weight put undue stress on the forward suspension often resulting in them having steel road wheels at the front. By increasing the overall length of the hull, it helped to alleviate this somewhat.
The weapon was initially designed around the L11 120 mm rifled cannon gun with the early 1980s muzzle reference system mirror and shroud above the muzzle. This is sometimes marked up as the XL30 120 mm gun which was a considerably more powerful 120mm piece originally designed for the MBT-80 MBT. The XL30 also had the advantage of being shorter yet more powerful than the L11 and could use either the old ammunition or the new CHARM rounds entering service.
The frontal armor was incredibly thick for its time. It was 610 mm to 700 mm of Chobham armor on the upper half of the glacis angled at 20° or the equivalent of about 1400 mm of conventional Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA), yet considerably lighter at 2141 kg per ‘cheek’. The lower front of the vehicle was 110 mm of steel at 34° for 132 mm effective frontal plate, enough to stop cannon fire and older Soviet era 100 mm rounds at a distance but vulnerable to more modern rounds. It was envisioned such a vehicle would be deployed hull down ideally, therefore the lower plate would be out of sight and could not be targeted.
The roof section or slope leading up to the midway point was also conventional steel but 122 mm of it angled back at 80° for nearly 700 mm effective armor. The side armor was split between very thick on the upper half and thin on the lower half. Above the track line it was 310 mm thick along the sides for the first 50% of the hull and then dropped to 40 mm for the latter half. The lower side armor remained the same as Chieftain at 40 mm. The rear, back deck and bottom were 25 mm each. Two ‘bazooka’ plates protected the tracks along the sides and these were overlaid with 30 mm applique layers over the first 2/3 of either flank. The total armor weight for the vehicle was 32.5 tons.
Power was supplied by a late model L60 multifuel engine, likely to have been the 12A/N model (formerly known as 14A), giving at 750bhp. By this time, many of the older issues with the L60 had been rectified and although still somewhat temperamental its performance had increased dramatically over the earlier engines. It was also proposed to fit the Rolls Royce MBT-80 engine in this vehicle, replacing the L60. The MBT-80 engine was a 1500 hp unit able to squeeze 2000 hp when required (a less ambitious version of 1200-1500 hp ended up in the Challenger).
The crew was to consist of four men: the commander and gunner on the right hand side; the driver and loader on the left hand side. Both commander and loader have their own hatches which double as entry exit for the gunner and driver who does not have a conventional hatch. Optics were provided by 4 episcopes for the commander and 5 for the loader, the gunner had his own day/night thermal system. Close protection was given by a 0.5″ heavy machine gun remote weapon station located either over the main gun or to the side of the loaders hatch.

A handmade drawing of the Chimera 1984 tank destroyer, made in 1984. It closely matches drawings from official documents and is probably an original piece relating to the project – Source: Army.ca

Conclusion

The vehicle was built up as far as a large model and presented before a board of MOD and UK leading tank experts in 1985, where it was viewed as successful in achieving the targets set and the project was effectively filed away. No orders were given for modifications to start on the remaining FV4201 Chieftain Tanks still in British Army service. A similar but later design for a casmated Chieftain known as the Combat Test Rig or CTR and erroneously as the Jagdchieftain had also been carried out. However, that was part of the FMBT-70 program and unrelated to this project.

Side note: Tank versus tank

Tank Versus Tank: The Illustrated Story of Armoured Battlefield Conflict in the Twentieth Century is a 1988 book by Kenneth Macksey. It covers tank construction, development, technology, tactics and strategy from the first appearance of the tank on the battlefield up to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The last chapter of the book deals with a “What-if scenario”, seeing an invasion of NATO by the Warsaw Pact somewhere in Central Europe. For this, Macksey presents the Goliath, an ‘assumed’ advanced tank destroyer used by NATO forces. However, the images presented are of the Chimera 1984 tank destroyer! The Goliath-Chimera is described as being able to reliably survive a frontal hit from the latest Soviet APFSDS rounds while taking out the latest Soviet MBTs at more than 1000 m. This is one of the few cases of a fake ‘fake tank’ in AFV history.

A 1990s battlefield envisioned. The NATO forces are on the left, with the Goliath-Chimera tank destroyer in the small village. Source: Tank versus Tank

Side view of the Goliath-Chimera tank destroyer. Source: Tank versus Tank

Beautiful illustration showing the Goliath tank destroyer in combat. Source: Tank versus Tank

A 3D model of the Chimera tank destroyer, probably done by a private modeller. Source – Quora

Specifications

Armament 120 mm XL30
Armor Front Armor: 610-700 mm of Chobham armor (1400mm RHA equivalent)
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Late model L60 multi fuel engine (likely the 12A/N model developing 750 bhp)
Total production None built

Sources

CHIMERA: School of Tank Technology
LAIC: Armour magazine
Kenneth Macksey, Tank Versus Tank: The Illustrated Story of Armoured Battlefield Conflict in the Twentieth Century


The 1984 Chimera tank destroyer in NATO colors. Illustrated by Jaroslaw “Jarja” Janas, paid for with funds from our Patreon campaign.