In recent years, thanks largely to erroneous publications and popular video games such as ‘World of Tanks’ and ‘War Thunder’, a comedy of errors has surrounded the history of the officially named ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’. This redesigned turret – intended for installation on the Centurion – is often incorrectly identified as the ‘Action X’ turret, with the X being the Roman numeral for 10. It is also known as the ‘Action Ten’ or simply as ‘AX’. In turn, vehicles fitted with the turret, such as the intended Centurion, then have a false suffix attached to them, ‘Centurion AX’ being an example. There is also a false belief that the turret is associated with the FV4202 project, however as we will see, this is not the case.
But what is the truth behind the awkwardly titled ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’? (for ease this will be shortened to ‘CMT’ throughout the article) Unfortunately, that is currently a hard question to answer, as much information surrounding the turret and its development has been lost to history. Thankfully, due to the efforts of amateur historians and Tank Encyclopedia members Ed Francis and Adam Pawley, some fragments of its story have been recovered.
The first falsehood to tackle is the name ‘Action X’. The name ‘Action X’ appeared in a book published in the early 2000s after the author cited seeing the name written on the back of a photo of the turret. What he fails to mention is that this was written in the 1980s, and does not appear in any official material.
By the late 1950s, early 1960s, the FV4007 Centurion had been in service for over 10 years and had already proved to be a reliable vehicle, highly adaptable, and well-liked by its crews. In those 10 years of service, it had already been in use with two types of turrets. The turret of the Mk.1 Centurion was built to mount the famous 17-Pounder gun. It was roughly hexagonal with a gun mantlet on the leading edge. This gun mantlet did not run the entire width of the turret, but to the left-hand side was a step in the turret face with a large bulbous blister mount for a 20 mm Polsten cannon. The Centurion Mk.2 brought with it a new turret. While still roughly hexagonal, the large bulbous front was changed to a slightly narrower casting, with a mantlet that covered most of the turret face. The 20 mm Polsten mounting was also removed. Large stowage boxes were added to the outer circumference of the turret and gave the tank its instantly recognizable appearance. This turret would stay with the Centurion for the rest of its service life.
The FV4201 Chieftain was also in development in the early 1960s, and well on its way to becoming the British Army’s next frontline tank. The Chieftain featured a new mantletless turret design. The mantlet is a piece of armor at the breach end of the gun barrel that moves up and down with the gun. On a ‘mantletless’ turret, the gun simply protrudes through a slot in the turret face. With the Centurion proving to be a great export success, it was hoped the Chieftain would follow suit. The Chieftain was, however, expensive.
This would appear to be where the story ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’ comes in. Evidence suggests that the turret was developed alongside the Centurion and Chieftain, as a means of creating a method for poorer countries to upgrade their Centurion fleets if they could not afford to invest in the Chieftain.
The design was quite different from the standard Centurion design, but it remained somewhat familiar to existing Centurion operators, foreign or domestic, making the transition easy on potential crews. A large sloped ‘forehead’ replaced the mantlet of the standard turret, with sloping cheeks replacing the vertical walls of the original. The coaxial Browning M1919A4 machine gun was moved to the top left corner of the ‘forehead’, with the aperture of the coaxial gun surrounded by 3 raised ‘blocks’ in the cast armor. The machine gun was connected to the main gun via a series of linkages.
The gun mount was designed to be adaptable and could carry either the Ordnance 20-Pounder (84 mm) gun or the more potent and infamous L7 105 mm gun, making it ideal for operators of both guns. The gun would pivot on trunnions placed in the slightly bulbous turret face, the location of which is identified by welded ‘plugs’ visible in the turret cheeks. The gun would be aimed via a unity sight that emerged from the turret roof, in front of the Commander’s cupola.
One of the things that the mantlet helps to protect from is shrapnel and debris entering the fighting compartment through the gun mount. In this mantletless design, plating was installed on the inside of the turret to ‘catch’ any fragments that made it through.
Internally, the layout of the turret was pretty standard, with the loader on the left, gunner front right, and the commander behind him in the right rear corner. The decision of what cupola would be equipped on the turret would likely have fallen to the end-user. For the trials, the turret was predominantly equipped with a ‘clam-shell’ type cupola – possibly a version of the Commander’s Cupola No.11 Mk.2. It had a domed two-piece hatch and around 8 periscopes and there was a mounting point for a machine gun. The loader had a simple flat two-piece hatch and a single periscope at the front left of the turret roof.
The turret bustle stayed the same basic shape, with mounting points for the standard bustle rack or basket. A feature carried over from the standard turret was a small circular hatch in the left turret wall. This was used for loading in ammunition, and throwing out spent casings. On both the left and right turret cheeks, there were mounting points for the standard ‘Discharger, Smoke Grenade, No. 1 Mk.1’ launchers. Each launcher featured 2 banks of 3 tubes and were fired electrically from inside the tank. The typical Centurion turret stowage bins were also installed around the outside of the turret, although they were modified to fit the new profile.
Unfortunately, most of the armor values of the turret are currently unknown, although the face is around 6.6 inches (170 mm) thick.
Not an FV4202 Turret
It is a common misconception that the ‘Centurion Mantletless Turret’ and the turret of the FV4202 ‘40-ton Centurion’ prototype are one and the same. The FV4202 was a prototype vehicle developed to test many of the features that would be employed on the Chieftain. However, these turrets are not the same. While they are extremely similar, there are noticeable differences.
The CMT is far more angular in its geometry compared to the FV4202 turret, which has a much rounder design. The cheeks of the CMT are straight angles where the FV4202 is curved. The trunnion holes on CMT are both in a downward angled section, while on the 4202 the slope is facing up. The armor ‘blocks’ around the coaxial machine gun are also shallower on the FV4202. It would also appear that the gun was mounted slightly lower in CMT. It is not clear as to whether there are any internal differences.
While the turrets are not identical, it is evident that they do share a similar design philosophy, both being mantletless designs with a similar placed coaxial machine gun.
Just three of these turrets were built, all of which took part in trials undertaken by the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE). Two turrets were mounted on a regular Centurion chassis and put through a series of tests. The remaining one was used for gunnery trials. While info on most of the tests has disappeared, details of the gunnery trial that one of the turrets – casting number ‘FV267252’ – underwent in June 1960 at the request of the ‘Turret’s and Sighting Branch’ are available.
The turret was subject to fire from rounds as small as .303 (7.69 mm) and .50 Caliber (12.7 mm), through 6, 17 and 20-Pounder rounds, as well as 3.7 in (94 mm) rounds. Both Armor-Piercing and High-Explosive rounds were fired at the turret. The results of the test are displayed below in an extract from the report ‘Trials Group Memorandum on Defensive Firing Trials of Centurion Mantletless Turret, June 1960’.
Of the 3 built, just one of the turrets – casting number ‘FV267252’ from the 1960 report – now survives. It can be found in the car park of the Tank Museum, Bovington. One turret has disappeared, while the other is known to have been destroyed in further firing trials.
Large chunks of the history of the Mantletless Turret remain missing, unfortunately, and the history we do know has been twisted and contorted. The name ‘Action X’ will no doubt continue to plague this turret for years to come, thanks in no small part to Wargaming.net’s ‘World of Tanks’ and Gaijin Entertainment’s ‘War Thunder’ online games. Both have incorporated a Centurion equipped with this turret into their respective games, identifying it as the ‘Centurion Action X’. World of Tanks is the worst offender, however, as they have also mated the turret with the hull of the FV221 Caernarvon and created the entirely fake ‘Caernarvon Action X’, a vehicle that never existed in any form.
Centurion fitted with the Mantletless turret equipped mounting the L7 105mm gun. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
WO 194/388: FVRDE, Research Division, Trials Group Memorandum on Defensive Firing Trials of Centurion Mantletless Turret, June 1960, National Archives
Simon Dunstan, Centurion: Modern Combat Vehicles 2
Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Images of War Special: The Centurion Tank, Pat Ware
Haynes Owners Workshop Manual, Centurion Main Battle Tank, 1946 to Present.
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #68: Centurion Universal Tank 1943-2003
The Tank Museum, Bovington