In the early years of the Cold War, the Western Powers began developing heavy tanks in response to the Soviet’s IS-3 heavy tank, unveiled at the end of the Second World War. The IS-3 sent a cold shiver down the spines of Western on-lookers. In response, the United States would produce the M103, while the French would experiment with the AMX-50. Great Britain – not to be outdone by these close allies – would develop the Conqueror, the last designated Heavy Tank operated by the British Army.
Weighing in at 63 tons (57 tonnes), the FV214 Conqueror – officially the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120mm Gun, Conqueror’ – was a monstrous tank. It was armed with a powerful 120 mm rifled gun and was protected by armor that was up to 10 inches (250 mm) thick. The weight of this tank presented a logistical issue, however – there were no recovery vehicles capable of moving it, other than heavy-duty tractors such as the FV1201A Heavy Artillery Tractor. The Americans faced a similar issue with the M103 and, as such, developed the M51, a heavy recovery vehicle built on the chassis of – and specifically designed to assist – the M103 tank.
The British would do the same and, in 1959, create the FV219 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), built using the chassis, propulsion and suspensions systems of the tank on which it was based. This would be followed, in 1960, by the FV222 Mk.2 ARV.
The Conqueror was born out of the 1944 FV200 project, a proposed ‘Universal Tank’ platform that could be modified to perform various roles (ranging from gun tank to engineering vehicle and Self-Propelled Guns) which would all share the same chassis. A 55-ton (49 tonne) tank armed with a 20-pounder (83 mm) gun designated FV201 was chosen for further development into a heavy tank. This later evolved in 1952 into the FV221 Caernarvon which utilized a Centurion Mk.III turret and gun. In 1955, the 120mm L1 rifled gun was introduced to the chassis in a brand new turret, thus, the FV214 Conqueror was born.
The Conqueror was worthy of its name. It was an impressive vehicle at 38 feet (12 m) long (with the gun forward, 25 feet 4 inches/7.72 m otherwise), 13 feet 1 inch wide (3.99 m) and 10 feet 5 inches (3.18 m) tall. The vehicle was propelled by an 810 horsepower Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 engine, which allowed the 63 long-ton (57 tonnes) tank to achieve a top speed of 22 mph (35 km/h). The tank’s weight was supported on a Horstmann suspension with four, two-wheel bogies per side. The drive sprocket was at the back while the idler was at the front. Armor on the tank was a maximum of 7 inches (177 mm) thick on both the front of the hull and the turret. The track was 31 inches (78.7 cm) wide and had 102 links per side.
The Conqueror had an extremely short service life – which was spent almost entirely in West Germany – before being retired in 1966. It was found, by this point in time, that the Centurion – now armed with the famous L7 105 mm gun – was just as an effective tank as the larger Conqueror. As such, the behemoth became the last of its kind.
Development of the ARV
The Conqueror ARV was the only variant of the FV214 gun tank to reach production and service. Other engineering vehicles that were based on its chassis – which were carried over from the FV200 project – were planned, such as the FV215A Heavy Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE), the FV216 Mine Flail, and the FV223 Armoured Ramp Carrier (ARK).
Another design to be recycled from the FV200 was the FV209, a design for an armored recovery vehicle. It was this design that the Conqueror ARV would be based on, using the chassis, suspension and automotive components of the FV214 gun tank. Production of three prototypes commenced in 1953. By this time, the vehicle had received the designation FV219 Conqueror ARV Mk.1. These three vehicles took part in successful trials in 1955, resulting in an order for 20 vehicles. Production of the Mk.1 would stop at just eight vehicles, as an improved design was soon unveiled. This became the FV222 Conqueror ARV Mk.2. Lengthy trials were avoided as it was simply an improved version of the Mk.1. The FV219 would enter service in 1959, four years after its gun tank relation. This would be followed in 1960 by the improved FV222.
FV219 ARV Mk.1
The FV219’s chassis was almost identical to the regular FV214 Conqueror tank. It weighed 61 tons (56 tonnes), a few tons lighter than the gun tank thanks to the lack of a turret. It was 29 feet (8.9 meters, with the anchoring spade) long, 13 feet 1 inch wide (3.99 m) and 9 feet (2.7 meters) tall. The bow area of the hull was especially similar to the gun tank. In place of the turret, a small armored superstructure constructed from welded plates was installed. There were three stowage boxes installed on the exterior of this cabin; two on the left wall, one on the right. Behind the bow on the right was a small round access port. This superstructure housed the ARV’s main winch and its accompanying crew. It is also known as the ‘winch compartment’.
A four-man crew operated the vehicle. This team consisted of the vehicle commander (who also acted as the winch operator), radio operator, recovery mechanic and driver. Two men sat in the bow and the other two in the superstructure. The driver’s position was identical to the gun tank; front and right. He sat under a hatch that opened up and pivoted to the right. Like the gun tank, the driver had three vision periscopes to see through while driving ‘buttoned-up’. Another man sat to his left under a two-piece hatch similar to that of the driver’s hatch on a Centurion. The commander was located at the left-rear corner of the superstructure, under a fully rotating vision cupola with a built-in hatch. The man to his left and a simple one-piece hatch that opened up and backward. As with the gun tank, the bow compartment was separated from the main crew compartment.
It was possible for a .30 Cal. (7.62mm) L3A1 machine gun – the British designation of the US Browning M1919A4 – to be mounted here. There was also provision for the mounting of smoke grenade launchers to the left and right cheek of the winch compartment, as well as the left and right corners of the hull rear. Each launcher consisted of five tubes, giving the vehicle a total of 20 smoke grenades. Both the machine gun and the grenades were purely a defensive measure.
The ARV’s main recovery tool was a 49-ton (45 tonne) capacity winch. This main winch used a 450 foot (137-meter) long cable. This emerged from a small slit in the back of the superstructure. There was also a secondary, 4½ -ton (4 tonne) capacity winch. This used a 899 foot (274-meter) cable and was predominantly used to deploy and retrieve the heavier and stiffer cable of the main winch. This cable emerged from a void at the top of the upper front plate of the winch compartment. Both winches were mounted side-by-side in the superstructure. They were driven by a power-take-off from the vehicle’s engine. Numerous pulleys, guide wheels and fairleads (a device that guides a line, rope or cable) were dotted around the outside of the vehicle which allowed pulls to be made in any direction off of the front, right, left and rear of the ARV. The largest and strongest pulley and fairlead were located at the rear of the vehicle, as this was where the majority of tows would happen. To this end, a large spade was mounted beneath it. Operated hydraulically, this spade was used to anchor the vehicle into the ground when towing to stop the vehicle slipping.
Other recovery equipment included a jib on the rear of the hull, two tie-bars (metal bars with eyelets on each end, used together for towing), a wooden bumper/buffer bar (used when pushing) and two heavy-duty single-sheave snatch blocks for reeving a 3:1 tackle that would allow straight-pulls of up to 148 tons (135 tonnes). Secondary cabling and ropes were also carried, including a 98 foot (30-meter) tow rope, and two 15 foot (4.5 meter) towing cables. This equipment is stored around the exterior of the ARV. For instance, the 15-foot tow cables were stored on the armored skirts that protected the suspension bogies. These were carried over from the gun tank, but on the ARV they were removed more often than not. This led to the cables often being haphazardly being stored on the engine deck.
FV222 ARV Mk.2
The Mk.2 ARV featured a few upgrades over the Mk.1. The most noticeable of these was to the front of the vehicle. A large sloping plate of armor now formed the front of the vehicle, completely changing the forward profile of the bow. This upgrade greatly improved the crew’s protection but also presents the researcher with the most noticeable means of distinguishing a Mk.1 and Mk.2 ARV. The Mk.2 also carried four stowage boxes. Three were on the left of the winch compartment, one was on the right. The changes on the Mk.2 were not just external, as it meant a slight re-arrangement of the crew positions was necessary. The ARV retained a four-man crew, though. The driver’s position had been raised into the superstructure, and the commander was now seated to his left. These two crew members are separated from the two other crew by a bulkhead. The driver now sat beneath a shallow cupola with three vision periscopes at its front. The hatch opened up and back to the 4 o’clock position. To his right, there was a smaller round hatch set in the right wall of the superstructure.
Slightly back and left of the driver’s cupola was the larger commander’s cupola. This was also fitted with three vision-periscopes, with a mounting above them for the L3A1 machine gun. The built-in hatch opened up and back, and like on the Mk.1, was capable of 360-degree rotation. Behind these two positions were the other crew positions. There were three round hatches in the rear half of the roof which allowed crew access and access to the winch mechanisms for maintenance. This back half of the superstructure roof could also be removed as one to allow greater access to the area.
Other than these alterations, the two vehicles were basically the same. Also, the Mk.2 did lack the multiple pulleys around the outside of the hull. They had the same crew, same suspension and tracks, and an identical complement of recovery equipment. The Conqueror ARV Mk.2 also seems to have received some automotive upgrades, however, at this time, it is unclear as to what exactly these upgrades consisted of.
Production and Service
Just 8 FV219 Conqueror ARV Mk.1s were made before the upgrade to the FV222 Mk.2. Entering service in 1959, the Conqueror ARV Mk.1 – followed by the Mk.2 in 1960 – would far surpass its gun tank cousin in terms of the length of its service life.
While the FV214 gun tank was retired in 1966, the ARV continued to serve after this. Although it was officially replaced in service by the FV4006 Centurion ARV (a similar vehicle, just built on the Centurion hull) which entered service in the early 1960s, a few were retained in operation in various locations. Records show that at least one Conqueror ARV was still in operation in Germany in the 1990s. One is also reported to have been in operation at the Amphibious Experimental Establishment (also known as ‘AXE’), at Instow in North Devon. It was used for beach tank recovery practice. Its current state, however, is unknown.
With only 28 ARVs built in total, it is perhaps a miracle that a small number of these vehicles still survive, although only Mk.2s. Even more remarkable is that one of these vehicles is still in running condition. This vehicle can be found at the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) Museum, Lyneham, Chippenham. A couple, more unfortunate ARVs can be found at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight. They are simply two rusting hulks that sit outside the museum, around its private track. One of the ARVs on the Isle of Wight (IOW) was rescued from Borden Camp in Hampshire in 1999 (see video below). It was hoped that the vehicle would be restored. Unfortunately, 20 years later, the vehicle remains in the state it was recovered. Another ARV can be found in storage at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. The one there is not in as bad a condition as the IOW examples, but it is still in a rather poor state.
The FV219 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mk.1. Appearing in 1959, the Mk.1 was the first iteration of the Conqueror ARV. Only 8 of these were built. It is identifiable by its stepped front end.
The FV222 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mk.2. Appearing in 1960, the Mk.2 had improved protection over the Mk.1 thanks to a large sloping glacis plate at the front of the cab. 20 of these were built.
Both of these illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
|Dimensions||25.4 x 13.1 x 10.5 ft (12 x 3.99 x 3.19 m)|
|Total weight, battle ready||64 tons short (128,000 lbs)|
|Crew||4 (commander/winch operator, radio operator, recovery mechanic, driver)|
|Propulsion||Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 810 hp (604 kW) – pwr 12 hp/t|
|Speed (road)||22 mph (35 kph)|
|Equipment||Jib hull rear
wooden bumper/buffer bar
2x heavy-duty single-sheave snatch blocks
3x two ropes, 1x 98 foot (30-meter), 2x 15 foot (4.5 meter)
|Armament||L3A1 7.62mm (Browning M1919) Machine Gun|
|Armor||7 in (180 mm) front glacis|
|Total Production||28 (8 Mk.1, 20 Mk.2)|
Profile Publications Ltd. AFV/Weapons #38: Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Maj. Michael Norman, RTR.
Tankograd Publishing, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Britain’s Cold War Heavy Tank, Carl Schulze.
Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight (IOW), UK.