Centurion Main Battle Tank (UK)

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In 1943, the Department of Tank Design was asked to produce a new design for a heavy cruiser tank that was to have the designation A41. The original A41s that were produced were named the Centurion Mk. 1 and the uparmoured version (A41A) went into production as the Centurion Mk. 2 at the Leyland Motors plant (Leyland), Royal Ordnance Factory (at both Leeds and Woolwich) and Vickers Limited (Elswick). The Centurion first saw action during the Korean War with the British Army, and has seen combat all over the world including the Middle East (with the Israeli, Iraqi, Egyptian and Jordanian Armies), South Asia (with the Indian Army) and Vietnam (with the Australian Army). The Centurion became quite an export success with around 2,500 of the 4,400 vehicles produced being sold abroad.
Centurion Tank
Centurion Tank
The key to this success was the fact that the Centurion had a substantial capacity to be upgraded, upgunned and uparmoured. The main gun was originally a 17-pounder, but this was replaced by a 20-pounder and eventually the renowned 105mm L7 series gun. Other improvements have included increased fuel capacity, a contra-rotating commander's cupola and improved stowage. The last variant to be produced was the Mk. 10 (which was an upgunned and uparmoured Mk. 8) from which the Mk. 13 was developed (mounting a ranging machine-gun and infra-red night vision equipment). The Mk. 13 had an all-welded hull, with the driver seated at the front on the right. The turret was of cast construction with the roof welded on. The loader was seated on the left, the commander on the right and the gunner to the front and below the commander. The engine was originally a Rolls Royce Meteor V12 petrol engine that developed 650 bhp and transferred its power to a Merritt-Brown transmission. It had a Horstmann suspension of three units, each with two pairs of road wheels on each side, drive sprocket at the rear, idler at the front and six track return rollers. The main gun of the Mk. 13 was the 105mm L7A2 rifled tank gun, which was fully stabilised and used with a ranging machine gun. The Centurion remains in service with Sweden, Denmark, Austria, who are likely to replace them with the Leopard 2, as well as Israel, Singapore and South Africa. The Israeli Centurions are named Sho't but are believed to be held in reserve and the Israeli Ministry of Defence is offering them for sale. The Sho't were equipped with a new diesel powerpack (Teledyne Continental - now General Dynamics Land Systems - AVDS-1790-2A engine developing 750hp) and an Allison Transmission CD-850-6 automatic gearbox, new coolant system, fire extinguising system and improved ammunition layout. The Jordanian Centurions (named Tariq) have the same engine as the Israeli Sho't and the Belgium SABCA fire-control system incorporating a laser rangefinder. These will be replaced by ex-British Army Challenger 1 tanks. The South African Centurions have been modified in one way or another since the early 1970s with the Skokiaan and Semel projects and finally the Olifant upgrade programme of the late 1970s and 1980s. The Olifant Mk. 1A included a new diesel powerpack (750hp) and extensive upgrading of many of the Centurion's subsystems and the inclusion of the British 105mm L7 gun. A follow on, the Olifant Mk. 1B commenced production in 1991 and is barely recognisable as a Centurion as it includes additional appliqué armour, a double floor, a new fire detection/suppression system, new side-skirts, day/night sights, laser rangefinder, a new torsion bar suspension system and a more powerful diesel engine (900hp).

Mk. 13
Hull length: 7.82m.
Hull width: 3.39m.
Height: 3.01m.
Crew: 4.
Ground Clearance: 0.51m.
Weight: 51,820kg.
Ground pressure: 0.95kg/sq.cm.
Max speed: 34.6km/h.
Max range (internal fuel): 190km on road.
Armament: 105mm rifled main gun, 1 x 7.62mm MG coaxial, 1 x 7.62mm MG on commander's cupola and 1 x 12.7mm ranging MG.

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (23 February 2001), Centurion Main Battle Tank (UK), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_centurion.html

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