Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank (Germany)

The development of the Leopard 1 originates from the decision to formulate an operational requirement for a new main battle tank (MBT) to replace the M47 and M48 tanks supplied by the United States that were both available in quantity and relatively cheap. The M47 however, was very much an interim design, a fact that even the US Army had recognised as the vast majority of M47 tanks were exported. The operational requirement was finalised in 1957 for a 30-ton MBT with a power-to-weight ratio of 30 hp/tonne, and air-cooled multi-fuel engine, either torsion bar or hydro-pneumatic suspension, a width (overall) that should not exceed 3150mm, sufficient armour to withstand close range hits from 20mm shells and have a main gun that could penetrate 150mm of sloped armour. The design programme commenced with France and Germany signing a co-operative agreement to develop a common tank, and were joined in 1958 by Italy. Three design teams (two German and one French) began work on the design and the first wooden mock-ups were completed in 1959, followed by the first prototypes in 1961. Rheinmetall had tried to develop an indigenous 105mm to replace the 90mm gun used in the original designs. However, the excellent British 105mm L7 rifled gun (which was fitted to the Centurion and M60 tanks and retrofitted to the M48) was already available and the programme was dropped for sound cost and logistical reasons. Late in 1962, 1,500 105mm L7 guns were purchased for the new tank and small adjustments were necessary (such as sloping the gun breech to meet the requirement of a main gun depression angle of 9 degrees) with the modified gun being designated L7A3. Competitive trials between the early prototypes led to the A I (Team A, Number 1) design being chosen for further development, the B I (Team B, Number 1) design having been delayed until September 1961 while the Team ironed out the problems with a number of the complex components. The improvements suggested in the trials were incorporated into the enhanced design (A II - known internally to the design team as Porschetyp 773). Armour protection was increased, as was the overall width to accommodate a new Mercedes-Benz MB 838 ten-cylinder mutli-fuel engine (830hp) and slight revisions of the chassis and internal layout increased the total weight to 36.2 tonnes. The A II had a revised Wegmann-Rheinmetall turret which were equipped with the 105mm L7A3 gun and a ranging machine-gun instead of the coincidence rangefinder. The design was evaluated at Panzer-Lehrbataillon (tank training battalion) 93 attached to the Kampftruppenschule 2 (the German armour school in Munster) and the coincidence rangefinder was reinstated. The French in the meanwhile were working on their prototype of the AMX-30 at the Atelier de Construction d'Issy-les-Moulineaux. Fifty A II tanks were ordered for trials and were built by MaK (16), Luther & Jordan (17) and Jung-Jungenthal (17). These trials and acceptance tests were conducted in June 1963 and comparision tests between the French and German prototypes were conducted between August and October 1963 at the Mailly de Camp, Bourges and Satory (France), transferring to Meppen (Germany). The trials were conducted under Italian supervision. The German tank had the edge over the French tank, but an abrupt change in defence policy meat that the French would be unable to buy any new tanks before 1965 which brought an end to joint development work. Both countries decided to pursue a national development and procurement programme, with the Italians deciding to buy the American M60. On the 1 October 1963, the tank was named 'Leopard', appropriate given Germany's wartime tanks, the Panther and Tiger. Unit trials were carried out in late 1964 and early 1965 at Munster. The design was vindicated in the trials and the tank was accepted for service with the initial full-scale production of 1,500 Leopards commencing in 1965. The Leopard 1 was built in a total of six batches ('Lots') by Krauss-Maffei AG in Munich with a number of tanks being built by Krupp MaK in Kiel as well. The first production batch of Leopard 1s (numbering 500 vehicles built between September 1965 and July 1966, Fahrgestell Nr. 5001 - 5999) replaced the ageing M47 tanks in the German I Corps. The second production batch (with minor revisions) of 600 tanks was built between July 1966 and July 1967 (Fahrgestall Nr. 6001 - 6999) and delivered to the German I and III Corps. The third batch (again with a few minor revisions) was built between July 1967 and August 1968 (Fahrgestall Nr. 7001 - 7999) and numbered 500 tanks. They were also delivered to the German I and III Corps. The fourth batch included vehicles that were designated for export. The Fahrgestall Nr. were 8001 - 8999 for the Bundeswehr vehicles and 12001 - 12999 and 13001 - 13999 for the export models. In 1970 a modernisation programme was started to enhance the combat effectiveness of the current fleet. This included improvements to the fire control system, full stabilisation and thermal sleeve for the main gun, side-skirts, new tracks, a new snorkel for deeper fording and passive image intensification. The designation was revised to Leopard 1 A1.

The Leopard 1 A1 has an all-welded steel hull. The driver is located on the front right of the hull and has a single-piece hatch with three periscopes, the centre one of which can be replaced by an image intensification unit. The turret is of all-cast steel armour and has the commander and gunner on the right with the loader on the left. The commander has eight periscopes for all-round observation, one of which can be replace with an image intensification unit, the gunner has the main sight and a single periscope and the loader two periscopes. A TRP 2A zoom periscope is mounted in front of the commander's hatch and has magnifications of x 4 and up to x 20. The gunner has a TEM 2A rangefinder that can be used in stereoscopic or coincidence modes. It has a magnification of x 16 and is mechanically linked to the main gun. The gunner also has a TFZ 1A telescope mounted coaxially with the main gun that has a magnification of x 8. Above the main armament is a XSW-30-U infra-red / white searchlight which can be stored at the rear of the turret when not required. The engine is housed behind a fireproof bulkhead and is a MTU MB 838 CaM-500 10-cylinder multi-fuel unit developing 830hp at 2,200rpm. There are seven rubber-tyred road wheels with an idler at the front, drive wheel at the rear and four track-return rollers. The first, second, third, sixth and seventh road wheel stations have hydraulic shock absorbers. The steel reinforced rubber skirts increase ballistic protection against HEAT warheads and mitigate the dust cloud that sometimes arises when a vehicle is on the move. The Leopard 1 has an NBC system of an overpressure type and also mounts an automatic fire control system, heater and hull escape hatch. The Leopard 1 can ford to a depth of four metres. The main armament consists of the widely used British 105mm L7A3 rifled tank gun and can fire all standard 105mm tank rounds produced by the UK, USA, Israel, France, Germany and Canada. The 1 A1 carries sixty rounds with forty-two in the hull and eighteen in the turret. According to Krauss-Maffei, the first round hit probability was significantly increased by the fitting of the Krupp-Atlas fire control system. These 1 A1A1 and 1 A1A2 tanks were redesignated 1 A5 (as mentioned later). A 7.62mm MG3 machine-gun (based on the excellent wartime MG42) is mounted coaxially with the main armament and another is mounted on the turret roof for air defence. The tank carries some 5,000 rounds of ammunition for these weapons. It also has four 76mm smoke grenade dischargers mounted on either side of the turret.

The fifth batch of Leopards was built between 1972 and 1974 and included 232 tanks with a cast steel turret with thicker armour (designated 1 A2) and 110 tanks fitted with a welded turret with spaced armour and a wedge-shaped gun mantlet (designated 1 A3). The 1 A2 tanks mainly went to the 6th Panzer Division, which was based in Schleswig-Holstein and trained with the Danish Army. The 1 A3 tanks mainly went to the 10th and 12th Panzer Divisions. The 1A2 / 1A3 had Fahrgestell Nr. 14001 - 14999. The combat weight had risen to 42.4 tonnes. The sixth and final batch were delivered in 1974 and were designated the Leopard 1 A4. This version had the turret from the 1 A3 but received a new integrated fire control system which included the PERI R12 stabilised sight for the commander, EMES 12A1 stereoscopic rangefinder and ballistic computer for the gunner. The new system took up extra space in the turret and so the ammunition load was reduced to 55 rounds with thirteen rounds in the turret. A second round of modernisation occurred between 1975 and 1977 with all those tanks from the first and fourth batches being retrofitted with extra armour from Blohm and Voss, wedged shape gun mantlet and new air intake filters. The designation was changed from 1A1 to 1 A1A1. From 1980 the PZB 200 passive image intensification system entered service with the Bundeswehr and when the Leopard 2 received their thermal imagining system, a significant number of Leopard 1s were fitted with the cast off PZB 200s. Those tanks in the first to fourth batches (1 A1A1) that received them were redesignated 1 A1A2 while those in the fifth batch were redesignated A2A1 (cast turret) and A3A1 (welded turret). No sixth batch tanks received the PZB 200, and these were eventually phased out of service. In the mid-1980s a major upgrade programme for the Leopard 1 was introduced to give it a better chance in taking on the more modern Soviet tanks that had been appearing for sometime (T-64B, T-72B, T-72M1 and T-80B). It was decided that the Leopard 1 would receive a new fire control system (the Krupp-Atlas Elektronik EMES 18 which incorporated a thermal imaging system, laser rangefinder and ballistic computer), new ammunition and a strengthened torsion bar suspension system and shock absorber mountings. In the end, some 1,225 tanks from the first to fourth batches (Leopard 1 A1A1) would be converted, starting in 1987 and the new tank would be designated Leopard 1 A5. The tank was also fitted with a new servo-hydraulic turret control system by SRK. Following this, all Leopard 1s received the new SEM 80 / 90 digital VHF radio. This necessitated a new set of designators, the progression of which are listed below:
Batch Original Designation Early 1970s/ 1st Mod Late 1970s/ 2nd Mod 1980 PZB 200 1980s Upgrade SEM 80/90 Radio
1-4 1 1 A1 1 A1A1 1 A1A1
1 A1A2
1 A1A1
1 A1A2
1 A5
1 A1A4
1 A1A4
1 A5A1
5 (cast) - 1 A2 - 1 A2
1 A2A1
1 A2
1 A2A1
1 A2A2
1 A2A3
5 (welded) - 1 A3 - 1 A3
1 A3A1
1 A3
1 A3A1
1 A3A2
1 A3A3
6 - 1 A4 - Phased out
With different versions of the Leopard receiving different upgrades it is difficult to keep track of what happened where. Looking at the table above, if a variant received an upgrade, the new designation is shown in the column, if it did not, then the old designation is retained. For example, those Leopard 1 A1A1 tanks that received the 1980 upgrade of the PZB 200 image intensification system were redesignated Leopard 1 A1A2. Those that did not receive the upgrade kept the Leopard 1 A1A1 designation.

The Leopard 1 was been exported widely and is in service with Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Norway and Turkey. The Netherlands has withdrawn it from service (having bought the Leopard 2 as a replacement) and has passed a number to Greece and Chile. Germany still has some 500 tanks in service, mainly in eastern Germany (the former GDR) with the rest being passed to other countries including Norway (92), Turkey (230), Greece (245) and Denmark (110). All have minor modifications to suit local conditions, for example the Belgium Leopards had the MG3 machine guns replaced with the 7.62mm FN MAG machine gun and the SABCA Fire Control System (adopted by Australia and Canada too). In 1996 Canada decided to perform a major upgrade of their fleet which entailed the fitting of the complete 1 A5 turret by the German company GLS, a subsidiary of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. There are armoured recovery, armoured engineer, bridgelayer, driver training, armoured combat engineer vehicle and Gepard air defence vehicle versions.

(1 A1A1) Hull length: 7.09m. Hull width: 3.41m. Height: 2.76m. Crew: 4. Ground Clearance: 0.44m. Weight: 42,400kg (combat). Ground pressure: 0.88kg/sq.cm. Max speed: 65km/h. Max range (internal fuel): 600km (on road). Armament: 105mm L7A3 rifled gun, 1 x 7.62mm MG3 machine gun coaxial, 1 x 7.62mm MG3 machine gun mounted on turret roof.

Foss, Christopher. 'Leopard wins Greek tank shoot-out' in Jane's Defence Weekly, 31 May 2000, p. 3.
Foss, Christopher. 'Spain selects 120mm L/55 gun to arm its MBTs' in Jane's Defence Weekly, 1 December 1999, p. 12.

Jerchel, M and Sarson, P. Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank 1965 - 1995, Osprey Publishing, 1995, London, New Vanguard Series No. 16.
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Schnellbacher, U Jerchel, M and Badrocke, M. Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank 1979 - 1998, Osprey Publishing, 1998, London, New Vanguard Series No. 24.
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (24 April 2001), Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank (Germany), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_leopard1.html

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