The Centurion Tank – One Of The Longest-Serving Tank Designs In History

The Centurion tank’s first prototypes appeared among the Allied troops in Belgium in 1945. The tank was a successor of prior designs such as the Cromwell and the Comet, which all participated in the final chapters of World War Two.

A brainchild of Sir Claude Gibb, the tank was ordered in 1943, with precise specifications. It was to be able to withstand a direct hit by the devastating German 88mm gun and to be more resilient to landmines than its predecessors. Particular attention was given to the tank’s speed in reverse. The experience of the Italian front had shown tanks would often get trapped in narrow sunken roads by the German Army.

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The Centurion tank used a Rover-built Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, just like the Comet and Cromwell, which enabled it to achieve a speed of 22 mph (35 km/h). Given its weight of 52 tons, this was considered more than satisfactory at the time.

For its firepower, the Centurion was fully packed with the most successful tank gun ever to come out of British factories ― the Royal Ordnance L7. Its caliber was 105 mm, which was equivalent to most of the Soviet designs of the time, including the IS versions and the T-54/55 series. Its armor ranged from 52 to 152 mm, housing four crew members.

The Centurion holds the record of being the longest-serving tank in British history, which puts it among the longest serving tanks ever. The tank has seen action all over the globe, whether as part of the British Army or among the armored units of its allies.

Australian Centurion tank in Vietnam. Photo Source
Australian Centurion tank in Vietnam.

The Centurion lived up to its reputation. In Korea, the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars successfully covered the retreat of British troops during the Battle of the Imjin River in 1951. The performance of the tank during this Battle confirmed the status of the Centurion within the British Army.

US General, John O’Daniel famously stated, regarding the tank and the 8th Hussars Regiment, that they were able to dominate the battleground completely, including the rough mountain terrain.

The Israelis renamed the Centurion into Sho't, meaning "scourge" or "whip"; This is aSho't tank in a memorial near the Valley of Tears, Golan Heights; Photo Source
The Israelis renamed the Centurion Sho’t, meaning “scourge” or “whip”. This is a Sho’t tank in a memorial near the Valley of Tears, Golan Heights. Photo Source

After Korea, Centurions were dispatched to Vietnam, as part of the Australian contingent of forces. The tank was quickly adapted to harsh jungle conditions and reportedly served well alongside Australian infantry in their fight against the North Vietnamese Army.

During the Indo-Pakistani War, Allied tanks were deployed on both sides. The Centurion tank, along with American-built Patton’s clashed several times. The Centurion proved superior, although, during one of the biggest tank battles of WWII, the Battle of Sialkot, the Pakistani Army’s Pattons managed to take the Indian Army’s Centurions head-on.

Centurion Bridgelayer; Photo Source
Centurion Bridgelayer; Photo Source

Another theater of war in which the British Centurions were actively used was the Middle East. Israel acquired several hundred Centurion tanks which participated in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The tank garnered legendary status within the Israeli military for its excellent performance against Syrian T-54/55 tanks.

As well as these conflicts, the Centurion tank was used by the South African military throughout the Border War in Namibia and Angola. It was also part of the British contingent during the Gulf War. The tank remains iconic to this day, and some of its variants designed mainly for engineering purposes are still in service.

Nikola Budanovic

Nikola Budanovic is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE