The Centurion Tank – Reviewed by Mark Barnes


By Pat Ware
With illustrations by Brian Delf
Published by Pen & Sword Military
ISBN 978 1 78159 011 9

Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on an Austin Champ and it reminded me to read this book!  A million years ago I picked up a preview for a new magazine and my wife persuaded me to write to the editor and convince him he needed me. In some little time he contacted me and before I knew it I was in fields and all kinds of places and writing about trucks and tanks and all manner of impedimenta. I was photographing stuff I’d only seen in a Beatties model shop and I felt fantastic! I’d arrived, I was living the dream. The man I had to thank was Pat Ware. Now look at me, I’m reviewing his books! Worse still this one is full of snaps by Simon Thomson and I was standing next to him when he took most of them!  I can tell you this is a fantastic book! Ok, job done –  we can go to the press tent and have tea and sandwiches now.

That wouldn’t be fair and nor would it be true. I have never attended an event where there was a press tent!

Think of tanks and there are the Holy Trinity; Centurion, Chieftain and Challenger. Britain came out of World War II bruised having learned that all those years building eccentric rubbish had not paid off. They might have all been named with a ‘C’ (not the Valentine – a private venture) but it didn’t make them good enough to beat the Nazi heavy metal. Britain needed pukka armour. The nation that had led the way in the Great War had unlearned it all during decades of penny pinching and muddle. No more. Now there would only be quality.  In the years after the Big One the three giants would rule. The Centurion would get the ball rolling. It is incredible to think that this amazing machine, designed to be used in combat against the Tiger tank would be in action against the armour of Saddam Hussein.  Dictators beware.

The Cent was almost right from the off, but the people at the Royal Ordnance did not stand still, it was a success in Korea and after that they never looked back.  They didn’t sit on their hands.The beast was developed into myriad versions for use by the British Army and many overseas customers, gun tanks, bridging, engineer vehicles – all manner of clever kit. Foreign sales were healthy, the Swiss, Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians all had them in good number and the Australians took some of theirs to Vietnam. Perhaps it’s most famous role is with the Israeli Army in the Six Day War and then the Yom Kippur where they proved to be formidable. The Israelis are no slouches at modifying their Centurions into specialised armour as engineer vehicles and APCs. They may be outdated as a gun tank, but they still have legs. The Cent lives on.  In Britain a good number are in private hands and much loved, but you need a big heart to own one. Seeing them rumbling around show arenas is one of the highlights of my career and they do make wonderful photos. The Centurion is just too good looking.  If you disagree, there are opticians in most high streets. Simple as.

Pat War has never been a slouch as a writer. He can rattle books like this one out with one hand tied behind his back. I can see him in the old days at Beltring doing one of his MV talks for the crowd looking more like a rock musician than a military buff. Where is he now? Lord knows, in a peat bog somewhere cataloguing his collection of Grandfunk Railroad rarities for all I know, while Lizzie strips down Corvettes in the garden. Lizzie Ware used to tell us Beltring was Glastonbury with tanks…. Tanks like the mighty Centurion.  If you want to see them running about nowadays you have to go to the new War & Peace Revival or Tankfest or events like that. There will be others. Have fun with it.

A plus for this book is Pat’s archive of images – including Simon’s stuff. You also have to see the fantastic illustrations by Brian Delf – they are lovely.  This sort of feature is what books need. Perhaps this is why this Images of War book is marked as a “Special”. More of this please.

So, this is less a review and a bit of a love in for old time’s sake. I am unrepentant. In all seriousness, this is another high quality product. It is easily as good as the Patton tank book we had in a while back. P&S need to do more of these. They are easy to read, well illustrated and you can go back to them in the fine tradition of the series. They kind of whet your appetite for more. If you like tanks, buy the book. If you love the Centurion, buy the book. If you like this series of books, buy the book.

It all works.  I haven’t seen Pat Ware for a few years now and it would be nice to see him some time. It will be a bit like listening to a Bob Harris show, the music will provided by Cummins or one of those acts and we only get heavy metal. Fun times.

By Mark Barnes for War History Online.

Please check out his fantastic Facebook Page “For Your Tomorrow

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.