The successful design of Centurion Tank with upgrades for many decades

The successful design of Centurion Tank with upgrades for many decades

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) An MK3 Centurion Tank at Eastbourne, East Sussex on 12th January 2007 (2) An Israeli Centurion tank destroyed in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War fought between Egypt & Israel in October 1973, Israel lost 1,063 tanks and Egypt lost 2,250-2,300 tanks in the war; Israel won the war (3) Centurion tank in Australian armored regiment at Vung Tau during Vietnam War in 1968

British main battle tank (MTB) the Centurion was introduced in January 1945. Main battle tanks are equipped with heavy direct fire power and intended to replace the light & medium tanks. Bearing in mind the threat posed by the most recognized Nazi German weapon, the 88 mm anti aircraft or anti tank artillery gun, the Directorate of Tank Design was asked to manufacture a new heavy cruiser tank in 1943. The development of the design of Centurion Tank began in the same year. Heavy armor was required with the same agility of the existing cruiser Comet Tanks.

The hull of the Centurion Tank was made larger. Instead of the 5 wheel suspension used in Comet Tank, a sixth wheel suspension system was added. Welded & sloped armor was redesigned for the hull. Ordnance quick firing 17 Pounder Gun with 76.2 mm or 3 inches caliber (internal diameter of the gun barrel) or a 20 Pounder with a caliber of 84 mm or 3.31 inches was adopted as the main gun of the tank with another Oerlikon 20 mm Polsten cannon installed to the left.

Centurion Mk3 weighs 52 tons. Its hull length is 25 ft and overall length is 32 feet. Its width is 11 ft 1 inch and height is 9 ft 10.5 inches. Importantly its armor is 6 inches, 2 inches thicker than that of the Comet. 650 hp or 480 kW Rolls Royce Meteor tank engine built by Rover is used in the tank. The same manufacturer’s engines with 600 hp or 450 kW power were used in Comet & Cromwell tanks. Centurion tank has got room for 4 crew- commander, driver, gunner and loader. It has got a top speed of 22 mph or 35 kmph.

The design of the tank was reviewed in May 1944 and 20 pilot models were ordered. Centurion tank was highly mobile and outperformed the Comet tank in most tests. Order for 800 Centurions was given and full production began in November 1945. Its production lines were at Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds, Leyland Motors at Lancashire and Woolwich & Vickers at Elswick.

Centurion tanks were used by British forces from 1950 to 1953 during Korean War and from 1990 to 1991 during Gulf War, by Australian forces from 1961 to 1972 during Vietnam War, by Israeli forces during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and during the 1982 Lebanon War. South Africa used Centurion tanks throughout its Border War in Angola and Namibia from 1966 to 1989. Sweden bought Centurion tanks from Britain in 1953.

UK also used the tank during Suez Crisis in 1956, during Operation Motorman in Northern Ireland on 31st July 1972 and during Falklands War against Argentina in 1982. India used the tank during the Indo-Pakistani War in 1965 and also against Pakistan during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. Israel also used Centurion tanks during the Six Day War against Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967.

A Centurion tank 169041 in Australian forces was named the Atomic tank after it was left running within 500 yards from a 9.1 kiloton nuclear blast as part of a nuclear test in 1953. After the blast, it was pushed back 5ft and its engine had stopped. But it stopped only because of running out of fuel.

169041 also served in Vietnam War. 169041 or the Atomic Tank is the only tank in history to have withstood atomic blast and then gone for 23 more years of service including 15 months deployment in a war zone. It’s now located in Robertson Barracks in Northern Territory, Australia. Centurion tanks served British army from 1945 to 2012. Its derivatives are still in service.

Online edition of London based monthly magazine covering engineering & technology, The Engineer reported on the visit of their reporters to the production line of Centurion Tanks in November 1950. For the first time since the WWII, press was invited to visit a Royal Ordnance Factory to see the assembly of Britain’s heaviest tank that was to become a Cold War icon.

The welding jigs rotated the steel plate hull so that the joints were placed towards the welders who worked by hand. They used their welding electrodes vertically and downwards so that the welding current could be maximized and number of welding runs needed could be minimized. The report also described the machining out process of the turret from a single 8.25 ton casting.

The efforts of British tank development paid off as Centurion tank was one tough machine that became one of the most widely used tank equipping armed forces around the world.
Video story: Analysis of British centurion tank features.
Video story: Documentary on British tank warfare during WWII (part-1). British centurion tank was developed in 1943 and its manufacturing began in January 1945 towards the end of WWII.
Video story: Documentary on British tank warfare during WWII (part-2)

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE