Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Country Of Origin:||United Kingdom|
|Designation:||Main Battle Tank|
|Configuration:||Track (6 road wheels)|
|Manufacturer:||Vickers (Defence Systems)|
|Speed:|| km/h (road)|
|Primary armament:||105 mm rifled gun|
|Crew:||4 (driver, gunner, loader, commander)|
The Centurion was the primary British Main Battle Tank of the immediate post-war era, and considered by many to be one of the best British tank designs of all time. Designed during the Second World War it arrived just too late for combat, but went on to provide excellent service during the Korean War where it outperformed both US and Soviet designs by a wide margin. It would go on to be one of the most widely used tank designs, equipping armies around the world, with small numbers still in service until the 1990s.
In 1943, the Department of Tank Design was asked to produce a new design for a heavy cruiser tank that under the designation A41. After a series of fairly marginal designs in the A series, and after facing the dreaded German 88mm gun, the War Office asked for a major overhaul, demanding increased durability, reliability, a maximum weight of 40 tons, and the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88mm gun. Tank Design responded by extending the long-travel 5-wheel suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a 6th wheel and an extended spacing between the 2nd and 3rd wheels. The hull was redesigned with welded sloped armour, and featured a partially cast turret mounting the excellent 17 pounder main gun and a 20mm Polsten cannon. With a Rover built Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, a version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, the new design appeared to have excellent performance.
It wasn't long into the program before it became clear that the requirement to withstand the 88mm would be impossible to fill with the given weight requirements. The original specification had been set so that the A41 could be carried on the existing Mark I and Mark II transport trailers, both of which were limited to a 40 tons load. In one of the few instances on record, the War Ministry decided it would be a better idea to build new trailers than hamper what appeared to be a superb design. Even before prototypes of the original 40 ton design were completed, the design of a heavier version was well underway. The new version carried armour equal to the heaviest infantry tanks, and cross-country performance better than the early cruisers. The A41 was the first British tank that could "do it all", leading to the new designation, universal tank.
Prototypes of the original 40 ton design, the Centurion Mark I, had 76 mm of armour in the front glacis, thinner than the current infantry tank designs like the Churchill which had 101 mm, but the turret was extremely well armoured at 152 mm. It was, however, extremely mobile and able to easily outperform the Comet in most tests. The uparmoured Centurion Mark II soon arrived, featuring a new 118 mm thick glacis and the sides and rear increased from 38 mm to 51 mm. Only a handful of Mk.I's had been produced when the Mk.II replaced it on the production lines, which were soon expanded to include Leyland, the Royal Ordnance factories at Leeds and Woolwich, and Vickers at Elswick.
Soon after introduction, Royal Ordnance finished work on the extremely powerful 20 pounder tank gun. By this point the usefulness of the 20 mm had been called into question, so it was replaced with a BESA machine gun in a completely cast turret. The new Centurion Mark III also featured a fully automatic stabilization system for the gun, allowing it to fire accurately while on the move, dramatically improving battlefield performance. The Mk.III was so much more powerful than the Mk.I and Mk.II that the earlier designs were removed from service as soon as new Mk.III's arrived, converting them at the REME into the Centurion ARV Mark 1 armoured recovery vehicle.
Later variants (from Mark 5/2) were built with the 105mm L7 gun. A total of 24 variants and sub-variants were produced.
The Centurion was used as the basis for a range of specialist equipment, including engineering variants with a 165mm demolition gun. It is one of the longest serving designs of all time from the Korean War to the First Gulf war
- Centurion Mk 5 AVRE 165 - UK Original AVRE vehicle with 165mm demolition gun
- Centurion Mk 5 AVRE 105 - UK Ex-Forward Artillery Observer vehicles converted to AVRE role
- Olifant - Modernised by South Africa
- Shot - Centurion tank modernised by Israel
- Tempest - Operated by Singapore - Modernised by Unknown source
- Nagmashot\Nagmachon\Nakpadon - Israeli heavy armored personnel carriers based on Centurion tank's chassis
- Puma - Israeli combat engineering vehicle on Centurion tank's chassis
- Stridsvagn 104 - Swedish version fitted with a single diesel engine and an automatic gearbox as well as other modernisations.
- United Kingdom
- Australia to 1977
- South Africa
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- Korean War - United Kingdom
- Six Day War - Israel
- Yom Kippur War - Israel
- Vietnam War - Australia
- Angola Bush War - South Africa
- Gulf War - UK as Centurion AVRE 's
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