Centurion (tank)

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Centurion cfb borden 1.JPG
Centurion Mk3
TypeMain battle tank
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1946–present (derivatives still in service)
WarsKorean War
Suez Crisis
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Six-Day War
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
War of Attrition
Yom Kippur War
Vietnam War
South African Border War
Operation Motorman (AVRE)
Falklands War (BARV)
Gulf War (AVRE)
Production history
Unit cost£35,000 (1950), £38,000 (1952)[1]
No. built4,423[2]
Weight51 long tons (52 t)
LengthHull: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Overall: 32 ft (9.8 m) with 20pdr
Width11 ft 1 in (3.38 m) with side plates
Height9 ft 10.5 in (3.01 m)
Crew4 (commander, gunner, loader, driver)

Armour51–152 mm
105 mm L7 rifled gun
20 pdr (84mm) rifled gun
17 pdr (76.2mm) rifled gun
Co-axial .30 cal Browning machine gun
EngineRolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox
650 hp (480 kW)
Power/weight13 hp/t (9.2 kW/t)
SuspensionHorstmann suspension
Ground clearance1 ft 8 in (50.8 cm)
50 miles (80 km) Mk 2/Mk 3[3]
Speed22 mph (35 km/h)

The Centurion was the primary British main battle tank of the post-Second World War period. Introduced in 1945, it is widely considered to be one of the most successful post-war tank designs,[4][5][6][7][8][9] remaining in production into the 1960s, and seeing combat in the front lines into the 1980s. The chassis was also adapted for several other roles, and these have remained in service to this day.

Development of the Centurion began in 1943 with manufacture beginning in January 1945. Six prototypes arrived in Belgium less than a month after the war in Europe ended in May 1945.[10] It first entered combat with the British Army in the Korean War in 1950, in support of the UN forces. The Centurion later served in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, where it fought against US-supplied M47 and M48 Patton tanks and it served with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps in Vietnam.

Israel used Centurions in the 1967 Six-Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War, and during the 1978 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon. Centurions modified as armoured personnel carriers were used in Gaza, the West Bank and on the Lebanese border. The Royal Jordanian Land Force used Centurions, first in 1970 to fend off a Syrian incursion within its borders during the Black September events and later in the Golan Heights in 1973. South Africa deployed its Centurions in Angola during the South African Border War.[11]

It became one of the most widely used tank designs, equipping armies around the world, with some still in service until the 1990s.[12] As recently as the 2006 Israel–Lebanon conflict the Israel Defense Forces employed heavily modified Centurions as armoured personnel carriers and combat engineering vehicles. The South African National Defence Force still employs over 200 Centurions, which were modernised in the 1980s and 2000s as the Olifant (elephant).

Between 1946 and 1962, 4,423 Centurions were produced,[13] consisting of 13 basic marks and numerous variants. In British Army use it was replaced by the Chieftain.


In 1943, the Directorate of Tank Design, under Sir Claude Gibb, C.B.E., F.R.S., was asked to produce a new design for a heavy cruiser tank under the General Staff designation A41. After a series of fairly mediocre designs in the A series in the past, and bearing in mind the threat posed by the German 88 mm gun, the War Office demanded a major revision of the design requirements, specifically: increased durability and reliability, the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88 mm gun and providing greater protection against mines. Initially in September 1943 the A41 tank was to weigh no more than 40 long tons (45 short tons; 41 t); the limit for existing Mark I and Mark II transport trailers and for a Bailey Bridge of 80 ft (24 m) span. The British railway loading gauge required that the width should not exceed 10 ft 8 in (3.25 m) and the optimum width was 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m).[14] A high top speed was not important, while agility was to be equal to that of the Comet. A high reverse speed was specified, as during the fighting in southern Italy, Allied tanks were trapped in narrow sunken roads by the German Army. The modified production gearbox had a two-speed reverse, with the higher reverse speed similar to second gear.[15][16]

The department produced a larger hull by adapting the long-travel five-wheel Christie suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a sixth wheel, and extending the spacing between the second and third wheels. The Christie suspension, with vertical spring coils between side armour plates, was replaced by a Horstmann suspension with three horizontally sprung, externally mounted two-wheel bogies on each side. The Horstmann design did not offer the same ride quality as the Christie system, but took up less room and was easier to maintain.[17] In case of damage by mines, individual suspension and wheel units could be replaced relatively easily. The hull was redesigned with welded, sloped armour and featured a partially cast turret with the highly regarded 17 pounder (76.2 mm/3 inch) as the main gun and a 20 mm Polsten cannon in an independent mounting to its left. With a Rover-built Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, as used on the Comet and Cromwell, the new design would have excellent performance.[16]

But even before the Outline Specification of the A41 was released in October 1943, these limits were removed and the weight was increased from 40 tons to 45 long tons (50 short tons; 46 t), because of the need for heavier armour and a wider turret (too wide for the tank to be transported by rail) with a more powerful gun.[18] The new version carried armour equal to the heaviest infantry tanks, while improved suspension and engines provided cross-country performance superior to even the early cruiser tanks. The War Office decided it would be wiser to build new trailers, rather than hamper what appeared to be a superb design. Historian David Fletcher states, "But was Centurion, after all, a Universal Tank? The answer has to be a qualified negative."[19]

The design mockup, built by AEC Ltd, was viewed in May 1944. Subsequently, twenty pilot models were ordered with various armament combinations: ten with a 17-pdr and a 20 mm Polsten gun (of which half had a Besa machine gun in the turret rear and half an escape door), five with a 17-pdr, a forward Besa and an escape door, and five with a QF 77 mm gun and a driver-operated hull machine gun.[20]

Prototypes of the original 40-ton design, the Centurion Mark I, had 76 mm of armour in the front glacis, which was thinner than that on the then current infantry tanks (the Churchill), which had 101 mm or 152 mm on the Churchill Mk VII and VIII being produced at the time. However, the glacis plate was highly sloped, and so the effective thickness of the armour was very high—a design feature shared by other effective designs, such as the German Panther tank and Soviet T-34. The turret was well armoured at 152 mm. The tank was also highly mobile, and easily outperformed the Comet in most tests. The uparmoured Centurion Mark II soon arrived; it had a new 118 mm-thick glacis and the side and rear armour had been increased from 38 mm to 51 mm[citation needed]. Only a handful of Mk I Centurions had been produced when the Mk II replaced it on the production lines. Full production began in November 1945 with an order for 800[21] on production lines at Leyland Motors, Lancashire the Royal Ordnance Factories ROF Leeds and Royal Arsenal, and Vickers at Elswick. The tank entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.[22]

Centurion Mk 3 at Eastbourne Redoubt

Soon after the Centurion's introduction, Royal Ordnance finished work on the 84 mm calibre Ordnance QF 20 pounder tank gun. By this point, the usefulness of the 20 mm Polsten had been called into question, it being unnecessarily large for use against troops, so it was replaced with a Besa machine gun in a completely cast turret. The new Centurion Mark III also featured a fully automatic stabilisation system for the gun, allowing it to fire accurately while on the move, dramatically improving battlefield performance.[23] Production of the Mk 3 began in 1948.[24] The Mk 3 was so much more powerful than the Mk 1 and Mk 2, that the earlier designs were removed from service as soon as new Mk 3s arrived, and the older tanks were then either converted into the Centurion armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) Mark 1 for use by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers or upgraded to Mk 3 standards. Improvements introduced with the Mk 3 included a more powerful version of the engine and a new gun sight and gun stabiliser.[24]

The 20 pounder gun was used until the Royal Ordnance Factories introduced the 105 mm L7 gun in 1959. All later variants of the Centurion, from Mark 5/2 on, used the L7.[16]

Design work for the Mk 7 was completed in 1953, with production beginning soon afterwards.[25] One disadvantage of earlier versions was the limited range, initially just 65 miles (105 km) on hard roads, hence external auxiliary tanks and then a "monowheel" trailer were used. But the Mk7 had a third fuel tank inside the hull, giving a range of 101 miles (163 km). And it was found possible to put the Centurion on some European rail routes with their larger loading gauges.[26]

The Centurion was used as the basis for a range of specialist equipment, including combat engineering variants with a 165 mm demolition gun Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE).[27] It is one of the longest-serving designs of all time, serving as a battle tank for the British and Australian armies from the Korean War (1950–1953) to the Vietnam War (1961–1972), and as an AVRE during the Gulf War in January–February 1991.[27]

Deployment in Western Europe[edit]

By early 1952, with the Cold War heating up, NATO needed modern heavy tanks to meet the T-34 versions with the Warsaw Pact countries, and to deter Soviet forces by stationing them with the BAOR in West Germany, where the French had just the light AMX-13, and the Germans had none. America was keen to have Centurions supplied to Denmark and the Netherlands under the Mutual Defence Assistance Program, as production of the M48 Patton would not start until April 1952. A Mk 3 cost £31,000 or £44,000 with ammunition.[28] The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps deployed a regiment of Centurions to Germany to support the Canadian Brigade.

Service history[edit]

Korean War[edit]

On 14 November 1950, the British Army's 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, equipped with three squadrons of Centurion Mk 3 tanks, landed in Pusan.[29] Operating in sub-zero temperatures, the 8th Hussars learnt the rigours of winter warfare: their tanks had to be parked on straw to prevent the steel tracks from freezing to the ground. Engines had to be started every half hour, with each gear being engaged in turn to prevent them from being frozen into place.[30] During the Battle of the Imjin River, Centurions won lasting fame when they covered the withdrawal of the 29th Brigade, with the loss of five tanks, most later recovered and repaired.[31] In 1953, Centurions of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment were also involved in the Second Battle of the Hook where they played a significant role in repelling Chinese attacks.[31] In a tribute to the 8th Hussars, General John O'Daniel, commanding the US 1st Corps, stated: "In their Centurions, the 8th Hussars have evolved a new type of tank warfare. They taught us that anywhere a tank can go, is tank country: even the tops of mountains."[32]

Suez Crisis[edit]

Universal Newsreel from 6 August about the departure of British and French ships for Egypt

During the Suez Crisis, British ground commander General Hugh Stockwell believed that methodical and systematic armoured operations centred on the Centurion would be the key to victory.[33]

The Egyptians destroyed Port Said's Inner Harbour, which forced the British to improvise and use the Fishing Harbour to land their forces. The 2nd Bn of the Parachute Regiment landed by ship in the harbour. Centurions of the British 6th Royal Tank Regiment were landed and by 12:00 they had reached the French paratroopers. While the British were landing at Port Said, the men of the 2 RPC at Raswa fought off Egyptian counter-attacks featuring SU-100 tank destroyers.[34]

After establishing themselves in a position in downtown Port Said, 42 Commando headed down the Shari Muhammad Ali, the main north-south road to link up with the French forces at the Raswa bridge and the Inner Basin lock. While doing so, the Marines also took Port Said's gasworks. Meanwhile, 40 Commando supported by the Royal Tank Regiment remained engaged in clearing the downtown of Egyptian snipers. Colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour arranged for more reinforcements to be brought in via helicopter.[35]

Vietnam War[edit]

Troops of the 1st Armoured Regiment during a briefing at Vung Tau

In 1967, the Royal Australian Armoured Corps' (RAAC), 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) Squadron transferred to "A" Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment Vietnam. Although they successfully conducted combat operations in their areas of operations, reports from the field stated that their lightly-armoured M113A1 armoured personnel carriers were unable to force their way through dense jungle[36] limiting their offensive actions against enemy forces. The Australian government, under criticism from Parliament, decided to send a squadron of Australian Centurion tanks to South Vietnam.[36] The 20-pdr armed[37] Australian Centurions of 'C' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment landed in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on 24 February 1968, being headquartered at Nui Dat in III Corps (MR3).[38]

Colonel Donald Dunstan, later to be governor of South Australia, was the deputy task force commander of the Australian forces in South Vietnam[39] Dunstan had quite possibly been the last Australian to use tanks and infantry in a combined operation during the Second World War, (as part of the Bougainville campaign), and the first since the war to command Australia's tanks and infantry in combat.[40] When he temporarily took over command during Brigadier Ronald Hughes's absence, he directed that the Centurions be brought up from Nui Dat to reinforce the firebases at Coral and Balmoral, believing that they were a strong element that were not being used. Besides adding a great deal of firepower, Dunstan stated, he "couldn't see any reason why they [the Centurions] shouldn't be there".[41] His foresight enabled the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) to inflict approximately 267 enemy casualties during the six-week-long Battle of Coral–Balmoral, as well as capturing 11 prisoners, 36 crew-served weapons, 112 small arms, and other miscellaneous enemy weapons.[42]

After the battles at firebases Coral and Balmoral, in which the 1 ATF defeated the 141st and 165th NVA Infantry Regiments[43] in May 1968; a third Centurion troop, which included two tankdozers, was formed. By September 1968, 'C' Squadron was brought to its full strength of four troops, each equipped with four Centurion tanks. By 1969, 'B' Squadron, 3rd Cavalry; 'A' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment; 'B' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment; and 'C' Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, had all made rotations through South Vietnam. Originally deployed as 26 Centurion tanks, after three and a half years of combat operations, 58 Centurions had served in country; 42 had suffered battle damage with six beyond repair and two crewmen had been killed in action.[36]

The Centurion crews, after operating for a few weeks in country, soon learned to remove the protective armoured side skirts from both sides of the tank, to prevent the vegetation and mud from building up between the track and the mudguards. Each Centurion in Vietnam normally carried a basic load of 62 rounds of 20 pounder shells, 4,000 rounds of .50 cal and 9,000 rounds of .30 cal machine gun ammunition for the tank commander's machine gun as well as the two coaxial machine guns.[44] They were equipped with petrol engines, which necessitated the use of an extra externally mounted 100-imperial-gallon (450 L) fuel tank, which was attached to the vehicle's rear.[37][45]

Indo-Pakistani wars[edit]

In 1965, the bulk of India's tank fleet was older M4 Sherman tanks, but India also had Centurion Mk.7 tanks, with the 20 pounder gun, and also AMX-13 and M3 Stuart light tanks. The Centurion Mk.7 at that time was one of the most modern western tanks.

The offensive of Pakistan's 1st Armoured Division was blunted at the Battle of Asal Uttar on 10 September. Six Pakistani armoured regiments were opposed by three Indian armoured regiments. One of these regiments, 3 Cavalry, fielded 45 Centurion tanks. The Centurion, with its 20 pounder gun and heavy armour, proved to be more than a match for the M47 and M48 Pattons. On the other side, when Pakistani Army commanders made good use of M47 Pattons and M48 Pattons, they proved to be quite capable of destroying Centurion tanks, as witnessed in the Battle of Chawinda in the Sialkot sector.

In 1971, at the Battle of Basantar, an armoured division and an armoured brigade of the Pakistani I Corps confronted two armoured brigades of the Indian I Corps, which had Centurion tanks. This resulted in a substantial tank battle, between the American-built tanks of the Pakistani Army and the Indian Army's mixture of Soviet T-55s and British Centurions. Casualties were heavily skewed against the Pakistani force, with 46 tanks destroyed.

Middle East[edit]

Israeli Sho't variant
Destroyed Israeli Centurion in the aftermath of the Battle of Karameh

Israel's formerly British Centurions first delivered in the late 1950s and many different variants were bought by Israel over the years from many different countries or captured in combat. Following their acquisition the Israelis quickly up-gunned the tanks with the British 105 mm L7 in place of the original 20-pounder main gun and renamed them Sho't ("scourge" or "whip").[46]

When the Six-day War broke out in 1967, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had 293 Centurion / Sho't tanks that were ready for combat[47] out of a total of 385 tanks. During the war, Israel captured about 30 Jordanian Centurion tanks from a total of 90 in Jordanian service. 25 tanks were abandoned in Hebron by the 10th Jordanian Independent Tank Regiment.[48][49]

A Sho't tank in a memorial near the Valley of Tears, Golan Heights

All Sho't tanks were upgraded with the more efficient Continental AVDS-1790-2A diesel engine (also used in the M48 and the M60 tanks) and an Allison CD850-6 transmission from 1970 to 1974. The upgraded version was named Sho't Kal Alef and was followed by three additional sub variants called Bet, Gimel and Dalet according to the upgrades added. [50] The upgrades included thicker armour, new turret rotating mechanism, new gun stabiliser, improved ammunition layout with more rounds and increased fuel capacity. A modern fire control system, an improved fire extinguishing system, better electrical system and brakes, and the capability of installing reactive armour completed the modifications. They have American radios and either have the original 7.62 mm calibre MG on the commander's cupola or a 12.7 mm calibre HMG. The Sho't Kal can be distinguished from the Centurion by its raised rear deck, to accommodate the bigger engine.

The Sho't Kal version of Centurion earned its legendary status during the Battle of "The Valley of Tears" on the Golan Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Fewer than 100 Shot' Kal tanks of the 7th Armoured Brigade defeated the advance of some 500 Syrian T-55s and T-62s and the Sho't Kal became emblematic of Israeli armour's prowess. Sho't Kal tanks with Blazer reactive armour package were used in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

The Israelis started to retire the Sho't Kal during 1980s and they were completely retired during the 1990s. Most of them were converted to Nagmasho't, Nagmachon, and Nakpadon heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Puma armored engineering vehicles.

1991 Gulf War[edit]

In the 1991 first Gulf War, 12 FV4003 Centurion Mk5 AVREs were deployed with 32 Armoured Engineer Regiment as part of British operations during the war. Three were lost in training in two separate incidents involving vehicle fires and detonation of munitions. One AVRE was destroyed on 5 February 1991 and two were destroyed in a second incident the next day.[51] Four minor injuries were sustained.


Fifty Centurions were purchased by Jordan between 1954 and 1956 and by 1967 about 90 Centurions were in service. The Jordanian Army used its Centurion tanks in the Six-Day War. In 1967, the 10th Independent Tank Regiment was equipped with 44 Centurion Mk.V tanks armed with 20pdr guns, but was initially deployed on East Bank. Later, the unit was moved urgently to the Hebron area, in West Bank, in order to link with the supposed Egyptian advance. Some Centurion tanks were destroyed and about 30 captured by the Israeli Army. Israelis entering Hebron captured 25 Jordanian Centurion tanks. The Royal Guards Brigade had one regiment that was also equipped with Centurions.

After the 1967 war, the army was rearmed and more Centurion tanks were purchased. In 1970, the 40th Armoured Brigade, the Jordanian elite armoured formation, was reequipped with Centurions. The Royal Jordanian Land Force used Centurions in 1970 to fend off a Syrian incursion during the Black September events. The reinforced Syrian 5th division, with up to 300 T-55s, encountered Jordanian units consisting of the 25th Infantry and elements of the 40th Armoured Brigade around ar-Ramtha. The 5th Division's attack was repelled with heavy losses on 22 September, mostly through the efforts of the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

In 1972, Centurion tanks were reequipped with 105 mm guns. During the Yom Kippur War, the Jordanian 40th Armoured Brigade was deployed in the Golan front to support Syrian troops and show King Hussein's concern for Arab solidarity. 40th Armoured Brigade moved northward towards Sheikh Meskin, but its counterattack was uncoordinated and largely ineffective as the Israelis were in prepared defensive positions.

In 1982–1985, 293 surviving Centurions of the Jordanian Army were refitted with the diesel engine and transmission of the M60A1 tank in place of the original Meteor petrol engine, Belgian SABCA computerised fire-control system, which incorporated a laser range-finder and passive night sight for the gunner, Cadillac Gage electro-hydraulic turret drive and stabilisation system and a new Teledyne Continental hydropneumatic suspension in place of the Hortsman units. These upgraded vehicles were called the Tariq. After retirement from service with the arrival of ex-British Challenger tanks in the late 1990s, several Tariqs were converted into heavy APCs.

South Africa[edit]

Modified South African Centurion Mk 5

South Africa ordered 203 Centurion Mk 3 tanks from the United Kingdom in 1953.[52] The South African Centurions entered service between 1955 and 1958, and included about 17 armoured recovery vehicles.[52] South Africa's major strategic priorities at the time revolved around assisting the British Armed Forces and other member states of the Commonwealth of Nations during a conventional war in the Middle East or Anglophone Africa.[53] The Centurions were procured specifically because they were compatible with Commonwealth tank tactics and preexisting British armoured formations.[54]

Following South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, its priorities shifted toward internal security and diversifying national arms procurement outside traditional suppliers such as the United Kingdom.[54] To that end, 100 Centurion Mk 3s and 10 Centurion-based recovery vehicles were sold off to Switzerland in 1961.[52] The remaining Centurions were largely relegated to reserve roles as a result of maintenance problems compounded by parts shortages and a tendency to overheat in the hot African climate.[54][55] In 1972, the South African Army retrofitted some of its Centurions with the engines and transmission of American-made M48 Patton tanks in an attempt to improve technical performance.[56] The upgraded Centurions were designated Skoikaan and proved unpopular due to their high fuel consumption and poor operating range.[55]

The first Skokiaan prototype

Tanks reentered the mainstream of South African military doctrine in 1975, following Operation Savannah, which saw the lightly armoured South African forces in Angola threatened by large formations of Soviet tanks supplied to the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) and their Cuban allies.[54] Operation Savannah was followed by further modifications and trials under Project Semel, and the South African government was obliged to finance the creation of a new private sector enterprise, the Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC), to refurbish the Centurions.[54] During this period South Africa managed to restore its tank fleet to its original size by purchasing a number of surplus Centurion hulls from Jordan and India.[56] The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418, which imposed a mandatory arms embargo on the country, forced South Africa to purchase the hulls without turrets or armament.[52] OMC upgraded each Centurion with a 29-litre Continental turbocharged diesel engine and a new transmission adopted from the M60 Patton.[56] The refurbished Centurions were also armed with a South African variant of the Royal Ordnance L7 105mm main gun.[56] They were accepted into service with the South African Armoured Corps as the Olifant Mk1A in 1985.[56]

South African expeditionary forces clashed with FAPLA T-54/55 tanks during Operation Askari in late 1983 and early 1984; however, due to the enormous logistical commitment needed to keep the Olifants operational so far from conventional repair facilities, they were not deployed.[54] At length the South African mechanised infantry, bolstered by Eland and Ratel-90 armoured car squadrons, succeeded in destroying the tanks on their own, although severe delays were encountered due to their lack of adequate anti-tank weaponry.[57] Morale also suffered when inexperienced armoured car crews were ordered to take on the Angolan T-54/55s in their vulnerable vehicles.[57] Criticism in this regard led to the deployment of a single squadron of thirteen Olifant Mk1As to the Angolan border, where they were attached to the 61 Mechanised Battalion Group.[57] Following the Lusaka Accords, which effectively ensured a ceasefire between South Africa and Angola, these Olifants were placed into storage and the tank crews rotated out.[57]

Olifant Mk2

The collapse of the Lusaka Accords and the subsequent launch of Operation Moduler in late 1987 led to the Olifant squadron being reactivated on the direct orders of South African State President P.W. Botha.[54] On 9 November 1987 the Olifants destroyed two Angolan T-55s during a heated nine-minute skirmish.[58] This marked the first occasion South African tanks had been sent into battle since World War II.[58] Throughout Operation Moduler, South African forces typically dispersed into an "arrowhead" formation, with Olifants in the lead, Ratel-90 armoured cars on the flanks, and the remainder of the mechanised infantry to the rear and centre.[59] Three Olifants were abandoned in a minefield during Operation Packer and subsequently captured by FAPLA, while another two were damaged beyond immediate repair by mines but successfully recovered.[60][61] A number of others suffered varying degrees of track and suspension damage due to mines or Angolan tank fire, but were able to keep moving after field repairs.[62]

In the early 1990s, the Olifant Mk1A was superseded by the Olifant Mk1B, which incorporated major improvements in armour protection, a slightly more powerful engine, a double armoured floor for protection against mines, and a torsion bar suspension.[56]


Swedish Centurion tank

At the end of the Second World War, it was clear that the mix of tanks in service with the Swedish Armed Forces was not just obsolete but also presented a large logistical problem. Kungliga Arméförvaltningens Tygavdelning (KAFT, the weapons bureau of the army administrative service) conducted a study that concluded that the most cost-effective alternative would be to purchase the newly developed Centurion Mk 3, which, while quite modern, was judged to also have upgrade potential for future requirements. A purchase request was sent to Great Britain, but the reply was that no deliveries could be made before the needs of the British Army had been satisfied, which was deemed to take between five and 15 years. Thus, in 1951, the vehicle bureau of KAFT was set to develop a Swedish alternative project, E M I L. Parallel with this, negotiations were initiated with France about buying the AMX-13.

The British stance altered in early December 1952, due to the economic necessity of increasing exports to earn scarce foreign currency. Britain offered to sell the desired Centurions immediately. Minister of Defence Torsten Nilsson arbitrarily placed an order of 80 Mk 3, with Swedish Army designation stridsvagn 81 (strv 81), around new year 1952/1953, with the first delivery in April 1953.[63][64][65] In 1955, Sweden ordered a batch of 160 Centurion Mk 5 (also designated strv 81), followed by a batch of 110 Centurion Mk 10 around 1960 (designated strv 101). The Centurions, together with the Stridsvagn 103, formed the backbone of the Swedish armoured brigades for several decades. The Mk 3 and the Mk 5 were upgraded with a 105mm gun in the 1960s, becoming strv 102.

Between 1983 and 1987, the Centurions had a midlife renovation and modification (REMO) done, which included among other things night vision equipment, targeting systems, laser range finders, improved gun stabilisation, thermal sleeves on the barrel and exhaust pipes and reactive armour developed by the Swedish FFV Ordnance. Around 80 strv 102 were upgraded with Continental diesel engines and Allison gearboxes in the early 1980's, becoming strv 104.

The Swedish Army gradually phased out its Centurions and Strv 103 during the 1990s as a consequence of comparative tests of the T-72, Leclerc, M1A1 and Leopard 2. They were replaced with the Stridsvagn 121 and Stridsvagn 122.

Nuclear tests[edit]

An Australian Army Mk 3 Centurion Type K, Army Registration Number 169041, was involved in a small nuclear test at Emu Field in Australia in 1953 as part of Operation Totem 1. Built as number 39/190 at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Barnbow in 1951 it was assigned the British Army number 06 BA 16 and supplied to the Australian Commonwealth Government under Contract 2843 in 1952.[66]

It was placed less than 500 yards (460 m) from the 9.1 kt blast with its turret facing the epicentre, left with the engine running and a full ammunition load.[67] Examination after detonation found that it had been pushed away from the blast point by about 5 feet (1.5 m), pushed slightly left and that its engine had stopped working, but only because it had run out of fuel. Antennae were missing, lights and periscopes were heavily sandblasted, the cloth mantlet cover was incinerated, and the armoured side plates had been blown off and carried up to 200 yards (180 m) from the tank.[66] Remarkably, though, it could still be driven from the site. Were the tank manned, the crew would most likely have been killed by the shock wave.

169041, subsequently nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was used in the Vietnam War. In May 1969, during a firefight, 169041 (call sign 24C) was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). The turret crew were all wounded by shrapnel as the RPG hollow charge jet entered the lower left side of the fighting compartment, travelled diagonally across the floor and lodged in the rear right corner. Trooper Carter was evacuated, while the others remained on duty and the tank remained battleworthy.[67]

The Atomic Tank is now located at Robertson Barracks in Palmerston, Northern Territory. Although other tanks were subjected to nuclear tests, 169041 is the only one known to have withstood a blast and to go on for another 23 years of service, including 15 months on operational deployment in a war zone.[68]

Combat timeline[edit]


UK variants[edit]

Centurion AVRE 165
Centurion ARK
Centurion ARV Mk 2
Centurion tank on display at the National Army MuseumWaiouru, New Zealand
Centurion tank Mk 7 on display at the Officers Training Academy entrance – Chennai, India
Centurion tank at the Australian War Memorial

Centurion production mark numbers[edit]

Centurion Mk 1
17pdr armed version
Centurion Mk 2
Fully cast turret
Centurion Mk 3
Fitted with 20pdr, 2 stowage positions for track links on glacis
Centurion Mk 4
Projected close-support version with 95 mm CS howitzer
Centurion Mk 5
Browning machine guns fitted to coaxial and commander's cupola mounts, stowage bin on glacis
Centurion Mk 5/1 a.k.a. FV 4011
Increased glacis armour, two coax machineguns: one .30 Browning & one .50 caliber Browning for ranging the 84mm (20 pounder) main gun
Centurion Mk 5/2
Upgunned to 105 mm
Centurion Mk 6
Upgunned and uparmoured Mk 5
Centurion Mk 6/1
Mk 6 fitted with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 6/2
Mk 6/1 fitted with ranging gun
Centurion Mk 7 a.k.a. FV 4007
Revised engine decks, and a third internal fuel tank
Centurion Mk 7/1 a.k.a. FV 4012
Uparmoured Mk 7
Centurion Mk 7/2
Upgunned Mk 7
Centurion Mk 8
Resilient mantlet and new commanders cupola
Centurion Mk 8/1
Uparmoured Mk 8
Centurion Mk 8/2
Upgunned Mk 8
Centurion Mk 9 a.k.a. FV 4015
Upgunned and uparmoured Mk 7
Centurion Mk 9/1
Mk 9 with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 9/2
Mk 9 with ranging gun fitted
Centurion Mk 10 a.k.a. FV 4017
Upgunned and uparmoured Mk 8
Centurion Mk 10/1
Mk 10 with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 10/2
Mk 10 with ranging gun fitted
Centurion Mk 11
Mk 6 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Mk 12
Mk 9 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Mk 13
Mk 10 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun


A41 [20 mm]
Centurion prototype with coaxial Polsten cannon
A41 [Besa]
Centurion prototype with coaxial Besa MG—later fitted with experimental CDL

Fighting Vehicle numbers[edit]

FV 4005 in the Bovington Tank Museum

FV 3802 
Self-propelled 25-pdr artillery prototype based on the Centurion—engine at the rear as in the gun tank, but only five road wheels per side. The gun was fitted in a barbette with 45° traverse to each side. Accepted in principle in 1954, but abandoned in favour of FV3805 in 1956.[71]

FV 3805 
Self-propelled 5.5in artillery prototype, again based on the Centurion—engine at the front and driver over the trackguard. Project stopped in 1960 in favour of the FV433 105mm SP Abbot. The single surviving prototype of the FV3805, which had its 5.5 inch gun removed, is known to be located on the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England. This prototype was converted into an artillery observation vehicle. As of August 2015, there is currently a crowd-sourced restoration project in process, with the intent to have the vehicle in fully operational and running capacity by 2017, where it is hoped to be capable of driving in the 2017 Tankfest celebration at the Bovington Tank Museum.[71]

FV 4002 Centurion Mk 5 Bridgelayer
(1963) – Mk 5 chassis with a No 5 Tank Bridge. The 52 ft by 13 ft bridge[71] can be launched in less than two minutes, can span a gap of 45 ft (14 m) and with a height difference of up to 8 ft and can bear up to 80 tons.

FV 4003 Centurion Mk 5 AVRE 165
(1963) – AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) vehicle with a 165 mm demolition gun with a range of about 2,000 yards and firing a 60 lb HESH projectile for breaching obstacles. It was fited with a hydraulically operated dozer blade or a mine plough and could carry a fascine bundle or a roll of metal Class 60 Trackway, tow the Viper mine-clearance equipment or a trailer. This variant had a five-man crew and was used in the 1991 Gulf War.

FV 4004 Conway 
"FV 4004 Self-propelled gun, 120 mm, L1 gun, Mk 3" prototype based on a Centurion 3 hull with a larger calibre 120 mm L1 gun in a turret made from rolled plate.[71] To be an interim design until Conqueror tank entered service. One built before the project was cancelled in 1951.[71]

FV 4005 Stage 2 
An experimental tank destroyer with a 183 mm gun, which was a modified version of the BL 7.2-inch howitzer. Project started in 1951/52,[71] and developed in July 1955. It used a lightly armoured, fully enclosed and traversable turret on a Centurion hull. By August 1957, the tank destroyer was dismantled.[72]

FV 4006 Centurion ARV Mk 2
(1956) – Mk 1 / Mk 2 / Mk 3 hull with the turret replaced by a superstructure housing a winch. The winch is powered by an auxiliary engine and is capable of pulling of up to 90 tons using a system of blocks. Armed with a single .30 inch machine gun on the commander's cupola.
FV 4007 Centurion Mk 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8/1, 8/2
FV 4008 Duplex Drive Amphibious Landing Kit
12 lightweight panels forming a skirt around a permanently fixed deck; the panels are jettisoned with explosive charges.[71]
FV 4010 a.k.a. Heavy Tank Destroyer G.W. Carrier
Malkara Anti Tank Guided Missile launcher vehicle
FV 4011 Centurion Mk 5
FV 4012 Centurion Mk 7/1, 7/2
FV 4013 Centurion ARV Mk 1
(1952) – Based on Mk 1 / Mk 2 hull. Turret replaced by a superstructure housing a winch driven by a 72 hp Bedford QL truck engine. About 180 units were built, some of them were used in the Korean War. After 1959, they were used solely as training vehicles.
FV 4015 Centurion Mk 9
FV 4016 Centurion ARK
(1963) – Armoured Ramp Carrier. Built on a Mark 5, the vehicle itself is part of the bridge. It can span a gap of up to 75 feet, and can bear up to 80 tons.
FV 4017 Centurion Mk 10
FV 4018 Centurion BARV (1963)
Beach armoured recovery vehicle. The last Centurion variant to be used by the British Army. One vehicle was still in use by the Royal Marines until 2003. Replaced by the Hippo, which is based on a Leopard 1 chassis.
FV 4019 Centurion Mk 5 Bulldozer
(1961) – Centurion Mk V with a dozer blade identical to that of the Centurion AVRE. One such tank was usually given to every Centurion-equipped squadron.
FV 4202 40 ton Centurion
Used to develop various concepts later used in the Chieftain

Specialist variants[edit]

Centurion [Low Profile]
Variant with Teledyne Low-profile Turret
Centurion [MMWR Target]
Cobbled together radar target tank.
Centurion Marksman
Fitted with Marksman air defence turret
Centurion Ark ( FV 4016)
Assault Gap Crossing Equipment (Armoured ramp carrier)
Centurion ARV Mk I
Armoured Recovery vehicle
Centurion ARV Mk II
Armoured Recovery Vehicle with superstructure
Centurion AVLB
Dutch armoured vehicle laying bridge
Centurion AVRE 105
Combat Engineer Version armed with 105 mm gun
Centurion AVRE 165
Combat Engineer Version armed with 165 mm L9A1 gun
Centurion BARV
Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle
Centurion Bridgelayer (FV 4002)
Class 80 bridgelayer
Centurion Mk 12 AVRE 105
Ex-Forward Artillery Observer vehicles converted to AVRE role.
Centurion Target Tank[73]
A Gun tank with most items removed from turret and dummy gun fitted(?), much thicker (1 inch?) Bazooka plates fitted and extra armour in places. Used on Lulworth Ranges (perhaps others?) c1972-5 to train GW missile crews using inert missiles. Nominally driver only.

Non-UK variants[edit]

MAR-290 / Eshel ha-Yarden.


Centurion Mk V, 2[75]
A Mk V upgraded with the British 105 mm L7A1 gun and the Browning co-axial machine gun replaced by the German MG3. 106 Mk Vs were upgraded from 1964.
Centurion Mk V, 2 DK[76]
Mk V, 2 with laser range finder and night vision optics. 90 units were upgraded in 1985.


Sho't (English – "Whip")
An Israeli designation of the Centurion.
Sho't Meteor
Centurion Mk 5 tanks with the original Meteor engine purchased in 1959.
Sho't Kal Alef/Bet/Gimel/Dalet
Modernised Centurion tanks with 105 mm gun from 1963 and new powertrain of the Continental AVDS-1790-2A diesel engine mated to the Allison CD850-6 transmission. Entered service in 1970. By 1974, all Israeli Centurions were upgraded to Sho't Kal (Mk 13 armour) and had a pintle-mounted .50 cal HMG. Sub-variants indicate upgrades received by Sho't Kal tanks during their operational life, including a new turret rotating mechanism, a new gun stabiliser, a new fire-control system and preparations for the installation of the Blazer ERA.
Nagmashot / Nagmachon / Nakpadon
Israeli heavy armoured personnel carriers based on the Centurion tank's chassis.
Israeli combat engineering vehicle on Centurion tank chassis.
Eshel ha-Yarden
A quadruple tubular launcher for 290 mm ground-to-ground rockets mounted on Centurion tank chassis. The project was cancelled after a single prototype was built. Both this vehicle and an earlier version based on Sherman chassis are often referred to as MAR-290.
Operated by Singapore, modernised with Israeli assistance, similar to Israeli variant, with diesel engine and new main gun, and possibly reactive armour.[citation needed]


Centurion Mk 5 NL and Mk 5/2 NL
Circa 1965, Dutch Mk 5 and 5/2 tanks were equipped with infrared headlights, searchlight, and viewing equipment, of Philips design instead of the types used on British tanks. Around the same time, a .50-caliber ranging machine gun was added, as was a spare wheel bracket on the rear of the turret, and from 1969, the M1919 Browning machine guns were replaced by FN MAGs. From 1973, the tanks’ radio sets were replaced by Philips-designed ones.[77]
Centurion bruggenlegger
Between 1962 and 1965, 17 Mk 5 gun tanks were converted to bridge layers (Dutch: bruggenlegger) , using the same bridge and mechanism as the American M48 and M60 AVLBs.
Centurion dozertank
Also in 1962–65, 17 Mk 5s with 20-pounder guns were converted to dozer tanks by fitting adapted blades from old M4 Sherman dozers. Once ammunition stocks for the 20-pounders were exhausted, the guns were removed and the turrets fixed facing to the rear, with the smoke grenade launchers relocated to the now front of the turret with spotlights installed there as well to assist dozer operations at night.

South Africa[edit]

Olifant tank
Centurion tanks redesigned and rebuilt by South Africa with the help of Israel; considered the best indigenous tank design on the African continent.[78]
(1974) 810 hp fuel-injected petrol engine, three-speed semi-automatic transmission.
Olifant Mk 1
(1978) 750 hp diesel engine, semi-automatic transmission.
Olifant Mk 1A
(1985) Retains the fire control system of the original Centurion but has a hand-held laser rangefinder for the commander and image-intensifier for the gunner.[78][79]
Olifant Mk 1B
(1991) Torsion bar suspension, lengthened hull, additional armour on the glacis plate and turret, V-12 950 hp diesel engine, computerised fire control system, laser rangefinder.[78]
Olifant Mk 2
Redesigned turret, new fire control system. Can mount an LIW 105 mm GT-8 rifled gun or a 120 mm smooth bore gun.


The designations follows the pattern of main gun calibre in centimetres followed by the service order number. Hence the strv 81 is read as the first tank with an 8 cm gun, while the strv 101 is the first tank with a 10 cm gun that was accepted into service.

Stridsvagn 81
Swedish Army designation for both the initial 80 Mk 3 Centurions (20 pdr gun) and the 1955 purchase of 160 Mk 5 Centurions, all with Imperial instrumentation, Swedish radios, etc. Pre-NATO threading made the screws incompatible with the later Strv 101.
Stridsvagn 101
Swedish Army designation for its 110 Mk 10 Centurions (105 mm gun) bought in 1958 with Swedish instrumentation and radios, etc.
Stridsvagn 102
Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 81 upgunned in 1964–1966 to 105 mm main gun.
Stridsvagn 101R
Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 101 upgraded in 1980s with Renovation/modification (REMO).
Stridsvagn 102R
Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 102 upgraded in 1980s with REMO and frontal armour matching the 101R.
Stridsvagn 104
Swedish Army designation for the 80 Stridsvagn 102 which in addition to the REMO received the same powerpack as the Sho't Kal Alef, consisting of a Continental diesel and an automatic gearbox from Allison.
Stridsvagn 105
Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 102R upgraded with new suspension, firecontrol systems etc. Prototype only.
Stridsvagn 106
Swedish Army designation for Stridsvagn 101R upgraded with new suspension, etc. Not built.
Bärgningsbandvagn 81
Swedish Army designation for Centurion ARV.


A map of Centurion operators in blue with former operators in red

Current operators[edit]

Former operators[edit]

  • Australia Australia Replaced by Leopard 1.
  • Austria Austria Now fixed in bunkers.
  • Canada Canada Initially ordered 274 Mk 3 tanks, plus nine armoured recovery vehicles and four bridge-layers and additional orders followed. The Mk 5 (upgunned to 105 mm) were used later. From 1969 to 1970, the Canadian Army lists 77 tanks based in Germany (mostly Mk 5 and Mk 11's) and the remainder in Canada (60 at CFB Wainwright AB, 59 at CFSD Longpointe PQ, 46 at CFB Gagetown NB, 30 at CFB Borden, 29 at CFB Meaford ON, 27 at CFB Calgary AB, 12 at CFB Petawawa ON, six at RCEME School Kingston ON and one at the LETE Test Establishment Orleans, CFB Ottawa ON) for a total of 347 tanks (including 120 Mk 5s, three Mk 5 recovery tanks and some Mk 11s with IR and ranging guns fitted). Replaced by Leopard C1. Many of the tanks were sold to Israel, which converted them to diesel. Some are still in use as variants.
  • Denmark Denmark Replaced by Leopard 1.
  • Egypt Egypt Replaced by T-55s, T-62s, M60A3s and M1A1s.
  • India India Retired
  • Iraq Iraq Retired
  • Kuwait Kuwait, handed over to Somalia circa 1977
  • Lebanon Lebanon
  • Netherlands Netherlands Initially received 435 Mk 3 tanks beginning in 1953, increased to 592 by 1956; all were paid for by the United States as part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act. As one was lost to an accidental fire in 1953, 591 gun tanks were on strength, and were soon upgraded to Mk 5 standard with 20-pounder gun and the British radio sets replaced by American types; one fuel mono-trailer was also available per tank. From 1956 to 1958, 66 ARV Mk 2s were procured, and in 1959–60, 70 Mk 7 tanks were delivered from the UK; these were all held in war reserve until 1969, when they were disposed of. Over the years 1960–72, 343 Mk 5 tanks were gradually upgunned with 105 mm guns to Mk 5/2 standard, as were 19 Mk 7s (to Mk 7/2) in 1966–68. Between 1962 and 1965, 17 Mk 5 tanks were converted to bridge layers, using the same bridge and mechanism as the American M48 and M60 AVLBs; at the same time, another 17 Mk 5s with 20-pounder guns were converted to dozer tanks. As an experiment, one Mk 5/2 and one Mk 7/2 were converted by installing a diesel engine in 1968; though successful, it was not adopted because the cost approached that of buying a new Leopard 1. All Centurions were replaced by Leopard 2 MBTs in the 1980s, after having been used alongside Leopard 1s in the 1970s. Many Mk 5 and all Mk 7 tanks were returned to the United States (which had paid for them), which appears to have shipped most to Israel.[77]
  • New Zealand New Zealand 12 retired without replacement.
  • Singapore Singapore 63 Centurion Mk3 and Mk7s bought from India in 1975 and more from Israel in 1993–1994, all upgraded to Israeli standard with new main guns and diesel engines[83] It has since been replaced by the Leopard 2SGs.[citation needed]
  • Somalia Somalia – Christopher F. Foss, writing in the second edition of Jane's Main Battle Tanks (ISBN 0 7106 0372 X, 1986) p. 186, said that 'Kuwait was believed to have supplied Somalia with about 35 Centurions.' The Military Balance 1987-88 (p. 112) listed 30 Centurions held by the Somali Army.
  • Sweden Sweden Replaced by Stridsvagn 122 (Leopard 2A5S)
  • Switzerland Switzerland Replaced by Leopard 2
  • United Kingdom United Kingdom Replaced by Chieftain

See also[edit]

Tanks of comparable role, performance and era[edit]


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External links[edit]