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Centurion instead of Chieftain

uk 75

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The Centurion was the most successful British tank ever built. In Israeli service it fought brilliantly in two wars. Several allied Nations used them in large numbers.
Its successor, Chieftain, seemed more like the Conqueror heavy tank with its heavy armour, underpowered engine and 120mm rifled gun. None were exported to Western countries.
The Leopard 1 on the other hand used the same 105mm gun as later Centurions and weighed roughlly the same with improved performance. It served with several NATO armies as well as Australia and Canada.
It had much higher readiness rates than BAOR Chieftains.
Could or should we have built a better Centurion class tank rather than going for the Chieftain?
 

Fluff

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I read a book once, which classified the Chieftain as really being a tank destroyer. This was based on the triangle, being disproportionately on armour and firepower, with no regard to mobility.

Given what has replaced the Leo 1 and the other centurions, in Europe, and indeed worldwide, is something closer to Chieftain, does this suggest UK was a trailblazer?
 

uk 75

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The idea of heavy armour and an accurate 120mm gun began with M103 and Conqueror ( in response to the Soviet JSIII and T10).
The Germans and US came uo with a mobile heavily armoured and long range missile/gun in MBT70. This led to the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams which finally arrive in the 80s.
The problem with Chieftain then Challenger is that they lack the mobility, reliability.and fire on the move accuracy of M1 and Leo2. But the 120mm gun and heavy armiour was aporeciated by the Brits, less so the reliability.
 

JohnR

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Sorry if I'm hijacking this thread but I've often wondered if the Chieftain could have been fitted with the MTU MB838 engine and how the extra 70hp would have benefited its performance?
 

uk 75

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Sorry if I'm hijacking this thread but I've often wondered if the Chieftain could have been fitted with the MTU MB838 engine and how the extra 70hp would have benefited its performance?
You do address one of the issues with Chieftain. But I take it you prefer Chieftain to an evolved Centurion weight design with 105mm gun like Leo 1?
 

JohnR

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Sorry if I'm hijacking this thread but I've often wondered if the Chieftain could have been fitted with the MTU MB838 engine and how the extra 70hp would have benefited its performance?
You do address one of the issues with Chieftain. But I take it you prefer Chieftain to an evolved Centurion weight design with 105mm gun like Leo 1?
I've always regarded the Chieftain as a logical successor to Centurion with a logical step up of protection and firepower but without a commensurate increase in mechanical performance its major failure; which I regard the reason why no other 'Western' power adopted it.

If the UK had proceeded with a design as you suggest, it should have been "upgradable" in the same way as Centurion was so that if it was introduced using a L7 it should have been upgraded to a L11 (or similar) in the future. I do remember reading a question somewhere would it have been possible to upgraded the Centurion with a 120mm gun, but I can't remember where and what the answer was

It is one of the greatest failures of NATO IMO that we did not achieve a much greater level of commonality of equipment, much being surrendered in favour of national interests; for example the AMX30 and Leopard. Although my question relating to the MTU838 is to resolve the mechanical shortcoming of Chieftain I am also wondering about the standardization of equipment. Also I wonder what would be involve in fitting the engine, I am aware that when the Israeli's fitted the 1790 to the Centurion they had to fit it canted so it could fit in the engine bay

These are my views in my role as Armchair General with extensive experience in catering and reading a lot of books, and I really look forward to further discussions on the subject.

Regards
 

Grey Havoc

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Ironically the Chieftain's engine woes were a result of an attempt at NATO standardisation relating to multi-fuel engines.
 

RLBH

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I read a book once, which classified the Chieftain as really being a tank destroyer. This was based on the triangle, being disproportionately on armour and firepower, with no regard to mobility.

Given what has replaced the Leo 1 and the other centurions, in Europe, and indeed worldwide, is something closer to Chieftain, does this suggest UK was a trailblazer?
I seem to recall a number of contemporaries arguing that the Chieftain was really a heavy tank, on similar grounds.
 

uk 75

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As only a pen pusher and historian I rely on the words and experience of others on most subjects here.
I think it is correct that Chieftain did evolve out of Centurion via a prototype called Caernarvon I think. For various reasons the result was closer to Conqueror in size and performance.
Other NATO nations used the UK 105mm gun on most of their tanks well into the 80s. Was the 120mm a worthwhile change?
A British Leopard 1 or whatever might have allowed greater numbers and better overseas sales
 

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As only a pen pusher and historian I rely on the words and experience of others on most subjects here.
I think it is correct that Chieftain did evolve out of Centurion via a prototype called Caernarvon I think. For various reasons the result was closer to Conqueror in size and performance.
Other NATO nations used the UK 105mm gun on most of their tanks well into the 80s. Was the 120mm a worthwhile change?
A British Leopard 1 or whatever might have allowed greater numbers and better overseas sales
Far as I know there was little to no connection between the Chieftain and Caernarvon. The Caernarvon was an interim setup mating a Centurion turret (armed with either a 17pdr or 20pdr gun) to an FV201 "Universal Tank" chassis that was only ever used for training and trials. Most of those were then converted up into the FV214 Conqueror by swapping the Centurion turrets out for the huge newly-designed one mounting the L1 120mm gun.

The Chieftain was a sort of parallel evolution to the Centurion by Leyland, starting off with a modified Centurion chassis and proto-Chieftain turret with a 20pdr gun designated the FV4202. Near as I can tell, the War Office realized following the Korean War that the Conqueror was obsolescent and the idea of supporting two separate tanks and armament systems wasn't ideal. So the Chieftain would merge the Conqueror's long-range 120mm gun to a lighter chassis and adding a new mantlet-less turret to improve its capability in firing from defensive positions. The end result was initially a bit of a lemon, but in the end it turned out to be a respectable tank once a few upgrades were made.

Though personally I still would've liked to see the result of keeping the long-range heavy and the MBT/medium tank separate (and I suppose sidelining missiles a bit), if only to see a production version of the FV215b. Because practicality be damned, a Conqueror chassis sporting a rear-mounted turret for the (in)famous 183mm QF L4 monster gun would have been a hell of a thing to witness. Sabot rounds might be more technically effective, but you just can't argue with 7.2" HESH warhead that weighs a hundred and sixty pounds.
 

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As only a pen pusher and historian I rely on the words and experience of others on most subjects here.
I think it is correct that Chieftain did evolve out of Centurion via a prototype called Caernarvon I think. For various reasons the result was closer to Conqueror in size and performance.
Other NATO nations used the UK 105mm gun on most of their tanks well into the 80s. Was the 120mm a worthwhile change?
A British Leopard 1 or whatever might have allowed greater numbers and better overseas sales
I seem to recall, at the time, the UK claimed others kept to the 105/'medium tank' due to them having conscript armies. UK was volunteer from the 60's.

There was of course the vickers tank, which was close to a new build centurion, with(wait for it) the chieftain engine........I think they ditched the engine pretty quick.
 

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I have read that the L60 on the lighter Vickers MK1 was quite reliable, although the replacement of it by the Detroit Diesel on the MK3 puts a degree of doubt.
 

Ravinoff

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As only a pen pusher and historian I rely on the words and experience of others on most subjects here.
I think it is correct that Chieftain did evolve out of Centurion via a prototype called Caernarvon I think. For various reasons the result was closer to Conqueror in size and performance.
Other NATO nations used the UK 105mm gun on most of their tanks well into the 80s. Was the 120mm a worthwhile change?
A British Leopard 1 or whatever might have allowed greater numbers and better overseas sales
I seem to recall, at the time, the UK claimed others kept to the 105/'medium tank' due to them having conscript armies. UK was volunteer from the 60's.
As weird as that sounds at first, I can actually see how that could make some sense. The L7 105 uses a fixed shell, where as the L11A5 120 uses bagged charges. I'd imagine that would have to add a layer or two of complexity for training conscripts.
 

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As a crewman on Chieftain I can state that loading was not a problem with a separate bag charge and was in fact a simple procedure. The only 'problem' of note was the lack of (Max) headroom for the loader but Chieftain was not alone in this respect, probably easier than loading one piece 105mm rounds and as I have an ex Centurion gunnery instructor who tells me this roof issue was not a problem with the Cent. Even looking at the armour layout you can tell the two were intended to use different tactics. Side armour for a Cent Mk 3 was a bit over 50mm while the Chieftain has only 38mm with protection concentrated over the frontal arc. We used pre prepared and Engineer prepared fire positions and bounding movement while Centurion was obviously very closely developed to the more freely moving engagement and side armour similar to PZKPFW V.
 

CJGibson

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Side armour for a Cent Mk 3 was a bit over 50mm while the Chieftain has only 38mm with protection concentrated over the frontal arc. We used pre prepared and Engineer prepared fire positions and bounding movement while Centurion was obviously very closely developed to the more freely moving engagement and side armour similar to PZKPFW V.
That's interesting. Thanks Foo Fighter.
 

T. A. Gardner

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I'd say somebody did. The Vickers MBT Mk 3 to 7 fit that pretty closely

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The series has evolved since the mid 70's when it first appeared with the latest more closely resembling an M1 Abrams or Leopard II.
 

uk 75

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As has been mentioned above, the Chieftain was designed to be a long range rifle dug in waiting for the hordes of Soviet tanks to come to it. The Germans and the US (and the Belgians and Dutch) were keener on a more mobile engagement. The Germans in particular were keen to keep their forces on the move, counter attacking wherever possible.
Centurion had also been intended for deployment outside Europe (in Libya and the Gulf). Post the Suez crisis in 1956 UK forces outside Europe were designed to be air portable relying on recoilless rifles and later Swingfire/Vigilant to cope with enemy tanks.
The UK Strategic Reserve between 1961 and 1976 only had one Chieftain Regiment allocated to it (for use with the Brigade deployable to Denmark for NATO).
 

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