In 1943, after a succession of
unfortunate tank designs the British War Office commissioned a new
specification calling for a tank with durability, reliability, a weight of
40 tons and the ability to withstand a direct hit from the German 88mm
gun. Six prototypes were developed before the end of World War 2, but
arrived to late to take part in the war on German soil.
It was soon recognised that the weight
restrictions had to be lifted as the original specification could not be
achieved within the 40 ton weight limitation.
- An Iroquois helicopter from 9
Sqn RAAF in close support of Centurion tanks in South Viet Nam.
The early vehicles were equipped with a
17 pounder main gun and a 20mm Polsten cannon. They also featured frontal,
glacis plate armour to deflect shot, a partially cast turret and Horstmann
However, modifications to the original
design were quickly made and the changes resulted in the adoption of a 20
pounder, fully stabilised, main gun and the replacement of the 20 mm
cannon by a Besa mg (thus allowing the turret to be fully cast). These
changes resulted in the Mk 3 version of the vehicle. NB: It was reputed
that the performance of the 20 pounder gun (when firing APDS) was twice
that of the 88mm gun of the German, Royal Tiger Tank.
In order to maintain its combat
effectiveness, continuing modifications have led to numerous changes to
main gun armament (e.g. 105 mm), fire control equipment, infra-red driving
aids, engines (particularly diesels) and semi-automatic transmissions.
The Centurion was Britain's first
attempt to produce a universal tank and do away with divisions between
Infantry Tanks (e.g. Matilda) and Cruiser Tanks
(e.g. Covenanter). The original design
was rapidly changed in the light of performance reports and led to the
production of the Mk 2.
Further modifications resulted in the
production of the Mk 3. This mark introduced the 20 pounder gun and the
fully cast turret, plus a number of engine modifications. In this form,
the Centurion first saw action in Korea in 1951 and soon proved itself to
be the best performing tank in this theatre of operations. Particularly
notable was its excellent cross country performance.
In operations around the Imjin River in
Korea, two Centurions had to be hastily abandoned and to prevent them from
falling into enemy hands it became necessary to destroy them. Despite
being pounded by armour-piercing shot from a range of 50 m. neither tank
caught fire and both were subsequently recovered and repaired.
Constant modifications and upgradings
enabled the Centurion to remain at the fore-front of tank technology. The
design of the vehicle was such that it could easily be up-gunned and
re-engined and it was to later prove itself in numerous tank engagements
in the Middle-East and India.
Australian Service History
The first purchaser of the Centurion was
Australian Army in 1950, however the initial consignment was transferred
to the 8th King's Royal Regiment, Irish Hussars at the outbreak of the
Korean War. This Regiment was re-equipped with the Centurion and was
employed to support the Commonwealth contingent fighting with the United
It was not until February 1952 that
Centurions arrived in Australia where they entered service with 1st
Armoured Regiment. The tanks were off-loaded at Sydney and delivered by
train to Puckapunyal, Victoria. (NB: The Archives Section, State Rail
Authority, NSW possesses an excellent photographic collection showing the
off-loading and trans-shipment of these vehicles to Puckapunyal.
These photographs are available for
examination and copies may be purchased from the Archives Section).
The Australian Centurions were Mk. 3's
and these were equipped with 20 pounder guns and the 7.92 Besa mg's were
replaced with .30 cal. Browning mg's. The tank training area around
Puckapunyal proved a severe testing ground for the Centurion, in
particular its suspension system, yet it proved to be a most robust
With the growing commitment to the
Vietnam War in the 1960's, a number of Centurions were modified in 1967 at
3rd Base Workshops, Bandiana, Victoria for employment with the 1st.
Australian Task Force serving in Phuoc Tuy Province. The tanks were
modified to Mk. s/i (Australian) standard by the addition of applique
armour on the glacis plate, .50 cal. ranging gun, No 4 RCP sight and
infra-red night fighting equipment for the commander, gunner and driver.
In February 1968, C Squadron of 1st.
Armoured Regiment, reinforced by a Special Equipment Troop of
bridge-layers and tank-dozers and integral to the RAEME (Royal Australian
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) support, was committed to enhance the
combined arms nature of the Task Force.
Such was the effectiveness of this
armoured combat team, that many repairs, including major tasks, were
performed in the field. This practice astounded a number of American Units
which were content to recover vehicles to rear maintenance areas or to
simply write-off battle damaged vehicles.
Despite considerable scepticism of many
observers and senior Army personnel, the Centurion proved particularly
effective at fighting in the paddy-fields and jungle areas of Vietnam.
They proved their worth on many
occasions, notably in the defence of Fire Support Bases Coral' and
Balmoral', during the Tet offensive of 1968, in fighting around Binh Ba
and in a number of offensive operations in Phuoc Tuy Province. (NB: A good
account of the Centurions involvement in Vietnam is provided in the book,
"The Battle of Coral" by Lex McAuley).
By 1971, when the tanks were finally
withdrawn, all three Squadrons of 1st. Armoured Regiment had served in
South Vietnam, with C Squadron having served twice.
During 1955 the 1/15 RNSWL was
introduced to the Centurion Tank and these were later to become its main
fighting equipment. By 1965 a home training tank was taken on charge at
Lancer Barracks and given the name Assegai. A further tank was received
later and by 1968 three tanks were located at the Barracks. Prior to the
delivery of these vehicles, all training and instruction was conducted at
the Armoured Centre, Puckapunyal.
The Regiment was involved in
infantry/tank cooperation training with the 5th and 7th Battalions, Royal
Australian Regiment prior to their departure to Vietnam. In 1971, the role
of the Regiment was changed the that of a Cavalry Regiment and was
re-equipped with M113A1 Armoured Personnel Carriers. The Centurions were
phased out of service at that time.
In all, the Australian Army purchased
131 Centurions including six ARV's Mk. 2, four Bridge-layers and four
Tank-dozers. An interesting conversion undertaken by the Armoured Centre, Puckapunyal
was the Driver Training Tank, this was achieved by removing the turrets
from conventional tanks and fitting a lightweight enclosed structure
fitted with a number of seats for trainee drivers. The Centurion was
eventually phased out of military service in 1977.
This section is based on http://www.lancers.org.au/museum/Centurion.htm
with other photos and details added.