Despite huge numbers of surplus WW2 tanks at the end of the war, tank designers around the world took stock of eight years of rapid development
(~37-45) and redefined the concept of tank; the Main Battle Tank (MBT) was born. Going into the war most tanks had been too lightly armored and
under-gunned, whilst others were too heavy and too unreliable. Numerous light, medium and heavy tanks had been designed, some successful, many more
not. Despite pioneering the deployment of tanks in WW1, Britain had not excelled at tank design in WW2; instead relying heavily on US designed tanks
(although production rates was a major factor in this choice). Having said that, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the British designers were
incapable of designing good tanks, in fact they designed what is arguably the best tank of WW2 but for a quirk of history: the Centurion arrived too
late to see action.
After the war tank designers wanted to combine the best characteristics of the best tanks of WW2; the armor and firepower of the infamous German Tiger
II, the robustness and mobility of the Soviet T-34.
Then current technology however, still did not allow designers to combine the heaviest armor of the time with the mobility of the MBT concept, and
therefore designers continued to develop Heavy Tanks in addition to the new generation MBTs.
Originally designed in WW2, the Centurion was progressively up-armored and up-gunned whilst retaining its great mobility to become the best MBT of its
day. Outperforming its Russian and American counterparts in Korea, it went on to have further combat success, particularly in the hands of the
The famous Royal Ordnance Factories L-7 105mm main gun was deployed in 1959 and soon became the benchmark tank gun and has since been used on many
other MBTs – 20 years later the M1 Abrams was being introduced to service using the same gun. Even the state of the art Korean K1 MBT still uses the
L7 gun and the latest STRYKER MGS (Mobile Gun System) uses this gun; it’s that good.
The 65 ton Conqueror was the heavy tank counterpart to the “Universal Tank” (read MBT) Centurion. It featured heavier armor and a US designed
120mm gun which left much to be desired. It suffered reliability and mobility problems and although it saw service, it is generally seen as a bit of
the black sheep of post war British tank design.
Generally analogous with the Soviet JS-3 heavy tank (i3.tinypic.com...
), the Conqueror did not see combat, much to everyone’s relief.
Another tank best forgotten, the Caenarvon combined the massive and slow chassis of the Conqueror with the turret of the Centurion with a 20-pounder
gun (pre-L7). Although a number were produced, the idea didn’t catch on.
Conway & similar experiments
The Conway was an attempt to up-gun the Centurion with a 120mm gun. The high profile turret was not optimum for an MBT:
A similar attempt to up-gun the Centurion was this lightly armored turret with a massive 183mm main gun!
Vickers MBT (Mk1~3, Vijayanta etc)
Based on the Centurion, Vickers produced a series of tanks for export, notably to India and Kenya. The most common version was the Indian Vijayanta.
All main variants featured 105mm main gun.
The natural evolution of the Centurion, the Chieftain was the first production MBT in the world to have a 120mm main gun. It was also heavily armored
but suffered from modest performance due largely to being underpowered although this was partly overcome in the Khalid variant sold to Jordan.
The project to design a successor to the Chieftain was called MBT-80. The tank introduced the distinctive glacis plate now seen on the Challenger. It
had Chobham armor and the now ubiquitous British L11 120mm rifled main gun. The project ultimately led to the Challenger.
(Note: the tank pictured has an experimental turret which was associated with the MBT-80 program)
One of the most notable improvements to the Chieftain was the Chobham armored Chieftain 900 which featured a distinctive glacis plate (the front bit).
Another famous and very combat successful tank, the Challenger (since referred to as Challenger I) was rivaled only by the Abrams for armor and
The Challenger was exported to Jordan where it is now forming the basis for very advanced future MBTs. In British service it was replaced by the
Challenger II in the ‘90s, being retired due to arms limitation treaties rather than obsolescence.
Vickers Mk 4
Basically a progression from the “Vickers MBT” series of export tanks, the Mk 4 incorporated updated armor and the L11 120mm gun. It never sold.
Acknowledging the limitations of the Challenger’s chassis, particularly when compared with the German Leopard II MBT, Vickers designed the Mk7
export tank combining the Vickers turret with 120mm rifled gun with the Leopard IIs chassis. Although a cool tank, no customers were found.
An improved Challenger with a new turret, the Challenger II is undeniably one of the foremost MBTs today:
[edit on 5-5-2006 by planeman]
[edit on 5-5-2006 by planeman]