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|Type||Main battle tank|
|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|In service||1946-present (derivatives still in service)|
|Wars||Korean War |
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
War of Attrition
Yom Kippur War
South African Border War
Operation Motorman (AVRE)
Falklands War (BARV)
Gulf War (AVRE)
|Unit cost||£35,000 (1950), £38,000 (1952)|
|Mass||51 long tons (52 t)|
|Length||Hull: 25 ft (7.6 m)|
Overall: 32 ft (9.8 m) with 20pdr
|Width||11 ft 1 in (3.38 m) with side plates|
|Height||9 ft 10.5 in (3.01 m)|
|Crew||4 (commander, gunner, loader, driver)|
|105 mm L7 rifled gun|
20 pdr (84 mm) rifled gun
17 pdr (76.2mm) rifled gun
|Co-axial .30 cal Browning machine gun|
|Engine||Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox|
650 hp (480 kW)
|50 miles (80 km) Mk 2/Mk 3|
|Speed||22 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, 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. 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.
It became one of the most widely used tank designs, equipping armies around the world, with some still in service until the 1990s. 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).
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), but, critically, for the new tank this restriction had been lifted by the War Office under pressure from the Department of Tank Design (British & American Tanks of WWII - Chamberlain & Ellis 1969). 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.
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.  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.
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. 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." 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.
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. 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 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.
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. Production of the Mk 3 began in 1948. 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.
Design work for the Mk 7 was completed in 1953, with production beginning soon afterwards. 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.
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). 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.
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. The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps deployed a regiment of Centurions to Germany to support the Canadian Brigade.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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."
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.
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. Lieutenant Colonel Norman Tailyour arranged for more reinforcements to be brought in via helicopter.[verification needed]
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 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. The 20-pdr armed 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).
Colonel Donald Dunstan, later to be governor of South Australia, was the deputy task force commander of the Australian forces in South Vietnam 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. 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". 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.
After the battles at firebases Coral and Balmoral, in which the 1 ATF defeated the 141st and 165th NVA Infantry Regiments 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.
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. 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.
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 armored 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 armoured division primary composed of M47 Pattons and M48 Pattons, they proved to be only able to penetrate a few of the Centurion tanks, as witnessed in the Battle of Chawinda in the Sialkot sector. A post-war US study of the tank battles in South Asia concluded that the Patton's armor could, in fact, be penetrated by the 20-pounder tank gun (84 mm) of the Centurion (later replaced by the even-more successful L7 105mm gun on the Mk. 7 version which India also possessed) as well as the 75 mm tank gun of the AMX-13 light tank.
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.
The first country who bought Centurion tanks was Egypt. The first tanks were received in 1950. Israel's formerly British Centurions first delivered in the 1959 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"). 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 out of a total of 385 tanks. Egypt in Sinai had 30 Centurion tanks. All 30 Egyptian tanks were destroyed or captured by Israel. 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.
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. 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 extinguisher 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. 105 Sho't Kal tanks of the 7th Armoured Brigade and 20 Shots of the 188th 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. During the entire war, 1,063 Israeli tanks were disabled (more than half of them Centurions), about 600 of them were completely destroyed or captured. Some 35 Israeli Centurions were captured by Egypt, dozens more were captured by Syria and Iraq. On the other hand, 2,250 Arab tanks were disabled (including 54 Jordanian Centurions), 1,274 of them were completely destroyed or captured. After the war, to replace Israeli losses, the United States delivered 200 M60 and M48 tanks and the United Kingdom delivered 400 Centurion tanks to Israel.
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.
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. Four minor injuries were sustained.
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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 September 1970 (Black September) Jordan used Centrurions of the 40th Armoured Brigade against invaded Syrian T-55 tanks. Jordan lost 75 to 90 tanks out of 200 involved. Most of them were destroyed by Syrian tank fire at ar-Ramtha. But some of them were destroyed by PLO in Amman. Palestinians used captured Centurion tanks against Jordanian army.
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 Horstmann 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 ordered 203 Centurion Mk 3 tanks from the United Kingdom in 1953. The South African Centurions entered service between 1955 and 1958, and included about 17 armoured recovery vehicles. 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. The Centurions were procured specifically because they were compatible with Commonwealth tank tactics and preexisting British armoured formations.
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. To that end, 100 Centurion Mk 3s and 10 Centurion-based recovery vehicles were sold off to Switzerland in 1961. 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. 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. The upgraded Centurions were designated Skoikaan and proved unpopular due to their high fuel consumption and poor operating range.
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. 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. 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. 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. OMC upgraded each Centurion with a 29-litre Continental turbocharged diesel engine and a new transmission adopted from the M60 Patton. The refurbished Centurions were also armed with a South African variant of the Royal Ordnance L7 105 mm main gun. They were accepted into service with the South African Armoured Corps as the Olifant Mk1A in 1985.
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. 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. Morale also suffered when inexperienced armoured car crews were ordered to take on the Angolan T-54/55s in their vulnerable vehicles. 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. 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.
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. On 9 November 1987 the Olifants destroyed two Angolan T-55s during a heated nine-minute skirmish. This marked the first occasion South African tanks had been sent into battle since World War II. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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 105 mm 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 1980s, 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.
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 Totem1. 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.
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. 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. It could still be driven from the site. Had the tank been 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 fragmentation 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.
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.
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.