Saturday, March 21, 2015

Centurion Variants

In contrast to the continuity in the development of the Soviet tanks, that of British tanks experienced a major change in direction after the end of the Second World War. Until then the British Army continued to adhere to the pre-war policy of two separate categories of infantry and cruiser tanks. After 1942 attempts were made to rationalise their production by the use of common components but there were still two types of tanks which differed from each other in the amount of armour and weight but not in what mattered most, namely the main armament. The final outcome of this was the A.41 'heavy cruiser', six prototypes of which were completed just as the war ended in Europe. Its engine and transmission were much the same as those of the earlier Cromwell and Comet cruiser tanks and its Horstmann bogie-type suspension was inferior to the earlier cruisers' Christie-type independent suspensions. But its 76.2mm 17 pounder gun represented a significant advance in the main armament of the cruiser tanks and its armour protection was also considerably better. The latter included, at last, a single sloping glacis plate. The design of the A.41 also very sensibly dispensed with the hull machine gunner, so that it had a crew of four men, which was to become general practice.

The A.41’s main armament, armour and general characteristics put it on a par with the German Panther and it was deservedly produced and put into service in 1946 as the Centurion medium tank.

In 1946 the British Army also decided at long last to abandon the policy of having infantry and cruiser tanks, which did so much harm to the development of tanks in Britain, and adopted instead the concept of a 'universal' tank. Unfortunately, this concept implied not only a single type of battle tank but also one which could be readily adapted to a wide variety of special roles such as flame-throwing, mine flailing, bridge-laying and bulldozing, and which would also be capable of swimming with the aid of a collapsible flotation screen. The requirement that the universal tank be adaptable to all these roles grew out of the attention which the British Army came to devote during the war to various special-purpose versions of tanks. This led to the development of several ingenious devices but it also diverted attention and effort from the basic type of gun tank. How large a proportion of the available resources was devoted to the special-purpose versions of tanks is indicated by the fact that in the closing stages of the war they accounted for a special armoured division, the 79th, when the British Army only had a total of four other, normal armoured divisions.

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