This Centurion tank was on display at RAF Cosford.
The Centurion came into service just too late to see combat in the Second World War, but combat use in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle-East Arab-Israeli wars more than vindicated the design. It was an outstanding success in terms of a well-balanced mix of armament, armour and mobility.
Some 40 years later specialised Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) Centurions armed with a 165mm demolition gun were still in use in the Gulf War of 1991.
Remarkable for its export success and longevity, some much modified examples of the Centurion were still in service round the world well into the 21st Century (2006).
A view of a Centurion Mk 3 Tank on a low loader at Duxford.
The Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period.
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.
It was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades. The chassis was also adapted for several other roles.
Development of the tank began in 1943 and manufacture of the Centurion began in January 1945, six prototypes arriving in Belgium less than a month after the war in Europe ended in May 1945. It first entered combat with 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 Patton and M48 Patton tanks. 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 1975 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon. Centurions modified as APCs were used in Gaza, the West Bank and the Lebanese border. South Africa used its Centurions in Angola. The Royal Jordanian Land Force used Centurion tanks, 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.
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.
One tank that did interest me at Bovington was the Centurion Mk I.
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.
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, so too late to see action.
Of course in any alternative history scenario where the war continued after May 1945 in Europe, the Centurion Mk I would have seen action. Likewise in a another alternative history scenario where either Stalin decided to press West after defeating Nazi Germany to take over Western Europe, or the Western Allies decided to “liberate” Eastern Europe from the yoke of Stalin’s communist oppression, again the Centurion Mk I would have seen action.
I remember when Battlefront put up the details about their 15mm Australian Mk5 Centurion for Vietnam. I wrote the following thought:
My first thought when I saw the Centurion Mk5 was how close was it to the early versions, could I get away with using it for my Late War British forces in say a 1946 scenario? Only a handful of Mk1s were made when in November 1945 the Mk2 started coming off the production lines. The Mk3 did not enter production until 1948, so for a 1946 scenario, it would be the Mk2. The main difference between the Mk5 and the Mk2 would the main weapon, with the Mk5 having the L7 105mm gun, whilst the 1945 version had the QF 20 pdr. Though it would appear from the Battlefront site that the Australian Army Centurions were armed with the QF 20 pdr.
Simon in a comment in response, said:
Nice thought, but too many differences. For a start, different turret shape: no bustle, smaller, different-shaped stowage bins. No long-range fuel tank on the back, completely different engine deck. The ANZAC Mk V had a 105mm gun, the 20pdr had no fume-extractor and no muzzle-brake. These are just off the top of my head! However, if it’s a what-if scenario, who cares?