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At the end of World War 2 a parade attended by the dignitaries of the Allied Forces saw the heavy tanks of what was the allied nation of Russia roll past them and at which point, one American leaned across and said to the British “its good job we are still your allies”.
Though the Centurion was a fantastic design, it was still classed as a Medium Battle Tank and the British Army needed a heavy tank capable of taking on the Russian equivalent during the post WW2 years, which saw hostilities grow between the West and Russia.
Like Russia, the UK lacked the modern composite and laminate armour systems we use nowadays, so relied on increasing the thickness of the steel used in the construction of the vehicle to make it harder to penetrate. So the frontal steel was a whopping 18cm thickness.
To get through the almost equally thick 16cm IS3 Stalin tanks armour and taking in to account the quality of the ammunition at the time, the vehicle needed a high calibre 120mm main gun. The US used the same 120mm the US used on their M103 Heavy tank, designated the L1. The vehicle used a separate brass charge from the round. An automatic device for ejecting the spent cases through a hatch in the turret was also installed.
This increased sized calibre main gun meant for a much larger turret (35 rounds carried) and of course its thickened steel armour meant the vehicle was very heavy (65 tons). Thou the vehicle used a Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 810hp engine and demonstrated good climbing and cross country capabilities, its weight slowed the vehicles speed down and caused strain on the automotive components leading to a reputation of unreliability.
Thou we now a days class the differences between a 2nd and the most recent 3rd generation Main Battle Tanks by having the hunter killer capability, which is the commander having the ability to scan independently of the gunners sight, locate and lay the gun on the next target for the gunner at which point the commander can then start scanning for the next target, the Conqueror was the first NATO tank to install such a system, in a far more simplistic or rather lesser technical advanced format than that of the current 3rd generation tanks.
Rather than an independent sight, the commander was able to traverse his cupola which contained periscopes on to the target, then measure the range with a coincidence range finder, and then direct the gunner on to the new lay mechanically indicated to him by the cupola.
The British Conqueror Heavy Tank Service Record
With the difficulties of the vehicles reliability and strategic mobility, that is crossing bridges due to its weight, the vehicle was withdrawn from service 7 years after entering service when the upgrade to the more capable L7 105mm main gun on the Centurion Medium Battle Tank was introduced. Production ran from 1966 to 1958 with a total 200 vehicles built, including an Armoured Recovery Vehicle.