The German Leopard 1 Tank

The German Leopard 1 Tank Development

The 1960’s was an interesting period of tank development. The US was manufacturing its Patton series, with the M60 and its 105mm main gun, France, Italy and West Germany had been working on a joint development project and of course the British Chieftain with its impressive armour and powerful 120mm main gun were all designed to defeat the tanks of the former USSR.

The Leopards development started in 1957. The newly formed German Army had been supplied with old US M-47 & M-48’s, but were out classed by the USSR’s T-54/55 design. Both France & Germany had been experienced developers and manufacturers of tanks, so decided to pool their resources together in 1957, to come up with a design that reflected both countries doctrine, that survivability is achieved through firepower and mobility, with armoured protection as the least relevant (a doctrine they still follow today) The new tank would be designated the Europa-Panzer AKA European Tank.

An Australian Leopard 1
The German Leopard 1 Tank _ Australian Leopard 1AS

However the joint project between France, Italy and West Germany ended in 1963, with both France with its AMX-30 and Germany with the Leopard AKA Leopard 1 being manufactured based on the original joint project design, hence their similarity in both their appearances.

Though the Leopard 1 was a good design, as soon as it entered service with the German Army in 1965 it was already an obsolete design. The USSR had developed the T-62, the successor to the T-55. The T-62 was more heavily armoured and had a larger main gun. It was only the British Chieftain that offered a serious threat to the new Russian tank.

The German Leopard 1

Leopard 1 production model

Manufactured by Krauss-Maffei from early 1964 onward, the initial production model was the Prototype II design by Porsche and only one batch was manufactured.

The German Leopard 1A1

Leopard 1 A1

The A1 saw more significant developments in the series, that is the Cadillac-Gage gun stabilization system for the British rifled L7 (A3) 105mm main gun, allowing the tank to fire on the move and a thermal sleeve to maintain accuracy by preventing the barrel distorting from heat. Skirts along the hull were also introduced to give protection to the upper tracks and road wheels. Three batch of the A1 were manufactured.

The German Leopard 1A2

This model was the fifth batch and had thicker steel armour on the turret. Production was from 1972 to 1974.

The German Leopard 1 A1A1

A new passive armour by German firm Blohm + Voss was added to the turret. From 1974 to 1977, both the Leopard 1 & A1 (batches one too four) were all brought up to this model.

The German Leopard 1A3

Leopard 1A3

By this point 232 A2’s had been built of the fifth batch, the remaining 110 were manufactured to the new A3 standard. The A3 was a new larger welded (instead of cast steel as were all previous turrets) turret offering increased protection with spaced armour and a wedge-shaped gun mantlet. The new design increased the internal fighting compartment by 1.2 m³. A new TRP 2A independent sight for the commander was also installed.

The German Leopard 1A4

This model was the sixth and final batch to be manufactured. Starting in 1974, 250 were built. A new FCS was installed which included the PERI R12 independent sight for the commander, as well as the EMES 12A1 range finder and a ballistic computer. The new FCS took up additional space, which was made by reducing the 105mm munitions carried to 55 (13 stored in the turret).
By 1979 the Leopard 1’s replacement, the Leopard 2 was in full production. By 1984 some 1130 Leopard 2’s had been built when the Leopard 2 A2 up-graded was implemented to the fleet. The A2 up-grade saw the replacement of the PZB 200 sights. Rather than scrap these sights they were installed on the Leopard 1’s during the mid 80’s.

A1A1’s were re-designated A1A2, the A2 was re-designated A2A1 and the A3 was re-designated the A3A1. Not all Leopard 1’s received this up-grade.

To further complicate designations, further new ones were introduced for those that were up-graded with the SEM80/90 all-digital radios.

The German Leopard 1A5

Leopard 1A5

By the 1980’s The Former USSR had and was continuing to introduce new MBT’s such as the T-80 & T-72 to their arsenal and though the Leopard 2 was entering German service in numbers, the Leopard 1 still played a key role in the defence of West Germany/Europe. So it was decided that the Leopard 1 would go through an up-grade program, focusing on the older A1A1 which totalled 1225+ vehicles.

A new FCS by Krupp-Atlas, the Elektronik EMES 18 was installed. It was a further development of the EMES system installed on the Leopard 2 and incorporated thermal imaging sights, laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer, which no longer required the use of the optical systems in the two bumps, one either side of the turret. The rear of the turret was extended to house the new FCS equipment and the munitions storage bin. The 105mm munitions had also been improved for more lethality. The torsion bar suspension and shock absorber mountings were strengthened to increase speed off-road. The A5 entered German service in 1987.

The Leopard 1A6

The Leopard 1A6 prototype with L44
The Leopard 1A6

A Further developed Leopard 1 designated the A6 entered the prototype stage, which had an L44 120mm smoothbore main gun and additional turret armour. The project was ended in 1985 as the Leopard 2 with its L44 main gun was in heavy production.

The German Leopard 1 Tank Spec’s

Weight: 40.2 to 42.2 tonnes depending on Variant & combat load
Length: 9.54m (gun forward, hull length 7.09m)
Width:  3.37m
Height: 2.39m
Crew: 4 (commander, driver, gunner, radio operator/loader)
Armor: steel 70mm+ (additional spced on later variants)
Main Gun: 105mm Royal Ordnance L7A3 L/52 rifled gun
Ammo Storage 105mm: 13 rounds in turret 42 rounds in hull
Secondary armament: x2 7.62mm (co-axial and commander’s hatch)
Engine: 819hp MTU MB 838 Ca M500, 10-cylinder, multi-fuel
Power-to-weight ratio: 19.6 PS/tonne
Suspension: Torsion-bar
Operational range: 450km
Top Road Speed: 65 km/h

Leopard 1 Support Vehicles

Click image to view vehicle

Badger AEV

Leopard 1 Chassis

Click here to view vehicle

In German storage

Click image to view vehicle

Beaver AVLB

Leopard 1 Chassis

Click here to view vehicle

In German storage

Click image to view vehicle

Taurus ARV

Leopard 1 Chassis

Click here to view vehicle

In German storage

The German Leopard 1 Tank Operators and Their Upgrades (Current & Former)

The Leopard 1 enjoyed a great export market after entering production and is still being sold in its second hand state during recent years.

Australia Leopard 1AS

Australian Leopard 1

When trials began the M60A1 and the Leopard 1 were the front runners for selection, however the experiences of the Vietnam War and fighting in those tropical watery conditions were still influencing the decisions of the Australian Government and the Leopard 1’s were 10 tons lighter suiting the countries transportation infrastructure AKA operational mobility. The Australian Army also found the Leopard 1 to be more reliable and easier to maintain/repair.

90 Leopard 1 A3’s designate the Leopard AS, which used the Belgian SABCA fire-control system and a laser rangefinder where purchased. The vehicles were to replace the Australian Armies Centurions which had been in service for 25 years when deliveries started in 1976 and were completed by 1978. 5 AVLB’s were also purchased as was 6 ARV’s, another 2 were purchased later).

The Leopard 1 entered service with the 1st Armoured Regiment in April 1977. The AS external hull storage box setup is different with stowage boxes mounted on the right side, equispaced around the heater outlet and one box on the left side towards the rear. 15 AS’s have adaptations on the hull to mount dozer blades.

During the AS’s service is went through a number of upgrades. The engine is a tropicalized version of the German engine, allowing operation at 50ºC ambient temperature. The original Tank Level Aiming and Firing Trainer AKA “TALAFIT” was upgraded to a stand alone cabinet, and utilised a colour video camera, TV monitor and video recorder. Additional angled iron and heavy mesh storage was added to the rear of the turret to address the issue of crew and equipment storage. During the 1990’s the 1st Armoured Regiment moved to Palmerston in the Northern Territory and subsequently the AS crews were operating in temperatures of over 55°C, so a Mobile Camouflage System was purchased from the Swiss Firm Barracuda Company, which comprised of insulated panels which were fitted to the inside of the hull & turret. They reduced the temperature of the inside of the vehicle normally created by mother nature and reduced the vehicles thermal signature which would show up on the enemies sights. from the heat and they provided a degree of protection against thermal imagery. A number of mine clearing devices to be mounted on the front of the hull were purchased and entered service in 1993. from 15 mine ploughs were purchased from Krauss Maffei and two mine roll’s were purchased from Israel.

The Leopard 1 AS and its support variants have been replaced by the M1-A1 AIM SA and M88 Hercules. It was last used in 2007 and from speaking to current and former crewman, many have aired their dissatisfaction that Leopard 2 A4’s were not purchased.

Belgium Leopard 1BE

started taking delivery of their 334 Leopard 1’s from 1968, designated the Leopard 1BE. In 1975 these were upgraded with the Cadillac-Gage gun stabilization system and a thermal sleeve. Additional storage boxes were added to the hulls sides and could be seen as a form of additional spaced armour. All vehicles were upgraded with the SABCA fire control system. In accordance with Belgium’s excellent firearms record, their vehicles were equipped with the Belgium 7.62mm FN MAG.

The Vehicle went through another upgrade with deliveries commencing in 1997. The vehicle is a A5 standard with the SABCA and OIP thermal day/night sight with an integrated laser rangefinder. 132 of the vehicle were upgraded for active service, whilst the rest were sold etc.

Canada Leopard C1

Canadian Leopard C1

excepted the Leopard C1 into service from 1978 onwards, with a total of 127.

The C1 was the equivalent of the A3 but included Canadian modifications such as a laser rangefinder and target acquisition sight, side wind sensor, white light searchlight and passive image-intensification sight.

The C1 went on to serve in peace keeping duties in Kosovo in 1999 in limited numbers. These vehicles were up-graded with IBD Deisenroth’s MEXAS passive armour.

Canadian Leopard C2

Canada Leopard C2

The C2 variant entered service in 2000. It has concentrated on beefing up the technical capabilities of the vehicle and as such required an increased turret size, so the Canadian Forces purchased 123 Leopard 1 A5’s from the German Army so they can cannibalise their larger turrets to fit the Canadian Tactical Command, Control and Communication System AKA “TCCCS” as well as IRIS radios and GPS. The FCS was also replaced with the EMES 18 and new thermal sights for all conditions-day or night, bad weather or good weather fighting capability. 114 C1’s have been upgraded to the C2 at the cost of $139 million (Canadian).

The C2 is described by the Canadian Army as –

“The C2 is an updated Leopard 1A5, which was developed in Germany in the 1980s. This tank deploys with a crew of four, including a commander, a driver, a gunner and a radio operator/loader. The 105-mm L7A3 gun is capable of engaging targets day and night, while on the move under adverse weather conditions, through the use of a fully stabilized fire control system with an integrated thermal imaging system and laser range-finder. The Leopard C2 Tank is also fitted with a gunner’s secondary fire control system and a commander’s fire control system. It has two 7.62-mm C6 machine guns. One is mounted inside the turret and another can be mounted externally on either the commander’s or the loader’s station”.

“The Leopard C2 is also fitted with two banks of four smoke grenade launchers on the turret. The tank may be “sealed-off” against nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) threats. It is a minimum-maintenance armoured fighting vehicle and complete replacement of the engine and transmission is possible in 30 minutes under field conditions. When properly fitted with a conning tower, it is capable of deep-fording or submerged fording where riverbanks are prepared for exit and entry.
The Leopard C2 was designed so it can be fitted with add-on armour and all of the new battlefield sensing and communication systems the Army plans to introduce over the next few years. Of the 114 purchased, 66 remain in service”.

105-mm L7A3 gun
1 x 7.62-mm co-axially mounted machine-gun (C6)
1 x 7.62-mm crew commander’s machine-gun (C6)
76-mm grenade launchers (2 clusters of 4 launchers)
Ammunition types: Armour-Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS)
High explosive squash head (HESH)
White Phosphorous Smoke (WP)
Length: 8.17 m (gun at 6 o’clock), 9.54 m (gun at 12 o’clock)
Width: 3.37 m Height: 2.62 m Weight: 42.5 t
Engine: Multi-fuel engine, 10 cylinders, 830 hp
Speed: 65 km/hr
Range: 600 km
Number in Service: 66
Sold to companies in North America: 23
In museums or used as monuments: 4
Used as hard targets on ranges: 21”.


Originally purchasing the upgraded Belgium Leopard 1BE (improved equivalent of A5) Brazil now own 128 BE (original A1 configuration) and 240 of the improved BE.


They originally purchased BE’s from Belgium but were non-reconditioned and were returned to Belgium in favour of reconditioned/refurbed Leopard 1-V’s from the Netherlands which were also cheaper. 250 were purchased and Chile now has the largest tank fleet in South America.

Denmark Leopard 1 A5DK

Danish Leopard 1's in Bosnia

Originally purchasing 120 A3’s in 1974, which modified with extra stowage boxes fitted to the hull sides an additional 110 A3’s were purchased in later years from German reserves. All were upgraded with the EMES 18 FCS and the capability to have fitted a dozer-blade or a TWMP mine clearing device. These upgraded vehicles were designated the Leopard 1 A5DK and all 230 were upgraded to the A5DK. 50 still remain in storage with the Danish Army.

During the Bosnian War, The Danish contributed personnel and equipment to the UN Peace Keeping effort. It was the Leopard 1 A5DK’s that returned fire, disabling in one case a Serbian T-55 and it was the first time the Leopard 1 was used in anger with 21 rounds fired in Operation Amanda (recovering an abandoned observation post) and 72 rounds in Operation Bøllebank (an ambush by Serbian forces of Danish forces sent to relieve another observation post under attack) both during 1994.


Has also been supplied with 30 Leopard 1’s from Chile and Lebanon has also purchased 43 Leopard 1BE’s from Belgium.


A total of 2437 Leopard 1’s were manufactured for the German Army.

The Leopard 1 entered service with the Germanys 1 Corp, replaced their M-47’s.
The A1 entered service with the German 1 and 3 Corps.
The fourth batch was A1’s for export clients.
The A2 tanks went to the 6th Panzer Division based in Schleswig-Holstein.
The A3’s went to the 10th and 12th Panzer Divisions.

They were finally retired in 2003.


Its not totally clear as to the numbers in service, but various sources calculate the number to be around to 500+ of the A5 variant, with deliveries commencing in 1983 of the A3. The Netherlands also donated a number of Leopard 1V’s. As the new Leopard 2HEL has been entering service and delivers of Leopard 2 A4’s have been accepted in to service, Leopard 1 A5’s have been slowly redrawn from service. It’s estimated that roughly 400 are still in active service.

Italy Leopard 1 Licensed Production

Italian Leopard 1A2

Other than Germany, Italy is the only country to manufacturer the Leopard 1 (under Licence). Originally accepting 200 A2’s in 1971 (order completed in 1972) Italian manufacturer OTO Melara built 400 for the Italian Army. OTO Melara built a further 120 A2’s from 1980 to 1983. In 1995 Italy purchased 120 A5 turrets from reserve German stock and integrated them into existing A2 hull’s. Italy started to manufacturer their own MBT, the C1 Ariete from 1995 and has slowly been replacing the Leopard 1. All A2’s were withdrawn from service in 2003 and the last A5 in 2008, however the A5’s are kept as reserved stock. The A5’s served in UN peace keeping duties with Italian forces in the Balkans, but did not fire in anger. No Leopard 1 A5’s served with Italian forces who contributed to the occupation forces in Iraq after operation Telic, only the Ariete. Italy has a number of Leo1 support vehicles still in service that have been adapted to meet the Ariete’s operational requirements. Italy has 136 ARV’s (69 built in Germany / 67 in Italy) 64 AVLB’s (all built in Italy) and 40 AEV’s (12 built in Germany / 28 in Italy). The numbers in service were reduced after the Cold War.


43 ex-Belgian Leopard 1BE to be delivered

Netherlands Leopard 1V

Leopard 1V

Originally purchasing 468, these were upgraded to the A5 standard, designated Leopard 1V (V=verbeterd=improved). 250 were sold to the Chilean Army whilst the rest remain in storage in favour of their updated Leopard 2 A6’s.

Norway Leopard 1 A5NO

78 Leopard 1 A1’s of batch 4, were purchased in 1978 and were up-graded to the A5 variant with additional modifications in 1994, principally the replacement of the hydraulic gun control system with an all-electric system which was later adopted on the German Leopard 2 and were designated the Leopard 1 A5NO. A further 92 A5’s were purchased and upgraded to the A5NO. The A5NO was retired from service in 2008 in favour of the Leopard 2 A4NO which were bought from the Netherlands AKA Dutch Army surplus. An unknown number of Leopard 1 support vehicles are still in service.

Turkey Leopard 1T

The country operates a large Leopard 1 fleet among other tanks such as the Leopard 2 and M60-A3 (upgraded to the Sabre MKIII). 77 A3’s were delivered to Turkey from 1982 to 83 under the designation Leopard 1 TU and equipped with the EMES12A3 FCS. 150 converted A4’s were then delivered (Germany Army stock) from 1990 to 91. Final delivery of a further 110 1A1A1’s (Germany Army stock) were complete in the mid 90’s (estimated due to possible embargos at the time) bringing the total to 337. They have or under going upgraded with the Volkan FCS developed by Turkish firm Aselsan and re-designated the Leopard 1T.

Half Day Tank Driving Experience Days UK

Just £199.00

The Half Day is the only tank driving experience in the UK where you get to drive several vehicles and win the chance to crush a car with a tank! Each Driver gets to operate 3 Fighting Vehicles curently in service with the British and Israeli Armies. In addition, the driver gets a tour of our armoury.

Each driver is scored on their driving and shooting. The driver to get the highest overall score will then crush a car with our mighty Chieftain Main Battle Tank!

Buy Now