The British Centurion Tank FV 4007, has gone down in history as the most successful Post-World War 2 British Tank.
Developed at the end of World War 2 to defeat the German Tiger I Tank, it has served on nearly every major continent with 18 different nations and is still in service with some countries as of 2017.
Over 4400 were built and it has been deployed in at least 8 Wars. It was developed into a family of vehicles and since then many have been converted into Heavy Armored Personnel Carriers.
It was the first tank to be fitted with the iconic British L7 105mm main gun. However, it had its limitations and initially was unpopular with British tank crews.
Many of these issues were later ironed out with a number of upgrades to existing and new production vehicles resulting in a long and complicated list of Marks (Mk). This included a new turret, up-armoring of the hull front, re-gunning (x3 times) and additional fuel tanks to over come its limited range.
Centurion Tank Development
Deployed in 1942, the German Tiger I Heavy Tank (followed by the Panther in 1943) high-lighted the inadequacies of the British Tanks deployed at the time. This being the armor protection to withstand an 88mm AP round and the lack of a main gun capable of penetrating the Tiger’s thick frontal armor.
The most effective anti-tank gun the British had during the war, was the 17-Pounder (76.2mm). In 1943 development of a new tank capable of mounting the 17 pounder and with adequate protection (3 inch sloped steel) against the Tiger I and Panther tanks was in full swing.
Now known as the A41 Cruiser Tank, the early design had an interesting feature, a coaxial 20mm cannon. This would have been operated by the Loader and used to engage lighter armored targets. 20 prototypes were ordered in May 1944 and delivered for trails in early 1945.
A small number were sent to Belgium for additional trials under the code name “Operation Sentry” during the summer of 1945.
Though not seeing active combat, the findings of the operation influenced the decision to drop the 20mm coaxial gun and an order for 800 A41, now known as the Centurion, was placed in August 1945.
Centurion Tank Production Marks
Centurion Mk 1
Note: Early Interim Production Model
The Mk 1 featured the 17-Pounder anti-tank gun with a Besa Machine Gun in a separate bull mount on the left side of the main guns mantle. 100 of the 800 ordered were to be Mk 1 as an interim tank whilst a new cast turret was made ready for production.
Production of the Mk 1 started in November 1945, with first deliveries to the British Army starting in February 1946.
Centurion Mk 2
Note: Early Interim Production Model
The Mk 2 retained the 17-Pounder main gun, but featured a new cast turret (as mentioned above). The new turret had thicker armor, the coaxial MG was mounted in the main guns mantle and featured a Commanders Cupola with a single flat hatch. These had a built-in binocular sight and vision blocks for a 360 degree view of the vehicle.
100 of the 800 ordered were to be the Mk 2, as an interim vehicle until a new 20-pounder Anti-Tank Gun had finished development.
Centurion Mk 3
Note: Main Production Model
The Mk 3 was the Mk 2 fitted with the new 20-pounder main gun. This Mk had been the planned design for the remainder of the 800 vehicles initially ordered in August 1945. The Mk 3 had received a total of 250 modifications following army experiences with the earlier Mk’s.
A later production upgrade of the Mk 3 was the introduction of a Loaders periscope mounted on the left side of the front sloping plate above the main gun.
The Mk3 entered production in 1948 and additional orders for the vehicle resulted in a total of 2833 being built by both the Royal Ordnance Factory in Leeds and the Vickers Armstrong factory in Newcastle. Production ended in 1956.
Centurion Mk 4
Note: Proposed Model
Close support model armed with a 95mm howitzer, however this never entered production
Centurion Mk 5
Note: Main Production Model
The Mk 5 featured improvements in firepower, notably the replacement of the Besa coaxial MG with a .30 Cal Browning (7.62mm). An additional .30 cal was mounted on the Commanders Cupola. The Gunners sight had a wiper installed.
The main gun was fitted with the B-Barrell version of the 20-pounder. This had a fume extractor and could be identified by the long solid metal strip that ran along the top of the extractor.
The Centurion initially suffered from a poor operational range as it had only 2 fuel tanks. The first attempt to fix this was a 200 gallon towed fuel tank on the Mk 5.
Some Mk3 were upgraded to the Mk5, but was mostly a new build production model, with deliveries to the Army starting in 1956.
Centurion Mk 7
Note: Production Model
This vehicle featured a revised hull rear. The earlier Mk Centurions had suffered from a poor operational range due to only having 2 fuel tanks. The towed fuel tank introduced on the Mk 5 proved unpopular with the crews.
The Mk 7 saw the hull rear extended too accommodate an additional 3rd fuel tank and revised engine decks. A circular port on the left side of the hull and side skirt were added. This was used to replenish the main guns bomb load and reduced the time it took from 30 minutes to 10.
The Mk 7 also had a set of 6 recesses on the right front of the turret behind the main gun. This was only on the Mk 7 and retained on all conversion up-grades.
Centurion Mk 8
Note: Production Model
The Mk 8 was a Mk 7, but featured a new Commanders Cupola No 4 Mk1. During 1956 experiments of an Mk 8 were conducted with an additional up armoring of the upper glacis plate, resulting in a thicker plate sufficient enough to prevent penetration of the Russian T-55 100mm main gun.
The first 28 production Mk 8 vehicles lacked the thicker up-armored glacis plate, but was included on all production Mk 8 thereafter.
Centurion Mk 10
Note: Production Model
During July 1959 trials of a Mk 7 with the new (at the time) British L7 105mm main gun were conducted.
The Mk 10 was the first and only model to be manufactured with both the L7 main gun and the increased armor thickness based on the Mk 8.
Centurion Tank Mobility
Centurions in service with the British Army retained the same 650hp Rolls-Royce Meteor engine through out their service. This was coupled to a Merrit-Brown Z51R transmission.
The transmission was manual and proved troublesome for novice drivers in changing gears whilst on the move and would force the vehicle to come to an almost stop in order to do so. With some practise, drivers eventually mastered the technique of making small movements of the gear lever to over come this.
The Centurion Tank had an Auxiliary Power Unit in the form of a Morris engine in the hull rear. This was left running to power the radios and charge the batteries rather than leaving the more fuel consuming main engine running.
The Centurion was fitted with solid metal tracks. At some point a new track system called “Hush Puppy” were introduced. These had rubber pads fitted. They reduced the vehicles vibrations whilst driving on the road and meant the vehicles road speed limit was increased from 5 mph to 20 mph.
Centurion Tank Armor
The Mk 3 had a thick steel cast turret and a slopping front upper glacis plate. This was 76mm thick. By the time the Mk 8 was in early production, the decision was made to increase this to 120mm thick, so in order to withstand an AP round from the T-54/55 Tanks 100mm main gun.
The up-armoring process saw an additional 44mm thick steel plate was welded over the existing 76mm sloped plate, thus increasing the thickness to 120mm. This left a visible protruding weld mark at the point where the upper glacis met the lower, rather than a lip.
This assists in the identification of, non up-armored Centurions, base overhauled Centurions and later production Centurions, which simply had just a 120mm thick upper glacis plate with a lip.
Centurion Tank Conversion Marks
With the significance of the up-armoring of the glacis plate and up-gunning from the 20-pounder to the L7 105mm, the British Army implemented these upgrades to their older production Mk Centurions during base overhauls from 1959 onwards.
Despite the relative minimal time between the up-armoring and up-gunning of the Centurion production Mk’s, the number of Centurions requiring the upgrades out-numbered the available L7 guns and their conversions kits (not forgetting the financing to buy them) as well as up-armoring kits.
Therefore, some Centurions would be up-armored on the first base overhaul and would then be later up-gunned in another base overhaul. This resulted in a miss match of confusing sub-marks. For Example:
Centurion Mk 5/1
Older Mk 5 up-armored
Centurion Mk 5/2
Mk 5 up-gunned with the L7 105mm
Centurion Mk 7/1
Centurion Mk 7 up-armored
Centurion Mk 7/2
Centurion Mk 7 with the L7 105mm
Centurion Mk 8/1 The first 28 production Mk 8 now up-armored
Centurion Mk 8/2 Centurion Mk 8 (not including the first 28) with the L7 105mm
The Following Marks were given to all Base Overhauled Centurions after receiving both the up-armoring and L7 105mm upgrades –
Centurion Mk 6
All Mk 5 vehicles with both up-armoring and L7 105mm
Centurion Mk 9
All Mk 7 vehicles with both up-armoring and L7 105mm
The Final Centurion Upgrades and Marks
By 1965, the British Army ended up with the Mk 6, Mk 9 and Mk 10 (new builds and Mk 8/2). The final upgrades for the Centurion was the introduction of an Infra-Red Search Light and Drivers Periscope (in 1965) and a new .50 cal ranging gun (1966). A thermal sleeve for the 105mm main gun was also added at the time of the ranging gun.
Just like the previous base hauled Centurions, both these upgrades were staggered due to availability of kits, but most importantly the finances to implement them. This again resulted in sub-Marks:
Centurion Mk 6/1
Mk 6 fitted with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 6/2
Mk 6/1 fitted with ranging gun
Centurion Mk 9/1
Mk 9 with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 9/2
Mk 9 with ranging gun fitted
Centurion Mk 10/1
Mk 10 with IR equipment
Centurion Mk 10/2
Mk 10 with ranging gun fitted
Centurion Mk 11
Mk 6 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Mk 12
Mk 9 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Mk 13
Mk 10 fitted with IR equipment and ranging gun
Centurion Tank Operators
See List Of Centurion Operator Variants
Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, India, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, & Switzerland.
Centurion Tank Combat History
UK – the Korean War, Gulf War (as AVRE), Falklands War (BARV) & Northern Island
South Africa – the Angolan Civil War
Israel – Upgraded Centurion Sho’t, converted heavy APC, Combat Engineer vehicles in several Arab-Israeli Wars
India – Used in various battles with Pakistan
Australia – The Vietnam War
Centurion Tank Variants
Specialist Engineer Vehicles
A family of variants were developed based on the Centurions hull to complete specialist roles in order to support the Centurion Gun Tanks on the battlefield:
The initial Armored Recovery Vehicle (Mk 1) was built using Centurion Mk 1 and Mk 2 tank hulls, totalling 180. These were built as an urgent requirement for the Korean War. The Mk 2 entered British Army service in 1956.
Like all ARV, the hull was fitted with an armored superstructure, housing the various tools and the REME Crew of 4 to complete repairs to broken down Centurions. It featured an auxiliary motor used to power the winch that would recover stuck Centurions and had tow gear to move embolized vehicles.
The Centurion Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) was developed to assist Combat Engineers in breaching fortifications and clearing man-made anti-tank traps.
It had a fairly short stubby L9 165mm main gun. This would fire a large HESH (High Explosive Squash Head) round at concrete bunkers. The front dozer blade was able to push obstructions out-of-the-way. A front mounted cradle could also be fitted to carry a bundle of fascines (round pipes) that would be dropped into ditches so vehicles could drive across.
This vehicle was still used for many years after the Centurion Gun Tanks had been retired. It was used in the 1991 Gulf War and was fitted with Explosive Reactive Armor across its turret front.
The Mk 12 Centurion was also converted to an AVRE, but retained the 105mm L7 main gun, opposed to installing the L9 main gun.
Centurion Mk 5 Dozer Blade
Dozer blade of the Centurion AVRE fitted on a standard Mk 5 Centurion Tank. These were deployed 1 per Squadron of Centurion Gun Tanks (normally 14 CGT).
The Centurion Gun Tanks lacked any deep fording capability. To over come the countless streams and rivers of North Europe, where it was expected any confrontation with the USSR would be fought, an Armored Vehicle Launching Bridge based on a Centurion Hull was developed.
The AVLB was a single No 6 bridge that sat on a structure built on a Centurion Mk 5 hull. This was elevated and dropped into position by a hydraulic arm on the front of the hull to cross rivers up to 45 feet wide. Centurion Tanks would then drive across and the bridge would be lifted back on to the hull. This vehicle entered service in 1963.
For crossing rivers that exceeded the No 6 bridges limit of 45 feet, the Armored Ramp Carrier was used. It was capable of bridging across gaps of up to 75 feet. Built on a Mk 5 hull, the vehicle would drive into the water launching bridging sections from it front and rear. The vehicle would then act as the central support for the bridge. This vehicle entered service in 1963.
The British had learnt during World War 2 the difficulties of landing tanks and fighting vehicles during an amphibious invasion. In order to recover broken down, flooded or stuck vehicles, Centurion Mk 1 and Mk 2 hulls were converted into Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicles.
The turret was replaced by a large armored superstructure for deep fording and had a large padded wooden bumper that would physically pushy vehicles out of the water and onto dry ground.
These BARV were operated the Royal Marines and kept on various Royal Navy amphibious launching ships.
Used as a moving target for Anti-Tank Teams. These Centurions were heavily armored and were almost unrecognisable as Centurions. They would be driven across ranges and would be fired at with an inert ATGM, allowing crews to practise guiding a missile on to a moving target.
Centurion Based Prototypes
FV 4004 Conway
The Conway was a rushed stop-gap design to fill an urgent requirement for a vehicle capable of mounting the 120mm L1 main gun, which was needed to counter the Russian IS-3 Heavy Tank.
Mounted on a Centurion Mk 3 hull, a large almost crude box-shaped turret was constructed for servicing the L1 gun. 1 prototype was completed before the project was cancelled in 1951.
FV 4005 Stage II
The Stage II was another prototype developed to counter the IS-3 and based on a Centurion hull. Its development (Stage I) started after the cancellation of the Conway and was described as a Tank Destroyer. Armed with an enormous 183mm calibre main gun, it was designed to fire large HESH rounds that would tear an IS-3 apart rather than penetrate its armor.
The Stage II never made it into British Army service and despite being impressive, was a throw back to the gun based tank destroyer concept of World War 2. The future lay in wire-guided Anti-Tank Missiles.
One example of the vehicle is still on display in the grounds of Bovington Tank Museum.
FV 3802 Self Propelled Gun
A prototype Self Propelled Gun using the Ordnance QF 25-pounder howitzer mounted in a barbette. The vehicle used a modified Centurion hull that lacked a 6th road wheel. The project ceased in the mid-1950’s.
FV 3805 Self Propelled Gun
A prototype Self Propelled Gun using the BL 5.5-inch Medium Gun howitzer mounted in a superstructure. This was built on a Centurion hull, with the rear now functioning as the front of the vehicle. The project ceased in the 1960’s.
FV 4202 40-Tonne Centurion
A prototype utilizing many Centurion tank parts built during the Chieftain Main Battle Tank development. Further Details can be found in the “Development” section of our Chieftain Tank Page.
Centurion Tank Mk 13 Specifications
|105mm Rifled L7 Elevation -10 to +20
|x1 coaxial 7.62mm MG, x1 .50 RNG MG, x1 .30 MG
|x64? 105mm, x4750 .30, x600 .50
|650hp Rolls-Royce Meteor M120
|Manual 5 speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F
|Top Road Speed
|Length Gun Forward
|3.009m (Commanders Cupola)
|51,820kg aka 51,82 tonne combat
|Active Protection Systems
- Centurion Mk 13 Tank Walk Around (To Be Added)
- Centurion Mk 3 Tank Walk Around (To Be Added)
- Centurion Tank Operators and Variants (To Be Added)
- Bovington Tank Museum Collection
- Bovington Tank Museum Archives
- The National Archives Kew
- Centurion Tank (New Vanguard) by Simon Dunstan – Buy on Amazon
- Centurion by Simon Dunstan – Buy on Amazon
- Special Thanks to Armourgeddon Tank Driving School (Centurion Mk 13)