Tank Medium A45, Centurion Mark 1 (E1951.34)
The first prototype was completed in April 1945 and six more followed in May, just as the war in Europe was coming to an end. There was nothing revolutionary in the design, just a sensible combination of tried and tested features; however the use of a 20mm cannon, in place of the normal turret machine-gun was new - it was intended for use against unarmoured targets that would normally be engaged with high explosive shells.
In the summer of 1945 six Centurions were taken to Europe for troop trials by a detachment from Guards Armoured Division. The exercise was known as 'Operation Sentry' and our exhibit is painted to resemble one of these tanks. The Centurion was considered to be excellent although the 20mm cannon was said to be more trouble than it was worth.
Museum exhibit was a prototype, fitted with the 20mm Polsten which was replaced by the Besa 7.92mm on production models. It was sent to fight in Germany in June 1945, but the war in Europe ended before it saw action. During this period it was attached to the 22nd Armoured Brigade for troop trials, first with 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and then 5 RTR.
Precise Name: Tank, Medium A41, Centurion Mark I
The Centurion is one of the most important tanks in the history of the British AFV and is one of the most significant post-war Western tanks. Introduced in the spring of 1945, a small number of the Beach Armoured Recovery Version (BARV) served with the British forces during the Iraq war of 2003, 58 years later!
The Centurion was designed as a result of the British Army’s experience of the fighting in the North African deserts between 1940 and 1942. During combat a single tank might have to engage enemy infantry, artillery, anti-tank guns and tanks. Such a tank needed a dual-purpose gun, capable of firing both high explosive shells and armour piercing projectiles, and must have sufficient armour to withstand enemy anti-tank and tank guns. The desert fighting also showed that British tanks were dangerously unreliable.
The War Office revised its’ tank development policy in September 1942, calling for the design of a single ‘Universal’ tank chassis that was capable of being adapted for many roles.
The Department of Tank Design began work on the new tank, called the A41 ‘heavy - cruiser’, in July 1943. Excellent reliability was a high priority. Firepower was favoured over protection and protection over mobility.
The new tank had a boat shaped hull to resist land mines, a well sloped glacis plate that was designed to resist the German 88mm anti-tank gun and the Mark 3 version of the proven 17pdr tank gun. A 20mm Polsten cannon was fitted instead of the more usual co-axial machine gun. The glacis mounted machine gun was omitted. A robust suspension, based on the Horstman principle, replaced the Christie type used in all the earlier British cruiser tanks. There were four versions of the Centurion I:
- A41, prototypes 1 – 10; fitted with the 17 pdr tank gun, Polsten 20mm co-axial gun and escape doors in the rear turret; Merritt-Brown gearbox
- A41, prototypes 11 – 15; as numbers 1 – 10 and had a 7.92mm calibre Besa machine gun in place of the co-axial Polsten
- A41S, prototypes 16 – 18; 77mm main gun; fitted with a Sinclair ‘Powerflow’ gearbox; 20mm Polsten co-axial gun and an additional 7.92mm Besa machine gun mounted in the rear of the turret in place of an escape door
- A41S, prototypes 19 – 20; 77mm main gun; also fitted with a Sinclair ‘Powerflow’ gearbox; 20mm Polsten co-axial gun, an escape door in the turret rear and provision for a 7.92mm Besa machine gun in the hull front.
The British produced the gun tank in 13 different versions. The main armament was repeatedly upgraded: the 17 pdr (76mm calibre) of the Marks I and 2 was supplanted by the 20pdr (83.4mm calibre) in the Mark 3, which was in turn replaced by the excellent L7 105mm gun in the Mark 8/2. There were numerous special purpose versions including bridge layers (AVLB), armoured recovery vehicles (ARV), and combat engineering tanks (AVRE). Some foreign users, especially the Israeli South African Armies, extensively updated their Centurions.
The Tank Museum’s Mark I is one of the prototypes fitted with the co-axial 20mm Polsten cannon. It is painted in the markings worn during the troop trial, Operation Sentry. During Operation Sentry it was attached to the 22nd Armoured Brigade, first with the 5th Royal Iniskilling Dragoon Guards and then with 5th Royal Tank Regiment. The Museum also has two examples of the Centurion Mark 3, one sectioned, (see E1984.235 and E1970.151) as well as a Mark 13 (see E1975.13).
Summary text by Mike Garth V1.0