bookThe Centurion Tank
by Bill Munro.
Published by The Crowood Press Ltd
ISBN 1 86126 701 0
Hardback, 192 pages

Review by Peter Brown

There can be few who dispute that the Centurion is the most successful tank Britain has produced. Coming just too late for the Second World War, it rapidly became Britain's principle tank and served as such into the 1960s with some specialist versions still in service in the 1990s. As much and maybe more importantly, it was a sales success, not only being adopted by Commonwealth nations such as Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and New Zealand but it was supplied to several NATO nations after being bought by the United States under MDAP, various Middle East armies including Israel and even non-aligned Switzerland and Sweden.

One major improvement over wartime designs was its capacity for improvement. In terms of firepower it went from 17pdr to 20pdr and finally 105mm guns and its protection was increased at least on the hull front. It was to retain the Meteor engine until the end in British service, the increase in fuel capacity which improved its range being its main mobility improvement being, though abroad it has been fitted with more powerful engines.

Even in a new Century sixty years after it first appeared, it is still in service though in much-modified form as the South African Olifant, though most gun tanks have been retired and even its most enthusiastic user Israel has converted its chassis into heavy armoured personnel carriers. These still gives it a presence which means its story continues.

Its long history so far is recounted here. It begins with an overview of British wartime tank development which sadly contains several misleading comments and some bad mistakes, then its development is followed from the A41 Heavy Cruiser through to the final Mk 13. Separate chapters cover the two main subtypes, the original Mks 3 and 5 then the extended hull series beginning with the Mk 7 with the step-by-step improvements, upgrades and mark changes dealt with one by one. Coverage includes the experimental anti-tank and self-propelled gun versions which were not adopted, as well as the Armoured Recovery Vehicle, Bridgelayer and Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers which supported the gun tank in service.

One chapter gives a full technical description covering all aspects of the tank, using extracts from the original Handbooks to show the general layout and internal features plus how the suspension units worked. Illustrations range from factory shots to close-ups and include various in-service views. Modellers will find the sections from the Stowage Diagrams very useful. These show external features and the driver's and turret front areas for the Mks 3, 7 and 10 arranged to show the similarities and differences.

Sales abroad are dealt with country by country including modifications made by each to the basic design from machine guns and radios to full reworks. The final chapter covers its service around the world, from peacetime use in Germany as well as in action in Korea and Suez, with Australian forces in Vietnam and in Israeli hands plus the final use of AVREs in the 1991 Gulf War. Strangely, its use by India and South Africa is not included.

Given that Centution had such a long and varied career, the book would have benefited from being longer while areas such as Israeli and other upgrades deserve more attention. Despite these reservations, this is a useful account on an important tank which will be appreciated by those interested in the tank itself as well as modellers as a supplement to the Quartermaster's Depot book or the Osprey New Vanguard.

Page created 28 April 2005

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