Designed before the end of the Second World War, the Centurion is often believed to be the epitome of the tank.
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 Centurion went on to have 13 marks, and many specialist variants. It fought in twelve wars, from the Korean War to the Gulf War. The vehicle statistics below relate to the Mark 3.
The Tank Museum’s Centurion Mark 1
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.
The Tank Museum’s Centurion Mark 3
This particular Centurion Mark 3 is displayed in the markings of a tank of 3 Troop, C Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment, part of the Commonwealth Division, during the Korean War. Commanded by Sergeant A Wallace, Military Medal, it participated in a fiercely contested action defending a location called ‘The Hook’ against Chinese forces in Korea in May 1953. Sergeant Wallace was awarded his Military Medal for his bravery during this action.
The Cut-in-half Centurion Mark 3
This exhibit was produced as a Centurion Mark 2 and was originally fitted with the 17pdr (76mm) tank gun. It was then converted into a Mark 3 and eventually converted once more into a Mark 5.
It was withdrawn from service with the British Army as a Mark 5 and stored. During storage its condition gradually deteriorated. As part of an apprentice training programme between 1982 and 1984 at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Leeds the tank was restored as a Mark 3 and cut into two so that the interior could be displayed.
The Tank Museum’s Centurion Mark 13
This tank was completed as a Mark 8, upgunned and uparmoured to become a Mark 10, and then fitted with a ranging gun and infra red equipment, becoming a Mark 13. It was the last Centurion gun tank to fire in British Army Service.
The Tank Museum also has a Mark 12 and various specialist variants and prototypes.