The Centurion came into service just too late to see combat use in the Second World War. After some abysmal designs in that period, an outstanding success in terms of a well-balanced mix of armament, armour and mobility was achieved. The vehicle was also remarkable for its export success and longevity with some much modified examples still in service round the world at the present time (2006).

Centurion was progressively up-gunned, starting off with the 17 pounder (76.2mm) and proceeding through the 20 pounder (83.4mm) to the classic 105mm L7 thus ensuring its viability as a gun tank in British service until the introduction of the Chieftain in 1967. The armour on this tank at the time of its introduction was the equal of that found on heavy infantry tanks (152mm max) despite the fact that the vehicle was designed originally as a cruiser tank. The engine was the well proven Meteor derivative of the Merlin aircraft engine.

The one point which let the design down was the lack of range, a common failing at the time. In this case, the fuel consumption of up to 4 gallons to the mile cross country meant a road range of only 190km (118 miles) maximum. Various auxiliary fuel tanks and a highly unpopular mono trailer were introduced to help this situation with varying degrees of success.

The design was, given its time of origin, very much a ‘manual’ design with little in the way of the automated computerised functions of later designs. It remains one of the classic early Cold War designs and by the end of that period many of those still in service round the world had changed beyond all recognition with up-rated armament, new armour, new transmission and in some cased with an air cooled diesel engine replacement.

Combat use in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East Arab-Israeli wars has more than vindicated the design with one account from Korea telling of a Centurion shrugging off several frantic shots from a T34/85 and then dismantling it with a first shot hit. Some 40 years later specialised Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers (AVRE) armed with a 165mm demolition gun were still in use in the Gulf War of 1991 (one with the inappropriate name ‘Fluffy’!)

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