Leopard 1

Overview

Leopard 1

When the West German army had been established it had been supplied with American tanks, notably the M47 and M48. By 1956 it was evident that M47 in particular was no more than a stop-gap. The West Germans decided to design a new tank as a replacement and they started very much from scratch. As a direct result of their combat experience during the Second World War the new design stressed firepower and mobility with armour as a lesser consideration.

As a result the first Leopard I tanks to enter service in 1965 were armed with the British-designed 105mm rifled bore L7 gun, and had a MTU 37 litre engine which could deliver a speed of 65 kph (40mph). Mobility was further enhanced by the suspension. Each production batch of the vehicle was introduced with improvements to the basic design and many vehicles were retrospectively reworked to later standards, making exact identification difficult without prior knowledge of the vehicle concerned.

The initial ranging machine gun proposed was discarded in preference to a coincidence rangefinder itself later replaced by an EMES 15 thermal imaging sight. Quick disconnect couplings in the engine compartment allowed the entire power pack to be replaced in 20 minutes. The conventional armour was increased to some extent over the life of the vehicle series, but was still not as good as some of the other tanks around at the time, particularly Chieftain, a direct contemporary. Leopard I was an unqualified success on the export market with sales to at least eight other countries. With the end of the Cold War many vehicles, now surplus were being ‘cascaded’ down to other countries.

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