Chieftain was the first British tank designed from the outset to fulfil the role of a universal main battle tank, unlike its predecessor, Centurion, which had “crossed over” from the cruiser role.

While concept studies for what became Chieftain were going on, it was considered that limits had been reached, beyond which conventional tank design could not progress further, in particular as regards weight, bulk and cost. However, after exhaustive studies of some bizarre concepts, such as coupled vehicles and one and two man designs, it was realised that only a relatively conventional design would fit the bill.

As with many of the former Allied Nations of Second World War, the British design teams tended to stress those areas in which their designs had been found wanting. Therefore, Chieftain was equipped with a superlative gun and generous armour. Due to an international agreement Britain went for a multi-fuel engine, which was rarely used as such, instead of a straightforward diesel. This resulted in a power plant that was less than reliable. Overall, however, the vehicle was a success and remains one of the most potent types produced by the NATO countries, being in service right through the main period of the Cold War.

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