Military Review

History of the Australian tank Centurion: survived the nuclear test and fought in Vietnam

The fates of certain types of military equipment, as well as the fates of people, are often unpredictable. Someone dies in the first battle, someone pulls the strap of routine service in a remote garrison and retires after long service. But some fall to the trials and adventures, of which more than ten are more than enough. So other types of military equipment, despite the many vicissitudes of fortune, survive in the most difficult conditions and as a result become monuments of their era. An example is the Australian tank Centurion Mk.3, scorched by a nuclear explosion and participating in the fighting in Southeast Asia.

History of the Australian tank Centurion: survived the nuclear test and fought in Vietnam

History of the creation of the Centurion Mk.3 tank

After the heavy German appeared on the battlefield in the second half of World War II Tanks, in the UK, work began on the creation of armored vehicles capable of resisting them on equal terms. In the framework of the concept of a “universal tank”, which in the future was intended to replace the infantry and cruising tanks that were in service, the A41 project was created. This car was subsequently sometimes called the British Tiger. However, a comparison with the German heavy tank Pz.Kpfw. Tiger Ausf. H1 is not quite correct. The Tiger, weighing 57 tons, was about 9 tons heavier than the first modification of the Centurion. At the same time, the mobility and range of the German and English tanks were very close. The British and German tanks were approximately equivalent in protection in the frontal projection, but the side armor of the Centurion 51 mm thick, even taking into account the 6 mm anti-cumulative screens, was thinner than that of the Tiger covered with 80 mm side armor. Nevertheless, the Centurion was a very successful combat vehicle for its time, which had a high modernization potential. Serial production of new tanks was carried out at the enterprises of Leyland Motors, Royal Ordnance Factory and Vickers.

In the last days of World War II, six prototypes left the assembly line of the plant, but when they arrived in Germany, the war was already over. Subsequently, during the hostilities in Korea, India, Vietnam, the Middle East and Angola, the Centurion proved to be one of the best tanks of the post-war period. In total, more than 1962 Centurion tanks of various modifications were built before the 4400 year.

The first serial modification of the Centurion Mk.1 was armed with an 76-mm gun, created on the basis of the towed anti-tank gun QF 17 pounder. At a distance of up to 900, the gun could successfully deal with most German tanks, but the effect of a high-explosive fragmentation shell was weak. An 20-mm Polsten gun was installed in the turret as an additional weapon; it was replaced with a BESA rifle-caliber machine gun on the Centurion Mk.2 modification. On Centurion tanks, starting with this option, six 51-mm grenade launchers were installed in front of the turret for firing smoke grenades. All machines of MK.2 modification at the beginning of 1950's were upgraded to MK.Z.

Centurion Mk. Xnumx

In the 1947 year, the main modification was adopted - the Centurion Mk.3 with the 20-pound gun QF 20 pounder caliber 83,8 mm. At a range of 914 m, an armor-piercing projectile with an initial speed of 1020 m / s could penetrate homogeneous armor along the 210 mm normal. Penetration of an armor-piercing projectile with an initial speed of 1465 m / s, at the same range reached 300 mm. Subsequently, later modifications armed the 107-mm rifled semi-automatic gun L7, which was better suited for fighting Soviet T-54 / 55 / 62 tanks.

The Centurion Mk.3 tank received a weapon stabilizer in the vertical and horizontal guidance planes. The creation of the serial two-plane, reliable Metrovick FVGCE MK.1 stabilizer was a great success for the British, which significantly increased the effectiveness of the tank on the battlefield. The presence of a two-plane stabilization system significantly increased the likelihood of an enemy entering the tank. At a speed of 10-15 km / h, the firing efficiency did not differ significantly from the probability of being hit from a standstill. In addition, the stabilizer not only increases the accuracy of shooting in motion, but also the average speed of the tank on the battlefield, thereby reducing its vulnerability.

Centurion Mk.3

On the tank Centurion Mk.3 installed gasoline 12-cylinder V-shaped liquid-cooled engine Rolls-Royce Meteor 650 hp and transmission Merrit-Brown. The power unit was a further development of the engine and transmission of the Cromwell and Comet I.

The participation of the Centurion Mk.3 Type K tank in a nuclear test at the Emu Field test site

At the beginning of the 1950's, Australia, as the closest ally of Great Britain, began to receive the Centurion Mk.3 tanks, which at that time were very modern. In total, the Australian army ordered the 143 Centurion. Among the vehicles sent by sea was a tank with the serial number 39 \ 190, assembled at the Royal Ordnance Factory in 1951. In the Australian armed forces, the armored vehicle was assigned the 169041 number and used at a tank training ground. Subsequently, it was this tank that it was decided to use in a nuclear test known as Operation Totem-1.

At the beginning of the 1950's, Great Britain entered into a “nuclear race,” but since nuclear testing required a safety testing ground, the British agreed to allocate sites with the government of the Green Continent. Under the nuclear test site, a vast territory was determined in the southern part of Australia, in 450 km north of Adelaide. This area was chosen due to its very weak population. The wilderness was never used in economic activity, but the nomadic paths of local natives passed here. The Totem test site identified an area in the Victoria Desert, known as Emu Field. In 1952, a runway 2 km long and a residential village were built here on the site of a dried-up lake. Since the British were in a great hurry to build up and improve their nuclear potential in terms of reliability and efficiency, work was progressing at a fast pace.

An implosive nuclear explosive device based on Plutonium-240 was tested as part of the creation of the British Blue Danube atomic bomb. The nuclear charge was placed on the top of a steel tower 31 m high. Various measuring instruments were placed around the tower, but unlike the first American and Soviet atmospheric nuclear test explosions, no structures or fortifications were built. In order to assess the effects of nuclear damaging factors weapons, individual samples of weapons and military equipment were delivered to the training ground, among which was a tank taken from the Australian army Centurion Mk.3 Type K.

Delivery of the armored vehicle to the landfill was carried out with great difficulties. Due to the remoteness and lack of a good road, the trailer that the tank was carrying stuck in the sand. The Centurion drove the last part of the way to the test site under its own power. At that time, the car odometer showed only 740 kilometers.

Before a nuclear explosion, a full ammunition load was loaded into it, fuel tanks were filled and tank mannequins were placed. According to the scenario of the exercises, a car with a running engine was placed at a distance of 460 meters from the tower with a nuclear charge.

Cloud formed after the Totem-1 nuclear test

An energy explosion near 10 CT scorched the desert of 15 on October 1953 in 07.00 local time. The mushroom cloud formed after the explosion rose to a height of about 5000 m and, due to the lack of wind, scattered very slowly. This led to the fact that a significant part of the radioactive dust raised by the explosion fell in the vicinity of the landfill. The Totem-1 nuclear test, despite its relatively low power, turned out to be very dirty. Severe radioactive contamination occurred at a distance of up to 180 km from the epicenter. The so-called "black fog" reached Velbourne Hill, where Australian aborigines suffered from it.

Despite the relative proximity to the explosion point, the tank was not destroyed, although it was damaged. The shock wave moved him to 1,5 m and deployed. Since the hatches did not lock from the inside, they were opened by the force of an explosion, as a result of which some internal parts and mannequins were damaged. Under the influence of light radiation and a shock wave that carried tons of sand abrasive, the glass of optical instruments became cloudy. The canvas cover of the gun mask was burnt, and the side screens tore and thrown away at 180 meters. The roof of the engine compartment was also damaged. However, when examining the tank, it turned out that the engine was not badly damaged. Despite extreme pressure drops and the effect of an electromagnetic pulse, the motor continued to run, and only died out after the fuel in the tanks ran out.

Evacuation from a nuclear test site, decontamination, repair and modernization of the "atomic tank"

Three days after the nuclear test, the crew, having carried out the minimum necessary repair work, took its places in the tank and left the test site on its own. However, it was not possible to go far, the engine, clogged with sand, soon jammed and the Centurion was evacuated on a trailer, which was towed by two tractors.

At the same time, none of the tanks involved in the evacuation used protective equipment, although inscriptions about the danger of radiation were applied to the tower. Subsequently, 12 of the 16 troops working with the 169041 board died of cancer.

After the tank was delivered to the Woomer test site, it was decontaminated and put on the storage site. In 1956, the induced radiation in the armor weakened to a safe value, and after a dosimetric examination, the Centurion was sent to the Pukapunyal tank test site, located in southeastern Australia, 10 km west of Seymour. The failed engine was replaced, and the tower with the clouded observation devices and a defective sight was dismantled. In this form, the "atomic tank" was operated as a tractor, and two years later it was sent for overhaul. During the repair and modernization, the tank was brought to the level of Centurion Mk.5 / 1, arming the 105-mm gun L7. With such a gun, the Centurion could deal with all types of tanks that were then in the Soviet Army. From 1959 to 1962, the tank with the 169041 number was in storage, after which it was transferred to the training center of the 1 armored regiment.

The participation of the "atomic tank" in the Vietnam War

In 1962, the Australian leadership decided to support the US struggle against the offensive of communist forces in Southeast Asia. Initially, a small group of advisers was sent to Saigon, but as the conflict escalated, they sent transport and combat aircraft, armored vehicles and regular ground units to South Vietnam. The Royal Navy destroyers of Australia were involved in the American patrol of the coast of North Vietnam. The number of Australians at the peak of the conflict at the end of the 1960's reached 7672 people. In combat operations until 1971, 9 infantry battalions participated. In total, more than 50 000 Australian troops passed through the Vietnam War, of whom 494 people died, 2368 people were injured, two people were missing.

To support the Australian infantry fighting in the jungle, 1968 armored regiment tanks were sent in 1. Among the armored tracked vehicles delivered by sea to South Vietnam was the hero of our story. The tank was assigned the tactical number 24C and in September was brought into combat service. In a tank platoon, where the Centurion was operated as a command vehicle, among other crews it was known as the Sweet Fanny.

The Centurion’s crew periodically participated in combat operations without excesses until, on May 7 of the year, during the battle, the tank was hit by a cumulative grenade (most likely released from the RPG-1969). The shell pierced the armor in the lower left of the fighting compartment. The cumulative stream went diagonally, severely injuring the gunner. Other crew members after the evacuation of a wounded colleague took up a defense in the tank. Although the armor was pierced, the explosion did not damage vital knots, and the tank remained operational. By that time, the Centurion had a run of more than 2 km, needed to be repaired, and they decided to send it back to Australia. In January 4000, tank No. 1970, along with two other defective armored vehicles, was sent to the South Vietnamese port of Vung Tau for loading onto a ship bound for Melbourne.

Service "atomic tank" after returning from Southeast Asia

After arriving in Australia, in May 1970, the damaged vehicle was delivered to a tank repair facility in Bandiana. During the next major overhaul, the tank was equipped with an advanced optical range finder and an IR projector, designed to ensure the operation of night vision devices.

Overhaul and modernization work was completed at the end of the 1970 year, and after several years at the Centurion storage base, it was transferred to the 1 armored regiment. This time the tank was given the tactical number 11A and the unofficial name "Angelica". His active service continued until the end of the 1976 year, until the 1 armored regiment was rearmament on the Leopard AS1 (1A4) tanks.

The decision to purchase West German Leopards intended to replace the Centurions was made on a competitive basis, after comparative tests of the Leopard-1A4 and the American M60A1 in the summer of 1972 at the Queensland tropical training ground. The contract with Germany for the supply of 90 line tanks, 6 armored recovery vehicles and 5 bridge pavers was concluded in the 1974 year.

Although the Centurion, which went through the nuclear test site and the Vietnam War, was deposited in the first half of the 1977 year, a few years later it was returned to the 1th armored regiment.

Centurion No. 169041 at the farewell parade in 1992

The machine, brought to perfect condition by the regiment repair service, was used during various celebrations. The last time the tank number 169041 participated in the farewell parade of the Chief of General Staff H.J. Coates in April 1992 of the year. In November 1992, an “atomic tank” was erected as a monument on the territory of the Robertson Barracks military base, approximately 15 kilometers east of downtown Darwin.

At present, the main base of the Australian ground forces on the Northern territory of Australia is located here, and until the 2013 of the year the headquarters of the 1-th armored regiment was located.

In total, the tank served 23 of the year, including 15 months spent in South Vietnam. In 2018, a memorial plaque with the main milestones of his biography was fixed on the armor of the "atomic tank".

In addition to tank No. 169041, two more Australian Centurions participated in tests known as the Operation Buffalo at a nuclear test site in the vicinity of Maraling, but this machine was the only one commissioned after the direct impact of the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion.

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  1. Grandfather
    Grandfather 20 September 2019 05: 38
    mmm ...! dull life stood out by the tank, and in fact survived!
    1. bandabas
      bandabas 20 September 2019 07: 17
      And what is the fate of the subsequent crews?
      1. Glory1974
        Glory1974 20 September 2019 09: 37
        Surely received a dose. It is impossible to completely wash off radiation.
      2. Lexus
        Lexus 20 September 2019 10: 25
        They became the "luminaries" of the Australian army. winked
        Great article.
  2. Amurets
    Amurets 20 September 2019 06: 04
    In addition to tank No. 169041, two more Australian Centurions participated in tests known as the Operation Buffalo at a nuclear test site in the vicinity of Maraling, but this machine was the only one commissioned after the direct impact of the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion.
    Sergei! Thank! And even unexpectedly. An interesting and unexpected topic. The target after nuclear tests returned to duty. As far as I remember, after such nuclear irradiation, only the K-19 missile submarine returned to service after a severe nuclear accident.
  3. tarabar
    tarabar 20 September 2019 06: 44
    Always with trepidation belonged to old things: coins, icons, buildings, etc. They have their own charm and mystery, they bear the imprints of human destinies and human life for them is just a flash. Weapons in this regard are a special article, especially weapons with a history, even though they are weapons of the enemy. Thank you for the article, an absolute plus.
  4. beeper
    beeper 20 September 2019 06: 50
    I really liked the article! good
    And famously (in both senses of the word!), The Australians, not sparing the personnel, used their tank "all the way" (although they were not the only ones, a lot of "dirty" equipment also "leaked" from the Chernobyl zone .... especially in recent years)!
    I was struck by the described weak impact on the "Centurion" of a cumulative grenade, presumably RPG-2, well, now I know (largely thanks to the sensible explanations of VO readers-commentators, which prompted me to "study the question" of the impact of the "cumulative" on the tank and the crew, affirmed by me as an immutable "axiom") that there are many factors influencing the "final result".
    I thank the distinguished author-linnik Sergey for an interesting story!
  5. shinobi
    shinobi 20 September 2019 07: 39
    The tank, with competent crew and good service, the beast is very tenacious. Our military instructor said that only the very lucky and crew of tanks could survive the first nuclear strike. In the USSR, everything was kept secret, it turns out our cap knew what it was talking about. There is a definite plus!
  6. Kars
    Kars 20 September 2019 07: 39
    Cool story. It was very interesting.
  7. Ka-52
    Ka-52 20 September 2019 09: 14
    great stuff. Both in content and in serving. Unfortunately, this is no longer a frequent occurrence at
  8. Pane Kohanku
    Pane Kohanku 20 September 2019 09: 49
    A long time ago I did not read the esteemed Bongo .... wink Well, as usual - great! Sergey, I bow! good
  9. Operator
    Operator 20 September 2019 09: 52
    An 10 ctn explosion means that 98% plutonium did not react and was sprayed on the ground and in technology. Plus, neutron irradiation was almost point blank and the maximum level of induced radiation in the armor. And this is in 1953 year.

    Truly British / Australian scientists "..." - S. Lavrov (C)
    1. Ka-52
      Ka-52 20 September 2019 10: 44
      this means that 98% of the plutonium did not react and was sprayed on the ground and in technology.

      this was the case with the previous primitive cannon system. The article indicates about an implosive charge, in the explosion of which the% of the reacted base substance is much higher.
      1. Operator
        Operator 20 September 2019 10: 52
        With an explosion power of 20 ktn, the percentage of plutonium fission in the nuclear charge of the implosive scheme is 5%, with 10 ktn - 2%.

        To initiate a chain reaction, the minimum weight of plutonium in a nuclear charge without tritium amplification is independent of the charge power and amounts to about 6 kg.
        1. Undecim
          Undecim 20 September 2019 12: 33

          I.N.Bekman. NUCLEAR PHYSICS
          1. Operator
            Operator 20 September 2019 12: 35
            Let it be 7,8 kg shielded with beryllium, but without tritium amplification.
            1. Undecim
              Undecim 20 September 2019 12: 39
              You have correctly named the figure - about 6 kg. Precisely for plutonium-239 - 5,425 kg.
              And 7,8 kg is for plutonium-238, it is not used in charges.
        2. Ka-52
          Ka-52 20 September 2019 12: 43
          With an explosion power of 20 kt, the percentage of plutonium fission in the nuclear charge of the implosive scheme is 5%, at 10 kt - 2%

          such a% of the reactant is characteristic of U-238, with the cannon scheme, when the approach speed of the two subcritical masses is not enough for the reaction of most of the substance - V relative to the bomb body - 1,25 km / s, and the speed relative to each other is equal to - 2,5 km / sec In an implosive scheme, the speed of approach of parts of the sample to obtain more than criticality of the order of 10 - 12 km / s With correctly selected forms of barathol lenses, and even with the use of reflectors,% of the substance entering the reaction is greater. But it all depends on the thickness of the shell, providing the speed of implosion, and the mass of fissile material
          1. Operator
            Operator 20 September 2019 12: 50
            No - the amount of reactive plutonium, even with an implosive scheme, does not exceed 5%.

            In a tritium-enhanced nuclear charge, the response level increases to 15%, in a neutron charge to 25%, in a two-stage thermonuclear charge to 100%.
  10. Alex 1970
    Alex 1970 20 September 2019 10: 23
    At least shoot an action movie with a tank in the title role. This fighting machine!
  11. iouris
    iouris 20 September 2019 10: 55
    How frugal they are ... saving on people. Here it is - the bestial grin of capitalism.
    1. sh3roman
      sh3roman 22 September 2019 17: 12
      And under communism, a soldier was driven through an explosion in 54 Totsk range, and not somewhere in the desert but in the center of Russia
  12. Undecim
    Undecim 20 September 2019 11: 29

    Tank 169041 after the explosion. The engine compartment cover torn from the mounts is clearly visible.
    1. iouris
      iouris 20 September 2019 12: 10
      Well, it depends on how powerful the explosion was and what is the distance to the epicenter.
      1. Undecim
        Undecim 20 September 2019 12: 11
        Have you not read the article? It also says about the explosion, and about the distance.
    2. Saxahorse
      Saxahorse 20 September 2019 21: 28
      Quote: Undecim
      Tank 169041 after the explosion. The engine compartment cover torn from the mounts is clearly visible.

      The article noted that the hatches were not locked, which led to the opening. Was the engine compartment cover torn off the mounts precisely, or was it not especially locked during preparation?
  13. san4es
    san4es 20 September 2019 17: 35
    Thank you Sergey hi
    The Centurion Mk.3 tank received a weapon stabilizer in the vertical and horizontal guidance planes. soldier
    1. Saxahorse
      Saxahorse 20 September 2019 21: 29
      Thanks to Sanchez as always! :) Welcome back hi
      1. san4es
        san4es 21 September 2019 12: 00
        You're welcome hi Too bad there were no frames for the impact of the explosion on Centurion recourse

        ... pay attention to the sound of the explosion fellow ... like thunder and lightning.
      2. san4es
        san4es 21 September 2019 12: 18
        ... Although not, here is something similar:
  14. garri-lin
    garri-lin 20 September 2019 20: 59
    I was struck that the engine as a result of tests did not stall. Who in the subject explain. There is a jump in pressure, plus a vacuum for a short time, plus oxygen should have burned out. PDA is that so? Not stalled.
  15. Saxahorse
    Saxahorse 20 September 2019 21: 30
    Very tenacious tank with a very boring history. :) Thanks to the author! Great story!
  16. lexseyOGK
    lexseyOGK 21 September 2019 15: 28
    Material on this tank was released earlier on warhead. The author creatively rethought it. And yes, that material is about how many people were affected by exposure.
    1. Bongo
      22 September 2019 13: 39
      Quote: lexseyOGK
      Material on this tank was released earlier on warhead. The author creatively rethought it. And yes, that material is about how many people were affected by exposure.

      Sorry, but until now I was not familiar with the publication you indicated. The information for this article was taken exclusively from English-language sources.
      1. Amurets
        Amurets 23 September 2019 11: 33
        Quote: Bongo
        Sorry, but until now I was not familiar with the publication you indicated.

        Sergey, are you alive there? Letters neither in PM nor in the mail pass, The media just that you have a flood. worse than 2013 year.
        1. lexseyOGK
          lexseyOGK 23 September 2019 22: 11
          Sergey (author), what about Komsomolsk?
        2. Bongo
          24 September 2019 01: 07
          Quote: Amurets
          Sergey, are you alive there? Letters neither in PM nor in the mail pass, The media just that you have a flood. worse than 2013 year.

          Hi Nikolay! Alive of course. Sorry for the delay in answering, I was fishing. There is still less water this year than in 2013. But the private sector in some areas flooded, and because of the rainfall, part of the city is flooded with rainwater.
          Quote: lexseyOGK
          Sergey (author), what about Komsomolsk?

          1. Amurets
            Amurets 24 September 2019 01: 58
            Quote: Bongo
            But the private sector in some areas was flooded, and due to heavy rainfall, part of the city was flooded with rainwater.

            Well, thank God that it cost. Say hello to Ole.
          2. lexseyOGK
            lexseyOGK 24 September 2019 18: 07
            So do I. But now not at home. On business trip. I apologize for the charges. Now a lot of authors work on the principle of Cntrl + C, Cntrl + V.