The Chieftain tank: history in the making

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The Chieftain tank was the mainstay of the British army during the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties. It was something of a departure for the British army as before that they had always used more lightweight tanks such as the Sherman. Their heaviest tank was the Churchill in the Second World war and from that had grown the Centurion. Keeping with the C’s seemed to be appropriate so the heavily armoured Leyland motor powered Chieftain was the result. They say that the army always fights the last war and now it had finally got a Tank that could stand up to the King Tiger. The Chieftain was one of the first tanks to have a reclined seat so that the tanks armour could be sloped like the Russian T34.  You may not have the fire power but you’ll certainly get the idea of what it’s like to manoeuvre one of these beasts.

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The Chieftain was the first tank to be built more as a deterrent than actual see any action. It was to form the backbone of Britain’s mobile armoured forces as the whole concept moved from a war thinking over to defence. The tank was developed to try and counter the Russian military that was always reliant on tanks the bigger and heavier the better. In the late nineteen fifties the protection of the state of Israel, granted by Britain after the Second World war saw the tank being co-produced. This soon came to a halt when the UK found itself more predisposed to the Arab states upon the discovery of oil. The Israelis continued with their development and the tank was to prove a real turning point in the 6 Day war and Israel’s other operations keeping order in Gaza and the other occupied territories. The UK version had a top speed of twenty-five miles an hour which considering the size of the gun and the armour it was carrying.

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Initial tests were a bit disappointing as the tank was slow and cumbersome over off-road conditions. This is sort of contrary to what a tank is supposed to do namely go anywhere on the battle field it feels likes. One other problem was persistent coolant leaks that meant the whole thing went around billowing out grey smoke out the back making it a bit easy to spot for any nearby anti-tank gun. They would of tried to fix this during a fight and i bet that now they wish they had metal bonding adhesives to solve the problem.  If only the internet was around back then to order from sites like  Unfortunately if they wanted anything or to contact anyone it was by letter.  It’s main job was to dissuade the Russians and the Warsaw Pact from invading Berlin and West Germany. It sold well in the Middle East and the best tank battle of the Iran – Iraq war was Chieftains against each other. It wasn’t there finest hour as the old rough terrain issue came up and again and they were slow and ponderous or kept breaking down. They were replaced in the nineteen nineties by the Challenger one.