Home > Tanks > The Untold Story of Chieftain

The Untold Story of Chieftain

by Blacktail

Chieftain tank
 
 

   The British Chieftain was exceptional tank for a number of reasons. It had impressive firepower and protection. When introduced in 1965 it was the most powerful main battle tank in the world. There are a number of interesting facts about this tank that many never heard of before.

   - The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) contributed extensive technical support for the development of the Chieftain, drawn from their recent experience in combat with the Centurion. As such, they shaped the Chieftain probably more than even the British Army, and in return Israel was promised a 1967 delivery of hundreds of factory-new Chieftains. The IDF was quite excited for this, because the Chieftain was to be the first tank delivered to Israel that wasn't foreign surplus. Instead, political disputes over the Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and other territories following the 1967 Six Day War resulted in the contract being terminated, with the production vehicles and parts impounded. A license for Israeli production of the Chieftain was suspended in 1967 as well, and later terminated in 1969.

   - Rubbing salt in the wound, the UK immediately began selling Chieftains to Arab countries instead, including Jordan, an adversary of Israel that fought with the IDF in the Six Day War. Quite irate over this turn of events, the IDF decided instead that the Centurion's successor would be developed and produced in Israel, which resulted in the Merkava.

   - Some Chieftains were actually delivered to Israel in 1967 shortly before the Six Day War, but only a handful meant for per-delivery testing and evaluation services. This obviously wasn't enough vehicles to use in an operational capacity, and the Israelis also opted not to reverse-engineer them.

   - The "Chieftain Affair", coupled with a similar crisis involving the French Mirage V fighter (which had been developed expressly for export to Israel, with Dassault-Breuget tailoring it to the IDF Air Force's requirements) were what drove Israel to begin developing a whole new generation of indigenous weapons, and acquire almost all of their new military since then exclusively from the US.

   - The Chieftain's signature main gun, the L11A5, was an evolved version of the L11 gun that was developed for the FV 214 Conqueror. The Conqueror was the UK's last heavy tank, and an utter failure; weighing-in at 64 tonnes, the Conqueror's powertrain was hopelessly too weak and fragile, only 185 were built, they were never exported, the only location abroad they were ever deployed to was West Germany, and they were operational for only 11 years.

   - Another element retained from the Conqueror was the use of a Horstmann suspension. The Horstmann isn't a Torsion Bar system, but rather a variant of the older HVSS (horizontal volute spring suspension) system. This system offers numerous advantages over Torsion Bars, including greater suspension travel and easier maintenance; a broken Torsion Bar requires the entire underside of a tank to be torn-away, the damaged part severed with a cutting torch, and everything welded back together, while a broken bogie on a Horstmann suspension is simply unbolted, flung-aside, and a new one bolted-in.

   - Many British other armored vehicles employed the Horstmann system, including the Centurion, Warrior, AS90, Terrier, Challenger 1, and Universal Carrier. Being developed from a clone of the Centurion hull, the Merkava also uses a Hosrtmann suspension (another curious relationship the Chieftain has with Israel). Only the Challenger 2 switched to hydropneumatic suspension.

   - The Leyland L60 engine used in the Chieftain was one of the first operational "tri-fuel" engine, meaning that it could burn diesel oil, jet fuel, or gasoline. Few such engines have ever been successful, and the L60 was not one of them; they were notoriously unreliable and smoked excessively. So excessively, the engine compartment was sometimes completely caked in black soot after a mission. Chieftain crews hated these engines, and these tendencies were cited by the Dutch Army as the reason they rejected the Chieftain in favor of the Leopard 1, following field trials that ran from January 15th to March 22nd 1968.

   - One aspect that was universally well received by Chieftain crews was its inclusion of a Boiling Vessel. This device boiled water for the purpose of brewing tea, though it was also often used for heating field rations. It has also been used by "less civilized" tankers to brew coffee.

   - The aforementioned failed sale to the Netherlands was the closest the Chieftain ever came to a successful sale to a Western Bloc nation. All of the export customers ended up being in the Middle East.

   - Libya was the first country the UK government tried to export the Chieftain to, but this 150 million deal never went through. A proposed alternate sale to Egypt failed as well. This no doubt pleased the Israelis, however.

   - The Chieftain first saw combat during the Iraq-Iran War, with mixed results. They performed badly during the initial offensives, thanks in no small part to the Iranian government having purged or reassigned most of their experienced personnel and leaders. Many Chieftains fell into the hands of the Iraqi Army during this time, some of them hastily abandoned in working order. The Iraqis weren't so lucky when they faced Chieftains on the defense however, and their counteroffensive was broken. A fair number of ex-Iranian Chieftains remained in the Iraqi inventory following the war.

   - The last battle for the Chieftain was during the Battle of the Bridges (also known as the Battle of Jal al Atraf) on August 2nd during the Invasion of Kuwait, and was the Chieftain's crowning achievement on the battlefield. Three Companies of Kuwaiti Army Chieftains (36 tanks in total) of the 35th Armored Brigade joined the defenses overlooking the bridges near the junction where the Sixth Ring Road meets Highway 70, some 25 km west of Al Jahra. At 6:45 hours, these forces engaged leading elements of the Iraqi Republican Guard, from the 1st "Hammurabi" Armored Division. The Kuwaitis inflicted heavy losses on the elite Iraqi Republican Guard (IRG) forces, destroying numerous armored vehicles, and even a self-propelled howitzer being transported on a trailer. The first wave withdrew before it could suffer crippling losses, and was followed by the leading elements of the 2nd "Al-Medina" Armored Division, another IRG formation, which more or less had the same result. Due to the closed terrain, contact wasn't made between the opposing armies past about 1.5km, and in a few instances tanks fired on one another at ranges as close as 400m. This holding action was discontinued later that day, simply because the Kuwaitis were running out of ammunition. By the end of the battle, the only losses to the Chieftains had been two tanks abandoned and scuttled due to mechanical breakdowns, while the entire Kuwaiti defense had suffered only 24 casualties. The number of Iraqi casualties has never been verified, but they lost some 200 armored vehicles, including at least 30 tanks. Among the heavy armor vanquished by the Chieftain were T-72M1s (or possibly the much cruder Asad Babils), a type of tank that had NATO convinced for 20 years that the Chieftain would be helpless against.

   - It is unclear whether or not the Chieftain participated in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, despite being operated by three members of the Coalition. However, Kuwaiti Chieftains managed to achieve a small amount of fame and media coverage during their return to Kuwait, as it was being liberated by the Coalition.

   - Hundreds of Chieftains from Iran and Kuwait ended up under Iraqi control by 1990, but what became of them is unclear. No mention has been made by internet sources as to whether these were used in combat during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, or whether any were destroyed or captured during the 1990s. The status of these tanks during and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq is also unclear. Given that the Coalition would not have supplied them to Iran, Jordan's Chieftain inventory has been gradually declining, and all other operators had retired them by 2003, they were probably either scrapped or left rusting away in tank graveyards, or perhaps re-purposed as range targets.

   - According to Stephen Hughes in "The Iraqi Threat and Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction", between 50 and 75 Chieftains were modernized and put into service with the Iraqi Army. These tanks were also alleged in the same document to have been upgraded to the equivalent of the Khalid tank, with air conditioning, and improved armor and night vision equipment. This claim is questionable, as no Chieftains have ever been observed in operational use by Iraq, and the alleged upgrades were never applied to any of Iraq's other armored vehicles, let alone a small number of captured enemy tanks.

 

Blacktail

   Article by BLACKTAIL

   Want to publish your own articles? Visit our guidelines for more information.

 
Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Khalid tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

Chieftain tank

Expand image

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Home  Home     Aircraft     Helicopters     Tanks     Armored Vehicles     Artillery     Trucks     Engineering Vehicles     Missiles     Naval Forces     Firearms     |     Contact Us
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ARG 2006 - 2021
www.Military-Today.com

Visitor counter