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Looking Back

At this point of time, the information and stories and found Centurions have slowed a bit, but they have by no means stopped. So I have decided to go back over my CD’s and list some information from them, as my Web Site was started after the CD’s were finished. As people who have been following my efforts will know there is no order, no index and I have been known to repeat myself. This effort will be no different. I know before I start that I will repeat some items / photos. But to be honest I am now at the stage where I am not sure if something was in my web site or my CD’s. Anyway who cares, it’s all free! I hope there are people out there that enjoy my little effort. Once again I will state I am no historian, I do the best I can and that I am afraid is it!!!

Centurion Main Battle Tank    

      The Australian Army was the first purchaser of the Centurion tank out side of the U.K. They first ordered it in 1949.

      It was not until the September 1951 that the Australian Army finally received it’s first Centurion tanks. These first two tanks were given to Armoured Centre and the next few went to1st Armoured Regiment. The first tanks to arrive in Australia were Centurion Mk 3, equipped with 20 pounder guns and Besa machine guns. These machine guns were soon replaced, by American .30 calibre Browning’s. This changed the designation of the tank from Mk3 to a Mk5

      The Centurion coped well with the Hostile environment of Australia as the Horstman suspension reacted well and reliably. Unlike the Leopard, which goes through spare parts at an alarming rate.

      Altogether the Australian Centurion fleet comprised a total of 143 Centurion tanks (Army Registration Numbers (ARN) 169000 - 169138, 115541 - 115544) at its peak between 1972 - 77. This consisted of: -

      60 Mk.3 medium tanks purchased in 1949 and delivered from September 1951 and were still being delivered after August 1952 were subsequently upgraded to Mk. 5 standard between 1957 and 1961. (ARN 169000 - 169059)

      51 MK. 5 medium tanks purchased in late 1954 and delivered during 1955 - 56. (ARN 169060 - 169110)

      4 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) Mk. 2 ordered in late 1954 and delivered in 1955 - 56. (ARN 169111 - 169114)

      6 Mk. 5 medium tanks delivered in 1956- 57 (ARN 169115 - 169120)

      4 Bridge Layer Mk. 5 delivered in early 1960’s, the first arriving in September 1961. (ARN 115541 - 115544)

      8 Mk5 and Mk5/1 medium tanks were purchased from New Zealand during 1968. The medium tanks were cannibalised for spares, and while the ARV was taken into service, it only served in Australia. (ARN 169123) A small number of New Zealand hulls were used to replace mine damaged hulls and at least one tank, ARN 169017, returned to South Vietnam for a second tour fitted with a New Zealand hull.

      15 Mk5/1 medium tanks purchased from UK stock held in Hong Kong arriving in 1972 (ARN 169124 - 169138).

      Some of the damaged tanks returning from Vietnam were converted to Driver Training Vehicles by removing the turret and installing a superstructure with large windows and seats for the instructor and trainees. These vehicles were used to train drivers from 1974 until 1977. With out the weight of the turret these vehicles rode much higher than the gun tanks. The Centurion was eventually, phased out of service in the Australian Army in 1977, to be replaced by the German Leopard tank. Not all the Driver training tanks were ex Vietnam tanks.

      The Dozer tank was to assist in the mobility of the Armoured Vehicles in Vietnam. It could dig firing positions and minor earth moving tasks. The blade was made in Newcastle UK by T B Pearsons It had a cutting edge and a hinged flap on top for scooping earth. The blade was hydraulically operated from the driver’s seat, with power coming from a main engine.

      The Prototype Bridge Layer was first built in 1956, but it was not until 1961 that the vehicle went into full production in the U.K. The Australian Army received their four Bridge Layers in 1965. They were built on Mk5 chassis reworked to Mk7 standard. They were without a turret the resulting hole was plated over. The 100-gallon fuel tank was fitted as standard. The No. 6 tank bridge was constructed of Aluminium alloy and could carry a load of 80 tons over a gap of 13.5 metres. Two of these vehicles saw service in South Vietnam.

      The ARV MK.1 was based on the Centurion Mk.1 and Mk.2 chassis with the turret removed and a slab sided superstructure added. This superstructure housed the winching mechanism. This winch had an 18 Ton pull. An earth spade was fitted to the rear of the vehicle this was found to be inadequate and was often reinforced in active service. A set of Hollebone drawbars, were provided for the towing of tank casualties. Crew access was by tow hatches on the roof. This is the only Mk.1 to be used in Australian service and was purchased from New Zealand in 1969.

      The ARV Mk.2 first entered service with the Australian Army in 1956. This vehicle was very much different from the Mk.1. The earth anchor was much improved and the winch had a greater pull, of 30 tonnes. Up to 90 tonnes could be achieved with a 3 to 1 tackle layout. Two of these vehicles served in South Vietnam form 1968 until 1971. There were in fact, 4 ARV’s in Vietnam, but only two at any one time

      Vietnam

      Prior to deployment to South Vietnam the tank fleet comprised 117 Centurions. Of these 96 were Mk. 5/1 and 25 were Mk. 5. The Mk 5’s were for training purposes only. All medium tanks were being progressively fitted with the .50 cal Ranging machine gun, and 100 - gallon long-range fuel tank.

      26 Mk. 5/1 were being fitted with the complete UK infrared installation and another 3 were fitted with the appropriate brackets etc. but not the complete installation. While 4 Centurion Mk. 5/1 medium tanks (ARN 169071, 169078, 169079 and 169106) were converted to tank dozers commencing in the mid 1960’s.
Centurions were issued from 1 Central Ordnance Depot (1 COD), located at Bandiana. Where they required additional modifications to be added to bring them up to the latest prescribed standard. They were sent to 4 Base Workshop, also located at Bandiana. This was the standard issuing system.

      On 17th October 1967 the Australian Government announced that a tank squadron would be dispatched to South Vietnam as part of wider troop increases.
These were

o    C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment (Reinforced tank squadron).
18 Mk. 5/1 medium tanks
2 tank dozers.
2 Bridge Layers

o     1st Independent Armoured Workshop (RAEME)
2 ARV Mk. 2.

o    Detachment, Forward Delivery Troop 1st Armoured Regiment
6 Mk. 5/1 medium tanks.

      The tank squadron was operational in South Vietnam from 29th January 1968 to 30th September 1971.
Squadron names changed on approximately a12 month basis, but this was only an administrative and command change. Unlike the infantry battalions that rotated as complete units the RAAC operated an individual replacement system due to insufficient numbers in the Corps.

      Centurions not returned to Australia due to battle damage served a tour of 2500 track miles after which they were declared “Beyond Local Repair” and returned to Australia. Replacement vehicles were transferred from the forward delivery troop. New vehicles were issued from 1 COD and shipped to South Vietnam where they were issued to forward delivery troop.
51 centurion medium tanks, 4 ARV’s and 3 Bridge Layers served in South Vietnam. A small number of tanks and ARV’s served twice.

Information Courtesy of Shane Lovell – Bruce Cameron – Mike Cecil Curator of Military Technology, Australian War Memorial

I do get a lot of help 

CALL SIGNS AND SERIAL NUMBERS:

All Centurions were given an Australian Serial Number In the case of Gun Tanks and ARV’s these all started with the number 169. In the case of bridge layers they had 115541, 115542, 115543, 115544.

The serial numbers started from 169000 up to 169138

These numbers stayed with the tank for its lifetime and even in the case the hull was replaced it still carried the old hulls number. Some confusion rose with 169080, which had a new hull fitted and retained the old number as it should. But much later the OLD hull was restored as a museum piece due to its history and has no number on it, but then the old paint was removed and both the Australian and the British number were seen, people claimed it was169080. Which it was indeed, but the other 169080 also has the right to hold the serial number.

Call signs were also misleading, as I found out. Having a list, of the call signs and the dates they were used in Vietnam and also the serial numbers and time they were in country, I thought I could identify from photos. Alas this was not to be in all cases, unless the date was with the photo. The crew commander had the call sign and when he moved tanks for many reasons he just took his call sign plate and hung it on his next tank. The only thing wrong with this is that it gave me headaches. There were even cases where the rest of the crew mistakenly referred to the incorrect tank serial numbers.

So I will try and stick with serial numbers.

At the age of 65 years I suppose we all start to look back a bit. One day I decided to drive to Puckapunyal, which is not all that far away from my home at Kilmore, about half an hours drive. My first view on arriving at Puckapunyal was to see civilians manning the Security Gate. They were very polite and very business like. Obtaining a pass, my first sight was a Centurion holding ground, just inside the entrance. This was my first Centurion seen in 44 years, and I stopped and had a walk around it.

The name “Bewildered” on the side bins and the number 169031 stood out on the front glacis plate. I wanted so much to climb onto the guard and open the driver’s hatch, but it was made quite clear that this was not to be. There was something different about 031 and I noticed that the main gun was different. It had been fitted with the 105 mm which was the gun fitted to the new Leopard Tank. As the barrel took the whole of the case and projectile, there was no need to change the breach block or make other modifications. Basically just screw on another barrel and it was modified. This was the only one that I found with this configuration.

At a much later date I discovered that this had been a Centurion converted to a Drivers instruction tank and the turret had been removed. It was later still I learnt it had been consigned to the gunnery range as a hard target. It was rescued from this situation, and a turret refitted. But there were no barrels available, so a 105 mm from a Leopard was installed. So the difference! Just to hand is information that Bewildered is to be repainted and cleaned up, Great news. It took about 12 months but it was in time restored, a process I watched from start to finish.  

        Ready for the new paint job she was a sorry sight  

 Sandblasted and ready for her paint job  

 

   Splendid in her new colours

The main idea behind this C.D. was to locate and photograph as many surviving Centurions as it was possible to find.

It was my hope that I could see around 15 – 20, and as this was to be for my own use only, there was not much thought put into it, just a photo and a bit of text below it stating anything of interest or history of each Centurion I found.

It was soon apparent that I was going to uncover more than my original estimate. I also started to notice differences in the modifications, and configurations that I was finding. This started an interest to know more, and the thought occurred that maybe others would be interested in these items of interest as well, and the whole agenda started to snowball.

 

Below is what started it all.  This was the Centurion I drove back in the early 50’s and I had a desire to see it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are two pages from a UK magazine The top one is 169007 named "Buka Boom Boom" and carrying the call sign 22A

Its pretty exact except the call sign was 24A. This mistake was later explained. When 169007 was returned to Australia it was replaced with 169067 and the name was repainted onto her barrel but it was BUKA BOOM BOOM 11 and its call sign was 22A.  But as the tank above has the Serial No 169007 it was in fact 24A

The name on 169007 

The name on 169067

 

ANYWAY
It all started at Puckapunyal.  
As you enter Puckapunyal

 

169031 “BEWILDERED”

HOLDING GROUND AT THE ENTRANCE TO PUCKAPUNYAL

By this time I was all fired up and my desire was two fold. To get inside a centurion with my camera and to sit in the drivers seat again. This, after a lot of knock backs from just about everyone, was finally achieved with the kind assistance of the Vietnam Veterans Museum at San Remo Victoria. And a lasting friendship started with both the Museum and many many Veterans.

It very quickly became apparent that I was going to drive a Cent again before I passed away. Just how this was to be achieved I had no idea. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be driving most of the running Centurions in Australia over the next three years.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I quickly worked out that I needed a Centurion that was running and located somewhere that there was enough room to have a decent drive, although 100 yards would have been ok with me.  

Lt. Col Peter Jarratt (RETD) was kind enough to give me the opportunity to drive his tank 169005 on his property in NSW. After 40 years I dropped down into the drivers seat and was quite terrified. The drive went great, I missed a gear early on but that was it. I had a great drive over many miles and cut up Peter’s property a fair bit. The hardest part was remembering the hand signals in reverse, the opposite to what was expected, but even that came back quickly. My confidence was booming. After leaving Peter we drove to Holbrook and viewed the Tanks on Vince Ryan’s property that was a storage yard for Tim Vibert the chap that brought the lot from the army.

This lot in the shed are in two rows you cannot see the rear row and that is only two thirds of the shed

 

But that is what the inside of the shed looked like

 

I was having a ball, like a kid in a lolly shop

These four are in the paddock at the rear and classed as "Old Smokies"

There are ten in the group of "Old Smokies" they have now gone to the scrap metal yards and been cut up

I was hoping that this would quieten down my burning desire but instead it inflamed it  

  169078 The Dozer

and a Bridge Layer and an ARV

Following up a lead we called into Wangaratta on the way home and there found three more. A Bridge Layer, a Dozer and an ARV above. These three have now been moved to a property outside Wangaratta.

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