The Conqueror Main Battle Tank (MBT) was a British heavy tank of the post-war era and was developed as a response to the Soviet IS-3 heavy tank. Its main armourment was the new 120mm gun which was larger than the 20-pounder gun carried by its peer the Centurion Tank.
The Conqueror’s role was to provide long range anti-tank support for the Centurion and it was issued at nine for each regiment in Germany, usually grouped in three tank troops.
Design and Development
The chassis was from the A45 Infantry Support Tank, started in 1944 shortly after that of the A41 Centurion. After the war the project was relocated to that of the “Universal Tank” design of the FV 200 series. The 200 series was to have used a common hull for all uses (self-propelled artillery, armoured personnel carrier, three varieties of tank, etc.). One tank type was to be the heavy FV 201 of 55 tonnes, armed with an 83.4 mm gun.
In 1949 it was decided to bring the armament up to 120 mm. As this delayed the project, in 1952 the FV 201 hull was combined with a 17 pounder-armed Centurion Mk 2 turret to give the FV 221 Caernarvon Mark I.Twenty-one were built with the Mk III 20 pounder turret as the Caernarvon Mk II.
The FV 221 may originally have been intended to be the “Main Battle Tank” member of the FV 201 series, but with the success of the A41 Centurion such a vehicle was no longer required. In either event, the Caernarvon was only used for chassis development work serving in troop trials.
In 1955 the first Conqueror was produced, twenty Mark 1 and 165 Mark 2 Conquerors were built including conversions of Caernarvon MkIIs. Production continued until 1959. It lost much tactical relevance once the Centurion was upgraded to an L7 105 mm gun.
The new, larger-calibre gun design was American, the same as used on the US M103 heavy tank; with separate charge and projectile, as would also be the case in the Chieftain that followed. The charge was not bagged but in a brass cartridge, which offered some safety advantages, but reduced shell capacity to 35.
The armour was very heavy for the time, especially in the front, where it was seven inches (178 mm) in the horizontal plane. Unfortunately, this, along with the weight of the huge turret required to house the large gun and the very large hull volume, made the vehicle very heavy, giving it a relatively low top speed and making it mechanically unreliable. Also, few bridges could support its weight.
However, rather like the Second World War Churchill tank, the Conqueror had exceptional terrain handling characteristics and proved to be as capable cross country as the lighter Centurion tank.
One feature of particular note was the rotating commander’s cupola, which was at the heart of the Conqueror’s fire control system, advanced for its time.
The commander could align the cupola on a target independently of the turret, measure the range with a coincidence rangefinder, and then direct the gunner on to the new lay mechanically indicated to him by the cupola. In theory, when the gunner traversed to the new lay he would find the target already under his sights, ready to be engaged. Meanwhile, the commander was free to search for the next target.