Costing around £100,000 each in 1967, it was the British Chieftain main battle tank that was a real nightmare for Soviet tanks during the Cold War.

Born in 1966, the British Chieftain tank weighs up to 56 tons, 7.5 meters long, 3.66 meters wide, and has a crew of 4, including commander, gunner loader and driver. The design of the Chieftain included a heavily sloped hull and turret which greatly increased the effective thickness of the frontal armour – 388 mm on the glacis, and 390 mm on the turret. It had a mantletless turret in order to take full advantage of reclining the vehicle up to ten degrees in a hull-down position.

The Chieftain was exceptional tank for a number of reasons. It had impressive firepower and protection. When introduced it was the most powerful main battle tank in the world. It outperformed contemporary tanks, such as the US M60 Patton, German Leopard 1 and the Soviet T-62.

The Chieftain was armed with a fully-stabilized L11 series 120 mm L55 rifled gun. It was an evolved version of the L11 gun, that was developed for Conqueror heavy tank. At the time most other tanks were using smoothbore guns. The gun was fitted with a thermal sleeve, which is loaded manually. Maximum rate of fire of up to 8 rounds per minute could be achieved. The British tank used Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot, Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot, and High Explosive Squash Head ammunition against armored targets.

Chieftain MBT
Chieftain MBT

Auxiliary armament was a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, and another 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on commander’s cupola. In the early 1960s, the Chieftain was considered the most powerful tank in the world, possessing outstanding firepower and excellent maneuverability. Chieftain had an NBC protection system which Centurion lacked. An infantry telephone was fitted to the rear of the tank to facilitate communication with infantry.

Chieftain was equipped with a Leyland L60 multi-fuel engine with 750 hp. It could reach a top speed of up to 40 km/h, a range of 500 km. The engine was mated to a semi-automatic transmission which had 6 forward and 2 reverse speeds. The Chieftain can be fitted with a dozer blade and mine clearing equipment.

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.


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