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FV214 Conqueror Heavy Tank (1955)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 12/31/2012

The British Conqueror Heavy Tank proved to too cumbersome for its own good and was produced in just 185 total examples.

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The British-produced Conqueror Heavy Tank (FV 214) was designed as a counterpart to the hugely successful Centurion Main Battle Tank in service throughout post-World War 2 Europe and as a direct counter to the Soviet IS-3 series heavy tank. By this time in history, the Soviet Union had grown to become the free world's primary enemy, residing in a divided Germany, across Poland and the Ukraine and applying its influence throughout many other nations worldwide. The Conqueror was classified as a "heavy tank" and would be charged with long-range fire support on the battlefield, wielding its large-caliber 120mm rifled main gun situated in a heavily armored traversing turret. Despite its rather promising scope, the Conqueror was ultimately doomed to history by its large and heavy design, unfit for the environment that would become "Battlefield Europe" in the event of another World War. Additionally, these inherent limitations of the vehicle were coupled with dwindling interest in the project brought about by the success of the Centurion worldwide which resulted in only 185 production forms during the span of three years before the vehicle was retired in 1966. As such, the vision of a Centurion tank force backed by Conquerors never truly materialized.

By this time in history, there proved general concern by NATO parties in the capability of existing Western guns when penetrating the IS-3's stout armor protection at range and, thusly, the United States and Britain both undertook programs to remedy the situation, this providing the basis for the "M103" and "Conqueror" designs respectively. IS tanks (generally referred to as "Josef Stalin" tanks) were born from the fighting of World War 2 which pitted Soviet armor against an invading German force. The IS-1 combined heavy armor protection with a massive 122mm main gun and proved more than a match for all available German tanks of the time. The IS-1 was debuted in 1943 and this was followed by the improved IS-2 in April of 1944. The IS-3 represented a late-war upgrade to the IS-2 line and saw its armor configuration revised for the better with a new cast hemispherical turret instituted. However, availability of the IS-3 during the waning months of World War 2 was restricted and, thusly, the tank missed out on combat actions in Europe altogether. Regardless, the IS-3 remained the staple Soviet heavy tank in the early Cold War years that followed. A modernized version appeared in 1960 as the "IS-3M".

The Conqueror was derived from a British Army design direction that sought use of a logistically-friendly "universal chassis" intended to form the future of British armored forces. The universal family concept was designated as "FV 200" and would have incorporated several combat tank forms, a self-propelled gun design and a turretless armored personnel carrier. To go along with the universal chassis, a new heavy turret was developed to house a powerful 120mm main gun. Manufacturer of the vehicle was undertaken by the Royal Ordnance Factory out of Dalmuir beginning in 1955 as the "Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120mm Gun, Conqueror, Mk I". Only twenty Mk I vehicles were completed before production switched to the revised "Mk 2" and these saw deliveries peak at 165 units, The final Conqueror Heavy Tank was completed in 1959 and many were shipped to Europe to serve in the "British Army of the Rhine" (1945-1994) stationed in Germany during the Cold War (1945-1991).

The Conqueror maintained several benefits over the Centurion, primarily in its main gun caliber and base armor protection. Conversely, it was these two factors that limited the design to an extent - namely in its operating weight and general mechanical reliability of the engine. The Conqueror's long range main armament of 120mm pattern (L1), along with its modest supply of 35 projectiles, held a definitive advantage over the 17-pounder and 20-pounder main guns fielded by early Centurion tank marks. Projectiles for the main gun were loaded as two individual pieces, the projectile and the charge, the latter being encased in a brass cartridge. However, the gun's size required a large (and thusly heavy) turret emplacement which added to the vehicle's overall weight in the field, limiting performance and stressing the powertrain configuration. A coaxial 7.62mm and a commander's mounted 7.62mm machine gun complemented the Conqueror's main gun from a defensive point of view. As with most heavy tanks, armor protection was the keen inherent benefit of the Conqueror series but, at the same time, this provided for a heavy end-product incapable of traversing strategic bridges dotting the European countryside.

Of note is that the turret housed a separate rotating commander's cupola which allowed the commander to "mark" targets ahead of the gunner's actions. In this fashion, the commander could range targets, these values being transferred to the gunner's position. The gunner then maneuvered the turret into the directed line of fire, ready to engage. While the gunner managed his actions, the commander was at work in ranging the next available target independent of the gunner and turret. The resulting effect was a streamlined engagement process worthy of the European battlefield where armored targets could have prove plenty.

The powerplant - a Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 of 810 horsepower with origins in a World War 2 aircraft engine - was mounted to a compartment in the rear of the hull for maximum protection. There were eight small road wheels to a track side with the drive sprocket at the rear and track idler at the front. Maximum road speed was 34 kilometers per hour on ideal surfaces with an overall operational range of 65 kilometers. The vehicle weighed in at 72.75 Short Tons which restricted access to many areas of Europe The Conqueror showcased a running length of 38 feet and width of 13 feet with a height to the turret top being 10 feet, 5 inches. Crew accommodations amounted to four personnel that included the driver (in the front-right hull), commander, gunner and loader (the remaining three crew in the turret). Armor protection was approximately 180mm thick along critical facings such as the turret front. Suspension was handled by a Horstmann type arrangement which gave the Conqueror strong cross-country performance despite its size and weight.

With the vision of a universal family of vehicles going unfulfilled, the Conqueror initiative managed to produced just one notable variant, this becoming the FV 222 Conqueror Armored Recovery Vehicle (sans turret with a revised, elevated hull superstructure). The Conqueror would not see the production successes of its Centurion MBT counterpart, nor the upcoming Chieftain MBT for that matter, but it would nevertheless find a footnote in the history of British armored warfare.

The last Conquerors were withdrawn in 1966 and, by this time, the Centurion MBT had evolved from its modest 17-pounder main gun origins (Mk I) to the more effective 105mm L7 system, nullifying any advantages in armor penetration that resided in the Conqueror's main weapon.

One complete Conqueror example resides in the Bovington Tank Museum collection in England, birthplace of the combat tank.

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Specifications for the
FV214 Conqueror
Heavy Tank


Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: Royal Ordnance Factory - UK
Initial Year of Service: 1955
Production: 185


Focus Model: FV214 Conqueror
Crew: 4


Overall Length: 37.99ft (11.58m)
Width: 13.09ft (3.99m)
Height: 10.99ft (3.35m)
Weight: 71.7 US Short Tons (65,000kg; 143,300lbs)


Powerplant: 1 x Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 engine developing 810 horsepower.


Maximum Speed: 21mph (34 km/h)
Maximum Range: 96 miles (155 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None


Armament:
1 x 120mm L1 rifled main gun
1 x 7.62mm co-axial machine gun
1 x 7.62mm machine gun (turret roof/commander's cupola)


Ammunition:
35 x 120mm projectiles
2,500 x 7.62mm ammunition


Variants:
FV 214 Conqueror - Base Series Designation


Tank, Heavy No.1, 120mm Gun, Conqueror - Formal Designation.

FV 214 Conqueror Mk I - Initial production model; 20 examples produced.

FV 214 Conqueror Mk II - Revised Variant; 165 examples produced.

FV 215b - Proposed Heavy Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun based on the FV200 chassis; never produced.

FV 222 Conqueror ARV - Armored Recovery Vehicle

FV 222 Conqueror ARV Mk I - Armored Recovery Vehicle based on the FV 200 chassis; 8 examples produced.

FV 222 Conqueror ARV Mk II - Revised ARV form; 20 examples produced.


Operators:
United Kingdom