After World War 2 (1939-1945), Germany was divided into an East and West half by the victorious powers, the east controlled by the communist Soviet Union and the West under the influence of Britain and its allies. The divided nation provided what many believed would become the focal point of a Third World War in Europe and this prompted military development and production to keep pace with the running threat. For the British, further development into capable armored tracked vehicles produced the "Centurion" - essentially the world's first Main Battle Tank (MBT) - which combining armor protection, mobility and firepower to counter the threat now posed by Soviet armor.
Despite the arrival of the Centurion, British authorities came to the realization that the tank would not be made available in the numbers required for the short term and this spurred a plan to produce an interim Tank Destroyer (TD) which could be used to close the gap while awaiting the expected stock of Centurions. The Cromwell Cruiser Tank, born in the later fighting of World War 2, existed in large numbers (some 4,016 were produced) and it seemed this chassis would serve a new TD design well. To this would be added the capable Ordnance QF 20-pounder (83.4mm) main gun with close-in defense provided by a coaxially-mounted 0.30 caliber machine gun.
However, the existing Cromwell turret presented a design challenge when mounting the more powerful weapon. An all-new turret design was ordered and this design had its armor protection reduced to help save weight - something of a fatal design flaw for a vehicle charged with countering enemy armor directly. Nevertheless, the need for a new TD remained and the "Charioteer" was born - known formally as the "FV4101 Cromwell Heavy AT Gun" - to which the concern of Robinson & Kershaw Ltd applied the conversion to existing Cromwell tanks. The vehicles were modified at a Dukinfield, Cheshire facility which ultimately produced 442 Charioteer vehicles.
All told, the Cromwell origins were clearly identified in the finalized Charioteer. There stood five double-tired road wheels to a hull side (through a conventional track-and-wheel arrangement) with the drive sprocket at rear and track idler at front (no return rollers were featured). The powerpack sat at the rear of the hull for maximum survivability with the crew of four manning positions in the middle-front sections of the vehicle. The Charioteer featured a maximum road speed of 32 miles per hour (in ideal conditions) while suspension was through an improved Christie arrangement. Twelve smoke grenade dischargers (two banks of six, one to either turret side) were featured for self-screening measures.
The Charioteer was fielded with the Territorial Army Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps of the British Army but only relatively briefly - indeed the service life of the vehicle spanned from 1951 to 1958 before being given up for good. Some examples were sold off to interested buyers in Austria, Finland, Jordan and Lebanon and these saw use well into the 1970s before being officially removed from their respective services. Some saw combat service in the 1978 South Lebanon War (March 1978) and the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).
A handful of examples remain as museum showpieces including a well-preserved specimen (in Jordanian colors) at Bovington Tank Museum, UK.
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