DOUG'S 'HEAVY METAL' GALLERY

 

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A Centurion saved

The Recovery of an Old Tank, - by Richard Notton.

Introduction

Unbeknown to me this slightly unusual Mk8 - hull 20 Centurion had been quietly gathering lichen not more than one mile from home and was well hidden under an oak tree behind some earth banks. It only came to light when the farm owner where it stood sold a complete Grizzly that was parked nearby and I went to see the removal of this tank. Nothing more was thought of it until some months after the Grizzly went I noticed the farm was up for sale and thought my friend might like to buy it and the farm vendors might like it out of the way as buyers don't usually want 52 tons of armour to shift; it proved to be the case.

Pictures 1 & 2

It was obvious that a mobile crane could not access or operate in the area as had been done with the Grizzly and we learnt that mobile crane ratings are not what they seem, generally you need to double the rating to get a useful lift as the maximum ratings only apply to loads within the boundaries of the out-riggers. A 120 ton unit in England is thousands just to get on site, then the clock starts to run. It would have to be driven under its own power being encompassed by a high bank on two sides and a haystack on the other; a neutral turn would be needed to gain access to the only concrete area accessible by a suitable heavy truck and trailer.

On the upside the vehicle had been parked under its own power some 8 years ago, had little rust in the stowage bins, low mileage on the clocks with good track and wheels. The secondary armament was missing and the hatches had rusted shut which had kept the local vandals out, many years of dried oak leaves were inside however and we wondered what nuclear cloud like explosion of these would be forthcoming when the engine finally started and the fans got a grip.

The turret was hand cranked to move the gun barrel from the engine decks and work started to free the controls and change the magnetos with a temporary lash-up of a petrol supply, as many plugs as could be reached were also changed. This isn't easy and the substantial adjusting tool can be seen laying on the "Merlin" known as a Meteor and actually built by The Rover Car Company.

cent 12 pic

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Pictures 3 & 4

With the insertion of a couple of 1000Ah batteries the engine was turned to lift some fuel but nothing more than a few desultory half-hearted puffs of stale petrol smoke came from the pipes, the drag of the gearbox was a problem and it became quickly apparent that the multiplate clutch was well and truly stuck, this meant a clutch change and so assistance from my crane fitted FV 623 (Stalwart amphibious truck, popularly known as a "Stolly") was needed which could also use the mil standard inter-vehicle lead to supply some much needed battery charge after all the cranking. We were hoping that depressing the clutch would allow slightly faster cranking and in any event it had to work for the Cent to be shifted.

Some days had passed now with nothing more encouraging than some puffs of smoke and a couple of quite impressive back-fires, the prospective owner and his engineer went off to the north again to obtain a new clutch and another left-hand mag as this was suspect. We gathered again after a week with the Stolly close up to the rear and the inter-veh lead plugged in then set about checking the essential and usually iffy-if-old boost coil arrangement and its trembler system vital to get cranking speed sparks as the mags are rotating too slowly to operate.

It rained of course but the gearbox came out surprisingly easily needing only the input, output couplings removed together with the brake and gear change links. Should you ever try this on a Cent the clutch casing must be packed up on the hull floor as its now cantilevered weight without the gearbox input flange supporting it will usually break the engine casing. The gearbox is only held with four big bolts and has a handy lifting eye, within a couple of hours it was residing in the back of the Stolly.

cent 34 pic

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Pictures 5 & 6

From here the clutch was easily removed there being a fair bit of room in the transmission space albeit the filthiest place imaginable; the new unit was uncrated and slung in with a bit of fiddling to be followed by the gearbox again. It was depressing to find the new unit was stuck also so we took a flyer and unbolted the outer casing to allow for prying the plates apart.

Now with a free clutch, some Stolly amps and an operating boost system another protracted attempt was made with some definite chuffs from both banks but not enough to catch and it was found that both the chokes and accelerator pumps were stuck and inoperative, the pump linkage we freed but the choke remained a tapping job with a hammer. There would appear to have been some manifold air leaks and the drains were not connected or leaking so some spectacular backfires, manifold fires and fires in the V were generated, all unphotographed as I was too busy running around with extinguishers and buckets of water. Finally by injecting accelerator pump fuel and applying the choke fully more and more cylinders started to catch on the boost coil and then the starter aided revs built up to where the mags kicked in on time and the 27 litres of Meteor purred into disappointingly quiet life with a goodly guff of oily smoke, the huge silencers on both sides serving each bank of the V 12 do an excellent job of negating the Hurricane/Spitfire impression.

cent 56 pic

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Pictures 7 & 8

From here it was a relatively simple matter of reversing its own length and slewing round, generating an instant ploughed field, to line it up for loading, the Meteor wasn't still entirely happy with the manifold leaks and possibly blocked jets but with the choke kept on a bit it ran well enough to load with only an occasional hiccup. Priming the carbs, running it up and moving all of 30 yards used virtually 4 galls of fuel, I have a reference here that says in the Jungles of Vietnam under Australian command their Cents actually managed to guzzle 15 gallons to the mile.

cent 78 pic

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Pictures 9 & 10

The Centurion was one of the most successful and long-lived MBT's of all time being sold to many nations world-wide and performing excellently in Korea, the middle east and far east under battle conditions, it proved to be more than a match for the usual Soviet adversaries both in protection and fire power, only the prodigious thirst and insufficient fuel load continued to be its drawback.

cent 910 pic

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My thanks to Richard for the photo's and story.


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