(Ver 1)


I recieved a phone call from Tim and he asked what I knew about Chieftain tanks. I told him what I knew which wasn't a great deal, electronically operated transmission driven by a centrifugal clutch. A Leyland horizontally opposed diesel that is supposed to be a multi fuel but didn't quite work out. He then asked, "What are you doing Friday?" I replied nothing at this stage and Tim said that he had 2 Cheiftains arriving by ship at Appleton Docks. One caught fire when it was driven onto the ship. I asked if that was the one that was loaded on first. Tim didn't know but hoped that it was. I asked what had caught fire. It was the gearbox.

Having thought about this for a while over the few days leading up to Friday, I would have to suspect that flat batteries or rather completely dead batteries may have caused the transmission to draw too much current, more than could be supplied and hence over heat catching fire.

I arrived at the docks and Tim arrived shortly afterwards. It was about 10am. Tim handed me a book and said to have a read of it whilst I waited. It would be a long wait. The book was the Chieftain operators manual so I began studying this confusing piece of work. There were no sketches of the drivers compartment or controls, just certain components although this gave no indication of where these components were located in the driving compartment. Tim had obviously called on me for my experience as I was RAEME with Armoured Corps at the time. I read on further and sought how this vehicle might be moved and it does have emergency gears, a single speed forward and backwards. O.K. so we should be pretty safe to get it out under its own power.

The wait continued and I would pick up the book, read a bit and then put it down and contemplate. The shp did not dock until around 3:30pm. We headed into the ships hold amoungst all the other military vehicles they had brought in. It was interesting to see a forklift just drive in and pick up a Saracen on a Pallet and just drive out like it was a pallet of Cornflakes being moved at the Supermarket.

This is the one that caught fire in UK.

Anyway it was time for me to do my job and I sat in the drivers seat. The first thing I noticed was the comfort of the seat and the very roomy drivers compartment. Everything was laid out beautifully and within easy reach. The right steering lever even had a bend at the grip to bring it closer to the driver and felt rather comfortable, a shame they did not do this with the left one although it was located closer. The sparse instrument panel was laid out directly in front of me and nearly went the width of the compartment. Remember a Chieftain driver sits in the centre of the hull. Tim started reading the book out to me although I was always a step ahead. I asked if he wanted me to hydraulic start but he decided we would try the main engine strarter motor first. Not a thing happened. As I previously expected,dead batteries. I hoped the auxillary engine would start. It did and I then switched it off and engaged the main engine starting dog located near my left leg. The throttle control and emergency gears were to my right near my leg. Engaging the starting dog I started the Aux. Engine again and eased the revs up to full for main engine starting. You pul on a lever by the left leg that is conected to a master cylinder. Set the appropriate switches on the main engine control box hold the hydraulic lever for 20 seconds and you hear the main engine cranking over, flick the last switch on and she roars into life as you release the hydraulic lever and then idle down the Aux. engine and swiftly disengage the hydraulic start dog clutch. I Idled the aux. engine only down to charge as it had more output than the main engine generator which obviously back in England, could not keep up with the demands of the gearbox.

As much as the batteries were dead this starting system impressed me as it only required from memory about 6 or 9 volts in total to start out of a 24 volt system. I had informed Tim that I believed that the trouble was with the batteries, did he want me to try the ordinary gears. Hey it wasn't my tank or my expense to fix it so I engaged Emergency reverse and was guided down the ramp onto the docks.

I was backed into an area and the low loader was backed in to the front of the Chieftain.

Mike Cecil and Tim Vibert guiding me back. Doesn't my head look tiny near Mike's shoulder!!

There were no ramps so to help, railway sleepers were laid between the trailer and the tank. In emergency forward gear i was guided up and just before going over the point of balance with my foot flat out on the accelerator pedal, she stalled.

The first attempt.

Stall point just before going over balance point.

Well I pushed on that brake pedal but the hand brake is like a winch and has to be pumped up. Easy to release, harder to apply. On release it lets all the chain go in a hurry so there is what felt like 10 feet of slack to wind on before the parking brake started to apply. I restarted and reversed off. I had about 4 attempts at this and again asked Tim if I could use the normal gearing. He said he'd rather I didn't. I didn't. I did get it on, here's how and don't try this at hoome kiddies!!

The truck driver was guiding me on. I called him over and said, line me up and direct me back exactly in line about 40 to 50 feet, then get off the truck and keep everyone well out of the way. No worries he says. He backs me back until I say that'll do. I wave at him to get off the trailer and the truck. He waves me to approach. Still in emergency forward gear I floor the beast from a standing start and build up SPEED. The truckie jumped for cover. The front tracks hit the back of the trailer square on, the front of the trailer went up in the air and the back wheels of the prime mover that it was attached to left the ground by 3 feet. I felt her going up. I shut my eyes, if I wasn't lined up properly I was going over the side!! She went over the point of balance, I opened my eyes and I backed off and stabbed on the brake pedal. I think that there was a sigh of relief all round and they knew that there was no stopping me once I had started. There was no way I was going to tell Tim what I had planned or he would have had a coronary!! I got it up there safe and sound.

I sat there and then the truck was moved into position so that I could back straight onto the other trailer which was slightly higher. It did this with no problem. The vehicle was shut down. It was now coming late in the day and I had one more tank to load. This one was in Urban Cam. It started with no problem and I was guided in reverse out of the ship. I went to put the foot down to pick up speed and the main engine spluttered and coughed to a point of nearly stalling. Oh no, it would only operate just above idle!!! I was lined up to the trailer and could see how badly I had bent the back ofit loading the first one, oops! I approached and gingerly accelerated and really had to feel it. As load increased I was able to give it a little more fuel at a constant speed and over the balance point she went.


After high speed launch, note the bends now on each side of the trailer and the amount of room to stop in. No room for error at the speed I had to do it.

Tim was very relived, the stress of having purchased these 2 and the worry of getting them on the trailers was a real concern. As a team we got the job done with no real drama's. Mind you my adrenalin was rushing loading the first one at speed I can tell you. By the time we locked the vehicles it was dark and around 7pm

Many thanks to Mike Cecil for taking and supplying the photo's, also there giving a hand as well as Tims partner, Colin I think his name is.

The events above make me the first person to drive a Chieftain on Australian soil.

My thanks yet again to Alex.


  sig - logo