Cold War, Experimental, United Kingdom

FV4202 – The Tank that Led to Chieftain

So today’s topic is going to cover the FV4202 tank built by Leyland Motors between 1955 and 1956. Made famous by World of Tanks, this tank is quite misunderstood. It was a technology test bed, to explore new ideas and concepts for the proposed next British tank, the Chieftain, which was then simply known as the Medium Gun Tank.

As a result the FV4202 was never a true tank, nor was it ever meant to be one, instead being custom-made from some new parts along with leftovers, a sort of bubble and squeak vehicle, simply as a means to test ideas for other tanks.

So lets take a look at the story that leads to the FV4202, and some of features that helped in the Chieftain’s designs process.


Britain Needs a New Tank

The story that leads to the FV4202 begins at the end of the Second World War, when Britain began looking for a new vehicle to become its mainstay. It had three vehicles to choose from: the Comet, which while a good wartime vehicle, showed its age and lineage fairly quickly post-war, particularly when compared to Soviet and American advances.

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Next was the Centurion, which, ironically, the government initially didn’t want but would go on to become one of the most successful tanks ever made.

Centurion Pilot 1.
The Centurion was first armed with the 17-pounder. This was then replaced by the 84 mm 20-pounder on the Mk 3 variant.

Finally was the A45 and later FV201 universal tank, which ended up in limited numbers as the Conqueror.

It might be surprising then, that they also wanted a new medium tank by the 1950s, even though Centurion was proving more than capable. This was partly due to the older memos and papers suggesting it would be phased out, and the failings of FV201 left them in a fluster.

In addition, they were preoccupied with the IS-3 and would remain so for years, with an obsession on defeating that and not focusing on the real threat which was the T-54 series, which the Soviets were busy spamming out in the thousands.

FV201 prototype. The FV201 began development in 1944, but was cancelled in 1949. The hull design was then to be used as the basis for the FV214 Conqueror, but as the Conqueror’s turret wasn’t ready, a Centurion turret was used instead. That vehicle was the FV221 Caernarvon.

However, the UK felt that the Centurion would need to be up-gunned and armoured to be more viable in the future but at the time didn’t have the capability to do so.

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This was later compounded in 1956 when, during the Hungarian Revolution, a captured T-54 (or T-55A, sources vary) was driven into the British embassy, leaving it open to evaluation for a day – although it could not be accessed or cut into. Overinflated reports on its armour called the 20-pounder guns’ capability into question, putting the final nail into the FV201 gun tank.

The Beginning of Chieftain

Medium Gun Tank, the project that would eventually lead to the Chieftain, had begun as far back as 1951 and had taken some time to formulate. It is sometimes referred to as Medium Gun Tank No. 2, one of several schemes laid, and later referred to as Gun Tank No 2.

Early ideas for it went to paper in 1952; these were an odd collection of designs that covered a wide range of vehicles. Some of these early vehicles also had a cleft turret proposed. A cleft turret, also known as a bifurcated turret, is where the turret is built up to the left and right of the gun, which is mounted in between the two sections. This approach can allow a larger gun than average to be fitted.

A famous example of this type of turret can be seen on the US T92 light tank.

FV4201 Chieftain cleft turret blueprint.
Early concepts of the Chieftain had a cleft turret, shown here. Note the gun, which divides the turret into two.

These vehicles, as per the original specs requested, would need to weigh no more than 45 tons, so drastic new ideas had to be considered.

Both the Medium Gun Tank and a modified Centurion were drawn up on the 9th of January 1952. The Centurion one was based on a Centurion Mk 3 according to notes from an FVRDE research group – this system would test a prototype 20-pounder liquid propellant gun, which still survives at Shrivenham.

No images have been found of this vehicle, but it was finally used up on gun ranges to test how the interior survived when being stuck.

The cleft turreted Medium Gun Tank would stay more or less at a drawing stage, while a wooden model of a tank with a pike-nosed design named Medium Gun Tank Number 2 was made.

New Ideas

Other considerations for the future gun tanks were also discussed. FVRDE had established some of these key points: the new vehicle would need an internal gun mantlet rather than an external one, as well as a reclined drivers position which would lower the height of the vehicle. Again, these ideas were tested on various modified Centurion parts first.

The next stage was the choice of what gun to use. The idea of Liquid Propellant guns had been dropped as they could not get consistent mixes and results, although the idea remains of interest even today. More concessional guns ranged in caliber from 105 mm to 130 mm, and were of either bagged charge, separate or solid-cased rounds with their pros and cons. Each was calculated for APDS, HESH, and APCBC rounds.

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While all this was being considered, in 1954 work had begun on establishing whether the Medium Gun Tank No. 2 could be fitted with a 120 mm gun, with a Breech loaded Quick Firing gun, as seen in FVRDE report PC23.

This involved a 120 mm with a bag charge and with a sliding block breech mechanism with ring obturation, an idea snaffled from the Germans. This was because the predicted 120 mm solid rounds would be too large to stow in the sleek turret and would thus take up space in the hull increasing the volume of the vehicle if enough ammunition was to be carried.

To test this idea the weapon and other features would be based on a modified 20 -pounder and used on a new testbed designed by Leyland, the FV4202.

The FV4202

Leyland, who had won the contract to make the new Medium Gun Tank, now referred to as FV4201 (Chieftain), set to work building a series of test beds. With the painful memory of wartime experiences of building stuff too quickly without adequate testing still strong, each idea would be extensively reviewed and considered.

The FV4202 was created for this purpose.

FV4202 top.
Leyland’s FV4202. Note the internal gun mantlet, a style that would later appear on Chieftain.

Leyland built three hulls. These were made out of separate parts, with each part being recorded by weight and size and catalogued in a manual.

Most of these parts were custom-made out of unarmoured steel. Leftovers from Centurion tanks were thrown in, such as the wheels, of which there are 5 pairs on either side. The original tracks were also from an early Centurion.

The gun used was a 20pdr, with the unique feature of being a bagged charge variety rather than the fixed shot version in service. The working parts of the hull used many Centurion automotive features as those were what was lying around at the time.

FV4202 and Centurion tanks.
The FV4202 (right) next to a Centurion (left). The FV4202 used many Centurion parts as they were easy to acquire.

The idea was just to see if a crewman could be placed in a reclined driving position, as the vehicle was never to be placed into service the idea of creating a whole new set up was pointless – it was done to measure volume more than anything.

The turret itself was cast out of unarmoured steel to a suitable thickness of that proposed for FV4201 – this was again to account for weight but also the volume of material to see if such aspects were viable.

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The engine for the FV4202 was a Rolls Royce Meteorite, which was rated in this instance at 520 bhp at 2700 rpm, linked to a V52 gearbox giving about 12.4 hp per ton, enough to trundle about and test various features.

Rolls-Royce Meteorite V8 engine.
The FV4202 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteorite. This engine was a V8 version of the V12 Meteor, displacing 18 litres.

Despite being referred to as the 40-ton Centurion online, the name does not crop up in any original official documents, just FV4202. The vehicle weighs 40.8 tons fully laden, 5 tons less than the proposed FV4201 as planned would have weighed.

The three hulls were used in testing various ideas, and then the information from that went back into the Chieftain’s development.

After this they were pretty much dumped. One went to Bovington and remained in relatively good condition, another went to REME where it ended up on their range stuck in mud for towing exercises.

FV4202 in the Vehicle Conservation Centre.
The FV4202 as it sits today in the Vehicle Conservation Centre at The Tank Museum. Image geni CC BY-SA 4.0.

The 3rd is more of a mystery.

Two stories crop up. The first is it was converted to an ARV by REME and is at Bordon museum – this isn’t true, and the current museum had said as much. They have a Centurion conversion among others, but not this.

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The second story is that it went to Israel, however, after speaking to several sources who are very familiar with the collection, they have stated that this is not true either, so where it went is a bit of a mystery.