The Challenger 1’s service career started out with much publicity. Some readers will certainly agree that the Conservative government of the day ended up believing their own publicity, and this resulted in the Challenger’s capabilities being overestimated just in time for the CAT87.
The three years that followed CAT87 saw the Challenger under a dark cloud, and comprised a period when Britain’s MBT was underestimated as an effective weapon system. It was not until early 1991 that the record was set straight about the Challenger 1. It was (by reason of its fire control system) not quite the super tank it could have been, but it was by sheer virtue of its firepower and protection, still one of the world’s best in its day. Crewed by dedicated professionals, this was not proven in the artificial arena of gunnery competitions, but in the harsher world of the real battlefield.
Faith was restored in the Challenger 1 by Operation Granby, and the type served the Royal Armoured Corps for nearly another decade (often in harm’s way) before being replaced by the Challenger 2. The Challenger 1 still serves the Jordanian armed forces as the Al Hussein and it will serve for years to come. In Volume 2 of Robert Griffin’s Challenger 1 story from Kagero Publishing, the story is set out with a fine selection of photographs, many being from the collections of people who were there. The story of the CRARRV recovery vehicle is also included, along with a fine selection of colour plates showing the Challenger 1 gun tank’s storied and continuing career.
The Challenger Enters Service
In 1985 the British Army had its new tank into service, although initially only 4 regiments would be equipped and the rest soldiered on with late model Chieftains. Although Challenger 1 was not perfect and still had faults, it was far better than the Chieftain especially in terms of protection and mobility. The Challenger was accepted with some acclaim in the press too, for naturally it was seen as a job saver for ROF Leeds’ large workforce and also as a natural successor to the already potently armed Chieftain. The optimism the new tank was accepted with was short-sighted because it had one large failing that would limit the Challenger in many eyes to mediocrity amongst its shining peers, the M1 and Leopard 2.
Like Chieftain before it, Challenger 1 was of interest to the armies of many nations, but sadly the expected sales did not ensue. It may be said that Royal Ordnance PLC and Vickers in years afterwards, were poor tank salesmen. One nation with an interest in the Challenger at the time of its introduction was Egypt, and as a result of a meeting held in the United Kingdom between Lieutenant-General El Orabi (the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces) and the British Ministry of Defence, it was agreed that Challenger 1 should be put through a series of trials for the Egyptian Armoured Corps,as requested by the Egyptians. The trials were to take place early in the United Kingdom in December 1985, after the type had been in regimental service in the Royal Armoured corps for nearly 18 months.
The trial would consist of three phases:
Phase 1: Automotive and Maintenance phase at R.A.C. Centre Bovington.
Phase 2: Gunnery Phase- R.A.C. Ranges Kirkcudbright.
Phase 3: Automotive Running and Obstacle Crossing Phase-Catterick Garrison.
The automotive phase at Bovington was marred by heavy rainfall, making the cross country course heavy with mud and large puddles, so the trial committee agreed that the trial should be a 50/50 split between cross country and road operation. Due to the conditions on the cross country track the actual split ended up as a 37/63 split; but this portion of the trial was deemed a success with the Challenger performing as per the trial requirements, and only normal operational maintenance tasks were required to keep the tank operational. While the automotive trial was running, the members of the Egyptian military delegation were given constant updates and briefings as to what was going on.