Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank, vol. II

One innovation arising from the run up to CAT 87 that proved successful (and has carried over to Challenger 2 ) was the fitting of the “Chase Modification”; this was invented by S/Sgt Charlie Chase of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, and was simplicity in itself. Chase modified the breech closing mechanism to work so that when the loader completed his last part of loading (pulling the breech safety guard to the rear) this closed the breech. Prior to this the loader would have to close the breech using the breech closing lever after engaging the safety guard. The new method was faster and worked very well, but it would take vision devices of the order initially envisioned for MBT 80 to have rectified the weaknesses exposed in the Challenger’s fire control system by CAT 87.
The sensationalist British press of course had field day, as did the armchair experts in the defence press. The author can recall being in the RAC Centre just after the CAT87 shoot and listening to people saying “never mind politics, let’s just buy the Abrams”, but these were not ordinary soldiers voicing this opinion. Sales of the Challenger were doomed from the end of CAT 87 and the government were quickly forced to reappraise the domestic MBT program. In the RAC however life had to go on, the Challenger was still new and deliveries continued: 1985 had seen the 16 remaining Royal Ordnance Factories privatised into Royal Ordnance PLC, from whom Vickers purchased ROF Leeds in 1986. Vickers were still committed to existing contracts, so purchasing a new tank from a UK supplier was not an option in the 1987-88 timeframe (and buying abroad was not an option considered politically acceptable). While the Ministry of Defence saw the need to replace the Challenger as well as the Chieftain in the long term, it would have to bide its time and make use of the Challenger.


 It seems like the crew of this Challenger have followed in the footsteps of aircraft crews (and some of the US Shermans from the Korea War era] in decorating the bow armour with large fearsome teeth. [DL]

During the 1985-87 period the RAC had to soldier on with two very different tanks, which did not save money as hoped, but actually increased spending because the logistics were complicated by having to maintain two different sets of spares in the supply chain. Eventually in 1988 the government had to concede that a new MBT to replace the rest of the Chieftain fleet was required, and a competition was set up using versions of M1 Abrams, Leopard 2, a new Vickers project tentatively named Challenger 2 and later the French Leclerc, to see which would satisfy the new General Staff Requirement 4026 Chieftain Replacement Program. While the Leopard 2 and M1A1 were both trialled for the requirement the political intent was to keep the new MBT British.
On the 20 December 1988 at 15:32 the then Secretary of State for Defence made the following announcement “After the most careful consideration I have decided to give Vickers Defence Systems an opportunity to demonstrate that it is able to deliver Challenger 2 to specification, to time and cost. Subject to satisfactory contract terms the government will fund a development phase which will last until September 1990 when the final decision will be made. While this was good news for Vickers the Americans and Germans felt they had been cheated (Leclerc was never a serious contender, not because it was a poor tank but simply because its crew of 3 men was not to UK requirements). While the Challenger 2 held great promise the intended fleet would be a mix of both Challengers 1 and Challenger 2, again a bit of a fudge. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989 very quickly put the Challenger 1’s future in doubt and caused a reappraisal of how many tanks were needed in BAOR in short order.

By 2012, the Al-Hussein had served its first 10 years in Jordan and has proven to be a reliable weapon system capable of considerable upgrading should funding become available. The modernization of the Al-Hussein fleet may be conducted with South African cooperation in future, as both Jordan and South Africa have agreed to a shared military technology arrangement, starting with the program codenamed MERLIN.  Jordan has hosted a number of large exercises with U.S. and British participation in recent years, including exercise Eager Lion 2011 and 2012. The Al-Hussein pictured carries markings seen at the 2012 exercise, including the gun barrel partly wrapped in red cloth or plastic for the exercise. [Painted by Sławomir Zajączkowski]


Operation Granby
World events were again about to step in and alter many things because in August 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and as part of the international effort to remove him the UK initially deployed 7th Armoured Brigade (initially under US command) then deployed the entire 1st UK Armoured Division (comprised of the 7th Armoured Brigade and the 4th Mechanized Brigade, which arrived in December 1990 in-theatre) to the Persian Gulf. The Operation Granby deployment would eventually number 43,000 men in the largest army deployment since the Second World War. Much like the Falklands Campaign of 1982, it showed up errors and weaknesses in British operational capabilities. Two of 7th Armoured Brigade’s Armoured Regiments (The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and The Queens Royal Irish Hussars), both equipped with Challenger 1, were dispatched to Saudi Arabia in September 1990 while the coalition assembled.

Call Sign 10, A Squadron King’s Royal Hussars Challenger 1 Mk.3, NATO SFOR, Bosnia 1997: The King’s Royal Hussars was formed in 1992 as an amalgamation of The Royal Hussars and the 14/20th Hussars as the British Army was reduced in size under Options for Change. The KRH deployed to Bosnia from June to December 1997 and again from June to December 1999 as part of SFOR. The tank depicted wears a mixture of repainted and original Operation Granby scheme supplementary armour, which was typical for the period. The KRH regimental crest over a maroon-yellow-maroon background was worn on the TOGS barbette door and the crew have secured their bedrolls to the large wire mesh cage fixed to the turret side. [Painted by Sławomir Zajączkowski]

The 7th Armoured Brigade deployed both the QRIH and SCOTS DG as reinforced regiments with 57 Challenger 1s each supplemented with a full 14 tank squadron attached from the 17/21st Lancers and with a reinforcement pool of 43 more Challenger 1s drawn from The Life Guards available to replace any battle casualties. The infantry component was provided by the 1st Battalion The Staffordshire Regiment in 45 Warrior Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicles. The 4th Mechanized Brigade included the 14/20th Hussars with 57 Challenger 1s reinforced with a full squadron of The Life Guards with an additional 14 Challenger 1s. These tanks were deployed in battle groups with the 1st Battalion Royal Scots and 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers each with 45 Warrior Mechanized Infantry Fighting Vehicles. […]

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