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The Centurion Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mark 1 on display in the RAAC Tank Museum. The slab sided superstructure for the winch and engine, along with the early top-loading stowage bins on the trackguards are shown in this view. (ARV115.jpg)


by Paul D. Handel



Still in existence today at the RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum at Puckapunyal in Victoria, is probably the world’s sole surviving intact Centurion Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mark 1. This vehicle saw service with three armies, and a short history and some photos are presented here to chronicle the vehicle’s history.

Origins of the Centurion ARV Mark 1

Although the design of a purpose built ARV on the Centurion chassis began in 1951, the events in Korea where Centurions were first committed to combat with the British Army forced the introduction of a stop – gap machine. The Churchill ARV Mark 2 was introduced at the end of the Second World War and was just managing to support the new and heavier Centurion family. Some Centurion Tugs, tanks without their turrets, were used in Korea , but a winch capable ARV on the Centurion chassis was needed urgently, and so the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers’ (REME) 13 Command Workshop at Aldershot set about the task.

Using existing Mark 1 and 2 Centurion hulls, a superstructure was built over the turret ring, inside which was a winch rated at 18 tons capacity. The winch could not utilize a power take – off from the main engine and was driven by a separate Bedford six cylinder petrol engine from the famous Bedford QL truck, which was still in front line service at the time with British units. An anchor spade was fitted at the rear, the design of which was based on the spade fitted to the Churchill ARV Mark 2. A cupola for the vehicle commander and a crew hatch were mounted in the roof, as were two hatches for accessing the winch and winch engine.

Production commenced at the 13 Command Workshop in 1951, and the vehicle was designated Centurion Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mark 1. The first eight vehicles were quickly despatched to Korea in 1952, where they were put to immediate use by the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards REME Detachment and the supporting workshops. Further vehicles were built by REME Workshops until 1957, by which time 180 examples had been built.

This Vehicle

This ARV appears to have been built on a Centurion Mark 2 hull, originally given the WD Number T 351 718. It entered service with the wartime number converted to 03 ZR 66, and was allocated to the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). It served in BAOR until January 1964 when it was sold to the New Zealand Government.

The Centurion ARV served at the Waiouru Camp with the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in support of their 11 Centurion gun tanks. It was allocated the NZ Registration number NZ 31073.

In August 1968, the New Zealand Government advised the Australian Government that it was willing to transfer items of Centurion equipment to Australia. As Australia was at that time heavily involoved in South Vietnam and earlier that year had committed a Tank Squadron to the conflict, the offer was given serious consideration. An Australian team visited New Zealand in October 1968 to inspect the vehicles, and it was decided to take four vehicles and a quantity of spares. The vehicles were three Mark 5 gun tanks and the one Armoured Recovery vehicle Mark 1. Unlike the gun tanks, the ARV had been in undercover storage and was in running condition. It had covered 1492 track miles since being rebuilt and the winch had only completed an estimated 50 hours work. It was priced at $NZ 2600 – yes, two thousand six hundred dollars.


The ARV Mark 1 in New Zealand being towed by a Centurion Mark 5 gun tank. The engine deck is covered with a tarpaulin. (Photo courtesy Jeff Plowman) (ARV113.jpg)

Arrangements were completed and the tanks were shipped to Melbourne by LSM arriving in January 1969. With a critical shortage of Centurion ARV Mark 2s – only were six held in the Australian Inventory – it was decided to issue the vehicle to the Armoured Centre at Puckapunyal in order to free up an ARV for training the next Squadron group for rotation to South Vietnam. Being an “orphan” did not matter so much in that case, and the ARV was pressed into service with the Armoured Centre Light Aid Detachment (LAD).

Numerous problems existed during its Australian service, particularly with the anchor spade and the draw bar connection. The pitching between the ARV and a casualty when being towed, particularly during turning and reversing, caused bending and breaking of the pivot pin draw bar. Also, the connector for the draw bar had to be removed to allow the spade to be lowered. An investigation was carried out into the possible remedies, and two solutions were proposed – to replace the entire anchor spade assembly with that fitted to an ARV Mark 2 or to modify the existing spade and fit a Mark 2 towing attachment.

In any case, nothing was done to modify the vehicle as the Centurion fleet was nearing the end of its service life, and the ARV Mark 1 was returned to 31 Supply Battalion at Bandiana in 1975. From there it was moved into the then RAAOC Museum at Bandiana, from where it was sent on long term loan to the RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum at Puckapunyal.


The author acknowledges the assistance of Mr Brian Baxter, the UK’s foremost authority on recovery vehicles in providing photos of Centurion ARVs Mark 1, and Mr Jeff Plowman for the supply of the photos of the vehicle during its service in New Zealand.




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All photos are by the author unless noted otherwise.

A Centurion Armoured Recovery vehicle Mark 1 in service with the British Army. (Photo courtesy Brian Baxter) (ARV111.jpg)
The Centurion ARV Mark 1 in New Zealand service. The NZ registration number is painted on the glacis plate. Note the full front mudguards fitted, and the driver’s windscreen is fitted but folded down. (Photo courtesy Jeff Plowman) ( ARV112.jpg)
In trouble at Waiouru. The ARV slipped after the road gave way and is now on its side and in need of recovery. (Photo courtesy Jeff Plowman) (ARV114.jpg)
The ARV Mark 1 at the Armoured Centre LAD in December 1974. The engine deck is raised as the vehicle undergoes servicing. (ARV106.jpg)
The left side of the vehicle at the Armoured Centre showing the callsign 38A in white. The early style trackguard bins are visible. (ARV105.jpg)
The arrangement of the rear deck, showing the early style louvres, the fairlead assembly for paying out the winch rope and the stowage for the drawbar sections (ARV103.jpg)
The ARV, covered in soldiers, being used as an observation platform on the range. An Australian Centurion Mark 5 is next to the ARV. (ARV104jpg)
The ARV Mark 1 after being returned to Bandiana in 1975. The only visible markings are the vehicle number 169123 in white on black. (ARV107.jpg)
The left rear of the vehicle showing the anchor spade in the raised position. The fairlead assembly is at the extreme rear of the deck. (ARV108.jpg)
The right rear of the vehicle sitting between two Centurion gun tanks. The auxiliary towing cables are still stored on the rear deck. (ARV109.jpg)
The roof of the vehicle from the right side. The commander’s cupola is on the right rear of the superstructure and the two access hatches for the winch and winch engine are at the front. (ARV110.jpg)

Article Text and Photographs Copyright © 2002 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 25 June, 2002
Last Updated 26 June, 2002

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