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Farewell to the Centurion
From Australian Service

by Paul D. Handel

 

The Commanding Officer, LT COL P.C. Jarratt in tank No 169074, passes the saluting base. The black muzzle cap on the end of the barrel, complete with regimental badge, can be clearly seen. This tank was a Vietnam veteran, being one of the tanks first deployed to the country in 1968.

 

Introduction   

Saturday, 20th November 1976 saw the 1st Armoured Regiment based at Puckapunyal in Victoria, celebrate the 59th anniversary of the battle of Cambrai. The battle of Cambrai took place in France during 1917, and is generally acknowledged as the first occasion on which tanks were used en-masse. On that day 378 tanks of the British Tank Corps were massed for battle, and each year the battle is celebrated by the Royal Tank Regiment (successor to the Tank Corps) and its affiliated regiments.

 

Farewell to the Centurion 

For the 1st Armoured Regiment, the 1976 parade was the last in which the Centurion tank took part. The tanks, which had been in service since 1952 with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, were to be shortly retired and replaced by the Leopard AS1 Main Battle Tank. The 1st Armoured Regiment took the Centurions to war, with many of the tanks on parade having served in South Vietnam between 1968 and 1971.

Extensive preparations, including servicing and painting, were made over the weeks before the parade. On the day, the Regiment paraded about 100 armoured vehicles. 

The Centurion family was represented by some 60 vehicles, including a Dozer tank, two Bridgelayers and three Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV). The other vehicles on the parade were variants of the M113A1 family including the Light Reconnaissance Vehicle (LRV) with the T50 Turret, the M577A1 Armoured Command Vehicles, M548A1 Tracked Load Carriers and Fitters vehicles. 

 

The Last Parade

The parade was reviewed by the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment Sir Henry Winneke, Governor of Victoria. He inspected the parade from the back of an M113A1 LRV, accompanied by the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Jarratt. In 1972 - 1973. As Major Jarratt he was the OC of the Medium Tank Trials Unit (MTTU) that was responsible for testing the German Leopard and US M60A1 tanks to determine a replacement for the Centurion.

 

Two A Squadron tanks showing the difference between the types of 20-pounder gun. The "A" barrel of the tank on the right has a muzzle counterweight, whilst the "B' barrel of the closest tank has a fume extractor and plain muzzle. 

 

 

After the inspection, the tanks took part in a drive-past. The Regiment was lead by LT COL Jarratt in his Centurion, followed by three M113A1s carrying the Regiment's Guidon and escort. It was a most impressive sight to see and hear some 100 armoured vehicles roll past the saluting base, with lots of dust and noise so typical of the Centurion tank. An advance in review order, where all vehicles drove forward in line abreast towards the Reviewing Officer, completed the armoured vehicle participation in the parade. The mounted part of the parade comprised only armoured vehicles, unlike parades in later years that included several "soft skin" vehicles.

As a precaution against the possibility of one of the ageing Centurions not starting, a special 'Slave carrier' vehicle was produced by the Regiment's Technical Support Squadron. Using a Ferret Mark 1 Scout Car borrowed from the Armoured Centre and suitably painted in the Regiment's colour scheme, a number of batteries, together with the necessary connections, were fitted into the back of the vehicle, and an electrical slave lead connected. The Ferret, which was hidden in the trees at the back of the parade area, was to dash out from its hiding place and provide a "jump start' to a tank if it proved necessary. It says much for the work of the crews and the preparations made over the previous weeks, that the Ferret was not required.

Thus the Centurion completed almost 25 years service with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, the last tanks leaving the Puckapunyal area by the middle of 1977. Today, those Centurions remaining in Puckapunyal do so as gate guardians, range targets or as exhibits in the RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum. A full range of Centurion variants used by the Australian Army can be seen in the Museum, including a Bridgelayer and Dozer still sporting the green and pink-brown colours of the 1st Armoured Regiment from that time.

 

Colours

The photographs in this article were taken before, during and after the parade and show vehicles taking part as well as some being prepared for the big day. 

All vehicles were painted in the Regiment's unique camouflage scheme of dark green and pink-brown, an unusual combination but quite effective on the Puckapunyal range. The camouflage scheme was unique to the Regiment, and was, as such, not official. 

 

Centurion 169076 viewed from an elevated position. No fuel tank is fitted, and the A Squadron red triangle is visible on the turret stowage box. This tank was a veteran of service in South Vietnam. 

 

 

At this period of time, the higher echelons of the Australian Army had an aversion to camouflaging equipment and uniforms. The paint scheme was tolerated, probably because the tanks during the later period of their operational life did not leave Puckapunyal very often, and so they would not corrupt the rest of the army. 

 

Markings

The markings of the Regiment's vehicles at that time comprised the RAAC Arm of Service sign (red and yellow diagonally split) with the unit number 206 superimposed in white. This was normally carried on the right side of the glacis plate. 

A bridge classification sign, a yellow disc with black number (usually 60 for Centurions and 11 or 13 for M113A1 vehicles) was also painted on the glacis plate. No formation sign was carried. 

Squadron markings and radio callsigns were painted in red, although some vehicles had small white callsigns. 

The Army Registration Number was a six-digit number (169xxx for Centurion Tanks and ARVs; 1154xx for Bridgelayers; 134xxx for M113A1 variants and 177xxx for M548A1 Tracked Load Carriers) painted in white on a black rectangle and carried on the front and rear of each armoured vehicle.

All photographs were taken by the author and are from his collection.

 

 

CENTURION PHOTO ALBUM

 

Click the thumbnails in the table below to view the images full size. 
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The colour party with an M113A1 LRV carrying the Regiment's Guidon followed by the two escorts. The T50 turret of the Guidon vehicle is closed. This vehicle, numbered 134228, was one of the M113A1 vehicles on parade that also saw service in South Vietnam.
The Guidon Party passing the reviewing officer. The Guidon has been dipped in salute. The exhaust of this M113A1 has been diverted to the left side of the vehicle so that diesel fumes are not directed onto the Guidon when it was dipped in salute. The diversion can be seen also in the previous photo. 
An M577A1 Armoured Command Vehicle fully stowed. 
The rear of two tanks, showing one fitted with the 100-gallon (450 litre) external fuel tank and the other with standard hull rear. 
"Bavarian" of B Squadron. This tank has the plain "A" barrel fitted. The square symbol denoting B Squadron is painted on the forward face of the turret stowage bins. 
"Clumsy" of C Squadron. This tank has the post -Vietnam modification of a single headlight mounted in the centre of the glacis plate, as did most of the tanks on parade. 
An M113A1 Fitters Vehicle of the headquarters section of the Light Aid Detachment (LAD). The red Headquarters Squadron diamond with callsign inside is painted on each side of the vehicle. The vehicle has very little stowage or modifications, contrasting with vehicles currently in service. 
An M548A1 Tracked Load Carrier named "Bionic Bill". The 0.50 inch Browning Machine Gun is fitted to the ring mount. 
A Centurion Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mark 2, mounting a 0.30 inch Browning machine gun on the commander's cupola. 
The business end of the three ARVs, showing the anchor spade and winch rope roller guides. Note the markings painted on the spade. 
One of the two Centurion Bridgelayers. The 60 foot (20 metre) bridge is carried in a single piece and launched in a up and over manner, unlike the newer Leopard Bridgelayer which Iaunches its bridge horizontally 
The single Centurion Dozer Tank on the parade. This vehicle, No. 169079, saw service in South Vietnam and is currently preserved at the RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum. 
The rear of the Bridgelayer and Dozer tanks. The Dozer is not fitted with the 100 gallon (450 litre) fuel tank and the Red Cross marking on the first aid box is just visible. 
The Regiment in their Centurions for the last time, after advancing in review order towards the saluting base 
Even the CO's Series 2A Landrover did not escape the painter's attention. The canvas canopy received the same camouflage as the rest of the vehicle. 
Centurion ARV "Black Duck" being serviced prior to the parade, with its engine decks open. 
A Bridgelayer with the bridge in the park position. Its left track has been removed. An MBT stands immediately behind the vehicle. 
An M113A1 Ambulance Carrier standing alongside a Centurion. All Ambulance Carriers in Australian service have been fitted with the T50 turret, making the installation of the standard litter kit very difficult. The Centurion has the later type of solid drilled idler wheel, rather than the more common spoked idler.
A Centurion being cleaned and serviced prior to the parade. This vehicle, No. 169005, was damaged by a mine during its service in South Vietnam. The blast killed the driver, and the damaged hull was replaced by one purchased from New Zealand in 1969 and vehicle subsequently rebuilt. It is now privately owned by the former Commanding Officer, Peter Jarratt. 
A Centurion of B Squadron undergoing maintenance. 
The 'Slave vehicle' - a Ferret Mark 1 Scout car - picking up some spare parts prior to the parade. Ferrets had been retired from the army some five years before this parade. 
Farewell Centurion. One of the last Centurion tanks to leave the 1st Armoured Regiment. The tank transporter unit comprises a Leyland/Scammell Contractor 6x4 prime mover with the Australian designed and built 60 ton Tank Transporter trailer. 

 

 

Article Text and Photographs Copyright 2000 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 10 September, 2000
Last Updated 05 June, 2001

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