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Leopard AS1 Main Battle Tank
Part One

by Paul D. Handel

 

The Leaping Leopard. 42 tonnes of main battle tank off the ground in one of the most spectacular demonstrations of armoured mobility ever seen. 

 

Introduction   

In 1977, the Leopard AS 1 Main Battle Tank entered service with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. It was the replacement for the Centurion Tank, which had given sterling service since 1952, including four years on active service in South Vietnam. Although it has been in service now for 23 years, the Leopard AS1 still has a formidable battlefield presence, and with some upgrading will remain a key weapon system in the Australian Army inventory. This article will provide some background to the acquisition of vehicle, its service history and detail the differences with other nations' Leopard tanks. Later articles will look at the variants of the Leopard in use with the Australian Army.

 

Trialing the Leopard

During the period March to May 1971, RAAC officers visited the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and the Federal Republic of Germany to review developments in armoured vehicles. Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) that were reviewed by the group included M60A1 (USA), Chieftain and Vickers (UK), AMX 30 (France) and Leopard (Federal Republic of Germany). The review of these armoured vehicles was the first step in the programme to investigate the replacement of the Centurion as the Australian Army's Main Battle Tank.

 

One of the M60A1 tanks during its tropical trials. The crew commander wears the black beret whilst the operator is sporting a US CVC helmet. The tank carries a full range of B Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment markings. A yellow plate with black radio call sign was affixed to the rear of the turret basket. Photo by MTTU PM. 

 

 

Late in 1971, the investigation into the replacement of the Centurion Tank took a step forward, when it was announced that two contenders, the German Leopard and the US M60A1, would be trialed in Australia. The nature of the trials was such that a special tank trials unit was formed. B Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment, under the command of Major Peter Jarratt, was converted to the Medium Tank Trials Unit (MTTU) in Puckapunyal in early 1972. Training of personnel in Germany and the United States was undertaken, and in mid 1972 the tanks arrived. The trials tanks comprised two M60A1 (chassis numbers 6108 and 6113) MBTs, two Leopard 1A2 MBTs (with original cast turrets) (chassis numbers 8954 and 8955) and a Leopard Armoured Recovery Vehicle.

Trials of the Leopard and M60A1 tanks started later in 1972, initially being conducted in Puckapunyal and later moving to the Tully - Innisfail region of north Queensland. Generally, both tanks performed well during the trials. The Medium Tank Trials Unit completed its tasks in Queensland in March 1973 and returned to Puckapunyal in April of that year. The trials vehicles travelled about 5000 miles in 10 months, and it was now up to others within Army and Defence to evaluate the results. MTTU reverted to B Squadron of 1 Armoured Regiment on 1 June 1973.

 

A Leopard 1A2 from the MTTU negotiating a similar obstacle to the M60A1. It also carries a full range of markings, except that the chassis number is painted on the centre of the glacis plate instead of the left side as with the M60A1. Photo by MTTU PM 

 

 

Speculation was rife during 1974, waiting for the Government's decision as to which tank would be purchased. It was commonly thought that the M60A1 would be the winner, based on cost grounds, but the decision was made in favour of Leopard, and for once the Army and its soldiers were pleased with the choice of their government. The main deciding factors in favour of Leopard were its higher reliability and ease of maintenance and repair; the weight of the Leopard, which was some 10 tonnes less than M60A1, and would make transport by road and rail somewhat easier; and its underwater fording capability. These factors were based upon the Australian Army's recent experience in South Vietnam and consideration of the overall Australian environment. After the initial purchase and subsequent changes, the final order for tanks stood at 101, being made up of 90 MBTs, 5 Bridgelayers and 6 Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV). (A further 2 Armoured Recovery Vehicles were purchased later.) The quantity of tanks purchased allowed the equipping of a full regular armoured regiment, a training school complement, vehicles for technical training of repair and maintenance personnel as well as a pool for exchange and repair.

 

Leopard Arrives

The first of the new vehicles, two Armoured Recovery Vehicles, arrived at Port Melbourne in November 1976, with a further 4 ARVs and the first 8 MBTs arriving before Christmas. The ARV is an essential part of the Leopard family, as it is used to remove the tank's power pack for servicing, a task which under normal conditions takes only about 20 minutes. The pack can be serviced on the ground sitting on a stand, where all components can be easily checked and adjustments or replacements made, a far cry from the days of the Centurion. On 16 December 1976, the first six gun tanks arrived on the wharf in Melbourne to a blaze of publicity. It was not only that they were new tanks, worth over $600,000 each, but they were driven off the ship by waterside workers, in line with the rules and regulations of the waterfront. Fortunately, the workers had been trained for four days at the Armoured Centre on driving the ARVs that had previously arrived. The workers were the first 'trainees' to be issued with Leopard licences.

After undertaking conversion courses conducted the Armoured Centre, the 1st Armoured Regiment had Leopard squadrons operational from April 1977. In an historical decision, the command of the 1st Armoured Regiment in 1976 had been given to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Jarratt. He thus had the distinction of being the Trials Unit Commander, operating the Centurion for its last year of regimental service and overseeing the first year of Leopard in regimental service with the Royal Australian Armoured Corps.

 

A Leopard of B Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment with its turret traversed left. The large overhang of the turret bustle is shown, and the black leopard's head carried by regimental vehicles is seen on the forward part of the turret side. An MG3 machine gun is mounted on the cupola. 

 

 

The introduction of the new equipment created considerable interest, and in February 1977 the Armoured Centre conducted the annual Combined Colleges Demonstration of movement and firepower, the star of which was the new tank. The demonstration of its capabilities was the first public occasion that the now famous spectacle of Leopard emerging from a completely submerged location under water was used. In July 1977, the Armoured Centre hosted a media presentation, where Leopard was demonstrated to the public and its capabilities spread throughout the printed media and graphic television footage aired. The 'Leaping Leopard' was a great spectacle, with the 42 tonne tank becoming airborne after a high speed downhill run. After a few years this demonstration of Leopard capabilities was discontinued due to the severe strain placed on suspension components.

 

Leopard AS1 Described

The Leopard AS1 (AS is the NATO abbreviation for Australia) utilises the Leopard 1 hull and the fabricated steel turret of the introduced with the Leopard 1A3 series. The vehicles were manufactured by Krauss Maffei and the MBTs carry the factory hull numbers 17001 to 17091. In Australian service, the MBTs carry the Army Registration Numbers (ARN) 27706 to 27781, and 29386 to 29399. The hull of the MBT and Bridgelayer use stowage boxes, rather than the more common tool racks of German vehicles, in which to stow the pioneer tools and other implements. Two boxes are mounted on the right side, equispaced around the heater outlet, and one box on the left side towards the rear. They are similar to the boxes mounted on Danish and Dutch Leopards. On the glacis plate are mounted three rails for carrying 20 track grousers, which can replace some of the rubber track pads in adverse ground conditions. Fifteen tanks have special lugs welded to the lower glacis plate, where it meets the hull floor. These are for the mounting of the special equipment interface kits for the dozer blade, the mine plough and the mine roller sets.

The vehicle is powered by a Daimler Benz V10 diesel engine developing 610 kW, which drives though a ZF automatic gearbox with four forward and two reverse gears. The power pack is a tropicalized version of the standard unit allowing operation at 50C ambient temperature. Speeds of up to 62 km/hr can be attained. Standard torsion bar suspension with seven roadwheel stations and four track support rollers (return rollers) each side provide the tanks excellent cross country mobility. Diehl double pin track is fitted. The driver sits on the right side of the hull, and has a floor escape hatch as well as his swinging roof hatch.

The turret is of all welded construction with spaced armour, providing increased protection levels over the original cast turret. A British - designed 105mm L7A3 gun with thermal jacket and fume extractor is the main armament of the Leopard AS1. The Tank Fire Control System (TFCS), by the Sabca Company of Belgium comprises a laser rangefinder, seven ballistic sensors and a fire control computer. The laser range finder operates through an aperture on the right of the mantlet - there is no corresponding opening on the left. The sensors provide data to the computer on air temperature and pressure, charge temperature, barrel wear, cross wind and vehicle cant. The cross wind sensor is mounted on the forward part of the turret roof, surrounded by a round wire cage for protection. The commander has a panoramic sight, mounted on the turret roof forward of his cupola. Two 7.62 mm machine guns are carried - one is co-axial with the main armament, the other can be mounted either on the commander's or loaders cupola, and in both positions it can be used in the anti-aircraft role. The gunner and commander sit on the right side of the turret, with the loader occupying the left side. A searchlight is carried in one of the armoured bins at the rear of the turret, and can be mounted on top of the left side of the mantlet.

 

In Service Use

The Armoured Centre was the first unit to receive the Leopard, being the organisation that trains all armoured vehicle crewman in Australia. Now known as the Mounted Combat Division, it continues in its training role using the Leopard in all its variations, excepting the ARV.

The Leopard AS1 equips only one armoured regiment of the field force, the 1st Armoured Regiment. The first major exercise involving the Leopard was at the Woomera range area in South Australia in 1977, and since that time it has been deployed all around Australia during exercises. It has operated in the dust and mud of Puckapunyal in summer and winter; in the jungles of northern Queensland and the hot interior of the Northern Territory.

 

At speed along the bitumen, this Leopard carries a light brown mud camouflage pattern. The Squadron tactical sign, still in red, is now on the track shrouds. The ARN has been relocated on the lower glacis plate. An MG3 is mounted on the loader's cupola. (leo13.jpg)

 

 

In 1995, the 1st Armoured Regiment moved from Puckapunyal in Victoria to Palmerston, south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory. Since that time, there has been a regiment's worth of Leopard stationed in northern Australia, and despite its age, the tank is still performing creditably.

There are other organisations which have Leopard as part of their inventory, such as the Army logistic training Centre, Bandiana and the Army Engineering Agency, but these are support and training establishments, and generally have only single vehicles or variants issued to them.

 

Modifications

As with all of Australia's armoured vehicle fleets over the years, once the equipment is in service, many official and unofficial modifications occur. All vehicles, regardless of the arm or service, never seem to have sufficient stowage space for the CES (Complete Equipment Schedule - or what our American friends call OVM or OVE) and personal kit. Large stowage baskets, made from angle iron and heavy mesh, gradually were fitted to the rear of the turret. These carried camouflage nets, plastic 20 litre water cans, ration boxes and the like. Some tanks had the grouser racks on the glacis plate removed for exercises and were fitted with a flat stowage box in lieu.

The Leopard family received several modifications to improve the accuracy of its main armament. EDGA - the Electronic Digital Gunnery Aid assisted with the accuracy of information provided to the computer. EDGA was the means to monitor the computer functions of the Tank Fire Control System (TFCS). The Tank Level Aiming and Firing Trainer (TALAFIT) was originally developed by SABCA of Belgium, the manufacturers of the Leopard's COBELDA TFCS, to improve the training of gunners in ranging and firing at static or moving targets. The restriction of TALAFIT was that it had to be mounted onto a tank turret before use, as it employed the gunner's sight picture by fitting over the exit window of the TFCS sight on the turret roof. A TALAFIT Upgrade was developed to be fitted in a stand alone cabinet, and utilised a colour video camera, TV monitor and video recorder.

During 1997 and 1998, improvements to crew comfort, and hence crew efficiency, in Leopard were introduced. The harsh environment of the Northern Territory meant that temperatures of over 55C were being experienced by the crews during vehicle operation. The first modification, a Mobile Camouflage System (MCS) designed by the Swedish Barracuda Company, comprised a number of specially insulated panels which could be easily fitted to the turret and the hull of Leopard. These panels provided a two fold benefit - they acted as an insulation from the heat and they provided a degree of protection against thermal imagery. Their external appearance is similar to that of the current issue Barracuda camouflage netting. An additional 'umbrella' system could be fitted over the tank's turret, for use when static.

The second was a climate control unit, mounted external to the tank in the armoured bin on the turret. This unit encountered teething problems, such as an adequate supply of air for the driver, stowage problems associated with the loss of the armoured bin and the additional weight of the climate control unit affecting the stability of the turret. These problems are being addressed at the time of writing.

In the early 1990s, it was decided to purchase mine clearance equipment for the Leopard. The original purchase of Leopard included an allowance for mine clearing tanks as part of the inventory, but suitable equipment was not available at the time. The purchase of three Track Width Mine Ploughs and two Mine Clearance Roller Systems from Israel, and fifteen interface kits from Krauss Maffei in Germany was made. The equipment entered service in 1993. This equipment will be described in a later article.

Instruction of students, particularly during the tactical phase of their training, has always been difficult, as tanks are not designed to have positions inside available for extra crew members. Therefore, during field exercises instructors always stood on the rear deck of the tank in order to instruct the trainee crew commander. This practice, whilst necessary for instructional purposes, was always considered dangerous, particularly when the tank was moving cross country at speed. Safety for instructors was improved when the School of Armour produced a steel cage with seat that could be fixed to the turret in place of the right rear stowage box. In this cage, which provided roll-over protection, the instructor could sit and provide necessary orders to the student in the cupola. It was commonly known as the "cupola jockey" seat.

 

Colours and Markings

The tanks originally arrived in a standard German Army dark green colour. This was an infra-red defeating paint, and for many years tanks could not be repainted or even touched up until supplies of the special paint were procured. The original paint scheme presented a serious problem, and that was it was highly reflective from the flat surfaces of the tank, and caused difficulties for camouflage and concealment. The normal dust and mud of the training areas helped to conceal this problem, often assisted by local camouflage by the crews. ( As an aside, in 1977, the 1st Armoured Regiment painted all of its M113A1 family of vehicles in a similar dark green colour so that all vehicles would be the same, and this was kept up for a number of years. Examples of such colours will appear in a future Anzac Steel series on the M113A1 Family.)

In the mid 1980s, Leopards began being issued from the rebuild line in the standard Australian Army olive drab finish. This was supplemented by the application of mud, often in imaginative ways. The 1st Armoured Regiment even had a special "mud pool" from where mud could be applied to the tanks. Depending upon the consistency, the mud often dried in different shades. It wasn't until the 1990s that the Leopards began to have the standard Australian Army three colour scheme applied, and even today there are many tanks remaining in olive drab or even the original dark green.

 

Zero Charlie, the Commanding Officer's tank of the 1st Armoured Regiment. The name Hilda on the stowage bin commemorates the tank used by Brigadier General Elles on Cambrai Day in 1917. Lieutenant Colonel Ted Accutt is seen here in his tank during the parade to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the 1st Armoured Regiment. The brown, red and green pennant representing the regiment's colours is flying from the radio aerial.

 

Tanks initially carried as markings on the glacis plate and rear hull an RAAC Arm of Service marking, a red and yellow square diagonally cut with a white unit number superimposed - 206 and later 30 for the 1st Armoured Regiment and 912 for the Armoured Centre. A formation sign, carried on the left of the glacis plate, was that of the 1st Division for the tanks of 1st Armoured Regiment and the Training Command sign for those of Armoured Centre. A red squadron tactical sign, with red radio call sign designation, was carried on the turret sides of 1st Armoured Regiment's tanks. The Army Registration Number (ARN) was painted in white on the front and rear of the hull. The bridge classification sign, a black 44 superimposed over a yellow circle, was carried on the upper right glacis plate. For a period, a white squadron tactical sign was painted on the forward part of each track shroud.

Various changes in markings have taken place over the years, with ARNs now being in black, as are the unit signs and bridge classification sign. Traditional squadron tactical signs have disappeared, being replaced by a system of white arrowheads pointing in different directions, to show the squadron. White radio call signs are carried on the turret sides.

The Leopard family is likely to be in service until about 2010, thus giving some 30 - plus years service. It can only be hoped that an MBT will be retained by the Army of the future, as it provides the Army with combat power which is both mobile and hard-hitting, and which can be relatively easily deployed.

The photos included with this article attempt to show the various details of Australian Leopard Tanks, and some of the modifications, official and otherwise, which have appeared on the tanks. Some of the various colours and markings which the Leopards have carried in their 23 years of service are also shown. The author has been fortunate to be able to record most of the variations of colours and markings over that time, and is grateful to the officers and soldiers of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps for their assistance and forbearance during this time. All photos, with the exception of the trials Leopard and M60A1, have been taken by the author.

 

TECHNICAL DATA

Crew

4  comprising 
Commander, Gunner Loader/Operator and Driver

Weight (combat laden)

42 400 kg

Length

9.54 metres (gun forward)

Width

3.37 metres

Height

2.62 metres (top of sight)

Ground Clearance

0.44 metres

Main Armament

105mm L7A3 QF gun

Ammunition

59 rounds ( 17 in turret and 42 in hull)

Machine Guns

 7.62mm MG2A1 Co-axial 
7.62mm MG3 externally on cupola

Smoke Dischargers

Four 76mm on each side of turret

Engine

Daimler Benz MB838  V10 cylinder
Four stroke diesel
610 kW (830hp) at 2200 rpm

Gearbox

ZF 4 HP 250 with four forward speeds and two reverse speeds

Fuel Capacity

950 litres

Maximum speed

62 km/hr

Range

500 km

Maximum Vertical obstacle

0.91 metres

Maximum trench

3 metres

Maximum fording depth unprepared

1.2 metres

Maximum fording depth prepared

4 metres

 

 

 

 

 

LEOPARD AS1 PHOTO ALBUM

 

Click the thumbnails in the table below to view the images full size. 
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One of the first two Leopard AS1 MBTs to enter service. This tank carries no markings, other than the ARN on the hull front. Of note are the two stowage boxes on the right side, the searchlight fitted to the mantlet and the opening for the laser rangefinder on the right side of the mantlet.
Tanks of C Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment lined up during the Cambrai Day Parade 1977. The red tactical sign on the turret is visible, and the vehicle name in black on white on the stowage box. 
Mud and foliage adorn this Leopard of 1st Armoured Regiment. The crew are wearing the jungle green coloured tank coveralls ("tank suit") with berets. 
A Leopard transferring from an LCM 8 landing craft to the rear ramp of HMAS Tobruk in Sydney Harbour. The stowage bins have been removed from the tank, and the call sign can been seen in white on the engine deck. Spare track links have been attached to the turret under the smoke dischargers. 
An olive drab Leopard caught at dusk. The overall dirty appearance has been compounded by mud. Few markings are carried, and the grouser rack on the glacis plate has been replaced by some pioneer tools. A spare roadwheel has been mounted on the left front mudguard. 
The right side of the turret roof looking towards the rear. The commander's panoramic sight is in front of the cupola and the wind sensor for the ballistic computer is under the frame guard on the right of the photo. 
The wind sensor and panoramic sight from the opposite side, looking forward. 
The turret roof showing details of the searchlight and mantlet. The opening for the laser rangefinder is open. 
Detail of the rear hull, with tool box on left, spare track links, infantry /tank telephone in round box and barrel travel lock in the centre. The tow cables are attached to the bollards for easy use. 
The engine deck looking from the turret to the rear. The wire mesh grill over the fan can be seen.
The engine bay with cover and turret removed. The fan housing has the red letters AUS to signify a tropicalized engine. Without the turret, the ammunition rack to the left of the driver's position in the hull is visible. 
A detail of the right front stowage bin, and the mounting for the track shrouds which allows the shrouds to pivot up for track servicing. The plug on the chain at the top left of the photo is to cover the barrel hole in the mantlet for the co-axial machine gun. 
A top view of the right rear turret basket, showing its angle iron construction and the loops to attach it to the turret. The standard plastic 20 litre water cans are seen in the basket, as well as the steel version used in this case for the carriage of oil. The left basket is slightly different in size and carries the vehicle's camouflage net. 
Two baskets are fitted to the turret of this tank from 1st Armoured Regiment. Additional equipment such as ammunition cans and plastic washing bowls are also attached. There are pioneer tools on the glacis plate in lieu of the grouser rack and a spare roadwheel is also carried.
A tank, freshly rebuilt tank, painted in the Australian three colour scheme tank just issued to the 1st Armoured Regiment. The standard jerrycan holders are positioned on the turret rear. The roadwheels remain in the olive drab base colour. 
The same tank from the opposite side. The long rear mudflaps with reflectors and the cut-outs on the track shrouds around the sprocket area are to be noted. 
The Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System (MCS) fitted to a Leopard AS1. The system purchased by Australia covers only the crew areas of the vehicle, and does not extend to the engine compartment nor the turret bins. 
Detail of the front hull with the turret traversed right. The matting is placed under the grouser rack on the glacis plate. 
The turret roof showing the extent of the matting system. Note that the hatch tops are covered. 
The left side of a turret fitted with MCS, showing the MG3 mounted on the loader's cupola and the smoke grenade dischargers on the turret side. 
The "cupola jockey" fitted to a Leopard AS1. The module fits into the right rear turret bin, although it does not conform exactly with the turret profile. The sturdy construction of the unit is necessary to deflect low tree branches and the like, in order to protect the instructor. 
A rear view of the "cupola jockey" in the turret bin. 

 

 

Article Text and Photographs Copyright 2000 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 13 August, 2000
Last Updated 05 June, 2001

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