Monday 10 November 2008 by Craig Berelle. 19 comments
News, New acquisitions, Collection

A log book can reveal performance characteristics, reveal battle damage and document repairs made during each vehicle's period of service. The Memorial's Research Centre has acquired log books of six Centurion tanks that served in the Vietnam War, including vehicle No. 169056, proudly on display adjacent to Anzac Hall.  The log books are in Official Records Series AWM350, and can be viewed in the Memorial's Research Centre.

centurion-tank-small1 Centurion 169056

By examining some of the twelve sections of the log book, the reader can gain a useful insight into the technical history of a tank as well as develop an appreciation for the conditions that enabled the vehicle to operate for over 25 years. The log books don't always have every section filled out, and are not always 'continuous' for the vehicle's entire life of service, as the books were often replaced. 

Engine specifications: Rover Meteor Mark 4B 60° "V" 12 cylinder, 27 litre (1650cubic inch), developing 485 kW (650 bhp) at 2550 rpm

Main sections:

  • Main engine history card and modification certificate;
  • Vehicle mileage and hours running;
  • Transfers between units and drivers;
  • Inspections and classifications;
  • Authorised modifications;
  • Repairs, overhauls and assembly changes.

How did the numbers stack up for Centurion 169056? The record shows how this tank:

  • Clocked up 861 miles to June 1971;
  • Performed with 2 engine and 3 gearbox changes;
  • Underwent 132 individual modifications at 4 Base Workshop Battalion, Bandiana.

About the tank:

Centurion 169056 was purchased from the UK as a new Mk3 in the early 1950s. It was converted to a Mk5 and later Mk5/1 in the 1960s. The tank was sent to South Vietnam in Sept/October 1970 aboard a Landing Ship Medium (LSM). Initially given the squadron call sign 92C, Centurion 169056 later became part of 5 Troop with call sign 5 Bravo (5B). It took part in Operation ‘Hermit Park' in June 1971 when the barrel was struck by a round from an enemy anti-tank weapon (RPG), wounding the driver.

Comments

Our regiment 1/15 RNSWL gave up a number of our Centurions to 1 ARMD for service in Vietnam. We have a fully working example in our museum that saw Vietnam service - crewed by members of the Museum Association who were old tankie crewmen from the 1960's. A typical example of British technology of the 1950's - nothing is easy to get at or work on!

I was under the impression that the tank on display at the museum was 4B out of 4 Troop, 5 Troop is a new one for me, it must have been compiled in the late 70's in Vietnam, could any of the readers help me with this quandary.

Hi Greg, 4B was on display inside the AWM. When the refurbishment work was done, however, there was no longer any room for a Centurion inside. The RAAC and 1st Armd Regt Honorary Colonels obtained approval from the AWM Council for a Centurion to be located in the grounds of the AWM. It was decided that 4B was too significant a vehicle to allow it to deteriorate outdoors and it was moved to the AWM Annexe at Michelle (where a number of other major iems of military equipment are also located). Whatever arrangements are made to display 4B permanenetly in the future, it's condition will be preserved. (Public open days are held at Mitchell periodically at present.) Re 169056...the Chief of the Army allowed a tank to be relocated from the parade ground at Puckapunyal (replacing it with a Leopard). The AWM did significant restoration work and site preparation. A panel in the Vietnam Gallery informs visitors about the tank outside. The panel is located next to the barrel from 5A that was damaged in the same contact in which the driver of 5B was WIA. Hope this explains. Best wishes, Bruce

Hi again Greg, I forgot to explain about 5 troop...here's a message I posted on the Black Berets site recently: C Sqn, 1 Armd Regt, RAAC (1971) were the first sqn to create a troop which was designated as 5 Troop. Some other sqns in SVN used their 20 tanks to deploy five troops, but generally referred to the fifth troop as a composite troop. One sqn decided against deploying a fifth troop and used their SHQ and dozers tanks as replacements to maintain four troops. 1971 wasn't the first time that a 5 Troop was deployed. During the Second World War, tank regiments used to be like inf battalions in which platoons (troops) were numbered sequentially, eg. today we have 9Pl, C Coy (then they used to have 9 Troop, C sqn). I've been trying to get a date for when the change to 1 to 4 troop per squadron came about, but have been unsuccessful. (It's been a bit like trying to find out when trooper became a rank...but I got there, so maybe's there's some hope.) Hope this explains, Bruce

I was under the impression that the tank at the Lancers Museum was 169126 and believe it never served in Vietnam. Would welcome any info on its service?? Regards Col

Hi Col, I think when greg refers to the tank on display at the museum, he's referring to the AWM, rather than the Lancers Museum. The Lancers webite confirms that their vehicle is 169026. There are some details on the Lancers site which aren't quite correct re Centurion. Happy to comment if you wanted to compare with your info at the VVF Museum. (Happy to discuss with Lancers Museum as well.) Regards, Bruce

i wonder if they have the log for 33bravo 169109 ? ill make enquiries.

Hi Bruce yes I was referring to the Lancers Museum and I think you missed a key there. The Lancers Museum is 169126 where as 169026 is in private hands, Regards Col

Hi Mike, do not know if they have the log or not but 169109 is now in Queensland owned by Brad Baker and stored on the property of Alan Hill. Interesting, Alan agreed to store the tank before he found out it was the one he served on in Vietnam as a Gunner, small world indeed!

For AWM (Craig Barelle?) The info provided above re ARN 169056: "It took part in Operation ‘Iron Fox’ in June 1971 when the barrel was struck by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade), wounding the driver", is not correct. Operation IRON FOX was in July 1971. The tank was hit by an RPG wounding the driver during Operation HERMIT PARK (25 June 1971). Of course RPG does not stand for "rocket propelled grenade". An RPG is a light anti-tank weapon. In the guise of educating the public, one could say that the tank was hit by a round from an enemy anti-tank weapon (RPG) Bruce Cameron

Hi Bruce, Thanks for your suggested corrections, which I've now fixed up in the post. Yes, indeed RPG does come originally from the Russian acronym, but these days it's become something of a 'backronym', i.e. it really is used to abbreviate 'rocket propelled grenade'. However, when dealing with the Vietnam era this would not yet have been the case, so I've amended the post with your suggestion of 'enemy anti-tank weapon (RPG).' For those who don't know, the original acronym comes from the Russian ‘Ruchnoi Protivotankovii Granatomyot’, which translates as ‘portable anti-tank grenade launcher’. Cheers, Craig.

Hi Craig, Thanks for taking on the corrections. In terms of 'value-adding' re the subject, blog readers may be interested to know that the RPG round which struck the barrel penetrated about 80mm into the metal. It would have 'holed' the bore if the jet had travelled in a straight line. The fact that it took circular path meant that the tank gun was still able to be used. (The strike was directly above the driver's compartment, so the replacement driver was 'closed down' in case the forces in the barrel caused it to rupture when fired.) The section of the barrel which was hit is now mounted on a stand at 1st Armoured Regiment's barracks in Darwin. Interestingly, one of the captions in the Vietnam Gallery states that Centurions were "nearly impervious to most enemy weapons". This is very misleading, because the only weapons the Centurion's armour was impervious to were small arms (and a Centurion wouldn't be a tank if this wasn't the case). In terms of RPGs...the RPG 2 can penetrate 180mm of armour and the RPG 7, 320mm. The front of the Centurion turret is 152mm thick and the sides of the turret, 89mm. Of course, given that the hull floor is only 17mm thick, it is easy to see why the enemy were able to employ mines so effectively...Centurions were certainly not impervious to them. Cheers, Bruce

Thought I should add a couple of other points to complete the story. On 13 Nov 09, the gunner from the tank at the time, the then Trooper Kim Bayly, completed a lengthly interview at the AWM. He comments graphically about the impact he felt through the traverse handwheel when the RPG round exploded against the barrel. The tank was between two trees when this happened and the driver was wounded, this meant the tank gun couldn't be traversed, either to engage the enemy bunker or to allow access to the driver from inside the tank. Being very tall made it ever more difficult for Kim to reach him...but he tried frantically. The driver, the then Trooper Peter Cadge, was Mentioned in Dispatches for his bravery and selflessness. When help got to him from outside, he was endeavouring, despite his very bad wounds and enemy fire, to get up onto the turret to rescue the other crew members. (With the canvas mantlet cover above him alight, he thought that the tank was on fire and the crew trapped.) When the enemy fired an RPG at Peter and those helping him down from the tank, the round struck the muzzle of the tank alongside (luckily for those on the ground). The impact bent the end of the tank barrel to the side, blocking the bore. The quick thinking crew commander loaded a solid shot round and blasted off the end of his barrel...he was then able to continue to engage the enemy. This barrel is displayed in the Vietnam Gallery at the AWM. Bruce

Just letting you know that the Centurion 169026 is indeed in private hands Cheers Troy

Hi Tony, The Lancer's Museum website no longer refers to ARN 169026 and a photo of its Centurion shows that it is ARN 169126 (as Col said was the case, above). Sorry about the confusion. Regards, Bruce

Hi my name is Peter John Cadge son of Trooper Peter Stanly Cadge. i was wondering if anyone who had served with my father could tell me the details of what happend. with my fathers head wounds he dose not remember all that much Regards Peter cadge

Hi Peter, It would be an honour to explain the circumstances. They will be fully described in a book to be published next year, but I can send you a copy of the draft chapter which deals with Operation Hermit Park. My email is: cameronshome@bigpond.com Best wishes, Bruce Cameron

Bruce Cameron.
Sorry about the long wait for my thanks for your info, only 5 years, I was just looking up some pics of Cents and I finally found your reply to my question.
I hope to get over to the War Museum before I return to live in the Philippines, I am currently in WA.
Thanks again Mate.

Great to hear about 169026, i was driver between 1974 & 1976 of 169026 at puckapunyal while a trooper in 1 troop C Squadron,