Tank, Combat, Full Tracked, 20 pr Gun, Centurion Model FV 221, MK 5, w/e

The Canadian Army bought 374 Centurion Mk. 3s between 1952 and 1953 to replace its outmoded M4A2(76)W HVSS medium tanks that had been bought in the late 1940s from the U.S.

Ironically, the postwar Canadian Army had chosen in principle to go with American, rather than British equipment, due to our close geographical and manufacturing ties with the U.S. An order for 400 Patton series tanks had been placed but the Americans experienced development problems and advised Canada that delivery would be delayed some eighteen months, until January 1953. As Canada had undertaken a NATO commitment to deploy a brigade group in Europe, it required tanks immediately. The Centurion had impressed Canadian troops who, while equipped in Korea with M4A3(76)W HVSS, had fought alongside British units equipped with Centurions. The Canadians felt that its thick armour and superior firepower had proved it to be the best tank of the war. The British promised delivery starting in March 1952 so the Patton order was promptly cancelled, and the Centurion purchased instead. Training on the Centurion was not completed until the Korean conflict was over, so it never did equip a Canadian armoured unit in action. The Centurion was used in command, control and gun roles in Canadian armoured units.

The Canadian Mk. 3 Centurions were modified with .30 calibre Browning coaxial MGs to become Mk. 5s, together with U.S. radios and applique armour on the glacis plate.

Neil Hill, who commanded Centurions during the 1960s, comments that as he remembers it, only the Centurions in Germany were fitted with applique armour and those remaining in Canada were not. The photographic evidence your editor has on hand would seem to confirm his position. He questions the conversion to American radios stating that:

"...given the ready availability of the British designed/Canadian made 19 set of WW2 vintage and the reasonable desire to maximize commonality with British stocks in Germany, I cannot imagine why this British set was not used. It was certainly the set in use in Canadian Cents at RCAC School Camp Borden in 1957."

Initially, the Centurions deployed with an armoured regiment in each of the three infantry brigade groups based in Canada and with 4th Canadian Mechanised Brigade Group (4CMBG) in Europe, as part of Canada's NATO committment.

In 1962 the Centurions in 4CMBG were upgunned with the L7 105mm gun to make them Mk. 6s. Subsequently, they were fitted with a .50 calibre Browning ranging MG and infra-red night fighting equipment, and redesignated Mk. 11s. The Centurions in Canada remained in the Mk. 5 guise throughout their service.

Neil Hill further comments that in Germany, the Centurions would be refitted with the 20-pdr for gunnery exercises. Neil also advised that:

"In Germany only, Centurion was fitted with a "crew commanders" mount for a .30 cal Browning GPMG . The gun was included in the tank's kit; basically as a groundmounted weapon for "local defence" of hides and harbours. However, a simple socket was welded to the crew commander's cupola ring. The pintle mount from the ground mount could be used to allow the crew commander, by exposing the top half of his body, to use the weapon, or a truly "heath robinson" combination of tubing, springs and plunger was provided to allow it to be fired by the crew commander from inside the cupola with the hatch open but without exposing himself. We were told this was for AA use. Of course, it was a Brit invention. After one hilarious attempt to engage gas-filled balloons on the range, I never mounted mine again, and I'm pretty sure no one else did either."

In the late 1960's, the Centurion was eliminated from the order of battle of armoured regiments based in Canada, leaving only a few in CFB Gagetown for training, and those equipping 4CMBG in Germany.

By the mid 1970's the Centurions were decidely past their prime, and mechanical breakdowns were the norm, rather than the exception. Although a modernization programme was contemplated, the Canadian government eventually decided to purchase the Leopard MBT from Germany instead.

Mike McNorgan, who commanded the Centurion in the 1970's comments:

"I believe that the last Centurions used by the Canadian Army belonged to 'B' Squadron 8th Canadian Hussars. The squadron was formed in Gagetown in the summer of 1979. Its role was to be the'flyover squadron', reinforcing the (two squadron strong) regiment in Germany, which was, of course, equipped with the brand new Leopard. These vehicles started to arrive in ones and twos that fall. In the meantime, to allow us to do some tank training while awaiting our complement of Leopards, the squadron was issued with four Centurions (formerly property of the Armour School). First Troop (Lt Kent Carswell) did some training and demonstrations with the Centurions including live fire. Kent was very familiar with the tank having served on them as a soldier before being commissioned. Our, very appropriate, nickname for them was 'the agony wagons', often rendered as 'the ag-wags', a reflection on the tremendous amount of maintenance they required and their all too frequent breakdowns."

The Centurion Mk. 5 can still be seen as gate guardians in several locations in Canada, including RMC at Kingston.


The Fort Garry Horse's first Centurion Mk. 5,
marking the formation of the regular regiment,
Camp Petawawa, 11 October 1958. The "52"
indicates the year the tank was ordered.


Centurion Mk. 11s of the Royal Canadian Dragoons
at the final parade of the Centurion in Lahr, Germany, 02 June 1977.


Centurion Tales: Part 1
Neil Hill's experiences with the Centurion MBT


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Chris Johnson, 1997