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“Earliest Chieftain” Saved From Scrap

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“Earliest Chieftain” Saved From Scrap


The Tank Museum has added what is believed to be the oldest Chieftain tank in existence to its collection of armoured vehicles.




The FV4201 Chieftain prototype (99SP23), built in 1959, was rescued from a scrap yard where it would soon have been broken up and lost forever. But the vehicle was spotted by someone with close links to The Tank Museum, who contacted staff to alert them to his discovery.


The Tank, which was last recorded as having been a gate guard at Chertsey, had been sold to merchants who were unaware of its significance.


Tank Museum Curator David Willey said; “On this occasion we were fortunate that we got there on time – and that the scrap dealers were both understanding and willing to help us.”


With time running out for the aging machine, a `stay of execution` was negotiated, a deal completed, and the vehicle was released to The Tank Museum soon after.


David said; “Whilst not necessarily fondly remembered by those that served on them, this is without doubt an important piece of Britain’s tank heritage – representing a significant step forward in design, manufacture and application."


David Fletcher explains the history of FV4201 Chieftain prototype 99SP23:


We believe that this tank is P6, one of the first six Chieftain prototypes to be built; production of prototypes was shared by Vickers-Armstrongs in Newcastle and the Royal Ordnance Factory at Barnbow, near Leeds.


P6 was delivered to the Fighting Vehicle Research & Development Establishment (FVRDE) at Chertsey, Surrey in January 1960. Chieftain has always been regarded as Britain’s first Main Battle Tank, in that it fulfilled the roles of both medium and heavy tanks. It had many novel features although these were often disguised in prototypes. For example a Chieftain driver had a reclining seat so that he was able to lie on his back, when the hatch above his head was closed, in order to reduce the overall height of the tank and since the front of the hull was very streamlined, on account of this, a steel box was normally fitted to disguise this. The driver’s controls were modified to accommodate this so that he changed gear, for instance, with his left foot.


The tank was armed with a high-velocity 120mm rifled gun which fitted into a narrow turret aperture with an internal mantlet, which again was quite revolutionary, as was the method of loading the gun, a projectile loaded first, followed by the charge in a fabric container and a very small cartridge case, inserted into the breech to set it off. The idea was that the charge bag would consume itself when it was set off so that there was no heavy brass shell case for the loader to dispose of.


Chieftain was powered by a Leyland L60 multi-fuel engine which was adapted from a German design from the Second World War, an opposed cylinder Junkers Jumo aircraft engine originally designed for the dreaded Stuka dive-bomber. Unfortunately this engine, and the sophisticated gearbox/steering system was the source of many mechanical failures for much of Chieftain’s existence.


Although our tank never entered regular service with the British Army it remained at FVRDE Chertsey and was used for a variety of experiments. For example in about 1965 it was adapted at FVRDE to drive under water. This was done by sealing all the hatches, totally enclosing the gun and turret in a huge rubberized cover and erecting a waterproof tower on top of the turret. This tower was large enough for the commander to climb up and down inside so that, when the tank was moving under water the commander remained above the surface, at the top of the tower, and guided his driver via a microphone. The tower also provided fresh air for the crew and a means of escape if anything went wrong. FVRDE had their own deep water testing tank although more realistic trials could be conducted in The Fleet, a stretch of sea water inside the famous Chesil Beach in Dorset.

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Removed. Many Thanks.


Doesnt Bovy's original post say "it was spotted by someone with close links to Bovy" which must mean they are crediting you (or Bob Griffin) unless they got several notifications around the same time from different people? Your post does seem to say that Bovy had already done a deal by the time you arrived to take pictures? Anyway, surely it is better that is has been saved for the national collection rather than it disappearing into a private collection or it going on a plinth at the yard and then permanently being at risk of it being cut up without warning whenever work is slack and the price of scrap is high.

No matter who actually caused this tank to be saved, excellent work! Now what about the one with the American ranging gun????

Edited by The Tank Museum
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