JOINT HARRIER STRIKE FORCE: SCRAMBLE!
If there is one thing I have learned about model railway exhibitions over the past five years it is the need to be flexible and improvise when necessary. And the Joint Harrier Strike Force is a perfect example of this. Having set up The Bucc Stops Here and brought along Flashpoint Korea to help fill an anticipated gap at the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition in October 2010– there were still two empty tables next to me on Saturday, ready for Iron Horse Videos to arrive on Sunday.
One could be temporarily filled with Flightline and Ken Guest’s diminishing bus fleet while for the second empty table I brought along the grass field alternative to the concrete apron used on the Airfield Embankment.
This gave me the chance to realise a Harrier – and US Marine Corps AV8A – forward base somewhere in West Germany complete with tactical refueller, Bedford MK lorries, tanks and even a Sikorsky CH-3 Jolly Green Giant helicopter ready for a rescue behind enemy lines.
In fact this idea had been in my head since 1973 when I bought the Matchbox Harrier GR1 and the Airfix Scorpion tank from Fletcher’s AT 24 Kings Square, Gloucester. For younger readers, this is where the Edinburgh Woollen Mill is now and for anyone over 45 – remember the shotguns lined up downstairs and the kits and Triang trains upstairs?
At the time both the Hawker Siddeley Harrier – introduced to the RAF on 1 April 1969 – and the Scorpion tank were news so putting the two together seemed like an excellent idea. The only problem was that to a clumsy and impatient eleven year old the Scorpion was far too small and fiddly. I never finished the model and the idea…well, hibernated until rudely aroused by necessity!
BLOWING HOT AND COLD
While a technical overview of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier appeared in the article Sydney Camm’s Swept Wing Jets, this feature explores some of the vehicles and infrastructure that would have supported the World’s first – and still only – Vertical / Short Take Off and Landing strike aircraft in the field. First though, it is worth examining the underlying concept of a guerrilla aircraft operating without runways.
As relatively small strike aircraft, Harriers were able to hide individually under camouflage nets, trees or structures such as bridges rather than sit together on an airfield dispersal area in the manner of Hawker Hunters or English Electric Lightnings. As such an enemy would waste more time, energy and aircraft trying to locate and destroy them.
Once in the air too, the Harrier proved an agile and elusive target for opposing air superiority fighters because of its unique lift and propulsion system. Unlike the earlier Short SC1 or later Yakovlev Yak-38 Forger – fitted with separate lift and thrust engines – the Harrier was built around a single example of Sir Stanley Hooker’s Bristol Siddeley ( later Rolls Royce ) Pegasus turbofan. This supplied cold compressed air to the front and hot exhaust efflux at the rear to two pairs of jet nozzles which could be swivelled – or vectored – by the pilot. When vectored downward, the Harrier rose vertically. When vectored aft, the Harrier moved forwards and when vectored slightly forwards the Harrier slowed to a halt and moved backwards. This last manoeuvre – known as Vectoring in Forward Flight or Viffing – could be used to allow enemy fighters chasing a Harrier to overshoot and themselves become vulnerable to gun or missile fire. However, once the Harrier had viffed, a large amount of energy was required to accelerate again.
Although existing airstrips or lengths of suitable straight road were ideal for short take off for Harrier operations, any small field or forest clearing just behind the battle front could also become a base. However, vertical take offs burned more fuel and therefore reduced either range or payload or both. Optimum short take offs required a 1 300′ runway and a traditional RAF preparatory test of a field suitable for Harrier use was to drive a Land Rover across it at 40 mph.
As a result of not having to fly a long distance into combat however, the Harrier could still deliver a full weapons load with much less fuel after a short take off. For this reason too, Harrier equipped 3, 4 and 20 Squadrons moved from RAF Wildenrath near the Dutch border to Gutersloh – just 75 miles from East Germany – in 1977.
Like most contemporary strike aircraft too, weapons such as gun packs, air to air missiles, air to surface rockets, bombs and napalm – up to a maximum weight of 6 000 lb – were carried on external pylons for ease of loading by a small ground crew.
However, deploying Harriers in very small units was less efficient in terms of guards – to repel enemy saboteurs and airborne special forces – fuel supply, maintenance and personnel than larger ones and busy radio signals traffic from a central command position to a number of very small dispersal sites was more vulnerable to opposing signals intelligence gathering.
Exercises in the late 1970s suggested that the optimum deployment pattern for two squadrons would comprise six dispersed sites – each with six aircraft – and a central logistics park. The two primary sites would be under the direct control of the squadron commanders with flight commanders at each of the remaining sub sites. The 36 Harriers could generate 200 sorties a day with 20 minute turn round times between missions although a conflict of more than two days would be difficult to continue without fuel and armaments arriving from the central logistics park. This in turn would require hundreds of maintenance men and vehicles along with the necessary road access. Keeping 10 Harriers operational for 14 days would also, it was estimated, require 650 spare parts including a spare Pegasus engine.
Although an outer perimeter of land mines could be spread around the dispersal sites, these were not envisioned to be defended by anti-aircraft artillery or Rapier surface to air missiles (introduced in 1971) Rather, detection and attack would be countered by rapid redeployment to another nearby site which could typically be achieved within five hours. Indeed, since first writing this article I have been reliably informed that the task of finding and preparing alternative dispersal sites was carried out by combat teams of the RAF Regiment, with General Purpose Machine Gun fitted reconnaissance land rovers preceding a pair of Scorpion tanks for fire support and four Spartan armoured personnel carriers each typically carrying a section of six gunners. The Spartans and their occupants would then secure one site while another was reconnoitred.
For protection against nuclear fallout, and biological and chemical attacks, Harrier dispersal sites would also in all likelihood have been equipped with Porton Liner tents measuring 8′ x 14′, pressurised to keep out contamination and accessed via airlocks.
While the Hawker Siddeley Harrier was ordered by the RAF with the threat of Soviet armour invading West Germany very much in mind, deliveries of the McDonnell Douglas AV-8A to the United States Marine Corps from 1971 had been prompted by the need for independent and immediate air cover during opposed amphibious landings. The alternatives explored had been helicopter gunships, US Navy aircraft from nearby aircraft carriers or laying pre-fabricated metal airstrips for McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk jets.
Although RAF Harriers and USMC AV-8As never went to war with the Warsaw Pact forces ranged against them across the Iron Curtain, their agile versatility was demonstrated when an RAF Harrier won its London-New York section of the 1969 Daily Mail Trans Atlantic Air Race.
Held between 4 and 11 May to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alcock and Brown’s first eastbound flight, the race saw Squadron Leader Tom Lecky-Thompson descending from the top of the four year old Post Office Tower on 5 May and crossing by motorcycle to Somers Town coal yard near St Pancras station. Having climbing into the cockpit of Wittering based Harrier XV741 and taken off in clouds of coal dust, Lecky-Thompson used his bolted on dorsal probe to refuel four times from Handley Page Victor tankers before landing on a wharf on 23rd Street near the East River in Manhattan and making it to the top of the Empire State Building in 6 hours, 11 minutes and 57 seconds.
The New York- London leg of the race meanwhile was won by a Royal Navy McDonnell Douglas Phantom II crew in a time of 4 hours 46 minutes, using helicopters to travel between the skyscrapers and the nearest available conventional runways. The Phantoms also made extensive use of afterburning to maintain high supersonic speed over the Atlantic.
Ten years later, RAF Phantom II XV424 crossed the Atlantic eastbound in a subsonic time of 5 hours 40 minutes with Squadron Leader A.J.N. (Tony) Alcock MBE (a No.56 Squadron Flight Commander and nephew of Atlantic Pioneer Sir John Alcock) at the controls.
WHEELS ON THE GROUND
In the early 1950s the British army selected the Bedford RL 4×4 vehicle as one of its standard 3 ton trucks although in 1968 it was uprated to 4 tons. By the time that RL production ceased in 1969 over 70 000 had been built for both civil and military markets at home and abroad: many still being used by the British army in the mid 1980s. In the 1960s meanwhile General Motors had overcome competition from Austin and Commer to build its replacement, the MK: developed from the civilian Bedford TK 4×2 chassis to meet a Ministry of Defence specification for a general purpose load carrier capable of operating in military environments throughout the World.
As well as all-wheel drive, larger tyres and military lighting and stowage features, the original MKs differed from their civilian ancestors in being powered by a Bedford 330-93 6 cylinder 103 bhp multi fuel engine although from 1981 a more powerful diesel engine replaced this to create the MJ range of vehicles. The engine was coupled to a manual gearbox with one reverse and four forward gears and a two speed transfer case. Suspension consisted of semi-elliptical springs with hydraulic shock absorbers front and rear.
Introduced in the early 1970s, the Bedford MK FV 13804 4×4 general service truck – known to all three British services as the “four tonner” – could carry 9 987 lb of payload across country and tow a trailer weighing 11 199 lb.
Immediate variations on the right hand drive power take off winch fitted vehicle depicted above were the basic left hand drive FV 13801 and right hand drive FV 13802 and the left hand drive power take off winch fitted FV 13803. The model built from the ex JB ( now Airfix ) kit also features an opening in the roof of its all steel forward control cab to allow a 0.3″ calibre machine gun to be used for air defence.
The MK series were true multi purpose vehicles. With tail gates, sides and bows – fitted by Marshall of Cambridge – and tarpaulin covers removed they could carry the CB300 range of freight containers and could also be fitted with Atlas cranes and snowploughs. More specialised dedicated variants also included artillery tractors, light recovery vehicles, tippers, reconnaissance drone carriers, bridging trucks and aircraft refuellers. However, the standard MK could also carry the Gloster Saro demountable bulk fuel dispensing unit to refuel vehicles and helicopters in forward areas.
The original 4×2 specification Bedford TK was also used by the Army for driver training and for carrying stores in rear areas as it was more fuel efficient than the MK and this generator version – also a common sight at fairgrounds – is produced by The Oxford Die Cast Company in a lighter camouflage scheme.
Developed for the refuelling and defuelling of helicopters and V/STOL aircraft under operational conditions, the Bedford MK Tactical Refueller came into RAF and Army Air Corps use in the late 1970s. The aluminium equipment compartment – with metering equipment, control valves and hose reels – and 1 000 gallon light alloy tank behind the driver’s cab were produced by Taymech Aviation Equipment with a single stage self priming centrifugal pump being driven by a power take off on the vehicle gearbox. Modifications to the original chassis involved moving the spare wheel and repositioning the exhaust. A fire screen was also fitted behind the cab.
Although Hong Kong based die cast manufacturers Base Toys also produced a Karrier Bantam flatbed in the stone livery used at RAF Nicosia in Cyprus (DA02) and an RAF blue dropside (D95) I was immediately drawn to D99 in its NATO green with yellow stripes as I remember this livery on HGVs coming from and going to the then RAF Innsworth in the 1970s. The two ton Karrier Bantam itself first appeared in the mid 1930s but – like the later Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf – evolved in terms of capability and styling over the years until it was finally discontinued in 1970. In RAF service the Karrier Bantam was replaced by the Bedford TK.
Karrier began in 1908 as a car marque of the company founded by Herbert and Reginald Clayton in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 1904 with Clayton and Company being changed to Karrier Motors Limited in 1920. Karrier became part of the Rootes Group in 1934 with production being moved to Luton, Bedfordshire and the Huddersfield factory closed.
Under Rootes ownership, Karrier trucks were generally smaller size than their sister,Commer brand, with “Bantam” models using 13 inch and “Gamecock” models using 16 inch wheels, to give lower loading height. Partly because of this, they were particularly popular with local authorities for varied applications, including highway maintenance tippers, refuse collection vehicles and street lighting maintenance tower wagons. Karrier trucks and chassis were also popular with airport operators and airlines for baggage handling trucks, water bowsers and toilet servicing.
In 1965 Commer and Karrier were merged with Dodge (UK) as part of Chrysler Europe and production moved to Dunstable, with Dodge branding becoming ubiquitous during the 1970s.
The RAF vehicle registration number on the BT models Karrier Bantam is 49 AD 00, part of a batch of 2 ton dropside lorries acquired in 1969 and numbered between 48 AD 78 and 49 AD 04. The AD element was applied to refuellers, fuel trailers and specialist vehicles, as tabulated below, just as Oxford Diecast’s RAF Standard Vanguard saloon 55 AB 66 was part of the car category and the same firm’s Morris J2 BM utility van – bought in March 1966 – carries the AR designation of vans, snowploughs and brushes
MILITARY LAND ROVERS
As well as Army vehicles, the picture to the left includes two RAF Land Rovers, the blue one supplied with the Airfix kit of the Bristol Bloodhound missile and the desert sand liveried Oxford Die Cast model featured in the Universal Works salute to English Electric at the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition of April 2010.
Although often taken for granted, the origins of the Land Rover can be traced back to the end of World War II when the British government decided to ration steel to those motor manufacturers who could obtain the most exports. The Rover company in Solihull had been a manufacturer of expensive cars but decided to build a vehicle as rugged as the wartime American Willy’s Jeep but powered by the same 50 bhp 1.6 litre engine as the P3 road saloon to attract agricultural customers from around the World. In fact the idea came from Rover Chief Engineer Maurice Wilks who used a Willys Overland Jeep on his farm.
The first prototype of what became the World’s first mass produced civilian 4×4 – with an 80 inch wheelbase and registration HUE 166 – was completed in 1947 and was unveiled in public at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show. It had permanent four wheel drive with low ratio gearing and a locking freewheel mechanism while the body panels were made from lightweight aircraft grade aluminium covered in army surplus green paint.
All the early prototype Land Rovers had a tractor like centrally mounted steering wheel to save the expense of building separate right and left hand drive versions for export although this idea was abandoned for the production vehicles. HUE 166 is now preserved at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire.
Production of the £450 Series 1 Land Rover started in 1948 with 86 and 107 inch wheelbase versions being introduced from 1954 and the now familiar 88 and 109 inch formats (seen above with British army trailer) being standardised from 1956. The year of the Suez Crisis also saw the Land Rover finally replace the more complicated Austin Champ in British army service after introduction of the Solihull built AWD in 1949. Land Rovers later also replaced the rust prone Austin Gipsy and the 100 000 th Land Rover was built in 1954.
Early Land Rover fans included Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who used a specially adapted model for her first World Tour in 1953 and also toured Gloucester Park during her first visit in 1955 standing in the rear of a Land Rover alongside HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
Indeed, Battle of Britain pilot Group Captain Peter Townsend – who nearly became Her Majesty’s brother in law – travelled 57 000 miles around the World in his Land Rover Station Wagon and the first Prime Minister of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II – Sir Winston Churchill – was presented with a Land Rover – registration UKE 80 – at his home at Chartwell for his 80th birthday in 1954.
In 1968 Land Rovers had their headlamps moved from the grille to the forward mudguards to meet new lighting requirements introduced in the Low Countries while in 1970 the 1 tonne (pictured above) and half tonne models became the first Land Rover variants to be designed specifically for military use.
The ambulance version of the 1 ton forward control Land Rover – produced from 1972 to 1978 – completes the line up at the top of this section and was designated FV19009 for the right hand and FV19010 for the left hand drive version. The larger aluminium framed and panelled body was produced by Marshalls of Cambridge and could carry four stretcher cases or eight sitting patients along with a medical attendant.
By 2011 Land Rover had merged with Jaguar under the Indian owned Tata banner, employed 16 000 UK staff and enjoyed five consecutive profitable quarter years.
TRACKS ON THE GROUND
Although the Harrier and Bedford MK were still new in 1973, bang up to date was the FV 101 Scorpion, which entered British army service that year with the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) of the Household Cavalry. The RAF Regiment were also to acquire the first of 184 Scorpions and similar Spartan Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (Tracked) from November 1981 for airfield defence. As such, both Army and RAF Regiment Scorpions could have worked closely with Harriers – one vehicle defending the other and also uniting in the common cause of tactical reconnaissance.
While the concept of aerial reconnaissance goes back to the kite and balloon era before even the first Bristol Boxkite took to the skies, aeroplanes and similar flying devices have the disadvantage of being seen over a battlefield by the enemy as well as reporting movements. Skilfull reconnaissance by stealth on the ground however – even in the modern world of satellite imaging – can allow an army to detect and assess its enemy without the enemy even knowing it is being spied upon. Traditionally reconnaissance by stealth was carried out on the back of light horses which gave their riders both the ability to reach observation positions denied to dragoons on heavy horses and also to return to their headquarters and report more rapidly than infantry. However, from 1914 onwards such horse reconnaissance was vulnerable to machine gun fire and was overtaken as a communications method by radio although a lightweight yet armoured and radio-equipped vehicle – such as the Scorpion’s immediate predecessor the Alvis Saladin, also featured in the diorama – could do the same necessary job.
Indeed, armoured fighting vehicles also offered more scope for reconnaissance by force in which more heavily armed and armoured assets would move further ahead of an advancing army, attack enemy outposts and in so doing force their occupants to reveal both their positions and capabilities. The disadvantage of reconnaissance by force however is that inherently more expensive and less agile vehicles can find themselves being fired on my massively superior forces.
Knowledge is power and time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted, which is why reconnaissance units are the first vehicles on a battlefield and the last off it.
In defensive withdrawal mode, a Scorpion reconnaissance troop would stay closest to the advancing enemy and report the situation while infantry in armoured personnel carriers – such as the Alvis Saracen, also featured in the diorama – and then main battle tanks with guns facing rearward – made a rapid but orderly retreat.
In advancing mode meanwhile, British army tactics of the late 20th Century were based on the initial concept of bounding overwatch. In this, main battle tanks such as the Centurion or Chieftain would cover the open battlefield ahead with their guns while Scorpions would move forward a kilometre at a time and then hide so that the larger AFVs could move forward into observed territory.
Any enemy resistance could then be rapidly reported and targeted by either tank guns, artillery at the rear of the advancing formation, tactical airstrikes or, as a last resort, by the Scorpion’s own 76mm gun: although this would give away its position and invite heavier reprisals.
Indeed, on hearing the radio report “Enemy contact, wait out” the best thing that a Scorpion crew could do would be to await further instructions rather than either crowd the vehicle that made the report or blunder into a fire fight and compromise secrecy. Similarly, if a contact grid reference was available, the best tactic would be to move as stealthily as possible to a new position screened from the contact but offering new intelligence gathering possibilities.
Typically an eight strong Scorpion troop would be split into four two-vehicle sections for this activity – moving from one observation position to another as needed – although some Scorpions could be held in reserve if the enemy was discovered in a more confined space. The Scorpion was designed by Alvis Vickers to survive in environments made hostile by nuclear, biological or chemical pollution but armoured fighting vehicles are vulnerable to irregular asymmetric warfare in urban areas which are therefore best avoided if possible.
As well as reacting to specific enemy actions, a Scorpion reconnaissance troop would also move cross country – avoiding established roads and tracks that could have been mined – to discover the exact size and nature of the enemy forces. Other tasks would include checking safe routes and bridges for the advance of friendly forces, marking minefields and other obstacles and searching for and claiming areas into which the enemy cannot see or shoot for the advancing forces to form up in for the next phase of attack. Once the rest of the vehicles had formed up, the job of the Scorpion would once again be to bound ahead and recconnoitre.
Then, once a successful attack had been consolidated, the role of the Scorpion reconnaissance troop would be to form a chain of observation posts at the front of the captured territory to give early warning of any counter attack. The Scorpions would still operate in pairs, allowing for any one three man crew to rest and eat while the partner crew kept watch. However, rapid planning would be needed to assess the landscape and arrange “dead letter drops” for re-supply vehicles – such as the Alvis Stalwart also included in the diorama – to leave consumables for individual crew members to retrieve on foot rather than have soft vehicles arriving next to otherwise well camouflaged observation post and drawing attention to them.
Alvis won the British army contract to produce the Scorpion in 1967 and by the time of its withdrawal in 1994 over three thousand members of its family had been built, many of them being exported around the World. Seventeen prototypes were tested in climates as different as Canada, Norway, Australia and Abu Dhabi before official British acceptance in 1970.
Made from thick aluminium armour plates, the FV 101 Scorpion was designed to be light enough to be air transportable and also small enough to fitted inside a standard shipping container. Indeed, two CVR (T)s could be flown inside a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft or one slung beneath a Boeing Chinook helicopter. Similarly, the Scorpion exerts less pressure on the ground than a standing foot soldier – once again allowing the light reconnaissance vehicle to venture where heavier vehicles could not.
As petrol engines have traditionally produced less smoke and noise than diesels they have been used in reconnaissance vehicles despite the battlefield risks associated with more inflammable high octane fuel.
As such, the Alvis Scorpion was originally fitted with a Jaguar XK J60 4.2 litre petrol engine – with a solex carburettor and electronic ignition – alongside the driver. In addition to its high power to weight ratio – a feature of aircraft engines that have often been modified to power tanks – the Jaguar engine had been proven in private road cars, was commercially available – decreasing unit costs – and was easy to maintain.
The Jaguar prime mover was later replaced by a Cummins or Perkins diesel which offered greater fuel economy as well as reducing the fire risk while still yielding a World-beating road speed of over 50 mph. Acceleration from nought to 30 mph could also be achieved in a very credible 16 seconds and maximum water speed with flotation screen deployed was 3.6 mph. Both engine types delivered torque through a TN15 Crossdrive gearbox with seven forward and seven reverse gears. It also allowed each track to move in opposite directions and turn the Scorpion on its own axis.
Rather like a sports car with a tiny luggage rack, one downside of the Scorpion’s compact nature was the lack of storage space – solved in part by external bins fitted to the rear of the turret and also to the rear of the hull on later examples. However, many Scorpions – in British service at least – were customised with extra front-hull and turret bins with RAF Regiment examples having Chieftain bins on the sides and the back of the turret. Crews also hung their Bergen rucksacks off the sides of their Scorpions camouflaged with foliage.
Within the turret – again made of aluminium and designed to withstand small arms fire – both the commander and gunner had a number of telescopic and periscope sights as well as the Rank Precision Industries image intensifier passive night sight protected by an armoured cover to the right of the 76mm gun.
The vital task of communication was handled by two Clansman VRC 353 VHF radio sets, each with its own metre long whip aerial. On the model these aerials were slightly over scale for emphasis although in reality they were often reduced to half metre lengths to lower their visibility even though this reduced operational range. At full power the Clansman – which could transmit on over 1 840 frequencies – could be received 30 miles away although operationally minimum necessary power was used to reduce the possibility of enemy interception. Two Clansman sets were needed so that one could be used on the battle group command net while the other could be tuned to a smaller network just for the recce troop – thereby not blocking communications to all units with local-specific messages.
Other vital equipment included a commode under the commander’s seat, an internal potable water tank and an efficient boiling vessel for cooking and making hot drinks. From the crew perspective too, the British army always allocated enough rations to feed four operators when the Scorpion only had a crew of three!
The British army Scorpion was armed with a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun with 3 000 rounds carried and multi-barrelled smoke grenade dischargers fitted to each side of the turret although the CVR (T)’s main weapon was the low pressure 76mm Royal Ordnance Factory ( now BAe Systems ) L23A1 gun based on the L5 fitted to the Saladin that the Scorpion was designed to replace. The L23A1 could fire single piece ammunition including High Explosive Squash Head, smoke, illuminating and two types of training rounds. High Explosive and canister rounds were also capable of being fired but were not issued to the British army.
The Scorpion had internal stowage for forty 76mm rounds with the left hand seated commander loading the L23A1 by laying the round on the loading platform and feeding it into the chamber. The breech would then close automatically with the round ready to be fired either electronically or – in the case of power loss – by a manual firing pin. The British army Scorpion had manual 360 degree turret traverse and gun elevation gearboxes although power was an option on export models.
The L23A1 could be elevated by 35 degrees and depressed by 10 degrees but it was the lack of a fume extractor for this weapon in the turret that hastened the withdrawal of the Scorpion from British use as using the gun under NBC lockdown conditions could have suffocated the crew. However, the Scorpion hulls have now been united with turrets from the FV721 Fox wheeled reconnaissance vehicle to create a new CVR (T) – the Sabre.
Apparently the 76mm rifled gun did not last long in service before being replaced by the Rarden canon, which could be made to fire continuously with an expert loader constantly replacing ammunition clips.
The Sabre is in fact the latest in a long line of Scorpion variants, the most direct being the Scorpion 2 ( or Scorpion 90, pictured left ) uparmed for export markets with the Belgian long-barrelled Cockerill Mk3 M-A1 90mm gun. Other more specialised CVR(T) variants have included the FV102 Striker ( firing Swingfire anti-tank missiles ) FV103 Spartan armoured personnel carrier, FV106 Samson ( recovery) FV104 Samaritan ( ambulance) , FV105 Sultan ( command vehicle ) and the Canadian built Salamander, which uses a dummy gun to represent a Soviet T-80 style tank for training purposes.
Perhaps best known of these – and still in Army and RAF service since production ceased in 2004 as well as being an Airfix kit option – is the FV107 Scimitar -pictured left – used as a reconnaissance vehicle by infantry rather than tank regiments. Rather than a gun optimised for squash head tank-damaging rounds, the Scimitar’s 1960s vintage 30mm L21 RARDEN canon can hit one-metre targets one kilometre away with ammunition that can penetrate lightly armoured personnel carriers. Once again, the L21 is loaded by the commander – in pairs of three round clips – for the gunner to fire either in single shots or six round bursts.
Scorpion tanks were deployed at Heathrow Airport as part of security measures against expected terrorist action in 1974 and Scorpions and Scimitars together were the only British armoured tracked vehicles to be used in the Falklands Conflict of 1982. During the 1990/91 Gulf War the reconnaissance regiment of the First Queens Dragoon Guards operated 32 CVR (T)s and the close reconnaissance troops of the armoured regiments each had eight.
Although largely replaced by the more heavily armoured Chieftain from 1966, I included this die cast model of a Centurion tank in my Joint Harrier Strike Force diorama as it was immediately available, matched the colour scheme of the vehicles mentioned above and continued to serve in specialist supporting roles with the British army into the 1990s. More specifically the Hobby Master model represents “Die Hard”, a Centurion Mark V of 10 Troop, C Squadron, of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment’s Berlin Brigade of August 1961.
The Centurion was Britain’s first attempt to produce a universal tank and do away with divisions between the infantry tanks, such as the Matilda and Churchill, and cruiser tanks like the Comet. In 1943, after a succession of unfortunate tank designs, the British War Office commissioned a new specification calling for a tank weighing 40-tons that offered durability, reliability, and the ability to withstand a direct hit from a German 88mm gun.
The Department of Tank Design responded by extending the long-travel 5-wheel suspension used on the Comet with the addition of a 6th wheel and an extended spacing between the 2nd and 3rd wheels. The Christie suspension with internal vertical spring coils was replaced by a Horstmann system with external horizontal springs and the hull was redesigned with welded sloped armour which owed much to German Panther and Soviet T-34 designs. Power came from the Rover built Rolls Royce Meteor 12 cylinder petrol engine developed from the Merlin prime mover used in Supermarine Spitfires.
Six Centurion prototypes were developed before the end of World War II, but the first production Centurion IIs were not issued to the 5th Royal Tank Regiment until December 1946.
It was soon recognized that the weight restrictions had to be lifted as the original specification could not be achieved within the 40-ton weight limitation. The early vehicles were equipped with a 17 pounder main gun, a 20mm Polsten cannon and a partially cast turret. However, modifications to the original design from 1948 resulted in the adoption of an 84mm 20 pounder, fully stabilized main gun and the replacement of the 20mm cannon with a Besa machine gun , thus allowing the turret to be fully cast. These changes resulted in the Centurion Mk IV.
In order to maintain its combat effectiveness, continuing modifications led to numerous other changes to the main gun armament (most notably the incorporation of the L7 105mm gun in 1959), the addition of fire control equipment and infra-red driving aids, a new diesel engine, and a semi-automatic transmission.
The L7 105mm tank gun was one of the most successful British weapons ever produced and became the standard main armament for the vast majority of NATO tanks. Design work on the L7 began in the early 1950s at the Armament Research And Development Establishments, Fort Halstead ( subsequently the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment ) with the first gun development trails taking place in mid 1956.
During the Hungarian revolution of 1956, British engineers had the opportunity to examine the latest Soviet T-54A medium tank which was found to be equipped with a 100mm calibre gun and armour invulnerable to the 84mm 20 pounder gun fitted to early Centurions.
As such, the L7 was needed in service right away and was thus specifically designed to fit the turret mounting and recoil system already used by the 84mm 20 pounder. This enabled existing Centurions to be upgunned with minimal modification saving time and cost.
However, keeping the same turret/barrel mounting diameter but increasing both the calibre and internal ballistic pressure required for the 105mm round required a thinner walled gun barrel made from a higher strength gun steel. The rifled barrel was also reinforced by a technique known as autofrettage and the first L7 fitted tank was a single up-armoured Centurion Mark 7. The L7 105mm gun later equipped the German Leopard tank – for which the L7A3 variant was developed – while the US built M68 105mm gun was fitted to the M60 Patton tank. Although the gun barrel was standardised, each nation designed its own sliding breech mechanism to suit the needs of of its own specific turret configuration.
Centurion tanks first saw action in the bitter cold of the Korean winter of early 1951 and proved themselves to be the best armoured fighting vehicle of the conflict with excellent cross country performance. Centurions of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars also covered the withdrawal of 29th Brigade from the Battle of the Imjin River despite losing five tanks in the process.
Centurion tanks were also exported around the World and were used to great effect by Israel in many of its wars with Arab neighbours. However, few tanks can boast of a more extreme career than the Mk 3 Centurion Type K firstly numbered 06 BA16 by the British army and then 169041 by the Australian army after being devolved under Contract Demand 2843.
At Emu Field, South Australia in October 1953 it was left with its engine running 500 metres from an 9 kiloton atomic bomb which was then detonated. The Centurion was later found to have been pushed two metres further away from ground zero by the blast and that its engine had only stopped working because it had run out of fuel. Antennae were missing, lights and periscopes were heavily sand blasted and the cloth mantlet cover was heavily carbonised but the tank was able to be driven away from the site. Had the tank been manned however, it is unlikely that the crew would have survived due to the shock wave.
169041, subsequently nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was later used in the Vietnam War and is now located at Robertson Barracks in Palmerston, Northern Territory. Although other tanks were subjected to nuclear tests, 169041 is the only tank known to have withstood atomic detonation and subsequently gone on for another 23 years of service, including 15 months on operational deployment in a war zone.
The FV4201 Chieftain entered service as the first Main Battle Tank of the British army in 1965, replacing the earlier Centurion and Conqueror. Powered by an opposed piston two stroke Leyland L60 multi fuel engine ( related to the Napier Deltic diesel ) and armed with a rifled 120mm gun, it was the most powerful and best armoured tank in the World. The Chieftain also introduced a supine (lying backwards) driver position, enabling a heavily sloped hull with reduced height.
Chieftain was upgraded several times with each major modification bringing a new mark. First Chieftains used by the Army was Mark 2 ( as represented in the Airfix kit, pictured above), the production model was Mark 5 and the final upgraded model was Mark 11. Eventually most Chieftains used by the British Army were upgraded to Marks 10 and 11. They are quite distinctive because of the add-on armour, called Stillbrew, attached to the front of the turret and in front of the turret ring. Mark 11 can also be easily recognised by the TOGS (thermo-optical gunnery system) camera and cooling unit attached to the left hand side of the turret and replacing the massive spot light used on previous marks.
Chieftains were eventually replaced by Challenger 1 MBT in the mid 1980s. Some of them were converted to engineering vehicles, some ended up as hard targets on various firing ranges. Some were scrapped but quite a few were sold to private owners and museums.
ROTORS TO THE RESCUE
The HH-3 Jolly Green Giant evolved both from the forward fuselage of Sikorsky’s earlier S-61 ( which in turn was the basis for the Westland Sea King ) and the rear fuselage and tailplane of the Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe flying crane. The design was formulated in response to a United States Air Force requirement of the early 1960s for a long range transport helicopter to resupply the “Texas Towers” radar stations located off the shore of the southern USA. For this role, the new helicopter was given an hydraulically powered rear door and loading ramp, twin wheeled forward tricycle undercarriage and auxiliary power unit for self sufficiency in remote areas.
The HH-3 variant of what Sikorsky had originally termed the S61R was introduced from 1966 and became famous for rescuing aircrew shot down behind enemy lines in Vietnam. The very similar HH-3F Pelican was likewise used for search and rescue duties by the US Coastguard and HH-3 “Jollies” were also employed to insert US Special Forces for clandestine operations until finally being replaced by later Sikorsky helicopters in the 1990s.
Between 31 May and 1 June 1967, two HH-3Es of the United States Air Force made the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean by helicopter. Departing from New York in the early hours, the two helicopters arrived at the 1967 Paris Air Show at Le Bourget after a 30 hours 46 minutes and nine in-flight refuellings. Both helicopters were later lost in combat operations in Southeast Asia in 1969 and 1970.
The Jolly Green Giant flew 251 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and examples were also stationed in Florida, Africa and Spain from the 1980s to rescue astronauts from any forced Space Shuttle landings.
Even closer to the British Army on the Rhine from 1977 was the Westland Lynx, the Corgi die cast model of which was sourced in late 2011 in anticipation of the Joint Harrier Strike Force being re-deployed to St Margaret’s Hall in late October that year.
Until the consolidation of the British helicopter industry during 1959-61, with Westland absorbing the rotorcraft operations of Bristol, Fairey and Saunders Roe, the Yeovil based firm had spend most of the years after 1945 manufacturing modified Sikorsky-designed helicopters under license.
However, in 1964 project WG13 began as a replacement for the Army and Royal Navy’s Scout and Wasp helicopters and as a more easily maintainable alternative to the Bell UH-1 Iroquois.
The WG13 rotor – made from composite materials around a honeycomb core – was a completely new semi-rigid type with blades of constant chord and cambered section. With these characteristics, it was possible to achieve very high tip speeds, as well as enhancing lift and reducing drag.
First flown on 21 March 1971, the prototype twin Rolls Royce Gem powered helicopter that became known as the Lynx was followed by four more examples in AH Mark 1 configuration with skids for army use and in HAS Mark 2 format with four non-retracting wheels on oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers for the Navy.
The Lynx also marked the start of international collaboration between Westland and Aerospatiale of France which would also lead to the production of Gazelle and Puma helicopters.
The Lynx demonstrated its capabilities by the records achieved in the summer of 1972. Piloted by Westland’s chief test pilot Roy Moxam, it broke the world record over 15 and 25km by flying at 321.74km/h, also setting a new 100km closed circuit record shortly afterwards by flying at 318.504km/h.
A specially modified Westland Lynx 800 – ZB-500 – first flown in May 1979 – with British Experimental Rotor Programme blades (now standard on all new Lynxes) and the civilian registration G-LYNX, also set the absolute speed record for helicopters over the Somerset Levels on 11 August 1986. The aircraft – pictured above – was piloted by Trevor Egginton alongside flight test engineer Derek Clews and reached a speed of 249.09 mph (400.87 km/h) to take the 228.9 mph record set by a heavily modified Mil Mi-24 Hind in September 1978.
For the attempt G-LYNX was fitted with an uprated Rolls Royce Gem 60 engine boosted by water methanol injection and the swept tips of the BERP blades allowed them to rotate at high speed with minimum vibration and stall. G-LYNX was then used as an engine test bed before donation to the Helicopter Museum in Weston Super Mare in 1995 where thanks to the hard work of museum volunteers and Westland apprentices the rotorcraft was returned to display in record breaking condition in 2011.
The British Army ordered over 100 Lynx AH.1 for a variety of roles, from tactical transport to armed escort, antitank warfare (with eight TOW missiles), reconnaissance and casualty evacuation. A Marconi Elliott AFCS system was fitted to the Army’s version of the Lynx, which gave automatic stabilization on three axes and could also be used as an autopilot during extended flights.
The initial Westland Lynx HAS Mk.2 version was ordered by both the Royal Navy and the French Aeronavale, although they differed in their avionics, ASW equipment, and their armament (the former has four Sea Skua anti-ship missiles and the latter AS.12 missiles). Uprating and other changes subsequently resulted in two distinct new variants, the HAS Mk.3 for the Royal Navy and the Mk.4 for the Aeronavale. Similar uprating for the British Army version resulted in the AH Mk.5.
The 50′ long British army Lynx AH 7 with 42′ diameter rotor blades has a maximum speed of 201 mph ( 324 Km/h ) and a range of 328 miles ( 528 Km ) with standard fuel tanks.
The Lynx has also met with considerable export success. After careful evaluation, it was chosen by the German Navy (12 ordered in 1981) for use on their new frigates, and six SAR and 18 ASW models have been ordered by the Royal Netherlands Navy. Other operators of the Lynx include Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Norway, Nigeria and Qatar.
XZ221, as represented by the Corgi model, is a Westland Lynx AH7 introduced in 1992 to 671 Squadron Army Air Corps and by 2008 attached to 9 Regiment 16 Air Assault Brigade of the service based at the former RAF Dishforth, North Yorkshire, in 2008. Bearing the constructors number 147, XZ221 was still flying in 2011.