British Tanks

The British had suffered from a succession of somewhat indifferent tank designs during the Second World War, but at the start of the Cold War the British prime production tank was the Centurion, which proved to be a great success. It was heavier than its contemporaries, the US M48 and the Soviet T-54, but the British were determined to have a well-armed and well-armoured tank following their experiences of being been consistently outgunned by German tanks, particularly the Panther and the Tiger. The Centurion’s main gun was progressively improved: the early tanks were armed with a 76 mm gun, but this was replaced first by an 83 mm gun and later by the L7 105 mm gun, which was so good that it was adopted by virtually every other army in NATO, except the French.

In the late 1940s the British also developed a heavy tank to meet the NATO requirement to defeat the Soviet JS-3. The Soviet tank’s armour was so thick that a very powerful gun was required to defeat it, and the British selected a US 120 mm gun, which, with its associated ammunition, was so large and heavy that the Conqueror tank, in which it was mounted, weighed 65 tonnes. The Conqueror earned a reputation of being slow and suffering from relatively poor mobility, although its top speed was only marginally less than that of the Centurion and its power-to-weight ratio (10 kW/tonne) was identical. Only 180 were built, and all were deployed in West Germany between 1955 and 1968 as tank destroyers.

In the 1950s the British started a project for their next tank, to replace both the Centurion and the Conqueror. This again followed their invariable Cold War priorities of firepower and protection, although one of their earliest decisions in this project caused considerable surprise among their NATO allies. The very powerful British L7 105 mm tank gun and its ammunition had become the virtual NATO standard in the 1950s, being installed in US M48s and M60s, British Centurions and West German Leopard Is, but the British themselves then became the first to leave the standard by insisting on a new 120 mm gun for this new tank. Initially, the new tank – named Chieftain – was beset by problems, particularly with the engine, transmission and suspension, but these were eventually resolved, particularly when an order from the shah of Iran for 700 tanks produced both money and an even greater sense of urgency to find a cure. The original staff requirement had been issued in 1958 and a prototype was running in 1959, but the Chieftain did not enter full service with the British army until 1967.

The search for a successor to the Chieftain began with a joint future-tank project with West Germany, but when this broke down in 1977 the British were forced to continue on their own in a project known as MBT-80. However, the contract to sell Chieftain tanks to Iran had led to a much improved version, known as Shir 2, of which several prototypes had been completed when the new Khomeini government suddenly cancelled the order. The British then decided to produce a modified version of Shir 2 to meet their own requirement for a Chieftain replacement. This tank, which had a new hull and power pack, but the same L11 120 mm gun as the Chieftain, was eventually placed in production as the Challenger, entering service in 1983.


From 1963 onwards the British also used a tracked APC, the FV432, which was generally similar in design to the M113, but constructed of steel. In the 1970s, however, when the British army started to consider a replacement for the FV432, there was an intense internal debate over the future requirement, which centred upon whether a new vehicle should be a MICV, as exemplified by the German Marder, or simply a better APC. Various prototypes were designed and tested, including a very large MICV, but in the end the Mechanized Combat Vehicle-80 (MCV-80) was selected, mounting a 30 mm Rarden cannon, and carrying eight infantrymen (one of whom was also the vehicle commander), although they did not have firing ports and therefore could not use their weapons from inside the vehicle. The title, MCV-80, was intended to demonstrate that the vehicle would enter service in 1980, but, as so often happened when such dates were included in a weapon title (e.g. the German/US MBT-70 tank), this proved to be over-optimistic and the vehicle did not enter service until 1987.

British Army of the Rhine

The second British Army of the Rhine was formed on 25 August 1945 from the British Liberation Army. Its original function was to control the corps districts which were running the military government of the British zone of occupied Germany. After the assumption of government by civilians, it became the command formation for the troops in Germany only, rather than being responsible for administration as well.

As the potential threat of Soviet invasion across the North German Plain into West Germany increased, BAOR became more responsible for the defence of West Germany than its occupation. It became the primary formation controlling the British contribution to NATO after the formation of the alliance in 1949. Its primary combat formation was British I Corps. From 1952 the commander-in-chief of the BAOR was also the commander of NATO’s Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) in the event of a general war with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The BAOR was formerly armed with tactical nuclear weapons. In 1967, the force was reduced in strength to 53,000 soldiers.

The 1993 Options for Change defence cuts resulted in BAOR being replaced by forces roughly 25,000 strong, divided between Headquarters Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, 1st Armoured Division, other combat support and combat service support forces, and administrative elements headed by United Kingdom Support Command (Germany). Garrisons which closed at this time included Soest (home of the 6th Armoured Brigade), Soltau (home of the 7th Armoured Brigade) and Minden (home of the 11th Armoured Brigade).

Following World War II, Britain found itself weighed down by its postwar obligations, colonial holdings, and the outbreak of the Cold War. The British Army of the Rhine, comprising some 50,000 troops in three divisions, participated in the Allied occupation of Germany. An additional 3,000 troops were stationed in divided Berlin. There was often a colonial/Cold War overlap, such as when Britain faced problems with the Soviet Union in Germany while dealing with independence movements in India, Palestine, and Malaya.

For more than 60 years, the British Forces in Europe has contributed as part of Britain’s commitment to the collective defence system of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). By having an army of more than 71,000 men permanently stationed on the European continent the United Kingdom shares with its NATO partners , particularly with Germany , the Netherlands and Belgium, the responsibility for the maintenance of peace, freedom and security in the heartland of NATO’s Central Front.

The structure of the British Forces in Europe, especially in Germany, dates back to the Second World War when British army and air force units participated in the Normandy invasion (in 1944) alongside their allies. At the end of the war, the British contingent remained in North West Germany as the British Army of the Rhine BAOR and the Royal Air Force Germany (RAFG). Further troops were stationed in Berlin.

The BAOR is commanded by a four-star general who is also the commander of the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG). The headquarters is at Rheindahlen/North Rhine Westphalia which additionally houses the headquarters of the Royal Air Force Germany, the Northern Army and the Second Allied Tactical Air Force (2ATAF).

In peace time, BAOR is divided into four parts of which the first, and by far the largest, is the 1st British Corps. It is the fighting element of the British Army in Europe with the headquarters at Bielefeld , and together with units of the Belgian, Dutch and German Armies, part of the Northern Army Group of SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe ) second part is the British Rear Combat Zone with the headquarters at Dusseldorf responsible for logistical support for the fighting troops . The British Communications Zone, as the third part, is centered at Emblem in Belgium providing points of entry for reinforcement units and supplies from the United Kingdom. The fourth part of BAOR is the British garrison at Berlin with about 3,000 soldiers. These troops (not committed to NATO) are maintained under the Allied Podsdam Agreement safeguarding the Western rights in the city along-side France and the United States.

Commanded by a lieutenant-general , the corps is organised into three armored divisions, an infantry division, artillery units and corps troops They are equipped with over 600 Challenger and Chieftain tanks, and nearly 3,000 other armored vehicles for specific duties stationed at 13 garrisons in North Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony.

Each of the three armored divisions Commanded by major-generals, is comprised of varying numbers of armored regiments mechanised infantry battalions, artillery, engineer and signal units. Each division is divided into three brigades commanded by brigadiers. Air support Is provided by an aviation regiment of the Army Air Corps equipped with Gazelle and Lynx helicopters

The infantry division of the 1 (BR) Corps is stationed in England with a small planning headquarters in BAOR and consists of two Territorial Army (TA) brigades and one regular brigade

The corps troops are comprised of two armored reconnaissance regiments, the corps artillery, specialist engineer units and communications and logistic units.

In time of war, the British Forces Germany is reinforced by regular and Territorial Army units and individuals based in the United Kingdom more than doubling the number of personnel. The 1 (BR) Corps and the Royal Air Force Germany move under NATO command while the elements of the BAOR and RAFG headquarters join to the British Support Forces (BSV) responsible for ensuring the rapid supply of soldiers, vehicles and equipment from the United Kingdom, the movement of stores and the treatment and evacuation of casualties.

In order to be always prepared for a crisis situation, the troops of BAOR have a regular annual training program which commences with minor exercises on local training areas in winter and spring. These are followed in summer by maneuvers on combat team and battle group level, including live-fire operations on the larger training areas in Germany like Sennelager, Bergen Hohne and Soltau-Luineburg. Finally, there are the field training exercises frequently held in cooperation with other NATO forces after the harvest in autumn every year to reduce damages to the countryside. To train on a larger scale with complex weapons which cannot be used on German terrain, the British Army established the training center BATUS in Canada (British Army Training Unit Suffield) allowing battle groups to practice fire and movement for three days without covering the same ground twice.

Regular participants of the maneuvers Germany are the units of the Territorial Army assigned to reinforce the BAOR in case of emergency. Their training program normally includes a one-week unit level training and one week in the field every year. To keep up to date with the role of their units in cooperation with BAOR troops, the TA officers receive regular briefings and attend study periods.

Budget constraints, environmental concerns and improved computer programs have led to an increased use of simulators at all levels of training reducing the number of soldiers and vehicles in the field.

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