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The Leopard in Canadian Service

The Leopard in Canadian Service Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review January 2006 Title The Leopard in Canadian Service
Author Michael P. McNorgan Publisher Service Publications
Published 2005 ISBN 1-894581-31-8
Format 24 pages, softbound MSRP (CDN) $9.95


I have always liked the Canadian Leopard C.1 and have had two of the old Italeri Leopard 1A4 kits kicking around just to built a model of one. Barry Beldam even gave me a quick boot by providing me with 1/35 scale "maple leaf" insignia for it, but never got around to the model. Now a new book from Service Publications by former Canadian tanker and retired Major Michael McNorgan covers the entire history of the Canadian Army (er, Land Forces) and the Leo.

The Canadian Army in Europe in the early 1970s was equipped with the Centurion 11, an upgraded version of the older Mark 5s they had purchased in the 1950s, and by that time it was lagging behind the Soviets as well as their allies in performance. The US was using the M60A2 and M60A3, the British the Chieftain 5, and the Germans were equipping with the Leopard 1A1 and 1A2. Due to internal squabbles over budgets, the Canadian government blew a chance to get more than 200 Leopard 1A1/1A2 tanks for a bit more than CDN $53 million.

Finally, being way behind the power curve and facing Soviet forces equipping with the T-64A main battle tank, in 1976 the Canadian government bought 114 Leopard 1A4 models and associated Leopard-chassis support vehicles for CDN $187 million, not quite the same bargain!

Until the Germans had the bugs out of the 1A4 and were able to built the modified Canadian version, dubbed the Leopard C.1, the Canadians were loaned two battalions worth of Leopard 1A2 tanks, wryly dubbed "rentatanks" by the Canadian tankers. The C.1s began delivery in 1978.

The C.1 was essentially the then-current Leopard 1A4, a product-improved version of the 1A3 that had successfully tested during REFORGER 1974, and was quite similar other than some of the locations for kit on the tank hull and turret, and an integrated fire control system topped off by the fitting of the large PZB 200 low-light-level television sight on the left side of the mantelet. The tank also used the AN/VSS-4 searchlight, which was mounted inside the tank and used a small aperture for use vice the big boxy German one used on their Leopard tanks.

The major user of the tanks was the Royal Canadian Dragoons based at Lahr with the 4th Canadian Mechanised Battle Group (CMBG), essentially a brigade-sized structure. But as Major McNorgan wryly notes, since it was the ONLY Canadian armoured unit in Germany and other tankers rotated through from North American bases as well, it was dubbed the "Royal Lahr Dragoons."

(For American readers, the Canadians do not quite use the same type of system as the US does with the Combined Arms Regimental System or CARS. Once assigned to a regiment, you usually stay with that regiment for your career in a manner similar to the US system today of battalion assignments in CONUS and overseas with the same regimental affiliation. The Canadian tankers had no such system, so anyone from another regiment, such as Lord Strathcona's, the 8th Hussars, or the 12eme RBC, would re-badge in Germany as RCD. This was the only assignment in the Canadian military which required this re-badging.)

But the Leopards lost much of their attraction once the Wall fell in 1989, and in 1992 were all pulled back to Canada. The use of Canadian forces in peacekeeping operations did cause a spark of need for armor support (anyone who read General MacKenzie's book on his adventures in Sarajevo can understand why he would have loved to have had Leos to back his forces up!) Overall, however, only four tanks were ever sent abroad for these missions.

As the tanks hit their 20th year of service, and became more and more obsolete, in 1999 the Canadian government decided to replace them with 123 Leopard 1A5 tanks declared surplus by Germany. But as the 1A4 hull was superior to the 1A1/1A2 hull of the 1A5 upgrade, when they got the tanks in they swapped the more modern 1A5 turrets onto the C.1 hulls and created a new model, the C.2. This is the standard main battle tank of the Canadian Land Forces today.

A good set of plans for a Leopard C.1 by George Bradford is the centerpiece of the book, but some modelers may find them not detailed enough for creating the C.1 from a Leopard 1A4 kit.

Overall a good and entertaining read, as Major McNorgan has a good style and "knows where the bodies are buried!"

Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.