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Chieftain Main Battle Tank

Chieftain Main Battle Tank Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review April 2013 Title Chieftain Main Battle Tank
Author Robert Griffin Publisher Kagero
Published 2013 ISBN 978-83-62878-52-9
Format 72 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $19.95


Although it did not gain the wide sales and use of its American and German counterparts, the M60 and the Leopard, the Chieftain was one of the bulwark tanks used by NATO in the 1960s and 1970s against the threat of Warsaw Pact invasion of Europe. One of the last tanks to retain separate loading ammunition and a rifled gun tube (along with its successor, the Challenger), the Chieftain often made up with accuracy what it lacked in rate of fire. But saddled with a mediocre engine and other problems, it never reached its full potential.

This new book covers the history of the development of the Chieftain from the mid 1950s onward, when the UK was trying to find a new design that combined relatively light weight with high firepower. As the US discovered with its M103, the UK's Conqueror was too big, heavy and slow to combat Soviet tanks so a new design had to be found. Although the result, the FV4201 Chieftain, came in four short tons heavier than the M60A1 (58 vice 54, or about 52 metric tons) it packed a much more powerful L11A1 120mm gun to the M60 series' L7 series 105mm.

But its two-stroke L60 diesel engine was, and remained, the tank's Achilles Heel for its 28 year service life. I personally recall coming off Teufelsberg in Berlin in 1979 while the British Berlin Brigade was on exercise to see a very florid captain standing on top of his Chieftain's turret while flames merrily licked up out of the open engine deck hatches and yelling "Will someone please put the bloody engine out!" (It should be noted that the Ukrainians made the same mistake of a two-stroke diesel in their T-64 series tanks.)

Robert Griffin appears from the text to have served in Chieftains and has a good knowledge of the vehicle and its idiosyncrasies himself, and has also drawn on other authors such as Simon Dunstan and Barry Beldam for insights on the tank. He has written a pretty good narrative of its history and a good description of how the tank evolved from prototypes to the final Mark 11 version of the tank. His coverage is accompanied by eight pages of two plates per page in full color of the various camouflage schemes and some of the markings worn by the Chieftain through its service career.

But the book does have a problem with its layout and organization. The photos do not track well with the text, and prototype shots are mixed in with descriptions of later variants and vice versa. This makes it somewhat confusing as the text tracks developments far better than the photos do. While a section of the book compares the Chieftain with the stillborn US T95 tank program, its true competitor and fellow Cold Warrior was the M60 which served the same length of time and only left the inventory at the end of the 1980s.

Also, as most UK armor fans know, all modern vehicles are given registration plates similar to UK license plates mounted front and rear, but the color plates only show odds and ends and not the full set of markings for the various vehicles covered.

Overall, if you are a Chieftain fan and have good references on the various marks and service markings this book has a wealth of detail shots of the Chieftain which will be handy for modeling. If not, it is a very confusing reference and will frustrate some modelers with its erratic display and photo commentary.

My sincere thanks to Kagero for this review sample!