The FV 214 Conqueror was one of the last of the super heavy tanks developed before the tank regiments of the British army became more rationalised and eventually streamlined in to single types – Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger. It’s genesis was directly related to the deployment of the IS-3 heavy tank by the Soviet Union which outgunned and outarmoured the Centurion tank which was the British army’s standard tank in the post war years.
Development of the chasis for the Conqueror can be traced back to the A45 Infantry Support Tank of 1944 vintage. In 1949 the chassis was used as the basis for a new heavy tank mounting a turret equipped with a 120mm gun; an impressive figure when you consider most tanks of the day had a gun around the 85mm mark. This resulted in the FV 221 Caernarvon heavy tank which was used for trials purposes to develop the technology for the Conqueror which appeared in 1955.
Armour was exceptionally heavy for the time with some areas at the front of the hull having a density of some 178mm. By comparison the maximum armour of the Centurion tank was just shy of 150mm while the hull armour of a T-55 was just 100mm. While this armour combined with the very powerful 120mm gun made the tank formidable in combat the pay off was that it was very underpowered and lacked the agility of tanks such as the T-55. That being said it was able to traverse almost any terrain using its weight to force its tread to grip. Against the IS-3, the tank in which it was developed to fight, the Conqueror had superior armour and a broadly equivalent main gun. The tank did feature a unique independent cupola for the commander that allowed him relatively good vision and to mark targets for the gunner to aim for.
The type served almost exclusively in West Germany where they were grouped with larger numbers of Centurions to face the Soviets. Here the limitations of the vehicle were highlighted. Its sheer size and cumbersome handling made manoeuvring in the dense forests and towns of West Germany difficult and its weight meant it was actually incapable of crossing many bridges. The gun, while powerful, was very slow in reloading since it retained the old fashioned method of loading a shell and then a propellent sack thus doubling the workload of the poor loader. Reliability was also a questionable trait with breakdowns on some vehicles common.
The tank served for eleven years in West Germany before being withdrawn in 1966. While it can be viewed that the Conqueror was not a success story it would have certainly proved a useful defensive weapon had the Soviets made a break out – providing the engine started of course.