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.
IS-3 Heavy Tank
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The tank served for eleven years in West Germany before being withdrawn in 1966.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.
The Vickers Medium Mark.III tank was a brief footnote in British tank development. Only three were built for trials purposes and it was intended that they would replace the previous Mark.II. Despite being the spiritual successor to the Medium Mark.II the two vehicles had very little in common and was one of a number of multi turreted designs that several tank manufacturers the world over had taken an interest in during the 1930s.
The origins of the tank can be traced back to 1926 when the War Office wanted a replacement for the proven but increasingly obsolete Mark.II tank which had served the Army well after World War I. There was an increasing interest in multi turreted designs (particularly in Britain and the Soviet Union) and as such a new design was drawn up comprising of four turrets;
A single 3 pounder (47mm) gun in a central turret as the main weapon with two crew. This turret was powered and had separate cupolas for the commander and gunner.
Two one-man turrets mounted at the front armed with single .303 machine guns for use against infantry. These were manually trained and induced high fatigue on the operators.
A fourth turret was mounted behind the main turret and was equipped with an anti-aircraft gun.
The result was an extremely complex vehicle designated “A6” that was wrought with problems. It was underpowered even after efforts to re-engine it and a plan to combine two Rolls-Royce engines was shelved on cost grounds. Suspension problems made for an uncomfortable ride and testing showed that it was inferior to the Mark.II making it a poor gun platform.
Development of the A6 was discontinued in 1929 and Vickers reworked their design which resulted in the Mark.III. This had a similar arrangement to the A6 but with the deletion of the AA gun turret and the two machine gun turrets being moved further forwards. Armour ranged between 9 and 14mm in width which was adequate for the time but quickly becoming obsolete. While improvements were made in most areas the new type still suffered from the chronically bad suspension that plagued the A6. A third prototype would alleviate this problem with a new set up but by then the Mark.III had failed to win an order and it served for trials purposes only.
Despite the fact it never entered production the third prototype with its improved suspension was taken briefly in to service as a command vehicle and was used by Brigadier Percy Hobart on a military exercise at Salisbury Plain in 1934. After that the prototypes were scrapped.
Although an interesting design the type would certainly have been of little use against equivalent types with its thin armour and clumsy performance but it can be argued that development was not complete and therefore an accurate comparison can’t be made. The multi-turreted tanks of the 1930s were almost universally a failure but they could have been used as an infantry support vehicle with their mix of weapons.