THE CENTURIONS HISTORY IN SWEDEN.
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At the end of WW 2 the Swedish tankforce consisted of 48 mashinegunarmed Strv m/37. 16 Strv m/38, 16 Strv m/39, 180 Strv m/40, 222 Strv m/41 (Pzkw 38(t)) all these with 37 mm guns. The most modern tank was the Strv m/42 with a 7,5/L31 cm gun of the same capacity as the Shemans 7,5 cm gun. Considering the threat of the IS-III and the T-34/85 all 37 mm gunarmed tanks were completely obsolete, as had been proven on the battlefields in 41 and 42. Even the Strv m/42 could not be considered to be adequate. The only vehicle with satisfactory firepower were the 87 Pvkv m/43 that started to be delivered in 1946. The situation was clearly not acceptable. Especially considering that development of tanks did not end after the war. On the contrary. Something had to be done.
At the end of the forties a committee recommended that the tanks that we had been forced to accept during the war should be replaced. Studies started aiming to aquire two different tanks. One heavy with good protection and firepower and one light with weaker armor but good mobility. The foreign tank that was best suited to the Swedish specifications was found to be the British Centurion Mk. III. The British sadly enough could not deliver any tanks to Sweden until the end of the fifties due to their own need for tanks. Projects for manufacturing a Swedish tank started.
In 1952 the British trade deficit forced them to change priorities. The national economy was more important than the type of tanks in their brigades. In december 1952 a delegation studied both the AMX-13 and the Centurion in Switzerland since that country already had bought both tanks. The 15th december a delegation went to London to purchase 80 Centurion Mk. III. On the 23rd they returned with a contract that was ratified on new year. Deliveries started in may.
The 50 ton C III as it was known in these early days had a 20 pdr or 8,4 cm gun. The Swedish designation became Strv 81. The first tank with a a gun over 8 cm in calibre. Not only were lessons from WW 2 incorporated in the design but also from the Korean war, in wich the Centurion had proven itself as a very successful tank. Especially appreciated was the (for its time) very good protection and the APDS amunition wich gave about twice the penetrention compared to fullcalibre rounds of the same calibre.
In 1954 more means were made available for further purchase of tanks. 160 Strv 81 were ordered (Centurion Mk III or really Mk III/V since some modifications had been made.) Three armored brigades could now be equipped with heavy, well protected and hard hitting tanks. The following extracts from the regulations give some understanding of how much the Centurion was apprectiated.
81. Guidelines. The actions of the armored battalion on the field of battle is largely dependent on the type of tanks with which it is equipped.
82. Heavy tanks. A battalion equipped with heavy tanks often gives the tank units independant tasks in open terrain. The firepower of the tanks, their ability to engage targets at long ranges, their ability to fire on the move and their protection means that they can with good prospect of success, even under unfavourable circumstances, engage enemy tankunits.
83. Medium tanks. A battalion equipped with medium tanks should choose broken terrain that gives possibility to engage the enemys flanks with surprise from well hidden positions and well protected routes of withdrawal. In open terrain the tanks are to be mainly used for direct fire support.
Only units with the Strv 81 were credited with any offensive capability. The medium Strv 74 that was considered inadequate was soon to disappear from most of the brigades. Interesting is that the capability to fire on the move is stressed. Particularly considering the studies that led to the next Swedish tank, the turretless "S" completely regards this as unnecessary. In reality the 8,4 cm gun was rapidly becoming inadequate againts the new foreign tanks such as the M60, the Chieftain or the T-62. This led a new decision.
The for the defenseforces in general and armor in particular, advantageous defensedecision in 1958 meant that means for a third batch of Centurions were made available. A British delegation was summoned in the fall of 1958. What it offered was a version with the same 8,4 cm gun as the Strv 81 mounted. But the threat development meant that this gun was starting to be a bit on the weak side. The British had developed a 10,5 cm gun that had been mounted in a brand new version of the Centurion. The Mk. X. Other improvements had been made to the commanders cupola, the protection, the amount of fuel carried etc. The British did not think that the Swedish knew about the Mk. X. When the Swedish representatives stated that we intended to buy a tank with at least a 10 cm gun they got the answer that the British could not supply such a tank. When the list of specifications included all the improvements made to the Mk. X the Swedes got the same answer. Finally one of the British asked "- Are there any more changes to the Centurion you want, but we have to pretend we do not know of?" Of course they understood that it was futile to try to sell any older version than the Mk. X. The delegation went home, but returned shortly after with permission to sell the Mk. X. One of the delegation members admitted that he had left for Sweden the first time in the belief that it was a backwards country regarding tankknowledge and that it thus would be easy to sell an outdated tank. On the other hand, in the factory in Leeds manufacturing the Centurion, the position was that Sweden was the hardest country to sell to since the Swedish tecnicians were very skilled.
The 110 Mk. X were given the designation Strv 101 in Sweden. Since the 10,5 cm gun could replace the 8,4 cm gun in the 240 Strv 81 this was done in 1964-1966. The new designation became Strv 102. Thus Strv 101 is actually a more modern design than the Strv 102 which is confusing if the above stated fact is not known. A number of armored recovery vehicles were also purchased. A total of 16, given the designation Bgbv 81.
In the 70:s the commander of the army determined that there was not enough money to replace or to renovate and modify the tank park in order for them to be techically fit into the 90:s. A decision to give priority to light combat vehicles and to partially renovate and modify the tank park was reached. Strv 101/102 was to undergo this REMO first and Strv 103 "S" later. This REMO was partially postponed since the commander of the army put priority to the purchase of the heavy antitank missile TOW rather than to maintain the older tanks.
The prolonging of the useful length of service to the Strv 101/102 had been planned early. An alternative to scrap the tanks but keeping the turrets for fortifying airfields was turned down. Instead a central renovation to increase the technical lifespan started in 1973 and ended 1977 for Strv 102 and 1983 for Strv 101. After this the tanks were considered to be in good technical shape until 1985 and 1990. This was a bit optimistic. Availability for the Strv 102 was low in the middle of the eighties. Sometimes as low as 60 % (on an average!), but in maneuvers with the logistics working as supposed a twelve tank company rarely had less that 10 each morning. The mechanics were the heroes and were often exhausted when the maneuvers ended.
|A loader at work in a Strv 102R.
Note the clenched fist with which he shoves the round home. This is to
prevent from having fingers caught when the breech closes, effectively
loading the fingers in the gun. Note the throatmike.
The right picture shows the loaders station viewing forwards. The amunition is one smokegrenade and one practise APFSDS m/80. In the 19-round compartment under the mashinegunmounting one more round is visible. The mashinegun is a Ksp m/39B Strv which is a swedish version of the american M1919 Browning. In spite of its age this is also mounted in the Ikv-91 and the brand new CV-90. Not surprising since it is a good weapon.
Further modifications were planned. Mainly to the fire control system. These included a laser rangefinder coupled to a ballistical computer, nightfighting equipment, add-on armor to the chassifront and exposive reactive armor over both turret and chassifront. The nightfighting equipment was not some sort of active or passive IR sight for the gunner. Instead two 71 mm illumination mortars were mounted on the turretroof, capable of firing illumination grenades at 400, 800 and 1300 meters range. The new designation for the so modified tanks became Strv 101R and strv 102R. These modifications were carried out by Bofors between 1983 and 1987. 84 of the Strv 102 were additionally modified with a Continental diesel engine and an Allison transmission. The same as in the american M60. This was a copy of the israeli modifications a decade earlier. These completely modified tanks got a new designation: Strv 104. Hägglunds in Örnsköldsvik was responsible for this part of the modification. The gunbarrels were fitted with thermal sleeves in 1992-93.
In the early nineties several options existed. A new tank was to be purchased for two armored brigades. The rest were to be degraded to mechanized brigades with only 60 tanks compared to the 72 of the armored brigades. The M1A1 and Leopard 2 had been tested for one year two years earlier and had clearly shown how far behind our tanks were in performance. A technical specification had been established with the database from the M1A1/Leo 2 tests as guidelines. The M1A2, The improved Leo 2S and the Leclerc were chosen for candidates since the british could not get their Challenger 2 ready in time. The mechanized brigades tanks were a source of consern.They must be updated in some manner. A project was launched and two prototypes were developed. One was the Strv 103D and the other was the Strv 105 which was the "supercenturion". Before it was decided wether or not to upgrade the 104 to 105 the Centurion was chosen before the upgraded "S". The "conclusions" that had led to the "S" in the sixties were not that appreciated anymore. Since this called for 180 Strv 104 or 105 a further 100 of the Strv 102 that were going to be scrapped had to be modified. This meant that two former "S"-brigades were to trade their beloved "vacuumers" to the, in their eyes, obsolete Centurion. They had just started training on the Centurion when the Leo 2S was chosen for the armored brigades. The deal was partly closed by the fact that Sweden was offered 160 used "basic" Leo 2 at a ripoff price. The idea of upgrading the older 104 to 105 standard at a cost more than twice of what was paid for the used Leo 2 was quickly killed. If the option for 90 more Strv 122 (as the Leo 2S is known) was to be triggered there would be Strv 121 (the used tanks) for all the mechanized brigades, but one had to be satisfied with 40 tanks. Exit Centurion.
Strv 104 with reactive armor
This did not happen. The new socialdemocratic government was not very keen on spending that much money on tanks. One brigade was to keep the Centurion. Unmodified. Of course this was to be the 18th mechanized brigade on Gotland. With over twenty years of Centurion experience and a threat that mostly revolves around air assault and in the worst case of an amphibious landing with a minor number of tanks this is acceptable for some time yet. It is certain that the Centurion will soldier on into the next millenium. Even if MekB 18 recieves Strv 121 if another brigade is disbanded it will take some years to retrain the brigades companies.
Smaller modifications are taking place. Such as the straps for attaching the AK 5 to the insides of the tank since this has replaced the older submashinegun m/45 or rearranging the floor for stowing the longer "Arrow 90" APFSDS round that is much longer than the "ARROW 80" APFSDS or m/66 APDS. The" ARROW 90" has an extremely high capacity for penetrating modern armor and in effect enables the Centurion to fight at least the T-72 series. Its armor is of course insufficient against tank fire, but with the reacive armor it can stand up to most HEAT-rounds, frontally.
The Strv 101 and 102 are now being scrapped. All parts that are common to the Strv 104 are saved as spares. Some tanks are naturally saved as museum tanks. The picture below shows the "elephant churchyard" at MekB18 were the old Strv 102 are waitining for dissasembling. Which parts that are to be saved is narked with yellow paint. The tank that has had the turret stowagebins removed has the steel add-on armor on the chassi front. A sad end after long and faithful service.
The Centurions Swedish history of active service has ended since the 18th mechanized brigade stopped training tanks in the summer of 2000. After long and distinguished service the last of these impressive beasts of war will be retired.