ARM: Review - Chieftain MBT by Robert Griffin

Book Review: Kagero ?Photosniper? Series Number 7; Chieftain Main Battl
e Tank: Development and Active Service from Prototype to Mk. 11 by Robert G
riffin, illustrations by Slawomir Zajaczhjowski; Kagero Publishing, Lublin,
Poland 2013; 72 pp. with photos and paintings; price around US$20 (ISBN 97
Advantages: many color shots of details of Chieftain tanks both inside and
out, eight pages of color details of markings plus the back covers
Disadvantages: rather odd organization of the photos displayed inside the b
Rating: see text
Recommendation: for Cold War NATO and British armour fans
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 bulwar
k tanks used by NATO in the 1960s and 1970s against the threat of Warsaw Pa
ct invasion of Europe. One of the last tanks to retain separate loading amm
unition and a rifled gun tube (along with its successor, the Challenger), t
he Chieftain often made up with accuracy what it lacked in rate of fire. Bu
t saddled with a mediocre engine and other problems, it never reached its f
ull 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 comb
ined 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 Sovie
t tanks so a new design had to be found. Although the result, the FV4201 Ch
ieftain, came in four short tons heavier than the M60A1 (58 vice 54, or abo
ut 52 metric tons) it packed a much more powerful L11A1 120mm gun to the M6
0 series? L7 series 105mm.
But its two-stroke L60 diesel engine was, and remained, the tank?s Achil
les Heel for its 28 year service life. I personally recall coming off Teufe
lsberg in Berlin in 1979 while the British Berlin Brigade was on exercise t
o see a very florid captain standing on top of his Chieftain?s turret whi
le 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 t
hat 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 idiosyncracies himself, and has als
o drawn on other authors such as Simon Dunstan and Barry Beldam for insight
s 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 p
lates 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 pho
tos 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 confu
sing 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 serv
ed the same length of time and only left the inventory at the end of the 19
Also, as most UK armor fans know, all modern vehicles are given registrati
on plates similar to UK license plates mounted front and rear, but the colo
r plates only show odds and ends and not the full set of markings for the v
arious vehicles covered.
Overall, if you are a Chieftain fan and have good references on the variou
s 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 pho
to commentary.
Thanks to Kagero for the review sample.
Cookie Sewell
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