Today, Lee looks at the British MBT for Iron Maiden- the Chieftain!
Chieftain! Chieftain! CHIEFTAIN!
Okay, I’m a little excited by this as it’s what I have been waiting for since Team Yankee was first announced. The Chieftain MBT!
Whilst the wargamer in me wanted the Challenger (everything a Chieftain can do, but better), the sentimentalist in me wanted the tank of my childhood (and the only one I have actually ridden on).
And it’s finally here! When the shop gave word that the copies were in I was more excited than my toddler on Christmas day.
So, does it live up to my expectations? Read on.
The Chieftain was developed to replace the 105mm armed Centurion which the Royal Armoured Establishment (RAE) had already determined was going to fall behind the anticipated next generation of Russian tanks.
Various concepts were studied; from the turretless Swedish ‘S tank’ to a missile armed, articulated hull,Tank Destroyer; but the general tank layout was eventually settled on. The specification focused on armour and armament over mobility. The armour had to shrug off the Russian 100mm gun and the armament had to kill a projected Russian tank at range.
The 105mm was not going to cut it so a new 120mm was developed. The need to fire HESH and deliver accurate fire at range (before modern FCS came along) drove a rifled gun. A spotting rifle was fitted but the tracer burn out limited it’s use at range. To improve crew survivability, the propellant was kept separate from the round and stored in water filled bins. Tanks could be replaced; trained crews less so.
When it appeared on the front line in the 60’s, the Chieftain outclassed anything else on either side of the Iron Curtain but it had one flaw; it’s powerplant. The British Leyland multi-fuel engine did not meet specifications and was underpowered and unreliable. The Mk.5 Chieftain boosted engine output and reliability, but the Chieftain never entirely shook its reputation.
Chieftain in its natural habitat
By the 1980’s, the Chieftain still made up the majority of the fighting strength of the BAOR but was starting to show its age against the newer Russian tanks (T-64 and T-72, let alone the T-80). Thankfully, its thick armour and powerful gun meant it was not too far behind the curve; but it lacked anti-HEAT armour, thermal vision, full axis stabilisation and a decent FCS. It did receive a laser range finder in place of its ranging gun and the Mk.10 received Stillbrew applique armour to provide a measure of protection. A thermal capability, the Thermal Observation and Gun Sight (TOGS) was also mooted in teh form of the Mk.11 but the Challenger was getting first dibs so is out of the scope of the Team Yankee time frame.
Stillbrew may help, buts its bloody ugly
The Chieftain was never the export success that the Centurion was, but it still won orders in the Middle East. Iran (being bought in the days of the Shah), Jordon, Kuwait and Oman all adopted the tank in various sub-variants. It was with these users that the Chieftain saw its only combat.
Post-revolution Iran took its Chieftains into the Iran-Iraq war were, through poor tactical use and dwindling logistics support, they fared poorly against defending T-62 tanks. The ability of the 115mm APDSFS rounds to penetrate the front armour came as a shock to the UK MOD and led to the crash development of Stillbrew.
Far better was Kuwait’s use of the Chieftain vs Iraqi T-72 (export models) in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Despite a lack of preparation and sometimes being forced to fight at relatively short range (<1.5km) The Chieftains managed to make a good account of themselves against the Iraqi armour – the 120mm main gun proving traumatic for the Iraqi armour, before withdrawing to Saudi Arabia as ammo ran out. As this article notes: “The Chieftain had proved it was able to do exactly what it was designed to do, hold larger forces of Soviet armour at bay. The 35 Chieftains had held up the lead elements of two divisions for nearly ten hours. As well as the one breakdown the brigade had only lost two tanks in the battle.”
The export customers laid the seeds for its replacement as the Shah of Iran asked for an up-rated Chieftain with the new Cobham armour and a Rolls Royce engine (almost doubling the horsepower over the original Leyland PoS). That deal fell through due to a sudden change in local management but the British Army found that the Chieftain 900 provided a suitable basis for its own future tank, eventually becoming the Challenger.
And that didn’t do too badly vs the Iraqis either…
All in all, the Chieftain may not have been as agile as a Leopard 1, but it was perfectly suited for the “hold and fall back” fighting that would have characterised the early stages of the projected WWIII.
Right, that’s enough poorly researched rambling. How’s the model?
The kit, like the majority of other BF offerings, comes on one large sprue. Straight away we can see that the turret offers a Mk.10 Stillbrew option as well as the older Mk.5-9 turret form. We only get the white light/IR module so no Mk.11 TOGS option in the box.
You only need one gun on the sprue when you get it right first time…
We also get a sprue of resin tanks commanders, that look suitably good (excepting I have no idea what is going on with No.3 from left’s headwear – is it an older style helmet?)…
A good mix of berets, AFV helmets and…something.
And Decals. I was a little underwhelmed by the options on these after being spoilt by the excellent West German ones. No rear plates or bridge markings? Boo…
More union flags than a pro-Brexit gathering
Sundries put aside, I started to assemble the kit, starting with the turret. I only had the paper sheet exploded diagram to help with this, but honestly, it never felt like I needed more. This is a very straightforward kit that took no time to build.
Firstly, looking over the turret pieces, two things become clear:
- You need to work out early if you want Stillbrew or not as you can’t build two complete turrets, nor is there any practical way of building a magnetised model due to the need to glue the stowage racks to the upper turret.
- Whomever decided that having the grenade launchers integral to the upper turret with the ugliest infil known to man needs to be given a firm beating! Apparently this was based on feedback about how much of a pain the BMP-2 separate ones were. I say “boo” to that! A grenade cluster that glued to, say, a locating dimple ala the M1’s launcher ammo cans, would have been easy to handle. This is non-satisfactory.
Bleh – I though the Leo 2’s dispensers would mark a low point – I was wrong!
That disappointment aside, the rest of the detail is crisp and well defined and the turret went together easily enough. Its basically, upper, lower, NBC pack, then add the searchlight, gun and stowage racks. The commanders cupola has both open and closed options on the sprue but the loader’s hatch and searchlight are both “buttoned” only.
The lower hull is equally easy. There is an upper and lower half which locate on each other easily, engine plate to seal the back which, when fitted looks a little wonky but no idea if that is necessarily wrong (the joins lower down are tight together so it may be intentional) then tracks and bazzoka plates. Again, it all goes together as smoothly as you’d expect a CAD designed model to go.
Just looks like a big bigger a gap than expected where the rear plate buts-up. But seems intentional.
I found that the tracks can be easily inserted with the plates in place which is good as I paint the tracks off model and previously found the Leo 2’s were a bit tricky to fit once painted.
All in all, the level of detail is generally excellent although there are a few compromises made to keep the part count/complexity down due to the limitations of a hard tool (snigger). The driver lights and turret cable reel are present but under defined, the rails of the stowage rack are a little chunky and the firing lines to the grenade bundles are not present on the forward turret. The GPMG (two are provided for breakages – always appreciated) also looks a little odd in its shape and is chunkier to be more games-table friendly, which is fair enough.
But these are minor quibbles from being familiar with highly detailed 1/35 kits and the detail is otherwise excellent. I had the old man over and he was happily pointing out various features to me, plus giving me some stowage tips.
The oversized nature of the 55 calibre barrel is clear.
Driver lights are a little under-detailed due to the limitations of the plastic tooling – but should suffice with decent painting
Other than the launchers and chunky nature of the stowage rack bars – accepted as a limitation of tooling, all major details appear correct.
There are some compromises on detail on the side of the turret: no real detail on stowage bin side, aerial mount goes all the way to the the base rather than just being a square box – and the horrendous launchers.
No real complaints with the rear other than the backs of the stowage racks are filled in – easily hidden with extra stowage.
Note – The wonky tracks are because they are just resting in place for photos.
The top is definitely one of the better angles. Shows the kits detail off well.
I’m hoping to get some side by side shots of the BF offering next to ArmyArmies resin model which one of my regular opponents has. I’ll update the article at a later date.
In the Game
The Chieftain, especially the Stillbrew model, compares well to the other NATO tanks – matching the Leo 2 on hitting power, mobility over terrain and protection. Its shortfalls are its drop in RoF on the move; lack of thermal vision; poor side armour, especially vs HEAT; and low top-end speed. That said, its nearly half the price of a Leo 2 and its shortfalls can be planned around. The skill rating of the British crew means that Blitz can allow for some dancing of the tank whilst maintaining RoF 2 and a decent Infantry screen and AAA should keep the side armour safe from most threats. Moving is over-rated anyway.
I bought the Chieftains as part of the Charlie’s
Angels Chieftains box-set but, ignoring the very nice mini-rulebook (and the twentieth copy of the cardboard template), this offers no saving over buying a Lynx and Chieftain box each separately.
So, before the usual discounts, we are looking at £30 for 5 tanks (and decals/crew), or £6 each. Most of the white-metal/resin competition is priced at £5.50 (QRF)-£8 (ArmiesArmy) so its sitting bang in the middle of that price range.
This was always going to be a bittersweet article as the kit was going to struggle to live up to my expectations, having built larger scaled detailed models of the subject matter.
In my opinion, heavily biased towards model making than just wargaming, the kit has a very good level of detail but makes a few too many compromises for low complexity/part count over making a good looking model – there’s no getting away from the ugly infills on the aerial mount and grenade launchers. Those who want an easy and quick build would disagree, no doubt!
But, overall, the kit is a good solid depiction of the Chieftain that will satisfy the majority of players with no reservations; and even I’m not that upset with it – I got a squadrons’s worth of them, after all! The kit was a joy to build and I look forward to spending a couple of weeks going to town with adding stowage and painting them up.
The BF plastics have been on an upward trend and this is, at worse, maybe a slightly clumsy side step than a true back step in that quality. It certainly hasn’t diminished my eagerness to see the other plastic kits in the BAOR range.