Centurion Layout

Check out this great Cold War circa 1965 “layout” image of a Centurion Mk 5 main battle tank. While the whole thing seems very British, the picture is actually of a track from Bravo Squadron, 101 Tankbataljon (101 Tkbat), of the Dutch Army’s Regiment Huzaren Prins Alexander (RHPA).

NIMH AKL052561

A closer image gives a better view of the crew and the tank’s interesting camo pattern. NIMH AKL052558

All smiles, NIMH AKL052559

The crew in front of the tank all carry a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol as a personal weapon and two 9 mm UZI SMGs as an additional weapon for the gunner and the loader. Also, note the Class A-style uniforms on their packs and the vehicle gear to the right.

The Royal Netherlands Army’s tank history is a curious one.

Prior to World War II, the Dutch possessed but a single tank, a second-hand French Renault FT that was acquired in 1927. While this was augmented by five Carden Loyd Mk.VI tankettes in the 1930s and a fleet of about three dozen assorted armored cars including the excellent domestically-made (with Swedish help) M39 Pantserwagen, European Holland was not very well equipped when it came to armored vehicles when the Germans crashed over the border in May 1940. The Royal East Indies Army (KNIL) in what is today Indonesia, had more going for it but that is beyond the scope of what we are talking about.

The “Free Dutch” Prinses Irene Brigade, formed in England during the German occupation in WWII, was ostensibly motorized but was only about a battalion-sized unit that, in the end, would ride into Northwest Europe in late 1944 on Bren and Loyd Carriers while their reconnaissance unit was equipped with Daimler and White Scout cars.

Post-war, with a fight on their hands against Indonesian insurgents and the threat of thousands of Soviet T-34s set to turn Europe red, the Dutch received almost 300 surplus M4A1, M4A2, M4A3, and M4A4 Shermans as well as some former British and Canadian Firefly tanks, which they operated into the late 1950s when they were replaced by new Centurions.

When it came to Centurions, the Dutch bought an impressive 592 Mk 3 models with British radios and thin 20pdr OQF Mk.I (84 mm) main guns between 1953 and 1960, using American MDAA funds as production of the M48 Patton wasn’t sufficient to cover the demand. Plus, the Centurions allowed the Dutch to work hand-in-hand with the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and the Canadian Brigade in West Germany should the Fulda Gap become a contested space.

About 340 of these tanks were later upgraded with American radios and 105 mm L7A1 guns to become Mk 5 NL and Mk 5/2 standard by the early 1970s while the unmodded Centurions went into the reserve. The Dutch replaced them with West German-made Leopards and the Centurions, technically still owned by the U.S., were then (apparently) transferred to Israel.

The Dutch picked up 468 Leopard 1s in the 1960s and later 445 Leopard 2A4s (NL version which was all German but used Dutch radios, antenna bases, FN MAG machine guns, and smoke mortars) in the 1980s, then upgraded the latter to 2A5 and 2A6 standard.

With the end of the Cold War, the older Leos were scrapped (or converted to ARVs, BARVs, and bridge layers) and the newer Leo 2s hit the sales blocks for an average of $2 million a pop– a comparative bargain in the MBT world as the Dutch panzers were meticulously maintained and little-used. They sold them to Austria (115 2A4s in 1993), Norway (52 2A4s in 2001), Canada (100 2A4s/2A6Ms in 2007), Portugal (37 2A6 in 2007), and Finland (124 2A6s in 2011), leaving just a handful left in Holland. With no tanks left to drive, the disbandment of the 1st and 2nd Hussars (Regiment Huzaren 1st Van Sytzama, 2nd Prins van Oranje) occurred in 2012.

Even though no tank units “officially” exist in the Royal Army, the Dutch have just 18 Leopard 2A6M A2s active for service as part of a joint German/Dutch unit (the German 414th Panzer Battalion) and another handful of older Leo Is for spares, gate guards and museum displays beside the auxiliary hulls used as ARVs, etc. The Dutch make up the 4th Panzer Kompanie (4 PzKp) of the battalion and are barracked at Bergen-Loheide, though the battalion is under the overall command of the Dutch 43rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade.

Still, at least it is better than just having one.

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