Tag Archives: British Army Challenger tanks

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade, 1991 Version

Some 30 years ago last week, the British Army’s 7th Armoured Brigade thundered out of Saudi Arabia and into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait as part of Operation Granby’s Desert Sabre, the UK’s end of the Desert Storm ground campaign.

The unit, part of the 1st Armoured Division, was made up of elements of many grand old regiments to include the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, and The Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s) while its sister brigade, the 4th, would include battalions of the 14th/20th King’s Hussars, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Divisional troops saw a smattering of battalions from the Guards (Coldstream and Scots), some elements of Highlanders and Gurkhas, and the 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers as well as artillery and support units.

While many of the regiments carried honors from the Crimean War, the armor of the British division was orders of magnitude higher than the Earl of Lucan’s “1,500 sabres and 6 field guns” of the combined 10-regiment Heavy and Light Brigades in 1854.

The outcome was likewise much different.

The division’s 221 FV4030/4 Challenger 1 tanks moved 180 miles in enemy territory under combat conditions within 66 hours, destroying the Iraqi 46th Mechanised Brigade, 52nd Armoured Brigade, and elements of at least three infantry divisions belonging to the Iraqi VII Corps, for the cost of 10 men killed. The Brits took 7,000 Iraqi EPOWs.

The Queen’s Royal Hussars Museum has a great detailed timeline of the 7th Bde’s move in Grandby including first-hand diary accounts such as this one:

‘We’ve got to really go for it,’ came the orders from Battlegroup and Squadron HQ. Even better. ‘Pedal to the metal, Brew.’ The turbos lit up and the tank leapt forward. The desert was hard. Almost as good as the highway. I looked left and right down the line. Squadrons to the left of me. Squadrons to the right of me. Yea, into the Valley of Death went the 600. It was the charge of the Light Brigade all over again, 137 years later. This time we had swopped our one ton beast of burden, lances and sabres for a 62 ton mechanical monster with a 120mm main armament and two 7.62mm machine guns. Far from being a Light Brigade we were definitely a Heavy Brigade.

In the process, the Brits destroyed approximately 120 Iraqi tanks and twice that number of armored and support vehicles, including one Challenger of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards achieving the longest-range (reported) tank-to-tank-kill in the war from 4,700m away.

The Royal Tank Regiment is having a 1980’s throwback, but it’s not for a parade

The British Army’s RTR is using a series of urban camo-painted Challenger 2 MBT’s in a series of tests to judge their ability to lay low in ruined cities. Of their three Sabre Squadrons (Ajax, Badger, and Cyclops), one has had their 18 tanks given a throwback paint scheme.

From RTR:

AJAX have just taken delivery of their latest tanks. These have been specially painted in the Berlin Brigade urban camouflage scheme and will be used for UK training as part of an ongoing study into proving and improving the utility of Main Battle Tanks in the urban environment.

AJAX are the urban specialists within the Regiment and will be looking to test current doctrine, tactics and procedures whilst experimenting with other techniques from across NATO and the rest of the world.

The brick red, slate gray marine blue and arctic green of the camo hails from the old pattern used on 18 Chieftain Main Battle Tanks assigned to the armored squadron of the British Army’s Berlin Brigade in the 1980s.

British Army Chieftain tanks of the Berlin armored squadron, taking part in the Allied Forces Day parade in June 1989 via Wiki

According to the Tank Museum, the “Berlin” pattern originates back to 1982 when the CO commanding the 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards tank squadron in Berlin felt that the normal Green paint scheme of the British Army was incompatible with its current urban environment.

The story of how “well” it worked, from the Tank Museum:

[A] senior MOD official was invited to Germany to inspect the new camo, and when he looked out of the window he is said to have remarked: “I can’t see your f*****g tank, must be a good idea” – what he wasn’t told was the Chieftain had typically broken down en route and no tank was there at all.

By the way, if you are curious about the eye painted on the turrets: These were painted on many of the tank corps vehicles and dates back to 1918, when one Eu Tong Sen, a prominent Malayan businessman of Chinese decent, paid £6,000 for a rather expensive Mark V tank via subscription. He insisted that, like Chinese river junks that have eyes to guide them in their travels, it should have eyes painted on it. British regulars familiar with Hamsa evil eye charms from prior Indian service also likely chimed in that they would repel evil.

The eyes seemed like a good idea either way to Tommies in France and was copied on other tanks in the field, a tradition that has endured in 1 RTR today.