In May 1981, just over a year after the first Panzer XIIs entered service, the second new tank of the 1980s made its official debut when the Royal Horse Guards based at Sedan exchanged their Churchill Mark III tanks for the brand new Conqueror universal tank.
The Conqueror was not greeted with universal praise however. Voices in the media and more worryingly in some sections of the forces complained that the Conqueror was a waste of money and resources that would have been better spent on other weapons systems or on training and support services, that the tank itself added no new capability to the British Army and that its role could have been easily filled by the Mark V Churchill which had entered service only a few months before. Taken at face value these criticisms seemed to have some truth to them, however on closer inspection though they showed a lack of understanding of both the Conqueror tank and of British armoured philosophy.
The principle thrust of the critics argument was that the Conqueror was nothing more than a beefed up Churchill, and that unlike the French, Russian or German tanks that had entered service in the years immediately prior to it, the Conqueror displayed no major change in doctrine or advances in technology. Much was made by ill informed reporters about the similarities between the Churchill and the Conqueror, both had a 120 mm 55 calibre gun, both had a powerful diesel engine, both had hydro-gas suspension, both had a heavy armour suite, and so on and so forth, while in the meantime the French were pioneering smoothbore guns, the Germans gas turbine engines and the Russians were making the leap from a medium tank/heavy tank force to an all universal tank force. The critics argued that with the Conqueror the leaders of the Royal Armoured Corps was still thinking the same way as their predecessors had in the 1950s.
And those critics were correct. Just not for the reasons they thought they were.
Its often said that Nazi Germany has a severe inferiority complex when it comes to architecture. Before the fall of the Reich tourists to Berlin and other German cities could be assured of being bored stiff by their guides telling them in great detail how much higher, wider and bigger the monuments of the German capital were in comparison with those of other nations, how many Arc de Triomphes you could make out of the Arch of Victory, how many Nelsons Columns youd need to reach the top of the Hitler Spire, how many St Pauls Cathedrals you could fit in the Volkshalle, it is as if German architects are driven to build things bigger and stronger than structures in other countries. The British Army has something of a similar attitude when it comes to tanks. As mentioned in earlier chapters Britains tanks were of less than stellar quality during the early 1940s. They were either heavily armoured but slow, fast but poorly protected and in all cases inadequately armed and none to reliable compared to American or German tanks. As the frenzy of 1930s rearmament gave way to the deeper but more studied rearmament of the 1940s the men behind Britains tank force determined that this would never be the case again, from now on British tanks would be more heavily armoured, more heavily armed and more reliable than any fielded by the United Kingdoms potential enemies. The upshot of this was that British tank development became evolutionary rather than revolutionary. This lead to a series of tanks which displayed a clear progression in capabilities. This is not to say that British tank development stagnated, more that British tanks had a set range of parameters to fill using the best available technology. In 1980 the Conqueror was the ultimate expression of this.
The Conqueror described
In many ways the Conqueror seemed to be the Churchill only built with the benefits of ten years worth of industrial and technological advances, however beneath the skin the two tanks were very different beasts. Fully eighty seven percent of the Conqueror was new technology, including all the major systems.
The tank mounted a brand new L91 120 mm 55 calibre rifled gun, this was linked to a Pye Cyclops integrated fire control system which included a thermal sight for the gunner and an independent thermal sight for the commander to allow hunter/killer tactics. Power came from a 1500 hp Rolls Royce Theseus diesel engine, with a third generation hydro-gas suspension fitted this allowed the 60 tonne tank to reach a road speed of 44 mph. The Conquerors most impressive feature though was its Mithril armour. This type of advanced composite armour had been under development in Britain and France since the late 1960s and had first been fitted on the FCM 78, the Conqueror was several tonnes heavier than the French tank however and consequently mounted a stronger armour package, in fact the Conqueror was the most heavily armoured tank in the world in 1981, a title it retains at the time of writing almost thirty years later.
Written by Landshark at Alternate History.com
I did the illustration. Landshark came up with a series of vehicles from an alternate Cold War involving Nazi Germany, America, England and others.