Charioteer (tank)

The Charioteer Tank, or FV4101 Tank, Medium Gun, Charioteer was a post-war British armoured fighting vehicle. The vehicle was produced in the 1950s to up-gun units of the Royal Armoured Corps continuing to use the Cromwell tank during the early phases of the Cold War. The vehicle itself was a modified Cromwell with a more powerful gun installed in a relatively lightly armoured two-man turret.

Charioteer at Yad La-Shiryon, Latrun
TypeCruiser Tank (based on weight, speed, caliber of gun, armor, and the text.)
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1952 - 1980
Used byBritish Army
Finnish Army
Royal Jordanian Army
Lebanese Army
Wars1978 South Lebanon conflict
Lebanese civil war
Production history
ManufacturerRobinson and Kershaw Ltd, Dukinfield, Cheshire
No. built442[1]
Mass28.5 tons
Length8.8 metres
Width3.1 metres
Height2.5 metres
Crew3 crew (4 with external observer)

Ordnance QF 20 pounder
Co-axial Browning .30
EngineRolls-Royce Meteor
600 hp
SuspensionImproved Christie
Speed32 mph (51 km/h)

Charioteer saw limited use with the British army, but was used more extensively by overseas nations in Europe and the Middle East. Charioteers saw action in conflicts in the Middle-East.


In the early 1950s, plans to combat a potential invasion from Soviet forces during the Cold War called for a Royal Armoured Corps formation to be equipped with the Cromwell tank.[2]

Production of Centurion Mk 3 was slower than production of 20-pounder guns, while the larger-gunned Conqueror tank was still under development to take on the primary anti-tank role. With an increased requirement for anti-tank performance in the interim, an up-gunning of Cromwell was needed. This was to incorporate the same 20 pounder (84 mm) gun as used in the Centurion Mk 3.[3]

Mounting the gun required a new two-man turret to be developed.[2] The resulting vehicle was initially named FV4101 Cromwell Heavy AT Gun,[4] but renamed Charioteer before entering service.


Design focussed primarily on anti-tank capabilities, sharing much in common with tank destroyers.[3] This has caused confusion with tank destroyers in many references,[2] although the vehicle was designed for, and remained in, the tank role.[2][5]

The new turret used the larger Ordnance QF 20 pounder gun. This was mounted with a co-axial 0.30 in M1919 Browning machine gun. Smoke grenade dischargers were fitted to both sides of the turret. A flap to the turret rear allowed spent shell casings from the gun to be ejected from the vehicle.[2]

Hulls were based on the later Cromwell VII standard, modified with Comet Model B style fishtail exhausts and no hull-mounted machine gun. Most hulls were reworked to Type F standard, and fire extinguisher pulls were re-routed to the two track-side bins. A large armoured telephone box was fitted to the vehicle rear for communication with infantry.

Additional defensive armour was welded to the Cromwell hull in keeping with the Cromwell VII standard, but the turret upgrade focused on offensive capability. Weight limitations on the suspension prevented the use of heavier armour on the turret, and whilst sloped to provide additional protection, the new turret used much thinner material (20–30 mm).[2][3][5]

The turret ring was slightly increased in size to accommodate the larger gun,[5] but the size limitation of the Cromwell hull meant that the new turret would need to be much larger and taller around it. This gave the vehicle a much higher profile.

Even with this size increase, stowage for the larger ammunition rounds was severely limited. The hull machine gunner's position was removed to provide additional stowage space for ammunition, but the vehicle still carried only 25 rounds. Some conventional High Explosive (HE) shells were carried, but the primary ammunition was Armour-Piercing Discarding Sabot projectiles (APDS)[2]

A mixed collection of Cromwells were upgraded, resulting in a number of variations in design based on the vehicle's previous format.


Building on the remaining Cromwell tanks as a basis, the tanks were converted by Robinson and Kershaw Ltd at their works in Dukinfield, Cheshire. While an expected production run of 630 was indicated in 1951, the production was cut short and the exact number produced is unclear. The first 200 were expected by March 1953 with a further 200 following in 1954. The actual number produced is believed to be 442.[2][6]

British historian David Fletcher considered it as the fifth-worst British tank produced.[5] His particular criticisms were mostly about the bulky, thin-armoured turret, but also about it being considered as a tank rather than restricted to being an extemporised tank destroyer.


During development and manufacture the British Army went through two re-organisations, resulting in the tanks being reassigned to Royal Armoured Corps units of the British Territorial Army.[5] These tanks replaced tank destroyers and self-propelled guns transferred from the Royal Artillery to the RAC during the re-organisation.[2]

The number of vehicles required was cut, and only a small number entered service. Manufacturing of the modification was halted with around 440 of 630 vehicles completed. Surplus vehicles were sold to Austria, Finland, Jordan and Lebanon. The tanks were used by a number of forces in the Middle East through instability in the region, such as the Six-Day War.

While the vehicle was originally intended to operate with a 3-man crew, the commander's visibility from the turret was restricted during firing. This meant a 4th crew member was added as an external observer, meaning they would get out of the vehicle and relay information to the crew inside. The large size of the turret meant the vehicle was best used in a hull down position, firing over cover.[2]


  • Austrian Army used 56 vehicles from 1956 till 1965. Turrets of retired Charioteer tanks were fixed in Austrian bunker systems.
  • Finnish Army bought 38 "Charioteer Mk VII Model B" by 1960, and they remained in use until 1979. The tanks were stored until 2007 when they were auctioned off.
  • Jordanian Army equipped two squadrons (24 vehicles) of their 3rd Tank Regiment in 1954.[7] Some of the Jordanian Charioteers were sold to Lebanon.
 United Kingdom


Production was based on a mixed fleet of Cromwell VI, VII, VIIw and VIII vehicles of mixed hull types. While all were upgraded to VII standard, some hull differences remained based on the vehicle's past. As a result, the vehicle continued to be known as Charioteer, Mks. 6, 7, 7w and 8 with hull types D, E and F.

The Ordnance QF 20 pounder was upgraded during production and service, and many vehicles were fitted with the later 20 pounder featuring a symmetrical fume extractor mid-barrel. Those without the fume extractor were dubbed Charioteer VIIA or Model A while those with the upgrade were named Charioteer VIIB or Model B.

In Jordanian Army use the vehicle was altered with upgraded electrically-driven turret traverse motors, and a larger commander's cupola mounting a .50 calibre machine gun. These traverse-motors were driven from a separate electrical supply. Different radio equipment was also fitted.

Beyond the original requirement, further up-gunning was attempted. A single vehicle was upgraded with the Royal Ordnance L7 105mm gun for trials in 1969. It was intended for export, and did not enter service.[2] The gun is similar in appearance and based on the original, but can be distinguished by an offset fume extractor (larger at the top). This vehicle survives at the East of England Tank Museum.


  • A Finnish Charioteer is on outdoor display in the Parola tank museum.
  • Another Finnish Charioteer is on outdoor display near the main entrance of Army Academy in Lappeenranta.
  • A Finnish Charioteer is on outdoor display also in Valkeala inside Karelia Brigade headquarters, however it can only been seen when grounds are open to public.
 United Kingdom
  • A Charioteer is on display at The Tank Museum in Dorset, UK.[8][5]
  • Ex-FVRDE testbed 105mm Charioteer at the East of England Tank Museum, previously with the National Army Museum.
  • A Charioteer turret with the later version 20pdr with the fume extactor is on display (rather poor condition) at Fort Paull near Hull in the UK.

See also


  1. "Finnish Defence Forces sale of used equipment". Archived from the original on 14 July 2009. Retrieved 31 July 2007.
  2. Charioteer, by David Fletcher, published in Wheels & Tracks magazine (published by After the Battle), Number 60, 1997
  3. British Tanks 1946-1970, An illustrated record of the British armoured fighting vehicle; published by The Tank Museum, 2nd edition 1973
  4. "Fighting Vehicle 4101 Cromwell Heavy Anti-tank gun"; prototype technical description from The Tank Museum
  5. Bottom 5 British Tanks – David Fletcher – The Tank Museum on YouTube
  6. Vehicle index cards, 00ZW01-04ZW42, The Tank Museum
  7. Young, Peter (1972). The Arab Legion. Men-at-Arms. Osprey Publishing. pp. 27–28. ISBN 0-85045-084-5.
  8. FV4101 Tank Medium, Charioteer (E1965.3)
  • Bingham, James (1971), AFV Profile No. 25 Cromwell and Comet, Profile Publishing
  • Steven J. Zaloga, Armour of the Middle East Wars 1948-78, Vanguard series 19, Osprey Publishing Ltd, London 1981. ISBN 0 85045 388 7
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