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THE SPECIALIST MENACE

This cartoon was sent in for the site.  When I asked where it had come from, and whether we could put it on the site I got the following reply.   The author was surprised when I said I thought a personal memory of the British tank industry might be of general interest, and allowed me to quote his letter in full... 

The "Specialist Menace" series of cartoons was first shown to me when I first worked at MVEE Chertsey - in the "Shir Iran" (Lion of Iran) project in the mid-late 1970's. I was placed there as a student engineer as part of my MOD sponsored degree course. Having joined MAFVA 5 years earlier this was like being sent to heaven! 

When the Iranian revolution took place and the Ayatollah took over, he cancelled the project, so the Shir changed colour overnight from Iranian Olive Drab to British Army Bronze Green and the Challenger was born. (I still have examples of Farsi engine control panel labels in my training log book!) At the time the name was controversial because this was the first time a "C" name was re-used - the earlier Challenger was a vehicle of mediocre performance - not considered a good omen by many at MVEE.

Shir 1 was the front (casting part) of a Chieftain and the back end of what became Challenger 1. It was sold under a different name to Jordan. (Shir 2 - with an all-welded plate hull - was what became Challenger 1) . The Shir project was run in a tiny design office (using paper , no CAD ) and there were two designers working on the overall hull and packaging of the David Brown gear box and Rolls Royce CV12 engine. The CV12 had been created (at RR) by joining two CV6's and the unit derated from a commercial 1600bhp to a military 1200bhp*. The gearbox power transfer system (hydrostatic?) , which moved power from track to track rather than absorb it within the brakes, was at the time the highest hydraulic pressure seen in any gearbox in the world (as DBGI told me - I recall it being up to 40,000psi ). 

The first 'production' gearbox seized in the workshop at MVEE when the engine was started, and the next 3 units after that destroyed the steering brake packs the first time the driver pulled the sticks to do a steer; these teething problems were corrected within weeks and the vehicle quickly gained the reliable gearbox unit which went on to pass through acceptance trials with few further problems.

I asked the chief designer (I cannot remember his name) if the Panther had influenced the design of the back of Shir/Challenger - he actually said he'd never seen one! I subsequently discovered that many members of the Chieftain and Challenger teams at MVEE had little historical knowledge of either the early FVRDE historical origins or knowledge of international AFV design - they knew UK AFVs inside out but had little knowledge of the innards of historical AFV design or international developments other than Leopard and Abrahams.

He did say the biggest influence (unofficially) on him for the engine compartment had been his mates in the REME and RE - this is why it only takes 6 bolts to hold down the engine and gearbox pack (at the time I worked on it, it did - 2 each side of the gearbox and 2 on the top bulkhead at the other end of the engine - not sure of it now) and the pack was guided in to position by pegs.

Back to the Specialist Menace - the Challenger 1 designer showed me a tatty copy he had been given years before, and said go down to the main DO (Drawing Office) and get a print - just quote the FV number; I did, and was allowed to take it with me when I left. This version is a retrace of the original made in the 1940's when the DTD was based at Chertsey. DTD (Dept of Tank Design) was renamed FVRDE (Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment) , then MVEE (Military Vehicles Engineering Establishment) , then RARDE (Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment) Chertsey before becoming DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Authority) Chertsey and closing.

At that time the main DO at MVEE held microfiche and aperture cards on everything going back years - for instance the manufacturing drawings for prototypes like the 5 wheel AA Centurion, Churchill flails, bridge layers, and way back to WW2 and before. In the '70's the writing was on the wall - the DO had lost dozens of drawing boards, was down to around 20 staff from a contingent of well over 100, and the space was being broken up for other offices. The establishment library also held a copy of every US technical manual issued since 1940 - there must have been 50 to 60 ft of shelves full of them - I managed to copy the section of the Sherman multibank manual on how to set up the carbs!

They also had interesting peculiarities like a UK translation of the T34 user manual (a very slim volume) which I also have a copy of somewhere (not seen it in years - somewhere in the attic). Another gem I found was an AEC 4x4 - (Matador ?) post-war book on the manufacture of this vehicle published by AEC - had some wonderful photos of both in-service use and the building of the vehicles in the factory. 

I heard in the late 1990's that when RARDE Chertsey became part of DERA and it eventually closed, the library contents were burnt as obsolete waste paper - if this is true it was a tragedy; I can only hope some of it found its way to Bovy or the IWM; 

I went back June 2006 just to see the place - with weeds growing across the car park I think the only area still possibly in use is the test track on the other side of the M3. Sad day for me was that!

My early career also included time at ROF Leeds when I also saw the early Challenger, Mk5 Chieftains, and Fox armoured cars being manufactured. The machine shop manager was a old hand who had started on Centurions as an apprentice in the 40's - and when he found out I was keen on the Cent and saw my photo collection, gave me a Mk3 user manual he had stashed away - I still have this as a treasured possession of my early engineering career. Amongst many huge machining centres at Leeds was a machine centre where an entire 4030 (As Challenger was called) hull could be placed , manipulated and machined - that was an awesome sight . Over my time there I saw Chieftain , Challenger and Fox being manufactured from raw steel bar and castings (Aly for the Fox!) right through to snagging and loading onto the transporters for shipment off to the MOD. Leeds was flattened too - I returned to Cross Gates to find only the gates and gateposts!

After my training I actually returned twice - once to MVEE and then to RARDE, but both times the jobs involved the automotive testing of military vehicles.

Well, that's a potted history of how I came to obtain the "Specialist Menace" from the designer of Challenger 1!

You should be able to edit this down to a couple of sentences!


* I also worked later back at RARDE on the Scammel Commando tank transporter which also used the same engine further derated to 800bhp - this had been the Shah of Iran's spec that the engine of the tank transporter could be used in the field once the vehicle had moved the tank to the war zone - the diesel injection rack setting could be changed and the tank transporter engine mated with a DB gearbox and used as a tank spec spare - never found out if this actually happened!