image

OLIFANT MK 1 ARMOURED RECOVERY VEHICLE (ARV)

  /  News   /  OLIFANT MK 1 ARMOURED RECOVERY VEHICLE (ARV)

OLIFANT MK 1 ARMOURED RECOVERY VEHICLE (ARV)

 By: Michael Tobolo, Junior Curator – DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

 

Introduction

 

The Olifant tank was locally developed and produced by the Olifant Manufacturing Company.

The Olifant was developed in 1976 with some help from Israel and first entered service with the South African Armoured Corps In the late 1970s.

Although the Olifant was based on a Centurion tank hull it has a locally produced gun, power pack, transmission, tracks, and fire control system.

The Olifant was considered the best indigenous tank designed on the African continent.

 

              

                      Figure 1. Olifant MK 1 Recovery vehicle being repainted at DITSONG: National

                       Museum of Military History.

              

Development history of the Olifant Mk 1 recovery vehicle

Arrival of Centurion tanks in South Africa

The development of the Centurion began in 1943 and manufacturing started in the United Kingdom in 1945. The Centurion was considered the most successful post-war tank design and became the main battle tank for the British Army. Egypt became the first country to buy Centurion tanks and the first tanks arrived in 1950.

In 1952 the South African Union Defence Force followed suit and ordered 203 Centurion gun tanks and 17 Armoured Recovery Vehicles from the United Kingdom at a cost of £50 000 each.

 

These gun tanks consisted of 87 MK 3s and 116 MK 5s. The first two Centurion tanks arrived in South Africa in August 1952 for evaluation and demonstrations and bore the British WD Nos 04, BA 38 and 06 BA33. These two tanks were allocated Union Defence Force numbers, U 74783, and U 74786. Thereafter the remaining tanks were shipped to South Africa in batches. The first ones arrived in Durban in 1953 and were later allocated the numbers U 76200 to 76 449.

 

The last shipment of 27 tanks and 17 ARVs arrived in 1956 and were allocated the numbers 90645 to 90688. By 1956 most tanks were stored at 83 Technical Service Store (Amanzijama) in Durban and only six ARVs were issued to the Armour Training Wing at the school of Artillery and Armour situated in Potchefstroom in the former Western Transvaal (now North West Province.

 

In 1961 when South Africa became a republic, 110 Centurions were sold to Switzerland and the “U“ (Union) prefix in the registration numbers remained unchanged.

 

The introduction of the French Panhard armoured car to the South African Army in the early 1960s and the belief that South Africa terrain was more suited to wheeled vehicles led to a decline in importance and serviceability of the remaining spare parts and road wheels purchased with original contract were used in servicing the remaining tanks. The enforcement of the arms embargo meant that the United Kingdom would not sell additional spare parts to South Africa. From 1968 South Africa tried to obtain engines for its aging Centurion fleet.

 

Upgrade from Centurion to Olifant M.B.T

In October 1976 an agreement was signed between Sandock Austral and the South African Defence Force for a project to upgrade which could see Centurions fitted with continental petrol engines, was code named Skokiaan (South African lingo for a strong home-brewed alcoholic drink). This was followed by the fitting of a diesel power pack and the renaming of the tank as Centurion MK5A and nicknamed Semel (Afrikaans for bran/cereal).

 

The Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC) was established in 1978. The OMC and South African Defence Force (SADF) agreed to the specifications for an upgraded ARV.

 

In September 1978 the SADF announced that the modified Centurion ARV would henceforth be known as the Olifant Recovery Vehicle, and by 1979 some of the Centurion gun tanks had been upgraded into Olifants. According to the agreements of 1976 and 1978 an improved ARV would be built using the Centurion MK2.

 

Variants

Olifant MK1: Main battle tank service 1979, Engine Rolls Royce Meteor 4B 650 hp diesel V12.

Power pack, 5 speed Merrit-brown Z5IR MK, gearbox. Weaponry QF 20 PR 84mm, survivability, Fire extinguisher.

 

Olifant MK1A:  Main battle tank, service 1985 engine new 75hp diesel V12 Power pack, transmission, and automatic gearbox, Weaponry fire extinguisher, Mobility, new track wheels.

Mine clearing Both Olifant MKIA and B can be electro hydraulically dozer blade or a roller type mechanical mine clearing set.

MK1B: Main battle tank, service 1991, engine upgraded 950 hp V12 air cooled turbo diesel engine provide increased range fitted with 105mm L7 Cannon with thermal sleeve, laser rangefinder and 7.62mm anti-aircraft machine gun.

MK2: M.B.T Service: 2007 engine uprate 1040 hp continental diesel engine. Weaponry, 1056 mm L7 Cannon. Periscopic stabilized day/thermal gunner sight with laser rangefinder upgraded ballistic computer added to the system.

Olifant MK1 Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV): It has become apparent that a new recovery vehicle like the Olifant would have to be produced to recover it. The level of armoured protection must be similar with the MBT while the ARV is furthermore armed with machine guns to defend itself.

The ARV was to be equipped with a spade-like device so that it could anchor into the ground to serve as a prop-up and this had an effect on increasing the weight and therefore the ARV thus serve as a well-grounded object in order to recover an MBT.

 

 

             

                           Figure 2. Olifant MBT Based on the British Centurion.      

 

 

Specifictions of the Olifant MK1 ARV

 

Type………… ARV

Crew: ……………4

Dimension: ……………   Length (8.29

Width (3.55 m)

                        Height (2.94 m)

Combat weight……… 53 000 kg

Ground pressure……… 1.01 kg/cm2

Ground clearance……… 0.457 m

Track ……………………. 2.641 m

Track Width ……………… 610 mm

Track Length…………….4.572 mm (On the ground)

Vertical obstacle…………0.194 m

Trench……………………..3.45 m

Max speed…………………45 km/h

Range………………………500 km

Fuel capacity……………… 1240 L

Max ingredient……………….60%

Engine…………………………V12 liquid cooled Diesel Engine, developing 750hp at 2300 rpm.

Transmission………………….Semi-automatic gearbox with 5 forward and 2 reverse gears

Steering……………………….. Triple differential

Suspension………………………Horstmann Bogey

Electrical system………………24V (4x6V, 115h)

Main armament………………..1×12.7 mm MG

Smoke laying…………. ………2×6 Smoke dischargers either side of the track

 

Operational history

Between 26 August and 16 September 1984, the MK 1 ARVs were used in a large conventional training exercise codenamed Exercise Thunder Chariot. This exercise involved 11 000 citizen force soldiers and 4500 vehicles. It took place at the Battle School at Lohatlha (Northern Cape Province). Afterwards the one in the Museum was sent to the Namibian/Southwest African operational area. It was stationed at the 61 Mechanised Battle Group Base in Omuthiya 11km north of the main SADF Training Base at Oshivelo. It carried the badge of E Squadron School of Armour on the right front and on the left that of 61 Mechanised Battle Group. In January 1985 it took part in what was then the largest training exercise held in the operational area, exercise Vuiswys (Afrikaans for showing fist). Later during operation Modular (August to Mid-December 1987) the SADF in support of UNITA used tanks in action for the first time since the end of the Second World War. Two Olifant MK2 ARVs were used in support of the twelve Olifant gun tanks of Major Andre Retief`s Echo Squadron.

 

In 1999 after the cessation of hostilities in Namibia (Formerly South West Africa) two of the Olifant MK1 ARVs were stored with four vehicles at the Reserve Bank. The DITSONG: National Museum of Military Cultural History received R90645 on 28 September 2000 and the other ARV was sent to the School of Armour in Bloemfontein. The Third ARV is thought to be at the Army Battle School in Lohatlha.

 

Conclusion

The Olifant ARV in the Museum was the second prototype vehicle built by OMC and was obtained on the 28th of September 2000 with registration number R90645.

It is still not clear whether the SADF at one stage had switched the registration numbers as the number R9066 is stamped on the glacier plate.

 

References

Archives, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Ditsong Logo