This stunning British Pathé footage from 1952 shows the stabilised 20Pdr gun in action on the Centurion tank, the examples in the video likely being Mk.III variants of the then world-leading tank.
Developed in the Second World War, the A41 Centurion first entered service in 1945 but arrived in Germany just too late to see action, the war ending as the tank was being tested in theatre. The first Centurions were armed with a 17Pdr gun and fitted with a thickly armoured, hexagon-shaped, partially-cast turret.
The design requirements, first outlined in 1943 and subsequently updated, called for a mobile, reliable, well-protected tank able to withstand a frontal hit from the 88mm gun, and for a tank that improved on the widely-respected Comet and that weighed less than 40 tonnes. However, to allow for the thicker armour and to leave room for up-arming the main armament, the weight limit was increased to allow the fitting of a larger turret.
The result was a well-protected tank that had excellent off-road mobility. It was not as fast as the Comet or the Cromwell, but the Centurion had a high reverse speed and excellent agility and was much better protected.
The up-armoured Mk.II entered service in late 1946 but it’s usefulness was short-lived. Production of the ground-breaking Mk.III began in 1948, and and featured the new 20Pdr (84mm) gun, a new shape fully-cast turret, and the automatic three axis stabilisation system featured in the newsreel footage.
The gun and stabiliser allowed British gunners to fire accurately on the move. This had long been doctrine, dating back to before the Second World War, but only the best trained and experienced gunners had any chance of landing their shell near their target while on the move. However, with the stabiliser on the 20Pdr gun, precise shots taken on the move could reliably result in a hit. The Mk.IIIs saw action in the Korean War from November 1950 where, once maintenance process were adapted to suit the extreme cold, the tank played a significant role and gave sterling service throughout.
The Centurion, in updated forms, remained in British service as a gun tank until the mid 1960s, but the type saw service in secondary roles or in the armies of other nations for many years more. Modified versions of the tank remain in service around the world to this day, including, in South Africa, as a gun tank.