An Australian Army Mk 3 Centurion Type K, Army Registration Number 169041, was involved in a nuclear blast test at Emu Field in Australia in 1953 as part of Operation Totem 1. Built as number 39/190 at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Barnbow in 1951 it was assigned the British Army number 06 BA 16 and supplied to the Australian Commonwealth Government under Contract 2843 in 1952.
It was placed less than 500 yards (460 m) from the blast with its turret facing the epicentre, left with the engine running and a full ammunition load. Examination after detonation found it had been pushed away from the blast point by about 5 feet (1.5 m), pushed slightly left and that its engine had stopped working, only because it had run out of fuel. Antennae were missing, lights and periscopes were heavily sandblasted, the cloth mantlet cover was incinerated, and the armoured side plates had been blown off and carried up to 200 yards (180 m) from the tank. Remarkably, though, the tank could still be driven from the site. Had it been manned, the crew would probably have been killed by the shock wave.
169041, subsequently nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was later used in the Vietnam War. In May 1969, during firefight 169041 (call sign 24C) was hit by an Rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). The crew of the turret were all wounded by shrapnel as the RPG entered the lower left side of the fighting compartment, travelled diagonally across the floor and lodged in the rear right corner. Trooper Carter was evacuated while the others remained on duty and the tank remained battleworthy.
The Atomic Tank is now located at Robertson Barracks in Palmerston, Northern Territory. Although other tanks were subjected to nuclear tests, 169041 is the only tank known to have withstood atomic tests and subsequently gone on for another 23 years of service, including 15 months on operational deployment in a war zone.
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