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Leopard 1
Leopard1 cfb borden 2.JPG
Leopard 1A3 (Canadian Leopard C1) at the Base Borden Military Museum
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin  West Germany
Service history
Wars War in Afghanistan
Weight 42.2 tonnes (increased on later models from original 40.0 tonnes)[1]
Length 9.54/8.29 m (gun forward/rearward)
Width 3.37 m
Height 2.39/2.70 m (turret roof/absolute)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, radio operator/loader)

Armor steel 40-120mm and RHA 20-180mm
1 x 105mm Royal Ordnance L7A3 L/52 rifled gun

(13 rounds in turret 42 rounds in hull)

2 x 7.62 mm MG 3 or FN MAG (co-axial and commander's hatch)

(5500 rounds)]]

Engine MTU MB 838 CaM 500, 10-cylinder, 37.4 litres, multi-fuel engine
850 hp at 2600 RPM
Power/weight 20.2/tonne
Suspension Torsion-bar
600 km (on road), 450 km (cross-country)
Speed 65 km/h

The Leopard (or Leopard 1) is a tank designed and produced in Germany that first entered service in 1965. Developed in an era when HEAT warheads were thought to make conventional heavy armour of limited value, the Leopard focused on firepower in the form of the German-built version of the British L7 105-mm gun, and improved cross-country performance that was unmatched by other designs of the era.

The design started as a collaborative project between Germany and France in the 1950s,[1] but the partnership ended and the final design was ordered by the Bundeswehr, production starting in 1965. In total 6,485 Leopard tanks have been built, of which 4,744 were battle tanks and 1741 were utility and anti-aircraft variants, not including eighty prototypes and pre-series vehicles.

The Leopard quickly became a standard of European forces, and eventually served as the main battle tank in over a dozen countries worldwide. Since 1990, the Leopard 1 has gradually been relegated to secondary roles in most armies. In the German Army, the Leopard 1 MBTs have been phased out in 2003 while Leopard 1 derived vehicles are still widely used. The Leopard 2 MBTs have taken over the MBT role. Leopard hulls have been re-used in a wide variety of roles.

Development history

Leopard 1

The Leopard project started in November 1956 in order to develop a modern tank, the Standard-Panzer, to replace the Bundeswehr's United States-built M47 and M48 Patton tanks, which, though just delivered to West Germany's recently reconstituted army, were rapidly growing outdated. On 25 July 1957 the detailed specifications were released; the new design needed to weigh no more than thirty metric tons, have a power-to-weight ratio of thirty horsepower per ton, be able to withstand hits by 20 mm rapid-fire guns on every side as well as operate in a battlefield contaminated with chemical weapons or radioactive fallout, the then-standard baseline for combat with the Warsaw Pact. In addition the main armament had to consist of a 105 mm caliber weapon (the new British L7A3 105 mm gun was selected), carrying at least as many rounds as current US tank designs. Mobility was the priority while firepower came second; armour was seen as less essential, as it was believed no real protection against hollow charge weapons was possible anyway.

Leopard 1 Prototype

France was very interested in the design as its own AMX 50 project had just failed. In June 1957, West Germany and the French Fourth Republic signed an agreement to develop a common tank, designated in German Europa-Panzer. Three German (Arbeitsgruppe A, B and C) and one French design team would be included in a competition, with each team producing two prototypes each. In September, 1958 Italy joined the development program. Several prototypes were entered for testing in 1960. Among the prototypes were Porsche's Model 734 from team A, sporting a cast turret and that of team B (Rheinmetall) whose cast turret was somewhat higher. Team C from Borgward, designing a very futuristic tank, failed to have a prototype ready in time.

Even before these first prototypes were finished, it had (in 1959) been decided that a second phase with improved designs would be started: Team A had to build 26 phase II Prototypes for testing, team B six. Only two tanks of the required six would actually be constructed by team B.

Leopard 1 Prototype II

The Porsche Prototype II was eventually selected as the winner of the contest in 1963; this didn't come as a surprise: it had already been decided in 1961 to build a preseries of fifty vehicles based on this design; production of these was started that very year. This "0-series" was modified with a new cast turret and several hull changes to raise the rear deck to provide more room in the engine compartment, and move some of the radiators to the upper sides of the hull. Before mass production of the standard version started it was also decided to add an optical range-finding system for better long-range gunnery, which required the turret to be somewhat taller, and added "bumps" on either side of the turret to mount the optics for triangulation. In 1963 France and Germany had decided to each build their own tank; Germany continued with the Leopard, while France built the similar AMX-30.

Production was set up at Krauss-Maffei of Munich from early 1964 onward, with deliveries of the first batch between September, 1965 and July, 1966. The Leopard was soon being purchased from Germany by a number of NATO members and other allies including in chronological order Belgium (1968), the Netherlands (1969), Norway (1970), Italy (1971), Denmark (1976), Australia (1976), Canada (1978), Turkey (1980) and Greece (1981). Germany has a strict export policy for military equipment; Greece, Spain and Chile, while still dictatorships, purchased the French AMX-30.

Leopard 1A1

German Army Leopard 1A1

Norwegian Army Leopard 1A1

After the first batch was delivered the next three batches were the Leopard 1A1 model, which included a new gun stabilization system from Cadillac-Gage, allowing the tank to fire effectively on the move. The 1A1 also added the now-famous "skirts" along the sides to protect the upper tracks, and a new thermal jacket on the gun barrel to control heating. A less important change was to use rectangular rubber blocks fastened to the treads with a single pin instead of the earlier two-pin "shaped" versions. The rubber blocks could be easily replaced with metal X-shaped crampons for movement on ice and snow in the winter.

Between 1974 and 1977 all of the machines in the first four batches were brought to the same Leopard 1A1A1 standard, and given additional turret armor developed by Blohm & Voss. A further upgrade in the 1980s added leftover image-intensifier night sights which were being handed down from the Leopard 2 as they were themselves upgraded. The PZB 200 image intensification system was mounted in a large box on the upper right of the gun, creating the Leopard 1A1A2. A further upgrade with SEM80/90 all-digital radios created the Leopard 1A1A3.

Leopard 1A2

Leopard 1A2 crossing a river at night.

The first 232 tanks of the fifth production batch was delivered as the Leopard 1A2 between 1972 and 1974. The A2 included a heavier and better armored turret, and therefore did not receive the B&V armor add-ons as did the earlier machines. They did receive the other upgrades however—the Leopard 1A2A1 received the PZB 200, the Leopard 1A2A2 the digital radios, and the Leopard 1A2A3 got both.

Leopard 1A3

The next 110 vehicles in the fifth batch were fitted with a new welded turret incorporating spaced armor and a wedge-shaped gun mantlet, creating the Leopard 1A3. Although the level of armor area density was equivalent to the A2's new welded version, the internal volume was increased by 1.2 m³ and the effective protection level was increased by half. The improved TRP 2A independent sight was installed for the commander. Upgrades were identical to the 1A2 models, the Leopard 1A3A1 with the night sights, Leopard 1A3A2 with the new radios, and the Leopard 1A3A3 with both.

Leopard 1A4

The Leopard 1A4 formed the sixth batch of 250 vehicles, delivery starting in 1974. The 1A4 was externally similar to the 1A3, but included a new computerized fire control system and the new EMES 12A1 sighting system to aim it. In addition the commander was provided with his own independent night sighting system, the PERI R12. The new equipment used up space and the ammunition load was reduced to 55 rounds, of which 42 were stored in the magazine to the left of the driver.

Leopard 1A5

In 1980 a research program was undertaken to study further improvements to the Leopard 1, providing it with a completely modern fire control system and fully effective night/bad-weather vision system. This was going to require even more room than the larger turret from the 1A3/1A4 models, so the decision was made to base the upgrades on the earlier models which were no longer competitive.

The resulting Leopard 1A5 was based on 1339 vehicles of the Leopard 1A1A1 model. The turrets were again modified for the 1A5, with a larger section at the back, both in order to store all of the new equipment, as well as to move more of the ammunition into the rear turret, as opposed to the left side of the driver where it had traditionally been stored. The storage locker extended the turret almost to the rear of the tank when the gun was facing forward. The new turret was also able to mount the newer 120 mm gun from the Leopard 2 if desired, although this option has not been used.

After trials the Krupp-Atlas Elektronik EMES 18 fire control system was selected in December 1983, developed from the EMES 15 used on the Leopard 2. The EMES 18 included two new sights on to the top of the turret, and no longer required the "bumps" as did the earlier optical systems. A crucial part of the upgrade was the introduction of more effective ammunition, including new APFSDS rounds.

The Leopard tank could also be fitted with bolt-on lexan armour panels, which have increased the effectiveness of the armour. These "modified" tanks have proved themselves in the field.

The first modified vehicle was delivered in early 1987. Since then almost all users of the Leopard 1 have also applied similar changes to their own vehicles, and in most ways the 1A5 can be considered the "standard" Leopard 1 today.

Leopard 1A6

A single 1A1A1 was also modified with additional armor on the turret and had the 120 mm gun as the Leopard 1A6. The project was ended in 1987, as the Leopard 2 was in widespread service at this point and the 1A5 offered a reasonable upgrade path for a fraction of the cost.

Other modifications

Armoured engineering vehicle "Dachs" (Badger) German Army.

Bergepanzer 2 (Armoured recovery vehicle) GE Army.

Bridgelayer "Biber" (Beaver) with armored vehicle-launched bridge.

Simultaneous to the production of the battle tanks a number of engineering, bridging and recovery vehicles was developed, as well as a number of versions used in the anti-aircraft role.

In the Netherlands, there is an improved version equivalent to the A5 called "Leopard 1 Verbeterd" (improved), the same version is used by the Chilean Army.

The most well known Leopard variants are the Engineer Vehicle Bergepanzer and the Anti-Aircraft Gun Gepard. The equivalent of the Gepard is the ZSU-23-4. There was also a British SPAAG version called Leopard Marksman, which was equipped with the Marksman turret.

The Canadian Land Forces operate the Beaver bridgelayer, Taurus ARV, and Badger AEV, all based on the Leopard 1.

The United Kingdom's Royal Marines operate a vehicle known as the Hippo BARV (or Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle. The Hippo is a conversion by ALVIS Moelv of a Leopard 1A5 chassis. The main alteration has been the replacement of the turret with a raised superstructure which resembling the wheelhouse of a boat. The original 830 hp (634 kW) diesel engine has been retained but the gearing of the transmission had been lowered, reducing the vehicle's road speed to 32 km/h (20 mph), but increasing tractive effort to 250 kN (56,000 lbf). Other modifications include the addition of working platforms, a nosing block, raised air intakes and an Auxiliary power unit; this has raised the weight of the vehicle from 42.5 tonnes to 50 tonnes. The Hippo has a fording depth of 2.95 m (10 ft) and can pull vehicles up to 50 tonnes weight or push off from the beach a 240 tonne displacement landing craft.

Gilded Leopard, Eber and Keiler

Almost as soon as the Leopard was introduced into service in 1965, Porsche was awarded a contract to study further improvements to the existing design, while waiting deliveries of the MBT-70 in the mid-1970s. This original Gilded Leopard (vergoldeter Leopard) program expired in 1967 with no production order. In that year it had already become obvious that the MBT-70 would be a failure. The agreement between the USA and the BRD forbade any national development of an MBT apart from technological experimentation, so a new tank project was begun under the designation of Experimentalentwicklung or "experimental development", two prototypes of which were built.

When the MBT-70 program was ended a further contract was offered under the name Boar (Eber), with an emphasis on using as many technologies from the MBT-70 as possible, but without the problematic combined gun - rocket launcher. Two prototype vehicles were constructed using a new chassis from Porsche with the road wheels from the MBT-70 and the original Leopard engine, combined with a new Wegmann turret mounting the MBT-70's Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore gun (although some also mounted the original 105 mm). These were considered promising enough that seven more were ordered, this time powered by the MTU engine designed for the MBT-70. When this happened the Experimentalentwicklung team went public with their alternative design which they called the Keiler (a synonym of Eber). In 1971 the minister of defence, Helmut Schmidt, decided to abandon the Eber-project and build seventeen prototypes of a Leopard 2, based on the Keiler design, which had a turret with spaced sloped armour. The maximum weight was to be fifty metric tons.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1950s and '60s generation tanks were badly beaten by wire-guided missiles, and it was realized that dramatically improved armor protection was needed. The decision was made to allow the tank to increase its weight to the next classification, Military Loading Class 60 (tonnes), and a new design effort was started, with the spaced armour replaced with a much denser perforated armour assemblage. The new design would go on to augment and after the Cold War sometimes replace the Leopard in many countries' armies.


Countries that are current or former Leopard 1 operators:

  •  Australia—71; 90 Leopard 1A3s were originally delivered as Leopard AS1, later upgraded, and since replaced by 59 M1A1 Abrams from the US
  •  Belgium—132 Leopard 1A5s(BE); 334 originally; are being replaced by the Mowag Piranha III. Only bridgelayers are to remain in service
  •  Brazil—128 Leopard 1A1s and 250 Leopard 1A5s
  •  Canada—114 Leopard C2s (updated Leopard 1A5), reduced to 66 in the early 2000s Replaced by Leopard 2's Purchased from the Netherlands and Germany
  •  Chile—202 Leopard 1Vs, reduced to 150, 100 to be sold with 30 sold to Ecuador in 2009; 120 remaining in service.
  •  Denmark—Only ARVs and Bridgelayers remain in service
  •  Ecuador—30 Leopard 1Vs from Chile[2]
  •  Germany—2,437 originally. Out of Service, remaining tanks in long-term storage for resale
  •  Greece—about 520 Leopard 1A5s; 95 Leopard 1A3s/A4GRs and 128 Leopard 1Vs/INL are about to be retired
  •  Italy—720 (600 A2s, 120 A5s) retired by the end of 2008, the AEVs, ARVs and ABLVs remain in service
  •  Lebanon—43 ex-Belgian Leopard 1A5(BE)s to be delivered.
  •  Netherlands—468 originally; only ARVs and Bridgelayers remain in service
  •  Norway—172 originally; only ARVs and Bridgelayers remain in service
  •  Turkey—337[3]
  •  United Kingdom—4 Leopard 1A5 hulls have been adapted through extensive modification to create the Hippo BARV (armoured amphibious recovery vehicles)


Australian Army Leopard 1A3 (AS1) on exercise.

Leopard tanks first arrived in Australia from Germany in 1976, ending a selection and trial process (against the US M60[4] series) which started in 1971 when the army decided it needed a replacement for its British Centurions which had served since 1952.

In March 2004, the decision was made to replace the Leopard 1 with reconditioned US M1A1 Abrams AIM.[5] A number of European nations had offered surplus Leopard 2s during the procurement.

The first 18 of 59 M1A1 Abrams arrived in September 2006. The M88A2 Hercules is concurrently replacing the Leopard family of support variants in Australian service.

The Leopard 1 was operated by the 1st Armoured Regiment and was officially withdrawn from service in July 2007. Their guns were never fired in anger.


Canadian Leopard C2 uparmoured, en route to Afghanistan, October 2006

Canada acquired 127 Leopard C1 tanks (equivalent to Leopard 1A3 with laser rangefinder), in 1978–79 for its Land Forces, with 114 being put into service. Most of these tanks were stationed in Germany during the Cold War, with a few retained at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick for training.

While investigating the possibilities of increasing the Leopards' armour (prior to a refit, turret armour upon close-up inspection was 1.5" + turret wall cast .75" steel, 'belly' armour was approx. 2.25" + cast frame steel 0.75" steel, skirt covering treads (tracks) was 1" rubber - not steel, but additional armour was applied on the forward half of the skirt during the refit - although only a small handful of C1s received a complete refit. The refit also included adding thermal night-vision equipment, five or six Leopard C1 tanks had an extremely thick MEXAS appliqué armour kit applied, made by German firm IBD Deisenroth Engineering. These tanks, designated Leopard C1A1, served with Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) in the 1999 KFOR mission in Kosovo. They were later upgraded with the same sights and fire-control system as the Leopard C2 (see below).

Starting in 2000, the 114 Leopard C1 tanks in service were upgraded to C2 standard at a cost of CAD $139 million. The turrets of 123 surplus Leopard 1A5 tanks purchased from the German Defence Ministry were fitted into the existing hulls (nine turrets were reserved for spare parts and training), and the German tank hulls sold back to the upgrade contractor. The Leopard C2 is also equipped with thermal sights and EMES 18 fire-control system. Eighteen Leopard Crew Gunnery Trainers were purchased at the same time.

Canada also operates the Leopard 1-based Beaver Bridgelayer and Taurus Armoured Recovery Vehicle, bought with the original Leopard C1, and the Badger Armoured Engineer Vehicle with a dozer blade and excavator bucket, which entered service in 1990.

A number of the Canadian Leopard tanks were pulled out of service during the 2000s in anticipation of replacing them with the eight-wheeled Mobile Gun System, but these plans were put on hold. Of the obsolescent tanks, 23 were sold to companies in North America, 4 put in museums or used as monuments (including two at the Bovington Tank Museum),[6] and 21 used as hard targets on ranges. The Canadian Army web site list indicates that 66 Leopard C2 remain in service.[1]

Canada sent a squadron of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) to Afghanistan in the fall of 2006, equipped with fifteen Leopard C2 tanks with add-on armour, as well as two recovery vehicles and two engineering vehicles.[2][3] The armoured squadron is intended to provide convoy protection, supporting Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Teams and other organizations equipped with lighter vehicles. The first tanks arrived in Kandahar in mid-October 2006.[4] On December 2, 2006 the Leopards stationed in Kandahar entered the field, marking the first time since the Korean War that a Canadian armoured squadron had sent tanks into an active war zone, and fired their guns in combat for the first time in as many years on the following day in response to a Taliban rocket attack.

After an initial assessment of the performance of the Leopard C2 in Afghanistan, Canada decided to invest in Leopard 2 tanks. It was determined that the lack of adequate air conditioning (essential in the searing heat of Afghanistan,) was degrading the tank crew's war fighting ability.[7] The Army later downplayed this factor, citing increased armour protection and the main gun armament as reasons for upgrading to the Leopard 2.[8] After some public speculation, Canadian Defence minister Hon. Gordon O'Connor clarified the situation on Thursday, April 12, 2007.[5]

To meet immediate needs in Afghanistan, twenty of the Bundeswehr's stock of Leopard 2A6s were upgraded to 2A6M standard and loaned to Canada at no cost by the German government. Two Leopard 2 Büffel Armoured Recovery Vehicles were acquired at the same time. These vehicles were shipped from Germany to Afghanistan, with the first arriving on August 16, 2007.[9]

For the long term, Canada plans to replace the borrowed Leopard 2 tanks with a purchase of 100 surplus vehicles from the Netherlands, including 40 Leopard 2A6Ms for combat service, 40 Leopard 2A4s for training, and 20 support vehicles, such as Armoured Recovery Vehicles, Bridge-Layers and Armoured Engineer vehicles.

The older Leopard C2 tanks are considered to become completely obsolete by 2015, but specific plans for them have not yet been announced. Up until deployment with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan the Leopard 1 C2 had never seen active combat.[10]


The Turkish Army is upgrading its Leopard 1 tanks to a version called the Leopard 1T. The modernization program includes the serial production and integration of the Volkan fire control system developed by Aselsan.[11] The new indigenous system provides the capability of detecting the targets in daylight or at night in all weather conditions and combat environments. It highly increases the first round hit probability on the move.[12][13]


Lebanon and Belgium finalized the transfer of 43 Leopard 1/A5 tanks to the Lebanese Armed Forces in a deal worth 3.5 million euros, which also includes a number of ex-Belgian APCs.[14][15]

The purchased ex-Belgian APCs include 16 AIFV-B-C25s and 12 M113 armoured ambulances.


In 1976 Denmark acquired 120 Leopard 1A3 tanks, which were designated Leopard 1 DK. This was completed in 1978. In 1992 Denmark acquired another 110 1A3 tanks (partly through Conventional Forces Europe treaty AFV reduction requirements.) These tanks were upgraded to Leopard 1A5-DK along with the first 120 Leopards which were not identical to the German 1A5 with welded turrets. Denmark had a total of 230 Leopard 1A5-DKs.

These Leopards were involved in one of the most important engagements in modern Danish military history. Denmark was the only Scandinavian country to send a significant tank force to support their peacekeeping operations in Croatia and Bosnia. During Operation Bøllebank and Operation Amanda, in 1994, these tanks successfully engaged hostile Serbian forces. This is believed to be the first hostile engagement involving the Leopard 1 tank.


Italy placed its first order for the Leopard 1 in 1970, with 200 delivered between 1971 and 1972. The vehicles replaced mainly the M47 Patton in the armoured units of the Italian Army. A further 400 Leopard 1s were build in Italy by OTO Melara starting in 1974, with a second batch of 120 build by OTO Melara between 1980 and 1983. All Italian Leopards were the A2 variant. Italy ordered a further 69 Bergeleopards (ARV) in Germany with another batch of 67 built in Italy by OTO Melara. The Pionierleopard (AEV) was ordered only in 1985, with 12 produced in Germany and 28 in Italy. 64 Bibers (AVLB) were assembled by OTO Melara.

At the end of the Cold War the Italian Army began an upgrade and a downsizing of its armoured units, the M60 along with a number of Leopards were retired in 1991. In 1995 Italy bought 120 A5 surplus turrets from the Bundeswehr, which were mounted on the same number of reworked A2 hulls. These tanks took part in the various peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, but they never saw action.

The last A2 was retired in 2003, with the last A5 going in 2008, leaving the Ariete as the sole tank in Italian service. The AEVs, ARVs, and AVLBs have been reduced in number and some have been modified to work with the Ariete, they are stated to serve some more years as no replacement has been selected yet.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gelbart, Marsh (1996). Tanks main battle and light tanks. Brassey’s UK Ltd. pp. 109–110. ISBN 185753168X. 
  2. Aging Leopards Prowl The Andes
  3. Scandinavian Armor - Leopard 1 world wide
  4. Hunnicutt, p. 6 & 408
  5. Australian Defence Force maintains a supportable, survivable and interoperable tank capability until at least 2020
  6. A Brace of Leopards, Bovington Tank Museum
  7. "The announcement will likely be welcome news to soldiers who have had to endure searing heat driving their current Leopard C2s in the Afghan desert during the summer months. Heat-related health risks have threatened before to cause the tanks to be pulled from service. O'Connor said the newer tanks will be equipped with a cooling system for the crews before they reach Afghan soil." CBC News, April 12, 2007
  8. Military touts tougher image as tanks roll out in Kandahar - 'It could give our soldiers more confidence and be a bit of a shock for enemy troops' CBC News, August 16, 2007
  9. "Canadian Forces to refresh aging fleet of tanks", CBC news, April 12, 2007.
  10. "Renewing the Canadian Forces' Tank Capability", Official DND/CF Backgrounder.
  11. Leopard 1A1/A1A4 Tanks Improvement Project
  12. VOLKAN - Fire Control System for Leopard 1 Tanks
  13. işte bu tesislerde yapılıyor (Turkish)
  14. "Feu vert pour la vente d’armes belges au Liban" (in French). RTL info. Mouvement pour le Liban. August 27, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  15. "Le Liban achète 71 blindés à la Belgique, dont 43 chars Leopard" (in French). MSN Actualités. December 31, 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  • Hunnicutt, R. P. "Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank." 1984, Presidio Press; ISBN 0-89141-230-1.

External links

Australian Leopard external links
Canadian Leopard external links

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