Olifant MK 1A

Crew 4
Main Armament 1 × 105mm
Secondary Armament 1 × 7.62mm co-axial MG
1 × 7.62mm GPMG on commander’s cupola
8 × 81mm smoke grenade launchers
Ammunition 72 105mm rounds stored in the turret and hull
5600 rounds 7.62mm
Combat Mass 56ton
Hull Length 7.56m
Length 8.61m (with gun traversed)
9.83m (with gun forward)
Width 3.28m (without side plates)
3.38 (with side plates)
Height 2.94m
Engine 29 litter V 12 turbo charged diesel
Power Output 551kW
Fuel 1240liter
Road Speed 45km/h
Off-road Speed 30km/h
Road Range 250km
Off-road Range 200km
Gradient 30 degree
Step 0.91m
Trench 3.45m
Ford 1.2m


Olifant is based on the original British supplied Centurion tanks delivered to South Africa in the 1950s. However with the end of Commonwealth Middle East Armoured Division so ended South Africa’s commitment to supply an Armoured Brigade to this unit. Believing that tanks were not needed in the South Africa half the original fleet was sold to Switzerland in the 1960s. At this time a program was also started to upgrade the remaining fleet with a new engine and drive train. The result was the Semels and Skokiaan prototypes.

Events in 1975 however showed that South Africa was likely to face Soviet armour in the near future and the short sightedness of the sale of the tanks to Switzerland was realised. To remedy this situation scrap yards were searched throughout the world and a number of tanks in varying states of repair were bought from India and Jordan. The upgrade program was also accelerated and the first Olifant Mk1s started to roll from the production line in mid 1970s.

Tests of the Mk1 in the late 1970s against a few T55s, captured when a transport ship carrying 20 of the tanks to Tanzania inadvertently docked in Durban, showed the inadequacy of the design against the T55. Another modernisation program was undergone, with the aid of the Israelis, and the Olifant Mk1a started entering service in the early 1980s.

The Olifant Mk1a utilises the chassis and turret of the Centurion but has Continental turbo charged diesel and a new transmission fitted along with a variant of the British L7 rifled 105mm main gun. The fire control system has also been updated considerably and has passive night fighting equipment fitted along with a laser range finder. The engine has been modified into a power pack form to allow for quick removal and replacement of the engine.

The first instance were the Olifant was used in combat was during Operations Modular and Hooper were the tank acquitted itself well against the Soviet supplied T55s. The tank also proved to be rugged and reliable and performed exceptionally well in what is essentially non armour terrain. Despite being an old design the Olifant Mk1a is still a very capable tank and can easily mach anything found on the African battlefield today. More modern MBTs however pose a problem and the SANDF is in the process of updating the vehicle to the new Mk2 standard using technology developed locally during the 1990s.

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