The German war-making capacity was dismantled by the victors following the end of the war in Europe. The Soviet Union took Berlin and the Allies moved in from the West. The German nation was eventually divided along a dividing line which created West Germany - allied to NATO - and East Germany - under the control of the Soviet Union. The situation remained status quo for much of the Cold War with each side spewing rhetoric and awaiting the other side to make the first fatal move. For NATO, World War Three would have to come through Germany and would have brought with it massed formations of Red Army tanks.
West Germany was accepted into NATO in 1955 and was then forced with the prospect of developing an all-new combat vehicle to fill the Main Battle Tank role in their inventory. The new design would become the first indigenously developed and produced combat tank since the close of World War 2 in 1945. Initial interest was split between the West Germans and the French for a common battle tank that would not only control development costs but make logistical sense to both nations and NATO. The two countries joined forces in 1956. For the West Germans, they sought a suitable replacement for their newly-minted American-made M47 and M48 "Patton" tanks. While this pair served their time well, they ultimately became limited by their technology and 90mm main gun armament. The agreed-upon project name became "Standard-Panzer".
The Leopard A1A6 mark was a short-lived attempt at arming the Leopard 1 turret with a more powerful 120mm main gun - a larger caliber gun most commonly found on competing Soviet/Russian main battle tanks. The program involved modification of an existing Leopard 1 A1A production model and other changes included more armor at the turret facings. However, the more modern and much-improved Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank series was gaining a foothold in army inventories and this already utilize a 120mm Rheinmetall L55 series smoothbore main gun as standard making the 120mm-armed Leopard 1 something of a moot point. Any further work on the endeavor ended in 1987.
While West German exportation of military weapons was restrictive to an extent, those that were allied to NATO and West surely benefitted from foreign sales of the Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank. Operators (beyond West Germany) went on to include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, West Germany/Germany, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The Australians received 90 units (as the Leopard AS1), the Belgians 132 examples, the Brazilians 378 examples and the Canadians 114 examples (as the Leopard C2). Chile took on 202 while Denmark operated 230 and Ecuador 30. Greece managed 520 examples, Lebanon 43 (by way of Belgium) and Norway 172. The United Kingdom purchased four Leopard 1 A5 series hulls for conversion to amphibious armored recovery vehicles. The largest operators of the Leopard 1 series became West Germany/Germany Proper with 2,437 to their name, Italy with 720 in service, the Netherlands utilizing 468 examples and Turkey taking delivery of 337 examples.
While their numbers worldwide have since dwindled, their reach and influence was very noticeable during the Cold War. Many have given way to more modern systems such as the follow-up German Leopard 2 (itself brought about by the failed American-German "MBT-70" project) and the American M1 Abrams. Despite its 1950s pedigree, the Leopard 1 remains the frontline main battle tank component to many armies even today (2012), a testament to its excellent design. Total Leopard 1 production managed 6,485 examples. The Leopard 1 saw combat actions in the Bosnian War and the 2001 Afghanistan War while, for some armies such as the Australians, combat exposure was severely limited - these units never having fired their guns in war.
The Leopard 1 chassis and hull went on to serve as the basis for the "Flakpanzer Gepard" self-propelled artillery system fielding an all-new turret with radar tracking facility and twin 35mm autocannons. This form saw its crew reduced to three and a second diesel engine installed to backup the primary power source - an MTU engine identical to the Leopard MBT version itself. The Leopard 1 was also modified to become the specialist Leopard AVLB bridgelayer vehicle - otherwise known as the "Bruckenlegepanzer" or "Biber" ("Beaver"). This variant was essentially the Leopard tank itself reincarnated without its turret. In its place was, instead, a two-piece steel bridging system with associated power works. A trainer vehicle for Leopard 1 drivers existed sans its turret. An ARV (Armored Recovery Vehicle) variant was also produced as was an AEV (Armored Engineer Vehicle).
- Tank vs Tank
- Main Battle Tank (MBT)
- Support / Special Purpose
31. 30 ft (9. 54 m)
11. 06 ft (3. 37 m)
8. 60 ft (2. 62 m)
47 tons (42,400 kg; 93,476 lb)
40 mph (65 kph)
373 miles (600 km)
1 x 105mm Royal Ordnance L7A3 L/52 rifled main gun.
1 x 7. 62mm MG 3 co-axial machine gun.
1 x 7. 62mm machine gun.
2 x 4 smoke grenade dischargers.
55 x 105mm projectiles.
5,500 x 7. 62mm ammunition.
8 x smoke grenades.
Leopard 1 - Base Series Designation; first batch production.
Leopard 1 A1A1 - Additional Turret Armor
Leopard 1 A2 - Updated turret function and passive night vision equipment installed.
Leopard 1 A3 - Improved armor protection and new all-welded turret production.
Leopard 1 A4 - Integrated fire control system implemented. This represents the last variant used by the German Army.
Leopard 1 A5 - Updated nightvision equipment, computerized fire control and became upgraded standard for all earlier German Army models.
Leopard 1 A6 - Single-prototype example mounting a 120mm main gun; improved armor at turret; cancelled in 1987.
Leopard 1 AVLB - Bridgelayer
Leopard 1 ARV - Armored Recovery Vehicle
Leopard 1 AEV - Engineering Vehicle
Leopard 1 Trainer - Sans turret, replaced with windowed cab for driver training/instruction.
Gepard "Flakpanzer" - Mobile twin-35mm anti-aircraft air defense system (Leopard 1 chassis).