Whether during war or at peace, main battle tanks and other armored vehicles can heavily rely on armored support vehicles—and for the British Army’s MTBs, it’s the CRARRV, Challenger Armored Repair and Recovery Vehicle.

This 70-ton behemoth is the “pocket healer” of all mechanized equipment on the battleground, tending to repair and recover during critical combat moments. It was developed alongside their main battle tanks when Brits were looking for equipment that could pull their heaviest armored fighting vehicles to safety.

A Mechanic Workshop On Wheels

As we all know, the British Army was the inventor of the tank on the battlefields of WWI, which other nations were quick to imitate. But like all machines, it is prone to malfunctions, getting bogged down, and, of course, damage from hostile and even friendly fires. So, they thought of something that could carry out the repair and recovery duties and could follow the combat vehicles wherever, whenever on the field. During the WWII, American tank units had entire battalion strength units dedicated to recovering and repairing damaged tanks and getting them back into the fight.

They initially thought of wheeled vehicles to play this essential role, but it wasn’t fit to traverse rugged terrain. Likewise, it wasn’t strong enough to tow the heaviest tanks they had, and it provided little-to-no cover for the mechanical crew. They need something that could navigate tough terrain, be armed to defend themselves and the mechanics, and drag vehicles back to base for proper repair or disposal. Then, a light bulb lit up. What better way to carry a heavy tank than a tank itself?

Hence, the repurposing of tank hulls and suspension as a foundation of what eventually became an armored repair and recovery vehicles (ARVs).

The first framework the British Army used was derived from Mark IV and Mark V tanks, which both rose to prominence during the First World War. But unlike the modern ARVs, WWI ARVs weren’t equipped to repair on the spot; instead, pull unrepairable tanks back to base to where a mechanic workshop awaited. After the Second World War ended, an improvised ARV emerged, deriving its structure from the framework of the Cavalier (A24) tank, followed by the heavily-armored Chieftain (FV4201), and finally, the Challenger 1 (FV4030/4) to which the CRARRV was derived from.

 

Challenger 1 MBT
Challenger 1 MBT was participating at Tankfest 2009. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

MBTs’ ‘Pocket Mechanics’

CRARRV, short for Challenger Armored Repair and Recovery Vehicle, was developed after the Challenger 1 MBT in the 1980s. It weighs similar to the MBT, around 62 tons, and has dimension measurements of 9.59 m in length, 3.62 m in width, and 3 m in height. In addition, the CRARRV also retained the MBT’s Rolls-Royce Condor CV12 TCA diesel engine, ramping up to 1,200 hp. As a result, its maximum road speed can reach up to 59 km/h within 500 km.

Instead of armaments, the CRARRV outfitted a powerful recovery winch, a crane, and a front-mounted hydraulically-operated dozer blade. Commissioned to service in 1985, the British Army initially ordered 30 units but expanded them to 74.

The vehicle has added an all-welded superstructure to protect itself from assault fires and is armed with a 7.62mm machine gun to counter attacks. Unlike its predecessors, the CRARRV is self-sufficient and equipped with all the necessary hull repairing tools and spare parts for MBTs and other vehicles in the field. In short, a mechanical workshop on wheels.

British CRARRV
A photo of CRARRV during a commander course in 2018 at SEME Bordon, England. (Screenshot from Average Joe Airsoft/YouTube)

 

Its main winch has a straight line towing capacity of 52 tons, and with the assistance of its pulley block, this capacity ramps up to 104 tons—enough to pull totaled vehicles or bogged down MBTs, as well as realign overturned machines. Moving on its cranes, the CRARRV has a small one capable of lifting about 6.5 tons, adequate to hoist and replace the power packs of the Challenger tank and other minor lifting tasks. Lastly, the CRARRV’s hydraulically-operated dozer blade is used for various functions, including obstacle clearing, heavy winching operations, preparing firing positions, covering ditches, etc.

 

The CRARRV demonstrates recovery, towing a Centurion Tank at Tankfest 2021. (Screenshot from Sofilein/YouTube)

Meanwhile, it has this wheeled trailer called a CRARRV High Mobility Trailer that transports a spare powerpack (HMT) and can accommodate one Challenger, a Titan, a Trojan, or two Warrior powerpacks.

It has a seating capacity of five for three Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME)—including the commander, driver, and a third member—and two passengers in the towed casualty vehicle. While most of its basic specs remain constant today, the CRARRV has received tons of improvements throughout the past decade. When Challenger 2 (FV4034) MBT succeeded Challenger 1 in the early 2000s, the CRARRV was also upgraded accordingly to accommodate the new MBT repair and recovery needs.

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British CRARRV
CRARRV commander course 2018 at SEME Bordon, England. (Screenshot from Average Joe Airsoft/YouTube)

Track Recovering Record

Where the MBT goes, the CRARRV follows, and with it, the reliability and strength of the tanks were increased by two, if not ten folds.

The first operational deployment of CRARRV was probably during Operation Granby, the British Army’s contribution to the Coalition forces at the First Gulf War in 1991. During the campaign, dozens of Challenger 1 tanks were deployed to three armored regiments, and each was allocated one AVR per squadron of 18 MBTs.

The CRARRV has also successfully supported the Challenger 2 MBT operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. Moreover, between the late 1990s and early 2000s, the British armored support vehicle attended numerous military exercises, exhibitions, and peace-keeping missions.

demo-tankfest-2021
A CRARRV successfully demonstrates recovery of Centurion Tank at Tankfest 2021. (Screenshot from Sofilein/YouTube)

(H/T: Tank Historia)