FV 4039 “Tiny/Big Annie”
Terrified of the growing communist threats overseas and the relative disparity between the steel fortresses the USSR were churning out compared to the Centurion tanks the Australian army were fielding, the Menzies Government started collaborating with the British Army in 1954 to build a tank “Capable of fighting in any corner of the arid interior for months at a time and able to crack the toughest nut whilst supporting our boys” The design brief was simple in words but breathtakingly infeasible. A tank that could see off any current or projected USSR rival in masses whilst operating alone in a potential irradiated area for months at a time. Design was started parallel with lessons learned in the atomic testing at Emu Field with a Centurion that British tanks were capable of surviving a near-direct blast but the crew wasn’t. Furthermore, the atrocious conditions that the tractor unit encountered pulling the Centurion were taken into consideration. It became clear any heavy tank operating in the outback would have to carry in its supplies, fuel, and support staff. The Australians were tasked with building the support trailers which would house all the requirements needed to establish a FOB in the bush. These trailers were only mildly armoured, possessing 20mm sides, 30mm floors, and 17mm decks. An exception was the “Pit” on the fuel and supply trailer which was encased in 425mm of concrete and a lead/steel liner. This was to hold any nuclear material that the tank would require, either 6 sabot 155mm nuclear shells from the Yellow Anvil program or a Violet Mist nuclear demolition charge.
Development was mostly undertaken in Britain, where testing and construction of the fully-functioning prototype was complete by March 1957, where it was shipped to Australia after basic testing of systems, having the turret removed for ease of embarking. Shipped to Whyalla, “Tiny” as she was known in the R&D circles became a logistical nightmare, a wharf and crane had to be specifically made to unload her from the ship. Assembly and calibration took five weeks before she was ready for trials. Hooking up her “train” which for testing purposes consisted of an accommodation/mess trailer, a supply trailer, and a Green Mace prototype the RAAF was keen to trial. To much fanfare, she was to depart Whyalla under inauspicious conditions, a defective track pin sheared, sending a forward track whipping out. Fixed readily from her supply trailer in under an hour, she set off with a crew of 33 and a mascot wombat called Wyatt. The Whyalla council was dismayed at the fact she turned any road into rubble, they sent a driver to hail her down and ask nicely if they wouldn’t mind saving the road and travel alongside for the sake of the culverts too. For the most part, she bulldozed her own path to Woomera where trials with operating a mock FOB just out from the township were conducted, crew noted how woefully slow it was to rearm the tank they had come to know as Big Annie (named after Anne Beadell, wife of the explorer who was assisting the crew with his intimate knowledge of the outback) but on the whole they were happy with the Australian trailers, noting the supply one should come with a collapsible derrick for loading the Malkara missiles into the Land Rover’s trailer, instead of relying on the A-frame crane mounted on the recovery Land Rover. On the whole, the performance was near expected, 4039’s towing speed was only 12kph over the rough terrain but on her own, with the auxiliary engines, she could steam along at up to 31kph on good hard ground.
A gunnery exercise was conducted in September 1957, where representatives from both armies watched in amazement as the heaviest guns available to the ADF, the main gun of a Centurion and a 155mm Long Tom field piece, at close range, blew craters into a spare turret side piece of the 4049 but failed to penetrate the armor bar small flakes spalled. They were more horrified than amazed when 4039 lumbered up to the range and with scarcely any effort, turned an M3 Grant inside out, knocked the turret off a surplus Centurion and cracked a 300mm steel plate at 1500m, in under three minutes. A Chaffee was “reduced to her components” at 3200m as a final example. The ADF was sold and was considering an order of 12 production units pending a simulated war patrol. Scheduled for later in the month to simulate it much more closely, a nuclear test was to coincide to allow a light testing of the radiation measures.
Setting off in the early hours, with a temporary escort of Ferret Armoured Cars to ensure 4039 didn’t stray onto the launch sites, she set a course for Broome. The fallout cleaning system was tested at regular intervals and worked for the most part, though the level of radiation was minor. After five days, a FOB was set up about 250km SW of Fitzroy’s Crossing in the Great Sandy Desert. Further testing was done including a Jindivick drone shootdown by the Green Mace and simulated patrols. 4039 struck out for Broome with just her fuel trailer and returned five days later. After four months which included a simulated attack air, nuclear drill, and regular reconnaissance patrols, they returned to Woomera for further evaluation. In 1958, she was used to firing a non-nuclear prototype of the Yellow Anvil program at Maralinga before remotely firing a live 1.5kt warhead a distance of 19km. This was to be the last time she fired the main gun. Another trial using a Fairey Rotorcraft as a recon unit mounted on a lightweight platform was considered in late 1958 but was cancelled. In 1959, on advice from Treasurer Harold Holt, Defence Minister Athol Townley cancelled Australia’s interest in the program, noting Britain had lost interest earlier. The Green Mace was returned to Britain in 1962 to go into storage, the other trailers being too large to leave Woomera really, instead were put to use. The accommodation and mess trailer was then hauled to Maralinga to use as a semi-mobile base (in ’67 pushed into the quarry and buried)while 4039 and her fuel trailer were put to use as a heavy haulage unit and salvage recovery vehicle for the next 19 years before an electrical/fuel fire in the RHS engine bays damaged the gearbox irreparably and spares couldn’t be sourced readily. As the fire suppression system hadn’t been maintained since 1965, she was deemed to be too much of a risk anyway and was abandoned 250km NW of Emu Field where she sat for years hidden among the scrub, visited occasionally by off-roaders. Len Beadell would later wryly remark, “It seems all the king’s horse and all the king’s men couldn’t get Tiny going again” an apt point seeing that the only recovery vehicle designed to get a disabled FV4039 going was hidden somewhere in the MOD archives. Happily, in 2005, a group of armour enthusiasts received permission to inspect the now rusting and vandalized wreck and found it was possible to restore it to basic mobility. After eight weeks of work including using the mostly cleaned out workshop on the trailer, she was made mobile and crept back to Woomera where she underwent a basic restoration that was mainly cosmetic. She is now parked adjacent to the missile park on display with her fuel trailer.
Length (Hull)- 12.99m
Length (including support train)- 61.6m(not yet determined)
Height – 4.39m
Weight- 218.5t Combat ready, + between 89.5t and 158t for the “support train”.
Armour- thicc as your mum
Armament 1x Ordnance, Quick Firing 183mm, Tank , L4 Gun, 1x Oerkilon 20mm, 4x 7.62mm MG, Twin arm Malkara launcher.
Ammunition Storage- 183mm, designed for 10 ready use near loader, 5 in loader, 24 in turret rear, four in turret base (spare storage intended for Yellow Anvil)
20mm 7 cans carried externally, 3 cans internally
7.62mm 10 cans carried externally, 8 cans carried internally
Malkara, none intended, in practice too heavy to load without crane.
Powerplant/s 4x Rolls Royce Meteor 810hp each, 2x 3 cylinder Lister petrol gensets 24hp each
Speed- 12kph under usual support load, 21kph offroad (poor), 28kph offroad (good), 30kph on-road (rarely achieved due to damage to surface)
Crew 7 (One Commander, One gunner Two loaders, one engineer/comms, two drivers)
20,000L of potable water, 5200L petrol, 2 toilets, galley, 6-cylinder genset, 12-berth bunkhouse, 6-berth officer’s cabin. Storage for effects + equipment totalling 4.5m3, radiation and dust wash down station, 120 cans of 20mm, 172 cans of 7.62mm
Spare Parts, roadwheels, 35m of space track, fully outfitted workshop capable of repairing or replacing most items, 122 183mm HESH rounds, 12 Malkara ATMs, 300 rounds of 5” finned AA rounds, explosive charges+ landmines. 27,000L of petrol, bowser + 50m of high-flow hose, radioactive munition vault, 6-cylinder genset + radar. Carries three Land Rover 3/4t Portees + one tandem trailer for recon and rearming. Recon Land Rover armed with 7.62mm MG and 120mm Recoilless rifle.
5” AAG, considered for full time use, carries 4 resupplies on the trailer totalling 72 rounds.
Consideration or another trailer was given but dropped owing to the trouble with turning already encountered with the three-trailer support train.
Armour Figures FV4039 (against KE)
Mantle ~460-520 (~810mm RHA Effective)
Turret Front 425mm @52deg (~690mm RHA Effective) to 350mm @ 41deg (~471mm RHA Effective)
Turret Sides 350mm @ 41deg (~471mm RHA Effective) to 250mm @ 28deg (~283mm RHA Effective)
Turret Rear 75mm @ 47deg (~110mm RHA Effective)
Turret roof 75mm @ 85 deg (~860mm RHA Effective, realistically impossible to achieve with height of roof and angles required for solid contact)
Commanders/Crew Hatch 125mm 0deg to 70deg (~125-374mm RHA Effective)
Hull Front (Upper) 225mm @ 70deg (~660mm RHA Effective)
Hull Front (Lower) 250mm @ -48deg (~375mm RHA Effective)
Hull Sides (Upper) 125mm @ 70deg (~374mm RHA Effective)
Hull Sides (Lower) 100mm @ -3deg (~101mm RHA Effective) + Skirt 12.5mm @ 0deg (~12mm RHA Effective)
Hull Rear 125mm @ -10 to -55 deg (~127-218mm RHA Effective)