Defence Procurement

DND photo VL2009-0012-09/Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault

A Canadian Leopard C1 on exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, during a sighting adjustment.

“From a Beetle to a Porsche:” The Purchase of the Leopard C1 Tank for the Canadian Army

by Frank Maas

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Frank Maas completed his Ph.D in War and Society at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2014. His research focused upon armoured vehicle procurement and the policy debates over Canadian ground forces in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, especially Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s defence policy. He is working on a revision of his dissertation for publication with the University of British Columbia Press, and has also started working on a history of the production of the Piranha Light Armoured Vehicle in Canada, which is a major component of the Canadian, American, and Saudi Arabian armies. He currently teaches at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.


The history of Canadian defence procurement has been filled with delays, crises, and scandals, and the impression is of a byzantine system wracked by meddling. The bulk of the analysis on procurement has been critical, exemplified by Aaron Plamondon’s examination of the failed Sea King replacement in his 2010 The Politics of Procurement, but there has been some examination of successes, such as the post-Second World War Canadian aircraft industry in Randall Wakelam’s 2012 Cold War Fighters. This article will add to the modest number of success stories with an examination of the purchase of the Leopard C1 in 1976. The speed of the program compared to most projects was breathtaking – Cabinet directed the army to purchase new tanks in November 1975, approved a deal in May 1976, and the government signed a contract in October 1976. By 1979, the army received 128 modern tanks, on time and under budget. The major reason for the success was that the program enjoyed full political support, however reluctant – every soldier, bureaucrat, and member of Cabinet knew they were a priority.

The second reason was the fiscal and political constraints imposed on the purchase. The contractor, Krauss-Maffei (KM), the German Army (Heer), and Department of National Defence (DND) were all cooperative, but above all, the team responsible for purchasing the vehicle knew they needed to field a limited number of tanks quickly and at a reasonable cost, and so they bought a vehicle which was in production and in service, and with a minimum of alterations. This did not mean they bought an unsatisfactory vehicle or the cheapest option, and the Leopard C1, as it came to be called, was an excellent tank at the time.


The procurement of the tanks was quick and smooth, but the defence policy debate over purchasing them was quite the opposite. After a lengthy review of foreign and defence policy in 1968 and 1969, the Trudeau government announced plans to reduce 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Europe by half and replace its Centurion tanks with a lighter vehicle, likely the British reconnaissance vehicle, the Scorpion. This angered Canada’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, but they could not convince Trudeau to reverse course, and the plan was confirmed in the 1971 defence white paper, Defence in the 70s. The following year, the government announced plans to develop trade links with Western Europe and Japan, the “Third Option,” to reduce dependency upon the United States. Attempts to foster a contractual link with the European Economic Community began in 1973,1 and it quickly became apparent that the Europeans were resentful of the reduction of the brigade in 1969, and pressed Canada to beef up its defences in Europe. An intensive review of Canada’s armed forces, the Defence Structure Review, began in 1974, and NATO allies, particularly West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, prevailed upon Canada’s diplomats, soldiers, and Trudeau himself to reverse the 1969 decision and keep tanks in Europe. The suggestion was that if Canada wanted trade with Europe, it would have to help defend Europe. The army in the person of Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Jacques Dextraze also pressed Trudeau to buy new tanks. After a series of discussions with Helmut Schmidt over the spring and summer of 1975, a reluctant Trudeau finally agreed to a limited purchase of tanks to equip Canada’s troops in Europe and provide a training cadre at home, and the government announced this decision in November 1975. It was begrudging support, but everyone in government and bureaucracy knew that the tanks were a priority.

DND/CFJIC photo CFC67-101-10

A Canadian Centurion tank on exercise in West Germany.

General Dextraze had started work early on a replacement or modernization of Canada’s venerable Centurions, but would have to work fast because the tanks were twenty-five years old and difficult to keep in service. Although the Dutch had rebuilt two dozen Centurions in 1974, they still imposed a heavy maintenance burden and broke down frequently. In June 1975, the army submitted a report to Dextraze on the options for new tanks. The prototypes of the West German Leopard 2 and the American M1 Abrams promised to be impressive vehicles with the latest technological advances, but unfortunately, they would not be in service for several years, and would be very expensive. Canada would likely only start receiving tanks in the mid-1980s after the Germans and Americans had equipped their armies, and the Centurion would not last that long without another costly rebuild. The army would need a tank in-service, and it discounted the formidable British Chieftain because it was too slow, and like the Centurion, difficult to maintain. The three major contenders were a modernized Centurion with a new engine, transmission, improved suspension, and fire control system for the main gun, the German Leopard 1, and the American M60A1. The army ranked the Leopard 1 as the most effective tank, but it was also the most costly. 113 modernized Leopards would likely cost $146 million, while 113 M60A1s would cost $94.1 million, and 113 Centurions only $58 million. The Chief of Land Operations at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) in Ottawa, Major-General G. G. Brown, recommended the Centurion upgrade because it was the cheapest, and that they should be modernized immediately before the tanks were totally worn out.2 Dextraze passed this memo on to Trudeau’s foreign policy advisor Ivan Head, and emphasized that although the hulls were over twenty-five years old, a modernized Centurion was still a first-class tank.3

Christian Charisius/Reuters Image ID RTR1QZP7

A Leopard 2A6 of the German armed forces Bundeswehr during a demonstration at Exercise Area Munster, 20 June 2007.

Image ID E54CM1 © Colin C. Hill/Alamy Stock Photo

A British Chieftain Mk 10.

Captain Viet Nguyen/ DVIDS Photo ID 1941356

An M60A1 tank of the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces.

This assessment disquieted Canada’s Department of External Affairs. In late-August 1975, Gordon Riddell, from the External Affairs’ Bureau of Defence and Arms Control Affairs, expressed his concern with respect to the army’s preference for a Centurion retrofit to Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, H. B. Robinson. Riddell stated that Major-General Ramsey Withers thought a retrofitted Centurion was qualitatively superior to the M60 or the Leopard, and would also be much cheaper. Riddell’s biggest concern was that NATO allies would scoff at a rebuilt Centurion, and Canada would squander any benefits from the decision to keep tanks, especially with the ongoing negotiations for a trade link with Europe. He suggested that Robinson discuss the matter with Dextraze, and take care to emphasize that he was only addressing the foreign policy, not the military implications of the purchase. Riddell also suggested that Robinson should gently approach the issue of whether the retrofitted Centurion was really superior, or if Dextraze had decided that it was the most palatable option for Cabinet Ministers and the other services.4

Robinson duly met with Dextraze for a lunch meeting, and reported that the general’s mind was still open with respect to the tank. His first choice was the Leopard 2, but it would not be in production for at least three years. Dextraze’s next choice was for a Centurion retrofit, and he said that this would give Canada a tank superior to the Leopard 1 or M60, and would be much cheaper. Robinson raised the possibility of a rental of Leopard tanks, but Dextraze said that this was “lacking in dignity and self-respect for Canada,” although he would accept it if there were no alternatives. The final option was to carry on with the Centurion for another four or five years and wait for another decision.5

This discussion might have prompted Dextraze to explore other options, because a few weeks later, he sent some high-ranking soldiers and bureaucrats to Germany to discuss the acquisition of the Leopard. They received general cost information, as well as notice that it would be twenty-two months before the Canadians could receive their own vehicles, but the Germans could loan thirty to thirty-five tanks as an interim measure.6 Dextraze also recalled that he persuaded the head of the German armed forces to arrange a meeting between himself and the German defence minister, Georg Leber, asking him for about a hundred new tanks. Dextraze stated he “…got him [Leber] to agree by stressing that PET [Trudeau] was usually in disagreement with everything, but that he had agreed to a new tank.”7

The army did not want to wait for new tanks, and the Department of National Defence allocated funds for the replacement or modernization of 128 new tanks on 27 November 1975.8 This number would equip Canada’s troops in Europe with roughly ninety tanks, and the remainder would be used for training at home. Some in the army began talking about buying 156 tanks, and Dextraze was infuriated, fearing that the higher number would ruin his credibility with Prime Minister Trudeau and his staff. The Chief of the Defence Staff brought in senior members of the requirements staff and the armoured corps, lined them up in a conference room, and shouted that they were embarrassing him as he had already passed the number of 128 to his political masters. He then picked up a heavy ash tray and threw it at the wall (the ash tray did not break), and then asked each officer whether the number was 128 or 156. Each officer said 128.9

The army formed a Project Management Office to look at the possibilities for a Centurion modernization, long-term lease of tanks, or a new purchase in December 1975. The key figures in the purchase were the Project Manager, Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Hampson, and his civilian partner, Robert Bradshaw, at the Department of Supply and Services, the purchasing arm of the federal government in the 1970s. The Project Director in charge of combat requirements was Major Ken Black, assisted by Major Jim Gervais, tasked to the project in 1977. The Deputy Project Manager as well as the Project Engineer was Major Mac Campbell, replaced by Major Gerry Koeller in 1978. Major Larry Brownrigg managed and tracked expenditures.10 Their work was reviewed by a Steering Committee, and the most important oversight was from the Senior Review Board, composed of high-ranking officers and bureaucrats from the Departments of National Defence and Supply and Services.11

Dextraze, Hampson, Bradshaw and Jim Fox, a colonel and senior planner for the army, met on 2 December 1975 to discuss the plans. Dextraze asked if Fox could live with a rebuilt Centurion, to which Fox answered, “yes.” The general then said that a new tank might be a possibility, and that he wanted the options on his desk by 20 December. The team put a roll of paper around their room, and charted out when the various tanks would be available, and the support and logistics required for each option. Like earlier reports in 1975, they ruled out the M1, Leopard 2, and Chieftain, leaving the modernized Centurion, Leopard 1, and the M60.

Private Matthew Callahan/US DoD Photo ID 2001583221

An M1A1 Abrams tank drives down a dirt road on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 21 July 2016.

They studied the costs and benefits of a Centurion retrofit, which would involve replacing the entire power pack (cooling system, engine, suspension, and drivetrain) with newer and more reliable models. A modernized Centurion would indeed be serviceable, and its mobility and reliability would be greatly improved, but the team concluded that this option, although cheaper in the short-term, was undesirable. In the team’s terms, it would be a “bastard” tank that no one else would be using in Europe, and the Canadians would pay a premium for spare parts for a small fleet.

Ultimately, the team preferred the Leopard 1. It was relatively light for a Main Battle Tank, forty-seven tons to the Centurion’s fifty-six, and it had less armour, but it was fast and reliable, and armed with the same 105 mm gun as the Centurion. It was newer than the M60, and the Germans had already mentioned that they could loan the Canadians some tanks, and KM could produce vehicles for the Canadian army, likely in 1978. The team concluded that the best option was to rent tanks from the German Army for two years to finally retire the Centurions, and field their own Leopard 1s in 1978. Spare parts and support from allies would be plentiful because there were thousands of these in service with Germany and other countries.12 It was also in production. The Australian army had tested the M60 against the Leopard 1 in 1972 and 1973, and decided to purchase 101 Leopards, which were in production from 1976 to 1978. The Canadian plan was to buy the Australian variant with only minor alterations to avoid significant re-tooling or developmental charges.13 National Defence’s highest committee approved the program on 5 April 1976, and the next stop was Cabinet.14

Cabinet met to discuss the tank purchase just a few weeks later, on 20 May 1976. The memo that the ministers read compared the modernization of the Centurion to a purchase of new Leopard 1s. The British company Vickers submitted a proposal to retrofit Centurions, but had never rebuilt them in quantity, so there were many unknowns associated with the project. Vickers estimated that it could deliver refurbished Centurions starting in April 1980 and finish the program by January 1982, but this would necessitate a rebuild to squeeze a few more years out of Canada’s existing tanks. The army’s estimate for the overhaul of 128 Centurions was $65 million, close to the estimate of $60 million of 113 Centurions from the summer of 1975, but the total project costs had risen to roughly $150 million. The major increases were a contingency fund of more than $20 million, logistics support of roughly $25 million, and a $16 million rebuild of Centurions to keep them running until the overhauled tanks came into service in 1980. Vickers also promised $10 million worth of Industrial Regional Benefits, a contractual obligation to buy Canadian products to offset the costs of the purchase.

DND/CFJIC photo IL72-75

A Centurion tank stands sentry during the early morning fog.

The memo argued that the Leopard was a much more attractive alternative which met Canada’s need at a reasonable cost, and it would be easier to field and maintain. It was also more expensive – 128 Leopards would cost around $160 million. New tanks could start arriving in January 1978, and the order completed by April 1979. KM, with a good reputation for fulfilling offset obligations, could offer Industrial Regional Benefits worth 30 to 50 percent of the value of the contract. Allies would likely be happy with either option, but a Leopard would obviously help German-Canadian relations, and it was less risky than the Centurion modernization. The paper concluded that the government should buy 128 Leopard 1s, and negotiate to dispose of the Centurion fleet through KM.15

CWM 19900240-010/Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum

A Leopard C1 on exercise.

Cabinet was prepared to accept this recommendation, and there was a minimum of discussion on the matter. The foreign minister, Allan MacEachen, sent a message from Europe that he was being criticized by NATO allies for the recent cancellation of a major Canadian procurement program for a long range patrol aircraft, and wanted to deflect this with a firm statement on Canada’s plans for new tanks for its forces in Central Europe. Most ministers were sympathetic, but did not want to prejudice negotiations with KM. Trudeau was adamant that the “…final decision on procurement of the Leopard be subject to the successful conclusion of iron-clad undertakings on the part of the suppliers, particularly with respect to offsets [Industrial Regional Benefits].” Cabinet agreed that the military could purchase 128 Leopards and loan thirty-five tanks as an interim measure, and sent word to MacEachen that he could announce this decision to NATO allies.16

National Defence wanted to finalize the deal by late-September, and guarantee that it could squeeze its order in before KM geared up to produce Leopard 2s for the German Army.17 The negotiations took place at KM’s main plant during the summer shutdown, and every report on the negotiation from multiple government offices noted that it went smoothly, and that there was a cordial relationship between the Canadians and the Germans. In a report, Hampson commented: “They [KM] negotiated as very tough and knowledgeable businessmen, but once an agreement was reached the firms were dedicated to achieving [sic] their contract obligations.”18 Deputy Project Manager Mac Campbell stated that there was real trust between the Canadians and Germans as they negotiated during KM’s summer shutdown, and there were no significant problems. The Canadians were impressed by the company’s professionalism and their intimate knowledge of the vehicle, and could talk directly to the firm’s design and engineering staff.19 The negotiations were completed by 6 August 1976,20 and the contract was signed on 12 October 1976.21

Library and Archives Canada, © GoC /photo e011166217/MIKAN 4849053

During Exercise Certain Sentinel in early-1979, a Canadian Leopard in a village in western Bavaria.

The first German rental tanks, Leopard 1A2s, started arriving in late-1976, and the full complement of thirty-five had arrived by April 1977.22 The Germans scrounged for tanks to equip the Canadians, even taking some from a training range in Wales, and in all supplied thirty-two gun tanks, two recovery tanks, and one bridgelayer. The total cost of the rental of thirty-five tanks for roughly two years was $2.7 million, a bargain price that basically covered the cost of inspecting and repairing the tanks after the Canadians had returned them.23 When the 1A2s started arriving, Clive Milner, Commanding Officer of Canada’s armoured regiment in Europe, the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCDs), recalled that he asked Technical Services in Ottawa to translate the Leopard manuals. They responded that it would take two years. The army obviously could not wait this long, so the RCDs sent some officers to the German Armoured School in Münster in October 1976 to develop training materials and an instructor cadre for the rest of the unit. An officer named Harry Mohr was instrumental in helping the regiment adapt to the Leopards.24 His parents were Sudeten Germans who had immigrated with him in 1956 when he was eleven, so Mohr could speak German, and he and some other soldiers literally cut and pasted from the German manuals as they developed materials to train Canadian troops, and developed adaptation courses in gunnery, driving and maintenance, communications, and also a course for crew commanders.25 The Canadians ran these courses in January 1977, and the training was rushed, but it worked, and the brigade was operational with the rental Leopards in mid-1977.

In the rental agreement, there was a usage limit of 1450 kilometres imposed for gun tanks for the first year, and 1200 for subsequent years, and these were well in excess of the Centurion’s capabilities.26 The turret and crew compartment of the Leopard was smaller than the Centurion, but it was almost twice as fast.27 The Centurion retained its edge in armour, but this had made the tank so heavy that it could not cross some bridges, and its tracks would rip up the asphalt on roads. Milner also noted that the brigade’s tactics changed, and that the infantry in armoured personnel carriers did not have to wait for the slow Centurions to catch up. He stated that the transition was “like going from a Beetle to a Porsche.”28 The Leopard was also much easier to maintain. An engine change on the Centurion could take up to forty-eight hours, but Terry Seeley noted that a good crew could change an engine on a Leopard in fourteen minutes.29 This might have been a record, the reliability and ease of maintenance of the Leopard were dramatic improvements over the Centurion.30 The Leopard engine also used diesel fuel, not gas like the Centurion, so it was easier to get fuel from German or American stocks.31

Library and Archives Canada, © GoC/photo e011157048/MIKAN 4728208

End of an era… The last roll past of Canada’s Centurion tanks, 21 June 1977.

The first batch of Leopard C1s rolled off KM’s lines in July 1978, and arrived at Gagetown in August 1978, where they replaced Canada’s last Centurions still being used for training.32 The school sent driving and maintenance instructors to the RCDs in Germany, and some gunnery instructors went to a NATO armour school in Belgium.33 There were some wrinkles, and the manuals needed to be completely rewritten. The driving and maintenance manual took eight months to produce, and had to be written into “Canadianese,” and the French manual was also difficult. They did this work in-house at the school.34 In the interim, they relied upon manuals developed during the rental period and Australian manuals,35 but they were still not completed by the time the Project Management Office for the Leopard closed in 1981.36 However, this was a small problem in the grand scheme of the purchase, and once the crews and instructors had adapted to the tank, things ran smoothly. The tanks at Gagetown were run nearly twenty-four hours a day upon arrival, and there was fear of wearing them out.37

CWM 19790111-001/Canadian War Museum/MCG photos

The first Canadian Leopard C1 tank being driven off the production line in Germany by Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Hampson, 29 June 1978. Major D. Henderson stands in the background.

The Canadians in Europe received their first C1s in late-1978, and returned the rentals, four a time, as the new tanks came in. The two-year rental of the Leopard 1A2s was good training and preparation for the arrival of the C1s, and the army put the new tanks through their paces with two major exercises in late-1979.38 The introduction was smooth, and unlike some other pieces of equipment, the Leopard 1s were fully operational upon delivery.39 The major differences between the rental 1A2s and the C1s were a larger turret with spaced armour, and the Belgian SABCA fire control system with a laser range-finder. The SABCA was the most advanced system in service on Leopard tanks, and it was accurate and quick.40 It had seven sensors which accounted for wind speed or temperature and automatically adjusted the gun,41 but it suffered from some teething problems. In one instance, the system did not account for the heat expansion of the turret during repeated firing, and at long distances, rounds would miss just long of their targets.42 On sunny days in the summer, the top of the gun barrel would droop slightly because of the heat, and rounds would miss just below the target.43 These unanticipated problems were common to all nations which used the SABCA system,44 and after some consultation with the manufacturer, they were resolved.

CWM 19790111-006/Canadian War Museum/MCG photos

The first Canadian Leopard C1 tank outside at the handover ceremony, 29 June 1978. Left to right, Major D. Henderson, Major Terry Seeley, and then-Lieutenant-Colonel Clive Milner of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and then-Brigadier-General Jim Fox.

Despite these problems, the arrival of the Leopard was a morale booster. Its major advantages over the Centurion were its speed and reliability, and an army report from 1982 noted: “The mechanical performance of the fleet to date has been good and is an outstanding improvement over the Centurion.”45 Colonel Hampson noted that personnel worked overtime to make the introduction a success, and maintenance, logistics, and training personnel had a hard time keeping up with demand. Overall, eighty-seven Leopards were in Europe to equip a full regiment of tanks with war stocks, thirty-one went to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown for training, and the remainder were distributed across Canada at other schools and facilities.46

The Germans had also established what was called the “Leopard Club,” an organization for the exchange of information on training, logistics, operational use, and improvements by nations that operated the tank. Three major sub-groups of the Leopard Club – Combat Improvement, Training, and Logistics – would meet twice a year at meetings coordinated by the Germans.47 Canada joined the Leopard Club in early 1977,48 and these meetings produced reams of technical data. This kind of detailed discussion allowed the army to quickly resolve many problems and adopt the best practices from other countries, and the army saw the Leopard Club as being very beneficial.49

The Leopard Club also facilitated the supply of spare parts and repairs for the Leopard fleet. Each year, member nations would submit their requests for spare parts and rebuilt assemblies to the German Ministry of Defence, and the Germans would make spare parts available for pick-up at their supply depots. The Canadians in Europe picked up their spare parts at a German army depot at Herbolzheim, eight miles from the major base at Lahr. Canada joined this arrangement in 1977, and the only wrinkle was that the Canadians needed longer lead times for spare parts for the Leopard fleet in Canada, which would take time to arrive by sea.50

The final feature of the purchase was offsets, or Industrial Regional Benefits. Trudeau had emphasized this in Cabinet, and the procurement of the Leopard C1 was the first major Canadian procurement program to require foreign contractors to spend a proportion of the contract’s value in Canada. Despite KM’s hesitation, the Canadians secured contractual obligations for KM to spend 40 percent of the contract’s value in Canada within ten years, and best efforts to get to 60 percent. The criteria were entirely quantitative, and there were no requirements for licence production of parts or assemblies in Canada or technology transfers. Only manufactured products counted as offsets, although some semi-processed materials were acceptable. The value of the offset was determined by the Canadian content of the product, whether it was labour, raw materials or transportation. KM negotiated the provision that any purchases by its holdings or associated companies would count against the offset targets, as long as there was some proof that it occurred because of the efforts of the contractor.51 The costs for administering the offset program amounted to roughly $1.3 million, which were folded into the price of each vehicle.52

In the summer of 1976, representatives from KM’s sub-contractors visited Canada to canvas possible Canadian companies for offsets, and returned in December. They showed interest in electronics, as well as fine castings and wood products, but none of these purchases was likely to be directly related to the production of the Leopard. By January 1978, KM had $19 million worth of orders in Canada, of which $10 million had been backed up by formal contracts, and this represented 28 percent of the commitment.53 By November 1979, it had met 40.5 percent of the total offset commitment,54 and four years after the contract was signed, KM had reached 54 percent of their obligation for offsets in the ten year period.55 Most of the money went to Ontario and Quebec for manufactured components. Therefore, in May 1980, the Department of Industry, Trade, and Commerce sponsored a trip for sixteen representatives from twelve German firms to show off Canadian companies from the Maritimes and the West. By 1982, KM was close to the requirement, and had spent 32 percent of the entire contract value in Canada.56

Although the Canadians received a new tank on time and under budget, there was some criticism that Canada was getting an old tank. It was true that Canada got some of the last Leopard 1s to be produced, and the generation of tanks fielded by allies in the early-1980s, the M1 Abrams, Leopard 2, and the Challenger, were significantly better than the Leopard 1. The Soviets also improved their armoured forces, and factories in the Urals continued to churn out new and improved tanks. In the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence, critics continually pressed military officers and the Minister of National Defence (MND), James Richardson, then his successor Barney Danson, as to why Canada had purchased the Leopard when allies were on the cusp of introducing new tanks with larger guns.57 In December 1975, Andrew Brewin, defence critic for the New Democrats, asked Dextraze if it would not be better to refit the Centurion, and buy a state-of-the-art tank ten years down the road, rather than buying the Leopard 1. The general responded with some home-spun wisdom. He said: “My father used to say, wait for two years and you will get a much better car; when the two years were up he would say, wait another two years because it’s going to be even better then.”58 General Dextraze and the army knew that the window of opportunity, both fiscal and political, might not be open for long.

Library and Archives Canada., © GoC/photo e011166285/MIKAN 4868495

A Leopard C1 tank of the Royal Canadian Dragoons during Exercise Fallex 84 in Bavaria during annual NATO fall manoeuvres.


This imperative set the stage for a successful procurement. Canada’s allies demanded a serviceable tank and would not wait ten years for something better, and although the Centurion had given a good account of itself, it was finished. The army’s initial interest in a rebuilt Centurion was warranted, and the Israelis had used them effectively in combat, but it was clear after closer inspection that standardization with allies would greatly simplify supply, and the project team’s choice of KM’s Leopard was effective. The company had produced thousands of these tanks since 1965 for various customers, and Canada effectively bought “off-the-shelf.” There were few major alterations to the vehicle, and consequently little technical risk with the project, and very little cost fluctuation – the army’s estimate for the tanks was $110,099,500.00, and the actual cost was $114,010,700.00.59

The Germans were also accommodating at all levels of government, industry, and military. They did their best to ensure that the purchase moved along quickly, and did not take advantage of the Canadians, despite being the sole source. The government and army helped the Canadians with the bargain price for rental tanks, and ensured that the Canadians were trained, and had enough spare parts and maintenance knowledge to keep the tanks running. The maintenance of NATO’s vitality was a priority for the Germans, and it is no surprise that they helped the Canadians after Chancellor Helmut Schmidt made it a priority in discussions with Prime Minister Trudeau.

The fundamental reason for the success of the purchase, however, was its clear and unambiguous political support. In many analyses of procurement, there is the criticism that politics, whether in the form of favouritism with contractors, or arbitrary decisions made without regard for professional military advice, makes acquisitions more costly and endangers soldiers in the field. This was not the case with the Leopard, where politics was not a liability, but an asset. Trudeau did not want to buy the tank, but he had been convinced that they were necessary to facilitate Canada’s broader foreign policy objectives, so there was no doubt that the army would get tanks, and get them quickly. Although General Dextraze carved out a place for the Leopard 1 in the defence budget, he could do little without the prime minister’s approval. No project, however necessary or well-managed, can prevail against a sceptical Cabinet or prime minister who do not see the political utility of major projects. The Leopard C1 had this support, however begrudging, and when combined with the wise choice of a proven, in-service vehicle and accommodating contractor, it proved to be one of the more successful procurements of the Cold War.

DND photo AR2011-0034-001/Corporal Tina Gillies

A Canadian Leopard 2A6M from the 12th Canadian Armoured Regiment conducts a road move on Route Hyena (Panjwa’i Road) in the Horn of Panjwa’I, Afghanistan, 5 February 2011.


  1. J. L. Granatstein and Robert Bothwell, Pirouette, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), pp. 164-165.
  2. Major-General G. G. Brown, “Comparative Tank Data,” 9 June 1975, Note: attached in a memo sent by General Jacques Dextraze to Ivan Head, 17 June 1975, File 8, MG26 O19, Volume 139, LAC.
  3. General Jacques Dextraze to Ivan Head, 17 June 1975, “Comparative Tank Data,” File 8, MG26 O19, Volume 139, LAC.
  4. G. G. Riddell, “Retrofitting of Tanks for Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Europe,” 27 August 1975, File 27-1-1-3, Part 6, RG25, Volume 10277, LAC.
  5. G. G. Riddell, “PDM’s Lunch with the CDS,” 29 August 1975, File 27-1-1-3, Part 6, RG25, Volume 10277, LAC.
  6. Charles J. Gauthier, “Chapter VII: Important Equipment Acquisitions During the 1970-1990 Period,” 50, File 56, 92-228, Series 3, DHH.
  7. J.A. Dextraze, interview by J. L. Granatstein, 12 April 1988, 3, File 141, Box 9, F0316, Accession 1989-036, York University Archives.
  8. R. J. Baxter, “Minutes of PCB Meeting 26/75,” November 27, 1975, File 1150-100/P15, Part 1, Ottawa, RG24, Accession 1997-98/625, Box 1, LAC.
  9. Mac Campbell, telephone interview with author, 6 December 2013, confirmed in e-mail message, 18 January 2014 (hereafter referred to as Mac Campbell).
  10. G. J. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report, April 1981, Executive Summary,” April 1981, pp. 3-4, File 8344-006, Part 2-PA, Records of the Treasury Board Secretariat, RG55, Accession 2002-00077-8, Box 22, LAC. (hereafter referred to as Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report.”)
  11. W. E. Grant to T. Charland, “Report on Leopard Tank Offset Negotiations with Krauss-Maffei AG, Munich, July 27 – August 6, 1976,” 10 August 1976, Records of the Department of Supply and Services, RG98, Volume 390, File ERO-6500-36, LAC.
  12. Larry Brownrigg, interview with author, 12 August 2013.
  13. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” p. 12.
  14. Brigadier-General J. G. Mumford, Minutes of the 196th Meeting of the Defence Management Committee, 5 April 1976, File 2, 79-560, Box 5, DHH.
  15. James Richardson, “The Tank Replacement Program,” 28 April 1976, Cabinet Document 224-76, RG2-B-2, Volume 6503, LAC.
  16. Cabinet of the Government of Canada, “The Tank Replacement Program,” Privy Council Office, 20 May 1976, Accessed 3 February 2012, Cabinet Conclusions Database.
  17. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” p. 10.
  18. Ibid., p. 24.
  19. Mac Campbell.
  20. W. E. Grant to T. Charland, “Report on Leopard Tank Offset Negotiations with Krauss-Maffei AG, Munich, July 27 – August 6, 1976,” 10 August 1976, RG98, Volume 390, File ERO-6500-36, LAC.
  21. From Bonn to Department of Supply and Services, “Krauss-Maffei Contract,” October 13, 1976, RG98, Volume 390, File ERO-6500-36, LAC.
  22. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” Annex C.
  23. “Agreement Between the Federal Minister of Defence of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Minister of National Defence of Canada Regarding the Loan of Leopard Battle Tanks, Recovery and Bridgelayer Tanks, Logistic Support, and the Training of Personnel,” (hereafter referred to as “Agreement”) signed October 14, 1976, File 48, 2007-9, Box 2, DHH.
  24. Clive Milner, telephone interview with the author, 5 August 2013, confirmed in e-mail message, 20 January 2014 (hereafter referred to as Clive Milner).
  25. Harry Mohr, interview by J. R. “Digger” MacDougall, October 2004, transcript, Accessed at the Canadian War Museum (hereafter referred to as the CWM).
  26. “Agreement,” signed 14 October 1976, page 5, File 48, 2007-9, Box 2, DHH.
  27. Lieutenant S. B. MacKinnon, “The Troop Leaders Speak Out,” in Armour Bulletin, October 1977, Armoured Department, Combat Arms School (Gagetown, NB), pp. 10-11. Accessed at Fort Frontenac Library (hereafter referred to as FFL).
  28. Clive Milner.
  29. Terry Seeley, interview by J.R. “Digger” MacDougall, July 2004, transcript, CWM (hereafter referred to as Terry Seeley).
  30. S. B. MacKinnon, “The Troop Leaders Speak Out,” in Armour Bulletin, October 1977, Armoured Department, Combat Arms School (Gagetown, NB), pp. 10-11. Accessed at FFL.
  31. Terry Seeley.
  32. Clive Milner, “Message from the Commanding Officer,” in The Springbok (Lahr, Germany, July 1977), pp. 3-4. Accessed at the CWM.
  33. Lieutenant-Colonel G. J. O’Connor, “Centurion to Leopard C1,” in Armour Bulletin, January 1977, Armoured Department, Combat Arms School (Gagetown, NB), p. 14. Accessed at FFL.
  34. Bill Coupland, e-mail message to author, 20 January 2014 (hereafter referred to as Bill Coupland).
  35. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” p. 22.
  36. Gerry Koeller, interview with author, 17 June 2014 (hereafter referred to as Gerry Koeller).
  37. Bill Coupland.
  38. Jim Fox, telephone interview with the author, 12 August 2013, confirmed in e-mail message to author, 29 January 2014.
  39. Gerry Koeller.
  40. Jim Gervais, telephone interview with the author, 23 June 2014.
  41. M. J. Pacey, “The SABCA – Tank Fire Control System” in The Springbok, (Lahr, Germany, January 1977), p. 24. Accessed at the CWM.
  42. John Marteinson and Michael McNorgan, The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps: An Illustrated History (Toronto: Published by The Canadian Royal Armoured Corps Association in cooperation with the Canadian War Museum, 2000), p. 387.
  43. Darrell Dean, telephone interview with the author, 23 May 2014 (hereafter referred to as Darrell Dean).
  44. Walter J. Spielberger, From Half-Track to Leopard 2, (Munich: Bernard and Graefe, 1979), pp. 227-228.
  45. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” Annex M, p. 12.
  46. Ibid., p. 25.
  47. Major K. R. Black, “Brief on the Leopard Report” attached to “Visit Report,” 29 June, 1976, File 1180-120/L8-2, Part 1, RG24, Accession 1997-98/122, Box 244, LAC.
  48. Lieutenant-Colonel D. V. Hampson, “Leopard Project – Briefing to PCB, 12 Jan 78,” attached to “Minutes of PCB Meeting 1/78,” 17 January 1978, File 1150-110P15, Part 1, RG24, Accession 1997-98/625, Box 3, LAC. Hereafter referred to as “Hampson, Leopard Briefing 1978.”
  49. Lieutenant-Colonel D. V. Hampson, “Leopard Project – Briefing to PCB, 22 Nov 79,” attached to “Minutes of PCB Meeting 36/79,” 6 December 1979, File 1150-110P15, Part 3, RG24, Accession 1997-98/625, Box 3, LAC. Hereafter referred to as “Hampson, Leopard Briefing 1979.”
  50. National Defence to Treasury Board, “Authority to Enter into an Agreement,” 10 March 1977, File 1180-120/L8, Part 2, RG24, Accession 1997-98/122, Box 242, LAC.
  51. W. E. Grant to T. Charland, “Report on Leopard Tank Offset Negotiations with Krauss-Maffei AG, Munich, July 27 – August 6, 1976,” 10 August 1976, RG98, Volume 390, File ERO-6500-36, LAC.
  52. A. W. Allan to J. M. Desroches, “Leopard Tank Procurement, Draft Provisions for Industrial Offsets,” 27 August 1976, File ERO-6500-36, RG98, Volume 390, LAC.
  53. Hampson, Leopard Briefing 1978.
  54. Hampson, Leopard Briefing 1979.
  55. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” p. 18.
  56. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” p. 12.
  57. See the testimony on 13 May 1976, 29 November 1976, 1 December 1976, 17 May 1977, 2007-11, Boxes 6 and 7, DHH.
  58. Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence, 1 December 1975, File 7, 2007-11, Box 6, DHH.
  59. Koeller, “Leopard Project Post-Project Report,” p. 17.