The first bloodied Leo, 24 years ago today
Here we see a white-painted Leopard 1DK main battle tank of the Royal Danish Army’s Jydske Dragonregiment (Jutland Dragoon Regiment) while deployed to the UN-led international force UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) in the former Yugoslavia in 1994.
Danish Leopards 1A3s were originally purchased in 1976, 120 in all which were renamed Leopard 1DK, delivered until 1978. 110 more were acquired in 1993 and all were gradually upgraded to the 1A5 standard.
Designed in the 1950s as the Standard-Panzer to replace the West German Bundeswehr’s U.S.-built M47 and M48 Patton tanks, the Leopard was built on all of the German lessons learned from WWII and the follow-on Allied after-action reports from Korea. In all, some 4,744 Leopard I MBTs were produced between 1965 and 1984 when they were replaced on Porsche’s line by the much-improved Leopard II. Besides West Germany, the Leo was sold throughout NATO including Denmark, as shown above, Canada, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey. Outside of the military alliance, Australia, Brazil, and Chile bought Leopard Is– with the latter going on to sell theirs to Ecuador while Lebanon picked up former Belgian panzers.
With all of those thousands of Leos in circulation, it may come as a surprise that the first combat action by the tank was by the Danes.
Yes, in April 1994, DANSQN (Danish Tank Squadron), a 10-tank unit of the Jydske Rgt, commanded by Major Carsten Rasmussen, was dispatched to form the armored overwatch fist of the 2nd Nordic battalion (NORDBAT2) composed of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish forces operating under the UN mandate. Commanded by Swedish Col. Ulf Henricsson (later dubbed the “Sheriff of Vareš” for his “no shit” attitude in Bosnia), the Nordic unit was composed of the Danish armored squadron, a Norwegian field hospital (NORMEDCOY), and the three-company strong first Swedish mechanized infantry battalion (BA01).
While in Bosnia, in an action remembered as Operation Bøllebank (“Hooligan bashing”) 7 tanks of the Danish squadron rushed to the aid of a Swedish observation post on 29 April that was under attack outside of Tuzla and was in turn ambushed on the way by elements of the Bosnian-Serb Sekovici brigade of the VRS (Republic of Srpska Army) outside the village of Kalesija.
The VRS had Sagger anti-tank missiles (which had proved deadly to other UN armored forces), 122mm guns and T-55 tanks but the Danes had better, FLIR-enabled night vision (the engagement started at 2315hrs) and in the end, carried the day.
Serb casualty reports range from 9 to 150. The Danes lost none of their 28 tankers involved and all of the Viking tanks were still more or less operational, though one had its paint scratched a bit.
The Leos had fired 72 105mm rounds in the 2-hour fight, (44 HE, 9 WP and 19 armor piercing.)
Eskadronchef Rasmussen, who was on scene for the fight in his command tank, said later of the counter-ambush against a nominally superior force, “The cat set a trap for the mice, but the mice caught the cat.”
Here is a pretty good run-down of the battle (in Danish)
Besides the Leo’s first use in combat, it was the first Danish overt military action since World War II and the first Dane tank-on-tank fight ever (in 1940, the Danish army only had a half-dozen Swedish-built Landsverk 180 and Landsverk PV M 39 Lynx armoured cars, armed with 20mm Madsen cannon, and they did not have a chance to engage German tanks in the brief blitzkrieg of the tiny country).
While the event has since been celebrated in Denmark, Rasmussen has downplayed the notoriety of the engagement. The tankers were not even decorated for the engagement.
As for DANSQN, they caught a whiff of gunpowder again on 26 October 1994 when three Danish tanks fired 21 rounds against Bosnian Serbs’ near Gradacac north of Tuzla in order to retake a UN- observation post. Dubbed Operation Armada, the Nordic Leos bagged at least one more T-55 in that engagement, suffering zero casualties.
As part of IFOR, they later helped in the disarmarment of local forces in Bosnia.
All of the Danish Leopard 1DKs are now retired, replaced by 38 Leopard IIs, still operated by a battalion of the “Blue Dragoons” of the Jydske Rgt, who trace their lineage back to 1657.