Category Archives: Tanks & AFV

Enter the Kampfpanzer Leopard

As covered in recent weeks, NATO has lifted the moratorium on sending main battle tanks to Ukraine and is slated to transfer varying token quantities of M1 Abrams (that need to be rebuilt first), cranky British Challenger 2s (that use a unique ammo type) and several different marks of ex-German Leopard 2s (from assorted first, second, and third-hand users.)

Speaking to the latter, the first Leo 2s headed to Kyiv seem to be seriously high mileage, which should surprise no one.

As noted by the Canadian Army on their first shipment, “The donation of the first of four Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tanks will help Ukraine defend its sovereignty from Russian aggression. Their delivery by our forces shows that we can project combat power on a global scale to support the rules-based international order.”

The tank is so proudly shown covered in rust and obviously needs new trackpads.

If it looks this bad on the outside… “A Leopard 2A4 tank is loaded onto a Royal Canadian Armed Forces (RCAF) Canadian Cargo-177 Globemaster III in Halifax, Nova Scotia to be sent overseas as part of Canada’s aid to Ukraine on February 3, 2023.
Photo Credit: Corporal Amelie Graveline”

Couldn’t even take a pressure washer to it for a minute, guys? “A Leopard 2A4 tank is loaded onto a Royal Canadian Armed Forces (RCAF) Canadian Cargo-177 Globemaster III in Halifax, Nova Scotia to be sent overseas as part of Canada’s aid to Ukraine on February 3, 2023.
Photo Credit: Corporal Amelie Graveline”

Analysis from Tanks Being Tanks:

The tank looks like it just came out of a training exercise with little time to fully prepare. The rubber track pads are heavily worn or damaged, large mud stains, damaged side skirts, worn/damaged road wheels, and even the headlights are missing (though probably stored for transport). But basically, Canada is sending Ukraine tanks like this.

It’s not entirely sure whether the Leopards will undergo some kind of quick repair, especially replacement of the road wheels and trackpads, but it does bring up the question. Is Canada sending their worst, but still operable Leopards to Ukraine, just to get rid of them? Could this be the same plan for the other countries sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine?

Then again, one exception of such a possible case was Spain, when they initially offered their older Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine, but later changed their minds because of the overall operational status of said tanks, which was not good. Then again, they are still planning to send tanks now, but the number currently sits at around 4 to 6 tanks, out of 20 stored tanks in good condition.

But another concern is that a report by National Post has said that out of Canada’s 82 Leopard 2 tanks in service, around 15 tanks are operational (20% of Canada’s tank fleet). So far, no other source says the same, but no source has countered that claim, leaving a high possibility that Canada’s Leopard tanks aren’t doing too well. Yet, they’re still sending “operable” tanks to Ukraine?

The Leo2s offered thus far include 4-8 Norwegian (former Dutch) 2A4s, 14 Polish (former German) 2A4s, 4-6 Spanish (former Dutch) Leopard 2Es, 4 Portuguese (former German) 2A6s, possibly a few 2A7s from Denmark. Besides the varying degree of system fits on this hodgepodge, the data plates and labels inside these bad boys alone have to be dizzying in variety.

A possibly better alternative may be to send old Leopard 1 models, which Germany has hundreds in reserve, and even Belgium has 88.

Sure, they are 1960s-1980s vintage and are roughly equivalent to M60 Pattons or Soviet T-64s (the latter of which the Ukrainians are very familiar with), but their 105mm guns and engine suites are much simpler to master than anything fitted to the Leo2s.

Yes, the armor is thinner, but Leo2s are Kornet/RPG-30 bait anyway as the ones headed to Ukraine don’t have active-armor systems, so what is the difference?

Plus, the going rate for surplus Leo 1s is seen as about $10-15K a pop (although some are looking to pass them on for a cool $500K), with both Rheinmetall and FFG having lots full of them, meaning 2-3 could be transferred to make 1 operable, giving at least some built-in spare parts supply via cannibalization.

Plus, Kyiv is already operating Gepard SPAAGs, Dachs engineering vehicles, Biber scissor bridge layers, and Bergepanzer recovery vehicles– which are all just Leo1 hulls without the turret.

Getting 105mm sabots are probably going to be a problem, however, as the big players in that game right now (Greece, Turkey, Chile, and Brazil) all want to keep what they have in case they suddenly have a need for it. However, you can bet the U.S. Army probably has tons of old HEAT shells stockpiled in the desert somewhere for the 105mm M68 (the main gun fitted to the M60 Patton), which is nothing but the British-designed Royal Ordnance L7, which was the primary weapon fitted to Leo1s– all three use the same NATO STANAG 4458 shell types.

In my mind, don’t be surprised if the Leo1 becomes the new hot item shipped to Ukraine in quantity, with some container loads of quietly bought M426/M428 105mm sabots from Israel.

Pre-Priest Photoshoot

Official caption: (early 1942)

The M-7 is the Army’s newest tank destroyer and is really a “killer.” Being tested for desert warfare at Iron Mountains, California. It carries both a 105mm Howitzer and a 50 caliber gun. Lieutenant M. Hutchison of Enterprise, Alabama is on the extreme right. Corporal L. Roberts from Graham, Texas is at post behind the Howitzer. Corporal Downing, whose home is Dekalb, Missouri, is in the turret.

U.S. Army Signal Corps Image now LOC LC-DIG-fsa-8b04892 https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b04892

Of course, those who are tank and SPG versed will recognize that the T32 Motor Carriage M7— dubbed the “Priest” in British service due to the pulpit-style .50 cal ring (and the fact that the Brits already had a similar SPG named the “Bishop”)– was a self-propelled gun rather than a tank destroyer, although a lucky hit by its 4.1-inch (105mm) M2A howitzer would smash just about any armored vehicle ever made before 1970.

The original chassis was based on the M3 Lee/Grant medium tank chassis.

Over 4,400 M7s would be produced, and the type remained in service with the U.S. Army through Korea and then with allied forces well into the 1960s and 70s including combat with the Israelis in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Some may still endure in the reserves of the armies of Pakistan and Taiwan, just in case they are ever required to prey (pray?) again.

Now THAT is how you do a Recognition Test

I just love ship, aircraft, and vehicle recognition tests and flashcards, something I dug ever since I was a kid and saw the posters on the walls of Cary Grant’s cabin in the WWII Coastwatcher comedy Father Goose.

I can’t tell you how many different decks of these I have on the shelf! And don’t even get me started on how many dusty old volumes of Jane’s Fighting Ships I have.

However, as anyone can tell you from actual spotting work, those flat diagrams and silhouettes leave much to be desired when it comes to actually being able to tell things apart in real life.

Enter a recent NATO exercise in the Baltics as part of the Iron Spear armored gunnery competition saw 34 teams from 13 NATO countries deploy to Latvia to strut their stuff. With so much dissimilar equipment on hand, it seemed the perfect time to do some real-world up close and personal recognition training.  

How many can you identify?

Ukraine Goes 1973 Yom Kippur

Some of the videos and photos coming back from around Kharkiv/Kharkov, where Ukraine has mounted what seems by all accounts to be a very successful counteroffensive, are stunning. Russian forces have without question abandoned significant amounts of equipment and materiel around the city, with indications pointing to a disorganized rout.

“Russian equipment abandoned. Russian soldiers switching into civilian attire and trying to blend into the population and escape the front. This is not a ‘red badge of courage’ moment for Putin’s army,” noted ADM James Stavridis.

Even the Russians are confirming they have pulled back their lines, which is a rare admission from Moscow in a war that for the past 200 days has been akin to Baghdad Bob.

By some accounts, the military feint to the south around Kherson and detailed intel provided to Kyiv/Kiev by Western sources, set up the Russians for an easy fall.

It is all very reminiscent of the Israeli counter-push in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

Takeaways as noted from the ISW:

  • Ukrainian forces are continuing to make impactful gains in Kherson Oblast and are steadily degrading the morale and combat capabilities of Russian forces in this area.
  • The Russian military command may be suspending the deployment of newly formed units to Ukraine due to recent Russian losses and overall degraded morale.
  • Russian forces are failing to reinforce the new frontline following Ukrainian gains in eastern Kharkiv Oblast and are actively fleeing the area or redeploying to other axes.
  • Ukrainian forces continued targeting Russian military assets and positions in Kherson Oblast, likely steadily degrading them.
  • The Ukrainian recapture of Izyum has likely degraded Russian forces’ ability to conduct artillery strikes along the Izyum-Slovyansk highway.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced the restoration of the second reserve power transmission line to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
  • Ukraine’s sweeping counteroffensive is damaging Russian administrative capabilities and driving Russian departures from occupied parts of Ukraine far behind the line of contact.

Of course, the Russians are regrouping and plastering the region to the Northwest of Kharkiv/Kharkov with lots of rockets and air-delivered weapons (often with VDS flying missions that stop at the Russian border then lofting weapons to target down range) and if the Ukrainians outrun their supply lines the tide could turn. However, the first snowfall in the region normally hits in mid-October so the “fighting season” is likely to close in just a few weeks.

One key statistic that I would like to reference is that Oryx, which has been keeping a public running tab of equipment lost by both sides– using photographic reference as confirmation — since the war started on 24 February, has surpassed the 1,000th tank documented lost by the Russians. In comparison, Russia lost only three tanks during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.

The Oryx Russian tank tally as of 13 September stands at 1,087, of which destroyed: 654, damaged: 44, abandoned: 51, and captured: 338. Most are T-72 variants (638) but a lot are newer T-80s (210) and even some T-90s (22) while only a few are ancient models such as the 43 T-64s logged.

As a note on propaganda and “body counts,” the Ukrainian MOD says they have zapped twice as many Russian tanks, which is obviously inflated.

The Ukrainians claim 2,175 Russian tanks have been accounted for, roughly a 100 percent inflation from what has been confirmed with open-sourced imagery.

By comparison, Oryx has Ukraine losing 259 tanks, mostly modified T-64BV models. This points to the massive amount of modern anti-tank weapons sent to the country in recent months.

Just take a look at the latest (8 September) fact sheet from the Pentagon on the $15 billion worth of goodies the U.S. alone has provided– it contains 8,500 Javelins (which will take at least four years to replace, just saying), 1,500 older TOW missiles, and 32,000 “other” mostly one-shot anti-armor systems such as M136/AT-4s, M72s, M151 BDM/Mk 153 SMAWs, etc.

Another interesting development is using cheap drones– even commercial Chinese quad-copters– by Ukrainian “poacher” units to drop grenades and mortar bombs down the hatches of resting Russian tanks behind the lines.

In short, Ukraine is the scariest environment imaginable for a Russian tanker to operate.

Roadblock in Luzon

80 Years Ago today.

At a Roadblock on the Road to Bataan by Don Millsap, via the U.S. Army National Guard’s Heritage Collection

Luzon, Philippine Islands, December 26, 1941 — While the main attention of the beleaguered U.S. forces in the Philippines was focused on Japanese columns streaming inland from the Lingayen Gulf in the west, another enemy force came ashore on the east coast of Luzon at Lamon Bay. Company C 194th Tank Battalion from Salinas, California, was attached to a Filipino Army regiment near the town of Lucban. The 2d Platoon was ordered to make a show of force that would take it down a narrow trail. As the tank, commanded by SSgt Emil C. Morello, rounded a sharp curve it came face-to-face with an enemy roadblock. Without any hesitation, the tank smashed into the roadblock and the Japanese gun behind it.

Before being hit, Morello’s tank fired on other gun positions. After pretending to be dead, Morello and his crew escaped the next morning only to be either killed or captured, along with the other members of the 192d and 194th Tank Battalions, at Bataan.

These two battalions were National Guard units with companies from California, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. For their gallantry in action, both units were awarded three Presidential Unit Citations. Today’s 1st Battalion, 149th Armor, California Army National Guard carries on the gallant traditions of the 194th Tank Battalion.

The U.S. Army Armor & Cavalry Collection has plans to exhibit a restored early U.S. M3 light tank, identified by the sponson-mounted .30 caliber machine guns on each side: 

This type was used by the National Guard tankers of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions on Luzon

Alongside a Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go that has belonged to the U.S. Army since it was captured in the Philippines in 1945.
 

The Ha-Go was the most common Japanese tank of World War II. Introduced in 1935, the Ha-Go weighs 7.4 tons and is armed with a 37mm main gun and two 7.7mm machine guns.

‘Lucky Seventh’ Tiger

Original Caption: “German Tiger Tank, after being repaired by men of 129th, Ordnance Batallion, down the street of Gersonsweiler, Germany. Company B, 129th Ordnance [Maintenance] Battalion, Gersonsweiler, Germany.” 

Original Field Number: ETO-HQ-44-29921. Photographer: Private William C. Sanderson (167th Signal Company) 12/15/1944. NARA 111-SC-197752

That mother beautiful King Tiger, as Oddball would say, has been patched up by the maintenance battalion of the 7th Armored “Lucky Seventh” Division, just prior to the Battle of St. Vith, where they were rushed to support the paratroopers and glider troops of the XVIII Airborne Corps as part of the First Army. It would have been curious to know if the Americanized Tiger was used against the Germans there, as Skorzeny and his boys were infamously running around the area with assorted captured Allied and viz-modded German gear with U.S. markings at the same time. 

Formed in California in 1942 out of spare parts from the reorganized 3rd and 5th Armored Divisions, the 7th AD entered combat in Northern France in mid-August 1944, crossing through the Netherlands as part of Market Garden, then through the Ardennes and Rhineland and into Central Europe, ending the war at Grevesmuhlen on 6 May 1945 after traveling 2,260 miles across the continent. Besides the above Tiger, the unit captured an amazing 113,000 Axis POWs.

In 172 days of combat across those eight months, the division suffered 10,502 casualties or 98.4 percent of their authorized strength.

Lucky, indeed.

Loving that 106

Ran across these images from the Chilean Army while researching a piece on the IWI Galil Ace which the Chileans have adopted. Fans of the venerable old M40 106mm recoilless rifle, especially when mounted to a Land Rover, should be overjoyed.

106mm recoilless rifle, Regimiento N°19 Colchagua, exercise Ojos de San Pedro, Oct 2021. In this case, the gun could be used for avalanche control. 

106mm recoilless rifle, Regimiento N°19 Colchagua, exercise Ojos de San Pedro, Oct 2021

106mm recoilless rifle, Batallón de Infantería Motorizado Nº 15 “Calama” exercise Ojos de San Pedro Oct 2021. Likely not avalanche control…

Compañía Antiblindaje “Karut” del Destacamento Motorizado N°14 “Aysén” with M40 106mm recoilless rifle Aug 2021

Same unit and date as above, with the Land Rover, dug in

Now that is a good ambush position that American anti-armor teams of the 1950s and 60s will easily recognize.

While the M40– first fielded just after Korea cooled down in 1955– was in production at Watervliet Arsenal for the U.S. and her allies until 1970 when the TOW system was standardized, licensed copies were made by Lohner in Austria, Kia in South Korea, and SBS in Spain since then (along with unlicensed copies made in China, India, Iran, and Pakistan). Still, with a 1,500-yard maximum effective range and the ability to penetrate 700 mm of armor with advanced HEAT rounds, it has proved popular as a sort of low-tech mobile artillery as it can be carried by any vehicle capable of toting 500 pounds on a rear platform without squatting. 

On a further side note, Chile also fields 48 more capable M109 155mm SPGs (to accompany their 270 German/Dutch surplus Leopard tanks and 800 Marder/M113 APCs) while towed artillery includes three dozen Israeli 155mm Soltams and about 75 Vietnam-era M101 105mm howitzers. Further, Chile, which fields four serious battalions of Andean mountain infantry, is one of the few countries that uses the very cute OTO Melera M56 105mm pack gun (largely because neighboring Peru and Argentina have the same guns for their respective mountain men).

105mm OTO mountain gun pack howitzer, La Batería de Artillería de Montaña N°2 Maturana, Oct 2021.

Dig that snow camo

Happy 157th QAMR!

Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles, the oldest regular force unit in the New Zealand Army, turned 157 this month.

Formed 16 September 1864 as the Alexandra Troop of the Wanganui Cavalry Volunteers, the unit’s motto is Ake Ake Kia Kaha (Forever and Ever Be Strong). First deploying overseas in the Boer Wars, they continued to be very active in both World Wars as well as in recent years. 

Hard-riding New Zealand horse soldiers guard German prisoners of war captured in Palestine near Jericho in 1918.

As noted by the Army, “QAMR has a proud tradition of Operational service from South Africa, Egypt, Greece, Crete, North Africa, Italy and, more recently, in Bosnia and Afghanistan.”

These days, they ride iron horses as they have since 1942, today forming a squadron of NZLAVs, the Kiwi version of the LAV III 6×6.

Hyundai’s 120mm Laser

OK, well maybe not a laser but it sure looks like one! The Republic of Korea Army last week released several images of one of their K1A2 main battle tanks firing its 120mm KM256 smoothbore gun at a firing range.

Designed from Chrysler’s XM1– which later roughly became the M1 Abrams– the Hyundai K1 88-Tank is a beast that was intended to augment, then replace the ROKA’s obsolete M47 and M48 tanks in the 1980s and stand ready to eat North Korean T-62s (usually locally-made Chonma-ho knock-offs) for breakfast. It is perhaps most notably different from the Abrams line in the respect that most of the electronics are domestic (largely Samsung-made) and it uses an efficient German MTU 871 diesel powerpack similar to that used by the Leclerc, Challenger 2, and Leopard 2 MBTs rather than the M1’s thirsty gas turbine.

Updated with the license-built K256 120mm gun, the electronics and commo fit from the K2 Black Panther, and a redesigned armor scheme after 2012, the K1A2 is one of the most advanced and capable MBTs in the world– and they can still eat Nork T-62s, still Pyongyang’s most numerous front-line tank, for breakfast.

105mm Echos in the Russian Kurils

In the windswept and remote northern portion of Kuril Islands chain in the Sea of Okhotsk, currently-Russian owned Paramushir (AKA Paramushiro or Paramushiru) was part of the Japanese Empire from 1875 through 1945. During WWII, the local garrison, formed around the Imperial Japanese Army’s 91st Infantry “Future” Division (with six infantry and two artillery battalions), crisscrossing the island with a maze of coastal artillery positions and fortified bunkers, ready to pull an Iwo Jima on invading American (or Soviet) landing forces. Following the American liberation of the Aleutians in 1943, regular bomber air raids stitched up the island.

When the Russkies arrived in force on 18 August 1945, although the surrender of Imperial Japan was announced by Hirohito three days prior, both sides still wanted to fight for the frozen Kurils, and for two weeks, Soviet troops carried out the final opposed landing operation of the war.

Soviet-era painting depicts the landing of Soviet forces on Kurils, where two inexperienced Russian Naval Infantry divisions learned the same bloody lessons the U.S. Marines had already paid for on Tarawa

In the end, the Russians suffered some 1,500 casualties taking Paramushir and nearby Shumshu– which saw the last Japanese tank combat in history.

Soviet anti-tank teams on Shumshu island during the Kuril landing operation. August 1945. While the Degtyaryov PTRD-41 (shown) and Simonov PTRS-41 14.5x114mm anti-tank rifles were hopelessly obsolete by 1942 on the Eastern Front, they could still penetrate 30mm of steel armor at 500 meters, which was more than enough for Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha/Shinimoto and Type 95 Ha-Go tanks arrayed against them in the Kuriles which boasted 25mm and 12mm, respectively, at their toughest parts.

Today, Paramushir is home to a small Russian settlement (the Japanese locals were deported to Siberia in 1947) and the parts that are not current military bases are often visited by historians of all stripes to poke around and look for WWII sites and objects. One such expedition recently photographed a fairly well-preserved Japanese Type 92 10 cm (105x737R) howitzer still buried in its hillside position.

The long-barreled Type 92 was well-known to U.S. troops, having been the bane of American positions at Corregidor and Henderson Field. The Soviets, meanwhile, had experienced the gun in 1939 at Khalkhin Gol where some guns fired so many shells in such a short period that they reportedly glowed red

Pistol Pete was a type 92 10cm field gun used by IJA at Guadalcanal.

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