The German Army has been steady in retiring armored units since the Cold War thawed in 1991, shrinking from some 4,000 Leopards holding the Fulda gap to just two active Panzerbrigades and a paltry 225 Leopard 2A4 and 2A6 tanks backed up by a similar number of Marder, Puma and Boxer armored vehicles by 2016. Since then, they have moved to increase those numbers to a planned 320 tanks and (slowly) update their big cats to the 2A7V standard.
With that, the Bundeswehr announced on 27 November that Panzerbataillon 363 will be stood up, equipped with 44 Leopards, and based at Hardheim, Baden-Württemberg. PzBtl 363 was a former West German Heer unit that was established at Böblingen in 1963 and disbanded 30 October 2006. Now, after 13 years with their colors furled, they will be reborn.
Notably, the WWII Wehrmacht fielded heavy tank battalions that all used a numbering sequence in the 500s (PzAbt 501 to 511), meaning the FGR’s PzBtl 363 had no Nazi-era lineage. However, there was a short-lived Panzerjäger-Abteilung 363 as part of the 363rd Volksgrenadier Division which was destroyed in the Ruhr Pocket in April 1945, but of course, a panzerjäger battalion is not a panzer battalion proper.
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.
(Above, a Bundeswehr film posted this week of a Leopard 2A6 of 4./Panzerbataillon 104)
From National Interest:
Germany has begun the process of upgrading 103 [or 104] out-of-service Leopard 2A4 and 2A6 tanks to the latest model, the Leopard 2A7V—an upgrade that will cost the state the equivalent of 760 million euros ($833 million). The big news is that by revamping and deploying these new vehicles, the Bundeswehr is expanding its tank fleet by over 40 percent, from 225 to 320 main battle tanks.
As noted by Defense News, this is in addition to another 32 tank chassis frames that will be used for bridging and recovery vehicles. More on the MBTs:
All told, the Bundeswehr stands to get 104 used Leopard 2 battle tanks out of storage that manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann will upgrade under a contract with the German Defence Ministry from the A4 configuration to the newest A7V standard. The latest package includes improvements in the areas of information technology, armaments and armor.
Times have changed, as a May 8 statement from the acquisition arm of the German Defence Ministry noted.
“The geopolitical developments of the past years have emphasized to us the importance of tank technology for our defense capabilities,” officials wrote.
Of course, the increase is paltry compared to the Germans pre-1989.
Back in the 1980s, the West German Bundeswehr was a massive roadblock to the Warsaw Pact hordes coming through the Fulda Gap. Established on the 200th birthday of Scharnhorst on 12 November 1955, the force used largely Allied equipment and Nazi-era officers, but within a generation, both were replaced by some of the newest and most forward-thinking leaders and gear in the World. German Leopard tanks were (and Model 2A7s today still are) seen as perhaps the most deadly armored vehicle in Europe.
At the height of the Cold War, when fully mobilized, the Bundeswehr could count on nearly a million men under arms and some 4,000 Leopards to hold the gap.
Then came the great melting of the Berlin Wall, reunification with the East, and a general downsizing of the ‘Heer over the past 25 years. Now, the 60,000-strong German Army has but two active Panzerbrigades and 225 Leopards of all types backed up by an equal number of Puma and Boxer armored vehicles. The to 320, all things considered, is not something old Scharnhorst would boast too much about.
An interesting interview published through NATO’s channels of Lieutenant Silje Johansen Willassen, Norway’s Telemark Battalion’s first female tank platoon commander, in charge of a quartet of German-built Leopard MBTs. Telemark is the Army ‘s rapid reaction force and is equipped with Swedish CV-9030N infantry fighting vehicles and Leopard 2A4NO tanks, the latter picked up slightly used from the Dutch Army in 2001.
Norway will be sending a mixed force company to Lithuania in May to support NATO’s enhanced forward presence. The company, of around 200 troops, will be drawn from the Telemark Battalion– and Willassen will command half of the tanks slated for the force. They will provide combat support to the German-led multinational battalion. The deployment will be for six months.
In war you see odd combinations.
During World War One there was a unit of the Austrian Army that was composed of Ukrainian soldiers led by Austrian officers. Neither spoke the other’s languages so operations were conducted in English as both sides had a passing knowledge of it. The officers had learned it in university and the soldiers had been studying it with an eye towards immigration. This unit fought the Russians in a war that began when a Bosnian terrorist shot an Austrian prince and his Czech wife.
Those men would be amazed by another story of an oddball combination that somehow makes sense. Recently, as part of the Global War on Terrorism, Danish forces engaged Taliban irregulars in Afghanistan. The Danes used German made Leopard tanks in the first combat by a Danish force since the Yugoslav morass of the last decade.
These hardy Danes were of course operating under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). No one pointed out that the Atlantic Ocean (or any ocean for that matter) is no where near landlocked Afghanistan. Another irony is the fact that those Leopard tanks were designed to destroy the same Soviet tanks that the Taliban grew up fighting against a generation ago.
But then again, the truth is stranger than fiction.