Saturday, July 16, 2022

Why Russian tanks blow their tops


The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating video explaining why the Russian army lost so many tanks in the opening weeks of the war. Above is a cutaway view of the T-72 that went into service in 1973 and was adopted by many countries around the world, notably including India and several countries that are current or pending members of the NATO alliance: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Finland among them. (And Ukraine, of course.)

Famously the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine from the northeast in long, road-bound columns, where they met disaster at the hands of small, mobile Ukrainian units armed with modern weapons including the Javelin from the US and the INLAW from Britain and Sweden. Time and again, their turrets were blown high into the air, destroying the tank and killing the crew. What happened?

In order to keep the T-72 close to the ground and therefore harder to hit by enemy tanks and anti-tank cannon, the designers sat the gunner and tank commander atop an auto-loading mechanism. This not only gave it a squat profile but did away with the soldier responsible for loading the 125 mm (4.9-inch) main gun, reducing the crew from four to three. (The driver sits low and forward.) But oh, pity those men when an anti-tank shell lands atop the turret, as most often happens with a Javelin or INLAW round! The top of the turret is thinly armed, the crew are instantly killed, the explosion sets off all the shells in the autoloader, and the turret flies twenty feet into the air.

This was the result of Putin's sending his invading columns toward Kyiv and Kharkhiv, over wooded, hilly country unfriendly to mobile warfare. As the Finns did in the Winter War of 1940, the Ukrainians would creep close, destroy the first and last tank in a column, and then pick off the others "in detail," as the saying goes. Putin's Plan B -- slog it out with artillery in the wide-open eastern Donbas region -- plays to the Russian superiority in cannon and rockets

Too late, however, to save the nearly 500 tanks destroyed already. It will take Russia years to rebuild its depleted tank force.


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