The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Tank – Part 2 (Selected examples of recent use)

This is a multi-part look at the role of armour in recent conflicts, their relevance in the future and a look at current programmes;

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Selected examples of recent use

Part 3 – Looking into the crystal ball

Part 4 – SDSR, Army 2020 and the Challenger LEP

Part 5 – Future Protected Vehicle

Part 6 – A Few Ideas on the Future

Surely the main battle tank is a cold war legacy item, something our transformational paradigm shifting, seamlessly connected new model Army 2020 is supposed to be dispensing with?

A few examples;

Vietnam (Australian forces)

A quote from Wiki about the Battle of Coral – Balmoral in Vietnam;

Ultimately though the firepower of the Australian combined arms teams proved decisive. Indeed, while the value of using armour in Vietnam was originally questioned by the Australian Army, the performance of the tanks during the fighting at Coral and Balmoral demonstrated their advantages once and for all. Indeed, whereas before the battle some infantry had doubted the usefulness or necessity of the Centurions, afterwards they did not like working without them. Over the next four years the tanks would provide invaluable close support, particularly during the clearance of bunker systems, proving to be powerful weapons in both offence and defence and were later credited with limiting casualties among the Australian infantry

And a great video

Yes, oldies, that was an SLR!

Although the history of armoured warfare in Vietnam has been subject to much historical analysis I think the above provides a pretty good snapshot.

Iraq 2003 onwards

For OIF/TELIC there were four heavy brigades, 3 from the US 3rd Infantry Division, a total force of 200 M1’s and the British 7th Armoured Brigade, with 116 Challenger 2’s. The USMC also provided a considerable heavy force by reinforcing their forces with pretty much every M1 they had.

On the drive to Baghdad the after action report from the US 3rd Infantry Division clearly stated;

This war was won in large measure because the enemy could not achieve decisive effects against our armored fighting vehicles. While many contributing factors helped shape the battlespace (air interdiction, close air support, artillery), ultimately war demands closure with the enemy force within the minimum safe distance of artillery. Our armored systems enabled us to close with and destroy the heavily armed and fanatically determined enemy force often within urban terrain with impunity. No other ground combat system currently in our arsenal could have delivered similar mission success without accepting enormous casualties, particularly in urban terrain. Decisive combat power is essential, and only heavily armored forces provide this capability

In operation in the South, the British Royal Armoured Corps played a key role.

Learning lessons from the drubbing in the Gulf War, Iraqi forces had set up extremely effective defences in and around Basrah.  Making up for their lack of firepower their defences included concealed firing pits, positions inside buildings, killing zones and an extensive network of mobile telephone linked spotters.

General Brimms (GOC 1(UK) Armoured Division), credited Challenger and Warrior, as being the top 2 war winning assets in the initial stages of the Iraq war, operation TELIC.

One of the official lessons learned from Operation TELIC (0.161 to be precise) was very clear on the value of armour;

The value of armour providing heavy direct and indirect firepower and high levels of ballistic protection when operating in support of lighter forces has been reinforced by Operation TELIC. Combined arms training for light brigades needs to be addressed

In the latter stages of Operation Telic, Challengers were often used to carry out strike missions, provide visible deterrence, compound wall breaching, route security and convoy protection.


Phil wrote a nice case study on the Danish Army last year so a look at the Danish tank experience in Bosnia is in order.

In an operation that was subsequently called Operation Bøllebank (hooligan bashing) the Danish Army Jutland Dragoons were sent to relieve a Swedish observation post called Tango 2.

The Danish force consisted on seven newly upgraded Leopard 1A5’s and an armoured personnel carrier. Tango 2 had been receiving heavy fire from Bosnian Serb forces and it was decided to send the tanks because, in the words of the squadron commander;

Actually, we intended to move up with the tanks because they tend to stop the shooting

The tanks were ambushed by Bosnian Serb forces with anti-tank missiles. After realising that the concerted ambush would continue and being refused close air support they decided enough was enough and returned fire in a rather spectacular fashion.

Read the details at the link below;

The Serbs clearly intended to destroy the Danish force but clearly did not anticipate the response, characterised as the ‘mouse that ate the cat’


The lessons learned during Operation MEDUSA by the Canadian Army leadership included the importance of maintaining heavy armour as part of a balanced force.

Beginning in December 2006, the tank squadron and armoured engineers featured prominently in all major combat operations undertaken by the Canadian Battle Group, including at BAAZ TSUKA and ACHILLES, working side by side with Afghan National Security Forces, American Special Operations Forces (SOF), and ISAF troops. The Battle Squadron was initially responsible for establishing attack-by-fire positions in support of infantry companies and in forming the nucleus of a Battle Group counter-moves force capable of responding throughout the entire Canadian area of operations. Many Taliban insurgents learned the hard way of the capabilities of the Leopard’s main gun during the following years when attacking Canadian strong points with rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and indirect fire.

During these operations, the tank squadron proved its ability to conduct sustained combat operations at great distances from the re-supply nodes at each of the forward operating bases (FOBs). Additionally, Leopard mine ploughs were used to clean up an old Soviet minefield. Since May 2007, the tank squadron has fought almost constantly alongside Canadian and Afghan infantry in close combat with the Taliban.

Supported by the artillery, combat engineers, attack aviation and fast air groups, mechanized combat teams from the 2 RCR BG have achieved decisive victories against insurgents in the Howz-e- Madad, Nalgham and Sangsar areas of Zhari District where vineyards and imposing compounds render wheeled vehicle movement particularly difficult. Leopard tank crews have extensively used the 105 mm High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) round to eliminate insurgents attempting to attack dismounted soldiers. More importantly, tank rollers and ploughs have continued to mitigate risk to coalition soldiers by clearing routes of pressure-plate detonated IEDs while providing intimate support and a breaching capability to dismounted infantry companies.

Danish Leopards have supported the British led Helmand Task Force, even in the Green Zone, where they have provided overwatch.  Operation Sond Chara and Abbi Toora made extensive use of the Danish contingent.

Op AABI TOORAH began with the pre-positioning of the Danish tanks, previously used on Op SOND CHARA in December to great effect. At the same time the Danish Leopard tanks were in an overwatch position on high ground to the north and west and were used throughout the battle to engage, from range, the well dug-in enemy positions.

Sven provided a link to the document below (cheers) on the Canadian experience with main battle tanks in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most obvious of the lessons we have relearned is the importance of the combined arms team in full spectrum operations, and the continued significance of the tank and armoured engineers in the COE.  While our understanding of the threat and the complexity of operations in the modern battle space is sound, we have been excessively optimistic about our ability to find the enemy and determine his intentions without having to fight for information.  We will strive to achieve knowledge-based and sensor-led operations, but we are not there yet.  Until we can deny the enemy a vote, it will be necessary to form and deploy flexible combined arms teams capable of advancing to contact, and crushing opposing forces with overwhelming combat power and manoeuvre in extremely complex terrain, by day and by night

Although it is a few years old, it is a very interesting read;

So there you go; a handful of selected instances of the continuing viability and plain old usefulness of heavy armour across a range of conflicts in recent memory.

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