Tanks - Recent Combat Experience
In the opening days of the Korean War in 1950, the US 24th Infantry Division's heavy tank battalion was equipped, not with heavy tanks, but with M-24 Chaffee light reconnaissance tanks, armed with low-velocity 75mm guns. This proved to be no match for the North Koreans' Soviet-supplied T-34 85mm-gun medium tanks.
Two different wars were fought in Vietnam, the jungle-and-booby-trap one down south, and one more like WWII up on the DMZ. Though tanks were not common-place in Vietnam, there were quite a few tanks in Vietnam. Much of Vietnam was good tank country, particularly northern I Corps along the DMZ, Marine Corps territory. On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam launched a large, three-pronged invasion of South Vietnam, using tanks and mobile armored units. The biggest battle was at An Loc where, by the end of June, the enemy had lost all of its tanks and artillery. Armored forces emerged as powerful, flexible, and essential battle forces. In large measure they contributed to the success of the free world forces on the battlefield, not only in close combat, but in pacification and security operations as well.
In 1994 sixty-two Russian tanks were destroyed in the first month's fighting in Chechnya. Over 98% (apparently 61 tanks) were knocked out by rounds which impacted in areas not protected by reactive armor. The Russians employed the T-72 and T-80 tank in Chechnya. They were both invulnerable to frontal shots, since the front is heavily armored and covered with reactive armor. Kill shots were made at those points where there is no reactive armor--the sides and rear and, on top shots, on the drivers hatch and the rear of the turret and rear deck. Early in the conflict, most Russian tanks went into combat without their reactive armor. They were particularly vulnerable to damaging or lethal frontal hits without it.
On the three occasions when Soviet clients using T-72s have met Western armies that possessed modern main battle tanks -- Lebanon in 1982, Kuwait in 1991, and Iraq in 2003 -- the Syrians and Iraqis got thrashed very badly indeed, although this may have more to do with the poor training and low morale of their crews than with any deficiencies in the T-72 itself. But compared to Western Main Battle Tanks, the T-72 exhibitd a number of glaring deficiencies, which it shares with other tank designs of Soviet origin. Even the most recently produced T-72s are not especially well protected (with the notable exception of the T-72BM); NATO standard 120mm/L60 guns firing the M829 series DU APFSDS rounds, or German Tungsten DM-53 can kill it on the first shot from any angle out past two kilometers, and even the older NATO standard 105mm/L68 can do it at a kilometer or more -- at least with depleted uranium Depleted uranium ammunition. 1st generation Reactive armor bricks help it only slightly as concerns APFSDS, but more so against HEAT ammunition.
The T-72's rate of fire depends very much on the state of repair of the autoloader, which is necessary due to the extremely small and cramped interior apace in the turret, which prevents the addition of a fourth crew member as a loader. This autoloader is based on the autoloader from the T-62 series with mechanical improvements, and is rather slow and prone to malfunctions if not maintained properly. Modern Western tanks can fire twelve to eighteen aimed shots per minute, compared to the four of most Soviet and Russian designs.
Western tanks have considerably more elevation range and can be parked in a "hull down" position with just the gun and a tiny sliver of the turret showing, whereas Soviet designs under most circumstances cannot take up a "hull down" position at all because they cannot depress their guns far enough to park behind a ridge and shoot down the hill.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, coupled with the disastrous performance of Soviet tanks in the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. no longer faced a potential enemy with the capability of challenging American vehicles in open combat. The M1 Abrams proved especially superior to any competition.
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