Common tank myths debunked (15 Pics)

Tanks are arguably the most important component of a modern army, since 1939 these heavily armoured and armed vehicles have fought in every major conflict. You see tanks in movies and video games, but unfortunately popular culture tends to do a half-assed effort of accurately depicting tanks.

This post will go through a list of myths regarding tanks and armoured warfare in general, and debunk them. Nicholas Moran AKA the Chieftain, was a tank commander in the U.S army and now serves as the director of militaria relations for the developers of the video game World of Tanks. He’s basically responsible for collecting data, going through archives and doing in depth research.
Myth No.1: M4 Sherman tanks burned a lot, and they were death traps for American tank crews.

“M4 Sherman tanks were bad because they used petrol engines and petrol burned more easily than diesel!” Well this just ignores the fact that every country except the Soviet Union had petrol-powered tanks throughout World War 2. Why don’t people say how easily Panther tanks burned because of poorly manufactured fuel lines AND petrol engines?

“Sherman tank ammunition exploded easily when they were hit!”  Yes, American ammunition tends to explode easily when they’re on fire, but so does every other country's ammunition! Furthermore, the American was the only country in WW2 to introduce the widespread use of ‘Wet storage’, where ammunition are stored in tubs surrounded by satchels of water mixed with glycol. Yes, the Sherman tank was obviously lighter and less protected than German Tigers and Panthers, but it was generally more survivable than Panzer IVs and T-34s. The book Death Traps and the movie Fury's claims that the average lifespan of a U.S. Army tank crew was six weeks is utter bullshit.
This chart shows the fate of 49,516 enlisted men of the U.S Armored Force. The chance getting killed in action is only 2.8%, the chance of suffering a wound is only 10%. In other words, being a U.S tanker is pretty much the safest combat job in WW2. This data is compiled by James A. Ulio, Adjutant General of the U.S Army from 1942-46.

For a medium tank, the Sherman did have some weaknesses. It was too tall, caused by the tilted driveshaft that ran through the hull. Shermans also had narrow tracks, reducing its cross-country mobility. Still it deserves a better reputation.
Myth No.2 Shoot the fuel drums carried by tanks and turn the whole thing into scrap metal.

From the late 1940s onwards, the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent, NATO, began shoving fuel drums onto tanks to extend their range. Movies and video games portray this as a weak spot, and it sounds reasonable enough. A can of gasoline should be able to do some serious damage, right?

First problem with this myth, it assumes that tankers ride into battle with their external fuel drum attached. These fuel drums aren’t actually connected to the main fuel tank of the vehicle, the crew is supposed to drive near the frontline, siphon the fuel from the external tank into the main tank, and ditch the external drums, thus minimising the risk of losing fuel.

Even if the tank is ambushed and the fuel drums are detonated, things won’t be that bad. Active duty soldiers and veterans will tell you that petrol explosions look scary, but are actually very weak when compared to proper high explosives, far too weak in inflict any actual damage.
Second problem, look where the fuel drums are placed, either to the side or to the rear of the engine deck. No burning fuel will spill onto the engine deck and damage radiators, engine etc. The worst thing that can happen is burning fuel splashing onto a nearby infantryman.
Myth No.3 “Muh German tank gun is more accurate than Soviet and American tank gun”

Look at the bottom graph, the caption says: ‘Graphical depiction of shooting results during a D-25 accuracy test, from a distance of 1900m’. The D-25 gun mounted on the Soviet IS-2 tank landed all of the shots within the 120cm radius circle. According to Jentz' Germany's Tiger Tanks - Tiger I and II: Combat Tactics, the Tiger tank’s Kwk36 8.8cm gun landed 87% of the shots on a 2.5m x 2m target from 2000m away. If you overlay this 2.5x2m rectangle over the Soviet graph, the IS-2 tank has an accuracy of 100% from almost the same distance.

Both the Kwk 36 and the Kwk 43 were less accurate than the Soviet D-25, the S-53 and the American 76mm gun. The Panther's 75mm L/70 gun, depending on sources, was more or less the most accurate.
Myth No.3 ‘Muh German tank is still superior!”

Yes, German Tigers and Panthers had thicker armor and bigger guns than Soviet and American competitors, but yes, they were also very overrated. Firstly, the Tiger I and Tiger II were both absurdly expensive, cost effectiveness matters during a massive conflict like WW2, the Tigers were simply a waste of resources. Secondly, the Tiger tanks and the Panther were way too heavy. The Tiger I had decent transmissions and suspensions to withstand its 55-ton weight, the Panther and the Tiger II did not. Panther tanks ended up with an overstrained transmission and suspension, and Hitler rushed Panthers into mass production without even trying to fix these problems. According to military historian T.L Jenzt, General Guderian wrote the following to Hitler in July 1943.
“Due to enemy action and mechanical breakdowns, the combat strength sank rapidly. By the evening of 10 July there were only 10 operational Panthers in the front line. 25 Panthers had been lost as total writeoffs (23 were hit and burnt and two had caught fire during the approach march). 100 Panthers were in need of repair, 44 by mechanical breakdown.”
Hahaha! Two Panthers burnt down before they even reached the battle at Kursk, and 44 out of about 200 Panthers disabled themselves!

Popular culture and amateur historians tend to focus on the big numbers, a tank is good because it has a big gun with a high muzzle velocity, a tank is good because their armor is so thick. The German ‘big cats’ excelled in these areas, but reliability, combined-arms tactics and cost effectiveness is often ignored.
Here’s a  list compiled by Steve Zaloga, detailing each time the U.S Army encountered a Tiger tank from December 1944 to the end of the War. You can see that Tigers were rarely encountered. After all, only 1,400 Tiger I and 500 Tiger II were deployed, with most of them sent to the Eastern Front.

On December 21st, 1944 at 5 pm, Tigers attacked the 7th Armored Division near St. Vith in the Ardennes. The Tigers started with Star Shells and followed up with armor piercing, destroying all of the defending American vehicles, including tanks. Ok, Tigers win here.

Also during the Battle of St. Vith, an M8 Greyhound of Troop B, 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron destroyed a Tiger II tank. 60 ton tank destroyed by a tiny little 37mm gun from the rear.

Tiger encountered in Nouville during the Battle of the Bulge. Three 75mm rounds damaged the Tiger and the Tiger crew retreated, backing over a jeep and became disabled. The U.S destroyed the Tiger with WP rounds.

On December 19th 1944, Donald Nichols engaged a Tiger at 600 yards with his 105mm Sherman, resulting in a confirmed kill. Also on the 19th, two Tigers were engaged by a Sherman, 57 mm guns, and infantry with bazookas. The Tigers were thoroughly destroyed.

On December 24th, Lt. Brunson and his crew engaged a Tiger II at 30 yards and destroyed it.
On Jan. 12th, three Shermans in support of an assault by the 101st Airborne engaged a Tiger. The Tiger destroyed one US tank before being flanked and destroyed.

At Elsdorf, U.S Pershing tanks engaged Tigers. One Pershing and one Tiger killed each other. Another Tiger was damaged and disabled.
Conclusion, the Tiger II was a gross waste of resources, the Tiger I was overrated and rarely seen, and the Panther had plenty of room for improvement.
Myth No.4 The “Insert tank name” has thick armor and therefore is indestructible.

After the end of WW2, tank designers began improving frontal armor while side and rear armor was neglected, this helped to create a myriad of misconceptions. For example, “I’ve seen M1 Abrams tanks shrug off six or seven hits from Iraqi tanks and even withstand friendly fire from other Abrams, therefore the M1 Abrams is invicible!”

In WW2, the ratio of front to side armor thickness is ab out 2:1 or 1.5:1. The Tiger had 110mm frontal armor and 80mm side armor, while the Sherman had 70mm frontal armor and 35mm side. Today, the ratio is 5:1 or even worse. Why?

Tank designers realised there is no point in offering real protection against proper anti-armor weapons from the side and rear. Side and rear armor are only intended to protect against artillery fragments and cannons less than 30mm calibre. What you don’t see in the media and in movies are M1A1 Abrams, Challengers 2s and T-80 tanks destroyed by infantry rocket launcher, 30mm cannons and IEDs.
In the 21st century, hybridised and urban warfare is becoming more relevant, and often survivability of tanks is overrated. That’s not saying that tanks are useless in a 21st century urban battle, but judging protection and survivability purely on the strength/advancement of armor materials is insufficient. 329mm of armor sounds like a lot, but even the most basic single-stage RPG-7 rocket launcher can go through 500mm.
Tanks are vulnerable to infantrymen too, something often ignored in pop culture. During the 1994 Chechen war, over 120 Russian tanks were destroyed in one month. Poor cooperation between infantry and armor made Russian tanks ideal targets for Chechen ambushes wielding RPGs, anti-tank grenades and IEDs.
Myth No. 5: Rifled guns are more accurate than smoothbore guns, that’s why the British still uses rifled guns on their Challengers.

Again, some truth in this myth as the first smoothbore designs were indeed less accurate than rifled competitors, but rifled guns are technologically a dead end. Smoothbores became the way to go when newer fin-stabilised ammo were developed, which produced not only greater hitting power, but also equal if not greater accuracy. British armor piercing rounds fired from rifles actually includes a slip band. The sabot spins as it travels down the barrel, but the projectile remains largely stable since spinning something as long as an APFS rod is kinda counter-productive to accuracy. I’ve heard that rifled guns lob high explosive and HESH shells better, which is why the Brits retain their rifles, but don’t quote me on this.

Rhinemetall claims their 120mm L/55 gun fired 5 shots into a 9cm high, 34cm long grouping from a range of 2 km. Sure, this was done in perfect testing conditions to advertise their product, but the mechanical accuracy of smoothbore guns is obviously as good as the best sniper rifles.  Dispersion from the mechanical design of the smoothbore gun has pretty much been perfected, it’s the optics and the fire control system, e.g range finding that limits accuracy.
Common tank myths debunked (15 Pics) Common tank myths debunked (15 Pics) Reviewed by Your Destination on September 10, 2017 Rating: 5

2 comments

  1. The Merkavas were devastated by Kornet ATM in 2006 Lebanon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A saying among WWII infantrymen was "A bad ride beats a good walk". Tankers always ride...

    ReplyDelete

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