Tanks are obsolete, apparently since 1919

Tanks are obsolete, apparently since 1919

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“These opening actions have attracted much attention and, at the time, provoked various claims that the tank was finished as a weapon.” No, this is not a statement about the Russian Invasion of Ukraine in 2022, this is about the Yom Kippur War from 1973. Additionally, these tank losses were mostly suffered by the Israeli Forces, which had a very good track record in armored warfare. As such those claims back then had probably far more merit than those claims that come up nowadays. I am Bernhard Kast and today we look at the

many deaths of the tank. Technically, the tank must be a zombie, since he died so many times, yet he still seems to roam the battlefield. In this video I will address various statements that were made that the tank is dead and then also cover why I don’t think it is the case this time. I am aware of the video by Ralf Raths from the Panzermuseum, as such I added some new points, particularly the historical section comes with some very nice quotes. Let’s at first address the situation at

hand. The current war in Ukraine produced a lot of videos and photos of destroyed of Russian tanks in “Western Media” and Social Media. It also made a lot of people – overnight - experts in military matters, tactics, foreign policy and many other things. In Germany particularly quite many people that even had a problem with military history got a bit hawkish. This kinda reminds me of an interesting definition of populism, namely that populism is using an oversimplified answer to a complex problem. Or in our case, people talking about the end

of the tank that probably could not tell the difference between a badly drawn rock and Panzerkampfwagen III Ausführung L. So, let us look at some of various factors at play in Ukraine in the last few weeks: First off, for various reasons like weather, knowledge of terrain, maintenance and capabilities of vehicles and likely other factors Russian tanks stuck quite a lot to roads at least in the Northern parts of Ukraine. This of course leads to higher losses, particularly if your enemy knows the terrain rather well.

This is particularly important for artillery fire, to quote a US regulation from 1991 intended for field artillery support teams: “One of the key requirements for the delivery of accurate predicted fire on a target is accurate target location. To successfully perform his duties, the observer must be able to determine an accurate position of a target on the ground.” We can assume the Ukrainian military did this, particularly for all important choke points and likely many other locations as well. Thank you to Andrew for pointing this out. This by the way is not something new, the Finns

prior to the Winter War mapped out large portions of their country for artillery, something covered in this video. Second, generally in war it is better to make sure an enemy vehicle, particularly one as dangerous as a tank is destroyed, as such the question must be asked how many of these destroyed tanks were actually abandoned beforehand and/or hit again after they were already out of action. Third, abandoned tanks that are captured outside of combat by tractors or otherwise are not really combat losses, those are abandoned vehicles and this has a lot to do with maintenance, logistics and morale, but very little with tanks itself. If you have bad maintenance, logistics and morale, basically every weapon system will perform badly in and outside of combat. Of course, complex vehicles like tanks require more and more sophisticated maintenance

and logistics, and if what is outlined by Trent Telenko is correct, then the Russian Army is also not really capable of maintaining its trucks or better their wheels very well. Yet, nobody is arguing that this is the end of truck in military service or rubber wheels on vehicles. Fourth, according to an analysis by Colonel Reisner from the Austrian Armed Forces the Ukrainians are provided with vital intelligence by NATO, this combined with their knowledge of the terrain, special tactics and likely trained troops for such tasks allow them to strike behind enemy lines and conduct ambushes that either directly kill tanks in vulnerable moments and/or wreak havoc on their supply lines, the latter increasing the chances of abandonment due to breakdowns and/or lack of petrol, oil and lubricants. Fifth, a tank alone or even a tank platoon alone is generally not a good idea or in other words, if you fail at combined arms warfare and you face a determined and capable enemy you will suffer under regular circumstances disproportionately high losses. To quote East German regulation from 1976: "Interaction of motorized riflemen [actually mechanized infantry] with tanks is a prerequisite for success in the attack. Interaction means coordinating the combat

actions of mot. riflemen and tanks to accomplish the task." Be aware, I am rather sure that any other regulation about mechanized warfare after World War II and in some cases even before would contain something similar. Additionally, it seems that quite a lot of the losses come down to ambushes, which are the generally the result of underestimation of the enemy, lack of reconnaissance, insurgencies, over-estimation of one’s own forces, bad leadership and many other points. Tanks are vulnerable in ambushes that was always the case, but what or who isn’t vulnerable in an ambush? Particularly by highly motivated troops that fight on their own terrain? So, let us talk about the general points. The Russians lost quite many tanks and other armored fighting vehicles. The reaction to this is quite interesting, because it seems

that some people either don’t know what war is or that vehicle losses, particularly tank losses are something ordinary in war. Let us look at bit at the Second World War, in terms of Sherman losses from June 1944 to April 1945 Zaloga notes a total of 4295 tanks for the US Forces in the European Theater of Operations. So, this was for 11 months so about 390 tanks per month. Now, of course as mentioned in a previous video, comparisons

between the current war and world wars are a bit of problem since the scales are vastly different and particularly nowadays far more equipment is mechanized. Yet, this point is about the fact that tanks get lost in combat all the time. And we should add here that the US losses were likely on the lower end as well. To quote Alaric Searle about Soviet Losses: “If we consider the armour loss rates in the Great Patriotic War, Red Army tank and self-propelled gun losses have been given in an official Soviet report of 1988/89 as follows: for 1941 (beginning of 22 June) 20,500; in 1942: 15,100; in 1943, 23,500; in 1944, 23,700; and up to May 1945, 13,700. There are some discrepancies in the figures, so that overall losses have been estimated between 87,300 and 95,924. One Russian authority (G. F. Krivosheev) gives the total number of irreplaceable tank losses at 63,229, whereas Steven Zaloga gives the figure of 83,500 as the total number.

But it has never been clear whether figures for irreplaceable losses include the numbers of lend-lease tanks.” Of course, someone might blame this on German tanks and anti-tank weapons, but I got you covered here. So let us shortly look at German tank losses, during the invasion of Poland. Germany deployed about 2859 tanks of which 674 were knocked out, which means 23.6 % losses. 217 or 236 of these were irrecoverable losses

depending on the source, so 7.6 % or 8.3 % lost. And keep in mind that the Polish Army had a limited number of tanks and anti-tank weapons, tanks were concentrated in specific divisions, Germans had air superiority and various other advantages as well. In short, in war tanks get destroyed, lots of them and far more people get killed. This

might sound like captain obvious, but it seems a lot of people seem to have forgotten the first and even the second part. Needless to say, tanks were and likely never will be invulnerable, this is probably not news to you, but there seem to be quite many people that probably should do a bit more reading and less talking. But I already hear some typing in the far background that there is something completely new in this conflict, namely that the Ukrainians were able to capture so many tanks. Well, actually no, this is not something particularly new, the Germans in World War I had more captured tanks in their service than they produced themselves. And then there was also the Winter War (1939-1940): “For its part the Finnish Army captured a total of about 600 armoured vehicles, and the recovered T-26s became its principal tanks.”

Since, we got that flank covered, let us move on to the more chronological part of the video. Let us look at the various the “end of tank” arguments and assessments about tanks in terms of combined arms warfare. This should provide a better understanding of the weapon system tank as part of armed forces compared to the seemingly simple weapon that is looked at without any context nor understanding of military doctrine. So let us start in the First World War. Since some people state that the tank is obsolete, finished, too expensive, this basically implies that the tank was effective and/or cost-effective at other times. About the First World War, the German military

historian Markus Pöhlmann notes: "Success with tanks - this had been the bitter lesson of the Allies in 1917 - was not achieved by the mere massing of vehicles alone, but by their careful integration into the principles of combat of industrialized mass warfare, which in turn the weapon itself was beginning to change." In other words, without proper combined arms warfare doctrine your tanks will not be particularly effective if you fight a proper enemy. Similarly, the American scholar Mary Habeck notes: “Analyses of battles in which tanks had taken part showed that even in those clashes in which they [tanks] had been most successful, German troops had been able to blunt the assault, bring artillery to bear, and retake lost ground.” Let us move to the Interwar period, here the

first strong statements about the tank being obsolete show up. One was by Major General L. Jackson, Master General of the Ordnance, in December 1919 at the Royal United Service Institution, he noted: “[…] that ‘The tank proper was a freak.

The circumstances which called it into existence were exceptional and are not likely to recur’. To some, evidently, the usefulness of tanks was confined to trench warfare and the latter was not expected to occur again.” Of course, the cost argument also comes up, e.g., a German memorandum from 1925 noted: “[…] recognized that expensive weapons

like tanks were something that only rich nations could afford, especially given the poor track record of armor during the last war.” What definitely changed during the interwar period was that dedicated anti-tank guns were built in larger numbers. During the First World War there were dedicated anti-tank weapons like anti-tank rifles which had a limited effectiveness, in late war the first dedicated anti-tank guns showed up, but they were not that common. For this and other reasons there was a heated debate, as discussed in an article by Walther Nehring about anti-tank defense from 1936, Nehring later became a Panzer-General: "The various thoughts about the armored branch are shown in the dispute of opinions of the military journals of all countries. They cause

confusion, so that the layman cannot distinguish whether the armored fighting vehicle is really 'a moving coffin,' as someone wrote recently, or represents the weapon whose appearance on the battlefield guarantees decisive victory, as again others maintain." Unsurprisingly, Nehring also makes a point about not looking at aspects without considering the context: "They overlook Scharnhorst's stern caution: 'One must not consider the individual objects without the whole.'" One of the most important German publications about tanks in the interwar period was from the Austrian Fritz Heigl, his “Taschenbuch der Tanks” basically “Pocketbook about Tanks” was even republished by the German Army. The book series was continued after his death, the volume about tank combat states about the tank warfare between 1918 to 1938 that improvised measures were successful against tanks and that: "Everywhere, successful tests of strength for the modern defensive weapons are also taking place and have again and again given rise to the dangerous exultation of the World War, 'This is the end of tank attacks!' The year of the World War 1918, however, showed sufficiently how dangerous such belief in safety is, even if temporarily a complete superiority of the anti-tank defense had actually been achieved." I particularly really like the next line for several reasons and if one removes/changes a few words, it is almost a universal statement: "Postwar anti-tank results, however, are by no means compelling lessons for the future, for they all suffer from the particular circumstances of the battles in question and from journalistic exaggeration." Oh, well, I thought it was: “War, war never changes.” I guess it is not the only terrible

thing that does not change. Anyway, let’s continue with the quote: "Unless armored forces are used in accordance with the great lessons of the World War against a power equipped with modern defenses, any new experience assumed to be justified can be considered only in the context of the field of battle concerned. [...] Not a single postwar tank engagement, however, has yet shown the trial of strength between modern anti-tank and large tank units, except as an undecided maneuver picture! Both arms are mutually evolving and must constantly keep pace with each other." For simplicity and brevity, I will skip the Second World War here and immediately look at the post-war assessments: “Tanks emerged from the Second World War as the pre-eminent component of the ground forces. However, their importance did not

remain unchallenged, mainly because of the development during the latter part of the war of weapons firing projectiles or missiles with shaped charges [hollow charges]. The very high-velocity metallic jets formed by these charges could perforate very thick armour, and this enable relatively light weapons, and consequently infantrymen, to knock out tanks and therefore reduce their effectiveness.” And surprise this of course led to the statements about the end of the tank again: “Such views were advanced among others, by Dr Vannevar Bush, the head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development during the war, in his influential book Modern Arms and Free Men published in 1949. Similar views

were also held by the US Secretary of the Army, F. Pace, who shortly before the outbreak of the war in Korea in 1950 stated at the West Point Military Academy that tanks were obsolescent [= becoming obsolete].” That tanks did not become obsolete the next few years after that book is underlined by the fact that another major discussion about the end of tank came in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. This was due to heavy losses suffered

by the Israeli Armed Forces against anti-tank guided missiles: “On the Sinai front, the successful assault crossing of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian forces was followed immediately by counter-attacks by the Israeli 252nd Division, which ran into Egyptian infantry equipped with an exceptionally large number of Soviet-made Sagger anti-tank guided missiles and failed, losing 165 of its 268 tanks. This immediately led to worldwide rumors that tanks were no longer effective […].” It is very important here to point out that the Israelis had a very good track record in warfare and particularly armored warfare. As such, I think that was probably the most legit time so far in history about the “end of the tank” statements, although only briefly. Needless to say, the Israelis adapted their approach and the effectiveness of the Saggers as an anti-tank weapon decreased: “Sagger teams were dealt with by concentrated small-arms fire from mechanised infantry mounted in M113s, who simply aimed at the source of a Sagger missile, thereby disrupting the control of the missile by the operators.” So, let us move on to the next aspect, drones. These specifically received a lot of attention

during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Artsakh. Yet, analysis shows that this was mostly the result of inadequate defenses and counter-measures since most weapon systems were out-dated or simply not built to deal with such a threat: “Yet while drones played a large role in this conflict, their capabilities ought not be exaggerated. These platforms are very vulnerable to air defenses that are designed to counter them—defenses Armenia did not have in adequate numbers. The bulk of Armenia’s air defenses

consisted of obsolete Soviet-era systems, like the 2K11 Krug, 9K33 Osa, 2K12 Kub, and 9K35 Strela-10. TB2s flew too high for these systems to intercept even if they were able to detect these relatively small aircraft. Russian-supplied Polye-21 electronic warfare systems disrupted Azerbaijani drone operations but only for four days. Armenia’s Buk and

Tor-M2KM air defenses likely downed a few drones, but they were deployed late in the conflict, limited in number, and vulnerable to attack themselves.” Yet, give let’s give the drone aspect also some general thought as well, for this I focus on reconnaissance drones. No matter what kind of branch you are in, if the enemy sees you and you don’t see him, you will have a very bad time. Particularly about tanks this was always an issue, to quote the German Regulation for the Medium Tank Company from May 1941, a book Chris from Military Aviation History and I have completely translated and published including the original text as well: “142. The entry into the assembly area must be done silently (low engine speed). Camouflage against ground and air observation is particularly important. Track marks and skids caused by steering movements

must be removed in order to conceal the presence of tanks from enemy aerial reconnaissance.” So, nothing new here and drone defense is important, the problem might be a bigger issue for tanks, since they are preferred targets, but generally, if the enemy has “drone superiority”, you will have a bad time. And I suspect once proper drone defenses are developed and deployed, the situation might be quite different. Now, if we look at combined arms, as an example here a simplified early German Panzer-Division. At one-point drones likely will be fully integrated into combined arms formations and to certain degree this has already happened, I mean recon units were part of it anyway already. And at that point, tanks then will also get the benefits from drones as well. And here again, a statement from Nehring made in 1936 seems

to be rather fitting: "And at last, the tanks will take advantage of the support of the other weapons in the same way as the anti-tank defense. Thus, the latter, too, will from the outset be under the mental and actual influences of combat, which will have a considerable effect on its defensive capability; it will therefore not merely see 'blind, deaf and almost defenseless targets' in the approaching combat vehicle, as laymen hope. It must also be realized that firing defensive weapons, so those abandoning camouflage, will be a conspicuous target prey to surveilling artillery and heavy infantry weapons." Maybe it is just me, but at times this video feels like beating a dead horse that was already buried decades ago. Yet, we are not finished yet, we need to talk about something else, money. Big thank you

here to my patreon and subscribestar supporters by the way for allowing to take the time to make videos such as this possible, so far it took 27 hours. Quite many people bring forward the cost factor, a modern main battle tank is just too expensive. While this is quite an interesting argument, I think it has many flaws, I will just address a few that come to mind. First, it is overly reductionistic. Yes, a modern tank is quite expensive, but here is the question with what you will you replace it. Because if you get rid of your tank or tanks, you need something else on the battlefield

that fulfills that role. Let just take one component, tanks generally have a large caliber direct fire weapon and machine guns. The machine guns are not the problem. One might argue artillery, but that is generally indirect fire, so I don’t consider that really an option, since artillery also lacks the protection among other things. So, you will bring your infantry with towed anti-tank guns or infantry support guns? Those are very heavy and generally not in service anymore. But for the sake of argument let’s assume this. So, how do you transport them? With trucks, well, those are very susceptible to any damage even from machine guns and a machine gun compared to an NLAW is extremely cheap. But even if we let that slide, how many men

do you need to replace let’s say 4 tanks in terms of capabilities? 10, 50, 100 men or even more men? I don’t know, but here gets complicated, because how much does the training, equipment and everything else for these guys cost? It is still probably cheaper than a tank, particularly if you look at fuel and anything, but then again you need vehicles for these guys. If you go with regular infantry fighting vehicles, like the Bradley, BMP-2, Marder or even the Puma, it gets expensive again and these IFVs if they run into a bunch of tanks, even older ones they can actually decimate your infantry fighting vehicles as well with their main guns. As you can see the simple approach of comparing cost is flawed since we are talking about dozens if not hundreds or thousands of factors. We are not talking

about removing a single item from your monthly costs like newspaper subscription, a steam game or 10 cups coffee. We are talking about removing an important component out of a complex system that needs to be replaced in one way or another. Second, a tank is actually very cheap if you compare it to a modern jet fighter or let alone to a warship. Simply put, a fighter jet costs usually about 10 times as much as a modern tank at least for the United States. But particularly, jet fighters have the problem that any major complication can lead to them dropping out of the sky, e.g., recently the US had to dive down to get a F-35 out of the sea and that was not even a war situation.

Now some people note the price of an anti-tank weapon and the price of a tank, well, how about we compare the price of a surface to air missile versus a jet fighter or bomber for that matter or how about the price of a few torpedoes or anti-ship missiles compared to an aircraft carrier. The price differences are also staggering and were in the past as well, but did modern jet fighter and bomber disappear? Nope, so far, they didn’t. Finally, cheap and expensive are very relative terms, in German documents from the military archives I stumbled across a statement from the Second World War, sadly I can’t find it anymore. From what I remember an infantry officer told a tank officer that he does not care if a tank gets lost, since it takes a few months or years to produce a tank, whereas it takes Germany around 19 years to produce an infantry man. Keep in mind that the Germans were not particularly loss aversive in the Second World War. Considering the major loss aversion nowadays particularly in Western democracies, the question should be really if a tank can be too expensive at all? Because contrary to some statements, tanks are neither rolling coffins nor death traps. This brings us to the next and final point

that was already hinted before. Now, I must credit Justin Pyke here, since he pointed me to the following question, although on a completely different topic, namely what is the alternative? So, what is the alternative for the tank on the battlefield and to make us clear again what the defining characteristics of a tank are we will quote Nehring’s article from 1936 again: "In summary, the characteristics for armored weapons are: they combine strong offensive power under armor protection with speed and cross-country mobility. Like air forces, they fight on the move. They give the possibility to carry out operations of armies surprisingly, quickly and abruptly." Modern technology to a certain degree made that statement even more correct, since during the Second World War firing during driving was generally not particularly effective, nowadays it is.

So, what is the alternative that brings firepower, protection and mobility to the battlefield in one single package? An infantry company, unlikely, particularly if it is just on foot or only motorized. If it is mechanized with Infantry Fighting Vehicles, well those are also highly susceptible to all anti-tank weapons that kill tanks and even those that are not a threat to tanks, additionally they will also be threatened by smaller guns and particularly autocannons as well. At the same time, it will lack the firepower. An artillery battery, well, it brings a lot

of firepower, but in terms of protection, well not so much. Self-propelled artillery vehicles are protected like infantry fighting vehicles or even less, since they are usually used behind the front lines. This is also related to their direct fire capability, it can be done but they are not designed for that. They can do it, but their reaction time

and effectiveness are limited. Maybe there is an alternative, which I haven’t considered, but I think there is simply none yet. Here is the point, the NLAW, Javelin and all the other anti-tank weapons are not an alternative to the tank. They can quite easily dispatch most or even all modern tanks, particularly in an ambush. But here is the thing, the infantry man with that anti-tank weapon can also be dispatched by a regular machine gun, but that doesn’t make the infantry man obsolete neither. And going back to the price argument, a bullet or even 1000 bullets are way cheaper than training and equipping a single infantry man, let alone equipping him with an NLAW, TOW or Javelin.

So, the question is, what can move with 60 km/h and fire a 105+mm shell accurately at targets 1 or more kilometers away while at the same time shrugging off machine gun and auto-cannon rounds? Who or what can do this? From what I know there only two things that can do this modern main battle tanks and the doom slayer. And the latter one is fiction, although better written fiction that most non-fiction “end of the tank” arguments, then again that is not particularly hard to do. Don’t get me wrong, at one point the time might come when we see the end of the tank, but I doubt it is now. Anti-Tank guided missiles with HEAT warheads are not particularly new, the counter-measures for these weapons are composite armor and/or explosive reactive armor. The latter was then countered with tandem warheads, so a warhead that sets of

the reactive armor. But this is nothing new, measure and counter-measure, is an old game, I mean this was literally stated already in 1938: "Both arms are mutually evolving and must constantly keep pace with each other." Nowadays modern vehicles are equipped with active protection systems and these go back several decades as well. There are technologies that benefit tanks, then there is one that helps defeating tanks. Probably the most interesting supposed “tank killer”-technologies are drones, because these drones might actually favor the tank far more in the future. Since

one major weakness of tanks was always limited visibility. Yet a proper set of drones integrated with tanks could change that, tanks also have space and carrying capacity for communication, processing and sensor technology as well. To conclude, as long as there is a need for mobility, firepower and protection in one package that can’t be provided by anything else than a tank, the tank will very likely continue to be a viable weapon system for most armed forces. Oh, and before someone types but the US Marine Corps got rid of its tanks, the Marine Corps is part of the armed forces of the United States of America, the US Army has plenty of tanks left. The Marine Corps is a specialized branch and historically, it had also neglected its tank arm as well. I would also add that I think that nearly all other weapon systems and major troop categories in a combined arms formation will remain viable as well, so infantry, mortars, artillery, recon, etc. they all fulfill a specific role

that generally can’t be replaced by something else at least for now. As Scharnhorst noted: "'One must not consider the individual objects without the whole.'" Or as the English proverb goes: the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In short, Combined Arms Warfare is very important and it also very hard to do, but failing at combined arms does not mean that one of its arms is necessary obsolete. Meanwhile making unqualified statements about stuff someone knows nothing about, will always be easy. I hope you learned something new. Thank you to Andrew for reviewing the script. Special

thanks to all my supporters for making trips to museums and the military archives possible. As always sources are listed in the description, thank you for watching and see you next time.

2022-04-17 05:35

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