Armor: August 1, 2001

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: Russian Tanks In The Second Chechen War- The Russian Army did better in its second invasion of Chechnya than it did in the first. The invasion involved over 400 tanks: 

@ 251 tanks (mostly T-80s) with the 3rd Motor Rifle Division from Nizhniy Novgorod.

@ 93 T-72s with the 20th Motor Rifle Division from Volgograd.

@ 50 T-72s with the 205th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade.

@ 32 tanks with the 136th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade.

@ 50 old T-55s and PT-76s with Interior Ministry units.

Russia insists it lost only 10 tanks in the Second Chechen War, but this number (if accurate) can only reflect irreparable write-offs which could not be salvaged from the battlefield. The Chechens had about a dozen each T-62 and T-72 tanks but no tank-vs-tank battles are known. The Russians reported destroying nine Chechen tanks and 32 armored vehicles but no details are available. The biggest problem for the Russians was that their tanks were old and the spare parts budget was zero, resulting in a lot of mechanical breakdowns and cannibalized vehicles. One infantry unit assigned a tank as support had to literally tow it into firing position. During the War, Russian police broke up a ring of thieves who were stealing the explosives out of reactive armor panels being shipped to units in Chechnya. Empty boxes shipped to the front may be the explanation behind reports that Chechen guerrillas knocked out T-72s with RPGs. Reactive armor proved crucial to crew survival. In one battle, a tank was hit numerous times but was still able to fire and only one crewman was wounded. Another tank was hit by nine RPGs during a four-hour battle and while immobilized continued fighting; none of the crew were injured. T-72 crews had an interesting war. They had to weld "claws" to their tracks to get traction on ice and gravel slopes. The engines overheated at high altitude (over 1200 meters). The reloading mechanism froze in cold weather and would have to be thawed out over a campfire. The storage batteries fail in cold weather and replacing them requires removal of the driver's seat and the awkward manhandling of the heavy batteries. The T-72 (like other Russian tanks with carousel autoloaders) goes to maximum elevation while reloading, allowing the Chechens to attack the tank while the coaxial machinegun is out of firing position. Chechens targeted the gunsights on the left side of the turret, trying to blind the tank. The fire suppression equipment was not reliable. The vision devices could not find enemy infantry in "complex" terrain areas. The Russians found that T-62s and T-55s (being lighter and smaller) could function better on narrow mountain roads. The T-62 had the same engine problems at high altitudes as the T-72. There was no explosive reactive armor for the T-62, which had to make due with passive spaced armor blocks. Russian tankers want a dedicated ammunition reload vehicle that could replenish the ammunition carousel under armor and while the tank is in its battle position. Crews wanted new radios with secure communication links. Even the Russians admit that their worst failure was in throwing together units (even vehicle crews) at the last minute before committing them to combat. Russian tank crews have a poor state of training and have become notoriously sloppy. They discarded engine hatch covers to improve engine cooling and maintenance access, then found that tanks in snow-covered regions quickly failed due to snow blowing through the open hatches. One Russians unit designated a certain tank as the "nomad tank". This was used to break up enemy ambushes of road convoys. The tank (using information from observers or intelligence sources) would move covertly and without infantry escort to a point where it could fire on enemy units setting up an ambush. The Russians had been very proud of their BTR-80 wheeled armored personnel carriers ... until they took them into combat. These vehicles were mechanically unreliable, and came apart when they drove over Chechen improvised land mines made from 120mm mortar shells or 152mm artillery shells. These were quickly replaced in combat units by MTLBs or BDMs while the BTR-80s were relegated to convoy escorts on the better roads. Stephen V Cole

 


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