Defence becomes a tankless task

When Uganda has more tanks (239) than Britain (227), one begins to wonder which world we’re living in. Let’s see: Uganda is definitely Third World…

The Challenger II bites the dust

If such residual questions still lingered, they’ve received a resounding answer: Britain’s entire force of tanks and armoured vehicles will be scrapped. This in a country that, on 15 September, 1916, was the first to use tanks in anger.

Much has changed since the Somme: military technology and tactics, geopolitical balance – and the understanding Britain used to have that the state’s prime function is to protect its population.

Our battle tank, the Challenger II, was born in the 1990s, and it needs upgrading. The cost of that, however, is seen as unaffordable. We’d rather spend our money on throwing benefits at freeloaders from the world over and propping up lame nationalised Leviathans.

It would be almost bearable, if no less reprehensible, if the government came out and honestly admitted that Britain can no longer afford playing a viable role in Nato and therefore the defence of the West. We are skint, and if that makes us a Third World weakling, then so be it. See if we care.

Instead, however, the government is making mendacious noises about rechannelling the funds into cyberwarfare, aviation and other modern tools. This is bilge.

There’s no question that tanks can no longer be used as they were in the First World War, when they played an auxiliary role, or in the Second, when they dominated the battlefield.

In the Second World War, tanks were practically invulnerable to air attacks because even low-altitude bombing didn’t then provide enough accuracy to hit even a stationary tank. Typically, dive bomber aces counted themselves lucky if they could hit a 100x100m square.

That could have been marginally effective against masses of tanks advancing in close formations, but not against tactically astute tank commanders who knew how to spread out and manoeuvre evasively. Throughout that war, tanks could really only be defeated by other tanks, anti-tank artillery or infantry weapons such as the German Panzerfaust.

The situation is different now. Precision bombing with laser-guided ordnance has made tanks exceedingly vulnerable to air attacks. That, however, hasn’t made them useless. It only means that new weapons require new tactics.

An enemy ability to turn advancing armour into sitting ducks can be downgraded or even negated by achieving air superiority before pushing the tanks through. After all, if the warplanes’ ability to hurt tanks with precision bombing has improved, then so has the ability to wipe out enemy airfields with similar weapons.

Coordinating the efforts of different army branches is as paramount now as it always has been, perhaps even more so. Yet no military man will claim that wars can be won from the air only, with armour relegated to the scrap heap.

With one exception, no modern war has ever been ended without tanks rolling in and clearing the way for the infantry. For example, both Hitler’s Germany and Saddam’s Iraq were bombed flat, with Germany gratefully receiving an almost three-megaton present from the Allies.

Yet neither war was won until armour moved in to claim the prize. Air attacks had made victory possible, but without the tanks they would have been merely an exercise in vindictive cruelty.

The one exception I mentioned earlier was Japan, which capitulated after those two well-known air raids. The atomic weapons used were so apocalyptic that the Japanese realised their country could be obliterated and then invaded at little cost to the invader.

That situation hasn’t changed since 1945: a confrontation with a strong adversary can’t be won by air attacks only – unless nuclear weapons are involved. If our government thinks tanks have outlived their purpose because they are vulnerable to laser-guided bombs, what about our small island’s vulnerability to nuclear bombs? These are bound to come if we solely rely on such weapons for our survival on the battlefield.

Since the Challenger II first saw the light of day, the Russians have introduced five new generations of tanks. They now have 12,950 of them in active service – and tens of thousands of older models mothballed.

If that increasingly aggressive country decides its time has come to recreate the Soviet Union, it would take the Americans weeks if not months to supplement their current force of 87 tanks in Europe. Since the Channel is rather narrower than the Atlantic, British tanks could be on the continent within hours, to help Nato defences.

With our armour scrapped, what help are we going to offer, assuming that a nuclear strike is off the table? Computer games with cyberwarfare? Some air support?

The military understand how ridiculous this is. One senior source said: “We simply will not be viewed as a credible leading Nato nation if we cannot field close-combat capabilities. It places us behind countries such as France, Germany, Poland and Hungary.” And Uganda, which isn’t even a Nato member. Perhaps she could take our place.

There’s no doubt that Covid has strained the Exchequer, but there are others in the same boat. Yet only Britain is planning to disarm in response to the financial squeeze.

Our governing spivs aren’t bothered about defence of the realm. They have more urgent concerns: how to bribe the electorate into voting the right way at the next election. They forget that neglecting defence is akin to playing Russian roulette – with an automatic.

P.S. We are good at cultural surrender too. It has just been announced that Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory will after all be played at the Last Night of the Proms – but without the lyrics. The cultural spivs are confusing something: it was Felix Mendelssohn, not Thomas Arne, who wrote songs without words.   

8 thoughts on “Defence becomes a tankless task”

  1. How our nation responds to aspects of the world situation is a key aspect of politics; so no wonder that there are alternatives. Russia under Putin rattles its sabres, and appears to have too many for comfort. We and the rest of the World (apart from the USA) are essentially defenceless. though with an atomic bomb capability of uncertain reliability in reserve should we be seriously attacked. But Putin et al may interpret that reserve capability in other, less palatable, terms. No wonder that our present Government chooses as it does. Perhaps it is right to do so, but perhaps not. The eternal dilemma!

  2. I would imagine that by now, instead of hundreds of parachuters jumping from planes, surly now a hatch opens to drop a few thousand precision armed or kamikaze drones that could take-out anything including a fleet of tanks.

    1. First, drones have to be numerous enough, which isn’t a given. Second, they have to be launched from some bases not far from the frontline, even if they are remotely controlled. Such bases would have to be suppressed before any major tank thrust can be initiated. New weapons, new tactics.

  3. At one stage during WW2, poorly clad Soviet tanks were essentially metal coffins when attacking the latest German versions. The ruthless Zhukov strategy was to keep sacrificing his tanks (and their occupants) until the Germans ran out of ammunition and had to scarper. Perhaps that is why Vlad has mothballed his old tanks so that he can use them against the might of Uganda.

    1. I’m afraid you are wrong there. Soviet BT7M, T-34 and KV tanks were far superior in every respect (armour, cannon, speed, inflammability, layout) to anything the Germans had. That situation only changed when the Germans introduced their Panther and Tiger tanks in early 1943. Any monograph on WWII tanks will tell you that, if you are interested. Where the Germans had an overwhelming superiority, especially in the early stages of the war, was in the nous of their generals, officers and men, their strategic and tactical flexibility – and especially in morale. The Red Army, for all its superiority and in numbers and the quality of its armaments, didn’t want to fight for Stalin. The Soviets only reversed that situation by extreme violence. They effectively explained to the soldiers that their families were hostages to their behaviour. They also executed many of their own men – 157,000 during the war, and that’s following tribunal verdicts. At least twice as many were shot without even a travesty of justice. Anyway, the story of “poorly clad metal coffins” is a fairy tale spread by Stalin after the war, maintained by the Soviets and unfortunately bought uncritically by some Western historians.

  4. My attempt to keep it brief has led to a misunderstanding. As you say, those Soviet tanks were originally immune to German tanks at conventional distances and the German commanders had to use their ingenuity to ambush at close range by getting to a fight early after intercepting enemy messages. On the Western front they did use horizontally aimed mobile AA guns to devastating effect against heavily clad French tanks but perhaps they were not available in the east. I can only plead that I did refer the latest German tank versions (that you mentioned). In those new circumstances, Soviet cladding was not fit for purpose and I am most surprised that Stalin admitted it or could be relied upon to be truthful. The Germans were led by a half corporal and the eastern offensive was doomed as soon as it started because they did not have enough ammunition, food, clothing, you name it.

    1. As Pliny wrote, brevity is the enemy of precision (his own court speeches often lasted a whole day or longer). The Panthers and the Tigers were equal to the KV heavy tank, but nor superior to it. The IS (for Iosif Stalin) tanks the Soviets introduced late in the war were better than the German analogues. You are right about the shortage of German supplies: that was the reason Stalin didn’t believe Hitler would attack Russia. In fact, the German economy was put into a war mode only in late 1942. The Soviet economy had beaten it to it by 10 years or thereabouts. Like many talented amateurs, both Hitler and Stalin weer capable of flashes of inspiration, but also of appalling errors of judgement. Stalin’s first military rank was that of Marshal, soon to be upgraded to Generalissimo. Zhukov was an NCO in the Tsar’s army and never acquired any military education. It’s instructive to compare the CVs of the generals opposing each other directly. For example, Field-Marshal von Rundstedt, who led the Kiev offensive, was a career officer with two academy degrees, who had commanded a division in WWI. Kiev was defended by troops commanded by Gen. Kirponos, who had been an orderly in that war, and afterwards served mostly as political commissar. No wonder the Germans took 650,000 POWs in that clash (one of them my father).

  5. “Since the Challenger II first saw the light of day, the Russians have introduced five new generations of tanks. They now have 12,950 of them in active service – . . . it would take the Americans weeks if not months to supplement their current force of 87 tanks in Europe.”

    I don’t care how many cyber warfare experts the USA has. How many tanks do they have?? – – J. Stalin [grinning].

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