Ever wonder how tough the M1 Abrahms tank really is?

Excerpted from Tom Clancy’s non-fiction Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment:

The setting: Desert Storm, during General Barry McCaffrey’s 24th Mechanized Infantry Division’s run to the Euphrates River. It was raining heavily, and one M1 managed to get stuck in a mud hole and could not be extracted. With the rest of their unit moving on, the crew of the stuck tank waited for a recovery vehicle to pull them out.

Suddenly, as they were waiting, three Iraqi T-72 tanks came over a hill and charged the mud-bogged tank. One T-72 fired a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round that hit the frontal turret armor of the M1, but did no damage. At this point, the crew of the M1, though still stuck, fired a 120mm armor-piercing round at the attacking tank. The round penetrated the T-72’s turret, blowing it off into the air. By this time, the second T-72 had also fired a HEAT round at the M1. That also hit the front of the turret, and did no damage. The M1 immediately dispatched this T-72 with another 120mm round.

After that, the third and now last T-72 fired a 125mm armor-piercing round at the M1 from a range of 400 meters. This only grooved the front armor plate. Seeing that continued action did not have much of a future, the crew of the last T-72 decided to run for cover. Spying a nearby sand berm, the Iraqis darted behind it, thinking they would be safe there. Back in the M1, the crew saw through the Thermal Imaging Sight (TIS) the hot plume of the T-72’s engine exhaust spewing up from behind the berm. Aiming carefully through the TIS, the M1’s crew fired a third 120mm round through the berm, into the tank, destroying it.

By this time, as you might imagine, the crewmen of the M1 were getting extremely agitated and making this fact known to anyone who would listen over the radio net. Help in the form of another M1-equipped unit arrived shortly afterwards, and they began trying to extract the stuck M1 from the mud hole. Unfortunately, the Abrams was really and truly stuck. And despite the efforts of two M88 tank-recovery vehicles, the tank would not come loose.

Ordered to abandon the stuck Abrams, the other M1s began to fire their own 120mm guns in an attempt to destroy it. The first two rounds failed to penetrate the armor of the mud-bound tank. When a third round was fired from a favorable angle, it finally penetrated the outer skin of the turret, causing the stored ammunition to detonate. But rather than destroying the M1, the blast was vented upwards through a blowout panel, and the onboard fire-suppression system snuffed out the fire before it could do any real damage to the electronic systems in the crew compartment.

By this time, further M88 recovery vehicles arrived. Along with the two earlier M88s, they finally managed to pull the tank out of the mud. Upon examination, the M1 was found to be operational, with only the sights out of alignment from the blast of the ammunition cooking off. The M1 was taken back to the divisional repair yard, where the damaged turret was removed and replaced, and the tank returned to action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *