Sunday, 10 July 2022

Interview with a former M60A2 "Starship" tanker

A former M60A2 tanker in theUS Army Army kindly accepted an interview for the blog. This variant, nicknamed Starship, was one of the most particular one. It was equipped with a M162 152 mm gun/launcher similar to the one used in thr M551 Sheridan. It was nicknamed "Starship" due to it's advance technology, but due to a number of issues it did not stay long in service. 

1) Hello J., many thanks for accepting an interview with alejandro-8.blogspot.com. Could you provide an introduction to your service in the US Army?

I enlisted in the U.S. Army in June, 1975. I served as an enlisted soldier and NCO in B Company 2/64 and B Company 3/64 Armor in the 3rd Infantry Division in West Germany from November, 1975 to November, 1978. I completed my first and last six months at Fort Knox as a trainee and later as a trainer. I spent many years in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves, retiring after 30 years as a Colonel. I completed a three week add on training on the M60A2 after my initial training on the M60 A1. In Germany, we transitioned from the M60A1 to the A2 in July, 1976. It was another three weeks of training. I spent two years as a gunner and one year as a tank commander.

2) You served in a M60A2. What was your impression of the vehicle, and the strong/weak points?

I thought it was an excellent tank. It had many advanced features like a stabilization system for the main turret and the commander’s cupola. It had a laser rangefinder and passive night vision sights. Its low front profile allowed for a gunner’s hatch, which was great for the gunner. The turret could traverse 360 degrees within its own hull length which made it a great tank in urban conditions.


3) This variant is known for it's reliability issues with the main armament. Were they ironed out when you served? If not, can you describe them?

I was not aware of any main gun issues. The missile system worked great but there were a few training missiles that were lost because of technical problems.

4) The M162 Gun/Launcher could fire projectiles and missiles. What was the criterion when it came to choosing which one to fire? What was the maximum distance at which you ever fired (in daylight)?

Distance to the target was the criterion for deciding on which ammunition to fire. The gun system was designed to fire missiles at the maximum range of 3000 meters in the Fulda Gap scenario. I engaged targets successfully at that range. Firing a HEAT round, I once hit a moving target at 2650 meters. Night time had no effect on distance.

5) How was the night firing conducted (flares/projector)? What was the maximum distance at which you could fire (both round and missile)?

The M60A2 had passive IR night vision sights. Most targets could be engaged at night to about 1200 meters with no assistance. The tanks also had searchlights that could augment the passive sights out to maximum effective range.


7) What was the typical ammunition configuration load (% missiles/HEAT)?


Normal load was 13 missiles and 33 main gun rounds. We did not carry missiles until we went to the range,


8) How sensitive was the missile guidance to rain, wind, fog and other wheather conditions?


The missile was IR command link guided. I don’t recall firing one in adverse weather conditions.

9) What was the maximum rate of fire you achieved? How did it change as you went through the different bins?

We never fired it like that. But we could get two rounds down rage in about 7-10 seconds as I recall.


10) What was the maximum distance you covered in a day during deployments or exercises? Was the mobility suitable? Did the tank cope well or needed extra maintenance?

Probably the most distance covered in a day was during REFORGER exercises. Range depended on the tactical situation so I really don’t have a good recollection of that. The tank only needed basic operator before-during-and after operations maintenance.


11) What is you opinion on the ergonomics of the M60A2?


I really liked the gunner’s hatch. In most tanks there is no such thing. Often, we removed the missile racks to move between the gunner’s, commander’s, and loader’s stations.


12) Did you have the opportunity to train with other Armies? What were your impressions? Did you like/dislike any specific equipment?


I trained with the German army but not on tanks.

13) Do you think it was a good idea to retire the M60A2? Or perhaps it could have served a few more years?

Personally, I don’t think they gave it a fair chance. It could have worked a few more years.

13) Is there an anecdote you would like to share before we finish the interview?


One time I zeroed the tank at 1200 meters on the first round. I shot a second round through the same hole. Another time I fired at and hit a single infantryman target at 1200 meters, just to see if I could hit it.

Photos shared by J











Other interviews:

I am always looking for more veterans, active members or people related with the defence industry to accept interviews. If you enjoyed reading the material and would be happy to accept an anonimous interview you can get in contact with me. My e-mail can be found in this link at the heading. Otherwise leave a message in the comment sections.

- Interview with a former Centurion tanker in the Army of Australia
- Interview with a former Type-59 tanker in the Army of Albania
- Interview with a former Leopard 2 tanker in the Army of the Netherlands
- Interview with a former Romanian MiG-29 pilot
- Interview with a former M60 tanker
- Interview with a former Pakistani Army Type-59 tanker
- Interview with a former Leopard 1 tank commander in the Army of Canada
- Interview with a former Merkava tanker
- Interview with a former M60A1 tanker
- Interview with a former M60/Abrams tanker
- Interview with a former Olifant tanker
- Interview with a former Chieftain tanker
- Interview with a former M551 Sheridan driver
- Interview with a former Centurion tank driver in the Army of Sweden
- Interview with a former Centurion tanker in the Army of Denmark
- Interview with a USAF pilot who flew the F-106 Delta Dart
- Interview with an US Army M48A5/M60A1 veteran tanker
- Interview with a former British artilleryman and veteran of the Gulf War
- Former M60 tanker in the Army of Austria
- Former Chieftain crew member
- Former Chieftain gunner
- AMX30 commander of the Army of France
- NCO of the Army of Serbia 
- Former crew member of Challenger 2
Former Leclerc commander
T-72 driver in Czech Army  
- US Army M60 tank crewmman
- Interview with D., former US Army tanker with experience in the M60 and M1 Abrams
- Interview with Stefan Kotsch, former NVA/Bundeswehr tanker  
- Interview with former Marine and writer Kenneth Estes

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Interview with a former Centurion tanker in the Army of Australia

A former Centurion tanker in the Australian Army kindly accepted an interview for the blog. R. has the distinction to be a second generation Centurion tanker, as his father served in one.

1. Hello R., thanks for accepting an interview for alejandro-8.blogspot.com. Could you provide a brief overview of your career in the Australian Army)?

I joined the Australian Regular Army straight from school at the age of 17. I was allocated to the RAAC after marching out of recruit training. After a short stint in Corps Holding Troop i was placed on the last Centurion 20 Pdr Gunner / Sig course conducted at was then known as the Armoured Centre at Puckapunyal Victoria. After qualifying as a Centurion Gunner Sig, i was posted to the 1st Armoured Regiment also at Puckapunyal.


Eventually the Centurions were replaced by the German Leopard AS1. By late 1977 we had coverted to Leopards and i stayed as a Leo gunner for the next 5 years. My reinlistment became due and i was not offered any prospect of promotion - i was not prepared to stay on as a trooper / gunner so i elected to corps transfer to RAEME. I stayed in RAEME serving on for another 14 years attaining the rank of Corporal.

2. Your career is peculiar in the sense that your Dad also served in a Centurion and was deployed in Vietnam. Did he give you any advice on the tank?

My father never offered any advice regarding career choices. Between himself and his 3 sons we clocked up 130 years in uniform. Generally speaking he was happy with the  choices we made.

3. What do you think were the strong and weak points of the Centurion tanks?

Strong points from my point of view as a gunner - was the protection provided to the crew. The Centurion was deployed to Vietnam between 1968 and 1971 with the loss of only 2 drivers KIA as a result of detonating anti tank mines.  Many turret crew were injured as a result of enemy action but none were KIA.



Another strong point was the Stabilized gunnery system allowing you to hit targets on the move.

Weak points - poor fuel economy - towards the end our Centurions service life we were getting approx 4 gallon to the mile. Other weak points was their lack of speed and they were very high maintanance.

4. Centurions kept a gasoline engine in an era when other tanks moved to diesel. What was your impression of the engine?

Centurion engines were strong and generally reliable - they were not user friendly for our RAEME personell. They were difficult to work on. Especially spark plug and fan belt changes.

5. The Centurion range was increased by using a trailer with 900 litters of fuel. Was it used in Australia? How useful did you find it if so?

Centurion fuel tank trailers were used in Australia but only for a very short time (before my time). They proved to be unsuitable for Australian conditions - many trailers were damaged (ripped off) during training. Australia opted for a 100 gallon fuel tank bolted directly to the rear of the tank before they were deployed to Vietnam. This was part of the upgrade to Mk 5/1 standard.

6. When training, at was the typical distance to the objective and speed of the tank when you fired? And the longest distance at which you ever fired?


During training target ranges varied - usually over 800yds up to 2600yds firing direct - beyond 2600yds firing semi indirect and indirect with an observer calling the fall of shot. Speed whilst firing on the move was usually around the 15 - 20mph. Furtherest distance i fired at target was approx out to 5000 yds firing indirect with an observer calling the fall of shot. Target unseen by gunner.

7. The Centurion versions used in Australia used a Ranging Machine Gun (RMG). Do yo uthink it was effective? Do you think there was a risk of confusion in a battle?

The RMG .50 Cal was brilliant. A skillfull guner with the correct use of the instruments and guages could pretty much guarantee a first round main armament round after ranging to the target with the .50 cal. As far as risk of confusion in battle ? obviously yes due to smoke, dust and overuse of radio transmission / air time etc.



8. What was the maximum rate of fire (ROF) you achieved? Was there a big difference in ROF as you went through the different bins?

Maximum rate of fire depended on type of round, stowage of ammunition and range to targets. I remember on one ocassion when i was gunning, my operator loader loaded so quickly, we had five 20Pdr HE rounds in the air at one time on a target at 2600 yds.

9. How was the night firing conducted? Did you use flares for battlefield illumination? What was the effective distance at which you could fire?

We rarely conducted night time firing but on the occasions that we did we used a combination of flares and I.R. search lights. Combined with the use of the gunner's traverse indicator. We could easily hit targets out to 1000 -1500 yds.

10. In terms of maintenance, was there any component or system that was more delicate? Were there any issues with the supply chain with the tank being built in the UK?

As far a maintanance goes - spark plug and fan belt changes were two of our biggest problems. Supply of parts was also an issue. Our gov was reluctant  to spend money and provide spare parts even though they literally had tons of parts in storage in the supply system. I know this to be a fact because i know the guy that bought all of the spares after the Cents had left service.

11. What was the maximum distance you covered in a day during deployments or exercises? Did the tank cope well or needed extra maintenance?

Generally speaking we never travelled over 35 - 40 miles in a days training due to the age and relability issues. Extra maint due to breakdowns was required. A very high demand was placed on our RAEME personell.

12. Did you struggle with the local conditions in Australia (hard soil, dust, high temperatures...)?  


Puckapunyal was a very harsh training area. Mud and flooded creeks in the winter, (ocaisional snow). Hot dusty and flies in the summer.

13. Australia deployed Centurion tanks in Vietnam. Did you get any information about the performance or lesons learned?

Most of my Troop Corporal, Sgt's and Officers were Vietnam veterans. They instilled in us a very high level of realistic training. Often using live ammunition during battle runs with several vehicle being damaged.



14. What was the maximum speed you managed to get in a Centurion? And in reverse?


Maximum speed would only be a guess as i was a gunner but i would say around 25- 30mph down hill in neutral. As far as reverse goes maybe 5mph (only a guess).

15. Did you practise NBC situations? What was the approach? How did it affect the crew performance?

We never conducted NBC training in our Centurions in my ERA. We did in our Leopards from 1977 onwards.

16. Centurion was widely exported tank and was developed by other countries. Did you get any information on the upgrades? Was there an element (diesel engine or transmission in Israeli/South African variants) you would have liked?

Australian Cents only went to Mk 5 / 1. Some countries developed them up to Mk 15 I believe but i cant coment on that as i know knothing about that.

17. Did you trained with personnel from other countries? Did you use any of their equipment? What were your impressions (training and equipment)?

I was fortunate enough to train with the US Army on exchange and also the BAOR in Germany. The yanks had pretty much the same equipment as us but their tactics were somewhat different.  Their causalty/death rate in Vietnam  speaks for its self compared to Australia. The poms made up for antiquated equipment by totaly professional and tradition orientated. Total respect for the poms.

18. Have you had access to Soviet equipment now that the Cold War is finished? What were your impressions? Was there a system you liked or disliked?

I know nothing about Soviet equipment so cant really comment, however from what is happening in Ukraine at the moment i would say their armour and or tactics might be somewhat lacking.

I know nothing about Soviet equipment so cant really comment, however from what is happening in Ukraine at the moment i would say their armour and or tactics might be somewhat lacking.

19. Is there an anecdote you would like to share before finishing the interview?


On the 7th of July 1977 a live fire ' Friendly Fire' incident occured whereby a Centurion was hit on the turret by a 20 Pdr HE round fired by another Centurion. The tank hit was ARN 169060. Callsign 21A. It is currently in Canada after featuring in a movie in America. The movie is called Courage Under Fire.
Ironically the movie is loosley based on a Friendly Fire incident during the First Gulf War.
Further irony - my father was awarded an MID for bravery in Vietnam for recovering a Centurion whilst under fire - saving the crew and the tank. The ironic thing about that is - the tank he recovered was also Callsign 21A.

Other interviews:


I am always looking for more veterans, active members or people related with the defence industry to accept interviews. If you enjoyed reading the material and would be happy to accept an anonimous interview you can get in contact with me. My e-mail can be found in this link at the heading. Otherwise leave a message in the comment sections.

- Interview with a former Type-59 tanker in the Army of Albania
- Interview with a former Leopard 2 tanker in the Army of the Netherlands
- Interview with a former Romanian MiG-29 pilot
- Interview with a former M60 tanker
- Interview with a former Pakistani Army Type-59 tanker
- Interview with a former Leopard 1 tank commander in the Army of Canada
- Interview with a former Merkava tanker
- Interview with a former M60A1 tanker
- Interview with a former M60/Abrams tanker
- Interview with a former Olifant tanker
- Interview with a former Chieftain tanker
- Interview with a former M551 Sheridan driver
- Interview with a former Centurion tank driver in the Army of Sweden
- Interview with a former Centurion tanker in the Army of Denmark
- Interview with a USAF pilot who flew the F-106 Delta Dart
- Interview with an US Army M48A5/M60A1 veteran tanker
- Interview with a former British artilleryman and veteran of the Gulf War
- Former M60 tanker in the Army of Austria
- Former Chieftain crew member
- Former Chieftain gunner
- AMX30 commander of the Army of France
- NCO of the Army of Serbia 
- Former crew member of Challenger 2
Former Leclerc commander
T-72 driver in Czech Army  
- US Army M60 tank crewmman
- Interview with D., former US Army tanker with experience in the M60 and M1 Abrams
- Interview with Stefan Kotsch, former NVA/Bundeswehr tanker  
- Interview with former Marine and writer Kenneth Estes

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Interview with a former Type-59 tanker in the Army of Albania

A former Type-59 tanker in the Army of Albania was kind enough to accept an interview for my blog. T. was conscripted in the Army of Albania in the late 90s and early 2000s, when the situation in the region was very difficult. This country was also the sole user of Chinese equipment.

1. Hello T., many thanks for accepting an interview with http://alejandro-8.blogspot.com. Could you provide an introduction to your service in the Army of Albania?

4th Assault Battalion. Dhuvjan, Southern Albania. Due to the situation in the Balkans, my specialty training and affectation were in Northern Albania in Laç from March 1999 to September 1999. Served from Jan 1999 to December 2000 as enlisted. Was discharged without a grade (as enlisted) officially in 7th January 2001.

2. What do you think were the strong and weak points of the Type-59 tanks when you served?


Strong points. Simple and mostly reliable machine. very little electronics (except second hand Radios SEM-35, probably from German stocks). Very easy to understand and operate (when things were ok).

Weak points. Worn out machines in 1999 (mine was delivered in 1973), very crude compared to many things I saw NATO military vehicles have by then. Very maintenance prone in engine and suspension area after each march. The origin of the tank was also a problem, we were resolutely going West and there were little efforts done to procure spares be that in China or other former WarPact.

3. When training, what was the typical distance to the objective and speed of the tank when you fired the main gun? And the longest distance at which you ever fired?

Most marches were within 25 KM because of the state of the tank. Only during the Kosovo "non-deployment" did we cross about 60km to position next to the border. No trailers mostly. Never exceed speed 25km on cross country, tank could go faster but with direct repercussions to engine and workload at stop. Pavement speed mostly 35/40 but mostly under those levels.

As for the fire drills, 4 ranges for direct fire. 400/800/1200/1600m
firing on the move was not done, although we had tables for it. But  stabilizer was mostly a joke for that.
Indirect fire up to 3000m. However tank lacked proper reference sights.

4. How did you find the Type-59 construction quality? And Chinese equipment in general?

Chinese construction compared to the other T-55 we had still available wasn't too bad. These weren't second hand tanks from China, they were built for the Albanian Army. So they were new when they came. However compared to T-55 main issues were optical parts which weren't as sturdy as Soviet ones. Sealing was also a problem on commander sight and so we swapped some components from storage T-54/55. Clearances for some critical parts like dome ventilator were also complicated (sometimes part was slightly oversized etc). The good thing is that the dome ventilator was useless mostly and we kept hatches open. Tracks which were a constant issue with T-54/55 were just the same with Type 59.

Most Chinese equipment did its job no worse than Soviet one. Sometimes it was even better, sometimes slightly worse. Type 63 APC's were awful mechanically though but they were also roomier that BTR-50 although I have never worked with them as they were mostly for coastal troops.

5 Soviet/Chinese tanks are often criticised because of the ergonomics. How did you find them in the Type-59?

Ergonomics is a very contentious debate because on both sides people misuse the word. For instance the ergonomics of the T-54 and Centurion (similar era tanks) aren't that different in theoretical principle. They differ in volume and equipment though. Russian/Chinese 100mm gun is both big and uses a very large ammunition case. While also being smaller in volume. This means that while the controls are not ergonomically problematic (except maybe the turret lock in rotation) the space you have to assume the same tasks is more limited and this has an impact on the efficiency. The other problem with the ergonomics is the possibility to compare them 1/1. This wasn't possible for me. I served on that system for a while, never transitioned to something else. So my opinion on the Type 59 cannot not be compared "on the job". However the main complaint I have and will always have with the T-54 series is the breech size going so deep in the turret that a lot of things we would need to do in case of emergency was next to impossible. Similarly the ammunition count. I know we usually only carried 25 rounds because the normal theoretical complement of 38 was too incapacitating. especially the lateral and rear hull rounds. And also for economical purposes (post 1974 stocks were dwindling). Given the layout of the floor, it was impossible for the loader to reach for the secondary ammunition with the rear hull rounds on. The hull floor on loader's side was better kept clean as the few cases there were far less easy to use than the front magazine. The powered turret controls also were very weird and would have been so much more logical to integrate them to gunner controls. So yes some ergonomical choices made by the Soviets and the Chinese were quirky but I cannot compare much of it with other tanks on use. On paper and on first view, sure a lot of non-integrated instruments made our jobs heavier. Especially the TC instruments. But because there weren't much instruments to begin with you get used to that pretty fast. I guess the big "ergonomic" issue is that you need to do a lot of small actions independently to obtain a result like gun laying, instead of a how it would become in later Soviet and Western tanks that a lot of processes were integrated and automated.

6. What was the typical ammunition load (% HE/AP/HEAT)? Was there a recommended type when facing other tanks? (In Yugoslav Army HEAT was main ammunition against tanks at all ranges and angles, AP for flank shots)

Typical ammunition load was 18/6/1 (Tip 76 HE/Tip 81 KT-Heat/Chinese incendiary round). The incendiary round was a lighter walled HE round with bigger explosive load. We would rather not carry it because of the casing walls were easily dented). Recommended type HEAT but given our tactical orders we would have always been in ambush situation or following infantry. So tanks could have been engaged with both ammunition for effect. The problem with AL approach is that we should have known where the enemy was and usually in both manoeuvres we did (4 on company size) we would to continually stop to see where we were let alone the enemy. AL Idea was that you didn't need AP/Kinetic because you couldn't use it other than on specialty targets (other tanks) while HE/HEAT could be used on any target with variable effects.

7. What was the typical rate of fire and how did it vary as you used the different ammunition bins?

Rate of fire was slow. When qualifying as a loader, best I did was 7 rounds a minute by using turret ones. I know my loader could do 8 with prepared rounds on the hull magazine. And that it was easier for him as a leftie. Usually in combat situation we wouldn't be able to fire more than 5 because of the recoil, space and fumes. There's also the spent casings you need to deal with. And that ate up a cycle. This also meant that the loader couldn't continuously keep feeding or do what the British do with their lap load, given you need to take care of the casings. And because of the breech travel I couldn't help him toss them out unless they rolled in my feet. This is also one thing that was quirky, if we had to engage in long exchanges, the hatches would have had to be open to both help with fumes but also to get rid of the spend casings.

8. How was the firing conducted at night? What was the effective range of the IR sight?

Night firings were capped at shortest target, 400m and it wasn't done at pitch black. We had to use flares if we suspected enemy movement, I had one 26.5mm flare gun and 4 sets of flares. 3 for illumination and 1 for marking. 12 rounds total. I think in almost 2 years we shot 4 times at dusk.

9. What was the maximum distance you covered in a day? Did the tank struggle to needed any extra maintenance? What about when operating in local conditions, especially in hilly areas (hard soil?), did the tank cope well?


Maximum distance was ~60km/day and was done twice when we deployed from Laç (White mountain) to the Kosovo border. We had not enough trailers so most of the tanks drove. We made it to the Drin river in about 5 hours because shared traffic with civilians. We had no technical issues the first day, but we had multiple avaries the second day when we passed the Drin river via bridge and started going steeper. Mostly engines overheating. It would go mostly downhill from there especially when we had to continuously take other positions from Viçidol to Tropoja. Engines were constantly overheating because of the climbs. But no serious breakdown

9. What was the maximum speed you reached? And going backwards?

Maximum speed in transit or just for fun? Tank could go up to 50 if the goal was to push it without real problems but then you had to deal with the momentum of that thing.
Retro was really painful because of the lack of gears. So walking pace i would say.

10. T-55 is seen as a simple tank, ideal for a conscript Army. How long do you think it takes to train a crew?

Actually the Type 59 is simple only in name. Some of the design features on the engine still force the trainees to be extremely accurate in their training. Especially the checks. Also as I said, the separation of certain tasks that remain simple, add to the load of a trainee, until he gets it. So yes simple and easy, but you need to oversee the training properly. Our training was 3 months on the tank. IMO enough for most tasks. The practice was a problem, in the sense that by 99 if there wasn't for the Kosovo war we would have used the tanks maybe twice a month and be done with them.

11. Did you practice NBC scenarios? What was the procedure? How did it affect the crew performance?

NBC scenarios were only practiced in manoeuvres and just demonstrated in training. NBC equipment was obsolete so we only had demonstration in classes. In manoeuvres the NBC equipment was actually to serve also for crossing bodies of water which is why it was issued and used.

The OPV equipment that we used partially was old, smelly, and frankly we didn't need it to ford given we passed though less than 1m of depth. It was scripted for the show. But IF we had to use it for real, it would have been a very nasty place pretty soon.

12. Type-59s have been used in a number of conflicts. Did you get any feedback/information from other operators on tactics/improvements/combat lessons?

I have had exchanges with Iraqi and Bosnian operators. They praise the machine for being sturdy but the Iraqi one I met in 2016 in Germany said it was useless unless you knew where the opposing side was.

13. Are you surprised about the Type-59 longevity?

I am not surprised about the longevity of many Soviet designed machines. I am just surprised about what I am seeing from many operators in the field even today. For instance Iraq and Syria. Tanks are not up to task protection wise vs almost everything that can be thrown at them this should make most of these operators play on the strengths of the system not its weaknesses (which awareness and mobility in tight spaces is). People say it is the AK of tanks, I agree.

14. For many years China was a close ally of Albania, and the Popular Army adopted Chinese Army OOB & equipment in units. Could you comment on this influence?

Yes but this lasted until 1985/86 then we went militarily bonkers. First of all we adopted a popular militia practice. Which meant that the standing army was pretty small. This meant also that a lot of equipment for this standing army was undermanned and thus under maintained pretty fast. The example of the Albanian tank battalions that went from 48 until 1966 to 62 from 1966 and until the Socialist system disappeared only made things worse. Because that "growth" in numbers was supposed to solve the inadequacy of the MTO/OMT (maintenance & technical operators) by clustering more tanks to centralized units. But this wasn't followed by a growth in the MTO. Basically by inflating battalions they equalized MTO units with battalion units, but the people on those MTO were the same, but with 25% more work. Some technical equipment from China, like our signal corps was still useable by 1999 but was replaced by second had western equipment from 1995 to 1999. But it was still a mess.

15. Who was seen as the main threat when you served (if any). What was the strategy to fight it off?

Main threat was an eventual incursion from the Yugoslav Army to cut off the rear bases of the KLA. But with NATO being in Albania and bombing the Yugoslavs it was more of scare than threat. Past 1999 we understood that with NATO in charge of the process there would not be any tangible threat for a while. We also thought the political situation would be solved. So far it hasn't. The main strategy in 1999 from that direction was to lock the mountain passes from Gjakova area and bleed anything that would advance with pre-arranged positions and firing tables. Those tables however were dated and we found ourselves that there were no pre-arranged firing positions anymore because those were all Communist legacies and locals had dismantled a lot of the network, if they had not repurposed them. On top of it we were just out of the Albanian Pyramid Scheme troubles, which had done more to dismantle AL military than any invader had in the last century or so.

16. Is there any anecdote you would like to share before we conclude the interview?

There are many anecdotes, like when going on firing range, guys had strapped ammunition crates on the engine deck and due to engine draft flaming up one crate actually caught fire and small arms ammo was popping. Another time when one tank in the school unit had its barrel gone so far that we fired it just to see how bad it would drift from target and we managed  to have a double digit keyholing and come closer to the target on the next lane. Whole crew being stoned and driving around almost falling of a bridge. But my most intimate anecdote was the first day we were assigned to the tank. It smelled like old cigarette smoke, gasoline, some had jerked off in it, vomit and that typical iron/steel scent. From inside it was not too bad, some rust patches and all. So the company commander asked to take water-resistant paint and start repainting the interior of the tank. And we were almost done with the front of the tank, when the CO puts his head on the turret and literally explodes. We basically had failed to cover or remove every single warning plate and instrument gauge available in the turret. The cream paint had already caked on most of the plates and gauges so we were going to have to dip them in paint thinner which meant even more time spent on that. One of the unit mechanics helped waited until the CO stopped yelling and went away and came up with the most Albanian thing ever. He told us to screw the the warning plates out and put those of one of the HQ tank that basically never left the storage. So we did. And Co comes back to inspect and it's OKish. So we're all happy finally we got to do something else with the tanks. Couple of explanations from the instructors, first hands on approach. Things are ok. Then because of the situation then all the unit has to move up about 5 weeks into our training. And of course we needed to move as a whole unit which meant that the HQ tanks were also about to move up with us, so the one with the painted plates.

We had totally forgot about it. But the next morning around 7AM we were pulled out of PT and handed paint thinner and screwdrivers to operate and the tank was in the middle of the yard for everyone to see. And laugh.

Other interviews:

I am always looking for more veterans, active members or people related with the defence industry to accept interviews. If you enjoyed reading the material and would be happy to accept an anonimous interview you can get in contact with me. My e-mail can be found in this link at the heading. Otherwise leave a message in the comment sections.

- Interview with a former Leopard 2 tanker in the Army of the Netherlands
- Interview with a former Romanian MiG-29 pilot
- Interview with a former M60 tanker
- Interview with a former Pakistani Army Type-59 tanker
- Interview with a former Leopard 1 tank commander in the Army of Canada
- Interview with a former Merkava tanker
- Interview with a former M60A1 tanker
- Interview with a former M60/Abrams tanker
- Interview with a former Olifant tanker
- Interview with a former Chieftain tanker
- Interview with a former M551 Sheridan driver
- Interview with a former Centurion tank driver in the Army of Sweden
- Interview with a former Centurion tanker in the Army of Denmark
- Interview with a USAF pilot who flew the F-106 Delta Dart
- Interview with an US Army M48A5/M60A1 veteran tanker
- Interview with a former British artilleryman and veteran of the Gulf War
- Former M60 tanker in the Army of Austria
- Former Chieftain crew member
- Former Chieftain gunner
- AMX30 commander of the Army of France
- NCO of the Army of Serbia 
- Former crew member of Challenger 2
Former Leclerc commander
T-72 driver in Czech Army  
- US Army M60 tank crewmman
- Interview with D., former US Army tanker with experience in the M60 and M1 Abrams
- Interview with Stefan Kotsch, former NVA/Bundeswehr tanker  
- Interview with former Marine and writer Kenneth Estes

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Interview with a former Leopard 2 tanker in the Army of the Netherlands

A veteran Leopard 2 tanker from The Netherlands has kindly accepted an interview for the blog. L. served in all 3 Leopard 2 variants operated by the Koninklijke Landmacht, so he can provice an excellent overview of how this tank is operated, together with it's strengths and weaknesses.

Hello L., many thanks for accepting an interview for alejandro-8.blogspot.com. Could you provide us an overview of your career in the Koninklijke Landmacht (Royal Netherlands Army)?

Joined the Air Force in 1988 and went to the army in 1996 when I had the opportunity to rise to the rank of sergeant with a lifelong contract. I had three options, Artillery, Infantry and heavy Cavalry. Artillery fell off because I didn’t have mathematics, Infantry, I liked,  but when orientating myself at the tank school  I was impressed by the 55 ton steel beasts also known as Leopard 2A4. What also influenced my choice was an old warrant officer who told ‘’Why carry a gun in the field when we have a gun that carries you in the field. Wise words and I never regretted my choice for heavy cavalry and the Leopard 2.

What do you think were the strong and weak points of the Leopard 2 versions you used?


Leopard 2A4
Strong points: the speed and manoeuvrability, the rate of fire, the reliability of the tank.
Weak point: the ammo storage in the left forward hull. Probably the best achievable solution in a defensive war, delaying the enemy from hull down positions. Later on in Afghanistan scenarios it was in my opinion a weak point.

Leopard 2A5
Strong points: the extra armour on the turret and forward turret sides. For safety and fire risk the replacement of the hydraulic system with an electrical system. As sideeffect it created some room in the turret for some more (personal) equipment, water and or luxuries.
Weak points: it accelerated slower and when driving in loose sand it was not that fast anymore as the Leopard 2A4. Ammo in hull still a weak point

Leopard 2A6
Strong points, the same as above, the biggest change was the L55 guntube in combination with the DM53 LKE round which was said enough to penetrate all known T-tanks with ERA. If I remember correctly the instalment of the longer guntube needed a extra sensor on the guncradle to get the stabilisation on the same or better level.

Weak point: The glass MRS mirror (in German the Feld Justier Anlage – FJA). This was on the A4 and A5 a polished metal mirror which never broke.  Around  September 2007, during the Bult Francis Cup (a Dutch tank gunnery competition) it was ‘’found out’’ that the  glass one, which was said by the could not break… well it broke almost immediately after the first few rounds creating several reflections or no reflection at all. An still the ammo storage in the hull.

Leopard 2A5 and A6 had extra armour among other improvements. Did it affect the chassis or suspension in any way? What about the mobility?

As mentioned above, the acceleration of the tank was less than with the A4 and in loose sand it was slower. A short period the army tried the single fuel concept replacing the diesel fuel with kerosene. In that period the opinion of us as users was that it was even slower than before and we experienced more leaks in the fuel system. According to higher level this had nothing to do with the kerosene. If this is true I don’t know , I’am not a expert on fuel  and seals. After several months they changed back from kerosene to diesel. We were happy when we could refuel by our German colleagues during gunnery training in Bergen because they still had diesel.  After several months the Dutch army changed back from kerosene to diesel.

When training, at was the typical distance to the objective and speed of the tank when you fired? And the longest distance at which you ever fired?

During training at Bergen, Germany, tank and non-tank targets (which were engaged with HEAT above 800 metres) were normally engaged between 1200 and 2500 meter, the shorter distances a nr.58 target and the longer distances  a nr.59 or nr.60 target. Dismounted infantry or soft –skin vehicles like UaZ and trucks below 800 meters were engaged with the coax machine gun. Sometimes long range firing with HEAT-TP was practised at ranges up to 3800 meter. When doing that you could see the tracer leaving the field of view and coming back and hit the target .This because the MZ was relatively slow comparing to the KE. Also, on a regularly base firing HEAT-T on a hard target was practised. Most of the time an old former East German T-72 at range 6 or 9 was used. Unfortunately this was never done with the DM33 which had to do with range safety. Only at range 19 or 20 (IIRC) it was allowed to fire DM33. This was always done before deployment

Leopard 2 uses a human autoloader. What was the maximum rate of fire you achieved?

It was illegal, but one time in our battalion we managed a round every three seconds in a static situation at Bergen training area. The loader was a plasterer who was strong like an ox. He had one in the tube, the second one he held above the breech, the third was between his legs and the fourth was unlocked in the open bunker. All illegal as hell……but is was a nice sight. Unfortunately the officer of the Leopard 2 gunnery advice team was using a stopwatch to check the time between  firing. He stopped the exercise, called the battalion master gunner on the range tower and the crew and they had some explaining to do. The normal time (no round in the arms, rounds locked in the ready racks and bunker door closed,  which was trained was 6 seconds between each round which was manageable. One of the other positives about a human loader was that he could stand guard and help with maintenance.

What was the typical ammunition configuration (% APFSDS and HEAT)?

For the great game at the North German plain the load was 25% HEAT-T and 75% KE which is about 10 MZ (MehrZweck – Multifunctional) the German name for the HEAT-T)) and 32 KE rounds. When I joined the battalion in 1996 it was the DM33 KE round and the DM12 round. When deployed to Bosnia in 1997 with the Leopard 2A4 the tanks were 24/7 loaded with 21 HEAT rounds and 21 KE rounds, the complete load of 7,62mm ammunition for the coax and loaders machine gun, 4 fragmentation hand grenades, 4 blast hand grenades, 2 WP hand grenades for destroying the tank in emergency (one in the breach and one in the turret with all ammo exposed (if one had time therefore), green, red and yellow smoke hand grenades, the standard load of 9mm for the Glock 17, ammo for the C8 of the loader and for Bosnia the rest of the crew got a C7 rifle which was a pain in the … in the turret. Several were bend…… The load out on the Leopard 2A5 during SFOR-13 was the same with the difference that the team (A-team in Bugojno and FOB Suica) I was in had everything combat loaded in the tanks and that the team in Novi Travnik had the main gun ammo in the ammo bunkers at the base. It was just a difference in opinion of the platoon Sergeants. My colleague’s opinion was ‘’time enough when something happens’’ and my opinion was ‘’I don’t have to carry them on my back, better safe than sorry’’ and loaded everything in the tank.

The Netherlands is a country with a high population density where combat distances are likely to be small. Was this taken into account during training? Do you think the longer 120mm gun could have been a problem when manoeuvring?

For training there were tactical exercises without troop where the officers and NCOs were given a tactical situation (sometimes an historical example from WO 2) which they had to solve. This was done in the Netherlands. During this training the field of view was always hindered with fields of corn which were a little bit taller than the optics. The PRAT (an tracked AT-vehicle) had difficulties with the roads lined with trees and the endless fences with barbed wire. The farmland in the Netherlands is also riddled with small drainage ditches and small waterways. But the main task was on the North German plain. The countryside there is , I think, comparable with maybe less drainage ditches. In my time it was not allowed anymore to drive through farming fields and take up position in a village or cornfield. So training was limited to the various training areas such as Bergen, Klietz, Altmark, Drawsko and Zagan in Poland or Varpalota in Hungary. The longer gun gave in the beginning some problems on small forest roads or junctions. Later on, when the driver, gunner and commander got some experience in to when to steer in the hull and traverse the turret it was not a problem anymore. Of course sometimes with a inexperienced crew it still went wrong.

In terms of maintenance, was there any component or system that was more delicate? Were there any issues with the supply chain?

Not really, when there was something broken you knew why, you did hit something very hard like a ditch or some rocks. Sometimes a malfunction of some sensor in which case a warning popped up and you had to act according to the checklist.  Most of the maintenance was regular and planned.
In the end of the Leopard 2 career we had some issues with spare parts. It had more to do with that the higher up powers didn’t see the need any more to keep large stocks of spare parts and ammo. At that moment it was peace keeping all over the place and  more with the absence of money and that they didn’t see the need to keep a large stock of spare parts because the cold war was over

KMW has established an operators club for Leopard 2 users. Did you ever come across it? Did you find it useful?

No, I never seen it.

Leopard 2 is equipped with thermal sights. Can you comment on the use, especially in night conditions? What is the maximum range at which you can identify vehicles/personnel in the different versions? Did you also use them during the day?

The thermal image for the gunner on the Dutch A4, A5 and A6 was the same and it was a good thermal in my opinion. You could identify a person at least 2 km away, see the engine heat of an Apache hiding behind the trees on at least 3000 meter (this although the exhaust was blown upwards and dispersed by the rotor, it was still observable) vehicles were no problem to identify, maybe not the exact type but it was more than enough. Problem was when a vehicle/launcher  was camouflaged with hessian and sometimes wetted with water. Especially a problem during exercises was the YPR-765PRAT. They took position reverse slope and raised the launcher just above the surface level. The launcher itself radiated no heat and they camouflaged it with a sort of ghilly suit. Nasty….. and very difficult to find with thermal. Same with the small anti-tank LSVs of the Dutch air mobile brigade. They camouflaged their vehicles with a ghilly suit made of hessian, wetted it, and hide in the undergrowth. They waited until you passed them, they popped out and fired their AT missile in your back…… And yes it was always used during the day, the gunner was trained to search with thermal and daylight optics during daylight operations. A lot of gunners in the battalion I served in had one hand of the switch TI/daylight and one hand on the gunners steer.

What was the maximum distance you covered in a day during deployments or exercises? Did the tank cope well or needed extra maintenance?


It’s a long time ago but back in Bosnia-Hercegovina we did patrols lasting a day driving up and down hills and sometimes mountains without any problem. The rubber on the road wheels , top roller and the rubber pads suffered more on the rocky unpaved roads but not that it caused maintenance problems. Sometimes when driving in very dusty conditions (last tank in a column through the dry sand….) the engine management gave a signal that you had to clean the engine air filters. You had a little less power when the warning light went on but not troublesome. You had time to go to a safe place or assembly area and clean them.

Leopard 2A5 received a thermal sight for commander, improving the hunter-killer capability. Do you think it was worth the cost? A few years ago there was some debate about it because some thought that commander could be overwhelmed (he also has to control the tank and keep an eye on the BMS (Battlefield Management System).

The Leopard 2A4 had a daylight PERI for the commander and could use this for hunter killer operations or aiming and firing the main gun . On the A5 and A6 the PERI was modified and had a TI integrated. I personally found the quality disappointing. On closer ranges the picture was very clear and sharp, on greater ranges the quality of the image was not great. A larger magnification was just blowing up the pixels and the image was not getting that better. I found it useful during the night when in position to scan the surroundings of the tank for infantry sneaking up to your tank. The gunner was scanning his sector and I was scanning the surroundings of the tank.

Did you practise NBC situations? What was the approach/procedure in these situations?

Yes, it was a standard drill which was practised regularly. Most of the times it was about a strike warning (or paddestoelbericht –Mushroom message in Dutch) that a NATO nuclear weapon was deployed in our sector or it was an enemy chemical attack with persistent and non-persistent chemical weapons.

Did you have the opportunity to train with other countries (NATO for example)? What was your impression about their training and equipment? Any tank (or other weapon) you liked or disliked?


With the Germans it was mostly against them because the were the trainings adversary during exercises at, for example GuZ (Gefechts Ubungs Zentrum – Combat Training Centre) Altmark. Between the Germans and Dutch there were a lot of similarities in training. As Dutch we participated in the German tactics course at GuZ Altmark which gave no problems because of the similarity. The only thing we noticed that during training they were less afraid for damaging the tank (light units, light armour plates etc) and that a Dutch gunner had a little bit more freedom in engaging enemy tanks without waiting for the ‘’fire’’ order  from the commander. We liked their MG3 turret- and coaxial machinegun for the higher rate of fire. In Bosnia we had a gunnery demonstration at Glamoc together with a British Challenger  1 platoon. Didn’t see any difference in the accuracy only a slower rate of fire which is probably due to the separate loading of the round and the charge and that they were slower off road.  Both German and British crews were trained well. Of course each country had its own way of operating.

Did you receive intelligence on potential threats (T-72, AT missiles, IEDs)? If so, how accurate was it once you got access to the weapon?

They told us they would come in masse but that our gun, armour and ammunition was superior. After the wall fell I did see some tests with, if I remember correctly DM33 ammunition. It was capable of penetrating but apparently not satisfactory enough for the Germans.

When you were deployed in Yugoslavia, did you receive any specific training or intelligence (on M-84 tanks for example)?


No, we received a little country book with language, customs, plants and animal life and the basics of material what was used in former Yugoslavia. Of course also briefings (with the old fashioned overhead projector) about rules of engagement, basics of equipment, various uniforms and ranks.

During the first deployment we encountered only T-35/85, M18 and M36 and during the second deployment there was an unit with one T-54 and about 12 T-55s near our base  of which we had a good relationship. According to the rules we had to do site inspections but this always happened in good corporation, most of the times ending in drinking the local spirits and telling (exaggerated)  tank adventures to each other.

Did the tanks receive any extra equipment for these missions (in Yugoslavia)? What about extra spare parts?

During SFOR-2 we got a short wave radio in the tank, so we could talk to each other in mountainous terrain. Personally I heard a lot of people from distant countries on that radio but never our own tanks, but that had probably more to do with my/our lack of knowledge about radio waves bouncing around in the atmosphere. Also the sergeant major of the technical troops did some changes to the engine settings so we had more engine power. This caused the engine to smoke like an old coal fired ship. Same was done with the A5s which were heavier during deployment with my battalion.

During your spell in the Koninklijke Landmacht conscription was abolished in the Netherlands. Did this have any effect on your unit? Do you think it was a good decision?


I only experienced conscription when in the air force. Some conscript were motivated but a lot of them only saw it as a hindrance of their work career and a reduction in income or a hindrance of their study. Personally I find a volunteer army a big improvement. With a volunteer army you can invest in training and people don’t leave after 14 or 16 months. Later on conscription was even shorter. Also, conscript could only send voluntarily abroad on missions. Now you have motivated people for longer a time which you can deploy around the world without problems. And I hope we never go back to a conscript army with unmotivated people who have to do their time. Go to the boy scouts when you want to teach time discipline but not in the armed forces. A waste of time for instructors and cadre. But that my opinion.

What is your opinion on turbines and autoloaders?

Only seen the turbine in action on a M1A1(HA) on a mobilisation complex in the Netherlands. It sounded great (like a jet fighter) and it moved the tank with the same speed as our MTU diesel. But for what I’ am been told it required more maintenance than our thrusted diesel. The autoloader, my only experience is sitting in a PT-91 Twardy at the commanders place and got an demonstration of the autoloader. I was afraid that thing was loading my left arm. I ‘am sure it has its benefits, but I’m used to a human loader who can act as extra pair of eyes on the lookout when driving from A to B. He can do (emergency) repairs and handle malfunctions of the gun and or coax, he can do maintenance or pull security with the turret machine gun when the rest of the crew is working at the tracks in an emergency. Then, unofficially, he was the cook on board of the tank. He had easy access on the unofficial box on the turret with eggs, ground coffee, hamburgers, mayonnaise, sausages, bread, frying pan etc. When the rest of the crew needed a sandwich, coffee or something else he was the man (no women on the tanks in my time) who provided it. So I prefer a human loader…….

What was your impression about Turkish Leo-A4 performance in Syria?

I have seen the pictures and for what I have read about it they were operating without, or with very little, infantry support.  As with most tanks, the sides of the hull are on certain locations not very heavy armoured so a hit with a modern anti-tank missile system together with the rather unprotected ammunition storage in the left forward hull could result in the damage you see on the pictures. But I have never seen official after action reports about this battle.
 
Photos

L. has shared a number of photos he took during his career. They were taken with an analogic camera  Canon ae-1 and Kodachrome 64 film.

In Novi Travnik with a MZ round (Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1998).

Livno pass (Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2003).

Transporting Leopard in Bergen-Belsen.

With a Leopard 2A4 in Bergen.

Leopard 2A4 in Bergen (7/1994).

Train Leopard 2A4s in Bergen.

Leopard 2A4 in Novi Travnik next to a bunker (Bosnia-Herzegovina, 05/1998).

Leopard 2A4 in Vogelsang (2/1999).


At Drawsko Pomorskie (6/2002).

At Drawsko Pomorskie (6/2002).

At Drawsko Pomorskie (6/2002).

T-55 inspection in Drawsko Pomorskie, Polan (6/2002).

Stuck in a ditch, Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland (6/2002).

Leopard 2A5 at Suica FOB, Bosnia-Herzegovina (03/2003).

Maintenance of a Leopard 2A5 in FOB at Suica, Bosnia-Herzegovina (03/2003).

Next to my loader, Bosnia-Herzegovina (1/1998).

Leopard 2A4 in Vogelsang (12/1998).

Leopard 2A4 in Vogelsang (12/1998).

Leopard 2A6 in Vogelsang (9/2004).

Leopard 2A6 in Vogelsang (9/2004).

Exercises at Belsen (1/2006).

Leopard 2A6 in Bergen.

Leopard 2A6 in Bergen.

Leopard 2A6 in Bergen.

Other interviews:

I am always looking for more veterans, active members or people related with the defence industry to accept interviews. If you enjoyed reading the material and would be happy to accept an anonimous interview you can get in contact with me. My e-mail can be found in this link at the heading. Otherwise leave a message in the comment sections.

- Interview with a former Romanian MiG-29 pilot
- Interview with a former M60 tanker
- Interview with a former Pakistani Army Type-59 tanker
- Interview with a former Leopard 1 tank commander in the Army of Canada
- Interview with a former Merkava tanker
- Interview with a former M60A1 tanker
- Interview with a former M60/Abrams tanker
- Interview with a former Olifant tanker
- Interview with a former Chieftain tanker
- Interview with a former M551 Sheridan driver
- Interview with a former Centurion tank driver in the Army of Sweden
- Interview with a former Centurion tanker in the Army of Denmark
- Interview with a USAF pilot who flew the F-106 Delta Dart
- Interview with an US Army M48A5/M60A1 veteran tanker
- Interview with a former British artilleryman and veteran of the Gulf War
- Former M60 tanker in the Army of Austria
- Former Chieftain crew member
- Former Chieftain gunner
- AMX30 commander of the Army of France
- NCO of the Army of Serbia 
- Former crew member of Challenger 2
Former Leclerc commander
T-72 driver in Czech Army  
- US Army M60 tank crewmman
- Interview with D., former US Army tanker with experience in the M60 and M1 Abrams
- Interview with Stefan Kotsch, former NVA/Bundeswehr tanker  
- Interview with former Marine and writer Kenneth Estes