28 May 2022

Not As Much As You'd Hope

Crew survivability is a major thing among Western tank designs, but...

The main gun ammo is not always as separated from the crew as you'd think or hope.

The best tank at keeping the two apart is the M1 series.  Almost all the ammo is in the rear of the turret behind blast doors with blow-off panels in the roof to vent the effects of the ammo cooking off.

On the 120mm models, what few rounds (six) that are in the hull are likewise behind a blast door with venting provisions.

This is a LOT better than the M60A1 and A3 it replaced.  Ammo was everywhere.  Some in the rear of the turret, some under the gun, some on the floor along the wall of the turret basket, some on either side of the driver...

Yet, the M60 isn't famous for ammo fires.  Nor is its predecessor, the M48.

The Leopard 2 has ammunition storage in the back of the turret, like the Abrams, but just on the loader's side.  The rest of the stowage is in the hull to the left of the driver.  Turkey had a couple of catastrophic ammo fires from this.  Despite this, the Leo 2 doesn't have a reputation for burning to the ground.

Challenger 2, same deal.

What really cures the Western tanks from burning to the ground was changing hydraulic fluids.

The T-55 and T-62 stow ammo in much the same manner as the contemporaneous M48 and M60.  They weren't regarded as particularly prone to burning, and Israel sure tested that!

It's the Soviet/Russian tanks with the auto-loader that give Russian designs a reputation for lighting up.

At a glance the ammo placement seems ideal.  Deep in the hull, where it should be best protected by thick armor and intervening equipment (like road wheels).

I think what we're seeing with them isn't poor placement, but where they're being struck.  The armor on the turret roof is thin and there's not much else above ammo but a couple layers of very thin sheet metal.  The things that come through the roof are normally very hot, and readily light fires.  Oh, and the autoloader is a mess of hydraulic lines with the attendant fire risks from aerosolized oils.

Western designs penetrated this way would have a bad day for the crew, but the ammo isn't almost guaranteed to be hit like it is in a T-64/72/80.  The same holds true for the earlier Soviet designs.  The ammo tends to be clustered around the perimeter of the turret rather than right under the middle.


  1. Maybe.

    A hydraulic fire would not seem to account for the turret launches. Shaped charges and thru and thru shots from an Abrams penetrator trigger a bigger release of energy than a hydraulic oil fire. The video of a Leopard-2 that I recall (Syria), a hit from a Russian (?) anti-tank missile converted the tank into flying scrap metal. A hydraulic oil fire is not going to be "fun", but the complete destruction of the vehicles that have an exposed internal store of ammunition seems to be something else, entirely.

    I noticed images of a few Chinese tanks, based on Russian/Soviet designs, have a busstle cut into the turret rear, presumably for ammo storage. Seems like internal ammo storage isn't considered to be a good idea in an environment with modern weapons.

  2. IIRC from some years ago, the biggest problem with the earliest version of the T-72 was that the autoloader had a bad habit of castrating the gunner. I never learned whether the problem was corrected, but I heard that the Soviet Army Mens' Chorus had a generous number of sopranos before the dissolution of the USSR...that hurts just thinking about it.


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