The 5 Most Exciting (And Gross) Realities Of Life In A Tank
We don't want to glamorize violence, but c'mon ... tanks are awesome. Armor, treads, cannons -- they're like the knights of military vehicles. War is hell and nobody can really answer the question of what it's good for, but still, every time we see a tank, we start making explosion noises with our mouths. And so it was that we (way too enthusiastically) spoke to Albert, an ex-gunner and loader in the Canadian Armed Forces who spent some time blowing Taliban-shaped craters into the Afghanistan countryside from inside his Leopard tanks. This is what he told us.
Crews Are More Likely To Be Killed By Their Own Tank Than Enemy Fire
Early tank models were about as durable as moist toilet paper, and used to catch fire more often than a Catholic church in Norway. They also had the nasty habit of exploding every now and then. Today, though, tanks are...
Not really all that different, actually. Albert explains: "In the Leopard 2, the gunner sits with a big hydraulic pump between their legs. I've had them overheat, spray hot hydraulic fluid all over my legs and groin (which can cause paralysis), and shoot smoke and sparks from the motor." If driving a tank in the first place takes balls, doing it long-term might literally take them.
On the plus side, it your dick falls off, you already have the perfect vehicle for compensation.
Your less-precious body parts aren't any safer: "There's not a lot of room inside the turret. So with the gun moving up and down, a gunner or loader could easily have their limbs broken if they got jammed between the gun and the ceiling/floor ... I had a friend whose femur got snapped because he was stretching just when his commander rotated the turret. He said it sounded like a bullet being fired inside the tank."
Is it just us, or does it look like a hungry mouth?
And this is all stuff that can happen when the tank works perfectly, which obviously isn't always the case. "One time, the mechanism that spits out the casing stopped working, so the loader had to do it manually. When you have to do that on the Leopard C2, it stops the smoke from being pushed out the barrel, so the inside of that tank was filling with cordite smoke, and the loader lost consciousness. I tried to push him out of the hatch, but my vision started to fade. Luckily, the guys pulled me out and sent in medics to give the loader oxygen."
Everyone was fine in the end, but this wasn't the only lethal gas Albert had to contend with ...
The Inside Of A Tank Is Completely Disgusting
Despite being about as spacious as a modest studio apartment in San Francisco (and costing nearly half as much) tanks were never meant to serve as mobile housing. That's why they lack a few essentials, like toilets, showers, laundry rooms ...
We know, it seems like a bit much to ask for your tank to have a rec room. But crews spend days, even weeks, inside their machines. It's not uncommon for the insides of a tank to smell worse than used gym clothes marinated in a public urinal.
If the army is a body, the tank is the colon.
"The smell ..." Albert told us with a haunting thousand-yard stare. "We don't usually have a way to wash, other than baby wipes and bird baths ... There's also no toilet in a tank, so we use shitter buckets with bags in them. Usually, we just use them when we stop, but one of my friends got a stomach flu when we were on an op and just held the bag over his butt and went inside it."
"One time," Albert recalls, "I got a stomach flu and ended up pooping my pants while going on a call. I then had to be out for 14 hours before I could shower and change ... Still, though, you get used to the smell, because everyone around you smells."
A bonus shade of brown for your camo.
Well, it's really another layer of defense, if you think about it. If they get past the guns and the armor, they'll surely think twice when they open the hatch ...
A Tank Has Some Surprisingly Mundane Problems
When we were children, we thought that tank crews navigated by looking out through the unloaded cannon, as if it were a gigantic metal spyglass. We were very special children. Of course, we're all grown now, and we realize that tanks navigate by ... p-prayer? Albert has the answer: "The driver has three periscopes to see out of. One looks forward, one right, and one left. They're about three inches by six inches."
Hold up, though. How does a tank driver navigate the outside world while only glimpsing it through a series of mirror reflections? In the beginning, not all that well: "During my training, a friend of mine accidentally drove his tank into a building ... A good driver gets used to it, but at first it feels like you're driving blind. To back up, the new tanks have a camera and a screen, but the old ones don't even have that, and you just relied on your commander looking out to let you know if you're hitting stuff." Of course, if you're piloting a 60-ton embodiment of God's wrath, by the time you get word that you've hit something, that thing has long since ceased to be.
Same rules as your grandma parking.
"It's not a design flaw. Any opening in the armor is a weak point, so you want to keep them small and few. It takes some getting used to." As does remembering that in some ways, a tank is just like a car. "I once forgot to put a tank's park brake on, and had it roll through a wall." And you thought the time you clipped your mom's mailbox with her Geo Metro was bad.
In Some Ways, Tanks Are Shockingly Fragile
For all their durability and, uh, metal ... muscles? ... tanks are surprisingly fragile. They need constant maintenance, or they'll basically disintegrate. "We say that one hour of driving is equal to three hours of maintaining ... Usually when you stop, it's a visual check to make sure nothing's sagging or leaking. Then you hammer in whatever needs hammering and tighten whatever needs tightening. Usually there's a fluid check, too."
Same rules as your grandma porking.
Imagine the Hulk undergoing a full physical after every battle, and you'll get an accurate picture of tank life.
"When you have a maintenance day, you will walk the track to check the torque on every end connector. That means rolling it forward slowly and checking all 126 nuts on each side. There are 82 track shoes a side, with two pads each. If the pads wear down, you need to pop each one off and replace it. That means driving a pin behind each one, prying it partway off with a pry bar, and hammering it the rest of the way."
"New plan: We simply carry the tanks where they need to go."
If you're anything like us and you think a Phillips head refers to some guy's skull, all that tool speak means that Albert and his friends need to be extremely thorough or their high-tech battle rover will turn into a metal pup tent. "That's why Canadian tankers get trained to fix our stuff as well as drive and gun and all that. We all know how to fix the common issues and more, and there are a lot of them."
So far, this article has been worse for the tank's reputation than that Japanese game where they're reimagined as horny high school girls. But ...
Despite Everything, Tanks Are Still Insanely Badass
Humanity has spent more than a century trying to figure out the best way to stop a tank, and so far, the best solution is "call it fat until it gets a self-esteem problem."
"Oh yeah, modern tanks can take a beating," Albert brags. "There are three types of kills on a tank. M kill, which is a mobility kill (the tank can't move, but it can shoot); firepower kill (so it can move but not shoot); and K kill (which means everyone is dead). Mobility kill isn't too hard to do, but the others are a lot harder. There isn't much the insurgents have that can do damage to us. An RPG is nothing. Old Russian anti-tank stuff would only work if it hits us just right. As for IEDs, they would have to be huge to do any real damage."
We nuked a tank once. Its plates bent, slightly.
We're talking about at least two dumpsters' worth of explosives here, and the driver would probably see those dumpsters long before you pushed them into place. They tend to stand out in the desert. And that's assuming that you survive long enough to strike at the tank. Which isn't exactly the tank operator's prerogative.
"The rounds we fired from the C2 weighed about 40 lbs," Albert told us. "There are hesh (high explosive squash head), sabot (big ass anti-armor dart), white phosphorus smoke, canister (like a huge shotgun shell), and heat (high explosive rounds.) They're also accurate to about 2.5 miles."
Stay tuned for our follow-up article: 6 Things I Sent To Valhalla While At Work.
Yeah, you don't even need to be in the same zip code as the guy whose shit you're about to ruin. "One time, we blew up an IED factory because they figured it was too booby-trapped to try to walk into. I blew the turret off an old tank in Germany during my training, so that was pretty cool. Oh, and I shot a tree down with one round from a mile away."
Uh-oh ... we can feel the mouth explosions coming on again ...
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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