German tanks 'put Ukraine on track for victory'

Analysts predict that Russian armour will be outgunned and Kyiv's forces may be liberating Crimea and the Donbas by summer

German Bundeswehr soldiers practice with a Leopard 2 A6 battle tank in Augustdorf, Germany. EPA
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A key moment has arrived in the Ukraine war with the introduction of German tanks on to the battlefield that could potentially see the Russians swept out of the country by late summer.

Military analysts expect that it will be an “absolute game changer,” as at least 100 and up to 300 heavy western tanks deployed following Berlin's decision to allow its Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine.

The Leopards, along with Britain’s Challenger II and America’s Abrams tanks, are in a different league to the more pedestrian T-72 or T-90 Russian equivalents.

They have better protection and are able to absorb four or five hits from Russian armour, whereas a single shot from a western tank will crush its opposition. They are designed to take heavy punishment but carry on.

Most importantly, using advanced night-vision optics they can move and fire at night. The Russians cannot, leaving them highly vulnerable to night-time offensives.

The delay in their delivery following Germany’s concern about sending tanks against Russia, given its Second World War legacy of invading the former Soviet Union, should not significantly affect Ukraine’s ability to rapidly train on the new equipment and be ready for action by the spring, experts say.

“This is going to be an absolute game changer,” Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who commanded a British Challenger II tank battalion, told The National. “If the training and planning is done properly, there should be no reason why they shouldn't wrap up Crimea and perhaps the Donbas by the summer.”

The tanks can fire highly accurate shots while on the move, but more importantly they store at least 50 anti-tank rounds. An individual infantryman can only carry a single lightweight, short-range anti-tank weapon (NLAW).

“So you've got a hell of a punch there and the fact they can do it all at night is something that the Russians can't do,” said retired Col de Bretton-Gordon.

Moscow’s generals are clearly concerned by the announcement, with military bloggers expressing their worries that the once-formidable Russian army will now be outgunned.

Russian attack helicopters, anti-tank weapons and artillery are not expected to have a significant defensive impact.

“As long as they're suppressed with artillery and Himars missiles, which they should be with the other kit that the Ukrainians have, I don't think the Russians will slow them down a great deal,” Col de Bretton-Gordon said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talking with soldiers in front of a Leopard 2 battle tank. AFP

Adapting to a new tank

The former commander of the Royal Tank Regiment said he converted from the ageing Challenger tanks to the Challenger II in just 24 hours. That means the Ukrainian tank troops, already well versed in armoured warfare, should be able to be move from their Soviet-era vehicles to the western ones in a matter of weeks.

They will have to learn the art of fire and manoeuvre at night, as well as co-ordinating with the many infantry fighting vehicles that Germany and the US are sending. One hurdle will be mastering the manual loading of the 120mm main gun compared to the Russia auto-loader system.

More important will be training engineers to understand how to fix the complex weapon systems, and the provision of repair supplies alongside recovery vehicles.

Ukrainians hold rallies calling for Leopard tanks — in pictures

Ultimately, it seems that apart from becoming vexed by the idea of western tanks there is very little the Russians can or will do.

Their last resort would be the use of tactical nuclear weapons, but that would be a Rubicon that Russia’s generals and its population would be unlikely to tolerate.

President Vladimir Putin must now understand that the clock is ticking down for his forces to be ejected from the country they have ravaged, analysts say.

The tanks may encourage him to seek peace, or he may wait until Leopards are rolling into Crimea and the Donbas to understand that his venture has been thwarted by German armour.

Updated: January 25, 2023, 3:59 PM