Secret advanced Western armour has meant only five of the Ukrainian army's 71 Leopard 2 tanks have been destroyed with no crew members killed, it has been reported
At least 10 of the German-made tanks have been damaged during the 13 weeks of Ukraine's counteroffensive but they have been recovered and repaired before returning to the frontline.
Experts have told The National that the tanks' resilience has also been down to the protection of their turret. Unlike Russian models, the Leopard 2s protect their explosive shell charges in special containers preventing the tank from blowing up when struck.
A commander of the German troops training in Slovakia, Lt Colonel Sebastian Worgull, confirmed that there had been no fatalities among the crew members of the Ukrainian Leopard 2A6 tanks.
This means that each four-man crew in the five destroyed tanks managed to escape alive after being hit, most probably by striking a mine and then being attacked by kamikaze drones.
“Both the Leopard 2s and the British Challenger 2s are very well protected which it means they can take considerable damage and either keep fighting, because the crew inside are protected, or can be recovered to be repaired,” said Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British army tank regiment commander.
“They are very well protected against anti-tank guided weapons because they have bar armour and laminated armour that is very good at defeating incoming rounds,” he added.
The 69-ton vehicles are being repaired at factories in Poland and Germany before being returned to battle and can continue to be recycled.
“Even the most critically damaged equipment is recovered and taken for repairs,” Olexandr Solonko, a Ukrainian soldier, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “You can replace a piece of metal, even if it's expensive, but you can't repair a human life.”
Another key element to the tank's survival, according to Forbes magazine, is that the KMW and Rheinmetall defence companies fitted them with special turret-mounted compartments for their 120-millimetre ammunition that explode outward and away from the crew if struck.
By comparison Russian tanks' shell charges and ammunition are unprotected and are highly vulnerable to “cooking off” and killing all three crew.
“The Leopard and Challenger have armoured charge bins so if the tank is hit, it's not going to go up whereas the Russians don't, which is why when you see a drone grenade drop through the turret hatch it cooks off all the charges,” said Col de Bretton-Gordon, who commanded Challenger 2s in the Royal Tank Regiment.
“The Challenger or Leopard is more than twice the price of a T72 but they are going to last three times as long.”
The 14 Challenger 2s donated by Britain, which carry top-secret Dorchester armour, have yet to be damaged or destroyed, although it is unknown if they have been in combat.
Pictures of all five destroyed Leopard 2s show open hatches on the turrets and hulls, which also suggests the crews got out.
The crews have been targeted by artillery barrages, helicopter anti-tank missiles, Russian tanks as well as mines and drones.
But their presence on the front line has given Ukraine infantry assault groups heavy firepower either close-in or at range.
Ukraine’s armoured brigades, fighting around the key area of the liberated settlement of Robotyne, have around 55 Leopards still in working order out of 71 received from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Another 14 Leopards are due to arrive in January, followed by 31 of the heavily protected American M1A1 Abrams. A further 165 Leopard 1s will arrive next year although these are less well protected.
Ukraine also celebrated a significant drone success on Wednesday following six attacks on targets inside Russia, that included an airfield where they damaged four Ilyushin heavy transport aircraft.