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T-72: The Russian Tank Getting Blown to Bits in Ukraine

T-72
Image of Russian T-72 firing.

T-72 – Russia’s Most Prolific Main Battle Tank is an Antiquated War Machine – According to Ukrainian sources, as well as western observers, Russia has lost a significant number of T-72 tanks to enemy fire since it began its unprovoked and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine. However, Russia likely has plenty to spare. Since it entered production in 1971 – to replace the T-55/55 series – the T-72 has served as the workhorse of the Soviet and later Russian tank forces.

Notable T-72 Facts:

Mass Casualties

The mounting losses of Russian T-72s in Ukraine shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, except perhaps the Russian military leaders who strangely expected to be welcome with open arms, and even greeted as liberators. When it became apparent that the Ukrainians would put up a fight, perhaps Russia should have known to pull their tanks back sooner based on past battlefield experience.

The 1982 war in Lebanon should have served as an ominous portent that the antiquated tanks were no match for modern anti-tank weapons. Even forty years ago, the Syrian T-72s proved no match for Israeli Merkava main battle tanks (MBTs) and were knocked out in droves. Iraq’s T-72s didn’t fare much better a decade later when the “Lions of Babylon “ – as the locally made T-72s were called – were also destroyed in large numbers during the 1991 Gulf War.

In 2003, U.S. M1 Abrams tanks again engaged their T-72 counterparts and took out huge numbers, while suffering few casualties.

Designed for a Conscript Army

The biggest advantage that the T-72 offers any operator is the fact that it is essentially designed for a conscript army and thus easy to operate and maintain. Despite its poor showing in the 1982 war in Lebanon, the Soviet Union still found eager buyers, and the T-72 was exported around the globe.

It also proved to be fairly versatile, and unlike many Western tanks, it could be equipped for deep-fording of rivers in a matter of minutes. It also offered nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection for the crew, and was produced in variants including a command vehicle, an anti-tank “Cobra” missile launcher, and even an armored recovery vehicle.

Big Thing in a Small Package

At just 41 tons, the T-72 was also extremely lightweight and compact compared to Western MBTs of the late Cold War era. It was designed to traverse bridges in Eastern and Central Europe that would be denied to other MBTs. Yet, it retained the characteristic low silhouette of the early Soviet MBTs, while reactive armor was fitted to variants produced after 1988.

The T-72M was developed as an export version, intended for the armies of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact allies. Clearly, Moscow was cautious, as it had thinner armor and even downgraded weapons systems – and that ensured that Soviet forces wouldn’t be outgunned if one of its client states began to have independent thoughts.

Foreign Made T-72s

The Polish-manufactured T-72G also was equipped with thinner armor, but many of the parts and tools were not interchangeable, which presented logistical problems in the final years of the Cold War.

The T-72CZ M4 was an upgraded version that was still in service in the Czech Republic after the end of the Cold War. It utilized Western fire control systems, along with an Israeli power pack that incorporated a Perkins diesel engine and Allison transmission.

It’s Still in Service

Drawbacks of the T-72 notwithstanding, it has remained in widespread use around the world. With some 1,900 T-72s currently in service, India remains one of the largest operations after Russia.

Even NATO members including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic (Czechia), Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia still continue to maintain a number of the Cold War tanks. The Czech Republic has reportedly transferred some of its aging T-72s to Ukraine, but the question is whether Kyiv should actually be grateful!

While any tank is better than no tank, the T-72 isn’t one that has a glowing combat record by any means. Of course, they’ll be going up against other T-72s – tanks manned by crews that don’t seem all that eager to be there and likely expected they’d be driving the antiquated tanks in a victory parade.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. CK

    April 21, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    There is an article floating around today (Guardian perhaps?) that Ukraine now possesses more workable tanks in its territory than Russia. Even I find such a thing hard to believe, but given the numbers that have been donated by the west, and including spare parts and so on, it wouldn’t surprise me.

    I wonder how stocked the Russians are with anti-tank weaponry? Will be interesting to see what happens in the reverse scenario that Ukraine is attacking and counter attacking, and Russia defending, considering nobody is giving Russia thousands of RPGs, NLAWS, Panzerfausts, etc.

    Maybe we will find out soon enough!

  2. Alex

    April 21, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    Let’s compare who and whom was blown to pieces, only the facts:
    According to statistics on April 21, since the beginning of the operation, Russia has destroyed Ukrainian equipment: 99% of tanks and other armored vehicles of Ukraine (2410 out of 2416 vehicles that were in Ukrainian troops on February 24), 92% of military aircraft (140 out of 152), 71% of the fleet helicopters (106 out of 149), 48% of MLRS installations (262 out of 535) and so on. This does not take into account the equipment that may have entered the Ukrainian troops after the start of the special operation, but in any case, the Air Force and Air Defense of Ukraine were practically destroyed, and the Navy ceased to exist.
    In addition, the United States has reduced the number of javelins by almost a third. This is a lot for the army.

    • Gerry

      May 18, 2022 at 10:29 pm

      And Russia still can’t win.

  3. CK

    April 22, 2022 at 5:39 am

    Alex, when you say “the facts”, this is pretty much the reaction of anyone else in the room:

    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 ;D 😀 😀

  4. Eric Worsthorne

    April 22, 2022 at 6:18 am

    I’m glad someone noted the 1982 war in Lebanon where Merkava Mk1 equipped with 105mm L7A2 guns defeated T72 armour – the L7 is the same gun fitted to the Leopard 1 tanks that some are saying are not up to facing current Russian armour.

    I feel that the use of APFSDS together with LLTV and TI would enable the Leopards to dominate the battlefield at night and their mobility would be a a major asset in cutting off and destroying logistic columns an bogged down spearheads.

  5. Alex

    April 23, 2022 at 9:42 am

    Ukraine ran out of tanks. Now they use old Soviet rubbish, which is supplied to them by neighboring countries. This is good business.

  6. CK

    April 23, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    Yes, your guys always seem to be on the business end of Ukraine’s army for sure.

    Guess we can expect orcs in Kyiv any minute now then, right? After all, only an incompetent army can’t conquer a country without tanks?

  7. Alex

    April 24, 2022 at 4:41 am

    So who is losing? Obviously not Russia.

    American Colonel Martin spoke about Biden’s failure in Ukraine.

    US President Joe Biden has failed in his policy towards Ukraine. This opinion was expressed in a column on The Washington Post website by retired American Colonel Wes Martin.

    The head of the White House, as noted in the material, tried to prevent the Ukrainian conflict by diplomatic measures – and could not. The author referred to the statement of the former acting. CIA Director Michael Morell, who expressed the opinion that Biden’s attacks on Russian leader Vladimir Putin only “rallied the beleaguered Russian elite.” “Not a single citizen of Russia will put up with the fact that the main enemy of his state inspires him what kind of power in his country can be and what is not,” Martin quoted Morell as saying.

    “Proving once again that he is nowhere near Reagan, Biden publicly called Putin a ‘butcher’ and a ‘war criminal.’ through Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin,” the author of the material noted.
    Ukraine and Afghanistan are far from the only reasons why Biden’s ratings have slipped to an all-time low of 42 percent. People, Martin notes, are unimpressed by his foreign policy experience. Do not add popularity and record inflation of 8.5 percent and a sharp rise in energy prices – the harbingers of a recession.

    At the end of March, NBC News published the results of a poll, according to which 53 percent of Americans believe that the country will begin a long-term recession, which will lead to the loss of American leadership in the world. When answering the question about Biden’s ability to correctly respond to the situation around Ukraine, only 12 percent of respondents expressed complete confidence in the actions of the head of administration.

    CNN, in turn, reported that the confidence rating of US President Joe Biden has reached a record low. According to a generalized analysis of polls published by four organizations last week, the level of confidence in the US president is about 41%, and according to one of them – only 33%. This is a record low compared to all of Biden’s predecessors in the same period of the presidential term.

  8. CK

    April 24, 2022 at 6:21 am

    @Alex – deny, deflect, obfuscate. Seriously, that’s you in a book.

    Don’t look at Putin! Look at Biden! Don’t look at what we’re doing in Ukraine, look at your country! Recession, CNN, political division, look elsewhere, but please, don’t look at what is happening in Russia! Internet Research Agency script in a nutshell.

    Also, poor you man, they are making you work on Orthodox Easter? The night money Sveta brings not enough to keep you guys afloat anymore? Let me know if you need any donations. I’m sure I have a few cents lying around that will be worth a fortune in roubles!

  9. Alex

    April 25, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Yes, Russia has big “problems”:
    There is the Donetsk People’s Republic. There is the Luhansk People’s Republic. Kherson applied to Russia for a referendum to establish the Kherson People’s Republic. God bless the Ukrainians of Donbass!

  10. CK

    April 25, 2022 at 10:58 am

    Yes Alex, and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania also re-applied to join the Russian Federation. In this reality, Putin has conquered his hemorrhoids, and you and Sveta live happily ever after.

    It’s nice to sit back and daydream, isn’t it? 🙂

  11. Alex

    April 26, 2022 at 2:15 am

    Why is Russia with the people’s militia of Donbass taking new territories of Ukraine every day? Let’s figure it out:

    The West failed to turn much of the world against Russia after the military operation in Ukraine began, columnist Howard French wrote in an article for Foreign Policy magazine.
    According to him, many states did not support sanctions against Moscow, including such large countries as India and China.

    “In fact, when counting the population of these countries, it becomes clear that the states representing the majority of humanity have not taken a position in this conflict, seeing in it the familiar echoes of the former rivalry between East and West,” said French.
    According to the observer, the international political system that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century from the very beginning gave the countries of the “third world” the status of second-class states. As an example, he cited the colonization of Africa by European countries.

    “It was the work of the enslaved millions of people who grew sugar and cotton in huge quantities, cleared the land and did all other unpaid work that made the American colonies profitable for Europe, and the so-called “Old World” new and rich,” the author emphasized.

    French urged not to ignore the heightened sense of justice among the former colonized peoples.

    “The whole world” with Ukraine 🙂

  12. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 7:28 am

    Well Alex, if that is the case, we wish you the best of luck with your new Chinese masters. I hear they are very kind to minorities.

  13. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:28 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

  14. CK

    April 29, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    Ah, I see your tactic. You add a little shitty first paragraph so it doesn’t detect your duplicate post. Is this what it has come to now, you just posting the same exact post 2, 3, 4, 5 times per article?

    Wow, did they run out of paper in Russia, Alex? You guys can’t print new material? Literally using the same lines, over and over again, and now in duplicate in every post!

    Are you so defeated you can’t even come up with anything new? How sad. Now the idiot is talking about lend-lease at the end of his post, because he literally just copy + pasted it from another thread, with zero relevance to this one.

    Here’s a reminder:

    If someone wanted to know the truth about anything in Ukraine Alex, the last person they would go to is you.

    Paragraphs and paragraphs of bollocks, dubious claims about “independent journalists”, random documentarians, conspiracy theorists, deluded claims that of course, have no backup, lie after lie after lie.

    Classical Kremlin troll approach. Just flood the internet, the comments, the media, with tosh, doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure you write some old nonsense. Make sure to say the claim is supported by some dude in Germany, France, the states. If it’s a “documentary” (usually from youtube) then the better.

    Anything that victimises Russia, always the victim, always the bullied, never the problem. It’s always the Nazis. It’s always some pseudo-historical point.

    Anyone that has had the misfortune to study your “tactics” sees the forest for the trees, the pattern of lies, disinformation, blanketing of random claims, deflection, obfuscation, and other words beyond your vocabulary.

    It’s hopeless Alex. Your lies are as short as your intellect. What a pathetic job, to sit in your government shed, spreading your pathetic, government lies.

    A pathetic job for a truly pathetic man. A better match could not be made in heaven.

  15. Gerry

    May 18, 2022 at 10:33 pm

    And Russia still can’t win.

  16. Joe

    September 20, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    Alex’s comments age like full cream milk.

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