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The Gravity of Tanks

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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Nov 13 2015 - 08:15

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I’m going to go personal op-ed this week, for a little PSA.

You will likely now be familiar with the accident a couple of weeks ago involving an M18 GMC in Oregon, which resulted in the deaths of two people, Steve Preston, and Austin Lee. This hit us particularly strongly as we were at Steve’s ranch onlya few days prior. We had met Steve prior, at Tankfest NorthWest, and he was nice enough to give rides to some of our employees just because. He was also an avid player of World of Tanks, with over 6,000 battles tallied, of which over a third were in the M18.

The cause of the incident is still being investigated, but this is now the third death this year that I’m aware of involving a privately owned tank in the US. It is worth at this point, I think, reflecting upon the nature of the beasts which give us so much enjoyment.

We currently have an advertising campaign running, named “Hell yeah, tanks.” You’ve probably seen the Youtube videos. The premise is simple: Tanks are cool. Let me get this one thing out of the way first. Absolutely! They are, inherently, totally, awesomely cool. I am incredibly happy to be able to call myself a tanker. (Well, I guess ex-tanker, since my tank got swapped out for a Bradley back in 2008, and I’ve been driving a desk since 2013). Had I known back then what I know now, I’d have gotten into tanks even earlier.

That said, there is a line that I start with whenever I’m giving a safety brief and introducing people to tanks. That is “Tanks are designed to hurt people, and they don’t care who.” We’re in the US, where firearms are entirely routine, and usually people treat them with the respect that they deserve.  Tanks, however, are not so routine, and sometimes I get a little concerned that people get so overwhelmed with the ‘cool’ factor, that they forget the realities behind them.

Now, I want to be clear here. I am not referring to Steve and Austin, who had been around the machinery for years with great experience. Accidents happen to the best of us, even when we take precautions and follow procedures. Almost anything we do for fun has inherent risks, from parachuting, to skiing, even with people who are experienced. I’m more referring to folks who are visiting at museums, events, or volunteering to operate and maintain them. Almost every person associated with tanks has had a ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment, where all those safety lessons change from being ‘something you know in the back of your mind’ to ‘one momentary lapse can be permanent.’ In my case, I have a scar on my arm from an Abrams ammunition door. As it was opening on my arm which was stuck in the semi-ready rack, I had resigned myself to the fact that my left arm was gone. I bless the designer who put the sensors on the TC’s edge of the door as well as the loader’s. Served me right for not checking that my loader had tripped Circuit Breaker 19. A simple and small omission.

So, if you’re planning on going to be around tanks in the civilian world at a show, museum, or whatnot, here’s a couple of safety tips to bear in mind.

1)      Eveything on a tank is heavy, everything is solid. There are lots of ways to lose inquisitive fingers when hatches close, or if one loses balance at the wrong moment and so on. Keep an eye on the young ones. It can also be very easy to fall off a tank, the mantra in the US Army is “Three points of contact”

2)      For the morbidly curious, it is easy to find on the internet photographs of what can happen when people wear their wedding rings around a tank. Similar effect to people who wear wedding rings around other pieces of heavy machinery. They are not sights that you ever want to see in real life, the photographs are bad enough.

3)      Visibility is incredibly limited. You think you have issues with the blind spot on your car, that’s nothing compared to an AFV. Obviously the most important thing to be concerned about is standing next to a vehicle, but not exclusively so. If a turret turns, for example, the chances are the operator has absolutely no idea who or what is nearby. Head/turret interfaces have resulted in the deaths of multiple soldiers, and no few limbs have been amputated inside the vehicle either.

And, of course, there is the military side of things. If you have a desire to join the military, I absolutely encourage you to consider armor branch. However, please don’t join the military in order to work/play with tanks, this is the wrong reason. There are sacrifices up to, and including your life. This is what I might term “Not cool.”

Usually a couple of times a year, we remind ourselves in the game that tanks are actually serious business, usually Memorial Day and last week's Rememberance/Veteran’s Day. They are machines of death and destruction, created for a purpose nobody wants and we must always be mindful of the reality behind them, especially when we encounter them in the real world.

I extend my personal condolences to the next of kin of those lost in this incident. They died doing something which they loved, and we must not let this incident dissuade those of us who love tanks from continuing to work with them and keep them operating to the best of our ability.

As ever, my Facebook page remains here, my Youtube channel here, and Twitch stream (Every Tuesday, and (very) occasional evenings) is here. 

Destroyer_Monssen #2 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 13:43


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Wise words, Chieftain. One small point, though--I would consider you a former tanker, not an ex-tanker. To me, "ex-" gives a negative connotation ("I never want to see a tank again" ) while "former" is more positive ("I used to be a tanker but I had to end that part of my life... but I still love tanks." )

DOMlNO #3 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 14:30

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Great write up, thanks.

Echo_Saber #4 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 14:44


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Nice article Chief.  Good read.

kupjones #5 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 14:55


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I learned the "ring thing" back in high school as a summer auto mechanic -- the truism holds for any machinery that is heavy and unyielding.

Great article (as usual).

mfp4073 #6 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 15:12


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Great article.  I work in aviation.  Mainly vintage warbird and air racing in reno nv every year.  General aviation is a game that has its accidents. When you have vintage aircraft the risks increase.  In racing you are pushing well beyond what the aircraft were designed to do.

Are there losses in vintage aviation and racing. Yes.  Is it greater than general aviation.  Yes.  It would be much safer to keep these aircraft on the ground, behind velvet ropes, such that no one could hear the run, fly or touch them.  The losses of aircrews and aircraft would drop to nothing.  But flying is something we have thats a part of our passion for life. Sharing that passion with others.  Educating.  No book or youtube video could ever bring history to life in front of others as much as a vintage corsair starting up in front of you and then doing a low pass flyby.

These are known risks.  We accept these risks (and the risks of leaving the house everyday) such that we can live and experience life in its fullest.  And at the same time allow others to share in it with us.

I completely believe that you have to weigh risk and reward.  And the rewards to myself and others is significant.

The loss of the tankers is tragic.  But they should be honored, not by jumping back, yelling about the risks, and parking the tanks, but by doubling down.  Still remain vigilant on safety and training.  Learn from the accidents to prevent future injuries. But never stop sharing these vehicles and history.  Never stop allowing the public to experience what its like to have a massive vehicle of iron and fuel to rumble by shaking the ground under their feet.

ironeagle2006 #7 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 15:16


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This is a little off topic but the same thing rings true for OTR Trucks.  They are NOT the toy trucks you played with when you where a kid on the floor.  They are 40 Tons of Metal and rubber going down the road with some of them hauling up to 24 TONS of stuff that if it got loose would kill a City.  Sorry I hauled stuff that would make even an EOD tech go NO FREAKING way am I going near that truck.  Try Monomers in a Pure State.  I had to pack them in Dry Ice and still pray they stayed cold all the way to their Destination.  Or Chlorine Gas try hauling a Pressurized tanker of that to a Water Treatment plant.  The worst however was 1.1 Explosives yeah I hauled those as part of a team with my late Father.  I am not talking Gunpowder either.  Try C4 Amatol and other Military grade stuff all over the USA.  We felt like Targets at times.  Just please remember this guys at 65 MPH a car can stop in 200 Feet normally it will take a Semi over 500 Feet to come to a complete Stop.  So is cutting off that semi and diving for your exit worth possibly Killing yourself and your family and that driver or having him or her live with knowing the have killed someone the rest of their lives.


Why am I going on like this.  I was in a fatal accident in 1996 while on the job as an OTR Driver I had a Drunk Driver hammer me coming the other way when I was empty I had a car pass me going up a hill then stop in front of me to pull into a fruit stand on the side of the road during my Panic Stop to avoid her and her 3 KIDS in the backseat I lost an airline on my LF Drive axle parking chamber and started to Jack knife I was getting it straightened out when coming the other way on a 2 lane road came the drunk.  He hammered me so hard he threw the cab of my truck off the frame 20 feet from the chassis flipped it to the passenger side and also rotated it forward so the windshield was facing the front end of the truck.  He also had enough speed and energy after doing that he hit my Trailer bent 1 inch Plate Steel 90 degrees to itself and also destroyed the landing gear of the trailer.  I walked away thanks to my seat belt he went to the Morgue as he was not wearing his.   

NK_33 #8 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 15:19


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Good point, but it is not just the mechanical that can get you.  Tanks are big armored boxes filled with flammable/explosive materials.  The 'stored energy' isn't just the weight, mass or the electrics, it's also chemical, and ammunition doesn't like getting squeezed any more than flesh does, but it usually expends its fury in a more destructive way.  And the exhaust systems can give all kinds of burns even from a short distance away.


As we say at work 'Boring is good, we like boring'.  Exciting means you had to use your training, which is never a good thing.

CommieCanuck #9 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 16:21


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Point #3 almost affected me personally. We were doing workup training for Afghanistan at the BATUS facility in CFB Suffield back in 2009. I was the GIB of a LAV 25 Coyote.  Normally when the turret traverses in training there is a system that will make the gun jump up to 18 inches over an open hatch, whether it is the driver's hatch, or either of the two rear air sentry hatches. However, there is a battle override button that disables the system when required.


For some reason our gunner had the battle override activated. I wasn't paying attention to where the gun was at the time, and I ended up getting my head caught between the barrel and the center deck plate as he traversed. In spite of all the yelling in the world and the vehicle behind us trying to raise him on the means, the whole thing was over before he knew what was going on. At first I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to die, but much to my relief it turns out the cracking I heard was my helmet being ripped off my head, not my neck coming apart. With the helmet off my, head had just enough room to fit between the barrel and the deck plate for me to slide out and fall back into my hole. I'd say I was never so scared in my life, but I was in such a state of shock that I wasn't really feeling anything.


Now, this was just a 5 tonne turret on a 13 tonne armoured fighting vehicle, and the only  thing that saved me was 7 inches of space between a barrel and the deck. Now imaging what something on today's MBTs that are between 40 and 60 tonnes with only 2 - 3" of clearance could do. Rest In Peace to the guys we lost in the accident, everyone else stay safe.


Edited by CommieCanuck, Nov 14 2015 - 16:22.

Baron_von_Roflstomp #10 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 17:23

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A terrible tragedy. One does have to question the wisdom of letting anyone live fire ammo with aging WWII era tank or tank destroyer guns. Is there not a point when this simply becomes too risky regardless of the safety precautions taken?

peergynt #11 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 18:39


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View Postkupjones, on Nov 14 2015 - 13:55, said:

I learned the "ring thing" back in high school as a summer auto mechanic -- the truism holds for any machinery that is heavy and unyielding.

Great article (as usual).


we're talking about ring avulsion here, mostly. A ring might catch on a hard surface while your arm is being yanked somewhere and you lose skin and other material as it pulls off -- "degloving".


Personally I like a wedding ring tattoo.


This all just makes me think there's more call for a Bovington-style foundation in the US and other countries with people who want to venerate old armored vehicles and the deeds of the people who crewed them. Expertise should be liberally available.

Croix_de_Guerre #12 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 19:31


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For courtesy purposes, an acronym should always be explained the first time written down. They are not obvious to most and some of them mean different things in different jobs/branches/states/countries. Thank you

Pooch #13 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 19:39

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I know what your talking about as a an ex tanker myself I have seen a few incident  myself from drivers losing their heads to a mec being crush between turent roof an gun as he trip the stab lock as he was over the gun doing checks as he for got to lock it down.

HollerRitter #14 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 22:35


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A clan brother was personally well acquainted with both men lost in this tragedy.  These men where bringing history to life for the rest of us.  It was a somber reminder to all of us just how dangerous bringing history to life can be.

stalkervision #15 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 23:03


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Vision from a button up tank has always been very bad. That is why so many tank commanders were killed by snipers in ww 2. IMO the next new thing in tank vision should be vri goggles slaved to cameras on the outside of tanks. Vision blocks are a very restrictive and also are a weakness a sniper can take advantage of to blind one or more crew members.

SKULL2XL #16 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 23:20


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+1 :great:

Mack54 #17 Posted Nov 14 2015 - 23:23


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This was the best description of being a tanker or just being AROUND a functional tank in the real world I have ever seen. I trained and served on both the M60A1 and the first edition M1 (Not the A1 or A2...The FIRST edition) and to this day it is hard for me to describe to folks who have never served on an operational MBT or other AFV in the real world, and have them grasp the very real, to the crew and/or bystanders, the dangers of doing so. Everything is bigger, and heaver, and has way more mass and moves faster than the uninitiated would think possible on such massive vehicles. Even the friggin' tools a tanker uses to work on his ride are bigger than you would expect....Or in the case of the kit we were issued, back then, to "service" the fire control computer, a whole lot smaller....And let's not even discuss those damn screws that kept the face plate of the computer in place....I wish I had a dollar for every one of those things that ended up somewhere between the turret floor and the inside of the hull...I hated those screws....So much....Especially in the winter...At Graf....During a snow and ice storm....I still play WoT on occasion, in fact, when I close here I plan on firing up my trusty, rusty M36 and give it a go or two....But I will NEVER forget what the real thing was like....Nor it's tendency to bite the unwary. Take care and keep up the excellent work you do. Ready and Forward, Sir!....Scouts Out! Tankers Forward!...All others follow as best you can.

zloykrolik #18 Posted Nov 15 2015 - 01:19

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View PostBaron_von_Roflstomp, on Nov 14 2015 - 08:23, said:

A terrible tragedy. One does have to question the wisdom of letting anyone live fire ammo with aging WWII era tank or tank destroyer guns. Is there not a point when this simply becomes too risky regardless of the safety precautions taken?


The folks who do so are not using WW2 era ammo, they reload the rounds using surplus propellants, some guns use surplus projectiles (76mm usually), and some use projectiles made in a machine shop to the correct tolerances (37mm & 57mm usually). The hazard is not in the vehicle or gun on it, most reloads are not firing at max pressure, but on the reloaded ammo. Those who go through the process of getting the correct Destructive Device paperwork are very familiar with the hazards of doing so.


The Chieftain is also correct that nearly everyone who's been on armored vehicle will have a story  or moment that the safety briefing goes from being theory to reality, really really fast. Mine involved loading the 105 on an M60A3 and luckily ended up with a broken hand instead of a mangled hand. 

Edited by zloykrolik, Nov 15 2015 - 01:34.

CK16 #19 Posted Nov 15 2015 - 02:55


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Good advice for sure! Just climbing on a few M60's in the area (not sure if I was legally allowed to or not O.o) But to the aware mind it is obviously not a piece of playground equipment even if just a monument. Thing is several feet off the ground and one wrong step you will be feeling it in the morning...I want to start visiting more vehicles and from a few of your videos and well safety in my profession makes me think and look twice at many things. Also the last one I was on had broken glass in the commanders cupola that concerned me if any child was on top they could get cut pretty bad. Be safe people! Just like around any other large piece of machinery. 

KaiserWilhelmShatner #20 Posted Nov 15 2015 - 03:41


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View Postzloykrolik, on Nov 14 2015 - 16:19, said:


The folks who do so are not using WW2 era ammo, they reload the rounds using surplus propellants, some guns use surplus projectiles (76mm usually), and some use projectiles made in a machine shop to the correct tolerances (37mm & 57mm usually). The hazard is not in the vehicle or gun on it, most reloads are not firing at max pressure, but on the reloaded ammo. Those who go through the process of getting the correct Destructive Device paperwork are very familiar with the hazards of doing so.



And to add on to your train of thought...


A lot of the brass used for these guns now has been reloaded many times.  Even at a lower charge there is still a significant amount of pressure when fired.  The NRA had an article 2-3 years ago talking about how most of antique cannons accidents are caused by the shell casings.

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