Saturday 4 April 2015

Swedes on Britain's Armoured Forces

Today's article is once again brought to you by Something Awful forums poster TheFluff, who discovered some critique of the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR). Swedish observers who were present during the exercises held in 1973 were rather unkind.

"The gunnery practice was finished by two tests with a gun camera, one against a fixed target and one against a moving one, as per usual Swedish standard. The results were bad. The first time the results may possibly be explained by the gunners not taking the trial seriously, but even after they had evaluated their own results and re-did the test the results were very bad. It is possible that more training could have improved the results somewhat, but the more likely explanation is that a large portion of the British gunners simply aren't suited for their job as gunners. In some cases, problems with bad eyesight were apparent. It should be noted that British tank personnel is not tested in the same way as Swedish personnel before being assigned as tank gunners."

"Both the methods the tank crews used for engaging targets and their laying skills were unacceptable and clearly worse than that of the average Swedish crew."

On command style and discipline:

"Exercise of command was relatively tame and commanders rarely supervised anything. The subordinates were left with a lot of freedom to solve rather ill-defined problems on their own. When it came to looking after their equipment, the personnel was rather sloppy and nonchalant."

"The readiness (in a broad sense of the word) at the BAOR appears to be rather low."

"Radio traffic was very lively, but rarely contained orders."

On observation and crew resource management:

"The number of targets detected was on par with the performance of Swedish crews. However, the time to open fire was in most cases far longer than can reasonably be expected. In part, this is due to lack of training on the tank, but more importantly it's also due to the way the British crews work together. The tank commander always have to give orders about everything and the gunner is forbidden from opening fire on his own initiative when he spots a target, unlike in Swedish regulations for tank crews. Just like in the 1968 trials, it has been impossible to convince the Brits to try the Swedish method, which is also employed by the Germans for example. The reason cited by the Brits is that tanks carry so few rounds that the commander cannot risk the gunner opening fire on a non-essential target and that the gunners in general aren't all that good at neither judging the importance of a target nor at adjusting their fire. (...) This severely limited the advantages of the S-tank's duplicated controls.


Nor were the Brits willing to accept the principle that whoever sees a target first fires on it. If the tank commander spots a target, the gunner should still open fire on it. According to Swedish tests, if the commander has to hand the target over to the gunner, the time to open fire is on average two seconds longer than if the gunner opens fire by himself. If questions regarding the target's exact position are raised, this time increases further, up to 10 seconds or more in many cases. Our proposal to try the Swedish method in parallel with the British was rejected without any reason given."

On tactics:

"(in a discussion on delaying fights) The target marker equipment made this exercise an excellent and very illustrative example of how not to fight this type of action (in both Chieftain and the S-tank)."

"Coordination between infantry, artillery and tanks is nonexistent.
The infantry is deployed way too late to take terrain from which the enemy can fight the tanks with close-in AT weapons.
The assaults are not planned in depth. On the first day it took seven hours to advance seven kilometers, employing 17 tanks and a mechanized infantry platoon against an enemy with 9 tanks and a mechanized infantry platoon, deployed in three lines."

More on the exercise:

"The BLUFOR tank units appear very unprofessional. Uses unsuitable formations, roads and combat positions. In general, they appear to think they are invulnerable. Tank commanders and loaders stand very far up in their hatches. Drivers have hatches open and drive with their head above the edge.

There is no coordination of attacks between tanks, infantry and artillery. Tanks attack alone into forests. Infantry attacks alone across open fields straight at defending tanks. When attacking, units are not concentrated, neither in space nor in time. Attacks are always conducted in a "trickling" fashion.

Radio traffic is very intensive but there are rarely orders given.

At the OPFOR, unit commanders are often deployed very far behind their units, battle group commanders about 5 km behind and combat team commanders 500-1000 meters behind.

CYCLOPS (the S-tank squadron) combat positioning during the delaying action was usually pretty good.

All tanks, both Chieftain and S-tanks, are driven very carelessly. No attention is paid to neither civilian traffic nor property damage. Reports on engine failures have a hard time reaching the maintenance units. Map reading capabilities are overall very bad.


The experiences from these exercises appear to be highly questionable."

"British tank crews always carry a lot of baggage, both combat and non-combat equipment (cooking equipment, food, tents etc), on and/or in their tanks. Unlike our crews, they are completely independent of separate cooking units and baggage trains. This meant that the space available in the S-tank was far too small for their equipment."

"Deployment width and depth is considerable in the smaller units. Tank platoons are often deployed over a width/depth of 600-800 meters. (...) Tank platoons are frequently deployed independently behind each other. Support is organized within the platoon and not between platoons. The rear platoon is usually 500-1000 meters behind the front one. Hence, the result is that the enemy knocks them out one by one, platoon after platoon. Both platoon commanders and tank commanders act very independently and choose both their own routes and positions and their own timings for advancing or repositioning. The whole thing frequently resembles a guerrilla war or every man for himself.
The infantry is used way too late to take terrain from which the enemy can fight the tanks up close with weapons such as recoilless rifles. The tanks attack first. When they start taking fire, the mechanized infantry is deployed. There is no planning for attacks in depth. On the first day, it took seven hours to advance seven kilometers with the BLUFOR's combat team (17 tanks and a mechanized infantry platoon) against an OPFOR with 9 tanks and one mechanized infantry platoon, deployed in three lines.

If a platoon or squadron commander's tank gets engine problems, the commanders do not move to another tank. Tanks are frequently deployed in very unsuitable positions where they are easily knocked out. The observation and recon duties are conducted badly. The soldiers seem very passive. Chieftains are often positioned behind a ridge with the gun and the chassis side against the enemy. The S-tank crews rarely clean their optics.

When fighting a delaying action, the tanks in a platoon retreat by turns along the whole depth of the deployment. Withdrawal is frequently started far too late, and the tanks are thus knocked out one by one. Despite the terrain allowing opening fire at long distances (2-3 km), fire is often opened far too late (500 m). There is never a rear platoon deployed to cover the front platoon's withdrawal.

In light of the heavy criticism above, it has been very hard to judge how well the S-tank has proven itself. The results have mostly been influenced by troop performance and and not by the tank's performance. As far as it has been possible for us to observe, though, we cannot say that the S-tank has suffered more losses than the Chieftains.

S-tank availability has been good. Most of the time all tanks have been in working condition in daytime. On the OPFOR side, the Chieftain availability has dropped steadily. Near the end of the exercise the availability was down to 50%, and thus a Chieftain platoon was transferred from BLUFOR to OPFOR."

On the British vehicles:

"The Chieftain tank:
The reliability seems surprisingly low. During the exercises, the number of tanks that had to drop out due to mechanical trouble was relatively high. Mostly, it's the engine that is the problem. When a Chieftain stops, after a little while there's always an oil slick on the ground or garage floor under it. The gun stabilization also fails frequently. The accuracy of the contra-rotating feature in the commander's observation cupola is very low. It is almost never used by the Brits. The tank's speed over terrain does not seem to be superior to that of the S-tank. The commander's observation equipment is very good.

The Scorpion tank:
The Swedish personnel got an excellent briefing on the tank and was also allowed to drive it. It is very fast and easy to drive. The observation equipment is absolutely excellent. (...)

The FV 432 APC:
Appears to have a large number of different reliability problems, mainly concerning the steering gears. The vehicles are so far gone that they are considered a danger to traffic. According to maintenance personnel, a lot of the problems are caused by the soldiers not doing sufficient daily maintenance."

On civilian relations:

"Very little attention is paid to the fact that the unit is exercising on private property. Careless driving on public roads and the maneuver area isn't delimited. Damage to planted fields is frequent despite good opportunities to choose routes over fields where the harvest has already been taken in. Apparently the property damage costs for a similar exercise in the same area last year were on the order of 10 million SEK (about 62 million SEK today, ~6 million EUR). These damages are paid for by the German authorities."


  1. That's really interesting especially as the Brits pride themselves on being a highly professional force.

    its most likely a reaction to the fact the Brits were not that enamoured of the S Tank

  2. From what I read, The British said the S-tank had considerable advantage over turreted tanks and had no problems shooting on the move. Doesn't seem negative to me.

  3. So remind me please, where, when and how would these Swedish observers have acquired practical experience of and insights into modern tank-infantry operations, sufficient to lend any weight to their observations of another army's practice?

    1. Probably at the exercises described in the post.