|Type||Main Battle Tank|
|Armor||Composite of steel, tungsten, plastics and ceramics|
|Primary amament||120 mm Rheinmetall L55 smoothbore gun.|
|Secondary armament||2 x 7.62mm MG3|
|Ammunition types|| 42 rounds|
4,750 x 7.62mm rounds
|Max. road speed||72 km/h|
|Operational range||550 km|
|Engine||MTU Friedrichshafen MB 873 Ka-501 12-cylinder diesel|
|Power output||1,500 hp/1,103 kW|
The Leopard 2 is the main battle tank of the German Bundeswehr. The Leopard 2 is capable of firing a depleted uranium shell.
The Leopard 2 main battle tank had a reputation as one of the finest in the world, competing for that distinction with proven designs such as the American M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2. However, that reputation for near invincibility faced setbacks with the Turkish Army in engagements with the Islamic State on Syrian battlefields in 2016. The Turkish military suffered a terrible defeat although they were equipped with the Leopard 2.
Battle of al-Bab
According to various sources, Turkey had procured 354 Leopard 2A4 tanks from NATO ally Germany in the early 2000s. The acquisition had given Turkey a significant capability over its Patton M-60 tanks that constitute a bulk of the Turkey’s armored brigades. Turkish Leopards’ crews were trained according to the highest NATO standards, but the machines were not adjusted to quickly changing battlefield conditions.
In December 2016, the Turkish General Staff decided to transfer to the Syrian front several Turkish Armed Forces battalions equipped with the Leopard 2A4 tanks. Meanwhile, Turkish situation in Operation Euphrates Shield was so bad that when the Turkish Army’s armored units got to the transfer point in southern Turkey, they immediately had to join the operation in neighboring Syria.
In the middle of December 2016, the CIA-front Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups, supported by Turkish Armed Forces detachments and the Turkish Air Force, launched yet another offensive on al-Bab, a city heavily fortified by ISIS militants. Ankara was anxious to seize the agglomeration before it was reached by the Syrian Armed Forces or Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) units. The fighting peaked between December 12-17, 2016, and December 16 proved to be particularly ill-fated. On that day, during another attack undertaken by the Turkish forces and the FSA on al-Bab’s western suburb, about 30 Leopard 2A4s and 10 to 12 M60Ts Sabra (which is Turkish modification of the tank done by the Israelis) were used. The potential was quite big, but the machines were sent to fight without proper cover of their own infantry, apart from several hundred FSA Syrians, mainly in Turkish armored combat vehicles (ACV-15 and Otokar Cobra), and several dozen TSK Special Forces soldiers. The weather was also not a friend of the Turks, below zero temperatures, cloudy skies, fog, and occasional snowfalls made it difficult for the air force and artillery to operate. On top of that, the attackers constantly had to struggle with mobile ISIS task forces equipped with heavy machine guns, RPGs and ATGM launchers. As a result, Caliphate’s militants not only successfully slowed down the Turkish Army’s attack, but also thwarted its command’s original plan. It was forced to divide the units into many smaller groups and attack the Islamists’ separate resistance points. The Turks led themselves straight into the interrelated and complementary system of traps and ambushes prepared by ISIS.
The consequences of the several-hour chaotic battle conducted in such conditions proved fatal for the Turkish Army’s elite armored forces. The Turkish Ministry of Defense, in addition to underestimating the threat, also has forgotten the design history of the indestructible Leopard 2, specifically designed to counter Soviet armored forces in the plains of northern Germany.
For the records, Leopard 2 was not designed for combat in an urban environment. The project is not spoiled but was determined by the awareness and the need for greater maneuverability in the field. To achieve an optimal combination, the designers made the armor on the sides and on the back of the vehicle lighter than other western tanks.
Underestimating the enemy, Ankara sent their own Leopard 2 without an explosive reactive shell and an active protection system such as the Defensive Aids System Shtora-1 of the Russian T-90 present in Syria. The militants of the Islamic State seem to have seized this vulnerability to attack the Leopard, focusing the fire on the hips. The narrow streets of al-Bab effectively eliminated the initial tactical advantage of 60-ton tanks. The inevitable casualties on the ground forced the Turkish army to abandon the siege on the city.
Finally, forgetting one of the fundamental principles underlying the reference doctrine for modern mobile armored forces. The main heavy vehicle must never be conceived as an isolated weapon system, but inserted into a diversified mobile force. The fate of the Turkish tanks, without any protection on the flanks by the infantry, was already marked a few minutes after the start of the main offensive on al-Bab.
The only known fact about this defeat is that ten eliminated Leopards and several other Turkish vehicles remained on the battlefield after the defeat. At least five of those machines were completely burnt and destroyed, with ripped-off turrets or hulls torn apart by anti-tank ammunition.
Two least damaged Leopards were taken off the battlefield by the Islamists as a military trophy.
Militaries that use the Leopard 2
Leopard 2 is in service with: