Close up view of a Russian T55 tank cannon (Picture: Idea Studio / Alamy)
A close-up view of a Russian T55 tank cannon (Picture: Idea Studio/ Alamy).

Opinion: Putin has lost the plot if he is sending WW2-era tanks into the modern battlefield

Close up view of a Russian T55 tank cannon (Picture: Idea Studio / Alamy)
A close-up view of a Russian T55 tank cannon (Picture: Idea Studio/ Alamy).

Former tank commander Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE believes Putin and his generals have already lost if all they can do now is send pre–WW2 T34 tanks and 1950s T55 tanks to the frontline.

In this opinion piece, the retired colonel examines the latest signs of a serious armour shortage in the Russian army.

When Russia accuses Britain of sending nuclear weapons to Ukraine, because British tank ammunition contains depleted uranium (DU), you realise that Russia is run on disinformation and lies.

The hint is in the name – depleted; but perhaps it was ever thus?

It is sometimes difficult to know what is the true state of the battles raging in the east of Ukraine, but if the latest information coming out of Russia is to be believed, either Putin and his generals are having a 'laugh' or have completely lost the plot.

In a bizarre twist, the Russian army appears to be turning into the Red Army of yesteryear, perhaps trying to evoke the spirit which finally halted the Nazi advance east in WW2. This is optimised by trains carrying pre-WW2 T34 tanks and 1950s T55 tanks to the frontline. 

If this is all Putin can now do, he has already lost.

Russia appears to be pulling 1940s and 1950s-era tanks out of storage, in the latest sign of a serious armour shortage in its army. 

As a former tank commander, I cannot overstate the insanity of this. They must truly be desperate.

These are tanks designed before World War Two. A modern rifle could pierce their armour, let alone a drone or modern western tank. They are little more than steel coffins. 

To a 'tankie', it's the equivalent of a WW1 bi-plane taking on a stealth fighter. If I was a Russian tank commander, and my commanding officer told me to fight in one of these museum pieces – I would stand to attention, turn to the right, salute, and march home.

I suggest this is exactly what Russian tank commanders should do – the residents have taken over the asylum.

The problem is that Russia believes its own propaganda. It believes in the mythos of the Soviet tank rolling across Europe. It invested heavily in a fleet of modern T-80s and T-90s when Shoigu reformed the armed forces. Their effectiveness was impeded by corruption, however, and then they were largely destroyed in the initial invasion.

Once they were gone, they were gone.

Watch: Ukrainian tank drivers give their opinion on the Challenger 2 battle tanks heading to the frontline in Ukraine.

We said at the time it was hard to see how the Russians could ever recover. So it's proved – but these relics will hasten their defeat, not give them any chance of victory.

Certainly, mass is important when it comes to tank warfare, but have the Russians really forgotten one of the greatest-ever tank battles at Kursk in 1943?

They lost around 2,500 T34s to superior German tanks and anti-tank guns, and 80 years later they want to use the same tanks against CR2? The Germans understood armoured warfare as the Russians clearly do not, if the last 12 months in Ukraine is anything to go by.

The Challenger 2s about to arrive in the van of this battle will pick off T55s as though in a shooting gallery at a fairground. Even if these Soviet tanks even manage to hit a CR2, it is likely the crew would not even notice. 

A British tank round, enhanced with depleted uranium, would probably go through two or three T34s before it ran out of energy.

It now makes complete sense why the Russians are trying to frame these rounds as nuclear weapons, as they know they will decimate their 'new' tank battalions, and who will not be able to land a punch back.

If this is what Russia is resorting to, we should station guards at the Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset in case the Russians try to steal them.

There are far better tanks, in far better working order, in this museum than these coffins being handed out to young men in Russia. With Bovington being so close to Salisbury, at least the Russians will know where to go! It's that absurd. I feel sorry for their soldiers.

Maybe this is Russia's 'Forlorn Hope'? When Wellington's troops in the war with France assaulted French towns, they generally began with the 'Forlorn Hope'.

An initial suicidal scramble up the ramparts – it is named thus, because few survived but if you did there were great riches and a ticket home on offer. Perhaps this is on offer to the rank and file of the 'new' Red Army?

I cannot believe this is true. It must be some ruse or tactical deception.

With us all looking at these decrepit vehicles, perhaps some new 'hypersonic' tank is going to outmanoeuvre the Ukrainian armour and steam victoriously to Kyiv? 

That, however, is as likely as President Putin winning the Nobel peace prize!

This will be a further war crime for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider when Putin is in the dock – but this time the crime is against his own people!

Former British Army Colonel and tank commander Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE is a chemical weapons expert and former commanding officer of the UK's Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment and Nato's Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion.

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