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During the 1991 Gulf War there were a lot of lopsided tank battles where such a large number of Iraqi vehicles got destroyed for very little Coalition losses. For example in the Battle of Norfolk about 750 Iraqi tanks were destroyed against 5 Coalition tanks destroyed (according to wikipedia).

Before you answer "the Americans and the British had better training and tactics" or other high-level explanation, my question is more about how it physically happened? I have a hard time imagining a battle, with almost a thousand tanks on each side, where one side just destroyed the other with such impunity. Did the Iraqis get completely destroyed without having a chance of firing back? Or did they fire back but it did not really hurt the Coalition forces? Neither are easy to imagine when they had almost 1,000 tanks in one place.

  • Given the nature of this site, a high level explanation is probably the best you're going to get. Even the individual war-story level will simply reflect that the Coalition forces had better training, tactics, intelligence, communications and equipment, i.e. they had almost all of the advantages its possible to have on a battlefield. – Steve Bird May 5 '17 at 8:41
  • @SteveBird I think OP is asking for an account of how it unfolded, rather than an explanation why. I'm not sure if such a thing is on-topic, but anyway, maybe someone reading this was actually there. – Spencer May 5 '17 at 11:41
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    Also note that there is not a line of thousand tanks on each side firing at each other , but they are trying to hide and outrun each other. This is where recon is important. If you can spot them before they spot you, you can shoot them before they can shoot you. – PlasmaHH May 5 '17 at 19:28
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    Wikipedia links several accounts. Example: "We flicked between visual and thermal to identify what kind of vehicle it was. ‘No idea. Shall I shoot it anyway?’ ‘Yeah, why not?’ ‘Loaded’ chipped in Pete. ‘Fire’ I ordered. ‘Lasing’ from Gus. I looked at the CRRO, 4,700m. A slice over four times our battle range and a shade under three miles away. ‘Firing now.’ The FIN round rent the air as it tore across the battlefield. At 1,500m per second, it took just under 3 seconds to reach the target." – RedGrittyBrick May 5 '17 at 22:09
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    There was case one Abraham tank annihilating one squadron of the elite tank regimen- the elite regimen could have destroyed him before he reached them due to terrain exposing the vulnerable bottom of the Abraham but they simply weren't paying attention. The Abraham gunner just firing over and over and annihilated them. – user2617804 May 6 '17 at 8:50
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The ongoing arms race in armored warfare between defensive measures and offensive weapons generally means that a given tank is able to resist the weapons of the previous generation and, in turn, be able to defeat the armor of the previous generation.

In the 1991 Gulf War, while the coalition forces had the Abrams and Challenger MBTs (which were best-of-breed at the time), the Iraqi army was largely equiped with previous generation Chinese type-69 and Soviet T-55 and T-62 tanks. These export-market tanks also lacked the more sophisticated night-fighting and range-finding equipment found on the Soviet Army machines. The small numbers of newer T-72 tanks, which were in the possession of the Republican Guard, were also export models that lacked the explosive reactive armor of the Soviet models. Had they possessed this, they might have faired better.

As a consequence, the Iraqis had to get lucky to get a kill, whereas the coalition tanks could destroy an opponent with almost any clean hit. Add to that the ability of the better trained coalitions crews to fire faster (and on the move) and the low morale of the Iraqi crews (who often abandoned their vehicles prior to being engaged) and the results don't seem so strange.

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    Indeed, the longest recorded tank on tank kill was achieved during the Battle of Norfolk. – Matt Balent May 5 '17 at 14:08
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    "low morale of the Iraqi crews (who often abandoned their vehicles prior to being engaged)" - I've read somewhere else that the coalition had a hard time keeping up with the rate of surrender as they advanced – user13123 May 5 '17 at 14:08
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    Most of the battle seems to have taken place at night, and the Wikipedia article mentions thick fog (which can happen at night in a desert) and doesn't seem to mean "fog-of-war." Those conditions would make the Iraqi forces almost blind, while the infra-red vision systems on US and UK tanks would provide decent vision. – John Dallman May 5 '17 at 15:08
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    @Timpanus Control of the air was certainly a factor in the war in general, and one of the prime reasons that Iraqi tank crews didn't feel safe in their tanks. As I mentioned in a comment on the question, the Coalition forces had an advantage in almost every way (with the exception of raw numbers) on the battlefield but the question seemed to address the tank on tank battle rather than the broader war. – Steve Bird May 5 '17 at 15:38
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    Some of the T-72 tanks were so low-end they had manually operated turret operation. That is, an operator must turn a crank for horizontal gun tracking. This is WW2 stuff, and maybe before. Also, their guns were well worn from years of fighting the Iranians. These tanks were low-end, obsolete, worn-out junk-piles. Now, pit these against a hyper-informed professional army including only the finest tanks and support vehicles... – Tony Ennis May 5 '17 at 22:08
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According to AAR reports, the losses the Coalition took in this battle were almost all friendly fire incidents.

Same AARs indicate that Coalition forces had decisive advantage in:

  1. Effective range - on average American tanks could destroy Iraqi T-72 at twice the distance of the Russian-built tanks (~2km), while virtually none of the hits scored on Americans managed to penetrate, which means that
  2. Protection - technological advantage of armor of the COalition tanks over Iraqi was also very big. One might point out that the Russian built tanks lacked the reactive armor, but so were Abrams. Yet when T-72 took hit, the round could penetrate earthen berm the tank was hiding behind and still go through and through the tank, stopping in the berm on the other side (there are pictures floating on the internet documenting this). Going the other way - Iraqis could not, despite supposedly better guns (including larger caliber), succesfuly penetrate Abrams' hide with direct hits even well within their effective range. It was actually so bad that Russian AT missiles also proved to be equally ineffective.
  3. Superior fire control - it's one thing to have the maximum effective range of the Abrams tank in the vincinity of 4km, but you have to hit the target at that range. FC hardware and software still has to be pretty good to make it happen.

SO to answer your questions: Iraqis did fought well and could engage Americans, but being completely outclassed in equipment department their numerical advantage was virtually immaterial. So what if they could hit american tanks if the shots simply bounced?

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    @user2448131 - well spotted, thanks. Editing. – AcePL May 5 '17 at 15:46
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    It was the effective range. U.S. tanks parked in a line, and waited for Iraqi tanks to move, and picked them off before they could even return fire. One shot one kill. My unit of ordinance sent people up to the tank line to sit and watch the fireworks. – PCSgtL May 5 '17 at 18:36
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    Interesting. Is any of those AAR reports publicly available? – user69715 May 6 '17 at 2:47
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Although it isn't a complete answer to your question, you can gain some insight into the lopsidedness of this and other similar confrontations by reading this analysis:

http://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars

The gist of the article is that there is a rather large disconnect in Arabic armies' culture. Officers and enlisted men are seen in a different caste-like system without much mutual respect.

Which trickles down to training. Information tends to be hoarded rather than spread around freely. The article references an American liaison who handed out training manuals to enlisted men, then the officers followed and collected them. The reason being - if you are the only one who knows how to work a given machine or fix a particular widget, it increases your worth. American tank crews are the exact opposite, each trained to understand and take the initiative and take over any other given station if that station should become unmanned.

This adds up to problems with distrust, decision making, and inability to take the initiative. There is definitely a difference between technology, but if you add to that the fact that Arabic armies suffer from these paralyzing deficits it's no small wonder why the Iraqi tanks just basically sat there and took it.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Link only answers tend to be frowned upon here, perhaps you could include a summary and some quotes to show your point? – justCal May 5 '17 at 15:41
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    Oh, ok. I'm new here. Thanks for the tip. – BoredBsee May 5 '17 at 19:01
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I would imagine the coalition's TOTAL air superiority might have come in to play here. Undefended tanks on the ground would be easy pickings for a squadron of A-10 Warthogs (aka "Tank Busters")

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Do you have any sources showing the A-10 was deployed during this battle? – justCal May 5 '17 at 15:21

protected by T.E.D. May 5 '17 at 18:26

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