The Impossibility Of Camouflaging A Main Battle Tank In A City

The use of camouflage for military purposes, as we would understand it today, probably began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as an improvised response among soldiers to the growing presence of longer ranging and more accurate rifles and artillery pieces in the armies of Europe and the Americas. Though the Roman writer Vegetius advised that a bluish-green dye should be employed to disguise naval vessels and crews in the 4th century CE, there is precious little evidence for the existence of man-made camouflage before the modern era. Of course, in the ancient and Medieval worlds hiding oneself in battle would have been a rather pointless exercise given the tactics and weapons of the time, where the emphasis was on intimidation not concealment during face-to-face combat.

However with the eruption of World War I the need to blend into the static terrain of the Continental battlefields, to be as invisible as possible, became paramount for the troops (if not the generals), giving birth to a cottage industry that was part artistry, part science. Despite falling out of fashion in the 1930s, the arrival of World War II, the Cold War and countless anti-colonial conflicts in the 1960s and ’70s made ever-more elaborate military camouflage styles the norm rather than the exception around the globe. This has thrown up some surprising twists as War is Boring reports:

The British Army has painted some of its Challenger 2 tanks in a new camouflage scheme that planners hope will help the 62-ton machines hide on city streets. But the government has withheld other, more important enhancements.

The tanks’ blocky, white, gray and brown scheme is actually a throwback to the Cold War, when British tankers prepared to defend West Berlin from the Soviets.

Ajax Squadron of The Royal Tank Regiment applied the “Berlin Brigade” scheme to at least two Challenger 2s in late August 2017. The repainted tanks “will be used for U.K. training as part of an ongoing study into proving and improving the utility of main battle tanks in the urban environment,” the regiment stated.

Arguably there is no utility for main battle tanks in an urban environment, given their vulnerability to anti-armour rockets, missiles and landmines (not to mention fixed and rotary wing aircraft carrying guided weapons). Even the old excuse, the use of tanks to demolish fortified buildings or roadblocks, is negated by the ability of foot-soldiers to do the same job with far cheaper and more utilitarian “bunker-busting” missiles such as the FGM-148 Javelin or the better known MILAN.

British Army main battle tanks in the 1980s decorated with the improvised Berlin camouflage blending into the city landscape – not.

Yet the concealment of tanks on the battlefield remains the Holy Grail of camouflage science. However I would expect the new version of the “Berlin Camo” to be no more successful now than when the original was first improvised by British crews garrisoned in the city during the early 1980s. If you want to hide a tank, stick it in a wood – not a high street.

 

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2 comments

  1. Camo is used not only to hide but to disrupt the shape outline and mislead targeters. Urban camo has long been used on large vehicles and works on the same principle as on individuals, the farther away the more effective it becomes. 100 yards showing a marked difference even on something like a MBT.

    1. Absolutely, but effective urban camouflage schemes are notoriously difficult to achieve, unless you are going to hide a tank in a house or bury it in the rubble of a destroyed factory (à la Stalingrad, Berlin and so on). Even then, once you fire off a round or rumble out (or backwards), the cover is blown and no amount of grey paint or breakup patterns is going to fix that.

      The problem with a city is the sheer variety of background colours. A North-European forest green/brown pattern works from Ireland to Poland (more or less). Try finding a ubiquitous, all-purpose colour scheme for the same region. Even in Dublin city alone.

      Back in the day, all those RUC and BA jeeps didn’t exactly fade into the Bogside or Ardoyne cityscape 😉

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