U.S. Army releases report detailing catastrophic incident with Russian T-55 tank

The U.S. Army has released an unclassified report with new details about catastrophic incident with the Russian T-55 tank at the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG).

The report has described an incident from May 29, 2009, when the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) has performed an accuracy and fire control test on a Russian T-55 tank at the H-Field, Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG). Testing included both firing and non-firing assessments of the fire control system.

The three man crew, commander (also loading), gunner and driver were firing Russian designed 100-mm UBK-4M cartridge with the BK5M High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) warhead. Upon firing the second round of the day, a catastrophic incident occurred.

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The warhead exploded in the tank cannon rupturing the tube, killing the commander, fatally injuring the gunner and seriously injuring the driver.

According to the report, engineers and technicians had had less than 1 to 20 years of experience in test, operation and maintenance of Russian designed equipment. The tank commander (test officer and loader) had twenty six years of experience testing tanks with the majority of that experience in foreign designed and manufactured systems. The gunner had six years experience testing military equipment with four years experience in foreign designed and manufactured systems. The driver had eleven years experience testing military equipment with the majority of that experience in foreign designed and manufactured systems.

The incident occurred on the second round of the day at approximately 09:30.

Chronology of incident from 21 May said that at around 09:25 T-55 tank began to move forward to reach a speed of 16-18 Kilometers per hour; when gunner pulled the trigger the HEAT round prematurely detonated in the gun tube.

Figure 1 Failed 100-mm gun tube after incident, 65” and 60” long cracks in images A and
B respectively

Immediately after the incident occurred range support personnel radioed ATC Range Control requesting emergency medical services (EMS) additionally a 911 call was placed from the H-Field Firing Range Data Collection Facility. The tank continued to move forward and came to rest 400 meters further down range in an unexploded ordinance area.

The driver dismounted the tank approximately four minutes after the explosion. Range support personnel trailed the tank and mounted when it stalled approximately eight minutes after the explosion. At this time the commander and gunner were removed from the smoldering tank, basic aid was rendered by range support personnel. EMS arrived at the range approximately 15 minutes after the explosion and two MEDEVAC helicopters landed at the range 50 minutes after the explosion to transport the survivors (driver and gunner) to medical facilities.

The commander was pronounced dead at the scene, the gunner passed fifteen days later
from injuries sustained. The driver survived and continues to recover after sustaining third
degree burns to approximately 70% of the body.

The report also noted that the tank crew was not wearing fire retardant clothing. While the tank crew was wearing personnel protective equipment (safety shoes, ear protection, & Russian soft helmet) they were not wearing fire retardant clothing (coveralls, gloves, hood) instead the crew was dressed in jeans and t-shirt. Fire retardant clothing may have lessened the severity of the surviving crew member’s injuries.

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