TechUkrainians risk it all using captured, faulty Russian tanks

Ukrainians risk it all using captured, faulty Russian tanks

The smoke-filled interior of the faulty T-72B3 tank.
The smoke-filled interior of the faulty T-72B3 tank.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | SkyOverUkraine
Przemysław Juraszek

27 June 2024 10:38

Ukrainians have captured several Russian tanks, including modern T-72B3s, often in poor technical condition. However, this does not prevent them from using these tanks to attack Russians.

Russian T-72B3 tanks are the most numerous models equipped with the modern Sosna-U fire control system and the French Catherine-FC thermal imaging camera. This makes them far superior to older versions or non-modernised T-64 tanks that do not have thermal imaging at all. However, the quality of their manufacture or servicing in Russia leaves much to be desired, as some components do not work correctly.

An example is a captured model used by the Ukrainian 54th Mechanised Brigade, where the gun fume extractor is faulty, causing the crew to be gassed with toxic gunpowder gases. For this reason, Ukrainians fire at Russians with open hatches on the turret, which is not a safe option. In such a case, a single bomblet from cluster ammunition or grenade dropped from a drone is enough to destroy the tank, which has happened more than once.

Gun fume extractor - a key element of any tank

Gun fume extractors are advanced gas-dynamic devices that are vital to tank equipment. Their main task is to remove smoke and gunpowder gases from the barrel so that they do not enter the turret when the gun breech is opened during shell extraction (in modern tanks, the shell casings are self-combustible, leaving only the brass base) and loading the next round/shell and gunpowder charge.

During the Second World War, firing shots caused the tank turret to fill with smoke, significantly reducing crew comfort, as gunpowder gases are toxic and smoke limits visibility. There was also the risk that unburned gunpowder residue, along with the smoke, could be sucked into the turret, which could lead to a dangerous fire.

Initially, solutions to the problem included fans that extracted smoke from the turret or compressed air used to clear the barrel, as in Panthers. These were not ideal solutions, so other methods were sought. The breakthrough came in the 1950s when a gun fume extractor was designed to use gunpowder gases to clear the barrel.

It is characterised by a bulge typically located in the middle of the barrel that functions as a reservoir filled with gunpowder gases at the moment of firing, thanks to holes in the barrel. This creates a vacuum that sucks smoke and unburned gunpowder residue from the rear of the barrel, preventing them from entering the crew compartment after the breech is opened.

In the case of the T-72B3 model discussed, the fume extractor may have been damaged, but no holes are visible in the recording. It appears it may simply be defective, which is not a significant issue for the Russians, as the safety and comfort of soldiers were never particularly prioritised in the USSR or later in Russia.

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