Why use tanks, specifically, to suppress/intimidate protesting crowds?

Here’s more on that incident (it was an M60 and not an M6 tank, BTW): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shawn_Nelson

Didn’t someone get ahold of an M48 in West Germany years ago? ISTR a photo in Der Spiegel of the tank being driven off a bridge.

Modern tanks are specifically designed to handle molotov cocktails, although I seem to recall that at least some Warsaw Pact designs didn’t do what it said on the box and popped the fire suppression system, forcing the crew to evacuate.

My old field manuals state 5 kg of explosive “in direct contact” or a proper anti-armor weapon - ie., shaped charge of some sort, preferably not on the frontal armor. Everything else - molotov cocktails or its bigger brother - the perforated jerrycan with a side of smoke grenade - is to hinder and confuse, it won’t stop a tank.

On the flip side, rolling out tanks means “this is war”. You’ve admitted, in the political sense, that your opponents are worth taking seriously. And you’ve pulled the army into the conflict.

IIRC tanks also have a special anti-personnel shell. Essentially it makes the main gun a big honking shot gun.

I wonder if it’s not so much that the tank is perfect for the situation, but that there is no suitable alternative available.

Most developing countries don’t invest a lot in civilian or police armored vehicles, but there’s plenty of tanks around, especially when the military gets involved.

A tanks optics are still exceptionally vulnerable. Damned if I want to get close enough to a tank to throw a Molotov on it though!

I dout it. Backtrack a century or two and you’ll find instances of cavalry units being deployed to break strikes or as riot police (see: Peterloo Massacre).

Which seems really stupid because horsemen really, really don’t like streetfigthing. In fact, horsemen really don’t like any sort of close combat - their job is to rush in, lop heads & rush out because once they’re bogged down they get massacred. It’s really hard to defend yourself from the front, back and underside when you’re on horseback. They’d have been more effective had they left the horses at the stable and came to control the crowd on foot.

However, war horses are big and mean and intimidating enough to someone who isn’t aware of the previous fact. I guess the same reasoning applies to tanks.

As bad as they are, they’re not nearly as bad as being in your underwear, and having a hillbilly girl, holds a gun and point at you, while you’re picture is being taken :slight_smile:

Awhile back Chicago was considering getting rid of its mounted police units to save money. The police strongly objected. They said when it came to crowd control police on horses couldn’t be beat.

Of course their goal is not outright battle either.

Horses can easily be defeated by disciplined infantry, which is exactly what street protesters aren’t.

Cavalry is useful in breaking up demonstrations for the same reason they were useful in breaking up formations of secondary infantry–the infantry doesn’t have the discipline to all stand together and form up ranks against the cavalry. And so the guys in the front rank try to run away, and then everyone runs away, and it becomes a rout. And once everyone is running away, the cavalry can run them down, it’s hard to run faster than a horse.

Of course, in close quarter street fighting the footmen have a huge advantage, but they have to be disciplined enough to take advantage of it. When the street protesters are forming up ranks with pikes to receive cavalry, that isn’t a street protest anymore but a civil war.

I think the key here is crown control. I saw them used on Rush Street one year (can’t remember the exact occasion, but I think it was New Years or one the Bulls championships), and when they decided the party was over and it was time to clear the streets a line of mounted officers starting slowly walking down it. Crowd realized it was time to go home.

I know officers also like them for festivals and other events. Gives them a great sight advantage, and a horse can push through a crowd a lot more effectively than officer on foot could.

I doubt they would be effective against a mob of protesters, but are great a managing non-violent crowds.

From the latest news, it seems that most vulnerable part of a tank is the crew, when they decide to hand the keys to the protestors.

Anyway : how can tanks prevent people from climbing on the back of the vehicle (assuming there’s some point in climbing on the tanks, like destroying the optics as you mention)?

Can other tanks safely open fire on people/infantry around/on the tank, or is there a risk that the friendly tank could be damaged by the machine guns?

The story goes that during the Israeli defense of the Golan Heights in 1973, a brigade commander went on the radio to order his tank commanders to move forward to repulse yet another Syrian attack, and was answered with total silence. It seems that after three straight days of combat, hist tank commanders were too tired, too shell-shocked and too scared to move. So the commander opened his hatch, grabbed his machine gun and opened fire on the tank next to him until he got a response. He then ordered him to fire on the tank next to him, and so it went until he whole line was ready get back into the fray.

So yeah, tanks can shoot at each other, if they have to. Still, the best protection tanks can have from infantry in close-combat environments is their own infantry to look after their backs.

I don’t disagree about the effectiveness of using horses, but it seems the argument of availability in developing countries still stands. Chicago and other 1st world city options aren’t comparable to the countries specificially mentioned by the OP: Libya, China, and Egypt.

Respectfully, for the horse alternative to stand, evidence would have to show that these countries routinely maintain either A) a sizable force of mounted police like Chicago, (my quick search comes up with none) or B) a sizable force of military horse cavalry that is not just for show.

Not to be a pest about the Bonus March, but U.S. tanks were cavalry then. They supported horse troops at the march.

My bad: The Army wasn’t a skeleton force then, but it did have skeleton equipment.

I believe it is standard doctrine for friendly tanks to spray each other with machine gun fire if enemy infantry manages to get close. The original purpose of a tank is to be a machine-gun/barbed-wire proof mobile pillbox, so a vehicle that can’t withstand machine-gun fire isn’t a tank.

WAG: It’s cheaper. You’ll spend less moving a column of tanks than a battalion of troops, and the effective fighting power will be far greater against protesters. Let’s say the effectiveness factor is 2:1 (tanks are twice as effective vs protesters than troops.) However, the cost is probably 1:2 or 1:3 or more. Imagine moving 1 tank vs 100 troops. You probably need 10 vehicles to move the troops that cost as much in fuel as the one tank.

The tanks are going to require a LOT more maintenance than the trucks, even if you have the foresight/ability to transport the tanks to the battle area. Tracked vehicles, including tanks, generally don’t road march very well w/o considerable attrition, another reason why the “left hook” in Desert Storm was so amazing. No idea what the time between overhaul is on an M-1, but I’ll be stunned if they could go 1/20th as long as a 6x6 diesel truck. They’re awfully hard on your roads too, though at that point, saving money on road construction is the last thing on your mind.

Further, tanks are notorious gas hogs. The M-1 Abrams that we so thoughtfully supplied to most of the MidEast governments at issue, gets roughly 1.7 - 2 gallons per mile. The turbine’s fuel consumption doesn’t vary that much between tactical idle and Whoa!. No idea what the APU’s consumption is. From global security.org:

Your basic Army truck (using the figures for the M-35 2.5 ton truck) has a fuel economy anywhere from 8 to 20 times that of the tank.

As far as fighting power goes, it’s protesters, not trained infantry dug in with crew-served automatic weapons. A company of infantry, if ass-kicking was all that was required, provides a greater force continuum than tanks—you can give the infantry sticks, tasers, etc—and is capable of clearing a square of protesters as easily as a tank.

I still think it’s cheaper. You can compare 1 tank to 1 truck, but moving people requires many more trucks. I also think there’s a very good reason, costwise, that they use tanks instead of marching soldiers. Obviously, equipping one soldier costs less than 1 tank, but you need a lot more soldiers.

There’s not much a tank can do if it’s operating by itself. To make it worse, a buttoned up tank (a tank with all the hatches closed) have some pretty considerable blind spots. The most effective way to protect your tank from have this happen is to have some friendly infantry types come with you.