First British Challenger tank ever lost in war in flames in Ukraine


Well, we have now seen via some jittery phone footage the first images of a UK-supplied Challenger 2 (CR2) tank destroyed and on fire in Ukraine.

This is the first one lost in the conflict and a direct result of the Ukraine 82nd Air Assault Brigade, which is equipped with the British tanks, being committed to battle.

In fact it is not only the first time that a CR2 has been lost in the Russo-Ukraine war but also the first time, so we are told, that one has been lost to enemy fire ever.

This was bound to happen, for in all wars losses are certain. As British inter-war military thinker Captain Basil Liddell Hart may have said, “A battalion, like a ship or a shell, is merely a munition of war to be expended at a profit”. Or something like that. Brutal stuff, but you could equally apply it to the tank.

It seems unlikely, though, that the CR2 was destroyed in a tank-on-tank encounter. Such confrontations have been few and far between in Ukraine, where tanks on both sides are much more likely to be used as assault guns supporting infantry attacks or as indirect artillery pieces.

No, and although, we can’t be sure yet, it seems more likely that the CR2 has succumbed to a mine, or an anti-tank guided weapon, or an artillery shell, or possibly a combination of the above. My bet is it has hit a mine and then been taken out by artillery – the Russians have precision guided shells too you know. No doubt we shall find out in due course.

My former 4th Royal Tanks colleague, Mark Urban of Newsnight fame, was quick to point out that the billowing black smoke seen in the video clip suggested a fuel fire. This could well be true, because CR2 carries two unarmoured fuel drums on the rear of the hull where they are vulnerable to artillery fire.

The good news, that’s if there’s any good news at the sight of a burning tank, is that there’s no sign of the ammunition having exploded or the turret having been dislodged.

There could be two reasons for this; the first is that the CR2’s armour has not been penetrated and so the ammunition has been protected from ignition. The other reason is that British tanks store the bag charges which propel their shells in “wet bins”, where the explosives are stored inside sealed fire retardant containers. If the container is penetrated, so the theory goes, the fire retardant fluid contained therein smothers the explosion before it starts.

So, unlike their Russian-designed equivalents, where the ammunition is stored in a carousel unprotected below the gun, British tanks are not prone to catastrophic destruction like we have witnessed many times before on the Ukrainian battlefields.

But CR2 is not invulnerable as we have now seen. Those sent to Ukraine do not have the explosive reactive armour (ERA) or active protection systems (APS) that we would expect our regiments to field if we ever entered any fray.

CR2, therefore, despite its excellent armour to counter enemy tank rounds, is vulnerable to both mines and to modern anti-tank missiles, many of which are now programmed to attack the thinner top armour. The latter threat has led to the lattice boxes we see on tank turrets in the current conflict.

The weakest part of any tank is, however, the crew. Everything depends on their training, competence, morale, and leadership. Give me an older tank with a first class crew over a state of the art vehicle with a poor one any time.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

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