[ELI5] How does a non direct hit from artillery destroy a tank? (not talking about airburst ammunition)


Seen some videos where a shell seems to explode ~5m near a tank after which a tank start to burst in flames.

In: 9

The pressure from the explosion will make the tank move violently, and it will get into any open hatches. This may cause the ammunition stored inside the tank to detonate. This should not be the case if the ammunition is good and stored properly but this is not always the case in a real war.

You also get a lot of high speed fragments from an artillery strike. Either from the artillery shell itself or from the ground. A supersonic pebble is going to do some damage. A lot of the “tanks” you see are actually armored personel carriers with thin armor to protect their passengers from light arms and a small turret with a 20mm cannon or similar to provide some support to these infantry. The armor is not intended to withstand the impact of a big artillery round nearby. The explosion can be from fragments hitting the shells inside, either for their canon or for the infantry.

But even main battle tanks may suffer a violent event from a nearby artillery strike. The armor is as small as possible since it is heavy and does not encompas the entire vehicle. Things like engine, tracks, fuel tanks, and even main magazine, is usually installed outside the armor. The fuel might even be an important part of the armor scheme as it helps slow down incoming projectiles. So what you may see is that the shockwave and fragments from the artillery ruptures a fuel tank and ignites the fuel creating a huge fireball. But the crew may be completely fine inside the tank and the engine might also be working. That is assuming they do not sufficate from the gasses.

You should pay some attention to all the cuts in the videos published by either side of the conflict. It is very common for these videos to just include an explosion in the cut and before the smoke clears it cuts to a different part of the same video where a different explosion is seen without any explanation of the relation between these explosions. A vehicle which is engulfed in fire and smoke one second may be driving onwards the next or even if disabled might still be capable of firing back and could be towed back by the other vehicles. There is no doubt that these videos do show casualties in both personel and material but it is hard to judge the extent of the casualties from these heavily edited videos.

That is unlikely to happen because tank armor will have very good protection against the fragments that are produced. You could have bad luck and a large piece of fragmentation is produced that heat a weak spot. Rear and side armour of that is not as thick as you might expect.

If the artillery is of a larger caliber, wet takes about 155mm it is more likely, 203mm artillery is used in Ukraine, where I guess the videos are from. But they are quite rare and have a longer range so more likely to use in counterbattery fire against artillery far away, not against tanks.

For even large caliber, we talk about naval guns like battleships at 380mm+ there is over 100kg of explosives in the shells and they can destroy tank or just flipping them over with a shock wave. Tiger tanks was flipped over in Normandy that way if I am not mistaken. But this is not guns used in recent conflicts.

Do you have a link to a video that shows this?

The answer might be it was not a tank but lighter armored vehicles, you are misstepping what is happened or the two are unrelated.

Modern tanks have **Explosive Reactive Armour** which is designed to protect the crew inside from the shaped charge of enemy rounds by setting off targeted explosives built into the tanks armour to blow that section of plate off. Possibly what you are seeing is an explosion shockwave / shrapnel setting off all the reactive armour.