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Need verification for the "The tank that fires first wins" rule


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Over the years, I've come across many sources stating that the dominant factor in determining the victor of a tank vs tank battle is who fires first. The tank(s) that identifies, fires and hits the opposing tank first often emerges as the victor. I'm trying to find sources that have concluded this based on analysis of modern (post-WWII) tank battles, as most sources I've read that state this are focused on WWII. If you know of any material like that, please give a citation or link to it in a reply. I am especially interested in the Arab-Israeli Wars.


Here are some sources (with quotes) that repeat the "the side that shoots first, wins" rule. Almost all deal with WWII.



Armored Thunderbolt by Steven Zaloga, pg. 230 Panther vs Sherman by Steven Zaloga, pg. 67

(https://books.google.com/books?id=pE-1CwAAQBAJ&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=Panther+vs+Sherman:+Battle+of+the+Bulge+1944+BRL&source=bl&ots=eUnP1rQtEA&sig=mHHENxjopki-PSMgwlgY6qC-8tY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiYjvLS76vYAhVDjVQKHYsbB_0Q6AEIOzAD#v=onepage&q=Panther vs Sherman%3A Battle of the Bulge 1944 BRL&f=false)

(both refer to a 1954 U.S. Army Ballistics Research Lab study titled "Data on World War II Tank Engagements: Involving the U.S. Third and Fourth Armored Divisions")


"The study concluded that the single most important factor in tank-versus-tank fighting was which side spotted the enemy first, engaged first, and hit first."


A Survey of Tank Warfare in Europe from D-Day to 12th August 1944 prepared by H.G. Gee, Army Operational Research Group



The success attending the side who fired first (pg. 5)

"The values in Table 5 give further emphasis to the fact that the side having numerical superiority which fired first was invariably successful. In the cases where the sides were evenly matched the first shot appears to have had a significant bearing upon the outcome."


Success of side which fired first (pg. 17)

"Thus on 77% of occasions success attended the side which fired first"


Warriors Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting by Douglas Macgregor, pg. 30

(https://books.google.com/books?id=HTLNc5tdRgsC&pg=PA30&lpg=PA30&dq=the+side+that+shoots+first+wins+warriors+rage&source=bl&ots=FcfcLugFWQ&sig=5KRpwhaRY4dCtjoGCHBMNpCsT9I&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj5y9zu8avYAhXlwVQKHbSeAPwQ6AEINzAG#v=onepage&q=the side that shoots first wins warriors rage&f=false)


"In the desert, warfare is a gunfight. The side that shoots first wins."


M1A1 Firepower Enhancements Program: Maintaining the Combat Edge of the M1A1 by Capt. C.S. Roos, 



"Every tanker going through the Armor Course at Ft. Knox is taught the “gunslinger” mentality: “He who shoots first wins.” The success of the M1 family of tanks is the direct result of the ability to accomplish this."


Myths of American Armor in WWII by Nicholas Moran aka 3star





PS: I'm not trying to disprove the validity of this claim, I'm trying to confirm that it still applies to tank vs tank warfare today. I take this rule as bible, really.

Edited by Nate Lawrence
added disclaimer
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all things being equal that would tend to make sense.


historically that has not always happened. think of the poor performance of arab tank crews whether they shot first or not, failing to hit targets even at close ranges. i have several materials describing how syrian tank crews in 1973 with the advantage even at night with ir sights illuminating israeli tanks in the golan heights and still missing at point blank range, or because of the limited abilities to depress their main guns from behind reverse slopes couldn't hit their targets. the first shots were often misses anyway, because they were trying to bracket their shots to hit targets, on the other hand, the israelis already knew the ranges beforehand to key terrain features indexed and could hit their targets with more accuracy even if they didn't fire first.


ww2 has numerous examples like early war german panzers having a difficult time with heavier allied tanks on both fronts, even though the german crews were more skilled.

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IMO that quip promotes firing early over maintaining the element of surprise. In that extreme interpretation seems to me to depend on mainly two, possibly three factors,

a) roughly the same accuracy in shooting on both sides

b) ammunition being ahead of armor protection at the time of the conflict

c) this may be further emphasized in the absence of accurate range measurement


If both parties are likely to hit with the first shot, and if ammo is currently stronger than armor, the result is practically self-evident.

If both parties need, on average two or three shots to hit first, firing first still helps even if it may spoil the element of surprise because it establishes precise ranging faster.


However, in times where ammunition is behind in the race with armor, holding fire may make more sense if that allows you to hit a weak spot that would otherwise not be exposed, particularly if early firing would ruin your chance to surprise the target (irrespective of what actually happens next - whether your ambush works or not).



All that being said, it should be reasonably easy to verify with Steel Beasts by running completely autonomous battles (computer vs computer) a couple of times where you vary ammo, armor, which side is on the move, and then prepare three variants of each test case where either Red, or Blue, or none of the parties is on "return fire only" fire control settings for all routes and waypoints/battle positions. With five to ten test runs for each case it should be possible to establish different loss rates that are a function of the "who fires first" rule. A further study could run the same tests with different difficulty settings, and/or different user profiles.

The records files should make it easy to allocate the needed data for the quantitative analysis.


Disclaimer: Steel Beasts was not designed for quantitative analysis purposes. A serious, scientific study may find flaws in the suggested experiemental methodology.

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i think with the presumption of numerical advantage you can more or less prove the rule wrong theoretically if all other outside factors were balanced or equalized.


if each side had the same equipment,  each side was capable of a first round hit, each shot automatically killed on the first hit, each crew were ai steel beasts robots with no morale penalties and could shoot with the same accuracy and speed, the terrain and environmental conditions had no effect on either side, the maintenance on the tanks is a negligible matter, so that for all practical purposes there are no qualitative differences between each side, and one side was allowed to shoot and score first and the other allowed to immediately retaliate, then as a thought experiment, the side that has at least twice as many tanks should win an infinite amount of times if the simulation could be be run infinitely many times.


 in contrast to those moments in 1973 arabs manage to snatch disaster from the jaws of victory and fail to capitalize on initial gains, there were also moments when sheer numbers overwhelmed the israeli defenders and wiped them out, even if the syrians were tactically more clumsy, they were still willing enough to keep taking significant losses

Edited by Captain_Colossus
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which i took into consideration- local conditions even if part of  a larger battle or campaign.


at the same time, it doesn't necessarily happen in a vacuum, a unit which has been fighting already may have an ammunition and supply problem after previous contact, so a new battle doesn't develop

like a rule like that should suggest- which is what happened to scattered israeli units locally on the golan front, which is what happened to kuwaiti units in the iraq invasion in 1990 after

leading iraqi columns did not react to being attacked and were initially wiped out, but subsequently more units kept coming and forced the kuwaitis to retreat.


of course that kind of scenario can be set up in steel beasts too- a side which gets off the first shots may score hits, but the initial starting conditions may mean damaged tanks already, or tanks law on ammunition against a superior force and loses anyway.




Edited by Captain_Colossus
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another way to state it, i wouldn't argue against the rule of detecting and shooting first, it's a good rule, however it can be countered by an analogy of a soccer or hockey match- in a game a team may get more shots on goal, which you always want, but their shots

are ineffective for whatever reason- superior goalie, the shots aren't necessarily accurate or good shots, while the team while have less shooting opportunities still manages to win. i wouldn't argue against taking shots, however, it doesn't always necessarily overcome some other factors as we've noted.


my opinion doesn't count for anything in the history of military studies, i'm no one to quote or anything like that.


but it seems to me when specific examples are used supporting the rule, there are always assumptions necessarily discharged: so for example using operation desert storm as an example of the rule, the assumption is that the iraqis and us forces were equal, and it really did come down to whoever shot first to sort out the winner and loser. the fact is they weren't equal, and shooting first was one factor in lopsided battles, because even if the iraqis did shoot first on occasion they still lost- their shots weren't accurate, their equipment and troops weren't equal in quality, or they didn't have a clear picture of where the enemy was and so on- it wasn't an equal comparison.


for training purposes when you want to program your troops with rote muscle memory and have a rule to reflexively rely on without hesitation, it's a necessary rule, but in the analysis of it from the safety of our living rooms we can spot where faith in it can get mugged by reality.

Edited by Captain_Colossus
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9 hours ago, Ssnake said:

I think that the whole statement is based on the unspoken assumption that the engagement is small enough to approximate a duel situation.


The U.S. Army BRL study noted that the typical ETO tank vs tank engagement involved an average of 9 American tanks and 4 German tanks.

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On 12/28/2017 at 10:42 PM, TSe419E said:

I don't know the basis for this, but it is what they were teaching 1979-'83.


After the 1973 war, the US army got captured T-62s from Israel for inspection. The T-62's smoothbore 115 mm gun and its APFSDS rounds were apparently highly regarded.




Also see the remarks about the Arab Tank Forces on pages 46-47 in the following document:


On 12/8/2017 at 8:46 PM, Iarmor said:




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