White Elephant Soviet Tanks

Having obtained the book Modern Russian Tanks And AFV’s, it seems that a number of Soviet-era tanks would prove to be too expensive and complicated for their purpose, including the T-64 and T-80. Also when reading about the T-72 tank, the ones Iraq had proved to be vastly overmatched by American tanks. Were these actual white elephants, or simply too advanced for practical Soviet use?

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Can you explain more about the book it sounds good . Also define white elephant

It usually means something that impractical to have/use but can’t be got rid of.


Thank you. I apologize for my ignorance … I have heard the term before and never thought about what it meant

It’s a book I found on Amazon and it has a short article on various Cold War and later tanks.

The term “white elephant” comes from the story about how an Eastern monarch, if he heard about any nobles causing trouble, would give said people compulsory gifts of sacred white elephants, which would lead to financial ruin for said nobles.


Well, I don’t think they could be considered ‘white elephants’ in the sense you defined- as in 'did they lead to financial ruin- no they didn’t although having so many of different types likely didn’t help the Soviet treasury.

In terms of Iraq I think you have to realise that not all of their crews were trained that well, certainly nowhere near the level of US, British and French crews. The Iraqi combat experience in the Iran-Iraq war was in some ways totally different- in that engagement ranges for tanks tended to be very close whereas Coalition crews could engage skill-fully on the move at far greater range. They were also able to engage at night in a manner the Iraqis simply could not. And that is not to mention the logistics and support side the coalition had access to, far outmatching that available even to Republican Guard units.

For the Iraqis, even, these tanks were still not ‘white elephants’ though, as they did give them the edge in regional terms.

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The later generation Soviet MBTs were hardly White Elephants, especially in Soviet hands, when used according to their doctrine. In Arab hands is another matter. The T-72 in Syrian hands gave a decent account for itself against Israeli Magachs, Sho’ts, and Merkavas in Lebanon in 1982. Again during the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, it was no proverbial “white elephant” and was used well enough in that conflict. Even during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait against Kuwaiti Chieftains of a much smaller “peer” army, it gave as well as it took. It was only when faced by next generation western MBTs, Abrams & Challengers, crewed by far better trained soldiers, and using all arms doctrine that the Iraqis were unprepared for, where they were outmatched and overwhelmed. It was far more factors than just the tanks themselves.
The T-64 and T-80 were never exported by the Soviets, being their higher end, best technology model tanks. Not because they were White Elephants, but because the T-72 was their export new generation tank, with similar features. However the export model T-72s were often less well armored and equipped. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia did sell and export some as a way of generating income, as well as leaving some in the hands of former Soviet republics.

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