Were Abrams Tanks Seen Failing to Climb Hills, Being ‘Blown Up’ in Ukraine?

As the United States and its Western allies announced the latest military aid packages for Ukraine, a number of unproven narratives have resurfaced about one of the US military’s best assets, the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank.

The Biden Administration and Pentagon repeatedly denied that the US would provide the Abrams, widely considered to be one of the most advanced tanks in the world, to Ukraine, despite its calls for more assistance.

Yet as Kyiv faces the prospect of a renewed Russian offensive in coming months, rumors about such deliveries, planned or completed, continued to circulate on social media, Newsweek Misinformation Watch found.

A M1A2 Abrams battle tank of the US army that will be used for military exercises by the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, is pictured at the Baltic Container Terminal in Gdynia on December 3, 2022. As US-sourced military equipment arrived in Poland as part of the Operation Atlantic Resolve, misleading claims about these tanks being spotted in Ukraine emerged on social media.
MATEUSZ SLODKOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

A photo, purportedly showing a destroyed Abrams tank somewhere in Ukraine, has been shared by pro-Kremlin channels, which used it to promote the narrative that the US is secretly supplying its best military products to Kyiv—which is supposedly susceptible to Russian weapons.

“And they said the Abrams don’t catch fire,” the Telegram post in a closed WAR_VIDEO_TELEGRAM channel said. “Sources say that units of the Russian army near Soledar today destroyed the first American tank. All it took was three hits from “The Fly” [RPG-18 rocket launcher]. The source said it was driven by an African American, who did not survive.”

While the post links to a “video” on another channel, the said video does not show a strike on an Abrams, and may indicate the post is simply a cross-promotion or an ad.

Nevertheless, the post itself as well screengrabs of it have spread on Twitter, Telegram and other platforms alongside misleading captions, and it has also been flagged by accounts monitoring Russian propaganda.

However, as Newsweek found, while the image does appear to show a destroyed Abrams, it has been mislabeled and is in fact at least five years old (and likely older).

A Reddit post dated May 2018 locates the scene in Iraq, claiming the “M1A1 Abrams” was “knocked out by ISIS”. Other pages carrying the image go back even further, perhaps to 2014 or earlier, although the content has since been deleted.

The image has resurfaced in the context of other conflicts, from Syria and to Yemen. In fact, the image is so dated that it even became the subject of a meme.

While Newsweek could not track down the original source of the image, it verifiably predates the Ukraine war, possibly by almost two decades—if the tank was indeed blown up during the Iraq war, as some of the captions suggest.

The Abrams tanks were also featured in a video, similarly misconstrued, which appeared alongside claims that an M1 Abrams “in Ukraine” was unable to climb a snowy hill, with the footage widely shared and mocked on Russian-language media and channels.

But this clip, too, has been taken out of context and predates the war. The video was published on YouTube as early as January 2022, while the original TikTok video used in the clip was first posted in January 2021.

While the post does not reveal the geolocation or any additional context, similar videos of the Abrams tanks being deployed during the 2014-16 joint US-Norway military exercises are available on YouTube. The footage could also have been sourced from a more recent exercise, conducted in 2020-21 at the US Army Cold Regions Test Center (CRTC), which assessed the functionality of these tanks in harsh winter conditions.

The video is also cut short, with some users speculating that it was part of a longer routine where both regular rubber pads and the special metal alloy cleats made for snowy conditions were tested for comparison, with only the former being shown.

While Newsweek could not immediately corroborate this theory, military records show that “ice shoes”, including “tungsten carbide tipped studs,” have been used to modify the M1s for winter conditions as far back as 1982.

Other claims about the use—or imminent arrival of—Abrams tanks in Ukraine have spread widely in the aftermath of the NATO defense summit in Ramstein and the ensuing Ukraine weapons aid announcements.

For example, a video of a US freight train transporting dozens of Abrams tanks suggested that “in the biggest export of American tanks since WWII,” this batch of Abrams units was headed to Ukraine.

However, the author provided no evidence to support this claim, and there are dozens of videos of Abrams tanks (and other heavy military vehicles) being transported across the United States every year.

Similarly, unverified videos of these tanks being transported in Poland were misleadingly captioned, with some claiming, again without evidence, that they were being sent across the border to Ukraine.

It is true that Poland became the first European country to receive Abrams tanks after signing a deal with the Pentagon, as part of its attempts to strengthen defenses amid what it perceives as a rising threat from Russia.

But as Poland’s defense minister stated, only a small number of these units had been delivered to the country, to be used for training, with the rest of the 250 expected to arrive over the next few years.

However, none of these videos and reports mention any plans to pass the Abrams tanks on to Kyiv, and both Poland and the US have repeatedly dismissed such speculation.

Moscow, which over the course of nearly 12 months of conflict has captured stockpiles of military equipment, is yet to present any evidence of these tanks being used in Ukraine.

The Pentagon has said in the past the complex logistical and servicing requirements of the Abrams make them unsuitable for the Ukrainian military.

Newsweek has reached out to the Pentagon, and the Polish and Ukrainian defense ministries for comment.

Correction: 01/24/23 12:36 am ET: This article was amended, with an incorrectly labeled photo replaced with a correct photo of an Abrams tank.

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