10 Tank Cemeteries & Wrecked Fighting Vehicles of Europe, Asia & the Middle East

tank-cemetery-chita-russia (Image: via DarkBear-ru)

There’s something fascinating about tank cemeteries and abandoned fighting vehicles. The history behind these pieces of machinery, which are now little more than rusting, looted hulks, is almost tangible. Across the world entire graveyards of armoured vehicles lie near the battle zones in which they fought, symbols of war and death that are themselves now set for destruction – or decay, abandoned for years in the deserts of the Middle East and beyond.

This follow-on to our popular feature covering the world’s most impressive tank graveyards highlights even more abandoned fighting vehicles, from the Gulf War tank wrecks of Iraq and Kuwait and the gutted Russian hulks of World War Two, to abandoned tank factories, recycling plants and more.

10. Tank Cemetery of Kandahar, Afghanistan

abandoned-soviet-tank-cemetery-kandahar (Image: Kenny Holston 21, cc-nd-4.0)

The tank graveyard of Kandahar, Afghanistan is a reminder of the Soviet Union’s ill-fated attempt at taking over the country. The Soviet War in Afghanistan ended in 1989, and when Soviet troops retreated, they left behind somber reminders of their attempts at takeover. At the height of occupation, almost 100,000 Soviet troops entered the country and patrolled the civil war-torn streets, ultimately leading to nearly as many casualties.

abandoned-soviet-tank-cemetery-kandahar-2 (Image: Kenny Holston 21, cc-nd-4.0)

Today, the rusted hulks, once deadly fighting vehicles, stand abandoned and serve a much, much different purpose – a children’s playground. Now, the tanks’ cannons are used as monkey bars, those that are overturned make ideal slides. Okay, perhaps not ideal slides, but they’ll do.

abandoned-soviet-tank-cemetery-kandahar-3 (Image: Kenny Holston 21, cc-nd-4.0)

Groups of children, most of whom live on the nearby military bases, race each other to the top of the tanks in games of king-of-the-hill, running along the the oddly-shaped landscape with the carefree grace – and absolute lack of fear – that only children can manage. It’s an odd juxtaposition, these tanks, once a symbol of the might of the Soviet Army, and the laughter of the children of a war-torn land as they run and play in the town that’s known as the Taliban’s hometown.

abandoned-soviet-tank-cemetery-kandahar-4 (Image: Kenny Holston 21, cc-nd-4.0)

The tanks are a symbol of a time not long before these children were born, once a part of the carpet-bombing and an urban warfare campaign that only about 25,000 people – in a city of 200,000 – survived.

9. Ussuriysk, Russia

abandoned-tank-plant-Ussuriysk-Russia (Image: KFSS.ru via English Russia)

Originally built beginning in 1936 as a repair base, the military facility in Ussuriysk (once Voroshilov), was opened in 1940. Its wartime purpose was the repair of tanks and other heavy equipment, and in 1953 it was equipped to repair heavy armour as well. While some of the grounds have been sold off to private companies, there’s still an eerie, surreal number of old tanks there.

abandoned-tank-plant-Ussuriysk-Russia-2 (Image: KFSS.ru via English Russia)

In some places, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder, cannons facing off in the same direction, giving the strange impression of old soldiers giving one final salute. Other sit rusting in fields, now well overgrown, in front of buildings that bear a worn, weathered look that only abandoned buildings in Russia can.

abandoned-tank-plant-Ussuriysk-Russia-3 (Image: KFSS.ru via English Russia)

At one point the base, located about as far east in Russia as you can get, was also used not only in the repair of tanks, but in the upgrading and modernization of them as well. Even throughout the mid-1980s, the repair base was a thriving, bustling hub of heavy fighting vehicles going in and out.

abandoned-tank-plant-Ussuriysk-Russia-4 (Image: KFSS.ru via English Russia)

It’s difficult to tell just when the facility was completely abandoned, but there’s photos from as late as 2000 which show work being done on tanks that show none of the rust and weather-beaten wear that they do now.

8. Tank Cemetery near Chita, Russia

tank-cemetery-chita-russia-2 (Image: via DarkBear-ru)

There’s not a lot of information on just how and why these tanks were abandoned outside the city limits of one of Russia’s least tourist-bound destination cities. Not many outsiders see them, as visitors tend to go elsewhere, avoiding the city that was once used for the exile of Russian rebels.

Chita is only a stone’s throw from China, and most of the non-natives that are in the city are Chinese. Even though it was founded centuries earlier, the city only hit a growth spurt with the presence of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

tank-cemetery-chita-russia-3 (Image: via DarkBear-ru)

Dozens and dozens of old tanks rust away against the beautiful backdrop of the Russian landscape. It’s perhaps a fitting graveyard for them, as the city has an incredible history of military and political turmoil. In 1825, a group of military officers attempt to orchestrate a coup. When they failed, they were exiled to Chita – but, it didn’t entirely have the planned effect. Instead of seeing their exile as defeat, they brought things like literature and concerts to the remote Siberian town, and the military impact is still seen today.

tank-cemetery-chita-russia-4 (Image: via DarkBear-ru)

In addition to the tank graveyard outside of the city, there’s also a military museum next to Lenin Square. Visitors can see a huge collection of weapons, along with decommissioned tanks that are in much better shape than the ones rusting in the cemetery outside the city limits.

7. Gulf War-era Fighting Vehicles, Kuwait

abandoned-tank-graveyard-kuwait (Image: 1000 Amazing Places)

Sitting in the desert of Kuwait is a massive cemetery for not only tanks, but other heavy military and fighting vehicles leftover from the first Gulf War. It’s not too far from the little fishing village of Fao, whose residents have their own sad memories of the war – they were badly shelled and gassed, and their village was a staging point for military heading deeper inland.

abandoned-tank-graveyard-kuwait-2 (Image: 1000 Amazing Places)

Locals call it the tank cemetery, and they also know it’s a dangerous place that’s all but off-limits to exploration and curious photographers. It’s a place where all different types of tanks were taken and dumped after the fighting was done; all nations that were involved in the war have representatives here, and they’ve all seen better days. Today, though, they bake under the heat of the desert sun, where temperatures can reach 50 degrees celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

abandoned-tank-graveyard-kuwait-3 (Image: 1000 Amazing Places)

According to locals, they don’t go there. To those that lived through the war, it’s not a place where rusted metal hulks lay forgotten and rusting, it’s a reminder of those that died in the invasion, in the missile attacks, in the chemical weapons dump. In Fao alone, 52,948 civilians and soldiers died in the Iran-Iraq war, and the tank graveyard is a reminder of the war machines that took the lives of so many.

6. Zheltukhin, Russia

There’s not a lot of information out there on these tanks, but they were too cool to pass up putting on the list.

abandoned-tanks-Zheltukhin-Russia (Image: Smitsmitty via English Russia)

Sitting on the island of Zheltukhin, Russia, are a group of abandoned T-34 tanks. The T-34s were developed by the Russians around the time of World War Two, and became one of the mainstays of the Russian army. Even though it was cramped and incredibly uncomfortable, it combined all the best parts of some of its contemporaries – like the suspension of the Christie with a BMV-manufactured engine. It was easy to repair, fast, and its angular design gave it some added defense. Its design and features were copied by later models, but the fate that awaited the tanks on the Zheltukhin was a little bizarre.

abandoned-tanks-Zheltukhin-Russia-2 (Image: Smitsmitty via English Russia)

For years, the tanks sat rusting in the salty air. Fairly recently, though – as recently as 2013 – someone took it upon themselves to give the tanks a new paint job. Now, the archaic remnants of the World War Two era army are bright yellow, bright orange, baby blue…. now, they stand out against the overgrown weeds and fields that that had long been left to rot in. No one seems sure why they were left there – or why they were painted – but it’s likely one of the most colorful tank graveyards that’s out there.

5. Kharanj, Iraq

Another reminder of the 1990-1991 Gulf War is the tank cemetery that sits just north of the Iraq-Kuwait border. This graveyard is guarded, but the guards aren’t likely to be found walking around too much or patrolling the area to make sure that no one’s getting too close – they don’t want to get too close, either. Many of the abandoned fighting vehicles are hot, damaged by American armour-piercing rounds made from depleted uranium.

The rounds were incredibly effective, and they’re proving to continue to be incredibly damaging. Somewhere around 860,000 rounds were fired, many into the tanks that now sit in the hot Iraqi sun, and it’s still being debated on just how dangerous they continue to be. Reports are conflicting, but it’s thought that the impact of the rounds with the heavy armour that once protected these tanks has left radioactive tailings in its wake.

More than 4,000 tanks were destroyed – to one degree or another – on the Iraqi side along during 1991. Many of them have ended up in scrapyards like this one, too dangerous to do much else with. There were a lot that were buried in an attempt to clean up the battlefield of the debris left behind by the fighting, but today, these eerie reminders of conflict are the setting for shepherds guiding their flocks and, many say, still as deadly where they sit as they once were when they were active.

4. Rockensussra, Germany

Rockensussra-tank-graveyard-germany (Image: Tobias Nordhausen)

A few hundred miles southwest of Berlin sits a field of tanks so massive that it looks surreal. It’s easier to believe they’re Photoshopped instead of a real group of tanks waiting for the end of their lives.

Rockensussra-tank-graveyard-germany-2 (Image: florida 2014 via YouTube)

The Koch Battle Tank Dismantling Firm was founded in 1991 and specializes in taking apart the fighting vehicles of the world. They have no shortage of projects, either, as damaged and obsolete tanks sit in long, long lines, waiting their turn for the scrap heap. Many of the tanks there are German-made, their identifying marks at least partially scratched off even as they wait for dismantling. The process started with the fall of the Berlin wall, when Germany’s army underwent some massive cuts. Something had to be done with all the heavy vehicles, and a complete dismantling means that in the end, they’re beyond recognition. Parts are then re-distributed to be recycled, with much of the scrap metal being sent to recycling plants to be processed and given new life as something completely different.

In some places, there’s rows upon rows of parts – tank engines form a landscape of jumbled parts. Tracks lay coiled and abandoned, and some of the tanks that are still functional are occasionally used to tow those that aren’t. The air is filled with sparks and the smell of fire as men cut through armour that was designed to stop enemy fire – back in the days before they were decommissioned.

As of 2012, 16,000 tanks had already been dismantled.

3. Shikotan Islands, Russia/Japan

Shikotan-tanks (Image: LiveJournal via English Russia)

Shikotan Island, along with the neighbouring islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, and Habomai, have long been a point of contention between Russia and Japan, with both nations laying claim to the islands. They were seized by Russia after World War II, and even though there have been agreements that seem to indicate Russia’s going to surrender control of the islands, that’s still not necessarily happening.

Shikotan-tanks-2 (Image: LiveJournal via English Russia)

A relatively small island with a population about about 2,000 people, Shikotan is also home to some abandoned Soviet tanks. The tank cemetery has been dubbed Tank Hill by the locals, and the tanks that sit there are said to be still functional, but incredibly, incredibly rusty. The locals haven’t done anything with them, as they’re not worth stripping and moving the pieces – or the tanks themselves – off the island would be too much of a hassle to be worthwhile. So they sit, not quite forgotten, but easily overlooked. They can’t be seen from the city or from the beach, and during the summer months, they’re all but swallowed by the sea of long grasses.

Shikotan-tanks-3 (Image: LiveJournal via English Russia)

There’s a single building there, too, and perhaps most eerie of all is a silent reminder of the tensions between the two nations. The gun of one of the tanks points toward the city below, nestled at the foot of the hill and looking out over the ocean.

2. Camp Taji (Camp Cooke), Iraq

camp-taji-tank-graveyard (Image: US Army, public domain)

For years, the tanks, planes and other heavy vehicles that have been dumped in the vaguely defined scrapyard outside of Iraq’s Camp Taji have presented countless American soldiers with a canvas. Junked vehicles have been spray-painted with a host of messages, from declarations of love to messages to Mom and Dad back home. There’s no telling how long the messages will last before they fade in the desert sun, but now they present a unique, surreal sort of glimpse into the lives of the men who are stationed in the nearby camp.

camp-taji-tank-graveyard-4 (Image: Mike Gainor/Pine City Pioneer)

For some of the men there, their off-duty time is spent searching the scrapyard for anything that might be worthwhile – things like abandoned tanker helmets, cleaned up and rescued from where they had been dropped, might end up being a reminder of time spent in the desert.

camp-taji-tank-graveyard-5 (Image: Mike Gainor/Pine City Pioneer)

There’s not just tanks in the Camp Taji graveyard, but there’s also armoured personnel carriers, trucks, anti-aircraft guns and artillery cannons. There’s even a few boats buried in the cemetery, and some of the vehicles have been incredibly well-preserved, their exteriors – and sometimes, their still intact interiors – giving no real indication of why they ended up in the scrapyard.

1. Vukovar, Croatia

vukovar-tank-graveyard (Image: Peter Denton, cc-sa-4.0)

Today, there’s only one tank that still remains as a memorial to what happened in the small city of Vukovar, Croatia, in 1991. During the Croatian War of Independence, the city became the symbol of resistance; a group of about 2,000 Croatians defended the town against advancing and encroaching Serbian soldiers, holding out for an incredible 87 days against a military assault that would only end with the worst bloodshed Europe had seen since the days of World War Two.

vukovar-tank-graveyard-2 (Image: Arthur’s own photo, cc-sa-3.0)

The battle began with the city surrounded by 50,000 Serbian troops. Refugees armed with hunting rifles made a heroic stand, and even though they were eventually overpowered, their names have gone down in Croatian history.

vukovar-tank-graveyard-3 (Image: Ivan Kiko via YouTube)

Osijek Street has, in retrospect, been dubbed the Tank Graveyard. During the conflict, it was destroyed by the 100 tanks that rolled through the once-quiet city; many would be destroyed on the street, too, and one still stands as a memorial to the fighting. By the end of the revolution, more than 600 tanks would be called into the city.

vukovar-tank-graveyard-4 (Image: Ivan Kiko via YouTube)

More than 500 people are still listed as officially missing, and about 90 percent of the city was completely destroyed in the onslaught. The images of the tanks are eerie, a reminder of the price of freedom that’s still hotly debated.

Keep Reading – 30 Abandoned Tanks & Armoured Vehicles


About the author: Debra Kelly




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