So, how good is the Leopard 2 in comparison to the M1A2?
I thought that question would come up eventually and there is an easy answer: the Leopard 2 is superior!
This is the answer you will get from any serious tanker anywhere on this planet! Nobody says “our tank is weak and the other tank is better”. This shows our pride and faith in what we drive and it is important to have this spirit. Only someone who believes in his “Iron Pig” is a good tanker.
Actually, I have never had the pleasure to drive an M1, which of course is something I would like to do even today. However, I did see some Americans training in Bergen (a NATO training area and shooting range in northern Germany) and served with a couple of senior Master Sergeants who shared their experiences. Some of them had multiple experiences with other tanks and with training events in an international environment.
The setup of the tanks is not that different; they both share the same crew layout and roles. They look a little different of course, but even here there are many similarities, commonly shared between all western tanks from the 80s and 90s. All of them use a secret amour layout, which is composed of cast steel and some composite amour layers inside. They are bulky and quite tall. The differences are more noticeable inside. The Americans favor a different layout for the gunnery station, sight systems and controls. They still use some sensors we experienced to be inaccurate, such as the wind sensor. We use a multi-fuel twin turbo diesel engine while the M1 has a gas turbine. Does it make a difference though?
Well, the Leopard 2 (including the A4 and A5 versions) is extremely agile and can accelerate fast even in extremely rough conditions. However, it takes some time to transfer the torque to the tracks, while the M1 has the torque readily available because it uses a turbine. Nevertheless, on medium to long distances, the Leopard 2 out-accelerates the Abrams. When it comes to agility, the Leopard 2 was always able to turn more tightly than the M1. Whether that makes one tank superior to the other or not… it’s hard to say. The M1 in this case was the A1 and A2 version and it was always a little bit heavier than our A4 or A5. The A6 with its longer gun barrel brought us nearly to the same level and we lost a lot of the agility due to that. We traded that in for having a bigger punch and a somewhat better range.
The M1A1 and the following versions use the same license-produced gun we have used since the very first version of the Leopard 2. It shows that it was the correct decision to adopt the 120mm smoothbore, allowing the Leopard 2 to boast that the gun it used from the start was better than the gun used in the first versions of the M1.
There are many other differences and many similarities as well. What makes the real difference is always the crew and its training. When I was serving, we still worked with national service recruits. In those days the length of national service was first 10 months and later 9 months, with the first 2-3 months consisting of basic training. Consequently, there was not a lot of time to train them and create a team out of them. In any case, we were always able to reach our goals and were comparable to other crews.
Until the early 90s, there were some contests between different nations and their tank crews. The Canadian Army Trophy was one of the tank-exclusive ones. Before it was cancelled, Germany and other Leopard users won most of the trophies. I believe that this fact alone shows quite well that the Leopard and its crews do rightfully belong amongst the best in the world. Saying anything else would be blasphemy.
Of course, there have been things on other tanks or armies that we wanted to have as well. Many of our commanders, for example, desired the .50 caliber machinegun on the M1 commander hatch for its power, or helmets for tank crews with built-in radio, which were better when compared to our system. One thing we never wanted, however, was to trade in our “ride”, we were very proud of it and felt honored to have it.
The Americans have one advantage over us: the M1 is at least already combat-proven and known to work well, which does not apply to the Leopard 2, besides its use in Kosovo and by Canada in Afghanistan. Still, if it came to the worst, I am sure it could do its job.
For me personally and for most of my former or still active comrades, the Leopard 2 is the best tank in the world.