That time America abandoned an Abrams tank in Baghdad

In April 2003, Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz and his men were part of the “Thunder Run” — and armored push through the the city of Baghdad and a test of the new Iraqi resistance.

During the movement through the city, an enemy RPG pierced the fuel cell on the back of the tank and left it immobile and burning in the city streets.

The chaotic battle began as the tanks rushed into the city on its highway system. A gunner in the lead tank spotted troops drinking tea with weapons nearby and asked permission to fire. The tank commander gave it, and the fight was on.

(Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

While the gunner easily dispatched those first soldiers in the open, hundreds of fighters, many in civilian clothes or firing from bunkers, remained. And they put up a fierce resistance with small arms, mortars, and RPGs.

An early RPG hit disabled a Bradley, and the next major RPG hit disabled the Abrams. For almost 20 minutes, the Americans attempted to put out the flames and save the machine. But more fighters kept coming and Schwartz made the decision to sacrifice the tank wreckage to save the armored column.

A scuttled M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank rests in front of a Fedayeen camp just outside of Jaman Al Juburi, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo: Department of Defense)

The crew was moved to another vehicle and the crucial sensitive items were removed from the tank. Then the tankers filled the vehicle with thermite grenades and took off through the city. The Air Force later dropped bombs on what remained.

In the video below, Schwartz and other tankers involved in the battle discuss the unprecedented decision to abandon an Abrams tank.

The Iraqi government loyal to Saddam Hussein later claimed that the tank was killed, which would have given them credit for the first combat kill of an Abrams tank. The U.S. argued that it was merely disabled, and that it was the U.S. Army’s thermite grenades and later U.S. Air Force bombs that actually destroyed it.

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