Language Lessons: Tanker Terms

Tankers have their own lingo, just like every other military occupational specialty. But unlike infantry or SF terms (snake eater, etc.), tanker lingo hasn’t made many inroads into the everyday civilian conversation. So I’m going to fix that by providing a brief list of tanker terms. Feel free to inject them into discussions with non-military folks; especially if you need to simultaneously confuse and impress them.

M1A1 Abrams - be sure that the tankers have their own set of military slang.

Disclaimer: These tanker terms are from my memory of being a tanker from 1995 to 2004. If I screw something up, correct me but don’t be a douche about it. I’m sensitive!

Military Slang of Tankers

HEAT Round

This is an acronym for High Explosive Anti-Tank round. HEAT rounds are heavy, shaped-charge projectiles that are fired toward the target at a high angle. They are primarily used against armored vehicles that aren’t tanks, but they are highly effective against tanks too. When they impact an enemy vehicle they blow a hole through the armor and generally make bad things happen inside. I’ve heard non-armor officers mention HEAT rounds in the context of difficult staff briefings: “Man, the BC was really lobbing HEAT rounds at me in there.”

Three Smoking Communists

This slightly dated phrase describes what’s left after you nail a T-72 with a main gun round. Most modern Russian tanks have a three-man crew, compared to the four-man crew of an Abrams.

Military Slang Tanker Terms: 3 Smoking Communists
Smoking Communists.

Side note: instead of a human loader, T-72s have an autoloader with a mechanical arm that was supposed to make its rate of fire much higher. However, according to some reports, the mechanical arm would occasionally stuff the gunner’s arm or leg into the breech and cut it off. To avoid this, crews would turn the autoloader off, thus forcing the gunner to get out of his seat, load the main gun, get back in his seat, engage, and do it all over again—allowing the T-72’s to fire roughly as often as Bill Clinton gets laid. That’s just tanker lore though. I have no idea how much of that story is true, if any.

Coax

This tanker term refers to the gunner’s coaxial machine gun, which is mounted beside the main gun and firing on the same axis. The 7.62 coax and HEAT rounds have roughly the same trajectory. On an Abrams, the coax is an M240 variant that is fired electrically; but the electrical firing system can be manually overridden. One really cool thing to do is to hose a target by manually firing the coax while waiting for the loader to load a HEAT round, and then immediately engage with the main gun. I only got to do that once.

M1A1 Tank - silhouette - military slang, tanker terms.

The Lay-Z-Boy

Lay-Z-Boy is the term for an Abrams driver’s reclining seat. In non-tactical situations, the driver can leave the hatch open and drive with his seat upright. But in tactical situations, the seat is reclined and the hatch is closed. We always seem to fight in places that are stupid hot. When the tank is stationary the driver always falls asleep in his warm, comfortable seat, which is in the hull separate from the rest of the crew. No matter what the situation is, even if the Mongol Hordes are just one ridge away, the drivers fall asleep. I knew gunners who kept squirt guns at their stations, so they could squirt into the driver’s hole to wake him up. Many engagements started out with, “Driver move out!… Driver! Johnson! Goddammit, someone wake Johnson up!”

Sabot

Our primary tank-killing round is the Sabot. Basically, these are big, non-explosive darts made of very dense depleted uranium. The narrow sabot rounds are contained in two petals that fall away after the round leaves the main gun. They use kinetic energy to punch through enemy armor. The round then rattles around inside, slicing up crewmen and setting shit on fire. (Modern tank guns have are smoothbore instead of rifled because spinning would dissipate the kinetic energy of a sabot.)

Tanker Term: Sabot
Sabot, pronounced “say-boe,” not “sah-bot,” you non-tanker losers.

Tanks hit by sabots usually choose to just explode and get it over with. Compared to HEAT rounds, sabots have a much flatter trajectory and travel much faster. Which leads us to…

Index

An Index is a selector switch on the gunner’s control panel for different types of ammo. (Back in my day, young whippersnappers, we only had HEAT and sabot, but more are available now). When you index sabot, the main gun doesn’t elevate much. But when you index HEAT it elevates a lot because HEAT rounds are much heavier. If you index sabot but fire a HEAT round, the round will hit the dirt way short of the target and tumble downrange, and everyone will know you’re a dumb-ass. But if you index HEAT and fire a sabot, you’ll launch the sabot into outer space. Ask me how I know.

Cadillacs

The Cadillac Gage company makes the gunner’s power control handles; thus—the term “Cadillacs.”

Tanker Talk: Cadillacs
Cadillacs, with the Master Blaster above them

Gunners activate Cadillacs by squeezing levers under their fingers. When the levers are squeezed the gunner can power traverse the turret, power elevate, and depress the main gun. One thing tankers learn pretty quick is that if you don’t follow the safety regs the tank itself will kill them. Turrets moving under power have a bad reputation for cutting off body parts, and main guns have a bad habit of slamming downward onto Soldiers walking under them. Because of these dangers, in a motor pool or during administrative or maintenance functions any crewman who activates the Cadillacs must yell “Power!” so others near the tank will know the turret or main gun might kill them.

Tanker Term: Cadillac
If I’m here, and you depress the main gun without yelling “Power!”, I’m gonna be a little upset. Image credit: Business Insider

Lasing

The term “Lasing” means laying the reticle on the target and hitting a thumb button on the Cadillacs. This activates the laser rangefinder and automatically calculates a ballistic solution to the target. When you lase the target the ballistic computer calculates the range to target, type of ammo, ammo temperature, barometric pressure, crosswind, outside temperature, and probably a couple of other things I’m forgetting, and moves the main gun to the correct position for a first-round hit.

M4A4 Tank - military slang - tanker terms.

Master Blaster

A Master Blaster is a manual firing device. It is mounted just above the Cadillacs. It fires the round by generating electricity when you twist the handle. It’s similar to an old-school blasting device we saw in old WW2 movies, and it is used to fire the main gun when the tank has no power or if the electrical system fails. Our old tanks in the Guard sometimes threw circuit breakers during engagements, so it wasn’t unusual for a gunner to have a misfire with the triggers on the Cadillacs and immediately switch to the Master Blaster.

Dump your lead

On the M1A1 Abrams, gunners induce a lead on a moving target by putting the reticle on it, lasing it, then tracking it for three seconds. The tank’s ballistic computer automatically moves the main gun the required distance for a correct lead so the gunner can hit the target. But if the gunner tracks the target too long or jerks the sight around, the reticle will start to drag and the round won’t be accurate. When that happens, gunners have to “dump their lead” by briefly releasing the Cadillacs and beginning the three-second track again. The term is infrequently used as advice: “Bro, you’re fucking this all up. Dump your lead and start over.”

Driver’s Engagement

This term refers to a nonexistent fantasy. In training, the gunner has many engagements, the commander has some, and the loader very rarely gets to fire the machine gun mounted outside his hatch (which is really more of a spare coax). But the driver has no vehicle-mounted weapon and never gets to shoot anything. So in the fevered dreams of every tank driver, he has a driver’s engagement wherein he gets to run fleeing ISIS rats down in the open desert.

M1A1 Abrams Tank - Dead Sexy - military slang, tanker terms.

Crunchies/Track Grease

Infantry. Generally, this term means enemy infantry, but friendly grunts should probably steer clear of moving tanks too.

Berm Drill

A Berm drill is a basic engagement tactic for a tank. Tank fighting positions are two-tiered. The tank hides behind a berm with the turret concealed. The gunner is able to view the engagement area since the primary sight (GPS) is mounted on the turret roof. The tank is in the  “turret down” position when the turret and hull are behind cover and the gunner can look over the top of the berm.

Tanker talk: turret down
Brittish tank in a turret down position.

Berm Drill Scenario

The crew scans until they see a target, at which time the crew begins their standard engagement procedure:

Commander: “Gunner, sabot, tank.” (Commander identifies which crewman he’s talking to, specifies an ammo type, and tells him what the target is. He’ll also take command of the turret himself and move the main gun onto the target if the gunner doesn’t see it.)

Gunner, once he sees and lases the target: “Identified.”

Loader: “Up!” He arms the main gun, already loaded, by raising the arming handle next to the breach. The loader now has to stay the hell out of the way so the breech’s 18” recoil won’t break his ribs or face.

Commander: “Driver move out, gunner take over.”

(Two things happen at this point. As the driver moves forward onto the first tier of the fighting position, the gunner will move his head to the Gunner’s Auxiliary Sight [GAS].  Since it’s at the same height as the main gun, by looking through it as the tank is moving forward the gunner can tell when the main gun is clear. As soon as he has a clear view through the GAS he’ll tell the driver to stop, and the turret will be above the berm but the tank’s hull will still be behind cover.)

Gunner: “Driver stop.”

Commander: “Fire.”

Gunner: “On the way!” On the Y of way, he pulls the trigger. The 120mm main gun then sends a sabot downrange toward a T-72, which explodes in a glorious fireball that sends the turret flipping fifty feet in the air, leaving behind three smoking communists.

Commander: “Target! Ceasefire. Driver back up.” And the driver pulls back to his safe little spot so the Abrams can scan and kill again.

And that, folks, is enough tanker terms for today. Be sure to read the other articles that we ran during Tank Week. Please spread the tanker term knowledge I’ve shared with you while I cry in the corner over the good old days when I gunned and commanded sixty tons of pure metal aggression.

Uncle Rico was a tanker.
Uncle Rico was a tanker.

More Language Lessons: Get Your Learnin’ On!

Bonus Images of the Sherman M4A4 — Because They’re Cool.

Black and White image of M4A4 Sherman Tank.
M4A4 Sherman Tank.
Outer diagram of an M4A4 Sherman tank.
External diagram of an M4A4 Sherman tank.

M4A4 Sherman Tank - Left Side view - military slang - tanker terms.

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Chris Hernandez

Chris Hernandez may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog.


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