In certain corners of the globe you’ll find the strangest of military cemeteries – places filled not with the bodies of fallen troops but littered with the carcasses of abandoned tanks. These once-formidable weapons of war no longer strike fear into the hearts of opposing forces; their days of rolling inexorably onwards on the teeth of steel tracks are over. Now, the armor of these behemoths is rusting and corroded, their hatches all but sealed from lack of use, and their controls never again to be manned by commanders in battle.
The ‘60s slogan of ‘make love not war’ instantly springs to mind when looking at this cross-section of vehicular cemeteries, located everywhere from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Laos, to Germany, Kuwait and Iraq. Once a war is over, decommissioned and defunct tanks are often simply left to rust and rot. Wrecked or simply forsaken, they stand as sinister reminders of more turbulent times.
Unknown Desert Location, Kuwait: Pictured are some of the remnants of the Gulf War: domestically built T-72 tanks, Soviet-made T-54As, or old Chinese Type 59 and Type 63s – all vehicles used by Iraq to oppose a military onslaught against which they stood little chance. Codenamed Operation Desert Storm, the war lasted from August 1990 to February 1991, with 34 nations (led by the United States) fighting against Iraq, which had foolishly invaded Kuwait.
Phonsavan, Laos: What are the old rusting carcasses of Russian tanks doing in Laos? Well, where there’s a tank, there was a war. Laos got dragged into the Vietnam War (1955- 1975) and paid dearly for it. A significant portion of the war was fought on Laotian territory, and Laos is actually reckoned to be most bombed nation on Earth. A fact that’s hard to fathom, reported by The Guardian, is that “Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bombload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973.” Truly a statistic that quantifies the utter madness of the conflict.
Asmara, Eritrea: In the heart of Eritrea lies its capital, Asmara. Situated here is a gigantic truck and tank graveyard filled with hundreds – if not thousands – of rusting military machines. Trucks, tanks and other armored vehicles sit abandoned in the grass or piled on top of one another, ready, or so it seems, to outwait eternity. Explorers wanting to get a closer look should be careful. Cacti have made a home of these abandoned hulks, and guard their treasures jealously.
Camp Taji, Iraq: Camp Taji, or Camp Cooke, as it is also known, is situated 20 miles (30 km) outside of Baghdad. It’s an old Iraqi Republican Guard base and former chemical weapons plant that was taken over by US forces after the 2003 invasion that signaled the start of the Iraq War (2003-2011). Today, the site is home to a graveyard comprising hundreds of dumped Iraqi tanks and other armored military vehicles – relics of the reign of Saddam Hussein.
Rockensussra, Thuringia, Germany: Sometimes, a tank graveyard means good news, and isn’t simply a corroding sign of past battles fought and lost. Take this one in Germany’s Rockensussra, deep in the forests of Thuringia, about 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Berlin. Here, a good 14,200 tanks and armored personnel carriers have been dismantled over the past 20 years or so, ever since the two sides of Germany merged.
Bonus: Culebra, Puerto Rico: The white beaches of Puerto Rico are not a place one would expect to find a tank buried in the sand. And yet one can be found in just such a location! Half buried, half rusting, the tank lies stranded like some kind of metallic whale on Flamenco Beach, on the island of Culebra. Despite the presence of the wrecked hulk, it’s considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan: Afghanistan is home to at least two major tank graveyards, both situated in the country’s major cities. These cemeteries were born of the Soviet war in Afghanistan that began in 1979 and ended in the late ‘80s. One of them, lying just outside Kabul, contains a huge collection of abandoned and broken down armored vehicles left behind when the Soviet forces finally withdrew from the territory they had occupied for so long. Stripped, corroding and besmirched by graffiti, the tanks hark back to bygone days of war.