SA Army Olifant main battle tank flips over during Lohathla demo

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An Olifant Mk 1A main battle tank (MBT) has flipped onto its back during an accident at the SA Army’s Lohatlha Combat Training Centre (CTC), injuring the driver.

Video shared on social media shows the tank being loaded onto a tank transporter as part of a demonstration to SA Army College Junior Command Staff Course learners. The tank is driven on the transporter before tipping over the side and landing on its back.

Unofficial sources indicate only the driver was on board at the time and suffered non-life threatening injuries. The extent of damage incurred by the tank was not clear. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

The South African Army’s Olifant inventory is understood to comprise 177 Olifant 1A/B tanks, of which the majority are in storage, and 26 Olifant Mk 2 tanks. They are primarily operated by 1 SA Tank Regiment in Tempe and the School of Armour.

Accidents involving tanks being loaded onto transporters are not uncommon. The heavy weight of the tank requires the transporter to be on stable, flat ground and the tank to line up exactly with the transporter, which can be difficult when deployed on sand or gravel surfaces.

Militaries around the world have suffered the embarrassment of armoured vehicles flipping during loading or offloading – for example, in November 2020, a video of an Israeli Merkava landing on its back while being loaded onto a transporter went viral, making international headlines.

Some other notable examples that made it into the public domain include a Belarussian T-72 rolling off its trailer while being loaded in 2013; a Russian self-propelled howitzer falling off a transporter in May 2015 during loading; and a Ukrainian T-64 tank flipping off a transporter in June 2016. Following an August 2018 victory parade in Russia, a historic T-34 tank was being loaded when it fell off the side of the transporter in full view of spectators.

It is believed the Olifant accident occurred on 22 February during the execution of Exercise Safari where 328 Junior Command Staff Course learners attended various presentations and displays. According to the SANDF, they were at the Combat Training Centre between 19 and 23 February as part of their course.

“Exercise Safari forms part of Exercise Phastrol in understanding the nature and capabilities of conventional war in the SA Army,” reported Captain NP Loggenberg, Acting Communication Officer, SA Army College.

“This exercise furthermore, aims to provide Junior Command Staff Course learners with knowledge and exposure to the South African Army conventional capabilities based on presentations, static displays and live firing demonstrations of landward capabilities,” Loggenberg added.

Some of the objectives of the learners visiting Lohatlha were to understand the importance of knowing and mastering the doctrine and the capabilities of the SA Army and to apply prime mission equipment, according to the Commandant of the SA Army Combat Training Centre, Brigadier General Zola Mbi.

In his welcome address to the students, Mbi mentioned that safety and protection of South African National Defence Force soldiers in the operational areas (Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique) is of most importance at this current time.