Despite what many think, it is possible to legally own a tank in the United States and other countries, although keeping functioning weaponry on the vehicle is another matter. Even without a functioning main gun or any other weapons, a rolling tank is in its own way a formidable weapon many police departments are ill-equipped to handle.
But police incidents involving citizens operating a tank in cities are incredibly rare and almost always involve a stolen vehicle. See how the most famous tank rampages have played out throughout the years.
San Diego, California
The best-known tank incident outside of a battlefield took place in San Diego on May 17, 1995. US Army veteran Shawn Nelson swiped an M60 from the National Guard armory in the city and for 23 minutes terrorized civilians in the California city as police struggled to stop him.
Nelson targeted quite a few signs, traffic signals, fire hydrants, and even a mobile home. He also ended up crushing about 40 cars. Somehow, despite all the carnage, not a single person had been hurt.
When he tried knocking down a pedestrian bridge’s support pylon, Nelson learned the limits of the M60 as the solid structure refused to give way. Frustrated, the man piloted the military tank down the highway and crashed through the median divider, which ironically was his undoing.
High centered on the cement rubble, the treads not gaining any traction, the tank was a sitting duck. Police wasted no time climbing onto the machine and opening the hatch as Nelson reportedly tried in desperation to get it moving again. One officer fired a single shot, fatally wounding the tank thief and ending the rampage.
There’s a lot of debate about why Nelson went on this tank rampage in San Diego. Some attribute his behavior to PTSD, others to military veterans feeling useless in times of peace. However, his ex-wife seems to think his abuse of meth after a series of tragedies had a lot to do with him spinning out of control.
Technically not a tank, this tale is still worth telling. Muffler shop owner Marvin Heemeyer of Granby, Colorado took a bulldozer, some concrete, and his welding skills to create something as tough and destructive as a traditional tank.
After getting the raw end of a land deal and feeling the good ol’ boys club that ran the town where he lived was squeezing him out, Heemeyer did something out of sheer frustration and desperation. On June 4, 2004 he revealed the world what’s know today as Killdozer, a fortress on treads with concrete sandwiched between half-inch steel plates.
Heemeyer had cameras installed on the exterior of Killdozer so he could see where he was going, welding his only access into the machine’s interior shut. It’s obvious the man didn’t plan on being taken alive as he targeted the people he felt had wronged him in Granby. In the end, he wrecked 13 buildings in the little town including the police station, the town hall, local newspaper’s office, the ex-mayor’s home, a bank, and a hardware store.
Police were powerless to stop the rolling fortress. Their sidearms and even rifles couldn’t penetrate the thick hide of Killdozer and they lacked explosives to blow off the tracks. All they could manage was to keep people out of the path of destruction.
But officers had to take cover multiple times since Heemeyer installed high-powered rifles on firing ports around Killdozer, allowing him to take shots at them from behind his impenetrable cover. At one point he even tried shooting some propane tanks to cause an explosion, although he wasn’t successful.
For 90 minutes Heemeyer used Killdozer to rain down hell on Granby and those who had tied him up in expensive, exhausting legal battles. What brought his rampage to a sudden end was some rubble in the hardware store hanging the heavy vehicle up. Heemeyer ended up shooting himself as police climbed onto the trapped Killdozer, although it took hours of work with heavy tools to break inside.
Today, the tale of Killdozer is viewed quite differently by various groups. Still, many are curious about what would lead a man to spend so much time on the elaborate revenge plot.
Back on June 5, 2018 an officer with the Virginia National Guard, Joshual Phillip Yabut, stole an M577 armored personnel carrier from Fort Pickett, now called Fort Barfoot, triggering a two-hour nighttime chase with police throughout Richmond.
While the 12-ton vehicle technically isn’t a tank, much of the media called it that and so did the public. It might as well have been one for how difficult it was for law enforcement to stop Yabut as they tried keeping civilians out of his path of destruction.
Reportedly, Yabut was live tweeting his exploits, even uploading video clips to the social media platform, although it was all taken down after. Once he reached Capitol Square he just surrendered to police. Subsequently, Yabut was found not guilty of his crime by reason of insanity. He reportedly told one psychologist he believes the government had given him an ultra-secret assignment which required him to steal the M577. Does that seem legit?
While the M113 used by 27-year-old Gary Alan Hayes to go on a rampage throughout Perth, Australia back on April 27, 1993 isn’t technically a tank but instead is an armored personnel carrier, many still call this “The 1993 Perth Tank Rampage.”
To the general public, anything with treads and armor is a tank. Some will argue with you endlessly on this topic, so we’ll just leave it at that.
Sadly there’s no video footage of this rampage. Still, this story is interesting.
We don’t know why Australians have had two “tank” rampages in the recent past when supposedly it’s just us Americans who are so violent, but that’s exactly what happened in Sydney back in 2007. John Patterson decided to commandeer a tank to enact some revenge on the local phone companies.
A disgruntled phone company employee, Patterson took the tank in the early morning hours on a Sunday, using it to ram and knock down phone towers. We guess he’d had enough of the slow data coverage or really hated his coworkers. When the dust cleared, the phone companies had to scramble to restore service to different parts of the city.
Thankfully the vehicle stalled out in a muddy field before anyone was hurt in the rampage. But over $5,000,000 in damage was done.
Images via YouTube, Wikimedia Commons