Called 'Leitkreuz', it originated in the post-war German Army

The little-known purpose of the white cross on the back of many NATO tanks

Fans of tanks and military vehicles in general will have noticed a curious detail that many carry on their backs.

What insignia and colors would the Spanish Armed Forces use in the event of a war?
The history of the circular national insignias used by military aviation

This detail consists of a shield-shaped accessory with a white cross inscribed on it, with what appears to be a dark dot in the center. Appears on many NATO tanks. In this photo of the Spanish Army, we can clearly see her in a Spanish Leopardo 2E tank deployed in Latvia with NATO's eFP Battle Group Latvia.

This curious white cross does not only appear on NATO tanks. In this photo by Friedrich Böhringer we can see her at the back of a Leopard 2A4 of the Austrian Army, a neutral country.

It must be said that this symbol does not only appear on tanks. In this photo of the Spanish Army we can see him in a vehicle of recovery Leopardo 2ER Buffalo, the Spanish version of the German Bergepanzer Büffel.

The Spanish Army has been using this element in its armored vehicles for many years. Here we can see it in the second prototype of the ASCOD Pizarro infantry fighting vehicle, built in 1993 (already 30 years ago) and currently on display at the El Goloso Military Base in Madrid (own photo).

The purpose of this accessory is little known among the public, even among many fans of military matters. It must be said that this white cross has no symbolic purpose. It is a signaling element called Leitkreuz (guide cross, in German). Its use is intended for combat situations, when the other lights of the vehicle are turned off so as not to reveal its position. In order for a vehicle to know where the vehicle in front is, the Leitkreuz turns on with a very dim light, only visible from a few meters.

The central circle contains a lamp, which illuminates the four arms of the white cross through two openings. In this photo from Eigenes Werk you can see in more detail what this accessory looks like. I haven't found much information about its history, but I think it was introduced with the Leopard 1 tanks in the 1960s. From then on, the German Army applied it to all kinds of vehicles, even light vehicles.

In this photo from the Bundeswehr we can see a German Army Mercedes-Benz Wolf SUV with the Leitkreuz on its back, under the left bumper.

With German reunification (1990), the German Army even put the Leitkreuz on vehicles of Soviet origin that had belonged to the Army of communist Germany, as we can see in this BMP-1A1 infantry fighting vehicle (photo from Tanl Encyclopedia).

With the export of German armored vehicles, the Leitkreuz spread beyond Germany, and finally ended up being incorporated into vehicles manufactured in other countries. We have already seen the case of the Spanish ASCOD Pizarro, and here we can see the Leitkreuz in a C1 Ariete tank of the Italian Army (photo: 7th Army Training Command). However, within NATO, the United States, France and the United Kingdom armies have never incorporated this accessory on their tanks. In turn, and despite being a Muslim country and the fact that the white cross has a clear Christian connotation, Turkey does use this accessory on their Leopard 2A4.


Main photo: Ejército de Tierra.

Don't miss the news and content that interest you. Receive the free daily newsletter in your email:

Comment on this post:

You must login to comment. Click here to login. If you have not registered yet, click here to sign up.