A U.S. private stole an M60 battle tank yesterday and wreaked havoc on a wild drive through Mannheim before the 50-ton vehicle plunged into the Neckar River, trapping the driver, police reported.

A military spokesman said the soldier was attached to Sullivan Barracks. "We presume he is dead," the spokesman said, "Those tanks aren't waterproof." The soldier's name was not given. Area residents recalled two similar tank thefts in the past.

Three other Army tanks were sent to the bridge to try to remove the upended tank that was in water 16 feet deep, but the effort failed when the steel cable snapped, police said.

The tank left a trail of destruction in the city's center, a grid of narrow streets. One unidentified American was slightly injured when he tried to jump on the tank and open the hatch, police said. Three other people were injured, one seriously. It crushed at least 10 parked cars and damaged several shops and houses.

The tank tore a hole three feet wide in the side of a streetcar filled with passengers, then ripped down power lines for the trolley network.

A police spokesman reported several auto accidents as frightened drivers tried to get out of the way of the tank. Damage was estimated at $500,000.

After careening wildly through Mannheim's streets for 2 1/2 hours, the tank was blocked when it rumbled onto a bridge over the Neckar River and U.S. military police blocked both ends. When American soldiers advanced onto the bridge, the tank went into reverse, crashed through the side railing and landed bottom up in the river.