If the scale of German commitment on the Eastern Front
was large in June 1944, it was even larger in July 1943, the month of Operation 'Zitadelle' (or Citadel), as the German
attack on the Soviet-held salient of Kursk was codenamed. On 1 July 1943, 194 German divisions were occupied on the Eastern
Front (including the seven in Finland), while only 83 were based in the occupied countries and on all of the other fronts
in which Germany was involved. Although many of the divisions based in the east were under strength, so were many of those
that were based on these 'other fronts' and, again, many German units on those fronts were low grade garrison units
to boot. About 72% of Germany's armour was also based in the Soviet Union at this time and a higher proportion of these
were modern types than those on the other fronts. The Luftwaffe was another story and was certainly being strained by the
Western Allies. In June 1943, only about 42% of the German Air Force was in the east. The Kursk offensive was to involve over
two-thirds of the armour (representing almost half of the total number of tanks available to Nazi Germany), almost a third
of the troops and most of the aircraft that were available on the Eastern Front at this time. The number of German troops
that were to be committed at Kursk was much greater than all of those that could be found in the whole of Western Europe at
this time. Furthermore, in regard to both personnel and equipment, the Germans forces at Kursk were of far superior quality
when compared with those in Europe. The German attack on the Kursk salient was to be their last offensive of such huge proportion
and such striking power on the Eastern Front, or indeed on any front.
As far as Russian cities go, Kursk can perhaps only
be regarded as remarkable for something called the 'Kursk Magnetic Anomaly'. Here, deposits of magnetite cause compasses
to swing uncontrollably. No doubt, some Russians and Germans will remember this city, one of the oldest in Russia, for reasons
other than this unusual phenomena. Fifty-one years ago, on the morning of 5 July 1943, the German Army in the Soviet Union
opened a great offensive against the Soviet-held salient at Kursk. There, many Soviet and German youths were to be killed
or maimed. Masses of burnt and destroyed tanks and other equipments were to be left on the battlefield as the battle flowed
westward to Germany. To many Soviet writers and historians, the battle for Kursk was the decisive battle of the Second World
War. In the West, interest in the battle has certainly increased in recent years and it now appears in most popular histories
of the Second World War written in English and many documentary films now mention it. Still, most people in the West and,
for that matter, in South Africa, have still not even heard of the battle of Kursk. But should they have? Just how important
was this great armoured clash that is widely considered to have been the greatest tank battle in history? Was it the decisive
battle of the Second World War as held by, amongst others, revisionist historian A J P Taylor, Soviet Field Marshal Georgi
Zhukov and German writer Paul Carell, or was it no more important than many other battles that were fought on many other fronts,
as implied by a writer like Albert Seaton?
On 2 February 1943, the last elements of the German
6th Army, which had been encircled by the Red Army at Stalingrad, surrendered. The collapse of the German Army in the east
appeared total. By early February, the Red Army offensive was a mere forty kilometres from the Dnieper river. However, a remarkable
Wehrmacht counter-offensive unleashed on 19 February by the master of counter-offence, Field-Marshal Erich von Manstein, succeeded
in rocking back the over- extended Soviet attack and stabilising what had appeared an utterly disastrous situation for Germany.
Manstein's victory was small compared to the defeat that had been suffered by the Axis at Stalingrad, but it did demonstrate
that they were still a force with which to be reckoned. By the end of March, the mud of the spring thaw had brought operations
to a halt. The Germans had regained the city of Kharkov, but, however much he may have liked to, Manstein did not have the
strength to slice off the large Soviet-held salient that now jutted out around Kursk. Some 125 km deep and 230 km across,
this huge salient, or bulge, would become almost an obsession with Hitler. It appears safe to say that the STAVKA, the Soviet
High Command, viewed the coming spring with at least a certain amount of dread.(17) The Red Army had yet to beat the German
Army in summer and, although the Wehrmacht had been savaged during the winter, it remained a potent force with a competence
that the Red Army could apparently still never hope to match. Many German commanders believed that they could fight the Red
Army to a standstill and in July 1943 they could still call on over three million German soldiers, not including allies, to
Although Stalingrad had destroyed German hopes of creating
anything like an adequate strategic reserve, the majority of frontline units in the east had been brought back up to acceptable
strengths and the expanding use of slave labour was releasing further German men (the Wehrmacht used exceedingly few women)
for service in the army. In 1943, under the direction of Albert Speer (who had taken over as the Reich Minister of War Production
and Armaments in 1942), the German war economy began to recover from its relative lethargy. By July, much of the equipment
that had been lost the previous winter had been made up. After the Stalingrad disaster of January 1943, the German Army had
a mere 495 tanks available for service on the entire Eastern Front. By July, this figure had increased to some 3 800. While
some of these tanks were drawn from units on other fronts, production had begun to pick up considerably. Although many existing
units were not brought up to their original strength, all of the divisions lost at Stalingrad had been reformed under the
orders of the number-obsessed Hitler. For the Panzer divisions, one consequence of this policy was that the armour content
of such a division was reduced, so that the average Panzer division could only be expected to contain between seventy and
one hundred tanks. Tank content was watered down with the more cheaply made assault guns in some divisions and, formidable
though some models of these weapons were, they were considered inferior offensive weapons when compared with the tank. This
said, it should be noted that, when compared with the earlier German armoured divisions, the overall firepower of most of
the Panzer divisions had greatly increased, many German weapons being more efficient than they had been in 1941 or even 1942.
The loss of experienced and trained personnel was more difficult to replace. Relatively few of the German troops that waited
to attack at Kursk were the crack and confident troops that had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, or who had unleashed another
lightning offensive toward the Caucasus Mountains in the summer of 1942, and some of them were now of more doubtful quality.
For example, many of the replacements for the elite Waffen SS division, the Leibstandarte, were of air force groundcrew origin
who had received but a few days infantry training prior to being railed to the division.(18) However, there was a core of
veterans from which such replacements could learn and most of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS replacements were still well trained,
especially in comparison to many of those that the Red Army threw into battle, and those who did not perish during the first
few weeks of battle would probably make efficient soldiers. In terms of sheer numbers, in July 1943 the Wehrmacht was almost
back at the strength that it enjoyed when it invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. All-in-all it was, considering the drubbing
of the previous winter, in relatively good shape in July 1943. It was at least, as a number of writers have pointed out, an
army 'far from beaten'. It could still be considered the tactical master of the Eastern Front and, though the Soviets
had improved considerably since 1941, the Red Army, during the February battles, still responded rather like a clumsy heavyweight
against the astutely handled Wehrmacht. Cruel discipline ensured that relatively few in the Red Army, from the ordinary soldiers
to many of the generals, acted with much initiative. What had changed very markedly by July 1943 was the numerical strength
of the Red Army. On 22 June 1941, the Red Army had nearly five million men under arms. In December its strength had fallen
to the lowest point of the war; some two and a half million. By July 1943 it had grown back to over five million. Not only
were the Soviets building a powerful numerical superiority in manpower, but their war production also continued to outstrip
that of the Reich. At this time the Red Army could field a total of some 9 900 tanks, 8 300 aircraft and 60 000 artillery
pieces and mortars.
It is certainly difficult to establish
with any precision the damage inflicted on the German Army during their attack at Kursk. The Germans did not release any casualty
figures for the period during which they were on the offensive and it would be idle to speculate such losses without the benefit
of reliable evidence. It is clear that the defeat of the German offensive at Kursk and the subsequent - more than two month
- Soviet counter-offensive (for which there has not unfortunately been the space to explore in any detail here) amounted to
an appalling defeat for Nazi-Germany. Considering that the personnel strength of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front decreased
from 3 100 000 on 1 July to 2 564 000 on 1 October, and that half of these losses were replaced, it would be fair to assume
that German Army losses (not including Luftwaffe and Waffen SS units) between the period 1 July and 1 October 1943, from all
causes, were in the order of one million.
(66) The Wehrmacht,
not including SS or air force divisions, would have approximately 100 000 troops less than that with which to defend France
in June 1944! On the other hand, German losses (not including those of their allies) during the Stalingrad 'period'
(November 1942 to February 1943) are considered to have been about 540 000. The German equipment losses are, for the most
part, impossible to establish. According to one historian, the Germans lost more equipment at Kursk than at Stalingrad. Whether
this refers to the period of the German offensive or the entire three month period is unclear, but certainly the three month
'Kursk period' must have cost the Germans more equipment than the equivalent Stalingrad period. We do know that, between
them, 19th, 17th and the 3rd Panzer divisions began their offensive with 450 tanks and assault guns. Within two weeks they
could deploy a mere 100. Of the eighty-nine Ferdinands committed to the offensive, thirty-nine were lost. The number of Tigers
that were destroyed is not known, but perhaps as many as half - about fifty - as many as the Germans would later be able to
deploy at Normandy, were lost. The Soviets claimed that they destroyed a total of 2 900 German tanks during the battle, obviously
a gross exaggeration as the Germans did not even deploy that many.(70) More reasonable estimates have put Germany's July
losses in tanks and assault guns at 1 000 and, by October, they must have been staggering. The losses in other equipments
cannot be estimated and - whatever they may have been - the Germans could not afford or replace them. Neither could they replace
the many trained tank crews, artillery, air and infantrymen that had become casualties at Kursk. Von Kluge, in a letter to
Hitler sent in the middle of October 1943, felt compelled to complain about the poor quality of replacements that the Reich
was now hastily sending to his army group. The Soviets certainly lost many more troops and equipment than did the Germans,
but they could replace the losses they had sustained, apparently with comparative ease. As a bonus, the battlefield was left
to them and they were able to recover and repair much equipment. Soviet industry was also in a position to quickly replace
equipment losses and Soviet manpower appeared inexhaustible.
Citadel was the last great German offensive in the east
and the Germans would never regain the initiative from a growing and increasingly proficient Red Army. In the air too, the
Soviet air force was asserting an ever increasing dominance over the German. Kursk brought Soviet air superiority for the
first time - with all the implications that would have for the German ground forces. The Soviets had absorbed the best that
the Germans had and began their own irresistible offensive along most of the front. It was an offensive that would hardly
stop until the Red Army had taken Berlin. The collapse of the German Army during the months following Kursk was not total,
but it was a collapse of unprecedented scale and the German Army would never be quite the same again. Kursk was not the decisive
battle of Hitler's war. No single battle of the war can claim such a place. Nazi Germany was ground into submission over
a long period of, essentially, four years. However, in the annuals of decisive Second World War struggles, the Kursk period
ranks, or should rank, as more important than nearly all.
In 1942 Hitler approved the design and construction of an extremely
large tank, but the project was cancelled in 1943 before any actual construction had begun. The tank was supposed to be
more than fifteen times as big as a normal tank and it should have been armed with a 800 mm Krupp cannon (the main cannon
on a normal tank like the M1 Abrams is 105 mm). The
800 mm Krupp cannon is the largest artillery weapon ever built. Each projectile weighted 7 tons and it could be fired up
to 37 km (23 miles). I haven’t seen any pictures of the Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster, so you must make do with a picture
of the Krupp cannon.
The M4A3E2 or (76) Sherman Jumbo was designated an assault
tank and not a tank destroyer as commonly reported in other sources. It provided applique armor to front and sides of the
hull, a standard 75mm main gun and HE (High Explosive) ammunition. Other features included a single-unit differential and
drive housing and removed headlights.
The turret system was also completely re-engineered to include a commander's
cupola and a loader hatch. Original armament was to be the 76mm main gun but the shell of the 75mm armament proved to be more
powerful. Some Sherman Jumbos did see the 76mm main gun mounted to their turrets however.
About 250 of these Sherman
versions were produced. Please see the M4 Sherman base entry for more details regarding the Sherman line of tanks and chassis
and their impact in the Second World War.
American Sherman-tank (M4-A3)
of WWII in Clervaux, participated at the battle of the Bulge in the north of Luxembourg
The first proposal
for a tank was by the Austrian Oberleutenant Günther Burstyn who, in 1911, proposed a design for "motor artillery"
(Motorengeschütz) with a turret, but his design never progressed beyond a German patent in 1912.
Tank or "landship"
development, originally conducted by the British Navy under the auspices of the Landships Committee was sponsored by the First
Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and proceeded through a number of prototypes culminating in the Mark I tank prototype
'Mother'. The first tank to engage in battle was named "D1", a British Mark I, during the Battle of Flers-Courcellette
on 15 September 1916. For further information on British World War I tank actions, see Tanks in World War I.
to World War II, Germany fielded very few tanks during WWI, with only 15 of the A7V type being produced in Germany during
the war. The first tank versus tank action took place on 24 April 1918 at Villers-Bretonneux, France, when three British Mark
IVs met three German A7Vs.
poor mobility and piecemeal tactical deployment limited the military significance of the tank in World War I and the tank
did not fulfil its promise of rendering trench warfare obsolete. None the less, it was clear to military thinkers on both
sides that tanks would play a significant role in future conflicts.
In the inter-war period tanks underwent further
mechanical development and, in terms of tactics, J.F.C. Fuller's doctrine of spearhead attacks with massed tank formations
was the basis for work by Heinz Guderian in Germany, Percy Hobart in Britain, Adna R. Chaffee, Jr. in the U.S., Charles de
Gaulle in France, and Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the USSR. All came to similar conclusions, but in the Second World War only
Germany would put the theory into practice on a large scale, and it was their superior tactics and French blunders, not superior
weapons, that made blitzkrieg so successful in May 1940.
The first tanks didn't have turrets
in World War I until the development of the French light tank called the FT-17. This French tank set the design of tanks
to modern day even thou it only had a machine gun for is main weapon. Many World War I tanks were huge compared to the early
days of tank in World War II. At the Start of WW2 most tanks had a 37mm cannon. Also before World War II the development
of mobile radio sets that could be used inside tanks meant that tanks to work together as groups with out a person hanging
outside of the tank with flags.During World War 2 tanks got larger up to the point of the 50 ton Tiger tanks. With larger
size meant larger weapons. The Soviets with the IS-2 tank had the largest production tank gun of WW 2 with a 122mm cannon.
The IS-2 was the Soviet answer to the German Tiger and King Tiger tanks which had an 88MM cannon. The US built the M-26
Perishing with a 90mm Cannon. Armor during WW2 was mainly steel but Post WW2 the developed of guided missiles and SABOT
rounds meant the development of new types of armor. With new armor and larger main guns tanks also got shorter. The closer
to the ground a tank was the harder to hit. Vietnam was not a big tank war. The US mainly used tanks as mobile artillery
since they would sink in many of the rice paddies of Vietnam. The North Vietnamese did use T-34 and T-55. During the 1972
invasion the US used helicopters armed with guided missiles to destroy large numbers of North Vietnam's Soviet built
tanks. In the 1960 and 1970s tanks started to receive laser sights, night vision and other enhancements to increase their
ability to fight. The Israelis developed explosive armor to defeat shaped charge rounds and missiles. British and American
researches came up with armor based on depleted uranium. One big modern change is the development of smooth bore guns. Older
tanks had rifled tubes which helped spin the shell as it fired. This helped stabile the shell in flight. Smooth bore guns
last longer than rifled tubes and for about the same weight can fire a large shell. The Original M-1 had a 105mm main gun.
The M1A3 uses a 120mm main gun as does the German Leopard 2. Other new weapons are the use of missiles instead of shells.
Some tanks carry missiles that fire out of the main gun. Some are laser guided or infrared guided. Modern tanks now use
wireless networking to talk to helicopters, other tanks, artillery, command posts and even local close air support aircraft.
This networking will speed how fast a tank works on the modern battlefield. Working together with other battlefield weapons
will make the tank more deadly and useful for years to come. The Tank was a culmination of technology developed before World
War 1. The first tank is believed to have been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 15th century. It was never built.
The Army of Great Britain in World War I needed a device that could break thru the line of trenches that the Germans were
building in World War I. Using Gasoline engines, naval steel plates and tracks the British built the first working tanks.
They were called tanks in the hope that Germans would think they were water tanks. In the summer of 1915 the British tested
their tanks in England. The tanks were rushed into production and were on the battlefields of France in Sept 1916. The first
tanks were slow but they were invulnerable to machine guns and rifles. Only artillery or mechanical breakdown could stop
During the Cold
War, the two opposing forces in Europe were the Warsaw Pact countries on the one side, and the NATO countries on the other
side. The Warsaw Pact was seen by the West as having an aggressive force outnumbering the NATO forces and tank development
proceeded largely as it had during WWII to maintain the balance of power. The essence of tank designs during the Cold War
had been hammered out in the closing months of World War II. Large turrets, capable suspension systems, greatly improved engines,
sloped armour and large caliber (100mm+) guns were all introduced to tanks during WWII. Tank design during the Cold War built
on this foundation and included improvements to fire control, gun stabilisation, communications and crew comfort. Armour technology
progressed in an ongoing race against improvements in anti-tank weapons, especially antitank guided missiles like the TOW.
Medium tanks of WWII gradually evolved into the Main Battle Tank of the Cold War and took over all tank roles
on the battlefield. This transition happened gradually in the 1950s, as it was realized that medium tanks could carry guns
(such as the US 90 mm, Soviet 100 mm, and the excellent British L7 105 mm) that could penetrate any practical thickness of
armour plate at long range. The WWII concept of heavy tanks, armed with the most powerful guns and heaviest armour became
obsolete, since they were just as vulnerable as other vehicles to the new medium tank guns. Likewise, WWII had shown that
lightly-armed, lightly-armoured tanks were of little value in most roles; speed was not a substitute for armour and fire power.threat.
protection is the combination of its ability to avoid detection, to avoid being hit by enemy fire, its armour to resist the
effects of enemy fire, and to sustain damage and complete its mission, or at least protect its crew. In common with most unit
types, tanks are subject to additional hazards in wooded and urban combat environments which largely negate the advantages
of the tank's long-range fire-power and mobility, limit the crew's detection capabilities and can restrict turret
traverse. Despite these disadvantages, tanks retain high survivability against previous generation RPGs in all combat environments
by virtue of their armour. By contrast, tank survivability against newer generation tandem-warhead anti-tank missiles is a
concern for military planners.
A tank avoids
detection using the doctrine of CCD: camouflage (looks the same as the surroundings), concealment (cannot be seen) and deception
(looks like something else).
Working against efforts to avoid detection is the fact that a tank is a large metallic
object with a distinctive, angular silhouette that emits copious heat and noise when mobile. Consequently, it's difficult
to effectively camouflage a hull-up tank in the absence of some form of cover or concealment (eg. woods). The tank becomes
easier to detect when mobile due to the large, distinctive auditory, vibration and thermal signatures of a power plant with
an output comparable to that of a diesel locomotive. Tank tracks and dust clouds also betray past or present tank movement.
Powered down tanks are vulnerable to infra-red detection due to differences between the thermal conductivity and therefore
heat dissipation of the metallic tank and its surroundings. At close range the tank can be detected even when powered down
and fully concealed due to the column of warmer air above the tank and the smell of diesel.
are at least three possible explanations of the origin of the name "tank". One is it first arose in British factories
making the hulls of the first battle tanks: workmen and possible spies were to be given the impression they were constructing
mobile water containers or tanks for the British Army, hence keeping the production of a fighting vehicle secret.
Another is the term was first used in a secret report on the new motorized weapon presented to Winston Churchill, then First
Lord of the Admiralty, by British Army Lt.-Col. Ernest Swinton. From this report, three possible terms emerged: "cistern",
"motor-war car", and "tank". Apparently "tank" was chosen due to its linguistic simplicity.
Perhaps the most compelling story comes from Churchill's authoritative biography. To disguise the device, drawings were
marked "water carriers for Russia."
When it was pointed out this might be shortened to "WCs for
Russia," the drawings were changed to "water tanks for Russia." Eventually the weapon was just called a tank.
The cruiser tank
(also called cavalry tank or fast tank) was a British tank design concept of the inter-war period. This concept was the driving
force behind several tank designs which saw action during the Second World War.
Like the ships of the same name,
cruiser tanks were fast and mobile, and were designed to operate independently of the slow-moving infantry and their heavier
Infantry tanks. Once gaps had been punched in the enemy front by the infantry tanks, the cruisers were intended to penetrate
to the rear, attacking lines of supply and communication in accordance with the theories of Hobart and Liddell-Hart. Speed
was therefore a critical factor, and to achieve this the early cruiser designs were lightly armoured and armed. This emphasis
on speed unbalanced the British designs; insufficient attention was paid to armour protection. At the time it was not well
understood that lightly-armoured vehicles would not survive on the modern battlefield. An even bigger problem for most cruiser
tanks was the small calibre of their main gun. Most cruisers were armed with the QF two-pounder (40 mm) gun. This gun had
good armour penetration (the best at the time), but was never issued high explosive ammunition. This made the cruisers vulnerable
to towed Anti-tank guns. However, as fighting enemy tanks was part of the projected role of the Cruiser tanks they were the
first to be upgraded to the heavier 6 pounder (57 mm) gun when it became available, and a great deal of effort was put into
developing (admittedly unsuccessful) Cruiser tanks armed with the 17 pounder QF (76 mm) gun. Ironically, given the emphasis
on high mobility, most cruisers were plagued by mechanical unreliability. This problem was usually caused by insufficient
development as most of the early Cruiser tank designs were ordered "off the drawing board" and was not fully solved
until the debut of the Cromwell in 1944, with its powerful, reliable Rolls-Royce Meteor engine.
The British and French tanks were are among some of
the least successful of the WW2 period. Some of them (such as the British Valentine, Matilda and Churchill) were eventually
turned into good fighting machines, but - working in a rush and without a proper development base from which to work up their
designs - many British tank designers produced tanks that were no match for their counterparts in the German Panzer units.
The reasons for this are described herein, but it is not all a sorry tale: despite their drawbacks, these tanks (both Infantry
and Cruiser types) were at times all there was to hand and with them their crews and commanders learned the important lessons
that were to produce the eventual Allied victory.
The tale of the Cruiser tanks produced by Great Britain has by
now been often told but it still bears re-examination, showing as it does, how a doctrine accepted without proper investigation
can affect the course of battles, even well past the point when the doctrine has been found wanting. British and Allied tank
crews had to drive their charges into battle knowing that their main guns were too weak, their armoured protection too thin
and their mechanical reliability all too suspect at a critical moment. But they went into battle all the same and often managed
to defeat a betterarmed and prepared enemy.
The great advantage military tanks brought is the ability
to cross very rough terrain areas at high speeds while also firing. The level of heavy armour that is part of the design ensures
a high degree of survivability for the soldiers that operate military tanks in the conditions of breakthroughs in the enemy
areas. It is highly uncommon that such special units be used individually; most of the time military tanks are part of armoured
divisions or combined forces that work together in combat. One main reason for the inadequacy of individual use is the existence
of anti-tank artillery, and anti-tank bombs that were created as the main defences against combat breach creation.
World War II
was the first conflict where armoured vehicles were critical to success on the battlefield. During the German Invasion of
Poland (1939) the Germans used a combination of Panzer I (a training tank), Panzer II light tanks, and captured Czechoslovakian
tanks (Panzer 35 and Panzer 38. Early war German tanks sacrificed firepower and protection for mobility and reliability. In
contrast, the French had good tanks like the Somua S35 and Char B1 but employed a defensive doctrine and had poor tank command
and control systems, lacking radios in many of their tanks and headquarters. The French and British used a range of tank designs
with different roles (see British tank classification). One of the more successful British tanks of the war was the Matilda
The German doctrine of blitzkrieg or "Lightning War" made use of radios in all of the tanks to
provide command and control, which made them more effective tank for tank than their Allied opponents in the Battle of France,
despite the Allied machines being more than a match for the panzers one-on-one. German tanks bypassed enemy strong-points
and could radio for close air support to destroy them, or leave them to the infantry on foot. A related development, mechanized
infantry, allowed some of the troops to keep up with the tanks and create (for the period) highly mobile combined arms forces.
By 1941, the Germans had the newer Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks with which to invade the Soviet Union in Operation
Barbarossa. In an echo of the Battle of France the Soviets had several good tanks and one superb tank design, the T-34. German
crews were initially shocked by the excellent all-round performance of the T-34 and the protection and firepower of the KV-1.
As before, the rigid Soviet command structure and poor leadership allowed their machines to be surrounded and destroyed in
detail, but the Germans could not precipitate the same tactical and strategic panic as they had in France; instead they found
an enemy that doggedly kept fighting without food, water and communications. Despite early successes against the Soviets,
the Germans began up-gunning their Panzer IVs, and eventually built larger Panther and Tiger tanks to (ultimately unsuccessfully)
deal with the Soviet tank.
The three traditional
factors determining a tank's effectiveness in battle are its firepower, protection, and mobility. In practical terms,
the cost to manufacture and maintain a given tank design is also important in that it determines how many tanks a nation can
afford to field.
Firepower is the ability of a tank to identify, engage, and destroy a target. Protection is
the tank's ability to resist being detected, engaged, and disabled or destroyed by enemy fire. Mobility includes tactical
(short range) movement over the battlefield including over rough terrain and obstacles, as well as strategic (long range)
mobility, the ability of the tank to be transported by road, rail, sea, and/or air, to the battlefield.
design is a compromise; it is not possible to maximize firepower, protection and mobility simultaneously. For example, increasing
protection by adding armour will result in an increase in weight and therefore decrease mobility; increasing firepower by
installing a larger gun will force the designer to sacrifice speed or armour to compensate for the added weight and cost.
Since WWII tank development has shifted focus from experimenting with large scale mechanical changes to the tank
design to focussing on technological advances in the tank's subsystems to improve its performance.
respect to tanks, firepower means the ability to rapidly detect, identify, engage and destroy targets on the battlefield.
The main weapon of all modern tanks is a single, large calibre (105 to 125mm) gun mounted in a fully traversing turret.
The typical tank gun is a smoothbore weapon capable of firing armour-piercing kinetic energy penetrators (KEP), also known
as armour-piercing discarding sabot (APDS), and high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) shells and/or anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM)
to destroy armoured targets, as well as high explosive (HE) shells for engaging soft targets or fortifications. A modern type
of tank ordnance arising from the close range urban combat in Iraq is a 120mm caliber "shotgun" round for the M1
Abramswhich will fire 1100 tungsten pellets.
A gyroscope is
used to stabilise the main gun, reducing the effect of manoeuvring on accuracy. Modern tank guns are also commonly fitted
with insulating thermal jackets to reduce gun-barrel warping caused by uneven thermal expansion, bore evacuators to minimise
fumes entering the crew compartment and (less often) muzzle brakes to minimise the effect of recoil on accuracy and rate of
Modern target detection relies on telescopic periscopes and sophisticated light intensification and thermal imaging
equipment to improve fighting capability at night, in poor weather and in smoke. The accuracy of modern tank guns is pushed
to the mechanical limit by computerized fire control systems. The fire control system uses a laser range-finder to detect
the range to the target, a thermocouple, anemometer and wind vane to correct for weather effects and a muzzle referencing
system to correct for gun-barrel temperature, warping and wear. Two sightings of a target with the range-finder enable calculation
of the target movement vector. This information is combined with the known movement of the tank and the principles of ballistics
to calculate the elevation and aim point that maximises the probability of destroying the target.
The tank had an interesting role in
World War One. The tank was first used at the little known Battle of Flers. It was then used with less success at the Battle
of the Somme. Though the tank was highly unreliable – as one would expect from a new machine – it did a great
deal to end the horrors of trench warfare and brought back some mobility to the Western Front.
The idea of
the tank came from a development of farming vehicles that could cross difficult land with ease by using caterpillar tracks.
However, the British army’s hierarchy was dominated by officers from the various cavalry regiments that existed. At
the start of World War One, the first engagement between the British and Germans had involved cavalry near Mons. This seemed
to emphasise the importance of such regiments. However, trench warfare had made the use of cavalry null and void. Cavalry
engagements fought in mud proved very costly and from a military point of view, hopeless. Despite this seemingly obvious fact,
senior military commanders were hostile to the use of armoured vehicles, as they would have challenged the use of cavalry
in the field.
The leading light in support of the tank was Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Swinton. In 1914, he had proposed
the development of a new type of fighting vehicle. In fact, it is a common misconception that no fighting vehicles existed
in August 1914. The Germans, British, Austrians, Russians and French all had armoured fighting vehicles that could fight on
‘normal’ terrain. But these vehicles could not cope with trenches that were soon to dominate the Western Front.
Caterpillar tracked vehicles were already in France as the British used them as heavy gun tractors.
received some support from those in authority but many in the army’s General Staff were deeply suspicious. Swinton needed
an example of the machine that he believed would alter warfare on the Western Front. By June 9th 1915, agreement was made
regarding what the new weapon should be. It should:
Have a top speed of 4 mph on flat land
The ability to turn sharply at top speed
The ability to climb a 5-feet parapet
The ability to cross an eight feet gap
A working radius of 20 miles
of ten men with two machine guns on board and one light artillery gun.
One supporter of the prospective new weapon was
Winston Churchill. However, by the end of 1915, his name was not held in high esteem because of the Gallipoli fiasco.
the stalemate on the Western Front continued, so the drive to find a weapon that could break this lack of mobility became
more intense. Most of the original designs were based on designs from the Holt tractor company. However, their vehicles were
designed to operate on muddy land but not the churned up landscape of the Western Front. The first 'tank' to have
any form of caterpillar track was a vehicle designed by Lieutenant W Wilson and William Tritton called "Little Willie".
"Little Willie" was never designed to fight but to serve as a template for development. "Little Willie"
developed in to "Big Willie" which started to bear a resemblance to the first Mark 1 seen in the photo. "Big
Willie" was rhomboid in shape and had guns mounted in blisters on the sides of the hull.
The military failure
in Gallipoli had pushed the emphasis of the war back to the Western Front - to the trenches and the lack of movement. Therefore,
any new weapon that might seem capable of ending this stalemate was likely to be better received than in the past.
The start of life for the tank did not bode well. The first model came off the factory floor on September 8th 1915. On September
10th, its track came off. The same happened on September 19th when government officials were watching. However, these officials
were impressed as they knew that any new weapon was bound to have teething problems and their recognised the potential that
the new weapon had. Its main weakness was the track system. Tritton and Wilson designed a new and more reliable
version and on September 29th a meeting took place in London that recommended the new weapon should have 10-mm frontal armour
and 8-mm side armour. There would be a crew of eight and the large guns would be 57-mm naval guns mounted on the sides. The
vehicle would have a speed of 4 mph. "Big Willie" ran with these specifications for the first time on January 16th
1916. Churchill had directly contacted Haig to convince him about the usefulness of the new weapon. Haig sent a major, Hugh
Elles, to find out more about the machine and he reported favourably to Haig.
On January 29th 1916, "Big Willie"
went through it first major demonstration - under the tightest of secrecy. On February 2nd, Kitchener, Lloyd George and McKenna,
the Chancellor of the Exchequer, attended another demonstration. It was at this meeting that Kitchener described "Big
Willie" as a "pretty mechanical toy". However, those close to Kitchener said that he said this as a way to
provoke the 'tank team' into defending their creation, i.e. that he was deliberately provocative to see what response
he got. Whatever the case, by February 12th, 100 "Big Willies" had been ordered by the Ministry of Munitions.
The development of the tank when compared to other weapons was remarkably swift - a testament to the team surrounding
the weapon and the drive of Wilson and Tritton. After February 12th, Ernest Swinton went into overdrive to develop a fighting
technique for these new weapons. Swinton was very keen that both tanks and infantry worked in co-operation. However, in the
early days, it remains clear that even Swinton saw the tank as supporting the infantry in their efforts to break the German
front lines as opposed to the tank being a weapon that could do this by itself.
"It seems, as the tanks are an auxiliary
to the infantry, that they must be counted as infantry and in an operation be under the same command."
April, Haig informed Swinton that he wanted tanks and crews ready for June 1st - the start date for the Battle of the Somme.
This was an impossible request as there were no tanks in production and if there were no tanks, how could crews train on them?
Finding crews was also a potential problem as very few people outside of the rich had had experience of mechanised vehicles
by 1916. Those who did join the Armoured Car Section of the Motor Machine Gun Service (an attempt to disguise the new weapon)
came from the Motor Machine Gun Service or from the motor trade - these people had mechanical skills but no military knowledge!
The abject failure of artillery at Verdun and the Somme meant that General Headquarters ordered the new weapon into
use by September 15th 1916. The first tanks arrived in Europe on August 30th but the crews were faced with major problems.
One tank commander wrote:
"I and my crew did not have a tank of our own the whole time we were in England. Ours
went wrong the day it arrived. We had no reconnaissance or map reading....no practices or lectures on the compass....we had
no signaling....and no practice in considering orders. We had no knowledge of where to look for information that would be
necessary for us as tank commanders, nor did we know what information we should be likely to require."
September 15th, 36 tanks made an en mass attack at the Somme. Originally there had been fifty of these machines but these
thirty ton machines could not cope with the harsh lunar landscape of the churned up ground and fourteen had broken down or
got bogged down. Regardless of this a new era in warfare had started.
protect the tank and its crew, tank armour must counter a wide variety of anti-tank threats. Protection against kinetic energy
penetrators and high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) shells fired by other tanks is of primary importance, but tank armour must
also aim to protect against infantry anti-tank missiles, anti-tank mines, bombs, direct artillery hits, and (less often) nuclear,
bacterial and chemical threats, any of which could disable or destroy a tank and/or its crew.
plate was the earliest type of armour. The Germans pioneered the use of face hardened steel during WWII and the Soviets also
achieved improved protection with sloped armour technology. WWII developments also spelled the eventual doom of homogeneous
steel armour with the development of shaped charge warheads, exemplified by the Panzerfaust and bazooka infantry weapons which
were lethally effective, despite some early success with spaced armour.
British tank researchers took the next
step with the development of Chobham armour, or more generally composite armour, incorporating ceramics and plastics in a
resin matrix between steel plates, which provided good protection against early HEAT weapons. Magnetic mines led to the development
of anti-magnetic paste and paint, squash head warheads led to Kevlar (or equivalent) anti-spall armour linings, and KEPs led
to the inclusion of exotic materials like depleted uranium in the composite matrix. Reactive armour consists of small explosive
"bricks" that detonate when damaged by HEAT fire, bending or disrupting the incoming molten metallic jet. Tandem
warheads defeat reactive armour by causing the armour to detonate prematurely. Grenade launchers which can rapidly deploy
a smoke screen and the modern Shtora soft-kill countermeasure system provide additional protection by disrupting enemy targeting
and fire control systems.
The Tank, Cruiser,
Mk IV (A13 Mk II) was a British cruiser tank of World War II. It followed directly on from the Tank, Cruiser, Mk III (A13).
The first Mk IV's were Mk III's with extra armour fitted to the turret. Later Mk IVA's were built with the complete