Tank

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" Remember Comrades, we are tank!
They take out treads, we are artillery!
They take out main gun, we are pillbox!
They take out machine gun, we are bunker!
They take out armor, we are heroes! "

– A popular internet copypasta about a tank's various roles in a nutshell


A French Renault FT-17 Tank, the first tank to have the rough layout that would be the norm for tanks (Crew in the front, top mounted 360 degree turret for main gun, engine in back)

A tank is a tracked, armored combat vehicle. The term is often limited to vehicles intended for direct combat, as opposed to e.g. self-propelled artillery (which stay to the rear) or armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, which are on the front line but are primarily tasked with carrying soldiers as opposed to fighting directly, and may not necessarily be tracked. Their invention revolutionized warfare in the 20th century, and any wargame set in or after that time period (or in alternate universes with similar or more advanced technology levels) will have plenty of attention devoted to them -- or to whatever made them obsolete, as in e.g. BattleTech.

The idea of an armored fighting vehicle dates back at least to Leonardo da Vinci and was explored by H. G. Wells and a few theorists, but the modern tank was proposed shortly before World War I, and was then spurred to production by the war itself. When the war on the Western Front got bogged down in trenches, the British Royal Navy, who had already had some success with mobile armoured car groups, had the idea to use tracked, armored vehicles with guns to break the stalemate. The name "tank" became attached to the vehicle as a codename to disguise the purpose of the large metal bodies being built. After the first tanks rolled onto the battlefield, other countries called them "battle wagons", "armors", "assault vehicles", and other more descriptive names, but the Anglosphere was stuck with calling them "tanks". (Interestingly, the original British Tank, which looked like a tractor with a metal box on top of it was called "Little Willy".)

Common Features of the Tank[edit]

Tanks were built with pretty much any set of features you could imagine, but over time, the militaries of the world settled on several key features:

  1. A large-caliber primary cannon for destroying enemy vehicles and defenses. This is partially why the Navy was the first branch of the British military to design and produce tanks during WWI, but mostly because the early designs demonstrated for the British army were unimpressive at best while First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill saw their potential. Tanks armed with missiles instead of a main gun have been tried, but they have yet to take off.
  2. A turret to house the tank gun, to allow the tank to shoot at targets without having to pivot the entire vehicle. The French had this one figured out by 1918, and some tanks developed during the interwar period actually had more than one (though this proved impractical). Strictly speaking this one is not essential as the German Stug proves, and indeed the lack of a turret does have some advantages thanks to how it lowers the profile, but the advantages of a turret are strong enough to render the benefits offered moot. The only guys ever serious about turretless tanks after WWII were the Swedes and the germans but at the turn of the century they too went for a conventional turreted design. A turret-less tank is only really useful if you don't have the money to make a turreted tank, or you don't have the technology to mount a gun as big as you want in the turret.
    • As the why the Swedes chose to have a turretless tank, they had learnt from the studies of casualty reports from World War II and the Korean War which revealed that the risk of being hit in combat was strongly related to height, with more than half of tank losses being the result of the turret being penetrated. They therefore concluded that any new design should be as low as possible. The radical solution was to eliminate the turret, which would also dispose of a vulnerable target area and make the tank much lighter. Like all "strokes of brilliance", this had it's own set of ups and downs (literally, since the STRV103 had a hydraulic suspension designed to help stabilize and aim the main gun that would make any modern pimp wagon cry tears of envious rage). Were one to combine min-maxing and a tank, this would be the result.
      • An additional reason for this weird Swedish min-maxing was the political climate of the time. While Sweden was official neutral during the Cold War, they felt the Soviets were more likely to be an enemy than the Americans, especially since the Swedes had ties with the Finns. Hence, the Swedes decided a turretless tank would be better for the terrain of Finland and northern Sweden, where any Soviet attack would be fought off, due to the dense forests that make low-profile casemate vehicles better at ambush attacks. This is also the reason why they dropped their turretless design after the break-up of the USSR.
    • The germans mean while just had looked at there WW2 experience of tank destroyers like the Stug, saw how effective they had been, and did not immediately reject the concept, keeping a turret-less TD until at least 1990
  3. A sloped, heavily-armored front face to absorb attacks, including those from enemy tanks. The reliance on thick front armor led to the development of anti-tank weapons like missiles and mines specialized to attack more vulnerable rear, underside, and top armor. All that said, sometimes designers choose not to armor their tanks. If the thickest armor you can put on a tank is going to get penetrated anyway then your best bet is not to armor it at all and focus on speed to make sure you don't get hit to begin with. During the Cold War, the French made heavy use of this designs, especially during the period when new HEAT shells had made steel armour less useful, but newer and stronger composite armour hadn't been invented yet. Modern tanks are a compromise tring to strike the right balance of both mobility and protection.
  4. Tracks with a profile as low as possible while meeting all-terrain mobility needs. A stopped tank is a dead tank, and running the tracks over the top of the body is begging for a mobility kill, no matter how cool the British Mark I looked. (Though to be fair to the Mark I, it needed its high tracks to cross trenches, and since it came first, there weren't really any weapons that could specifically take advantage of its exposed tracks at the time.)
  5. A radio! It can not be overstated how important a radio became to tanks. In both the battle for France and the early Operation Barbarossa the German tanks were under gunned and under armored compared to their opponents but thanks to their radios, they were able to outmaneuver the enemy and take them apart. Radios also became important inside tanks because, well, tanks are LOUD, and it's the only way for the crew to talk to each other without going hoarse yelling at each other. (And it's not a joke: before the advent of intercom the commander often had to kick the driver on the left or right shoulder to indicate the direction he wanted him to turn because even yelling wasn't working with the ruckus of the moving tank.)

Basically, tanks boil down to three features: mobility, defense, and firepower. You can generally speaking pick two at the cost of the third. The heavier your guns and armour, the slower the tank will be, for instance, while a vehicle made for mobility has to sacrifice either protection or the size of its guns. Unless you're the Russians, who tend to pick all three while sacrificing crew comfort instead.

Useful Accessories for Tanks[edit]

Particularly true of modern tanks, while the above features are considered absolute essentials, most tanks will come with a number of additional features to improve survivability and combat effectiveness.

Offense[edit]

  • Machine Guns - These are useful for dealing with infantry in situations where a cannon is overkill or can't be brought to bear quickly enough. While WWI tanks liked to stick sponsons on all sides, the popularity of the turret made it much more practical to limit the number of secondary weapons to stick on. Typically, one is mounted on the top of the turret to be manned independently, or else added as a coaxial weapon to the main gun. Besides reducing complexity, the main reason for this is that sticking guns in your hull means cutting a hole in said hull, making it more vulnerable. This is less of an issue when you stick a gun on top of your tank, or else add one where a hole already exists (the one for the main cannon).
    • To be fair to WW1 designers, sponsons were the best option for the tactics at the time. Placing a machine gun and/or cannon in a sponson means it can clear a trench as the tank crosses it. Obviously, as soon as trenches fell out of favour, so too did sponsons. Additionally, as an enemy tank will never be in said trench, mounting an anti-tank weapon in the sponson is utterly retarded.
  • Ammunition types - While almost all cannon shells explode, the way they explode affects their performance against specific targets. For example: a High Explosive Anti Tank round uses the Munroe effect to punch holes in steel, but is near useless against ERA, and must score a near hit on infantry for any effect. Conversely, anti-infantry rounds send shrapnel flying everywhere upon detonation to wound clusters of infantry and damage light vehicles around the explosion, but because they do not carry a big-enough payload and the force of the explosion just scatters everywhere; they cannot reliably threaten heavy-armored tanks. Thus, a tank needs different types of ammunition to engage different targets efficiently, otherwise its just wasting ammunition. And while theoretically you could annihilate the gun barrel, coax, and everything around the mantlet if you hit it with a HE shell, this occurrence is rare due to tanks having the thing known as APFSDS, or Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot. And for an HE shell of this size, you need Self Propelled Guns. Usually, just hide and shoot the side.
  • Auxiliary Launchers - Even though you already have a cannon, having one or two of these on hand can still give you a leg up for any lopsided tank battles you may encounter. While most battle tanks eschew guided missiles due to their main gun being enough, lighter tanks typically use wire-guided missiles or dumb-fire rockets to give them an extra anti-armor punch when needed. Additionally, lighter tanks benefit from guided AT missiles as it allows them to reliably threaten heavier tanks, which could shrug off the shots from their low-caliber main gun. The downside is that missiles are limited to Shape Charge explosives, which can only threaten certain kinds of armor and not others. Only cannons can reliably penetrate armor through pure kinetic force.
    • The exception to this rule was the Matilda Hedgehog. The Aussies took a page from the Germans' "mad genius" book and mounted a 7-rounds 178mm spigot mortar on the back of a Matilda II tank, the idea being to give their infantry support tanks some serious close-range firepower for those cases something needed to be softened before an assault. While it unfortunately never saw action, considering the Hedgehog launcher was designed originally to kill submarines (yes, they too mounted a naval weapon on a tank) it would have been easily capable of fucking over a tank or bunker, as tests showed. The idea died out after WW2 though, since it was simply more cost-effective to let tanks do their tanky things and bring in artillery/a SPG/a plane do the really heavy shifting where needed.

Defense[edit]

  • Smoke Launchers - The little pipes you see on the turrets and hull of the tank are smoke launchers, which fire a single salvo of smoke grenades upon activation, and can be used multiple times. You may find the idea of trying to hide a tank ridiculous, but a good tank commander will know how to use smoke to mask their movements in case they need to make a hasty retreat. However, they're also really, really good at fouling up enemy laser guidance systems in an emergency situation or simply confusing AT infantry trying to get a bead on them. They also can block infrared due to the presence of White Phosphorus, which burns very hot. White Phosphorous is nasty in general, and will just as easily ignite some poor bastards along with the building they are shooting from.
  • Reactive Armor - Reactive armor are boxes with a metal plate and a small explosive charge behind them (although modern variants have non-explosive versions for the safety of the friendly infantry around the tank, known as NERA). When the RPG or ATGM hits the ERA, the blast disrupts the shaped charge jet, and either stops it, or greatly reduces it. A way to bypass this is tandem charge, which one mini RPG goes BLAM, setting off ERA, and then the real charge hits. Heavy ERA can also disrupt APFSDS to an extent, but usually not by much.
  • Slat Armor - Due to how shaped-charge rounds work, they need to detonate at the right distance of the armor to punch through it. Something as simple as a metal cage surrounding you can prevent the shaped charge from doing much damage by just making it go off early.
  • Improvised Armor - Just like its name says; its tank crewmen trying to bulk up their tank using unconventional things. Depending on their luck and resourcefulness, these can take the form of salvaged armor plates from other tanks, or nothing more than materials they find in the field, like sandbags or wooden logs. The latter two were popular in WW2, among other things. Improvised armor can protect the crew from some light anti-armor weapons to some extent, but does not fare well against heavy launchers and tanks with large main guns. This is often handy for smaller less tough vehicles, like APCs. A bit of wire fencing, a few metal rods, and a bit of welding may well save your ass.
  • Active Protection System - An APS is a device that shoots down incoming anti-armor projectiles using a weapon. It works by having an active radar detect incoming AT rounds at the tank and then, depending on the type, will then fuck up its homing or guidance, or shoot at it to destroy it mid-flight. A great way to avoid damage altogether, but it is limited by its ammunition capacity and that it starts becoming less effective when faced with multiple AT rounds coming it's way. Some use shotguns, others interceptor plates.
  • Spaced Armor - Spaced Armor is what it sounds like. Armor with a large gap. This gap helps dissipate the shaped charge, but does Jack shit for long rod penetrators, as, uh, air and two bits of metal ain't that fab for stopping a large mach 5 metal object. The best example are goofy-looking thin plates around a WWII German tank's turret and tracks (Schürzen or skirts). Although they were initially designed to reduce the power of AT guns, but breaking up attacks in the gap, they proved just as efficient against HEAT charges later on.

Support[edit]

  • Autoloaders - The main advantage to automating the loading process is that you could afford to have one less crew member, thus allocating better use of space and reducing crew complexity. That said, it does make your tank heavier, expensive, more maintenance-intensive, and your autoloader goes along with your tank if its destroyed (a human has a chance of ejecting from the tank if destroyed and return back to his lines to man another tank in no time, the auto-loader has to be salvaged by an engineering team, just to assess if its still usable). Also, a human loader can do things besides loading, as the need arises and until recently could load as fast as the mechanism the first minute or so before tiring.
  • Sensor arrays - Tanks have notoriously bad situational awareness, so people came up with solutions to improve it and avoid the tank crew sticking their head out and expose themselves to gunfire. In WWII, the Germans installed and armored cupola with vision slits atop the turret in order to improve the commander's sight while 'buttoned up'. Modern tanks get sensors and cameras to do the looking with minimal crew exposure.
  • Remote Weapon Systems - The pintle-mounted gun is great for clearing out and suppressing infantry because it can rotate 360 degrees and is at the top of the tank, so it has a bird's-eye view of the area. Unfortunately, popping your head out to shoot at people makes you a prime target for snipers. A solution for this is by having the pintle gun be virtually controlled from the inside by a remote weapon system, so the gunner can still shoot at targets without threat of catching a bullet in the face the moment they peek out of the hatch. Granted the gun itself can still be shot, but its a lot easier to replace a machine gun than a trained crewman.
  • Automatic Fire Extinguisher. Fire? No problem. Tap a button or just wait a few seconds, and in the Abram's case, Halon gas at 7% puts it out.
  • Blowout Ammo Compartment. A big problem in WW1 and 2 was tanks going up from the ammunition being detonated when hit (the remains of the crew would be... messy, to say the least. Frequently there wasn't anything left to bury besides vaguely body shaped ash). So we first came up with wet storage, which reduced and delayed such 'cooking off' tremendously. But since there was still some risk and with tanks costing more and more every generation, we invented blowouts for modern tanks. They're basically compartments that blow outwards when the ammunition is hit and begin to burn; they vent the bang away from the main body of the machine, thus saving the million dollar tank (and the squishy meatbags inside). Sure, the tank must retreat to restock ammo, a new storage bin and some tuning up; but it can still fight with a small repair... if your ammo storage compartment wasn't open the moment it was hit, that is, which is not unheard of, and had no HE or HEAT shells in it (the reason why M1 Abrams do not carry those).

Crewmen[edit]

Unlike a car or most combat airplanes, a tank isn't something that one person can fully operate alone (at least for today's standards). It is a large, complex machine that requires multiple people with specific tasks to keep it working. Never discount the importance of a well-trained crew, as they can be every bit as important as the selection of equipment. While technically feasible to operate a tank with only two people (a driver and a gunner, as was the case with the Renault FT), it’s much more practical to have more people per tank to divide the workload, especially since a successful tank battle is heavily determined by the time it takes to get off a successful shot. Early tanks were envisioned as 'landships' and had a crew of around ten men, but most tanks today have a crew of three or four, with some crewman having multiple duties to keep things as streamlined as possible.

  • Commander - The commander is the one who issues orders to all crewmen. Their main responsibilities for the tank are navigating for the driver, spotting targets for the gunner, and coordinating everyone to work as one well-oiled deathmachine. They're also the one who typically mans the hatch-mounted machine gun when needed. In modern times, they are also responsible for the radio.
  • Driver - Maneuvers the tank, but with a twist. Because the driver is typically near the bottom of the tank he only can see in front of him unless he sticks his head out of a hatch; his peripheral vision borders on inexistant. Because of that, they have to rely on the commander for precise maneuvers when the tank is traveling at full speed. That said, it is still possible for a driver to maneuver the tank on his own (yay for vision slits and/or cameras). In modern times, they also double up as the crew's mechanic.
  • Gunner - Operates the tank's main cannon(s) and coaxial machine gun, again with a small twist. He's responsible for aiming the guns where they need to shoot and firing when appropriate. They can also double as a loader if one's not available. But because the gunsight is quite narrow they can only make fine adjustments on their own and so need the Commander to spot the target and give them the rough direction in which to point the gun in the first place for them to acquire it and blow it up. A tank typically only needs 1 gunner, but older models that have more than 1 main cannon (like the WW1 British Mark tanks) required a gunner for each gun.
  • Loader - Assists the gunner by loading the appropriate ammunition into the main gun. Loaders are less common in modern tanks due to rise of autoloaders these days, but older tanks needed them to perform efficiently and the extra man has advantages his own. These include helping in field repairs and helping fuel the tank up.
  • Mechanic - Responsible for fixing up the tank when it breaks down (well, the whole crew pitches in but he's the guy with the knowledge). In later years to ease space concerns; the driver typically doubles as the crew's mechanic.
  • Radio Operator - Operates the radio and relays any orders and communications with friendly forces to the commander. Due to advancements in radio technology; radio operators are no longer needed in modern tanks as the commander can do that on their own these days.

Types of Tanks[edit]

Whether it's real or fantasy, tanks are classified from their weight and/or armament profile. A modern catch all term for all purpose built and improvised combat vehicles, not necessarily tanks, is Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV). Here are the common ones:

Not Actually Tanks[edit]

Despite having treads and a gun, the following vehicles are not considered tanks. The difference is that tanks are designed for frontline Combat", while other vehicles with treads are designed to carry and support infantry (APC/IFV), bombard enemy positions with heavy artillery (SPGs), or act as general support weapon systems. Many of these vehicles are light enough to be deployed by aircraft, giving them an edge over tanks in response time to emerging threats. If it isn't a purpose built chasis, they are frequently based on the previous or current tank being used to simplify logistics.

  • Armored Personnel Carrier - APCs are light vehicles designed to carry infantry and not much else. They're usually given a heavy machine gun to support the infantry they're carrying into battle and to defend itself, and not much else. They're designed to protect against small arms fire, not tank shells. Unlike IFVs, APCs are not expected to fight on the front due to their lackluster protection and armaments. However, they're sometimes also amphibious, something that the vast majority of tanks are not, allowing for both seafront assaults and quick getaways down waterways. Don't expect anything bigger than a HMG (that being under 20mm, usually also under or equal to 15mm) and a grenade launcher. Very rarely a low caliber (20 to under 25mm) autocannon may be present. May have a couple ATGMs (Anti Tank Guided Missile) to surpress the enemy but it isn't designed to stay in a firefight, an APC is first and foremost a transport.

Examples: Rhino, M113, Namer (notably, it is based on the Merkava, an MBT, and has unusually tough armor)

  • Self-propelled gun (SPG) - Vehicles armed with artillery weapons designed to bomb the enemy back into the stone age, ranging from howitzers, mortars, or missile systems. Typically built similarly to tanks, but sacrifice armor for their heavy guns since in normal circumstances they should be too far away to get shot at directly. Not to mention that some artillery pieces have a minimum range where they can drop their payload; thus, the SPG needs to put some distance between them and their target so that they can be in effective range. The advantage to having such artillery on an actual vehicle rather than being stationary, is that counter-battery fire can threaten static guns, while mobile guns can safely get out of the danger zone once they've delivered their payload. Self-propelled guns typically carry a 150+mm Howitzer, much larger than what any proper tank would carry. While mobile rocket platforms such as the BM-21 Hail or MLRS are more popular than Self-propelled guns and are capable of absolutely soaking an area in rocket spam, the SPG has the advantage of being able to sustain fire for longer periods of time. Besides that, most SPGs can also depress the barrel enough to engage something directly which can be useful in some situations (avoiding collateral damage, for instance). Do note that standard operating procedure for SPGs is to leg it like a little bitch tactically redeploy if the enemy close on their position: even if they carry a big gun, they are not front-line capable vehicles. Direct engagement is avoided even if a huge shell will ruin a punk's day just fine. May have a machine gun or two just in case, or an autocannon if the armed force is particularly passive aggresive and has money to blow on useless overkill.

Examples: Basilisk Artillery Gun, M109 Howitzer

  • Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) - Tank-like vehicles armed with weaponry designed to shoot aircraft out of the sky to provide mobile anti-air cover. There are only three real ways to shoot a very fast moving aircraft out of the sky. First you can use as many rapid fire guns as you can to fill the air with as many bullets as you can and hope for one hit. Second, you can fire one big shell up into the air and at a certain height have it explode spraying shrapnel around it self to score the one hit you need, this are known as Anti Air Artillery, and are known in the English world by the name the Germans used during World War 2, flak. Both have been superseded by AA missiles which can track a target and put that shrapnel warhead closer to the target than just guess work and a slide rule can. Others use both guns and SAMs. As a sidenote, flak tanks (and half-tracks) equipped with heavy machine guns and small autocannons have a nasty reputation as being infantry trouncers as multiple barrels spewing lead at high speed will turn soft ground targets into mulch very quickly. Indeed, both the M19 MGMC and the M42 Duster were primarily used in this role despite having been envisioned as point-defense SPAAGs. That role had something of a heyday between WW2 and Vietnam, with the quad mount 50 cal M45's being nicknamed Kraut Mover and the twin 40mm's of the M42 being used to lumberjack VC hiding in treelines. Modern variatns mostly have guided missiles and the BRRRRT variants are usually not mounted on tanks.

Examples: Hydra Flak Tank, ZSU 23-4 Shilka

  • Infantry Fighting Vehicle - Known as IFVs, these almost-tanks are capable of transporting infantry forces, while being armored and armed enough to be of support to the field, unlike light tanks. However, unlike true tanks, IFVs can't be expected to stand up to enemy armor. Modern IFV's can have anti tank missiles, but with their tin can armor, going toe to toe with a main battle tank is suicide and so it supports regular tanks or takes on enemy armor in emergencies. While APCs and IFV can share similar roles and armaments today, the main way to distinguish them is with their main gun: anything that has a main gun smaller than 25mm is classed as an APC, and anything higher is an IFV. IFVs are designed to stay and fight (though not toe to toe with enemy tanks) and act as direct fire support.

Examples: Chimera, Razorback, BMP, M2 Bradley

  • Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle - In some ways they can be confused for IFVs in that these vehicles are similarly equipped and focus on mobility, and may even have limited troop capacities. But where they mainly differ is in doctrinal use: Armored Recon is mainly used to provide independent support to a recon team rather than support front-line troops. As such, troop carrying capacity isn't as necessary if it has any at all. See below the Infantry vs Cavalry Tank distinction as it can apply here as well, since modern cavalry units use such vehicles. Some IFV's share a base chasis with ARVs , those ARVs are usually called Cavalry Figthing Vehicles (CFV).

Examples: Salamander Reconnaissance Tank, LAV-25, M113 MRV, M3 Bradley

  • Tank Destroyer - Tank destroyers are specialist tanks designed for one thing in mind: knocking out other tanks and not much else. Some are turreted, and some aren't. Most use guided missiles, some use cannons. What makes them not tanks is a matter of technicality. Tanks are designed for general military purpose (so useful for a range of tasks) while tank destroyers are for only one thing, destroying other tanks. After World War 2 we figured out that since tanks fought other tanks so often anyway tank destroyers don't really make sense so we upgraded the guns on regular tanks, while the role of “Light Anti-Armor Vehicle” was taken by ATGM carriers, which being mostly modified LAVs, have the ability to kill tanks while being very mobile and easy to transport. A handful of cannon-armed Tank Destroyers still exist, some tracked, others wheeled, but they're a rare breed. They tend to be considered for use with airborne troops in need of anti-armor capability (since a proper tank tends to be too heavy to airdrop) and for certain strategic mobility concerns.

Examples: Destroyer Tank Hunter, Leman Russ Vanquisher, M901 ITV

  • Assault guns, Similar to tank destroyers, assault guns differ in one important way: instead of an anti-tank gun, they're armed with a anti-building weapon, frequently a howitzer. These tended to be fairly big and fairly heavy compared to SPGs, because they're made to get in close to heavy fortifications. After World War 2 assault guns became light air-dropped weapons to support airborne troops if they encountered hard targets. They are comparatively very rare in modern orders of battle. Most that remain are in the Third World (usually WW2 Soviet vintage, they made a LOT of things).

Examples: Vindicator, Leman Russ Demolisher

Proper tanks[edit]

  • Tankettes - Less of a tank and more of an armored clown car with guns; these were in vogue for a while in the 1930s. They're essentially a one or two-person tank, armed with machine guns, flame throwers, or anti-tank rifles and not designed to move much faster than the infantry around them (except for the italians, whose cute lil' buggers could reach a respectable speed). They're generally made to act as mobile infantry support or anti-tank weapons. Needless to say, this idea didn't stick because when even a high-caliber machine gun (which WW2 was rife with) could penetrate the armor of the tank, making it useless in straight-up combat. Only the Japanese extensively used them during WW2, which made some sense as most of their combat theater is in jungles that would bog-down full-sized tanks (Plus their doctrine emphasized more on air and naval superiority, with them island-hopping during their conquests). Tankettes however, were still fielded in limited quantities after WW2 due to their light weight that allowed them to be safely air-dropped, mainly for non-front line use like tank destroyers, AA guns, and recon vehicles. The only tankette still in use is the German Sedan-sized Wiesel, an airdropped scout vehicle.

Examples: Sentinel (effectively)

  • Light Tank - These are lightly armored tanks that sacrifice armor and firepower for maneuverability. They are not meant to be front-line combat tanks, as their armaments are usually too underpowered to go against heavier vehicles, rather they're usually relegated to reconnaissance duties and infantry support. Light tanks would carry guns that ranged from 37mm-45mm, though some early German Panzers were only equipped with machineguns. Some modern equivalents serve as Scout Tanks which are usually capable of paradrops.

Examples: Siegfried, M551 Sheridan

  • Heavy tank - The big boys, armed with the biggest guns and the thickest armor. Heavy tanks are what you send to crack an enemy defensive line as they slowly (or not-so slowly, as German and American heavies could reach similar speeds as their mediums) rumbled forward, guns blazing, destroying anything in sight... Except eventually Medium tanks, which split the difference between light and heavy tanks having more firepower than the former and more mobility then the latter, are just more cost effective and Heavy tanks are not too much better than improved mediums, which evolved into the main battle tank. Heavy tanks typically carried 88mm-120mm cannons.

Examples: Sicaran Battle Tank

  • Main Battle Tank/Medium tank - Medium tanks, which were generally made to carry guns close to a heavy with mobility not far off a light, evolved into main battle tanks. These would become the primary tank for modern nations by combining high speed, adequate armor and most of all a powerful gun. MBT's are not as heavy as we could theoretically make a tank (although modern advances like reactive armor plates, have allowed them to still be as survivable as true heavies, while springing for a modern heavy could make it theoretically unkillable in a slugging match but vulnerable to guided munitions) but their speed makes up for it and they act as the spearhead of an assault force designed to create and exploit a gap in enemy defenses to allow massed mechanized forces to rush though the gap. Interwar and early WWII mediums usually had 37mm or 50mm cannons. WWII era medium tanks carried 75mm-90mm cannons, first generation (basically optimised mediums that still had a few optimised heavies accompanying them), second gen and the very first gen 3 MBTs typically had 105mm guns, and second gen retrofits and proper third gens (the modern generation of tanks, with the very newest named 3+ or 4) generally have a minimum cannon size of 120 mm or so, with the Russians coming in with 125's that can fire ATGMs and Rheinmetall building 130mm guns to counter them (there was also a test variant of the M1 Abrams with a 140mm gun).

Examples: Leman Russ Battle Tank, M1 Abrams

  • Infantry/Cavalry tank - A British and French design doctrine, the theory for the design goes like this. Infantry tanks support infantry, (hence the name) and therefore they don't need to go fast and can carry heavy armor while their guns did not have to be terribly strong to support the infantry. However they were too slow to use the line breaks they created (a problem in World War 1) hence the need for the Calvary tank. Cavalry or cruiser tanks were much, much lighter and were designed to move fast and rush though a gap the Infantry tanks made but could not use and create havoc behind enemy lines cutting communication, destroying supplies, etc. The idea was sound, however technology advanced so that Cruiser tanks could have the armor of a infantry tank without the slowness, and infantry tanks could have the speed of the Cruiser's meaning the distinction became meaningless. Before World War II, Russia had a similar idea for three different types of tanks, a breakthrough tank acting as an infantry tank, one tactical breakthrough tank, and a 'fast tank' to exploit gaps. The Cavalry tank role has been pretty much taken over by airdropped armored vehicles such as IFVs or Tank Destroyers.
  • Flame tank: a tank (going from tankette to heavy, all types were used in WWII) with a werfer zat werf flammen instead of a big gun as main weapon. Only used in the 1920s-1950s as they were quickly rendered obsolete (it was more cost-effective and just as efficient to have standard tanks have a flamethrower as a coaxial gun), though incendiary weapons of various sorts are still used today, mainly in artillery roles. Typically unpopular with both forces using and opposing them for many reasons: the implications of this weapon were very harsh as the typical man-portable flamethrower has a range of 60 meters max (video games lied to ME?!) and their heavy mechanized versions could reach most of a quarter mile with their concentrated hydraulic spray of diesel fuel. Flame tanks were supposed to start with a "Wet fire", basically spraying the fuel without igniting it into bunkers or fortifications to get enemy units to realize just how hard they were fucked, really weren't protected from the coming blaze at all and in turn they would surrender before being cooked to death. Which a vast majority actually did when hosed with gasoline. The problem was that, due to either open fighting, soldiers that just wouldn't surrender or sadistic crews/commanders, the weapons were often fired outright the first time around to horrific physical and psychological impact on both sides - burning, screaming soldiers, the fumes making crews sick, thick diesel smoke inhalation or oxygen depletion asphyxiating those in poorly ventilated areas (especially caves in the Pacific Front) and the smell of burnt human flesh permanently seared in their minds meant that instant life derailing post-traumatic stress disorder was a very common side effect of witnessing a flame tank in action. Another was that flame tank crews that were captured were usually subjected to torture and summary revenge executions. In the end, flame tanks are remembered as a job nobody wanted to do, an enemy nobody wanted to face, a weapon that accomplished little that soldiers using the man-portable variety (which already had a bad rep' but was begrudgingly tolerated by soldiers as tactically necessary to avoid chemical warfare, nobody in their right mind wanted to clear caves out directly) could not do and pushed the propaganda and soldier's beliefs forward that the enemy truly were barbarians and made of evil, all pushed ahead because a Commissa -- I mean General far removed from the field said they were necessary. Real life Grimdark indeed.

Examples: L3/35 "Lanciafiamme", M3 "Satan", M4 "Crocodile", Flammpanzer III, Churchill Crocodile, Kliment Voroshilov model 8, OT-34, technically any tank with incendiary or thermobaric ammo

  • Super Heavy Tank - Superheavies were conceived in World War I, essentially using the term "landship" literally. Armed with giant cannon (sometimes multiple ones, and usually reserved for artillery or battleships) and armor plating so heavy, you'd mistake it for a fortress; they were meant to be the ultimate line breakers. While some prototypes were fleshed out, none (except for the French Char 2C, although it arrived too late to be used in WW1 and was obsolete in WW2) were put into service because they were simply too impractical. They were often too heavy to be supported by most roads (and off-road would have been worse), and were a logistical nightmare since their engines guzzled gas like no tomorrow. There was also the combined problem of being so slow and so large that they were easy targets for artillery spotters and bombers and it was near impossible to hide in the field due to it's large profile, so it was easy to disable the tank even before it got into effective range (No matter how much armor you put on a tank, artillery designed to level structures will eventually turn it into an expensive hunk of scrap metal). Overall, commanders found out that it was much better to send out multiple medium/heavy tanks to do the job, than sending a single super heavy. Still, because the idea of a multi-turret warship on treads is universally hella cool, that didn't stop writers from including such weapons in the arsenal of their armies, just to show how powerful they are. Super-Heavy prototypes had cannons that could range between 120mm-280mm, with the Nazis having many of the more absolutely ludicrous designs *cough*Ratte*cough*Maus*cough*. At the end of the day, this whole concept ended up being a useless waste of money in real life, at least until technology improves sufficiently.

Examples: Baneblade, Maus

Tanks in Warhammer 40,000[edit]

Since Games Workshop seems to think that tank development in the Warhammer 40,000 universe stopped somewhere between the World Wars, most of the iconic fighting vehicles of the Imperium are a mish-mash of modern and historical designs. We can quibble that some of those vehicles are not really tanks but armored personnel carriers (e.g. the Land Raider) or other specialized classes of armored fighting vehicles, but GW's design team has a serious problem with looping their tracks all the way up and over the chassis for that 1918 flavor, and not even in the correct direction for what they were designed for. A variety of other vehicles in the 40k universe are referred to as tanks, but these are often hovering vehicles like those used by the Tau or Eldar, and thus technically don't count.

Real vs Fictional Tank Designs[edit]

Its important to know that games like WH40K subscribes to the rule of cool, rather than logic. So while things like the Land Raider or Baneblade looks cool; in a real combat situation, these tanks would range from highly impractical to down-right detrimental for everyone involved. Here's a short list of why real-world tanks, aren't designed like most fantasy tanks.

Profile[edit]

Since WW2 and beyond, one of the main concerns of a tank designer has always been reducing a tank's profile as low as possible. This is for this main reason: it makes the tank harder to spot, and shoot at, at range. The others are mainly for mobility, like making the center of gravity lower so it doesn't flip over on uneven terrain, or smaller so its able to operate in various locales. Plus smaller tanks mean less material used, so that can be used on another tank or given to another project.

Sure it seems odd that this would be taken into account, given a tank is as large as a city bus; but since WW2: it wasn't really that hard to disable a tank (rocket launchers, mines, anti-tank guns, AT grenades, aerial bombers, artillery, better concealed tanks, to name the most common), if your opponent had the weapon to do so, and if they didn't: making a tank unnecessarily large just made it easier for your opponent to spot you. Thus, making your tank's profile as low and small as possible, contributed in making it less of an easy target, while still being able to act like a priority target for your opponent.

Speed[edit]

Like what we've described above: it wasn't that hard to stop a tank with the proper armaments (or at least avoid it once spotted) and once your opponent has the guns to stop it, your hulking behemoth will slowly turn into a liability soon enough. (And even if they didn't have the guns; that makes your tank too-slow of a threat, which beggars the question as to why have it there in the first place).

Tanks were also pretty vulnerable on their own, requiring infantry support to deal with targets at close range (the co-axial gun only had limited elevation and was slow to aim as the entire turret had to face the target, and the pintle-mounted gun was limited to the line of sight of the gunner) as a nutter with a powerful-enough explosive could easily run/sneak to an unsupported tank and blow it to smithereens, or disable it (which pretty much meant the tank is still toast).

Nazi Germany got around this problem by using mechanized infantry (troops transported in vehicles) to support their armored forces, so everyone picked up on that and started making tanks fast enough to keep up with infantry transports to create a combined-arms assault, allowing tanks to deal with hard targets while infantry dealt with other targets that were too small for the tanks to take care of.

So, people started distancing themselves from heavyweight tanks, and started using lighter, but more faster tanks in modern combat (plus advances in modern technology made it that even a medium tank could still be as survivable and powerful as a true heavy, while still retaining maneuvrability).

Mobility[edit]

An immobile tank, is a dead tank, so people have gone to great lengths to either reduce, or outright remove the many ways on how infantry could disable a tank from moving; but the most common of this is by taking out the tracks with mines or explosives. This was partly fixed by putting the tracks at ground level, covering the tracks with armor, and adding additional armor skirts to further guard it from attacks from the side, ensuring that little of the tracks were exposed to direct enemy fire. Sure it was still vulnerable up-close and mines can still do a number on it, but that's what your infantry support is for (you did bring them, right?).

While the British Mark 1's rhomboid-tracks looks cool; having that on a tank today made it incredibly easy for an opposing force to disable your vehicle, as the tracks could be easily targeted. Plus even if you were to cover it in armor; it made your tank unnecessarily bigger, and people wanted to make their tanks as low and small as humanly possible. It also made maintenance and repairs unnecessarily complicated (Have to repair the tracks? Too bad, now you gotta get on top of your tall tank to fix that. Hope snipers aren't watching.).

Also while the sponsor-mounted guns look cool, they're useless in modern tank combat. Apart from the obvious issues of being unable to bring your full-firepower to bear if your opponent isn't situated right infront of you AND that they have to be larger than the width of your tank: having two of your sophisticated weapon systems near ground level meant a plethora of reliability issues (went through water or muddy terrain? Pray to the Machine God your gun doesn't malfunction if you didn't clean that right away. Went through a building? Hope all that rubble didn't tear off anything important.).

Also note that this setup was done to for trench and fortification clearing, not tank vs tank combat (since WW1 focused on trench warfare than mechanized assaults). Having your turret in be centered with the hull itself, either with a turret or having it built into the tank itself to save on parts, was infinitely more effective. It also made weight distribution more balanced, which made it easier for tanks to maneuver in rough terrain.

Logistics[edit]

This should be an obvious point, but the Imperium of Man has only been able to create and maintain ludicrous super-heavy tank designs, because they have the aid of the Mechanicus (even if they've been reduced to a shadow of their former glory) to assist with creation and maintenance, plus having access to thousands of planets full of resources to get materiel and fuel from. Plus the creative liberties of simply accepting that: "It just works" and "THE FUTURE", because it'd be boring if we had to explain that a Forgeworld couldn't build a Baneblade because some mining world couldn't produce the output or the resources for it were earmarked to other projects, rather than something more exciting, like foul traitors constantly assailing their supply lines, or the techpriests needs some McGuffin stolen by the Orks.

Another design point for tanks is resource economy. It had (and still has) to be produced using, and maintained with, the least possible amount of resources whilst still being formidable in it's role. If an army would deploy superheavies today, just remotely near the scale of how Imperial forces do during wartime; they'd be bankrupt and end up with a lopsided army. If creation didn't eat up most of their supplies; the amount of resources they'd need to keep these war machines maintained would put the US Army to shame. Once they realize they can't keep it up; they'd start scrapping those and scramble to turn them into practical tanks (assuming they still had fuel left).

Armaments[edit]

Putting two cannons as your tank's main armament like C&C's Mammoth Tank looks neat like the, or UNLEASHING ELEVEN BARRELS OF HELL sounds awesome, but that had it's own set of problems. One is that putting a lot of main guns on your tank requires you to make the chassis bigger, as you need more room to accommodate the guns, ammunition, and larger engine (as you need more power to keep that sucker mobile), which already makes it a bigger target.

Another is that its a waste of resources; those other main guns, ammo, and materials, would be better put in making another tank, and two tanks are still more threatening than one. Its also either overkill, as the main guns of today's battle tanks can typically penetrate tank armor easily enough, or worthless since if you did meet a tank with armor too strong for you guns, having more of them is not typically gonna help. You don't really need multiple turrets going off at the same time. The probable rate-of-fire and firepower advantage you have over tanks with only one gun, would be easily off-set with auto-loaders, specialized ammunition, and/or a well-drilled gunner crew. That or an auxiliary missile launcher, which is loads more practical and cost-effective.

One more, is that in the event your tank is destroyed; that's a massive ammo-cookoff you're looking at, which can be dangerous to both the crew, and surrounding friendlies.

Character Role[edit]

In many role-playing games, particularly the online ones, the term "tank" has also arisen to describe a character whose primary purpose is redirect all damage from enemies to himself. This was one of the primary purpose of actual tanks as well; tanks, being as armored and threatening, are supposed to get most of the enemy's attention while the squishier units like infantry and light vehicles move into advantageous positions to deal more damage, without the threat of serious retaliation.

See, many enemies in RPGs have way too much health, deal way too much damage for most classes to withstand, and fights with them are unlikely to be decided in one round unless they're uncharacteristically vulnerable to save-or-die rays (which almost never happens).

Furthermore, many of the classes that are best at dealing damage (assassin and wizard types, for example) often have very little survivability when it comes to being punched in the face, in order to balance out classes. If a class can both tank damage and deal high damage at the same time, they either render other classes redundant or can do neither as well as a dedicated tank or damage dealer. (This is where the gaming term differs from the historical/military term - a "pure" tank (unit role) is strictly something that attracts and survives damage, without much or even necessarily any of the punch a tank (vehicle type) has.)

Thus, demand is created for a character whose job is to redirect enemies' aggression away from the squishy members of the party and towards them instead, usually using their mastery of mind-control, irritating sound effects, imposition of dangerous effects for attacking anyone else, or simply cutting insults and rude gestures which draw attention to themselves. They also tend to have abilities that help them in resisting, mitigating, avoiding, or regenerating from some of the damage they suffer (and on occasion act as a secondary damage dealer). In most cases, tanks are also often reliant on healer classes as well to keep them alive while they do their thing, as enemies that require tanks can usually deplete a good chunk of their health in a few attacks. Making sure that chunk is constantly restored is required to make sure they can keep at it.

Fourth Edition refers to this role as the "defender," while Dawn of War 2 vets will recognize it as the "Tarkus", and later the "Diomedes." While it is most obvious in online video games, the necessity of drawing fire away from squishier party members toward tougher ones who can take a beating exists in a variety of different games, from cooperative card games to MOBAs. The wargame equivalent would be the DISTRACTION CARNIFEX.


See Also[edit]

  • Team Yankee - a tabletop game that revolves around late Cold War tank warfare, with plenty of info on real-world tanks.
Vehicle Warfare
Combat Aircraft - Siege Weapons - Tank - Warship