ARMORED VEHICLES. Modern armored vehicles emerged from attempts to solve the unprecedented lethal challenges presented by World War I battlefields. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill became an enthusiastic sponsor of British lieutenant colonels Ernest D. Swinton's and Maurice Hankey's proposals for vehicles with armor plating, caterpillar tracks, machine guns, and self-contained artillery. Tanks—a term used to preserve the weapon system's secrecy—made their first appearance on 15 September 1916 on the Somme battlefield near Flers. By 1918, British, French, and American units employed more than 500 tanks in the Allied counter to the German Michael offensive. Tanks afforded the Allies armored protection and mobility along with striking power that demoralized the German army in August, thus setting the stage for ultimate victory some three months later. British armor pioneer John Frederick Charles Fuller proposed an ambitious combined arms offensive for the following spring—Plan 1919—with nearly 5,000 tanks as the centerpiece of the action, but the armistice precluded its implementation. As the war closed, army leaders in Britain, France, and the United States understood the new weapon's potential but failed to create strong institutional components designed to advance the doctrinal and technological foundations laid in the Great War.
The U.S. Army's official doctrine during the interwar years emphasized the support and cooperation that tanks could provide infantry forces. The image of a deadlocked battlefield crisscrossed by trench networks and dominated by machine-gun emplacements and artillery dictated an auxiliary role for armored forces. According to army doctrine, tanks would protect infantry as they traversed the trenches to achieve tactical, rather than operational, breakthroughs. The U.S. Army's force structure reflected these self-imposed constraints until 1937. In that year, the Seventh Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Adna R. Chaffee, acquired new M1A1 light tanks, thus laying the foundation for the independent armored formations that would characterize World War II. Despite Chaffee's new acquisition, however, the World War I–vintage technology, doctrine, and organization continued to rule the army until the service began expanding before World War II. The Louisiana Maneuvers held in May 1940, in which the Seventh Cavalry Brigade operated the bulk of the nation's 300 light tanks, represented the U.S. Army's most significant experiment with armored force employment of the interwar period.
The U.S. military learned harsh doctrinal lessons as German forces schooled in the operational breakthroughs achieved against Poland, France, and Russia became masters of armored warfare in the early years of World War II. German tank commanders including Generals Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel and Field Marshal Erich von Manstein achieved remarkable operational successes using tanks as the main combat arm. German armored forces aimed to thrust deep into the enemy rear to sow confusion and disorganization among operational headquarters. German armored-force dominance in the sweeping envelopments achieved against Russian forces in 1941 signaled a revolution in land warfare. The operational success of the German commanders appeared to confirm ideas expressed in the interwar years by armored-warfare proponents like Fuller, Basil H. Liddell Hart, and the maverick French general Charles de Gaulle.
By 1943, the U.S. Army counted sixteen armored divisions and sixty-five independent tank battalions in its ranks. From modest beginnings, the United States dramatically expanded tank production to produce nearly 90,000 tanks by 1945. After several harsh battlefield experiences, such as the defeat at Kasserine Pass in North Africa, the U.S. Army reorganized its armored divisions for more operational flexibility. The breakout and dash across France executed by Lieutenant General George S. Patton's Third Army after the Normandy invasion illustrated
the army's mature approach to armored warfare in World War II. By the war's end, the army had adopted an armored division composed of infantry, self-propelled artillery, and tanks; mobility and firepower became the bywords of the American approach to land warfare.
The advantages armored forces provided in the European theater of World War II proved difficult to maintain. During the Korean War, U.S. forces were criticized for being "roadbound" and too dependent on armored vehicles that were ill-equipped to cope with the mountainous Korean terrain. Furthermore, M-26 Pershing and the World War II–vintage Sherman tanks could not compete on a par with the superb Soviet T-34 tank. Despite lackluster performance in the war, army leaders continued to emphasize the combined-arms approach to land warfare.
Cold War strategists anticipated a Warsaw Pact conventional thrust across northern and central Europe against nominally weaker NATO forces. U.S. tank doctrine relied on superior firepower, mobility, and prodigious amounts of air support to halt what was envisioned as Soviet-backed forces surging westward. In the later years of the Cold War, the United States relied on the massive Abrams tank to combat the numerically superior Warsaw Pact forces. The M1 Abrams fielded in the 1980s boasted the equivalent of nearly 18 inches of armor protection for its crews. Later Abrams models provided 31.5 inches of armor against kinetic energy rounds and considerably more protection against penetrating ordnance.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, army doctrine continued to rely on the pairing of armor and infantry, but the speed and lethality of modern battle dictated requirements for armored fighting vehicles that protected troops while allowing them to keep pace with fast-moving tank thrusts. The M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, equipped with a grenade launcher, machine gun, 25 mm canon, and antitank missile launcher, transported infantry squads to the fight. Armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, Multiple Launch Rocket System, transport and attack aviation, and a host of maintenance and support systems rounded out the modern armored division. Nearly three decades of technological and doctrinal development came to fruition in 1991 when armored forces crashed through Iraq's elite Republican Guard during Operation Desert Storm (see Persian Gulf War). General Frederick M. Franks Jr.'s VII Corps waged a 100-hour ground campaign that featured highly accurate targeting, long-range weapons engagement, fully integrated command and control, and precision navigation. Observers heralded the resulting victory as a revolution in warfare.
U.S. armored warfare capabilities have progressed dramatically since the early efforts of World War I. Despite impressive technical achievements, the requirement for mobility and survivability on the battlefield will continue to guide developments in armored vehicle doctrine and technology.
Childs, David J. A Peripheral Weapon? The Production and Employment of British Tanks in the First World War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Citino, Robert M. Armored Forces: History and Sourcebook. West-port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Clancy, Tom. Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment. New York: Berkley Books, 1994.
Harris, J. P., and F. H. Toase, eds. Armoured Warfare. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
Between the wars, the U.S. Army began to develop armored vehicles. Brig. Gen. Adna Chaffee in particular saw armored cars as part of a greater effort to mechanize cavalry functions. Some results of this experimentation were the M8 Scout Car and the M3 Armored Half‐Track that the U.S. Army would use in World War II in cavalry, tank, infantry, and artillery units. The M8 (wt: 7,485 kg [16,500 lbs]; spd: 90 kmh [55 mph]; arm: 37mm gun/2x mgs, 7.62 and 12.7 mm), manufactured by Ford, was a wheeled, lightly armored reconnaissance vehicle that was one of the first effective replacements of light horse cavalry. It was adopted in 1943. The M3 Armored Half‐Track (wt: 8,872 kg [19,558 lbs]; spd: 70 kmh [45 mph]; arm: 2x mgs, 12.7 and 7.62mm), manufactured by Autocom, Diamond T, International Harvester, and White, was a revolutionary vehicle in that it represented an early armored personnel carrier for U.S. infantry. An all‐purpose weapons carrier, the M3 would carry a variety of weapons and was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1940. Mechanically as well, the M3 was novel in that it had wheels mounted in front used to guide the vehicle while rear‐mounted tracks provided propulsion.
Since the end of World War II the U.S. military has been at the forefront in armored vehicle development, which centers on two areas: cavalry and infantry. These vehicles are lighter than tanks, speedy, lightly armed and armored, and less expensive to purchase and maintain. Two vehicles in particular have been revolutionary in their impact on armored warfare in the late twentieth century. The M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and the M2/3 Cavalry/Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Bradley). The M113, currently manufactured by United Defense, was a product of the 1950s, one of the first successful fully armored infantry vehicles; over 74,000 were produced worldwide. The Bradley M2/3 (wt: 29,940 kg [65,868 lbs]; spd: 61 kmh [38 mph]; arm: 25mm gun, 7.62mm mg, tube‐launched, optically‐tracked, wire‐guided weapon system), manufactured by FMC Corporation, holds nine infantry or five cavalrymen and was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1981, replacing the M113 series. Despite early fears of compatibility and problems with transmissions and weight, the Bradley proved its worth in the Persian Gulf War.
[See also Tank Destroyers; Tanks.]
A. J. Barker , The Bastard War, The Mesopotamian Campaign of 1914–1915, 1967.
Christopher Foss, ed., Jane's Armour and Artillery, 1994, 1994.
Christopher G. Clark