The British first developed this mobile, armored war machine in a program initiated by E. D. Swinton and Maurice Hankey; Winston S. Churchill, then first lord of the Admiralty, also supported the program. The first British tank, the Mark I, was a rhomboid‐shaped, tracked heavy vehicle weighing 26 tons, with two 57mm guns and a speed of 3.7 mph. On 15 September 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, after horrific infantry losses, forty‐nine Mark I tanks were sent in to support infantry attack across no‐man's‐land. Early critics charged they were committed in insufficient numbers to make a difference. In September 1917, the French introduced their Renault FT 17, a smaller (6‐ton), lighter‐armed (one 37mm gun), faster (4.8 mph) tank, with what became the classic tank design of a swivel turret. The Americans used mainly Renault tanks in France.
During the interwar years, the limited role assigned to tanks by U.S. infantry generals, as well as budget limitations, imposed serious constraints on design and development in the United States. J. Walter Christie, an American automotive engineer, developed a suspension system that allowed tanks high speed and overland performance. His M1919 tank, which evolved into the M1928/1930 or T‐3 medium tank, weighed 9 tons, carried a 37mm gun, and attained speeds of 27 mph. But the U.S. Army failed to continue Christie's contract.
In contrast, the Soviet Union used Christie's design and production techniques to develop by 1939–40 the T‐34, a highly reliable and balanced tank weighing 29 tons, armed with a 76.2mm gun, and reaching a maximum speed of 34 mph. It became the Red Army's main battle tank in World War II and was used by North Korean forces in the Korean War.
In Great Britain, military theorists J. F. C. Fuller and Basil H. Liddell Hart envisioned a small but mobile army with tanks as the centerpiece. After many problems, the British introduced the Crusader (22 tons, 57mm gun, and 26 mph maximum speed), used early in World War II. But defects and battle experience led to its replacement in 1943 by the Cromwell (31 tons, 75mm gun, 31 mph).
French experimentation before 1939 developed the Heavy B (CHAR) tank, probably the best in the world at the onset of World War II. Huge for its day, it was heavily armored, weighing 34 tons, had a 75mm gun mounted on the front hull and a 47mm gun on the turret, but sacrificed maximum speed to only 17 mph. The tank's firepower and armor advantage were, however, offset in 1940 by French doctrinal and organizational failures.
In September 1939, when the German Army invaded Poland, it had not yet accepted Gen. Heinz Guderian's ideas about armored warfare and used tankette‐type vehicles more suitable for training. But before invading France in May 1940, the Germans achieved great advances in doctrine, unit reorganization, and tank manufacture, incorporating superior Panzer tanks (23 tons, 24 mph, and guns increased from 37mm in the Panzer III to 75mm in the Panzer IV tanks). To counter the Soviet's effective T‐34s, the Germans produced the Panzer V. This “Panther” tank, probably the best overall German tank, weighed 50 tons in later versions, with speeds of up to 28 mph and armed with a 75mm gun.
By 1942, the Germans fielded the Tiger tank, which challenged established ideas about armored warfare. Despite problems in maneuverability, serviceability, and speed (23 mph on roads, 12 mph cross‐country), this heavy tank provided extraordinary armor protection (63 tons) and firepower with its 88mm gun.
In the United States, the M4‐A Sherman replaced the awkward Grant early in World War II to become the main American battle tank. More than 45,000 of these reliable, rugged, and versatile medium tanks were produced for the U.S. Army, as well for Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The early model weighed 33 tons, had a speed of 23 mph, and was armed with a 75mm gun. Subsequent modifications in the A‐3 increased weight to 35 tons, speed to 29 mph, and the gun to 76.2mm. Though the Sherman was no match individually with any German tank, and its gasoline rather than diesel fuel was highly explosive, it proved highly successful, due to the numbers committed and its reliability. In various forms Shermans were used by the United States in the Korean War and by the Israel Defense Force in the Six‐Day War of 1967 when a “Super Sherman” was mounted with a 105mm gun.
In 1945, the British produced a remarkable tank based on their war experiences, the Centurion, which became the backbone of British armored forces for a quarter of a century. This tank was noted for its reliability and proved itself in combat in the Korean War. The Centurion I mounted a 17‐pound gun and was produced in thirteen versions, the last manufactured in Israel. It was considered the best all‐around tank in the West in the 1950s and 1960s. The final Israeli version weighed 54 tons, sported a 105mm gun, and traveled at 21 mph.
Tank design was revolutionized in 1945 by the new Soviet JS‐3 Stalin heavy tank. This eventually evolved to the T‐10 heavy in the 1950s. Its design allowed a tank of 51 tons at 23 mph and supported armament of a 122mm gun. During the Cold War, the JS‐3's low, sleek design was perpetuated by the West German Leopard, the French AMX 30, and the British Chieftain. The same turtle turret design characterized the Soviets' medium tanks, evolving from the 1950s through the 1970s from T‐54/55, T‐62, and T‐64 to T‐80. Weight increased from 42 to 46 tons, speed from 31 to 46 mph, and armament from 100mm to 114mm and finally 125mm on the T‐64 and T‐80.
The United States pursued a different design approach. Its M‐48 (1952) and M‐60 (1960) main battle tanks sacrificed low weight and silhouette in favor of an excellent 105mm gun system and reliability. The M60A‐3 version weighed 57 tons and attained 30 mph.
In 1973, man‐packed wire‐guided missiles caused massive tank losses in the Arab‐Israeli War, which, along with NATO's new “Active Defense” doctrine demanding high‐speed lateral movement, resulted in major changes in tank tactics and development. When first produced in the mid‐1970s, the U.S. Army's M‐1 Abrams tank weighed 68 tons and was unique in using a multifuel turbine power plant and innovative suspension system allowing speeds over 45 mph. Initially armed with the reliable M‐68 105mm gun, the Abrams in its subsequent models increased combat weight and armament to mount a smoothbore 120mm gun. The Abrams proved its technological superiority in NATO war games and in actual battle during the Persian Gulf War.
In the 1990s, the tank of the future was being designed using such techniques as automatic loaders to reduce crew size, more efficient power plants, new reactive armor to defeat larger gun size and anti‐tank missiles, and special armor to increase protection and reduce weight for faster deployment.
[See also Armored Vehicles; Army Combat Branches: Armor; Tank Destroyers.]
Ralph E. Jones,, George H. Rarey,, and and Robert J. Icks , The Fighting Tanks Since 1916, 1969.
Duncan Crow and and Robert J. Icks , Encyclopedia of Tanks, 1975.
Chris Elliot and and Peter Chamberlain , The Great Tanks, 1975.
R. E. Simpkin , Tank Warfare, 1979.
Christopher F. Foss , Jane's Main Battle Tanks, 1983.
Richard M. Ogorkiewicz , Technology of Tanks, Vol. 1, 1991.
Christopher Chant , World Encyclopaedia of the Tank, 1994.
George J. Mordica II
tank / tangk/ • n. 1. a large receptacle or storage chamber, esp. for liquid or gas. ∎ the container holding the fuel supply in a motor vehicle. ∎ a receptacle with transparent sides in which to keep fish; an aquarium. 2. a heavy armored fighting vehicle carrying guns and moving on a continuous articulated metal track. 3. inf. a cell in a police station or jail. • v. 1. [intr.] fill the tank of a vehicle with fuel: the cars stopped to tank up. ∎ (be/get tanked up) inf. drink heavily; become drunk: they get tanked up before the game. 2. [intr.] inf. fail completely, esp. at great financial cost. ∎ [tr.] inf. (in sports) deliberately lose or fail to finish (a game): the lackluster performance prompted speculation that he tanked the second set. DERIVATIVES: tank·ful / -ˌfoŏl/ n. (pl. -fuls) . tank·less adj.
military tank, armored vehicle having caterpillar traction and armed with machine guns, cannon, rockets, or flame throwers. The tank, together with the airplane, opened up modern warfare, which had been immobilized and stalemated by the use of rifled guns (see mechanized warfare). It was developed by the British and first employed in World War I in the battle of Flers-Courcellette, on the Somme (Sept., 1916), but it was used piecemeal, without any overriding strategy, and seemed a failure. In Nov., 1917, the tank achieved a major success at Cambrai, when 300 British tanks made a dawn attack on a 6-mi (9.7-km) front and shattered the German defenses.
Before World War II tanks and tank tactics were greatly improved, and in the first campaign of that war German tank armies conquered Poland in less than a month. Whole armored divisions and corps of tanks were soon formed on both sides. In mass tank battles in Europe and N Africa the tide often tended toward the side with the most effective use of armored units. Among the great armor commanders were Erwin Rommel and George Patton. There were also specialized tanks for amphibious landings and clearing mines. Antitank weapons were developed, such as bazookas, armor-piercing shells, recoilless rifles, and antitank missiles, as well as airplanes armed with rockets and bombs.
Since World War II the basic features of tanks and tank tactics have remained unchanged, but there have been refinements such as reactive armor that explodes out when hit, laser rangefinders, automatic loading, and computer systems for fire control and navigation. Antitank weapons have also been greatly improved; they now include specialized munitions capable of attacking dozens of tanks at once that are delivered by artillery or aircraft, as well as powerful infantry weapons. Tanks are particularly effective in desert fighting, as demonstrated by their use by the Israeli military and in the Persian Gulf War.
See B. H. Liddell Hart, The Tanks (1959); D. Orgill, The Tank (1970); H. C. B. Rogers, Tanks in Battle (1972); D. Jeffries, Battle Kings (1987); P. Wright, Tank (2002).
Tank ★½ 1983 (PG)
Retired Army officer Garner's son is thrown into jail on a trumped-up charge by a small town sheriff. Dad comes to the rescue with his restored Sherman tank. Trite and unrealistic portrayal of good versus bad made palatable by Garner's performance. 113m/C VHS, DVD . James Garner, Shirley Jones, C. Thomas Howell, Mark Herrier, Sandy Ward, Jenilee Harrison, Dorian Harewood, G.D. Spradlin; D: Marvin J. Chomsky; W: Dan Gordon; C: Donald Birnkrant; M: Lalo Schifrin.