Tanks 101

When we started the research for this site it wasn't easy to find a place that had a summary of tanks in a modern context so we thought we'd create "Tanks 101" for those just starting to learn about these iconic military vehicles.

Tanks have an incredible rich, deep history and two museums have had a big influence on growing our passion! If you want to learn more, see tanks in action or even ride in one then check out The Tank Museum at Bovington in the Britain or the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum in Canada. 

So let's start with ... what is a tank? 

There are a number of definitions you'll find in dictionaries and other reference reading. We like the one that's posted in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It's defined as: 

"Any heavily armed and armoured combat vehicle that moves on two endless metal chains called tracks. They are essentially weapons platforms that make the weapons mounted in them more effective by their cross-country mobility and by the protection they provide for their crews".

Why is it called a "tank" and when was the first tank built?

It’s a long story but a good one. In 1915, the British military at the request of Winston Churchill, established the Landships Committee. The goal was to oversee the development of "landships" that were estimated to weigh as much as 300 tons and could roll over any terrain. The the costs and logistics were unrealistic so a decision was made to go with a smaller vehicle that could break through the enemy lines. The British War Office became aware of the project and its operations were moved from the Royal Navy to the British Army.

The first tank prototype was developed "Little Willie." And served as a precursor of the Mark 1 model. By 1916 some 150 armored vehicles had been built at William Foster & Co. Limited in the UK.

In an effort to hide exactly what the military was building, the vehicles were called "tanks" to suggest a container to transport fresh water to the front. In December 1915, the codeword "tank" was officially adopted, and the Landships Committee officially became the Tank Supply Committee.

What are the types of tanks? 

Tanks are often referred to by weight based classification, such as 'light', 'medium' or 'heavy' and each had different strategies during WW2.

Light Tanks: Countries needed scouts that had the speed and armor to protect themselves on the enemy’s lines, which lead to the usage of light tanks. Light tanks were also valuable for amphibious landings.

Medium Tanks: These tanks had the speed and mobility of light tanks, but the armor and weapons of heavy tanks. Armies used medium tanks to exploit weaknesses along the flanks of an enemy position, or as a reaction force to shore up a line that was under attack.

Heavy Tanks: Heavy tanks comprised the bulk of tank forces in several critical battles. The heavy tank classification included two tank roles: brawlers and snipers. Brawlers were heavy tanks designed to draw in close to the enemy. They helped infantry units push past defenses and were used to hold defensive positions. Snipers were heavy tanks that could carry large bore, high-velocity guns. These tanks could fire at ranges beyond other tanks, and their defensive abilities protected them from the enemy.

    What are the Top 10 Tank Battles?

    In the time since its invention tanks have been the winning factor in a number of battles. Here's a list of the biggest tank battles: 

    • Battle of Cambrai: 1917
    • Battle of Hannut: 1940
    • Battle of Raseiniai: 1941
    • Battle of Brody: 1941
    • Second Battle of El Alamein: 1942
    • Battle of Prokhorovka: 1943
    • Operation Goodwood: 1944
    • Battle of Chawinda: 1965
    • Battle of the Valley of Tears: 1973
    • Battle of 73 Easting: 1991

    Today, what are the top 10 Battle Tanks?

    Tanks have evolved from being simple and light to heavy, modernised and highly mobile. Here's a list the top 10 main battle tanks in the world based on weaponry, mobility and protection.

    • Leopard 2A7 (Germany)
    • M1A2 Abrams (United States)
    • T-14 Armata (Russia)
    • Challenger 2 (United Kingdom)
    • K2 Black Panther (South Korea)
    • Merkava Mk 4 (Israel)
    • Type 10 (TK-X) (Japan)
    • Leclerc (France)
    • T-90MS (Russia)
    • VT4 (MBT-3000) (China)

    Where are tanks going? Is there a role for them in the future?

    Today the tank still remains a key part of most militaries. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies there are 60,000 tanks in active service worldwide.

    The modern day tank is powerful. They have for example, day and night vision equipment that gives them a signifiant advantage over their WWII equivalents. 

    Tanks may be unrecognisable in the future. The technology is becoming available to take a very different approach tank design using advanced materials, creative automotive systems, new weapon systems and active protection systems that is resulting in lighter, more agile platforms. Unmanned tanks – a land drone – are now possible and the advent of quantum technology is building sensory capabilities.

    The future also brings important ethical considerations. Many of the victims following the use of explosive weapons in urban areas are civilians. Tanks play their role in this figure. The victims of violence should given proper recognition, support and protection.