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What are the Different Types of Military Tanks?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are many different types of military tanks, typically indicated both by their design and the country of origin in which the tank was produced. These include different designs and models of the German Panzerkampfwagen, American tanks such as the M1 Abrams and the M4 or Sherman tank, and British tanks such as the Mk V and earlier models from World War I, and subsequent tanks designs like the Cromwell and Chieftain. Since military tanks were one of the cornerstones of 20th century warfare, their design and use was typically indicative of a country of origin or manufacturer within a particular nation.

Military tanks are vehicles designed to provide armored support for infantry, while also being able to navigate different types of terrain and bring massive firepower to bear against opposition forces in a military conflict. While there are some fairly ancient designs for vehicles similar to modern day tanks, including a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, the real birth of tanks and the use of tanks in warfare came during World War I (WWI). The horrific trench warfare seen during WWI could often produce an effective stalemate or battle conditions in which neither side could claim an advantage. Armored vehicles were designed to break through these situations and provide support to soldiers on the battlefield.

The British Mk V and four previous versions were among the first of these armored vehicles to resemble what most people think of as modern day military tanks. It is also likely that the name “tank” stemmed from British factories where they were being built. In order to prevent spies from finding out about the new weapons being made, workers were told they were building parts for “water tanks,” and it is likely the name “tank” stuck with the vehicle due to its simplicity. Later models of British military tanks include the Cromwell and Chieftain, both designed to provide superior firepower and mobility on the battlefield.

American military tanks include the M4 or Sherman tank that was frequently used throughout the United States (US) campaigns during World War II (WWII). The Sherman tank continued to see service through the Korean War, but more recently the M1 Abrams has become the primary tank used by the US in land operations. While it proved susceptible to roadside bombing attacks in the Middle East, modifications were made to provide greater armor and make these military tanks more resistant to such attacks.

The German word for tank, Panzerkampfwagen, meaning “armored war vehicle,” is often simply shortened to Panzer in reference to German tanks. A number of different military tanks were built and utilized by the Nazis during WWII including the Panzer III and subsequent models. Through the use of Blitzkrieg tactics, utilizing the combined efforts of many tanks and a deluge of artillery bombardment, the Nazi military was able to effectively break through enemy lines and destroy resistance.

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Discussion Comments

By Terrificli — On Jun 14, 2014

One very cool topic when it comes to tanks is armor. Those went from, essentially, thick sheets of metal to being made out a combination of materials that are regarded as military secrets (the exact "recipe" is the military secret, but the materials are somewhat common).

Armor has become so efficient and improved that you can actually have great armor that is considerably lighter than it was for tanks during the height of World War II. Throw in more powerful engines and you've got lighter, faster and stronger tanks with more powerful guns thrown in for good measure.

The tank has remained viable on the battlefield simply because the design has been refined, improved and updated over the years. There are few weapons types you can say that about.

By Markerrag — On Jun 13, 2014

Fascinating thing about German tanks. On a tank-by-tank basis, a German tank could shred an American Sherman tank. They had better armor, more powerful guns and were better in almost every way.

The one glaring weakness that German tanks had, however, proved to be their undoing. They were very expensive to make. In fact, the U.S. could produce four Shermans for the cost of one German Tiger tank. Combine that cost with the American industrial advantage and it's clear to see how the allies nullified the threat of German tanks by simply flooding battlefields with a lot of Shermans.

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