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Author Topic: Top 5 Tanks  (Read 1107 times)

Offline Unlucky General

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Top 5 Tanks
« on: September 28, 2020, 04:45:19 AM »
If you are like me and have so much time on your hands you look at Youtube for entertainment (I'm posted overseas away from my family) you may have seen the Tank Museum (UK Bovington) Top 5 Tanks series. They get a range of all sort of opinionated people (mostly qualified) to list their Top 5 tanks from history and the reasons why.

I'm not going to do that (I'm sure you are relieved) but one thing which doesn't seem to feature much in people's consideration is  how 'survivable' a tank is. There are a lot of people determined to redeem the reputation of the Sherman Tank (The Chieftain being it's principle champion) on various grounds largely to do with maintenance and supply ... but what's the point if it can't take a hit?

If I was forced to be a tanker I'd try to ensure my tank was going to help be live through the conflict. There's an axiom which I'll not defend or contradict which dictates that he who shoots first likely wins - and yes, you'd need to be accurate. If that's the case you'd need a gun which is going to knock out what it hits. On the off-chance the enemy gets one off against you (perhaps there are more than one or you don't even know they are there) I'd hope my tank could take a hit without brewing up with me in it.

So, for me, armour and escape hatches might be uber-important and a gun which hopefully keeps the enemy at arms-length.

What do you think? What are your essential guidelines and do you have a preferred vehicle?

Offline has.been

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2020, 12:16:37 PM »
It would depend on the type of war you THINK you will be fighting.
e.g. Your neighbor always invades you = I want good protection & don't care too much about speed.
       I always invade my neighbor & his country is vast = I want speed.

AS it takes years to develop, pay for & build a tank force, and almost no time for international events
to completely change requirements, I would go for an average. Reasonable speed, armour & gun. 

Offline jon_1066

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2020, 01:04:11 PM »
This obviously highlights what is good strategically or operationally or even tactically is not always the same as what the crew would like.

You also can't discount the whole strategic and operational issue.

Would you rather be in one of four Shermans (one of which has a 17 pdr) or a lone Panther facing them? 

Perhaps a supremely unreliable tank would be good from a survivability point of view?  If it breaks down before you reach the start line you have a perfect excuse for returning to the depot and having a cup of tea.  Kind of like the best kamikaze plane for the pilot is one that is subject to frequent engine failures so you can't take off.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2020, 01:07:32 PM by jon_1066 »

Offline von der Tann

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2020, 02:02:36 PM »
Imho this discussion is endless.

Tanks have three principle categories:
  • speed
  • armor
  • gun
Most tanks lack in at least one category. If you have a top armored tank with the meanest gun you can find - most of the time it is slow and cumbersome. If it is fast and agile - it sure is less armored than the crew would like. And if speed and armor are awsome - the gun stinks.
When building a successful tank one needs to find the "perfect" balance of the three categories. That's why the concept of light, medium and heavy tank is obsolete and nowadays it is just MBTs.

If you add further categories into the equasion like technical reliability and numbers available you are, imho, in for an endless discussion. And to top things off I think it also matters who you ask. Ask a surviving Panther commander and I bet he will say his tank was the best, despite its misgivings and if you ask a Sherman or Firefly crew member who survived and scored kills - their tank will be unbeatable.
When talking available numbers - are those really saying anything about the "worthiness" of a tank? Take the numbers of German and Russian tanks at Kursk. The Russians lost a huge number of their tanks including T-34s - against much smaller numbers of Tiger and Panzer IV tanks - but does that say anything about the tank itself? I personally do not think the T-34 was rubbish, just because the crews were inadequately trained or the tactics used were rather crappy as in "we throw everything at them and then some more".
German Panzer I and 2s surely will be called inferior to the French Renault Char B1 (1935) and the fast Somua S-35. Yet - they lost.
Or take the Jagdtiger - lots of armor and a gun that knocks out everything your opponet can throw against it. Most of the time it was taken out of combat because it ran out of fuel and knock-outs occured almost entirely through ground attack aircraft - does that make the behemoth a good tank?

While I understand the basic human need to compare things, I really dislike this whole "what's the best tank" thing. But I admit I have my favorite tanks too - and while they are good - there is always a tank that will perform better.

Sorry for the long post.
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Offline Keith

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2020, 02:05:46 PM »
There's probably a complicated venn diagram that can be applied here - survivability, combat effectiveness, speed, cost, crew comfort, mechanical complexity and reliability all being key components.
Based on 1930s and 40s techologies (and taking into account development and production lead-times) it must have been almost impossible to achieve more than a couple of these to any appreicable degree. Throw in the fact you are in a rapid arms race and I think strategic considerations will dictate the preferred solution more than anything else. Axis solutions would focus on material cost (the MkIV Ausf J being a good example of a standard German medium tank actually getting worse in it's last iterations) and survival while the allies had huge distances to cover on all fronts. The brutal truth also being that the allies had far larger crew resource available so could focus on getting as many of them moving and fighting as possible.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2020, 02:09:27 PM by Keith »
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Online Plynkes

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2020, 03:08:07 PM »
Since I am very unlikely to ever have to fight a war in a tank, my top five criteria would be purely based around how cool the tanks are. I have a real soft spot for the rhomboid tanks of the Great War, but unless they were armed only with a stick, I don't think I'd want to have to fight anyone from inside of one.


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Offline jon_1066

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2020, 04:20:17 PM »
Imho this discussion is endless.

Tanks have three principle categories:
  • speed
  • armor
  • gun
...

I think you have missed weight from your categories.  The tiger tank had a high top speed, thick armour and a powerful gun.  One reason it was poor strategically and operationally was because it was so damn heavy.  It was very difficult to recover from the battlefield (which when you are retreating is a bad thing)  and was difficult to get to the battlefield (bridges, railway clearance, etc)  It's the same reason the Pershing didn't see a lot of service - a good tank on paper but big and heavy causing a logistical challenge to an army that was constrained by shipping.

I also don't think you can discount reliability and ease of manufacture as principal categories.  Is it better to have five OK tanks or one complex but theoretically great tank (except the transmission is prone to failure and it can catch fire all by itself? cough ... Panther ... cough).  The reason the allies fielded so many more tanks wasn't just base industrial capacity being greater but they standardised parts and designed things to be easy to manufacture.


Offline FramFramson

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2020, 07:04:38 PM »
I think you have missed weight from your categories.  The tiger tank had a high top speed, thick armour and a powerful gun.  One reason it was poor strategically and operationally was because it was so damn heavy.  It was very difficult to recover from the battlefield (which when you are retreating is a bad thing)  and was difficult to get to the battlefield (bridges, railway clearance, etc)  It's the same reason the Pershing didn't see a lot of service - a good tank on paper but big and heavy causing a logistical challenge to an army that was constrained by shipping.

It was always fascinating how this ended up being a design consideration for the Tiger II, such that it had incredibly good weight dispersion/ground pressure in spite of its even larger size and weight comapared to its predecessor.

And yes, the question of strategic factors, tactical factors, and individual features of a given fighting vehicle are going to weigh very differently for a member of the general staff, a field officer, or the actual crew. That's without getting into factors like the expected terrain or the conditions.

But at least I think we can all agree that every tank needs a loudspeaker to play "I've been workin' on the railroad" while blowing up enemy logistics.

Offline Elbows

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2020, 11:24:34 PM »
I think it's definitely important to look at historical tanks from a tactical perspective, and not a strategic one.  I have younger friends who base all of their historical opinions on armchair historian strategic views.  I think this (practice, not this thread!) treads dangerously close to being disingenuous to the soldiers who fought these wars first hand.

A 20-something friend of mine frequently derides German tanks from WW2 because they were expensive or unreliable, etc.  While it's easy to agree on a grand scope, I'd have a hard time telling the allied servicemen who faced a functioning Tiger crewed by veterans "Oh don't worry it's not going to impact the war's result.", etc.

No matter how strategically or economically poor any armoured fighting vehicle was on either side...some poor bastard had to fight it, and it was terrifying and possibly fatal.

As such, I tend to stick to simply what I find coolest.  I'd definitely value reliability, ergonomics and decent survivability.



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Offline chamberlain

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2020, 01:25:34 AM »
If I was in a tank in WW2, I'd want to be in one that was both survivable and easy to bail.  Churchhill I guess.  And if I got to pick a variant, the mortar one that doesn't ever go anywhere near the enemy.  I've read their commander reports and it's just responding to fire support requests over and over and over.

Now with the more interesting criteria of which tank is best being the number of turrets, the M3 Lee/Grant and the Soviet T35 are hilarious contenders.  Though I'd much rather be in a M3 than a T35.

Offline von der Tann

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2020, 04:09:11 AM »
I think you have missed weight from your categories.  The tiger tank had a high top speed, thick armour and a powerful gun.  One reason it was poor strategically and operationally was because it was so damn heavy.  It was very difficult to recover from the battlefield (which when you are retreating is a bad thing)  and was difficult to get to the battlefield (bridges, railway clearance, etc)  It's the same reason the Pershing didn't see a lot of service - a good tank on paper but big and heavy causing a logistical challenge to an army that was constrained by shipping.

Maybe, maybe not ... modern MBTs outweigh WWII Heavy tanks, with the exception of super-heavy tanks like the Maus, TOG, E-100 or Tortoise. A Panther weighs in at roughly 47 tons,  Tiger at approx. 57 tons, Sherman, Firefly and T-34/85 weigh around 30 tons to 32 tons - a Leopard 2A6 enters at 62 tons - same weight category as the Leclerc, Merkava and Challenger 2, while the newest American M1A2C weighs in at over 70 tons. I do not see anyone calling the M1 Abrams a bad tank, just because it outweighs all other MBTs.

But I agree with what Elbows said ...
As such, I tend to stick to simply what I find coolest.

Which in my case would be a Jagpanther or the T-34/85. But having sat in a T-34/85 I do not think I would like to fight in one.

Offline DCRBrown

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2020, 08:27:53 AM »
Good point on tank weight. The weight of a tank is largely irrelevant as long as you have a logistics train ramped up to deal with that sized tank.

NATO has such a system in place, whereas the Germans in late 1944 to 45 did not, hence it was difficult to cover the logistics train of tank battalions with Tigers and Panthers. Similarly the road network needs to be able to cope with such beasts, many WW2 roads and bridges were poor by modern standards, thus difficult to move large tanks.

Looking at tank numbers alone on a strategic level doesn't mean much if you produce 5 times as many tanks as your opponent but he knocks of 6 of yours for every one of his. You also need to have the logistics train in place to get all those cheap tanks from A to B. Rearm them and maintain them.

So, I think, armour, weight and speed matter tactically if that's your level. The strategic/operational only impacts before and then after such engagements. So, it depends on how you wish to approach such things. A good tank can be of bad design, e.g. the T34, but will win out because of the strategic situation, meaning its good because it's easy to build, maintain and can use the road/rail network easily. However, perhaps a Tiger tank would also win out on this level if it also had a suitable logistic train geared up to support it. ;)

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« Last Edit: September 29, 2020, 08:30:56 AM by DCRBrown »

Offline mcfonz

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2020, 08:29:19 AM »
I think you have missed weight from your categories.  The tiger tank had a high top speed, thick armour and a powerful gun.  One reason it was poor strategically and operationally was because it was so damn heavy.  It was very difficult to recover from the battlefield (which when you are retreating is a bad thing)  and was difficult to get to the battlefield (bridges, railway clearance, etc)  It's the same reason the Pershing didn't see a lot of service - a good tank on paper but big and heavy causing a logistical challenge to an army that was constrained by shipping.

I also don't think you can discount reliability and ease of manufacture as principal categories.  Is it better to have five OK tanks or one complex but theoretically great tank (except the transmission is prone to failure and it can catch fire all by itself? cough ... Panther ... cough).  The reason the allies fielded so many more tanks wasn't just base industrial capacity being greater but they standardised parts and designed things to be easy to manufacture.

You would have to add crew quality as well I would say. There are a lot of examples, historical and modern, of experienced crew in an inferior tank getting more out of it than a less experienced crew in theoretically a better tank.

That's before thinking about tactics that could leave tanks vulnerable to infantry attacks and something as simple as a 'sticky bomb' do dislodge tracks and leave it immobile.

Offline sukhe_bator

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2020, 09:21:57 AM »
Its the old 'cheap but reliable and easy to maintain' vs 'technically good but tricky to keep going' debate. Personally I'd go for a tank-buster like the M-10 tank destroyer. A cheap but reasonably fast chassis equipped with an ass-kicking gun. Kind of like a Fiat Uno with a 1300 motorcycle engine - it is a bit of a surprise package. The only problem was the open topped turret. When it rained the M-10 crew got wet!
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Offline Cubs

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Re: Top 5 Tanks
« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2020, 09:37:45 AM »
Wasn't it Richelieu who said treason is a question of dates? Same goes for tank effectiveness. Matilda, Queen of the Desert in '41 was well on the way to obsolete on the same battleground in '42.

Location and opponents as well. Same example, Matilda, was the only tank to see front line service from '39 to '45, because it transformed into the Matilda Frog, an Australian flamethrower tank all but invulnerable to the Japanese in the jungle, whereas in Europe against the Germans it would have been all but useless.

I read someone deriding the Churchill as a useless cul-de-sac of a tank, like all British efforts at tank design - slow, heavy and under-gunned. I would point to the battlefields it was required to serve in soon after its introduction - Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, Normandy - all dense and difficult terrain in which the Churchill's excellent cross-country ability and thick armour served it very well. Not to mention its versatility and conversion to 'funnies' in the 79th Armoured Division that served the Allies so well in '44 and '45.

It always seems to go that we discuss tank vs tank design like it's a tank vs tank battle. But in the rock, paper, scissors of war, often it wasn't tank vs tank, it was tank vs infantry, or anti-tank vs tank, etc.. One of the big lessons the Allies learned in North Africa was how Rommel kept his tanks back until his 88's had cleared the opposition armour, then he threw in the tanks against infantry and soft vehicles, causing mayhem.
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