The Greatest Ever Military Tanks
The Old, The New, and the Downright Unusual
Military / Battlefield Tanks
From the moment it appeared less than a century ago, no piece of battlefield technology has left it's track marks on history like the tank. It has slugged it out in every major conflict of the 20th and 21st century and shows no sign of leaving the ring. But, which tanks are the greatest? To find out we canvassed some of the world's greatest tank experts. They include Tom Clancy, world-class novelist, tank fan and military observer, Bruce Dickinson, front man from rock outfit Iron Maiden and amateur tank driver, and billionaire tank collector Jacque Littlefield, and from the sharp-end of the tank business we have war veterans.
No 10. M4 Sherman.
In total, nearly 50,000 of these 33 ton Shermans were built. This tank made its debut in the western desert front campaign of 1942 and soon became the ubiquitous allied tank. The Brits had them, the French had them, the Canadians, Russians and Chinese had them. The engine was a 9-cylinder air-cooled aircraft engine giving the tank a top speed of 22mph. The 75mm main gun was considered superior, reliability and accuracy, but perhaps its main advantage was its speed and manoeuvrability.
No. 9. M551 Sheridan
Steve Zaloga a military writer says: "The dream of tank designers, for decades, has been to develop a tank that's lightweight, easy to transport yet has the fire-power of a main battle-tank". The Sheridan could be dropped from an aircraft. The transport aircraft flies over the ground at about 100mph at a height of 10 or 20 feet and the drogue 'chute comes out and pulls the tank from the plane where it falls to the ground.
The Sheridan was also amphibious and its light-weight came from aluminium armour. It had 4 forward gears and 2 reverse, giving a top speed close to 45mph. The main gun was a 152 calibre unit that fired laser-guided missiles as well as conventional rounds.
Pz-Kw 5 Panther (Panzer)
No. 8. Pz-Kw 5 Panther (Panzer)
The single most important feature of the Panther was its fire-power, the long 75mm gun the Panther introduced was probably the best all-round tank gun of World War II. It achieved its power, not by going to a larger calibre, but by going to a longer barrel and a larger powder-charge. This gun could obliterate an enemy tank, broadside, from 2,000 metres.
The Panther stole its sloping armour design from an earlier Russian tank which had previously out-classed any tank the Germans had. The Panther's debut was marred by frequent breakdowns, the complicated engineering just hadn't been proved.
No. 7. T72
The T72 is a tank that was built by the Soviets to fight World War III. Designed to form the spear-head of a Soviet push into western Europe. The ultimate attack tank! It had thick armour, good mobility, a big gun and a very low profile.
It had a 125mm calibre gun which was fed shells by an automatic loading system. The automatic system meant, apart from better loading speed, it didn't need a crew member for loading thereby reduing the weight of the tank increasing its speed and manoeuvrability.
Swedish S Tank
No. 6. Swedish "S" Tank
In the 1960's the Swedish brought out the S Tank as an instument of peace, the pacifist's choice. When the tank world first saw the S Tank they, collectively, shook their heads in disbelief.
From its turret-less snout to its protective fence, twin engines and built-in swimming skirt, the S Tank is, quite simply, unique. It was intended to fight in forested terrain where there would not have been room for a rotating turret.
No. 5. Centurion
First seeing action in the closing stages of World War II, the Centurion is the longest serving main battle tank in the world. A favourite of cut-price armies in low-budget wars. It was the best tank in the world for a good 15 years.
Colonel John Gillman, tank tester, British Army, has spent his entire career at the heart of British tank development and the Centurion was his first love. He says: "When I joined my regiment, away back in 1968, my first vehicle was a Mk62 Centurion and we drove it for 3,500 miles which is an awful long way". The key to any tank success is battlefield maintenance and the Centurion can be kept running by its crew with, literally, two spanners.
No. 4. Merkava
In 1970, finding itself without a friend in the world and surrounded by irate neighbours the Israeli defence force decided to create a tank of its own. Merkava, the DIY tank! From the mountains of the Golan Heights to the urbanised Gaza Strip, Israel faces a unique set of defensive demands.
The Merkava is a very successful vehicle bacause it can fight both in close urban combat and in traditional open warfare. Brigadier General Amir Nia, the Merkava tank project leader, says: "usually when you design a tank, you have to compromise between fire-power, protection and manoeuvrability. In our case protection and survivability is the most important thing"
No. 3. T34
T34 invented sloping armour which in turn affected other parts of the design. A very thick cast turret carrying a 76mm gun much larger than anything else in its time. The T34's exraordinary qualities were put under pressure when Germany tried to push eastwards in 1941. In the long and bloody confrontation on the Eastern Front the T34 became recognised as the premier tank of its day.
Powering the T34 is a V-12 diesel, old airship, engine which dates back to the 1st World War. It was light and easy to maintain and was manufactured from the 1920's up to the present day.
No. 2. M1 Abrams
It's big, it's very well protected, it's fast and has a darn big gun! A single Abrams can take on one or more of any other tank on the battlefield and still win. Described as the Rolls Royce of modern tanks which has seen the Americans through several wars.
Rocket-propelled grenades are extremely destructive weapons able to burn through up to30 inches of steel armour, but the Abrams tank is covered with a new generation of laminate armour which is lightweight and more than capable of dealing with an RPG. its top-secret composition saved the life of Lt. Keith Montgomery when his tank came under fire in Baghdad.
Leopard 2 Tank
No. 1. Leopard 2
After World War II, Germany had been banned from building tanks. But by the 1970's a new Germany was allowed back into the tank shed and the technological excellence that created the Panther spawned a new generation of big cat. Leopard! The Greatest Ever Tank!
It is a combination of the best fire-power, the best protection and the best mobility in the world today. The Leopard 2 is a statement of European identity!
CREDITS: All of the above information was taken from the UK's Channel Five "Greatest Ever" documentary series.