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Tank Warfare in World War II
Tank warfare was a catalyst for success starting in World War II. The war catapulted the importance of the tank and its abilities. World War II saw tanks as the primary means for overtaking enemy forces (Piekalkiewicz). They were essential in fending off invaders, maintaining strongholds, and even going on the offensive (Piekalkiewics). Tanks were somewhat of a new dimension, but they quickly perpetuated to become probably the most important dimension in the European theatre.
World War I saw the first major tank warfare take place. World War I was based on the assumption that victory was achieved through tank warfare. Soldiers would entrench themselves, and periodically charge all at once in an effort to invade the opposing trench. Once that trench was invaded, another one would be targeted. It was an everlasting cycle that led to millions of deaths and very little advance by either force.
By the end of the war it was apparent to military strategists that the end of the war could not take trench lines by simply using manpower. So a metal vehicle was designed that could shield, and eventually overtake these lines. The metal vehicle soon evolved to incorporate guns. The guns started small as extruding machine guns, but they grew to include turrets, which could rotate, and eventually large artillery guns.
The advancement of the tank from the period when World War I ended to when World War II started meant a much different battle dynamic. No longer were trenches fought over. The tanks provided troops with faster deployment, and more protection in their fighting. The Second World War was fought with great mobility. The original German offensive was able to invade Poland in a matter of days, and France in a matter of months.
Tank warfare became so crucial during World War II, that armies began putting most of their time and effort into designing news ones, and figuring out different ways of employing. They evolved from being just a means of advancement and protection, to having a variety of different jobs. They served for reconnaissance, and they served as mobile invasion forces, and they even served as anti-aircraft weapons.
Tanks were the premier weapon of the European theatre. It could be argued that they were eventually responsible for the outcome in Germany. Every ground success and defeat could directly be related to the performance of the tanks.
Tank technology progressed at a brilliant pace during the course of the war. Military planners immediately began looking at new ways to design these vehicles. They realized the fate of their ground power depended on the success of their designs.
Engineers from both sides, the Allies and Axis, sought to outdo each other's designs (Vannoy). Every time a new model rolled out, the opposing designers tried to counter that tank's advancements (Vannoy). It was an unending process that ultimately resulted with the collapse of Germany, but not because of the failure of their tanks' designs, but rather because of the sheer number of tanks placed against them.
The biggest advancements during World War II were made by the two major superpowers engaging in the War, the United States and Germany. The United States armored vehicles were generally designed to match those of Germany's in Europe. For every German armor, American military engineers sought to match its power and strength on the battlefield. Unlike World War I, tanks in the Second World War came in many different sizes, and with many different capabilities. The new dynamic of the war required some vehicles to have speed, while others needed more armors. Tanks essentially had different jobs, also. Some were intended to provide artillery and armor for troops, while others were built to destroy other tanks. Some tanks were built for special duties such as having the ability to approach beachheads, or even to destroy enemy aircraft.
The tanks used by the U.S. (those that ultimately conquered the Nazi powers in Europe) ranged in sizes, but can basically be broken down into three ranges: heavy, medium, and light. Prior to the war, the only heavy tank in the United States arsenal was the M6 (Tank Encyclopedia). This vehicle was built mainly with the idea that the next armed conflict would be similar to World War I. It was big enough to provide protection for ground troops, but it also was strong enough to engage opposing armored vehicles.
The priority for heavy tanks, however, was not pressing. Military analysts saw a war in Europe requiring more speed and agility out of the army's armored vehicles. The smaller and fast designs were ordered in much larger numbers than those of the heavy tanks were.
Military analysts soon realized, however, that medium and light tanks were not sufficient in the European theatre. The large German Panzers and Tigers, while not nearly as fast or maneuverable as the allied vehicles, were much stronger and better-armored (Elterlin). They wreaked havoc on the light American tanks. The military decided that in order to combat these German "monsters," they needed to do so with an equally strong vehicle.
The M6 was an outdated vehicle, so they set to work on a couple of new models. The first design to roll off the assembly floor was called the Pershing (Tank Encyclopedia)). The Pershing was large like its predecessor, the M6, but it was reinforced with torsion bars and a bigger gun (Tank Encyclopedia). The Pershing, pound for pound, could contest any German tank, including the large Panzer and Tiger models (Tank Encyclopedia). Unfortunately, the Pershing, along with the other heavy tanks built by the United States, did not enter the war soon enough (Tank Encyclopedias). Pershing tanks were first shipped to the European front in 1945, only months before the collapse of the Nazi regime (Tank Encyclopedia). Only 200 of these Pershings participated in World War II, although they did see action in some crucial battles, including the Battle of the Bulge (Dinardo). The Pershing model then became the basis for the post-World War II Patton tanks that is still employed by the military today.
The heavy European tanks were essentially defeated by the smaller American ones, but at great cost. It often took numerous medium and light tanks to destroy one of Germany's large ones. Had the Pershing been introduced at an earlier point in the war, its presence could have greatly increased the speed of the allied advance, and possibly saved thousands of lives.
At the same time the Pershing was being developed, another heavy tank was also in production. This one was to be produced sparingly, as the Pershing was intended to be the primary tank in the European theatre. Called the T-28, this tank was by far the largest in World War II (Tank Encyclopedia). It weighed an incredible 95 tons (as opposed to the Pershing's 42 tons), and it had a long 105 mm gun (Tank Encyclopedia). The T-28 was not only designed to engage Germany's heavy vehicles, but also to attack bunkers (Tank Encyclopedia). The T-28 was almost invincible on the battlefield, but transportation was a major problem for it (Tank Encyclopedia). The tank's engine could not reach speeds of over 8 miles per hour (Tank Encyclopedia). It also could not negotiate difficult terrain, nor go through water. An even greater problem facing the T-28 was its difficulty in transportation. Weighing an incredible 95 pounds, the T-28 took up as much room as two large-sized Pershings (Tank Encyclopedia). The T-28 was shelved after the war when military leaders chose to pursue the Pershing as a basis for the next generation of heavy armored vehicles (Tank Encyclopedia).
The Ally's medium sized tanks (Tank Encyclopedia) did the bulk of the tank warfare in Europe. One of the most predominant of these models is the United States Chaffe (Tank Encyclopedia). This tank was originally designed by the British military, but adopted by Americans and built in the United States (Tank Encyclopedia). The Chaffe had an ultra-light 77 mm gun that was originally designed for use on a Hellcat (an American fighter jet) (Tank Encyclopedia). The light gun eased the weight of the turret, providing better handling, and ultimately, better aiming (Tank Encyclopedia). The reduction in weight also gave the tank more speed and maneuverability than many of its medium sized peers (Tank Encyclopedia).
The Chaffe's speed and advanced armament gave it a great advantage over other tanks, but it lacked strong armor. Compared to most of its peer vehicles, the Chaffe was relatively weak, and could not withstand heavy artillery blows (Tank Encyclopedia). The Chaffe, while built by America, was used by all the major allied forces in Europe. The French and English actually used the majority of these vehicles, while the United States armed forces relied more heavily upon its Sherman tanks.
The primary medium tank employed by the United States at the onset of World War II was the Lee/Grant. This World War I model showed the inexperience of tank design in America. It's…[continue]
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