What’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster?

British Mark IV Female Tank, taken during trai...

British Mark IV Female Tank, taken during training at Bovington Camp in 1917. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t imagine how terrifying they were as they relentlessly lumbered through the mud, the blood and the smoke towards the enemy. Larger than any such machine before, these riveted behemoths trundled towards the Germans. Traditional warfare in the trenches normally happened at a snail’s pace and the British secretly developed tanks as a means to break the deadlock. Not wanting to alert the enemy, they used the word “tank” in order to obscure their real purpose. I guess “armoured fighting vehicle” would be a give away.

They had high hopes for the new machine, but they were slow, unreliable and vulnerable to artillery. However, they were impervious to small arms fire and could ignore most trenches and barbed wire. Although there were serious shortcomings in the early models, they showed promise. I’ve always loved tanks. The ancient armies had their chariots and the knights had their horses, but for me, the tank is the most noble steed of all. After that first indecisive battle, the British persisted and just about everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. The worst thing about trench warfare was the lack of movement, so what’s not to like about a moveable trench? Especially one bristling with guns?

By the time WW2 broke out, tanks were more reliable, much faster and they had turret mounted guns giving a 360 degree arc of fire. They also packed more of a punch. In response to bigger guns, tank armour became thicker but as in any arms race, there are always losers. Someone trundling round in an older tank facing an enemy in a brand new model could look forward to a short and very bad day. Tanks have their limitations. Cut off from infantry support, they are quickly overwhelmed. Their lack of manoeuvrability makes them vulnerable in an urban setting. However, on an open battlefield, they are masters of their craft.

Alas, I think the tank will soon go the way of the chariot and the knight. There are helicopters that can sneak over the horizon and nail a tank before the crew even know about it. Drones are in regular use and it won’t be long before there are swarms of them on every battlefield seeking out armoured vehicles. Infantry anti-tank weapons grow ever more sophisticated. There are only three conflicting ways to counter these threats; stealth, mobility and armour. A heavily armoured tank won’t be that mobile and will be easy to spot. A lighter tank, although fleet of foot and harder to spot will be easy pickings.

It may all be irrelevant, because future wars will probably be fought in cyberspace. Those that aren’t will probably be fought at a much smaller, possibly biological scale.

Maybe someone will develop a “nanotank”.

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