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I believe it's the T-34, but a friend of mine argued that it was the Tiger. It all depends on which period of WW2 you look at, but overall, which was the best ?
There is no best tank
There was no best tank simply because there is no objective measure.
The Russian T-34 and the German Panther tank have been described as outstanding and trend-setting for future tank designs.
At certain times in the war, certain tank models were nearly invincible in direct combat. Examples would include British Matilda tanks in the Battle of France and German Tigers early in the Russian campaign.
Some tanks were not exactly great in combat, but could be mass-produced easily so they had the advantage in numbers. American Shermans would be a prime example. But again, there is no measure of best. As a country, mass producing cheap tanks is great. As a person sitting in such a tank, I would have liked another tank better.
Please also note that tank warfare in WW2 has never been decided by the quality of the tank, but by combined arms, maneuver, tactics and quality of the crew and leadership. For example early in the war, a tank squad where each tank had a radio was way more effective than a group of supposedly "better" tanks that was unable to properly communicate.
From the Forum: What Was The Best Allied Tank Of WWII – The Results Are In
Polls are very popular on the War History Online Forum and this week we look at the best allied tanks of World War II. Usually, when tanks from the Second World War are discussed, the focus quickly shifts to the German tanks, the Panther, and Tiger is usually the best tanks according to most members.
This time we had to pick from a list of allied tanks that saw action in the last months of the war and after more than 200 votes these are the results so far.
The majority of our members have voted for the Soviet T-34-85, the upgraded version of the T-34 which first saw service with the Red Army from the first to the last day of the war. The Sherman Firefly comes in on the second place, followed by the M-26 Pershing and the Sherman M4a3E8, the easy eight.
Far less popular among our members is the IS-2 Stalin tank and all the way at the bottom we find the British Tank, Cruiser, Challenger (A30), which has not received a single vote.
8 American Tanks of WW2 – Were They the Best?
During the Second World War, America had to move quickly to arm itself. Tanks had become a vital part of combat, as shown by Germany’s decisive armored offensives in Poland and France. As a result, American arms makers rushed to produce the tanks with which their country could win the war.
Marmon-Herrington Light Tank
Since the mid-1930s, the Indianapolis-based Marmon-Herrington company had been producing a range of light tanks for export. The early CTL designs did not have turrets. The US Marine Corps occasionally bought one to try it out but was never impressed enough to buy them in bulk.
In 1940, the company created the turreted CTM model, designed to meet the requirements of the Marine Corps. An improved version was made in 1941 for the Netherlands East Indies, but that region was overrun by the Japanese before most of the tanks could be delivered, so they went to the US Army instead.Marmon-Herrington CTLS tanks (a CTLS-4TAC in the foreground and a CTLS-4TAY in the background) in Alaska, summer of 1942.
A three-man tank armed only with machine-guns, the CTM was too light to fight in the main battles of the war. It was used for training and in Alaskan defense forces.
CTMS-1TB1 tanks in Paramaribo, Surinam, 1947
M3 Lee / Grant
Developed by the Rock Island Arsenal, the Medium M3 Tank was the first effective American tank of the war.
Developed in 1940, the previous M2A1 was a medium tank with a 37mm gun, but the fighting in Poland and France showed that this weapon would be too weak for modern purposes. The turret was too small to carry a 75mm gun, so a sponson was instead added at the side of the hull to carry the 75mm weapon. The resulting vehicle was the Medium M3.
Medium Tank, M3, Fort Knox, June 1942
The British ordered large numbers of a slightly modified M3, which they called the General Grant. These arrived in Egypt in 1942 and became important to fighting in the Middle East.
The American version, the General Lee, joined its British cousin in North Africa in late 1942 during Operation Torch. Aside from this venture in the war, it was mostly used for training.
Front view of an M3.
Also a modification of a previous tank, the Light M3, or General Stuart, was first produced in 1940. The experience of combat in Europe led to its having thicker armor than its predecessor, which in turn necessitated changes to the suspension.
A M3A1 going through water obstacle, Ft. Knox, Ky.
The Stuart was lightly armed but reasonably robust. Later models were given better armor. When a shortage of engines threatened production, it was adapted to create the M5 – a Stuart powered by a pair of Cadillac V-8 engines.
Crews of U.S. M5 Stuart light tanks from Company D, 761st Tank Battalion, stand by awaiting call to clean out scattered Nazi machine gun nests in Coburg, Germany.
The Lee/Grant tank was only ever meant as an interim measure. Even while it headed into battle with its side-mounted sponson, engineers were frantically working to create a medium tank that could carry a 75mm gun in its turret. The result was the M4 Sherman.
A Sherman tank of 13th 18th Royal Hussars in action against German troops using crashed Horsa gliders as cover near Ranville, 10 June 1944.
First produced in 1941, the Sherman used many components from the Lee/Grant, but it had a larger turret and turtle-backed hull. It became the standard battle tank of both the American and the British armies, and was produced in vast numbers throughout the war.
A Sherman with track widening “duckbill” extended end connectors
M6 Heavy Tank
Produced in 1942, the M6 was America’s first serious attempt at a heavy tank. Despite initial defects in the braking and cooling systems, it was an effective machine which made pioneering use of heavy cast construction.
Heavy Tank M6
By the time the M6 was ready for production, the Army’s Armored Force had decided that mobility was more important than armor and firepower. They used the tank’s supposed unreliability as an excuse to reject it.
Production ended and the M6 never saw battle, despite the growing prominence of heavy tanks in the fighting in Europe.
A U.S. Army M6 heavy tank in December 1941.
Another Marmon-Herrington product, the M22 Locust was a light tank, specially designed for portability by air.
An M22 Locust, American light tank at Bovington Tank Museum in the UK
The Locust was an innovative but ultimately ineffective design. It could theoretically be carried in a specially designed transport aircraft, to accompany paratrooper landings.
But it was lightly armed, thinly armored, and mechanically unreliable. To cap it off, the tank could only be transported slung under a plane with its turret detached – hardly a practical option.
Though 830 were produced, they saw little action and no airborne landings. A few were used by the British in their attack across the Rhine, but the Americans never made use of them. Most ended up being scrapped at war’s end.
Locust in action during Operation Varsity, March 1945
It soon became apparent that the Stuart, with its 37mm gun, was behind the curve of modern warfare, lacking the firepower to take out German tanks. In 1942, American engineers began working on the replacement that would become the M24.
A preserved M24 of the Royal Netherlands Army
First tested in 1943 and produced from April 1944 onward, the M24 was named the Chaffee after General Adna R. Chaffee, a pioneer of US armored warfare who had died in 1941. It used the twin Cadillac engines of the M5A1, as these had proved a very reliable option.
M24 Chaffee moves on the outskirts of Salzburg, May 1945
The Chaffee reached Europe in 1944, in time to take part in the advance into Germany. It didn’t make a big impact in World War II, but later played a significant role in the Korean War, where it proved to be an effective fighting machine.
M24 Chaffee light tanks of the 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, wait for an assault of North Korean T-34-85 tanks at Masan.
When the M6 project failed, American armorers didn’t give up their mission to develop a heavy tank. Fighting in Europe was proving the vital role of such tanks, thanks to the superiority of German versions.
A Pershing tank of the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War in 1950.
After several missteps, they created the M26 Pershing, a heavy tank with thick armor and a 90mm gun. At last, America had something that could match Germany’s famous 88mm guns.
The so-called “Super Pershing” before extra armor welded on. Note the 73 caliber gun to compete with the 88 mm KwK 43 L 71 gun on the King Tiger.
T23 with production cast turret mounting 76 mm M1A1 gun. The T23 turret would be used for the 76-mm M4 Sherman. Note the vertical volute spring suspension.
Army Ground Forces proved strangely resistant to the new weapon, and it became a source of political conflict within the military. At last, Army Staff overruled ground commanders. The M26 was shipped to Europe, where a few hundred took part in the final months of the war.
The tank was invented by the British in 1916 and first used during World War I, with nearly simultaneous development in France. Tanks of the First World War reflected the novelty of the idea and the primitive state of the automotive industry. World War I tanks moved at a walking pace, were relatively unreliable, and the best usage of them was still developing up to the war's end.  A breakthrough in tank design was the Christie suspension: a suspension system developed by American engineer J. Walter Christie which allowed considerably longer movement of the suspension than conventional leaf-spring systems then in common use, and allowed the tanks to have considerably greater cross-country speed. 
The doctrine of armored warfare changed radically in the inter-war years as armies sought ways to avoid the deadlock imposed by modern firepower and looked for the means to restore offensive power on the battlefield. Initially, tanks had been used for close support of infantry, but as modern mechanized doctrine was developed by several armies, tanks became an essential part of the combined-arms team. In addition to infantry support, tanks fulfilled traditional cavalry roles, provided mobile artillery support, and were adapted to combat engineering roles. 
Tank design gradually improved in the inter-war period also. Reflecting the growth of the automotive industry, tank engines, transmissions, and track systems were improved. By the beginning of the war in September 1939, tanks were available that could travel hundreds of miles on their tracks with a limited number of breakdowns. 
The war accelerated the pace of change in design. In particular, the gun-vs-armor race of the war led to rapid improvements in firepower and armor (both in thickness and design). 
The United Kingdom, the US, the Soviet Union, and France produced significant numbers of tanks before and during World War II. The early tanks of Germany were inferior to many of their opponents' tanks in the areas of armor and firepower. However, in their tactical employment the German tanks dominated all rivals early in the war. German doctrine stressed the use of rapid movement, mission-type tactics and combined-arms where tanks operated with mobile infantry and air support this doctrine was popularly called [a] Blitzkrieg. This doctrine required the Germans to equip their tanks with radios, which provided unmatched command and control for flexible employment. 
In contrast, for example, almost 80 percent of French tanks lacked radios,  essentially because their battle doctrine was based on a more slow-paced, deliberate conformance to planned movements. This required fewer radios at all levels. French tanks generally outclassed German tanks in firepower and armor in the 1940 campaign, but their poor command and control doctrine negated these advantages. By 1943, two-way radio was nearly universal in all armies. 
A trend towards heavier tanks was unmistakable as the war proceeded. In 1939, most tanks had maximum armor of 30 mm (1.2 in) or less, with guns with no larger caliber than 37–47 mm. Medium tanks of 1939 weighed around 20 tonnes (20 long tons). By 1945, typical medium tanks had maximum armor over 60 mm thick, with guns in the 75–85 mm (3.0–3.3-inch) range and weights of 30 to 45 t (30 to 44 long tons). Light tanks, which dominated most armies early in the war, gradually disappeared from front-line service. 
Turrets, which had always been considered, but were not previously a universal feature on tanks, became recognized as essential. It was appreciated that if the tank's gun was to be used to engage both 'soft' (unarmored) and armored targets, then it needed to be as large and powerful as possible, making one large gun with an all-round field of fire vital. Also, mounting the gun in a turret ensured that the tank could fire from hull down cover. Hull-mounted guns required that most of the vehicle be exposed to enemy fire. Multiple-turreted or multi-gun designs such as the Soviet T-35, American Medium Tank M3, French Char B1 or British A9 Cruiser Mk I slowly became less common during World War II. Experience showed that a tank commander could not effectively control the fire of several weapons also, the newer dual-purpose guns eliminated the need for multiple weapons. Most tanks still retained a hull machine gun, and usually one or more machine guns in the turret, to protect them from infantry at short range. 
Tanks were adapted to a wide range of military tasks, including engineering. Specialized models, such as flame-thrower tanks, armored recovery vehicles for towing disabled tanks from the battlefield, and command tanks with extra radios were also used. Some of these tank variants live on as other classes of armored fighting vehicle, no longer called "tanks". All major combatant powers also developed tank destroyers and assault guns, as armored vehicles carrying large-caliber guns, but often no turrets. Turreted vehicles are expensive to manufacture compared to non-turreted vehicles. 
One trend seen in World War II was the usage of older, lighter tank chassis to mount larger weapons in fixed casemates, as self-propelled guns, tank destroyers or assault guns. For example, the Soviet T-34 could mount an 85 mm gun in the turret, but the same chassis could carry the much more effective 100 mm gun in a fixed casemate as the SU-100, the successor of the SU-85. Likewise, the obsolete German Panzer II light tank, too vulnerable for a direct fire role, was modified to take a powerful 75 mm PaK 40 gun in an open-topped, fixed casemate as the Marder II self-propelled artillery piece. 
The German tank destroyers Panzerjäger ("tank hunters") were basically made by taking an existing anti-tank gun and mounting it on a convenient chassis to give mobility, usually with just a three-sided gun shield for crew protection. For instance, 202 obsolete Panzer I light tanks were modified by removing the turret emplacing a Czech 4,7cm KPÚV vz. 38 (47 mm) anti-tank gun giving the Panzerjäger I self-propelled anti-tank gun. German tank destroyers based on the Panzer III and later German tanks were unique in that they had more armor than their tank counterparts. 
Fully enclosed casemates on the Germans' Sturmgeschütz assault guns, from the beginning of the war, set a pattern used later by the similarly fully enclosed Jagdpanzer casemate-style tank destroyers, with the Soviets' similar Samokhodnaya ustanovka (SU) assault guns being used for the same dual-purpose roles. However, the lack of a rotating turret had limited the gun's traverse to a few degrees. This meant that the entire tank normally had to be turned onto its target by the driver, a much slower process than simply rotating a powered turret. If the vehicle became immobilized due to engine failure or track damage, it could not rotate its gun to counter opposing tanks, making it highly vulnerable to counterfire.  This vulnerability was later exploited by opposing tank forces. Even the largest and most powerful of German tank destroyers were found abandoned on the field after a battle, having been immobilized by one or more hits by high explosive (HE) or armor-piercing (AP) shells to the track or front drive sprocket. 
Soviet Union Edit
The Soviet Union started and ended the war with more tanks than the rest of the world combined (18,000–22,000). At the start of World War II the most common tank in Soviet service was the T-26 (derived from the Vickers 6-ton), lightly armoured and armed with a 45 mm gun capable of penetrating most German tanks at normal combat ranges. Few had radios. The design was mechanically sound although incapable of further development. The BT tank series, based on the Christie suspension system, were usually armed with the same 45 mm gun and were the most mobile tanks in the world at the time. Close-support versions of both tanks existed, armed with 76.2 mm howitzers. However, the BT was at the end of its design life. The Red Army also fielded thousands of light reconnaissance tanks such as the amphibious T-37 and T-38 tanks. These had limited combat value although highly mobile, they were armed only with 7.62 mm machine guns and had very thin armour. The Red Army also had about 400 T-28 medium, multi-turreted tanks, which were in most respects equal to the German Panzer IV. Again, though, this design dated from 1931 and was obsolete. 
The Soviet Union ended the 1930s with a huge fleet of tanks almost completely derived from foreign designs, but before 1941 developed some of the most important trend-setting tanks of the war. The problem the Soviet tank force faced in 1941 was not primarily the technical quality of its vehicles, but the very poor state of maintenance, the appalling lack of readiness, and the poor command situation brought on by the purges of the officer class. By 1940, the Red Army had adopted an advanced combat doctrine that its command structure and tank force simply could not execute. 
Several excellent designs began production in 1940–1941. Just prior to the war, the Red Army embarked on two closely related projects to reorganize its mechanized forces and re-equip them with modern designs that took lessons learned from the Spanish Civil War, the Battle of Khalkhin Gol and the Winter War into account. Some of these designs were copies of other countries' designs. The most significant was the T-34, which was originally designed as the successor to the BT series. Its heavier armour and dual-purpose gun, made it one of the best medium tanks of the first half of World War II. The T-34 eventually took on the roles of many other Soviet tanks. The T-34's chassis made it usable after the war, as it could be continuously upgraded with heavier guns, new turrets and other modifications. The other significant design was the KV-1 tank. These were armed with the same 76.2 mm gun as the T-34, and had the same Kharkiv model V-2 diesel engine. The KV tanks were equipped with a torsion bar suspension and much heavier armour than the T-34. The KV was slow, intended as a breakthrough tank. The KV-2 close-support version was armed with a 152 mm (6.0-inch) howitzer. The KV series was the main Soviet heavy tank until 1943, with the end of production and the destruction of most surviving vehicles. Early in 1944, the KV's successor, the IS-2 was introduced. It was armed with a 122 mm (4.8 in) gun, with thicker armour and better mobility.  A new infantry-support tank was introduced in 1941: the T-50. It was intended to be the replacement for the T-26, and was equipped with a 45 mm gun, torsion-bar suspension and thicker armor than most other tanks in its class. However, production problems with its new engine led to the tank being cancelled after fewer than 70 had been made. The light reconnaissance role was be filled by the amphibious T-40 and the cheaper, non-amphibious T-60. 
At the beginning of German invasion of the USSR, most of the Soviet Union's tank force was composed of the T-26 and BT tanks series. A few T-40s had also appeared, along with about 1,363 mechanically unreliable early-model T-34 tanks and 677 KV series tanks.  The early-model T-34s' heavy losses were caused by lack of coordination, lack of supplies, bad training, mechanical issues and the Red Army's general lack of preparation for war. Another difficulty for the T-34 was that it had only a four-man crew, with the tank commander forced to double as the gunner. Although he was spared from loading duties, unlike commanders in French tanks, it still crippled the tank commander's ability to maintain awareness of the battlefield, which gave German armour a tactical advantage. 
In 1941, large numbers of T-60s began to appear, reinforced in 1942 with the similar T-70. Both of these light tanks had torsion-bar suspension, light armour, and small engines. Their simple construction kept them in production even though their combat value was limited. The T-60 had only a 20 mm gun while the T-70 had a 45 mm. In addition, both had one-man turrets, making them difficult to crew effectively. The T-70 formed the basis for the later SU-76 self-propelled gun. 
By October 1942, the general opinion was that Soviet tanks were among the best in the world, with Life magazine writing that "The best tanks in the world today are probably the Russian tanks. ".  The T-34 outclassed every German tank in service at the time of its introduction. At its height, production of all other tanks except the IS-2 was stopped to allow all available resources to be used exclusively for this tank, due to its widespread success in a variety of roles. The T-34 forced the Germans to adopt new, heavier designs such as the Panther and Tiger I, which in turn forced Soviet, American and British tank forces to upgrade their tanks further. German tendency to develop entirely new tanks toward the end of the war, rather than upgrading existing models, reduced the availability of tanks to German tank formations and helped the Red Army gain the initiative on the Eastern Front. 
Later in the war, the light tank role was increasingly filled by Lend-Lease supplies from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, including the M3 light tanks and Valentine tank. Ironically, the T-34's speed, which exceeded that of many of the light tanks that were supposed to scout for it, led to even less Soviet light tank production. 
In order to deal with improved German tanks, the Soviets upgunned the T-34 in 1943, creating the T-34-85. This model had a much larger turret mounting an 85 mm (3.3-inch) gun and a larger turret capable of holding 3-men, which finally allowed the tank commander to concentrate fully on maintaining tactical awareness of the battlefield. The Soviets also introduced the 122 mm-armed IS-2 heavy tank, which had heavier armor than the KV while maintaining the same weight. Most of its armor was concentrated in the front of the tank, where it was expected to take most of its hits. 
The IS-3 variant, produced in mid-1945, had a much more streamlined look and a larger, bowl-shaped tapered turret. Remarkably, the IS-3 had thicker armor but actually weighed slightly less than the IS-2, remaining under 50 tons (as compared to the Tiger II's 68). The armor design of the IS-3 was an enormous influence on postwar tank design, as seen in the Soviet T-55 and T-62 series, the United States M48 Patton and the West German Leopard 1. 
Soviet tank production outstripped all other nations with the exception of the United States. The Soviets accomplished this through standardization on a few designs, generally forgoing minor qualitative improvements and changing designs only when upgrades would result in a major improvement. 
Soviet tanks had turret and gun stabilization, starting with the T-28B, which had a rudimentary form as early as 1938. 
United Kingdom Edit
Britain had been the worldwide trend-setter in tank development from 1915, but had lost its leadership position as the Second World War approached. Hampered by restricted expenditure in the years leading up to the war and still organised for operations in Imperial defence as an expeditionary force, the British Army entered the war unprepared for the very sort of combat its influential theorists such as J.F.C. Fuller and B. H. Liddell Hart had advocated. 
The British Army had developed two types of tanks - "Infantry Tanks" which were heavily armoured with good all terrain performance but were slow. This lack of speed was not considered a flaw as they were designed to support infantry assaults on enemy strong points or urban warfare where the ability to outpace a man on foot was deemed unnecessary. The other type were "Cruiser Tanks" which were intended for independent maneuvering, rapid breakouts and flanking attacks. Early Cruiser tanks gained performance at a cost in the armour they could carry. Reliability was an important issue especially in the harsh conditions of North Africa and the mountainous terrain of Southern Europe, where the A10 and A13 in particular were plagued by broken tracks and overheating engines. 
British tank crews were trained to fire on the move and the armament was mounted for optimum balance such that the gunner could aim with his body rather than use geared elevation. This reduced available space inside the turret. Both early Cruiser and Infantry tanks carried the Ordnance QF 2-pounder, a 40 mm anti-tank gun, a good match for the contemporary German 3.7 cm KwK 36, and effective against tanks of the time but increasingly outclassed as the war progressed. Production shortages caused by losses in France and the Battle of the Atlantic forced the British to delay widespread introduction of the Ordnance QF 6-pounder (57 mm) anti-tank gun until 1942. 
The lack of an adequate high-explosive shell for the 2-pounder and the growing number of 5 cm KwK 38 anti-tank guns in the Afrika Korps gave the German army in Libya a huge advantage for much of late 1941 and early 1942. This began to be offset by late 1942 but the Wehrmacht continued to enjoy a 12–18 month lead in tank and anti-tank gun development and production until the end of 1944.  Britain produced 5000 tanks in the year of 1944. 
The A9 Cruiser Mk I was an effective tank in the French, Greek and early North African campaigns. The 2-pounder gun was better than comparable 37 mm weapons of Germany and the US, and lethal against tanks encountered during the North African campaign. However the minimal armor made the A9 vulnerable to most contemporary anti-tank weapons and the design was quickly superseded by the A10 Cruiser, Mark II. 
A number of A10s were part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sent to France in the early stages of World War II. The A10's cross country performance was recorded as poor, due to narrow, easily thrown tracks, but material losses incurred in the aftermath of Operation Dynamo (the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk in late May 1940) meant they could not be withdrawn from front line service quickly and so saw combat in small numbers in North Africa, where reliability and suspension performance in the desert conditions was praised. Sixty worn out examples were also taken to Greece by the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and although they performed well against the German tanks, over 90% were lost due to mechanical breakdowns as opposed to enemy action (mainly through broken tracks). 
As war broke out, the British had placed into production the A13, a new faster Cruiser tank utilizing the suspension and running gear concepts of the American designer J. Walter Christie. This new suspension provided a fast, highly maneuverable design that became the basis for the rapid evolution of the Cruiser tank such as the Mk IV (A13 Mk II) a British cruiser tank derived from the original A13. 
The A13 Cruiser was developed into the A15 Crusader then the A27 Cromwell. The use of the powerful Rolls Royce Meteor engine, derived from the Rolls Royce Merlin, gave the Cromwell high speed and mobility. The final British cruiser design to see service was the A34 Comet a development of the Cromwell, it carried a high velocity 77 mm gun derived from the Ordnance QF 17-pounder anti-tank gun one of the most effective Allied anti-tank guns of the war, although the Comet itself saw very little combat. 
Beginning about mid-1942, many British tank units were equipped with vehicles supplied under lend-lease from the United States, such as the Stuart light tank, the Lee (or the British specification 'Grant' variant thereof) and the Lee's/Grant's replacement the Sherman (all these tanks received their names from the British, named after American Civil War generals the Americans instead used their original alphanumeric designations almost exclusively until after the war). In late 1943, the British found a way to mount the QF 17-pounder anti-tank gun in the Sherman to create the Firefly, a tank with a more capable gun than the 75mm or 76mm gun normally fitted. From mid-1944, as more were produced and British designs were introduced into service the Firefly became increasingly the most common Sherman in use by the British. 
Specialist tanks Edit
Immediately before and during the war, the British produced an enormous array of prototype tanks and modified tanks for a variety of specialist engineering tasks (such as "Hobart's Funnies", produced for the invasion of France in 1944). 
For example, the Churchill Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) fired a short range 290 mm (11.4 inch) direct-fire mortar which was used for destroying buildings and clearing obstacles. It could also be equipped with a wide variety of combat engineering equipment such as small bridges, rolled-matt roadways, fascines, and mine rollers. 
Many of these ideas had already been tried, tested or were in experimental development both by Britain and other nations. For example, the Scorpion flail tank (a modified Matilda II) had already been used during the North African campaign to clear paths through German minefields. Soviet T-34 tanks had been modified with mine-rollers, fascines and flamethrowers. Close-support tanks, bridgelayers, and fascine carriers had been developed elsewhere also. However, the Funnies were the largest and most elaborate collection of engineering vehicles available. 
By early 1944, Hobart could demonstrate to Eisenhower and Montgomery a brigade each of swimming DD tanks, Crab mine clearers, and AVRE (Engineer) tanks along with a regiment of Crocodile flamethrowing tanks. 
United States Edit
Prior to the entry of the United States into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Army had only a few tanks. During the Louisiana Maneuvers in September 1941, it used trucks with the word "tank" painted on their side. Even after Pearl Harbor the 10th Armored Division did not have any tanks, so crews trained by marching down roads in groups and executing orders as if they were in tanks. 
The Light Tank M2 series was the most important pre-war US tank. These light tanks were mechanically very reliable, with good mobility. However, they had a high silhouette — from the use of an air-cooled radial engine for power — and poor armor. Only a few saw combat, on Guadalcanal. Their importance lies in the fact that they formed the basis for the much more successful Light Tank M3 (a.k.a. 'Stuart' in British service) series beginning in 1941. The M3 Light Tank was an improvement of the M2 Light Tank, with heavier armor and a 37 mm gun. From the M3A1 version, this gun was gyrostabilized. 
The new medium tank just entering production in 1940 was the M2 Medium Tank series. This was a poor design with thin armor, a high silhouette, a 37 mm main gun and seven machine guns. 
From 1940, new tank designs were prepared. The Battle of France had shown the importance of medium tanks.  The British Army sought to have the US manufacture British designs, but the US refused, offering instead to share the output of US factories building US designs. The United States Army had a requirement for a medium tank with a 75 mm gun, and developed the M3 Medium Tank as an interim design. The medium M3 tank was intended to quickly get a 75 mm gun into the field, pending the design of a tank with a 75 mm gun in a fully rotating turret. The British immediately ordered the M3 Medium Tank for their own use as the 'Lee', and some with modifications to their requirements as the 'Grant' (most obviously carrying a different turret). 
By February 1942, American civilian automobile factories only made weapons and military vehicles.  Automobile manufacturers such as General Motors and Chrysler used their experience with mass production to quickly build tanks. The country manufactured as many tanks in the first half of 1942 as in all of 1941, with 1,500 in May 1942 alone.  American production not only equipped its forces, but through Lend Lease also supplied all the tank needs of the free French (after 1942) and Chinese. By 1944 most British units were also equipped with US-built tanks. Finally, the US supplied over 8,000 tanks to the USSR, half of them the M4 Sherman. Similarly to the Soviet Union, the United States selected a few good basic designs and standardized on those models. Given the lack of tank design and production experience, it is remarkable that the United States designs were as good as they were. 
The first tanks of the United States to see combat were the Light Tank M3.  They were deeply flawed in many ways, yet the M3 Light ("Stuart") and M3 Medium ("Lee" or "Grant") were the best tanks available to the Western Allies and were superior to many of their German counterparts in armor protection and firepower. The Light Tank M3 was about as well-armed as the British cruiser tanks with 2-pounder (40 mm) guns in the desert, yet was much more reliable mechanically. Its 37 mm main gun was more powerful than the main guns carried by German reconnaissance tanks. The name given by the British to the Light Tank M3 was 'Stuart' a nickname used was 'Honey'. The M3 and its improved derivative, the Light Tank M5 series, remained in service throughout the war. By 1943, its 37 mm gun was obsolete, but no better replacement was available. The Light Tank T7 design was proposed as a successor in 1943, armed with a 57 mm gun and with better armor however, the design was never standardized for production. 
The appearance of the M3 "Lee" medium tank in the summer of 1942 finally gave the British a larger supply of medium tanks than they could otherwise have hoped for. Although poorly designed, with a very high profile, it was produced in great numbers and was very effective when engaging targets other than enemy tanks, such as infantry and gun positions. 
The M3 Medium had the significant disadvantage of its 75 mm main armament being mounted offset in the hull meaning that it could not take hull down cover and use its main gun at the same time. It had a fully traversable turret with a 37 mm cannon as well, but the turret combined with a hull gun gave it a very tall profile. The United States 1st Armored Division also employed the M3 Medium in Africa. It was a stopgap solution, never intended to be a design of major importance. In American and British service the M3 Medium was phased out at the end of the North African campaign. It continued to serve in the Red Army for some time, and in a single campaign in the Pacific. Red Army crews nicknamed it "grave for seven brothers" referring to the seven-man crew. 
The most important American design of the war was the M4 Medium Tank, or "Sherman" in British service. The M4 Medium became the second-most-produced tank of World War II, and was the only tank to be used by virtually all Allied forces (thanks to the American lend-lease program) approximately 40,000 M4 Mediums were produced during the war.  M4s formed the main tank of American, British, Canadian, French, Polish and Chinese units. The M4 was the equal of the German medium tanks, the Panzer III and Panzer IV, at the time it first saw service in 1942. The Red Army was supplied with about 4,000 M4s.  The M4, although reliable and easy to maintain, was already outgunned by the time the US encountered the up-gunned and up-armored German medium tanks in Italy and Northern Europe (the Panzer IV and various German self-propelled guns) and by late 1943 the arrival of German Panther and Tiger I were even graver threats due to the range, accuracy and penetrating power of their main guns. While it is commonly believed that the Sherman had a tendency to explode catastrophically due to their use of petrol fuel, this is incorrect (almost all tanks used petrol in WWII, excepting Soviet tanks). The Sherman suffered from poor ammunition storage. Welded-on appliqué armor and water jackets were added to combat the problem. A U.S. Army study in 1945 concluded that 60–80 percent of the older dry-stowage and 10–15 percent of wet-stowage Shermans burned when penetrated.  The Sherman gained grim nicknames such as "Tommycooker" from the Germans, who called British soldiers "Tommies". 
Technically, the M4's design was capable of handling larger guns than the 75 mm and 76 mm guns with which they left the factory. The British fitted Shermans with the more powerful Ordnance Quick Firing 17 pounder (76.2 mm) gun, a variant known informally as the Firefly.  By the time of the Normandy campaign, the M4 had become the workhorse tank of the Allied forces. Some M4 Mediums were equipped with the Duplex Drive system (Sherman DD), which allowed them to swim using a collapsible screen and inflated rubber tubes. Along with this were the M4 Dozer (an M4 with a bulldozer blade), the T34 Calliope (mounting a multiple rocket launcher above the turret), the M4A3R3 Flame thrower (flame tank), and the Sherman Crab Mark I (a M4 Medium with a mine flail), as well as many other variants. 
The United States eventually deployed the Light Tank M24, an improvement over the M3 Light Tank. The M24 had torsion-bar suspension, high mobility, and a compact 75 mm gun. Ergonomically the tank was quite good also. However, the M24 did not appear in combat until December 1944 and equipped only a few units by the end of the war. 
Near the end of the war the M26 Pershing tank was deployed as the first operational heavy tank of the US Army. It was designated a heavy tank when it was designed in WWII due to its 90 mm gun, which was at the time the largest caliber gun found on a US tank. The Pershing was a very modern design with torsion-bar suspension, heavy armor, and an excellent 90 mm gun. However, it was somewhat underpowered, having the same Ford GAA engine as the M4A3. Intended as an improvement of the M4 Sherman, the prolonged time of development meant that only a small number saw combat in the European theater, most notably in the 9th Armored Division's dramatic dash to take the Bridge at Remagen. In combat it was, unlike the M4 Sherman, fairly equal in firepower and protection to both the Tiger I and Panther tanks. The M26 basic design was good enough to form the basis for all postwar American tanks through the end of the M60 series. 
At the start of the war, France had one of the largest tank forces in the world along with the Soviet, British and German forces. Like the British and the Soviets, the French operated two classes of tank: cavalry tanks and infantry tanks. 
The French had planned for a defensive war and built tanks accordingly. Their infantry tanks were heavily armoured. But, also, generally, they were relatively sluggish, and operationally in terms of control of their forces, the French were at a disadvantage and were outmaneuvered by the German forces. When the French were able to mount an attack their tanks could be very effective. On 16 May, during the Battle of France a single Char B1 heavy tank, the Eure, attacked and destroyed thirteen German tanks lying in ambush in Stonne, all of them Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs, in the course of a few minutes.  The tank safely returned despite being hit 140 times (this event is not verifiable in German documents and relies on the statements of the crew). In his book Panzer Leader, Heinz Guderian wrote of a tank battle south of Juniville:
"While the tank battle was in progress, I attempted, in vain, to destroy a Char B with a captured 47 mm [1.9-inch] anti-tank gun all the shells I fired at it simply bounced harmlessly off its thick armor. Our 37 mm and 20 mm guns were equally ineffective against this adversary. As a result, we inevitably suffered sadly heavy casualties". 
The total tank assets in France and its colonies were perhaps less than 5,800 during the time of the German offensive. After the armistice in the unoccupied Free Zone of France, a clandestine rebuild took place of 225 GMC Trucks into armoured cars. When all of France was occupied in 1942, the secret hiding places were betrayed to the Germans.  
Top 10 Tanks of all time
Since the First World War, tanks have become an integral part of modern and conventional warfare. Following is the list of world’s top ten tanks according to their firepower capability and battlefield maneuverability.
Country of Origin: USSR
Maximum Speed: 55 km/hr
This Soviet machine takes the lead in the best tank for a number of reasons. With unmatched combat power, strong armor, and amazing maneuverability makes T-34 the most desirable equipment of conventional warfare. Possibly the best feature of T-34 is its intimidating appearance, which can scare enemies even from a large distance.
Country of Origin: United States
Maximum Speed: 75km/hr
Most geometric as well as feared tank in the battlefield, the M1s sprint towards enemy ranks could put fear into their hearts. Although among the expensive machines, M1 is considered the superior tank over any tank made anywhere in the world.
Country of Origin: Germany
Maximum Speed: 37km/hr
Tiger put Germany at the front of tank possessing nations during the Second World War. At the time, speed and size of the tank could not go hand in had, but Tiger tank changed all that. It was heavy – super heavy – extremely intimidating but at the same time possessing a decent speed with amazing 88mm caliber gun with incredible destructive power.
Country of Origin: England
Maximum Speed: 6.5 km/hr
Armor: 6-12 mm
Gun: a pair of 6-ponder guns
Tanks were born during the First World War out of necessity and England lead the tank production industry with innovation and bravery. One of the very first ancestors of the modern tanks was WWI Tank. This was the first time the word ‘Tank’ was used in battlefield. World’s first armored vehicle, this tank had a thin armor but was enough to sustain the bullets and shelling of WWI guns. Extremely intimidating, its presence alone was a crucial factor in many victories.
Country of Origin: England
Maximum Speed: 35 km/hr
Armor: 17-152 mm
Gun: 105 mm
Although not the best machine, when it comes to maneuverability, the Centurion tank however had a very desirable armor and production cost was cheap as well. Centurion was another British addition to the tank technology. British companies were making tanks on a large scale during and after the Frist world war, and Centurion was one of the large-scale production items, the A Fun 4 You reports.
Country of Origin: Germany
Maximum Speed: 40 km/hr
Pz IV’s maneuverability beats all its contemporaries, and its strong armor compliments its status. Its speed and armor came in very handy for Germany, but its production cost was very high and authorities had to abandon the project, since German treasury could not afford it.
Country of Origin: England
Maximum Speed: 60 km/hr
Gun: 120 mm rifled gun
Considered the most handsome tank, Challenger has a great destructive power with an amazing 120 mm canon power. The armor of challenger is particularly thick with an above average maneuverability. This tank is not particularly intimidating but it does the job with great efficiency and productivity.
Country of Origin: USSR
Maximum Speed: 50 km/hr
Although not among the best of the lot, T-54/55 has low production and could be particularly effective when deployed in large numbers. T-54/55’s mediocre quality is compensated with its lightweight and cool features.
Country of Origin: Israel
Maximum Speed: 55km/hr
Considered as modern day equivalent of ‘King’s Guards’, due to its close to impenetrable armor and super heavy weight. Markova tanks are not produced on a large scale due to high costs, but it has great firepower and combat strength, so every unit produced is worth it.
Country of Origin: United States
Maximum Speed: 39km/hr
Gun: fast 75mm
The Ford company came up with the most maneuverable and low cost tank and completely revolutionized the tank industry. Although the firepower and armor is not the best in the lot, Sherman’s super maneuvering skills compensated everything and proved to be a great choice during the War.
Top Ten Tanks of WWII
When reviewing all tanks manufactured during WWII, a top ten definitive list is difficult to compile. Below, however, is a list of top ten tanks in WWII that should be considered. These tanks played a critical role for both the Allies and Axis powers during World War II. The list is presented in alphabetical order.
Step close and sense of the strength of the cold metal on AFHMs authentic, fully restored, fully operational battle tanks, which are prominently displayed throughout the museum. Get a sense of the combat they endured throughout their service. Take a moment, put yourself in the turret – feel the power, feel the fear, feel the pride.
Iosif Stalin Tank –
Also known as the IS tank, this WWII heavy tank was named after Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union. Designed with thick armor in order to successfully counter the 88 mm guns on the German tanks, the main gun carried by the Iosif Stalin tank was successful in defeating both the WWII German Tiger and Panther Tank. The IS Tank was the driving force of the Red Army in the final stages of the war.
M4 Sherman –
This World War II medium tank was used primarily by the U.S. with thousands more being used by the Allies. The main gun mounted on the M4 Sherman – a 75 mm M3 L/40 – allowed the crew to fire with a fair amount of accuracy even if the tank was moving. The advantages of this tank lead to its high demand. As a result, more than 50,000 M4 Sherman tanks were produced during WWII.
Panther – The Panther was a medium German tank that went into service the middle of 1943. The tank remained in service until the end of WWII in 1945. Initially, the Panther was intended to be used as a counter to the T-34. The Germans planned to use the Panther in place of the Panzer III and Panzer IV. Instead, the Panther worked alongside these tanks. The Panther was known for its firepower and also for its mobility. Because of the protection offered by this WWII tank, its design was used as a standard by other nations later in the war as well as post-war. The Panther, many believe, was one of the top tank designs of WWII.
Panzerkampfwagen IV – This particular tank was often referred to as the Panzer IV. It was a medium tank Nazi Germany developed during the late 1930s. The Panzer IV was widely used throughout the war. The Panzer IV tank was initially designed to be an infantry-support tank. Eventually the Panzer IV assumed the role of the Panzer III and began engaging in battle. The Panzer IV was the most widely produced German tank during WWII.
Sherman Firefly – This WWII British tank was a variant of the US Sherman tank. The British armed the tank with their powerful anti-tank gun – the British 17 pounder. The Firefly was originally to be used in the interim until newer designed British tanks were ready for service.
After a few of its original flaws were corrected, the tank went into production and its value was soon recognized as it was the only British tank with the capacity to defeat both the Panther and the Tiger tanks when engaged within standard combat ranges. As a result, the German’s instructed their tanks and their anti-tank gun crews to attack the Sherman Fireflies first.
T-34 – This medium Soviet tank was in production from 1940 thru 1958. Though later tanks produced during this time period proved to have better armor and armament, the T-34 is often recognized as the most effective, highly influential and efficient tank design of WWII. After World War II, the T-34 was widely exported. This tank ended out being the highest produced tank of WWII and ranks as second highest produced tank of all times. As recent as 1996, variants of this WWII tank were still in operational service throughout as many as 27 countries.
T-44 – This WWII tank did not go into production late in the war. This medium Soviet Union tank was the successor to the T-34, and while a smaller number (about 2,000) were built, their design was used as a basis for an upcoming series of main battle tanks (T-54/55) which turned out to be the most-produced tank series in history.
Tiger I – The Germans commonly used Tiger I to refer to any one of a number of their heavy tanks used during WWII. First developed in 1942, the final designation by the German’s for this tank was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E – often referred to as just “Tiger”. The Tiger I was mounted with an 88 mm gun, which was previously shown effective against both air targets and ground targets. The Tiger I participated in conflicts on all German battlefronts.
Tiger II – A heavy German tank of WWII, the Tiger II tank made its mark on World War II history with its heavy armor and powerful gun. The tank proved to be superior to every other Allied or Soviet tank when engaged in head-to-head battle. However, the underpowered engine of the Tiger II, combined with its enormous use of fuel, greatly limited the Tiger II.
World War II saw massive industrialization on all military aircraft and vehicles. Variations within each design were produced using upgrades and modification changes due to the performance (or lack) of the variant’s predecessor. Both the Allies and the Axis were forced to continually improve upon their own designs in order to maintain dominance in their efforts to win the war. As a result, a countless number of military aircraft and vehicles, the tank being no exception, were produced.
Within the tank category, any one of a number of combinations could be put together – based on class, armament, production, etc – and rightfully claim their spot as the top ten tanks of WWII.
Killers: The Most Lethal Tanks of World War II
It can be argued that the best tank is the one that destroys the enemy. Or, depending on your point of view, it's the one that isn't shooting at you.
But otherwise, choosing the top tank is always a nightmare of technical and historical analysis. There are so many variables, and so many experts and history buffs that will argue those variables to the death. Yet into the fray steps "Armored Champions: The Top Tanks of World War II", written by Steven Zaloga, a defense analyst and well-regarded writer on World War II armored warfare.
So let's cut to the chase. What's the best tank of World War II?
Sorry, armor fans, but there isn't one! Zaloga wisely avoids the scholarly minefield of picking The Greatest Generation's Greatest Tank. "A tank protected with 45-millimeter armor was invulnerable in 1941, but it was doomed to quick defeat by 1945," he writes. "A tank armed with a 76-millimeter gun was a world-beater in 1941, but by 1945 was a pop-gun in a tank-versus-tank duel."
Instead, "Armored Champion" hedges its bets by spreading them. Instead of one best tank for World War II, there is one best tank for each year of the war. More important is how the author tackles the vexing question of why the seemingly "best" tanks so frequently belong to the losing side. For example, markedly inferior German armor decimated the Soviet tank fleet in 1941, while Israeli Super Shermans -- upgraded World War II leftovers -- destroyed modern Russian tanks in 1973.
Zaloga tackles this conundrum by picking two champions per year. The first he calls "Tanker's Choice," awarded to the vehicle that ranks highest according to the traditional yardsticks of firepower, armor and mobility. But the second he calls "Commander's Choice," which is based upon a tank's overall usefulness in light of factors such as reliability and quantity produced. Thus while Germany's legendary Tiger boasts more firepower and armor than the humble StuG III assault gun (a turretless tank with the gun stuck in the hull), "the German army could have bought 10 StuG III assault guns or three Tiger tanks," Zaloga writes. "Factoring in reliability, the Wehrmacht could have had seven operational StuG IIIs or one operational Tiger tank."
This choice of analysis produces some surprising results. French armor gets as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield, but in 1940, the Somua S-35 wins Tanker's Choice for its balance of armor, firepower and mobility. Yet the problem with the S-35 and many other early war Allied tanks was their two-man turret, where the tank commander was also responsible for firing the gun. This meant the tank commander couldn't keep his eyes on the battlefield, which in turn meant a lack of situational awareness and an inability to respond to changing battlefield conditions.
In contrast, the German Mark IV, with its low-velocity main gun, may have been inferior on paper. But it had a three-man turret with a designated gunner and loader, leaving the commander free to actually command the tank. Thus, the Mark IV wins Commander's Choice, because it was superior as a tool for winning battles.
Some of Zaloga's choices are less surprising. The only tank in "Armored Champions" to receive both the Tanker's and Commander's prize is the T-34 in 1941. Despite a two-man turret, its superior firepower, armor and mobility shocked the hitherto-invincible German panzers, as well as German infantry terrified to see their anti-tank guns bounce off the T-34's thick skin. Some might object that the Germans decimated the Soviet tank fleet in 1941 anyway, but that was more a result of poorly trained tank crews, poor maintenance, and inept Soviet tactics. The T-34 wasn't a champion because it won battles in 1941, but rather because it kept the Soviets from losing worse than they did.
It is in 1943 that the contrast between technical capability and battlefield utility becomes most striking. Not surprisingly, the Tiger I is Tanker's Choice because of its thick armor and powerful gun, which created "Tiger fright" among Allied troops. But Tigers were expensive, few in number (only 1,347 were built, compared to 84,000 T-34s) and hard to maintain. The depleted and desperate German infantry divisions on the Eastern Front needed armor support to stave off massed waves of T-34s, and a few battalions of overworked Tigers were not going to save them. It was the little StuG III assault gun, not much taller than a man, which saved the day. It was cheap, had decent armor and firepower, and stiffened the hard-pressed German infantry against the relentless Soviet offensives. Hence, the StuG III assault gun knocks out the Tiger for Commander's Choice.
In 1944, the German Panther, whose balance of firepower, protection and mobility influenced post-war Western tank design, wins on technical grounds, while the Soviet T-34/85 was most useful because of its solid capabilities coupled with large numbers flowing from the factories. If U.S. and British tanks seem strangely absent from their list, it was the mediocrity of models like the Sherman and the Cromwell that made it so. Though the British Matilda briefly ruled North Africa in 1940-41, and the Sherman was actually quite good when it debuted in 1942, it isn't until the war was nearly over that Western Allied tanks win plaudits. In 1945, the American M-26 Pershing edging out the formidable, but overweight and unreliable, German King Tiger for Tanker's Choice, while the Sherman model M4A3E8 wins Commander's Choice for its reliability, quantity and high-velocity armor-piercing ammunition.
Much of this material will be familiar to those who know something about tank design and armored warfare. But Zaloga has a knack for sneaking in various fascinating facts. For example, the T-34 had impressive specifications but serious reliability issues in the field: U.S. experts examining a 1942-model T-34 were shocked to discover that the life of the tank's diesel engine was only 72 hours, while the engine air filter was so poorly designed that motors could only survive a few hundred miles of dusty roads before they were finished (the Americans also discovered that the British Cromwell required 199 man-hours of maintenance compared to 39 for the M4A3).
Do historical rankings make a difference beyond mere curiosity? The answer is yes, for those wise enough to learn from history. The post-1945 U.S. military has been fond of cutting-edge weapons if you could transport today's Pentagon back to 1943, it would doubtless choose to build Tigers instead of Shermans or T-34s.
At a time when the U.S. defense budget is grappling to pay for extremely expensive systems such as the F-35 fighter, it is worth remembering that a relatively minor design feature -- be it a two-man tank turret or a few bits of faulty software -- can make a profound difference in the actual effectiveness of a weapon. No matter how great it looks on paper.
Michael Peck, a frequent contributor to TNI, is a defense and historical writer based in Oregon. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, WarIsBoring and many other fine publications. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
The Challenger 2 is a first-generation British main battle tank, and one of the most successful modern tanks that serve in the British Army. It replaced the Challenger 1 and has served in the Iraq war, with big upgrades to the hull and a powerful 120-mm rifled gun that carries a solid 47 rounds.
The Churchill tank was perhaps most famous for its name, after the wartime British Prime Minister. But it is still a mighty machine. Heavy armor, all-around tracks, and great performance on steep slopes meant it was more than a match for the Tiger and any of the other Panzer tanks.
The Soviet T-34: The Lethal Tank that Won World War II?
On June 22, 1941, Nazi German launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive attack on the Soviet Union that was the largest invasion in history.
More than three million German soldiers, 150 divisions and 3,000 tanks comprised three mammoth army groups that created a front more than 1,800 miles long.
The Germans expected to face an inferior enemy. Giddy from victories in Poland and France, Hitler and many in his military high command believed it was the destiny of Germany to invade Russia. “The end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state,” Hitler announced in his manifesto Mein Kampf.
For months Germans won victory after resounding victory. But then the attack stalled—and the appearance of a new Soviet tank stunned the Wehrmacht.
It was the T-34. The new armored vehicle had an excellent 76-millimeter gun and thick sloped armor and cruised at more than 35 miles per hour. It possessed many advanced design features for the time—and it could blow German Panzers to Hell.
The T-34 had its problems—something we often forget when discussing a tank with a legendary reputation. The shortfalls included bad visibility for the crew and shoddy Soviet workmanship.
“They were good, but they were not miracle weapons and they had their faults,” writes Philip Kaplan in Rolling Thunder: A Century of Tank Warfare. “But the T-34, for all its faults, is now often referred to by tank experts and historians as possibly the best tank of the war.”
World War II German Field Marshall Ewald Von Kleist was more succinct. “The finest tank in the world,” is how he described the T-34.
The origins of the T-34 are simple enough. The Red Army sought a replacement for the BT-7 cavalry tank, which was fast-moving and lightly armored for use in maneuver warfare. It also had Christie suspension, one reason for the tank’s increased speed.
But during a 1938-to-1939 border war with Japan, the BT-7 fared poorly. Even with a low-powered gun, Japanese Type 95 tanks easily destroyed the BT-7s. Tank attack crews also assaulted the BT-7s with Molotov cocktails, reducing the Soviet tank to a flaming wreck when ignited gasoline dripped through chinks between poorly welded armor into the tank’s engine compartment.
The T-34 was the solution. It kept the Christie suspension, replaced the gasoline engine with a V-2 34 V12 diesel power plant and offered the crew speeds that were 10 miles per hour faster than the German Panzer III or Panzer IV.
Furthermore, the T-34’s high-velocity gun was capable of killing any tank in the world at the time.
“In 1941 when Hitler launched Barbarossa, the tank was indisputably the best in the world,” Jason Belcourt, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in the armor branch, told War Is Boring. “The combination of sloped armor, big gun, good speed and good maneuverability was so much better than anything the Germans had on tracks.”
By mid-1941, the USSR had more than 22,000 tanks—more tanks than all the armies of the world combined, and four times the number of tanks in the German arsenal.
By the end of the war, the Soviet Union had produced nearly 60,000 T-34 tanks—proving the point that quantity does have a quality all of its own.
At first, the Germans were at a loss when it came to countering the threat the T-34 posed. The Germans’ standard anti-tank guns, the 37-millimeter Kwk36 and the 50-millimeter Kwk 38, couldn’t put a dent in the Soviet tank with a shot to its front.
That left the Germans with a limited set of tactics. German tankers could attempt flank shots with their guns. The Wehrmacht could lay mines. Soldiers risked their lives in close assaults employing satchel charges and Molotov cocktails.
In what could be called an act of desperation, the Germans even used modified 88-millimeter anti-aircraft guns to stop attacking T-34s with direct fire.
But the Russians never had enough trained crews for the tanks the Red Army fielded. The Soviets wasted the T-34 and its crews in vast numbers.
By the time the Soviets trained enough crews to man the T-34s, the Germans had tanks with high-velocity guns and better anti-tank weapons like the Panzerfaust, a recoilless anti-tank weapon with a high-explosive warhead.
But the Russians always had more T-34s than the Germans had Panzers or Tigers.
“Where the tank was decisive was in the battle of production,” Belcourt said. “From June 1941 until the end of the war, the Soviets were always producing a tank that was often good and never worse than adequate.”
The final verdict on the T-34 perhaps is less glowing than the legend that the Soviets weaved around the tank—but is still complimentary. The T-34 tipped the balance in favor of the USSR when it came to armored battle mass production of the tank outmatched anything the Germans could do when it came to manufacturing.
The T-34 in the hands of determined Soviet tankers routed the Germans at Kursk, the greatest tank battle of all time.
The T-34 was “undeniably revolutionary, but it was not the first in anything except how to combine thick sloped armor with a diesel engine, wide tracks and a big, relatively powerful gun,” Belcourt said. “They had all been done before, but never together.”