I recently read an article about the massive and impressive tank……but before I go into the article let us look at the tank….which is a little over 100 years old and has been a supporting player in every war since World War One.
Let us now turn to a little history of the tank.
The weapon known as the tank was invented by the British in 1916…..
The concept of a vehicle to provide troops with both mobile protection and firepower was not a new one. But in the First World War, the increasing availability of the internal combustion engine, armour plate and the continuous track, as well as the problem of trench warfare, combined to facilitate the production of the tank.
The name ‘tank’ came from British attempts to ensure the secrecy of the new weapons under the guise of water tanks. During the First World War, Britain began the serious development of the tank. Ironically, the Royal Navy led the way with the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, establishing the Landships Committee in early 1915.
The military combined with engineers and industrialists and by early 1916 a prototype was adopted as the design of future tanks. Britain used tanks in combat for the first time in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916.
Then when the US entered WW1 and the US became a major proponent to tank used in warfare…..
Most American military observers were unimpressed but some officers felt differently. Even before the American Expeditionary Force arrived in France, General Pershing took a liking to the tank. Seeing the metal monster in action, Pershing ordered the formation of an American tank corps before the end of 1917.
Two men, who would go on to become major figures during the next world war, began fitting this new battlefield beast into the U.S. army’s ranks. In France Captain George Patton worked hard to assemble the U.S. Tank Corps, while in the U.S., Captain Dwight Eisenhower helped create the U.S. Tank Service.
We all remember seeing the impressive sight of the American tanks screaming across Iraq in the 1990s and again in 2003….and of course the tank was credited with our quick successes in both those invasions.
Recently there has been less and less dependence on tanks in our many asymmetric conflicts….and some are proposing a radical idea.
From the day that the concept of a tank was introduced there has been debate about the utility of these vehicles. Hard to build, difficult to man and drive, and ultimately vulnerable once deployed, tanks have never been the perfect package that they externally represent. The late Professor Ogorkiewicz wrote in his 2016 book Tanks, of how Lieutenant Colonel J. F. C. Fuller came to realise the limits of tanks during the 1917 Ypres offensive. And, following that war, only Britain and France continued to see utility in the tank for close to a decade, before the Soviet Union began to enter the field.
The contemporary discussion around the abiding value of the tank is not therefore new, however the context and the nature of the modern battlefield has changed considerably since 1916, and this in turn warrants a different discussion around the value of the tank. To be clear, this article is intended to initiate discussion, it is a reflection of those issues that must be considered when balancing forces. There is value to any asset deployed to the battlefield, from an entrenching shovel to aircraft carriers, providing that they are used properly and adequately supported.
We have chosen three select areas, which all influence the utility of tanks; the Totality of the Battlefield (TotB), the totality of technology, and the totality of society. Much of this discussion should be regarded as a “Red Team Exercise”, a deliberate attempt to pull apart entrenched thinking. And, while it is framed against the current climate that prevails within the British Army, it should be understood that these considerations will apply in some measure to every single force in the world.
Could this be the beginning of the end for our beloved tanks?
Well let’s look….an Abrams cost about $4.3 million and cost annually about $250,000……that does not include fuel for the many trips to the battlefield.
With Napoleonic battles a thing of the past it would make sense to rid the burden to tanks and their upkeep from the military budget.
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