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jleavy
A'right.

I was on a military site where there was a vigorous debate going on about which tank was the best tank of the second World War.

The debate there came to an impasse - three sides each saying the Tiger I, the Panther, and T-34 were the best tanks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_I

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-34

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panther_tank

So - to any tank enthusiasts here:

1. What tank do you believe was the best tank of World War II? Note that it doesn't have to be the three tanks I named.

2. Why do you believe this tank excelled above all others? Was it the mobility, the firepower, the armour - explain.
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Vermillion
QUOTE(jleavy @ Jun 5 2006, 05:48 AM)
The debate there came to an impasse - three sides each saying the Tiger I, the Panther, and T-34 were the best tanks.

2. Why do you believe this tank excelled above all others? Was it the mobility, the firepower, the armour - explain.


This is... a pretty topic specific debate to say the least, but as it happens to be (tangentially) within my field of education, I'll give it my best.

The answer to the first question depends entirely on the second. There are so many criteria to take into account, and sadly most amateur militarists tend to only care about what happens when X faces Y one-on-one on even terrain. Thus muzzle velocity, armour thickness and sloping, shell atributes, etc. Great for tabletop wargames, but poor on practical reality.

IF we focus on that imaginary scenario, then the best of the above three is the Tiger I. Its custom 88mm high-velocity cannon and thickness of armour meant it could kill a T-34/76 long before the latter could even get within maximum range, let alone effective range. The Panther and the T-34 had sloped armour, which effectively increases armour thickness against certain weapons in certain situations, but even with that advantage none could possibly match the armour of the Tiger I.


But what happens if it rains? What happens if you are a nation with finite resources? What happens if you are far from a repair depot? What if you don't control the air? What if you include 'innovation' as a criteria?

Situations change everything. The T-34/76 had wide treads made for use in snow and mud (which were common in the East) which would immobilise other tanks. The T-34/76 was also extremely easy to maintain and repair, while both the Panther and Tiger were over-engineered. More Tiger I's were lost due to mechanical breakdown in WWII than were lost to enemy action. So from a practical perspective, the T-34 gains points.

Furthermore, the Tiger was a great tank, but it also cost a great deal to make, and had a high production time. Nobody will deny that the Tiger was a far better tank than the US Sherman, but then again during the war German produced 1350 Tigers, while the US produced over 40,000 Shermans. Not entirely a fair comparaison, as the US had close to four times the economic might of Germany, but you still get the picture. A Tiger is certainly better than a Sherman, but is it better than 15 Shermans? Because thats the comparative cost/production value. When you LOSE a Tiger, not just through enemy tanks, but from the air, or hitting a mine, or mechanical breakdown, or lack of fuel, you are losing the equivalent of 15 shermans for each Tiger. Is that worth it?

What about innovation? It is hard to compare the Panther and the T-34/76 in terms of innovation, as the Panther was made specifically as a counter to the T-34, adopting some of its best combat features (if not its engineering features).

So now the situation is all muddled. Add to that the fact that tank-v-tank one-on-one is incredibly rare, most German tanks in the late war were destroyed from the air, and with the exception of some set-peice battles, most tank combat tended to take place from ambush. Also add the training and experience of tanker crews, which was much more extensive in Germany than in Russia, thus tends to give a skewed view of relative tank performance, whn in fact part of the german advantage was crewing, not mechanical.


So of you want the tank that makes the biggest boom, and wins the fantasy match-ups, then its the Tiger. If you want a tank that you would actually want to serve in during the war, which was reliable and would not break in mid run, with the greatest practical benefits, then its the T-34/76, or even better, the T-34/85 introduced in 1943 with bigger weapon and improved features.
moif
1. What tank do you believe was the best tank of World War II? Note that it doesn't have to be the three tanks I named.

Yeah, that would be the Tiger.


2. Why do you believe this tank excelled above all others? Was it the mobility, the firepower, the armour - explain.

Its ability to win a fight. Tigers were clumsy in a logistical sense, but they were death on the battlefield and no matter how many Shermans or T34's were made, sheer production numbers don't make for a better tank.

No other tank has ever had kill ratios over a hundred. The Tiger produced several such aces, including Kurt Knispel who scored an impressive 168 Kills.

Its much the same with the modern British Challenger 2. Its easily the best tank in the world today, but because there are so few of them, they've been eclipsed by the Abrams. The bottom line though is that multiple Abrams have been taken out in Iraq, even by shoulder mounted weaponry, whilst no Challenger 2 has yet been defeated by any enemy at all.

So it was with the Tiger, as Micheal Wittmann demonstrated so aptly at Villers-Bocage (though he lost his tank in that skirmish). Any figthing vehicle that can sustain massive injuries and remain operational whilst in combat is superior to any other vehicle that can not.

The thing to remember about tanks though is that they exist within a context and no tank is ever meant to be the 'ultimate fighting vehicle', but rather is designed to be as good as possible. The Tiger, like the Soviet KV1 it was designed to counter, was just one step on a technological evolution and it had a very specific job to do. Its important to understand therefore that it was not the Tiger that let the Germans down, but rather the Germans, who let down the Tiger.

As a fighting vehicle, it was the best tank of its day, but as Vermillion points out, fighting vehicles alone, do not win wars and for all its excellence the Tiger was not dangerous enough to seriously threaten the allied powers. How could it be? No one weapon can win a war unless it is the sort of weapon that kills entire cities.

An interesting aspect of the Allied response to the Tiger is how the Soviets and the western powers responded to it differently. The British captured a Tiger in 1943, examined it, understood its perfection and threat, but dismissed it as being too expensive and complicated to bother with.
The Soviets were then the only power to bother building a tank in direct response to the Tiger.
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