Welcome to my forum on the Armored Vehicles of World War II. At the outset of this great struggle, tank supremacy resided with the Germans, who were armed with the theories of Blitzkrieg warfare, using the speed of armor and motorized troops to slash at the enemy's vulnerable flanks and rear areas. Blitzkrieg was a German idea, conceived by General Heinz Guderian and perfected by him and other Panzer Generals, most notably General Erwin Rommel, whose 7th Panzer Division stomped across France in nearly 6 weeks from the Ardennes Forest to the Atlantic coast at Cherbourg, moving so fast sometimes and surprising the French so often, it was nicknamed the "Ghost Division". Rommel would later go on to command the German "Afrika Korps", where he so hounded the British that he was rightly nicknamed the "Desert Fox".
Generals Heinz Guderian (l) and Erwin Rommel
The German arsenal was quite superior to allied tanks ( and especially tank doctrine ) at the start of the war. In addition to small, obsolete Panzer I and Panzer II tanks, the Germans' main battle tanks were the Panzer III and Panzer IV. The Panzer III was a medium tank armed at first with a 37mm gun, but later upgraded to a 50mm gun. The Panzer IV was armed with, at first, a short-barreled heavy 75mm gun, with was later lengthened to a long-barreled 75mm gun. A third tank the Germans utilized in great numbers was the Chezch-produced Panzer 38 (t). It was a smaller tank armed with only a 37mm gun, but it was fast, mobile, and used in great numbers ( it made up the bulk of Rommel's 7th Panzer division ). All were excellent tanks against the Western Powers, and tore through enemy lines with a fury so fiery that it was thought they were invincible.
The Panzer III with 50mm gun.
The Panzer IV with long-barreled 75mm gun.
The Panzer 38(t).
However, when the Germans turned east and invaded the Soviet Union in fall of 1941, the Panzers were in for a huge surprise.
The Soviets had been working on large, well armored and well armed tanks which were mass produced on a huge scale. These were the T-34 Main Battle Tank and the KV-1 Heavy Battle Tank. the T-34, armed with a 76mm gun and later with a lethal 85mm gun, was by far the most produced Soviet tank in the war. Its sloping armor gave it an even extra measure of protection, so that the Panzer III's and IV's had a very hard time knocking them out. The KV-1 was much heavier, and much more armored so that it was not as mass produced as the T-34. It was also less mobile, which greatly restricted its effectiveness.
The T-34, armed with the powerful 85mm gun.
The Heavily-Armored KV-1.
Desperate to counter these new threats, the German army rushed into production two of the most famous tanks of World War II, the Panzer V "Panther" and the massive Panzer VI "Tiger". The Panther, arguably the best tank produced in the war, was a large well-armed and armored , highly mobile tank with a long-barreled 75mm gun whose sloping armor caused enemy shells to glance off instead of penetrate. The Tiger, the most famous and best-recognized tank of the war, was a massive 50 tons, with 3 inches of armor plate all around and a lethal 88mm gun, the best tank-mounted gun of the war. Even with its huge size, it still managed to move reasonably well over both roads and terrain.
Two views of the versatile Panzer V "Panther".
Two views of the monstrous Panzer VI "Tiger".
Two views of the monstrous Panzer VI "Tiger".
While the war raged on the eastern front, the allies opened up the western front on D-Day, June 6th 1944. The main tank used by almost all forces was the American, durable, mass-produced, but vulnerable M4 "Sherman". It was armed with a 75mm gun, which was fine for dealing with the Panzer IV's they encountered, but were no match for the better armored "Panthers" and "Tigers"- shells just bounced off of them. The Sherman's greatest advantage was that it was simply built and very easy to produce in America's vast factories. This was vital because it was well known that if 4 Shermans encountered one Tiger, it was very likely the Tiger would be destroyed, but you would probably lose 3 Shermans. However, the Sherman did have some very good features which served it well in battle. It was highly manuverable, quick on roads and terrain, highly durable and easy to repair, and its 75mm gun was able to turn much more quickly than a Panther or Tiger- which often allowed the Sherman to get the first shot in.
The American mainstay-the durable, versatile, yet vulnerable M4 Sherman.
Despite the Allied tanks' shortcomings, quantity beat quality and the American forces made great strides until Christmas, 1944, when the Germans unleashed their last gasp offensive in the West...the great Battle of the Bulge. It was in this battle that the Germans unveiled to the Allies their largest, best-armed, and most heavily armored tank ever produced- the Konigstiger, or "King Tiger". A massive 70-ton machine, it was slower to move on the battlefield but still mobile enough to ride across country, and it proved an excellent weapon in defense, which was what the Germans were mostly doing in those last months of the war. It had a long-barreled 88mm gun, and sloping armor such as that on the Panther, which made the tank practically invincible to any Allied tank artillery. In the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive, King Tigers led the armored charge against the mostly American forces guarding the Ardennes forest.
Some views of the enormous 70-ton King Tiger.
As superior as these machines were, again quantity beat quality and the German offensive ground to a halt after a few days, due to better weather conditions for allied planes, no gasoline supplies, and the relative immobility of their massive King Tigers, which were so heavy they could not cross many bridges in the area. The Germans lost the battle, as well as the war. The Allies poured into Germany, and most German tanks remaining were destroyed in the defense of "The Fatherland". As a result there are very few examples left of these great machines whose men were the elite of their kind for the years 1939-1945.
Also, check out Battle Tanks