<XMP><BODY></xmp>Modern Mini-tanks

Added 28-2-06
Updated 27-3-15


        Even since Carlton Meyer first proposed the idea of the Tankita many people have confused the idea with the Tankettes fielded by many armies during the interwar years.

Scrapboard version of the Tankita concept.

        On this page I briefly detail the origins of the tankette idea. The original one-man tankette was intended to be a one-man armoured personnel carrier (or possibly a mechanised horse!). In British service it was to evolve into a two-man weapons carrier that would eventually lead to the highly successful Bren and Universal carrier vehicles. In other countries the tankette was more often seen as a cheap ultra-lightweight tank-equivalent and many Carden Loyds formed the basis of turreted vehicles.

        According to most authors tankettes were to prove useless on the battlefield. Their armour was too light, their armament too weak and the use of a two-man crew overloaded the crew and limited situational awareness. Interesting is that the same sources often admit that two-man tanks such as the FT-17 and Pz-I did have some successes on the battlefield. Both vehicles have the same crew and similar levels of armament and protection. Suppose we look at all of these 2-man “Mini-tanks” and examine them as a class.

Renault FT-17 Tanks in the Rif War

T70 in action with reenactors        Historically they seem to divide into two groups.
        The first and by far the largest are the lightly armoured vehicles. These range in weight from around 3 tons for many of the Carden Loyd derived designs to around 8t for the Pz I.
        All of these vehicles offered a basic level of protection against small arms. Although most of these vehicles only had a machine gun armament some in fact had weapons of 20-45mm calibre that were reasonably effective against many of the heavier contemporary tanks.

        Such very light tanks had some interesting capabilities. During the interwar years some British light tanks (probably the Vickers Mk VI) proved very useful on the Indian frontier fighting hill tribes. They could climb like mountain goats, were impervious to any weapon the hillsmen had and their MG armament outgunned them.

        The Italians also were initially interested in the Carden Loyd for operations in mountainous terrain. Lack of suitable other designs resulted in the Carden Loyd being used for roles for which it was less suitable with predictable consequences.

        The second group of “Mini-tanks” is much smaller and contains very heavily armoured two-man vehicles intended to combine small size with a very high level of protection. The Matilda MK 1 was an under-funded “design to price” vehicle intended to move no faster than the infantry it supported. Its one impressive feature was that its armour was thick enough to withstand any German tank gun or anti-tank weapon then in service. At Arras the Matilda Mk 1 could only be stopped by using 88mm Anti-aircraft guns against them. The Ausf F pattern Panzer 1 may have been expected to have been inspired by the performance of Matildas at Arras but the design of this variant was initiated before the war. It was probably the heaviest of all 2 man tanks at 21 tons. Only a small number were built and used in Russia and it always seemed odd to me the Germans didn't attempt a flamethrower version of this variant.

        The truth of the matter is that we can not judge a vehicle simply by looking at its design, we must also look at the way it was used.

        The Italian CVs, for example, were not meant to be used in lieu of heavier tanks. They were intended for security and reconnaissance duties and to be utilized in the elimination of small pockets of resistance. In practice a shortage of heavier tanks meant that the CVs were used as tanks and in this role they were to prove highly vulnerable.

        Russia was still developing 2-man tank designs in the 1940s and this website has described nicely what the vehicles were intended for and their merits:-

        “In the Red Army's system of tank classification, light tanks (with weight up to 6 tons) were used by infantry and cavalry units for reconnaissance, combat with enemy landing forces, and guard duty. Their very light protection, weak armament and small crew were compensated for by their mobility, small dimensions (especially length), very good maneuverability on rough terrain, and amphibious ability.”

        Another important consideration for the Russians was that their light tank designs could be manufactured in facilities that could not build heavier designs.

        Although the 20-45mm guns of the Russian light tanks were effective against the early German Pz III and Pz IV tanks and lighter vehicles it was found more effective to avoid combat with tanks and use them to attack infantry and rear units. Since these very light vehicles could easily traverse very soft snow and marshy ground they could often find ways through the forward elements that other larger vehicles could not. Some designs were amphibious and an incident where two tanks infiltrated by moving though a field of rye were the crops were taller than the vehicles is described.

        The Russians mainly used their light tanks in Reconnaissance or Infantry Units. When they were placed in Armoured battalions they were usually mixed in with heavier designs such as T-34s and KV-1s. A similar strategy seems to have been used by the Germans during the invasions of Poland and France. Light Pz I and Pz II were usually fielded alongside better armed Pz III and Pz IV that could handle enemy armour. For the purposes of this article I'm including the three-man Pz II as a Mini-tank since it had a one-man turret.
        By this criteria we can also include the Japanese Type 95 which proved to be useful in jungle terrain and was often used in areas where it was generally believed by the enemy that tanks could not be used. The Type 95 also proved effective in Manchuria and China where there were few enemy tanks or anti-tank weapons.

        WW II started with lots of MG-armed tanks and they worked fine against infantry, horse cavalry, wagons, and trucks. Patton stated repeatedly that the primary weapon of the tank during exploitation was the machinegun, since “…that's what you used as you shot up CPs and log weanies in the enemy's rear area.”

        One of the flaws of the two-man tank often cited is that the one-man turret overworked the commander, who couldn't effectively serve as both a vehicle commander and a gunner. The truth in this rather depends on both the armament and the tactical use of the vehicle. In a vehicle armed with a single-shot 37mm gun the commander would have to serve as commander, gunner and loader which would be rather a handful. On other vehicles the armament was a machine gun or automatic cannon which removed the need to locate and load each round before firing. Many of these weapons are light enough that they can be easily swung to cover any quadrant that the commander is interested in and a modern vehicle could be expected to have a power-assisted turret, reducing physical fatigue. If further evidence was needed that a one-man turret can be practical one need only look at the many APCs which operate with just a two-man crew of driver and commander/gunner when the infantry section is dismounted.

        The practical use of a modern Mini-tank will depend on tactical as well as technological considerations. Infantry Anti-tank weapons such as RPGs are an obvious threat to the Mini-tank or any other lightly armoured vehicle. The concept of using Mini-tanks alongside heavier vehicles has already been mentioned above. Another means of protecting Mini-tanks is suggested by Ralph Zumbro

        “One subject where I seem to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness is that of building armor and infantry into the same, locked in TO&E. Put a section of tanks IN the infantry platoon. One for each squad. In action, the infantry is the RPG protection....Once they see just how much help the tank is, they will become very protective. Using three or so tanks gives us options for armament just like the FT series....One could mount dumb TOW for instance
        Also, and this is no small also. THE TANKS CAN TOW THE PACK TRAILER. The trailer carries the heavy rucksacks rather than the infantry. This means the troops arrive with some energy left after an approach march. Trailers are parked at release point and form the rally, with spare ammo etc.”

        Ralph sees the Mini-tank as mainly having an infantry support role, which is logical since such vehicles are most likely to be used in situations where the use of heavier vehicles such as MBTs, APCs or IFVs are not possible. MOUT operations seem an obvious scenario where the Mini-tank will prove useful and can work closely with dismounted infantry. Their small size may possibly allow them to operate inside large buildings. In an operation to clear a tower block it may be possible for the Mini-tank to climb up the stairwells and support infantry fighting on the upper floors.

        Ralph suggests that the modern Mini-tank would mainly serve as a platoon fire support vehicle and transport for platoon supplies. It can be rightly argued that these are the jobs already performed by APCs/IFVs and therefore the Mini-tank will mainly be of use in scenarios where APCs cannot operate alongside their infantry. The most obvious of these is in very mountainous, marshy or jungle terrain where the APC/IFV is too large or too heavy. Light tanks such as the M5 Stuart have often proved their worth in conditions where roads are poor or terrain is very difficult. Possibly Mini-tanks could still be deployed, giving the platoon greater fighting power than if it was forced to act as infantry only.

        In some respects it is probably more productive to think of the Mini-tank as a supplement or alternative to infantry rather than as a replacement for heavier armoured vehicles.

        On other webpages I have suggested that IFVs and APCs might mount armoured brackets or boxes capable of mounting disposable Anti-tank or Bunker Defeat munitions. Several such boxes would be mounted on the infantry support Mini-tank for firing against vehicles, buildings and massed infantry. When the vehicle is not under fire the accompanying infantry can reload these boxes. If the vehicle is knocked out the rounds can be removed and used by the infantry.
        Infantry often cannot operate close to conventional tanks due to the excessive muzzle blast of their main guns. This will not be a problem with Mini-tanks armed as described, especially if “soft-launch” rockets are used. The Mini-tank may include warning sirens and rear mounted flashing lights that warn nearby infantry that a Mini-tank is about to fire a weapon with dangerous muzzle or back-blast. This may be a good feature to place on more conventional fighting vehicles too.

        In his ground warfare chapter of his online book Carlton Meyer suggests that Infantry Battalions that are attached to other formations should be supported by a Service Support company and that when several Infantry Battalions form an Infantry Brigade these companies would combine into a Support Battalion which would include a company of Mini-tanks or as he dubs them, “Rhinos”. This is a logical way to use Mini-tanks –they are not integral to the Infantry Battalion but readily available from the Support company if needed. When not needed in the field they could contribute nicely to base security. Carlton suggests that the vehicle would have a “fireman's step” as well as pack racks. Infantrymen in the open could use them for cover and they would be useful for breaking through light obstacles.

        Another area where the Mini-tank may see use is for the support of heli-borne forces. Airborne forces that are deployed by C-130 or C-17 can readily make use of air-drop capable M113s to give them an Air-Mech Strike capability. Heliborne force have more modest lift capabilities. While a CH-47 Chinook can carry a M113 as an external load there are obvious attractions in having armoured vehicles that can be carried internally or lifted by lighter aircraft.

        One of the most important roles of a heli-mobile force is as an anti-guerilla force. Guerillas, Insurgents and Bandits often base themselves in areas where the operation of military vehicles is difficult and the mobility of heli-borne forces makes them very useful in such areas. Any ground movement of many of these operations will be for tracking and patrol purposes so vehicular capability may not be needed. There will, however, be operations against well defended targets such as training camps. Air support can be made impractical by changes in the weather and ground to air defences may limit how close fixed and rotary wing support aircraft can get to a target. For this reason infantry will benefit from fire support from ground vehicles in addition to that which fixed and rotary-wing aircraft can provide.

        One of the most useful vehicles for helimobile troops will be a small tracked vehicle such as the Millenibren vehicle that I have suggested. This, however, is mainly a transport vehicle rather than a fighting vehicle.
        The German Wiesel had potential as a heli-mobile Mini-tank but is very lightly armoured.
        The Mini-tank would most likely resemble the Stoat vehicle that I have suggested. Where practical it would keep its distance and destroy targets with 106mm, ASP-30 or .50 HMG fire. The 106mm can be used to fire the LAHAT ATGW if a guided anti-tank capability is needed. LAHAT firing capability would require a laser designator and this offers the possibility of the vehicle being able to provide terminal guidance for Hellfire missiles fired from distant attack helicopters or other vehilces. Fitting some of the weapon pylons with FFAR rocket pods would also prove useful, giving the vehicle both a direct and indirect fire capability.

        A dedicated Mini-tank design could include improved features like side sloped armour and active anti-RPG defenses but I have to agree with Ralph that what will make this vehicle really practical is good infantry-vehicle cooperation.

        While we have a possible role for the “go anywhere” Mini-tank is there a modern role for the heavily armoured “take anything” Mini-tank like the Matilda or Pz1 Aus F? Carlton Meyer has suggested a really heavily armoured vehicle to take point in columns -this would be one man, two man or possibly even remote controlled. Obviously it makes sense to have this vehicle externally resemble a standard APC or IFV. It might even mount the driver in the rear section of the vehicle for better protection.

        It does occur to me that a Mini-tank might find uses for various police departments. The small size would be handy in negotiating streets without (accidentally) demolishing the neighborhood. It would certainly give the LA street gangs a very nasty surprise! Possibly the vehicle could be remotely controlled in this role and also serve for bomb disposal.

By the Author of the Scrapboard :

Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.

Crash Combat Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition Second Edition with additional content.

Crash Combat Third Edition
Epub edition Third Edition.
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