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""Worst Tank Concept?"" Topic

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robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 6:16 a.m. PST

Stolen from emckinney, but certainly worth considering. He called a certain British tank a fierce contender for "worst thought-out tank concept of WWII." So…
Worst tank?
Worst tank concept?

If we broaden beyond WWII, I think the American Sheridan is a strong contender in both categories, as are the early model British cruisers.

Now, a little rationality here, please.
1. Only tanks which went into serial production, not "concept" or "experimental" one-offs.
2. No fair blaming a tank for not being a type you prefer, or even for not being much use on a battlefield against other tanks, if that's not what it was intended for. A Mark VI Light is a perfectly good tank for chasing natives in colonial conflicts, and it's no use blaming it for not being a King Tiger. (Go spend the same money buying Tiger tanks to chase hill tribes on the Northwest Frontier and see how that works out.)

Thus--the Italian L3/33 for "worst tank" and the Tiger for "worst tank concept."

(Yes, I know. But really. A country with a limited production base and a crippling fuel shortage fighting on the strategic defensive builds the most expensive tank of the war, with the worst mileage--difficult even to get to the battlefield and almost impossible to take with you in retreat. Does this really sound like a good idea to anyone?)

I'll retire to my bunker now.


Murvihill24 Sep 2020 6:48 a.m. PST

The machine gun tank has to be the worst concept. Take a weapon you can hide behind a blade of grass, attach it to a barn door with just enough armor to strip the jacket off a bullet and then send it into battle. The fact that they were out of production before the war started is a pretty good indicator.

Wolfhag24 Sep 2020 7:00 a.m. PST

The Russian Flying Tank: link


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 7:06 a.m. PST

I would agree that the US M-551 General Sheridan was a poor concept. I served in a divisional armored cavalry squadron equipped with Sheridans. For tank gunnery that year, we were able to only get a small number fully combat capable and had to rotate all the crews through them just to get them qualified.

And when I was in the Armored Officer Basic Course at Fort Know, I got to man the gunner position firing the conventional round. Almost put my eye out on the gunner's telescope even though I tried my darnedest to keep myself properly braced. We were also told never to fire the conventional round laterally while on a slope -- if the gun was pointed upslope you had a good chance of rolling the vehicle downhill due to the immense recoil of that 152mm (6") projectile.


GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 7:28 a.m. PST

The 'worst WW2 tank concept' was not even a ww2 design but a desperate requirement to fill a perceived need in 1935 when the British government was short of cash and the public had no appetite for spending on new kit for the army.

The main issues with pre-war and even early war British tank design was the refusal of the top brass to change their concept of how armour was to be used. By the time the need had penetrated their thick skulls the options were severely curtailed by the realities of war.

Even so the concept of a 'Infantry' tank did eventually lead to the Churchill. They turned out to be very useful on and after D-Day.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse24 Sep 2020 7:43 a.m. PST

I love when I get to play with my Soviet T-35s in a game, even though I know the concept is dumb. For all the guns and turrets on it, the armor protection is pretty skimpy. They are like pre-Dreadnought "battleships".

For a good luck at how the enemy evaluated tanks, look at the tanks the Finns captured from the Soviets in the Winter War, and which ones they didn't bother to re-purpose in the Continuation War.

donlowry24 Sep 2020 8:03 a.m. PST

Any tank with more than one turret.

Legion 424 Sep 2020 8:16 a.m. PST

That is a big category, IMO … With the many numbers of versions of tanks out there, then and now. Hard to choose anything from WWI, they were all "beginners", IMO. I do have a tendency to look at crew quality vs. design in many cases. Unless you are completely outclassed by your opponent's AFVs. All other things being equal. E.g. saw a picture of an SU-152 driving past a KO'd/broken down Type 97 when the USSR invaded Japanese occupied China in '45.

Even with the M551 it was used for a long time after it's deployment to SE Asia. The 82d just got rid of it fairly recently, IIRC. And for the longest time there was nothing to replace it. I'm still not sure if they found a "replacement", pre se. I do know the 82d got a bunch of LAV-25s from the USMC recently. Albeit many I talked to when on active duty who were not fans of the M551 or even the M60A2 Starship. Both having the same 152mm main gun/missile system. Which was it's real weak point, AFAIK. As the COL pointed out …

Eumelus Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 8:37 a.m. PST

One thing you can say in favor of the M551 – it has done sterling service for the country wearing T72/BMP drag at the National Training Center. In that guise it did more for its country's military power than many a more "successful" design!

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 8:39 a.m. PST


The Kubelpanzer of Kablinka!

Looks cool. Has to be a bad idea.

Andrew Walters24 Sep 2020 8:49 a.m. PST

T-35. Just look at it here in 1:100 next to a Sherman.


Can't figure out how to post an image directly from Amazon photos. Great.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 8:55 a.m. PST

Another vote for the Kubelpanzer

Mind you the Canal Defense Light also springs to mind


Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 9:34 a.m. PST

What makes the CDL a candidate for "worst concept"? They seemed to do OK

Bill N24 Sep 2020 9:56 a.m. PST

I suspect I will be in the minority on this one.

At the time it was designed and was originally put into construction the L3 was an OK tank. It could still have been a useful vehicle in 1939-1940. The problem was that the Italians ended up using it as a main battle tank when they entered the war, a role that the L3 was not able to perform, simply because the Italians didn't have another alternative.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 11:00 a.m. PST

The CDL was an interesting concept that I think were used in combat exactly once, that being at Remagen Bridge; they were used in 1945 to illuminate things at night but conventional searchlights were better. The tank chassis used for CDL would have been much better employed as self propelled guns – or maybe as tanks!

Andrew Walters24 Sep 2020 12:42 p.m. PST


There, I figured it out.

The CDL should have worked, especially in "blinking" mode.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 12:52 p.m. PST

Well, I think the CDL concept was … wait for it … brilliant!

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 1:04 p.m. PST

Maus, just make a bunker

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 3:03 p.m. PST

Even worse, the Ratte. A literal land battleship, including a redundant gun turret from the Gneisnau. Would have been amusing to watch it try to cross a river.

mkenny24 Sep 2020 3:47 p.m. PST

The tank chassis used for CDL would have been much better employed as self propelled guns or maybe as tanks!

One of the reasons we got the Ram/Kangeroo was the availability of a large number of 'spare' M3 chassis.

Garand24 Sep 2020 4:04 p.m. PST

Even worse, the Ratte. A literal land battleship, including a redundant gun turret from the Gneisnau. Would have been amusing to watch it try to cross a river.

It would have been amusing to watch it try to move…


Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse24 Sep 2020 5:22 p.m. PST

When I was in 4th Grade, I designed a tank to catch Bad Guys, like bank robbers.
The turret had a giant articulated arm with a claw on the end.
On the back deck was a cage with a lid.
It never made it to prototype stage.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse24 Sep 2020 5:23 p.m. PST

Seriously, they all looked good on paper. Maybe.
But if they were designed to fight the last war, problems developed.

Heedless Horseman Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 7:14 p.m. PST

On a rather 'weird' thought stream…'Tankettes' were manned 'Drones', in their day.
Cheap, low casualty, mobile support…(Crew Morale, No idea, but, maybe better than walking across ground without SOME armour… and they DID have crews!).

Other tanks did the 'job', the tankettes could exploit?

I don't say they were 'Good'…BUT, some 21C concepts seem less sound! lol. :(

TGerritsen Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2020 7:38 p.m. PST

Not one person mentioned the Bob Semple?

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse25 Sep 2020 3:02 a.m. PST

Tiger II was a bit useless – too heavy, too expensive, too prone to breakdown, too complicated to manufacture fast enough.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2020 3:26 a.m. PST

@ Robert P

A country with a limited production base and a crippling fuel shortage fighting on the strategic defensive builds the most expensive tank of the war, with the worst mileage…Does this really sound like a good idea to anyone?

Yes, actually it does seem like a good idea to me. You're bringing a gun to a knife fight in effect.

If as you note you have limited production capacity, you can't build a lot of tanks. If you have limited strategic access to fuel, you can't operate them even if you do build them. So logically, instead you build a small number of tanks that are individually much better than the enemy's. That way you only have to make, fuel and man one Tiger instead of five Shermans, and it then defeats the five Shermans.

In practice, the problem of course is that it did not defeat the five Shermans. The Tigers, Panthers etc weren't good enough to do what they had to do. Germany needed something like the Centurion, which actually weighed less than a Tiger I but was better armed, better armoured, had longer range and was faster. Germany also needed a production strategy to build just those, and not keep not-quite-good-enough kit like the Panzer IV in production. A Panther with a reliable transmission instead of Tigers and Panzer IVs might possibly have worked. IIRC the time to produce a Panther and a Panzer was not a lot different. What would you rather fight 300 T-34s with: 100 Panzer IVs, 80 Panthers, or 20 Tigers?

They didn't manage to achieve the required standard, but nonetheless, big evil bad-guy tanks were IMHO the correct approach, certainly better than trying outproduce the USA, and the USSR, and the Commonwealth. It worked for Israel post-war and it was why we had a small but high-quality NATO.

The above strategy also mostly worked for Germany in the air. German aircraft were generally better than those they opposed, even in the somewhat gamey sense of a Bf110 night fighter being better than a Halifax. Small numbers of night fighters were capable of imposing unacceptable losses on attacking bombers, even if was 50 fighters against 1,000 bombers. The strategy failed only once the Allied fighters became both as good as the defenders and more numerous.

Skarper25 Sep 2020 4:04 a.m. PST

I think it's been well established that building more Pz IVs and in particular StuGs on the same chassis was the better strategy for the defensive war Germany was stuck in post 1943.

The Tiger and Panther concept was for a renewed offensive in 1943 – but it seems the oil was not going to be available anyway.

I don't think the IDF's experience or the NATO model are valid comparisons with the German WW2 situation. The various armies the IDF faced did not resemble the cohesive, massive and experienced armies Germany faced. We'll never know how NATO would have fared in a conventional war – rather poorly I suspect.

The Tiger II and to a lesser extent the Tiger I are probably the worst concept. Nobody copied them post WW2. The Panther was a good idea, but there were issues mechanically and the ergonomics were poor. It did not accomplish that much in NWE.

The best concept is probably the Centurion. Though the Soviet MBT concept is more attack focused and may be a contender if we are being honest. We cannot rely on the export models for evidence of how the Soviets versions would have worked – and again we have to consider their potential impact within a system.

Legion 425 Sep 2020 7:54 a.m. PST

One thing you can say in favor of the M551
Yes there were "Vis-Mods" on the M551 of Russian AFVs all over the place at the NTC. Many frequently overrunning you positions, etc. … frown

Even worse, the Ratte. A literal land battleship, including a redundant gun turret from the Gneisnau. Would have been amusing to watch it try to cross a river.
I've often thought a Ratte would make a good Sci-fi HAFV. To support my titans/combat walkers/mechs … evil grin They have them on Shapeways !

But in reality it would have been nothing more than a big target for CAS. E.g. the Repulse and Prince of Wales were bombing practice for Japanese aircraft. Early in WWII …

But the Ratte would have even been a better target, having limited places to maneuver with few bridges too cross, etc. Can you imagine getting that thing stuck in a marsh or trying to repair a broken/thrown track? huh?

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2020 7:59 a.m. PST

@ Skarper

Tigers and to a lesser extent the Panther all strike me as poor executions of broadly the right idea. They weren't directly copied post-war but superior implementations of the idea, such as the Centurion, did appear.

Skarper25 Sep 2020 8:24 a.m. PST

Something we can't really gauge is the price of Panthers and Tigers. So many aspects of their production are impossible to cost.

Somewhere, I vaguely recollect that Tigers consumed resources that could have produced a great many more smaller AFVs.

You might focus on crew losses but Germany was not actually short of manpower in the way modern armies are. How many men became casualties or prisoners because the Allies had tanks available and the Germans did not?

If you can afford to produce large numbers of superior MBTs – fair enough. A few mega MBTs is unlikely to defeat a much larger number of competitive MBTs. We never have seen any real test of post WW2 designs and I certainly hope we never do.

I'm not sure of the design history of the Centurion and whether it really followed the Panther/Tiger concept or was an extension of the cruiser tank thread. I shall have to look into it.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2020 8:26 a.m. PST

Bill N, I downgraded the L3/33 for the design, not the concept. A small thin-skinned tank had merit in some circumstances, but a small thin-skinned tank with no turret was a disaster waiting to happen--as the Ethiopians demonstrated prior to 39-40.

Point taken, 4th Cuirassier, though you're glossing over the mobility problem. Far too many of those mechanically unreliable fuel hogs were lost outside of combat when the army had to retreat and couldn't take them along. I think if you told me in late 42 early 43 to work out future German AFV production, it would be STUG III, phasing to STUG IV and a Panther with an improved drive train. There would probably a recovery vehicle in the form of a turretless Panther, but no other cute specialty vehicles to slow down the assembly line. Add to that ONE half-track model and ONE armored car. You still wouldn't have American or Soviet production numbers, but you wouldn't be leaving them all behind on every retreat, and your infantry wouldn't keep being left without support.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2020 9:32 a.m. PST

@ Robert

No, I get your point totally about unreliable fuel hogs. It's impossible to disagree. There's really no question to which a Jagdtiger is the answer. What I do suggest though is that better-executed designs might have worked, or at least done slightly better than what actually was built. So conceptually, individually superior tanks were the right idea. Just not these ones.

@ Skarper

Yeah, I don't actually know what the Centurion's mission was either. I posited it as an example "better Tiger" only because, off lower weight than a Tiger I, it was better on every count, and also roughly contemporary. So it's not as though nothing like it could possibly have been built at the time. If Britain could build Centurion by 1945, presumably Germany could have built something comparable in 1942.

The interesting question is then what happens if, instead of – incredibly – building 19,000 Panzer II, III and 38t variants after 1942, Germany had instead built, oh, 5,000 Centurions. The opposition would have had either to build something else, or find out if Shermans and T34s were good enough.

Bill N25 Sep 2020 9:38 a.m. PST

I agree that the lack of a turret was a flaw Robert. However I keep going back to the "for the time it was designed and put into production" argument. At that time you had the British Carden Lloyd tankette, the Polish TK series and the Soviet T-27s, all with that same flaw. Plus we are talking about an armored fighting vehicle that was also purchased by a number of other countries. The performance in Ethiopia and in Spain makes a good argument that the Italians should have curtailed production of the L3-33's successor, the L3-35. However the real problem, the failure of Italy to get a replacement vehicle capable of serving as a MBT during WW2 in production sooner, really cannot be blamed on the L3.

Murvihill26 Sep 2020 3:11 p.m. PST

The argument of dead-ending development is hard to defeat. Multi-turret and machine gun tanks weren't pursued during the war. Anti-fortification tanks (I.E. the Churchill line) and halftracks ended with the war. So the worst would have to be one of those (but not halftracks).

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2020 5:52 p.m. PST

Anything Japanese.

Martin Rapier27 Sep 2020 10:45 p.m. PST

"Somewhere, I vaguely recollect that Tigers consumed resources that could have produced a great many more smaller AFVs."

A Tiger cost roughly twice as much to build as a Pz IV, and surprisingly, a Panther cost only 10% more than a Pz IV (in Reichsmarks). The Pz IV was a fairly lousy design for mass production though.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP28 Sep 2020 12:38 a.m. PST

So if one had a choice between 50 Tigers, 90 Panthers or 100 Panzer IV they'd all have cost the same?

Skarper28 Sep 2020 1:32 a.m. PST

The WW2 German economy was pretty opaque. So nobody can be sure what things actually cost. That's my understanding anyway.

In the end it all comes down to oil. The PzIV used a lot less fuel and that was the key resource.

I read somewhere, PzIV crews liked their vehicles and did not especially want to get hold of Panthers.

The 75mm L48 gun could handle most allied vehicles well enough, and the smaller size and greater reliability of the Pz IV were much appreciated.

I don't think the Panther was a bad design, far from it – it was just bungled and had many teething troubles.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP28 Sep 2020 4:42 a.m. PST

The size point is interesting. I've often thought that other things being equal, small vehicles should get a higher defence value to reflect being harder to hit.

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