Type 90 Main Battle Tank (Japan)

Type 90 Main Battle Tank (Japan)

Type 90 Main Battle Tank (Japan)

Research and development into a new Japanese MBT began in 1976, under the Designation STC, subsequently being renamed the TK-X by the Technical Research Headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defence Force. Funding for the engine, gun, ammunition and fire control system began in the Fiscal Year 1977 and for the suspension and the new armour in Fiscal Year 1978. The prime contractor for the Type 90 is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who have been the prime contractor for all Japanese post-Second World War tanks including the Type 74 and the Type 61. The Type 90 and all its subsystems have been designed and built in Japan, with the exception of the 120mm smoothbore gun, which is made under licence from Rheinmetall of Germany. It is the first Japanese tank to be at the cutting edge of technology, and in several aspects, it is ahead of most its competitors. Major sub-contractors include the Japan Steel Works, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation. Fujitsu and the NEC Corporation. The final requirements for the Type 90 were completed in 1980, with two prototype vehicles, both armed with the Japanese 120mm gun, firing Japanese ammunition, being produced by 1984. These were used in extensive troop trials that continued throughout the following two years. A second group of four prototypes were built between 1986 and 1988 that incorporated a number of changes as a result of the trials. They were armed with the Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore gun, which is also fitted to the Leopard 2 and M1A1/M1A2 Abrams tanks. These vehicles were then used for development and user trials, which had been completed by 1989. The TK-X was type classified and redesignated the Type 90. Production started in 1992 and by 1999 is estimated that some 150 vehicles have been built, while production is still underway. The Type 90 and its variants, have not been offered on the export market.

Details of the armour used in the construction of the Type 90s hull and turret have not been released, but is understood that there is an extensive use of composite armour, particularly over the frontal area of the tank. The Mitsubishi Steel Works and Kyoto Ceramic Company have been responsible for much of the development of this armour. The layout of the Type 90 is conventional, with the driver seated at the front left of the hull and is provided with a single piece hatch and three day periscopes, the centre one of which can be replaced by a passive periscope. The turret is similar to that of the Leopard 2 with vertical front, sides and rear, and a bustle that extends well over the top of the engine compartment. The commander is seated on the right of the turret with the gunner and on the left and an automatic loader been mounted in the turret bustle, for which was designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. It is believed that it can hold a total of 16 rounds of ammunition for the main gun, with additional ammunition located next to the driver. A number of blow-out panels are provided in the turret roof. The commander is provided with a vision blocs for all-round observation. The main armament comprises a 120mm Rheinmetall smoothbore gun, made under licence from Germany. The ordnance and breach are identical to the German 120mm smoothbore gun, but the recoil system and gun mount were designed and built locally in Japan. A 7.62mm machine gun is mounted coaxially to the left of the main armament, while eight 12.7mm (0.5) machine gun is mounted on the roof. There are also two banks of three electrically operated smoke grenade dischargers, one on either side of the turret. The gunner has a periscope sight that is stabilised in azimuth, while commander has a periscopic sight capable of 180 degrees traverse with dual axis stabilisation, both linked to a digital fire-control computer. The gunner has a day channel, a thermal infra-red sensor and a laser rangefinder. The gunner's sight is manufactured by the Nikon Corporation, the commander's sight by the Fuji Photo Optical Company and the thermal unit by the Fujitsu Company. The fire control system includes an advanced auto-tracking capability that is based on the output of the thermal imager and is effective against ground targets and can use while the tank it is both stationary and in motion. The commander's dual axis stabilised sight, permits him to require and engage targets directly, but additionally, the commander can hand-off a target he has acquired to the gunner, by pushing a button on his override control handle. This provides the tank with a hunter-killer capability. Mounted towards the front of the turret roof is a laser detector, which provides an audible signal, as well as an indication of direction at the commander's station. The suspension of the Type 90 is really a hybrid type, with torsion bars for the centre two road wheels and hydro-pneumatic units for the first and last two road wheels. There are six dual rubber-tyred road wheels, drive sprocket at the rear and an idler at the front. The upper part of the track is protected by a light-weight skirt. The engine is a Mitsubishi 10ZG 10-cylinder diesel (1,500hp) coupled to an automatic transmission incorporating a torque converter with an automatic car lock-up clutch. An NBC system is fitted as standard. Variants include the Type 90 mine-clearing MBT (which has a Type 92 mine clearing roller system fitted), the Type 90 Armoured Recovery Vehicle and the Type 91 Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge.

Hull length: 7.5m. Hull width: 3.05m. Height: 2.34m. Crew: 3. Ground Clearance: 0.45m (adjustable between 0.2 to 0.6m front and back) Weight: 50,000kg (combat) Ground pressure: 0.89kg/sq.cm Max speed: 70km/h. Max range (internal fuel): 400km on road. Armament: 120mm smoothbore gun, 1 x 7.62mm machine gun mounted coaxially, 1 x 12.7mm (0.5) machine gun on turret roof.

Mitsubishi Type 90 MBT in Jane's Armour and Artillery 2000 - 2001

Type 90 Main Battle Tank (Japan) - History

Armor [ edit | edit source ]

Type 90-II Stock Armor
Reputation Cost Credits Hull Armor (F/S/R) Hull Composition Turret Armor (F/S/R) Turret Composition ERA Type ERA Modifiers
Stock Stock 520/85/45 Composite 585/62/41 Composite None
The Type 90-II is a heavily modified Type 85 with increases to armor and improvements in various electronics acquired from examination of the T-72. Modular composites make up a majority of the turret, providing effective defense against ATGMs and HEAT ammunition.

ERA Armor Upgrade Package
Reputation Cost Credits Hull Armor (F/S/R) Hull Composition Turret Armor (F/S/R) Turret Composition ERA Type ERA Modifiers
39,345 1,221,365 520/85/45 Composite 585/62/41 Composite Medium ERA
ERA bricks on the turret frontal arc and upper glacis offer increased protection against HEAT rounds and ATGMs.

France Tests Huge 140mm Tank Gun As It Pushes Ahead With Germany On A New Tank Design

French defense contractor Nexter has reportedly been testing a modified Leclerc main battle tank with a massive 140mm main gun as part of the development of a future Franco-German tank, known as the Main Ground Combat System, or MGCS. For decades, France, as well as Germany, among many others, have considered adding bigger cannons to its tanks to improve their armor penetration and range capabilities, but have repeatedly decided not to do so. So, it still remains to be seen how seriously they’ll pursue this course of action now.

Jane’s 360 reported the news, which the outlet had learned at the International Armored Vehicles (IAV) 2019 conference in London, on Jan. 24, 2019. The up-gunned Leclerc has fired more than 200 rounds successfully and Nexter claims the weapon is 70 percent more effective than existing NATO-standard 120mm tank guns. The MGCS program, which began in 2012, aims to replace France’s Leclercs and Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks with a common design by 2035.

3. The indomitable K2 Black Panther

Design company and country of origin: South Korea - Hyundai Rotem

When did it enter service?: 2016

What makes this tank one of the best?: The K2 is considered one of the most advanced main battle tanks in the world.

The South Korean K2 "Black Panther" is a highly advanced main battle tank. It also happens to be one of the most expensive to produce per unit.

Delivery to the South Korean Army commenced in 2016 and to date around 100 orders have been fulfilled. It is anticipated that a further 200 will be delivered in the not too distant future.

It comes equipped with much the same offensive capability of the German Leopard 2A7. Defensively it makes liberal use of modular composite armor (any further details are classified), Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), and an advanced passive protection system much like the Leopard 2A7.

It also has an advanced automated target acquisition, targeting, and firing system. The tank is also fast and has state-of-the-art hydropneumatic suspension.

“Black Eagle” and T-95 programs

The “Black Eagle” early roots program started in the late 1980s in Leningrad Kirov Plant (LKZ) as stretched-out and modified T-80U. However, when the bureau was closed, blueprints and studies were passed onto the KBTM in Omsk.

Eventually, it reappeared in 1997 at the VTTV arms exposition in Omsk, but far away from the public and apparently fitted with a mockup turret (according to Wikipedia) and partly camouflaged by nettings. It appeared a second time in 1999 in another exhibition in Siberia, this time with a massive turret sporting a new front armored extension, turret and hull Kaktus ERA and in the future Drozd/Arena active systems for protection.

The turret ended with a rear boxy turret bustle for the ammunition, presumably with blow-off panels. The hull was elongated and has a seventh pair of roadwheels. A 152 mm in the alternative to the 125 mm smoothbore 2A46 gun was also envisioned.

Presumed schematics of the Black Eagle.

Moreover, the Black Eagle was propelled by the most powerful powerplant combination so far, the GTD-1400 gas turbine giving 1400 hp (1030/1040 kW). Top speed was around 68-70kph with a favorable 27 hp/t power to weight ratio fo 48 tons estimated. “Black Eagle” was a codename as an attempt to “marketing” it more easily. After its cancellation in 2001, Omsk Transmash has gone bankrupt.

The T-95, however, is another foggy program apparently started in 2008 (although according to Vasily Fofanov it might have started back in the 1990s as the “Object 195”), this time at Uralvagonzavod. It was also announced by the Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev in 2000.

It was to be fitted with a brand new turret, presumably remote-controlled, housing a massive 152 mm 2A83 smoothbore gun and coaxial 30 mm gun. It was to be propelled by a massive powerplant, the 12N360 X diesel engine which developed A-85-3, 1650 h.p., enough to cope with the 55 tons of the tank.

Like the Black Eagle it was given seven pairs of road wheels, and presumably was equipped with new active hydropneumatic suspensions shared by the T-80. However in 2010 again, it was announced to be shown at the Russian Defence Expo 2010 in Nizhny Tagil, but later in May, the program was canceled by Vladimir Popovkin, the new minister of defense, as it was chosen to concentrate of modernizing the T-90 fleet and unveil a brand new 4th gen MBT program in 2011 (which turned to be the Armata, entering service in 2014).

Anatoliy Serdukov’s reforms (2008)

When appointed as defense minister in 2007, Anatoliy Serdukov started another stray of reforms aimed at converting all divisions into brigades, on a plan until 2016.
Nowadays the ground forces represent 285,000 personnel total (2014), including 80,000 conscripts. These numbers alone illustrate the radical change from a massive conscript army to a reduced professional army, still backed by conscripts, about 2/8 of the total.

War in Ukraine (2014-2015)

A controversial and still fresh matter is the ongoing war in Ukraine, which erupted following bursts of separatism (support and endorsed by Moskow) and refusal of the Ukrainian authority in some localized areas, the Donbass (Southeast of Ukraine, near Rostov-on-Don), and especially Crimea, for long the siege of the Russian fleet. Due to the nature of the war, Ukrainian forces are confronted with well-armed militias, and fights are sporadic and of relatively small scale (for now).

Great tanks battles never occurred and most of the time, MBTs are used on both sides for infantry support, patrol, or as fixed deterrents. Tanks assaults by rebels are relatively rare, for now, and the Ukrainians have the numeric advantage. Ironically both sides used similar tanks, like the aging T-64.

New perspectives

Despite the war in Ukraine, which for the moment did not take any significant, nor official toll on the Russian Army (President Putin declarations made clear only “volunteers” departed to help the separatists, the Russian army today is much better prepared for a larger war as it occurred in Chechnya. Lessons were learned to the full, reorganization both of the industrial sector and suppliers as a whole and successive reforms with the officer corps, and eventually, training definitively broke with the old tradition of a conscript army and geared towards a small-scale professional army.

T-14 Armata, May 2015 parade (src wikimedia cc)

Tanks, of course, are part of the deep modification of the Army, starting with new models (like the Armata) and a concentrated, well-funded upgrade program.

Side by side, the future face of the Russian Armour (less the Armata): T15 HIFV (Heavy IFV), Kurganetz-25 APC and Bumerang wheeled APC (which must replace the BTR series), and the 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV future self-propelled howitzer.


T-14 Armata The latest, 5th generation Russian main battle tanks, accepted in service in 2014, after a long development. A radical departure from previous designs, it is also the crowning jewel of a family of IFVs, APCs and specialized vehicles. Its most prominent figure is an unmanned turret and the crew inside the hull’s safety capsule. 2,300 are expected and were ordered, at around $11.55 million apiece (as of nov. 2015).

T-90 (1992) This 3/4th generation main battle tank was derived from the T-72BU. So far 2,260 were built and but, however about only 500 are currently in service.

T-80 (1976) This first Soviet turbine tank, an elite main battle tank and successor of the T-64 is also in service, but in dwindling numbers, although 5,400 had been cranked up in total. In 1985 the T-80U (illustration) appeared, much upgraded. Since the split with Ukraine, the latter had produced the T-80D and is pursuing an active upgrade program. Ukraine had 271 of these in 2005. But as of 2008 in Russia, there were less than 3,000 in active service and 1,456 in storage. With the gradual introduction of the Armata, this figure will dramatically change. Nowadays, perhaps 400 T-80U’s, T-80UD’s, and T-80UE1 remains in full active service.

T-72 (1972) The famous Soviet 2nd generation MBT was produced to an extent that rivaled the old T-54/55 and spawned dozens of versions and local variants worldwide. 7000+ are in storage today, 1700 of the latest upgraded B versions were registered in service and 1,300 are T-72B/BA while 400 have been upgraded to the B3 standard, nowadays around 750 in service.

BMP series The world’s famous IFV was mass-produced by USSR and is the most current worldwide still today. More than 20,000 BPM-1s (1965) were built so far, only 500 are in active service while 7000 remains in storage. The same can be said for the BMP-2, with 1,800 active and 6,500 in reserve. However the more recent BMP-3 (1987), whole effective (616) is entirely active. Pending replacement by the new heavy BTR-T derived from the T-55.

T-15 Armata The latest Russian IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle), based on the chassis of the T-14 and part of the hull and powerplant. It should be classed as a heavy IFV to modern standards, especially compared to the BMP family, although the armament is less impressive, it shares the same modular remote weapons station also used on the Kurganetz and Bumerang. This 48 tons IFV capable of carrying nine equipped infantry at 70 km/h on flat is much better protected than the previous BMP-2 (and MT-LB) it replaces with modular armor blocks, made of steel and ceramic composites and able to withstand the equivalent of 1,200–1,400 mm vs HEAT. In alternative to the regular 30 mm, the weapons station can receive a 57mm BM-57 autocannon and it carries in complement the 9M120-1 Ataka ATGM.

Kurganetz-25 The new Russian medium IFV. Revealed also in the 2015 parade, this is the true response to the last generation American Bradley and Western tracks IFVs such as the British Ajax and German Puma At 25 tons it is half the weight of the Armata, yet, extremely well protected by composites and ceramic modular panels. The platform is extremely modular, able to be declined into an APC and ARV as well. Produced at Kurganmashzavod it is scheduled to replace all Soviet-era BMP and BTR as well as the ubiquitous MT-LB. It can carry eight troops, and speed up to 80 km/h (32 hp/tonne), and is fully amphibious.

BTR-60/70/80 The famous serie of 8࡮ APCs still counts around 1,200 vehicles in total, most being BTR-80s, with a handful (around 70) of BTR-70s and a few BTR-60s used for special purposes. Here a BTR-80A, a modified version with the new 30 mm gun 2A72 weapons station

BTR-90 Is the last mass-built 8࡮ APC of the BTR series, with a first prototype made by 1994 so it leaved the Cold War section to land here. It is replaced gradually by the VK-7829 Bumerang. But still, a major step forward in terms of armament as it is basically an adaptation of the BMP-2 turret on a 8࡮ hull which is derived from the BTR-80. Production spanned a few years, 2004-2010 and has been derived into the BTR-90M but so far the ministry of defence never ordered it.

VK 7829 Bumerang The latest Russian APC, currently in production for the Russian Army. Dubbed the “Russian stryker” because of the commonality and modularity behind the concept and revealed during the 2015 May parade like many of these new generation Russian armored vehicles and the Armata. Designed by the Military Industrial Company LLC (VPK) and manufactured by Arzamas Machine-Building Plant its is notably cheaper than the BTR-90, while the BTR-82 served as a stopgap before its introduction.

At 25 tons it is way heavier and taller than the BTR-80 (13.6 tons), an increase which is coherent with the new 2000s generation of massive 8࡮ APCs worldwide.It is also twice as powerful and much faster at 100 kph. The remotely operated turret (30 mm automatic cannon 2A42, 9M133 Kornet-EM AT missiles) is also used by the Kurganetz and T-15 Armata IFVs.

BRDM-2 The BRDM-1 (1956) has been long all scrapped or sold, but still around 1,000 BRDM-2 (1962) are in active service, 1,200 in reserve (over 7,000 built), counting all its variants.

MT-LB This unarmed but around 1,400 of this versatile tracked APC/carrier is maintained in service (5,000 reserve).

2S34 Chosta This self propelled howitzer from 1990 derived from the more famous 2S1 Gvozdika (1972) was only produced to 30 vehicles. However, 600 2S1, 930 2S3 Akatsiya, 25 2S4 Tyulpan, 230 2S5 Giatsint-S, 12 2S7 Pion, 470 2S19 Msta-S, and 50 2S23 Nona-SVK are in service.

Many are also in reserve (2,600 2S1/2S3 and others). In addition, 1,400 rocket-launcher vehicles of various types are also maintained in service, all of the Soviet era. The heaviest is the tactical ballitic missiles launching vehicles as the OTR-21 Tochka-U/SS-21 (90) and 9K720 Iskander-M/SS-26 (64).

9K35M3 Strela-10M3 350 of this short-range SPAAML are in service alongside 280 9K33 Osa, and 170 9K331M Tor-M1. Medium range SAM carrier vehicles are the 9K37M1 Buk (340), and long range, the S-300V Antey-300 (180). They are completed by 200 9K22 Tunguska SPAAGs derived from the most famous ZSU-23-4. All these vehicles are from the soviet era too.

Various vehicles Respectively, from left to right: The DT-30 Vityaz articulated APC/supply vehicle well though for winter conditions the Gaz Tigr recce vehicle (96) and its future acolyte, the VPK-3927 Volk, and the Ural Typhoon MRAP (30)

BPM-97 Vystrel

BPM-97, while the acronym stands for Boyevaya Pogranichnaya Mashina or border guard battle vehicle, nicknamed “Vystrel” is the standard 4ࡪ KAMAZ 43269 Vystrel Russian MRAP. It is given a fighting compartment able to receive all kinds of modules, including the BTR-80A turret. Derived from the KAMAZ-43269 it is in service with Kazakhstan, Azerbaïdjan, Syria, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the National Guard of Russia with about 200 built so far.


BMD-3 in early green livery (1990) showing its maximal hydropneumatic depression. It is 2.17 m (7 ft 1 in) high in this configuration

BMD-3 in the standard 3-tones summer/spring pattern.

BMD means “Боевая Машина Десанта”, Boyevaya Mashina Desanta or “Combat Vehicle of the Airborne”. It is showing the winter grey variant of the regular 3-tone pattern.

Greatest Tank Battle in History – The Battle of Kursk

Fought from the 5 th to the 23 rd of July 1943, the Battle of Kursk was the greatest tank battle in history. Intended by German planners as an opportunity to break through Soviet defenses, it instead became the last great German push on the Eastern Front of World War Two.

Operation Citadel

By the summer of 1943, the territory around the city of Kursk was a one hundred mile salient protruding from the Soviet lines, surrounded on three sides by German forces.

German commanders led by Field Marshal von Manstein came up with a plan to make the most of this opportunity. They would launch a pincer attack from the north and south, cutting off the Soviet troops in the bulge and forcing them to surrender. This was Operation Citadel.

Field Marshall von Manstein. By Bundesarchiv – CC-BY-SA 3.0

The force assembled for the operation was enormous. Nearly 50 divisions were brought together, consisting of 900,000 troops, 2,700 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 1,800 planes. 70% of the German tanks of the Eastern Front were committed to this single operation, together with 65% of their aircraft.

A battery of Wespe self-propelled howitzers supporting German forces during the Battle of Kursk. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Preparing the Defenses

Unfortunately for the Germans, the Soviets anticipated their plan. Rather than keep their troops in a vulnerable position in the salient, they withdrew their main force. The men left behind occupied eight concentric rings of defenses, each two to three miles deep, including layers of minefields and anti-tank defenses. Most of the construction effort went into the first 20 miles of defense, ensuring a tough start for any attackers.

Despite the withdrawals, the Soviet troops outnumbered the Germans. Though they were less equipped and trained, thanks to the differing doctrines of the two armies, but there plenty of them.

Soviet PTRD anti-tank rifle team during the fighting. By Novosti archive – CC-BY-SA 3.0

A Soviet spy ring learned that the attack would be launched sometime between the 3 rd and 6 th of July. Further information gathering on the battlefield narrowed this down to the 5 th of July. To hamper the start of the German attack, the Soviets fired an artillery barrage that broke up the enemy formations as they were forming. It was the largest counter-preparation barrage of the war.

The Attack

At 5 am on the 5 th of July, the Germans attacked.

VVS Ilyushin Il-2 ground attack aircraft during the battle of Kursk. By RIA Novosti archive – CC BY-SA 3.0

While a fierce battle raged in the air, German tanks advanced against the Soviet defenses. The Soviets responded with focused firepower. In many places, a group of anti-tank guns would all fire at the same target at once to ensure that they took it out, then move onto the next. The mines and anti-tank emplacements held up the advance while Soviet fire wore down the German forces.

The tough defenses held up to the attack. The Germans only managed to advance 20 miles into the salient southerly. In the north, it was no better, the advance being halted less than 10 miles in.

Tiger tank Company Das Reich. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de


On the 12 th of July, the Soviets launched a counter-attack. The pressure of their armies coming in from the east forced the Germans to withdraw troops from their advance, robbing them of their impetus.

The fiercest fighting took place at the village of Prokhorovka, at the forward edge of the southern offensive. Here, 600 Soviet tanks faced 250 German tanks in a deadly confrontation. The Soviets charged to close range to overcome the better range of the German’s guns. Despite intense and destructive combat, the fighting at Prokhorovka ended in a stand-off.

A German soldier inspects a T-34 tank knocked out at Pokrovka that is still smoldering. By Bundesarchiv – CC-BY-SA 3.0

It was the largest armored confrontation in history, one that caused massive destruction. Burning tanks littered the Battlefield.

Tank Versus Tank

German Panzer VI/Tiger I tanks passing burning buildings during the Battle of Kursk in Orel (Oryol), Russia, July 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv / Bild 183-J14813 / Henisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Though thousands of aircraft and hundreds of thousands of infantry took part, the Battle of Kursk was defined by tank combat.

The Germans led the way with their recently created Panther and Tiger tanks. Based on lessons from the early war, these tanks had thick frontal armor and heavy guns, so that they could punch through enemy armor while surviving the fight.

Panzer IIIs and IVs on the southern side of the Kursk salient at the start of Operation Citadel By RIA Novosti archive – CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Soviets mostly fielded the T-34, perhaps the most successful tank of the war. It had tough welded armor and a powerful engine which gave it good battlefield mobility. Soviet engineers had been upgrading the guns on these tanks from 76mm to 85mm, almost a match for the Tiger’s 88m gun.

German Panzer IV and Sdkfz 251 half-track during the Battle of Kursk. By Bundesarchiv-CC-BY-SA 3.0

The German tanks were superior but the T-34 was still a good design. Critically, it was being produced in massive numbers, allowing the Soviets to soak up losses and still outnumber their opponents.

soviet tank T-34 76 model 1941

The End of the Offensive

As it became clear that a breakthrough wasn’t coming. Hitler called off Operation Citadel. Manstein argued against this, not wanting to throw away what had been achieved, but Hitler needed to commit troops to shore up the struggling Italians, so couldn’t afford to maintain the push in the east.

T-34 tank on fire

The Soviets claimed to have destroyed 1,500 German tanks and killed or captured 500,000 men. The Germans claimed to have destroyed 1,800 tanks on the southern flank alone. But while the Germans had inflicted more casualties, their losses were far heavier relative to their strength.

The Soviet war machine was based on mobilizing large numbers of men and tanks, while the Germans relied on quality over quantity. With sources of manpower running out and their economy squeezed by the Atlantic blockade, they would struggle to replace their losses.

German troops during a lull in the fighting during Operation Citadel on the southern side of the Kursk salient. By Bundesarchiv – CC-BY-SA 3.0V

With the Battle of Kursk over, the Soviets went on the offensive. The Germans’ last chance of victory in the east had failed, and now the tide of war turned against them. As they were driven back, they left behind battlefields littered with the wreckage of hundreds of shattered tanks – the enduring symbol of the greatest tank battle in history.

Sherman tank

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Sherman tank, officially M4 General Sherman, main battle tank designed and built by the United States for the conduct of World War II. The M4 General Sherman was the most widely used tank series among the Western Allies, being employed not only by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps but also by British, Canadian, and Free French forces. The M4 was employed in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and western Europe and throughout the Pacific theatre. A total of 49,324 Sherman tanks were produced in 11 plants between 1942 and 1946.

When World War II began in 1939, the United States lagged far behind the major European states in the development of tank technology and armoured warfare doctrine. The fall of France in May 1940 awoke and alarmed the United States. The German army had defeated France in a matter of weeks through the use of a new operational doctrine based on fast-moving, massed armoured formations supported by air power. America’s leaders became convinced that the U.S. Army needed a new main battle tank at least equal to that employed by the Germans and that it had to adopt German operational doctrine. To that end, in July 1940 the War Department authorized the development of a new medium tank, and it also authorized the organization of the first armoured divisions. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States had five armoured divisions organizing and training for war in Europe.

The first American main battle tank employed in combat in World War II was the M3 General Grant, named for the American Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant. The British fought with this tank in North Africa as early as 1941. The M3 was the result of a crisis atmosphere that was prevalent immediately following the fall of France. It is likely that no tank in history ever went from design to production faster than the General Grant. Its major defect was its gun mount: the 75-mm gun was carried in a sponson in the right front of the hull and could traverse only 15 degrees—a major disadvantage in tank battles. However, the M3 was only an interim measure. Production ceased in late 1942, when the M4 went into full production.

The prototype of the M4, named for Grant’s subordinate William Tecumseh Sherman, debuted in 1941 and was accepted for production that October. Its designers consciously emphasized speed and mobility, limiting the thickness of the armour and the size of the main gun, thereby compromising on firepower and survivability. The M4’s main armament was a short-barreled, low-velocity 75-mm gun, and its armour thickness was a maximum of 75 mm and a minimum of 12 mm (3 inches and 0.5 inch). The tank had a maximum speed of 38 to 46 km (24 to 29 miles) per hour and a range of 160 to 240 km (100 to 150 miles), depending on the series (M4 to M4A3E2). The M4 carried a crew of five—commander, gunner, loader, driver, and codriver/hull gunner. The vehicle weighed about 33 tons, depending on the series. A typical power plant was a 425-horsepower gasoline engine.

The M4 entered active service with the British in North Africa in October 1942. It was roughly in the same class as early versions of the German Pz. IV ( panzer), which at that time weighed 25 tons, had a top road speed of 40 km (25 miles) per hour, and mounted a 75-mm gun. Later-model German tanks were much improved, so that by the time of the Normandy Invasion in June 1944 the M4 was outclassed by superior tanks such as the Pz. V (Panther) and the Pz. VI (Tiger). The American penchant for mass production tended to stymie innovations in technology, and American doctrinal thinking tended to remain stuck in the prewar period, when the tank was seen as primarily an infantry support weapon. As a result, the M4 was not “up-gunned” until late in the war, and American, British, and Canadian tank crews consistently faced better German tanks. The M4 had a faster rate of fire and greater speed, but both the Panther and the Tiger had significantly greater range and accuracy. The German tanks were also more survivable. Consequently, it took superior numbers for Anglo-American forces to defeat German armoured formations. The most notable effort to break the Germans’ qualitative advantage was the Firefly, a Sherman equipped with a 76.2-mm long-barreled gun (a “17-pounder”).

For the Normandy Invasion and subsequent campaigns on the Continent, the M4 was retrofitted with special-purpose devices by both the Americans and the British. The British added flails (a system of rotors and chains) to clear paths through minefields, and American servicemen added jury-rigged plows for breaking through hedgerows in the bocage country of Normandy. Perhaps the most famous variation was the “ Duplex Drive,” or DD, tank, a Sherman equipped with extendable and collapsible skirts that made it buoyant enough to be launched from a landing craft and make its way to shore under propeller power. The M4 also was transformed into the M32 Tank Recovery vehicle and the M4 Mobile Assault Bridge carrier. Numerous devices of all sorts were fitted onto the Sherman’s versatile, reliable chassis, making it the workhorse of the Anglo-American armies of World War II.

Panzer Mark V Panther

One of the most attractive tanks of all time, the Panther incorporated wartime experience in its design. Its sloping armor (up to fifty-five degrees) was calculated to deflect enemy rounds striking at any angle other than nearly ninety degrees. With forty to eighty millimeters (1.6 to 3.2 inches) of armor and a high-velocity Kw.K.42 75 mm gun, the Panther was a formidable opponent on any front. Though unusually heavy for its day, at some fifty tons (about twice the Mark IV), the Mark V was reasonably fast—its gasoline Maybach 690-horsepower engine drove it at twenty-five miles per hour—but it could cruise 125 miles on roads. Panthers were deployed in time for the battle of Kursk in Russia during the summer of 1943 but experienced mechanical problems there. Subsequent improvements were made to the suspension and transmission, and some five thousand Panthers were ultimately produced.


In Figure 8, I show some data on which US manufacturers produced the M4 Sherman during WW2 (Source). Chrysler and GM were the dominant producers, but the railroad equipment manufacturers also contributed significantly.

Figure 8: M4 Sherman Manufacturers During WW2.

I should mention that the total number of M4's shown in Figure 7 is different by

400 units than is shown in my spreadsheet. There are two reasons: (1) Figure 7 includes 188 units produced in Canada, and (2) there seem to be small discrepancies between different WW2 databases for which I can find no reason.

15 Responses to WW2 Tank Production Comparison Between Combatants

It's worth noting that the US may have produced a couple of thousand heavy tanks in 1945, but the number that made it to the combat zone was much lower. One reason that the Army was reluctant to move to heavy tanks seems to have been that all shipboard/dockside cranes could handle the 30-35 ton Sherman, and it was much easier to find railcars in quantity that could support them. Plus when they got to the front many more bridges could handle Shermans than heavier tanks.

Good point. I have lots of data that shows that it took six months or more to get hardware from the US to the battlefield. With ship cranes limited to 40 tons and railcars having similar limits, the M26 was more difficult than most weapons to ship overseas because it required specially-outfitted ships and high-capacity railcars to move it. There were also issues with many the limited capacity of many bridges in Europe – of course, the Germans faced this same problem. For an example of how the bridge weight limits could affect a battle, read about the concerns over running an M26 over the Ludendorff Bridge.

The more you look at logistics, the better the M4 Sherman looks. In many ways, the M4 was a good fit for the US's war-fighting doctrine. Of course, this statement provides little solace to an M4 tanker facing a Panther's or Tiger's frontal armor with a short-barrelled 75 mm gun.

I found this quote about the number of M26 Pershings actually available for combat on VE day.

20 Fighting Pershings on the Western Front

By mid-April 1945, a total of 185 new Pershings had arrived in the European Theater. Of these, 110 served with the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, and 11th Armored Divisions by war’s end. There were 310 M26 tanks in theater on May 8, 1945 (VE-Day), of which 200 were actually delivered for frontline service.

It is safe to say that due to the difficulties involved in transporting the machines and training their crews, the only Pershings that could have seen sustained action were those 20 experimental models introduced in February 1945 . As a result, since the Pershing arrived so late and in such small numbers, it had no major impact on the fighting on the Western Front.

American armor could maneuver a lot quicker than the Panzers, too. There's an instance of a crummy old M8 Greyhound, hardly the most loved AFV of the war, taking out one of the rare King Tigers on the Western Front through speed and maneuver. The Russians crewing Shermans had a particular technique for Tigers I and II, called the Borzhoi, after the bear-hunting hound - One would stop and aim at the leftmost track while the other M4 would flank to the right. As the Tiger abruptly veered right, the flanking Sherman would halt, in position to punch a few holes through the suddenly exposed flank before the Tiger's turret could come around, aiming for the fuel tank if they could.

Watch the video: JAPAN neuestes Panzer typ 10 Teile2