tank, military

tank, military,

armored vehicle having caterpillar traction and armed with machine guns, cannon, rockets, or flame throwers. The tank, together with the airplane, opened up modern warfare, which had been immobilized and stalemated by the use of rifled guns (see mechanized warfaremechanized warfare,
employment of modern mobile attack and defense tactics that depend upon machines, more particularly upon vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel engines.
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). It was developed by the British and first employed in World War I in the battle of Flers-Courcellette, on the Somme (Sept., 1916), but it was used piecemeal, without any overriding strategy, and seemed a failure. In Nov., 1917, the tank achieved a major success at Cambrai, when 300 British tanks made a dawn attack on a 6-mi (9.7-km) front and shattered the German defenses.

Before World War II tanks and tank tactics were greatly improved, and in the first campaign of that war German tank armies conquered Poland in less than a month. Whole armored divisions and corps of tanks were soon formed on both sides. In mass tank battles in Europe and N Africa the tide often tended toward the side with the most effective use of armored units. Among the great armor commanders were Erwin RommelRommel, Erwin
, 1891–1944, German field marshal. He entered the army in 1910 and rose slowly through the ranks. In 1939, Adolf Hitler made him a general. Rommel brilliantly commanded an armored division in the attack (1940) on France. In Feb.
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 and George PattonPatton, George Smith, Jr.,
1885–1945, American general, b. San Gabriel, Calif. A graduate of West Point (1909), he served in World War I and was wounded while commanding a tank brigade in France. Subsequently he served in the cavalry and the tank corps.
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. There were also specialized tanks for amphibious landings and clearing mines. Antitank weapons were developed, such as bazookas, armor-piercing shells, recoilless rifles, and antitank missiles, as well as airplanes armed with rockets and bombs.

Since World War II the basic features of tanks and tank tactics have remained unchanged, but there have been refinements such as reactive armor that explodes out when hit, laser rangefinders, automatic loading, and computer systems for fire control and navigation. Antitank weapons have also been greatly improved; they now include specialized munitions capable of attacking dozens of tanks at once that are delivered by artillery or aircraft, as well as powerful infantry weapons. Tanks are particularly effective in desert fighting, as demonstrated by their use by the Israeli military and in the Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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See B. H. Liddell Hart, The Tanks (1959); D. Orgill, The Tank (1970); H. C. B. Rogers, Tanks in Battle (1972); D. Jeffries, Battle Kings (1987); P. Wright, Tank (2002).

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