Tanks were born prematurely in November 1916 at Cambrai, when General
Haig needed a victory and insisted on an induced birth. They were at
once copied by the Germans and had no decisive success before
Ludendorff’s ‘black day of the German Army’ in August 1918. Tanks
were then held to be inseparable from the future of land warfare and
remained so until the present day and the Russo-Ukrainian war. The
authoritative, formidably-informed article by Lewis Page, ‘UKRAINE
BLOWS UP THE TANK SUPREMACY MYTH’ (Telegraph, 29 May) signals the end
of the tank’s place in the official belief system.
This has been obvious to the layman for a while. I wrote lately in
the New English Review that ‘the tank is an archaic weapon, not much
use save to cow an impressionable populace.’ Its glory days were in
WWII. Guderian’s tanks swept through France, defeating among others
the tanks under De Gaulle’s command at Laon and pausing only to fill
up at petrol stations. In November 1941, Guderian could see the
Kremlin skyline at the peak of his advance. At Kursk the two great
tank armies battered each other like mastodons on the road to
After the war, the tank had a confirmed place in
military thinking. It was enshrined in staff college doctrine and
lectures. More, it was buttressed by the interests of the services
right up to today’s conventional thought. The Air Force wanted fast
manned jets as the best way of contesting air space. The Army had a
romantic devotion to heavily armoured forces, hence the telling charge
‘The Russian Army is what the British Army wants to be.’ All factions
came together in the military-industrial complex, and the procurement
culture. All interests approved of better tanks and better anti-tank
But a shadow no bigger than a man’s hand, or a boy’s, had fallen long
ago over the might of tanks. In April 1945 a youth from the Hitler
Jugend had taken out a Soviet T-34 in the Berlin suburbs. He did this
with a handheld panzerfaust, a feat for which he was decorated by
Hitler in his last investiture. No one then thought that the future
would belong to the panzerfaust rather than the tank. But in 2022 a
young Ukrainian soldier destroyed a Russian tank with a British NLAW
(Next generation Light Anti-armour Weapon), a greatly-developed
descendant of the panzerfaust. The work of tank-busting could be left
to drones, cheaper, effective, life-preserving for the controllers.
Tanks have now been humiliated before the eyes of the world. For days
on end, TV viewers have gaped on the spectacle of the largest and
longest traffic jam in military history. They were, I take it, the
same tanks–one tank looks very much like another–and remained
immobile, or immobilized, while the war went on without them. The
most telling moment in Lewis Page’s article came from a recent head of
the Army, who said ‘You have to have a proper army, Lewis.’ He meant
one well furnished with tanks, like the Russian.
The tank will remain a display item in museums, and in some public
places. I have seen in Istanbul, placed as public statuary, an old
rail engine, twin to the one blown up by Lawrence. The same fate
awaits the tank.
The courageous HJ volunteers on bicycles hit quite a number of tanks in 1945 with their bazookas. Hungarians popped grenades into Soviet tanks in 1956. Armour moves on, and weapons are the leaders in runaway technology. The West needs to disable the missile launch capabilities of Russia, China and North Korea by cyberwar.
I agree that tanks are now obsolete, but when they were first invented didn’t they end the horrors of trench warfare? Before tanks, defensive machine guns were invulnerable to anything other than wave upon wave of “over the top” attacks with massive loss of life. But tanks could flatten machine guns.
Perhaps we ought to remember tanks with affection as life-savers.
A link to Patrick Benham-Creswell’s rebuttal of Mr Lewis’ argument that the tank, like the Norwegian Blue parrot, is dead, deceased, no more, is appended and readers can formulate their own opinion on which is the better view.
Given the tens of thousands of tanks still in service and manufacture around the world. (Except in Britain, the inventor of the weapon) news of its demise seems premature.
Cambrai was November 1917 and probably the first effective mass use of the water carriers for Mesopotamia. Tanks had been initially used on the Somme a year earlier, a battle Haig was forced into to take the pressure off the French at Verdun, and had the advantage of surprise.
What would General “Boney” Fuller advise today if he were still alive? “Do you like your children?” he was asked by Hitler as the tanks rolled past in a military parade.