The infantry tank was a concept developed by the British and French in
the years leading up to World War II.
Infantry tanks were designed to
support infantrymen in an attack. To achieve this, the vehicles were
generally heavily armoured to allow them to operate in close concert
with infantry even under heavy fire. The extra armour came at the
expense of speed, which was not an issue when supporting relatively
slow-moving foot soldiers.
Once an attack supported by infantry tanks had broken through heavily
defended areas in the enemy lines, faster tanks such as cruiser or
light tanks were expected to use their higher speed and longer range
to operate far behind the front and cut lines of supply and
Tank was superseded by the Universal
Tank concept which
could adequately perform the roles of both infantry and cruiser tank,
as represented by the Centurion which replaced both the Curchill and
any Mediums or Cruisers then in service.
2 Other tank types
3.1 Britain and France
Soviet Union and Germany
4.1 Nazi Germany
5 See also
9 Further reading
See also: Experimental Mechanized Force
The experimental armoured formations of the British army were mostly
equipped with the Vickers Medium
Tank Mk I and Medium Mk II, which
were judged obsolete by the 1930s; most of the vehicles were at the
end of their mechanical life. It was impractical to build more because
their road speed of only 18 mph (29 km/h) was too slow for
manoeuvre warfare and their armament of a 3-pounder gun lacked the
power to penetrate newer foreign tanks. By 1931, experience with
Experimental Mechanized Force
Experimental Mechanized Force led to the report of the Kirke
Committee and specifications for three types of tank, a medium tank
with a small-calibre anti-tank gun and a machine-gun, a light tank
armed with machine-guns for reconnaissance and to co-operate with
medium tanks by engaging anti-tank guns. A close support tank armed
with a gun firing high explosive and smoke shells to give covering
fire for tank attacks was also specified. The Wall Street Crash of
1929 and the
Great Depression led to big reductions in the funds made
available for the army. Money spent on tracked vehicles fell from
£357,000 in 1931–32 to £301,000 in the year 1932–33 and exceeded
the 1931 figure only in 1934–35.
In May 1934, Lieutenant-General
Hugh Elles was appointed
Master-General of the Ordnance
Master-General of the Ordnance and Brigadier Percy Hobart, the
Tank Corps, asked Vickers to design a tank for
infantry co-operation, that could survive all existing anti-tank
weapons and be cheap enough for mass production in peacetime. The next
year, Vickers had a two-man tank design, with a machine-gun and
powered by a civilian Ford V8 engine of 70 hp (52 kW). The
prototype of October 1936 weighted 10 long tons (10 t) had a
maximum speed of only 8 mph (13 km/h) but carried
60–65 mm (2.4–2.6 in) of armour and was mechanically
reliable. The A11,
Tank Mk I, was the first
Infantry tank (I
tank) and the first practical expression of the decision to split
design into I tanks and cruiser tanks, with different functions and
tactics, supplied to separate units and formations.
The 1935 edition of the War Office publication, Field Service
Regulations (FSR), containing the principles by which the army was to
act to achieve objectives, was written by Major-General Archibald
Wavell, made breakthrough the responsibility of infantry divisions
with the support of Army
Tank Battalions, equipped with specialised
vehicles for infantry-artillery co-operation, the slow and heavy
Infantry tanks. Once a breakthrough had been created, a Mobile
Division containing a tank brigade with light and cruiser tanks, would
advance through the gap and use the speed and range of its tanks to
surprise the defender and attack flanks, headquarters and
non-combatant units. By 1939, further amendments to FSR added
counter-attacks on an enemy armoured breakthrough. (The codification
of the difference between
Infantry and cruiser tanks and their
functions in FSR 1935, accidentally created an obstacle to all-arms
co-operation that lasted long into the Second World War.) Defence
against tanks could be achieved by troops finding physical obstacles
and by controlling their own anti-tank guns. The obstacles could be
woods and rivers or minefields as long as they were covered by fire
from other weapons. In places lacking convenient terrain features,
lines-of-communication troops would also need anti-tank guns and be
trained to set up localities suitable for all-round defence
The need for economy in the design and production of the A11, which
was too small for a radio, led to work on a successor, the A12,
Tank Mk II in 1936. Capable of 15 mph (24 km/h),
the A12 was still slow but had 60–70 mm (2.4–2.8 in) of
armour, making it almost invulnerable to tank guns and standard
foreign guns like the German 37 mm Pak 36 anti-tank gun. The tank had
a four-man crew and a turret big enough for a radio and a Ordnance QF
2-pounder high-velocity gun, firing solid projectiles capable of
penetrating all 1939–1940 German tanks. Vickers and government
factories could not take on the work and it was farmed out to a
civilian firm, which lacked experience, designers and draftsmen. It
took until 1939 to bring the A12 into production as the "Matilda II"
and it had not gone into service when the war began, only 67 A11s
having been delivered. When the Matilda was supplied to Army Tank
Battalions it was an effective tank in the Battle of
France and in the
Western Desert Campaign, where it outclassed Italian tanks and was
effective against standard Italian and German anti-tank guns from
1940–1941 but was later found to be too slow for the fast tempo that
German panzer units could achieve and unable to engage the more
powerful German anti-tank guns from long range with high explosive
Other tank types
Using later terminology, the infantry tank has been compared to a
heavy tank, while the cruisers were compared to mediums, lights, or
even armoured cars. This comparison can be misleading; late Second
World War heavy tanks were intended to have superior anti-tank
capabilities, which wasn't a focus of the traditional infantry tank.
The infantry tank was different from either the "heavy tank" or
"breakthrough tank" concepts, although some pre-war multi-turreted
heavy machines such as the Soviet
T-35 and the German
both taking some of their inspiration from the 1926 Vickers A1E1
Independent - an idea which was abandoned by the War Office in the
late 1920s for lack of funding), which were similar, and with similar
doctrines for their use. The
Neubaufahrzeug was considered too slow
Blitzkrieg tactics and fell from favour. German, and to some
extent Soviet, wartime doctrine shifted towards faster medium and
heavy tanks fighting large multi-tank battles, with the role of the
infantry tank in the assault taken by simpler Sturmgeschütz
An important difference, however, was that heavy tanks were generally
very well armed, while infantry tanks were not necessarily better
armed than other types. For example, the Soviet 52-ton KV-1 heavy tank
and 25-ton British
Matilda II infantry tank were deployed at about the
same time in 1940. These two models had similar levels of armour
protection and mobility, but the KV's (low velocity) 76.2 mm main
gun was much larger than the Matilda's 2-pounder (40mm).
In British practice, the main armament of the infantry tank went in
three phases. The pre-Dunkirk British Army Matilda I had only a single
heavy Vickers machine gun, a compromise forced by the lightness of its
chassis and its target cost. The
Matilda II gained a capable anti-tank
capacity for its time, with the 2-pounder, but these were only issued
with solid-shot (i.e. non-explosive) for anti-tank use and had
little effect as artillery when providing close support for the
infantry. A separate variant of the Matilda was fitted with a 3-inch
howitzer. The ultimate evolution of the British infantry tank concept
began with the Churchill Mk I, where a hull-mounted 3-inch howitzer
could support infantry assaults with HE shells while the turret had a
2-pdr for use against other tanks.[a] As the increasing size of tanks,
and their turret ring diameters, allowed such a howitzer to be
turret-mounted in vehicles such as the Crusader Close Support (CS) and
Centaur CS cruiser tanks.[b]
Britain and France
See also: British interwar tanks
British tank production
October 1938 – June 1940
Since infantry tanks were to work at the pace of infantry units which
would be attacking on foot, high speed was not a requirement and they
were able to carry heavier armour. The first two purpose-designed
infantry tanks, the A.11 Matilda Mark I armed with a heavy machine-gun
and A.12 Matilda Mark II with a heavy machine gun and 2-pounder
anti-tank gun. The Mark I had been ordered in 1938, but it had become
clear that a better-armed tank would be needed and the Mark II, was
already under design and would be ordered in mid-1938.
The two saw action in the Battle of
France where in the Battle of
Arras they caused a shock to the German panzer units. Losses of the
Mark I in
France were not replaced but the Mark II Matilda remained in
Infantry and cruiser tanks were expected to engage enemy tanks, hence
the use of both the 2-pounder and then 6-pounder on both.
They were followed into service by the
Infantry tank Mk III Valentine
tank and A.22
Tank Mk IV Churchill designs. The Valentine
proved to be difficult to develop further but the Churchill went
through successive variants and served up to the end of the war.
Matilda II in the Western Desert Campaign
As British cruiser tank designs developed into larger vehicles with
more powerful engines, they could carry bigger guns and more armour
and yet still achieve high speeds. At the end of the war the cruiser
tank lineage led to the "universal tank" in the form of the
In practice the British did not operate only infantry and cruiser
tanks. Lack of production capacity meant the large scale adoption of
US medium tanks.
During the inter-war years, the French Army adopted three light tanks
in the infantry tank role. These were the Hotchkiss H35, the Renault
R35 and the FCM 36. All three had two–man crews and were similar to
the Matilda I in terms of size, weight and armour. However, they were
better armed, having 37mm guns as well as co-axial machine guns.
In practice, although able to resist hits from other tanks and
anti-tank guns, and designed for good, albeit slow, cross-country
performance, the separation of tank functions into specialised areas
such as infantry and cruiser types was not effective. Invariably the
cruisers ended up meeting enemy tanks in combat, while the infantry
tanks were the only ones present when a breakthrough was accomplished.
The infantry tank idea faded as tank design progressed during the war.
It was eventually replaced outright with the general acceptance of the
'universal tank' idea.
Soviet Union and Germany
The concept was also employed by the other big tank-producing nation
of the 1930s: the Soviet Union, as exemplified by the T-26. The T-26
was a light tank assigned to infantry units and thus fulfilled the
infantry tank role. It had the relatively thin armour of a light tank,
but with a potent 45 mm gun. Their BT tanks were the fast cruiser
Germany had its separate Panzerwaffe; the German infantry used phased
out Panzerkampfwagen Is in its Independent
Tank Brigades. This is
often seen as reflecting some explicit doctrine; in reality it was
simply caused by a lack of funds, tank production not having any
priority. When more money became available the
Sturmgeschütz III was
taken into use by the artillery, in its original role of an infantry
close support vehicle—the counterpart of the Allied
The US disbanded its
Tank Corps in 1919 and the National Defense Act
1920 defined tanks as an infantry responsibility and their purpose was
to support the infantry. Few funds were available for tank development
and only around two experimental tanks were produced a year. In the
early 1930s, the promotion of mechanisation of the cavalry began. For
political expediency and to avoid conflicting with the 1920 law, the
tanks developed for the cavalry based on the infantry's light tanks
were called "Combat Cars".
Medium tank designs produced were focused on infantry support. The M2
Tank designed in the late 1930s had multiple machine guns to
give all round fire and a 37 mm anti-tank gun. However before
mass production could start the Battle of
France had already shown
that a 75 mm gun was needed.
The Japanese Imperial Army used tankettes as infantry support in the
1930s and into World War II. These small light tanks were also
referred to as armoured cars (though they usually only held a crew of
two and appeared like miniature tanks) and included the Type 92, Type
94, and Type 97 "TK" vehicles. Japanese troops would ride on the
fast-moving tankettes, use them as tractors to pull equipment, or
otherwise use them in support roles. Only later versions of the
tankettes came equipped with anything other than machine guns. These
vehicles were successful supporting infantry in campaigns against
China in the 1930s but were not designed to engage other tanks with
armour that was meant to repel only small arms fire.
Fiat 3000 was the first tank to be produced in series in Italy. It
was to be the standard tank of the emerging Italian armored units
after World War I. The 3000 was based on the French Renault FT. The
design was accepted with deliveries to begin in May 1919, but the end
of the war caused the original order to be cancelled and only 100 were
delivered. The first Fiat 3000s entered service in 1921 and were
officially designated as the carro d'assalto Fiat 3000, Mod. 21.
Fiat 3000 assault tank, Model 21").The up-gunned version of the Fiat
3000, armed with a 37/40 gun, was tested in 1929 and was officially
adopted in 1930 with the designation of carro d'assalto Fiat 3000,
Mod. 30. The Model 30, in addition to its improved armament, also
differed from the Model 21 in that it had a more powerful engine,
improved suspension, different engine compartment silhouette, and the
external stores were stowed differently. Some Model 30s were also
produced with two 6.5 mm machine guns as main armament, as on the
Model 21, in lieu of the 37 mm gun. A limited number of Model 21
vehicles were exported to Albania,
Latvia and Abyssinia (Ethiopia)
prior to 1930. Some self-propelled guns were used for close support
During the first few years of the war, the
Panzer III and Panzer IV
functioned in the same way as a cruiser tank and infantry tank
respectively, with the Panzer III's 37mm and 50mm cannons used to
attack enemy tanks, and the Panzer IV's short 75mm cannon used to
support infantry attacks. These roles began to break down during
Operation Barbarossa when German forces met the Russian
T-34 and KV-1
tanks and struggled to penetrate their armor, forcing design and
This led to the up-arming of the
Panzer IV to a long barreled 75mm
cannon, which could fire both armor piercing rounds and high explosive
rounds, giving the tank a dual role. The
Panzer III was progressively
removed from frontline armor units and relegated to a support role,
with production ending in 1943.
Despite the concept of splitting tanks into infantry and cruiser roles
being an instance of the general economic principle of division of
labour in mechanisation, during World War II, its application in
mechanised warfare proved to be hugely inefficient in terms of
technical development, production, maintenance, logistics and —
worst of all — tactical flexibility. Therefore it was not surprising
that during the war, it was progressively abandoned by all the major
belligerent countries.
History of the tank
Tanks in World War I
Comparison of World War I tanks
Tanks of the interwar period
Tanks in World War II
Comparison of early
World War II
World War II tanks
Cold War Tanks
Post-Cold War Tanks
Armoured fighting vehicle
^ a few Churchills were fitted with the guns in reverse positions - 3
inch howitzer in turret and 2 pdr in hull
^ The turret ring bearing must carry the recoil force of the main gun,
reduced by the mounting's buffer as well containing the gun breech and
associated recoil distance of the gun. The turret and bearing diameter
controls the bearing capacity, thus the limit of armament capacity.
^ Harris 1995, p. 238.
^ a b French 2001, p. 97.
^ Harris 1995, p. 237.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 240–241.
^ French 2001, pp. 33–34.
^ French 2001, pp. 97–98.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 209–301, 303, 305.
^ Plant 2014, p. 78.
^ Postan 1952, p. 103.
^ Fletcher 1993.
^ Fletcher 1993a, p. 122.
^ Chamberlain & Ellis 1969, p. 84.
^ Chamberlain & Ellis 1969, p. 105.
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unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to
improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (December
2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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World War I armoured fighting vehicles
Mks I, II, III
Medium Mk A "Whippet"
Medium Mk B
Medium Mk C
Killen-Strait Armoured Tractor
Lancelot de Mole's proposal* (1912)
Günther Burstyn's Motorgeschütz* (1911)
Austro Daimler armoured car (1905)
M1917 light tank
Ford 3-Ton M1918
Steam Wheel Tank
Minerva Armoured Car
Italics—experimental prototypes; * concept only
Type 92 tankette
Type 94 tankette
Type 97 Te-Ke
Tančík vz. 33
Light Tanks Mk I–V
Tank Mk VI
Tank Mk VII
M1 Combat Car
M2 Light Tank
LT vz. 34
LT vz. 35
LT vz. 38
T1 Light Tank
T7 Combat Car
Type 95 Ha-Go
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank
Medium Mk I
Medium Mk II
Medium Mk III
Type 89 I-Go
Type 97 Chi-Ni
Type 97 Chi-Ha
Type 98 Chi-Ho
Cruiser Mk I
Cruiser Mk II
Cruiser Mk III
Infantry Mk I, Matilda
Type 89 I-Go
Type 95 Heavy Tank
Vickers A1E1 Independent
Bren Gun Carrier
World War II
World War II tanks
Type 98 Ke-Ni
Type 2 Ke-To
Type 2 Ka-Mi
Type 4 Ke-Nu
Type 5 Ke-Ho
Carro Armato P 40
40 M Turan I
Panzer V Panther
Type 97 ShinHoTo Chi-Ha
Type 1 Chi-He
Type 3 Ka-Chi
Type 3 Chi-Nu
Type 4 Chi-To
Type 5 Chi-Ri
Type 5 To-Ku
Cruiser Mk III
Cruiser Mk IV
Mk VIII Challenger
Type 2 Ho-I
Panzer VII Löwe
Panzer VIII Maus
Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte
Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster
Cold War tanks
Type 74 Nana-yon
M8 Armored Gun System
M41 Walker Bulldog
Spähpanzer SP I.C.
T71 Light Tank
T92 Light Tank
Post–Cold War tanks
Under 120 mm gun
Under 50 tonnes
Over 50 tonnes
K2 Black Panther
Type 99 tank
VT-4 Main Battle Tank
Not in service