A light tank is a tank variant initially designed for rapid movement,
and now primarily employed in the reconnaissance role, or in support
of expeditionary forces where main battle tanks cannot be made
available. Early light tanks were generally armed and armored similar
to an armored car, but used tracks in order to provide better
The fast light tank was a major feature of the pre-World War II
buildup, where it was expected they would be used to exploit
breakthroughs in enemy lines created by slower, heavier tanks.
Numerous small tank designs and "tankettes" were developed during this
period and known under a variety of names, including the "combat car".
The light tank has been one of the few tank variants to survive the
development of the main battle tank, and has seen use in a variety of
roles including the support of light airborne or amphibious forces and
reconnaissance. Modified IFVs are assuming these roles in many
militaries due to their immediate availability, and as a cheaper
alternative to developing and fielding a pure light tank.
1.1 World War I
1.3 World War II
1.4 Cold War
1.5 Post–Cold War
2 Modern light tank design
2.3.1 Tactical mobility
2.3.2 Strategic mobility
4 See also
8 External links
World War I
US Army operating
Renault FT tanks
World War I
World War I industrial initiative also led to swift advances. The
car industry, already used to vehicle mass production and having much
more experience in vehicle layout, designed the first practical light
tanks in 1916, a class largely neglected by the British. It would be
Renault's small tank design the FT, incorporating a proper[citation
needed] climbing face for the tracks, that was the first tank to
incorporate a top-mounted turret with a full rotation. In fact the FT
was in many respects the first truly modern tank having a layout that
has been followed by almost all designs ever since: driver at the
front; main armament in a fully rotating turret on top; engine at the
rear. Previous models had been "box tanks", with a single crowded
space combining the role of engine room, fighting compartment,
ammunition stock and driver's cabin. The FT would have the largest
production run of any tank of the war - with over 3,700 built (most of
those in 1918) it was more numerous than all British and German tanks
British light tank Mk V
Type 95 Ha-Go
Type 95 Ha-Go tanks in
New Britain following the Japanese surrender
Carden Loyd tankette
Carden Loyd tankette and its derivatives were adopted by several
nations as small tracked vehicles carrying a machine gun for armament.
In 1928, the British firm of
Vickers-Armstrong started promoting
another design by John Carden and Vivien Loyd as the "six-ton tank".
Although rejected by the British Army, it was bought by a large number
of nations in small numbers. It formed the basis of the Soviet T-26
(around 10,000 built) and the Polish
7TP tank and influenced the
Italian Fiat M11/39. The British Army did not use the design as a
light tank themselves but a developed version of the Carden-Loyd
tankette as the starting point for a series of British light tanks
intended for use in imperial policing and expeditionary warfare. As
the only tank fit for immediate manufacture, it was a key element in
the expansion of the British Army in the period leading up to the
outbreak of war.
In general, French tanks of the 1930s were well-armored, innovative
vehicles that owed little to foreign designs. However, the light tanks
lacked firepower and almost all French tanks were handicapped by their
one-man turrets, even the larger tanks such as the Char B, which
overworked the commander who, besides directing the vehicle, or even a
troop, had to load and aim the turret gun. The lack of radios with the
light tanks was not seen as a major drawback, since French doctrine
called for slow-paced, deliberate maneuvers in close conformance to
plans. The role of small unit leaders was to execute plans, not to
take the initiative in combat. In 1939, a belated effort was made to
improve flexibility and increase the number of radios.
Throughout the interwar period the US produced only a few hundred
tanks. From the end of
World War I
World War I to 1935, only 15 tanks were
produced. Most were derivatives or foreign designs or very poor
quality private designs. The Christie designs were among the few
better examples, but the US Army acquired only three Christies and did
not pursue the idea any further. Budget limitations and the low
priority given to the army meant that there were few resources for
building tanks. The US Army instead developed and tested tank
components such as suspensions, tracks, and transmissions. This paid
off when production had to be initiated on the outbreak of war.
World War II
Panzer I in combat during the German invasion of Norway
The Soviet BT tanks were the most advanced in the
1930s, extremely fast and mounting high velocity 45 mm cannons.
Their only drawback were their petrol engines which caught fire often
and easily during the
Nomonhan fighting which lasted from about May
through September 1939. The Japanese
Type 95 Ha-Go
Type 95 Ha-Go light tank was
equipped with a diesel engine, and although mounting a 37 mm
cannon, it was a low velocity gun with a maximum effective range of
about 700 meters. However, this conflict would be instrumental in
developing the famous
T-34 medium tank.
Panzer force was not especially impressive at the
start of the war. In the invasions of Poland and France, the German
forces were mostly made up of the
Panzer I and
Panzer II light tanks.
Panzer I was little more than a training vehicle armed only with
machine guns, the
Panzer II with a 20 mm cannon. The Panzer
division also included some Czech designed light tanks - the Panzer
35(t) and the
American light tank development started with the
M2 light tank
M2 light tank series.
These light tanks were mechanically very reliable, with good mobility.
However, they had a high silhouette, and only a few saw combat. The M3
Stuart series was an improvement of the M2 with better armor. The new
medium tank just entering production in 1940 was the M2A1. This was a
poor design with thin armor and a high silhouette.
M3 Stuart saw use in the
North African Campaign
North African Campaign but was relegated
to reconnaissance as soon as US-built medium tanks became available.
Further light tank development in the war included the M24 Chaffee.
The British withdrew their light tank designs from their armored
divisions early in the war, but used some later designs for minor
amphibious operations and airborne operations. In general they used
armored cars for reconnaissance and the last of the light tank
designs, the light tank Mk VIII "Harry Hopkins", was produced in small
The Japanese made extensive use of light tanks that were much better
suited to jungle warfare than larger designs
M41 Walker Bulldog
M41 Walker Bulldog tanks during a training operation
Light tanks continued to be built, but for very limited roles such as
amphibious reconnaissance, support of airborne units, and in rapid
intervention forces that were not expected to face enemy tanks. The
PT-76 is a specialized light tank -amphibious with sufficient
firepower to engage other reconnaissance vehicles, but very lightly
armored. The US fielded small numbers of the
M41 Walker Bulldog
M41 Walker Bulldog with a
high velocity 76mm gun, and better armor, but it suffered from range
limits, and its weight was too heavy for most air transport of the
day. The US
M551 Sheridan had similar strengths and weaknesses, but
could also be airdropped, either by parachute or LAPES.
The British FV101 Scorpion, the fire support variant of the combat
vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) series of vehicles that replaced
armored cars in British service has been described as a light tank and
was sold to many smaller nations. Another light tank in the cold war
era was the Swedish IKV 91 armored vehicle. It had a low-pressure 90mm
gun, strong armor against 20mm grenades, and it was full amphibious.
Light tanks, such as the PT-76, continue to play a small role in tank
warfare, although many are losing favor to cheaper, faster, lighter
armored cars. The light tank still fills an important niche in many
armies, especially for nations with airborne divisions, or those
without the resources and funding for main battle tanks. They have
important advantages over heavier tanks in Southeast Asia and other
nations in the Equatorial region. Their compact dimensions and short
to nonexistent barrel overhang lets them maneuver through thick rain
forests, and their weight reduces the risk of getting stuck in mud,
and simplifies recovery of stuck or damaged tanks. This makes the
light tank the preferred choice for infantry support in Equatorial
nations. Post–Cold War light tanks include the Stingray light tank,
Scorpion 90, and the M8 AGS. Light tanks based on infantry fighting
vehicles chassis include the CV90105T, 2S25 Sprut-SD, Tanque Argentino
ASCOD LT 105, and Black Tiger. With recent trends towards
lighter and smaller combat vehicles achieving multiple roles, some
nations have begun experimenting with lighter tanks as is the case
with Poland's PL-01, Turkish-Indonesian Black Tiger, Chinese VT-5, and
American Griffin light tank.
Modern light tank design
Typically, the armor in contemporary light tanks is modular, sometimes
up to three configurations.
The flat hull necessary for amphibious light tanks to plane across the
surface of the water is not nearly as blast-resistant as the V-shaped
hull. It has been suggested that underbelly armor appliqué could
be applied after the light tanks come ashore and before they encounter
An example of a modern light tank, the Polish PL-01
Missile fired from an M551 Sheridan
A gun capable of defeating modern tanks at reasonable ranges requires
a large vehicle to carry it. Gun weight is typically the product of
caliber and muzzle velocity. Large caliber guns on light tanks often
sacrifice muzzle velocity in interest of saving weight. These guns are
effective against close-quarter targets but lack the power and/or
accuracy to effectively engage heavier vehicles at a distance.
The design of the
PT-76 allows for easy transition from land to water
with little preparation
C-130 delivering an
M551 Sheridan (now retired from service) using a
low-altitude parachute-extraction system (LAPES).
Some light tanks such as the
PT-76 are amphibious, typically being
propelled in the water by hydrojets or by their tracks. Most
amphibious light tanks weigh little and often utilize aluminum armor.
Some light tanks require no modifications for river crossings. Crews
simply raise the easily accessible cloth sides around the hull, cover
the hatches, turn on the bilge pump and shift the transmission to
water operations. Often, a fold down trim vane is erected to stop
water from flooding into the hatch.
Some light tanks, such as the
M551 Sheridan armored reconnaissance
vehicle, could be rigged for low-velocity airdrops from cargo
aircraft. With this method the tank is pulled out of the aircraft
by brake chutes and skids to a stop. The crew does not ride in the
tank during extraction, but parachutes from another plane. Upon
landing, they go to their tank, release the lines, and drive it away.
The modern light tank supplements the main battle tank in
expeditionary roles and situations where all major threats have been
neutralized and excessive weight in armor and armament would only
hinder mobility and cost more money to operate. They have also been
used for reconnaissance and in some cases, infantry support.
Main battle tank
Light tanks of the United Kingdom
History of the tank
Tanks in World War I
World War I
World War I tanks
Tanks of the interwar period
Tanks in World War II
Comparison of early World War II tanks
Cold War Tanks
Post-Cold War Tanks
Armoured fighting vehicle
^ By comparison the French built about 800 medium and heavy tanks in
^ Harris, J.P. (1995). Men, Ideas, and Tanks: British Military Thought
and Armoured Forces, 1903-1939. Manchester University Press.
ISBN 978-0-7190-4814-2. p275
^ Coox p. 437, 998
^ Flint, Keith (2006). Airborne Armour: Tetrarch, Locust, Hamilcar and
the 6th Airborne Armoured
Reconnaissance Regiment 1938–1950. Helion
& Company Ltd. ISBN 1-874622-37-X p13
^ JAPANESE TANKS and TANK TACTICS (PDF). United States Government
Printing Office. 1944.
^ John Pike (2005-04-27). "M8 Armored Gun System". Globalsecurity.org.
^ JSF Not Too Hot For Carriers
^ RS22947 The Marines Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV): Background
and Issues for Congress
^ "M551 Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle". Gary's
Combat Vehicle Reference Guide. Inetres.com. Retrieved
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Light tanks.
World War I
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 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