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Tank History - Inter-War

1921Christie, M l921mm
1928One-Man Tank, Experimentalmm
1929T1E2Light Tankmm
1929Six-Ton, M1917A1mm
1931T3Christie, M l931 mm
yearCombat Cartonsgununits
1931T1Combat Carmm
1931T2Combat Carmm
1932T2E1Combat Carmm
1933T4Combat Carmm
1935Combat Car, M1mm
1937Combat Car, M1E2mm
1939Combat Car, M1A1mm
1939T7Car, Convertible Combatmm
yearLight tankstonsgununits
1927T1Light Tankmm
1928T1E1Light Tank, mm
1930T1E3Light Tankmm
1932Christie Light Tank, M1932mm
1932T1E4Light Tankmm
1932T1E6Light Tankmm
1934T2Light Tankmm
1934T2E1Light Tankmm
1935Light Tank, M2A1 Stuartmm
1935T2E2Light Tank, M2A2 Stuartmm
1936T3Light Tank mm
1938Light Tank, M2A3 Stuartmm
1939T6Light Tankmm
yearMedium tankstonsgununits
1921T..Medium A, M1921mm
1922T..Medium, M l922mm
1930T2Medium Tankmm
1934T3E2Medium Tankmm
1936T4Medium Tankmm
1936T4E1Medium Tankmm
1938T5Medium Tank, Phase 1mm
1938T5Medium Tank, Phase IIImm

After the Great War, General von Ludendorff of the German High Command praised the Allied tanks as being a principal factor in Germany's defeat. The Germans had been too late in recognizing the value of tanks to consider them in their own plans. Even if their already hard-pressed industry could have produced tanks in quantity, fuel was in very short supply. Of the total of ninety tanks fielded by the Germans during 1918, seventy-five had been captured from the Allies.

At the war's end, the main role of the tank was considered to be that of close support for the infantry. The U.S. tank units fought so briefly and were so fragmentized during the war, and the number of tanks available to them was so limited, that there was practically no opportunity to develop tactics for the large-scale employment of tanks. Nonetheless, the work of the tanks was sufficiently impressive to imbue at least a few military leaders with the idea that the use of tanks in mass was the most likely principal role of armor in the future.

The tank did not become an important part of the American military arsenal for some time. Other nations-particularly England and Germany-pressed the tank's development and use much faster. From the first World War through the late 1930s, American tank research and production, undertaken at the Rock Island Arsenal, languished.

Highlights of U.S. Army appraisal for the development and use of tanks, developed from combat experience, were: (1) the need for a tank with more power, fewer mechanical failures, heavier armor, longer operating range, and better ventilation; (2) the need for combined training of tanks with other combat arms, especially the infantry; (3) the need for improved means of communication and of methods for determining and maintaining directions; and (4) the need for an improved supply system, especially for gasoline and ammunition.

Although the tank of World War I was slow, clumsy, unwieldy, difficult to control, and mechanically unreliable, its value as a combat weapon had been clearly proven. But, despite the lessons of World War I, the combat arms were most reluctant to accept a separate and independent role for armor and continued to struggle among themselves over the proper use of tanks. At the outset, thought of the tank as an auxiliary to and a part of the infantry was the predominant opinion, although a few leaders contended that an independent tank arm should be retained.

In addition to the light and heavy categories of American-produced tanks of World War I, a third classification, the medium, began receiving attention in 1919. It was hoped that this in-between type would incorporate the best features of the 6-ton light and the Mark VIII heavy and would replace both. The meaning of the terms light, medium, and heavy tanks changed between the wars. During World War I and immediately thereafter, the light tank was considered to be up to 10 tons, the medium (produced by the British) was roughly between 10 and 25 tons, and the heavy was over 25 tons. For World War II, increased weights resulted in the light tank being over 20 tons, the medium over 30, and the heavy, developed toward the end of the war, over 60 tons. During the period between the world wars, the weights of the classifications varied generally within these extremes.

The National Defense Act of 1920 placed the Tank Corps under the Infantry. The Act's stipulation that "hereafter all tank units shall form a part of the Infantry" left little doubt as to the tank role for the immediate future. Patton had argued for an independent Tank Corps. But if, in the interest of economy, the tanks had to go under one of the traditional arms, he preferred the Cavalry. For Patton intuitively understood that tanks operating with Cavalry would stress mobility, while tanks tied to the Infantry would emphasize firepower. Tanks in peacetime, he feared, as he said, "would be very much like coast artillery with a lot of machinery which never works."

Initial American Developments

The United States was not nearly so advanced as other countries in the development of armored and mechanized forces. As in France, the supply of slow World War I tanks and the subordination of tanks to the infantry branch impeded the development of any role other than direct infantry support. The US War Department policy statement, which finally came in April 1922, was a serious blow to tank development. Reflecting prevailing opinion, it stated that the tank's primary mission was "to facilitate the uninterrupted advance of the riflemen in the attack." The War Department considered that two types of tanks, the light and the medium, should fulfill all missions. The light tank was to be truck transportable and not exceed 5 tons gross weight. For the medium, restrictions were even more stringent; its weight was not to exceed 15 tons, so as to bring it within the weight capacity of railroad flatcars, the average existing highway bridge, and, most significantly, available Engineer Corps pontoon bridges.

Although an experimental 15-ton tank, the M1924, reached the mock-up stage, this and other attempts to satisfy War Department and infantry specifications proved to be unsatisfactory. In reality it was simply impossible to build a 15-ton vehicle meeting both War Department and infantry requirements.

Gettysburg was destined to become Camp Colt, home of the newly organized Tank Corps of the United States Army, and its only Tank School in the United States. Assigned to command the fledgling tank school, Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower was a skilled administrator whose experience with this new type of weapon was invaluable to Army training. For the first three months of Camp Colts operation, there were no tanks available and Eisenhowers men trained on a variety of car chassis made to look like tanks that were built by two innovative Brooklyn soldiers. Having served at Camp Meade, Maryland, with the 301st Tank Battalion, the first heavy tank battalion in the Army, Eisenhowers attributes were considered perfect to oversee further training with the latest weapon, a lumbering iron-clad tracked vehicle that would change the nature of warfare forever. Captain Eisenhower, though, yearned to be assigned overseas duty in Europe to serve alongside his West Point classmates. Among them was Captain George S. Patton, Jr., who commanded the A.E.F.s Light Tank School in France and would later command the 1st Light Tank Battalion in combat. Much to Eisenhowers dismay, orders sent him instead to the refurbished camp at Gettysburg to continue training tank crews.

Assigned to Fort Myer four times throughout his career, Gen. George Patton served as a squadron commander in the 3rd Cavalry from 1920-1922, and would play a key role in shaping U.S. senior military leaders' thoughts about the future of cavalry and mechanized forces. Although a staunch and accomplished cavalry officer by trade, Patton was also an admirer of famed British "machine warfare" thinker Maj. Gen. John Frederick Charles "Boney" Fuller.

Patton became the first officer transferred into the U.S. Army's new Tank Corps in 1917, and throughout the 1920's, wrote prolifically about his mechanized experience in the First World War, offering his thoughts about the future of armored warfare. Adeptly using his time on Fort Myer, Patton targeted influential senior leaders and venues to promote his ideas with numerous articles and speaking engagements.

Patton advanced his view of armor's role in the same context as famed U.S. cavalry generals of old, including Gen. Jeb Stuart and Gen. Philip Sheridan, who advocated the cavalry's independent nature, emphasizing speed, mobility, and surprise, versus the set-piece firepower approach favored by Patton's infantry officer peers.

By the late 1920's, Fort Myer became a prominent stage for the innovation of mechanization, when the Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Charles Summerall, established the first-ever Provisional Platoon, 1st Armored Car Troop here on Feb. 15, 1928. Patton's influential writings and Washington, D.C., engagements undoubtedly influenced perspectives and can be traced to aspects of the March 1928 Chief of Staff of the Army Memorandum, which lays out guidance on how mechanized forces should be organized, integrated, and employed.

Assigned to Fort Myer as the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry commander from 1932-1935, and from 1938-1940 as the 3rd Cavalry commander, Patton continued to advance the utility of mechanized warfare and advocated for its speed in blunting an adversary's momentum. He also advocated the use of mechanized forces to surprise an enemy and achieve tactical advantage. Both notions became decisive concepts during World War II, as Patton commanded his famed Third Army on their historic blitz across Europe.

On the eve of the second World War, American tank designs were still relatively unsophisticated and untested, and American industry had no experience at all in the large-scale manufacture of these weapons. This state of unpreparedness changed rapidly by 1940-41, as German aggression in Europe triggered increasing alarm. Since Germany's success was based in part on its use of tanks, America's military build-up included a crash program to manufacture battle-worthy tanks in large numbers.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 05-05-2019 18:09:07 ZULU