Tanks – 50 Incredible Facts

Immerse yourself in these 50 incredible facts about tanks. Learn what makes them tick, how they evolved, and their place in military history today.

Armed with cannons, missiles, and machine guns, tanks are the ultimate weapon and dominate the battlefield. Tanks remove a man from the limitations of his frail flesh and wrap him in several inches of solid steel and high-tech ceramics, turning him into a modern Roman god of war, dispensing death and destruction to his enemies.

Tank Facts You Should Know about British Heavy Tanks of World War I

Mark I series tank

The Mark 1, photo source Wikimedia Commons via Wikimedia

1. Tanks first saw duty in September 1916 during World War I at the Battle of the Somme. Envisioned as a way of breaking the gridlock of trench warfare, most of these primitive tanks quickly broke down and their ultimate effect on the enemy was more psychological than kinetic. 

2. Tanks got their name from the British- during their development, the Brits took to calling the massive machines ‘tanks’ to make any German spies think that they were building massive water tanks to provide water to troops. 


3. The very first tank, the Mark 1, weighed 26 tons and was armed with 57mm guns. It had a top speed of 3.7 mph (6 km/h). 

4. A modern American Abrams M1A2 tank by comparison weighs 68.7 tons, is armed with a 120mm cannon, and has a top speed of 41.5 mph (66.8 km/h). 

5. Tanks were categorized by gender depending on their armament during WWI. Male tanks had cannons and female tanks had machine guns. 


6. Despite their terrifying presence on the battlefield, early tanks were not particularly effective. By the end of the fourth day of the battle of Amiens in 1918, the British Tank Corps which had consisted of over 500 tanks was left with only 6. 

7. Britain and France manufactured a total of 6,506 tanks during WWI- while Germany built only 20 between 1916 and 1918. 

8. The smallest tank ever made was the French Renault UE Cueillette, just under nine feet (2.7 meters) long and four feet (1.2 meters) tall. 


9. The largest tank battle in history was the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. An estimated 23,000 tanks and over four million men took part, and at the end of the battle, the Germans lost 350 tanks versus 800 by the Russians. 

10. The world’s most expensive tank in the French army’s AMX-56 Leclerc, with an estimated cost of 12.5 million dollars. 

What You Need To Know About Russian Main Battle Tanks

11. With over 22,000 tanks of varying degrees of modernity, Russia commands the largest battle tank force in the world. 


12. The United States, with 9,000 tanks is second to Russia in tank numbers. 

13. The Russian military routinely hosts a ‘tank biathlon’ that tests the crew’s ability to provide accurate and rapid-fire under a variety of terrain conditions, as well as tests the ruggedness and durability of the vehicles themselves. 

14. In 2015 seventeen nations were invited to take part in Russia’s tank biathlon, including Angola, Kuwait, Nicaragua, China, India, Kuwait, and Venezuela. Russia won all 13 categories of the tournament and all nations except China competed using the Russian-built T-72 tank. 


15. The Battle of the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria is considered the greatest tank battle ever fought in terms of military success. An Israeli Defence Force of 3,000 troops, 180 tanks, and 60 artillery pieces brought an assault of 28,000 Syrian troops, 800 tanks, and 600 artillery pieces to a dead standstill. 

16. Russia’s T-54 and T-55 series of tanks are the most widely produced tank models in the world. Debuting in 1943, over 100,000 have been built and their most recent use came during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. 

17. The most technologically advanced tank in the world is widely believed to be the US’s M1A2 Abrams, with a host of communications, surveillance, and electronic defense and countermeasures. 


18. Russia’s T-90 tank is equipped with the largest cannon in the world at 125 MMS. Russia’s next-generation T-14 Armata however also has a 125 mm cannon but can be upgraded to a 152 mm cannon in the future for some serious power. 

19. The Battle of 73 Easting during the first Gulf War in 1991 is considered the “last great tank battle of the 20thcentury”, and pitted Iraq’s elite Republican Guard forces against the US’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rdArmored Divisions. 

20. Despite being widely feared for their expertise, even amongst American commanders, the battle was nearly completely one-sided against Iraq’s Republican Guard forces with Iraq suffering up to 1,000 killed and wounded, 1,300 prisoners taken, 160 tanks destroyed, 180 personnel carriers destroyed, 12 artillery pieces destroyed, and 80 wheeled support vehicles destroyed. The US suffered 6 KIA, 19 wounded, and 1 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle destroyed. 


Fascinating Facts About Military Tanks of Different Countries

A destroyed iraqi main battle tank on the Highway of Death

Author Master Sgt. Kit Thompson, Source Catastrophic kill, date 27 February 1991

21. The stunning outcome of the Battle of 73 Easting led to Russian designers re-thinking several elements of the T-72s design, as the T-72 had been the tank most in use by Iraqi forces. Russian military leadership concluded after the battle that the only way to stop an American armored advance would be the use of tactical nuclear weapons. 

22. Russia’s next-generation T-14 tank is possibly the most advanced main battle tank in the world- unfortunately its ballooning costs have led to Russia scrapping plans to buy more than 100 of them and instead is turning to update older T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks instead. 

23. Poland is experimenting with what it calls the “tank of the future”, called the PL-01. The tank is coated with a chameleon-like skin that enables it to mimic the infrared signature of its surroundings, making it much harder to detect with infrared sensors. 


24. The US’s Abrams M1A2 is considered the best all-around tank in the world, with Russia’s T-14 directly challenging it for the top spot. However, the undisputed best-protected tank in the world is Britain’s Challenger 2, with its state-of-the-art composite Chobham armor a classified secret. 

25. During NATO’s invasion of Iraq, a British Challenger 2 was struck by 14 RPGs and one anti-tank missile. The crew survived and the tank was back in operation six hours later. 

26. Another Challenger 2 was later hit by 70 RPGs and also survived. 


27. The only Challenger 2 ever destroyed in combat was a friendly-fire incident in 2003. No Challenger 2 has ever been lost to enemy action. 

28. The fastest tank in the world is the British FV101 Scorpion, which can reach speeds over 51 mph (82 kph). 

29. Syrian rebels have developed their own homemade tank, the Sham II. It is equipped with several inches of steel and iron armor and a turret-mounted machine gun. Five video cameras ring the tank and a PlayStation controller operates the machine gun. 


30. During the Korean War, US soldier Eduardo C Gomez took out an enemy tank single-handedly by crawling across an open rice field, climbing atop the tank, and prying open the hatch before dropping a grenade inside. Remembering to lock the hatch has been an important element of tank crew training since then. 

How Military Tanks Were Used During World Wars: Facts To Know

31. During the Battle of Stalingrad factories in the war-torn city continued to produce tanks unabated. The tanks were unpainted and lacked gunsights, and driven straight from the factory floor to the front line. 

32. During World War II a single Soviet KV-1 tank stalled the advance of an entire German division for a full day, facing off against an infantry assault, several German tanks, and German anti-tank guns. Grenades thrown into the hatches eventually killed the crew inside, which were buried with full military honors after the battle by the Germans. 


33. An Australian Mk3 Centurion, serial number 169041 was nicknamed the Atomic Tank after surviving a 9.1 kiloton nuclear blast from 460 meters away. The tank was driven off after the test and served for another 23 years. 

34. In 1989 as part of a crackdown against pro-democracy protests, Chinese tanks massacred 300 students protesting the Communist government. 

35. The most famous image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, that of a single man stopping a column of tanks with a raised hand- quickly spread around the world and is today one of the most iconic images ever captured- yet as it is heavily censored in China most Chinese do not recognize it. 


36. A tank designed by the Swiss military once suffered from a bug where turning on the heater might cause the main gun to fire. This would prove to be particularly tragic in a country with as chilly winters as Sweden’s. 

37. The longest tank-to-tank kill in history occurred when a British Challenger tank destroyed an Iraqi T-62 at a range of 5100 meters- or over 3 miles! 

38. In 2006 Hungarian protesters hotwired a 50-year-old Soviet T-34 tank that was part of an outdoor memorial and drove it against riot police. 


39. In the 1980s the Soviet Union developed a ‘laser tank’. Equipped with artificial-ruby-powered lasers, the 1K17 Szhatie was meant to destroy enemy optical equipment but proved too expensive to be practical.  40. During World War II the US developed a prototype ‘super tank’- the T28 Super Heavy Tank. Weighing in at nearly 100 tons this monster was meant to break through the German defenses of the Siegfried line, but was ultimately abandoned. 

40. During World War II the US developed a prototype ‘super tank’- the T28 Super Heavy Tank. Weighing in at nearly 100 tons this monster was meant to break through the German defenses of the Siegfried line, but was ultimately abandoned. 

Learn About Some Amazing Facts About World War II Tanks

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I 299 1805 16 Nordfrankreich Panzer VI Tiger I.2

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1805-16 / Scheck / Date : 21 March 1944

41. The Brad Pitt World War II film FURY featured an authentic and operational Tiger 1 tank from WWII- the first time such a vehicle has ever appeared on film. 


42. Of 1300 of Germany’s fearsome Tiger 1 tanks- widely believed to be some of the best made during World War II- only 7 remain intact today. 

43. As a way to defeat German tanks, the Soviets trained dogs to carry bombs attached to their backs and crawl under enemy tanks before detonating. However, because Soviet tanks were used in the training when deployed the dogs targeted Russian tanks instead of German tanks- a slight oversight. 

44. Arnold Schwarzenegger served as a tank crew member during his mandatory service in the Austrian armed forces in 1965. Later he bought the same tank he served in, an M47, and now uses it to support charitable causes. 


45. Drive A Tank, a business in Kasota, Minnesota, is the only place in the United States civilians are allowed to drive a military tank

46. During World War II German tanks were coated with a putty-like material known as Zimmerit to prevent magnetic mines from sticking to them. 

47. Object 269 was a Soviet tank developed in 1959 that was designed to survive a nuclear explosion. Little did the Soviets know that the Australians had apparently beaten them to the punch. 


48. Along with the British Challenger, no American Abrams tank has ever been destroyed in combat by enemy fire. 

49. Since WWII, all British tanks have been equipped with a device that allows for the heating of water called a ‘boiling vessel’- rumored to have been developed because British soldiers used to have to exit their tanks to boil water and make tea which endangered them and wasted time. 

50. The Nazis once planned a truly monstrous tank named, appropriately enough, the P 1500 “Monster”. Weighing 1500 tons the tank was too big for road or rail and was designed as a ‘land battleship’ with a crew of 100+. Despite Hitler eagerly OK’ in the concept, it was eventually scrapped- probably for being absolutely insane.