Perhaps the best known fighters of World War II were tanks. World War II was the first time that tanks were seriously incorporated into warfare. When Germany instituted its “Blitzkrieg” tactics, tanks became crucial. They were they key to Hitler’s devastating 5 week sweep through Poland. Many new advancements were quickly generated. In response, the Allied forces upped their tank development. Here Ishow some key facts about tank production in World War II:

German early war production [Via Wikipedia]

  1. The production of tanks in Germany began in 1934. German industry had not produced arms in many years, and time was required to develop the necessary techniques for hardening steel and for the development of tooling to produce arms.
  1. Germany in general and the German tank production industry in particular was not prepared for the total war that Germany was entering in 1939.
  1. The early tanks of Germany were inferior to many of their opponents' tanks in the areas of armor and firepower. Germany's armored force was not especially impressive from a technical standpoint at the start of the war.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf. A (Sd.Kfz. 101) on display at the Deutsches Panzermuseum Munster , Germany [Via Wikipedia]

  1. Nazi Germany, in spite of its technologically superior tanks, was doomed to lose the war against the combined economical might of the Soviet Union and the United States, who both focused on mass-producing simpler constructions.
  1. Noting that Germany was the third largest producer of automobiles in the world, Guderian projected that Germany would be competitive with its major adversaries and would have the capacity to replace her wartime losses.
  1. Tank design and production in Germany in 1939 was the work of a craftsman. It was not until the assignment of Albert Speer as Minister of Armaments that true efforts were made to bring mass production techniques to the German tank production industry.

Panther tanks are loaded for transport to the front, 1943 [Via Wikipedia]

  1. In spite of the massive Allied bombing campaigns and lack of some raw materials, German production of tanks kept increasing until 1945 when the Third Reich collapsed.
  1. “Overengineered” German tanks such as the Panther — Germany’s main battle tank during the later phase of the war — were expensive to produce and difficult to maintain under battlefield conditions. The cost and complexity both limited production and led to a high rate of mechanical breakdown on battlefields, which limited the impact such elite tanks could have on the war.
  1. German tanks were not designed to be easy to mass produce, so they were usually outnumbered on the field. Until the very end, Germans manufactured tanks which were more complicated to produce and service, and only in the last few of years of the war they began to seriously contemplate standardizing their tanks with the so-called E-series (Entwicklung) tanks. 

Tiger I production, 1944 [Via Wikipedia]

  1. Tiger and the King Tiger (the Tiger II) were just heavy tanks--bigger, with a bigger engine, bigger gun, and thicker armor. For some reason these tanks have a high profile all out of proportion to their actual battlefield value.
  1. The Soviet Union began and ended the war with more tanks than the rest of the world combined (18,000–22,000).
  1. The fact that the Soviet Union could build such a huge number of tanks is mostly due to the decisions made in the 1930s to construct civilian factories in such a way that they could be easily turned into military factories.

Production of KV-1 heavy tanks [Via Wikipedia]

  1. The Soviet Union ended the 1930s with a huge fleet of tanks almost completely derived from foreign designs, but before 1941 developed some of the most important trend-setting tanks of the war. 
  1. Although the Soviet Union had a large force of combat vehicles before the German invasion, heavy losses led to a high demand for new vehicles.
  1. Although the T-34 was better armed and armored than any German tank at the start of the invasion, early-war T-34s could only drive for an average of 200 km before the engine was worn out. At the same point, German and American tanks needed only an oil change to keep running.

Early T-34-85 built at Factory 112 [Via Wikipedia]

  1. T-34 was the most-produced tank of the war, and the second most-produced tank of all time after its successor, the T-54/55 series.
  1. Soviet heavy tank production was constantly in danger of cancellation during the war, and only continued thanks to constant improvement and liberal doses of political interference. These vehicles required significantly more resources to produce than the T-34 medium tank, and were always outmatched by it in some significant way.
  1. At the start of the war, France had one of the largest tank forces in the world along with the Soviet, British and German forces.

Somua char S-35 medium tank - the best French WWII tank [Via]

  1. Britain had been the worldwide trend-setter in tank development from 1915, but had lost its leadership position as the Second World War approached.
  1. Prior to the entry of the United States into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Army had only a few tanks.
  1. In the late 1930s, Hyde writes, “the U.S. Army was not using tanks in any combat capacity … There were no facilities in the United States to manufacture tanks—not even in small quantities.”

M3 General Grant tanks nearing completion at the newly-built Chrysler Tank Arsenal [Via Slate]

  1. During the Louisiana Maneuvers in September 1941, it used trucks with the word "tank" painted on their side. Even after Pearl Harbor the 10th Armored Division did not have any tanks, so crews trained by marching down roads in groups and executing orders as if they were in tanks.
  1. Sherman tanks were well-designed for mass production and engineered with a rugged reliability that allowed them to keep rolling and fighting far longer than their German counterparts without breaking down.
  1. The workhorse medium tanks for the German, Russian, and American armies were all more or less comparable in quality--the differences changed with each upgrade

Panzer Mk IIIs move off the factory grounds, 1942 [Via Wikipedia]

T-34 tanks headed to the front [Via Wikipedia]

M4 Sherman tanks in production at Detroit Tank Arsenal [Via]

  1. The Allies also had tanks comparable to the Tiger--the M26 Pershing for the Americans (only a few used) and the IS-2 for the Soviets (plenty used), and they were also all similar: big, deadly, and not really worth it.
  1. The Sherman and T34 were designed to be easy to mass produce, so they poured out of the factories onto the battlefield. Shermans and T34s also tended to be faster and more nimble than the larger German tanks.

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