So which of these vehicles is a tank?Answer
Skinner: "Tanks? Oh come on, this is too inaccurate!"
Writers often play fast and loose when it comes to vehicles. They are usually Just Plane Wrong
, and use artistic license when it comes to ships
. This applies to armoured vehicles as much as anything else, either getting details wrong or using stand-ins.
One of the most common mistakes is to treat all armoured vehicles as tanks. Armored cars, self-propelled guns, armored personnel carriers
and several other types of armored fighting vehicles can be and frequently are misidentified as tanks, just as every warship is a "battleship" to most civilians. In real life all of these vehicle types and more are commonly lumped together under the catch-all term "Armored Fighting Vehicles" which is usually contracted to just "armor" or, if you want to be all snooty about it, AFV (no relation
). Despite the common logic of "if it looks like a tank, acts like a tank, smells like a tank, it's a tank", many AFVs that look like tanks don't fit the definition, as tanks are usually characterized by being more of a product of old warfare, therefore way
more heavily armoured and generally built to take the brunt of enemy fire than their AFV cousins, which usually possess lighter armour and rely more on indirect combat. Of course, this makes tanks rather expensive to make and maintain compared to other armoured vehicles, which is why we're seeing fewer actual tanks portrayed by the media these days.
In most war films, particularly those set in the Second World War, historical tanks and armored vehicles will be replaced by either modern or more widely available contemporary vehicles that have either been painted in appropriate (or at least stereotypical) color schemes or given cosmetic makeovers to disguise their foreign or anachronistic features. The amount of effort that goes into this varies rather wildly.
There are many very good reasons for this. Firstly, antique armored vehicles are actually quite scarce. Some vehicles — particularly those from the defeated Axis nations — were never exactly common in the first place. Fewer than 500 King Tiger tanks were produced as opposed to 47,000 M4 Shermans, and many contemporary Italian or Japanese vehicles were produced in even smaller numbers, surviving examples simply may not even exist (Unless being scattered in small pieces across remote Pacific islands or buried in the Russian steppe counts as "surviving"). To make it even harder, some of these vehicles are now historical artifacts belonging to museums and obviously cannot be used recklessly or destroyed.
Next, as the Sherman production numbers above suggest, filmmakers naturally took advantage of the huge glut of cheap surplus U.S. Army equipment in the immediate postwar period. If a studio has running vehicles in their prop inventory that are available for filming without much hassle, then simple convenience means they'll get used, accurate or not. These days, most armored fighting vehicles that don't meet their end on the battlefield will probably be scrapped before anyone else can get their hands on them. Tanks have never been particularly attractive on the surplus market since they are huge, heavy, fuel-guzzling lumps of steel that can easily cost more to restore and preserve than recycle.
Even contemporary vehicles in operating condition can be prohibitively hard to find and incredibly expensive to hire, transport and maintain for filming. After all, tanks tend to be just so flipping big
and in part because military vehicle collectors are often understandably leery of renting their rare and often irreplaceable treasures to people who are just itching to crash them, burn them, blow them up or drive them off cliffs.
Then there's the matter of Real Life
politics, where vehicles you'd ideally want for realism simply can't be obtained at all since they're currently being used or held by an unfriendly power. It's easily forgotten today that prior to The Great Politics Mess-Up
, getting realistic Soviet or Eastern Bloc military vehicles for filming many a Cold War thriller was darn near impossible. Whereas today, you can just phone the Russians and ask them nicely.
Similar to its sister tropes, this one happens out of practicality more than anything else, especially if you're not Backed by the Pentagon
and just don't want reality to get in the way of Tank Goodness
. Just find something vaguely tank-like, add a coat of stereotypical (but historically inaccurate) panzer gray paint and a few crosses and voila
! instant Tiger. And—let's be honest here—aside from a few vehicle enthusiasts and history buffs, most viewers wouldn't even notice (or care), anyway
. If it has tracks and a gun, it's a tank as far as they are concerned and it doesn't violate their Willing Suspension of Disbelief
. To those who know what to look for, however, it can quite jarringly break it.
For producers who care, there are a number of ways around it. One is to use surplus or 'backup tanks' from modern armies such as Russia or Spain: Most T-34 and Sherman tanks used in WWII films were not actually from the war but modernized vehicles from the immediate postwar period. Another is to take a more common modern or contemporary vehicle and give it a cosmetic makeover to give it the appearance of the correct historic vehicle
; sometimes these conversions can be quite sophisticated with only a few detail differences such as turret location and suspension design that only dedicated military vehicle enthusiasts would likely notice (these folk are often called "rivet counters" in the trade and are usually considered to be very annoying and hard-to-please people). Finally, there are always models of both the real and the Computer Generated variety, which naturally come with their own
sorts of problems.
Feel free to post aversions
here, as they're rather rare and always a pleasure to see.
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- An odd example occurs in Martian Successor Nadesico when the Mecha pilots battle alien-possessed WWII German Tiger tanks from an abandoned tank factory in Kursk, Russia.
- Another example occurs in 009-1: Tigers again, this time in an unspecified "eastern block" country.
- In Girls und Panzer:
- All tracked vehicles are called "sensha", in keeping with German practice of calling all armored vehicles "panzer". See Real Life below.
- one of the "tanks" in Miho's squadron is actually a StuG III tank destroyer. The crew of which lampshade it by pointing out that they don't have a turret. It is also lampshaded by Miho's loader Yukari who calls it "self-propelled artillery".
- Many movies where a variant of an M1 Abrams tank makes an appearance are likely using convincingly mocked up Centurion tanks. Especially if said movies are not Backed by the Pentagon.
- The "German" tanks featured in Patton were quite obviously postwar, American-made Spanish-owned tanks, which amusingly were M48 Pattons. The American tanks were postwar M47 Pattons as well.
- In The Big Red One, Italian and German armored fighting vehicles are portrayed by Israeli "Super Shermans" (much of the movie was filmed in Israel).
- In The Beast Of War the eponymous beast is in fact a Ti-67; a T-54/55 captured by Israel from Egypt or Syria, refitted with new armament, seats, optics et al., and pressed into Israeli service.
- The German Tiger tanks in Battle of the Bulge (1965) were actually American M47 Pattons (colour-coded grey, when German tanks of this period were in dark yellow-dark brown-dark green camouflage), and the American M4 Shermans were actually M24 Chaffee light tanks (in camouflage, when American tanks of this period were olive drab). On the bright side, this did make the US tanks look appropriately smaller than the German ones, as well as using World War II era Chaffees. In reality only two Chaffees saw battle in December 1944.
- The remake of the Second World War film Die Brücke used Swiss Panzer 68s as stand-ins for the M4 Shermans. While the tanks look suitably "old", they do not look like Shermans, and Shermans also didn't have multiple countermeasure pods and other, "modern" stuff attached to them. What's even more ridiculous: later in the movie, an M4 Sherman can be seen. Why the heck didn't they use it in the first place?
- Saving Private Ryan had 2/3 scale mock-ups of Tiger tanks based on the chassis of Soviet T-34s and almost genuine (see below) Marder III tank destroyers (confusingly referred to as "panzers" by the Americans). A 20mm flak gun deserves mention as well; often encountered during the war, never before seen in a movie. The half-tracks were mostly Czechoslovakian copies of the German Sdkf 250 built after the war and the assault guns were based on post-war British FV432 chassis. The vehicles representing Marder IIIs were modified Czechoslovakian Panzer 38(t)s (one of them a Swedish licence-built model). This was in fact the vehicle that the Marder III was based on in the first place, for bonus recursive accuracy points. While the Marders may seem tactically out-of-place (poorly-armoured tank destroyers have no business taking on infantry units in urban settings, after all), tank destroyers and artillery vehicles were occasionally deployed in the infantry support role when more conventional tanks or dedicated Sturmgeschutz armoured vehicles were not available. All said, it is reasonably justifiable, especially considering that the Heer units just behind the beaches had an absolute parking lot of old armoured vehicles and a Marder (of any type) would be one of the BETTER ones available.
- Red Dawn (1984) had the mistake in-movie where one of the cast called a ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" Self-Propelled-Anti-Aircraft-Gun a tank. Granted these were typical high school kids with no formal military knowledge. The film did have rather accurate T-72 mock-ups, to the extent that (allegedly) the CIA demanded to know where the film-makers got them.
- Kelly's Heroes, filmed in Yugoslavia, used Russian T-34s that had been modified to look like German Tigers (there are only 6 Tigers in existence and only one is in serviceable condition). The Tiger replicas were already available since they'd been made for an earlier government sponsored historical film Battle of Neretva. The most obvious giveaway is the location of the turret, which is much too far forward for a real Tiger, and the suspension, which lacks the Tiger's characteristic overlapping roadwheels. The scale is also off. Considering this movie was made in the same era when it was standard practice to call M47 Pattons "Panzers" though, it was a commendable effort in at least attempting to replicate the real thing. The movie also used Yugoslav army Shermans since they still had them in reserve in 1970.
- A Bridge Too Far used mock-up Panzers based on modern German Leopard tanks with what appears to be plates of cardboard painted grey with Iron Crosses on the side attached to the vehicles. Possibly also due in part to the scene being filmed on location, and anyone over the age of 40 would probably be less than pleased at seeing accurately mocked-up German tanks rolling through the streets. Allied vehicles, on the other hand, were reasonably accurate. Backed by the Pentagon, in this case the Dutch Army.
- Averted in Lord of War. Not only were the tanks in one scene all real, but they were all sold right after filming completed. The scene actually had to be rushed because the arms dealer they were borrowing the tanks from had an unexpected buyer.
- Overlapping with Just Plane Wrong, the American military vehicles in Mars Attacks! are all Russian and European. This is because the film was denied backing by the real-life military, apparently because they weren't happy that the Indian Love Call song was depicted as being more effective at defeating the Martians than the military.
- Famously averted in the Steven Spielberg comedy 1941 which used an accurate full-scale replica of an M3 medium tank built on the chassis of another one of the huge family of M3/M4 based vehicles. Just another reason why this movie went so spectacularly over budget.
- Children of Men's famous cityfighting scene features an obsolete Chieftain tank, presumably because the film-makers couldn't get their hands on a state-of-the-art Challenger II. Though given the state of the UK, and the world in general, it's not inconceivable that a few Chieftains would be reactivated, supported by Government troops using mix of weapons and equipment, including both the L85 and the G36 rifles (the latter not actually in use by the present-day British Armed Forces).
- Averted in Finnish war film Tali-Ihantala 1944. The tanks used on filming the movie were the actual individual tanks which had participated in the real life battle 1944 and been stored in Parola Tank Museum, Finland, and restored back to working condition by volunteer enthusiasts.
- The Pentagon Wars, which is a humorous retrospective on the development of the Bradley AFV (as well as all the waste, corruption and sillyness that went on in the Pentagon during it) was not Backed by the Pentagon. The actual Bradleys and their scale models and blueprints appear in numerous scenes throughout the film. The opening scenes of the film also show heat-seeking missiles and bombs being tested on a different APC entirely. It looks like a retired Soviet BTR 8-wheeler APC. While it's never really explained in-film why they're using that particular vehicle (or a mockup of it, if it is one) for target practice, we might assume it's because it is supposed to represent an enemy vehicle. Given that the "present day" scenes of the film are set in the early 90s, this would make sence. The Tanks, But No Tanks trope is also lampshaded in one scene, when the designers point out that putting a turret on the Bradley would make it look more like a tank, which means it becomes a priority target for the enemy. Amd that, of course, is the last thing you'd want to happen to an infantry transport.
- In the "real close, but not quite" we have the classic "starring Bogart" Sahara. "Lulubelle" is an actual M3 tank, which is appropriate to the period (the Gazala battles), and several of the American training crews did end up getting into battle (on the "wrong" side of Africa). The problem is, it's a Lee (the US Army version), not a Grant (British version, the turret design's the give away). The Brits did get Lee's by Lend-Lease later, but not during those battles. And Lees in British service were all vectored to India and Burma where the Japanese had nothing to match them, and their armament and firepower made them ideal vehicles for jungle fighting.
- To Hell and Back, the semi-true autobiography of Audie Murphy's WW2 service, has him jump into a burning M4 Sherman to fire its 50-caliber machine gun at German troops, in the action that earned him the Medal of Honor. He actually jumped into an M10 Tank Destroyer, although the two are very similar (The M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyer was based on the Sherman.)
- The movie Stripes presents us with a scene set behind the Iron Curtain, in which a "Russian" tank menaces some of the heroes. It is clearly an M48/M60 series tank with a few visual mods tacked on.
- Averted in Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, which used real, Yugoslav-made, T-34s in several scenes. Although the models used would be slightly anachronistic for the 1943 the film is set in. The Yugoslav SU-85 assault guns, however, were completely correct in all contexts.
- Averted in the Russian film Ninth Company. Despite it's historical inaccuracies made in the name of drama, it correctly distinguishes between tanks (primarily early and mid-model T-72s that were less common than later variants when the film was made) and infantry fighting vehicles (exclusively early BMP-2s, probably due to reasons of availability).
- Film Valkyrie seriously averts this trope with a mouth-watering array of scrupulously realistic Afrika Korps kit in the first ten minutes or so. Until you realise this is all very clever and realistic CGI, you watch and wonder as to where they got all the Pz III's from. As CGI gets better, is this the way forward?
- Averted in 1975 USA-Czechoslovakian film Operation Daybreak also known as The Price of Freedom. Czechoslovakia built 3 Tigers specifically for this movie.
- The 2012 Russian film The White Tiger was going to use a purpose-built 1:1 model of a Tiger, but it was not finished on time, so they had to use a redressed IS-2. Averted with the T-34-85's, which are all real.
- A 1993 German film Stalingrad featured a scene of a battle against Soviet T-34 tanks - employing the late-war T-34/85 variant, about twelve to eighteen months too early for the real life. Perhaps somewhat acceptable, as the period-appropriate T-34/76 in running condition is rather hard to come by, and the T-34/85 had completely different - and larger - turret, so the cosmetic makeover would be impossible.
- Full Metal Jacket is a minor offender - during combat in Hue City, the tanks employed are actually light tanks M41 Walker Bulldognote , not M48 Patton medium tanks used by the USMC tank battalions in the Real Life battle. On the other hand, M41 is visually quite similar to M48, and both camera angles used and editing made very difficult to actually notice the difference when casually watching the film.
- Another category of error regarding the depiction of tanks can be seen in the cover art of Major John Foley's Mailed Fist, his account of leading a British tank squadron across Europe from D-Day to war's end. Despite the tanks used by Foley and his men being very clearly identified as Churchill heavies, successive cover artists depicted Shermans, Kangaroo troop carriers, M7 Priest SPG's... in fact, anything but Churchills. It is only in the most recent imprints that this error has been amended and Churchills feature on the cover. Even then they seem to be in a suspiciously desert setting...
- Ciaphas Cain: Duty Calls gives an In-Universe example when a news report claims Cain used a tank to prevent a dirigible loaded with promethium (basically the Hindenburg IN SPACE!) from being crashed into a city. In reality Cain used a Chimera, a type of armored personnel carrier.
Live Action TV
- Hogan's Heroes. The episode "One Army at a Time" used an American M7 Priest self-propelled artillery vehicle painted up in German colors to represent a generic German AFV. It was a good choice because the Priest is an obscure enough vehicle that most of the viewing public (particularly back when the show first came out) wouldn't know what it really was... The same Priest had, however, previously tried to stand in for a Tiger tank in an earlier episode called "Hold That Tiger", which wasn't such a good choice as the two look nothing alike...
- Subverted in Space: Above and Beyond. In the episode Pearly, the Marines of the 58th Reconnaissance Squadron, AKA "The Wildcards", are in danger of being overrun by enemy forces when they take shelter inside an Awesome Personnel Carrier. Only thing is, the driver of the vehicle keeps insisting that it is in fact a tank. Aside from that, by all appearances, Pearly should probably be considered an APC, since it's relatively roomy inside with space for a squad of Marines to ride around in it. This is even funnier because in this show's setting, "Tank" is a highly derogatory term used to describe In Vitro humans, genetically engineered and grown in factories to be cheap labor and soldiers for an earlier war the humans fought. Two of the Wildcards, including their commander, Lieutenant Colonel TC McQueen, are In Vitros.
- One Adam-12 episode had a scene where the boys pulled over an M8 armored car only to discover that it was duly registered and thus perfectly legal to drive on the street. However, both the boys and the owner, who presumably should have known better, kept referring it as a "tank" throughout the entire scene.
- The "German" halftracks in The Rat Patrol were all American halftracks in German markings.
- A Challenger I showed up in Doctor Who as part of the forces who shoot down the Racnoss mothership. While such modern vehicles are rare to see in fictional media - especially science-fiction - Challengers, as main battle tanks, are not exactly optimised for anti-aircraft duties.
- The Walking Dead features a (surprisingly clean, all things considered - shouldn't it be covered in bits of zombie?) British Chieftain standing in for an abandoned M1 Abrams. Rick gets into the tank via a belly hatch after he crawls under it, thinking all is lost, and a real M1 doesn't HAVE a belly hatch.
- Averted in the miniseries Band of Brothers. The Allied tanks were genuine M4A1 Shermans and A27 Cromwells, the armored cars were genuine M8 Greyhounds, the halftracks were genuine M5s. On the German side, they used the Czech-built, German-designed halftracks and the replica Marders and Tigers from Saving Private Ryan, along with very convincing replica Jadgpanthers and Sturmgeschutz IIIs built on British FV432 APC chassis.
- Likewise averted in the follow-on miniseries The Pacific, though in this case the reasonably accurate Japanese tanks had to be created using CGI due to a lack of surviving originals.
- On 'Allo 'Allo!, Lieutenant Gruber is very proud of his "little tank". It's actually a small armoured car, an SdKfz 222, a small four-wheeled armoured car used by the Germans for recce and runabout duties.
- The tank under Gary's command in Scottish comedy Gary Tank Commander, when it actually appears, is an FV433 Abbot - looks enough like a tank to satisfy a layman, but actually self-propelled artillery.
- The box art◊ for the Axis & Allies game "Battle of the Bulge." The tanks are supposed to be King Tigers, but have elements of the M47 Pattons from the 1965 film. If one looks close, they have the Patton-type roadwheels and return rollers (the latter of which King Tigers totally lack), the same incorrect grey paint, and have M47's stereoscopic rangefinders. (The domes on the side of the turret.)
- Company of Heroes has the M26 Pershing tank available to American forces in Normandy circa June 1944. Historically, it did not see action until February 1945, and then in tiny numbers for field testingnote . The Expansion Pack Opposing Fronts features a Bergetiger Recovery Vehicle, of which exactly one was ever used in real life. This has led to theories that it was used for something completely different.
- Battlefield Play 4 Free has the so-called "light tanks", which are actually LAV-25 & BTR-90 APCs.
- The first Command & Conquer used upgunned M2 Bradley IFVs as the Brotherhood of Nod's "Light tank". Renegade changed them into small (and quite low-profile) tanks.
- Same case with Command & Conquer: Generals. America's tanks are called "Crusader" and "Paladin", referring to the canceled XM2001 Crusader and M109A6 Paladin, both of which are self-propelled howitzers (artillery) rather than tanks. And then we have the GLA Marauder tanks, which are actually turretless assault guns, microwave "tanks" that are simply mobile active denial systems, Chinese Gatling "tanks" that are simply up-armored SPAAGs, etc.
- World of Tanks tries to avert this, naturally, and includes some tanks that never got off of the drawing board. However some of the vehicles described as "Tank Destroyers" are actually "Assault Guns" - designed for anti-fortification use and infantry support rather than fighting other AFVs. This may have to do with how neither types of combat appear in World of Tanks, being exactly what it says on the tin. However, see the TV Tropes Wiki category below; the definition of a "tank destroyer" gets really complicated.
- In Killzone the ISA have heavy armored vehicles they call tanks, but its basically a glorified IFV.
- Averted by Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, which correctly differentiates tanks, APC's, IFV's, and mobile artillery.
- In Vietcong, The old French armored cars are called "tanks" for some reason. Not to mention the T-34-76s used by the NVA, when they should be using T-34-85s, and M50 Ontos tank destroyers in the second game.
- In another Vietnam War game, Men Of Valor, the NVA "tank" is actually a BMP APC.
- In the Israeli Defense Force:
- The Merkava is a tank and not an APC, despite its rear door, which is there to allow the tank to be evacuated or resupplied under fire. The tank does have the potential to carry troops in an emergency but the ammunition magazine has to be emptied to make room for them.
- This is also true of the Merkava IV Tankbulance, which is a tank equipped to be an ambulance. Since it still retains its original armament it isn't protected by the Geneva conventions, and can therefore be engaged by the enemy. Admittedly, its thick armour and a 120mm cannon don't exactly mean it's a sitting duck...But given that the time of enemies that the IDF would fight aren't exactly mindful of the Geneva Convention, it is an example of Combat Pragmatism at it's finest.
- On a similar note, the Israeli Achzarit is an APC despite having started life as a T-55 tank. Confused yet?
- Likewise for the Namer, which is an APC built on a Merkava chassis, making it the best-armored APC in the world yet also one of the fastest. This comes at the price of having a relatively small troop capacity of only nine despite weighing in at a massive 60 tons (five times larger than the M113, which carries eleven troops). While its name translates as "leopard", it's also an acronym (in Hebrew, of course): "Nagmash" Merkava", or "APC Merkava".
- The British CVR(T) series of reconnaissance vehicles. Though if one defines "tank" as "tracked armoured vehicle with a turret-mounted gun and no space for infantry" then the Scorpion and Scimitar fit the bill, designed primarily for the reconnaissance role or not. Reconnaissance has always been the primary role of light tanks anyway.
- The Stryker - being an eight-wheeled gun platform - isn't too likely to get confused for a tank, but the same probably couldn't be said for the M2/M3 Bradley and Linebacker IFV/CFVs. They're armor plated, have a gun turret, tracks, but their primary function is carrying troops into battle and giving them fire support in combat. Thanks to their speed and their ability to carry and launch anti-tank missiles, they do make for a respectable threat to enemy tanks on the battlefield. Though originally it was worried that their aluminum armor would make them too vulnerable to enemy fire, even after some steel plating was added on the sides, in practice three only Bradleys have been destroyed by enemy fire and the rest have been at the hands of American M1 Abrams tanks.
- The Russian BMP line of amphibious infantry fighting vehicles often get mistaken for tanks because of the tank-like shape and size of their turrets and main guns.
- News sources, and particularly The BBC, have a tendency to mistakenly regard any armoured vehicle (especially those with tracks) as 'a tank', which can lead to confusing headlines about the Iraq conflict and so forth.
- In Germany, every tracked and armored vehicle is actually and correctly refered to as a Panzer, as "Panzer" simply being German for "armour" (in Dutch, it's spelled "Pantser", which somehow manages to look less scary - especially if you're British). The Gepard Flakpanzer (Anti-Aircraft-Tank, based on Leopard 1 chassis), Marder 2A5 Schützenpanzer (ICV), Biber Brückenlegepanzer (Brigde-layer, based on Leopard 1 Chassis), Leopard 2A6 Kampfpanzer (MBT), Panzerhaubitze 2000 (Self-Propelled Howitzer). Even nontracked Vehicles like the Spürpanzer Fuchs and Spähpanzer Luchs (6x6 and 8x8 wheeled, lightly armored vehicles) are referred to as such, although not classifying as tanks at all. Correct German term for "tank" specifically would be "Panzerkampfwagen", and "Panzer" is a loose equivalent to English "AFV" (armoured fighting vehicle)Translation .
- According to documentary evidence some units of the German Wehrmacht preferred to use captured US Sherman tanks as tank recovery vehicles. They may have lacked the gun power and armor protection of Panthers and Tigers but they were a lot more reliable and had a much better power to weight ratio making them better tow vehicles. There was also an instance during the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans used Panthers disguised as US M10 Tank Destroyers, creating a Real Life Tanks, But No Tanks situation. These were modeled in World Of Tanks, and despite being larger then an M10 Wolverine, they're outward appearance would likely fool P-47 and Typhoon pilots. They'd be left alone by the planes, only to ambush the American tanks as they passed by.
- During the victory years, the Germans selectively amassed examples of all the tank types captured from defeated enemies. The intention was eventually to house them in a Victory Museum depicting the heroic struggle of the German Army. These were temporarily stored at a tank base on the Baltic coast, but, as the war turned, this stock of captured vehicles was plundered for operational requirements. It is likely many of the Shermans put into service, as described above, came from this stock. Captured French and British tanks were rebuilt as assault guns, and vehicles used to deceive American forces in the Bulge fighting came from here.
- The definition of "tank" was flexible and hadn't been formalized in the early days of armored warfare. The term "tank" itself was only a codename to keep their real nature a secret from the enemy. When you get right down to it, none of the early tanks—the British Mark I & IV, the French Schneider & St. Chamond, or the German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen— would be considered tanks, as they all lacked turrets and had guns with limited traverse. The first recognizable tank was the French Renault FT-17 light tank, which featured a rotating turret and modern shape, but at the time these features had nothing at all to do with the military definition of a tank. There were other (rarer) "tanks" that weren't technically tanks: for example, the experimental A39 Tortoise heavy "tank" developed by the British during World War II was really an assault gun with a fixed superstructure similar to the German Jagdtiger. Americans waffled on the designation for the experimental T28, another heavy "assault gun" developed late in World War II. It was originally termed "gun motor carriage," or self-propelled gun, but later redesignated as a "tank."
- Another example is the "3 Ton Tank" M1918. It was build late in WWI and based on the Renault FT-17 (the American copies of these were known as the M1917 or "6 Ton Tank"), but put on such a strict diet that it lost its turret in favor of a forward gun with limited traverse. This was to be a machine gun in all cases, while part of the FT-17's had a 37mm cannon. 15 of these "tanks" were build before the war ended. As much of what the designers skimped on was space for the crew, tankers of those days may have been pretty glad it never really entered service.
- It has to be said that the Bovington tank museum in Britain appears to be more sympathetic to the needs of film and TV than most. While, understandably, it will not loan its only Tiger - the only running model left in the world - a recent BBC documentary/drama using film sequences incorporated a running Cromwell tank from 1944, in exactly the correct Normandy context, which could only have come from one place. This was accompanied by other running examples of WW2 British hardware, such as Universal Carriers, all in the context of depicting and illustrating the often-overlooked British contribution to the Normandy landings. The documentary makers also had the use of a Mark IV Panzer.
- Bovington's Tiger will be making an appearance in the upcoming David Ayer Fury. This will mark the first ever appearance of a genuine Tiger in a Second World War film, German propaganda newsreels notwithstanding.
- The designation does get confusing with the Swedish Stridsvagn 103, which is also unofficially known as the S-tank even though its configuration (no turret and hull-mounted main gun) was more like an older tank destroyer or self-propelled gun. Officially it is still classified as a main battle tank. As two users from a certain forum put it:
Marcus Aurelius: ...the Swedish S-tank; the exception is made mostly because the Swedes insisted really hard that it is a tank rather than a tank destroyer or assault gun
Ilya Muromets: And now I have this image of a massive, stern-looking Swede staring down a bunch of military nerds. "It's a tank." "Uh, yes Sir. Please don't hurt us."
- Meanwhile, the Infanterikanonvagn 91, a tracked, turreted vehicle that served concurrently with the S-tank was not considered a tank, instead considered a tank destroyer.
- During the invasion of Malaya in 1942, Japanese troops reported capturing or destroying numerous British "tanks." These were in fact Bren Gun Carriers, which were small, open topped armored personnel carriers (in fact smaller than a modern-day Humvee, and used in similar roles) as the British had no real tanks on their Malaya colony.
- To further confuse the casual student of military history, the WW2 British army fielded both Tank and Armoured Brigades. 'Tank' units were semi independant formations organised to be attached to infantry divisions for support while 'Armoured' units were part of an Armoured Division. While the 'tank' units normally had dedicated 'Infantry' tanks like the Churchill, some 'tank' units were equipped with exactly the same Shermans as 'Armoured' regiments leading the untrained observer to wonder what the fuss was about. Add in the confusion in the way what is called a 'Regiment' is really a battalion sized unit that is part of it's parent regiment but commanded as part of a brigade, and it is little wonder many casual military history buffs give up and research Panzer divisions instead.
- The Italian tank destroyer B1 Centauro is sometimes described as a tank in spite of being a wheeled vehicle. Adding to the confusion, it's often called a "wheeled tank" due its high firepower and armour on par to a light tank. Terms like "wheeled tank" and "tracked armored car" have been used quite often, even in official references. For example, light armored vehicles called AMR (Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance) were officially classed as armored cars by the French, despite being light tanks in all but designation.
- Similar to the Japanese example above, the Chinese army report every tracked vehicle kill in the Korean War as a tank kill. This often led to confusion of the actual model of vehicle being destroyed: Unit 215, a T-34-85, is famous for destroying three Pershings in one day but photographs took by the crew reveal these targets as M39 carriers or turretless Chaffee/Hellcat variants.
- The Battle of Kutno paintings by Jerzy Kossak, for example here (1939 version at top, 1943 version below). Both paintings depicts Polish light cavalry attacking Nazi tanks with lances and winning, very loosely based on a Polish calavry unit pursuing German infantry and engaging their tank reinforcementsnote . Tanks in 1943 versions somewhat resemble British Churchills and Matildas, tanks in 1939 version are purely author's imagination.