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 armored vehicles as much as anything else, either getting details wrong or using stand-ins.
One of the most common mistakes is to treat all armored 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, most survivors are historical artifacts belonging to museums and obviously cannot be used recklessly or destroyed. Moreover, many types of antique armored vehicles are actually quite scarce, and some were quite rare in the first place - the WWII Axis were the worst offenders as they favoured shorter production runs and a far greater number of variants. Just 492 King Tiger panzers were produced, as against 47k M4 Sherman tanks (all variants), and many contemporary Italian or Japanese vehicles were produced in even smaller numbers. In many cases surviving examples aren't available (e.g. submerged in a Belarussian swamp) or simply don't exist due to the ravages of combat, the temptations of scrapping/salvage, and the passage of time.
Next, as the Sherman production numbers above suggest, Anglo-American 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.
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 unless you were an Eastern Bloc filmmaker. Whereas today, you can just phone the Russians and ask them nicely (and offer to pay cash up front).
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.
For information on what qualifies as a tank and other armored vehicles, see Armored Fighting Vehicles.
- 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, despite the fact that the writers have obviously done their homework on tank combat, a few oddities slipped through:
- All tracked vehicles are called "sensha", in keeping with the real-life German practice of calling all armored vehicles "panzer". The rough equivalent term in English is "Armored Fighting Vehicle" (AFV), but the show's dub never uses it, just calling them "tanks", possibly because AFV can refer to wheeled vehicles as well.
- 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 - correctly - calls it "self-propelled artillery", while announcer dialogue in the Japanese version refers to the StuG III as the "Type 3 Assault Gun".
- The Movie has a team fielding a Morser-Karl self-propelled siege mortar, which is definitely not a tank and its status as an AFV at all is highly questionable. The officiator of the match is called out on this when it appears.
- Many movies where a variant of an M1 Abrams tank makes an appearance are likely using convincingly mocked up Chieftain 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 M41 Walker-Bulldogs.
- 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, but then, see Real Life below to see why they're not wrong). 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.
- Liberation, a Soviet six-part war epic, is forced to invoke this trope due to, obviously, lack of CGI, and abundance of Onrushing Army of Tank Goodness scenes. It's more or less acceptable when T-34-85 Mid-Season Upgrade variants stand in for the earlier T-34-76s, of which very few are left. Things fly off the handle when they are supported by IS-3s, which hadn't arrived until May 1945. The German armour is a semi-decent re-dress for close-ups, but for general shots they are supplemented by the same IS-3s or post-war main battle tanks, painted grey. No amount of Backing by the Ministry of Defence can create armies of authentic vehicles that haven't survived the war.
- 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.
- The tanks used in Mars Attacks!, M41 Walker Bulldogs, were all long obsolete by the time the film was made. The Pentagon, it is claimed, refused to lend more modern equipment because of its unhappiness with the military's ineffectiveness in the film. If so, then the fact that these tanks, the M151 Mutt jeeps and the uniforms and M14 rifles used by the soldiers, evoke the feel of a 1950's B-movie was a happy accident.
- Ironically despite being Backed by the Pentagon, Transformers has a tank filled with M60 Pattons which were phased out in the 90's instead of more appropriate M1 Abrams tanks. Brawl is also a fictional mock-up of an Abrams the same one used in Film/xXxStateOfTheUnion with the addition of the two missile pods and the mine pushers.
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen also runs into this in the final battle with footage being shown of M1A2 Abrams being transported on Marine hovercraft only for the NEST team being seen supported by M1A1 Abrams and M2 Bradley IF Vs (the latter of which are are used by the Army, The Marines still the M113 APC).
- Transformers: The Last Knight sees the British Army attack the Decepticons at Stonehenge with American Abrams tanks as opposed to the proper British Challenger 2. (Note that once again the film was Backed by the Pentagon but not the British government.)
- 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 of 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 sense. This 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. And 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 (1943). "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 9th 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 (1993) 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 as far as real life is concerned. Perhaps somewhat acceptable, as period-appropriate T-34/76s in running condition are 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.
- The Star Wars Universe has a rather vague definition of what is a tank. On one hand vehicles like the Trade Federation Armored Assault Tank, Corporate Alliance NR-N99 Persuader-Class Droid Enforcer, Republic Saber-class TX-130 Fighter Tank and the Imperial Century Tank all would fit the bill for tanks in terms of their role even when only the AAT matches the traditional configuration of a tank.
- Averted in the 1946 British film Theirs is the Glory about the actions of the British 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden only 2 years earlier. Shot on the real war-ravaged Dutch locations, using many of the actual participants, it included re-enactments of the fighting that employed genuine German equipment, including a fully-functional Tiger tank, the Tiger 131, which was captured in Tunisia in 1943, and later preserved at the Tank Museum in Bovington, England. It is the only fully operational Tiger I left in the world. The film also uses several Panthers, one of which is convincingly destroyed by a paratrooper with a PIAT.
- Fury averted this. While the Sherman tanks seen are, well, Shermans (M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" models to be exact, thoroughly appropriate for the last days of the war), the film crew managed to get their hands on the above-mentioned Tiger 131, making its second appearance in a movie 68 years after Theirs is the Glory.
- Downfall, despite showing very accurate historical levels in uniforms and equipment, there's a very poor mock-up of a Tiger I tank in one scene (the one where Schenck heads towards the abandoned hospital), which is otherwise jarring for a film that shows its work. However, it does show accurate T-34s used by the Soviets.
- War Horse falls on both sides of this. The Mk IV tank seen in the film is actually a modern-built replica, so perfectly made on the outside that it's on display at Bovington as a working representative of the machine. It's good enough that they drive it around on special occasions. On the inside, however, it's got little touches like modern safety systems, a modern engine, and curious anachronisms like an exhaust pipe for the engine so the crew inside doesn't choke on the fumes. Mini documentary here if you have a few minutes.
- 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 infantry fighting vehicle.
- In Strands of Sorrow, Faith initially mistakes anything with armor and a gun as a tank, until two NCOs that are with her set her straight on what qualifies as "tank", which the assault vehicles they were initially considering at the Blount Island facility certainly do not.
- In Harry Turtledove's The Great War series, this trope would be Barrels, but No Barrels, which loses some of its flavor.
- In Turbo Cowboys (think a Lighter and Softer version of Mad Max set in America and aimed at kids), there is a gang of raiders called "the Takers," who use half-tracks and guntrucks. The text still calls them tanks.
- 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.
- Somewhat justified as this was basically the equivalent of a first responder tank that got rolled out to deal with the sudden and entirely unexpected appearance of an Alien Spacecraft over downtown London. Though someone who knew their DW Lore might wonder what UNIT and Torchwood were doing while this took place...
- 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.
- The M4A1s were actually Canadian Grizzlies, a license built M4A1 - the Canadian Dry Pin (CDP) tracks give it away. American built M4A1 Shermans had rubber block tracks.
- Likewise averted in the follow-on miniseries The Pacific, using a mix of CGI and four specially built replicas to represent the Japanese Type 95 Ha Go tank, real working versions of which are in short supply. One of the replicas is now on display at the National Museum of Singapore.
- 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.)
- The core rulebook of Warhammer 40,000 uses the word "tank" for a subclass of vehicles. Taking a closer look at what most of the wide range of "tanks" are, it's clear that "tank" is being used to replace the words "armored fighting vehicle" (because saying "armored fighting vehicle" in casual gameplay is annoying and boring). Indeed, most of the supplementary material is a lot better, correctly applying terms like "infantry fighting vehicle".
- It doesn't help that the Space Marine tanks known as Razorback and Predator, are based on the Rhino APC hull, possibly inspired by the Fire Support Vehicle variants of the M 113 A 1 APC; this is now a common way to make a tank for a wargame, and multiple manufacturers are guilty of it.
- Mostly averted in BattleTech, which uses the generic "Combat Vehicle" for equipment that doesn't rely on legs for propulsion. "Tanks" are (generally) restricted to actual tanks equipped with treads, though some wheeled (like the Chevalier 8-wheeled light tank) vehicles and a variety of hovercraft are also called tanks. The Hetzer - an expy of the German Tank destroyer from World War II - is a wheeled combat vehicle in the "tank" category, though the tank's numerous failings such as having almost no armor and often arriving from the factory only partially assembled show the distinction is important. Among all chassis types, treads are the best for tanks due to them being less susceptible to poor terrain like wheels and hovercraft are, and being harder to disable.
- 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 testing. 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 Play4Free has the so-called "light tanks", which are actually LAV-25 & BTR-90 APCs.
- Command & Conquer is a series that has made tanks out of anything - even vehicles that are not tanks.
- The first game used upgunned M2 Bradley IFVs as the Brotherhood of Nod's "Light tank". Renegade changed them into small (and quite low-profile) tanks.
- In 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.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 provides the Allied Prism Tank (an artillery vehicle) and Yuri's Gattling (sic) Tank (an anti-personnel and anti-air light vehicle), the latter of which precedes Generals's mistake with China's Gattling (sic) Tanks.
- World of Tanks tries to avert this, naturally, and includes some tanks that never got off of the drawing board. However many, if not most 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, and the game reflects the opposing design philosophies of various nations.
- In the Chinese tech tree, it becomes apparent that Wargaming's definition of "never got off the drawing board" really means "an engineer idly doodled it on a napkin while waiting for his coffee to be served and then threw away". Fortunately most of the more egregious examples are premium or collectors vehicles...
- 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.
- Call of Duty has an early level where you need to take out "Flak Panzers" that are really Möbelwagens. Not an example itself due to details mentioned in the Real Life folder, but what makes it become this trope is they are all armed Flakvierling 38s when in reality only one prototype used one of these before the Germans decided on the Fla K 43.
- Call of Duty: World at War features several destroyed Tiger II tanks in the level set in Stalingrad 1942 a full 2 years before the real Tiger II entered service It was not even on the drawling board in 1942. A later has the player control a what is called in-game a T-34-85 despite A. you are playing a rifleman and a Private at that and B. The Tank has a flamethrower meaning it is an OT-34-85.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops III has one in the level Demon Within where The player is in the Dying Dream of Sarah Hall and gets transported to the Battle Of The Bulge and faces off against a Tiger II one point Hall refers to it as if it were a standard Tiger tank but at the same time references its nickname the King Tiger.
- 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 MechWarrior Living Legends, all non-hover combat vehicles are listed under "tanks", be it an actual tank like the Demolisher, an Anti-Air vehicle like the Partisan, or the 8-wheel drive Chevalier light tank. Functionally, all combat vehicles bar the handful of long-ranged Macross Missile Massacre vehicles and the Long Tom artillery piece can be used in front line combat as a tank.
- The Rhino in the Grand Theft Auto franchise has always been referred to as a tank. However, its earliest designs (the ones that appeared in Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) have wheels rather than tracks, making it look more like an APC.
- Grand Theft Auto V has The Rhino being modeled on an actual tank, however it still falls into this trap thanks to the description from an in-game website mistaking which tank was modeled for the game. The website unmistakably describes an M1 Abrams with references to a weight of 60 tons, a 1,500hp turbine engine, a 120mm cannon and the line [[Irony"One of the few vehicles still manufactured in America"]]. The Rhino is actually modeled on the Leopard 2A4 Which despite having the 120mm cannon note is different in every other detail in the description. The Leopard 2 uses a 1,479hp V12 Diesel engine, has a weight of 68 tons, and is made in Germany.
- In the post-apocalyptic world of Metal Max, a tank just means a vehicle that has some armor slapped on it and at least one gun. In one game of the series, the first "tank" you get is a dune buggy and later in the game you can try to outbid someone for a firetruck to join your tank force.
- Battlefield Vietnam had an artillery vehicle which new players tried frequently to use as a tank, giving disappointing results.
- Player Unknowns Battle Grounds has an air-droppable BRDM armoured car which players are incessantly referring to as a tank, despite the fact that, unlike the real one, it doesn't even have a weapon turret, and it goes up in a fireball like any other vehicle in the game when you fire enough rifle ammo into it.
- 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 type of enemies that the IDF would fight aren't exactly mindful of the Geneva Convention, it is an example of Combat Pragmatism at its 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.
- American M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle was also a fully-tracked light armored vehicle with turret-mounted main weapon system, which could easily fit into the light tank category. As it was intended primarily as an airborne and cavalry anti-tank, fire-support and reconnaissance vehicle, it was not officially classified as a tank.
- 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 BMP line of amphibious infantry fighting vehicles and their airborne counterparts, the BMD line, often get mistaken for tanks because of the tank-like shape and size of their turrets and main guns. Western IFVs are noticeably taller and boxier than tanks to accommodate the extra people on-board. Soviet IFVs tend to have less passenger capacity, are sometimes ridiculously over-armed, and their tank-like profile was designed to make them much better amphibious vehicles than their western counterparts.
- 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 than an M10 Wolverine, their 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 a deliberately-obfuscatory term used at the factories to keep their real nature a secret from enemy spies; the assembly-line workers building the new "landships"note (which was intended to be the proper term) were told that the vehicles would be used to haul drinking water in areas without improved roads. The fake name caught on, and the rest is history. 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 tank, recognizable as such to a current casual observer, 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 wouldn't be accepted as "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 classified as "T95 Heavy Tank", then redesignated as "105 mm Gun Motor Carriage T95" or self-propelled gun, but later redesignated again as "T28 Super Heavy Tank".note
- 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 - it is less stringent about other exhibits. There was a recent BBC documentary/drama which 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.
- As mentioned in the "Film" section, Bovington's Tiger made an appearance in David Ayer's Fury. This marked 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."
- 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.
- Note that even in 1942 (and it actually went downhill from there) the Japanese armor was laughably inadequate by the standards of all other major combatants, as they never deployed any modern medium tank, much less a heavy one, until the very end of the war,note so for them the Universal Carrier, derived from the early-30es Carden-Lloyd tankettes, might indeed seem like a full-on tank.
- To further confuse the casual student of military history, the WW2 British army fielded both Tank and Armoured Brigades. 'Tank' units were semi independent formations organised to be attached to infantry divisions/corps for support while 'Armoured' units were usually part of an Armoured Division.note 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.
- On a similar note, Soviet Union (and modern Russia too) had both Rifle and Tank divisions equipped with tanks, because both were actually combined arms units, the difference being that Rifle division has three Rifle and one Tank regiment, and the Tank division vice versa. Also, Tank divisions were usually equipped the cream of the crop, most advanced materiel like T-80, while Rifle divisions usually received cheaper mass-produced tanks like T-72 (USSR actually kept at least three independent MBT lines in production by its end). Note that both types of divisions had their own organic artillery complements (usually also regimental-sized), that nowadays tend to be self-propelled and thus equipped with the very tank-like vehicles, to further confuse the hell out of everyone.
- 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 "Victory Museum" in North Korea that celebrates the utter destruction of the filthy capitalist hordes by Kim-Il-Sung preserves captured British Universal Carriers and American M3 halftracks - which are all designated as "captured tanks".
- In New Zealand during World War II, the Minister for Public Works, Bob Semple, commissioned the construction of the Semple Tank (in fact, it was just an armored tractor). It had no blueprints, had numerous design flaws, never got beyond the prototype stage, and was laughed at by the public. However, it is remembered most as an example of the New Zealand do-it-yourself ethos.
- Many WWII armies saw assault guns and tank destroyers (both forms of self-propelled gun) being pressed into service to fill the "tank" role when supplies of actual tanks ran low. This was especially true in the Italian Army where vehicles like the Semovente 74/18 assault gun proved, despite their lack of a turret, to be superior to the nation's problematic light tanks.
- The Russian object 952 "Sprut-SD" is a vehicle the Russians themselves cannot decide what to think of as. Conceived as a way to give paratroopers an organic anti-tank capability, it is a honest to God light tank, according to its creator, and given that it is based on a light tank chassisnote and mounts a classic tank turret with a full-fledged 125-mm cannon capable of firing standard Russian tank ammo, if not fo the Russians diehard insistence that it's a "self-propelled anti-tank gun". This is mainly due to a red tape, as a Main Artillery and Rocket Directorate of the Russian Defence Ministry, which was responsible to its creation, isn't authorized to produce tanks, but the self-propelled guns on the other hand
- Canada's light armored vehicles, most notably the LAV III, are very commonly referred to as tanks due to being the most frequently used armored personnel carrier. They're a hell of a piece of hardware, but a tank they ain't: they're an infantry fighting vehicle.
- 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 cavalry unit pursuing German infantry and engaging their tank reinforcements.note Tanks in 1943 versions somewhat resemble British Churchills and Matildas, tanks in 1939 version are purely author's imagination — or, if you squint really hard, somewhat resemble the Grote tank: an obscure, early 30es experimental Soviet design created by a visiting German engineer that went nowhere and remained in a single half-finished prototype.