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Title100 Years of the Tank
TagsArmoured Warfare Tanks George S. Patton American Expeditionary Forces World War Ii
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Page 1

YEARS OF
THE TANK

THE WEEK JANUARY 31, 201640

YEARS OF
THE TANK

Real steel
There has not been a bigger symbol of valour since tanks

roared into the battlefield 100 years ago

Dual role: For common people,
tanks can be motivating as well
as menacing

Page 2

41THE WEEK JANUARY 31, 2016

BY DNYANESH JATHAR

M
umbra is often
in the news
for wrong
reasons—com-
munal tension,
collapsing build-

ings, massive land encroachments,
illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
This suburb of Thane with a sizeable
Muslim population has been electing a
Hindu legislator, Nationalist Congress
Party's Jitendra Awhad, for more
than a decade now. A few years ago,
Awhad decided to build a memorial for
Manish Pitambare, who died in a gun
battle in Jammu and Kashmir in 2006.
“Something which will instil secular-
ism and nationalism in people,” said
Awhad. And he did something unusual.
He obtained an old Vijayanta battle
tank, painted it and installed it right
outside the Mumbra railway station.

Why did Awhad choose a tank? His
explanation cites nationalism, bravery
and the sacrifice of our soldiers. Still, a
tank? “There is something impressive
about them,” he said. “They are moti-
vating and menacing at the same time.”
From a commoner's point of view the
two adjectives capture everything that
a battle tank stands for. For them, it is
a symbol of military might and sheer
power.

The tank was invented to break
the stalemate on the western front in
World War I by crossing trenches and
penetrating enemy lines. The earliest
example of a vehicle which had a simi-
lar function could perhaps be chariots
and the Roman siege engines—wheeled
wooden towers which were used to
destroy enemy fortifications. The ori-
gins of the tank, however, should not
be traced back to siege engines or a
chariot. If there was anything that per-
formed a role similar to the modern-

day tanks, it was the knight in shining
armour. His armour protected him, his
horse moved him swiftly and his sword
provided the firepower.

These are exactly what make a battle
tank unique—it is a perfect combina-
tion of mobility, armour and firepower.
In fact, two geniuses had envisioned a
combat vehicle quite similar to a battle
tank—Leonardo da Vinci designed
a wooden combat vehicle, and H.G.
Wells wrote a story in The Strand
Magazine in 1903 prophesying the
birth of a combat vehicle.

A century before Awhad made
his tank memorial in Mumbra, an
Australian engineer named Lancelot
de Mole submitted an idea of a tracked
armoured vehicle to the British war
office. It was rejected outright. Around
the same time, Gunther Burstyn, an
Austrian army officer, designed what
he called Motorgeschutz (motor
gun) using American farm tractors.

PHOTO: JANAK BHAT; IMAGING: RAJESH A.S.

Page 13

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TEN GREATEST TANK BATTLES

GRAPHICS: DENI LAL

52 THE WEEK JANUARY 31, 2016

YEARS OF
THE TANK

BATTLE OF CAMBRAI (1917)
War: World War I
Belligerents: British empire
vs German empire
Location: Cambrai, France
Cambrai was an important supply point
for the Germans. They launched a coun-
ter-offensive as the British captured it.
At the end, neither side gained much in
terms of territory.

SECOND BATTLE OF
EL ALAMEIN (1942)
War: World War II
Belligerents: Axis powers vs Allies
Location: El Alamein, Egypt
The battle was a turning point in the
Western Desert Campaign, and halted the
dream run of Afrika Korps. Erwin Rommel's
men and machines started withdrawing.

BATTLE OF KURSK (1943)
War: World War II
Belligerents: Germany vs the Soviet Union
Location: Kurzk, Soviet Union
In one of the largest armoured clashes
in history, the Soviets countered the
Germans with two offensives and won the
battle. The victory was the base of the Red
Army's tactics in the rest of the war.

INVASION OF FRANCE (1940)
War: World War II
Belligerents: Germany and Italy vs
France, Britain and allies
Location: France
Germans' superiority in armoured
mobility was in full display in the Battle
of France. The battle resulted in the
division of France.

BATTLE OF DUBNO-BRODY (1941)
War: World War II
Belligerents: Germany vs the Soviet Union
Location: Brody in the Soviet Union
It was one of the most fierce armoured battles in
World War II and one of the largest tank battles. The
Germans won decisively, inflicting heavy damage on
the Red Army.

1 4

2 5

63

1
2

3

5

7
8

9 104

6

BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1944-45)
War: World War II
Belligerents: Germany vs the US, the UK and France
Location: Belgium and Luxembourg
A surprise attack on Belgium, France and Luxembourg was the
last major German offensive in the war. Though the US forces ini-
tially suffered heavy losses, Lt-Gen George S. Patton successfully
manoeuvred the Third Army to stop the Germans.

Page 14

YOM KIPPUR WAR (1973)
Belligerents: Israel vs Arab states led
by Egypt and Syria
Location: Sinai and Golan Heights
The Arab offensive was an attempt to recapture the ter-
ritory lost in the Six-Day War of 1967. However, Israel
neutralised the initial gains made by the Arab forces with
its ability to quickly return the damaged tanks to the
warfront after repair.

BATTLE OF ASAL UTTAR (1965)
War: Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Belligerents: India and Pakistan
Location: Asal Uttar in Punjab
Pakistan lost some 90 tanks in Asal Uttar,
which is more than half of its total loss in
the 1965 war. India's victory was decisive
and the bravery of havildar Abdul Hamid,
who knocked out seven Pakistani tanks
with a gun, was honoured with a Param
Vir Chakra.

BATTLE OF BASANTAR (1971)
War: Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Belligerents: India and Pakistan
Location: Shabazpur, Punjab, Pakistan
The battle, which secured Punjab and Jammu
for India, foiled the Pak plan to eventually invade
Jammu and Kashmir, and the Indians reached
almost Sialkot. BATTLE OF 73 EASTING (1991)

War: Persian Gulf War
Belligerents: the US and the UK vs Iraq
Location: Southeastern Iraq
Often called the last great tank battle of the 20th cen-
tury, it was the first ground defeat of the Iraqi Republican
Guard in the Persian Gulf War.

7

8

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53THE WEEK JANUARY 31, 2016

Page 25

©Weekcommon:From Prepress:PLS DON'T DELETE arun_work folder:19_01_2016 ISSUE(31_01_2016):best Tanks :best Tanks.indd

LEOPARD 2A7+
Country: Germany
First displayed in public in 2010, it
is the latest in the Leopard series
of MBTs. It has a 120mm/ L 55 or
L 44 smoothbore gun and a 7.62
machine gun.

ON A ROLL
Tanks have been steadily improv-
ing their firepower and capabili-
ties in the past century. While the
traditional powerhouses of Russia
and Germany have upgraded their
warhorses, new powers China and
India are also in the race. Here is the
future of tanks

ARMATA
Country: Russia
Also called T-14, this tank was conceived in 2011
after the T-95 was cancelled. It has a crew of three
men and a 125mm main gun smoothbore. The
design focus is on heavy armour and crew surviv-
ability. It made the first public appearance at the
Victory Day parade in Moscow in 2015, and the
Russian army will begin trials in 2016.

ALTAY
Country: Turkey
The first Turkish MBT programme since 1943
is named after the famous Ottoman gen-
eral Fahrettin Altay. It has a crew of four men, a
120mm gun smoothbore and two machine guns.

ARJUN MK II
Country: India
The improved version of Arjun MBT weighs
68 tonnes and has an indigenously developed
Kanchan armour. It has a four-man crew, 120mm
main gun and two machine guns. The Army is
reportedly not keen on inducting Arjun MK II till it is
completely satisfied with the trials.

M1A3 ABRAMS
Country: The USA
The upgrade of M1A2 Abrams is
lighter and is said to have precision
armaments capable of hitting
targets from 12km.

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that can fire various
shells.

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GRAPHICS: DENI LAL

64 THE WEEK JANUARY 31, 2016

YEARS OF
THE TANK

Page 26

65

BY YOMTOV TAMIR

THE ISRAELI
armour corps
has participated
in all our wars,
right from the
Independence
War (1948-49)
to Operation

Protective Edge (Gaza, 2014). In
1948-49, the role of the corps was
limited—as were the number of
armoured vehicles. And, the orienta-
tion of the commanders was infantry-
centric.

The change came with Operation
Kadesh (Egypt, 1956) and with the
Six-Day War (Egypt, Jordan and
Syria, 1967). During these wars,
the armoured corps raced to the
Suez Canal and defeated the enemy
armies. The corps also conquered the
Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria.

In the Yom Kippur War (1973), too,
the corps demonstrated its ability to
change near-defeat into an impres-
sive victory. The war started with
a surprise attack by Egyptian and
Syrian armies. When the war ended,
Israeli tanks were 100km from Cairo
and 40km from Damascus. Since
1973, Israel has had several opera-
tions, mainly against terrorist organ-
isations in Lebanon and in Gaza. The
biggest were Operation Peace for

THE WEEK JANUARY 31, 2016

Thunder on
the Suez

Tanks played a crucial role in the Arab-Israel wars

Galilee (Lebanon, 1982) and Operation
Protective Edge; several armour divi-
sions and some hundred tanks were
active in each operation.

The nature of the war has changed
over the years—from facing enemy
armour to fighting an enemy that you
do not see, from facing regular units
to facing terrorist organisations. So,
what is the 'secret' of Israeli armour's
continued success? Some of the factors
behind the success are:

1. The geographic situation of Israel:
ringed by hostile countries and lack of
“strategic depth”.

2. The tank's role as a war machine
that carries a protected source of over-
whelming fire power.

3. Soldiers who understand that
unless we fight and defend Israel, we
will not exist.

4. Well-trained tank commanders.
Before the Six-Day War, I fought

from the turret of tanks as a platoon
leader. I was company commander
during the Six-Day War, battalion
commander in Yom Kippur War, bri-
gade commander during the 1978-79
operations in Lebanon and division
commander during Operation Peace
for Galilee.

In the Yom Kippur War, I com-
manded the 9th tank battalion. We
were deployed on a 75km-long front
along the northern sector of the Suez
Canal, around 25km from the canal

itself. Immediately, the Egyptians
began air strikes and attacks with
artillery and anti-tank missiles. We
moved towards the enemy soldiers
crossing the canal.

I cannot describe the bravery and
determination of my commanders
and crew. During the engagement, we
realised that there would be no one
behind us till the reserve divisions
came. In 48 hours, I lost 34 of my
36 tanks; 67 soldiers died and about
100 were wounded. We then joined
other units and crossed the canal with
them. There I built my battalion again
and we fought till the ceasefire, which
caught us 100km from Cairo. I fought
under five brigade commanders and
three division commanders—all in
about three weeks' time.

So, one can say, 'OK, that was in
the past. But, what about the present
and the future?' Armour played an
important role in all the operations in
Lebanon, in a unique and tough ter-
rain, and against totally different ene-
mies. In Gaza, too, a combined force
of tanks, infantry, combat engineers
and other ground forces did a great
job. It is proven that tanks can secure
a victory fast and with minimum
casualties on enemy ground.
An armoured corps veteran, the author is a
retired brigadier of the Israeli Defence Forces.

Tracks over water: Israeli tanks at the
bridgehead on the Suez Canal. Yom
Kippur War, 1973

IDF

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