Tanks: An Origin Story


It might have been from eighty to a hundred feet long—it was about two hundred and fifty yards away—it’s vertical side was ten feet high or so, smooth for that height, and then with a complex patterning under the eaves of its flattish turtle cover. This patterning was a close, inter-lacing of portholes, rifle barrels, and telescope tubes—sham and real—indistinguishable one from the other.…Left and right of that track dead men and wounded men were scattered—men it had picked off as they fled back from the invader’s lines.  And now it lay with its head projecting a little over the trench it had won, as if it were a single sentient thing planning the next phase of its attack…(Wells, 1903)

In 1903 the idea of a Main Battle Tank was literally something out of an H. G. Wells science fiction short story.  However, time travel just thirteen years to September 1916 at The Battle of Somme during World War I and Fd Marshal Haig uncages a pioneering technology that would evolve trench warfare and turn science fiction into science fact (Soldiers, 2016).  This evolution was made possible by the internal combustion engine and armor, which allowed the tank maneuverability as well as the capability to breach the deadlock of trench fighting by its ability to endure machine gun and artillery onslaught (Military Technology, 2014).  The usefulness of the tank has yet to waste away despite its initial battle field results, and with fresh eyes and technology could continue to be an important part in the future of ground combat operations.

Surprisingly, the emergence of the tank onto the battlefield during World War I was not the decisive war-ender as anticipated (Antal, 2014).  As with any new technology this initial working prototype was fickle, but  still inspired advancements and creation in weaponry by the Germans such as the anti-tank rifle, Mauser 1918 T-Gewehr, and eventually in World War II, some of the most menacing and memorable tanks imaginable (Levinson, 2015). This new motorized force was able to replace the need for the horse cavalry as well as return maneuverability to commanders as a response to the creation of trench war fighting (Military Technology, 2014). This mobility has continued to be one of the reasons why the tank still has a vital role in today’s ground combat operations despite concerns of it being a dinosaur.

Consider how tanks are still inspiring the creation of armored vehicles for combat even today.  Next imagine how a science fiction-esque technology could thrust the world into a different era of tank operations by incorporating budding technologies in covert maneuvers, robotics, and protection (Antal, 2014).  These evolutions may be slow to emerge as they were during World War I, but still carry the possibility of changing the way wars will be fought in the future, even if only imaginable through fiction.



Antal, J. (2014). Armor Forward! The Evolution of Tanks Since World War I. Military Technology, 28(6), 112-113.

BIRTH OF THE BATTLE TANK. (2016). Soldiers, 72(9), 34-39.

The BLACKEST DAY. (2016). Soldiers, 72(7), 37-39.

Levinson, M. H. (2015). World War I: the closing period of the childhood of humanity. ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, 72(2), 149+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=navyship&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA439803423&asid=196f3577a5e71a44806b605ce4ab9a94

The Main Battle Tank. (2014). Military Technology, 28(6), 100-107.

Wells, H.G. (1903). The Land Ironclads. In U. LeGuin’s (Ed.), Selected Stories of H.G. New York : Random House.

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