How It Works: Science and Technology - Vol. 2

How It Works: Science and Technology - Vol. 2

How It Works: Science and Technology - Vol. 2

How It Works: Science and Technology - Vol. 2


An armored vehicle is a personnel carrier that moves on wheels and is reinforced to withstand armed attacks. Some types of armored vehicles are fitted with weapons, but the main purpose of an armored vehicle is to protect its occupants. A tank is a self-propelled armored vehicle that moves on tracks and mounts one or more weapons. Its distinguishing features—tracks for cross-country mobility and armor to protect the crew inside against attack—enable the weapons to be used more effectively.


The forerunners of armored vehicles were built as early as the Boer War (1899–1902), when the machine-gun-carrying four-wheel vehicle and the armored steam traction engine were devised. The first vehicles to combine weaponry and armor were built between 1902 and 1904 by Vickers, Son and Maxim Ltd. in England; Société Charron, Girardot et Voigt in France; and Austro-Daimler in Austria.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 prompted the hasty development and construction of armored cars in Belgium, Britain, and France. Because the first models ran on wheels, they were practically useless for trench warfare. The solution lay in the tracked carriages that had recently been developed for agricultural tractors to be able to move across fields.

Tank technology began with theproblem of attacking enemy trench lines] that were protected by barbed wire and defended with machine guns. The solution appeared to be a machine that could surmount obstacles and that would be immune to bullets. For security reasons, the prototype tank was developed by groups who worked separately on the track and hull components. Those engaged in building the hull referred to it as a [tank,] believing it to be a water carrier for desert regions. Thus the military tank acquired its name.

The earliest tanks were developed almost simultaneously in Britain and France. In Britain, their development was initiated by the Admiralty Landships Committee created by Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty. A prototype was built in September 1915, and one year later the first British tanks went into action near the Somme River in France.

By the end of World War I, Britain had produced 2,600 heavy tanks, while France had produced 3,870 tanks of a more lightweight type.

Between the end of World War I and the outbreak of World War II, tank design made great progress. The ponderous assault machines of World War I, which moved at no more than 5 to 6 mph (8–10 km/h), were replaced by versatile fighting vehicles capable of 30 mph (48 km/h) or more. By 1939, tanks were being produced in quantity in several countries. The British had more than 1,000 tanks, the Germans 3,000, and the Soviets 20,000.

Organized armored tank divisions became a decisive factor in all the

major campaigns of World War II. Tanks were built in increasing numbers: by the end of the war, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had each produced around 90,000 tanks, for example. Tanks continued to be of importance in the coldwar period after World War II. In the 1980s, NATO armies maintained some 10,000 tanks in Europe to counter the 26,000 tanks of die Warsaw Pact.

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