Taking a break from reality, our tamed Australian brings you some fictional tanks to ponder.
Tanks. Big, heavy, awesome, powerful tanks.
First seeing service on the Western Front in World War 1, and having garnered the name by being intentionally mis-labeled as “water-tanks” to confuse spies whilst being shipped to the front-lines, tanks have taken a special place in the minds and hearts of war-fighters.
And where there has been something that inspires awe and dread, there have been authors who have imagined more. Bigger, badder, smarter, and harder. I’ve gathered here my “top-5” tanks of fiction to prove that very point.
By comparison, the largest nonfictional superheavy tanks weighed around 100 tons and were never tested in combat. The only real-world analogue to the super-super heavy tanks would be the P-1000 Ratte project, a 1000-tonne tank sporting a battleship turret designed by Nazi Germany which thankfully and predictably never left the drawing board.
First up is a future-tank, from a time BEFORE tanks.
From “The Land Ironclads”, a short story by H.G. Wells that originally appeared in the December 1903 issue of Strand Magazine. It features “land ironclads”, 100-foot-long (30 m) machines equipped with remote-controlled guns that carry riflemen, engineers, and a captain.
The term “ironclad” was taken from the mid-19th century for steam-propelled warships protected by iron or steel armour plates. Wells described the land ironclads as “long, narrow, and very strong steel frameworks carrying the engines, and borne on eight pairs of big pedrail wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, each a driving wheel and set upon long axles free to swivel around a common axis”.
The captain and crew had look-out points at small ports all round the upper edge of the adjustable skirt of twelve-inch iron plating which protected the whole vehicle. They also featured a conning tower that could raise or depress, set above the portholes through the center of the iron top cover.
Riflemen were installed in cabins “slung along the sides of and behind and before the great main framework,” and operate mechanically targeting automatic rifles. All this before the advent of “modern warfare”. Truly visionary.
Estimated Land-ironclad stats
Crew: Captain, engineers, riflemen
12″ iron plating
200-300 Tonnes (estimate based on the weight of iron and the dimensions)
Mechanically targeting automatic 1904 era rifles. Not to be sneezed at.
Second on my list is not really a tank, but rates an honorary mention because of its place in the hearts of many.
This is the M577 APC from the Aliens movie.
The M577 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) is a troop transport used by the United States Colonial Marine Corps in 2191. The M577 evolved from the Marine 70 battlefield deployment strategy, which proposed a requirement for a low-cost lightweight APC capable of being transported into combat aboard the UD-4L Cheyenne Dropship.
Designed as a multi-role vehicle within a lightly-equipped rapid-reaction force, the M577 is mobile and well armed. However, the rigid design restrictions and compromises imposed by the need to be drop-transportable resulted in a lighter, less capable vehicle than other APCs. It also had a grindable trans-axle…
Private Hudson: I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do not wanna fuck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phased plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…
USCM M577 APC stats
Crew: 2 (13 passengers)
Mass: 14.5 Tonnes
L: 8.58m (turret unfolded)
H: 2.81m (turret unfolded)
150 km/h max
◾3mm of titan (hull)
◾5mm of foam (spall liner)
◾2mm of boron carbide tiles covered with polymer resin
◾4mm of kevlar
◾2mm of steel (external)
2x Republic Electric RE700 20mm gatling cannons
2x Boyars PARS-150 20mW phased plasma cannons
32-round automatic light mortar
10+ Colonial Marines (ultimate bad-asses….)
Not bad for a humble space-borne, air-dropped can of ground-pounding whoop-ass. Even if it does get the tar knocked out of it, bursting through walls, running over xenomorphs, and getting a drop-ship dropped on it …
Next up on my list are the venerable and stupendous BOLO tanks originally envisioned by author Keith Laumer in his future history military SF, described as automated superheavy tanks. Throughout his work, over different time periods, the Bolos evolve in different ways, spanning the scope of human conquest and conflict throughout his universe (and also feature in the works of other authors, in homage). What they have in common besides enormous firepower is and their overly large size. The Bolo Mark I is described as weighing 150 tons, the Mark II 300 tons while the much more advanced Mark XXXIII, considered a standard model in his books, weighs a whopping 32,000 tonnes.
The other aspect that makes Bolos stand out is their increasingly complex artificial intelligence, which creeps in more and more in the stories they feature in. Early Bolo models are controlled by programming intended to reduce the need for a human crew, later models mimic human thought patterns, feature strong AIs and finally psychotronic circuitry, enabling self-awareness, strategic planning and decision-making, and even conscience. In the novels these programming features often combine with the prejudices of ranking officers to cause the unnecessary destruction of a Bolo during combat. Super soldiers with super-soldier mentalities in the form of tanks, getting orders from fallible humans. This leads to some tremendous storytelling, and earns the Bolos a place on my list both as machines of war and characters in and of themselves.
MK XX Bolo “Tremendous” (“Field Test” by Keith Laumer, 1990):
“Alright, Unit DNE of the line. Why did you do it? This is your Commander, Unit DNE. Report! Why did you do it? Now, you knew your position was hopeless, didn’t you? That you’d be destroyed if you held your ground, to say nothing of advancing. Surely you were able to compute that. You were lucky to have the chance to prove yourself.”
For a minute I thought old Denny was too far gone to answer. There was just a kind of groan come out of the amplifier. Then it firmed up. General Bates had his cupped behind his ear, but Denny spoke right up.
“You knew what was at stake here. It was the ultimate test of your ability to perform correctly under stress, of your suitability as a weapon of war. You knew that. You knew that General Margrave and old Priss Grace and the press boys all had their eyes on every move you made. So instead of using common sense, you waded into that inferno in defiance of all logic-and destroyed yourself. Right?”
“That is correct, sir.”
“Then why? In the name of sanity, tell me WHY! Why, instead of backing out and saving yourself, did you charge? …..Wait a minute, Unit DNE. It just dawned on me. I’ve been underestimating you. You KNEW didn’t you? Your knowledge of human psychology told you they’d break and run, didn’t it?”
“No, sir. On the contrary, I was quite certain that they were as aware as I that they held every advantage.”
“Then that leaves me back where I started. Why? What made you risk everything on a hopeless attack? Why did you do it?”
“For the honor of the regiment.”
Year 2796, Deng Conflict. Field Test.
Mk.XX Bolo stats
Crew: 0-1 (A.I.)
Weight: 13,000 tonnes
Cruising speed: 90kph, with a 120kph sprint
L: 31.5m (105′)
H: 13.5 m (45′) from bottom of tracks to top of turret.
W: 16.5 m (55′)
True behemoths, the armour of the Bolo was nothing if not incredible. High density “flintsteel” armour alone could withstand anything short of a close nuclear blast, but it was overlaid with ablative “durachrome” armour, which consisted of interwoven layers of refractive chrome and ceramics. This armour was both ablative and reflective, meaning it received less damage from any kind of directed energy weapons.
Backing this up was a mono-permeable anti-kinetic battlescreen. This screen did not only stop kinetic weapons, it also partially absorbed enemy energy weapons fire, and converted it to usable energy, energy which could be used to bolster the screen, fill depleted emergency capacitors, and to increase the firepower of the Ion cannons.
30 cm Hellbores (2): The Hellbores are massive plasma weapons.
Infinite Repeaters (16): A medium Ion cannon, not dependant on ammunition (hence, “Infinite Repeaters”).
35 mm Railguns (12): These are standard electromagnetic railguns.
2 cm Railguns (20): These are standard rifle sized electromagnetic railguns.
Automatic 30 cm Mortars (8)
Medium Range Missile VLS (16)
Fragmentation Packs (80)
This is a state of the art light weight tank designed for urban deployment. It utilizes “crab-type” running gear for high speed and manoeuvrability over almost any terrain. It is filled to the brim with options, and it comes equipped with therm-optic stealth camouflage and a cybernetic linkage.
Think Tank is a slang term used to describe a robotic weapons platform that makes use of artificial intelligence to enhance its abilities. Most of the Think Tanks portrayed in Ghost in the Shell (manga, films, and series), along with other machinery, (e.g. attack helicopters such as the Jigabachi AV) are developed and manufactured by a fictional company named Kenbishi Industries.
Think Tank is often used to refer to the different walking tanks throughout the Ghost in the Shell world. Typically they are spider-like in appearance, having four to six walking legs, usually a pair of front-mounted manipulators, and a segmented body.
The tank from the first movie was on guard duty, but wreaked havoc when pitted against a state-of-the-art military cyborg, eventually taken out with an anti-tank rifle, but nevertheless is an example of a brilliant take on the future of tanks.
Think Tank R-3000 stats:
Weight: 37 Tonnes
H: 5m (at full stretch)
Superstructure composite armour
Twin tribarreled 12.7mm Gatlings mounted into
twin fold-out 5.56mm machine guns
Lastly and certainly not the least on my list of fictional tanks is the mighty Baneblade of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, where there is only war, and battlefields span whole worlds, and pitched slug-fest battles are the norm.
The Baneblade is the primary super-heavy tank of the Imperial Guard, and one of the largest and oldest armoured fighting vehicles in the service of the Imperial armed forces. The tank is a venerated Standard Template Construct (STC) design, with ten people needed to fully crew one. It is also one of the oldest STC designs in existence. They are often used as command vehicles by Imperial Guard commanders. The standard configuration Baneblade is a powerful main battle tank with no particular strength or weakness. Multiple variants are available, with different designations and applications, but this is the standard model. It is best deployed in the role of heavy infantry support, where it can engage both infantry waves with its Heavy Bolters and Demolisher Cannon, while at the same time punish enemy armour with its Mega Battle Cannon and Lascannons. The sight of a mighty Baneblade rumbling forward is a major boost for any supporting Imperial infantry’s morale, and when correctly supported, the Baneblade excels at decimating anything smaller than itself with its large array of guns while crushing the remains of its enemies under its massive tracks.
This combination of inspiring presence on the battlefield and tremendous capacity for destruction explains why the Baneblade is favoured as a command vehicle by regimental commanders and even members of the Imperial General Staff who decide to take to the field. Command Baneblades are specially equipped with powerful communication arrays and tactical planning equipment, allowing the officer in charge to keep control of his troops while he participates in the fighting.
For all its might and splendor, however, the Baneblade is not perfect. They are slow, lacking manoeuvrability and is a very large target. Baneblades are also not as effective when facing dedicated anti-armour vehicles due to the relative short range of their weapons.
Weight: 316 Tonnes
25 kilometres per hour on-road
18 kilometres per hour off-road
L: 13.5 metres
W: 8.4 metres
H: 6.3 metres
Superstructure armour: 200 millimetres ceramite
1 turret-mounted Mega Battle Cannon: battle-ship grade cannon
1 hull-mounted Demolisher Cannon: anti-siege grade cannon
1 Co-axial Autocannon: think a Bofors 57mm cannon …
2 turrent-mounted Lascannons: laser cannons, long range and armour piercing
3 twin-linked Heavy Bolters: think a M230 chaingun, twin linked.
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So there you have it, a list of my top-5 best fictional tanks of all time. No doubt others will be put forward, but for my money it’s Wells’ visionary pre-tank land-ironclads, the gritty realism of the Aliens APC, Laumier’s mountainous Bolos, the Ghost In The Shell futuristic Think-Tank and the indomitable Warhammer 40k Baneblade.
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