Top-5 Fictional Tanks

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.

1904 illustration of H.G. Wells's December 1903

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)

Speed: 20-40kph

L: 30m

W: 5-6m

H: 5-6m

Primary Weaponry:

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)

W: 3.8m

H: 2.81m (turret unfolded)

150 km/h max

Superstructure armour:

◾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)

Primary Weapon:

2x Republic Electric RE700 20mm gatling cannons

2x Boyars PARS-150 20mW phased plasma cannons

Secondary Weapon:

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.

Image is drawn and copyrighted by Talis D. Merrill (

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.

Yes, sir.”

“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.

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$9.95/mo., no additional fees; sumthin’ to think about if you spend more than a couple hundred bucks on this stuff! 

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, but 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.

Primary Weapons:

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.

Secondary Weapons:

2 cm Railguns (20): These are standard rifle sized electromagnetic railguns.

Automatic 30 cm Mortars (8)

Medium Range Missile VLS (16)

Fragmentation Packs (80)

Fourth on my list is a different take on the tank, from the manga “Ghost in the Shell”. Fitted with crab-like legs rather than treads, the cybernetically controlled “Think Tank R-3000”


This is a state of the art lightweight tank designed for urban deployment. It utilizes “crab-type” running gear for high speed and maneuverability 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

Speed: 150kph

L: 7m

W: 6m

H: 5m (at full stretch)

Superstructure composite armour

Primary Weapons:

Twin tribarreled 12.7mm Gatlings mounted into

Secondary Weapons:

Power claws

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 relatively short range of their weapons.

Baneblade stats:

Crew: 10

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

Primary weapons:

1 turret-mounted Mega Battle Cannon: battle-ship grade cannon

1 hull-mounted Demolisher Cannon: anti-siege grade cannon

Secondary Weapons:

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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A surviving French St. Chamond WWI tank in motion - Tank Week on Breach-Bang-Clear.

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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Apocalypse Josh

Josh Orth is a second generation expat currently dwelling in the arguably civilized outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. He's lived in deserts, jungles and urban sprawls around the world and traveled/adventured into assorted inhospitable places around the world and has a keen sense of the speed with which the trappings of 'civilized Western life' can disappear. This has led him to begin writing about his interests and observations when it comes to the gear, skills and other necessities of self reliance of being equipped for whatever a capricious, occasionally indurate life might throw at him. This isn't by any means to say our eccentric friend actually longs for life in dystopia, but if he had to he might not complain. Read more by Josh at Apocalypse Equipped.

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12 thoughts on “Top-5 Fictional Tanks

  • September 19, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Bun Bun from the Posleen Wars by John Ringo

  • September 19, 2016 at 10:39 am

    What no Metal Gear? Bi-Pedal, Nuclear armed, walking battle tank baby!

  • September 18, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    A Few More just for funsies.

    “Tank Girl” – M5A1 Stuart

    Ogre – From the Steve Jackson microgame of the same name – Basically a Bolo before there were Bolos.

    Brawl – Transformers Movie – This would be a tank designed by a 10 year old boy. Totally Freaking Awesome.

    • September 19, 2016 at 10:43 am

      Other than a nitpick that Ogre came out in 1977 and the Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade came out in 1977, I fully support your inclusion of Ogre. I have owned every version of the game from the Metagaming version thru the Kick starter one without regrets. The images of the computer version being worked on now seem true to the original game.

  • September 18, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Icarus Industries M2A1 Ursa hover tank from David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series. 198 Tons combat loaded. Iridium armor. Fusion power plant. Max speed120 kph. Armament: 20cm power gun (basically a plasma cannon) with a Line of Sight range (it has been used to shoot down satellites and other orbital targets), a 2cm 3 barrel power gun in the commander’s cupola – under AI control it can shoot down incoming missiles, artillery, rockets and aircraft. Range is LOS to the horizon), 360 skirt of directional mines for any-personell and last ditch anti-missile/rocket protection (active defense system).

  • September 18, 2016 at 7:07 am

    And the more obscure Shinseki Armored Fighting Vehicle from James Cobb’s short novel “Cav”.

    A rubber-tired tank with small unit infantry transport capability and two semi-autonomous drone tanks for backup.

  • September 17, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    The Liberator Grav tanks from FASA Renegade Legion. Classic tank in almost all respects, 3 life form crew, 150mm main gun, Vulcan laser defenses (CIWS style). Armored formations making assault drops from high orbit. THOR satellite anti armor system dropping kenetic penetrators on armor from orbit. Cool for the game and the accompanying novels.

  • September 17, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Dang it! Now I will have to go read all my Bolo books again. I do agree that the hover tanks in Hammerstein Slammer should get a nod at least

  • September 17, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    What, no love for Hammer’ Slammers?

  • September 17, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    You missed the most important tank of all, the scorpion from halo.


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