Britain had been first to use tanks on a mass scale during the First World War. But by the Second World War, it was German forces that had more fully integrated tanks into their fighting methods. Armoured warfare was to be a vital part of the fighting in the Second World War.
In the early years of the war, Germany held the initiative. German forces used Blitzkrieg tactics in France in 1940, making full use of the speed and armour of tanks to break through enemy defences. It was clear that German tank tactics had evolved during the inter-war period. By contrast, Britain and the Allies were playing catch-up.
The fighting in the North African desert between 1940 and 1943 was highly dependent on tanks. Britain deployed tank models including Crusaders, Valentines and Matildas, which were all relatively lightly armed and susceptible to mechanical problems. But from 1942, Britain was increasingly able to benefit from large numbers of American-produced tanks, like Grants and Shermans.
British Matilda tanks in the desert near Tobruk, 1941
The Second World War saw armoured clashes on a scale never seen before or since. Tanks were a significant factor in most of the main fighting theatres, from North Africa to Russia and northern France. They featured in some of the critical battles of the war, such as El Alamein in 1942 and Kursk in 1943.
Some of the largest tank battles took place in the desperate struggle between Germany and Soviet Russia. The Russians had the T-34, a tank that was well armed, versatile and manufactured in huge numbers. It played a key role in helping turn the tide on the Eastern Front in favour of Soviet Russia.
By the later years of the war, the German advantage had lessened. Whilst German forces benefitted from the huge armaments of tanks like the Tiger, the industrial might of the Allies meant they had tanks in larger quantities. Allied tank designs also improved, as did their tactical use of armour.