Tank warfare has been an ever-changing beast and a constant race for the biggest, baddest and best. But what makes a great tank? Speed? Size? Incredible firepower? Or all of the above and some more. 

There have been some fairly bonkers and brilliant tank designs over the years and we're exploring some of the best with a collection of tanks and fighting vehicles for you to enjoy. 

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Leonardo da Vinci's tank

You'd be forgiven for thinking that tanks were a modern concept that sprang up around the time of the Great War and saw fighting forces looking for protection while moving out of the trenches and onto the battlefield. They've actually been around a lot longer than that though. 

Leonardo da Vinci was creating concepts for these sorts of vehicles as far back as the 16th century. One of these visions of future tech included a fighting vehicle that was essentially a modern tank inspired by a turtle's shell. The design for this tank included a call for reinforced metal plates to protect the occupants, slanting sides to deflect enemy fire and an array of light cannons. It could barely be built at the time, but was an interesting vision of the future of warfare. 

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The world's first tank

  • Army of service: United Kingdom
  • Years of service: 1916
  • Crew members: 8
  • Main weapon size: Two 6-pounder guns
  • Weight: 28 tonnes
  • Top speed: 3.7 mph

It was the British who first invented and rolled out an armoured, tracked and armed fighting vehicle onto the battlefield. This is the Mark I tank that went into service in 1916 and began the era of tank warfare. 

It weighed in at around 28 tonnes, had armour that was less than half an inch thick and sported either two 6-pounder guns and three machine guns or five machine guns with no main cannons. These tanks had a crew of eight and played an important part in the war effort, but the tanks themselves quickly became obsolete. 

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The Tiger II  

  • Army of service: Germany
  • Years of service: 1944-1945
  • Crew members: 5
  • Main weapon size: 88mm
  • Weight: 69.8 tonnes
  • Top speed: 25.8 mph

This is the Tiger II, perhaps the most infamous German tank of World War Two. It was also known as the Königstiger (literally translated as Royal Tiger) and often feared by Allied forces. 

This tank was a fearsome machine and represented Germany's engineering skills for creating incredible armoured vehicles and technological advancements during wartime.

It sported an 88 mm cannon and as much as seven inches of armour. It was also incredibly heavy at nearly 70 tonnes and often thought to be underpowered for the weight. As such, it was slow and cumbersome. The Tiger II was also prone to malfunctions and breaking down, in fact, the first five of these tanks to be used broke down before they could drive into battle and had to be destroyed to prevent them falling into enemy hands. 

Still, the Tiger tank remained one of the most feared of the war. It was incredibly well armoured and very dangerous, as Michal Wittmann proved when he destroyed 14 tanks, 15 personnel carriers and more in 15 minutes with his Tiger I. 

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Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte

  • Army of service: Germany
  • Years of service: Theory only
  • Crew members: Up to 41
  • Main weapon size: 2 x 280mm, 1 x 128 mm, 8 x 20mm and 2 x 15mm
  • Weight: 1,000 tonnes
  • Top speed: 25 mph

We all know how bonkers and insane the German army could be in terms of super weapons. This is one of the potential designs developed during the war. The Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte was a giant land ship design submitted in 1942. This was a 1,000-tonne super tank, designed to re-use main guns left over from refitting of battleships of the time.  The design included ridiculously thick armour and a multitude of weapons including several anti-aircraft guns designed to prevent attacks from every angle. 

The massive land ship would require two 24-cylinder diesel engines (the same used in U-boat submarines) to achieve 16,000 hp - the amount needed to drive the sheer weight of the thing. Of course, the entire thing was preposterous. If it was ever built, the tank would have been almost too heavy to move. It would have collapsed any bridge it tried to cross and if it did break down there would be no other realistic way to move it. The huge size of it also meant it would have been visible for miles and extremely vulnerable to attack from the air and distance artillery.  

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Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus

  • Army of service: Germany
  • Years of service: 1944
  • Crew members: 6
  • Main weapon size: 128mm and 75mm
  • Weight: 188 tonnes
  • Top speed: 12 mph

The Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus (aka "Mouse") is the heaviest fully enclosed armoured fighting vehicle ever built. The Germans might not have built the Ratte, but that didn't stop them building monster tanks like this one. Nearly 200 tonnes of monstrous fighting machine that came into development in 1944. Only two were built and even they weren't finished. 

Interestingly, the Mouse made use of a hybrid drive (part electric) engine due to needing an engine small enough to fit inside the hull but large enough to power the weight. It was also so heavy it couldn't cross bridges, but instead had to submerge and snorkel through rivers. Thick armour and heavy firepower would have made this tank incredibly deadly but it was never fully produced.  

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T-34 medium tank

  • Army of service: Soviet Union
  • Years of service: 1940-present
  • Crew members: 4/5
  • Main weapon size: 76.2mm
  • Weight: 26.5 tonnes
  • Top speed: 33 mph

While the German army was making waves with technological advancements and high-end heavy tanks, the Russians were building reliable medium tanks.

The T-34 boasted an impressive, game-changing sloped armour that was surprisingly effective at deflecting incoming shells and a reliable design for a highly mobile tank. 

This tank was capable, cheap to produce and highly thought of. Its design was so significant that some variants of the T-34 are still in service today with different armies around the world. It is thought that around 60,000 T-34 tanks were produced during World War II and these medium tanks played an important part in defeating the Nazis and winning the war. 

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The M18 Hellcat

  • Army of service: United States
  • Years of service: 1943-1944
  • Crew members: 5
  • Main weapon size: 76mm
  • Weight: 17.7 tonnes
  • Top speed: 50 mph

Although the Sherman tank might be the most well-known American tank of World War II, it was the M18 Hellcat that was perhaps the most impressive. This tank destroyer is credited as being "the most effective tank destroyer" of the US Army. It had a higher kill-to-loss ratio than any other tank or tank destroyer used by the US during the war. 

Only around 2,500 M18 Hellcats were built during the war, but these machines claimed 526 enemy kills with just 216 losses. The Hellcat had a remarkable top speed of 50mph which meant it could take part in shoot and scoot movements and outmanoeuvre enemy forces with ease. It was weak and lightly armoured but made up for it with a hefty 76mm main gun and plenty of speed. 

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Sherman Firefly

  • Army of service: United Kingdom
  • Years of service: 1943-1945
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 89mm
  • Weight: 35.3 tonnes
  • Top speed: 25 mph

The M4 Sherman might have been one of the most well-known tanks of the war, but the Sherman Firefly was its more deadly brother. This was a variant of the tank used by the United Kingdom and fitted with the 17-pounder anti-tank gun. This was an up-rated cannon compared to the 75 mm cannon on the standard Sherman tank. 

This new gun was one of the most powerful anti-tank guns of the war and gave the Sherman Firefly some serious stopping power. In theory, the rounds used by the Firefly could penetrate the hull armour of any German tank it came across. Like the Sherman, the Sherman Firefly wasn't without its problems though. Firing the high-velocity gun would not only be fairly jarring for the crew but also led to shockwaves that would kick up dust and dirt - making it hard for the gunner to see where the round fell to adjust for the next shot. 

Around 2,000 Sherman Firefly tanks were produced and contributed some serious firepower to the Allied war effort. 

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Churchill Crocodile

  • Army of service: United Kingdom
  • Years of service: 1944-1945
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 75mm
  • Weight: 40.7 tonnes
  • Top speed: 15 mph

The Churchill Crocodile was a variant of the standard Churchill infantry tank that was converted to carry a flamethrower and pull an armoured fuel trailer behind it. It was one of "Hobart's Funnies" - some unusually designed tanks created to deal with specific tasks. It could fire flames up to 110 metres and was extremely effective at clearing out enemy bunkers and fortifications. 

The Crocodile also still had use of its main 75mm cannon, making it an excellent multi-role tank, but it was also seen as a powerful psychological weapon for fighting the enemy. 

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Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle

This weird and wonderful tank is a "BARV" - Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle. It was based on the chassis of the American Sherman tank but had its turret removed and replaced with a tall armoured plating. It was designed to be capable of running in up to nine feet of water and to have the power to push, pull and recover other vehicles that had broken down on the D-Day invasion beaches. 

The tank proved so popular that similar designs based on Centurion tanks and Leopards would appear after the war ended. 

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M26 Pershing heavy tank

  • Army of service: United States
  • Years of service: 1945-1950s
  • Crew members: 5
  • Main weapon size: 90mm
  • Weight: 46 tonnes
  • Top speed: 30 mph

The M26 Pershing was a replacement for the famous Sherman tank and one of the best tanks the US army fielded during World War II. The Pershing was fast and powerful with its 90mm main cannon that could match that of German heavy tanks. Based on firepower and mobility, the M26 Pershing was seen as superior to the Tiger I and a formidable fighting machine. 

It was also up-rated with a larger, longer main cannon that had a high muzzle velocity capable of firing shells at 3,750 feet per second. With this cannon, the so-called Super Pershing could penetrate the armour on the enemy's Panther tanks at 2,400 metres. 

Unfortunately, the development of the M26 was delayed due to the famous "tank destroyer doctrine" that saw the US focussing on using tanks for infantry support and using tank destroyers for tank-on-tank combat meaning the need for heavy tanks was not recognised. Only 2,000 M26 Pershings were produced and hardly any saw action during World War II but instead went on to be used in the Korean War. 

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ISU-152 tank destroyer

  • Army of service: Soviet Union
  • Years of service: 1943-1970s
  • Crew members: 4/5
  • Main weapon size: 152.4mm howitzer
  • Weight: 47.3 tonnes
  • Top speed: 19 mph

The ISU-152 was affectionately known as the "beast killer" and was designed with a heavy assault gun and static cannon. There was no traditional turret on this vehicle, so the entire tank needed to be turned to face the enemy, which made it awkward. It was, however, effective in combat. The ISU-152 had thick armour which meant it could take direct anti-tank fire and still continue on into battle. 

The ISU-152 fired heavy shells, the sheer weight of which meant it could only fire a maximum of three rounds a minute. The high-explosive capabilities of the warhead meant it could blow the turret off a Tiger tank. Even if the shell didn't penetrate enemy armour the shockwave of a direct hit would often kill the crew via shrapnel being thrown around the internals of the tank or concussion from the blast. This made the ISU-152 a formidable opponent to even Germany's heaviest tanks. 

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T-28 Super Heavy Tank

  • Army of service: United States
  • Years of service: 1945
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 105mm
  • Weight: 100 tonnes
  • Top speed: 8 mph

The T28 Super Heavy Tank was a tank designed for a specific task - to help Allied forces break through the German Siegfried Line. This gargantuan tank weighed a staggering 100 tonnes and sported a 105mm cannon that was perfect for smashing through concrete structures. Alas, before development could be finished the Allies had already broken through the German heavy defences. The production was then turned to focus on putting the T-28 to use on the Japanese mainland, but the war ended before they were needed. 

The T-28 was abandoned after the war due to being too slow, too heavy and obsolete compared to the technology of the time. There's no denying it was an impressive beast though. 

Object 279

  • Army of service: Soviet Union
  • Years of service: 1959
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 130mm
  • Weight: 60 tonnes
  • Top speed: 34 mph

Object 279 was an experimental heavy tank designed by the Soviet Union at the end of the 1950s. Only three of these tanks were made, thanks in part to the ruling by Nikita Khrushchev which stopped armoured vehicles over 37 tonnes being built.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting beast. A 60-tonne special purpose machine designed to fight across heavy terrain that would stop any other tank in its tracks. It was also designed to survive the shockwave of a nuclear explosion and to withstand radiological, biological and chemical attack. 

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The Challenger 2 main battle tank

  • Army of service: United Kingdom
  • Years of service: 1998-present
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 120mm rifled
  • Weight: 75.0 tonnes
  • Top speed: 37 mph

The Challenger 2 is often considered one of the most formidable tanks in existence. It originally entered service in 1998 and is such an impressive machine that it is thought it will continue to operate until 2030. 

This is a monster tank that weighs in at just under 63 tonnes, holds a crew of four and is capable of as much as 37 miles per hour. Highlights to this tank include a rifled 120 mm main cannon turret which makes the tank capable of accurately lobbing shells over five miles. 

During the 2003 Iraq war, no Challenge 2 tanks were lost, despite regular enemy contact. There's also a story about one of these tanks that was hit by 14 RPG rockets at close range and a MILAN anti-tank missile and yet still survived (with crew uninjured). This sort of action is a testament to the Challenger 2's awesome status. 

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M1A2 SEP Abrams

  • Army of service: United States
  • Years of service: 1980-present
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 120mm smoothbore
  • Weight: 74 tonnes
  • Top speed: 42 mph

The M1 Abrams is the US Army's main battle tank. It is perhaps one of the most well-known tanks in the world and played a big part in various modern battlefields including the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan. The M1A2 Abrams boasts several innovative design features including a powerful 1500 hp engine, excellent composite armour system and a computer-based fire control system. 

Its defensive systems include various Active Protection Systems designed to disrupt both wire and radio guided anti-tank missiles and homing missiles launched at it. The defences also include a halon firefighting system that can protect the tank crew by automatically extinguishing fires within the cabin. The latest model of the Abrams has proven so effective that the US Army plans to keep running them until at least 2050. 

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T-14 Armata main battle tank

  • Army of service: Russia
  • Years of service: 2015-present
  • Crew members: 3
  • Main weapon size: 125mm smoothbore
  • Weight: 48 tonnes
  • Top speed: 50 mph

The T-14 Armata is the newest generation of Russian main battle tank. It's a fast and powerful tank that packs some serious punch thanks to a 125mm main cannon supported by an autoloader that is capable of firing around 12 rounds per minute. It's said to have an effective penetrative range of just under five miles. The main gun is also capable of firing all sorts of ammunition included guided missiles, high-explosive airburst rounds and more. 

The highlight of this tank is the crew protection. It has a number of innovative and unusual characteristics, including an unmanned turret and an armoured shell where all the crew sit together. This is said to be the first tank to feature such a layout and it is thought that the tank could continue to operate even if the main armour of the tank was penetrated but the crew cell remained intact. 

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Leopard 2

  • Army of service: Germany
  • Years of service: 1979-present
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 120mm smoothbore
  • Weight: 68.7 tonnes
  • Top speed: 42 mph

The Leopard 2 is the main battle tank of the German army and has been since the late 1970s. It has seen various improvements and enhancements over the years, including the addition of arrow-shaped deflective armour, digital fire control systems, laser range finders, advance night sights and more.  

The Leopard 2 is thought to be one of the most accurate and efficient tanks in the world. It has outperformed the American Abrams, British Challenger 2 and other tanks in various tests and is capable of firing accurately and over long distances thanks to its turret design and advanced control systems. 

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M8 Armored Gun System

  • Army of service: United States
  • Years of service: 1980s-present
  • Crew members: 3
  • Main weapon size: 105mm rifled
  • Weight: 24.75 tonnes
  • Top speed: 45mph

The M8 Armored Gun System was a light tank designed to be used by the American Airborne. A lightweight combat tank that could be dropped from an aircraft in a rapid deployment role. The armour design only offers protection from light anti-tank weapons, but it does offer some decent firepower in support of troops including a 105 mm rifled cannon and machine guns. The M8 is also nifty and can get up to 45 mph on the road. 

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CV90120-T Ghost tank

  • Army of service: Sweden
  • Years of service: 2011-present
  • Crew members: 4
  • Main weapon size: 120mm Smoothbore
  • Weight: 75.0 tonnes
  • Top speed: 43 mph

The Swedish T Ghost is a camouflaged tank that uses BAE's ADAPTIV camouflage to make it invisible to enemy thermal imaging systems. The Ghost tank also uses a high-calibre 120mm compact main cannon with new technology designed to reduce recoil and lower overall vehicle weight. 

The result is a nimble and powerful medium fighting tank. The bleeding edge technology on this tank, in theory, allows the users to strike first before the opposing forces even realise they're there. 

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Black Knight Unmanned Combat Vehicle

  • Army of service: US
  • Years of service: 2007-present
  • Crew members: Unmanned
  • Main weapon size: 30mm 
  • Weight: 12 tonnes
  • Top speed: 48 mph

The Black Knight Unmanned Combat Vehicle is a prototype unmanned combat vehicle with the appearance of a small tank and the firepower to match. A 30mm cannon and 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, combined with the ability to be deployed from a military transport aircraft make this a combat vehicle to be reckoned with. 

The Black Knight Unmanned Combat Vehicle is designed to be sent into high-risk situations to avoid unnecessary danger to human troops. The current technology is not without limitations and issues with GPS, wireless communication and sensors still need to be worked out but apparently, it is a combat vehicle that shows plenty of promise.  

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Obrum PL-01 Stealth Tank

  • Army of service: Poland
  • Years of service: 2013-present
  • Crew members: 3
  • Main weapon size: 120mm 
  • Weight: 35 tonnes
  • Top speed: 43 mph

PL-01 is a Polish light tank with a modular ceramic-aramid shell and additional armoured plating capable of providing a full range of protection against a variety of projectiles, improvised explosive devices and landmines. 

Equipped with a 940hp engine it's capable of a top speed of just under 45 mph with a range of 310 miles. The highlight of this tank though is the stealth technology. As a fifth-generation stealth tank, it's the world's first armoured vehicle that's practically invisible to both infrared and radar detection systems. The various technologies here make this the most advanced stealth tank in the world which is surprising considering it's come out of Poland and not Russia or the United States.

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K2 Black Panther main battle tank

  • Army of service: South Korea
  • Years of service: 2013-present
  • Crew members: 3
  • Main weapon size: 120mm 
  • Weight: 35 tonnes
  • Top speed: 55 mph

The K2 Black Panther is the main battle tank of South Korea. It boasts a powerful auto-loaded main gun that is capable of firing up to 10 rounds per minute. It also uses Korean Smart Top-Attack Munitions. This is a fire-and-forget, top-attack anti-tank shell that can hit targets up to five miles away. Once fired this munition will deploy a parachute when it reaches the target and uses various radar, radiometer and infrared sensors to fire downwards on the weakest point of an enemy vehicle. 

The K2 Black Panther also has a classified composite armour with both soft-kill and hard-kill anti-missile defense systems.  Radar Warning Receivers, Missile Approach Warning Systems and a Visual and Infrared Screening Smoke grenade system keeps the tank safe from enemy attack. Making it one heck of a modern fighting machine. 

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XM2001 Crusader 

  • Army of service: US
  • Years of service: Cancelled in 2002
  • Crew members: 3
  • Main weapon size: 155mm
  • Weight: 43 tonnes
  • Top speed: 30 mph

The XM2001 Crusader was an absolute monster. The apparent "next generation" of self-propelled howitzers. It was built to deliver mobile and lethal artillery support on the battlefield. This was an automated artillery system capable of firing as many as 12 rounds a minute via its large 155mm cannon. 

This vehicle never really got off the ground though, as the $11 billion project was scrapped in 2002 for fears the self-propelled howitzer was too inaccurate and not quite mobile enough. 

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Big Wind

While most tanks on this list might be used for battle and wartime combat, some have other uses. This monster is known as Big Wind. A Russian T-34 tank that's been converted into a firefighting machine. The main gun has been removed and replaced with two MiG-21 jet engines. Water is then fed through the engines and sprayed at high-speed onto dangerous fires. 

It might look weird and wonderful, but it's fantastic for putting out dangerous fires at oil wells and such. Brilliant to see something deadly being converted to save lives instead of taking them.