Tanks: A short guide to tactical thinking.
Panzers, Wine Coolers, Tin Cans, tanks are called and nicknamed in countless ways. Most games today have tanks, in one form or another. Some games focus on mildly realistic tank battles, others use a simplified model, but a lot of games share a lot of the same lessons when it comes to tanks. A newcomer to the genre might think of a tank as a near indestructible entity. A giant among little men, which will level everything in its wake. Then comes the sudden realisation that you wasted all of your resources on tanks or other vehicles, and each loss costs you more than you gained. When we think about tanks, as individual vehicles or as entire divisions we contrast tactical and strategic decisions. In this article I would wish to focus on the tactical aspects of using tanks, with a number of different examples from games.
Rule Number 1: Never send your tank(s) alone
A tank might be a fortress, but every fortress needs its men. Tanks rarely operate alone, this is because (historically) their crews could not see an infantry man sneaking up behind them with an anti-tank grenade, or equivalent. Although there have been battles where almost purely tanks participated such cases are very few indeed. The battle of Kursk is considered one such battle, where tanks fought tanks on a big scale, however, Soviet infantry still took an active role in taking out German tanks and vice versa.
There have been a few games where infantry has shown itself to be a bigger threat to tanks, than other tanks. Men of War games show this incredibly well. You might have invested all of your points into a Tiger tank, which will destroy most other tanks on the field, but a single creeping soldier with a Molotov will knock your expensive tank out of action. In Company of Heroes tanks were also expensive. You might have invested a lot of Manpower and Fuel, as well as Ammo into a tank, only for it to run into a Schrek or Anti-Tank gun ambush. Bringing your infantry along allows your tank to feel a bit safer from enemy infantry and tank hunters. Although, they cannot guarantee safety, there is one thing they can do… Scout.
Rule Number 2: Scouting saves tanks
Something as precious as a tank cannot be sent to the front line to “probe” the enemy. Your tank could run into a mine field, or an ambush, and you end up with no tank. The simple solution is to scout ahead. Most games and armies have some sort of scout vehicle or unit. Even sacrificing a weak unit to discover where enemy guns are pays off much more than throwing an expensive unit blindly. Sometimes a quick probe along the enemy’s line might change your plans entirely, because you might discover a weakness in the enemy defences, or too much opposition for you to handle at that point.
Rule Number 3: Stay Awake
What I mean by this is reading up any reports on enemy positions or simply paying attention. Any FPS with tanks, for example the Red Orchestra and Battlefield series expects from you that you heard somebody say that there is a tank hunter where you are driving with your tank. In Strategy games knowing is half the battle, and it’s often the difference between victory and defeat. The worst possible thing to do, is to keep doing the same thing over, and over. So, respawning in your tank and driving into the same location, in the same way, where you just died, begs for an encore. I have seen people in Red Orchestra take on the exact same tank route, while I was in my T-34/Panzer IV, and I honestly expected them to call me a hacker when I destroyed them the third or fourth time in a row.
Rule Number 4: Pick the right tank for the right job
When you have numerous types of tanks to choose from you might be prone to pick the heaviest possible tank. A heavy tank will on average be better armored, hold better firepower and dominate the field in front of itself. However, a heavy tank will be the most expensive, and it is easy to use it for tasks it might not be designed for. Medium tanks are what I consider “Wolf Pack” tanks. In an open field a group of medium tanks will be capable of outrunning Heavy tanks and surrounding them, firing from all possible directions. Consider the T-34, which would drive between Tiger Is and fire off at point-blank range. It might have not destroyed a Tiger straight away, but a slow-moving tank will be helpless. Light tanks make good scouts, but they can also be used as infantry support tanks.
Also, remember that every tank “type” can have its sub-type. Among the Heavy Tanks we had long-distance “Tank Destroyers” like the Tiger I, but also heavy infantry-support tanks, like the Churchills. There was also the BergTiger, which was built on a Tiger I chassis, but fired off rounds intended for destroying enemy defences. You have to realise, that only because a tank is “Heavy”, does not mean it can multi-task. Learn what does each tank excel at and prioritize that role.
It can’t be that simple…
Only because you know a few theories on the use of tanks, does not mean you will perform flawless Blitzkriegs. You must learn the ins and outs of the game you want to play. Some games have simplified tanks. While a game like Men of War will have so many different tanks, it will take a lot of time to discover all of them. Knowing the theory will help you in the future, but to win the game, round or battle you need more than that.
Alex “WriterX” Bielski