The Ten Worst Tanks of WW2

World War Two heralded the advancement of many military practices and pieces of equipment. However, among them all, tanks were perhaps the most innovative to emerge.

Over time, countless modifications and designs were tested in combat. But with successes came many failures, ranging from poor conceptual designs to enormous unsustainable structures.

From a wide variety of designs, here are some basic ground rules which limited our selection of ‘Worst Tank’

  • Each tank needed to reach the prototype phase at least. Without this, Germany’s Panzers would make up the vast bulk of this list.
  • The tanks should not be Italian. 
  • Only one heavy tank is on the entire list. However, given that nearly all such designs proved to be failures or never reached the battlefield, it was fair to list the single worst one.
  • Each needed to be on the drawing board or in total production between 1933 to 1945, thus ensuring each was involved in the war or was at least being tested at the same time.
  • 10. Japan Type 95 Ha-Go
Type 95 Ha-Go Tank
Any which way. A Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go Tank after being hit by an Australian 2pdr.

Most of Japan’s victories came from the air force and navy. However, the army produced very few lightweight tanks. Hence, Japan relied heavily on the Type 95 on battlefields during World War Two. 

What was the big problem with the Type 95? Well the tank was speedy enough and well-suited to more challenging tropical environments. Unfortunately, various mechanical failures and temperamental engine issues offset the strengths.

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The Type 95 only won earlier battles against opponents such as China, which had few mechanised vehicles or similarly outdated designs. Nevertheless, the tank was outclassed and outdated even before Japan entered the war, leading to its demise in the early 1940s in Burma.

  • 9. British, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11)
Matilda I Tank
Where do we start? A Matilda I Tank. Cold, cramped and dangerous. Amazingly the hatch blocks the gun! (IWM)

While this tank ranks lower than the Type 95, the Matilda is not a vehicle that many people remember today. This tank was a leftover from cruder 1930s designs. It was known for its mismatched combination of armour and armament.

The Matilda suffered from having severely exposed tracks and running gear. Despite being compact, the tank had to manoeuvre and be operated by multiple people with space only for one driver!

Put into service shortly before the outbreak of the war, the Matilda saw action in the initial engagements across France but its demise began shortly afterwards.

  • 8. Russian KV-2
The Russian KV-2
The Russian KV-2 looked like two separate tanks welded together. Its height merely allowed the Germans to use captured tanks as artillery observation platforms.

The idea behind the KV-2 was simple: use the same basic frame of the KV-1 heavy tank to create a mobile artillery piece and effectively tack a howitzer onto it. However, it had quite a few flaws. For example, it had weak armour around the crew members.

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Additionally, opponents could see the tank coming from miles away because of its high turret. KV-2’s engine was also plagued with countless issues, which made it all the more difficult to operate. 

Few KV-2s lasted past 1942. After that, the only use the German army found for them was as artillery observation platforms.

  • 7. German Panzerkampfwagen Tiger ausf. B (Tiger II)
Tiger II
The Tiger II certainly looked the part however it was a mechanical nightmare.

The Tiger I was known for being problematic and over-engineered. When the Tiger II came around, Germany was in trouble. In a state of emergency, the tank was immediately sent into action. The tank came with numerous issues — for example, a highly overtaxed drive due to size and weight and a double-radius steering gear. In short, it was a mechanical nightmare.

Moreover, seals and gaskets frequently leaked fuel. Not exactly something you would want on a battlefield.

Tiger II tanks were too heavy for battle and transportation due to their fuel consumption issues. Their armour also lacked the requirements of later tanks. It also required extensive maintenance. As a result, they did not prove reliable during the war. It was not long until they were upgraded.

  • 6. British A13 Covenanter
A British, Cruiser Mk V Covenanter III (A13 Mk III) tank. Nuts and bolts and very little armour.(IWM)

Britain’s armour development during World War II was insignificant. However, poor design choices hampered the A13 Covenanter. The tank was to replace Cruiser IV. 

So, what went wrong? Mainly, the engine’s cooling was incompatible. The radiators had to be re-positioned to the tank’s front to fit the rather sizable 12-cylinder engine into the vehicle. Hence, they simply failed to prevent the engine from stalling or overheating. In addition, the armour was insufficient for combat, and the steering system was unreliable. 

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The Covenanter line remained in the British Isles to serve as training vehicles for new recruits. The closest they would get to combat was their bombing during a German air raid over Canterbury in Kent!

  • 5. German Panzerjäger Tiger (P) Sd. Kfz. 184.
The German Panzerjäger Tiger Elefant
The German Panzerjäger Tiger Elefant tank destroyer. Strictly speaking not a a tank. Strictly speaking way too cumbersome.

More popularly known as the Ferdinand or Elefant, Panzerjäger was built by the Germans in small numbers in 1943. The tank was another victim of the “Bigger is better!” ideology. 

The final design weighed as much as seventy tons! The main idea was to counter Russian anti-tank weapons and T-34 variants at maximum range.

The Ferdinand was extremely slow and had a high fuel consumption of .15/.11 km/l, respectively. Moreover, rough terrains completely crippled the vehicle. In any case, the Ferdinand performed well in the Battle of Kursk as it approached the battlefield. 

Lastly, when the Elefant arrived in Italy, most roads and bridges could not support its colossal weight, hindering their involvement in offensive roles.

  • 4. Russian T-35
The T-35
The T-35 in the Kubinka Tank Museum, Moscow. It was festooned with guns, and mechanical problems.

The Russian T-35’s spectacular failure symbolises why these giant land ships don’t work. The T-35 was a product of a bygone era. However, it served more as a symbol of power and might rather than practicality. With five independently operated gun turrets, it was almost ten metres long and four metres tall.

However, like the Elefant, it was extremely sluggish and slow-moving. As a result, it was difficult to operate or even manoeuvre in battles. To make matters worse, the tank had a cramped interior where crew members were divided into separate compartments.

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The crew got in and out of the tank from the hatches on the turrets. These turrets and cannons were in a poor position, which made it near-impossible to focus fire. The tank had a 11–30 mm armour plating – prone to penetration by heavy rifles. 

In Operation Barbarossa, nearly all T-35s suffered crippling mechanical failures on their way to the front lines. Funnily enough, the T-35 had this weird habit of breaking down right before combat. Unlucky, or rather lucky, for the crew. Overall, considering these tanks as mere oversized coffins would not be a stretch of the imagination.

  • 3. New Zealand The Bob Semple Tank
The Bob Semple Tank
Semple’s tank was built by the Ministry of Works at Temuka, New Zealand between 1940-41. It was futuristic as it resembled a robot from a 1950s sci-fi show!

The tank, named after New Zealand Minister of Works Bob Semple, was built out of the country’s need for military machinery. They made it out of corrugated iron with armour like a steel case. The creators made a rookie mistake of quantity over quality and packed the tanks with six Bren light machine guns.

But that can’t be bad, right? Wrong.

The guns were in the wrong places – next to useless due to their lack of workability. Still, while the tank was an utter failure, New Zealanders developed a kind of cultural fondness and pride for the tank and their homeland as a symbol of self-reliance. 
Bob Semple. A Proud (and brave) man to have put his name to this tank.

  • 2. Czech Tančík vzor 1933
Tančík vzor 1933
A Nut and bolt replica of the Tančík vzor 1933. It was surprisingly slow despite its size and very noisy. (Kateřina Adamusová)

The tank, made by the Czechoslovakian army, was copied from the Carden-Lloyd Mk. IV tankette right down to many of its core design elements. However, the Mk. IV was purely to drag artillery pieces and provide support. The idea behind the Vzor was a highly mobile machine gun nest, capable of moving quickly from position to position and serving as a counter to any major infantry attack.

Unfortunately, the Vzor was not all it desired to be. It was poorly armed, inadequately armoured, noisy and with little room for the gun. Moreover, it moved at a plodding pace. Hence, hitting a target was difficult, making it essentially useless. Despite its unreliability and tendency to break down at the worst moment, the army pushed forward with it until eventually they could not think of a role for it any longer.

The Czechoslovakian army used the tank in only a few minor suppression actions by the Czechoslovakian military against partisans during the Slovak National Uprising.

  • 1. British A38 Valiant
A38 Valiant
The A38 Valiant at Bovington Tank Museum. Under gunned and underwhelming. It was dangerous to drive!

We finally made it to the worst tank on the list. Pat yourself on the back if you’ve made it this far!

Designed in 1943 and produced the following year, the A38 Valiant was built to correct the British army’s shortcomings in Burma. Thus, the basic concept was to make as small and light a tank as possible with as much heavy armour as possible.

Unfortunately, the final design fell far short from the idea.

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The Valiant was severely under-gunned, with only a single 6pdr (57mm) main gun, lacking any variant of the bow-mounted machine gun. Despite being intended as a light design, the vehicle was slow and had low mobility even by the standards of British infantry tanks.

Even the armour was considered inadequate. Certain sections were made from cast metal, and many others bolted together. It was a process that was long ruled out in tank design as it was extremely dangerous for the crew.

In addition, the ergonomics of the tanks were out of sync. The driver had to pull all his weight behind each lever to operate it, making driving nearly impossible. Even the commander was unsafe: a slight bump against a sharp edge meant concussion. What’s worse? Getting your foot stuck in the pedals meant the only way out was through an amputation!

Despite this and the failings of essential trials, the Valiant still found its way into the British military. Soon after the UK shut down the project, it was sent away and displayed as an example to new officers, showing them what the past offered.

So there we have it. From mechanical disasters to under armed and under armoured monsters. The 10 worst tanks of WW2.