A tankette is a type of lightly armed and armored tracked combat vehicle resembling a small tank roughly the size of a car, mainly intended for light infantry support or reconnaissance. Colloquially it may also simply mean a "small tank".
Tankettes were designed and built by several states between the 1920s and 1940s, and saw some combat (with limited success) in World War II. However, the vulnerability of their light armor eventually caused the concept to be abandoned.
Tankettes existed both in one- or two-man models, and some were built so low that the occupant had to lie prone. Some models were not equipped with turrets (and together with the tracked mobility, this is often seen as defining for the concept), or just a very simple one that was traversed by hand. They are significantly smaller than light tanks and do not possess a tank gun, instead their main weapon tended to be one or two machine guns, or rarely with a 20mm gun or grenade launcher.
Origins, user states
The British Carden Loyd tankettes were considered the classic and most successful designs, with many other tankettes modelled after it. While the design was successful, few Carden Loyd tankettes saw combat. However, the Universal Carrier was a related vehicle with an extensive operational history which had as its origins the Carden Loyd tankette.
The Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) equipped three armored divisions and three "fast" (celere) divisions with L3/33 and L3/35 tankettes. L3s were used in large numbers during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, and almost every place Italian soldiers fought during World War II. L3s even went with the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR) as late as Operation Barbarossa.
The French Armoured Reconnaissance type of the 1930s (Automitrailleuses de Reconnaissance, a "machine-gun scout") was essentially a tankette in form, but specifically intended for scouting ahead of the main force.
The Imperial Japanese Army became one of the most prolific users of tankettes, producing a number of designs useful for jungle warfare. However, by the time of the Second World War, many were already obsolete or were found to be unsuccessful in their appointed task. Many ended up being relegated to "tractor" duties for artillery or logistics units.
The concept was later abandoned due to limited usefulness and vulnerability to anti-tank weapons (or even regular machine guns), and the role of tankettes was largely taken over by armoured cars. However, in the Vietnam War the US Army employed a similar vehicle, namely the M50 Ontos, with respectable success. The 1990s saw the renaissance of a similar concept with the Wiesel of the German Bundeswehr being introduced to provide airborne troops with armoured recon capability, a function that had already been trialled with Soviet T-27 in World War II. However, the WWII-contemporary term "tankette" is not used for these modern vehicles (they are termed "armoured weapons carriers" in the Bundeswehr), although they do fit the definition of a tankette.
- British: Carden Loyd
- Italian: L3/33 and L3/35
- Japanese: Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha, Type 94 Te-Ke, and Type 97 Te-Ke (with rotating turret)
- Polish: TKS/TK-3
- Czechoslovak: AH-IV
- Soviet: T-27
- German: Wiesel 1 and Wiesel 2 (similar modern German armored and tracked weapon carrier systems)
- The Revolution After Next: Making Vertical Envelopment by Operationally Significant Mobile Protected Forces a Reality in the First Decade of the 21st Century, Tedesco, Vincent J. III; Major, School of Advanced Military Studies , United States Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, United States, 2000, Page 15
- Iron Arm (book excerpt via Google Books), Sweet, John Joseph Timothy; Stackpole Books, 2007, Page 84)
- T-27 Tankette (from the 'battlefield.ru' website, with further references cited. Accessed 2008-02-21.)
- War Slang: American Fighting Words and Phrases Since the Civil War (book excerpt via Google Books), Dickson, Paul; Brassey's, 2004, Page 221)
- Fletcher & Bryan, p. 3
- U.S. Forces Encounter Old Jap Tankette (from Intelligence Bulletin, September 1945, via lonesentry.com. Retrieved 2008-01-06.)
- Wiesel 1 (product website from the Rheinmetall manufacturer website. Accessed 2008-05-29.)
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