British tanks and their use in desert warfare have a long heritage. Many of the major conflicts such as the Gulf and Iraq war plus the North Africa Campaign of the Second World War has been the scene for the use of iconic tanks with footage of troops and equipment blasting across the Sahara or Middle East. There is usually a camel in there somewhere to serve as a ship of the desert metaphor. Tanks are ideal for desert warfare as there is generally nothing to hide behind or act as any kind of cover. Although the ground can be hard going the tracks of a tank make short work of this over normal tyres that can be bogged down.
If you want to experience what it must have felt like being a passenger and driving a tank then you can take part in a Tank Driving Experience like the ones you can take part in at Armourgeddon Tank Driving Days.
The reality of the Second World scenes are somewhat untrue though as we shall see.
It was vital for the Allies to keep North Africa. This was primarily a colonies war and was first initiated by the Italians in the Axis who had previously annexed Ethiopia in an attempt to build an empire. The Italians had declared war on June the tenth in 1940 but it was the Allies that would strike first with the Royal Hussars and first royal tank regiment entering Libya. The conflict went back and forth until the arrival of the hastily put together German AfrikaKorps who came to save the decimated Italian Army. Although the Allies where victorious overall it was a longer struggle hampered by the tanks that were so heavily featured. The British tactic was to use a heavy tank that was slow to protect troops with a lighter tank to get in behind the German tanks. This tactic was literally blown to pieces as the German tanks were faster, better armoured and better gunned plus they used the significantly better anti-tank guns.
The case in point was the Matilda. It was slow and unreliable and the German Tigers’ not only had a cooler name, they were streets ahead of the lumbering machine that owed more to the First World War. One of the many reasons that the Germans had lost the First World War was their inability to keep up with the push towards mechanised warfare and their tanks were pitiful compared to the British. However, the tables were truly turned in the Second, especially with the use of the Blitzkrieg tactic, and it wasn’t until the entry of the Americans and the Sherman Tank that the British could fight on an even keel.