Tanks, and the Advent of Armored Warfare
On 15 September 1916, German soldiers in their trenches were astonished to see a large metal canister lumbering towards them, propelled forward on tracks, and blazing away with double machine guns. This was the iconic British Mark I tank, the very first of its kind ever to appear on a battlefield. The Mark I did not advance very far, and it proved to be quite a handful to operate, but it nonetheless marked a quantum shift in the way that war would be fought.
This revolution would be slow to develop, and its impact would only be nominally felt on the battlefields of WWI. It certainly got the Germans thinking, however, and before long the German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen entered production. Then, on 24 April 1918, just under two years after the first appearance of the Mark I, the first tank battle in history was fought at Villers-Bretonneux in France.
This battle also did not amount to much, and within a few months the curtain closed on WWI in Europe, and both sides went back to the drawing board to develop and improve this latest idea in warfare. Hardly an original idea, of course, since armored battle machines had been in existence since the earliest siege engines, but this was certainly something new.
Despite the heavy punitive conditions imposed on Germany in the aftermath of WWI, by the time the first shots of WWII were fired, the Germans were far in the lead in the evolution of tank design and tactics. Almost before the French knew what had hit them, the German Panzer divisions rolled across western Europe almost unopposed.
The British, in a state of shock, went quickly to work, and began producing various marks of tank, none of which ever really came to compare with the German. Tank warfare on a major scale began in North Africa, where desert conditions were entirely conducive to a war of mass maneuver. The imbalance of quality of tanks, however, was only really corrected when the Americans came into the field.
The greatest tank battles, of course, were fought on the Eastern Front, between the massed ranks of cheaply built Russian tanks, and the mighty Panzers, and in this case quantity proved more decisive that quality.
The next major deployment of tanks in battle came in the Arab/Israeli wars, and in the Middle East, tanks are still a decisive factor. The Cold War saw mass tank deployment in Europe, and the refinement of the concept to perhaps its highest degree. It was in the first Gulf War, however, that the tank returned to the desert, and advances in technology proved just how devastating this weapon could still be.
In the modern context, however, with the development of missile technology, tanks are tending to lose their relevance, but from the day that the Mark I entered the battlefield, not much was ever the same again.