What Are The Best World War Two Tanks for Wargaming?
Updated: May 11
The introduction of tanks into the fighting of World War One is the stuff of legend (and very often myth, as the tanks weren't quite as effective back then as we like to think they were). Those tanks were intimidating and terrifying when first viewed, but they were hell to drive in, with the crew often impossible to even communicate with each other aside from hand signals because of the overwhelming noise. And once the enemy figured out the tanks' weaknesses, they were target practice for artillery.
That said, by the time World War Two rolled around, massive amounts of progress had been made and, by the time World War Two had ended, the incredible production, on-the-field experience, and battle testing had converted weak and vulnerable tanks into some of the greatest fighting vehicles that the world had ever seen.
But which tanks were the best, and how do they relate to wargaming? Which is the best tank to pick in a wargame?
Best Tanks of World War Two By Country
Presumably, if you're playing a game like Bolt Action or Flames of War, you're only going to be fielding the tank from one side. Yes, you might have British and American tanks fighting together, and the Germans may occasionally be running in a captured and repurposed Char B1 BIS. You might even have lend lease tanks in your Soviet force. But at the heart of every power's tank force is a tank that they developed themselves. Let's break it down by each power:
Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha
The Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank was the most widely produced Japanese tank of World War Two, but it wasn't much more than average to begin with. More of infantry support, the 57mm tank gun wasn't great, and overall the tank's 25mm armor left much to be desired. In 1942 it was retrofitted with the Type 1 47mmm tank gun in a larger turret and redubbed the Shinhoto (meaning "new turret").
While it still was never the equal of many of its opponents in the Pacific, including the M3 Lee and the M4 Sherman, as well as the Soviet T-34, it still was able to hold its ground in a few battles and was considered to be the best Japanese combat tank of World War Two.
Buy: Warlord, Fujimi
Churchill Mk. IV
Though it got off to a rocky start, by 1943 the kinks had mostly been worked out of the Mk IV Churchill. Knoown primarily for its ability to get around almost any terrain and any obstacle, including slopes, ditches, hedgerows, tank traps, and bogs, this rugged tank was a workhorse with powerful armor and a strong 75mm cannon.
The Mk IV saw action in Normandy. It made a name for itself in Operation Bluecoat in the muddy forests of the Reichswald, where it was said that no other tank would have been able to negotiated the terrain.
Developed from the Cromwell, a tank which was good but never great, the Comet Cruiser boasted a 17 pdr High Velocity gun, and it was capable of standing up against most any tank in the late war Battle of Germany, including even taking on Panthers and Tigers.
That said, it had limited use in the war, appearing so late as to just arrive in time to cross the Rhine. Only 26 were destroyed in combat. The tank was good enough to go on to serve for twenty more years.
What made the M4 Sherman such a great tank was its versatility and the endless number of variants. They were good tanks, well made, and produced in staggering quantities. Thousands went through lend lease to the British and the Soviets.
Showing off its merits in North Africa, while fighting against less-armored tanks of the Germans and Italians, confidence was high that the Sherman would be the Allied answer to the war. But when Germany upped their game (which we'll talk about below) it became clear that the Sherman needed some upgrades.
The first of these was one made by the British, the Sherman Firefly, which refitted their 75mm guns with a 76 mm, making it much more formidable against German armor.
Perhaps the most famous is the "Easy Eight" M4A3E8 Sherman. With a more powerful engine, thicker armor, better suspension for harsher terrain, and the high-velocity 76mm gun, the Easy Eight became a staple of the late war.
Soviet Union's Tanks
The T-34 wasn't much of a tank in the beginning, but that was rectified when the Germans came head to head with the worst that the Germans had to offer: specifically, the Tiger I. The Soviets quickly upgraded the armor of the T-34 and then added on the 85mm cannon, giving it the designation T-34/85. More than 22,000 of these tanks were produced, were reliable, and lasted many years after the war.
The Soviet answer to the German heavyweights, the IS-2 had a huge 122mm cannon which was more than capable of dealing with Tiger armor. That said, while it had its moments in the sun in tank-on-tank battles (such as a famed engagement in Ukraine where more than 40 Tigers and Elefants were destroyed with a loss of only 8 IS-2s), it ultimately was much more of a bunker buster, targeting buildings, dug-in weapons, and stationary targets.
The Stug III was the most produced tank of any tracked vehicle in the German army, building more than 10,000 units. Built on a Panzer III chassis, it didn't have a turret but rather a fixed gun. Though the type of gun changed several times, at its most powerful it wielded a 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun, the same used on the Panzer IVs.
Known for their low profile, which made them easy to camouflage and dig in, they were useful through all theaters of the war, fighting in Germany, Russia, North Africa, and Italy.
The Panzer V "Panther" was known for its incredibly thick armor and a 75mm gun that was almost as good as the tiger's 88. Its only downfall was its spotty reliability, but even that could be overlooked as this was considered one of the best overall tanks of both the German army and the entire war.
This German heavy tank was so ahead of its time, coming into service relatively early in the war, that it inspired many of the other nations' tank designs. It was the first German tank to be mounted with the feared 88, the 8.8 cm KwK 36 gun. Perhaps one of its most remarkable features is that its speed was comparable with lighter tanks like the Sherman and the T-34, despite being twice as heavy.
King Tiger II
An upgrade of the Tiger 1 in all ways, it had better sloped armor, a more powerful cannon (the long barreled 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71), and a better engine, the King Tiger was going to be the tank that led the Third Reich to victory. One single tank commander, Kurt Knispel, scored 168 kills and became the highest-scoring tank commander of all time.
I don't care who you are in wargaming, there is something about tank battles that is intoxicating, and there was never a better era for tank-on-tank warfare than World War Two. No matter whether you're playing 6mm Baccus games or making 1/35 scale models, these tanks are iconic on your tabletop battlefield. Looking for more WW2 games? Check out our Games and Gear section for Bolt Action, Flames of War, and more.
Which tanks are your favorite? Which game do you play and do you have a favorite manufacturer? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!