Killers: The Most Lethal Tanks of World War II

The winner will surprise you. 

Much of this material will be familiar to those who know something about tank design and armored warfare. But Zaloga has a knack for sneaking in various fascinating facts. For example, the T-34 had impressive specifications but serious reliability issues in the field: U.S. experts examining a 1942-model T-34 were shocked to discover that the life of the tank's diesel engine was only 72 hours, while the engine air filter was so poorly designed that motors could only survive a few hundred miles of dusty roads before they were finished (the Americans also discovered that the British Cromwell required 199 man-hours of maintenance compared to 39 for the M4A3).

Do historical rankings make a difference beyond mere curiosity? The answer is yes, for those wise enough to learn from history. The post-1945 U.S. military has been fond of cutting-edge weapons; if you could transport today's Pentagon back to 1943, it would doubtless choose to build Tigers instead of Shermans or T-34s.

At a time when the U.S. defense budget is grappling to pay for extremely expensive systems such as the F-35 fighter, it is worth remembering that a relatively minor design feature -- be it a two-man tank turret or a few bits of faulty software -- can make a profound difference in the actual effectiveness of a weapon. No matter how great it looks on paper.

Michael Peck, a frequent contributor to TNI, is a defense and historical writer based in Oregon. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, WarIsBoring and many other fine publications. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Image: Flickr/Contando Estrelas