Author Details US Tank Evolution form 1917 through WWII

Author Details US Tank Evolution form 1917 through WWII

Thursday, May 30, 2024

It would be hard to imagine the US Army without tanks. American tank production exploded during World War II, going from about 300 tanks in 1940 to almost 30,000 three years later. Armor has been a mainstay of the force ever since—and will continue to be so, despite periodic declarations of its demise.

The latest entry in the AUSA Book Program details the development and performance of US Army and US Marine Corps tanks from their invention through the end of World War II. US Battle Tanks 1917-1945 is filled with photos, technical illustrations, and battlefield artwork to show how American armor fared in combat across the globe.

Author Steven J. Zaloga is a defense consultant and author of numerous works on military technology and history. The Book Program sat down with him to talk about the new book.

AUSA: You have written extensively about armored warfare. What led to your initial interest in tanks?

Zaloga: My dad and grandfather served in the US Army in WWII, and most of the men in my neighborhood were veterans. I was equally fascinated by aircraft and tanks as a kid. Once I started writing, I found that there were hundreds of other writers covering military aircraft, but hardly anyone writing about tanks.

AUSA: Why weren’t tanks a priority for the US Army following the First World War?

Zaloga: After the “War to End All Wars,” most American leaders thought that the US would not be dragged into another European conflict. The US Army’s role in the 1920s and 1930s saw little use for tanks, and there were several hundred tanks left over from World War I. Until war clouds started brewing in the late 1930s, there was very little reason for the US Army to spend a lot of money on tanks.

AUSA: How did American tank policy differ from that of the other Allies in World War II?

Zaloga: One of the main differences was a stronger American emphasis on reliability. US equipment was usually deployed thousands of miles away from America’s industrial heartland, so the US Army had a strong incentive to test vehicles exhaustively to ensure that they were reliable, as well as easy to repair if they did break down.

AUSA: When most people think of armored warfare in WWII, they think of North Africa and Europe. How important were tanks in the Pacific Theater?

Zaloga: Tanks were less important in the Southwest Pacific in 1942-43 such as in the Solomons, since the mountainous jungle terrain made their use almost impossible. But tanks were extensively used in the Central Pacific in 1944, and in the later campaigns such as the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Altogether, the US Army deployed about a third of its separate tank battalions to the Pacific theater, though none of its armored divisions.

AUSA: What was the most important lesson the US Army learned about armored warfare during these years?

Zaloga: The US Army realized that tanks were an essential element of combined-arms warfare against any near-peer adversary. That lesson was immediately lost after the war as was painfully evident in Korea in 1950. But that’s a subject for the next book in this series that covers 1946-2025.

Please visit to order a copy of US Battle Tanks 1917-1945. Use the promo code AUSA to get a discount from Osprey Publishing on this book and all their other titles.