The tank first entered the battlefield in World War I as an armored all-terrain vehicle and ultimately a response to trench warfare at the time. By the end of the Great War, there was a surplus of tanks and further innovations began. Tanks would play a big role in wars to come. (See countries with the most tanks in 2023.)
Part of innovating the tank was adding bigger guns or stronger armor, but adding mobility and speed were equally important so as not to be a sitting duck on the battlefield. Highly mobile tanks were meant to play the role that had been reserved for horse cavalry in generations prior, while slower and more heavily armored tanks provided infantry support. (Here are 20 tank prototypes rejected by the U.S. military.)
Prior to these roles being crystallized into mobile and slow tanks, several different designs were tried. During this interwar era, a series of prototypes emerged that would not actually see service, but their designs were later used to build future generations of tanks, including fast, mobile tanks.
To determine the fastest tanks in U.S. military history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a list of tanks used by the U.S. military from Military Factory, an online database of military vehicles, aircraft, arms and more used by militaries across the world. All U.S. tanks are ranked here according to their top speed. Additional data on the type of tank, country of origin, crew size, wars served, and number produced also came from Military Factory.
The tanks on the list range from WWI-era tanks to those used in the modern era, though more modern tanks are not necessarily faster. The slowest tank, the Mk V, had a top speed of 4.6 miles per hour. The top speed of the fastest tank is about 10 times that, at 45 mph. The much-discussed M1 Abrams that the U.S. is sending to Ukraine to aide in its defense against the Russian invasion, has a top speed of 41.6 mph.
Here’s a look at the fastest tanks in the U.S. military:
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