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Somewhat related to this question.

Take one modern, new-off-the-production-line, Challenger II battle tank, and one time machine. To what war do you need to send this tank before it can really have a decisive impact on the course of events?

For the purposes of this question, a decisive impact is defined as anywhere from eliminating a major battle in the war to changing who wins the war. Killing one extra opposition soldier does not qualify, the resulting effect on the war is too minor.

For example, I imagine it wouldn't have much impact in WWII. The level of technology then wasn't so far back that the tank couldn't be destroyed quickly. OK, it might take out a few more opposing tanks, but that's not a decisive impact as defined above.

You can assume a full resupply of ammunition and fuel (only ammunition and fuel) every week.

In other words, when is the last war that could be significantly changed by the addition of one modern tank?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 19 '15 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ A B-52 with 20 AGM-69 SRAMs comes to mind. Would impact pretty much every war at WW2 and earlier. First flight at '52, SRAMs since '72. Find the tank equivalent of such heavy hitting power and you're good (does HIMARS count as a tank in this context?). $\endgroup$ – Mast Mar 20 '15 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ There probably is no bridge built in those days that would let this fellow cross a decent sized river. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 21 '15 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ A quick thought that doesn't appear to have been covered in previous answers: Without firing a shot a tank could have evacuated a king (in the days when they were both commanders and prime targets) from a battle that they really lost, allowing them to rejoin their main force, for example. $\endgroup$ – Chris H Mar 22 '15 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ This question really seems unanswerable without one key point: WHERE is this tank placed? Put far enough away from the battle no tank can have any effect on any war. But if we can put it in an arbitrary place, well, you don't really even need fuel or ammo to telefrag Hitler. $\endgroup$ – Fhnuzoag Mar 31 '15 at 23:49

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Honestly, I think that a modern Main Battle Tank could have been a game changer in World War II, despite your concerns. Generally, the German Tiger Heavy Tank is regarded as the toughest tank from that era. However, comparing the Tiger to a Challenger II is, to quote a blogger, 'like comparing a Model-T to a Porsche for a race.'

Tank technology was still relatively new as of World War II, and they had a lot of problems. For example, most WWII tanks were completely helpless if they hit a muddy field, and some could easily get stuck on trenches. A Modern Main Battle Tank doesn't generally notice such minor inconveniences.

Armor and weapon penetration has advanced by great leaps since World War II. The main gun on the Tiger, generally regarded as the most formidable tank cannon in the entire war, firing armor piercing ammunition, was rating to be able to pierce 171mm of steel armor at 100m. The Challenger II's armor is classified, but it is said to be more heavily armored than the US Abrams. The thinnest armor on an Abrams is 600mm, and is made of an armor that is suggested to be twice as tough as steel. Even at point blank range, a Tiger would be incapable of cracking the armor of a Challenger II.

Conversely, the main gun on a Challenger would hardly notice the armor on a Tiger. I couldn't find specifics on its range, but it is said to be at least as good as an Abrams, if not better. And an Abrams can reliably swat targets at ranges greater than 2.5km. The Abrams uses a smoothbore cannon, the Challenger has a rifled cannon...thus it can safely be assumed that the Challenger has superior range and accuracy as compared to the Abrams. At 2.5km range, a Tiger's gun only had about a 30% chance of hitting a target, and the shot had lost so much power, it had negligible penetration capabilities.

Add in that the Challenger is faster than the Tiger, despite being heavier and much more heavily armed and defended, and has 4-5x the travel range on a single tank of gas...and you are dealing with a tank that would be functionally invincible in WWII...especially if your weekly resupply included spare armor to replace any bits that got dinged up by enemy fire.

Simply put, a Challenger could lay waste to an enemy tank squad before they were even close enough to reliably hit it, shrug off their fire if they did get in range, and outrun enemy tanks if necessary. And, of course, modern shells pack more of a punch than WWII shells do, so its fire would do a lot more damage, and be massively more precise (thanks to modern computing systems handling the targeting for you). So, if you can see the enemy command post, the Challenger can probably wipe it off the map.

So, while the Challenger would be functionally unkillable versus WWII armament, the real question is this: Can a single 'irregular' unit change the tide of a war? The answer is 'if you sent it to the right places, yes.' And if you have foreknowledge of how battles will play out...imagine landing an unkillable tank on the beaches at Normandy. Or rolling it into the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. It would take VERY careful planning, because once the enemy determined that they couldn't kill the tank, they would make plans to work around it. Bait it off somewhere it won't be useful in the battle...distract it...blind it...etc.

Again, with proper planning and management...definitely possible to make a huge difference in WWII...but if you don't deploy it to the right places, it might be making a difference in battles that don't matter.

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    $\begingroup$ To see how effective even a single Tiger tank was in its own time period, look at what this guy managed to do with one: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Wittmann With just one single unsupported Tiger he at one time in a battle destroyed 14 tanks and 17 other vehicles in 15 minutes. Now imagine if the had a modern Main Battle Tank instead of his Tiger. $\endgroup$ – vsz Mar 19 '15 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ a modern tank is vulnerable to ww2 era weapons under certain conditions, ex: crossing a crest and exposing its belly $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Mar 20 '15 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ I'm afraid you're focusing on the wrong aspects of the situation. Let's take all of your assertions about the superiority of modern tanks over their WWII predecessors. What you've overlooked is the fact that a Challenger II only carries 52 main gun rounds. After that, it's essentially useless. Since 52 tanks was somewhere between a regiment and a heavy battalion, in any large battle a single Chieftain II would have a hard time being decisive. And this is without taking into account the practical difficulty in finding 52 enemy tanks to kill. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 20 '15 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ I still think that once your opponent realises you have one supervehicle, they will get creative enough to destroy it. Or to work around it. No matter how amazing mister Wittman was with his Tiger, his side still lost the war. $\endgroup$ – Erik Mar 20 '15 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ I have to agree with some of the other commentators. Once you have the ability to understand a tank and it's limitations the WW2 folks can work around it, and in any case the risk of running out of ammo, the limits of needing to be at the right place to contribute, and the threat that there are weapons that can damage you, even infantry if resourceful and overwhelming enough, mean that it can be destroyed. It will do allot of damage, but compared to the war not enough to be too changing. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 20 '15 at 20:46
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This almost seems silly.

Quick look at the Challenger II's weapons:

  • Main cannon

This is of lesser use as it's ultimately an anti-tank weapon and we're taking it to times where anti-tank isn't really a requirement. This would have some pretty impressive effects when targeting castle walls. The range on this puts any form of ancient artillery to shame and it's accurate enough that targets like 'enemy general' could easily be obtained and eliminated with a high explosive round. Limiting factor here is 49 rounds is the standard carry out

  • L94A1 chain gun

This is the silly weapon. Up until the development of tanks, there is very little out there that has the ability to stop one of these rounds. Enemy infantry and cavalry would be mowed down incredibly quickly. Carries some 4200 rounds.

  • L37A2 (GPMG) machine gun

This is an optional mounted remote device, fits into the category above.

Range... I doubt roads are too considerable, at least not ones this tank wouldn't rip to pieces. Gives it about 250km.

I'm actually having problems finding an example of a single battle that this tank wouldn't have a profound impact on up until the 1900's. There are a few where the number of troops involved is high enough that the tank itself wouldn't win the battle, but the tank would skew the battle heavily in a few manners. First is morale: the effectiveness of this tank is such that it would induce heavy fear in an enemy (and probably be referred to as magic). Second is its ability to launch a precise and deadly strike from a huge distance, if this is used to hit strategic targets (enemy generals for example), then the tank could cause such chaos that it could potentially change the tide of a battle (or war) from a single well placed shot: figure out what section of a castle houses the king and take it out with a single well placed blast from the main cannon.

Imagine a Roman legionairre in Testudo formation: they are heavily shielded and nearly immune to enemy fire. Immune atleast until their unit is hit by a single high explosive round from 5 km away that obliterates the unit. Imagine being in the Testudo next to the one that just went up in a fiery hell and tell me you wouldn't drop your useless shield and run.

The largest cavalry charge in history (in a single charge) was (according to wiki anyway) 3000 heavily armoured polish lancers and german/austrian knights towards an ottoman force during the siege of Vienna. This single tank would then have to average 12 bullets per kill to eliminate the charge entirely by itself with just its machine gun (add in as per comment, I don't think the main battle cannon would really be needed vs cavalry). Actually, the size of the forces involved in the battle of Vienna might be high enough that the tank wouldn't be able to win the battle singlehandily, but it could have stopped the charge that routed the ottomans in its path and changed the outcome of that battle (if the ottomans had the tank to open up the walls at vienna, the city would have fell long before the charge happened anyway)

But you mention war and not a single battle. If you consider the Golden Hordes invasion into Europe a single 'war', then this tank might not have had that much of an effect simply due to its range and ability to get into a battle. Mongols on horseback could out maneuvered the tank on these vast plains and left the tank unable to directly engage and involve itself in a fight.

The Punic wars between Carthage and Rome was heavily fought at sea, so there might be a pretty ready instance where one side having a tank might not have a huge advantage. If the tank was parked in Carthage, it could have prevented the Romans from ever sacking the city of Carthage, however the Romans could have annexed most territory (Iberian Spain and Mediterranean islands) but never actually take Carthage. I guess there is technically an instance where the tank might not have impacted the outcome of the war?

If the Aztec possessed the tank, they could have really easily stopped one of their great cities from being razed by the Spanish, but the spanish ships could have easily avoided the one city that possessed the tank and hit other ones instead. Does this count as not being able to impact the outcome of a war?

Just to add: The potential of the tank and its main cannon to become a battlefield assassin of sorts would immediately impact history. Napoleon is a safe 5km away from the frontline and giving his orders, until a high explosive round comes from 8km away and ends the general. Imagine if General Lee on the first day of his Seven Day Battles rode up onto a hillside to survey the battle before him and was struck by an incendiary round. Generals in modern warfare vs tanks do not take front row roles in battle just for this reason: this tank engaging in any battle where the general is actually on the field has pretty much free ability to snipe off a famous general

added to the comments: I don't believe there is a reliable method prior to WWI where this c2 tank could be disabled and taken out of combat that isn't related to the C2's supply chain. If you assume this tank is part of an army that it's supporting, then the tank will have some degree of protection on its flanks or when its crew is resting. Pre-1900 a tank wasn't known and weaknesses such as targeting the treads wouldn't be well known (and even then, the c2 has most of its treads armoured and not easily seen). There is the potential for a lucky cannon shot, but the C2 completely outclasses these cannons for range and accuracy so the opportunity for the lucky cannon shot is minimal at best. I'd suggest a 1600's cannon fire could directly strike the c2 at a 1km range and do minimal damage at best, maybe a loud clang?

The first strong resistance this tank could potentially meet is WWI: by then a tank wasn't a completely foreign concept and a few of its limitations/weak spots could be known. Additionally, the armaments this tank has were in use by WWI (admittedly in their infancy), which means opposing soldiers are already expecting machine gun fire and heavy cannon fire and are taking means to protect themselves from it such as digging in and spreading out, unlike previous conflicts where this tank could just open up with its machine guns into the middle of tightly packed troop formations that have no clue whats coming at them nor how to dig in and defend vs it. I would also suggest that WWI artillery was in heavy enough use that enough concentrated fire from artillery and mortar rounds would be the first counter that could potentially disable this extremely advanced tank from a combat point of view

Contrary to Guildsbounty, I don't agree that this single tank would be a game changer in WWII, except in some very specific scenario's. WWII saw much street to street fighting and in an urban environment the possibility of infantry attacks that knew how to disable a tank (sticky bombs) was a much more real possibility. Even artillery would stand a chance in disabling this C2 during WWII. Later in the war, a few T-34's using ramming tactics, or a direct strike from a couple of Stalins Organs (Katyusha rockets) could put a relatively quick end to this advanced C2 tank.

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    $\begingroup$ In earlier times, you don't even need to participate in the major battles to change the fate of wars - a single tank + time machine be used can break a city siege (pummel holes in walls with HE rounds) that would otherwise take years; or simply arrive directly to the capitol of one combatant, punch through the gate, slaughter the limited numbers of local garrison (hundreds?) with a machine gun, fire a few cannon rounds at the main political/religious/cultural buildings and demand surrender. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Mar 19 '15 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ Against a massive cavalry charge, would you even use the main cannon? Show the enemy something they've never seen or imagined before and break a heavy cavalry charge by charging back with something incomprehensibly heavier. Using the tank as a battering ram could break and rout entire elite army divisions without even firing the guns, at the sight of the "unstoppable force" suddenly being smashed to pieces by what must look like the fist of the gods themselves. $\endgroup$ – Leushenko Mar 19 '15 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ A huge problem in this answer is the silent assumption of complete invulnerability of a modern MBT when no modern AT weapons are present. This is simply false - during the battle of Vienna, for example, both sides had enough (and powerful enough) artillery to inflict a mobility kill, or even a mission kill, by sustained fire. Tank threads, weapon systems, viewports, and sensors are not made of adamantium, they can be damaged by relatively low-tech means if one is disciplined and persistent enough. $\endgroup$ – mikołak Mar 19 '15 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Note there is a scatter-shot ammo (a'la shotgun pellets) for tanks. It's meant as anti-infantry weapon for the main cannon and is a terrifying weapon against tightly packed formations. It would easily kill a hundred soldiers of a phalanx in one shot. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 19 '15 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ As for "the largest battle", they would need to keep the tank a secret. Hussars were the open battlefield force of a charge, but Poland had light cavalry too, which was very mobile and could use terrain to great advantage. Good intel, then unseen approach on the tank at night, then a fast flanking charge, a black-powder bomb stuffed into the barrel of main cannon, several hits with a hammer to the machine gun and the tank would be completely crippled. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 19 '15 at 9:27
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Air power superiority would probably make the biggest difference in any past war.

A B-2 Spirit would be able to fly over Germany without being seen on radar, pinpoint bomb all kinds of strategic targets, and be gone leaving nothing but destruction and confusion. Plus the recon ability would be huge.

An A-10 Warthog would make short work of cavalry, knights, infantry, and anything else. William Wallace would be on the throne of England within a week.

An Apache helicopter would possibly be the most terrifying thing ever a hundred and fifty years ago during the American civil war. Nothing could touch it.

Sorry, got a little carried away. My answer is air power, any war before the Korean war.

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    $\begingroup$ I edited to include the American civil war....I assume that is the one you were referring too. There have been MANY civil wars ;) $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Mar 18 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ While I like this and it does put up some very valid points, I am looking for land vehicles, specifically a tank. +1 however $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Mar 18 '15 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson You are correct good sir! And good catch... Though, I think my answer still stands. Any civil war in any country before the Korean war :) $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 18 '15 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ An Apache is possibly the most terrifying thing, ever. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Mar 20 '15 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ Apache? Men, don't go overkill! This is too much! Abort! Abort!!!!11! $\endgroup$ – Malavos Sep 16 '15 at 17:04
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As an earliest bound, one modern tank would obviously have made a difference to the Anglo-Zanzibar war, which was in 1896 and lasted for 38 minutes. It seems unlikely that a handful of small 19th century warships could have survived an artillery duel with a Challenger II. This is really a question about what are the smallest recent wars, small enough for one modern tank to make a difference, and they don't come much smaller than the Anglo-Zanzibar war.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd say that's a very good answer for this type of question. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 21 '15 at 22:54
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Certainly Waterloo could have been won by a single tank if it went in on the French side. As long as the TC (Tank Commander) managed to keep from getting killed by a stray bullet, a flank attack along the reverse slope of the ridge along the Ohain road would simply have rolled up the British squares. The whole battlefield was only about 2 1/2 miles wide, so a sweep would have taken less than 1/2 hour. Then reverse direction and do it again. Using the main gun on horse-drawn artillery positions is real overkill, but a useful way to make noise, and a useful precaution against some cannon-cocker getting really lucky and damaging a tread.

Even if the tank ran out of ammo (and it would) it could simply run over any formation that tried to fight. In Patton's words, "grease for our treads". One of the first lessons out of WWII was that flesh and blood, including cavalry, are simply useless against armored vehicles.

I'd guess the big trick would be to do it in such a way as to not panic the French as well.

Once you get to, roughly, the American Civil War, things start to get harder. Defenders were learning to dig in, and battlefields were getting much larger.

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Changing a battle is probably not too hard, but a whole war? You'd probably have to go back to a time when studying strategy wasn't common for the military, because any general worth his salt would be simply forming strategy around it as much as possible. A tank is powerful, but it has limitations - it can't cross rivers or forests easily, it can only be in one place at once, it can't defend or take an entire city, etc. Any particular battle it could be decisive, but a smart general would simply divide his armies up into smaller units acting more independently, so that the value of a single superweapon would be minimized.

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    $\begingroup$ On the contrary, I'd say that a single Challenger II probably could have either taken or defended any single city on Earth before about 1900. On the attacking side, if they didn't surrender first, it could simply level the city. On the defending side, any attacker within a few miles would die very quickly. Even if it had no ammo, it could simply drive over just about any pre-1900 attacker. $\endgroup$ – reirab Mar 19 '15 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ It could drive over a person. Even a bunch of people. But it couldn't drive over an army of thousands of people. $\endgroup$ – David Rice Mar 19 '15 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ Given sufficient time and gas (and that the people didn't scatter and run away first,) it could. Considering how tight army formations were back then and that modern tanks can do ~70 mph, it could drive over quite a lot of people very quickly. $\endgroup$ – reirab Mar 19 '15 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ Presuming everyone just lines up and stands there waiting to get run over, yes, it could just run over everyone. I doubt you will find people willing to do that, and they will instead find other ways of fighting it - even if just digging a big deep pit trap. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Mar 19 '15 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ "Considering how tight army formations were back then" - and this is my point in my answer: the addition of a superweapon would force changes. Strategy and tactics would be different because of it, so you can't just assume that army formations would be tight, or that the opposing army wouldn't try to out maneuver it. Not tactically, but strategically. $\endgroup$ – David Rice Mar 19 '15 at 18:18
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Prior to World War II, your tank would have undisputed supremacy over the portion of the battlefield it could reach: between speed and armor, any weapon that can be aimed fast enough to hit it would be unable to damage it, while the tank's weapons would be able to defeat anything but the heaviest of bunkers.

However, there's only one of it. This means the tank's influence isn't so much a question of power, as one of scale. It doesn't matter how powerful something is if it's in the wrong place.

The Challenger II has a cross-country top speed of 40 km/h and under your rules, an operational range of 500 km/week. It is further hampered by slow communication: prior to World War II, most tactical communication was limited to the speed of a horseback messenger.

Looking at historic records, your tank would have been decisive in most single battles prior to the Napoleonic Wars, with the main exception being combat in mountainous or heavily forested terrain, where the tank may not be able to reach the battlefield. The scale of warfare changes with Napoleon, though: it doesn't matter that your tank could single-handedly defeat Wellington at Waterloo if you exhausted your fuel holding off the Prussians at Ligny. Similarly, the ability to turn the tide at Aspern-Essling doesn't matter if you're busy chasing Wellington around the Iberian Peninsula.

By World War I, your tank is no longer decisive on any but the local tactical scale. It doesn't matter that you can punch through the German lines unopposed at the Somme: with conflict extending along 30+ miles of front, you can't make a big enough hole to matter.

By World War II, you don't even have local superiority. You may be able to take on a dozen Sherman tanks and win easily, but without air cover, a pair of P-47s could tear your tank to shreds.

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    $\begingroup$ Waterloo was a close battle (by Wellington's own admission), and the Prussian reinforcements were crucial. Win more decisively at Ligny, and you probably wouldn't need the tank at Waterloo. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 19 '15 at 14:47
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There's one aspect of this question that seems to have been ignored by most of the answers so far... We're talking about going back in time to alter the course of wars.

So arguably any well recorded war could be massively impacted, if not won or prevented altogether. In most cases you probably wouldn't even need heavy weapons.

All you need is a really good historical record and some careful planning.

Think about it like the proverb:

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

You don't need to send a modern tank to Waterloo or to The Battle of the Bulge, you just need to look for a soft target/event that preceded those battles.

Don't send your time machine back to Normandy on D-day send it back to the Branau am Inn, Austria, on April 20, 1889.

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    $\begingroup$ Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act $\endgroup$ – March Ho Mar 19 '15 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ It reminds me of Erich Kästner's play, "Die Schule der Diktatoren" (lit. "The School Of Dictators"), where those truly in charge raise hundreds of dictators which can simply replace the current dictator should the need arise - think: critical thinking, assassinations, ... (i.e., the dictator actually doesn't matter at all) $\endgroup$ – fNek Mar 21 '15 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MarchHo - Even more applicable, Godwin's Law Of Time Travel. Send a Challenger II battle tank back to WWII to aid the Allies and the most likely outcome is that the Nazis win the war. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 3 '15 at 6:46
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Your title question and your concluding question are quite different, and it depends.

In what war would one modern military vehicle make a difference?

First, many small things "make a difference" and these combine to lead to the outcome. Sometimes, a single contemporary tank or a handful of commandos has made "a difference".

When you ask "would ... make a difference" though, while any time-travelling technology would make some difference, what that difference would actually be, depends entirely on the circumstances of what happens to it.

This is an old type of fantasy question, and it tends to imply many assumptions in order to indulge the question, which ignore the kinds of questions which would actually determine the outcome. I.e. these questions tend to be imagining history as it was, only a Challenger II lines up with Napoleon to help him win at Waterloo, and the crew speaks French and the French army isn't utterly confused by this, and the Challenger II crew knows what is going on and what to do, and nothing breaks down, and the enemy army doesn't just panic and hide until they figure out what's going on, and then have a spy assassinate, bribe or seduce the wizards running the magical war engine. The "realistic" answer is you would probably be distrusted and captured before getting to join in a battle.

Even assuming that the people operating the tank are all linguist/historians who have a master plan for joining one side in the war without being captured, and all goes well, the next major deciding factors realistically are going to again be not-very-fantasy-soothing considerations like fuel and ammo limits, malfunctions and repair, lack of roads, breakdowns, and the use of improvised explosives, fire and smoke, or other mundane obstacles. Also the enemy army is probably going panic and rout, and though you can can probably turn what was a pitched battle into a rout, what historically was the pitched battle may turn into something else as the victims try to understand what happened and do something other than face your tank in battle.

So it's impossible to say what "would" happen. Something unpredictable. In a recent enough war (as far back as World War II), it would just tilt the scales in one battle until something immobilized the tank or it ran out of fuel or ammunition. After all, in World War II, there were many cases where one side had severe armor superiority. Often one side had no good way to defeat enemy tanks, and/or had no tanks of their own. It was a key advantage, but not always decisive, even for relatively small battles. The Challenger II is extremely powerful, but it's only one tank, with limited supplies, and it can be immobilized by mines or high explosives or abatis or a lucky HE round. The chaingun is wicked, but it and the main gun could both eventually be disabled by even 1939 weaponry, even if the tank's armor couldn't be penetrated.

Even in World War I, the Challenger II might do a lot of damage in one battle, but many conventional weapons also did a lot of damage in World War I. Particularly in the trenches on the Western Front, the best the tank might do would be equivalent to one successful attack, or one failed attack by the enemy, but then your tank would presumably be used up. The least it might do is get immobilized by the ridiculous terrain and/or all the mines and high explosives, before it did a whole lot of damage. Maybe if you also brought-back-in-time maps of the other side's rear deployments on a certain date (another possible time travel question), and drove over and blew up all their ammo dumps or something, you might be able to set up your allies for a decisive breakthough.

As for your concluding question:

when is the last war that could be won or lost by the addition or subtraction of one modern tank?

Again mincing words, I would say you could maybe possibly tip the scales of World War I if you planned quite well and acted unconventionally, as I suggested above.

Before then, I think you could turn the tide of just about any one battle before World War I, assuming you overcame all of the situational obstacles and achieved surprise. You might even win two or three battles, as most enemy conventional weapons would be useless against the tank, and very vulnerable to them. But sooner or later, you'd run out of supplies, break down, or your enemy would wise up and not fight you in battle at all, choosing intrigue of many sorts until they removed the threat or its crew.

Before the 1800's, even a brilliant historian/linguist tank crew will have a lot of problems even making friends with their desired allies, as you'll be trusted perhaps less than we would trust space aliens with flying saucers saying they are here to help us atomize our enemies. Less, because of the fantastic context shift - for example if they are Christian, they'll probably think you are devils sent from Satan. Anyone who allies with you may be considered to have made a pact with the devil, be excommunicated, etc. Any powermongers you ally with are liable to scheme against you, and if they don't, some of their friends or enemies will. They'll feed you drugged food and it'll be interrogation time, or worse.

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  • $\begingroup$ Amen, preach it brother, but you did not mention 'Guns of the South' by Turtledove where he took the idea of giving General Lee modern guns and MREs to the logical conclusion that the south won the war, but the racists paying for it lost. $\endgroup$ – hildred Mar 22 '15 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ So it is good for the racist Southerners to win the war? $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 8 '16 at 0:23
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I am going to assume that the Challenger II is close to on par with the Abrams tank.

In the Iraq war they were using T72's the Abrams cut through them like butter.

Going back to WWII I'm not sure if anything short of a direct howitzer round could do much to damage it. If it had a steady supply of ammo and fuel and a good mechanic, it could devastate the enemy in any battle field. I've heard of 1 depleted uranium round going through 2 Bradley fighting vehicles. WWII tanks are pop cans in comparison. 1 Abrams round might be able to kill 3-4 tanks if they lined up right.

So what I'm saying is that a single Abrams tank could make a huge difference even during WWII. So any war before that that had battle fields (not Guerrilla warfare in jungles or such) it could be the winning card. Especially if the tactics were sound.

Oh, ya, on top of that the Abrams can go over 70 mph, that is faster than most any vehicle during WWII other than planes and race cars.

EDT: according the comments, many seem to assume I think 1 tank could have won WWII single-handedly. I never said that. I said it could have made a significant difference at almost any battle, especially if the tactics used were good. Given enough time any enemy will find a way to disable or work around a weapon. The point I was trying to make is that it could make a real difference in a battle as late as WWII so any war earlier than that it could be the 'magic' bullet, as long as it wasn't a Guerrilla action.

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    $\begingroup$ The Challenger is currently the best tank, with the Abrams not far behind. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Mar 18 '15 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah...most of the info on the Challenger is still classified. So thinking 'Abrams, but more terrifying' is a good place to start. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Mar 18 '15 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Twelfth it would be able to punch a hole in almost any enemy line. If it only had one set of battle ammo per week, then yes it would then only be used as a shock troop. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 18 '15 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with using the Challenger II (or any other tank) in World War II is air attack. You might be able to tear up Tigers by the dozen, but a single P-47 or Stuka dropping a few hundred kilograms of high explosive on your roof will mess things up. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 19 '15 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ A bag of grenades down the barrel, a few tons of explosives under a road, a timed bridge demolition. Soldiers always finds ways to deal with hard targets. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 19 '15 at 2:35
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A single Challenger II tank along with vast supplies, stationed in the city of Liège as of July 1914, could have made Germany surrender by Christmas.

This would effectively have killed the Stab-in-the-back myth, prevented WW2 in Europe, along with the Holocaust; the Ottoman empire would not have been split under the British, most Jews wouldn't have emigrated to Eretz Israel, which would have prevented five wars and over a million displaced persons in that part of the world alone, and possibly the Monroe doctrine would not have been phased out.

So, if you can put it there, please do it. I'd say, chances that history gets any worse are near zero.

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    $\begingroup$ until it ran out of ammo and gas. then forget about it. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 20 '15 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Or unless it got stuck in a ditch, or hit a mine, or a large shell exploded on or near the tracks, or a shell hit the weaponry doing enough damage to make it unusable. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 21 '15 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Dronz A tank stationed in a city (and just defending) would not be stuck in a ditch or hit a mine. And it would have bought France enough time to get the army into their pre-dug holes towards Belgium. France just did not have the time to man them, because they were surprised by the Germans running through Belgium. Schlieffen plan would have failed early on, and Germany did not have a backup plan. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 21 '15 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ I'll grant you maybe, but not * would*. I like your idea of place - very good thinking, but we can't know what would happen. Any chain of command might decide that if the enemy has one overwhelming superweapon, they will surely have more, and declare defeat. Or, they might think they have one deadly fixed bunker, shell the town with heavy explosives, get lucky and break the tracks, bend the muzzle, and/or splatter the chaingun, etc. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 21 '15 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ Liege was already heavily fortified going into World War I. Under those conditions, a Challenger II is effectively just one more 12cm gun, and a poorly-armored one at that (almost no protection from high-angle shellfire). World War I was too big for a single tank to make a difference. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 21 at 0:32
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A tank might be the wrong vehicle. Maintenance-intensive and optimized to go against a few hard targets.

How about a mobile radar on a hill over Pearl Harbour?

A fast attack craft scouting during the Battle of Jutland?

A drone over Gettysburg?

Of course all those force multipliers assume that the time traveller can communicate with the side he or she wants to support. If you have that communication, how about a supply truck loaded with digital radios, laser rangefinders, and night vision systems?

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    $\begingroup$ We had radar on a hill over Pearl Harbor in 1941, and it detected the Japanese coming. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 20 '15 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Oldcat, not well enough to tell 89 Japanese carrier planes from 6 B-17 bombers. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 20 '15 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. That's one thing I was getting at in my answer: What would or could happen are different things, and depend a lot more on who believes you, the knowledge you bring along, and details of what happens, than it is a matter of "this tech is so great it would win the war". If you can just get the information that Pearl Harbour is about to be attacked to be believed and acted on, you don't need a radar. Also though for Pearl Harbour, the damage wasn't all that strategically significant. The US was lucky no carriers were there - maybe a clever time agent arranged that... $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 21 '15 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Mobile radar over Pearl Harbor: the Japanese attack is blunted, and most of the battleships survive. The Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Nevada are present at the subsequent Battle of the Coral Sea, and as priority targets for the Japanese aircraft, are quickly sunk. Facing such losses, the Americans retreat without inflicting much damage, and the Japanese Operation MO and its followup Operation RY are complete successes. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 12 '16 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark, that could mean the battleships draw attacks away from the carriers. One or two are sunk, meanwhile the US carriers are free to hunt and sink the Japanese carriers. The Japanese carrier force is crippled even earlier than historically true and cannot be replaced by the Japanese industry. Or not. Alternative history gives a lot fo freedom to the writer. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 13 '16 at 5:04
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I would perhaps choose a small modern destroyer to remove the Union blockade, but a Challenger tank joining the charge at Gettysburg and the march on Washington afterwards and todays rednecks would drive around with Stars and Stripes on their pick-ups in New England.

The main gun on the tank can use high explosive ammunition, taking out the Union artillery in a few minutes and the machine guns will mow down the entrenched Union soldiers by shooting through any cover they have.

By using the fear factor and a very restrictive use of ammunition the tank can be devastating.

Fuel is a problem, though diesel could be produced, but ammunition will run out, and will be very hard to re-stock. (EDIT: not only should I read the question, I should reread it, sorry).

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  • $\begingroup$ RTQ. You get fuel and ammo re supply every week. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Mar 19 '15 at 9:37
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    $\begingroup$ How? Magic????? $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 20 '15 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ The question was edited to avoid the resupply question... sigh. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 21 '15 at 2:26
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I disagree with most of the other answers that imply it would make a big difference.

1.) If you send it back prior to WW2 you will have big problems to get appropriate fuel.

2.) In WW2 it will make a big difference until the munition is depleeted. Then it will only be a moving bunker.

3.) It will be nearly impossible in any past war to get spare parts.

EDIT: Even with resupplying once a week with fuel and ammunition point 3 is still valid. And resupplying fuel once a week(I assume here an amount of one full refill) will let most modern tank move for about 9-10 hours. For example the Challenger 2 has a maximum range of 279 miles with one refill. Also the Challenger 2 has only 50 granades loaded so after firing 50 shots it need to wait for a week to be of any use again(I also assume one full refill of ammunition once a week).

The lack of a constant supply of fuel will decrease the effectivity of the tank most. The tank will always be in short fuel supply to follow the frontline.

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  • $\begingroup$ RTQ. You can assume a full re supply of fuel and ammo every week, as it says in the OP. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Mar 20 '15 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry overread the resupply sentence. But even once a week seems as a weak point here. I will edit the answer. $\endgroup$ – EvilFonti Mar 20 '15 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ Front lines, in general, do not move anywhere near 279 miles per week. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Mar 20 '15 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ For WWI (or possibly the Civil War), put it on a railcar to get it to the next battle. $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 1 '17 at 1:47
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For some reason I have thoughts of King Harald mowing down Normans in a 50 Cal equipped Hum Vee back in 1066. With a Cigar in his teeth of course. I'm quite sure it would have a range longer than a bow and arrow. However his eyes would still be exposed :-)

No Magna Carta would have been written, no Doomesday Book, there may have been no industrial revolution, the Catholic Church may have collapsed due to rebellion, the hundred years war would have started a couple of centuries early in fact the entire history of the world could be completely different from 1066 onwards and maybe not for the better either. For a start I wouldn't be typing in English as we know it and where I live would be called something completely different.

Go back even further and prevent the Romans from Wiping out the Druids at the battle of Anglesea with an A10 Warthog, the economy of the Roman Empire would have collapsed possibly leaving a peaceful hedgemony covering most of Europe run by Druid Lawgivers. What would happen then is anybodies guess but just in case someone changes history I'm going to practice writing in Ogham Script :-)

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  • $\begingroup$ RTQ. "One Challenger II battle tank" does not equal "any military vehicle", as you seem to have chosen. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Mar 20 '15 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ "No industrial revolution" is a pretty big claim. Especially when history has been changed by a powerful machine. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 20 '15 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ King Harald Hardrada could have done no such thing, since King Harold of England killed him weeks before at Stamford Bridge, without even a machine gun. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 8 '16 at 0:28
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If you are looking at altering the course of a war I think you have to go further back than say altering a single battle. An M1A1 Abrahms Tank is currently best in use tank tech, its armor and weaponry are second to one.

A tank's power is derived from its weaponry, armor and mobility. Disable one, and the rest are useless. The "softest" target on a tank has always been its tracks.

To guarantee a single tank impacts the course of an entire war it has to survive its battles. For a tank to survive I think you have to go to a time that is pre cannons.

While a single cannon likely wouldn't do any significant damage to the tank, a battery of cannons could certainly disable a tank in short order, keep in mind ship based cannons as well. A few good shots that hit the tracks and a tank becomes disabled and can then be cleaned out...and thus become useless.

I would put the date where a tank could potentially win a war by itself at somewhere around 1700. Cannons were used well before that date, back into the 1400's, but were large, slow, and difficult to aim for centuries.

That would mean this would be the last batch of major wars a tank could win, but a guarantee in war is a proposition that is only guaranteed to fail, so again, even in these cases it may not alter them completely:

enter image description here

Another thought comes to mind. Basically any explosives can disable a tank add something sticky attach it to the tracks...bam. No more tank.

Also tanks can get stuck, and tanks would be far less useful in battles where the terrain is uneven or forested and would have significantly less impact.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually... C2 is newer and more advanced than the Abrams. :) $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Mar 18 '15 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty absolutely true. But dynamite isn't. I assume you were talking about the sticky bombs comment? That does seem a little misleading $\endgroup$ – James Mar 18 '15 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ C2 = Challenger II Main Battle Tank. the explosive is 'C4' Sorry for using an abbreviation on ya. Was saying that the Challenger II is newer and more advanced than the Abrams... $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Mar 18 '15 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty Yeah, I kind of blanked...forgot challenger II...edited. :) $\endgroup$ – James Mar 18 '15 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel in the late 19th century. The idea is good, but using the term "dynamite" is more than a little anachronistic. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Mar 19 '15 at 6:32
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If given a chance, I would have taken the Challenger 2 tank to the year 480 BC in Ancient Greece. Cause there would be one king who would have been particularly happy for having that bad boy with him alongside his trusted 300 men.

Just imagine the look on Xerxes's face. King Leonidas would order to load the 120 mm L30 and say ALPHA - MIKE - FOXTROT..

As a result --

i. Battle of Thermopylae won in 1-2 Hrs.

ii. Leonidas would go into the warm embrace of Gorgo.

iii. Dilios would still have his eye.

iv. Persians wont dare to step out of their homes.

v. Greeco - Roman civilization would be the dominant civilization and with the military might of Sparta who knows what could have happened.

Now for those critiques who might point out the mobility and terrain of Thermopylae, I am pretty confident that the tank would do perfectly well by just sitting around and picking of hoardes of enemies with the HE rounds / Incendiary (White Phosphorus... oh yeah) rounds. If the enemy got closer we can give hell using the Chain Gun or Optional GPMG.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really dont know, why the flurry of downvotes.. I guess I gave answer to the OPs question clearly.. Requesting an explanation from the downvoters so that I can correct / improve myself.. $\endgroup$ – RicoRicochet Mar 23 '15 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ Since the Greco in our civilization comes from Athens, and Sparta would have crushed Athens in the subsequent Peloponnesian Wars with a MBT, the changes might be profound. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Oct 21 '15 at 17:50
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1 Abram's tank sitting in Long Island at the beginning of the Revolutionary war. With range enough to sink the British fleet sitting off the coast. With all ships sunk (probably in minutes), no weapons and a handful of half drowned survivors the war would have almost certainly have ended even before it began. The victory would have also rallied the colonials and presented greater resistance to any attempts to try again.

Picture the devastation to the British army when they lined up in battle formation and were cut down in minutes by the 50 cal. machine gun. For the sheer mind changing power of that type of event it would have made all the difference.

Of course without having to fight for the new idea of a democratic republic it probably would have floundered and failed a few years after it began. It is that distance from the struggle that now has us floundering and failing today. We value what we pay for and value most what we pay most dearly for.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the worldbuilding stack exchange! This is a pretty good answer, but we try to avoid making assumptions (especially moral ones) without good references. Otherwise, this answer looks OK. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Mar 20 '15 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ If it is on Long Island, it can't get off Long Island. Too big and heavy for the bridges. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 21 '15 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with putting your ship-sinking tank on Long Island at the start of the Revolution is that much of the British fleet is in Boston Harbor. Assuming you're planning to use it at the Battle of Long Island, you'll need to wait a year, and it doesn't have enough ammunition -- you've only got 53 main-gun rounds, but over 400 ships to sink. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 22 '15 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ I thought of it as an expendable, 1 use resource. If you lined them up correctly the spent uranium rounds would likely be able to take out more than one ship at a time (blow through one then through another. . The ships were wood after all. The shear shock might have had the British navy standoff much further and be far more hesitant to land. $\endgroup$ – BeverlyAnnWhite May 11 '15 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, high velocity AP rounds will go right through a wood vessel doing less damage than a cannonball. Like a BB gun making a small hole in a glass window, but a baseball shattering it. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Oct 21 '15 at 17:47
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In almost any military engagement in modern history, placing any military technological advancement from a future war on the battlefield of the older one would make a significant if not decisive difference.

In your case, placing an Abrams, Challenger or T-90 on practically any battlefield that existed before their development (pretty much anything prior to Vietnam) would have been a game-changer. Guildsbounty's answer dealing with the Challenger or Abrams on a WWII battlefield adequately covers that, though a 109 or P-51 with a 250-lb bomb might pose a threat, as might man-portable anti-tank weapons like the Panzershreck, and the tank's crew would have to stay buttoned up practically the whole time as the only real weapon any prior army could field would be used to target exposed crewmembers. In any land war prior to the Second World War, a modern main battle tank would be able to traverse the battlefield almost at will.

However, the supply chain is a concern. The modern U.S. Army is about 20% combat, 80% everything else including support, supply and logistics. Plucking a fully-fueled, fully-armed tank off the tarmac of a FOB in any modern engagement and dropping it into any time period before its development would likely mean it cannot use any ammunition of the day, and at any time prior to the late 19th century, you wouldn't have access to any substance you could use as fuel (and a 60-ton, 1,500hp Abrams doesn't get great gas mileage). In anything after the turn of the century, you'll probably be able to fuel the tank with diesel or kerosene for the duration of a campaign (it'd be a thirsty girl but well worth it), but it would run out of ammo eventually. In any prior conflict you're probably only going to get one or two battles out of it before you're out of gas and the tank is a dead lump on the field.

The ammunition a modern tank carries is also a concern. Most modern tanks carry a load of main gun shells mixed between kinetic penetrators (essentially a heavy, hard non-explosive shell designed to knock holes in the target) and a secondary round usually designed to defeat armor or hardened fortifications in some way (HEAT rounds are a shaped charge that produces a jet of molten copper to penetrate armor, while the HESH round is a thin shell over a big lump of C-4 or similar plastic explosive with a very short delay fuse used to deliver a catastrophic explosive impact to hardened surfaces). HEAT rounds are most effective against modern armor; anything on the battlefield prior to about WWI really isn't enough target for a HEAT round to be worth firing, though Greek and Roman phalanx maneuvers involving a wall of shields (and a ceiling against archers) would be very susceptible to a jet of molten copper and the blast wave of the shaped charge. In most other situations the kinetic penetrator would be the crew's bread and butter. HESH rounds would be more generally effective on older battlefields, especially against sieges of fortifications up to about the 17th Century, for the same reason this type of combat was eventually abandoned with the introduction of the gunpowder cannon at the end of the European feudal era.

The most effective actual armament a modern tank would have in most older combat is the coaxial gun and any other mounted machine guns. WWI, and the eastern front of WWII, proved the horrifying effectiveness of the machine gun in the face of a wave of humanity; of the 50 million estimated killed in WWII, over 8 million were Red Army conscripts ordered to assault German positions en masse, often with only one rifle for every two or three soldiers as it would be wasteful for the weapon of a soldier killed halfway across the battlefield to go unused. Most pre-WWI battlefields would be a similar one-sided slaughter if even one pintle-mounted machine gun were brought to bear, to say nothing of the Abrams' two pintle-mounted guns (one .50-cal, one 7.62mm) and the 7.62 coaxial machine gun.

Really, in most combat between the end of the feudal era and the advent of mechanized warfare, a modern main battle tank would be most devastating as a simple steamroller over enemy troop concentrations, coupled with a shield for troops behind. With a top speed of 35mph it could outrun (though probably not outturn) any advancing troops, break their lines swing around to one side and then flatten the enemy's artillery emplacement, then swing back to provide the spearhead of a column formation of friendly troops. It could allow the general on the side it was fighting to win the battle handily without the tank firing a single shot, instead using the tertiary features of its 60-odd tons of weight, 1,500 horsepower and armor plating easily outclassing anything an opposing army could field.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you please source "ordered to assault German positions en masse, often with only one rifle for every two or three soldiers". That is, show a copy of order? Of course you can't. $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Apr 6 '16 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the USSR was forced to be hard on their men to win that war, but they tried their best to give them a chance and were able to equip them. You might have incidents where encircled troops who had lost equipment were caught trying to get back to their lines, but hardly those numbers. You also need to take the "mass attack" anecdotes of the German army with considerable grains of salt. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 8 '16 at 0:34
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No wars would be 100% win for tank regardless of epoch/tech level.

The more localized war is the more advantage side with tank would have. But as distances increase, so would tank's impact on the course of war decrease, simply because it can't be everywhere at once. A clever strategist can leak a false info about a high-importance target and lure tank away from real battle for long enough to win it the usual way.

The longer war is, the less tank would matter as well. It would be worn down, lack supplies and with time people could devise more good strategies to block, evade or destroy the tank.

No matter what era it is - tank will never be invulnerable. Even the best modern tank can be easily disabled with simple, primitive and low tech trap available since stone age: a trap pit. Once again, give a tank command a juicy target to chase, lure it into trap and pour some boiling oil down the pit to make sure those pesky soldiers won't climb out and figure a way to pull tank bank. The end.

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If we went back to WWII with something like the Challenger or the Leopard II or the Abrams, they would certainly be a game changer; they could single handedly spearhead an assault or capture key positions before the enemy knew what hit them.

Now do take what I say with a grain of salt, I do not have first hand experience with any armored vehicle (I have only read about the history on them)

I'll be focusing on the Leopard II

Armor

Modern tanks have armor <500mm due to composite armor, nothing in WWII and before could penetrate or kill the tank (assuming we are talking about Tank vs. Tank). The best the enemy could do would be to immobilize it with anti-tank mines.

Weaponry

No competition. The Tiger 1, while has a fearsome reputation for it's gun, would simply be no match for the Leopard II along with it's modern fire control system.

Speed

Again the Leopard II wins, the Tiger won't be able to match it in any way.

Result

The Leopard II (or any modern tank) would quite certainly be a game changer to whatever front it was on, but one single tank was near irrelevant if we were to take into account how large in scale the entire war was.

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  • $\begingroup$ The side and rear armor is weaker than the frontal armor. A good WWII tank gun might be able to get through the weaker arcs. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 19 '15 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. True, but (assuming it is a 1v1) the Leopard II (or any modern tank) could immediately rotate it's hull and turret to counter the tank. $\endgroup$ – AngryElPresidente Mar 19 '15 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ The real hazard isn't artillery or other tanks, it's aircraft. Air attack was second only to mechanical breakdown as a cause for losses of German tanks; a modern tank's top armor isn't much more effective than a Tiger's. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 20 '15 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, composite armor is made to stop the modern anti-tank shell that uses jets of molten metal to puncture the armor. It might not be nearly as good against a big fat lump of steel artillery shell from history. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 21 '15 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Oldcat, modern composite armor is designed to stop HESH (upgraded high-explosive) and APFSDS (upgraded APDS/APCR/APCBC/etc., distantly related to roundshot) as well as the HEAT rounds you mention. Roundshot is so large and low-energy that it's unlikely to even leave a dent -- it's likely to bounce off the same hardened outer layer that stops machine-gun bullets. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 21 '15 at 19:44
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It could decide any war by materializing directly above the leadership of one side during battle, so that the opponent could take advantage of loss of leadership.

Or if it appeared with sufficient velocity, it could destroy a city or even a whole state. Eg. stopping Mongolian horde when they are in China by vaporizing east Asia would definitely help against mongols (but maybe the firewall running around world could pose some problems, so maybe a little less energetic event).

If used as a fighting vehicle, it could win any battle - but run out of supplies.

But it could help someone to conquer whole world, by reverse engineering the vehicle (and especially if crew would help).

But tank crews are not technical/scientific geniuses. So some support vehicle would be better than an MBT (sending something larger and with wider skilled crew, eg. supercarrier, would be of course better). But the question is about Challenger 2, not the best vehicle for changing history.

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  • $\begingroup$ It might be fair to suggest that if you are going to go to all this trouble, you'd find a tank crew who were also pretty smart people and train them up with historical context and a broad range of unconventional techniques and improvisation in ... just about everything! Like how the Apollo astronauts took great pictures on the moon because they were trained photographers. Arguably, that means you send a tank crew member back with a copy of "how to mass-produce the AK-47 from first principles" in his pocket, and just use the tank to guard the factory :-) $\endgroup$ – SusanW Sep 28 '16 at 10:15
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As per the answers above, any single MBT is easily capable of turning the tides of a single battle that he gets thrown into, up until at least WWII.

However, you wanted a significant impact on a war, so the logical answer is: Until the point where a single decisive battle would no longer turn the tides of war.

Both World Wars were full of large, decisive battles that - by themselves - did not turn the war. Only the sum of several such battles eventually did.

On the other hand, in ancient and medieval times, wars were regularily decided by decisive battles. There are a few exceptions (Caesars conquests) but until at least Napoleonic times, the idea of deciding the war in one important battle was strong, and held until it was soundly proven wrong in the trenches of World War I, where many generals and officers still believed in the one battle that would end the war.

So, a few historical exceptions ignored, anytime until WWI you could decide a war this way. Afterwards, maybe you can depending on luck or strategy, but you are in no way guaranteed that outcome anymore.

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