In my setting there is a mad artificer making armored cars for the army. The cars have wooden frames with 10 mm of steel on every side, wooden wheels with metal plates covering them, and are propelled using two different methods (some have horses which sit within the cart and push it forward, and the others have slaves inside who use large handcranks to rotate the wheels). They have several wheels to get even ground pressure and all the openings (two vision slits, and multiple arrow slits around the vehicle) are covered with visors that can be closed. Some of the larger cars also have cannons mounted in them, which can fire forward, and others have small cannons (basically just oversized muskets) or magic machine guns mounted in a turret.

The infantry fighting the cars would need methods to face the cars both in open combat (meeting on the field of battle) in random encounters (infantry have no time to prepare) and ambushes (where the infantry have time to prepare)

With this information, how could people in a low fantasy setting with 1400’s technology and limited magic defeat these vehicles?

Edit: After reading the input I have decided to adapt the concept for the cars. Lots of people have mentioned mud being a problem, and I do not know a fix for that besides wider tires and each wheel having it's own suspension so that they all touch the ground (and perhaps more wheels).

People have also mentioned the use of artillery against the car, and while that would be a threat I don't think that the weapons which would be used in this time period would be good enough to reliably take out the cars.

Something to mention that I should have before, the setting is very low magic. Someone having magic ability at all is one in a million, and the odds of that person also being skilled and smart enough to become an artificer would be incredibly rare. As far as the setting is concerned the artificer is the only person capable of making any sort of advanced weapon (like the magic machine gun).

Otherwise some of the answers have been very useful. The use of Naphtha (something I didn't realize was known about at the time) is especially interesting.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look into Hussite warfare. Also fits your time frame very well. E.g. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_wagon or en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagon_fort $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Feb 15 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure a horse or two have enough power to just move these tanks even on flat hard ground. Modern tanks have something like 800 horsepower (there are much heavier than your tank though). 10mm of steel on all sides is very heavy. Try to do the maths. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Feb 15 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ There are 2 VTCs as 'too story-based' and no relevant comments. I would love to see some comments explaining the reasoning behind those votes as I fail to see how this question fits with the criteria of 'too story-based'. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 15 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Just to make a point: I'm having a hard time swallowing the weight-vs-horsepower problem. In other words, I can't see horses or slaves moving the object you're describing. And if they could, they're vulnerable when they need to stop to eat, rest, or relieve themselves. Such a vehicle would be trivially stopped (I'm sure as mentioned below) by a creek, or mud, or a fallen tree, or a good sized root in the road, or uneven terrain. Weight is not your friend when your motive force is man- or (actual) horsepower. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 17 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ What would be the advantage of crank mechanism over Flinston-style pushing the frame while working, apart from covering the legs? I'd assume this would be waay less efficient. $\endgroup$
    – Frax
    Feb 17 at 10:50

17 Answers 17


So, you ask how to defeat an army of that side with the artificer?...

Honestly, the description is so insane that best thing opponents can do is actually give that side a second artificer, to spend more resources on tanks.

A 3 by 3 by 3 meters box, small compared to modern tanks, would weight 4 tons. Thats 4 tons of high quality steel. That 4 tons could make at least 40 best equipped knights. Or 4000 lightly equipped militia.

Every single tank that this artificer convinces his commander to spend resources on is a huge win for the opponent.

There is absolutely nothing that can spend as much resources as wastefully as this artificer, so the prime goal of the opponent is to make and send them another artificer, or convince that side that this artificer needs to make more tanks.

For this best option is to stage whole battles, never use trenches and molotov cocktail, never use uphill territory, never use any sort of soft ground for a battlefield selection, never force these tanks to go across a river, especially not by bridge. Never ambush these vehicles, never jump on them, never set up traps, never push branches between its wheels... you get the point.

You absolutely must use this extremely rare opportunity to force your enemy to believe that this contraption works. Retreat when tank comes. Give up whole villages. Dont even bypass the tanks, take the battle, make it loud, make them think the tank has any meaning on the battlefield whatsoever. Build only very weak and not angled walls that this tank can barely push over. Send spies that will tell the opponent that your side is afraid of more tanks. That these tanks instill fear in your troops. Make sure that the tank factory is working well. Send spies to actually protect the tank factory. Yes. Every danger to the tank factory is a danger to you, tank factory must work. No action in this scenario is anywhere as beneficial as protection of opponent's tank factory.

Keep doing it while opponent spends more on tanks than he gets from conquered territory. Help your opponent build roads - this is also super important. Make sure his allies lend him money to buy more resources. But keep in mind to destroy any other army that he has, other than tanks, so that he wouldnt even think switching strategy.

Then, depending on how far you can retreat, in about 3 years with good roads and a thousand of km, just stop pretending. Thats all you have to do.

Even medieval farm people have enough imagination to completely destroy a tank army. They fought knights, they know that pointy sticks are good for preventing knights from moving. Same works here. Just a man with a stick has a very good chance of immobilizing a tank of this sort. It will be hard to keep all your men from doing so, but it is worth to win the war, rather than just force opponent to switch to another army early on.

Why are men with sticks enough? Because even modern tanks have problems with them. Even with heat-vision, opponent can sometimes get close to a tank. Even against automatic weapon and wide angle cameras. Slots for view and muskets that reload a whole minute? Three men moving from all sides are almost guaranteed to immobilize a tank, even with no commanding, no great plan, just farm people acting alone.

If you think you will need some sort of army to defeat these tanks, I still suggest just militia with shovels. Even a shallow trench will stop such a tank. If you make a trench, tanks cant cross it, not enough power. If you put an angled sticks, that also was extremely popular at that time against cavalry, tank cant push it. Basically even a knee deep irrigarion channel, that is useful for farms, will be a great wall against such tanks.

If you are absolutely certain that even that wont work, well, then use superweapon of the medieval time - fire. Just hide in a trench till tank comes close, then throw a bottle or even a bag of something gooey and flamable, cooking oil is good and is known for millenia. Alcohol with not much water or lighter oils or wood distillation product soaked in paper or dry leaves for ease of fire distribution. A flint and a little of gunpowder for ignition, or even just keep a small set of glowing charcoal if even a few grams of gunpowder per tank is too much. It works even against modern tanks. Sulfur, pressed vegetable oil, oil from the ground, animal fat, all work and are known for millenia. If even that is too high tech, well, then even a weaved basket of leaves will do. Yes, they dont burn as hot, but they provide smoke. And then just keep adding flamable stuff on top of a tank till its well cooked.

This is a combination of tactics that were used against knights and in sieges of small towers. Both are very well known and anyone from that time will be able to understand it, and probably lots of farm people already did it and have an experience with it.

Repeat that for every tank, lose less people than opponent has tanks, and you are good to go. Collect all the valuable steel and use it for the industry, because it is absolutely useless as a low power tank, in a world with sticks, walking away, trenches and fire.

The most expensive part will be to use high quality spies that will make sure that opponent doesnt change tactics.

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    $\begingroup$ "Every danger to the tank factory is a danger to you, tank factory must work. No action in this scenario is anywhere as beneficial as protection of opponent's tank factory." Simply incredible $\endgroup$
    – Mike Caron
    Feb 15 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ This is also a great strategy since it is stretching the enemies supply lines while shortening your own. Resulting in that precious metal being delivered conveniently deep into your territory where you can make the best use of it. $\endgroup$
    – Anketam
    Feb 15 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ I enjoyed this answer, but one way in which is undersells the tanks is that it imagines they operate alone. If the enemy has a tank, with a bunch of infantry and/or cavalry protecting it then some of the tactics (walk at it with a stick, throw a fire at it) will be a lot less effective. $\endgroup$
    – Dast
    Feb 16 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ You forget one important part: destroy the magical machine guns! Destroy the factory that makes them! Destroy the plans! Out of the whole tank concept, the magical machine gun is the only dangerous thing - but a single such gun is probably more dangerous than a thousand tanks. $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki how fast can you personally drag 400kg weight by the ground, even with force multipliers? My record is about 10m per hour, even for a smaller weight. Now, why would an opponent attack if he cant win, or let you go if he can win? If he decides when and if the battle happens, he wins every single time. Real war wagons are about 10 times lighter per area than what author proposes. And real war wagons are only useful against cavalry and only if they dont know to go elsewhere and attack other targets. $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 15:34

A mud pit is more than enough to stop it. Wooden wheels, even when plated with metal, do not have that much of a grip, and once they are sunken into thick mud it's a real hassle to free them up.

Being the wheel the source of traction, since you mention that somehow the horses or the humans convey torque to their axles, this means that as soon as that torque cannot be discharged to the ground the vehicle will be stuck.

By the way, mud and water is also effective at stopping modern tanks, since one of the first worries of the Nazis while invading the Netherlands during WW2 was preventing the Dutch from breaking their dams and flooding the countryside.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, also worth adding that lots of wheels only help the ground pressure if it is very flat ground or they have remarkably advanced independent suspension for each wheel. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 I never even thought about mud being a major difficulty for the cars. I suppose as a second question, how could the cars avoid getting stuck in the mud? Are there any simple suspension types that could allow it to get better traction by using all the wheels? $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 7:24
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    $\begingroup$ I would have expected the horse variant to not be using the wheels for traction at all, only support. That instead the horse hooves provide the traction. Although I suspect even then that mud would be an absolute bitch. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ @TheEmperorProtects I'm not an expert on suspension, but I believe it was pretty primitive back then, I can't think of a pre-19th century suspension that could handle more than 4 wheels. The huge problem is power to weight ratio. Every square metre of 10mm steel armour masses 80kg. Crunch the numbers for how many slaves can fit inside and you'll find there's insufficient power to even start rolling on the most level possible surface for that era, even if the entire volume is filled with muscle-bound slaves with no combatants or weapons. Problems for the artificer... $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ In 1962 India-Pakistan war, Indian officer flooded sugarcane farms. That mud was enough to make Pakistani Tanks(One of the best American Tanks of that time) immobile. So yes, Mud is very very dangerous to tanks. $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 10:35

Honestly pretty much any obstacle will do the trick. Remember that original tanks were pretty much just a metal box with tracks and huge engine, that could go through the barbed wire, little to none offensive capabilities, that was their primary objective, to be hard to be stopped. If it could be easily stopped, it would not be a useful machine.

The trick to being hard to stop, is horse power and tracks. Even the earliest tank (Mark I) had somewhere around 105 hp at its 28 tons weight and tracks. Why is that important? The track offer you traction which means that the power of your engine will propel you forward. And powerful engine will help you go even if something is trying to stop you.

  • Your tank has no tracks and very little horsepower.
  • Ditch stops you, (to be fair large enough ditch will stop even modern tank, but even a small ditch will suffice for yours.),
  • Mud stops you, because your wheels lack the traction of the tracks.
  • Damp tilled soil will stop you because your wheels lack the traction of the tracks.
  • Tree logs will stop you, because the horsepower will be insufficient to move or surmount it. Boulders will stop you because the horsepower will be insufficient to move or surmount it.

And once you are stopped, a medium sized fire will deal with the people in your tank.


Molotov Cocktails


  • Within the technological capabilities of the time
  • Simple construction, soldiers can make their own easily
  • Easy to carry, small, and lightweight
  • Fast to deploy, soldiers already often have lit fire with them (eg torches)
  • Can destroy or render inoperable an armored vehicle

The main disadvantage that your armored vehicles have is that they are vulnerable at close range and/or without infantry support. Yes, there might be a cannon, and yes there are arrow slits that the people inside can shoot out of, but arrows and cannons can only be shot so fast. There's little stopping someone from running up to one or getting close enough to chuck a bottle with a flaming rag in it.


Molotov cocktails, despite how simple they sound, are even capable of disabling modern battle tanks, by being thrown through open hatches. Your armored vehicles, despite being clad in metal, still doubtlessly have gaps where burning liquid can pour in, and even if the burning liquid misses and hits the ground, it's going to take a lot to convince the internal horses to walk through fire.

Tank on fire

Article (warning Paywall)

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    $\begingroup$ An alternative to alcohol would be pitch or tar, which would make the fire stick to the tank, so it could attach anywhere. The tank itself doesn't have to be on fire for it to be too hot inside for the people. Add some manure or sulfur and it becomes an unbearable stink bomb long before it becomes too hot. The idea is to get the people to abandon the vehicle, not necessarily to destroy it, since the people will abandon it before it becomes destroyed in many cases. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ You say that Molotov cocktails were in reach of the technology of the time, yet the first Molotov cocktails date to the 20th century. I doubt the idea of flammable + shatterable was beyond the medieval imagination so I think the idea they could have made them is probably wrong. That said, Greek Fire may have managed a similar feat a couple of millennia earlier. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @JackAidley You're right that thrown, shatter-able fire-based weaponry has been around for much longer than moltov cocktails (they require gasoline), I just used "molotov cocktail" because it's easy to understand and describe :) $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Feb 15 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JackAidley When you hear "Greek Fire", a lot of people falsely assume that it was an invention from Classical or Ancient Greece, but this is incorrect. It was an invention of the Byzantine Empire in 672 AD. The Byzantine Empire was the remnants of the Roman Empire made up mostly of the formally Greek nations that were the Eastern Roman Empire. So, the Byzantines were often called Greeks instead of Romans, after Rome fell in 395 AD. The Medieval period lasted from the fall of Rome to about 1400AD making Greek fire a Medieval invention. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 17 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Thanks for that. I had, wrongly, thought it was an ancient Greek invention. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 at 20:41

By going round it

It's not a castle, it doesn't have to be defeated. It's not mobile, not in the real world before good roads*, so that aspect can be ignored. Ultimately the way to defeat it is not to engage it. It's one of those great ideas that's more useful to the enemy because it's too expensive and unwieldy to actually use.

Transporting it over any distance would slow down the army considerably. It's not actually any more useful than field guns on wheels. If you're not having a pitched battle you'll never have the thing set up in time to field it anyway. It'll have to be transported as a kit of parts after all.

I suggest you pay more attention to those magical machine guns you mention, those really will be a game changer.

*The gound is going to be too soft or too rough for it to actually move with that drive system and that weight.

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    $\begingroup$ @TheEmperorProtects it's that mobility aspect that falls down in the real world. It's too heavy for wheels and too heavy to move by hand/horse. It can't be moved long distance over land in that period fully constructed, it'll have to be in parts, it's just too heavy. Make yourself some drawings to get a sense of scale, then calculate the weight of 10mm steel on all sides. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 15 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ That's fair. I will probably have to handwave some aspects as just being "artificer shenanigans" to make it work, such as the hand crank version which would need a lot of effort to work at all, much less work well. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ @TheEmperorProtects, my thoughts on a solution. First up, forget cannons on them. You need to make them as small and light as possible. Think more of a mobile machine gun emplacement. One person, two wheels, armour a touch heavier than a knight would be wearing, that was good enough for the weapons they faced. Horse drawn but a single horse, weapon facing backwards relative to the horse. Place them among the infantry and cut the horse loose. If it needs moving in combat, the infantry do it, the infantry protect it in melee and it protects the infantry with range. 5 could dominate a battle. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 15 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix Draft horses are different than racing horses. While 1.5x over fair terrain is an average across all breeds, a typical draft horse can do 2-3x their body weight over long distances. Also, 2 yoked horses pull ~3 times as much as a single horse because of the way they apply a more continuous force instead of repeatedly accelerate the load between impulses. This means that using 2 draft horses, you can pull 3.8 to 8.1 tons over a long distance over fair terrain depending on the breed. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 17 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ While medieval figures are hard to find, we do know that American Pioneers used Conestoga wagons loaded to 6 tons to travel thousands of miles off road using 2 draft animals. These tanks, by all estimates anyone has given will not weigh more than 6 tons $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 17 at 15:49

To understand how to counter any threat, you must first determine what the threat is capable of, what it is used for, and what techniques your enemy will use to achieve thier goals. What you should not assume is that that these tanks will be engineered to specs that make no logical sense, or that they will just charge into any situation like mindless drones. To effectively counter any enemy, you must first assume there is atleast a basic level of intelligence behind your enemy's actions.

First, let's look at how a smart enemy would engineer these tanks.

A lot of answers so far speculate about the mobility of these tanks, but I will try to go more into actual numbers to solve for if you CAN make a reasonably mobile medieval tank. I will go with 2 draft horses because a 3-4 horse tank will not be able to maneuver around the sharp turns you find in many medieval roads, and a 1 horse tank is far less efficient, and would have a very hard time moving the weight of the tank even on paved roads.

To enclose 2 horses, and leave them enough room to walk, you will need a box about 300x200x400cm for the body of your tank. Which is roughly 3,500kg of steel. You will also need a turret which will need to be about 150x150x150cm to seat a single gunman and a driver. This is another 850kg. A Gatling gun with ammo is about another 100-150kg. Your wheels and wooden frame is looking like 600-1000kg depending on how many wheels you go for. Your 2 riders are another 125kg

Add this all up and you are looking at a tank that weighs roughly 5175-5625kg.

enter image description here

The maximum sustainable wagon load on a paved road for a pair of draft horses using historical wagon design and road paving techniques is about 10-11 tons; so, we can speculate that these tanks can travel on paved roads just fine, but medieval warfare often means traveling over unpaved terrain.

When you take a 2 draft horse team off road, thier wagon pull capacity drops down to about 4-7 tons on mostly flat dry dirt or grass and 1.5-4 tons on poorer terrains such was muddy, uneven, or sandy terrain; so, the only places these tanks will really be able to travel will be on roads and generally flat, dry, solid terrain.

How to make these tanks more practical

That said, your 10mm armor speculation is way overkill for most of what you need. Most medieval weapons (bows, crossbows, etc.) could be blocked by 2-3mm of steel. Even the muskets of the time could not pernitrate more than about 4-5mm of steel... that said, you may occasionally need to face swivel guns which could require closer to 20mm of steel to block. Larger medieval cannons than this are no threat to a tank because they could not be aimed well enough to be used on anything other than large stationary buildings or naval ships.

With this in mind, consider that nearly all tanks throughout history have not had uniform armor thickness; so, neither should these. Instead of a consistent 10mm hull, you should rate each face to deal with the most likely threat you'd face from any given angle. To this end, I would suggest rating the front of your tank against cannons with 20mm armor (or perhaps 10mm of steel backed by 50mm of wood for the same weight more like a mini ironclad warship.), the flanks against heavy muskets with 5mm armor, and the top and back just enough to deflect muskets hitting you askew and to stop a melee attacker from breaking in with 3mm armor.

So, instead of ~4350kg of steel, the tank could defend itself pretty well against all probable attacks with only ~1475 kg of armor.

Also, adding more or wider wheels will not help because it is the co-efficient of friction you need to overcome here, not a lack of traction. In fact, in most cases, adding more wheels will actually slow you down because horse drawn wagons do not work on the same principles as a self propelled vehicle; so, 4 wheels will likely be best since they will reduce friction and weight compared to a more tank like wheel setup. This related answer goes a bit more into detail on this. Fewer wheels means you can go with the lighter frame estimate of 600kg instead of the heavier 1000kg I mentioned before

This reduces the total weight of your tank to ~2300kg making it able to travel even in "poor" terrain. If you go for this more realistic armor distribution, then the tanks could join your army in a much wider range of battlefields. This would put the weight of your tank at less than a typical, fully loaded, medieval supply wagon meaning anywhere a typical army can go, so can your tanks.

How Would Medieval Tanks be Used

A lone tank is an easy target, but a if supported by infantry and field engineers, they would be almost unstoppable. The initial use of tanks would probably see tactics emerge that are somewhere between using elephants and war wagons. Warwagons were very tank like, but they did not protect the horses because they needed the whole internal space for solders, this made them static defenses on the battle field. These tanks however only need 1 gun man so you can put the horses inside the wagon allowing it to move around while fighting; so, they could advance during a battle to break up enemy lines like a war elephant. Ideally, they would move in advance of your infantry (no need to charge at full speed risking unseen traps, etc.) while shooting up the enemy's front lines. Chances are this would make any medieval army break on its own, but if the enemy are very disciplined and try to encircle your tanks looking for some weakness to exploit, your infantry can then move in and easily dispatch those enemies since thier battle line would be broken.

As for when the army is on the move, you would keep your tanks in the middle of any troop columns. This way obstructions, traps, and ambushes can be identified and removed before your tanks even reach them.

How Would Medieval Tanks be Countered

Medieval armies were not good at countering war wagons to begin with. To up-the-anti to machinegun wielding, mobile battlements... it it unlikely that any medieval army would stand much of a chance at all. You could flood terrain or try to make traps to kill the horses, but even when fully stopped, a few magic machineguns could still control the battlefield just as much as war wagons did... only better. Also, killing the horses is only a temporary set-back. Horses can be replaced much more easily than the tank itself. You can try to fire bomb them, but again, those machine guns, plus the support infantry would make getting into range for this VERY difficult. You could try to shoot them in the backside with muskets, but this also means getting past the support infantry.

The only real counter would be to build bigger, stronger, aim-able cannons able to overcome any wagon's front-side armor. In our history, Pivot guns (larger cannons that can be turned to aim) did not come into play until the late 1700s, and did not become common until the 1800s...but in our history, we did not have a huge need for them. The threat of tanks may very much accelerate the development of such a weapon system. So to answer your question, no weapon or tactic actually used in the medieval period would prove an effective counter to tanks... but special anti-tank cannons could likely be developed to meet the need.

  • $\begingroup$ This is very helpful, thanks. I've been catching up on the answers and seeing a lot of people mention that the 10 mm or armor is too much, and I appreciate you for going more into detail about how much I would actually need, you even did the weight calculations! I do have to ask though if the tank would actually be able to handle a cannonball from the front? If the inside of the tank is a wooden frame, wouldn't that be the point of failure instead of the armor? $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ @TheEmperorProtects Most15th cannons were either swivel guns which had an average bore of 3-4cm, or they were bombards which could not be aimed effectively enough to be used as an anti-tank weapon. So, while swivel guns could punch through several men, they were not the sort of "cannons" you are probably picturing. A well designed wooden frame would take the shock, but perhaps you may want to scale the weight of the wooden frame part up a bit just to be sure. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 16 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ The frame could also be reinforced with steel bands. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 16 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ You're underestimating late-medieval cannonry. Can be moved very rapidly with two horses, two or three of them can trap your slow tank so it must come close enough where one of them can kill it with a single shot, long before it poses any threat to them. Even today, tanks are nice, but their only chance against artillery is speed when moving from cover to cover. Modern tanks move a 80 kph, yours at 5. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Feb 17 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ @karl, They could be moved with horses quickly yes, but most of them could not be aimed the way later era cannons could. Your 3 main options are: A) Swivel cannons which are easy to aim, but don't handle recoil well enough to offer significant stopping power. B) Bombard cannons which could obliterate a tank if it could hit, but they were no more accurate than a trebuchet. They were good for taking down large stationary fortifications, but they were useless as a field artillery piece. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 18 at 17:19

Caltrops would lame horses and are easily scattered on the ground. Sturdy stakes well embedded in the ground would be impassable as would even the most modest of ditches and any form of gradient or remotely rough ground would present a serious challenge.

So such vehicles would be unable to tackle any kind of raised fortification or fieldwork and would be vulnerable to catapult (eg scorpion) fire at close range to the wheels they would also be vulnerable to rolled stones, logs and fire weapons or covered pits.

They would not be able to operate in any kind of woodland or scrubland or marsh.

The only difficulty they might present would be in totally flat open ground where an enemy was surprised and unable to prepare. And even here they might still be overwhelmed by massed infantry (at some cost) whilst cavalry would be able to out run and avoid them in such a situation.


Nobody so far mentioned fire.

In version a) of your vehicle, the horses move the car, so the car is open at the bottom for the horse legs at least. Throw a couple piles of dry straw in the way, light it on fire when the tank crosses it - horses panic, get burnt, and the people inside the tank get roasted.

In both versions, putting tar or something else both flammable and sticky on the outside of this thing is bad news for those inside, because metal conducts heat very well, and will radiate it into the inside, slowly cooking everyone.

And if you can get the wooden frame or wheels to start burning, maybe by magic, it's also game over.

Fire-based weaponry was used since ancient times (google "Greek Fire") and any medieval army will have a selection of such weapons at hand. Depending on the weather, this can even be improvised on the spot as torches and lamps were the primary illumination, so most soldiers would carry some means of making a fire.


Depending on the weight of the vehicles, even felled trees, rocks, or debris can be used as anti-tank obstacles.
With sufficient forces a path could be cleared for the 'tanks', but those forces would have to expose themselves.

  • $\begingroup$ That would work in a prepared ambush or set up before battle, but you wouldn't be able to set that up quick enough if you ended up fighting one without time to prepare. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @TheEmperorProtects True, but like mud pits, ditches or berms, they can be part of a standard defence, in addition to the typical moats, for example. If tanks were used in medieval times, preparing these obstacles would simply be planned in advance. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Feb 15 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ A tank moved by horses will stick out like a pink elephant in every terrain and give everybody hours to prepare for its arrival $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Feb 17 at 23:03

If they are used in battle lines, ditches or berms would be able to stop them. The edges of the cart will get high centered. As already stated in another answer, mud would stop them.
Once the vehicle is stopped, you just need to get some fire on it. These things won't have air conditioning or any other cooling. It becomes an oven once lit. The infantry would be issued clay pots with naphtha or something similar that sticks to the metal and burns. Artillery facing them would also be set up to throw projectiles that burn as well.


Cannons, catapults, magic machine guns, gunpowder

If one side has armored vehicles with cannons and magic machine guns, then other side must have large cannons, catapults (Onager, Trebuchet or Couillard as explained here) and machine guns. Trebuchets were able to break thick stone walls.

Gunpowder can be used to make explosives to damage the vehicles.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Magic is very rare in the setting. Someonje with any magical ability at all is one in a million, much less one with the knowledge and ability to be an artificer. He is the only person alive (or at least, as far as the setting is concerned) who has the ability, knowledge, and idea to make the machine guns. As for the regular cannons, catapults, etc, those aren't exactly well known for their accuracy. Hitting a spot of land is already hard enough for them, trying to hit a moving object would require twice as much luck as it does skill. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ I mentioned magic machine guns because you wrote it in your question. Tanks have been attacked with cannons. Explosives were put on the ground to damage tanks from below. This can be done with your armored vehicle, because human or horse feet are touching the ground. Uneven surface can make a lot of trouble because different horses or humans will be running at different levels. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Feb 15 at 10:32

Have the high ground!

Considering the weight of the device and the rather low power output of its "engines", it will move very slowly on flat terrain, even slower on a slight slope, and not at all it if has to go up a hill.

If the people inside cannot briefly carry the weight of the device to lift it off the ground and turn it around in another direction, it will be prone to get stuck on pretty much anything. And if they can lift it, it won't be armored enough.

In addition, it will be pretty difficult to spot obstacles through the viewports.

This tank is not a defensive weapon: the defensive version is simply a bunker, castle, or whatever stationary structure that protects people inside. This has unlimited weight so it can be very tough, and it can store any amount of ammo.

So this is an offence weapon, but since it will move slower than a man walking, it can only attack stationary targets. Because it has low power and wheels (not 500hp and tracks like a tank) it won't be able to really go offroad, so its purpose is to attack a target that's basically on a road, which means... the enemy fortress' door.

That sort of stuff was indeed used in medieval times (link)

enter image description here

There's a ram to smash the door, with protection for the people handling it. If you have black powder, the ram could be removed, and the "tank" would serve as protection for the poor guys handling the barrel of black powder while defenders on top of the walls pour burning stuff on top of them.

  • $\begingroup$ I doubt that ever moved over any sort of terrain other than what is in front of a gate. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I guess if you want horse carriages to go through the gate of your castle, you got to have a proper road for them, and this thing would be able to use it too... $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Feb 17 at 11:19

A small hill or creek

If pushing a few tons of steel and wood is difficult on a level road, it's going to be hell pushing it uphill or through a river. A moat or dirt wall would be sufficient to defend a fortified position.

Running (or walking) away

Again, this thing will be a nightmare to move. If you're not defending a structure, simply walking some distance away will render the whole contraption useless. It's powered by living creatures who will get exhausted.


Fire, even if it doesn't damage the vehicle, it would damage the occupants. Bonus points for oil fires that are very smoky.


Or mud. Basically make a hard job even harder.


Landmines and Oil fires

Before you tell me that Landmines weren't existent, The first explosive mines were successfully used by the Ming Dynasty in China in the 14th-century, utilizing gunpowder and tripwires. So theoretically, if a "tank"would run over the trap, it would explode from the bottom, therefore destroying the "tank". But this would only be used in an ambush because of the time required to set it up. So If you used Oil of any type, you could stop the vehicle in its tracks, and light it on fire. Therefore destroying it in any situation.


I think it mainly depends on how this vehicle is used. Is it intended to roam around a battlefield, like a modern tank? I think that's unlikely given the technology of the time. Most of the answers above handle this case.

But what if it has a very specific purpose, a special operations vehicle, which is to survive long enough for the troops inside to reach some point and accomplish some task. One example would be driving up to the castle gate or wall, and, protected from the shower of arrows and spears and whatnot raining down, a crew inside punches a hole through the wall. Another example would be a quick raid through enemy lines to destroy the enemy supply dump.

For these cases, I think defeating the vehicle would depend largely on two factors. First is the element of surprise. If the enemy has never seen it in action before, they will have to scramble to figure out where the weakness is. Second, how much time does the crew inside need to accomplish their task? If defeating the vehicle takes longer than the crew needs to punch through the wall or to destroy the dump, then defeating the vehicle doesn't matter.

Assuming the element of surprise is achieved, the speed of the vehicle might be the biggest success factor. If it's too slow, then even the dumbest enemy will eventually figure out that dropping a tree or shooting a horse on the road will block it. It has to be fast enough and the distance to cover short enough that the enemy has no time to think up and mount a defense.


There are several major issues with these tanks that would prevent them from being the juggernauts you want them to be.

The first, and most glaring, weakness is that these are very heavy vehicles with wooden frames. That framework is going to break if you hit a large bump. It's going to crack and shatter when the armor gets hit, even if the cannonball doesn't penetrate. There is going to be massive stress on your axles and wheels.

Second, 10mm of armor isn't actually as strong as you think it is. For example, WW1 and many interwar light tanks had armor of around that thickness, but made with higher quality steel. The armor on these real world tanks could be penetrated by heavier infantry rifles. Many 14th century cannons could certainly penetrate it. On top of that any tank made with 14th century steel would have a horrible spalling problem. What that means is that even if the cannonball didn't penetrate the armor it would still hit with enough force to cause shards of steel to break off inside the tank and go bouncing around. Those horses and slaves that are powering you tank are going to get sliced up pretty quickly. It's not something people tend to think about with tanks, but it's a very real thing. T-34s had a horrible issue with this and thousands of them were disabled because their crews were killed while the tank had never had it's armor penetrated.

Finally, as people mentioned, these tanks are going to be really, really slow and incapable of crossing rough terrain or driving over ditches or up even mildly steep inclines. Any defending army would have plenty of time to set up defenses against something like this. Digging a simple ditch effectively stops the tank. Setting up a grid of concrete block sized rocks stops it. Putting up a wooden variant of the czech hedgehog or even just angled wooden poles stops it.

For these tanks to be a huge threat they're going to need to be faster and tougher, and that really can't be done with real 14th century tech. So you might have to give them magically enhanced armor. You might also need some kind of a magical engine or some fantasy super beast to power them.


Just kite it.

Poke at it from a distance and get it to chase after you. Have multiple small squads alternate attacking from different sides, always staying as close as possible to the edge of the tank's effective attack range. Agility is on your side, so play keep-away while forcing the tank to cover as much ground as possible.

The tank has a few key limited resources, and your goal is to exhaust one or more of them. The first is ammo. The tank is an enclosed environment that cannot be resupplied, so force it to fire at long range (where accuracy is minimal and shots are easiest to evade) until it has exhausted its ammunition supply. At that point, the tank becomes far less deadly and can be captured by a small party.

The other key resource is energy. The tank you describe will be heavy, almost absurdly so. You don't have a diesel engine powering the thing, you have animals or people. Force that biological engine to run until it is completely worn out and collapses from exhaustion. Your tank becomes immobile at that point, meaning you can stay out of attack range and ignore it, lay siege to it, etc. Forcing the tank to stop and start frequently will accomplish this goal faster, since accelerating a large, heavy vehicle from rest is considerably harder than keeping it in motion.

You can also just swarm the thing. Your primary advantages are in agility and in numbers. The tank cannot turn or change directions quickly, its windows and arrow slits are in fixed positions, and it has a fixed number of attackers who have a limited attack speed. Assault the tank from multiple sides at once, keeping your forces in a position that minimizes the number of arrow slits that have a line of sight. An expert archer can fire an arrow every 5-6 seconds, but your cavalry can cover 500+ feet of ground in that same time. For tanks that don't have artillery, the testudo formation would protect your attackers almost completely. You'll likely lose a few soldiers if they have an artillery turret, but your mobility and sheer numbers mean that most of your attackers will reach the tank. Once in close range, disable the tank by chocking the wheels and dislodge the occupants as if it were a small building. These tanks would be great for assaulting a fortified position, but would not be effective at all against a mobile, distributed attacker.

If all else fails, hide in the forest and attack from behind the trees. A modern tank can drive right over smaller trees, but you don't have that kind of horsepower. A dense line of trees would be an impassable wall to your tank while providing cover for your attackers. Emerge from the forest in a different spot, snipe off a few ranged attacks, and retreat back into the trees.

  • $\begingroup$ Kiting only works when you have the advantage of both speed and range... but if we assume the magic machinegun is anything like any machinegun ever made in the real world, it will out range any medieval weapon by hundreds of meters, and punch right through any armor/shields used by the medieval army. Bullets also move much faster than arrows making them particularly difficult to dodge no matter how far away your shooter is. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 17 at 20:03

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