The 95th Anniversary of the Tank: Nine Iconic Moments
Ninety-five years ago today, the tank made its debut at World War I's Battle of the Somme.
It played a role in bringing an end to that appallingly bloody and stupid battle, and tanks have since gone on to become vital symbols of military might.
Here are nine iconic moments or personalities involving tanks:
9. Tiananmen Square No one knows who this guy with the shopping bags was, but he will be remembered for a long, long time.
8. Michael Dukakis is no George Patton Someone in the Dukakis campaign thought it would be a smart idea to film him riding around in a tank. The George Bush campaign obviously agreed, and used the footage in this commercial.
7. The stolen tank Shawn Nelson was a former soldier who was having trouble adjusting to life in San Diego, so he went to the California Army National Guard Armory in San Diego and got himself an M-60 Patton tank. He then went on a 23-minute joy ride, smashing into cars and light poles, but injured no one. Police shot him to death. Megadeth was inspired enough to cut a song and video.
6. A perfect strike
The 1965 ultra-widescreen epic Battle of the Bulge is a guilty pleasure so filled with historical inaccuracies that former President Dwight Eisenhower condemned it upon its release. It did provide, however, the chance to see Telly Savalas, Henry Fonda and a hilariously blond Robert Shaw participate in WWII's most improbable death scene.
5. Boris Yeltsin stops a coup
When old, embittered Soviet generals attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, all eyes were on Boris Yeltsin, the newly elected president of the Russian Republic. He strode to a tank outside the Russian White House and denounced the coup: "Soldiers, officers, generals," he said. "The clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over the whole country. They must not be allowed to bring eternal night."
4. The German tank problem In World War II, the Allies were desperate to know how many tanks Germany was producing. Conventional spying was yielding inaccurate information, so leaders turned to math geeks and stat nerds. It all gets terribly complicated, but The German Tank Problem is famous for showing how statistical analysis can be trusted.
3. The Battle of Kursk
The largest single tank engagement in history, Kursk is where the Soviets broke the back of the Nazis' Panzer-led invasion into the USSR. One sub-battle of the clash saw 1,500 tanks engaged. It must have been some sight.
2. The Trying Nun Unless you went to St. Mary's High School in New Jersey -- and we're betting you didn't -- you don't hear the word "tank" and not think of a nun. Tank, whose real name I have genuinely forgotten, was a short, nasty-tempered fire hydrant of a nun who spent most of the time rambling on about how St. Al's in Jersey City used to be a fine parish until "the Peter Ricans" moved in. Naturally, she was our religion teacher.
Her theology seemed to be wholly contained in a book called The Cross and the Switchblade, which is I think about a battling priest saving juvenile delinquents. I never found out, because while it was the only reading ever assigned for the year, Tank's classes always devolved into listening to another Archie Bunker-like rant.
Even other teachers called her "Tank," although they sheepishly corrected themselves if they slipped and said it in front of a student. When she died a few years ago, the church bulletin said she "was affectionately known as 'Tank,'" which surprised the hell out of everyone, because no one would put the word 'affectionately" within a mile of any mention of her. But the bulletin writer probably forgot her real name, too. (IMPORTANT UPDATE: The name has jumped into my head unbidden -- Sr. Helen Marie. RIP, Tank.)
1. George Patton is no Michael Dukakis There's a terrific set piece in Patton that begins with the general being awakened, a textbook by German General Rommel on his bedside table. It ends, of course, with the deathless "Rommel, you magnificent bastard -- I read your book!!"
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