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In the years following World War I, every major country knew that the tank designs of WWI were woefully obsolete and began developing new tanks to meet the challenges of new warfare. Nazi Germany took the lead in the 1930s and developed a series of progressively better tanks. Tank warfare continued to be a crucial part of the conflict in North Africa, and on the eastern front, culminating with the Battle of Kursk in July 1943.

The reigning Western philosophy on tank warfare relied on two distinct types to fill separate roles on the battlefield. The first type was a slower, heavy tank equipped with a general purpose main gun and machine-guns for supporting infantry. These were called "Infantry Tanks" by the British and simply "Tanks" by the US. Prime examples would be the British "Matilda I" or US M-4 "Sherman." The second type was fast, light armored tank that carried a powerful, armor-piercing main gun. These were referred to as "Cruiser Tanks" and "Tank Destroyers" by the British and US militaries respectively.

In contrast, the German military leadership developed a new kind of warfare that was perfectly suited to the strengths of the tank. German Blitzkrieg tactics were the first employment of Combined Arms strategy, exploiting the strengths of artillery, infantry, close air support and tanks carefully coordinated together proved devastatingly effective against every standing army and enabled the rapid conquest of France and the Low Countries in May–June 1940 and in 1941 helped Nazi Germany push all the way to the edge of Moscow. Ironically, the Wehrmacht employed a military philosophy originally devised by a British tactician, Major Basil Liddell-Hart, but ignored by the British War Office. 

The concept of two separate tank types eventually proved impractical for battlefield employment and was effectively already obsolete by the time Germany attacked the USSR in 1941. While both nations continued to produce light (e.g. Pz II Ausf L "Luchs" and BT-7M) and heavy (Pz VI Ausf B/E "Tiger" and JS-1/2/3) tanks until the end of the war, by 1943 both had effectively standardised on relatively mobile tanks with decent armour and an armament capable of destroying most enemy tanks at normal combat ranges; the main types were the Soviet T-34 and the improved T-34/85, and on the German side the later models (Ausf F2 and better) of the Pz IV and then the Pz V "Panther." These designs were the basis of the post-war concept of the Main Battle Tank (MBT).

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