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Best AFVs of the war, year by year. Part 1 1939.

Having watched lots of top 5 tank videos on you tube I thought to myself that I could do a top 5 tanks of my own despite the fact that I have no expertise in this field. In truth I like most people have no expertise in any fields. Additionally I have no fields just a back garden and I'm far from expert there. However lack of knowledge, experience or morals does not seem to phase Boris and his pals so onwards and upwards!..

BT 7

To try and justify my choices I have selected 3 criteria. These may not be the usual criteria but having pointed out my (dis)qualifications I think I should at least explain my thinking such as it is.

Firstly it always seems to me that doing a 'best' AFVs of WW2 is a bit of a strange idea given that it lasted almost 6 years (in Europe) and was a period of enormous technological change. To compare tanks built in 1939 or earlier with those of 1945 is on the same lines as comparing the Gloster Gladiator with the Me 262 in aircraft or mobile phones in 1980 with those of today. We are not really comparing like with like in level of technology and leading on to my second point not in function. If AfVs showed little change in technological construction and all shared the same purpose comparisons could easily be made but they do not.

For example spoons could easily be judged by these criteria as little has changed over hundreds of years in construction or use as the spoons below separated by 300 years show. A spoon expert can probably tell them apart but basically a spoon is a spoon, some a bit smaller or fancier but essentially the same design and function.

AFVs are not spoons, whilst a tank destroyer might be compared to another tank destroyer it cannot be compared against an armoured car or even an actual tank as function is completely different. So my category is AFVs not just tanks which makes the comparitive field much broader and more nonsensical.

Thirdly I will be using Aesthetics or even lack thereof as a criteria as for wargamers and modellers rule of cool should always be up there with historical context and function.



The T35 looks like a 40k tank designed by somebody with no concept of all the boring engineering stuff about engine size, drive shafts, suspension etc. Instead they wanted guns and more guns in a vehicle which would convey the power and glory of the communist state to overawe any viewer. In this they succeeded but made a completely hopeless AFV.. So in terms of Aesthetics, nailed it!

Apparently about 60 of these behemoths were built and served mainly on parade duty in Moscow before pretty much being destroyed in Barbarossa 1941. Several are known to have been destroyed in action but the majority lost due to breakdown for various engineering based reasons ignored during in terms of actual function and even in historical context its a loser.

This is a 15mm Flames of War version but I am awaiting a Rubicon version...


The T26 was built in huge numbers and many variations The Rubicon kit alone has about 10 possible marks from twin turret abominations, through 2 types of flame tank and even this command version with its unobtrusively huge radio aerial.

With a 45mm gun and 15mm all around armour this was a really decent tank in 1939 and had solid combat experience in the Spanish Civil War and Nomonhan campaign it was reliable. Certainly it was better in 1939 than most opposition AFV..

In context an excellent tank in all its possible functions but loses points on the aesthetics. Its just a bit too like a tank!

This kit is the Rubicon and as good as all Rubicon.

The Carrier

After WW1 the UK was looking at a less manpower heavy army and turned to mechanisation as a force multiplier aiming to have a completely motorised army that would run rings around their horse based opponents. Part of this vision was the carrier - a small armoured personnel carrier that could transport infantry, haul supplies, carry out recon and tow artillery. The Carrier was intrinsic to the British way of war for the entire war and th various carriers, Loyd, bren, cavalry and universal were built in huge numbers, over 100,000 and served in every theatre with UK and Commonwealth troops.

But here is the thing, the only ones I have ever been commissioned to paint are in 15mm. Never a Bolt Action carrier despite having painted several British armies. This suggests that the scale of BA battles have no place for carriers or that the rules are failing to make them as intrinsic as they were.

I think that these are great in their roles and in their context. If i had ever built and painted one in 28mm it may even have been my favourite but sadly not.

Chi Ha

The quintessential Japanes AFV and already in service for a couple of years by 1939. The Chi Ha itself is again a tank which seems poor viewed from our perspective but at the time of its roll out from 1937 was a well armoured (20mm+) and decently gunned for its Infantry support role with a shortish 57mm gun. Bear in mind that British tanks up to 1941 were still using a 2pdr which had no HE round so a 6pdr HE equivalent on a reliable and well armoured tank was not a bad design for its supposed use in China.

So as far as my criteria go it is a great tank in 1939, it has a form fitted exactly to it's function as an Infantry support tank and the Japanese 3 colour camo and artistic decals are fantastic. For me this is the best tank in 1939

Matilda II

"The Queen of the Battlefield" and possibly true if that queen is Victoria in 1900. As mobile and just heavy with as little actual hitting power but as iconic in Caunter camo - the Matilda not Queen Victoria. The Matilda II has sneaked in here really as only 2 were in service in September 1939 and it saw no action until 1940. However 1940 has loads of great tanks so squeezed in here. Famous for service in the desert I sort of feel its service in France gets a bit overlooked as it was apparently almost invulnerable to German 37mm guns and could only be stopped with the 88mm. In the early desert campaigns it was similarly invulnerable to Italian tanks. In 1939 this was then a beast and looked great into 1940 but the desert was not really it's milieu and it's speed and inability to take a bigger gun meant it was shunted off to the Far East to New Guinea to fight alongside the Australians.

Pz 38t

As most people know this German stalwart of the Early war was not German but was Czech and became German on the takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1939. This was a proper tank with initially 15 to 25mm armour but later up to 50mm with bolt ons added to the front. The 37mm Skoda gun was quality and the engine and drive made it reliable and efficent. In terms of 1939 tanks it was far from being a tin can and was able to perform well right into Operation Barbarossa in the Blitzkrieg role

This would be top of my list with the Chi Ha if it wasn't so bloody ugly with all the bolts like some kind of tank pox and Panzer Grey is doing it no favours. In Slovakian colours it looks way better

The 38t is though a contender for top AFV of 1939 and Wikipedia says that the Peruvian armed forces were still using them against the Sendero luminoso guerrillas in the 80s so it definitely gets the longevity award!

Sdkfz 222 Armoured Car

Another great contender for best AFV of 1939 as this armoured car wins the whole game on cool. With the lines of a futuristic vehicle even today this armoured car looks the part and on the roads of France in 1940 it was form and funtion combined. Unfortunately in Poland in 1939 and the desert in 1940 the lack of actual roads made it less useful than its appearance suggests.

This is like the opposite of people who buy big 4 wheel drive landrovers in cities where they will never use its capacity. This is a beautiful armoured car where there are actually decent roads but once it needs its 4wd it's a disappointment and just drinks fuel.

Ba 32 Armoured Car

At the other end of the scale the Soviet BA32 whose design inspiration suggests farm animals but which was a quite sophisticated vehicle in 1939. Firstly an armoured car with a 45mm gun is not messing about. £ axles and tracks which could be added to the rear axles to create a half track in bad conditions off road. Additionally it could be modified to run on Soviet railway tracks!

It also had a greater range than the German 222 and was better across country! Beauty outdone here by the beast.

The Ba10 or Ba32 served in the Nomonhan campaign, Finland and in Barbarossa but was phased out as better vehicles came online. In terms of function and technology this was impressive in 1939 and cuts across the grain of what we tend to think of Soviet vehicles

So thats my personal "best of 1939". What have I missed out? I was tempted to put in the Polish 7TPs but its quite similar to the T26 and frankly not as good. A few British tanks such as the a9 also were considered but failed due to not being sound in function or aesthetics. Then there are some corking French and Belgian vehicles but they will be in Part 2 1940 - must try harder.


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