What makes a tank destroyer different from a tank?

Eric Sof

Thee German Jagdtiger tank destroyer

First, we need to make clear that tanks are designed to fight every threat while tank destroyer is purpose-built machines for the sole purpose of destroying enemy tanks, in basics. Tanks were armored tracked vehicles with the mission of directly supporting infantry with machine guns and a reasonably powerful main gun. It is important to understand the role of the tank destroyer, and the tactics used by them.

Tank vs. tank destroyer

Tank destroyers were designed purely for the purpose of destroying enemy tanks. Their main distinguishing features include the majority of them lacking turrets and carrying much larger and more powerful guns. The larger and heavier armament is one of the main reasons why they tend to lack a turret, having gotten rid of it during the design. This also has the added benefits of reducing the profile of the vehicle, thus increasing concealment.

Tanks, on the other hand, are designed to combat everything. In WW2 this wasn’t always the case but from the Cold War onward the Main Battle Tank(which meant a tank capable of dealing with all threats) concept became standard. This concept was able to be utilized due to the rapid technological advancement, that allowed for heavier armor and armament, while still being able to maintain decent mobility.

Soviet SU-85 tank destroyers made on SU-34 tank chassis
Tank vs. tank destroyer: Soviet SU-85 tank destroyers made on SU-34 tank chassis (Photo: XY)

It must be remembered that the original purpose of tanks was not to fight enemy tanks – obviously enough, since when the British first introduced tanks in 1916 there were no German tanks for them to fight. Tanks were armored gun platforms, intended to be the mobile spearhead of an offensive: smashing through the enemy defenses and creating a gap for other troops – including lighter, fast-moving tanks – to follow through. The ability to destroy enemy infantry strongpoints, bunkers, machine-gun posts and artillery emplacements were thus the most important aspect of their role. Fighting enemy tanks were expected to be only a secondary task.

Tanks are versatile machines designed to take on any kind of threat, while Tank Destroyers are inflexible machines that specialize at killing enemy tanks resulting in them being far less capable of dealing with other threats.

Design concept

Obviously, there were destroyers with turrets, most notably the American tank destroyers, but the majority lacked a turret. This, however, came at the cost of being able to mount smaller weaponry with the largest being a 90mm on the M36.

German Jadgpanther, a heavy tank destroyer (Photo: Wiki)

Oddly enough, destroyers can also include AFVs that aren’t necessarily “tank-like”, such as the American M3 GMC, which was basically a truck with an anti-tank gun mounted on it. It should also be noted that the concept of the Tank Destroyer pretty much died out by the end of the Second World War. This is primarily due to the rise of a universal tank or the Main Battle Tank concept.

The best tank destroyer of WWII

Without a doubt, the biggest and flashiest tank destroyer of the World War II was the German Jagdpanther, but, the one that did the most damage for the longest time, is the StuG III Assault Gun, especially the Ausfuhrung G variant.

German Jagdpanther considered as best tank destroyer in WWII
The best tank destroyer of WWII, German Jagdpanther (Photo: Bundesarchive)

The StuG III Assault Gun, Ausfuhrung G variant. It destroyed more Allied AFVs than any other German vehicle and was produced in greater numbers than any other German vehicle except their half-track. It was also extremely effective with it’s superior HE shells against enemy artillery, anti-tank guns soft-skinned vehicles and infantry.


It was primarily the Main Battle Tank concept that killed the Tank Destroyers. MBTs were now able to do everything Tank Destroyers could while being more versatile and better able to support infantry. Other factors that killed the concept of the Destroyer included the fielding of ATGMs(Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) which could do the same job while being much more reliable and cheaper as well.

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