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Main Battle Tanks are a crucial part of the modern armed forces. They combine heavy armor with strong firepower, and are often the first line of attack in any assault. Modern tanks are very difficult to destroy due to advances in armor and countermeasures, and can be accurate with their main guns from miles away, even on the move. All this adds up to a very effective weapon of war.
However, this is not true in fiction. Tanks will be destroyed right and left by the Humongous Mecha or Monster of the Week, with their firepower doing little to no damage. Essentially Red Shirt for armored vehicles, this is where a normally effective force of tanks serves as nothing but cannon fodder to make the enemy look intimidating.
Note that this does not involve tanks getting destroyed in the normal course of warfare. This is when tanks are completely useless for any purpose other than getting blown up for dramatic effect, even when you'd normally expect them to be effective. A tank column getting wiped out by the enemy through good tactics and properly placed weaponry is not this trope. An entire company of tanks firing at the enemy and doing no damage at all, followed by getting destroyed in one shot is this trope. This is about tanks themselves being useless, not just incompetent leadership.
In Real Life tanks are land forces supposed to fight land targets -- basic Anti-Air defences were added long ago, but normally flyers and ships are engaged by something entirely different. There are two classic roles for them: reinforcement of advancing infantry and maneuver warfare (new cavalry). The close third is use as makeshift self-propelled artillery when more specialized vehicles aren't available. Sending tanks without adequate support against strong defences not softened up by bombardment or into movement-constraining terrains such as cities tend to end badly -- but it's the wrong tactics that fails, not tanks as such.
In many Kaiju series, tanks will be shown to line up directly in front of the monster and get stomped, despite the fact that modern battle tanks have an effective range measured in thousands of yards. Additionally, despite main gun ammunition being specifically designed to penetrate thick armor plate, they will never be able to cause even superficial wounds to the monster.
Even in more "realistically" based Humongous Mecha shows, the mechas can destroy tanks with ease despite being larger targets and not having any heavier weapons or armor than battle tanks. In fact, these reasons are why most militaries consider the idea of Humongous Mecha to be impractical to begin with. This can be justified if there is an extreme technological gap between the combatants. To be fair, conventional tanks would have about the same problems with any Impossibly Graceful Giant war machine as they do with their old nemesis the ground attack aircraft, but in a practical situation the technology enabling that grace would be applied to the tanks first.
In superhero series, tanks are never any threat to superheroes, usually only serving as an impromptu missile, getting swung at another tank, or flipped upside down. This can be justified if all the characters are Made of Iron, but you'd still think the military would learn their lesson after a while.
When tanks are not useless, and are, in fact, quite awesome, then it's Tank Goodness. If the things being destroyed are called "tanks" but aren't or the depiction of tanks is incorrect, then it's Tanks, But No Tanks. A subtrope of Armor Is Useless. Compare The Worf Effect, Red Shirt, and Five Rounds Rapid.
Due to the potential for natter, No Real Life Examples, please. Let's stick to fiction.
- Full Metal Panic is a good example of some more "realistic" mecha shows that shows tanks as useless, but mecha as nigh-unstoppable (especially after they cheat with the Lambda Driver). Justified early on, as the first major fight in the series features top-of-the-line mecha against explicitly obsolete Cold War era tanks, but later played straight.
- Gundam: Depending on the series, this can swing one way or the other. In more "realistic" shows like Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team, this is played straight. Justified a bit more in some of the more fantastical versions like Gundam Wing, where each mech is practically an army unto itself.
- In Code Geass, Japanese tanks prove to be useless against Britannian/American Humongous Mecha. Oh the irony.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The opening episode has the UN deploy tanks in mass numbers to try to combat the first angel. They are of course hopelessly outmatched and the UN forces make no further land participation until the finale of the season.
- Pumpkin Scissors has lots of tanks. Too bad they can't stand up to one guy and his handgun.
- The intro of Madox-01 shows tanks being blown up easily by a Mini-Mecha... in a dense urban area. It was a mock battle to show off the new prototype Mech.
- Tanks in Fullmetal Alchemist are pretty useful against humans, although not so much against homunculi- Wrath cut one in two using Implausible Fencing Powers, Greed couldn't be harmed by one due to Instant Armor, and Sloth is just too bulky to be much affected by tank rounds.
- In Dragon Ball, if an army of tanks attacks a Big Bad, he'll crush them in mere seconds. Guaranteed.
- The Incredible Hulk pretty much uses this as a conversation starter.
- In the Sturmtruppen comics, Tanks are often played for laughs as they fall apart, run out of gasoline and fall into pits of various kinds. The few time they're efficient they'll end up running over their own soldiers.
- Averted hard in Code Geass Lelouch of Britannia. Like in the source material, tanks are clearly inferior to Knightmare Frames. But in his under-equipped unit that Lelouch commands in North Africa, where he has to make up for limited supply of Knightmares by supplementing them with tanks he pulled out of storage, he's able to use good tactics to make up for their inferior mobility. And even physics-defying Knightmare Frames go down after being hit by 140mm railgun shells.
- Pick a Kaiju movie, any Kaiju movie. I guarantee there will be at least one scene where tanks line up and fire at the monster to no effect.
- In Iron Man, Tony Stark (in his Iron Man suit) gets matched up against a tank. He just looks at it, fire a dinky missile at it, and walks away. Said tank then explodes. The tank was able to accurately hit Iron Man and knock him out of the sky in the first place, but did surprisingly little damage for a round designed to go through inches of armor plate, let alone a guy in a metal suit.
- In all fairness the tank probably used an anti-air round (which are more area burst than armor piercing) and did damage the suit. Walking away was Tony trusting his missile and trying to look cool.
- In The Incredibles, a bunch of tanks try to take on the giant robot, and of course do nothing to it.
- In The War of the Worlds, the Martian weapons are able to cut through tanks like butter.
- It is openly stated in Starship Troopers that tanks are useless against Mobile Infantry; too small and agile to hit with heavy ordinance, too heavily armored to give a right damn about anything other than heavy ordinance, and they all carry the kind of havoc that can eat a tank.
- In the HonorVerse, tanks have generally been phased out due to Power Armor becoming widespread in modern militaries. One of the short stories in the Worlds of Honor Anthology series features tanks, but they are stated to only be useful because the planet they are on has little in the way of a modern military force. One of the characters is killed using a tank in a duel against a Havenite shuttle, though the shuttle is destroyed as well.
- Then it gets zigzagged in Echoes of Honor when the Allies POWs' assault on the Havenite base during their Great Escape is seriously aided by the fact that they take the armor park of the base and use the tanks stationed there, which prove surprisingly efficient. Though, to be fair, at that point they haven't gotten to the base's Powered Armor garage yet.
- Subverted in BattleTech, though the Mechwarrior video games tend to play it straighter (Seen in the Video Games section below). 'Mechs and tanks coexist in-universe and tanks are used by all major militaries. Tanks can mount just as much weaponry and armor as a 'Mech, but are somewhat easier to disable if something inside gets damaged and are less mobile than a 'Mech of the same size. The "tanks are inferior" attitude does exist in-universe, particularly among the more naive Mechwarriors, but veterans always warn their younger comrades that underestimating the power of a tank is a good way to get yourself killed. The Com Guards in particular absolutely love combined-arms teams of infantry, tanks, and 'mechs all working together, and they are damnably hard to deal with using 'mechs alone.
- This is given a strange justification in the Mechwarrior series and its source Tabletop Game. Tanks are among the lighter mainstays of most militaries, with Battlemechs and even Aerospace Fighters mounting heavier armor and weapons (e.g. between a 100 ton tank, a 100 ton Assault Battlemech and a 100 ton heavy Aerospace Fighter the tank will typically have less armor and fewer weapons). Granted, the latter are practically tanks themselves, just with legs or fusion jets.
- In Mechwarrior 4, tanks are absolute joke enemies - the die in a couple hits from almost any weapon, and while some of them have powerful weapons, they almost never fire them. The trope is thankfully averted in Mechwarrior Living Legends, where rushing a heavy tank like a Demolisher in your light mech will get you ripped to shreds.
- The tanks in Armored Core might as well be plushies for all the good they do.
- Averted in most Front Mission games that features tanks, Mighty Glacier doesn't even enough to describe their potential (they pack a big Cannon). This trope only played straight by the fact that the Protagonists is incredible Badass Ace Pilot compared to generic Mooks.
- Tanks, as well as many conventional military vehicles, are somewhat more powerful in the cut-scenes, justified that most of the fight in the game is in close range (or worse, urban environment or packed military base) where Wanzers are more effective.
- Enemy tanks are relatively easy to take out in the Halo Games, while when piloting a tank the player can generally smash through just about anything.
- Amusingly played straight and subverted in Universe At War - In cutscenes and backstory, human tanks are said to be weak and virtually ineffective against the invading alien forces, playing the trope straight. In the game itself, with a competent player behind him, they're easily able to hold their own against 'superior' alien vehicles while their shells' large knockback lets them play Ping-Pong with enemy infantry, making them one of the most versatile and arguably most powerful units for their cost.
- In Valkyria Chronicles your own tank, and tanks in general are quite effective. However in one event you are tasked with diverting the path of the enemy's humungous mobile battle fortress into an ambush where the Gallian Royal Guard's tank squad awaits. Your diversion is successful, the Royal Guard attacks, does absolutely nothing and is destroyed utterly making the mission entirely pointless.
- In the finale of Kim Possible, tanks are powerless to stop the Lorwardian war machines.
- Sym-Bionic Titan plays this very straight. General Steel's usual response to any threat is to throw tanks at it. This never works, of course.
- Swat Kats: The Enforcer tanks' only purpose is to get stomped by the Monster of the Week so the heroes can save the day.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender the finale features a scene during the taking of Ba Sing Se where pretty much every one of the Order of the White Lotus has fun beating the crap out of Fire nation tanks.