The differences between a WWII tank and a modern one are basically fourfold: armor, engine, gun, and rangefinder. For these four differences I am going to use two iconic examples of their epochs; the WWII Tiger I and the modern Leopard 2 tanks. The former was the best tank of that armed conflict, concerning its powerful 8.8 cm (88mm), Krupp KwK 36 gun, which could destroy a Soviet T-34 tank at 3,000 m away, and its 120mm-thick frontal armor. The Leopard 2 is perhaps the best MBT in the world, sharing the same technologies and materials of its British and American counterparts.
With a weight of 60 tons, the Tiger I was a heavy tank, and a WWII heavy tank was a slow tank, which was a drawback, especially for the Blitzkrieg warfare, for the Tiger I’s maximum speed was only 38 km/h (24 mph) and the Russian tank’s was 53 km/h. In those days, the turbocharged engine had not been developed yet. On the other hand, the modern German Leopard 2, with a weight of 62.3 tons, can advance in the battlefield at the maximum speed of 70 km/h (44 mph), which is very fast considering its weight. This is possible thanks to its MTU Friedrichshafen twin-turbo diesel engine, which is a turbocharged engine, fitted with a turbocharger that allows more power and speed to be generated, thus, being more efficient than an ordinary engine, since the turbine forces more air and fuel into the combustion chamber.
Mounted on the Leopard 2’s turret, there is a 120mm, Rheinmetall L55, smoothbore gun, which has a muzzle velocity of 1,700 m/s, more than twice the muzzle velocity of the Krupp KWK 36 rifled gun on the Tiger I, which had the highest muzzle velocity of WWII tank guns. The 8.8 cm gun used a Leitz Turmzielfernrohr TZF 9b optic sights, whereas the modern gun on the Leopard 2 is fitted with an integrated Neodymium Yttrium Aluminum Garnet laser rangefinder and a Zeiss thermal sight. The computerized fire control system allows the modern tank to fire while moving at top speed.
Finally, in terms of protection, the most important difference between these two tanks is the type of armor used. The WWII tank used only steel as protective material, the thicker the steel plate, the stronger the tank armor was. Today steel is an obsolete material as a protective means for the tank crew and ammunition. The Leopard 2’s armor consists of different layers of tungsten, steel, ceramic and plastic fillers, which are placed on the tank structure at sharp angles to maximize the armor protection. It is also lined on the inside with Kevlar spall liners.
Below: WWII Tiger I
Leopard 2, a modern MBT