During World War II, most segments of American society contributed to the war effort and this includes the entertainment world as evidenced by the film Stop That Tank! that Walt Disney produced for the Canadian military.
The film, which was a collaboration between Walt Disney and the Canadian Department of National Defence, aimed to teach soldiers how to use the Boys Anti Tank rifle. The film is 22 minutes long and is a mix of animation and live footage.
The Boys Anti Tank Rifle was a massive bolt-action rifle designed to fire .55 caliber bullets that could pierce through certain areas of contemporary tanks.
While it wasn’t a tank-killing machine, the rifle could kill the crew, deliver mobility kills, or even freeze the turret. Additionally, it was portable at 36 pounds and allowed the user to remain camouflaged while firing it. However, anti-tank rifles were largely out of fashion during World War II in favor of Bazookas and similar weapons.
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Stop That Tank! – Edutainment at its finest
The film is divided into two sections. The first three or so minutes are a cartoon featuring Hitler and five Nazis in their tanks. They are approaching an Allied village and plan to attack while the villagers are sleeping! Here we see Hitler portrayed as a buffoon who talks bombastically and spits while doing so. He’s yelling nonsense and gibberish with the occasional stereotypical German word thrown in, like schnitzel. At one point, he just burps.
Then the Germans go on the attack. The film cuts to several Canadian soldiers in camouflage with Boys Anti Tank rifles. Their camouflage is divided from a hay bale to a soldier disguised as a buzzard, another disguised as a horse, and a third firing from his outhouse. The Boys Anti Tank rifles make the German tanks jump and separate into several pieces. Stop That Tank is all very Disney-like in its animation.
The Germans flee under fire, and Hitler’s tank is done for and finished with an artillery blast. Hitler rolls down to face the Devil, who begins to translate his gibberish for us. He’s throwing a tantrum like a child and throwing his clothes off.
My youngest son came to watch with me and found the whole first three minutes hilarious. I got a huge laugh from the soldier hiding in the horse.
This portion worked as an excellent attention-getter and likely got the soldiers ready to learn all about their Boys Anti Tank Rifles.
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The educational aspect
The film then goes into instruction mode. It teaches soldiers all about their rifles. This includes how the rifle works, its maximum effective range, and where and how to shoot tanks with it.
Live-action footage of soldiers firing the rifle is mixed in as well. I bet their ears hurt after all that shooting with this massive anti-material rifle. Troops are taught angles to fire, where to target, and how to lead tanks through animated sequences that illustrate how to use the weapon in an easy-to-understand manner.
Animation is an effective means to illustrate the rifle, its features, and its method of operation in a clear and consistent manner. You could do the same with live video, but at the time, an animation provided a clearer picture of the rifle and its features. It’s an interesting concept and one that seemingly lacks the appreciation it deserves.
Stop That Tank! features animated X-ray footage to show how the weapon works internally, as well as what happens when it hits a tank. Stop That Tank! continues to mix in a bit of comedy here and there as the film progresses, including the narrator subtly insulting an Elmer Fudd-looking soldier and a very mad cow.
I’ve never handled a Boys Anti Tank rifle, but after watching Stop That Tank!, I feel I could. Or I could at least pull the video up on Youtube and figure it out.
Why it works
There is a bit of a dark undertone to the entire film. Why would Walt Disney need to animate a film on how to kill Germans? Why do we need silly tanks, mad cows, and soldiers who can’t lift the rifle?
Well, it’s the same reason the film is effective. The men watching the film were likely still young and were being trained to go to war by the same cartoons they likely enjoyed a few years earlier.
Stop That Tank! was effective because these brave young men were hardly men and still easily entertained by cartoons. This is sad to think about now, and it ensures I remember that these men are owed a debt of gratitude that could never be fully repaid. They gave their youth and their bodies, and many gave their lives to protect democracy and create a more free world.
This film is in the public domain and easy to find online.
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