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The thick steel armor plating of a Steam Tank makes it all but immune to lesser weapons such as arrows and crossbow bolts. The best way of disabling or destroying a Steam Tank is by cannon fire, although the Steam Tank has been known to shrug off even that.
The Steam Tank is powered by a pressurized boiler that siphons steam through pipes and pistons. All existing tanks were designed by the famed genius Tilean inventor Leonardo of Miragliano. After the inventor's death, the secrets of the Steam Tanks were lost with him and engineers have so far been unable to successfully construct any new ones. Only twelve tanks were built, all with varying configurations. Only eight Steam Tanks remain, the lost four having been destroyed during testing or in battle. The war engines are somewhat unreliable, and only rarely can all eight be persuaded to run for a single battle.
During battle the tank is commanded and driven by a Senior Engineer who manages and directs the steam from the boiler to the tank's mechanisms. Should too much pressure be allowed to build in the boiler, it may rupture with catastrophic effects. The most common steam tank variant is armed with a steam powered cannon in its hull and a steam gun mounted in its turret. Though the steam cannon is smaller than the cannons of the Imperial Gunnery School the maneuverability and protection of the steam tank more than compensates for the main cannons comparatively short range and diminished power.
The turret mounted Steam Gun is used when enemies are close to the tank, as the weapon's very nature makes it very short-ranged. The Steam Gun shoots a cloud of searing hot steam upon anyone stupid or unlucky enough to be standing near. As can be surmised, armor of all kinds grants little more than a searing trap against this peculiar weapon.
The Engineer driving the tank is usually armed with a repeater pistol as a means of self-defence should the situation become dire enough. It may also be used as a deterrent against charging enemies, as the Engineer fires upon the attacking troops from the turrets hatch and retreats to the safety of the tank's armored hull.
There are many varied configurations of weaponry and machinery used in imperial steam tanks:
- Alter Kamerad ("Old Fellow"): armed with a hull-mounted, steam-operated Hellblaster Volley Gun and a turret-mounted Steam Gun.
- Sigmar's Hammer: no armaments, instead the Tank is used as a battering ram.
- Unfehlbar ("unerring"): open-topped, mounting a mortar and two swivel guns.
- Von Zeppel (named after the designing engineer): no hull-mounted armaments, instead carries a platform, cramped with engineers carrying experimental weapons like the Hochland long rifle, a blunderbuss, a Repeater Handgun, a special form of halberd, a massive morningstar(referred to as "ball & chain"), and a Mancatcher.
Some of the four lost Steam Tanks were captured by enemies of the empire like the Skaven, who transformed one of the tanks into a fiendish wyrdstone powered "rat tank". Another, very odd tank was reconfigured by the Halflings of Mootland, who named it Soup Tank "Kathleen" and utilized it against the forces of Marius Leitdorf, the Elector Count of Averland during an infamous rebellion.
The Steam tank was part of the Empire Army List during the 4th Edition and during the 5th Edition. While not being included in the Army Book "Warhammer Armies: The Empire (6th Edition)" it was re-introduced in "Warhammer Annual 2003" with the four variants mentioned above. In the 7th Edition it is included as part of the Empire Army List in the Army Book - "Warhammer Armies: The Empire (7th Edition)" again.
It was also part of the Empire Army List for the game Warmaster.
Recently a new, all plastic, model of the steam tank was released by Games Workshop.