A tankette is a type of lightly armed and armored tracked combat vehicle resembling a small tank roughly the size of a car, mainly intended for light infantry support or reconnaissance. Colloquially it may also simply mean a "small tank". Tankettes were designed and built by several nations between the 1920s and 1940s, and saw some combat (with limited success) in World War II. However, the vulnerability of their light armor eventually caused the concept to be abandoned.
Tankettes existed both in one- or two-man models, and some were built so low that the occupant had to lie prone. Some models were not equipped with turrets (and together with the tracked mobility, this is often seen as defining for the concept), or just a very simple one that was traversed by hand. They tended to be armed with one or two machine guns, or rarely with a 20mm gun or grenade launcher.
The Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) equipped three armored divisions and three "fast" (celere) divisions with L3/33 and L3/35 tankettes. L3s were used in large numbers during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, and almost every place Italian soldiers fought during World War II. L3s even went with the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR) as late as Operation Barbarossa.
The French Armoured Reconnaissance type of the 1930s (Automitrailleuses de Reconnaissance - 'Machine-gun scout') was essentially a tankette in form, but specifically intended for scouting ahead of the main force.
The Imperial Japanese Army became one of the most prolific users of tankettes, producing a number of designs useful for jungle warfare. However, by the time of the Second World War, many were already obsolete or were found to be unsuccessful in their appointed task. Many ended up being relegated to 'tractor' duties for artillery or logistics units.
The concept was later abandoned due to limited usefulness and vulnerability to anti-tank weapons (or even regular machine guns), and the role of tankettes was largely taken over by armoured cars. However, the 1990s saw the renaissance of a similar concept with the Wiesel of the German Bundeswehr being introduced to provide airborne troops with armoured recon capability, a function that had already been trialled with Soviet T-27 in World War II. However, the WWII-contemporary term 'tankette' is not used for these modern vehicles (they are termed 'armoured weapon carriers' in the Bundeswehr).