# German tank problem

## From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the statistical theory of estimation, the **German tank problem** consists of estimating the maximum of a discrete uniform distribution from sampling without replacement. In simple terms, suppose there exists an unknown number of items which are sequentially numbered from 1 to *N*. A random sample of these items is taken and their sequence numbers observed; the problem is to estimate *N* from these observed numbers.

The problem can be approached using either frequentist inference or Bayesian inference, leading to different results. Estimating the population maximum based on a *single* sample yields divergent results, whereas estimation based on *multiple* samples is a practical estimation question whose answer is simple (especially in the frequentist setting) but not obvious (especially in the Bayesian setting).

The problem is named after its historical application by Allied forces in World War II to the estimation of the monthly rate of German tank production from very limited data. This exploited the manufacturing practice of assigning and attaching ascending sequences of serial numbers to tank components (chassis, gearbox, engine, wheels), with some of the tanks eventually being captured in battle by Allied forces.