Wednesday 27 August 2014

World of Tanks: Today in History: Tsar Tank

Many armoured vehicles were developed in the early 20th century that are amusing in hindsight. One should not forget that this was an era of trial and error, and if not for these wondrous vehicles, perhaps we would never have seen "classic" tanks.

The source of Nikolai Lebedenko's inspiration, according to his own admission, was the araba carriage, which had large wheels that could easily traverse bumps and pits. As a result, the engineer came up with a vehicle that had two massive front wheels (about 9 meters in diameter) and a small rear guiding wheel. An immobile casemate was installed at about the height of a two-story house, which could hold a machinegun or a cannon. Two machinegun sponsons were placed by the sides of the casemate, and a turret was planned for the bottom. According to calculations, the speed of this vehicle would be 17 kph.

Lebedenko's design, surprisingly, received approval from many military directorates. During an audience on February 8th, 1915, a model of the tank running around the carpet thrilled Emperor Nikolai II, who personally ordered for 210,000 rubles to be awarded to Lebedenko to finance the project.

Components for the vehicle were produced at a factory in Khamovniki. From spring to the end of summer of 1915, assembly took place at Orudyevo station, near Dmitrov. When the vehicle was completed, its gigantic size earned it the name "Tsar Tank".

Mobility trials began on August 27th, 1915. The tank moved, crushing trees with its massive front wheels. However, since its mass was not evenly distributed, and difference between wheels was so huge, the tank almost immediately sank into the ground. Even two 240 hp Maybach engines could not pull it out. This was immediately recorded as a strike against Lebedenko. The second strike makes one wonder why it was not noticed while the tank was still on paper: the front wheels of the tank. The fragile spokes did not even need a direct shell hit, a close explosion was enough. If a wheel was destroyed, the tank would fall like a house of cards.

Lebedenko's tank could be considered a complete failure, if not for the fact that young engineers A. Mikulin and B. Stechkin gathered valuable experience by working on this project. Later, these men became well known specialists in the field of engines.

Attempts to pull the vehicle free did not succeed, and the Tsar Tank remained in the forest near Orudyevo. In 1923, the vehicle was disassembled for scrap.

Original article available here.

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