Monday 3 November 2014

World of Tanks History Section: "Transformers" of the World Wars

All Terrain Meteor: An armoured train-tank
September, 1941. A medic from Syzran, V.N. Emelyanov, decided not to waste time and send his invention straight to Stalin: “Super-speed universal all-terrain armoured train-tank”. The author insisted that his creation can “travel on rails by itself or towing a load at up to 200 kph, on land it can go over mountains and ravines, it can swim in water regardless of depth of width of rivers”. Emelyanov’s letter was sent to GABTU, but did not impress its specialists. From the included papers, it could be seen that such a vehicle would have poor off-road performance, low maneuverability, and the entire thing was too bulky.

Emelyanov was not distraught, and continued to improve his invention for two years. As a result, the proposed mass of the tank shrank by a factor of 3, and it gained the ability to travel on rail and ground with wheels, as well as tracks. The new project had an equally glamorous title: “Universal armoured train-tank METEOR”.

Emelyanov described his invention as follows: “The METEOR comes off the railroad and engages its tracks, allowing it to go around any obstacle, after which it can return to the railroad… due to its super high speed, the probability of the METEOR being hit by enemy shells or bombs is reduced”. The tank switched between tracks and wheels with automatic jacks. The incredible speed (200 kph) would be obtained by replacing the locomotive transmission with a hydraulic one. All mechanisms of the suspension and the movement of the vehicle would be powered by only one steam cylinder. The transmission would be covered with reliable armour. The boiler, also armoured, was supposed to be “omnivorous”. It could consume coal, kerosene, oil, wood, or even straw. Despite Emelyanov’s efforts, GABTU specialists remained uninterested, and his projects remained on paper.

Double Tankette "Sark": Fool your enemy!

Muscovites A.A. Smirnov and K.N. Romanov came up with a non-trivial design in 1945. They named their puzzling project "Sark".

What was so original about it? According to the authors "the vehicle is made from two identical looking moving vehicles, in order to disguise the real vehicle".

Both tankettes were connected with a sturdy cable, which powered the engine of the secondary vehicle. The energy was provided by a DC generator in the main vehicle. The cable was about 800 meters long, and the secondary tankette was to have a wooden spool for it. Only one person was required to drive the main vehicle, as Smirnov and Romanov described: "The main vehicle is driven by a single person, lying down. He controls it with levers next to his hands and feet. In order to stabilize the soldier, there is a cushioned saddle on which he can lean when lying down or sitting up." The driver was also cushioned with shoulder belts and a cushion on the ceiling.

Why did the "Sark" have to come in a pair? The authors did not give it much thought. They mentioned that the "copy" covering the main tanketter can serve as a moving bomb, carrying explosives and blowing up enemy fortifications or vehicles as far away as the cable could take it. 

The only historical inspiration for the invention would be assault barrels. In wars of the past, as late as WWI, they were filled with gunpowder, striking elements (chunks of metal, shrapnel, bullets), equipped with a fuse, and rolled at the enemy that was besieging the fortress. However, making and using such improvised weapons was definitely much cheaper than the proposed cost of the Sark project.

Modular All-terrain Armoured Vehicle

Emelyanov, Smirnov, and Romanov's projects are far from the first. Thirty years before that, modular and all-terrain vehicles were already on the mind of inventors.

In the end of March of 1916, Horatio Thomas Lyell, a British citizen from Essex, sent a message to the Russian diplomat in London, Count Benkendorf titled "A description of an improved combined motorized motor vehicle, a car-sled-boat-seaplane". Lyell described a vehicle that was like a boat with propellers, capable of moving over any surface without loss of speed, due to its swappable suspension: wheels, pontoons, or runners. The two-man crew, according to the engineer, could swap between the three with little effort. The armament was weak, only one machinegun. This weakness in battle was to be compensated by mobility, and the ability to maneuver on any terrain. The letter stated that a proposal was sent to the British military in 1914, but they showed no interest. Two years later, Russian specialists received it no better.

In December of that same year, P.S. Marchenko from Odessa offered an invention to the Minister of War in Russia, Infantry General D.S. Shuvayev. His design was composed of independent modules. Two damaged vehicles could be combined into one working one in the field. This armoured cruiser was to be armed with six 75 mm ship guns, four machineguns, and 2 AA guns. Sadly, the author did not add a picture of his design, and only described it.

Today, many proposals from the pages of history trigger a smile. They remain as a testament to the struggles of engineering thought on the difficult path from the start of tank design to its heights. The inventors, whichever nation the served, strived for victory on the front line, and their projects await researches in the archives.

Article author: Yuri Bakhurin. Yuri Bakhurin is a military historian, an author of many publications in regional and central scientific press: "Questions of History" magazine, "Military-Historical Magazine", "Military-Historical Archive", "Motherland", "Anthology of War", the "Reitar" almanac, and many more. He is also the author of the "Panzerjager Tiger (P) Ferdinand: Use in Combat" book.

  • RGVIA 803-1-1829
  • RGVIA 803-1-1817
  • CAMD RF 38-11350-591
  • CAMD RF 38-11350-1695
  • V.F. Sperk, Fortifikatsionniy Slovar, Moscow, 1946
Original article available here.

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