Saturday 24 January 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Kolchigin's All in One

In the 1930s, Soviet military minds carefully watched the civil war unfolding in Spain, read reports and articles by foreign analysts. Both agreed on one thing: tanks with no infantry were capable of only fruitless effort and occasional local gains.

Divisional Commander Kolchigin, a lecturer at the Frunze Military Academy, proposed an original vision of future tanks. No more wasted effort and minor gains, only success and victory! How did Kolchigin's futuristic tanks look?

Jack of all Trades
Kolchigin's tank was meant for independent mechanized units, "creating their own operational weather". Independent meant autonomous, relying on as little support as possible from other vehicles. But how can this be achieved? You cannot make the tank too large, or it will be an easy target. What yo ucan do is make mechanisms smaller, reduce the length of the crankshaft, and place the engine in the front of the tank. This way, minor repairs can be done without leaving the tank.

In order to increase mobility and autonomy, the tanks must be able to switch from tracks to wheels and back without the crew leaving the tank. Mechanized shovels and saws would help the vehicle create trenches and construct obstructions for the enemy. If the tank was amphibious, there would be no need for bulky pontoons. In order to deal with breakdowns during marches, the tanks would have "a manner of bumper on the front and back" which could hook the tanks together and let one tow another.

A crew of three could not effectively observe the battlefield and tired quickly. Kolchigin proposed a 6-8 man crew, which would also make motorized infantry or "motorized sappers" unnecessary. A part of the crew could simply leave the tank to take prisoners, demolish bridges, etc. If the crew can take turns sleeping inside the tank, then tankers would be tired less, and would be able to perform more repairs on their own, reducing the need for repair units. The tank would be controlled by either the driver or the commander. A similar mechanism already existed on aircraft.

These tanks, in Kolchigin's vision, would fight for extended periods of time with limited supplies. Because of this, a short 76 mm gun and a "powerful machinegun" that could double as an AA gun would be sufficient. As a result, AA forces could be reduced. The tank would have 3-4 submachineguns and grenades for defense from infantry. The inventor considered it mandatory to have the ability to provide indirect fire, so that the tanks could perform artillery barrages without the aid of towed guns. Kolchigin considered self propelled artillery insufficiently effective. Since ammunition could run out during these long operations, the tank's ramming capability would be reinforced.

In order to reduce time spent on supplies and fueling, these tanks would be supplied on the move by a supply tank. This tank would have "very thin" armour, and be armed with a "powerful machinegun", a submachinegun, and two rifles with grenade launchers. These launchers would have HEAT grenades to fire at enemy tanks. The supply tank would carry all manner of supplies, and could also be modified to spray poisonous gases or lay mines. The tank could also be equipped with a 8-9 inch mortar with a range of 2-3 kilometers to destroy enemy fortifications.

Commander in Chief
Kolchigin devoted special attention to a future commander tank. The author remarked that modern radios are either insufficiently powerful or too large. If placed in a truck or an armoured car, they fall behind. Would it not be simpler to put all staff in special "battle radiotanks" with expert drivers?

Kolchigin's commander tank would be more maneuverable and faster than a regular one, since the commander would have to relocate often. The author made a reasonable comment that the tank should look as similar as possible to a regular tank, as commanders' vehicles would draw fire.

The commander's tank would have a whole communications center with 5 radio stations. They would communicate with the subordinates, superior HQ, aircraft, and rear units. In order to observe the battlefield, the tank would be equipped with a small unmanned airplane. Information from the airplane and others like it would be transmitted to the commander's television. The complicated problem of communication was solved very elegantly, as Kolchigin thought.

The inventor cared about the commander's comfort. He wanted the workspace to be free of noise or shaking. The commander needed a desk and a place to rest.

In order for the commander to not die in a reconnaissance mission, radio controlled tanks would be used.

Ideal Utopia
Kolchigin wanted all types of tanks to share a chassis. The annoyance of having to deal with many types of vehicles was very noticeable. Armies of the world came to the same conclusion, but much later.

Accordin to Kolchigin, this futuristic tank army would also include the benefits of artillery and infantry. So, how many tanks should it have? Intelligence reported that a German division had 500 tanks. Kolchigin composed his division of 20 battalions of 48 tanks each, or 960 tanks in total, excluding the ones assigned to HQ.

The proposal seems utopic even for the 21st century. Tanks that automatically exchange wheels for tracks, rammer tanks, tanks with televisions that control UAVs? Tanks carrying 10 men that need no sappers, AA guns, artillery, or motorized infantry?

Paradoxically, despite the fantasy of transformer tanks with five radios, Kolchigin's ideas were individually already being implemented. There were planes that could fuel up in the air, tanks and planes that could be controlled by radio, television. However, assembling all this together would be impossibly difficult.

The author was very realistic about the technical problems with his wonder-tanks, and stated that "the familiarization of tank designers with this work will definitely raise a number of questions in their field". You cannot argue with that statement.

Source: RGVA 31811-4-28

Original article available here

Author: Evgeniy Belash

Evgeniy Belash is a historian, an author of books and articles on the First and Second World Wars. His best known work is "Myths of the First World War". He is the author of a book "Tanks of the Interbellum" on the participation of armoured vehicles in military conflicts in the 1920s and 1930s.

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