Sunday 13 December 2015

World of Tanks Armoured Fantasy: Land Cruisers

Even before they reached the battlefield, tanks were called "land ships". This metaphor turned out to be infectious, and there were many projects during WWII that were similar to ships, both in size and in firepower. Yuri Pasholok named these types of projects "land cruisers". Let us look at two designs where even the term "superheavy" seems constricting.

Davletov's Land Cruiser

On April 13th, 1941, the People's Commissariat of Defense received a letter from the village of Gorniy Balykley, Stalingrad oblast. Its author was a student of the Azov-Chernomorkiy institute of mechanical engineering, G.A. Davletov. The envelope contained a description and a sketch of a combat vehicle that baffled the imagination. The author was inspired by an analysis of recent wars, from WWI to the Winter War. He took it upon himself to create a combat vehicle capable of penetrating a series of fortifications like the Mannerheim Line without losses.

The result was a 2.5 thousand ton tank with a 40 meter long hull (width was half of that distance). Davletov intended his vehicle for land, but also equipped it with two propellers to move on water. The giant would be propelled by a massive (and also nonexistant) 15,000 hp engine bank. The author expected his vehicle to achieve a speed of 40 kph on land and up to 13.5 knots on water (about 25 kph). The fuel would not be gasoline or even boiler oil, but raw oil.

The armament of this land cruiser was appropriate for its size. The 5 meter tall turret would hold three 500 mm mortars with a range of 30 kilometers, two long-range 150 mm guns with a range of 35 kilometers, and ten 75 mm guns. This was not enough, Davletov also wanted four AA guns and 20 mounted machineguns. The ammunition supply was also impressive, 100 rounds for each mortar. In addition, the enormous "deck" of the land cruiser would contain 16 fueled up tanks, ready to fight.

Here is how the author proposed his vehicle be used: "Concentrate up to 100 land cruisers 250-300 km from the front line. These 100 cruisers would have 1800 tanks (200 amphibious). In addition, the ships could hold up to 4 infantry divisions with armament."

At nightfall, the armada would move out towards the front lines, and reach them by morning. A few hours before dawn, bombers would destroy enemy fortifications before they are hit with the wave of cruisers. After that, almost 2000 tanks would dismount and launch an attack. Davletov considered two hours to be enough to defeat the enemy's defenses. "The cruisers follow penetrations of the tanks, firing on remaining pockets of resistance, crushing them with their mass, widening the breach. Their aim is to join up with paratroops and aircraft to capture the enemy capital."

The author claimed that there was no force that could stop his cruisers. The 100 mm thick armour could only be penetrated by large caliber guns or a heavy bomb, but cooperation with other types of forces would mitigate that risk: aircraft would protect it from the air and infantry from the ground. However, the land cruisers could fight alone. For instance, to capture a well protected island. The ship would bombard it from 30-35 km away, and then move in to drop off 18 tanks and several hundred infantrymen. Davletov expected that his cruiser could fight with a whole squadron of enemy ships. In this case, the tanks on deck would be swapped for torpedo boats.

The author expected that his project would be considered an impossible fantasy, but he bet on the Soviet government wanting to turn fantasy into reality. He expected that a prototype could be ready soon, if work was split up between various departments: "Building of the hull could be delegated to shipbuilders, armament could be made by artillerymen, transmission and tracks by tankers, and the engine by power plant engineers", he wrote.

Even if the USSR risked such an ambitious project, there would not be enough time for it. War was coming.

Osokin's Tank Cruiser

Another "land cruiser" was proposed to GABTU in 1942. "Wishing to help my beloved Motherland in its struggle against the fascist hordes... I present for your attention my project of a new powerful vehicle for the Red Army: the tank cruiser" wrote Engineer-Colonel Osokin (initials unknown).

His proposal travelled a long way. First, military engineers thought it was interesting, up to the deputy commander of the Ural Military District, who promised to pull some strings in Moscow. The inventor never received any news from Moscow, and decided to write himself, with his commander's permission. Osokin was certain that his project would be a success, and that any delay was undesirable.

What did he propose to create? "The tank cruiser (TK) consists of a four-motor land fortress on tracks with powerful armour and armament." The TK consisted of a main hull on two tracks and two tracked vehicles to each side. They consisted of two suspensions connected with a single transmission and engine compartment. Each of these had its own fighting compartment. Unlike Davletov's vehicle, Osokin's cruiser did not float. Pontoons would be needed to cross water.

The central hull would be welded from different thicknesses of plates. Osokin separated it with bulkheads into several sections. The front contained the cockpit, which housed the driver and commander. Behind them, a compartment for the technician and a radio operator, which was connected to the gun compartment.

One of the most interesting features of Osokin's design was the armament. The main turret housed a duo of 152 mm guns. Behind it was a compartment for ammunition. Each secondary vehicle would have a T-34 turret with a 76 mm gun. The rear of the "tank cruiser" would have coaxial AA machineguns and an AA gun on a rotating mount.

Osokin listed the characteristics of his fearsome creation. The length of the TK's hull was 21.45 meters, width was 9.7 meters. The height was less than 4.3 meters. The 270 ton vehicle would be brought to life by 1500 hp M-40 engines. The armour thickness varied from 125 mm in the front to 50-100 on the sides, and 50-80 on the roof and floor. Armour was powerless against gas attacks, so Osokin equipped each compartment and of his tank with a tank of compressed air.

The tactical applications of the TK could be many: destruction of fortification lines, pockets of resistance, fighting artillery of all calibers, fighting enemy tanks, SPGs, and motorized infantry. The triumphant conclusion would be "accompanying the victorious Red Army in its march towards the capitals of the enemy, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Bucharest, and then westward, to liberate the peoples under the fascist yoke."

Sadly (or fortunately) both land cruisers were rejected by GABTU. They spent many years in archives and only became public knowledge fairly recently. As a result, their German equivalent, the Ratte, is much more widely known. Interestingly enough, Davletov foresaw its appearance: "The enemy will have no choice but to build his own land cruisers. During the first year of the war, he who has a sufficient amount of cruisers ready will be the undisputed ruler of the land." The author was wrong. The war was won not by a battle of inventors' fantasies, but by boring yet effective regular tanks.

Original article available here.

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