Saturday 13 May 2017

Steel Chimeras of the Red Army

Scientific and technical progress has always been on the other side of the coin from war. Aiming to obtain instant superiority over the enemy, people who have never thought about the subject were as determined as those whose job was weapons design. In the years of the Great Patriotic War, self-taught designers earnestly believed that their tank or armoured cars can radically alter the course of the war. These designs remained on paper for obvious reasons, but accurately represent the spirit of their time.

The human mind does not stand still in a critical time, but invents curious designs. Most of these ideas do not even reach paper, but there are those who go even further and send their projects to ministries and directorates that, according to the inventor, should take interest in their creation. These people are motivated by many reasons, which are outside of the scope of this article.

The torrent of proposals during the Great Patriotic War was vast, and, following the principle of quality from quantity, some inventions were useful. Each commissariat and directorate had its own department of inventions, which reviewed the project and evaluated it. The Main Automotive and Armoured Directorate of the Red Army (GABTU KA) was no exception. Here is a small portion of the projects reviewed by the GABTU in the years of the GPW. Some are absurd, some are feasible, and some were ahead of their time.

Armoured motorcycle

I.A. Averin's invention titled "Armoured Motorcycle" was sent to its destination on December 24th, 1940. The idea was born from news of the war in Europe on the radio and in newspapers, which emphasized the role of mechanized units and a large number of motorcyclists in German forces. The Red Army also had motorcycles, and so the inventor made a proposal:

"It's time to consider armour for the motorcycle. It is important to protect the motorcycle while keeping in mind that the vehicle cannot be overweight, but the driver's vital organs and the motorcycle's mechanisms must be protected..."

The motorcycle, according to the inventor's plan, was equipped with an armoured dome, affixed on a ball joint and movable by hand to protect the driver from the necessary direction. If installed in a trench, the motorcycle became a pillbox. Two shields could be installed at the same time for additional protection. GABTU's conclusions regarding this project is unknown.

Mobile pillbox - a Red Armyman's dream

The mind of the common soldier also did not stand still, especially if there was a minute to spare. On April 2nd, 1942, Red Armyman G.F. Balashev's proposal arrived at the GABTU. It was sent from by the political chief of evacuation hospital #2847, Politruk Kaplun, where the soldier was likely recovering from a wound. The design was described on eight pages, six of which contained sketches, and boggles the imagination.

The description reflected the soldier's unattainable desire to be invincible. The pillbox would move " a tank, but not on tracks, but on cast wheels, that cannot be damaged by bundles of grenades, or even mines, even heavy artillery or a bomb". The armour of the vehicle would be "...rather thick, about 60 centimeters", and the armament was varied: a large caliber cannon, several small caliber ones, machineguns that had "a higher caliber than ordinary ones" and analogous AA "dual machineguns". 

The GABTU responded in early July of 1942. The reply patiently explained that the proposal was nothing new. The design would weigh too much and have poor mobility, and cannot be accepted into production.

Unsuccessful BMP

Some projects sent to the GABTU were ahead of their time. For instance, one day after Germany attacked the USSR, on June 23rd, 1941, a draft of a tracked armoured personnel carrier for "a squad of 24 men with weapons and ammunition" was sent to the Chairman of the Council of Commissars, Marshal of the Soviet Union, K.E. Voroshilov. The proposal was "nothing more than an idea" from VKP(b) member I.P. Grechko.

The idea was born from reading news articles about battle with the "White Finns" and viewing of war movies. The idea was reasonable and very much ahead of its time. As you know, similar vehicles are the primary means of mobility for modern infantry.

Between the potato digger and plow

Citizens of liberated villages and settlements also tried to make their contribution to the Red Army's might. In the winter of 1945, Fedor Grinevich from a village called Trostyanets in Brest oblast sent in several projects: a plow/potato digger, a foot pedal driven transport, a plow with a soil loosener, and a tractor-powered potato digger.

The transport was supposed to "save lives, ease the Red Army's mobility, and improve the lives of all people". The description claimed that "this mechanism is five times more powerful than a bicycle, which I confirmed with experience". The inventor assured that the vehicle was "impossible to flip over" and "can easily tow a bicycle on bad roads". The mobility was twice as good as that of a bicycle, at only one and a half times the cost.

The proposal reached GABTU through the chief agriculturalist and deputy head of Brest Farming Region 11 on July 11th, 1945, but, predictably, did not interest the military.

Neither wheels nor tracks

On March 22nd, 1944, Technician-Lieutenant B.K. Grigoryenko sent a description of a new suspension for cars, tractors, tanks, and amphibious vehicles to the Council of Commissars. The invention did not need tracks or wheels. The letter highlighted the fact that the new suspension could move across mud, swamps, sand, snow, and, in certain conditions, even on water.

Grigoryenko began working on his project in January of 1943. By the time he sent that letter, he had worked in transport for 18 years, fought from the first days of the war as a tank repairman, then as an assistant head of the transport section in a cavalry corps. Over a year and a half of war, the man saw enough impassable roads and had a good understanding of what he proposed. The suspension was composed of a "leading and a following worm gear". Grigoryenko's invention was also ahead of its time. Workable screw-propelled vehicles were built much later.


School principal E.D. Kelyagina's proposal serves as a surprising example of human determination and tenacity. She made multiple proposals of sketches and projects, but received no response. One of her designs did reach the GABTU, but the verdict was harsh: "Further development is senseless". 

The design was of an enlarge tank with, for some reason, a six-point star on the turret, which could move not only on land, but on the sea. The tank could hold a company of soldiers. The armament consisted of "an AA gun, eight machineguns, and several dozen snipers". To protect the tank from grenades and Molotov cocktails, the tank would be surrounded by "a flexible protective net", which could also deflect bombs.

The author, like any true genius, did not overload the project with technical details. "I won't write a great description. Look at it, and if you like it, request one." The letter ended unexpectedly.

"I wish to be admitted to a military engineering academy, where I could obtain as much knowledge as possible to bring a large amount of my inventions to life and use my knowledge to elevate Soviet military technology to the highest level in the world."

Airborne tank

The last name of the creator of this invention remains unknown, as does the precise date of its creation, but it can be narrowed down to around 1942-1943. This was a tank meant for airborne troops that could be dropped by parachute. The project was ahead of its time, as similar vehicles were built later.

The design was very well thought out and included calculations of the mass of the hull, components, assemblies, and armament. In addition to the weight of the vehicle, the size of the parachute was also calculated.

The proposed tank carried only one crewman. It would be equipped with a mass produced 100 hp M-11G engine, the same as the one used on the Po-2 airplane. The armament consisted of a 47 mm semiautomatic cannon and a DT machinegun. The armour was also reasonable: 30 mm in the front, 20 mm roof and sides, 10 mm floor, 25 mm rear. The total weight of the fully equipped tank, include the crewman, was around 2600 kg.

Stalin's jumping hexapod

A futuristic design titled KARAR was addressed to the People's Commissar of Defense, I.V. Stalin, by Deputy Politruk A.G. Korneev on October 2nd, 1942. At the time, he was a student of the Volkhov Front's commander courses. The letter made its way up the chain: first to the management of the courses, then to the NKO's Department of Inventions, then to the GABTU on October 13th. The letter admitted that the project was designed in the field and there was not enough time to work out some technical details.

The KARAR consisted of a spherical turret on six legs, which were propelled by a motor inside the turret. The vehicle moved by jumping 5-20 meters at a time. The jump was propelled by two legs, the rest were bent in. Before jumping, the turret could be moved to one of six positions. The KARAR was crewed by one man, who combined the driver's and gunner's duties.

The height of the vehicle was about 3 meters, the turret was 1.25 meters in diameter, and the diameter of the frame that supported the legs was 3.5 meters. The hull was supposed to be made from "robust, light alloys". The engine was "low power, consuming a little more fuel than a motorcycle's engine".

The vehicle was armed with four PPSh-41 submachineguns, fixed in ports. Shortened anti-tank rifles would be used to fight other tanks. The author also armed the KARAR with a spray gun for spraying incendiary fluid, which could be used against any target, including fortifications.

A tactical manual was also created: six KARARs made a squad, 24 a platoon, 72 a brigade. Each brigade had 10 tanks as reinforcements. The KARARs would be transported over long distances in trucks, with two units, fuel, and tools in each.

The GABTU's response listed five main reason why the KARAR could not be used: large height, high ground pressure, stress on the driver during jumps, impossibility to fit components, a man, and armament into a 1.25 m diameter sphere, and poor stability.

Tank with a long neck

In January of 1943, electrical engineer V.F. Lentovskiy proposed a design called the "TIL vehicle", where TIL presumably stands for Engineer Lentovskiy's Tank, which was equipped with an elevating turret. The inventor proposed two variants: with one turret or with two.

The two-turret design had one stationary turret and one in the rear, which could elevate. The turret could rise up to 10 meters above the hull at a speed of 2 m/s. The elevation was obtained via a telescoping mechanism made from hollow pipes. The floor of the rising turret had a hatch, which could be used to pass up ammunition and allow communication between the turret gunner and the driver. The floor of the turret and the hull were connected with a tarp, which also served as steps for the turret gunner.

The elevating turret, according to the author, gave an advantage in city combat, when firing from cover, or when firing at upper floors. It could also be used as an observation post or to destroy power lines. The elevating turret could also be installed on armoured trains.

The project reached the GABTU in early February of 1943, and the rejection followed in July. The drawbacks included the fact that the telescoping device would be too weak to allow for aimed fire, and that additional recoil mechanisms would radically increase the weight of the design, and that it would only be possible to extend the turret on level ground.

Jet tank

Military Engineer 3rd Grade N.M. Madatov and Senior Technician-Lieutenant D.N. Rutkovskiy, serving in, strangely enough, the Pacific Fleet Air Force, proposed an original project to the GABTU in July of 1942. Their proposal, the "RT Jet Tank", was definitely inspired by aircraft.

The jet tank consisted of an aerodynamic armoured box on wheels, equipped with a jet engine. In the winter, the wheels could be replaced with skis. The cabin held two men: a driver and a gunner. The crew was prone and held on with belts.

The RT was armed with six RS-82 rocket rails, grouped into two batteries, with a ShKAS machinegun in the middle. The weapons were placed in a turret, which could be aimed vertically and horizontally. The tank could fire either on the move or in place. The rockets could be fired in a burst or individually.

The tank's method of movement was original: an array of propellant charges from the RS-132 rocket in pipes, connected via a single electric ignition system. The speed could be adjusted based on the number of burning charges. The electric system was powered by a car battery. This method ensured high off-road performance, as there were no wheels or tracks that could slip in the mud or on soft soil.

The tactics of these vehicles were also interesting. The jet tanks were placed either in the close rear or on the front lines, after which they were released towards the enemy. They would shoot up enemy tanks at point-blank range with rockets and then suppress the infantry with machineguns. The small size, high speed, and armour made the RT invulnerable to regular artillery and small arms fire. The authors considered the demoralizing effect from using such a weapon to paralyze the enemy. The total mass with crew was estimated at 750-800 kg, the top speed was 100 kph, which the RT could attain in six seconds, the operational range was 15 km on flat ground or 10 km on hilly terrain.

On December 9th, 1942, the project reached GABTU, and on January 15th, 1943, it was rejected, as the visibility from the RT would be difficult, the crew position tiring, and controlling the tank would be difficult or impossible. The penetration of an RS-82 rocket was only 25 mm, and there was a shortage of the explosives that the RT used as fuel.

A junior lieutenant's monster

A draft project by a technician from the 833rd Artillery Regiment of the 291st Rifle Division, Junior Lieutenant S.I. Mashintsev, was sent to the NKVD on January 8th, 1942, and forwarded to GABTU by February 7th.

Mashintsev proposed a "speedy tank" armed with a grand total of three 152 mm howitzers, eight machineguns, four AT rifles, and a couple of AA machineguns. At 9x4x2 meters, the tank weighed 50 tons. The crew consisted of 10 men, and two engines gave the tank a top speed of 100 kph, with an average speed of 40-60 kph. The range was "at least 300 km". The front armour was 40-50 mm thick, with 40 mm on the sides and 20 mm on top and bottom. The design had no turret.

At a high speed, the tank could cross the enemy's line of defense, after which it could destroy the defenses or go after enemy vehicles or personnel. The author noted that 3-4 of these tanks could destroy a whole enemy tank division.

The tank's features included placement of machineguns entirely within the tank (they fired through special openings), the ability to seal the fighting compartment in case of danger from chemical attack or incendiary fluid, and unusual oval shaped track links, which "insured streamlining". Much to the inventor's chagrin, the GABTU was not interested.

Light, cheap, useless

Deputy Chief Engineer of the Tomsk Ball Bearing Factory, S.V. Pinegin, and his colleague, Chief Engineer of the Kuybyshev Ball Bearing Factory, N.M. Fedoseev, proposed a well thought out tank. In mid-June of 1942, they invented not only a tank and original track links, but tactics for its use. According to the authors, the P-F-1 could be used to destroy tanks, replace a motorcycle in reconnaissance, and be used as a massed tactical weapon on the battlefield.

The P-F-1 was a tracked vehicle with pneumatic tires, which could be used in any season but winter (an analogous vehicle, the P-F-2 aerosan, was used then). The P-F-1 carried one soldier. With a 1.8x1x1 meter cabin, the tank had a clearance of 0.2 meters. Without a driver, its weight was 280 kg, with the top speed on track and wheels at 60 kph and 100 kph respectively.

The tank was armed with two 90 mm recoilless rifles with four 20 kg rounds. A submachinegun in a turret with 360 degree range  and 120 degree elevation was used as an auxiliary weapon. When attacking tanks, the P-F-1 would act like a torpedo boat, copying the tactic of light and cheap "mosquito" warfare.

The project was thoroughly described and well illustrated. It had potential, but did not move past paper.

Heavy tank destroyer

An infantry platoon commander, Lieutenant L.V. Rozanov, proposed several inventions at once in March of 1944 during his time at the 17th Independent Officer Reserve Regiment. This was a tank destroyer based on a T-34, but with a "high caliber automatic weapon". 

The tank destroyer was reviewed by the GABTU in early June of 1944, and the second proposal was sent to the Red Army GAU.

Rozanov's tank introduced some novelties into the T-34's design. Large shields were attached to the sides of the tank, which could flip down and protect the suspension during battle. The suspension was split into two parts: the main part and additional armoured wheels in the front, powered by a chain drive. The purpose of these wheels was to protect the tracks from the front. The wheels were placed on shock absorbing fulcrums and could move vertically.

The sides of the tank also had movable shields for protecting tank riders. The shields could be moved from the inside. In order to improve the tank's firepower, it was armed with some high caliber automatic gun,

Rozanov's proposal was not supported by the GABTU, but it doesn't seem too far fetched in modern times. The idea of armoured wheels found a place in mine trawlers.

Four tracks for the KV

This project appeared in the spring of 1942. Its main goal was improving the mobility of the heavy KV tank by lowering its ground pressure, This was achieved by adding an extra set of tracks underneath the hull, which were put into motion by a chain drive attached to the main drive sprocket. If this project was implemented, then the KV's performance on soft soil, obstacles, and snow would improve drastically.

The design, which was accompanied by mobility calculations and blueprints of the drive, was supported by the chief and military commissar of the NIIBT, but it was rejected by the Deputy Chief Designer of the NKTP, I.S. Ber. The reasoning was that the tank's weight would increase by 5-6 tons, the clearance would decrease, and that the extra tracks were not protected from rocks or soil, and that the chain drive was vulnerable to enemy fire. The other drawbacks were not mentioned.

The NKTP reasoned that further efforts could be directed at designing swamp tracks, which would improve the tank's mobility without decreasing its tactical value.

Cruel Colonel Stradzyn

This tank design was born before the war, in April of 1941, inside the Frunze Military Academy. Its author was the senior meteorology teacher, Colonel Ya.M. Stradzyn. The author expected the tank to be able to plug up pillboxes or fortifications, which he described in his report, alongside drawings.

The main feature of the tank was its armament. Aside from a traditional machinegun and anti-tank gun, it had a cutting torch and a flamethrower, but another device was the most surprising of all. The tank was supposed to have a mixer and a chute to deliver molten iron or steel, heated by the tank's exhaust, which could fit up to a ton of ammunition.

It's hard to call the tank anything but "hell on wheels". A veteran of the Civil War, Yan Martinovich Stradzyn, presumably a man of little sentiment, described his design as such:

"The device can use molten steel to seal the doors to the pillbox, then cut open the top from the firing port. Molten steel can be poured into the opening from the mixer, or the garrison can be killed with the flamethrower. The pillbox's armament will be disabled. Auxiliary exits can be demolished by an assault group that dismounts from the tank."

The absurdity of the idea of carrying molten steel in a mixer, especially keeping it liquid with exhaust fumes, seems obvious, but GABTU representatives were forced to describe in detail the technical impossibility of such a project.

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