Wheel tanks: an unusual turn of history

The first major project of a giant wheeled tank was proposed at the beginning of World War I by the captain of the British Royal Naval Aviation Service, Thomas Hetterington. His car was supposed to have 80 mm armor and move on three wheels: in front of a pair of leading wheels with a diameter of 12 m (!) Each and one steering at the rear. It was supposed to place three towers on the armored platform, in each of them it was planned to install two 102-mm guns.

Two diesel engines were supposed to provide the car with a speed of 8-12 km / h. For the British, who had a powerful military industry, it would not be difficult to build such a machine, but when considering the project it turned out that the mass of the tank could reach 1000 tons, which in itself was unacceptable. In addition, a giant 12 meters high, 30 meters long and 24 meters wide is a good target for enemy artillery. We must not forget about sopromat: with a rigid suspension of all wheels, it is extremely difficult to provide the necessary structural strength. Therefore, practical Englishmen built a scaled-down model of wood and, having studied it, decided to stop all work on the “cruiser” of Hetterington, which happened in June 1915.

The illustration shows the most famous wheeled giant from the First World War, the Tsar Tank designed by Nikolai Lebedenko. Quite a lot of articles have been written about this ambitious and initially non-viable project, but few people know that in addition to it, at least two dozen similar projects existed in the 1910s. Some, like the Tsar Tank, were embodied in metal.

Meanwhile overseas

However, the British history can still be considered quite prudent, because at that time in the USA there existed - albeit only on paper - a project of a huge wheeled tank, called the Holt 150 ton Field Monitor ("150-ton Holt Field Monitor"). As in the case of the previous machine, two steam engines, each working on both wheels, were supposed to set in motion at once, for which both units (as well as on many modern cross-country vehicles) had a separate gearbox. At the same time, only the front wheels were steered, and the two rear wheels could not turn. The diameter of all wheels was 6 m, which in theory was supposed to provide a “field monitor” with a fairly good cross.

But while the famous Russian Tsar Tank impressed with its 9-meter-high wheels, the American one with its weapons. According to the design of the designers, two 152-mm naval guns, which were usually placed on cruisers, were supposed to stand on it at once! The auxiliary armament was a whole battery of ten Colt machine guns of the 1895 model, of which four coaxial ones were located in two towers, and the remaining six were to fire through the embrasures in the hull.

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In 1916, the Germans from Hansa-Lloyd developed the Treffas-Wagen three-wheeled battle tank. The 18-ton machine had two metal drum wheels with embossed lugs and a barrel-shaped steering wheel under the hull. 3.3-meter wheels made it possible to crush barbed wire fences, and armed with a “wagen” was a 20-mm automatic cannon and a couple of machine guns. The car was tested at the beginning of 1918, but the results were unimportant, so in the fall it was dismantled for metal.

The crew of this monster consisted of 20 people - even more than on the famous German tank A7V. Moreover, the thickness of his armor was relatively small - only 6-18 mm, so she could not resist the blows of the German 77-mm field gun, which means that there was almost no sense in this machine. The mass was too large - 150 tons, so it is not surprising that this development did not leave the drawing board. In the history of world tank building, there was only one wheeled giant tank - the Tsar Tank built in Russia. And in any case, the American “150-ton field monitor” did not reach its Russian counterpart by the diameter of the wheels by three meters.

A bit later, the American developers from the company Holt proposed another concept of a wheeled monster - Steam Wheeled Tank. The car was even built, and not at the beginning of the war, but already in February 1918, when it became clear to the engineers: tracked vehicles outperformed wheeled vehicles. Externally, the “tank” had the appearance of a children's tricycle: the driving wheels were located in front, and the steering wheel, and even with a “tail” to overcome enemy trenches, was located behind. Tests of the "Steam Wheel Tank" - this name was given to this strange mechanism by the American military - took place from March to May 1918 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. It turned out that his patency was even worse than that of the tanks on the chassis of the Holt tractor, and he was also armed with one 75-mm mountain howitzer in the front wall of the hull and two machine guns in the corners to shoot at both at once side. The diameter of the wheels was 2.4 m with a width of 90 cm, that is, they were not excessively large (hence the passability is not too high). The thickness of the armor ranged from 5.8 to 16 mm, the length of the machine was 6.77 m with a width of 3.07 and a height of 3, which automatically turned the tank into a good target.

In 1916, the Americans developed the Holt 150 ton Field Monitor heavy wheeled tank for fighting in the open spaces of Mexico. He carried a huge amount of weapons (two marine 152.4 mm guns and ten 7.62 mm Colt-Browning M1895 machine guns) and a very significant crew, including six gunners, ten machine gunners, two technicians, a commander and a driver, totaling 20 people. General John Pershing personally rejected the project, pointing out that his slowness would restrain cavalry.

Dreams of Porokhovshchikov

As for Russia, here the projects of cars on large wheels and in addition to the famous tank Lebedenko abundantly enough. For example, in August 1915, engineer Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Porokhovshchikov (also known for his All-Terrain Vehicle and All-Terrain Vehicle-2 designs of his tanks) proposed the Earth Armadillo project in two versions - field and serf.

Reservation of the first was designed to protect against field artillery fire, the second - from serf fire. The car on a preliminary design looked just awful. In the “Field Armadillo” variant, a steel bridge farm with a length of 35 m (!) And a width of 3 m was supported by ten leading armored drum-rollers with a diameter of 2.3 m. A power compartment with a gasoline engine of 160-200 hp was supposed to be inside each drum ., clutch, gearbox, generator, fan, fuel tank and tool, and on its outer side there are loopholes for two machine guns and a bomb gun! Thus, in 20 “drums” there would be 40 machine guns and 20 bombers, that is, the fire power of this “tank” was supposed to be absolutely exceptional. But Porokhovschikov did not think this was enough, and he envisaged the installation of two armored towers in the front and rear of the farm. Each of them carried a heavy gun of 4–6 dm caliber (101.6–152.4 mm) and a smaller gun paired with it. In the central part, an armored pilothouse towered with jobs for the commander of an armadillo, an artillery officer and his assistant, senior mechanic, telegraph operator, and a searchlight was mounted on the roof of the pilothouse. The crew of the “Field Armadillo” was 72 people under the project.

An interesting four-wheeled Tritton Trench Crosser steam engine was proposed by William Foster and William Tritton. Two of its driving wheels were located on the same axis, and in front of them - two supporting one after the other. The shushpanzer was intended to overcome trenches, but turned out to be too unstable and fell on its side.

The thickness of the armor on Porokhovshchikov’s car was like on a good cruiser - 101.6 mm. The estimated speed could reach 21 km / h, while (as the designer claimed), the “battleship” could overcome obstacles up to 11 m wide due to the base length. It is interesting that the inventor did not think up such an important issue as turning the car. In principle, there’s nothing complicated here - it’s enough to consistently slow down the wheels-drums of one side, and then the car would turn like a tank (though the load on the truss design of the battleship would be prohibitive). To transfer the “battleship” by rail, Porokhovshchikov suggested putting him on a railway track, although no detailed engineering solution to this issue was provided. In principle, if an engineer suggested making his tank a little smaller, the design could be discussed, but in the existing form the proposal looked clearly utopian even at the level of ideas.

The “fortress battleship” was distinguished from the “Field” armor and had instead of two armored towers a deck on which up to 500 landing troops would be placed under the protection of armor, it looked like a medieval assault machine. The verdict of military experts was predictable: on August 13, 1915, at a meeting of the Technical Committee of the GVTU, it was noted that “even without detailed calculations, we can confidently say that the proposal is not feasible. It would be advisable for use in a combat situation to distribute the armadillo's armament to separate moving links that are not connected into one rigid system. ”

Along with the Tsar Tank, a number of expensive and unpromising projects of wheeled giant tanks were also considered, which for the most part were rejected at the design stage. One of the most ambitious is the “Earth Armadillo” designed by Alexander Porokhovshchikov (1915), a 35-meter all-terrain vehicle with a separate engine, two machine guns and a bomb launcher in each of the hollow rinks.

By the end of 1915, Porokhovshchikov presented a revised draft of the “Earth Armadillo”, which now consisted of articulated links - armored platforms “that could deviate from each other in all directions”. Armored sites were two options - with armored gun turrets and with fellings for the landing. Each platform consisted of two sets of drums and a frame with armor. But the articulated all-terrain vehicle was clearly beyond the power of Porokhovshchikov, there were enough flaws in the design. Nobody began to consider the unrealizable project in detail. It is surprising that it was not some student who offered it, but an engineer with a complete technical education, who simply could not help but understand how crazy his design was.

Russian spirit

The idea of ​​wheel drums in those years met quite often. For example, an engineer Podolsky in October 1915 proposed a machine on six-meter rollers, driven not by a power unit, but by a company of soldiers. For shelling the enemy on the sides of the strange "rinks" were to be located turrets with machine guns.

There were other interesting attempts. For example, in 1916, the Technical Committee of the GVTU (Main Military Technical Directorate) received a draft of a 50-ton vehicle with ten high wheels, of which six were leading and four were rotary. The hull was supposed to have protection from 9-mm armor, and it itself had a two-tier layout: engines and transmission below, six guns and six machine guns at the top.

In April 1917, the mechanical engineer Navrotsky proposed the 192-ton improved turtle, again in the form of a tricycle, only in contrast to the American and German ones - rotated 180 °. SPG Navrotsky had a drive roller with a diameter of 6.5 m in front and two rear wheels, also with a drive, with a diameter of 2.5 m. Inside the front roller, the project housed two 150 hp engines. and transmission mechanisms, and in the sponsons protruding from the side, two 203-mm howitzers and two machine guns. The front skating rink was connected by “blinded corridors” to the rear platform, where two 152 mm guns, four 102 mm and eight 7.62 mm machine guns were installed. The reservation was 20-30 mm, the crew was 20 people.

Of course, there was no question of the serial construction of such monsters (and sometimes the manufacture of a prototype). Even those systems that were manufactured in a single copy showed themselves extremely poorly in testing. No impressive characteristics attributed to them by engineers were out of the question. Therefore, by the end of the 1910s, the idea of ​​a tank on extra-large wheels had died, so, in fact, not having been born.

The article “Big Wheels - Big Wheels” was published in the magazine Popular Mechanics (No. 8, August 2013). Like formidable tanks and planes, combat robots and smart missiles?

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