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World War I The war to end all wars.

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Old 02 Aug 17, 09:28
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The tanks that never were

During WW1 no less than eleven tank designs entered service. These were the British heavy tanks Marks I to V, , the Mark V* and the British Medium A (Whippet); the French heavy tanks Schneider and St Chamond, the French light tank the Renault FT; the German heavy tank A7V. Within these basic designs there were a number of variants. There were also some designs that were too late to enter service before the end of the war and quite a few that never got past the prototype stage. However I thought it might be interesting to look at those that for a plethora of reasons never got off the drawing board. Some designs were quite outré and quite clearly impractical, of one Patton who advised the US tank board, wryly commented that it would require the invention of an atomic motor to move it, but others appear to have been quite innovative and even ahead of their time and one wonders “what if?”

I’ll start with the French St Chamond Char d’assaut á chenilles enveloppant. The two French heavy tanks in service, the Schneider and St Chamond, were based on Holt track units. These proved unsuitable for the terrain of the Western Front as the curve at the front of the units severely limited the height of vertical obstacle they could climb over while the shortness of the track run restricted the width of trench they could cross. The units also quickly clogged with mud. In addition the Schneider had an unfortunate tendency to brew up.

St Chamond decided to design a new heavy tank fit for use in a shelled area. I attach my interpretation of the original drawings. St Chamond borrowed the basic layout of the British heavy tanks. Laying a drawing of a British tank on top of the St Chamond ones shows an exact match of the rhomboid shape. The French design however differs from the British in a number of ways. The radiators are on the roof of the tank rather than on the rear as in the Mk I – IV or side as on the Mk V & V*. This would make them much less prone to damage from anti tank rifles and light anti tank guns but very vulnerable to a grenade tossed onto the roof. The commander has a telescopic cupola which would give him a much better view than in the British tanks. The sponsons were very different. They appear to contain cannon but in fact were intended to house Hotchkiss machine guns with the barrels and recuperators protected by armoured sleeves. Port and starboard sponsons are slightly off set from each other. Not visible is a large calibre weapon protruding between the front horns much in the same way as the WW2 Char B and the Churchill Mk 1 were armed. Its traverse would be very limited.

General Estienne responsible for French tank development took the decision that as the British already led in heavy tanks and the French in light tanks they should stick to their respective lasts. Accordingly in 1918 France purchased British Mk V and V* heavy tanks and their crews were in training when the armistice arrived. The new St Chamond was abandoned.
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  #2  
Old 03 Aug 17, 01:51
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In 1915 Russia had a project of its own

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vezdekhod
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Old 03 Aug 17, 05:44
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In 1915 Russia had a project of its own

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vezdekhod
It was impracticable due to steering issues - the outrigger wheels were insufficient. The Germans had experimented with a similar system and to effect major changes in direction the crew had to get out and push it round. The concept was not new back in the 19th century an American inventor had suggested to the King of the Belgians that an armed river vessel be fitted with such a track and outrigger wheels making it amphibious and sent to the Congo to find Stanley who appeared to gave got himself lost.
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Old 03 Aug 17, 05:56
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It was impracticable due to steering issues - the outrigger wheels were insufficient. The Germans had experimented with a similar system and to effect major changes in direction the crew had to get out and push it round. The concept was not new back in the 19th century an American inventor had suggested to the King of the Belgians that an armed river vessel be fitted with such a track and outrigger wheels making it amphibious and sent to the Congo to find Stanley who appeared to gave got himself lost.
One thing I'm sure of is that I'm not an expert. But the linked wiki article argues that the test commission approved the vehicle.
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Old 03 Aug 17, 06:36
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One thing I'm sure of is that I'm not an expert. But the linked wiki article argues that the test commission approved the vehicle.
It also says "proved impossible to steer using the wheels provided for that purpose and the project was therefore rejected" Similarly projects in the UK using a single pedrail track were rejected because they could not be steered. Much hype was generated in the Stalinist period in an attempt to 'prove' that Russia invented the tank
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Old 03 Aug 17, 06:53
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Politicians are always in bad need of hype, they need it much more than tanks.
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Old 03 Aug 17, 07:46
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Mk V* Tadpole

Shortly after the first appearance of tanks on the Battlefield in 1916 it was recognised that one effective defence would be extra wide trenches and anti tank ditches. Accordingly the Hindenburg line incorporated such wide trenches. It was one reason why Haig was originally against using tanks against it and was only prepared to sanction the Cambrai attack once a method of overcoming the problem could be demonstrated. The solution adopted was for the lead tanks to carry huge fascines of tightly bundled sticks that could be dropped into the trenches to provide a means of crossing them. This worked but it had many drawbacks and it was thought that a simpler solution would be to lengthen the tanks.


The initial scheme devised by Tritton was to replace the rear horns of Mk IV and Mk V tanks with longer tails thus increasing the length of the tank by over 11 feet. A large number of conversion kits were delivered to the Central Workshops in France and a number of existing Mk IV and Mk V tanks were were converted into "Tadpoles". However initial trials proved this to be an ineffective solution as the new structure suffered from flexing (the strain imposed when turning must have been considerable). It is also probable that the extra weight of the tadpole extension was insufficient to move the centre of gravity sufficiently rearward to extend the trench crossing capability as far as the extra length would suggest (the tank would tip forward when too little of its length has crossed the lip of the trench).

Central Workshops conducted their own experiment cutting a Mk IV tank in half and adding an extra section in the middle. This provided a much more satisfactory solution. However the extra weight would be too much for the Mk IV's Daimler engine even though these had been uprated. It was decided not to convert existing Mk IVs but to build a number of the new Mk V tanks, which had the more powerful Ricardo engine, with extra long bodies from the outset. These would be known as the Mk V*. These were structurally more rigid than the tadpoles and also ensured that the heavy fuel tank and radiators were still to the rear of the extended vehicle. This would significantly move the centre of gravity rearward. Some 700 Mk V* tanks were built by mid March 1919. They equipped British, American and French tank units (serving with the French throughout the 1920s) and played an important role in the battles that broke the German army at the end of 1918. However the Mk V* proved to be difficult to turn due to the ‘drag’ of the extra length of flat track in ground contact.

Central Workshops continued to experiment. What would happen if the Germans produced even wider anti tank trenches?. The Mk V tadpole conversion units were equally compatible with the rear of the Mark V*.
In an experimental project sometime during 1918 a Mk V* was converted to a tadpole configuration. This produced a tank of over 44 feet long, not only the longest tank completed in World War but also the longest tank ever built. No photo of this has been found although I have found a very blurry and indistinct one that may be the Mk V* Tadpole. The resulting tank proved to be almost impossible to drive in anything other than a straight line! The ‘drag’ of the track in ground contact was too much to allow turning. There was also no existing rail vehicle that was capable of transporting the beast to the front. The MkV* Tadpole was clearly unworkable, what happened to it is unclear. It is quite possible that the tadpole tail was removed and the original horns replaced so that it reverted back to an ordinary Mk V*
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Old 04 Aug 17, 06:19
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Pliny E Holt's design

Pliny E Holt was the nephew of Benjamin Holt the owner of the Holt tractor company than manufactured half track tractors widely used by the British Army in France and Flanders, Italy, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Pliny acted as chief engineer to the company and appears to have played a large part in the design of a range of fully tracked tractors used extensively by the US Army. When the company opened a second factory to build these Pliny took charge. He was also a prolific inventor and had one of the new tractors reserved for experiments in the design of armoured vehicles. A series of mock ups, of possible armoured bodies, made of wood and canvas were fitted to it. Eventually Pliny settled on a design and a patent application was filed in May 1918. Although a patent was granted in 1921 it appears to have gone no further. George Patton who at the time acted as the technical advisor to the US Tank Board had been growing tired of having to deal with many freelance tank designers who “sold” their idea to some part of the US government and then lobbied the Tank board for its adoption. Many of these designs reached the prototype stage and were plainly quite impracticable having been designed by men with no knowledge of the terrain and fighting conditions on the Western Front. He managed to persuade the Tank Board to adopt a policy that no more tank designs that were produced without the approval of its Technical Advisor from the very start would be even considered. Pliny’s design may have fallen foul of this.
Pliny was at this time advising the Federal Arsenals on the development of self propelled artillery. Some of the arsenals considered that they and not the Tank Board should oversee the development of US tanks and had already initiated the construction of prototypes. This interdepartmental rivalry could well have affected the likelihood of Pliny Holt’s design being taken further.
Looking at the design it is difficult to determine if it was meant to act as a tank or an assault gun. The patent merely calls it an armoured tractor. It does have a similar configuration to German assault guns of WW2, although possibly with defence against infantry attack taken more into consideration.
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Old 04 Aug 17, 06:48
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A note on the St. Chamond:

The French by Second Soissons had evolved their tank doctrine to use these vehicles as the world's first assault guns as direct fire artillery support for the more nimble FT 17. The St. Chamond battalions followed the FT 17 into action and were to use their 75mm gun against targets the crew spotted that were deserving of artillery fire the FT 17 couldn't perform.
Of course, without radios this was somewhat hit and miss in action.
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Old 04 Aug 17, 06:58
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A note on the St. Chamond:

The French by Second Soissons had evolved their tank doctrine to use these vehicles as the world's first assault guns as direct fire artillery support for the more nimble FT 17. The St. Chamond battalions followed the FT 17 into action and were to use their 75mm gun against targets the crew spotted that were deserving of artillery fire the FT 17 couldn't perform.
Of course, without radios this was somewhat hit and miss in action.
Although a number simply had the gun removed and were converted into supply tanks
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Old 04 Aug 17, 09:26
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Rybinsk 'tank'

The Rybinsk factory, 400km North of Moscow, today produces items such as gas turbines but in Tsarist times it was a tractor factory. In WW1 it produced aero engines and munitions. After the 1917 Revolution it manufactured the “Ruski Renault” a copy of the Renault FT and the Soviet Union’s first domestically manufactured (if not designed) tank. However this was not the factory’s first exposure to the concept of the tracked AFV. In 1916 engineers from the plant submitted a proposal to the Russian army for a tracked armoured armed vehicle.

The design was simple – even crude. A naval gun would be mounted in an armoured box atop tracks. From the drawings submitted these looks very like lengthened track units from the American Lombard half track truck which the Russian army was already using as an artillery tractor. Some writers have compared the Rybinsk tank to the French St Chamond in concept if not on looks. This is far from correct for in the latter the gun faces forward and in the Rybinsk it faces rearward as the drawings show the driver and machine gunner at the other end of the box like hull. In this it is much more akin to the British WW2 Archer SPG in concept.
What the Russian Army thought of the idea is lost in time. One expects that in late 1916 they would have other matters in mind.
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Old 04 Aug 17, 10:01
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The classic in this category would have to be the Tsar's Tank. The rear wheel on the tank though was a real 'stick in the mud'.



It always reminds me of those early penny farthing bikes. Looks like Queen Victoria had a tricycle that had an even closer resemblance to the tank.

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Old 04 Aug 17, 10:36
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The classic in this category would have to be the Tsar's Tank. The rear wheel on the tank though was a real 'stick in the mud'.

[
It always reminds me of those early penny farthing bikes. Looks like Queen Victoria had a tricycle that had an even closer resemblance to the tank.
Except thats one that was - see thread title and introduction - and was it a tank or really an overgrown armoured car? This was nothing less than a giant three wheeled tricycle design like that rejected by the British Landship Committee. It is not clear if there was any connection between the two designs or merely the coincidence of two identical bad ideas occurring at the same time. Given the timing it is possible that the Russian design, credited to M.Lebdenko, was offered to Britain. Whatever its origin the Russian giant armoured tricycle was built by Alexsi Mikulin during1915 and designated in 1916 as ‘The Tsar Tank’. The result was a huge three wheeled armoured car that was the largest Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) ever built. It weighed 40 tons. As a practical combat weapon it was useless. Its armour was relatively light and those huge spoked wheels would have proved very vulnerable. One wonders how many of the thin spokes could be shot away before the wheel lost strength and collapsed. The wheels seem to have been fixed so that steering would have had to be by braking and speeding up individual wheels to cause the vehicle to skew. It would be very difficult indeed to manoeuvre. Just getting it to the battlefront would have been a logistical nightmare as no transport was large enough to carry it and few, if any, bridges would be wide enough; it would have to be driven across country. Only the prototype was built, this languished in a wood outside Moscow until, in 1923. As you hinted the only time and attempt was made to run it the rear wheel bogged down.
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Old 04 Aug 17, 18:18
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There's always this land battleship... The German K-Wagen of 1918. 4 77mm field guns, half-a-dozen machineguns and a platoon of men (22) for a crew!

45 tons, bigger than a Maus, and powered by a pair of 150 hp semi-diesel engines...



Germany started building several but never finished them.
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Old 05 Aug 17, 05:06
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She built two which were ready for testing in early 1919 but the Allied Commissioners demanded their immediate scrapping. Completion had been a long process because of problems in making thin armoured plate
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