Stationary firing points are stationary because they cover a specific land area. And if the enemy suddenly attacks in another area, you can’t move this point to another location. Or do you? The problem of moving pillboxes was approached in different ways. The easiest way would be to install a wheeled drive. A first attempt at this was made by German engineer Maximillian Schumann in the end of the 19th century. His armored carriages were widely used by the Germans in the years of WWI. The disadvantages of the invention were inability to move in combat circumstances and their need of tractive force.
From an inventors point of view the optimal solution would be a driving force for the pillbox so it could move by itself. In the years of WWII many projects on this topic were regarded, among which some were quite exotic and strange. However, they were nevertheless regarded at even the highest levels.
Alekseenkos “Walking pillbox”
In June 1942 one such proposal arrived from Magnitogorsk. The range of persons partaking in the discussion shows how seriously this was regarded: firstly, the project came into the hands of the chief of the Leningrad’s armored courses of commander improvement general-major A.V. Borsikov. He gave the project to the chief of the Main Tank-Automotive Management, general-lieutenant Y.N. Fedorenko. It was even accompanied by a letter from Borsikov, which stated that he communicated with the people’s commisar of ferrous metallurgy I.F. Tevosyan, who agreed on construction of a prototype, if Fedorenko approves of this project. What was this wonderous vehicle which was spotted on such a high level of command?
The author of the “walking pillbox” project was engineer Alekseenko who worked on the Megnitogorsk’ steel mill. The construction, in which the office staff of the arms section of the mill actively took part, represented a streamlined design with the length of 5m, width of 3.8m and height of 1.7m. The mass of the apparatus reached ca. 45 tonnes. Such an impressive weight was explained by the fact that the armor of the “walking pillbox” reached up to 200mm and as such couldn’t be penetrated by any field artillery systems at that time. Inside was an 76mm gun with an ammo capacity of 100 rounds and 3 DT machineguns.
The machine should be moved only by an GAZ M-11 engine with 76HP. It seems that the authors clearly made a mistake in assigning such a weak motor. However, this was still not a tank, but a pillbox which wasn’t quite in a hurry. The maximum speed was expected to be about 2 km/h. As the name of the project implies, the movement should be provided by “legs” on the principle of a walking excavator.
One step moved the apparatus by 1.3m. In combat mode, the “legs” were lifted and the machine laid on a flat surface. In this position, the upper part of it could rotate fully, providing firepower in all directions.
The “walking pillbox” project was executed on a high technical level and appealed by using parts of other vehicles, which simplified production. This was the reason why such high ranks became interested in this project.
However, Fedorenko did not approve of this construction, so as a result it found its way to the archives.
Vierts’ vibrating and crawling monster
An even more original proposal arrived in august 1943 at the address of Joseph Stalin. The author, design engineer of the aviation factory No. 89 I.V. Viert, proposed a machine which he called “Crawling vibrating pillbox”. The name itself is strange and intriguing, but the concept did not look like an offspring of madness. As Alekseenko’s “walking pillbox”, Vierts’ construction was based on solutions which were already implemented. However, in contrast to the walking excavators, which were produced serially, bristlebots were in the stage of working models.
Vierts’ construction represented a kind of a puck with a streamlined upper half. The principle of the machine’s operation was quite easy: inside of the hull were special flywheels whose rotation caused vibration movements in a specific direction. In other words, the flywheels’ operation caused the machine to make small jumps. To compensate the impacts during landings, the author provided a system of spring suspensions. Due to the vibrating propulsion system, Viert assumed that his apparatus could even dig itself in. To do so, the machine should just jump on the same spot for a while.
Because this was only a concept, the inventor did not regard the questions of armor and armament. It is known however that he thought of fighting “Tigers” using his invention.
In contrast to the “walking pillbox”, which was declined on the highest level and soon forgotten, Vierts’ vibrating pillbox had a longer and more dramatic life. The first developments on this kind of machine were presented by him as early as in September 1941. The author was declined multiple times, but Vierts’ persistance did its thing. In addition to diagrams, the inventor produced working models of his machine which showed the possibility of production of such an apparatus.
Viert showed his machine to professor Christie and professor Grudzev at the War academy of mechanization and motorization. His last try in achieving rightness was a letter to Stalin himself. This did not had any special effect however, because the matter was handed over to the people who rejected his proposal multiple times already. And as such this project, too, got lost in the archives for a long time.
Author – Yuri Pasholok
Sources: Central archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (ZAMO RF)
Bizarre armor projects of the '40s. Walking and jumping pillboxes