Translated by Vlad.
Even before they appeared on the field of battle, tanks were called land ships. The metaphora wasn’t only lively, but contagious: in the years of WWII many tank projects were developed, equaling warships in size and firepower. The historian Yuri Pasholok invented the term “land cruiser” for this kind of tank. The topic will be on two such projects.
Davletovs’ “land cruiser”
On the 13th April 1941, the people’s commisariat of Defense received a letter from the village of Gorniy Bakliy in the Stalingrad region. Its author was the student of Azov-Black Sea insitute of mechanical engineers G.A. Davletov. The envelope contained the description and sketch of a battle machine affecting one’s imagination. Its creation was based on the analysis of previous wars: from WWI to the Northern War. The author aimed to create a vehicle which was capable of breaking through the “Mannerheim line” without losses.
The result was a tank project with overall mass of 2.5 thousand tonnes and a length of some 40 metres (the width was half of that). In spite of calling the vehicle land-based, Davletov provided two propellers enabling the land cruiser to travel over water. The giant used collosal engines with 15.000HP to move forward. The author considered the vehicle to be capable of going 40km/h on land and 13.5kn (25km/h) on water. Fuel usage should consist neither of gasoline nor of mazut (low quality oil), but simply crude oil.
The armament of the land cruiser was fitting for its’ dimensions. Fitted into the turret of 5m height, there were three 500mm mortars which fired over a distance of 30km, two long-range 150mm cannons (range 35km) and ten 75mm guns. But this was not it: Davetov also insisted on installing four AA guns and 20 heavy machine guns. The ammunition carried was also no joke – 100 rounds for each mortar alone. Moreover, due to the huge deck space the “land cruiser” should carry 16 battle-readied tanks on it.
The author proposed the following usage: “…at the distance of 250-300km from the frontline, 100 land cruisers should be stationed… these 100 carry 1800 tanks (200 of which are amphibious). Moreover, on board of the ships are up to 4 divisions of armed infantry”.
After nightfall, the armada should begin its’ movement toward the frontline to arrive there by dawn. A few hours before that, support bombers should cripple the enemies’ fortifications. This had to be caught up by the firepower of the cruisers. After that, some two thousand tanks are unloaded and roll into battle. Davletov assumed that the suppression of enemy defense in this scenario should take two hours at most. “With the tank’s breakthrough, the cruisers direct fire on the surviving centers of resistance, crushing them with their mass, widening the breach… Their next goal is to contact the aviation, the paratroopers to capture the enemy capital.”
The author proved that there is no force to stop his cruisers or damage them. The 100mm armor of the cruiser could only be penetrated by direct hits of high-caliber shells or aviation bombs. But the cooperation with other branches of the armed forces should bring such risks near zero. Aerial cover would be provided by aviation, ground cover – by infantry. However the ideal situation was for the cruisers to act independently, for example by capturing heavily fortified islands – fire from a distance of 30-35 km and then execute a landing operation with 18 tanks and several hundred infantrymen. Davletov even thought that the land cruiser could fight a whole squadron of enemy ships. In such cases it should carry torpedo boats instead of tanks.
The author anticipated that his project would be regarded as an impossible fantasy. Because of that, he relied on the possibility that because of the advantages of the vehicle, the Soviet government would make the fantasy a reality. He hoped that a prototype of the land cruiser could be built very soon by distributing the work among the offices. “The construction of the hull could be delegated to the shipbuilders, all the armament – by artillerymen, transmission and tracks – by tanksmen and the engine by heat engineers” – he wrote.
But even if the USSR had risked to start the project, the time was cut short: the war was about to start.
Osokin’s “tank cruiser”
Another “land cruiser” was proposed to the Main Agency of Automobiles and Tanks (GABTU) in 1942. “Willing to help the motherland in the fight against the fascist hordes… I developed and propose to your attention the project of an impressive weapon for the Red Army – the “tank cruiser” ” – the author, engineer-lieutenant colonel Osokin, wrote.
His proposal had gone a far way. Firstly, the project was deemed interesting by military engineers, and with them the deputy of the commander of Ural military district. They promised to promote the enthusiast’s idea in Moscow. But the author didn’t recieve any message from Moscow, so he decided to write himself by permission of his commanding officer. Osokin was convinced in the success of his project and deemed any delay in working on it unnecessary.
What did he propose, now? “The “tank cruiser” (TC) represents a maximally armed and armored, four engine battle machine-fortress” – Osokin wrote. The construction consisted of a central armored hull and two adjacent tracked transporters on the left and right side. They, again, represented interconnected movement parts with a unified engine-transmission compartment. The transporters should have their own battle compartments. In contrast to Davletov’s machine, this vehicle was not amphibious. It required pontons to move across water.
The main armored hull was thought by the author to be welded with different thicknesses. Osokin divided it by frame partitions into multiple compartments. The forward compartment contained the control cabin of the “tank cruiser”, housing the driver and commander. Behind them was space for the technician and radio operator.
One of the most interesting moments of Osokin’s project was its’ armament. The main caliber should consist of paired 152mm tank guns in the main turret. Behind it, the inventor assigned space for a powder room with a shell storage. On each transporter, Osokin proposed to install a T-34 turret with a 76mm gun. The stern of the “tank cruiser” should be armed with two AA machineguns and a gun on a shelf emplacement.
Osokin also provided dimensions for his formidable invention. Length – 21.45m, width – 9.7m. The height was not higher than 4.3m. The vehicle’s mass of 270 tonnes was to be moved by aviation diesel engines M-40 with 1500HP. The armor thickness varied from 125mm in the front to 50-100mm on the sides and 50-80mm on the floor and roof. To protect from gas attacks, Osokin placed a compressed air cylinder in each populated compartment.
The tactical usage of the TC promised to be wide: destruction of fortified strips and areas of resistance, battling artillery pieces of all calibres, destruction of tanks, SPG’s and motorized/mechanized parts of the enemy. The ultimate outcome should be “support of frontline troops of the victorious Red Army in the march to the enemy’s capitals: Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Bucharest (Seb: oh God no) and further west – to liberate the people oppressed by fascism.”
Sadly or happily, both land cruiser projects were rejected by the GABTU. They spent many years in the archives and only now became publicly available. Because of this, their German analogue (land cruiser “Ratte”) is known better. Interestlingly, Davetov foresaw such developments: “Only one thing is left: for the enemy to also construct such cruisers… In the first year of the war, the one who constructs enough such cruisers will be the ruler of the land”. The inventor was wrong in the end: the war was won by trivial, but effective war machines.
Author – Yuri Bachurin
Source: Central archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (ZAMO RF)
Translated by Vlad.