Time for a new historical article!
In 1915 an unknown inventor wrote: “Steam as a force once changed the entire structure of the world’s appliances and gradually provided its usage in all kinds and shapes, but this gigantic force is not used for defense until today”. There are a few projects which were proposed some three decades later. It seems that their authors were inspired exactly by these words.
Steam which breaks the bones
This project has no author or date supplied to it, it’s context however implies that it was developed during WWII. The unknown inventor proposed a means to fight the enemy as follows: “Using the gases produced by the tank, a device is to be installed providing heated water which then vaporizes instantly and a nozzle exhausts a mix of water and steam to scald the enemy”.
This thought was inspired by steam locomotives which could exhaust steam pillars to a height of up to 20 meters. The author thought that simply installing the smokestack horizontally would be enough to spray the fascists with steam and boiling water. Even flamethrowers wouldn’t be able to cope with such an attack.
Further description of the vehicle unveiled additional advantages. Thanks to the nozzles, the tank could create a cheap and easy smokescreen. Additional exhausts on the bottom of the vehicle could fry the enemy in their own trenches. Of course, all of this required to burn a huge amount of fuel, but the inventor assured: “The protection of tank and crew is worth the additional fuel cost”. The peak of rationalizing this proposal was a variant to spray steam together with poisonous gases.
While the inventor awaited an answer from the people’s commisariat of defense, he didn’t waste time. The next letter contained a different battle tactic: exploding steam boilers, delivered to occupied territory. However this had nothing to do with armored vehicles already.
Both proposals of the unknown author remained without answer, since he also did not provide a return address.
Zaitsev’s steam tank
A message from mechanic L.I. Zaitsev from Kuybyshev (now – Samara), written in November 1942, was succint. The author seemed to have “suffered out” his plan of a steam tank: “I consider it my duty to inform the Joint Staff of that which plagues me day and night, which I spent working on during nightly hours after my shift at the factory, which would not let me sleep at night”.
The description of the tank however fitted on a single piece of paper. Later on, in the beginning of 1943, the author also sent a draft complaining that he didn’t have neither ink nor a compass. But the pencil draft already looked dangerous. A body with a length of 20m and nearly similar (~5m) width and height should have a streamlined form. The steam tank didn’t need a turret – instead, Zaitsev provided an armored cover. Quite original at the first sight, but not more than that. What made the idea so surprising?
First of all, the author wanted to fit his machine with two engines, providing it with a “huge force”. The second, more essential feature lied in the fuel. “Fuel is not just expensive petrol or another form of oil refining, but simple crude oil which can even be replaced by coal or even wood” – Zaitsev wrote. Which engines exactly could work with crude oil was not specified – one could think from the name of the tank that these would be boilers connected to a turbine. Zaitsev assured: “Movement speed resembles a locomotive, produces little noise during movement”.
The steam tank should have powerful armor. Along with thick base armor plates, the author proposed to protect the tracks along more than 2/3 of their height. The armor thickness was not specified. Arguing about the neccesity of launching his project in mass production, Zaitsev wrote another curious statement: “The war is long – speedy movement is long gone, and thus machines with such armor are needed… We have enough metal to this day”. All this while four months ago, the famous Order № 227 stated that the USSR has a metal deficit and risks to lose it altogether.
The armament provided was also on par – the draft shows three guns at the front and back of the vehicle, the middle one clearly of a big caliber. Moreover, each side had also three barrels. Two AA guns were to be placed on the roof. A handwritten note on the side of the letter by a military expert states: “Respond to the author that his letters were recieved but contained no specific information”.
The essence in the detail of “K”
In January 1943 the people’s commisariat of defense recieved a letter from the Red Army soldier A.I. Kuzmin. “I want to propose a steam tank called “Ram”, which does not require petrol, of which there currently is a severe shortage, and thus can be wholly given to the air force” – he wrote. The author was full of belief in the successful outcome of the Great Patriotic War, and his idea should help the Red Army to move westaward. Kuzmin realized that his proposed tank would make experts laugh, but said that he would be happy if engineers would complete his idea and implement a prototype.
Kuzmin has probably not heard of pre-revolutionary projects: Semchishin’s “Oboe” and Lebedenko’s “Tsar-Tank”. But the “Ram” was very similar to them. The construction basis was represented by two huge wheels with a diameter of 10m, equipped with rubber tires. Their size would provide the tank with excellent terrain passability. “Also having a collosal weight, it could run over anything standing in its way” – the author added.
“Component C” had to weigh more than the wheel itself to be able to roll itself uphill or cross ravines or rivers with steep banks. The author was convinced that despite the size, the “Ram” would move silently and be undeteced by the enemy. Kuzmin counted on accelerating his tank to about 200km/h with exceptional maneuverability. Other technical characteristics were not provided, it was only mentioned that such a machine was in no need of a gun, machine guns would suffice.
Concluding his description, the author seemed to doubt if the “Ram” could be constructed using steam power, and proposed a simple combustion engine as an alternative. But experts responded to Kuzmins idea without any enthusiasm in any way.
All three projects remained on paper. If they would be of any use, then only in a steampunk world – an alternate reality where steam engines prevailed in humanity’s technological development.