Bizarre armor projects of the '40s. David and Goliath
What’s more important in battle – camouflage and maneverability or protection and firepower? This question is not new. Some self-proclaimed inventors of the ’40s asked themselves this question while working on another odd piece of armor.
In contrast to many other projects, oftentimes absolutely fictional, the inventors in this article didn’t try to create a vehicle for all imaginable needs. Quite the contrary, they tried to make their tank excel in one category. Maybe this was the reason why their projects appeared more realistic compared to others.
Coffins on wheels
In March 1942 the soldier of 1150th rifle division F.Z. Dymko send a description of a “Masked tank destroyer” to the GABTU. The author omitted any foreword and started his description right away: “The tank has a low height – 600mm in the front, 900mm when placed on wheels… Overall length 3300mm”. Thanks to it’s small dimensions, the vehicle could hide even behind minor obstacles. It seems this is why Dymko called his tank “masked”.
“The tank can dig in at any moment and fire from a trench… Can fill the trench in a few minutes and continue moving” – Dymko added, not specifying how. The armament of the vehicle should consist of a machinegun and a flamethrower. The author proposed an atriculated telescopic sight to fire the machinegun. The flamethrower would “destroy the enemy in their trenches, in a hut, in an attic and any terrain fold”.
The inventor proposed to protect his vehicle with three-layered armor with an overall thickness of 25mm. In the ’40s, this meant that if the tank couldn’t hide properly, the enemy would surely destroy it. Another feature praised by the author was that the crew consisted of only one person, who would be lying flat inside the vehicle.
Simultaneously with Dymko’s proposal, lieutenant Kozhuhov sent his proposal to the GABTU. He called his project “Tank-turtle” and wrote that his vehicle “has dimensions smaller than any existing tank. Maximum height is about 0,75m, width is 0,8m and overall length is 2,4m”.
It was a tankette which had some structural features. First and foremost, the suspension of the “tank-turtle” had no springs. The author proposed to compensate them with a soft lining on the inner side of the body. Here, Kozhuhov had to admit: “This limits the movement speed to about 10-15km/h, since the presence of the gunner-driver during higher speeds… would be problematic”. It’s not excluded that the name of the vehicle was connected to its low speed. Kozhuhov asked to use as many motorcycle parts as possible to construct his tankette, stating that inclusion of parts like transmission, clutch and even pedals would eliminate the need to develop them separately.
Controlling the “tank-turtle” could be accomplished by one person using a combination of levers and pedals. With the right foot, the soldier would start the engine and also control the clutch and brakes of the right rollers. The left foot controlled the transmission pedal. With the left hand, the gas lever and a shifter to enrich the fuel mixture were to be used. Considering how cramped the space was, driving wouldn’t have been an easy task. Moreover, the driver also acted as the gunner.
In lieutenant Kozhuhov’s opinion, if the vehicle was fitted with thick frontal armor, this would be enough to protect the driver. This logical thought however was completely  contradicted by the author’s understanding of “thick” – a whole 15mm (8mm and 5mm on sides and roof respectively). The overall mass of the tankette shouldn’t exceed 250kg.
No further details were specified by the author. Choosing the machinegun, developing an ejection system for the spent ammo cartridges and other nuances were, in his opinion, best be done by experts – the recipients of the proposal.
No conclusions of GABTU’s employees are saved, but the popular phrase “coffin on wheels” should be quite fitting for both.
Rozanov’s half-track destroyer
Two years have passed. The thoughts of inventors kept pace with the times, their interests shifting to big and ferocious vehicles. In March 1944, lieutenant L.V. Rozanov proposed his project of a heavy tank destroyer. The author was no layman, having an engineering education and a seven-year work experience in mechanical engineering. He wrote: “The proposed project of a heavy tank destroyer is able with its new construction to bypass some dogmatic practices established in tank construction…”
The author proposed to give the body of the tank an unusual shape. The upper and lower side armor were to be placed so that their junction would be beyond the upper track placement. Rozanov was inspired by the “Tiger” and wanted to excel the enemy’s armor in protection.
But it was not enough to protect the chassis from the side, it also required protection from the front. The inventor also considered this: “The chassis is split into two parts: the tracks which span over 8/9 of the tank’s length, and armored rolls which have a drive through Gall chains from the drive wheels of the tracks”. The powerful rolls were placed in front to protect the main chassis of the vehicle. Their thickness was not specified however. The author assumed that they would have to be picked experimentally.
The already protected sides of the tank were to be fitted with additional armor sheets. Their task was to protect infantry on the sides of the vehicle during their operations. Finally, Rozanov also considered the firepower. He proposed a high-caliber gun with an automatic loading system.
“The feeding mechanism is represented by a chain-belt. The belt’s sections have cartridges for shells. The belt itself has 16 sections and rotates around the upper drum with a squared section”. Depending on the battle’s development, the cartridges could be loaded with armor-piercing or high-explosive shells accordingly. The malfunction of the belt was also taken into account: the soldiers could then operate the gun manually.
Rozanov waited for a reaction until June. The chief of 8th technical department of the GABTU engineer Frolov didn’t say very reassuring things about the “heavy tank destroyer” project. In his opinion, the armored rolls would critically impair the maneuverability and extend its mass. The inclined armor sheets on the sides implied an extension of dimensions and made access to the chassis difficult. Furthermore, they didn’t protect the tank from driving over mines.
The proposed reloading system however caused the experts to take interest in the project. Judging from the lack of drafts on it, they probably were given to higher instances for further study.
A halting point in discussions about size, firepower, protection and maneuverability was placed by the logic of tank development itself. Small tracked mines “Goliath” used by the Germans were not overly effective. Fearsome heavy tanks and tank destroyers reached their limits after a few years and disappeared from the scene. What remained is the main battle tank which represented a balance of all mentioned factors. But this only came to be after the war.
Author – Yuri Bachurin
Source: Central archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (ZAMO RF)