Bizarre armor projects of the ’40s. Tank “tuning”

Big thanks to Vlad for translating this fresh historical article.

Next to military inventors who didn’t burden themselves with a connection to reality, there were also others. Willingly declining to let their minds wander freely, they set themselves specific and more or less manageable tasks. For example, improvement of characteristics of already existing vehicles.

Balkan recipe

In March 1945 the Military Institute of foreign languages (VIIY) recieved a request from GABTU major Goncharov. It was supplied with a text in Serbian, waiting for translation. The topic was a tank of unprecedented design. (Seb: Piroman, take notice)

The author was named Mikhailo-Mile Velimirovich, a combatant of the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. He began his work back in 1939. Taking the French Renault R35 as his basis, the inventor considered to turn it into a vehicle with a shiftable center of gravity. “Such a tank could cross various natural and artificial obstacles (pits, ditches, elevations etc.) which hinder any normal tank” – the author explained.

In Velimirovich’s project, the turret would basically replace the whole body. It contained the engine, fuel tank, armament and crew. Aside from the turret, the tank only had a chassis, where on the inner sides of the tracks, some kind of gear levers were installed which were connected to the wheels and the transmission. According to Velimorivich, the levers could move the turret from the back to the front and viceversa. Further actions were described as follows: “The tank arrives at a ditch, having the turret at the back and slowly moves over the ditch… The turret is moved to the front so the center of gravity is moved to the other side of the ditch”. The vehicle should cross elevations in a similar fashion. The author recommended to move through marshy grounds with the turret in the middle so that the tank doesn’t get stuck.

Velimirovich realized that his tank is quite exotic and ambiguous to operate alone. But it would serve as a good infantry (and tank) support vehicle. The Soviet military engineers studying the project didn’t share Velimirovich’s confidence and thus the “tank with shifting center of gravity” was never realized in practice.

Lend-lease tuning

In the beginning of 1944, a proposal has arrived: modernize the foreign tanks which were in service in the Red Army. Engineers of the Central Artillery Design Department (ZAKB) A.S. Chasovnikov and S.D. Kazarin claimed that the British infantry tanks Mk. II Matilda, Mk. III Valentine, Mk. IV Churchill and the American M3 Lee, M4A2 Sherman have too large dimensions and insufficient armament. Their effective firing distance does not exceed a half kilometer. They just cannot compete with the superior armed and armored tanks and tank destroyers of the enemy. “This causes mistrust of our officers and generals to this armor, and in best cases they are used as second line tanks” – the authors wrote.

Chasovnikov and Kazarin thought the solution to lie on the surface. The allied tanks just had to be rearmed with 85mm and 100mm guns. The authors deemed it neccesary either to install T-34-85 turrets on the lend-lease tanks, or remake the “englishmen” and “americans” into SPG’s.

In the engineer’s opinions, this would even out the difference in firing ranges between them and the new German tanks (Tiger and Panther) or even exceed them. Powerful armament would compensate for weaker armor of the foreign tanks. Moreover, this would ease the supply of ammunition.

However, the question remained what to do with the original turrets of the “Churchills” and “Shermans”. The People’s Commisariat of Naval Forces didn’t consider them fitting due to their ballistic qualities. In the end, the authors proposed to transfer them to the central military engineer management of the Red Army to turn them into fortifications.

On the 15th February 1944 a meeting at the GABTU took place with a report from Chasovnikov. The experts did not appreciate the inventor’s arguments. To carry out such modernizations, considerable production capacities were required. The production of 85mm and 100 mm guns would have to be increased. Finally, Chasovnikov did not consider the political aspect. How would the Allies react to modifications to their vehicles? “The author’s statement about unsuitability of foreign tanks in battle… is harmful and if this is a mistake, it is to be corrected, but if this is a conviction, it is to be punished” – concluded major Biletkin of the 5th department of the technological office of the GABTU.

But Chasovnikov did not stop after this rejection. He presented another very interesting project right after the war.

ST-II: doubled power

At the end of the war, A.S. Chasovnikov and his colleague V.A. Ganin prepared a project of a new heavy tank called ST-I. This vehicle remained on paper bacuse of many shortcomings. The authors considered the criticism and shortly afterward presented an improved variant – the ST-II.

This project was about a combat vehicle with a mass of 54-56 tons. The project assumed a good armor protection – 140mm on the upper frontal glacis, 160mm at the lower one and at the sides. Even better was the protection of the turret front – 250mm, and the gun mantlet had up to 300mm. The dimensions were 2,5m of height and 10m overall length with the gun. These characteristics were fitted on the side of the sheet with the drawing.

But what impressed the most was the proposed armament. The turret should contain an installment of two either 100mm or 122mm guns and two machineguns or small caliber cannons. “The possibility of firing with an exceptional rate of fire due to the two guns serviced by two loaders from a special ammo rack” – was only one of the possible advantages of this machine. Even if one of the guns broke, the second one could keep firing. However, no official response is saved or was provided. The tank was not even modelled.

The proposed projects were not pure fantasies. Their authors were no amateurs, taking on specific problems and trying to solve them. Among other projects, these three vehicles can be considered some of the more realistic ones.


Author – Yuri Bachurin

Source: Central archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (ZAMO RF)