Bizarre tank projects of the ’40s. Tanks without engines

Time for another historical article translated by Vlad! This post is the one I teased a few days ago.

The construction of a tank is notable because for the first time in history, not only the gun and its crew were protected by armor, but that the resulting fortress also could move by itself. Debuting in 1916 on the battlefield, tanks opened a new motorized way of warfare and moved horses to a secondary role.

Some two decades later, enthusiasts decided to turn back time. They thought that the engine component of the tank is unnecessary. Two such projects reached the GABTU and landed in the archives.

Yushko’s machinegun capsules

The first (chronologically) project arrived in April 1941. The author was engineer S.P. Yushko from Dneprodzerzhinsk. The whole point of his project was summed up in one sentence: “To increase the firepower of tanks… modern tanks should be equipped with armored “wagons” without engines housing two machineguns each”.

The author reasoned his thoughts based on the following argument: tanks have powerful engines and usually a high passability. But fighting vehicles also require powerful armament, but a tank cannot be equipped with additional barrels or machineguns right before battle. Yushko proposed a solution from his point of view.

On the draft, he presented some of his “engine-less tanks” as trailers for conventional tanks. Thus, he achieved additional cover for the main tank by four machineguns from behind its rear. The author noted that during battle, these armored trailers had to follow the towing tank at a distance of about 10-15 meters, during marches this could be shortened to about 2-3 meters.

Instead of tracks, Yushko proposed to use “wheels – hollow, cylindrical ones, mounted on axes”.

The body of these machinegun capsules was to be made of steel, its thickness not exceeding 5mm. The soldiers inside Yushko’s vehicles would have to be lying down. The author understood that this would be tiring in the long run, especially during long marches, so he also considered an option for the crew to sit. During this however, the heads of the soldiers would have been outside, sticking out of the opened hatches. Yushko also understood that after a few hours of movement inside their steel sarcophagus, the soldiers would be unable to fight. Thus, he provided an amortization system, but not a spring one, but in form of “amortization cushions”.

“The trailer can be provided with some small movement capability in form of manual tools”- Yushko added. No technical details were provided, but the meaning was simple. IF the leading tank was knocked out, the “engineless” one should cover the escaping crew with its hull, while they either conduct repairs or retreat. Considering the thickness of the armor, this would probably kill the crew of the “engineless” tank, but the author did not consider this.

Finally, the “engineless” tank could be used to transport additional ammunition or fuel.

In fact, firing support as proposed by Yushko was used already, for example in the Winter War against Finland in 1939-1940. However no answer to this proposal was to be found, but it was most likely declined.

“Engineless rotating tank”

The Red Army soldier P.Y. Shevchenko and junior technical service sergeant P.L. Kurchenkov presented their own idea of a tank without an engine. Their letter to the GABTU arrived in June 1942. The authors first explained in an extensive foreword their understanding of tactical usage of armor in battle: “Significant results can be achieved by firing from cover, while the enemy is attacking with tanks, and then the enemy’s forces are crushed by our maneuverable vehicles” – the authors wrote.

But it’s not enough to destroy the enemy – the occupied territory has to be freed and afterwards held. For this, usually pillboxes are needed, because it is difficult to defend open territory. “This caused us to create such a firing point, which can be used to fortify positions already taken from the enemy” – Kurchenkov and Shevchenko summarized.

The “engineless rotating tank” was an armored hemisphere without a separation of hull and turret. “This form provides the tank with extended durability and maximum slipping of hitting shells, bombs, bullets etc.” – the inventors explained. Another advantage of the construction was the “absence of a shadow on the ground”. This allegedly increased the vehicle’s camouflage. The question of how the tank was not to have a shadow was left unanswered.

Kurchenkov and Shevchenko most likely chose the hemispherical form inspired by the looks and mechanism of rotating armored domes – for example those which were installed in fortified regions. Their tank should be rotated by some “special device” in the bottom and as such provide a circular firing arc. The authors also provided a sound isolation system, because otherwise, the crew would feel like they were inside a church bell. This isolation would also incorporate a thermal one.

The armament of the “engineless rotating tank” would consist of a machinegun and an anti-tank gun. Another unnamed “special mechanism” would provide significant horizontal and vertical traverse angles for the gun. Kurchenkov and Shevchenko thought that they created a machine of rational dimensions and devices which would allow to place significant amounts of ammunition inside.

The crew would consist of four people. The authors demanded that they would be chosen from experienced artillerymen, machinegunners and skilled throwers of hand grenades. “To be able to climb in and out without being noticed, a hatch in the bottom is provided which can also be used while under fire” – the inventors specified.

The “engineless rotating tank” had to be towed to the site of action. Kurchenkov and Shevchenko proposed to use not only tanks, but also tractors and even cattle. As a conclusion, the authors assured that their invention is sure to withstand enemy chemical attacks. Moreover, the hemisphere would also be able to carry out such attacks itself, but the authors did not specify how.

The answer from the GABTU signed by engineer Mozhelev was succinct: “Your proposal of an “engineless rotating tank” is not a new idea itself, similar projects were proposed earlier and tested in practice. Unable to be used.”

Other similar projects were not found yet in the archives. Engineless tanks were an obvious dead-end in tank development. They remained on paper, while the engines remained in place in the engine-transmission compartments.

Author – Yuri Bachurin

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