The Vezdekhod – a legend of Soviet military history

Original post here.

Author: Aleksandr Drobyazko, Editor: P Radley

In the literature of the 1960s and 70s, it was usually stated that the Vezdekhod was the first prototype of the tank, but the inert imperial administration prevented the inventor from turning the prototype into a real, viable, tank. Even images of the high-grade fighting machine were shown. Actually, the Vezdekhod did not get further than a pre-production model, and the reason for this was simply the problems with the design. Most of the detail in the history of the Vezdekhod can be found in Leonid Fedoseyev’s book “Tanks of the First World War”.

In August 1914, 23-year old aircraft inventor Alexander Porokhovshchikov offered to build a cross-country vehicle. Drawings and the estimate were ready by 9th January 1915. On 13th January, the OK was given for construction to begin. The supervision of the project was done by the military engineer, polkovnik (colonel) Poklevskij-Kozello.

The welded skeleton of the Vezdekhod ran on a single, wide, caterpillar track, made from rubberized fabric. This caterpillar track was stretched over four drums. The fifth drum pressed the caterpillar track from above. Two small wheels were placed on the sides of the caterpillar; they were controlled by a steering wheel. The machine had streamlined surfaces with a big air inlet in front.

The carburetor engine (capacity 10 h.p.), through the gear-box, rotated a back drum. Ground pressure should have been no more than 0.05 kg /sq.m. Three ring flutes on the drums prevented the slipping of the caterpillar track. One of the ideas of the innovator, was that on firm ground the machine should move on the back drum and wheels. On soft ground, the machine would lay down on the caterpillar. The wheels should operate as a rudder on a ship, or a plane.

Construction of the machine began in February, 1915. The first tests on hard road were done on the 18th of May. Tests proceeded up until the end of that year. In cross-country trials, the vehicle did not show the properties that the inventor had promised. It quite simply, was not possible to steer the machine using the wheels. The project was thus rejected. It is necessary to note, that in the project no words were spoken about armament. In the spring of 1915 Porokhovshchikov also offered the project of “the iron armor”. It was made from two sheets of iron with a layer of a dried sea grass between them. A Ford automobile was armoured for testing purposes with this “iron armor”. But note that the project of the “iron armor” was not connected with the Vezdekhod.

When Russian newspapers published the news about the first British tanks, Porokhovshchikov declared that he was the inventor of the tank, with the Vezdekhod being the very first tank. He did develop the project Vezdekhod-2 with a turret and 3 machine guns. However, that project was so crude, that it was rejected out of hand.

After the Revolution the idea that the first tank was invented in Russia was picked up by the Soviet propaganda and became a Soviet myth. Porohovshchikov himself was executed by the NKVD, either in 1941 or 1943, for “expenditure of public funds for unnecessary inventions”.