Bizarre armor projects of the ’40s. Amphibians on tracks

Good day people, I guess it’s time for a new historical article translated by Vlad.

The ancient Russian prince Oleg marched in 907 A.D. towards Constantinopole, putting his shallops on wheels and setting the sails. This is just one of many pieces of evidence that the idea of combat vehicles which can move by land and by sea is very old.

Swimming tanks appeared only a few years after the introduction of tanks themselves. At the start of WWII, they were actively built and used by all major “tank” powers. But among all these, there were projects which didn’t come to life, since experts deemed them nothing more than fruits of imagination. Like, for example, the following three.

Blyamka’s amphibious cart

On the 4th August 1942, major Rogov of the NKVD received a memorandum accompanied with a drawing of a combat vehicle. The author was a Polish prisoner of war named Jozef Yanovich Blyamka. “His proposed “mechanical cart” is a kind of amphibious tankette with notable aerodynamic characteristics, high speed, maneuverability and terrain passability, armed with two machineguns and a crew of 2-3 men” – the document said.

Blyamka pointed out that his vehicle can be used for offense as well as for defense. Separately, the author emphasized that his “mechanical cart” is also suitable for conditions of chemical warfare. “It is hermetically sealed and air is flowing through special anti-gas windows” – the note said.

Blyamka didn’t compile a more detailed description and only listed a few technical characteristics. These were translated from Polish and weren’t always understandable. The armour thickness was about 10mm, along with a “rubber mantle” – a kind of lining, it seems.

The hull of the “mechanical cart” had to be streamlined. With a length of 5,1m, Blyamka established a height of 0,6m. It would most likely be around 1m, but the silhouette of the vehicle would be quite low anyway. Sadly, either no decisions on this vehicle were made, or they weren’t saved in the archives.

Vetchinkin’s tracked-armoured boat

Another project from 1942 was conducted on a different level of quality. The folder with archived documents on this one is speckled with stamps of the GABTU and the artillery commitee of the Red Army. The project was named “tracked amphibious cutter GKA-1500” (TN: I am using the Russian abbreviation). It was worked on by professor N.S. Vetchikin, inventor of several amphibious vehicles.

“The GKA-1500 is notable in using an armoured amphibious hull… eight hollow wheels with torsion bars similar to tanks… Tracks with rowing blades” – stated at the beginning of the description. The index designated the overall power of the engines – 1500hp.

Vetchikin took the work of American engineer Albert Hickman as his basis – the “sea sled”. Thanks to parallel sides of the hull and a concave bottom it had good stability and high seafaring qualities. Such a hull was placed on tracks, where a part of the links was equipped with rowing blades. Thus, the tracks “…turned into a rowing device and represented some kind of paddlewheel with a huge radius”. Propellers were placed at the back.

With a projected mass of 17 tons, the tracked amphibious boat should reach a speed of 50km/h on water and even thrice more on land. The fuel was planned to last for 4 hours of full haul and 8 hours of economical driving.

The hull length was 9m, width of 2m without and about 3m with tracks. The height would be almost 3m. The crew to fit into these dimensions had to be around 20 people.

Which tasks were suitable for the GKA-1500? Coastal defense and landing operations. Vetchikin wrote: “The possibility of a military vessel exiting the water and moving freely on land, combined with high speeds, could provide serious advantages for the navy… during contact with enemies which do not have such capabilities”.

However, the military component of the project was not fully thought through. The armament of the vehicle wasn’t described whatsoever, the professor just noticed that some of the armor would have to be sacrificed to ensure floating capabilities.

Most likely Vetchikin thought that if his project is to be accepted, the armament and protection would be finalized by experts. However the people’s commisariat of defense found no need in the GKA-1500, which subsequently landed in the archives.

Tanks in icebergs

Perhaps the most surprising idea of use for armour on rivers was proposed shortly before the start of the Great Patriotic War in spring 1941. Even the origin of the documents is unusual: they arrived from the office of the north-east corrective labour camps (TN: yes, a gulag). The author was engineer Evsey Lvovich Zelinsky. The name of his invention was “Usage of ice flow to organize tank movement behind enemy lines by disguising tanks on ice flows”.

Zelinsky proposed to place combat vehicles in giant ice crystals (“ice booths”). “The walls of an ice booth can have wooden reinforcements to protect against collisions” – the author wrote. The whole thing would be equipped with propellers recieving power from the tanks themselves – i.e. the tanks’ engines would run inside the iceberg!

Since amphibious tanks couldn’t be used on rivers during ice flow, Zelinsky stated, the icebergs with the machines wouldn’t be stopped by barriers except for natural ones. “Even knowing that the icebergs contain tanks, the enemy cannot possibly organize continuous artillery barrages on the whole ice flow” – the inventor claimed. The tanksmen inside the “ice booths” would have an acceptable surrounding temperature. The author stated that the crew could be inside of the iced shell indefinitely.

No response to Zelinsky’s project was saved. In 1955, the engineer was rehabilitated by the Supreme court of the USSR, but it is unknown if this happened posthumously. And the information on his “ice booths” was found in the archives only recently.


Author – Yuri Bachurin

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