Bizarre armor projects of the ’40s. Wired tanks

I stashed this translated article for worse days, but since today was mostly silent, it is time to finally post it. Translation: Vlad (Wowanator)

“The electricians… will destroy the ugly face of Fascism. Electric tanks will help this cause”. Electrical engineer A.I. Bogun-Dobrovolsky wasn’t shy about his expressions, writing about his invention in July 1941.

Fuel was as important for a tank as were armor and armament. If fuel was to run out or freeze – the tank became an immobile firing point. An explosion of the fuel tanks almost certainly meant the end of a tank. Many inventors asked themselves: why don’t we electrify the tank? And thus, projects like the ones mentioned below appeared.

Bogun-Dobrovolsky’s electric tank

“An electric tank is a combat vehicle steered through a cable. The armament of the electric tank (ET) can consist of torpedoes, mines, HE shells up to 200kg or the ET could transport an explosive device… and ignite it”.

The inventor’s decription suggested that the vehicle should consist of three parts. The first was the power supply. Bogun-Dobrovolsky described it as a modular device, able to connect to any source of three-phase alternating electric current. The inventor assumed that this would be easy to find in a combat zone: “Suburbs, industrial areas, thermal or hydraulic power stations etc.”. In the power supply, a rotating drum is placed, which is split in three parts. Each sector was corresponded to a separate two-wire cable responsible for powering the engines and the ignition of the armament.

The inventor proposed to equip the vehicle with two engines – one for each track. Their simultaneous work would propel the vehicle forward. Respectively, if only one engine was active, the ET would make turns. Such a solution, according to Bogun-Dobrovolsky, “… removes the need of transmission and simplifies the kinematics of clutch and steering”.

The hull of the ET was a lightweight welded one, protected by light armor. The author emphazised that the chassis has to be stable and the silhouette low. The combat load should be placed in special sockets along the hull. The tank operator could ignite it from afar from any tank or AFV. Also, the possibility of explosion by ramming was considered.

In contrast to many other projects, Bogun-Dobrovolsky didn’t only list the advantages but also the disadvantages of his project. Among these were the range, limited by the 300m cable, the singular usage of the tank and that there could be problems with power sources. On the other hand, the inventor noted that his tank would be cheap – only 6000 rubles, not counting the combat load.

Electric tank on skis

Shortly after Bogun-Dobrovolsky’s project, lieutenant I.M. Yemchenko submitted his project in September 1941. His first letter remained unanswered, thus he sent another one a year later.

The author started praising the advantages of the vehicle from the beginning: streamlined hull form, thick armor, fire protection. This wasn’t original compared to similar projects. But the project itself was.

As the ET, Yemchenko’s vehicle was connected by cable and was propelled by two engines fed by a field power station. Using some device, the cables should be dug 100m into the ground while the tank was moving. The inventor preferred “… 6 skis to move the tank” instead of tracks. Strips equipped with steel spikes would move one after another, imitating tracks. Yemchenko assured that his invention could climb elevations of up to 60°-70°, and the combat radius of the tank would be up to 2km. “… In the case of need, the skis can be removed and the tank lies with the stomach (sic) on the ground” – in this case, the machine turned into an immobile firing point.

The tank had small dimensions (length . 3,2m, width – 1,8m, height – 1,1m) and an armor of 98mm overall. Yemchenko assumed a speed of up to 30 km/h. The armament (machinegun and flamethrower) were placed in a spherical turret on opposing sides. “The machinegun can fire up to 3 meters from the tank in a circular firing arc”. The author didn’t explain why the firing distance was so miserable. The turret could house another machinegun. Finally, the front and back should house spiked drums, which allegedly would help to climb obstacles of up to 1m of height. They could also be used to clear minefields. The steering of the tank would be handled by two people lying inside of it.

There was no answer to this project either. However, Yemchenko didn’t give up and proposed a third variant of his tank in September 1943. The spiked skis were replaced by “turtle legs”, the armament by an anti-tank rifle. The armor thickness increased to 120mm. The maximum speed increased twice, and the crew was halved. A drawing was also supplied. Yemchenko noted: “Attach to previously provided material. Respond to the author”. It seems he finally recieved his answer, which was certainly not positive.

Bruskin’s electric armor

Although, even if these tanks were to be constructed, they could be equipped with special electric armor. This idea was submitted by D.A. Bruskin from Astrakhan in December 1943. The idea consisted of two (or more) armor plates, between which, a difference in electric potential was present. “The voltage is created by an electric generator which is able to create, for a short time, power enough for welding” – Bruskin wrote. The space between the armor plates had to be small, and the outer plate had to be quite thin. Since the author assumed that it would be penetrated.

“A shell penetrating the outer hull and impacting on the inner one would close the circuit. The small nose of the bullet would heat up and melt…” – such was the way the armor would work according to the author.

Bruskin’s idea was unusual, but not new. In 1940, an engineer named Nikolaev wrote to Stalin himself about his proposal of a two-layered armor. The outer layer would be very hard, the inner was made of soft metal. It was supposed to block the impact of a weakened bullet which changed its trajectory. “It protects while being worn off!” – Nikolaev praised the armor. However, his passion was cooled down by unsuccessful trials. Regarding Bruskin’s electrical armor – it remained on paper.


Author – Yuri Bachurin

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


9 thoughts on “Bizarre armor projects of the ’40s. Wired tanks

    1. If it was trialed, then it would appear as if it certainly generated some interest. And I can’t blame them, it’s quite clever.


      1. Rather dangerous for the crew with a power like that running through the tank and the wet winter weather potentially shorting it out. As well as having to have a power plant or very strong battery at all times ready (and batteries were not small at the time)


        1. Not really…electricty is quite safe when you’re inside a huge metal box touching the ground. As for the winter shorting it out, that’s true, one puncture would cause the system to activate, and if an object would get stuck there, it could end up eating through the entire power supply.

          However, short circuit it? That seems unlikely if the armor is intact. The only way to short circuit it would be for the current to pass from one plate to the other, and even then, the armor would simply doing what it was meant to do, so it’s not as if the system would fry.

          It would, however, drain the entire power supply, which would be limited as you pointed out.
          But since the point of a system like that would be to have bursts of electricity, they would have used capacitors to store the energy, as those dispense their energy in a fraction of a second. They’re also much simpler and cheaper to manufacture.
          Though those do come at the expense of being much more dangerous. Batteries would burn if damaged, capacitors would do some nasty things to the crew and electrical systems.

          So you are right, that powered armor would be more dangerous to the tank and crew, obviously, but the risks and problems could be mitigated by proper manufacturing, making different individually powered and isolated sections on the tank, one or two safety measures to cut the power if the armor is compromised, and economical problems solved by using different components.


  1. Interesting armor…
    I wonder why exactly they didn’t go further with the research on it.
    I mean, it’s different compared to that other two layer version.


      1. I was more talking about a double layer armor system, in which the plates aren’t flat pieces held together by welding, with some space between them, but has angles (as shown on the picture in the article), so a shell, even if pierces, would ricochet inside the armor layers, rendering it completely ineffective.

        This is pretty much like the modern composite armor, except much cheaper and eaier to produce. Can be done with welding, really.


  2. The higher you place a machinegun with a limited elevation/depression you will have a deadzone around you… When the author states the machinegun capable of firing up to 3 meters around the tank just means it has a 3 meter deadzone where the MG cannot hit…


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