German Reich (1938-1942)
Heavy Tank – Paper Project
Getting a tank across obstacles is no small task, complicated by a series of factors of the physics of crossing a wall, a step, a river, or a trench. Those matters do not exist in isolation for a military vehicle and the obstacle crossing elements have to be weighed against the military needs, such as protection from enemy fire and being able to effectively deliver fire to the enemy. A long vehicle is better able to cross a wide gap, such as a trench or anti-tank ditch, but may then pay a price in being harder to turn and certainly a price in being a bigger vehicle with more machine to armor, meaning more weight. If, however, the vehicle could be made longer temporarily to cross an obstacle, it would result in having the obstacle-crossing abilities without the vehicle being permanently long. This might have a valuable military development. This is exactly the conclusion Johannes Eckard reached in September 1938, when he submitted his design for an extending track system for a tank to the German government.
The designer, Johannes Eckard, was from Freiburg im Briesgau in southwest Germany. In 1933, he filed a patent for an opening and locking device for double-glazed windows and, in 1936, another for a type of guide for using a saw. Neither had any obvious military utility, but were followed in September 1938 by an application titled Verlaengerbares Fahrzeug, insbesondere Kampfwagen mit Raupenantrieb (English: Extendable vehicle, especially a caterpillar-powered battle vehicle). The patent was granted for this vehicle over 3 years later, on 30th April 1942, and finally published a few weeks later, in June.
The vehicle shown in the design was surprisingly, not just a generic ‘tank outline’, and his track invention could not be retrofitted somehow to existing German tanks. In 1938, when he submitted that design, the Wehrmacht’s primary tanks were vehicles such as the Panzer I, Panzer II, and Panzer III, and none of those vehicles were able to be retrofitted with this type of track. The track units were supported from above rather than from the side and all of those existing designs had no substantial structure of the tank above their track units. With no ability to support the weight of a tank from a track guard, it can only be surmised that Eckard’s drawing was not only for his idea of a longer track system, but also of the outline of a tank which might make use of such a system.
The basic shape of the hull seen from the side was somewhat rectangular, with a series of longitudinal steps in the side. Face-on, the vehicle body took the form of a ziggurat. The front of the hull was, unusually, raised higher than the rest of the hull, which sloped gently away towards the back end. From a short step on the side, it appears to have been drawn showing a weapon projecting from the side, which would be limited to firing forwards or to an arc across the front and side.
The turret was mounted on a raised section of superstructure that was curved at the front and angled at the rear, sloping very slightly as it rose away from the hull roof. On top of this was the turret, consisting of what appears to be a low and rounded shape, rather like that of Cold War era Soviet tanks. The main armament was mounted in the front of this turret.
In the ‘normal’ position, the tank’s profile was not particularly unusual and appears to have been running on eight road wheels, with an idler and sprocket at the ends of the track. Seen from the front, however, all sense of ‘normalness’ of the design disappears. The hull shape is that ziggurat shape on top and looks more like a space invader in profile, with two ‘arms’ projecting over the sides encompassing the running gear which is attached at the top under the arm. In the center of the hull, the outline provided by Eckard appears to show a completely flat bottom but is, in fact, bellied down between the two track units.
Armor and Armament
Other than what can be assumed from the images, no information is suggested by Eckard about the armament for the tank. The hull seemingly has a machine gun on the left-hand side and, although the right side of the vehicle is not drawn, it can only surmised that the right side of the tank was likewise armed. No weapon is seen projecting from the front of the hull, so armament-wise, if the hull projection was meant to be a machine gun, then the design would be able to provide coverage fire at least forwards and maybe to the side.
It is unclear if these were meant to be fixed firing forwards or if some kind of mounting was considered, as nothing is mentioned in the patent. Given that a fixed machine gun has very little utility, a ball mount or even just a slot, as used on the Grosstraktor, would seem more sensible and likely allowing for an arc of machine gun fire perhaps as much as 45º to the side of each position.
No armament for the turret is mentioned either, but given the 1938 date, it somewhat limits the potential armament options. Logically, this vehicle would be fitted with some short gun and the drawing shows a barrel which has a pronounced wide and narrow part to it. Given the date and style of this gun, it may well be inspired by the Grosstraktor, which used a 75 mm. This would at least be commensurate with both the size of the vehicle and also the clear implication of a potential use for it as a heavier type used in assaults.
Even if the Grosstraktor served as some kind of inspiration for Eckard, the armor likely could not be taken as being along the same lines. The Grosstraktor, for example, had surprisingly thin plating, 14 mm at its thickest, which was less than a WW1 British tank and barely bulletproof even when made out of good quality armor plate. In 1938, and certainly by 1942, for Eckard, such flimsy levels of protection were woefully inadequate even for small light tanks, such as the Panzer II with up to 15 mm, or the early Panzer III. The growth in protection on the Panzer III is perhaps the better example of what the armor should have been. By the early years of the war, this reached 30 mm and then 50 mm thick. This was enough to provide greater protection from enemy small arms and armor piercing bullets, but not anti-tank guns. Certainly, the side plates overhanging the tracks on Eckard’s design provide the appearance of a well protected vehicle.
As with the other features, no mention by Eckard was made of a crew for such a vehicle. Assuming the vehicle would eventually look roughly like what he drew if it had reached the stage of being built, then presumably it would need a driver and a commander, along with a crew member on each of the sides to operate the machine gun and at least one more to load and fire the gun. This would mean a crew of at least 5, and, if a loader was added, 6.
No indication occurred in the design for where the crew might even go but, logically, this would be the driver in the front, hull gunners on the sides, and the loader, gunner, and commander in the turret.
No suitable engine was discussed let alone suggested by Eckard for a vehicle of this type, as his primary focus was simply on the track system. There is no clear indication as to where the engine might be located. Nor is there an indication as to where the drive sprocket might be located on the design, although this would have to be at one end or another of the primary track.
Tracks and Suspension
The primary part of Eckard’s design was the track and suspension. This consisted of a top-supported track run of 8 road wheels as the ‘normal’ part of the track. Rigidly attached vertically to the overhang of the hull, the track unit itself had absolutely no sprung suspension drawn although, presumably, with rubber tyres on the wheels, there would be some cushioning effect. The speed of such a vehicle would therefore likely be fairly low, perhaps as little as 10 – 15 km/h. Beyond this, the vibrations and noise would make the vehicle hard to operate and create a lot of wear and tear on the automotive elements and crew.
On each side of this primary track run, there was an additional length of track formed around a hollow box work, with small road wheels fastened without suspension on the top and bottom. Thus, on each side of Eckard’s design, there were three full length track runs, with the center part with the large road wheels and with the small-wheel track units sandwiching it. Those side units were also suspended slightly above the level of the bottom of the center (primary) track unit, meaning that, on a hard surface, only those center tracks would be in contact with the ground. Traveling over soft ground, where the vehicle would sink a little, those side track units would come into contact with the ground and help to share the weight of the vehicle. It is unclear, however, if those supplementary tracks would be driveable in such circumstances or just act to spread the weight and rotate with the passage of the tank.
For all three sections of track on each side, the actual links appear to be very narrow, so that added together, the width of all three is more akin to a normal wider style of track. They had to be narrow to fit under each wing of the design.
The clever part of Eckard’s design was not that these three units could work in this manner to spread the weight when on a soft surface, but that they could extend. These side units were attached to the center unit by means of a large pin, around which the boxwork part of the supplementary tracks sat. In the event of the tank having to cross a gap which it otherwise could not in its own length, then the exterior track would be thrust forwards whilst simultaneously the inner track was thrust to the rear. The amount of movement for the track was not fixed, but could be varied as required. Thus, over rough ground, it might be extended a little to cross the bumps, but when crossing wide gaps, the full length could be employed.
This method allowed the vehicle to more than double its length in what would be three independent lengths of track. Here, it must be assumed that the supports for these track runs were both very substantial constructions and driven in some manner, as there is a conceivable risk that crossing a gap of roughly the original length of the vehicle could leave the tank itself completely suspended between both ends of the track and otherwise completely unable to free itself as the center (driven) track would be turning in thin air.
Whether that possibility had occurred to Eckard is unknown or perhaps he was simply trying to think around the problem of making the tank long enough for just enough time to cross a gap. Either way, this was a substantial flaw or critique of his work and, other than the sheer complexity of making such a vehicle, if it were unable to perform the primary role for which it was intended, it would be useless.
As discussed, the track system offered a substantial potential advantage. In theory, a 6 m long tank would be able to cross just under half its length under normal circumstances, ~ 2.5 – 3 m. Faced with a gap 5 m wide, it would have to use bridging or a fascine of some sort. To cross such a gap, a tank would have to be over 11 m long and, other than crossing the gap, this length might be a hindrance for both shipping it and maneuverability on the battlefield. What Eckard offered was a potential way to make a tank which could be a ‘normal’ size for all other purposes and extra-long for those occasions when a wide gap needed to be crossed. What he designed, however, was a solution far too complex and unable to be retrofitted to existing vehicles, meaning a whole new tank would be needed right as Germany was reaching the peak of its power in WW2. There was simply no need for this vehicle, as there were no enormous obstacles for the Army to cross and anti-tank ditches or trenches they might need to cross were more easily handled with bridging equipment.
What became of Eckard is not known but, presumably, with this design not progressing or finding any interest from the authorities, he went back to his other engineering ideas. No examples of his tank or of a system like this are known to have been built or operated.
Specifications Eckard’s Extending Panzer
est. 5 – 6 (driver, hull gunner x 2 , loader, gunner, commander)
est. 10 – 15 km/h
est. 30 mm or more
2 x machine guns in the hull, primary armament in turret
German Patent DE628524, Kupplungs- und Feststellvorrichtung fuer Doppelfenster, filed 15th February 1933, granted 26th March 1936, published 6th April 1936.
Swiss Patent CH189205, Laubsägebogen, filed 1st May 1937, granted 28th January 1936, published 15th February 1937.
German Patent DE721474, Verlaengerbares Fahrzeug, insbesondere Kampfwagen mit Raupenantrieb, filed 24th September 1938, granted 30th April 1942, published 6th June 1942.
United Kingdom (1940)
Land Battleship and Leaping Tank – None Built
The United Kingdom declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland in September 1939. When it did so, there was a sudden realization among many that the country was in yet another major war in Europe against the same enemy they had fought just a generation beforehand. That previous war had been seared into the collective psyche of the nation as one characterized by almost unimaginable and unrelenting slaughter in the mud and trenches of the Western Front – a situation summed up too simply (but commonly) as one ended by the appearance of a new weapon known as the tank.
Faced with a new war, many in Britain foresaw a war fought along similar lines and one which would need new heavy tanks to smash through the German defensive lines, like the Siegfried Line. An official program had started in late 1939 under the auspices of the Special Vehicle Development Committee (S.V.D.C.), but this was by no means the end of ideas. Many inventive and scientific minds would also consider this and other problems associated with the war to come in this uneasy period from September 1939 and the start of the German campaign in the West in May 1940. Known as the ‘Phoney War’, it provided a brief window into the thinking behind some of these ideas for a war which had yet to start in earnest for Britain.
The man behind this 500-ton tank idea was Arthur Magnus John Janser. Janser is somewhat enigmatic and, although he is known to have come from Austria (with a date of birth recorded many years later in England as 17th June 1903), the chain of events which led to him being in Britain in 1940 are less than clear. An expert chemist, Janser, or ‘Dr. Janser’, as he is often referred to, thankfully submitted several patents in his lifetime, which provide some insight into his life pre-1940. Janser submitted his first patent in 1925 in Vienna (Austria) followed by another at the same time in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany. By 1934, he was in Paris, and by 1936, he was in London.
He is described at times as an Austrian refugee and this is likely correct given the Anschluss ended Austria as an independent state in March 1938. By 1936, however, living in London, he managed to become engaged with a group of amateur (but by no means amateurish) scientists known as the British Interplanetary Society (B.I.S.). Formed in Liverpool in 1933, the B.I.S. expanded to London in 1936.
The British Interplanetary Society
Janser’s knowledge and skills as a chemist were much needed by the B.I.S., where he would propose solid rocket fuel motors for their various space rocket ideas. Other members of the B.I.S. included:
Arthur C. Clarke (astronomer and noted science fiction author post-war),
D. W. F. Mayer, H. Bramhill (draughtsman),
Jack Happian Edwards (Head of the Technical Committee and Director of an Electronics firm),
Ralph A. Smith (artist and engineer – his son later worked on the Apollo programme),
Maurice K. Hanson (mathematician and payload specialist),
William F. Temple,
S. Klementaski (biologist),
H. E. Ross (electrical engineer and man behind Project Megaroc in 1946 to adapt a German V-2 into a pilot carrying rocket),
J. H. Edwards (research director),
Eric Burgess (a writer, founder of the B.I.S., and a NASA consultant after the war),
H. E. Turner (editor of the Manchester Interplanetary Society magazine), and
A. Val Cleaver (aircraft engineer and Chief Engineer for Rolls-Royce rocket division).
Some of the meetings of this group were even held in Janser’s flat.
Janser, along with several other members of the BIS, were also a keen followers of Science Fiction literature (including Arthur C. Clarke), attending a convention held in London April 1938 on the subject of space travel. Janser did not attend the 1939 convention, although Clarke did, perhaps indicating that Janser was less interested in science-fiction stories than he was in the science-realities behind them.
Janser’s primary contribution to the B.I.S. was his proposal for solid propellant arranged in a cellular manner to produce enough thrust to propel a rocket to the moon. To this end, according to H. E. Ross, Janser produced between 80 and 120 possible propellant combinations for rocket fuels.
Although the B.I.S. members, consisting of about a dozen scientific experts, were not the first to consider rockets or space travel, they were the first to do so in such a systematic and thoughtful way. The Technical Committee of the B.I.S. considered each and every aspect of what it might take to put a man into space one step at a time, 30 years before the Apollo missions.
Between them, they were a group of men covering a wide range of scientific abilities, and Janser, amongst them, was clearly considered to be one of the luminaries of the group’s most technical elements – rocket propulsion. Just before the war, this team had finished their design for a solid-fuel type rocket capable of reaching and landing on the moon.
With the declaration of war in September 1939, the society was disbanded shortly afterwards, for the duration of the conflict. Many of those in the BIS ended up in uniform during the war. Janser, as an Austrian citizen, did not. Born in 1903 (his marriage certificate says 1904), he would have been in his late 30s at the outbreak of war and, at this time, many foreign nationals were detained for national security reasons. Many were shipped off to the Isle of Man, and, later, after security vetting, returned to their lives in Britain.
Barricading the Sky
It was whilst working with the B.I.S. that Janser would also meet with famous inventor Grindell Matthews (another member) to provide advice on rocket fuel. Matthews was working on his anti-aircraft rockets which carried a small explosive charge and which pulled a wire behind them to ensnare and destroy enemy aircraft.
Matthews appears to have been inspired by a speech by Sir Kingsley Wood (the Secretary of State for the Air) who had called for an inventor who could devise a way of “mining the skies” as protection against enemy aircraft. Janser wrote about these ideas in November 1939 with the title of “Barricading the Skies”. In the article, Janser discussed several ideas which had been put forth, including a barrage balloon filled with explosive gasses and tethered with electrified cables, electrified clouds, special clouds made from artificial poison gasses to choke the engines of aircraft, and even an all-metal airship replete with artillery.
It would be Matthews’ rockets which, along with the standard barrage balloons, provided the answer to Wood’s question of protection of the sky. Matthew’s rockets, assisted by Janser’s rocket knowledge, would go on to see service during the war as ‘Parachute and Cable’ devices, bringing Janser’s ‘Barricade in the Sky’ article to reality.
In April 1939, Janser was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, which allowed him to put ‘F.R.A.S.’ (Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts) after his name. His biography in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society also shows him with F.C.S., and F.C.I.S. after his name, although it is unclear exactly to what these refer. However, F.C.S. is likely for a Fellow of the Chemical Society (the forerunner to the Royal Society of Chemistry) and F.C.I.S. may be in relation to being a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries.
By November 1939, Janser is known to have been living at 28 Great Ormond Street, London from his patent, but he is also recorded with an address in Holburn as well (today, this address is opposite the world famous Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital).
It is in consideration of Janser’s background, his genius, and his abilities, as well as his writings, such as those in newspapers in this period, that his tank concept makes sense. Janser would write a series of guides for the common person to help them to understand the inventions and ideas being bandied around in relation to the war, such as Matthews’ Death Ray. These appeared in ‘Guide and Ideas’ published weekly as a light hearted edition, with such articles as the secret life of showgirls and then, with Janser, some serious articles as well.
In this light and with war having broken out, he would find himself as an Austrian, an alien from a hostile country clearly trying to not only solve a technical problem, but also show his loyalty to the UK. Many such aliens were taken away, interned for reasons of national security and then progressively released. Janser appears to have been caught up in this and was interned on 25th April 1940. Interestingly, his internment ceased on 16th October 1940, and he was exempt from further internment. This was presumably because he was working for H.M. Arsenal in Woolwich at the time and they needed his expertise, but also marks the softening of the hard-line approach by Winston Churchill, which had previously ordered all foreign nationals detained as a possible security risk.
His tank concept was not lengthy or perhaps not particularly well considered. It did, however, reflect much of the concerns of the time about a war stuck between the French Maginot Line and the German Siegfried Line.
The Enormous Tank
In spring 1940, Janser was to write and espouse the need to rethink the trend of small and lightly armored tanks. Something much bigger, much stronger, more powerful, and much better protected than ever before was going to be needed. He declared that “recent advances in metallurgical research” allowed for the construction of tanks not just bigger than those in service, but bigger than those which had ever been in service before or since.
To make use of this knowledge, Janser suggested a tank of up to 500 tons could be built, protected by armor as thick as that on a battleship (30 cm or more) “mounting siege guns which fire special concrete breaking shells”. Assuming for a moment that advances in metallurgy were really such that new armor could be more powerful, then this would be a level of protection technically beyond that of a battleship. What he called “double-strength” steel was to be used and made with minerals unavailable in Germany. This new armor would effectively render it indestructible to enemy fire and unmatched on the battlefield.
What it really represented, was a totally unnecessary level of protection to guard against any possible threat from enemy guns. It was also a preposterous statement indicative either of someone trying to make a point merely about the level of protection (that of an indestructible vehicle), or simply that he did not have a clue what he was talking about in terms of armored vehicles, or maybe a bit of both.
He was, in spring 1940, simply repeating the same sort of thoughts and concerns of some in the upper echelons of the British military, in terms of thinking of bigger tanks to smash the Siegfried Line and specifically the concrete bunkers along it. What he did, however, was to go beyond ever their wildest fever-induced dreams of giant tanks. Janser produced a vision of a vehicle gliding over enemy tank traps and defensive works with impunity:
“A tank of five hundred tons built of this double-strength steel would sail serenely over tank traps and be impervious to land-mines. Ferro-concrete booby traps would crumple under its advancing caterpillars”
He may well have been correct in assessing that a tank of such weight might, simply by virtue of its great weight, crush beneath its tracks the sort of reinforced concrete structures arrayed before it in defensive lines. What he missed, however, is that the same weight of machine would undoubtedly perform the same task on the way to the front itself, destroying its own sides’ bridges, roads, and railways as it went.
Nonetheless, this 500-ton tank idea was certainly the right ‘scale’ of number to garner press coverage as far afield as Australia.
“Dr. Arthur Janser, famous Austrian research chemist now a refugee in England, believed that the Siegfried Line can be smashed. But new weapons and new types of ammunition are wanted..”
When Janser, in spring 1940, mentioned the need for new weapons and ammunition to fight the war, he was, of course, correct. The ‘500-ton’ tank may simply have served as a literary device to get attention to his call and he continued the description of his idea to reinforce the point.
Not only was this monstrous machine to be ludicrously heavy (more than two and a half times the weight of the heaviest tank ever made – the German Maus), but also armed with a siege gun. The standard British siege guns of the era were the BL 60-pounder (5 inch) and BL 9.2” howitzer. Both of these guns dated to WW1 or before and could fire large high-explosive shells weighing 27 and 130 kg out to a range of more than 9 km. Certainly, both guns would provide a phenomenal amount of firepower for such a tank and, given an overall weight of 500-tons, the size and weight of the guns became a moot point. Janser, to enhance the power of the siege guns, also proposed new and special anti-concrete shells which could thus shatter the German ferro-concrete bunkers, dragon’s teeth, and barriers of the Siegfried Line.
Janser did not elaborate further on his 500-ton tank idea but, assuming that 500-tons was a real prospective weight and not just something to engage the reader in consideration of new larger tanks, then it would need an engine. The largest tank built in Britain during the war was in the region of 80 tons and powered by a 600 hp engine, delivering around 7.5 hp/ton. Assuming an equivalent power to weight ratio was needed for this machine, Janser would have required engine/s capable of delivering 3,750 hp. This would have been well beyond any road-vehicle of the era and putting it squarely in the territory of power plants from either a ship or a locomotive.
If the 500-ton tank idea was just a bit too much of a step into left field, and a ‘miss’ for the futuristic leanings of Janser, then his second point was spot on, albeit several decades too early.
Following on from this call for a new better armed and armored species of giant tank, Janser also proposed that to beat the Germans, more ‘robot-soldiers’ would be needed. By this, he was referring to his knowledge (from where he did not state) that the Germans and Czechoslovaks had, before the war, “exploited the possibilities of automatic machine-guns and the remote control of guns”.
The modern reader may be a little perplexed as to how a remotely operated gun is conflated with the word ‘robot’. In the 1940s, a ‘robot’ was simply a term being applied to not only a sort of shiny metallic humanoid, but also what today is considered more of a drone or remotely separately weapon of some description. A notable example of this term was the famous V-1 flying bomb being referred to in WW2 as ‘Robot Bombs’.
Any disappointment at the lack of a 1940s-era Cyberman concept, however, is quickly dispelled as Janser describes “robot soldiers armed with machine-guns or grenade-throwing apparatus and controlled by beam radio”, so whether he really thought of mechanical men or just drone vehicles is unclear. The use of drone vehicles is, of course, not a modern phenomenon, but the mass use of drones and unmanned ground combat vehicles is on the rise, albeit 80 years after he mentioned it. Just like then too, the issues of radio control being jammed or intercepted was a concern, and Janser stated:
“Even enemy jamming of the wireless waves could not put the robots out of action”
This rather vague additional line implied at least some level of direct control, so it possible that it was yet another simple rhetorical device to make his readers ponder the problems. Perhaps too, it was an acceptance of the limitations on a fully remote system and a tacit acknowledgement that the robot vehicle would still need a human crew member, with its weapons operating remotely instead. Either way, unfortunately, he chose not to expand on the idea.
The final of Janser’s three tank–related concepts was for a grasshopper tank. This was not a tank built to look like a grasshopper, but one which could, conceivably, be used as an alternative to driving-over and crushing obstacles, by simply leaping over them. In this part, Janser chose once more to bemoan the small light tanks in service and felt that some special war machine of this type, might, instead, be able to move quickly from place to place by jumping.
Oddly, for rather ill-considered or technically improbable idea, the Grasshopper idea was a real plan in Australia in 1944, although one unlikely to have been directly inspired by Janser’s call. Not only that, but back in the UK, there were also experiments with the use of rockets to ‘leap’ a vehicle over an obstacle or from the mud in which it had become stuck. No doubt Janser, being a rocket fuel enthusiast, would have approved in general terms of the idea of combining rockets and tanks, although the outcome was less than successful.
What can be made from Janser’s work on tanks? Was he really serious about a 500-ton or even a Grasshopper tank? The answer is ‘probably not’. Both such ideas were well within the common frame of science fiction, and, whilst he was not a writer himself, he did attend at least one convention and spent a lot of time with men very much in the sci-fi field and who wrote stories on it. Perhaps their influence rubbed off a little and, combined with the literary technique of what might be closely related to modern ‘clickbait’, Janser grabbed his readers’ attention with a ‘500-ton tank’. For the same reason that a 400-ton tank would be not less equally ridiculous but not hit the same attention-grabbing mark, Janser’s point was nonetheless clear.
Britain had, in general terms in 1939 and 1940, tanks which were in his opinion on the whole too small, too lightly armed, and too lightly armored. In specific terms, even the best of these tanks, the A.12 Matilda, which had a good level of protection, was still utterly unsuitable to lead a charge breaching the Siegfried Line to carry the war into the heart of Germany. Janser was not alone in that view, and various other projects and ideas were espoused at the end of 1939 through into 1940 for similarly large and heavy assault vehicles.
Unlike some of the wacky ideas of random members of the public and the occasional tweed-jacketed home inventor, Janser had a significant level of skill and knowledge in rockets and chemistry. This did not translate directly to tanks, but he continued his work and writing through the end of the war.
On a personal note, despite having applied for naturalization in July/August 1939, Janser was not naturalized until May 1947, at which time he was already married to Thora Ruby Christian Janser. He also became a fellow of the Physical Society in 1947 and had also been elected as a member of the Royal Society of Mechanical Engineers.
He would remain in London and continue his work as a “Research and Consulting Chemist” with an address of 3 Edgeware House, Chapel Street in May 1947, and in 1958, he provided the introduction to a book on past-life regression through hypnosis. Janser died in London in 1964, aged 58. His wife, Thora ‘Ruby’ Christian Raymonde (or Fairbairn), whom he married in Westminster in 1942, survived him and died in 1990.
The B.I.S. would continue its work too and is still going to this day, working on the problems of space travel and life on other planets. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the B.I.S. for their assistance in preparing this article.
Specifications Janser’s 500-ton tank
‘battleship’ levels of improved steel
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At the start of 1918, WW1 was by no means waning in terms of combat or intensity. The war had, to that point, been characterized in the public mindset by the slaughter in Belgium and France. This picture was one of trench lines of men just a few hundred meters apart, unable to make the breakthrough they needed thanks to defenses in depth, barbed wire, and the firepower of the modern machine gun. Tanks, as unveiled on the battlefield in September 1916, had begun to make a real difference in the war. The armies of Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, and Italy were tired by 1918. Russia had dropped out of the war, but the United States, a relatively youthful imperial power, was coming to the war in its place, having declared war in April 1917. Despite this, the US forces headed for Europe did not get to see combat for over a year, first seeing action at Cantigny in May 1918. That year was the first year the US forces got their first tanks too, but those did not get used until the last few weeks of the shooting war, in September 1918. There was therefore a gap between the first tanks of 1916, America’s war entry, and their first tank use. A few inventors and designers came to this American tank void. Some of them had an engineering background, or a military background, or both. One of them, Frank Lauterbur, designed machines relating to the mixing and baking of bread dough – he too designed a tank. A tank more like a rolling pin than one of 1916, but undoubtedly an armored rolling weapon of war.
The man behind this machine was Francis ‘Frank’ Xavier Lauterbur from the town of Sidney, Ohio, USA. Lauterbur was born in August 1887 at Fort Laramaie in Ohio, to Paul (b.1855, d.1932) and Margarettia ‘Margaret’ (neé Hillans) Lauterbur (b.1859, d.1925). This meant that, when he filed his patent for his ‘Tractor’ on 6th February 1918, he was around 31 years old, putting him at the upper end of the age group liable for conscription to go and fight in the war.*
(*The first conscription under the Selective Service Act of 1917 was 5th June 1917 for all men aged between 21 and 31 – he would have been 29 or 30 years old at the time).
Lauterbur died in October 1932, aged just 45 years old, leaving his wife Wilhelmina (b.1900, d. 1970). Between 1918 and when he passed away in 1932, Lauterbur left a legacy of over 50 patents for machines relating to the mixing of dough, involving variously beaters and clutches, variable speed rotating members, sieves and sifting, weighing and blending. Whilst the flour mixing or bread industry might not seem like a likely source from which a tank might originate, the mechanisms designed for transmitting torque to a mixer, belts, pulleys, and drive are not small things in engineering terms. Such knowledge and skills in engineering relatively mundane or non-military equipment certainly would have left Lauterbur with more than a passing knowledge of technology when he designed this vehicle. His intention was to produce a “small ‘tank’ for military purposes and adapted to operate either as a unicycle or as a tractor”.
The Rolling Pin
The design was to be built around the concept of a rolling cylinder, like a rolling pin. This cylinder would be either a pair of what he called “tractor wheels” or, in extended form, made from four or more of these wheels. They were not tractor wheels in the sense of a normal farmer’s tractor, but wide hollow wheels running around the outside of the cylinder on low-friction bearings and to the surface of which were a series of 3 circumferential rows of spikes. These spikes formed the tractive element of the wheels, as they would be stabbed into the ground during travel to provide purchase on whatever surface it was passing over.
This would also, therefore, mean the vehicle would cause potential damage to roads or other fixed infrastructure on route towards a battle, something which would be a problem for any conventional forces which may be following.
The vehicle itself was this simple cylinder about which the wheels rotated and the rounded ends both featured a single hinged door with a horizontal slot in it from which the crew could see out. A further such slot was located in the center of the cylinder, facing forwards, and was situated directly between the center two of the tractor wheels.
Atop the machine was a single large periscope reminiscent of an alpine horn more than anything from a submarine and which formed the primary means of observation for the vehicle. Whilst this would provide a theoretical 360º of view for the man operating it, it would obviously also limit observation by other members of the crew to those three slots already mentioned. Within those slots too were to be machine guns, forming the primary armament, so they would already be quite occupied with combat as well as being a good distance from the man at the bottom of the telescope, presumably the commander, to tell them what was going on, making internal communications and direction more difficult. Assuming one commander using that periscope and one man per machine gun, this would be 4 men and, adding in a dedicated driver, would mean not less than 5 men would be required to operate such a machine.
Behind the rolling pin was a trailing wheel arrangement to provide support. This wheel was fastened to a tail coming from the back of the cylinder but attached to a pair of separately rotating collars, narrower than the wheels but wider than the cylinder. These collars could therefore rotate freely without blocking the weapons or observation devices, forming a hollow in the tail to clear the periscope and allow controlled rotation of the tail around the machine.
The engine for propelling this machine was to be located low down in the central part of it, which was also roughly where the periscope was as well. Drive was transmitted via a shaft to a large gear wheel, which was connected in turn to a smaller gear wheel via a drive chain around a small rim projecting from the large gear to the small one and holding them a fixed distance apart. This connection on the shaft of the large gear was also a pivot point around which the smaller gear could move via rotation of this arm. Thus, the drive shaft could still be rotating in the same direction and could still be driving the big gear and small gear in turn, but with the arm pivoted behind the big gear, it would cause drive to imparted backwards upon the wheel. By this method, no complex gearing was needed from the shaft or gearbox and steering or rotating the vehicle on the spot could be achieved by switching from forward to rear motion on an individual wheel or side of the machine.
This small arrangement by which an arm could be rotated around a center-pivot point was a key feature of the design not only for steering via these gears, but also for obstacle climbing. This function was achieved with a much bigger rotating arm, namely the ‘arm’ which was the tail of the machine. More than simply a trailing wheel for stabilization, this whole arm (or in the case of a wide machine, multiple arms) could be rotated. As soon as this tail was rotated, the entirety of the vehicle would be borne on its wheels in the manner of what Lauterbur described perhaps erroneously as a “unicycle”. With the tail rotating, the fact that it was hollow allowed it to go over and around the periscope without striking it and then continue its rotation to the front of the vehicle.
With the tail wheels moved forwards, the action allowed the vehicle to exert pressure down onto an obstacle to improve the climbing and crossing ability of the machine. Likewise, it would also allow the vehicle to rapidly change direction.
Lauterbur certainly put some of his knowledge of gearing systems to work within the design. Multiple overlapping rotating elements, pivots, arms, and wheels all worked together to produce a vehicle for war. Given the shape, the size, and the inherent weight, it is hard to consider how the vehicle could be powered by a single motor in a single wheel, but maybe he was more interested in the gearing and process of movement than the engine, which, afteral,l gets only a brief mention. One small engine in each wheel might have been possible but would only have served to make control harder and this was the biggest failing of the design – control.
The commander, assuming it was he using the periscope, would be directly in the way of the forward machine gunner and the driver at the same time. If he was to use the machine gun, then he would clearly not be able to operate it effectively and, if the driver was using the periscope, then the commander would have little or no vision.
The control issue gets worse the bigger the vehicle gets. Those side machine gunners would only get further from the driver and/or commander as the vehicle got bigger, the weight would increase and the width occupied by the vehicle would increase dramatically as well. All of these problems would only be magnified by the even more obvious lack of space inside the machine. Every single wheel had gearing, and there were multiple moving surfaces and gears along the entire width of the vehicle. Any fighting position would be right next to open gearing and moving machinery, creating a significant hazard for their safety. For the hapless crew in the middle, a veritable obstacle course was presented when needing to exit the vehicle by the side hatches in the event of an emergency, such as catching fire or becoming trapped.
Whatever value the vehicle might have had or offered in terms of improving the steering or moving ability of a cylindrical machine of war was outweighed by the volume of problems, technical, human, practical, and military ranged against it. Lauterbur’s machine was never built, but he appears to have done well for himself with his technical expertise better suited to the bread industry than the war. Had he not passed away before WW2, it is interesting to consider what else such a fertile mind might have created for the next great conflict.
United Kingdom (1907)
Trench-cutting Machine – Fictional
There are numerous characters who are notable in the history of the development of tanks. Some of the names involved which stand out are well known even if their role was a secondary or tertiary one, but such people include Sir Winston Churchill, H. G. Wells, Sir Ernest Swinton, Sir William Tritton, Colonel Rookes Crompton, Walter Wilson, etcetera. One person who has been virtually erased from the origin story of the tank in WW1 is Captain Charles Vickers. Vickers had a successful military career and was on the cusp of a successful writing career when he was tragically struck down with illness and died in early 1908. The result was that his writings and ideas have become lost or distorted by the chaos of WW1 and the myriad of claimants who wanted their share of fame and fortune for the invention of the tank. Captain Vickers, however, has a valid claim, certainly more so than many to his share of credit and his work can be seen as an inspirational factor for Swinton as well. Vickers’ ‘Snail’ might not have the fame of Wells’ Ironclad, but it is more valid as an idea of future armored warfare coming from a professional soldier rather than ‘just’ a writer of popular fiction.
The Man behind the Snail
Charles Ernest* Vickers was born on 23rd February 1873 in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, the youngest son of a notable local barrister Henry Thomas Vickers. He also had military heritage in his blood as his uncle was Major General John William Playfair R.E. (Royal Engineers). Educated in Dublin from 1885 to 1887, Vickers then went to Clifton College, in Bristol that September and then switched his interests from classics to military and engineering aspects.
(* His middle initial is mistakenly given as ‘C’ in the Irish Times of 12th February 1908)
Gifted as a mathematician and artist, he left Clifton College in 1890 to attend the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. Vickers excelled at the academy finishing top of his class and winning the Pollock Medal (July 1892) as well as numerous prizes for his work on fortifications and artillery amongst others.
He was commissioned from the cadet company as a 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant on 22nd July 1892, to the School of Mechanical Engineering at Chatham finishing there in September 1894. He then went to the Midland Railway for Instruction in rail traffic management in October 1894. He would finish there in November 1895 during which time, in July 1895 he was promoted to lieutenant.
He then spent nearly two and a half years working on the railways at Woolwich with 10th Company Royal Engineers before a posting to Malta in April 1898 and then South Africa in October 1899. He was in South Africa for just 75 days working with 42nd Fortress Company before moving on 1st January 1900 to South Africa taking a position as a railway’s staff captain with responsibility as a Traffic Officer.
He remained in South Africa in this role and according to his service record took part in operations in the Orange Free State between March and May 1900, followed by operations in the Transvaal, east of Pretoria from July to November that year. During this service in the Transvaal, Vickers saw combat in Belfast in August. Between May and July 1901, he took part in operations in Orange River Colony followed by operations in Cape Colony, south of Orange River. He saw combat once more at Colesberg, and for his service was awarded the Queen’s Medal with 3 clasps and then the King’s medal with 3 clasps.
With the end of the Second Boer War in July 1902, Vickers was still in railway work having become the Deputy-Assistant Director of Railways (in October 1901). During his time in South Africa, he would have been familiar with mobile armored warfare in terms of armored trains. These were used extensively during the war and he would know at least the rudimentary elements of what to protect and how on a machine. Given he remained in South Africa through to the end of the war, he may also have seen Fowlers Armoured Road Train and gain some additional insight into armored warfare – this time on land.
He returned to the UK in November 1902. After a period of leave, he was posted to Salisbury Plain in March 1903 and then promoted to the rank of captain on 20th April. His posting at Salisbury Plain ended in May 1903 with a move to the Inspector General of Fortifications’ office. He stayed there until March 1905, and on 1st April 1905, Vickers was appointed to Headquarters as a staff captain. His next deployment was to be Gibraltar, but the recently engaged Captain and distinguished veteran of the South African wars fell ill. He passed away on 6th February 1908 aged 34 in London having served for nearly 16 years including nearly 5 years of overseas service. His cause of death listed on his death certificate was “Pleuro Pneumonia Meningitis” (Pneumococcal Meningitis), having passed away during surgery to treat it. He was buried with full military honors in Dublin on 11th February 1908.
His obituary, published in the Journal Of the Royal Engineers in June 1908, and penned by Ernest Swinton himself was a touching and friendly list of Vickers’ life and accomplishments including:
“…many articles from his pen appeared in different periodicals. His last finished effort in this direction – a story of war – appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine only a month before his death under the pseudonym of ‘105’.”
The story to which Ernest Swinton was referring in this part of Vickers’ obituary was a short story titled ‘The Trenches’, and it is in ‘The Trenches’ that Vickers describes ‘The Snail’.
Shortly after coming to Staff Headquarters in 1905, Vickers began writing more stories and articles just as he had done during his service in Malta. His writing and illustration skills were notable and he would start working collaboratively with Swinton on several occasions with the results published in Blackwood’s Magazine (known by its readership as ‘Maga’).
‘The Trenches’ story is set in a fictional War Office department with a pair of officers, Major Swann and Captain Marshall, looking over designs.
In the tale, a “keen-faced restless-looking citizen of the United States” called Mr. Sandpaper, interrupts these two officers and while approaching Major Swann says “You will be interested in this here machine, Major. It’s just about the latest and cutest idea in trenching machines – trench along through any darned thing: just set the depth, and it’ll go along any distance you please, and you can follow up with the pipes as fast as your men can lay them”.
In the next scene, at the General’s office, staff officers are reviewing a map of the war showing a static set of lines. There is the sound of gunfire in the distance but the enemy lines remain unbroken. In order to get to the enemy lines, assault trenches have to be dug as without them, they are suffering heavy casualties. At this time, Chief Engineer Colonel Spofforth came in and was briefed on the situation. Here, Col. Spofforth proposed a new solution, the use of the freshly prepared “trenching machines” to lead the assault. This is agreed to, leading to the third and final scene, the attack of the ‘Snails’.
In this scene the reader is provided with a description of the night before the battle as these machines are brought up to the front and get to work and the soldiers who are resting are disturbed by a strange sound “…Resting! No; there is a new sound. Somewhere down below something has begun to be busy. Something is at work amid the mists of the plan. It is as if a little reaping-machine had set to cut some ghostly corn. No, not quite a reaping-machine – more like a mammoth deathwatch. It must be some strange animal: something endowed with life, for is not that another calling to its mate?”
Here, Vickers provided some critical information for his idea. A mechanically propelled machine making strange mechanical noises and seemingly alive as it goes about its business cutting an attack trench for the soldiers to use the next day. Further, the shape of the vehicle clearly delineated it as no agricultural device but more like a ‘deathwatch’.
This reference can be two fold, firstly in terms of shape with a dark-coloured rounded body and secondly as an omen. In 1907, there was effectively no stopping the Deathwatch (Xestobium refovillosum) beetle’s progress if it happened to infest your home as it devoured the timbers (mainly oak), but more importantly that it was seen as an omen of foreboding. In folklore, the clicking noises it makes was associated with death (hence the name). The Deathwatch beetle has been the subject of stories by such notable authors as Edgar Allen Poe in 1843 and Beatrix Potter (1903). In a modern understanding of the beetle, the tapping noise it makes is not only audible but may also be being used as an allegory in the story for bursts of machine gun fire.
As the attack goes in, the narrative shifts to one presented almost in a Wellsian fashion from the point of view of a reporter. Here, the reporter struggles to describe what he is seeing saying: “The machine!… But it seems such a simple, almost obvious notion to evolve a machine that shall dig trenches, that shall be able to move unconcernedly across open ground where no man can show himself scatheless, secure under its turtleback of steel, inconspicuous, minding all the hail of lead as little as rain … They have nicknamed it The Snail but it can burrow forward like a mole!”.
Adding the smooth rounded type of carapace as found on the insect shaped description before the journalist, via Vickers writing, is clarifying that it is indeed a large rounded outer shell and that it was to be made of steel. Given that in the account, the machine can travel “unconcernedly across open ground” it indicates sufficient armor to be proof against fire as well
With the Snails moving forwards purposefully and carving out avenues for the soldiers to follow behind it, the attack then goes in. With these ‘Snails’ on hand, the soldiers did not have to dig attack trenches and instead could follow the trail of the machine, covered from enemy fire right up to the point of attack. At one point, the correspondent reporting on the scene describes seeing one of the ‘Snails’ come out of a trench “half concealed in a cloud of dust” and having cut far enough forwards it halts. The men bring up a mortar to bombard enemy positions from the shelter of the trench dug behind the machine and thereafter assault the enemy lines on the hill. The final outcome is a positive one to validate the utility of the machines, the enemy forces are driven from their defensive positions despite the loss of a few Snails to enemy artillery fire.
Method of Attack
In considering The Snail in Vickers’ story, the first obvious comparison is to what is considered as a tank. A more apt comparison however, might be to a more unusual machine known commonly as ‘Nellie’. In 1940, ‘Nellie’ (Cultivator No. 6) was a project by the Naval Land Equipment (N.L.E.) to create a tracked assault machine.
‘Nellie’, like Vickers’ Snail, was to advance forwards creating a trench and discarding spoil to the sides as it went. Whereas Nellie simply used a giant plough and the power from its engines to drive that forwards, the Snail was described as using actual cutting equipment instead. Indeed, the closest machine to the Snail in both operation and date might be that of William Norfolk in 1916. That vehicle operated on wheels and used a large cutting face along with a means to discharge spoil to the sides. It too would cut a trench as it went, albeit for slightly different purposes.
Just as H. G. Wells had described a cockroach like machine in his 1903 story, the Land Ironclads, Vickers also used an insect analogy. His choice was described as Deathwatch Beetle-like and also as a rounded steel body. Both designs, therefore, adopted a low rounded armored shell to protect their respective machines.
No specific thickness of armor is mentioned by Vickers but he does say the vehicle could cross no-mans’ land area without harm, so at least, protection from machine gun and rifle fire is implied. He also clarifies within the story that during their cutting of zig-zag-shaped assault trenches, some were wrecked by enemy artillery, so the armor was by no means impervious to all enemy fire.
No specific offensive weaponry is mentioned in Vickers’ story. Nonetheless, that is not to say that his vehicles would be unarmed. First and most obviously is the trenching, cutting, nature of the vehicle. Driving itself ahead, half submerged in the ground as it advanced, it would destroy anything in its way, whether trench, parapet, or enemy soldiers.
The next point from Vickers’ story was that tapping Deathwatch Beetle noise. It could be taken as implicitly referring to machine gun fire either incoming or outgoing, in which case the vehicles would be armed. Using men inside with rifles to fire would not really fit with the experience of a military man who would know that firing from a moving vehicle would produce very poor results. He had seen combat and understood the value of well-placed fire. Any vehicle with no guns would provide substantially less value in combat than a vehicle with even the most modest of armament and it is difficult therefore to contemplate Vickers’ machine without at least one machine gun located in the area above the digging line. Nonetheless, the omission of any direct mention and that at one point the crew is implied to consist of just one man as a ‘driver’ suggests that they may have been armed only with their cutting equipment.
As a side reference, Vickers’ comments on the use of a mortar directly behind the ‘Snail’ in the assault is almost eerily similar to an idea trialed in 1917 to bring heavy fire support along with a tank. The 1917 experiment involved a 6” (152 mm) Stokes mortar on a platform between the rear horn of a Mk.IV tank fitted with the tadpole track extensions, whereas Vickers had considered a mortar being brought up behind the machine separately. In effect, the idea of a mortar behind the tank is identical, except that by attaching it, the effort for the men was much reduced. Either way, it demonstrates once more the difference that the experience, and specifically, the combat experience of Captain Vickers made in his story. He was able to apply his experiences to consideration of a whole new type of warfare and did so rather well.
The most complex part of Vickers’ tale to unravel is the means of propulsion envisaged for the device. On the face of it, the vehicle might be surmised to be a simple wheeled vehicle with this new carapace fitted. It was, afterall, described as a trench cutting machine at the start of the story and at the time of writing in 1907, there were not many tracked vehicles around. That is not to say that there were none, and Vickers’ colleague Ernest Swinton would even end up reviewing tracked vehicle trials in 1908 for the Ruston-Hornsby design.
Ignatius Clark, in his book Voices Prophetizing War (1993), suggests that the vehicle was meant to be tracked, based, it seems, on the ‘Snail’ like description. A hard shell and a slow steady creeping form of motion like a real Snail would certainly allow for this interpretation. However, perhaps Vickers did not wish to commit himself to a specific form of traction, as afterall, such a thing was not necessary for the plot of the story. The only hint he provides in fact is the mention of the use of petrol as fuel meaning that a steam traction engine can at least be excluded.
Forgetfulness or Betrayal?
As a prelude to a conclusion about the actual machine in Vickers’ story there is an important element to consider in terms of ‘invention’. Specifically, the old question of who invented the tank. Ignoring the too-often cited wooden cart of Da Vinci, the reality was that until the advent of mechanical propulsion, a self-propelled fighting machine was effectively out of reach. Likewise, until the use of tracks became viable with the Hornsby-Ackroyd being the first notable example in 1908, the passage of those vehicles over soft ground was so problematic as to preclude the widespread use of armored vehicles.
The writings of H. G. Wells in 1903 with The Land Ironclads is also often cited as an important factor and the result of the 1919 Royal Enquiry into the invention of tanks made reference to it as well. The man most directly responsible for the invention of tanks according to that enquiry was none other than Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton. Swinton was sure to make a good account of himself in the inquiry. This was followed by numerous speeches, public engagements, and publications including his autobiography Ole Luk-Oie published in 1951. Swinton did well for himself as the recipient of a substantial financial award by the Royal Enquiry, as well as in his later ventures, yet nowhere in any print or speech did he mention Vickers. He did mention Wells, but not Vickers… but why?
When Vickers was working as a staff officer from 1906 until his death in 1908, his direct supervisor was Ernest Swinton, so he definitely knew him. Further, they worked closely together on stories, having penned An Eddy of War together which was published in April 1907. The story was a somewhat rambling tale of soldiery during an invasion of England, although it did at least put some focus on Germany as a future adversary. Nonetheless, neither this German adversary nor the invaded English of the tale use any kind of armed or armored vehicle.
Proof of their friendship comes directly from Swinton, who wrote to the editor of Blackwood’s Magazine (Mr. Blackwood also a friend) of Blackwood’s Magazine (known to its readers simply as ‘Maga’) on 29th December 1906 saying “I return proof of ‘An Eddy of War; corrected. I need hardly say that both my pal (Capt. Vickers R.E.) and I am delighted at your taking [of the story] for [publication in] Maga”. Several other times Swinton also referred to Vickers directly in his correspondence with Blackwood’s Magazine.
On 10th October 1907, Vickers wrote to Blackwood saying “It is hardly necessary to say that I feel very pleased you think ‘The Trenches’ worthy of a place in ‘Maga’. It is the first writing of my own you have accepted, though ‘An Eddy of War’ was partly mine (with Swinton)”. Swinton even remarked directly on The Trenches to Blackwood on 12th December 1907, writing “I was pleased to hear from Vickers (Capt. R.E.) that he had had a story accepted by you and I am keen to see it. It sounds like a good one”.
He then proves he has read it in a letter to Blackwood of 8th January 1908 saying “I like Vickers’s yarn… Why will our powers at home not consult the people who know, a little more?”
The Trenches was the only story of Vickers which had to that point been published (and would be the only one published in his lifetime) so the reference to “the yarn” can only be The Trenches.
Last but not least connecting these two men is a singular obituary. This was Vickers’ obituary which was published in the June 1908 edition of the Royal Engineers Journal and was written by Swinton himself. Swinton did not attend Vickers’ funeral in Dublin but he assuredly knew him and his work very well.
In his book Histories of the Future: Studies in Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction (2000), the author, Alan Sandison contends that not only did Swinton know Vickers, was friends with Vickers and read his work, but that he was also careful not to mention his name at any point. This was, he asserts, a deliberate and intentional act to exclude Vickers’ name from the record of the inquiry into tank development or any of Swinton’s later writings. Not only this, but Sandison goes on to say that “Swinton’s exclusion of Vickers is so complete that it suggests both purposefulness and premeditation, which, if true, indicates that he feared Vickers’s vision would be seen as so informing his own that it would be taken as the true ‘source’ of the invention of the tank”. Had Swinton mentioned Vickers during the inquiry it is likely that not only would Vickers’ name be better known, but also that his family might have shared in some of the rewards, both financially and in fame. Swinton’s omission at best therefore, can be seen with a view to a motive for profit from a man he formerly regarded as a close friend and colleague.
In contrast to Wells’ rather naive descriptions of use, with the Snail, Vickers is right on the money and maybe a little too prescient in seeing a divide between trench lines as being a land “where no man can show himself scatheless” (literally a ‘no mans’ land’). This type of static war had been considered by Ian Stanislavovich Bloch which had been published in English for the first time in 1899 under the title Is War Now Impossible. In it, he theorized that the growth in range, speed, and penetration of modern ammunition meant that weapons were so deadly, armies could no longer face each other and that the next war would “be a great war of entrenchments”.
Both Bloch and Vickers predicted a static type of war, a war where opposing forces had to dig defensive works to protect from the fire of the other and through which neither side could progress very well. This too is well beyond Wells’ more limited vision of crossing enemy wire to pursue an enemy, and predicts all too well exactly the sort of warfare which would take place a few years later in WW1.
Clark, I. (1993). Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763-3749. Oxford University Press, UK.
Borthwick, F. (1912). Clifton College Annals and Register 1862-1912. Bristol, UK.
Canadian Patent CA174919 Trench Artillery, filed 21st September 1916, granted 6th February 1917
Irish Times (Newspaper). ‘Military Funeral in Dublin’, 12th February 1908.
Oakley, E. (1890). Clifton College Register 1862-1889 (Supplement). Entrances in September 1887.
Quarter 1, 1908 Death Certificates Volume 1a, No.315 Chelsea.
Sandison, A. & Dingley, R. (2000). Histories of the Future: Studies in Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, USA.
The Royal Engineers Journal, Vol. VII, No.6, June 1908.
Vickers, C. (1905). The Siberian railway in war. Royal Engineers Journal, Vol.2, August 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Transport and Railroad Gazette – Progress in yard design, The Royal Engineers Journal, 26th May 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Engineering News – Double-tracking of Railways, The Royal Engineers Journal, 14th September 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Bulletin of the International Railway Congress, The Royal Engineers Journal, September 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Electrical Review – High Speed Traction, The Royal Engineers Journal, June 10th 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Railway and Locomotive Engineering – Single Line Working, The Royal Engineers Journal, Vol. 1, February 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Engineering News – Impure Sand in Concrete, The Royal Engineers Journal, Vol. 1, 2nd February 1905.
Vickers, C. (1905). Railways and Locomotive Engineer. The Royal Engineers Journal, Vol. 1, 2nd February 1905.
Vickers, C. (1907). The Trenches. Published January 1908 in Blackwood’s Magazine Vol. CLXXXIII, (January-June 1908). Edition, William Blackwood and Sons, London, UK.
War Office File WO25/3917, Page 268/418, Service Record of Charles Ernest Vickers, Royal Engineers.
And a thank you to Hilary Doyle for his assistance in validating some information in Dublin.
Amphibious Heavy Tank – None Built
Louis Paul André de Perrinelle-Dumay was born on 11th February 1864 in Versailles and joined the Navy in 1881. He served on various ships in the years before WW1, including the battleships Dévastation and Charlemagne. He was promoted to the rank of Capitaine de frégate on 31st August 1916 and became President of the Telegraphic Control Commission in Le Havre.
By January 1917, however, he was to leave ships and ship matters and embark on a new career in tanks. Specifically, he became a senior officer attached as an observer to the commanding officer (17th January) of ‘Groupement de St Chamond n° X’ (10th Tank Group), consisting of three companies; AS 31, AS 33, and AS 36, at Marly le Roi, west of Paris. At this time, the unit was experimental and not yet fully developed, and so was being led by Captain Calmels. The Army equivalent rank of Capitaine de frégate is Lieutenant Colonel.
Capitaine de frégate Perrinelle-Dumay remained with the unit, which was unable to properly deploy tanks in the Autumn due to various technical problems and which was not even properly constituted with vehicles until August. AS 31 within the 10th Tank Group was commanded at this time by Captain Lefebrve, perhaps because Perrinelle-Dumay was a naval officer and not an officer from the Army. Perrinelle-Dumay had been moved to tanks because of technical knowledge with electricity rather than an intimate knowledge of trench warfare. This would change after the battle of Laffaux in May 1917, when Capitaine de frégate Perrinelle-Dumay was given command of the unit, although he would technically still be under the command of a more junior Lt. Colonel.
Nonetheless, Capitaine de frégate Perrinelle-Dumay would thereafter personally command AS 31 and became intimately familiar with the design, its limitations, and also the electric transmission used in the St. Chamond (a 80/90 hp Panhard 4 cylinder petrol engine driving a 52 kW dynamo and supplying one electric motor on each side). Any reticence on the part of General Estienne about giving command of tanks to Naval, as opposed to Army officers was dispelled by Perrinelle-Dumay’s skills and performance in command, but his rank could not be ignored either. Command of tank groups was the job of more junior Lt. Colonels or Commanders and his time with tanks was to end. General Estienne formally signed the return of Perrinelle-Dumay to the Navy on 29th December 1917, having appointed a new commander, Battalion Commander Georges Fornier, as head of the 10th Tank Group.
The first idea from Capitaine de frégate Perrinelle-Dumay took the form of a report sent on 18th February 1918, suggesting a long, well-armed and well-protected tank superior to those currently employed by the French Army. The idea was loosely thought out at first and, in November 1918, peace broke out all over Europe with the Armistice. Pressures to design, produce, and use new heavy tanks were obviously diminished by this change in political development, even though the war technically would not be over at the time. Even so, it was not until 6th March 1921 that Perrinelle-Dumay’s design had taken on some formalized specifications and the true scale of this tank would be apparent – nearly 20 meters long and weighing a hefty 84 tonnes. For reference, even the giant German ‘K-Wagen’, still unfinished at the end of WW1, was ‘just’ 13 meters long.
The tank proposed by Perrinell-Dumay was enormous and yet could have become even bigger. At nearly 20 meters, the length alone would create logistical problems for such a tank, but the design was clearly arranged that way to provide for a vehicle capable of crossing extremely wide gaps or trenches. The drawings clearly show the vehicle negotiating a pair of parallel trenches, with the larger of them being 5 meters wide. A long vehicle is all but essential for crossing a large gap, and the rest of the machine was little more than a simple flat-sided body on top of the tracks, more like a tramcar than a tank of the era. No turret was provided, so all the armament was spread around the vehicle’s exterior with weapons on the front, sides, rear, and roof. The bow and stern of the tank both sloped upwards, providing additional clearance at both ends to prevent the vehicle from fouling on the ground when negotiating a vertical obstacle. The bow was slightly higher than the stern, with a pronounced rounded part underneath and the front armament arranged in a triangular shape around it.
The stern raised up from the ground, but around ⅔ of the way up, the vehicle became flat, like the back deck of a speedboat, with a pronounced vertical step to the roofline. In this step was the large single rear-facing gun. Surmounting this entire machine was a series of small turrets. These were not for armament but observation, with the first two being of the stroboscopic type. The rearmost of the three appears to have been a simple box-type cupola fixed in place, providing observation to the rear and side. It would have had no use facing forwards anyway, given the enormous length of the vehicle roof in front of it and that the view ahead would have been completely obscured by those stroboscopic turrets. The front two stroboscopic turrets were in line with each other down the center-line of the tank, meaning that the no.2 turret would have been unable to see directly to the front, as the no.1 turret would block the view.
The vehicle was simply huge. In total, the proposal was for a vehicle measuring 19.7 meters (62 feet 8 inches) from end to end and, yet, for all this length, just 3 meters (9 feet 10 inches) wide. This width would technically fall within the maximum width available for the French rail gauge and was the same width as the French Char 2C. At this length, it would likely have been too long for most transport by rail due to issues of turning, as a railcar of the era was not even this long. For reference, the Char 2C (a vehicle which was already in development at the time) was only half the length of this enormous machine. At nearly 20 m, this vehicle would have been one of the longest single-hulled armored fighting machines ever to be made.
When static on hard ground, the total height was estimated to be 3.7 m (12 feet, 2 inches), although it is unclear whether this was to the tops of the stroboscopic turrets or just the hull. Thus, the vehicle was to be slightly lower than the Char 2C. These overall dimensions meant a very long, thin, and relatively low tank, but it was also to be heavy.
The K-Wagen was a ‘fat beast’, at 120 tonnes, and the Char 2C a relative lightweight in comparison, at just 69 tonnes. This tank from Perrinelle-Dumay was estimated to be around 84 tonnes and, given a common trend for vehicles which get heavier in the transition from the drawing board to the delivery of a prototype, could well have weighed even more if construction was ever attempted.
The British planned a relatively simple expansion of their existing tank shape and design to be operated by them and the Americans, armed with a pair of cannons in sponsons on the side and then a few machine guns. The German K-Wagen, likewise focussed guns in the side sponsons, whereas the Char 2C adopted a turret instead. There were still machine guns in the side, but they did not project in sponsons.
Perrinelle-Dumay cannot have been unaware of a turret as an option for the tank, as the French Renault FT was already in widespread use by this time. Neither can he have been unaware of sponsons as armament options, given their even more widespread use by the British.
It was to be a variation of the sponson idea he would select as the most suitable for armament for the tank. The vehicle would be positively bristling with guns too, with multiple machine guns and two different caliber cannons. This sort of arrangement and decision to employ multiple guns was not only reflective of the nature of trench warfare and close combat, where the dominance of the machine gun was needed as widely as possible around a vehicle, but also that high-explosive firing guns were needed to tackle enemy positions, bunkers, and even vehicles. It is also indicative of a vehicle which lacked a turret to provide fire in a 360º arc, using limited firing positions arranged around the outside of the tank.
Perrinelle-Dumay compared to contemporary tanks
L / W / H
10.27 x 3.00 x 4.09
19.70 x 3.00 x 3.70
10.41 x 3.56 x 3.12
13.00 x 6.00 x 3.00
1 x 75 mm gun
4 x machine guns
2 x 65 mm
1 x 47 mm
13 x machine guns
2 x 6 pdr.
7 x machine guns
4 x 77 mm
7 x machine guns
All told, the tank had a total of 13 machine guns spread around the outside. The first was located right at the point of the bow, covering a wide arc directly in front of the tank. Below it, within the curved portion, were two more machine guns covering the rest of the front arc. After the bow, behind the main side cannons, were another pair of machine guns on the side and two more on the roof. After this, no more guns were located on the sides, as there would probably be no access to the sides due to the position of the fuel tanks inside the sides. As with the front section of the tank (excluding the bow), two more pairs of machine guns are arranged as before, with one pair on the side and the other on the roof. A final pair of machine guns straddled the bottom of the stern covering the rear. Assuming each machine gun was to be manned all the time, this would have meant 13 men just for these machine guns alone. These machine guns were by no means the entirety of the armament proposed either. The angled front of the machine was shaped in such a way that the large guns mounted at the bottom corners of the front ‘triangle’ could be rotated in their mounting to the front and side. In this way, their 130º arcs overlapped a short distance in front of the tank and well past the halfway point to the side.
The arrangement of the guns provided some overlapping arcs of fire front and back, but also some gaps. For example, the innermost guns to the center on each side were on the roof and would have been unable to depress to even perhaps zero degrees, so they would have been all but useless for firing at ground targets. The next nearest guns along the side would have had some ability to fire to the sides but were not mounted in sponsons projecting from the sides. Thus, they would not have been able to fire directly down the lines of the vehicle to cover the sides, creating a blind spot close to the center side on both the left and right.
Likewise, the position of the main guns at the front created a problem. Whilst both could, quite cleverly, be arranged in that ‘triangle’ on the bow to overlap fire forwards, they would not be able to depress very well within their mounting to accommodate the steep climb of the tank when crossing an obstacle or to fire at a position at or below ground level – like a trench. This is surely the reason for the lower machine guns in the front, which would ensure that even when climbing, it could fire down and ahead. Obviously, two machine guns were not an adequate replacement for 3 machine guns and two cannons.
The situation at the rear was even worse. When descending a slope, the gun, unable to depress properly due to the rear ‘deck’ over the stern track, would have a view of the sky and be utterly useless. If it was all but redundant when going downhill and no more use when going uphill, the gunner would be provided with nothing more than an unobstructed view of the ground over which the tank had just passed. Thus, any movement up or down a slope for the tank, outside of a relatively low angle, rendered some or all of the armament difficult or impossible to use.
The guns themselves were unlikely to be anything out of the ordinary. France had plenty of guns, and the standard machine gun of the day for use in tanks was the Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 8 mm light machine gun, which remained in widespread use in WW2 for French forces.
The arrangement of cannons was two at the front and a single one at the back which, given the armament was stated to be a pair of 65 mm guns and a single 47 mm gun, suggests the 47 mm was the one at the back. The 65 mm gun used is not specified, and there were a couple of 65 mm guns which might be the one Perrinelle-Dumay was considering. One option is the Canon de 65M Modèle 1906. This was a mountain gun firing a 4.4 kg shell at a relatively low velocity of 330 m/s. It was also a short-barrelled gun, at just L.20.5, and the guns shown in the crude drawing appear to be proportionally longer than this gun.
Two other options are the 65 mm L.50 (actual bore length 49.2 calibers) Modèle 1888/1891, firing a 4.1 kg shell at 715 m/s, and the 65 mm L.50 Modèle 1902, firing a 4.2 kg shell at 800 m/s. Both of these guns are long enough to possibly be the ones considered and were available at the time.
The 47 mm gun considered is not clear either. There were guns such as the C.47 F.R.C. Mod.31 (French: Canon anti-char de 47 mm Fonderie Royale de Canons Modèle 1931 / English: Royal Cannon Foundry 47 mm Anti-tank, Model 1931) which might have been considered in 1933. Firing a 1.5 kg shell between 450 m/s (High Explosive) and 720 m/s (Armor Piercing), this was a capable gun for anti-tank and support work. However, it was too late to have been a gun that might have been considered back in 1918 or 1921.
However, a 47 mm gun which was around at the time and was widely available was the 47 mm Hotchkiss cannon. This was found in service with the French and several other militaries in a variety of lengths and versions since it was introduced in 1886. Assuming a version like the Modèle 1902 was the one he was thinking of, this L.50 version would have been able to fire a 2 kg shell at around 650 m/s. Even in 1933, this was still capable of being a threat to many contemporary tanks or troops with a variety of high explosive or armor piercing shells. It was, however, also long in the tooth in 1933 and newer 47 mm guns, like the aforementioned C.47 F.R.C. Mod.31, were better candidates.
The suspension for this huge vehicle was modified slightly during the conceptual stage. Although Perrinell-Dumay did not provide drawings of the original 1918 concept or the 1921 amendment, he explained one important change. Specifically, the vehicle shown in 1933 used 3 primary track units per side and a single angled one at the back, for a total of 7 track units, on the machine. The design was originally to have been supplemented with an additional angled track unit on the front, under the nose. This does appear to have been less of an idea of a projected-forward independent track, like that envisaged for the French St. Chamond, and more like an integrated track unit, as exemplified by the design of Robert Macfie in 1919 and for the same reasons – obstacle crossing.
A raised front track unit could grip higher up on an obstacle, such as a wall, embankment, or parapet to aid the vehicle in climbing, but it was also at a price. The price for such a concept was a lot of weight and complexity. Even if the track unit was unpowered and simply moved as a result of being pushed from behind, it was still weight from the tracks and wheels which could be omitted in favor perhaps of a simple roller. Perrinelle-Dumay also followed this line of thought, as the front track was gone, whether powered or not and replaced with a reshaped and ship-like prox designed so that the tank could simply be pushed forwards and slide up the opposite bank or over the parapet, etcetera.
A single track unit would be retained at the back, as this ensured that there would be some additional traction and distribution of the load at the rear of the tank, but the same logic would apply here too. If the unit was unpowered, then its only purpose would be to stop the tail dragging in the mud and spread some additional load, and any powered track would be adding substantial additional weight and complexity.
The fact that Perrinelle-Dumay removed the leading track yet retained the rearmost one suggests that he may have considered the front one to be unpowered and the rear one powered all along. Sadly, there is insufficient information to make a concrete determination on this point.
Of the 7 total track units, three on each side would have been in contact with the ground when on a flat surface, with that seventh angled track unit off the ground at the back under the stern deck. This seventh track unit was also noticeably shorter in length than the three primary units on each side. On a flat surface, the 6 tracks supporting the tank’s weight would produce about 700 g/cm2 of pressure (68.6 kPa) and up to a maximum of 1,500 g/cm2 (147.1 kPa) when crossing an obstacle.
Each of those primary track units was indistinctly drawn but followed the same overall ‘squashed oval’ shape of French tanks like the St. Chamond. Those track units used a smaller front wheel and larger drive wheel at the back, with bogies in between using small wheels fixed to a horizontal steel beam. The track’s leading edge was flat, like on the Perrinelle-Dumay track’s drawing. Being flat like this would be a serious hindrance for negotiating a step or parapet, effectively limiting climbing to around half the height of the lead wheel. However, unlike the St. Chamond, the saving grace of this design was the adoption of not a single unit, but three such sets for primary traction. This meant that, as unit one might climb a step, the following units and even unit seven at the back would assist in pushing the tank up and over.
One additional and unusual feature of the design was the jacks. Clearly shown in place and then in use were 4 jacks arranged along each side of the tank. The first one was ahead of the lead track unit, with jacks 2, 3, and 4 arranged between track units 1-2, 2-3, and 3-7.
The purpose of the jacks is not explained and, not projecting out from the existing width of the vehicle, would have been unsuitable for use on anything other than level and hard ground or else risk the vehicle toppling over onto its side. The obvious conclusion therefore may simply be for ease of maintenance. The jacks are shown in use on exactly that kind of hard flat surface rather than off-road and clearly lifted the vehicle roughly the same height as each track unit. Elevating the tank like this would certainly have made track and suspension maintenance significantly easier for the crews.
One of the odder points from Perrinelle-Dumay was his desire for amphibious capability. Making tanks watertight is complex in itself, but even assuming this could have been done for the tank, the list of problems was nearly as long as the tank itself. Floating is one thing, and the internal volume of the tank certainly appears sufficient to ensure what Perrinelle-Dumay calculated for his 3.7 m high vehicle to be a freeboard of 1.2 m (he estimated/calculated it would have 2.5 m submerged when floating). Once floating, the tank would have to be propelled and there is no provision at all for a propeller shown, suggesting only propulsion from the tracks would be used, making for a very slow vehicle in the water.
On top of this, the shape was wholly unsuited to ship-ness. It was long, tall and narrow and Perrinelle-Dumay accepted this, suggesting that, if amphibian-ness were needed, then the width would have to be increased. Assuming issues of flotation, water tightness, and propulsion in the water could have been solved, then increasing the width would have made regular transport on the French railways impossible.
Of note is that at the submerged height proposed, only those arms present on the upper parts of the tank would be usable, so those two lower front and rear machine guns would be completely submerged. Anything other than a flat calm sea would likely render anything other than the bow and roof machine guns utterly useless too.
Despite these obvious issues with making a tank float, Perrinelle-Dumay still sought input from the Chief Engineer of the French Navy, Maxime Laubeuf, and even the option of some kind of trailer for the tank. Maxime Laubeuf was a naval expert and in particular in the field of submarines. Perhaps that was the expected fate of this tank afterall when at sea. No additional details were given and no work on making this thing work as a ship seems to have gone further than this concept.
Like most big machines, this tank needed a big engine, or in this case ‘engines’. No number is specified for how many engines were to be used, but the machine’s plan is clear that more than one engine was to be used and allocated a large space for them. This space ran longitudinally down the vehicle’s center-line, from a position directly behind the second stroboscopic turret for approximately 8 m back.
Fuel tanks marked as “carburant” (French for ‘fuel’) on the plans run longitudinally down both sides, between approximately the position of the middle stroboscopic turret and the one at the rear, a distance of around 9.2 m. Shown as approximately 0.6 m wide, these tanks are very large, but quite how much fuel they could hold is unknown, as no height is provided on the plans. Assuming that the height is roughly the same as the width for what would be a rectangular-prism-shaped tank, then each one would hold 0.6 x 0.6 x 9.2 = 3.312 m3 of fuel, for a total of 6.624 m3 in total, a capacity of 6,624 liters.
The fuel tanks and motors ran parallel to each other but were not connected, leaving a walkway around 50 – 60 cm wide between them on each side down the full length of the tank. The fuel itself was considered by Perrinell-Dumay to possibly be of the ‘oil-type’ i.e. ‘diesel’, rather than petrol, presumably for safety reasons. He also considered the unusual idea of the engines running on coal instead, for what would have been either a steam engine burning the coal or possibly heating it to burn the gas produced. Such a system would have been highly unusual for a tank, and still hints that the designer’s knowledge of Naval matters was more up to date than knowledge of tanks and the power plants for ground vehicles. Efficiency for such coal or coal-gas systems would have been lower than liquid fuel, like diesel, but would have provided two additional advantages. Firstly, the bunkers for the coal in the “carburant” area could have been much larger than expected of a liquid fuel tank, perhaps as big as the full height of the hull, as they would provide additional protection for the tank. Secondly, not being liquids, they would be much safer to handle and there would be no concerns over leakage of flammable liquids. They would also effectively create buoyancy modules inside the tank – something important for the design, as it was meant to be fully amphibious.
There were problems with the idea too. Not only was the solid-fuel option less efficient than a liquid like diesel, it was also likely to need one or more people to stoke the boiler or move the fuel around with a shovel. Not only would Perrinell-Dumay have been familiar with this hazard, but he would also no doubt have been familiar with another potential hazard too – explosions. It was well known at the time, (and remains a hazard today) that coal bunkers, especially the associated finely pulverized dust in them, are a significant dust explosion hazard when exposed to an ignition source.
One further hazard he may have considered was carbon dioxide poisoning. Burning a fuel like this in an enclosed environment, particularly a low heat, smoldering fire inside the boiler/s, would produce a dangerous exposure of carbon monoxide (CO) for the crew. The production of carbon monoxide as a problem when using the guns also provided a bleak picture for the crew in what could have been a toxic-gas environment for them.
Just as with the gun issue, where the vertical deflection of the tank crossing rough ground or obstacles made the guns unable to depress and target the enemy at or below ground level, the situation was even worse for command and control. All of the external observation from this serpentine tank was governed by whatever small portals were provided near the gun apertures and the three ‘turrets’ on top. The rear, appearing to be fixed and square, provided only a very limited view backwards and the sides, with a large blindspot all round close to the tank and zero visibility ahead.
The other two turrets were of the stroboscopic type. A stroboscopic cupola was an attempt to provide vision for the man inside without the use of bulletproof glass (although the stroboscopic cupola on the FCM Char 2C did have individual panes of laminated protective glass on this internal ‘skeletonised’ cupola part of the device) or the risk of splash-related eye and face injury from an unprotected slot.
The technology, as deployed on the Char 2C and presumably on this design as well, relied upon a cupola in two parts. The first was the interior section, which looked like a skeletonised cupola fixed in place. On top of this and pivoting from a central mounting on top of this skeleton cupola, was the drum. This drum was pierced with numerous vertical slits arranged circumferentially. The drum part was then rotated around this skeletonised cupola and, thanks to visual phenomena known as ‘persistence of vision’, a view of the outside wider than that of a single slot was presented to the observer within. Presumably, if the turret or cupola planned for this tank were the same type as the FCM Char 2C, then it would also use protective glass on the inner portion.
A simple example of everyday use of this effect can be found in the Victorian zoetrope toy, with a rotating cylinder viewed through a slot looking at a series of pictures of something like a horse. Thanks to the persistence of vision the horse appears to run. In the tank-stroboscopic cupola, the view simply reverses the process and is inside the drum looking out rather than looking in.
Gigantic tanks often come with gigantic crews. The German K-Wagen had a whopping complement of 28 men to command and operate. This large tank would also be well-stocked with men.
Assuming one man per machine gun, one per cannon, and one per cupola would mean no less than a crew of 19. If a loader was required per gun or shared between the front guns, that would increase the number yet further, as would any idea of having to have a stoker to feed coal into the boiler. Each gun however, probably more realistically required 3 men to operate, so a better estimate of the crew needed to operate this vehicle might be more like machine gunners (13), driver (1), commander (1), rear observer (1), rear gun crew (2), front gun crew (6), [and possibly one or two stokers] for a total of 24 [+2]. This was enough for 2 Char 2Cs or 6 of the Char B1 which was just a few years away.
The tank was big, too big. It was too heavy for its size and the armament was poorly arranged. Ideas of amphibious work were impractical. The crew was a ridiculous potential waste of valuable manpower. The Perrinelle-Dumay tank was a retrograde design from one of the era’s more progressive and innovative tank nations. It clearly was more 1918 than it was 1933, a time by which only the largest and heaviest land battleship, such as the Char 2C, was in favor and it too was headed for replacement. Any replacement was not going to go back to such a relatively crude design, with so many weapons and problems and no reasonable tank design was going to be adopted relying on coal.
What the vehicle was, therefore, was more of a thought exercise from a senior officer. Perrinelle-Dumay clearly knew enough about some mechanical aspects but not enough to understand the limitations of tanks or his own designs. The very naval nature of the vehicle speaks volumes about where Captain Perrinelle-Dumay’s real knowledge lay and this design, despite many years of thought and effort, was simply obsolete before the ink was dry on the paper. Perrinelle-Dumay would not live to see the real scale of changes in tank design from his crude St. Chamond in WW1 through WW2, as he died on 8th April 1939 in Paris, a month before the Battle of France.
Specifications Perrinelle-Dumay tank
est. 19 – 24. (estimated 13 x machine gunners, 6 front gunners, 2 rear gunners, driver, commander, rear observer, and up to two ‘stokers)
19.7 x 3.0* x 3.7 m
2 x 65 mm guns, 1 x 47 mm gun, 5 x machine guns
Front and sides 60 – 80 mm
Floor 30 mm
Roof 40 – 50 mm
If made for floatation the width would be increased to an undisclosed dimension.
Malmassai, P. Un incroyable cuirasse terrestre Francais. Steelmasters magazine no.17.
Miscellaneous 65 mm guns http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNFR_26-50_m1888.php
Naval School Traditions http://ecole.nav.traditions.free.fr/officiers_deperrinelledumay_louis.htm
Perinelle-Dumay (1933). Les chars de Combat 1933.
United States of America (1916)
Landship – None Built
February 1916 marked one year since the formal British programme to resolve the problem of getting men across no-man’s land under cover of armor had begun. There were ideas for a variety of machines, including wheeled ones, but it was the tracks, first from Crompton and then by Tritton, which would win over ideas of wheeled armor on the battlefields of WW1.
None of this work would have been known to the common man in the street in February 1916, but the official embodiments of trying to use technology, armor, and guns to close on and destroy the enemy were equally in the common consciousness as well. The majority of these ideas would focus on wheels and the use of wheels was also seriously limited by their fundamental design. A wheel, by design, has a tiny area in contact with the ground. This can be improved by making the wheel wider and/or adding more wheels, but even a vehicle with multiple wheels will struggle to cross obstacles such as trenches and ramparts, as the climbing ability is approximately limited to a function depending on the height of the wheel. If, however, the wheel could be made not only wider but also substantially larger, then a wheeled vehicle might, perhaps, have been a solution?
Certainly, this was a regular train of thought for numerous designers of the period. One such example can be found in the pages of the February 1916 edition of the Electrical Experimenter, a popular periodical of the era. Featuring a gloriously bright and optimistic front cover of a giant machine happily crushing and/or variously shooting at the enemy, this was an eye-catching machine, resembling a giant armored motorbike more than a weapon of war. The design and ideas of the design certainly had some engineering skill within them, but the entirety of the idea was completely and utterly wrong. The tanks which appeared to the world in September 1916 would shake ideas of armor warfare in the common mind to the core and ideas like this giant wheeled contraption would, in less than a year, be little more than a rather silly and naive footnote.
Eric R. Lyon A.B. wrote several articles for the magazine. This gyro-cruiser in February 1916, and ‘Minic Atoms and their experimental formation’ was published in June 1916. He also designed a one-man electrically-operated submarine in 1917, which was at least of sensible proportions. As far as is known, he never tried to patent the design.
The basic shape of the machine was that of a motorbike, albeit one more akin to a Penny Farthing-style bicycle with a huge front wheel and smaller trailing wheel behind. Mounted onto these wheels was a huge body, with the bulk of it at the front, formed in a manner similar to that of the rounded front hull of a warship. This enormous triangular section at the front was rounded and bulbous at the base with vertical sides which then stepped-out to become even wider and formed a stepped platform onto which a series of turrets were arranged. In the center of this section was a raised platform above the level of those turrets, with a giant ‘crown’ turret on top. On top of this was a rangefinder and the entire design was overlooked by a gigantic mast arrangement projecting vertically from the back to a height well above the crown turret.
All of the machinery involved in the vehicle was contained inside and within the area occupied by the giant front wheel. The vehicle was to measure 160 feet (48.77 m) high to the rangefinder and 180 feet (54.86 m) to the top of the mast at the back. At 230 feet (70.10 m) long, the vehicle was at least proportional in its dimensions in terms of height to length, but the width was ‘just’ 86 feet (26.21 m) from side to side, meaning a rather narrow, very high, and extremely long machine. As might be suspected by a machine of such gargantuan proportions, it was going to be eye-wateringly heavy too, at 20,000 US tons (18,143.70 tonnes).
The vehicle was to operate on a pair of wheels simply because the maximum road width on which it might operate would limit the size of the wheels used. Placing wheels side by side would inherently create a wider track-width for them on the road, meaning one or more would have to be off-road all the time. Making it so that the single-width wheels were the whole ground-contact presence of the vehicle would therefore mean that a substantially larger vehicle could be used on a standard road than which could otherwise be achieved.
This also meant the wheels used could be anywhere on a road from 25 to 50 feet (7.72 to 15.24 m) wide and to ensure it would not go over the width of the road, limiting the wheel width to a far more modest 25 feet (7.72 m).
A total of 6 ‘small’ turrets surrounded the platform at the top of the hull, each fitted with a pair of large guns and surmounted by a massive turret known as the ‘crown’ turret on top of the raised section between them. This ‘crown’ turret would measure 40 feet (12.19 m) in diameter and, on top of this huge turret, was a domed cupola. This cupola or mini-turret could independently rotate and housed a wide stereoscopic-type range finder. In front of the crown turret and not shown in the drawings was to be a huge spotlight for the illumination of the enemy.
It is noteworthy that the design, as drawn and explained inside the magazine and the artwork on the cover of the magazine, were different. In the cover artwork, just 6 turrets are shown, with a single large turret at the front and the crown turret on top. A close look at the layout drawing, however, shows that there would be no space for this single central front turret, as it would be in the space occupied by the large front wheel.
The front wheel is worthy of attention in its own right, not least due to its preposterous dimensions and construction. Measuring some 108 feet (32.92 m) in diameter, this was not a wheel in the conventional sense, like that of a bicycle or motorbike, rotating around a central axle. In fact, there was no axle at all. The wheel was toroidal in shape, with a heavily armored steel tyre weighing 500 US tons (453.59 tonnes) in its own right. At 25 feet (7.62 m) wide, the wheel was certainly going to help spread the load of the vehicle, but it alone was going to weigh around 10% of the total mass, at 2,000 US tons (1,814,37 tonnes). This meant that, aside from the armor, another 1,500 US tons (1,360.78 tonnes) of material made up the structure of it.
This was because the wheel was not simply a wheel, but was also the stabilization mechanism for the vehicle and formed a colossal gyroscope. The wheel itself was to be hollow and allowed for the addition of giant hollow iron balls some 15 feet (4.57 m) in diameter which were faced with non-magnetic steel. Twelve such balls, each weighing 40 US tons (36.29 tonnes), would float freely within the liquid inside the wheel, held off from contact with the sides by magnetic forces and their own buoyancy of around 10 US tons (9.07 tonnes) per ball.
With an outer diameter of 108’ (32.92 m) and an inner diameter of 50 feet (15.24 m), the volume of the torus is calculated using the formula V=(πr2)(2πR) to equal 5,353 m3. Deducting the volume of the dozen iron spheres (49.97 m3 each / 599.69 m3 total) leaves 4,753.31 m3 of space inside and this void was to be filled with fluid. The fluid initially selected was water. This volume of water would have weighed 4,753 tonnes. With 12 balls at 40 US tons (36.29 tonnes) and the armored tyre at 500 US tons (453.59 tonnes), this would have meant a total mass of 5,642 tonnes, nearly 3 times what was being proposed by Lyons in his guestimate of 2,000 US tons (1,814.37 tonnes). That gets worse when he suggests an alternative fluid filling for the wheel which…
Mercury, on top of being extremely toxic, is a liquid metal at room temperature and also 13.5 times denser (13.5 grams per milliliter) than water (1 gram per milliliter). That would mean a space of 4,753.31 m3 filled with mercury, would, aside from being a rolling ecological disaster waiting to happen, weigh 64,169 tonnes, more than 3 times the estimated complete weight for the vehicle!
The wheel, as already stated, was not to run on an axle. The space inside the wheel would be occupied by the powerplant. Instead, the wheel would be ‘attached’ to the body by a series of ball bearings running in a radial groove on the wheel so that it could rotate with the minimum of friction.
Little is mentioned of the power plant for the design, although a drawing in cross section was provided in the article. Located within the hull and surrounded by the wheel rotating around it, the form of power was primarily a large diesel engine producing 60,000 hp. Attached to this was a large electrical generator which could provide 40,000 hp, as well to drive the wheel via 2-speed multi-polar motors, each of which was 70 feet (71.34 m) in diameter. Drive of the wheel was provided electrically, as the torroid of the wheel was ringed in, banded by sections of magnets and non-magnetic metal, whereby the ring of the wheel was moved by the motors. This presumably would also function as the braking system for the wheel, although this was not mentioned by Lyons.
At the rear of this machine was the ‘small’ wheel, measuring just 60 feet (18.29 m) in diameter. This wheel not only assisted in balancing the machine, but also provided the steering for the machine. It was fixed to the rear part of the body, operating on a normal fixed type axle and relied upon this rear part of the vehicle to be able to move independently of the front part. Like the front wheel, this wheel was also to be clad in heavy steel armor plating and was to be bevel shaped.
Due to the weight and size of the wheel, steering of this tail section and wheel would have to be done in some means, such as hydraulic pumps or electric motors.
As usual with some of these giant vehicle ideas, the designer got a little carried away with overly optimistic performance figures and Lyon here is no exception. Lyon estimated a top speed of 60 mph (96.56 km/h) which, for a vehicle weighing several thousand tons, would be as remarkable as it is improbable on land.
Lyon calculated that rotating the giant wheel just 15 or 16 times a minute was sufficient and this is borne out by checking his math. With a diameter of 32.92 m, the radius would be 16.45 m. The circumference (2πr) of the giant wheel would therefore be 103.4 m. At 15 revolutions per minute, this means 15 x 103.4 m = 1,551 m, 1.55 km per minute, or 15 x 60 x 103.4 m per hour = 93,060 meters per hour; or 93.1 km/h, which is roughly 57.8 mph.
The motors would have had 2 speed settings, with the low speed setting for operating on steep slopes uphill or downhill and the high speed for flat hard ground.
A big vehicle is a tempting repository for the designer to install as much armament as possible and, indeed, Lyon did just that. This vehicle would truly be the giant battleship mounting a full set of no less than twelve 17-inch (431.8 mm) guns, this ludicrous armament was arranged in pairs across the six small turrets.
Each of the side turrets was clearly drawn in the cross-section, showing a pair of these guns. The ‘crown’ turret on top of the hull, however, was not armed with these huge guns. Instead, it was to use a single machine gun, not firing bullets, but something much larger. This ‘machine gun’ was effectively an enlarged version of the classical style of ‘Gatling’ gun with multiple barrels rotating and firing in turn, except that, instead of rifle-caliber barrels rotating, this weapon was to use 6-inch (152.4 mm) caliber rifles. Fired electrically, a single man would be able to operate the gun although how it, or the 17-inch (431.8 mm) were to be fed with ammunition was not addressed.
Aiming for the guns was to be addressed by means of the fire controller, working from the top of the mast in coordination with the commander in the ‘crown’ turret and the use of the rangefinder. This rangefinder was 160 feet (48.77 m) above the ground, more than high enough to see over trees and obstacles. The reason for this height is not speculated upon, but probably, coincidentally, it was almost precisely the same height as the top of the nave on a cathedral, like Beauvais in France, at 47.5 m. If nothing else, this comparison provides an indication of the ridiculous proportions for this vehicle.
Around the lower part of the hull were what appears to be some weapons as well. These are not described at all in the document. Despite this, two projections which appear to be guns project directly from the front, one about half way up the hull and the other just at the top of the rounded part of the lower hull. Three more circular features are also apparent in this lower section, around from the front to the sides of the vehicle. They may also be weapons ports but, once more, cannot be confirmed.
No armor other than ‘thick’ or ‘heavy’ is mentioned, but given that the big front wheel itself was to have 500 US tons of protection (probably for the best if it was filled with mercury), then heavy armor would be needed elsewhere. This enormous machine would be a target even the semi-literate half conscious enemy gunner might hit with zero effort, so if it was not to be destroyed very easily, then it would have needed substantial armor plating. Given all of the naval sized ammunition it would have to carry, it would also have to have a magazine of some sort. On a warship, if it was compromised, it could flood the magazine with sea water to prevent explosion. No such possibility would exist for this vehicle, so the designer would either have to accept the possibility of several thousand tons of mercury being blasted all over northern
France when his vehicle’s armor got breached, or else have provided substantially thicker armor than would otherwise be acceptable – several inches at least.
Other than a command staff of some sort operating a bridge inside the crown turret, there appears to have been little if any consideration of a crew. Whatever that crew may have been would not have been small. With 12 main guns, multiple smaller guns, a command team, probably some mechanics, drivers, spotters, ammunition handlers, etcetera to add into the count, at least a hundred men are likely to have been needed.
It is hard to take the design seriously or even semi-seriously. Even Lyon must have accepted, like others, that such gargantuan vehicles might make attractive and eye-catching cover art, but not practical vehicles.
For the cost in material of a warship or three, hundreds of men needed for the vehicle, and the vast problems which would come with even just trying to move the vehicle to where it might be used without crushing everything on its way into oblivion, the investment would simply be redundant. The vehicle was a huge target and the guns were positioned far too high up to be usefully depressed to actually fight the enemy it was rolling over/past. The stabilization might have been viable for a machine in theoretical terms using a gyroscope. In fact, in this regard, the design was rather clever, but the scale is devoid of and detached from reality. It is not even clear if the vehicle would be able to remain in any state other than one of perpetual motion or risk toppling over. In light of the total impracticality of the concept, it seems likely this idea was just a desperate attempt to try and envisage a means by which technology, armor, guns, and mechanical traction could somehow break the deadlock of trench warfare.
The correct answer would be unveiled several months later and this idea, like so many others, were quite rightly consigned to the dustbin of bad ideas.
Specifications: Lyon’s Electric Gyro-Cruiser
12 x 17-inch (432 mm) guns, 1 x rotating 6-inch (152 mm) gun
230 feet (70.10 m)
160 feet (48.77 m) to the range finder. 180 feet (54.86 m) to top of fire control mast body
Width of wheel
25 feet (7.62 m)
86 feet (26.21 m)
Lyon, E. (1916). The Electric Gyro-Cruiser. Electrical Experimenter Magazine, February 1916.
Secor, H. (1917). A one-man electric submarine. Electrical Experimenter Magazine, May 1917.
United Kingdom (1915-1918)
Prototype – 1 Partially Completed
Colonel Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton had been there right at the birth of the British plan for the machines which were to become known as tanks. In 1915, this veteran of Victorian campaigns in India and acknowledged expert in both electrical equipment and road traction was brought in to be the consulting expert on a committee formed to develop a new type of weapon of war. This armored trench crossing, wire crushing, troop-carrying weapon was supposed to change warfare forever. Cromtpon was an advocate for wheeled vehicles, as this was his knowledge base, but a young officer also at the first meeting, Lt. Robert MacFie, had pressed the value of tracks and Crompton had agreed. Unfortunately, the only tracked vehicles in the UK available were either imported tractors, such as the Holt, sold through distributors, or those made domestically by the Pedrail Company. Crompton knew Bramah Diplock, the Managing Director, and had worked with him previously. Thus, Crompton was familiar with the pedrail system and began his initial designs around a pair of pedrail bodies coupled together. His machine was built and tested but found wanting. In August 1915, his services were ended by the Committee as they moved on with designs based on his extended Bullock tractor tracks. However, the Pedrail machine was not dead. It was seen as having a value and would be proposed as yet another new weapon: a giant tracked flamethrower.
The man behind the pedrail was Joseph Bramah Diplock (1857-1918). Diplock had founded the Pedrail Transport Company (PTC) in Fulham, London before the war. At the time, this firm was the only British manufacturer of tracked vehicles. He is perhaps most famous for his ‘footed wheels’ (literally ‘elephant’s feet’, sprung pads arranged circumferentially around a wheel to increase the ground contact area), and for the fact that there is a glacier in Antarctica named after him.
The death of Diplock in August 1918 perhaps hurt some of the investigations and inquiries into the origins of the tank conducted by the British at the end of the war, an inquiry conducted for the purpose of assigning credit. Had Diplock been able to give evidence to the investigation, he would likely have used both his 1915 demonstration of his Pedrail-cart that year and the work on the articulated Pedrail as his claims for a share of the credit. His death, however, has left him as little more than a footnote in the development of tanks, despite him being a key individual right at the start, when the great debate of ‘tracks vs wheels’ was still being fought.
Between Mr. Diplock and Colonel Crompton, a scheme for a Pedrail vehicle had taken shape. First was a rigid-bodied vehicle, the Mk.I Pedrail machine, followed by an articulated vehicle, the Mk.II ‘Articulateur’. Production of the first machine had been very difficult. Mr. Diplock had been unable to produce an effective design for a longer Pedrail-track system for either machine and physical production of a machine was fairing no better. The firm contracted for the production, Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon, via their subsidiary, Shaft and Axletree Co. Ltd., was unable to complete production in a wrangle over the costs.
The company had won that fight and squeezed additional funds from the Admiralty for the vehicle by the middle of June 1915. In July though, despite Metropolitan Carriage having won their funding fight, the Admiralty pulled the plug at the request of the War Office. The contract for production had been terminated.
The Pedrail had not, however, died. It still had some promise and the value of tracked vehicles had started to dawn on senior military men. Captain Tulloch, obviously with an eye to Crompton’s Pedrail and a friend of Crompton, had already been writing to Colonel Louis Jackson at the Trench Warfare Department (T.W.D.) urging the development of a ‘land-cruiser’, but without success.
By the start of June 1915, this urging had become more forthright, as Capt. Tulloch wrote again to Colonel Jackson, urging serious consideration of the idea with “disregard of destructive criticism or the lack of imagination which left initiative to the enemy”. This somewhat unsubtle dig was aimed at Col. Holden, who had dismissed earlier efforts as taking too long to develop, but Cpt. Tulloch had an answer. He suggested the abandonment of special engines for the vehicle and simply adopting existing motors instead to speed up production. Further to this, Cpt. Tulloch was suggesting the development of a tracked flamethrower for direct attack, based around a 35 ton (35.6 tonne) vehicle carried on Pedrail tracks or a similar system. General Louis Jackson, as Head of Trench Warfare, had taken an obvious interest in the development of trench weapons including tracked vehicles. With Cpt. Tulloch’s suggestion and this preexisting professional interest, he had attended the trials of the unarmored Killen-Strait machine at the end of June 1915 to see the potential of tracked vehicles for himself. At the time, the emphasis was on a machine to cut or breach enemy barbed wire.
On 24th June 1915, after the urging of Captain Tulloch, Colonel Jackson received permission to proceed with the ‘flame-projector’ scheme and work immediately began on negotiations with the Pedrail Transport Co. and Aster Engineering Company. The Aster company was asked for, and provided, a tender for this “proposed armoured pedrail” which did not include armor plate (which was to eventually come from Messrs. Beardmore in Glasgow), guns, or a searchlight, but was focussed on the production of a working platform. On 8th July, Jackson, now a General, requested authority to purchase engines from the Aster company for the platform, with the order confirmed on the 13th.
Although the contract did not include guns, trials were conducted with a 4-cylinder petrol-spraying apparatus, known as “Quad Batteries”, with a range of 90 yards (82 m) on 6th August. The following day, Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, telephoned Jackson to urge him to “get on with the apparatus”. Dr. Addison, Minister of Munitions, followed this urging on the 9th with his agreement for the vehicle ‘subject to satisfactory trials’, expecting two types of this flame-throwing vehicle. These were a large type carrying 5,000 gallons (22,730 litres) of petrol for the projector along with 2 machine guns, and a smaller type carrying just 500 gallons (2,273 litres) of petrol and 2 machine guns “of a new pattern”.
Partly as a result of Cpt. Tulloch’s pressure, the Ministry of Munitions had already been negotiating with the Aster Company for their own tracked machine for this project. In one of the schemes, Tulloch had described the body as ‘egg-shaped’ overhanging the tracks, bearing no resemblance at all to anything from Crompton. However, when Crompton’s Pedrail plans were canceled, it left a partially completed vehicle with no future and essentially unwanted. This was fortuitous for Cpt. Tulloch, as it left an ownerless vehicle partially completed very much along the lines of what they were wanting themselves.
Quite how far progressed the vehicle or design were beyond the initial steps of making the frame is not known, as it is only described as a “pedrail and chassis structure”, but the work was simply transferred over to the Trench Warfare Department and handed over to the Aster Company for completion. The completion was not done in isolation though. Crompton had made sure that all of the plans and drawings they might need were sent over to assist in the construction of the machine. That help continued throughout August 1915.
With the vehicles in the hands of the Aster Company, the original plan to use Rolls Royce engines was switched to use Aster engines instead, although the vehicle would be seriously underpowered with either type of engine, given it was to be in excess of 30 tonnes.
The structure of the vehicle, consisting of a rectangular chassis onto which a pair of individually powered Pedrail units were to be fitted, was finished by 11th October 1915, but the Pedrail units had still not been supplied. The construction of those Pedrail units needed to be entrusted to a competent manufacturer and this was entrusted to Messrs. Stothert and Pitt in Bath. Whilst they completed the construction of the Pedrails and installation into the frame, an unarmored superstructure was being made as well. That superstructure was finished in Glasgow in January 1916 and shipped to the Aster Company to await installation on the chassis.
A rectangular and robust frame made from steel girders formed the base of the chassis. Into the space within that rectangular structure were fitted the pair of self-propelled Pedrail units. Each unit consisted of a single track approximately ⅔ of the width of the total vehicle, with an engine perched on top with its own fuel supply. At the bottom of the frame at each end were a pair of plan unsprung rollers covering the whole width of the girder-frame. These were there to prevent the bottom edge of the frame fouling on an obstacle it might encounter, like a parapet.
At the front was a simple vertical steering column attached to the frame and steered by means of an enormous steering wheel. With the unarmored superstructure fitted to provide workspace and some shelter from the elements, the vehicle looked more like a public tram than a tank.
Three moveable headlamps or spot lamps were fitted to the machine at the front, with the larger of the three placed centrally directly in front of where the driver would stand. At some point before trials of the vehicle were actually carried out, those rollers on the leading edges were removed. The presumption is that these were simply unnecessary and the additional benefit they provided on the low ground clearance on the front was not worth the additional weight or that they simply made matters worse by fouling. Either way, by the time the Pedrail machine was trialed, they had been removed and on top of that, the pillar for the steering wheel had been moved to inside the front faring.
The original engines were to be Rolls Royce units, but with the involvement of the Aster Company, this was changed and Aster fitted a pair of their own 6-cylinder petrol engines, with one engine per track unit. Each engine delivered between 95 and 103 hp. With a fully armored weight expected to reach 34.5 tons (35.1 tonnes) laden with flamethrowers and up to three guns, this meant a very low power-to-weight ratio of just 5.4 to 5.9 horsepower per ton and an optimistically estimated turning radius of just 60′ (18.29 m).
Steering and Mobility
The engines were fixed to a small framework which was part of the structure of each of the track units. Thus, no complex coupling was required to provide power to the track when turning, as the engine turned with the track. Steering was controlled from the front of the vehicle by means of a large diameter steel steering wheel attached to a vertical column from the front of the chassis framework. When the steering was being carried out, it was done by means of hydraulic cylinders pushing the front and rear Pedrail units so that they turned within the frame. Thus, during a turn, the framework would not directly follow the direction of the Pedrails until they straightened and came back into line with the framework.
This was a slow and relatively crude method of steering, allowing for little deflection of the tracks and thus a relatively large turning radius. Despite this, the vehicle was actually a little quicker than expected, managing 15 mph (24.1 km/h) on a good surface, even though it was already overweight by around 7 tonnes. Whilst the ability to climb a step or parapet might be limited by the low front edge of the framework, the vehicle, probably to the surprise of many, could actually still just cross a standard infantry trench, certainly making it a potentially useful vehicle in a combat zone.
With a body, albeit an unarmored one fitted, the vehicle was then sent for trials at the Trench Warfare Department’s establishment at Porton Down, on Salisbury Plain, at the start of August 1916.
The tests, however, were disappointing and further tests were postponed until modifications could be made. These first tests were likely the reason for the rollers being removed, but whatever modifications were being made, they were not completed until December 1916, nearly 3 months after actual tanks had first been used. Those first tanks may have been relatively crude but they had clearly shown a superiority in mobility over obstacles than this Pedrail machine was currently managing. Its potential utility as a war machine was therefore not looking optimistic, as it had yet to even get an armored body design, although, presumably, this would be roughly the shape of the unarmored one, or fitted. Even if it had and was ‘ready to go’, it would still need to get contracts issued and enter production, which would take months. Even if, in December 1916, this vehicle had somehow passed the tests with flying colors, it would still be a vehicle unable for use in combat before summer 1917 and, as there were already tanks in operation, what role could it even perform not already done just as well or better by machines in production?
In terms of those ‘other roles’, there was one potential avenue for it to explain, a gap in capability it might be able to fill and this was as a supply vehicle. The British Army had serious supply problems in the zone of action near the front, due to roads torn up by shellfire or smashed bridges. A tracked supply vehicle might be able to overcome some of these problems and bring ammunition, food, water, or other stores to the men at the front. Speed, afterall, was not that vital and a large platform-style vehicle might actually serve a useful role.
Sir Guy Granet, in charge of transport for the British Army, was clearly thinking exactly this as he went to see the Pedrail and, in his mind, performed rather well for what he wanted. It is not hard to imagine a small fleet of this style of pedrails bringing supplies to the front with light or no armor, replacing trucks and horses with mechanical traction.
Despite its size, its slowness, the fact that it was already substantially heavier than planned and could only cross a standard communications type-trenches, the vehicle had shown that, even for something developed early in 1915, it had some potential. It could manage a rather impressive top speed on a hard surface of 15 mph (24.1 km/h). Lacking any form of springing suspension, this might not have been too comfortable for the crew or good for whatever was being carried. It was, however, faster than the equivalent sized tanks at around the same weight and could still carry an additional 4 tons (4.1 tonnes) of cargo. This calculation would suggest that this was also the approximate weight of whatever armor was planned for the vehicle before the idea of using it for hauling supplies originated.
Sir Guy Granet was sufficiently interested that he authorized the production of two more such vehicles along with 12 Pedrail trailers which, if finished, potentially meant 3 Pedrail machines with 4 trailers each to create supply trains to the front. Regardless of the slow speeds of the vehicle, it was still going to be faster than the tanks then in service, which could barely manage a third of the speed of this Pedrail. It was also superior to any wheeled Army trucks, which were not able to cross muddy ground or trenches.
When General Jackson was looking at a flame weapon, it is not entirely clear what type, size, or capability he was looking at. It is possible that it would be a single-shot weapon, like the Livens Projector, which was basically a giant mortar firing a cylinder of flammable fuel out to around 300 m, although the weapon tended to be very inaccurate and was not really the flame projector implied by Jackson so much as a type of artillery.
The British did not make extensive use of man-portable flamethrowers, like the Germans did during the war, but they were certainly not averse to using fire for war and the raid on Zeebrugge in 1918 brought with it a Hay Flame Gun.
The Hay Flame Gun was, however, not going to be much use for a tracked armored vehicle needing to clear trenches. With a range of just 20 m or so and only enough fuel for 15 seconds, it was too small and lacked the reach a vehicle would require to be useful.
A larger version of the flame gun, known as the Hay Flame Thrower, was also tested, using compressed gas to propel burning fuel at a substantially longer range, ~50 m. This would have been ideal for a vehicle where the weight of such equipment was not a problem, as it could be hauled along with plenty of fuel.
A range of just 50 m was still not very far, but certainly enough for the machine to clear trenches ahead and to the side of it, assuming it carried sufficient gas for propelling the fuel and sufficient fuel to achieve its task. There is no information available to identify which type of existing flame apparatus was considered, or if it was to be something new. Whatever it was, it would have been a devastating close-up weapon for enemy troops to contend with.
Despite Sir Guy Granet’s optimism and the advantages of the vehicle, its disadvantages were also not something that could be ignored. It was roughly the same weight of an armored combat tank and less able to cross rough terrain than one. This begged the question, why not then simply modify a tank to carry supplies and not have to bother with a whole new type of machine?
Adding to her bulk the weight of supplies being hauled and potentially some armor, it seems unlikely that it would have performed quite so well, especially during a wet spring in France compared to the dry cold conditions of late 1916. The Trench Warfare division had not given up on their flamethrower idea but, for much the same reason as the Pedrail was not used for supplies, it failed to find use as a flamethrower carriage either. That role could simply be adopted by tanks instead, and both Winston Churchill and Sir Ernest Swinton would both end up suggesting projector weapons for British tanks as ones throwing fire or even noxious chemicals.
A Twist in the Tail
The orders from Sir Guy Granet were not put into place and no more Pedrail machines were built. General Jackson at the TWD had not forgotten about flamethrowers and seemingly was considering improvements to this Pedrail machine too. On 21st April 1917, General Jackson filed two patents for a vehicle suspiciously similar to the original Pedrail machine.
This design would also use a pair of steered tracks, like the Pedrail, albeit narrower than the Pedrail’s tracks. It also arranged them one behind the other, like the Predial, and both arranged within a rectangular chassis frame, like the Pedrail.
Unlike the Pedrail, however, was the drive. On the Pedrail machine, each set of tracks was driven individually by an engine mounted directly above it and which was attached to it. This arrangement obviated the need for a flexible coupling of any kind but General Jackson’s design took a step away from this idea.
Instead, he proposed a single engine positioned on one side of the chassis and connected by drive shafts to a transmission unit alongside each track unit. From these transmission units would be another drive shaft with a flexible coupling on each end, taking drive from the transmission to the opposite side of their respective track units, and thence to the sprockets at the front via drive chains. This arrangement was significantly more complex than the Pedrail’s original system, but offered several potential advantages. The first and foremost was the removal of one engine, which, as well as saving substantial amounts of weight, also provided a significantly larger space for men, stores, or equipment. Secondly, by positioning the engine and drive along the length of the vehicle down one side, he created yet more usable space within a platform on top of these moving tracks. Such a switch would also save in production costs and materials.
The second patent related to this vehicle, filed on the same day and detailing a “flexible or elastic shaft-coupling for the transmission of power from a driving to a driven member of the kind comprising a spring or resilient connection between the two members” and was submitted in both his name as ‘Comptroller of the Trench Warfare Department’ along with Captain Hubert Clark of the Army Service Corps. Although not mentioning the tracked vehicle idea at all, as it was completely dependent upon a new type of flexible couple and submitted on exactly the same day, there is no doubt that this machine improvement from Gen. Jackson was related to his Pedrail.
For the same reason as before, and in spite of General Jackson’s seeming interest in the Pedrail machine for a heavy flamethrower, it went nowhere.
The original Pedrail had not been intended as a tank in the sense of a vehicle to attack the enemy, but as an armored personnel carrier. It had been a relatively crude and rather ungainly-looking machine, yet had, to the surprise of some, proved to actually work reasonably well. By the time it was ready, however, it was totally outclassed in every area by existing tanks and found no use as an APC, or as the stores carrier Sir Guy Granet was thinking of. Likewise, for a heavy flamethrower idea from General Jackson, it failed. The design could no doubt have accommodated a flame thrower and some armor to protect the machine and crew, and equally if his improved layout had been used instead, then a slightly better arrangement with more fuel or more armor. Either way, it was not going to happen. The existence of British tanks having been revealed to the Germans in 1916 delivered a successful design capable of fulfilling the attack role, the supply-carrying role, and eventually, the infantry-carrying role as well. The Pedrail was simply an inferior technology to one already in production and, as such, was not adopted.
The single Pedrail, the brainchild of the early days of tank construction and predating ‘the first tank’, Little Willie, ended up at Bovington Camp sometime after WW1 and was later, sadly, scrapped.
British Patent GB127329 Improvements in vehicles of self-laying track type, filed 21st April 1917, full specification left 18th August 1917, granted 5th June 1919.
British Patent GB127328 An improved flexible or elastic shaft coupling, filed 21st April 1917, full specification left 18th August 1917, granted 5th June 1919. Hills, A. (2019). Pioneers of Armour 2: Colonel R.E.B. Cromtpon. FWD Publishing, USA
Vanity Fair (1911). Issue 2235 No.1294, 30th August 1911
United States of America (1990-1991)
Missile Tank Destroyer – 1 Built
The AGM-114 ‘Hellfire’ missile was developed by the US Army specifically to counter modern Soviet main battle tanks in a potential clash of superpowers. Thankfully for all concerned, such a conflict did not erupt, the Cold War ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the missile in service proved itself effective in combat and offered advantages over the TOW (Tube-launched Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile. The idea of a ground-launched version of the missile goes back to around 1980, even before the missile had been finished. It was not until 1991 that efforts were seriously made to use it within a project called Hellfire Ground Launched (HGL) coming in two types; Light (GLH-L) – mounted on an HMMWV, and Heavy (GLH-H) – mounted on a light armored vehicle such as the Bradley, LAV, or M113. It came to pass that only one of those options was pursued, the test mounting and fitting of the GLH-H turret on an M113, in this case, a repurposed M901 TOW version of the M113.
The Hellfire missile is a third-generation anti-tank missile capable of both air launch (originally from the Advanced Attack Helicopter program by Hughes Aircraft Company) but also from the ground, in a line of development dating back to the late 1960s with the LASAM (LAser Semi-Active Missile) and MISTIC (MIssile System Target Illuminator Controlled) programs. By 1969, MYSTIC, the over-the-horizon laser missile program, had transitioned into a new program known as the ‘Heliborne Laser Fire and Forget Missile’, shortly thereafter renamed ‘Heliborne Launched Fire and Forget Missile’, later shortened to just ‘Hellfire’.
By 1973, the Hellfire was already being offered for procurement by Rockwell International based in Columbus, Ohio, and to be manufactured by Martin Marietta Corporation as the ‘HELLFIRE’, but somewhat misleadingly still being considered or labeled by some as a ‘fire and forget’ type of weapon. It was not until the arrival of Hellfire Longbow that a true fire-and-forget version of the Hellfire existed.
Procurement and limited manufacturing of the missile followed, with the first test firings of the finished product, known as the YAGM-114A, at Redstone Arsenal in September 1978. This was followed by modifications to the infrared seeker of the missile. With Army trials completed in 1981, full-scale production began in early 1982, with the first units fielded by the US Army in Europe at the end of 1984.
Despite being occasionally mislabelled as a fire and forget missile, the Hellfire can in fact be used quite differently. Fire and forget implies that, once the weapon is locked onto a target, it could be fired and then the launch vehicle could retreat to a safe distance or move on to the next target. This is not strictly a correct description of the Hellfire, as the missile also has the ability to have its trajectory changed during flight by up to 20 degrees from the original and up to 1,000 m each way.
Targeting for the missile is by means of a laser which is projected from a designator either in the air or on the ground, regardless of where the missile is launched. An air-launched Hellfire can, for example, be targeted onto an enemy vehicle by a ground designation laser or by other designating aircraft. The missile is not limited to ground targets either. It can also be used to target aircraft, with some emphasis on its ability to counter enemy attack helicopters. Thus, the missile gains a substantial survivability bonus for a launch vehicle, as it does not have to remain in situ and can even be fired from over the horizon, such as over a hill at targets beyond.
The TOW missile was already available in the US arsenal, but Hellfire offered some things that TOW did not. For example, an increased standoff capacity along with an increased range (over the 3 to 3.75 km maximum range of TOW), an increased versatility of use, as the TOW was not suitable for aircraft use, as well as improved physical performance, such as armor penetration, explosive blast, and a shorter flight time due to traveling more quickly.
With a continuous laser seeker on the missile following the designation applied, the missile could easily target moving vehicles whilst being harder to intercept or counter (by engaging the launcher).
Improvements in ballistics through the 1980s improved the Hellfire design and the weapon has a maximum effective range quoted as being up to 8 km, with longer ranges being achieved with a reduction in accuracy due mainly to attenuation of the laser beam. Data from the Department of Defense, however, provides a maximum direct fire range of 7 km, with indirect fire out to 8 km, with a minimum engagement range of 500 m.
The Hellfire missile was first used in anger during the Invasion of Panama in December 1989, with 7 missiles being fired, all of which hit their targets.
Ground Launched Hellfire – Light (GLH-L)
The initial deployment of Hellfire in the ground role was considered to support the capabilities of the US 9th Infantry Division in 1987. By 1991, this idea of using Hellfires to support that unit had grown closer and it was decided that the M998 HMMWV would become the mount for the system. Interest was later shown by the Army in potentially deploying this system to the 82nd Airborne Division as well.
Using off-the-shelf components, and with a potential customer in the form of the Swedish military, who wanted a coastal defence missile, the Ground Launched Hellfire – Light (GLH-L) received a budget and went ahead. Five such vehicles were created. During trials in California in 1991, the system showed itself to be a success in firing trials. Despite this, the system was not adopted by the US military.
Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy (GLH-H)
For heavier vehicles, ones with some built-in ballistic protection from enemy fire, three vehicles were the obvious choice of launch platform for the Hellfire, the Bradley, the LAV, and the ever-present M113. Operating as Fire Support Team Vehicles (FIST-V), the vehicles would be able to lase an enemy target and attack it directly if they wished, or once more use remote targeting. This was the Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy (GLH – H) part of the 16-month-long GLH project.
It is unclear if a test was even carried out on a Bradley, but one was certainly done on an M113. This involved little modification of the vehicle itself except that it had to have a turret fitted to take the missiles and electronics involved. To this end, the M113 under the system was almost inconsequential to the vehicle, as it was little more than a test bed to haul the turret around. A large circle was cut out of the roof armor to take the new system. Conversion work was undertaken by the Electronics and Space Corporation (ESCO), including the fitting of the turret and installation of the laser equipment.
The ring in the roof does not appear to even have an adequate lock or means by which to prevent it from easily rotating under its own weight. The vehicle, currently on display in a museum in Nebraska, has the turret held in place with wire cables to prevent damage and rotation, suggesting the original gearing or control mechanism from the vehicle have been removed. This is because the donor M113 selected for the trials was an M901 Improved TOW Vehicle (ITV).
The M901 ITV, introduced in 1978, differed from the M113 in that, instead of just being an armored box for infantry transport, it was an armored box with a roof-mounted missile system.
The basic M901 mounted the M22A1 TOW, followed by the M901A1 with the M220A2 TOW 2 missiles. The final option, the M901A3, carried the same TOW2 missiles and launcher as the A1 model, but had vehicular improvements, such as improved driver controls and RISE powerpack.
Carrying a dual M220 TOW launcher, the M901 had a crew of 4, consisting of a driver, a gunner, a commander, and a loader. This made sense for a vehicle where the missiles could be reloaded from inside, but less so for the GLH-L and GLH-H, on which reloading had to take place outside.
The Hellfire turret consisted of 4 primary parts: the basket lying underneath the turret and inside the body of the M113, the manned section of the turret, the guidance system at the front, and the rocket pods themselves.
At the back of the turret were a pair of hatches with vision blocks around them. Ahead of the left sight which was mounted on the roof and fixed in place, was the designator offset on the turret front, where a pair of angular protrusions covering the front of the turret face and a pair of thickly made boxes on each side. Each box appears to have been detachable by a series of bolts on the sides and top. These housed the rotating mount for each pod.
View of the turret roof showing the hatches at the back and fixed roof sight. The thickly made boxes are visible both from the front (left) and rear (right).
The body of the turret was approximately 8 mm thick aluminum all round. At the front, on each side, appear to be a pair of large armored boxes, approximately 35 mm thick on the sides and roof. The actual thickness of the roof cannot be measured as is, but the mounting plate for the gunner’s sight is 16 mm thick and sits on an additional plate on the roof with approximately the same thickness.
The hatches at the back are mounted on steel springs but have an aluminum body 40 mm thick. They have a thin steel covering bolted to the top of the hatch. The purpose of this construction is unclear.
The hatch on the left is fitted with 4 simple episcopes, although only the one facing 45 degrees to the rear left would be of much use. No sight is provided forwards for the gunner except for the large roof sight. The episcope facing left is completely obscured by the left-hand missile pod and the one to the right is blocked by the other hatch. The one fitted to the rear right, looking 45 degrees backward, is also blocked, this time by a small metal box in the center of the rear of the turret roof, the purpose of which is unknown.
If the crew member using the left hatch is poorly served by optics, then the one on the right is even more so, as they only had provision for 2 episcopes and these are half the size of the ones on the other hatch. Both are positioned facing forwards at 45 degrees, meaning no direct view forwards from that position and neither is of any use. The one on the right simply faces directly into the right hand missile pod and the one on the left would be completely blocked by the large roof-mounted sight, or would be if it had not been removed and welded over. Thus, of the 6 ‘normal’ episcopes on the turret for the crew, one is missing, three are completely or almost completely blocked by other turret features and none of them look forward.
Looking down on the turret hatches. Hunnicutt identified these are the commander’s hatch on the right and gunner’s hatch on the left.
The turret is asymmetrical, with the guidance module offset to the left at the front. It consists of a pronounced armored box on a mantlet, allowing the laser designator to be fitted. The author R. P. Hunnicutt states that both the US Army ground locator designator (G.L.L.D.) and US Marine Corps Modular Universal Laser Equipment (M.U.L.E.) were fitted.
The box housing it, like the rest of the turret (apart from the mantlet), is made from aluminium, with a front panel 9 mm thick, which houses the lens over the laser designator. The back of the box is 11 mm thick and then mounted to the steel rotating mantlet, which is approximately 50 mm thick. The aluminium framing on either side of this area is 20 mm thick on the right side and 32 mm thick on the left side. The reason for this difference is unclear.
The amount of rotation available for the guidance box on the mantlet is unclear, as there is a metal bolted to that rotating part which would foul on the top edge, where it meets the turret roof, at a relatively modest angle of around 30 degrees or so. It appears that this module would be severely limited in the ability of targeting aircraft, such as helicopters, but this was just a test bed, so what modifications would have been made to allow for a broad spectrum of possible targets is unknown.
Absolutely no secondary armament of any kind is apparent on the vehicle, either on the hull or on the turret. It is likely that, should such a turret ever have seen production, some kind of weapon mount would have been added in the form of a roof machine gun. Even then, however, with those huge pods blocking both sides, the coverage of such a weapon would be extremely limited. The vehicle is thus rather vulnerable to any enemy nearby. The only provision for self-defense are the smoke dischargers, which consist of a single 3-pot mounting on the front right corner of the turret and the dischagers on the hull (2 four-pot discharges on the front corners). Hunnicutt states that a single machine gun was fitted for close-in protection, but this is not shown in any photograph and no mounting for it is apparent either.
As mounted on the M113, the Hellfire system took the basic form of a pair of 4-missile pods on either side of a turret. Each pod was divided into 4 chambers, each measuring 335 mm wide by 335 mm high internally and made from aluminum supported with ribs 7 mm thick. The internal structure of the pods is heavy, with a central vertical divider and floor plate approximately 40 mm thick. Holes in the front and back of the pods indicate that, at some point, covers were also fitted to these pods and one can be seen in a photo of the system during trials.
Each pod was fitted with what appears to be a hinged lid, but closer inspection shows these hinges are on both sides of the top, precluding some sort of vertical reloading. Reloading, in fact, seems to only have been possible from either in front or behind the pod. Given the height of the turret above the ground, reloading would entail standing on the hull roof with the turret partially rotated.
Each pod can clearly rotate from at least horizontal, but the upper limit is unknown. Photographic evidence from launches show an angle less than 45 degrees and also that each pod could be rotated independently.
Eight Hellfire missiles could be carried ready for action on the GLH-H, compared to just 2 on the GLH-L. It is likely that additional stowage inside the back of the GLH-H mount, whether on the Bradley, LAV, or M113, would also have been installed to carry more missiles. For reference, the M901 had space for an additional rack of missiles. The same would likely have been true of any fielded GLH-H system as well.
Inside the vehicle, the driver’s station was just as it was on the M901. However, the area under the turret was quite different. The turret descended into the hull using a riveted cylindrical aluminum basket, with a motor or gearing mounted in the center of the floor. On each side of this were the two crew positions. Whilst a space was retained between this cylinder and the rear access door, in which a fourth crewmember might be located with additional missiles, there is no space on either side of the cylinder around which passage can be obtained. Through-access from front to rear on the vehicle is therefore limited to passage through the large gaps in the cylindrical basket and, with two crew in there, this would not be possible. In its current state, in 2020/2021, there is no safe access within the vehicle.
GLH-H appears to have been a bit of an orphan program. The GLH-L had been supported by the Army and by the Hellfire Project Office (HPO), which had accumulated the work of MICOM Weapons Systems Management Directorate (WSDM) in February 1990. HPO had then followed up on the Hellfire, as it was used in service and was being improved and refined. At the same time, Martin Marietta received a contract for the development of the missile known as the Hellfire Optimised Missile System (HOMS) in March 1990 and both had supported the work on GLH-L. However, in April 1991, HPO was redesignated as the Air-to-Ground Missile Systems (AGMS) Project Management Office, leaving no doubt that official interest seemed to have ended in ground-launched applications in favor of aircraft-launched systems. Indeed, this was just a few months after work on developing the Hellfire missile for the Longbow Apache helicopter had started.
By 1992, HOMS too was gone and its work was simply repurposed as ‘Hellfire II’, which was to finally take the form of the AGM-114K version of the missile. The GLH-H side of things, therefore, was left out in the cold. There seemed little appetite for a ground-launched version of a weapon that was already successful on aircraft and the development work specifically was to focus on airborne use as well.
What did the GLH-H offer that a vehicle like the M901 ITV did not? On a one-to-one comparison scale, both vehicles had pros and cons, although the substantially larger missile load on the GLH-H and the longer range of the Hellfire missile were perhaps the most obvious. The system was, however, unproven. The TOW system had already been in ground use since the early 1970s and was combat-proven, as well as being substantially cheaper on a missile-to-missile basis. Having a maximum engagement range of 7 km instead of just over 3 km was certainly no small deal and it was not argued that the Hellfire was in any way inferior to the TOW. The issue was perhaps more of a practical one. The TOW was already in widespread use and proven and the GLH-H was not. If the enemy were further away, then they were by definition a lesser threat anyway and could be engaged by other means, such as air-launched Hellfires. The GLH-H system was also huge. Those missile pods were vulnerable to damage from enemy action or environmental or terrain factors and there was no way of reloading them safely from within a vehicle such as the M113, as there was with the M901, meaning the crews would have to be exposed. The Bradley, on the other hand, had a large hatch over the roof at the back, which might have allowed for some limited protection for reloading.
More than the design issues of the GLH-H launcher and compatible mounting, the development of GLH simply came too late. Despite being considered as far back as 1980, no work was really done for over a decade, by which time the TOW was even more widely deployed than before and there were other new missiles for infantry use available. If GLH was ever going to get actively developed, it might have been then, during the peak of the Soviet threat in Western Europe, when large numbers of Soviet tanks were expected to be encountered and a new missile system could have added much-needed firepower. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and existing anti-tank measures being proven in combat in the Gulf War of 1990-1991, it was not clear why a new system would even be needed, whether on a light or heavy platform.
After all, if the need for a better-protected platform with missiles was essential, there was no reason not to just mount the M220 TOW system onto a Bradley anyway, although what this would add when mounting a pair of TOW missiles on a Bradley was standard is even less clear and really just reinforces the point of this being a project without a true purpose.
It was all academic by the early 1990s, the M901 series was being removed anyway, the Bradley already carried a pair of TOW missiles on the side, meeting the same level of firepower, and two systems to do the same thing, with one substantially more capable as a basic vehicle than the other made no sense. The only logical outcome for a GLH-H to have met a ‘need’ would have been Bradley based rather than on an M113, but this step was not taken and would not have fundamentally changed the viability of the project other than creating a very identifiable variant of the Bradley on the battlefield. With control of the development of the whole project handed over to an aircraft-focussed approach, the project with unclear objectives and needs was destined for failure.
The M113 / M901 converted with this GLH-H 8-missile launcher resides today at the Historic Museum of Military Vehicles in Lexington, Nebraska. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the staff there for their assistance.
Ground-Launched Hellfire Redux?
In recent years, however, renewed interest has been shown in a ground-launched Hellfire version to replace TOW and upgrade the US military’s ability to strike enemy targets from even further away. In 2010, Boeing tested the ability of the Avenger turret air defense system to launch Hellfire missiles. This would allow the Hellfire once more to be mounted on light vehicles like a HMMWV, but also on the LAV and other systems.
The Hellfire missile has also already been mounted in the ground role on the Pandur 6 x 6, with the Multi-Mission Launcher (MML), on the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck and in Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Surveillance and Attack Vehicle (LRSAV) based on the Patria AMV firing the Hellfire II in 2014. However, such systems seeing service seems unlikely, as the Hellfire missile and variants are, as of 2016, destined for replacement by a new missile known as the Joint Air to Ground Missile (J.A.G.M.), meant as a common missile across all platforms, naval, air, and ground-based.
United Kingdom (1934)
Infantry Tank – 1 Prototype Built
Of all the tanks in WW2 which may be derided or even mocked for being ‘ugly’ or useless, one which invariably makes the list is the British A.11 Matilda. This is partially the result of the overall poor showing of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) in France in 1940 and partially because of the strictures placed upon the design of the vehicle in the first place. It is also because the vehicle is generally not well understood and its combat record unappreciated.
The only people who really appreciated that latter element were the Germans in 1940, for whom the A.11 and its big brother, the A.12, came as a well-armored and unpleasant shock.
Whilst the A.11 was only in service with the British Army for a few years, it left a mark in the form of one of the most successful tanks of the whole war – the A.12 Matilda.
Misunderstood and underappreciated, the A.11 started as a scribble and resulted in a small, heavily armored tank which proved to be a shock to the Germans at the Battle of Arras in France in 1940. There, in conjunction with infantry and its replacement – the A.12 Matilda, the British succeeded in blunting the nose of the German advance. The A.11 Matilda seen in that battle, however, started with a special and slightly different prototype – the A.11E1 (A.11, Experimental model 1), with a history all of its own.
The A.11 ‘Matilda’ has its origins in the late interwar period, as the British Army was undergoing some head-scratching over not only the shape and dynamics of a future war but also how it would organize itself and what it needed to fight it. The British were generally cautious with new developments in tanks, due in no small part to the trauma of WW1, with the huge losses of men and equipment, and also to the significant limitations on expenditures as the British Empire sought to reconcile the cost of defending Europe from Germany.
Any new development, therefore, had to meet both a developmental limit, the new needs of the Army, and the strict budgetary constraints in force. Luckily for the British, these highly conservative restrictions matched with the equally austere Sir Hugh Ellis, Master General of Ordnance (M.G.O.) and Major-General A. E. Davidson as Director or Mechanisation (D.o.M.). Both men were skilled and competent in their field, with Davidson also a respected engineer, but both still saw future war along the lines of the last one.
In debating the primary role of a new tank for 1934, it was thought that it had to support infantry (an ‘I’ or ‘Infantry’ tank) in the attack against enemy infantry and positions. Enemy tanks could be dealt with by artillery, so a new tank really just needed heavy protection from enemy infantry and anti-tank guns as well as the means to deliver machine-gun fire. As it had to support infantry at their pace, the speed was almost irrelevant. As these two men debated their plans for what a new tank needed to be and how it should work tactically, they consulted with Major-General Percy Hobart, who was Inspector of the Royal Tank Corps (R.T.C.) at the time and proposed two solutions:
A small tank with a crew of two men armed with machine guns built in large numbers to swarm the enemy.
A heavy tank with a cannon.
The solution selected was the first one and, in October 1935, the legend of vehicle design, Sir John Carden, was approached to develop this idea. A skilled engineer and talented vehicle designer, he was also the head of tank design at Messrs. Vickers Armstrong Ltd., meaning whatever he designed, he could get into production quickly.
His rather crude initial sketch, finished on 3rd October 1935, was for this two-man small tank with a single turret and a single machine gun. A week later, this sketch was taken by Sir John Carden to Colonel M. A. Strudd, the Assistant Director of Mechanisation (A.D.o.M.). Being a technically simple vehicle and with no concerns over getting it into production in the time scale the Army was planning, just 6 months, it was approved as a project under A-vehicle number A.11. One thing not mentioned in most histories of the A.11 is revealed in that original sketch – the crossing of trenches by the vehicle was an important point, which perhaps hints at the sort of warfare terms about which the Army was still thinking. This new tank would manage to cross an impressive 8’ (2.4 m), more than adequate to cross any standard infantry trench.
It is commonly repeated online and even in some books that the ‘Matilda’ name was selected after the prototype was seen ‘waddling’ like a duck. The connection between Matilda and Duck is unclear in itself in this false history especially, as that particular Disney character with that name only appeared after the war. The name could, of course, not have been penned after seeing it move, as it is first written down on 10th October 1935, when the tank was not much more than a doodle. In fact, ‘Matilda’ was just a company name for the project – a code word to disguise what the vehicle was, although officially it remained just ‘A.11’.
The price of the project, at a time of small defence budgets, however, was somewhat extraordinary, some £15,000 for all of the development and draughting costs. In 2020 values, this is over £1m and each tank was projected to run at £5,000 (£364,000 in 2020 values). For a tank armed only with a small machine gun, this was still very expensive. This is a vehicle often referred to as cheap being built to a budget. For sure, it had a budget to be built to, but it was by no means a miserly one. For reference, a small light, machine gun (or even cannon-armed) tank from the same firm, like the Vickers Light Patrol tank, was on sale in 1933 for just £700 (around £51,000 in 2020 values). It is hard, therefore, to square quite why this Infantry tank might justify costing more than 7 times what that tank would.
Armor for this new type of tank was going to need to be heavy – very heavy for the era which given that even 20 – 30 mm or so was considered good protection for many tanks is saying quite a bit. A standard thickness of 60 mm was proposed for the tank, with the plate made from Vibrac 45 armor steel produced by the (Vickers) English Steel Corporation. The roof and floor plates were eventually to be just 10 mm thick and made from Homogenous Hard tank armor and proof against .303 rifle fire. Originally, however, for the prototype, the hull was not going to be made from armor plating, but mild steel ‘soft plate’ instead. On A.11E1, the rear and hull roof were made using thinner plates than that used on the eventual production models, just 7 mm thick for the floor and roof and 8 mm thick at the rear – albeit heavily sloped.
This is common enough in a prototype tank, as it makes manufacturing easier and cheaper and permits modifications to be done quickly prior to production. Of note too is that this prototype was only made in plate 60 mm thick, as this thickness was considered sufficient protection against the primary prospective enemy anti-tank weapon of the time – the excellent German 37 mm gun (3.7 cm Pak 36).
Despite having the appearance of a tank riveted to a frame, like many other tanks constructed in this period, the structure was physically strong and stiff enough that it was, in fact, simply riveted together without a frame.
Prototype – A.11E1
Despite being a technically simple vehicle, this first vehicle, A.11E1, now with an official War Department index number of T.1724, was not finished until September 1936, when it was handed over to the Mechanisation Experimental Establishment (M.E.E.).
Firstly, on 9th December 1936, splash tests were conducted at Farnborough and the turret, in particular, was found to be a problem. Here, under concentrated machine-gun fire using standard ball ammunition, it was found that the mantlet could actually break up under the stress of multiple impact and allow splash to enter the vehicle, to the detriment of the crew. As a result of this, Messrs Vickers-Armstrong replaced the mantlet with a cast steel mantlet which would chip away under the repeated stresses of concentrated fire, but would neither jam nor break up.
Some three months later, on 16th March 1937, armor plating 60 mm thick of the type intended for the primary armor was tested at Shoeburyness. Here, it was found that, whilst 60 mm rolled plate and 60 mm castings were sufficient to stop armor-piercing shots from the British two-pounder, there was not sufficient additional protection to allow for a sufficient margin of safety. As a result, the armor was recommended to be upgraded to a new requirement 65 mm thick with a tensile strength of 75 tons (76.2 tonnes) for production vehicles.
Further splash trials were carried out in November 1938 and, once more, there were problems. Specifically, splash could enter through the large driver’s hatch as well as through the engine louvers. On top of this problem, the bullet-proof glass selected by Vickers had the unpleasant characteristic of splintering when shot and had to be replaced. Quite why this testing process had to be dragged out over a nearly two-year period when the whole tank was needed ‘within 6 months’ is somewhat unfathomable. Nonetheless, the lessons from the trials meant that modifications to both thickness and splash protection were made between A.11E1 and production A.11 models.
Most noticeable are the changes around the driver’s area. On the prototype vehicle, the sidewalls of the hull are straight and cut flush with the surface. This created a sharp edge and provided no angling to reduce splash from small arms, which could go towards the driver’s hatch. These top edges of the side were therefore chamfered at roughly a 45-degree angle. Likewise, the tendency for splash to penetrate the leading lip of the large hatch was rectified with a protective strip riveted to the top edge of the driver’s panel. An additional change was the addition of a pair of horizontal raised strips across the full width of the glacis. These ribs would stop rounds that struck the glacis from ricochetting up into the direction of the driver’s visor or hatch edge. One splash guard which was later to be modified from the A.11E1 design, however, was the one that ran across the width of the hull roof in front of the turret. By the time the vehicle entered production, this was not as high and just covered the bottom edge of the turret.
The vehicle itself was very simple in arrangement. With just two crew, the driver sat centrally in the front, operating the steering and propulsion via levers and pedals. Behind him, and manning the gun as well as commanding the tank, was the second crew member, the commander. Both these men occupied the small yet adequate fighting compartment and were separated from the engine by an internal bulkhead. The driver sat forward in the hull and was provided with a single, full hull width rectangular hatch above him. This large hatch was supported by two hydraulic cylinders due to its weight. No episcope was originally fitted to A.11E1., but this was added during testing. Without it, the driver was limited to just a narrow view directly ahead when the hatch was closed – with it, he could provide additional situational awareness to the sides.
The rear of the vehicle sloped sharply downwards over the engine bay. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the A.11 was the lack of mudguards over the top of the track run. This is surprising given how simple such a guard would be, whether in metal or even canvas (like the Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’ from WW1). The lack of a mudguard meant dirt and branches could be caught up in the tracks and dragged along the side of the tank or thrown up onto the engine deck, none of which would improve either the mechanical or combat efficiency of the tank. The only effort to prevent such a situation were rather small and sturdy guards fitted only over the rear-drive sprocket, which was a feature of the production vehicle – another lesson from A.11E1.
Overall dimensions for A.11E1 were very much those of a small tank. Just 15’ 11” (4.85 m) long and 7’ 6” (2.29 m) wide from the outer track edges, with the track centres 6’ (1.83 m) apart. Overall, the top of the turret was barely 6’ (1.83 m) from the ground – an ideal size to cover a man advancing behind the tank. By the time the trials had ended, this increased to 6’ 1.5” (1.87 m) to the top of the episcope on the turret roof. Ground clearance was also very reasonable, measuring some 9.5” (240 mm) from the ground. For the sake of reference, this meant that the A.11 was shorter in length and height, and only slightly wider than the already small Renault FT of WW1.
Oddly, the trench crossing idea of managing to bridge an 8’ (2.4 m) wide trench from the original plan had been abandoned. The final design would manage just 6’ 6” (1.98 m), still enough to cross a normal infantry trench or a small ditch, whilst also keeping the overall length (and thereby, weight) of the machine down. Climbing performance was also acceptable, as those exposed tracks projecting from the front of the tank could easily grip onto a surface to help it climb a parapet or low wall, as long as it was no higher than 2’ 6” (0.76 m) high.
One other consideration in obstacle crossing for the design was the main armament, which, because it did not project, added zero risk of it becoming lodged in the bank of a ditch the tank was entering, as would be an issue with a long-barrelled weapon. That is not to say that the weapon in its armored cowl did not cause obstructions, because it did. It fouled on the driver’s hatch to the extent that, with the gun forward, the driver was not able to have his hatch fully open. No official fording capacity was noted in official data for the A.11.
Every tank has to provide some external fittings and items for practical purposes, like lamps, so the vehicle could operate at night, or stowage for crew items externally, in order to free up internal space. The A.11E1 was absolutely no different but was supplied bare. No lamps, no boxes, almost no tools and this would indicate that the intention was to find a location during the trials.
Soon after trials started, these fittings started to appear, with a pair of odd-looking boxed-in headlamps fitted on stubby arms which projected from the sides of the hull, just level with the front of the turret.
With the first essential fittings added – those necessary to drive the vehicle safely, then followed the turret roof, with a boxy style of episcope and a rotatable episcope fitted into a hole cut in the front angle of the driver’s hatch. These two additions provided much-needed situational awareness for the crew. As the first suspension changes took place, so too did the stowage on the tank, going from none to two large boxes placed low (so as to not block the driver’s view slit) on either side of the driver’s compartment. The final change or addition during testing was the result of the lack of mudguards. For whatever reason these were left as just small and somewhat flimsy sheet metal covers which only went over the sprockets and no further. By the time the tank would enter production, some additional modifications took place with those lessons learned from A.11E1, like changes to the stowage and headlamps, plus additional features, like smoke grenade launchers on the turret, fire extinguisher mountings, and tow cables, but the essentials of the tank were sound.
The boxed-in headlamps in their protective casing would be changed too – standard car-type headlamps could be used instead. They would be easily damaged by enemy fire or even passage through heavy scrub but they were also cheap, simple, plentiful, and easy to fix.
One non-essential item which was added as almost an afterthought was a mine plough designed by the firm of Fowler. The Fowler coulter plough (coulter is not a company, but a vertical blade in front of the ploughshare itself), as it was called, was a somewhat ungainly device consisting of a pair of long arms formed from steel girders, with one on each side of the tank. Operated up and down from travel position to a deployed position via a drum-driven chain from a power take-off on the back of the transmission, the plough could be lowered so that the wheels on the ends of the arms ran along the ground surface.
A tubular framework projected ahead of the main frame, which ensured the plough followed the terrain ahead and kept scrub from clogging the front of the device. Behind this was a set of coulters on each side, which would cut the ground and ploughshare the dirt and any mines concealed within it to the left and right of the tank’s route. This was first tried on A.11E1 in 1937 and was found to be highly successful, to the extent that the necessary fittings for such a plough were then added to the first production A.11 tank, although, by then, the need to get tanks off the production line was more important than a rather complex device which had never been part of its original purpose.
Suspension and Tracks
The original sketch from Sir John Carden showed suspension substantially different from the ones which the vehicle was subsequently built with as a prototype. In the provisional sketch, there are clearly 4 distinct and separate bogies, each with a pair of road wheels and with a spring connected to the hull and the rear of each pair. Above each bogie was a track return roller. The system drawn closely matched that of the Dragon Mark IV Artillery Tractor produced by Vickers-Armstrong. It was almost certainly meant to be based upon that system. Just like that system, the tracks used were a medium pitch design made from cast manganese steel and connected together via a single steel pin. Each link also featured no rubber pads for use on roads, but a pronounced spud to gain better traction on soft ground.
However, when the vehicle was produced, it would not use this Dragon or Dragon-like Horstman suspension, but a different Vickers product derived from the suspension of their 6-ton tank.
As a matter of some confusion in the tale of the suspension for these vehicles, there are multiple marks of vehicles and there are several distinct suspension variations worked through on Vickers products at the time.
In essence, however, this proposed suspension consisted of a pair of bogies with a flat arrangement of 4 pairs of road wheels, each mounted in pairs. Each of those pairs was connected to one end of the spring leaves, providing a degree of movement, as the entire bogie could also rotate around a central pivot point. The design was complex. Using small wheels, whilst allowing them to be placed closer together, also resulted in a small external unit that was easily clogged with mud. This style of suspension had already been rejected by the M.E.E. as a problem, so it can only be surmised that it was added as a cost-saving measure, as it was already in production.
If there is criticism of the A.11, it has to focus mostly on this decision of choosing a system based on an idea from 1929 which the Army already disliked and had proven to be disappointing during testing. This was not a decision likely to find supporters, yet the solution was available and in production and it did work to the extent required. Pragmatism meant the suspension, as fitted, would be kept and that tweaks would have to be made just to make it work.
As it underwent testing at M.E.E., various problems were quickly identified and one of the first was that the toothed front idler was unnecessary. Further, the track was found to be collecting stones and these could become jammed in the rear sprocket. The solution to the former problem was simple – just replace the toothed idler sprocket with a non-toothed one. The latter was resolved in April 1937 and consisted of raising the rear sprocket by 5 inches (127 mm). This would not be the final change to the suspension of the A.11 during its service, but the A.11E1 had set the shape and suspension type which remained with the A.11 throughout its military career.
The hull production had changed too. The original sides of the A.11, as seen on A.11E1, were a simple two-piece fabrication with an offset vertical line of rivets about halfway down the length. On the production vehicles, this seam was retained, but the rearmost panel was now two panels which also had to be riveted together. This added a little weight to the vehicle, but also simplified production by reducing the amount of cutting of the thick armor plating which was required. Rivet-counters will also note that the front of the tank shows a different layout of rivets as well. On A.11E1, the nose of the tank was a separate panel and bolted onto the tank with a column of four bolts on each side. The glacis plate was likewise bolted onto the tank and the nose plate was changed for production. In production, the flat edges of the glacis plate were chamfered and riveted to the structure of the tank. The nose plate was now integral with the extensions either side of the front idlers and all riveted in one piece to the front of the tank.
No radio was fitted to A.11E1, presumably as a cost and complexity saving measure. Right from the outset, in 1935, no wireless set had been planned for A.11. This would be rectified by the time the tank entered production, as the Wireless Set No.11 was available by 1938 and would eventually be fitted as standard on all production tanks, although this would obviously add weight and take up valuable space inside.
Other than the already known problems with the suspension system chosen, the A.11 had a remarkably easy birth when it came to testing. The exhaust pipe being moved was just one of those small changes identified during testing to avoid problems in production vehicles. Indeed, that was the entire purpose of testing and the A.11 can be considered to have tested out very well.
The two large stowage bins fitted to A.11E1 were varied for production models but remained essentially the same – two large boxes, either side of the hull. On the A.12 vehicle, which followed the A.11, these stowage bins were moved forwards and downwards to flank the nose of the tank. Behind the curved front armor of the A.12, those front bins actually provide a misleading shape on the front of the A.12, giving it a full-width flush appearance when it is, in fact, a narrow nose-shape just like the A.11. Moving those boxes forwards in that manner and making them integral with the vehicle also provided the advantage of some additional protection for the A.12.
Power for the A.11E1 was provided by a 3.62 litre Ford V8 petrol engine delivering 70 hp connected to a Fordson four-speed crash (manual clutch) gearbox. Drive for the 11.5” (292.1 mm) wide manganese steel tracks was delivered from this gearbox via final drives at the rear, connected to the sprockets. Steering was provided through a system of clutch and brake steering (i.e. brake the right track to turn right and vice versa), which was taken directly from the Vickers light tank and controlled by the driver in the same manner – a pair of steering levers. One problem identified during testing was that the exhaust pipe from the engine was prone to cause the engine oil to heat up, so it had to be rerouted, but this was a simple affair and certainly not a failure – just a tweak to avoid a problem. It meant a very minor external change of the exhaust from the rear deck at the bottom in the middle to the right-hand side of the back instead.
The engine was small and the result was a relatively slow vehicle. However, this did not matter. Indeed the A.11E1 proved to be faster than expected and perfectly satisfactory for speed. From the notes of Col. Strudd at that 10th October 1935 meeting with Sir John Carden when the tank concept was presented, it is clear that the Army was perfectly satisfied with a top speed of just 5 mph (8.0 km/h) although 8 mph (12.9 km/h) would be better. The A.11E1., could, in fact, achieve a top speed of 10.9 mph (17.5 km/h) on a road and 5.8 mph (9.3 km/h) off-road, but this was not a problem at all for the design, as it only had to keep pace with infantry on foot. The average speed the tank could sustain on a road was 8.17 mph (13.1 km/h) and 5.6 mph (9.0 km/h) off-road.
The internal fuel tanks held 43 Imperial gallons (195.5 liters) of petrol for an official maximum operational range of 80 miles (129 km). With 43 litres of petrol and a known fuel consumption rate during the trials of 2 gallons (9.1 litres) per hour on-road and 1.8 gallons (8.2 litres) per hour off-road, that also meant up to 21.5 hours of road use and 23.8 hours off-road.
Made in a single piece, the turret was a substantial casting with armor 60 mm thick all round. Provision was made for a single armament – either a Vickers .303 caliber machine gun or the somewhat beefier .50 Vickers instead.
Almost cylindrical in shape, the basic elements of the A.11 turret were the same as drawn originally by Sir John Carden. The cylinder was angled at the back, providing a little more space, and the front carried forwards the trunnions for the main gun, all within this one-piece casting.
Atop the turret was a simple circular hatch which opened in 2 pieces – two quarter circles at the rear half, forming a semicircle, opened out and the whole front half of the turret roof formed the other semi-circle. On the left side of this front half-circular hatch was the single episcope for the commander.
The original turret casting for A.11E1 was a little more complex than on the production model. The outer edge on the front half of the turret at the top is the reference point for spotting the difference. On the prototype, there is a pronounced half-rim running around the front of the turret and projecting from the sides. This is not easily visible on the production turret, which replaced this hard rim with a more rounded and less pronounced outswell, although the purpose was the same – to reduce the chances of ricochets up the sides of the turret hitting an exposed commander. The turret was also asymmetrical, with that rear swell offset to the right at the back and the front casting for the armament offset to the right as well at the front. This meant that the trunnion mount can be seen on the right-hand side of the turret but not on the left and the reason for this offset is obvious – it allows the commander to share space with the gun. With the primary (and only) weapon on the A.11 being the single machine gun, it was belt-fed from the left, so setting the gun off slightly to the right allowed the commander to operate the gun and reload it much more easily.
The rear of the turret would noticeably change from A.11E1 too, from a rounded back on the prototype to the production turret which angled-off the swell at the back of the turret and created a short ‘step’ underneath – a very modest change to create a little extra space inside.
Two more small features of note on the turret which would change from A.11E1 would be the addition of a small triangular bracket for mounting a radio antenna base on the rear right-hand side for the No. 11 Wireless Set inside, and the addition of a pair of mounts for the smoke grenade launchers, one on each side of the turret and operated by cable from inside. Both the addition of a radio and smoke grenades would be substantial improvements from the very basic tank which was A.11E1.
A.11E1 was intended to support infantry by providing not just a mobile protective shield in front of them, but also to suppress enemy positions with machine-gun fire. The machine gun, not the cannon, was the primary choice for killing enemy troops and destroying machine-gun positions, which were a major threat to the infantry. For A.11E1, the original weapon chosen was simply the standard water-cooled .303 calibre Vickers machine gun albeit, with a short note which followed saying “we can try our idea of M/C gun but this is not so urgent”.
‘M/C’ in this context may be taken to mean ‘Machine Cannon’ i.e. a heavy machine gun with added anti-armor capability over the standard .303 machine gun or another compact gun capable of firing a small high explosive charges as well. The details were clearly not finished, as the priority was to get the tank into development as soon as possible. The small turret would make the fitting of a larger gun harder but not impossible. For the development of the A.11, just two guns were selected, either a .303 calibre Vickers machine gun or its heavier brother, the 0.5 calibre Vickers machine gun. Whatever ‘machine cannon’ Sir John Carden and Colonel Strudd were discussing in October 1935 is not known.
Armament Options for A.11
Vickers Mark IVA
Vickers Mark V
Weight (vehicle mounted)
65 ½ lbs. (29.7 kg)
71 ¾ lbs. (32.5 kg)
Rate of fire
* 12.7 x 81 mm (.5 Vickers also known as the ‘.5V/580’) rather than the 12.7 x 120mm (0.5 Vickers High Velocity also known as the ‘.5 V/690’). The number after the ‘V’ in both cases referred to the weight of the bullet in grains rather than a velocity
Both types of machine gun were available with a variety of ammunition, from a lead core ‘normal’ bullet suitable for general use to an armor-piercing round. When it comes to the common complaint about the A.11, that it was under-armed, the existence of armor-piercing ammunition for both guns has to be taken into consideration.
For the .303 caliber gun, armor-piercing rounds had been available since WW1, as had incendiary rounds. The Mark.VII.W.z Armour Piercing round of 1917 (known later as the W Mk.Iz from 1927) was a 174 grain (11.28 gram) cupro-nickel jacketed bullet with a 93 grain (6.02 gram) steel tip. Traveling at 762 m/s, the bullet was designed to meet a requirement that 70% of rounds could penetrate a 10 mm thick armor plate at 100 yards (91.4 m). An effective anti-armor range of 100 m does not sound like much, but was perfectly adequate to deal with close-by enemy positions and also for suppressing protected targets further away.
For the 0.5 calibre gun, the armor-piercing round was known as the ‘Armour Piercing W. Mark 1z’ and also featured a hardened steel core. The penetrative requirements for this round were that 7 times out of 10, it would be able to penetrate 18 mm of armor plate at 0 degrees and 15 mm at 20 degrees vertical, all at 100 yards (91.4 m). A tracer version of this round, known as the SAP Tracer FG, came in various marks and there was even an incendiary version of it, known as the ‘Incendiary B Mark I.z’.
Whilst the .303 was an ideal weapon for suppressing enemy positions, mowing down enemy troops and dealing with soft-skinned vehicles, it was not suitable for picking off enemy forces behind a shield, like a gun crew. It was also not suitable for dealing with light enemy armor. The option of mounting the .50 calibre version removed that problem at short ranges. Both guns were perfectly adequate for general work, with acceptable accuracy on target out to at least 1,500 m. Both versions were virtually indistinguishable from each other when fitted into the turret and concealed within the large cast armor housing over the water-cooling jacket, although only troop leader’s tanks were fitted with the 0.50 calibre.
Some 3,000 rounds (12 belts) of .303 caliber ammunition were eventually to be carried as standard, which would be sufficient for just 6 minutes of continuous automatic fire. In the trial photos, there is one which appears to show half a dozen ammunition cans on a shelf on the right hand side. Assuming this was an attempt to carry more ammunition, then that would be several more belts for perhaps as much as 5,000 rounds carried. Boxes for the .50 Vickers ammunition held just a single 100 round belt, such was the greater size of the round. Assuming the ammunition stowage for both guns was to be proportional, this would mean 1,200 .50 Vickers rounds, enough for just 2 minutes of continuous fire.
A contract for the production of 60 tanks was signed at the end of April 1938 and, ten days later, another order for the same amount came, meaning a total of 120 tanks. This would be enough to provide tanks for 2 whole battalions.
The A.11E1 was a successful prototype. It arrived late and perhaps this was partially the result of the untimely death of its creator, Sir John Carden, in December 1935 in an air crash. Certainly, there was nothing particularly novel about the tank or some new technology that had to be invented for it to exist.
The A.11E1 occupies an unusual space within British tank design too, as it languished in that period in the 1930’s where a new weapon was needed, but not one was entirely sure on what they were really going to need. Nonetheless, the design was still capable of being modified from its original form into something a little more than that and of being a capable platform for a device like the Fowler mine plough. The reality for it was that, by the time it was in production and being delivered, there was already a replacement in the pipeline in the form of the A.12 Matilda. That particular vehicle had a much more difficult birth and yet it could not have existed in its final form without the A.11 beforehand. The heavily armored infantry tank which started with A.11 and its prototype A.11E1, became the foundation of the heavily armored A.12 and its most dominant feature. The A.11E1 should, therefore, not be seen as some retrograde step for the Army to some attempt to rerun the First World War, but an attempt to learn from that war and produce a tank sufficiently protected for the next one.
15’11” (4.85 m) Long, 7’ 6” (2.29 m) wide, 6’ 1.5” (1.87 m) high
3.63 litre Ford V8 petrol producing 70 hp
top speed 10.9 mph (17.5 km/h) on road and 5.8 mph (9.3 km/h) off road, cruising speed 8.17 mph (13.1 km/h) and 5.6 mph (9.0 km/h) off road.
United States of America/Austro-Hungarian Empire (1919)
Infantry Fort – None Built
World War One was, by 1918, the largest and most costly war in terms of lives in the history of mankind. Starting in 1914, the war finally ended officially in June 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, although, with the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, all active combat between the Allies and Central Powers ended. The United States had been late to the war, only joining on the side of the Allies in April 1917. For the period of the war which remained, the US built its own derived version of the Renault FT, changed to suit imperial units, and later, the heavy tank Mk. VIII, which was the product of a joint British / American development.
In the meantime, various inventions and designs were being submitted to the US Government and Army or just espoused in the media. These presented military vehicles of varying degrees of practicality and reality. Probably the last such vehicle to be submitted during the active phase of WW1 was filed with the US Patent office just 2 days prior to the Armistice of 11th November – this was the Infantry Fort of George Roy.
George Roy described himself as a subject of the Austrian Emperor and submitted the patent in his own name, as the inventor, along with a second man, Piotr Lzarnopyski. Roy assigned half the value of the design to Lzarnopyski, presumably because Lzarnopyski helped pay the required filing fees, as his name appears nowhere else on the patent application or drawing. Both men were identified as residing in Chicago, Illinois, and no nationality was given for Lzarnopyski, although the name is likely Polish in origin. Sadly, neither man appears to have applied for other patents before or subsequent to this one, so very little additional information can be gained on who they were or how they came to the design submitted in their names.
The intent behind the design was to provide a mobile tracked platform from which soldiers could deliver firepower upon the enemy, as well as be elevated and protected by armor when being transported.
The overall shape is one of a large flattened triangle, with the reverse angle of the triangle formed into a series of steps up which soldiers were to climb from a small projecting platform at the rear. Three steps would bring a soldier to the top fighting platform of the vehicle, from where he could fire from behind cover.
The triangular body of the vehicle was dominated by the large angled front glacis, which curved very slightly across its width, providing a well-shaped surface to deflect enemy bullets. In the recess of the curve of the glacis was a small curved firing step or platform on the front. At the top of the vehicle, where the glacis met the roof, the roof itself was just the flattened peak of the triangle, forming the top of a wall from behind which men could shoot.
Behind this was a series of short steps down to a platform at the tail. Within the triangle, formed by the glacis and these steps, was the body of the vehicle, with a single rectangular door on each side. The tracks were arranged in a triangular pattern, with the top flattened. This matched the shape of the body of the vehicle. The track itself appears from the patent to have used pronounced square section timber spuds attached to the links and was pulled around via a sprocket, which was the rearmost of the two wheels at the top flattened part of the track. This drive sprocket was rotated by a simple chain drive from the engine, which was mounted onto a floor frame inside the body of the vehicle. Eight toothed road wheels were arranged evenly spaced on the bottom, against the ground portion of the track, spreading the load of the vehicle on the ground. No return rollers, jockey wheels, guide beams, or similar supports are shown to support the track either on the way up from the front or on the way back down at the back.
The track itself is full width, i.e. there is only this single track rather than one on each side. Power to drive the track does not get delivered via a sprocket on the left or right but via one arranged towards the center of the width of the track.
The front of the vehicle was formed from one enormous and continuous glacis, from just above ground level all the way to the top of the tank, forming a door-stop shape. This angled plate would serve to deflect incoming enemy bullets and, whilst there is no armor thickness mentioned – the protection was only ever mentioned to serve against bullets. Thus, a thickness of not more than 8 mm might have been needed to provide the sort of bullet deflection Roy was intending. The steps were meant to be made from bullet-resistant armor plates, as this would allow men or stores to be carried inside the vehicle in safety.
The entire body surrounded the tracks at the front, covering them from enemy fire and likewise at the rear. The sides of the vehicle were protected as well, as this armored covering extended down to the same level as the glacis at the front.
Roy envisaged the vehicle in use as effectively a mobile armored wall, rather than a fort, despite the name he applied to it. With no sides or rear protection for the men using this as a firing platform, all of the firepower and armor was directed only to its front. Seen from any other direction, it would only serve to provide a series of easy and well elevated human targets for an opposing force to pick off.
The vehicle was clearly intended to either operate in the attack as a platform, or forming some defensive line with other vehicles, as it could be anchored to the ground by means of a simple anchor operated from the small platform at the rear.
No form of propulsion was mentioned, other than the single comment describing the vehicle, where Roy stated it was to have a “motor driven track”. Driven from a single, high-mounted sprocket roughly central in the width of the single track, it is unclear how or even if the machine could be steered.
Roy provided no information at all about any potential crew for the vehicle and, as it was not armed, presumably just a single person would be required to drive it. There is no indication as to where a driver might go, as there are no vision slits or windows provided from which someone inside could see out.
On the topic of practicality, there really was none. The design provided zero protection for the men using it as a firestep from either the sides, rear, or above. Any crew would certainly have struggled to control such a vehicle with no clear idea as to how to steer the machine. It seems Roy intended it to be able to go only forwards.
For a period earlier in the war, this kind of naive tracked shield, for want of a better term, might have been forgivable, but the design was submitted in 1918 – more than 2 years after the first tanks had seen combat and long after images were to be found easily in newspapers around the world. There is simply nothing at all offered by this design that was not or could not be delivered better by a tank or something even simpler. Even the tracked Pedrail Shield of 1915 surpassed this idea, as it was simpler and provided better protection. Unsurprisingly, offering nothing at all to anyone, this design never progressed past the patent office.
US Patent 1,299,620 Infantry Fort, filed 9th November 1918, granted 8th April 1919.
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