On 2nd April 1951, James Joseph Baldine (20/12/1910 to June 1974) of Hubbard, Ohio, USA, submitted a design for a one man tank and, like so many other one-man tank designs, Baldine’s had all the advantages of protecting a single soldier behind armor but also all the same disadvantages of a lack of fightability, observation, and vehicle control. He had, however, carefully considered the control aspect of the one-man tank and devised a foot-pedal control system which would allow the soldier inside to manage the steering and propulsion of the vehicle entirely with his feet allowing him to keep his hands free to operate a weapon. Baldine was no doubt influenced by current events, as the design was submitted at the time of the Korean War (1950-1953) but showed what can only be described as naive thinking in military terms, especially in a post-World War II era. Nonetheless, the design was a thorough one, producing probably the best of all of the one-man tanks and showing how many of the challenges for such a concept could be overcome.
Baldine’s tank did not separate the engine from the operator (this is what Baldine called the sole crewman), but placed it directly behind him, with the control pedals for steering/braking at his feet. The engine is described only as a four-cylinder, air cooled aviation type motor behind which was a conventional fluid transmission connected to the final drive for the tracks and a power-take-off with a small propeller allowing the vehicle to be propelled in water. Exhaust gases were vented directly out of the top but, with no provision for a fan, the operator would quickly become very tired from the proximity of this hot engine (despite the presence of a bulkhead between the operator and the engine) inside such a small machine. Directly under the crotch region of the pad, under the operator, was the petrol tank for the engine. The tracks for Baldine’s tank are not specified but he describes them only as “an endless track” with suspension of a ‘shock absorbing’ type.
The only mention of armament from Baldine is of a single machine gun in the front. The artwork submitted for his patent application in 1951 seems to indicate a .50 calibre machine gun like the M2 Browning. Fitted within a simple ball-mount in the nose of the tank, it would actually have a potentially wide arc of fire. Ammunition for it was fed from a magazine secured to the side of the nose-wall. A secondary weapon, in the form of a forward firing rocket launcher sticking out of the front, was located to the left of the operator. Fed from a magazine at the rear, the purpose of the rocket launcher is unclear as to whether it was for smoke or anti-tank or other purposes. The exhaust gas from the rocket was directed down below the vehicle to prevent it from giving away the position of the tank and the operator was provided with a sight to try and aim it. No other armament or smoke launchers were provided for, although presumably any soldier inside would also have their personal weapon as well, such as a submachine gun or handgun.
The tank itself was somewhat more complex than many other one-man tank concepts and also a lot larger. Unlike others, where the operator lacks enough space to sit up, Baldine proposed a taller vehicle with a pronounced dome directly over the soldier. Provided with ventilation slots, this dome would provide air and comfort for the solder but was not used for observation. Instead, all observation was conducted through the single large bulletproof glass window located directly to the soldier’s front over the main armament. Access to the tank was gained via a small sliding hatch located midway down its length on the roof, meaning the soldier would be exposed to enemy fire if/when the machine became stuck.
A common flaw in the one-man tank concept is the issue of comfort for the soldier crewing the vehicle. The operator is already very busy having to command, steer, and fight from the tank and obviously this is made harder if they are uncomfortable. Taking a prone position, where the soldier is lying on his front, can become very tiring after a while, particularly after travelling over rough country and having to lift their head up in order to see and fight, which produces additional strains. Baldine’s additional idea to assist his one-man tank concept was the addition of a specially designed sponge-rubber pad on which the soldier could lay.
Specially shaped, this pad would hold the operator in a steady position, providing support for his arms and chin as well as a wedge shaped block on which his crotch would rest. This crotch-block would prevent the solder from slipping down the mattress and raised edges on the sides and base would stop him from sliding laterally as well.
The one-man tank idea, something first proposed decades earlier and something which had never seen any successful mass production or use, was a dead idea by the 50’s. It can be surmised that Baldine was motivated by seeing the War in Korea and wanting to do his part for his country and to save the lives of soldiers or maybe just opportunism to try and make some money from an idea. Regardless of his motivations though, the design itself was not a terrible one by any means. As far as the concept goes, the design certainly had merit for the control of the machine and the layout, but the concept of a one-man tank was just fundamentally a bad one. A single soldier would be unable to adequately command, control and fight from the vehicle and the features of the vehicle inherent within the design, such as the low profile, giving low visibility, prevent such an idea being viable. As such, his one-man tank design might have been a very good one-man tank design but the concept was simply a flawed one. As such, his design suffered from those flaws and despite his best efforts could not overcome them. That ended his one-man tank idea.
Baldine also submitted a patent for a game teaching apparatus in January 1951. In 1963, he also designed a portable incinerator for a motor vehicle, designed as a means of disposing of cigarettes and paper items which could be fitted to a standard saloon car for disposing of litter on the move. Neither of those two designs were perhaps as adventurous as his one man tank idea, but Baldine had moved on anyway. It is not known whether Baldine received any financial benefit from his patents, but his one-man tank idea certainly went nowhere. His political career, as Mayor of Hubbard, was far more successful though, serving six consecutive terms. He died in office in 1974.
US Patent US2823393(A) Cushion pad for one-man tank, filed 2nd April 1951, granted 18th February 1958
US Patent US2722986 Braking and Steering Control Mechanism for one-man tank, filed 2nd April 1951, granted 8th November 1955
Hubbard News, 19th June 1974 – Mayor Baldine: an era has ended