Categories
WW1 Austro-Hungarian Armor

Franz Wimmer Panzerautomobil

Austria Hungary tanks Austro-Hungarian Empire (1913)
Armored Car – 1 Prototype

In 1913, just a year before World War I broke out, an armored car was built in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, designed by an artillery officer named Franz Wimmer. Although a patent has survived, as well as some scarce reports in contemporary newspapers, further documentation, including photographs, are unknown. In fact, relevant literature has not even mentioned the armored vehicle. This article hopefully will increase awareness of this specific part of Austro-Hungarian armored history.

An edited excerpt from the patent filed by Franz Wimmer in 1913. Source: AT Patent 66567

The Place of Armored Vehicles in Austria-Hungary

The Austro-Hungarian Empire has a dubious place in early armored vehicle development. On one hand, its soil brought forth the advanced 4×4 Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil in 1905, and the famous Motorgeschütz design by Burstyn which was never built but has been dubbed as one of the theoretical forerunners of the tank that would appear on the battlefield during the First World War. On the other hand, the Austro-Hungarian Army rejected all these designs and went to war in 1914 without any armored vehicle when it could potentially have had the best of its time. As such, the Austro-Hungarian Army has often been criticized for having overlooked the value of armored vehicles. Partially, this is true. The Austro-Daimler Panzerwagen was rejected for dubious reasons and when the Romfell armored car was built in 1915, the Ministry of Defense was initially furious that a truck chassis was ‘wasted’. However, one should not forget that the Austro-Daimler was actually based on requirements laid out by the Army itself, that the Motorgeschütz was rejected based on reasonable arguments and that, apparently, a new armored vehicle was trialed in 1913.

The Designer

Little information has been found about Franz Wimmer, mainly because the right information is hard to find, due to Franz Wimmer being a common name in Austria. He served as an officer within the 4th Field Gun Regiment (4. Feldkanonenregiment, F.K.R. 4 for short) when he applied for his patent. During early April 1913, Oberleutnant Wimmer was awarded the Marianerkreuz by Erzherzog Eugen as a reward of merit for his work in sanitary techniques. Sometime after this, at the very end of April or early May, he was promoted to Hauptmann, similar to the rank of captain. In July, he received the ‘Fürstlich Liechtensteinische Regierungsjubiläums Erinnerungsmedaille’, followed by the Jerusalem Pilgrim’s Cross which he received in August 1914. At the end of 1914, when the war had already been going on for several months, Wimmer made the news again thanks to another invention of his, namely a special water-resistant coat for horse riders to protect them during heavy rain. This invention he had already patented several years earlier. Apart from that achievement, the records have been silent about Hauptmann Franz Wimmer.

Cross-section illustration of the armored vehicle with the front-facing to the left. At first glance, it looks more like a locomotive rather than an armored car. The main armament, not shown in the illustration, was mounted in the turret. In the back compartment, two firing ports were located on each side. Source: AT Patent 66567B

The Design

*Note to reader: This description is based on the patent description. To what extent the patent matched the built vehicle is not fully known*

The patent described the vehicle as follows:

“The object of this invention is an armored car which is essentially characterized by the placement of the armed turret and by extendable bridge-like truss beams or preferably extension frames with auxiliary wheels for crossing trenches.”

A turnable turret was mounted at the front of the vehicle. A machine gun or a gun of small caliber could be mounted on a pivot to which the gunners’ seat was attached.

Behind the turret, a higher built armored compartment was located which housed a commander and a driver. A foldable chair was located on the front side on which the driver could sit when driving backward. Because this compartment was higher than the turret in front, this provided both the commander and driver a good surround-view without limiting the firing radius too much. Furthermore, Franz Wimmer believed that the crew would get irritated by gunfire that would be fired above or over their heads. With this design, it was not possible to fire over the crew compartment.

At the back compartment of the vehicle, additional machine guns could be deployed in the event of an attack at the rear or if the vehicle would have to ride backward. The engine was located at the center of the vehicle and coupled with a dynamo. A cooler was placed on top with a fan. To ease repairs, the sides of the engine compartment could be detached. Furthermore, an accumulator was placed in the rear compartment from which power could be sourced in case the engine would fail. Furthermore, this compartment held the gasoline tanks, ammunition storage, as well as several stretchers for the wounded.

In an attempt to decrease total weight, the armor was made of relatively weak and small armored plates overlapping each other in a roof tile-like manner. The plates were 3 mm thick, not even bulletproof, and 60 by 40 cm in size. The patent described the armor to be made of any suitable steel, but preferably an alloy of Nickel-Chrome-Vanadium. The armor plates were attached to the wall with eyelets and wire ropes. With springs, they were individually supported and held in an inclined position.

Cross-section illustrations of the vehicle. The high placement of the crew compartment provided a view not too much obstructed by the lower placed turret on the front, but in turn, limited the turning radius of the turret. The drawing on the right shows how the individual armored plates were suspended and overlapped each other. Source: AT Patent 66567B

Extendable Beams

One starts to wonder if it is a coincidence that Franz Wimmer implemented the idea of crossing beams while his compatriot, Günther Burstyn, had thought of the exact same thing some years back, albeit differently executed. As Burstyn published his design in contemporary military magazines, it is plausible that Franz Wimmer was aware of Burstyn’s idea, but this remains speculation. We only know that they served the same purpose, namely to overcome the difficulty wheeled vehicles had with crossing ditches and trenches. And, just like Burstyn’s design, the idea would have been hard to operate, if not impossible.

Drawings of the extendable beams, illustrating how they would help to overcome trenches. Source: AT Patent 66567B

The vehicle was not specifically meant for combat. Listed usages were as ammunition and supply carrier, as a reconnaissance vehicle in hostile territory, and as rapid deployment of firepower, as 3-4 machine guns could be mounted on the vehicle. Furthermore, the electric power could have a variety of uses in wartime, including providing power for a telegraphy station. The headlight on the front provided enough light to enable operation at nighttime.

In the Press

On May 11, 1913, the Pilsner Tagblatt reported that, at that time, a Panzerautomobil was trialed. If the vehicle lived up to expectations, a few would be acquired by the War Administration. The Deutscher Volksblatt, on May 8, was more informative and knew that the vehicle was armored with nickel steel plating and that the extendable trench crossing beams were its special novelty. The most extensive report appeared in the Prager Tagblatt of May 11. They added that both the specific construction and the multitude of uses were praised by the professional circles. Furthermore, the article listed several of the technical specifications.

The vehicle was constructed at the Austro-Daimler factory in Wiener-Neustadt. The Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil of 1905 had been built by the very same factory. Unfortunately, it is not known how well the Wimmer Panzerautomobil performed. It was never ordered by the Army and, by that, it can be assumed the vehicle did not live up to expectations, however, to which extent cannot be said without further sources.

Article in the ‘Deutsches Volksblatt’ about the vehicle being trialed. Source: Deutsches Volksblatt, 8 May 1913.

Conclusion

With the extendable beams and sloped and suspended armor plating, Franz Wimmer designed a unique armored car. Unfortunately, history has not done much good to the vehicle, as it is practically unknown, partially due to the complete lack of photographs. Future research will hopefully shed more light on this obscure piece of Austro-Hungarian armored history and its trials.



Illustration of the Franz Wimmer Panzerautomobil by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Crew 3 (Commander, driver, gunner) + additional machine gunners
Armament 3-4 machine guns
Armor 3 mm nickel plates

Sources

AT Patent AT66567B Panzerautomobil, filed 22 February 1913, granted 15 April 1914.
Versuche mit einem Panzerauto, page 8, Deutsches Volksblatt, 8 May 1913, (Link).
Ein Panzerautomobil, page 6, Pilsner Tagblatt, 11 May 1913, (Link).
Daß Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, page 9, Prager Tagblatt, 11 May 1913, (Link).
Personalnachrichten, page 7, Fremden-Blatt, 5 April 1913 (Link).
Aus dem Verordnungsblatt für das heer, page 5, Neues Wiener Abendblatt, 26 July 1913, (Link).
Aus dem Verordnungsblatt für das K.u.K. Heer nr.42, page 14, Fremden-Blatt, 7 August 1914, (Link).
Eine Erfindung des Artilleriehauptmanns Wimmer, page 22, Streffleur’s Militärblatt, 14 November 1914, (Link).
All newspapers have been accessed at anno.onb.ac.at
All patents have been accessed at worldwide.espacenet.com


Categories
WW1 American prototypes WW1 Austro-Hungarian Armor

Kempny’s Armored Automobile

Austria-Hungary/USA (1916-18)
Armored car – Blueprints Only

World War One had started much along the lines of previous wars. Political saber-rattling, followed by posturing, declaration of war and mobilization. Despite the growth in industrial potential across Europe at the turn of the century and the perfection of the machine gun as a practical weapon of war, the armies of Europe in 1914 went to war in much the same way as they had done in the previous century and yet were quickly faced with a new reality. Their men were easy prey to the rapid-firing effects of the machine guns.

There had been numerous ideas before the war for armored machines, but there was little impetus to develop one until the slaughter of WW1. That fate had befallen an Austrian called Gunther Burstyn, who had patented a very crude form of armored vehicle before the war but had done little with it. Another Austrian, Karl Kempny, far less well known or remembered, was living in Cleveland, Ohio, USA during the war. Kempny was not the visionary that Burstyn was, but was certainly quick to see the potential of armor. In 1916, he submitted his own ideas for an armored vehicle carrying heavy armament but still mounted on wheels. Future armored power was going to be best deployed on tracks, not wheels as envisaged by Kempny.

Divided Loyalties?

Little is known of Karl Kempny and any attempt to research the man online is sadly frustrated by a hockey player of the same last name playing for Cleveland. What is known of him, therefore, comes only from his patent applications. His name was given as Karl Kempny and he described himself as a subject of the Emperor of Austria, albeit living in Cleveland, Ohio, USA at the time. Whilst WW1 had started in the summer of 1914, and Austria-Hungary had been involved in military action right from the start, it was not until 1917 that the United States had come into the war. It was not, in fact, until 7th December 1917 that the US actually declared war against Austria-Hungary, even though it had already done so against Germany that April. At the time that the patents were submitted, therefore, between 20th November 1916 and 1st February 1917, there was no state of war between the USA and Austria-Hungary for Kempny to worry about. What is more interesting though is that this Austrian citizen was granted two patents for military designs in 1918 (including this armored automobile) at a time when the US was at war with his home country. To whom was the design intended then? Was Kempny, filing in 1916, suggesting his design was for use by Austria? If so, then he did not file an application for it there. It seems more likely that Kempny, a first-generation immigrant from Austria, not yet naturalized as a US citizen, filed his patent in his new adopted country for use either by them or for commercial purposes. Whilst Austria might have a claim on Kempny via ancestry, it would appear his vehicle is more appropriately assigned as an American one.

The Patents

As alluded to in the preceding paragraph, there was more than one patent. In fact, Kempny submitted three patents, two in 1916, and one in 1917, all for military equipment. The first, titled ‘moveable shield’, was one of dozens of wheeled, armored shields being suggested by a myriad of inventors, commentators, and military men throughout the First World War. Almost without fail, the designs were crude, clumsy and found no use. A man-propelled shield which was thick enough to be bulletproof was simply too cumbersome and heavy for even a small number of men to move. And that is before consideration is given to moving it over the tortuously muddy conditions of the battlefields of WW1 on the Western Front or the often vertigo-inducing mountainous terrain of the Southern (Italian) Front. Despite its flawed utility, his shield was nonetheless granted a patent in July 1917.

During the war, he filed his application for his armored automobile that December, followed three months later in February 1917 with a design for a bulletproof helmet. The helmet is certainly a novel design and one really has to wonder if Kempny was even serious with it given the design. Ludicrously tall and covered with spikes, the helmet consisted of a protective dome over the top of the head over which a taller helmet was fastened by means of springs. As if that was not impractical enough, the outside of this design was then clad all round the outer surface with spikes. All of that weight, precariously perched on top of the wearer’s head, was secured by just a single thin chin strap, meaning that as soon as the wearer might run or duck for cover, this spiked affair on top of his head would simply fall off and either impale him, another nearby soldier, or just get stuck in something. Truly, there can not be any helmet design which was less practical or realistic and perhaps that is why Kempny stopped submitting patents. He was just wasting his money on pure fantasy silliness.

Kempny’s ludicrous design for a bullet-proof helmet. US Patent 1251537

The design between the shield and the helmet though certainly has some elements of fantastic and impractical thinking, but also of some common sense and is worthy of some consideration.

Armored Automobile

Filed in December 1916, the design was not approved until October 1918, just before the end of hostilities. His design was specifically intended as a vehicle for repelling attacks by enemy infantry but also for mounting rapid-fire guns in bullet-proof mounts. The overall layout is clearly that of a standard truck with an engine at the front, directly over the front axle, mounting a pair of steered-wheels. A further axle at the back was also fitted with a pair of wheels.

The body of the vehicle was essentially a large rectangular prism, flat vertical sides and rear and a flat horizontal roof. The front though was different. A large rounded section angled steeply backwards, going from above the engine to the roofline with a large horizontal viewing cupola halfway up. This cupola was for the driver to see out of and appears to have been located centrally behind the engine. A second cupola, fully rotatable, was mounted behind the point where the angled front met the roof and would provide the vehicle commander with all-round vision. Located centrally and at the front, the driver should have had good visibility of the ground in front of the vehicle, but he would have been unable as Kempny drew on a large curved shield extending from the front of the vehicle and up to a level above that of his cupola. Thus, the driver’s view ahead would be severely limited. The purpose of that large curved section at the front was to primarily force down barbed down as the vehicle approached but it also served as armor for the front of the vehicle, deflecting bullets away from the men inside.

Access to the vehicle was to be via a single large rear hatch with vision provided by the cupolas and by various vision slots in the side of the hull and in the sponsons.

Kempny’s Armored Automobile as shown on US Patent 1282235. The removable socket-type sword bayonets sticking out of the side make a fearsome if somewhat useless impression.

No mention is made of armor except it would presumably have been armored to at least the level of being reasonably well protected against a service rifle. This would mean protection in the region of 8 mm or so of steel. As far as crew goes, there would need to be at least 4 men inside, a driver, a commander, and one man per gun. There is a lot of space inside the body and one use Kempny envisaged involved the removal of weapons and use as simply an armored lorry. This would suggest enough space for half-a-dozen or so more men even when armed.

Armament

The first and most obvious weapon on the vehicle are the spikes. These are actually sword bayonets mounted in rows along the side of triangular extensions attached to the side of the vehicle with the intention of making it harder to approach/climb when stationary and also to scythe through enemy troops when mobile. Thankfully, Kempny decided that these bayonets should be able to be folded away when not in use, or else the number of enemies they would be killing would surely only have been outweighed by the numbers of its own men, passers-by, and animals which would have been cut limb from limb as it went by. Despite the appearance of having a large cannon in each of the sponsons sticking out of the side, the Kempny design was to rely instead upon a pair of ‘rapid fire guns’ which could be machine guns or a cannon of some description with one in each sponson. Each gun was mounted on a rotating pedestal providing fire to the front, sides, and even to the rear. This type of mounting in an armored car, a sponson projecting from the side, was most likely the result of seeing exactly the same manner of armament carried on the first British tanks which were receiving a lot of press coverage at the time. As these were projecting from the side, it would mean the vehicle would be able to deliver fire straight ahead as well as to the sides. It would also affect lateral stability, as significant weight would be placed outside the wheelbase.

Kempny’s Armored Automobile as shown on US Patent 1282235. The interior layout shows the emphasis of the design on those large side sponsons for the armament.

A Lithuanian Connection?

One small added mystery to the identity of Karl Kempner comes from the signatories to his armored automobile patent, acting as witnesses: Stanley Stanslewicz, and A.B. Bartoszewicz. Bartozewicz was also a witness on his shield patent and appears to be Apdonas B. Bartoszewicz (also known as Apdonas B. Bartusevicius) who ran a Lithuanian-language publishing company in Cleveland which included the printing of the newspaper Santaika (Peace) in 1915 and which changed name to Dirva (Field) in 1916. The fact that Bartozewicz witnessed two of Kempny’s designs suggests that they knew each other reasonably well, although the nature of the relationship is unclear. Perhaps they were related or business partners, or that Bartozewicz was a notable person locally, we may simply never know. Nothing today remains of Kempny’s legacy and even Bartoszewicz is almost forgotten. Only his name remains on a building in Cleveland.

The physical legacy of Bartoszewicz in Cleveland.Source

Conclusion

Kempny’s shield added nothing new to the multitude of such designs and met with much the same fate. His helmet is memorable because it is simply such a totally impractical concept. His armored car however, is a different story. It was never built, never saw combat, and made no effect on the pursuit of the war so could easily be dismissed, but this would be wrong. His vehicle’s design clearly shows a popular mindset amongst designers at the time and just how little was understood about the true conditions at the front. Designs which could only operate on good surfaces and not the mud of Flanders are common, a complete misunderstanding of the conditions despite plenty of photographs available.

Yet, despite that misunderstanding, Kempny did foresee a multi-purpose vehicle, one suitable for carrying men and goods as much as for combat, a vehicle with weapons mounted in sponsons projecting from the side in the same manner as was used on tanks and an appreciation of the problems of barbed wire.

Kempny wanted to simply crush it down and roll over it, things which were tried and failed. The influence of the British tanks of 1916 can even be seen in the design, yet overall the design was still a retrograde one.

It is not known who, if anyone, may have seen Kempny’s design at the time and it is unlikely that it had any influence on following designs, especially the wholly impractical idea of the sword bayonets on the side, but Kempny’s design illustrates the time well – a no doubt well-meaning amateur designer, a first generation immigrant to the US trying to have his voice heard during the maelstrom of war. Whilst his design for an armored automobile went nowhere, received no orders, and was never built, Kempny’s armored automobile provides an insight into how the war was still being seen on the home front at the time.



Illustration of Kempny’s Armored Automobile produced by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Crew est. est. 4 driver, commander, 2 x gunners) + ~ 6 men
Armament multiple rows of sword bayonets, 2 x rapid-fire guns
Armor Bulletproof
Engine a ‘suitable motor’

Sources

US Patent 1234174 ‘Moveable Shield’, filed 20th November 1916, granted 24th July 1917
US Patent 1251537 ‘Bullet Proof Helmet’, filed 1st February 1917, granted 1st July 1918
US Patent 1282235 ‘Armored Automobile’, filed 18th December 1916, granted 22nd October 1918
‘Dirva’, Ohio History Central


Categories
WW1 Austro-Hungarian Armor

Burstyn Motorgeschütz

Austria-Hungary (1911)
Tank Design – Concept Only

“The claim that the Kampfwagen is an English invention – the term ‘tank’ should be avoided, being a foreign word and technically incorrect, – appears in the various newspapers and journals. This claim is completely wrong. The Kampfwagen, which is no more than an armored and equipped tracked vehicle is as less an invention as the armored car. This judgment was made by the authority in this area, the Patent Office, when I, in 1911, applied for a patent for the Kampfwagen -Back then I called it Motorgeschütz-. I had to revise my patent and could only patent the obstacle crossing device.”

This piece, part of a larger column, was written by Austrian officer Günther Burstyn in 1924, in which he opposed the conception that the tank was an English invention, and explains why he is not the inventor either, although he specifically notes that his idea was at least earlier than the English ideas he knew of.

Günther Adolf Burstyn during the 1900s. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Günther Burstyn

Günther Adolf Burstyn was born on July 6, 1879, in Bad Aussee, a town in the geographical center of Austria. He went to gymnasium in Vienna, after which he joined the Pionierkadettenschule (Engineer cadet school) located in Hainburg an der Donau, a town to the west of Bratislava. In 1899, Burstyn joined the Eisenbahn- und Telegraphenregiment (Railway- and Telegraph regiment) of the Austro-Hungarian Army. From 1902 until 1904, he served in the military harbor of Pola as commander of the local Fortress Telegraph Squadron. After this position, he followed a ‘higher engineering course’, which he completed in November 1906 and was promoted to Oberleutnant. He then was attached to the Engineer Staff of the Engineers Directorate in the city of Trient (Trento, Italy).

The Emergence of the Motorgeschütz

During his service in the harbor of Pola, on March 15, 1903, Burstyn was invited by his cousin, who was a Marine officer, to join him on a torpedo boat trip. During this trip, impressed by the ship’s speed, power, and protection, the idea arose in Burstyn’s mind for a ‘land torpedo boat’ and he wrote: “Like this, we have to approach the enemy on land as well.” Burstyn realized that such a vehicle should be armored, capable of off-road maneuvers, as well as being able to cross trenches. He thought about the gasoline engine as the propulsion of the vehicle.
In March 1906, he was confronted with his idea again. While following the higher engineering course, he visited the 6th National Automotive Exhibition in Vienna. There, he saw the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, development of which was initiated in 1904 and had been completed in 1905, being one of the very first armored cars in history. He immediately realized the potential of this four-wheel driven vehicle, which in some way matched his idea, although he saw the four small wheels as a huge limitation, as it did not allow the use on rough and muddy terrain, due to the high ground pressure, and it could not cross trenches and ditches either. As such, he sought a way to overcome these limitations in off-road mobility.
After he completed his course and was promoted, he moved to Trento where he was stationed from November 1906 until 1908. There, he saw how the wheels of heavy guns were equipped with ‘plate chains’ to reduce ground pressure. That made him think about how to apply this kind of chain around several wheels, creating a ‘band chain’. He called this chain of metal plates ‘Gleitbänder’. Unaware of the tracked tractor built by the firm Holt in the USA, designed by the English company Hornsby, and patented in Austria in 1911, he finalized his own design, resolved issues, and in October 1911, he sent his design to the Austro-Hungarian War Ministry hoping that they would have interest in such a vehicle.
He called his vehicle ‘Motorgeschütz’, meaning motorized gun. This term had already been occasionally used before 1911 to describe an armored vehicle in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For example, an edition of the Allgemeine Sport Zeitung (General Sports Magazine) from 1906 refers to the French CGV armored car as ‘gepanzerte Motorgeschütze’.

The Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, an inspiration for Burstyn when he first saw it in March 1906. Source: Public Domain

Design

It is impossible to describe the design of the Motorgeschütz in much detail because the details do not exist. As Burstyn was not allowed to patent the complete design, nor the suspension, he only patented the arms, which meant that he had to leave out many of the design details, resulting in a brief patent. So, apart from the arms, the design of the vehicle is relatively obscure with many important details missing.
The Motorgeschütz featured a box-like armored structure. The lower glacis was placed vertically while the upper glacis was heavily sloped, behind which the curved base for the round turret was located. The turret could not rotate 360 degrees, as it was blocked by the compartment behind the turret, and had a maximum rotation of approximately 300 degrees. The main armament, a quick-firing gun, was located in this turret. Although the gun has often been interpreted to be a 37 mm gun, it remains unclear which caliber gun Burstyn envisioned to use. Inside the turret, two crewmembers were located whose seats were located on the left and right of the main gun. Secondary armament is said to have consisted of two machine guns, which probably were meant to be fired through the several vision ports.
The third crew member sat in a compartment behind the turret with three vision ports facing to both sides and the back. The question how the crew was arranged (commander, driver, gunner) inside the turret has been speculated on, with the driver in the back, and commander and gunner in the turret, however, the final layout is unknown, especially since the patents provide no definitive answer either. Give the amount of available space, the engine was most likely to be mounted in the back of the vehicle, it is assumed that this would be an already existing regular truck engine, which at the time, produced on average 60 hp. The vehicle, without arms, had a length of 3.5 m and width and height were both 1.9 m. The turret had a diameter of 1.3 m.
Patent dated 28 February 1912 for the Burstyne Motorfahrzeuge
Patent dated 28 February 1912 for the Burstyne Motorfahrzeuge

Comparison between the design of 1911 and 1912. The main differences are the differently positioned road wheels and the addition of two wheels, one on each end, to which the arms are attached.

The Arms

The most distinctive features of the Motorgeschütz were the four movable arms, two on the front and two on the rear. The arms were to assist the vehicle in overcoming obstacles. They featured a small wheel on the end so the arms would not suddenly get stuck in the ground. The arms pivoted on the very front and rear wheels. They were vertically adjustable by moving a beam that was mounted on the arm on one side and attached to a crosshead with a spindle, which could slide back and forth in a special casing. The spindle did not rotate but was moved back and forth by a bevel gear which in turn was powered by the engine. How the engine was to power the bevel gear is not specified. The patent drawings also seem to include a hand crank device with which the bevel gear could be operated manually, but if this would have worked is doubtful.
The arms could not be operated from one central position. The rear arms were operated by the crewmember in the rear compartment, while the front arms were operated by the crew in the turret. If the turret was turned to a side, the operating handle of either one of the front beams would become very hard to reach, if not unreachable. Setting the problems concerning power and handling aside, the question remains whether the arms would actually help to cross obstacles. Lifting of the vehicle would mean that the ground pressure was to be greatly increased as all the weight had to be transferred through the small wheel on the beam and a small part of the tracks. The tracks would also lose most of their traction which would increase the chance of the vehicle getting stuck in muddy terrain.

Model of the Motorgeschütz, photographed during the 1930s, showing the function of the beams by crossing obstacles. Source: Radio Wien


Illustration of the Burstyn Motorgeschütz by David Bocquelet, modified by Leander Jobse

Rejection of the Motorgeschütz

After Burstyn submitted his design and scale model in October 1911, three months later, in January 1912, the War Ministry sent a response: “The project at hand has to be assessed primarily from the automotive point of view, because it introduces a new kind of motor vehicle construction intended for driving in the terrain. It does not matter at first whether the wagon is being used to transport a gun or for any other purpose.” Due to this opinion, Burstyn’s submission was sent to the head of the Automotive Sector of the Army. Who reacted: “Based on this opinion, the project in question is not suitable to form the subject of a trial at the expense of the Army Administration. It is therefore requested to inform the proponent that the realization of his project cannot be done at the expense of the army administration.”
In other words: the Ministry did not want to fund the new project as it did not have enough faith in the new design to invest in it. If Burstyn wanted the vehicle to be built, he had to use private funds, which he did not have. This was a major setback for Burstyn who had expected better from his nation. Interestingly, the head of the automotive sector, who had the final say in accepting or discarding the vehicle, was Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wolf. However, it was Wolf who can be credited most for the design of the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil from 1905 which was a significant design in armored vehicle history. Wolf, familiar with armored vehicle design, looked at the Motorgeschütz as nothing more than another armored car and probably influenced by his own experience, the Austro-Daimler had been rejected as well, decided that there was no future for the Motorgeschütz.
Burstyn did not give up his design directly. He filed another patent in the German Empire and approached the German War Ministry, but they turned down the design as well. Burstyn did not offer his design to other countries but instead went to the press. He wrote an article for the second Streffleurs Militärische Zeitung (Military Magazine of Streffleur) of 1912 and furthermore his design was described and positively evaluated by German Major Blümer in the ninth Kriegstechnischen Zeitschrift (Military Technical Magazine) of 1912. But his idea was not picked up, there came no support.
The conservatism of the German and Austro-Hungarian war ministries is often blamed for not accepting the Motorgeschütz but, although this is true, the other major issue was the vagueness of Burstyn’s design. Not only the descriptions from the patents are very brief, but the model did not have much detail and many details were not specified, like the type of engine, type of gun, and sturdiness of suspension.
Coincidently, by the time Burstyn submitted his design, the first Holt caterpillar tractors arrived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its design had been patented in Austria-Hungary in 1911. It is important to stress that the Motorgeschütz was not based upon the Holt tractor design. When Dr. Leo Steiner from Budapest first gained interest in the vehicle he ordered it to be tested in Austria-Hungary. Tests were conducted since January 1912 in Felixdorf, a town north to Wiener Neustadt. These tests were successful and sixteen were ordered. They formed the Automobilabteilung 24 Spezialautolenker (Car Unit 24 Special car drivers) of the engineering troops. In case of need, it was envisioned to use the tractors to tow 30.5 cm mortars if used in rougher terrain.
The Holt tractor was to become the inspiration for several tracked armored vehicles during the First World War, and the chassis served as the base for the first operational French tanks. At the same time, however, the British rejected the Holt chassis as useless for an armored vehicle.

Drawings of the Motorgeschütz by Burstyn, included in his German patent. Source: DE patent 252815

Legacy

In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Army went to war without a single armored vehicle. Burstyn would have liked to bring his invention under the attention of the War Ministry once again, but the thought that his idea would once more be rejected withheld him from doing so. Apart from a few armored vehicles, the Austro-Hungarian army never fielded any tanks.
After the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved at the end of WWI in 1918, Burstyn continued his military career in the Austrian Army. He retired in 1934 and became general baurat. He kept his interest in tanks and anti-tank defenses. In September 1935, he filed a patent for a tank trap. After Germany annexed Austria in 1938, he offered his service to the German War Office and he made several designs, including an armored raft for amphibious operations. For this effort, he was awarded the War Merit Cross 1st and 2nd class in November 1941, which he received from General Alfred Streccius. In April 1945, Burstyn took his own life, in fear of being taken prisoner by the Soviet Army.

A tank trap, patented by Burstyn in September 1935. Source: AT patent 146573

Scale Models and a Full-Size Replica

Two scale models of the Motorgeschütz were constructed, of which at least one was made by Burstyn, and were exhibited in museums, one in the Pionier Museum in Klosterneuburg and another in the Technischen Museum in Vienna. In 2011, the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (HGM) hosted a temporary exhibition of military inventions made in Austria over 500 years. As part of this, a full-size replica of the Motorgeschütz was created and placed in front of the museum. After the exhibition was over, the vehicle was moved inside and is currently on view in the Panzer gallery.

The replica in front of the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, photographed in 2011. Currently, it is on display in the Panzer Gallery. Note that the wheel spacings are based upon the scale model which is constructed slightly different than the patent drawings. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

Although this statement is sometimes made too easily, the Motorgeschütz was, even with its shortcomings, truly ahead of its time. However, this was only the indirect reason why it never came further than the drawing board. The main reasons were the lack of support from both the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian ministries and Burstyn having no contacts in the right places who would argue for his case.
Its combination of off-road mobility, armor, and weaponry meant it was the very first example of an armored vehicle that matched the general characteristics of tanks that were to come later. One can only speculate what would have happened if the Motorgeschütz was actually built. There is no doubt it would have brought the Austro-Hungarian forces an advantage during the early days of the war, but if it would have changed the outcome of the war is a question impossible to answer and there is no need for an answer either because the Motorgeschütz never became reality. The tank was destined to be a child of war, not a child of peace.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.5 x 1.9 x 1.9 meters (without arms)
Crew 3 (Commander, Driver, Gunner)
Propulsion 50-60 hp engine (type unknown)
Speed 30 km/h on road, 8 km/h off-road
Armament 1x small caliber, quick firing gun, 2x machine guns

Sources

DE patent 252815, issued February 28, 1912
AT patent 53248, filed March 1, 1911, issued April 25, 1912)
AT patent 146573, filed September 18, 1935, issued March 15, 1936
Kraftfahrzeuge und panzer des österreichischen heeres 1896 bis heute, Walter J. Spielberger, Motorbuch Verlag, 1976.
Der erste Kampfpanzer der Welt: Günther Burstyn und sein Motorgeschütz, Helmut W. Malnig, Truppendienst 309, 2007.
Tactics and Procurement in the Habsburg Military, 1866-1918: Offensive Spending, John A. Dredger,
Waffen Revue nr. 4, March 1972.
Danzers Armee Zeitung, January 25, 1924
Radio Wien, July 5, 1935
Innsbrucker Nachrichten, August 14, 1936
Illustrierte Kronen-Zeitung, September 18, 1940
Illustrierte Kronen-Zeitung, November 20, 1941
Das Burstyn Motorgeschütz aus 1911, doppeladler.com.
Note: The author is still looking for Streffleurs Militärische Zeitung (2. Heft 1912) and Kriegstechnischen Zeitschrift (9. Heft 1912), if you can help him, please leave a comment.

Categories
WW1 Austro-Hungarian Armor

Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil

Austria Hungary tanks Austria-Hungarian Empire (1905-07)
Armored Car – 1 Built

The Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, along with the French Charron, can be considered to be the first ‘modern’ armored cars. With first development already starting in 1904 by graduate engineer Paul Daimler, the vehicle was built in 1905 and had four-wheel drive -revolutionary for its time. Together with a fully armored body and a fully rotating turret, the vehicle featured many elements which would be used in later armored car designs.

Austro-Daimler

On August 11th, 1899, the German engineer Gottlieb Daimler, already owning a factory in Germany, established a car factory in Wiener-Neustadt, called Österreichische Daimler Motoren Kommanditgesellschaft Bierenz Fischer und Co. The factory was established to manufacture cars that were designed by the parent company Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft from Germany. The son of Gottlieb Daimler, Dipl.-Ing. Paul Daimler, was to become the manager of the company in 1900, but due to the death of his father and his own illness, he took the job two years later, in 1902.

One of the first known photographs of the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil. The driver is a Daimler employee. Photo: Biblio Verlag

Early Development

In 1902, Hauptmann Ludwig Tlaskal-Hochwell made the first attempts to design a 4×4 drive (German: 4-Radantrieb) to be used for a tractor. Probably based on this first experience, Paul Daimler started to design a 4×4 drive himself, around March 1903. He received suggestions from Archduke Leopold Salvator, who had attended the Technical Military Academy.
In 1904, the design process of the armored car started. One of the main designers was Hauptmann Robert Wolf, who also played a big role in the motorization process of the Austro-Hungarian Army. In contemporary Austrian newspapers, the vehicle is claimed to be based on requirements set out by the military technical committee, although secondary sources sometimes note that the armored car was designed on private initiative, that was clearly not the case. The New York Daily Tribune of January 4, 1905 noted: “The Austrian War Department has just sanctioned the construction of an armored car, specially designed to carry a quick firing gun, mounted on a pivot (…) heavy haulage work, such as that of stores, munitions, and heavy guns, is already done by motor in the Austrian Army.”

Design

The Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil featured a fully enclosed armored body, made of 3 mm thick nickel steel with rounded edges. The engine was mounted at the front in an armored housing with a grille in the front and louvers on the sides and top. The crew compartment was located behind the engine, housing two crewmen, the driver and gunner. The driver could enter through a door on the left side of the vehicle with a little step mounted below it to ease entrance. Two vision slits were placed in the front armor plate, but none on the side, therefore leaving little view arc for the driver.
The solution for this problem was that the driver’s seat and the steering device could be lifted. A hatch was made in the roof and when lifted, the driver could poke his head out of the vehicle. On several photos, a second man can be seen seated in the driver’s compartment. This is not a third crew member as is commonly suspected in secondary sources, but the gunner when he does not need to fire the machine gun in the turret.
On the back of the vehicle stood a tower-like hull and a fully traversable, enclosed dome-shaped turret on top of it. The turret armor was 3.5 mm thick and there was room for one water-cooled 7.7 mm Maxim machine gun. A door was located in the back of the hull through which the gunner could enter.

First testing near the factory. Photo: Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung

Engine and Suspension

The vehicle was powered by a Daimler 4-cylinder piston carburetor engine with a capacity of 4.4 liters, producing 30 hp at 1050 rpm (from Spielberger, other sources mention 32 or 35 hp). Fuel was pumped to the engine using negative pressure and the fuel tanks had enough capacity to drive for ten hours on road. The power delivered by the engine was transmitted through a drive shaft with lockable differentials to the wheels, contrary to the then usual chain-driven back wheels. The vehicle featured a 4-speed cone clutch, covered in leather.
The leaf spring suspended front wheels were covered in nickel-steel and had a diameter of 83 centimeters. The spoked back wheels were made of wood, had a diameter of 92 centimeters, and were partially covered by an armored plating. The wheels were shod with solid rubber tires.

The vehicle being inspected by Archduke Franz Ferdinand (standing in the middle) on March 18, 1906. Photo: Sport und Salon

Exhibition in Vienna

The vehicle was completed in early November, 1905. The first trials took place in front of the factory and the attendants were impressed by the performance of the 4-wheel drive and its ability to take slopes of 60 per cent with a short run-up. The vehicle was offered both to the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the German War Ministry turned down the offer. The vehicle presumably remained at the factory until it was showcased at the 6th Wiener Nationaler Automobilausstellung (Eng: Vienna’s National Automotive Exhibition) in March 1906.
The 6th National automotive exhibition in Vienna was held in the building of the Gartenbau Gesellschaft (Eng: Horticultural Society) and the Panzerautomobil was to be the main attraction of the Daimler Motorengesellschaft booth. However, due to difficulties, the vehicle could initially not be placed inside the hall, and when Archduke Franz Ferdinand visited the exhibition on March 18, the Panzerautomobil was still on display in the garden. The vehicle’s technical details were explained to him by Hauptmann Robert Wolf, and the Archduke seemed satisfied. The following day, the Panzerautomobil was placed inside the hall.
On March 20, the exhibition was visited by the Emperor himself, and when he visited the Daimler booth, he was first introduced to director Bernhard, after which the technical details of the vehicle were explained to him by the president of the Militär-Technischen Comité (Eng: Military Technical Committee), F.M.L. Ritter von Wuich, who explained that the vehicle was made after their wishes. The Emperor closely examined the vehicle from all angles, and Hauptmann Wolf noted that the next armored car would be armed with two machine guns. This is an interesting statement as it raises the question whether the vehicle was modified after the exhibition or if a completely new armored car was being built.
Other mentionable noble visitors were Archduke Franz Salvator who visited on the 21st, and Archduke Friedrich who visited on the 27th. Both were very interested in the Panzerautomobil and how it worked, so they were both accompanied by Hauptmann Wolf, who mentioned that the vehicle could carry 14,000 ammunition rounds, could go 45 km/h with a 32 hp engine, and that the vehicle weighed 1,900 to 2,000 kg, although he told Friedrich that the other armored car had better armor and as a consequence would be around 700 kg heavier. This again raises the question of a possible second vehicle.
Another officer who visited the exhibition was Günther Burstyn. When he saw the armored car, he realised the big potential of armored vehicles but also the limited off-road potential of wheeled vehicles. He started to look for an alternative and decided upon metal plates, connected to each other, which looped around the wheels. He made a design which he named Motorgeschütz. This design can be considered as one of the precursors of the tank which appeared in 1916, but it was never built.

Changes

Between the exhibition in Vienna in March and the Kaisermanöver (Eng: Emperor Maneuvers, annual wargames) in August/September of 1906, the vehicle received some heavy modifications. The most obvious change was the new designed turret which was now opened in the back and a second machine gun could be fitted in a newly added gun port. The armor was thickened to 4 mm instead of 3, and the 30 hp engine was replaced by a more powerful 40 hp engine. These changes raised the combined weight to 3,200 kg. These modifications had a severe impact on the specifications of the vehicle and as such has caused much confusion between researchers.

The vehicle after changes were made in 1906. The most notable difference is the new turret design. The other two vehicles were built by Daimler as well. Photo: Motorbuch Verlag

A Postcard showing the Panzerautomobil in color. This picture is probably taken during the maneuvers in 1906. Photo: Landships Forum.

Austro Daimler
Illustration of the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil by David Bocquelet.

Kaisermanöver in Schlesien, 1906

On April 11, Archdukes Friedrich and Franz Salvator, Fürst Schwarzenberg, and several officers and generals visited the Daimler factory in Wiener Neustadt. They came to inspect the new Trainwagen and Panzerautomobil and drove around in them. They possibly tested the vehicles to see whether to use them during the upcoming Kaisermanöver or not. Eventually, they decided to do. In August 1906, the armored car grouped up with several other vehicles in Vienna and from there moved to Schlesien, the area where the Emperor maneuvers were to take place. This was the first public appearance of the armored car with changes.
During the maneuvers, the car was under the command of Oberstleutnant Heinrich Graf Schönfeld and assigned to the 2nd. Corp. He talks about his experience in an interview published in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt of December 25, 1906. On the day before the maneuvers started, he made a reconnaissance move and drove 160 km. According to him, the 4-wheeled drive performed really well. The vehicle also was admired by the troops and the press reporting about the maneuvers were enthusiastic as well, especially when the vehicle drove back From Teschen (Cieszyn) to Vienna (roughly 250 km), after the maneuvers ended, in just two days. On the last day of the maneuvers, on August 4, the vehicle was demonstrated to the Emperor who was accompanied by the archdukes Franz Ferdinand and Friedrich and the maneuver command. No special events were reported by the contemporary press, so the following anecdote either never happened or was covered up:
A popular anecdote claims that, when the vehicle was shown to Emperor Franz Joseph and his generals, all sitting on horses, one of the horses was scared of the noise produced by the engine. The horse tried to flee and in doing so, threw a general from his back. The Emperor, then declared that he was not interested in ordering the vehicle. Besides this incident, another reason for not accepting the vehicle was caused by conservatism. The old strategy worked, the new technology had not proven itself yet, so change was not seen as needed. It must also be considered that introducing such a vehicle into the army would have necessitated new supply chains for gasoline, lubricating oil and spare parts, especially to the front lines, sometimes over difficult terrain, and the hiring of new trained mechanics and crewmen. However, taking into consideration that regular trucks were also slowly being adopted, none of these issues seem to have been insurmountable.

The Panzerautomobil at the exhibition in the Grand Palais, Paris which lasted from 7-23 December 1906. Source: Jules Beau Collection (gallicia.bnf.fr)

Presentation to France

After it became clear that the Austro-Hungarian Army was not interested in ordering the vehicle, Austro-Daimler asked permission from the War Ministry to offer the vehicle to France, as well as being allowed to exhibit the vehicle in Berlin. This request was accepted. Why Berlin is mentioned in sources is rather curious, it may be an error, as it should state Paris, where the armored car was indeed exhibited in the Grand Palais in December 1906. The Consul General of the Dual Monarchy in France, Ernst Jillenek, as a representative of Daimler, brought it under attention in France under the name Mercedes, after his daughter’s name, and so the vehicle became known in France as the Austro Daimler Mercedes de 45 cv.
France was rather interested in the vehicle, not in order to acquire it, but to compare it to the domestically built CGV armored car. As such, in January 1907, the armored car was handed over to the French Army and first demonstrated in front of the French Minister of War, General Picquart at the Mercedes plant in Puteaux. Several experts were present as well, and seemed to be impressed by the performance of the vehicle on rough terrain. The vehicle was also tested at Fort Mont-Valérien, west of Paris, specifically chosen for its rough terrain. During the tests, the vehicle performed above expectations.
On May 4th, 1909, the Commision d’étude des armes portatives et de petit calibre, (Eng: Commission for the study of portable and small firearms), released a report that included information about the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, as well as the Charron and experience from Generals. It concluded that contemporary armored cars were not yet fit for military service, due to their relatively bad off-road capabilities and high production price.

The Panzerautomobil during trials in France. Source: Biblio Verlag

Fate

After the French trials, the vehicle returned to Austria, and was most likely taken apart several years later. It is sometimes suggested that it may have been used in Galicia during the First World War, but this is only speculation.
When the vehicle was first shown to the Austro-Hungarian press, they were very optimistic and enthusiastic about the concept of an armored car, and in military circles, the car was also received with great interest. The same happened in France. Although impressed by the vehicle, the time for the armored car had not yet come.
World War I saw a massive increase of armored car designs, and apart from its novel features, none seem to be really inspired by the looks of the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, except maybe for the Belgian SAVA armored car which also featured a curved crew compartment and a dome-shaped turret.

A Fistful of Dynamite

A prop armored car, closely modeled after the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil, appeared in the 1971 Spaghetti Western movie ‘A Fistful Of Dynamite’, also known as ‘Duck, You Sucker!’. The movie was directed by Sergio Leone, who is best known for ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’. The film is set during the Mexican Revolution which lasted from 1910-1920. As such, the film features many vintage weapons from the early 20th century, including the armored prop car.

The prop armored car as it appeared in Sergio Leone’s movie ‘A Fistful Of Dynamite’. Photo: Still from the movie
Although the vehicle’s appearance is not completely accurate, like the two machine gun ports in an enclosed turret and the edges of the cab being too sharp, it still closely resembles the real vehicle. As with most props, it was dismantled after the filming, but can still be admired in the movie.

Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil specifications

Dimensions 4.1 x 2.1 x 2.7 m (13’5” x 6’11” x 8’10”)
Total weight, battle ready 2-2.9 metric tons
Crew 2 (driver, machine-gunner)
Propulsion Daimler gasoline, 4-cylinder. water-cooled, 4.41 liter, 35 hp at 1050 rpm
Speed 45 km/h (28 mph)
Armament 1 or 2 water-cooled Maxim machine guns (7.62 mm/0.3 in)
Armor 3-4 mm (0.12-0.16 in)
Production 1

Sources

Kraftfahrzeuge und panzer des österreichischen heeres 1896 bis heute [Motor Vehicles and armored vehicles of the Austrian army from 1896 until today], Walter J. Spielberger, Motorbuch Verlag, 1976.
Die gepanzerte Radfahrzeuge des deutschen Heeres 1905-1945 [The Armored Wheeled Vehicles of the German Army 1905-1945], Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle, Motorbuch Verlag, 2002.
L’Aube de la gloire : les autos mitrailleuses et les chars français pendant la grande guerre [The Dawn of Glory: the french armored cars and tanks during the great war], Alain Gougaud, 1987.
Encyclopedia of Armoured Cars, Duncan Crow and Robert J. Icks, Barrie and Jenkins, 1976.
The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles 1914-1940, Francois Vauvillier, Histoire & Amps Collection, 2014.
Age of Tanks: Iron, iron, everywhere S1A1, documentary, 2017.
Company’s history on austrodaimler.at
Newspapers and Magazines accessed on anno.onb.ac.at/
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, November 5, 1905.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, November 20, 1905.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 10, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 18, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 19, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 20, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 21, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 22, 1906.
Neues Wiener Journal, March 25, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 28, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, September 11, 1906.
Neues Wiener Tagblatt, December 25, 1906.
Eisenbahn und Industrie nr. 17, September 5, 1906.
Eisenbahn und Industrie nr. 22, November 20, 1906.
Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung, September 4, 1906
Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung, September 5, 1906
(Neuigkeits) Welt Blatt, September 8, 1906.
Neue Freie Presse, January 29, 1907.
Sport und Salon, April 14, 1906.
New York Daily Tribune, January 4, 1905.

Categories
WW1 American prototypes WW1 Austro-Hungarian Armor

Gonsior, Opp, and Frank War Automobile

Austria-Hungary/USA (1916)
Armored car – Blueprints Only

South Dakota might not be the most populous or wealthiest state in America but, in 1916, it did produce a turreted armor car design courtesy of three Austro-Hungarians living there. At that time, the United States had not even entered the war, so the intended user of the vehicle was most likely their homeland.
The designers of this machine were Joseph Gonsior, Friedrich Opp, and William Frank, all residing in the town of Medina. South Dakota might have been thousands of miles from the fighting of WW1, but war sparks the inventive mind regardless of distance, and these three men determined that their contribution to the war effort would be to:

“provide an armored automobile adapted for use in time of war whereby the occupants thereof may travel in proximity to the enemy and operate rapid firing guns under cover of the armor which is provided”

The Design

The design was filed on the 23rd March 1916 (granted 14th March 1916). It was clearly based on a four-wheeled chassis, presumably from a commercial truck, which formed the basis of the vehicle with the engine at the front driving, via an external chain, the rear wheels, meaning the vehicle would be a 4 x 2 configuration. The driver’s position is at the front left-hand side of the vehicle in a low profile position and provided with a 180-degree vision slit.

Internal view of the Gonsior, Opp, Frank War automobile showing the driver’s position and the unusual oscillating turret design. Image: Patent US1204758
Externally, the machine is a little unremarkable in terms of layout with the engine at the front along with the steering, the driver behind the bulkhead behind the engine and drive, delivered via chains to the rear axle. This is exactly how a standard truck of that era was arranged and the body is simply a truck in principle, albeit one clad in armor. There is, however, a distinctive and large frusto-conical (a cone shape with the top cut-off) structure at the back, directly over the rear axle. The cylinder tapers slightly from the base to the roof line where it is topped with a circular turret. The turret, though, is even more unusual than may appear at first glance. Instead of simply being rotatable, it also has a fixed gun and the entire turret elevates and depresses around a common pivot point. It is, in fact, one of the first known oscillating turret designs, although the elevation and depression of the turret was to be by means of hand cranks. The gun, fixed, was simply described as a rapid firing gun and had a conical shaped mantlet covering the junction between the gun and the turret, as would be expected within a patent as patents tend to outline general provisions and specifications rather than final drawings or details. By stating ‘rapid firing gun’ the patent applicants left it open as to what weapon could be used from a machine-gun to a small cannon.

Exterior of the War Automobile showing the large access door low down on the right hand side. Image: Patent US1204758
Access to the machine was provided by a large rectangular upwards-opening door at the approximate mid-way point longitudinally on the right-hand side of the car. No other hatches are described or drawn, meaning the crew of at least two men (driver and gunner), would both have to use the same door. This would have certainly been a problem in the event of catching fire or rolling over onto the right-hand side.
Three large vision slits were arranged around the exterior of the turret at 12 o’clock, 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock respective to the position of the gun. The only other thing of note about the design is the deliberate inclusion of a space between the driver and the frusto-conical turret structure which was presumably for the storage of ammunition for the main gun. No armor other than ‘bulletproof’ is specified and there is no indication of the expected performance of such as it would be dependent mainly on the vehicle on which this might be based.


Rendition of the Gonsior, Opp, and Frank War Automobile by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Fate

The designers, Gonsior, Opp, and Frank, were an inventive trio filing patents in March 1916 for a recoil mount for ordnance (Gonsior and Opp) and a revolver-sword (Gonsior, Frank and a third person, Christian Schneider). All three declared themselves as subjects of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary in March 1916 but, by May 1916, William Frank was a US citizen. Regardless of the relative merits and faults of their designs, none are known to have attracted any interest or entered production.

Two more of the designs from 1916 from the designers for a recoil mounting for guns and a combat weapon. Images: Patents 1204757 and 1192888 respectively

Conclusion

The design of the armored car, even though it was never built, is still important. It is both simple and elegant and, whilst having only a single access hatch is undeniably a flaw, the overall layout was, for 1916, very good and the use of an oscillating turret very novel. Had the armored car ever attracted any interest, then, without doubt, the lack of hatches would have become obvious to the makers and rectified. The lack of all-wheel drive though and the use of a commercial contemporary truck as a base, would likely have left the vehicle relatively slow and poor off-road capabilities with all of the weight of the armor base and turret over the rear axle.

Source

US Patent US1204757 filed 20th March 1916, granted 14th November 1916
US Patent US1204758 filed 23rd March 1916, granted 14th November 1916
US Patent US1192888 filed 27th May 1916, granted 1st August 1916