USA/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.
Austro-Hungarian Empire (1915-1919)
Armored Car – 1 Built
Before the First World War broke out in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian War Ministry had been offered several designs of armored vehicles, but all were declined. The Army did not even have armored trains in use when war was declared on Serbia in late July 1914. As the war dragged on, a desire arose among troops for some armored vehicles. On rare occasions, Austro-Hungarian troops also encountered Russian armored vehicles starting from the second half of 1915. In the same year, a new armored car was built in Budapest, although the War Ministry and Army Command were initially not involved. This car was the Romfell.
Austro-Hungarian armor developments
Home to the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil of 1905, the first four-wheel-drive armored car, and the Burstyn Motorgeschütz of 1911, an early tank concept, Austro-Hungarian engineers were at the forefront of armored vehicle development before the war. However, these designs were rejected, along with other armored vehicle proposals, and thus, the Empire was without any armored cars when it entered the war on 28th July 1914.
Although (improvised) armored vehicles quickly appeared on the German fronts in 1914, initially, no armored cars were encountered by Austro-Hungarian troops on the fronts they fought on. The War Ministry had no intention of developing armored cars on its own, and the few designs for armored vehicles came from civilians or from the troops. Two of these initiatives were materialized in 1915, one being the Junovicz, and the other being the Romfell.
The initial idea for an armored vehicle came from Hauptmann (Eng: Captain) Branko Romanić, commander of Kraftfahrersatzdepot No.39 in Budapest, Hungary. More detailed plans were worked out by Oberleutnant (Eng: Lieutenant Colonel) Simon Fellner, whose names combined formed the name Romfell. Fellner was commander of the Hauptwerkstätte (Eng: main workshop) of the depot. Construction of one vehicle commenced in the spring of 1915. They were supported by reserve Lieutenant Emil Vidéky, former assistant professor at the Technical University of Budapest. On-site, the construction was managed by Imre Kádár, and the production itself was led by Lieutenants Ágoston and Fazekas. These officers also arranged the work of professional groups that were called in to work on complicated things, like the engine.
The War Ministry was never informed about the project but became aware of it when, on 30th July, a formal request was made to the firm Siemens & Halske for delivery of a wireless radio with a range of 100-150 km. The first reaction by the Ministry was very negative. The conversion was seen as a waste of a perfectly fine and badly needed car.
Following up, the car was inspected by Oberleutnant Erich Kurzel Edler von Runtscheiner, who was a technical consultant with the 5/M Department of the War Ministry. This department was responsible for the organization of cars and airships, as well the Fortress Balloon Divisions and the Volunteer Corps. His report was very positive. He saw good use for military purposes and praised the craftsmanship. Reportedly, the vehicle was finished by the end of July. On 18th August, the depot officially noted that a Mercedes chassis, registered as “A VI 865”, was equipped with armor, and re-registered as “XI-271”. The report also included a question of whether the machine gun was to be fitted at the depot or by the troops it was to be issued to. Eventually, the machine gun was fitted in the depot. When a journalist visited the workshop he noted:
“The biggest surprise had yet to be shared with the visitors. In a completely locked room, the newest and most important product of the workshop was shown: a complete armored car, built after plans by the gentlemen Hauptmann Romanić and Oberleutnant Fellner in the military repair workshop, stood ready to be driven out. A more detailed description of this armored car and its armament cannot be given for understandable reasons. However, so much could be perceived that the shape and design of the armor surpasses all vehicles of foreign make. To honor the builders, the armored car was named “Romfell”. Hopefully, we will soon hear the good news of the excellent effects of the armored car.”
Sportblatt des Pester Lloyd, 24th October 1914
In 1906, the m. kir. Önkéntes Gépkocsizó Testületet (Eng: Royal Hungarian Voluntary Automotive Body) was formed in Budapest from members of the Magyar Automobil Club (Eng: Hungarian Automobil Club) and the Magyar Motorkerékpáros Szövetség (Eng: Hungarian Motorcycle Association). It had no regularized staff and was of mixed military and civilian origin. Both in peacetime and mobilization, the members of the body were supposed to use their own cars, but apart from that, were equipped according to military principles. When war broke out in 1914, it was reformed into a full military organization. On 1st August 1915, the K.u.K. Kraftfahrtruppenkommando (Eng: Imperial and Royal Automotive Troops Command) was set up in Vienna to coordinate military automotive affairs throughout the Empire. It stood directly under command of the War Ministry. Several bodies in Budapest were directly subordinated to this new Command, including the Depot.
The central buildings of the Automotive Replacement Depot (Hungarian: Autópóttár, German: Kraftfahrersatzdepot) were located at Ezredes Street 5-7. Some parts of the institution were located at other places in Budapest. The main workshop, where cars and light trucks were repaired, was located at 13 Zápolya Street, present-day Gogol Street. In 1911, at this location, the Magyar Automobilgyár Rt. company settled. This was an importer and repairer of French Dion-Bouton cars. No cars were built and the company was dissolved in 1913. After standing empty for a while, when war broke out, the buildings were bought by the army and expanded into a workshop.
From 1914 until January 1916, Romanić was commander of the Depot. In February 1916, he received a new position in a depot in Klosterneuburg, but returned as commander in May 1917 and remained until April 1918, when he was replaced by Hauptmann Béla Rittinger. During the absence of Romanić, in 1916 and 1917, command of the Depot was taken by Oberleutnant Fellner, who, before February 1916, was the commander of the main workshop.
The creators: Romanić and Fellner
Simon Fellner, child of Hungarian József Fellner and German Franciska Kellner, was born on 28th October 1880 in Temeschwar (present-day Timișoara, in Romania). Fellner pursued a technical career and, in 1902, he received a degree in mechanical engineering at the Franz Joseph University in Klausenburg (present-day Cluj-Napoca, in Romania). From 1903 until 1917, he held a position at the Ganz Works in Budapest and also made study trips to Hannover and London in 1905-1906. When war broke out in 1914, he served as Oberleutnant and became commander of the main workshop of the Depot. After 1917, he also started to work at Bárdi Rt.
In 1920, the military workshop was transformed into a regular civilian car company named Unitas. It was led by Fellner and it became a success. The company traded, serviced, and produced cars, and in 1928, an agreement was reached with the Czechoslovak company Tatra to become its representative in Hungary. Apart from this successful venture, Fellner also participated in car races, and in 1929, he won the Swabian Race. He remained the technical director of Unitas until 1933. On 28th October 1947, on his birthday, Fellner died after he fell seriously ill.
Branko Romanić was a reserve officer and chief engineer of the Ganz Works factory. Unfortunately, less is known about him than Fellner. In the same month Romanić left command of the depot, in April 1918, he filed a patent in Germany and Austria-Hungary for a three-wheeled agricultural tractor, together with Dr. Leo Steiner, the importer of the Holt Caterpillar tractors into Austria-Hungary before the war.
Design of the Romfell
The chosen donor chassis was a Mercedes 37/90 PS, a chain-driven rear-wheel-drive car built in 1913-1914 and powered by a 90-95 hp engine. This car had a maximum speed of 115 km/h. When the chassis was adapted to fit the armored body, relatively few changes were made, and the engine, transmission, and steering gear remained practically the same. The frame, cross-connections, spring bolts, and mounting suspension were strengthened and reinforced to allow the chassis to bear the weight of the new armored superstructure.
The engine was a 4-cylinder in-line, four-stroke, with a displacement of 9530 cc and a bore and stroke of 130 x 180 cm. At 1300 rpm, it was capable of delivering 90-95 hp. A piston-type carburetor fuel system was used and the original fuel tank, located under the car’s rear, had a capacity of 125 l. Power was transmitted through a 4-speed manual gearbox. The engine had a fuel consumption of 29-33 l per 100 km. Only the rear wheels were driven by encapsulated chains, the front steering wheels were not driven. The Mercedes chassis weighed 1,525 kg, the curb weight was 1,950 kg. It could carry a gross weight of 2,650 kg, but the Romfell with its reinforced chassis could handle a greater load. In total, the Romfell weighed some 5 tonnes, not 7 tonnes as is sometimes suggested.
Thanks to the powerful engine, the Romfell, even with its 5 tonnes, could reach speeds between 28 and 40 km/h on good roads and even up to 25 km/h off-road, although only with favorable ground and weather conditions. In comparison, most armored cars of the time were powered by 40-60 hp engines. A notable armored car with a similar weight and engine power was the British Rolls-Royce, with a weight of 4.7 tonnes and an 80 hp engine.
Protection and layout
The whole armored body of nickel-chrome steel was designed in a way that bullets could not hit the armor at a right angle and the thickness of the armor was calculated so that 8 mm Mannlicher bullets could not penetrate the armor further than 110 m away, and pointed German S-bullets further than 300 m away. With these calculations, the armor plating was not too thick or thin in places, keeping weight down. The strongest plates, between 6.5 and 7 mm thick, were used on the sides of the body and the vertical parts of the turret, while less important parts of the chassis were armored by plates some 4.5 to 5 mm thick. The roof and other horizontal parts were constructed using 2 to 2.5 mm thick plates. The plates were riveted to a metal frame and some 1,500-1,600 rivets were used in construction.
The side plates were tilted outwards at an angle of 75 degrees, while the rear plates were curved into a bow shape. The crew entered the vehicle through a square and rather small hatch in the sides that opened in two parts. Above the hatch, on the left side, a shooting port was located, with an additional two located on the same side. Another two shooting ports were located on the right side, but none above the hatch, since the driver was seated there. The driver had vision through one hatch in front of him. Two further vision hatches were located in the front, one on the left for the commander/observer and a central square hatch. Behind the square hatch was a retractable Zeiss Acetylene searchlight. This light could also be raised above the vehicle through yet another hatch in the roof. The vision hatches could be locked from the inside once closed.
The radiator in front of the engine was protected by an armored shutter with fifteen slats, so it was fairly well protected but still allowed for steady airflow. The engine compartment could be accessed through hatches on the sides and on top. Below the shutter was an opening that accommodated a manual starting crank.
Two extrusions were present on the lower rear of the Romfell. Attached to the lowest part of the rear armored plating was a towing hook, originally fitted to tow a trailer. Slightly lower, and pointing downwards, was another extrusion fitted to the chassis. It consisted of two iron bars with a sharp edge pointing downwards and connected to each other by a horizontal bar. Attached to it was a chain and when pulled, the contraption would lower to the ground, anchoring the vehicle if it had to stop while driving up a slope. Its effectiveness would have been limited, however, since the road surface could neither be too loose or too hard, in which case it would not be able to stop the vehicle from rolling down the slope.
Turret and armament
The turret was mounted slightly to the rear of the vehicle. Due to the thin armor of the roof plate, a reinforced structure had to be made to support the weight of the turret. The supports can be seen on the exterior, with two rows of rivets on the upper edge of the side plates. The round turret ring had a diameter of 1,100 mm. Inside the turret were the other two crew members, presumably two gunners, or one gunner and a commanding officer. At the front of the turret was an opening for the M.07/12 Schwarzlose machine gun. The machine gun was slightly protected from the sides by two extruding armored plates. The machine gun had an elevation of 45° and a depression of 30°. The turret itself could be turned 360°.
A large hatch was located on top of the turret, which hinged forwards. This hatch had several functions. Most importantly, it allowed the fitting of the machine gun to a pintle mount on the rear of the turret so it could function as an anti-air machine gun. Apart from this main use, other uses included the ability to load and maintain the machine gun, a crew member could protrude through it to get a better view from the surrounding area, and it could be opened for the ventilation of machine gun gasses that would otherwise fill the vehicle during firing.
The Schwarzlose M.07/12 machine gun was a design from 1902 and built under license by Austrian Steyr. It was a relatively simple and inexpensive weapon compared to its counterparts, like the German MG.08 and the family of Maxim machine guns. Presumably, the machine gun that was mounted in the Romfell had the stronger mainspring fitted, which allowed a firing rate of 580 rounds per minute.
It was envisioned that the vehicle carried 20,000 rounds of ammunition, although 12,000 were to be stored in the trailer. This left 8,000 rounds within the vehicle.
Equipment and trailer
As mentioned, a wireless telegraph was requested from the firm Siemens & Halske. A range of 100 to 150 km was desired. Although a novel idea, this radio station seems to have never been fitted.
Besides the main armament, a spare machine gun was carried but presumably stored in the trailer. Further armament included one Mannlicher M.95 8 mm infantry rifle and two Steyr M1912 9 mm pistols.
Included in the original design was a small single-axle trailer. Its role was to transport fuel, ammunition, and spare parts, allowing the Romfell to operate longer and more independently. However, the storage space was rather limited and it impeded the mobility of the Romfell, so it was later decided to discontinue the use of a trailer. Instead, the Romfell was to be accompanied by a separate truck.
Russian armored cars against Austria-Hungary
Shortly before the Romfell was issued to the troops in October, Austro-Hungarian troops encountered the first Russian armored cars on three to four occasions, according to documentation. In September, the 4th Army reported that, between Lutsk and Rivne, up to four armored cars were deployed. On 13th September 1915, the 24th ID reported that, near Klevan, a Russian armored car had caused great unrest among the 10th and 45th IR and had dispersed these units. In October, the 7th Army reported that a Russian armored car was destroyed by artillery near Zielona. Based on the effects the cars had on the battlefield, from several ranks, the desire arose for their own armored cars, which coincided with the Romfell actually being accepted into service.
Romfell into service
On 30th July 1915, the Romfell made its first test drive and was driven for 100 km. In the first week of October (or August, depending on the source), the vehicle took part in a large military parade held in Budapest. This show of military might, organized by Infantry General Marenzi, the military commander of Budapest, was intended to support the Red Cross and was attended by a variety of Hungarian notables, including Minister of War Baron Samu Hazay, and Artillery Inspector Lieutenant General Kárász. Apart from the Romfell, conventional forces were shown, as well as a Holt Caterpillar. The Romfells’ appearance was praised by the onlookers and, after being shipped to Vienna to be inspected by the Ministry of War, the Romfell and its trailer were accepted for service.
On 11th October 1915, the Romfell was issued to the 7th Army and placed in command of Oblt.a.D. Ludwig von Rakosy. The vehicle was attached to the 36th Infantry Troops Division (36 Infanterie Truppen Division, 36.I.T.D.), which, together with the 15.I.T.D., formed the XIII Corps. This Corps reported later that the vehicle saw no action in late October. The 36.I.T.D. was stationed near Buczacz, present-day Buchach, Ukraine. During the following months, the car was used in this area, but no specific action was recorded, suggesting that the car did not see major action.
It was found out that the trailer was not as convenient as hoped. It was too small to carry enough equipment, while it impeded mobility. It was decided to ditch the idea and instead use an accompanying truck to carry spares, fuel, and ammunition. Also around this time, the large black-on-white iron crosses were removed from the sides.
The Romfell saw its last combat use on the Eastern Front during the Brusilov Offensive. In a worn-out condition, it was withdrawn from the unit on 11th August 1916 and transferred to the Kraftwagenwerkstätte Nr.36 des Etappengruppenkommandos 9 (Eng: Car Workshop No.36 of Support Command No.9) located in Stryi, roughly 110 km to the west of Buchach. In Stryi, it was repaired and received a new registration, “KN 5965”. This was against proposed plans of the Depot from Budapest which, on 29th August 1916, requested the return of the car for refurbishment, and fitting of new parts, like an electric starter engine and anti-slip tires, but this did not happen.
After this, the records seem to have gone silent until the Romfell reappeared in June 1917, when the car arrived in Ljubljana. It is unknown where the car was in this period of roughly eleven months. It is the author’s theory that, during this time, the Romfell was transported to Resicza (present-day Reșița, Romania), as photographs exist of the Romfell in front of the Reșița Machine Factory. It was presumably refurbished at this plant. It is also possible that it was used as a production sample, because at the time, the factory began construction of several Junovicz armored cars. In the photographs, several features of the Romfell are missing, like the headlights and the exhaust pipe that normally extruded from the side in front of the rear chain.
This theory would not only explain the lack of information concerning this time period but also explain why the Romfell was photographed in Reșița.
The Romfell goes to the Italian Front
Following repairs and much later, the car was transferred to the 5th Army, allegedly to be used as a light mobile reserve for coastal defense near Trieste with the Adelsberg Küstenschutzdienst IV. On 18th June 1917, the car arrived by rail in Ljubljana. From there, it was driven by Zugsführer Johann Amann to Trieste and, with its crew, transferred to Feldautopark Nr.1. There, it was decided to replace the worn-out Mercedes chassis with a captured Italian Fiat 18BL truck registered with the number “KN 8428”.
Due to this rebuild, the car changed, both in terms of performance and appearance. The armor layout remained practically the same, with the only changes made to the slats in front of the radiator and the small radiator cap on top. More noticeable was the completely changed underbody of the car, and the wooden-spoked wheels were now unprotected. The new wheelbase of 3.55 m remained practically the same but the total length was shortened by 0.3 m to 5.37 m. Thanks to the lightweight chassis and running gear of the Fiat, the total weight was reduced by 1.5 tonnes, to 3.51 tonnes. Thanks to this massive decrease in weight, the M09 Goliath water-cooled petrol engine, with just 44 hp, managed to propel the vehicle to a speed of 35 km/h. Like the Mercedes, the Fiat had only rear-wheel-drive.
In March 1918, the Army High Command ordered the creation of armored car platoons on the Italian Front. To achieve this, all available armored cars were ordered to be relocated to Feldautopark Nr.1, a military car supply unit, located in Udine. On 1st June 1918, the first platoon (Panzerautozug Nr.1) was officially formed and Lieutenant Robert Dirr was placed in command. The Romfell was also ordered to be included in this new platoon. Apart from the Romfell, by the end of August, the unit consisted of a former Russian Austin 3rd Series, a Junovicz, a former Italian Lancia 1ZM, and a former Italian Isotta-Fraschini. It is believed that this unit saw little to no fighting and operated behind the frontline. The Lancia was quickly transported to Vienna. After the truce, the Junovicz was also transported away, but a bit more action awaited the Austin and Romfell.
The situation in Carinthia after October 1918
The end of the First World War also marked the end of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was dissolved and this led to the creation of multiple smaller states. As to be expected, each state had its own geographical wishes, which resulted in many (violent) border disputes between them. One such area was southeastern Carinthia, which had a mixed population of Slovenes and Germans. The Republic of German-Austria, which was officially declared on 12th November 1918, laid claims on the area, as well as the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, officially declared on 29th October 1918. Therefore, no border between the two new states was drawn.
Already in November, the first military action began, when Yugoslav forces and militias started to advance into Carinthia. In January and February 1919, the clashes were much more violent and the Yugoslavs managed to occupy a large territory, but on 13th February, a peace treaty was signed between the two parties. This came after a ceasefire, arbitrated by the Entente Powers, who had been alarmed by the fighting. A dispatched US Army commission recommended a plebiscite for the entire Klagenfurt region.
On 29th April 1919, the Yugoslavs broke the ceasefire and advanced into the area held by Austrian troops. They encountered much more resistance than they had during their first offensive and successful Austrian counterattacks caused them to retreat. Within a short period, Austria regained control of most of the area that had been lost during the winter. Eventually, the counter-offensive was halted by the Yugoslavs, and a new Yugoslav offensive from 26th May until 6th June was successful, with a large part of the Klagenfurt area captured.
On 10th September 1919, the Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed, which established most of the new Austrian-Yugoslav border. The planned plebiscite was held on 10th October 1920 and a majority of the contested area voted to be part of Austria.
Deployment of the Romfell in Carinthia
The last chapters of the history of the Romfell were written in this period. After the Armistice was signed in 1918, Zugsführer Johann Amann retreated with the Romfell and the Austin to Carinthia. He was accompanied by Zugsführers Schoderböck and Deutschmann, as well as Gefreiter Petschnig. They decided to stay in Carinthia to fight against the Yugoslavs. Eight men joined and command of the armored car section was taken over by Fähnrig Jack. Zgf. Schoderböck was placed in command of the Romfell, and Zgf. Großl in command of the Austin. To reinforce the section, an improvised armored car was made by adding sandbags to a 3-t-Saurer-Subventions-LKW truck and armed with one to two machine guns, but it was considered useless in battle and disassembled after March 1919.
On 1st December 1918, one of the armored cars saw its first action, presumably the Romfell, during an attack on the city of Völkermarkt, to the east of Klagenfurt. On 15th December, the complete unit saw action near Grafenstein, a small town between Klagenfurt and Völkermarkt. During the armistice, in a period between 1st and 14th April, the Romfell was stationed on the road Trixen-Haimburg-Griffen, to the north of Völkermarkt, in order to defend Austrian field guards and recover trucks that got stuck on or near the road.
When the Yugoslavs broke the ceasefire on 29th April, the section saw major action. Rather quickly, one of the drivers of the Austin was taken out of action, so a new driver had to be recruited from another unit. In the morning, at 7:50, the armored car section advanced from Klagenfurt, together with the 2nd Volkswehr Battalion and some other units, to the small River Gurk. After clearing the road near Haidach, they advanced to Poggersdorf, around 17:30. An hour later, the armored cars advanced further to Kreuzerhof, but this time without infantry support. There, the Austin was damaged by the Yugoslavs with hand grenades and one crewmember, Gottwald, was wounded.
The next day, on 30th April, the Romfell supported the 2nd Volkswehr Battalion in their advance to Völkermarkt. It also performed some reconnaissance missions. On 2nd May, the Romfell took part in the attack on Völkermarkt itself. After this, the Romfell was moved southwest and on 4th May, it was deployed near Sankt Margareten and Abtei. It was tasked to clear the road in advance of the infantry. During the two following days, the Romfell saw action in the general area of Eisenkappel. On 6th May, at 13:30, the car was tasked to supply a machine gun unit, operating in the frontline, with new ammunition. This was the last reported action in which the Romfell took part. Its fate after that is unknown.
A second Romfell?
In publications based on older research, it is sometimes mentioned that possibly two Romfells or even more were built, but this is highly unlikely. It is true that the Romfell was once transferred to a new chassis, and either this rebuild or the fact that it looked slightly different on photographs after the transfer has caused confusion in the past. There were also reports that a Romfell was used post-war by Hungary and later captured by Romania. There are even claims that the Romfell was built in Reșița, present-day Romania, during the war. All this appears to be false information or information concerning different vehicles than the Romfell. In contemporary military reports, always a single vehicle is mentioned. Furthermore, in the relatively well-preserved records of the Depot in Budapest, a second vehicle is never mentioned. The most recent research suggests that just one Romfell was produced in Budapest in 1915 on a Mercedes chassis, while in 1918, the armored body was relocated to a Fiat chassis (based on the works by Bíró Ádám , Chloé Fanny Plattner , and Franz Felberbauer ).
A Romfell Anti-Air truck?
In a publication by Hajdú Ferenc and Sárhidai Gyula from 2005, a line drawing was published of a supposed “Romfell 3” from 1918. It represents an anti-air vehicle, with a naval Škoda 5/8 M L/30 AA gun based on a Marta Alváz 40 hp 3-5t truck. The publication is of dubious quality and contains numerous errors, and to what extent the vehicle, the name of the vehicle, or its design did exist in the presented form is unknown. The claims seem to originate from a 2003 issue of the Hungarian magazine Haditechnika, which presents a bit more information. It states that the single vehicle was rebuilt into a fire truck in 1920 and used as such for many years. In more recent research, the Romfell Anti-Air vehicle is not mentioned, which may suggest it never existed, or at least never existed with the name Romfell attached to it.
From a technical point of view, the Romfell was one of the better armored cars that was built during the First World War, although the Mercedes chassis wore down quite quickly. It was elegantly designed and aesthetically pleasing, something that could not often be said about armored vehicles of the time. The car also had some features that may be considered modern for its time, like the intentional use of sloped armor, the provision of an anti-air pintle mount, and the proposed plans for a radio. With just one vehicle produced and seeing little action, the Romfell had a negligible role in the war effort and its successful post-war deployment in 1919 is probably the most remarkable.
Specifications (Mercedes chassis)
5.67 m x 1.8 m x 2.48 m (“>18 ft 7 in x 5 ft 11 in x 8 ft 2 in)
Total weight, battle-ready
5 tonnes (5,5 US Ton)
4 (Commander, driver, gunner, assistant)
Mercedes 4-stroke Otto, 4-cylinder, 75 hp at 1200 rpm, water cooled
Speed (road/off road)
28-40 km/h (17.4-24.9 mph) / 20-25 km/h in favorable conditions (12.4-15.5 mph)
1x 8 mm Schwarzlose M 07/12 machine gun (+1 spare)
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Austro-Hungarian Empire/USA (1916-1918)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
est. est. 4 driver, commander, 2 x gunners) + ~ 6 men
multiple rows of sword bayonets, 2 x rapid-fire guns
a ‘suitable motor’
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
Austro-Hungarian Empire (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 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’.
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 3,7 cm gun, Burstyn only mentioned it to be a 3-4 cm gun. Inside the turret, two gunners 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, the driver, sat in a compartment behind the turret with three vision ports facing to both sides and the back. On either side of him was space for storage of fuel, oil, and the ammunition. The driver also had to pass on rounds to the gunners in the turret. The engine was to be mounted in the rear of the vehicle. Burstyn envisioned an already existing regular truck petrol engine to be installed, which at the time, produced on average 40-60 hp. With this power, he though that the vehicle could reach 20-30 km/h on road, 5-8 km/h off-road, and 3 km/h while overtaking obstacles. 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.
In terms of protection, Burstyn envsioned 8 mm at the front, 4 mm on the sides and rear, and 3 mm on top. The armor on the front would be thick enough to somewhat reliably protect against infantry fire. Burstyn knew it would not be enough against artillery fire, but the crew should disable enemy artillery with their own gun.
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.
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.
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.
Scale Models and a Full-Size Replica
Two scale models of the Motorgeschütz were constructed 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 placed in the Panzer gallery. Later, it was placed inside the actual museum in a special exhibit.
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 first 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.
“It is not difficult to imagine how bitter it was for me when, in the field, I heard the news of the first appearance of the new weapon I had first invented, and later, when the successes of the combat vehicles became greater and greater until they decided the outcome of the war. Every inventor must anticipate the rejection of his designs; that is the bitter fate of inventors. But the fact that the rejection of a viable design had such terrible consequences for the entire nation is probably unique in the history of inventions.”
3.5 x 1.9 x 1.9 meters (without arms)
3 (Driver, 2 Gunners)
40-60 hp petrol engine (type unknown)
20-30 km/h on road, 5-8 km/h off-road
1x small caliber, quick firing gun, 2x machine guns
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.
Stahl und Eisen im Feuer – Panzerzüge und Panzerautos des K.u.K. Heeres 1914-1918, Rudolf Hauptner & Peter Jung, 2003.
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.
Streffleurs Militärische Zeitung, issue 1, volume 53, 1 June 1912, Das Motorgeschütz, Gunther Burstyn, p.303-308.
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 the Kriegstechnischen Zeitschrift (9. Heft 1912) as an additional source, if you can help, please leave a comment.
Observation by Ralf Raths, Director of the Deutsches Panzermuseum in Munster, regarding the conclusion
I am delighted that you have promoted Burstyn’s design since it sadly is all but forgotten in the broader public sphere. Kudos to that. But the idea “It would have changed the outcome of WW-1 and history as we know it since.” is quite … simplistic, for several reasons.
1) If one nation had adopted tanks before 1914 (no matter which one), the other nations likely would have reversed their approach to the matter since they would have seen themselves forced to keep up with the nation with the new tool. Therefore, tanks would have rolled on the battlefield in all major armies, thus denying such radical rewriting of history.
2) Having a tool and using it the right way are two completely different things. It is an extreme leap of faith to believe that the Germans would have automatically developed some kind of doctrine that would have resembled the later Panzer operations. The discussions in the interwar period about how to use are endless and several nations failed to do exactly that – and these were armies with real practical tank warfare experience from the Great War. So far more likely than not, the Burstyn tank would have been integrated into the infantry armies as support guns – exactly like they were used in the allied armies 1916-18. But without operational breakthroughs, the war would have involved in the same slugfest as it did in reality, no matter if Burstyns would have been there or not.
3) And most importantly: Like every other contra factual history it completely denies that the ONE change (Burstyn tanks rolling on the battlefield) would have had OTHER changes as a consequence. Given all technical, organisational and doctrinal aspects of the time, the most probable change would have been that the Allies would have become masters of anti-tank warfare like the Germans did in 1917. They learned nearly instantly to take out tanks in several ways – and the Allies are supposed to be so dumb they would have just been standing there while being crushed by Burstyn tanks? Because that is the prerequisite for such a firm prediction.
I’m not saying that it COULD have changed the outcome, but it is by no means certain. It’s far more probable than it would have NOT changed the greater mechanism of bogging down and just throw industrial and manpower at each other, and even if it would have changed the FORM of the war, it is by no mean certain that the Mittelmächte would have mastered this alternative war so much better than they would have won, thus changing the basic outcome.
Deutsches Panzermuseum Munster (German Armour Museum) Panzer Museum Website
Austro-Hungarian Empire (1905-1907)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
2 (driver, machine-gunner)
Daimler gasoline, 4-cylinder. water-cooled, 4.41 liter, 35 hp at 1050 rpm
45 km/h (28 mph)
1 or 2 water-cooled Maxim machine guns (7.62 mm/0.3 in)
Austro-Hungarian Empire/USA (1916)
Armored Car – Blueprints Only
North 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. North 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 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
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
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.
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
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