The machine gun was, and still is, a devastating weapon of war. Able to deliver hundreds or thousands of bullets over a prolonged period of time, a single machine can tie down the advance of thousands of the enemy if it is positioned correctly. The main drawback with the machine gun though is that it is large, heavy, and requires a lot of ammunition. It is no surprise, therefore, that, over the years, there have been numerous attempts to create a vehicle which can carry the machine gun and its ammunition to get close enough to the enemy to deliver on its deadly potential.
Matthäus Höchammer of Fürth, Bayern, had exactly this line of thought in 1937 and submitted his concept for achieving this goal to the German patent office. He was to submit one of the most complex and interesting one-man tank concepts conceived, a vehicle that combined the ultra-low silhouette of a man laid prone with a trench digger and tank tracks combined.
The general layout for Höchammer’s design followed the same thought process of other one-man tank designs: a man lying down and controlling the tank with his feet while operating a forward-firing weapon.
Lying the operator prone in the tank created a low-profile for the vehicle. As the hands would be occupied by the weapon, the vehicle would be controlled almost completely by means of foot control for speed and direction and all of this would be clad in armor to protect it from enemy bullets. As such, there are several very similar designs, most notable of which is that of Ernst Mahlkuch, another German designer-submitted patent in 1938.
Lying face forward, the single-occupant was very low to the ground. This enabled him to make good use of cover, both from fire and visual cover, as a low vehicle like this could hide in just long grass. What was an advantage for protection though, was a significant handicap for operations, as it reduced the observation height for the operator, meaning he would find it hard to identify and target the enemy forces and make it difficult to see obstacles in front of the vehicle.
Construction of the design was relatively straightforward, with the lower half of the hull being made from a sheet of pressed steel. The upper half was angular with a pointed front and sharply sloping roofline, both of which would improve ballistic protection by encouraging the deflection of incoming enemy fire. The top half had the appearance of being welded together, made from flat panels of metal. Given its small size would likely be ‘bulletproof’ at best, this would mean around 10-12 mm thick with the lower half being much thinner, as it would be unlikely to have to be protected from enemy fire at all.
The single occupant of Höchammer’s design had to lay prone to keep the height of the vehicle down and had to face forwards in order to see where he was going. This meant that the controls were operated by his feet, keeping his hands free to operate the single machine gun pointing forwards.
As an effort to provide a modicum of comfort to the operator, Höchammer incorporated a mattress for him to lay on, a nice touch to improve the conditions inside an otherwise noisy, cramped, and rather crude weapon.
Behind the operator (commander, driver and gunner combined) was the engine, operated by means of pedals pushed by the operator’s legs. The engine was to be of a ‘particularly strong’ type, a high-speed 4 or 6-cylinder engine, although Höchammer made no comment as to whether it would be running on petrol or diesel.
Connected to this engine was the gearbox which delivered power to the final drives for the tank located at the back. Running on thin tracks for the full length of the tank, the suspension was provided for by means of 3 pairs of overlapping wheels with a large wheel at each end of the track run. Track support was provided by means of rollers above the road wheels.
Höchammer’s design had a very low ground clearance and this would make it very vulnerable to becoming stuck on a rock or tree stump, not a surprise in a tank just 25-30 cm high. Unlike Malkuch though, Höchammer had a viable solution to this problem, one which further increased the protection of the vehicle from enemy observation and fire – a bulldozer blade. This allowed the vehicle to carved a shallow trench for itself making it harder to see and hit.
As the vehicle moved forwards, the bulldozer blade would plough the earth in front of the vehicle, pushing the spoil out to each side. These earthen banks on each side provided additional cover for the vehicle and also meant it was even lower than it would be operating on the surface. If a stiff obstacle was encountered or the blade was not needed, it could simply be retracted upwards above the line-of-fire of the machine gun.
The blade had the additional advantage that it created a shallow trench in which following unarmored troops could crawl through as part of their advance.
Just like other one-man tanks, the one from Matthäus Höchammer was fundamentally flawed. It was so low that the occupant would have a terrible view of the battlefield, very thinly protected, and with all of the fightability, steering, and command of the tank in one man, hard to control too. There is simply too much in a tank as a combat system for one man to manage by himself and it is likely this reason, above all others, to explain why this one-man tank concept went nowhere.
The failure of the design though was not the end of Höchammer. He was a Master Carpenter by trade and survived WW2. His tank design might have been useless but Höchammer at least found some success in life as, between 1952 and 1956, he served as an elected member of the Fürth Block e. V. political movement on Fürth City Council.
German Patent DE665817 ‘Geländegängiger, gepanzerter Einmannkampfwagen’ filed 8th May 1937, granted 15th September 1938
Hrsg. Kreisverband SPD Fürth: 90 Jahre Fürther Sozialdemokratie 1872 – 1962. Eigenverlag Fürth, 1962
Via Fuerth Wiki
|Dimensions||25-30 cm high, ~50 cm wide|
|Armament||Single machine gun|
|Armor||est. 10-12 mm max|