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WW2 German prototypes

Höchammer all-terrain one-man tank

Nazi Germany (1937) One man tank – None built

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.

Side view of Höchammer’s design for a one-man tank showing the elevation of the front-mounted blade. Source: German Patent DE665817

Arrangement

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.

Automotive

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.

The engine for Höchammer’s design was low, exhausted to the rear, and was cooled by a fan at about a 45 degree angle drawing air through an angled radiator at the back. Source: German Patent DE665817

Trench

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.

Front view of Höchammer’s design with the blade off (left) and blade down (right). The profile it was to cut through the earth is shown in the left image. Source: German Patent DE665817

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Höchammer one-man tank, showing its insanely low height and the bulldozer blades at the front. Illustration by Andrei “Octo10” Kirushkin and funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

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

Specifications

Dimensions 25-30 cm high, ~50 cm wide
Crew 1
Armament Single machine gun
Armor est. 10-12 mm max

5 replies on “Höchammer all-terrain one-man tank”

I do quite disagree about viability of such weapon platform. I think it is a same evolution issue with modern navy when suddenly battleships became obsolete despite any technical or tactical reason to, just because people did not liked them.

In this case, one man “tanks” like these carries massive advantage of low profile and dimensions. They can serve as fine mobile pillboxes and bunkers for infantry support. If used, trained for and properly developed and produced, these types of vehicles could had been quite potent. Its low size not only makes difficult for its user to get proper view of battlefield, but it also makes it virtually invisible to all anti tank guns either. Its mobile nature and being immune to infantry would mean that it would be as damn fine one man bunker to establish strongpoints in a defense and move said bunker elsewhere when needed. Furthermore, due to its low dimensions, such vehicle would receive unusually high amounts of armor, making it resistant to all anti tank weapons of that age, making it as well armored as a heavy tank.

I also forgot to mention that such vehicles like this one or tankettes are excellent vehicles due to support they provide and their very low costs. Tankette costs a lot less to produce than a light tank. This thing would cost a lot less to produce than a tankette. In warfare you could have a force of theoretical 100 tanks or 200 tankettes or 300 these mobile pillboxes. If we put things into evaluation, for every 1 light tank you can produce 3 of these mobile bunkers. That is a value which is hard to pass by.

Of course, these are just guesses of how much things would cost. Yet, in warfare at that time, major cost of a tank was its complexity. A heavy tank would easily cost twice that of medium tank to produce due to its more complicated suspension, engine, etc. Nowadays all the real costs are in electronics making all armored vehicles similar in cost regardless of a tonnage. Yet, back then, complexity of a vehicle was major factor of how expensive vehicle would be. Thus super heavy costed small fortune. Heavies were exceedingly expensive. Medium tanks expensive. Light tanks pricey. Tankettes sold at an acceptable prices. This however would be somewhat cheaper to produce either as small engine would be sufficient to move a vehicle of a weight of tankette or lower.

There is a lot to unpack here.
1) Battleships didn’t “go out of fashion”, they became not viable with the rise of aircraft carriers and later long range guided missiles; massive target, easy to hit, no amount of armor can stand up to a ship to ship missile, so it’s better to make smaller, more maneuverable vessels.
2) something like that is far from being “virtually invisible”. MGs produce a LOT of muzzle flash when firing and are extremely easy to spot even when they are firing from a concealed position, and due to their power are a priority target. Are they difficult to hit? Sure. Impossible? Far from it.
3) the armor of that thing isn’t “as well armored as a heavy tank”, it’s just barely enough to resist machine gun fire. Even a 30mm shell would punch clean through, and that isn’t even mentioning the holes in the front that are extremely vulnerable to HE.
4) A tank, no matter how small, is still a lot more expensive to produce than a dude walking with a machinegun, which it was supposed to be a replacement for, so the entire economics argument is completely backwards, not to mention fuel consumption.

So no, not a viable option at all, and once you’re hit also probably a death trap you can’t get out of anymore withough exposing yourself, since the hatches are on top, so if the vehicle gets immobilized your options are to stay in and get overrun, or to stand up, try to get out and get shot in the process

1) They did. This is why USA navy was so silly with its indecisiveness of putting it out and back into service. It had provided crucial military support close to turn of a century. Missiles and aircrafts are more useful, but there are roles which those technologies cant fulfil as efficiently as battleship.

2) Battlefield is a mess of line of fires. Try to play a simulator, you will soon notice that it is very difficult to actually see the enemy, because grass and terrain makes each tank in formation and anti tank gun to see specific field of area. Grass in this case is like an actual wall, if you can’t see the enemy, you can’t aim for him, muzzle flashes or not, smoke or not, firing anti tank shells blind is ineffective. Due to extremely low profile of this vehicle you can actually hide him “in plain sight” from anti tank guns, because they won’t have clear shot due to foliage or different elevations of terrain.

3) I was talking about theoretical capabilities of such armored vehicle. Due to small weaponary and small internal space, there is actually very little that needs to be armored. Lets say that in order to armor heavy tank you need to cover 100 m2. For this you need to cover 10 m2 area. If you want both tanks to have 100 mm of armor, heavy tank’s armor will weight 10 as much as of this vehicle. So, if you put 10 tons of armor on a heavy tank, same amount of armor thickness on this vehicle would weight only 1 ton.

4) A tank is a lot more expensive than an anti tank gun to which it can easily die to. A field gun or a bunker is a lot more expensive than infantry. A plane costs more than several heavy tanks. You are comparing apples to oranges here.

Use smoke dischargers, opens door sideways, there are a lot of ways to get out from an engineering standpoint. Yet, your mentality is the true reason why it would not work out for you. I envision this as a mobile bunker, used for infantry support. It would actively utilize its relatively high armor and low stature to blend into terrain in order to actively avoid anti tank fire and its mobility would enable to avoid artillery fire. It is not a tankette or a light tank in its usage just as you would not use a light tank in medium tank role.

Calculating squared area is little more complex than that, but I just gave you a general idea of what it means. As for calculating weight, you need to take cubic space and then weight differences are truly staggering, I just gave you a very general understanding how weight multiples with area which it needs to protect.

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