The Germans are credited with an unhealthy obsession with wonder-weapons. The Maus, Ratte, flying saucers, and many other interesting things come to mind. However, when you look at what was happening in the heads of engineers on the other side of the ocean, you can confidently place them in the same category.
Let us look at a curious example from the Americans.
In September of 1943, the United States begins their heavy tank program. US High Command thinks that these tanks will be necessary in order to penetrate fortified lines in Europe. This was correct, as the standard 75mm gun was insufficient for anti-fortification work. Existing medium tanks also lacked armour. At this point, the US only had one heavy tank, the M6, which was deemed ineffective as an assault platform.
Competing with the desire to create something large and fearsome, in the heads of many-starred generals was also a desire to complete the war with nothing newer than a Jumbo Sherman, which had better front armour than the Tiger. This competition led to no particular commitment to the heavy tank program. The Department of Artillery, under their own initiative, began working on a heavy tank in March of 1944.
The requirements for a new heavy tank came from the discussions of whether or not there should be a heavy tank at all. The front armour must be at least 200mm, the transmission must be electric, the gun must be the 105mm T5E1. This gun had a very high muzzle velocity, and could be used to destroy concrete fortifications.
The head of the artillery department insisted that before the second front opens (so in almost a year), he can not only develop a prototype, but provide 25 new tanks. This claim was very optimistic, this time would have barely been enough to make a prototype. High Command managed to make him see reason and ordered five prototypes, with the additional removal of the unreliable electric transmission, and its replacement with a mechanical one. In the end, the military downsized the order to two prototypes, because the war ended.
The new tank was named "T28". The front armour grew to 305mm, increasing the mass of the tank to 95 tons. Let's examine this American wonder closer.
The layout was, let's just say, non-standard. The tank was short, with no turret, resembling an ugly turtle. The T5E1 gun was placed in the front glacis plate. The horizontal traverse of the gun was 10 degrees, with 20 degrees of elevation and 5 degrees of depression. The crew consisted of four: a driver, a gunner, a loader, and a commander. The driver and the commander got cupolas on their hatches. The commander's cupola was also equipped with an AA mount for a .50 caliber machine gun. In order to reduce the ground pressure, the tank was equipped with a second set of tracks.
Upon viewing this design, the head of the department decided that this was not a tank, and suggested that it be renamed to "tank destroyer T95". This was explained by a lack of turret and weak secondary armament. This decision was accepted on March 8, 1945.
The T95 was a colossal vehicle, whose mass could not be carried by most bridges. The second pair of tracks allowed the tank to traverse cross country terrain, albeit poorly, while increasing the width of the tank. Movement was not easy for this beast due to the 500 hp Ford GAF engine, which was also used in the Pershing tank. A half the weight of a T95, 500 hp wasn't enough for a Pershing. The maximum speed this vehicle could reach was 12 kph, but it was decided that going past 10 kph is not recommended, as it was very hard on the engine.
The T95 couldn't go anywhere on its own. In Aberdeen, it underwent a total of 800 km of trials, in order to determine how long parts could last. Travelling that distance took a very long time.
In order to use this tank anywhere, it would have to be transported by railroad. In order to do that, the outside tracks had to be removed. This took anywhere between 2.5 to 4 hours, and as much to put them on afterwards.
It was unclear what should be done with this vehicle. Tanks were supposed to have turrets, and tank destroyers were supposed to be lightly armoured and fast. The T95 had a tank's armour, but no turret. After deliberations, the T95 was renamed to Super Heavy Tank, with its previous index T28. In 1947, work on the T28 stopped. This was tied to the fact that heavy tanks projects with turrets started springing up, and a mass of 95 tons was considered very high.
Only two T28s were built. In 1947, one was heavily damaged due to an engine fire, and was written off. The other broke down, and was scrapped. For 27 years, the only indication that this wondrous tank ever existed was in blueprints, until the first prototype was found on the territory of Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Currently, it is on display in the Patton Museum, in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Original article available here.