Saturday, 11 January 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Winged Armour

The first World War gave a push to the development of military technologies. As a result of this global conflict, tanks, SPGs, fighter planes, and many other things hit the battlefield. In those years, not a single one of the deadly novelties had a significant impact. The first World War was won by the ordinary rifleman.

After the end of the war, military theorists seriously investigated the question of how to avoid this trench stalemate. The direction was clear: new war must be a lot more maneuverable. It must maximally use the new technologies that showed themselves in 1914-1918.

One of the most important aspects of a maneuver war is the rapid movement of vehicles and soldiers into battle. Mastery of the air opened up new possibilities. Even the first airplanes surpassed ground units in speed. However, difficulty was caused by the low reliability and cargo capacity of airplanes at the time.

Transport aviation was actively developed. At the same time, engineers of various nations thought of an idea: equip the most promising type of vehicle, the tank, with wings.

One of the first engineers to propose this was J. Walther Christie. In 1932, he tested a prototype of a convertible drive vehicle, weighing less than 5 tons and accelerating to 90 kph on tracks, and up to 190 kph on wheels. Christie proposed equipping it with biplane wings, a propeller, and a tail. Christie did not expect it to cover large distances. The device was meant for crossing water hazards and difficult terrain.

Christie's project was not implemented practically, as the level of technology at the time could not provide a reliable system for switching the tank's motor between its wheels and propeller. The department of armament in the United States had little enthusiasm for Christie's inventions, and would not finance them. The winged M.1932 remained on paper.

The USSR also developed a flying tank. In 1933, engineer A.N. Rafaelantz was designing a motor-less glider, which could carry a BT tank in a special frame. Among Rafaelantz's good ideas was a separate landing gear for the glider, which avoided damage to the tank's suspension during landing. The glider was not developed, as it turned out that it was much easier to deliver a tank by strapping it to a heavy bomber.

O. Antonov's project was much more successful. In fall of 1941, he created a single use towed glider, meant to transport the light T-60. Antonov's glider would detach from the TB-3 bomber towing it 20-30 km from its destination, landed independently, and entered battle. The single flight of the A-40, also known as "Tank Wings", was performed in the fall of 1942. The trials revealed the low weight capacity of the glider, its low flight characteristics, leading to rapid height loss, and many other problems. The weight was the biggest problem of all: even though the T-60 did not have a turret and was maximally lightened, the TB-3 still struggled. The more powerful Pe-8 were in too short a supply to tow tanks.

Japan also developed a glider tank. The Japanese Type 3 Ku-Ro vehicle was meant for support of paratroops. Unlike the USA and USSR, the Japanese developed their tank from scratch. The result of their work was a tank with a narrow hull, there the commander was positioned behind the driver. The tank would be equipped with a 20 mm or 37 mm cannon, or a 7.7 mm machinegun. Work on the Ku-Ro lasted until 1945, but its designers never got past a wooden mockup.

Original article available here.

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