The ancient Russian prince Oleg put his ships on wheels and raised their sails when he attacked Constantinople in 907. This shows the age of the idea of combat vehicles that can move both on sea and on land.
Amphibious tanks appears only several years after regular tanks. By the start of WWII, they were widespread among all large tank-building nations. Among many projects were those which would never see the light of day, as experts considered them to be little more than fantasy, such as these three.
Blyamka's Amphibious Tachanka
On August 4th, 1942, the chief of the 3rd department of the NKVD, Major Rogov, received a memo. Attached was a blueprint of an unusual fighting vehicle. The blueprint's author was a Polish POW, Josef Yanovich Blyamka. "The proposed "mechanical tachanka" is an amphibious tankette with good aerodynamic qualities, high speed, mobility, and off-road performance, armed with two machineguns with a 2-3 man crew."
Blyamka pointed out that his vehicle was effective during offensive as well as defensive actions. The author also pointed out that his "mechanical tachanka" could fight in areas covered in hamful chemicals. "It is air-tight and air is only delivered through special anti-chemical windows".
Blyamka did not compose a more detailed description, and only listed a few tactical-technical specifications. They were translated from Polish, and were not always understandable. The armour was to be 10 mm thick, and be equipped with "a rubber cover" (presumably a liner). A "wheel ribbon" presumably meant the tracks.
The hull of the "mechanical tachanka" was to be aerodynamic. With a length of 5.1 meters, Blyamka estimated the height to be 0.6 meters. More likely, it would have been about a meter, which is still very low. Sadly, no decisions were made regarding this design, or they did not survive to this day.
Vetchinkin's armoured motorboat
Another project from 1942, but on a completely different level of quality. Its archive folder is covered in secret stamps from GABTU and the Artkom. The project was indexed "tracked amphibious motorboat GKA-1500". It was designed by a group headed by professor N.S. Vetchinkin, the inventor and designer of various other amphibious vehicles.
The description started like so: "The GKA-1500 uses an armoured floating hull... 8 large hollow buoyant wheels, with a tank-type torsion bar suspension... Steel cable tracks with paddles... The tracks propel the vehicle through water along with the engine." The number was derived from the combined horsepower of the vehicle's engines: 1500 hp.
Vetchinkin based his work on that of American designer Albert Hickman. Thanks to its parallel sides and curved bottom, it had good stability and seafaring characteristics. The hull was placed on tracks, a portion of which was equipped with paddles. The submerged half of the tracks "becomes a rowing implement and, hanging in the water, acts as a large diameter paddle-wheel. The vehicle also had propellers on the rear. The buoyant wheels would paddle water towards them, which would decrease the GKA-1500's initial setting.
The 17-ton amphibious motorboat was supposed to reach a speed of 50 kph on water and three times that on land. The fuel reserves were enough for 4 hours at full speed of 8 hours in economy mode.
The hull was 9 meters long, the width was 2 meters, and 3.1-3.2 meters with tracks. With the gun turret, the vehicle was 3 meters tall. A crew of 20 would fit into this volume.
What tasks was the GKA-1500 meant for? Coast guard and landing operations. Vetchinkin wrote "The ability to take a military craft from the water to the shore, move independently on land, and leave back into the water, combined with a high speed and the ability to fire on the move, like a land tank, gives a very noticeable advantage to a navy... when fighting an enemy that does not have similar vehicles."
However, the military component of the project was not thought through at all. The armament of the vehicle was not specified in the description. The only thing mentioned about armour was that its thickness would have the sacrificed for buoyancy. It's likely that Vetchinkin decided that if the military accepts his chassis, then the armament and protection would be their problem. However, the Commissariat of Defense did not see a need in the GKA-1500, and its blueprints settled down in the archives.
Tanks on ice
Perhaps the most interesting idea for the use of armoured vehicles on rivers was proposed shortly before the start of the Great Patriotic War, in the spring of 1941. Even its origins were unusual: the papers arrived to the General Staff from the directorate of north-eastern labour camps. The author was a prisoner of camp #4, engineer Evsey Lvovich Zelinskiy. His proposal was titled "use of ice floes to organize a tank campaign deep into the enemy rear, by camouflaging tanks as sheets of ice".
Zelinskiy proposed that tanks be placed in massive ice crystals ("ice cabins"). The author wrote: "The walls of the ice cabin would be reinforced with wood to retain integrity after collisions". These designs were equipped with propellers powered by the tanks themselves. The tank engines were supposed to run inside the artificial icebergs.
Zelinskiy explained that since it's impossible to navigate rivers with amphibious tanks during ice drifts, there would be no hazards in the way of the tanks other than natural ones. "Even if the enemy knows that tanks are hidden in the ice, he cannot organize an artillery barrage large enough to destroy all the ice." The tankers would receive heated air inside the "ice cabins". The author was sure that the crew could remain inside the ice indefinitely.
The response to Zelinskiy's proposal from the Bureau of Inventions did not survive to this day. The engineer himself was rehabilitated by the Supreme Court of the USSR. Information on his "ice garages" was only found in the archives recently.
Original article available here.