Tanks are an essential part of modern warfare. If artillery is the King of Battle, armored vehicles with cannons are the King of Battle In a Limo. These armored vehicles started in World War I as a response to the problems imposed by trench warfare. Basically, they were motorized carriages to bring machine guns and cannons along in close support of the infantry. At the start of WWII, they were still being used that way, except by the Germans who saw tanks as fast-moving offensive weapons being supported by the infantry following behind. By war’s end, tanks designed evolved into monstrous size, weight, and armament. Tipping the scales at a staggering 208 tons, the German Panzer Mark VIII Maus, remains the largest tank ever built by any nation. What has been a feature of most designs was the rotating turret atop of the armored body of the vehicle and the caterpillar tracks that help the heavy vehicle distribute its weight. Before we came up with this fool-proof design, engineers and designers had to experiment with different ideas and concepts, and some of them were rather interesting.
Also known as Netopyr or Lebedenko tank, this was a product of the collaboration of Nikolai Lebedenko, Nikolay Yegorovich Zhukovsky, Boris Stechkin, and Alexander Mikulin in 1914.
This was one of the eyebrow-raising tank designs. The design was inspired by the bicycle, so instead of using the caterpillar tracks that we know, this tank used two giant bicycle wheels of nearly 30 feet on the front. The rear central wheel was 5 feet, with the idea being so that it could easily traverse bumps and ditches. Aside from the upper cannon turret, two more were on the sides and some additional weapons under its belly. Its 240-horsepower engine could reach a speed of 10.5 MPH, which was not bad.
What’s interesting about this project was that Lebedenko presented the idea to the Emperor of Russia Nicholas II through a wooden model of his car with a gramophone spring for its engine. He ran the model machine on the carpet, and it overcame stacks of books, and it impressed Nicholas II that he immediately allocated 210 thousand rubles to fund the project. Upon testing the actual Tsar tank, it could indeed cross some obstacles, but its smaller steerable roller always gets stuck on soft ground, and the two larger wheels could not pull it out given the low horsepower and torque of the engine. Forget for a moment the lack of stealth in a tank as high as a three-story house. In 1915, the project was canceled.