New Giant Tanks…PEACEMAKERS OR WAR BRUTES (Nov, 1935)

According to this article Britain had a specially designed tank for “fighting savages”.

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Fast, Powerful Land Battleships May Speed Up the Next War by Preventing Trench Stalemates, or Even Make War an Impossibility

By Thomas M.Johnson

MARS has put on overalls. In carefully guarded machine shops, laboratories, and foundries all over the civilized world, the war god is tinkering with strange new machines, grimly determined to solve the mystery of that “next war” which the world dreads, but in preparation for which it spent last year nearly ten billion dollars.

The solution of that mystery, in the opinion of many experts, may end the world’s dread by making an end of war itself. Is it too much to hope that invention, which in the past has merely served to multiply the instruments of death, may once more change history—this time in the role of a peacemaker? The answer may lie in the latest and most terrible of the descendants of the war chariot, the land battleship.

In the seventeen years that have passed since the end of the World War, military authorities have been concentrating their attention on that monstrous war baby, the tank. New inventions and improvements have greatly increased its effectiveness. The year 1935 is seeing the greatest development of this new arbiter of the battlefield since it first appeared upon the shell-torn fields of France in September, 1916.

Then, its dramatic entrance, its mystery, astonished the world. It, and its immediate successors, helped to break the bloody trench-warfare deadlock that had prolonged the world’s most terrible war. But, once the shock of surprise wore off, World War tanks proved by no means invulnerable. They were awkward and slow, crawling on tractor treads at three or four miles an hour. They constantly stalled, from engine trouble. What a mark they presented for the enemy artillery!

Today, tanks go ten times as fast on roads, using wheels. Striking rough ground, they instantly switch to treads by dropping a ten-pound drop-forged steel rack on each side, over the wheels. With these, they can go five to ten times as fast as the World War types, crossing shell holes, ditches, and trenches.

Experimental-model tanks carrying three-inch cannon have sped 120 miles an hour, jumped thirty-five-foot gaps, and forded streams under their own power. J. Walter Christie, the American tank inventor and former automobile racer, has raced a tank against standard automobiles.

In nineteen years of research, engine designers, fuel and oil engineers, and metallurgists have made an engine lighter per horsepower, yet much more powerful, than World War tank engines. The first tank had two Daimler vertical-sleeve-valve, six-cylinder, 150-horsepower water-cooled gasoline engines. It was a poor climber, and could not spurt. These engines gave up to 5.7 horsepower per ton of tank weight. Today, one of the new Christies, with a Liberty engine, gives thirty horsepower per ton and has great reserve power.

Modern tank engines attain maximum power output at 2,000 revolutions a minute. They are usually Diesels, horizontally opposed, air-cooled, and can operate in dust. The tanks run on new-type tracks that can stand the new high speeds for 2,000 miles before they need servicing. That is due to new hard-rubber plates, improvements in steel, and heat treatment.

Such speed demons may change warfare. In 1918, the tank’s greatest danger was a direct hit by a shell from a cannon, especially a swivel cannon devised to fire against tanks. These scored many hits on the slow-moving Allied tanks. But today, the new tanks go so fast and dodge so nimbly that it will take a remarkable cannon and a remarkable cannoneer to hit them. Can they be kept from getting close up to the trenches in which crouch the devoted infantry?

Straining their eyes against the smoke and gas of battle, the doughboys usually can see no farther than 1,000 yards into no man’s land. Fast, modern tanks can dash that distance in, at most, two minutes. Not much time for infantry with rifles ” and machine guns to make a stand, before the steel monsters crush them into the mud of their trenches.

That is why Chancellor Hitler announced, no longer ago than May 27, 1935, that Germany will be armed with two fast tanks and motor vehicles to every four soldiers!

That is why, at recent Italian Army maneuvers, after Premier Mussolini had seen the remarkable performances of the new Italian tanks, he cried enthusiastically:

“The tanks have made trench warfare obsolete!”

Many military experts agree with him. They say that the great improvements in tanks, armored cars, and military motor vehicles of all kinds that are materializing today, will certainly change war greatly. They may even end the next war almost as soon as it begins, with a terrible spinning, whizzing swoop of armies on wheels and caterpillar treads, traveling at undreamed speed, hundreds of miles a day, upsetting all the precedents of strategy, ripping through hastily dug trenches, eluding artillery fire. Like a swift rapier, this mechanized force will cut through to the enemy’s directing nerve centers, his headquarters, his bases. Those destroyed, he is beaten. The war is ended in days or weeks—not weary years—at small cost in lives and money.

But suppose, somehow, even these supertanks cannot get through to a vital spot on land. Then, the land battleships will take to the air! Airplanes fitted beneath with a sort of tongs, will pick up the tanks. Through the air they will carry them, to points above enemy headquarters.

Deposited on the ground, the tanks and their specially trained crews will act with accuracy impossible to aircraft. Over the headquarters telephone and radio, they will send to the enemy units, false, confusing orders. Then they will smash switchboards and transmitters, cut wires, and, at last, laden with valuable headquarters papers and prisoners, signal for their own planes to pick them up again, and wing homeward.

Only by tanks could such a blow be dealt. In Russia, experiments have already shown that a tank can be dropped by parachute from the air. J. Walter Christie expects soon to demonstrate flying tanks. He has been experimenting for years with a tank with wings that come off when it lands, and with a plane with hooks underneath that pick up a tank.

The next war will not only see tanks that fly, but tanks that swim. Christie has an amphibious tank that has swum the Hudson River near New York. Great Britain also is developing a swimming tank. This remarkable land-and-water fighting craft weighs two and a half tons, is six feet ten inches wide, six feet high, and thirteen feet long. It can speed forty miles an hour on roads, but has a flat, scowlike bottom that enables it to slide easily into the water. Driven by a propeller at the rear, and steered by a rudder, the odd craft pushes into the stream at six miles an hour, against wind and current. Like a submerged hippopotamus, it shows only its head—the round turret holding a machine gun which is fired by a gunner sitting beside the driver-pilot.

When he wants to come ashore, the driver starts his caterpillar treads, and through shallow water they help the tank wade out, boosted by the propeller. Instantly the tank dashes off at its maximum speed of forty miles an hour, and can turn around and plunge back into water again, without making adjustments. A formidable weapon to launch from ships, to make a landing on an invaded sea coast—or to defend such a coast!

Britain has blazed a trail in mechanization of her army. She has developed not only the famous Carden-Lloyd and Vickers types, but tracked machine-gun carriers and trailers, which are used in Canada also; tanks especially devised for making smoke screens, and for fighting savages. Half the British artillery is motorized, and even the cavalry dashes about in baby scout cars. Britain has 500 new tanks, and recently sent an officer to prison for five years for selling photographs of them to spies of a foreign power.

If the British believe in swimming tanks, so do the Russians. Russia has bought a hundred of Christie’s American tanks, and on last May Day, seventy-five of the amphibians paraded in the Red Square of Moscow. They were part of one parade which was only one of many all over Russia; in these parades appeared, in one day, 2,730 tanks of all shapes and sizes. In Siberia are at least 500 more. In the last four years, Russia has increased her tank strength by 800 percent, and the speed of her tanks three to six times, Russia has more models than any other country, including “tankettes” and land battleships carrying heavy cannon. Eight of these paraded in Moscow in the May Day parade.

France claims one of the largest tanks in the world. This monster is thirty feet high, twelve feet long, and nine feet wide. It is driven by a 600-horsepower motor. It carries a seventy-five-millimeter cannon, four machine guns, and a crew of twelve men. France has 3,000 tanks, more than any other nation in the world. However, all but a few hundred are World War models, almost useless except against African tribesmen. But the new Renault and Schneider models have heavy armor, and forty percent of French artillery and practically all the cavalry are motorized. France has had less success with amphibian tanks, and cannot develop an engine that will run after fifteen minutes in the water.

ITALY worries less about tanks that swim, than about tanks that climb, for her wars would be fought on her mountainous frontiers. Recent tests showed that the new Fiat can negotiate all sorts of steep ground, rocks, even slight precipices; it can practically stand on its head, then recover, and go on. These are some of the performances that pleased Mussolini. His army has also developed a new one-ton “auto caretta” only four feet wide, with a three-foot tread, that can carry almost any weapon or munitions anywhere.

A great enthusiast for mechanization is Japan. The Japanese make their own tank, the Osaka, and are experimenting in directing it by radio, without a crew, to explode in the enemy’s trenches like a land torpedo. Last winter, they tried this out on the ice of Lake Suwa. Though Japan has only a few hundred tanks, a great many of them are of modern types. But together with her enthusiasm goes a certain caution, and the Japanese is the only army that has special motorized units trained in antitank fighting.

It is not only the great powers that are interested in this newest form of war making. Bolivia bought British tanks to use in the jungles of the Chaco against Paraguay. Persia has a Christie tank. Peaceful Switzerland has more modern tanks per thousand soldiers than any other nation in the world—5.3. Then comes Poland, then Lithuania.

The dread newcomer on the tank battlefield is Germany, who but yesterday had no tanks at all. The Treaty of Versailles forbade her to have them, so she made dummies with which her soldiers drilled. Now, Germany has announced that she is building thousands of tanks, armored cars, and other motor vehicles. And it is said that she has secret plans prepared, in event of war, to turn nearly all her farm tractors into tanks in three weeks.

We might have to do something like that, if war should come to the United States today. This threatening year of 1935 finds our Army practically stripped of tanks. Today, we have in commission just twelve tanks of modern design, and many of those are experimental models. This spring, the Army quietly put into storage almost its whole supply of tanks, more than a thousand, including all the models issued to the National Guard. These were all World War models; in taking them out of commission the Army was obeying a new law that makes obsolete every Government motor vehicle built before 1920.

Our War Department has been experimenting with new models, and only recently has it really been getting anywhere. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the Army, explains the situation thus:

“By devoting every available dollar toward the development of a satisfactory experimental model, we have finally produced single units of real promise. The latest types are capable of a sustained speed of some forty miles an hour on roads, and some twenty miles an hour across country, except on the most difficult terrain. These advances have been accompanied by equally significant ones in the reliability of the machine, and in the effectiveness and power of its armament.”

How many such tanks have we? Today, only one. Some time next year we may have sixty-four really modern and efficient tanks and “combat cars,” as the Cavalry call their own special brand of tanks and armored cars. “Then, and not until then,” says General MacArthur, “a real beginning can be made toward the development of modern tactical doctrine as applied to them.”

THERE was a hint what this “tactical doctrine” might be, recently, on the historic Revolutionary battleground of York-town, Va. There three tanks sped across country at twenty-two miles an hour. After them rumbled, on tractor treads, a seventy-five-millimeter cannon, self-propelled, ready to fire instantly. After this cannon came six-wheeled trucks, mounting machine guns. Into a wood they dashed, following the tanks, which crushed down underbrush and trees to make a path for them.

Our First Cavalry has turned its horsemen into mechanics, testing out new armored cars which differ from tanks in that they have wheels only, not treads, and so cannot readily go off roads and cannot cross battlefields. The Infantry now have a “medium tank” designed on what are generally called the Christie principles, weighing twelve tons. It is driven by a Curtiss airplane engine and carries a crew of four men and, perhaps, even a one-pounder cannon in addition to machine guns. There are no American land battleships with heavy cannon.

But Mars has contrived many improvements. For armored cars he has evolved an armored hull that is also a chassis, to which are attached axles and springs carrying the wheels. For tanks, he has reduced driving fatigue by a vacuum booster to operate steering clutches and brakes, and four gear speeds.

He has made life bearable for the tank crews. Power-operated blowers will clear the air of engine heat, fumes, and gas. A new type of insulation will stop hot lead from bullets from coming through narrow peep slots to blind them. They can hide by emitting smoke screens. In battle, the tank crews can talk to one another by radio telephone, through special padded helmets.

BUT,” some one asks, “what will the tank crews wear? Armor?”

That question is not so ridiculous as it may sound. In fact, it is keeping some tank experts awake at night, and they haven’t found the answer. That is why General MacArthur says:

“The idea that some particular machine will completely dominate battlefields of the future, is a figment of the imagination. Such contentions ignore not only mechanical limitations, but also the ingenuity of man in developing neutralizing agencies for the engines of destruction he himself has created.”

For instance, winged bullets. There is a new bullet, called the Gerlich Halger-Ultra, invented by a German. Circling it are two wings or flanges, made by cutting two rings around the jacket and turning them up at an angle of forty-five degrees. These wings or flanges fit into the grooves of the rifle barrel, which is made in three sections—a wide, cylindrical base, an intermediate cone, and a narrow muzzle tube. As the winged bullet shoots through the barrel, no gas escapes and all the driving force of the charge is used. At the same time, the bullet’s passage through this tapering space gradually folds the wings back into place, flush with the surface of the jacket, so that wind resistance will not slow it in flight.

WHEN the bullet emerges from the muzzle, it is traveling about twice as fast as an ordinary bullet from an ordinary gun, and its striking power is increased proportionately.

Will the doughboy, with his little bullet, slay the giant tank? Suppose that, in those fierce, brief two minutes of crucial combat when the tanks are rushing upon the trenches, the infantry have machine guns, rifles, even pistols, snooting these miraculous new winged bullets. Suppose the bullets not only pierce the tank’s armor, but explode inside the tank, among the crew.

Put thicker armor on the tank? But that means a heavier tank, after seventeen years of effort to make it lighter by using electric-arc welding, lighter steel, and aluminum. And, to move that heavier tank takes a bigger motor which means, probably, a slower tank and a larger one.

Once let that start, and the new tank of 1935 has backslid to the weaknesses of the old World War tank.

There is the vicious circle. To break it is the task of science and invention. Which will win, the doughboy with his winged bullet, or the tank with its new strength and speed? That, today, is the riddle of the tank, that every nation is trying to solve.

  1. Emcha says: August 28, 20077:46 am

    Funny that U.S.Army abandoned Christie tank, while many other countries adopted it….

  2. Marine Tanker says: August 28, 200712:57 pm

    Actually, *nobody* adopted a Christie designed tank. The only tank that Christie ever sold was the BT-1 to the Soviet Union and it never entered production. Even the trademark suspension was changed in the BT-2 redesign and it was changed even further in future designs and adoptions. Luckily for him, everybody still called it “Christie Suspension”.

  3. KHarn says: March 9, 200810:30 am

    Note the tank at the begining of the artical; the US had FIVE of these, the Army had three, named “Cyclone”, “Hurricane” and “Tornado” with the m1916 37mm trench gun. The Marines had the other two, armed with .50 caliber machineguns.

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