Early tank designs had varied shapes and sizes. Some were so successful they still impact tank design.
Not Tsar Tank.
This ingenious tank idea, a giant armored tricycle, would fail. Explore this fascinating war machine.
The Tsar Tank, also named the Netopyr or the Lebedenko Tank, was built by Nikolai Lebedenko, Nikolay Yegorovich Zhukovsky, Boris Stechkin, and Alexander Mikulin in 1914.
This car resembles a dystopian science fiction film (or a mad steampunk notion).
Modern tanks use caterpillar tracks, while the Tsar Tank had three wheels.
Lebedenko operated a military lab on Moscow’s Sadovo-Kudrinskaya Street.
Lebedenko presented Nicholas II with a clockwork wooden replica of his automobile in 1915.
According to courtiers, the Tsar and the engineer played with a model of the machine that easily passed stacks of the “Code of Laws of the Russian Empire.” Nicholas II was so pleased by the tank that he donated several hundred thousand rubles to the project.
Nicholas II saved Lebedenko’s wooden tank model, but its whereabouts are unknown.
With funds, a Khamovniki plant began developing a prototype. Two 240-hp Maybach engines powered each large wheel.
Two spoked wheels in front were nearly 30 feet (9 meters) across, while the third roller-shaped wheel in the back was 5 feet (1.5 meters). According to Lebedenko’s memoirs, he got the concept from Turkic to provoke carts, which had large wheels and could easily navigate hills and ditches.
To move the wheels, the engines drove a car wheel, which pressed against a huge wheel to send power. This design (and its weight) limited the tank’s speed to 10 mph (16-17 kph) on level ground.
The Zhukovskiy wheels have a T-shaped metal component in the middle. Wood was placed on the T-beam shelf. Each engine spun a car wheel, which was pulled down by a railway carriage spring until it contacted the big wheel’s cover.
The automobile wheel delivered engine power to the main running wheel by turning in reverse. If the engine grew too hot, the driving wheels came off to prevent seizures.
The hull’s top would have had a turret with MGs or light cannons, perhaps 4-pounders. The tank would have.308-caliber Maximachine gun slots for anti-infantry defense.
This gives Lebedenko a 39-foot height (12 meters). MG sponsors were to be added to the hull. A tiny gun turret was under the beast’s belly.
The Tsar Tank’s vitals
First test: 1915
Dec 1923 (scrapped)
59ft (18 meters)
30 ft (9 meters)
39′ (12 meters)
Propulsion: 2 240-hp Maybach engines (180 kW)
10 mph (16-17 kph)
4-pounder (76.2 mm) guns and auxiliary.
308 machine guns
A Tsar Tank?
It was, briefly.
Model tsar tank
A little Tsar Tank. Fatboy/Wikimedia
The massive wheels were meant to traverse tough terrain and large obstructions. The smaller rear wheel steers the beast.
This appeared reasonable in principle, but when field-tested, the rear steerable roller became stuck almost immediately. Despite the power of the main engines (taken from a captured German airship), they couldn’t dislodge the aircraft after it got stuck due to its limited size and poor weight distribution.
The engines, two captured Maybachs, were stronger than others used in WWI.
The rear wheel’s tendency to get caught was a catastrophic design issue that led to multiple unsuccessful tests in front of the High Commission in August 1915. The project was discontinued in September 1915.
Despite this setback, Stechkin and Mikulin continued to work on the design by developing an AMBES engine.
This last effort to preserve the project and free the trapped tank prototype both failed. There, the tank stayed until 1917, when the Russian Revolution terminated further production.
After then, the tank was ignored and rusted for 6 years in a forest around 60 km from Moscow. 1923: The tank was scrapped.
That’s all for now, early-tank fans.
Tsar Tank was one of the boldest tank designs in history. While the design seemed to sound in theory, faults were rapidly found when the vehicle was tested.
Despite being a failure, it’s a tragedy that nothing remains of this interesting equipment.