UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Russian Tanks - Early Developments

Porokhovschikov vezdekhod
Lebedenko Tsar Tank Netopyr
Mendeleev Super Heavy Tank
Rybinsk Tractor Factory

The Great War was a catalyst for new ideas in military engineering, including armored technology. The earliest tanks appeared just before the Great War in different countries. Russian engineering minds were already grappling with the idea of mobile armor long before the tank made its battlefield debut. The Great War led the designers and the military to the idea that in order to crack the enemy’s defense, armies need weapons that will be protected by armor and will be able to self-advance.

The outstanding achievements of the Russian mind were wasted and wasted easily, becoming a victim of unsatisfactory administration. Tsarist Russia, in many discoveries ahead of other powers, squandered a lot of know-how that could strengthen its military power. The reason for this is the absence in the country of a formed military-industrial complex (available, for example, in Germany), and also the fact that Russian geniuses more often worked alone, and by hook or by crook, through their pure enthusiasm, pierced their work in government offices.

Russian armored cars appeared spontaneously at the front, as a response measure to the German initiative. Thus, in August, the officer of the 5th Automobile Company, Captain Bazhanov, reserved an Italian SPA truck with the shields of captured German guns, which was later armed with two machine guns and used in battles of units of the 25th Infantry Division. Armored cars of their design at that time were made by many, but they were used in different ways. Therefore, having compiled information about the use of German and domestic production at the front of the bron-automobiles, as well as information about similar machines from the allies, the Russian military department raised the question of the expediency of deploying the factory production of such machines.

On August 19, 1914, the Minister of War, Adjutant General Sukhomlinov, summoned Colonel Dobrzhansky of the Eger Regiment Life Guards Regiment, who had been assigned to the office of the War Ministry and invited him to form an “armored machine-gun battery”. By this, the Minister of War "laid the foundation for the existence of armored cars" in Russia. However, to start the production of armored cars in Russia, one order was not enough. After all, Russia at that time did not have a developed automobile industry.

The first semi-tracked vehicle in the world, or “all-terrain vehicle trailers”, head of the technical part of His Majesty’s garage, Ensign A. Kegress built and tested in 1909 high speed. By the beginning of the war he was able to achieve full performance and reliability of the propulsion of his design. In October 1915, Kegres presented a sample, drawing and description of a car-sleigh for the needs of the army to the technical committee of the GVTU. The committee was of the opinion that "It is highly desirable to test the Kegress device ... for armored cars."

In the fall of 1916, the first semi-tracked armored car converted into the Kegress chassis was manufactured and tested in the vicinity of Tsarskoye Selo and Mogilyov. The results exceeded all expectations. Being loaded in combat to a full mass of 332 poods, the armored car traveled 725 miles in 34 hours and 15 minutes with no good roads.

Another way to create an all-terrain vehicle, rather than the development of a special chassis, in the Great War was the use of a tracked tractor chassis. The French and the Germans followed this path. Some Russian inventors also suggested to go the same way.

The driving force, figuratively and literally, was the modern tank’s fundamental component, the caterpillar track. In 1878, Fyodor Blinov, a Russian peasant from the Samara Region, patented a “wagon with endless rails for transportation of goods by main and back road” that was based on the principle of caterpillar motion. With the outbreak of the First World War came a gamut of armored vehicle projects.

The Russian Imperial Army knew about tanks only from hearsay, as Russia had no tank development of its own in pre-revolutionary times, apart from a handful of loose projects and experimental models. In 1914-1915, several basic tank designs were proposed. Those tabled by military engineers Alexander Porokhovshchikov and Nikolai Lebedenko were vastly different from each other, although they were equally useless in military terms.

In July 1915, Colonel N. Gulkevich handed over a report to the Chief of the Main Artillery Directorate, in which he substantiated the need to create an armored tracked all-terrain vehicle. In it, he, in particular, wrote: “... Armored cars, which they have so far only used to install machine guns, have the disadvantage that they cannot pass along all sorts of roads, let alone pass through barbed wire barriers and destroy them; Meanwhile, there is ... "tracked tractor", which is specifically designed to move on any soil, even on plowed fields. Its special design ... corresponds to another important purpose: to tear and tramp wire barriers into the ground.”

In his report, N. Gulkevich not only substantiated the expediency of creating a tracked combat vehicle, but also indicated the conditions necessary for its successful application at the front, and also provided organizational forms. The inventor called the “warhead” a proposed combat vehicle. Recommending the start of the necessary experimental work, he wrote: “If the experiments give quite brilliant results, it is necessary to start immediately mass production of armored and armed self-motors offered by me with the calculation of at least 40 copies per hull, in order not to release one or two vehicles to the army to make them even more and more than we. "

Understanding that the possibilities of domestic industry are extremely low, N. Gulkevich offered to limit himself not to the construction of special tracked chassis, but to the reservation of already existing American tractors “Holt” and “Alice-Chalmers”.

In total, under the project of N. Gulkevich, two armored tractors were manufactured, which were named “Ilya Muromets” and “Akhtyrets”. Comparing them with the first tanks produced in Great Britain and France, it can be noted that they had similar characteristics of maneuverability with better weapons and could well serve as the basis for creating a national line of tanks in the Great War. No wonder these armored tractors along with armored cars on A. Kegres chassis were called contemporaries “Russian type of tank” and were rated very highly.

The closest to the contemporary tank with caterpillar drive, an armored body and a turret with weapons, was put forward by inventor Alexander Porokhovschikov in 1914. His vezdekhod, or ‘go-anywhere vehicle’, was fitted with 8 mm multi-layer armor consisting of three parts: an external 2 mm-thick cemented steel sheet, and shock-absorbing layer containing hair and algae, and finally a steel inner sheet.

Lieutenant Nikolai Lebedenko was working at the elusive breakthrough tank design. In early 1915, the army engineer created a machine that could feasibly breach barbed wire and enemy trenches. The 60-ton tricycle-type construction with two giant spoked front wheels that were nine meters in diameter. It was invented by Russian designer Nikolay Lebedenko. Mastodon - The Bat is prominent for its huge size, diameter of its wheels reached 9 meters, and the arms consisted of 7 guns and machine guns. This cross-country vehicle easily overcoming tank ditches and entrenchments was made only in one copy.

The ‘Tsar Tank’ was named after Lebedenko’s unswerving belief that these machines could “break the entire German front in one night, and Russia will win the war,” as he told the emperor at a personal audience. Known as the “Tsar tank,” it was the largest wheeled vehicle in military history, and was eventually abandoned because it was underpowered and too vulnerable to artillery fire.

A special design feature was the chassis consisting of two large driving wheels and a rotating rail trolley. Overall, the design resembled an oversized artillery gun carriage, driven by two 240-horsepower Maybach engines.

Construction of the prototype was completed in 1917, and it was immediately clear that the vehicle was underpowered when it got stuck fast in the first ditch during trials. But while unsuccessful, the Tsar Tank project saw the involvement of such future stars of Soviet engineering science as Zhukovsky, Stechkin and Mikulin.

Russian Tanks of the Great WarAnother 1915 prototype also came from the Rybinsk plant, which mainly reproduced French designs. Crewed by four men and weighing 20 tons, the tank’s 200-horsepower engine allowed sufficient maneuverability despite its heavy cloak of 10-12mm armor.

The tank carried a rear-firing 107-mm gun inside the housing, while a heavy-machine gun was placed in the front beside the driver. But despite its practical design features, the design did not impress the country’s military-technical chiefs and received no support.

Another contender was the concurrent project by Vasily Mendeleev, son of the famous chemist and inventor Dmitry Mendeleev, which was presented to the Ministry of War in August 1916. Developed since 1911 on Mendeleev’s personal initiative, the tank was equipped with anti-shell armor and other technical innovations that would find application in later years.

Mendeleev proposed pneumatic suspension units for the chassis, while the vehicle was steered with a servo motor. Since the main gun was a 120 mm cannon, he wanted to build a body that could be lowered during firing in order to reduce the load on the chassis and also protect the caterpillars from enemy fire.

The tank was supposed to be transported on railway platforms, thereby increasing mobility and ensuring swift delivery to the front. But the cost of the various innovations was its 170-ton weight, as well as the production demands for such an ‘armored vehicle’, as Mendeleev himself called it. This all deterred the ministry from pursuing the design.

In January 1917, after the generalization of the first reports on the use of tanks by the allies, as well as their own experience in the use of armored cars, a long-term plan was adopted for the formation of armor units of the Russian army. This plan envisaged the creation of new armor-divisions equipped with a new material part of an all-terrain type.

In September 1917, the prospects for equipping the Russian army with armored tractors and tanks were seen in a very rosy light. But on October 25 (November 7), 1917. The Provisional Government fell and all plans to re-equip the Russian army for the campaign of 1918 flew into the abyss.

Frustrated by the failed attempts to build its own tank, the Tsarist government went down the tried and tested path of buying military equipment from abroad. France was commissioned to build 300 Renault tanks for the Imperial Army, but the order was disrupted by the 1917 Russian Revolution. Tsarist Russia was engulfed by revolution and could not implement the ideas of the first Russian tank engineers: V.D. Mendeleyev, A.A. Porokhovschikov and N.N. Lebedenko.

The French tank still appeared in Russia eventually, though not as an import but as a trophy of war, following the defeat of the White Russian forces in the Civil War. The Renault was brought to Moscow, dismantled, and used in efforts to design the first Soviet mass-produced tank, to be called the “Comrade Lenin freedom fighter.”

Ultimately, Russian tanks did not fight on the battlefields of the First World War. Despite the best efforts of engineers to equip the army with modern weapons, these attempts mostly failed to get beyond the test phase. Nevertheless, many of the proposed ideas found later application, with many becoming embodied in the tank battlefield’s combatants of the future.

all-terrain armored combat vehicles of the Great War

Title Tank
V. Mendeleev
N. Lebedenko
N. Gulkevich
BA "Austin-Kegress"
Combat weight, t173.2 44125.8
Crew, pers.8 67five
Guns, pieces1x120 2x371x76,2 -
Shells, pieces51 9? -
Machine guns, pieces x cal.1x7.62 2x7.622x7.622x7.62
ammunition, pieces900 997200
Motor power, hp250 2x2506850
Speed max, km / h24.8 17 12–1525
Armor, mm76–150 7.5-156.5–74–7.5

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 10-12-2018 18:49:13 ZULU