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Top 10 Most Bizarre Tanks Ever Made

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Hurricane-T-55

In modern warfare, a tank is an indispensable weapon. During the First World War, on September 15, 1916, near Flers in northern France, a tank appeared on the battlefield for the first time.

Since then, this new weapon of war has been continuously tinkered with. Engineers devised all kinds of techniques, shapes, mechanisms and materials to make a tank an even more efficient and terrifying weapon. The most outlandish tank designs made their way into military history, each one stranger than the next. For example, how about a three-wheeled tank, a praying mantis tank or a bullet-shaped tank?

Read more below about the most bizarre tanks ever conceived on the military drawing boards.

The Boirault Machine

boirault machine
Wikipedia / public domain

This was an experimental tank designed by the French army in 1915. The colossus was designed to pass easily over enemy trenches on the western front during World War I. The Boirault machine consisted of a drive unit located in the center of a movable and hinged frame. That frame consisted of two parallel ‘tracks’, interconnected by horizontal beams. The drivetrain drove over the two tracks of the frame and thus moved forward.

boiraultmachine2
Wikipedia / public domain

The Boirault machine, named after its designer Louis Boirault, was primarily intended for simply rolling over barbed wire barriers and trenches. Only one copy was built. The Boirault machine reached a top speed of… 3 kilometers per hour, of course much too slow to be used efficiently on the battlefield. Moreover, the tank could not change direction so easily. Production was stopped and the plans disappeared permanently in the military archives.

A tank resistant to nuclear attacks

Object 279

At the height of the Cold War, when both the Soviet Union and the United States feared a global nuclear war, the Soviet Union built a tank that could withstand a nuclear explosion. The colossus weighed no less than 60 tons and was christened ‘Object 279’. It took 4 tracks and a 1000 horsepower diesel engine to run Object 279. For a tank of such enormous weight, Object 279 still reached a speed of 55 kilometers per hour.
Item 279 2

The hull of the tank consisted of a shell that was up to 318 millimeters thick. That was thick enough to protect the weapon from nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. A striking feature of the tank was the elliptical shield, which prevented the tank from being ‘blown over’ by a nuclear explosion. Unfortunately, the designers were at it for their trouble, because only one copy of the design was built. You can admire Object 279 today in the Kubinka Tank Museum near Moscow.

A tank on three wheels

Mine Exploder T10 was a tank that, as the name implies, had to be used to clear mines. The Mine Exploder T10 was based on the design of the successful M4 Sherman tanks . The underside of the fuselage was reinforced with a 25 millimeter thick steel plate. Instead of tracks, this mine clearer ran on 3 wheels. The diameter of the 2 two front wheels was 244 cm, the rear wheel measured 183 cm in diameter. The colossus weighed 53 tons. The Mine Exploder T10 was remote controlled. At a speed of 3 kilometers per hour, he drove through a minefield and detonated mines.

This design was also short-lived. The Mine Exploder T10 was extensively tested by the US Army in 1944, but found to be too heavy, too little manoeuvrable and impractical. The blueprints disappeared in the trash.

A tank to put out a fire

Hurricane T-55 - tank that can extinguish fires
Benutzer:Flo-star/wikipedia

The Soviet tanks T-54 and T-55 were the most widely produced tanks in the world. Production began after World War II and continued into the 1980s.
The Hurricane T-55 was a special version of the T-55. This tank was intended to extinguish oil fires. For the Hurricane T-55, the engineers used the hull of a T-55, but replaced the turret with the jet engine of a MIG21 fighter jet. At the exit of the jet engine, the designers placed nozzles for water. The gas flow from the exhaust of the steel engine atomized the water. The thick mist of water particles descended a long way down and could be used to extinguish an oil fire from a distance. The Hurricane T-55 was in service from 1991 to 1993.

A fire-breathing tank

The British army had a tank designed that could serve as a flamethrower. Military engineer Percy Hobart designed the ‘Churchill Crocodile’, a variant of the Churchill Mark VII tank, in 1943. A cannon was placed in the place where the machine gun normally sat. The fuel for the flamethrower was stored in an armored trailer that hung at the rear of the tank. This trailer contained about 1800 liters of fuel.

Churchill Crocodile 2
Alcock (Sgt), War Office official photographer

The Churchill Crocodile’s flamethrower was able to produce a beam of fire up to 120 meters in length 80 times for 1 second. The flamethrower was successfully used in the Normandy landings and the Battle of Brest in 1944. Crocodiles were also used on the battlefield in the Korean War until 1951.

A tank with wings

tank under an airplane

Attach wings to a heavy tank so it can fly? Sure enough, military designers have tried something similar. After all, tanks have to be transported to the battlefield in a fast way, and that is best done by air. Several engineers worked on gliders that could ‘float’ a tank all the way to the front. In 1942, the Soviet Union conducted an experiment with a T60 tank attached to a glider, which was towed into the air by a TB3 bomber.

flying tank 2

Although the T60 tank had already been ‘stripped’ of excess weight, the bomber was unable to pull the enormous weight of glider plus tank into the air in a decent way. The bomber released the glider with the tank prematurely, after which the tank made a more or less safe landing close to the airfield. Lacking a bomber powerful enough to keep tank gliders in the air, the Soviets quickly shelved their “flying tank” plans.

A Bigfoot monster tank

Monster truck races became very popular in the United States in the 1980s. A monster truck is a car that rides on huge wheels and matching suspensions. Many of these monster trucks are produced by the Bigfoot 4 x 4 Inc. company. One of the company’s most remarkable creations is the Bigfoot Fastrax. This monster truck is actually more of a ‘monster tank’, because the Fastrax consists of the undercarriage of an American M48 Patton tank. The Fastrax therefore does not ride on monstrous wheels, but on caterpillar tracks. The upper part of the Fastrax consists of a replica of a Ford Aerostar car.

A tank powered by a propeller

Tanks traditionally travel on tracks, but over the years engineers also designed types that moved on a kind of ‘screw’. Two cylindrical ‘screws’ were attached to the bottom of the tank, driven by the tank’s engine. The rotation of the propellers allowed the tank to effortlessly plod through mud, swampy terrain, or navigate in water. The Soviet Union developed a number of types in the 1960s and 1970s. The ZIL-2906 and ZIL-4904 were intended to penetrate very inhospitable areas of nature. This turned out to be necessary in Siberia, among other places, to pick up cosmonauts who had returned to Earth with their spacecraft.

A tank that looked like a praying mantis

Praying Mantis Tank

In the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset , United Kingdom, there is still one example of a ‘Praying Mantis tank’ on display. Outwardly, this tank does indeed resemble a praying mantis. The battle turret was replaced by an armored structure hinged to the tank’s undercarriage. Machine guns were attached to the far end of this structure. The structure could move upwards allowing a gunner to fire over walls, hedges and the like from a safe position. The praying mantis tank was tested by the British army in the years 1943 and 1944, but proved to be unsatisfactory. Another tank project that was scrapped.

A bullet tank

The most outlandish tank designs have passed by over the years, but the German army’s bullet tank (“Kugelpanzer”) was undoubtedly one of the strangest. This tank was more or less spherical in shape, could accommodate one operator and was probably intended for espionage purposes. The prototype was developed by Nazi engineers during World War II. Around the armored bullet housing were two circular tracks, powered by the tank’s engine. Only one copy of the Kugelpanzer remains, which can be admired in the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia.

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