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Strange Tanks That Never Made It Past The Prototype Stage

The journey and evolution of tanks went a long way since the first one was created in 1916, known as Little Willie. Since then, designers and engineers have never stopped trying to make these trusty tanks tougher, bigger, faster, and basically more superior than the previous ones. In the conquest of trying to create the best tank ever, many strange and unusual designs have been produced, some of them steering away from the usual and common tank concepts that we’ve ever known. These were some of those that were actually built and built for specific purposes.

Praying Mantis Tank

If you think praying mantis is cute, then you might appreciate the Praying Mantis experimental machine gun carrier that was designed by a private developer for Britain during World War II. It was a private venture by E.J. Tapp of County Commerical Cars, with its design patented in 1937 while the construction of the prototypes began in 1943. The main purpose of the eccentric praying mantis design was so that the tank could shoot over walls and other obstacles or barriers while staying concealed.

The first prototype of the praying mantis. (tanks-encyclopedia.com)

How the design worked was that it was able to lift its fighting compartment to 55 degrees max so that the tank’s two Bren guns armaments would be able to fire over the obstacle. Its lower hull and running gear was from the famous Universal Carrier, which used rack bending for small steering adjustments, and was part of its second and final prototype.

Two crew were needed to operate the tank: a driver and a gunner. Both of them would be located in the pivoting fighting compartment, which didn’t look comfortable. The Praying Mantis never really made it past its prototype stage and was canceled after unsuccessful trials in 1944.

Antonov A-40, Flying Tank

The Antonov A-40 Krylya Tank was Russia’s attempt to enable a tank to glide from an airplane onto a battlefield to aid the airborne forces.

After the Soviet Air Force ordered a glider that should be capable of transporting a tank, aircraft designer Oleg Antonov, who was famous in his field, decided to try to make the tank itself the glider. He began by attaching a set of wood and fabric biplane wings and tail to a T-60 light tank to allow it to be towed into the air with an airplane before gliding onto the battlefield. Once the tank (hopefully) successfully landed, the wooden wing would then be detached.

Antonov A40. (Tempshill at English Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1942, he converted one T-60 into a glider to be towed by a Petlyakov Pe-8 or Tupolev TB-3. They made the tank lighter by removing its armament, ammunition, and headlights and leaving a very little amount of fuel. They conducted the test on September 2, 1942, but the TB-3 bomber ended up having to ditch the glider to avoid crashing because of the T-60’s drag. Even so, the T-60 reportedly glided pretty smoothly in a field, and the driver even managed to drive it back to its base after. The project was abandoned because there was no sufficiently-powerful aircraft that could tow at the required 99 mph.

SMK

What’s better than a tank with a single turret? A tank with double turrets, of course!

The Soviet Union had that figured out when they designed the SMK heavy tank in the late 1930s at that time when they had to replace the multi-turreted T-35 heavy tank with unimpressive performance. They, of course, wanted the replacement to have multiple turrets, too.

SMK (Sergei Mironovich Kirov) heavy tank, August 1939. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

A team of designers from Kirovski Works came up with SMK:  9-meter-long, 60 tons tank with two turrets. The first one was armed with a 76.2 mm gun, while the other was with a 45 mm gun. The heavy tank was powered by an 850 hp 47-liter V12 engine, giving it a top speed of 22 mph.

As cool as it looked, the SMK never reached production. The problem with tanks this heavy is that they tended to destroy any road they were driven on and most of the bridges in Russia could not bear the weight of these beasts. To move them would have required specially designed rail cars to travel by train. Given the engines at the time, they also would have been too slow to advance rapidly, which is the main advantage of tanks. The designers also drew plans for a single-turret version of it. Because that version was more reliable and had the capability to carry thicker armor, it was preferred more than the double-turret one. The result was what would be known as the KV.

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