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The Weirdest Tank of WW1 - Astonishing Trivia for Primary Teacher's Lesson Plans

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Since the Great War the mighty tank has formed the mainstay of any skilled (or unskilled) military commander’s army. The tank started its military career from fairly inauspicious beginnings. 

Originally called ‘Landships’ - this name didn’t stick as military bods were concerned that such an overly descriptive title might give away what their secret weapon was to the enemy; so the name ‘tank’ was instead adopted - the tank really hasn’t changed a great deal in its design or function since its first use in battle. Yes, advances in technology have rendered a modern tank a distant relative to the first tank prototype (fondly named ‘Little Willie’ by the British Military) but it still remains a relative nonetheless.

The classic image of a tank is of a hulking and box like central chassis, the twin caterpillar tracks either side in order to propel its vast form forward over any and all terrain, and a rotating turret to provide a 360 degree field of fire.

Perhaps the core tenants of tank design haven’t changed because the initial concept was just so effective. Why try to fix what isn’t broken? Well, that didn’t stop people from trying. WW1 acted as a conductor for all sorts of new inventions, some useful and others useless. The weirdest tank of WW1, the Russian Tsar Tank, is definitely the latter.

The Russian Tsar Tank

Caterpillar tracks are brilliantly effective at moving big heavy tanks across difficult terrain. Indeed, they were initially designed in order to allow tanks to climb up and over the trench-laden mud of the Western Front. Yet, as thought by the Russian boffins Nikolai Lebedenko, Nikolai Zhukovsky, Boris Stechkin and Alexander Mikulin, if caterpillar tracks are great then surely two giant bicycle wheels would be awesome.

That was the primary design decision behind the Russian Tsar Tank - and what a sight it must have been. Each giant spoked wheel attached to the central hub of the chassis was a massive 27 feet in diameter, the idea being that such a vast wheel would be able to plough through any obstacles in its path (and the two 250 horse power Sunbeam engines would certainly help with that).

The tank was ready for war; armed with a giant 8-meter high cannon turret and plans for further cannons to be attached to the tank’s frame. The central casing itself was a solid 12 meters wide with thick armour to protect the soldiers inside. So far so good? Why on earth didn’t the Russian Tsar Tank take off then?

Its Achilles heel turned out to be the small stabilizing wheel at the rear of the tank (giving it its tricycle appearance). During the first test run through a field the stabilizing wheel became firmly wedged in a patch of mud. The entire mighty form of the Tsar Tank became rooted to the spot, making it a very large, very easy to hit target that resembled a giant's penny-farthing. After this abysmal test run the tank never saw active service and remained stuck exactly where it was until the end of the war.

Check out our original article 'The 3 Most Bizarre Tanks Ever' on the History is Now website for even more tank based info.


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