For the Record: Airborne tanks in World of Tanks?
Hello everyone, one reader recently wrote me an interesting e-mail, asking whether I think amphibious and airborne tanks would work in World of Tanks. Well, at first, I was like “obviously”, since we actually have two airborne models in the game already (the Locust and the Tetrarch). As regular tanks of course – and that’s how the amphibians would have to work too. But… could they work with some sort of airborne/amphibious advantage? Well, let’s have a look. A bit of history The concept of an airborne assault vehicle, although explored even before the war, emerged fully during the early- and mid-war years. The goal was of course to produce an armored vehicle, that would be transported by a plane, glider or other flying means (we’ll get to that) in order to reach the combat zone along with glider troops or paratroopers and to provide fire support to otherwise lightly armed paratroop infantry. It was viewed as one means of increasing the paratrooper firepower (others were light AT-guns, light manpack howitzers and oversized AT rifles) and pretty much every major WW2 nation had a research dedicated to creating this kind of armored vehicle. The Americans were probably the first to actually consider this seriously. One big name that pops up around airmobile tanks was Walter Christie, who – before the war – created a concept of a very light airmobile vehicle. This is also mentioned in the Operation Think Tank video (in case you haven’t seen it yet, you definitely should look it up). Christie was a controversial character though and his experiments did not lead to any success. He imagined the vehicle to be actually dropped from a plane at full speed – it would have to be so fast to actually match the speed of the landing plane. Needless to say, this was a pretty retarded idea and its testing led to some serious injuries (I think it was Harry Yeide, who mentioned Christie testing it on his son, who as a result damaged his spine in a crash). Christie’s interbellum designs were more like armored cars than tanks – very fast, but with very thin armor. We might actually see them one day in the game, not soon though. When the war started, Americans returned in a way to the airmobile tank idea, that eventually led to the development of the M22 Locust. Locust was not exactly a brilliant success either. Designed to replace (or complement) the British Tetrarch (which by itself was not exactly stellar in its role), the Locust performed poorly in the latter stages of WW2 and the British got rid of their Locusts really fast, selling them to foreign countries. Probably the last Locust use was in the 1948 war between nascent Israel and Egypt (Egyptians were still operating various pre-war junk like the Mk.VI light tanks or the French R35 and ironically, Locusts were considered to be one of the better pieces). America would later return to the airmobile tank concept with the Sheridan, but that was two decades later. The British of course had their own airmobile light tank, the Tetrarch. Developed since 1937 by Vickers, it was designed to be actually an export tank, but as the war broke out and with the heavy BEF losses in France, British military needed pretty much everything they could get their hands on. The design itself wasn’t good however (overheating was a constant problem) and it was thus decided to use them in “cold” conditions – and so, they got packed and shipped to Russia during the Lend Lease program. Russians kinda liked them, but found the overheating to be a problem too. Two saw combat though and both got destroyed, the rest was used for training. As for the British Tetrarchs, they finally got their chance to shine during the Normandy landings, but performed poorly and the British got rid of them soon after the war. The Soviets were developing their own share of retarded airmobile tank ideas. Apart from actually dropping T-27 tankettes from bombers (without the crew of course, which by itself was a problem), one such idea was to actually mount wings on the T-60 light tank. This complex was called Antonov A-40 and it looked like this: This combo was supposed to be towed into air by another plane and by itself (as a glider) actually worked, but at that point the Soviets didn’t have anything strong enough to overcome the drag of the T-60 and the project was cancelled. Another “interesting” idea was to actually drop a tank in a metal box on the water, using the “pebble” effect – the designers thought the box would actually jump over the water and then stay afloat somehow. As you can imagine, that was a pretty dumb idea and the box just broke into pieces upon impact. Again, this incident was described in the Operation Think Tank video. In the end, the Soviets didn’t produce any serious airmobile light tank during the war. After the war, the ASU self-propelled gun series were designed as extremely light vehicles (ASU-57 weighed 3,4 tons) especially for the Soviet paratrooper corps. Their armor was extremely thin however and made from aluminium, barely providing protection from small arms fire. Nevertheless, the concept proved somewhat successful. As for Germany, special Panzer I and Panzer II variants were developed for the airborne troops (Fallschirmjäger) – two types – Panzer I Ausf.C and Panzer II Ausf.J (VK1601 and VK1801) specifically were supposed to be used in the Operation Herkules (invasion of Malta) that never happened. Prototypes of these tanks (and allegedly some serial vehicles) were created, but what happened to them instead is unclear, sources differ. Evaluation of the concept Under World War 2 conditions, the concept of the airborne tank was flawed from the start. By its definition, such a tank would have to be very light. Invariably, any serious airborne tank project appeared in the latter half of the war and by that point, the time of the light tanks was long gone. Light tanks “worked” in Poland, but in France, the losses of BEF and the French light tanks have already shown the fact that the age of the light tank is officially over. In Operation Barbarossa, light tanks as a class suffered very heavy losses on all sides and by 1942-1943, they were mostly withdrawn from the front line units (or simply worn out and not replaced). Thus, the appearance of a light 7,5 ton vehicle armed with a 40mm gun (the Tetrarch in this case) on the 1944 Normandy battlefield (David Fletcher: “swarming with Tigers and Panthers and god knows what else”) could Continue reading →