My Tank is Awesome!
Gutentag! It is with great pleasure that I bring you the latest installment of my continuing, a probably lifelong, journey through the wacky inventions of World War II. In the past I have covered such exciting developments as a 2,000 ton tank called "Ratte", a number of interesting Nazi super planes, and a Russian land battleship that was as heavily armed as it was ineffective. Today I return to perennial favorite Nazi Germany for a special twofer of Nazi Aviation madness as well as the sequel to one of the sexiest tanks of World War II.
Daimler Benz "Project C"
Type: Specialized Carrier Aircraft
Specific Features: Daimler Benz (now Daimler-Chrysler) was one of a large number of German manufacturers that utilized slave labor and Nazi money to expand a military industrial empire. Following the war Daimler Benz managed to survive relatively intact because America didn't want to destroy Germany's chances at rebuilding. During the last year of the war the Germans were desperate for anything that could slow or reverse Allied air dominance. As a result of this desperation the German engineering community became increasingly schizophrenic and produced everything from wooden rocket-powered fighters designed to be piloted by a basically untrained draftee to the massive and elaborate "Project C".
The "Project C" began development in 1945 but it owes it roots to the earlier "Project A". This precursor was a massive six-engine jet aircraft designed with the sole purpose of carrying the "Project AII" twin-engine jet bomber across vast distances. The idea was that the fuel-laden "Project A" would cross the Atlantic or other large open area and as it approached a target would release the much sleeker and more maneuverable bomber beneath it. Of course the happy side effect of this method would be that the "Project AII" could carry a heavy bomb load without the need for long-distance fuel capacity.
"Project B" was begun when development was halted on "Project A". It revised the plans for the six-engine jet to a more modest six-engine prop aircraft. The "Project B" was almost identical in design to the "Project C" but was still intended to carry the "Project AII" twin-engine jet bomber beneath it.
By 1945 the idea of developing the "Project A" and "Project B" had fallen by the wayside for a variety of reasons, chief among them that a means of bombing the United States wasn't the top priority of the Luftwaffe. They needed a means to strike back at forward air-bases, troop and vehicle muster points, and the huge formations of Allied bombers that were sweeping over Germany daily. Thus was born "Project C".
Much like its predecessor "Project C" was envisioned as a huge (albeit smaller than Project A) airborne carrier for other specialized aircraft. In place of the expensive and difficult to produce and maintain jet engines the considerably smaller Project C mounted four forward facing and two rearward facing Daimler Benz piston engines. The aircraft had a wingspan of 54 meters and compared to the German workhorse He-111's 22 meter wingspan it was still a gargantuan vehicle. Beneath the wings and the fuselage of the "Project A" were hard points for mounting five "Project E" aircraft or six "Project F" aircraft. The design included no allowances for armament.
History: Designs for the "Project C" are dated to early 1945, when the war was hopeless for the Germans and constant bombing would have rendered the extremely rapid prototyping and production necessary completely impossible. The people at Daimler Benz working on the project no doubt knew this and the aircraft never advanced beyond the drawing board. Ignoring projects "E" and "F" for the moment, a critical analysis of "Project C" reveals the numerous drawbacks to the aircraft. The purpose of the "C" would have likely been to fly in circles searching for targets for the aircraft it carried. Since it was a) a giant fuel tank, b) not particularly fast, and c) unarmed it would have been absolutely annihilated by any fighter aircraft it faced.
Had the Germans somehow rushed development on "Project C" and produced a flotilla for the defense of the Reich the war would have probably been won even sooner than historically. The "Project C", like so many of the Nazi X-Planes, was a nearly useless development. What makes it stand out as particularly ludicrous is that development began well after this situation should have been apparent to even the most fanatical Nazi cog.
Daimler Benz "Project F"
Type: The Mother of All Flying Bombs
Specific Features: The "Project F" was the unusual aircraft intended to be carried by the Daimler Benz "Project C". It consisted of a long fuselage, relatively short rectangular wings, and a cockpit placed directly beneath the single turbojet engine providing the aircraft's thrust. The most notable feature on the "F" was the 6,600 pounds of high explosive packed into a hollow cavity in the fuselage immediately in front of the cockpit. The Daimler Benz "Project F" was a huge flying bomb with an explosive capacity three times greater than the infamous V-2 rocket.
The Project F screams into action. Image by the extremely talented Marek Rys.
The "Project C" was intended to mount five "F"s beneath its fuselage and wings on hard points with a sixth "F" being centrally fixed directly to the aircraft above it. The "F" was quite fast, with a top speed around 650 miles per hour. Because of the aircraft's extremely limited fuel supply it was intended to be launched from the carrier aircraft only when the target was in visual range. The pilot would then guide the "F" at nearly supersonic speeds towards the target.
The Germans never openly advocated suicide tactics and so a primitive and slightly strange ejection system was designed into the "F". As the pilot approached the target he would pull a lever and a panel beneath the cockpit would fall off. Theoretically the pilot would be sucked out backwards through this hole and could then open his parachute. In practice this would have almost certainly resulted in the death of the pilot.
The "Project F" was the successor to the "Project E", which envisioned a very normal turbojet fighter with a smaller explosive load being used as a flying bomb. It seems a little ridiculous to make fairly complex aircraft into flying bombs, which is likely the reason behind the move to the "Project F" and its no-frills design. Compared to the "E" the "F" had a maximized explosive load with a very simple construction and design. It likely would have flown like shit compared to the "E", but most of the time these aircraft would have been used in a ground or ship attack role.
History: Development of "Project F" ran concurrently to the development of "Project C". Due to the late time in the war that design began the "F" never made the leap from the drawing board to prototyping. In my opinion the "F" represents the absolute pinnacle of madcap Nazi aviation. You've got a gargantuan prop plane carrying six small jet aircraft that are each packed with 3-tons of explosives and a wacky ejection Lazy Susan. The "F" would have devastated concentrations of ground troops and particularly warships in the unlikely event that it had reached its target. The fact is that by 1945 the "Project C" would have been lucky to get off the ground before being destroyed by Allied aircraft. Had it made it into the air a single stray bullet could have set off one of the "Project F" aircraft, blowing the entire arrangement into fiery pieces.
The Panther II
Type: Next Generation Nazi Main Battle Tank
Specific Features: Development of the Panther II began in 1943, before the original Panther had even been fully blooded on the Eastern front. The Germans realized that heavier and heavier armor would be needed to face the increasingly up-gunned Soviet Tanks appearing in the East. To address this, the Panther II was to have mounted armor up to 150mm on the turret front and 125mm on the hull front. As development progressed and new technologies became available the Panther II project evolved into the first truly modern tank that would have appeared on the battlefield.
The Panther II's intended Schmalturm.
Development of the Panther II was considered parallel to the Koenigstiger (Tiger II) tank and many of the components were interchangeable. This addressed maintenance difficulties of the original Panther and was a bold step towards a mass-standardization of German tank forces. The tracks, transmission, suspension, and road wheels on the Panther II were all identical to those seen on the Tiger II. The Panther II mounted a Schmalturm ("narrow turret") similar to the one on the Panther Ausf F that reduced the danger of creating a shot trap and decreased the overall profile of the tank. Another advantage of the Schmalturm was that it significantly decreased the weight of the Panther II, allowing it to mount heavier armor and even a potentially heavier gun without sacrificing the speed of the original Panther.
When most German tanks were becoming heavier and heavier the Panther II only weighed 47 tons, which was a significant achievement at the time. The design of the tank called for a new Maybach diesel powerplant which would allow the Panther II a top speed almost 10 kilometers per hour faster than its predecessor and an estimated top road speed of 55 kp/h. Probably the most interesting inclusion in the development of the Panther II was that it was designed around advanced range finding and night-fighting technology. The Panther II's Schmalturm would have mounted German active infrared optics and a powerful telescopic rangefinder that would have made it a lethal opponent.
A model of the Panther II.
The armament of the Panther II would have likely been the potent 75mm KwK 42 L/100 - an even higher velocity version of the traditional German 75mm gun - or the heavy 88mm KwK 43 L/71 which was the same main gun the Tiger II sported. Either of these weapons, when coupled with the cutting-edge fire control system of the Panther II, would have made it an extremely effective killing machine.
History: Full scale production of the Panther II was scheduled for the Spring of 1944. Difficulties with the Schmalturm and delays in the new Maybach engine slowed development of the Panther II project. Two prototypes were produced in 1944 but production facilities intended for the Panther II were switched over to Panther manufacturing because of the tenuous military state of Nazi Germany. A third prototype was produced in 1945. Continuing problems with production of the Maybach power plant forced engineers to produce all prototypes using a less powerful engine. A standard Panther turret also substituted the Schmalturm on these pre-production models. It is not believed that the Panther II ever saw combat.
In the end the Panther II was another case of unfortunate (for the Nazis) materiel diversion. By continuing development of the tank through to the Spring of 1944 the Germans reduced their manufacturing capabilities and output on proven tank models. Had the Panther II seen full scale production it is unlikely it would have made a real difference for the hopelessly outnumbered German forces.
One of the Panther II prototypes with a Panther standard turret.
Another interesting footnote of the Panther II is that in many respects it was a spiritual forebear of the modern main battle tank. It was heavily armored, effectively armed, fast, maneuverable, and built around advanced electronic sensors. This effect was achieved piecemeal by the Germans by modifying the original Panther to mount sophisticated infrared optics, but not on the scale or to the degree that the Panther II would have represented. Ironically, recent conflicts may force a reversal in this strategy, shaping modern tank forces to more closely resemble armored reconnaissance forces.
I hope you enjoyed this trio of inventions, I'll be back in 2-3 months with a giant mechanical clown from Russia, a spherical rocket-plane from Japan, and an underwater helicopter from Poland.
Your Band is Not Awesome!
In this edition of Your Band Sucks, Something Awful's own withered, sputtering old troll Dr. David Thorpe tackles the questions currently eating away at the music press: Who shall be the savior of rock and eoll? Will the current slump ever end? Why does Liam Gallagher think that denim is cool?
"Just as you're starting to get curious, you realize that the station's randomized computer playlist has simply hit upon its monthly spin of, for example, Don't Look Back in Anger by Oasis. Your face flushes with shame and rage as you realize that Oasis, no matter how severely they sucked in 1994, are starting to sound comparatively pretty good. Maybe, you think, if Oasis was brand new in 2004, it would be the best new band around. Do you know what this is called? This is called pure human tragedy."
Find out the shocking secret of rock and roll's one true savior by clicking on the underlined blue link right here.