My Tank Has a Great Big Gun
One of the only front page pieces I write that I ever get e-mails requesting I reprise are my series of updates on wacky weapons of World War II. Thanks to their overwhelming wackiness, the Germans usually get the lion's share of the coverage. Many moons ago when I last did one of these I covered a single Soviet land boat designated the T-35. This time I head back to my roots and cover three German vehicles that will leave you shocked and awed.
The Wheeled-Tracked "Masterpieces"
Type: Decepticon Switcheroo AFVs
This is a Sdkfz 222, which had a body very similar to the RK Ausf A. Image swiped from Jagdtiger.de
Specific Features: The Germans were pioneers in the realm of half-track vehicles, a term used to describe light-armored vehicles that had two heavy front wheels and a light tank-style track system on the rear portion of the vehicle. This fusion of wheeled vehicle and tank allowed German, and later American, half-tracks to move quickly over rough terrain, span trenches, and turn on a dime. The down side of this was that tracked vehicles cannot be as fast as a similar wheeled vehicle. Replacing axles and rubber tires with long strings of interlocking metal plates does great things for stability and off-road capability, but really blows away any chances of competing in a drag race.
Austrian manufacturer Saurer produced two vehicles during the war that were both wheeled and tracked vehicles, just not at the same time. The RR-7 was a light armored reconnaissance vehicle and troop carrier that could either drive using a pair of light treads or four heavy road wheels attached to the tread assembly. It was capable of a top road speed of a respectable 60 kph, but probably due to complexity of manufacturing only 140 were built. The RR-7 was the ancestor of the RK Ausf A, a light tank that again used either a unique tread assembly or road wheels attached to the tread assembly. The RK Ausf A was capable of reaching an impressive 80 kph on roads and using its wheeled locomotion. Unfortunately for the RK Auf A, it spent too long in the development cycle and by the time manufacturing began on the initial order of 15 the tank was essentially obsolete. The order was cancelled and the tank never saw recorded service.
History: Prior to the annexation of Austria by Germany, Austrian military manufacturer Saurer had begun development and testing of a light armored reconnaissance vehicle that incorporated both wheels and tracks. Unlike what the Germans had done with their half-track, this vehicle could alternate between wheeled and tracked locomotion by attaching heavy road wheels to axles integrated into the track system. When Germany decided that Austria was Germany Jr. and annexed the nation in 1938 the Wehrmacht was pretty impressed with the Saurer vehicle designated RR-7 and put in a production order. A total of 140 were produced and served with mixed results as an artillery observation vehicle in 1941 in North Africa and on the Eastern Front.
The legacy of the RR-7 does not end there. The Germans, always willing to one-up the madcap ideas of others, requested that Saurer design and test a wheeled/tracked light tank. Similar in armor and armament to the Panzer II light tank, the Panzerspaehwagen RK Ausf A sported an angular chassis that resembled the common German four-wheeled armored cars. Instead of wheels the vehicle had light tank style treads designed uniquely for the RK with four wheels mounted above the ground line. These wheels could be lowered to provide the primary locomotion in place of the tracks, particularly useful when a high road speed was needed.
I admit, sources have failed me as to whether or not the process for switching from tracked to wheeled movement was automated. However, images of the RK make it appear that such an automatic transition cannot be ruled out and the vehicle incorporated an unusual side-mounted dual exhaust system that further deepens this possibility. If the RK possessed an automatic locomotion switching system it would have passed from being an oddity to being a truly unique (at the time) vehicle.
Unfortunately, much like Duke Nuke 'Em Forever, what once seemed like a good idea spent so long in development and testing that by 1942, when the RK was prepared to enter production, the project was cancelled because the vehicle was essentially obsolete. No point driving really fast on roads and then transforming into a tank when the first time a T-34 coughs at your decepticon it's going to blow sky high.
The P. 1000 "Ratte"
Type: The Biggest Tank that Never Was
To give you an idea of how big the Maus was, here's a picture of it during test trials.
Specific Features: Before I get into the specific features of the "Ratte" let us reminisce briefly about the largest tank ever completed; The Maus. I covered it in my first article on German super weapons and it's one of the more well known of Germany's uber tanks. The Maus weighed in at 188 tons (the M1A1 tank currently used by the United States weighs only 67 tons), had a massive 128mm main gun, and had armor that was a quarter of a meter thick in places. The Maus was built, it was real, it may have even seen combat although details are sketchy and this is probably unlikely. The Maus was also a monumental waste of resources and was ultimately impractical.
The Ratte was the next in line to wear the crown of world's biggest tank, and it made the Maus look like its namesake. The Ratte was to be a nightmare machine and its scale still boggles the mind. It would have been 35 meters long, almost four times as wide as the Maus, and 11 meters high. Armor would have been similar or possibly slightly thicker than that seen on the Maus, but of course covering much more surface area. The tank would have been propelled along on a total of six 1.2 meter wide tread assemblies, three on each side of the tank. This means that the treads on one side would have been only slightly narrower than the entirety of a Maus. No less than eight Daimler E-boat engines would have provided the tank's requisite 16,000 horsepower and the turret would have literally been a Graf Spee class battleship turret with only two instead of three gun positions.
If your pants aren't feeling uncomfortably tight yet, just wait until you hear about the armament. The turret would have mounted a pair of 280mm long barreled ship cannons, each gun weighing in at almost 50 tons and firing shells that weighed over 300 kg a piece and were capable of reaching out and touching someone 42 kilometers away. Practically these weapons would have never been able to engage targets 42 kilometers away in a direct fire role, but that was their naval capability. Finally, instead of a turret machinegun the P.1000 was intended to mount either a dual or quad 20mm anti-aircraft gun on top of the 380 ton turret. The number of crew members is unknown but would have likely topped fifty men, with adequate machineguns studding the hull to engage infantry from all directions.
The Ratte would have been able to drive over trucks, houses, and even the mighty Maus tank with ease. Its guns would have leveled buildings, blasted craters ten meters across in the earth, or sunk an unfortunate naval cruiser loitering a little too close to shore. The term P.1000 was a reference to the estimated thousand ton weight of the Ratte, but odds are it would have been much closer to 2000 tons.
History: Very little remains of the history of the Ratte, but it is known that its development began at Krupp in the summer of 1942. Concept work and illustrations were completed by December of 1942 but it is unknown how much beyond this stage development of the Ratte progressed. It can be assumed that not much was finished because the P. 1000 program would have left a pretty easy to identify prototype behind. The Ratte program was never officially cancelled despite the immense waste of resources it would have been if a prototype had ever been completed. The tank would have been extremely slow - probably less than the paltry 20 kph the Maus could manage - and difficult to command effectively in combat. While its relative invulnerability would have made up for some of these shortcomings I can promise you that something that big and that slow would have been destroyed one way or another.
Type: The World's First "Probably Suicide" Aircraft
Specific Features: Apparently out of jealousy for Japan's noble Kamikaze pilots, the Germans began development of a similar suicide aircraft in 1944. Specifically intended for one-use ramming, the design of this aircraft was undertaken by famed oddball of German aviation Walter Wundes of Gotha. The aircraft was never given an official designation but was planned as a rocket or jet aircraft consisting of two distinct components; an armored conical cockpit and a fuselage. The armored nose would have bored through the fuselage of the enemy aircraft - almost certainly a bomber - and the pilot would have theoretically been able to detach his cockpit and plummet to safety with the aid of parachutes. Assuming that the cockpit was somewhat entangled in the target aircraft, the cockpit would have come equipped with an explosive device that would have blown clear part of the enemy aircraft allowing the pilot to safely escape.
History: While it may seem on the surface that the Germans lacked the backbone to actually send their skilled pilots on suicide missions, all of the talk in the Gotha plans of a detachable cockpit are just that; talk. Assuming that the pilot had miraculously survived the sheer trauma of slamming into another aircraft at over 300 miles per hour the odds that his aircraft would not immediately explode are low indeed. Remember that the German's only widely used rocket aircraft (the Komet) suffered vastly more casualties from landing than it suffered in combat. Why? Because the rocket fuel onboard these fighters tended to explode when they landed. Let's give Gotha the benefit of the doubt and say they found a way to cheaply mass produce turbojets for this ramming fighter and went with the far less volatile jet fuel. That would mean that instead of instantly exploding like a bomb, liquid fire would spew out of the fuel tank of the rammer and roast the pilot inside his armored cockpit like a hog in an armored cooking pot.
Of course all this assumes that the ramming has taken place after the enemy bomber has dropped off its kids at soccer practice. If an unfortunate rammer decided to bury his plane in the side of a bomb laden Flying Fortress then chances are he would be slamming into 16 of the bomber's 500lb bombs. Somehow I doubt the explosive charge on the nose of his plane would blast a hole to safety through the giant explosion that would engulf the entire plane. Fortunately for everyone involved in this potential scenario the Germans did not build a working version of the ramming aircraft, saving the lives of countless American, British, and German aircrews.
At the end of the day we have three bad ideas and only one finished product, that's nothing unusual for Nazi Germany, but I have to say the Ratte is a pretty recent discovery and it scares the holy crapcakes out of me. Can you imagine that thing rolling through the countryside of France, taller than church steeples and crushing houses beneath its six giant treads? I can, and it's a horrifying thought.
The Nintendo Fun Club is Back, Bitch
Hey folks, Taylor "Crack Shoot" Bell here to drop a change of pace on all your asses. Today we're going to explore some of the greatest lesser known games of the NES age, games that are almost good enough to make me forget about the horrible Peter Pan games I've played.
Of all the games mentioned here, this is probably the least well known. Phantom Fighter tells the heartwarming tale of a Japanese guy, his funny hat, his retarded sidekick and his noble quest to go from door to door beating up “kyonshies.” For those of you who don’t know what a kyonshie is, you can educate yourself by watching the hit movie Robo Vampire, a film that distinguishes itself by putting an exploding helicopter on the box cover and then failing to include a single helicopter in the entire movie. A kyonshie is some kind of weird Japanese zombie thing that attacks by holding his arms out and slowly hopping toward you. You can defend yourself against this deadly attack by walking up and kicking the kyonshie in the chest, at which point he will either stand there motionless or perform the famous combat maneuver known as “falling on his ass.”
For more information about phantoms and the fighting thereof, you know where to go!