In the first part, we had a look at some of the classes you generally don’t see around anymore. Today, we are going to have a look at a few more and their influence on contemporary armor design.
Just like the tankettes, the multi-turret tanks were very popular in early 30’s and almost everyone dabbled in them one way or another. The most prominent designs of this type come from France and Russia – the T-35 heavy tank for example actively participated in the defense of the Soviet Union (and, ironically, in the defense of Germany in German hands). The British and the Japanese however had their own designs as well.
As the name suggests, these vehicles were characterized by their multiple turrets. In theory, it was a wonderful idea - more independent guns mean more firepower in multiple directions. However, the main problem was the coordination of the crew. The commanders quickly found out that having a dozen men in one tank is almost impossible to handle, let alone to effectively fire in multiple directions. In order to house multiple turrets the vehicles had to also be quite large. “Large” on the other hand also meant “heavy” and in order not to make the vehicle too heavy to transport, sacrifices had to be made – especially regarding the armor. As a result, the multi-turret tanks were mostly large, heavy but thin-skinned. Their armor was sufficient for early-to-mid 30’s (when there were no real anti-tank guns around) but by 1939, most such vehicles and projects were hopelessly obsolete.
There are two more interesting points about this kind of design. First is that multi-turret small tanks existed as well – a typical example would be the twin turret version of the Vickers Mark E (used mainly by Poland). It was a light tank that existed in both one-turret and two-turret versions. The twin turret one was equipped with two machineguns, one in each turret. Just like its bigger counterparts, it was not an effective vehicle and was quickly phased out. In the 80’s, the multi-turret idea re-appeared with the onset of first unmanned, computerized turrets. Having multiple weapons firing in multiple directions is not practical when a large crew is operating them but with a computer in control and the gunners sitting next to each other with joysticks in their hands it is actually viable and it is possible we will see this type of vehicle on the battlefields once again in the future.
The tank destroyer class of vehicles was arguably never that well-defined. Many vehicles we now consider to be tank destroyers were in reality self-propelled guns, capable of firing in both direct and indirect fire mode. Most of the time, these vehicles emerged from the need to mount a big gun on an existing hull that would otherwise not support it in a turret. Casemate vehicles were generally cheaper than their turreted counterparts and were produced in large quantities throughout the war. Their main advantage was their low silhouette and usually a powerful gun as well (all that for relatively low cost). The disadvantages however were obvious: the vehicle could only fire forward, the gun had limited traverse and firing on the move was almost impossible.
The installation of the large gun also sometimes meant that the insides were quite cramped, resulting in poor ergonomics and low rate of fire. Despite all these flaws, this vehicle class was well suited for wartime (especially defensive warfare). On the other hand, with the constraints lifted after the war the flaws were usually regarded as “not worth it”. The Americans got rid of this vehicle class quite quickly (with some vestiges appearing later on in the form of the Ontos, the M56 Scorpion and some other projects as well) but the Soviets kept the heavy artillery/tank destroyer concept alive well until the 60’s-70’s with modernized ISU-152 seeing combat in Iraqi hands even during the Gulf War. The Germans – who had extensive experience with the wartime casemate designs – produced their Kanonenjagdpanzer as the spiritual successor of the previous vehicles, but it was quickly replaced by an ATGM version. Perhaps the last casemate tank destroyer design is the Swiss MOWAG Taifun from the 70’s and 80’s and the Swedish Strv 103 was inspired by this design as well but currently, this class of vehicles is generally considered obsolete. Most real tank destroyers are armed with anti-tank guided missiles and this trend will likely continue in the future.
The flamethrower is an old weapon – it was used as early as in First World War and it wouldn’t take long before someone got the idea to mount it on an armored vehicle. First such vehicles appeared in the 30’s but unlike the other “trends” from that time, the flamethrower tanks did not disappear and continued serve throughout the entire Second World War.
There were two basic types. First one replaced the main gun with a special high-power flamethrower, making it the main weapon of the vehicle (this was represented for example by the American M67 “Zippo”, used in Vietnam). The second type basically just replaced the machinegun port with a secondary (usually less powerful) flamethrower (these would be the Soviet flamethrower tanks such as the Soviet TO-62). Both approaches had their advantages and disadvantages but they had three common drawbacks.
For one, the vehicles with their large flamer fuel tanks were highly susceptible to various hits from anti-tank weapons, especially after the war. Secondly, the flamethrower always had a very limited range (around 200 meters or less), making the vehicle (unless the flamethrower was a secondary weapon, in which case the range was even more limited) vulnerable to anything with better range (any gun-armed vehicle, anti-tank guns and anti-tank guided missiles). Perhaps the most important factor however was the psychological one. A flamethrower is a terror weapon and intentionally burning someone alive no longer fits the current military mindset. As such, flamethrower tanks gradually disappeared from the arsenal of most armies in the 70’s.