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Old 07-01-2009, 03:58 PM
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Default The Skeleton Tank


One of the fascinating aspects of early armour, is that as the technology was quite new, without any given standard, the range of experiments and often seemingly bizarre contraption was very wide indeed. One of the most unorthdox designs that came out of the Great War, was the American so called "Skeleton Tank" or "Spider Tank". This design may look, and also was strange, although not in reality quite as bizarre as, say, the Russian "Tsar" tricycle tank or the German K-Wagen. While these strange tanks - or really their inventors - were victim to the notion of bigger always being better, the Skeleton Tank also had to do with the question of size, although in quite a different way.
The Skeleton Tank came out of a real dilemma, observed with small tanks like the French FT-17 or the Ford 3-tonner, namely: a small tank had many advantages, not least that it was easier and cheaper to manufacture, and it of course required much less enginepower than a big tank like, say, the British Mk IV or French St Chamond. But there was one real drawback that came with small size: it heavily reduced the trench crossing capacity of the tank in question. The Skeleton Tank was built in the United States in 1918 was an experiment to achieve the maximum trench-crossing performance consistent with a weight of around 8 tons. Thus you would have a tank with all the logistical advantages of a small tank, but the trench-crossing capacity of a big one.
The idea was to reduce many parts of the hull to bare essentials. Built by the Pioneer Tractor Company, of Winona, Minnesota, under the direction of Edwin M Wheelock, the Skeleton Tank had many structural members simply done of ordinary threaded iron pipe, joined by standard plumbing connections! This may seem strange, but it had the advantage - beside cheapness - in that could be easily disassembled when moved, say over the Atlantic, and then easily re-assembled again. It also meant that much of the tank could be repaired and maintained with standard tools and equipment.
The hull was a rectangular box armoured to a 12mm standard, was supported on these round piping members between the tracks and carried the driver at the front. The other crew member, the gunner, was behind him and operated the single machine-gun mounted in a cylindrical turret. The engines (two Beaver four­cylinder with forced water cooling, total h.p. 100, giving it a quite satisfactory ratio of 11 horsepower units per ton, which was more than the double enjoyed by the British Mk V, which only sported 5 hp per ton) in the hull, drove sprockets at the rear of the track through a drive shaft to a differential carried in a separate small box between the rear horns of the tracks. The Skeleton Tank could do a speed of some 8km/h cross­country. For its weight of only 9.145 tons it was still 7.65 meters long and presumably satisfied the trench-crossing performance required of it. (It was also 2.56m wide and 2.89m high.) The tank was tested in mid-1918 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and was obviously a success, as the compony was awarded a contract for no less than 1.000 tanks. But as the First World War soon ended, nothing came out of this. It's unique trench capacity suddenly ceased to be such an important consideration and there was also no further development of this strange yet interesting vehicle.

The "Skeleton Tank" today

The fantastic thing is, that the prototype vehicle is still in existance, and can be seen, really beautifully restored (with the aid of VFW Post 8185, Port Deposit, Maryland) in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Museum in Maryland, USA.

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