In the winter of 1941, a donation drive started in Germany gathering winter clothing for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front, including ladies' coats and muffs. At the same time, around Moscow, Tula, and Mtsensk, countless products of the German war machine stalled, froze, and broke down. "General Frost" fought not only against the Germans; the Red Army faced no less grief from him. However, the Soviets were more experienced at winter combat than the Germans. This is clearly seen from the most successful operations in the first half of the Great Patriotic War being conducted in the winter.
A significant amount of military inventions were focused on fighting in the cold. This theme gained a lot of popularity as a result of the Winter War, fought in a harsh climate. As a result, the 1940s saw a large amount of interesting and unusual projects, many of which have not been published to this day.
From motorized skis to a snow glider
In May of 1941, a Kharkov sanitation technician named H. Sleptsov sent a letter to the Commissar of Defense S. Timoshenko. He proposed a vehicle with three skis, one controllable front one and two rear ones. This vehicle would be propelled by a motorcycle engine, connected by a roller chain to a spiked front wheel. The steering column would also house the armament, a Maxim machinegun.
The letter was written in pencil on scraps of paper. The author's grammar was lacking: "The speed of the motor skis is equal to a motorcicle". Nevertheless, the military passed the proposal to the RKKA Engineering Vehicle Research Institute, and then to the GABTU department of inventions, where it was carefully studied by experts. Having received a rejection with a description of the proposal's drawbacks, Sleptsov was not satisfied. Just a day before the start of the Great Patriotic War, he wrote another letter. He asked to reconsider his idea and bring him to Moscow to aid in the direction of the work. Despite the difficult times of the early war, even this letter was given a due response. Of course, Sleptsov did not get his way.
In July of 1941, the People's Commissariat of Defense received a proposal from engineer A. Grandilevskiy titled "Winter Raider". The author envisioned a vehicle that could jump on a snowy surface at high speed and conceal itself in a snow screen, similar to a smokescreen. The raider would be equipped with an auxiliary rocket engine and a signal flare launcher. "I am convinced that units of these vehicles operating in the region of the lakes (northern regions and Finnish front) would guarantee the enemy's defeat" - he wrote.
The idea that a fighting vehicle could traverse not only land was popular. Muscovite V. Morozov wrote a letter in September of 1941, starting it with a poetic phrase "The famous Russian winter begins..." For Red Army units fighting in the snows, the author proposed "an aerodynamic parabolic wing on skis, armed with machineguns and ports for grenade launchers". The author insisted that "the snow glider cannot be compared to a clumsy aerosled". The vehicle was propelled with a GAZ truck engine. Morozov listed the advantages of his device: simplicity in both use and production. He did not attach a blueprint, only a pencil sketch. That is all that remains of his invention.
Salamander against fascism, pedal power, and winged skis
In February of 1942, two engineers from the Nevyansk, A. Kuznetsov and P. Alp, sent a letter titled "Salamander against fascism" directly to Stalin. The title was explained thusly: "A salamander is an animal that can adopt the colour of its surroundings, is poisonous, swiftly attacks its prey after silently approaching, is low to the ground in shape".
The armoured hull on two pairs of skis would fit one Red Armyman, capable of firing from a machinegun. The vehicle would also be equipped with rails that could fire rockets. A similar device later made a British army unit famous, Coldstream Guards Battalion S, where Sherman Firefly tanks carried launchers for 76 mm rockets. However, GAU rejected the Salamander, rockets and all.
Fighting while prone in a steel tube is not very comfortable. However, in December of 1942, engineer-designer V. Lokai proposed a motorized sled design where its two crewmembers lay on both sides of the engine. The author's reasoning was that using armoured vehicles or motorcycles in the winter becomes difficult, and a regular aerosled is poorly protected and gives away its position with the sound of its engine and propeller. Lokai considered a low to the ground vehicle on skis a solution to this problem. He considered that its motorcycle engine, if necessary, could be replaced with a pedal drive or pneumatics for travelling short distances when penetrating the front lines.
One can only be jealous of the creators' imaginations. Lokai was not the only one with his pedal drive. In 1944, inventor D. Galagan conceived the "Autohorse" aerosled, consisting of two hulls on skis, driven not by a propeller on the back, but by paddle-wheels on the sides.
Finally, in the victorious spring of 1945, machinist K. Klobukov surpassed all his predecessors. He proposed mechanical skis of his own design, adding "I also want you to include collapsible wings, so that any inconvenient obstacle could be flown over".
Despite their strangeness, these projects were not just fantasies of lazy inventors. This was a way of understanding and summarizing combat experience and an honest attempt by civilians to help the Red Army. Extreme climate conditions are just one source of inspiration.
Original article available here.