The search for an ideal design of a one-man fighting machine started towards the end of the 19th century. In the interbellum period, this search led to tankettes, which were adopted by all developed armies. Eventually, the popularity of vehicles with only one or two crewmen passed, as their combat performance left much to be desired.
However, inventors did not stop. Even during the Great Patriotic War, projects of single-seater mobile bunkers continued to arrive at the Department of Inventions. One of the was the "SIG Tank Destroyer", designed by S.I. Galperin from Votkinsk.
The Design of the Destroyer
Compared to other unusual and typically impossible projects proposed to GABTU, Galperin's design, submitted in December of 1942, was very well thought out.
The "SIG Tank Destroyer" consisted of a spherical hull made of 40 mm thick armour in the front, 20 mm in the sides and rear, and 16 mm on the bottom. Galperin considered this sufficient to protect from bullets and shrapnel, as well as 37 mm guns up to 100 meters.
The vehicle's suspension was made up of a 1.75m diameter wheel, wrapping the hull in the middle. A small doubled wheel in the rear was used for turning. Unaware of the design, Galperin repeated a 30 year old solution used in the Tsar Tank, as the latter was also equipped with a rear turning bogey.
Galperin considered that this vehicle will be very mobile. The maximum speed of the SIG, even on swampy ground, was estimated to be 120 kph thanks to its 200 hp engine mounted on shock absorbers in the floor. The tank destroyer could climb a 0.6 meter wall of a 50 degree slope.
Armed to the Teeth
The author wrote this about the potential of his tank destroyer: "With superior speed and tactical agility than German tanks, the tank destroyer will be able to suddenly approach the enemy from the rear and destroy them at a range of 10-30 meters". Galperin designed his vehicle to be used against enemy armoured columns, demoralization and destruction of his soldiers and horses, as well as "suppression of MG nests with fire and weight". The inventor considered a mass of 2.5 tons sufficient for this task.
Sparing no expense, Galperin armed his vehicle with an anti-tank gun, a grenade launcher, a flamethrower, and a machinegun. This abundance of armament came with some quirks when it came to design and control. For instance, Galperin proposed that the conical barrel of the AT gun would spin when fired, without mentioning a reason. The gun was aimed vertically by moving the steering wheel up and down. There was no horizontal traverse for the cannon or the grenade launcher; the driver had to rotate the entire vehicle to aim. There was also no loading mechanism described, although Galperin did write that the grenade launcher magazine would have to be switched manually.
The flamethrower consisted of a regular tank of incendiary fluid or gasoline, pumped into a barrel for projection. It was paired with the machinegun and could be aimed independently of the hull. It would be difficult to deal with this arsenal for one person, but Galperin was sure that "the amount of operations for driving and shooting has been minimized".
The author was sure of the SIG's superiority over German vehicles. "German type III and type IV tanks have manual turret traverse of up to 10 degrees per second, a fruitless attempt". The secret to success was the use of a group of such vehicles that could cover each other.
As Yuri Pasholok fairly remarks, "Aside from a progressive design and advanced armament, the vehicle had a number of drawbacks..." The driver of the tank destroyer would have to perform all crew member functions. Galperin didn't write anything about observation, but the vision slits included in the drawings were clearly insufficient for observation. Also, there was no engine of appropriate dimensions and power that could fit in the SIG. Galperin's proposal was declined.
Despite the unusual design, it does not deserve excessive mockery. This proposal, along with many others, is a product of its environment. Galperin applied his knowledge and experience to this project, and one cannot deny that the design was original. The fact that one-man fighting vehicles remained on paper was a conceptual flaw in the application of such vehicles in combat. It was identified by ABTU specialists back in the 1930s: "It is difficult for one person to both drive and observe the battlefield, not to mention firing the gun..." It was only possible to come back to the reduction of crewmen once automation technology started appearing.
Original article available here.