Following up on the taster glimpse, here is more on the flying tank.
The Red Army was, of course, some way ahead of its contemporaries in the development and use of advanced weapons (rockets, heavy tanks, cluster bombs, automatic weapons etc.) – and pioneered the use or airborne forces.
One of the challenges to which it sought an early solution was getting armoured support quickly up to stiffen the paratroopers, Antonov was directed to design a glider for landing light tanks. Perhaps inspired by Christie’s Wellsian ‘flying tank’ fantasies (Christie’s tank, could, of course, do anything ...) .. Antonov looked at making the tank itself into the glider, adding detachable wings and tail-gear.
The resulting A-40 prototype – correctly a ‘gliding tank’ – was tested with mixed results in September 1942*. The tank did actually glide, and landed safely in a nearby field. The driver/pilot detached the wings, and successfully drove back to the airfield under its own power.
The project was dropped, less because it wouldn’t work (in a limited way, it did), but because there were no aircraft then available that were powerful enough to tow it.
I’m not sure I will add this project to the modelling page as the key component is that I had some suitable wings left after converting some biplanes. And this project is one of those … ‘first find yourself some suitable wings’. The rest is pretty straightforward modelling craft: I made the booms out of Costa coffee stirring sticks, and any control surfaces that needed customising out of card.
I cemented a magnabase tab on the underside to mate with a steel sheet clip on the wing frame (the booms of which locate above the tracks on the side of the hull as in the original). This clip was repeated on a suitable base so that the tank model could be used for wargames**. Like the original, therefore, the model can have its wings detached to convert into a tank for the battlefield.
Armoured support for Soviet paratroops
Aside from the obvious issues (the weight of tanks anyway, and making a tankie a glider pilot), the A-40’s problem was, of course, drag. The solution for most armies would be to put the tank in an aerodynamic pod, and the wings on the pod (OK – of course … make a glider big enough, and put the tank inside the glider).
The Red Army/VVS had already developed a system to sling light tanks under the belly of the big TB-3 bomber/transports, and also successfully pioneered low speed free drops (again crude versions of modern approaches). And in the Great Patriotic War, these would be be the preferred solutions.
Due to the lack of sufficient transports generally, Soviet paratroops were only occasionally (and seldomly successfully) air dropped. More often, the were used as rapid deployment infantry – flown in to trouble spots in Li-2 and TB transports, what light tanks they had carried with them. Heavier units would be coordinated separately
(A-40/T-60 air mobile tank with paratroopers: BF/Skytrex adapted vehicle with PP ‘headswap’ figures***)
Wargaming the flying tank:
There is, of course, no evidence for anything other than the single trial flight. From a historical perspective, the flying tank is a notation of air mobile light armour more than a suggestion of real usage.
For Operational level games, you need no extra rules … what ever allows your paratroops to deploy can allow them to deploy with a detachment of tanks.
For tactical games, the first approach is obviously to assume that the vehicles have been landed off table and drive on.
(towed by a Pe-2 bomber, the flying tank is hauled into the air – I believe this actually burned out the engines!)
If you want to try a PBI ‘what if‘, here is how I would employ the A-40 …
The tank glides onto the table as a reinforcement. Dice for deviation as normal. In the Soviet turn … dice for the square (6= the tank lands safely; 5= the tank lands safely in the next square; 3= the tanks moves a square forward; 2= the tank takes minor damage and moves forward one square; 1= the tank is destroyed): just keep going as the tank glides in (i.e. lands on a 5 or 6, or crashes). The ‘minor damage’ is cumulative in the usual way (so the tank might be destroyed in a rough landing), and the usual ‘opportunity fire’ rules apply.
If the tank stops in an enemy square, it must immediately close assault with 3 dice (the defenders get their usual dice). Unless the defenders are lost or driven off, the tank is destroyed.
Otherwise and/or after such combat, the tank will do nothing other than detach its wing assembly. In the following enemy turn it will defend itself as a functional AFV in close assault (unless damaged or immobilised in the landing or by enemy action, of course), but has no opportunity fire. In its own next turn it is in action.
… of course, yes, these are general purpose glider rules 🙂 .
A future feature will look at paratroopers and will include my PBI air drop rules.
*the trial tank had much of its equipment and fuel removed to give the towing aircraft a chance … and it is reported that having got the A-40 airborne, the TB-3 tow had to release the glider tank early to avoid losing control. So the tank flew – but not far and not in battle trim.
**tanks without bases having no practical ‘footprint’ on the wargames table, of course.
***the paras are mixed PP Russians with most of the heads swapped for the characteristic flying cap. This is a swap tanker cap with the sausage pads trimmed off.