Leonardo da Vinci’s Tank
Leonardo da Vinci’s Tank was designed while he was under the patronage of Ludovico Sforza in 1487.
He wrote the following in a letter to Sforza -
“I can make armored cars, safe and unassailable, which will enter the close ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and no company of soldiers is so great that it will not break through them. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any opposition.”
It was designed to be driven straight onto a battlefield and to decimate the enemy with its 360 degree cannons.
As always, Leonardo took inspiration from nature for his designs, the outer shell of the tank is based on a turtle’s shell. Leonardo often took inspiration from nature for his inventions -
“Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is without purpose”
It was also designed in such a way that any lighter projectiles that hit the tank would bounce off the angular skin, this is a feature that is used on all modern tanks. The angular skin acts as if the skin is thicker than it actually is, for example, if you take 2 inches of skin side on, it is simply two inches thick, however, if you tilt that skin by 45 degrees the skin is now almost 3 inches thick. This was re-discovered during world war 1 in the early 20th century.
In Leonardo’s time the closest thing to a tank that could be found on the battlefield were Elephants with up to three men mounted on them. As i ave said previously Leonardo despised harming or injuring animals in any way, this may be one of the reasons for his invention of the tank.
The tank was to be powered by four men operating hand cranks. This design seemed feasible as the gear ratios would allow the men to easily turn the hand cranks, although this would result in low speed across the ground. Several other men inside the tank would fire cannons at the enemy, the cannons were placed in all directions from the tank and as a result could fire in 360 degrees.
Flaws in Leonardo’s Tank
It is unknown whether or not Leonardo purposely built flaws into is design for the tank to deter unscrupulous characters from creating his designs for their own evil intent. There is a very simple mistake whereby two of the main shafts going to the wheels would spin in the wrong direction if the tank was built exactly from the plans, thus rendering each other obsolete – they would work against each other and cancel each other out. It is well known that Leonardo despised war and everything to do with it so this could be intentional or simply a mistake. It is however quite unlikely to be a mistake, remember, Leonardo designed the first self propelled vehicle, the first constantly variable transmission and the first spring driven clock, such a simple mistake by a man with a broad understanding of mechanics is unlikely to say the least.
There are however some inherent flaws in the design. The wheels are too thin to support such a heavy vehicle in damp conditions, they would most likely sink into the ground. Leonardo does have studs on the wheel to aid friction but it is unlikely that they would help either. Modern tanks overcame this issue by adding caterpillar tracks in the early 20th century.
Recreation of Leonardo’s Tank
Several years ago a team of engineers recreated Leonardo’s tank by working exactly from the original design. the only issue they had to fix was the mistake in the gearing mentioned above. The men could move the vehicle and fire its cannons – another da Vinci design that was centuries ahead of everyone else. After Leonardo’s design in 1487 nothing similar to a tank would be seen for another 400 years on the battlefields in world war 1.