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 closed 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 our 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”
Nothing even close to Leonardo’s design would be seen again until World War 1, almost 400 years later. Even though several centuries had passed, Leonardo’s design was superior to World War 1 tanks in a subtle but ingenious way – Sloped Armor Plate.
Take a look at the image below, it shows two pieces of armor plate (A&B), both are identical dimensions. As you can see, plate B is tilted to an angle of 45 degrees. This increases the amount of protective material a projectile hitting the tank would have to pass through from 30 millimeters to 42.4 millimeters without adding any more armor or increasing the weight of the tank. This simple but effective design also deflects the forces of the projectile away from the tank at 45 degrees rather than taking the forces full on.
Now, take a look at the World War 1 tank below, as you can see the largest surfaces of the tank have flat panels that could be easily penetrated by projectiles -
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.