Leonardo da Vinci Tank


Leonardo da Vinci 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.”


Leonardo da Vinci’s tank invention

Leonardo da Vinci tank design


It was designed to be driven straight onto a battlefield and to decimate the enemy with its 360-degree cannons.


Leonardo tank - real model

Leonardo tank – real model


As always, Leonardo took inspiration from nature for his designs, the outer shell is based on a turtle’s shell. Leonardo often took inspiration from nature for his inventions –


leonardo's tank - transmission system

Leonardo tank – transmission system


“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”



In action

Below is a video showing how the Leonardo da Vinci’s tank worked. At the end of the video, you will also see a model of this masterpiece by the great Leonardo da Vinci –



Nothing even close to Leonardo’s design would be seen again until World War I, 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.


Leonardo da Vinci sloped armor

Leonardo da Vinci sloped armor


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.


Tank of World War I

A tank of World War I


Now, take a look at the World War I tank below, as you can see the largest surfaces of it 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 we have 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.

2005 Model of the tank, one of the inventions of Leonardo in the Clos Luce mansion. Leonardo da Vinci lived here for the last three years of his life, and died there.


2005 Model of tank – Amboise, France


The Flaws

It is unknown whether or not Leonardo purposely built flaws into his design for the tank to deter unscrupulous characters from creating his designs for their 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 it 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.



Leonardo da Vinci tank model

Leonardo da Vinci tank model is operated by a mechanical spring. It is a snap together set and no glue is required. The model is made of wood and is varnished to a nice finish. The tank model is designed based on his original sketch and historically accurate.


Leonardo da Vinci tank model

Leonardo da Vinci tank model