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Captain

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Steam Wheeled Tank
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The Steam 3-Wheeled Tank remains the most mysterious tank built in the US in World War I. Here's a couple of new pieces to the puzzle. I found a second photo of the pilot sitting at APG in the mid 1920s at NARA. Unfortunately, it is from the rear rather than the front which is already relatively well understood from the previous photo. To further add to the confusion. This page from an Ordnance report on wartime tanks indicates it was armed with two 6 pdr. guns plus two MG plus adding a few small details.

 

Steam A.jpgSteam B.jpg



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Legend

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Steve, the second photo is the front view. Have a look here: https://landships.activeboard.com/t63071117/the-steam-wheel-tank-a-wikipedia-problem-help-needed/

In your top photo here, the caption says "Front View" and describes the steam-powered "driving wheels."



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Lieutenant-Colonel

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I believe the caption is wrong when it says 'Dooble Boiler' - It should read as 'Doble boiler' as Doble were a maker of steam plant and vehicles


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Field Marshal

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The idea that the small wheel should be the front of the tank just does not make sense - it would fall in a hole or ditch and it would not be able to get out of it without reversing.

The small wheel has a skid plate in front of it - similar to the Renault FT has at the rear.  Again, if the small wheel was at the front, the plate would dig into the side of any hole larger than the wheel.  If the "Tsar" tank couldn't pull its small rear wheel out of a ditch, imagine the problems with a small wheel at the front.  With all the louvres being at the "front" of the tank, the engines' cooling would have been susceptible to enemy fire.

With the 6 pdrs being mounted in sponsons, the large front face would have given enough space for the driver, commander, and gunners to be able to see and be seated, while if the driver was seated in reverse of that, his view would be severely limited, especially for objects causing a threat of ditching with the "front" wheel.

The sponsons certainly do not look big enough for a 6 pdr - look at the cylinder diameter on the British tanks.  

At the moment I'm trying to create accurate drawings of the Seabrook Armoured Lorry - some of the "official" dimensions are just plain wrong, as are the two drawings available - but all that will be the subject of another post.

The main point is that articles are frequently written by people with no technical knowledge or are plagiarising other's work containing errors which are not apparent to them.

IMHO, the large wheels must be at the front.



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Legend

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The "front" wheel does seem counterintuitive, and, if pictures of it can be trusted, the Treffaswagen would seem to support the tadpole configuration. However, the delta configuration didn't stop them experimenting with the Holt 60 and the Killen-Strait.

In addition, in U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles, Fred Crismon says of this vehicle, in 1992:

"The machine shown here has presented an enigma to everyone who has tried to reasearch it. It was wheeled, but was omitted from the previously published U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles due to the fact that it was a tank (Was it? - Ed). Although it was built by the Holt Tractor Company in 1918, the extensive archives held today by Caterpillar do not include any other views, although these records do refer to it as the "150 Ton Field Monitor." It has been generally assumed that a rear view is seen here, and that the large steel driving wheels were at the front. However, Mr. Louis Neumiller, a former Chairman of the Board at Caterpillar, remembers the vehicle undergoing tests and says the small wheels were at the front, farm tractor style. Regardless of which way was forward, it only moved about 50 feet in testing before it got bogged down. Each of the 8 foot tall driving wheels ws individually powered by a 2 cylinder double acting Doble steam engine. Each engine had a Doble-type boiler, and a large Holt radiator was behind the vertical louvers, acting as a condensor for the system."

I wasn't around in 1918 and "Louie" B. Neumiller hasn't been around since 1989, so we have to rely on the word of someone who seems to have spoken to an eye-witness.

Let us also consider the following:

The U.S. Ordnance Department description states specifically that the small wheel is the front view. If it is, then the vehicle is facing the same way as the Skeleton Tank in the background, and the howitzer on its plinth has been arranged in the way you would if you were laying out a display - with eveything facing the observer.

Another way of looking at the skid on the small wheels is that it's not the equivalent of the skid on the FT but the equivalent of the avant-bec on the Schneider CA, its purpose to ride over and crush barbed wire.

There is no sign of any armament any of the photographs of the vehicle, so it might have been merely notional.

We don't know what the other face was like, so whether it could accommodate the 6-pdrs is speculation. We know that the tank was about 22 feet long, 10ft high, and 10ft wide, so maybe. And the supposed "louvers" appear to be bolted onto something, forming a solid, protective surface with, according to Neumiller, a large Holt radiator behind it.

So on the one hand we have what some would describe as common sense suggesting that the small wheel must have been at the rear, but on the other, two primary sources stating plainly that they were at the front.

Another curious aspect: if the Ordnance and the Chairman of Caterpillar are wrong, and the photos with which we are familiar are all of the rear, isn't it odd that there are, therefore, as far as I'm aware, no photos of the front? It's strange. The tendency seems to be overwhelmingly to photograph the business end of tanks, but here it is put to us that only photos of the back end survive. I would have thought it would be vice-versa.

BTW, Crismon's claim that this was also known as the "150 Ton Field Monitor" is puzzling. That never got off the drawing board. Perhaps there is some confusion caused by the fact that the Steam Wheeled Tank was 150 B.H.P., or has he confused the two vehicles?

I hope this examination of the facts is sufficiently forensic.

 



-- Edited by James H on Tuesday 29th of October 2019 05:49:59 PM

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Lieutenant

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My observations:

1. The small steering wheel with the skid cannot be practically operated on anything but a paved road - the wheel and skid would simply dig in when turning in soft ground

2. The driver has very limited visibility over the long engine compartment from that angle

3. This is a steam-driven tank. the steam exhaust from the engine will blind the driver, if indeed he is facing the engine compartment

3. The two side sponsons are too small for the 2 main guns, therefore they must be for the two machine guns as listed on the NARA ORD 2358 photo Mr. Zaloga supplied

4. The two main guns should fit on the large front space, along with a driver and commander's visor

5. Note that since no prime sourced photo of the front exists to date, I find it amusing that all drawings of it have that area as flat. It is possible that area is angled, so the two guns are pointed at left and right angles, or maybe they sit side by side or even one on top of the other

6. It has been noted that the steam engine manufacturer's name is spelled incorrectly, it is possible that the photos description stating 'front view' is also incorrect. 

Tony

PS: I have driven, gunned and commanded armored Cavalry vehicles



-- Edited by Tony I on Wednesday 30th of June 2021 01:22:18 AM

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I found another photo of the Steam Wheel tank. The steam wheel tanks is seen in the left lower corner next to the steam powered flamethrower tank. It appears both were tested at same time at APG. I have circled the steam tank in the photo. You can see that the rear steering wheel is not in place. I assume they are testing the rear steering skid for it's ability to steer without the wheel. 

Tony 



-- Edited by Tony I on Wednesday 30th of June 2021 01:40:55 AM



-- Edited by Tony I on Wednesday 30th of June 2021 01:50:56 AM

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Legend

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Tony - I'm not looking for a fight. I'm just saying that there are some possibilities that we can't exclude. There were many improbable designs knocking about during the War. Some of them you could tell at a glance would never work, but they went ahead and trialled them just the same. Most of the criticisms listed above could be levelled at other prototypes produced at the time, and, indeed, at some that went into service.

Excellent work, finding the new photo, and the labelling of the Tracked Steam Tank as "British" adds support to the view that people can make mistakes. Of course it is possible that Mr. Neumiller and APG are both wrong, but the fact remains that the two sources are there. As Sherlock said, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. In the absence of anything else, that's what we must report.

Should we refrain from calling it the "rear" steering wheel, since it is not established beyond doubt that the wheel in question is at the rear? The interesting thing is: do you suppose the "steering" wheel was powered? And whether it was at the back or the front, would it have been expected to act as a rudder? It doesn't seem as if it would have been robust enough. How else would it have changed direction?

And if this photo is of trials at APG, wouldn't it be good military practice to line the vehicles up neatly, all facing the same way?

I've never led an armoured column. I'm just a kind of journalist, according to some, who examines stuff.



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Legend

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I'm not at all sure the fragmentary image is the Holt steam wheeled tank. From the front view taken in 1924 the large

rear wheels appear to be set very far back and would be clearly visible in an image taken from the opposite end of the vehicle.

There's no obvious door or ladder in the 1924 image so I'd expect there to be some sort of access in the rear of the vehicle - there

doesn't seem to be anything like that in the partial image.

The assertion is made that the tracked steam tank was tested at Aberdeen (it wasn't an Ordnance Dept project) but from the little I've seen

on this vehicle it seems to have spent most of its time in Boston before being shipped to France. It's an open question whether the tracked

steam tank came back to the US.

Exactly what the vehicle is in the partial image is unknown - could it be the Holt gas-electric tank?

Charlie



-- Edited by CharlieC on Wednesday 30th of June 2021 11:14:07 PM

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My observations on your observations, Tony:

1. We see the steering wheel turned on a grassy field in one of the images, it would perform okay on any hard surface. I agree it would dug in in soft ground, a flaw every wheeled vehicle has, especially heavy armored ones. My guess is that the skid, like the avant-bec, was installed to partially prevent digging in from happening. To me it makes no sense to install such a skid on the back to allow wider trench crossing as it did with the Renault FT.

2. Agreed, a flaw seen with many armored vehicles. In general, crews had a terrible time with loud noise, bad visibility, and accumulation of toxic fumes, to name a few. The driver's visibility is particularly bad in this case, but not uncommon for a prototype which has many flaws to begin with.

3. Yes. Weirdly, I don't see the exhaust on the photos.

4. I very much doubt that. It would be quite cramped, especially if the guns could rotate a bit. It would also be illogical, to have all the space, but positioning the crew on one side.

5. I agree that all the speculative illustrations showing a flat side is a bit selective and an analysis should take into account several options.

6. A spelling error is quite different to a factual error, but I do agree that we shouldn't, without doubt, take anything that is written as true. The notion "British tank" is a clear example of this.

On the new picture you shared (very nice find!) I don't see any reason to suggest the wheel has been dismounted. The skid looks to be the same compared to the other images and in fact, I can make out the wheel too.

 

A very important clue can be found in the driving wheels. Looking at the downwards inclinations of the metal, we are looking at rear wheels. I've included some random examples from a quick google search. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but the chance that the Steam Wheeled Tank is one of those exceptions is incredibly slim, especially in the context that there's doubt about the front and rear.

Given the little evidence and logical assumptions, I agree with James that the small steering vehicle is supposed to be the front. That said, I would like to remark that several armored vehicles in World War 1, like the German armored cars Ehrhardt E-V/4 and Daimler/15, as well as the Belgian Peugeot and Mors armored cars that fought on the Eastern Front, attacked rearwards. They mainly did this to better protect the engine. I think the Steam Wheel Tank provides a perfect setup to perform such tactics although this is purely speculation and should be treated as such, with caution.

 

This whole discussion always makes me wonder why a three-wheeled design was chosen to begin with. I came across this interesting quote, not related to the tank by the way: "The 3-wheelers were claimed to turn more easily and run more quietly. However, they ran into trouble on country roads as the central front wheel tended to run sideways off the central raised bit of road between the wheel ruts. They were also inclined to rear up when pulling heavy loads, as there was less weight at the front than on a conventional four-wheeled engine." I've also read that a single wheel provided less resistance on the steering wheel, a welcome feature when power steering is missing.



-- Edited by Leander99 on Thursday 1st of July 2021 12:02:52 AM

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Legend

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The steam wheeled tank was powered by a pair of Doble steam engines - these used a high temperature boiler and produced very little

exhaust - just a simple pipe exhausting vertically would be sufficient. The thing that looks like a radiator above the small wheel isn't - it's

a steam condenser. These engines seemed to produce very little steam exhaust because the water was recycled via the condenser. If the engine is similar to the

Doble cars the airflow would be through the condenser from above the small wheel - implying the direction of travel was small wheel forwards.

The engines themselves were very small units and because of the torque available didn't require a gearbox.

Jay Leno has a video on YT where he discusses the engineering of a Doble car - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACO-HXvrRz8.

 

May I make the point that three wheel vehicles are only really suitable for low speed applications. Three wheeled cars have an appalling safety record - 

there are videos on YT about the Reliant Robin, a car which would roll over in a stiff breeze. 

Charlie



-- Edited by CharlieC on Thursday 1st of July 2021 01:31:46 AM

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a 1924 steam-powered car



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Legend

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Try Jay Leno's video - what's happening in this image is that the car is being blown down which was good practice at the end of a run to

prevent water condensing in the steam lines and causing a hydraulic lock.

The attached image of a 1925 Doble E-20 car is more typical of how they looked while running.

Charlie 



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Field Marshal

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Mr \Bean can validate the danger of a three-wheeled vehicle!  However, the danger is only really with a front-wheeled car.  Two wheels at the front seemed okay - Morgan???



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Legend

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Ah. If I may digress a little, I recall a discussion here some years ago on the A.C. Autocarrier, a three-wheeler that had a military application. Can't find it now.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Later that evening:

https://www.accars.eu/ac-cars-history/



-- Edited by James H on Thursday 1st of July 2021 07:17:36 PM

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Legend

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Tonys wrote:

Mr \Bean can validate the danger of a three-wheeled vehicle!  However, the danger is only really with a front-wheeled car.  Two wheels at the front seemed okay - Morgan???


Top Gear has had segments on the Bond and Reliant 3-wheelers in the past but I think they fiddled with them to make

them roll more easily. 

If I remember correctly 3 wheeled vehicles will tip over if the weight vector goes outside the area defined by the

contact patches of the wheels. This is a lot easier to do in a front wheel forward vehicle with suspension on the front wheel.

The Morgans were very light (had to be below 8cwt for cheap tax) had a very low of centre of gravity and the largest chunk of

mass - the V-twin engine - was slung between the front wheels. It's hard to see how you could tip a Morgan over.



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We can end this discussion, Steve Zaloga is right, the Steam Three Wheel tank had two large 8 foot diameter wheels that are at the front and the small swiveling stabilizing/guide triple wheel is at the rear.  Here are quotes from two contemporary original source documents from the National Archives.  Most likely the same ones that Steve based his conclusion on (a shout out to Steve for helping me with my archive research). 

Office of the Chief of Ordnance to the Holt Manufacturing Company, July 20, 1917.  A purchase order for the following:

"For: one three-wheel drive tank, less the power plant and reduction gearing.  Your work will include:

     (a) a gondola body, approximately 15' long, 5' wide and 4' high, made of 5/8" boiler plate.

     (b) Two sieve grip wheels, 8' dia. x 2' face with cast gears and roller sprocket for same. (design to be furnished by the Ordnance Dept.)

     (c) One trailing wheel and its mounting.

     (d) The work of assembling the vehicle."

Holt was to be paid $3000 ($53,500 in today's dollars) for the above work, out of a budget of $25,000 ($446,000 in today's dollars) for the whole project.

Letter from Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Carriage Division, October 20, 1917.  From: Lieutenant L. R. Buckendale, To, Chief of Ordnance, Attention Major Moody, Subject: PROGRESS REPORT ON W. O. 231, Design of Steam - Wheel Monitor.

"1. The general layout of the steam driven 3-wheel monitor is as follows:-

     (a) The body or chassis consists of a large box of armor and framing: a 75 M.M. Vicar mountain howitzer is mounted forward arranged for a traverse of 30 degree each way, and an elevation of depression of 20 degree and 15 degree respectively.

     (b) On either side of the body are two barbettes.  In each barbette is mounted a swiveling sponson, carrying a machine gun.  Armored screens are so arranged as to protect the interior of the machine fro all positions of the gun.  The body is carried on two large 8-foot drive wheels forward and a swiveling trailer wheel in the rear.  The driving wheels are individually driven, each by a 2-cylinder double-acting Doble type steam engine.  These engines are mounted horizontally with the cylinders towards the rear, and drive through a roller sprocket, engaging with a large internal gear in the drive wheels.  Back of each engine is a Dobly type boiler, supplying the steam.

     (c) In the rear of the machine is mounted a large Holt type radiator which is used as a condenser, both engines exhausting into the same.  The circulation of air is supplied through this condenser by a 4-blade aluminum fan, drive from the engine main shaft by a gear train.  The air for the condenser is drawn through the roof of the machine over the machine-gun operators, circulating through the body and is expelled through an armored screen in the rear."

As to the large steam caterpillar tank being at APG.  It was there in 1925, there is a series of photos taken inside a storage shed or workshop.



-- Edited by Neal on Sunday 4th of July 2021 02:58:45 AM



-- Edited by Neal on Sunday 4th of July 2021 06:03:05 PM

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Neal


Legend

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Neal wrote:

<< snip >>

As to the large steam caterpillar tank being at APG.  It was there in 1925, there is a series of photos taken inside a storage shed or workshop.



-- Edited by Neal on Sunday 4th of July 2021 02:58:45 AM

Thank you for resolving the discussion on the Holt Steam Wheeled Monitor. At least the cardmodel on this site of this vehicle is correct although the 75mm gun mounting height is still a bit of a mystery.

That also resolves what happened to the Steam Tracked Tank - returned from France and sent to APG. Do you have a link or reference to the images of Steam Tracked Tank at APG?

The images we have of the Steam Tracked Tank are pretty limited and there have been people in the past who wanted to make a model of it but there just isn't enough reference material.

Regards,

Charlie 

 



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2FFC6979F92248628542F9910E6F2E94.jpgBB469A214B5A4FD1A7D5729D86E56F9F.jpg



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Lieutenant

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Excellent research Neal. It proves my point that in no way was that thing driving with the swivel wheel as the 'front'. Same as the Treffaswagen, the larger wheels are driven and forward, with smaller wheel steering in the rear.

Tony

 

 



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Lieutenant

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Charlie, I have accumulated several pictures of the Steam Tank, Tracked in my research of it and the wheeled version recently. I will post a new thread with them.

Tony



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Legend

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How odd, then, that no one seems to have taken a photograph of what we are invited to believe is the front of the Steam Wheel; only of the rear.



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Field Marshal

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Odd also that the inspector at APG didn't bother to check inside the vehicle to look at the driver's seat!!!  Perhaps another case of people unfamiliar with tanks doing an inspection?

Well done, Neal!!

TonyS



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Most interesting, thanks for clearing the issue up decisively Neal!

So the Ordnande Report is wrong in all places, describing the "front view" and the fitting of "2-6pdr guns", and I again agree with James; odd no one bothered to photograph the front.

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Legend

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Not to mention a former Chairman of the Board at Caterpillar, and our own Tim Rigsby.

 

 



-- Edited by James H on Monday 5th of July 2021 09:12:01 PM

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Lieutenant

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Most likely there were photos from Holt all around it. Most of the official photos from APG of other vehicles usually are profiles with a measuring stick next to it for reference.

 



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