Old model army

Head of Collections at the Tank Museum, Dorset, Chris van Schaardenburgh.

Some of history’s most bizarre and outrageous tank designs that were never made have now been created – and show why they never left the drawing board.

A new exhibition at The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, proves how man has been dreaming of creating a successful tank for thousands of years.

The accurate models were painstakingly created by experts in the Netherlands for the country’s National Military Museum’s Tank! Back to the Future exhibition.

But they are now to go on display in the UK for the first time at the Dorset attraction with the world’s finest collection of real tanks.

Tanks as we know them rolled onto the battlefield in 1916 during World War One, but the concept goes back to ancient peoples.

Among the models is one designed by ancient Assyrians from 9th century BC, which was an early siege vehicle – a battering ram with armour and a protruding weapon.

Assyrian battering ram – 9th century BC

The Romans, as pioneers of military hardware, had a number of designs that were used including the Carrobalista which could fire arrows 328 yards (300m).

Carrobalista – a successful Roman invention

A depiction of one adorns Trajan’s column in Rome and it shows the horse-drawn contraption which acted like a giant catapult.

A mad German knight called Ludwig von Eyb was also busy designing tanks and in around 1500AD he invented the ‘mobile castle’ which included battlements for archers to hide behind.

Castle cart – designed by German knight Ludwig von Eyb in around 1500

He also designed the ‘cannon cart’ in which a horse pushed a cannon towards the enemy.

Cannon cart – invented by German knight Ludwig von Eyb in around 1500. The horse pulls the gun into position, then pushes it towards the enemy. The gunner is protected by the wood. The invention of gunpowder led to many new tank designs.

Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as everything else he did, managed to design a tank that was propelled by eight men and could fire in a 360 degree circle.

Da Vinci assault wagon – designed by the famous Italian polymath in 1485.

The design from 1485 was never made and would have been too heavy and cumbersome to have worked.

Another European designer was Frenchman Nicolas Jospeh Cugnot who in 1769 was first to utilise the steam engine with a chassis and wheels; unfortunately the engine was too heavy for it to move anything but itself.

The steam designed by Frenchman Nicolas Joseph Cugnot. The French army commissioned it in 1769 but the engine was too heavy.

The collection also includes a 1903 design by author HG Wells who described armoured combat vehicles in one of his novellas.

Armoured combat vehicle – H G Wells described this in a 1903 novella

During the First World War the Russian designer Lebedenko created the ‘Tsar Tank’ – a machine with two wheels that stood 27 feet high, but it was not a success.

Tsar Tank – a Russian design from WW1. It was built, tested, but deemed not good enough. The motors were not powerful enough to pull the small wheel out of the trenches

In 1918 the US designed an electric circular cage that could achieve speeds of 60KM – but the fanciful contraption was never built.

Electric Wheel – a US invention from 1918

Other models include a flying tank, a perfectly spherical design from Germany in WWII that was captured by the Russians – and even a futuristic tank.

Ball tank, or Kugelpanzer – German WWII
There were a number of attempts to design a ball shaped tank, or rolling tank . The Kugelpanzer engineered during WW2 was made in Germany. It was captured by the soviets in 1945 in Manchuria. Only one was ever found and today is on display in the Kubinka museum in Moscow. There is much speculation as to its purpose as it would have had a one man crew, there was no weaponry and the armour was only 5mm thick.

Landship – a British design from 1915 which could carry 70 soldiers. A prototype was made but never made it to production. The Mark 1 tank was introduced to the battlefield the following year.

Chris van Schaardenburgh, Head of Collections at The Tank Museum, said: “Our collection here begins in the First World War when the Mark I was developed and first saw action in September 1916.

“But this model collection shows that the military inventors and designers throughout history have always dreamed of creating tanks.

“And the reason is always the same; it’s about protection, mobility and firepower – or inflicting damage on the enemy.

“From ancient history to the modern day and including sci-fi concept ideas, the fundamentals have remained the same.

“Over the centuries the designs have developed with introduction of new technology such as gunpowder, the steam engine and then internal combustion engine and steels and laminates, lasers and electricity.

“Some of these designs were actually made and were effective – like the Roman ones – but others never progressed beyond an idea because they were not viable or the prototype showed up the flaws in the concept.

“This exhibition is a fascinating journey through some of the might-have-beens and pre-cursors of our amazing collection.”

The exhibition opens on March 22.


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 01202 534487

Nik Wyness | Head of Marketing | The Tank Museum | pr@tankmuseum.org | 01929 405 096 x234 | +44 7801099390

Roz Skellorn | Marketing@tankmuseum.org






The Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset holds the national collection of tanks and brings the story of tanks and tank crews to life.


With over 300 tanks from 26 nations, The Tank Museum holds the finest and most historically significant collection of fighting armour in the world. These range from the world’s first ever tank, Little Willie, through to the British Army’s current Main Battle Tank, Challenger 2.


Eight powerful exhibitions tell the story of armoured warfare spanning over 100 years of history. As you explore the Museum’s seven large halls, you come face with face to face with tanks and hear incredible true stories from the last century.


The Tank Museum is an independent Museum and registered Charity.