War Tank America (Steam Tank)
Experimental Combat Vehicle
The War Tank America was an experimental flame-projecting tank developed by the Americans during World War 1 - it arrived too late to be of use.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
United States wartime industry spiked with the American entry into World War 1 (1914-1918) in 1917. Various local projects were undertaken to provide the fighting men with viable war-winning vehicles but few managed to make any headlines. In the meantime, the United States Army service made do with what was available and this became mainly combat vehicles of British and French origin.
One of the projects to come out of this period of American ingenuity was the "War Tank America" - the largest armored fighting vehicle project undertaken by the nation during the whole of the war. Its design involved the United States Army Corps of Engineers as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The end-product became a massive vehicle to be armed with a new flame-projecting weapon (devised by the Corps of Engineers). The intent was to have the War Tank America crew, under protection of their armored vehicle, reach and blast fortified German positions with flammable fuel oil - a terrible bodily (and psychological) weapon to be sure.
Because of the proposed steam-based propulsion scheme, the tank was also known by the name of "Steam Tank". Also the United States Army could do little to fund the War Tank America project so the vehicle was essentially supported by way of donations from Boston financial players.
Outwardly, the 45-ton vehicle was no doubt influenced by American exposure to the large British tanks (originally known as "Landships" for they were essentially battleships fighting on land). As such, the vehicle took on a lozenge shape and held its tracks in an over-under arrangement along hull-length outboard sections. To these sections were added side-sponsons for which to mount limited-traverse machine gun armament (0.30 cal Brownings). The fighting crew was positioned within the central structure of the tank and protected against most small arms fire and artillery spray though the true enemy of tanks of the war was field artillery and land mines. Ahead of the track sections at front were noticeable "spikes", perhaps used for obstacle-clearing or to help the tracks stay clear of any oncoming battlefield debris. The fuel-oil sprayer weapon, formally designated as "Flame Projector, Tractor Type, Mark I", reportedly held a range out to 90 yards and was to be mounted at the extreme front-end of the tank.
Drive power was pulled from a pairing of Doble steam engines providing 500 horsepower but, like other tanks of the war, this arrangement was never entirely reliable nor wholly suitable for what was needed.
Nevertheless, at least one vehicle was constructed and fully-drivable, even showcased in various parades to drum up support for the American cause in the war. It was completed in early 1918 and eventually shipped to Europe (France) for evaluation - ultimately showcased to American General John J. Pershing himself. However, before any final say could be had on the tank, the war ended in November 1918 with the German surrender. With the end of the war ended the hopes of the War Tank America as the complex, untested product was no longer needed. Post-war American tank needs were met by surplus foreign types while local designs slowly began to take shape into the 1920s and 1930s.