T29 (Heavy Tank T29) Heavy Tank Prototype
The T29 was an experimental American turreted heavy tank developed in the closing months of World War 2.
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As World War 2 progressed on all fronts in favor of the Allies, attention began to turn to the final thrust required in Europe, this operation to be aimed squarely at the head of the Nazi empire in Berlin. Such an initiative would require weapon systems of equal footing against the powerful, late-war implements being fielded by the German Army at this stage. In addition to its fabled Panther (regarded as the best all-around German tank of the war) and Tiger I heavy tanks, the Germans unveiled their "Tiger II
", a formidable heavy-class tank of 75.5. tons with stout, thick armor protection and mounting the famous 8.8cm KwK 42 L/71 series anti-tank gun (the "88"). The Americans had begun work on a heavy tank all their own that eventually became the M26 "Pershing"
by war's end. However, the Pershing was a heavy tank in the 46 ton range and "only" mounting a 90mm main gun. As such, something of monstrous proportions was in order and the Americans set to work on several well-known heavy and "super-heavy" tank creations that eventually became the T28, T29 and T30 series of tanks - though none entered serial production nor saw combat service in the war.
The T28 Super Heavy Tank
was built in two pilot vehicle forms by Pacific Car and Foundry, featured 12 inch thick armor and a 105mm main gun set within a fixed hull structure - essentially a heavily armored self-propelled gun designed to break through the last remnants of the German defenses, opening up gaps for other forces to exploit. The T30
was of 75 tons, protected over in 280mm of armor and fitting a 155mm main gun in a traversing turret. Designed along the same lines as the T30 was the "T29", a 70-ton product with up to 279mm of armor protection and fielding a high-velocity 105mm main gun in a traversing turret. The T29 and T30 tanks were both designed and developed at the same time and based on the T26 Pershing chassis.
American engineers took the T26E3 as a starting point, lengthening the hull and adding extra road wheels to compensate for the expected weight gains. To power the type, a Ford brand GAC series gasoline engine was selected and fitted in a rear compartment. The main differentiating feature between the T29 and T30 heavy tanks was in the former's use of a 105mm main gun instead of the latter's 155mm T7 series. Work on the T29 began in March of 1944.
Design of the T29 was rather straightforward and conventional as tanks
go. The turret was set upon a tracked chassis at the middle of the design. The tracks - to each hull side - sported eight double-tired road wheels with the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at the front. The upper portion of the track was guided by no fewer than seven track return rollers. The hull was headed by a sloped glacis plate fitting a ball-mounted machine gun position at front-right with the driver's position at front-left. As a departure from previous wartime US tank designs, the T29 did not feature a high profile superstructure atop the hull roof. Instead, the hull roof was integrated into the design as a low-profile structure to provide enough internal working space for the engine, transmission and crew. The most characteristic feature of the T29 was its large, elongated and blocky turret managing the protruding main gun. As expected, armor was excessively thick along all major facings, measuring between 70mm (lower front hull) to 203mm (gun mantlet). The vehicle was crewed by six personnel made up of the driver, tank commander, dedicated gunner, machine gunner and two loaders - the machine gunner and driver seated in the forward hull with the rest of the crew in the turret. Overall measurements included a running length of 37 feet, 11.5 inches, a 12 feet, 5.5 inch width and a 10 feet, 6 inch height. Overall weight was approximately 70 tons.
Primary armament was centered around the high-velocity 105mm T5E2 main gun intended to penetrate thick armor. Functions of the main gun were controlled by the gun layer while loading and unloading of the 105mm shells was handled by two dedicated loaders - one situated to the left of the breech and other to the right. Point-defense against infantry was handled by a 7.62mm Browning M1919A4 general purpose machine gun in the bow of the tank, front right hull. The ball-mounting allowed for limited traverse and elevation but was satisfactory for its role. This crewmember also managed the radio suite at his position. 2 x 12.7mm Browning M2HB heavy machine guns were fitted as coaxial mountings in the turret alongside the main gun. A third 12.7mm heavy machine gun was mounted to a pintle stem along the turret roof to counter threats from the air. Up to 63 x 105mm projectiles were carried aboard the tank as well as 2,420 rounds of 12.7mm heavy machine gun ammunition and 2,500 rounds of 7.62mm machine gun ammunition. The tank commander managed the gunner's actions while the loaders responded to target calls by supplying the appropriate ammunition required (be it HE or AP). The coaxial machine gun could also be used to mark target ranges for the main gun or engage enemy infantry and light-armored vehicles when the 105mm main gun was deemed "overkill".
Power to the T29 was supplied by a single Ford GAC 4-cycle V12 gasoline-fueled engine rated at 650 horsepower at 2,800rpm. This supplied the vehicle with an adequate top speed of 20 miles per hour. The Ford engine was further mated to a General Motors CD-850-1 series crossdrive transmission system with two forward and a single reverse gear setting.
The war in Europe was over in May of 1945 and the expected entrenched battles leading up to Berlin never materialized for the Allies in the West for it was the Soviet Army that took the brunt of the push into Berlin proper and captured the capital city through much loss of armor and life. Nevertheless, their sacrifices brought about an end to the European Campaign and the need for such a heavy tank in the Pacific Theater never formulated in part due to the dwindling resources of the Japanese war machine. The Japanese Empire itself capitulated in August o f 1945, bringing a formal end to the Second World War by September.
The US Army continued development and trials of their heavy tanks including the T29 but much interest and desire in such projects soon waned with the passing of time. As such, only six prototype vehicles were ever completed. After their evaluation, the T29, and all related kin, disappeared into the pages of history though the experience and data collected from these endeavors led to the development and eventual production of other systems such as the "M103 Heavy Tank" - a Cold War-era behemoth of 65 tons with 180mm armor thickness and a 120mm main gun. Only 300 of these were ever produced and operated across Europe in anticipation of a major Communist ground offensive that never materialized. Only two T29 prototypes managed to survive the "weapons purge" after World War 2 and both can be currently found on the grounds at Fort Knot, Kentucky, USA.