Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

The Lebedenko Netopyr (Нетопырь, bat) Tzar Tank (1915)

Throughout the history of armor one lesson was learned early on: it is easier to hold the line than to attack. A defensive position always has an advantage over an offensive one. An attacking side needs protection. There were armored vehicles invented for that purpose, but they were useless on bad roads

The pass-ability of a wheel directly depends on its diameter, so engineers decided to make huge wheels for armored vehicles. This idea first occurred to Captain Nikolay Lebedenko, of the Moscow Military and Technical Laboratory, who suggested the project of a very unusual military vehicle in May of 1915. It was an armored vehicle with huge wheels, which looked like a gun-carriage.

It was presented to the army that,"Such machines will help to break through the whole German front just within one night, and Russia will win the war."

The wheels of his vehicle were nine meters in diameter. The machine weighed about 40 tons, it was nine meters high, 17 meters long and 12 meters wide. Yet, the machine was not equipped with guns, for the Central Artillery Department provided guns only for the projects, that were considered ready for  practical usage.

But who would finance this project? A small working wooden model of the Nepotir was made, driven by a spring motor taken from a gramophone. Then the model was demonstrated to Tzar Nikolai, who was much impressed when the toy made it across some scale obstacles, i.e. a number of thick books. He promptly ordered the designers to go ahead with the project, and allocated the needed funds himself. Construction of the full-scale Lebedenko started.

The big wheels were attached to the hull, shaped like a tuning-fork, which tapered down to the double wheel, mounted in the rear, which provided the means for steering the vehicle. The designers hoped that this original configuration would make it possible for the vehicle to cross practically all obstacles. They initially called the vehicle Netopyr (Нетопырь, bat) but came to be known as the Lebedenko, after the designer. (Sometimes it was nicknamed "The Tsar ", after the financier.)


The drive assembly consisted of two 240 hp Maybach engines, one for each big wheel.


60 tons


2 meters


17.8 meters


9 meters


10 men


MG:s and Cannons

Armour Thickness



2 x 240 hp Maybach

Maximum Speed

17 km/h

The machine was tested in August of 1917. It moved, broke an old big birch-tree on its way and got stuck in the ground with its rear roller. Another test took place in 1918, but it was not a success either as it also bogged down. The Tsar stood there, bogged down, for the rest of the war,

Nikolay Lebedenko's further fate is not known. Like a lot of other people, he vanished in the turmoil of post-revolutionary events in Russia. The Tzar-Tank rusted in the woods, until it was dismantled in 1923. That was the end of the inglorious history of the first Russian self-propelled armored vehicle.



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Comment by Cap'n Tony on November 14, 2011 at 9:03am

Nice post on an iteresting bit of militaria...and don't be so sure we couldn't or wouldn't do something this wacky today on the whim of a politician. You'd be amazed how many military acquisition programs begin with some politician or general getting dazzled by the shiny object. If it's being built in the home district...fagidaboutit! The big difference today is it'd be shown off with a computer model and a powerpoint presentation rather than a wind-up model.

Comment by John L. Sands on November 13, 2011 at 9:42am

Thanks, Correction made.

This machine was a German artillery spotter's best dream. As it came out of the woods, it was bigger than the trees, could not hide behind a bush, and was slow moving. "Hey Hans, let's shoot at dat!"

Comment by Павел Скрыльников on November 13, 2011 at 8:47am

Great post, John, but it is Netopyr (Нетопырь, bat), not Nepotir.

Comment by John L. Sands on November 12, 2011 at 9:14pm

When else than in the Dieselpunk era could you come up with an idea, make a wooden model, power it with two gramaphone wind up motors, delight the Tsar with the model scooting across the carpet and crawling over some books, and then have the government build your monster device?

We couldn't do that today.(We don't have a Tzar)

Comment by Larry on November 12, 2011 at 8:03pm

It just amazes me the innovation that took place on all sides in WWI.

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