In the struggle of armed conflict, victory is best achieved by stacking the odds in your favor. In the effort to constantly outdo each other, militaries around the world have innovated and invented some strange contraptions. We give you seven of the strangest vehicles from seven different categories that were actually built:
1. Vespa 150 TAP
Representing motorbikes, the Vespa 150 TAP was an anti-tank scooter designed for use by French paratroopers. First introduced in 1956, the scooter was built by Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles, the licensed assembler of Vespa scooters in France. The scooters were equipped with a U.S.-made M20 75mm recoilless rifle, capable of penetrating 100mm of armor out to its maximum range of 3.9 miles.
Designed for airborne operations, the scooters would be dropped in pairs along with a two-man team—one scooter carried the gun while the other carried the ammo. Without any sights, the gun was not designed to be fired from the scooter. Instead, it was designed to be mounted on an M1917 Browning machine gun tripod which was also carried on the scooter. In an emergency, and ideally at close range, the gun could be fired while the scooter was moving. The scooters were cheap, costing only 0 at the time. 600 150 TAP’s were built between 1956 and 1959.
2. Mini Moke
Representing four-wheeled vehicles, the Mini Moke was a small utility and recreational vehicle. Prototyped as a lightweight military vehicle, the British Motor Company hoped to take a portion of Land Rover’s military vehicle profits. The Moke was pitched to the British Army and US Army as a parachute-droppable vehicle. However, its low ground-clearance and underpowered engine led to the Moke’s rejection. Instead, it was adopted by the British and New Zealand Royal Navies. The Moke’s small size (10 feet long and 4 ¼ feet wide) made it ideal for driving on the deck of an aircraft carrier and around crowded docks.
Representing tanks, the Kugelpanzer translates literally to “spherical tank.” A derivative of the 1917 Treffas-Wagen, the Kugelpanzer was a German solution to the problem of crossing the open killing fields of No-Man’s land. Following the adoption of Blitzkrieg and the evolution of maneuver warfare, the Germans abandoned the concept. Measuring at 5 x 5.5 ft, the tank had a top speed of 8 kph via its two hemispherical wheels and was stabilized by a single rear wheel. Having only 5mm of armor at its thickest point and carrying just one machine gun, the tank would not have fared well in WWII. The exact circumstances regarding the capture of the only surviving example remains unknown. It was captured in 1945 by the Soviets either in Manchuria after it was sent by the Germans to the Japanese, or at the Kummesdorf testing grounds where the Soviets also captured the Maus tank (ironically, the heaviest fully-enclosed armored fighting vehicle ever built). The Kugelpanzer is on display at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia.
4. BV XCH-62
Representing rotary-wing aircraft, the Boeing Vertol XCH-62 was an experimental aircraft built from the existing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter. The Chinook’s lift capacity of 28,800 lbs was dwarfed by the Soviet Mi-26 and Mi-12 helicopters (44,000 lbs and 88,000 lbs respectively). In an effort to catch up to the Soviets, Boeing added a third engine to the Chinook, larger rotors, and converted its fuselage to a flying crane to create the XCH-62. These modifications allowed the helicopter to straddle heavier cargoes like armored vehicles while still carrying up to twelve troops in its slender fuselage.
One example was built in 1974, but challenges in harnessing the torque of the three engines led to delays—Congress cut the program’s funding the next year. The XCH-62 remains the largest helicopter ever built in a western country. The prototype was displayed at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama until it was scrapped in 2005.
5. Bartini Beriev VVA-14
Representing fixed-wing aircraft, the VVA-14 was a Soviet wing-in-ground-effect aircraft built in the early 1970s. The VVA-14 was designed to take off from water and fly at high speed just above the water over long distances. Its mission was to skim the surface of the ocean in order to detect and destroy U.S. submarines. Two prototypes were built, though development was marred by flotation problems, engine issues, and the death of the aircraft’s designer. The project was scrapped after 107 flights and 103 flight hours. One example survives today in a dismantled state at the Soviet Central Air Force Museum in Moscow.
6. USS Supply
Representing surface ships, the USS Supply initially appears to be an error on this list—the fully-rigged ship looked like most other warships that sailed in the latter half of the 19th century. The story that makes the Supply an oddity begins in 1855, when Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (yes, that Jefferson Davis) conceived the bright idea for the U.S. Army to use camels during operations in the Southwest. In order to bring the humped creatures to America, Supply was converted into the U.S. Navy’s first and only camel carrier. She was refitted with special hatches, stables, hoists, and a camel car in order to load and unload the dromedaries.
Supply picked up a herd of camels in North Africa, where it was discovered that she still could not accommodate the towering camel humps. In order to fit the camels in the hold, the crew had to cut away sections of the deck where the humps could stick out. Supply accomplished her mission, delivering the camels to Indianola, Texas in 1856. The camel cavalry concept was scrapped at the onset of the Civil War and Supply‘s service as a camel carrier ended.
Representing submarines, the French cruiser submarine Surcouf was built as a loophole in the Washington Naval Treaty. Following WWI, strict limits were placed on the warships of the world’s major naval powers like displacement and gun caliber. However, these restrictions were applied to battleships and cruisers, not submarines. Intended to be the lead ship in her class, Surcouf was the only cruiser submarine built by France. Commissioned in 1934, Surcouf was equipped with ten torpedo tubes, six anti-aircraft guns, and two 8″ guns, the largest placed on any cruiser submarine. She also featured a hangar which housed an observation float plane used for gun calibration. Surcouf escaped Nazi capture, but sunk in the Caribbean Sea after a collision with an unknown ship in February 1942.