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P 40 Heavy Tank

P 40 Heavy Tank

P 40 Heavy Tank

The P 40 was the only heavy tank to be produced in Italy during the Second World War and would have been the best tank to be used by the Italian Army if more than one had been completed before the Italian armistice of September 1943.

The 1938 armoured troop regulations for the Italian Army had included a role for heavy tanks, but development didn’t get underway until 1940. A first mock-up, of a 26ton heavy tank with a 75mm gun, 20mm cannon, a 330hp engine and 40mm of frontal armour was ready by December 1940 but after that development slowed down. The engine took most of 1941 to develop, while experience of armoured warfare in North Africa and then in the Soviet Union forced a number of modifications. Frontal armour had to be increased to cope with the increasing power of Allied guns. The gun to be installed changed from the 75/18 to the longer 75/32 and eventually the Ansaldo 75/34, which had a higher muzzle velocity and thus a lower trajectory and increased accuracy. The appearance of the T-34 also caused delays as the designers examined the Soviet tank and decided to use sloped armour in places. The 20mm cannon of the early design was replaced with a co-axial 8mm Breda machine gun.

The P 40 had similar suspension to the Italian M 13 and M 15 medium tanks, with a raised drive wheel at the front, idler wheel at the rear and eight pairs of road wheels on each side, carried on two bogies. The angular turret was mounted towards the front of the superstructure.

Five hundred P 40 heavy tanks were ordered on 22 April 1942, and in October that order was increased to one for 579 vehicles. The first tanks were to be delivered in August 1943 and the first heavy tank battalion was to be formed in the same month. These ambitious plans didn't come to pass. According to Ansaldo's own records only one P 40 was completed before the Italian Armistice of September 1943. Twenty three had been built by the end of 1943 although only 22 of these had engines. Seventy seven were built during 1944, of which 48 had engines. These tanks were taken over by the Germans and used in Italy.

Three companies were equipped with the P 40, two Schutzpolizei (Protection Police) companies and one in Waffen-SS Grenadier Brigade 24. In both organisations the P 40 was used for anti-partisan operations in northern Italy and they don't appear to have been involved in any clashes with Allied armour. The P 40 was similar in capacity to the M4 Sherman, but was produced too late and in tiny numbers and had no impact on the course of the Second World War.

Weight: 26 tons/ 58,267lb
Crew: 4
Armament: 75mm Ansaldo L/34 gun main gun plus one 8mm machine gun
Engine: 330hp SPA eight-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engine
Top Speed: 26 mph
Armour: 14-50mm
Length: 19ft 0.4in
Width: 9ft 2.2in
Height: 8ft 2.4in

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in Finnish Service

Republic of Finland (1943)
Fighter– 1 Operated

The Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk/Warhawk is one of the most iconic symbols of American aviation. Having served with over a dozen nations throughout its career, the aircraft proved itself capable of handling its own in combat. Although the Republic of Finland was never a recipient or official operator of the P-40, they were still able to obtain a single example from a Soviet pilot who landed in Finnish territory with his pristine P-40M. Serving mostly as a training aid, the Finnish P-40 Warhawk would never see combat against any of Finland’s enemies.


The Curtiss P-40 (affectionately known as the Kittyhawk for early variants and Warhawk for later variants) is perhaps one of the most recognizable American fighters of the 1930s. Most well known for having served with the “Flying Tigers” American Volunteer Group in the Pacific Theatre, the P-40 also had a fruitful service life on the Western Front and Eastern Front. One of the lesser known parts of the P-40’s history however, is the story of the Finnish P-40M Warhawk. The Finnish Air Force (FAF) had quite an interesting history during the 1940s. Equipped with a wide variety of German, Soviet, British and American aircraft, the word “diverse” would certainly apply to them. Despite Finland never officially receiving Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk / Warhawks, they were still able to obtain and service a single P-40M Warhawk from the Soviet Air Force during the Continuation War through a forced landing.

P-40 KH-51 after repainting for Finnish service (Kalevi Keskinen)

On December 27th of 1943, a Curtiss P-40M-10-CU known as “White 23” (ex-USAAF s/n 43-5925) belonging to the 191st IAP (Istrebitel’nyy Aviatsionnyy Polk / Fighter Regiment) piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Vitalyi Andreyevitsh Revin made a wheels-down landing on the frozen Valkjärvi lake in the Karelian Isthmus region. Finnish forces were able to quickly retrieve the plane in pristine condition.

The circumstances of Revin’s landing are quite odd, stirring up a couple of theories on why Revin decided to land his undamaged aircraft in Finnish territory. According to the 2001 January edition of the Finnish magazine “Sähkö & Tele”, Revin intentionally landed his plane in Finnish territory, suggesting he may have been working as a German spy. This magazine sourced a report by a Finnish liaison officer working in Luftflotte 1. Other contemporary sources suggest that Revin had to land due to a snowstorm which disoriented him and resulted in him getting lost, or that he simply ran out of fuel and had to make a landing. The fate of Revin is unknown. Nonetheless, White 23 was dismantled and taken to the Mechanics’ School located in Utti where it was reassembled and refurbished. Now given the identification code of “KH-51”, the aircraft was delivered to Hävittäjälentolaivue 24 (HLe.Lv.24 / No.24 Fighter Squadron) based in Mensuvaara on July 2nd of 1944.

Warhawk “White 23” in Soviet service before its capture by Finnish forces. (Kalevi Keskinen)

Although KH-51 was never deployed in combat, it served as a squadron training aid where numerous HLe.Lv.24 pilots flew the P-40 for practice without incident. On December 4th of 1944, KH-51 was handed over to Hävittäjälentolaivue 13 (HLe.Lv.13 / No.13 Fighter Squadron). No flights are believed to have happened while the aircraft was serving with this unit. On February 12th of 1945, the P-40 was taken to Tampere where a week later it would be retired and stored in the Air Depot. The total flight time recorded with KH-51 in Finnish service was 64 hours and 35 minutes. On January 2nd of 1950, KH-51 met its end once and for all when it was scrapped and sold.

Variant(s) Operated

  • P-40M-10-CU – A single example of the P-40M-10-CU known as “White 23” belonging to the Soviet 191st IAP was captured by Finnish forces after the plane’s pilot (2nd Lt. Vitalyi Andreyevitsh Revin) made a landing on Lake Valkjärvi in the Karelian Isthmus area on December 27th of 1943. The aircraft was dismantled, sent to a mechanics school, given the identification code of “KH-51”, reassembled and given to HLe.Lv.24 where it served as a training aid. KH-51 would later be reassigned to HLe.Lv.13 for a short while.



Even before testing had begun, 200 VK45.01(H) vehicles were ordered in April 1942, followed by 124 more that August, even after the first disappointing demonstration. Despite the serious problems encountered during testing, the need for such a heavy tank (illustrated by encounters with the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 following the invasion of the Soviet Union) outweighed the problems which needed to be resolved and it was put into serial production by the end of 1942. The rate of production progressively increased, reaching a peak of 104 and 100 vehicles in April and May 1944 respectively, when production actually surpassed production goals. Only with the introduction of the Tiger II did production begin to be switched to that vehicle instead as Tiger I production was progressively phased out. The last six production Tiger I tanks rolled off the lines in August 1944.
Production of the Tiger had been mostly on track despite Allied bombing in October 1943 affecting production and delivery schedules. Some sabotage by workers was revealed in November 1943 too, which had affected a number of vehicles. In total, with the factory serial numbers from 250001 (the first production hull) onwards, some 1,350 vehicles consisting of 1,346 production plus 4 prototypes were completed, although official figures from Henschel state 1,348 vehicles of the 1,376 which had been ordered (98% production). The final 54 of these vehicles included some rebuilt vehicles which had been substantially damaged in combat and returned to the factory for repair and modernization, meaning exact numbers for production can differ between sources. Following the capture of the Henschel factory on 4th April 1945 by US troops, no more Tigers could be refitted or built. Each Tiger was calculated to cost RM250,800 (Reichsmarks) to build compared to just RM117,100 for a Panther and RM103,462 for a Panzer IV.

Dr. Erwin Aders (front right), the chief designer of the VK45.01(H), shows senior German army officers around the Henschel factory, 5th September 1942. Source: Willey, Hayton, and Vase.
The Tiger was both simple and, simultaneously, complex to manufacture. The use of large flat plates for the body maximised the available internal volume but also made production simpler by avoiding a lot of the machining associated with large castings or more complex shapes. Even so, production of a single vehicle took about 14 days from start to finish, although it is worth noting, that the hulls were delivered to Henschel’s plant at Kassel pre-welded by Krupp or Dortmund-Hörder-Hüttenverein (D.H.H.V.). as Henschel lacked the equipment for welding or forming the heavy armor on the hull or turret. The turrets were prepared by the nearby firm of Wegmann Waggonfabrik A.G. and then moved to Henschel for fitting.

After the welded hulls arrived at Henschel, the holes for the suspension, among others, had to be bored out, followed by work on a vertical lathe to machine the hole in the roof for the turret ring. Sources: Spielberger and Bundesarchiv Bild 1101L-635-3965-34 respectively

Five men crewed the Tiger I, consisting of the commander (back left), gunner (front left), and loader (right) in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the front left and right of the hull, respectively. Initially, Tiger crews were supposed to be hand-picked from the top students at the tank training schools (Panzerschulen) and had trips to the Henschel factories to learn about the production and preventative maintenance but, as the war progressed, crews got younger, less experienced, and less well trained. The main training centre for Tiger crews was the barracks of Panzer Regiment 11 at Paderborn and Senne with a tank gunnery school on the coast at Putlos.

Crew from s.Pz.Abt 508 conduct gunnery practice with a Tiger of Panzer-Ersatz-Ausbildungs-Abteilung-500 at Camp Senne, June 1943. Source: Schneider

The Lorraine 37L

After the First World War, the French Army had shown interest in developing a tracked armored supply vehicle. The first vehicle that was adopted for this role was the small Renault UE. During 1935, the Lorraine company began working on a faster alternative for this vehicle meant for the cavalry units. By 1937, the first prototype of the Lorraine 37L was completed. Its performance was deemed sufficient by the French Army and ordered into mass production. It was mainly used for the transport of ammunition, fuel and other supplies. There was also an infantry transport variant called Voiture blindée de chasseurs portés 38L, which can be identified by an added box-shaped armored superstructure mounted to the rear.

From 11th January 1939 to 16th May 1940, over four hundred Lorraine 37L armored supply vehicles were built. By the time of France’s capitulation, the Germans had managed to capture some 300 Lorraine 37L vehicles. In German service, these vehicles were known as the Lorraine Schlepper(f).

The Lorraine 37L in French service before the war. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. On 1st August 1942, it was known as the 7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Sfl.LrS. Sfl, which stands for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’, which can be translated as ‘self-propelled’, while LrS stands for Lorraine-Schlepper. In May 1943, the name was changed to 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 auf Sfl.Lorraine-Schlepper. In August 1943, it was again changed to Pz.Jaeg. LrS fuer 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 (Sd.Kfz.135). It received the Marder I name, by which it is best known today, due to Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943.

P 40 Heavy Tank - History

Girls und Panzer is set in an alternate universe where a sport known as "Panzerfahren" or "Sensha-do" - the art of fighting tanks, or tankery, is a lot more common than today. The sport is entirely practiced by girls and women and is considered feminine. The anime series follows the girls of Ooarai Girls Academy as they learn about, operate, and battle with all kinds of WWII tanks against other tanking schools while forming bonds with their machines and each other.

The spin-off manga Little Army gives a prequel for the animated series and follows the girls from Bellwall Academy as they practice the sport. The spin-off manga Ribbon Warrior follows the girls from Tatenashi High School as they practice Tankathlon, another type of Sensha-dou. Another spin-off manga called Phase Erika! depicts the events leading up to the anime through the eyes of Erika Itsumi. There is also a publication called Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu! that focuses on the more humorous aspects of the girl's lives, as well as providing a bit of backstory between the events of the anime and the movie. The web comic edition is updated on a constant basis.

World War Two Weapons

By Stephen Sherman, Dec. 2008. Updated March 22, 2012.

D espite the global depression, the development of weaponry continued rapidly in the 1930s. The tank, for example, continued to improve markedly with the appearance of the low profile hull, the revolving turret, better gunsights, and improved tracks and suspension. By the 1930s the Russians had developed the famed T-34, the best tank of its day.

Tank cannon grew larger to 90 millimeter guns, and new propellants and shot, the sabot round, made these cannon even more deadly. The tank called into existence the first antitank guns. The German Gerlich gun, for example, fired a 28 millimeter round of tungsten carbide at 4,000 feet per second, and was capable of penetrating any known tank armor. A later German invention, the "eighty-eight," was originally developed as an antitank weapon but doubled as both an antiaircraft and direct fire gun. It is generally adjudged the best artillery weapon in World War II.

Developments in aircraft design -- the stressed metal skin and the monoplane -- made the introduction of fighter aircraft possible. Engines over 1,000 horsepower made speeds of over 350 miles per hour commonplace. The long-range bomber capable of flying at altitudes over 40,000 feet at ranges of 5,000 miles was developed. At sea the light and fast destroyer was built to protect the larger battleships. More sophisticated submarines could remain at sea for 60 days at a time. A new torpedo, the Type 33 Lance, driven by oxygen and leaving no track appeared with a range of 25 miles at 36 knots. Torpedoes now typically carried warheads of 400 pounds of high explosives. The aircraft carrier came into its own. The Japanese carrier, Kaga, carried 60 aircraft and displaced 39,000 tons. The American carrier, Lexington, displaced 36,000 tons and carried 90 aircraft. The integration of naval and air forces within a single combined combat arm was almost complete.

Infantry Weapons

The destructive power of the combat arms -- infantry, armor, and artillery -- greatly increased in World War II. Infantry, armed in large numbers with the new all metal submachine gun, delivered firepower at rates five times greater than the infantryman of World War I. Infantry carried its own antitank weapons in the form of the American 3.5 inch Bazooka (named because of the sound it made when fired) rocket launcher or the German Panzerfaust. Dependable motorized transport, the Jeep, the "deuce and a half" truck, and the armored personnel carrier -- fully tracked, half-tracked, or pneumatic tire vehicles -- increased infantry mobility twenty-fold and enabled it to keep pace with the rapid armor advance.

Armored Vehicles

The tank saw a remarkable increase in its combat capability and, for the first time in almost 700 years, cavalry again played an important role on the battlefield. The Russian T-34, originally produced in 1935, was possibly the best battle tank of the war. Mounting an 85 millimeter gun with a new muzzle-brake to reduce recoil, the T-34 made 32 miles an hour with a range of 180 miles. It introduced the sloped armored glacis in front to deflect antitank rounds, and had a ground pressure of 10 pounds per square inch which, on its American-designed Christie suspension, allowed it to traverse terrain that most Allied or Axis tanks could not. The American Sherman tank introduced cast armor to replace the old welded armor, the volute-spring bogie suspension, and rubber block treads that increased track life by 500 percent. The Sherman used a revolutionary hydroelectric gun stabilizing system and improved triangle sights. Tank engines grew more powerful and more reliable, and the tank quickly became the centerpiece of the striking forces for all armies except the Japanese.


Artillery's developments came in response to the need to defend itself against armor and air attack. The result was the self-propelled artillery gun. These guns, often reaching 8-inch or 122 millimeter caliber, were mobile artillery mounted on tank chassis. Self-propelled artillery came in two forms: the assault gun and the light assault gun. The arrival of the ground attack fighter required improvements in antiaircraft guns. The Bofors 40 millimeter cannon was capable of firing two rounds per second over a slant range of 4 miles. The American M-2, 90 millimeter gun fired 25 rounds per minute to a height of 9 miles. The introduction of reliable electronic fire control systems with radar detectors and trackers linked to primitive computers provided great advances in the lethality of antiaircraft guns.

Rocket Artillery

Unguided rocket artillery, first used by the Chinese one thousand years earlier, reappeared in the form of the German 15 centimeter Nebelwerfer that could fire six 70-pound rockets in less than 3 seconds. The Soviet Katusha, first at 90 millimeter and then 122 millimeter, fired over 40 rockets at once. The American entry, the Calliope, fired 60 rockets at a time. Used as area saturation weapons, these rockets caused large numbers of psychiatric as well as physical casualties. The variable timed fuse introduced by the Americans increased the lethality of artillery fire by a significant degree. Each shell contained a tiny radio transceiver within it that could be set so that the round exploded at a precise distance above the ground. This innovation increased the killing power of artillery by 10 times over shells fitted with conventional fuses.

War at Sea

The war at sea saw the demise of the battleship as it became increasingly vulnerable to air and undersea attack. The aircraft carrier became the major naval weapon. Essex class carriers carried over 100 strike aircraft, were 820 feet long with beams of 147 feet, and could move at 32 knots. Carrier-based aircraft were remarkable machines. These aircraft carried 2,000 pounds of bombs, flew at 350 miles per hour, attacked with rockets, torpedoes, and machine guns, and ranged over 300 miles. Although submarines operated with new electrical motors to make them increasingly difficult to detect, antisubmarine technology improved markedly. Radar and radio sets allowed antisubmarine aircraft to detect submarines at night. New depth charges provided surface vessels with new means of submarine destruction. By 1944, the submarine was no longer a significant threat to surface combatants.

The Air War

The air war saw the emergence of greatly improved strike aircraft. The P-51 Mustang and other aircraft on both sides could range outward for hundreds of miles at speeds over 400 miles per hour. Ground support tactics developed rapidly as strike aircraft made heavy firepower at close ranges available to advancing infantry and armor. The heavy strategic bomber was capable of bomb loads of 20,000 pounds. The B-29 Superfortress carried 20,000 pounds of bombs 3,250 miles at an altitude of 31,850 feet. By war's end the Germans (ME-262), the British (Vampire), and the Americans (P-59 Aircomet) had all produced prototypes of jet powered aircraft. In August 1945 the United States unveiled the most awesome weapon of war yet invented by man, the atomic bomb, and devastated the civilian population centers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Warfare had undergone yet another revolutionary change.

12,500 planes produced, starting in October, 1942. Entered service mid-1943. F6F-3 specs: 376 MPH, six 50 caliber machine guns

The highly successful follow-on to the Wildcat. Built specifically to counter the Japanese Zero, the Hellcat filled the bill, and earned the nickname "ace maker." Its docile handling characteristics, especially important for a carrier-based plane to be used by a large number of competently trained pilots, made it the Navy's first choice fighter to deploy with the Essex-class carriers. Eugene Valencia, one of the Navy's top aces, quipped. "I love this airplane so much, that if it could cook, I'd marry it."

Recommended Reading (available from Amazon.com): Hellcat Aces of World War 2

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Somewhere between an early car and the head-in-the-bed scene in The Godfather, the Horsey Horseless, the brainfart of inventor Uriah Smith of Battle Creek, Mich., was intended to soothe the skittish nerves of our equine servants. A wooden horse head was attached to the front of the chuffing buggy in order to make it resemble a horse and carriage (Smith recommended the horse head be hollow to contain volatile fuel &mdash another great idea). “The live horse would be thinking of another horse,” said Smith, “and before he could discover his error and see that he had been fooled, the strange carriage would be passed.” Stupid horse! It’s not clear if the Horsey Horseless was ever actually built or if it is a chimera of auto history, but it reminds us just what a radical, hard-to-conceptualize thing a horseless carriage was.

Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let’s stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation’s economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it? The Model T &mdash whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s “disassembly line” &mdash conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.

Milton Reeves had a very hard head and, apparently, very poor eyesight. While the general conformation of the automobile was largely sorted out in the first decade of the 20th century &mdash particularly that business about four wheels &mdash Reeves thought perhaps eight or a minimum of six wheels might provide a smoother ride. Welding in some bits to a 1910 Overland and adding two more axles and four more guncart-style wheels, Reeves created the OctoAuto, proudly displaying it at the inaugural Indianapolis 500. Like its Marvel Comics-worthy name, the car was a bit of a monster, measuring over 20 ft. long. Talk about scaring the horses. Zero orders for the patently ugly and silly OctoAuto apparently didn’t discourage Reeves, who tried again the next year with the Sextauto (six wheels, single front axle design). Reeves is remembered today as the inventor of the muffler, which is far from ignominy.

A 3,200-lb. motorcycle with training wheels, a V8 engine and enough copper tubing to provide every hillbilly in the Ozarks with a still, the Scripps-Booth Bi-Autogo was the daft experiment of James Scripps-Booth, an heir of the Scripps publishing fortune and a self-taught &mdash or untaught &mdash auto engineer. The Bi-Autogo was essentially a two-wheeled vehicle, carrying its considerable heft on 37-in. wooden wheels. At slow speeds, the driver could lower small wheels on outriggers to stabilize the vehicle so it wouldn’t plop over. This is not a case of the advantage of hindsight this was obviously a crazy idea, even in 1913. The Bi-Autogo does enjoy the historical distinction of being the first V8-powered vehicle ever built in Detroit, so you could argue it is the beginning of an even greater folly.

By 1920, the automotive was no longer a primitive experiment. Companies such as Rolls-Royce, Cadillac, Hispano-Suiza and Voisin were making potent and luxurious automobiles, the technical achievements of the age. And then there was this, the Flyer, which is no more than a motorized park bench on bicycle wheels. No suspension, no bodywork, no windshield. It was actually a five wheeler, with the dinky 2-hp Briggs and Stratton engine driving a traction wheel on the back, like a boat’s outboard motor. The Flyer represents something we’ll see several times on this list: The drive to make the absolute cheapest, most minimal automobile possible.

Designer-genius R. Buckminster Fuller was one of the century’s great nutjobs, a walking unorthodoxy who originally conceived of the Dymaxion as a flying automobile, or drivable plane, with jet engines and inflatable wings. It would be one link in his vaguely totalitarian plan for the people to live in mass-produced houses deposited on the landscape by dirigibles. Okayyyy…Deprived of wings, the Dymaxion was a three-wheel, ground-bound zeppelin, with a huge levered A-arm carrying the rear wheel, which swiveled like the tail wheel of an airplane. The first prototype had a wicked death wobble in the rear wheel. The next two Dymaxions were bigger, heavier, and only marginally more drivable. The third car had a stabilizer fin on top, which did nothing to cure the Dymaxion’s acute instability in crosswinds. A fatal accident involving the car &mdash cause unknown &mdash doomed its public acceptance. Though unworkable, this three-wheeled suppository was the boldest of a series of futuristic, rear-engined cars of the 1930s, including the Tatra, the Highway Aircraft Corporation’s “Fascination” car and, everybody’s favorite, the Nazi’s KdF-wagen.

The Airflow’s “worst”-ness derives from its spectacularly bad timing. Twenty years later, the car’s many design and engineering innovations &mdash the aerodynamic singlet-style fuselage, steel-spaceframe construction, near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution and light weight &mdash would have been celebrated. As it was, in 1934, the car’s dramatic streamliner styling antagonized Americans on some deep level, almost as if it were designed by Bolsheviks. It didn’t help that a few early Airflows had major, engine-falling-out-type problems that stemmed from the radical construction techniques required. Chrysler, and the even more hapless Desoto, tried to devolve the Airflow stylistically, giving it more conventional grill and raising the trunk into a kind of bustle (some later models were named Airstream), but the damage was done. Sales were abysmal. It wouldn’t be the last time American car buyers looked at the future and said, “no thanks.”

The first sports car produced in postwar America was a major hunk of junk. Actually, at 1,100 lbs and 145 in. long, the Crosley Hotshot was a minor hunk of junk, but at least it was slow and dangerous. A wondrously mangled and compacted Hotshot can be glimpsed in the 1961 driver’s ed scare film Mechanized Death. The Hotshot was the work of consumer products pioneer Powel Crosley Jr., of Cincinnati, he of Crosley radio fame. But what he really wanted to do was build cars, which he did with middling failure until the doors closed in 1952. A Hotshot actually won the “index of performance” &mdash an honor for the best speed for its displacement &mdash at the 1950 Six Hours of Sebring, puttering around at an average of 52 mph. What killed the Hotshot was its engine, a dual-overhead cam .75-liter four cylinder, not cast in iron but brazed together from pieces of stamped tin. When these brazed welds let go, as they often did, things quickly got noisy, and hot.

The most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line, the Renault Dauphine was originally to be named the Corvette, tres ironie. It was, in fact, a rickety, paper-thin scandal of a car that, if you stood beside it, you could actually hear rusting. Its most salient feature was its slowness, a rate of acceleration you could measure with a calendar. It took the drivers at Road and Track 32 seconds to reach 60 mph, which would put the Dauphine at a severe disadvantage in any drag race involving farm equipment. The fact that the ultra-cheap, super-sketchy Dauphine sold over 2 million copies around the world is an index of how desperately people wanted cars. Any cars.

The King Midget story reminds us what a middle-class nation the U.S. was in the 󈧶s. Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt, of Athens, Ohio, buddies from the Civil Air Patrol, wanted to sell bare-boned utility car that anybody could afford, unlike that bloody elitist peacenik Henry Ford with his fancy Model T. King Midget’s cars made the Model T look like a Bugatti Royale. In the late 1940s, they began offering the single-seat Model I as a home-built, $500 kit, containing the frame, axles and sheetmetal patterns, so that the body panels could be fabricated by local tradesmen. Any single-cylinder engine would power it. The result was a truly crap-tastic little vehicle, the four-wheel equivalent to those Briggs-and-Stratton powered minibikes. Amazingly, Midget Motors continued to develop and sell mini-cars until the late 1960s. The crown jewel was the Model III, introduced in 1957, a little folded-steel crackerbox powered by a 9-hp motor. Government safety standards, at long last, put the King Midget out of our misery.

Waldo Waterman wanted aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss to like him in the worst way. Inspired by what was apparently Curtiss’ casual remark about driving an airplane away from the field, Waterman spent years developing a roadable airplane. In 1934, he flew his first successful prototype, the “Arrowplane,” a high-wing monoplane with tricycle wheels. On the ground, the wings folding against the fuselage like those of a fly (now would be a good time to note that Waterman must have been crazy to get airborne in such a contraption). Nonetheless, the Arrowplane goes down as the first real flying car. Two decades later, Waterman finally perfected, if that’s the word, what he then called the Aerobile, configured as a swept-wing “pusher” (prop in the back). There were few customers with so consummate a death wish as to order their own Aerobile, and Waterman’s one working car-plane eventually wound up in the Smithsonian, where it can’t kill anyone.

That’s why we’re all here, right? To celebrate E Day, the date 50 years ago when Ford took one of the autodom’s most hilarious pratfalls. But why? It really wasn’t that bad a car. True, the car was kind of homely, fuel thirsty and too expensive, particularly at the outset of the late 󈧶s recession. But what else? It was the first victim of Madison Avenue hyper-hype. Ford’s marketing mavens had led the public to expect some plutonium-powered, pancake-making wondercar what they got was a Mercury. Cultural critics speculated that the car was a flop because the vertical grill looked like a vagina. Maybe. America in the 󈧶s was certainly phobic about the female business. How did the Edsel come to be synonymous with failure? All of the above, consolidated into an irrational groupthink and pressurized by a joyously catty media. Interestingly, it was Ford President Robert McNamara who convinced the board to bail out of the Edsel project a decade later, it was McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, who couldn’t bring himself to quit the disaster of Vietnam, even though he knew a lemon when he saw one.

Fiberglass was the 󈧶s carbon fiber &mdash tough, versatile, lighter than steel and more affordable than aluminum. The Kaiser Darrin and Corvette sports cars were wrapped in fiberglass bodies, for instance. Colin Chapman, the founding engineer of Lotus, was bonkers for weight savings. It was inevitable that he would be drawn to the material. And so, the Elite. Weighing just 1,100 lbs and powered by a punchy, 75-hp Coventry Climax engine, the Elite (Type 14) was a successful race car, winning its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans six times. It was also a lovely little coupe, which made the moment when the suspension mounts punched through the stressed-skin monocoque all the more pathetic. The unreinforced fiberglass couldn’t take the structural strain. In Chapman’s cars, failure was always an option.

A point of personal privilege. I own a 1960 MGA that I restored with my own two hands, and it is a fantastic British sports car, with lovely lines penned by Syd Enever, a stiff chassis, and a floggable character. The car was introduced in 1955 as a replacement to the venerable TD and was itself replaced by the MGB in 1962. Along the way, somebody decided my little car was anemic &mdash hey! I resent that! &mdash so MG offered an optional high-performance engine with dual overhead cams, thus the “twin cam.” It was a leaking, piston-burning, plug-fouling nightmare of a motor that required absolute devotion to things like ignition timing, fuel octane and rpm limits, less the whole shebang vomit connecting rods and oil all over the road. Many years after the engine was taken out of service, it was discovered that the problem lay in the carburetors. At certain rpm, resonant frequencies would cause the fuel mixture to froth, leaning out the fuel and burning the pistons. I’ve never had any such trouble with my iron-block, pushrod, lawn tractor engine. I’m just saying.

Built in Nuremberg, Germany, by the well-established motorcycle firm during a downturn in the two-wheeler market, this push-me-pull-you was based on a Dornier prototype and powered by a 250-cc, 14-horsepower engine, giving it a top speed of only 50 mph, assuming you had that kind of time. Its unique feature was the rear-facing bench seat, which meant passengers could watch in horror as traffic threatened to rear-end this rolling roadblock of a car. Soon it became clear &mdash “Ach Du Lieber!” &mdash that the Janus was a disaster, coming or going.

A vehicle that promised to revolutionize drowning, the Amphicar was the peacetime descendant of the Nazi Schwimmwagen (say it out loud &mdash it’s fun!). The standard line is that the Amphicar was both a lousy car and a lousy boat, but it certainly had its merits. It was reasonably agile on land, considering, and fairly maneuverable on water, if painfully slow, with a top speed of 7 mph. Its single greatest demerit &mdash and this is a big one &mdash was that it wasn’t particularly watertight. Its flotation was entirely dependent on whether the bilge pump could keep up with the leakage. If not, the Amphicar became the world’s most aerodynamic anchor. Even so, a large number of the nearly 4,000 cars built between 1961 and 1968 are still on the road/water. In fact, during the recent floods in Britain, an Amphicar enthusiast served as a water taxi, bringing water and groceries to a group of stranded schoolkids. Bully!

Rear-engine cars are fun to drive and even more fun to crash. While rear-engine packaging offers enormous advantages, putting the vehicle’s heaviest component behind the rear axle gives cars a distinct tendency to spin out, sort of like an arrow weighted at the end. During World War II, Nazi officers in occupied Czechoslovakia were banned from driving the speedy rear-engined Tatras because so many had been killed behind the wheel. Chevrolet execs knew the Corvair &mdash a lithe and lovely car with an air-cooled, flat-six in the back, a la the VW Beetle &mdash was a handful, but they declined to spend the few dollars per car to make the swing-axle rear suspension more manageable. Ohhh, they came to regret that. Ralph Nader put the smackdown on GM in his book Unsafe at Any Speed, also noting that the Corvair’s single-piece steering column could impale the driver in a front collision. Ouch! Meanwhile, the Corvair had other problems. It leaked oil like a derelict tanker. Its heating system tended to pump noxious fumes into the cabin. It was offered for a while with a gasoline-burner heater located in the front “trunk,” a common but dangerously dumb accessory at the time. Even so, my family had a Corvair, white with red interior, and we loved it.

Less a car than a 5th-grade science project on seed germination, the Peel Trident was designed and built on the Isle of Man in the 1960s for reasons as yet undetermined, kind of like Stonehenge. The Trident was the evolution of the P-50, which at 4-ft., 2-in. in length could justify its claim as the world’s smallest car, or fastest barstool. The Trident is a good example of why all those futuristic bubbletop cars of GM’s Motorama period would never work: The sun would cook you alive under the Plexiglas. We in the car business call the phenomenon “solar gain.” You have to love the heroic name: Trident! More like Doofus on the half-shell.

American Motors designer Richard Teague &mdash remember that name &mdash was responsible for some of the coolest cars of the era. The Gremlin wasn’t one of them. AMC was profoundly in the weeds at the time, and the Gremlin was the company’s attempt to beat Ford and GM to the subcompact punch. To save time and money, Teague’s design team basically whacked off the rear of the AMC Hornet with a cleaver. The result was one of the most curiously proportioned cars ever, with a long low snout, long front overhang and a truncated tail, like the tail snapped off a salamander. Cheap and incredibly deprived &mdash with vacuum-operated windshield wipers, no less &mdash the Gremlin was also awful to drive, with a heavy six-cylinder motor and choppy, unhappy handling due to the loss of suspension travel in the back. The Gremlin was quicker than other subcompacts but, alas, that only meant you heard the jeers and laughter that much sooner.

You could put all the names of all the British Leyland cars of the late 󈨀s in a hat and you’d be guaranteed to pull out a despicable, rotten-to-the-core mockery of a car. So consider the Triumph Stag merely representative. Like its classmates, it had great style (penned by Giovanni Michelotti) ruined by some half-hearted, half-witted, utterly temporized engineering: To give the body structure greater stiffness, a T-bar connected the roll hoop to the windscreen, and the windows were framed in eye-catching chrome. The effect was to put the driver in a shiny aquarium. The Stag was lively and fun to drive, as long as it ran. The 3.0-liter Triumph V8 was a monumental failure, an engine that utterly refused to confine its combustion to the internal side. The timing chains broke, the aluminum heads warped like mad, the main bearings would seize and the water pump would poop the bed &mdash ka-POW! Oh, that piston through the bonnet, that is a spot of bother. We’ll not hear the last of Triumph on this list.

The glamorous Imperial marque was, by the late 󈨀s, reduced to a trashy, pseudo-luxury harlot walking the streets for its pimp, the Chrysler Corporation. By 1971, only the Imperial LeBaron was left and it shared the monstrous slab-sided “fuselage” styling of corporate siblings like the Chrysler New Yorker and the Dodge Monaco. Appearing to have been hewn from solid blocks of mediocrity, the Imperial LeBaron two-door is memorable for having some of the longest fenders in history. It was powered by Chrysler’s silly-big 440-cu.-in. V8 and measured over 19 ft. long. The interior looked like a third-world casino. Here we are approaching the nadir of American car building &mdash obese, under-engineered, horribly ugly. Or, it would be the nadir, except for the abysmal 1980 Chrysler Imperial, which had an engine cursed by God. The Imperial name was finally overthrown in 1983.

They shoot horses, don’t they? Well, this is fish in a barrel. Of course the Pinto goes on the Worst list, but not because it was a particularly bad car &mdash not particularly &mdash but because it had a rather volatile nature. The car tended to erupt in flame in rear-end collisions. The Pinto is at the end of one of autodom’s most notorious paper trails, the Ford Pinto memo , which ruthlessly calculates the cost of reinforcing the rear end ($121 million) versus the potential payout to victims ($50 million). Conclusion? Let ’em burn.

Anti-Aircraft to Anti-Tank

The PaK 43 also was employed as a self-propelled gun in a number of forms, including the Nashorn (Rhinoceros) and the Ferdinand. The latter was rushed into service for the Battle of Kursk in 1943 where 89 were reportedly used. The Ferdinands destroyed some 200 Soviet tanks, according to some reports, despite initial design flaws. The survivors of the fierce Kursk fighting were extensively rebuilt and were rebranded as the Elefant.

The PaK 43 was also placed on the Panzerjager Panther—or Jagdpanther—a fast-moving tank killer. It weighed in at 46 tons, could store up to 60 rounds, and could travel at speeds of 48 kilometers per hour. Fewer than the 425 units produced were actually delivered, but the Jagdpanther was pressed into action on all fronts where it earned the grudging respect of the Allies.

Interestingly, both Britain and the United States had guns with somewhat similar antiaircraft capabilities as the 88 FlaK. Both the British 94mm and the American 90mm could fire higher and loft larger projectiles. On paper they could outperform the German gun, many contend. Both weapons, though, were bulkier and heavier. The Allies restricted those guns to their initial antiaircraft roles, while the Germans expanded the 88’s role to antitank and against fortified ground positions. This, in turn, led to other advances in terms of power rammers, fuse-setting devices, and improved ammunition handling systems—-all of which made the weapon far more versatile and effective.

The German’s flexible and innovative approach to the initial 88 FlaK permitted them to learn and adapt as the war progressed, improving the antiaircraft fire capabilities of the weapon and they successfully modified it for tank, antitank, and related ground roles. This contributed greatly to the 88’s lasting reputation as the legendary large gun of World War II.

Originally Published March 8, 2016


I believe that my museum here in Virginia Beach might have the only real firing German antiaircraft gun still operating. Today, we again did two demonstration shots. We had to first notify all the nearby farmers to house their horses because of the unexpected noise. It was operated by a team of reenactors dressed as German soldiers.

Gerald Yagen, President and Founder
MilitaryAviation Museum
Virginia Beach, Virginia

I don’t believe the following statement is true, perhaps he means the first 6 months of 1943? “In the first half of 1944 casualty rates for every 1,000 bomber crewmen serving six months in combat included 712 killed or missing and 175 wounded, for 89 percent.” I have been working on a book on the 381st BG, during 1944, and the casualty rate is no where near that. Of the 42 pilots for instance that flew on one per B17 during her 84 combat missions, only 2 were subsequently killed during their service and two became POWs.