It is common knowledge by now that Soviet-era prototypes – particularly tanks – were extremely weird, but the Object 279 takes it to a whole new level. Perhaps the strangest of them all, the Object 279 had more tracks, more armor and more firepower than just about anything else at the time.
This bizarre machine appeared during a wild period for Soviet tank design – from around the final months of WWII to the mid 1960s. Vehicles like the IS-7, T-10 and the flat-as-pancake Object 775 were just some of the tanks to come out of this era.
This time was fraught with the threat of nuclear war and the uninhabitable radioactive wastelands that followed. Tank designers on both sides reacted accordingly, creating what they believed to be the best means of operating in a future shaped by nuclear warfare.
The Object 279 was a direct consequence of these fears.
An Apocalyptic Tank for an Apocalyptic Future
In 1956, the Soviet Union’s Chief Armored Vehicle Directorate listed new requirements for a heavy tank. At this time heavy tanks were still in fashion, with the Soviet Union fielding the IS-2, IS-3, IS-4 and T-10.
But these tanks were either too old, too expensive, too vulnerable or simply poor performing. The 1956 requirement would hopefully produce a tank that solved these problems and could fight in the apocalyptic conditions of a post-nuclear battlefield.
Three vehicles were presented from different tank plants: the Object 277, Object 770 and Object 279. The 277 was a follow up to the T-10, but the Object 279 was a completely new design that was different to anything seen before – or since.
It was drawn up by a team of engineers at the Kirov Plant in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg).
Work started in 1957, and by 1959 a prototype had been built.
Prepare yourself for what is probably the strangest tank ever made.
Yes, that is real and yes, the Soviets actually built it.
The Object 279’s Unique Hull
The Object 279 is full of oddities, but two main things stand out: its flying saucer-like hull and four – yes four – tracks.
These design elements are the indicators of a tank specifically built to survive not just any war, but nuclear war.
First, the hull.
The hull is a highly unique elliptical shape that is said to have been designed to prevent the tank from being flipped over by the shockwave of a nuclear blast. However, it was likely designed to provide the ultimate protection for the given size of the tank. After all, the most efficient armor shape is a sphere, and the Object 279 is about as close to spherical as a tank can be.
The exterior edges of the hull are actually a series of thin steel panels that accentuate the streamlined and aerodynamic shape. These panels are placed some distance away from the actual armor underneath, and function as spaced armor against HEAT rounds.
The true armor is still elliptically shaped, and insanely thick. The beak of the hull is 265 mm thick, while the sides are 182 mm. Remember, the effective thickness of this is much higher in some areas (nearly 500 mm on the front) due to the armor’s irregular angles.
The Object 279’s four tracks are arguably even weirder. These were meant to improve the tank’s cross country ability by spreading its weight over a larger area.
The running gear was attached to two hollow beams running the length of the vehicle. These beams also contained fuel. The suspension was a complex hydropneumatic type, which proved to be troublesome and complicated.
In the rear was a 1,000 hp 16 cylinder 2DG-8M diesel engine that was able to get the 60 ton Object 279 to a respectable top speed of 35 mph on road. This engine was horizontally opposed, allowing it to fit in the extremely low hull.
The turret was more conventional than the hull, although its still far from normal. Once again, its armor was completely absurd.
The front and most of the sides were protected by 305 mm of steel. Even the upper portions of the turret – approaching the roof – were over 200 mm thick.
The effective thickness of most of the turret front is well over 450 mm, and much more in some places.
Like other Soviet designs, the meeting point between the hull and turret was recessed downwards, hiding the turret ring from incoming fire.
The armor on the hull and turret is commonly agreed to be the most formidable conventional steel armor ever mounted on a tank. The protection provided by the Object 279 would not be surpassed until the T-80, which arrived almost two decades after.
Protruding from the front of the turret was the main gun; the rifled 130 mm M65. This gun was stabilised on two planes and loaded by a semi-automatic loading system, which gave it a rate of fire of 6-7 rounds per minute.
It could fire a 33 kg shell at 1000 m/s, and possessed muzzle energy even greater than that of the guns used on modern main battle tanks. It was however extremely long and heavy, which raised fears about the overhanging barrel striking the ground on rough terrain.
Inside the fighting compartment the Object 279 contained a heating and cooling system for the crew, NBC protection, a stereoscopic rangefinder and even infrared night vision.
These features are commonplace today, but were quite novel for the 1950s.
Performance and Fate
The tank carried out its trials quite successfully, although a few concerning – and mostly unsolvable – issues were picked up. Unsurprisingly, the four-track system was one of the major sources of trouble.
It was found that on very loose or boggy ground it tended to become sluggish and hard to maneuver. Furthermore, the complexity of the system led to reliability issues. This was a serious problem on this particular vehicle, as it was tremendously difficult to repair without expert knowledge and proper facilities.
The tank was also extremely expensive to build and had minimal interior room. Compared to the other vehicles drawn up to fulfil the original requirement, the Object 279 was simply too radical.
For these reasons it was clear by 1960 that the Object 279 was never going to enter production. However, in the end, neither would the other two proposals.
In mid 1960 Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, introduced a strict ban on new vehicles weighing more than 37 tons. This effectively killed off not only the Object 279, but any future heavy tanks.
Advances in tank design and technology in general meant smaller, lighter and cheaper vehicles could do most of the work previously achieved only by heavy tanks.
Another Article From Us: The King of the IS Heavies – The IS-7
Only a single example survives today, which is kept at the at the Kubinka Tank Museum.