Walker and Main Armament Design during the First Global War
This is fairly typical of the kind of worldbuilding I do for fun, when I am not so overloaded with work that all my writing MUST be on-task and on-schedule.
In this case, I have a never-slated-for-professional-publication Diesel Pulp setting that I buy and modify models to fit into. My first concern is aesthetics of these mystery men and weird war machines… but in time the world begins to form a cohesive whole that demands exploration in prose.
This is the same sort of exploration I did in the short fiction piece ’49, which is designed to be part of the same world.
While the fact that Martian Tripods had been so effective during the First and Second War of the Worlds could easily have been attributed to their advanced metuallurgy, heat rays, broadcast power, and compression gears, it nevertheless cemented in most nation’s military planners that a walker design of some kind was clearly superior to wheeled or tracked vehicles. Thus, rather than test walkers on a level playing field, most designers first theorized on why legged armor units were superior to other options, and then drew up tests to prove their theories.
One common theory in the early 1930s was that walkers had significant advantages over wheeled or tracked vehicles due to increased stability, and thus an improved ability to fire a cannon while moving with some degree of accuracy. The concept behind this idea was simple – the position of a walker was always entirely determined by the position of its articulate legs, driven by compression gears, and thus stabilizing cams could be built to read compression gear feedback. These cams where supposed to predict how the movement of articulated parts would affect articulated weapons, and automatically adjust the weapon’s position to compensate.
The reality of walker stability and predictability consistently failed to live up to theoretical models. For some reason, tripping, sliding, and even falling were never considered to be regular occurrences by military planners, and thus were ignored in tests run on articulated prediction cams. In battlefield conditions, walkers often ended up on uneven footing (debris, mud, soft earth, and even walker traps designed to limit their mobility), so assuming a given position of the legs always equaled what it should on a hard, level, stable surface often failed to give accurate adjustments to weapons.
The Nazi walkers favored heavy armor and heavy weapons, and a rapid reload time. The need to couple these with prediction cams inevitably lead to designs that placed a walker’s main weapons in articulated outboard platforms, called “Gewehrfaust” or Gun-Arms. These were normally mounted on either side of the main fuselage, and were connected by heavily armored gearing systems. As a result, any such weapons had to be auto-loading and have self-contained ammunition magazines. This gave main cannons impressive rate-of-fire and full cam stabilization… but the stabilization systems never worked well and the rate-of-fire only lasted until the magazine was depleted. A German Wotan or Donar walker armed with a Rheinmetall-Borsig 7.5 cm KwK 42 (L/70) carried twelve rounds in the magazine, and 48 more in the main body, but reloading the magazine required the walker to be at a dead stop and expose its crew for nearly thirty minutes. Worse, thought the gun could fire APCBC, HE, and APCR rounds (though that last was always in short supply), the integral magazine meant the ratio of such rounds had to be decided in advance. The gunner could dial up any round in the magazine, but if HE rounds were all that was left in the magazine, and APCR was a better choice, there was no practical way of loading the desired shell even if it was in-stock.
This lead to the advancement of more Lightning Guns and Thunder Cannons in variant designs, but Nazi Germany could rarely produce enough such weapons to meet demand. Flamethrowers, heavy flack guns, and rocket pods were more often used where LGs and TCs were called for.
Russian walkers also generally used outboard weapon platforms, and could rarely manage multiple main guns on a walker in any case, but used gyroscopic stabilization rather than feedback cams hooked to compression gears. While accuracy was never as high on the move compared to stationary fire, Russian walkers on the move could depend on hitting more than missing when shooting at targets that were in close range or that were themselves stationary. Additionally, since Russian walkers were always in short ammo supply, they were less likely to have multiple shells as an option, and might only have enough ammo to fill a single magazine in any case, minimizing the real impact of that design choice.
Americans also used gyroscopic stabilization, the only other nation to do so. However, their designs always placed a walker’s main armament inside the body of a walker. In the case of early six-legged Mulholland walker and later 8-legged Garland walkers, a single turret was used to house primary armament. The stability of the multileg suspension, coupled with gyrostabilization, gave these tanks and their variants the greatest moving fire accuracy of any Medium or Heavy walker of the war. However, the weight of the additional legs required these walkers to be more lightly armored than typical for their tonnage, and their guns were manually loaded, resulting in a much lower ROF for short engagements. This was partially compensated for by the ability to continue fire (a standard load was 55 rounds) without stopping or exposing crew, and for each shot to be loaded with the preferred shell type. Additionally, these walkers were constructed in vast numbers. A Mulholland might not be an even match for a Wotan, but three Mulhollands certainly were.
In the case of the American mech hunter Bunyan design, the main cannon was built into the center of the main body. Though also gyrostabilized, the Bunyan’s 2-leg design and antitank mission made moving fire both less accurate and less desirable. If a mech hunter could not outrange another walker, standard tactics were for it to move after every shot, to compensate for its lower average armor thickness.
Posted on December 24, 2015, in Adventure Design, Anachronistic Adventurers, Diesel Pulp, Game Design, Musings, Short Fiction and tagged '49, Anachronistic Adventurers, Development, Diesel Pulp, Worldbuilding. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.