Tripod Toys and Diesel Pulp
My Diesel Pulp Nazis in the ’49 setting I play with are going to have “pocket tripods” as late-1930s designs they still use variants of in 1949 as light walkers. To represent these, I plan to kitbash from these McDonald’s Happy Meal “BLACK MANTA Launcher” toys I picked up on Ebay for about $7 each with shipping. Here they are unmodified next to a DUST Tactics German walker and a HeroClix heroine.
My Diesel Pulp setting assumes that the War of the Worlds happened, and involved multiple waves, one in 1899, and a second in 1903, both while Mars is in opposition to Earth. The first invasion goes very much as described in The War of the Worlds, but the second lasts until 1907 and was a significantly broader conflict. They are known as the First and Second Wars of the Worlds, and these events changed history forever.
At first Martian technology is too advanced for Earth’s governments to unravel, but eventually the secrets of compression gears, genetic chemistry, etheric generators, Cavorite, N-rays, odic forces, and red mercury began to be revealed to the nations of the world, though often at great cost and consequence, and unevenly. Some nations specialize in specific applications of just one or two of those technologies, while some secrets are unlocked only by a few specific geniuses.
As a result of these two invasions, the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Revolution of 1905, first and second Balklans Wars, and World War One do not occur. There are many minor conflicts that do occur in the altered time and one major conflict, the largest of which is the Triples War, which is essentially a shorter version of WWI that is restricted to a conflict between the Triple Entente (the British Empire, France and the Russian Empire) versus the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). However this conflict runs only from to January 1915 to March 1917. Importantly, the United States, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria do not enter the war. The Triples War did include the development of trench warfare, and it was also the first time major powers used Martian-derived technologies against one another.
Perhaps most importantly was the development of mecha, heavily armored mechanized units, specifically walkers and tracked vehicles. Because Martians had very advanced technology, and depended on walking machines (especially their tripod fighting machines, but also their working machines and excavators) a broad school of military thinkers concluded that “walkers” were clearly superior to wheeled vehicles of any kind. It was generally assumed that the fact compression gears and etheric generators were able to easily power an articulated limb, that the increased mobility of a walker was a clear advantage over any other form. After all, God had made man a walker, rather than some wheeled creature.
In Germany, a pragmatic school of planners argued that while armored legs might function better than wheels, advancements in tread technology for tractors could create a rolling war machine that would be faster, more stable, and present a lower profile than any walking design. Walker designs were clearly extremely complex, and the flexible all-compression-gear design of Martial fighting machines was well beyond any Earth nation. But as the death rates for trench warfare during the Triples War skyrocketed, the need for some mobile, armored, armed, trench-crossing machine became clear to both sides.
The British build the first Earth-designed walkers to be used in a military conflict, and both Britain and France fielded simple walker designs beginning in February 1916. The British Type I was a small two-man walker, with a driver sitting low in a central cabin that was taller than it was wide or long, and a gunner/commander sat above him. The Type I’s legs could fold up to its sides in such a way that if it was knocked over or fell, it could “squat” which would cause it to right itself, and then stand again. Though its external weapon sponsons (placed where “arms” would go in a humanoid figure) were not designed for climbing, operators soon found the strong, flexible legs and longer cannon-sponson would allow it to climb up and down the sides of trenches, albeit slowly.
Germany instead developed the A7V*, a tracked “Sturmpanzerwagen” (roughly “armored assault vehicle”). The A7V had a crew of 18, six machine guns and one Maxim-Nordenfelt cannon. It had poor off-road capability and a high center of gravity, which made it prone to getting stuck or overturning on steep slopes. It was also hot, slow, under-armored, and under-armed.
The first mecha against mecha combat in history took place on 24 April 1918 when three A7Vs met three Type Is (two armed with just machine guns, and one with two 4-pounder guns) near Villers-Bretonneux. During the battle, the machine-gun armed Type Is were damaged and fell back, unable to significantly impact the A7Vs. The remaining Type I then attacked the lead German sturmpanzerwagen with its two 4-pounders and knocked it out (killing five of its crew). The Type I then managed to damage the tracks of both remaining A7Vs. Their crews fled, which began a route among the German forces present.
The lesson learned by military planners of the time was that tracked vehicles were unreliable and, as suspected, Martians had depended on walkers because their advanced science had proven the designs universally superior for the role of front-line fighting mecha. This is arguably the wrong lesson, but it was largely accepted as “proven doctrine” by the nations of the Earth. While wheeled and tracked vehicles were still designed for personnel carriers, artillery, and support vehicles, all major militaries turned to walkers for the vast majority of their armored mecha designs. By the time the First Global War began in 1939, hundreds of walker and support mecha designs existed worldwide.
*The A7V really is the real-world German effort at tanks in WWI, and it really was a terrible design. That design really faced Brittish forces at the time and palce mentioned above, but I replaced the British units in that first real world tank-on-tank battlewith walkers, so Diesel Pulp’s first-and-only walker vs tank battle is responsible for the rise of walkers as military designs. This helps hammer home that however bad an idea a walker is for 1940s-era combat, there’s a reason they are at the forefront of heavy armored units in my ’49 setting.
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