Leonardo Da Vinci's Battle Tank!


Leonardo’s sketch of the armored car

Leonardo da Vinci was a man of many mysteries. To the people of his time, much of his work, theories and inventions, appeared incoherent- even diabolical to some. But, truth be told, Leonardo was a visionary- a man hundreds of years ahead of his time. His codices reveal the man’s true genius and deep insight and comprehension of mechanics and engineering. Among a plethora of sketches of futuristic war machines, Leonardo’s armoured car- the precursor to the modern day tank – stands out.

It was 1487. Leonardo da Vinci was under the patronage of Ludivico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. It was in that year that Leonardo, the truly brilliant man that he was, came up with his sketch of an armoured car. People of the 21st century who have been so accustomed to seeing the modern day tank would have had a difficult time accepting his sketch as something akin to it. It resembled a rather extraterrestrial-looking tortoise than a tank. However, what the design lacked in an apparent facsimile with a tank was more than made up by its working principles.


The tank Leonardo conceived consisted of a circular platform protected by an external shell covering (the part which resembled the tortoise/alien ship). The resultant hollow chamber inside could fit eight people who would turn cranks, which would inturn rotate the wheels to propel the armoured car. Initially, Leonardo thought of making it horse driven- which would have been a much better choice in terms of efficiency. Nonetheless, he feared that the close confines of the chamber would induce claustrophobia among the horses, making their behaviour erratic and unpredictable.

Upto now, it would seem that what da Vinci created was some sort of silly contraption that would bring about no change in the direction of the wind of war. What is fascinating about the odd and mishappen shape of the armoured car is that the shell covering creates an angle such that any external projectile would be effortlessly deflected away leaving the surface relatively unharmed. Moreover, the large circular circumference would allow a number small cannons to be fitted. A combination of solid defense with a destructive offence thus make it resemble an actual tank fit for going into battle.

There was one big flaw with Leonardo’s design. As a corps of British military engineers discovered, following da Vinci’s plans would lead to one simple yet massive error: the front and rear wheels would have rotated in opposite directions and, thus, would not have allowed it to move at all. The engineers figured out the problem with the orientation of the cranks’ motion but the question remains whether da Vinci realized it or not. Now, we all know that Leonardo was no fool and he might have very well intentionally erred in his design. Historians speculate that this was done so that, in the event his works were stolen, it would render such a device useless. And although the tank looks daunting in pictures, it would not have been so useful in the 15th century anyway. Since it had to be powered by humans, lugging it across rugged terrain would have proved to be a Herculean task.

Leonardo da Vinci’s brilliance lay in the fact that not only he thought and dreamed ahead hundreds of years for his inventions, it is that they have been proven to be realizable dreams. Although the lack of utility of many of his inventions might not have curried the favour of patrons, it shows us how truly remarkable the man was and how profound his understanding of nature was.