Saturday, June 5, 2010

Unique Soviet Snow Vehicles

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In this article we'll focus on exotic Soviet military snow vehicles, and some civilian and scientific applications of these machines.

(source: TM, Russia 1970)

The image above shows Russian huge all-terrain vehicle "Kharkovchanka" (made by Kharkov tractor factory), meant to conquer the Arctic and the Antarctic in the 1950s. Its truly gargantuan scale did not prevent it from moving at 40 km/h and climbing 30 degree inclines.

"Kharkovchanka" helped Soviet expeditions to reach the South Pole multiple times, and according to some sources, still remains in use at Russian polar stations. They praise the vehicle as the best ice/snow transportation ever made.

This page details Russian South Pole Traverse, using five tractors and ten towed sledges:

It's a Cold, Cold, Cold War

Any war on Russian territory always comes down to who has the best ability to cope with extreme winter conditions and the absence of any kind of roads. Add to it the huge distances to cover and no infrastructure to help you out if anything breaks down. Well, with these "aero-sled" prototypes (and a bottle of vodka) you can get anywhere, even in seemingly infinite Siberia.

The first aero-sled divisions were supplied to Russian Army in 1941 and battled against Nazis in the winter of 1942. The Germans were amazed to see such winter mobility, being hopelessly mired in snow & mud covered Russian countryside themselves. RF-8 model was especially successful, being the result of many 1932-1941 prototypes, designed by engineer M. Veselovski.

(images are from Oleg Tulnev and I. Yuvenaliev collections)

One nice feature of these models was the use of a normal automotive engine, not the custom airplane one. It was easy to repair and had a propeller, made from steel, not wood - increasing its ability to break through dense snow-covered forest.

(drawing by Seleznev, Timakov, Timchenko)

The other model used against German invasion: NKL-26 -

The first prototypes were developed as far back as 1919 by a bureau of "TZAGI" and "NAMI", and were successfully used in World War One, in suppressing the Krondtstadt uprising, for example. The following drawings show the 1930s model - ANT-4, used in mail delivery on remote routes in Siberia, and even as a support vehicle in Arctic expeditions.

(drawings by I. Yuvenaliev)

These military snowmobiles from World War Two were not very fast (average speed was 25 km/h), and had comparatively light armor, so they did not compete with tanks, but provided instead a highly mobile (off-road) unit, capable of surgical strikes in enemy territory.

It is interesting to note that Americans had a little different idea for the same military use:

(Cover of Popular Science, Dec. 1936)

Tatra V855 (1942) - Nazi's answer to Soviet snowmobiles

Faced with the prospect of the harsh Soviet winter, the Nazis decided to experiment with snowmobiles, as well. Tatra was one of the many firms that built prototypes. This aerodynamic vehicle was powered by modified T-87 engine; only 2 vehicles were built and they never went into production. Note the drum roller in the back, used when climbing uphill. It also drove the vehicle in city traffic and functioned as a brake.

(image credit: tatraworld)

When their own prototypes did not materialize, the Nazis captured Soviet-made aero-sledges and happily used them themselves:

(images credit: allwheel)

Dozens of Models, Wide-Spread Use

It may come as a surprise to technology buffs today, but the history of Soviet aerosled-snowmobile industry is rich and varied. Dozens of various models were built, used extensively in scientific exploration and on the battlefield. The reason for such spurt of creativity is the strong support of the highest Communist officials, starting shortly after the Revolution. Here is a sample of only a few (from a wide catalog) of models:

Aero-sled KM-4 "Purga" (the Snowstorm)

(drawings by I. Yuvenaliev)

ASD-400 model:
(widely used in Siberia)


and a few more war-time military models:

NKL-16 (used mostly as a transport vehicle)

The wheeled version for the summer:

More and more variations:

"Sever-2", Post-war neat aero-sled

Based on the Soviet post-war car "Pobeda", "Victory" (which in turn was probably copied from the post-war German "Opel" model), this aero-sled was designed in 1959 by engineer I. Kamov, famous for his helicopters. Again, this vehicle was widely used for mail delivery and passenger transportation in remote Siberian regions.

(images credit:

(images credit:

Rare Off-road Model for the Soviet Youth (built in the 60s)

"Veterok" ("the swift wind") model remained in concept stage for a very long time (due to the famous Soviet red tape). Only a few prototypes were built, and unfortunately never achieved mass production... It would've been a very cool alternative to Jeeps, loved by all off-road enthusiasts, I dare say: (click to enlarge)

(source: TM, Russia 1968)

KA-30 Snowmobile, a van/bus/suburban SUV on skis

The concept is described as a "dream of the Soviet youth from the polar regions". It was a great vehicle (while it stayed in production): powerful, swift, available in different modifications.

Various layouts for business, passenger transportation and ambulance use:

Apparently it could also be used in combination with floating and hydro-planing equipment (not to be stopped by waterways and rivers, which are sometimes the only transportation option) -

(source: TM, Russia 1969)

Some surviving models one could still find in use today:

Keeping in mind that the amount of snow in Russia can be simply unbelievable, these transportation options are more than welcome:

It is a testimony to the ingenuity of Russian designers and the general ineptitude of Soviet regime to follow-through on any great consumer product, that none of these awesome snowmobile models were made in truly big numbers into the 70s and 80s.

Most Bizarre All-Terrain Vehicle Ever Conceived

We have to finish with this idea, from the Soviet technology magazine in 1937. Engineer Georgi Pokrovski had the ultimate solution for conquering polar wastes: a hybrid of sea-going vessel with a giant tracked mobile base. He called it an "Arctic Amphibian Tank" and described it as 1000-tons fortress which will navigate the icy plains with tracks and use them to propel the ship through the water as well...

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