17 Unique Russian Military Inventions

Russian military inventions tend toward the brutally practical: tanks, planes, and guns that are cheap and easy to produce. Indeed, in WWII, the Soviet Union overwhelmed Germany with endless waves of T-34 tanks, fighter planes, and infantry armed with cheap submachine guns. Russia was very inventive and unorthodox in its creation of wartime vehicles and weapons. 

Designing a tank or plane that can be reproduced tens of thousands of times takes experimentation and a willingness to embrace unconventional concepts. Combine this with the traditional tendency of Russian engineers to come up with unique ideas and worry about how to mass-produce them later, and you have a climate ripe for unique weapons. So in the 20th century, Russia led the way in designing original, unwieldy, and truly outside-the-box tanks, planes, weapons, and ships. Their designers liked putting wings on things, leading to inventions like flying tanks, flying subs, flying aircraft carriers, and even ships with wings.

Many of these ideas never got past the blueprint stage, though a few saw action in WWII. The Russians were determined, so no matter how unusual something was, if it worked, they used it. Yet, over time, many proved to be unsuccessful and ended up being ultimately forgotten.


  • Tsar Bomba

    Tsar Bomba
    Photo: Croquant / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    On October 30, 1961, the Soviet Union detonated the most powerful and destructive weapon ever created - the AN602 hydrogen bomb, nicknamed "Tsar Bomba" - in keeping with a variety of other large and unwieldy Russian weapons.

    Tsar Bomba exploded with a yield of 50 to 60 megatons. This was equivalent to 3,800 times the power of the device dropped on Hiroshima by the US during WWII. It produced a mushroom cloud 37 miles high and the light from the detonation was seen up to 620 miles away. It completely leveled an uninhabited village 34 miles from ground zero and reportedly caused damage to structures as far away as 100 miles. Heat from the blast would have caused third-degree burns up to 62 miles away. It was only tested once.


  • Object 279

    Object 279
    Photo: Alf van Beem / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Soviet engineers were often asked to develop vehicles that might not be survivable by their crews. The pinnacle of this was Object 279, an experimental heavy tank designed to withstand the shockwave of an atomic blast - then fight in the fallout-drenched aftermath. It weighed 60 tons, carried a crew of four, could traverse just about any ground, and had protection for chemical and biological attacks.

    Two prototypes were built in 1959 and went through trials that proved the tank was too big and cumbersome for the modern battlefield. It was too heavy for Soviet roads, hugely expensive, hard to maintain, and could easily be picked off from the air. Nikita Khrushchev soon declared that the Soviet Union would produce tanks no heavier than 37 tons, and Object 279 headed to a museum.

  • T-42 Superheavy Tank

    The interwar period saw a frantic race to build bigger and more powerful supertanks. The Soviet entry into this competition was the T-42. Designed in 1930 by German engineer Edward Grotte, this beast would have weighed 100 tons, carried a crew of 14, and had three turrets carrying a variety of heavy and light guns.

    The Soviet military wasn't impressed with the tank, which needed an engine so powerful that it hadn't been invented, causing the tank to be too slow and vulnerable to actually use. The design never got past a blueprint. Grotte went on to design the 1,000-ton behemoth "Ratte" tank for Germany - which was also canceled in the blueprint stage.

  • Anti-Tank Dogs

    Anti-Tank Dogs
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Numerous countries have turned to the animal kingdom to help find an edge in warfare - and the results were usually pretty subpar. Starting as far back as the late 1300s, Mongolian chieftains used flaming camels to disperse their enemies. WWII was the height of attempting to weaponize animals, highlighted by the Soviet use of dog mines - dogs with explosives strapped to their backs, trained to run under German tanks to make them explode.

    Reportedly, these poor creatures destroyed over 300 German vehicles, though the program was stopped when it proved difficult to ensure the dogs would run in the right direction, as opposed to simply destroying the first tank they saw.