The trenches seemed impregnable. But maybe they could be rolled over. If the Navy was the key to world domination, as many thought, why not build a land fleet? The idea was first proposed by science-fiction writer H. G. Wells: in his “The Land Ironclads” (1903) he wrote about 30m high machines, “long, narrow, and very strong steel frameworks carrying the engines, and borne upon eight pairs of big pedrail wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, each a driving wheel and set upon long axles free to swivel round a common axis”. These “monsters” would surely be able to ignore the trenches altogether, kill their occupants and move into enemy territory.
The Electric Gyro-cruiser, for example, would have maintained its equilibrium “as a bicyclist”, thanks to an enormous gyroscope inside the front wheel. Armed with 6 cannons, it would have reached 55 m in height and 20000 tn in weight. “These giants of a race of toiling machinery will take their places in the trenches which are the valleys, and behind the ramparts which are the hills, and one more freedom will be added to the roll of emancipation and will come out from the nation which loved humanity.”
The Giant Destroyer, on the other hand, had three wheels and no need for firearms: its objective is to trample everything in its path. Its wheels were imagined to reach 65 m in height. Chains fixed on the frontal axis would have destroyed everything underneath.
The external structure of the Gyro-electric destroyer is a steel wheel of “just”13 m in diameter. The machine was meant to travel the trenches longitudinally and to fire on the enemy soldiers from above. Two armored cabins with cannons were placed at the extremities of the wheel axis, while a central cabin housed the pilot and the engine.
The Super tank is a retractile tower made of concentric steel cylinders, mounted on a motor vehicle. The inflation of an internal air chamber raised the tower, armed with machine-guns, flamethrower and gas-projectiles.
Although all these inventions were presented as real possibilities, inventors and popularizers could not have ignored that at the time there was no engine in existence capable of moving these giant machines. The costs of transport and maintenance would have been astronomical. Mass production was inconceivable.
The land ironclads had nonetheless their use: they sold science popularization magazines. Often placed on the covers, the inventions were accompanied by rich illustrations and long articles. Their futuristic aesthetic fascinated and reassured the public: the war of the future would have been fought between these enormous machines