From 1482 to 1499 da Vinci lived in Milan under the patronage of Duke Ludovico Sforza, known also as il Moro. During this period Leonardo da Vinci created masterpieces of both art and science which help to demonstrate the breadth of his accomplishments. Many of his machines we designed for defense of Milan or to increase her military strength against enemies.
In an introductory letter to Duke Ludovico preserved in the Codex Atlantico, Leonardo wrote “I can make armoured cars, safe and unassailable, which will enter the serried ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and there is no company of men at arms so great that they will break it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any opposition."
One of da Vinci’s incredible military designs is the armored vehicle. This turtle-like device allows for eight men inside to move through enemy lines without injury. Inside, four wheels can be powered by cranks to move the tank without the need of horses. Small cannon are spaced around the edge of the tank allowing the soldiers inside to fire upon enemies while remaining protected.
The original plans for this design have front and back wheels geared in opposition which renders the tank unable to properly move. It has been suggested that da Vinci designed the flaw purposely so that if his plans were stolen the machine would be unusable.
The first modern tank was not realized until WWI with the premier of ‘Little Willie’, a 14 ton armored vehicle that could carry three men in cramped conditions at a top speed of two to three miles per hour. You can learn more about the development of the modern tank at this link.
A beautifully constructed model of da Vinci’s armored tank design can be seen inside the da Vinci: The Genius exhibit. Through an open door you can see the crank driven wheels and other innards of the design.