A Brief Technical History of the Bolo

From Bolos in their own words

Prof. Felix Hermes, PH.D.
Laumer Chair or Military History
New Republic University Press

BOLO Marks & years of introduction (not added yet)


The Bolo's role as humanitys protector and preserver after the Human-Melconian conflict is, or course, known to all citizens of the New Republic. So mech knowledge-historical, as well as technological- was lost during the Long Night, however, that the Bolo's earlier history is, at best, fragmentary. Much of what we do know we owe to the tireless activities of the Laumer Institute and its founder, yet there is much confusion in the Institute's records. As just one example, Bolo DAK, savior of the Nuofrench and Bayerische colonists of New Europa, is identified as a Mark XVI when, on the evidence of its demonstrated capabilites, it must in fact have been at least a Mark XXV. Such confusion is no doubt unavoidable, given the destruction of so many primary sources and fragmentary evidence upon which the Laumer Institute was forced to rely

It was possible to assemble the material in this monograph, which confirms much of the Institute's original work, corrects some of the inevtiable errors in chronology, and also breaks new ground, only with the generous assistance of Jenny (Bolo XXXIII/D-1005-JNE), the senior surviving Bolo assigned to the Old Concordiat's Artois Sector. Jenny, the protector of our own capital world of Central during the Long Night, has very kindly made the contents of her Technical Support and Historical memories available to the author, who wishes to take this opportunity to extend his sincere thanks to her.

This monograph is not the final word on the Bolo. Even a Mark XXXIII's memory space is finite, and the units built during the Last War did not receive the comprehensive Historical data bases of earlier marks. Research continues throughout the sphere of the Old Concordiat, and the author has no doubt future scholars will fill in many of the gaping holes which remain in our understanding of the emormous debt humanity owes the the creations which have so amply repain their creators.

The Brief Bolo History...

The General Motors Bolo Mark I, Model B, was little more than an upgrade of the Abrams/Leopard/Challenger/LeClerc/T-80-era main battle tank of the final years of the Soviet-American Cold War. (At the time the first Bolo was authorized, GM decided that there would never be a "Model A" or a "Model T", on the basis that the Ford Motor Company had permanently preempted those designations>) Equipped with a high-velocity main gun capable of defeating the newest Chobham-type composite armors at virtually any battle range and with a four-man crew, the Mark I was an essentially conventional if very heavy (150 metric tons) and fast (80 kph road speed) tank in direct line of descent from World War I's "Mother" via the Renault, PzKpf IV, T-34, Sherman, Panther, Tiger, Patton, T-54, M-60, Chieftain, T-72, and Abrams.

The classic challenge of tank design had always been that of striking the best balance of three critical parameters: armament, protection, and mobility. The first two consistently drove weights upward, while the third declined as weight increased, and perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the Mark I Bolo was that, like the Abrams before it, it managed to show increases in all three areas. The same parameters continued to apply throughout the period of the Bolo's development, and a fourth-electronic (and later psychotronic) warfare capability-was added to them. As in earlier generations of armored fighting vehicles, the competing pressures of these design areas fueled a generally upward trend in weight and size. With the adoption of the first Hellbore in the Mark XIV, Bolo designers actually began placing equipment of current-generation capital starship main battery weapons-and armor intended to resist them-in what could no longer be considered mere "tanks". The Bolo had become the critical planet-based strategic system of humanity, and the trend to ever heavier and more deadly fighting vehicles not only continued but accelerated. The Mark XVIII was larger than most Terran pre-dreadnought battleships; at 32,000 tons, the final Mark XXXIII was, quite literally, heavier than all but the latest generations of pre-space wet-navy battleships had been.

Partly as a result of this constant pressure to increase size and weight as succeeding marks were up-gunned and up-armored, Bolo development was marked by recurrent shifts in emphasis between what might be termed the "standard Bolo," the "heavy Bolo," and various specialist variants.

The "standard Bolos," as epitomized by the Mark I, Mark II, Mark V, etc., may be considered direct conceptual descendants of the twentieth century's "main battle tank:" vehicles whose designs were o;ptimized for the direct fire (assault) and anti-armor role. The standard Bolo designs are generally characterized by limited indirect fire capability, a main armament centered on a single direct-fire weapon of maximum possible destructiveness (normally turret mounted high in the vehicle for maximum command), a supporting lateral or "broadside" battery (the famed "infinite repeaters") capable of engaging light AFVs or soft targets, and the heaviest possible armor. As additional threats entered the combat environment, additional active and passive defenses (generally lumped together under the heading of "armor" when allocating weights in the design stage, though many were, in fact, electrinic in nature) were added, but the standard Bolo forms a consistent, clearly recognizable design strand clear through the Mark XXXII Bolo.

The first "heavey Bolo" was the Mark III, aptly classified atthe time as a "mobile fire support base." While any heavy Bolo design was undeniably effective in the assault mode, the tended to be slower than the "standard" designs and were likely to sacrifice some of their anti-armor capabilities in favor of indirent fire support capacity. (The decision to downgrade anti-armor firepower in favor of other capabilities was often a particularly difficult one for the designers, since only a Bolo could realistically hope to stop another Bolo or its enemy equivalent.) Although the Mark III was 30 percent larger than the Mark II, its anti-armor armament was identical to the Mark II's; the increased tonnage was devoted primarily to even thicker armor, better anti-air and missile defenses, and the fire support capability of a current-generation artillery brigade. In fact, the Mark III, for its time, was the equivalent of the later continental and planetary "seige unit" Bolos: a ponderous, enormously powerful support system which only another Bolo could stop, but not truly an assault system in its own right.

Throughout the development of the Bolo, there was a distinct tendency to alternate between standard and heavy designs in successive marks, although standard clearly predominated. This was probably because the standard design could, at a pinc, perform most of the heavy design's functions, but the heavy design was less well suited for the fast, far-ranging mobile tactics which the standard design could execute. Moreover, the sheer size and weight of a Bolo (until, at least, the introduction of dedicated, rough field-capable armor transports with the Mark XIX) created deployment problems, particularly in the assault role, which led to stringent efforts to hold down size and weight. At several points in the Bolo's history, standard and heavy designs were introduced simultaneously, as complementary units of the armored force, but almost invariably, the next generation saw a return to the concept of the standard design.

Mixed in with the standard and heavy Bolos were the occasional specialists, such as the Mark XVI Retarius "light Bolo" and tha Mark XXVII Invictus "screening Bolo." Much more often, howerver, specialist models cropped up within an otherwise standard or heavy mark. Bolo designers were never loathe to seek variants optimised for specific tactical or support functions, although the sheercost of any Bolo was sufficient to ensure the the specialists were generally a distinct minority within the overall Bolo force. Extreme examples of specialists may be seen in the Mark XV/L and Mark XXI/I. The XV/L was barely half the size of the XV/K and deletad all conventional main armament in favor of a massive EW capability and was, in essence, a pure electronics platform with backup capability as an anti-air/anti-missile area defense system. The Mark XXI/I, on the other hand, was the smallest self-warfare Bolo ever built: a very lightly armed "stealth" Bolo designes as a forward reconnaissance vehicle and as an armored transport for small, elite special forces teams.

The Bolos did not really change the fundamental truth that humanity's survival depended, both for better and for worse, upon its weapons technology. What did change was the fact that, in the Bolo, humanity had, in a sense, developed a weapon system whichwas better than humanity itself was. Better at making war, better at destroying enemies (including at some times, other human enemies), better at defending its creators, and, arguably, better at living up to the ideals humanity espoused. Be that as it may, the fact that human development through the end of the Concordiat Period was intimately entwined with the Bolos is beyond dispute.

The Mark I, II, and III Bolos did not create the twenty-first-century period of "the Crazy Years" as Terra's old nation-state system crumbled, noe did they cause World War III. they made both the Crazy Years and the War even more destructive, in a tactical sense, than they might otherwise have been, yet in a perverse way, they helped minimize the strategic destruction (the Mark IIIs deployed in defense of the Free City-State of Detroit in 2032, for example, intercepted and destroyed every ICBM and cruise missile launched at the city). Perhaps more to the point, it was the existence of a single Mark II Bolo which permitted Major Timothy Jackson and Renada Banner to restore security and democratic government to the Prometheus Enclave within what had been the United States of America in 2082, thus planting the seed whicheventually became the Concordiat government of Earth.

As the Concordiat expanded to the stars, and especially after the production of the first, crude FTL hyper shunt generator in 2221, the Bolos were both humanity's vanguard and its final line of defense. For a thousand years, successive generations of Bolos fought Man's enemies, defended his planets, and avenged his defeats. The fully autonomous and self-directin Bolos of the Mark XXIV and later generations were truly humanity's knights sans peur et sans reproche, and when the Concordiat finally crumbled into nep-barbarian successor states in the thirty-fifth century, following over two hundred T-years of warfare with the Melconian Empire, it was the handful of ancient, still-loyal survivors of the Final Dinochrome Brigade who protected and nurtured the isolated pockets of human survivors through the Long Night which followed. Much of the battle history of the Bolos has been lost, butthe portions of it which remain are the stuff of the most glorious-and tragic-records of humanity and its works. Bolos might fail. They might die and be destroyed. But the did not surrender, and they never-ever-quit.

Bolo Armament:
Armament information

Units of the Line:
A handful of the honorable alloy warriors

Bolo Literature:
Bolo novels

Information acquired from BOLO! written by David Weber, part of Keith Laumer's "Boloverse" saga.

15 APR 2005