I’ve hand-cranked started a tractor with a diesel engine and no glow plugs and it’s no fun. It takes a bear of a man to get 2 revolutions on a diesel engine since the compression is so high. But there are many engines that were designed to be started that way. They were commonplace on farms in tractors.
Diesel is not particularly flammable or volatile and as such needs very high compression to ignite and get the combustion process started. Gasoline engines rely on spark plugs and have significantly lower compression. Since electric starters were a luxury for a long time here’s how it was done on a 40’s era McCormick-Deering WD9:
The engine was a standard diesel engine, hand crank to start. It’s about impossible to crank start a cold diesel, both because you’ll never turn the engine fast enough and because the diesel won’t ignite. So there was a lever that opened up compression relief valves in the head. Lowered the compression enough that a strong man could get a couple of revolutions if he had a good breakfast. But diesel won’t ignite, so the tractor has a one gallon gasoline tank. Switch another valve and you’re putting gasoline into the combustion chamber, which will light off and get the show going. A tractor engine with the compression relief open and running on gasoline makes a gawdawful racket like nothing else. But it’s running. Now the trick is to close the compression relief and switch to diesel fuel at the right rate and time to keep it running.