The Nazis’ “Maus” Tank Was an Enormous Mistake

 In E3, Smart Cities, Air, Germany

Here’s What You Need To Remember: In October 1943, the orig­i­nal order placed by Hitler for 150 vehi­cles was also can­celled. It was becom­ing appar­ent that as German ground forces were con­sis­tent­ly losing the battle with Allied air supe­ri­or­i­ty, a mon­stros­i­ty like the Maus would be extreme­ly vul­ner­a­ble to air attack. Some sources state that accord­ing to Porsche, Hitler’s true aim for the Maus was to plug holes in the Atlantic coastal defens­es on the Western Front, where its lim­it­ed range and mobil­i­ty would not have been as much of a hin­drance. But that this plan was thwart­ed by delays in pro­duc­tion which pushed any pos­si­ble deliv­ery date well past D‑Day.

As early as 1941, the German high com­mand had visions of mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy that was far ahead of its time, and many inno­v­a­tive tech­no­log­i­cal con­cepts were becom­ing real­i­ty. Had some of them been pro­duced in a more expe­di­tious fash­ion or in greater num­bers, most his­to­ri­ans agree that they would have doubt­less pro­longed World War II, if not altered its out­come entire­ly.

Many of these “wonder weapons” were highly prac­ti­cal con­cepts and have as their prog­e­ny the cor­ner­stones of modern mil­i­tary arse­nals— the world’s first assault rifle, inter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles, and jet fight­ers to name a few. And then there were some bizarre con­cepts, which appear on the sur­face to be noth­ing more than an exten­sion of their inventor’s ego. The Maus (German for “Mouse”) super-tank cer­tain­ly falls into the latter cat­e­go­ry.

The Panzerkampwagen (PzKpfw.) VIII Maus was a 188-ton behe­moth devel­oped by Porsche at the behest of Hitler him­self. Impractical does not begin to describe it, and the timing of its intro­duc­tion was stu­pe­fy­ing. Why, when Nazi Germany had lost the oil fields in Africa and was start­ing to run short of fuel for the vehi­cles they had, would they intro­duce a gas guz­zling mon­ster that would obvi­ous­ly be very costly and time con­sum­ing to pro­duce? This kind of deci­sion making was one of the great intan­gi­bles about Hitler, which con­found­ed his staff as much as it does modern observers. Hitler jumped from one fad and crazy idea to anoth­er. The Maus was prob­a­bly influ­enced by a trend toward pro­duc­ing heavy tanks that many Allied armor devel­op­ers were exper­i­ment­ing with during the middle years of World War II. Of course Hitler had to go them one better.

The Americans were devel­op­ing the 45-ton M-26 Pershing tank, and, of more per­son­al con­cern to Hitler, the Russians debuted the 45-ton JS‑2 Stalin. While most mil­i­tary plan­ners would have been more focused on the thou­sands of Soviet T-34 medium tanks the Russians were churn­ing out that would even­tu­al­ly be rolling toward the Fatherland, Hitler obsessed with out­weigh­ing and out­gun­ning the hand­ful of Allied heavy tanks that were going into pro­duc­tion. After the D‑Day inva­sion and the Allied expe­ri­ence of being bogged down in the hedgerows of Normandy, heavy tanks were a sub­ject of major con­tro­ver­sy among mil­i­tary plan­ners on both sides. Were they worth their weight? Did they gain more in pro­tec­tion and fire­pow­er than they sac­ri­ficed in mobil­i­ty and fuel econ­o­my? Hitler had pre­sum­ably already made up his mind sev­er­al years before this defin­ing inci­dent and ordered Porsche to get to work.

Porsche’s Quest to Create an “Indestructible” Tank

The ear­li­est devel­op­ment of the Maus super heavy tank start­ed in 1941, when Krupp began stud­ies of super heavy Soviet tanks such as the KV series. In early 1942, Krupp pro­duced designs of a hybrid Tiger/Maus pro­to­type, which even­tu­al­ly became the PzKpfw. VIII, and anoth­er super heavy design, the pre­de­ces­sor of the Maus, known as the the PzKpfw. VII Lowe, or “Lion.” In early March 1942, the order for the heav­ier tank, the Maus, was placed, and the Lowe never reached the pro­to­type stage. Later that month, Porsche received the offi­cial con­tract for the new 188-ton Maus, spec­i­fy­ing that it was to carry 100 rounds of ammu­ni­tion and would be armed with the high per­for­mance 105mm L/60 or L/72 gun.

Maus pro­duc­tion was to be over­seen by Professor Ferdinand Porsche, who would devel­op the chas­sis, and the Krupp Munitions Works would be respon­si­ble for devel­op­ing the hull, turret, and arma­ment. The orig­i­nal Maus project was sup­port­ed by the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office) as a com­pet­i­tive design. Porsche received approval for his project from Hitler at a time when none of his other designs had been select­ed for pro­duc­tion. It has been the­o­rized that per­haps Hitler might have com­pen­sat­ed Porsche for his past fail­ures as a mil­i­tary design­er by award­ing him the Maus con­tract. It could easily be argued that Porsche was being set up to fail yet again — the descrip­tion of the tank Hitler wanted includ­ed the word “inde­struc­tible.”

The con­tract set a dead­line for an oper­a­tional pro­to­type to be devel­oped by the spring of 1943. On June 23, 1942, Porsche pro­vid­ed its design for an improved Maus armed with turret mount­ed 150mm (L/37) and 105mm (L/70) guns. Porsche promised that its first pro­to­type would be ready in May 1943. While con­tract spec­i­fi­ca­tions demand­ed that arma­ment should con­sist of the 150mm L/40 gun and 20mm MG151/20 heavy machine gun, usage of the 128mm L/50 was under con­sid­er­a­tion. In December 1942, new arma­ments such as a 127mm naval gun and the 128mm flak gun were also tested and con­sid­ered for the tank’s main gun.

Testing a Turretless Maus Tank

In January 1943, Hitler inter­fered again in the devel­op­ment of the vehi­cle and ordered that the Maus be fitted with turret mount­ed 128mm and 75mm guns, while turret mount­ed 150mm or 170mm guns were spec­i­fied for future use. Instead of the stan­dard 7.9mm coax­i­al machine gun, the Maus would have a 75mm anti­tank gun next to the main gun, and a machine cannon for anti­air­craft was to be mount­ed in the turret roof along­side a smoke grenade pro­jec­tor. Indecision seemed to reign supreme on this cru­cial design ele­ment. The spec­i­fi­ca­tion for ammu­ni­tion stor­age space of 100 rounds was never met, and con­se­quent­ly the space was decreased, sac­ri­ficed at the altar of even fur­ther arma­ment mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

That same month, the first back­slid­ing by Porsche began when it was restat­ed that first vehi­cle would be ready in the summer instead of spring 1943, and that would be fol­lowed by the pro­duc­tion of only five vehi­cles per month. The first offi­cial name for the new super tank was VK10001 Porsche Type 205 and nick­named the Mammoth. The tank was renamed Maeuschen (or “Mousy”) in December 1942 and final­ly Maus in February 1943.

With Krupp pro­duc­ing hulls, tur­rets, and arma­ment, a firm called Alkett was respon­si­ble for assem­bly of the com­po­nents. On December 24, 1943, the first pro­to­type, minus the turret, was com­plet­ed by Alkett and was put through exten­sive tests. During the tests, the Maus could barely move due to its enor­mous weight. It became obvi­ous that the pow­er­plant was woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate. The first pro­to­type was pow­ered by a mod­i­fied Daimler-Benz MB 509 engine (devel­oped from the DB 603 air­craft engine), which could not pro­vide the planned speed of 20km per hour. It could manage only 13km per hour, and that only under ideal con­di­tions. In December 1943, the V1 pro­to­type was fitted with a Belastungsgewicht, or sim­u­lat­ed turret, which rep­re­sent­ed the weight of the actual turret, and was tested. For some curi­ous reason, this first pro­to­type was applied with cam­ou­flage paint and marked with a red star, hammer, and sickle and dis­guised as a cap­tured Russian vehi­cle.

The Maus V2 Prototype

In March 1944, the second pro­to­type Maus V2, which dif­fered in sev­er­al details from the V1, was final­ly fin­ished. This new V2 lacked a pow­er­plant, which was later fitted in mid-1944. On April 9, Krupp deliv­ered the turret, which was mount­ed on the V2 and tested in June. It was mount­ed with a 128mm KwK 44 L/55 gun, a coax­i­al 75mm KwK 44 L/36.5 gun, and a 7.92mm MG34 machine gun, pro­vid­ing the Maus with enor­mous fire­pow­er. The Maus main gun could pen­e­trate the front, side and rear armor of the American Sherman, British Cromwell and Churchill, and Russian T‑34 and JS‑2 tanks at ranges over 3,500 meters. Its own armor was no thin­ner than 7 inches any­where, and was up to 14 inches thick at some points.

The turret includ­ed mounts for a Zeiss rangefind­er, but it was not fully fin­ished and some of the miss­ing com­po­nents were shipped later. The Maus I was to be fitted with Krupp’s second turret, but it was never deliv­ered and remained fitted with a sim­u­lat­ed turret. On July 25, 1944, Krupp report­ed that two hulls would be avail­able soon and two more were in pro­duc­tion. Two days later, Krupp was ordered to scrap all four hulls. On August 19, Krupp informed Porsche that it was ordered to stop fur­ther work on the Maus. By September 1944, how­ev­er, test­ing had begun on the second pro­to­type. It was installed with a Daimler-Benz MB 517 diesel engine that made little dif­fer­ence in com­par­i­son with the pre­vi­ous­ly used engine. Designing an engine suf­fi­cient­ly pow­er­ful for the gigan­tic Maus was obvi­ous­ly a seri­ous prob­lem. Though the Germans tried two engines, both around 1,200 horse­pow­er as com­pared to the Royal Tiger’s 590 horse­pow­er, nei­ther could pro­vide a speed of more than 10 to 12 miles per hour.

National Interest source|articles

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