The Buzz

Jets, Bombers and Rockets: Nazi Germany's 5 'Wonder' Weapons of World War II

Engineer Joseph Kaes of Porsche designed the 44.5-liter engine for the Maus, which was built by Daimler-Benz. Its output was 1,080 bhp at 2,300 rpm. The decision to build the Maus gave rise to an immediate problem—that of transporting it. The only way this beast could be moved any distance was by rail since any ordinary bridge would collapse under its weight. At the time, Germany had no railway car capable of carrying a tank 33 feet long and 12 feet wide. Porsche therefore had to design an 88-foot long flatbed railway carriage with 14 axles to transport it.

Speer remembered, “By way of pleasing and reassuring Hitler, Porsche undertook to design a super heavy tank which weighed over a hundred tons, and hence could only be built in small numbers, one by one. For security purposes, this new monster was assigned the codename Mouse. In any case, Porsche had personally taken over Hitler’s bias for super heaviness, and would occasionally bring the Führer reports about parallel developments on the part of the enemy.”

Speer later noted in his secret Spandau Prison diary, “I recall a characteristic episode that took place in May 1943 in the East Prussian headquarters…. Hitler was being shown a full-size wooden model of a 180-ton tank that he himself had insisted on. Nobody in the tank forces displayed any interest in the production of these monsters, for each of them would have tied up the productive capacity needed to build six or seven Tiger tanks, and in addition would have presented insoluble supply and spare parts problems.”

“The thing would be much too heavy,” continued Speer, “much too slow, and moreover could only be built from the autumn of 1944 on. We—that is Professor Porsche, General Guderian, Chief of Staff Zeitzler, and I—had agreed before the beginning of the inspection to express our skepticism, at least by extreme reserve. In keeping with our arrangement, Porsche, when asked by Hitler what he thought of the vehicle, replied tersely in a noncommittal tone, ‘Of course, mein Führer, we can build such tanks. The rest of us stood silently in a circle.’”

Speer also recalled that at that point Otto Sauer, observing Hitler’s disappointment, began to rant about the good chances of manufacturing the Maus and the importance of developing new weapons technology. Buoyed by Sauer’s enthusiasm, Hitler was soon euphorically talking of building tanks weighing 1,500 tons and using them to overpower the Russians. He dismissed the problem of transporting them by declaring that they would be moved by rail in sections and put together just before being committed to battle!

At the conclusion of the conference, a Panzer colonel, just returning from the Russian Front and brought to the meeting at Speer’s request, told Hitler that a single hand grenade or incendiary charge exploded anywhere near the Maus’s ventilator opening could set fire to the oil vapors of the vehicle, rendering it hors de combat. Clearly disturbed by this unwanted revelation, Hitler blurted, “Then we’ll equip these tanks with machine guns that can be guided automatically in all directions from inside [the tank].”

The Maus was never to see action, and only four prototypes were made. The Type 205, when contrasted with the humble Soviet T-34 tank, proved that in matters of weapons evolution, quantity matters as much as quality.

Arnold Blumberg is an attorney with the Maryland State government and resides with his wife in Baltimore County, Maryland. This first appeared in the Warfare History Network here.

Image: Creative Commons.