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.
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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.