The Panzerkampfwagen Pz.Kpf.W. VIII (Sd.Kfz. 205) “Maus” (ironically named the “Mouse”) was a “super heavy” tank development undertaken by the Third Reich during World War II. This monster creation was fitted with a large and powerful main gun armament supplemented by equally powerful secondary armament and armored to the core. She became the heaviest tank prototype to be completed in all of the war but was never to see combat. In practice, the design provided less-than-stellar agility and proved decidedly slow. Couple this with regular production delays (no thanks to the relentless Allied bombing campaign) and consistently failing engine designs, it’s no wonder the Maus never saw the light of day. A special railcar was designed just to tote the beast across the landscape should she ever be called to action. It was generally believed by her developers (Porsche) that German leader Adolf Hitler would have fielded the Maus in the more effective role of static defense along the “Atlantic Wall”, set up to protect his French coast from Allied invasion in the West.
Ferdinand Porsche brought the design of the “VK7001/Porsche Type 205” superheavy tank to Adolf Hitler’s attention sometime in June 1942. Never one to turn down a war-winning idea involving big tanks with even bigger guns, Hitler approved of the design and ordered development on the system to be called “Mammut”, or “Mammoth”. The Mammoth name was dropped sometime in December of 1942 in favor of “Mauschen”, or “Little Mouse”, which subsequently became just “Maus” (“Mouse”) by February of 1943.
The first V1 prototype, officially named Sd.Kfz.205, was at first dubbed “Mammut”, but this was changed, in derision to the ironic name “Maüschen” (little mouse), and then simply “Maus”. The main project was based around the impressive KwK 44 L/55 Kanone 128 mm (5 in) gun, which was also used by the Jagdtiger tank-hunter. With a sheer weight of 100 tons, power and track requirements soon imposed special measures. A diesel engine was fitted, coupled with a huge electric generator, which took one-third of the total length of the hull, causing the turret to be pushed back to the rear of chassis.
The V1 prototype undergoing cross-country tests without the finished turret.
Porsche insisted to test his project of a fully electric transmission. Consequently, the driver was completely isolated at the front, only communicating with the tank commander through his headgear. The tracks were abnormally wide, one meter and ten centimeters in size, and extremely thick, but were based on the usual Henschel model of a “contact shoe and connector link”, previously used on the King Tiger. Due to the size of the tracks and a rather narrow hull for such a behemoth, largely occupied by the propulsion system, the Maus was very cramped.
The armor was also extremely thick, ranging from 180 mm (7.08 in) on the sides and rear to 250 mm (9.84 in) on the frontal part of the turret. These figures were bigger those of any of the “Panzerschiff” of the Deutschland class heavily armored cruisers. Later, it was decided to increase the roof protection to 220 mm (8.66 in), in order to cope with Russian Il-2 Sturmovik attacks.
Design requirements around a superheavy tank of this magnitude were steep to say the least. She would require a great deal of power to sufficiently propel it across landscapes expected to be encountered on the battlefields of World War II. At this time, there was no feasible powerplant solution and early Maus forms were to use barely serviceable, gasoline-oriented engines tied to a large electric generator. Tracks were themselves powered individually by electric motors at the rear of the hull. It was only later that diesel engines featured into the mix though these did not improve performance much for the Maus’ would sport a poor power-to-weight ratio for the duration of her lifetime. Armament arrangements were volleyed about, at times involving a 128mm and 150mm main gun system. Hitler did away with the discussion by directly ordering the main armament to be a 128mm main gun tied to a 75mm co-axial cannon. The first prototype was planned for the middle of 1943 with construction to be handled primarily by Krupp, charged with producing the chassis, turret and main gun. The Alkett firm was designated for final assembly of all major components.
A mockup made of wood was finally showcased in May of 1943 and approved for production by Hitler himself. There were to be 150 production units slated though this – like other German super projects – proved optimistic at best when considering German factories, as well as resources, were the daily targets of Allied bombings. Nevertheless, development continued in earnest and the Maus was tipping the scales at 188 tons by now. However, October of 1943 saw the Fuhrer cancel the order for the Maus, believing resources could be better used, and November brought about full cancellation of the program. Interestingly production of the prototypes was allowed to continue.
The design of the Maus was characterized by its seemingly featureless exterior, made up of flat, angled steel faces. The hull sides and track systems were covered over in “skirt” armor with only the lower portion of the road wheels being left exposed. There were two track systems to either hull side and each system measured nearly 43 inches across. These large systems were supported by no fewer than twelve return rollers. The road wheels themselves were fitted as six double-tired pairs to a track, compiling a grand total of 12 road wheels per track side and 24 road wheels for the Maus in whole – no doubt a mechanic’s nightmare. The running gear was of a Skoda design and to effectively balance the shifting weights of such a system, an adjustable suspension system was in order. The forward hull featured a short flat facing capped by an angled glacis plate leading to a flat upper hull. The hull was designed with six major rectangular cutouts for the various interior systems still to come, three in front and three to the rear – the latter no doubt needed for the engine. Most of the interior hull was taken up by the engine and electric generator. There was a large turret ring installed in the middle-to-rear portion of the upper hull. The turret itself sported a high profile, adding to the Maus’ already imposing look. Her turret sides were angled inwards to promote good ballistics protection for the crew while the front facing had a peculiar curved appearance, itself fitting the curved mantlet that held the main armament in place and protected the crew behind the gun from direct frontal fire. The top of the turret was a flat surface and there were at least three circular hatches, two of these being of equal size. Due to the enormous output being generated by the aircraft engine, the Maus had to be fitted with a complex system of ventilators to serve the crew oxygen when all of her hatches were closed. One can only imagine the deafening roar of the Maus at full speed going over uneven terrain. There was a standard crew of six personnel.
The vehicle’s dimensions were made up of a 33.09 foot length, a 12.04 foot width and a 11.9 foot height. Maximum speed was reported to be in the range of 13 to 20 kilometers per hour. Range would have varied depending on a multitude of factors, both internal and external. Road range was listed between 160 and 190 kilometers whilst cross-country range was limited to just 62 kilometers.
Armor thickness was logically allocated throughout the Maus’ design. Her turret sported a front thickness of 220mm and 250mm at the mantlet. The turret roof was some 60mm thick. The hull was given a 200mm thickness front and glacis plate. The hull sides varied in thickness with the lower receiving 100mm (180mm with add-on armor) and the upper portion 180mm. The hull rear was given 150mm armor thickness. Even the hull underside scored armor thicknesses of 100mm in front and 50mm at rear.
Armament was to center on a large caliber 128mm Kw.K 44 L/55 main gun. The barrel was smooth and relatively featureless, showcasing no noticeable muzzle brake of any kind. The main gun had the power to penetrate the armor of any Allied tank being fielded (including the Soviet JS-2 and T-34/85, British Churchill or the American M4 Sherman) at any angle and at ranges of 3,500 meters or more. A rangefinder was proposed for the design, this to be produced by Zeiss, though the system was never fully completed. Per Hitler’s orders, there was the 75mm Kw.K 44 L/36.5mm gun co-axially fitted to the turret, sitting and operating alongside the large caliber main gun. This two-gun arrangement would no doubt had given the Maus a mobile battlefield punch yet unseen in all of the war. Secondary armament included just a single 7.92mm MG34 general purpose machine gun for anti-infantry defense as well as any personal weapons carried by the crew. Ammunition for the 128mm main gun would have been approximately 55 to 68 projectiles of varying explosive/penetration types. Likewise, there would have been variety in the 200 projectiles for the 75mm gun as well.
The Maus V1 Prototype
The first prototype – VI – became available on December 24th, 1943 at the Alkett plant. The tank was completed without the production turret and fitted with a Daimler-Benz MB 509 12-cylinder engine of 1,080 horsepower – a highly modified form of the Daimler-Benz DB 603 series aircraft engine. For the interim, the V1 was fitted with a dummy turret that promoted the weight and size of the soon-to-be production model. She was painted over in a forest camouflage paint scheme and awarded Soviet tank markings to mimic a captured Russian vehicle, this so as to not arouse any suspicion about the ongoing supertank project. In general testing, the immense weight of the tank soon became apparent and movement was highly restrictive. Additionally, the suspension system lacked the overall capability to balance the weight of the heavy tank. As if the those issues were not enough, it was realized that no bridge in Europe could realistically allow passage of such a creation. To remedy the latter issue, developers installed a snorkel system that would allow the tank to traverse up to 26 feet of water. To remedy transportation over longer distances, a specialized railway car was devised for such duties. Graz-Simmering-Pauker Works of Vienna produced the 14-axle train car.
Krupp eventually designed the production turret but this was never installed on the V1, which made due with the “simulated” turret for the rest of its tenure.
The Maus V2 Prototype
The second prototype – V2 – appeared in March of 1944. Again the tank initially existed without the production turret, which had yet to be completed at the Krupp factories. Additionally, the powerplant did not arrive for fitting until later in 1944. Krupp eventually delivered the turret component on April 9th, 1944, and the system was promptly fitted onto the V2 chassis for testing. The engine, this time a Daimler-Benz MB 517 series diesel system of 1,200 horsepower – finally arrived in September of 1944 and was installed in the V2. Despite the new powerplant and a new electrically-powered steering system, the new arrangement offered little in the way of performance gains. Testing for the V2 began in September of 1944.
The V1 and V2 seen together.
The second prototype, the V2, was ready in March 1944 and also began trials. It was later fitted with the first Krupp turret fitted with the intended armament, including an MG 34 machine gun for anti-aircraft defense and, later, a Daimler-Benz MB 517 diesel engine (in September), new electrical power plant and Skoda tracks and suspension system. However, as soon as Krupp started the construction of four more hulls, the cancellation order came in August.
In fact, the two prototypes were nevertheless tested until their capture at Kummersdorf, near Böblingen, by Soviet forces, in the vicinity of abandoned artillery batteries, probably sabotaged. Some stories were told of the prototype firing at the advancing forces, but it was proved false.
The V2 prototype lays destroyed at kummersdorf.
Soon after, the Soviet command ordered the V2 turret to be mounted on V1, and the tank was tested again in Germany, and then carried to the USSR for additional tests near Kubinka, in 1946. It is now displayed at the Kubinka museum. The tank was so big, that the building it sits in was effectively built around it.
Panzer VIII Type 205 Maus specifications
|Dimensions||10.1 x 3.67 x 3.63 m (33.13x12x11.9 ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||188 tons|
|Propulsion||Daimler-Benz MB509 gasoline V12, 1080 hp (V1)
Daimler-Benz MB517 Diesel 12 cyl, 1200 hp (V2)
|Speed||Designed to reach 20 km/h (12 mph)|
|Range/consumption||60-190 km (37-118 mi)/4200 liters|
|Armament||128 mm (5 in) KwK 44 L/55
75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 44 L/36.5
1 x 7.92 mm (0.3 in) MG-34
|Armor||From 50 to 250 mm (1.96-9.84 in)|
|Ammunition used||Panzergranate 40/43 Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (Tungsten Core)|
|Total production||Two prototypes built in 1944|
The End of the Maus
In July of 1944, Krupp had completed two more hulls and reported that two more would soon become available. However, a few days later, Krupp was ordered to cancel further production of these four hulls altogether. In fact, the completed hulls were ordered to be scrapped with all work stopping by August of 1944.
At the end of the war, the V1 pilot vehicle fell into Soviet hands, the Red Army being the first to reach her. The hull was then mated to the completed turret of the captured V2 prototype (itself destroyed by the Germans) for testing and arrived in the Soviet Union on May 4th, 1946. Though general evaluation of the system occurred in the years following the war, it is commonly accepted that the Maus did not influence Soviet tank design in any way. Tests were conducted at Kubinka from 1951 to 1952 to which the Maus was then offered up as a trophy piece for the Museum of Armored Forces (Kubinka Tank Museum) in Kubinka, Russia.
The V2 was last seen being sent to the defense of Berlin but the machine broke down somewhere near Zossen. She was subsequently destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture by the enemy and never fired a shot in anger. As mentioned above, her turret was refitted into the V1 hull by the Soviet Army using six 18-ton half-tracks – for it alone weighed some 55 tons.
A third incomplete hull was found at the Krupp factory in Essen.
The Flakzwilling 8.8cm auf Maus Flakpanzer
The Maus chassis was also proposed in the “Flakzwilling 8.8cm auf Maus” heavy Flakpanzer creation. This monster of a machine would have fitted a pair of the proven 88mm Flak 43 series anti-aircraft/anti-tank cannons in a specially designed turret to help in tracking and engaging enemy aircraft. This design never progressed beyond the paper stage and no evidence of its completion has ever been reported. Had it lived, it would most certainly have been an imposing sight to Allied forces.
The Krupp P.1000 Ratte
Despite its size, the Maus would have been dwarfed by the incredibly large Krupp P.1000 “Ratte” 1,000 tonne tank detailed elsewhere on this site. This system – with construction started but never completed by war’s end – would have fielded 2 x 280mm main guns in a navy-type turret, 1 x 128mm gun, 8 x 20mm Flak 38 series anti-aircraft guns and 2 x 15mm Mauser MG 151/15 guns making it easily the largest and more powerful tank ever built.
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