The super-heavy tank – the German Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus

The Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus (mouse) was a German super-heavy tank designed during World War II. It was completed late in 1944 as the heaviest fully enclosed armoured fighting vehicle ever built. Only two hulls and one turret had been completed before the testing grounds were captured by the advancing Soviet forces.

These two prototypes, one of them complete with its turret and the other merely a hull, were taken in hand for trials late in 1944. The complete vehicle was 33 ft 5.5 in (10.20 m) long, 12 ft 2 in (3.71 m) wide and 11 ft 11 in (3.63 m) high and, at a weight of 185 tons (188000 kg), was armed with one 128-mm (5.04-in) Krupp KwK 44 L/55 gun based on the PaK 44 field anti-tank gun. The same weapon was in the casemate installation on the hull front of the Jagdtiger (more formally the Panzerjäger Tiger Ausf B) tank destroyer based on the Tiger II heavy tank chassis, and with a co-axial 75-mm (2.95-in) KWK 44 L/36.5 gun. The 128-mm gun fired at 62.4-lb (28.3-kg) armour-piercing projectile at a muzzle velocity of 3,117 ft (950 m) per second, and was powerful enough to destroy all enemy armoured fighting vehicles at close or medium ranges, and some of them at ranges of more than 3,830 yards (3500 m).

The principal problem besetting the design and development of the Maus was the creation of an engine sufficiently powerful to drive the tank but sufficiently compact to fit inside it. Though the specification called for a maximum speed of 12.5 mph (20 km/h), the Germans were unable to produce an engine capable of driving the prototype at more than 8.1 mph (13 km/h), and then only under ideal conditions. Its weight also rendered the Maus unable to cross most bridges, and it was created with the capability to ford or to submerge, and with the aid of a snorkel breathing system, to cross rivers.

The Maus was intended to provide the means to plunge through all manner of enemy defences while suffering almost no damage to any significant components as it did so. Five Maus prototypes were ordered, but only two hulls and one turret were ever completed.

1942 origin

The basic design was known as the VK100.01 (otherwise Porsche Typ 205). In June 1942 the design was proposed by Ferdinand Porsche to Adolf Hitler, who with his penchant for the large and impressive, readily accepted the concept. Work on the design then began in earnest, and the first prototype, which was to have been ready for trials in 1943, was initially known as the Mammut (mammoth), though this was apparently changed to Mäuschen (little mouse) during December 1942 and finally to Maus in February 1943.

From the start, the Maus was designed with the electric transmission which Porsche had used in his unsuccessful attempt to win the production contract for the Tiger heavy tank. The initial engine was the Daimler-Benz MB 509 petrol unit, an adaptation of the Daimler-Benz DB 603 inverted V-12 aircraft engine, which with a displacement of 44.5 litres (2,717 in³) was Germany largest engine of this type, but this was later changed to an MB 517 Diesel engine of the same layout and delivering up to 1,200 hp (895 kW). This drove an electrical generator, and the length of this combined powerplant filled the central and rear two-thirds of the hull, preventing direct access between the driver’s compartment in the front of the hull and the the five-man turret. The tracks, each 43.3 in (1.10 m) wide and based on those of the Tiger II, were each driven by their own electric motor, which was mounted on the inside of the upper rear area of the hull. Each track used a suspension with 24 road wheels per side in six bogie sets, laterally staggered to be spread over the entire width of the track.

Each track’s return run was wholly enclosed within the fixed outer side armour panels, and the outer sides of the hull proper were used to mount the suspension components. This left a narrow longitudinal ‘tub’ between the hull’s inner armoured walls, below and behind the rear of the turret, to house the power train’s engine and generator. The drive sprockets were at the rear, and the idlers at the front.

Massive protection

The hull was massively armoured: the front was 8.66 in (220 mm) thick, and the sides and rear were up to 7.48 in (190 mm) thick. The turret was still more heavily protected: while the front, sides and rear were on the same basis as the hull, the gun mantlet was 9.84 in (250 mm) thick to produce an effective thickness of 18.11 in (460 mm) as the front plate to the rear of the mantlet was 8,27-in (210 mm) thick.

The Maus prototype was to have been completed by the middle of 1943. Monthly production was scheduled at 10 vehicles after delivery of the prototype, with Krupp responsible for the chassis, armament and turret, and Alkett responsible for final assembly.

Although other main armament options were studied, including various versions with 150-mm (4.91-in) and 128-mm (5.04-in) guns, in January 1943 Hitler demanded that the armament be a 128-mm (5.04-in) main gun with 32 rounds and a 75-mm (2.95-in) co-axial gun with 200 rounds. The initial lack of close combat armament was later rectified, and the final version of the Maus featured a close defence mortar, one 7.92-mm (0.312-in) MG 34 machine gun and and three ports in the turret for 9-mm sub-machine guns.

By May 1943, a wooden mock-up of the Maus’s final configuration was presented to Hitler, who approved it for mass production, ordering a first series of 150. The V1 turretless prototype was assembled by Alkett in December 1943, and trials began in the same month with a mock-up turret of the same weight as the real turret. In June 1944 the production turret, with armament, was used for tests.

River-bed crossing capability

As noted above, the Maus was too heavy to cross most bridges. As a result the Maus was designed to ford rivers, its size meaning that it could cross relatively deep streams in this manner, but for deeper waterways the tank was to submerge and drive across the river bottom. This demanded the pairing of vehicles: one vehicle on the bank would supply electrical power to the crossing vehicle via a cable until the latter reached the other side, and then process was then reversed to allow the first tank to cross. The crew of the submerged vehicle received the air they needed by means of a large snorkel, which was tall enough for the tank to submerge to a depth of 42 ft 8 in (13 m).

In March 1944 the V2 second prototype was delivered, and this differed in many details from the V1. In mid-1944 the V2 was fitted with a powerplant and the first production turret complete with its 128-, 75- and 7.92-mm (5.04-, 2.95- and 0.312-in) guns. The V1 prototype was to have been fitted with the second production turret, but was never in fact upgraded to this standard.

The other data for the Maus, which had a ground clearance of 19.7 in (0.50 m), included a fuel capacity of 593.9 Imp gal (2700 litres) internally and 330 Imp gal (1500 litres) externally and range of 99 miles (160 km) on roads declining to 39 miles (62 km) across country.

By July 1944, Krupp was in the process of producing four more Maus hulls, but was ordered to cease work on these and scrap them. Krupp stopped work on the Maus in August 1944. Meanwhile, the V2 began trials in September 1944 with the MB 517 Diesel engine, a new electric steering system and a running gear and track arrangement designed by Škoda.

A a special railway flatbed wagon was made for transporting the Maus prototypes. The Soviets captured Maus systems late in World War II, and mated the hull of the V1 with the turret of the V2, and after being transported to the USSR in 1944, the combination was evaluated and then placed in the Kubinka Tank Museum, where it remains.

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