The Worst Tank Ever: Panzer VIII Maus – A shortlist of the worst tanks would most certainly include the Bob Semple tank, which was little more than a tractor that had corrugated steel plates attached to its sides. Designed and built by Semple, the New Zealand Minister of Works during the Second World War, three were eventually built but none saw combat. However, the tanks did face much public scrutiny and mockery.
Others that could be considered the worst tanks were the Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go, the American M3 Stuart, the British Valiant and the Soviet T-35 – the latter was certainly not an improvement over the T-34, arguably one of the best tanks ever built. All of those steel coffins rightfully rank as some of the worst designs ever employed.
Russia’s Tsar Tank
Another tank that could also be considered downright terrible was the Lebedenko or “Tsar Tank,” Imperial Russia’s attempt to develop a battlefield behemoth that could roll over trench lines and even ditches. Instead of caterpillar tracks, it utilized a tricycle design with two enormous wheels that were each nearly 30 feet in diameter. Those large wheels were attached to the hull, which was described as being shaped like a tuning fork. The thinking of the designers was that this vehicle could cross practically any and all obstacles.
Interestingly, this project didn’t begin as an attempt to build an even “bigger” tank, as it began completely independent of the other tanks that were developed during the First World War, and in fact, the Tzar Tank was actually the first to be designed and developed – even if it wasn’t technically a tank at all.
The vehicle proved to be underpowered – so much so that it became bogged down during testing in 1915 and essentially abandoned!
The Worst of the Worst: The Panzer VIII Maus
Nazi Germany had certainly revolutionized tank warfare with its Blitzkrieg campaigns that cut through Allied lines at the beginning of the Second World War. However, when Germany’s tanks proved to be outmatched by the Soviet Red Army’s T-34, it convinced the Germans to go bigger.
That resulted in some impressive tanks including the Tiger and Panther, as well as Jagdtiger, a 71-ton tank destroyer that proved to be the largest heavily armored fighting vehicle used operationally by any participant nation during the war.
Germany sought to go even bigger and the result was the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus, a super-heavy tank that was developed in 1944. Five were order, but only two hulls and one turret were completed before the testing grounds fell to the advancing Red Army. The Maus was one of several “wonder weapons” that the Nazis attempted to develop to turn the tide.
It was an entirely wasted effort. Germany needed more vehicles, not massive tanks.
In theory, the idea was that each Maus could break through enemy lines and destroy fortified positions, but the German military was in no condition to mount an offensive. Even dozens of Maus tanks would have been ineffective.
But that was the least of the Panzer VIII’s problems. At 188 metric tons – three times as heavy as the modern American M1 Abrams main battle tank (MBT) – the Maus couldn’t be used on most of Europe’s bridges. It was so large that a special railroad carriage had to be built to transport the prototypes, so it is unclear how a fleet of Maus tanks could have ever reached the front lines – instead the front eventually reached the testing grounds!
Additionally, even had it been employed on the battlefield it was far from speedy. Its electrical drive train provided a maximum speed of just 8.1 mph in testing, barely faster than the German behemoth tanks of the First World War. More of a massive bunker with tracks than a true tank; the Maus was designed to use a 15cm howitzer for the main gun. Where tank design of the era (and even today) emphasized speed, armor, and armament to break through the enemy’s line, the Panzer VIII was too slow and while heavily armored would still have been vulnerable to enemy infantry.
The actual developmental costs aren’t well established, but for a nation that was already losing a war, the Maus was just one example of many squandered resources. After the war, the surviving turret and one of the hulls was sent back to the Soviet Union for testing. Today, it has been preserved in the Kubinka Tank Museum in Moscow.
The Panzer VIII Maus truly was the worst tank ever designed.
Peter Suciu, a Forbes Magazine Contributor, is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.