Nazi Germany developed a massive tank that broke all the rules. There was just one problem – well, two: It was too big and too late.
“Hier komme ich, um den Tag zu retten!” That , according to Google Translate, is the direct translation of “Here I Come To Save The Day!” Old-school animation buffs will remember this as the Mighty Mouse battle cry. The Germans are well-known innovators, yet I can’t help wonder if Nazi Germany’s weapons designers were committing a wee bit of plagiarism when they named one of their experimental heavy tanks the Panzer VIII Maus – literally, Mouse – which turned out to be the heaviest tank ever built.
After all, we are talking about Nazi Germany here.
They were best known for building fearsome tanks named for equally fearsome predatory cats like the Tiger and the Panther. (Just for clarification, the German word panzer actually means tank, and not panther. However, there was indeed a Wehrmacht tank named the Panther.)
What Were They Thinking?
The initial design of the Panzer VIII was drawn up and proposed to Hitler in 1942, the same year the first Mighty Mouse cartoon, The Mouse of Tomorrow, was released. The tank did not go into production until 1944 — the year of the Wunderwaffen (wonder weapons), as noted by military historian Don Hollway. Along the way, the tank went through a series of name changes. The first prototype was set to receive the seemingly more appropriate moniker Mammut (Mammoth). This was reportedly changed to Mäuschen (“Little Mouse”) in December 1942, and finally to Maus in February 1943.
Not So Mighty In Practice
As noted, this Maus was the heaviest tank ever built. Just how heavy, you might be asking? Hotcars columnist Aaron Young answers with a set of mind-boggling facts & figures:
“(B)y the time a fully functional prototype was complete the monstrous machine weighed in at an absurd 188 tons and was limited to a top speed of under 10 mph. For some sense of just how immense that weight is, the mighty Tiger I tank had a weight of 50 tons, and a modern M1a1 [sic] Abrams MBT tips the scale at 67 tons…Its armor was the main focus, and the main reasons for several re-designs being necessary to accommodate the growing weight. The thinnest armor was on top of the turret, being just over 2″ of solid, hardened steel. The rest, however, was immense. Ranging from 6″ of hardened steel on the rear end of the hull, to 9.8” in the front, the Maus’ incredible weight is even more awe-inspiring when considering that armor thickness.”
Just for good measure, the Panzer VIII had a fuel capacity of 924 gallons.
For all those impressive stats, the tank had problems aplenty. There was the ploddingly slow speed of under 10 mph. In addition, despite its fuel capacity, the tank had very limited range; it could travel just over 100 miles on paved roads, and less than half that on rough terrain. Due to its massive weight, the not-so-little Mouse could not cross bridges.
In spite of these flaws, the design was finalized in 1943, and the famed Krupp arms factory in Essen was set to begin producing 120 of them, at a rate of 10 per month. However, a series of RAF Bomber Command raids between March and June of that year laid waste to the Krupp factory, ending the whole project after only two Mäuse were produced.
The Mouse That Whimpered
We’ll quote Mr Young one more time as a postscript to this ignominious German tank saga:
“While no credible information has revealed what actually happened to it at the time, one of the Maus prototypes was found blown up near Kummersdorf in the early months of 1945, presumably to keep it out of the advancing Soviet hands. The other though, did end up in Soviet hands, put together using the completed hull and turret. While tested in Russia during the early ’50s, there was no real reason to consider the Maus a viable or sensible weapon, and that single surviving example has resided in the Kubinka Tank Museum ever since.”
Long story short, this not-so-mighty Mouse did not come to save the day for Hitler.
Bonus Photo Essay: M1 Abrams – The Best Tank Ever
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).