The Mighty Maus – at 207 Tons it is the Heaviest Tank Ever Built

Jesse Beckett

The Maus spawned from Hitler’s now well known obsessions with large, war winning weapons. On multiple instances Germany tried to create a super heavy tank, but for reasons mainly down to logistics they were never able to do so successfully.

The closest they got was with the PzKpfw VIII Maus, a 200 ton beast of which only two were made.

The use for a massive breakthrough tank was suggested to Hitler in late 1942 by Ferdinand Porsche, after a 1941 study on Soviet heavy tanks. Hitler approved, and the designs were drawn up. A tank with the heaviest armor possible, and armed with a 128 mm  or 150 mm gun.

Maus turret at the Krupp factory in Essen, 1945
Maus turret at the Krupp factory in Essen, 1945

To develop this tank, many companies were needed. Daimler-Benz were to provide the engine, Siemens would provide the transmission, and Krupp, one of the biggest steelworks at the time, would handle the hull and turret. All these components would then meet at the Alkett factory for assembly.

Two prototypes were to be built (V1 and V2) but, inevitably, a tank of this size takes some time to design and build, especially while the nation is at war. A full size wood mock-up of the Maus was shown to Hitler and his staff on May 14th 1943, who placed an order for 150.

Wooden model of Maus on display for Adolf Hitler, 14 May 1943
Wooden model of Maus on display for Adolf Hitler, 14 May 1943

Major delays and setbacks due to its complexity and the relentless Allied bombing meant suddenly on the 27th of October 1943, the order of 150 tanks was reduced to just the completion of one. Trials of the prototypes would still go ahead however in December of that year.

The first prototype (V1) was powered by a gasoline MB509 V12 (DB 603) engine with an output of 1080 hp, while the second prototype (V2) used a 12-cylinder Daimler-Benz MB517 diesel engine with a capacity of 1,250 hp. Both of these powered a petrol/diesel electric drive system, where the engine would provide power to an electric motor driving each track, similar to Porsche’s design in the ‘Porsche’ Tiger prototype.

Porsche Type 205 Maus, April 1944
Porsche Type 205 Maus, April 1944

Due to a lack of available turrets, the trials were done with the V1 prototype equipped with a ballast in the rough shape of the turret to simulate its weight. Tests were surprisingly successful. A few issues were spotted, but nothing out of the ordinary for a new vehicle.

It was reportedly easy to drive, and the electronic drive train worked well and provided a fine level of control over the vehicle. A maximum speed of 14 mph or 22 kph was achieved, which was actually faster than expected. It also had decent ability to cross soft terrain.

Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus with simulated dummy turret,17 March 1944, Boblingen
Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus with simulated dummy turret,17 March 1944, Boblingen

The V2 prototype was mated with a mostly complete turret for testing.

Inside, the tank contained a crew of six. Its large fuel tanks gave it a range between 38 and 100 miles depending on the terrain it was on. Surrounding the crew was 200 mm of armor on the frontal hull, 185 mm on the sides, and up to 240 mm on the gun mantlet.

Interestingly, the turret front was designed to be 220 mm thick, but the due to the curved nature of the plate, the bending process thinned the armor out to a maximum of 202 mm.

To go with this huge tank, an equally huge gun was used. Originally it was intended to mount a 150 mm gun, but further into the design process Hitler and his engineers settled on the 128 mm KwK 44 L/55 anti tank gun. This was essentially the same gun used in the formidable Jagdtiger.

At a range of 1000 metres, the KwK 44 could penetrate an incredible 250 mm of armor, at 2000 metres it could still penetrate 200 mm of armor, and even at 3000 metres it could make its way through over 170 mm of armor.

At 3000 metres it still had more penetration than the 88 mm KwK 36 on the Tiger I heavy tank did at just 100 metres.

As if that wasn’t enough, mounted coaxially to the 128 mm was a 75 mm gun (same size used on the Sherman tank) for use against infantry and soft skinned vehicles to save ammunition from the main gun. On the other side of the 128 mm was an MG 34 machine gun.

Front view of the Maus at Soviet Union’s tank proving ground Kubinka. (Note impact marks from Soviet armor tests).
Front view of the Maus at Soviet Union’s tank proving ground Kubinka. (Note impact marks from Soviet armor tests).

After all this, the Maus weighed 207 tons all in, preventing it from crossing many bridges. To solve this, like with the Tiger I, a system was devised to allow the Maus to cross a river by making sure it was water proofed, and fording the river. The fording tank would switch its engine off, and run the electric motors only, which would be powered by a second Maus on the surface acting as a generator. Power would be sent through a connecting cable.

During the war, only the two prototypes were completed. With Soviet forces approaching, it was decided the prototypes must be sabotaged. Charges were placed inside the engine and fighting compartments of both tanks and detonated. The hull of the V2 tank with the finished turret was irreparably damaged  due to having ammunition inside, but the turret remained mostly intact. The hull of V1 was also in good condition.

Maus V2 after sabotage at Kummersdorf 1945
Maus V2 after sabotage at Kummersdorf 1945

After discovery by the Soviets, they used 6 FAMO Sd.Kfz.9 halftracks to move the 55 ton turret from the V2 tank onto the V1 prototype hull to make one completed vehicle.

The tank was then moved to the Soviet testing grounds at Kubinka, Russia, for evaluation, after which the surviving internal components were removed. The 200 ton Maus is still located at Kubinka, in the Military-Historical Museum of Armored Vehicles and Equipment.

 

Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum. Photo by Uwe Brodrecht CC-BY-SA 2.0
Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum. Photo by Uwe Brodrecht CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

The “contact-shoe” and “connector-link” track design of the Maus’ suspension system. Photo by Uwe Brodrecht CC-BY-SA 2.0
The “contact-shoe” and “connector-link” track design of the Maus’ suspension system. Photo by Uwe Brodrecht CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

Rear view of the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum.
Rear view of the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum.

 

Rear view of the Maus with external fuel tank, April 1944
Rear view of the Maus with external fuel tank, April 1944

 

Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus, 9 April 1944
Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus, 9 April 1944

 

Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum. Photo by Uwe Brodrecht CC-BY-SA 2.0
Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum. Photo by Uwe Brodrecht CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

Panzer VIII Maus tank on a test run
Panzer VIII Maus tank on a test run

 

Panzer VIII Maus V1 in front of 7th Ersatz Panzer Regiment barracks, 14 January 1944
Panzer VIII Maus V1 in front of 7th Ersatz Panzer Regiment barracks, 14 January 1944

 

 

Maus turret and hull Maus turret at the Krupp factory in Essen. Jagdtiger and Maus gun mantlets can also be seen on the left.
Maus turret and hull Maus turret at the Krupp factory in Essen. Jagdtiger and Maus gun mantlets can also be seen on the left.

 

Maus turret and hull after being captured by the Allies
Maus turret and hull after being captured by the Allies

 

Maus loaded onto a railway car, 1945
Maus loaded onto a railway car, 1945

 

Maus hull Nr. 351453 at the Krupp factory in Essen, 1945
Maus hull Nr. 351453 at the Krupp factory in Essen, 1945

 

Maus hull at the Krupp factory in Essen, 1945.
Maus hull at the Krupp factory in Essen, 1945.

 

Maus found by Soviets at the Kumersdorf proving grounds
Maus found by Soviets at the Kumersdorf proving grounds

 

Maus bogged down in the mud, 17 March 1944 Boblingen
Maus bogged down in the mud, 17 March 1944 Boblingen

 

Maus blown up at Kummersdorf 1945 2
Maus blown up at Kummersdorf 1945 2

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Front view of the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum. Photo by Mike1979 Russia CC-BY-SA 3.0
Front view of the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus at Kubinka Museum. Photo by Mike1979 Russia CC-BY-SA 3.0