Many achievements of the German tank-building school command respect. Engineering solutions used in German tanks during WWII were used on tanks for years after. One must only remember the German obsession with superheavy tanks to realize why Teutonic genius earned its "gloomy" label. It is considered that the tendency was caused by Hitler. However, the first such tank started development years before he rose to power, at the end of the First World War: the "Colossal", a 150 ton monster with 4 guns and a crew of 22. The end of the war and Germany's defeat prevented its completion. It would be more correct to say that Hitler turned a casual hobby into an insane obsession.
To be fair, Germany was not the only country that built tanks like these. The USSR was planning a 120 ton KV-5, the Americans built three massive T95s, the Japanese built a model of a 100-ton three-turret O-I tank. The French also had their FCM 2C. All of these were independent projects, but in the Third Reich, it was a general trend.
Some say that the Germans started making inherently useless tanks out of desperation. This is incorrect. Work on super-heavy tanks started in 1941. Krupp was developing a 72 ton tank, with a 105 mm gun. Then, the company also came up with the 90-ton Lowe, which was cancelled after Porsche received the contract for the Maus tank.
There is no ignoring of two other projects, which cannot be called anything other than curious. The mind behind the first was the German engineer E. Grotte, who worked for the USSR in the early 1930s, and already shocked the military with his land cruisers. Grotte then proposed a 1000 ton Ratte to the Germans. This hellish creation was to be armed with naval guns. The next project, surpassing even the Ratte, was created by Krupp. Its gun was the 800 mm Dora gun. Minister of Armament Speer managed to save some common sense, and nip the "genius breakthroughs" in the bud.
The only superheavy tank German completed was Professor Porsche's Maus. The contract for it was signed in 1942. Porsche was to build a 160 ton tank with two guns (150 mm and 105 mm), with 200 mm of front armour, and 180 mm of side armour. The project was named "Mammoth". In December of 1942, for secrecy, the project was named "Mauschen". Ferdinand Porsche was tasked only with the technical side of the project. Speer was supposed to implement it into production.
Porsche did not meet the weight requirement. The desire to create a vehicle protected from all sides and problems with the layout resulted in a tank that weighed 188 tons. No permanent bridge would be able to carry this weight, let alone pontoon bridges. Its designers created the Maus with the intention of making it waterproof and equipped it with a system for driving underwater. Theoretically, the tank could cross rivers up to 8 meters deep. Realistically, even a small body of water would have become its grave.
The off-road performance of the Maus was inadequate. Reports on trials at Boblingen were exceedingly optimistic. For instance, they say that the tank maintains the ability to move after being submerged in the ground as much as 50 cm. What the report doesn't say is that nearly all of the 100 km of trials were done on paved roads and hard soil. The only instance of off-road testing resulted in the Maus sinking nearly to its roof. The tank could only be retrieved after being dug out. What good would the aforementioned underwater driving apparatus be if the tank would get stuck in the silt?
There exists an axiom that a tank must be mobile. The point of tank units is that they can make long marches quickly, and strike at the enemy flanks and rear in an offense or defense. The Maus did not satisfy this requirement. It drove very poorly.
One might ask: "was the Maus protected enough to make up for its immobility with armour?" Again, the answer is no.
First, the thick armour of the Maus was of very poor quality. When it was built, molybdenum, crucial for quality steel, was in harsh deficit in Germany. Poor armour was not only easily penetrable by shells, but also cracked and spalled. A hit on the vehicle knocked out fragments on the other side, which killed crew members and destroyed components. Practically, the Maus was as protected as a 60-70 ton tank.
Second, the massive size of the Maus made it an excellent target from the air. The Maus could not have survived a hit from a bomb. Its effectiveness is highly questionable.
The only good thing about the Maus was its 128 mm gun. The gun was guaranteed to penetrate any enemy tank at 2500 meters. No Allied tank could claim such a feat. Unfortunately, the gun had two-piece ammunition, and loading speed was limited to 3 rounds per minute. Nevertheless, the 128 mm gun was a plus. The second 75 mm gun was more questionable. In order to take out guns not worthy of the main gun, an autocannon would have been enough. It would also be preferable if the gun had a 360 degree range. The Maus turret turned exceptionally slowly, and the rear machine gun was insufficient for defense.
It can be asserted with a near 100% certainty that any Maus, if sent into battle, would be lost irreparably. The evacuation of such a massive tank would be an impossible task. Isn't it a little wasteful to abandon such expensive vehicles?
Sadly (or maybe happily), the Germans never had a chance to find out how well the Maus fought. Two prototypes were destroyed at Kummersdorf when the Soviets approached. [Note: this statement is not entirely accurate. While both Maus prototypes were sent to Kummersdorf for testing, one met its end at Stammlager.] The Soviets put together one working tank out of two, and sent it back. It is currently on display at the Kubinka museum.
In conclusion, Ferdinand Porche, following Hitler's gigantomania, created the most useless tank of WWII. Was all effort aimed at the Maus futile? Not entirely. Many innovative solutions were applied in the tank's construction, in the field of suspensions, engines, electrics, cooling, fuel delivery, and turret construction.
Original article available here.