10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever

Khalid Elhassan - January 9, 2018

In the runup to WWII and during the conflict, combatants raced to outdo each other in designing, producing, and deploying increasingly innovative and deadly instruments of war. The competition was fierce, and for much of this period, German scientists and designers seemed to have a decided edge in coming up with brilliant new ways to wreak mayhem. Indeed, the Nazis demonstrated an alarming tendency to think outside the box to come up with deadly technological innovations. Even more alarming was their ability to quickly transform those sinister brainstorms into practical designs, then rush them through production and get them into the hands of their warriors.

Luckily for humanity, the Nazis fell short when it came to the war’s greatest technological innovation of all: unlocking the secrets of the atom and producing atomic weapons. Contrary to myth, Nazi atomic physicists and scientists never came close to developing nukes – something for which mankind should be eternally grateful. But in many other fields, German scientists were frightfully innovative, and uncannily good at designing and pioneering new weapons technologies. Some of them were busts and dead ends, but others went on to revolutionize not only warfare, but the trajectory of humanity’s future, and perhaps the very fate of our species.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Messerschmitt 163 rocket fighter. National Interest

Following are ten innovate or secret technologies developed by the Nazis.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Fa 223 helicopter. WWII in Pictures

The World’s First Operational Production Helicopters

In the runup to WWII, and during the conflict, the Nazis had the world’s most advanced helicopter technology, and took the global lead in design and development. They built the world’s first practical helicopter, and the first helicopter production line. One of the pioneering test pilots was Hanna Reitsch, Germany’s most famous female aviator and test pilot, and a dedicated Nazi. She first rose to fame by flying a helicopter around Berlin’s Great Hall – history’s first indoors helicopter flight.

Test flights convinced the German military that helicopters were viable instruments of war. The result was the Focke-Achegilis Fa 223 Drache (“Dragon”), which first flew in August of 1940, and entered production in 1941. It had a 40 foot long fuselage, powered by a 1000 horse power radial engine, hooked to a pair of 39 foot 3 bladed rotors on either side of the fuselage. It could cruise at 110 m.p.h., and reach an altitude of 23,000 feet. It could also haul a 2200 lbs load to an altitude of 8000 feet, while cruising at 75 m.p.h.

The Nazis also built a light helicopter, the single seat Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri (“Hummingbird”), which first flew in 1941 and entered production in 1942. The Kolibri’s fuselage was made of steel tubes, over which fabric was stretched, and it came with a fixed 3 wheel tricycle undercarriage. The newer Fl 282 was a more reliable machine than the pioneering Fa 223, requiring maintenance only once every 400 operational hours, compared to the Fa 223’s need for an overhaul every 25 hours.

The German navy also built small, portable helicopters, to be carried aboard ship and flown for short range reconnaissance. After the war, captured German helicopters were shipped to the US for testing. The Flettner rotor design formed the basis for what would become the world’s first gas turbine helicopter in 1951, in a version of the American K-225 helicopter.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
V-1 flying bomb. Wikimedia

The World’s First Cruise Missile

Today’s cruise missiles, such as the American Tomahawk, are capable of carrying powerful warheads to their targets with pinpoint accuracy. They fly at extremely low altitudes, self-navigate, and correct their course as they go. Their granddaddy was the Nazis’ Vergeltungswaffe 1 (“Vengeance Weapon 1”), better known as the V-1 flying bomb, or the “buzz bomb” because of the buzzing sound it made.

Early in WWII, Nazi airplanes ruled the skies, and the unprecedented ferocity and destructiveness of the Luftwaffe’s bombers terrorized Germany’s opponents. That German aerial ascendancy got its first check in the Battle of Britain, in 1940. From then on, the balance of the war in the air gradually tipped, and Germany was subjected to a steadily intensifying bombing campaign from aircraft based in Britain. While German cities were gradually being reduced to rubble, the Luftwaffe found itself in the humiliating position of being unable to return the favor.

If German bombers could not make it to Britain, then maybe the answer was cut out the middleman, and send bombs to Britain without bombers. In 1942, the Luftwaffe approved the development of an inexpensive flying bomb, capable of reaching Britain. The result was the V-1. It was an early unguided cruise missile, 27 feet long, with a stubby 17 foot wingspan, and carrying a warhead filled with 1900 pounds of explosives. It was powered by a pulse jet engine that launched the V-1 at speeds of up to 393 m.p.h., and had a range of 150 miles.

Guidance was pretty simple: V-1s were placed on ramps pointing to the target and launched. A magnetic compass controlled the heading, an internal gyroscope maintained stability, and a barometric altimeter was used to control altitude. Distance was measured with a vane anemometer – a rotating wind speed measuring device. The anemometer drove a counter, and when the counter hit a preset mark corresponding to the distance to the target, it triggered a mechanism which cut off power to the engine, causing the flying bomb to tip over and dive.

On June 13th, 1944, the first of thousands of V-1s was launched against London. It was crude, and highly inaccurate by today’s pinpoint standards. Indeed, so great was the V-1’s margin of error, that it was useless to aim it any specific target. Instead, the flying bomb was a plain terror weapon, launched at area targets such as the sprawling metropolis of London. There, it was hoped that wherever the bomb landed, it would hit something and cause damage. It was terrifying to civilians below, and the buzzing drone of the V-1’s pulse jet was nerve wracking. Even scarier was when the buzzing stopped, because it meant that the motor had cutoff and the bomb had begun its dive on whatever lay below.

Significant resources were poured into warding off the V-1s. Defensive measures included rings of antiaircraft guns, thickets of barrage balloons trailing cables to snag the flying bombs’ wings, and squadrons of fighter aircraft to shoot them down or tip them over with their wings. Many bombing sorties were also flown against suspected V-1 launch sites. The menace to London finally ended only after Allied armies in Northern France overran the last V-1 launch sites within the weapon’s 150 mile range. The Germans then shifted them to other targets under Allied control, such the vital port city of Amsterdam.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Messerschmitt Bf 109. Flying Heritage and Armor Museum

The First Modern Fighter Incorporating Standard Features of Modern Fighters

With the Messerschmitt Bf 109, officially shortened to Bf 109, the Nazis developed the world’s first low wing, retractable wheels, all metal monoplane fighter aircraft. That was an innovative design, subsequently used by all WWII combatants. An argument could be made that the Bf 109, Germany’s iconic fighter of WWII , was the most successful fighter platform of the war. Which is not to say that the 109 was the best fighter of the war, but that its design was the conflict’s most solid and serviceable.

Initial plans dated to 1934, and a prototype was flown in 1935. The first production model entered operational service in 1937, and soon thereafter saw combat in the Spanish Civil War. Aside from the Spitfire, the Bf 109 was the only fighter that was deployed in front line service at war’s beginning in 1939, and remained in front line service, still effective against newer fighters, until war’s end.

The essence of the Bf 109 was to take the smallest feasible airframe, and hook it up to the most powerful engine possible. The design had flaws, such as a cramped cockpit, a poor rear view, and a narrow undercarriage that made ground handling dangerous to inexperienced pilots. Also, small size meant limited fuel capacity, which reduced the fighter’s range. That proved problematic during the Battle of Britain, when Bf 109s were usually limited to just 15 minutes’ worth of fighting over Britain, before dwindling fuel forced them to disengage and fly back home.

Still, the basic concept of a small airframe married to a big was successful. It allowed for progressive upgrades as more powerful engines became available, and kept the Bf 109 competitive throughout the war. The adaptable design allowed the plane to progress from the early 109D model in 1939, which had a top speed of 320 m.p.h., to the 109K model at war’s end, capable of 452 m.p.h.

Eric Hartman, the war’s (and history’s) top ace with 352 kills, flew the Bf 109. Indeed, the top three aces of the war, with over 900 kills between them, flew 109s. They ran up those scores on the Eastern Front against the Soviets, but the top scoring ace against the Western Allies also flew a Bf 109. While originally designed for interceptor and fighter escort roles, the 109 was sufficiently adaptable to serve in other roles, including ground attack, and reconnaissance. Almost 34,000 were manufactured between 1936 and 1945, making the Bf 109 the most produced fighter aircraft in history.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Junkers Ju 87 Stukas. Dioramas and Models

The World’s First Pinpoint Accurate Dive Bomber

The Junkers Ju 87 dive bomber, or Stuka, was the most distinctive airplane early in WWII. With its inverted gull wings and nerve-wracking shriek as it dove on targets, the Stuka became the symbol of the blitzkrieg, terrifying soldiers and civilians from the Russian Steppe to the Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara. The Battle of Britain exposed its vulnerability to enemy fighters, but in the right conditions, Stukas continued to wreak havoc until war’s end.

The Stuka was designed in secrecy in 1933, back when Germany still pretended compliance with the Treaty of Versailles and its prohibition of a German air force. A prototype was built in Sweden, smuggled into Germany in 1934, and test flown in 1935. The inverted gull wings improved the pilot’s ground visibility, and allowed a shorter and sturdier undercarriage, while maintaining enough ground clearance for the propeller.

Ju 87A Stukas were tested during the Spanish Civil War. The results were initially mixed, but they steadily improved as designers worked out the kinks, and personnel gained operational experience. By the time Germany launched WWII, front line squadrons were using the upgraded Ju 87B version. It was usually armed with a 500 kilogram bomb, and had wind-driven sirens known as “Jericho Trumpets” that emitted an intimidating wail when the plane dove. That effect was further enhanced by attaching cardboard sirens to the bombs, causing them to emit a terrifying shriek as they plummeted to their targets. The bombload was increased to 1800 kg in the upgraded Ju 87D, which entered service in 1941. The Ju 87G, which became operational in 1943, carried two armor-piercing 37mm cannons in lieu of bombs, and proved especially lethal against tanks, whose thinner top armor was vulnerable to attacks from above.

The Stuka’s greatest asset was its pinpoint accuracy by WWII standards, and in the hands of an experienced pilot, it could destroy a zigzagging target. Germany’s most decorated serviceman of the war, Hans-Ulrich Rudel flew a Stuka. Behind the controls of that plane, he is credited with having destroyed 519 tanks, over 800 vehicles, 150 artillery positions, damaged a battleship, sank a cruiser, a destroyer, plus 70 other seacraft, and downed 9 airplanes.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Fritz X glide bomb. Wikimedia

Guided Missiles

Ever since Operation Desert Storm was televised live to a global audience in 1991, the world has grown accustomed to and familiar with precision guided munitions and pin point accurate bombing. The Nazis led the way in pioneering that field, and were the first to design and successfully deploy such munitions, in the form of guided bombs that could be steered into their targets.

The Germans were the first to use glide bombs – regular dumb bombs, fitted with flight control surfaces that made them to glide when released, rather than just plummet straight down. That allowed bombers to release them at a distance from the target, instead of having to fly directly over the target before unloading. Once released, the glide bombs were manipulated with remote control mechanisms, and steered into the target.

The most successful of those bombs was the Fritz X, a guided anti-ship glide bomb that was history’s first precision guided bomb used in combat. It was a 3000 pound device, with a 705 pound explosive warhead, intended for use against heavily protected targets such as battleships. It had four stubby wings, and a box-shaped tail that contained the weapon’s controls. After releasing the Fritz X at a proper distance from and in the general direction of the target, the bomber maintained a radio link with the bomb as it glided towards its target. Radio signals manipulated vertical and horizontal fins on the bomb, to steer it weapon into its target.

The most successful use of the Fritz X came on September 9th, 1943, as the Italian government was in the process of switching sides, abandoning Germany and joining the Allies. In the wee morning hours, an Italian fleet led by Italy’s newest and biggest battleship, the 15 inch gun Roma, slipped out of a port in northern Italy and sailed out to join the Allies.

Later that afternoon, German bombers located the Italian ships, and around 3:30PM, a Fritz X guided bomb disabled the battleship Italia. 15 minutes later, around 3:345PM, the Roma was hit with a Fritz X, which smashed through seven decks, before blowing up beneath the ship’s keel. 5 minutes later, another guided bomb was steered into the Roma, blowing up the engine room and an ammunition magazine. At 4:12PM the battleship started going down, and within 3 minutes, had vanished beneath the surface. Of the ship’s 1849 man crew, 1253 died.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Focke-Wulf FW-190. Aviation Art Hangar

Attained the Peak of Radial Engine Fighter Designs

The Nazis brought radial engine fighter designs to their peak with the Focke-Wulf FW-190. It was a low wing fighter, powered by a BWW air cooled radial engine, first ordered in 1937. It had been intended as backup and insurance against possible shortages in the liquid cooled Daimler engines that powered the Luftwaffe’s mainstay fighter, the Bf 109. However, once it was introduced in late 1941, the backup stole the show.

The FW-190 turned out to be more rugged than the 109. The huge radial engine, mounted up front, acted as extra shielding for the pilot, and could absorb far more damage than the Bf 109’s liquid cooled engine and still keep working. It also proved superior to the 109 in most tasks, except high altitude dog fighting. So the FW-190 ended up replacing the Messerschmitt as Germany’s main fighter, with over 20,000 produced by war’s end.

The FW-190 was maneuverable, and heavily armed with a standard configuration of four 20mm cannon, plus two machine guns. It proved itself an excellent fighter airplane, and during the middle war years, was the best air to air fighter. It gained an ascendancy over enemy fighters that lasted until the Spitfire IX restored parity in July of 1942.

However, the Spitfire lacked the range to penetrate deep into Reich territory. Thus, when American bombers began conducting daylight raids into Germany, the FW-190s’ heavy armaments made it an excellent bomber destroyer. Wading into the bomber formations, FW-190s inflicted heavy losses and established an ascendancy over German skies. That lasted until long range American fighter escorts finally became available to shepherd US bombers in 1944.

In addition to its fighter role, the FW-190 platform was well suited to a variety of other missions, such as reconnaissance and ground attack. It was also an effective fast light bomber, capable of carrying a respectable 4000 bomb load. And when it was equipped with 37mm cannons, it proved itself an exceptional tank buster. That kind of versatility is what made the FW-190 one of the war’s best airplanes.

The FW-190s supremacy over Germany’s skies was first challenged by the appearance of American P-38 Lightnings and P-47 Thunderbolts. Their range, already good, was extended even further by the use of drop tanks. That allowed them to escort American bombers to targets in Germany that fell within their enhanced range, and at least part of the way to those targets deeper inside Germany that lay beyond.

The FW-190’s radial engine could not hope to match the turbo supercharged engines of American fighters at high altitudes. As a result, FW-190s were forced to retreat deeper into Germany, effectively giving Allied bombers free reign over the territory that lay within Allied escort fighter range. Alternatively, FW-190s would shadow the bomber formations and wait until the escorting Thunderbolts or Lightnings reached their maximum range. When the escorting fighters had to turn back, FW-190s pounced on the now undefended bombers.

The appearance of the P-51 Mustang, which had the range to escort US bombers to targets anywhere inside German held territory, put the FW-190 at a permanent disadvantage, and ended its ascendancy as a bomber destroyer. The introduction of the liquid cooled FW-190D variant in September of 1944 restored some degree of parity, but by then it was too late. German factories did not produce enough FW-190Ds to go around, and by the time they came out, the Luftwaffe had suffered severe pilot attrition. Thus, even when there were enough FW-190Ds, there was a shortage of experienced flyers capable of taking full advantage of their capabilities.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
V-2 rocket launch. Quora

Ballistic Missiles and Space Rockets

Today’s ballistic missiles, the carriers of terrifying payloads with the potential to end all life on earth, are the direct descendants of Nazi technology. And since space rockets are basically ballistic missiles, they are also the direct descendants of Nazi technology. Indeed, both America’s NASA space program, and that of Russia via its Soviet predecessor, were built on the back of pioneering Nazi rocket technology.

After Germany’s defeat in WW2, and even earlier, during the chaotic weeks preceding the collapse, the victors scrambled to secure Nazi missile technology. The Americans and Soviets in particular raced each other to seize as much Nazi rocket research, facilities, and equipment, as they could. They also competed to capture or coopt all the German rocket scientists and technicians they could get their hands on.

The reason was simple: at war’s end, German rocket technology was the most advanced in the world, standing leagues ahead of that of any other country. Germany’s V2 rocket, or “Vengeance Weapon 2”, was the world’s first ballistic missile. It carried a ton of explosives to the edge of space, then descended at unstoppable supersonic speeds to detonate upon impact. It was a brilliant, advanced, and revolutionary feat of technology.

As a technological feat, it was outstanding. Luckily for mankind, as a war winning weapon, it was a bust. The V2 was one of history’s most wastefully expensive weapons, inflicting relatively little damage upon Germany’s enemies. Not enough to justify the vast expenditure of resources that went into the missile’s production. The Allies benefitted, and the Nazis did not, from the diversion of resources to the rocket from more effective weapons programs or other uses that could have better served the German war effort.

V2 rockets were first launched against enemy targets in September of 1944. By the time Germany surrendered, nine months later, about 3000 V2s had been fired. Many did not reach their targets, but even if all had, at one ton of explosives per V2 warhead, that would have been a total of 3000 tons of explosives dropped on enemy cities, spread out over a nine month period. By contrast, during the same period, Britain’s RAF often dropped over 3000 tons of explosives on a German city in a single nighttime bombing raid. The US Air Force also frequently exceeded that 3000 ton total in single bombing raids during the daytime. And the Allied explosive delivery tools were reusable and thus more economical. Most Allied bombers returned to base, reloaded, returned to again drop more than 3000 tons of explosives on German cities, and repeated the process dozens of times.

Also, during its nine months of operational deployment, the 3000 tons of explosives dropped by V-2s killed 2754 people. The majority were not soldiers, but civilians whose deaths, while tragic, did not impede the Allied war effort by much. On the other hand, over 20,000 workers – mostly slave laborers – died while manufacturing the V2. That gave the missile the tragic distinction of being perhaps the only weapons system in history whose production cost more lives than did its actual use. Thus, when contrasting the cost with the results, the V2 literally produced little bang for the buck.

In the hands of the Americans and Soviets after the war, that Nazi technology bore bigger fruit. Both for ill, with the missiles and ICBMs that might contribute to wiping out humanity, and for good, in space rockets that set humanity on the path to exploring the cosmos – a path that might prove the species’ salvation, someday. Of course, the Nazis had not poured all those resources into the V2 rocket program in order to pave the way for humanity’s future exploration of the cosmos. Nor had they intended the program and its scientists to seed the space programs of their American and Soviet enemies after the war. The Nazis had intended the V-2 as a war winning weapons program, so from that perspective it was a spectacular bust for them.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
V-3 cannon. History Net

Super Guns

In May of 1943, Albert Speer, the Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production, informed Hitler that work had begun on new super guns, capable of firing hundreds of rounds an hour over an extremely long distance. An underground complex was dug in the Pas de Calais in northern France, across the narrowest stretch of the English Channel separating Nazi occupied Europe from England, to house the Vergetlungswaffe 3 (“Vengeance Weapon 3”). The super guns, whose name was shortened to the V-3 Cannon, were to be aimed at London, which the Nazis hoped to destroy.

The underground V-3 complex was to include over 165 kilometers of tunnels, dug by German workers and slave laborers. The network of tunnels was to be linked to 5 inclined shafts, in which 25 huge gun tubes were to be laid, all aimed at central London. As designed, the V-3s were to fire 10 explosive projectiles a minute, 600 rounds per hour, 24 hours a day, raining devastation down upon and wrecking London. As Winston Churchill later commented, if the Nazis had managed to pull it off, it would have been history’s most destructive conventional attack ever launched against a city.

The Allies were completely in the dark about the V-3 program. Reconnaissance flights did spot the activity surrounding the Pas de Calais complex, but analysts assumed the photos depicted a potential launching base for the V-2 rockets. V-2s were worrisome in of themselves, however, so the site was subjected to frequent Allied bombing from late 1943 onwards.

The raids seriously disrupted construction, and forced the Germans to abandon parts of the complex. The remainder of the site was seriously damaged in July of 1944, in a raid that used heavy ground penetrating bombs, which burrowed deep beneath the surface before detonating. The underground explosions wrecked and collapsed the tunnel system, and buried hundreds of workers and technicians. Construction was halted as the Allies advanced up the coast from Normandy to the Pas de Calais, and the abandoned V-3 complex fell to advancing Canadian troops in September of 1944. It was only then that the Allies discovered just how big a threat the complex had actually posed, and just how lucky London had been to dodge that menace.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Messerschmitt Me 262. Airplane Pictures

Jet Fighters

The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the most innovative and revolutionary fighter airplane of WWII. Flying at 540 miles per hour, and armed with four 30 mm cannon, it was faster and better armed than any other fighter of the conflict. Its arrival ushered the dawn of the jet age, and forever transformed aerial warfare. It came too late to stave off Germany’s defeat, but it was nonetheless a marvel of design and engineering.

The Me 262 was first flown in 1942, but its deployment was delayed until 1944 because of technical difficulties, plus inadequate support or understanding of its potential by high ranking German leaders. For example, Goering thought the war would be won with the planes Germany already possessed, so investing in projects like the Me 262 was unnecessary. Hitler, in turn, gummed up the works by supporting the development of the jet as a fast bomber instead of a fighter.

Me 262s finally saw combat with an experimental trial unit in July of 1944. However, it was not until November of 1944 that Me 262 first attacked one of the bomber formations that were roaming Germany’s skies at will by then. Results were mixed, with two escorting P-51s shot down but no bombers, for the loss of one jet fighter and the death of its pilot, an irreplaceable Luftwaffe ace with over 250 kills.

The first Me 262 fighter wing was formed in January of 1945, but by then, Allied armies were already on German home soil in both the Eastern and Western fronts. The Me 262 units’ effectiveness was hampered by organizational flaws, and a shortage of experienced pilots capable of taking full advantage of the plane’s capabilities. Lack of fuel for adequate training, plus frequent Allied attacks on their airfields, further capped the Me 262’s effectiveness.

It was not until March of 1945 that a glimpse of what might have been was seen, when Luftwaffe general Adolf Galland formed an Me 262 unit comprised of elite and highly experienced pilots. Mounting coordinated large scale jet attacks on bomber formations, the results were impressive – but too little and too late. In the first such attack, 37 Me 262s took on a formation of over 1000 bombers, protected by over 600 fighter escorts. They shot down twelve bombers and one fighter, for the loss of only 3 jets.

While such a 4:1 kill ratio was impressive, it was a pinprick, and Germany went down to total defeat a few weeks later. But if more Me 262s had been available a year earlier, and had been organized into units staffed with experienced pilots rather than novices as was too often the case, it might have made a difference. A 4:1 kill rate could have seriously complicated matters for the Allies, and the course of the war, if not its final outcome, might have gone differently.

The Allies, aware of the Me 262’s disruptive potential, devoted considerable resources to contain it. Allied fighters were at a severe disadvantage in taking on the jets at high altitude, since the Me 262s were much faster than any piston driven plane. However, the Me 262s were vulnerable at takeoff and landing, and parked on their airfields they were sitting ducks. So Allied fighters patrolled the vicinity of Me 262 airfields to try and catch them taking off or landing, and bombed them with mounting frequency. Shooting them down might have been difficult, but destroying them on the ground and wrecking the infrastructure needed to send them up in the first place was well within Allied capabilities.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Panzer VIII Maus. Tank Encyclopedia

The World’s Most Ridiculously Big Tanks

The Nazis were obsessed with building absurdly big things, and if they’d had their druthers, they would have built some mind bogglingly giant tanks. One such was the Ratte, which would have weighed 1000 tons, and another was the even bigger Monster tank, which would have clocked in at 1500 tons. Those behemoths never got off the drawing board, but the Nazis did get around to manufacturing history’s heaviest production tank, the Panzer VIII Maus.

The Maus was the biggest operational tank ever manufactured, measuring about 33 feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, and weighing nearly 200 tons. While normal tanks usually use machine guns as secondary armament, the Maus’ secondary armament was a 75 mm coaxial gun. Its main gun was a 128 mm monster capable of destroying any Allied tank at ranges of up to 2.2 miles. That gun was upgraded and increased at Hitler’s insistence, who thought the 128 mm looked like a pop gun on the Panzer VIII, to a 150 mm cannon.

However, the Maus’ huge size and heavy weight came at a heavy price that made it nearly useless. The tank was too heavy for most bridges, so it had to cross rivers either by wading through fords where available, or driving over the river’s bottom while using a snorkel for ventilation. Even the task of simply getting the Maus moving was a problem, because it was difficult to develop an engine and drive train powerful enough to propel 200 tons of metal on the ground at any appreciable speed, yet small enough to fit inside the tank. In the end, the maximum speed achieved during trials was 8 m.p.h. on hard surfaces.

Panzer VIIIs were intended to spearhead German attacks by smashing through any opposition and destroying all enemy armor they came across, while remaining invulnerable to damage from any opposing tanks. With 9.4 inches of turret armor, 8 inches of hull front armor, 7 inches of hull side armor, and 6 inches of rear armor, a Maus was quite immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth. However, it was built in 1944, and by then the Allies not only had aerial superiority on both the Western and Eastern front, but well nigh complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield. The Maus did not have enough armor up top to protect it from armor piercing bombs or rockets dropped or fired from above.

Ultimately, the Maus was symptomatic of the Nazis’ and Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and super weapons. That mindset reflected indifference to or inability to understand their relative cost effectiveness compared to other “normal” weapons that could accomplish the same task at a fraction of the cost. Using such weapons instead would have freed up scarce resources for other uses that could have better served the German war effort. Humanity is thus indebted to that Nazi and Hitlerian psychological shortcoming and blind spot.

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