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.