Monday 22 March 2021

The Allies' View of the Maus

VE Day marked not only the defeat of Germany, but the Allies' ability to get their hands on German tank developments. A hunt for trophies and even German arms designers began. Various nations ended up with only pieces of information. This is especially true for the German Pz.Kpfw.Maus superheavy tank.  The USSR may have ended up with both prototypes and some of the documentation that was stored in Kummersdorf and in Berlin, but the British and Americans kept most of the documents, the factories that took part in its production, and the creator of the tank himself, Ferdinand Porsche.

Prisoner of illusions

Even though Allied intelligence was quite effective, the development of the superheavy Maus tank remained a secret until the end of the war. No reliable information was obtained by either the American or British intelligence services. This was especially true for production plans. For instance, the British had no idea that they effectively killed the Maus themselves by bombing Krupp's factories in Hessen in the summer of 1943.

The Maus as seen by Allied intelligence, spring 1945.

Some information began to seep out in 1944 when the first prototypes of the superheavy tank were built in metal. This information was still very sketchy. There were many sources of it, from POWs to informers in neutral nations. As a result, British intelligence ended up with a plethora of rumored AFVs, a dozen of which were called "Maus" or "Mauschen". One of them was called "Mammut", which gave birth to the rumour that the Maus started its life under the name "Mammoth". This is not correct. The list of vehicles that British intelligence learned of contained the following:

  • "Defensive tank". Weight: 120 tons. Armour: 180 mm. The plan was to built it at the Steyr factory in Austria. (Nibelungenwerk did indeed belong to Steyr and took part in Maus production).
  • Maus. Weight: 70-75 tons. Diesel engine, 105 mm gun. Suspension from the Tiger tank. Developed by Porsche, located in Boblingen.
  • Maus. Weight: 160 tons. Developed by Porsche, located at the Krupp factory.
  • Maus. Weight: 120 tons. Armour: 350 mm. Armed with 1 150 mm gun, 2 105 mm guns,  3 12 mm machine guns. Located in Boblingen.
  • Maus. Located in Boblingen, due to damage to factories production is planned in Linz.
  • Mauschen. Weight: 100 tons. Gun: 120 mm or bigger. BMW engine. Produced at Alkett.
  • Mauschen and Mammut: two new superheavy tanks with at least 150 mm guns.
  • New Tiger tank with a round turret and 105 mm gun.
  • Adolf Hitler Panzer with one 88 mm gun in the hull and one 88 mm gun in the turret, machine guns, one 20 mm autocannon. Fuel consumption: 700-1000 L per 100 km.
  • Eisener Ferdinand, an unknown tank with at least a 180 mm gun.
  • Eisener Ferdinand, Starner Gustav, or Eisener Gustav. Armed with a 220 mm howitzer, 2 75 mm guns, 6 machine guns, 2 flamethrowers. Very thick armour. Crew: 16-18 men.
Item 1 and 3 are similar to the truth, but only preliminary designs weighed 120 and 160 tons. It was true that the tank was located in Boblingen and Ferdinand Porsche directed its development. Other information was not very helpful, as it was not at all specific. Other intelligence services, including the French, did not fare much better. However, the French were in luck, as they received a description of a tank from a German POW that was much more detailed than what British sources gave. The report dated January 5th, 1945, read:
"The following intelligence was given by POW Cpl. Pankrac Zeiss from the 551st Repair Tank Company. He worked as a mechanic at the Messerschmidt factory for 12 years, repairing tank engines, car engines, and serviced military vehicles.

From June to August 19th, 1944, he took part in work on tank components at the Nibelungenwerk factory. He thoroughly studied the design of the Pz.III and IV tanks as well as the latest Tiger II tank which was built at that factory in small numbers.

The tankers told the POW some details about the design of a secret tank located in Boblingen near Stuttgart. The characteristics of the tank are as follows:

  • Name: Maus
  • Mass: 120 tons
  • Armour: 350 mm in the turret and superstructure
The POW does not know about other armour data

  • Armament: 150 mm gun and two 105 mm guns 
  • Three 12 mm machine guns in the turret
  • One machine gun in the hull
  • Regular and transport tracks are used
  • The road wheels are removed for transport via rail
  • The development began in March of 1943. The POW does not know the name of the chief engineer." 

Zeiss described the tank that the British had fourth on their list, adding a number of details, not all of which were correct. All that Allied intelligence knew for sure was that there was a mega-tank developed by Ferdinand Porsche stationed at Boblingen. At the time, Soviet intelligence did not know even that.

Top and bottom

Boblingen fell into the American occupation zone after the war, but there was nothing left to find there. Both Maus prototypes were moved to Kummersdorf half a year before the war ended. Both vehicles (one damaged, one demolished) became Soviet trophies. The Red Army also captured technical documents that were in Berlin and at Kummersdorf. The Soviets obtained many documents on the tank. However, Karl Frohlich, the suspension specialist, stayed in Boblingen. He worked as the chief of the workshop where both tanks were assembled.

One of the three hulls discovered in Meppen.

The British and Americans had no cause for sadness. First of all, they captured Porsche K.G. in May of 1945 with Ferdinand Porsche himself. The design bureau was captured with its archive, which had plentiful information on the Maus tank. Second, a number of factories that took part in Maus production fell into the Western Allied occupation zones. This included Krupp factories where the hulls and turrets were built.

Three turrets and also a gun mount were found here.

The cream of the crop fell to the British. They got not just Essen (which was originally occupied by the American 9th Army) but also Meppen, as a result of which they got all the finished hulls and turrets. In addition to the hulls, the British captured most of the documentation on the tank as well as data on the development and trials. The Americans and French later got this data from the British. Ferdinand Porsche was handed over to the French and spent 20 months in prison. He wasn't just left idle and proved a valuable source of information on tank and automobile designs.

This diagram was composed as a result of study of materials in Meppen. Looks correct, but not quite.

All this happened later, but the detective work began in May of 1945. The British were the most active in this search. They also captured the other German superheavy tank, the E-100. As for the Maus, all they had to go on was captured documentation and components. The first stop was the Krupp proving grounds at Meppen. Three hulls (numbered 4-6) as well as three turrets were captured there. A gun mount with a 12.8 cm KwK 44 (Maus) and 7.5 cm KwK 44 was also found nearby.

The proving grounds also kept some documents associated with the superheavy tank. According to them, the gun mount we sent to Meppen in November of 1943. This is where the myth that the Maus was called Mammut was born. One of the engineers at the proving grounds revealed that the Maus was developed by Porsche in the spring of 1942 and built by Krupp. It was this engineer who said that the tank used to be called the Mammut. This information was not confirmed, but ended up in documents nevertheless, confusing historians. This engineer also incorrectly claimed that the Maus was allegedly tested at Linz.

Krupp warehouse in Essen. Three more sets of hulls and turrets were found here.

The biggest issue was the the documents captured in Meppen did not contain any precise information on the tank, so information could only be obtained by speaking with proving grounds staff and studying the hulls. Because of this, the first British report on the tank was rather vague. The mass calculations were way off. Based on various scraps of information, the British estimated the weight of the tank to be 214 tons. The sketch of the tank was also rather loose, although the dimensions of the hull and turret were close. This report dated May 22nd, 1945, was nevertheless a starting point for historians and a source of many mistakes.

Hull 351453 and turret 351454.

While one group worked to gather information in Meppen, another worked at the Krupp factories. American specialists as well as British ones arrived in Essen. Interestingly enough, technical intelligence report by Captain Fielding states that only 2 hulls and 3 turrets were found. Meanwhile, photos show that there were 3 sets of hulls and turrets stored. Two hulls had turrets on top of them, including turret 351452. Hull 351453 and a turret (judging by the T4 marking, this was turret 351454) stood separately. In total, 6 Maus hulls and 6 turrets were found.

Two more sets of hulls and turrets.

There was little more information at the factory than in Meppen. The information in a report dated May 29th was even more sparse. All American specialists could do was interrogate the factory staff and measure the hulls and turrets. The Americans noted the visual similarity between Maus and Tiger Ausf.B turrets, not knowing how right they were. Krupp referenced the T-34's turret when designing both turrets, so the final results had similar characteristics. There was still not enough information to estimate the tank's mass accurately. Factory staff gave a figure of 150 tons, while American engineers were sure that it was closer to 200. Their estimate turned out to be more correct.

British and American specialists worked in Essen.

The information shortage did not last for long. As mentioned above, in May of 1945 the Western Allies got their hands on nearly the entire Porsche K.G. design bureau. Most of the technical documentation obtained had to do with the Maus. The result was a nearly 400 page long report on the activities of Dr Porsche during the war. 180 pages are dedicated to the Maus.

American intelligence officers at the Porsche K.G. HQ in Stuttgart. Military intelligence also dropped by Gmünd where Porsche and his colleagues moved to at the end of the war.

Due to this wealth of information, Lieutenant Colonel Reeves from the Ministry of Supply managed to collect complete information on the tank, with some nuances. First of all, the most complete information had to do with the chassis. There was less of it on the turret. This was because Porsche K.G. dealt with the chassis and Krupp dealt with the armament. Second, intermediate designs were mixed in with final ones, including the "transitional" turret with a rangefinder dated fall of 1943. The Maus II turret was not included in this report as it was developed by Krupp.

British and American intelligence efforts resulted in a large amount of information on the Maus tank. The result of this effort was a 400 page long report on the activities of Porsche K.G. during the war.

The British report was also given to the Americans. Interesting enough, the full report, a copy of which exists in NARA, has not been published to this day. It clears up many questions about the design of this tank. As for the hulls and turrets, unlike the E-100 they were not extracted, but merely scrapped. Only in the late 1980s, when the Iron Curtain fell, did the West learn that the USSR had a tank assembled from two halves all along.

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