Thursday 23 March 2023

Porsche and Militarism

It's no secret that the same people often build tanks and peaceful vehicles. For instance, the Kirovets K-700 tractor was designed by the same people who designed heavy tanks at the Kirov factory (including the IS-7). The same designers also produced the KT-12 skidder immediately after the war, and they were pulled off of military projects to do so. Harry Knox, the creator of American light and medium tank chassis, was a successful car designer before going into tanks. Even the famous John Walter Christie worked on (and drove) race cars as well as fire engines before building his tanks. There are plenty of examples where the same person created military and civilian vehicles.

Ferdinand Porsche reaching to touch his Tiger tank.

Ferdinand Porsche is perhaps the best known German tank designer. He is usually remembered for the Tiger (P), Maus, and other fighting vehicles that never made it into mass production. He is also well known for the "Beetle" (also known as the kDF-Wagen or Porsche Typ 60) and sports cars. While the former category of vehicles was unsuccessful, the latter is tremendously popular. Because of this, some claim that Porsche intentionally sabotaged the Third Reich. Let's take a look at what kind of pacifist Ferdinand Porsche turned out to be.

Not just tanks, not just Nazis

Ferdinand Porsche's wartime activities are thoroughly covered by materials held in the American NARA (National Archives and Records Administration). The report was prepared in 1945. It's quite curt, which was common for reports of the era. Interrogations of figures related to German tank building often can be boiled down to "Hitler was a fool" and "Porsche proposed some nonsense". One can only wonder why Hitler put Porsche at the head of the Panzer Commission, whose job it was to clean up the mess in German tank building. Neither the authors of the German language documents nor the English language ones considered Porsche any kind of pacifist.

Neither the British nor the Americans found a hint of sabotage or pacifism in Porsche's activities.

One factor that conspiracy theorists miss is the identity of Porsche. For example, they attribute the development of the Tiger (P) to Ferdinand Porsche personally. First of all, there were two Porsches working at Porsche K.G., Ferdinand and his son Ferry (Ferdinand Anton Ernst) Porsche. The Porsche family had no shortage of talented engineers, and there were plenty others employed at Porsche K.G. Karl Rabe, Porsche's right hand, Erwin Komenda, Otto Zadnik, Franz Xaver Reimspieß, and many others. Some of them were Porsche's former coworkers from Austro Daimler and DMG (later Daimler-Benz). 

Porsche K.G. was a large group of talented engineers. Both Ferdinands can be seen in this photo.

Dr.Ing.h.c F. Porsche GmbH (Porsche K.G.) also didn't specialize in anything specific. Even now, Porsche AG largely works not on sports cars, but custom engineering work. Make an engine? No problem! Develop some kind of component, not even an automotive one? Any time! This also included work for the military before the war, during the war, and after the war. Porsche AG was such a pacifist that it led the development of the Standardpanzer Group A that later turned into the Leopard 1. The Leopard 2 also started out as a "future tank" concept developed by Porsche.

Austro Daimler M 17 Goliath, a heavy artillery tractor.

One also has to look at the man's whole history, rather than plucking out individual facts. Porsche's first car, the Lohner-Porsche, was an electric vehicle. It was converted to the first ever hybrid in 1901 with a gasoline engine and electromechanical transmission. Porsche then transplanted his car's mechanisms into a tank, although he wasn't the first to do this. 400 French Saint-Chamond tanks say otherwise. The Americans later also put an electric transmission in a heavy tank. This was not just a successful design, but an effective military one. Ferdinand Porsche then spent a long time working at Austro Daimler, and nearly all of his projects were military in nature, mostly all wheel drive artillery tractors. Austro Daimler tractors were the backbone of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's heavy artillery mechanization. Austro Daimler's aircraft motors weren't any more peaceful.

Mercedes-Benz G 3, one of the products developed by Porsche in his role as Daimler-Benz's chief designer. This was one of the most common trucks in the Reichswehr and later the Wehrmacht. It was developed especially for military purposes.

Porsche and a number of his colleagues left Austro-Daimler after the end of the First World War when military orders disappeared. They first went to DMG (Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft), which was previously a producer of armoured cars. Porsche then took to working on three axle trucks that were hardly intended for agriculture. His G 1 later evolved into the Mercedes-Benz G 3, an army truck built especially for the Reichswehr and then the Wehrmacht. Work on military vehicles was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles, but this was no impediment.

Großtraktor Daimler-Benz, Porsche's first tank. This design was a collective mess; it's hard to blame Porsche alone for it.

After Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie united into Daimler-Benz, Porsche became the chief designer of the new conglomerate. This period of development is the most famous for Mercedes-Benz S/SS/SSK/SSKL series sports cars. Many forget that by 1927 Daimler-Benz had already joined the Armeewagen 20 tank program that was later renamed to Grosstraktor. Rudolf Mertz directed development of the tank, while Porsche was in charge of the work overall. Work on the Mtw 1 armoured car began in 1929. Franz Xaver Reimspieß was in charge of this project. He later headed tank development at Porsche K.G.

Sd.Kfz.231. A portion of these armoured cars were built on the Mercedes-Benz G 3 truck chassis which was designed at Daimler-Benz under Porsche.

Daimler-Benz's tank project was a failure, but none of their competitors were any more successful. The fault lay with the 6th Department of the German Army Weapons Agency. They wanted the armoured car to also be amphibious and the suspension of the Grosstraktor designed by Heinrich Kniepkamp was faulty from the start. Not a single tank that came out of the Grosstraktor program was suitable for production. Meanwhile, the Mercedes-Benz G 3 chassis that Porsche was directly responsible for was used for the production of the Kfz.67 armoured car that was later renamed Sd.Kfz.231. Porsche also worked on Daimler-Benz motors used in S1 torpedo boats. Upon leaving Daimler-Benz to start his own company, Porsche kept up good relations with the conglomerate and settled in Stuttgart right next to them.

VW Typ 82, the most common light car in the German army.

This is a very strange list of projects for an alleged pacifist, and this is just before the Nazis came to power. Even without tanks, Porsche K.G. wasn't a very peaceful company. Ferdinand Porsche must have been such a pacifist that he joined the NSDAP and became an honorary member of the SS along with Ferry. Don't forget that Porsche K.G. worked for a whole number of other companies. In addition to the kDF-Wagen, Volkswagen produced a the VW Typ 82 (Porsche Typ 82) army car. It's often called Kübelwagen, but that name applied to all light and medium German command cars. This car alone should shatter any idea of Porsche as a pacifist or saboteur. The VW Typ 82 was the main German army car.  

Schwimmwagen cars with decisively bellicose passengers.

Volkswagen also produced the amphibious Typ 128, which was the project that Ferry got his honorary SS rank for, and then the Typ 166. The Schwimmwagen became the most common amphibious car of the war, surpassing its closest competitor, the Ford GPA, by a country mile. This is shocking, considering how behind the Americans the German auto industry war. There was also the Porsche Typ 147, which is better known as the Steyr 1500 A. The Steyr 1500 A and its descendants were the standard German heavy offroad trucks, and the Steyr 1500 A's engine was also used in the Steyr RSO artillery tractor.  

Porsche Typ 147 aka Steyr 1500 A, the most common German heavy offroad staff car.

More than 90 thousand army trucks developed by Porsche K.G. were produced from 1941 to 1945. Claims that cars aren't tanks and don't count can be safely put aside. Trucks are the backbone of any army, and Porsche's vehicles played key roles in the German armed forces. Even after most light cars were taken out of production in 1943, Porsche's vehicles remained in service.

Tank building with a handicap

Even without tanks, the contribution of Porsche K.G. to the Third Reich's military was considerable. Some claim that Porsche built cars so he didn't have to build tanks. But what brought Porsche back to tank building? 

Porsche looks on as he thinks about how to build a bad tank.

The torsion bar suspension was invented at Porsche K.G. by Karl Rabe. It was not designed for trucks. Interestingly enough, the main Swedish arms companies were controlled by German conglomerates. This included AB Landswerk. Trials of the Landsverk L-60, the first tank in the world with a torsion bar suspension, began shortly after Karl Rabe patented it. This was an excellent Swedish tank developed by German engineer Otto Merker with a German engine, German gearbox, and German suspension.

Karl Rabe's torsion bar suspension was used on German tanks.

Heinrich Kniepkamp almost instantly took this solution for his halfracks. Z.W.38 (Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.E) and La.S.138 (Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.D) tanks appeared soon after. The La.S.138 was created at MAN, a part of the same G.H.H. conglomerate as Landsverk. The Z.W.38 tank was developed at Daimler-Benz, who worked closely with Porsche. In short, Porsche is behind every torsion bar suspension used in German tanks and halftracks.

The torsion bar suspension developed by Karl Rabe became a classic solution for German vehicles.

Hitler and Todt decided to create the Panzer Commission with Porsche at the helm on September 3rd, 1939. Porsche was well acquainted with Hitler, having met him back in 1926 and kept particularly closely in touch after 1933. Porsche was also personally familiar with the Reich Minister of Armaments and Ammunition, and not just him. Porsche was close to many Nazi elites. Recall that Porsche K.G. was responsible for more than just the kDF-Wagen, but also the famous Auto Union race cars. Why are cars relevant? Just as the aforementioned Heinrich Kniepkamp was handed unrestricted authority over tank chassis in 1936 thanks to his success with halftracks, so did Porsche capitalize on his success in another industry.

Franz Xaver Reimspieß and Ferdinand Porsche, the lead tank engineer and chief engineer of Porsche K.G.

Porsche K.G. distinguished itself with the excellent torsion bar suspension that solved one of the biggest problems with the Pz.Kpfw.III after several years of fruitless attempts. This situation happened in part because the 6th Department had a monopoly on tank chassis development since the late 1920s. The failure of the Grosstraktor was also in no small part due to this. Hitler and Todt wanted to create an alternative to the 6th Department. The Panzer Commission was this alternative. It received its first task in late 1939: development of a 30 ton breakthrough tank. Porsche K.G. began working on heavy tanks.

This mess was Porsche's main competitor.

If someone thinks that Porsche was a saboteur, they need only to look at the D.W. or VK 30.01 (H) heavy tank. It took four years to develop a fragile vehicle with a short 75 mm gun and only 50 mm of armour. Compared to this, the Typ 100 looked like a starship. In the spring of 1941, Porsche's tank received a Krupp turret with an 88 mm gun. The future Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.E would use a descendant of this design. In addition to Ferdinand Porsche, the Panzer Commission included Oscar Hacker, the head of Steyr and a good friend of Porsche's. A whole Austrian lobby formed, composed of Nibelungenwerke (Steyr's tank factory in Austria) and Simmering-Graz-Pauker. Later, it was joined by Škodawerke (controlled by the SS after 1941) where Porsche's tank suspensions were designed. Finally, manufacturing giants Siemens and Krupp joined the group. The latter had a difficult relationship with Kniepkamp and the 6th Department in general. This completed the supply chain. It's hard to call the tanks it produced "Porsche tanks", as Porsche only developed the chassis to be produced by other companies. Krupp was responsible for development and production of the turret and armament.

VK 30.01 (P). Porsche and Zadnik are in the dummy turret. Compared to this tank, the VK 30.01 (H) looked like a toy.

A war broke out between the Panzer Commission and 6th Department of the Weapons Agency almost instantly. Kniepkamp and his allies had an advantage, but Porsche's side achieved a lot. The Tiger tank we know today came to be as a result of their efforts. It was also the Panzer Commission that paid a visit to Mtsensk in late 1941, after which German tanks began to be built with sloped armour. The commission and Porsche personally also insisted on a simplified transmission for the VK 30.02 (M)

Initial form of the Typ 205, also known as the Pz.Kpfw.Maus. The tank started out weighing 120 tons and looked a lot more reasonable than the VK 70.01 (Pz.Kpfw.Löwe).

Even the famous Maus wasn't built on Porsche's whim. His people began to work on the Typ 205 in the spring of 1942 when it became clear that Krupp failed at development of the VK 70.01 (Pz.Kpfw.Löwe). Porsche's 120 ton tank looked head and shoulders better than the "Lion". The subsequent bloating happened due to the customer's climbing requirements, as a result of which the tank grew from 120 tons to 189. Madness? Undoubtedly. However, recall that the 6th Department pitched their own Tiger-Maus that was cancelled in 1942 only to be reborn as the E-100 (the same vehicle but on the Adlerwerke suspension). Next to this project, the Maus doesn't seem so crazy. One tank could drive and fight while the same could not be said for the other. How well do you think a 140 ton tank with a transmission from the Tiger Ausf.B handle itself?

The decision to stop building the Pz.Kpfw.VI (P) was a political one. The Pz.Kpfw.VI (H) was not a superior vehicle.

The history of the Porsche Tiger or VK 45.01 (P) is also interesting. The cancellation of mass production was a political move. The Pz.Kpfw.VI (H) did not demonstrate any superior qualities over the Pz.Kpfw.VI (P) in trials held in November of 1942. The Pz.Kpfw.VI (P) managed to get over obstacles that neither the Pz.Kpfw.VI (H) nor the VK 36.01 could overcome. Porsche's tank only lost due to pressure from the 6th Department of the Weapons Agency. The electric transmission was just an excuse, as half of the Pz.Kpfw.VI (P) would have been equipped with the Voith hydromechanical transmission and the Typ 180 or VK 45.02 (P) would only be built with this type of transmission. Recall also the 8,8 cm StuK 43 Sfl L/71 Panzerjäger Tiger (P), otherwise known as the Ferdinand. These vehicles fought for just as long as their siblings, the Tiger Ausf.E tanks. The Ferdinand weighed a lot more than the Tiger (P) did. If an analogue of the Ferdinand was built on the Henschel chassis, it would simply fall apart.

The Voith hydromechanical transmission was a priority for Porsche's tanks.

The myth about "the Fuhrer's favourite" who was entrusted only with worthless toys was born after the war. In practice, the Tank Commission was forced away from nearly all tank development in 1943. Kniepkamp and his team told a whole slew of fascinating fairy tales to their interrogators in 1945-46, including ones about Porsche. Interestingly enough, Kniepkamp ignores the suspension elements, road wheels with internal shock absorption, and other inventions he copied from Porsche. The interrogations and memoirs don't line up with period documents. In reality, Porsche wasn't a saboteur. He lost his place in tank development as a result of competition, and unfair competition at that. It's hard to say that his products were flawless compared to those built by his rivals. Porsche's tanks had plenty of issues, but accusations of sabotage and pacifism can only be made by people who are unfamiliar with his work.

The E-100 needs to be remembered in the same breath as the Maus. Porsche emerged as the victor in this battle. His tank was planned for mass production, while his opponent's never took a single step.

If anyone can be called a saboteur, it's Heinrich Kniepkamp. A number of tank projects between 1926 and 1945 failed specifically due to his involvement. The damage he dealt to German tank development eclipses anything Porsche did, but he experienced no consequences for it and even got to take part in the Standardpanzer program after the war. For some reason, it's Porsche that went down in history as a saboteur.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, was very interesting to read, BUT now i am MUCH MORE interested in WHAT is that Großtraktor? It is not the L/24, what gun does that one have, i have never heared about other guns for it except the 75 and 37mm combo. Is it an L/33, L/34,5 or what is it? Or is it a fake picture, do you have more info on that one?