Super-Heavy Tanks of World War II, Osprey New Vanguard 216
By Kenneth Estes, Illustrated by Ian Palmer
Paperback, 48 pages, indexed, illustrated
Published by Osprey Publishing November 2014
Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.2 x 9.3 inches
When engineering military vehicles the designers must balance three competing attributes; armor, armament, and mobility. Light tanks emphasize mobility, medium tank designs try to strike a equilibrium to produce a generally useful multi-purpose vehicle, and heavy tanks emphasize armor and/or armament in order to dominate the local battlefield. Super-heavy tanks are those designs which go even further and incorporate enough armor to make them almost invulnerable to their opponents, but which also renders them effectively immobile. Such vehicles are often envisioned as having a specific, almost singular purposes.
It seems that all of the major nations which produced armored formations during the Second World War entertained the idea of the super heavy tank. These were designed with a specific use in mind, and their intended uses often differed between the nations. In all cases their employment required a degree of control of the strategic situation sufficient to prevent enemy interference with the considerable efforts needed to overcome the inherent mobility restrictions and get the vehicles properly positioned on the battlefield.
France developed one of the first successful super heavy tank designs in the FMC 2C breakthrough tank of 1921. Weighing 76 tons with a maximum speed of almost 10 mph (15 kph), it utilized specialized railroad trucks bolted directly onto the hull to reach the battlefield. The French attempted to use a handful of FMC 2C in WWII, but they were immobilized on their rail trucks and destroyed by their own crews.
The Germans developed the GrossKampf-Wagen or K-Wagen in WWI. It was intended as a breakthrough tank, but was perhaps more realistically considered a semi-mobile fortress in later planning. It weighed 150 tons, mounted four 77mm field guns, and was to be transported in sections by rail and assembled near the battlefield. Two were nearing completion at the time of the Armistice.
The British attempted to develop the TOG1 and TOG2 in the early 1940s. These were quite roomy inside by tank standards. Armor was 3 inches (76 mm) all round and they were armed with a 17 pdr gun. The design suffered with steering problems and was overtaken by more standard heavy tank designs. One example survives at Bovington.
The German PzKpfw VIII Maus design is well known to tank enthusiasts. It was to weigh in at an incredible 188 tons and mounted 128 and 75 mm guns coaxially in a single turret. Two hulls were built and used for automotive trials but the tanks were never completed.
The author covers the Jagdtiger in some detail, as this was arguably the only super heavy tank to enter service. The Jagdtiger carried a 128 mm main gun and armor up to 250 mm (10 inches) thick, weighing in at 68 tons. Eighty-eight were built. They saw little combat, proving difficult to position on the battlefield and prone to automotive breakdowns.
The Japanese entry into the field is the O-I fortress tank, designed as a semi-mobile fortification for use on the plains of Manchuria. Evidence is emerging that one of these 150 ton giants was actually constructed, but that it demonstrated a tendency to mire in and shed its running gear so it was not pursued.
The Americans resisted the super heavy tank trend, only developing the T28 near the end of the war. This was envisioned as a means to breach fortified positions using its 105/65 main gun to destroy strong points at a distance before more mobile forces exploited the breach. It was unique in that it carried two sets of tracks on each side, the outer set could be detached and towed behind as a trailer. One example survives at the museum at Fort Benning.
The British developed a breakthrough tank similar to the American T28 which they named the Tortoise. This weighed 78 tons and carried a 32 pdr gun. Prototypes were completed after the war, and two were tested extensively by the Army of the Rhine in Germany where mobility issues manifested once again. One is preserved in running condition at Bovington.
Like most books in Osprey’s New Vanguard series, this one is well written and profusely illustrated but quite short. It can been seen as providing an introduction or an overview of the topic, a good place to start further research.