Now on display at The Tank Museum is a very rare item from the German Maus Tank project. The optical gun sight of the heaviest tank ever built.
The Maus sight features in “The Tank Museum in 100 objects” book, featuring 100 of the finest items from the Museum’s collection, as selected by Curator David Willey.
For many years the item was in the archive of the Tank Museum as an unidentified optical sight, one that did not appear in any of the standard references. The sight came from a collection of German optics that had been returned to Britain after the Second World War and had ended up at The Tank Museum.
This sight is a very rare item and likely the only part of the original Maus tank programme to end up in Britain. The sight has the three letter code blc which indicates Carl Zeiss and Zeiss are recorded as having delivered a model of the sight in June of 1943 to the Maus project for incorporation in the wooden turret mock-up.
Hitler saw the threat of the Russians tank design and wanted a super heavy tank that would get ahead of enemy tank design with thicker armour and more firepower.
Production of the Maus began in 1943, initial design concepts had the tank fitted with both a 15cm and a 7.5cm gun, but the larger weapon was later changed to a 12.8cm gun. Hitler saw this tank giving a technical superiority of a year before the enemy would catch up, so a turret with a 15cm gun would also be developed to again create superior firepower to any enemy tank.
The development of Maus by Porsche and the turret by Krupp was delayed by a number of issues that seem all too familiar to those who have studied German tank development. Weight increased, (the tank came in at 188 tons) which led to Porsche having to design a new suspension system for the Maus; materials and equipment were delayed in manufacture; and ideas were suggested that led down blind alleys – such as the proposal to fit a flamethrower on the hull rear. This flamethrower proposal was dropped when Hitler saw the wooden mock-up of Maus on May 14th 1943.
To avoid drilling holes in the main armour protection of the tank, hatches were placed on the hull roof and periscopes were used for driving rather than a forward facing aperture in the glacis plate. Holes cut in the armour protection not only took time and engineering resources to complete, they also weakened the level of protection the armour provided. This is probably the main reason why a Kippspiegel-Zielfernrohr or periscopic gunsight was fitted.
Allied bombing raids on the Krupp factory in 1943, led to the loss of the Maus production drawings and the wooden mock-up. In October of that year, the message came to cancel all Maus production and concentrate resources on the production of other vehicles. This was a direct result of the Allied bombing and is most likely, the only example of a German tank programme being cancelled, because of the bombing campaign.
Two pre-production vehicles were however completed and sent to the testing ground at Kummersdorf in late 1944. Both tanks were blown up before the advancing Russian forces in 1945. The second Maus hull suffered more extensive damage as it had ammunition stowed in it. The Russian forces married the turret from the second tank with the hull from the first and took the vehicle to Moscow for evaluation. The hybrid tank is now on display at the Russian Tank Museum at Kubinka.
At the end of the war the Allies conducted a search for information on weaponry, production techniques and new technologies in Germany. This included interviewing German scientists and industrialists such as Ferdinand Porsche and taking away paperwork, designs and examples of the materials and items captured. Some of these reports, including the Porsche material are in The Tank Museum Archive and the amount of material on the Maus project is considerable.
When and where the Maus sight was collected is currently unknown, but more information seems to surface over time, so there may well be more Maus tales in the future.
The Maus sight is now on display in the Museum along with first round fired from a tank. To find out more order our 100 objects book written by David Willey.