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The Kugelpanzer Ball Tank - What is it? - Tank Historia

The Kugelpanzer Ball Tank – What is it?

The Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia is famous for its collection of strange vehicles and prototypes. Perhaps the strangest of them all though is the Kugelpanzer.

Well, at least that’s people call it, as its true name is unknown. In fact the Kugelpanzer literally means “ball tank”.

With a long list of questions and a distinct lack of answers, few vehicles match its mysteriousness and uniqueness.

Almost everything about it is unknown, and the museum is not helping matters as it appears to be withholding information about the Kugelpanzer.

It spent decades tucked away behind the museum’s Tiger I, but in 2017 it was moved to a new exhibit and given a fresh lick of paint.

Contents

Kugelpanzer in its old location at Kubinka.
The Kugelpanzer at Kubinka where it sat behind its Tiger for years. Image by Hornet Driver CC BY-SA 3.0

Origin

As a German built vehicle in Russia, it must have been handed over or captured at some point but even how the Soviets came to acquire it isn’t clear.

Some say that it was built by Krupp in Germany and shipped to Japan sometime in the 1940s, only to be captured by the Red Army in Manchuria in 1945.

On the other hand, some sources state that the Kugelpanzer was discovered in the Kummersdorf proving grounds in Germany at the same time as the Maus.

The mighty Maus.
The huge Panzer VIII Maus also at Kubinka.

The Kugelpanzer

The vehicle’s exterior is minimalist, with only a few notable features.

In the center of the Kugelpanzer is a cylindrical body that would have located a single person. Two hemispherical wheels flanked this central component and, from all indications, served as its means of movement.

New Kugelpanzer exhibition.
The Kugelpanzer with a fresh layer of paint in its new location at Kubinka. Image by Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0

On the front face of the center compartment is a single vision slit. Below this is a small square opening that has since been covered over by a piece of welded metal. It is thought that an offensive weapon like an MG-34 or MG-42 could have fired through here.

At the rear is a hatch for entry and a small wheel on the end of a ‘tail’, which probably helped to steer and stabilise the Kugelpanzer.

Kugelpanzer tail.
Notice the Kugelpanzer’s rear ‘tail’, the entry hatch is just above it.

The inside? Well, no one really knows. The Kugelpanzer has reportedly been stripped of all internal fittings, but no one is able to publicly verify this as access and photos inside are strictly prohibited by the museum.

A 25 horsepower single cylinder two-stroke engine powered the large wheels.

It has a paltry 5 mm of “armor”, if you can even call it that. What the armor is actually made out of though, is another mystery. While its likely steel, its exact composition cannot be precisely identified as Kubinka has forbidden metallurgical samples to be taken from the Kugelpanzer.

Front view.
Front view of the ball tank. Image by Vladimir Gorbunov CC BY-SA 3.0

The ball weighs around 1.8 tons, but don’t let this light weight fool you into thinking its fast; it is said that it could only move at about 5 mph.

Its Purpose

Like pretty much everything else about the Kugelpanzer, its purpose is a complete mystery.

There are a few theories, but the design is so strange and contradictory that no one can seem to agree on an single reason this thing has to exist.

The most widely accepted idea is that the Kugelpanzer was an experimental reconnaissance vehicle. However this explanation makes little sense when its letter-box visibility and 5 mph top speed is taken into consideration.

Side view of the Kugelpanzer.
At 5 mph this thing certainly wasn’t winning any races. Image by Bernhard Gröhl CC BY-SA 3.0.

An alternate idea is that the Kugelpanzer could have been an offensive infantry support vehicle. But again, this seems ridiculous, as its 5 mm of armour wouldn’t have even been enough to stop rifle rounds.

But who says this thing needs to be a military vehicle at all? With no solid information to go off, it could just as well be a civilian design, or part of a larger machine.

With nothing about the Kugelpanzer making much sense, its legitimacy should be brought into question.

Is the Kugelpanzer a Hoax?

Although this is an uncommon viewpoint, many signs point towards a potential hoax at play here.

The Germans were famous for their meticulous record keeping, and yet there appears to be no documentation found that mentions the Kugelpanzer. For a vehicle that at least reached a physical mock-up, its unlikely every single document relating to its existence has been lost or destroyed.

There isn’t any evidence of Russian documentation on this vehicle either, which is unusual as the Soviets thoroughly tested captured German equipment. It is also unusual that there is no photographs of the vehicle during wartime, as the Soviets were known to take photos of enemy equipment they found.

Red Army soldiers on a captured German Panther.
Soldiers from the Red Army inspect a captured Panther tank. Many such images were taken of Soviet troops with captured equipment.

This isn’t to say Russia does not have any records in storage, but if they do this raises the question, why aren’t they sharing it?

Its appearance also sets it apart from other German vehicles. Kugelpanzer is very crudely built. The centre section’s surface is pitted and dimpled, similar to metal shaped by a hammer. Some panels fit poorly, and the vision slit looks hand made.

This is not in line with Germany’s traditionally precise craftsmanship, and especially not typical of something built by Krupp, who were one of the finest steel works on the planet at the time.

The welds on the rear tail of the Kugelpanzer look particularly poor, and resemble those found on Soviet machines.

Weld comparison
The crude weld quality is similar to that on Russian vehicles, like this T-34 (right).

Furthermore, there appears to be no openings for ventilation or an exhaust pipe exit, and the wheels seem to be welded in place.

These signs make a hoax seem likely. Perhaps the Kugelpanzer was assembled as a joke by Soviet engineers after the war? Alternatively, it could have been an object designed for a completely unrelated task, or, just maybe, a very basic, early mock up of a mysterious German vehicle.

Read More The Minenräumer – A Weird German Prototype

Until Kubinka releases documents or makes an official statement about the Kugelpanzer and its origins, it will continue to remain a mystery.

While the concept of mythical late war German creations is fascinating, in our opinion, this vehicle may be a little more ‘Hoaxpanzer’ than Kugelpanzer.