Looking like something straight out of science fiction, the Minenräumer was a strange German prototype that, unsurprisingly, never saw production during WWII. Although it is not a tank, this contraption certainly ranks as one of the more unique designs to come out of the war.
Its outward appearance reveals little about what this vehicle’s purpose was, but its odd, tracked-wheels offer a clue.
The Minenräumer was created for the sole purpose of destroying mines. Little is known about this vehicle due to a lack of documentation, but the Germans stopped pursuing the design once it was realised it wasn’t effective.
The idea of a mine clearing vehicle was not novel, as many countries had, and still do, invest heavily in such types.
In combat, one of easiest methods of clearing away mines is to trigger them.
Mine clearing equipment and vehicles must be extremely sturdy to survive in this role and as a result, they are notoriously strange looking machines.
For example, the Sherman Crab used rapidly spinning chains to slam the ground and set off mines.
However, even in this class of weird vehicles, the Minenräumer stands out as one of the most unique.
VsKfz 617 Minenräumer
This minesweeper was a joint project developed by Alkett, Krupp and Daimler-Benz in 1942. Alkett was a major German arms manufacturer during the war. Only a single Minenräumer was built.
Instead of using a device in front of the vehicle to clear mines, the Minenräumer itself rolled over and exploded the mines.
Passing overhead, the Minenräumer would detonate any mines and clear a path for troops and vehicles behind it.
It was able to do this thanks to its three large and robust “wheels”, which are the most notable feature of the vehicle.
Surrounding each wheel was 10 links, to which 10 extremely heavy duty “shoes” were connected. Large pins held the shoes and links together.
A large gear around each wheel engaged with the links, preventing the wheels from simply spinning within the track.
The shoes had some movement of the own, with three swinging down and forming a single contact patch at the bottom of each wheel. The shoes were immense and were designed to withstand mine blasts, yet if they became damaged they could be replaced individually.
Although one questions how mechanics would be able to reconnect such large and heavy links in the field without adequate equipment.
The enormous size of the wheels allowed the hull to be mounted high off the ground, giving it excellent ground clearance. This distance would have reduced the effects of exploding mines.
Naturally, the vehicle was armored to protect the crew against incoming fire and mine explosions. The belly of the Minenräumer consisted of two plates; the inner most 20 mm thick and outermost 40 mm thick. This double hull further increased mine resistance.
The armor on the rest of the Minenräumer ranged from 20 to 40 mm, which was enough to protect against primitive anti-tank weapons but was certainly not “thick” by 1942 standards.
On top was a small turret from a Panzer I that contained two 7.92 mm caliber MG 34 machine guns to defend against nearby infantry.
All of this gave the Minenräumer a considerable weight of 50 tons (some sources state around 38 tons).
The Minenräumer only had a crew of two, with the commander in the turret and a driver at the front.
The two large wheels at the front were powered, while the smaller rear wheel helped with steering.
Despite the Minenräumer’s immense weight, it was powered by a Maybach HL-120 V12 that produced just 300 hp. With this serious lack of power the vehicle had a power-to-weight ratio of only 7.9 hp per tonne.
It topped out at around 9 mph on road and an abysmally slow 2.4 mph off road. On rough terrain the Minenräumer would not have been able to keep up with a human’s walking pace.
The engine was mounted transversely behind the crew compartment, as opposed to placing it in the more traditional longitudinal position.
The vehicle steered by applying brake pressure to the front wheels. The smaller rear wheel helps steering by pivoting left and right via a chain system.
When the driver steers, a series of shafts and worm gears – with some help from the transmission – pull on the chains connected to the rear wheel, forcing it to rotate.
The driver has an indicator outside his view port that shows the angle of the rear wheel.
Service and Cancellation
As soon as the Minenräumer was complete in 1942 it underwent testing at Kummersdorf. It quickly became clear that the VsKfz 617 Minenräumer (VsKfz an abbreviation for “test vehicle”) was a rather terrible vehicle.
While it would likely have functioned as an effective minesweeper, the tracked wheels and steering system coupled with its poor power-to-weight ratio meant it had terrible manoeuvrability.
Its weight would cause it to sink into the ground, making movement and steering even harder. Furthermore, its large size and relatively thin armor would have made it a magnet for enemy fire.
These tests highlighted why its always a good idea to build prototypes, as the Germans soon abandoned the Minenräumer at the end of its trials.
Near the end of WWII the vehicle fell into the hands of Soviet forces, who were probably baffled by such an alien looking machine.
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After the war the Soviets carried out their own tests with the vehicle, but came to similar conclusions as the Germans. Thankfully the Minenräumer was kept, and today can be seen at the Kubinka Tank Museum.