By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Imperial Germany fielded very few tanks
in the First World War, and afterwards the
Treaty of Versailles forbade their possession
by the new Reichswehr. This did not stop the
Weimar Republic from developing tanks; instead,
it merely moved their development into secret
offices and to proving grounds in the Soviet
In 1925 the Reichswehr ordered a medium
tank, known as the Grosstraktor to disguise
its purpose (officially, it was described
as a heavy tractor to tow large artillery
pieces). The first prototype was delivered
in 1928, and it was a large vehicle mounting
a short-barreled 75mm gun in a single turret.
The tanks went to the Kama proving ground
in the Soviet Union for extensive tests.
Adolf Hitler came to full power in 1933, the
treaty provisions were steadily cast aside
over the next several years. One of the first
to go would be the restriction on tanks. By
1935 the renamed Wehrmacht openly showed off
its small number of armored vehicles but at
first the developments remained secret. These
included the new heavy tank, also ordered
under a code name, in this case Neubaufahrzeug
or “new-construction vehicle.”
It also was at first described as an artillery
Orders went to Rheinmetall-Borsig and to
Krupp in 1933 for a 20-ton heavy tank design.
Influenced by the T-28 and T-35 tanks they’d
seen at Kama, the procurement officers asked
for a multi-turreted tank based on the Grosstraktor
chassis. Much like the T-35, the tank would
carry both a 75mm gun and machine guns for
infantry support, and a 37mm high-velocity
gun to combat other tanks and hardened positions.
Rheinmetall built two steel prototypes in
1934, one with a Rheinmetall-designed main
turret and the other with one designed by
Krupp. In both cases, the German designers
placed both the 75mm and 37mm guns in the
same turret (the Soviet heavy tank placed
them in separate structures). The Rheinmetall
turret used an over-and-under arrangement
with the 37mm gun on top; the Krupp design
placed them side-by-side with the smaller
gun on the left. Two smaller turrets modified
from those mounted on the PanzerKampfwagen
I tankette held machine guns. Armor was adequate
for the standards of 1934 (it could keep out
rifle and machine-gun fire) but would be much
too thin for the actual battlefield of 1939.
An extraordinarily well-faked German
propaganda shot of a Neubaufahrzeug
assembly line. Note that this is the
first prototype vehicle.
After some testing, the Krupp arrangement
was deemed superior. In 1935 Rheinmetall produced
a pre-series of three fully armored vehicles.
They came in three tons over contract weight,
resulting in very poor mobility. Krupp was
busily outfighting Rheinmetall among the Nazi
bureacracy, and soon obtained a contract for
its own vehicle that became the PanzerKampfwagen
IV. The much faster Krupp tank would fill
the same infantry support role as the Neubaufahrzeug
and, Krupp argued, do it more cheaply and
with better battlefield performance. Rheinmetall’s
order dried up and the three completed tanks
(along with both prototypes) went to the armored
training school at Putlos.
In addition to training duties, the Neubaufahrzeug
made frequent appearances in propaganda photos,
and was displayed at the 1939 International
Automobile Exposition in Berlin as the Wehrmacht’s
standard heavy tank. By the time Germany invaded
Poland in September 1939, the tank was hopelessly
obsolete. But it would soon see front-line service
A Neubaufahrzeug receives maintenance.
In March 1940 the Putlos school formed the
40th Special Purpose Tank Detachment for service
in the upcoming invasion of Norway and Denmark.
Drawing tanks and crews from the 3rd, 4th
and 5th Panzer Divisions, the unit had 48
PazKw I and 21 PzKw II light tanks.
Nineteen of the tanks went down with the
transport Antares H when she was torpedoed
by a British submarine on the way to Oslo.
To make up for the loss, the three Neubaufharzeug
tanks were formed into a platoon called Zug
Horstmann after its commander and shipped
to Norway, arriving in Oslo on the 19th. After
a heavily-photographed parade in the occupied
Norwegian capital, they went to join the 196th
Infantry Division’s advance to the northwest
One of the tanks was knocked out by a British
25mm anti-tank gun at Kvam on 25 April, while
another became stuck in a swamp and was blown
up by German combat engineers. The tank lost
at Kvam would eventually be salvaged; the
Krupp-turreted prototype was dispatched to
Norway in May to keep the unit at three vehicles.
A Neubaufahrzeug rolls through Oslo,
When the 40th Special Purpose Tank Detachment
moved to Finland in the spring of 1941 for
the upcoming sneak attack on the Soviet Union,
they left the three heavy tanks behind in
Oslo and an order to scrap them was issued
soon afterwards. Whether they were completely
demolished or used to build the “Grille”
exoperimental heavy self-propelled 128mm guns
is not clear, but none of them survived the
The Neubaufahrzeug has not appeared in any Panzer Grenadier game. Yet.