today’s article will be about certain Rheinmetall prototypes and their ability to actually make a minibranch. Is it even possible? Rheinmetall was not THAT active, when it comes to tank design, certainly not as much as Krupp, Henschel, Porsche or MAN, but early (before the war), they produced a number of interesting things. But first, a little history.
By the time the World War Two broke out, Rheinmetall (Rheinmetall-Borsig during the war) was already a well estabilished large weapons manufacturer. Founded as early as 1889, it was a weapons producer from the start, focusing mainly on artillery pieces. In World War I, more than one of the participants was armed with Rheinmetall guns – and the production expanded more and more. In 1925, the Reich became a majority shareholder in the Rheinmetall company and by that time, Rheinmetall merged with Borsig Berlin to form the famous Rheinmetall-Borsig trademark, a name that disappeared only after the war. The company became even more successful after the war and exists until this day as Rheinmetall AG.
We will of course focus on the tank development (specifically, early tank development). Rheinmetall did develop certain tank parts later on, but it’s the tier 2-5 branch, that is interesting. Technically, it would be possible to consider the start the branch to be tier 1 (as the Leichttraktor in game is the Rheinmetall Borsig prototype). The branch would go something like this:
Tier 2 – Grosstraktor (medium tank)
Tier 3 – Neubaufahrzeug (medium tank)
Tier 4 – VK2001(Rh) (medium tank)
Tier 5 – VK2002(Rh) – or VK6501(H) (medium/heavy tank)
Let’s have a look at them.
Tier 2 – Grosstraktor
Both the Leichttraktor and the Grosstractor (“big tractor”) were the results of the early German armor program, that ran in secret and was in violation of the Versailles treaty. The reason for that was that the German army officers – many of them World War 1 veterans, saw that there was the danger of old tankers disappearing without teaching others and passing their experience to the young generation. They obviously didn’t want that to happen and so the tank program was born as early as the 20′s.
And so, in 1925, specifications of a brand new and ambitious medium tank (under the codename designation “Armeewagen 20″) were laid down. The vehicle was to have following parameters: 20 tons in weight, 6 meters maximum length, 2,35 meters maximum height, 40km/h maximum speed and a 75mm L/24 gun in fully traversable turret, with 2-4 machineguns, one of them aiming backwards. There was however one even stricter demand: the tanks were supposed to be basically amphibious – either capable of wading thru 0,8m of water, or of swimming over deeper bodies of water.
Three competing companies (Krupp, Daimler, Rheinmetall-Borsig) were to build two prototypes each. These vehicles were then destined to be used as training vehicles for the new generation of tankers. The various companies were to build the parts and the vehicles themselves were all to be assembled in a Rheinmetall-Borsig factory.
All three of the companies did present their vision of the “Grosstraktor” (depicted above) and as you can see, all of the projects were largely similiar. The hull was very long and the suspension used many smaller roadwheels and a very complicated system. Each vehicle also had a smaller machinegun miniturret in the back. The flanks of each vehicle are protected by a metal sheet. In order to swimm, all the prototypes had marine propellers at the back.
Rheinmetall Grosstraktor used the “Cletrac” suspension system, which used sixteen doubled small roadwheels on each side (plus the wheels, used for stretching the tracks), weighted 19,32 tons and used a BMW 250hp aviatation engine, allowing it to go as fast as 40km/h on the road and 4km/h when swimming. The armor was 13mm thick. It was armed with a 75mm L/24 gun in a fully traversable turret, capable of -12/+60 degrees of depression/elevation. The crew consisted of six men. Two prototypes were built in 1928 and 1929 – one of them was sent in 1933, along with the Krupp vehicles, in secret to the Soviet Kama base near Kazan (the name “Kama” comes from the word Kazan and Marlbrandt, the commander of the base) – after all, back then, Germany and Soviet Union were close allies. The testing results were mixed, the suspension was complex and didn’t do too well.
Other prototypes served (after being tested in 1930) as training vehicles and in 1935, a unit was formed out of the Grosstraktor vehicles as a part of the 1st Panzer Division and it took part in the August 1935 military excercise. After that (around 1937), they were deactivated and were made into monuments near the “home” barracks of various tank units, such as the one in Wünsdorf.
Their final destiny is unknown however, they disappeared during the war, presumably they were melted down for metal. Some older sources state that the Heer was actually considering producing the Grosstraktors in small numbers and more were made. This is not true, only the prototypes were produced, but it was considered (however, the idea was scrapped for political and financial reasons).
Also, when considering World of Tanks, it’s a bit unclear, whether this vehicle should be considered to be medium tank or heavy tank. Historically, definitely a medium tank. Common sense dictates that something so big should probably be a heavy tank – but then, both Grosstraktor and Neubaufahrzeug were considered to be medium tanks.
Characteristics (Rheinmetall prototype):
Weight: 19,32 tons
Armament: 75mm L/24
Engine: 250hp BMW Va V6
Maximum speed: 40km/h
Tier 3 – Rheinmetall Neubaufahrzeug
The (notoriously known) Neubaufahrzeug was further development of the medium tank concept (sometimes, it is incorrectly designated as a “heavy tank”, it was however never intended to be one). If you are wondering, what the hell is it doing in a branch, when it’s supposed to be a premium tank – you can calm down, there were two Neubaufahrzeugs – one from Rheinmetall and one proposed by Krupp, they can be distinguished by the guns (Rheinmetall vehicle has two guns above one another, the Krupp doesn’t have that)- the Krupp one can be the premium vehicle. Alternatively, the premium version can be scrapped altogether, because the Krupp turret can be used as a perfect upgrade.
Also note that while everything about the NbFz screams “heavy”, it was really designed as a medium tank, so there is some compatibility.
Further development of a medium tank “Grosstractor” concept by Rheinmetall was started in October 1932 and continued in 1933. In October 1933, the vehicle was redesignated to “Neubaufahrzeug” and in 1934, two Rheinmetall NbFz prototypes were built (in 1935 – two “Krupp” prototypes followed, a total of 5 vehicles were built). The Rheinmetall NbFz were later redesignated to NbFz Ausf.A and the Krupp NbFz were redesignated Ausf.B. Some western sources claim that the vehicles were also designated “Panzer V and Panzer VI” – that’s however not historical and allegedly, this misunderstanding happened when the Norwegian news referred incorrectly to NbFz in that way.
T.Jentz states that in fact, all the hulls were similiar (well, at least similiarly developed by Rheinmetall) and Krupp only developed the turrets – he attributes the hull size differences simply to manufacture errors and the fact that all the vehicles were made individually, other sources claim Krupp developed some of the hulls too. Either way, the vehicles were very close to each other.
The construction of the suspension referred strongly to the earlier Grosstraktor program – lots of smaller roadwheels made it complicated and not exactly reliable. Another curious solution was the multi-turret design. Multi-turret was the “flavor of the year” (just like the tankettes somewhat earlier) of the early 30′s and most major nations developed at least one multiturret design (the British Independent, Russian T-100 and SMK, French heavy Char designs), all of them being equally useless, unreliable, weakly armed, breaking down all the time and generally they were used for propaganda only.
The vehicle had a crew of 6 to 7 people, weighted 23,4 (or 26,5 in Krupp case) tons and was armed with a 75mm L/24 and 37mm L/45 guns (situated above one another, or next to one another, depending on the Rheinmetall/Krupp turret) – both cannons could depress/elevate -10/+20 degrees. Some sources state that the Krupp version had a 105mm gun of unknown barrel length. NbFz of all versions was powered by a 246hp BMW Va V6 engine, allowing it to go as fast as 30km/h. The armor was 13 to 20mm thick. The Rheinmetall prototypes were however built from non-armored steel. This is how the Krupp turret version looked like:
As mentioned earlier, NbFz was used mostly for propaganda purposes before the war: in 1939, one of the Krupp vehicles took part in the Berlin automobile fair (“Internationale Automobil- und Motorrad-Ausstellung”). However, unlike the Grosstraktor, NbFz was actually used in combat during the Norway operation as a part of the special tank unit designated Pz.Abt.z.b.V.40. The unit (without NbFz) saw first combat on 9th April 1940. Germany lost a number of tanks of the unit, when the Antaris H transport ship sank with them on board after being hit by a British submarine torpedo. In order to replace these losses, German command sent a unit equipped with NbFz (Krupp) vehicles 3-5, led by Oberleutnant Hans Horstmann. This unit arrived in oslo on 19.4.1940 and was used mainly for propaganda. A day later however, the unit saw combat when advancing on the town of Hamar.
After that, two tanks stayed in Oslo, while one was transferred to Gruppe Pellangahr. On 25.4., that vehicle was damaged, when fighting British-French intervention troops (namely the 1st Battalion of Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) near the village of Kvam, allegedly (source: S.Orchard) being knocked out by French 25mm Hotchkiss AT guns and never recovered, the wreck stayed there until the 80′s.
The remaining two vehicles fought near Åndalsnes, one of them ran off the road (see picture above) and because it was not possible to recover it, it was blown up by German engineers. On 16.5.1940, the unit recieved one of the (mild steel) Rheinmetall prototypes as a replacement. After the Norwegian army surrendered, the vehicles served as garrison units in Norway for a while, but between late 1941
and early 1942, they were transferred to Finland and in 1943 to 25. Panzer Division. After that, it’s a bit of a mystery, many sources claim different things.
One source states that the vehicles were transferred to 1. Panzergruppe and took part in Operation Barbarossa, one of them being destroyed near Dubno in late June 1941. Another source states that two were knocked out on Romanian-Soviet border, also in June. One photo from 1942 remains of a Krupp NbFz, but after that – noone knows. Either way, the vehicle was considered not fit for combat in WW2, despite providing successful infantry support fire on several occasions.
Characteristics (Rheinmetall prototype):
Weight: 23,4 tons
Armament: 75mm L/24 (or 105mm), 37mm L/46,5
Engine: 246hp BMW Va V6
Maximum speed: 30km/h
Tier 4 – VK2001(Rh)
This vehicle is practically unknown, but I think it does have potential. A short history summary:
In the beginning of the 30′s, the German army defined a new concept of the medium tank. Basically, there were supposed to be two medium tanks: one a “common” medium tank (later, Panzer III would fit in this role) and the other a heavier medium tank, issued in smaller numbers and destined for heavier fighting and breakthrough operations (which would later become the Panzer IV). According to the German army, it was supposed to be a tank of 18 ton category, armed with a 75mm gun. A program was started under the codename “Batallionführer Wagen” (vehicle of the batallion commander) and German companies Rheinmetall, Krupp and MAN were tasked with making a prototype vehicle in this program, that would eventually lead to the Krupp Panzer IV (Krupp won).
In 1935, Rheinmetall, as an entry into this “contest”, built a partial prototype of how the Rheinmetall engineers imagined the Panzer IV could look like. The prototype however was built without a turret – that was not uncommon practice at the time, the turret was replaced by a metal superstructure with viewports, simulating the turret and gun weight. The hull was of roughly a similiar shape to the Krupp entry, the main difference being the suspension. In VK2001(Rh), Rheinmetall used once again modified Neubaufahrzeug suspension (in order to save time), which – to put it mildly – was not exactly perfect and was inferior to both Krupp and MAN suspension (Krupp used what we can see later on Panzer IV, while MAN designed a very modern suspension, not unlike the one of the later Panther). There were 8 doubled roadwheels on each side. In the middle of the suspension, a huge metal plate was welded – its task being additional side armor and suspension protection, but in reality it only made the repairs more complicated. There were various versions of the hull with various shapes of this plate, the final form was never truly decided (in one iteration, it even covered part of the rear driving wheel).
The vehicle weighted nearly 30 tons, the hull was welded and the armor was 16 to 20mm thick (20mm front, 15-16mm sides, allegedly). The prototype was powered by a 300hp engine and its maximum speed was 35km/h. It was to be armed by a 75mm gun and the crew was planned to be 5 men.
The prototype was tested in 1935, but with very limited success. The army liked the fact they were already familiar with the suspension and the driving properties of the tank, but the vehicle exceeded the army limits (reaching 30 tons instead of planned 18 tons). As a result, Wehrmacht ordered Rheinmetall to discontinue the BW program development and turned to Krupp instead.
After the Krupp vehicle won the competition, the development was discontinued, only a wooden fullscale mockup with turret was built (therefore, we know it used the turret analogical to Panzer IV).
Weight: 30 tons
Armament: 75mm (L/24)
Engine: 300hp Maybach
Maximum speed: 35km/h
Tier 5 – VK2002 (Rh)
Here it gets a bit complicated – the real question is, was there ever a VK2002 (Rh)? It’s a bit of a mixup. Basically, there was ONE program (described under the previous vehicle), but even Doyle and Chamberlain admit that there was an “improved version” of unknown properties. Pejčoch includes the drawing of the VK2002(Rh) (along with a turret, most likely based on the wooden mockup) and I do believe that this improved version could be used as a nice tier 5 alternative.
Basically, it’s an early Panzer IV of somewhat worse properties, that can be mitigated by soft stats. The armor would be probably 40mm thick (20mm on the sides), the weight reaching 32 tons, the engine – 300hp Maybach as earlier, the turret resembling the Panzer IV, armament being the same (in fact, the same turret could be used). This could then lead back to Panzer IV.
Another option would be to end the branch at tier 4, leading to Panzer IV, or VK6501H, to which we will get in a separate article.
Weight: 32 tons
Armament: 75mm (L/24, L/43, L/48), 105mm L/28
Engine: 300hp Maybach
Maximum speed: 32km/h