WW2 German Heavy Tank Prototypes

Panzerkampfwagen VII VK65.01

German Reich (1939)
Heavy Tank – 1 Incomplete Prototype Built

At the start of the Second World War, the Germans decided to initiate the development of their heaviest tank by that point, known as Panzerkampfwagen VII VK65.01. This vehicle was to weight 65 tonnes, possibly even more. It represented a further development of the earlier heavy tank projects and, normally, some components were reused to reduce cost and development time. However, the interest in such heavy vehicles quickly died out following the German victory over the Western Allies in 1940. Only a single soft-steel hull would be completed, which was scrapped in 1942.

This VK65.01 drawing was made by T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle. Source:

Early German Heavy Tank Projects

The development of heavy tank concepts was initiated by the Heeres Waffenamt (Eng. German Army Weapons Agency) in 1935. The desire to build such a vehicle was driven by the need to counter the French tanks, particularly the formidable Char 2C and Char D1. The initial focus was on equipping the new heavy tank with a 7.5 cm gun with a high muzzle velocity. The weight of the tank was also a critical consideration, as exceeding 30 tonnes would compromise mobility and create challenges during bridge crossings. To balance weight and protection, initial calculations suggested an armor thickness of approximately 20 mm. However, this was deemed insufficient to withstand French 2.5 cm gunfire. Furthermore, achieving reasonable speed requires a powerful engine. It was anticipated that Maybach, a German engine manufacturer, could develop a 600-hp engine to meet this requirement. Despite these plans, the German industry was not yet fully capable of producing such components. Nevertheless, the initial proposals provided a starting point for further development and served as a catalyst for progress in German heavy tank manufacturing.

In 1937, after discussions on the necessity of a new vehicle, Wa Prüf 6 (the German Army’s Ordnance Department office responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) instructed Henschel to develop a 30-tonne chassis for the tank. The early heavy tank project work would evolve into the Durchbruchswagen (Eng. Breakthrough vehicle) or simply D.W. The Henschel D.W. project would not be adopted. Despite its cancellation, Heeres Waffenamt was satisfied with the progress made on the heavy tank project and decided to expand and improve upon it. The next in line was the VK30.01 heavy tank project, which inherited many components from the preceding D.W., but also introduced several improvements, with the most obvious being the use of a new suspension. The VK30.01 was also not accepted for service, but the several chassis built were used for various trials and training.

The German VK30.01 heavy tank. of which 8 chassis and turrets were built. Only four were completed as fully operational vehicles. This vehicle survived up to the end of the war, being captured by the Allies. Source: Twitter Char1A

These early German heavy tank projects were hampered by the 30 tonne limitation. This meant that the designs had to fit a perfect balance between armor, armament, and other components in the desire to fit into the given parameters. For the next project, the Germans decided to disregard this limitation and focus on improving the armor protection up to 80 mm. This in turn meant that the overall weight increased to an estimated 65 tonnes. This vehicle would be designated as Panzerkampfwagen VII VK65.01.


According to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers), this vehicle was designated as the Panzerkamfwagen VII VK65.01. Other sources use a simpler VK65.01(H) designation instead. “VK” stands for Vollketten, which means “fully-tracked” in English. The number “65” represented its weight in metric tonnes, and the number “1” indicated that this was the first version of this vehicle. The “H” stands for the manufacturer, Henschel. In their documentation, Henschel referred to this vehicle as Sturmwagen (Eng. Assault vehicle) or Schwerewagen (Eng. Heavy vehicle), with the abbreviation S.W.

Development History

In January 1939, Wa Prüf 6 officials requested the development of a new heavy tank project. This time, the weight limitation was raised to 65 tonnes. This allowed for the installation of heavier armor protection. In this case, 80 mm thick, which was to provide full protection against 5 cm caliber anti-tank guns. Given the huge weight of the vehicle, speed received minor priority and was estimated to reach between 20 to 26 km/h.

It is important to note that the history of German early heavy tank projects is, unfortunately, poorly documented. Finding reliable sources that talk about this topic in detail is difficult due to the destruction and loss of many original documents during the war. This is also true for the VK65.01. Very little to no detailed information is available in the sources. In addition, there are no surviving photographs of this vehicle and only a few drawings which were created by T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle.

This detailed drawing was made in 1976. It gives a detailed view of the hull and suspension design. It is also presented using a modified Panzer IV turret intended for the first D.W. heavy tank. In the case of the VK65.01, its armor was to be increased to 80 mm. The long gun appears to be the 7.5 cm L/40, which was planned to be the primary armament for the early German heavy tanks. As none were put into production, it was never installed in any of these early heavy tank vehicles. Source: Pinterest
Another VK65.01 drawing used in P. Chamberlain’s and H. Doyle’s Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two published in 1978. The same illustration is also found in T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle’s (2001) Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers. While not rich in details, it presents a different turret and uses the short barrel 7.5 cm gun. Source:

The work on the VK65.01 began in January 1939. Henschel, being already involved in previous heavy tank projects, was tasked with designing and building a hull. Given its experience in tank turret design, Krupp was tasked with constructing a wooden full-scale turret model. Different armaments were to be tested, starting with 7.5 cm to 10.5 cm caliber guns. Krupp delivered the wooden model of the turret in April 1939. The German Army officials were satisfied with the Krupp proposal and placed an order for a fully functional soft-steel turret soon after. The precise shape of the original Krupp VK65.01 turret is not mentioned in the sources. In March 1940, it was decided that the VK65.01 would receive the same turret used on the previous D.W. projects. This indicates that there were some issues with the original Krupp turret. On the other hand, this may also indicate that the German Army wanted to reuse already existing components.

A production order for a small pre-production series was issued in September 1939. In early 1940, Krupp received a contract for the construction of 8 turrets together with their armament. The delivery of the final turret was expected to be completed by August 1942. In addition, other components (such as the armor plates, hull, etc.) were to be delivered to Henschel. Once there, Henschel would begin the final assembly of the VK65.01 vehicles.



The VK65.01 chassis shared its overall layout with other German tank designs. The front part of the hull housed the transmission, followed by the crew compartment and the engine. The front hull, including the glacis plate, was designed to be heavily armored to protect the vital components and crew from enemy fire. If any access hatches were added on the glacis plate is unknown. Given the similarity with the previous VK30.01, which did not have them, we can assume that the VK65.01 was not provided with these either. Such design features helped enhance the protection of the tank’s front-facing components but also made the construction of the front hull somewhat simpler and cheaper.

Initial plans called for Henschel to produce a single-piece hull. Given the technical and production limitations, this was not possible at that time. Henschel instead decided to produce a three-part hull. This would be then connected into one piece. While such a design made the hull’s overall structural integrity somewhat weaker, it was easier for production and transportation.

To allow the crew to escape in case of emergencies, escape hatches were added on the hull sides. They were located between the first set of return rollers. In comparison to the VK30.01, which used oval-shaped hatches, the VK65.01 was to be equipped with round-shaped hatches.


The VK65.01 was meant to utilize a torsion bar suspension system. It consisted of nine rubber-rimmed interleaving road wheels, which would improve weight distribution and overall driving performance. In addition, there was a front-drive sprocket, rear idler, and three return rollers. This design choice, although somewhat complex, offered advantages in terms of the tank’s maneuverability and stability. The overall visual design appears to be a more-or-less VK30.01 copy, albeit extended with two more road wheels. In addition, the road wheels appear to be somewhat smaller in diameter. Given the extensive weight of 65 tonnes, 800 mm wide tracks were to be used to help distribute the weight.

The VK65.01 torsion bar suspension used nine small interleaving road wheels. Source:
The similarity with the VK30.01 suspension is obvious when comparing these two. The VK65.01 appears to have had smaller road wheels than the VK30.01. Source:


The VK65.01 was to be powered by a 12-cylinder Maybach HL 224 600 hp engine. With a weight of 65 tonnes, the VK65.01 could reach a maximum speed of 20 to 26 km/h, as sources vary. Off-road performance is unfortunately unknown. The engine was fully enclosed in an armored compartment. At least a few hatches would be installed to provide the crew with easy access for maintenance.


The VK65.01’s superstructure was square-shaped and fully enclosed, with mostly flat armored sides that were welded together and bolted down to the chassis. The fully enclosed driver compartment protruded out of the superstructure’s right front side. The precise design of the driver’s compartment is unknown. It would have probably had a front-mounted driver vision port and possibly even some smaller vision ports on the sides. On top of this compartment, a hatch would have been placed.


The precise turret design for this vehicle is somewhat unclear in the sources. Presumably, it was to receive a turret taken from the previous heavy tank models. This is actually confirmed by authors such as T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle. They mention that the Germans decided to reuse a modified D.W. turret with improved armor protection. However, they do not specify if this referred to the first D.W. heavy tank project or the latter VK30.01 (which also briefly used the same D.W. designation). The first D.W. vehicles (built in two similar variants) were to receive a modified Panzer IV turret. The later VK30.01 received a completely new turret but was armed with the same gun. Given the fact that the first D.W. tank project was canceled, it is likely that this refers to the later VK30.01 turret. However, the previously mentioned drawings show the VK65.01 with both turrets, which complicates things. Author T. Anderson (History of the Panzerwaffe Volume 2 1942-1945) specifically claims that this latter turret was used. Author T. Melleman (PzKpfw VI Tiger Vol.I) mentions that the turret intended to be used on the D.W.I. was to be used instead.

The VK30.01 turret was built using six welded angled plates. The front hexagonal-shaped armor plate housed the main armament and its curved gun mantlet. On the turret sides, small observation ports were installed. To the rear, two round-shaped firing ports were placed. The commander’s cupola was located on the turret top. In order to provide the commander with a good view of the surroundings, a rotating ring with seven small periscopes was added. The turret was to be hydraulically rotated.

A good side view of a VK30.01 turret used as a static defense emplacement. The rear-positioned machine gun port and the side vision port can be seen. In addition, note the small commander’s cupola, with its seven rotating periscopes. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.22-1 Staende mit Pz.Kpfw.Tuermen

While not the first German tank to have more than one turret, the presence of such a design feature was a rather unusual decision. Even the Begleitwagen (Eng: Escort vehicle), a tank that would eventually evolve into Panzer IV, was meant to have such a small turret in its early development stage, although it was never actually fitted. Based on the drawings, the VK65.01 auxiliary turret appears to have been round in shape, with a curved machine gun mantlet. It also had what appears to be an observation periscope port located on top of it.

The design of the smaller auxiliary turret appears to be similar in both drawings. Source:


When the VK65.01 project was initiated, there were three proposals for the main armament. Two of these were 7.5 cm guns, but with different barrel lengths. The 7.5 cm KwK L/24 was used on the Panzer IV and was already in production. This meant that it was available for installation and was already used on the previous heavy tank vehicles. The downside was that, due to its specific role as a support weapon, it was less suited for engaging enemy armor. However, the Germans knew that their tanks armed with this gun could encounter enemy tanks. To counter them, an armor-piercing round with a muzzle velocity of 385 m/s was developed for it, which could pierce around 39 mm of 30° angled armor at a distance of 500 m.

The 7.5 cm L/24 gun was the main weapon of the early Panzer IV and StuG III series. It was a good weapon able to deal with enemy-fortified positions. What it lacked were anti-tank capabilities, and would be, after 1942, replaced with longer guns. Source:

The second proposal was the 7.5 cm L/40 gun. This had a much longer barrel and improved armor-piercing capabilities, making it much more suited for dealing with armored vehicles. The development of this gun was constantly delayed and was never actually put into production.

The last option was a 10.5 KwK L/20 gun. It fired a much heavier 15 kg round compared to the 6.8 kg 7.5 cm round. While this gun was tested, it too was not accepted for service given the rather cumbersome and heavy ammunition. Given that these two guns were not introduced to service at the time, the Germans realistically could only use the proven 7.5 cm L/24 gun as the main armament of the VK65.01, with possible replacement at a later point.

Besides the known armament, other characteristics, such as elevation or traverse are unknown. The ammunition load for the main armament is also not mentioned in the sources. The previous VK30.01 heavy tank had an ammunition load that consisted of between 90 to 100 rounds. One of the existing VK65.01 drawings shows an unusual feature of the gun mantlet and the armored gun barrel deflector designs. The gun mantlet appears to be flat but slightly angled. Normally, German tanks that were equipped with the short 7.5 cm gun were provided with a round-shaped gun mantlet. The second unusual feature is the use of a thick armored gun barrel deflector. This is likely a copy of a similar design used on some of the VK30.01 turrets (but not all, as there is photographic evidence of this). On the second VK65.01 drawing, the whole gun assembly is positioned quite high in the turret, which would greatly limit its elevation and depression. Lastly, the gun barrel is too short. Of course, this is likely an artistic expression based on little available information about its appearance.

A VK30.01 that used the standard 7.5 cm L.24 cm gun protective deflector. Source: Twitter Char1A
This vehicle uses a much heavier gun barrel protective deflector. Source:
A VK30.01 turret used as a static defense point was also provided with much thicker armor that covered the gun barrel. Source: Wiki
The similarity between the VK30.01 (top) and the VK65.01 (bottom) turrets is evident here. Note the difference in the gun mantlet and the rather strange position of the main armament on the VK65.01 drawing. The commander’s cupola position is also different between these two. Source:

The secondary armament would have consisted of the coaxial 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun and another (or even two) machine gun would be placed inside the small auxiliary turret.


Very few sources mention anything specific about the VK65.01’s armor thickness. What is known is that the front hull and superstructure were 80 mm thick. The side and rear armor are not mentioned but it can be assumed that these (at least in the case of the superstructure) were also 80 mm thick. Some sources mention that the production version of the VK65.01 would have received 100 mm of frontal armor. While it used a VK30.01 turret, its frontal armor thickness was increased from 50 to 80 mm. No information regarding the armor protection of the auxiliary turret is mentioned in the sources. Its overall armor thickness was likely lower than that of the frontal armor, making it a weak spot on the WK65.01.


The VK65.01 had a crew of five, which included the commander, gunner, and loader, who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and auxiliary turret operator in the hull. The latter was likely also the radio operator. If the VK65.01 drawing is completely correct, then the driver position would have been on the right side of the vehicle. This is somewhat unique among German tank designs, as this position was often reserved for the radio operator. Opposite him sat the machine gun/radio operator. The gunner, as on most German tanks, was positioned to the left of the main armament. The loader was right next to him. Lastly, the commander was positioned under the turret cupola.

Transportation Problems

The VK65.01’s excessive weight and small maximum speed limited its overall mobility. Transportation of such vehicles over long distances would have been difficult. Some sources mention that the Henchel engineers designed the VK65.01 in such a way that it could be disassembled into three individual components: suspension and gearbox; turret and crew fighting compartment; and engine compartment.

Even when divided into smaller components, moving them on a railway car would still require specialized crane equipment. The L900D Faun heavy-duty truck equipped with the large Demag LK 5S 20-tonne crane was to be used for this role. It was estimated that two such vehicles would be needed to load and unload a disassembled VK65.01 heavy tank. This would have been a time-consuming process for the crews involved. How practical this solution was is dubious at best. The vehicle and its working crew would have been quite exposed to potential enemy attack either from the air or ground and the locations where it could be deployed would have to have been close to railway heads.

The L900D Faun heavy-duty truck had sufficient power and strength to transport and even tow some of the earlier German tank designs (in this case, Panzer IIs). Two such vehicles equipped with cranes were to be used to disassemble the VK65.01 into components. Source:


The VK65.01 project would turn out to be short-lived. After the major victory against the Western Allies in June 1940, the German Army did not see the need for the development of such heavy vehicles. By August 1940, the previously issued order for the delivery of various components was canceled, including the first soft steel turret. Despite the cancellation of the project, Henschel completed one soft-steel chassis with the superstructure in 1941. As other tank projects took priority, the single chassis was possibly sent to be scrapped at the end of 1943.


The VK65.01 was an interesting but short-lived project. It was the first truly heavy tank in the German Army’s arsenal. With an estimated weight of 65 tonnes, it weighed the same as three fully equipped Panzer IV tanks. While the armor of 80 mm would have been formidable, the maximum speed of only 26 km/h would have limited the vehicle’s offensive capabilities, especially for the kind of warfare Germany had fought up to that point. The realization that such a vehicle was not needed in 1940 essentially killed the project. Still, working on such a heavy vehicle offered a valuable experience for Henschel’s engineering teams. This would undoubtedly be used during the development of the later Tiger heavy tank.

Panzerkampfwagen VII VK65.01. Illustrations by Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Panzerkampfwagen VII VK65.01 Technical Specifications

Crew 5 (Commander, driver, gunner, loader, and radio operator)
Dimensions Length 7 m, Width 3.2 m, Height 2.92
Weight 65 tonnes
Engine Maybach HL 224 300 hp engine
Speed 20 km/h
Primary Armament 7.5 cm L/24
Secondary Armament Two 7.92 mm machine guns
Armor 80 mm


T. Anderson (2017) History of the Panzerwaffe Volume 2 1942-1945. Osprey Publishing

T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2001) Panzer Tracts No.6 Schwere Panzerkampfwagen

T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2001) Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers

T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2004) Panzer Tracts No.22-1 Staende mit Pz.Kpfw. Tuermen

.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2000) Germany’s Tiger Tanks, Schiffer publishing

K.W. Estes (2018) German Heavy Fighting Vehicles Of The Second World War, From Tiger To E-100, Fonthill

D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications

T. Melleman (2002) PzKpfw Vi Tiger Vol.I, AJ Press

P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.

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