Spooky events or haunted places make spine-chilling stories. Here in Stuttgart, we have our own ghostly legends of the past — and many surround Panzer Kaserne in Böblingen and its affiliation with the German military. There are rumors that a Panzer Family Housing Area building, which years ago housed a water tower, is haunted.
Then there’s a legend concerning Panzer Hall, also known in the community as the old fire house. Adolf Hitler is rumored to have delivered a speech from the gallery of the former German military officer’s club.
Some people have said that while they were in the building’s basement, they sensed death and fear. Others have heard strange noises at night. Whether these can be attributed to Hitler’s presumed presence, we’ll never know. Even the Panzer Local Training Area has its own legend steeped in Hitler’s efforts to defeat Russia.
To this day, many local German residents (and Americans) believe there is a top secret World War II-era tank buried somewhere on the Panzer LTA.
It turns out that there is some truth to this, and here’s what we found out.
“Panzer” in German means tank. The history of Panzer Kaserne, formerly known as Ludendorff Kaserne, and its local training area goes back to 1938, when the “Panzer Regiment 8,” or 8th Tank Regiment of the “Wehrmacht” (German armed forces) arrived in Böblingen on April 9. The regiment was previously headquartered in Wünsdorf Zossen, Brandenburg. Another armored unit, the 7th Tank Regiment, was headquartered on Kurmärker Kaserne, today known as Patch Barracks.
The training area was built specifically to train and test tank crews.
“Many training exercises were conducted on the Panzer LTA between 1939 and 1945,” said Friedrich Wein, of the Monument Protection Agency in Horb.
While tanks were paired with infantry units during World War I and the interwar period, the tank units developed rapidly into their own branch during World War II, according to Wein. World War II was the first conflict where armored vehicles were critical to success on the battlefield, and proved an armored force was capable of quickly achieving a tactical victory, he added.
The Russian army was known for building solid and efficient tanks. In 1942, when the German military feared that the Russians would develop a new type of battle tank, Adolf Hitler assigned Ferdinand Porsche, a German-Austrian mechanical engineer, to develop a super-heavy tank. With its impenetrable armored protection and 188 tons of steel, the tank was designed to be indestructible.
The tank’s main armament was a 128 mm cannon in a rotating turret; its secondary armament consisted of a 75 mm cannon for long-range targets and two machine guns for close combat. The tank was supposed to hold a crew of five people: commander, gunner, loader, operator and driver. Its code name was “Maus,” or mouse.
In 1943, Hitler was presented with a wooden model of the Maus tank. He was impressed with the design and ordered a series of 150 to be produced. Hitler affectionally called the massive 188-ton tank “Mäuschen,” or little mouse.
In the summer of 1943, Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenwerke), a German company well known for producing tanks during World War II, started to build the first Maus prototype, called the V1.
The 1,080 horsepower engine was built by Daimler-Benz. For a second prototype, the V2, Daimler developed a 1,200 horsepower engine that increased the tank’s speed and reduced its fuel consumption. Other than the engine, both prototypes featured the same design, as well as the same armor and weapon system, according to Wein.
The tank hull held the engine, the driver, ammunition and gear.
“The construction of the Maus tank was a top-secret project. Therefore, the first prototype had the Russian hammer and sickle symbol painted on it to make people believe that the Maus was a tank that the German armed forces captured from the Russians,” Wein said.
With both the Porsche and Daimler-Benz factories involved in the tank’s development, the Panzer LTA was the ideal location to test the two Maus prototypes.
In January 1944, the Maus V1 was transported from Kummersdorf, a tank-testing station in Brandenburg, to Böblingen. The first test drive on the LTA took place Jan. 31. On March 1, the second prototype, the V2, arrived in Böblingen.
While the V1 was tested on the LTA for nine months, the V2 had its engine installed and was returned to Kummersdorf.
And here’s where the legend of the buried tank originates.
According to Wein, there was an area on the LTA that was known for being swampy and not ideal for any type of military tank training.
Military instructors normally avoided this site during training sessions. However, Wein said that sometimes Porsche workers, who were not familiar with the area, drove the V1 tank and in this case, simply took a wrong turn.
“The Maus sunk all the way to the hull, and it was extremely hard to pull the heavy vehicle out of the swamp,” Wein said.
Rescuing the tank was a herculean endeavor: the ground behind the tank had to be dug up, then logs were placed to act as a conveyor system. The tank was then pushed and pulled out of the swamp.
Once the V1 was freed, testing on the LTA continued. The German armed forces were pleased to see that even with its heavy weight, the Maus was extremely maneuverable.
In October 1944, the V1’s test phase in Böblingen ended, and the prototype was transported back to the tank-testing station in Kummersdorf.
As Hitler lost power, materials and resources became scarce, and the two prototypes were never put into production.
But what happened to the prototypes?
There are many versions of the legend. One is that the Germans have kept the tank hidden on the LTA. Another is that the tank was never recovered.
However, according to Wein’s research, toward the end World War II, the Germans blew up both prototypes to keep the Russians from discovering their technology.
But the tanks were not completely destroyed.
After the war, the Russians salvaged what they could and rebuilt a new Maus tank using the hull of the V1 and the turret of the V2. Today, the combined tank is displayed at the Tank Museum in Kubinka, near Moscow.