There were various tank designs that broke the mold in terms of tank designs, like the eyebrow-raising design of the Tsar tank or the outstanding tank design of the Biorault machine. Although outlandish, we could, at the very least, understand the rationale behind these designs, and most of them had accompanying documentation that allowed us and the historians to comprehend the purposes of these tanks. Then there’s the Kugelpanzer. An enigma of a thing that was so out there that we had to tell you about it.

What We Know So Far

Nothing that we know so far about the Kugelpanzer was 100% certain, as historians could only speculate. There were no documents that were recovered either regarding its design or purpose but here are what experts have gathered so far:

It was assumed that the tank was produced by Krupp of Germany, the same company that produced various military vehicles during World War II. The Kugelpanzer was a 25-horsepower single-cylinder vehicle with two strong engines and a 5 mm thick outer armor. It weighed 1.8 tons and rolled along on 1.5 meters diameter rollers. The driver (or drivers) were supposed to sit on a saddle-like stool.

Kugelpanzer – Patriot Museum, Kubinka. (Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UKCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Its small size made experts think that it was designed to be powered by just a single person. The steering wheel was in the rear and served as a way to shift the vehicle’s center of gravity to provide support for the rotary movements of the wheels. According to the Russian Popular Mechanics, “Single-cylinder motorcycle two-stroke carburetor engine with a power of 25 hp. allows you to reach speeds up to 8 km / h” or almost 5 miles per hour. Its front also had a slit that was likely designed as a viewing slot and a place from which a machine gun could be positioned, probably a 7.92mm MG34 or MG42.

Those were at least the observable details of the Kugelpanzer. The rest is up for discussion and debate.

Lone Model

The lone Kugelpanzer model that was the only source of everything that we know and theorize about was from that one specimen that the Red Army captured from the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria in 1945. The belief is that this model was the only one in existence. Part of the mystery is how it ended up in the hands of the Japanese.  After it was seized, the Kugelpanzer was repainted, and its drive mechanism was removed. In 2000, the original paintwork was restored.

The design of the tank was similar to the other military vehicles like the Treffas-Wagen of World War I, the Tsak Tank that was mentioned above, and the War Tank with one wheel. However, none of them could match the peculiarity of the Kugelpanzer.

At the moment, it is not clear what metal was used to create the vehicle’s exterior, as samples could not be taken. It was also uncertain whether or not the oddball ever saw combat or not, at least in the European theater.

The one and only Kugulpanzer we have is currently displayed in the Odintsovsky District of Moscow Oblast.

Kamikaze Theory

There were quite different theories about the purpose of the Kugelpanzer, although the majority agreed that it was probably used as a light reconnaissance vehicle. Other suggestions included that it might have served as infantry support or maybe used by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Pacific War. Theorists proposed that the Kugelpanzer was commissioned by Japan and used as part of their kamikaze missions when the war was closing and their defeat was imminent.

In 1944, the Japanese pilots started crashing their planes into enemy ships in suicide missions to cause as much damage as possible. The theory was that since they grew desperate, they incorporated their suicide mission with new vehicles and equipment.

A Japanese Yokosuka MXY 7 Ohka in a damaged hangar. (US. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

They improved their existing devices and developed a new set of military vehicles like the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka, an attack plane specifically designed for kamikaze attacks, and then manned underwater crafts like the Kaiten and Kairyu, and then Shin’yo suicide motorboats. Since the occupants of these vehicles were more likely going to die anyway, they had very little to no offensive weaponry included. The vehicles were also often small, and armor was not given any importance. These features could all be observed in the Kugelpanzer, thus leading to the hypothesis that the vehicle was used to ram into enemy tanks and forces during those suicide missions.

Nonetheless, the vehicle still remains a mystery waiting to be truly unraveled.