When you think of the best German-made tanks, you think of the Panzerkampfwagen V, the Tiger or Panther tanks. These tanks were among the feared armored vehicles ever to take to the battlefield. These tanks were generally superior to anything made by any of the allied countries during WWII. But the Germans also designed and employed a tiny tank that functioned as a tracked anti-tank weapon operated by remote control with a name that contradicted its small size, the Goliath Tracked Mine., also known as the Leichter Ladungsträger Goliath, or the “beetle tank”!

The Precursor of the RC cars

Remote-controlled cars being used as toys by children across the world today owe something to the Goliath tracked mine vehicle used by the Germans in WWII. In fact, many would argue that these vehicles are responsible for the modern-day RC cars, only without explosives and Soviet tanks to drive it under.

Goliath tracked mine displayed at the Bovington Tank Museum. SkudsCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you ever had an RC car before, then think of the same principle – only this time the RC car can blow a thirty-ton tank into the air. These Goliaths were made to be a scout of some sort, advancing ahead of the troops to look for mines and destroying highly fortified positions and vehicles so that their troops wouldn’t have to risk their life trying to do so. They evolved into anti-tank weapons to give infantry an effective weapon against Soviet tanks on the Eastern Front.

How Was It Made?

The Goliath isn’t actually the first remote-controlled demolition vehicle used in the war. In World War I, the French actually designed vehicles known as the Crocodile Schneider Torpille Terrestre (or the Torpedo Crocodile Schneider) and the Aubriot-Gabet Torpille Électrique (or the Aubriot-Gabet Electric Torpedo) in 1916.

You haven’t heard of these because they were rarely used and were generally ineffective against destroying tanks. These were intended to be used for trench warfare, where the French forces would drive the torpedoes into enemy trenches and set them off.

When the French surrendered, the Germans found prototype models, and they thought, why not reverse engineer it and make it better? So the German army had the automotive company, Borgward develop the weapon from the French design with more armor and equipped with 60kg of explosives to make it much more powerful.

Voila! The end result was a mean, remote-controlled Sonderkraftfahrzeug Leichter Ladungsträger (SdKfz. 302). Yup, we couldn’t pronounce that either, so let’s just call it the Goliath!

How Did The Nazis Use It?

The Goliath was an innovative vehicle during those times as it was controlled remotely using a joystick control box. They are quite similar to the controllers we now use today in function, only bulkier. These vehicles were either battery-operated or gas-operated, but of course, the gas versions were the ones that were more reliable simply because troops did not have to recharge them. Goliaths were also made for single-use as they were demolition vehicles, so it made no sense why you’d have to charge them again anyway.

With 60kg worth of explosives, they were used on all fronts in early 1942. They were used alongside their bigger brothers, the Panzers, to eliminate enemy tanks. Yup, they could damage allied tanks with their firepower! The only downside to these Goliaths was their range. Since they had to be connected to the joystick, it only had a limited range due to the actual wire. They were also prone to be disconnected from their operators as the wires could be shot by allied forces.

 A German Beetle remote-controlled miniature tank, photographed on one of the invasion beaches (probably Utah Beach) shortly after the initial Normandy landings, June 1944 (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:26-G-2420_Normandy_Invasion,_June_1944.jpg
A German Beetle remote-controlled miniature tank photographed on one of the invasion beaches (probably Utah Beach) shortly after the initial Normandy landings, June 1944. US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

Aside from their primary use as demolition vehicles and mobile mines, they were used against highly fortified positions and infrastructure such as bridges and buildings. Over 7,562 of these were produced during WWII but were discontinued due to their relatively low effectiveness and high unit cost compared to other anti-tank weapons like the Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust.

Perhaps its downfall, aside from its severed cables, was that it was very slow; thus, it could easily be disabled by small arms fire.

While they were of limited success during the war, the potential of the Goliath probably spawned U.S. innovations for future remote-controlled vehicles and aircraft. descendants of the Goliath are being used by police departments all over the world as remotely operated vehicles that disable bombs and go into structures deemed too dangerous for law enforcement officers to enter safely.