If you’re a fan of visiting museums that showcase the vehicles, weapons, clothes, and everything that people used during the times of war, like the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, then you might have noticed that some of the German tanks have this strange-looking texture that covers the vehicles’ surfaces. You might have assumed that these textures were part of the camouflage, but in fact, it was some sort of anti-mine idea that they added so that magnetic mines would not stick to their armored vehicles, called Zimmerit. While it could’ve been quite a brilliant idea, it was, in fact, unnecessary.
When looking at German tanks from WWII, you may have noticed a strange texture covering most surfaces of their armor. Although this looks like an interesting type of camouflage, it’s actually a special coating devised by the Germans to decrease the magnetic properties of a tank’s armor and decrease a magnetic mine’s ability to stick to it. Named Zimmerit, the coating was difficult and time-consuming to apply. It ultimately proved unnecessary, as ironically, Germany was the only combatant in WWII to field magnetic mines in any appreciable amount.
In 1942, Germany released their perhaps most famous magnetic anti-tank magnetic mine called the Hafthohlladung, or handheld hollow charge. It used three strong horseshoe-shaped magnetic feet made of Alnico-type alloy to stick to the armor of the enemy vehicle. It had an adhesion strength of 6.8 kg-equivalent.
The magnetic mines came in different sizes, although the most common weight was 6.6 pounds or 3 kilograms. Each Hafthohlladung contained a 1.5 kilogram shaped charge made of PETN/Wax. It was pretty straightforward how to use it: grab the mine and run-up to the target tank, stick it on any magnetic surface of the vehicle, pull the safety pin, and run for your life. The magnets were there to ensure that the device was properly distanced from the armor and that it would cause the desired damages.
While the magnetic device pretty much removed whatever advantages armor angling gave, it also imposed risks on the soldiers assigned to do the task. It exposed them not only to the enemy fire whenever they approached the vehicle but also to the defenses of the tank itself.