By Rob Arndt



Side view of one of two hemispherical disc-shaped armored wheels
located on each side of the Kugelpanzer


Rear view of the connection point between the hull and
directional steering wheel of the Kugelpanzer



Close up view of the directional steering wheel of the Kugelpanzer Photos courtesy of

















The Kugelpanzer literally translates as “Ball Tank” and is the most rare and strange armored fighting vehicle ever built. Only one lone example of this Reconnaissance Rollzeug (Rolling Vehicle) has been captured by the Russians and it survives today as part of the Kubinka Museum’s collection of German armored vehicles. The Kugelpanzer is simply listed as Item #37 and has been painted over gloss white. From fragmentary information sources, the drive has been removed from the vehicle and no metal samples are allowed taken from it. The history of the vehicle is literally unknown, as no documents were found with it and the vehicle had no clear markings. Only six firm facts are available:

1) The Kugelpanzer was a German-made vehicle shipped to Japan via technology transfer
2) The Kugelpanzer was a light Reconnaissance AFV
3) The Kugelpanzer was captured by the Russian Army in 1945 in Manchuria
4) The Kugelpanzer was plated with only 5mm of armor on its hull
5) The Kugelpanzer was powered by a single cylinder two-stroke engine
6) The Kugelpanzer was operated by one person

It is hard to speculate on how this machine functioned, but from observation it appears to be a one man reconnaissance tank with an armored shell and view port. Perhaps under or behind the operator an engine was mounted and for stability a small directional wheel was located at the rear to steer the two large hemispherical disc tracks at the sides. When not on the move, the Kugelpanzer would become an armored shelter or perhaps a pillbox “if” any weapon could be fired from it. It is not clear from photographic evidence if a firing port was located under the view port. Since this vehicle had come from Germany, then the primary armament of this vehicle would have probably been a German 7.92mm MG-34 or MG-42 machine gun. Japanese machine guns were poorly manufactured and functioned badly in the field along with their single type of submachine gun in production. From photographic evidence it appears that this single machine was captured fully intact, having seen no combat at all.

It is also widely speculated that only Krupp could have built this machine.


 As the war progressed, the Germans found themselves increasingly trading their high technology for very little in return other than the prospect of stiffening Japanese resistance and perhaps drawing American force to the Pacific and lessening pressure on the Reich. And the Japanese, their industry hard-pressed to maintain pace with American and British technological developments, were always very eager, and very specific, in their demands for high technology from their Aryan brethren.

Even the conventional military technology transfers form Germany to Japan are staggering enough.

By 1944 Japan had requested and received either working models or full production designs for the following:

German techniques for manufacturing cartridge steel for large gun barrel linings
Finished artillery pieces
105 and 128 mm heavy anti-aircraft (FLAK) guns
the 75 and 88 mm field pieces and anti-tank guns
the Würzburg radar system
750 ton submarine pressure hulls
the PzKw Via Tiger I tank
the Focke Wulfe 190 fighter
the Henschel 129 tank-busting aircraft

the Heinkel He 177 heavy bomber
the Messerschmitt 264 long-range Amerikabomber
the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter


the Messerschmitt 163 rocket-powered fighter
the Lorenz 7H2 bombsight; the B/3 and FUG 10 airborne radars;

and perhaps significantly, Twenty-five pounds of "bomb fuses."

Fortunately for American and Commonwealth forces in the Pacific theater, these weapons never saw full scale production by the Japanese. What is intriguing is the last item. Why bomb fuses? Surely the Japanese, who had been raining bombs all over China, Indochina, Burma, and the Pacific knew how to fuse a conventional bomb. The request suggests that the fuses were of sophistication beyond the capabilities of Japanese industry. And why a request for heavy bombers so close to the end of the war, at least one of which was reputedly capable of ultra-long-range flight and heavy payload?

~ Joseph Mark Scalia, Germany's Last Mission to Japan: The Failed Voyage of the U-234





War Tank on One Wheel Operated By One Man



November 1933

US Army  'Tumbleweed' Ball Tank Design


July 1936

Russian Wheel Tank of WW1

The bizarre "Tsar-tank" was built in 1915. At 40 tons, it was probably the largest tank ever made anywhere at the time. Two huge wheels were driven by one 250 hp motor each. Two minor wheels were to the rear. The guns were probably placed outside the wheels. Two prototypes were made, but the insufficient trial (stuck in the mud) and heavy costs closed the project in 1916. The last of the two was dismantled for scrap in 1923.


Russian Tank of the Future Concept

Kugelpanzer Predecessor of WW1

By request of the German War Ministry, an armored vehicle project put forward in 1916-1917 to the German commercial firm of the Bremen Hansa-Lloyd Works. They were to design a battlewagon, Germany's one and only “big wheel” design, which progressed further than its British counterpart.

The Treffas-Wagen was finished on February 1, 1917. It had two large steel wheels, roughly 11 feet in diameter, on each side of a rectangular armoured body. At the rear was a large castor-like roller for steering. In front of the body was a 20 mm TUF gun, with machine guns on either side for firing into trenches. The crew consisted of four men. The Treffas-Wagen weighed 18 tons. One prototype was built, and thoroughly tested during February and March of 1917.

Meanwhile, a decision was made in favor of the A7V. The Treffas-Wagen was not developed any further and was dismantled in October of 1917.

Schumann Panzerlafette / Fahrpanzer

The Fahrpanzer (mobile shielding) was conceived in Germany at the beginning of the century like a mobile fortification: one could move the turret into any tactical position as a blockhouse for attacking enemy infantry long before opposing artillery showed up. The machine was not autonomous and would have to be put into position by a motorized transport... or a horse-drawn wagon. This kind of machine was used at the height of Metz, but was to be largely exported. The viability of the concept however, was always in doubt: no motorization left the machine without autonomy and it lacked internal ammunition reserves. The recoil of the 50mm gun also tended to destabilize the machine badly.The only specimen of this armored curiosity is preserved at the Royal Army Museum of Brussels.

The first German battle tank, 1917



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