Standing at a mere 1ft tall and 4ft long, it must be assumed that the Goliath Tracked Mine was named with the same light-hearted irony as Robin Hood’s trusty, burly companion ‘Little’ John. The idea behind the miniature motor was inspired by the French vehicle designer Adolphe Kégresse after the Wehrmacht recovered his prototype from the River Seine in 1940.
Impressed with the destructive potential of the device, the Wehrmacht’s ordnance office ordered the Carl F W Borgwand automaker to begin work developing a similar vehicle with the intention of using it as a delivery system for explosives. It did not take long for Borgwand to deliver the goods, and that same year, the SdKfz 302 – or Sonderkrafahzeug (special-purpose vehicle) – was born, at first going by the name of Leichter Ladungsträger (light charge carrier), then later more simply as Goliath.
The tracked vehicle could carry 60kg of explosives and was steered remotely using a joystick control box attached to the rear of the Goliath by 650m of triple-strand cable. Two of the strands accelerated and manoeuvred the Goliath, while the third was used to trigger the detonation.
Each Goliath had to be disposable, as each was built specifically to be blown up along with an enemy target. The first models were powered by an electric motor, but these proved difficult to repair on the battlefield, and at 3,000 Reichsmarks were not exactly cost effective. As a result, later models (the SdKfz 303) used a simpler, more reliable gasoline engine.
Being sent back to the drawing board is a disgrace usually reserved for weapons that never saw battlefield action. Goliaths did see combat and were deployed on all German fronts beginning in the spring of 1942. Their role in the action was usually nugatory, however, having been rendered immobile by uncompromising terrain or deactivated by cunning enemy soldiers who had cut their command cables.
The latter trick was carried out most effectively by the Polish resistance of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising who, acknowledging their minimal supply of anti-tank weapons, sent volunteers into the eye of the advancing storm of SS units to cut the Goliaths’ cables before they reached their targets. Some Goliaths were also spotted on the beaches of Normandy, but those too were quickly put out of action, this time by artillery blasts severing the command cables.
7,564 Goliaths were produced. But even though it only had a single use, could travel no faster than 6mph, was expensive to make, had thin armour, was vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and cable-cutters, and had a poor ground clearance of just 11.4cm, the Goliath was considered a success. For while this particular model proved to be something of a disaster, it paved the way for the surge in development of post-war remote-controlled vehicle technologies, its failures helping to guide engineers to come.
A number of Goliaths survived the war, and are preserved at various museums around the world. You can learn more about the Goliaths and visit the last remaining models at: the Canadian War Museum; United States Army Ordnance Museum; the Bovington Tank Museum and The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Museum in the UK; the Dutch Cavalry Museum; Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Belgium; the Kubinka Tank Museum; Polish Army Museum; Warsaw Uprising Museum; the Deutsches Panzermuseum in Germany, and the Musée du Débarquement Utah Beach in Normandy, France.
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