In 1986 the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost. Under this new policy of openness the Soviet Union would be more open, and information would be more freely available.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a global event which glasnost arguably hastened, the world finally learned about many of the secret war weapons the Soviet Union had designed or used during WWII. One of these weapons was the KV-VI “Behemoth” tank, which, as the name implies, was utterly massive.
But what did we learn about the KV-VI Behemoth?
The Kliment Voroshilov (KV) tanks were a series of several Soviet heavy tanks that were named after the politician and Soviet defense commissar Kliment Voroshilov. KV tanks were well known for their superior heavy armor protection, and they were used during the early stages of the war and the German invasion of the USSR.
These powerful KV tanks (initially the KV-I or KV-2), alongside infantry soldiers, were able to stop Germans in their tracks. The KV tanks were unaffected when hit with the mounted cannons and tank guns that the Germans sent against them.
The Germans quickly learned to fear these armored monsters, and seldom deployed their tanks against the KV beasts.
The title “Behemoth” in Russian is Бегемот which means hippopotamus and is a good description of this massive tank. The KV-VI Behemoth was a “multi-turreted tank using components of the KV-I and II, the BT-5, T-60, and T-38 tanks.”
Stalin had heard that one KV-II tank kept the entire 6th Panzer Division at bay for more than a day. So Stalin demanded a land battleship was to be made. His idea was to attach three large turrets to the tank, and it needed to be just as heavily armored as it was armed.
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This land battleship was designed to withstand anything the Germans shot at it. The designers told Stalin that the tank was going to be super long and unable to turn well due to the three massive turrets. Stalin told them he didn’t care and “It doesn’t need to turn; it will drive straight to Berlin.”
The KV-VI Behemoth was absolutely massive. It was 51 feet (15.5 m) long, 10 feet, and 10 inches (3.4 m) wide and stood 15ft and three inches (4.7 m). Hippos are known to weigh a lot, and so did the KV-VI Behemoth.
This crazy tank weighed 276,000 pounds (138 tons) and was armed from end to end. The KV-VI Behemoth was equipped with two large cannons, two machine guns, one anti-tank gun, two belt-fed machine guns, two Maxim machine guns, 16 rocket launchers, and two flamethrowers.
And they actually build the thing. The first KV-VI Behemoth was finished in December of 1941 and was sent to Moscow, where a malfunction with the rear turret ended up firing into the center turret. The resulting explosion obliterated the tank and the 15 soldiers who made up the tank crew.
The second prototype was sent to Leningrad, but it was damaged crossing a ravine. The third prototype was sent to Leningrad in 1942 and shot down three German planes, but it tipped over into a ditch due to the massive recoil of firing at the aircraft and was too damaged to operate further.
By this time the project was becoming unpopular with the Soviet high command. Stalin canceled the KV-VI Behemoth projects and sent the design team to the gulags of Siberia.
However, all is not what it seems. There was a tank designated “KV-VI” which the Soviet Union built and used in WWII, but the KV-VI Behemoth, with its astonishing armor and multiple guns, was a work of fiction. The KV-VI Behemoth tank never existed and was never even designed during WWII.
Brian Fowler and the Power of Photoshop
The KV-VI Behemoth was a model tank created by model builder Brian Fowler in 1995, and its image and fictional history (with references from fake books) were posted to the model building/forum Track-Link in 1997. The KV-VI Behemoth was created using several model tank kits, and the pieces were joined together and epoxied using model glue.
The turret rested on a pedestal that Brian made from a shaving cream lid, and the more minor details like ladders and the flamethrowers Brian built himself. This fantasy tank model that Brian built was for entry into a sci-fi scale model competition.
Brian Fowler has said that this KV-VI Behemoth was made for fun once he had completed building several historically accurate, well-researched models, and he entered the crazy tank into a competition. The KV-VI Behemoth model won “Best Sci-Fi IPMS Buffcon Show, 1996”, 1st place Hypothetical, Noreastcon, 1997” and “1st place IPMS National Show, Columbus, 1997.”
Fowler has stated that he never intended to create a hoax. He believed the fake book sources would be a dead giveaway that the KV-VI Behemoth was fictional.
He quoted spoof books, including “Dreadful Din on the Eastern Front” which is an obvious spoof of the book “All Quiet on the Western Front”. A WWII classic that Brian also played with was “The Tigers are Burning” which he altered to be “The Behemoths are Burning.” While Brian is pleased that his tank has been spread across the internet, he never wanted it to fool people or create a hoax.
The hoax spawned additional fakes, however. Images have been created using Photoshop that depict a prototype of the KV-VI Behemoth being driven through Red Square as part of a military parade. These images are expertly altered and look incredibly real.
The truth is the image was made from several T-28 tanks that were on parade in Red Square. The tanks were photoshopped to make it look like a single, massively long behemoth of a tank. Artists have done their own illustrations and renderings of the tank based on Fowler’s model, and they vary in detail.
Even though the KV-VI Behemoth was a made-up fictional tank, many people believe that it was real and not a hodgepodge of model tanks glued together. The story Brian Fowler created to accompany this tank is why some believe the tank was real.
The spoof book titles for “sources” that Fowler quoted should be a dead giveaway that the KV-VI Behemoth was a joke, but as this hoax shows us, people seldom look at the bibliography or works cited at the end of an article.
Top Image: The Soviet MBV-2 Armored Train, which really did exist, is occasionally presented as evidence that the KV-VI Behemoth existed. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-690-0201-14; Kripgans / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE.