In a field study, conducted on ten conventionally managed field sites in Germany, the effects of high axle loads (15 to 25 Mg) on soil physical properties were investigated. Soil texture classes ranged from loamy sand to silty clay loam. All sites were annually ploughed, and one site was additionally subsoiled to 40 cm depth. In the context of common field operations wheeling was performed either by a sugar beet harvester (45 Mg total mass, 113 kPa average ground contact pressure) or a slurry spreader (30 Mg total mass, 77 kPa average ground contact pressure). Soil moisture conditions varied from 3.2 kPa to 32 kPa water tension during this pass. Penetration resistance was measured before the pass. Soil cores were collected in a grid scheme at each site before and after the machine passed. Bulk density, aggregate density, air-filled porosity and air permeability at seven distinct soil water tensions ranging from 0.1 kPa to 32 kPa were determined in these cores taken from three layers (topsoil, plough pan and subsoil). At most sites, a pass by the sugar beet harvester or slurry spreader strongly affected topsoil properties. Bulk density and aggregate density increased while air-filled porosity and air permeability decreased. The plough pan was already severely compacted before wheeling: therefore changes were small. The subsoil showed no changes or only minor signs of compaction. Only at one site, which was subsoiled the year before, significant signs of compaction (i.e. changes in bulk density, air-filled porosity and air permeability) were detected in subsoil layers. The results show that using present-day heavy agricultural equipment does not necessarily lead to severe subsoil compaction in soils where a compacted plough pan already exists. However, fields which were subsoiled leading to an unstable soil structure are in serious danger of becoming severely compacted.