German Half-Tracks

SdKfz 251/1

German Half-Tracks
The driving force behind the transition from foot soldiers to mechanized warriors was the German Army of WWII whose own terminology combined the old and new in memorable style.The infantry units of the tank divisions were christened panzergrenadiers.Their half-tracked vehicles were the most distinctive of the war.
While the British and French persisted in regarding the tank as primarily an infantry support weapon to be distributed in small units among the infantry divisions , the German Army followed the Soviet lead.The Reichswehr's secret training programme on the Red Army tank grounds paid enormous dividends.German tanks were to be concentrated in discrete armored divisions with accompanying infantry , artillery , anti-tank , anti-aircraft and even re-supply columns all mounted in vehicles with as high a proportion as possible capable of off road movement.Half-track vehicles were already in service as artillery tractors.Their cross country capability was not as great as a fully tracked vehicle but they were cheaper and quicker to manufacture , being essentially trucks with the rear wheels replaced by a track unit.It was a short step to consider them as infantry transports for the panzergreanadier regiments.
The idea was to fit a lightly armored shell to a half-track chassis.Development began in 1937 , Hanomag undertook the design of the chassis while Büssing-NAG produced the armored body.The vehicle used as a basis for the design was the three-tom prime mover the SdKfz 11.Designated the Sd Kfz 251 , Allied source later referred to as the Hanomag , the German Army term for such vehicles was Schützenpanzerwagen abbreviated to SPW.Series production commenced in June 1939 and continued until September 1943.
The basic infantry carrier was fitted with a 7.92mm machine gun behind a small armored shield at the front.Asecond machine gun was located at the rear on a high-angle mounting.The two man crew remained in the vehicle but the infantry section in the open troop compartment deployed via twin rear doors.The second most numerous sub-class looked almost identical being the ammunition carriers for the tank and artillery units as well as the machine gun and mortar companies of the panzergrenadier battalions.There were numerous other variants some developed in 1939-1940 , others right at the end of the war on Hitler's personal orders.
There was only one problem with the Sd Kfz 251 there were never enough of them.The numbers built fell far short of the quantity needed to equip every panzergrenadier unit.In general only one of the four or six panzergrenadier battalions in a panzer division would be mounted in half-tracks the bulk of the troops remained in lorriers.This severely reduced the ability of the panzergrenadiers to fight in conjunction with the tanks.Their unarmored trucks were vulnerable to enemy fire and had only limited cross -country mobility.The battalion in half-tracks could not be everywhere at once.Ironically the balance between armored infantry and tanks that the proponents of the panzer divisions intended was achieved to some extent during the war because the number of tanks in each formation was often short of the authorized strength.

SdKfz 251/1
Classic photo of the armored infantry dismounting from an Ausf.B to deal with an obstacle.Note heavy front machine gun mount and use of balkenkreuz marking between vision ports at front.

Some German Half-Tracks and Variants
Sd Kfz 250
Sd Kfz 252
Sd Kfz 251
Sd Kfz 253

The success of the Sd Kfz 251 in the APC role led the army to demand a similar vehicle for its reconnaissance units in 1939.The troop carrying requirement was reduced to half a squad (Halbegruppe) or a 'fire team' in modern parlance.The basis for the new vehicle was the Sd Kfz 10 1-ton prime mover Büssing-NAG were responsible for the armored body while Demag built the chassis.Hilter's stop-start approach to industrial management imposed delays on all military production in 1940 so it was not until the summer of 1941 that the first of those new APCs appeared.Designated Sd Kfz 250 some 4,250 were built before manufacture ceased in October 1943.They were the mainstay of the panzer divisions reconnaissance units and appeared in almost as many variants as the Sd Kfz 251: ammunition carriers , command vehicles , fire support vehicles and mortar carriers were all built.Dissatisfation with the Sd Kfz 222 four-wheeled armored car's performance in Russia led to the experimental fitting of the 222's 20mm gun turret to a number of Sd Kfz 250's in March 1942.This hybrid proved very successful and the Sd Kfz 250/9 entered mass production to replace the Sd Kfz 222.

Sd Kfz 9
Sd Kfz 9 : This 18 tonne Leviathan was by far the largest of all WWII half-tracks.Its origins were in a 1936 requirement for a vehicle to support the panzer divisions and act in a recovery role.Two types were therefore produced.It towed the heaviest German artillery pieces including the massive 24cm K3.It was made obsolescent as a tank recovery vehicle due to the ever increasing tonnage of the Panzers and production halted in 1944.

German half-tracks like German tanks , aircraft and even lorries were manufactured to very high standards and in many versions.This imposed its own limitations on manufacturing output especially when compared to the prodigious quantities of simpler American and Russian equipment that they faced on or above the battlefield.One comparison will suffice.The tracks on the US Army's M3 half track consisted of two steel cables with reinforcing crossbars moulded into a single unit by vulcanized rubber.They had a wear-life of about 1,500 miles but were easily and cheaply replaced.The tracks on a German half-track consisted of individual steel cross pieces held together in a continuous link by a series of pins each pin held in place by a pair of needle bearings.The German tracks were better engineered , stronger and longer lasting but labor intensive , expensive to make and just as easily destroyed in battle.