German Armored Cars




In the German concept of mobile war, wheels were only marginally less important than tracks. That said, the first example was unimpressive: an open-topped scout car built on a civilian truck chassis, with a two-man crew, 8mm of armor, and a light machine gun. Entering service with the cavalry, by 1939 it had devolved to the infantry’s reconnaissance battalions as one step above bicycles. Next step was a two-step: the development and introduction of the Leichter Panzerspähwagen Sonderkraftfahrzeug (SdKfz) 221/222—a Teutonic mouthful that translates as Armored Reconnaissance Car Special Purpose Motor Vehicle 221/222, and thankfully shortens simply to Armored Car 221/222. The latter, definitive version began joining reconnaissance battalions during 1938. A four-wheeled, five-ton vehicle, with a 20mm cannon or a light antitank rifle in an open-topped turret and a two-man crew, it could do 50 miles per hour on roads, half that across country, thanks to its four-wheel drive and a relatively powerful engine. The 222 was popular in service and easy enough to manufacture that a number were exported to Nationalist China, where it was also well liked.

The 222 is best understood as an upscale version of the Daimler scout car coming into British service about the same time. It could gather information but was ill-suited to fight for it. Apart from that, the German army had enough of a tradition of heavy wheeled vehicles to encourage the simultaneous development of the SdKfz Heavy Armored Car 231—Six-Wheeled. The 231 could trace its origins to a civilian-developed vehicle whose initial version was too heavy and too expensive. Rejiggered into a six-wheel design built, initially, around a Daimler-Benz truck chassis, the 231 first entered service in 1932. Its ancestry was both visible and problematic. It looked like a civilian automobile, in that unlike the 222, its engine was up front and vulnerable even given the well-sloped 14.5mm armor. At almost six tons, the weight was too heavy for the chassis, and the suspension was a constant source of concern despite the good road speed of 40 miles per hour. Like the 222, it was easy to manufacture—a thousand were created by the time production ceased in 1935. But even more than the Panzer I, the Armored Car 231 was used as a training vehicle and relegated to second-line service as fast as a replacement could be made available.

That replacement kept the designation, but was an entirely different vehicle: an eight-wheeled, rear-engineered design built on a Buessing-NAG chassis. It could do over 50 miles per hour on roads, 30 miles per hour off road. With dual steering, all-wheel drive, and independent suspension, its cross-country capacity even through sand and mud exceeded any wheeled, armored vehicle in any army, despite its relatively heavy weight. Its turret-mounted 20mm cannon and 15mm armor were adequate for the scouting mission that was its fundamental purpose, and from its first entry into service in 1938, the Achtrad “eight-wheeler” was popular with its crews. The complexity that made it difficult and expensive to manufacture was an acceptable tradeoff, especially given the increasing quality of unit-level maintenance in the Panzer arm. The new 231’s major tactical drawback was its size. At seven feet eight inches and 8.3 tons, it was not exactly suited for “sneak and peek.” For “shoot and scoot,” however, the Achtrad was unmatched during the war’s first half, and its size enabled the inclusion of a radio system that added “communication” to its long list of positives.

The 222 and 231 spawned a long list of modifications. Most were specialized radio vehicles. The 222 in particular was too small to carry both a radio and a cannon. Its near-sister SdKfz 223 was distinguished by a smaller machine-gun turret and carried a third crew member. Both six- and eight-wheel versions of the 231 also had radio versions with frame aerials. These, perhaps because of their distinctive appearance, are disproportionately featured in illustrated works despite their relatively small numbers.

As a footnote the design staffs, after years of work, finally developed the war’s best armored car. The SdKfz 234/2 Puma[1] had it all: high speed, a low silhouette, and a 50mm L39 still effective against tanks in an emergency. Unfortunately, by the time the Puma and its variants entered production, the panzers’ need for a long-range reconnaissance vehicle was itself long past. Now their enemies all too often found them.

Sd Kfz 222

The Sd Kfz 222 design was a modified version of the Sd Kfz 221, with a larger turret designed to carry an automatic gun. Seven series were ordered and completed, each entailing minor modifications. Production ceased in mid 1943, but the proposed new four-wheel armoured car was not put into production because of changing requirements. It was felt that the heavy eight-wheel Sd Kfz 234 would be more suitable for reconaissance operations in the future.

The first five series of the Sd Kfz 222 had the sPkw I Horch 801 chassis with the 3.51it engine. In May 1942, an improved chassis, the sPkw I Type V, was introduced, incorporating hydraulic brakes and a 3.81it engine. At the same time, the armour on the hull front was increased to 30mm, but the rest of the armour plate thicknesses remained unchanged. The 2cm automatic gun was mounted coaxially with a machine-gun in the turret, and could be elevated to an almost vertical position for engaging enemy air- craft.

The Sd Kfz 222 was issued to the Panzerspahwagen squadrons of the Aufklarungs battalions. With only a short-range radio, it accompanied the armoured cars with long-range sets, in order to provide covering fire and engage enemy armoured reconnaissance vehicles. The Sd Kfz 222 served in all campaigns on all fronts from 1939 until the end of the war.

Sd Kfz 231 6-Rad

The development of an armoured car based on the chassis of a 6 x 4 truck was ordered in 1929. The three companies involved in the manufacture of the trucks were given contracts to modify their truck chassis to adapt them to a six-wheeled armoured car. Thus, these early armoured cars were basically an armoured body fitted to a slightly modified truck chassis.

The engine was still mounted in the front as in normal trucks. The chassis was strengthened to take the additional weight, and a second steering control was added at the rear. The Sd Kfz 232 was the same model as the Sd Kfz 231 except for the additional long-range radio and its large frame antenna. The Sd Kfz 263 had a fixed turret with a single MG 13, a long-range radio set and a large frame antenna together with a telescoping mast antenna. The engines ranged from 3.61it to 4.51it and developed between 60PS and 70PS at 2,000rpm.

The Sd Kfz 231 and 232 were issued to the motorized Aufklarungs detachments of the developing motorized forces in the German Army. The Sd Kfz 263 was issued to the motorized Nachrichten (signals) units. Taking part in the marches into Austria and Czechoslovakia and the campaigns in Poland and France, the six-wheeled Panzerspahwagen were withdrawn from front-line service in 1940 because of their very limited mobility off the road.

Sd Kfz 231 8-Rad

The development of a schwerer Panzerspahwagen with improved cross-country mobility was ordered in 1934. Designated Versuchskraftfahrzeug (experimental vehicle) 623 and 624, an eight- wheeled chassis was developed to carry the armoured body and turret. The designation changed to Sd Kfz 233 and 234 in mid 1937 and, finally, to Sd Kfz 231 and 232 (8-Rad) in October 1939. Only the Sd Kfz 232 version was produced after May 1942. Sd Kfz 232 production ceased in September 1942 to be replaced by the Sd Kfz 234 series.

All chassis were produced by Bussing-NAG, and featured steering and drive for all eight road wheels. Double controls were installed to allow rapid manoeuvring, advancing and retiring. The engine was located in the rear, which gave adequate protection together with adequate cooling. Early in 1940, an 8mm armour shield (Pakschutz) was added to the front of many of the Sd Kfz 231/232 already produced, and this practice continued until early 1942. From May 1942, this temporary solution was eliminated from production vehicles, since the hull and turret frontal armour thickness was increased to 30mm. The weight then increased to 9.1 tons.

Six Sd Kfz 231 and 232 were issued to the heavy platoon of the Panzerspahwagen squadron of each motorized Aufklarungs detachment. The entire platoon was not usually em- ployed together, but was split up to accompany and give support to the smaller, four-wheeled armoured cars. The Sd Kfz 231 and 232 were employed in all campaigns throughout the war.

Sd Kfz 234/1/2/3/4

In September 1943, an order was given that fifty per cent of the Sd Kfz 234 production was to mount the 2cm KwK38 following the completion of the 100 Sd Kfz 234/2. In June 1944, this was increased to 75 per cent to be produced in conjunction with the Sd Kfz 234/2 and later Sd Kfz 234/4. The Gerat number 95 was that formerly allocated to the Sd Kfz 263 (8-Rad) which was no longer available by June 1944.

The Sd Kfz 234/1 had the same hull as the Sd Kfz 234/2, but mounted a different turret. The turret for the Sd Kfz 234/1 resembled the short, open-topped turret mounted on the Sd Kfz 222, but was of simpler, six-sided construction with thicker frontal armour. The designation for this turret was 2cm Hangelafette (swinging mount) 38.

Nineteen Sd Kfz 234/1 were included in the organization of the Panzerspahwagen company (d) of the Panzer Aufklarungs battalions. Issued to the Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions, the Sd Kfz 234/1 saw action on the collapsing fronts in the East and in the West, from July 1944 until the end of the war.

On 5 August 1940, the order was given to design an eight- wheeled armoured car similar in design to the Sd Kfz 231. Instead of the previous design, where the armoured body was bolted to a chassis, the Sd Kfz 234 armoured hull was to serve as the chassis. This s pz Sp W 9 8-Rad TP (Tropen == tropical) was to have heavier armour and a 12-cylinder air-cooled diesel engine designed to operate in the hot climate of North Africa, and in the Steppes of Russia. Two trial vehicles were built and an initial order for 500 was later in- creased to 1,500. The initial order was for a vehicle carrying the Scm KwK 39/1 which was given the designation Sd Kfz 234/2. In January 1944, the order was cut to limit the Puma production to 100 vehicles and to continue the series by mounting .the 2cm KwK and 7.5cm KwK.

The hull design, similar to that of the Sd Kfz 231, had better frontal protection, provided by thicker plates laid at a greater angle. A large, fully-enclosed turret with curved side plates was provided to mount the Scm KwK 39/1 and the coaxial MG42 in the ‘Saukopf’ (sow’s head) gun mantlel.

In September 1943, 50 per cent of the Sd Kfz 234 production was ordered to mount the 7.5cm KwK37. This was decreased to 25 per cent in June 1944, reflecting an organizational change by the reconnaissance troops. In late November 1944, Hitler ordered that, from December 1944, the 7.5cm PaK40 be mounted on the Sd Kfz 234. Therefore, production of the Sd Kfz 234/3 ceased in Decem- ber 1944, but production of the Sd Kfz 234/4 continued until March 1945.

The Sd Kfz 234/3 and 234/4 both consisted of the basic Sd Kfz 234 hull without a turret. The superstructure roof was open, with the 7.5cm KwK51 in a gun shield at the front of the superstructure, and the 7.5cm PaK40 mounted with its original gun shield and carriage on a pedestal mount.

Six Sd 234/3 made up a platoon of the Panzerspahwagen company (d) to support the nineteen Sd Kfz 234/1. They were also issued to the armoured reconnaissance companies during the closing months of the war, to give anti-tank support to the other armoured cars.

[1] Puma was used as a popular soldier’s name for ALL 8 wheeler German armoured car whether Sd Kfz 231 or 234 of all sub-types.

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