German Reich (1945)
Improvised Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – At Least One Built
In the final months of the war, the Germans were losing men and materials on all fronts. Out of desperation, all kinds of improvised vehicles, mostly based on obsolete vehicles or simply whatever was at hand, were rushed into service. One such vehicle was built using a Panzer I Ausf.B chassis on top of which a 7.5 cm StuK 40 was placed, for use in the futile defense of Berlin in 1945
By 1945, the German Army and its industry were in ruins. The Allied bombing campaigns, lack of resources, and the rapid advances of Germany’s enemies on their own soil made the production of new vehicles difficult. Despite this, the German war industry was desperately hanging on, producing limited quantities of new vehicles. By this point, these efforts were hopelessly insufficient to rearm the depleted German military formations. In desperation, some improvised vehicles were created by using all kinds of available chassis, ranging from experimental, obsolete, or even training vehicles, and adding whatever weapons were at hand.
Vehicles such as the Panzer I were reused in this manner, creating unusual and rare improvised fighting vehicles. The Panzer I Ausf.A and B were introduced as the first real German serially-produced tank in 1935. Even though it was obsolete by 1939, it still saw service throughout the war. After 1941, these were retired from service as combat tanks, but their chassis were reused for other purposes, mostly as training or ammunition supply roles. By 1945, their numbers were greatly diminished due to many factors, such as combat losses.
Using such a vehicle as an improvised fighting platform speaks for itself in regard to German desperation at this point. Thanks to a surviving photograph, we know that at least one Panzer I Ausf.B was modified by removing the turret and parts of the superstructure and adding a 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun taken from a StuG III. Who exactly built it and when is unknown. What is known is that it was used during the defense of Berlin in 1945.
Given its improvised construction, this vehicle likely never received any form of proper designation. This article will use Panzer I Ausf.B mit (English: with) 7.5 cm StuK 40 for the sake of simplicity.
The overall design of this vehicle is unfortunately not documented in any sources. Based on the only known photograph, several educated guesses about its overall construction.
The Panzer I hull appears to have been left unchanged. Like all German tanks, it could be divided into three sections: the front part where the transmission was placed, the central crew compartment, and the rear-positioned engine. The overall construction was made out of several armor plates welded together, with a firewall separating the engine compartment and the crew compartment.
The suspension is another element that remained unchanged. It consisted of five road wheels per side. The first wheel used a coil spring mount design with an elastic shock absorber in order to prevent any outward bending. The remaining four wheels were mounted in pairs on a suspension cradle with leaf spring units. There was a front drive sprocket, rear idler, and four small return rollers.
The Panzer I Ausf.B was never fully reliable, especially when the chassis was converted for other purposes, such as the 15 cm sIG 33 auf Panzerkampfwagen I ohne Aufbau (English: Without a superstructure). Given the added weight of the 15 cm sIG 33 gun, the suspension was very prone to malfunctions and breakdowns.
This was likely also the case with the 7.5 cm L/48 gun, as the weight and recoil force when firing would likely cause damage to the suspension, as its design was never intended to be able to resist such stress.
The Panzer I Ausf.B was powered by a water-cooled Maybach NL 38 Tr, which was able to supply 100 hp at 3,000 rpm. The maximum speed with this engine was 40 km/h and only 15 km/h cross-country. The added weight of the gun, ammunition, and likely additional crew members on the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 would have led to an overall weight increase of possibly up to 2 tonnes, if not more. This would greatly affect the engine’s overall performance, although to what extent is unknown. The standard Panzer I fuel load capacity was around 144 liters, which provided an operational range of up to 170 km. By 1945, fuel was a scarce commodity for the Germans, so regardless, it is unlikely that this vehicle ever received any large enough quantities of fuel to go anywhere besides its station point.
The superstructure of this vehicle received a series of modifications that were necessary in order to install the large gun. The upper armor and the turret were removed. Parts of the rear armor appear to have been slightly cut down.
Two interesting features can be noticed on the right side of the superstructure. Firstly, there is an unidentified round-shaped object that casts a shadow on the superstructure. It is possible that this was a seat added for the loader, although it could also simply be an extended plate to provide the loader with more working space. In front of it, a larger flat plate with a handle can be seen. It appears not to be an original part of the Panzer I, as it is on the side that did not have any hatch. This part could also be intended to be lowered and provide the loader with more working space. In either case, due to a lack of information, we cannot be sure. Interestingly, on top of the frontsuperstructure, a small shield was added to cover the space between the gun shield and the mount.
The armor of the Panzer I Ausf.A and B was quite thin. The Panzer I’s front hull armor ranged from 8 to 13 mm. The side armor was 13 mm, the bottom 5 mm, and the rear 13 mm. The armor was made of rolled homogenous hardened plates with a Brinell hardness of 850. It was welded and formed the body of the superstructure and hull. Whilst insufficient to protect against tank and anti-tank gunfire, this armor was still adequate to provide protection from enemy small arms.
The crew operating the gun was only protected by the gun shield. The armor thickness of it is unknown, but it was likely only a few millimeters thick. Given the small working space for the gun operator and the loader, both would be quite exposed to the enemy’s small arms fire. Light armor does not necessarily mean that the vehicle was useless, thanks to its gun it could still fire at great ranges and from well-selected positions.
On the other hand, this was neither 1942 nor 1943, when German guns had a huge advantage over Soviet armored vehicles. By 1945, the Soviets employed tanks such as the T-34-85 and the IS-2, which had enough firepower to deal with German Tiger and Panther tanks at a distance, so a lightly protected Panzer I was surely no problem for them. It is also noteworthy that as this vehicle was used in the defense of Berlin, combat action was likely to occur at close ranges, making this vehicle quite exposed.
The main armament of this modified vehicle was the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun, which was probably taken from a damaged StuG III assault gun. This gun was developed by Krupp and Rheinmetall in 1942. It was initially used with a barrel length of L/43, although later that year it was increased to L/48. Both versions of the gun had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. It was fired electrically. When mounted on StuG III vehicles, the elevation of this gun went from –6° to +20°, while the traverse was 10° to either side. The elevation, depression, and traverse limits for this gun as mounted on the modified Panzer I are unknown.
Armor-piercing shells fired from this gun had a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s. The armor-piercing (Pz.Gr.39) round could penetrate 85 mm of armor (sloped at 30°) at 1 km. The maximum range of the high-explosive rounds was 3.3 km while, for armor-piercing, 1.4 to 2.3 km, depending on the type used. The gunner used the Selbstfahrlafetten Zielfernrohr Sfl.Z.F.1a gun sight to acquire direct targets. For indirect targets, on the other hand, either the Rundblickfernrohr 32 or 36 were used, which had a magnification of 5x and a field of view of 8°.
In order to install this gun on the Panzer I’s hull, some modifications were needed. First, a stable platform base had to be placed inside the hull. On top of it, the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 with its mount was placed. The protective recoil cylinder mantlet was not used on this vehicle. Given the gun’s weight, the Germans added a large travel lock in front of the gun. The whole gun installation would take up most of the Panzer I’s interior, making room for spare ammunition difficult. The only possible location where the ammunition would have been located was atop of the engine compartment. A minor change to the gun was the lack of the spent cartridge bag.
Normally, a vehicle like this modified Panzer I would have needed at least three crew members to be fully effective. A driver located inside the vehicle would have been the only crew member fully protected by armor, a gunner who would possibly have also acted as the commander positioned to the left of the gun, and a loader positioned opposite the gunner. The two gun operators would have had quite limited space to effectively operate this vehicle. Based on the German’s lack of manpower by 1945, it is also probable that this vehicle may have had an even smaller crew of possibly two. This meant that these two had to perform other tasks too, in addition to their original ones.
Was the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 Used in Combat?
Nothing is known about the history of this vehicle. Based on the available photograph, we can assume that it was modified in and saw service in Berlin. A detail that helps us identify where the photo of the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 was taken is the command tower that can be seen in the background. Berlin was defended by three immense Flakturme (English: Flak towers): Flakturm Humboldhain, Flakturm Tiergarten, and Volkspark Friedrichshain. These were basically massive, reinforced concrete bunkers equipped with several larger-caliber anti-aircraft guns. Each gun tower was provided with more minor but still huge command towers. Their purpose was to relay information about enemy air activity.
Flakturm Humboldhain was placed on a small hill that does not appear in the photograph, so it can be excluded. The command tower for ‘Zoo-bunker’ lacked some features, such as the four round-shaped concrete platforms located on the tower’s top, that the tower in the picture has. The most probable explanation is that the tower in the background belongs to the Volkspark Friedrichshain tower. The design of the command tower is similar and also there are buildings to the left of the Panzer I’s position which match those in the photo.
The missing track links may indicate that this vehicle was not fully operational and was instead towed to its defense point. Given that the picture of it was taken in an open space and the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40’s weak protection, this would be an illogical thing to do. It is possible that by the time the photograph was taken, it was already in the process of being salvaged for scrap. On the other hand, it may have been in the process of being towed before being abandoned in a rush.
Another possibility is that this vehicle was at some point converted to this gun configuration to be used as a training vehicle with the gun not actually intended to be fired. While this at first seems logical, given the weight of the gun which would have put too much stress on the chassis, this seems highly unlikely.
In any case, the fate of this vehicle is unknown, but it was likely scrapped after the war by the Soviets.
Placing a large gun such as the 7,5 cm StuK 40 on a chassis weak and prone to malfunctions difficult to understand. Even in desperation, whoever built it must have known that the recoil force of the gun was simply too much for the Panzer I’s chassis to handle. Firing could have easily led to the breakdown of some components of the suspension or the engine. Armor protection was almost non-existent. Even using it as a static emplacement would be suicidal, as the vehicle’s height would not have allowed for it to be easily camouflaged.
Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 Technical specification
German Reich/Yugoslav Partisans (1945)
Self-Propelled Mortar – 1 Modified
The occupation of Yugoslavia by the Axis forces led to nearly five years of heavy fighting and destruction. All warring parties that participated in the fighting in Yugoslavia were often forced to use older equipment and armaments, as not much else was available. While the Germans employed various armored vehicles, these were mostly older or captured equipment. The Yugoslav Partisans could only employ armor captured from the enemy. In order to gain a slight upper hand over the enemy, or to simply improve their firepower, various field and unique modifications were designed and built by both sides. Generally, in rarer cases, some of these were documented, while, for the majority, almost nothing is known besides a few available photographs that prove their existence. One of these was a Sd.Kfz.251 modification equipped with two 12 cm mortars.
A Brief History of the Occupation of Yugoslavia
After the unsuccessful invasion of Greece by Italian forces, Benito Mussolini was forced to ask for help from his German ally. Adolf Hitler agreed to provide assistance, fearing a possible Allied attack through the Balkans would reach Romania and its vital oil fields. On the path of the German advance towards Greece stood Yugoslavia, whose government initially agreed to join the Axis side. This agreement was short-lived, as the Yugoslavian government was overthrown by an anti-Axis pro-Allied military coup at the end of March 1941. Hitler immediately gave an order for the preparation for the invasion of Yugoslavia. The war that began on 6th April 1941 was a short one and ended with a Yugoslavian defeat and the division of its territory between the Axis powers.
Following the collapse of Yugoslavia, the occupying Axis forces did not expect any major trouble to come from this part of Europe. Unfortunately for them, very quickly, two resistance groups sprang up, the Royalist Chetniks and the Communist Partisans. What followed was five years of heavy struggle, suffering, and destruction on all warring sides in Yugoslavia. While the resistance movements were initially small in scope, by 1944, the Communist Partisans movement combat strength reached several hundreds of thousands. They also employed armored formations consisting of vehicles that were either supplied by the Allies or captured by the enemy. While many Axis allies were present in occupied Yugoslavia, German forces were by far the largest and best equipped. This did not mean that these German units were supplied with the best equipment. Instead, they were mostly equipped with older, captured, or even obsolete weapons and vehicles. But even this, in many cases, was better than the weapons of other participants on this front.
The combat operations in occupied Yugoslavia would see the use of a number of rare, obsolete, or captured equipment, along with some more modern ones. The most common in use were the French armored vehicles employed by the Germans. After 1943, these were mostly replaced with Italian vehicles, which were also captured by the Germans after their former ally surrendered. Given the Partisan’s lack of any kind of anti-tank weapons, except on the rare occasions when such weapons were captured from the enemy, even these obsolete armored vehicles could be put to good use. In order to compensate for the lack of armored vehicles, both the Germans and the Partisans made a number of unusual modifications. These often included reusing the already existing vehicles and adding better weapons in the hope of increasing their firepower. Probably some of the best-known examples of this were the M3 Light Tank modifications made by the Partisan First Tank Brigade in late 1944. These were made by adding a 2 cm anti-aircraft or a 7.5 cm anti-tank gun on the M3’s superstructure.
The Germans were not idlers either, creating a number of lesser-known improvised armored vehicles. These were constructed by simply reusing any available vehicles. Some modifications were quite simple, like adding a machine gun on a civilian car or truck. Others were more elaborate, such as adding a Panzer 38(t) turret on an Italian medium tank’s body. Another modification included arming a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track with two 12 cm mortars.
During the early development of new Panzer formations, it quickly became obvious that the supporting infantry would need a vehicle that was protected and also had sufficient mobility to keep up with tanks. The choice was made to use the already available Sd.Kfz.11 half-track chassis, on which an armored body was placed. Two firms were responsible for the creation of this vehicle, Hanomag and Bussing-NAG. The first was responsible for the development of the chassis, while the latter was to provide the upper body armor. This vehicle was designated as Mittlere Gepanzerte Mannschaftskraftwagen (Englis: Medium armored personnel vehicle), but is generally best known by its designation number, Sd.Kfz.251.
It had a crew of 2 but was capable of transporting a squad of 10 troops. It was lightly protected but provided with highly sloped armor plates. The armament consisted of two machine guns, one mounted to the front and the second to the rear. Production of the first vehicles began in 1939, and, initially, three different versions would be introduced to service (Ausf.A to C) each receiving a slight modification to improve the vehicle’s overall performance. From 1943 onwards, the Ausf.D was introduced to service. It offered a more simplified overall construction, which was better suited for production. Overall, by the end of the war, over 15,000 of all variants were built.
The Sd.Kfz.251 in Yugoslavia
The Sd.Kfz.251 was used for the first time in the Balkans during the occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Following the successful completion of the short so-called April War (lasting from 6th to 17th April), most German armored formations either advanced toward Greece or went back to Germany to prepare for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union.
Until 1943, these vehicles were generally rarely used in fighting with the Yugoslavian Partisans. After the capitulation of Italy and the ever-increasing numbers of Yugoslav Partisans, the Germans began introducing a larger number of Sd.Kfz.251s. Some units that used the Sd.Kfz.251 or some of its variants during 1943 were the SS Freiwilling Gerbirgs Division Prinz Eugen and the Verstarkers Polizei Panzer Kompanie 13. Interestingly, the later unit also employed the rare VK16.01 Panzers. Probably the best-equipped unit that saw service by the end of 1943 was the Panzergrenadier Lehr Regiment 901. In total, it had 236 Sd.Kfz.251s in 10 different variants. This included some 10 Sd.Kfz.251/2s armed with a single 8 cm mortar. This unit was only stationed briefly in Yugoslavia, before being moved to Hungary. The Panzer Abteilung 202 operated in Yugoslavia through the war, and, by late 1944, had in its inventory a number of Sd.Kfz.251 vehicles. The Sd.Kfz.251 performed their original role, transporting troops, or other support roles, such as ammunition carriers, firing support, or command.
The Modified Vehicle
There are a few photographs showing Partisan crew members operating a modified Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. This half-track had its superstructure partly cut off in order to use the new armament of two heavy mortars installed inside its passenger compartment. Unfortunately, this vehicle is quite poorly documented and there is little-to-no information about its use. Even the reasons why it was built are unknown.
Who Built It?
Due to the general lack of any kind of information about its origin, it is difficult to determine who actually built this vehicle. There are few possible participants in the fighting in Yugoslavia who could have potentially done it.
The Axis’ Allies
Almost from the start, of Germany’s allies, Bulgaria and Hungary can be excluded as the builders of this vehicle. While they had ground forces stationed in Yugoslavia, none of them ever operated any armored element during the occupation period. This does not include the later Bulgarian involvement when they switched sides and helped the Partisans liberate some towns in Serbia. During this occasion, they employed German-supplied armored vehicles and even managed to capture some damaged vehicles left by the retreating Germans. While there is a small chance that they could have modified the Sd.Kfz.251, it is highly unlikely for a few major reasons. The participation of the Bulgarian forces in Yugoslavia was rather brief, near the end of 1944. They simply lacked the time and a proper workshop to modify this vehicle. Lastly, but more importantly, the Bulgarians took with them nearly all captured German vehicles that they came across. They even waged small skirmishes with the Partisans over them, resulting in casualties on both sides.
The other Axis ally, Croatia, was more reliant on Germany for its survival. Due to its inability to acquire weapons and armored vehicles, it was highly dependent on Germany in this matter too. In 1942, the Croatians did manage to locally build a few armored trucks. While they received some armored vehicles (excluding the Sd.Kfz.251) from the Germans, these were allocated in limited numbers. Based on their limited production capabilities and resources, they too seem unlikely to have modified the Sd.Kfz.251. Interestingly enough, there is a photograph of an Italian medium tank equipped with a German Panzer 38(t) turret which was often associated with the Croatians due to its markings. The history of this vehicle is unknown, but, given the fact the Croatian never operated either of these two tanks, it is likely a German modification, possibly temporarily given to their allies.
The Yugoslavian Partisans made several improvised armored vehicles during the war. For example, the First Tank Brigade modified a number of Allied-supplied M3A3 tanks and equipped them with German-captured weapons (7.5 cm PaK 40 and 2 cm Flak 38 Flakvierling) in the Šibenik workshop during 1944/45. In addition, they also modified one Somua 35 by replacing its gun with the larger 57 mm gun taken from a damaged AEC II armored car. They certainly had the ability to make this modification. Given that the only surviving photograph of this vehicle shows it being operated by the Partisans also greatly supports this idea. On the other hand, there is no documentation that shows that they actually did it, unlike for the other known conversions.
The most likely creators of this vehicle were the Germans. There are several reasons for this. The vehicle and the gun were of German origin and their troops had the expertise, tools, and equipment needed to actually make such an improvised vehicle. Lastly, but most importantly, a number of authors, such as B. D. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne (Jedinice Na Jugoslovenskom Ratistu 1941-1945), mention that this vehicle was captured from the Germans.
There is no information about the exact designation for this vehicle, and whether the Germans or later Partisans even bothered to assign one for it. In accordance with German army practice, the nomenclature, and designation of such a modification could have been Sd.Kfz.251 mit (English: with) Zwilling 12 cm Granatwerfer 42.
The Sd.Kfz.251 hull consisted of a frontal mounted engine compartment, followed by the tracked suspension unit, above which the armored superstructure was placed. For this modification, it appears that the overall hull design remained unchanged.
Suspension and Engine
The Sd.Kfz.251’s tracked suspension consisted of seven overlappings and interleaved double road wheels, where the last one also acted as the idler. These were mounted on swing arms sprung by torsion bars. The suspension was powered by a front-mounted drive sprocket. The steering of the vehicle was done by the front-mounted wheels at low steering.
This vehicle was powered by a Maybach HL 42 100 hp@ 2,800 rpm strong engine. With this engine, the Sd.Kfz.251’s maximum speed was slightly over 50 km/h, limited to 30 km/h cross-country. With a fuel load of 160 liters, the maximum operational range was 300 km on road and 150 km off-road. The weight of the two mortars, machine guns, spare ammunition, and crew members would have probably slightly increased its overall weight of 8.6 tonnes. This, in turn, may have affected this modified vehicle’s performance to a small extent. Due to the lack of available information, it is difficult to know this more precisely.
While there are only a few photographs of this modified vehicle, none of them show the whole vehicle. This may lead to some problems with the identification of the precise version of the chassis. Luckily, one of the existing pictures shows the right side of this vehicle. On it, one major feature exists that helps identify the precise version of the Sd.Kfz.251 which was used as the base. The modified Sd.Kfz.251’s side shows that it had the three large storage bins, present only on the Ausf.D versions. Earlier versions had different bins, which helps identify the precise version.
The vehicle itself appears to have retained much of its superstructure unchanged. The major modification implemented was cutting the upper parts of the side armor. This was done to provide additional traverse for the main armament. If any other change to the superstructure was done is sadly not known.
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Germans managed to capture large stockpiles of different kinds of weapons. This included the 12 cm PM-38 mortars. The Germans were quite impressed with this weapon and put it in service, where it was known as 12 cm Granatwerfer 378(r). Given this mortar’s excellent performance, the Germans even began their own production of this weapon, simply copying its design. The newly produced mortar received the new designation 12 cm Granatwerfer 42 (12 cm GrW 42), but was otherwise the same as the original Soviet mortar. When fully deployed for firing, its overall weight was 285 kg. The elevation ranged between 45° to 85°. The normal firing rate was 6 rounds per minute, but a more experienced and well-trained crew could increase it to 8 to 10 rounds per minute. With a muzzle velocity of 283 m/sec, the maximum firing range was slightly over 6 km.
The choice of using two large 12 cm mortars for the armament of this modification is unusual. Given the high trajectory of the 12 cm rounds during firing, it is obvious that it was designed to provide long-range artillery support. This concept was not new to the Germans, as they already employed the Sd.Kfz.251 vehicles in this manner. The Sd.Kfz.251/2 version was designed to provide the infantry with a supporting firing platform armed with one 8 cm mortar. The whole mortar, with its base and legs, was simply placed inside the crew compartment. No major modification was needed on the vehicle itself, besides the removal of the front mounted machine gun and some minor internal changes in order to fit the mortar with its ammunition.
The improvised vehicle employed in Yugoslavia was quite different in many regards. The most obvious change was the addition of two 12 cm mortars. This would require a number of structural modifications to the vehicle itself. In contrast to the 8 cm mortar, its larger counterpart used a larger round-shaped base platform. This provided a better firing platform and also prevented the mortar from digging itself into the ground during firing.
How the two mortars were installed inside this vehicle is unknown. Based on the surviving photographs, it appears that the mortar mounts were heavily modified. First, a sufficiently strong base platform had to be installed inside the Sd.Kfz.251’s bottom. This had to be strong enough to contain the recoil force of the two mortars without damaging the vehicle itself. If the 12 cm mortar platform was reused or a completely new one was built is unknown.
It appears that a new mount that held the two barrels was used instead of the original mortar bipod. As the photograph’s angle is not very good, it is also possible that the original bipods were retained with some modifications. Both the elevating and traverse screws, with their handles, were retained. Due to close proximity of the barrels, the traverse handles had to be positioned opposite of each other. This new installation appears to have provided an independent limited traverse and elevation of the two mortars. It is important to note that, as these two shared a common base platform, both barrels had to be pointed in the same direction. The different positions of the mortars on the available photograph and the cut upper side armor plates indicated that these may have had a full 360° firing arc.
The strange thing about this contraption is that no mortar sights are visible in the available photographs. These were originally located to the left of the mortar barrel. There could be several explanations for this. The simplest one would be that, due to photograph angles, the sights cannot not be seen. It is also possible that the crew that appears to be operating the mortars did not put them on. Lastly, it is also possible that the German crews took them with them just before the vehicle was captured by the Partisans, in order to disable it to some degree.
The ammunition load for the two 12 cm mortars stored inside is unknown. The Sd.Kfz.251/2 armed with a single smaller mortar had an ammunition load of only 66 rounds. This indicates that the ammunition load for two larger mortars may have consisted of a dozen or even fewer spare rounds.
Two of what appear to be MG 34 machine guns were added to the vehicle. These two were placed on small mounts, located on the front part of the side armor plates. The overall characteristics and the ammunition load of these are unknown. The rear-positioned machine gun mount was unchanged.
The installations of the two machine gun mounts are quite mysterious, as the range of the two mortars meant that the vehicle would only engage with enemy positions from a long range. Thus, it did not need to engage an enemy at close range, rendering the machine guns superfluous. It is also possible that the Partisans themselves added these to the vehicle, as the vehicle may have been used for propaganda to look more intimidating.
The Sd.Kfz.251 was lightly protected. The frontal armor consisted of 14.5 mm angled plates and the sides were 8 mm thick. The bottom and the top were even weaker, at 5.5 mm. The armored plates used on this vehicle were well-angled, which in turn increased the chance of deflecting small caliber rounds. The small round opening on the superstructure sides would make this vehicle’s crew somewhat more exposed to enemy fire. But, given that this vehicle was meant to provide fire support from some distance away, this was not a major issue.
The number of crew this vehicle had is unknown. An Sd.Kfz.251/2, which was armed with the smaller 81 mm mortar, had a crew of 8. The modified Sd.Kfz.251, despite its larger armament, may have had a smaller crew. The vehicle itself would have needed the driver to drive it and also a commander. Given that it may have been possible to fire the two mortars independently, two gunners would have been needed. In addition, it is not clear who would operate the front-mounted machine guns. These were likely operated by the mortar gunners themselves.
The installation of the new armament and the ammunition needed to fire them would greatly have reduced the interior space. Likely, a loader had to be present to provide the necessary ammunition. It may also be possible that the gunners would also have served as loaders. This, in turn, would have greatly reduced their effectiveness and the vehicle’s rate of fire. Lastly, additional crew members would likely have been transported in another auxiliary vehicle that may have served as an ammunition transporter. Once again, given the general lack of any kind of information about this modified vehicle, this is just educated speculation.
Service and Fate
The usage of this vehicle by the Germans is unknown. What is known is that, at some point in early 1945, it was captured by the Partisans in Croatia. It became part of the First Tank Brigade, but its final fate or if they even used in combat is not documented. This should not come as a surprise, as the Partisans themselves kept very poor documentation of the usage of captured weapons. In a number of cases, the use of armored vehicles by some Partisan units was not even reported to their superiors. This meant that this modified vehicle may have seen action against its former creators. There is also a possibility that it was lost in combat fighting the Germans.
The Partisans and the new Yugoslavian People’s Army after the war made extensive use of captured enemy equipment, as nothing else was available. For example, they operated at least a few of the rare Sd.Kfz.251/22 version armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun up to the early 1950s. If this mortar-armed vehicle indeed survived the war, it was likely scrapped shortly afterward.
The Mortar Armed Stuart M3 Tank?
It is somewhat confusing that the available sources (mostly on the internet) mention that the Partisan First Tank Brigade had modified one of their tanks, replacing the turret and adding a mortar instead. As there is no actual proof that this ever occurred, it is likely that the culprit for this confusion was this modified Sd.Kfz.251 vehicle. Given that the surviving photograph does not show the whole vehicle, it is easy to see that for an untrained eye could have easily misidentified this as a tank chassis. This has led to speculations that the Partisans modified one of their M3 tanks in this way.
This modified Sd.Kfz.251 was another strange vehicle built and possibly used in Yugoslavia. Its overall design is shrouded in mystery, as it is not completely clear what its creator wanted to accomplish. Why add such extensive armament consisting of two heavy mortars and possibly up to three machine guns? Unfortunately, due to a lack of any information about its use, it can not be said if it was successful or flawed as an improvisation. It is a mystery that will probably remain unsolved until, hopefully, someone digs out more information about its history.
Sd.Kfz.251 Ausf.D mit Zwilling 12 cm Granatwerfer 42 Specifications
German Reich (1943)
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – At Least 3 Modified
In the early years of the Second World War, the Germans did not use a dedicated anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis. As the German Air Force was more than capable of providing cover for the panzers, this was not deemed a priority at that point. In the later stages of the war, things changed drastically, and the need for well-protected vehicles based on tank chassis became apparent. While attempts were made to design such vehicles in late 1943, they led to the creation of a 3.7 cm armed Flakpanzer IV which had folding sides. This design proved to be unsuccessful for many reasons, forcing the Germans to find another solution. In late 1943 or early 1944, the 12th SS Panzer Division’s Anti-Aircraft Detachment decided to take matters into their own hands and modified three Panzer IVs by adding the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 on top of the superstructure. Little did they know that their improved design would lead to the creation of probably the best German anti-aircraft vehicle and possibly even the best of its class during the war.
Search for an Anti-Aircraft Tank
In the early stages of the Second World War, the responsibility for covering the ground forces from enemy air attacks was solely in the hands of the Luftwaffe (English: German Air Force). This did not mean that the Panzer divisions and other ground forces were left without the means to respond to any kind of such threat. The Germans employed a series of anti-aircraft weapons, from standard machine guns provided with anti-aircraft mounts to more dedicated weapons, including the 2 cm, 3.7 cm, and the 8.8 cm anti-aircraft guns. There were also other caliber weapons, such as the 5.5 cm Flak, which proved to be a failure and was never used in any significant number. These were mostly towed weapons quite well suited to slow infantry formations.
Panzer divisions were units whose greatest combat potential was combined firepower and excellent mobility. Once the enemy line was pierced, they would rush into the enemy’s rear, causing great havoc and preventing them from forming an organized retreat. Towed anti-aircraft guns did not work well in this concept, and a weapon system with better speed was more desirable. The Germans employed a series of half-tracks for this purpose. For example, in their organizational structure (dated April 1941), the anti-aircraft companies of a Panzer division consisted of four 2 cm armed Sd.Kfz.10 and two Sd.Kfz.7/1 half-tracks armed with the four-barrel version of the same gun. In addition, the same number of towed guns was also included. As the German industry never managed to fully equip the Army, these numbers differed depending on the availability of these weapons. Half-tracks armed with anti-aircraft guns proved vital in providing the panzer divisions with protection from enemy aircraft attacks, but they themselves were far from perfect. Probably their greatest problem was the lack of protection. While some would receive armored cabins, this was not enough.
Developing a mobile self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis was deemed to be more effective. The first such attempt was more a field modification, adapting a Panzer I for this role. A more dedicated attempt was initiated in 1942, when Krupp was instructed to develop a lightweight chassis that would be able to be armed with a variety of weapons, ranging from 2 cm to even 5 cm anti-aircraft guns. To speed up development time, the Panzer II‘Luchs’ chassis was proposed for the project. Given the cancellation of the Panzer II Luchs, Krupp instead proposed the ‘Leopard’ chassis in early November 1942. As the Leopard suffered the same fate as the Luchs, this idea was also scrapped. Proposals to use a modified six-wheel Panzer IV chassis also lead nowhere. In any case, the already overburdened German industry had enough problems keeping up with demand. As such, adding another chassis was deemed unnecessary.
The simpler solution was to use a Panzer IV chassis for this project. Other chassis were not considered, as the older vehicles were being phased out of production, while the newer Panther was desperately needed in its original tank configuration. The Luftwaffe officials initiated this project in June 1943. Once again, Krupp was responsible for its realization. This would lead to the creation of the 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzer IV prototype. This was basically a Panzer IV with a modified superstructure with four large folding sides. As the armament was deemed insufficient, a stronger 3.7 cm anti-craft gun was to be installed instead. As this caused some delays in the start of production, as a temporary solution, the Panzer 38(t) was modified into an anti-aircraft vehicle armed with one 2 cm gun, leading to the creation of the Flakpanzer 38(t).
Need for a New Design
The previously mentioned Flakpanzer projects, while resolving some issues to some extent, were far from perfect. For example, in the case of the Flakpanzer 38(t), it was simply too lightly armed. The larger Panzer IV offered a better platform for stronger armament. But the early Flakpanzer IV design had a huge disadvantage. Namely, in order to give the vehicle crew enough visibility to spot enemy aircraft at long range, they had an overly complicated platform with folding armor sides. These needed to be lowered in order for the gun to be used.
A Flakpanzer that incorporated its armament in a fully traversable turret was seen as the solution. In early 1944, Generaloberst Guderian, Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: Inspector-General for Armored Troops), gave the Inspektion der Panzertruppen 6 / In 6 (English: Armored Troops’ Inspection Office 6) direct orders to begin work on a new Flakpanzer. This order contained a series of requirements that this vehicle had to comply with. A protected and fully traversable turret was seen as important. An interesting fact to point out is that, at this point, the development of the Flakpanzer was solely the responsibility of In 6 due to Generaloberst Guderian’s personal orders.
In 6’s new Flakpanzer project was led by the Generalmajor Dipl. Ing. E. Bolbrinker. After a short analysis of the state of the German military economy, it became immediately clear that designing a completely new Flakpanzer was out of the question. The German industry was hard-pressed, mostly due to the high demands for more combat vehicles and constant Allied bombing raids, so designing and building a new vehicle would take too much time and resources, both lacking by 1944. Another solution was needed. Generalmajor Bolbrinker hoped that, by collecting a team of young tank officers, their enthusiasm and ideas would help him find a solution to this problem. This group of young tank officers was led by Oberleutnant J. von Glatter Gotz, who is mostly known for his later Kugelblitz Flakpanzer design. Little did they know that such a vehicle was already being operated by a German unit on the Western Front.
Field Modified Flakpanzer
In the hope of increasing the mobility of anti-aircraft guns, it was somewhat common for the German troops to mount these on any available chassis. Usually, simple trucks were mainly employed in this role. All kinds of captured vehicles were also used in this manner but in limited scope. Tank chassis were rarely used for this modification, mainly due to the insufficient numbers, but they did occasionally happen. For example, the obsolete Panzer I chassis was reused to mount either small-caliber machine guns to even 3.7 cm caliber anti-aircraft machine guns. The Bergepanzer 38(t) chassis was also used in this manner. Even the larger Panther was used in this role. For example, the troops from the 653rd Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion (which operated the Ferdinand anti-tank vehicles) modified one of their Bergepanther by adding a four-barrel 2 cm anti-aircraft gun on top of it. These, of course, were unique vehicles that were mostly simple field modifications built by using salvaged damaged tanks in order to use them for other purposes, in this case as mobile anti-aircraft vehicles.
The Karl Wilhelm Krause Filed Modified Flakpanzer IV
One such modification would be initiated by Untersturmführer Karl Wilhelm Krause, who was the commander of the Anti-Aircraft Battalion of the 12th Panzer Regiment. This anti-aircraft battalion was part of the infamous 12th SS Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’. The 12th SS Panzer Division itself was relatively new, being formed in summer 1943 in Western Europe. Elements of the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division (LSSAH) were used as its base, supplemented by veterans of the ordinary German Army, the Wehrmacht, but also some from the Luftwaffe. Interestingly, the majority of the 12th SS Panzer Division’s personnel was rather young, being 17 or 18 years old. Its combat strength just prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 consisted of some 98 Panzer IV Ausf.H and J and 66 Panthers. For anti-aircraft defense, it was provided with 12 Flakpanzer 38(t) SPAAGs and 34 2 cm Flak guns.
At this point, it is important to note that the work of Karl Wilhelm Krause was rather obscure and is poorly documented in the sources. While a number of sources mention that this modification was likely made in 1944, H. Meyer (The 12th SS: The History of the Hitler Youth Panzer Division: Volume One) mentions that these vehicles were present in the unit way back to at least October 1943. In the organizational structure, the 12th Panzer Regiment’s 2nd Abteilung (English: Battalion or detachment) consisted of one platoon equipped with three modified 2 cm Flakvierling 38 armed Panzer IVs instead of its intended 2 cm Flak platoon (with 6 guns).
Karl Wilhelm Krause experimented with the idea of mounting a 2 cm Flakvierling 38 on a Panzer IV chassis. He proposed this idea to his superior, Obersturmbannfuhrer Karl-Heinz Prinz, who gave him the green light for its implementation. The whole installation was simple in nature. The turret was simply removed and a modified mount the Flak was placed on top. As previously mentioned, it is likely that no more than three such vehicles were converted.
During this time, in Germany, In 6 was heavily involved in the new Flakpanzer development. Due to the deteriorating German industrial situation, the simplest and cheapest solution was desperately needed. At some point, Generalmajor Bolbrinker heard of Krause’s Flakpanzer work and dispatched Leutnant Hans Christoph Count von Seherr-Thoss to France in order to inspect this vehicle. Leutnant Hans was impressed with this vehicle and wrote a report about it to In 6 on 27th April 1944. In it, he suggested that this vehicle should be used as the base for the new Flakpanzer IV project. It also claimed that the 12th Panzer Regiment’s commander, Obersturmbannführer Max-Wünsche, presented a picture of this vehicle to Adolf Hitler himself, who urged the use of this vehicle as the basis for the new Flakpanzer which was in development. There appears to be no official or unofficial name given to these vehicles.
The design of the vehicle is not mentioned in any available sources. Which precise chassis version was used is unclear given the relative obscurity and poor coverage in the sources. Author H. Walther (The 12th SS Panzer Division HJ) simply mentions that three 2 cm anti-aircraft guns were mounted on older Panzer IV chassis. If this conversion was made in late 1943, using tanks that were already in the Division, this would mean that these were likely Panzer IV Ausf.Hs.
The available pictures of the vehicles offer a chance to identify the tank chassis. Given that one vehicle had the flat driver plate with the round-shaped machine gun ball mount of the new type, it could be any chassis starting from the Ausf.F onward. What is odd is to use new tanks in this manner, given that the Germans were in short supply of them. The likely scenario is that they reused older tanks, like the short barrel Ausf.F, which may have been used as a training vehicle in the division. Damaged tanks were often reused in this manner too, but given the fact that the 12th SS Panzer Division was newly created and did not see combat by this point, it is unlikely that they would have received a damaged Panzer IV tank, besides maybe for training. In any case, due to the similarities between different late Panzer IV vehicles, only some educated guesses can be made about their overall construction.
The hull appears to have been unchanged from the original Panzer IV, which seems to have been the most logical thing to do. The most obvious place to implement changes would be on top of the superstructure, where the main armament was positioned.
The Suspension and Running Gear
This Flakpanzer IV’s suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to the overall construction. They consisted of eight small doubled road wheels on each side suspended in pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front-drive sprockets and two rear idlers in total. The number of return rollers is not clear, as the vehicle side is partially covered with wooden branches, but appears to be standard four on each side.
The front-drive sprocket can give some hints on which version these (or at least one) vehicles were based on. This vehicle used the driver sprocket similar to that used on the Panzer Ausf.F and G versions. The later Ausf.H and J used a slightly simplified sprocket design. Of course, many later produced or repaired Panzer IV used any parts that were available, and seeing versions that incorporated parts from different versions was rare but possible.
Both the Panzer IV Ausf.G and H used the same engine, the Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 hp @ 2,600 rpm. The Ausf.G was a bit faster, at 42 km/h, while the heavier Ausf.H had a reduced maximum speed of 38 km/h. The operational range was 210 km on a good road and 130 km cross-country. The fuel load of 470 liters was also unchanged.
The superstructure received some modifications in order to accommodate the 2 cm Flak gun. What precisely was done is unknown. In the photographs of this vehicle, it appears that the 2 cm Flak gun was slightly recessed inside the turret opening. It also could simply be a simple illusion due to perspective. In any case, the mount had to be installed inside or on top of the superstructure. As this vehicle was used as inspiration for the later Wirbelwind, the latter’s design could cast some light on how this may have been achieved. To make a stable platform for the new gun, on the Wirbelwind, the gun support was constructed from two T-shaped carriers (around 2.2 m long) that were welded to the chassis interior. An additional plate with holes for securing the gun was also added. This plate also had a large round-shaped opening for the mounting of the collector ring. This collector ring was important, as it enabled supplying the turret with electricity from the tank’s hull.
The Armor Protection
The armor protection of the hull and the superstructure ranged from a maximum of 80 mm to 8 mm. The difference was that the Ausf.G used 50 mm of frontal armor with added (welded or bolted) 30 mm of armor. Most built Ausf.H tanks received the single 80 mm thick frontal armor plates.
With the two surviving pictures of these vehicles, it can be seen that one vehicle did not even have the gun’s armored plate, that was normally used with this weapon. The second vehicle received a rather simple three-sided armor, the thickness of which is unknown, but likely only a few millimeters thick to stop small-caliber bullets or shrapnel. The rear and top are completely open.
This vehicle was armed with the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 anti-aircraft gun. A well-known anti-aircraft gun of the Second World War, it was designed by Mauser-Werke to replace the older 2 cm Flak 30 and was introduced in May 1940. Its effective firing range was between 2 to 2.2 km, while the maximum horizontal range was 5,782 m. The maximum rate of fire was 1,680 to 1,920 rpm, but 700-800 rpm was a more appropriate operational rate of fire. The elevation was –10° to +100°.
While the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 was fed by 20-round magazines, it is unknown how much ammunition was carried inside the vehicle. The gun itself had a special ammunition box in its base on both sides, where up to 8 magazines could be stored and which were in easy reach by the two loaders. This meant that at least 320 rounds could be carried around the gun. Given that the internal 7.5 cm ammunition racks were empty, as the original main gun was removed, additional space could have be used to store more magazines inside the vehicle’s hull.
For self-defense, the crew had at their disposal one MG 34 with 600 rounds of ammunition and their personal weapons, with some 3,150 rounds of ammunition, which was standard for all Panzer IVs at this point.
In order to effectively operate this vehicle’s main gun, the gun crew had to consist of a minimum of three members. These included the gunner, positioned in the center, and two loaders placed on either side of the gun. These crew members were placed on top of the superstructure. Inside the vehicle, the driver and the radio operator (also the hull machine gun operator) were unchanged. According to the surviving photographs, a commander was also present, probably acting as an additional spotter for potential targets and directing the whole operation. It is also likely that he too was positioned on the top of the superstructure.
Not much is known about the precise use of these vehicles by the 12th SS Panzer Division. One of the first mentions of the combat actions of these Flakpanzer IVs regards 14th June near Caen. On that morning, a high-ranking officer, Sturmbannführer Hubert Meyer, along with his driver, Rottenführer Helmut Schmieding, went to examine the 26th Panzer Regiment’s positions near le Haut du Bosq. On their way back, they were spotted by an Allied ground attack aircraft, which proceeded to attack them. While they managed to find cover, the enemy aircraft was engaged by the field-modified Flalpanzer IV. The enemy aircraft was quickly brought down by the extensive anti-aircraft fire.
By 9th July, the 12th SS Panzer Division was fighting a losing battle for Caen. It was one of the last German units to abandon Caen’s defense. By this point, its fighting strength was greatly reduced, consisting of only 25 Panthers, 19 Panzer IVs, and a few remaining Flakpanzers. If the three modified Panzer IVs survived up to this point is unknown, but unlikely.
During the actions in France in 1944, these Flakpanzers were noted to be quite an effective weapon system. They were credited with shooting down at least 27 enemy aircraft. One of the gunners of these vehicles, Sturmmann Richard Schwarzwälder, later wrote: “… On 14 June 1944, when you were being chased by a fighter-bomber, I already had downed seven aircraft and been awarded the Iron T Cross II. I had a total of fourteen kills … At the start of the invasion, it was still easy to shoot them down, the guys were flying low and were inexperienced. However, this was to change soon. .. “.
The fate of the three modified Flakpanzer IV is unknown. Given that the Germans suffered great losses in the West during 1944, it is suggested that these were likely lost at some point in the campaign. At least one vehicle appears to have been captured intact after possibly being abandoned by the Germans (either broken down or running out of fuel, which was a common thing for the Germans at this point of the war). Its fate is unknown but it was likely scrapped at some point by the Allies.
What was left of the Division would be pulled back to Germany to be rearmed and for recuperation. In October 1944, in order to replace its lost Flakpanzers, it received four 2cm Flakvierling 38 armed and four 3.7 cm armed Flakpanzer IVs. In the case of the 2 cm armed Flakpanzer, this was the new Wirbelwind, which by this point entered service in limited numbers. Ironically, the unit was armed with the vehicle they helped develop.
Legacy of Karl Wilhelm Krause Flakpanzers
Karl Wilhelm Krause’s Flakpanzer design, despite being a simple improvisation, greatly influenced further Flakpanzer IV development. Based on his work, an improved Flakpanzer IV that was equipped with a fully rotating open-top turret armed with four 2 cm Flakvierling 38 would be developed. This was the Flakpanzer IV ‘Wirbelwind’ (English: Whirlwind), of which over 100 were built (the precise number is unknown). They proved to be highly effective and served up to the end of the war.
Karl Wilhelm’s Flakpanzer IV, while just a simple field modification, proved to be an excellent anti-aircraft vehicle given how many enemy aircraft it is claimed it shot down. His design was not without flaws. These vehicles were poorly protected, as the crew (at least on one vehicle) did not even have a gun shield, making them completely exposed to any kind of enemy return fire. Given the limited information available on them, a more detailed analysis of the whole design is impossible. Regardless, given the fact that it served as a base for the later Wirbelwind, it seems that the whole design had merits that the Germans recognized.
Karl Wilhelm Flakpanzer IV Technical (estimated) specification
5.92 x 2.88, x 2.7 m,
Total weight, battle-ready
6 (Commander, Gunner, Two Loaders, Radio Operator, and Driver)
The Germans armed forces made wide use of captured equipment during the Second World War, particularly the ground forces of the Wehrmacht, the Heer. Following the conquests of 1939 to 1942, thousands of armored vehicles were left behind German lines, sometimes lightly damaged or even intact. Efforts would be undertaken to field these vehicles, both by frontline German units seeking to strengthen their numbers and by rear-line security units seeking armor to fight against partisans and resistance movements in Europe. These are known as Beutepanzers (captured/trophy tanks).
As one of the most produced tanks of the war, and one fielded by the Soviets during the great German offensives in 1941-1942, large numbers of T-34s fell into German hands. Designated T-34 747(r) (German Beutepanzer designations used a three-digit system in which the first number would designate the type of vehicle, if starting with 7, a tank; the (r) would indicate the Soviet (Russland) origin of the vehicle), the vehicle would be widely used by German formations. Large number of local field modifications would be undertaken by the Germans, often consisting of fitting German equipment into their T-34s to ease their operations. However, the vehicles would sometimes operate in an entirely different role as to what they were originally intended for. The hull of the T-34 was fairly commonly used without its turret as a Bergepanzer (armored recovery vehicle), with the lack of such vehicles being a chronic issue within the German army. In 1944, it would appear that one of these Bergepanzer T-34s was modified by the field workshop of Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 on the Eastern front, being turned into a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun armed with a Flakvierling quadruple mount for the 2 cm Flak 38 autocannon.
Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 was a heavy tank destroyer battalion, operating mostly the Elefant (formerly known as Ferdinand) tank destroyer. By 1944, two of the battalion’s three companies were deployed on the Eastern Front, around North-Western Ukraine, while the other company was deployed in Italy.
Though the Elefant was the unit’s standard combat vehicle, it appears a number of other armored vehicles were present in the unit’s inventory, including some Bergepanzer T-34(r). One of these would undergo a conversion into a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. This was performed by the maintenance company of the battalion, Werkstattkompanie 653. The conversion appears to have dated from May or June 1944. Interestingly enough, a similar conversion on the hull of a Bergepanther is also reported to have existed within the same unit in the summer of 1944, though there are no known photos of it.
The armament of the vehicle was a 2 cm Flakvierling 38 mounting four 20 mm autocannons. This quadruple mount was introduced in May of 1940. As well as combining the four guns, it included collapsible seats and folding handles. In the field configuration, it could elevate to up to +100°. Each of the individual 2 cm Flak 38 guns had a cyclic rate of fire of 450 rounds per minute, which would result in a massive 1,800 20 mm rounds sent downrange per minute on the Flakvierling, though in practice, due to operations such as reloading the gun, as well as minimizing overheating, the practical rate of fire would be around 800 rounds per minute, which was still massive for 20 mm ammunition. The rounds fired by the Flak 38 included SprGr.Patr.L/Spur (HE), Pzgr Patr 40 L/Spur (AP penetrating 40 mm at 100 meters) and Pzgr Patr L/pur m Zerlegung (AP/HE incendiary). Muzzle velocity varied from 830 to 900 m/s depending on which type of ammunition was used. The Flakvierling would weigh around 1,520 kg in operation, though the additional armor plates found on the Flakpanzer T-34’s armament make its weight hard to estimate.
The hull on which this was mounted was a T-34, the production factory and year not being known. This was the standard Soviet medium tank, which used a welded hull with both sloped front and sides, armored at 45 mm (not accounting for the angling). The engine was a V-2-34 V12 diesel engine producing 500 hp in theory, though in practice the output was typically lesser due to issues with air filters quality.
On the Flakpanzer T-34, this Flakvierling mount was given what could be described as the intermediate between a gun shield and a fully rotatable turret. The armor protection, though from the front it may appear as comprising all sides but the top, as it would be on a Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind, was actually fully open at the rear, with only the front and sides being given armor. The armor plates were reportedly taken from disabled German half-tracks (likely Sd.Kfz.251s), which would give them a thickness of either 8 mm or 14.5 mm, most likely the lighter option (the lighter weight would have eased rotation of the mount, and there was a greater quantity of lighter plates to salvage from German half-tracks). These plates appear to have been welded together. The turret is at its highest at the front, with the front plates being fairly similar in shape to what could be found on the Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind. The height of the armor plates declined progressively over the sides.
Outside of these additional armored plates, a large armor-plated collar was installed around the turret race, likely intended as protection to this very vulnerable part of the vehicle. Further modifications were undertaken to fulfill the vehicle’s role as an anti-aircraft weapon by adding a large ammunition container rack on the right rear of the hull, holding a number of stowage boxes for 20 mm ammunition. Spare track links were also present on the hull’s sides. The hull machine gun appears to have been retained.
The nature of the Flakpanzer T-34 crew’s composition is not known. In the field, a Flakvierling 38 would have a large crew of eight, but this was obviously not a possibility for a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun on a tank chassis, which could not transport such a high crew complement. A crew composition similar to the Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind, with the radio operator ditched due to seating for only one crewman existing inside the T-34 hull itself, may have been adopted: this would have left the Flakpanzer T-34 with a crew of four. It would consist of a driver, a commander/gunner and two loaders. A photo of the vehicle in operation does show four servicemen posing on it, which would perhaps support this theory but is not deep, tangible evidence.
The vehicle was operated by an anti-aircraft detachment that would have covered Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 on the Eastern Front. The vehicle is known to have been operated in July of 1944. This would be smack in the middle of Operation Bagration, the massive Soviet 1944 summer offensive. While no report of the Flakpanzer T-34’s combat record has surfaced, it is as such very likely the vehicle would have been engaged in combat during this time.
The battalion the Flakpanzer T-34 was operated in would be removed from the front on the 3rd of August 1944 for re-equipment and rest, after having been battered by weeks of fighting. Crucially, while twelve Elefants remained, no mention of the Flakpanzer T-34 exists after this point, and it appears the vehicle was not present as the unit was patched up, which suggests it was likely lost in July or very early August 1944. The exact causes of this loss are unknown. The vehicle may merely have been lost in combat, or have suffered a breakdown that could not have been solved due to lack of Soviet spare parts or advancing Soviet forces. The precise fate of the vehicle is in any case unknown, with all known views of it showing it during its short time in service of Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653.
Conclusion – The only confirmed Flakpanzer T-34
The Flakpanzer T-34 has, over the years, gathered some considerable interest from Second World War armor enthusiasts. The vehicle has been upheld as an impressive example of the various field conversions and modifications that were often fielded during the conflict, particularly within the German armored forces. Indeed, the vehicle can be described as seemingly rather formidable for a field conversion. Though obviously some very important aspects of it, such as for example the rotation speed of its turret or even confirmation of its crew layout or armor thickness, are not known, the Flakvierling 38 was a deadly anti-aircraft system and the Flakpanzer T-34 would likely have far superior anti-aircraft performances than what would typically be expected of a captured tank hull modified for such duties in a field workshop.
The Flakvierling armed vehicle is not the only Flakpanzer T-34 claimed to have existed. Two other models have popped up in Internet rumors, but none are confirmed to have existed – one is fairly likely but the other not so much. The less likely one was that a T-34 was refitted with a much larger 8.8 cm Flak gun around the turret race and used in combat, reportedly in April 1945 in Saxonia. A photo manipulation has been circulated around showing a T-34 hull fitted with such a gun, the original photo instead showing a standard T-34-85. The more likely conversion would be a T-34 refitted with the triple MG 151/20 Drilling mounting featured in some anti-aircraft German half-tracks, a much lighter main armament which would likely have been far less problematic to install. A photomanipulation of this vehicle also circulates around, based on a photo originally showing a Bergepanzer T-34. A unit has reportedly been mentioned for this conversion, Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 561, but its existence remains to be proven and it is best described as a rumor as of now. The Flakvierling-armed vehicle, as such, remains the only confirmed Flakpanzer T-34.
Flakpanzer T-34(r) (2 cm Flakvierling 38)
Likely around 30 tons
V-2-34 V12 diesel engine producing 500 hp (theoretical)
Likely 4 (possibly commander/gunner, driver and two loaders)
The German occupation troops in the Balkans and in the rest of Europe did not have the first pick when it came to equipment. They usually received obsolete hand-me-downs from more important units of the army or captured vehicles that no one else wanted. Thus, these troops, which were fighting against determined and organized resistance movements, were forced to improvise and improve what they had within their means.
Such might have been the case for a curious vehicle that recently appeared in a number of photographs online. This vehicle consists of a German Panzer I turret mounted on top of the cargo area of a French Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor. Unfortunately, no information is available regarding this vehicle, its role, or its usage, but it can be hypothesized that it was meant as an escort vehicle against partisan attacks or maybe for training.
The Lorraine 37L
During WW1, the armies involved on the Western Front needed a way to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line. Men and horses were getting killed and injured from small arms fire and exploding shell fragments. For this reason, tracked armored supply vehicles were designed. The Tracteur de ravitaillement pour chars 1937 L armored tracked supply vehicle, better known as the Lorraine 37L, was developed by the Lorraine Company in 1937. It was meant to supply the cavalry units of the French army, being larger and faster than the Renault UE that was meant to supply the infantry units. The Lorraine 37L could transport a heavier load and keep up with the fast cavalry divisions. Production began in January 1939.
By the time of the armistice in 1940, a total of 432 Lorraine 37L armored supply tractors had been produced. The victorious German forces captured many Lorraine 37L vehicles, of which 300 to 360 (depending on the source) were repaired and pressed back into service. They used them in their original role as Gefechtsfeld-Versorgungsfahrzeug (Eng: supply carriers) and Munitionstransportkraftwagen (Eng: ammunition carriers). After finding out that the suspension system was robust and reliable, many were also converted into 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 Marder I tank destroyers or self-propelled artillery guns.
The regular version of the Lorraine 37L had six large road wheels in three pairs of bogies on each side. This gave the vehicle a low ground pressure and good weight distribution. Each bogie could move up and down independently. It was sprung by an inverted leaf spring system located just below the upper track run: three assemblies were placed between the four top rollers. The tracks were 22 cm wide and it was powered by a 70 hp Delahaye type 135 engine. The transmission was in the front of the vehicle driving the tracks via the drive sprockets located at the front.
The driver and commander sat in the middle of the vehicle, having all-around protection from most rifle-caliber weaponry due to the 6 to 12 mm of armor. At the back, there was a small open-topped cargo space.
Panzer I turret
Work on what would become the Panzer I tank started in 1930, 3 years before the rise of Hitler to power and while the Treaty of Versailles was still officially observed by the German government.
As produced, the Panzer I mounted a single-man turret sporting two coaxial 7.92 mm magazine-fed MG13 machine-guns. Aiming was done using a telescopic sight between the two machine-guns or could be done by eye through two apertures that could be covered by armored shutter when not in use.
A large forward-opening hatch on top of the turret allowed access for the commander and also allowed him to observe his surroundings while not under fire. Four more shutters were available around the turret sides, two of which had slits built into them. These could be used for observation or used as pistol ports in case enemy infantry got too close. The armor ranged from 7 to 15 mm. Traverse of the turret was done by hand using a gear drive. This drive could also be decoupled and the turret could then be turned by the commander physically rotating it using his body.
Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)
Photographs have been found showing that a Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor was modified into a light tank by fitting a Panzer I tank turret over the cargo bay at the rear of the vehicle. The turret is missing its main armament in two of the photos available, while in the third one it is hard to judge if the armament is present.
In two of the photos, the vehicle seems to be undergoing mobility tests going up and down an embankment, with various military officials and civilians watching the trials. In one of these, an Italian TL-37 artillery tractor is in the foreground with a German soldier on the back appearing to take a photo or some kind of measurements. The presence of the Italian truck under German control means that these photographs were taken after the September 1943 Italian Armistice and were probably taken somewhere in Yugoslavia.
In the last photo, the vehicle is part of a military column along with two passenger cars and a truck. The forward-most passenger car has a Wehrmacht identification plate.
The crew consisted of three men, a commander in the turret in the new combat compartment, and two men in the front of the vehicle, one being the driver of the vehicle. The vehicle is painted in a single color scheme with a single Balkenkreuz visible on the transmission housing at the front.
Given the low height of the cargo space, it is likely that anyone in the turret would have to be sat in the cargo space in order to be ‘closed-down’ in the turret. This would have seriously hampered any combat ability of the vehicle, especially when it comes to traversing the turret and firing. It is notable that in the known pictures of the vehicle the turret is always facing ahead. Further, two of the three images show a man standing in the turret, and, from his height, the ‘floor’ level of the cargo bay can be ascertained.
Unfortunately, the few photos available do not allow identification of the location this vehicle was used in, as they could be anywhere in Europe. In the lack of new evidence, the best hope to find the location would probably be to identify the buildings visible in one of the photos. Commentators online have claimed that this vehicle was used in Croatia or that it was built by Baukommando Becker (Eng: Construction Unit Becker, responsible for many conversions of the Lorraine 37L, such as the Marder I) in France. However, neither of these hypotheses is supported by any concrete evidence.
The role this vehicle was meant to fulfill is also unknown. It is possible that this vehicle might have been meant to be used as a tank against the resistance forces which would generally lack any anti-armor armament that could take it out. Its twin machine-guns would be enough firepower for such a task. If this vehicle was indeed meant to be used in combat, its performance would have been poor at the very least. The armament would have been restricted in depression over the forward firing arc, as the hull itself would have come in the way. Also, due to the low height of the combat compartment and lack of a turret basket, rotating the turret would have been difficult if not dangerous. Further, there was a significant distance between the gunner in the turret and the driver in the front compartment, making communication and coordination between them difficult. For combat purposes, the vehicle would probably have been little less than a mobile machine-gun nest able to protect static major objectives and to intimidate enemies that were lacking anti-tank firepower.
Alternatively, it could also have been meant to be used for escorting supply columns from the hit-and-run attacks of resistance forces. However, in this case, the slower nature of the tracked Lorraine 37L tractor (not taking into account the extra weight of the turret) would either have severely restricted the speed of the convoy or would have made the vehicle incapable of keeping up.
It is also possible that this vehicle might have been meant as a training vehicle, helping to train drivers, gunners, and vehicle commanders, which might explain the lack of armament. Finally, it might have been used to familiarize infantry with tanks and how to deal with them.
However, without further information being obtained, there is no way to say for certain where this vehicle was built, with what intent, and how it was used.
The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) is a mystery vehicle that is known only from a couple of photographs. It is not known where it was built or for what purpose. Only one was probably converted. It is not known what happened to it during or after the war. It was most probably cut up for scrap metal.
4.2 m x 1.57 m x 2 m
13ft 9in x 5ft 2in x 6ft 7in
Total weight, battle-ready
Type 135 Delahaye 6 cylinder inline petrol/gasoline 70 hp
Despite being famous for its tanks during World War II, Germany never had enough of them to go around. Less important units, such as those fighting partisans in the Balkans had a very low priority as far as Armored Fighting Vehicle allocation was concerned. They received old, obsolete or captured vehicles that the main units deemed useless. This led some of the units in the theater to get creative, as was probably the case with the Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo light tank.
Three photographs have shown that at least one Famo Boxer was converted into a light tank. It is not known by whom or the exact dates involved. The engine was protected by armor plate and the front section elongated to act as a counterweight. It had an armored louvered grill at the front to assist ventilation and help protect the engine and radiator. The lower glacis plate was angled to help it slide up muddy slopes.
The rear of the tractor was extended so the commander had somewhere to stand. In front of him was the driver. Both crewmen were protected by an armored superstructure. The thickness of the armor is not known but it would have been thin and only stopped small arms fire. It was angled and the domed turret was curved which would have helped with bullet deflection.
The Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo (Light tracked tractor built by Famo) improvised tank was built on an agricultural tracked tractor. It was armed with a 7.92 mm machine-gun in a 360-degree rotating turret. It had a 5.0 liter 4-cylinder 45 hp engine. The transmission had three forward gears and one reverse.
It is believed to have been operated in the Independent State of Croatia and used in a security role to prevent attacks by partisans. It does not display the Croatian Army markings of a red and white checkerboard shield. It has the German Army Balkenkreuz cross on the side. Therefore, it may be assumed that the vehicle was operated by a German Army tank crew in Croatia.
The tractor, on which this vehicle was based, was produced in 1932 and called the LHB Boxer. In 1934, Linke-Hofmann-Busch Werke AG was divided into several companies. On 15th November 1935, the vehicle manufacturing part of the company was taken over by Junkers. It continued to build wheeled and tracked tractors plus diesel engines under the new name Fahrzeug und Motoren-Werke GmbH (FAMO). They also developed and manufactured the very large heavy 18 ton half-track vehicle (Sd.Kfz.9) for the Wehrmacht.
FAMO continued the production of the LHB Boxer but it was now advertised for sale as the FAMO Boxer. The German Wehrmacht purchased them for use as towing vehicles. Their official designation was Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo, Typ Boxer.
The operational history of this vehicle is, sadly, unknown. It is also not known what happened to the vehicle. It is possible it was destroyed by the partisans, captured after the war and scrapped or simply dismantled and returned to its role as a tractor.
Illustration of the Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
German Reich/Yugoslav Partisans/Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? (1943-1954)
Self-Propelled Gun – 1 Built
During the Second World War, across the battlefields of Europe and North Africa, the German forces often made field modifications in the hope of improving their existing equipment or simply salvaging damaged ones. These modifications were often simple constructions consisting of putting different weapon systems on a tank or half-track. Examples of which include the “Oswald” and a Pzkpfw. KV-1B fitted with a 7.5 cm KwK 40.
Another such modification was the merging an Sd.Kfz.250 half-track troop carrier with a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun.
Historically, this vehicle is a mystery and unfortunately, there is no information about it available. Various sources, mostly on the internet, offer different interpretations of who built this and where the vehicle was used. These range from it being used on the Eastern Front to it seeing action during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. However, most of these versions are incorrect or misinterpreted.
Thanks to Dr. Mirko Peković (Museum Advisor), we know that the Belgrade Military Museum received this vehicle in 1954 from a military post, from Kragujevac (a city in Serbia). Unfortunately, the Museum does not possess information on its origin. It is known that the vehicle was captured by Partisans during the German withdrawal from Greece. More precise information is difficult to find as the Partisans kept poor records of most captured vehicles and weapons during the WW2. It is also not known what the Partisans (and later the JNA-Yugoslav People’s Army) did with this vehicle.
Thanks to its preservation at the Museum, the construction can be analyzed in detail. The first thing of notice is that this is a combination of a German Sd.Kfz.250 half-track and a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank weapon.
This vehicle can be seen at the Belgrade Military Museum located near the city center. Photo: Wikimedia
A fully restored and operational Sd.Kfz.250 (Austria). On this photo, we can see the original appearance of the rear of this vehicle. Photo: SOURCE
In 1939, the German Army made a request for a new light half-track troop carrier similar to the larger Sd.Kfz.251. The development of this project was handed over to Bussing-Nag (for the design of the main armored body) and Demag (for developing the chassis). For this purpose, the D7p chassis was used, a truncated version of the Sd.Kfz.10’s D7 chassis that featured only four road wheels on either side, instead of five. Due to many reasons (priority being given to the larger Sd.Kfz.251, slow adaptation for production, insufficient materials etc.), the development process and production were slow. The first production vehicles were not ready until 1941. From 1943 onwards, a new simplified armored body was used in the hope of speeding up the production. These were designated the Ausf.B in order to differentiate them from the more complex superstructures fitted to the Ausf.A. Over 6500 vehicles were produced in 12 variants until the end of the Second World War.
5 cm PaK 38
The 5 cm PaK 38 was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig in 1938 as a replacement for the weaker 3.7 cm Pak 36, but it was not ready for service until 1940. The PaK 38 carriage was a split trail design with tubular rear legs which helped absorb the recoil during firing. For mobility, two solid tired disk wheels were used, to which an additional third rear wheel could be added. The gun was fitted with a semi-automatic breech and had a muzzle brake. For crew protection, a double skin shield was provided. Stronger weapons would eventually supplant the PaK 38, but it was never completely replaced as it remained in use until the end of the war. Between 1939 and 1944, some 9,500 were produced.
The Pak 38’s basic characteristics were: practical rate of fire 10 to 15 rounds per minute, elevation -8° to + 27°, traverse 65°, and weight in action 986 kg. Average penetration at 1,000 m (at 0°) was 61mm (Panzergranate 39) and 84 mm by using the rare tungsten ammunition (Panzergranate 40). The maximum range of high explosive shells was 2,650 m (2,500 m depending on the sources).
By analyzing the modified half-track superstructure in detail, it can immediately be noticed that several interesting and unusual modifications were done. The most obvious is the unusual rear extension of the Sd.Kfz.250’s fighting compartment by nearly a meter. It is probable that the added rear ‘part’ was simply salvaged from another damaged Sd.Kfz.250 or even 251. A potential explanation for this is that, because of the installation of the new weapon, the crew needed extra room to use it efficiently. However, similar modifications had already been implemented, for example on the Sd.Kfz.250/8. It had an even larger caliber gun installed, but this did not require any major changes to the superstructure and which was not extended.
The rear left the sided door of the Sd.Kfz.250 with 5 cm Pak 38 gun was left unchanged but the door itself was missing. This vehicle surely had an operational real door (there was no real reason no to have one), but at some point, it was removed for unknown reasons. Since recently, the door has been restored and welded completely, so it is no longer possible to see the interior. Dimensions of this modified version are, according to the Museum’s own book-catalog: length 4.56 m, width 1.95 m, and height 1.66 m. Armor thickness ranges from 8 to 15 mm.
On closer inspection, the place where the extended armor was welded to the original one can be observed. Photo: Author’s own
The potentially damaged suspension with the missing wheels and parts can be seen here (right side of the vehicle). Photo: Author’s own
On the left side, this vehicle seems like it is completely intact. All German vehicles in the Belgrade Military Museum are painted in this camouflage. It has a more ‘decorative’ role and does not represent how the vehicle was painted in reality. Photo: Wikimedia
The suspension and running gear appear to have suffered some kind of damage at some point and were never truly repaired. On the vehicle’s right side, the outer two road wheels are missing, as are the front wheels mudguards, and other parts like the bolt that hold the wheels in place.
The main weapon was the 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun. The wheels and the two rear legs were removed. Besides this, it seems no other changes were done on the gun construction. The main weapon was held by two forward-pointed thick metal levers (one on each side). These were bolted to a metal construction which was added for this purpose. Traverse of the main weapon was quite limited, but the maximum elevation was high, but the exact numbers are not known.
Unfortunately, there is no information about the amount of ammunition carried inside. The similar Sd.Kfz.250/8 carried around 20 (75 mm) rounds. As the 5 cm rounds were smaller, and with the extra rear space the possible minimum quantity could be at least 30 to 40 or much higher. According to the Museum own book-catalog, two secondary MG 34 or 42 machine-guns were also used. As there are no obvious mounts for them, it is possible that they were stored inside.
The Sd.Kfz.250 mit 5 cm PaK 38 in a dunkelgelb camouflage, as it might have looked if employed in the later part of the war. Observe the welded-on rear part of the hull. Illustration by Jaroslaw Jarja, funded by our Patreon campaign.
The crew would probably consist of the driver, gunner with a loader and a commander in order to efficiently operate this vehicle. The rest of the space was probably used for PaK ammunition, crew secondary weapons and equipment, and even more crew members or other passengers. According to the Museum own book-catalog, six crew members are listed but not marked who does what. What is possible is that this information is regarding the original Sd.Kfz.250 vehicle.
The top view, here we can see that by adding the sheet metal the gun was fixed in place. Photo: Author’s own
Another unusual feature of this vehicle is the covered top with sheet metal. At first glance it seems like an good idea, as this way the crew would be better protected. But if we examine the vehicle top, we can very easily detect a major problem. By adding this sheet metal, the gun was made completely useless and unusable. So the question is, why do it? The explanation is simple, it was added after the war, possibly by the JNA when it was given to the Belgrade Military Museum to keep the weather out of the vehicle for external display.
Side view of the vehicle top where we can see that it is covered with sheet metal to protect the vehicle from weather elements. It looks like the left side armor was damaged possibly by shrapnel. We can also see where the added rear part was welded to the vehicle superstructure. Photo: Author’s own
Unfortunately, nothing is left of the original interior. It seems that at some point, probably at the moment of handing over to the museum, the whole interior was removed. The Maybach HL42 TRKM engine, with the steering wheel and the control panel was also removed. It was probably estimated that it would be pointless to leave it, as it would be exposed to weather conditions. This is supported by the fact that no other exhibit vehicle of this Museum has a preserved interior.
Unfortunately today, nothing is left of the original interior apart from the gun. Photo: SOURCE
The vehicle weight is marked as 5.7 t, but it was probably more than 6 t (possibly up to 7 t) as we must take into account the gun plus the ammunition weight.
Who built it and why?
There are several different explanations about the origin of this vehicle. But since there are several different theories that be can found in different sources (most often on the Internet), it is appropriate to give explanation some of them and to explain why some of them are not true.
Modification built during the Yugoslav wars in the 90’s: We can immediately reject this theory for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason was the fact that this vehicle was placed in the Museum long before the conflicts even broke out. Did the Partisans Build It: the Yugoslav Partisans did modify a number of Allied supplied M3A3 tanks and equipped them with German captured weapons (7.5 cm PaK 40 and the 2 cm Flak 38 Flakvierling) in Šibenik workshop (1944/45). They certainly had the ability to make this modification. A number of 5 cm PaK 38 were captured from the Germans and used by the Partisans. They also captured and used in limited numbers some German half-track vehicles. But it is important to note that the main repair base (where themodifications on theM3 tanks were done- the city of Šibenik at the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945) was too far away from the estimated location where this vehicle was captured. It would be illogical to transport this vehicle to this location just to make the modification.
As the Sd.Kfz.250 was a rare vehicle on this front, it does not make sense to modify it. The lack of any spare parts would make this vehicle useful only for only a short time until it broke down or was damaged. Also, there is no precise or valid information which can prove that they are creators of this modification. Partisan modification is, therefore, possible but not likely. Did the Germans Build It: It is highly likely that it was built by the Germans, possibly somewhere in occupied Balkan. It is certain that it was made after 1943, as it had the new armored superstructure, which production began that year.
There are several reasons why we can say that it was German made: Booth the vehicle and the gun were of German origin, German soldiers did many similar modifications on the field so this would not be too big a problem for them, no other side used the Sd.Kfz.250 in the Balkans except for Germans and most important (as already mentioned earlier) is the information that this vehicle was captured by the Partisans during the German withdrawal from Greece 1944 or 1945. But unfortunately, it is difficult to determine exactly where, when and which unit built it.
The question of why it was made, is also problematic, but it is possible to answer it. In essence, it could have been used as a training vehicle, but it is more likely that it was built to fight different Partisans groupings on Balkan. The Partisan way of fighting is usually by attacking in smaller groups different enemy targets (cities with small garrisons, patrols etc.) and then quickly retreat into the forests and hills. For the Germans (or any force on that matter) it was important to prevent these attacks in time before they cause damage, so mobility was important. Mobile artillery could give the Germans forces the more fire-power during the usually short engaging with the Partisans. Half-track vehicles had good mobility, better than trucks or cars, and in this case had sufficient armor to protect its crew from small arms fire. A high gun elevation would also help with fighting in hills or woods.
It is also possible that this modification was built during the fast and (somewhat) chaotic withdrawal of German forces from Greece, in the hope of better protecting the German withdrawal forces from possible Partisan attack. At some point, it was damaged (or abandoned) and then captured by the Yugoslav Partisans.
It is almost impossible to determine the exact creator unit of this modification. It could be any unit of the German Army Group E and F who were responsible for the defense of the Balkans from different Partisans faction and potential any Allied invasion in 1944/45.
Possible armored units from Greece were Panzer Auflkarungs Abteilung 122 or the Panzer Abteilung 212. Both units got orders for withdraw from Greece in late 1944 and to move mostly through the Yugoslav territory. During these withdrawals, they often fought battles with Yugoslav Partisans and the Bulgarian forces that had earlier switched sides to the Allied side. There was heavy fighting in Macedonia and the southern parts of Serbia where this vehicle was probably captured.
In Partisan/JNA Service
If this vehicle was ever used by the Partisans and later JNA in any way (in war or as a training vehicle) it is not known. Mostly because of the inability to find new spare parts, there is a great chance that it has never been used operationally and was probably stored and later given to the Belgrade Military Museum.
There is also no information about the exact name for this vehicle, and whether the German (and later Partisans/JNA) even assigned an official name for it. In accordance with German army practice, the nomenclature and designation of such similar modifications the Sd.Kfz.250 with (or ‘mit’ in German) 5 cm PaK 38 could be used.
Unfortunately, due to almost no information about this vehicle, we will never know it full operational history. It is very likely that it was built by the German forces in Balkans, possibly either to fight the Partisans or as protection for the withdrawing forces from Greece or even as a training vehicle. As there is no information available, it could be any or none of these. On the other hand, the Yugoslav Partisans did make some improvised vehicles by the end of 1944. But it is likely that they did not build this vehicle. Regardless of who made it or when and why, it is more important that it had survived the War, as many other similar modifications did not. In the end, it stands as proof of its maker skill and imagination of combining these two weapons.
The Belgrade Military Museum
This unusual vehicle can be seen in the Belgrade Military Museum exhibitions. The Museum was founded in August 1878, with the first permanent exhibition open in 1904. Over the course of more than a century of existence, it had accumulated a large amount of various military exhibits and weapons. Along with other interesting and rare World War Two era vehicles, like the German Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.F. and the Polish TKF tankette.
The author of this article would take this opportunity to thank the museum advisor Dr. Mirko Peković for helping with the research for this article.
Dimensions L W H
3.62m x 1.91m x 1.63 m (11’10” x 6’3″ x 5’4″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready
6 – 7 tonnes
2+4 4 (gunner, loader, driver, commander)
Maybach 6-cyl. water-cooled HL42 TRKM petrol, 99 hp (74 kW)
76 km/h (47 mph)
Maximum range (on/off road)
320/200 km (200/120 mi)
1x 5 cm PaK 38, possibly 2x 7.92 mm MG34 or MG42
8 – 15 mm
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke, Parragon.
Sd Kfz 250 Vol. I, Janusz Ledwoch, Warszawa 2003.
Artillery and armoured vehicles in exterior of the military museum, Mirko Peković and Ivan Mijatović
Encyclopedia of German tanks of world war two, Peter Chamberlain and Hilary L.Doyle.
Throughout the Second World War, the German Army captured hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles from countries it invaded. The same was true during the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans frequently made upgrades and modifications to fit their needs. This process spawned one of the larger armored vehicle enigmas to come out of the War.
This was the KV-1 that was captured and then re-armed with the 7.5cm KwK 40 gun. Not much is known about the history of this improvisation, and there is only one known photo to prove its existence.
It is not the only tank of the Second World War that was retrofitted in the field to accept a gun from another nation. Other examples include the Churchill NA 75 which was a British Churchill tank modified to accept the American 75mm Tank Gun and the Matilda II that was modified to accept the 76mm ZiS-5 gun. In both of these cases, of course, they were not captured vehicles.
The only known image of the modified KV-1.
Background, the KV-1
The KV-1 was the unsuspecting winner of a Soviet contract for a new heavy tank to replace the obsolete T-35A Multi Turreted Heavy Tank. The KV tank beat the SMK and T-100 to make it to mass production. Immediately prior to the invasion of the USSR in June 1941, roughly 508 KV-1 tanks were in Red Army service.
The KV-1 was an unpleasant surprise to the advancing Germans in June 1941, due to its excellent armor protection. The KV-1 quickly gained a fearsome reputation on the battlefield, being able to withstand point-blank shots from the standard 37mm anti tank guns fielded by Germany. Many KV-1s returned from combat peppered with dents and gouges from ricochets which had failed to penetrate its armor. However, the KV-1s made little impact on the actual fighting during the months of Operation Barbarossa with the exception of a small number of engagements. Poor crew training, poor logistical support and inept command and control meant that the Soviet tanks, including the mighty KV-1, where deployed in small packets that were easily swallowed and terminated by the better organized German units.
The KV-1 tank weighed 45 tonnes, and was powered by the 660hp V2K engine. The suspension was the first Soviet use of torsion bars, and it consisted of six road wheels, a rear drive wheel, a large front idler wheel and three return rollers. The tank had a crew of five. Soviet engineers constantly updated the tank and, between 1941 and 1942, the armor was thickened from 90mm to 200mm in places. The firepower was improved too, from the 30.2 calibre long F-32 76.2mm gun, to the 42.5 calibre long 76.2mm Zis-5 gun. The F-32 gun could penetrate 50mm of armor at 1,000m, whereas the Zis-5 gun could penetrate 60mm of armor at the same range. In 1942, this made the gun a significant threat to most German tanks. However, the gun was similar to the one on the T-34 medium tank, which was far more mobile and far cheaper to build.
KVs in German Service
When the Wehrmacht first encountered the KV-1, they were horrified and greatly impressed with its capability to take extreme punishment from the main German tank and anti-tank guns of the time. Contrary to popular belief, there were only a handful of KV-1 tanks that were ever pressed into German service. The captured tanks were known as ‘Beutepanzer’ or trophy tanks.
In 1941, the Germans had a categorizing system for those units captured from the enemy, this was an “Ebeuten” number. The number for KV tanks of all sub-types was “E I”. The overwhelming majority of these tanks were either dismantled at the roadside, or returned to the Reich for museums or testing. However, there were some KV tanks pressed into Wehrmacht service.
Beutepanzer KV-1 ‘1’ of the of the 8th Panzer Division. Photo: SOURCE
The earliest known Beutepanzer KV-1s, which in the German numbering system were known as the Pz.Kpfw KV-1A 753(r) (r = Russia) were deployed in the Autumn of 1941. German changes were minimal, with most Beutepanzer KV-1s retaining the original Soviet radio and equipment, however, occasionally German radios and tool sets were issued. The most interesting German acquisitions were the two OKV-1 tanks pressed into service. The Kirov works in Leningrad had manufactured six prototype flame throwing KV tanks, with a flame unit in the hull. All were used in combat, and two were subsequently pressed into Wehrmacht service after their capture.
Between 1941 and 1943, the German army likely dealt with thousands of lost KV tanks, of which perhaps several hundred were captured in working condition. It is thought however that less than 50 KV-1 tanks were pressed into German service. A multitude of factors can explain this, from lack of spare parts, to German overconfidence in their own tanks, to the Nazi ideological doctrine that viewed anything manufactured by a Slavic race to be inferior.
The specific model of KV-1 that this conversion was based upon was a 1942 model, manufactured at Factory 100 Chelyabinsk (ChTZ) and was probably manufactured in the first or second quarter of 1942. It was fitted with the applique armor on the nose, and on the glacis plate which increased the armor up to 200mm (7.9 in) thick in places. It was equipped with the lightweight cast turret. Sometimes, this model also carried a heavyweight cast, or simplified welded turret. Standard armament remained the same, being the 76mm ZiS-5 gun. In German service, this was designated as the Pz.Kpfw KV-1B 755(r). This modified version was designated Pz.Kpfw KV-1B 756(r). The construction work was carried out by the maintenance battalion of Panzer Regiment 204 of the 22nd Panzer Division.
The most drastic modification to this single KV was the alteration made to the main armament. The original Soviet 76mm ZiS-5 gun was removed to make way for the German’s own 7.5cm KwK 40 L/43.
Diagram of the L/43 gun in its standard mounting, the Panzer IV
This gun was derived from the 7.5cm PaK 40, a towed anti-tank gun that entered service in 1942. In 1942-43, the gun was also mounted on Germany’s main medium tank, the Panzerkampfwagen IV, replacing the short barreled 7.5cm KwK 37 howitzer. Tanks with this new armament were designated as the Panzer IV Ausf.F2. It was a deadly weapon, with a range of ammunition types. These included Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap (APCBC), Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) and High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT). The APCBC was its most deadly round, able to penetrate a maximum of 99mm (3.9 in) of armor.
At this time, the 7.5cm KwK L/43 was a rare gun, as only 135 Panzers were equipped with it. One these tanks must have been irreparably damaged in action, but retained an operable gun that was able to be cannibalized. Though the ZiS gun was removed, the mantlet was retained. The new gun was posted through the void breach first and mounted into position, complete with its coaxial MG 34 machine gun. It is unknown as to what internal modifications took place concerning the placement of the trunnions and elevation/depression gears. Being the more powerful gun, the KwK 40 was larger in the breach than the ZiS. The 7.5cm shell was 100mm longer than the 76mm shell of the ZiS, meaning the breach was also 100mm longer. Recoil length would also have been longer, meaning there was even less room behind the gun.
Minor modifications were also made to the turret. A salvaged commander’s cupola from either a Panzer III or Panzer IV (It is unclear which one it is) was added atop the turret. This was not added over the original commander’s hatch at the rear of the turret. A new hole was cut in the roof towards the right front of the turret, and the cupola added above it. This cupola gave the commander far better visibility, allowing him to spot targets, navigate terrain and observe friendly units easier.
On the left, an air filter was added, with a cover salvaged from a T-34.
A great deal of time was spent theorizing this matter by both authors of this article. The conversion of just this one vehicle would have been time and resource consuming. Other vehicles that were modified in such a way, such as the Churchill NA 75 and Matilda II with ZiS-5 which are mentioned in the introduction, had a designed purpose. The idea behind the Churchill NA 75 was to make use of guns from wrecked tanks, and give the poorly armed Churchill more Anti-Armor and High-Explosive firepower. The same was true for the Matilda, the original 2-Pounder gun of which was considered useless by the Soviets.
This KV, however, seems to lack any recorded intention. The German 7.5cm KwK 40 was a much better gun than the Soviet ZiS-5 76mm. At 1000 meters, the ZiS could only penetrate 61mm of armor, at the same distance, the 7.5cm could punch through 82mm. Ammunition may also have been a factor, as it would’ve been far easier for the Germans to resupply with 7.5cm ammunition than 76mm ammunition.
These are the only practical advantages of adding this gun to the KV. The KV, at this time, was one of the best heavy tanks in the war, and as already discussed, the Germans already had a number of captured examples in their arsenal. It may be that this was intended as somewhat of an ‘Anti-KV’ or ‘Anti-T-34’ vehicle. The Soviets’ own 76mm Gun could not penetrate the front of a standard KV-1 (without 200mm armor) or T-34 at 1000m. The German 7.5cm could handle both. Putting this gun on a chassis the 76mm could not penetrate would prove deadly to any Soviet vehicle facing it.
There is, however, an element of redundancy in the project worth highlighting. At the time this vehicle was built, German vehicles such as the Panzer IV (with long 75mm), Panzer V Panther, Panzer VI Tiger, and Panzerjager Tiger (P) were appearing. All of these, while still teething, were adequately armed so that the armor on the T-34 and KV-1 did not provide the advantage they had. With the 8.8cm gun or high velocity 7.5cm gun both the T34 and KV-1 were much more vulnerable.
The most logical conclusion as to why this KV was modified in this way is therefore that it was simply a culmination of spare parts and ingenuity.
This KV was apparently active at Kursk, but further details of this are scarce.
German Reich (1942)
Self-Propelled Mortar – Unknown Number Built
Captured Renault AMR 35 tanks
In German Army service, the few French Army Renault AMR 35 (Auto Mitrailleuse de Reconnaissance) tanks that were captured were given the official designation of Panzerspähwagen VM 701(f). They were used for training and police duties in occupied countries.
German 8cm schwere Granatwefer 34 auf Panzerspähwagen AMR(35f) self-propelled heavy mortar.
A variant called the 8cm schwere Granatwefer 34 auf Panzerspähwagen AMR(35f) self-propelled heavy mortar (abbreviated to 8cm Granatwerfer auf PSW AMR 35(f)) was fitted with an 81 mm (3.19 in) GW-34 heavy mortar in an open topped armored fighting compartment. The turret of the tank had been replaced with a lightly armored superstructure of riveted construction that enclosed the fighting compartment. The top and rear were left open. The armor plate used on the front of the superstructure was 13 mm thick set at a 15 degree angle. The sides were also 13 mm thick set at a 40 degree angle.
The fighting compartment included the space formerly occupied by the turret and the space above the engine compartment at the rear of the chassis. The mortar was mounted at the front to fire forward. The front of the compartment was not separated from the driver’s position. The crew had to enter it from the rear.
The 81 mm mortar tube rested on a base plate bolted to the top of the engine compartment. The bipod retained the normal cross-levelling, elevating and traversing mechanism, but the legs had been extended and were attached to a rack and pinion mechanism which permitted additional elevation, traverse and leveling adjustment. The mortar was equipped with a collimator mortar sight RA35.
AMR 35 ZT-1 equipped with a heavy 13 mm (0.51 in) Hotchkiss machine gun with 1250 rounds. Fitted with the AVIS-2 turret, 80 built.
A rare German battlefield conversion, 8cm Schwere Granatwerfer 34 auf Panzerspähwagen AMR(f) self-propelled heavy mortar.
Front view of the 8cm Granatwerfer auf PSW AMR 35(f). It is being inspected by a soldier for the US. 3rd Army as it was found in their area. A report on the vehicle was sent back to America.
The mortar fixing points inside the 8cm schwere Granatwefer 34 auf Panzerspahwagen AMR(35f) Germans Tanks of ww2
During World War Two, Polish, Soviet, German and British armed forces used armored trains. Germany had 21 armored trains in 1942, 29 in 1943, 44 in 1944 and 55 in 1945. The Soviets had a lot more including captured Polish armored trains.
The locomotive would be covered in protective armor plate and pull artillery wagons fitted with howitzers, anti-aircraft wagons bristling with flak guns for self-defence, anti-tank wagons with tank turrets mounted on top of an armoured coach, command and assault wagons to carry troops plus at the back a flat-bed tank transporter with ramps. The tanks could dismount from the train when needed and take the battle to the enemy by out flanking them or using direct assault under the cover of supporting fire from the train.
On 8th September 1944, the German Army PZ32 armored train was captured in St Berain, France. Most German armored trains were on the Eastern Front.
The Lorraine 37L
During WW1, the French and British Army needed a way to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line. Men and horses were getting killed and injured from small arms fire and exploding shell fragments. Tracked armored supply vehicles were developed. This vehicle was developed by the Lorraine company in 1937 as a replacement for the smaller Renault UE. It could transport a heavier load and was faster than the Renault UE. Production began in January 1939. By the time France surrendered in 1940, a total of 432 Lorraine 37L armored supply tractors had been produced.
The Chenillette Lorraine 37L armored tractor unit was designed to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line.
The 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) and Marder I SPGs
After the surrender of France in 1940, a lot of French Army military equipment was taken into operational use by the Germans. Some of the French tanks and armored tractors, like the Lorraine 37L, were converted into self-propelled guns. These vehicles would be able to keep up with the Panzer Divisions. There were two main types of self-propelled guns in the German Army during WW2.
One, like the Marder I, was fitted with an anti-tank gun and the other with an artillery howitzer, like the 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun. A vehicle fitted with an artillery howitzer was called a ‘Geschützwagen’ abbreviated to ‘GW’, which is literally translated as a ‘gun vehicle’. The word ‘Schlepper’ means tractor. The letter (f) indicates that the SPG’s chassis was French.
The 12.2cm FK(r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f)
This vehicle was also built around a captured Lorraine 37L. It was used on the PZ32 German armored train in France. It would be at the end of the train on a flat-bed tank transporter wagon that had ramps. The driver would reverse the 12.2cm FK(r) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) SPG up the ramps and onto the wagon.
Many observers have claimed that it was used as an anti-aircraft gun because in many photographs the gun barrel was pointed up into the sky. It was never used to try and shoot down aircraft. It was a long range artillery gun designed to deliver high explosive HE shells great distances.
The gun was fixed into position. It was not in a turret that could turn to face the enemy. It had a limited traverse left and right. It was envisaged that when the train got to the battlefield the 12.2cm FK(r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) SPG would be driven off the train, down the rear ramps and moved to face the direction of the target.
It could be used in direct fire mode at targets the crew could see, but more commonly it was used for indirect fire at targets plotted on a map. It was not designed to be in the front line or engage in combat with tanks. It was a motorized artillery gun that could fire HE shells over the heads of friendly troops. Most targets would have been given to the crew as map grid references by forward observation officers or infantry units under attack.
Quite often, the gun crew could not see where their shells landed, as the target was so far away. They would have to rely on the forward observer to tell them if adjustments had to be made.
New Build or Battlefield Conversion?
The origins of the 12.2cm FK(r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun are not known. Was a Soviet 122 mm (4.8 in) howitzer M1938 (M-30) used to replace the gun in a Marder I anti-tank SPG or a 10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun? Was this vehicle a one off new build?
A company called Alkett, based near Berlin, built the first 10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery guns in 1942. German Army engineer Major Alfred Becker worked with the company to create these conversions.
The following year, he was in Normandy at the head of a Baukommando, a construction command unit. Becker’s men, engineers and mechanics converted more Lorraine 37L tractors into self-propelled artillery gun by fixing 10.5cm leFH-18/40 howitzers onto the top of these vehicles.
The design of the fighting compartment was slightly different on each version. By comparing photographs of the Becker and Alkett built SPG with the 12.2cm FK(r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) it can be seen that major work was done on the top section of the upper armor.
It looks like the original vehicle was an Alkett built 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f), as the upper and lower armor joints of the fighting compartment are low down. That joint on the Becker built vehicles was much higher.
However, where the fighting compartment upper side armor plates meet the front plates the joint angle is forward not backward as on the Alkett build.
Was it a converted Marder I which was also built on a Lorraine 37L chassis? There was no forward gun lock on this SPG as there was on the Marder I. The angle of the joint between the upper front and side armor was the same unlike on the 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f).
The author of the German book ‘Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht’, Walter J.Spielberger, had the benefit of an interview with Major Becker after the war and access to all the original documents. There is only one small paragraph about this vehicle in the book.
It does say that only one vehicle was built with a 12,2cm Kanone(r) on a Lorraine-Schlepper tractor. It does not say that the Soviet gun replaced a 10.5cm leFH 18 gun or a 75 mm Pak 40 L/46 gun. This vehicle could have been a new build rather than a battlefield conversion of an existing self-propelled gun.
The 122 mm howitzer M1938 (M-30)
Between 1939 and 1955, Soviet factories produced 19,266 of these artillery howitzers. They were developed by the design bureau of Motovilikha Plants, headed by F.F.Petrov, in the late 1930s. It was used as a towed divisional artillery piece during WW2.
The Finish and German army reused captured guns. The German Army gave them the designation 12.2 cm s.F.H.396(r) heavy howitzers. Germany began mass production of 122 mm (4.8 in) ammunition for these and other captured howitzers, producing 424,000 shells in 1943, 696,700 in 1944 and 133,000 in 1945.
Soviet 122 mm howitzer M1938 (M-30) captured by the Finnish Army. It is now on display at the Hameenlinna Artillery Museum in Finland
The German 10.5cm leFH 18/40 gun had a muzzle velocity of 540 m/s, elevation of 45° and a range of 12,325 m. The Soviet M-30 122mm gun had a muzzle velocity of 515 m/s, elevation of elevation of 49° and a range of 11,720 m. Both guns were similar but the German howitzer had a less powerful high explosive HE shell and its smaller maximum elevation made it less effective against dug-in troops.
The howitzer was designed to fire high explosive and smoke shells. In May 1943, a 122mm High Explosive Anti-Tank HEAT round became available. It only had a range of 2,000 m and the muzzle velocity was reduced to 335 m/s. This was meant for self-defence. This gun was an artillery howitzer not a high velocity anti-tank gun.
The Train – 1964 Film
‘The Train’ was a Hollywood movie starring Burt Lancaster and the PZ32 armored train that was captured in St Berain, France. The story is set in 1944, a German colonel loads a train with French art treasures to send to Germany. The Resistance must stop it without damaging the cargo. The 12.2cm FK(r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled gun can be seen at the rear of the train. It is not known what happened to the train or the SPG after filming had finished. An article by Craig Moore
4.22 (without gun) x 1.57 x 2 m (13’10” x 5’2″ x 6’7″)
Total weight, battle ready
4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Type 135 Delahaye 6 cylinder inline petrol engine, 70 hp at 2800 rpm
One towed artillery gun required a team of six horses and nine men. WW2 German engineers came up with the idea of mounting an artillery gun on top of a tank chassis. This new technology reduced the amount of resources required to deploy one artillery gun. Artillery self-propelled guns only needed a four or five man crew. They could also be made ready to fire more quickly. This book covers the development and use of this new weapon between 1939 and 1945. One type was successfully used in the invasion of France in May 1940. More were used on the Eastern Front against Soviet forces from 1941 until the end of the war in 1945.