Nazi Germany/Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943-54)
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
Leihter Gepanzerter Mannschaftskraftwagen Sd. Kfz. 250
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).
Pak 38 in action. Photo: SOURCE
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 Yugoslavian 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 the modifications on the M3 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 German, 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 Yugoslavian 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.