German Reich (1938-1945)
Armored Staff Car – 10 Ausf.A and 58 Ausf.B Built
The Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B were armored cross-country cars intended for transporting very senior German officers around safely, even on rough terrain. Due to the rising need for such an armored car that would be easy to build, a development already began in the early 1930s. Based on the chassis of an existing and very popular truck, the Kfz.69 and 70, the 6-wheeled Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A was built. With only a few Ausf.A vehicles were ever completed, in 1941, the Ausf.B entered production with only 4 wheels but improved mobility. The Ausf.A and B were assigned to command and HQ units and later used as reconnaissance vehicles. Production was stopped in 1942 and, by 1943/1944, most Sd.Kfz.247s were lost.
Context and Development: Need for a Cross-Country Staff and Troop Car
In 1929, the company of Krupp designed a 3-axle cross-country artillery tractor that was meant to be able to tow anti-tank (AT) guns through rugged terrain. However, this vehicle was meant to not use tracks and stll perform better than a regular truck. The result was the Krupp L2 H43, which was a 6-wheeled (6×4) truck chassis that had a 4-cylinder boxer engine. This engine was installed to fulfill the requirements, which demanded a high ground clearance. The L2 H43 and the later H143 truck chassis were used on several different vehicles. One example was the Krupp Protze (Protze refers to the name Protzekraftwagen, which originated from its constructor), designated Kfz.69. Throughout the 1930s, this was Germany’s most produced light AT gun and artillery gun carrier.
Alongside the most well-known version, the Kfz.69, there were several other variants, each of which fulfilled a different role. In 1934, the German weapons design office demanded the development of a fast and mobile cross-country vehicle that was easy and cheap to produce for very high-ranking officers. This vehicle was intended to safely transport these officers to the front. Although there were already staff cars in service, the Kfz.21 was solely a 6×4 car which was limited in mobility. This limit came to show later in 1941, when many staff cars had trouble going through rugged terrain. Furthermore, they could not provide sufficient protection against even small arms fire. The new cross-country armored cars were to be organized within the HQ units of the divisional HQs and reconnaissance battalions.
In 1934, the prototype of the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A was built on the chassis of a Krupp L2 H43. By January 1938, 10 vehicles had been completed. The production was carried out by Krupp and Daimler Benz.
In the same year, the contract for at least 58 new staff vehicles was given out to Daimler-Benz. These were to be built on an Einheitsfahrgestell (Eng. Unitary chassis). The unitary chassis was intended to be used for many vehicles to simplify production. These staff car variants had 4 wheels and would later be known as the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.B.
Production was to start in October 1939, but design problems delayed the production. To resolve the problems, unlike all other 4-wheeled armored cars that used the Einheitsfahrgestell, the Ausf.B used the Einheitsfahrgestell II für schweren Pkw (Eng. unitary chassis for heavy personnel carrier), with a two-wheel drive instead of the intended 4. From July 1941 to January 1942, all 58 Ausf.Bs were completed.
The long name for the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B was Schwerer geländegängiger gepanzerter Personenkraftwagen, Sonderkraftfahrzeug 247 Ausführung A (6 Rad) und Ausführung B (4 Rad) mit Fahrgestell des leichten geländegängigen Lastkraftwagen, which translates to ‘heavy cross-country armored personnel carrier, special purpose vehicle 247 variant A (6-wheeled) and variant B (4-wheeled) on chassis of the light cross-country truck’. This designation was only used on paper and in factories. There was also an abbreviation for this long term: s.gl.gp.Pkw. The troops would normally refer to it as schwerer gepanzerter Personenkraftwagen (Eng: heavy armored personnel carrier) or, if commanded by a general, schwerer gepanzerter Kommandatenwagen (Eng: heavy armored command vehicle). For the sake of simplicity, the article will use the term Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B.
The Ausf.A was designed to be as cheap as possible whilst still being able to sustain fire with rifle caliber bullets. It would also maintain the style of German armored cars at that time, such as the Sd.Kfz.221 and 222. The Ausf.A was 6-wheeled and had an armored superstructure around the vehicle. The Ausf.B maintained the overall idea of the armored superstructure and only the number of wheels changed to 4.
Hull, Superstructure, and Layout
The hull was built around the chassis of the vehicle. On top of the hull was the armored superstructure that went around the entire vehicle. The Ausf.A had an open top. Above the wheels were mudguards. At the front was the engine grill and two headlamps. On the left side, the Ausf.A had a spare wheel and other equipment, such as an ax and shovel. On the front and on the sides were visors, two on each side and two on the front. The visors on the front laid on another big visor which could be opened for a better view. On some vehicles, fake visors were painted on to confuse the enemy. The Ausf.A also had two exit doors on the sides and one at the rear. Some vehicles had a K-Rolle (Eng: wired barrier-roll), used for laying quick barriers, placed on the engine deck, on the front side.
The Ausf.B also had a mostly open-topped superstructure, but the driver’s compartment was covered by a top metal plate. On some vehicles, a canvas was fastened above the crew compartment. It also had mudguards above the wheels, on which headlamps were placed. The engine grill was also at the front, with an access hatch to the engine on the engine deck at the front. The Ausf.B had three exit doors, one at the rear, one on the right, and one on the left side. On the rear door was the spare wheel. On its left side, the Ausf.B had a shovel, a storage box, a jack, and an access hatch to the crew compartment. On the right side, it had a fire extinguisher and the last access hatch. Visors were placed all around the vehicle, with three on each side and two at the front. Towing hooks were at the rear and on the front.
The inner layout did not differ much between the two variants. There were two seats at the rear and a large two-man bench. On the inner sides of the superstructure was equipment for the crew, such as ammunition and the periscope, which was placed in the middle of the crew compartment. Two seats were at the front for the driver and co-driver.
Suspension and Wheels
The Ausf.A had 4 driven wheels and 2 steering wheels. On the front side were the two steering wheels, which were sprung with leaf springs. At the back side were the four drive wheels, that were sprung by common coil springs. The Ausf.A had two different variants which differed in the distance between the rear axles. However, the versions are almost impossible to distinguish. The early Ausf.As received the L2 H43 chassis, whilst the late Ausf.As received the later L2 H143 chassis. There were also different tire types, but this had nothing to do with the different chassis types. One tire type was thicker and more resistant to difficult terrain.
Initially, the Ausf.B was planned to have 4 driven wheels. All 4 wheels were individually suspended and coil spring-suspended. However, due to production issues, it only received the Einheitsfahrgestell II chassis, which had a 2-wheel drive.
Both variants had their engine at the front and access hatches above the engine compartment. The Ausf.A had a 65 hp @ 2,500 rpm Krupp 4-cylinder engine, which propelled it to a top speed of 70 km/h. The gearbox had 4 forward and 1 reverse gears. The 110 liters of gasoline were enough for 350 km on the road and around 240 km off-road.
The Ausf.B, on the other hand, was fitted with a more powerful 81 hp @ 3,600 rpm water-cooled Horch V-8, which performed better than the Krupp engine. Furthermore, the Ausf.B had a power-to-weight ratio of 18.1 hp/ton compared to the 12.4 hp/ton of the Ausf.A. This resulted in the Ausf.B generally performing better in terms of mobility than the Ausf.A. However, one factor for this performance increase was the weight being reduced by almost one tonne. The Horch gearbox had 5 forward and 1 reverse gears. The 120 liters of gasoline was enough for 400 km on the road and 270 km off-road.
Exact armor specifications are not known and range from 6-8 mm all around for both vehicles. The armor was sloped and angled to prevent penetration by 7.92 mm steel-cored bullets at ranges of over 30 m.
Officially, there was no primary armament on either the Ausf.A or B. For protection, the vehicle had to rely on the weapons of the crew and an MP 38/40 with 192 rounds kept within the compartment. However, crews quickly became aware of this lack of protection, mainly against air attacks, but also against ground targets. On some Ausf.As, an anti-aircraft (AA) MG 34 was mounted behind the periscope. Most of the Ausf.Bs received an AA MG 34 or MG 42 mounted on the front superstructure for use against infantry and one at the back against air attacks. Since these were field conversions, they did not have any protective shields. There was one exception from the LSSAH, when an Ausf.B featured a presumably self-made shield and an MG 34 mounted in the crew compartment.
Communication between the vehicles had to be done with hand signals and flags, as no radio was fitted in the Ausf.A and B. However, similar to the armament, crews quickly adapted and refitted their cars with radios. It is unknown whether these conversions were authorized, but they all appear to be very similar. Vehicles were either refitted with a frame antenna going around the crew compartment or a star antenna (mostly on the Ausf.B). The radios were most likely FuG 5 or 8s.
The crew in both variants was 6: one driver and five passengers. The driver sat on the right side in the driver’s compartment. Of the 5 passengers, 1 sat next to the driver (presumably the commander). The other 4, which included one adjutant or senior officer, sat in the crew compartment on two benches.
Organization and Doctrine
Although the vehicle was capable of driving through rugged terrain, it was somewhat limited due to its wheels. The drivers were therefore advised to stay on dirst tracks and roads and only drive off-road if needed.
In 1939, the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A was organized within headquarters units of motorized infantry brigades, with one vehicle per unit. Before the war, some divisions had a motorized reconnaissance regiment instead of a battalion. These regiments had an approved strength of up to 6 Sd.Kfz.247s.
The regular battalions had a total of 3 within their HQ unit and in each armored car company. The independent recruitment reconnaissance battalion also had one within their HQ unit and armored car companies. This was a total of 4 Sd.Kfz.247s without the reconnaissance regiment and 7 with the reconnaissance regiment per motorized infantry division and tank division in 1939.
Regular non-motorized infantry divisions did not have any. The independent training reconnaissance battalion also had one within their HQ unit and armored car companies. The Waffen SS had one Sd.Kfz.247 per division within the HQ unit of their reconnaissance unit.
However, these were only theoretical numbers and the fact that only around 10 Ausf.As were ever built leads to the conclusion that most units did not receive any Sd.Kfz.247. Confirmed units that fielded Sd.Kfz.247s were the HQ units of the motorized reconnaissance regiments. The regular army corps HQ also had several vehicles on the adjutant level.
In 1940, the organization did not change much. The Ausf.B was not yet in service, which meant that most divisions were still underequipped. The number of motorized reconnaissance units was reduced to a single regiment that had 4 Sd.Kfz.247s instead of 6. This meant each tank and motorized infantry division was meant to only have 4 Sd.Kfz.247s, one from the infantry brigade HQ and 3 from the reconnaissance battalion. The division with a sole reconnaissance regiment had 5. The SS fielded 2 vehicles per division.
In 1941, the organization changed slightly, and more and more divisions actually received vehicles. These were mainly the new Ausf.Bs, which were delivered from July 1941 onwards. Each SS division still fielded 2 Sd.Kfz.247s Ausf.Bs within their reconnaissance battalion. The headquarters of a Panzer group now also fielded 247s on their adjutant level. The same applied to the motorized army corps. For regular motorized and tank divisions, the HQ unit of an infantry brigade had one and the reconnaissance battalion had 2. This resulted in a total number of up to 3 vehicles per division.
In 1942, the Wehrmacht would change the way how reconnaissance was done. Instead of motorized reconnaissance battalions, there were two individual motorcycle battalions. One of the two was converted from the old reconnaissance battalion and was refitted with more motorcycles. This meant most Sd.Kfz.247s were moved over to the HQ units and armored car companies of the new motorcycle battalions. The headquarters unit of an infantry brigade still fielded their 247s. A total of 3 Sd.Kfz.247s were present in each division. The same changes applied for the Waffen SS, which was also given motorcycle battalions. The organization of the Independent and HQ units also changed. It was thought that the Sd.Kfz.247s were less effective as staff vehicles, but more important in the reconnaissance role and were therefore removed from army corps HQ. The training motorcycle battalion had one within their HQ unit.
In 1943, although reconnaissance battalions were reintroduced, the Sd.Kfz.247s were removed from the Wehrmacht’s organizational lists. Only the Waffen SS continued to use them. This meant most Wehrmacht 247s were moved over to the Waffen SS. The SS had 2 per Division within their motorcycle HQ unit and reconnaissance HQ unit. However, some units simply kept their 247s and continued to use them. Two of these continued recorded cases were during the Battle of Normandy and the Invasion of Rhodes.
Number of Sd.Kfz.247 per Division from 1939 to 1943
Type of Division
Number of Sd.Kfz.247
motorized infantry and tank division
4, 7 (with reconnaissance regiment)
motorcycle and reconnaissance recruitment battalion
Army Corps HQ
motorized infantry and tank division
motorized infantry and tank division
Tank Corps HQ
Before the Second World War, the Sd.Kfz.247 was often seen during big parades, when very high ranking officers were transported. These vehicles were therefore often photographed and played more of a propaganda role, in order to demonstrate how advanced the German command forces were, even though, in reality, most units did not even receive these vehicles.
During wartime, the vehicles were less effective than in their propaganda role and were mostly photographed because of their crew. They did not participate in any direct fighting and mainly were second in line on the frontlines. The later upgraded versions with radios and self-defense armament were used more often on the frontlines, especially within the motorized motorcycle battalions as reconnaissance vehicles and communication vehicles. Due to their speed and cross-country capabilities, they were popular as reconnaissance vehicles compared to other reconnaissance armored cars, such as the Sd.Kfz.222. However, these outshined the 247s because of their superior armament.
The vehicles saw service on almost all fronts, from the annexation of Austria, to the occupation of Czechoslovakia, to the Invasion of Poland. They went on to see service during the invasions of France and the Soviet Union. Although they did not see service in North Africa, some Ausf.Bs took part in the invasion of Italian-occupied Rhodes in 1943, as part of the 999. Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of Sturm Division Rhodos (Eng. Assault Division Rhodes).
After the Sd.Kfz.247s were removed from the organizational lists, there was no demand for them, and the few vehicles that survived continued to see service. Due to only such a low number of vehicles being produced, most Sd.Kfz.247s were lost by 1944.
There are no surviving Sd.Kfz.247s. However, the 247 proved to be a popular vehicle for reenactors over time. There are numerous reproductions and replicas owned by private collectors and reenactors. They are mostly used as HQ vehicles for the unit, but some are also lent for film production. The exact number of reproductions is not known and they all differ in historical accuracy. They all use different chassis of trucks and cars and the material used is also different.
The Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B were successful attempts at creating a mobile cross-country armored staff car that was superior in terms of mobility to the other staff cars but inferior to half-tracked vehicles. Although it might seem like the vehicle lacked armor protection and armament, this was not demanded by the weapons office. The vehicles delivered what they were intended for. However, the vehicles were built in too few numbers to actually have had an impact on the war and were less relevant to the German Army. They were replaced by more advanced half-tracked command vehicles.
Sd.Kfz.254 Ausf.A and B specifications
Ausf.A: 5.2 x 1.9 x 1.7 m, Ausf.B: 5 x 2 x 1.8 m
Ausf.A: 5,200 kg, Ausf.B: 4,460 kg
Crew (Ausf.A) and (Ausf.B)
6 (driver, 5 passengers)
Ausf.A: on roads 70 km/h, off-road 31 km/h, Ausf.B: on roads 80 km/h, off-road 40 km/h
German Reich (1935-1945)
Armored Reconnaissance Car – 339 Built
The German Kfz.13, although an initial success as the first serially produced armored car, lacked armor and any fighting capabilities and was never intended for combat use. This led to the need for a new armored car that would be built on a new standard chassis common to all kinds of other German armored vehicles. The Sd.Kfz.221 was first developed in 1934 and was a completely new design with many modern features at that time. It was meant for frontline service, acting as a reconnaissance vehicle together with radio-equipped vehicles. However, with thin armor and armed with only a machine gun, it could do very little in combat, even in 1939. Therefore, the production of the Sd.Kfz.221 was stopped and emphasis was laid on newer armored cars. In the end, it was still in service around 1943 due to a low supply of reconnaissance vehicles, with many regular 221s converted into radio or command vehicles.
A Brief History of Early German Armored Car Development
Following the end of the First World War, Germany was strictly forbidden from developing new military technologies, including armored vehicles. Surprisingly, the Entente allowed the German Schutzpolizei (Eng. Police force), which had 150,000 armed men in service, to be equipped with 1 armored personnel carrier per 1,000 men. The Germans exploited this exception made by the Entente and developed and built a few new armored cars, such as the Ehrhardt/21. These vehicles were nominally given to and used by the police force, but the army also acquired and operated small numbers. To counter the large extremist groups and organizations which took hold of Germany in the post-war years, the Freikoprs had to be well equipped and trained.
By the late 1920s and early 1930s, great interest was given to the development of new types of armored cars that were to be specially designed and used by the Army. The general lack of funds greatly hampered the development and introduction into the service of such vehicles. For example, while the eight-wheeled ‘ARW’ armored car was promising, having excellent mobility compared to four-wheeled armored cars, due to its price, the German Army simply could not afford it at that time. For this reason, the development of new armored cars focused on four-wheeled chassis. These had to be cheap and easy to be built, without the need for overly specialized tooling. As these were to be used as temporary solutions and for crew training, a simple design was deemed sufficient for the job.
The Kfz.13 Maschinengewehrkraftwagen (Eng. Machine gun vehicle) was Daimler-Benz’s response to the German Army’s request for an easy to build and a cheap open-top armored car. To make the Kfz.13 as cheap as possible, the Adler Standard 6 4×2 Kublesitzer passenger car was used for its base. On top of its chassis was a simple open-top armored body. The armament consisted of a rotating MG 13 machine gun protected by an armored shield. Based on this vehicle, a radio communication version, named Kfz.14, was built. It was basically the same vehicle, but the machine gun was replaced with radio equipment, including a large frame antenna.
The fact that they were not fully protected was not seen as a problem, as this vehicle was never intended to be used in real combat. Nonetheless, due to the general lack of armored vehicles when the war started, both the Kfz.13 and 14 had to be used by the invading German forces. Surprisingly, despite their obsolescence, they were in use with frontline units up to the end of 1941. Some even managed to survive up to the end of the war in May 1945.
During 1934, more extensive work was made to develop dedicated four-wheeled armored vehicles that would be used by the German army in different specialized roles. This would lead to the creation of a successful Leichter Panzerspahwagen series starting with the Sd.Kfz.221.
Initially, the new armored vehicle was designated as the Panzerspähwagen 35 (M.G.) (Eng. reconnaissance armored car). In July 1935, the designation would be slightly changed to Leichter Panzerspähwagen (M.G.) (Eng. light reconnaissance armored car). In contrast to the previous Kfz. 13 and 14 vehicles, which were not intended for combat use, this vehicle was specially designed for it. For this reason, it received the military classification marking and number, Sonderkraftfahrzeug (or Sd.Kfz., Eng. Special purpose vehicle) 221. Given that, in most sources, this vehicle is described simply as Sd.Kfz.221, this article will use the same designation.
The need for a heavy chassis arose in the context of the development of a standard and unitary chassis for Army purposes. The Einheitsfahrgestell I (Eng. standard chassis I) was to have a rear-mounted engine and was to carry an armored superstructure, later intended to be an armored car. Development of the standard chassis ‘I’ began in 1934, when the first design and layout of the vehicle were thought out, with certain factors that needed to be fulfilled.
These requirements were:
Few defects and breakdowns in regular non-combat situations
Able to run on different grades of fuel
Easy to produce and to maintain chassis so lower-skilled workers could work on it too
Running gear had to have limited rolling resistance
Good grade ability
High ground clearance
Good steering with 4 wheel steering
Low weight and ground pressure
However, these requirements turned out to be very difficult to implement, which made it impossible to use any older chassis or spare parts.
The heavy standard chassis ‘I’ differed in many aspects from the other chassis. The rear-mounted engine had the large radiator located in front, while the size of the engine was minimized. The steering wheel was inverted and located on the left side.
The Sd.Kfz.221 based on the Einheitsfahrgestell I was intended as a direct replacement for the obsolete and inadequate Kfz. 13 and 14 armored cars. Wa. Prüf. 6 (Eng. Weapons Ordinance department) gave specific demands for two types of vehicles. The first was a light armored car mounting a single machine gun. Later, during development, an additional requirement for a vehicle with a two-man turret and a 20 mm cannon was issued and would become the Sd.Kfz.222. It was meant to act as a support vehicle for the MG version. The last version was a light armored car with a radio and frame antenna (the Sd.Kfz.223).
Several different factories were involved in the production of the Sd.Kfz.221. The I series was built from 1935 to 1937, with some 14 being assembled by Daimler-Benz, 69 by Schichau, and 60 by Deutsche-Werke. An additional 48 of the II series were built during 1938. The last 150 of the III series were assembled by Weserhütte from June 1939 to August 1940. Despite the original intention for the vehicle to be cheap, the Sd.Kfz.221 was rather expensive and difficult to build.
Chassis and Running Gear
The Sd.Kfz.221 chassis consisted of the rear-mounted engine, central crew compartment, and the front driver position. To have the best possible off-road performance, independent suspension was used on all four wheels. Each of the four wheels was connected to the chassis frame by two unequal bar arms. These were then sprung by two coil springs, which, in turn, were connected to two double-acting shock absorbers. The actual drive to the wheel ran between the two springs.
The dimensions of the pneumatic tires were 210 x 18. From 1938 onwards, the Sd.Kfz.221 wheels were to be equipped with bulletproof inner tubes. These were not actually bullet resistant, but instead did not deflate when hit by enemy fire, and thus the vehicle could drive on for a while.
The Sd.Kfz.221 was powered by a Horch 3.5 liter V-8 water-cooled 75 hp @ 3,600 rpm engine. With a total weight of nearly four tonnes, this armored car was able to reach a maximum speed (on good roads) of 80 km/h. In front of the engine was a 110-liter fuel tank. With this fuel load, the operational range of the Sd.Kfz.221 was 350 km, while cross-country, this was reduced to 200 km. Immediately behind the fuel tanks, a fire-resistant wall was installed.
The Sd.Kfz.221 had a four-wheel drive. For steering, there were two options. The vehicle could either use only the front wheels, or, in special circumstances, the driver could use all four wheels. The later option was to be avoided during fast driving, as it could be potentially dangerous for the crew. The driver was instructed to use four-wheel steering only when the speed of the vehicle was less than 20 km/h.
An armored body was placed on top of the chassis. While protected with only 8 mm of armor at the front and on the sides and 5 mm at the rear, the plates were placed at a high angle to provide additional protection from small-caliber rounds.
The lower part of this armored body was V-shaped and placed at 35° angles. The upper plates had the opposite shape, curving inward as they neared the top and were placed at the same angle. The front plate armor, angled at 36º to 37º, was specially designed to offer the maximum protection possible, but, at the same time, providing the driver with an excellent view. The rear part, where the engine was positioned, was similarly designed to have angled armor plates. All these plates were welded together. Only the front and rear suspension protective plates were bolted to the armored body. The wheels were also protected by four detachable hubs. Various storage boxes and spare wheel holders were placed around the armored body.
On the lower part of the armored body sides were two large hatches. Just above them were the driver’s side vision ports. Each vision port was additionally protected with a metal frame that provided resistance against bullet splash and an armored glass block. The driver was provided with a large single-piece frontal visor. As these proved too expensive to produce, from early 1939, the vision ports were replaced with cast ones.
The top front of the Sd.Kfz.221 was protected with 5 mm of armor. The rear part, behind the turret, was covered with a mesh wire which provided protection against grenades. If needed, it could be open for a third crew to be transported inside the vehicle.
To the rear in the engine compartment, three smaller hatches were provided for the crew to have easy access to the engine. Interestingly, the two hatches located on the engine compartment sides could be remotely opened by the commander. The purpose of them being open was to provide additional cool air to the engine. The large ventilation port was protected by overlapping armor strips. These offered free flow air ventilation but prevented enemy rounds from entering the engine compartment.
Despite increasing the frontal armor to 14.5 mm in 1939, the Sd.Kfz.221 crew were only sufficiently protected from small-caliber bullets. Any kind of anti-tank weapon could easily destroy the vehicle. Given that this was a reconnaissance vehicle not meant to be used directly in combat, speed and mobility were more important than armor.
The small seven-sided turret was just an extended machine gun shield. The turret did not move using a ball bearing race, but instead on four simple rollers which were placed on top of the Sd.Kfz.221’s superstructure. The armored plates of the turret were only 8 mm thick and placed at 10° angles. The turret ring diameter was 1,450 mm.
This turret did not actually fully protect the gunner, whose head was partially exposed. It was common to see the gunners of this vehicle using steel helmets. Half of the turret top was covered with a two-piece anti-grenade screen. The open-top nature of the turret offered the commander excellent all-around visibility, which was important for a reconnaissance vehicle. In case of an engagement with the enemy, two side vision ports were provided for observation. During the introduction of the III series, the additional visors were added to the turret sides.
The Sd.Kfz.221 was only lightly armed, with one pedestal-mounted 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun. The machine gun mount with the gunner’s seat had simple spring units that allowed them to be raised. For lowering the machine gun, the gunner simply had to use his own body weight. If needed, this mount could be further raised up, protruding out of the small turret. This was done to provide the vehicle with limited anti-aircraft capabilities. This machine gun was belt-fed with an ammunition load of 1,000 rounds. Different sources also mention that the ammunition load consisted of either 1,050, 1,200, or even 2,000 rounds.
The obsolescent MG 13 began to be replaced with a more modern MG 34 in April 1938. Later that year, in June, the belt feed was to be replaced with drum magazines on the MG 34. Despite being replaced by the much-improved machine gun, the older MG 13 was still in use by some units, such as the aufklärungs (Eng. reconnaissance) detachments of the reiter-regiments (Eng. Cavalry units). In either case, the elevation of the machine gun was -30° (or -10°) to +70°, while the traverse was a full 360°.
The crews were supplied with one MP-18 submachine gun. This would later be replaced with an improved MP-38 or 40. Additionally, six hand grenades and a 27 mm signal pistol were carried inside.
The Sd.Kfz.221 had a crew of two, the commander and the driver. The driver was positioned at the front of the vehicle, while the commander was just behind him. Given that the use of radios by this vehicle was rare, the commander’s secondary role was to operate the machine gun. Communication with other vehicles was possible by using either hand or flag signals.
In spite of being a reconnaissance vehicle, the Sd.Kfz.221 was usually not equipped with a radio. From 1941 onwards, some vehicles, possibly in limited numbers, were equipped with short-range radios such as the FuG 3 or 5.
According to the German doctrine, the reconnaissance armored vehicles’ primary goal was to race ahead of the main force. They were to scout for an enemy’s strong and weak points. Once the enemy positions were observed and vital information gathered, the armored cars were to report back. Armor and weapons were mainly for self-defense, and engagements with the enemy were to be avoided when possible.
The Sd.Kfz.221s were used to equip aufklärung (Eng. reconnaissance) detachments of various units, including panzer, motorized, and regular infantry divisions. However, these armored cars were rather rare and could not often be provided in the numbers needed. As an example, an infantry division in 1939 had around 3 armored cars, either the 221 or the 222. Furthermore, a motorized infantry division did not field many armored cars as part of their reconnaissance unit. Only the panzer divisions and their panzer aufklärungs abteilungen (Eng. tank reconnaissance battalions) were heavily in need of armored cars, as they needed a very fast car that was also armored.
In 1939, theoretically, a panzer division fielded 90 armored cars in total. In reality, the number of armored cars varied from each division. As an example, the 5th Light Division fielded 127 armored cars, whilst the 4th Panzer Division only fielded 70. Out of these 90 armored cars, 20 were the Sd.Kfz.221s. All of them were part of the panzer aufklärungs abteilung (note the term Panzer was only applied after 1940). In each reconnaissance battalion, two armored car companies existed at this time, named aufklärungsschwadron (Eng. reconnaissance squadron). Each armored car company had a signal detachment, company HQ, 1 heavy platoon, a company maintenance section, and 2 light platoons. One light platoon consisted of 4 Sd.Kfz.221 and 2 Sd.Kfz.222. The other light platoon consisted of 6 Sd.Kfz.221. A motorized division had, in theory, 30 armored cars and again 1 motorized reconnaissance battalion. The same numbers applied as for the panzer division. This also meant 20 Sd.Kfz.221s had to be present in total in a motorized division.
By 1940, the numbers had not changed. Although present during the invasion of Poland, the Waffen SS or, at this time, Verfügungstruppen der Waffen SS (Eng. Units available of the Waffen SS), only saw minor action. In the invasion of France, they participated in large numbers for the first time. The SSVT (Waffen SS Verfügungstruppen) had a different organization than the regular panzer divisions in both Poland and France. Unlike the regular Wehrmacht divisions, the SS Division of the LAH (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1. SS. Panzer Division), for example, had a light SS armored car platoon within their motorized infantry regiments. This meant 4 additional Sd.Kfz.221s to the 10 from the armored car company within the reconnaissance battalion (SS battalions only had one AC company), 14 Sd.Kfz.221s in total. The regular SS-V (Waffen SS Verfügung) had this additional light AC platoon. This included the Germania SSVT, Der Führer SSVT, and Deutschland SSVT (all part of the 2. SS). This also explains why, in some photos, the Sd.Kfz.221s have the tactical symbol of a regular infantry regiment and not of a reconnaissance unit. The 3. SS Panzer Division did not have this additional light AC platoon.
In 1941, most armored cars were still organized into the panzer aufklärungs abteilungen of panzer divisions. Each battalion had one armored car company, which consisted of a signal detachment, company HQ, 1 heavy platoon, company maintenance section, and 2 light platoons. The light platoons consisted of 8 armored cars, 4 of which were Sd.Kfz.221s. This meant each panzer division theoretically had 8 Sd.Kfz.221s. The same numbers applied to the motorized infantry divisions. By 1941, SS Divisions were full combat divisions, and, therefore, the reconnaissance battalions had the same organization as the Wehrmacht divisions.
In 1942, the Sd.Kfz.221 was removed from all lists and organizations in the panzer and motorized infantry divisions. However, like the Panzer I, it continued to see service as a replacement and spare vehicle.
Number of Sd.Kfz.221s per Division from 1939 to 1941
Type of Division
Number of Sd.Kfz.221s
Motorized Infantry Division
Waffen SS VT (1st, 2nd)
Waffen SS VT (3rd)
Motorized Infantry Division
Waffen SS VT (1st, 2nd)
Waffen SS VT (3rd)
Motorized Infantry Division
Panzer Division/Waffen SS
The Sd.Kfz.221 would see extensive action in almost all fronts where the Germans were involved. Unfortunately, the general use of the German armor cars is often overshadowed by the better-known panzers. The first use of the Sd.Kfz.221 in German hands in a foreign land was during the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. As part of Aufklärungs Abteilung 1, several Sd.Kfz.221s participated during the occupation of Memel (Lithuania) in 1939.
Their first combat experience in German hands would be gained during the invasion of Poland. At least 290 Sd.Kfz.221s took part in the invasion as part of either the SSVT or the Wehrmacht. Although they did not encounter many tanks, the Polish AT guns proved to be more than a match for the 221. The German Army, in general, did not have a lot of experience in actual fighting, let alone their reconnaissance units. This resulted in reconnaissance units running into AT guns without any support from tanks or artillery. Furthermore, the coordination between the air force and the ground forces was only in its early stages and still had to be fine-tuned.
During the invasion of Poland, although achieving victory, the German Army lost a large amount of vehicles, especially lightly armored ones, including the Sd.Kfz.221. Before the invasion of France and the Benelux, the Sd.Kfz.221 saw service during the invasion of Denmark and Norway as part of Panzer Abteilung 40 z.b.V. (Eng. Tank Battalion 40 for special purposes).
In May 1940, around 280 Sd.Kfz.221s took part during the invasion of France. Although the coordination within the German forces had improved, the Allied tanks proved to be a new danger for the 221. British and French tanks could destroy entire armored car companies, with the companies which were unable to defend themselves. However, due to much better coordination, the reconnaissance units worked better with the tank regiments and air force and were able to beat back Allied forces. Furthermore, the knowledge and intelligence that the fast and mobile Sd.Kfz.221 and the reconnaissance units in general collected were essential for the German application of the doctrine of mobile warfare.
It is unknown if any 221s were sent to North Africa, as no photos show them there. If any took part, it must have been only in small numbers, possibly 20 to 24 vehicles.
During Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, approximately 210 Sd.Kfz.221s were still in service. The Soviet Union would be the end for the 221, as the harsh climate and mud season were too much even for the decent mobility of the 221. Furthermore, the large numbers of Soviet AT rifles, guns, and tanks contributed to the decreasing number of vehicles that were still operational. This and the discounted production led to the removal of the Sd.Kfz.221 from all organizational tables and it was replaced by the Sd.Kfz.222 in 1942.
Nonetheless, it continued to see service as a replacement and reserve vehicle. Furthermore, Sd.Kfz.221 versions with the 2.8 cm AT gun or an AT rifle were introduced, both of which continued to see service until the Battle of Kursk. Eventually, even these were put out of service due to their increasingly weak armament. However, many of the improvised radio vehicles and command vehicles served within the divisions until the war’s end.
Due to the Sd.Kfz.221 being available in relatively large numbers and obsoleteness, many vehicles were converted and reused in new roles. Some of these vehicles were created to counter the lack of anti-tank power, whilst some units made use of them to replace missing radio vehicles.
Sd.Kfz.221 with Panzerbüchse 39
The Sd.Kfz.221’s armament of only one machine gun proved to be insufficient, so, in 1941, the first attempts were made to increase its firepower. Besides the machine gun, an opening for a 7.92 mm Pz.B.39 anti-tank rifle was added. This anti-tank rifle was introduced in 1940 as a replacement for the older Pz.B.38. Due to the obsolescence of this rifle, few such modifications were made.
Sd.Kfz.221 with 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbüchse 41
From 1942 onwards, most Sdk.Kfz. 221s were to be rearmed with the 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbuchse 41 (Eng. heavy anti-tank rifle), or more simply, sPzB 41. While classified as an anti-tank rifle, it more correctly fitted the role of a light anti-tank gun, given that the gun was placed on a two-wheel mount with split trail legs. Surprisingly, no traverse or elevation mechanisms were used. Instead, the gun operator had to aim the gun using a spade grip to manually change the position of the barrel to fire at the designated target. The gunner grip unit was actually offset to the right from the breech block. An unusual element of this weapon was that it implemented the use of a tapering bore. Basically, the barrel section that connected to the sliding breech block had a diameter of 2.8 cm. Toward the end of the barrel, at the muzzle brake, this diameter was reduced to 2 cm.
Another unusual feature of this weapon was its specifically designed ammunition. Basically, the crew of this gun could choose between the 2.8 cm Pzgr Patr 41 armor-piercing (AP) and Sprgr patr 41 high-explosive (HE) rounds. The AP round consisted of a tungsten core that was placed inside a lead sleeve. It was then placed in a cartridge made of iron that had a magnesium-alloy top. The whole cartridge could easily fit into the chamber. During firing, the front part would be squeezed thanks to small holes in it that would allow the air to escape. Thanks to the magnesium-alloy top, when the target was hit, a bright light was released. This helped the gunner see where he had hit the target. The total weight of this AP round was 131 g. With a muzzle velocity of 1,400 m/s, the armor penetration of these AP rounds was 52 mm at 500 m at a 30° angle. The HE round worked the same way, but the difference was that its casing was built using steel. Both rounds had a meager range of only 800 m.
The front part of the turret was cut, and the gun mount was placed on top of the armored body, slightly in front of the turret. The sPzB 41 trailer was meant to be carried with the vehicle. While not clear how many were converted with this weapon, author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions that around 34 vehicles were made. In order to protect the operator, the original sPzB 41 two-part gun shield was retained. The MG 34 was retained inside the vehicle, but its ammunition load was decreased to 800 bullets.
It is unknown which divisions carried out these conversions. However, photos reveal that the Kradschützen Abteilung Grossdeutschland (Eng. Motorcycle Battalion Greater Germany) used several of these AT Sd.Kfz.221s. The 11th Panzer Division also used several during the Battle of Kursk.
Sd.Kfz.221 Radio and Command Vehicles
During the war, the German Army suffered from a severe lack of command and radio vehicles. Therefore, many replacement or old vehicles had to be reused for this purpose. The obsolete Sd.Kfz.221, with its MG armament or even the AT rifle and the expensive AT gun variants, was too weak to defend itself on the battlefield.
For this reason and due to a shortage of radio vehicles such as the Sd.Kfz.223, an unknown number of 221s were converted into radio vehicles. Since these were mostly field conversions, the vehicles differed greatly from each other. Some had their turret removed, whilst some still mounted it. However, all vehicles were outfitted with some kind of antenna. Early during the war, this antenna would be a Rahmenantenne (Eng. frame antenna). Although these antennas differ in size and height from vehicle to vehicle, all of them were smaller and narrower than the one fitted on the Sd. Kfz. 223. Conversions were presumably done by the 7th Panzer Division, as their armored car company was refitted with French armored cars and they, therefore, had a stockpile of Sd.Kfz.221s. At the same time, their radio vehicles were removed from the signal detachment. Therefore, the spare Sd.Kfz.221s were refitted with the radios. The same can be said about the 20th Panzer Division. There is a possibility that other divisions did the same at a later point.
A single vehicle is known to have been commanded by Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin. It did not have the regular frame antenna, but a middle-to-late-war Sternenantenne (Eng. Star antenna). The vehicle had its turret removed and was outfitted with a windshield. It was one of the last Sd.Kfz.221s to see combat action during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944-1945.
The Sd.Kfz.221 not only proved to be popular as a replacement for radio vehicles, but also as a mobile command post. Due to fairly decent mobility, it was popular amongst HQ units, which reused the old 221s from their reconnaissance battalions. Similar to some radio vehicles, these command vehicles received a windshield. However, this windshield was less of a field conversion and more of a production type, as multiple vehicles can be seen with the same curved windshield. One of the most popular command variants with the photographers was a Sd.Kfz.221 converted during the Polish campaign, named “Tiger”. Another vehicle was seen during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Sd.Kfz.221 with MG 34 Lafette
An unknown number (presumably a single vehicle) of Sd.Kfz.221s were converted into Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAGs). The vehicle had its turret replaced by a Zwillingssockel 36 (Eng. twin base) with two AA MG 34s and a protective shield.
Sd.Kfz.221 in Chinese Service
In 1935, the Chinese Kuomintang Government was feeling more and more threatened by the Empire of Japan on its borders. As a result, the German advisors in Nationalist China advised the purchase of German tanks. Alongside Panzer Is, ammunition, firearms, and trucks, 18 Sd.Kfz.221s were also acquired. On arrival, they were organized into the 3rd Tank Battalion stationed in Nanjing, where they would later see service. Only a portion of the vehicles had machine guns sent with them. This meant a number of vehicles had to be equipped with Soviet or Chinese MGs. However, under German advice, the vehicles were not used in their intended role as reconnaissance vehicles. During the defense of Shanghai in 1937, they were mostly used as mobile pillboxes. Although defeated during the defense of Shanghai, the vehicles survived until at least 1944 according to photographic evidence.
There is a controversy around the use of the Sd.Kfz.221 in China relating to its camouflage. Although it seems like the vehicles were painted in the dark gray camouflage in most photos, they were actually painted in the standard German three-tone camouflage. The dark gray camouflage was only applied in Germany from around September 1938, when the vehicles were already in China. Due to exposure to the weather of China and because the pattern was not repainted, the three-tone camouflage quickly disappeared and wore off.
A single Sd.Kfz.221 is known today that survived the war. It is exhibited in the Royal Jordanian Museum, however, it is unknown how it got there. Furthermore, if the license plate is still the original one, it reveals that the vehicle was part of the SS. Wiking Division, which mainly served on the Eastern Front. This would lead to the conclusion that the museum purchased the vehicle from another museum or private collection in Russia. However, there is a possibility that this vehicle is a reconstruction (due to a number of oddities).
The Sd.Kfz.221 turned out to be a success during the early war. The vehicle featured many new technologies, such as a four-wheel drive or a rear-fitted engine. For the first time, it introduced standardized production in the German Army. However, like many other armored fighting vehicles developed and built during the interwar years, the vehicle was obsolete after 1940. The sole machine gun could not provide an adequate threat to any armored vehicles and the armor could only protect against small arms fire. The addition of the AT rifle could only help against soft skin vehicles and light tanks and the upgraded 221 with the 2.8 cm sPzb was not able to fight against enemy tanks at medium to long ranges. However, due to its mobility, it was fairly popular amongst the troops, who would use it as a command station or radio vehicle during the middle and late war.
German Reich (1941~1943)
Armored Car – Very Likely Unique
Germany’s victories during the early phases of the Second World War gifted the Wehrmacht with a large fleet of captured armored fighting vehicles. The fall of France, in particular, saw Germany get its hands on most of the former vehicle fleet of the French Army, as well as infrastructure to reasonably maintain them. These vehicles would see continued use by German forces all across Europe, mostly in security roles, but also occasionally on the frontlines, all the way to the fall of Germany in 1945. During these years of service, many were modified or converted by their users. An obscure conversion is the Panzerspähwagen (Eng: reconnaissance tank) 204(f), a captured Panhard 178 that was refitted with a Soviet 45 mm 20-K gun.
The Panhard 178
In December 1931, the French Cavalry formulated a request for an AMD (Automitrailleuse de Découverte / ‘Discovery’ armored car), an armored vehicle meant to perform reconnaissance while having enough combat capacities to be able to engage enemy units. This was in contrast to the AMR (Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance / Reconnaissance Armored Car), which were smaller vehicles with more limited combat capacities meant purely for reconnaissance. Panhard, the leading French armored car producer at the time, designed the Voiture Spéciale 178, more often simply known as Panhard 178, to meet this request. The vehicle was adopted by the French Cavalry as the AMD 35 in 1934. Formal orders were placed in January of 1935, production begian in 1936, and the first operational vehicles were delivered in February 1937.
The Panhard 178 was an 8 tonnes armored car powered by a 4-cylinder 105 hp engine and was able to reach a maximum speed of 72 km/h. One of its most interesting features, which separated it from the vast majority of other French armored vehicles, was its two-crew APX3 (Atelier de Construction de Puteaux – Eng: Puteaux Construction Workshop) turret, which allowed the commander to concentrate on tactical, spotting, and overall command tasks, leaving the operation of the gun to the gunner/loader. This was a major improvement in comparison to the one-crew turrets which featured on the vast majority of French tanks, where the commander also had to reload and operate the vehicle’s armament. This APX 3 turret featured a 25 mm SA 35 anti-tank gun as well as a coaxial MAC 31 7.5 mm machine gun, with 150 25 mm and 3,750 7.5 mm rounds. This armament was fairly capable for an armored car, being, for example, generally sufficient to deal with early Panzer III and IV models fielded in the campaign for France, as well as the earlier Panzer I and II.
Into the Wehrmacht
With the German invasion of France in May-June 1940, the French saw many of their vehicles abandoned by the side of roads because of lack of fuel or spare parts, or even of time to repair or refuel their vehicles before they would be overrun. These intact vehicles would be ripe for the taking for German forces, and there are indeed occasional reports of captured Panhard 178s, as well as other vehicles, such as the Renault UE, being fielded by German forces during the Campaign of France itself.
More significantly, at the end of the campaign, the French Army surrendered some of its vehicles. Actually, the Panhard 178 was the only vehicle Vichy France was allowed to keep in service in mainland France by the terms of the armistice. A total of 64 vehicles, with the 25 mm gun replaced by another 7.5 mm machine gun, were approved under these conditions. In addition, there were at least 45 uncompleted hulls which were hidden away from the Germans and were later used for the Panhard 178 CDM conversions.
German forces were also able to seize the Panhard facilities with a number of completed or near-completed vehicles. It is thought that about 190 Panhard 178s were pressed into service with German forces. Overall, the vehicle could be said to have been one of the more potent French vehicles, with a two-crew turret, a decent anti-tank gun for the time, and overall good mobility. It is therefore not surprising to see the vehicle was actively pressed into service by German troops. The Panhard 178 was designated Panzerspähwagen 204(f) (“f” standing for French) in the German captured vehicles designation system, and was one of the narrow selection of French vehicles which would not only be used for security roles, but also on the frontlines of Operation Barbarossa, alongside the Somua S35 cavalry tank and B1/B1 Bis converted into flamethrower vehicles.
The two most significant units operating the P 204(f) were Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 37, the reconnaissance group of the 7th Panzer-Division which operated 64 vehicles, including 18 of the unarmed, casemate radio version, and Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 92, the reconnaissance group of the 20th Panzer-Division that operated 54. Smaller number of vehicles were also included in other units which took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union, including the Waffen-SS Totenkopf and Germania (future Das Reich) divisions as well as some lower-echelon security units.
The 45 mm Conversion
Considering the vehicle was very actively employed, the Germans routinely modified some of their Panhard vehicles. For example, in French service, radios were only issued to squadron and platoon leaders, with the squadron leader receiving an ER 26ter radio dedicated to communications with other squadrons and an ER 29 dedicated to internal communications of the unit, while the platoon leaders only received the ER 29. In German service, it was very common for all vehicles to receive FuG 10 or FuG 11 radios, with the importance of radios, particularly for reconnaissance vehicles, being more highly considered by the Germans.
There were also some more in-depth Panhard 178s conversions though. The more well-known ones were found in France, where German forces had significant infrastructure to modify and convert French vehicles. These included at least one P 204(f) armed with a 5 cm KwW L/42 gun, likely made available by re-arming a Panzer III with a 5 cm L/60 gun, and another which received a 5 cm L/60 gun with a muzzle brake, all in vastly modified or perhaps all new turrets. At least one P 204(f) received an aviation turret from a German bomber, armed with a 7.92 mm MG 81 machine gun, believed to be used for security purposes by the Luftwaffe. However, in the early 2020s, a new photo emerged confirming the existence of at least one P 204(f) conversion which was very likely done on the Eastern Front.
The photo shows a vehicle, appearing to be painted in the Panzergrau (Eng: Panzer Gray) color, which features what appears to be a new gun and mantlet. Upon closer inspection, it appears this P 204(f) was fitted with a part of the mantlet and the gun from a Soviet T-26 or BT-5/BT-7 tank. Interestingly enough, the turret appears to be almost unmodified outside of this all new mantlet. The addition of this Soviet armament also came with the spotlight that was commonly fitted to these Soviet tanks.
The Practicality of Such a Conversion
One may wonder at first if such a conversion sounds plausible. The Panhard 178’s original 25 mm SA 34 was a smaller caliber L/47.2 gun with a 1,180 mm-long barrel, in comparison to the 45 mm L/46 of the 20-K gun with a 2,070 mm-long barrel. The Soviet 45 mm shells were both larger and longer than the French 25 mm (45 x 310 compared to 25 x 193.5 mm) and could be expected to have significantly more recoil.
However, the APX3 turret of the Panhard 178 turret being able to support a larger gun is not necessarily surprising. In fact, the Panhard 178 and 25 mm anti-tank gun was a late development on the vehicle, as a 20 mm fully automatic armament had been originally envisioned for the Panhard. Delays in the development of such an armament meant it was never mounted on a Panhard, but before France fell, the French Army was already considering re-arming the Panhard 178 with the larger 47 mm SA 35 gun, which could be said to be quite similar to the 45 mm 20-K in size and power.
The APX3 turret was considered to be able to take the larger gun with some modifications, and indeed, another relatively similar riveted turret manufactured by APX, the APX2, used in the AMC 34 and AMC 35, did make the ‘jump’ from 25 mm to 47 mm. This would never happen for the Panhard 178 in French service though, even if the Panhard would be ‘mated’ with the 47 mm SA 35 on three separate instances all with new turrets: the Panhard 178 with Renault turret prototype, the Panhard 178 CDM conversion program, and the post-war Panhard 178B variants
All things considered, it is not so far-fetched to see the APX3 turret of the P 204(f) being able to withstand the recoil of the gun, as well as still offer sufficient space for the two crew members inside to operate it.
There would still be some impact on several aspects of the vehicle. The larger size of the 45 mm rounds would reduce the ammunition stowage of the vehicle (150 rounds of 25 mm originally), and it is not known if the new mantlet interfered or may even have forced the removal of the 7.5 mm MAC 31 machine gun. Unfortunately, these questions cannot easily be solved with a single photo.
As for the reasoning, it could be more complicated than expected at first. Despite its small caliber, the 25 mm gun was still a fairly potent anti-tank gun. The 45 mm 20-K did offer slightly higher performance, but in practice, one would be hard-pressed to find vehicles which one would penetrate whereas the other would fail. Both guns would fairly easily dispose of lightly armored 1930s Soviet tanks, like the T-26 or BTs, and both would struggle or be almost completely useless against a T-34 or a KV. On the logistical side, it is questionable whether the 25 mm would prove enough issue to warrant replacement. Large quantities of ammunition were captured by the Germans during the Fall of France and it appears more were still being produced. Though it is possible that, with lengthening supply lines, obtaining these shells may have ended up harder than captured Soviet 45 mm ammunition, other Panhards remained operating with 25 mm shells all the way to the outskirts of Moscow with seemingly little issue in procuring shells.
One aspect where the 45 mm would unquestionably prove superior to the 25 would be infantry support. Though both guns were originally designed for anti-tank work, the 45 mm was a much more polyvalent gun, benefiting from widely-issued high-explosive shells, whereas none were produced for the anti-tank Hotchkiss 25 mm caliber. The conversion may also have been a consequence of the 25 mm on the vehicle being damaged, either by enemy fire or some form of malfunction.
As for the location and dating of the photo, these are no known details attached to the photo, but some aspects can still suggest a likely time frame. The peak of German activity with P 204(f) vehicles on the Eastern Front was from June to December 1941, where the vehicles were very actively employed, suffering heavy losses. On July 14th 1941, less than a month into the invasion, 34 P 204(f) had already been destroyed and 17 more needed repairs. By the end of 1941, 109 vehicles, more than half of the German P 204(f) fleet, had been reported as lost. The Panhard 178 was mostly retired from frontline units by mid-1942, though some would continue in security units on the Eastern Front all the way into 1943. On the Western Front, the P204(f), with additional vehicles captured during the occupation of Vichy France in November 1942, would remain in service all the way to 1945. The use of the Panzergrau paint, which began to be replaced by early 1943, also suggest the vehicle was used prior to this date.
As for the 45 mm itself, one may theorize on its vehicle of origin. During the push into the Soviet Union, very large quantities of 45 mm-armed tanks ended up abandoned by Soviet forces. A significant number would be pressed back into German service, but this actually was far from the totality of vehicles that were abandoned by Soviet forces.
With the breakneck pace of the German advance, particularly in the early weeks of the campaign, Panzer-Divisions were rarely in a place long enough to repair a significant amount of vehicles, When they could, they would often focus on repairing more advanced T-34 and KV tanks which brought more advantages on the frontline than T-26s or BTs. Other German units were still, for many of them, lacking in terms of motorization, let alone mechanization, and as such, also lacked the means to recover, tow, and repair captured vehicles. Because of this, hundreds to perhaps even a couple thousand of abandoned Soviet tanks were simply left in the field, unattended to, and sometimes with their hatches still open. Others were used as targets for German gunners to maintain their skills, even if they could have been recoverable. It is quite possible that the gun used in this converted P 204(f) was taken from one of these vehicles which German troops did not have the time or means to restore to running condition.
One may argue that a small number of T-26s and BTs did make their way to German-occupied France, and as such, the vehicle could very well not be an Eastern Front conversion, but this possibility, already made fairly unlikely by the fact these captured vehicles sent to France were rare, is further made implausible by the architecture of the houses behind the P 204(f) on the known photograph, typical of the Soviet Union at the time, while at the same time vastly different from typical French architecture.
The registration plate is hard to read, but it clearly appears to be a Wehrmacht plate, which excludes the possibility of the vehicle being a part of the two Waffen-SS divisions which used the P 204(f) in Operation Barbarossa. The vehicle therefore likely belongs to either one of the two Panzer-Division reconnaissance groups which operated the P 204(f), or a security unit.
Conclusion – One of the Most Obscure Panhards
Oddly enough, the Panhard 178 having obscure variants which feature larger guns than the original 25 mm gun seems to be somewhat of a recurring theme in the vehicle’s history. Two of these vehicles, the Panhard 178 with Renault turret and Panhard 178 CDM, featured new turret designs designed by one engineer, Joseph Restany, and are largely unknown to the general public, despite 45 of the later type having been converted, and even seeing service for the Wehrmacht alongside more regular Panhard 178s. Even the post-war Panhard 178B can prove to be surprisingly poorly documented for a mass-produced vehicle. On the German side of thing, the two existing 50 mm-armed “tank destroyer” versions are both also fairly little known, though there is a fairly extensive collection of photos, as well as pretty extensive details on the service of the L/60-armed vehicle in the hands of French Resistance FFI troops during and after the Liberation of France.
Of all known conversions, though, this particular one, armed with a Soviet 45 mm 20-K, has to be the most obscure yet. It does not appear to be documented in any known literature on German captured vehicles, being known from a singular photo. As of now, no more details are known, and while such a conversion is likely easier than could be imagined at first, many details remain unknown about the vehicle as of now.
Panzerspahwagen 204(f) with 45mm 20-K gun specifications
4.79 x 2.01 x 2.31 m (15ft 7in x 6ft 6in x 7 ft 5in)
German Reich (1932-1941)
Armored Reconnaissance Car/Radio Car – 116-147 Built (Kfz.13), 30-40 Built (Kfz.14)
In the early thirties, the German army showed interest in the adoption of new types of armored cars. At that time, the German economic situation was dire, having entered a crisis due to the Great Depression, and for this reason, a temporary and cheap solution was needed. This would eventually lead to the adoption of the Kfz.13 and 14 as temporary solutions until properly designed armored cars could be produced in sufficient numbers. Nevertheless, due to a lack of more modern armored cars, the obsolete Kfz.13 and 14 would see combat up to the end of 1941.
With the end of the First World War, Germany was in a state of chaos. The shattered German army (Reichswehr, as it was known after the war) was involved in preserving peace and suppressing various revolts. Externally, it was engaged to the east against Bolshevik forces. In both cases, the surviving World War One-era armored cars were used extensively. When, in 1920, the terms of the Versailles Treaty were implemented, the German army was reduced to only 100,000 men and the development of tanks and armored cars was forbidden.
Surprisingly, the Allies allowed the German police force (Schutzpolizei), which had 150,000 armed men under service, to be equipped with 1 armored personnel carrier per 1,000 men. The Germans exploited this exception made by the Allies and developed and built a few new armored cars (like the Ehrhardt/21 for example). These were designated Armed Police Special Purpose Vehicles (Schutzpolizei Sonderwagen). These vehicles were nominally given to and used by the police force, but the army also acquired and operated small numbers.
The German army was generally unsatisfied with these ‘borrowed’ police armored cars, so during 1926-27, the Reichswehrministerium/Heereswaffenamt Wa. Pruf.6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) issued specifications for developing new armored personnel carriers (Gepanzerter Mannschaftstransportwagenen). The term armored personnel carrier was used in order to deceive the Allies about its true purpose.
The new armored car was to be built by using the chassis of commercial vehicles. This was done mostly in order to speed up its development and lower the cost, as well as because of a general lack of experience in designing such vehicles. The tender for this new armored car was issued to nearly all German automobile manufacturers, but, as great attention was given to keeping the whole project a secret, the firms which were not 100% German-owned (like Ford, for example) were to be excluded.
Great interest was given to developing an eight-wheeled armored car named ‘ARW’ and even a ten wheeled ‘ZRW’ chassis. While these vehicles would have excellent mobility compared to four-wheeled armored cars, due to their price, the German army simply could not afford them at that time. While eight-wheeled armored car designs would later be adopted for service, in the meantime, a simpler and cheaper solution was needed. For this reason, the development of new armored cars was focused on four-wheeled chassis. One of the first designs to be adopted in small numbers was the Adler armored car based on the Adler Standard 6. Small numbers would be built and used in the early thirties, but the German army would eventually adopt the Adler Kfz.13 and its radio variant, the Kfz.14.
The Kfz.13 machine gun vehicle (Maschinengewehrkraftwagen) was Daimler-Benz’s response to the German army request for an easy to build and cheap open-top armored car. To make the Kfz.13 as cheap as possible, the Adler Standard 6 4×2 Kublesitzer passenger car was used for its base. Other sources state that some vehicles may have been built using the Adler Standard 3U.
The construction of the Kfz.13 consisted of a simple armored body placed on the civilian Adler Standard 6 chassis. The original curved mudguards were left unchanged. The top was left open, which enabled the crew to have an excellent view of the surroundings but left them highly vulnerable to enemy fire. As this vehicle was never intended to be used in real combat, this was not seen as an issue. The primary function of this vehicle was to provide German manufacturers with experience in designing and building armored cars. The German army also benefited from it, as it was able to gain an insight into how to properly use the armored cars in reconnaissance missions and also to train crews. For self-defense, a rotatable MG 13 machine gun protected by an armored shield was added. Besides its signal flags, the Kfz.13 had no other means of communication with other units. This was the job for the second version based on the Kfz.13, the radio-equipped Kfz.14.
In the German military doctrine of the time, the job of an armored car was to advance ahead of the main force, scout for enemy positions and report back. Their greatest assets were not their armor nor weapons, but instead their radio equipment and their mobility. For these reasons, the radio-equipped version of the Kfz.13 would be built using the same chassis. The Kfz.14, as this version was known, was almost visually identical to the previous version. The only difference was the removal of the machine gun mount and the addition of a large frame antena. It was designed to supplement the Kfz.13’s lack of radio equipment. Otherwise, it was the same vehicle with no changes to its overall performance.
For the production of the Kfz.13 and Kfz.14, Daimler-Benz was chosen, while Deutschen Edelstahl was tasked with assembling and supplying the armored body. Production of the first vehicles began in the spring of 1933. By the end of August 1935, depending on the source, between 116 and 147 Kfz.13 and 30 to 40 Kfz.14 were built. During production, Daimler-Benz also built smaller numbers (14 Kfz.13 and 4 Kfz.14) using its own chassis as a base, which was slightly larger.
It appears that the full name Maschinengewehrkraftwagen Kfz.13 was too much, even for Germans soldiers, who simply referred to them as Adler Panzerspaehwagen (Adler armored reconnaissance car). Another name commonly used by the German troops, due to its overall open-topped shape, was bath-tub (Badewannen).
The majority of Kfz.13 and 14 vehicles were built using the Adler Standard 6 civilian car. Of course, before it could be adopted for army use, some changes were necessary. These included reinforcing the axles and suspension. Each wheel was suspended using semi-elliptic springs. Additionally, several types of pneumatic bulletproof tires were used to increase cross country performance. Their dimensions were 6.00 x 20, but depending on the sources, other dimensions are also mentioned, which include 6.50 x 18 and7.00 x 20 pneumatic.
Examples of the different tires used on the Kfz.13 and Kfz.14. Source for all three: http://www.kfz13.pl/podwozie-i-uklad-napedowy/
The Kfz.13’s armored body was made using face-hardened steel armor plates welded together. The armor thickness of these plates was only 8 mm. To somewhat increase protection, these armor plates were placed at an angle. The upper front plates were at 40°, while the lower ones were at 22°. The upper sides were at 15° and the lower at 5°. The rear upper and lower plates were placed at the same 22° angle. The Kfz.13 floor was 5 mm thick. While the frontal part of the engine was protected by a louvered grille, its sides were left unprotected.
The Kfz.13 was only protected from small-caliber weapons. While the front armor could withstand small-caliber armor-piercing rounds, the sides and rear could only protect against normal bullets. Two side doors were provided for the crew to enter the vehicle. Additional boxes for spare parts and crew equipment could be added around the armored body. As it was an open-top vehicle, a canvas cover was provided for the crew.
The Kfz.13 and 14 vehicles were powered by an Adler Standard 6A (or 6S, depending on the source) six-cylinder water-cooled 50 hp engine. While smaller numbers were built using a Daimler-Benz 50 hp engine, the overall performance was unchanged. With a weight of 2.05 tonnes (the Daimler-Benz version weighed 2.1 tonnes), the maximum speed on good roads was 70 km/h, while cross country it was only 20-25 km/h. The operational range while driving on good roads was 250-300 km and 150-200 km cross country. The front wheels were used for steering and the rear wheels provided drive. To cope with the extra weight, an improved cooling system was installed. The gearbox was modified to have 4 forward speeds and 1 reverse speed.
Due to its small size, the Kfz.13 had a small crew of only two members. The driver was positioned at the front and behind him was the machine gun operator. The vehicle was open-topped and offered the crew excellent all-round visibility, which was important for a reconnaissance vehicle. But, in case of engagement with the enemy, two vision ports were provided for observation. One was positioned to the front for the driver and one to the rear. Additionally, some vehicles had dummy vision ports placed on the sides.
The Kfz.14 used the same armored body as the Kfz.13. As it was designed to be used as a radio support vehicle, the machine gunner was replaced with a radio operator. The difference was that the radio operator’s seat was facing to the rear. A third crew member could also be present when a message was to be sent through the radio. This would actually be a unit commander who was transported by another vehicle and did not use the Kfz.14 for transportation. It was the unit commander’s job to report back about the enemy positions and to receive future orders. Due to the added radio equipment and its small size, the interior was cramped.
The Kfz.13 was only lightly armed, with one pedestal-mounted 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun. For the protection of the gunner, a small 8 mm shield angled at 35° was provided. Elevation of this machine gun was -35° to +65° and the traverse was 360°. The machine gun mount with the gunner’s seat had simple spring units that allowed them to be raised. For lowering the machine gun, the gunner simply had to use his own body weight. The obsolescent MG 13 was replaced with a more modern MG 34 in later years. The ammunition load for the machine gun carried inside the vehicle was 1.000 or 2.000 rounds, depending on the source. The crews could also use their personal weapons, usually 9 mm submachine guns or pistols.
The Kfz.14 had an improved electrical generator which was able to produce 90 watts of electricity, necessary for the radio equipment to work. Inside the Kfz.14, a Fu9 SE 5 (5 watt) transmitter and receiver radio set was installed. The effective range of voice transmission with this equipment was 6 to 8 km while stationary. When on the move, this dropped to 3 to 4 km. When transmitting messages in morse code using telegraph keys, the range was 30 km while stationary and 20 km on the move. For the use of radio equipment, a large frame antenna could be raised or lowered depending on the need.
After 1935, the Kfz.13 and 14 were used to equip Aufklärungs (reconnaissance) detachments of Reiter-Regiments (Cavalry units). Each unit was to be equipped with two Kfz.13 and one Kfz.14. As, in the following years, better designed armored cars were introduced into service with the German Army, the Kfz.13 and 14 were relocated, mostly to ordinary Infantry Divisions from 1938 on.
Prior to the war, the Kfz.13 and 14 were quite common sights in the numerous military parades held in Germany. Their first use in foreign land was during the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939.
Despite their obvious obsolescence, the Kfz.13 and 14 would see combat action during the war. Their first combat action was during the Polish campaign of 1939. They were part of the spearhead, along with other German reconnaissance armored cars. By the time Poland surrendered, some 23 Kfz.13 and 14 had been lost. Their weak armor proved no match for Polish anti-tank weapons. Another issue noted by troops was that the vehicle generally had poor performance on bad roads. The extra added weight was too much for the chassis, which led to overheating problems.
The next engagements came during the German invasion of the West in 1940. The Kfz.13 and 14 armored cars were once again used in reconnaissance missions. While in France, they performed somewhat better thanks to the road network, though there were still losses.
By 1941, despite their now desperate obsolescence, the Kfz.13 and 14 would see more combat during the Balkan and later Soviet invasions. It appears that all sent to the Soviet Union would be lost by the end of 1941. Any surviving vehicles were removed from operational service after 1941 and were instead given to second-line troops or used as training vehicles.
Interestingly, at least one vehicle would survive up to the war’s end. There is a photograph that shows a modified Kfz.13 or 14 surrendering to the Allies in Prague in May 1945. It has a fully enclosed roof and what looks like a machine gun port placed to the right of the driver’s vision port. This was likely a field modification, but nothing else is known about it.
Despite no Kfz.13 and 14 having survived to today, there are a few replicas that are used in war recreations. One of these belongs to a Historical Reconstruction Group of the 9th Cavalry Regiment from Poland.
The Kfz.13 and 14 were among the first armored cars adopted for German army service after the First World War. They were designed primarily to be used as training vehicles. As the German war industry was incapable of producing armored cars good enough to meet German Army requirements, as a temporary solution, the Kfz.13 and 14 were used by the front line units. They performed poorly, simply as they were not designed for combat use. Nevertheless, they provided the Germans with valuable experience in how to properly design and use armored cars, and this was their greatest success.
Kfz.13, in prewar tri-tone livery, 1936 Werhmacht large scale exercises.
Adler Kfz.13 prior to the Polish invasion, in dunkergrau livery. Notice the simplified white Balkan cross, an obvious target.
Kfz.13 “Leopard”, Poland, September 1939.
Kfz.13, 1st Kav, 24th Panzer Division, France, May 1940.
Kfz.14 command car, Balkans, March 1941.
German Reich (1935-1937)
Heavy Armored Car – 12-28 Built
One of the essential elements of the German military doctrine of the Second World War (widely popularized as the ‘Blitzkrieg’) was the excellent and continuous communication between military units. To meet this requirement, the German army built a variety of specialized vehicles intended for maintaining communications, such as the Sd.Kfz.251/6 half-track, Pz.Bef.Wg. III command tank, or Kfz.67a, later known as Sd.Kfz.232 (6-rad). This armored car was the command version of the Sd.Kfz.231 6-rad (earlier known as Kfz.67) and was produced mainly in C.D. Magirus’ workshop.
In the second half of the 1930s (the exact year is unknown), Magirus converted some of its command vehicles into even more specialized cars, improving their communication abilities, at the expense of their fighting abilities. The new vehicle was called Kfz.67b. The number of cars built was very small – some sources (for example, the military historian David Doyle) claims 28 vehicles, while others (for example, www.kfzderwrmacht.de), have a lower claim with only about 12. The production of this 6-wheeled car was stopped in favor of 8-wheeled cars that got the same numbers in Sd.Kfz. classification (231, 232, 263). In 1937, when the new Sd.Kfz.263 (8-rad) was introduced, the Kfz.67b name was changed to Sd.Kfz.263 (6-rad). It was named according to its role: Panzerfunkwagen (eng. armored radio car) or Funkspähwagen (radio observation car).
Sd.Kfz.263 (6-rad) with its crew. The vertical umbrella-looking rod is actually the folded straight antenna, covered by a hood. Photo: World War Photos
Design, In Comparison to the 232
The Sd.Kfz.263 6-rad (not to be confused with the later Sd.Kfz.263 8-rad) was required mainly for the sustaining of communication, not for actual fighting. As such, Magirus removed its weapon – a 20mm KwK30/38 gun – to make more space for radios and their operator in the turret. The only weapon of the modified car was a 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun which replaced the 20 mm gun in the turret. On the left side of turret (that was previously the place for the machine gun), a small observation hatch was placed. Also, the whole turret was welded to the car’s hull, and the turret rotation system was removed. As the turret was set fixed, the cantilevers of the huge frame antenna (known as “mattress”, ger. “matratze”) were simplified from a tripod to two legs. Also, the shape of the antenna was slightly changed.
Thanks to these modifications, space for a radio and its operator was made. The new radio was a 100-watt FuG 11 SE 100 (or Fug.Spr.Ger.a, that was also used in the Kfz.67a – probably both types were used in Kfz.67b, depending on which specimen). It had a 50 km range for transmitting in Morse code, and 10km range for phone connection. To improve its abilities, the Kfz.67b had an additional straight antenna in the turret – this antenna could have been pulled in and out if necessary. However, it was usually covered under the hood.
Sd.Kfz.263 (6-rad) with an erected straight antenna. The white cross on the armor identifies this photo at the time of the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Photo: panzernet.net
All vehicles were built on the Magirus chassis (all producers of 6-wheeled armored cars had their own suspension versions which differed in details) called M 206p. Characteristics of this suspension were: a frontal axis which receded a little, small casters before the second axis (which helped to pass obstacles), and side skirts between the frontal wheels and the engine’s part of the hull. Also, the back tow-hooks were placed slightly lower, and fenders had longer front parts than in other versions of the chassis. All these details were characteristics of Sd.Kfz.263 (6-rad).
The vehicle had a six-cylinder S 88 engine (70hp) with five gears: four forward and one reverse. As the war unfolded, these vehicles were updated, but exactly when these modifications took place is unspecified. Modifications included: the MG 13 machine-gun was replaced with the MG 34, frontal tow-hook added, and Notek headlight added. The only external characteristics that showed, telling the difference between 6-wheeled Sd.Kfz.263 and 232, are the single machine gun, a straight and short antenna on the turret, and the two-leg mounting of the frame antenna with ‘8’ shaped central part.
From 1935 to 1940, the six-wheeled armored cars were used by reconnaissance units in motorized, light, and armored divisions of the Wehrmacht. Three armored divisions were planned to use 22 6-rad armored cars, including 12 in a reconnaissance battalion. It is known that one battalion used two Sd.Kfz.263s.
All armored car platoons used eight Sd.Kfz.263s (six for six units of radio company + two for two phone companies):
3 Armored Divisions – 22 armored cars including:
One reconnaissance battalion – 12 cars,
Including 2 Sd.Kfz.263s
Armored car platoons – 8 Sd.Kfz.263s
Six units of radio company – 6 cars
Two units of phone company – 2 cars
This setup for reconnaissance battalions was approved 1st September 1938 (and was still in operation during the invasions of Poland and France) for 1-5th and 10th armored divisions in addition to the 1st and 3rd light divisions.
Also, the 2nd light division had 4 companies of armored cars.
The 4th light division had 3 companies:
2nd light division – 4 companies of armored cars
4th light division – 3 companies of armored cars
However, six-wheeled cars could have been supplemented in all setups by eight-wheeled armored cars that had the same classification numbers. So the number of 6-wheeled cars in use was smaller than it may seem.
Illustration of the Sd.Kfz.263 6-rad ‘Peterle’ produced by Jarosław ‘Jarja’ Janas, funded by our Patreon campaign. Another photo of Sd.Kfz.263 (6-rad) in Poland. The white cross is painted only in outline for camouflage reasons – this was a common practice. Photo: World War PhotosSd.Kfz.263s were used – as were other 6-wheeled armored cars – during the annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia. As these vehicles were fast and impressive-looking, they were one of the first armored vehicles that entered occupied countries. They were also often used in propaganda and parades.
However, during the Polish September Campaign (1939), 6-rad cars suffered mechanical failures, as they had problems off-road and on Polish roads, which were often of very poor quality. To make matters worse for the invaders, armored vehicles were easy prey for anti-tank rifles and cannons. As such, 6-rad Sd.Kfz.231s and 232s were withdrawn from frontline duties to policing or training units after the invasion of France (June 1940). However, Sd.Kfz.263s (6-rad) were still in use (as its limitations were forgivable for vehicles destined mainly for communication, not fighting). These armored cars were still in use in 1941 during the Balkan Campaign and in Operation Barbarossa. However, after the invasion of the USSR started, Sd.Kfz.263s (6-rad) were no longer used.
5.57 x 1.82 x 2.87m (18.3 x 5.1 x 9.5 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
4 (commander, gunner, driver, co-driver)
Magirus 206p (65-70 HP)
Speed (on/off road)
65-70 km/h (40-43 mph)
7.92mm MG 13 or MG 34 machine-gun, 1500 rounds
Operational maximum range
250-300 km (155-286 miles)
12 – 28
Standard Catalogue of German Military Vehicles, by David Doyle, copyright for the Polish edition, 2012, Vesper, Poznań
Kolekcja Wozów Bojowych magazine, nr. 23: Sd.Kfz.231 (6-rad), Oxford Educational sp.z o.o. www.kfzderwehrmacht.de www.1939.pl www.panzernet.net
German Reich (1943-1945)
Heavy Armored Car – 478 Built
Design of the Sd.Kfz.234
This new armored car was seen as a successor to the eight-wheeled (8×8) Panzerspähwagen Sd.Kfz.231. Among other priorities, better protection and heavier armament were viewed as crucial for the new armored car. But this model also had to comply to a specification from 1940, which requested a tropicalized armored car. Tatra was placed in charge of the overall design, while Büssing developed the body, and Daimler-Benz and Schichau devised a new turret. Three engines were tested, the third being tropicalized in the spring of 1942. However, in June 1942, priorities changed and the final production machines had a more conventional air-cooled engine, capable of handling a wide range of temperatures (extreme heat and cold), better suited to the Russian front.
The production vehicle was heavier and bulkier than the Sd.Kfz.231, with mudguards that went along the side from end to end, with four storage compartments located inside. Because of the lack of resources necessary to build the specified new turret, housing a 50 mm (1.97 in) gun, the first series was equipped with the Sd.Kfz.222 Hängelafette 38 barbette instead. The engine was a Tatra air-cooled V12 diesel, with a net power of 220 [email protected],250 rpm, and a power-to-weight ratio of 21 hp/ton.
Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
The transmission was by claw, with 6 forward and 6 reverse gears. Fuel capacity was 240 liters, with a consumption of 40 liters/100 km. The radio was a FuG Spr Ger “A”2 set with a FuG 122 aerial. On the second version, famously known as the Puma, the main gun was a 50 mm (1.97 in) KwK 39/1 L/60. The turret had a manual traverse due to its small size, and -10° to +20° depression/elevation. Smoke dischargers were often mounted on top. On trials, the Puma was found capable of fording 3 feet 11 in (1.2 m) deep, crossing a trench 4 ft 5 in (1.35 m) wide and climb inga vertical obstacle of 1 feet and 7.75 inches, or 0.5 m.
Production & variants
All variants were built by Büssing-NAG between June 1942 and March 1945. The Puma turret was originally planned to be used on the Leopard, the intended replacement for the Panzer II light tank, but this project was cancelled, and the turret was “recycled” for the Puma.
The Sd.Kfz.234/1 (Gerät 95)
The first version received an open-top turret fitted with a 2 cm (0.79 in) KwK 30 L/55 autocannon and coaxial MG 34 in a simplified Hängelafette 38 turret. Around 200 were produced from June 1942 to January 1944
The Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma (Gerät 96)
The standard turret version. It was the best known but not the most produced, with only 101 being released between September 1943 and September 1944.
The Sd.Kfz.234/3 (Gerät 94)
The support version. It was an open-top SPG (nicknamed “Stummel”) equipped with the 7.5 cm (2.95 in) K51 L/24 standard howitzer. 88 built between June and December 1944.
The Sd.Kfz.234/4 (Gerät 96)
The “Pak-Wagen” or tank hunter variant, open-topped with a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) PaK 40 L/46. 89 were apparently built between December 1944 and March 1945.
Just like the Sd.Kfz.231, the 234 and variants were used in the same composite reconnaissance units. 19 were issued to each Panzerspähwagen company of the Panzer Aufklärung battalions, and with time, all four variants were used in each of them, to provide either artillery, AA and AT support. The Pumas were mostly given to veteran crews and equipped four 25-strong units which equipped each a Panzerdivision operating in Russia. The Sd.Kfz.234/3 was used in 6-strong platoon in support of the Sd.Kfz.234/1 units, just like the Sd.Kfz.234/4 later. These units also participated in the battle of Normandy with good results, and the whole German campaign, but used more as fast tank hunters. By that time, on Hitler’s orders, the whole production was shifted towards the Sd.Kfz.234/4. They were well ahead of their time and the Allies captured and studied them with great interest, as early precursors of the wheeled tanks we know today.
6.02 x 2.36 x 2.10 m (19.9 x 7.9 x 6.10 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
10.5 tons max. (23,148 lbs)
4 (commander, gunner, driver, co-driver)
Tatra 103 V-12 diesel, 155 bhp
Speed (on/off road)
80/60 km/h (50/37 mph)
50 mm (1.97 in) KWK 39 L60
7.92 mm (0.31 in) Mauser MG 34 coaxial
1000 km (625 mi)
Production (Puma only)
Sd.Kfz.234/1 Schwerer Panzerspähwagen mit 2cm KwK 38 in Ukraine, Panzerdivision Grossdeutschland, 1943.
Sd.Kfz.234/1 in Normandy, summer 1944.
Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma, Berlin, March 1945.
Sd.Kfz.234/3 Stummel, Normandy, June 1944
Sd.Kfz.234/4 “Pak-wagen”, Western front, 1945.
Side view of a camouflaged Puma, possibly on the Eastern Front, 1944. Germans Tanks of ww2
The Schwere Panzerspähwagen (heavy reconnaissance armored car) concept was first developed into several road wheeled vehicles tested at the secret Kazan proving grounds, in the USSR, following an agreement between the two countries. The first model developed as a series, following the interim Reichswehr Kfz.13, was based on a June 1929 specification asking for an armored car especially designed for scouting operations, with a good endurance, range and off-road capabilities. The first prototype was based on an eight-wheeled chassis, deemed to be too complicated for production -and too costly. A new vehicle was developed instead and mass-produced from 1932 to 1935 as the Sd.Kfz.231, a six wheeled vehicle with a completely armored sloped bodywork, armed with a full revolving turret housing a 20 mm (0.79 in) QF gun coupled with a Mauser MG 13 or, later, MG 34. It was basically a reinforced Büssing-Nag truck chassis, complete with the truck engine. Later on, a Magirus engine, slightly more powerful (70 bhp), was mounted instead. 123 were built in total. The radio version (Fu) was called Sd.Kfz.232 by the Waffenamt (28 built). But this model, popular for propaganda purposes, was nevertheless too heavy for its engine and off-road capabilities were rather limited. It was consequently dropped after June 1940 and phased out, joining various driver training schools.
Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
Design of the Sd.Kfz.231 (8-rad)
The poor performances of the first, “6-rad” (six wheeled) model led to a complete redesign by Bussing-NAG, with a eight-wheeled vehicle with fully independent steering wheels and a much more powerful engine. The Büssing-NAG 8×8 truck chassis was relatively complex and costly to build, each independent wheel being independently steered and suspended. In fact, when it was first produced in 1937, this was the most advanced armored car in the world. Although some features of the former chassis and sloped bodywork were loosely kept, the biggest change was swapping the positions of the driver and engine. This allowed better visibility and control for the driver, better protection for the engine in a roomier, fully separate compartment, and more fuel was carried. The seats for the commander and gunner were attached to the hand traversed turret, which was of hexagonal shape for added internal space, but the armament was identical. There was still a reverse driver/radio operator, but the extra pair of wheels made for a far better grip and the all-independent steering wheels gave an unprecedented level of maneuverability on all kinds of terrains. In all, the 8 rad was well received by the army reconnaissance units and began to replace its predecessor in some units.
The chassis were built by Bussing-NAG, while Deutsche Werke of Kiel made the assembly of the pre-series and first series with Schichau (at Elbing). The first series differed by having the early vision hull-turret slots, the front and rear fenders extended down over the steering armored covers, and other details, as well as the early KwK 30 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannon and Mauser MG 13 machine-gun (replaced with the MG 34 after 1938). The later series included many minor changes, which included front/rear fenders extended with an angled upward kink. Even later series had shortened fenders, clearing the steering guards; but also new vision ports, an armored cowl over the rear engine hatch, an extra frontal 8 mm (0.31 in) of armor, or Zusatzpanzer (usually used as an extra storage bin) and, on some late models, a large folding anti-aircraft machine gun was mounted on the left side of the hull. The original KwK 30 was also replaced by a KwK L/55 autocannon, which had a muzzle velocity of 899 m/s. Besides this, these machines remained globally unchanged and formed the bulk of of any reconnaissance unit attached to each Panzer Division in terms of firepower. A total of 1235 were built by the time the production stopped in late 1942.
The tactical role of these machines was to provide additional firepower, a squadron of these being attached to each motorized recce unit (Aufklärung Kompanie) attached to the Panzerdivisions. Other vehicles of these units included Kübelwagens and Schmimmwagens, Zündapp or BMW sidecars, Sd.Kfz.221 light armored cars and several other Schwere Panzerspähwagen. In each company, there was also a 232 variant equipped with a powerful long range radio. Later on, it became evident that heavier armament was needed inside each recce unit, and an artillery version was produced, the Sd.Kfz.233. Real antitank capabilities were also needed, which took the shape of the Sd.Kfz.234 and its own variants (1943-45). As an anecdote, it is known that, contrary to the usual practice of the German tank crews, crews of the recce squadrons often nicknamed their vehicles and painted these on the hull, along with some personal drawings. A visual testimony that discipline was somewhat more lax in these separate, independent units.
The 231 and the 232 radio-version were introduced before the campaign of Poland and soldiered until the end of the war. They were seen on nearly every front, from the Mediterranean to Russia, North Africa and most of Europe. With the DAK (Deutsche Afrika Korps), they proved invaluable, fitting perfectly with Rommel’s combined arms tactic and unique vision of desert warfare. The flat ground of the wide desert expenses allowed this armored car to achieve its full potential, although it wasn’t prepared for the hot environment and never properly “tropicalized”. The engine, notably, suffered badly under this climate. The same success story unfolded during the early part of the offensive in Russia, especially in the Ukrainian steppes during the spring/summer 1942 advance. Since the original armor was never intended to sustain more than small arms fire and shrapnel fragments, the platoons tried to evade clashes with other AFVs when possible. However, in many cases, these machines were seen providing infantry support and destroying light tanks and enemy armored cars alike. Speed, combined with surprise, could bring very efficient results thanks to the rapid-fire and devastating HE rounds of the 20 mm (0.79 in) at short range. Their superior agility also helped them to steer backwards and quickly evade superior forces if needed. In other cases, many served as ad hoc police patrol vehicles, dealing with partisans in the Balkans and Russia.
The Sd.Kfz.232 (Fug) radio version
This variant was produced alongside the “regular” model 231, as a command-radio heavy armored car, registered with the Waffenamt as the Sd.Kfz.232 Fu (Funkapparat) 8-rad. These vehicles, conceived by Deutsche Werke of Kiel, were produced by Schichau parallel to the early and late series. They were identical, only differing by their tall “bedstead” frame aerial antenna, fixed with pivots on the turret, thus allowing it to rotate freely. This was a long-range antenna, providing liaison with the HQ, up to a hundred miles away. Total numbers are elusive. Since a heavy armored car platoon counted six vehicles, at least one of them was a radio version, which gives an estimate of 250 vehicles. Production stopped by September 1943, but by then they were upgraded with a more discrete and compact pole wire aerial antenna.
Artillery support version: The Sd.Kfz.233
This late model, called by the Waffenamt the Panzerspähwagen mit 7.5cm StuK L/24, and nicknamed “Stumpy”, was closely based on the 231/232 series, but the turret was now replaced by a fixed, open-top barbette, housing a short-barreled 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 37 L24. This howitzer versio, firing HE shells, was devised in late 1942 by Büssing-Nag, after recce units of the Wehrmacht complained about the lack of self-propelled heavy support in many engagements. Only 109 were built by Schichau between December 1942 and October 1943. They were issued as a platoon of six vehicles in support of reconnaissance battalions. Tactically, they were fast enough to keep the pace of well-advanced reconnaissance columns and provided efficient and fast artillery support when and where it was most needed. Although the gun had a very limited traverse, the complex steering was used at its best by the driver to aim the hull itself quickly and precisely, making this variant a much more capable SPG than the usual tracked vehicles.
Command vehicle: The Sd.Kfz.263
The Panzefunkwagen 263 was one of the command vehicles “most wanted” by any general during the war, due to its speed and off-road agility. One of these was Rommel’s personal vehicle. This was basically a model 232 with a modified “bedstead” antenna, with the turret replaced by a fixed, large superstructure housing a single MG 13 or, later, MG 34 machine-gun. Roomier, it was especially designed at the very beginning of the 231 series as a mobile HQ for small units. Production started in 1937 and stopped in late 1943 (716 or 928 units produced in total, depending on the source), in parallel with the regular Sd.Kfz.231/32 versions.
Frequently associated with the “Puma” name, which in fact was only an unofficial nickname of a sub-version, this series counted an entire array of vehicles, based on a brand new chassis, first designed in 1942. The Sonderkraftfahrzeug 234 had a brand new, redesigned hull, a reinforced monocoque chassis, reinforced, which allowed an increase in protection. All came from a wartime specification after the campaigns in Poland, France and early experience in Africa. Bussing-NAG conceived the chassis, but parts and final assembly was performed by three other companies. The 234/1 had a 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannon, but the 234/2 (“Puma”) was equipped with a deadly 5 cm (1.97 in) KwK 39 L/60 in a brand new turret. The 234/3 was a SPG, and the 234/4 was a “Pak-Wagen”, accomodating a Pak 40 7.5 cm (2.95 in) 46 caliber antitank gun. Only 478 Sd.Kfz.234 were built until March 1945.
20 mm (0.79 in) QF KwK 30/38
7.92 mm (0.31 in) Mauser MG 34
Operational maximum range
300 km (186 mi)
Sd.Kfz.231 (early type) Berlin, September 1937. There is little photographic evidence that the first production has been camouflaged in the usual three-tone camouflage pattern of the time.
Early type Schwerer Panzerspähwagen 232 (Fug) 8-rad, reconnaissance unit attached to the 4th Panzerdivision, Invasion of Poland, Warsaw sector, September 1939.
Sd.Kfz.231 attached to the 13th Panzerdivision, in the Caucasus, November 1942. This one is summarily painted in Braun RAL 8020.
Sd.Kfz.231 from the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 13 (13th Panzerdivision) Dniepr sector, summer 1943.
Sd.Kfz.231 (8-rad), SS Aufk.Abt.3 SS PanzerDivision “Wiking”, Heeresgruppe center, early 1943.
Sd.Kfz.231 of the SS Aufk.Abt.2, Panzerdivision “Das Reich”, Normandy, June 1944.
Sd.Kfz.232 from the LSSAH (SS reconnaissance unit), Greece, April 1941.
Sd.Kfz.232 (8-rad), 5th Leichte-Division, attached to the 3rd Panzerdivision, Agedabia, Libya, April 1941.
Sd.Kfz.232 (8-rad), Ausfklärungsarbeitung unit of the SS Panzergrenadier Division “Das Reich”, Kharkov sector, March 1943.
German Reich (1938-1941)
Armored Scout Car – 2,380 Built
Leichter Panzerspähwagen Sd.Kfz.222
This modernized version of the 221 appeared when the needs of the army evolved and required a better design. First, the hull shape and internal structure was rearranged. There was a step down behind the turret – which was larger and 10 sided – and the rear was now pyramid-like. It was longer, and since heavier weapons were to be installed, the chassis had to be strengthened. It was rebuilt from scratch and had no relationship with the former commercial chassis. The production, assumed by Weserhütte, Schichau, MNH, Büssing-NAG and Horch, started in 1936 and ended in 1943, and was quite numerous, with no less than 1800 vehicles (according to some sources) in seven series.
The first one received the usual MG 34 machine-gun and the turret top, still open, was protected by an anti-grenade mesh in two pieces. But the main improvement was the lightweight Rheinmetall 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannon -the weapon of choice of German armored scout vehicles. The 20 mm (0.79 in) and the MG 34 were coaxial. The 20 mm KwK 30 gun was fully automatic, had a 280 rpm fire rate and could fire a 5.2 oz AP shell at a muzzle velocity of 2,625 ft/s (800 m/s). It was replaced, on later series, by the KwK 38, which had a better rate of fire, 480 rpm. The series 1 to 5 received a sPkw I Horch 801 chassis with the 3.5 liter engine, and the series 6-7, the sPkw V chassis and 3.8 l engine. The overall weight rose accordingly to 4.8 tons.
Since the chassis was more robust, the protection increased and a more efficient was used. The effectiveness of the vehicle also improved, despite some limitations in off-road capabilities. The 222 was introduced in 1938 and quickly became the main German armored scout car, largely distributed to Aufklärung Abteilungs (recce squadrons) of SS units, Panzerdivisions and Motorized Infantry Divisions. There were a few in Poland, but more largely represented during the Western campaign and in France.
On a good road network they excelled, and were seen many times by Allied soldiers and officers -to their astonishment- well beyond the supposed frontline, creating panic and havoc, thanks to their speed and devastating main gun. The crews soon grew to like this vehicle, although it was somewhat cramped, and often painted non-standard personal emblems and nicknames on the hull, a favor only granted to recce squadrons, which had a strong esprit de corps.
These machines excelled in the Balkans in 1941, but in North Africa, although the Afrika Korps received lots of them, there were complaints about their lack of effective range, due to the limited volume of their fuel tanks. Many additional jerrycans were carried, fitted everywhere on the hull and mudguards. The hull itself received additional storage boxes, which also acted like extra armor. In most cases, an additional rack was fitted to the nose, receiving five more jerrycans. As the war evolved, these were gradually removed from the frontline and replaced by the Sd.Kfz.250/9 half-track (Hanomag), especially in Russia, because of their better range and off-road performance.
A handful (something like 40 to 60) were also sold to the Republic of China in 1939. In many cases, some 222s were seen bringing their firepower to assist infantry on the spot, and were especially efficient against enemy infantry and light vehicles. However, it was vulnerable to the Russian PTRS-41 rifle. Some managed to survive until 1945, affected to police operations and anti-partisan warfare in occupied territories.
Panzerspähwagen (Fu) Sd.Kfz.223
This radio version was based on the 222, but for stability and practical reasons, their large turret was removed and replaced by surplus lighter 221 turrets, which were also shifted backwards. Their trademark was a large, fixed four feet bed-frame aerial antenna, and they combined long and medium range sets of radios. The 223 was produced to an extent of 550 machines by Weserhütte, MNH, Büssing-NAG and Horch from 1935 to January 1944, in two series, differing by their engine, the 8-cylinder Horch 3.5 l or 3.8 l Despite having the same problems -limited all-terrain performance and range- they served on every front until 1945 with Aufsklärung squadrons. A normal provision was one 223 for three 222s.
Few Leichter Panzerspähwagens 221/222/223 have survived to this day, but 5-6 remain in private collections, some in running condition, and at least one Czech modern day replica, based on a shortened truck chassis which received a steel frame and welded metal plates, pretty much like the original.
Leichter Panzerspähwagen 221 converted as tank hunter with the Mauser 2.8cm sPzB 41. Some reconnaissance SS unit in the Caucasus, summer 1943.
Sd.Kfz.222 from the XXth Motorized Division recce squadron, Poland, September 1939.
Sd.Kfz.222 from a XVth Panzerdivision recce unit, France, May 1940. Sd.Kfz.222 of the Deutsche Afrika Korps, recce unit attached to the XXIst Panzerdivision, Libya, fall 1941. These vehicles were criticized for their insufficient range and were literally crammed with fuel jerrycans. Sd.Kfz.222 on the Eastern Front, summer 1941. The brownish camouflage was applied locally.
Sd.Kfz.222 from the XXIst Panzerdivision, Caen sector, Normandy, summer 1944. Notice the late KwK 38 long barrel 2 cm (0.79 in) gun and MG 42. Sd.Kfz.223 Leichter Panzerspähwagen (Fu), the regular radio version, here from a recce squadron attached to the 164th Leichte Afrika Division (former 90th LAD), El Alamein sector, Egypt, fall 1942.
Sd.Kfz.223, Russia, XIIIth Panzerdivision, Operation Barbarossa, summer 1941. Sd.Kfz.223 in western Ukraine, unidentified SS Aufklärung Abteilung, fall 1943.
SdKfz 260, recoignisable to its single whip antenna. These vehicles were unarmed and apparently had no marking, no balkankreuz.
SdKfz 261, equipped with a four-pole bed frame antenna in the winter 1942-43, eastern front.