Categories
WW2 German Other Vehicles

Brückenleger I

German Reich (1939-1941)
Engineering Tank – At Least 8 Built

Deemed obsolete in 1939, the Panzer I chassis was reused for many roles and purposes, creating new variants of the Panzer I. One of these new variants was the Panzer I bridge layer. Using the Panzer I Ausf.A chassis, the engineer battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division converted two of their tanks into bridge layers before the Invasion of Poland in September 1939. During the Polish campaign, more Panzer I bridge layers entered service and these vehicles also took part in the Invasion of France in May 1940. Their service life ended at some point in 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, due to the Panzer I chassis not being able to carry the bridge reliably. Furthermore, the production of Bridge layers on more modern chassis and with greater capacity had already begun in 1940, which replaced the Panzer I bridge layer, the Brückenleger I.

Colorization of two Brückenleger Is in Poland, 1939. This was the second variant that carried three bridges. Note that these bridges are a relatively crude affair made from baulks of timber. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Context: Mobile Bridges for the Wehrmacht

The Panzer I was initially planned as a frontline and stopgap tank for the Panzerwaffe (English: tank force) in case of enemy aggression. However, as more and more modern tanks entered production and the Panzer I, with its thin armor and armed only with machine guns, was outdated as a frontline tank. However, rather than simply scrapping the vehicles, many Panzer I chassis of the Ausf.A and B variants were reused in new roles.

By 1939, the Waffenamt (English: Weapons office) had realized the need for motorizing bridge layers and engineering equipment in general. Normally, engineer bridges would have been carried by engineers, cars, or horses. Motorizing these bridges meant that they could be deployed almost immediately and could then support the advancing tank forces.

Production/Conversion

The exact production numbers and dates for the Brückenleger are not known. The first 2 Bridge layers were built before the Invasion of Poland in September 1939. These tanks were not simple field conversions carried out by the troops but conversions demanded by the Weapons Office. Alongside the 2 Panzer Is, multiple Panzer IIs were also converted into bridge layers. The conversions were most likely carried out by Krupp or Henschel, since these two companies were the leading companies in Panzer I production. The vehicle had its turret removed and a scaffold built around it, on which the bridge was fitted.

During the Invasion of Poland, an additional unknown number of Panzer I Ausf.As were converted into bridge layers. At least 2 vehicles can be seen with their entire superstructure removed. This would lead to the possibility that these vehicles were field conversions of Fahrschulwagen (Engish: training tanks) carried out by the 2nd Panzer Division’s engineer battalion.

At some point in September 1939, an unknown quantity of Panzer Is (Ausf.As and Bs) were also converted into bridge layers. Photos suggest that at least four additional vehicles (2 Ausf.As. and 2 Ausf.Bs) were built. However, this last variant differed greatly from the previous two bridge layer types. They featured a new bridge and still had their turret mounted. They all participated during the Invasion of Poland and later in France. It is unknown if any further vehicles were converted after 1940.

Two late version Brückenleger Is supporting a Panzer II Ausf.C during the Polish campaign. Note the weight of the Panzer II was just enough for the Brückenleger I to carry. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru

Name

Officially, there is no record of the vehicle being referred to as Brückenleger I (English: Bridge layer I). However, this is the term the troops used to refer it to. Additionally, the later bridge layer on Panzer II and IV chassis was referred to as “Brückenleger”. Therefore, it can be presumed that this vehicle would have a similar name.

Design

Chassis

The first two bridge layers used the chassis of the Panzer I Ausf.A. Other than the removal of the turret, no changes were made. On the second version, again two Panzers I Ausf.A chassis were used. On the last version, both Ausf.A and B chassis were used.

Late version Brückenleger I on Panzer I Ausf.B chassis. Note this vehicle is carrying all three bridges. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru

Superstructure

Other than the mounting of support beams for the bridge, the superstructure was left unchanged on the first version. On the second version, the entire superstructure appears to be removed or was never mounted, as these vehicles could have been maintenance or training tanks on Panzer I chassis which both featured no real superstructure. Across the mudguards, two wooden beams for holding the bridge were mounted on the rear and front sides. The last version had an unchanged superstructure of the Ausf.A and B. However, multiple iron beams appear to be bolted into the front part of the hull for a bridge support. Furthermore, two iron bars were bolted onto the side of the superstructure on each side.

Brückenleger I early version with the static bridge in Poland, 1939. Note the wooden support beams carrying the wooden deck. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru

Suspension

The suspension of the Ausf.A and B was left unchanged in all parts. It was still the same leaf spring suspension type with the road, idler, frontal wheels, and return rollers. This would later turn out to be a problem, as the already stressed chassis of the Ausf.A and B had problems successfully carrying the bridge in steep areas.

Brückenleger I in France, 1940. Note the suspension of the Panzer I Ausf.B. Source: Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Engine

On the Brückenleger I mounted on the Ausf.A and B chassis, two different engines were installed. The bridge layer vehicle on the Ausf.A chassis used the Krupp M 305 4-cylinder air-cooled engine, which was very loud and noisy and could barely handle the Panzer Is lone weight. Adding a heavy bridge and even other tanks could lead to engine breakdowns. Vehicles on the Ausf.B chassis had the new Maybach NL 38 TL 6 cylinder water-cooled installed, which improved the Panzer I’s performance greatly.

Turret

On the first two versions, the turret was removed due to an unknown reason. This was presumably done in order for the first bridge type to fit the tank. The last version still mounted the Ausf.A or B turret in its entirety.

Late version Brückenleger I without the additional bridge parts and just the deck. Note that the turret is still fitted on this version. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru

Three Different Bridges

Generally, the bridge layers differed mainly in what bridges they were mounting and were all rather primitive in terms of technology. The first version mounted two removable bridge ramps that could be used either as a ramp or additional length for the tank driving onto it. The deck could be removed, but it was not intended to be in combat. The bridge was made out of wooden beams bolted and held together via iron corner brackets. The deck rested on a wooden supporting skeleton mounted around the superstructure, which in turn was attached to the hull and superstructure by wooden beams. In total, the two bridge ramps had a length of 4 meters and a maximum load capacity of around 7 tonnes.

Colorization of the first version of the Brückenleger I with another Panzer I Ausf.A on top. This photo was taken during the test trials shortly before the war. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Ebay via Koelsch333

The second version can be seen as more of a bridge carrier and looked rather rudimentary. In photos, the two vehicles seem to be carrying three independent bridging sections which could all be removed easily. They laid on two wooden beams which in turn laid on the mudguards. Not much is known about their load capacity but, due to them solely being made out of wood, without any trace of metal support brackets, it is questionable if these 4-meter-long bridges could carry more than 7 tonnes.

The last version was technically the most advanced and looked more like the later bridge layers, such as the bridge layer IV. It featured three parts. One part could be put behind the tank so another tank could drive onto it. Once again, the deck acted as a part of the bridge itself and the front part would be extended either upwards or downwards. This bridge, although mainly being made out of wood, featured more metal parts that supported the bridge. This upgrade led to an estimated load capacity of around 8 tonnes and the three parts could cover a length of up to 15 meters. However, a new problem occurred. The bridge was now less stable, and rigidity was decreased. The deck was now a single piece with no hole between the tank itself and the bridge. Furthermore, it was now steep and permanently fixed and could not be removed without removing the bolts. Two large iron beams bolted into the hull supported the front part of the deck. Two smaller iron bars were bolted to the side of the superstructure and to the bridge on each side. Lastly, there was an iron bar hanging above the front hull between the turret and the front support beams which held two (presumably) concrete cubes in place, which acted as counterweights for the extended front bridge. The concrete cubes were connected to the extended front bridge via a large iron bar. To elevate the extended front bridge, the concrete cubes could be dismounted from the middle iron bar and moved from the level of the superstructure to a level above the bridge. If the concrete cubes were at the level of the superstructure, the extended front bridge would be pointing upwards. If the concrete cubes were above the deck, the extended front bridge would be pointing downwards. In some photos, the concrete cubes seem to be missing for unknown reasons.

Brückenleger I with the latest version bridge. Note the two large concrete cubes, the middle iron bar, two big support beams, and two side support beams. France, 1940. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru
Late version Brückenleger I on a trailer. Note the concrete cubes now above the bridge, whilst the bridge is facing downwards.

This is what the bridge layer was intended to look like. However, since there were no official regulations for the Brückenleger I, many crews changed the type of bridge that they were carrying or mounted further bridges on it. In some photos, Brückenleger Is with a full metal bridge can be seen or with another type of bridge which was much more narrow and normally mounted on the Sd.Kfz.251 engineer variant.

Late version Brückenleger Is on Ausf.B chassis as part of the 2nd Panzer Division. Note the different types of bridges it is carrying and the Ladungsleger I tanks in the background. Poland 1939. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru

Armor

There is no record of any changes to the armor and the wooden bridge would not upgrade the armor overall. Therefore, the side, frontal and rear armor was still around 13 mm of steel. The turret, if mounted, was also up to 13 mm.

A knocked-out Brückenleger I (late version) in France, 1940. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Armament

Armament was removed in the early versions due to the absence of the turret. The machine guns presumably would be carried with the rest of the crew in a separate vehicle. In the later version, both machine guns, the MG 13 k, were mounted.

Crew

All three versions had a crew of 2. The commander/gunner was relieved of his task of operating the machine guns in the early versions. On the later versions with turrets, the commander was also operating the weapons. The driver would only drive the vehicle. The rest of the crew responsible for managing the bridge would drive alongside in a truck, car, or half-track and deploy if the bridge was needed. The exact number of how many people were needed to deploy the bridge is not known. In multiple photos, more than 3 people are shown (two of these are the actual crew members). This means at least one additional member was needed.

Organization and Doctrine

At first, the bridge layers were organized into the engineer battalions of Panzer Divisions, since the term tank engineer battalions did not exist yet. In 1939, officially, there were no armored bridge laying tanks, these were only unofficially part of the engineer companies. Starting in March 1940, the third company of every Pionier-Abteilung (English: engineer battalion) of all 10 panzer divisions was renamed into Panzer-Pionier-Kompanien (English: tank engineer companies). Within these Companies, there was the bridge platoon. This platoon would have 4 Brückenleger. Officially, these Brückenleger were based on the Panzer II and IV chassis, however, as the photos suggest, the Brückenleger Is were also fitted in these divisions. This also explains why the bridge layers participating in the Polish campaign only feature the tactical symbol for tank battalions and not that of the tank engineer battalions. At some point, an improvised ‘P’ was painted next to the tank battalion’s rhomboid, standing for Pionier (English: Engineer).

Late version Brückenleger I part of the 7th Panzer Division. Note the unusual metal cover for the bridge, as seen on later bridge laying tanks. France 1940. Source: Armed Conflicts.ru

Although the bridge layers were superior in terms of mobility in comparison to their counterparts on foot, they were limited in the capacity and length of the bridge that they were carrying. This meant they could only be deployed in specific situations. The bridge layers were used when an obstacle, such as a small valley, trenches, or ditches not crossable by tanks, stood in the way of the advancing forces. The first two versions were able to clear 4-meter-long obstacles. Since their entire hull acted as a part of the bridge, the vehicle would drive into the ditch or trench, and then other tanks could drive over it. However, the bridge layers would always act together, meaning on one bridge layer the ramps were removed and used for additional length on the other one. On the second version, the bridges could be removed completely. On the later version, similar to the previous ones, the other tanks would drive over it but now the length of the covered area was much longer. Furthermore, the bridge (without the support platform) could be removed and used in other places.

Two early-version Brückenleger Is during the Polish campaign in 1939. Note the two parts of the bridge deck of the vehicle on top of the other one are used to drive onto the other tank and that both vehicles have had their turrets removed. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Service Life/Test Results

The bridge layers which participated during the invasion of Poland were part of the 38th Engineer Battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division. No information exists on where and how effectively the bridge layers were used. However, one can assume that they were used during the crossing of the river Dunajec and river San in some way or another.

During the Invasion of France, the bridge layers were divided into three possible engineer battalions. Engineer Battalion 38 of the 2nd Panzer Division kept its old bridge layers, whilst Engineer Battalion 58 of the 7th Panzer Division was equipped with new bridge layers. The last potential battalion was Engineer Battalion 39 of the 3rd Panzer Division, however, this is solely a possibility with no photographic evidence.

Brückenleger I alongside other Panzer Is crossing a bridge in the Ardenne forest. 1940. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Although very likely, it is unknown if the vehicles stayed in their battalions during Operation Barbarossa. Some Brückenleger Is can be seen in deep snow. The photos show the later versions with the large bridge.

Late version Brückenleger I in the Soviet Union, Winter 1941. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Before the Invasion of Poland, tests were done to test the weight-carrying capability of the Brückenleger. During the tests, the Brückenleger was driven into a trench and another Panzer I would drive over it in the same manner as the later and better known ‘ARK’ type tanks. The bridge could successfully carry up to 8 tonnes, which was enough for the Panzer I. However, due to the bridge being made out of wood, stability and rigidity was reduced. This led to the tests turning out rather disappointing for the troops. Nonetheless, the vehicles were sent to the frontlines. It is unknown if any further tests were done on the later models. In theory, wooden bridges could turn out to be quite useful, as they were easier to produce, quieter, and are less slippery in wet conditions.

Another view of the Brückenleger I being used as a bridge during test trials. Source: Ebay via Koelsch333

The Practicality of such a Conversion

Being only able to carry very few tanks of the German Army, the bridge layer I would turn out to be useless in its task of carrying tanks once the Panzer I was put out of service. However, during the first years of the war and especially during the Polish campaign, a large proportion of the German tank force consisted of Panzer Is.

Furthermore, one could argue that the bridge rigidity was insufficient when tanks drove over it and that it could only be deployed in very specific areas. But these were areas in which tanks performed much better than motorized vehicles and the bridge layer I could effectively sustain the weight of German trucks and cars, which could therefore transfer through difficult terrain.

Lastly, the Panzer I was available in large quantities around 1939, whilst heavier tanks, such as the Panzer IV, were not yet available in large numbers and, if available, were used as combat tanks and not engineer tanks. This task could be performed by the already obsolete Panzer I. Like many other conversions, the Panzer I could be made useful again in another role, from which the Army could benefit again.

Late version Brückenleger I, its crew, and the crew from other vehicles. Note the soldier on the left is a motorcyclist. Poland, 1939. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Other Brückenleger Is

The following vehicles were all based on the Panzer I chassis, but do not have anything in common with the initial development of the real Brückenleger I.

The first odd bridge layer appears to be a training tank on the Ausf.B chassis mounting a very small bridge above its crew compartment.

Fahrschulwagen I (English: training tank) mounting a much smaller bridge. Germany, 1938. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

The second vehicle is a Panzer I Ausf.A chassis without a turret but with a bridge put across the tank. It was used to demonstrate a motorcycle driving up steep obstacles during a parade.

The Panzer I Ausf.A chassis used as a ramp and bridge to demonstrate the performance of a motorcycle. Germany, 1936. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Another bridge layer variant was the Panzer I Ausf.A with fascines. This one was not as much of a bridge layer as the other ones, but still has the same general purpose. It was a regular Panzer I Ausf.A mounting iron support beams. Across the support beams, fascines would be laid. The fascines would be used to support infantry walking across unstable ground, such as mud. If tanks could have used these fascines is questionable. Based on photos, at least one vehicle was converted. This one took part during the Invasion of Poland in 1939 as part of Panzer Regiment 35 within the 4th Panzer Division and was destroyed during that time.

Panzer I Ausf.A with supports for carrying fascines in Poland, 1939. Source: Militärphotosfan23 via Ebay
Another photo of the Panzer I with fascines, this time still carrying the fascines. Poland, 1939. Source: Militärphotosfan23 via Ebay

Fate

The exact fate of these vehicles is not known, but photos show the vehicles during the winter of 1941. After the winter, no photos exist. Therefore, it can be assumed that the vehicles were either lost or pulled off the front because of their obsolescence.

Conclusion

Although the idea of having a mobile and armored bridge-laying vehicle had proven to be successful, the Panzer I was not the right choice for the chassis. It was severely limited with regards to which vehicles it could carry and how long its bridge could be. The later bridge layers, such as the bridge layer IV, were much better fitted for the role. Furthermore, the need for mobile bridges slowly decreased from 1943 onwards, as the Wehrmacht suffered more and more defeats and was on the retreat. However, the Brückenleger I could effectively carry trucks and other motorized vehicles and the obsolete Panzer I was fitted with a new role.

Brückenleger I with folded bridge. Done by Bryan Gaydos.
Second variant of Brückenleger I with three crude bridges. Illustrated by Bryan Gaydos.
Brückenleger I with unfolded bridge. Done by Bryan Gaydos.
Brückenleger I with unfolded bridge. Illustrated by Bryan Gaydos.
Second variant of Brückenleger I with three crude bridges. Done by Bryan Gaydos.
Brückenleger I with folded bridge. Illustrated by Bryan Gaydos.

Brückenleger I specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) Early version: 4.02 x 2.06 x 1.5 m, Late version: 4.02-44 (extended bridge 15) x 2.06 x 1.90 m
Total Weight Early version: 6.4 tonnes (bridge load: 7 tonnes), Late version: 7 tonnes (bridge load: 8 tonnes)
Crew At least 3 (commander/gunner, driver, bridge operator)
Elevation -10° to +20°
Gunsight T.Z.F.2.
Speed Ausf.A: max.: 32 km/h, Ausf.B: 35 km/h
Range roads: 140 km
Armament (if turret mounted) 2x 7.92 mm MG 13/MG 13k
Ammunition 2250 7.92 mm S.m.K. in 25 magazines
Armor 8-14.5 mm
Engine Ausf.A: Krupp M 305 4-cylinder air-cooled, Ausf.B: Maybach NL 38 TL 6 cylinder water-cooled
Communication FuG 2 receiver
Total Production At least 8 built

Sources

Janusz Ledwoch, Vol. XI PzKpfw I vol. I (Tank Power)

Lucas Molina Franco, Panzer I The beginning of a dynasty

Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Louis Doyle, Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two

Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, No. 14 Gepanzerte Pionierfahrzeuge (Armored Combat Engineer Vehicles) (Panzer Tracts)

https://www.valka.cz/topic/view/31332

Categories
WW2 German Other Vehicles

Leichter und Mittlerer Entgiftungskraftwagen (Sd.Kfz.10/2 and Sd.Kfz.11/2)

German Reich (1938-1944)
Decontamination Vehicle – 60-70 le. Entg. and 392 m. Entg. Built

After the experiences of the First World War, which saw the introduction of poisonous gas, many countries assumed that, even though banned through the 1925 Geneva Protocol, that gas would be continued to be used. Therefore, many of these countries experimented with new poison gasses, but also new ways of decontamination. In Germany, the gas warfare doctrine was to be included in the general doctrine which was combined with mobile arms warfare. The idea was to have a mobile task force with three different vehicle types. One of these vehicle types was the Entgiftungskraftwagen (Eng: Decontamination vehicle). They were based on the Sd.Kfz.10 and 11. It would have been used to decontaminate an area where soldiers would advance. However, gas was never used in large amounts during the Second World War. Therefore, the decontamination vehicles were not used in their intended role and alternative uses were found, such as carriers for artillery shells, throughout the war. Its service life ended in 1944 after production had stopped and the last vehicles were destroyed or lost.

Colorization of several Sd.Kfz.10/2s and Sd.Kfz.11/2s during the early stages of Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Context: German use of Poisonous Gas during the First World War

During the First World War, poisonous gas was used for the first time in combat to inflict huge casualties and spread fear amongst the enemy. After the German Army had been halted on its advance in the winter of 1914-1915, the frontlines started to solidify and both sides dug themselves into trenches. Both sides could not break the other line or, if broken through, only captured small bits of land. Therefore, the German High Command demanded a new weapon to break the frontlines. German chemical companies had been producing chlorine as a side product. Together with these companies, Fritz Haber worked on a way to weaponize this.

In April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, chlorine was first used by the Germans. The gas worked effectively, and the British and French forces suffered huge casualties. However, the chlorine was uncontrollable and could not be removed after the attack. Therefore, the Germans did not gain much land. Later, as gas masks were introduced on both sides, the Germans abandoned chlorine gas. This was due to chlorine gas being water-soluble, which meant its effects could be reduced by holding a wet cloth or rag to the mouth and nose. Furthermore, it could be easily identified due to its color.

Phosgene was the next gas used by the Germans, presumably first used at Ypres. It was less easy to detect and was much more deadly than chlorine. However, its symptoms took a long time to appear. This was due to the (in comparison) minimal immediate effects of lachrymatory. Only after several hours did the effects of liquids in the lung cause death.

However, the most commonly used gas, even though it was technically a liquid, was mustard gas, first used in 1917. It had a yellow mustard-like color and smelled like garlic. The initial contact was symptomless, but once skin irritation occurred, blisters and biological burns appeared. Although the mortality rate was low, the long-term effects were respiratory problems and burns. The role of mustard gas was not to directly kill the other soldiers but to cause severe pain and disable them from participating in battle. Furthermore, the fear factor was an important element.

Sd.Kfz.10

The Sd.Kfz.10 was originally planned to be a half-tracked towing vehicle for light artillery, anti-air, and anti-tank guns. Due to the need for a small and light but very fast and mobile half-track, the Demag half-track was developed. Initially, it was only meant to tow artillery guns and ammunition carriers but, during the construction of the first vehicles, it was desired that some of these vehicles would be used for gas warfare and within the Nebeltruppen (Eng. smoke troops, a code name for the German gas warfare units). After numerous Demag prototype vehicles, the D 7 variant went into serial production. However, before that, some D 6 vehicles were used to test the decontamination doctrine.

Regular Sd.Kfz.10 in the Soviet Union, winter 1942-1943. Source: Bundesarchiv, 101l-031-2406-19

Sd.Kfz.10/2 Leichter Entgiftungskraftwagen

During the Interwar, the German Army continued to use (in theory) mustard gas and intended to use it for their gas warfare units. But after contaminating an area with the liquid, the German soldiers needed a way through the contaminated area to advance. A decontamination vehicle alongside the contamination vehicle was needed.

In 1936, the Nebeltruppen first showed interest in acquiring light and small half-tracks to mobilize their units. The commander of the Nebeltruppen stated that a Demag vehicle should be tested, ideally in the role of both contamination and decontamination.

In July 1937, the firm of Büssing NAG received a contract for the production of 300 vehicles with a modified transmission that would be able to carry equipment for gas warfare.

Factory new Sd.Kfz.10/2 in Germany, 1938. Source: Panzer Tracts

Production

Exact production numbers are unknown, but the estimated number ranges from 60 to 70 vehicles completed between 1938 and 1939. The production stopped in June 1939, after the bigger 3t Sd.Kfz.11 was favored and the need for the light Demag decontamination vehicles was dropped.

Sd.Kfz.10/2 during training, Germany, 1938. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Design

The Sd.Kfz.10/2 was a half-track based on the chassis of the Demag 7 or later Sd.Kfz.10 Bauart 1939 (Eng. version 1939). It had a superstructure that carried the decontamination chemicals and a spreader for said chemicals.

Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.10/2 in Germany, 1938. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Chassis

The chassis used were 300 ordered D7 chassis with an auxiliary drive in the transmission to be able to carry equipment. In addition to the regular Sd.Kfz.10 chassis, two fuel tanks were placed behind the driver’s seat, whilst the left fuel tank had a shaft connected to the spreader’s driveshaft. No other changes were made, which means the vehicle had an interleaved suspension with 5 road wheels, an idler wheel, and a front sprocket wheel which was powered by the transmission.

Superstructure

The superstructure consisted of a spreader and a platform. On the platform’s backside, the 8 drums of chemicals would be placed together with rails for extra stability and safety. A canvas was put above the entire crew and chemical compartments and fastened on the windshield and spreader on the backside. The canvas could be rolled up and stored in the back and was extended only in heavy weather situations, as the canvas placement was low and the crew had less space to work with. The front seat bench, where the driver and co-driver sat, was not changed and was directly in front of the drums. In front of the crew was the engine. Just in front of the spreader in the rear was an additional bench for two crew members.

Colorization of the same Sd.Kfz.10/2 as above. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Crew

The exact number of crew members is unknown but, in most photos, there appear to be at least three: driver, co-driver, and an operator for the spreader. However, the additional bench in the rear is for two-member and would therefore get the number up to 4.

Sd.Kfz.10/2 and the rest of the decontamination battery. Unknown date and location. Source: BUYMUC via Ebay

Engine

The Sd.Kfz.10/2 had the same Maybach NL 38/HL42 TRKM engine as the regular Sd.Kfz.10. However, due to the extra weight of the spreader and chemicals, the overall capabilities of the vehicle mobility-wise were reduced. The engine could give the vehicle a top speed of 65 km/h on roads and about 50 km/h off-road. During usage, crews were instructed never to exceed speeds of 20 km/h on roads and 10 km/h off-road. The fuel tanks held 86 liters of fuel. In the end, it did not matter that the speed was reduced, as the vehicle had to drive at marching infantry speed in combat situations.

Spreader and Chemicals

The spreader was used to spread the chemicals onto the desired area. It was mounted on the rear side and could hold 200 kg of chemicals at once. The Streuvorrichtung (Eng. Spreader) had smooth rollers inside of it to spread the chemicals and a rubber sheet that prevented the wind from blowing the chemicals away. It also had a screen that prevented large clumps from falling down. The spreader and rollers were powered via the left driveshaft, which was connected to the engine under the vehicle. The amount of chemicals spread was controlled by the distance of the smooth rollers inside the spreader. The crew could control this via a lever located at the spreader itself. The dial numbers ranged from 0-9 and were usually set to 3 or 4, which spread about 300 g/m².

The decontamination chemicals were stored in eight drums (4 placed in a row on each side), weighing 480 kg. A singular drum with 50 kg could cover an area of 1 m width by 160 m long. All of the chemicals could cover an area of 1 m by 1,300 m.

Sd.Kfz.10/2 passing a column of trucks, presumably also part of the decontamination battery. Note the spreader on the rear. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Tools

The tools were the standard equipment for German AFVs. The vehicle had a long ax, pickaxe, crowbar, and a spate. Rifles were stored lined up behind the driver’s seat and crew baggage under the bench seat.

Sd.Kfz.11

The Sd.Kfz.11’s history started when the German Army searched for a new way to tow their artillery guns. After several ways were tested to tow the guns, it was settled on a half-track design, since these were easy to produce, cost-efficient, and reliable.

In 1934, development began with the German firm of Hansa Lloyd (later Borgward). Like the Sd.Kfz.10, the 11 had multiple prototypes, which included variants from the H. kl. 2 to the H. kl. 6. The H. kl 6 chassis would later be the production variant and chassis for most variants of the Sd.Kfz.11. It was later renamed to Leichter Zugkraftwagen 3t. (Eng. light towing vehicle 3t.) as production was transferred to Hanomag.

A regular Sd.Kfz.11 in its intended role, towing a 10.5 cm field howitzer in the Soviet Union in 1941. Source: Bundesarchiv, 101l-290-1116-07

Sd.Kfz.11/2 Mittlerer Engiftungskraftwagen

During demonstration trials in 1937, it was revealed that due to an overall delay concerning the Demag 7 vehicles, an alternative vehicle for decontamination had to be used. The Sd.Kfz.11 was able to carry more decontamination chemicals and could save on the overall number of vehicles used within a battery. However, there were some negative aspects too, such as the vehicle being bigger and less narrow and therefore easier to spot and harder to drive through narrow ways and roads.

The Sd.Kfz.11/2 was a medium decontamination vehicle based on the Sd.Kfz.11 chassis carrying chemicals for decontamination and was meant to replace the smaller Sd.Kfz.10/2.

Sd.Kfz.11/2 during maneuvers in 1939, Germany. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Production

Two different models of the Sd.Kfz.11/2 existed. The Bauart 1938 and Bauart 1939 (Eng. Model 1938 and 1939) differed in the number of chemicals carried and the width and height of the big cabin. The superstructure, cabin, driver’s compartment, and spreader were built by Peter Bauer Köln (a German vehicle factory in Cologne) and mounted on the chassis. The chassis of the Sd.Kfz.11 was provided by Borgward. The chemicals were most likely produced by the I.G. Farbenindustrie AG.

Before May 1937, 34 vehicles and one prototype vehicle were ordered by the OKH (Oberkommando Herr, Eng. High Command of the Army). Eighteen vehicles were enough to fill the first Entgiftungs Batterie (Eng. Decontamination Battery) for trials and demonstrations. In 1938, the OKH planned to produce enough Sd.Kfz.11/2s to fill all Nebel Abteilungen (Eng. smoke battalions) until March 1939. The model 1938 was built between the span of 1938 to the first half of 1939, which means a total amount of 68 vehicles built. After that, the model 1939 was introduced and produced until the end of the vehicle’s life. In June 1939, the Waffenamt (Eng. Weapons Apartment) demanded the production of 138 new vehicles by October 1939 to fill the newly created Nebel Abteilungen. Production would continue, with 18 vehicles completed by April 1940 and 180 after October 1940. However, in December 1939, the Nebeltruppen (Eng. smoke troops) requested the production of another 200 Sd.Kfz.11/2s and, after that, at a rate of 10 vehicles per month. In June 1940, 600 new vehicles were needed. However, due to the irrelevance of the decontamination vehicles after the Nebeltruppen were repurposed, the production order was canceled but the production was not stopped due to the vehicles being needed in other roles. In 1940, the Nebeltruppen had been diverted from poisonous gas warfare to smoke troops featuring the 15 cm Nebelwerfer.

However, these were only demands and orders. The exact production numbers between the time span of March 1938 and 1941 are not known due to Borgward not reporting the production. In 1941, around 234 vehicles were built (in the estimation of the vehicles needed to fill the existing Nebel Abteilungen). In 1942, 50 vehicles were made. In 1943, 75 vehicles were constructed and another 33 by March 1944.

Estimated production numbers of the Sd.Kfz.11/2
Date Number of Sd.Kfz.11/2
1937 34+1 prototype
March 1938-June 1939 68
June 1939-1941 140
1942 50
1943 75
1944 33
Sd.Kfz.11/2 driving through a small pond during maneuvers in Germany, 1939. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Design

Based on the Sd.Kfz.11 chassis, the 11/2 had a new platform on the rear, which featured the chemicals and the spreader. The driver’s compartment was similar but some parts were changed. Separating both compartments was a large storage cabin that carried the equipment of the crew. In front of the driver’s compartment was the engine.

Colorization of a factory-new Sd.Kfz.11/2 in Germany, 1939. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Chassis

The chassis was the same unchanged Sd.Kfz.11 H kl 6 chassis with an auxiliary drive, like the Sd.Kfz.10/2, connecting the spreader with the engine. It had an interleaved suspension with a front sprocket wheel connected to the transmission and drive. Steering could be performed by both the two front wheels and by the tracks.

Some of the first Sd.Kfz.11/2s (Bauart 1938) in Germany in 1938, still in three-tone camouflage. Source: Crainsmilitaria via Ebay
Sd.Kfz.11/2 in the interwar three-tone camouflage. Source: Joschi_12 via Ebay

Superstructure

The superstructure consisted of a driver’s compartment, a large storage cabin, and a rear platform with the spreader and chemicals. The driver’s compartment had a two-crew bench seat and was open-top. A canvas could be fastened above the entire vehicle’s crew compartment and, if not mounted, stored in the back. A large storage cabin was placed between the driver’s compartment and the rear platform. On the early model 1938, the cabin was rather tall and narrow, and on the later model 1939, wider and smaller. There were rails to stabilize the chemical barrels on both sides of the platform and, at the rear end, was the spreader. Due to the resizing of the cabin, the model 1939 also featured smaller and shorter rails.

A top view of the Sd.Kfz.11/2. Note two barrels appear to be missing. Germany 1939. Source: Panzer Tracts

Crew

The Sd.Kfz.11/2 had 4 crew members. Two, driver and co-driver, sat on the bench in the driver’s compartment. The other two, tasked with operating the spreader, sat on two folding seats located on each end of the platform.

Sd.Kfz.11/2 with its crew members as part of the 1st. Panzer Army. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Engine

The engine was the same Maybach NL 38/HL 42 giving out 100 hp. This could propel the vehicle up to 50 km/h on roads and 40 km/h off roads. Like the Sd.Kfz.10/2, during usage, crews were instructed only to drive at about 20 km/h on roads and 10 km/h off-road. Like the Sd.Kfz.10/2, the reduced and slow speed was not relevant, as it was meant to match infantry marching speed. The vehicle had 110 liters of fuel and a maximum range of 275 km on roads and 150 km off-road.

Spreader and Chemicals

On the model 1938, two different spreaders existed. A taller bin with a different drive and the smaller standard spreader was also featured on the model 1939. The model 1939 only had one spreader. The spreader worked in the exact same way as the one on the Sd.Kfz.10/2, with the difference that these ones were bigger and wider, with 400 kg of load capacity. This meant there were also rollers inside the spreader and a rubber sheet spreading the chemicals. There was also an auxiliary drive powering the rollers. The amount of chemicals spread was also controlled by a lever and the distance between the rollers. Regularly, it would have been positioned at levels 1-6 (out of 0-9).

The chemicals were stored in drums and small tin cans. The model 1938 had 14 drums weighing 840 kg and the model 1939 had 12 drums weighing 720 kg and 16 small tin cans weighing 160 kg. A total of 50 kg of pure chemicals could cover an area of 1.7 m in width by 300 m in length. The entire load (on model 1939) of 728 kg of pure chemicals (not counting the weight of the drums themselves) could cover an area of 1.7 m in width by 4,350 m in length. For the model 1938, it would have been around 4,200 m in length. The cans were stored eight per side on the rear side of the storage cabin.

Sd.Kfz.11/2 in the winter of 1941. Note the spreader. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Tools

Unlike the Sd.Kfz.10, the Sd.Kfz.11 got its tools located in the Gerätekasten (Eng. equipment cabinet). In there, there were:
-1x spare wheel
-1x hand crank
-4x zeltbahnen (tents)
-2x working suit (protective suit)
-4x winter coats
-4x clothes bags
-4x carrying bags for working suits
-4x cooking equipment
Additionally placed around the chassis and superstructure were the standard tools, such as the large ax, shovel, and crowbar pickaxe. The 4 rifles of the crew members were located 2 on each side of the bench.

Entgiftungsstoff “Losantin”

The decontamination chemicals were the Entgiftungsstoff Losantin (Eng. Decontamination substance Losantin). Losantin, or scientifically named calcium hypochlorite, is the calcium salt of the hypochlorous acid. In an approximately 10% aqueous solution, it can be used to decontaminate the skin. It was already in service with the German Army during WW1 to decontaminate Gelbkreuzgiftgase (Eng. yellow cross poisonous gas) or skin poisonous gas, such as mustard gas or Lewesit. Because the German Army intended the continued usage of mustard gas for an upcoming war, Losantin was used as the decontaminating counterpart. The word Losantin can be seen written on the barrels themselves.

These small boxes would be carried with decontamination units and would have been applied to the skin of the individual soldier. Source: MP44.nl
Sd.Kfz.11/2 presented in the Tank Museum Munster in Germany. Note the Losantin barrels. Source: Flickriver

Entgiftungspflug 41

During test trials for a new decontamination plow in October 1941, the possibility was revealed that this plow could be used to dig a trench and therefore make way for soldiers to advance without using chemicals. The OKH allowed the usage of this plow and the Sd.Kfz.11/2 was to be the vehicle towing the plow. The Entgiftungspflug 41 (Eng. Decontamination plow 41) was a trench plow with a single axle chassis.

Sd.Kfz.11/2 with an Entgiftungspflug 41. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Organization and Doctrine

The Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 were part of the Nebeltruppen (Eng. smoke troops). The Nebeltruppen were an independent branch using terms from the artillery and was the branch intended for gas warfare. The Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 were both organized into Entgiftungs Batterien (Eng. decontamination batteries) within Entgiftungs Abteilung (Eng. decontamination battalions).

In October 1937, a single Nebel-Abteilung had a HQ staff unit, three Nebel-Batterien (Eng. smoke batteries) and three Entgiftungs Batterien. Each Nebel-Batterie had 8 10 cm Nebelwerfer towed by Sd.Kfz.10s. Each Entgiftungs Batterie had 6 Gasspürer Sd.Kfz.10/1 (Eng. gas detection vehicle), 6 Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 6 Sd.Kfz.11/2. There was also Nebel-Gerät-Kolonne (Eng. smoke device column), which was the codename for a contamination battery equipped with 18 Sd.Kfz.10/3 and 18 Sd.Kfz.11/3 (contamination vehicles). This contamination unit changed places with the decontamination unit in the case it was needed. However, if not enough 10/2s existed, they could be replaced by spare 11/2s.

In 1938, it was decided to split the Nebel-Abteilung into Nebel-Werfer-Abteilungen and Entgiftungsableitungen, separating decontamination and contamination into two different battalions during war time.

In 1939, the organization was changed. Each Entgiftungs Abteilung had three Entgiftungsbatterien with 6 Sd.Kfz.10/1 and 12 Sd.Kfz.11/2 each, since the Sd.Kfz.10/2 was removed and replaced by the Sd.Kfz.11/2. However, many units kept their 10/2s.

There were also so-called Straßen-Entgiftungs-Abteilungen (Eng. street decontaminating battalions) responsible for decontaminating streets after a possible bombing run with poisonous gas. These had at first 3 Sd.Kfz.10/2 and later 6 Sd.Kfz.11/2 within 1 battery, bringing the total number up to 18. In 1941, 3 street decontamination battalions were in service with 54 Sd.Kfz.11/2 and 9 Sd.Kfz.10/2.

Number of Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2s in a single Entg. Abt. per year after official regulations
Date Number of Sd.Kfz.10/2s Number of Sd.Kfz.11/2s
October 1937 18 18
1939 0 (some were kept in service) 36
1941 0 36
1941 (For street decon. battalion) 9 18
An Entgiftungs-Batterie column with a Sd.Kfz.11/2 in the lead during the invasion of France, 1940. Source: Unknown seller, Ebay

The decontamination vehicles were a part of the German gas warfare doctrine developed in 1936. This doctrine states that, during combat, a single contamination half-track contaminated an area. In turn, later, the Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 would drive through and spread the chemicals with the desired length and density. Closely following the decontamination half-track would be infantry soldiers, mostly on foot, equipped with gas masks. Since the mustard gas spread by the contamination half-tracks was a liquid, it would stay on the ground and the soldiers could move safely on the decontaminated strip. It is not known on which occasions or circumstances or when the German Army had planned to use this doctrine. However, one can presume it would have been used in situations where the enemy was entrenched. To save on chemicals, the Entgiftungspflug 41 was planned to be towed by the 11/2. In reality, in some photos, the plow can be seen used to dig fast and provisional trenches for soldiers.

There was also the possibility that the enemy contaminated an area. In this case, the half-track would have been used in the same way. However, this action would only be useful when the enemy also used liquid mustard gas or any other Lost gas, since Losantin only worked for this type of chemical. There were specialized vehicles for the decontamination of other gasses, but these were mostly trucks and cars and could only decontaminate individual soldiers.

The intended use of the Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2. Source: Author
Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.11/2 during winter training in 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Tactical Symbols

The Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 both had the tactical symbol for the Entgiftungs-Batterie (mot) (Eng. decontamination battery motorized) which was a rectangle (standing for an infantry or artillery branch unit) together with two circles (for wheels) under the rectangle. The letters “Eg” were inside the rectangle, standing for Entgiftung (Eng. decontamination). The Sd.Kfz.11/2 presented in the Tank Museum in Munster has an incorrect symbol.

Tactical symbol for a Entgiftungs-Batterie. Source: Panzer Tracts
The wrong tactical symbol on the Sd.Kfz.11/2 in the tank museum in Munster. Source: Wikimedia

Trials

There were several trials and demonstrations in which an entire decontamination battery was used. In 1938, the first trials took place with the Sd.Kfz.10/2, which turned out rather positive. However, it was decided to use the Sd.Kfz.11/2 due to its larger storage capacity. Both vehicles not only went through obstacle courses during trials but also had to demonstrate how the unit worked. This included a full run-through of the gas warfare doctrine but in miniature size.

Sd.Kfz.10/2 during a demonstration or maneuver around 1938. Note the soldiers with gas masks. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freita

Combat Results

In 1940, there were three Entgiftungs Abteilungen (101, 102, and 105). In 1941, this number would be expanded to five (with the addition of 103 and 104).

There are not many recorded events or times when the Sd.Kfz.10/2 or 11/2 were used in their intended role. The first time was during the invasion of France within Entgfitungs Abteilung 102’s 2nd battery, when 22 Sd.Kfz.10/2s and 14 Sd.Kfz.11/2s participated in battle. However, the vehicles were not used as decontamination vehicles, since poisonous gas and the gas spreader vehicles were not used on the German side in battles. They presumably moved alongside their unit and the division and were on standby.

Most units realized that the vehicles had no use and could be used in a better way. After 1940, when it was officially announced that the Nebeltruppen were diverted from gas warfare, the units removed the chemicals and barrels and used them to carry rockets for the German rocket launchers. However, some vehicles appear to have continued in their role as decontamination vehicles, carrying the chemicals throughout the first years of Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and 1942. This was probably due to the fear amongst the German units that Soviet troops might use poisonous gas at some point. This, in turn, was also the reason why the Sd.Kfz.11/2 was produced until 1944, as a safety precaution in case of an enemy gas attack.

In 1942, all three street decontamination battalions and decontamination battalions 101, 102, and 103 were converted into Schwere Wurfgerät Abteilungen (Eng. heavy launcher battalion) which carried the rockets for the 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer. Battalion 104 was converted into Gebirgs Werfer Abteilung 10 and 105 into Werfer Regiment 70.

Information about each Ent. Abt.
Entgiftungs-Abteilung (mot.) Service life Converted into
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 1 (later renamed to 101) Established: September 1939, served: France, Soviet Union Schweres Werfer-Regiment 3
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 2 (later renamed to 102) Established: September 1939, served: France, Soviet Union schwere Werfer-Abteilung 102
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 103 Established: June 1940, served: Soviet Union schwere Werfer-Abteilung 103
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 104 Established: May 1940, served: Soviet Union Gebirgs-Werfer-Abteilung 10
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 5 (later renamed to 105) Established: November 1939, served: France, Soviet Union Werfer-Regiment 70
Sd.Kfz.11/2 being used to transport all kinds of equipment. Soviet Union winter. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Sd.Kfz.11/2 which kept its chemicals all the way until the winter of 1942-1943. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Very late war (relatively) Sd.Kfz.11/2 in the Soviet Union in 1943. Note the late war camouflage pattern applied. Source: Hannover09 via Ebay

Carrier for Rockets

Some vehicles were converted into carriers for the German rocket launchers. These were the 10, 15, and 21 cm Nebelwerfer (Eng. smoke launcher), and 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer 41. The vehicles carried the Wurfkörper (Eng. rocket body), meaning the wooden cartridge with the 28/32 cm rocket inside and the steel cartridges for the smaller rockets.

Sd.Kfz.11/2 carrying wooden cartridges or frames for the 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer 41 as part of a Schwere Wurfgerät Abteilung. Soviet Union, winter 1943. Source: Panzer Tracts
Presumably one of the most well-known photos of a Sd.Kfz.11/2 repurposed into carrying wooden cartridges or frames for the 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer 41. Soviet Union 1942/1943. Source: Bundesarchiv, 1011-040-0177-27
Sd.Kfz.11/2 carrying WG 40 steel frames for rocket launchers in the Soviet Union in 1942. Note the absence of the engine, possibly for maintenance reasons. Source: Koelsch333 via Ebay
Sd.Kfz.11/2 carrying WG 40 steel frames for rockets. Soviet Union 1942. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Two Sd.Kfz.11/2s, one carrying the wooden frames and one carrying the steel frames for the rocket launchers. Source: Hannover09 via Ebay

Surviving Vehicles

A singular Sd.Kfz.11/2 Bauart 1939 survived until today. Displayed in the tank museum in Munster, the vehicle can be seen still in its original role as a decontamination vehicle loaded with Losantin barrels. This specific example is one of the last to be ever produced by Borgward in 1944, with chassis number 324482 and is still in running condition.

Sd.Kfz.11/2 presented in the Tank Museum Munster. Note the incorrect tactical symbol on the right. Source: The Shadock Free

Conclusion

The leichter und mittlerer Entgiftungskraftwagen auf Sd.Kfz.10 and 11 were the first successful attempts at mobilizing the decontamination troops. In theory, these could provide a path through a contaminated area, allowing troops to march through. However, due to weak armor and no armament in close combat situations, the vehicles would need much protection from other vehicles or tanks. After several tests, the Sd.Kfz.11/2 proved to be the more effective vehicle. In the end, the decontamination vehicles’ fate was sealed due to their irrelevance on the battlefield. Gas warfare was not needed for the German Army and the vehicles were converted into other roles.

Sd.Kfz.10/2 in 1938. Illustration by Godzilla, based on work by David Bocquelet
Sd.Kfz.11/2 in 1938. Illustration by Godzilla, based on work by David Bocquelet

Sd.Kfz.10/2, Sd.Kfz.11/2 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) (10/2), (11/2) 10/2: 4.8 x 1.9 x 1.95 m, 11/2: 5.8 x 2 x 2.4 m
Total Weight (10/2), (11/2) 10/2: 4770 kg , 11/2: 6740 kg
Crew (10/2) and (11/2) 4 (Driver, crew members/spreader operators)
Speed 10/2: 65 km/h on roads and 40 km/h off roads, 11/2: 50 km/h on roads and 40 km/h off roads
Range 10/2: 250 km on roads, 125 km off-roads, 11/2: 275 km on roads, 150 km off-road
Armament (10/2) and (11/2) 4x 7.92 mm Kar 98 k
Armor (10/2) and (11/2) 1-5 mm
Engine (10/2) and (11/2) Maybach NL 38/HL42
Total Production 10/2: 60-70, 11/2: 392

Sources

Janusz Ledwoch, Tank Power Sd.Kfz.10/4

Joachim Engelmann, German Rocket Launchers

John Milsom, German Halftracked-Vehicles of WW2, Unarmored Support Vehicles from 1933-1945

Walter J. Spielberger, Motorbuch Verlag, Die Halbketten Fahrzeuge Des Deutschen Heeres 1909-1945

Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, Panzer Tracts No. 22-1 Leichter Zugkraftwagen 1 t (Sd.Kfz.10) Ausf.A und B and Variants

Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, Panzer Tracts No. 22-2 Leichter Zugkraftwagen 3 t (Sd.Kfz.11 and Variants)

Walter E. Seifert, Waffen-Arsenal Die Zugkraftwagen der deutschen Wehrmacht

Categories
Has Own Video WW2 German Other Vehicles

Panzerbeobachtungswagen III

German Reich (1943)
Observation Tank – 262 Built

The Panzerbeobachtungswagen III (German: armored-observation-vehicle), also known as Sd.Kfz.143, was one of the variants of the common Panzer III medium tank. Although the conversion was fairly simple, it was one of the most specialized vehicles in this tank family. The Sd.Kfz.143 was designed for the artillery observers assigned to self-propelled batteries to better record the fall of shot and adjust fire effectively.

Panzerbeobachtungswagen III in all its grandeur. The characteristic front of the turret is clearly visible here, and the TSR 1 periscope is raised. (source: fr.wikipedia.org)

Development and production

The Pz.Beob.Wg.III project started at the end of 1942, after the great successes of the German offensives ended. The German army needed observation vehicles for the Hummel and Wespe mobile artillery units. These observation vehicles had to be within visual range of the artillery target and help correct the artillery fire. The new vehicle had to have the ability to survive on the frontline (like tanks or assault guns) and to communicate with unit commanders or other armored vehicles that worked behind the frontline. Using a tank for this was the best solution, as it had good off-road properties, strong armor and carried a radio set. The first project for such a vehicle was based on the Pz.Kpfw.V Panther, the Pz.Beob.Wg.V. However, the production of the Panzer V was delayed, so engineers chose another tank as a basis – the Pz.Kpfw.III (Sd.Kfz.141).

The previous observation vehicles were very diverse. Sometimes, this role had been done by unarmored vehicles or command tanks (like the Sd.Kfz.265 or Pz.Bef.Wg.III) or reconnaissance armored cars. The only specialized vehicles which were serially produced were the Sd.Kfz.253 and Sd.Kfz.250/5. However, these half-tracks were mainly used with Sturmgeschütz units. Improvised artillery observation vehicles, like the Pz.Beob.Wg.II, were also built.
By 1942, the Panzer III was starting to become outdated. Its armament was inadequate to take on the more recent Allied tanks and its armor was inadequate against enemy anti-tank fire. However, it had a simple, proven, and reliable chassis on which to build conversions. Thus, it was a good choice at this point, as it gave the crew decent protection from enemy fire and was similar in construction to the other vehicles based on the Pz.Kpfw.III (like the StuG III or Bergepanzer III). It would also use the same spare parts as the other vehicles in the family.

The prototype of the Pz.Beob.Wg.III was ready before January 1943, when production started, and the first tanks were in use in June the same year. By April 1944, 262 had been built (however, a figure of 270 is also mentioned) at Deutsche Eisenwerke, in Duisberg. The main variants used for the conversion were obsolescent variants of Panzer III – from Ausf.E to J. However, later, the Ausf.L and M versions were converted as well. As a result, the Pz.Beob.Wg.III inherited a number of sub-variants depending on the parent chassis.

Brand new Pz.Beob.Wg.III with no armament. Colorized by Jaycee “Amazing Ace” Davis. (Source: panzernet.net/gallery/pz3/8)

Suspension

The Panzer III Ausf.E was fitted with torsion bar suspension with six road wheels on individual swing axles. Three track return rollers were positioned above the road wheels. The engine was placed in the back of the hull, while the gearbox was in the front (between the seat of the driver and the seat of the radio-operator). All subsequent variants of the Panzer III (as well as all vehicles based on it) kept the same arrangement. However, a lot of other things were changed in later variants – like in the Ausf.G, where the tracks were extended – and the wheels were adapted to it. Also, a lot of details (like armor, driver’s viewfinders or engine) were improved in the Ausf.F-L variants.

Modifications: a tank that did not fight

The main visual differences between Pz.Kpfw.III and Pz.Beob.Wg.III were contained in the turret and especially noticeable on the front. The cannon was removed and replaced with a ball mount for a machine gun. On the right side of the mantlet, a dummy cannon was installed – a simple aluminum tube masquerading as the 50 mm KwK 38 gun. Interestingly, the earlier Pz.Bef.Wg.III tanks had a more realistic dummy. Moreover, the front armor was increased to 50 mm in vehicles based on early variants of the Panzer III (the Ausf.E-G had only 30 mm of front armor)

Probably the same new Pz.Beob.Wg.III, seen from above. (Source: panzernet.net/gallery/pz3/8)

The roof of the turret was also altered. The TBF-2 periscope (Turmbeobachtungsfernrohr 2, turret observation periscope) was placed on the right side, looking towards the front of the turret. On the left side of the turret roof, the Pz.Beob.Wg.III got a second retractable periscope, called TSR 1 Sehstab (TSR – Turm-Sehrohr, this 1.5 meter periscope was also used in the Panthers). The retractable rangefinder, called SF 14Z, was also mounted in the turret. The turret retained its traverse and was not fixed in place.

The hull was mostly unchanged. The PzKpfw.III’s hull-mounted MG34 was removed, though the ball mount was retained as a pistol port for the crew’s personal weapons. The Pz.Beob.Wg.III also got the sternantenne (the antenna for the Fu 8 radio, with a ‘star-like’ end) at the back of the hull, just like the newer variants of Pz.Bef.Wg.III – a command tank also based on the Panzer III.

Closer look at this vehicle’s turret. It is missing the fake barrel. (Source: Pinterest)

Internally, all the ammunition storage racks were removed and this, added to the internal space gained by removing the hull machine gun, allowed the Pz.Beob.Wg.III to carry its most important systems, a comprehensive set of radios. The Pz.Beob.Wg.III used a Fu 8 (20 km range), a Fu 4, a Fu.Spr.Ger.f (to communicate with the commander of the artillery; 4-5 km range), a Fu.Spr.Ger. (intercom), and a handheld Tornisterfunkgerat “t”.
The crew consisted of five persons: driver, observer and assistant observer, and two radio operators. This squad emphasizes the role of the Beobachtungswagen well – there was no gunner in the crew because there was no offensive armament.

In combat

Pz.Beob.Wg.IIIs were used on the front line alongside the fighting tanks (like the Panzer IV or Tiger). From this position, its crew could observe the battlefield and command artillery fire.
All Panzer III observation tanks were used in Wespe or Hummel-equipped self-propelled artillery units – according to the tables of organization released at the end of 1943, two tanks of this type were attached to each Wespe division, while three were attached per Hummel division. However, it was also sometimes used in assault artillery (StuG) units. The Pz.Beob.Wg.III was in service up to the end of the war. Unfortunately, none of this type of vehicle survives to the present day – only one turret can be viewed in Wehrtechnische Dienststelle Meppen.

Conclusion

The Panzerbeobachtungswagen III was an important vehicle in German combined-arms warfare and its role was crucial for the accurate deployment of artillery fire against enemy targets.

This modification was also a good use of an outdated tank that had lost all effectiveness on the battlefield. Because its role on the front line did not involve direct combat and the vehicle was purposefully made to look like a standard Panzer III (artillery observer vehicles are, understandably, a primary target to an enemy), the Pz.Beob.Wg.III is largely forgotten and its importance is underestimated.

A Panzer III Ausf.G based Panzerbeobachtungswagen III, showing its fake barrel, MG armament and large aerial. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Brian Gaydos.

Gallery

A Soviet soldier beside a wrecked Pz.Beob.Wg.III, presenting the very convincing, fake barrel made of wood. This was definitely a makeshift modification made on the front. (Source: Pinterest)
A prototype of Pz.Beob.Wg.III: its dummy gun is small (which is different from serial vehicles), as it imitates the 37mm KwK 36 gun – an early weapon of the Panzer III. It was completed by Alkett in January 1943. Based on a Pz.Kpfw. III Ausf.F hull, it was used in trials. (Source: panzernet.net/gallery/pz3/8)
Pz.Beob.Wg.III with raised antennas – the Fu 8 antenna in the back is easily visible. (Source: panzernet.net/gallery/pz3/8)
Knocked out Panzerbeobachtungswagen III near to a Soviet ISU-152, somewhere in East Prussia. These observation tanks had absolutely no chance in a close fight against standard tanks. (Source: Flickr)
Pz.Beob.Wg.III covered with “Schurzen” armor, used late in the war on standard Panzer III tanks in order to protect against Soviet anti-tank rifles. (Source: lonesentry.com/blog/panzerbeobachtungswagen-iii.html)

Specifications (for Ausf.G-based conversion)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.38 x 2.91 x 2.435 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 19.3 tons
Crew 5 (driver, two observers, two radio-operators)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM (300 hp) petrol
Speed (on/off road) 40/20 km/h
Range 165 km
Armament MG 34/42 with 2,400 rounds
Armor maximum 50 mm
Total Production 262

Sources

http://www.kfzderwehrmacht.de/Homepage_english/Miscellaneous/Kfz-Numbers/Sd__Kfz__Numbers/Sd_Kfz__143_Pz__Beob__Wg__III/sd_kfz__143_pz__beob__wg__iii.html
“Standard Catalogue of German Military Vehicles”, by David Doyle, copyright for the Polish edition, 2012, Vesper, Poznań
“Panzerbefehlswagen” by Janusz Ledwoch, copyright by the “MILITARIA” publisher, 2017, Warsaw
“Panzer Tracts” No. 3-4, by Thomas L. Jentz & Hillary Louis Doyle, 2011
The Spielberger German Armor & Military Vehicles Series. Vol. III “Panzer III & Its Variants”, Walter J. Spielberger

Red Army Auxiliary Armoured Vehicles, 1930–1945 (Images of War)

Red Army Auxiliary Armoured Vehicles, 1930–1945 (Images of War), by Alex Tarasov

If you ever wanted to learn about probably the most obscure parts of the Soviet tank forces during the Interwar and WW2 – this book is for you.

The book tells the story of the Soviet auxiliary armor, from the conceptual and doctrinal developments of the 1930s to the fierce battles of the Great Patriotic War.

The author not only pays attention to the technical side, but also examines organizational and doctrinal questions, as well as the role and place of the auxiliary armor, as it was seen by the Soviet pioneers of armored warfare Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Vladimir Triandafillov and Konstantin Kalinovsky.

A significant part of the book is dedicated to real battlefield experiences taken from Soviet combat reports. The author analyses the question of how the lack of auxiliary armor affected the combat efficacy of the Soviet tank troops during the most significant operations of the Great Patriotic War, including:

– the South-Western Front, January 1942
– the 3rd Guards Tank Army in the battles for Kharkov in December 1942–March 1943
– the 2nd Tank Army in January–February 1944, during the battles of the Zhitomir–Berdichev offensive
– the 6th Guards Tank Army in the Manchurian operation in August–September 1945

The book also explores the question of engineering support from 1930 to the Battle of Berlin. The research is based mainly on archival documents never published before and it will be very useful for scholars and researchers.
Buy this book on Amazon!


Categories
Has Own Video WW2 German Other Vehicles

Ladungsleger Tiger

German Reich (1944)
Demolition Vehicle – 1 Converted

The Tiger tank is undoubtedly one of the most famous tanks to have ever existed, with dozens of books on the topic covering development, production, and combat. Yet, despite the fame and a lot of hyperbole related to the combat performance, in particular, there is still plenty of misinformation about the tank and its variants, one of which is the existence of a ‘Bergetiger’ or Recovery Tiger variant.

In early summer 1944, a peculiar Tiger tank was captured by the Allied forces in Italy. Missing its main armament and sporting a winch and crane on top of the turret. A British intelligence summary did a short analysis of the vehicle, speculating it may have been some kind of ARV, an assumption which was taken as fact by many persons since.

To Berge or Not to Berge

The German military in WW2 was short of specialized recovery vehicles, often having to rely upon a team of half-tracks coupled together to recover a fallen, crashed, or mud-bound tank. This problem was exacerbated by the introduction of the heavy Tiger tank to combat in August 1942. Right from the first combat action on the Eastern Front, the combination of intense enemy fire breaking tracks and soft ground lead to tanks being crippled or stuck in the mud. With a series of serious mechanical reliability problems to add into the mix, the history of the Tiger is replete with examples of vehicles breaking down or being crippled, but otherwise recoverable. Recoverable, that is, save for the lack of a dedicated recovery vehicle.

A heavy tank creates significant problems for recovery, as demonstrated by this Tiger stuck when it slipped off a road. The double towbars on the front give a small idea as to the forces involved in pulling a 58-tonne tank back onto the road. Source: Schneider

The Tiger was a formidable tank and the most powerful tank in the German arsenal at the time, so abandoning vehicles was the last resort entailing a huge price in both combat power for a unit and also in the loss of the Reichsmarks invested in the production and delivery of it. It was also imperative to try and keep this new weapon system out of enemy hands, so much so that orders published in July 1943 expressly forbade allowing the enemy to capture a Tiger tank. Crews were expected to destroy the vehicle rather than let it fall into enemy hands and self-destruct equipment (Sprengpatronen Z85) was issued from February 1943 for just this purpose. What the German armored forces needed was a dedicated heavy armored recovery vehicle – what they did not get, however, was a Bergetiger, a recovery vehicle based on the Tiger I. There was a recovery vehicle produced from the left-over hulls of the VK45.01(P) known as the Bergetiger, but that is effectively an ARV based on the chassis of the Ferdinand tank destroyer, not that of a Tiger I.

Later, the Germans produced an ARV based on the Panther tank, known as the Bergepanther, but the numbers produced were well below what was actually needed. In the absence of such vehicle, crews would often use captured enemy vehicles such as the M4 Sherman, numerous examples of which were captured, or their own tanks, to try to tow a stuck or broken-down vehicle to a place of safety. Once recovered, it could go back into action or be repaired. However, this maneuver could also be a gamble resulting in the recovering vehicle becoming stuck as well.

Still with its turret (left) and turretless (right), these captured Shermans were used to help fill the gap in recovery vehicles. Captured vehicles shown in use by s.Pz.Abt.504 and s.Pz.Abt.508 respectively. At least two vehicles were required in order to tow a Tiger. Source: Schneider

Recovery was, and still is, always preferable to abandoning or destroying your own tank, but the absence of a heavy recovery vehicle was a serious handicap to German tank forces during the war and this was a fact not lost on the Allies, a background which may help to explain why the fake ‘Bergetiger’ was ‘misidentified’.

Background

Evidence for this vehicle comes from only two places. The first comes from the unit diary for s.Pz.Abt.508 which records that, in late February 1944, the unit moved against the Allied beachhead at Isola Bella, Italy.

An account of the action given by members of Tiger crews that day gives a sense of the sort of combat undertaken and the problems of recovering a broken down Tiger.

“Our artillery began firing at 0500 hours. At 0700 hours we moved out of the assembly area, single file on a muddy road past Cisterna in the direction of Isola Bella… The lead tank, commanded by Oberfähnrich Harder, ran over a mine. While the tank track withstood the shock, the leading road wheel’s torsion bar was broken. The tank had to be towed away. The entire column came to a halt since none of the other vehicle could pass in that marshy area. What to do? Engineers were called up to clear the mines, but for the time being we had to wait. And then it began. The enemy artillery began ranging in on us”

“The artillery fire became heavier by the minute. The rounds were bursting quite close to us. Shrapnel struck our vehicle. One burst shredded two road wheels on the right side, and a fragment pierced the stowage box on the back of the turret. By that time it was noon. A suspicious house about 1,500 metres in front of us was peppered with high-explosive rounds. Enemy infantry ran away.”

“14:00 hours: The enemy fire was unbroken. Then, suddenly, we were hit twice on the rear of the turret; four or five hits more followed. Two Sherman tanks were firing at us from the right. We immediately returned fire; one Sherman began to burn; the other ran for it.”

“Enemy artillery gave us no rest. The [US] artillery spotter directed the salvoes closer and closer to us. Then my commander decided to change position. We pulled off the road past the trail vehicle. Bang! Another mine exploded and blew off a torsion bar. The vehicle was disabled. A dreadful feeling to be sitting in a minefield like that. It was obvious that we were not going to reach our objective. We would have to wait for night before we could have the damaged vehicles withdrew toward the outskirts of Cisterna, from where they could cover the disabled vehicles. Luckily, at that point, the enemy artillery abated.”

“During the next five days, the battalion recovered all of the disabled Tigers, usually at night and under constant artillery fire. Four Tigers were so badly damaged that they were beyond repair. All of the disabled Tigers were under direct observation from Allied forces, so the unarmoured German recovery vehicles were useless, and only Tigers were used to tow the disabled vehicles”

During this action then, the unit received heavy artillery bombardment and several vehicles had struck land mines. One vehicle, which had been leaking fuel was, at least partially, set on fire by white phosphorus rounds fired by American artillery, but all of the tanks were recovered; three of them though were deemed to be unrepairable. It is one of those three tanks in which the diary records was converted into the role of a demolition charge carrier or ‘Ladungsleger’.

“1st to 5th March 1944: All the tanks are recovered, but 3 are not repairable. 1 is converted into a demolition charge carrier”

As discovered by the Allies, the Ladungleger Tiger vehicle found in Italy in summer 1944. Source: Fletcher

The second source states that the vehicle was abandoned and captured by the Allies, possibly broken down, in the early summer of 1944. A white mark on the bottom right-hand corner of the turret is a possible indication of a fire. When it was found, the appearance of the vehicle with the fittings on the turret, such as the winch, jib, and hull tow ring, lead the initial assessment team to conclude was that it was some kind of recovery vehicle. The details are recorded in the British Technical Intelligence Summary No.135 from 19th July 1944 based on photographs from Italy. In the report, the vehicle is described as:

“It appears to consist of a normal Pz Kpfw Tiger modified by the removal of the 88 mm gun and the mounting of a winch and derrick on the turret. The winch is arranged high up at the rear of the turret, and what appears to be a socket for the derrick is provided in the centre of the turret roof near the front and facing forwards. The derrick itself is not shown in the photographs. Although the gun and barrel sleeve have been removed, the mantlet is retained, the opening in its centre being covered by a roughly circular plate with a central aperture for the muzzle of an M.G.”

A final additional piece of information followed on 1st August 1944 stating:

“Reference Summary 135 para.8, it is now learned that the Pz Kpfw Tiger Recovery Vehicle recently examined in Italy was not a standard German equipment, but a local improvisation”

With only one such vehicle recovered, the reports on it seem to have gained no particular attention and the initial idea that this was for recovery has been left essentially unchallenged until recently.

The Vehicle

The vehicle can be seen in photographs to retain traces of Zimmerit, indicating the vehicle was produced after August 1943, but the first pattern of rubber-tired road wheels indicates it was produced before January 1944. As a further complication, the turret has the rear escape hatch, meaning it was made after December 1942, but also the cast commander’s cupola with AA machine gun-ring which was added in July 1943. Putting this together, it appears that the modified vehicle was manufactured sometime between July 1943 and January 1944, meaning a chassis number between 250405 and 250911. The turret is dateable too, as photos of the rear show that it had the pistol port (MP-Klappe) in the back left welded shut. On turrets made prior to July 1943, this port was covered with a large armored cover, but from July 1943, this was replaced with a simpler hold and plug (on a chain). The same is true of the commander’s cupola. The original ‘drum-style’ cupola was replaced with the cast cupola seen on the vehicle starting in July 1943. The turret, therefore, was made post-July 1943.

Front view of the turret showing traces of Zimmerit remain on the mantlet and front left of the turret. Source: Fletcher

The vehicle has one more secret too. It is not a standard Tiger hull which was modified, but a former command version; a ‘Befehlstiger’. This can be proven by the small bracket on the right-hand-side of the turret, between the viewport and mantlet, which was used to mount an Fkl radio antenna. Further, the right-hand-side of the hull shows the remains of two mountings for a radio mast. On the rear right-hand-side deck roof near to the engine grilles, there is also the remains of the base mount which formerly took a Sternantenna. This feature was not found on standard Tigers unless they have been converted back from a Befehlstiger to normal use.

Despite the poor quality of the image, a tiny bracket for the Fkl radio antenna can be identified on the right-hand side of the turret between the viewport and right hand side of the mantlet. Source: Pinterest

Modifications

It is the modifications and fittings on the vehicle which led both to the initial idea that it was for some kind of recovery and, subsequently, to model-making companies, in particular, repeating this assumption. This is exactly what it was though, an assumption. One made during the war without a technical examination or testing and then left for time to inflate into a thing it was not.

Rear right-hand side of the turret showing the escape hatch. The hull shows the Zimmerit mostly worn off in patches. Source: TIIF.de

‘Recovery Vehicle’ Assessment

Upon initial glance, it is reasonable to assume some kind of recovery or workshop nature to the tank, but, as an ARV, this vehicle was less than ideal. The heavy turret remained, which, even without the gun, was several tonnes of unnecessary weight. The only logical reason to retain a turret would be to allow for the rotation of something like a jib. Indeed, the design retained a winch and a jib, and when recovered, the turret was notably turned to the rear. If the turret was retained for armor protection, then the winch was useless anyway, as it left the crew members operating it totally exposed to enemy fire stood on top of a huge tank. Most recovery simply required towing, so a turret-mounted winch was simply not required. On top of this issue is the fact that the winch itself was extremely light, perhaps with a load of a couple of tonnes at most based on the ability of the man/men cranking it and the thin steel cable. Certainly, this was enough to lift the heavy engine deck armor plates or perhaps as much as an engine, but certainly no use for towing a 58-tonne Tiger tank even on a flat, level surface for recovery.

The hand cranked winch at the back of the turret would leave any operator suicidally exposed to enemy fire if this was used in action. On the left side of the turret it can be seen that the Zimmeritt has been removed and the pistol port (MP-Klappe) welded over. The cable for the winch can be seen coming from the wheel but what can also be seen is what appears to be a twisted strand or wire which would have no use for recovery. The circular mark on the turret further up the turret appears to be battle damage. Source: Fletcher

Above the mantlet is the bottom end of the jib consisting of what appears to be not much more than a section of steel pipe. Into this would go the arm of the crane which would have a block and tackle of some kind attached. The limit of the lifting ability of this system was, therefore, subject not just to the ability of the crew to winch it, the strength of the pawls in the ratchet on the winch to hold the weight, or the cable, but also on the bending strength of the arm and strength of the tackle. The entire system was only as strong as the weakest part.

Even the engine deck armor was heavy and a small crane was enormous assistance for the crews to assist in maintenance. Source: Schneider

Analysis of the photos clearly shows that this arm and winch system were a simple affair that were elevated or lowered only by the winch with the fulcrum of the arm located at the base of the ‘pipe’ as a pin welded to a bracket on the turret roof. On the face of the mantlet, a small bracket was welded to the cover-plate which is assumed to have taken a support, probably a hydraulic strut to support the arm.

Front view of the Tiger showing parts of the jib stowed on the glacis. Source: ‘Irwin Collection’ via Tiger I info.

Seen from the front, with the turret traversed, the vehicle can be seen to have two towing eyes attached to the front along with either a tow-bar across the glacis or part of the crane-arm. Directly in the center of the hull on the nose is a welded bracket with some kind of fitting, the purpose for which is unclear, but this presumably was for retaining the cable, chain, and block on the end of the crane-arm when not in use. It would not be of any use for towing a Tiger tank and the entire load on the towed vehicle would end up being borne only by the strength of the welds on this small fitting.

This crane-lift of the engine from a Tiger II belonging to s.Pz.Abt.505 gives a good idea of the size of a crane system required for even an engine, well beyond that offered by the winch on the Tiger recovered from s.Pz.Abt.508. Source: Schneider

It is possible and even probable that the crane and winch found use during maintenance of vehicles. This would have been a very useful tool to have at the disposal of the unit, able to lift engine plates, damaged sections of track, sprockets, or even the engine. Certainly, it is not strong enough or even tall enough to lift the turret off a tank, so despite how useful it may be, it would not help with a transmission change as this required removal of the turret.

Other Ideas

Other ideas have in the past been suggested for this vehicle, including obstacle clearance and moving unexploded ordnance. Neither of these ideas makes sense in practical terms, as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) is not that great of a concern to a unit that they would sacrifice a precious heavy tank to help clear it. Anywhere outside a key strategic point like a bridge, explosives could simply be blown up in situ. As for obstacle clearing, this makes even less sense as the vehicle lacks a bulldozer blade to move rubble or obstacles, there is no way of using the winch to secure an obstacle under fire to haul it away and the weight limit of this small jib would mean that any obstacles would only be lighter ones anyway – the sort which could equally be cleared by a tank crushing them or troops dynamiting them. Mine clearance is another consideration for the tank to address. Landmines had, as shown in the February action at the beachhead for s.Pz.Abt.508, caused them a lot of problems. The mine-sweeper suggestion is based on the idea that the tank could lower a charge over a mine and then withdraw detonate it and then go back and repeat the process to clear a path. This idea seems wholly impractical due to having to either load up with charges with a man exposed on the back to operate the winch under fire or to withdraw far enough for safety which would be far too low to be of effective combat value. No part of that idea covers how a mine would be found in the first place nor why infantry would clear them manually ahead of an armored assault in the first place.

Charge-Layer Assessment

The primary evidence for use as a charge layer comes from the unit records for the s.Pz.Abt.508, which records one of three damaged Tigers being converted to fulfill this charge-layer role. The circumstantial evidence against is based only on a look at the equipment fitted but there is another key piece of evidence to consider, s.Pz.Abt.508 was equipped with Borgward demolition vehicles. Commanded by means of radio control, these small, lightly armored tracked vehicles were guided to a target and detonated, causing an enormously effective blast for clearing concrete bunkers or defended positions like buildings.

Borgward IV belonging to s.Pz.Abt.508. This unmanned demolition carrier was guided to the target by radio system fitted to the Tiger. This can be seen on the right-hand side of the turret. Source: Schneider.

The Borgwards though were uncrewed, and the Tiger-based vehicle clearly was not subject to the major modifications required to switch from a manual driver to a series of control so was not going to be detonated. Further, at least one other crewman (other than the driver) was required inside the turret in order to operate the traverse.

The means of use for the vehicle to lay demolition charges can only be theorized with the evidence of video, manuals or testimony which given the unique status of this vehicle and no living eyewitnesses, is not going to be available. Combining the retention of the turret and the winch/crane system to lay a demolition charge might go as a follows:

  1. use of crane to lift up explosive charge in a safe location for the exposed winch-handler
  2. movement of the charge to the rear by means of turret rotation in order to protect it from enemy fire
  3. advancing to the enemy
  4. rotation of the turret and charging to the front
  5. use of a simple release wire to the winch to release the ratchet
  6. dropping the demolition charge
  7. withdrawal
  8. detonation

Armament

According to the British report on the vehicle, there was a machine gun fitted inside the turret. Facing forwards through a small hole in the cover plate over the hole in the mantlet formerly occupied by the 8.8 cm L/56 gun, the existence of the machine gun as described appears to be based only upon what appears to be the small device just visible within the hole. A machine gun was a reasonable assumption, but with the end of the barrel that far back it is entirely unclear how it could be depressed or elevated. A fixed (although it could rotate with the turret) machine gun is almost useless.

Also, normally, an M.G.34 was mounted in the front right of the hull and the available photographs show the ball mount still in place but no machine gun. This does not mean that there was not one, rather it was likely removed before or after capture. Retaining this machine gun would be easier than actually removing it and having to plate over a hole in the armor, but with a hull machine gun would a second (and fixed) machine gun in the turret have any value?

More likely, therefore, given the purpose described in the unit diary, is that this was simply some kind of tube through which a wire could be passed to the explosive charge. Assuming this charge to be the same as from the Borgward IV vehicles operated by the unit, this would be a 450 kg charge of Ecrasite (trinitrocresol), an ammonia-based explosive insensitive to shock impacts like those from bullets.

A view of the mantlet for the vehicle shows the cover-plate over the hole in the mantlet and the small L-shaped bracket welded to it as a support for the crane jib. Source: TIIF.de
This pair of color images taken in March-April 1944 show a Tiger of s.Pz.Abt.508 (former Befehlstiger) undergoing maintenance outside the Arco bomb factory near Fort Tiburtino in Rome. Although they show the same tank the colors appear to be different due to the filmstock demonstrating the difficulty in identifying colors even from color photos. Regardless, the tank is clearly painted in a camouflage pattern except for the gun which is grey. Source: missing lynx (left) and Ackermann (right).

Conclusion

Although the British examination is a primary source, it has to be countered with another primary source in the form of the unit war diary. With no reason to lie about such a thing and the technical assessment of the vehicle as an ARV in mind, it can be said that the vehicle was not a dedicated ARV but instead was a charge laying vehicle. The success of the vehicle as a charge-layer may not be known and whilst it is certainly possible, or even probable that with a handle winch and light crane available it was used for some maintenance operations in the unit, this does not make it an ARV.

Side view of the Ladungsleger Tiger in Italy some months after its discovery. The vehicle has been stripped of its outer set of wheels. Source: Ebay.de


Illustration of the Panzerkampfwagen VI – Ladungsleger Tiger produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Sources

Jentz, T., Doyle, H. (2000). Germany’s Tiger Tanks: D.W. to Tiger I: Design Production and Modifications. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., PA, USA
Jentz, T., Doyle, H. (1993). Tiger I Heavy Tank 1942-45. New Vanguard. Osprey Publishing, England.
Fletcher, D. (1986). Tiger! – The Tiger Tank: A British View. HMSO, UK
Schneider, W. (2004). Tigers in Combat. Stackpole Books, PA, USA
Jaugitz, M. (1997). German Remote-Control Tank Units 1940-1943. Schiffer Publishing, PA, USA
Jaugitz, M. (2004). German Remote-Control Tank Units 1943-1945. Schiffer Publishing, PA, USA
Sanford, P. (2005). Nitro-Explosives: A Practical Treatise. Public Domain Books.
Tiger1.info
Ackerman, S. (1976). War Album #1. Argus Books. Via Missing Lynx Forum
Wilbeck, C. (2004). Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II. Aberjona Press, PA, USA

Categories
WW2 German Other Vehicles

Gas Powered Fahrschulwanne Tanks

German Reich (1939-1945)
Tank Driving School Vehicles – Unknown Number Built

German Fahrschulwanne

The German Army needed vehicles to train tank crew drivers but the big problem was fuel. Diesel and gasoline (petrol) was required for front line vehicles and there was a massive shortage with no solution in sight. German engineers looked for an alternative fuel source. They came up with two solutions. One was a device that burnt wood and produced combustible gas that could power an engine. The other was to use compressed gas bottles that contained gas similar to that supplied to homes in Germany for cooking.
These vehicles were called “Fahrschulwanne”. This is a term used by those who were trained on these vehicles and a combination of “Fahrschule” (Driving school) and the German term “Wanne”. This does not mean the lower hull of a tank but is malapropism (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect) of the term “Badewanne” (Bathtub).

It is a German Army tradition to use nicknames or funny designations for any kind of vehicle. The modern German Army still does this. It calls their Amphibious-Company M3 Amphibious Rigs “Wasser-Bus”, which means water-bus. The term ‘Fahrschulpanzer’ translates to ‘Driving School Tank’. Fahrschulepanzerjäger means Tank-Destroyer-Training-school-vehicle.
A number of books and websites have miss-identified these vehicles as battlefield smoke generators because of the similarity to the Allied smoke generators.

Wood Gas powered tanks – Holzgas

The commercial term for a wood gas generator, or Holzkohevergaser in German, was the Imbert-holz-gas system which then was shortened to Holzgas. The gas was used to fuel vehicle engines thus saving on petrol/gasoline and diesel. The Imbert system is a closed external combustion system designed to produce gas that can be cooled and used in an internal combustion engine.
The Imbert system uses wood pellets and the gas produced needs cleaning and cooling prior to passing to the cylinders of the vehicle, otherwise it would choke up with residue. During the production process, biomass or other carbon-containing materials are gasified within the oxygen-limited closed environment of a wood gas generator to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
These gases can then be burnt as a fuel within an oxygen rich environment to produce carbon dioxide, water and heat. In Germany, around 500,000 gas powered vehicles were in use at the end of the war due to the lack of petroleum.
Holzgas wood gas burner diagram
Holzgas wood gas burner diagram

Town Gas powered tanks – Stadtgas

As WWII progressed, gasoline / petrol and diesel became increasingly scarce in Germany. In order to save precious fuel, the Panzer driving schools (Panzer Fahrschule) frequently used vehicles equipped with Stadtgas (city gas) in the form of LPG compressed gas bottles fixed to the outside of the tank chassis for safety reasons. A German fuel shortage in World War 2, caused largely by Germany’s small natural oil reserves, was a factor in the German defeat. The Allied bombing program also depleted urgently needed stocks of fuel.
Prior to WW2 Germany, was heavily dependent on foreign fuel imports. It consumed 44.6 million barrels of oil annually and only produced 12.8 million barrels of domestic oil and synthetic oil. Germany did have a large deposit of coal and lignite which enabled them to increase the amount of synthetic fuel produced but it was never enough. This was one of the reasons Hitler decided to open up the Eastern front, in order to capture oil production plants.
German towns used coal gas sometimes called town gas or Stadtgas for heating, lighting and cooking. It was made by blowing air through an incandescent fuel bed (commonly coke or coal) in a gas producer. The reaction of fuel with insufficient air for total combustion produces carbon monoxide (CO); this reaction is exothermic and self-sustaining. It was discovered that adding steam to the input air of a gas producer would increase the calorific value of the fuel gas by enriching it with CO and hydrogen (H2) produced by water gas reactions.
Luckily, Town gas or Stadtgas can be bottled. When mildly compressed it easily changes to a liquid state. This allows a large amount of gas (stored energy) to be contained in a relatively small space. The reverse process is just as fortunate – if decompressed (allowed to escape the pressure vessel) the liquid gas will quickly revert to its gaseous state (vaporize).

Fahrschulpanzer I

One of the first tanks to be used as a turretless driving school vehicle was the Panzer I. At first, the fuel shortage problems had not been realized, and these vehicles did not need Holzgas or Stadtgas. The tank school was still using petrol to fuel their vehicles. This soon changed and they were quickly converted. Some were powered by a Holzgas wood burner and others by compressed Stadtgas in high-pressure bottles.
The first Panzer I batches were delivered without superstructure or turret, to be used as driver training vehicles.
The first Panzer I batches were delivered without superstructure or turret, to be used as driver training vehicles.
These vehicles were named Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A
These vehicles were named Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A
Another image of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A, at work in a winter scenery.
Another image of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A, at work in a winter scenery.
A group of Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.As fording a shallow lake or river.
A group of Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.As fording a shallow lake or river.
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.B with what looks like a Stadgas generator.
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.B with what looks like a Stadgas generator.
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A with an experimental Festbettvergaser Holzgas generator
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A with an experimental Festbettvergaser Holzgas generator
The rear of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen I with Holzgas generator
The rear of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen I with Holzgas generator
Several Holzgas Fahrschulpanzer Is were modified to resemble tanks and used to train the Volkssturm in 1945.
Several Holzgas Fahrschulpanzer Is were modified to resemble tanks and used to train the Volkssturm in 1945.

This Panzer I Ausf.A chassis is powered by a wood gas burner and is fitted with a Panzer III turret. It was used for turret crew training.
German tank school wood gas powered Fahrschulpanzer I Ausf.A chassis and a Panzer III turret armed with 3.7 cm (1.46 in) gun used for teaching three-man turret crew procedures
German tank school wood gas powered Fahrschulpanzer I Ausf.A chassis and a Panzer III turret armed with 3.7 cm (1.46 in) gun used for teaching three-man turret crew procedures.

Fahrschulpanzer II

After the invasion of France in May 1940, the Panzer II light tank was considered obsolete and was withdrawn from front line service. Some were issued to Panzer schools. Some were also fitted with a tall wood burning gasifier combustion chamber of the Holzgas system standing erect, fixed to the rear of the tank. The long tubes were used to store and cool the gas down before it was piped into the engine.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen with Imbert Holzvergasser wood gas burner with tanks from Pz.Abt 202, at Sentvid, Medvode near Ljubljana, Yugoslavia
Fahrschulepanzerwagen II with Imbert Holzvergasser wood gas burner with tanks from Pz.Abt 202, at Sentvid, Medvode near Ljubljana, Yugoslavia
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen II being transported by rail, next to an Italian M15/42 with an added rear bustle.
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen II being transported by rail, next to an Italian M15/42 with an added rear bustle.
Another Fahrschulepanzerwagen II. These photographs were taken in 1945 Yugoslavia and had been captured by Soviet forces along with some Italian tanks.
Another Fahrschulepanzerwagen II. These photographs were taken in 1945 Yugoslavia and had been captured by Soviet forces along with some Italian tanks.
Another view of the same Fahrschulepanzerwagen II.
Another view of the same Fahrschulepanzerwagen II.

Fahrschulpanzer III

The Panzer III tank was the main battle tank of the German army from mid-1940 to 1943. Tank crews needed to be trained on that vehicle type. They could not be expected to learn how to drive a tank in a light tank, like a Panzer I or Panzer II, and directly master a much heavier and bigger machine.
Special versions of the Panzer III tank were built without a turret. They had a large open central area which held the students and the instructor.
This Fahrschulpanzer III was powered by gasoline (petrol). This photo was taken early on in the war.
This Fahrschulpanzer III was powered by gasoline (petrol). This photo was taken early on in the war.
Notice that there are only five track road wheels on this Fahrschulepanzerwagen III, and not the normal six wheels. This tank is a rare example of a Panzer III Ausf.A, the first version of the Panzer III that entered service with the German Army. They were first delivered in 1937. The wheels are bigger than the wheels used in later versions.
Notice that there are only five track road wheels on this Fahrschulepanzerwagen III, and not the normal six wheels. This tank is a rare example of a Panzer III Ausf.A, the first version of the Panzer III that entered service with the German Army. They were first delivered in 1937. The wheels are bigger than the wheels used in later versions.
This Fahrschulpanzer III was converted to run on compressed Stadtgas. Four large gas bottles were strapped to the top of the track guard, two on each side.
This Fahrschulpanzer III was converted to run on compressed Stadgas. Four large gas bottles were strapped to the top of the track guard, two on each side.

Fahrschulpanzer IV

The Panzer IV tank chassis was also used for tank driver training. Some had the turret removed and Stadtgas bottles fitted at the rear of the vehicle. A special boxed container was mounted in a frame at the end of the engine compartment. The gas cylinders were placed vertically inside the box.
A good side view of a Fahrschulepanzer IV and its Stadtgas cylinders.
A good side view of a Fahrschulepanzer IV and its Stadtgas cylinders.
The front part of the Stadgas cylinder holder. Some piping can be seen, which probably took the gas from the containers to the engine.
The front part of the Stadgas cylinder holder. Some piping can be seen, which probably took the gas from the containers to the engine.
A better view of the cylinders from the rear.
A better view of the cylinders from the rear.
A turreted Panzer IV with the gas cylinders fixed in a horizontal position on the outside of the tank at the rear.
A turreted Panzer IV with the gas cylinders fixed in a horizontal position on the outside of the tank at the rear.
Another turreted Panzer IV, but with the gas cylinders fixed vertically at the rear. Also notice the full Schurzens.
Another turreted Panzer IV, but with the gas cylinders fixed vertically at the rear. Also, notice the full Schurzens.

Fahrschulpanzer I, petrol powered
Fahrschulpanzer I, petrol powered
Fahrschulpanzer I petrol powered tank with raised rear for students
Fahrschulpanzer I petrol powered tank with raised rear for students
Fahrschulpanzer I Holzgas with a mock-up turret. It was meant to simulate an enemy tank during the training of Volkssturm troops
Fahrschulpanzer I Holzgas with a mock-up turret. It was meant to simulate an enemy tank during the training of Volkssturm troops
Fahrschulpanzer II Holzgas
Fahrschulpanzer II Holzgas
Fahrschulpanzer Sd.Kfz.251/1 Ausf.C
Fahrschulpanzer Sd.Kfz.251/1 Ausf.C
Sd.Kfz.251/1 Red Cross ambulance powered by Stadtgas
Sd.Kfz.251/1 Red Cross ambulance powered by Stadtgas

Fahrschulpanzer V Panther

The Fahrschule Panther used six Stadtgas bottles, three on each side, in brackets attached to a platform. A system of conduits and nozzles ran over the engine deck to connect the bottles to the Panther’s fuel system. Because of the obvious safety risks vehicles with Stadtgas were only used for training and didn’t see combat.
Stadtgas Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther Ausf.D with its crew in front of it
Stadtgas Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther Ausf.D with its crew in front of it
Another photo of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther powered by Stadtgas cylinders. The image is obviously overexposed.
Another photo of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther powered by Stadtgas cylinders. The image is obviously overexposed.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther powered by Stadtgas cylinders. Notice there is no hull machine gun.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther powered by Stadtgas cylinders. Notice that the hull machine-gun flap is closed.

Fahrschulpanzer VI Tiger

Many people may be shocked to discover that the feared German Army Tiger tank was also modified to run on cooking gas and wood gas. They were not used in combat on the front line. They were used as Fahrschulpanzer Tiger tanks (driving school Tiger tanks). The first photograph shows
A Tiger tank chassis converted to run on the Holzgas system. The wood burner combustion unit is in the middle at the rear and it is flanked on each side by the vertical gas storage and cooling cylinders.
A Tiger tank chassis converted to run on the Holzgas system. The wood burner combustion unit is in the middle at the rear and it is flanked on each side by the vertical gas storage and cooling cylinders.
Tiger tanks that were converted to be powered by Stadtgas. The four compressed gas cylinders were fixed to the rear of the vehicle, two on each side.
Tiger tanks that were converted to be powered by Stadtgas. The four compressed gas cylinders were fixed to the rear of the vehicle, two on each side.
Notice that the cylinder mounting is different from the previous photograph. That had the top of the gas cylinder pointing towards the front of the vehicle at a downwards angle, while this vehicle other has it pointing to the rear of the tank.
Notice that the cylinder mounting is different from the previous photograph. That had the top of the gas cylinder pointing towards the front of the vehicle at a downwards angle, while this vehicle other has it pointing to the rear of the tank.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen VI Tiger tank with mechanical problems. The Stadtgas cylinders can be seen at the back.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen VI Tiger tank with mechanical problems. The Stadtgas cylinders can be seen at the back.
This photo shows the way the Stadtgas cylinders were fitted at the rear of the tank school Tigers.
This photo shows the way the Stadtgas cylinders were fitted at the rear of the tank school Tigers.
Stadtgas powered German tank school Tiger on parade. The gas cylinders are at the back.
Stadtgas powered German tank school Tiger on parade. The gas cylinders are at the back.
German tank driving school lesson gone wrong - Credits: Micro antic
German tank driving school lesson gone wrong – Credits: Micro antic
Tiger I tank powered by Stadtgas cylinders
Stadtgas powered German tank school Tiger on heathland. The gas cylinders are at the back.

Fahrschulpanzer Beutepanzer M14/41

Turretless captured Italian M14/41 tank powered by Holzgas used to train driversTurretless Beutepanzer captured Italian M14/41 tank powered by Holzgas used to train drivers. It has a Balkenkreuz cross on the superstructure. It could be a Semovente M42 75/18 SPG. It is hard to tell as they use the same chassis.

Fahrschulpanzer Marder III

Self-propelled anti-tank gun crews also had to learn how to drive their vehicles. This is a photograph of a Marder III Ausf.M converted into a Fahrschulpanzer Marder III tank driving school vehicle. As the vehicle was smaller than the tank chassis used in driver training, only two gas cylinders could be fitted to the outside on the Marder III.
Fahrschulepanzerjäger 38(t) Ausf.M Marder III Holzgasantrieb
Fahrschulepanzerjäger 38(t) Ausf.M Marder III Holzgasantrieb

Fahrschulpanzer 38(t)

The Czechoslovakian built Panzer 38(t) tank chassis was used as a basis to manufacture tank hunters like the Hetzer and self-propelled anti-tank and artillery guns. It was also used to make wood gas powered German tank driving school vehicles.
The tall towers fixed to the rear of the vehicle are the wood burning gasifier Holzgas combustion unit. It was an airtight vessel into which was introduced a charge of wood, charcoal, or anthracite coal. The fuel was heated either internally or externally in order to initiate a self-sustaining gasification of the fuel in an oxygen deprived environment.
The precipitation tank is on the side, behind the three long gas cooling and storage pipes affixed to both sides of the tank chassis.
Fahrschulpanzer 38(t)
Four Fahrschulpanzer 38(t) vehicles in a line in a post-WW2 scrap yard, waiting to be cut up.

Fahrschulpanzer Sd.Kfz.251/1 Halftrack

German military driving schools also converted Sd.Kfz.251 half tracks to run on wood gas Holzgas burners as well as compressed Stadtgas. The half-tracks that were fitted with a wood burner, like in the first photograph below, had the gas from the burner piped into the reservoir, and then into the modified engine carburetor. Wood-gas modified vehicles were therefore technically a dual fuel vehicle. The self-sustaining gasification of the wood charcoal or coal required another fuel to start the process.
Gas reservoir sizes depended upon the vehicle, engine, and gasifier size. The gas storage containers were smaller on the half-tracks, as they had an engine with a better fuel consumption rate compared with the very thirst tank engines. In the case of small engines, like on the Kubelwagen car, the wood gas was piped directly into the modified engine carburetor.
Sd.Kfz.250/1 Ausf.A leichter Schützenpanzerwagen (Holzgas)
Sd.Kfz.250/1 Ausf.A leichter Schützenpanzerwagen (Holzgas)
You can see the Holzgas wood burner on the back of this half-track
You can see the Holzgas wood burner on the back of this half-track
Schützenpanzerwagen Sd.Kfz.251/1 Ausf.B Stadtgas
Schützenpanzerwagen Sd.Kfz.251/1 Ausf.B Stadtgas
This Stadtgas powered half-track has been used as a battlefield ambulance
This Stadtgas powered half-track has been used as a battlefield ambulance.
This wood gas powered German half track has a lower profile burner at the back
This wood gas powered German half-track has a lower profile burner at the back.

German Supply vehicles

Many German supply vehicles that operated behind the front-line were fitted with wood gas Holzgas burners because of fuel shortages.
Many German supply vehicles that operated behind the front-line were fitted with wood gas Holzgas burners because of fuel shortages.