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WW2 German prototypes

Panzer II Ausf. H & Ausf. M (VK9.03)

Nazi Germany (1940-42)
Light/Reconnaissance Tank – At Least One Prototype Hull Completed

At the start of the Second World War, the Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks far outnumbered any of the other tanks in the German inventory. Lightly armed and armored, these fragile machines were already nearing obsolescence by the time Poland was invaded in September 1939. Conscious of the fact that these tanks required modernisation if they were to remain viable into the future, in the late 1930s, German engineers embarked upon a plethora of projects to improve the Panzer I and Panzer II. One of the first attempts was the VK 9.01, a project begun in 1938 to enhance the mobility of the Panzer II by introducing technologically advanced automotive components and a new suspension into the design. Conceived in July 1940, the VK 9.03 was the next major iteration of this series, featuring marginally thicker armor and a more powerful engine than its predecessor. Despite these limited improvements, the VK 9.03 came close to gaining approval for mass production as both the Panzer II neuer Art (new model) Ausf. H and the Panzer II Ausf. M.
Like the rest of the VK 9 family of tanks, the design of the VK 9.03 was closely intertwined with the tank design philosophy of Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, an influential engineer and a leading figure in the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department). Following Kniepkamp’s belief that speed and firepower were of paramount importance in tank design, the VK 9 series was designed to incorporate the latest automotive technology developed by German engineers, such as new transmissions and steering systems. In theory, this sophisticated technology would create a more mobile platform that was easier for its crews to operate. In reality, the immature, temperamental automotive components proved to be an unending nightmare for the tanks’ crews.
Yet even before the technological problems became apparent, the VK 9.03 lived a precarious existence. Right from the moment of its inception in July 1940, it was merely one project among a litany of contradictory and seemingly mutually exclusive designs aimed at creating a new model Panzer II. At the same time as the VK 9.03 was struggling to get off the drawing board, work was ongoing on several more promising new model Panzer II projects, such as the VK 13 series with its more spacious interior and four-man crew. Moreover, operational experience in the Polish and French campaigns had raised questions over the utility of such lightly armed and armored tanks outside the sphere of reconnaissance. In light of these realities, it would appear miraculous that the VK 9.03 project was even approved, let alone considered for mass production, were it not for the muddled and irrational state of German tank procurement; a circumstance that allowed projects such as the VK 9.03 to gain their own momentum irrespective of wider economic considerations and the needs of the troops in the field.

Castles in the Sky: The Transformation of German Tank Procurement

The early war Nazi economy was beset by problems and inefficiencies caused by a contradictory ‘guns and butter’ policy, overlapping administrative jurisdictions, and the mismanagement of resources. These underlying structural issues that afflicted the Nazi state were reflected in the disorganized nature of the German tank procurement system of 1940. It was in this context that the visionary and talented engineer Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp came to prominence.
As the chief of Waffen Prüfen 6 (Wa Prüf 6), a subdivision of the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department) responsible for overseeing the design of new tanks and other motorized vehicles, Kniepkamp was involved in nearly all of the major German AFV projects of the Second World War. Under his stewardship, this department of engineers came to usurp the authority of Inspektorat 6 (In 6), the Army’s procurement office for armored vehicles and other such similar equipment. Whereas In 6 had previously determined which kinds of tanks the Heer needed and Wa Prüf 6 had merely translated these stipulations into engineering specifications, by the late 1930s, Wa Prüf 6 began to assume greater control over what types of tanks should be produced. This outsized influence resulted in a situation where tanks were designed less in accordance with Army requirements than with the whims and wishes of the engineers in Wa Prüf 6 and the design firms. Consequently, the doors were opened to a smorgasbord of projects, many of which were technologically sophisticated, yet also in many cases impractical, unnecessary, and unwanted.
In a typical example of this design frenzy, by the end of 1939, the design firm Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (M.A.N.) was working on three separate projects to improve the Panzer II: the VK 9.01 (the future Panzer II Ausf. G), the VK 13.01 (which later evolved into the VK 13.03, more commonly known as the Panzer II Ausf. L ‘Luchs’), and the more heavily armored VK 16.01 (later adopted as the Ausf. J). This is reflective of the lack of oversight and direction in German tank procurement at the time; German engineers could not decide whether an improved Panzer II should be more mobile or if it should have greater armored protection, nor could they figure out whether it should have a three-man or four-man crew. Rather than decide on a specific approach, they simply squandered resources on pursuing all three, despite the inherent overlaps and contradictions among these designs.
Although one might expect that the onset of war would have put paid to this free-for-all in favor of a more rationalized production schedule, the chaos was, if anything, exacerbated. The VK 9.03 emerged from this increasingly complex web of intersecting designs and the competing procurement initiatives engendered by this situation.
Note to the reader: Most of the projects to improve the Panzer II received a designation in the VK index. Created by Kniepkamp, this index categorised the configuration of the vehicle (VK/HK – Vollketten/Halbketten – Full-tracked/Half-tracked), its projected weight, and its position in the development cycle. So VK 9.03 referred to the third design for a (projected) nine tonne fully-tracked armored vehicle. For the purposes of consistency and clarity, I have elected to use the format VK X.0X or VK XX.0X when referring to VK index numbers in this article. Publications and period documents refer to VK designations in a multitude of different ways, thus VK 901 or V.K.901 can both be considered ‘correct’ alternatives to VK 9.01.

Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp in uniform. After receiving responsibility for overseeing the creation of new tank designs in 1936, Kniepkamp became one of the most influential figures in German Second World War armored fighting vehicle development. Under Kniepkamp’s guidance, German engineers initiated the designs for several famous tanks, including the Panther, the Tigers, and the various E-series projects. Although nowhere near as well-known as their contemporaries, the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 epitomized Kniepkamp’s conception of the ideal light tank. Source: Wikimedia Commons

More of the Same: The VK 9.03 Design

In June 1940, not long after the Heeres Waffenamt had delivered the disappointing news to In 6 that mass production of the VK 9.01 would not be possible until November 1941, In 6 instructed Wa Prüf 6 to commence work on the VK 9.03. With a projected weight of 10.5 tonnes, this new design was to sport thicker armor and a more powerful engine than the VK 9.01. However, in nearly all other respects, the characteristics and components remained exactly the same as its predecessor to such an extent that it is quicker to list the differences than it is the similarities.
Even though improved armor protection was stipulated as one of the primary goals of this project, the slight weight expansion did not permit a vast increase in armor thicknesses over the VK 9.01. In fact, only the sides of the hull and the rear were to be increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm, whilst the rest of the armor remained the same with a maximum of 30 mm on the front of the hull. Although the increase in the thickness of the hull sides and rear may have rendered the VK 9.03 slightly more resistant to anti-tank rifles, which had knocked-out many Panzer IIs in Poland, this was hardly a massive increase that would drastically increase the survivability of this tank of the battlefield.
The other most significant change implemented in the VK 9.03 was the installation of a more powerful Maybach HL 66 P engine. Originally developed in 1938 for the HK (meaning Halbketten – ‘Half-tracked’) 9.01 half-track design, Maybach had manufactured five of these engines by the end of 1940 followed by 14 more in 1941. Rated at 200 hp, this engine was calculated to be capable of providing sufficient power to allow the VK 9.03 to attain a maximum road speed of 65 km/h, an impressive speed for a tracked vehicle of that time period. Given that the lighter VK 9.01 could reach 67 km/h with its less powerful 150 hp HL 45 engine, this did not really represent an improvement; instead, it merely ensured that the VK 9.03 maintained the mobility of its predecessor.
Indeed, on 22 June 1940, engineers attempted to derive the automotive characteristics of the VK 9.03 by calculating the effects of installing a Maybach HL 66 engine and a strengthened VG 15319 transmission able to withstand higher torque into a heavier but otherwise unchanged VK 9.01 hull. Whereas in these initial studies the VK 9.01 suspension was not altered in any way, the Kgs. 61/300/10 tracks of the VK 9.01 were eventually exchanged for wider Kgs. 63/360/90 tracks, thereby increasing the wheelbase of the vehicle from 2.00 to 2.08 m.
Aside from these changed characteristics, the VK 9.03 remained virtually identical to the VK 9.01, retaining the three-man crew (comprising a commander/gunner, radio operator, and driver), and the 2 cm Kw.K. 38 and M.G.34 (Pz.) armament. Due to the disparity in the number of surviving documents between M.A.N. (the designer of the hull) and Daimler-Benz (designer of the turret and superstructure), details concerning the initial design of the turret and superstructure for the VK 9.03 are scant. However, given the extensive similarities between the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03, it is likely that the turret and superstructure would have resembled that fitted to the VK 9.01, but this is merely speculation.
Even though the VK 9.03 does not appear to have offered any substantial enhancements to the already delayed VK 9.01, Wa Prüf 6 had awarded contracts to M.A.N. to design and build five Versuchs-Fahrgestell (trial chassis) and Daimler-Benz to design the Aufbau (turrets and superstructures) by the end of 1940.
Ordered already in June 1940, the first of these VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell was to be equipped with the Maybach VG 20417 transmission and the LG 45 L steering unit, the latter of which had already been proposed for the aborted VK 9.02. Considered to be at the cutting edge of German automotive technology for the time, these components were specifically selected for the VK 9 series in order to deliver the excellent mobility and ease of operation deemed so essential by Kniepkamp. In a cruel twist of irony unbeknownst to the engineers at the time, these ill-fated immature components were to prove a constant source of breakdowns when they were trialed in the VK 9.01.

A factory-fresh 0-Serie VK 9.01 (adopted as the Panzer II Ausf. G) photographed by Wa Prüf 6 in 1941. The VK 9.03 shared many of the features introduced with this design, including the stabilized armament and the torsion bar suspension with overlapping road wheels. Although it is unclear whether or not the VK 9.03 was originally intended to use the same superstructure and turret as the VK 9.01, it is likely that it would have looked similar given the VK 9.03’s overall resemblance to the VK 9.01 design. Source: warspot.ru

The Great Expectations: Plans for Mass Production

The numerous similarities between the design of the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 were paralleled by the equally ambitious plans for mass production. Formed before the technologically advanced automotive components used by the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 had even undergone thorough testing, these lofty schemes envisioned contracts for thousands of tanks that would re-equip the combat reconnaissance units in the Panzer Divisions and the Motorised Infantry Divisions.
As soon as 8 January 1941, by which point the majority of the design drawings for the VK 9.03 hull had been completed, the Waffenamt awarded a contract to M.A.N. for the production of 500 VK 9.03 hulls. Presumably, Daimler-Benz, which had been tasked with designing the Aufbau on 23 September 1940, also received a production contract for 500 turrets and superstructures to be mated to these hulls. This contract suggests that the VK 9.03 had displaced the VK 9.01 as the primary candidate for a mass-produced new model of Panzer II, as whilst mass production of the VK 9.01 was frequently discussed, a series production contract beyond the 75 0-Series trial hulls never materialized.
Regardless of these optimistic plans, it is important to recognize that by the time this contract had been awarded, M.A.N. was only just on the cusp of completing the first VK 9.01 0-Serie hulls that had been ordered over a year ago. This vast chasm between the aspirations for the VK 9 project and its tangible results were exposed in an almost comical segment of a meeting concerning the status of developmental vehicles held on 23 May 1941 between M.A.N staff and General Radlmeier, a representative of the Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition (Reich Ministry of Armaments and Munitions). Perhaps understandably, Radlmeier had visited M.A.N. with the impression that the VK 9.03 was ready to progress to series production; after all, according to information available at the Ministry, VK 9.03 mass production was to begin in January 1942. It fell to M.A.N. staff to explain to a reportedly ‘very astonished’ Radlmeier that the production of the first five Versuchs-Fahrgestell had only just started, and that M.A.N. had scheduled the production of the first series production VK 9.03 for April 1942. In a statement that did not bode well for the innovative and unproven VK 9.03, this segment of the report concluded with Radlmeier’s ominous pronouncement that future Panzer production would focus on mass production of mature tank designs on automobile-style assembly lines.
Yet despite this telling indication that the pressures of wartime economic management were starting to militate against novel and technologically complex designs such as the VK 9.03, this new model of Panzer II remained firmly entrenched in the Heer’s long-range planning. On 30 May 1941, a document known as the Schwerpunktprogramm ( Priority Program – Schwerpunkt being a German term, often used in relation to ‘Blitzkrieg’, that refers to the focal point of a particular effort) outlined the production quantities of all vehicles necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Heeres Panzerprogramm 41 (Army Tank Program 1941). In order to outfit a total of 20 new Panzer Divisions and 10 new Motorised Infantry Divisions, the Waffenamt calculated that the Heer needed 2,592 VK 9.03 tanks for combat reconnaissance in Panzer units, as well as another 8,111 VK 9.03 armored reconnaissance vehicles for headquarters, infantry, motorized infantry, Panzer, pioneer, reconnaissance, and tank-hunter units. Moreover, 1,483 VK 9.03 tanks were to be used for commanding tank-hunter units and for artillery observation in artillery units, not to mention 1,028 chassis for tank destroyers mounting a 5 cm anti-tank gun and 360 chassis for self-propelled 15 cm s.I.G. 33 guns.
Such colossal demands necessitated a correspondingly prodigious production output. To meet these targets, the document declared that 300 Panzer II would need to be completed by April 1942, 1,380 by 1 April 1943, 4,980, by 1 April 1944, and 13,980 by 1 April 1945. In a concession to the inconveniences of reality, it was accepted that production of the standard Panzer II (the Ausf. F) would have to continue until VK 9.03 production could begin in earnest, whenever that might be. Unfortunately for these assiduous planners, such targets, if they were ever obtainable in the first place, would require a degree of economic rationalization that, at least in the case of Panzer II development, was sorely lacking among both industry and the Waffenamt.
Rather than prioritize effort on perfecting a single design that would have been suitable for the kind of mass production on assembly lines desired by economists, the Waffenamt continued to pursue multiple projects, without deciding on a clear trajectory for future production. Thus, by August 1941, the contract for 500 VK 9.03 had fragmented into a contract for 250 VK 9.03 and 250 VK 13.03, another even heavier Panzer II variant that was intended to use the same automotive technology as the VK 9 series but would mount a more spacious two-man turret. A sixth VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell was also ordered, with the first one that had been ordered back in June 1940 expected to be completed by September of 1941.
In the space of just a few months, the VK 9.03 project was to splinter still further, as more new additions were proposed and several alterations introduced. Consequently, the yawning gap that separated German tank design from the needs of troops on the battlefield and the imperative of economic rationalization became a chasm.

A photo of the Maybach HL 66 P engine from a technical manual published in May 1942. Capable of producing 200 hp at 3,000 rpm, this engine was proposed for installation in the VK 9.03. The same engine was later employed by the VK 13.03, an alternative new model of Panzer II also developed by M.A.N. Source: valka.cz

The Fragmentation of the VK 9.03 Project

Back in May 1940, M.A.N. and Waffenamt officials had reassured one another that mass production of the Panzer II neuer Art, then in the guise of the VK 9.01, would be underway by November 1941. However, as November approached, the prospect of mass production was not even on the horizon, let alone the foreseeable future. Although a total of 15 of the 75 VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis had been delivered to the Heer by the end of August 1941, their performance in trials held at the Berka testing ground was far from encouraging, with numerous breakdowns and teething troubles afflicting the new automotive components. In any case, the VK 9.01 had already been superseded as the candidate for mass production by the VK 9.03, which was itself also facing competition from the new VK 13.03 design.
The precarious future of the VK 9.03 was compounded still further by the sudden introduction of new members of the VK 9 family. Following another visit from General Radlmeier on 15 August 1941, M.A.N. reported that he was ‘especially interested’ in new tank designs, namely the VK 9.04 and VK 9.05. According to the report, these designs were not to be produced in their own separate batches, but instead, as part of the 250 VK 9.03 ordered on 1 August 1941. Just as the VK 9.01 had been displaced by the VK 9.03, the VK 9.03 also faced being made redundant by new designs in its own family of armored vehicles.
Unfortunately, very little is known about the VK 9.04 and VK 9.05, other than the fact that they existed. Asides from the aforementioned report of Radlmeier’s visit, the only other snippet of information concerning the VK 9.05 comes from a report on engine development submitted by Maybach on 31 March 1942. In this report, the VK 9.05 is mentioned as having a 400 hp Maybach HL 100 petrol engine and a Lenkkupplung steering unit. Given the absence of any other details, it is highly likely that the VK 9.04 and VK 9.05 remained nothing more than conceptual designs.
If these issues with technology, production, and competing designs did not place the VK 9.03 in sufficient jeopardy, the nature of the war on the Eastern Front was also starting to call into question the validity of expending such a vast amount of effort and resources on a light tank. The experience of fighting against Soviet tanks catalyzed plans to upgun the existing Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks, and as a result, more emphasis came to be placed on creating new designs with more firepower and greater armored protection. As one of Germany’s primary producers of armored vehicles, trucks and heavy industrial equipment, M.A.N. was forced to focus its efforts on sustaining production of the Panzer III and later the famous Panther. This changing wartime context, therefore, left little room for mass production of a vulnerable, immature, unproven and complex light tank such as the VK 9.03.
The implications of this situation were made apparent in a report by the assembly department of M.A.N. dated 18 August 1941. According to this report, the requirement to produce 20 Panzer III and 50 VK 9.03 per month would necessitate the expansion of the assembly hall in order to accommodate 125 new machine tools, as well as a new department for the working of gear wheels. This latter provision was particularly important, as the finishing of gear wheels was one of the major bottlenecks of Panzer production at the M.A.N. assembly hall. Since there had been delays in the arrival of gear finishing facilities at M.A.N., the factory was compelled to sub-contract the work to other factories such as Zahnräderfabriken Augsburg, and would be unable to increase its own output over the next two years. Since the VK 9.03 would have needed three times as many gears as the Panzer III, this setup was likely to seriously impede mass production of the VK 9.03.
The report goes on to note that the equipment used to machine holes in the hull sides for torsion bar suspensions would need to be reworked for the VK 9.03, further delaying the startup of mass-production. This report, which provides an interesting glimpse into the somewhat mundane factors that influenced tank production, did not bode well for the VK 9.03. Faced with these hurdles to overcome and the need to increase production of arguably more relevant designs, it must have begged the question: was the VK 9.03 worth the effort?
These difficult questions were of little concern to those involved with the design process, who continued to run rampant proposing new additions to the VK 9.03. One such example of this was the idea to replace the 2 cm Kw.K. 38 main armament of the VK 9.03 with a more powerful 2.8 cm self-loading cannon derived from the 2.8 cm sPzB 41 heavy anti-tank rifle. Known by several names, including Geschütz 8202, Wg 8202 SLMG, 2.8 cm Kw.K. 41, and then, after delays with its production, 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42, this weapon was fitted with a Mauser-designed gas pressure loader. It was calculated to be capable of firing 15-20 aimed rounds per minute and was intended to be able to penetrate 60 mm of armor at 30 degrees from a range of 100 meters when firing the 2.8 cm Pzgr. 41 round.
Reflecting the breakdown of the German procurement system, it was Hitler’s decision to mount this gun in the VK 9.03 that initiated work in this direction. On 11 September 1941, the Heeres Waffenamt was requested to produce 200 Geschütz 8202 for delivery between April 1942 and April 1943. Needless to say, progress was not so swift. In a July 1942 report providing an overview of the status of equipment development by the Heer, it was revealed that ten 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42 from a Versuchs-Serie (trial series) of 24 were available and that the rest of the contract was on track for completion by 1 October 1942, presumably referring to the order for 200 placed in September 1941. However, after this report, the gun simply vanishes and there is no evidence to suggest that any from the mass production contract were produced or that any were fitted to a VK 9.03 turret.

The 2.8 cm sPzB 41 heavy anti-tank rifle from which the 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42 was derived. Equipped with a progressively tapering barrel to increase muzzle velocity, this weapon operated on the squeeze bore principle. Seen here mounted on a standard field carriage, this weapon was also mounted on half-tracks and the four-wheeled Sd.Kfz.221 armored car. Source: warspot.ru
Around the same time as these efforts to upgun the VK 9.03 were being explored, engineers were also pursuing the idea of mounting a M.A.N.-designed HWA 1038 GL V8 diesel engine in the VK 9.03. Although there is little background on the developmental history of this engine and the thought process behind the decision to mount it in the VK 9.03, there are brief mentions of its relation to the VK 9.03. On 20 August 1941, a delegation from M.A.N. met with Herr Strunze, an engineer from Wa Prüf 6. In order to make the engine easier to start in wintry conditions, Strunze suggested that the engine be fitted glow flanges on the engine intake line and a fuel injection system to allow fuel already in the intake line to be easily ignited. Unlike the 2.8 cm Kw.K.42, this engine was at least trialed in both a VK 9.01 and a VK 9.03 (most probably one of the six trial chassis). As stated by a M.A.N. report from February 1942 on the development of diesel engines, the V8 had an output of 185 hp at 2,600 rpm, and work was underway to up this to 200 hp by increasing engine speed. Testing with a supercharger was also mentioned.
As with many other German tanks in production during late 1941, consideration was also given to adapting the VK 9.03 for operation in the hot, humid, and dusty environments such as might be found in the North African deserts of Libya and Egypt, or the southern reaches of the Soviet Union. Known as Tropen (literally ‘tropics’) modifications, these were intended to improve cooling and restrict the ingress of dust and sand. Typically, such modifications included enlarging the cooling air intake, installing a more powerful fan and extra filters, sealing exposed openings against dust, protecting the electrical equipment, and issuing a tarp and wider shovel to the crew. All of these measures were mentioned in a report on Tropen modifications from the Waffenamt dated 13 December 1941, which noted that testing was being conducted on the VK 9.03. This is not so surprising given that the first VK 9.01 were intended to be issued to the 15th Panzer Division (part of Rommel’s Afrika Korps), although there is no evidence that these plans were ever carried out. If the VK 9.03 were also intended to be deployed with similar units, then it stands to reason that Tropen modifications would have been required.
Despite these many setbacks and diversions, the VK 9.03 project refused to die. On 3rd December 1941, the Panzer II n.A. (VK 9.03) was included for the first time in the monthly reports compiled by the Amtsgruppe für Industrielle Rüstung (Group for Armaments Manufacture – abbreviated as Wa J Rü in German records), which set production targets for the next six months. According to this report, the first VK 9.03 would be completed in May 1942. In fact, this estimate was later revised in the January 1942 report, which projected the construction of one VK 9.03 in April, three in May and five in June 1942. Yet meanwhile, M.A.N was still struggling to finish the VK 9.01 0-Serie, which continued to trickle out of the assembly halls in tiny batches into 1942.
Evidently, the economic and technological constraints looming over VK 9.03 production were not factored into the Waffenamt’s schedules.


A representation of what the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung M may have looked like had it entered service in 1942. It is shown painted in a coat of gray RAL 7021 Dunkelgrau, the standard camouflage scheme for German tanks at the time of this project’s development. Illustration by Alexe Pavel, funded by our Patreon campaign.

VK 9.03 for Four: The Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. M

The exact purpose of the VK 9.03 and its place in the German Army was complicated yet more by the bifurcation of the project into two separate tanks, which only served to further blur the lines between the various M.A.N designs for an improved Panzer II.
During its aforementioned summary of Tropen modifications released on 13 December 1941, the Waffenamt referred to a ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. H und M (VK 9.03)’. This marks the first surviving mention of an initiative to develop a specialized version of the VK 9.03 for armored reconnaissance. Known by various designations, including Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. M (VK 9.03), Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art (VK 9.03) Aufbau VK 13.03, Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. M, and Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. MAN, this was essentially an effort to mate the VK 9.03 hull with the superstructure and turret designed for the VK 13.03 (later known as ‘Luchs’).
Unfortunately, little is known about the genesis of this idea, as few documents concerning its development are known to have survived. Consequently, all that is available to piece together the history of this tank are a few disconnected fragments and off-hand mentions.
Nevertheless, the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf. M did not simply spring out of the ether. In the aforementioned Schwerpunktprogramm (Priority Program) of 30 May 1941, in which the Heereswaffenamt had laid out its grandiose plans for long-range mass production of the VK 9.03, several different variants based on the VK 9.03 chassis were mentioned. Among these was a VK 9.03 Pz.Sp.Wg., of which 8,111 were deemed to be required for reconnaissance in various infantry, motorized, Panzer, pioneer, and Panzer-Jäger units. These would replace the less mobile wheeled armored cars that currently fulfilled these roles. It is therefore likely that the order to develop the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf. M sprang from these requirements.
Ironically, this barren historical record is somewhat counterbalanced by the existence of a surviving data sheet for the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf. M released on 5 March 1942, thanks to which we have access to a plethora of proposed technical specifications for the Ausf. M; even more so than the Ausf. H. These details provide an insight into what the Ausf. M may have looked like and its potential capabilities.
The primary difference between the Ausf. H and the Ausf. M was the superstructure and turret. Whereas the Ausf. H would likely have used a one-man turret similar to that designed for the VK 9.01, the Ausf. M lifted the superstructure and turret directly from the VK 13.03. This created sufficient space to add an extra crew member in the turret, thereby relieving the commander of his extra duties involved in servicing the main armament.
Asides from other minor changes to the specifications, in most other respects the Ausf. M remained the same as the Ausf. H. It retained all of the same major components, including the 200 hp Maybach HL 66 P engine, the distinctive VK 9 series suspension, and the wider Kgs 63/360/90 tracks. By keeping the same suspension and 36 cm wide tracks, the VK 9.03 maintained excellent flotation, having a ground pressure of 0.81 kg/sq cm. The proposed transmission and steering system, perhaps the most important components in the VK 9 series given the headaches they caused for their engineers, was not specified. Armor thicknesses also remained constant, with 30 mm on the front, 20 mm on the sides and rear, 10 mm on the deck, and 5 mm on the belly, as did the overall combat weight at 10.5 tonnes.
The armament remained unchanged too. Just like the Ausf. H, the Ausf. M would have had a 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon and M.G.34 (Pz.) machine gun fitted to a stabilized mount in the turret. 400 rounds of 2 cm Pz.Gr.Patr. (armor piercing) ammunition and 2,100 rounds of 7.92 mm M.G.34 ammunition would be stowed within the vehicle, as well as 192 rounds of 9 mm Parabellum ammunition for an M.P.38 submachine gun. Initially, a T.Z.F.6 monocular gunsight would be employed by the gunner to sight these weapons, but later this would have been replaced by a T.Z.F.12b. Rotating periscopes in the turret roof would provide visibility for the crew members in the turret, whilst the driver employed K.F.F.2 periscopes to see out when his armored visor was closed.
As a reconnaissance tank, among the most important pieces of equipment carried onboard the Ausf. M would have been the radios. An Fu 5 set was listed on the data sheet, although Doyle and Jentz state that this would have been supplemented by an Fu 12 with a star aerial when it was issued to a Panzer Aufklärungs Abteilung (Armored Reconnaissance Battalion). This latter radio had a longer range and was therefore necessary for communicating with elements higher in the command chain.
Equipped with the 200 hp Maybach HL 66 P, the Ausf. M had a power-to-weight ratio of 19 hp/tonne and could attain a maximum speed of 60 km/hr on roads or 30 km/hr cross-country. With sufficient room for 235 litres of petrol, it could cover 290 km on roads or 175 km cross-country, impressive figures for the standards of the time that would have been well-suited for a reconnaissance vehicle. It was also expected that the tank would be able to scale a vertical obstacle of 30 cm, climb a 30% gradient, cross a 60 cm wide trench and ford 1.4 metres of water without preparation.
Whilst these estimated specifications promised to result in an impressive reconnaissance vehicle that would have been mobile and maneuverable, it is important to note that these are merely projections. No examples are known to have been produced and it is probable that the Ausf. M would have suffered from the same reliability problems as its counterparts if it used the same troublesome transmissions and steering units. There are also some contradictions in the figures as reported in the books Panzer Tracts 2-2 and Panzer Tracts 20-2, both of which have sections on the Ausf. M. The figures used here have been chosen by the author on the basis of what look to be the correct specifications.
Ultimately then, the Ausf. M was just another dead end in the convoluted VK 9.03 development process. The fact that it used the superstructure and turret of the VK 13.03 was especially revealing in that it pointed to the inescapable reality that the VK 9 was losing traction in the face of competition from other designs. Although its designers could not have known at the time, the Ausf. M foreshadowed the outright replacement of the VK 9.03 by the VK 13.03.

A surviving VK 13.03, which received the official designation Panzer II Ausf. L, on display at The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK. Nicknamed the ‘Luchs’ (Lynx) by the Heer, 100 of these tanks would be produced between 1942 and 1943. Capable of carrying a four-man crew and fitted with simpler, proven automotive components, the VK 13.03 replaced the VK 9.03 in the search for a new model Panzer II after a period of uneasy coexistence between the two designs. Incidentally, the raised bracket located at the front-middle of the turret roof is for an Orterkompaß, a navigation device later proposed for the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen. Source: The Tank Museum

Dashed Hopes: The Cancellation of the VK 9.03

Regardless of these numerous distractions and diversions, M.A.N. continued to push on with the construction of the six VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell in preparation for a demonstration to be held in February 1942. However, even before these Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed, problems began to arise with the steering units. This was not an encouraging development, especially considering that the use of an advanced transmission and steering system to create a more mobile Panzer II was arguably the fundamental raison d’être for the VK 9 series. Indeed, similar issues with fickle three-stage steering units would also cripple the VK 9.01 project.
The impact of these difficulties in perfecting a working steering system were exposed in a meeting held on 27 December 1941 between M.A.N. staff and General Radlmeier. Herr Garnjost of M.A.N. informed Radlmeier that it was simply impossible to finish the three Versuchs-Fahrgestell in time for the February demonstration. In order to allow for some testing to be carried out as quickly as possible, an expedient solution involving the installation of a Kolben-Danek steering unit from the Panzer 38 (t) was proposed for the second Versuchs-Fahrgestell. All going well, this would allow for its completion by the end of January.
Meanwhile, the third Versuchs-Fahrgestell would await the arrival of a Maybach steering unit, which was expected to delay its completion until the end of February. It is not specified precisely which kind of Maybach steering unit was earmarked for this third trial chassis, but it is possible it could have been the LGL 15319 that was also fitted to the majority of the VK 9.01 and contracted for installation in the first VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell ordered in 1940.
Put simply, this meeting revealed that VK 9.03 production was dependent upon the resolution of the difficulties producing and using the steering units. This impression is reinforced by a M.A.N. meeting held on 10 January 1942, where officials openly questioned the possibility of mass producing the VK 9.03 with a three-stage steering unit and broached alternative solutions. The solution they proposed was replacing the steering unit with a M.A.N. design, presumably of more conventional operation. It was hoped that this would allow for the assembly of the first VK 9.03 hull in June 1942 and the production of the first complete series production tank at the beginning of August that same year.
In addition to the steering unit fiasco, this meeting also provides a glimpse into a less well-covered aspect of the VK 9 family’s history. Due to the loss of Daimler-Benz records after the war, almost nothing remains concerning the design, development, and production of the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 superstructures and turrets. Nevertheless, it appears from M.A.N. reports that the company struggled to produce a workable design in time, as there are allusions to delayed delivery of blueprints and drawings in surviving M.A.N. records. According to this report, missing turret floor and turret equipment schematics had pushed production back by four months and meant that M.A.N. would be unable to complete the first Aufbau until July 1942. Of course, without Daimler-Benz reports, it is not possible to evaluate the reasons behind these delays.
Nevertheless, the results of a trial carried out with one of the VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell in January 1942 suggested that there were more pressing issues with the automotive components. In a frustratingly enigmatic report of a meeting held between all the major M.A.N. and Wa Prüf 6 figures involved with the VK 9.03 (including Kniepkamp), the results of a 530 km test drive of a VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell were discussed. It is not entirely clear what the exact automotive configuration of this VK 9.03 trial chassis was, but the minutes indicate that it was not considered sufficient evidence to make a judgment on the three-stage steering units before comparative trials were carried out in February. Even so, the curious note that ‘in no case should the remarks from Blank [a mechanic involved with the trial] be allowed to fall into outside hands’ seems to imply that the results were less than stellar. Certainly, much to Kniepkamp’s dismay, M.A.N. representatives brought up the idea of replacing the steering units with a conventional clutch-brake system as installed on other Panzers.
Unable to stave off the inevitable any longer, M.A.N. and Wa Prüf 6 agreed on 3 February 1942 that the first 15 VK 9.03 series production hulls would use a simple clutch-brake steering system and a conventional Z.F. manual transmission. This was a far cry from Kniepkamp’s vision of a revolutionary mobility upgrade for the Panzer II and a stark indication that the VK 9.03 had reached a technological cul-de-sac.
The next mention of the VK 9.03 comes from a conference between Albert Speer and Hitler on 22 March 1942. During this meeting, Hitler agreed that the VK 9.03 could be fitted with an HL 66 engine, SSG 48 transmission and a multiple-stage steering unit derived from B.M.M.’s design for the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) n.A. light tank. It was estimated that this combination of automotive components could result in speeds of up to 60 km/h being obtained.
Amazingly, just five days later on 27 March 1942, the entire VK 9.03 project was canceled in a sudden and abrupt volte-face. In the new production programme issued by the Heeres Waffenamt, M.A.N. was to dispense with the production of 250 VK 9.03 and 250 VK 13.03 in favor of producing 500 VK 13.03 instead. In a context of greater economic rationalization presided over by Speer, who had been appointed Minister of Armaments following the death of Fritz Todt in a plane crash on 8 February 1942, there was simply no room for the experimental and wasteful VK 9.03.

A Failed Resurrection: The VK 9.03 after March 1942 and the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen

At the time of the cancellation of the VK 9.03 in March 1942, it is unclear how many of the Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed. It is known that at one point as many as six were under contract, although later reports from 1942 only mention three under construction. Moreover, at least one of these hulls was used in trials and test drives, including the one discussed in January 1942 and the aforementioned trials with a M.A.N. diesel engine mentioned in February 1942.
The history of German trials vehicles is understandably shadowy and obscure. Spared from fighting on the front, these vehicles were rarely photographed and only occasionally mentioned in reports. Even so, they were often retained by the factories or by the Heereswaffenamt as testbeds for trialing new equipment. Such was the case with the VK 9.03, one of which was reportedly being used by Maybach as late as 1945 for testing a new HL 90 engine (14 of these were produced between 1941 and 1944), a preselective Olvar transmission and a Bauart Renk hydraulic steering unit; a fitting end for a design defined by its relationship to experimental automotive components. Unfortunately, no photographs of these trial chassis are known to have survived and details remain scarce.
More puzzlingly, work on an artillery observation variant of the VK 9.03 appears to have continued after March 1942. According to a Wa Prüf 6 report released on 1 July 1942, work was ongoing on designing a VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen (armored artillery observation vehicle) for motorized artillery and Panzer Regiments, with the production of 30 contracted vehicles expected to start in 1943. Like the VK 9.03 Ausf. M, the impetus for this design probably dated back to the 1941 Panzerprogramm, which stipulated the provision of VK 9.03 for artillery observation purposes. However, this does not explain why the Waffenamt had elected to continue work on this specific variant, as it makes little sense to continue working on a design for such a specialized version, given that such vehicles were usually converted from standard mass-produced vehicles. This is a prime example of how the many gaps in the documentary record render it difficult for modern researchers to piece together the logic (or lack thereof) behind armored vehicle development.
Whatever the story behind the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen, a single Versuchsgerät VK 9.03 mit Kuppel 1303 B (trial equipment with the cupola 1303 B) was reported as having been completed by September 1941. Usually translated as ‘device’ or ‘equipment’, it is unclear precisely what ‘gerät’ refers to. Possible answers include a piece of specialized equipment or, noting the reference to a cupola, a turret design, but this is just speculation.
In order to fulfill its purpose, the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen was to be fitted with a rangefinder, Orterkompaß (a kind of orientation compass that could be installed on top of the turret of the Luchs, Panzer IV, Panther and Tiger), observation equipment and appropriate radio sets.
Whilst it may have succeeded in temporarily outlasting its parent tank design, the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen almost certainly suffered the same fate as its relations. Asides from this brief reference, there are no further known references to this vehicle available.

The Orterkompaß 38 (OKo.38) showing the compass itself, its special 300 mm long support, and its base. This device, or one similar to it, was earmarked for the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen. Derived from a type of compass developed for the Luftwaffe in the 1930s, the Oko.38 was intended to assist with driving at night or in bad weather. These would have been mounted on small rectangular plates welded to the top of tank turrets. The cylindrical support was designed to increase the distance between the compass and the tank, thereby reducing magnetic interference from the steel. Although a few examples survive until this day, there is little evidence that these were ever mass produced or widely used. Source: panther-ausfuehrung-g.blogspot.com

Doomed to Die?: The VK 9.03 in Retrospect

The VK 9.03 was a flawed design that would have been unsuitable for mass production and out of its depth on the battlefields from 1942 onwards. Although the new automotive components envisaged for this tank could have resulted in a more mobile Panzer II, the complexity and unreliability of these various transmissions and steering units ultimately proved to be a critical issue.
Worse still, the VK 9.03 did not offer any other sufficient improvements over the VK 9.01 and the Panzer II Ausf. F then in production, namely in the realms of firepower and protection. Consequently, the failure of the transmissions and steering units undercut the entire purpose of the VK 9.03 since, without those features, there was nothing left to justify its existence. This unfortunate fact was made all the more apparent by the emergence of the VK 13.03, which provided all of the benefits of the VK 9.03 in a tank able to accommodate a four-man crew.
Yet, in the chaotic and irrational German tank procurement system of the mid-war period, the existence of deep flaws did not always automatically result in cancellation of the entire project. Instead, designs often gained a momentum of their own and were able to devour funds, resources, and time, even if the Heer had no specific need or desire for them. Such was the case with the VK 9.01, which outlasted its successor and continued in limited production until 1943 despite suffering from the same problems as the VK 9.03. Evaluated with this in mind, the VK 9.03 was also the victim of circumstance.
At the time when the crucial decisions were being made about the VK 9.03 production schedule, Albert Speer, the new Minister for Armaments Production, was attempting to rationalize the Nazi economy and push it towards a total war footing. Ironically, the idea expressed in the Panzerprogramm 41 to mass produce an entire family of armored vehicles on the VK 9.03 hull represented a rare instance of sensible joined-up thinking in the procurement process, but given the doubts among M.A.N. officials that mass production of the VK 9.03 could ever be achieved in the near future, this was little more than a pipe dream. Whilst the cancellation of the VK 9.03 was not a foregone conclusion, these production obstacles and its growing redundancy in the face of superior alternatives and changing economic circumstances conspired to kill the project in 1942.
Nevertheless, whilst this represented the end of the VK 9 series of armored vehicles, efforts to improve the Panzer II persisted. These would culminate in the VK 13.03 or Panzer II Ausf. L, better known as the ‘Luchs’ (Lynx), which built upon some elements of the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 whilst dispensing with some of the more problematic aspects of these designs.

Specifications (Ausf. H & M)*

Dimensions (L-W-H) M: 4.63 x 2.48 x 2.05 metres
Total Weight 10.5 tonnes
Crew H:3 Men (Commander/Gunner, Radio Operator, and Driver)
M:4 (Driver, Radio Operator, Commander, Gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 66P producing 200 hp at 3,200 rpm
Transmission H: Maybach 8-speed preselective VG20417 transmission LG 45L (LGL 15319) steering unit (these components for the first Versuchs-Fahrgestell)
Maximum speed H: 65 km/h on roads
M: 60 km/h (road), 30 km/h (off-road)
Range M: 290 km (road), 175 km (off-road)
Suspensions Torsion bar, 30 cm ground clearance
Armament H: 1x 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon, 1 x M.G.34 (P)
M: 1x 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon (400 rounds), 1 x M.G.34 (P) (400 rounds), 1 x M.P.38 (192 rounds)
Armor (hull/turret front) 30 mm frontal hull and turret
20 mm sides and rear
10 mm deck
5.5 mm belly
Production At least 1 hull

*Note that these are projected specifications as no series production VK 9.03 are known to have been completed.

Sources and Further Reading

Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2007).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers: Aufklaerungs-, Beobachtungs-, and Flak Panzer (Reconnaissance, Observation, and Anti-Aircraft) (Maryland, Panzer Tracts, 2002).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, H.L., Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2011).
Spielberger, W.J., Der Panzer-Kampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten: Einschließlich der Panzerentwicklungen der Reichswehr (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1974). Translated into English as Panzer I and II and their Variants: From Reichswehr to Wehrmacht (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing US, 2007).
Antonov, V., ‘Schwere Panzerbüchse 41’ (Russian). English version HERE.
Jairo, ‘Orterkompass en el Panther Ausf. G’
Pasholok, Y., ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. G: The Fruit of Unending Labour’ (Russian). English version HERE.

Bibliographical Comment

Unsurprisingly for such an obscure and poorly documented tank, little has been written on the VK 9.03. Although the VK 9 series was mentioned in the older, classic reference books concerning Second World War German armored fighting vehicles, most of the information presented in these works is based on faulty post-war Allied intelligence reports or assumptions, contributing to many errors and misleading statements. This has contributed to the proliferation of misunderstanding and confusion concerning this series of tanks in print and online media, with one salient example being the mislabelling of the Pz.Sfl.Ic tank destroyer (based on the VK 9.01 chassis) as the Panzer II Ausf. H (VK 9.03) in the popular online game War Thunder.
The most important and reliable work of reference on the VK 9.03 is Panzer Tracts 2-2 written by the doyens of German Second World War AFV history, Jentz and Doyle. This book provides a wealth of information derived from primary source material, helping to set the record straight without indulging in extensive speculation. An earlier work by the same authors, Panzer Tracts 20-2, offers a less comprehensive summary of the VK 9.03, though readers should note that there is some minor contradictions between the two, possibly the result of typos in the text.
A detailed account of the VK 9 series based on the work of Jentz and Doyle is also offered in an article by Russian historian Yuri Pasholok that has been translated into English. This article, as well as the others in the Panzer II series, are particularly useful for contextualising the VK 9.03 and investigating its links to contemporary designs.
Asides from the works mentioned above, all other sources of information concerning the VK 9.03 should be treated with caution given their tendency to rely on outdated reference material or other confused commentators. Until any new information surfaces concerning these machines, Panzer Tracts 2-2 will remain the definitive source of information on the VK 9.03.

Categories
WW2 Czechoslovak Prototypes WW2 German prototypes

Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Škoda

Germany/Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1940) Light Tank – 4 Prototypes Built

On 15 September 1939, the German Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office – HwaA) issued new specifications for a fast, more heavily armored scout reconnaissance tank with 30 mm front armor, a 2 cm or 3.7 cm main gun and a top speed of 50 km/h. These were originally sent to the German firm MAN but, on 31 July 1940, they were also sent to two other companies, Škoda and BMM (the former Czechoslovak CKD).
The prototype Panzer T-15 light tank looks like an improved Panzer II tank but there were many differences. Its factory designation was the Škoda T-15. The first two prototypes were only built in mild structural steel.

The Panzer Späh Wagen II Ausführung Škoda, previously designated the Škoda T-15. Photo: Bundesarchiv

Name

A German Wa Prüf 6 (the German design office for armored vehicles and motorized equipment under the Heereswaffenamt – Army Ordnance Department) document dated 5 March 1942 shows the factory name Škoda T-15 being scratched through and the name Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda (Armored Scout Car II version Škoda – Pz.Sp.Wg II Ausf.Skoda) written in its place.

German Wa.Prüf. 6 original document notes that show the change of name. Photo: Herbert Ackermann

Design

The company Škoda-Werke’s T 15 design had welded armor, an improvement over the Czechoslovak built Panzer 38(t) tank’s bolted and riveted armor. The armor on the front of the turret and hull was 30 mm thick and the sides were 25 mm thick. The turret had a new curved shape with a commander’s cupola. The main gun fitted on the prototypes was the 3.7 cm Škoda A11 anti-tank gun (German designation 3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47). It could fire armor-piercing (AP) shells and high explosive (HE) fragmentation shells.

On 4 January 1943, the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda prototype was shown to Hitler and senior German officers. Photo: Bundesarchiv
There was no hull machine gun. A 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun was mounted in the turret. The driver and radio/operator were positioned at the front of the tank. Both had armored vision ports like the later Panzer II tanks.
The tank was powered by a Škoda water-cooled V8 10.8 liter 245 hp gasoline/petrol engine. The transmission had 6 forward gears and one reverse.
The suspension was different from other tanks under construction at that time. It had four pairs of large road wheels on semi-elliptic leaf springs. There were three pairs of smaller track return rollers. The drive wheel was at the rear while the idler was at the front.

Rear view of the Škoda, looking at the engine bay. The Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda prototype had four pairs of large road wheels on semi-elliptic leaf springs and three pairs of track return rollers. Photo: SOURCE
The first prototype T-15 was built in October 1941, and the second in December 1941. Tests were conducted during March and June of 1942. Further tests were completed between July and October at Kummersdorf, 25 km south of Berlin.

German Wa.Prüf. 6 original document that shows some of the vehicle’s specifications. Photo: Herbert Ackermann


Illustration of the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Škoda, also known as the Škoda T-15. Produced by Mr. Adrielcz, funded by our Patreon Campaign


Panzerspähwagen II T15 by adrielcz

Alterations

Alterations were made to the original design on the later prototypes. The turret shape was changed. The side armor was curved differently. An armoured driver’s vision port was fitted to the side of the chassis. The commander’s cupola was also completely redesigned. Instead of the Czech ZB.37 machine gun a German 7.92 mm MG.34 was installed. The 37mm A11 gun remained in place, but Škoda’s engineers also provided for the possibility of arming the tank with a 47 mm gun. The same Wa Prüf 6 document dated 5 March 1942 mentioned earlier showed that it was intended to mount a 5 cm PaK 39 L/60 on the production tank in a Daimler-Benz built turret.

Škoda-Werke’s redesign of the T 15 prototype wooden mockup, with improved sloping frontal hull armor, smaller turret and relocated exhaust. Photo: Yuri Pasholok

Fate

Škoda had signed a contract to build five prototypes but only built four. Construction of the fifth was stopped in early 1944 as the Panzer II Ausf.L Luchs (Lynx) was already in mass production.
Škoda completed the construction of the fifth prototype in May 1945, having restarted work in January. After the war finished, it was shown to the new Czechoslovak Army in July 1946 but no orders were placed. The Škoda tank design department used the chassis to develop different light tank projects which they called the T 15A, T 15S and T 16. They stayed as drawings. No prototypes were built.

The Pz.Sp.Wg II Ausf.Skoda prototype tank undergoing trials. There appears to be a build up of mud between the road wheels. A platform has been constructed on the right side of the turret for testing staff to have somewhere to sit as they observe what is happening. Photo: Bundesarchiv

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.58 x 2.17 x 2.16 meters
Total weight, battle ready 10.8 tons
Crew 4 (commander, gunner, radio operator, driver)
Propulsion Skoda T-15 8-cylinder, petrol 220 hp
Suspension semi-elliptic leaf springs
Speed (road) 50 km/h
Range 200 km
Armament 3.7 cm Skoda A11 (3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47), 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 8 mm – 30 mm
Total production 4 (+1 post war)

Sources

warspot.ru (Russian)
Pavel Pilar “Pruzkumne tanky Skoda T-15 a Praga TNH nA”, HPM c.3 / 2000
I.Pejcoch, O.Pejs “Obrnena technika” №6
“Hobby Historie” 2011 №10
Hilary Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz, Panzer Tracts No. 11-2: Aufklaerungspanzerwagen (Full and Half-Track Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles) H8H to Vollkettenaufklaerer 38.

Categories
WW2 Czechoslovak Prototypes WW2 German prototypes

Škoda T-25

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1942)
Medium Tank – Blueprints Only

Prior to the German occupation of Czech lands, the Škoda works was one of the largest weapon manufacturers in the world, famous for its artillery and later its armored vehicles. In the early 1930s, Škoda became involved in designing and building tankettes, followed by tanks. Many models, like the LT vz. 35 or the T-21 (built under license in Hungary), would be mass-produced, while others never passed the prototype stage. Work on a new design during wartime was slow but a few interesting projects would be developed, such as the T-25. This was an attempt to design and build a tank that would be an effective opponent of the Soviet T-34 medium tank. It would have had an innovative main gun, well-sloped armor and excellent speed. Alas, no working prototype of this vehicle was ever built (only a wooden mock-up) and it remained a paper project.

The T-25 Medium Tank. This is the second drawing of the T-25 with a recognized turret design. It is the shape by which the T-25 is generally known today. Photo: SOURCE

Škoda’s Projects

The Škoda steel works located in Pilsen founded a special armament department in 1890. In the beginning, Škoda specialized in the production of heavy fortress and naval guns, but would also in time begin designing and building field guns. After World War One and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the new Czech nation joined with the Slovakian nation and formed the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Škoda works survived these turbulent times and managed to preserve its place in the world as a famous weapon manufacturer. By the thirties, besides weapons production, Škoda emerged as a car manufacturer in Czechoslovakia. Škoda’s owners did not at first show any interest in the development and production of tanks. Praga (the other famous Czechoslovakian weapon manufacturer) made a contract with the Czechoslovakian military in the early 1930s for developing new tankette and tank designs. Seeing a potential new business opportunity, the Škoda owners made a decision to begin developing their own tankettes and tank designs.
During the period between 1930 and 1932, Škoda made several attempts to gain the army’s attention. By 1933, Škoda designed and produced two tankettes: the S-I (MUV-4), and the S-I-P that were shown to army officials. As Praga had already received the order for production, the army agreed only to test the Škoda tankettes without ordering them.
By 1934, Škoda abandoned the development of any future tankettes as they had proved to be ineffective as combat vehicles, and instead moved to tank designs. Škoda presented several projects to the army but it was not successful in gaining any production orders, although the S-II-a design managed to gain some attention from the army. Despite the fact that it was shown to have flaws during army testing carried out in 1935, it was still put into production under the military designation Lt. vz. 35. They received an order for 298 vehicles for the Czechoslovakian army (from 1935 to 1937) and 138 were to be exported to Romania in 1936.
By the late 1930s, Škoda suffered some setbacks in their attempts to sell vehicles abroad and with the cancellation of the S-III medium tank. By 1938, Škoda works focused on designing a new branch of medium tanks, known as the T-21, T-22 and T-23. Due to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, the work on these models was stopped. During 1940, the Hungarian army showed great interest in the T-21 and T-22 designs, and in agreement with Škoda, a contract was signed in August 1940 for license production in Hungary.

The Name

It was common for all Czechoslovakian armored vehicle manufacturers to give their tanks and tankettes designations based on the following parameters: First would be the initial capital letter of the manufacturer’s name (for Škoda this was ’S’ or ’Š’). Then the Roman numerals I, II, or III would be used to describe the vehicle’s type (I for tankettes, II for light tanks, and III for medium tanks). Sometimes a third character would be added to denote a special purpose (like ’a’ for cavalry or ’d’ for a gun etc.). After a vehicle was accepted for operational service, the army would then give the vehicle its own designation.
The Škoda works in 1940 completely abandoned this system and introduced a new one. This new designation system was based on the capital letter ‘T’ and a number, for example, the T-24 or, the last of the series, the T-25.

History of the T-24 and T-25 Projects

During the War, the ČKD company (under German occupation the name was changed to BMM Bohmisch-Mahrische Maschinenfabrik) was very important for the German war effort. It was engaged in the production of a large number of armored vehicles based on the successful Panzer 38(t) tank.
The designers and engineers from the Škoda works were not idle during the war either and made some interesting designs. To begin with, these were on their own initiative. The largest problem for the armaments department of the Škoda works at the beginning of the war was that the German military and industry officials were not interested in expanding production of weapons to occupied countries, albeit with a few exceptions like the Panzers 35 and 38(t). During this time, Škoda weapons production was very limited. After the invasion on the Soviet Union and after suffering large losses of men and material, the Germans were forced to change this.
As nearly all German industrial capacity was directed towards supplying the Heer (German field army), the Waffen SS (more or less a Nazi army) was often left empty-handed. In 1941, Škoda presented the Waffen SS with a self-propelled-gun project based on the T-21 and armed with the 10.5 cm howitzer. A second project, the T-15, was conceived as a fast light reconnaissance tank and was also presented. Although the SS was interested in the Škoda designs, nothing came from this.
Škoda designers and engineers had the opportunity to examine some captured Soviet T-34 and KV-1 models (possibly in late 1941 or early 1942). It would not be wrong to say that they were perhaps shocked to discover how these were superior in protection, firepower, and in having larger tracks when compared to their own tanks, and even to many German tank models at that time. As a result, they immediately began working on a brand new design (it would have nothing in common with older Škoda designs) with much better armor, mobility, and sufficient firepower. They hoped that they could convince the Germans, who were desperate at that time for an armored vehicle which could effectively fight Soviet tanks. From this work, two similar designs would be born: the T-24 and the T-25 projects.
The Germans made an agreement with Škoda at the beginning of 1942 giving them permission to develop a new tank design based on several criteria. The most important conditions set by the German army were: ease of production with minimal important resources used, to be able to be produced quickly and to have a good balance of firepower, armor, and mobility. The first wooden mock-ups to be built were to be ready by the end of July 1942, and the first fully operational prototype was to be ready for testing in April 1943.
The first proposed project was submitted in February 1942 to the German weapons testing office (Waffenprüfungsamt). Known under the designation T-24, it was an 18.5-tonne medium tank armed with a 7.5 cm gun. The T-24 (and later T-25) was heavily influenced by the Soviet T-34 in regards to the sloping armor design and the forward mounted turret.
The second proposed project was known under the designation T-25, and was to be much heavier at 23 tonnes with the same caliber (but different) 7.5 cm gun. This project was proposed to the Germans in July 1942 and the necessary technical documentation was ready in August 1942. The T-25 looked more promising to the Germans as it fulfilled the request for good mobility and firepower. Due to this, the T-24 was discarded at the beginning of September 1942. The earlier built T-24 wooden mock-up was scrapped and all work on it was halted. The development of the T-25 continued until the end of the year, when, in December 1942, the German military lost all interest in it and ordered Škoda to stop any future work on this project. Škoda proposed two self-propelled designs based on the T-25 armed with 10.5 cm and a larger 15 cm howitzers, but as the whole project was abandoned, nothing came from this.

What Would it Have Looked Like?

There is enough information about the technical characteristics of the T-25 tank, but the exact appearance is somewhat unclear. The first drawing of the T-25 was dated 29th of May 1942 (under the designation Am 2029-S). What is interesting about this drawing is what seems to be a display of two different turrets placed on one hull (the T-24 and T-25 had very similar hulls but with different dimensions and armor). The smaller turret, in all likelihood, belongs to the first T-24 (it can be identified by the shorter 7.5 cm gun) while the larger one should belong to the T-25.

The first drawing (designated Am 2029-S) of the T-25 together with the seemingly smaller turret that may have belonged to the T-24. As these two had a very similar design, it is easy to mistake them for one vehicle, when in fact, they were not. Photo: SOURCE
The second drawing of the T-25 was made (possibly) in late 1942 and its turret has a completely different design. The second turret is somewhat higher, with two top metal plates instead of a single one. The front part of the first turret would most likely (it is difficult to determine exactly) be rectangular shaped, while the second would have more complicated hexagonal shape. The existence of two different turret designs may at first glance seem somewhat unusual. The explanation may lie in the fact that in May the T-25 was still at its early research and design phase, and so by the latter part of the year, some changes were necessary. For example, the gun installation demanded more space and thus the turret needed to be somewhat larger, with more space necessary for the crew to work effectively.

Technical Characteristics

Unlike the problem with the determination of the exact appearance of the T-25 tank, there is reliable information and sources concerning the technical characteristics of the Škoda T-25, from the engine used and the estimated maximum speed, armor thickness, and armament, to the number of crew. It is very important to note, however, that in the end the T-25 was only a paper project and it was never constructed and tested, so these numbers and information may have changed on a real prototype or later during production.
The T-25 suspension consisted of twelve 70 mm diameter road wheels (with six on both sides) each of which had a rubber rim. The wheels were connected in pairs, with six pairs in total (three on each side). There were two rear drive sprockets, two front idlers, and no return rollers. Some sources state that the front idlers were, in fact, drive sprockets, but this seems unlikely. Examination of the rear part (exactly at the last wheel and drive sprocket) on the drawing designated Am 2029-S of the T-25 reveals what appears to be a transmission assembly for powering the rear sprockets. The front hull design appears to have left no available space for installation of a front transmission. The suspension consisted of 12 torsion bars located beneath the floor. The tracks would be 460 mm wide with a possible ground pressure of 0.66 kg/cm².
The T-25 was planned at first to be powered by an unspecified diesel engine, but sometime during the development stage, this was dropped in favor of a petrol engine. The main engine chosen was a 450 hp 19.814-liter air-cooled Škoda V12 running at 3,500 rpm. Interestingly, a second small auxiliary engine producing just 50 hp was also planned to be added. The purpose of this small auxiliary engine was to power up the main engine and provide extra power. While the main engine was started by using the auxiliary engine, this one, in turn, would be started either electrically or by using a crank. The maximum theoretical speed was around 58-60 km/h.
The T-25 was influenced by the Soviet T-34. This is most apparent in the sloping armor design. The T-25 would be built by using welded armor on both the superstructure and the turret. The armor design seems to have been a very simple design, with angled armor plates (of which the exact angle is unknown but was possibly in the range of 40° to 60°). This way, the need for more carefully machined armored plates (like on Panzer III or IV) was unnecessary. Also, by using larger one-piece metal plates, the structure was made much stronger and also easier for production.
The armor thickness was in the range of 20 to 50 mm according to official factory archives, but according to some sources (such as P.Pilař), the maximum front armor was up to 60 mm thick. The maximum thickness of the frontal turret armor was 50 mm, the sides were 35 mm, and the rear between 25 to 35 mm thick. Most of the turret armor was sloped, which added extra protection. The hull upper front plate armor was 50 mm, while the lower was also 50 mm. The side sloped armor was 35 mm while the lower vertical armor was 50 mm thick. The roof and floor armor were the same 20 mm thickness. The T-25 dimensions were 7.77 m long, 2.75 m wide, and 2.78 m high.
The hull design was more or less conventional with a separated frontal crew compartment and the engine in the rear, which was divided from the other compartments by an 8 mm thick armored plate. This was done in order to protect the crew from engine heat and noise. It was also important to protect them from any possible outbreaks of fire arising because of some malfunction or combat damage. The total weight was calculated to be around 23 tonnes.

Crew

The T-25 crew consisted of four members, which may seem strange by German standards, but the use of an automatic loading system meant that the lack of a loader was not a problem. The radio operator and the driver were located in the vehicle hull, while the commander and the gunner were in the turret. The front crew compartment consisted of two seats: one on the left for the driver and the second to the right for the radio operator. The radio equipment used would most likely have been a German type (possibly a Fu 2 and Fu 5). The forward mounted turret design on the T-25 had one significant issue in that the crew members in the hull had no hatches at either the hull top or sides. These two crew members had to enter their battle positions through the turret hatches. In case of an emergency, where crew members had to make a quick escape from the vehicle, it could take too much time or would perhaps be impossible because of combat damage. According to T-25 drawings, there were four viewports in the hull: two on the front and one on both of the angled sides. The driver’s armored viewports appear to be the same design (possibly with armored glass behind) as on the German Panzer IV.
Located in the turret was the rest of the crew. The commander was located at the left rear of the turret with the gunner in front of him. For observation of the surroundings, the commander had a small cupola with a fully rotating periscope. It is unknown if there would have been side viewports on the turret. There is a single hatch door for the commander in the turret, possibly with one more on top and perhaps even one to the rear as with the later Panther design. The turret could be rotated by using a hydroelectric or mechanical drive. For communication between the crew, especially the commander and the hull crew members, light signals and a telephone device were to be provided.


Illustration of the T-25 with the earlier turret design.


Illustration of the T-25 with the second design turret. This is how the T-25 would probably have looked if it went into production.

3D model of the T-25. This model and the above illustrations were produced by Mr. Heisey, funded by our Patron DeadlyDilemma through our Patreon campaign.

Armament

The main weapon chosen for the T-25 was interesting in many ways. It was Škoda’s own experimental design, a 7.5 cm A18 L/55 caliber gun with no muzzle brake. In Germany, this gun was designated as 7.5 cm Kw.K. (KwK or KwK 42/1 depending on the source). The gun mantlet was rounded, which offered good ballistic protection. This gun had an automatic drum loading mechanism containing five rounds with a maximum estimated rate of fire of around 15 rounds per minute, or around 40 rounds per minute at full auto. The gun was designed so that, after firing each round, the spent case would be automatically ejected by compressed air. The A18 muzzle velocity was 900 m/s according to official factory archives. Armor penetration at a range of 1 km was around 98 mm. The T-25 ammo capacity was to be around 60 rounds; most would be AP with a smaller number of HE rounds. The total gun (together with mantlet) weight was around 1,600 kg. The A18 gun elevation was -10 to +20°. This gun was actually constructed during the war but because of the cancellation of the entire project, it was probably put into storage, where it remained until the war ended. After the war research continued and it was tested on one Panzer VI Tiger I heavy tank.
The secondary weapon was a light machine gun of unknown type (with an estimated 3,000 rounds of ammunition) located on the right front side of the turret. Whether it was coaxially mounted with the main gun or used independently (as on Panzer 35 and 38(t)) is unknown, but the former is most probably correct as it is more practical and was in general use on all German tanks. It is unknown if there was a hull ball-mounted machine gun, although the few existing illustrations do not appear to show one. It is possible that it would be installed and in that case, it would be operated by the radio operator. It is equally possible that the radio operator would use his personal weapon (possibly MP 38/40 or even MG 34) to fire through his front viewport similar to the later Panther Ausf. D’s MG 34 ‘letterbox’ flap. Regardless, the possible absence of a hull machine gun was not a significant defect, as it results in weak spots on the frontal armor. If the T-25 did use a hull machine gun (and in the turret), it would likely have been either the standard German MG 34 that was used in all German tanks and vehicles in both coaxial and hull mounts or the Czechoslovakian VZ37 (ZB37). Both were 7.92 mm caliber machine guns and used by the German until the end of War War Two.

Modifications

Similar to other German armored vehicles, the T-25 tank chassis was to be used for different self-propelled designs. Two similar designs with different guns were proposed. The first was to be armed with a lightweight 10.5 cm howitzer.

This is possibly the only wooden mock-up of the Škoda proposed self-propelled designs based on the T-25. Photo: SOURCE
There is confusion as to which exact howitzer was used. It could have been the Škoda-built 10.5 cm leFH 43 howitzer (10.5 cm leichte FeldHaubitze 43), or the Krupp howitzer of the same name. Krupp built only a wooden mock-up while Škoda built a functional prototype. We must also consider the fact that as the T-25 was a Škoda design it would be logical to assume that the designers would use their gun instead of the Krupp one. The Škoda 10.5 cm leFH 43 howitzer was designed from late 1943 and the first operational prototype was built only by the war’s end in 1945.
The 10.5 cm le FH 43 was an improvement of the existing leFH 18/40 howitzer. It had a longer gun but the biggest innovation was the design of the carriage which allowed a full 360° of traverse. The 10.5 cm leFH 43 characteristics were: elevation -5° to + 75°, traverse 360°, weight in action 2,200 kg (on a field carriage).

The Škoda 10.5 cm leFH 43 howitzer. Photo: SOURCE
However, there is a considerable chance that the gun that would, in fact, be used was the 10.5 cm leFH 42. This gun was designed and built in limited numbers around the same time (in 1942) as the T-25. Both Krupp and Škoda howitzers were designed and built long after the T-25 was developed. The 10.5 cm le FH 42 muzzle brake is very similar to the wooden mock-up, but this is not a definitive proof that this was the weapon, merely a simple observation.
The 10.5 cm leFH 42 characteristics were: elevation -5° to + 45°, traverse 70°, weight in action 1,630 kg (on a field carriage), maximum range up to 13,000 km with velocity of 595 m/s. The 10.5 cm le FH 42 was rejected by the German army and only a few prototypes were ever built.

One of the few 10.5 cm Le FH 42 ever built. Photo: SOURCE
There is a real chance that none of these two howitzers would have been used if this modification had entered production. The reasons for this are the following: 1) none of the three 10.5 cm howitzers were available as they had either not been accepted for service by the German army or were not ready by the end of war 2) Only the wooden mock-up was built of the 10.5 cm self-propelled vehicle based on the T-25. The final decision for the main weapon would have been made only after an operational prototype was constructed and adequately tested. As it was only a paper project we can not know with certainty whether the modification itself was feasible in practice 3) due to ease of maintenance, ammunition and the availability of spare parts the in-production 10.5 cm leFH 18 (or later improved models) would have been the most likely candidate.
The second proposed design was to be armed with a more powerful 15 cm sFH 43 (schwere FeldHaubitze) howitzer. Several artillery manufacturers were asked by the German army to design a howitzer with all-around traverse, a range of up to 18,000 km, and a high elevation of fire. Three different manufacturers (Škoda, Krupp, and Rheinmetall-Borsig) responded to this request. It would not go into production as only a wooden mock-up was ever built.
Only a wooden mock-up of the vehicle armed with the 10.5 cm seems to have been made due to the cancellation of the T-25 tank. Beside the main guns that are to be used, nothing much is known about these modifications. According to the old photograph of the wooden model, it looks like it would have had a fully (or at least partially) rotating turret with a light machine gun. On the hull side, we can see what looks like a lifting crane (possibly one on both sides), designed to dismount the turret. The dismounted turret may then have been used as static fire support or placed on wheels as ordinary towed artillery, similar to the 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffentrager IVb German prototype vehicle. On the top of the engine compartment, some extra equipment (or parts of the gun) can be seen. On the vehicle rear (behind the engine) there is a box that looks like a holder for wheels or possibly for extra ammunition and spare parts.

Rejection

The story of the T-25 was a very short one and it did not progress beyond blueprints. Despite the hard work of Škoda workers, nothing besides plans, calculations, and wooden models was ever made. The begs the question: why was it rejected? Unfortunately, due to the lack of adequate documentation, we only can speculate as to the reasons. The most obvious is the introduction of the better armed Panzer IV Ausf. F2 model (armed with longer 7.5 cm gun) which could be built using existing production capacity. The first fully operational T-25 would probably only be able to have been built in late 1943, as the time needed for testing and adopting it for the production would have taken too long.
By late 1943, it is questionable whether the T-25 still would be a good design, it may possibly already be considered obsolete by that point. Another possible reason for rejection was the reluctance of the German army to introduce yet another design (as at that time Tiger development was underway) and thus put more stress on the already overburdened war industry. It is also possible that the Germans were not willing to adopt a foreign design and instead favored domestic projects. Another reason may be the experimental gun itself; it was innovative but how it would perform in real combat conditions and how easy or complicated it would be for production is uncertain at best. The need for the production of new ammunition would also complicate the already over-complicated German ammunition production. So it is understandable why the Germans never accepted this project.
In the end, the T-25 was never adopted for service even though (at least on paper), it had a good gun and good mobility, solid armor, and a relatively simple construction. It should be borne in mind, however, that this was a paper project only and that in reality may be the results would have been completely different. Regardless, due to its short development life after the war, it was mostly forgotten until relatively recently, thanks to its appearance in online games.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.77 x 2.75 x 2.78 m
Total weight, battle ready 23 tonnes
Crew 4 (gunner, radio operator, driver and commander)
Armament 7.5 cm Škoda A-18
unknown light machine-guns
Armor 20 – 50 mm
Propulsion Škoda 450 hp V-12 air-cooled
Speed on /off road 60 km/h
Total production None

Source

This article has been sponsored by our Patron DeadlyDilemma through our Patreon campaign.
The author of this text would take the opportunity to express special thanks to Frantisek ‘SilentStalker’ Rozkot for helping with writing this article.
Projekty středních tanků Škoda T-24 a T-25, P.Pilař, HPM, 2004
Enzyklopadie Deutscher waffen 1939-1945 Handwaffen, Artilleries, Beutewaffen, Sonderwaffen, Peter Chamberlain and Terry Gander
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945, H.C.Doyle and C.K.Kliment, Argus Books Ltd. 1979.
Škoda T-25 factory design requirements and drawings, dated 2.10.1942, document designation Am189 Sp
warspot.ru
forum.valka.cz
en.valka.cz
ftr-wot.blogspot.com
ftr.wot-news.com

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

Leichte Flakpanzer IV 3 cm “Kugelblitz”

Nazi Germany (1944-45)
Self Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – 2-5 Built

As the German Luftwaffe (German Air Force) lost control over the skies of Germany in the second half of the Second World War; it could no longer provide sufficient protection against Allied aircraft. Panzer divisions were especially affected by the lack of cover from fighter aircraft because they were always at the center of the most intense fighting. While the Germans already had copious amounts of half-tracked Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns of different calibers and weights (Sd.Kfz.10/4, Sd.Kfz.6/2, Sd.Kfz.7/1, etc), these had the significant flaw of being vulnerable to the planes they themselves were meant to protect against.
A tank-based anti-aircraft vehicle (German: Flakpanzer) could solve this problem, but little effort was done in this direction. The first attempt was the Flakpanzer I, which was built only in limited numbers and was more an improvisation of an existing design rather than a purpose-built vehicle. The later 20 mm armed Flakpanzer models (Flakpanzer 38(t)) and the Wirbelwind) were built in some numbers but were considered unsuccessful, mostly due to the weak fire power of the 2cm Flak 38 by this late stage of the war.
Larger caliber 37 mm (Möbelwagen and the Ostwind, based on the Panzer IV) armed models proved to be somewhat better vehicles but were not without flaws. The Mobelwagen required a long time to prepare for action, and the Ostwind was built in limited numbers and too late to have any influence on the War. Even the famous 88 mm anti-aircraft guns were installed on some fully-tracked and tank chassis’, but again only in very limited number. These anti-aircraft vehicles’ main problem was the lack of a fully enclosed crew compartment. This issue was to be solved by the production of a new vehicle with a fully enclosed turret, the Leichte Flakpanzer IV 3 cm but mostly known by as ‘Kugelblitz’.

A period scale model of the Leichte Flakpanzer IV 3 cm and shows how the real vehicle would have looked like. Photo: panzernet.net

History

The history of the Leichte Flakpanzer IV 3 cm began with the creation of a different project design to provide German U-Boats (submarines) with an adequate anti-aircraft system. This project was carried out by Altmärkische Kettenwerke G.m.b.H (Alkett), starting in January 1944. The idea was to test a new design of a fully enclosed oblate spheroid turret armed with two 3 cm Mk 303 cannons. This project was never implemented as originally intended, but it would instead inspire a development of a fully protected Flakpanzer with similar armament.
One of the major shortcomings of all German Flakpanzers was the lack of a fully enclosed fighting compartment. As all were open top (because of the easier construction, guns exhaust gases and the need to produce them as fast as possible) it made the gun crews exposed to air attacks.
In May 1944, several Flakpanzer projects were showed to the Generalinspekteur of German Armored units, General Heinz Guderian. One of these was Oberleutnant Josef von Glatter-Gotz Leichte Flakpanzer IV 3 cm sketch project. On the insistence of General Heinz Guderian, the design and realization of a fully protected Kugelblitz began in late 1944. For design and production of this vehicle the Daimler-Benz company was chosen, and for its weapons, Rheinmetall.

The vehicle was designed by Oberleutnant Josef von Glatter-Gotz, who represented his Kugelblitz sketch project to General Heinz Guderian in May 1944. This is a sketch possibly made after the war. Photo: SOURCE

Chassis

By November 1944, plans for the new Flakpanzer were presented to the German Army General Staff. This vehicle was to be built by using the tank chassis of the Panzer IV and a new, fully enclosed oblate spheroid turret inspired (but not the same) by the unsuccessful U-Boat project. At the beginning of 1944, Alkett tested the original U-Boat oblate spheroid turret on an unmodified Panzer IV, but due to problems with the 3 cm MK 303 gun (it never went into production) and the complicated turret (possibly too difficult for production), this project was abandoned.
The version of Panzer IV chosen for this modification is unknown. Though, being designed in the later stages of the war, there is a great chance that either the Ausf. H or the Ausf. J versions were used (according to author Marcus Hock, the Ausf. J was used). The Panzer IV tank chassis was chosen simply as it was available in large numbers and it was becoming obsolete as a main frontline combat tank. It is also likely that the tanks used for this modification would not have been a newly built model, but instead, one returned to a factory for repairs or salvaged from the front. Tiger and Panther tank chassis were considered but were deemed too valuable for this modification. The main armament was to be two 3 cm cannons, but the option of two 2 cm guns was considered to be used as a temporary solution.
The serial production was to start in late 1944, but due to Allied bombing raids over German territory, many factories were not at full capacity. As a result of these delays, the serial production only commenced at the beginning of 1945, with few produced vehicles. It is possible that at least one complete prototype was built in late 1944. In one photograph dated October 16th 1944 taken during a demonstration of different anti-aircraft weapons designs near Kummersdorf, a Kugelblitz can be seen in the background. This could only be a wooden mock-up, but it is hard to say with certainty and it could likewise be a real vehicle. It was hoped that by January 1945 pre-serial production would begin, but these plans were never realized.

This is a photograph of a Kugelblitz taken in Kummersdorf. But the question arises, is this a real vehicle or just a wooden mock-up? Photo: SOURCE
By direct orders from Hitler, in November 1944, works on a similar project began. Instead of a standard Panzer IV tank chassis, the experimental Panzer 38(d) (or by using the Jagdpanzer 38(t) according to some sources) would be used as a base. It was to be equipped with the same oblate spheroid turret, but armed with both two 2 cm MG 151/20 and two 3 cm MK 103/38 cannons, though none was ever built.

Name

Depending on the sources, this vehicle is known under a few different designations. It is usually called the Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV (Thomas L. Jentz), Flakpanzer IV (Heiner F. Duske) or Leichte Flakpanzer IV (Peter Chamberlain and Hilary L.Doyle). Frequently, the ‘3 cm’ label is added to the name in order to differentiate it from other anti-aircraft vehicles based on the Panzer IV chassis. The nickname ‘Kugelblitz’ is used in many sources in reference to this vehicle. But if this nickname is a German or a post-war designation is hard to say. In this article, the ‘Kugelblitz’ name has and will be used, if only for the sake of simplicity. ‘Kugelblitz’ can be translated as ball lightning.

Production Plans and Number Built

Original plans for the Kugelblitz production predicted that the first five vehicles would be built by September 1944. Then it was to increase production to up to 30 vehicles by December 1944, and by early 1945, around 100 operational vehicles where to be built. The initial vehicles were to be built by Daimler-Benz (also in charge of producing two prototypes) and Deutsche Eisenwerke (three prototypes). For many reasons, including lack of resources and Allied bombing raids, production began only in early 1945. By the end of January 1945, planned monthly production was (sources give different numbers): 10 in January, 10 (30) vehicles in February, 10 (30) in March and a last batch of 40 in April. Because of the chaotic state Germany was in at this point of the War, it is difficult to determine the exact number of produced vehicles, but it probably did not match the planned production.
Production numbers are hard to find. Some sources state that at least one complete model was built, in addition to possibly a few more turrets, but other sources vary from up to five or even seven vehicles being completed. ‘Panzer Tracts No.12, Flak selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer’, written by Thomas L. Jentz, cites several examples: According to Ing. Ebel (he worked at the Daimler-Benz) only three were fully completed. Mostly as the main supplier and builder of some of the vehicle’s parts, the Deutsche Eisenwerke plant (near the city of Duisburg, West Germany), was captured (at the beginning of 1945) by the Allied forces. According to Rudolf Spolders, the director of Deutsche Eisenwerke, only two turrets were completed, which were sent to Berlin to be possibly used as static anti-aircraft emplacement. Additionally, Jentz affirms that one complete vehicle was ready in October 1944 and that two more vehicles were built in March 1945. According to Walter J. Spielberger, five were built by February 1945. Bryan Perrett quotes that “half a dozen or so” were built. According to Duško Nešić, one prototype was built in November 1944, and two more in February 1945. According to some internet websites up to 7 were built. What can be said with certainty though is that at least two fully operational vehicles were built, as there is evidence of their existence (photographs and remains of one turret).

Technical Characteristics

As already mentioned, the Kugelblitz was built by using the Panzer IV (possibly Ausf. H or J) tank chassis. The suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to its construction. It consisted of eight small road wheels (on both sides) suspended in pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total (one, one, and four on each side respectively). The design of the engine compartment was also unchanged. The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM (water cooled) 265 hp with 2.600 rpm.
The maximum armor of the lower frontal glacis was 80 mm thick, the sides were 30 mm, the rear 20 mm and the bottom armor was only 10 mm.
Most parts of the upper tank hull were unchanged from the original Panzer IV. The driver’s front observation hatch and the ball-mounted hull machine gun remained. The turret ring was replaced with a one taken from the Tiger I (with a diameter of 1900 mm). This was necessary because of the wider size of the newly designed turret. Because of this, the two hull crew hatch doors (for the driver and radio operator) were repositioned so as to not disturb this new installation. The front hull, directly above the driver and radio operator positions, was totally straight and level with engine deck. This differs substantially from standard Panzer IV hull as this part was slightly sloped. The front armor of the upper hull was 80 mm, the sides were 30 mm, and the rear armor that protected engine compartment was only 20 mm.
The biggest change in the design was the new enclosed oblate spheroid turret (with a fully 360° traverse) armed with two 3 cm cannons. Some sources (Marcus Hoch and Walter J. Spielberger) describe it as spherically (or simply as ball-shaped) shaped, but due to flattened sides and irregular top shape, the oblate spheroid is a more convenient designation. This newly designed turret was fully enclosed (suspended by using gimbals) and protected by a rounded protective mantlet (which had a shape like a shortened cone). The mantlet was made by welding three curved steel plates. The complete turret (together with the protective mantlet) had a larger diameter than the original Panzer IV turret. The oblate spheroid turret had a very compact construction with a diameter of only 60 cm. At least, in theory, it could be easily adapted to be operationally used in any other German armored vehicle. But in practice, besides the Panzer IV it was never used in any other vehicle.
The turret mantlet had 30 mm of armor, the inner enclosed oblate spheroid turret 20 mm, the rear part was 30 mm, with 10 mm on the top. This relatively thin armor offered protection from most machine guns and grenades.
Dimensions of the Kugelblitz were: length 5.92 m, width 2.95 m, and the height 2.3-2.4 m (depending on the source). The weight was around 23 to 25 t, again, depending on the source used.

Parts of the 3 cm cannons were protected by an armored casing, as can be seen here. On the front mantlet, the place where the two armored plate are welded together, it is visible. Photo: SOURCE
The main weapon consisted of two 3 cm MK 103/38 cannons. These cannons were already in use by the German Air Force (under the designation MK 103), mostly for ground attacks. But as the 2 cm calibers anti-aircraft gun began to become obsolete by 1944, the 3 cm MK 103 was reused for the role of a new ground anti-aircraft weapon (usually under the designation 3cm Flak 38 or 103/38). In addition to the better firepower, the compact size and belt-feed ammunition system proved to be ideal for the use in an enclosed turret. The main gun was placed in a box-shaped armored causing, but it was not gas-tight although it is possible that it was planned to be gas-tight in the future. Due to the fact that when used in action these canons produced a lot of powder smoke, installation of good extractor fans was important. The elevation of the 3 cm MK 103/38 was from – 7° to +80° (with other sources specifying -4° to +80° or -5° to +70°) with the whole ball moving up and down like an Oscillating Turret. The gun was activated by a trigger chain connected to the commander’s foot pedals (one for each gun). Initially, the manual traverse was tested by using reduction gears, but it proved to be a slow process. The traverse speed was only 10° per second and the elevation only 7º to 8° per second. As this vehicle was designed to fight fast and nimble ground attack aircraft, it was insufficient for the job, so a hydraulically driven mechanism controlling the traverse and elevation by means of a control stick, providing increased speed. The maximum rotating speed was 60° per second.
The maximum rate of fire was 250 rounds per minute, but 150 rpm was the more practical rate. The total ammunition load for this weapon was 1,200 rounds. The discharged cases fell into canvas bags placed under the guns. The order for redesigning and installing the new 3cm cannons in the turret was given to the Ostbau-Sagan in September 1944.
External parts of the two 3 cm canons barrels were protected by an armored casing and held in the center by three screws on each side. Besides their personal weapons, the crew could use the ball-mounted hull MG 34 machine gun for self-defense.

Illustration showing the crew movements in unison with the turret movement. Photo: SOURCE


The Flakpanzer Kugelblitz, painted in the ‘Dunkelgelb’ colour. Illustration by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patron Golum through our Patreon Campaign.

Crew & Their Positions

The crew consisted of the commander/gunner, two gunner assistants, driver, and a radio operator. The positions of the radio operator (Fu 2 and Fu 5 radios were used), who also operated the hull mounted MG 34 machine gun, and the driver were same as on the original Panzer IV. The remaining three crew members were positioned in the new turret. The commander/gunner was position in the middle, behind the main guns, whilst the gunner assistants were placed on the left and right side in front of him. The crewmembers situated left of the gun were responsible for the turret’s movements, and the one on the right side was responsible for loading the guns. The spare ammunition was located on the right side. In some sources (like the Valka internet site), the left side crew operator was the gunner, but as the position of the foot pedals is behind the gun, this is incorrect. Each of these three crew members had hatch doors which they could use to enter or exit the vehicle. The gunner assistants’ hatch doors had a small round shaped hatch, which was also used for sighting devices. The commander had a small observation cupola on top of the new turret, equipped with a periscope for finding targets. The small size of these hatches made entering and exiting the vehicle difficult. On the turret rear, the mantlet was partially elevated, possibly for better rear protection of the commander when his hatch was open. But this, with combination of the position of the commander’s hatch, made any escape almost impossible when the turret was at high elevation. The turret crew moved together with the turret movements. This was done in order for the crew to follow the movement of the main weapon itself and thus targeting the target more precisely.

Photo of the turret where all three turret crew escape hatch doors are visible. Two on each side plus the additional rear two-part hatch door for the commander. Photo: SOURCE

3 cm Flugabwehrkanone 103/38 (3 cm Flak 38)

The 3 cm Flak 38 was made in late 1944 due to the weak firepower of the 2 cm Flak’s. It was built as a combination of the aircraft 3 cm MK 103 cannon and the 2 cm Flak 38 mounting, mostly to get it in operational service as soon as possible and to be cheap to produce. In mid-1944, Rheinmetall-Borsing was tasked with the production of some 2000 guns, in addition to 1000 gun that were to be built by Gustloffwerke, but only small numbers were produced by the end of the war. The similar four-barreled version of the 2 cm Flak 38 was also tested with the 3 cm MK 103, but it too was built in limited number only. The 3 cm Flak 38 was not a successful design, largely because of the strong vibration when firing which made the target aiming difficult and could cause some damage on the mounting itself. One innovation was the use of belt-fed system instead of the old magazine fed system. There are few designation for this gun, (depending on the source) the 3 cm Flugabwehrkanone 103/38 (simply Flak 38), Flak 103/38, 3 cm MK 103/38, or more aggressive ‘Jaboschreck’. The Jaboschreck word in essence can be translated as fast ground attack aircraft (Jagdbomber in German or just short Jabo) terror or fright (schreck).

The 3 cm Flak 38. Photo: SOURCE
The 3 cm Flak 38 was a gas-operated and fully automatic gun. With 360° traverse and -5° to +70° elevation. The rate of fire was around 450 rpm, but the more practical rate of fire was 250 rpm. Total weight of the gun was 619 kg. There where few different types of ammunition in use: the HE (815 gm), an experimental high-capacity HE rounds, AP with a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s. The maximum firing range was around 5.700 m.

In Combat

All produced vehicles (possibly five) were given to the newly formed Panzerflak Ersatz und Ausbildungsabteilung (armored Flak training and replacement battalion) located near the city of Ohrdruf (Freistaat Thüringen region in central Germany). One company was divided into three platoons equipped with a mix of different Flakpanzers vehicles. The first platoon was equipped with the Wirbelwind, the second with Ostwind, and the third platoon was intended to be equipped with experimental vehicles, such as the Kugelblitz.
The fate of all produced Kugelblitz Flakpanzers is not known. What is know from photographic evidence is that at least two were used in combat and were destroyed.
One or more vehicles (in addition to possibly an unknown number of turrets) were sent to Berlin, and during the final Soviet assault on the German capital all were lost. A photo taken on 11th July 1945 shows one destroyed Kugelblitz in Berlin. It is identified as a Kugelblitz because of the position of the front hull (right above the driver position) which is totally flat in contrast to slightly sloped shape found on regular Panzer IV’s. Doyle states this to be a real Kugelblitz.

Destroyed Kugelblitz captured during the battle for Berlin. Photo: SOURCE
There is information about another Kugelblitz vehicle that was used in combat, but in this case against Allied forces on the West, more specifically during the battles for Hörschel, Spichra and Creuzburg by the end of March and beginning of April 1945. As the American forces advanced through central parts of Germany, they came to a small village named Spichra. This village was surrounded by the Werra River and the only way across was through a partly destroyed bridge connected to a power plant. This bridge was defended with few anti-tank guns, some Panzer IIIs (marked as training vehicles) and one Kugelblitz (from the Panzerflak Ersatz und Ausbildungsabteilung). All were located at Spatenberg Hill near this village. An American reconnaissance force was sent to investigate and to find a place where the river crossing could be possible. This unit came under German fire and was forced to pull out with some losses. The American response was to bomb the village and the nearby hill. In the following battle the Kugelblitz was destroyed and its remains were discovered in 1999.
By the end of the war, the Allies managed to capture one Kugelblitz turret. Until the seventies it was stored at Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, United Kingdom. It was eventually returned to Germany (in the late seventies) and can now be seen at the Anti-Aircraft School at Rendsburg (Schleswig-Holstein).

Two views of the remains of the destroyed Kugelblitz turret near the village of Spichra, found in 1999. Photos:SOURCE/SOURCE

Conclusion

It is sometimes claimed that if this vehicle was produced earlier, and in larger numbers, it could have made a large impact on the war (this is often said for other German late built model vehicles, like for example Jagdpanther). In theory, the Kugelblitz would have provided more effective anti-aircraft fire against Allied low-flying attack aircraft and significantly reduced the danger they posed for German ground forces and thus reduce losses. They also note that the highly developed and advanced construction of this vehicle and its impact on later models built after the war. Claims about the potential impact of the Kugelblitz on the course of the war omit certain facts:

  • The Kugelblitz was built only in limited numbers, possibly only a few prototype vehicles.
  • It is important to notice that these were prototypes (pre-production) vehicles, and their combat potential thus was limited, having been hastily constructed and possibly not even properly tested.
  • There is only a limited record of Kugelblitz combat use, and if it was effective against its primary targets (ground attack aircraft) is unknown.
  • The claim that the Kugelblitz had a great impact on post-war anti-aircraft vehicle designs is questionable. A number of the first post-war anti-aircraft models had partially enclosed turrets, such as the American M42 Duster or the Soviet ZSU-57-2 design.
  • The Allies were already using anti-aircraft vehicles (during the WW2) with a fully enclosed turret (based on the Crusader tank design), so they had some experience with this system, probably influencing post-war designs more strongly.

In conclusion, the Kugelblitz was definitely an improvement (in the case of crew protection) over previous Flakpanzers that were already in operational use. It had good firepower with its two 3 cm cannons, good mobility and solid protection. It had a much lower silhouette than the Wirbelwind Flakpanzer for example, making it a less visible target. As a design it was certainly impressive and innovative.
The biggest negative side was the fact that it was never properly tested to see if the whole Kugelblitz design was successful and efficient. Even if it was built in larger numbers, it was simply too little too late. By late 1944 and 1945, the war was already lost for Germany.

Specifications

Dimensions 5.92 x 2.88 x 2.3 m
Total weight, battle ready 23-25 tons
Crew 5 (Radio operator, two gunners, driver and commander)
Armament 2x 3 cm Mk 103/3 Auto-cannons
1x MG 34
Armor Panzer IV hull 10-80 mm, turret mantlet 30 mm and the oblate spheroid part 10-30 mm
Propulsion Maybach V12 gasoline HL 120 TRM
(220 kW) 300 [email protected] rpm
Suspension Leaf springs
Speed on /off road 38 km/hr, 20 km/hr
Range (road/off road) 200/130 km
Total production 2-5

Sources

Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft tanks, Walter J. Spielberger, Bernard & Graefe, Munich,
Panzer IV and its Variants,Walter J. Spielberger, 1993,
The armor journal, Issue 3. Summer 2015,
Nuts & Bolts Vol.08 Experimental Flak-weapons of the Wehrmacht part 2, Heiner F. Tony Greenland and Frank Schulz,
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-Nemačka , Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008,
Panzer Tracts No.12 book Flak selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer, Thomas L. Jentz,
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr ab 1900, Werner Oswald 2004,
Panzerkampfwagen IV, Medium Tank 1936-45, Bryan Perrett, New Vanguard 2008.
Encyclopedia of German tanks of World War Two, Peter Chamberlain and Hilary L.Doyle.
forum.valka.cz
mihla.de
preservedtanks.com

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

Grille 17/21 Self-Propelled Guns

Nazi germanyNazi Germany (1942)
Prototype Self-Propelled Guns

The Tiger gun carrier

On the 6th of May 1942, the German weapons manufacturer Krupp submitted a proposal for the construction of a new armored self-propelled gun carriage that used components from the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger. While it was based on the Tiger tank chassis design, it was radically altered. It was meant to be able to carry two different guns.
Grille 17/21 chassis with a King tiger, Panther Jagdtiger and Panther tank
The Grille 17/21 chassis is on the right of the photo next to a King Tiger with the early turret and a Panther tank on the far left. Behind the three vehicles is a Jagdtiger SPG. They were all captured at the Henschel Panzerversuchsstation, Haustenbeck Ordinance proving ground. (The Tank Museum, Bovington)
The vehicle was named, in typical German fashion, the ‘Geschützwagen Tiger für 17 cm Kanone 72 (Sf.)’ or the ‘Geschützwagen Tiger für 21 cm Mörser 18/1 (Sf.)’, depending on the gun mounted.
The German word Geschützwagen literally translates to ‘gun vehicle’. This is not an accurate description of the concept behind this artillery self-propelled gun. A gun carriage would be a better description. Unlike other German self-propelled guns, this vehicle was designed to mount different weapons. It was a modular concept. The vehicle was given the shorter names of Grille 17 and Grille 21 depending on what weapon was mounted inside the vehicle. The German word Grille means ‘cricket’ and the letter ‘e’ at the end is pronounced as an ‘er’: Grill-er.
The proposal was submitted on 6 May 1942 to the Wa Prüf 4 artillery division of the Heereswaffenamt (HWA) (German High Command’s center for technical weapons development). Krupp was authorized to build a single prototype with a completion date of 1 November 1942. The Wa Prüf 4 made a requirement that the vehicle must have the ability to have a 360-degree traverse. They also wanted it to be available for coastal defense work if necessary.
The Grille 17/21 chassis was much longer than a standard Tiger tank
The Grille 17/21 chassis was much longer than a standard Tiger tank and difficult to photograph at close quarters. This image has been made by ‘stiching’ together a number of separate images. (The Tank Museum Bovington)

Design and Problems

The two guns were too heavy to be mounted in a turret so the Krupp design team had to find another solution. They constructed a large heavy circular base plate that would be carried at the rear of the vehicle and lowered into position when needed. The SPG would then drive onto the metal plate and could swivel on its tracks to point the gun at the target. This was an unusual design feature of this weapon system not seen on any other German vehicle in WW2.
Another requirement was that the guns were to be dismountable. This would be achieved by driving backward towards the base plate, after which the gun could be slid out of the vehicle and mounted on the base plate, allowing it to cover 360°. The reasoning behind this feature was that the Grille was also meant to be used in the coastal defense role and this allowed it to fire in any direction. This requirement was dropped in 1944 under the orders of Heinrich Himmler.
Design and mechanical problems were also encountered with the Tiger chassis, engine and transmission. It did not help that the winner of the competition between the Porsche and the Henschel designs hadn’t yet been decided, and they had vastly different drivetrain arrangements.
American officer is examining the engine bay of the Grille 17/21 chassis
This American officer is examining the engine bay of the Grille 17/21 chassis. His presences gives you the sense of proportion of this weapon. It was very large. (The Tank Museum Bovington)
Initially, the vehicle was meant to have a 30 mm armor plate on the front of the chassis and 16 mm on the sides. In November 1942, it was decided to use SM-Stahl (carbon steel) in the construction of this self-propelled gun. 50 mm of SM-Stahl carbon steel were used for the front of the vehicle. The sides and rear would have 30 mm SM-Stahl carbon steel. This added to the weight of the vehicle. There were a number of delays in the project. The original 1 November 1942 completion date passed without a prototype being finished.
When the Panzer VI Ausf.B Tiger II (Sd.Kfz.182) heavy tanks started rolling out of the factory doors, Krupp decided to use the Tiger II engine, suspension, steering, and transmission instead of Tiger I parts. These components were not ready for delivery until January 1944. This delayed the estimated final construction of the prototype until the summer of 1944.
On 25 September of 1944, Reichsminister Albert Speer ordered a demonstration for Adolf Hitler to take place as soon as the vehicle was completed, now planned for the end of the year. Serial production was to then start at the rate of two per month.
Grille 17/21 at the Henschel Panzerversuchsstation, Haustenbeck
This photograph was taken at the Henschel Panzerversuchsstation, Haustenbeck (Ordinance proving ground). Notice the armored hatches on the front of the Grille 17/21 SPG’s superstructure. (The Tank Museum Bovington)

Armament

It was envisaged that two different guns could be mounted in the vehicle: the 17cm Kanone K72 (Sf) L/50 or the 21cm Mörser 18/1 L/31. These two weapons were chosen because they used the same gun carriage and recoil system. The fittings would be the same when the guns were mounted within the self-propelled gun superstructure. The guns would have had a traverse of 5 degrees left and right from a fixed position. The gun sight was a Z.E. 34 with Rblf.36. Both vehicles would have to be supported by a number of ammunition carrying vehicles.
17 cm Kanone 18 in Mörserlafette on display at the U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma, USA. Jon Bernstein
17 cm Kanone 18 in Mörserlafette on display at the U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma, USA. (Jon Bernstein)
The Grille 17 would have carried 5 rounds plus propellant on board when equipped with a 17cm Kanone K72 (Sf) L/50 gun. It could fire two types of shells, the 68 kg Sprenggranate(HE) with 29.15 kg of propellant and a range of 28,000 meters and the 62.8 kg Sprenggranate(HE) with 30.5 kg of propellant and a range of 29,600 meters.
The 21cm Mörser 18/1 L/31 was already in production and use by the Germans when the project started. It was produced to replace the much older 21cm Mörser 16. The 21cm Mörser 18 replaced the 21cm Mörser 16 in front-line service around 1940 with the older gun being relegated to secondary theaters and training units. More than 711 21cm Mörser 18 guns were produced in 1939–45. The Grille 21 would have carried 3 rounds plus propellant on board when equipped with this gun. It could fire a 113 kg Sprenggranate(HE) shell with 15.7 kg of propellant to a range of up to 16,700 meters.
A 17 cm (172 mm) gun barrel and breach can be seent on the floor gun carriage with 21 cm Mrs 18 painted on it. The fate of the gun is not known.
A 17 cm (172 mm) gun barrel and breach can be seen on the floor in front of a gun carriage with 21 cm Mrs 18 painted on it. The fate of the gun is not known.
In January 1945, plans were made to mount a 30.5cm caliber smooth bore mortar with fin-stabilized projectiles, due to the concerns over the length of time it took to produce artillery barrels for the two other guns. Krupp and Skoda both competed on this project with Skoda producing a 30.5 GrW L/16 prototype by April 1945.
As a side note to armament, in 1945 Kurt Arnoldt, Chief Engineer at Henschel, said in a 1945 interview that the 21cm gun produced too much recoil for the chassis as designed, making it impossible to fire from the chassis. The 17 cm muzzle break was based on a design by Solothurn design. Ammunition would have been stowed both in the vehicle and in wicker baskets on the side of the vehicle as well as in a following 18-ton semi-tracked vehicles (half-track). The gunnery sights also allow for direct firing of the gun on close-range targets.
German 21 cm Mörser 18 on display at the U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma, USA. Jon Bernstein
German 21 cm Mörser 18 on display at the U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma, USA. (Jon Bernstein)

Crew members

According to a British intelligence report from 1945, the Grille designs meant to have a crew of 8, composed of a driver, a commander and 6 gun crewmen. The loading of the two-part ammunition was meant to be done manually. It is stated in a 1945 interview with Kurt Arnoldt, the Chief Engineer for Henschel, that the additional crew would travel in a semi-track vehicle, Kurt Arnoldt suggests the 18-toner, and haul additional ammunition.

Mobility

A Tiger II Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12 water-cooled petrol 690 hp engine was ordered along with a Maybach OG 40 12 16 B gearbox with eight forward and 4 reverse gears. Henschel made the L 801 steering unit. The engine was mid-mounted in the chassis to allow for the maximum amount of room for the large gun and space for the crew.
As rubber was difficult to obtain in 1944 the wheels were 80 cm all steel tires. However, the 1945 interview with Kurt Arnoldt suggests rubber rimmed roadwheels. But photos do not confirm this. It was fitted with Gg 24-800/300 Tiger II track for traveling cross country, but this would have been replaced with smaller width Gg 24-600/300 Panther II tank track if transportation by rail was required.

A Troubled End

More delays occurred when the Allied air force bombed Krupp’s manufacturing plant in Essen. Construction work on the prototype was no longer viable at this location. On 7 December 1944 Krupp reported that the chassis was ready to be loaded onto a flat back railway wagon for transportation from Essen to the Henschel Panzerversuchsstation 96, Haustenbeck near Paderborn. It was recorded as being at this establishment on documents dated 22 December 1944 but missing many of the components needed for the completion of the project including the cooling and fuel system, Gg 24/800/300 tracks and hardened road wheel arms.
The Grille 17/21 prototype was still in an unfinished condition when the German High Command ordered all future work on the program to be stopped. The situation in the 1st quarter of 1945 was such that in their view there would not be any significant advantage in the completion of the project. Resources were limited and they had to be channeled to more important weapon production lines.
In 1945, the US 3rd Army captured the Henschel panzerversuchsstation, Haustenbeck Ordinance proving and tank testing ground in Northern Germany, 50 km south west of Hanover. A selection of German heavy tanks and self-propelled guns were found in working condition. A few prototype vehicles were discovered that never entered production. These included a partially assembled Geschützwagen Tiger für 17 cm Kanone 72 chassis and nearby a 17 cm Kanone 72. They did not find a second chassis or a 21 cm Mörser.

Gallery

The Allies took the chance to examine this huge weapon system - Gille 17/20 SPG
The Allies took the chance to examine this huge weapon system. The three soldiers inside are dwarfed by the sides of the superstructure of the Grille 17/20 SPG. (The Tank Museum Bovington)
 Grille 17/21 at the front
The driver sat on the left of the Grille 17/21 at the front. The hull machine gunner sat on his right, (The Tank Museum Bovington)
Geschützwagen Tiger für 17 cm Kanone 72 (Sf.)
Here you can see the design of the extended chassis and the rear of the superstructure. Notice that it was an open topped SPG. (The Tank Museum Bovington)
Jagdtiger and Grille 17/21 SPG
The Jagdtiger SPG was 2.8 m (9 ft 2 in) tall and 10.65 m (34 ft 11 in) long. It gives you a good idea of how large the Grille 17/21 self-propelled gun was when the two vehicles are seen together. (The Tank Museum Bovington)
The front armour of the superstructure was only 30 mm thick
The front armor of the superstructure was only 30 mm thick. It was not enough to save the crew from a Soviet, British or American armor piercing AP round in 1945. (The Tank Museum Bovington)
The gun chassis rails can be seen on the floor of the fighting compartment
The gun chassis rails can be seen on the floor of the fighting compartment in this photo of the Grille 17/20 SPGs fighting compartment. (The Tank Museum Bovington)
large perforated muzzle brake
large perforated muzzle brake found next to the Grille 17/21 17 cm gun barrel. (The Tank Museum Bovington)

Wrong photos

The following photographs are often seen in books and posted on the internet wrongly claiming that they are photographs of a wooden mock-up of the Grille 17/21 fighting compartment. This is a mock-up of the Flakwagen auf Panther NOT the Grille 17/21. The first author to make this understandable error was Spielberger in his book ‘Tiger und seine Abarten’.
mock up of Flakwagen auf Panther
This is a photo of a mock-up of the Flakwagen auf Panther NOT the Grille 17/21 (Spielberger)
Wooden mock up of the superstructure of the Flakwagen auf Panther
Wooden mock up of the superstructure of the Flakwagen auf Panther NOT the Grille 17/21 (Spielberger)
Gunners seat mock-up in the Flakwagen
Gunners seat mock-up in the Flakwagen auf Panther NOT the Grille 17/21 (Spielberger)

An article by Craig Moore and CaptainNemo

Grille 17/21 specifications

Dimensions (L,W) Grille 17 13 m (42 ft 8 in), 3.27 m (10 ft 9 in
Dimensions (L,W) Grille 21 11 m (36 ft 1 in), 3.59 m (11 ft 8 in)
Height (17 & 21) 3.15 m (10 ft 4 in)
Total weight 60 tonnes (59 tons)
Crew 8 (Commander, driver, 6 gunners)
Propulsion Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12 23 liter water-cooled petrol 690 hp engine
Top road speed 45 km/18 km (28 mph/11 mph)
Operational range (road) 250 km/125 km (155 miles/78 miles)
Main Armament 17 cm K72 L/50 or 21 cm M18/1 L 31 mortar
Armor (chassis) 16 – 30mm

Sources

Joachim Engelmann, German Heavy Field Artillery 1934-1945.(Schiffer Publishing Ltd)
Ian V. Hogg, German Artillery of WW2. (Pen & Sword)
Frank V.de Sisto, German Artillery at War 1939-45 vol.1. (Concord Publication Co).
Gordon Rottman, German self-propelled guns. (Concord Publication Co).
Peter Chamberlain, Thomas L.Jentz and Hillary L.Doyle, Encyclopedia of German tanks of WWII, (Arms and Armour Press).
Peter Chamberlain and Hillary L.Doyle, Profile AFV Weapons 55 German Self-Propelled Weapons. (Profile Publications)
The War Office, Handbook of Enemy Ammunition Pamphlet No 15 – 24th May 1945.
SHAEF, Restricted July 1944 – Allied Expeditionary Force – German Guns – Brief notes and range tables for allied gunners. SHAEF/16527/2A/GCT.
SHAEF, Allied Expeditionary Force German Guns – Brief Notes and Range Tables for Allied Gunners – SHAEF/16527/2A/GCT July 1944
Major L.J.McNair, Artillery Firing, (US Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Oct 1919
U.S. Army Council. Handbook of Enemy Ammunition Pamphlet No.15. German Ammunition Markings and Nomenclature.
Panzer Tracts No.10 Artillerie Selbstfahrlafetten by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
https://warspot.ru

Geschützwagen Tiger für 21 cm Mörser 18/1 (Sf.) Grille
Geschützwagen Tiger für 21 cm Mörser 18/1 (Sf.) Grille with the 21 cm Mortar fitted. It is painted in factory fresh Red-Oxide Primer. The length of the gun is noticeably smaller that the 17 cm cannon. The turning dish has not been fitted to the rear of the vehicle.

Geschützwagen Tiger für 17 cm Kanone 72 (Sf.) Grille with the 17 cm gun
Geschützwagen Tiger für 17 cm Kanone 72 (Sf.) Grille with the 17 cm gun fitted in fictional ‘what if’ markings. Notice the extended chassis and the large turning dish mounted at the rear.

Both illustrations made by tank encyclopedia’s David Bocquelet

German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War
German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War

By Craig Moore

One towed artillery gun required a team of six horses and nine men. WW2 German engineers came up with the idea of mounting an artillery gun on top of a tank chassis. This new technology reduced the amount of resources required to deploy one artillery gun. Artillery self-propelled guns only needed a four or five man crew. They could also be made ready to fire more quickly. This book covers the development and use of this new weapon between 1939 and 1945. One type was successfully used in the invasion of France in May 1940. More were used on the Eastern Front against Soviet forces from 1941 until the end of the war in 1945.

Buy this book on Amazon!

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

German Tank-based Railway Guns

German self propelled guns of ww2 Nazi Germany
Self-propelled superheavy siege guns – None Built

“It seemed like a good idea at the time”

Times of war can lead to unorthodox solutions to unforeseen problems. Sometimes these are successful; the Duplex Drive tank, the jet engine, night vision, and reactive armor. Sometimes these aren’t so successful…
The designs talked about here are not among the former. This article is a collection of little-known projects by Nazi Germany to mount naval artillery, super heavy siege cannons, and railway guns on the combined chassis of two or more tanks. These designs are quite obscure and do not have enough information to warrant their own individual articles.

Projekt NM

Coming from 1943 is possibly one of the strangest ground fighting vehicles ever designed; the Project NM was a massive wooden warehouse structure atop a steel girder frame transported by three turretless Tiger Ausf.E tanks. The entire assembly measured about 17 meters wide by 15 meters long. Inside the wooden warehouse were three turrets mounted line abreast armed with 12.8 cm cannons. The center turret was slightly staggered behind the other two. The cannons pointed back over the rear of the vehicle, poking out through the doors of the warehouse. At the ‘front’ was a single Tiger tank while the other two Tigers were under the rear.
There are two schools of thought as to what the purpose of this vehicle was. The first is that it was destined for use on the plains of the Eastern Front, but there are several problems with this. Firstly, a large warehouse slowly creeping across a field isn’t very inconspicuous. Second, the NM would be unable to cross rivers, neither by fording, due to the rigidity of its construction, nor by bridges, due to its width. As a rigid structure, the NM would be unable to cope with all but the slightest changes in ground slope.
The second possible use for the vehicle is as a mobile coastal defense installation, for example as part of the Atlantikwall. This seems the more reasonable use, as a warehouse on the coastline isn’t likely to draw attention. Just who the project is attributed to is unknown as well, whether it was the Heer (Army) or the Kriegsmarine (Navy). Suspected use, armament, and the name all point to it being a Kriegsmarine project. The Kriegsmarine often designated their projects with capital letters, while the Heer did not. The armament, consisting of three 12.8 cm guns in separate turrets is another indication that the NM was a Kriegsmarine project. The Kriegsmarine referred to all their 128 mm guns as 127 mm guns, probably in order to avoid confusion with the Heer’s cannons. Assuming the NM was a Kriegsmarine project, its armament would have been either 12.7 cm SK C/34, or 12.7 cm SK C/41 cannons, though the former is the more likely choice, as they were more widely used.
Operationally, the NM would likely be deployed to a coast region where an attack was expected, or where the defense needed strengthening. The vehicle would be reversed into position and possibly camouflaged to best appear as a non-threatening structure. When an enemy vessel was within range the doors of the warehouse would be opened, giving the guns a reasonable firing arc. The NM would have time enough to fire a few salvos before the enemy vessels finally realized they were being engaged by a warehouse and not surface vessels or gun emplacements. When return fire started coming in, the NM could drive forward to move itself out of the line of fire.
Unsurprisingly, attaching three Tiger chassis together with steel girders and putting a warehouse on top wasn’t seen as a very practical idea. The NM Project did not advance any further.

Projekt NM Blueprint (Source: Der Panzerkampfwagen Tiger und Seine Abarten – Walter J. Spielberger, 1997)

Tiger H als Tragfahrzeug für schwerste Geschütze

In January 1941 (perhaps this was a typo for 1942, as the project is only mentioned again in December of 1942, nearly two years later), the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency) put out a requirement for a system for transporting the 24 cm Kanone 4.
The K 4 was a project to upgrade the underwhelming 24 cm K 3. Only 14 K 3 guns were built; the reason being was that they were much more time-consuming to set up and operate than comparable guns such as the 21 cm Mörser 18, while their advantage in performance was not significant enough to warrant the hassle. Little information is available on the K 4, other than basic measurements. The barrel length was a ‘L/72’ meaning it was 72 calibers long. (72 x 24 cm gives a total barrel length of 17.28 m) and the gun was meant to fire 160 kilograms (353 lb.) shells up to 49 kilometers (30.4 miles).
Both the firms of Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig responded to the requirement. Krupp’s design was to use two unarmored Panzer VI Tiger chassis; while Rheinmetall’s design used the Karl-Gerät chassis. Further information on Rheinmetall’s design is unavailable; presumably, it was rejected early on due to the Karl Gerät chassis being too slow and unmaneuverable.
On the 17th of December, 1942, the OKH (German Army High Command) sent letter Wa J Rü (WuG 6) Villa2 Nr. 9846/42 to Henschel, the manufacturer of the Tiger chassis, requesting the necessary parts to build a prototype. Assembly of the vehicle was to take place at one of Krupp’s plants. The order was signed under the name “Tiger H als Tragfahrzeug für schwerste Geschütze”, or “Tiger H as a carrier for the heaviest guns”.
Krupp’s design aimed to have greater speed and mobility than the lackluster Karl Gerät. The unarmored Tiger chassis weighed 25 tons each. In order to prevent one tank moving while the other wasn’t, which would have damaged the machine, the drive units of each chassis were intended to be hydraulically linked to stay at the same speed. The projected top speed was 30 to 35 kph (18.6 to 21.7 mph). Hydraulic jacks were to be installed in place of the turret in the Tiger chassis; these would support large cylinders which in turn supported the gun platform. The gun platform could be lowered onto its base plate and the Tigers driven away with minimum difficulty. Four outriggers would be deployed to stabilize the gun. Whether or not the gun had any reasonable degree of traverse once in firing position is unknown.
The gun platform was lowered in the center, like a heavyweight railroad flatcar, but even so, the assembly was more than twice as tall as a normal Tiger tank when in transport configuration. Additionally, the ground pressure for each unarmored unit was significantly higher than a normal Tiger tank. However, being too heavy to cross bridges was not seen as a concern as only one load-bearing unit would be on the bridge at one time, due to the vehicle being so long. The distance between the centers of the Tiger chassis was to be 20 to 22 meters (65.5 to 72.1 feet), to give a sense of scale, a normal tractor-trailer truck trailer is 53 feet, or 16.1 meters long.
On the 23rd of December, 1942, Henschel stated that they would be unable to produce more Tiger chassis for a Lastenträger vehicle alongside of normal Tiger production, as they were already at full capacity.
A single prototype of the K 4 was being constructed at Krupp of Essen, but this was destroyed in a bombing raid in March 1943. With the destruction of the prototype, the K 4 project was canceled. If it had not been canceled already, this was surely the death of the Tiger H als Tragfahrzeug für schwerste Geschütze as well.

24 cm Kanone 4 mit Lastenträger Tiger I (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

Gerät 566 Lastenträger 606/5 für K 5/3 (Tiger)

As the first design was canceled due to the discontinuation of the intended weapon, and not because it was ridiculous and impractical, Krupp decided to persevere with the tank-based railway gun idea using the 28 cm K 5 instead. The K 5 (sometimes incorrectly referred to as Leopold – this was the name of an individual railway gun rather than the name for this system) was the most successful railway gun of World War II; 25 pieces were built in total. The railway version of the gun weighed 218 metric tons; this number is probably not far off from the weight of the tank-based gun had it been built.
To transport the K 5 Krupp chose the Panzer VI Tiger II chassis. The general construction was similar to that of the first design, however, it seems the second design had even thinner support cylinders. Coupled with the immense weight of the K 5, it is even more unlikely the mechanism for raising the gun into transport position and lowering the gun into firing position would be functional and reliable.
Note: The book ‘Der Panzerkampfwagen Tiger und Seine Abarten’ (Spielberger, 1997) seems to suggest that the gun barrel, gun carriage, and base plate were all transported separately. However, the same book shows the illustration below, which implies that the whole assembly was transported as a single unit. Transporting the weapon in pieces would help overcome the problems of its great size and weight, but would make assembly upon arrival a nightmare. The book also states that a separate Tiger II-based vehicle would bring along “closing pieces” for the gun.
The Gerät 566 Lastenträger 606/5 für K 5/3 (Tiger) would have used a late-war development of the K 5 gun; the K 5 Glatt. The K 5 Glatt had a 31 cm smoothbore gun tube that was designed to fire 136 kilograms (300 lb.) subcaliber fin-stabilized rounds called Pfeilgeschoß up to a range of 120 to 150 kilometers (74.5 to 93.2 miles). This was great enough range to fire on London. However, due to the implementation of the V1 ‘Buzz Bomb’ and V2 missile, the K 5 Glatt fell by the wayside. Only two were built, both in railway configuration.

28 cm Kanone 5 mit Lastenträger Tiger II (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

28 cm DKM 44 auf Panther Langholzprinzip

This design comes from a drawing dated from September 1943, wherein Rheinmetall-Borsig proposed that two Panzerkampfwagen Panther chassis be used to transport their 28 cm Düsenkanone Marine (DKM) 44 recoilless coastal defense gun, then under development in Sömmerda for the Kriegsmarine.
The 28 cm DKM 44 was the largest recoilless cannon being developed in Germany at the time. Rheinmetall-Borsig was the primary, possibly only, firm conducting work on recoilless guns in the later half of the War. They were under contract by the Luftwaffe, Heer (Army), and Kriegsmarine to develop different calibers of recoilless guns for various uses. The two projects Rheinmetall-Borsig was working on for the Kriegsmarine were the 8,8 cm DKM 43, a cannon for small vessels that would normally not mount larger weaponry than machine guns, and the 28 cm DKM 44, a coastal defense gun to defend against enemy landing forces.
The 28 cm DKM 44 would have weighed 28,000 kg (28 metric tons), it had 10 degree barrel rifling, and an electrical ignition system. It was designed by Herr Osthues, and the ballistician for the gun was Engineer Weber. A prototype of the DKM 44 was apparently completed before the end of the war by Hanomag in Hanover, and had even undergone tests. Photographs and blueprints should exist for this gun, but as yet they have not been found.
It is not known where the idea to transport the gun with two Panther chassis originated, whether from Rheinmetall-Borsig or suggested by the Kriegsmarine. More likely it was the former, as the Kriegsmarine, with the exception of their other project on this page, the NM, normally had no involvement with tanks.
The name of Rheinmetall’s design was the 28 cm Düsenkanone auf Panther Langholzprinzip, which translated to English means 28 cm Recoilless Cannon on Panther Long Wood Principle. “Langholzprinzip” is the German term for the practice used in logging whereby fallen trees are attached to a truck at one end and to an independent set of trailing axles at the other. By doing this the logs are allowed to support themselves between the axles and negate the need for a trailer. This same principle was employed on the 28 cm Düsenkanone auf Panther, with one tank taking the place of the truck, and the other taking the place of the trailer, leaving the payload slung between them.
The first Panther had a support that would attach to a collar half-way up the 28 cm DKM 44’s barrel, while the second Panther had a large, crane-like structure that would hold the gun’s breech from above. In order to fire, the gun would be lowered to the ground by large hydraulic rams inside the hulls of the tank chassis. The Panthers would then disconnect from the gun and move away. The cannon could then be used as a normal gun emplacement, able to rotate on its pedestal. Inside the gun’s superstructure was stored 10 two-piece rounds.
There is no surviving evidence if this design was accepted to be the main mode of transporting the DKM 44, however there are very few alternatives for moving such a big gun. Nevertheless the War did not progress in Germany’s favor; the DKM 44 never became operational, and its function as a coastal defense gun was no longer needed.

28 cm DKM 44 auf Panther Langholzprinzip Blueprint Source

Epilogue

Nazi Germany is remembered, among other things, for hideously impractical, ludicrous ‘wonder weapons.’ The idea of making railway guns mobile by sticking multiple tanks together is probably one of the weirdest. In the end even the Nazis had enough sense to see that these designs were hopelessly impractical.
However designs for vehicle-based super heavy siege guns did go on, with such things as the 58 ton Grille 17/21, the 182 ton R 2, and the 1500 ton Landkreuzer P.1500. None of these designs made any impact on the course of the war; only the Grille 17/21 was partially built while the others remained on paper. The only design of this type to become operational, the Karl Gerät, remains a lasting symbol of Hitler’s megalomania and the embracing of unconventional designs by the Third Reich’s war machine.

Sources

Les Armes secrètes du IIIe Reich: Hitler aurait-il pu gagner la guerre? – Laurent Tirone, 2014
Enzyklopädie Deutscher Waffen 1939-1945: Handwaffen, Artillerie, Beutewaffen, Sonderwaffen Gebundene Ausgabe – T.J. Gander and Peter Chamberlain, 2008
Der Panzerkampfwagen Tiger und Seine Abarten – Walter J. Spielberger, 1997
Panther Variants 1942-1945 – Osprey New Vanguard, 1997
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2


Tank Encyclopedia’s own illustration of the 28 cm DKM 44 auf Panther Langholzprinzip by Jaroslaw Janas.

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

Waffenträger Panthers – Heuschrecke, Grille, Skorpion

German ww2 tanks Nazi Germany (1942-45)
Self-propelled weapon carriers – Several Wooden Mockups built

Animal Farm

In early 1942 Wa.Prüf 4, the German organization in charge of field artillery, put forward a design requirement for a vehicle to move heavy artillery. The main stipulation was that it should use parts from the new Panther medium tank. A similar competition was already underway for a vehicle to move lighter field artillery, such as 10.5 cm guns, using the Geschützwagen III/IV chassis. This had inspired Wa.Prüf 4 to do the same for a vehicle to move heavier 12.8 cm and 15 cm artillery pieces, as the Geschützwagen III/IV was too small to handle them. The guns in question were the 12.8 cm K 43 and 15 cm sFH 43. The sFH 43 (schwerer Feld Haubitze, heavy field howitzer) was a projected improvement on the 15 cm sFH 18, the new gun was to use bagged propellant and had a screw-type breech. The 12.8 cm Kanone 43 is unknown in most literature but is presumably a predecessor to the 12.8 cm K 44 L/55. Neither of these cannons were ever built.
In order to keep weight down, the designs were to be open-topped. Prototypes were to be built using Panther parts, but it was projected that any serial production vehicles would be made using the Panther II chassis. This idea was discarded when the Panther II was cancelled in June of 1943.
Both Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig took part in this design competition. All designs were able to be transported by rail with a few adjustments, and all could carry at least 30 rounds, however, Rheinmetall’s design had trouble with this.
Despite these vehicles being colloquially known as waffenträgers, very few designs carried the name waffenträger in their designation. Despite “waffenträger” literally meaning “weapon carrier”, most German weapon carriers were called Selbstfahrlafette, meaning “self-propelled gun carriage”.

Krupp’s Cricket – (Sfl.) Krupp I and II

Krupp immediately set to work and on July 1st, 1942, came up with the 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Krupp I (indexed Gerät 5-1211) and 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Krupp I (indexed Gerät 5-1528). Both vehicles were nearly identical, only differing in armament. Both vehicles had a dismountable, 360-degree rotating turret and muzzle brakes on their cannons. The 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Krupp I’s 15 cm sFH 43 L/35.5 had a range of 18 km (11.18 miles). The chassis was called Bauelemente Fahrgestell Panther, literally “components of the Panther chassis.” No blueprints of these vehicles survive, leaving their appearance a mystery.
Shortly after designing the first vehicles, Krupp produced another version, the (Sfl.) Krupp II. Again, the 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Krupp II and 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Krupp II were identical except for armament. This second design also had a fully traversable dismounting turret. The chassis was also lengthened slightly, giving a wheelbase of 4,200mm. A full-scale wooden mock-up of the 12.8 cm version was built in November 1942 and shown to Wa.Prüf 4 in January 1943. At this time Krupp stated they could have a working prototype ready by the 1st of September if they received the needed Pather components by the 1st of May, 1943.

12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 12 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

15 cm sFH 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 15 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)


Grille 12 Wooden Mockup
On the 18th of February, 1943, an order was placed for the construction of two (Sfl.) Krupp I prototypes; one 12.8 cm and the other 15 cm. On February 24th, 1943, Wa.Prüf 4 informed Krupp of the cover names that were assigned to their projects. The (Sfl.) Krupp I was named Heuschrecke (Grasshopper), and the (Sfl.) Krupp II was named Grille (Cricket).


These blueprints, from November 25th, 1942, show the existing Grille 15 design on top, and on the bottom show an improved version proposed on the 11th of November. The November 11th design has the fighting compartment 15mm lower and slightly forward than that of the existing design, it is also equipped with a new type of muzzle brake. Whether or not this proposal was incorporated into the Grille 15, we do not know at this time. Source



This set of blueprints show the process by which the gun assembly would be dismounted. The vehicle’s gun barrel would be used as a jib. A block and tackle would be attached to allow it to lift the metal frame pieces off the front of the hull and put them in position behind the turret; forming a ramp. Wheels would be attached to the turret pedestal, and a winch on the hull would lower it down the ramp. Once off the vehicle, support legs could be attached to the turret pedestal allowing it to be used as a field gun. Overall a quite complicated process. Source
On the 11th of March, 1943, due to concerns that production of the new 15 cm sFH 43 would be slow, Wa.Prüf 4 requested that the option of mounting the older 15 cm sFH 18 on the Grille 15 be looked into. By April 20th it was determined that utilizing the sFH 18 would cause too many problems. Instead, development went ahead using the 15 cm sFH 43, incorporating as many parts from the 15 cm sFH 18 as possible.
On April 3rd, 1943 Wa.Prüf 6 (the German organization in charge of military vehicles) stepped in and told Krupp they were only allowed to build a prototype of the Grille. On the 5th of May 1943, Krupp informed Wa.Prüf 6 that the February 8th order for two Heuschreckes had been canceled.
On the 21st of May, 1943, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg (M.A.N.), the company producing the Panther, was told to manufacture a complete set of suspension components, engine, transmission and drive train, as well as driver’s periscope and telescoping air intake for Krupp’s Grille prototype.
On June 7th, 1943, Krupp reported that a 1:10th scale mockup of the Grille would be ready by about mid-July, and a full-size prototype by the 1st of November. At an unknown date the 12.8 cm K 43 cannon was changed to a 12.8 cm K 44 L/55 with conventional breach; the 15 cm sFH 43 as well now had a conventional breech instead of a screw-type breach.
By the 20th of October, 1943, Krupp had failed to produce a prototype. Wa.Prüf 4 saw the project as going nowhere and ordered Krupp to stop all work on the project. Krupp did stop work on the Grille and Heuschrecke, but continued to design Panther-based weapons carriers.

Grille Design from January 18th, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

If at First You Don’t Succeed… – Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18

On January 20th, 1944, Krupp produced drawing SKA 879 for the Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 (Self-propelled vehicle with dismountable 15 cm sFH 18). The vehicle was basically a normal Panther chassis with a wheelbase of 3,920mm; however, the rear of the hull was lengthened slightly to support a rear mounted artillery turret. The turret rested on a metal box; the turret and box forming the fighting compartment. Using metal beams apparently attached to the idler wheel, the entire assembly could be lifted up and off the vehicle by driving a few feet in reverse. Once off the chassis, the gun assembly could be used as a standalone artillery piece.
On February 3rd, 1943, Krupp presented a second design with drawing SKB 891. This version had the turret centrally mounted with the engine in the rear. The turret, which looks remarkably similar to that of the Heuschrecke 10, was lifted off over the front of the tank in the version 2, as opposed to over the rear as in the version 1. A wooden mockup of the Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 version 2 was built, but neither design progressed past this point.

A conceptual model of the Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18, for unknown reasons, the chassis is not that of a Panther. Perhaps originally it was intended to use a custom chassis. This design has often been misidentified as the Heuschrecke 15.

Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 Version 1 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 Version 2 Wooden Mockup

Skorpion of the Rhein – (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig

Like Krupp, Rheinmetall-Borsig also presented their first designs on the 1st of July, 1942. They were the 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig (indexed Gerät 5-1213), and 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig (indexed Gerät 5-1530). The vehicles were identical except for armament. Both had a 360-degree rotating turret and a hydraulic gun dismounting mechanism designed by Daimler-Benz, similar to that used on the Heuschrecke 10.
The 12.8 cm version was armed with a 12.8 cm K 43 L/51 with no muzzle brake. It fired a 28 kilogram projectile at 850 meters per second (2,789 ft/s), at a maximum range of 22 km (13.67 miles). The gun assembly for this version weighed 6.2 metric tons; the total weight of the vehicle was about 38 metric tons. The 15 cm version was armed with a 15 cm sFH 43 L/32.5; identical to the gun used on Krupp’s design except that Rheinmetall’s had no muzzle brake. The armament weighed 8.2 metric tons and consequently left the vehicle weighing 40 metric tons – 2 tons more than the 12.8 cm version. A prototype for each was expected to be ready by Summer 1943.
Rheinmetall’s design was seemingly met with little enthusiasm; Krupp’s Grille was the clear favorite. Despite the design not having been rejected, Rheinmetall chose to drop their original entry and proceed with another design.

12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig – please note the end of the barrel has been cropped off in this image. (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

15 cm sFH 43 Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
On January 7th, 1943, Rheinmetall produced three more designs. In reality, these were the same vehicle, but with different armaments. The vehicles had centrally mounted, 360-degree rotating, dismountable turrets. The chassis was that of a Panther, extended to a wheelbase of 4,220mm.
Drawing H-SkB 80449 for 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
Drawing H-SkB 80450 for 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
Drawing H-SkB 80451 for 12.8 cm P 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
This version of the 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) had a slightly longer gun barrel at L/34. It fired a 43.5 kilogram projectile at 600 meters per second (1,968.5 ft/s) up to 15 km (9.32 miles) range. The 12.8 cm P 43 was a high-performance (presumably) dedicated anti-tank gun. It fired a sub-caliber 14 kilogram (31 lb) shell at 1,175 meters per second (3,855 ft/s). Rheinmetall said they could have a prototype ready by the 1st of August if they received the needed Panther parts by the 1st of April, 1943. A wooden mockup was built of one of the 12.8 cm-armed versions, but this design did not advance any further.

12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig – January 7th, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

12.8 cm Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig – January 7th, 1943 Wooden Mockup
On or around the 24th of February, 1943, Rheinmetall’s entry for the Selbstfahrlafette für 12.8 cm K 43 und 15 cm sFH 43 Project was assigned the cover name “Skorpion”. This name probably covered the January 7th design, but since it is not known when Rheinmetall abandoned it, it cannot be said for certain.
Unwilling to stop perfecting the design, Rheinmetall continued to design more versions. On the 2nd of April 1943, they produced drawing H-SKA 81959 for the 12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen; and on April 16th drawing H-SKA 82566 for 15 cm sFH 18 mit Panther Bauteilen. These designs had a Panther-based chassis with a wheelbase of 4,025mm. Around the 20th of October 1943, Wa.Prüf 4 canceled the Grille, Heuschrecke, and Skorpion projects.

12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen – April 2nd, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

15 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen – April 16th, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

Not Done Yet – 15 cm sFH 18 auf Panther Bauteilen

Despite the Skorpion project being canceled, Rheinmetall continued to make more vehicle proposals in the early part of 1944. These final designs shared the modified Panther chassis developed for the Skorpion. Drawing H-SKA 86187 from the 11th of January, 1944 was yet another proposal for mounting the 15 cm sFH 18 on a Panther-based chassis. An improved version of this design came on January 31st with drawing H-SKA 88200. At some point, the mounting of the gun was raised from 2,500mm to 2,750mm off the ground to allow greater elevation. Further details are unknown.
It seems that after this, Rheinmetall-Borsig stopped all work on Panther-based weapons carriers. If they did take part in the design competition for the July 6th, 1944 requirement; the design has been lost. However, it is more likely they did not; leaving Krupp the only entry.

H-SKA 88200 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

Round Two – Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther

Please note that the dates for this section are contradictory. Panther & Its Variants gives the date of the issuing of the Geschützwagen Panther für sFH 18/4 (Sf) requirement as February 11th, 1944; while Panther Variants 1942-1945 gives it as July 6th. July seems to be the correct date; it also comes from the more recent book. Strangely, one sentence in Panther & Its Variants says that the Gerät 811 was based on “AZ 735 Wa.Prüf 4/Is from July 6th, 1944.” This would seem to indicate that the Gerät 811 was an entry for the July 6th requirement; perhaps the authors did not realize this at the time. Very little is known about the Gerät 811, apart from the fact it was armed with a 15 cm sFH 18/4. It is plausible that Krupp’s Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther was assigned the designation Gerät 811, but that is just conjecture.
On the 6th of July 1944, Wa.Prüf 4 put out the Geschützwagen Panther für sFH 18/4 (Sf) requirement: a request for designs for a vehicle based on the Panther. In near identical repetition of the events two years prior, the requirements were that the vehicle carries a 15cm gun in a dismountable turret that could rotate 360 degrees. The 15 cm sFH 18 cannon was required to have no muzzle brake, as it was supposed to be able to fire Sprenggranate 42 TS sabot rounds. Without the muzzle brake, the force of recoil of the cannon was a massive 28 metric tons; this was deemed acceptable for the chassis.
Krupp was the only company to show interest; on the 16th of September 1944, they unveiled drawing Bz 3423 for the Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther. It had a hexagonal, forward mounted turret on a lightly armored Panther chassis. The turret rested on a round pedestal within the tank. To remove the turret assembly, the turret was traversed 90 degrees to the left. The left side panel was folded down, forming two guide rails running perpendicular to the tank. At the end of each guide rail was a vertical spar, reinforced to one another with crossbeams. Roller blocks with two wheels each were affixed to either side of the turret and allowed it to be hoisted up, presumably by hand, onto the guide rails, where it was free to roll. Exactly how the turret was then moved off the tank is unclear. This whole process is described only in “Panther & Its Variants”, which states that two block and tackles were used to lift the turret. These would require some type of overhead gantry, which, if correct, raises the question as to why hoisting the turret assembly onto guide rails first is necessary at all. Presumably, the Panther was then driven away and the turret assembly lowered to the ground.
However the dismounting process was intended; once the turret assembly was on the ground four outriggers, which were otherwise stored fore and aft of the turret on the tank’s hull, were attached to it. Wa.Prüf 4 required that the number of outriggers be changed to three, as this would lower the gun’s overall height and give the gun crew easier access.
Shortly afterward, on the 21st of September 1944, Krupp produced a second version with the turret mounted centrally. Along with the second version, Krupp also proposed a version armed with the 12.8 cm K 44 L/55 (with muzzle brake). The 12.8 cm version’s turret was longer and slightly taller.

Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther Version 2 – 15 cm Version (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)

Mittelerer Waffenträger K 44 auf Panther Version 2 – 12.8 cm Version (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Only one day later, on the 22nd of September 1944, Krupp representative Dr. Bankwitz met with Wa.Prüf 4 in Berlin. Despite the requirement for a weapons carrier being only two months old, Wa.Prüf 4 ordered Krupp to stop all work on these designs, as they were no longer needed and the Panther chassis was no longer to be used for such purposes.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Completely ignoring Wa.Prüf 4’s demands, Krupp produced drawing Bz 3445 on October 12th, 1944 for the Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther (dünnwandig) (dünnwandig means “thin-walled”). This was a lighter version of the Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther. It had thinner armor, carried only 50 rounds of ammunition instead of 60, and had a redesigned, cylindrical turret. These changed saved 7 metric tons of weight.
On the 25th of October 1944, the High Command General of Artillery suggested doing away with the requirement for a dismountable, 360 degree traversing turret for possible future weapons carriers. However, this was deemed necessary and the suggestion was declined. On the 23rd of December 1944, General Wolfgang Thomale requested that the High Command General of Artillery hold off on issuing another panther-based weapons carrier requirement, as Panther production numbers were lower than expected. Instead, he requested that they wait to see if the role could be fulfilled by the upcoming 38(d) platform.
Due to the situation of the War in late 1944 and 1945, surviving information on the remaining projects is highly fragmented.
A Directive dated November 19th, 1944, ordered the cessation of the Gerät 808 project, a Panther-based weapon carrier for the 15 cm sFH 18/2, due to the plans not being ready.
A telex message dated February 6th, 1945, stated that the chassis without turret that Krupp required for the Schwerer Panzerhaubitze was waiting at the steel works in Hannover.
A February 20th, 1945 report on the emergency situation of the War gave a list of projects that were to be immediately terminated. On that list was a 15 cm sFH 18 auf Panther Bauteilen.

Sources

Special Panzer Variants: Development – Production – Operations – Hilary Louis Doyle and Walter J. Spielberger, 2007
Panther Variants 1942-1945 – Osprey New Vanguard, 1997
Panther & Its Variants – Walter J. Spielberger, 1993

Waffenträger 12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 12
12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 12 illustration by David Bocquelet

Waffentrager 12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen
Waffentrager 12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen by Jaroslav Janas


Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther Version 2 – 15 cm Version. Illustration by David Bocquelet and Alexe Pavel

Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

Raupenschlepper Ost Artillery SPG

German self propelled artilleryNazi Germany (1943-44)
Artillery SPG – 4 Prototypes built

Weapon Carrier or SPG?

The German’s experimented with transporting and mounting a number of different guns on the back of the Raupenschlepper Ost light ‘prime mover’ tracked vehicle. The name Raupenschlepper Ost is translated to “Caterpillar Tractor East”. It is commonly abbreviated to just RSO.
The prototypes were shown to the army. The Raupenschlepper Ost 7.5 cm Pak 40 tank destroyer self-propelled gun went into production. Between 80 and 90 were produced. Most saw action on the Eastern Front. A version of the RSO that carried a 2cm Flak38 anti-aircraft gun mounted to the floor of the rear wooden cargo bay also saw service.
At present no documentation has been found relating to the mounting and carrying of artillery guns on the back of the Raupenschlepper Ost even though there are surviving photographs of four different prototypes: the 7.5 cm GebH 36 auf RSO/3; 7.5 cm Gebh 34 auf RSG; 10.5 cm GebH 40 auf RSO/1 and 15 cm sIG 33 auf RSO/3.
It is not clear if these prototypes were going to be used as a Waffenträger weapon carrier or as a Selbstfahrlafette Geschuetzwagen, a self-propelled artillery gun.
This is why a weapons carrier was a good idea
This is why a weapons carrier was a good idea. Towed guns could become waterlogged and covered in mud.
If they were used as a Waffenträger then how was the gun dismounted? There is photographic evidence that the guns were loaded on the vehicle by a winch attached to a freestanding metal frame on a hard surface. Another photograph shows a Raupenschlepper Ost reversed back towards an earthen ramp so the gun could be pushed onto the back of the vehicle.
On a battlefield, it would be difficult to build a ramp quickly or make sure there was a hard surface for a winch and frame to be constructed on to enable the guns to be unloaded. The guns were heavy and if the load bearing frame was put together on soft earth its legs would sink into the ground under the weight.
If these prototype vehicles were intended to be used as a Selbstfahrlafette Geschuetzwagen, or self-propelled artillery guns, the problem the engineers would have to overcome was the recoil.
With the artillery gun mounted in the back of the vehicle, they were very top heavy and had a high center of gravity. There was a danger that the RSO would topple over.
It can be theorized that two of the prototypes were intended to be used as artillery SPGs but tests showed the RSO chassis was not strong enough to take the gun recoil so they were never put into production. This is supported by the fact that on the photographs of the 7.5 cm GebG 36 auf RSO/03 the side panels are down and it can be seen that the gun wheels had been clamped to the deck of the vehicle and the gun ‘tails’ had been shortened. The 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 34 auf Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG) also carried a similar sized howitzer.
RSO mit 7.5 cm GebG 36
7.5 cm GebG 36 auf RSO/3
The other two prototypes seen in photographs are carrying much bigger 10.5cm and 15cm howitzers. There is no evidence that these guns were bolted to the wooden cargo bay of the RSO tracked vehicle so that it could be fired. The gun’s split trail legs had not been modified to fit the length of the vehicle. They protrude out the back and the rear ‘spades’ are carried in the back of the vehicle for use when the gun is set up on land again. The RSO tracked vehicle is being used as a Waffenträger weapon carrier in these examples.

The Raupenschlepper Ost RSO tracked vehicle

The RSO light ‘prime mover’ tracked vehicle had a very basic suspension design with all steel wheels and just four small leaf springs. This made it cheap and easy to produce. It had high ground clearance and excellent performance in poor terrain. It was a tracked version of the Steyr 1½-tonne truck. It could carry a 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) load in its cargo bay.
The Steyr-Daimler-Puch manufacturing company designed the Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO) to be used to tow field guns and transport supplies over rough ground in muddy waterlogged and snowy conditions. They were in production between October 1943 and May 1944: Steyr-Daimler-Puch produced 2,600 vehicles; Klockner-Deutz-Magirus (KHD) manufactured 12,500; Auto-Union made a further 5,600 and Graf & Stift constructed 4,500 RSOs. They were used extensively on the Eastern Front.
There were four main variants. The RSO/01, RSO/02 and RSO/PaK40 were powered by a 3.5L Steyr V8 gasoline/petrol 70hp engine. The RSO/03 had a better performing Deutz F4L514 5.3L 4-cylinder air-cooled diesel engine although produced lower horsepower at 66hp.
RSO/01 towing a field gun
RSO/01 towing a field gun
The RSO/1 had a fully enclosed pressed steel rounded cab with a wooden rear cargo bay. The RSO/2 had a flat sided metal cab. The RSO/3 was manufactured by KHD at their Magirus Factory and had a simplified slab-sided metal cab. The RSO/PaK40 had a lightly armored low profile steel cab to enable the 7.5cm PaK40 anti-tank gun mounted on the rear flat rear bed wooden cargo bay to fire forward.
RSO Fully Tracked Artillery Prime Mover
RSO/3 fully tracked artillery prime mover

7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 36 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/3)

To mount the 7.5cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 (7.5 cm GebG 36) light mountain howitzer on the back of the Raupenschlepper Ost tracked vehicle cargo bay the spades at the end of the split trail legs were removed. The legs were also cut down in length to allow the back tail gate to be raised. The wheels were bolted to the wooden floor in a special semi-circular frame. This gun was meant to be fired from the back of the RSO. It could no longer be dismounted and fired from the ground without having new split trail legs fitted. It could not function as a Waffenträger weapon carrier. It was a Selbstfahrlafette Geschuetzwagen, a self-propelled artillery gun prototype.
7.5cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 (7.5 cm GebG 36) light mountain howitzer mounted on the rear of a RSO/3
7.5cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 (7.5 cm GebG 36) light mountain howitzer mounted on the rear of an RSO/3
The gun was built by Rheinmetall to replace the World War One mountain divisions (Gebirgs Divisionen) guns. Between 1938 and 1945, records show 1,193 were built. It was a standard German horizontal sliding breech block gun with a muzzle brake. It used a variable recoil system that shortened the recoil as the elevation increased to stop the gun breach hitting the ground. Rear trunnions were added to lengthen the distance between the breech and the ground. The recoil mechanism was hydropneumatic, with both buffer and recuperator positioned below the barrel.
To keep the weight down the gun was fitted with light-alloy disc wheels with rubber rims. No protective gun shield was fitted to save weight. It weighed 750 kg (1,650 lb) so it was within the cargo weight limit of the RSO.
When used on the ground, the 7.5 cm GebG 36 would jump when fired at low angles, because of its lightness. The strength of the recoil would force the gun’s trail spades to act as a fulcrum and lever the wheels upwards. The shell canister bag charge 5, the largest propellant increment, was forbidden to be used at near horizontal angles under 15° because the gun would jump excessively. When the gun was fired at higher angles it performed better as the ground absorbed any residual recoil forces not absorbed by the recoil system. On the back of the RSO the vehicles suspension, tracks and the ground had to absorb the force of the recoil from the gun.
The 7.5cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 mountain howitzer used two-part ammunition, with four bag charges of propellant that were added together depending on the range of the target. A larger 5th charge bag was used on its own when the target was at the limit of the howitzers maximum range. It fired a high explosive HE 5.83 kilograms (12.9 lb) shell that had a maximum range of 9.25 km (10,120 yards). It could also fire smoke shells and in an emergency a hollow charge armor piercing AP rounds at short range. A good gun crew was able to produce a rate of fire of six to eight rounds per minute.
This mountain gun could be broken down into six separate parts, each having a maximum weight of 300 pounds. This ability enabled the weapon to be easily transported by pack animals or in an airplane.
The gun’s 56-inch barrel was of a monobloc construction. To enable larger more powerful charges to be used and to increase the range of the gun without damaging the gun barrel, it was fitted with a perforated, six-baffled muzzle brake.

7.5 cm GebH 36 auf Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG)

Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG) mit 7.5 cm GebH 34
Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG) with a 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 34 mountain howitzer mounted on its rear cargo bay next to a RSO/3 tracked vehicle.
This photograph shows the smaller Steyr made Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG) mountain troop tracked vehicle next to the larger Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/3) vehicle. There is a 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze (GebH) mountain howitzer mounted on the back of the RSG. Only one photograph has been found so far of this prototype artillery self-propelled gun. The photograph below has been enlarged and edited.
The problem is that the caption that went along with this photo identified the gun on the back as a captured Belgium army Swedish built Bofors 75 mm Model 1934 mountain gun (Canon de 75 mle 1934). It was recorded as a 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 34 auf RSG, but this gun was not fitted with a circular perforated muzzle brake.
It can be theorized that the howitzer on the back is the same gun used on the 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 36 auf Raupenschlepper Ost which does have a circular perforated muzzle brake. Just like on the other vehicle, it would have had its split tail legs cut to fit the length of the wooden cargo bay and the wheels clamped to the floor so that the gun could be fired from the back of the vehicle.
Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG) mit 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 34
7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 34 auf Gebirgsraupenschlepper (RSG)
RSG - Gebirgsraupenschlepper – Caterpillar Tractor for Mountain Troops
RSG – Gebirgsraupenschlepper – Caterpillar Tractor for Mountain Troops – Vienna Military Museum


Illustration of the sIG33 auf Raupenschlepper Ost conversion by David Bocquelet10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 (10.5 cm GebH 40) mountain howitzer on the back of a Raupenschlepper Ost
10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 mountain howitzer on the back of a Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/1)
7.5 cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36
7.5 cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 German mountain howitzer
10.5 cm GebH 40 Howitzer
10.5 cm GebH 40 howitzer – Photo – Yuri Pasholok
The 15 cm sIG 33 (schweres Infanterie Geschütz 33) was the standard German heavy infantry gun used in the Second World War.
The 15 cm sIG 33 (schweres Infanterie Geschütz 33) was the standard German heavy infantry gun used in the Second World War – unknown modeler

10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/1)

There is a poor quality photograph showing a 10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 (10.5 cm GebH 40) mountain howitzer on the back of a Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/1).
In the picture, it looks like the vehicle has been backed up to ramp of earth. There appear to be wooden planks spanning the gap between the top of the earth mound and the back of the RSO/1. Its tail gate is hinged down and so are the wooden side panels. These wooden planks would have been used to enable the gun to be pushed onto the back of the vehicle.
RSO mit 10.5 cm GebH 40
10.5 cm GebH 40 auf RSO
Unlike on the photographs of the 7.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 36 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/3), there is no visible evidence that the larger 10.5cm GebH 40 gun had been fixed to the wooden floor of the cargo bay. The split trail legs had not been cut and shortened. They projected over the rear of the vehicle.
There was no special semi-circular locking wheel frame in use. The spades that were normally fitted to the end of the split trail legs had not been attached. Their triangular shape can be seen at the back of the gun.
Was this photograph taken of an early live firing trial to see if the RSO/1 could take the gun recoil or just to see if it could take the weight of the gun? It is not known, as no documents have been found so far.
In the other surviving photographs the gun is seen on the back of the RSO/1 with the wooden side panels in the up position, the split trail legs sticking out the back and the tail spades loaded on the rear with the tail gate panel in the down position.
10.5 cm GebH 40 mountain howitzer on the back of a Raupenschlepper Ost
10.5 cm GebH 40 mountain howitzer on the back of a Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/1)
The RSO/1 tracked vehicle has the manufacturing company’s name and logo on the side. This is a factory vehicle, not one that has been sold to the army. It is safe to assume that it is the company, Steyr-Daimler-Puch, who was experimenting with showing that the 10.5cm GebH 40 mountain howitzer can be transported on the back of their vehicle.
10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 (10.5 cm GebH 40) carried on the rear of a RSO/03
10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 (10.5 cm GebH 40) carried on the rear of an RSO/03.
In these three, better quality photographs it looks like a frame and winch had been used to lift the gun onto the back of the RSO/1. These photographs would suggest that this vehicle was being used as a Waffenträger weapon carrier. At present, there is no evidence to suggest the vehicle was used as a Selbstfahrlafette Geschuetzwagen, a self-propelled artillery gun, and fired from the back of the cargo bay, as there are no visible mountings or fixings to secure the gun to the vehicle.
10.5cm gun being loaded on the back of a RSO/1
10.5cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 mountain howitzer being loaded on the back of an RSO/1 by winch and frame
There only appears to be photographs of a 10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 mountain howitzer on the back of one RSO tracked vehicle. It is highly unlikely that the experiment was a success as the weight of the gun exceeded the designed load weight of the vehicle. The gun weighed 1,660 kg (3,660 lb) and the RSO’s load weight limit was 1.500 kg (3,307 lb). The RSO’s center of gravity would have been significantly raised. Both these things would have made the vehicle tricky to drive.

15 cm sIG 33 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/3)

15 cm sIG 33 auf RSO-03 
15 cm sIG 33 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/3)
There is only one photograph currently available of a 15 cm sIG 33 (schweres Infanterie Geschütz 33), the standard German heavy infantry gun in WW2, loaded on the back of a Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO/3) tracked vehicle. The split trail legs can be seen sticking out the back of the vehicle. There had been no attempt to cut them to fit the length of the RSO/3’s wooden cargo bay.
This was not a test to see if the 15 cm sIG 33 howitzer could be fired from the back of the vehicle. The gun was too big and the RSO/3 would not have been able to handle the violent recoil. This vehicle was not a German Selbstfahrlafette Geschuetzwagen, a self-propelled artillery gun. It was almost assuredly a trial to see if the gun could be carried on the back of the RSO/3.
The experiment most likely failed, as the weight of the gun exceeded the designed load weight of the vehicle. The gun weighed 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) and the RSO’s load weight limit was 1.500 kg (3,307 lb). The RSO’s center of gravity would have been significantly raised. Both these things would have made the vehicle sluggish and difficult to maneuver. The RSO/3 was not a suitable vehicle to be a Waffenträger weapon carrier for the 15 cm sIG 33 howitzer.

Conclusion

The most plausible theory is that the Steyr-Daimler-Puch manufacturing company wanted to win a lucrative German government contract to build self-propelled artillery guns using their cheap to produce Raupenschlepper Ost light tracked vehicle and RSG. They exhibited four prototype vehicles that had different artillery howitzers mounted on the back to the government inspectors.
Two of the guns used were too big for the RSO tractor. The 7.5cm mountain howitzer was light enough and could be mounted to the floor of the wooden cargo bay at the rear of the RSO and RSG vehicles. These prototypes seemed viable as artillery SPGs.
At the time there was competition from other vehicle and arms manufacturers who wanted to win the same contract. Their designs used sturdier German tank chassis or captured enemy armored fighting vehicles on which to mount artillery guns. They won the contract, not Steyr-Daimler-Puch.

An article by Craig Moore

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.19 m x 3 m x 2.87 m
(14ft 6in x 6ft 6in x 8ft 6in)
Total weight unladen 7,728 lb (3,505 kg)
Armament 7.5cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36
Track width 13 inch/24 inch with snow plates (33/61 cm)
RSO/1-2 Propulsion 3.5L Steyr V8 gasoline/petrol 70hp engine
RSO/3 Propulsion Deutz F4L514 5.3L 4-cylinder air cooled diesel engine 66hp
Fording depth 34 inches
Top road speed 30 km/h (18 mph)
Operational range (road) 300 km (155 miles)

Sources

U.S. Office of Chief of Ordnance, 1945 Catalog of Enemy Ordnance
Weapons of the Thrid Reich by Gander and Chamberlin
German Artillery of World War Two by Ian Hogg
Marcus Hock
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War
German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War

By Craig Moore

One towed artillery gun required a team of six horses and nine men. WW2 German engineers came up with the idea of mounting an artillery gun on top of a tank chassis. This new technology reduced the amount of resources required to deploy one artillery gun. Artillery self-propelled guns only needed a four or five man crew. They could also be made ready to fire more quickly. This book covers the development and use of this new weapon between 1939 and 1945. One type was successfully used in the invasion of France in May 1940. More were used on the Eastern Front against Soviet forces from 1941 until the end of the war in 1945.

Buy this book on Amazon!

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

Panzer IV mit Hydrostatischem Antrieb

Nazi germany Nazi Germany (1944)
Prototype – 1 built

In 1943, an alternative drive system for the Panzer IV entered development. This was the Hydrostatischem Antrieb or Hydrostatic Drive, also known as the “Thoma” drive.
It was designed and produced in the Augsburg plant of ZF Friedrichshafe, and was tested on a turret-less Panzer IV Ausf. G chassis that had been badly damaged during combat operations.

Hydraulics

Pz IV Hydro 2
Surviving Panzerkampfwagen IV mit Hydrostatischen Antrieb in the US. Note the now sloped engine deck, and the smaller rear drive wheels. (Source:- commons.wikimedia.org)
The Thoma system operates in a similar way to the petrol/electric drive system produced by Porsche for his Tiger I concept vehicle that would later become the Ferdinand/Elefant. This system was a lot safer, however, as it was a petrol/hydraulic system. This gave the benefits of the Porsche system without the fire risk that plagued it so badly.

The Hydrostatic Drive system outside of the vehicle. Photo: – Spielberger Publishing
The Panzer IV chassis underwent heavy modification to be able to mount this new drive system. The engine compartment of the tank was almost completely removed and rebuilt. The drive was placed in the rear of the tank under a large sloping engine deck. Two oil pumps were installed behind, and connected directly to the normal Maybach HL 120 TRM engine. These powered two hydraulic motors. A swash plate drive sent the power through a reduction gear into the newly added rear drive wheels, which replaced the traditional idler wheel.

The new controls added to the Panzer, note the new control “wheel” and the many new dials. Photo: – Spielberger Publishing
Inside the crew compartment, the old drive shafts were removed along with the large gearbox and final drive assembly at the bow end of the vehicle. The traditional steering tillers were replaced with a crescent-like wheel, similar to the one found on Tiger I. Directional movement was achieved by two control cylinders. These cylinders regulated the volume of the oil inside the pump. This governed the amount of power the drive wheels would receive. Two large 780mm adjustable toothed idlers replaced the original Panzer IV drive sprockets.
Later in 1944, the vehicle was tested with a hydraulically powered turret. Unfortunately, more information on this modification is unavailable.


Tanks Encyclopedia’s own rendition of the Panzer IV with Hydrostatic Drive, by Jarosław Janas.

Fate

Only one prototype of the vehicle with this drive system was built by the time the Allies were knocking on Germany’s door. In April 1945, the US 3rd Infantry Division was advancing through southern Germany and into Bavaria. They broke into Augsburg on the 27th and had the whole city secured by the 28th. With the city, they captured the Zahnradfabrik plant, and the test vehicle.

The Turretless hull of the Panzer in the Zahnradfabrik plant. Photo: – Spielberger Publishing
After the war, the vehicle was shipped back to the United States, where it was subjected to thorough tests by Vickers Inc. Detroit, Michigan until at least 12th April 1946, when a report stating how the drive worked was drafted:

“The powertrain consisted of two staggered-plate oils pumps that are assembled as a unit and are driven by a 12-cylinder Maybach engine. Oil is pushed by the pumps to two separate oils engines which power the drive wheels of the tracks. The oil engines are attached to the final drive housings. The engine and power aggregate are located in the rear of the vehicle, and the vehicle is moved by rear mounted drive wheels. The volume of the pumps is controlled by the driver, who thereby controls the torque of the various pressure conditions that are created by the steering and stopping of the vehicle. In the same manner, the forward and backward movement of the vehicle is achieved by directing oil flow. Pressurized oil to activate the pumps and engines and for the high-pressure connections was advanced by a geared-wheel pump that was connected to the vehicle’s engine by direct drive.”

Unfortunately, the German test data has been lost to history. The vehicle was left in the open, exposed to the elements, at the U.S Army Ordnance Proving Grounds, Aberdeen in Maryland. In 2015 it was moved to the U.S. Army Center for Military History Storage Facility, Anniston, AL, USA, where it has the officially long-winded designation of “Tank, Medium, Full Track, Experimental Transmission, German Army, Steel, Tan, PzKpfw IV, 75mm Gun, German, 1945, World War II”.
Pz.Kpfw IV mit hydrostatischen antrieb
This Pz.Kpfw IV mit hydrostatischen antrieb is now in storage in the U.S. Army Center for Military History Storage Facility, Anniston, AL, USA. (Photo – Masa Narita)

An article by Mark Nash

Panzer IV mit Hydrostatischem Antrieb

Dimensions 5.41 x 2.88 x 2.68 m (17.7×9.4×8.8 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 25 tons
Crew 5
Armament Rheinmetall 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 40
2-3 MG 34/MG 42 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine-guns
Armor From 15 to 65 mm (0.59-2.56 in)
Propulsion Maybach V12 gasoline HL 120 TRM
(220 kW) 300 [email protected] rpm
Suspension Leaf springs
Speed on /off road 42 km/h (26 mph)
Total production 1

Links & Resources

Panzer IV und seine Varianten (Panzer IV and its Variants) Spielberger and Doyle.
Panzer Tracts No. 4, Panzerkampfwagen IV, Grosstraktor to Panzerbefehlswagen IV
Panzer Tracts No. 4-3, Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. H and Ausf. J, 1943 to 1945
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW2 German prototypes

10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger IVb

Nazi germanyNazi Germany (1942)
SPG – 1 or 3 built

The Grasshopper

The German 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ was designated a weapon carrier (waffenträger) and not a self-propelled artillery gun. The reason for this is that the turret could be removed from the top of the modified Panzer IV tank chassis by a block and tackle rig attached to a movable metal frame.
The idea was that the gun crew could keep up with the armoured Panzer Divisions. When needed to fire as an artillery battery, to give long range support firing high explosive shells over the heads of the German infantry and tank crews, The gun would be removed and placed on the ground where it could be fired like a normal artillery gun.
10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb prototype at the Krupp-Grusonwerks factory
The 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ artillery SPG prototype at the Krupp-Grusonwerks factory
The heavy lifting metal framework could be swung upright into position by a hydraulic system or a manual back up system. When not needed it was lowered down and stored on top of the upper track guards on both sides of the tank chassis.
The vehicle could carry 87 high explosive shells. If more were needed the turret could be removed and placed on a gun carriage and towed behind the tank chassis. This allowed for more ammunition to be carried onto the battlefield. The modified Panzer IV tank chassis became a turretless armoured ammunition carrier. This configuration would have only worked in gentle undulating countryside or on roads. The gun carriage wheels and frame were carried on the tank chassis at the rear.
The 10.5cm howitzer could also be fired from on top of the tank chassis. There was no top to the turret. There were a few disadvantages of an open topped vehicle. The crew was exposed to the elements and were also at risk of injury from enemy thrown hand grenades, mortars and shrapnel from air burst enemy shells. A canvas tarpaulin rain cover was produced.
10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb prototype
The side and rear of the open topped turret could be folded down to give more room for the crew to work the 10.5cm LeFH 18 gun

It was not a movable pillbox

Some books have argued that the reason for removing the turret was because it could be used as an armoured pillbox. This was not its function. It was an artillery gun that was designed to operate behind the front line. It was not an anti-tank gun. The protective armour that surrounded the gun was not of a thickness that would have stopped armour piercing tank shells. It was only designed to protect the gun crew from small arms fire and high explosive shell and mortor round shrapnel fragments.

Two competing models

The German armament factory of Alkett and Rheinmetall-Borsig based near Berlin had come up with a similar prototype design called the 10.5 cm leFH 18/40/2 auf Geschützwagen III/IV. It did not have the lifting gear on the side of the vehicle but the turret was removable just like the Krupp-Gruson design.
It used the standard Panzer IV tank chassis and had slightly better performance than the Krupp-Gruson’s Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper. The Alket Rheinmetall-Borsig model was completed in March 1944.

Design

In May 1943 German Army weapon designers decided to build a prototype Heuschrecke IVb. It would built using a Hummel SPG chassis and a 10.5cm LeFH 18/l light field howitzer in a removable turret.
In June 1943 the Krupp-Grusonwerk factory started work on building this new armored fighting vehicle using a new Hummel chassis number 320148. Other sources state that three prototypes were built, with serial numbers 582501, 582502 and 582503.
The Hummel self-propelled artillery gun had powerful 15cm sFH 18 L/30 heavy field howitzer mounted on a specially designed Alkett/Rheinmetall-Borsig lengthened German tank chassis called the Geschützwagen III/IV. It was also referred to as the IVb.
These prototypes were referred to as the Heuschrecke 10 or Heuschrecke IVb. The word Heuschrecke means Grasshopper. It was quite appropriate. The long folded metal lifting equipment kept on top of each track mud guard looked like a grasshoppers insect legs. The number 10 refers to the size of the gun, the 10.5cm. The number IVb refers to the modified Panzer III/IV tank chassis
Components were adopted from both the Panzer III and Panzer IV tank chassis. The more robust final drive wheels, front drive wheels and steering units plus the Zahnradfabrik SSG 77 transmission gearbox were adopted from the Panzer III Ausf.J.
The Maybach HL 120 TRM engine with its cooling system, the suspension, and idler with track tension adjustment were adopted from the Panzer IV. The engine was moved from the rear of the tank to the center of the vehicle to make room for the gun and the armored fighting compartment at the back of the SPG.
The Geschützwagen III/IV tank chassis did not have a hull mounted machine gun. Crews would be issued with a single MG34 or MG42 machine gun, carried inside the fighting compartment, for self-defence.
The Krupp-Gruson designers envisioned that the Heuschrecke IVb would start to replace the 10.5cm leFH 18 auf Gahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Wespe self-propelled artillery gun in May 1944.
The tank engineers at the Krupp-Grusonwerk armaments factory made changes to the superstructure and chassis to enable the Heuschrecke turret to be fitted and the installation of the hydraulic mechanism needed to dismount the turret.
The Hummel was powered by a Maybach HL 120 TRM engine that was fitted in the middle of the vehicle to allow more room for the gun crew to work the gun at the back of the vehicle. This was changed for the 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ prototype. The engine and the radiators were moved to the rear of the chassis.
The Heuschrecke IVb prototype turret was armed with the 10.5cm leFH 18/1 L/28 light field howitzer. The production models, however, were to have the newer, more powerful 10.5cm leFH 43 L/28.
10.5cm leFH 18/1 L/28 auf Waffentrager IVb
The 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffentrager IVb SPG under going live firing trials. Notice the slightly different configuration of the early hydraulically operated arms for dismounting the turret compared to later photographs. The gun carriage wheels have not been fixed to the rear of the vehicle for these trials. The side and rear turret panels have been folded down to give the crew more room to work the gun.

Weapon Trials

The German Army Weapons Agency (Heereswaffenamt) sent weapon testing inspectors from the Gliederung Waffenamt Prüfwesen (Wa Prüf 4) artillery section to examine the new artillery SPG. They submitted a report following their inspection visit on the 28th September 1943.
On the positive side they noted it used mature tested parts. It could be traversed through 360 degrees and fired at high elevations when dismounted. The design worked and had adequate space for stowage of equipment and ammunition. It could carry 87 10.5cm shells.
On the negative side they concluded the 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ would be expensive to produce and the dismounted turret wasn’t mobile.
The first trials happened on 11th October 1943 at Hillersleben. The hydraulic arms were used to dismount the turret. It was found to be too heavy. A lighter redesigned turret was manufactured and ready for testing by the end of December 1943.
At the end of January 1943, to complement the hydraulic turret dismounting system, the design team at Krupp started work on a backup hand powered system in case of problems with the hydraulics on the battlefield.
On the 28th March 1944 the Wa Pruef 4 artillery weapon testing inspectors were present at a second demonstration of the modified 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’.
Their recommendations after that visit were that a hand-operated crane, for dismounting the turret, be fabricated. Wheels were to be added to the dismounted turret frame, and installing a standard gun carriage and recoil management recuperator cylinder from the le.F.H. 18 gun.
On the 31st May 1944 the newly modified 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’, with a parallelogram hand-operated crane and wheels for the dismounted carriage, were demonstrated to the Wa Pruef 4 artillery weapon testing inspectors.
This time their report conclusion stopped any further development and design work on this project. They concluded that the 3.8 tonne dismounted turret was unusable on the battlefield. The 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ never entered mass production.
There was no dramatic advantage to building this weapon over the 15cm Hummel, 10.5cm Wespe or 15cm Grille artillery self-propelled guns that were already in production. These vehicles were less complicated to produce and operate.

The 10.5cm gun

The 10.5 cm leFH 18 gun was a German light howitzer used in World War II. The abbreviation leFH stands for the German words ‘leichte FeldHaubitze’ which, translated, means light field howitzer. It was fitted with a ‘Mundungbremse’ muzzle brake to allow longer range charges to be fired and reduce the amount of recoil on the gun. This increased the operational life of the gun barrel.
The 105mm high explosive HE shell weighed 14.81 kg (32.7lb). The armour piercing shell weighed 14.25 kg (31.4lb). It had a muzzle velocity of 470 m/s (1,542 ft/s) and a maximum firing range of 10,675 m (11,675 yds). With a good gun crew, it had a rate of fire between 4-6 rounds per minute.
The 10.5cm leichte Feld Haubitze 18 gun was not very useful in the direct-fire mode against enemy armored vehicles. It could only penetrate 52 mm (2 in) of armor plate at a very short range of 500 meters.
The high explosive shell was in two pieces. It was a ‘separate loading’ or two part round. First, the projectile would be loaded and then the cartridge propellant case.

Surviving prototype

When the American Army occupied Germany at the end of the war they found a surviving 10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb prototype. It was shipped back to the US Army Ordnance Corps proving grounds at Aberdeen, Maryland for testing and evaluation. It was transferred to Fort Still in 2012 and the Grasshopper 10 was restored by the Fort Sill Directorate of Logistics paint shop.

An article by Craig Moore

Gallery

10.5cm le FH18/1 (sf) auf Geschutzwagen IVB
Factory prototype 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ painted in Dunkelgelb dark sandy yellow livery – Illustration by David Bocquelet
10.5cm le FH18/1 (sf) auf Geschutzwagen IVB
10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ prototype in panzer grey livery – Illustration by David Bocquelet
10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb prototype.
10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ prototype
10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb rear view
The two large wheels at the back of the 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ and the metal strut with the holes it on top of the track mud guards were used to construct a gun carriage.
Turret removal on the Grasshopper
10.5cm leFH 18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb turret
Gun crews would erect the load carrying gibbet on the back of the vehicle chassis then remove the turret. It was placed onto a the gun carriage frame on the floor. Once it was locked into position it would be raised again so the gun carriage wheels could be fitted. The gun could then be towed.
grasshoper tank carriage

Surviving Grasshopper

10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, USA
Restored 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ at US Army Fort Sill, Oklahoma, USA (Photo – Jon Bernstein)
10.5cm le.F.H.18/1 L/28 auf Waffenträger IVb at APG
Before it was recently restored the 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV ‘Heuschrecke IVb’ ‘Grasshopper’ was kept out in the open at the US Army Ordnance Corps proving grounds at Aberdeen, Maryland before being moved to Fort Sill.
10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb GrasshopperClose up view of the 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper turret whilst it was being restored at Fort Sill. (Photo: Jon Bernstein)
10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper
The 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper under restoration in
the Fort Sill workshops. (Photo: Jon Bernstein)
10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper
Side view of the restored 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper at Fort Sill with the rear arms raised. (Photo: Jon Bernstein)
10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper
Rear view of the restored 10.5cm leFH 18/6 auf Waffenträger Geschützwagen III/IV Heuschrecke IVb Grasshopper at Fort Sill with the rear arms raised. (Photo: Jon Bernstein)

Waffenträger IVb Specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 6.57 m x 2.9 m x 2.65 m
(21ft 7in x 9ft 6in x 8ft 3in)
Total weight, battle ready 24 tonnes (26.45 tons)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, 2x loaders)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120TRM 12-cylinder water cooled gasoline/petrol engine, 285 hp
Fuel capacity 360 liters
Top road speed 38 km/h (24 mph)
Operational range (road) 225 km (140 miles)
Main Armament 10.5 cm leFH 18/6 howitzer with 87 rounds
Secondary Armament Hand held 9 mm machine pistol
Hull Armor Front 30 mm
Sides and Rear 16 mm – 20 mm
Turret Armor Front 30 mm
Sides and Rear 15 mm
Total built 1 or 3

Sources

German Self-Propelled Weapons by Peter Chamberlain & H.L.Doyle
Artillerie Selbstfahrlafetten Panzer Tracts No.10 by Thomas L. Jentz
German Artillery at War 1939-45 vol.1 by Frank V.de Sisto.
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War
German Self-Propelled Artillery Guns of the Second World War

By Craig Moore

One towed artillery gun required a team of six horses and nine men. WW2 German engineers came up with the idea of mounting an artillery gun on top of a tank chassis. This new technology reduced the amount of resources required to deploy one artillery gun. Artillery self-propelled guns only needed a four or five man crew. They could also be made ready to fire more quickly. This book covers the development and use of this new weapon between 1939 and 1945. One type was successfully used in the invasion of France in May 1940. More were used on the Eastern Front against Soviet forces from 1941 until the end of the war in 1945.

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