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WW2 German Armored Cars

Leichter Panzerspähwagen (M.G.) Sd.Kfz.221

Germany (1935-1945)
Armored Reconnaissance Car – 339 Built

The German Kfz.13, although an initial success as the first serially produced armored car, lacked armor and any fighting capabilities and was never intended for combat use. This led to the need for a new armored car that would be built on a new standard chassis common to all kinds of other German armored vehicles. The Sd.Kfz.221 was first developed in 1934 and was a completely new design with many modern features at that time. It was meant for frontline service, acting as a reconnaissance vehicle together with radio-equipped vehicles. However, with thin armor and armed with only a machine gun, it could do very little in combat, even in 1939. Therefore, the production of the Sd.Kfz.221 was stopped and emphasis was laid on newer armored cars. In the end, it was still in service around 1943 due to a low supply of reconnaissance vehicles, with many regular 221s converted into radio or command vehicles.

Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.221 crossing the Austrian border in 1938 during the Anschluss. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

A Brief History of Early German Armored Car Development

Following the end of the First World War, Germany was strictly forbidden from developing new military technologies, including armored vehicles. Surprisingly, the Entente allowed the German Schutzpolizei (Eng. Police force), which had 150,000 armed men in service, to be equipped with 1 armored personnel carrier per 1,000 men. The Germans exploited this exception made by the Entente and developed and built a few new armored cars, such as the Ehrhardt/21. These vehicles were nominally given to and used by the police force, but the army also acquired and operated small numbers. To counter the large extremist groups and organizations which took hold of Germany in the post-war years, the Freikoprs had to be well equipped and trained.

The Ehrhardt / 21 of the Schutzpolizei. Source: Wiki

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, great interest was given to the development of new types of armored cars that were to be specially designed and used by the Army. The general lack of funds greatly hampered the development and introduction into the service of such vehicles. For example, while the eight-wheeled ‘ARW’ armored car was promising, having excellent mobility compared to four-wheeled armored cars, due to its price, the German Army simply could not afford it at that time. For this reason, the development of new armored cars focused on four-wheeled chassis. These had to be cheap and easy to be built, without the need for overly specialized tooling. As these were to be used as temporary solutions and for crew training, a simple design was deemed sufficient for the job.

The Kfz.13 Maschinengewehrkraftwagen (Eng. Machine gun vehicle) was Daimler-Benz’s response to the German Army’s request for an easy to build and a cheap open-top armored car. To make the Kfz.13 as cheap as possible, the Adler Standard 6 4×2 Kublesitzer passenger car was used for its base. On top of its chassis was a simple open-top armored body. The armament consisted of a rotating MG 13 machine gun protected by an armored shield. Based on this vehicle, a radio communication version, named Kfz.14, was built. It was basically the same vehicle, but the machine gun was replaced with radio equipment, including a large frame antenna.

The Kfz.13 (to the left) and its radio variant, the Kfz.14 (to the right), were Germany’s first attempts to develop armored cars. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/auta/13.php

The fact that they were not fully protected was not seen as a problem, as this vehicle was never intended to be used in real combat. Nonetheless, due to the general lack of armored vehicles when the war started, both the Kfz.13 and 14 had to be used by the invading German forces. Surprisingly, despite their obsolescence, they were in use with frontline units up to the end of 1941. Some even managed to survive up to the end of the war in May 1945.

During 1934, more extensive work was made to develop dedicated four-wheeled armored vehicles that would be used by the German army in different specialized roles. This would lead to the creation of a successful Leichter Panzerspahwagen series starting with the Sd.Kfz.221.

Name

Initially, the new armored vehicle was designated as the Panzerspähwagen 35 (M.G.) (Eng. reconnaissance armored car). In July 1935, the designation would be slightly changed to Leichter Panzerspähwagen (M.G.) (Eng. light reconnaissance armored car). In contrast to the previous Kfz. 13 and 14 vehicles, which were not intended for combat use, this vehicle was specially designed for it. For this reason, it received the military classification marking and number, Sonderkraftfahrzeug (or Sd.Kfz., Eng. Special purpose vehicle) 221. Given that, in most sources, this vehicle is described simply as Sd.Kfz.221, this article will use the same designation.

The Sd.Kfz.221

The need for a heavy chassis arose in the context of the development of a standard and unitary chassis for Army purposes. The Einheitsfahrgestell I (Eng. standard chassis I) was to have a rear-mounted engine and was to carry an armored superstructure, later intended to be an armored car. Development of the standard chassis ‘I’ began in 1934, when the first design and layout of the vehicle were thought out, with certain factors that needed to be fulfilled.

These requirements were:

  • Decent reliability
  • Few defects and breakdowns in regular non-combat situations
  • Able to run on different grades of fuel
  • Easy to produce and to maintain chassis so lower-skilled workers could work on it too
  • Extensive standardization
    Cross-country capabilities
  • Powerful engine
  • Adequate gearbox
  • Differential gear
  • Running gear had to have limited rolling resistance
  • Good suspension
  • Good grade ability
  • High ground clearance
  • Good steering with 4 wheel steering
  • Low weight and ground pressure
  • Large wheels
  • However, these requirements turned out to be very difficult to implement, which made it impossible to use any older chassis or spare parts.
  • The heavy standard chassis ‘I’ differed in many aspects from the other chassis. The rear-mounted engine had the large radiator located in front, while the size of the engine was minimized. The steering wheel was inverted and located on the left side.
The standard chassis ‘I’. Note the rear-mounted engine. Source: German Armored Cars of WW2.
The Einheitsfahrgestell I (Eng. standard chassis I) being tested on the Auto Union testing ground in 1935. Source: German Armored Cars of WW2

The Sd.Kfz.221 based on the Einheitsfahrgestell I was intended as a direct replacement for the obsolete and inadequate Kfz. 13 and 14 armored cars. Wa. Prüf. 6 (Eng. Weapons Ordinance department) gave specific demands for two types of vehicles. The first was a light armored car mounting a single machine gun. Later, during development, an additional requirement for a vehicle with a two-man turret and a 20 mm cannon was issued and would become the Sd.Kfz.222. It was meant to act as a support vehicle for the MG version. The last version was a light armored car with a radio and frame antenna (the Sd.Kfz.223).

A prototype of the Sd.Kfz.221 during test trials. Note the elevated driver’s compartment. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag.

Production

Several different factories were involved in the production of the Sd.Kfz.221. The I series was built from 1935 to 1937, with some 14 being assembled by Daimler-Benz, 69 by Schichau, and 60 by Deutsche-Werke. An additional 48 of the II series were built during 1938. The last 150 of the III series were assembled by Weserhütte from June 1939 to August 1940. Despite the original intention for the vehicle to be cheap, the Sd.Kfz.221 was rather expensive and difficult to build.

Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.221 during the interwar period (note the camouflage), before 1938. Colorized by Johannes Dorn. Source: Privat Collection of Armin Freitag

Design

Chassis and Running Gear

The Sd.Kfz.221 chassis consisted of the rear-mounted engine, central crew compartment, and the front driver position. To have the best possible off-road performance, independent suspension was used on all four wheels. Each of the four wheels was connected to the chassis frame by two unequal bar arms. These were then sprung by two coil springs, which, in turn, were connected to two double-acting shock absorbers. The actual drive to the wheel ran between the two springs.

A close-up view of the Sd.Kfz 221 chassis, with the rear-mounted engine. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle ) Panzer Tracts No.13-1 Panzerspahwagen

The dimensions of the pneumatic tires were 210 x 18. From 1938 onwards, the Sd.Kfz.221 wheels were to be equipped with bulletproof inner tubes. These were not actually bullet resistant, but instead did not deflate when hit by enemy fire, and thus the vehicle could drive on for a while.

Engine

The Sd.Kfz.221 was powered by a Horch 3.5 liter V-8 water-cooled 75 hp @ 3,600 rpm engine. With a total weight of nearly four tonnes, this armored car was able to reach a maximum speed (on good roads) of 80 km/h. In front of the engine was a 110-liter fuel tank. With this fuel load, the operational range of the Sd.Kfz.221 was 350 km, while cross-country, this was reduced to 200 km. Immediately behind the fuel tanks, a fire-resistant wall was installed.

The Sd.Kfz.221 had a four-wheel drive. For steering, there were two options. The vehicle could either use only the front wheels, or, in special circumstances, the driver could use all four wheels. The later option was to be avoided during fast driving, as it could be potentially dangerous for the crew. The driver was instructed to use four-wheel steering only when the speed of the vehicle was less than 20 km/h.

Armored Body

An armored body was placed on top of the chassis. While protected with only 8 mm of armor at the front and on the sides and 5 mm at the rear, the plates were placed at a high angle to provide additional protection from small-caliber rounds.

The lower part of this armored body was V-shaped and placed at 35° angles. The upper plates had the opposite shape, curving inward as they neared the top and were placed at the same angle. The front plate armor, angled at 36º to 37º, was specially designed to offer the maximum protection possible, but, at the same time, providing the driver with an excellent view. The rear part, where the engine was positioned, was similarly designed to have angled armor plates. All these plates were welded together. Only the front and rear suspension protective plates were bolted to the armored body. The wheels were also protected by four detachable hubs. Various storage boxes and spare wheel holders were placed around the armored body.

While the armor thickness of the Sd.Kfz.221 was thin, the armor plates were highly angled to provide additional protection. Nevertheless, its armor was only able to resist small-caliber rounds. Source: www.panzernet.net
Numerous external storage boxes were attached around the armored body. In addition, spare road wheels were also carried by the vehicle. This photo shows a unit of Sd.Kfz.221 during the invasion of France in 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: World war photos

On the lower part of the armored body sides were two large hatches. Just above them were the driver’s side vision ports. Each vision port was additionally protected with a metal frame that provided resistance against bullet splash and an armored glass block. The driver was provided with a large single-piece frontal visor. As these proved too expensive to produce, from early 1939, the vision ports were replaced with cast ones.

The top front of the Sd.Kfz.221 was protected with 5 mm of armor. The rear part, behind the turret, was covered with a mesh wire which provided protection against grenades. If needed, it could be open for a third crew to be transported inside the vehicle.

The rear part of the armored body was covered with mesh wire. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.13-1 Panzerspahwagen

To the rear in the engine compartment, three smaller hatches were provided for the crew to have easy access to the engine. Interestingly, the two hatches located on the engine compartment sides could be remotely opened by the commander. The purpose of them being open was to provide additional cool air to the engine. The large ventilation port was protected by overlapping armor strips. These offered free flow air ventilation but prevented enemy rounds from entering the engine compartment.

To the rear engine compartment, three hatches were provided for the crew to have easy access to the engine. The two side hatches could be remotely opened to act as additional ventilation ports. Source: www.panzernet.net

Despite increasing the frontal armor to 14.5 mm in 1939, the Sd.Kfz.221 crew were only sufficiently protected from small-caliber bullets. Any kind of anti-tank weapon could easily destroy the vehicle. Given that this was a reconnaissance vehicle not meant to be used directly in combat, speed and mobility were more important than armor.

Turret

The small seven-sided turret was just an extended machine gun shield. The turret did not move using a ball bearing race, but instead on four simple rollers which were placed on top of the Sd.Kfz.221’s superstructure. The armored plates of the turret were only 8 mm thick and placed at 10° angles. The turret ring diameter was 1,450 mm.

This turret did not actually fully protect the gunner, whose head was partially exposed. It was common to see the gunners of this vehicle using steel helmets. Half of the turret top was covered with a two-piece anti-grenade screen. The open-top nature of the turret offered the commander excellent all-around visibility, which was important for a reconnaissance vehicle. In case of an engagement with the enemy, two side vision ports were provided for observation. During the introduction of the III series, the additional visors were added to the turret sides.

Top and bottom view of the Sd.Kfz.221 turret. It was actually an enlarged gun shield that was manually moved by the gunner. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.13-1 Panzerspahwagen

Armament

The Sd.Kfz.221 was only lightly armed, with one pedestal-mounted 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun. The machine gun mount with the gunner’s seat had simple spring units that allowed them to be raised. For lowering the machine gun, the gunner simply had to use his own body weight. If needed, this mount could be further raised up, protruding out of the small turret. This was done to provide the vehicle with limited anti-aircraft capabilities. This machine gun was belt-fed with an ammunition load of 1,000 rounds. Different sources also mention that the ammunition load consisted of either 1,050, 1,200, or even 2,000 rounds.

A close-up view of the Sd.Kfz.221 MG mount. It was simple in design and could be easily moved by the gunner’s own weight. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.13-1 Panzerspahwagen
If needed, the MG mount could be raised to protrude out of the turret. This way, enemy aircraft could be targeted. Given the machine gun’s small caliber, it could do little to seriously threaten its air opponents. Note this vehicle is the prototype. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.13-1 Panzerspahwagen

The obsolescent MG 13 began to be replaced with a more modern MG 34 in April 1938. Later that year, in June, the belt feed was to be replaced with drum magazines on the MG 34. Despite being replaced by the much-improved machine gun, the older MG 13 was still in use by some units, such as the aufklärungs (Eng. reconnaissance) detachments of the reiter-regiments (Eng. Cavalry units). In either case, the elevation of the machine gun was -30° (or -10°) to +70°, while the traverse was a full 360°.

The crews were supplied with one MP-18 submachine gun. This would later be replaced with an improved MP-38 or 40. Additionally, six hand grenades and a 27 mm signal pistol were carried inside.

Crew

The Sd.Kfz.221 had a crew of two, the commander and the driver. The driver was positioned at the front of the vehicle, while the commander was just behind him. Given that the use of radios by this vehicle was rare, the commander’s secondary role was to operate the machine gun. Communication with other vehicles was possible by using either hand or flag signals.

Radio Equipment

In spite of being a reconnaissance vehicle, the Sd.Kfz.221 was usually not equipped with a radio. From 1941 onwards, some vehicles, possibly in limited numbers, were equipped with short-range radios such as the FuG 3 or 5.

Organization

According to the German doctrine, the reconnaissance armored vehicles’ primary goal was to race ahead of the main force. They were to scout for an enemy’s strong and weak points. Once the enemy positions were observed and vital information gathered, the armored cars were to report back. Armor and weapons were mainly for self-defense, and engagements with the enemy were to be avoided when possible.

The Sd.Kfz.221s were used to equip aufklärung (Eng. reconnaissance) detachments of various units, including panzer, motorized, and regular infantry divisions. However, these armored cars were rather rare and could not often be provided in the numbers needed. As an example, an infantry division in 1939 had around 3 armored cars, either the 221 or the 222. Furthermore, a motorized infantry division did not field many armored cars as part of their reconnaissance unit. Only the panzer divisions and their panzer aufklärungs abteilungen (Eng. tank reconnaissance battalions) were heavily in need of armored cars, as they needed a very fast car that was also armored.

In 1939, theoretically, a panzer division fielded 90 armored cars in total. In reality, the number of armored cars varied from each division. As an example, the 5th Light Division fielded 127 armored cars, whilst the 4th Panzer Division only fielded 70. Out of these 90 armored cars, 20 were the Sd.Kfz.221s. All of them were part of the panzer aufklärungs abteilung (note the term Panzer was only applied after 1940). In each reconnaissance battalion, two armored car companies existed at this time, named aufklärungsschwadron (Eng. reconnaissance squadron). Each armored car company had a signal detachment, company HQ, 1 heavy platoon, a company maintenance section, and 2 light platoons. One light platoon consisted of 4 Sd.Kfz.221 and 2 Sd.Kfz.222. The other light platoon consisted of 6 Sd.Kfz.221. A motorized division had, in theory, 30 armored cars and again 1 motorized reconnaissance battalion. The same numbers applied as for the panzer division. This also meant 20 Sd.Kfz.221s had to be present in total in a motorized division.

By 1940, the numbers had not changed. Although present during the invasion of Poland, the Waffen SS or, at this time, Verfügungstruppen der Waffen SS (Eng. Units available of the Waffen SS), only saw minor action. In the invasion of France, they participated in large numbers for the first time. The SSVT (Waffen SS Verfügungstruppen) had a different organization than the regular panzer divisions in both Poland and France. Unlike the regular Wehrmacht divisions, the SS Division of the LAH (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1. SS. Panzer Division), for example, had a light SS armored car platoon within their motorized infantry regiments. This meant 4 additional Sd.Kfz.221s to the 10 from the armored car company within the reconnaissance battalion (SS battalions only had one AC company), 14 Sd.Kfz.221s in total. The regular SS-V (Waffen SS Verfügung) had this additional light AC platoon. This included the Germania SSVT, Der Führer SSVT, and Deutschland SSVT (all part of the 2. SS). This also explains why, in some photos, the Sd.Kfz.221s have the tactical symbol of a regular infantry regiment and not of a reconnaissance unit. The 3. SS Panzer Division did not have this additional light AC platoon.

Sd.Kfz.221 in Poland in 1939. The vehicle belongs to the LAH. The tactical symbol shows that this vehicle is part of the motorized infantry regiment (within the light SS AC platoon) and is not part of the reconnaissance battalion. Source: Warloard

In 1941, most armored cars were still organized into the panzer aufklärungs abteilungen of panzer divisions. Each battalion had one armored car company, which consisted of a signal detachment, company HQ, 1 heavy platoon, company maintenance section, and 2 light platoons. The light platoons consisted of 8 armored cars, 4 of which were Sd.Kfz.221s. This meant each panzer division theoretically had 8 Sd.Kfz.221s. The same numbers applied to the motorized infantry divisions. By 1941, SS Divisions were full combat divisions, and, therefore, the reconnaissance battalions had the same organization as the Wehrmacht divisions.

In 1942, the Sd.Kfz.221 was removed from all lists and organizations in the panzer and motorized infantry divisions. However, like the Panzer I, it continued to see service as a replacement and spare vehicle.

Sd.Kfz.221s during the very early stages of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Note the writing on the side honors a fallen crewmember or officer of the unit. The vehicles are part of the 2nd Platoon of the armored car company of 2. SS Panzeraufklärungs Abteilung (Eng. 2nd SS Tank Reconnaissance Battalion) of the 2. SS Panzer Division “Das Reich”. Source: M.B. via Ebay
Estonian SS soldiers and their Sd.Kfz.221 and 5 cm Pak 38 of the 5. SS Panzer Aufklärungs Abteilung of the 5. SS Panzer Division “Wiking” in the Soviet Union in 1942. Source: World war photos
Number of Sd.Kfz.221s per Division from 1939 to 1941
Date Type of Division Number of Sd.Kfz.221s
1.9.1939 Infantry Division 3
1.9.1939 Motorized Infantry Division 20
1.9.1939 Panzer Division 20
1.9.1939 Waffen SS VT (1st, 2nd) 14
1.9.1939 Waffen SS VT (3rd) 10
1.5.1940 Motorized Infantry Division 20
1.5.1940 Panzer Division 20
1.5.1940 Waffen SS VT (1st, 2nd) 14
1.5.1940 Waffen SS VT (3rd) 10
22.6.1941 Motorized Infantry Division 8
22.6.1941 Panzer Division/Waffen SS 8/10

In Combat

The Sd.Kfz.221 would see extensive action in almost all fronts where the Germans were involved. Unfortunately, the general use of the German armor cars is often overshadowed by the better-known panzers. The first use of the Sd.Kfz.221 in German hands in a foreign land was during the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. As part of Aufklärungs Abteilung 1, several Sd.Kfz.221s participated during the occupation of Memel (Lithuania) in 1939.

Sd.Kfz.221 crossing the Austrian border during the Anschluss in March 1938. Source: Bundesarchiv, Photo: 137-040270

Their first combat experience in German hands would be gained during the invasion of Poland. At least 290 Sd.Kfz.221s took part in the invasion as part of either the SSVT or the Wehrmacht. Although they did not encounter many tanks, the Polish AT guns proved to be more than a match for the 221. The German Army, in general, did not have a lot of experience in actual fighting, let alone their reconnaissance units. This resulted in reconnaissance units running into AT guns without any support from tanks or artillery. Furthermore, the coordination between the air force and the ground forces was only in its early stages and still had to be fine-tuned.

During the invasion of Poland, although achieving victory, the German Army lost a large amount of vehicles, especially lightly armored ones, including the Sd.Kfz.221. Before the invasion of France and the Benelux, the Sd.Kfz.221 saw service during the invasion of Denmark and Norway as part of Panzer Abteilung 40 z.b.V. (Eng. Tank Battalion 40 for special purposes).

Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.221 in what appears to be Denmark in April 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Panzer.net

In May 1940, around 280 Sd.Kfz.221s took part during the invasion of France. Although the coordination within the German forces had improved, the Allied tanks proved to be a new danger for the 221. British and French tanks could destroy entire armored car companies, with the companies which were unable to defend themselves. However, due to much better coordination, the reconnaissance units worked better with the tank regiments and air force and were able to beat back Allied forces. Furthermore, the knowledge and intelligence that the fast and mobile Sd.Kfz.221 and the reconnaissance units in general collected were essential for the German application of the doctrine of mobile warfare.

Destroyed Sd.Kfz.221 in France or the Soviet Union with the extended MG arm. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

It is unknown if any 221s were sent to North Africa, as no photos show them there. If any took part, it must have been only in small numbers, possibly 20 to 24 vehicles.

During Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, approximately 210 Sd.Kfz.221s were still in service. The Soviet Union would be the end for the 221, as the harsh climate and mud season were too much even for the decent mobility of the 221. Furthermore, the large numbers of Soviet AT rifles, guns, and tanks contributed to the decreasing number of vehicles that were still operational. This and the discounted production led to the removal of the Sd.Kfz.221 from all organizational tables and it was replaced by the Sd.Kfz.222 in 1942.

Nonetheless, it continued to see service as a replacement and reserve vehicle. Furthermore, Sd.Kfz.221 versions with the 2.8 cm AT gun or an AT rifle were introduced, both of which continued to see service until the Battle of Kursk. Eventually, even these were put out of service due to their increasingly weak armament. However, many of the improvised radio vehicles and command vehicles served within the divisions until the war’s end.

Sd.Kfz.221 with the 2.8 cm sPzB 41 with a late war camouflage in the Soviet Union, 1943. Source: Antikfuchs via Ebay
Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.221 in a region of Ukraine in 1942. Colorized by Johannes Dorn. Note the AT rifle on the side carried by the crew. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.221 in the Soviet Union in 1941. Note the Pz.B.39 AT rifle fitted next to the MG. Colorized by Johannes Dorn. Source: Panzer.net

Sub-Variants

Due to the Sd.Kfz.221 being available in relatively large numbers and obsoleteness, many vehicles were converted and reused in new roles. Some of these vehicles were created to counter the lack of anti-tank power, whilst some units made use of them to replace missing radio vehicles.

Sd.Kfz.221 with Panzerbüchse 39

The Sd.Kfz.221’s armament of only one machine gun proved to be insufficient, so, in 1941, the first attempts were made to increase its firepower. Besides the machine gun, an opening for a 7.92 mm Pz.B.39 anti-tank rifle was added. This anti-tank rifle was introduced in 1940 as a replacement for the older Pz.B.38. Due to the obsolescence of this rifle, few such modifications were made.

The 7.92 mm Pz.B.39 anti-tank rifle, due to its late introduction in 1940, saw quite limited service. Source: Wiki
An unknown number of Sd. Kfz 221s received the 7.92 mm anti-tank rifle. To make room for the new weapon, the left part of the turret was cut open. This vehicle was part of the 4th Infantry Division in the Soviet Union in 1942. Source: Antikfuchs via Ebay
The same vehicle as above shows the Panzerbüchse in the Soviet Union in 1942. Source: Antikfuchs via Ebay
Colorization of an Sd.Kfz.221 of the 14th Panzer Division in the Soviet Union in 1942. Note the Pz.B. 39 next to the MG mount. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Sd.Kfz.221 with 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbüchse 41

From 1942 onwards, most Sdk.Kfz. 221s were to be rearmed with the 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbuchse 41 (Eng. heavy anti-tank rifle), or more simply, sPzB 41. While classified as an anti-tank rifle, it more correctly fitted the role of a light anti-tank gun, given that the gun was placed on a two-wheel mount with split trail legs. Surprisingly, no traverse or elevation mechanisms were used. Instead, the gun operator had to aim the gun using a spade grip to manually change the position of the barrel to fire at the designated target. The gunner grip unit was actually offset to the right from the breech block. An unusual element of this weapon was that it implemented the use of a tapering bore. Basically, the barrel section that connected to the sliding breech block had a diameter of 2.8 cm. Toward the end of the barrel, at the muzzle brake, this diameter was reduced to 2 cm.

The 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbuchse 41. Source: http://www.tankarchives.ca/2016/08/schwere-panzerbuchse-41.html

Another unusual feature of this weapon was its specifically designed ammunition. Basically, the crew of this gun could choose between the 2.8 cm Pzgr Patr 41 armor-piercing (AP) and Sprgr patr 41 high-explosive (HE) rounds. The AP round consisted of a tungsten core that was placed inside a lead sleeve. It was then placed in a cartridge made of iron that had a magnesium-alloy top. The whole cartridge could easily fit into the chamber. During firing, the front part would be squeezed thanks to small holes in it that would allow the air to escape. Thanks to the magnesium-alloy top, when the target was hit, a bright light was released. This helped the gunner see where he had hit the target. The total weight of this AP round was 131 g. With a muzzle velocity of 1,400 m/s, the armor penetration of these AP rounds was 52 mm at 500 m at a 30° angle. The HE round worked the same way, but the difference was that its casing was built using steel. Both rounds had a meager range of only 800 m.

The front part of the turret was cut, and the gun mount was placed on top of the armored body, slightly in front of the turret. The sPzB 41 trailer was meant to be carried with the vehicle. While not clear how many were converted with this weapon, author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions that around 34 vehicles were made. In order to protect the operator, the original sPzB 41 two-part gun shield was retained. The MG 34 was retained inside the vehicle, but its ammunition load was decreased to 800 bullets.

It is unknown which divisions carried out these conversions. However, photos reveal that the Kradschützen Abteilung Grossdeutschland (Eng. Motorcycle Battalion Greater Germany) used several of these AT Sd.Kfz.221s. The 11th Panzer Division also used several during the Battle of Kursk.

Sd.Kfz.221 with the 2.8 cm AT gun of the 11th Panzer Division in the Soviet Union during the Battle of Kursk. Source: Digital collection of Armin Freitag
The mount for this gun was placed slightly in front of the gunner’s turret. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle  Panzer Tracts No.13-1 Panzerspahwagen
Sd.Kfz.221 with 2.8 cm sPzB 41 in the Soviet Union as part of the 1st Company of Kradschützen Battalion Grossdeutschland (Eng. Motorcycle Reconnaissance Battalion Greater Germany). Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Sd.Kfz.221 Radio and Command Vehicles

During the war, the German Army suffered from a severe lack of command and radio vehicles. Therefore, many replacement or old vehicles had to be reused for this purpose. The obsolete Sd.Kfz.221, with its MG armament or even the AT rifle and the expensive AT gun variants, was too weak to defend itself on the battlefield.

For this reason and due to a shortage of radio vehicles such as the Sd.Kfz.223, an unknown number of 221s were converted into radio vehicles. Since these were mostly field conversions, the vehicles differed greatly from each other. Some had their turret removed, whilst some still mounted it. However, all vehicles were outfitted with some kind of antenna. Early during the war, this antenna would be a Rahmenantenne (Eng. frame antenna). Although these antennas differ in size and height from vehicle to vehicle, all of them were smaller and narrower than the one fitted on the Sd. Kfz. 223. Conversions were presumably done by the 7th Panzer Division, as their armored car company was refitted with French armored cars and they, therefore, had a stockpile of Sd.Kfz.221s. At the same time, their radio vehicles were removed from the signal detachment. Therefore, the spare Sd.Kfz.221s were refitted with the radios. The same can be said about the 20th Panzer Division. There is a possibility that other divisions did the same at a later point.

An Sd.Kfz.221 with a frame antenna, part of Aufklärungs Abteilung 37 (Eng. Reconnaissance Battalion 37) of the 7th Panzer Division in the Soviet Union in 1941. Note the swastika for aerial identification. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Sd.Kfz.221 radio version with a larger frame antenna. Note that it seems that the turret was removed and covered with a canvas. The Soviet Union, winter 1941. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Sd.Kfz.221 with frame antenna. This photo shows that, although the turret was removed, the MG was kept and temporarily placed on some kind of mount. Unknown date and location. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Sd.Kfz.221 with frame antenna from what appears to be the 7th Panzer Division in the Soviet Union in 1941. Note the tactical symbol showing that this vehicle was reused from the armored car company and put into the signal platoon to replace a Sd.Kfz.223 from Panzer Aufklärungs Abteilung 37. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

A single vehicle is known to have been commanded by Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin. It did not have the regular frame antenna, but a middle-to-late-war Sternenantenne (Eng. Star antenna). The vehicle had its turret removed and was outfitted with a windshield. It was one of the last Sd.Kfz.221s to see combat action during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944-1945.

Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin in his Sd.Kfz.221 radio version as part of the 116th Panzer Division in Belgium in September 1944. Note the equipment for the star antenna. Source: Digital Collection of Kurt Wendt
The same vehicle, now outfitted with a windshield, winter camouflage, and iron chain tires during the Battle of the Bulge in the Winter of 1944-1945. Note that the windshield appears to be taken from a VW Kübelwagen Typ 82. Source: Years of History

The Sd.Kfz.221 not only proved to be popular as a replacement for radio vehicles, but also as a mobile command post. Due to fairly decent mobility, it was popular amongst HQ units, which reused the old 221s from their reconnaissance battalions. Similar to some radio vehicles, these command vehicles received a windshield. However, this windshield was less of a field conversion and more of a production type, as multiple vehicles can be seen with the same curved windshield. One of the most popular command variants with the photographers was a Sd.Kfz.221 converted during the Polish campaign, named “Tiger”. Another vehicle was seen during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Sd.Kfz.221 “Tiger” command version during the Polish campaign (Note the markings). Also note the fact that this vehicle is being driven by an officer. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Colorization of a Sd.Kfz.221 command version with a curved windshield in the Soviet Union in 1942. Colorized by Johannes Dorn. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Sd.Kfz.221 command vehicle without a turret used by the Brigade Headquarters of the 7th Panzer Division. This was again done due to a stockpile of Sd.Kfz.221s caused by newly captured French armored cars replacing the old German ones. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag

Sd.Kfz.221 with MG 34 Lafette

An unknown number (presumably a single vehicle) of Sd.Kfz.221s were converted into Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAGs). The vehicle had its turret replaced by a Zwillingssockel 36 (Eng. twin base) with two AA MG 34s and a protective shield.

Sd.Kfz.221 with twin anti-aircraft MG 34s, presumably in the Soviet Union in 1941. Source: Engelbubu-Fotos via Ebay

Sd.Kfz.221 in Chinese Service

In 1935, the Chinese Kuomintang Government was feeling more and more threatened by the Empire of Japan on its borders. As a result, the German advisors in Nationalist China advised the purchase of German tanks. Alongside Panzer Is, ammunition, firearms, and trucks, 18 Sd.Kfz.221s were also acquired. On arrival, they were organized into the 3rd Tank Battalion stationed in Nanjing, where they would later see service. Only a portion of the vehicles had machine guns sent with them. This meant a number of vehicles had to be equipped with Soviet or Chinese MGs. However, under German advice, the vehicles were not used in their intended role as reconnaissance vehicles. During the defense of Shanghai in 1937, they were mostly used as mobile pillboxes. Although defeated during the defense of Shanghai, the vehicles survived until at least 1944 according to photographic evidence.

There is a controversy around the use of the Sd.Kfz.221 in China relating to its camouflage. Although it seems like the vehicles were painted in the dark gray camouflage in most photos, they were actually painted in the standard German three-tone camouflage. The dark gray camouflage was only applied in Germany from around September 1938, when the vehicles were already in China. Due to exposure to the weather of China and because the pattern was not repainted, the three-tone camouflage quickly disappeared and wore off.

Sd.Kfz.221s and 222s of the 88th Infantry Division of the Kuomintang during a parade in Yunnan in 1944. Source: Char 1A via Twitter

Surviving Vehicles

A single Sd.Kfz.221 is known today that survived the war. It is exhibited in the Royal Jordanian Museum, however, it is unknown how it got there. Furthermore, if the license plate is still the original one, it reveals that the vehicle was part of the SS. Wiking Division, which mainly served on the Eastern Front. This would lead to the conclusion that the museum purchased the vehicle from another museum or private collection in Russia. However, there is a possibility that this vehicle is a reconstruction (due to a number of oddities).

The Sd.Kfz.221 presented in the Royal Jordaning Museum. Note the MG appears to be wrong and the grenade hatch is missing. Source: Tripadvisor

Conclusion

The Sd.Kfz.221 turned out to be a success during the early war. The vehicle featured many new technologies, such as a four-wheel drive or a rear-fitted engine. For the first time, it introduced standardized production in the German Army. However, like many other armored fighting vehicles developed and built during the interwar years, the vehicle was obsolete after 1940. The sole machine gun could not provide an adequate threat to any armored vehicles and the armor could only protect against small arms fire. The addition of the AT rifle could only help against soft skin vehicles and light tanks and the upgraded 221 with the 2.8 cm sPzb was not able to fight against enemy tanks at medium to long ranges. However, due to its mobility, it was fairly popular amongst the troops, who would use it as a command station or radio vehicle during the middle and late war.

Early Sd.Kfz.221 of the 15th SS Aufklärung Abteilung “LSSAH”, spring 1939. Click to see another from the Aufklärung-Abteilung 3rd SS Panzerdivision “Totenkopf”, Arras sector, northern France, May 1940. Illustration made by David B.
Sd.Kfz.221, Russia, winter 1941-42. Notice the half open anti-grenade screen over the top of the turret. Illustration made by David B.
Sd.Kfz.221 of the Chinese Nationalist Army Illustration made by Pavel

 

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.56 x 1.95 x 1.7 m
Total weight, battle-ready 3.85 tonnes
Crew 2 (Driver and Commander/Gunner)
Propulsion Horch 3.5 liter V-8 water-cooled 75 hp @ 3,600 rpm engine
Speed 80 km/h
Range (road/off road)-fuel 350 km, 200 km (cross country)
Primary Armament one 7.92 mm MG 13 or MG 34
Ammunition: 1,050 rounds
Elevation -30° to +70°
Armor 5.5 to 8 mm.

Sources

3 replies on “Leichter Panzerspähwagen (M.G.) Sd.Kfz.221”

Wow,learning about the true color of the Sd.Kfz 222 of the Nationalist Chinese is a surprise.Always learning something new.

“The sole machine gun could not provide an adequate threat to any armored vehicles and the armor could only protect against small arms fire.”
The Sd.Kfz. 221 was meant for reconaissance. In Germany the philosophy was and is “To see and not to be seen!”. The vehicles have to be fast, maneuverable and as silent as possible. Heavily armed armoured cars like the “Puma” at the end of the war are seen as wrong way. Modern German vehicles like “Luchs” or “Fennek” are lightly armed and rely on their speed and stealth.

Hello Markus in the Organization section it is clearly described that it primary purpose is to ack as reconnaissance for the advancing German army. Thus actual combat was to be undertaken only in dire situations. Having an extra gun to deal with any potential threats is just a bonus.

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