In 1942 this project is initiated from the OKH WaF. It starts life as a heat-detection disk of 60 cm. From 1944 on a few of the than evolved infrared units are installed on standard 251′s. The panther tanks involved are called sperber. It consists of “beobachtungstelescope”(telescopic sight) 1221 and a “beobachtungsgerat”(viewing machine) 1251. The project is called “Uhu” (giant owl). One Panther unit is equipped with it at the end of the war. 6 Panthers and a 251/20 work together. Circa 60 UHU’s were built. The 60 cm infrared spotlight is mounted on a high frame, 45 cm above the vehicle. The 251 and the panther’s have an infra-red vision systems for the driver’s and for the commander of the panther. The range of the light is circa 1.5 km. The range of the sight is circa 1 km. Collapsible runways on the right side and front enable the crew to service the light. The driver has the small infrared light and sight in front of his normal sight. There is a wedge-shaped cable-guard where the power cable penetrates the upper armour. An infantry MG with infrared light is called vampire. US- forces capture several in the west. In Hungary 1945 Soviet forces at Stuhlweissenburg encounter them.
60 cm infra-red light.
crew of 4
6 kW generator
251/20 mittlere Schützenpanzerwagen zur Gefechtsfeld-beleuchtung (Falke)
Accompanying vehicle to the UHU. Carries only the light and sighting equipment for the driver.
The Breda 61 was a license produced version of the German Krauss-Maffei KM m 11 half-track fitted with a right hand drive. It weighed 8 tons and was powered by a 140hp Breda gasoline engine.
“Corazzati Italiani 1939 – 45″ by Benedetto Pafi and “Historic Military Vehicles Directory” by Bart Vanderveen, states that there was a study to use the Breda 61 half-track to take advantage of its cross country capabilities as a mobile anti-tank vehicle mounting either a 75/46 or 90/53 mm gun mounted on the rear deck. Part of the requirement was 360 degree traverse so it had the ability to shoot not only to the front but also from the sides and rear of the vehicle too.
Semicingolato Fiat 727
Fiat’s 1941 venture into the world of half-tracks. After consulting with German firms it was decided to attempt this model. The prototype appeared in June 1943 with manufactured delivery to be early 1944. The weight was 3 tons with a top speed of 53kph.
Even when the hull was not full of radios and other gear the scout car was cramped; it was officially supposed to seat six men in the rear, but this was always optimistic. Maximum road speed was 55mph. This M3A1′s bumper markings identify 2nd Armored Division, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Company A, car 1. The only armor thicker than a quarter-inch (6.35mm) on all these vehicles was the half-inch (12.7mm) steel used for the sliding plates inside the door shields, and the armored windshield which could be lowered over the glass, or propped up as here. The movable armored slats over the radiator were not a successful solution to the conflicting needs for cooling and protection, and vehicles were often disabled when their radiators were pierced by gunfire or shell splinters.
Interior details of the M3A1 cab, with its simple instruments and uncomfortable seats. Note (above) how the skid rail for the machine guns curves up inside the cab area, with a padded canvas cushion strapped on above the door to prevent the driver braining himself. Despite its drawbacks, nearly 21,000 M3A1s were built in 1939-44, and it was used by the British, Canadian and Russian armies as well as the US. In the counter-insurgency role it soldiered on in French Algeria into the early 1960s.
(top)The Browning M2HB .50cal air-cooled heavy machine gun could take on anything except tank armor; this sliding “skate” mount ran around the rail welded inside the scout car (and M2 halftrack) hull. Temporarily clamped above the cab, it has a canvas bag to catch the empty cases. This scout car has command radios fitted in the front and rear of the hull, with two back-facing seats. (below)Many different combinations were used, including the SCR499 & SCR542. Note spare batteries, .45cal Thompson SMG, sleeping bag in the foot well, etc.; in the field even more clutter than this would be typical.
(top)This halftrack towing a 75mm gun is marked as belonging to the 4th Armored Division’s 22nd Field Artillery. Confusingly, it is an M2A1 version – an M2 later partly modified to M3 standard, with the hull gun rail replaced by a “pulpit” over the cab. The ringed white star on the upper surface was adopted in 1943 as the standard Allied air recognition symbol. (below) The 12.75in-wide tracks are a single moulding of tough rubber over steel reinforcing cables, each with a “footprint” just under 4ft long, giving ground pressure of 11.5 psi – better than a mid-war Sherman tank, and giving good floatation on soft ground. Track drive is via the front sprocket; the tension can be altered by adjusting the rear idler wheel. Both the front wheels and the tracks are powered; on good surfaces the front drive is disengaged and the tracks alone are powered, but for “loose going” the front axle drive is also engaged. Tests against captured German SdKfz 251 halftracks showed that the US type had far better mobility and steering over rough terrain, giving a better and quieter ride.
One halftrack modification was the M16 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage, with a Maxson turret mounting quad .50cal Brownings. Some 3,500 were produced from May 1943 as mobile light antiaircraft defense for armored units. The relative scarcity of enemy ground-attack aircraft from mid- 1944 led to the M16 “Meat-chopper’s” awesome firepower being applied in the ground support role. Note the cut and hinged-down upper hull plates, to give the guns more depression. The M16 served on for many years; this one bears the markings of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 82nd Anti-Aircraft Auto Weapons Battalion during the Korean War, where the quad-50 tracks saw much ground fighting.
The M45 Maxson turret fitted to the M16 (and similar M17) MGMC was electrically powered by a separate rear-fitted generator; the guns could traverse and elevate even when the halftrack’s engine was switched off. The gunner wriggled into a seat between the two big circular trunnion plates.
Inside the halftrack cab, left side – generally very similar to the scout car. The main gearbox has four forward and one reverse gears, and driving controls are conventional, but with extra shift levers for front wheel drive, transfer case high and low ratios, and – when the winch is fitted – power take-off.
American-built scout cars and halftracks served and fought alongside tanks in many World War II campaigns, in the US and several Allied armies. They equipped the armored division’s vital reconnaissance elements; they served as battlefield command, communications, and ambulance vehicles; they carried the armored infantry, and towed or mounted the support weapons, without which advancing tanks are fatally vulnerable to ambush. Indeed, the US M2/M3 halftrack series proved so versatile that it became more or less an all-purpose AFV, modified to fulfill dozens of roles; it was one of the most successful of all World War II armored vehicles, with more than 40,000 built between 1941 and 1945. They survived in many armies all over the world for decades, and a few were still in front line service in Israel and Vietnam at the end of the 1960s.
The White Scout Car – final designation, M3A1 – was developed by the Ordnance Department during the 1930s as an armored reconnaissance car for the US Cavalry. It served, basically as a rugged road vehicle, throughout World War II with US and Allied armies; but its four-ton weight, high ground pressure, relatively under-powered 110hp Hercules engine and two-wheel drive gave it an unimpressive cross-country performance, and its protection was inadequate for a true “battle taxi”. From the late 1930s the US Army studied possible half-tracked developments; the halftrack’s great virtue was that it could accompany the tanks (almost) wherever their mission took them, so the complementary strengths of infantry and tanks need not be separated.
Various experimental models during the 1930s culminated in late 1940 in contracts for parallel production of two very similar but not identical halftracks: the “Car, Halftrack, M2″, and the “Carrier, Personnel, Halftrack, M3″. The most obvious differences were the M2′s slightly shorter body, with a machine gun rail running round its rim as on the scout car, and no rear door; and the M3′s longer body (and thus greater crew capacity), with a central rear door, and a “pulpit” machine gun position above the cab. Both lines would be produced by a number of companies, in models with slightly differing details and designations; retrospective modifications would further complicate the picture – in all more than 70 distinct models were built.
By 1943 the M3 and its derivatives were favored over the M2 series, and were the types mostly issued to the armored infantry. They could carry 13 men (i.e. a 12-man rifle squad and a driver), so five could lift a complete platoon of an MG squad, a mortar squad, and three rifle squads.
Nearly all the armor on the scout car and halftrack was only a quarter-inch thick, giving protection against rifle and light automatic fire and shell splinters; but the first GIs to take them into battle in Tunisia had over-optimistic ideas about them, which were quickly shaken by experience. The open hulls naturally gave no protection against artillery airbursts or any kind of plunging fire, and the side armor could be penetrated by anything heavier than infantry weapons. The mechanized infantry in armored divisions would suffer very heavy casualties; but this was later proved to be due to their heavy “workload” – being mobile, they were simply committed to combat more often than foot-slogging infantry.
Halftrack Road Report
With an empty weight of just under eight tons, the basic halftrack APCs have a top road speed of 45mph; fuel consumption is a little better than three miles to the gallon, and range between 180 and 215 miles. They drive very much like a modern four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle – on which the power steering has failed…. The controls for the driver are absolutely conventional, and almost anybody could drive one on the road with minimal training. Operation off-road is a bit more of a challenge, particularly in soft going. Incidentally, all these light armored vehicles vibrate like hell and are extremely noisy – loose bits of iron clank and rattle all over, even without a load of GIs and their kit and weapons, and would-be drivers are advised to carry plenty of aspirin.
Veteran armor officer Duane Klug comments: “The halftrack is a bear to steer at low speeds, although it’s not bad once you get it moving. As long as the front wheels aren’t engaged, it will move along pretty well and is pretty easy to control. But once you engage the front axle it becomes much less responsive. I had to learn to double-clutch it, but if everything is set up right it drives like a regular transmission. It has a surprisingly good turning radius [59ft]. Visibility is good, as long as the armor windshields are up and the side curtains are down. It shakes the heck out of you, though.”
150-MM SELF-PROPELLED PROJECTOR (15 cm Panzerwerfer 42). The Germans have mounted this ten-barreled rocket projector on the rear of a lightly armored half-tracked vehicle with a Maultier suspension. Two horizontal rows of five barrels are mounted on a turntable with a 360-degree traverse. The weapon is fired electrically by a gunner who sits in the body of the vehicle immediately below the platform, his head protected by a shallow cupola. It is probable that the rate of fire of this weapon is higher than that of the Nebelwerfer 41, since the crew remains behind armor near the weapon and can reload in less time.That sequence is for the six barrelled ground mounted Nebelwerfer and was so that the mounting wouldn’t turn itself over during firing. According to “Field Rocket Equipment of the German Army 1939-1945″ by Terry Gander the practicable traverse was 270 degrees, it could rotate in a full circle but you can’t fire it directly backwards as the back blast from the rockets would harm the vehicle/crew.
The first winter of the war in the USSR (1941-2) demonstrated to the German army that most of its wheeled transport was completely unable to deal with the dreadful muddy conditions produced during the freeze-thaw weather that marked the beginning and end of the Russian winter. During these conditions it was only the halftracks that could make any headway, but to divert the precious halftracks from their operational purposes to carry out the mundane day-to-day supply functions was obviously uneconomic, so it was decided to produce low-cost halftrack trucks. This was done quite simply by taking Opel and Daimler-Benz trucks from the production lines and removing their rear axles. In their place went new driveshafts connected to tracked assemblies made from PzKpfw II running wheels and tracks. In itself this was a considerable economic advantage since the PzKpfw II was then going out of production and existing capacity could be retained, making the truck conversion an even more cost-effective venture.
The new halftrack trucks were provided with the name Maultier (mule). In the end the conversions used mainly Opel Typ S/SSM trucks, and in service they were generally a success although they tended to lack the overall mobility of the ‘proper’ halftracks. Not surprisingly, their use was confined to the Eastern Front, and the vehicles were used mainly for routine supply purposes.
Not content with a good thing, the Germans as ever were forced to employ the Maultiers for yet another purpose, The German Nebelwerfer (rocket) batteries had become an established part of the army artillery system by late 1942, and it was decided that the Panzer formations should have their own dedicated rocket units. At that time most Nebelwerfer units used towed launchers, so in order to keep up with the Panzers a self-propelled version was required. The halftrack was the obvious choice as a starting point, but as none could be allocated the Maultier was pressed into use.
The basic truck was provided with a fully armoured cab, engine cover and hull. On the hull roof a 10-barrel launcher known as the 15-cm Panzerwerfer 42 was placed. This launcher had 270° of traverse and 80° of elevation, and it fired the 10 rockets in a ripple. The army ordered 3,000 of these conversions with the understanding that production would eventually switch to the sWS when production totals of the latter allowed, which they never did (apart from a small batch of prototypes). The first of these Maultiers was used during 1943, and had a crew of three. The rockets were carried in the launcher, with reloads in compartments along each side of the lower hull, A machine-gun was usually carried. Some of these armoured Maultiers were produced without the launcher and were used to carry extra rockets for the launcher vehicles, and some of these were used by units other than the Nebelwerfer batteries as front-line ammunition supply vehicles, although their armour was proof only against small arms projectiles and shell splinters.
Maultier (rocket launcher)
Weights: 7100 kg (15,653 lb)
Powerplant: one 3.6-litre 6-cylinder petrol engine
Dimensions: length 6.0 m (19 ft 8.2 in); width 2.2 m (7 ft 2.6 in); height 2.5 m (8 ft 6 in)