In 1940 German army planners issued a requirement for a new 8 x 8 armoured car series to be based on the SdKfz 231(8-Rad) series but having a monocoque hull (i,e. one in which the basic hull structure is made up of the plates themselves rather than a framework on which are fixed the armour plates) and an engine installation more suited to operations in hot climates The resultant vehicle was built by the parent firm Būssing-NAG with other firms under its control, and the basic hull and chassis was known as the ARK. It was delivered in July 1941, but the original engine installation proved troublesome and was replaced by another. A different engine installation was intended for vehicles used in North Africa, but with the end of that campaign early in 1943 the project proceeded slowly and it was not until 1944 that the first tropical’ version was delivered.
The new series of vehicles was designated schwerer Panzerspähwagen SdKfz 234 and was much lower and more streamlined than the earlier SdKfz 231(8-Rad) series. The vehicles had thicker armour, increased internal fuel capacity and a more powerful engine bestowing a better all-round performance to the extent that it is now generally acknowledged that the variants of SdKfz 234 series were probably the best all-round vehicles in their class to be used during World War IL Most of the mechanical attributes of the SdKfz 231(8-Rad) vehicles were carried over, and there were four basic versions of the SdKfz 234. By the end of the war about 2,300 had been produced after the type had entered full production during 1943.
In designation order, the first version was the SdKfz 234/1, a commander’s vehicle with a 20-mm KwK 30 or KwK 38 cannon in a small open-topped turret along with a co-axial 7.92-mm (0.31-in) MG 42 machine-gun. The mountings for these two weapons could be elevated to provide a degree of anti-aircraft protection, but normally the turret was covered by a wire screen to prevent the ingress of hand grenades, The most famous of the range, however was the SdKfz 234/2 Puma, a superb armoured car with a turret enclosing a 50-mm (1.96-in) KwK 39/1 gun, The turret had originally been intended for the Leopard light tank, which was cancelled, and when reworked for the Puma the result was powerful enough for the vehicle to counter the increasing use of light and other tanks in Soviet army reconnaissance units. The turret had an excellent ballistic shape and also mounted a coaxial MG 42 machine-gun. So good was the vehicle that by 1945, when German industry was being drastically reorganized to maintain war production outputs, the Puma was the only reconnaissance vehicle to be kept in Production (along with a Skoda light tank). But there were times when the 50-mm (1.96-in) gun of the Puma was unable to cope with enemy tanks, and the SdKfz 234/3 was placed in production to replace the earlier SdKfz 233. It too mounted the short 75-mm (2 95-in) tank gun of the SdKfz 233, and was placed in production at the direct order of Hitler who by 1944 was concerning himself directly with such matters as fighting vehicle armament. The last variant of the SdKfz 234 series was another placed in production as the result of a direct order from Hitler. This was the SdKfz 234/4, which mounted a 75-mm (2.95-in) PaK 40 anti-tank gun in an open compartment in place of the turret. Only a few trial models were produced but by the time they appeared things were becoming so desperate for the Germans that they were rushed into operational use and some were subsequently captured by the Allies.
Push/Pull SdKfz 234/1 turret operation
The one wheel performed both the elevation and traverse function at the same time. Traverse was obviously by turning the wheel to the left or right and had a high/low ratio.
To elevate and depress the gun one simply pulled the wheel towards oneself.
One full pull of the wheel (about 200mm movement) elevated the gun approximately a third of its capability. One simply clutched off the gun pushed in the wheel re-clutched the wheel and pulled the wheel again to gain more movement. (Or pushed it back to depress the guns).
The clutch lever in the 234/1 turrets was the ‘bent’ lever highlighted in the 1st issue of AFV Modeller as being responsible for the elevation. It’s not actually bent, the handle flips up when in use, see Museum Ordinance Special #24 on the 234 series for more turret photographs.
To fire the guns the gunner had ‘butterfly’ levers behind the wheel connecting the weapons via Bowden cables to their respective weapon. The R/H lever fired the 2cm and the L/H one the MG42.
The traverse/elevation wheel system was the same in the earlier 8 rad 231 except in that vehicle the weapons were operated from foot firing pedals actuating hydraulic cylinders.
These vehicles first saw combat with the campaign against Poland and in the Battle of France. The radio communication cars proved their ability in infantry support, especially during street fighting. Later they saw use in both Russia and North Africa. Extreme climatic conditions in both these areas proved too severe for the vehicle. In Russia, adverse ground conditions immobilized 150 Sd.Kfz 232s during the first wet season of the campaign. In the desert, heat and sand created some maintenance problems. Still, the eight-wheeled cars turned out to be the best vehicles that Rommel had for long raids in across the wide desert territory.
The Sd.Kfz. 234 series were completely new designs, of a similar size and appearance to the Sd.Kfz. 232/3 series which they replaced. They were powered by a Tatra diesel. The most obvious external difference is the single-piece mudguards compared to the two-piece mudguards on the 232 series.
There were four main variants.
234/1 – 1 x 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 autocannon, 1 x MG34 Machinegun. This design featured an open-topped turret. Around 200 were produced.
234/2 “Puma” – 1 x 5 cm KwK 39 L/60, 1 x MG34. Employed a fully enclosed turret originally designed for the VK1602 Leopard light tank. The turret front was protected by 30 mm armor set at an angle of 20° from the vertical. The sides and rear had 10 mm armor set at 25°, and the top plate was 10 mm armor. The gun mantlet was rounded and was 40 to 100 mm thick. 101 were produced between September 1943 and September 1944.
234/3 – 1 x 7.5 cm K51 L/24 in open-topped superstructure replacing the turret. 88 built between June and December, 1944.
234/4 “Pakwagen” – 1 x 7.5 cm PaK 40 L/48 in open-topped superstructure replacing the turret. 89 built between December 1944 and March 1945.
*Be careful with the statement/name “Puma”. Apparently German veterans called all 8-wheeled Armoured Cars “Puma’s”. Even the Sd.Kfz.231! Thus you get confusion with some modern authors converting the name ‘Puma’ to mean that SdKfz 234/2 are present. A prime example of this is SS-Captain Viktor Graebner, the 30 year-old Commander of the Hohenstaufen’s Reconnaissance Battalion, charge across Arnhem Bridge. His unit did Not have any SdKfz 234/2s in it, though many a wargame will have them in [mind you I’ll keep them thanks, you need all the help you can get as German force].