The German Halftrack – Sd. Kfz. 251

The German Halftrack – Sd. Kfz. 251

Time to take a look at the famous Sonderkraftfahrzeug
251 – Special purpose vehicle 251., which was the most produced German armored half-track
in World War 2. This vehicle was mainly used within Panzer
and Panzergrenadier divisions, but it is important to point out that there were only a limited
number of these available, as such Panzergrenadiers – infantry that was trained to fight with
Panzers – were not necessarily equipped with those halftracks and many were transported
in regular trucks. This is also reflected by existence of Army
Regulations for Panzergrenadiere where one version contains “gepanzert” meaning “armored”
in the title and while the other does not. Speaking of Panzers, if you speak German,
you might take a look at this Panzer conference in September 2020 with Dr. Roman Töppel and
the director of the Panzermuseum Ralf Raths. Check out the Link for more information. Anyway, back to the halftrack. Sadly, the exact origins of this vehicle are
mostly unknown, as noted by Jentz and Hillary Doyle:
“After searching for over 35 years in archives and museums around the world, we haven’t
found the conceptual design package written by the designers. Therefore, the development history has been
lost.” Related to this is the question on how this
vehicle should be employed. This might seem an odd question nowadays but
remember in World War 2 tank infantry cooperation was in its infancy. Although, I have a primary source for the
late-war role the pre-war and early-war situation is a bit more obscure. Likely related to this, are the various functional
names for the Sd. Kfz. 251. In some cases these were subvariants, yet
not all. One of the first names was:
Mannschaftstransportwagen (MTW) – medium personnel carrier in 1939. Yet, fast forward to August 1942, the Army
Regulation gives the name with “Mittlerer Schützen-Panzerwagen”. – medium riflemen armored vehicle. Other manuals notably those that are for Panzergrenadiers,
usually don’t give a designation and use the generic name “Panzergrenadierwagen”
– Panzergrenadier Vehicle. It could be that initial title of personnel
carrier was a cover name. I don’t consider this the case, although
a first look seems to counter that, since the first models were equipped with mounts
for 2 machine guns. But if we look closer, we noticed that these
were mainly anti-aircraft mounts and were not equipped with a gun shield for the forward
firing machine gun and additionally, originally the Panzergrenadiers should fight dismounted. Only in around 1942 mounted combat had become
regular according to regulation. So, from the configuration and early doctrine,
it has many features of a transport vehicle. Furthermore, a document I found in the archives
from January 1945 states the following: “Looking back, the following can be stated:
In the course of the war the astonishing successes of the units equipped with SPW [armored infantry
fighting vehicles] (SPW-Battalion and Armored Recon Battalions) proved that the armored
towing vehicle is less an armored personnel carrier but rather – actually used as an armored
infantry fighting vehicle – a light but high-quality combat vehicle.” The problem is, we can’t be 100 % sure here,
since whoever wrote this might also be wrong about the initial employment and doctrine,
although it is a bit less likely than with a post-war source. As such, this vehicle might originally have
been intended to be mostly a mere transport, something that changed throughout the war. This might also be related to the fact that
this vehicle was rather rare. Now, you might have seen this vehicle quite
often in documentaries, the problem is that documentaries have the tendency to use war-time
footage rather uncritical. This is rather problematic, since most of
it was propaganda footage, something Bismarck and I discussed lately in more detail in this
video. Yet, the matter of fact is, these vehicles
were rare even compared to tanks. For this, it is time to take a short look
at some numbers. The Sd. Kfz. 251 series production started rather
late, ordered in 1938 the first ones were delivered in June 1939, so just a few months
before the attack on Poland. According to production statistics from 1939
to 1942, in total 2508 were produced and of those about 300 had thin steel sheets instead
of regular armor plates. To put this in contrast to tank production,
in the same time frame Germany had produced more than 10 000 Panzers . Although, if you
also account for Panzers produced before 1939, we are at around 13 000 Panzers. So, just from production numbers the ratio
was 1:4 to 1:5 depending on the time-frame. As such, the Germans by numbers alone had
far more experience with Panzers than with halftracks. Now, if you consider that troop trials with
these halftracks began in 1939, whereas the first Panzer Divisions were established in
1935, you see there is quite an experience gap as well. Anyway, let us move to the vehicle itself. There were basically 4 main models of the
Sd. Kfz. 251, namely Ausführung A to D, which
should not be confused with the variants of which were far more, these were denoted by
the slash and a number and had special roles like mortar, engineer and other vehicles. Yet, they are something for a future video. The first model was Ausführung A. One important
detail is that it had two mounts for machine guns in the front and back, but initially
had no gun shield in the front. Ausführung B had some minor changes, but
in overall was very similar: „The difference between Ausfuehrung A and
Ausfuehrung B is the lack of Seheinsaetze (vision slits) on the side of the Ausfuehrung
B.” Note that gun shields for these models were
retrofitted in Fall 1940. In 1940 Ausführung C went into production,
it incorporated the various combat experience gathered:
“The Ausf C featured a single-pate nose armour, and armoured cowls to cover the engine
side intakes, and an armoured shield for the forward MG was introduced.” Additionally, the bumper bar in the front
was removed. In 1943 production was switched to the final
mass-produced model, the Ausführung D. This model is the most easily to identify,
since it has a reversed sloped rear armor plate, whereas previous models had a triangular
look as you can see here. This was not for cosmetic reasons, the armored
body, visions slits and other elements were simplified to allow for a more efficient mass
production. Nowadays, most Halftracks that look like a
Sd. Kfz. 251 are often OT-810. The OT-810 was a post-war production by Czechoslovakia,
since during the war some 251 were produced by the Skoda Works in Plzen. It is important to mention that some people
refer to a German halftrack as “Hanomag”, this is wrong as pointed by Jentz & Doyle:
“P.S. No evidence has been found in primary sources
that these armored troop carriers were ever referred to by the name Hanomag – not even
as a nickname by the troops. If the ‘Hanomag’ had been mentioned during
the war to these troops, they would have thought that you were referring to the heavy trucks
or buses for which this company was famous.” READ SLOWLY!!!!! Since, we got that out of the way, let us
look at the armor protection and technical data before we discuss the late-war role. Note, the following values are for Ausführung
D, yet the values in general were rather similar. The frontal armor had a thickness of 14.5
mm, the hull sides and back had 8 mm, whereas the belly and top plates 5.5 mm. “These main pieces are constructed from
bulletproof armor plates that are welded or riveted together at angles which make it proof
against attack by S.m.K. [Spitzgeschoss mit Kern] (steel core amor-piercing
rounds fired from 7.92 mm caliber rifles or machineguns from positions on the ground at
a range of 30 meters).” Also, as you can see here, the armor plates
were sloped as well, thus increasing the effective armor if hit in straight angles. Next, is some technical data and measurements,
note this information is taken from the manual for the base variant from May 1943 for the
Ausführung D. The length is 5800 mm, the width 2000 mm,
the height 2100 mm. The turning circle is given with 11 000 mm. The ground clearance of the front axle with
320 mm. The fording depth is 500 mm. Now, let us look at weight and the Panzergrenadier
squad next. The empty weight is 7000 kg. The total allowed weight is 8500 kg, as such
we have a payload of 1500 kg. Yet, that is not all, since an additional
2700 kg could be towed. As mentioned, there were various variants,
yet, the most common one was the 251/1 for carrying a full Panzergrenadier Squad, which
consisted of 12 men unlike the regular German infantry squad, which had 10 men with 1 machine
gun and 1 sub-machine gun. To get the full picture, a quote from the
Army Regulation for the Panzergrenadier Company armored from 1943:
“15. The Panzergrenadier Squad consists of:
squad leader deputy squad leader
2 M.G. rifleman 1 (gunners) 2 M.G. rifleman 2 [assistant gunners]
4 riflemen driver for towing vehicle
Co-driver (also radio operator) 3 light Machine guns (including 1 vehicle-M.G.)
2 submachine guns (including 1 onboard sub-machine gun)
m[edium]. Armored infantry fighting vehicle.” Note originally, the 251/1 had no radio set
installed, yet in 1942 one was added and installed in front of the codriver. So, let’s move to the performance data. The Horsepower is given at 100 when at 2800
revolutions / min. As such we have a horsepower to weight ratio
was 11.7 (100 / 8.5) at maximum weight. In contrast the Panzer III Ausführung H had
around 14.0 and the T-34 Model 41 had 17.9, as such it was less powerful and it also had
an unpowered front axle which is in contrast to the US halftrack M3, thus very likely performing
worse cross country than these tanks. The Sd. Kfz. 251 had total of 111 track links, which
is an odd number, which is odd, since the vehicle had 2 tracks. Well, the number of track links was different
for each side, the left side had 55 and the right side 56 links. Similarly, the left track was shorter with
a total length of 7700 mm, whereas the right had 7840 mm. The fuel tank could hold 160 liters. Sadly, the manual gives no information on
the range. Although one good source notes that the range
on road was about 300 km and 150 km for cross country movement. But back to the manual, when it comes to the
speed, the manual gets extremely detailed: The speed is given for each gear and various
ratios. I spare you the details, the speed for each
gear on roads was as you can see here. So we have a top speed of 52.5 km/h. And the Off-road the values are:
And the Off-road the values are as follows: As you can see here the top speed is given
with 21.2 km/h. For contrast here are the off-road values
for some Panzers: Although, a late-war German training pamphlet
states that the halftrack was more limited than Panzers in regards to cross country movement. Anyway, let us move to the probably most interesting
technical aspect about the Sd. Kfz. 251, namely its steering. To quote from a regulation:
“The steering of the vehicle is done 1. by turning the front wheels and 2. by giving
the two tracks different speeds with the help of the steering gear. The two steering modes are connected in such
a way that the brakes of the steering gear only start to work when the front wheels have
a greater angle. When the steering wheel is turned slightly
([illustration number] 18/ [part number] 2), the steering gear only acts as a differential
gear.” Sadly, the document does not give the degree
– or I missed it – I found a value in a secondary source, although one I found a
few errors in. As such I am not sure if the value is correct,
it is noted that past 15 degrees the clutch and brake steering mechanism kicks in. Now, what is quite interesting is, how the
German Army portrayed the half-track in late-war to the regular infantry. In September 1944, it released a training
pamphlet about what the infantry man should know about the armored vehicles. And it notes:
“It [armored personnel carrier] is not there to support you, but to protect the armored
grenadier and make him mobile. Because the armored grenadier must be able
to follow the tank attack. It is his task to exploit the success of the
tank attack like a flash and to secure it immediately. Even the tank cannot fight without grenadiers. But to make sure that the grenadiers can follow
its speed, its thrust, there is SPW. The special vehicles (cannon halftrack, mortar
halftrack, flame thrower halftrack) also have no other task: to protect infantry weapons
and their operation and make them mobile.” The training pamphlet continues with an interesting
analogy. It asks what is the purpose of a foxhole? The answer is also provided, namely that it
protects against small arms fire and shrapnel, yet that it does not protect against a direct
hit nor against attacks from the air. Then it asks, “what is the purpose of a
vehicle?” And the answer is, it provides mobility, conserves
energy of the squad and allows to reach a destination quickly. Yet, it is also a big target and many men
are located in a rather small space. As such, it is concluded that the Schützenpanzerwagen
is both, a foxhole and a vehicle: “It [armored personnel carrier] is both
a foxhole and a vehicle: a mobile foxhole. So: It protects against infantry bullets and
shrapnel and against many mines. But: It does not protect against direct hits
(especially against anti-tank gun hits). It does not protect against danger from above
(especially attack aircraft). So: It brings the firepower of the squad quickly
to the enemy. But: It is a big and quite high target, a
whole squad is crowded together in its belly. It drives fast on roads;
But: Off-road, it can’t drive wherever the tank can get through.” To conclude, the Sd. Kfz. 251 was likely introduced as transport
vehicle for infantry accompanying the Panzers. Yet, over the course of the war it switched
into a combat role. We know that initially the Panzergrenadiers
should fight dismounted, whereas around 1942 this changed to mounted combat. In late war the Germans for educational purposes
called it a moving foxhole, since it provided protection against small arms fire and shrapnel,
while also being highly mobile. Although after 1943 more than 10 000 were
built, before 1943 the numbers were a mere 2500, which was just of fraction of the Panzers
produced in that same timeframe. Due this and its late introduction in 1939,
the development of doctrine and tactics for the halftrack was far less pronounced than
those of the Panzers. I hope you enjoyed this episode, if you did,
consider supporting my channel via patreon or subscribestar, this allows to go on trips
to museums, events and of course archives. Big thank you to the Panzermuseum Munster
for inviting me to Stahl auf der Heide 2019. As always, sources are listed in the description,
thank you for watching and see you next time!

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. Never knew that the right side tracks were longer than the left. Although given the torsion bars that makes sense.

    And those measurements in millimeters… so German, so precise.

    Another informative video as always.

  2. I think the reason the Germans didn't deploy enough mechanized infantry is because it costs 5 times more than motorized infantry for only a 20% increase in effectiveness.
    You're better off putting the factories into more tanks. The Germans also effed up in using their research focus on super heavy tanks. And don't get me started on the synthetic refineries not producing enough fuel. I mean 48 fuel base, that won't even give me enough fuel to retreat. WW2 was a very bad patch, allies OP.

  3. What happened to the German officers that were in China training the Chinese army? Were they repatriated? did they go to Japan or stay with China?

  4. Nice One and Interesting plus Informative But would Love to Ride/Drive a Kettenkrad! Cheers But Won't sell my Soul to own one¥ Xxx

  5. In your conclusions about the use of these vehicles regarding mechanized infantry warfare you seem to forget other vehicles like the sdkfz 250. In your video it seems like the entire German doctrine is based on the 251, but armored infantry vehicles were used within the German army before the birth of the 251. Your conclusion therefore isnt complete in my opinion.

    Keep up the good work, love your vids.

  6. Why did they build halftracks? Why not fully tracked armored personal carriers or infantry fighting vehicles?

  7. Good to see the proper equipment on the vehicle especially the ramps which is extremely rare a British military dealer bruce Compton did manage to get many original bits for his 251 he has 3 and please check out his programme combat dealers

  8. Imperial measuring system. A foot is divided into 12 inches. A foot is not divided into decimal fractions. Half a foot is 6inch and not 0.5ft etc. I've never seen a device that divides the foot into decimal units and few dividing the inch.

  9. With no front wheel drive it greatly simplifies the drive train, and has the benefit of keeping the engine and therefore the hood and the rest of the vehicle lower.
    Slightly harder to mount banks of streams etc.
    For the time it was a better solution than the Brits having 'infantry' tanks as unbearably slow, which they learned wasnt a good thing.
    For the yanks they developed from the 2 and a half ton truck so it was simpler for chassis production, likewise the DUKW
    Of course 6WD trucks changed everything, but did cut up dirt roads a lot making it harder for lesser vehicles.
    This is why today the Hummer or Humvee is so wide, and why smaller vehicles like Jeeps are no longer used in theater

  10. Und jetzt noch ein Vergleichsvideo zum SdKfz. 250, bitte.

    And now a comparision video to the StKfz. 250, please.

  11. Wish I could join the conference but at least this youtube video is in english & got to enjoy another fine episode of military history visualized.

  12. I saw one in the WTD near Trier 15 years ago. But, I was entertained by a bloke that gave a lecture on some other topic, so we just walked by it without stopping. I was very disappointed. I tried to focus the attention to this vehicle by asking what it did here. The German hosts replied that it was here for restauration and testing and that it was painted in the Africa corps colors (originally or not, I don't know). That is all I got to know about that fascinating vehicle. Sadly.

  13. This brought to mind one of Bill Mauldin's WW2 Willy and Joe cartoons: Willy and Joe are sitting in a foxhole watching a Sherman tank drive past. Willy says, "Not fer me, Joe. A movin' foxhole attracks the eye."

  14. It would have been interesting to see some direct comparisons with the American M3 Halftrack, since while widely used, Americans didn't seem to like the M3 very much (I've heard it referred to as a "Purple Heart Box" due to its poor armor).

  15. Such a pretty piece of kit, but I've always thought a fully tracked vehicle in it's place would have been cheaper to produce and more effective.

  16. I think they are so famous, not because of original (propaganda?) footage, but because of of their frequent use in war movies. They feature famously in dirty dozen, a bridge too far, saving private Ryan and many others

  17. The lack of a powered front axle wasn't actually a disadvantage compared with the M3 Halftrack, the reason being the Sdkfz.251 featered much larger tracks and thus actually had better traction and less ground pressure, providing better performance in really tough terrain like mud etc. than the M3. The M3 was probably more mobile on roads however.

  18. Thank you. That was a terrific explanation of that vehicle's role.
    The Panzergrenadier squad had a lot of machine guns! The Tiger tanks had anti personnel mines attached to them. Any mention of those on these half tracks?

  19. Please elaborate Mounted Combat. Let's say you have identified enemy positions about 1KM upfront, so you drive all the way to 100m-200m, dismounted and fight, side by side with the tanks?

  20. Would love to see a video on the M3 comparing and contrasting design and usage of the two armored half tracks. would be interesting to see how one learned from the other and what influenced the different design choices.

  21. The sdkfz 251 has a striking resemblance to the sdkfz 231, a 6 x 4 armored vehicle developed and used at the Kazan test center. Maybe the Genesis was 231, 250, 251?

  22. Regarding the odd number of track links, that is not uncommon. Many vehicles with torsion bar suspension have different numbers per side to reflect the different torsion bar locations and offsets.

  23. I do love it/ The Germans come in aand loot all the Czech industry, then they lose and the Czechs take their designs.

  24. One of the very important roles that the half-tracks had within the Panzer Division was reconnaissance. In the latter part of the war, this was almost exclusively conducted by half-tracks.

  25. Excellent video. What I’d like new enthusiasts and viewers to walk away with is that these vehicles were very much in their infancy in the beginning and their role was a bit fluid through the middle and late war. The dark grey 251 Ausf A’s and B’s of the 1940 French Campaign appeared far different from the dunkelgelb and camo line painted 250 neu’s and 251 Ausf D’s of the latter half of the war. These characteristic changes are quick reference clues when determining what year or battle a particular photo was taken.

    Daimler had been watching companies like Citroën who had been playing with the idea of an armored halftrack since 1919 and began work around 1921.

    The Sd.kfz. 7 and 8, like most early German halftracks were conceptualized by Ernst Kniepkamp of the "Military Automotive Department" (Wa Prüf 6) before the Nazis took power in 1933. The theory being that at such and early stage, their development and infancy came as a convenience during the 30’s since factories focusing on commercial farm equipment could prepare and develop within the parameters of the treaty, and be easily up-tooled.

    As far as the Sd.kfz.251 and 250 (my personal favorite). I theorize that the French Unic P-107 had served as at least some of the concept inspiration for a true Schützenpanzerwagen.

    Moving onto the war, the 251 Ausf C and D were easily the most produced of the 251’s with the D being the workhorse. These vehicles were expensive and extremely valuable since they were often pressed into many different roles during the mid and later years when quick movement under pressure made them worth their weight in gold. I like that this video emphasizes that these vehicles were not the norm among infantry units, despite their abundance in footage. Pioneer units in particular were usually outfitted with their own organic halftracks, often in the form of the Sd.kfz.251/7. Whether it was light fire support with the 3.7cm pak, 8cm mortar, 2cm schwebelaffette, observation or just being pressed into pack mule service during a panicked retreat, these vehicles were a big assets, the loss of which was hard to make up for in both time and money.

    Leon Degrelle’s SS Wollonien Division lost a bunch of Ausf D’s to fuel shortages and enemy fire while escaping the pocket at Cherkassy. These Ausf D’s were credited with getting a large number of men into position where they could at least attempt the remaining rush rearward with a chance. It’s an excellent example of a role these machines found might have found themselves in rather than charging into enemy positions along side speeding Panthers as we might imagine. I built a 1:35 scale model of one of Wallonien’s Cherkassy Ausf D’s to search as a desk model in my office.

    Fantastic video, thanks for the wonderful content!

  26. How is infantry supposed to fight inside that thing? Out of the slits or having the gun over the armoured edge?

  27. The difference in track length is explainable given the alignment of torsion bar suspension. Did this slight difference in track contact area with the ground plane cause a swing of the vehicle to the shorter side if the steering wheel was let go?

  28. 100hp is less than my humble car… I feel that this engine should have an enormous amount of torque, otherwise it wouldn’t move such weight. Am I wrong?

  29. 10:54 Why the uneven links?
    Length difference between the left and right is a mere 140mm, and divide by 2 (because it is circumference) there is only 70mm (3in) for a torsion bar or other suspension device, which I do not believe is sufficient space.

    I believe primary reason for link quantity difference is minimize harmonic frequencies from each link hitting ground at same time. Even today's road tires often have asymmetrical threads to reduce road noise. I can imagine being a passenger a synchronized thumping of both tracks at same time would drive everyone nuts.

  30. I think 15.252 of that half tracks alone is not rare.Germans also had produced ten thousands of other half track models in total.

  31. There is a famous Bill Maudlin GI cartoon of a soldier looking over at a tank and commenting: "I'd rather dig in, a movin' foxhole attracts th' eyes."

  32. Most games get this vechile wrong by modelling it as an infantry transport where infantry unloads and fights unmounted while vechile itself continue to operate as an independent combat vechile giving machine gun support. In reality the vechile was integral part of panzergrenadier squad (including vechile's driver, mg operator, co-driver, who was squad leader) and the crew in whole was either mounted or unmounted. If you unmount panzergrenadier squad you cannot operate the vechile more than driving it to cover near by because the driver had position in the unmounted squad

  33. I find it interesting that the half track was called a moving fox hole. The idea of using it as a fighting platform instead of only a troop carrier makes sense to support the tank attacks.

  34. It's another classic well engineered German vehicle, US half tracks look cheap in comparison, and probably were. As always a great presentation and subject matter, thank you.

  35. Ancient arian proverb : from the lack of memory comes all human sufering . The lost of german memory was a hard blow for humankind

  36. Wait! We can't call it a "Hanomag" any more? We have to call it the Sonderkraftfarfigneugenthingy? NOT. It's a Sudkafutz from now on. When I field my Bolt Action early war Germans the Pioneers will ride out in their Sudkafutz 251.

  37. I would like to put a question out here, my immediate reaction to the origins of half track, was to ask what was going on in the Spanish Civil war with regards to the use of armed trucks and their deployment as on the face of it 1920s versions at least, they appear similar.

  38. The CSLA nicknamed the OT 810 “ Hitler’s Revenge “ I have been told by a Czechy veteran of the progressive era of post war Czechoslovakia.

    The Allies during the war had a driving course for this vehicle, my Grandfather was a Driver Mechanic of the Rece Corp that took it, it rather liked driving it.

  39. Considering it seems like half-tracks of varying descriptions were more complex than tanks in terms of mobility while also not being quite as mobile, I have wondered why they never just made their APCs full-tracked. It doesn't seem like anyone's half tracks did anything particularly vital.

  40. I am guessing that the variants took away from the total numbers available to transport troops. The steering mechanism sounds complicated… mechanics must have had fun.

  41. What did the average soldier call this vehicle? Surely they didn't refer to it as the Sonderkraftfahrzeug Zweieinundfunfzig that's far too big of a mouthful

  42. I would guess it would be more effective to simply weld lightly armored skirts on the sides of trucks for the panzer grenadiers, did the Wehrmacht use lightly armored vehicles to make up for the lack of half track numbers for mobile infantry units?

  43. could you do a video on the elephant/ferdinand sometime? there seems like there are alot of myths surrounding it

  44. Mach bitte auch ein Video in gleicher Art und Weise für die anderen SdKFz 222, 231, 234 und ähnliche! Das wäre echt eine Bereicherung. Im übrigen würde das Video auch noch, wenn es das gibt eine Fronterfahrung im jeweiligen KFz bereichern, die einen "typischen Einsatz" berichtet.

  45. Wie wäre es mit einem Trinkspiel? Immer wenn ein Querverweis zu einem anderen MHV-Video kommt, wird ein Kurzer getrunken.

  46. So it turns out that iconic vehicle of wehrmacht was in fact so obscure that only fraction of soldiers had encountered it in combat?

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