Germany produced a series of interesting half-tracks in the 1930s, most of them ahead of other vehicles then in development by the other military powers. The need for mechanized troops capable of operating off-road went hand-in-glove with the new concept of Bewegungskrieg
("warfare of movement") developed by Heinz Guderian and others. Popularly known as Blitzkrieg or "lightning war," that term was used mostly in the press and is generally not found in German military doctrine. Some of the vehicles developed, like the Sd.Kfz.250/251, were intended strictly as troop carriers or reconnaissance vehicles, extending the concept of armored cars first invented during The Great War to rough or road-less terrain.
In tandem Germany developed a series of prime movers (Zugkraftwagen
) intended to tow field artillery. That's because artillery had proven to be the single most-effective weapon during WW1, and Germany's General Staff (forbidden under the Versailles Treaty, but disguised as the Truppenamt
or "Troop Office") intended to have its guns move forward with the tanks and mechanized troops next time. The smallest of these half-tracks was the Sd.Kfz.11, all the way up through the massive Sd.Kfz.9 (inaccurately referred to as the FAMO).
Probably none was as important or ubiquitous as the 8 ton Sd.Kfz.7. It served in a variety of capacities, from prime mover to AA platform, including as a mobile V2 command center. It was also found in every theater of war. Developed by the firm of Krauss-Maffei, the Sd.Kfz.7 has now found its very own Panzer Tracts
Inside the usual spare Panzer Tracts white binding you'll find a 87 pages of information, statistics, over 100 period photos and 15 full pages of line drawings in 1/35th scale.
My very first review on Armorama (over 200 reviews ago) was of the Trumpeter Sd.Kfz.7
. I have built several and have twice as many in my stash in all variants: the Sd.Kfz.7/1 2cm quad and Sd.Kfz.7/2 3.7cm AA, armored and unarmored cabs, as well as the Late War wooden cargo deck variant. But the major version is the "vanilla" prime mover originally intended to pull the 150mm howitzer.
So I am overjoyed that the PT team consisting of the late Thomas L. Jentz along with Hilary L. Doyle and Lukas Friedli, have turned their wonderfully geeky spotlight on this iconic vehicle that often starred in German newsreels, and is at least as responsible for Germany's battlefield successes as its tanks. Long known for their exhaustive and definitive cataloging of German armor, the PT team has recently featured editions on the Sd.Kfz. 10, 11 and 6 in that order. While all of them are worthy of attention, the Sd.Kfz.7 is perhaps a bit more worthy. Not only were there a lot of them (over 12,000 produced), they served in all theaters of war, and were crucial to Germany's ability to project its artillery muscle away from road networks. In contrast, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, for example, tended to use trucks - or worse, horses in the case of the Soviets - to pull their guns into battle.
I should point out, however, that the Wehrmacht never produced enough half-tracks to fully mechanize its armed forces; the 15cm SFH 18 was often towed by teams of horses in non-motorized divisions and corps. The myth of the Nazi mechanized juggernaut is just that: a myth.
Still, the Sd.Kfz.7 was so good the United States Army took several back to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds for study, and Great Britain took delivery of 45 vehicles in October 1945. The Sd.Kfz.7 sported many innovations that made it extremely effective, including self-lubricating tracks that were expensive to produce and complex to maintain, but which required less day-to-day maintenance than conventional tracks. The tracks were equipped with rubber track pads that reduced vibration on improved roads and lessened damage to the surface.
And instead of a conventional drive sprocket with gear teeth, the Sd.Kfz.7 had rollers at the end of the drive sprocket's teeth that increased efficiency and speed. The road wheels were the common hard rubber-rimmed large steel interleaved to keep out stones and road debris, and avoiding the need for return rollers, though the array tended to become clogged with mud that could then freeze in extreme temperatures.
The book is comprised of seven sections:
5. Final Assembly
7. In Service
Some of the most information is provided in the section on the development of the vehicle, including such matters as increasing the road wheels from four sets per side to six for greater stability and traction. The section on production discusses the various sub-contractors who worked from the Krauss-Maffei patent, while the one entitled "Export" documents vehicles sold to other countries. The section titled "Modifications" may be of particular interest to modelers keen on building a vehicle from a particular time period. For example, Notek lights are not found on pre-war vehicles of any type. And the external coolant heating chambers intended to help start up the vehicle in the intense cold of the Eastern Front were not added until late 1942 (these are two pot-looking devices mounted on the right side between the front mud guard and the track guard).
The text includes some fascinating documents showing how the Sd.Kfz.7 design concept emerged from a 1926 War Department test pitting a full tractor, a 3/4 track and a truck against each other for purposes of mechanizing the artillery. Many rare photos of the early versions are included, since the Sd.Kfz.7 did not emerge fully-developed in its final form, but actually started as a shorter-tracked vehicle. A number of earlier versions served in the Reichswehr and the pre-War Wehrmacht, and there are ample photos of both, along with some during wartime I have not seen before.
One of the book's weaknesses is its plethora of details and statistics, yet nowhere could I easily determine how many of each version of the Sd.Kfz.7 were produced or overall. I can tell you that Krupp built 51 chassis in 1943, Saurer 870 and Borgward 1,392, but I would liked to have learned how many were built in total. Some of this is due to the fragmented state of Wehrmacht documentation; prior to the war, detailed lists of produced vehicles were not kept. But the book could use a bit of editorial oversight, and a detached viewpoint to sort through the copious material. The level of detail may, in fact, be a barrier to some modelers truly embracing the value of this book.
That value is enormous. The many clear, detailed, sharp photos of Sd.Kfz.7s in the factory or in the field, from the mid-1930s right through to the end of the war, make this book a must-have for anyone with a serious interest in German half-tracks. Particular praise is due the 15 pages of line drawings covering the earliest KM variant produced in 1934, right up through the wooden cargo deck versions from the late War when steel was in short supply. There is even a line drawing for the Italian variant produced under license by Breda. It's hoped that Dragon will perhaps use its existing tooling to give us one of the pre-war variants, but at least scratch-builders can have a field day with these to-scale blueprints.
Simply put, no modeler who is serious about building the Sd.Kfz.7 can do without this book. The vehicle was complex (its ultimate undoing), and so the book helps acquaint modelers with its many facets. And even with the several versions available by at least three manufacturers, the styrene output has barely scratched the surface of the several early prototypes and subsequent variants.
The good news is that Panzer Tracts plans on a companion volume that will take up the anti-aircraft versions of the Sd.Kfz.7.