The past few years have been a thrilling time for fans of German half-tracks. Many kits and books have appeared covering prime movers and their variants, as well as the Sd.Kfz.250/251 light infantry support vehicles (which are usually treated as a separate family). The half-tracks conceived for towing artillery (so-called Prime Movers) were once woefully under-represented in the hobby, but beginning with the Tamiya Sd.Kfz.9 (the so-called “FAMO”) and building up through over a dozen variants of the Sd.Kfz.7, modelers have styrene kits now for all but the Sd.Kfz.6 and Sd.Kfz.8. In support of this explosion of German half-track kits has been an equally exciting release of reference works about them. Most publishers have at least one book about at least one half-track (usually the Sd.Kfz.7).
Hong Kong-based Concord Publications issued their first, German Half-Tracks of World War 2, several years ago before the surge in kits. In the interim, researchers uncovered many new photographs, and now Concord has brought out a second book, German Half-Tracks of World War 2 Vol. 2.
The 72-page soft-cover book was written by Frank V. De Sisto with color plates showing camouflage schemes provided by Laurent Lecocq. The attractive volume begins with a four-page overview of the various half-tracks, followed by a healthy selection of period photos with captions; sandwiched in between are eight pages of color plates featuring camo options. I was pleased to see no inclusion of museum relics among the photos; these have been covered aplenty in other publications, and from a vehicle historian’s perspective, offer challenges to accuracy and authenticity. A museum curator or restorer is interested in getting a surviving vehicle stabilized or even back into running shape, and as such may make choices in equipment and/or paint scheme that are rare or even incorrect.
The problem, however, with the historical archives is that few high-quality photographs seem to have survived, other than Allied shots of wrecked or captured vehicles. Most photos are snapshots taken by soldiers who were not thinking about documenting anything more historical than a casual moment between battles or to have a memento to send home to family, wives or girlfriends. As one would expect, snapshots have the usual issues regarding quality: soft focus, grainy film, bad lighting, poor contrast from un-coated camera lenses (coated lenses improve photographs by eliminating some of the defects of glass).
And any photo compiler or author has the additional issue of how many great photos have already been published in book after book, or are even floating around on innumerable Internet sites. Finding unique, truly excellent pictures that tell the story of these half-tracks was undoubtedly much harder than it would seem.
Concord has overcome the problems, and the result is a breadth of images with generally good reproduction, especially for a paperback of this price range. The major vehicles are, for the most part, well-represented, and shown pulling the expected loads, as well as some surprises. We all know, for example, that the Sd.Kfz.7 towed the 88mm FlaK guns, but the heavier Sd.Kfz.8 sometimes towed two of them, as well as the massive Skoda mortar. Another of my favorites is a rare example of the Sd.Kfz.6/2 3.7cm gun platform.
The captions are usually more than just a description of the obvious. For example, the author points out how the absence or presence of a Notek "blackout" lamp will, for the most part, help date a photo as either pre- or post-France 1940. And the white fender stripes common on most Early War vehicles were added to aid in low-light driving.
One minus is the few pages devoted to the Sd.Kfz.9. The Tamiya kit of this, the heaviest of German half-tracks, continues to live on in the hobby, and was more than just a tank-recovery vehicle (there are versions with cranes and an artillery tractor build). The writing is also occasionally amateurish, such as a tendency to repeat certain details over and over: we don’t need to know each time how a vehicle in the pre-war camouflage paint scheme known as feuersicherem [sic] Buntfarbenanstrich (“fireproof colorful paint scheme”) used the colors Nr. 17 Erdgelb-matt, Nr. 28 Grün-matt and Nr. 18 Braun-matt. Once or twice would have done nicely. I do appreciate the author’s diligence in campaigning for accurate camo beyond the ubiquitous “panzer gray,” including stressing how difficult it is to discern the two-tone scheme used from the outbreak of the war until before Barbarossa. But the repetition of the pre-war camo colors seemed like padding after awhile. Another example of repetition is telling us each time that a vehicle sporting a WH license plate signifies it as an “army asset.” I got that after the first four or five times.
I have been asked “if you could only have one book about half-tracks, which one would it be?” Walter Spielberger’s Halftracked Vehicles of the German Army, 1909-1945 (Schiffer Publishing, 2008) is the definitive volume at 175 pages. But it also sells for twice the price of this book. All in all, this is a very reasonable alternative for those who want a modeler’s overview of the major German half-tracked prime movers and gun platforms. There are ample opportunities for good builds and interesting dioramas in its pages, and I recommend it highly.
Highs: Good-quality photo reproduction, many new images and rarities. A large selection of action shots showing the various payloads these vehicles handled.Lows: The writing is occasionally repetitive. Not many photos of the Sd.Kfz.9 (so-called "FAMO").Verdict: An excellent overview of German half-tracked vehicles (except for the Sd.Kfz.250/251 family).