The Sd.Kfz. 7 was a half-track military vehicle used by the German Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Waffen-SS during the Second World War. (Sd.Kfz. is an abbreviation of the German word Sonderkraftfahrzeug, "special purpose vehicle". A longer designation is Sd.Kfz. 7 mittlerer Zugkraftwagen 8t, "medium towing motor vehicle 8t".)
Development of the Sd.Kfz. 7 can be traced back to a 1934 Wehrmacht requirement for an eight-tonne (7.87 tons) half-track. Various trial vehicles were built by Krauss-Maffei from 1934 to 1938. The production vehicle first appeared in 1938 and was intended to be used mainly as the tractor for the 8.8 cm FlaK gun and the 15 cm sFH 18 150 mm howitzer. Production was stopped in 1944. The vehicle was made by Krauss-Maffei in Munich, the Sauserwerke in Vienna and the Borgward works at Bremen. Because of its heavy power, it often found use as a recovery vehicle.
The vehicle could carry gun crews of up to 12 men in theatre-type seats. Under the seats was storage room for various tools, and the whole vehicle was spacious enough to carry their kit. The rear of the vehicle housed an enclosed compartment for storage of ammunition, though a second ammunition carrier was desirable. The tractor could tow loads up to 8,000 kg (17,600 lb) in weight. Most were fitted with a winch that could pull up to 3450 kg. It had a payload of 1800 kg. The windscreen was able to fold down and a canvas roof could be erected. A number were also constructed with a hard top, but this was less common in service. A later simplified type appeared with a timber frame truck-type layout, the ammunition being stored behind the driver's station and the gun crew having space on wooden benches behind.
The running gear consisted of two front wheels with hydro-pneumatic tires for steering and a track each side with 14 road wheels (7 overlapping on each side of the vehicle); a drive sprocket was located at the front of each track system. Minor variations on the track and road wheel design and manufacture took place throughout the course of service, some being combined in the field as repairs took place. In 1943, the Maybach HL 62 engine was replaced with Maybach HL 64.
The use of half-tracked prime movers for artillery was common in the German forces but not elsewhere. Compared to wheeled vehicles, half-tracks are more difficult to maintain, they often suffer track breakages, and are slower on roads. However, they have better off-road mobility compared to wheeled vehicles.
The iconic Sd.Kfz.7 was used throughout the war. Sd.Kfz. 7 were seen during the 1940 Paris victory parade and the Sd.Kfz. 7 features in much German wartime propaganda footage, contributing to the myth of the mechanized Blitzkrieg. In fact, while produced in large numbers, there were never enough to fully equip the German forces. Typically like many other types, the artillery elements of Panzer and mechanized infantry units (Panzergrenadier) received them, while other units continued to rely on horses to draw their guns.
The Sd.Kfz. 7 also became the basis of a number of self-propelled anti-aircraft variants based on 20 mm and 37 mm flak types in use. The Sd.Kfz. 7/1 was armed with 2 cm Flakvierling 38 quadruple anti-aircraft guns. The Sd.Kfz. 7/2 was armed with a single 3.7 cm FlaK 36 anti-aircraft gun. On many of these variants, the driver's position and the engine cover was armored (8 mm thickness). There were also conversions made mounting a single 2 cm anti-aircraft gun. Trial vehicles mounting a 5 cm FlaK 41 were produced but proved unsuccessful, and did not enter serial production.
A variant with an armored superstructure based on the Sd.Kfz. 7, the Feuerleitpanzer auf Zugkraftwagen 8t, was used by launch crews of the V-2 ballistic missile. This was necessary as the V-2 sometimes malfunctioned and exploded on the launch pad. It was also used to tow the launch pad in place. Bunkers were not used as the V-2 was launched from mobile setups to avoid Allied air attacks.
A licensed Italian-manufactured copy was built during the war (designated Breda 61, 250 produced 1942-1944) and is easily recognized by its longer hood and right-hand-drive steering. The British company Bedford Motors (subsidiary of Vauxhall Motors) built an improved copy during the war, designated the Bedford Tractor (BT) and codenamed Traclat (from Tracked Light Artillery Tractor). Its intended use was to tow the 17 pounder, 25 pounder and Bofors 40 mm guns but the war ended before mass production was initiated. Six prototypes were built in 1944 for trials. The BT was powered by two Bedford engines and had ammunition lockers that were accessible from outside of the vehicle (unlike the Sd.Kfz. 7) and it also had automatic steering.
Some Sd.Kfz. 7 were taken into service by the Allies after the Second World War. The Czechoslovak Army used them for some years after the war.
In The Tank Museum, Dorset, UK there is a detailed evaluation of a captured Sd.Kfz. 7 produced by Vauxhall Motors in 1942.
Read more about Sd.Kfz. 7: Variants
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