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Opening Salvo: SdKfz 251
by Michael J. Canavan, Sr
Command Sergeant Major
US Army (retired)


Prewar concepts proposed by some foresaw infantry fighting from special vehicles. The German armored personnel carriers are designed so that non tank units can keep up with and support the tanks. Infantry tactics are secondary to the idea that the carriers are used to get the troops to the battle. The German SdKfz 251 is the world’s first armored vehicle built specifically for that purpose. Production of this armored personnel carrier reaches over 16,000 in 22 variants. Many changes are made in the initial design to speed up manufacturing and make the process of production more efficient. It is one of the most prolific of German armored vehicles.

SdKfz 251 Mittlerer Schutzenpanzerwagen (Armored Personnel Carrier)

The SdKfz 251 was the primary armored personnel carrier of German panzergrenadier units. Hanomag and Bussing-NAG began production using the SdKfz 11 Liechter Zugkraftwagen artillery tractor chassis. The standard carrier weighed over 8 tons, had a crew of two, and could carry up to 10 troops. It was powered by a Maybach HL-42, 6-cylinder, gasoline engine. The SdKfz 251 had a maximum road speed of 32.5 mph and a 186-mile range. It was capable of climbing a 24-degree gradient and could ford up to 24 inches of water without preparation.

The standard armament was a 7.92 mm machine gun (with integrated shield) and a mount for the infantry squad’s machine gun in the rear of the vehicle. The infantry squad entered the vehicle through large double doors in the rear bulkhead and dismounted by jumping over the sides. The infantry squad usually took the rear gun with it when the squad dismounted. The infantry could also fire individual weapons over the sides. This tactic was often used when operating with tanks, because dismounted troops would quickly get left behind. The rear of the vehicle contained narrow bench seats and was open topped, although it could be closed with a tarpaulin to protect the troops from bad weather.

There were many variants of this vehicle. Most, but not all, were meant to boost the firepower of panzergrenadier infantry units assigned to panzer divisions. The variants also reflected the change in tactics as the war progressed. Some variants were made only in small quantities. The table below lists the official variants. Besides official variants, many SdKfz 251s were modified or altered in the field by their units. Some were equipped for use as control and monitoring vehicles during V-2 long range rocket launching operations from remote sites. Very few of these highly-specialized vehicles were completed by war’s end.

The SdKfz 251 was a versatile vehicle, but it was also complicated and expensive to manufacture. It used a lot of raw materials. The armor provided on the vehicle was considered to be too light and it obviously left the occupants vulnerable to overhead fire. The vehicle was difficult to maintain and service. Despite these drawbacks, the SdKfz 251’s usefulness outweighed its shortcomings.

This carrier was deployed to all German fronts. The first major deployment was in France in May and June of 1940. The SdKfz 251 was used throughout the war. Because of its early deployment and success, the U.S. hastened production of its own M3 series of halftracks. One postwar variant of the Sd Kfz 251, the OT-810, continued to be made in Czechoslovakia for years after the war and saw service into the 1970s.

SdKfz 251 Armored Personnel Carrier
SdKfz 251/1 Standard vehicle carrying launcher frames on each side for 280 mm or 320 mm
short range rockets. (This was the “Stuka zum Fuss” or Ground Stuka)
SdKfz 251/2 Mortar carrier for an 81.4 mm mortar in rear compartment
SdKfz 251/3 Radio vehicle
SdKfz 251/4 Ammunition carrier
SdKfz 251/5 Combat engineer carrier
SdKfz 251/6 Staff officer command vehicle
SdKfz 251/7 Combat engineer carrier; two forms depending on equipment carried
SdKfz 251/8 Armored ambulance
SdKfz 251/9 Assault infantry fire support vehicle (short 75 mm gun)
SdKfz 251/10 Armed with a 37 mm Pak 35/36 anti tank gun
SdKfz 251/11 Field telephone switchboard vehicle
SdKfz 251/12 Survey section instrument carrier for artillery units
SdKfz 251/13 Sound detector equipment carrier for field artillery survey units
SdKfz 251/14 Sound detector equipment carrier for field artillery survey units
SdKfz 251/15 Flash spotting equipment carrier for artillery survey units
SdKfz 251/16 Flamethrower vehicle with two flame guns at the front sides
SdKfz 251/17 Light air defense vehicle with one 20 mm anti-aircraft gun
SdKfz 251/18 Artillery observation vehicle
SdKfz 251/19 Field telephone switchboard vehicle with equipment to intercept enemy signal traffic
SdKfz 251/20 Infrared searchlight carrier intended to illuminate targets for Panther and other tanks
with sensors to engage at night
SdKfz 251/21 Light air defense vehicle with a triple mount for 15 mm heavy machine guns or
20 mm cannon
SdKfz 251/22 Tank destroyer armed with 75 mm Pak 40 antitank gun

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