This photo most likely depicts a parade in France, 1940, possibly in Paris after the surrender of the French army. An Sd.Kfz. 251/4 pulling a field gun rumbles past a Panzer crewman holding a banner of some sort. His padded beret helps date the photo, as it was officially withdrawn from use in January 1941.
The distinctive Sd.Kfz. 251 was the main armored halftrack used by the Heer. It was mainly used by Panzergrenadier troops, but also as a support vehicle with a range of heavier weapons. With 15,252 vehicles made (all versions), there were never enough to go around, which made the Germans use the halftracks for one Panzergrenadier regiment in a Panzer division, the other riding on trucks instead.
It held a squad of soldiers (10 soldiers), a driver and a commander. It was capable of a road speed of 53 km/h (33 mph). It had very good cross-country capability, but the interleaved wheels were susceptible to getting clogged by heavy mud and icy snow.
There are several Sd.Kfz. 251s in running condition, but in war movies, the Czech-built copy OT-810 is commonly used. It has a roof over the crew compartment, so it has to be modified in order to look like the original. The Germans used the American M3 halftrack if they captured one, so if you see one in a movie, it hasn’t to be a goof. The US vehicle had better performance, but without the Sd.Kfz. 251, the Germans would’ve had a harder time with their Blitzkrieg.
A mittlere geländegängige Personenkraftwagen Kfz. 12 (medium cross-country passenger car) makes its way across a temporary bridge. A dispatch rider on a BMW R12 is following. It’s the summer of 1941, Operation Barbarossa is in full swing, and the retreating Red Army has blown the road bridge in the hope of slowing the German advance. A bridging unit from a pioneer battalion has thrown a temporary bridge across the shallow river, a task that probably took about half an hour. As the river appears to be rather narrow, no pontoons are needed, something that speeds up the bridge-building. The car has a swastika flag across the hood as a means of making identification from the air easier, lessening the risk of attacks by own aircraft. “Friendly fire isn’t”, as someone put it.
The first, heady weeks of Operation Barbarossa saw German units drive deep into Soviet territory. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were taken, and nothing appeared to be able to stop millions of German soldiers that had crossed the border on 22 June. A few months later the Wehrmacht experienced a severe reality check…
Attentive readers might’ve noticed that I don’t post every day, like I did in December. That’s for three reasons: 1) I made a point of making a post for each day in December, counting down to Christmas and New Year’s, 2) I’ve been fairly busy this month, and 3)I’m thinking about making an experiment. As this blog has only a dozen followers, and attract less than ten vistors per day, I’ll start a Facebook page where the posts will appear, and hopefully generate both discussions and traffic to this blog. Some might think that I’m an attention seeker, and that’s actually pretty true – after all, I want to share my photos and receive feedback. The Facebook page is already created, but it hasn’t gone public yet. Watch this space for more news.
Poland, September 1939. PzKpfw I tanks from Panzer-Regiment 8 (10. Panzer-Division) cross a bridge over the river Elbing (Polish: Elbląg), thus entering East Prussia. After WW1, East Prussia had been cut off from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor, which gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea. It became one of the reasons why Hitler decided to attack Poland on 1 September 1939. Two days later, the Regiment crossed the border unopposed as part of Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s XIX. Armeekorps. It saw action throughout the Polish Campaign, and switched from the light PzKpfw I to the somewhat better PzKpfw II later in the year. Prior to the attack on France, the Regiment was upgraded with PzKpfw III tanks. After France, the Division took part in the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. It was withdrawn from the frontline in May 1942 and sent to France to rebuild. It was then sent to Tunisia in December 1942, where it capitulated to the Allies in May 1943. The Division wasn’t rebuilt and was struck off the order of battle in June the same year.
Forward to the front! What is holding us up? Oh, another traffic jam…
A Sturmgeschütz III Ausf. B is idling while someone hopefully speeds up the vehicle column. That it’s an early version of the StuG III assault guns is apparent from the short-barreled, low-velocity 7.5 cm StuK 37 L/24 gun and the gunner’s view port (to the right, above the driver’s position). The latter was omitted from Ausf. C onwards, as it had proved to be a shot trap. The StuG family was considered self-propelled artillery, used for support in infantry assaults. It fired high explosive shells, which were effective against soft-skinned vehicles and fortifications, but not armored vehicles. Later versions were fitted with longer, more powerful guns, capable of taking on enemy armor.
Assault guns were easier and cheaper to produce, and it became common to replace lost tanks with assault guns later in the war. The low profile made them eminently suitable for ambushes and defensive fighting. More than 10,000 (all versions) were produced, making it the most common German armored fighting vehicle. 300 StuG III Ausf. B were produced between June 1940 and May 1941.
An original StuG III Ausf. G can be seen in the video below. It is recognized by the longer gun and the Saukopf gun mantlet. Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste covers the hull, and Schürzen armor side-skirts provide some protection against shaped-charge projectiles. This was the final and most numerous version; 8423 were built until the last weeks of the war.
Soldiers from a Luftwaffe signals unit talk to a local man. Are they just chatting? Inquiring for the way somewhere? Asking about partisan activity? Another mystery photo…
A serene scene, a column of 9.7 ton Sd.Kfz. 7 artillery tractors towing 15-cm schwere Feldhaubitze sFH 18 howitzers through a fir forest, the boughs laden with snow. One can almost hear the idling engines, muffled by the trees. But there’s a hidden danger… The sign warns of Glatteis – black ice – which the tracked vehicles don’t have any greater problem negotiating, but which the towed guns might have. Without snow chains, the hard rubber tires might skid if there’s a sharp turn, and 5.3 tons of hardware could end up in a ditch… What would that look like? See tomorrow’s post.