A Wanderer on the Road

Gefreiter changes the tire on an Auto Union Wanderer cabriolet used by the medical personnel of a motorized anti-tank company. The car is a civilian vehicle, not originally intended for military use, but making up the plethora of models and makes used by the Wehrmacht. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the lack of standardization resulted in problems with the supply of spare parts. The car hasn’t got the characteristic slitted headlight covers seen on German military vehicles; instead, it appears like the headlights have received some paint in order to reduce the glare that could make the enemy spot a vehicle from afar in the dark. The chromed bumper has a worn coat of paint, too.

The Leutnant standing to the right might be a Sanitätsoffizier – medical officer – but at that rank, he should be at battalion level. A fun detail is that he has turned his peaked cap back-to-front, probably to avoid losing it when travelling at speed. There’s a chinstrap, but it seems like he doesn’t favor it. All in all, a snapshot of a small event, over 75 years ago.

“Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

A Zündapp KS750 motorcycle and sidecar combination makes its way through the slush and mud of a dismal Russian road, probably in late winter/early spring of 1943. The motorbike rider is interestingly enough wearing a Soviet tanker’s padded crash helmet, instead of the regular steel helmet. It provides better protection and more warmth than the helmet and “Oma”, the tube-shaped, knitted head covering issued with the winter uniform.

The road is marked with poles, which helped vehicles to stay on course in the deep snows and blizzards of winter. The horses and infantry further up the road probably enjoyed the road even less than the MC rider. The German way of warfare relied on good roads and short distances, which made the campaigns in Europe a success. In the USSR, the poor roads and great distances, combined with the harsh winters and mud seasons, made the German Army lose momentum.

Same same but different

Two knocked out Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (heavy reconnaisance car) Sd.Kfz. 231 8-Rad (left) and 6-Rad (right), France, 18 June 1940. The one to the left is the eight-wheeled version, while the other is the six-wheeled. Judging by the damage, the right one has burned extensively, and is a total write-off. The other has lost its tires for some unclear reason, as there aren’t any definite signs of fire damage.

The Sd.Kfz. 231 family of armored cars were produced with different armament and radio equipment options. The six-wheelers were produced until 1937, when the eight-wheelers were introduced, featuring better crosscountry capabilities. With a top speed of 85 kph on roads, it was a capable vehicle for armored reconnaisance. The armament, usually a 20 mm automatic cannon, wasn’t intended for attack, but for returning fire if the vehicle ran into opposition. The point of reconnaisance is return with intelligence, and not engaging enemies if avoidable.

The 6-Rad saw little frontline action after 1941, while the 8-Rad was in use until the last days of the war in the form of the Sd.Kfz. 234.

North by Northeast

Gebirgsjäger (mountain ranger) posing together with a couple of young Sami women (in traditional clothing), Finnish Lapland, probably the winter of 1941-42. The truck to the left and the trailer carry the Edelweiss flower emblem of the 6. Gebirgs-Division. The other truck has the tactical sign of a mountain ranger motorized signals company vehicle. The firewood on the trailer and in the sack will be welcome in the sub-Arctic cold.

It might appear strange that at least four mountain ranger divisions were sent to the Finnish Lapland front, as the tallest mountain in that part of Finland is Korvatunturi (486 meters/1594 feet over the sea), which to people raised in the Alps is nothing more than a speed bump. The reason was that they were considered experts in winter warfare, but as their Finnish brothers-in-arms were under diplomatic pressure to not launch any major offensive on the port city of Murmansk or the railroad carrying supplies to the south, the front was relatively quiet for long periods of time.

A little-known fact is that Sweden allowed the Germans to use a couple of large warehouses outside the port of Luleå for storing supplies (mostly foodstuff) for the troops in Norway and Finland. They were destroyed in a fire in 2016.

Left behind

With the recent focus on Dunkerque thanks to the new movie “Dunkirk”, it might be of interest to see some of the equipment left behind by the retreating French forces. Several abandonded Renault UE Chenilette (“small tracked vehicles”) which were towing 25 mm Hotchkiss antitank guns are littering the road. As the tractors were too small to accommodate the gun crews, these had to walk behind, following the vehicles on foot. Instead of moving at the vehicle’s top speed of 30 kph, the movement rate was at walking pace.

In the nine days from 27 May–4 June, 338,226 British soldiers from the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) were evacuated, including 139,997 French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops, Two French divisions were captured while covering their retrating allies, buying them time. Much of the British equipment left behind – enough to equip 8-10 divisions – was pressed into German service, just like many of the French vehicles and guns like those in the photo. They saw action on the Eastern Front a year later, where they eventually broke down due to lack of spare parts.

On the right halftrack

This is the next to last photo of soldiers from Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 49. The guy whose album the photos are from is sitting behind the wheel of this Zugkraftwagen (tractor truck). It was a bit of a mystery to me, as I wasn’t able to identify the exact model at first, but this is the artillery version of the Sd.Kfz. 6, the Sd.Kfz. 6/1. It is recognized by the absence of the third outer roadwheel.

The family of halftracks of the German army were used to tow artillery, like howitzers, field guns, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. They were also used for recovering vehicles, like knocked-out tanks that were to be repaired. Some of them were used as gun platforms, like the AA variant Sd.Kfz. 10/4. Being halftracks, they could negotiate terrain that ordinary trucks would get bogged down in.

I haven’t been able to identify the unit marking on the front fender. It isn’t that of the 10. Panzer-Division, so if anyone knows anything, please leave a comment.

Fury Road

Summer of 1941, somewhere in the western part of the Soviet Union. German soldiers inspect the wreck of a Soviet BA-20 armoured car. The soldier in the black uniform is a tank crewman. The BA-20 was developed in 1934, and was intended to be used for reconnaisance, communications, and by HQ staffs. It was basically a car chassis with thin armor and a machinegun in a turret, and with poor cross-country performance. It saw action in the Spanish Civil War, in battle against Japan at Khalkin Gol, in Poland and Finland, and eventually against the Germans in 1941. Production ceased the same year. Captured vehicles were used by the Germans, most likely for policing rear areas.