After World War 2 (1939-1945), Germany was divided into an East and West state influenced, respectively, by the Soviets and the Western powers. At this time, the German Army also lay in ruins and it was not until November 12th, 1955 that, in least in West Germany, an official army service was finally reformed for it stood that the country could very well become "Ground Zero" for yet-another war in Europe as Cold War rhetoric ramped up.
The service looked to incorporate modern, robust designs with which to stock its inventory and ultimately centered on a multi-purpose/multi-role tracked chassis intended for several battlefield duties: a gun-carrying tank-killer, an Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) carrier and an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). Reusing the same basic chassis made logical sense in terms of both procurement and maintenance commitments. Some of the requirements set down by the Army included an effective 20mm automatic cannon for area suppression, NBC (Nuclear-Biological-Chemical) support in the event of a nuclear war and an internal passenger capacity for twelve - though not all of these would be met before the end.
Design work spanned from 1960 until 1969 and pilot vehicles were eventually formed around the IFV requirement, these tested at length and finally reviewed by Army authorities. In the end, the design known as the "Marder Schutzenpanzer Neu M-1966" was selected ahead of all others. With the Army's blessing, manufacture was started, and handled, by long-time German military player Rheinmetall (Rheinmetall Landsysteme). Vehicles were built from 1969 into 1975 to the tune of 2,136 examples in all. The first batch was delivered to the West German Army in 1970 and service entry followed soon after.
The Marder was given what can now be regarded as a largely conventional design arrangement as IFVs go. It featured a crew of three - driver, commander and gunner - with the driver seated at front-left in the hull with another seat immediately aft. Up to seven combat-ready troops could be ferried to-and-fro with access hatches placed over the rear troop compartment and a large rectangular entry/exit door set along the hull's rear facing (folding down to act as a make-shift ramp). The powerpack was set along the front-right side of the hull.
Dimensions included a length of 22.2 feet, a width of 10.7 feet and a height of 9.8 feet. Weight was 31.5 tons (short).
Over center was the two-man turret which offered 360-degree traversal. This emplacement carried a 20mm Rheinmetall Mk 20 Rh 202 series automatic cannon. Secondary armament was a coaxial 7.62mm MG3 Medium Machine Gun (MMG) and six smoke grenade dischargers were fitted to the front-left turret facing so the vehicle could self-screen under fire. Over the rear of the vehicle was an optional remote-controlled 7.62mm machine gun fit to help protect the vehicles vital rear quadrant from enemy infantry attempting to overtake the vehicle. Part of the fleet (at least from 1977 onwards) was also given support for the French MILAN ATGM, a proven tank-killing missile which broadened the vehicle's survivability in the field.
Power was served from an MTU MB833 Ea-500 diesel-fueled unit developing 591 horsepower to the traditional track-and-wheel arrangement. There were six road wheels to a hull side (double-tired) and the drive sprocket lay at front with the track idler at the rear. The engine was mated to a RENK HSWL 194 series transmission system and the suspension system was of the torsion bar variety. Road speeds could reach nearly 50 miles per hour and operation ranges reached out to 325 miles giving the Marder good speed and cross-country mobility when keeping up with the main fighting force.
Overall protection was solid against small arms fire and shell splinters though the front of the hull (at the glacis plate) offered a bit more protection up to 20mm projectiles. The upper track sections were protected some by saw tooth-style side skirt armor panels. The armor scheme was of welded steel.
Despite its Cold War roots, the Marder vehicle has endured primarily because of relatively steady German field requirements, sound German engineering and modernization programs. In the mid-1980s it was also planned to develop a new, improved version of the Marder as the "Marder-2" which would have relegated the original vehicles to "Marder-1" status. However, this vehicle went nowhere and the designation change never occurred.
Variants of the Marder began with the base Marder 1 and this was followed in 1979 by the Marder 1A1(+) which installed a new dual-feed system for the 20mm cannon. Thermal imaging and night vision support was also added at this time. Some 674 vehicles were modified to this standard. The Marder 1A1(-) followed the 1A1(+) with the listed changes but did not receive the thermal imaging equipment. Some 350 vehicles adopted this standard.
The Marder 1A1A3 was the A1 model but with SEM80/90 radios. The Marder 1A1A4 followed suite but were based on the A1A models. Marder 1s completed with the A1 model turret mated to the A2 chassis became the Marder 1A1A2. The radio fits of the A1A2/A1A4 brought about the A1A5 standard.
The Marder 1A2 appeared in 1984 as a new modernized mark and all previous forms were eventually updated to the standard. The fueling and cooling systems were both reworked for the better and new sighting equipment installed. The suspension system was also improved. The SEM80/90 radio sets then produced the Marder 1A2A1.
In 1988 appeared the Marder 1A3 and the radio fit produced the 1A4 designation. In 2003 arrived the Marder 1A5 which introduced improved anti-tank mine survival and a new fighting cabin. However only 74 vehicles were improved to this standard (1A3 models). The Marder 1A5A1 is the latest incarnation of this fighting vehicle and comes completed with better IED protection and features crew comforts like an air cooling system.
Despite its service entry in the early 1970s, the Marder did not see combat action until 2009 in the German commitment in Afghanistan. In the fighting that has followed, the Marder has proven itself a vital participant for coalition forces, particularly German troopers whose lives depend on it. Fighting in this environment is what spurred designers to add an air conditioning system and better IED survivability.
Beyond the West German / German Army, the Marder was only adopted by a small group globally. This included Chile, Indonesia and Jordan.