SdKfz 231 / 232/ 233 / 263 Schwerer Panzerspahwagen (8-rad)
Eight-Wheeled Armored Reconnaissance Car
The SdKfz 231 8-rad was another important player in German force mobility during World War 2.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Mobility was always to play a key role in the early German blitzkrieg campaigns of World War 2 (1939-1945). Coordinated, lightning-quick strikes were to render the opposition confused and vulnerable to attacks from all sides so, to promote this new doctrine of modern warfare, the German Army required vehicles with suitable on-road and off-road traits. For a time, the logical focus was on 4x4 wheeled cars but this then evolved to include 6x6 vehicles built upon existing truck chassis. However, even with the additional axle, the 6x6 types were limited in their off-road capability forcing German authorities to commission German bus-/ truck-maker Bussing NAG to design, develop, and produce an 8x8, four-axle solution. This vehicle line became generically known as "8-Rad" and granted the German Army designator of "SdKfz 231".
Bussing engineers developed the new vehicle utilizing the required 8-wheeled configuration and all four axles were steerable with a driver's position set to both ends of the hull. This helped to reduce the need to turn the entire vehicle completely around on short notice and allowed the vehicle its maximum road speed in either driving direction. The hull superstructure was sat upon a "ladder-type" frame intended for the abuses of military service. For drive power, Bussing installed an in-house L8V/G.S.36 8-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine outputting 155 horsepower at 3,000rpm. The engine sat at the rear of the hull. The armored hull superstructure took on many sloped panels for basic ballistics protection and showcased a well-sloped glacis plate terminating at a flattened section of roof. Atop this landing area was installed a 360-degree traversing turret which housed a 2cm (20mm) KwK 30 anti-tank gun and coaxial 7.92mm MG34 medium machine gun. 180 x 20mm projectiles were carried as well as 2,100 x 7.92mm rounds of machine gun ammunition. The standard operating crew was four (driver, co-driver, commander, and gunner) and no radio was fitted to early models. The driver was situated at the front of the hull, slightly offset to the right, with direct access to his position by way of a two-piece hatch along the glacis plate. Hinged armored visors were featured along the shallow forward-facing superstructure walls.
Dimensions of the SdKfz 231 included a length of 5.85 meters, a width of 2.2 meters, and a height of 2.35 meters. Despite its 8-wheeled configuration, the 8-Rad was not a very large vehicle by modern standards. Self-sealing wheels were used for some inherent battlefield survivability and its standard armor protection was good only against 7.92mm arms and smaller. In May of 1939, a second 7.92mm MG34 machine gun was added to the SdKfz 231's armament mix, this on a trainable mounting atop the turret roof to act as an aircraft deterrent.
SdKfz 231 Reconnaissance Vehicle
The SdKfz 231 was available to the German Army for its invasions of Western Europe. After-action reports suggested that the vehicle was too lightly armored along its frontal face, against even machine gun fire, which led to a July 1940 initiative to add spaced armor plating to this critical area. During 1941, radio sets were finally making their way into the standard equipment fits of SdKfz 231 vehicles. With subsequent combat service during the massive German / Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941, a new June 1942 initiative called for increasing the vehicle's inherent armor thickness and doing away with the plate armor work - the armor stressing the frontal suspension systems too greatly for comfort. 1942 also saw the 20mm KwK 30 series guns upgraded to the 20mm KwK 38 series and radio sets were further upgraded in the following year. In February of 1943, the self-sealing road wheels were dropped to simplify serial production forcing SdKfz 231s to be fielded with a spare wheel held over the rear hull wall. Later production models also reduced the frontal hinged visors from two to one.
The SdKfz 231 managed an existence up until the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945. On the whole, the vehicles were sound against lesser enemies and weapons but proved fodder for better- prepared and experienced foes armed with heavy machine guns or greater. The chassis - which took on the brunt of the armored superstructure, weapons, crew, ammunition, and other components - was stressed to concerning levels and reducing cross-country capabilities some while driving their engines hard. The basic SdKfz 231 was in series production from 1936 to mid-1942.
SdKfz 232 Communications Vehicle
Because of the vast distances at play during the war, it became commonplace for all sides to field "special mission" vehicles dedicated to the role of long-range battlefield reconnaissance communications. These vehicles, often modified from existing combat models, featured additional equipment and noticeable aerial arrays while possessing some level of self-defense armament (if any at all). Thus came about the SdKfz 232 model which was the dedicated communications version of the SdKfz 231 and distinguished by their large antenna array network affixed over the rear and middle sections of the hull. At least three SdKfz 232 vehicles were assigned to each German Army armored reconnaissance company (reconnaissance battalion) heavy platoon.
The need for the vehicle was already apparent even while the SdKfz 231 was in its design phase which meant that the SdKfz 232 was concurrently developed and had its production also start in 1936. With its origins in the SdKfz 231, the SdKfz 232 shared commonality of parts with the earlier mark which eased production and logistics. Early vehicles were outfitted with the Fu 11 SE100 radio kit coupled to large aerial frames while later models appeared with Fu 12 SE 80 systems coupled to smaller aerial frames. A short-range radio was brought along for increased reach. To use the full strength of the radio sets, it was required that the vehicle be completely stopped. Despite the installation of the aerial frame, the turret retained its full 360-degree traversal and armament suite. The usefulness of the SdKfz 232 mark was proven in its production run which spanned from 1936 into 1943.
SdKfz 233 Heavy Scout Vehicle
With losses of German vehicles mounting, and the inherently light-armored nature of the SdKfz 231/232, it was forced upon the German Army to request an upgraded heavy-class scout variant which became the SdKfz 233. This mark introduced an open-topped turret mounting the powerful 7.5cm (75mm) StuK L/24 tank-killing gun. Only 32 x 75mm projectiles were carried due to storage restrictions aboard the vehicle. This gun was selected due its now-growing availability (and proven capability) as Sturmgeschutz gun carriers were upgraded to more formidable weapons in the long-barreled StuK L/43 series. The SdKfz 233 would carry a crew complement of four and the concern of Schichau was charged with its production which led to 129 examples appearing from July 1942 to October 1943. Some vehicles were formed from the alternative SdKfz 263 communications carrier design (detailed below) while others were new-build offerings. SdKfz 233s carried radio kits as standard, featured a maximum road speed of 53 mph, and an operational road range out to 186 miles. Like the SdKfz 231 and SdKfz 232 before it, the SdKfz 233 saw service until the end of the war in 1945.
SdKfz 263 Communications Vehicle
To go along with the earlier SdKfz 232 battlefield communications vehicle, the SdKfz 263 was developed to serve rear-area Panzer tank forces directly with production vehicles coming about during 1937 from Schichau lines. The vehicles mimicked the general form of the SdKfz 231 line but featured a now-fixed upper hull superstructure and lacked a turret and its standard armament. Armament was just a single, ball-mounted 7.92mm MG34 machine gun intended purely for self-defense as the vehicle was intended to operate away from frontline action. Armor protection remained the same as in previous marks while the vehicle crew was increased from four to five. A large antenna framework was erected over the rear and middle sections of the SdKfz 263. The radio fit of these cars was considerable, requiring the services of two dedicated radiomen, and a telescoping antenna was also part of the standard equipment. Beyond these changes, the SdKfz 263 utilized the same internal makeup of the previous marks allowing for commonality of parts to continue.
Production of the SdKfz 263 lasted until January 1943 until the focus changed to more 75mm-armed SdKfz 233 heavy scouts as the threat of more Allied tanks increased.
SdKfz 234 "Puma"
Another 8-wheeled German wartime armored car model, the SdKfz 234, was also developed for service in World War 2. However, this family of vehicles is sufficiently different from the SdKfz 231 line to warrant its own entry in the Military Factory database. As such, it is detailed elsewhere on this site.