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The Kugelpanzer (literally translates as spherical tank) was a prototype reconnaissance tank built by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was one of the most unusual armored fighting vehicles ever built. The only example of this Rollzeug (rolling vehicle) is in Russia as part of the Kubinka Tank Museum’s collection of German armored vehicles. The Kugelpanzer is simply listed as Item #37 and is painted gloss gray. From fragmentary information, the drive has been removed from the vehicle and no metal samples are allowed to be taken from it. The history of the vehicle is unknown, as no documents were found with it and it had no clear markings. Only the following facts about it have been confirmed.
- It was a German-made vehicle that was shipped to Japan.
- It was a light reconnaissance vehicle.
- It was captured in 1945 during the Soviet-Japanese War.
- Its hull armor is only 5 mm thick.
- It was powered by a single-cylinder two-stroke engine.
- It has a small viewport at the front.
- It has a small directional wheel located at the rear to steer the two large circular tracks at the sides.
Otherwise, it is unknown where its engine is located, such as whether it is under or behind the operator, and what kind of armor it sported.
Due to a lack of documentation, its purpose is all speculations, derived only from observations of its light armor, simple design, and discovery in Japan. As of now, these are the common speculations as to its function:
A one-man reconnaissance tank with an armored shell and viewport.
A mobile observation post for managing artillery fire armored cable laying vehicle and may not have been intended to be an offensive weapon or weapons platform. A dedicated kamikaze-use tank commissioned by Japan, as it shared characteristics of other dedicated suicidal machines such as Ohka and Kaiten: small size and limited crew, wasn’t equipped with apparent offensive weaponry, and thin armor that is too thin compared to other armored vehicles but on par with Ohka and Kaiten.
Present at the rear of the vehicle is a small arm and trailing wheel. Some individuals have speculated that this is a possible form of the steering mechanism. It is, however, more than likely just a weighted trailing arm to assist stability and limit the possibility of the central section of the vehicle from rotating independently to the two side wheels under braking or acceleration
A considerable number of Lorraine tractors, about 360, fell into German hands. Due to its reliability, the type was well suited to the mobile tactics the Germans favoured in 1941 and 1942. They were first used as such, renamed the Lorraine Schlepper (f). As the Germans themselves had not produced a similar type, the Lorraine tractors filled a requirement for fully tracked supply vehicles as Gefechtsfeld-Versorgungsfahrzeug Lorraine 37L (f) or Munitionstransportkraftwagen auf Lorraine Schlepper. In July and August 1942, Major Alfred Becker directed the conversion of 170 of these vehicles into the 7.5 cm PaK40/1 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f) or Marder I, a 75 mm equipped self-propelled anti-tank gun. At the same time 106 were converted into self-propelled artillery: 94 into the 15 cm sFH13/1 (Sf) auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f) and 12 into the 10.5 cm leFH18(Sf) auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f). Also an artillery observation vehicle was provided: the Beobachtungswagen auf Lorraine Schlepper (f), thirty of which were produced. A single conversion entailed the fitting of a Soviet 122 mm howitzer: the 12.2 cm Kanone (r) auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine (f).
For a time it has also been assumed that a 47 mm tank destroyer conversion existed: the presumed “4.7cm Pak181(f) auf PanzerJäger Lorraine Schlepper (f)”, based on preserved photographs that however in reality depicted the French Chasseur de Chars Lorraine mentioned above, an ad hoc conversion built in June 1940.
Mercedes-Benz 130 Staff Car
From 1931 to 1939, Daimler-Benz AG produced three cars Mercedes-Benz 130, 150 and 170 H with a rear engine as well as a few prototypes. The production numbers remained quite low for each of these models, especially compared to the production of classical front-engine Mercedes cars.
Opel 1.3 litre
The Opel 1.3-litre is a small car manufactured by Opel. Production commenced in January 1934, although a few (officially 2) pre-production cars had been built during the final part of 1933.
More than two thirds of the 1.3-litres produced were produced in the single year of 1934, but the car continued to be manufactured until October 1935 by which time its successor, the innovative unitary bodied Opel Olympia, had already been in production for some six months. During its brief production run, the Opel 1.3-litre was a big seller, with 19,840 of the cars produced in 1934 alone, representing the equivalent of 15% of the overall German auto-market, though even the 1934 volume never toppled Opel’s own 1.2-litre from its top spot in the market place.
Opel Blitz (German for “lightning”) was the name given to various German light and middle-weight truck series built by the German Adam Opel AG automobile manufacturer between 1930 and 1975. The original logo for this truck, two stripes arranged loosely like a lightning symbol in the form of a horizontally stretched letter “Z”, still appears in the current Opel logo.
Panzerzug – Armoured Train
An armored train is a railway train protected with armor. Armored trains usually include railroad cars armed with artillery and machine guns. They were mostly used during the late 19th and early 20th century when they offered an innovative way to quickly move large amounts of firepower. Most countries discontinued their use – road vehicles became much more powerful and offered more flexibility, and train tracks proved too vulnerable to sabotage as well as to attacks from the air.
Pionierlandungsboot – Engineer Landing Boat 39
The Kriegsmarine had taken some small steps in remedying the landing craft situation with construction of the Pionierlandungsboot 39 (Engineer Landing Boat 39), a self-propelled shallow-draft vessel which could carry 45 infantrymen, two light vehicles or 20 tons of cargo and land on an open beach, unloading via a pair of clamshell doors at the bow.
Railway Gun – 21 cm K 12 (E)
The 21 cm Kanone 12 in Eisenbahnlafette (21 cm K 12 (E)) was a German railroad gun used in the Second World War.
Railway Gun – 80 cm K (E) – Schwerer Gustav/Dora
Schwerer Gustav (English: Heavy Gustaf, or Great Gustaf) and Dora were the names of two German 80 cm K (E) railway guns. They were developed in the late 1930s by Krupp as siege artillery for the explicit purpose of destroying the main forts of the French Maginot Line, the strongest fortifications then in existence. The fully assembled guns weighed nearly 1,350 tonnes, and could fire shells weighing seven tonnes to a range of 47 kilometres (29 mi). The guns were designed in preparation for the Battle of France, but were not ready for action when the battle began, and in any case the Wehrmacht’s Blitzkrieg offensive through Belgium rapidly outflanked and isolated the Maginot Line’s World War I-era static defenses, forcing them to surrender uneventfully and making their destruction unnecessary. Gustav was later employed in the Soviet Union at the siege of Sevastopol during Operation Barbarossa, where among other things, it destroyed a munitions depot buried in the bedrock under a bay. The guns were moved to Leningrad, and may have been intended to be used in the Warsaw Uprising like other German heavy siege pieces, but the rebellion was crushed before they could be prepared to fire. Gustav was later captured by US troops and cut up, whilst Dora was destroyed near the end of the war in 1945 to avoid capture by the Red Army.
It was the largest-calibre rifled weapon ever used in combat, the heaviest mobile artillery piece ever built in terms of overall weight, and fired the heaviest shells of any artillery piece. It is only surpassed in calibre by the British Mallet’s Mortar and the American Little David mortar (both 36 inch; 914 mm).
Raupenschlepper Ost, literally “Caterpillar Tractor East”, is more commonly abbreviated to RSO. This fully tracked, a lightweight vehicle was conceived in response to the poor performance of wheeled and half-tracked vehicles in the mud and snow during the Wehrmacht’s first winter on the Soviet Front. The RSO may have been inspired by very similar full-tracked small tractors in use in other armies (such as the Soviet STZ-5 “Stalingradec”, and the U.S. Army’s own M4 Tractor), mostly originated from the pre-war light to medium series of Vickers artillery tractors.
RSO/PaK 40 – Anti-Tank Variant
By 1943 infantry anti-tank units at the front complained strongly that it was almost impossible to move their guns using trucks at daylight under enemy fire, leading to enormous losses of equipment during emergency relocations (at the time a euphemism for withdrawal), and their opinions reached the top ranks. OKW explored a previously considered proposal to fit the 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 anti-tank gun – by then the standard Pak used by the Wehrmacht – on top of an RSO chassis. After seeing the blueprints, Hitler ordered a limited production run for combat testing, before the prototypes were completed.
The project was carried out by Steyr. The suspension of the RSO remained unchanged, but the front driver’s compartment was replaced with a low, lightly armoured superstructure. The result was a lightweight, cheap to produce, and highly mobile infantry anti-tank weapon. It was more exposed compared to the conventional panzerjagers which had a construction cost many times that of a RSO/PaK 40.
Although the vehicle was intended for use by the infantry anti-tank units, all pre-production vehicles were issued to armoured units (Panzer Jager Abteilungen 743 and 744, and 18th Panzergrenadier Division), due to the urgent need for replacements. Their low speed and light armour inevitably resulted in problems for these units trying to cooperate with those in other fighting vehicles. The German Army Group South, where the units issued for combat testing, declared the vehicle useful, and large-scale production was quickly authorized.
Despite the decision to have Steyr shift its entire production line into RSO/Pak 40, no specific order reached industry, and only the approximately 60 pre-production vehicles were ever manufactured. While the first vehicles were rolled out from the production line, Steyr started testing an improved version that incorporated a wider chassis and tracks; these changes improved cross-country performance and lowered the center of gravity, an issue in a vehicle of such a high ground clearance.
None of the improved version ever reached the front. In October 1943, Steyr was ordered by the Ministry of Munitions to cease production of any type of tracked vehicles. By then a new up-gunned version of the widened chassis had been designed and was planned to enter production in 1944; it had a more powerful and less noisy V8 petrol engine to carry the 88mm Pak 43 L70 gun, by far the most powerful anti-tank weapon of its era designated PzJag K43. It is doubtful if any had been constructed by the end of the war.
The Schwerer Wehrmachtschlepper (Heavy Military Tractor), or sWS for short, was a German World War II half-track flat-bed cargo vehicle used in various roles between 1943 and 1945. The unarmored models were used as supply vehicles and as tractors to haul things. The semi-armored version could mount a medium anti-aircraft gun, while the fully armored model carried a 10 barrel rocket launcher (Nebelwerfer). Less than a thousand were built before the end of the war, but production continued after the war of an improved model in the Tatra plant in Czechoslovakia.
Springer Demolition Vehicle
The Springer (complete name: Mittlerer Ladungsträger Springer, Sd.Kfz. 304) was a demolition vehicle of the German Wehrmacht in World War II.
Volkswagen Typ 87 –Volkswagen Kommandeurswagen
The Volkswagen Typ 87, also known as the Kommandeurswagen, was a World War II, all-wheel-drive version of the Volkswagen Beetle. It was produced from 1941 to 1944 by the Volkswagen plant primarily for the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht classified the Kommandeurswagen as leichter geländegängiger PKW, 4-sitziger, 4-radgetriebener Geländewagen Typ 87 (light offroad passenger car, four seats, all wheel drive offroad vehicle Type 87). The drivetrain and the engine are the same as in the Volkswagen Typ 166 Schwimmwagen. 564 Kommandeurswagen were produced; in November 1946, the Volkswagen plant produced two more vehicles. No new parts were produced for them; instead, old depot parts were used.
VW 276 Schlepperfahrzeug
The Volkswagen Type 276 Schlepperfahrzeug (tractor vehicle) was a derivative of the Kübelwagen Typ82 modified to enable it to tow a load, gun or a trailer, which would be deployed in a unit composed of two modified Schlepperfahrzeug, Infantry support gun 75mm IG 37, an ammunition trailer laden with 16, three-round cases of AP shell, and seven men (drivers included). The Type 276 only saw light at the end of 1944 and never went into mass production.
The P107 was a World War II French half-track.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Citroën developed a long line of half-tracks based on the Kégresse patent. In 1934, the company introduced its newest and more powerful P107 model as a successor to the Citroën-Kégresse P17. But before mass production could take place, Citroën went bankrupt and its new owner, Michelin, chose to focus on the civilian markets. Unic was therefore able to acquire a license for the Kégresse patent, and took over the production of the P107.
Two main variants of the P107 were accepted in French military service: a light prime mover for the 75 mm and short 105 mm artillery guns, and a platform cargo transport for engineer units. More than 2000 examples were in service in 1940.
During World War II, the Germans used these captured half-tracks extensively under the name Leichter Zugkraftwagen 37. With German half-tracks in short supply, Major Alfred Becker of the 21. Panzerdivision (which in 1944 was stationed near Caen in Normandy) suggested converting captured French vehicles. He ordered the conversion of several hundred Unic half-tracks into U304(f) light armoured personnel carriers.
Zündapp KS Motorcycles
The first Zündapp motorcycle was the model Z22 in 1921. This was the Motorrad für Jedermann (“motorcycle for everyone”), a simple, reliable design that was produced in large series. Zündapp’s history of heavy motorcycles began in 1933 with the K-series. The “K” refers to the type of drivetrain that these models used, Kardanantrieb, meaning enclosed driveshaft with two universal joints. Zündapp introduced the enclosed crankcase (then a novelty). The series encompassed models from 200 to 800 cc displacement and was a major success, increasing Zündapp’s market share in Germany from 5% in 1931 to 18% in 1937.
The Zündapp KS600, first released in 1938, had a 28 hp (21 kW) horizontally opposed twin-cylinder motor with overhead valves displacing 597cc (36.4 cu in). The KS600 was often coupled with a Steib sidecar, the BW38 (Beiwagen 1938). The BW38, fitted with the B1 (Boot no. 1) sidecar body was produced between 1938 and 1941 and supplied exclusively to the Wehrmacht. While the KS600 was discontinued and eventually replaced by the purpose-built KS750, its motor was to be the only remnant to live beyond the destruction of war. When Zündapp returned to motorcycle production in the late 1940s, it chose to reuse the KS600’s motor to power the KS601 with few modifications.
The Zündapp K800 had unit construction, flat-four engines with shaft drive (a layout adopted by Honda for the Gold Wing in 1974) and were the only 4-cylinder machines used by the German armed forces in World War II.
From 1931 Ferdinand Porsche and Zündapp developed the prototype Auto für Jedermann (“car for everyone”), which was the first time the name Volkswagen was used. Porsche preferred the 4-cylinder flat engine, but Zündapp used a water-cooled 5-cylinder radial engine. In 1932 three prototypes were running. All three cars were lost during the war, the last in a 1945 Stuttgart bombing raid.
From 1936 to 1938 Zündapp produced the KKS500 model. This was the first Zündapp with a foot gear change, and 170 examples were built. From 1940 onward Zündapp produced more than 18,000 units of the Zündapp KS 750. This is a sidecar outfit with a driven side wheel and a locking differential supplied to the German Wehrmacht.
Zündapp also made aircraft engines including the 9-092, which was used in light aircraft, including the Brunswick LF-1 Zaunkönig (1942) ab initio trainer aircraft.