In spite of the terrible problems that faced the badly depleted Panzer divisions, back in Germany production of tanks and half-track vehicles still increased. In order to overcome the mammoth task of defeating the Red Army, more Panzer divisions were being raised, and motorized divisions converted into Panzergrenadier divisions. Although equipping the Panzerwaffe was a slow and expensive process, it was undertaken effectively with the introduction of a number of new, fresh divisions being deployed on the front lines.
However, by the beginning of the summer offensive in May 1942, not all the Panzer divisions were fully equipped and ready for combat. Some of the older units, for instance, did not even have their losses from the winter offensive of 1941 replaced and were not ready for any type of full-scale operation. Worn out and depleted Panzer divisions were therefore relegated to Army Group North or Army Group Centre, where they were hastily deployed for a series of defensive actions instead. The best-equipped Panzer divisions were shifted south to Army Group South for operations through Caucasus. It was entrusted to the two Panzer Armies – 1st and 4th – that were to spearhead the drive. By May 1942, most of the Panzer divisions involved were up to nearly eighty-five per cent of their original fighting strength.
With renewed confidence, the summer offensive, codenamed ‘Operation Blau’, opened up in southern Russia. Some fifteen Panzer divisions and Panzergrenadier divisions of the 1st and 4th Armies, together with Italian, Rumanian and Hungarian formations crashed into action. In just two days the leading spearheads had pushed 150km deep into the enemy lines and had begun to cut off the city of Voronezh. The city fell on 7 July. The two Panzer armies then converged with all its might on Stalingrad. It seemed that the Russians were now doomed. With an air of confidence, Hitler decided to abandon the armoured advance on Stalingrad and embark on an encirclement operation down on the Don. The 6th Army was to go on and capture Stalingrad without any real Panzer support and fight a bloody battle of attrition there. Eventually the fighting became so fierce it embroiled some twenty-one German divisions including six Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions.
The 6th Army soon became encircled and three hurriedly reorganized under strength Panzer divisions were thrown into a relief operation. By 19 December the 6th Panzer Division had fought its way to within 50km of Stalingrad. But under increasing Russian pressure the relief operation failed. The 6th Panzer Division and remnants of the 4th Panzer Army were forced to retreat, leaving the 6th Army in the encircled city to its fate. Some 94,000 soldiers surrendered on 2 February 1943. With them the 14th, 16th, and 24th Panzer Divisions, and the 3rd, 29th, and 60th Panzergrenadier Divisions were decimated.
A Sd.Kfz.10/4 with a mounted 20mm FlaK gun has halted on a road somewhere on the Eastern Front in 1942. The side gun platform has been folded down to provide additional space for the crew to manoeuvre around the gun.
A new Sd.kfz.251 Ausf.A, more than likely on a training exercise, manoeuvres along a sandy tract of land. This photograph gives a very good view of the MG34 machine gun on its sustained fire mount.
A Sd.Kfz.7 half-track has just driven off a pontoon bridge during its armoured column’s drive eastward. Next to the half-track is a Pz.Kpfw.II. Throughout the war, the Sd.Kfz.7 proved a useful supplement to the predominantly truck-borne rifle infantry of the Panzer divisions. It was able to maintain speed across country and keep up with the fast-moving Panzer units.
More than likely troops of the 4th SS-Polizei-Division during operations in Army Group North in 1942. A stationary Sd.Kfz.8 half-track can be seen parked next to a Pz.Kpfw.III of the 4.Company of a Panzer Regiment.
A Sd.Kfz.10/4 armed with a mounted 20mm FlaK gun moves along a sandy embankment somewhere in Russia. On the folding sides of the half-track additional magazines for the gun are carried and a single axle trailer stowing more vital equipment and magazines were usually stored. This particular half-track probably provided support to one of the Panzer divisions during their advance through Russia.
An interesting photograph showing the Sd.Kfz.251 modified Ausf.C variant operating on the Eastern Front. This particular variant is armed with the 20mm FlaK 38 gun complete with splinter shield. The insignia indicates that it belongs to the famous ‘Grossdeutchland’ Division. Parked next to the half-track, the commander of a StuG.III scans the sky for enemy aircraft.
A Sd.Kfz.251 armoured personnel carrier wades through a stream following in close support of an Sd.kfz.10 towing a PaK gun. Festooned to the Sd.Kfz.251’s front are logs. This was to prevent the sinking of the half-track’s front wheels in soft or marshy ground.
A battery of Sd.Kfz.10/4 armed with mounted 20mm FlaK guns are in action against an enemy target. The hinged sides have been completely removed for combat in order to allow the crew plenty of space to use the gun and reload with ammunition. Anti-aircraft defences came into prominence by September 1941, as the Soviet Air Force started to inflict heavier casualties.
A photograph taken from inside a moving Sd.Kfz.251. A Panzergrenadier can be seen with his MG34 mounted on a sustained fire mount. The vehicle is racing across a large field following a column of Pz.Kpfw.IIs.
A pair of crewman preparing their Panzerwerfer for a fire mission in the snow. This vehicle was known by the Germans as the Maultier (‘Mule’). This particular ‘Mule’ is armed with a ten-tube 150mm Nebelwerfer 42. Some 300 of these half-track Panzerwerfer’s entered service, mainly for the Eastern Front.
A Sd.Kfz.251 armoured personnel carrier has halted on a road next to a destroyed building. A Panzergrenadier can be seen armed with a M1924 stick grenade standing next to the building and poised to throw the grenade through the window.
A Sd.Kfz.10/4 half-track has halted outside a village. The sides of the gun platform have been lowered suggesting that this vehicle is about to be embroiled in action against an enemy target. Note the letter ‘K’ painted on the rear of ammunition trailer, partially obscured by the troop’s leg, indicating that this vehicle is attached to ‘Panzergruppe Kleist’.
An interesting photograph showing a half-track Panzerwerfer being prepared for action on the Eastern Front. This Nebelwerfer launch vehicle has an application of whitewash camouflage paint, and the letter ‘G’ on the sides and rear of the superstructure probably indicates that it’s the seventh launcher in a battery of eight.
A retouched image showing Wehrmacht troops in a dug out position waiting to go into action. In the foreground is a Sd.Kfz.251 armoured personnel carrier. It was primarily the success of the Sd.Kfz.251 in the early war years that afforded half-tracks a frontline combat role alongside the Panzer on the Eastern Front.
A number of half-tracks can be seen near a main rail head somewhere in Russia during summer operations. Throughout the war on the Eastern Front, the half-track offered troops armoured protection and mobility. The use of the half-track was an example of rapid tactical deployment that changed the way battles were fought forever.
From his Sd.Kfz.251 a commanding officer orders his men into action. The Sd.Kfz.251 became the most popular vehicle used by the Panzergrenadiers and was frequently seen in the thick of battle, moving alongside tanks and providing them with valuable support.
Dressed in their winter reversibles, these troops are preparing a position in the frozen ground next to a Sd.Kfz.6/2 half-track armed with a 37mm FlaK gun. It was not until Russia, when soldiers were given greater combat roles, that the half-tracks were equipped with heavier main armaments to give them even greater offensive punch.
A Sd.Kfz.7/1 mounting a quadruple-barrelled FlaK gun is concealed in a field. This weapon demonstrated outstanding anti-aircraft capabilities. Though these weapons were used in both ground and aerial roles, in an anti-tank function they were not particularly effective against heavy Russian armour.
Dispersed in the open and a Sd.Kfz.10 half-track armed with the 20mm FlaK 30 can be seen in action against an enemy target. The crew are well placed behind the gun. Note the discarded gas mask canisters placed in a line on the ground. It is probable that, due to the restricted space onboard the vehicle, the crew have temporarily discarded them.
A SS flak gunner scours the skies for Soviet aircraft. He is standing on the decking of a Sd.Kfz.7/1, which mounts a 20mm quadruple-barrelled anti-aircraft gun. Note the kill markings displayed on the gun shield.
An interesting photograph showing a number of Sd.Kfz.10/4 half-tracks towing 50mm PaK 38 guns towards the front. In the foreground are two stationary Sd.Kfz.7 with 150mm howitzers on tow that have halted in a field.
Vehicles belonging to Kleist’s ‘Panzergruppe’ are seen operating in a deserted Russian town, recently captured by this column. Two Pz.Kpfw.IIs can be seen with a Pz.Kpfw.III and two Sd.Kfz.251 armoured personnel carriers.
A well concealed Sd.Kfz.6/2 being prepared for a fire mission. This vehicle was initially designed as an engineer equipment and personnel carrier. However, because of the prolonged war on the Eastern Front, they were quickly adapted to haul various ordnance and to mount a 37mm FlaK gun, as in this photograph.
An Sd.Kfz.10/4 has halted on a road, somewhere in southern Russia. The vehicle is armed with a 20mm FlaK gun and the sides are folded up, indicating no signs of enemy aerial or ground activity.
Advancing across a vast open space in southern Russia are a number of armoured vehicles including a Pz.Kpfw.I and two Sd.Kfz.7s hauling 88mm FlaK guns. By 1942/43, the extensive use of 88mm FlaK guns were in prominence as heavier enemy armour was encountered by the Germans on a daily basis. Growing enemy aerial activity too became unceasing.
An Sd.Kfz.251 armoured personnel carrier is seen on a road somewhere in Russia. The letter ‘G’ on one of its blacked out headlamps indicates that it belongs to ‘Guderian’s Panzergruppe’. Note the sand bags on the vehicle in order to help protect the crew from enemy fire.
A Sd.Kfz.250/3 complete with long range radio antenna can be seen hurtling along a road at speed. The vehicle is partly camouflaged with foliage in order to try and break up the half-track’s distinctive shape.
Various vehicles can be seen fording a river during operations on the Eastern Front. One of vehicles is a Sd.Kfz.251 armoured personnel carrier. The half-track, especially the Sd.Kfz.251, was a very versatile vehicle and could often travel across some of the most rugged terrain.
Half-track, Sd.Kfz.251/3, during operations on the Eastern Front in 1942. There were a number of versions of this particular vehicle, two of which were used by Luftwaffe personnel for air coordination. It is probable that this half-track is in cooperation with nearby aircraft. Note the tow cable and spare road wheel attached to the side of the vehicle for additional armoured protection. This half-track is covered in a base coat of dark yellow with a heavy over-sprayed mottle pattern of olive green, red and brown.
Four more photographs showing the crew of the same half-track, Sd.Kfz.251/3, during operations on the Eastern Front in 1942.
Somewhere in Russia and a column of armoured vehicles, comprising a Sd.Kfz.252, are following a pair of StuG.IIIs. The half-track is towing an Sd.Ah. 3-1/1 trailer which has a tactical marking painted in yellow, indicating it’s assigned to a Sturmgeschütz battery.
Advancing along a road with its foul weather tarp up is a Sd.Kfz.8 towing a Mörserlafette 18 carriage for a 170mm or 210mm piece. This 12-ton vehicle was primarily designed to tow heavier artillery such as the 170mm s.K 18, 210mm Morser 18 and 105mm FlaK 39.