Wednesday 9 February 2022

The Wehrmacht's Equestrian Might

There are a lot of myths about WW2 that are actively promoted to this day. One of those myths is the total motorization of the German army. It is often said that that only the Soviets rode around on horses, but the Germans were fully equipped with trucks and halftrack APCs. This assertion would only cause a sad smile from German soldiers. While they indeed had a lot of trucks, the main backbone of infantry transport was made up of horses. Transport by horse cart was the norm until the end of the war, and production of horse carts increased as the war went on, rather than decreased.

War Motors exhibition in Patriot Park.

The topic of trailers and horse carts is a very interesting one, but it is not frequently explored. This is especially true for trailers. There were all sorts of towed limbers, carts, and trailers, including AA ones. Most of these were lost to time, but thanks to people who are not indifferent to history, some of them return from the grave. A special exhibition was added to the War Motors hangar at Patriot Park. A large amount of equipment that is often forgotten was put on display thanks to collector Vyacheslav Len. This exhibition is truly unique. Nothing like it exists in any other museum. 

The first part of the exhibition dedicated to trailers and carts.

The exhibition in the War Motors hangar is split into two parts: infantry trailers and limbers/carts. The infantry trailers are more humble, but there are a lot of interesting things to see here. For instance, the Pionierhandkarren (Pf. 22) universal sapper cart. It was introduced in 1942 as an addition to the earlier Flammenwerfer-Füllwagen (Pf. 21) flamethrower cart. Like the Pf.21, it was designed to transport flamethrowers and other sapper equipment. It weighed 85 kg and could carry 385 kg of cargo. The Pf.22 was widely used by engineering forces, but it's a rarity today. This particular exhibit is unique because it was not restored at all, but merely well preserved.

Pionierhandkarren (Pf. 22) universal sapper cart.

Another cart survives in its original condition: the Gefechtskarren (If.9). It entered service in 1938 to transport the 81 mm Granatwerfer 34 mortar. It could fit not only the mortar, but also ammunition. Thanks to its relatively small mass, the cart could be pushed by the mortar crew over short distances. There was also an option to hook it up to a horse. If.9 carts are often found during battlefield excavations, but a fully complete cart like this is very rare.

Gefechtskarren (If.9) infanty cart with a mortar.

Various carts designed primarily for hand transport were common in the German army. There were specialized carts for various types for forces. The signals troops were among them with their Nachrichtengerätkarren. Thanks to its lightened design, it could be easily pushed by hand. The cart was equipped with a reel of cable. If necessary, two more reels could be carried. The Nachrichtengerätkarren was widely used by German signal troops during WW2 to make transporting cable easier.

 Nachrichtengerätkarren cart for signals troops.

These carts are very rare today, but the War Motors collection has two of them. There is also a variant descended from the Nachrichtengerätkarren, but serving a different purpose. A similar cart was created for transporting the wounded. It's similar to the Nachrichtengerätkarren but has different clamps to hold a stretcher. This cart can be seen next to the signals cart.

A variant of the Nachrichtengerätkarren designed to transport stretchers. 

The last in the line of infantry carts is the best known example of its class, the Infanteriekarren If. 8. This light infantry cart appeared in 1941. Experience during the first year of the war revealed the need for a universal cart that could be pushed by hand, pulled by horse, motorcycle, or light cars. A light and sturdy cart weighing 350 kg was developed to meet this requirement. The If.8 was used for various purposes, including ammunition transport. It was also often used as a limber for light anti-tank guns. The methods of pulling it were also varied and included motorcycles, horses, and even dogs. Several carts could even be linked into a train. This cart can be seen in many period photographs, but for some reason it's rarely seen in museums.

Infanteriekarren If. 8 light infantry cart, the most common in the German army.

The idea of infantry hand carts was correct, but they were far from the most common type of cart. One can easily see this for themselves by comparing the size of the exhibition dedicated to the hand carts and to towed ones. They were quite numerous and varied, primarily designed to be towed by horses. This can be seen by the wheels. Horse drawn carts usually had wooden wheels with metal rims. There were also carts with metallic wheels with pneumatic tires, but that did not mean they were necessarily drawn by motor vehicles. For instance the Stahlfeldwagen (Hf.7), also nicknamed Horse Killer, had metallic wheels with pneumatic tires, but was drawn by horses. 

The second half of the exhibition is much larger.

One example of this phenomenon is the first trailer in the exhibition, the Infantriefahrzeug 5 (IF.5) or MG-Wagen 36. It was designed for installation of the Zwillingsockel 36 AA mount. The mount was equipped with two MG 34 universal machine guns, which gave it a rate of fire of 1800 RPM. The Zwillingsockel 36 was an effective measure against aircraft, although the mount drifted to the side when fired, since the machine guns were offset to the right. The trailer was towed behind a limber, but could also be attached directly to a car. Over a thousand MG-Wagen 36 were built, but they are very rare today. This specific example was abandoned in 1942 near Arzhaniki and restored in Vyacheslav Len's workshop. This trailer appeared at the War Motors meetups many times, horse included.

 Infantriefahrzeug 5 (IF.5) or MG-Wagen 36.

A number of trailers are that much more valuable since they were preserved in their original form. This includes the exhibit displayed after the MG-Wagen 36: the Kleinfunkwagen (Nf.4) small radio trailer. This trailer also appeared in the mid-1930s. It combined progressive technologies and confusing solutions in one unit. Like the MG-Wagen 36, it had a fully metallic design, but the wheels were still wooden, since the trailer was drawn by four horses. The Kleinfunkwagen, like many similar trailers, consisted of two parts. The first was the main trailer that kept the receiver and most of the equipment. The rear half had the transmitter and some other equipment.

Kleinfunkwagen (Nf.4) radio trailer.

The exhibition also has limbers on display. There are two of them displayed in a train of sorts. Limbers built in the 1930s were fully metallic. They could be built for a variety of purposes. Artillery limbers carried ammunition. As a rule, the limber had a single axle. Both limbers seen here are preserved in their original condition.

Two limbers are displayed.

Field kitchens are a separate topic. There are two of them in the column. The first is the Hf.12 small field kitchen. This and the modernized Hf.14 were developed for the Kaiser's army. They were widely used during WW1 and remained in service in WW2. Their design was quite successful and was not obsolete by the Second World War. One of the few changes was the installation of new wheels, but both the Hf.12 and Hf.14 with old wheels were also still in use. "Fast" wheels were not needed if the kitchen was drawn by horse. This kitchen went through a small restoration at Vyacheslav Len's workshop, but it survived to this day in good condition.

Hf.12 small field kitchen.

There is another kitchen that survives in its original state. This is the Hf.13, a large field kitchen, a modernization of the earlier Hf.11. Like the Hf.12/Hf.14, these kitchens were used in WW1. The Hf.11 and Hf.13 had a 200 L main pot and a 90 L secondary pot for brewing tea or coffee. There were minor differences between the Hf.11 and Hf.13, mostly small details. For instance, the modernized kitchen had metal drawers.

Hf.13 large field kitchen.

Metal was not always used. Like in WW1, the most common German carts of WW2 were made of wood. This fully applies to the Heeresfahrzeug 1 (Hf.1) or Leichter Feldwagen. This was a standard wooden horse cart that was designed back in the 1920s and inherited by the Wehrmacht. It was a further development of the Feldwagen 95, the standard horse cart used in the Kaiser's army. It was mostly made of wood with individual elements built out of metal (some clamps and the wheel rims). At the start of WW2, these carts formed the majority of those used by infantry divisions.

Heeresfahrzeug 1 (Hf.1) light cart, also known as the Leichter Feldwagen. This is one of the main types of German horse carts of the war.

The Hf.1 had a heavier brother, the Hf.2. There was also the Kleine Heeresfeldwagen (Hf.3) that is displayed in the exhibition. This was a further development of the WW1 era Kleiner Proviantwagen 16. The cart was put into production with minor changes, and production continued throughout WW2. Both carts on display are in their original condition and even have original markings. There is a Hf.2 in the collection as well, but it's undergoing restoration.

Kleine Heeresfeldwagen (Hf.3) small cart.

You might be thinking that surely the Germans built something more modern during WW2. Those hopes are dashed with the final item in the series. This is the Ersatzfeldwagen 43 (Hf.6), where the 43 indicates the year it went into production. This was a simplified variant of the Hf.1 light horse cart. Production of the Ersatzfeldwagen 43 ramped up as Germany took heavy losses in trucks. In the end, the Ersatzfeldwagen was one of the most common types of transport in Germany army. These carts appear constantly in photographs ranging from Normandy to the Eastern Front, but only a handful survive today. This specimen is fully original.

Ersatzfeldwagen 43 (Hf.6), a wartime development.

There are some carts that are not on display (the Hf.2 and Hf.7), but they would not have fit anyway. Even without them, one can understand the Wehrmacht's equestrian side. 

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