They also served in North Africa with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s vaunted German Afrika Korps, with the 5th Panzer Division, and the elite Paratrooper Lehr Brigade led by Maj. Gen. Hermann Ramcke, who would survive that campaign to serve again under Rommel in Normandy.
In Tunisia in the spring of 1943, side-mounted extra water cans were carried, and the Krads were also equipped with a multispeed fan/ventilator for better engine cooling in the hot sun.
Communication was an increasingly important aspect of all German land campaigns, and the Kettenkrad proved itself to be an ideal cable-laying vehicle, both on flat surfaces as in North Africa and Tunisia as well as in the mountainous regions of the embattled Soviet Union and the rebellious Balkan areas being fought over by the Germans, Fascist Italians, and Croatian Ustashe forces on the one hand, and the Titoist Partisan and Chetnik Royalist units in Yugoslavia on the other.
The Kettenkrad’s Performance
Again, as with the Volkswagen wartime vehicles in the main, there were few post-prototype changes or modifications to the Kettenkrads once mass production began, other than the improvement of both the front fork and the transmission housing.
The 36-horsepower Opel engine had been adopted from that firm’s Olympia passenger car and was found to be fully sufficient to move and maneuver the 1.3-ton Krad wherever it needed to go. Experts considered that its fuel consumption was low, making it thus feasible and practicable to keep the size of the twin fuel tanks small at 21 liters each.
Although the engine was considered relatively cheap to manufacture, the transmission was rather expensive to build, with a trio of forward gears and a reverse gear in both on- and off-road gear ranges. Thus, it was possible for a single Krad to pull an entire train of several fully loaded trailers.
The transmission power was provided by the standardized Opel single-plate dry clutch, while the steering mechanism necessary in a tracked vehicle of the Cleveland tractor type was a smaller-scale version of the larger tractor steering models. It was arranged square to the main shaft in the frontal foot well and was driven by twin beveled gears. It acted as a differential for turning the vehicle in this manner: one drum would be braked while the rotation speed of the drive shaft on the identical side of the Krad was lessened and that on the other increased at the same rate.
The turning radius could be changed by varying the brake pressure in this way. Freezing in place one drum meant a turning radius of around four meters from the vehicle’s own center.
There were 40 links in each of the two caterpillar tracks on the Krad, and these had replaceable rubber blocks. There were also snow cleats for the track links for use in snow operations, especially on the Russian Front.
The vehicle’s ground pressure on hard terrain was about 3.75 kilograms per square centimeter, while on softer ground it was only 610 grams per square centimeter because that was when the entire track made contact with the ground. Not surprisingly, the most costly parts of the twin tracks were the links’ needle bearings, which were sealed against both dust and water and could withstand very heavy mechanical loads as well.
In addition to the tracks’ capability in ice and snow, the Krad’s rear idler wheels and drive sprockets could be fitted with an icebreaker that stopped the buildup of ice and snow between the drive sprockets, idlers, and tracks. The front fork was welded to the front upper section of the chassis frame with its steering head as well, while twin towing hooks were placed to the left and right in front on the chassis.
It was believed that the Krad could go virtually anywhere on flat, open country, while the angle of its climbing ability was limited only by the skill and daring of the driver, since it would roll over if a turn on a parallel slope was not executed with extreme care. Sometimes even that was unsuccessful. Its center of gravity was very high and, correspondingly, the Krad’s width was quite narrow, again causing a dangerous propensity for falling over in many circumstances. A driver simply had to know how to maneuver the vehicle with great care.
During World War II, fully 8,345 Krads were built by NSU and, unlike both the Schwimmer and the Kubel, it continued to be manufactured until 1948 for use by wine growers, farmers, and West German forestry officials. In 1957, NSU built a mountain version for the new army of the Federal Republic of Germany without the discarded front fork and powered by an air-cooled Porsche-built engine. Only a trio of prototypes were manufactured.
This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network.