An iconic symbol of the German Blitzkrieg at the start of World War II was the large eight-wheeled armored cars employed by the reconnaisance units of the armored divisions. Numerous photos of the dark gray SdKfz 231's with white crosses during the invasion of Poland filled the newspapers of the era. Their imposing size and operational success no doubt helped fuel the myth of German invincibility.
And not without reasonable cause was this myth propelled. The Schwere Panzerspahwagens road speed and good cross-country maneuverability was certainly a contributing factor in the early successes of the German panzer divisions. It was, in fact, the most advanced armor car in existence. The individually powered wheels with independent steering coupled with a powerful engine, the L8V/G.S.36, gave the heavy armored cars an advantage over its contemporaries. Most other nations employed armored cars based upon existing heavy truck chassis with engine in the front and crew compartment in the back. Büssing-NAG, the designer and builder of the 231, changed this concept by reversing these positions, parroting the design of tracked armored vehicles and giving the crew better visibility. It also had a co-driver with identical controls in the rear of the compartment that allowed the 231 to be driven in reverse with identical speed as forward.
There were different vehicles based on the 231 series and they soldiered on until the end of the war, but Büssing-NAG introduced an improved series, the SdKfz 234, in 1943. Although it looked superficially similar to the 231, it was a completely new design. The hull was now built and armored much like a tank. An air-cooled Tatra V-12 diesel engine powered the new design giving it better speed and range and maintained the reverse driving mode as the 231.
There were four basic versions of the 234. The 234/1 had an open-topped hexagonal turret mounting a 20mm auto cannon. The 234/2, commonly referred to as the Puma, had a turret originally designed for the Leopard light tank with a 50mm KwK 39/1, the same gun used on the PzKpfw III medium tank. The 234/3 was equipped with a 75mm L/24 gun and the last version made, personally ordered by Hitler, the 234/4 had the 75mm L/48 anti-tank gun as its main armament which this article will discuss.
As with most of the captured foreign vehicles and weapons in the Patton Museum collection, the 234/4 was originally sent to the Armor School Museum at Fort Knox from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) in 1947. When it was unloaded, it was missing its wheels, brakes and the fenders were badly damaged with the forward right section completely missing. These items were most likely scavenged by the local populace while it sat at the vehicle collection point in Europe. Fort Knox personnel pieced the 234/4 loose fenders back in place and deuce-and-a-half truck hubs were used to replace the original hubs and wheels and tires were installed. It was put on display inside the Armor School museum which eventually became the Patton Museum on Old Ironsides Drive. There was no documentation on the 234/4 as to where it was when recovered or what unit it was assigned to and for years its origin has been a mystery until now.
Military vehicle expert and author David Doyle wrote a book "Standard Catalog of German Military Vehicles" which was published by kp books in 2005. Following the section on the SdKfz 234/4, there are two, full page photos of the 234/4 (pages 334 and 335) taken on or about the time the 234/4 was delivered to Fort Knox. The photos were attributed to Charles Kliment. On the hope that the photos may have been cropped and essential details left out, Mr. Doyle was contacted and requested to send digital copies of the photos to see if there were any markings visible on the vehicle. By luck, one photo of the rear revealed the partial and degraded insignia of IV Panzerkorps.
After fierce fighting on the Eastern Front, the remnants of IV Panzerkorps were reformed into Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle. Many of the units retained or added the IV Panzerkorps insignia on their vehicles in honor of the IV Panzerkorps commander General Ulrich Kleeman. The German word for clover is klee, hence the clover design used in the insignia. So without a doubt, the 234/4 was one of three assigned to Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle. Based on research of the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg, Germany and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C. by Martin Block, Germany and published in May 2009 on the 'Panzer-Archiv' web site, one 234/4 was assigned to Feldherrnhalle in December 1944 and two more in March 1945.
As the war was drawing to a close, units of Feldherrnhalle travelled west to escape the Soviet Army and surrendered to U.S. forces in southern Czechoslovakia on May 9, 1945. A U.S. Army Signal Corps film in the National Archives shows at least two 234/4 belonging to PanzerKorps Feldherrnhalle surrendering. There is also a good series of photographs taken from this film published in Panzerwrecks No. 4 by Lee Archer & William Auerbach. Unfortunately the only clear images of one of the 234/4's is not the one in this article. While both have the factory-applied camouflage, there is a difference in the pattern on the gun shield.
When the first phase of the new Patton Museum was built in 1972, a new right front fender without the integral stowage bin was manufactured and installed by post personnel and the 234/4 was painted in a three-tone camouflage pattern and set outside in Keyes Park with the other German equipment. Over time it was repainted and eventually put into storage for many years. It made one last public appearance for the 60th anniversary of the Patton Museum. It was painted overall Dunkelgelb, marked with national insignia, license and shipping plates and, by chance, with a variation of the IV. Panzerkorps insignia. It was shortly thereafter shipped to the National Armor and Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia.