The Kettenkrad

While browsing the classifieds on Barnstormers.com I came across an ad for a Kettenkrad for sale.  Intrigued I did some research on the net.  And if this winter is anything like last year I think I’ll consider one of these as my next vehicle.

Referred to as the “tracked motorcycle” concept, the Kettenkrad was conceived and patented by a German inventor, Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, in June of 1939.

The SdKfz 2, better known as the Kleines Kettenkraftrad HK 101 or Kettenkrad for short (Ketten = tracks, krad = military abbreviation of the German word Kraftrad, the administrative German term for motorcycle), started its life as a light tractor for airborne troops.  The vehicle was designed to be delivered by Junkers Ju 52 aircraft, though not by parachute. The vehicle had the advantage of being the only gun tractor small enough to fit inside the hold of the Ju 52.

Steering the Kettenkrad was accomplished by turning the handlebars:  if little movement was used then the wheel would steer the vehicle, however if they were turned further they would engage the track brakes to help make turns sharper.

The SdKfz 2 was designed and built by the NSU Motorenwerke AG at Neckarsulm, Germany.  It was first used in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Later in the war Stoewer from Stettin also produced Kettenkrads under license, accounting for about 10% of the total production.

Most Kettenkrads saw service on the Eastern Front, where they were used to lay communication cables, pull heavy loads and carry soldiers through the deep Russian mud.  Late in the war, Kettenkrads were used as runway tugs for aircraft, including jets such as the Me 262. In order to conserve aviation fuel, the aircraft would be towed rather than run the engines while taxiing.

The vehicle was also used in the North African theater and in Western Europe.

The Kettenkrad came with a special trailer that could be attached to it to improve its cargo capacity.  Other trailers used by the Kettenkrads could be used for other lightweight vehicles such as the Kubelwagon and the Schwimmwagon (pictured below – the two vehicles on the right).

Being a tracked vehicle the Kettenkrad could climb up to 24° in sand and even more in hard ground, as long as the driver had courage for it.

Only two significant sub-variations of the Kettenkrad were constructed, and production of the vehicle was stopped in 1944, at which time 8,345 had been constructed.   After the war the production went on until 1948 or 1949.

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