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Blog topic: Comparison of American & German Half Track in WW2

February 26, 2015

Armored Personnel Carriers

The intention of armored personnel carriers was to get infantry into the combat zone in a rapid fashion, with minimal damage to the infantry. These vehicles were armored to an extent that they would withstand or deflect most rifle shots and light machine gun fire. However, there were heavy machine guns that could give a half-track a problem.

The two primary producers of half-tracks in World War 2 were Germany and the United States. Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, produced lesser numbers.

There are several obvious differences between the American and German versions of the half-track. You can see in the photos that the German tracked portion is much more robust than on the American version. The American half-track covers less than half the length of the truck and the wheels resting on the track are much smaller, so it's putting more weight on a smaller area. On the German half-track, nearly three quarters of the vehicle is tracked, and there are interwoven road wheels that distribute the weight over a much larger area. So the German half-track had the ability to traverse softer ground than the American version.

Another noticeable difference is that the American half-track had a rubber roller on the front end. The roller was designed to increase the height of obstacles that a half-track could traverse. So if a low wall, bench or other obstacle was in its way, the vehicle could bump up against that and the roller could help lift the vehicle up until the wheels could finally catch, and the track would push the whole vehicle. And so the American half-track would be able to traverse a taller object.

The American half-track also had louvered ventilation (metal panels that could be opened and closed) on the front to cool the radiator for the engine. The louvers would be closed in a shooting situation.

Mounted with a 50 caliber machine gun on a ring, the American half-track provided anti-aircraft defense with a heavy caliber machine gun. You could rotate it around on the ring and point it in any direction. It also did duel purpose as an anti-personnel machine gun as well. The American half-track basically had flat walls and a single wide door on the back, with seating for ten soldiers, a driver, and a machine gun operator. (12 people).

The German version also carried about twelve people but there were other significant differences. There was a little more thought involved in planning its use as an assault vehicle. The walls on the German vehicle were sloping so that the opening at the top was considerably smaller than it was on the American half-track. So if you've got an opponent who's throwing hand grenades, its a smaller opening to hit, and if you miss by even a small amount, the slanted wall will tend to bounce the grenade off. Whereas the American half-track presents a much larger target. If you're dealing with an enemy on a hill, a sniper up in a tree, or soldiers in town up in a second story, the target is much bigger on the American half-track than on the German version.

From ground level, the benches sat higher in the American half-track as compared to the German half-track. Because of this, soldiers sitting in the American half-track, had their heads and shoulders exposed above the sides of the vehicle. In the German half-track, however, the soldiers would have only a portion of their heads exposed - just enough for the average man to see out, over the side.

Another feature of the German half-track was the small shield to help protect the gunner who would be exposed when approaching an enemy during a forward assault. And in terms of delivering troops, the German half-track had a double door at the rear that would allow the soldiers to exit much more rapidly than with the single door of the American half-track.

The Germans also gave thought about anti-aircraft protection and mounted their machine gun on an arm, on the back end of the half-track. The arm would swivel to acquire a wide field of fire. This was probably not as good as the American version for anti-aircraft protection, but still shows thought given to that element as well.


The German half-track has ben criticized as being underpowered with only a 100 horsepower engine compared to the 147 horsepower engine in the American halftrack, resulting in a top speed of only 33 miles per hour in the German vehicle compared to 45 miles per hour for the American half-track. It is a valid criticism, but might have been dismissed by German Army planners by pointing out that a 33 mile per hour vehicle is still adequate to keep pace with German panzers which had a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

Both of these half-tracks did the job that was required of them in World War 2. They did get troops much more rapidly deployed. Probably the strongest point of the American half-track was the production numbers. There were about 31,000 M-3 half-tracks and variants produced by the United States as opposed to 16,000 SKdfz. 251 half-tracks produced by Germany.



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