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"SdKfz 2 Kleines Kettenkraftrad".

Operating a Kettenkrad.

   (Ver 2)

 



Origins?

The Kettenkrad origins are somewhat murky.

There does not seem to be any argument that the man who designed the layout and concept was Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp




Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp.


Herr Kniepkamp is very poorly documented in English. Someone who speaks German, may be able to find out more, however, the internet may not be the place to do so. I would suggest the various German archives would be the most accurate source of information.

Here is what I have been able to glean from multiple sources, having tried to winnow out the falsehoods, guesses and downright fabrications:

He was born in 1895, in Wuppertal, Germany.
Presumably he would have served in the military during WW1, however I have seen no mention of it.
After World War I he graduated in the Technische Hochschule de Karlsruhe. From 1923 he worked in the design of transmissions in the MAN company until 1925/26.

There are multiple versions of the KK origin. The problem being who do you believe? A lot of the publications coming out about WW2 German vehicles are from countries that were behind the Iron Curtain. Most are rehashes of Cold War era productions and due to the political situation back then, are based on limited and "stilted" data.
So what is to be believed and what is to be ignored?

Apparently truthful:

1) Kniepkamp
- Is the designer of the KK, BUT did not design it for NSU.
- He worked for the MAN company for 3 years prior to employment at Heereswaffenamt (loosely Military Weapons Office).
- There were different departments, numbered from 1 to 12, that were in charge of all the branches of the army, from the ammunition to the meteorological equipment.
- He joined the Wa Pruef 6 division - military rank unknown. The Wa Pruf 6 was the branch in charge of motorised equipment and armored vehicles.
He finished the war as a General. In the photo above, he is wearing a Heer (Army) unifor and has a rank Epaulette that is very hard to make out, but does align with that of a Generalleutnant (Leutenant General to us), which is the middle rank of General in the German army. However, on his collar he has the 2 bars which indicate a rank below General (Generals had a gilded embellishment design). Which is contradictory and would indicate Colonel.
On his left breast there appears to be an Iron Cross ribbon, presumably from WW1.
- He does appear to have been a very influential person right from the beginning, having started at the Heereswaffenamt in 1926 initially as an engineer and subsequently became head engineer of Wa Pruef 6 which translates as "Weapons Test Establishment" but a more descriptive equivalent would be "Weapons Design, Specification and Production Inspection", in the case of Wa Pruef 6 - vehicles.
- Working for Wa Pruef 6 he effectively designed the overlapping wheels, torsion bar suspension and redundant steering if front wheel(s) removed concept and lastly the lubricated track system BUT not the whole of any vehicle.
- His designs were then turned over to commercial firms for development and testing. "Here is the criteria/basics, you turn it into a viable design and get it to production" would appear to have been the approach to all the halftrack manufacturers.
2) On 29th June 1939 NSU obtained a Patent for the Kettenkrad under the designation HK 101 - the "HK" is supposedly a reference to Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp. Which if nothing else would suggest that NSU were admitting quite a lot legally. One wonders about royalty payments to a government employee or perhaps they were just playing it smart and trying to stay on his good side?
Perhaps German laws back then were quite different to our British laws?

In doubt:

2)Depending on who you wish to believe the KK was either designed by NSU based on his earlier work, or wholly designed by Kniepkamp and they were just told to build it.
- Likewise it was an NSU private project (using his work) for a CIVILIAN tractor (which I don't accept as it was far too complicated and expensive). I am told the price of a Kettenkrad was equal to 4 x Kubelwagens.
- It was to a Luftwaffe requirement for air transportability - this seems more likely, given the dimensions. BUT if that were the case, why did the ones that were actually moved by Ju-52 have to have their rear handrails cut off? Would not the approval of the design include handles of appropriate height in the first place?
- Heer requirement for mountain/forested area tractor. Personally I rate this the most likely, with the Luftwaffe either being involved, or then becoming aware of it and realising it would suit them. Or the other way around, with the Luftwaffe initiating the requirement, but the Heer or more likely Wehrmacht being the oversight authority.
- The date that Herr Kniekamp becoming head of Wa Pruef 6 seems to be a source of confusion. Most sources state that he was appointed as its head in 1936. However, another source states that an Oberst Sebastian Fitchner (Colonel in the English world) was head from 1936 until 1942 and that during that time, Kniepkamp was responsible for all new tank development projects - effectively Panzer III and IV and then Tiger I, Panther and Tiger II. There is a story that Kniepkamp was over ruled about the suspension design for the Pz III and IV and if he wasn't the head of Wa Pruef 6 during that period then the story does make sense.
Noteworthy is the fact that Fitchner and Kniepkamp together were reported to have visited Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army on 18th November 1941 to study the Russian T-34 which was causing so much trouble - from this visit came the requirement that eventually resulted in the Panther tank.
From what ever date he became head, he had a very large influence over the acceptance and form of armoured vehicle design.

The fact that a matching trailer existed on a ratio of 1 trailer to every 2 Kettenkrads that were delivered, suggests that the trailerless vehicles were intended to pull something else?

Likewise the small size of the trailer can only be surmised to limit very heavy loads, such as gun ammunition, or similarly limited so as not to adversely affect the Kettenkrad's off road ability. Considering just how much a Kettenkrad will tow, this consideration would be for the extremes of its performance.
Realistically, the trailer could have been twice the volume.

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