Sdkfz 234/2 Puma Armored Car
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The first few years of WWII were a time of triumph for German heavy reconnaissance 8-Rad armored cars. They were designed to support infantry troops on the battlefield and provide wireless radio communication between fighting units in action; but they also carried heavy weaponry and were ideal for modification for tactical purposes.
However the 8-Rad type armored cars did possess some shortcomings. For heavy armored cars they were underpowered, and were lacking in armor. On the 5th August 1940 the Armament Commission placed an order for a new armored car. As the Germans were waging war on several fronts, including Africa, where armored cars with water-cooled engines were especially vulnerable, the new model needed to be equipped with a powerful air-cooled engine. Furthermore, designers were pressed to reduce axle ground clearance, as the rather high 8-Rad armored cars were easy targets for enemy artillery.
The Bussing-NAG factory was responsible for vehicle design, and the Czech Tatra concern for engine development, and its series production. In 1942 the prototype was nearly ready, but the demanding specifications caused delays in engine development.
In 1943 the situation on the battlefield took a crucial turn, but not in the Germans' favor. German armored cars were being destroyed in combat; meanwhile the army required a large output of new tanks. Plants manufacturing the old Sd.Kfz.232 (8-Rad) armored car were not able to immediately switch production facilities to production of a new model. All of this became a serious obstacle for Sd.Kfz.234/2 (later nicknamed the Puma) production. The initial plan was to produce at least 80 cars per month by mid 1943, however this was never realized.
The Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma had little in common with its predecessor. It was similar in concept but overall a completely new car. The powerful high-rotation Tatra 103 engine (eventually brought to operational reliability) allowed this armored car to make 90 km/h, and the huge 360 liter fuel tank increased its range to 1000 km. The Puma was the heaviest armored car of WWII, weighing over 11 tones. In comparison with the older Sd.Kfz.232 (8-Rad) cars the Puma had been slimmed down, particularly in respect of ground clearance, according to requirements. The Puma was armed with a 50-mm KwK39/1 gun with full 360 degree rotation, installed so as to allow a good vertical arc of fire. The armored body was several times thicker in comparison with the Sd.Kfz.232 (8-Rad), especially in front.
Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma production ran into difficulties and only a rather small number of them was produced, 101. Nevertheless they did fight during WWII, with the panzer divisions in Normandy. This impressive car had not realized its full capability, but its combat performance showed exciting potential. After tests in the British and USA ordnance yards it was judged by the Allies to be the best armored car of the WWII era.