Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Motorcycle Throwback - The 1944 KettenKrad
On our hunt for unique and sometimes long forgotten motorcycles throughout history, we've come across some fairly striking rides (remember the 1934 BMW R7?). But when we saw the Kettenkrad, also known as the Kleines Kettenkraftrad HK 101 or the SdKfz2, we instantly thought it might be the product of a drunken night between a motorcycle and a tank. This was then followed up by the immediate assumption that the contraption must be a joke. But it isn't. WWII was a crazy time and it produced some even crazier thoughts and devices and the KettenKrad was most definitely a real one.
We're sure that many people could debate the validity of calling such a vehicle a motorcycle. But despite the untraditional look of it, the German engineers at the NSU Werke AG in Neckarsulm who designed the KettenKrad after the 1940's wartime motorcycles had named it the tracks (Ketten) motorcycle (krad was the abbreviated term for Kraftrad, which means motorcycle). Underneath the tank like body and tracks is something that resembles a motorcycle.
The KettenKrad first appeared in 1941 during Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. Afterwards, the motorcycle gone tank was mostly used on the Eastern Front to transport heavy loads as they had an additional trailer with an estimated half ton carrying capacity while still being able to traverse the deep mud of the Russian terrain. Often, the KettenKrad was also used to lay cables and transport soldiers. Each tank-like vehicle had enough room for three soldiers. As fuel resources began to wane, the KettenKrad was used to taxi Me 262 jet fighters on the runway in order to save on petrol. As the war spread, so did the use of these vehicles. The tracks on these motorcycles made them perfect for climbing through the softer sands of North Africa and the Western Front of the war and gave them a sharper turning ability.
Running off of an inline four cylinder engine based off of an Opel Olympian model 38 with an impeller-type water pump, this beast weighed about 2,700 lbs when it was empty and could weigh up to 3,500 lbs when it was loaded. Still, the tank could reach between 40 to 50 mph and was capable of scaling a 25 degree gradient of loose sand without its trailer while still being able to climb a 15 degree gradient with the trailer. As for gas mileage, the KettenKrad sucked up its 9 gallon capacity at 17 mpg on the roads but dropped to 12 mpg when trekking through more off-road terrain.
Military versions of the KettenKrad ceased production in 1944 after about 8,345 were produced. Many of the surviving motorcycles were ceased by the allied troops and can still be found in rarity in WWII enthusiasts' collections. After the war, the NSU wasn't ready for its Frankencycle's demise and continued to produce an agricultural version of the KettenKrad. However, after about 500 were produced, the vehicle was officially pronounced defunct and ceased production in 1949.
Today, with all of the technology and advanced military equipment used in all branches of the military, it's difficult to imagine roaming the battlefields on a motorcycle that had a one night stand with a tank. And it may look slightly awkward and out of place in the 21st century, but the KettenKrad was one of the most advanced pieces of equipment to appear in WWII.