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"How vulnerable was the SdKfz 251 to MG fire?" Topic

26 Posts

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Trajanus26 Jan 2023 4:00 a.m. PST

Simple question really, could 251's be immobilised by rifle calibre Machine Guns?

I'm thinking about .30 Cal, Vickers, Maxims etc. Not so much any ability to penetrate the passenger area, more shoot out the engine or set things on fire, that kind of thing.

Some rules give an impression that stopping them was really a job for just PIATs, Bazookas or the more capable A/T Rifles.

Of course any or all of these might be range dependent but I take that as read.

Skarper26 Jan 2023 4:19 a.m. PST

I think they could be…but it would be quite a low probability shot and usually you wouldn't want to be firing MGs at such targets when more lucrative ones would abound.

Were I manning an MG with Sdkfz 251s around I'd rather hold my fire until the Landsers got out …

Fire draws fire and they have powerful MGs to return fire.

Also – Sdkfz 251s and 250s had better armour than the US M2/M3 hts. They were certainly vulnerable and not much better than being in a truck according to some comments I read.

Finally, in the theoretical 'Blitzkrieg' assault with tanks, air support and Panzergrenadiers in half tracks there would be too many targets and too few MGs to bother the half tracks. If you just have a couple of half tracks playing at being tanks then an MG might have the time and ammo on hand to threaten it.

Andy ONeill26 Jan 2023 4:27 a.m. PST

Not totally invulnerable but the armour was sufficient to handle rifle calibre mgs.
You couldn't expect a few bursts of 30 cal to stop one.
50 cal would be a different story.

Some armour is a lot better than none. Even the rather flimsy bren carrier did pretty well at protecting it's crew from rifle calibre fire.

The US half track also did reasonably well despite using soft-ish thin steel armour which could theoretically be penetrated by a kar98k.

These things weren't intended as IFV. You were supposed to get out and fight on foot while your half track hung out in a safe space. Commanders who ignored this were often reminded by losses.

Murvihill26 Jan 2023 6:17 a.m. PST

Halftracks were intended to get you to the start line, not the front line.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP26 Jan 2023 6:59 a.m. PST

Agreed – half track armour was fine for rifle rounds, but no match for a heavy MG; Patton as I recall thought that the M-3 halftrack caused a lot of US casualties when troopers trusted too much in their half track to protect them

Martin Rapier26 Jan 2023 9:00 a.m. PST

The Sdkfz 251 was much better armoured than the M3/M5. Rifle calibre MGs needed to be very close indeed (50-60m) to have any chance of causing damage.

They were designed to be used as IFVs for mounted attacks against light/suppressed/disorganised opposition, debus against anything heavier. This was still doctrine in 1944 (see the relevant PG training manuals and even the 1944 PG training film on how to conduct armoured counterattacks against Soviet breakthroughs).

Most of the time the guys got out of course.

4th Cuirassier26 Jan 2023 9:01 a.m. PST

In a rules sense I'd count a half track as hard cover. It would do well against low-velocity shrapnel but poorly against high-velocity bullets. Against heavy MGs I'd count it as conferring no protection at all.

There's an argument for M3s as no protection at all too. A rifle bullet would go through the armour but that's only one bullet. An MG34 or 42 firing a belt into one OTOH is going to marmalise the occupants.

Who shouldn't be in it that close to the enemy anyway.

martin goddard Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jan 2023 10:15 a.m. PST

There was the US infantry man who complained to Patton about rounds coming through the armour and bouncing around inside.

Another note
"The halftracks were initially extremely unpopular and dubbed "Purple Heart Boxes" (a grim reference to the US Army's decoration for combat wounds) by American troops. The chief complaints centered on the complete lack of overhead protection from airbursting artillery shells and that the armor was inadequate against machine gun fire. Omar Bradley quoted in his report about half-tracks that it was "a competent and dependable contrivance. Its bad name resulted from the inexperience of our troops who attempted to use it for too many things". In 1943, the M3 served in Sicily and Italy and received positive reports of it in action. It went into service in 1944 in Operation Overlord and served in Europe for the remainder of the war."

PBI rules do allow MGs et al a chance to damage half tracks at 100m or less.


Fingerspitzengefuhl26 Jan 2023 10:32 a.m. PST

Sdkfz251 c
Front 14.5mm at 20 degrees giving a relative thickness of 15.43mm
Side 8mm at 41 degrees gives a relative thickness of 10mm.

As an example The British Cartridge S.A. Armour Piercing .303 inch W Mark I to pass proof, 70% of bullets had to penetrate a 10mm plate at 100 yards range….

How much AP ammunition was issued outside the RAF is unclear.

Martin Rapier26 Jan 2023 11:21 a.m. PST

14.5mm is the same thickness as the armour plate on early model Panzer IVs (although the turret front was a mighty 16mm).

Starfury Rider26 Jan 2023 11:35 a.m. PST

I have seen 10 rounds .303-in AP quoted in a few documents for each rifle in Inf, Mot, MG and Recce units, and 50 rounds for Recce unit LMGs, circa 1942-43 at least. Also various US figures show a switch from 70% ball and 10% AP to 80% AP in the Unit of Fire for rifles, BARs and MGs from 1943 (with 20% tracer). Later period German figures (end 1943 onwards) show 300 rounds AP per LMG and 450 AP per HMG.


donlowry26 Jan 2023 11:58 a.m. PST

I don't remember the source, but I recall a machine gunner with a .50 cal Browning saying his ammo belts had 1/3 ball, 1/3 AP and 1/3 tracer, but I don't recall the setting or the unit.

advocate26 Jan 2023 3:17 p.m. PST

Then the morale effect of a machine gun targeting a lightly armoured vehicle. Are you going to drive into that? Are you going to get out of the vehicle while that's happening? What else is out there waiting for you?

Trajanus27 Jan 2023 8:25 a.m. PST

So this is how you do it then! 🤣

YouTube link

Martin Rapier27 Jan 2023 12:28 p.m. PST

No, this is how you do it.

Heedless Horseman Supporting Member of TMP27 Jan 2023 1:09 p.m. PST

Not certain, but think .303 or .30cal ain't going to DO much, except supress. But remember, by mid to late War… REALLY nasty MG 42. Think, maybe, .50Cal would do a LOT of damage. I just do not know about Russian stuff… but Heavy MG , and Certainly AT rifles WOULD NOT be wanted!
Thing is…do NOT get INTO that place!
NO armoured Inf would ever want to be there!

donlowry27 Jan 2023 5:30 p.m. PST

The Russians had the 12.7mm, their equivalent to the .50".

Trajanus28 Jan 2023 9:33 a.m. PST

Yeah, hence my OP. I would have expected the .50 and the Russian 12.7 to knock holes.

M2 rounds were penetrating things a lot harder than Half Track bodies. Still are come to think of it! 😄

Thresher0128 Jan 2023 2:07 p.m. PST

14.5mm for Russian HMGs, but performance is pretty similar to that of the .50 cal (12.7mm).

As mentioned above, at 100m or less, the personnel in the halftracks would be vulnerable to rifle fire (much further to A/T Rifles).

Very likely the front tires would be deflated or destroyed as well.

Trajanus29 Jan 2023 4:11 a.m. PST

Yes, I have wondered about the tires as well, as to what effect that would have on drivability.

I'm pretty sure I have seen footage of half tracks getting out of shape on soft mud or ice where the front wheels turned but the whole thing kept going straight on due to traction from the rear. Just like a truck in fact.

Flat tires might cause similar problems. Unless there were some kind of track brake like a tank. Never thought about that one before.

Heedless Horseman Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2023 8:18 a.m. PST

There was a TV show (Combat Dealers, maybe?) which 'raced' a 251 and an M3. Pointed out that 251 was designed to brake when turning, so slower in turn. M3 could 'skid' around faster! Not sure what that may have meant for tracks!

donlowry29 Jan 2023 9:34 a.m. PST

Surely the tires were not just ordinary truck tires.

Trajanus29 Jan 2023 10:28 a.m. PST

Hey! Nice point Don! Have to confess I had assumed so. I mean logistics were pain enough with out that? No idea for the 251 but the M3/M5 look like Deuce and a Half tires to me!

That said the wheels are not the same. Half Track wheels have rim bolts and truck ones don't.

Trajanus29 Jan 2023 10:58 a.m. PST

I also gather that the an essential difference is that M3/M5 wheels have their own power train and 251's are there to steer and keep the front end off the floor.

Which if you look at pictures of them both is pretty obvious although I've seen a million and never thought about it.

I'm also now pretty sure that one or both have a system where by a certain amount of turn on the steering wheel, kicks in a track brake, as mentioned by Heedless Horseman.

Which given there's no power to the 251 wheels. would make a lot of sense.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2023 12:45 p.m. PST

Some details:

YouTube link

The Sd.Kfz. 251 also had tank steering, whereby the normal steering wheel moved the front wheels, but after more than about 15 degrees of turning of the steering wheel, the tracks are braked to cause turning, like on a tank.

This is commonly called "regenerative steering" where the track to turn towards is slowed down and the energy is transferred to the other side to speed it up and thus turn.

Movement examples:


This was similar to the transmission and steering used in the Panther and Tiger. I'm not sure if it could "neutral turn" pivoting in place.

The M3 used manual automotive steering. The vehicle was generally considered very mechanically reliable, although there were two major complaints: the vehicle had a wide turning radius and lacked power steering, the latter especially evident when using narrow European streets.

The unique design of the track, made up of a single steel band with a rubber contact surface vulcanized made the replacement difficult; if the track became damaged or the steel bands stretched out, the entire track had to be replaced. A track with replaceable blocks was suggested as an alternative.

YouTube link


Griefbringer01 Feb 2023 12:59 a.m. PST

14.5mm for Russian HMGs, but performance is pretty similar to that of the .50 cal (12.7mm).

12.7 mm caliber was adopted by the Soviet military before WWII, and was mainly used for the DShK AAMG during the war.

14.5 mm caliber was only used for anti-tank rifles during WWII. After the war, it was adopted as a machine-gun round (mainly for AA use) and the anti-tank rifles fell out of use.

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