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In 1938, the Waffenamt issued an order for Saurer in Vienna to develop a reconnaissance vehicle in the wheel-cum-track configuration. The resulting vehicle, designated Saurer RK 9, was of 8.5 tons, with 14.5 mm to 5.5 mm armour. It was powered by a Saurer OKD diesel motor of 100 hp. On wheels, a speed of 80 km/hr, and on tracks, 30 km/hr could be achieved.
Two prototypes were built. The first, with an open-topped superstructure, was delivered by June 1942, and the second, with a turret, was delivered shortly afterwards. The turret was similar to contemporary reconnaissance vehicle designs. Armament was the EW 141 and an MG 34.
What I would like to know is whether this vehicle type was ever used in combat.
The above text and photo was taken from 'Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two', by Peter Chamberlain and Hilary L Doyle.
Thanks in advance.
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As you know, after the Anschluss in 1938, a peculiar hybrid wheel-and-track reconnaissance / command vehicle that had just been developed by Saurer, the le gp beob KW auf RK7, was ordered by the German army and renamed the SdKfz 254. It was mostly issued to the artillery units of the Panzer divisions after the defeat of France and employed as an observation vehicle. However, some were turned into a combat vehicle, usually by mounting a PzKpfWg I turret. Saurer had offered to develop an improved combat version with a rotating turret, but for some reason development was delayed and it was only after 4 years, in the summer of 1942, that the first, turretless prototype of the improved wheel-and-track vehicle was finally ready for testing, the RK9.
I know of only four photographs of the RK9, two of vehicles without turret and two of turreted vehicles. The two photographs of a vehicle without roof, turret, antennae, armoured vision-ports, or armour cover on its exhaust-pipe muffler, show it being tested on uneven, snow-covered terrain, perhaps early 1942. The shovel and the axe stowed on the exterior do not look like standard Wehrmacht equipment, and the crew-members are attired in overalls and unfamiliar “flying” helmets. This suggests that, although the vehicle carries Wehrmacht number plates, the crew-members are employees of Saurer and the picture is showing trials of its tracked performance done by the manufacturer, not by the army.
Of the two photographs of turreted RK9’s, one is apparently undergoing trials in an army setting, as here a Kübelwagen can be seen in the background. This RK9 is standing on its tracks. The other picture shows a turreted RK9 parked on its wheels in a cobbled street, perhaps at the Saurer factory in Vienna (so on the very cobblestones that were the ruination of early tracks and thereby inspired the wheel-and-track hybrids). A long-range “star” antenna has been mounted on the back of this vehicle. Only this last feature distinguishes the “wheeled” from the “tracked” turreted RK9, suggesting it is a (Fu) (Funkgerät) variety. Both vehicles have a shiny, uncluttered factory look, unlike the turretless prototype with full external stowage.
The crew consisted of three, a commander in the small, one-man turret, a driver at the front, to the left of the engine, and a radio operator in the back. Armour protection was 14,5 mm on the hull and turret front, and 5,5 mm elsewhere. On the road, its top-speed on wheels was 80 km/u and its tracked top speed 30 km/u, with a wheeled range of about 250 km. Armament comprised a turret-mounted Mauser EW (Einbau Waffe) 141 and a standard coaxial MG 34. The EW 141 was a belt-fed semi-automatic anti-tank rifle, an emplacement variant of the experimental MG 141 heavy machine-gun, firing the same 7,92x95 round as the antitank rifle Pzb (Panzerbüchse) 38/39.
In late 1942, 15 RK9’s were ordered for trials, but the order was cancelled and the vehicles never seem to have left the factory. And that would hardly be surprising, as in those four years it took Saurer to develop their RK9, it had become completely obsolete. The ammunition used by the EW 141 was outdated. The single-shot Pzb 38/39 firing the same round had already performed poorly as an anti-tank rifle against French and British armour in 1940 and was finally withdrawn in 1941. The RK9 armour protection was insufficient and as it had been purposely designed to be as light as possible, only 8 tons, the chassis and engine would not have allowed for the weight of heavier armour and armament. As it was a 2x4 vehicle, its wheeled off-road performance must have been rather modest. Also, as a reconnaissance tank the RK9 would have been seriously lacking in tracked mobility, being half as fast as the new versions of the PzKfWg II and 38(t).
So the RK9 was too slow, too lightly armed and too lightly armoured. However, the most serious drawback of this vehicle was its specific hybrid nature. All other hybrids than the halftrack had proven to be expensive, complex and vulnerable pieces of engineering, compromising both their wheeled and their tracked performance. Improved track life had made them redundant, and special adaptations for roads were of little practical use on the eastern front. One can only wonder why the RK9 was submitted at all. Probably to please the Austrians, or one Austrian in particular.
And what was the fate of the few RK9’s produced? Did they collect dust for the duration of the war, were they immediately scrapped, were they used for training purposes as some other prototypes, or has an RK9 actually been used in action?