5th armored division


Plate01: In December 1944, the US 7th Armored Group assigned to the 30th Infantry Division the task of using a new, untested, weapon system-the T-34 - in support of an upcoming infantry assault. Plans called for the 29th Infantry Division to establish a bridgehead over the Roer River in the vicinity of Julich, Germany. The 30th ID was to cross the river behind the 29th and launch an attack to the south-east. The zone of the 30th ID included Staatsforst Hambach, deemed to be an outstanding obstacle with the enemy dug in on the north and west side of the woods. It was planned, therefore, to saturate these woods with rocket fire just prior to launching the attack.
The T-34, nicknamed the ‘Calliope’ was a 60 tube rocket launcher firing a 38.5 pound High Explosive rocket out to 2,900 yards and was designed to fit on the turret of the M4 Sherman. Twenty-two launchers were to be mounted on tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion. In addition, the 3508th Ordnance Medium Auto Maintenance Company was designated to design, construct and install a suitable mount for the T-34 in five captured German halftracks. Here, a m.S.P.W tactical number '405’, is being stripped of all interior fittings prior to mounting the launcher.
Plate02: Work began on 4 December 1944 and was completed by 9 December. The top carriage of a 7.5cm PaK 40 stood in for the tank support mechanism to elevate the launcher. No traverse was possible. Here troops remove part of the barrel and accompanying bits that will not be needed.
Plate03: Work continues on the Sd.Kfz.251/21. The bottom of the 7.5cm PaK carriage was shorn of all parts that protruded to insure a smooth surface, and then it was welded directly to sections of railroad track, 51" long, crosswise in the crew compartment. A slit of two feet wide in the armor was made in one side, and a three foot wide opening was made on the other. The gun barrel had about 3 feet cut off the end, pointed over the right side of the halftrack through the two foot slit. Two pieces of heavy 12" I-beam, approximately 23" long, provided a support to which the launcher trunnions were welded and the equilibrator springs anchored. The driver’s compartment was completely enclosed by boiler plate in the rear and an entrance hatch was provided (the hinges from the engine hatches were removed to expedite the conversion. the floor plated were also removed, exposing the vehicles gas tanks and batteries to sparks from the welders. None of the vehicles were runners.
Plate04: Although the T-34 was a rather massive affair, each rocket had an effect equal to a 105mm HE shell, just about every component was fragile: the fiber rocket tubes were easily damaged. The tubes, although not the rockets, were materially affected by the weather, and the clamp ring adjustment, too affected the diameter of the tube. Tubes flaked due to rocket blast. Small fitting worked loose or were easily damaged and electrical connections had to be constantly inspected and repaired. Rocket holding latches were weak (some rockets actually fell out during firing), and contact arms were unsatisfactory. Ripple fire caused the mount to 'lash’.
Plate05: The Donor vehicles came from Pz.Brig.108’s Pz.Gren.Btl.2108, which was destroyed in the heavy fighting at Bardenberg in October,1944. Here we have an ex-Sd.Kfz.251/3 with tactical number 2311 and the name 'Heinrich Hötger’ painted on the armor. Heinrich Hötger was a Grenadier, born in 10.01.26, who died 21.09.44, the day Pz.Brig.108 and Panzer-Lehr-Division attacked the American bridgehead east of Wallendorf in the Eifel. They pushed back the US 5th Armored Division and retook Kruchten and Hommerdingen. Hötger’ is buried at the cemetery at Neuerburg.
Plate06: Sd.Kfz.251/3 'Heinrich Hötger’, after test firing the T-34.
After firing, the launcher was examined and found to have 28 of 60 electrical connections in need of repair. These included twelve broken contact wires, six contact arms out of their hinges, three contact fingers broken, three bent contact arms and six contact springs disconnected. Two tubes required replacing. These factors indicated it was best when employing the launcher to plan to fire one salvo and then withdraw to the rear area for repairs.
Plate07: Five mittler-Schützenpanzerwagen have been identified:
Sd.Kfz.251/3 Tactical# 2311 with 'Heinrich Hötger’ on the side armor and 'Shark’ insignia on the front and rear armor. License# WH 1713787 (seen above)
Sd.Kfz.251/21 vehicle had its armor removed while undergoing extensive modification. Travel lock for 'Drilling’ still in place.
Sd.Kfz.251/?: Tactical#405, License# 1749412. Penetration hole in the left side armor.
Sd.Kfz.251/?: License# 1787961. Two penetration holes in the right side engine armor and one in the nose armor. This can be seen HERE.
Sd.Kfz.251/?: Tactical# –32 (armor partially cut away), 'Shark’ insignia on the rear armor.
Plate08: On December, test firing was conducted in the vicinity of Norweiden (more likely Broichweiden), Germany. The Launcher was loaded in Kolonie Kellersberg and towed by an M3A3 Stuart light tank, using a tow bar to the range, a distance of 8.5 miles. The halftracks were later repaired so they would run.
It took 20 minutes to dig for the track, survey the position, and lay the launcher. The halftracks had to be jockeyed to line up with the aiming stakes, as there was no traverse mechanism. The Commander used the M1 quadrant  to check elevation while the driver elevated for depressed the launcher at his command.
Plate09: The vehicle rocked excessively and the left track settled during firing, but all round hit the target area. The projectile could be heard from the time it left the launcher until it hit making a low, moaning sound. The flash was clearly visible from the target area. On 17 December, the 30th was rushed to the Malemedy-Stavelot sector of Belgium: The Battle of the Bulge was on!