Germany, WWII

Sd.Kfz. 9 Famo – Germany’s Giant Half-Track

The Sd.Kfz. 9 is a monstrous half-track developed by Germany just before the Second World War. It was longer than a Tiger tank and could pull huge loads, and found itself being used everywhere by the Wehrmacht.

Better known as the Famo, it carried cargo, ammunition, cranes, and even an 8.8 cm FlaK gun on one version. The Famo was a very successful vehicle, being used for the entirety of the war, but it struggled with Germany’s heavier tanks.


Development of the Sd.Kfz.9

In the early 1930s, Germany drew up basic designs for a number of half-tracks of varying sizes and roles. These machines would be developed and eventually serve with great importance during the Second World War.

However, one design stood out from the rest due to its sheer size: the Sd.Kfz. 9.

This vehicle was drawn up as a recovery vehicle for Germany’s latest tanks, and an artillery tractor capable of pulling their heaviest guns.

Kettenkrad with two passengers.
The Kettenkrad is one of the strangest of Germany’s half-tracks.

The job of actually bringing this machine to life was given to the company Fahrzeug- und.Motoren-Werke GmbH, better known as FAMO. FAMO was one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of tracked-tractors – although these were primarily used by civilians.

The first prototype arrived in 1936, and it was a monster! Weighing in at 15.2 tons empty and measuring 8.3 meters in length, it was capable of recovering Germany’s newest and heaviest tank, the Panzer IV, on its own.

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Power came from a 220 hp, 9.7 liter Maybach HL 98 TUK V12 petrol engine situated under a long hood at the front. Either side of the engine were two wheels, which were unpowered but could be steered. The rear of the vehicle was supported by a set of interleaved roadwheels.

Sd.Kfz. 9 on a steep slope.
An Sd.Kfz. 9 during trials.

In 1938 FAMO produced the F2 version of the Sd.Kfz. 9, which entered small-scale production. The F2 was slightly cheaper to manufacture.

In 1939 came the third and final version of the vehicle, the F3. It was mostly the same as the previous types, but was fitted with a more powerful Maybach HL 108 TUKRM engine. This petrol V12 was the engine of choice for the Panzer III and some Panzer IVs.

The Sd.Kfz. 9 was such a solid design that it remained mostly unchanged throughout its production run that ran until 1945. Changes that did occur were usually small and helped to ease production.

Man sleeping on the hood of a Sd.Kfz. 9.
The Sd.Kfz. 9 was simply huge!

This vehicle was a half-track, a type of machine that reached the peak of its popularity during the Second World War. Germany and the USA were major users of half-tracks, and built large numbers of them in the 1930s and 1940s.

So what is the benefit of a half-track? Well, to put it simply, they combined the benefits of both fully tracked vehicles, and wheeled vehicles.

Wheeled vehicles are easier and cheaper to build, but lack the off-road capabilities and traction of fully tracked vehicles. Wheeled vehicles are also easier to drive, making them more suitable for inexperienced drivers.

SdKfz 9 driving out of a ditch.
Half-tracks have most of the offroad ability of a tank, but are cheaper to build and maintain, and easier to operate.

A half-track can retain much of a fully tracked vehicle’s pulling power and off-roading abilities, while being cheaper to build and easier to operate. As they could keep up with tanks, half-tracks naturally found themselves being used as armored personnel carriers.

However in the case of the Sd.Kfz.9, its pulling power made it an ideal tank recovery vehicle and artillery tractor.

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It was designated Schwerer Zugkraftwagen 18t, which means “heavy tractor vehicle“. The “18t” suffix actually reflects the Sd.Kfz. 9’s pulling power, rather than its own weight. But in reality it was capable of pulling much, much more.

The Sd.Kfz. 9 is usually referred to simply as a Famo, after its manufacturer, FAMO.

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Sd.Kfz.9 Famo Design

The Sd.Kfz. 9 Famo was the heaviest, largest and most powerful half-track used by Germany during the Second World War.

It was arranged similarly to a truck, with the engine and a pair of steering wheels at the front, the cab behind this, and a cargo bed at the rear. However in this case, a set of tracks are used at the back instead of wheels.

Power came from a Maybach HL 108 TUKRM petrol V12, which displaced 10.8 litres and produced 270 hp. It had a manual transmission with four forward and one reverse gear, but it also had a reduction gearbox that doubled the available gears in either direction. Top speed of the Sd.Kfz. 9 was 31 mph (51 kph).

Maybach HL 108 TUKRM V12 engine in a Famo.
The Maybach HL 108 TUKRM V12 engine under the hood of a Famo.

Steering was achieved via a conventional steering wheel by the driver, which turned only the front wheels for slight bends. On tighter turns, brakes would engage on the inside track, with the differential also sending additional power to the outer track.

The rear roadwheels were sprung on torsion bars and mounted in an interleaved arrangement, typical for German half-tracks of the day.

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Above the tracks was an cargo/equipment area that could be adapted for the role required of the vehicle. For example, additional seats were available on artillery tractors for the gun crew, while recovery tractors had more room for tools and cargo. The bed could hold up to 2.6 tons of cargo.

Famo close up.
This image gives a good sense of the Sd.Kfz. 9’s size, and shows the benches for crew members.

Under the bed was a winch, which was powered by an extension from the gearbox and could be used to rescue other vehicles or even itself.

All of this resulted in an extremely large machine, which measured over 8 meters in length, 2.6 meters in width, and 2.8 meters in height. It was larger than most tanks when it was introduced.


When the Sd.Kfz. 9 Famo entered service, it was capable of pulling any German tank at the time. It was paired with the 14.4 meter long Sd. Ah. 116 low-loader trailer rated for up to 22 tons – although they can be seen loaded up to almost 30 tons.

The Sd. Ah. 116 was supported on four axles, each of which could steer. At the rear of the trailer was a small cab that housed a crewmember; they would manually steer the rear axles.

The Sd.Kfz. 9 proved to be a versatile, powerful vehicle, and was soon in demand on all fronts as it could be used for pretty much anything; from recovering tanks, to hauling cargo and lifting engines out of vehicles.

Sd. Ah. 116 trailer.
An Sd. Ah. 116 trailer with a Panzer III loaded. Note the trailer operator in his cabin at the rear.

However it was also very expensive to produce, and lacked any armor protection. This wasn’t a problem for logistical tasks, but it would make recovering tanks under fire impossible in many situations. Their size was another problem, as they were very fuel thirsty and had a large steering radius.

As the war progressed, and Germany introduced heavier and heavier armored fighting vehicles, the Sd.Kfz. 9 struggled to keep up. While it could comfortably handle a Panzer IV, it required multiple in unison to pull a stranded Tiger I.

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For the heaviest vehicles, like the Ferdinand or Tiger II, as many as five would be needed. However these vehicles were in the minority, and Sd.Kfz. 9 stayed a valuable tool for the entire war.

Famos towing a Ferdinand.
Five Famos towing a Ferdinand.

While it remained mostly unchanged throughout its production run, there were a couple of interesting variants built from the Sd.Kfz. 9 Famo.

The Sd.Kfz. 9/1 had a crane mounted in the place of the cargo bed. The crane had a maximum lifting capacity of 6 tons, and was useful for things like removing engines from tanks during repairs. Only 150 of these were built.

The Sd.Kfz. 9/2 also had a crane, but this time it had a maximum lifting capacity of 10 tons. Outriggers were added to keep the vehicle steady while lifting heavy loads. Only a handful of these were built, and are rarely seen in photos.

Famo Sd.Kfz. 9/1 crane.
Sd.Kfz. 9/1 Famo crane.

The final major variant of the Sd.Kfz. 9 was the 8.8cm Flak 37 Selbstfahrlafette auf schwerer Zugkraftwagen 18t. This version carried a 8.8 cm FlaK 37 gun mounted at the rear, transforming it into an aircraft and tank hunter.

Armor plates up to 14.5 mm thick were added around the engine and cab of the Sd.Kfz. 9 to give the crew some protection, as this version was naturally expected to engage the enemy directly.

Ammunition was stored in boxes at the rear of the gun platform. All of these modifications pushed the Sd.Kfz. 9’s weight up to 25 tons, rivalling that of an actual tank. Over 100 8.8cm Flak 37 Selbstfahrlafette auf schwerer Zugkraftwagen 18ts were ordered, but only 12 were delivered.

8.8cm Flak 37 Selbstfahrlafette auf schwerer Zugkraftwagen 18t.
The 8.8cm Flak 37 Selbstfahrlafette auf schwerer Zugkraftwagen 18t variant of the Famo.

In total around 2,500 Sd.Kfz. 9s were built in all variants, with their production and service lasting the entire duration of the war.

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Today just over 10 relatively complete examples are known to exist, with a few of these being in running condition.