Battle Relic: Odyssey of a Nazi tractor; "schwerer Wehrmachtschlepper" (Heavy Military Tractor) in Liberty Park Museum
Introduction:  We are becoming regular visitors of the excellent Liberty Park Museum in Overloon, The Netherlands.
The museum has an enormous collection of armored and soft skin vehicles and weaponry of the World War Two era and the subsequent Cold War years.
When we were there on December 11th 2011, we noticed a new German World War Two item on display; a so called "schwerer Wehrmachtschlepper" abbreviated sWS, (Heavy Military Tractor).

The track is to be tightened,
so that the upper track band
rests on the center sprockets,
but does not touch
the first sprocket !

(click for an enlargement)

An sWS is a half-track flat-bed cargo vehicle used as supply vehicle and as a tractor to haul cargo and equipment in the last three years of World War Two.

In 1942 the Fuehrer himself had ordered the development of a simple, low-speed, half-track, load-carrying vehicle for use on the Eastern Front.
The German company Büssing-NAG was granted the contract to develop a new 5 ton tractor to replace the earlier types of half tracked vehicles in use with the German Wehrmacht.
This became the sWS.

(click to enlarge)

Left hand side view

(click to enlarge)

Right hand side view

Photographic evidence shows that the sWS saw action in Western Europe too, where it had been no match against advancing American troops.

(click to enlarge)

Noteworthy on this particular vehicle were not only the khaki paint job and markings for an armored infantry platoon of the 12th SS Panzer (armored) Division "Hitlerjugend" (Hitler Youth).

No, what struck us most were the apparent matter-of-fact descriptions on the shipping tags still on the vehicle.
These labels neither explain museum visitors of the history and characteristics of the item on display, nor what an sWS is, but boldly state that we are dealing with a "1 of 1 WWII Army 1/2 Track" and a "Military Half – Track Machine".

(click to enlarge)

When we were in the museum again on the 29th of February 2012, the sWS stood in the same spot, with the windshields up and a canvas top on the bed; but still with the shipment tags on them.

The museum guide on duty could not tell us much more about the vehicle.
We decided to research the history of this vehicle.

Of course there is no Nazi Motor Vehicle Database where one can enter the plate number "SS 402038" and make a print out of the vehicle history, VIN number and previous ownership titles.
(Let alone of outstanding warrants...)

Nonetheless we were able to learn more about the post-war whereabouts of this sWS.

From the website of Dutchman Mr. Piet van Hees, we learned that this specific sWS did hard labor in a French gravel yard, before it was bought by the owners of the Belgian Victory Memorial Museum in the town of Arlon.
There it was restored and a new body was constructed for this sWS.
Arlon, most likely, was also where it got his 12th SS Division markings.

Victory Memorial Museum in Arlon, Belgium
The Victory Memorial Museum in its prime-time housed over 140 military vehicles, 50 motorcycles and 279 uniforms from 11 different nations. Unfortunately, location and economy took its toll and the museum had to close in the late 1990’s.

WWII Victory Museum in Auburn, Indiana
In 2000, Indiana State Senator Dean V. Kruse purchased the entire collection from the museum in Arlon and in early 2003 opened the WWII Victory Museum which housed, among many other items, the collection from the closed Belgian museum.

Liberty Park Museum in Overloon, The Netherlands
From the website of the Liberty Park Museum we learned this:
"News: On special Loan
November 4th, 2011 - On top op the already formidable collection of the Marshall Museum
[another example of a huge WWII vehicle collection purchased by a museum] we have recently received two additional vehicles. A so-called sWS, which stands for schwere Wehrmachtschlepper, and an SAS-jeep.

The owners of both vehicles wished to put their vehicles on display for a large audience. For the sWS this will be a temporary matter, because it is expected that the owner will start its restoration in the course of 2012. Until that time it can bee seen in our museum.
Piet van Hees
Vehicle enthusiast Piet van Hees wrote us about the "schwerer Wehrmachtschlepper":

The German company Büssing-Mag, like many other automotive enterprises at the time, found itself torn between conflicting interests.
At one hand they sought to remain in existence or even expand, but they otherwise understood bloody well that Hitler was out of his mind and that the war was developing in favor of the opposite side.
The question is if they have really put effort in acquiring new orders.
I think that they were feeling the hot breath of the regime in their necks emphasizing them to make maximal use of their production capacity.
[German designer of Blitzkrieg warfare; general Heinz Wilhelm] Guderian himself was hard-pressed on continuation of the production of the SdKfz 251 vehicle in stead of all the many other new ideas.
The sWS would have been a proper replacement for the 5 ton vehicle (also produced by Büssing-Nag) but it definitely required a bigger engine.
And these were not available at the time.
In the sense of technical development, these were good ideas but they came too late.
The extreme luxury and detailed finishes of the pre-war models had been contributing factors as well as the sheer number of wild ideas.

Vehicle archeology
Piet van Hees went on to tell us that he had not only seen the vehicle in the Liberty Park Museum, but had been "underneath it" as well.
Piet has examined the sWS in a manner he describes as "vehicle archeology".
The sWS in Overloon consists for only a limited percentage of authentic parts of 1944-'45 vintage.
The current owner of this sWS is a private person of considerable wealth who has bought three sWS's from America.
An armored version of the sWS is said to come to Overloon for a while as well.
We can only advise our viewers to go see this Battle Relic while it is still on display in the Liberty Park Museum; which is worth a visit anytime.

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