Volkswagen type 166 Schwimmwagen, known as the Waterman

The picture shows a Volkswagen type 166 Schwimmwagen, known as the Waterman, making its way through the mud of a Ukrainian road. This type was based on the classic KDF 82 Kübelwagen off-road vehicle, the design of which Ferdinand Porsche used to create an amphibious version.

The result was the KDF 128, which, although not very successful, provided the designers with valuable experience on which they built the KDF 166. The car’s tub was shaped like a boat and, unlike the Kübelwagen, the machine had four-wheel drive – as front-wheel drive was essential for getting out of the water. The result was a car with excellent off-road handling. Propulsion in the water was provided by a propeller and the direction of travel was determined by the front wheels turning. The picture shows one of the pre-production units delivered to the front in mid-1942.

Behind the wheel sits SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Gustav Knittel, commander of SS Tank Reconnaissance Troop 1, which was part of the 1st SS Panzer Division „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“, as evidenced by the partially visible divisional emblem in front of the driver’s seat.

Knittel became infamous during the Ardennes offensive when he ordered the execution of eight American prisoners of war. He confessed to the act himself during post-war interrogations, although he later disputed his confession. As part of the trial of the perpetrators of the Malmedy massacre, he was given a life sentence, which was eventually commuted to 12 years. However, he was released from Landsberg Prison after an amnesty in December 1953.

This photograph was taken in mid-November 1943, when temperatures were hovering around freezing, so that alternating rains, frosts and thundershowers turned the roads into a sea of mud. Leibstandarte was then grouped as part of the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps around the Ukrainian town of Fastiv, about 60 kilometers southwest of Kiev.

The corps arrived on the battlefield as reinforcements for the hard-pressed 4th Panzer Army after its defeat in the Battle of Kiev. Army Group South Commander Field Marshal Erich von Manstein then attempted to use the reinforcements to retake the city by counter-offensive back into German hands. The Leibstandarte at the time had a total of 95 PzKpfw V Panther tanks, divided into four companies. Two of them can be seen in the background.


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