Father of the Volkswagon “Love Bug” – The German Kübelwagen with Great Photos

 
 
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Perhaps the most iconic general purpose four-wheel-drive vehicle of World War II, right next to the Jeep, was the Kübelwagen. Easily recognizable by its angular design, it was based on yet another popular design―the Volkswagen Beetle.

Even though Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche, the man behind the Volkswagen brand, envisioned turning the Beetle into a military vehicle in 1934, their plans did not become reality until 1938.

By then the German military was in the full swing of re-armament, and all sorts of vehicles found their use in the new Wehrmacht. However, a slot was empty when it came to reliable, multi-purpose automobiles capable of both on and off-road performance.

Herbie the Love Bug – Pop Culture Geek CC BY 2.0
Herbie the Love Bug – Pop Culture Geek CC BY 2.0

 

Type 82E—Kübelwagen chassis Beetle body.
Type 82E—Kübelwagen chassis Beetle body.

Unlike the Jeep, the Kübelwagen lacked four-wheel-drive capability, but compensated for that with its light weight and excellent suspension. The German answer to the Willys MB Jeep, it was over 660 lb (300 kg) lighter, despite having a chassis that was 16 inches (41 cm) longer than its American counterpart. It was capable of achieving a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h).

Northern France, soldiers with VW-Kübelwagen Recolored.Photo Genzler CC BY-SA 4.0
Northern France, soldiers with VW-Kübelwagen Recolored.Photo Genzler CC BY-SA 4.0

It was first tested in the field during the invasion of Poland in September 1939, where it proved to be highly effective, although commanders complained to Porsche that its minimum speed of 5 mph (8 km/h) was too fast for marching soldiers to keep up, so it needed to be reduced to 2.5 mph (4 km/h). Also, the vehicle still needed some improvements to its off-road ability.

After these adjustments were made, the Kübelwagen changed very little during the course of the war.

The Kübelwagen on the Eastern Front in 1943.Photo Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-022-2926-07 Wolff Altvater CC-BY-SA 3.0
The Kübelwagen on the Eastern Front in 1943.Photo Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-022-2926-07 Wolff Altvater CC-BY-SA 3.0

Very soon tests were conducted on how the vehicle handled harsh winter conditions. Reportedly, even the engineers working on the project were amazed by its performance. The Kübelwagen‘s smooth and flat underbody enabled it to function almost as a motorized sled when stuck in snow, sand, or mud.

VW Type 82 with engine visible in Sicily (1943).Photo Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild-192 Horst Grund CC-BY-SA 3.0
VW Type 82 with engine visible in Sicily (1943).Photo Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild-192 Horst Grund CC-BY-SA 3.0

This proved to be a huge advantage on both the Eastern Front and the North African theater. Other advantages included an air-cooled engine which could withstand high temperatures, and a small auxiliary fuel tank with volatile starting fuel intended to kickstart the engine in extremely cold weather.

Volkswagen Type 82 Kübelwagen Engine.Photo VWLT CC BY-SA 4.0
Volkswagen Type 82 Kübelwagen Engine.Photo VWLT CC BY-SA 4.0

The Allies first tested the Kübelwagen in November 1943, after capturing several units in North Africa. After thoroughly examining the vehicle, the Allies published a manual on how to repair and use the Kübelwagen during the upcoming invasion of France.

Kubelwagen in Carentan, 1944:2017. American paratroopers cross Carentan aboard a Kübelwagen captured by the German paratroopers. Photo Falcon_33 CC BY-SA 2.0
Kubelwagen in Carentan, 1944:2017. American paratroopers cross Carentan aboard a Kübelwagen captured by the German paratroopers. Photo Falcon_33 CC BY-SA 2.0

During the war, more than 50,000 Kübelwagens were produced and distributed to German troops on all fronts, and quickly became one of the trademarks of the Third Reich’s military.

1943 Kübelwagen 25 hp 1131cc.Photo Asterion CC BY 2.5
1943 Kübelwagen 25 hp 1131cc.Photo Asterion CC BY 2.5

 

A 1951 VW Kübelwagen (LIM 111).Photo Liftarn CC BY-SA 3.0
A 1951 VW Kübelwagen (LIM 111).Photo Liftarn CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Amphibious military variant of 1943-1945 VW beetle.Photo Neodarkshadow CC BY-SA 3.0
Amphibious military variant of 1943-1945 VW beetle.Photo Neodarkshadow CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Intermeccanica Kubelwagen
Intermeccanica Kubelwagen

 

Restored Volkswagen kübelwagen, once a German passenger transport vehicle.Photo FORTEPAN CC BY-SA 3.0
Restored Volkswagen kübelwagen, once a German passenger transport vehicle.Photo FORTEPAN CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Tan Volkswagen Kübelwagen.Photo Sean O’Flaherty CC BY-SA 3.0
Tan Volkswagen Kübelwagen.Photo Sean O’Flaherty CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Tobruk, soldiers in VW Kübelwagen.Photo Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-786-0305-19 : Otto : CC-BY-SA 3.0
Tobruk, soldiers in VW Kübelwagen.Photo Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-786-0305-19 : Otto : CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Volkswagen Kübelwagen Type 82
Volkswagen Kübelwagen Type 82

 

VW Kübelwagen Type 82 in Museum of Military History Vienna.Photo OlliFoolish CC BY-SA 3.0
VW Kübelwagen Type 82 in Museum of Military History Vienna.Photo OlliFoolish CC BY-SA 3.0

 

VW Kübelwagen.Photo Darkone CC BY-SA 2.5
VW Kübelwagen.Photo Darkone CC BY-SA 2.5

 

VW Kuebelwagen 2 – interior.Photo Alexander Z. CC BY-SA 2.5
VW Kuebelwagen 2 – interior.Photo Alexander Z. CC BY-SA 2.5

 

VW type 82 at Gmünd.Photo Alexander Z. CC BY-SA 3.0
VW type 82 at Gmünd.Photo Alexander Z. CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Type 82E—Kübelwagen chassis Beetle body (rear)
Type 82E—Kübelwagen chassis Beetle body (rear)

 

Herbies at Stamford Hall – Black Kite CC BY-SA 3.0
Herbies at Stamford Hall – Black Kite CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Read another story from us: Image Heavy. Beutepanzer, How Germany Relied on Captured Military Vehicles

World War II German gas propelled Kubelwagen.Photo WWII era unknown photographer – Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 4.0
World War II German gas propelled Kubelwagen.Photo WWII era unknown photographer – Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 4.0
 
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