The DAF M39
By David Meyler
The smaller nations that were drawn into the Second World War are often overshadowed by the Big Five (Germany, Japan, Russia, the U.S.A., Great Britain). Their military forces were often quickly destroyed or overrun, and have usually become little more than a footnote in the histories of the conflict. Even more obscure are the technological innovations of some of these minor powers, innovations usually lost and overlooked with the defeat of their armed forces.
When the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazi German army in May 1940, a number of technological developments had been underway. Among them were a radar-guided AA fire control system, a snorkel system to allow a submarine’s diesel engine to operate while submerged (this device was picked up and further developed by the Germans), the Fokker D.23 and De Schelde D.21 boxtail fighters — think P-38, but in 1940. Last but not least among this list was the DAF M39 armored car.
A Dutch artillery NCO, while doing some penitentiary time, drew up plans for a revolutionary type of truck suspension — one way, one supposes, to pass the tedious hours. He then apparently turned over his rough sketch to his commanding officer. This much of the story may or may not be true, but the name of the officer is documented.
It was 1935. The NCO’s commanding officer was a certain Captain-Engineer Pieter van der Trappen. He took the idea of the suspension to co-founder of the DAF auto works, Hubertus van Doorne. The new system was called the Trado (a combination of Trappen-Doorne) suspension. It consisted of a leaf-springed bogie with two actuated road wheels that could be easily attached to, driven by and rotated on the back axis of any commercial truck, thus adding a "walking beam" to the vehicle that significantly improved its cross-country performance. The Trado III suspension system, an improved version, was a considerable commercial success and applied to many existing and new civilian and military truck types.
As a commander of artillery, Van der Trappen was interested in producing a more efficient artillery tractor that could quickly tow field guns cross-country. In the beginning of the 1930s, the artillery lacked a capable all-terrain vehicle that was able to pull heavier guns under heavy conditions in the field. Up to that moment several types of trucks were used or agricultural tractors adapted for the job, but they were inadequate. With the introduction of more and more heavy material — larger search-lights, heavy AA, 105mm field guns — this problem grew dramatically.
Although in general Dutch armament and equipment left much to be desired, (much being of 1914 vintage or earlier), the Trado truck was a highly modern and very capable piece of equipment, one of the Dutch industrial highlights. A total of 1,200 Trado trucks would be in service in the army of 1940. The Trado III suspension could be fitted with a tread to quickly (15 minutes) convert a wheeled vehicle into a kind of hybrid half-track, on the lines of the French Kégresse. The military projects had the prefix "pan." The first project, the Pantrado 1, envisaged a very long type of truck with a good trench-crossing capability. The second project, the Pantrado 2, was in the form of a conventional half-track.
The third, the Pantrado 3 (military designation M39), was a pure armored car, which featured a number of modern innovations. Most armored cars up this point comprised a truck chassis fitted with a hull made of armored plate, and thus had a conventional truck’s relatively poor cross-country mobility. With the deteriorating international situation, in 1937, the Dutch military began to look for a home-grown armored vehicle. Two dozen Landsverk cars were ordered from Sweden, and while effective fighting vehicles for their kind, they were of the entirely conventional armored truck variety.
In the autumn of 1937, the Dutch government ordered a single prototype of the new armored car to be built. Van Doorne and Van der Trappen had indicated this could be finished quickly as they had already prepared the manufacture of a demonstration vehicle. They claimed it was superior to then-conventional British Humber armored car design, as the M39 was based on the use of a welded monocoque construction combined with a consistent use of sloped armor, which was predicted to lead to a much improved weight-efficiency. In effect, the armored body was also the chassis.
Both Van Doorne and Van der Trappen had no experience whatsoever with building armored vehicles. But their small team from DAF was supplemented by a personal friend, wachtmeester (a Dutch cavalry rank equivalent to sergeant) and mechanic J. Addink. He thought the monocoque principle was untested and feared that without reinforcement the thin plates would crack at their connection welds.
After just eight months, in the summer of 1938, the prototype was finished. It used the same 37mm gun turret of the Landsverk turret as there was no Dutch manufacturer capable of producing light guns. The prototype was presented to the Commissie Pantserautomobielen that ordered tests to be carried out between July and September 1938, and in comparison to the the Landsverk M36, the M39 demonstrated unsurpassed superiority. Whereas the M36 was incapable of crossing ditches, would get itself stuck on dry sand roads and had great trouble climbing steep slopes, the Pantrado effortlessly overcame these obstacles. Its suspension system allowed for a much smoother cross-country ride. The main drawback was that the gasproof monocoque hull trapped both heat and noise, reducing crew comfort. British officials, who saw the M39 at a military review in The Hague in 1939, expressed interest in getting a license to produce the vehicle in England.
The Dutch ordered 12 vehicles, under the designation Van Doorne DAF M39. It weighed about 5.8 tonnes, featured a 6x4 drive, 75km/h top speed (50km/h in reverse), 300 km radius of action, Bofors 37mm main gun with three 7.9mm machine guns (front and rear hull and one coaxial), 10-12mm armor, crew of five. Seven of 12 M39s were armed and at least one saw action in May 1940 with the Dutch, outside of Rotterdam.
The end of the line — wrecked M39s in the Russian snow.
The reconnaissance battalion of the German 227th Infantry Division, which saw action in Belgium and France, formed an armored car company out of four captured M39s and four M36s, under the respective designations of PSW 202(h) and PSW 201(h). One of the M39s lacked its 37mm gun. The Wehrmacht also used as many of the Trado trucks as they could get.
After the summer of 1940, all 12 M39s were apparently completed by the Germans and assigned to the SS "Police" Division in Russia in 1941. There, all were eventually lost or at any rate, any remaining appeared to have been withdrawn from service by the end of the winter of 1941/42. In the end, then, what could have led to a promising series of armored vehicles, ended up in a German junk pile on the Eastern Front.
The DAF M39 in Panzer Grenadier
In any scenario featuring the 227th Infantry Division in France 1940, you can add a single DAF unit to represent the mixed M39/M36 squadron. Two M39 units can be added to any scenario involving the SS Polizei Division in Russia, up to February 1942 (for play balance, the German can remove one or two units of similar strength as required). You can download the new pieces here.
Sinister Forces and 1940: The Fall of France are
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