The “Kettenkrad,” could easily motor through mud, snow, sand, and rocky terrain, hauling German soldiers or light loads. Ketten means “tracked” and krad is the shortened version of the military term kraftrad, or “motorcycle.” The tracked motorcycle concept was conceived and patented by German inventor Heinrich E. Kniepkamp in the late 1930s. Over 8,300 Kettenkrads were built, mostly by the NSU Motorenwerke AG of Neckarsulm, Germany.
Though deemed a motorcycle by the military, the machine was basically a miniature tractor—able to climb steep grades, tow heavy loads, and move through deep mud. The driver turned the handlebars and front wheel to steer the vehicle. To make sharper turns at higher speeds or in rough conditions, the handlebar movement also engaged track brakes, helping the Kettenkrad rider efficiently steer. In combat, Kettenkrads often hauled troops, towed light guns, moved equipment, and laid communication cable on the battlefield. When fuel became scarce, the machines were often employed in towing Luftwaffe aircraft, allowing the plane’s engines to remain off while it was on the ground.
After the war, many of the vehicles were adapted to use in farming Europe.
History of the Artifact
The FHCAM’s Kettenkrad was acquired in 2003 from a collector in New Jersey and restored to its current state in 2013.
Did you know?
Because they were unique and useful in combat conditions, Kettenkrads were prized by not only German soldiers but also Allied troops able to capture them.