Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Ubiquitous ROCO Schwere SWS Half Track

Older hobbyists will remember the days when scale and availability of models were all relative.

The Military Model Special Law of Relativity, circa 1960 to 1980: If it looks close enough, it will suffice.

The Military Model General Law of Relativity, circa 1960 to 1980: Regardless of scale or the type of item, if it looks close enough, it will do just fine.

SdKfz 250 Half-track
For most of World War II, Germany used two types of armored half tracks. These were the SdKfz (or as we called ‘em: Skid-fizz) 250 and 251 half-tracks. These were used in North Africa, Italy, Western Europe and the East. Look at old pictures of the Wehrmacht and if there is an armored half track, it is most likely a 250 or 251.

Tell that to the small-scale manufacturers!

SdKfz 251 (Bundesarchiv photo)
Early in the game (1961), Austrian model maker ROCO produced the German Schwere SWS heavy half track. This was a large armored half track with angular lines. It looked cool. ROCO made a plain open version, two open versions with the 20mm and 37mm flak guns, respectively, and covered versions. The latter included a “neberlwerfer” rocket launcher, sound detector and searchlight.

The SWS looked great with its sharp, angular lines. As I remember, when first introduced, they were 25 cents each in the local hobby shop. From 1961 to the mid-1970s, these were the only armored German half-tracks in small scale. As such, they were put into model, diorama and wargame service for North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Western Europe and the Russian front. The ROCO SWS half-tracks showed up in miniature depicting battles from 1939 to 1945.

UPC and Eldon offered copies of the ROCO half-tracks as kits.

There was one problem. A prototype problem.

The SWS half-tracks did not roll off the production line until late1943. (Sources vary, some saying the SWS was available in late 1943, others in mid 1944.) These were produced in Czechoslovakia, by the way. After the war, the Czechs produced an improved version for themselves.
ROCO SWS Half Track

But Czechs and balances or no Czechs and balances: the SWS was a latecomer. There were none in North Africa or Sicily. No SWS half-tracks figured in the invasions of Poland, France, Greece, the Balkans or Russia. They were not there for the rush to Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The SWS did not appear until after Kursk and Anzio. It may have been available in the West for D-Day.
SWS with Sound Detector

Some hobbyists knew this, but then, there was no other half-track in town. A really good modeler could scratch-build a SkidFizz 250 or 251, but it was a lot of work.  Good luck! For most of us, the SWS was the one and only Heinie Halftrack we could get.

Then came a surprise. A Japanese company called Eidai started exporting kits of the 251 Half track. These were simple. They had few parts and they snapped together. The Eidai 251 was 1/76 scale. At a time when scale was a relative thing, this was a welcome item, indeed! Yet despite the Eidai 251, many an SWS served in the armies of numerous wargames.

SWS Raketenwerfer

Because history notwithstanding ,we loved the little things!

Eidai has disappeared for a while, but those ROCO SWS half-tracks are still out there in numbers.

Like the song says, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

That is pretty much how we operated in the early days of small-scale vehicles.

So it is with the HO sized ROCO SWS half-track.

(Schwere is what they call obese Germans and Austrians. SWS is anacronum for “Schwere Wehrmacht Schlepper”. In English, that translated to Heavy Army Hauler or Heavy Army Carrier. Schlepper means the same in German and Yiddish. You do not want to be the schlepper. If you have ever lived within 20 miles of New York City, you know what the schlepper is.)
Schwere SWS with 37mm Gun (Compare with SdKfz 7 photo below)

SdKfz 7 (8t)

Could there be a fluke to justify the SWS prior to late 1943?

Some people may confuse the Schwere SWS with the SdKfz 7 SWS. The SkidFizz 7 was built on specifications laid out in 1932. It was a half-tracked unarmored vehicle that served as a prime mover, personnel carrier, flatbed “truck”, and flak vehicle.  SdKfz7 served German forces throughout the war.

The designation SWS could be the monkey wrench in the works.

The SdKfz 7 Half track started life as an open, unarmored vehicle in several variations. It was used on all fronts as a prime mover and artillery tractor. Fitted with bench seating, the vehicle could tow a field piece and transport its crew. With an open bed, it was also a mount for 20mm and 37mm flak guns. The SdKfz 7 was a workhorse half-track. Some 12,000 were produced.
SdKfz 7 as Artillery Tractor

There were armored variants. Some were local variants produced in battalion workshops. After August 1943, all SdKfz 7 flakwagens were partially armored. On these vehicles, the cab and engine compartment were fitted with 8mm armored plating. (This is about 3/8 of an inch for people who have the good sense to use the SAE system of measurements.) Aside from the gun shield, the rest of the vehicle was unarmored. There were also a few locally-fitted armored prime movers used to haul “bunker-buster” field guns.

SdKfz 7 Flakwagen (late 1943 - 1945)
Compare photos of the armored SdKfz 7 with those of the later Schwere SMS. In the days when scale was relative and vehicle types were interchangeable, one might have passed for the other in a small-scale battlefield. However, we are confronted with two matters of history.

1) The armored-cab SkidFizz 7 flakwagens first appeared in late 1943.
2) The armored prime movers are boxy and look nothing like the Schwere SWS. I have no date on them and assume they were locally-altered variants. I have only seen photos of them carrying the bunker-buster gun.

This fluke of history has been torpedoed! Even something with a semblance to the Schwere SWS did not appear until late 1943.

Still and all, it looks cool!
Unarmored SdKfz 7 flakwagen


What about the 1/107 scale metal “tank identification” vehicles by Comet / Authenticast? They were not common in the 1960s. Comet / Authenticast was in decline in those years. Very few shops carried them. Very few even knew those vehicles existed. I only learned of the metal Comet / Authenticast tanks within the last 20 years. My first knowledge of tanks like that were the Denzil-Skinner models from Britain that were sold by Henry Bodenstedt”s Continental Hobbies in Farmingdale, NJ. Too small for us! The smallest models my crew used were Roskopf at 1/100.
Comet / Authenticast Panzer IV F2 and F1

Of course, 15mm scale was relatively new at the time and the only examples I had seen were Medieval figures.

Hobbies were not as cohesive as they are now.

Most local hobby dealers specialized in one thing nor another. Our neighborhood shop started as a vendor of model kits and HO scale trains. (I am sure this also happened in Canada and the UK.) Beyond his specialties, he only knew what his distributors advertised. AHM was the biggest importer and distributor around ,which is how hobby shops learned of ROCO tanks and Airfix soldiers. Our shop carried them and sold a lot, but their expertise was in trains , balsa aircraft models and plastic model kits. Even hobby superstores like Polk’s did not display everything they carried. I never saw Comet / Authenticast tanks there. You had to ask for some things. That meant you had to know they were available.(They did carry SAE 30mm figures for a while.)

The inventory of any shop was limited to what the owners’ knew. Our local shop had loads of Aurora monster models and kits for building airplanes, automobiles and ships. They had everything you needed for HO trains. And the soldiers and tanks were mostly what they got from AHM, most of which were Airfix and ROCO. AHM was very good at promoting products to its dealer network, by the way.
Comet / Authenticast US M6 Heavy Tank, M4 Sherman and M3 Half-track

Dealers like Henry Bodenstedt expanded our horizons. I did not know of him until 1972, as his shop was over an hour’s drive from my town. Continental Hobbies imported and sold things that were not widely available. Other than FAO Schwartz, his was the only place I saw Elastolin Figures. Continental Hobbies was our only source for Roskopf tanks.

So it was that we were limited by our local dealers. Indeed, there were ads in the wargaming and military model magazines, but mail order was a bigger pain in the ass than a Celtic girlfriend (Irish, Scottish or Welsh: take your pick. If you dated one you know damn well of which I speak.)  We ordered through our local shops, if possible.*

Another example: getting 25mm metal castings in the 1970s was a trip until the Compleat Strategist opened on 34th street in NYC. They had all the good stuff. It was half historical stuff, half nerdware. You could get Vikings, Romans, and ogres and trolls without the hassles of mail-order.

So it was that many things we might have liked were denied us. We made do with what we could get. People were more dependent on their local hobby dealer than they are today.


Another problem was the matter of Soviet ordnance. ROCO led off with a Stalin JSIII, and eventually caught up with the T34, T44 and T54 (T55). There were no other vehicles to match them. Roskopf was very uncommon in the US at the time. It was not until the early 70s that we found an importer who carried Roskopf.
Roskopf Soviet T-10 Heavy Tank, 1/100 scale model

That opened a new world to us: T10s, BRDMs and BTRs of every variety. And it had a two-fold effect. Wargamers and other hobbyists had a wider range of tanks, and military personnel had more realistic vehicles for those sand table exercises and such.
Roskopf Soviet BTR 152 w/ dual AA guns. 1/100 scale model

I remember going on a run to a hobby shop for model tanks for sand-table work around `76. I was in the National Guard at the time. The officers brought me along because I had a solid knowledge of tanks, other vehicles, and when and where they were used. Suffice to say I was one of the best at tank identification in the entire battalion. It was a talent I carried over from the Regular Army and my hobby. Some of us had seen the real Soviet stuff up close and personal. If not from seeing it overseas, many Army installations had a few captured Soviet vehicles on display. Fort Drum had a few. Russian death traps, indeed!
Roskopf Soviet KV2 heavy tank, 1/100 scale model


*Mail order meant sending 25 cents for a catalog and waiting several weeks. Then one pored through the catalog, filled in the order form and wrote a check or money order. Those who mailed cash took their chances. Usually, you had to pick a few alternate items in case the ones you wanted were “out of stock.”

The order took several weeks to arrive, The mail-order vendor usually waited two or three weeks for your check to clear. Most sent parcel post, the slow way. (Any wonder we call it “snail mail”?) Hope that they got the order right. If something was wrong or missing, you had a problem. Send another letter and in cases of exchanges, pack it up and go to the post office to send it back.


If you found the reference to Celtic Girlfriends amusing, here is an amusing tale from my non-hobby blog: Though this article references women of only one Celtic group, it applies to all of them:


  1. Just recently I had the same discussion regarding buying wargame materials via catalog and post back ion the old days. You had to find a Wargamers digest, look at the ads and send for a catalog order then wait 4-6 weeks for delivery. Save up more money and do it over again.

  2. Me too. I still have my SWS battalion and a second battalion of SdKfz 251 from Paul Heiser Models in resin.

  3. Skid-fizz? 8-D Love it.

    I have asked this question on half-a-dozen chat boards. "What do you call an SdKfz 250 or 251?" Never got a good answer.

    The vocalization I came to as I was collecting Roco Mini-tanks was "Sid-Kafitz" But I freely admit that Skid-Fizz is better.

    (aka: Mk 1)

    1. I call(ed) SdKfz...SonderKraftfarzeugs...which I thought meant 'go everywhere useful vehicle'..but apparently means something else. I saw the word(s) in n illustrated German Language book sometime in the 70s.


  4. "Sonderkraftfahrzeug" Sd.Kfz. it is, perhaps special (purpose) self-powered vehicle, is the closest translation. today recreational vehicles, hearses, ambulances, fire engines with typically modified bodywork get labeled like this and typically pay less taxes then an off-the-line-truck. the wehrmacht speciality was differing from off-the-line-trucks, too. even civilian ones in nazi germany got more and more standartized for the ease of pressing them in service.