Though it was too late to change the course of the war, experimental weapons such as the Vampir Sperber and Falke were the first examples of such gear as night-vision goggles and targeting systems that many modern soldiers use in the field today.
By late 1944 experiments were taking place with night vision equipment – was this the weapon to turn the tide of war in Germany’s favour?
The ZG 1229 Vampir, was an active infrared device developed for the Wehrmacht and fitted to the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle. 310 units were reported as being delivered to the Wermacht from early 1944 but actual combat use is believed to have been from February 1945 where reports from the Eastern front consist of snipers shooting at night with the aid of ‘peculiar non-shining torches coupled with enormous optical sights’ mounted on their rifles.
The Nachtjäger (night-hunter) would have to carry the Vampir (weighing approx. 2.25 kilograms 5 lbs.) as well as a 13.5 kilogram (about 30 lbs.) wooden cased battery for the light, and a second battery fitted inside a gas mask container to power the image converter, all strapped to a Tragegestell 39 (pack frame 1939).
Similar infrared gear was ‘possibly’ fitted both to MG34 and MG42 machine guns.
During this same period test were being carried out where infrared equipment was fitted to tanks with at least some images seeming to corroborate this.
One system seems to have been used, the FG 1250 Sperber (Sparrow Hawk),It consisted of a 30cm FG 1250 infrared searchlight (with a useful range of 600m), coupled with an image converter operated by the tank commander. Tanks equipped with IR were intended to operated with a SdKfz.251/20 Uhu (Owl) half-track with 60cm infra-red searchlight and Falke (Falcon) mounted on any type of armoured fighting vehicle.
Documentory evidence issued by GenInspdPzTr on 26.6.44 states that, according to Guderian orders, I./PzLehrR 130 will be the first unit equiped with IR-PzV. This unit was created on 29.7.44, but was sent to the Western front without IR devices.
There are further reports that late december 1944 Panther Ausf G’s mounting IR equipment saw combat on the Eastern Front, possibly in Hungary with the 1./PzR 6 (x27 IR-PzV’s), 1./PzR 11 (x32 IR-PzV’s), and 1./PzR 130 (x4 IR-PzV’s). Each unit shipped out from training on the new equipment to Hungary… without their IR tanks. Meaning that possibly only 1 kampffegruppe of 4 to 5 IR panthers took part in battles between lakes Balaton and Velence.
The 1./PzR 29, 1./PzR 130 and 4./PzR 11 all took part in the Battle of the Seelow Heights with IR-PzV’s (one of the last assaults on large entrenched defensive positions of the Second World War, fought over three days, from 16–19 April 1945) where all the weapons available would be brought to bear against overwhelming Soviet forces.
Ultimatley the use of infra red equipment was short-lived, minor tactical success from IR assaults would yield no operational gains at this late stage of the war, equipment failure, lack of supply/training, operational faults (such as snow blindness and the inability to tell friend from foe) all contributed to the little actual use of these new weapons.
But that doesn’t stop us looking at the ‘What if?’ question in Bolt Action!
Page 96 of Ostfront ‘Barbarossa to Berlin’ introduced us to the night fighting unit of the German Heer forces and provides points and rules to give us the ability to night fight and try these units for ourselves.
The Sperber modified Panther gains armour and a 24″ spotting roll, the Uhu hanomag can increase this spotting distance to +60″, and anyone with IR equipment in range of an illuminated target will get this bonus automatically.
A core kampfgruppe of a Panther, SdKfz.251/20 Uhu with a unit of 5 Nachtjäger with a SdKfz.251/1 ausf.D for transport is an expensive unit at 799 points (if you go all out for veterans) but it could form the center point of a very distinctive army on a battlefield. Add to these with 2 units of the new, hard hitting, Voksgrenadiers plus a HQ and you’ll have one tough 1500 point, nut to crack.
The Panther with IR equipment SDKFZ 251/20 ‘UHU’ and the Nachtjäger Squads are classed as Tank, Armoured Car, and an Infantry Squad respectivley for the purposes of the generic Reinforced Platoon selector from the Bolt Action rulebook. This is also the case for the following Theatre Selectors: The Armies of Germany book; Operation Watch on the Rhine;
Holding the West Wall; Operation Spring Awakening; Last Levy.