The term “Schwimmwagen” which was applied to the amphibious version of the military Volkswagen was not strictly correct, for the term merely means “amphibious vehicle.” The correct designation was “Schimmfahiger Gelandeng Typ 166,” though the vehicle was often just called “Schwimmwagen, for obvious reasons (how would you like to write the full name on a requisition form?). The Schwimmwagen was originally developed during 1940 for use by airborne troops, and was supposed to have good cross-country performance coupled with amphibious capability. It was designed to make as much use of the existing Kubelwagon (the military Volkswagen) components as possible, this was to reduce the need for re-tooling factories. In the end most of the 14,625 Schwimmwagens produced went to the Eastern Front.

The Schwimmwagen was used to supplement the carious types of motorcycle/sidecar combinations used by reconnaissance and other units. It was a small sturdy vehicle with a bulky body to provide sufficient buoyancy. The rear mounted propeller could fold up for road travel to avoid damage. The Schwimmwagen could seat four, but they had better be close friends especially if they wanted to carry their equipment. The production line was located at the Volkswagen plant at Wolfsburg. Production was interrupted many times due to Allied bombing before it finally was stopped in 1944 due to the raw materials shortage.

The German Army demanded more and more of these amphibious cars during the early years of the war, they had quickly discovered the vehicle’s usefulness. Apart from the reconnaissance role, many commanding officers found the Schwimmwagen useful in visiting far-flung and scattered units, especially at the Eastern Front.

The Schimmwagen was powered by 1.3 liter gasoline engine. This configuration was slightly more powerful than the Kubelwagen, and provided better all-around performance. To guarantee that none of the cross country performance was lost, large all-terrain tires were fitted to the vehicle.

The propeller used to drive the Schimmwagen in water was located on a swinging arm at the rear. Before the vehicle entered the water this arm had to be lowered to align the screw with the drive chain. Once the propeller drive had been selected the rest of the transmission was isolated. Steering in water was achieved by the front wheels, not a conventional rudder as with many amphibious vehicles of the day.

Despite its handiness in water, the Schwimmwagen’s overall performance was impressive enough that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel requested them in droves for the Deutsches Afrika Korps. Instead he received the Kubelwagen; the Schwimmwagen was more useful on the Eastern Front, which had more water obstacles than the deserts of Africa. Many of the Schwimmwagens sent to the east were refitted with an extra external fuel tank, for a volatile mix used to start the engine in the harsh conditions.

The Schimmwagen was a rugged and useful vehicle which was used by the Allies whenever they could ay their hands on them. Some were saved as war trophies, but most were thrown back into the war as quickly as they could be captured.


  • Crew: 1+ 3 passengers
  • Weights: unloaded- 1,992 lb (903.5 kg)
    payload- 958 lb. (434.5 kg)
  • Powerplant: one VW 1.13 liter or 1.3 liter (discrepancy between sources) gasoline engine developing 25 hp
  • Dimensions: length- 12 ft 6.61 in. (3.825 m)
    width- 4 ft 10 in (1.48 m)
    height- 5 ft 3.6 in (1.615 m)
  • Performance: maximum road speed- 50 mph (80 km/h)
    maximum water speed- 7 mph (11 km/h)
    range- 250-280 miles (400-450 km)

Back to Jane's Military History Nodes

Sources: specifications and specific dates are from The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, much is from memory and too many hours watching The History Channel and reading various accounts of the war.

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