The first vehicle designed for this new arm would essentially be a simplified copy of the primary walker design used in the alternate world, a bipedal urban defense mech known as the “GPAW-B-57 Slogger”. In German service, the walker’s designation would be “Kampfläufer I”, with variants distinguished by their “Ausführung” much like the various Panzers.
Walker development began in secret during the autumn of 1941, as progress began to slow on the Eastern Front in Operation Barbarossa. The first pre-production model was successfully completed in May 1942, known as the Kampfläufer I Ausf. A1, which combined some of the most advanced military hardware designed in the other world.
Unfortunately, weapon systems such as high-speed rotary autocannons and anti-tank guided missiles were far too complex to be reliably produced in any significant numbers by the German industry. That said, the actual bipedal walker chassis showed promise, and so the designers were ordered to try refitting it with existing weapons in the German arsenal.
The 7,5cm KwK 40 L/43 already in use on the Panzer IV Ausf. G was chosen as a suitable armament for the Kampfläufer I, though it required substantial modification of the breech and hydraulic recoil system to be fitted in the walker’s remote turret. This new gun variant would be called a “KlK”, or “Kampfläuferkanone”.
The walker fitted with the simpler 7,5cm KlK 40 L/43 would be known as the Kampfläufer I Ausf. A2, and the design was approved for a limited production run of 100 units by September 1942. However, as the Battle of Stalingrad commenced and the German 6th Army found itself in brutal urban combat, the order was increased to 300 units which were to be delivered as quickly as possible along with a force of newly-trained walker pilots from Wewelsburg to reinforce Erich von Manstein’s 4th Panzer Army outside Stalingrad.
It was in December 1942 that the first Kampfläufer units saw action by participating in Operation Winter Storm alongside the 4th Panzer Army. The walkers proved decisive in the battle; despite their teething problems and relative mechanical unreliability, they completely surprised the Soviets and were able to aid the Panzers in opening a corridor to the city, allowing some elements of the German 6th Army to break out and return towards friendly lines. While losses were heavy for both Manstein’s attacking forces as well as the battered 6th Army, German morale was high as the new weapons seemingly out of fiction were able to perform such a miraculous feat.
Little did the Germans realize, however, that the Red Army would not sit idly by with this failure. The Soviets were able to recover some Kampfläufers knocked out during the battle, thus introducing a new phase to their arms race and changing the face of armored warfare forever.
(Story by Dean)