With the success of Operation Winter Storm at the conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad, the German high command had seen the potential of the new Läuferkorps, specifically the effectiveness of walkers in urban combat and their significant impact on enemy morale. In March 1943 they subsequently moved to increase production of the Kampfläufer I as well as grant higher priority towards research and development of new Läufer models, though the general consensus was that the Läuferkorps would not entirely supplant the Panzerkorps due to the superior speed and range of the Panzers in the field. Even so, this development was much to the chagrin of the newly-appointed Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, Heinz Guderian, who became frustrated by the diversion of funding away from the Panzerwaffe in the face of Germany’s worsening war economy.
Nevertheless, the Kampfläufer I had proven its worth and work continued on correcting the Ausf. A2’s teething problems and streamlining its production process. The Ausf. A2’s mechanical unreliability was rectified in the Ausf. B and C versions, neither of which were prone to engine breakdowns nor autoloader jams like their predecessor model.
The Ausf. B version was introduced in April 1943, featuring an upgraded armament in the form of the longer-barreled 7,5cm KlK 40 L/48; its Panzer counterpart, the KwK 40, was also being mounted on the new Panzer IV Ausf. G versions at the same time. The KlK 40’s gun mounting was shifted forward in the turret, and its hydraulic recoil system was simplified. Intended for service with the Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK), the Kampfläufer I Ausf. B was fitted with Fiefel air filters to counteract the North African sand, but with the worsening situation for the Axis forces in Tunisia following the successful Allied landings during Operation Torch, the walkers had little opportunity to make any significant impact on the North African campaign.
The Ausf. C version of the Kampfläufer would not debut until late May 1943, after the surrender of Axis forces in North Africa. It was nearly identical to the DAK Ausf. B, save for some minor production simplifications to its armor panels around the legs and turret as well as the omission of the Feifel sand filters. This model would become the most-produced version of the Kampfläufer I up until the end of the war, by which time it was partially superseded by the heavier Kampfläufer II.
Field modifications of the Kampfläufer I Ausf. C were common, such as the “Stuka zu Fuss” assault variant which mounted twin Wurfrahmen 40 rocket launchers on its upper legs. These so-called “Sturmläufer” units sometimes had large identifying crosses or other insignia emblazoned on their turret roofs to aid the Luftwaffe in distinguishing friend from foe at the frontlines.
The reliable anti-tank capability of the 7,5cm KlK 40 L/48 gun combined with the devastating anti-fortification properties of the Wurfrahmen 40’s 300mm rockets made the “Stuka zu Fuss” version of the Ausf. C popular among the German infantry as an effective fire support weapons platform, though the high complexity and cost of walkers in general made all Läufers an increasingly rare sight as the war dragged on.
Building Instructions for this model can be found here
(Story by Dean)