German Bundeswehr Ambulance
Photos by Georg W. Schramm ©1995
UNIMOG - A German Legend
By Georg Wolfgang Schramm, Schwabach, Germany (c)1995
UNIMOG is a name that stands alone for one of the best light truck families ever made. UNIMOGs are in military and civilian service all over the world; over 298,779 were produced from 1948 through 1993.
Who would have ever guessed that the UNIMOG is something like an unintentional son of Henry Morgenthau? In 1944 he proposed to transform postwar Germany into an agrarian state. Beginning in 1945 many industrial plants, if not destroyed or bombed, were dismantled and packed into railroad cars for shipment abroad to places such as Russia, the United Kingdom or France.
Faced with that situation Albert Friedrich (former chief engineer of Daimler-Benz's aircraft engine research division) started in December 1945, developing a highly specialized vehicle for agriculture. His concept was for a four-wheel drive, self locking differentials, high ground clearance (by rigid portal axles), with power take offs at the front and rear, a small loading platform, a driver's cab for two people, extremely low speed for working in the fields, and with highway capability for up to 50 km/h (30 mph). The project started in a factory at Schwäbisch Gmünd, in southern Germany, in the Gold und Silberfabrik Erhand & Söhne. The company had never before been involved in making vehicles or tractors.
Photo: Mercedes-Benz Museum.
Seven months later the first prototype, equipped with a 4-cylinder, 1.7 liter (103 cu. in.) gasoline engine was complete. Still lacking in 1946 was a good quality diesel engine and the name for this new vehicle, which was neither a truck or a tractor. The name problem was soon solved by Hans Zabel, an engineer with the firm. He created an acronym from the name: UNIversal-MOtorGerät (universal-power-unit) or UNIMOG.
The first UNIMOG saw intensive testing in 1947 and the results confirmed the concept. In 1948 a diesel engine became available, the 25 hp Daimler-Benz OM 636, which was also used in their 170D car. That same year the UNIMOG was shown at Frankfurt/Main for the first time. As a result of the show there was great enthusiasm which resulted in production plans. The UNIMOG team now searched for a new plant. In the autumn of 1948 they moved to the Werkzeugmaschinenfabrik Boehringer factory which became the new manufacturing plant for UNIMOG. In the following two years about 600 UNIMOGs (U 25) were produced. In 1951 Daimler-Benz (DB) started showing interest and the UNIMOG plant moved again to Gaggenau, where there is still the UNIMOG production line today. In May 1953 UNIMOG received the famous Mercedes star.
The first U 25 UNIMOG (wheel base 1720 mm (67 in.)) was already successful: it operated at speeds between 0.5 km/h (0.03 mph) in the lowest gear up to 52 km/h (32 mph) in high gear. It had an empty weight of 1780 kg (3924 lbs.) and maximum of 3150 kg (6944 lbs.) Not only were farmers and forestry workers fans of the UNIMOG, but the French army occupation forces in southwestern Germany ordered the first military UNIMOGs. In 1950-51 they purchased 400 of the model U 25.
The U 25s designation changed in 1953 to the U 401/402, depending on whether it was a short or long wheel base model. In 1956 the last 25 hp UNIMOG was delivered. Total production of this model numbered 16,250. It was followed by a similar looking model 411, available in 1720 mm (67 in.) wheel base and, from 1958, a 2120 mm (83.5 in.) wheel base. The U 411 was initially supplied with a 30 hp engine which was increased to 32 hp in 1959. From 1966 until the end of the U 411s production in 1974 they had a 34 hp diesel engine. In all, a total of 39,000 U 411 vehicles were made, some with a soft top and others with a steel cab. The German Bundeswehr also ordered some of them for use in their Gebirgsjäger (mountain troops) units.
UNIMOGs career as a military vehicle actually started in 1955 when Western Germany again became a sovereign country and a member of NATO. It was at this time that the new German Army, the Bundeswehr was created. Before its conception and the first 1000 volunteers had entered military service, in January 1956, Daimler-Benz had demonstrated another UNIMOG. It was the 1-1/2 ton U 404 or UNIMOG-S with a 2900 mm (114 in.) wheel base, 82 hp, 6-cylinder gasoline engine (2.2 liter (134 cu. in.)) from the Daimler Benz's 220 car, and a 24 volt electrical system. Due to its portal axles the 404 had a ground clearance of 40 cm (15.7 in.), much more than the Dodge M 37. Speed ranged from 1.5 km/h up to 95 km/h (0.9 mph to 59 mph). Unofficially some of them ran at speeds up to 110 km/h (68 mph). The fuel consumption was legendary. Although the official figure says 18.5 liters per 100 kms (12.7 mpg US/ 15.3 mpg Imp.), some UNIMOGs required 60 liters or slightly more per 100 kms (3.92 mpg US/ 4.7 mpg Imp.) The fuel specification called for regular gasoline with a minimum octane rating of 80. No problem for the army, but it is for a military vehicle collector. In Germany you now have to pay approximately $1.00 US or 1.70 DM, sometimes more, for 1 liter of leaded fuel! Like the Willys Jeep the UNIMOG has a unique engine sound! Once heard, you will never forget it. Cross country the UNIMOG is unbeatable with its portal axles, front and rear differential locks, 6 forward, 2 reverse gears, and an angle of departure of 46 degrees. It is nearly impossible to roll a UNIMOG. Perhaps the only real problem was limited access for maintenance of the engine and gearbox. There was only a small hood provided and no pop-up cab as newer cars and trucks and UNIMOGs have. You need hands and arms made of rubber.
Up to this point there had been three variations of the UNIMOG S built. The 404 (open cab with folding canvas), the 404.1 (closed metal cab) and later the 404.0 (closed metal cab first launched in 1963 as the 406 model). The first orders came from France again, when they ordered 1,100 U 404 UNIMOGs. Another 36,000 saw intensive service with the Bundeswehr. There was one cargo version, empty weight 2900 kg (6393 lbs.), maximum weight 4400 kg (9700 lbs.). Some of these were equipped with a special five seat cab and mostly used for driver school tasks. There was also a standardized house-type van available (Kofferaufbau, or Koffer for short) that could be configured as an ambulance, a communications or a maintenance van. An additional modification of model 404.1 was configured for a fire-fighting vehicle (Feuerlösch-Kfz 750 kg Pulver) for the army aviation branch (Heeresflieger) and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe). In the Bundeswehr years the U 404 power train and bodies were also used in a training role as dummy tanks. The Kässbohrer company at Ulm/Donau manufactured an APC version of the UNIMOG between the years 1956 and 1960. This APC was similar to the German HS 30. They also manufactured a Main Battle Tank (MBT) version, similar to the Soviet T-54 tank. Both vehicles had moving turrets and radio sets. The soldiers nicknamed them the Neckermann-Panzer, an allusion to a German mail order house which offered very low priced articles. This nickname came about due to the fact that the Bundeswehr did not have enough tanks in the early days, so they had to use low priced dummies. At that time each standard UNIMOG sold for 18,000 DMs which then was the equivalent of $4,500 US dollars.
Many U 404.1 models in the 1950/60s were also delivered to Germany's civil defense units (Luftschutz-Hilfsdienst (LSHD) or later Zs) configured as high mobile fire / NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) fighting vehicles. These included the Vorauslöschfahrzeug (VLF) with 6 men and 330 liters (87 US gal./ 73 Imp. gal.) of water, the Tanklöschfahrzeug 8 (TLF 8) with 3 men and 800 liters (211 US gal./ 176 Imp. gal.) water and a similar looking decontamination NBC-Reconnaissance variation Entgiftungsfahrzeug (EF) and Vorausentgiftungsfahrzeug (VEF). When they were first delivered they had the typical khaki-brown paint. Many survivors of these early units are still in service with regular fire brigades and are painted red.
In the mid 1960s the Bundeswehr started to produce a new generation of highly mobile vehicles. These plans were abruptly stopped in 1973 due to budget cuts. Many UNIMOG-S models, mostly cargo vehicles, were replaced by a commercial 2 ton, 4x2 truck such as the Mercedes-Benz L 508 D. These were partially militarized or "tmil" (24 volt systems, rifle holders, tie down points, OD-paint etc.). Another sequence of budget cuts caused the standardization of shelters instead of the fixed Kofferaufbauten. At that time DAF in Holland and Daimler-Benz tried to design a common 2 ton truck with a diesel engine. The project however failed.
Up to 1971 Daimler-Benz had built more than 171,000 UNIMOGs of all types. In the mid-seventies the company launched the big UNIMOGs, the 424, 425 and 435 series. When the Bundeswehr showed interest in as new 2 ton 4x4 truck, Daimler-Benz offered their U 1300 L (L for long wheel base). Larger and more powerful than the U 404; it had a liquid cooled, 6-cylinder, 130 hp, OM 352 diesel engine, 8 forward and 8 reverse transmission, 3250 mm (128 in.) wheel base, 440 mm (17.3 in.) ground clearance at the portal axles, differential locks, 46 degree angle of approach, empty weight 5250 kg (11,574 lbs.), maximum loaded weight 7500 kg (16,534 lbs.), and a steel cab.
Almost based completely on the commercial version, the new military UNIMOG would be the new UNIMOG! Then Magirus-Deutz offered an alternative. In less than two years the IVECO group (Magirus-Deutz, Saviem, Volvo and DAF) developed their model 130 M 7 FAL, also based on civilian components. Equipped with a 6-cylinder air cooled diesel engine, 2900 mm (114 in.) wheel base, 485 mm (19.1 in.) ground clearance (at axles) with a maximum weight of 7700 kg (16,975 lbs.) the vehicle was the UNIMOGs equal. In July 1975 the first evaluation program started and took 13 months to complete. Both trucks had to be improved and returned in February 1977 to the Bundeswehr's proving ground. The second evaluation was finished in August 1977. Both trucks were estimated to be equal. The only negative point registered against the 130 M 7 FALs evaluation was the fact that entering the UNIMOGs cab was said to be more comfortable! It appeared that Magrius was going to win the contract when Daimler-Benz dramatically reduced the UNIMOG's price from 56,700 DM ($33,353 US) to 43,500 DM ($25,588 US). Magrius/IVECO could not compete. In December 1977 the Bundeswehr ordered the new 2 ton trucks at Gaggenau, named Lkw 2t tmil gl(W), Typ U 1300 L.
Beginning in August 1978 Daimler-Benz delivered 17,000 cargo versions - also some models called Pioniergerätesatz 2, a variant for engineers with a 45 meter winch cable (W), various tool kits and a 220 volt, 4000 watt generator set. Delivery of these vehicles started in May, 1983 and they were designated for use in engineering companies, 1 each, and armored engineering companies, 2 each. Another 3,000 ambulances with van body and about 100 fire-fighting (Feuerlösch-Kfz 1000) vehicles for GAF and army aviation were part of this order.
Some of the smaller U 406 versions were bought for the Luftwaffe as aircraft towing tractors. The army (Heer) and navy (Marine) ordered, for their engineeringh units, some U 421 dump trucks and U 900s with excavators.
Many other variations of the UNIMOG family are in worldwide use in military service in countries such as Argentina, Australia, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands etc. The 7th US Army also had, in 1990, some UNIMOG models (U 600/406) in use. These were equipped with a front end loader and a small excavator on the cargo bed. UNIMOG power train bodies have also been used in light APCs as the Rheinstahl UR 416. Over 400 of these were built for customers in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.
The newest versions of the UNIMOG family are the light/medium types U 90/110/140, introduced in 1992. Heavily modified, they have the typical new front cab which makes for better visibility with front-mounted equipment. They have transmissions with up to 22 forward and 11 reverse gears and are equipped with an automatic braking system. Their speed ranges from 360 meters/hour (393 yds./hr.) up to 106 km/h (66 mph). They have a grade ascending ability at maximum of 100 percent and fording depth without equipment of 80 cm (31.5 in.) Nearly 30% of all UNIMOGs produced today are light/medium types.
TECHNICAL DATA (CARGO TYPES):
This article appeared in Army Motors magazine,
Issue #70, January 1995, a publication of the
Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA)
P.O. Box 520378
Independence, MO 64052
Tel 800-365-5798, or 816-737-5111