The SdKfz 222 (Leichter Panzerspähwagens) is the modernized version of the SdKfz 221, created for when the needs of the army evolved and required a better design. The hull shape and internal structure were rearranged. There was a step down behind the turret – which was larger and 10 sided – and the rear was now pyramid-like. It was longer and since heavier weapons were to be installed, the chassis had to be strengthened. It was rebuilt from scratch and had no relationship with the former commercial chassis. Production started in 1936 until 1943 and was quite numerous with no less than 1,800 vehicles in seven series produced.
Besides the standard MG34 machine-gun, the main improvement was the lightweight Rheinmetall 20mm autocannon, the weapon of choice for German armoured scout vehicles. The 20mm and the MG34 were coaxial and were protected by a two-piece anti-grenade mesh. The 20mm KwK 30 gun was fully automatic and was later replaced by the KwK 38, which had a better rate of fire.
Since the chassis was more robust, the protection increased and a more efficient engine was used. The effectiveness of the vehicle also improved despite some limitations in off-road capabilities. The 222 was introduced in 1938 and quickly became the main German armoured scout car largely distributed to Aufklärung Abteilungs (recce squadrons) of SS units, Panzer Divisions and Motorized Infantry Divisions. There were a few in Poland, but more largely represented during the Western campaign and in France. On a good road network, they excelled and were seen many times by Allied soldiers and officers, to their astonishment well beyond the supposed frontline. This created panic and havoc thanks to their speed and devastating main gun. The crews soon grew to like this vehicle although it was somewhat cramped.
These machines excelled in the Balkans in 1941, but in North Africa, although the Afrika Korps received lots of them, there were complaints about their lack of effective range due to the limited volume of their fuel tanks. Many additional jerrycans were carried, fitted everywhere on the hull and mudguards. The hull itself received additional storage boxes, which also acted like extra armour. In most cases an additional rack was fitted to the nose, receiving five more jerrycans. As the war evolved these were gradually removed from the front line and replaced by the SdKfz 250/9 half-track, especially in Russia because of their better range and off-road performance. A handful (something like 40 to 60) was also sold to the Republic of China in 1939. In many cases, some 222s were seen bringing their firepower to assist infantry on the spot as they excelled against infantry and light vehicles. However, it was vulnerable to the Russian PTRS-41 rifle. Some managed to survive until 1945, transferred to police operations and anti-partisan warfare in occupied territories.
The SdKfz 223 (Panzerspähwagen (Fu)) was the radio version based on the 222, but for stability and practical reasons their large turret was removed and replaced by surplus lighter 221 turrets which were also shifted backwards. Their trademark was a large fixed four feet bed-frame aerial antenna and they combined long and medium range sets of radios. The 223 was produced to an extent of 550 machines from 1935 to January 1944. Despite having the same problems of limited all-terrain performance and range, they served on every front until 1945 with Aufsklärung squadrons. A normal provision was one 223 for three 222s.