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WW2 German Panzer III

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. E (Sd.Kfz. 141)

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1939)
Medium Tank – 96 built

Following the completion of the first four Panzer III series, it was realized that they left much room for improvements and changes. The next version in line was the Panzer III Ausf. E, which introduced a number of improvements, like a necessary increase in armor protection. More importantly, it finally solved the significant issues with the problematic suspensions from the previous versions with the introduction of a simple torsion bar suspension design. The most important legacy of this vehicle was that it set the production standard for all later Panzer III versions to come. The Panzer III Ausf. E would prove itself as a good overall design for its day.

Panzer III

The Panzer III Ausf. E. Source: warspot.ru

History

In March 1936, Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) issued an Entwicklung von Panzerkampfwagen (development of tanks) document, in which it described a possible further development and use of tanks. A great deal of it was dedicated to armor protection. At that time, the German Army had imposed a weight limit for its tanks, so that they were able to cross bridges without collapsing them. In the case of the Panzer III series, it was limited to 18 tonnes. This regulation, together with other factors (number of crewmen, armament, power output of the engine, etcetera) actually limited the effective armor thickness of the vehicles. Most German tanks were thus mostly lightly armored, as armor was intended to provide protection against small caliber rounds only. The new document put great emphasis on the fact that weapons like the French 25 mm rapid fire anti-tank gun could destroy the lightly armored German tanks without a problem.

The development of the Z.W.4 (Zugführerwagen, platoon commander’s vehicle, also marked sometime as Z.W.38), better known simply as the Panzer III Ausf. E, incorporated a number of suggestions from this document. The armor thickness was increased to 30 mm, providing better overall protection. It also incorporated some highly advanced features advocated by the chief engineer of Wa Prw 6, Kniepkamp. He intended to increase the maximum speed of the Panzer III to a staggering 70 km/h! This would be done by replacing the engine with a more powerful model, introducing a new 10-gear semi-automatic transmission and replacing the previously used complicated 8 small road wheel suspension with a torsion type. The larger wheels were chosen as they had a longer service life than smaller models. The use of lubricating tracks with rubber pads was also suggested. After some consideration, the problems with the quick wear of the suspension at speeds of 70 km/h was deemed unfeasible and the idea rejected. The maximum speed was limited to 40 km/h and the lubricated tracks were replaced with normal cast tracks.

Production

Production orders for 96 Panzer III Ausf. E tanks would be placed by the Heeres Waffenamt. It was planned to complete the first vehicle in May 1938 and the last by September the same year. To fulfil the production quota and in order to include other manufactures into direct tank production, Daimler-Benz and M.A.N. Werk Nuernberg were included. Daimler-Benz was to build 41 (chassis number 60401 to 60441) and M.A.N the remaining 55 (chassis number 60442 to 60496) chassis.

As the German industry slowly began increasing production capabilities, these two simply could not produce all necessary parts. For this reason, the production of 90 turrets was given to Alkett and 6 more to Krupp. Many smaller subcontractors, including Werk Hannover, Eisen und Huettenwerk AG, Bochum, and several others, were also involved in the Panzer III project and were responsible for providing armor components. The engine was supplied by Maybach and the main armament by Rheinmetall.

Panzer III Ausf. E production
Despite the general misconception of a well developed German war industry, in the year prior to the war, it actually struggled to meet the designated production quota set by the Army. This was also the case of the Panzer III Ausf. E, of which the 96 ordered had to be completed by September 1938. The last vehicle was actually completed by the end of 1939. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Despite the plan to finish the production of the Ausf. E by September 1938, the actual first vehicles were completed by the end of 1938. The Daimler-Benz production run was delayed due to slow deliveries of necessary parts and components. By December 1938, only 9 vehicles were completed. An additional 9 were built in January 1939, 7 in February and only 2 in March. A short delay accrued due to shortages of transmissions. The production resumed in May, with the last vehicles being completed by July 1939. Production at M.A.N. was only fully completed by the end of 1939. Once the hulls were built, they would then be transported to Alkett to be fully assembled with their turrets. When Alkett actually completed these vehicles is unknown, as the documentation did not survive the war.

Hull

The Panzer III hull can be divided into three major sections. These were the forward-mounted transmission, central crew compartment and rear engine compartment. The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. The two square-shaped, two-part hatch brake inspection doors located on the front hull were still present on this version. The difference is that they now opened horizontally, in contrast to earlier versions, where they opened vertically. The two bolted square-shaped plates that were previously added on the front transmission armor were removed. Another change introduced was a significantly shorter hull length, at 5.38 m, while the older vehicles were 5.9 m long. Lastly, there were four towing couplings, with two placed in the front and two at the rear of the hull. The front hull also served as a base for the spare track links that were mounted on it. Some vehicles would receive armored ventilation ports for the steering brakes. These would be placed in the front glacis armor plate.

Panzer III Ausf E with hatches open
The forward hull hatches are opened on this vehicle. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
Panzer III Ausf E tank
The front superstructure was often used to store space track links. Initially, these would be attached in a loose arc-shaped configuration. Later, this would be replaced by a metal bar that served to hold the space tracks. Source: P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two
Panzer III hatch
The Panzer III Ausf. E’s two revised small doors placed on hull sides. Source: Walter J. Spielberger Panzer III and its Variants

Unlike the larger Panzer IV, the Panzer III was not provided with driver and radio operator top hatches. These two crew members could instead use the front two-part brake inspection doors to enter or exit the vehicle. The Panzer III Ausf. E also received two small emergency escape doors placed on the hull sides, just behind the first return roller.

Superstructure

On top of the Panzer III Ausf. E hull, a fully enclosed and square-shaped superstructure was added. The superstructure had a very simple design, with mostly flat armored sides which were welded together, and bolted down to the hull. The position of the left driver visor and the machine ball mount next to it were unchanged. These were replaced with newer and improved models. In the case of the machine gun ball mount, this was the Kugelblende 30. The driver vision port was replaced with a Fahrersehklappe 30 model. This model consisted of two horizontal 30 mm thick plates. The upper plate could be raised, so that the driver had a direct vision, or lowered during combat situations. To further improve driver survivability, a 90 mm thick armored glass block was placed behind it. When the visor was closed, the driver would use a K.F.F.1 binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. This periscope had a 1.15 x magnification and a field of vision of 50°. The driver vision port was not completely waterproof and so a rain channel cover was placed atop of it during the production run.

The driver also had one smaller vision port (Sehklappe 30) placed on the left side of the superstructure. It was provided with a small 8 mm wide visor slit. It too had a 90 mm thick armored glass block for extra protection. Initially, the radio operator was not provided with a side vision port. During production, however, it would be added on some vehicles. Its design was the same as that of the driver’s side port

sssmachine gun ball mount remained the same likessssss
The positions of the driver’s vision ports, and the machine gun ball mount remained the same like on the previous versions. The difference was that newer versions were used, which offered better protection. Source: warspot.ru
Panzer 3 Ausf E tank
This particular vehicle also had the radio operator side vision port (located on the right superstructure side), which was not placed on all Ausf. E vehicles. Source: www.panzernet.net

Turret

The Panzer III Ausf. E turret inherited the overall design from the previous versions, but there were still some modifications implemented on the Ausf. E. Firstly, the top turret plate was at a slightly different angle. The forward top plate was placed at 83° instead of the 81° used on the previous models. The rear top plate was completely flat now. Previously, it was placed at 91° from the vertical.

The gun mantlet also received some modifications, with added protective covers for the twin machine gun mount. The two mantlet observation hatches, located above the twin machine guns and to the left of the main gun, were slightly redesigned. The turret was also built using mostly welding and thus reducing the number of bolts used extensively on the previous versions.

Each of the turret sides received new pyramid-shaped observation vision ports. While the right visor port had an 8 mm wide slit, the left port did not have one. The visor ports were 30 mm thick and further protected by a 90 mm armored glass block. To the back, the simple one-piece doors were replaced by new two-piece doors. The forward door had an observation port, while the second door had a small pistol port. These doors could be locked in place with a gap of some 30 mm to provide the crew with additional ventilation. Above the doors, a rain drain guard was placed, which prevented rain weather from getting into the turret’s interior. In addition, the two square-shaped machine gun ports, located to the rear of the turret, were also replaced with new round-shaped covers.

The Panzer III Ausf. E, beside thicker armor
The Panzer III Ausf. E, beside thicker armor, also incorporated a number of improvements. The vision port and the machine gun ports were replaced. New two-piece crew doors were added to the sides. Source: warspot.ru

The Panzer III Ausf. E commander’s cupola was bolted to the rear of the turret top. It had five vision slits, protected with sliding blocks. For extra protection, behind each vision slit, an armored glass block was added. The commander was also provided with a direction indicator placed on the front vision slit, and a graduated ring with markings from 1 to 12 to help him identify the direction in which the vehicle was going.

On top of the turret, two round shaped signal ports, just in front of the commander cupola, were placed. The left one was initially provided with a fake periscope cover, but this was quickly dropped during production. The signal ports were not completely closed. Instead, they had a 3 mm wide gap left in order to act as auxiliary ventilation ports for the turret crew. The main purpose of these signal ports (as their name suggests) was to be used by the commander to communicate or give order to other vehicles by using signal flags.

bogged down Panzer III
This bogged down Panzer III offers a good view of the turret top. Note the two round shaped signal ports, just in front of the cupola. Some vehicles (like the one in the previous picture) had a fake periscope cover placed on the left signal port, but its use was discarded rather quickly. Source: panzernet.net

From late 1940 onwards, most Panzer IIIs received an additional and properly dedicated ventilation port placed on top of the turret. It was protected by a round shaped cover. Another addition to the turret was the rear positioned storage bin, which was added on most Panzer IIIs from April 1941 onwards.

Panzer III Ausf. Es received the storage bin placed at the turret rear
While rare, a number of Panzer III Ausf. Es received the storage bin placed at the turret rear. Source: H. Scheibert Panzer III

Suspension and Running Gear

The Panzer III Ausf. E suspension consisted of six doubled road wheels on each side. These were suspended using a combination of individual swing axles together with torsion bars which were placed in the hull bottom. The upper movement of each wheel’s swing arm was limited by contact blocks covered in rubber. Additionally, the first and the last wheels were equipped with a hydraulic shock absorber. At the front, there was a 360 mm wide 21 tooth drive sprocket. On the back of the hull was the idler with adjustable crank arm. The number of return rolles was three per side.

The cast tracks were 380 mm wide. To help prevent the tracks from accidentally falling off, a 80 mm long cast tooth was placed in the middle of the track link. In order to improve passability on bad terrain, each track link had a gripper bar. There were some issues with how quick the rubber tires on the road wheels wore down when the driver was using 9th and 10th gears. To prevent this, the drivers were instructed to avoid driving above 40 km/h.

Suspension and Running Gear
A close up view of the Panzer III’s suspension (note this is a later Ausf. G, but the basic design was the same). The front and the rear road wheels were provided with shock absorbers. The torsion bar, while not perfect, was a great improvement from the previous versions. It was relatively easy to build, required less maintenance and provided a smooth drive. Source: warspot.ru
Panzer III’s suspension arrangement
Illustration of the Panzer III’s suspension arrangement. Source: warspot.ru

By the end of 1940, a number of improvements were introduced to Panzer III production. These included adding extra armor and better armament. To cope with the extra weight and prevent the loss of driving performance, the track was widened to 400 mm.

Engine

The Panzer III Ausf. E’s engine was placed at the rear of the hull, and was separated by a firewall from the central crew compartment. The firewall had a small door. Its purpose was to provide the crew member with access to the engine if needed.

To cope with the increase in weight (from 16 tonnes on the Ausf. D to 19.5 tonnes), a new, stronger engine was installed. This was a twelve-cylinder, water-cooled Maybach HL 120 TR which produced 265 [email protected] 2800 rpm. The engine was held in place by three rubber bushings. With this power unit, the Panzer III Ausf. E’s maximum speed was increased to 40 km/h, while the cross-country speed was 15 km/h. The fuel load of 310 liters was stored in two fuel tanks placed below the radiators in the engine compartment. With this fuel load, the Panzer III Ausf. E’s operational range was 165 km and 95 km cross-country. To avoid any accidental fires, these fuel tanks were protected by firewalls.

The engine compartment was protected by an enclosed superstructure. On top of this compartment, two two-part hatch doors for access to the engine were added. Further back, two smaller doors were added to provide the crew access to the fan drives. The air intakes were repositioned to the engine compartment sides and were protected with armor plates. A new type of exhaust was used on the Ausf. E.

The enclosed engine compartment had four hatch doors
The enclosed engine compartment had four hatch doors to provide the crew with easy access to the engine itself. Air intakes were repositioned to the engine compartment sides, which are also visible here. Source: Walter J. Spielberger Panzer III and its Variants

The engine was started by an auxiliary electric motor starter. The power to this electrical starter was provided by two 12 volt Varta batteries which were in turn powered by a 12 volt Bosch generator. Some vehicles received improved starters that helped start the engine somewhat easier during early 1941.

Transmission

The Panzer III Ausf. E was equipped with the ten-speed (and one reverse) Maybach Variotex SRG 32 8 145 semi-automatic transmission. The transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism used on the Panzer III was bolted to the hull. It was connected to the two final drives that were themselves bolted to the outside of the hull.

The Germans were a little carried away when they intended to use semi-automatic transmission in the hope of reaching speeds of up to 70 km/h. The semi-automatic transmission required frequent changes of the gears during driving. To change the gears, the driver first had to select one in advance and then the gear was actually changed once he pressed the clutch pedal. The frequent changing of the gears created friction that was passed on to the clutches. To prevent this, the inertia moment of the rotating parts had to be kept small. Using smaller, somewhat unproven and not properly tested transmissions caused significant mechanical breakdowns. To somewhat resolve this issue, an accelerator clutch would be installed. The problem still remained and the transmission would eventually be replaced with the older and properly tested SSG 76 on the Panzer III Ausf. H version.

Armor Protection

The hull front armor was 30 mm thick, placed at a 21° angle. The upper hull front was 30 mm at 52°, while the lower front hull armor was 25 mm and placed at 75°. The glacis armor was 25 mm thick and placed at 87°. The flat side armor was 30 mm thick, the rear was 20 mm (at a 10° to 65° angle) and the bottom 16 mm. The Panzer III Ausf. E front armored plates were actually face-hardened, further increasing their protection against certain types of shells.

All-around, the superstructure armor was 30 mm thick. While the sides and rear were flat, the front plate placed almost vertical, at a 9° angle. The top armor plate was 16 mm thick. The rear engine compartment was protected with flat 30 mm side armor, while the rear one was placed at 30° and was slightly weaker, at 20 mm.
The front turret armor was 30 mm (at a 15° angle), while the sides and rear were 30 mm (at a 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at an 83-90° angle). The front gun mantlet was a 30 mm thick rounded armor plate. The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor. The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous rolled plates.

When the Germans were examining the proper armor thickness needed for the new Panzer III Ausf. E, they mainly focused on the French 25 mm quick firing anti-tank gun. They eventually decided that 30 mm of armor should be up to the task. The frontal armor plate was strong enough to resist the 25 mm rounds at ranges of over 500 mm at 30°.

The Panzer III Ausf. E was also equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system), placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer III’s commander.

five smoke grenade rack system
This vehicle is equipped with the five smoke grenade rack system, located on the right side of the engine at the rear of the tank. Source: warspot.ru

At the end of 1940, most available Panzer IIIs, including the Ausf. E, were reinforced with additional 30 mm face hardened plates. These were added to the front hull and superstructure but also to the rear. It is worth mentioning that not all Panzer III actually received the extra protection, for various reasons, but mostly due to the slow production of necessary components.

Crew

The Panzer III Ausf. E had the same crew of five, which included the commander, gunner and loader, who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull. Their positions and their duties were the same as from the previous (but also future) versions.

The Panzer III had a crew of five
The Panzer III had a crew of five. While this became the standard configuration of German tanks from the Panzer III onwards, Allies tanks at that time employed fewer than 4 crew members and, in some cases, even two. This provided the Germans with a huge tactical advantage in combat during the first half of the war. Source: warspot.ru
crew positions inside a Panzer III
An illustration of the crew positions inside a Panzer III. Source: S. J. Zaloga Panzer III vs. Somua S 35

Main Armament

The armament configuration of the Panzer III Ausf. E was unchanged from the previous versions. It consists of one MG 34 machine gun mounted in the superstructure and a combination of the 3.7 cm Kw.K. L/46.5 and two additional machine guns in the turret. The Panzer III’s main gun was equipped with a TZF5 ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. One change implemented was the repositioning of the left turret-mounted machine gun, which slightly protruded out. This was done to give the crew more working space for replacing the drum magazines.

On the left side of the gun, there were two mechanical handwheels for elevation and traverse. The gunner could traverse the turret by using the traverse handwheel at a speed of 2.2° per turn. For more precise aiming, the handwheel speed could be reduced to 1.5° per turn. The elevation speed by using the elevation handwheel was 2.5° per turn. On the right side of the turret was a second handwheel to allow the loader to assist with turret traverse.

In February 1940, the Panzer III’s were supplied with the 3.7 cm Spenggranatepartone 18 (high explosive round). In June 1940, a new Pzgr.Patr 40 (anti-armor tungsten core round) started to be issued for troop use.

The new superstructure Kugelblende 30 ball mounted machine gun, which was operated by the radio operator, consisted of two parts. The movable armor ball to which the machine gun was attached, and the external and fixed armor cover. This new type of ball mount offered a traverse left and right of 15°. It could be elevated to 20° and depressed to 15°. For spotting targets, a telescopic sight with an elevation of 18° and 1.8 x magnification was provided to it. While, initially, drum magazines were used for the machine guns, these would be replaced with belts from June 1940 onwards.

Kugelblende 30
Close up view of the Kugelblende 30. Source: P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two

During the Panzer III’s early stages of development, the Germans were aware there was a possibility that the 3.7 cm gun may become obsolete. The lack of production capacities was the main reason for not installing a more potent gun from the start. This is the reason why they left the turret ring wide enough so that a larger caliber gun could be installed. In December 1940, the rearmament of the Panzer III Ausf. E (and all versions that followed it) with the 5 cm Kw.K L/42 semi-automatic gun began. With the new gun also came a new round-shaped and 35 mm thick gun external mantlet. Another change was the reduction of the number of machine guns in the turret to only one.

With the installation of the new gun, the ammunition load was reduced from the original 120 to 87 rounds (or 99, depending on the source). The removal of one machine gun led to the reduction of the machine gun ammunition carried inside to 3,750 rounds (from 4,500 previously). In addition to the new gun, new T.Z.F.5d gun sights were used. This sight had a magnification of 2.5x and a field view of 25°, which was 444 m wide at 1 km range. The gunsight reticle ranges were marked up to 1,500 m for the main gun and machine guns.

extra armor plates to the front and rear
After the conclusion of the Western campaign in June 1940, the German Army initiated a huge program intended to improve the Panzer III’s overall performance. This included adding extra armor plates to the front and rear, widening the suspension and replacing the 3.7 cm with a 5 cm gun which had a completely new gun mantlet. The Panzer III Ausf. E was also included in this program, but it is not clear how many were actually fully supplied with the previously mentioned modifications, as some later used in the Soviet Union still lacked them. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-2 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. E, F, G, H.

In Combat

As the Panzer III Ausf. E vehicles became available, they would be initially issued to training units. The first operational use, in limited numbers, was during the German annexation of Czechoslovak territories during March 1939.

Panzer III Ausf. E tank
Panzer III Ausf. E (to the left) next to three Panzer II’s during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Source: S. J. Zaloga Panzer III vs. Somua S 35

Prior to the Invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Germans had 148 Panzer III vehicles available (Ausf. A to E). Some 98 would be allocated for combat operations (only 87 of that number would actually be used in combat). The remaining were to be used as a reserve or given to training units. The majority of the committed Panzer III’s would be allocated to the 1st Panzer Division, which had only 26 such vehicles. The remaining vehicles were distributed to other armored units in limited numbers, but not to all. For example, the 4th Panzer Division did not have any Panzer III tanks. Only a small number of (probably not more than several vehicles) Panzer III Ausf. Es saw combat, with some not even managing to reach the front lines due to problems with their transmission.

A few Panzer III Ausf. Es saw engagement during the Polish campaign in 1939. Source:  W. Fleischner (2001) Panzerkampfwagen III Band 187, Podzun-Pallas-Verlag

By May 1940, the number of Panzer IIIs was increased to 349 vehicles which were distributed to seven Panzer Divisions. The disposition of Panzer III tanks was as follows. The 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions had 58 each, the 3rd 42, the 4th 40, the 5th 52, the 9th 41 and the 10th Panzer Division had 58 Panzer IIIs. By this time, the Panzer III Ausf. A to D were removed from front line service, as these were mainly given to training units.

The Panzer Divisions saw extensive combat operations against French armor. An example of this was the 4th Panzer Division which, with the 3rd Panzer Division, were part of the XVI Panzerkorps under the command of General Eric Hoeppner. The combined strength of these two divisions was over 670 tanks, with the majority being the Panzer I and II. Opposing them there was a force of 176 Somua S35 and 239 Hotchkiss tanks. In comparison to the Germans, the French redistributed their armor formation across the 35 km wide front. With this decision, they actually made any counterattack less likely to succeed in stopping the Germans.

During the drive toward the village of Hannut, the forward elements of the 4th Panzer Division, consisting of Panzer I and II tanks, managed to capture the village. The French made a counterattack with over 20 Hotchkiss tanks. While they managed to gain the upper hand against the Panzer II, once the Panzer IIIs arrived, the situation changed drastically in favor of the Germans. The French lost some 11 Hotchkiss tanks, most being credited to the Panzer IIIs, with some to the weaker Panzer II. Later that day, the German Panzers engaged a group of Somua S35 tanks. After losing four tanks, the French made another retreat. Eventually, with losses of some 160 tanks (the majority being the Panzer Is and IIs), the Germans broke through the French line, who lost 140 tanks and were forced to retreat. The Germans could recover many of their lost tanks and repair them, while the French were unable to do so. The Panzer IIIs were at a disadvantage against the larger B1 bis tanks. For example, during the battles around Sedan, a single B1 tank managed to destroy some 11 Panzer III tanks alone.

Panzer III Ausf. E
The Panzer III Ausf. E during the Western Campaign in 1940. Adding spare track links to the front or sides was a relatively common sight on German tanks. While it provided limited increases of protection at best, the German tank crews would continue with this practice throughout the war Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-2 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. E, F, G, H.

The combat experience in the West showed that, while the Panzer III were not protected against the French 47 mm gun, neither was their 3.7 cm gun effective. The Panzer III’s 3.7 cm gun was only effective against the Somua S35’s side armor from ranges of less than 200 m. Thanks to their speed, training, better tactics and use of radios, the German tanks could easily outmaneuver the enemy tanks and engage them from the more vulnerable rear and sides. The five-man crew proved to be superior in contrast to the French two to three crew tanks. In case of the Somua S35, the tank commander had to take several roles during the heat of battle, including loading and firing the gun, finding targets, and commanding the vehicle, overburdening him. On the other hand, in German vehicles, each crew member had a specific role to complete, which provided their tanks with a greater tactical advantage.

French Hotchkiss tank pierced likely by two 3.7 cm anti-tank rounds
A French Hotchkiss tank pierced likely by two 3.7 cm anti-tank rounds fired from Panzer III tanks. Source: S. J. Zaloga Panzer III vs. Somua S 35

After the French campaign, the Germans tried to amend some of the shortcomings identified with the Panzer III, especially regarding its armor and firepower. The Panzer III would be rearmed with the 5 cm L/42 gun and receive additional 30 mm of frontal and rear armor. This included the Panzer III Ausf. E, but despite best attempts, not all tanks were modified by mid-1941.

The Panzer III Ausf. E likely saw use during the German operations in the Balkans. The use of Panzer III Ausf. Es in Africa is not completely clear. At the start of German operations, for example, the 5th Panzer Regiment had 61 (10 lost during the transport) Panzer IIIs armed with 3.7 cm guns and the 8th Panzer Regiment had 31. It is possible that some of these were of the Ausf. E version.

A Panzer III Ausf. E from the 9th Panzer Division located in Bulgaria prior to the German invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. Source: Walter J. Spielberger, AFV Panzerkampfwagen III

For the invasion of the Soviet Union, there were 350 3.7 cm and 1,090 5 cm armed Panzer IIIs. By this time, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint the precise version of the Panzer III used, as the sources rarely mention them. The identification of the precise version is not always possible, as the Ausf. F looked exactly the same as the Ausf. E. Like in the previous campaigns, the Panzer III was the backbone of the German armored thrust. The German tanks were able to quickly overcome the older Soviets models, like the T-26 and the BT series. The T-34 and KV vehicles proved to be almost invulnerable to the German tank guns. Following the harsh German losses in the Soviet Union, its likely that only a small number of Panzer III Ausf. Es would have survived 1941.

A Panzer III Ausf. E somewhere in the East during 1941. This vehicle is still armed with the weaker 3.7 cm gun Source: H. Scheibert Panzer III
Panzer III Ausf. E was still vulnerable to enemy anti-tank fire
Despite the increased armor protection in comparison to previous versions, the Panzer III Ausf. E was still vulnerable to enemy anti-tank fire. Source: warspot.ru

Variants based on the Panzer III Ausf. E

Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. E

The Panzer III Ausf. E was used for the Panzerbefehlswagen (tank command vehicle) configuration. This included a number of modifications, some of which were reducing the armament to only one machine gun (located in the turret) and using a dummy main gun (to hide its main purpose as a command vehicle), fixing the turret in place, replacing the gunner and the loader with one more radio operator and a commander adjutant, adding additional radio equipment, and, probably most noticeably, adding a large antenna to the rear of the turret. In total, some 45 such vehicles would be built by Daimler-Benz. These are not converted or rebuilt vehicles but instead completely new built vehicles.

Panzerbefehlswagen
Panzerbefehlswagen based on the Panzer III Ausf. E. Source: WIki

Panzerbeobachtungswagen III

Very few Panzer III Ausf. Es were modified to perform the role of target spotters for self-propelled artillery batteries. These vehicles were modified by removing the main gun and replacing it with a new gun mantle that had a wooden dummy gun and a ball mount placed in the centre of it. Additional scissor and tubular periscopes were also added for the crew.

sssssssss
Of the less than 300 built Panzerbeobachtungswagen III, only limited numbers were based on the Ausf. E vehicles. Source: WIki

Conclusion

The Panzer III Ausf. E received a number of modifications and improvements in comparison to the previous versions. Most noticeable were the added armor and the use of the new type of suspension, which was simpler and more efficient. On the other hand, the new transmission was problematic and not properly tested. In the early stages of the war, despite the somewhat weaker main armament, thanks to its speed, crew training and radio equipment, the Panzer III Ausf. E could easily outflank its opponents. Perhaps the greatest success of the Panzer III Ausf. E was that it provided the Germans with a good base for further modifications and improvements of a vehicle that would become the backbone of the Panzer Divisions in the first years of World War Two.

Panzer III Ausf E North Africa
A Panzer III Ausf.E in service with the Afrika Korps.
Panzer III Ausf E Poland
A Panzer III Ausf.E during the Invasion of Poland, with the distinctive white cross.
Panzer II Ausf E France 1940
A Panzer III Ausf.E from the 13th Panzer Division in France.
Panzer III Ausf E Russia
A white-washed Panzer III Ausf.E during Russia in the winter of 1941.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.8 m x 2.91 m x 2.5 m
Total weight, battle-ready 19.5 tonnes
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120TR 285 HP @ 2800 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 40 km/h, 15 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 165 km, 95 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 3.7 cm KwK L/46.5
Secondary Armament Three 7.92 mm M.G.34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Armor 10 mm – 30 mm.

Source

T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No.3-4 Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D, E, H, J. und K.
W. Fleischner (2001) Panzerkampfwagen III Band 187, Podzun-Pallas-Verlag
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2011) Panzer Tracts No.3-5 Panzerkampfwagen Umbau
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2012) Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer production from 1933 to 1945
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2006) Panzer Tracts No.3-2 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. E, F, G, H.
P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions, The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-1940, Osprey publishing.
P. P. Battistelli (2006) Rommel’s Afrika Korps Osprey publishing.
D. Nešić, (2008) Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
H. Scheibert (1994) Panzer III, Schiffer Publishing
Walter J. Spielberger (2007) Panzer III and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
S. J. Zaloga (2014) Panzer III vs. Somua S 35 Osprey publishing
M. Harley (2008) The Campaigns in the West 1940, Ian Allan publishing
D. Doyle (2005) German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
G. Parada, S. Jablonski and W. hryniewicki, Panzer III Ausf.L/M. Kagero.
Walter J. Spielberger, AFV Panzerkampfwagen III, Profile Publications
B. Perret (1980) The Panzerkampfwagen III, Osprey Publishing

Categories
WW2 German Panzer IV

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. F

ww2 german tanks Germany (1941) – Medium Support Tank
471 plus 2 chassis
built

The Panzer IV Ausf. F was an important turning point for the whole further Panzer IV development for several reasons. Firstly, it reintroduced the single-piece straight front armor plate, which would become standard on all subsequent Panzer IV tanks. Secondly, it was the last version to be equipped with the short barreled 7.5 cm gun, after which the Germans decided to upgrade the vehicle with longer barreled guns for better anti-tank penetration. The Panzer IV Ausf. F was also supplied to the Hungarians in an attempt to rebuild their armored formations. Lastly, due to the large demands for more vehicles, the Panzer IV Ausf. F, would be also produced by Vomag and Nibelungenwerke beside Krupp-Grusonwerke, which was initially the only manufacturer of the Panzer IV.

The Panzer IV Ausf. F. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

History

By the time the Panzer IV Ausf. E was entering production, some deficiencies were noted for it and previous versions. The most noticeable was the relatively weak armor protection. While it was planned to provide the Ausf. E with 50 mm thick frontal armor, this was not implemented by the time of production. When the Ausf. F entered production in April 1941, it was possible to install the thicker, single-piece armor plates without the need to use two weaker armor plates like it was initially implemented on the previous version. Some structural changes on the superstructure and chassis were also to be implemented on the new Ausf. F. Other than these, the Ausf. F would serve the same purpose as a support tank. It would be allocated to Panzer Divisions as a replacement for the lost vehicles in the previous campaigns.

Production

At the end of 1938, In 6 (Inspektorat 6, the inspectorate for mechanization) issued a request for the production of 129 Panzer IV Ausf. F tanks, which were to be built by Krupp-Grusonwerke. The outbreak of the war in September 1939 changed the initial production plans. Due to the great need for more modern Panzer IVs, the initial order was increased to 500 vehicles in November 1939

In order to increase the production speed, other manufacturers were to be included in the Panzer IV project. These include Vomag and Nibelungenwerk, both of which were to produce 100 new Panzer IV Ausf. F vehicles starting from June 1940. Due to the anticipated invasion of the Soviet Union, these production orders were once again changed to include 300 additional vehicles which were to be assembled at Krupp-Grusonwerke.

The Panzer IV Ausf. F production lasted from April (or May, depending on the source) 1941 to February 1942. By that time, Krupp-Grusonwerke managed to produce 393 tanks plus two chassis which were used as ammunition vehicles for the large Karlgerät. Vomag made 65 and Nibelungenwerk was able to produce only 13 Panzer IV tanks. In total, some 471 Panzer IV Ausf. F plus the two chassis were built. The main reason why the production goal was not reached was the sudden decision to drop the use of the shorter gun and focus on the production of the longer 7.5 cm gun.

Specifications

While the Panzer IV Ausf. F represented a further development of the previous version, it incorporated a number of improvements.

The Engine

While the Panzer IV Ausf. F had the same engine as the previous version, it received a much shorter exhaust muffler. To its left, a small auxiliary engine muffler was added. The engine top cover was also completely redesigned, adding two large radiator ventilation grilles.

The engine compartment received a new top cover which included two radiator ventilation grilles. Source: K. Hjermstad Panzer IV
The Panzer IV Ausf. F received a small auxiliary engine muffler which was added to the left of the shorter exhaust muffler. The box with the Balkenkreuz to the left of the engine compartment is actually a smoke grenade rack system (Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung). Source: Source: P. Thomas Panzers at War 1939-45

The Hull

The hull received some minor modifications. One of these was the installation of armored covers for the ventilation vents on the hull frontal brake access hatches. In order to increase the operational range and to reduce the dependency on auxiliary fuel supply vehicles, after April 1941, Panzer IV Ausf. F (like all other Panzer IVs) tanks were equipped with a tow hitch and fuel trailers. These were primarily used during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union but proved to be more of a hindrance and their use after that generally declined.

The brake access hatches received armored covers for the ventilation vents. Source: Walter J. SpielbergerPanzer IV and its Variants
Due to the large size of the Soviet Union, in the hope of increasing the operational range and reducing the dependency on auxiliary fuel supply vehicles, the Germans provided the Panzer IV (note this is not an Ausf. F) with fuel trailers. Source: P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition
On many occasions in the German Army (and in other armies as well), the crews would make additional modifications to suit their needs. For example, they added extra storage boxes where equipment could be stored. This Panzer IV had an unusual front-mounted storage box. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The Superstructure

The Panzer IV Ausf. F’s superstructure reintroduced the completely straight front superstructure armor plate. The use of a single plate made the front armor stronger structurally, but also made production somewhat easier. This was not new, as it had been used on the Ausf. B and C versions, but had been discarded on the Ausf. D and Ausf. E versions. Other changes included the installation of the completely new and better machine gun ball-mount (Kugelblende 50). The driver visor port was replaced with a slightly thicker Fagrersehklappe 50 model.

The Panzer IV Ausf. F received a completely new ball mount for the machine gun and a thicker machine gun port cover. Source: warspot.ru

The Turret

The turret design on the Ausf. F received new two-part side doors taken from the Panzer III Ausf. E. The forward door had an observation port, while the second door had a small pistol port. The pistol and visor ports were also taken from the same Panzer III. The visor ports were 30 mm thick and further protected by a 90 mm armored glass block.

A side view of the Panzer IV Ausf. F, where the new two-part turret doors can be seen. Source: Pinterest
The difference in turret doors designs are quite obvious between the older (upper) and the newer (lower) version used on the Ausf. F. Source Walter J. SpielbergerPanzer IV and its Variants,

Suspension and Running Gear

The added armor protection and other changes lead to a slight increase in weight, from 22 to 22.3 tonnes. To prevent this from affecting the overall drive performance, some changes were implemented on the Panzer IV Ausf. F’s suspension. The tracks were widened to 40 mm, which necessitated the widening of the road wheels. The front-drive sprocket was slightly redesigned to be able to accommodate the wider tracks. The rear idler wheel was replaced with a new much simpler and easier to produce design.

While, visually, the Ausf. F suspension was the same as on the previous versions, there were a number of changes, such as wider tracks and a new rear idler. Source: warspot.ru
Difference between the older (left) and the new (right) idler design. The new idler was built using welded tubes. It was much simpler in construction, saving time and resources. Source Walter J. SpielbergerPanzer IV and its Variants

Armor Protection

The Polish and Western campaigns showed that the Panzer IV was not sufficiently protected. To resolve this issue, the Panzer IV Ausf. F was meant to have improved armor protection that would be able to frontally resist 3.7 cm anti-tank rounds. For this reason, the front hull, superstructure, and turret (including the gun mantlet) were reinforced. These were now 50 mm thick face hardened armor plates. In addition, the overall side armor was increased to 30 mm. During production, some vehicles received side armor plates that were also face-hardened.

The Panzer IV Ausf. F was also equipped with the smoke grenade rack system (Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung). This was discarded from use after 1942, being mostly replaced with a new one that was mounted on the turret sides. Some vehicles were equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the side of the vehicle. These served to protect the tank from Soviet anti-tank rifles.

Some Ausf. F tanks were equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates. These covered the turret and hull sides and their meaning was to provide protection against Soviet anti-tank rifle fire. Source: unknown

A number of vehicles were equipped with the 20 mm thick front-spaced armor (Vorpanzer). Its primary function was to provide protection from tungsten and hollow-charge rounds. The crews would often add whatever they had to the tank for protection. This usually consisted of various track types (taken from other German or even captured vehicles), spare wheels, etcetera, in the hope to increase the survivability of their vehicles.

A group of Ausf. F tanks with the added front-spaced armor. Source: warspot.ru
The crew of this vehicle added a huge number of track links on their vehicle. While most are Panzer IV track links, at least one (above the drive visor port) is from a Soviet T-34. Also note that the left turret Schürzen is missing. Source: Unknown

The Armament

The main armament was unchanged and consisted of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with 80 rounds of ammunition. The secondary armament consisted of two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns. The ammunition load for these two machine guns was stored in 21 belt sacks, each with 150 rounds (with 3,150 rounds in total).

The 7.5 cm gun could fire high-explosive, smoke or anti-tank rounds. Experience during the first years in the Soviet Union had shown that the 7.5 cm was not up to the task of effectively countering enemy tanks. As a quick solution, in December 1941, Adolf Hitler issued an order that the production of the 7.5 cm GrPatr 38 (shaped-charge round) should begin as soon as possible. While this ammunition was developed in 1940, its actual production began only in early 1942. The 7.5 cm Gr.Patr. 38 could penetrate 75 mm of armor regardless of the combat range. It had a low velocity of 450 m/s, which greatly affected its precision. Another issue was that, when hitting enemy tanks, the shaped-charge would not always penetrate the enemy armor, as it would sometimes simply bounce off. Later models would greatly improve the overall performance.

The armament from the previous version was unchanged. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

In Combat

Being produced after April 1941, the Panzer IV Ausf. F would mostly see action in the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, in North Africa. Some were used against the Yugoslav Partisans up to the war’s end.

In North Africa

In the North African theater of war, during 1941 and early 1942, the short-barreled Panzer IV would see service in small numbers. The more dominant German tank at that time was the Panzer III.
On 23rd August 1942, there were only 8 operational Panzer IVs available at El Alamein. There were initially 40 Panzer IVs in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) [Eng. German Africa Corps].

While the short-barreled Panzer IV were used by the Germans in North Africa, their actual numbers were quite limited. This Panzer IV Ausf. F was destroyed probably by an external ammunition explosion, probably caused by an enemy hit… Source: K. Hjermstad Panzer IV

In the Soviet Union

By the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was around 517 (or 531 according to some sources). Each Panzer Division possessed in their inventory, on average, around 30 such vehicles. Of these, some 70 were the Ausf. F version. Sadly, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the precise combat operations of individual Panzer IV versions, as the sources do not distinguish between the short barrel versions. Those Panzer IV Ausf. Fs that were produced after June 1941 were usually distributed to various Panzer Divisions in smaller numbers to supplement their losses.

The overall performance of the Panzer IV Ausf. F was not that much different from the previous versions. Its gun was sufficient (despite originally not being intended to) and was quite effective against the lightly armored BT and T-26 series. Against the KVs and T-34s, the Panzer IV had much lower chances of success. The stronger 50 mm frontal armor could provide good protection against the 45 mm Soviet guns, but the stronger 76 mm could effectively pierce it.

The harsh winter, poor mechanical condition and stiff Soviet resistance led to huge tank losses by the end of 1941. The 5th Panzer Division, for example, had some 20 Panzer IVs in December 1941. This number fell to 14 Panzer IVs by February 1942. While some would survive up to 1943, their numbers would be greatly reduced.

A column of German tanks, with a Panzer IV Ausf. F in the front, during the winter of 1941. Source: warspot.ru
A Panzer IV Ausf.F from the 5th Panzer Division somewhere in the Soviet Union. Source: K. Hjermstad Panzer IV

In the Balkans

The Axis forces defeated Yugoslavia in April of 1941. The territory of Yugoslavia was then divided between Germany and its Allies. Due to their harsh occupation policy, two resistance movements emerged to resist the invaders. To counter these movements and to secure their vital supply lines to Greece, the Germans had to send additional forces and even some armored vehicles. These were mostly obsolete or even captured vehicles. In 1944, a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. Fs were allocated to the 13th Reinforced Police Tank Company (Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie). These were used in fighting against the communist partisans up to the war’s end.

A column of armored vehicles belonging to the German 13th Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie. In the background, three captured Italian tank destroyers can be seen. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
A Panzer IV Ausf. F captured by the Yugoslav Partisans near the end of the war. Source: Vojna Knjižara

Other modifications

The Panzer IV Ausf. F was used for several different test projects. These went into two different directions, either using the whole vehicle but with a different armament, or using the chassis for various modifications.

Panzer IV Ausf. G (F2)

In an attempt to counter the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks, in early 1942, the Germans began to up-gun their Panzer IVs with longer L/43 guns. These provided much better armor penetration. The Panzer IV Ausf. F was used as the base for this modification. In order to distinguish them from the short barrel armed vehicles, these were initially marked as Ausf. F2. After July 1942, these were all renamed Ausf. G. Some sources also note that some 25 newly produced Panzer IV Ausf. F tanks were rearmed with the longer gun, replacing the shorter barrel guns.

The Panzer IV Ausf. G, which was initially based on the Ausf. F. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
A Panzer IV Ausf. F armed with the longer 7.5 cm gun, possibly used as a training vehicle. Source: P. Thomas Panzers at War 1939-45

Panzer IV Ausf. F mit Waffe 0725

The Germans were experimenting with increasing the firepower of the Panzer IV. One such experiment included the installation of the Waffe 0725. This was actually an experimental taper-bore gun with a 75/55 mm caliber firing a tungsten round. Due to a shortage of tungsten, this particular gun was never introduced into service.

The Panzer IV Ausf. F with a Waffe 0725 75/55 mm wooden mock-up. Source: warspot.ru

Panzerfähre

The Panzerfähre was a specially designed vehicle based on the Panzer IV Ausf. F chassis that was interned to transport German tanks over water. In theory, two Panzerfähre would be connected by a raft on which a tank or any other vehicle would be placed. Then, the two Panzerfähre basically acted as a ferry to transport the cargo from shore to shore. While not clear, it appears that, in practice, this did not work and no production orders were placed. Beside the two prototypes, no more were built.

The two experimental Panzerfähre vehicles. Source: http://www.panzerbaer.de/types/wh_panzerfaehre-a.htm

Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät

An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf. F) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortars codenamed ‘Karlgerät’. Depending on the source, the number of modified Ausf. F chassis ranges between 2 and 13 vehicles.

Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät next to the huge self propelled vehicle. Source: https://www.armedconflicts.com/Munitionsschlepper-fuer-Karl-Geraet-municne-vozidlo-t29710

Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf. E

Some Panzer IV Ausf. Fs were given to tank training schools. While new vehicles were certainly used, others may have been returned from the frontline for repairs and were reused for this purpose too.

The Germans paid great attention to Panzer crew training programs. This exercise served to help train the crew to abandon the vehicle in case of an outbreak of fire inside the vehicle. In this case, a smoke emitter serves to simulate fire in the vehicle. Source: P. Thomas Panzers at War 1939-45

Sturmpanzer IV

Damaged Panzer IV Ausf. E and F tanks that were returned to Germany for repairs were reused for the Sturmpanzer IV program. The precise number of modified chassis is difficult to know precisely.

A few Sturmpanzer IVs were based on Ausf. F rebuilt chassis. Source: Wiki

Jagdpanzer IV wooden prototype

In May 1943, Vomag presented a wooden mock-up of the future Jagdpanzer IV to the German Army. This was based on the Panzer IV Ausf. F chassis.

The Vomag Jagdpanzer IV prototype was presented to Hitler in 1943. This mock-up vehicle was based on the Panzer Ausf. F chassis. Source: warspot.com

Panzer IV Ausf. F Tropen

The Panzer IV Ausf. F, like all German tanks that were used in Africa, was modified by improving the ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand from getting into the engine. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Eng. Tropic).

Bergepanzer IV

In late 1944, a few Panzer IV Ausf. F chassis would be modified as Bergepanzers, essentially tank recovery vehicles. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and replaced with simple round wooden planks.

Other operators

In order to help somewhat rebuild the shattered Hungarian Forces that would be needed in the 1942 offensive toward the Caucasus, the Germans provided them with large quantities of armored vehicles. These included some 22 Panzer IV Ausf. Fs. In 1942, these were the best tanks that the Hungarian Army operated on this front. By the end of 1943, due to heavy fighting, nearly all were lost.

Panzer IV Ausf. F in Hungarian Service. Source: Pinterest

Interestingly enough, the Soviets often managed to capture significant quantities of German military equipment that had been left abandoned. This included the Panzer IV Ausf. F, some of which were put into service, possibly as training vehicles.

A Panzer IV Ausf. F next to a Panzer III under Soviet use. Source: http://wio.ru/tank/capt/capt.htm

Surviving vehicles

Today, only one rebuilt Panzer IV Ausf. F exists. It was a restoration project which included a Panzer IV Ausf. F turret and a hull which was rebuilt using some original and some new parts. The vehicle is located at the Moscow Victory Park in Russia.

The sole surviving Panzer IV Ausf. F located in Moscow Victory Park. Source:.shadock.free.

Conclusion

The Panzer IV Ausf. F was the last vehicle of the whole series to be equipped with the short 7.5 cm guns. It had improved armor protection compared to its predecessors. While certainly not special in its overall performance, it had a more important role, being used as a base for newer versions that would implement stronger armor and armament.

Panzer IV Ausf. F of the 5th Panzerregiment, 5th Leichtes Panzerdivision, Tobruk, Libya, March 1941. The camouflage was sand (Gelb braun) and degraded sand over the usual Dunkelgrau basis, forming Grau-Grün patches.
Vorpanzer F, with extra bolted appliqué armor on the sides, gun mantlet, and frontal glacis, with the 5th Panzerdivision, Group Center, USSR, Winter 1941-1942. Both illustrations by David Bocquelet, with modifications by Pavel Alexe

 

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.88 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 22.3 tonnes
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator, and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off-road) 42 km/h, 25 km/h (cross-country)
Range (road/off-road) 210 km, 130 km (cross-country)
Primary Armament 7.5 cm KwK L/24
Secondary Armament Two 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Turret Armor Front 50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor Front 30-50 mm, sides 20-30 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm, and the top and bottom 10-11 mm.

Sources

Categories
WW2 German Prototypes

7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t)

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1942)
Self-propelled anti-tank – 1 prototype

Following the setbacks during the 1941 campaign in the Soviet Union, the Germans were in great need of finding a proper answer to the T-34 and the KV tanks. They decided to go with two different solutions. One was to simply upgun vehicles already in production, for example, the Panzer IV and the StuG III. The other solution involved more modifications, chief among which was removing the turret or parts of the superstructure and adding a new fighting compartment onto an older vehicle, usually equipped with different variants of the 7.5 cm anti-tank gun, and sometimes even using some captured weapons. One such project was based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis and armed with the StuG III’s L/43 gun.

The obscure 7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t) prototype. Source:.tankarchives

History

The Panzer 38(t) or LT (‘Lehky Tank’, light tank) vz.38, as it was originally known, was a light tank developed by a Czechoslovakian company called ČKD (Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk) from Prague. This company was formed back in 1871 and was initially involved in the production of industrial machinery, while, in later years, it would begin to develop and produce military equipment and weapons. Just prior to the Second World War, ČKD managed to design and build a tank initially called TNH which, in early 1938, would be presented to the Czechoslovakian Army. The Army was impressed with its overall performance and placed an order for 150 such vehicles in 1938. The first series of 10 tanks was actually completed by the time of the German annexation of what was left of Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovakian Republic puppet states.

The Panzer 38(t) light tank in German service. Source: Panzer.net

With the occupation of former Czechoslovakian territories, the Germans came into possession of the Škoda and ČKD factories. ČKD would be renamed to BMM (Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik) by the Germans. The new owners were highly impressed with the LT vz.38 design, so they not only completed the first series of 150 but continued producing more in the coming years. Under German use, the name of this vehicle was changed to Panzer 38(t).

Suffering from great shortages of tanks, the Germans employed the Panzer 38(t) during the Polish, Western, and even Balkan campaigns. The Panzer 38(t) to a great extent ended its carrier as a first-line combat tank in 1941, during the Invasion of the Soviet Union. While it would still be used in smaller numbers by the Germans on the front lines, its reliable chassis was instead massively reused for other projects during the war. These mostly consisted of anti-tank vehicles, but other configurations, such as self-propelled artillery or anti-aircraft guns, would also be developed.

During early March 1942, Adolf Hitler gave instructions that a Panzer 38(t) chassis was to be modified and equipped with the newly developed 7.5 cm Sturmkannone. This was a version of the German 7.5 cm PaK gun modified to be used on Sturmgeschütz vehicles. BMM began making the necessary preparations for this project once it received the instructions. The gun and the mount were to be provided by Rheinmetall-Borsig.

Unfortunately, the precise history of this vehicle is poorly documented in the sources. Actually, there is barely any information on it. What is known is that BMM managed to build one prototype or at least a partially built wooden mock-up which was placed on a Panzer 38(t) chassis.

Which version was used?

Unfortunately, the few available sources do not mention the precise type of Panzer 38(t) chassis used. Based on the few existing photographs, an educated guess can be made. This vehicle had a completely flat frontal superstructure armor. This was introduced during the production on the Ausf. E version, remaining on the Ausf. F, S and G. The Ausf. S can be ruled out however, as it had a completely different front visor port. The remaining three versions are almost identical and very difficult to distinguish. While the Ausf. E and F had two 25 mm thick frontal plates, the Ausf. G had a single 50 mm thick armored plate. Due to the photograph angles, it is difficult to observe this area and precisely make a judgment on the chassis version used. It appears that the vehicle used a single frontal piece armor plate, so it is probable that this was built on the Ausf. G chassis.

Design

The hull

The Panzer 38(t) hull was divided into a few sections which included the forward-mounted transmission, central crew fighting compartment, and, to the rear, the engine compartment. The transmission and steering systems were placed at the front of the hull and were protected with a large angled armored plate. To allow better access for repairs, a rectangular-shaped transmission hatch was located in the middle of this plate. It was protected by an extended ‘U’-shaped splash ring.

The hull and the remaining parts of the Panzer 38(t) body were constructed using armored plates riveted to an armored frame. The armor plates that needed to be easily removable (like the upper horizontal plate in the hull for access to the gearbox, rear-engine plate, etcetera) were held in place by using bolts.

The superstructure

The original Panzer 38(t) superstructure was modified. The two front crew members and the ball mounted machine gun remained in their usual locations. Due to bad angles and the quality of available photographs, it is difficult to see if the two side observation ports are still present or not. The sides and top of the superstructure armor just behind the driver and radio operator positions were removed.

The Panzer 38(t) had a hatch door placed above the radio operator’s position. Based on the photograph of the 7.5 cm StuK prototype, it appears that this vehicle would have two larger hatches (one for the radio operator and one for the driver). This is reasonable, since the Panzer 38(t) was a small vehicle with a very cramped interior, making the emergency exit of the hull positioned crew members very difficult.

Top view of the Panzer 38(t), where the radio operator’s hatch can be seen. Source: Panzer.net
The modified vehicle has what appears to be two hatches, one for each front crew member, located on the top part of the superstructure front plate. In addition, note the opening on the fighting compartment’s top left which was used for the gunner’s sight. Source: Panzer.net

Fighting compartment

On top of the modified superstructure, a new rear opened fighting compartment was placed. The front part of this compartment was to be made using three plates with the opening in the centre for the main gun. The sides were to be also fully protected. The top plate actually curved down slightly, toward the front of the vehicle. On the top left front corner, there was an opening left for the gunner’s periscope sight. On the photographed vehicle, this fighting compartment appears to be a wooden mock-up.

Suspension and Running Gear

The 7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38 (t)’s suspension consisted of four large road wheels with split rubber tires. The use of large diameter wheels was meant to reduce wear on the rubber tires. These wheels were connected in pairs and were suspended using semi-elliptical leaf spring units. In addition, there was a front-drive sprocket, rear idler, and two return rollers per side.

The Panzer 38(t)’s suspension was quite recognizable due to its four large wheels. It was reliable and offered good overall drive performance. Source: Panzer.net

The Engine

The power unit of this new vehicle was a Praga TNHPS/II six-cylinder gasoline, 125 [email protected] rpm engine. With the added armor plates, ammunition, and the larger gun, the overall weight increased from 9.4 to 11 tonnes. While the original maximum speed was around 42 km/h, with the added weight, it was decreased to 35 km/h

The Armor Protection

Given that this vehicle was based on the Ausf. E or later versions, its frontal chassis armor was 50 mm thick. This was either made of two welded 25 mm plates or a single 50 mm plate. The sides were 15 or 30 mm, thick depending on the version chassis being used.

The new combat compartment’s armor protection is unknown, but it would probably have been only lightly protected in order to save weight. The sides and top armor would probably be around 10 mm thick, while the frontal armor would be either the same thickness or slightly thicker, possibly up to 30 mm.

The gun deflector guard (the thick trapezoidal part in front of the gun shield) was 50 mm thick. The sides were 30 mm and placed at 17°. The top and bottom were also 30 mm thick. The large gun shield was 50 mm thick.

The Armament

The main armament of this vehicle was the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 gun. It was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krupp for use in Sturmgeschütz vehicles. This gun had a semi-automatic breech with a vertical sliding block and was electrically fired. The 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 could fire shells at a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s and could penetrate 82 mm of 30° angled armor at 1 km. In its original configuration on the StuG III, the elevation was -6° to +17°, while the traverse was 10° in both directions. For engaging direct targets, a Sf1.ZF1a gun sight was used. The recoil cylinders were placed above the gun and were protected by an armored deflector guard. To the rear of the breach, a protective recoil shield was placed. In addition, a canvas bag for spent ammunition was placed under the gun breach. Production started in March 1942, but it did not last long, as it would be replaced with the L/48 version.

The 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 gun was developed and designed for use by the Sturmgeschütz Ausf. E vehicles. Source: Panzer.net
Close-up view of the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 Source: W. J. Spielberger Sturmgeschütz and its variant

The 7.5cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t) was to be armed with this gun together with the enclosed deflector guard. While the armor-piercing capabilities would remain the same, other characteristics, like the elevation or the quantity of ammunition, are unknown. Given that the center of mass for the gun was rather high and with the extra weight of the gun armored deflector guard, some stability issues might have been incurred. Probably in order to counter this, a large travel lock was provided.

A rearview of the 7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t), with some elements, like the breech and protective recoil shield, can be seen. Source: Panzer.net

Beside the main gun, the machine gun in the hull was unchanged. The 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37 ball-mounted machine was operated by the radio operator. It had a traverse of 35° to the right and 11° to the left, with an elevation of -14° to +25°. For aiming this machine gun, a telescopic sight with 2.6x magnification was provided.

The Crew

The precise number of crewmen that the vehicle would have had is unknown. Similar vehicles developed during the war (the Marder series) had four crew members. This seems quite possible, as the hull positioned crew member (radio operator and driver) positions were unchanged. In the fighting compartment, the gunner would be positioned to the left of the main gun, and he would also probably be the vehicle commander. To his right would be the loader.

Fate

Once the produced prototype was examined, a production order was not given. While the sources do not provide any reason for it, they do offer some suggestions. Authors P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition), in the section that discusses the 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 Auf Panzer 38(t) Ausf. H, mentioned that, besides it, a second prototype armed with StuK 40 based on the Panzer 38(t) Ausf. G was also presented. This is interesting information, as both vehicles are quite similar in appearance, with some differences, like the armament and the armor’s overall design.

A possible reason why this project was rejected may lay in the main gun chosen for this vehicle. The Sturmgeschütz gun was probably unsuited for this vehicle. On the other hand, the slightly modified 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 offered much simpler installation, without the need for the deflector guard. The 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 gun was also a weapon that was built in small numbers and was phased out in favor of the longer barrel L/48 gun. We also do not know if this gun caused any mechanical difficulties or problems during the installation. The most logical conclusion is that this vehicle was rejected because other anti-tank Panzer 38(t) based vehicles had a much simpler design and could be produced easier and cheaper.

A front view of the 7.5cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t) which lacks the ball mounted machine gun. Source: http://gajets.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-28.html
The 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 auf Panzer 38(t) Ausf. H version appears to be quite similar to the 7.5cm StuK on Panzer 38(t), or at least took inspiration from its design. Source:http://www.tankarchives.ca/2018/03/marder-iii-german-tank-destroyer-on.html

Conclusion

The generally unknown and poorly documented 7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t) was surely an interesting attempt made by the Germans to reuse available resources and production capabilities to quickly produce an anti-tank vehicle. The Panzer 38(t) chassis, for example, was well developed and quite mechanically reliable. Despite being not adopted for service, it was built on a concept used extensively by the Germans during the war (the Marder series, for example) by mounting a strong anti-tank gun on lightly protected tank chassis. While it would have had sufficient firepower to oppose Soviet armor, its own poor protection would offer limited survivability in case of enemy retaliation.

The proposed mounting of the Sturmkanone on the Panzer 38(t) chassis resembles a version of the subsequent Marder III Ausf.H. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

7.5cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t)

Total weight, battle-ready 11 tonnes
Crew Commander/Gunner, Loader, Driver and Radio operator
Propulsion 285 [email protected] 2800 rpm
Speed 35 km/h
Primary Armament Armament: 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43
Secondary Armament One 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37
Armor 10 mm – 50 mm

Sources

Categories
WW2 German Panzer III

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. D

ww2 german tanks Germany (1937) – Medium Tank, 25 tanks and 5 chassis built

The Panzer III Ausf. D was the last version of the experimental series developed starting from the Ausf. A. It incorporated a number of improvements, of which the most obvious was the redesign of the rear engine compartment and introduction of a slightly modified 8-wheel suspension. It was also different from the previous version by being built in somewhat larger (but still limited) numbers. The Panzer III Ausf. D also had the longest service life, soldiering on to 1941 and possibly even after that

The Panzer III Ausf. D. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D

Development

Daimler-Benz, which was responsible for the construction of the Panzer III Ausf. A, was contacted by Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) to produce an additional number of experimental chassis to test new types of suspensions and other elements that could be further improved (like the commander’s cupola, engine compartment interior, etcetera). To fulfill the production orders, Daimler-Benz built the Versuchs-Fahrgestell (experimental chassis) Z.W.3 (Zugführerwagen platoon commander’s vehicle), which would lead to the Panzer III Ausf. B. The Z.W.4 would be used as the base of the Panzer III Ausf. C (marked as 3a. Serie Z.W.) and D (marked as 3b. Serie Z.W.).

Productiopn

The Heeres Waffenamt issued an order to Daimler-Benz to produce 25 Panzer III Ausf. D chassis. Other components, such as the turrets, were to be provided by Krupp-Gruson Werke and Alkett. The main guns were to be provided by Krupp-Essen and Rheinmetall. For the acquisition of necessary armored parts, numerous subcontractors, like AG Vochum, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke AG, etcetera were contracted. While the production of these vehicles began sometime in early 1938, it took several months to actually build them. The last of the 25 vehicles was completed either in July or September 1938. Five more chassis would be built by Daimler-Benz and merged with five Panzer III Ausf. B turrets during 1940.

Interestingly, according to H. Scheibert (Panzer III), 55 Panzer III Ausf. D were produced during 1938. If he includes the modified chassis and command vehicles based on the Panzer III Ausf. D in this counting is not clear.

Specifications

The Panzer III Ausf. D received some modification to its overall design, in many aspects, like the armament and engine, it was virtually unchanged.

The engine compartment

While the engine type used was the same as on the previous versions, there were some changes and rearrangements of some elements of the engine compartment. The position of the two radiators was changed, as they were now placed completely vertical. They were previously in an angled position. In addition, these were provided with louvres which could be controlled by the crew (from the crew compartment) to provide a better flow of air, depending on the need. The previously used mechanical fuel pumps were replaced with electrically operated ones. Lastly, four smaller and armored fuel tanks (each could contain 75 liters) were placed under the engine in pairs.

The overall design of the engine compartment was changed due to the modifications of its interior. The rear part of the engine compartment was put at a steeper angle. Two cooling air grills were placed on each side of the engine compartment. While no additional ventilation ports were placed on the armor cover of the engine, the four hatches (two on top, and two more on the angled side) could be opened to act as improvised ventilation ports. The change in design of the engine compartment led to a slight extension of the whole Panzer III Ausf. D, from 5.66 m to 5.92 m.

The Panzer III Ausf. D had a redesigned engine compartment with an angled rear. In addition, the vertical openings for the cooling air grills were placed on each side of the engine compartment. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D

The transmission

Panzer IIIs from A to C incorporated a 5 speed transmission. The Ausf. D received an improved 6 speed SSG 76 type transmission. As the remaining components of the drivetrain were essentially unchanged, the drive performance was also left largely unchanged.

Suspension

The Panzer III Ausf. D suspension was quite similar to the Ausf. C one in appearance and could sometimes be difficult to distinguish. The Ausf. D also employed the same 8 small road wheels. However, they were divided into three parts, with two pairs of double wheels placed in front and to the rear and four pairs in the middle. There were also three return rollers, one drive sprocket and one idler per side.

The change included the repositioning of the front and rear swing arms’ pivoting points. These were centrally placed. The leaf spring units’ positions on the first and last pairs of road wheels were placed diagonally in contrast to the vertical ones used previously. Lastly, two improved shock absorbers were placed on each suspension side. One was placed behind the drive sprocket and the second in front of the idler.

A good view of the Panzer III Ausf. D suspension. Interestingly, the crew of this vehicle (possibly during training) accidentally ran over a smaller Panzer I vehicle. Note that, on the superstructure side, the triangular in shaped metal bars are actually an anti-aircraft pivoting mount (Fliegerauslegearm) placed during the pre-war period on many German tanks, but which later fell out of use. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info/
Another view of the Ausf. D suspension, showing the two (close to the idler and drive sprocket) angled leaf springs units. Source: warspot.ru

Armor protection

Regarding the precise armor thickness of the Panzer III Ausf. D, the sources are basically split into two camps. Authors such as D. Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka) and Walter J. Spielberger (Panzer III and its Variants) mention that the overall armor protection was increased to 30 mm (same as the later built Ausf. E). The increase in armor, together with other modifications, raised the Ausf. D’s weight to nearly 20 tonnes.

On the other hand, authors such as T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, und D) and P. Chamberlain (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition) note that the armor thickness was the same as on the previous versions, up to 14.5 mm. In addition, the overall weight of the Panzer III Ausf. D was, again like the previous versions, at 16 tonnes. The reason for this divergence of sources is unclear. One possible culprit for this may be the command vehicle that was developed based on the Panzer III Ausf. D, as it had 30 mm of armor.

In Combat

When the war with Poland broke out in September 1939, the Germans had less than 98 Panzer III tanks. Of these, some 87 saw actual combat service, while the remaining were used as replacement and training vehicles. These were distributed to Panzer Regiments in limited numbers. The exceptions were the 1st Panzer Regiment, which had 20, and the 2nd which had 6 Panzer IIIs.

To determine the precise combat engagements of the Ausf. D (but also other older versions) is difficult. The issue is that the sources list them simply as Panzer IIIs, without mentioning the precise version in question. For example, Panzer IIIs from the 4th Panzer Regiment were ordered to take the Polish barracks and train station at Kamionka on 19th September. While the barracks were successfully stormed, the train managed to leave the station. What followed was a race between the German Panzer III and IV tanks and the elusive train. After sustaining heavy damage from German fire, the Panzers, reaching a speed of over 40 km/h, eventually managed to capture the train. The Germans lost some 30 Panzer IIIs during the entirety of the campaign, but most of these would be repaired and put back into use.

Probably all available Panzer III Ausf. D tanks were allocated for the Polish Campaign. Some of these (like the one in the picture) were damaged in combat. The early Panzer III had a 3.7 cm gun that could effectively destroy any Polish armored vehicle. The problems were their weak armor and unreliable suspension. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D.

Following the completion of the Polish Campaign, the Germans initiated a slow withdrawal of the earlier types of the Panzer III, including the Ausf. D. This was mainly done as more advanced versions were developed and became available in sufficient numbers to replace the older experimental Panzer IIIs. From February 1940 onwards, all available Panzer Ausf. A to D tanks, after an extensive overhaul, were given to training units. This did not include the five modified Ausf. Ds that were equipped with Ausf. B turrets.

Once the Panzer III Ausf. D was retired from combat service, their role changed to that of a training tank. Source: Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D

Variants based on the Panzer III Ausf. D

Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D1

The Panzer III Ausf. D was used for the Panzerbefehlswagen (tank command vehicle) configuration. This included a number of modifications, some of which were reducing the armament to only one machine gun (located in the turret), using a dummy main gun (to hide its main purpose as a command vehicle), fixing the turret in place, replacing the gunner and the loader with one more radio operator and a commander adjutant, adding additional radio equipment, and, probably most noticeably, adding a large antenna to the rear of the turret. Another large change was that the armor protection was reinforced with another 14.5 m of armor, raising the overall protection to 29 mm. The driver’s visor and the machine gun ball mount were also replaced with newer models. Daimler-Benz produced 26 brand new vehicles in 1938 and 4 more in 1939. This vehicle was designated as Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D1. These were used starting from Poland in 1939 up to possibly the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 or even after that.

The Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D1, of which some 30 were built. Source: www.panzernet.netp
According to some websites, this is a Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D1 allegedly captured by the Soviets during 1943. Note that the turret rear positioned pistol ports are round, while the Panzer III Ausf. D had square shaped. In addition the large antenna positioned to the rear is missing. Source: warspot.ru

Panzer III Ausf.D/B hybrid

During the late 1930s, the Germans were developing the Sturmgeschütz concept. For this purpose, some 5 Panzer III Ausf. B chassis were allocated to be rebuilt as Sturmgeschütz III test series. Not wanting to waste the turrets from these tanks, the Heeres Waffenamt gave Daimler-Benz instructions to build an additional five Ausf. D chassis to be merged with them. As these were never a huge priority, it took Daimler-Benz some two years (until October 1940) to actually complete these vehicles.

During their construction, Daimler-Benz introduced some improved components that were not present on the 25 original Panzer III Ausf. D vehicles. The best example is the use of the new Kugel Blende 30 type of machine ball mount. Additionally, these received a new idler and the position of the rear shock absorber was slightly lowered.

It is unclear how many, but likely all five were transported to Norway in the summer of 1941 and allocated to Panzer-Abteilung z.b.V. 40 (special assignment unit). These may have participated in the German combat operations in Finland during the Invasion of the Soviet Union.

One of the Panzer III Ausf. D/B hybrid vehicles that were stationed in Norway in 1941. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D.
This Panzer III Ausf. D/B vehicle was either destroyed or damaged and then cannibalised for spare parts Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D.

Conclusion

The Panzer III Ausf. D would be a further improvement of the previously built Ausf. C. It would incorporate a majority of elements from this previous version, except for the suspension and some interior modifications. Following the completion of the Ausf. D series, Daimler-Benz and the German Army officials simply gave up on the idea of using the unnecessarily complicated 8 wheel suspension and instead developed a brand new torsion bar that would be used as standard from the Ausf. E onward.
The whole experimental Panzer III Ausf. A to D series, while not long in service, was vital for the Germans in gaining valuable experience in tank design, but also in training the Panzer crews. Given the fact that these were built by the yet underdeveloped German industry, they could be considered a success, as they paved the way for further Panzer development.

Panzer III Ausf.D, the last and biggest pre-production series. These were the testbeds for the mass-production Ausf.E. This one served in Norway, near Lillehammer in February 1941. The ochre camouflage, applied directly on the usual Feldgrau livery, was customary in operations.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. D Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 m x 2.82 m x 2.41 m
Total weight, battle-ready 16 tonnes
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 108 TR 250 [email protected] 2800 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 35 km/h, 10-12 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road) 165 km, 95 km
Primary Armament 3.7 cm Kw.K. L/46.5
Secondary Armament Three 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Armor 5-30mm

Source:

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Renault FT and Renault-Kégresse in service with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia

Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1930)
Light Tank – Number of operated vehicles: 45 Renault FT and 10 to 11 M-28

At the start of the 1930s, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia bought its first tanks from France. These were the older Renault FT and the slightly improved Renault-Kégresse tanks. While their combat value was limited at best, they served as a base for further development of the armored forces in Yugoslavia. By the time the Axis began their major offensive operation in the Balkans during April 1941, the aging Renault FT and Renault-Kégresse tanks represented nearly half of the armored strength of the Yugoslavian Army.

The Renault-Kégresse in Yugoslavian service. Source: D. Babac, Elitni Vidovi Jugoslovenske Vojske u Aprilskom Ratu

The birth of the first Yugoslavian tank formations

Following the collapse of the Central Powers during the First World War, much of the southern territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were absorbed by the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Kingdom of SHS) during 1918. The newly created army of this Kingdom received a number of weapons from the Allied forces present in the Balkans. This shipment of weapons did not include Renault FT tanks, which were present in smaller numbers within the Allied Balkan forces. In September of 1919, the Kingdom of SHS Army officially requested that some of these be allocated to them. This request was not granted, as the Allies informed the SHS Army representatives that these were to be stationed in Bulgaria and Romania. This did not stop the SHS Army officials, which sent an additional delegation to France directly to ask for permission to receive these tanks. Eventually, these attempts proved to be futile, as the French Ministry of War stated (in November of 1919) that this was not possible. The Kingdom of SHS was instead reassured that, once sufficient numbers of Renault FTs were available, these would be allocated to them.

In early December of 1919, Louis Franchet d’Espèrey, the commander of Allied forces in the Balkans, officially allowed that an SHS group of 10 drivers and as many mechanics as possible be moved to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia to begin training and familiarisation with the 8 Renault FT tanks which were stationed there. On 12th December, by the direct orders of the SHS Ministry of War, the first Armored Company, equipped with 8 Renault FTs (which were still in Sofia) was to be formed. A military delegation was formed, which consisted of 6 officers and non-commissioned officers and 10 artillerymen in addition to 10 drivers and 3 mechanics. In February 1920, the French officially started to transfer these tanks to the SHS Army. The contingent of 8 Renault FTs consisted of 3 armed with machine guns, 4 with 37 mm guns and one radio (télégraphie sans fil – TSF) version.

It is important to note that the SHS and later Yugoslav Army did not use the term ‘tank’, but instead ‘Борна Кола’. This term could be translated as armored or even combat vehicle, depending on the source used. To avoid confusion, this article will use the term tank.

There is some disagreement in the sources on the precise date or even number of tanks of this type operated by the Yugoslavian Army. The previously mentioned information was according to author N. Đokić (Vojni informator). Other authors, like Captain Mag. D. Denda and D. Dimitrijević, give a completely different account of how the first tanks were acquired. At the end of 1920s, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (the name was changed in 1929) took a loan of some 300 million French Francs for purchasing their first tanks. By doing this, the Yugoslav Army was able to acquire 21 Renault tanks. The first group of 10 tanks arrived in April, and the remaining on 11th July 1929. These included 10 Renault FTs and 11 improved Renault-Kégresse tanks (in many Serbian sources marked as ‘M-28’, ‘M.28’, or even as ‘M28’). Author B. B. Dimitrijević (Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941) mentions that there is a possibility that the M-28 used by the Yugoslavian Army had a stronger engine, but with no more information about it.

The precise number of Renault-Kégresse tanks acquired is not completely clear in the sources, ranging from 10 to 11 vehicles. The reasons why this version was bought and not the old FT is not mentioned in the sources. While they were almost identical to the older Renault FT model, the M-28 had a different suspension which necessitated the acquisition of additional spare parts. The M-28s were used to form the first tank company in the Yugoslavian Army, stationed in Kragujevac during April 1930. It would be allocated to Sarajevo, where a tank training school was formed. The remaining Renault FTs would be used to equip another Tank Company, which was stationed in the capital, Belgrade. The French also provided a group of instructors to help train crews for these vehicles. The precise strength of these two companies is unclear. The first actual documents that mention these units’ peacetime compositions are dated from 1935. According to them, each Company contained 12 tanks. Each Company was further divided into four Platoons, each with 3 tanks.

A Yugoslavian M-28 on a parade held in Belgrade in 1930. Only a small number of these tanks were ever produced by the French and only 10 to 11 were sold to Yugoslavia. Source:www.srpskioklop

However, author D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj) indicates that the first 21 tanks were all actually Renault FTs. He also notes that, in 1935, an additional 20 tanks were bought. To complicate matters even further, both he and D. Babac (Elitni Vidovi Jugoslovenske Vojske u Aprilskom Ratu) state that the Yugosavian Army had 20 and not 10 M-28 tanks.

Renault FT

During the First World War, France employed tanks like the St-Chamond and Schneider CA 1 in an attempt to break the German lines. These designs were far from perfect and were plagued by a number of issues (limited firing arc, low armor thickness etc.). However, the most significant problem was the slow and expensive production. During 1916, in French military circles, the idea of using cheap and easy-to-produce light tanks began to take hold. By the end of 1916, after the first wooden prototype was completed and inspected, a production order for 100 vehicles was placed. This light tank received the simple Renault FT designation.

At the start of the following year, the first prototype was tested and, after some delays, production orders for 1,150 such tanks were placed. Of these, some 500 were to be armed with one 8 mm machine gun, while the remaining 650 were to be armed with a 37 mm gun. The Renault FTs were first used in combat during the French attempts to stop the large German offensive of 1918. It proved to be a successful vehicle, presenting a small target, having a fully rotating turret, and being available in great numbers. By August 1918, the French managed to produce more than 2,000 Renault FT light tanks.

A preserved gun armed Renault FT tank. Source: Wiki

After the First World War, the Renault FT became generally obsolete and was widely exported by the French Army, which was unwilling to sell their better designs. Those that bought the Renault FT were countries like Poland, the USA, Finland, Japan, Greece, and Yugoslavia amongst others.

In an attempt to somewhat improve the Renault FT’s overall driving performance, during the 1920s, the French army tested a new type of suspension. The completely redesigned Kegresse type suspension consisted of eight smaller road wheels, one return roller and larger idler and drive sprockets. It employed new metal and rubber band tracks. While it offered better driving characteristics, it was only built in limited numbers, mostly due to reduction in the budget of the French Army.

The Renault-Kégresse with the improved suspension. Source: forum.warthunder

Yugoslav-Poland cooperation

After the First World War, the Yugoslavian Army was in desperate need of all kinds of weapons, ranging from ordinary rifles to artillery. In 1921, the first negotiations with Poland took place regarding this issue. In the following years, Yugoslavia bought a number of Polish weapons, including aviation bombs, rifle ammunition, artillery pieces, etc. In 1932, Poland and the Yugoslavian Army signed an agreement for purchasing some 14 Renault FT tanks. While the Yugoslavian Army later showed great interest in the 7TP tank, due to the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, nothing came from this.

Polish Renault FT, of which some 14 would be sold to Yugoslavia in 1932. Source: derela.pl

Further developments

Following the arrival of the first tanks, Yugoslav Army cycles began theorizing how to best employ them, about the further acquisition of more tanks and general organization. One of the Yugoslavian Generals that advocated for forming Tank Battalions supported by Motorized Infantry placed under unified command was Milan Đ. Nedić. He made the first steps in proposing this plan in 1932. Two years later, the General Staff of the Yugoslavian Army, together with King Aleksandar I Karađorđević, examined it. The plan for creating mechanized and armored units met with the approval of Army officials but, more importantly, also the King himself. For the realization of this plan, General Nedić was appointed as the chief of the General Staff in June 1934. His success was short-lived as, only a few months later, the King was assassinated in Marseille while visiting France. General Nedić was removed from his new position shortly after that. He was replaced by General Ljubomir M. Marić, who continued working on extending the armored formations.

The process of reorganization and modernization of Yugoslavian forces was accelerated after the start of the Second Italian-Ethiopian war in 1935. France agreed to supply Yugoslavia with an additional contingent of 20 Renault FT tanks during 1935 and 1936 as military aid. The whole operation was held in secrecy by both sides. While the last tank arrived in 1936, it would take almost a whole year before they were actually allocated for troop use.

Organization

By September 1936, there were some 45 Renault FTs and 10 (or 11) M-28s available. That same month, from these vehicles, a Battalion of Armored Vehicles was formed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pavao J. Begović. This unit is often mistakenly called the First Battalion, a unit which was actually formed later. The Battalion, when it was formed, had only a single Company which was stationed in Belgrade. This Company was used primarily for crew training, but was also used on a military parade held in honor of the king’s birthday in September of 1936. During the same year, a new regulation regarding the Battalion strength was adopted. According to it, the Battalion consisted of one Command unit, three Companies, and a reserve Company. The Command unit had 3 tanks, the same as the reserve Company. The three Companies each had 10 tanks, for a total of 36 tanks. In addition, there was also an independent support Company with 4 tanks. Only in March of 1937 did the Battalion reach full combat readiness with three Companies.

In 1938, the Battalion organization was once again changed. This time, each company was further reinforced with an additional platoon of M-28 tanks. This indicates that the M-28 were not used previously and were probably stored for some eight years. The Battalion strength was increased to 48 tanks in total.

Two years later, the Yugoslavian Army bought 54 R35 tanks from France. Thanks to this, it was possible to form an additional Battalion. The original Battalion of Armored Vehicles was renamed the 1st Battalion of Armored Vehicles. The 2nd Battalion of Armored Vehicles was equipped with newly acquired R35 tanks. Most of the 1st Battalion personnel was relocated to the 2nd Battalion, which necessitated retraining the crew members. At the end of 1940, the number of tanks in each Battalion was noted to be 50 tanks. Other changes included that the Command unit did not have tanks and that the strength of each Company was increased to 13 tanks, with 11 more in reserve. Regarding the armament of the FT and M-28 tanks, one-third were armed with machine guns, while the remaining were armed with 37 mm guns. In addition, during this time, elements of the 1st Battalion were rearranged across three major cities. The Command unit with the 1st Company and the reserve Company were stationed in Belgrade (together with the 2nd Battalion). The 2nd Company was positioned in Zagreb (Croatia) and the last in Sarajevo (Bosnia).

In 1938, the Battalion organisation was changed to include an additional platoon of M-28 tanks. This indicates that the M-28 were not used and were probably stored and occasionally used on parades. Source: www.tankarchives

Experience with the FT and M-28 tanks

The Yugoslavian Army initiated a number of infantry and tank exercises in order to test the idea of cooperation between these two Army branches. One such exercise was held in hilly terrains in Šumadija (in Serbia). There, the Renault FT proved to be unsuited for supporting infantry due to its unsuitability for bad terrain. Its performance was so poor that the infantry commanders suggested to the High Command to urgently find more modern equipment. In September of 1939, huge exercises that should have included three tank Companies were to be carried out. However, after only a few weeks, this was canceled and never carried out on a larger scale.

There were other problems with the crew training and the mechanical reliability of tanks. For example, the Zagreb stationed Company lacked any proper firing range. For this reason, firing practice was rarely carried out. Mechanical problems with the Renault tanks were also a huge issue. The Renault FT was outdated and generally worn out, while the M-28 had problems with its rubber tracks.

The majority of Renault FT tanks used were armed with a 37 mm gun. This particular picture was taken in April 1940, during a military exercise. Source: D. Predoević, Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj

Camouflage and Markings

The Renault FT and M-28 retained their original French dark green color, even those that were brought from Poland. Some of the vehicles received different types of camouflages, but which precise color is not listed in the sources.

The FTs were usually marked with French numbers between 66000 and 74000 but also with additional four-digit numbers or two Roman numerals. These were painted either on the front of the vehicle or on the suspension. The M-28s were only marked with two-digit numbers ranging from 81 to 88. But according to some older photographs, one vehicle has the number 79 painted on it. It is unclear why this is so (it could be a modern print error in the sources).

The left vehicle has number 79 painted on its side and front. Source: www.tankarchives.ca
The Renault FTs were marked with French numbers ranging between 66000 and 74000. These were, as this vehicle indicates, painted on the front and on the suspension sides. Source: The tank “Renault Ft-17” in photos Magazine

Prior to the war

In the years before the war, the reorganization and rearmament process of the Yugoslavian Army was delayed. After the military plan dated 1938, the Yugoslavian army was to be reinforced with 252 medium and 36 heavy tanks. Eventually, only 8 T-32 (Š-I-D) vehicles were brought from Czechoslovakia in 1936, with 54 R35 tanks from France in 1940. One of the many reasons why the armored development was slowed down was due to short-sighted military Generals, like Dušan T. Simović, who believed that the tanks were ineffective weapons. Also, Czechoslovakia was under German occupation and France was unwilling to sell modern equipment. While negotiations with the Soviet Union, the USA, and Great Britain were undertaken, nothing came from these. By the time the Axis attacked in April 1941, Yugoslavia could only muster less than 120 armored vehicles.

The April War

In March 1941, the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was negotiating with the Germans to join the Axis powers. A group of pro-Western Yugoslav Air Force officers, under the leadership of General Dušan Simović, staged a coup on the 27th of March 1941 in order to prevent this from happening. Hitler was furious after this event and ordered that Yugoslavia be occupied. For the upcoming invasion, the Axis forces included 30 German, 23 Italian, and 5 Hungarian Divisions. The Germans alone had some 843 tanks, including 400 modern Panzer IIIs and IVs. The attack was made on the 6th of April 1941, which started the so-called April war.

Opposing them, the Yugoslavian Army could muster some 31 Divisions. However, during the attack, only 11 partially formed divisions were available. The lack of mobilization and the overextension of available forces essentially sealed the fate of the Yugoslavian Army. When the Axis forces attacked, elements of the 1st Battalion were distributed to three operational bases in Belgrade, Zagreb, Skopje, and Sarajevo. At that time, the Battalion was commanded by Major Stanimir Mišić. To counter the Axis offensive, the scattered elements of these units received orders to move towards Velika Plana (south of Belgrade). But this order was unrealistic due to the rapid enemy advance, poor infrastructure connections, and slow mobilization. As Belgrade was under heavy enemy bombing raids, the Command unit and the reserve Company of this Battalion moved toward its place of gathering at Plana, but without its equipment. They awaited the remaining elements of the units and their own tanks to arrive. By 9th April, due to huge confusion, other units were unable to link up with them, so the personnel of the first Company tried to march to Bosnia, but were captured shortly by the advancing Germans.

The 1st Company was stationed in Skopje (Macedonia). It received orders on the night of the 6th to move toward the village of Pirova. On the way to that destination, one of the tanks broke down and had to be abandoned. The Company formed a defense line around Đevđelije. A German forward reconnaissance unit spotted the Yugoslav defense line. While they were also spotted by the 1st Company, the unit commander refused to open fire. Shortly after that, the 1st Company positions were bombed by German bombers, losing a number of tanks either damaged or completely destroyed. The German ground forces then attacked the 1st Company’s shattered positions. While some Renault FTs tried to fire back, they proved ineffective and nearly all would be lost. Only four tanks managed to escape and, on 8th April, together with other Yugoslavian soldiers that survived the German attack in Macedonia, tried to escape to Greece, where the 1st Company effectively stopped to exist.

An abandoned Renault FT somewhere in Macedonia. The photograph was taken on 13th April. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945.
A destroyed M-28 in Macedonia. While the 1st Company tried to resist the Germans, the obsolete FT and M-28 tanks simply had no chance. Source: rur.rs

The history of the 2nd Company, which was stationed in Zagreb, is not completely clear. While it did not see any action, the precise location of its vehicles during the war is unknown. The main theory is that they never even tried to move from their base. The problem is that German documents after the April war do not mention any tanks being captured in Croatia.

The 3rd Company was evacuated from Sarajevo and transported to the Serbian village of Orašac, near Aranđelovac, on 9th April. Three days later, it was ordered to move towards Lazarevac to provide cover for the retreating Yugoslavian forces. They failed to do so and ran out of fuel. The advancing Germans, in the meantime, captured the company’s fuel supply vehicles. The unit commander ordered that all vehicles’ 37 mm guns be sabotaged and made useless to the Germans and that the machine guns be taken with them. They tried to reach Sarajevo, but the commander decided that it was too dangerous to continue on and effectively disbanded the unit.

An M-28 belonging to the 3rd Company, which had to abandon its tanks as they ran out of fuel. The disarmed Yugoslav soldiers (to the left) indicate that this photograph was taken after the April war ended. Source: www.quartermastersection.com

The new owners

After the brief April war, the Germans managed to capture some 78 (out of 120) Yugoslavian armored vehicles. These were to be transported back to Germany. Following the uprising against the occupation after June 1941, the Germans were forced to allocate some of these vehicles to fight the Yugoslav Partisans. From the available stocks of captured Renault FTs, the Germans formed 6 Platoons with 5 vehicles each. These were initially engaged against the Partisan forces, supporting the German infantry formations. Due to their general obsolescence, the Renault FTs were mainly replaced with more modern French tanks, like the R35, Somua S35, and the Hotchkiss H35 and 39. Nearly all of the Renault FTs were used instead to equip over 30 auxiliary and improvised armored trains that were used to protect the vital supply lines of the Axis power in the Balkans. Each of these trains was reinforced with at least two Renault FT tanks. They would be used in this role up to the war’s end. It is also unclear but quite possible that the Germans introduced additional Renault FT tanks captured in France or elsewhere.

Captured Yugoslavian armored vehicles. While most of these are Renault FTs, in the background, (to the right) a T-32 can be seen. The marking 39 was applied by the Germans. Source: beutepanzer.ru
While initially used in more direct fights against the Partisans, the Renault FTs were quickly removed from this role due to their obsolescence. Source: Bojan B. D. and D. S avić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945.
The Renault FTs were instead allocated to various improvised and auxiliary armored trains that operated in occupied Yugoslavia during the war. In most cases, these were simply put on any available open wagon. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945.
Another common practice with the captured Renault FTs that were used in trains was to remove their engine. This allowed the crew to have greater working space. Source: D. Predoević, Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj

The fate of the M-28 tanks is not completely clear. The Germans managed to capture some of them, but how they used them is unknown. There was a video on Youtube of Montenegrin Partisans destroying some captured German equipment, including an M-28 tank. Sadly, this video is no longer available.

An M-28 captured by the Germans. It is unclear, but it is highly possible that the captured M-28s were used by the Germans to rearm some armored trains, the same as the Renault FT tanks. source: D. Predoević, Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj

In Croatian service

After the collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Germans created the Independent State of Croatia. While it was their puppet state and ally, the Germans were quite unwilling to give the Croats any armored vehicles captured from the Yugoslavian Army. Nevertheless, the Croatian military forces managed to operate an unknown number of (but likely only a few)  Renault FT tanks. It is not clear how these came into their possession. They were likely captured by the Croats from the 4th Tank Company which was stationed in Zagreb. The use of this tank was possibly quite limited in any other role than perhaps crew training.

A former Yugoslavian Renault FT, now in Croatian service. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945.

In Partisan hands

During the war, the Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture a great number of Axis-operated armored vehicles. Due to a lack of documentation, it is often difficult to identify which precise vehicle they captured and used. By the end of the war, a number of German armored trains with Renault FTs were captured. Their use after the war would be limited at best (if used at all). Today, one surviving Renault FT tank can be seen at the Belgrade military museum.

The surviving Renault FT is located in the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.info

Conclusion

The Renault FT and M-28 were the first tanks operated by the Yugoslavian Army. By the time these were acquired, in 1930, they were already obsolete. Poor training, a lack of crew and personnel, and mechanical problems due to their age led to poor combat performance when they were employed against the more modern German army. While they played an insignificant role during the 1941 war with Germany, their importance may be regarded more as the first steps in the development of the Yugoslavian armored force in the following years.

Yugoslavian FT
1st Armored Tank Batallion of the Yugoslavian Royal Army, April 1941.

Renault NC2 Yugoslav Royal Army
A Renault NC2 Kegresse, one of the ten or more which were given to the Yugoslavian Royal Army. They desperately fought the Wehrmacht during the Balkan campaign, in March-April 1941. They were very similar to the nine FT Kégresse already bought in 1928.

Specifications

Dimensions 5 x 1.74 x 2.14 m
Total weight, battle-ready 6.5 metric tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Renault 18CV 35 hp
Speed 7.5 km/h
Maximum range 35 km
Armament Main: 37 mm SA model 18 gun
Secondary: 8 mm Hotchkiss machine gun machine-gun
Armor 8 to 16 mm

Sources

Categories
WW2 German SPAAGs

2cm Flak 38 Sf. Auf PzKpFw. I Ausf. A

ww2 german tanks Nazi Germany (1941) – Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, 24 built

During the early stages of the war, the Germans modified small quantities of Panzer I Ausf. A tanks as ammunition carriers. These lacked any kind of defensive weapons to protect themselves from either ground or air targets. For this reason, from March to May 1941, some 24 Panzer I Ausf. A would be modified as self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles. Sadly, these vehicles are very poorly documented in the sources and there is quite little information on them.

The 2cm Flak 38 Sf. Auf PzKpFw. I Ausf. A Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Origin

During September 1939, the Germans converted some 51 older Panzer I Ausf. A tanks into ammunition carriers. This conversion was quite rudimentary, done by simply removing the turrets and replacing the opening with two-part hatches. These vehicles would be allocated to the Munitions Transport Abteilung 610 (ammunition transport battalion) and its two companies, the 601st and 603rd.

The Panzer I ammunition supply vehicle. Source: www.armedconflicts.com

The 610th Battalion would see service during the German invasion of the West in 1940. There, it was noted that these vehicles lacked proper armed support vehicles that could protect them from any potential enemy threats (especially against airborne attacks).

To resolve this issue, In 6 (Armored Troop Inspectorate) issued a request for an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the Panzer I Ausf. A chassis to be designed. Receiving this request, Wa Prüf 6 appointed Alkett and Daimler-Benz with designing the first prototype. Spanish author L. M. Franco (Panzer I: the beginning of the dynasty) provides additional information claiming that, according to the soldiers who operated these vehicles, the manufacturer of the first prototype was actually Stöwer. The Stöwer company was located in Stettin and was actually a car manufacturer. Another author, J. Ledwoch (Flakpanzer), supports this information but notes that the Stöwer company lacked adequate production facilities and was probably responsible for providing some necessary parts rather than fully assembling the vehicles. Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka), on the other hand, states that only Alkett was responsible for the design and production of this vehicle.

While it is not clear who produced the first prototype, the 610th Battalion was tasked with acquiring the necessary equipment and manpower to build 24 vehicles. It is not clear if, for the construction of these 24 vehicles, new Panzer I hulls or already existing ammunition supply vehicles based on it were used. At this time, the Panzer I was being slowly phased out of service, so it is possible that regular tank versions (and not the ammunition supply vehicles) were used for this modification. The first vehicle was finished in March and the last one in May of 1941.

Name

Based on a few sources, this vehicle was designated as the 2 cm Flak 38 (Sf) PzKpfw I Ausf. A. It is generally referred to, more simply, as Flakpanzer I. This article will use this designation due to its simplicity.

Construction

The Flakpanzer I used an almost unchanged Panzer I Ausf.A chassis and hull. It consisted of the front driving compartment, central crew compartment and the rear engine compartment.

Engine

The design of the rear engine compartment was left almost unchanged. The main engine was the Krupp M 305 four cylinder giving out 60 [email protected] 500 rpm. The only source to mention the Flakpanzer I’s driving performance is D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka). According to him, the weight was increased to 6.3 tonnes (from the original 5.4 tonnes). The increase of weight led to a reduction of maximum speed from 37.5 to 35 km/h. This source also notes that the operational range was 145 km. This is probably wrong, as the regular Panzer I Ausf. A’s operational range was 140 km. Unless there was an increase of the original 140 l fuel load that is not mentioned in the sources, this seems unlikely.

The extra added weight could also have led to engine overheating problems. To prevent this, two larger 50 to 70 mm wide holes were cut open in the engine compartment in order to provide better ventilation. Some vehicles had several smaller 10 mm holes cut for the same purpose. Another change was the removal of the vent usually located on the right side of the hull. Its purpose was to provide heated air to the crew compartment.

Suspension

The Flakpanzer I used an unmodified Panzer I Ausf. A suspension. It consisted of five road wheels on each side. The last road wheel, which was larger than the others, acted as the idler. The first wheel used a coil spring mount with an elastic shock absorber in order to prevent any outward bending. The remaining four wheels (including the last larger wheel) were mounted in pairs on a suspension cradle with leaf spring units. There was one front drive sprocket and three return rollers per side.

A view of the unchanged Panzer I Ausf. A suspension. Source: ww2.wiki

Superstructure

The superstructure of the original Panzer I was heavily modified. First, the turret and the superstructure top and parts of the side and rear armor were removed. On top of the frontal superstructure armor, an 18 cm high armored plate was welded. In addition, two smaller triangular in shaped plates were added to the front side armor. This added armor served to protect the opening between the lower part of the gun shield and the superstructure. The driver’s and the two side visors were left unchanged.

The added frontal armor plate is clearly visible in this photograph, slightly above the driver’s visor. Source: Pinterest

On top of the vehicle, a new square shaped platform for the main gun was installed. Unlike the original Panzer I turret, which was placed asymmetrically, the new gun was placed at the center of the vehicle. The Panzer I was a small vehicle, and to provide proper working space for the crew, the Germans added two additional foldable platforms. These were placed on the sides of the vehicle and some vehicles had one more to the rear, just behind the engine. The platforms actually consisted of two rectangular shaped plates. The first plate was welded to the superstructure, while the second plate could be folded down to provide additional working space.

A Flakpanzer I with a folding side platform, which is raised during the march. Source: Pinterest
When engaging targets (in this case, probably a ground target), the crews would pull down the side platforms to have more working space. But even with this, the Flakpanzer I was quite a cramped vehicle. Source: Pinterest

As even these were insufficient, the crew had to move around the engine compartment. The Panzer I had muffler covers placed on either side of the engine, so the crew had to be careful to avoid accidentally burning themselves on them.

Armament

The main armament of the Flakpanzer I was the 2 cm Flak 38 anti-aircraft cannon. This was a weapon intended to replace the older 2 cm Flak 30, which it never actually did. It was designed by Mauser Werke, incorporating many elements of the Flak 30 with some internal changes, like the addition of a new bolt mechanism and return spring. In order to provide the crew with some level of protection, the armored shield was retained. The gun had a full traverse of 360° and an elevation of -20° to +90°. The maximum effective range was 2 km against air targets and 1.6 km against ground targets. The maximum rate of fire was between 420 and 480, but the practical rate of fire was usually between 180 to 220 rounds.

The 2 cm Flak 38. Source: WIki

Interestingly, Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions that the first Flakpanzer I prototype was armed with the Italian 2 cm Breda Model 1935 cannon. Why this particular weapon was used is sadly not mentioned by this source. There is a possibility that the author simply confused it with the Spanish Nationalists conversion of the Panzer I which was armed with the same weapon.

The 2 cm Flak 38 was unchanged and could be (if needed) easily removed from the vehicle. The overall performance and its characteristics were also unchanged on the Flakpanzer I. The time to deploy from the march to a combat position ranged between 4 to 6 min. The ammunition for the main gun was carried inside the hull, just beside the driver and the radio operator. The ammunition load consisted of 250 rounds. This number is unusual, as the normal 2 cm Flak 38 clip contained 20 rounds. Additional spare ammunition (and other equipment) was carried either in the Sd.Ah.51 trailers (not all vehicles had them) or in support vehicles. No secondary armament was carried, but the crews would have probably been armed with pistols or submachine guns for self-defense.

This Flakpanzer I was equipped with the Sd.Ah.51 trailers in which additional ammunition, spare barrels and other equipment would be stored. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Armor

The Flakpanzer I’s armor was quite thin. The Panzer I front hull’s armor ranged between 8 to 13 mm. The side armor was 13 to 14.5 mm thick, the bottom 5 mm and the rear 13 mm. The gun operators were only protected by the 2 cm Flak 38’s gun shield, with the sides, rear and top being completely exposed to enemy fire.

The Flakpanzer I was lightly armored. The gun crew beside the gun shield were completely exposed to enemy fire. Source:firearmcentral.fandom.com

Crew

For such a small vehicle, the Flakpanzer I had a large crew of eight. Five of these would be stationed on the vehicle itself. They consisted of the commander, gunner, loader, driver, and radio operator. The driver’s position was unchanged from the original Panzer I, and he was seated on the vehicle’s left side. To his right, the radio operator (with the Fu 2 radio equipment) was positioned. In order to enter their positions, they had to squeeze themselves between the frontal armor and the gun platform. These two were the only fully protected crew members. The remaining three crew members were stationed around the gun platform.

Despite being a small vehicle, Flakpanzer I needed a large crew to operate the gun properly. The 2 cm gun had a fast firing cycle, which requested a constant supply of ammunition. Source: Panzer.net

Three additional crew members were positioned in the auxiliary supply vehicles and were probably responsible for providing additional ammunition or acting as target spotters.

The ammunition transport vehicle ‘Laube’

Due to Flakpanzer I’s small size, they were provided with ammunition trailers for carrying additional spare ammunition and other equipment. The Germans decided this was not enough and an additional 24 Panzer I Ausf. A chassis were supplied to the 610th Battalion to be modified as Munitionsschlepper (ammunition transports), also known as ‘Laube’ (bower). The Panzer Is were extensively modified by removing the superstructure and turret and replacing them with simple flat and vertical armored plates. The front plate had a large windshield for the driver to see where he was driving.

The modified Panzer I ‘Laube’. Source: www.rumodelism.com
The Laube was used to transport the remaining crew members and to carry additional ammunition and other equipment. Source: Pinterest

In combat

The 24 Flakpanzer Is were used to form Flak Abteilung 614 (Anti-Aircraft Battalion) in early May 1941. These Anti-Aircraft Battalions (with some 20 in total) were formed by the German Army, to avoid being dependent on Luftwaffe’s own anti-aircraft units. The 614th Battalion was divided into three Companies, each equipped with 8 vehicles. According to some sources, the 614th Battalion was also supplemented with the 2cm Flakvierling 38 armed SdKfz 7/1 half-tracks, which were attached to each Company.

This unit was moved to the East for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. The 614th Battalion was initially not involved in the offensive, as it was stationed in Pomerania, undergoing extensive crew training. After August, the 614th Battalion was transported by rail to the Romanian city of Iași, from where it was to be redirected towards the Eastern Front.

Sadly, there is no information about its service life in the Soviet Union. The extra weight, combined with the harsh climate and poor road conditions would have been quite stressful for the fragile Panzer I suspension and engine. Surprisingly, despite their weak armor and inferior chassis, the last vehicle was lost during the Battle for Stalingrad in early 1943. This was probably because the Flakpanzer I was intended to provide cover for the ammunition supply units, which were often located behind the front lines.

While being open-top had some benefits (good all around view, for example), it left the crew and the gun exposed to harsh weather elements of the East. Source: Pinterest
A pair of winter camouflaged Flakpanzer I’s. Source: Panzer.net

Other Flakpanzer modifications based on the Panzer I

While not related to the previously mentioned vehicles, there were at least two other Panzer I field modifications adapted to the anti-aircraft role. According to D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka), beside the Flakpanzer I armed with the 2 cm Flak 38, a few were built with the triple 1.5 or 2 cm MG 151 Drilling. These (the precise numbers are unknown, it could have been only a single vehicle) were built by placing the new weapon mount inside the crew compartment. The existing photo shows it was built using a Panzer I Ausf. B chassis. Due to a lack of information, it is difficult to see how this vehicle was actually designed from the inside. The working space inside of this modification would have been quite cramped. Whether the cannons could be fully rotated is also unknown. As the MG 151 Drilling was employed in greater numbers at the war’s end, it is likely that this was a last-ditch effort to increase the Panzer I’s firepower by any means when there was nothing else available.

The strange Panzer I Ausf. B field modification equipped with the MG 151 Drilling. Source: Unknown

There is another photograph of a Panzer I equipped with a 3.7 cm Flak mount placed on top of the superstructure. Interestingly, in this photograph, the gun barrel is missing. The photograph gives the impression that it is at a repair storage facility, so maybe the gun barrel was removed for cleaning or yet to be replaced.

The Panzer I Ausf. B with the 3.7 cm Flak mount placed on top of its superstructure. Source: Unknown

Conclusion

The Flakpanzer I, while not a purposefully designed vehicle, was surely an innovative way of providing better mobility for the anti-aircraft weapons. While using the Panzer I chassis had benefits, like being cheap and quick to build, with plenty of available spare parts, etcetera, it had a number of drawbacks, like insufficient protection, lack of working space, weak suspension, etcetera. When this vehicle was introduced in limited numbers for service, the Germans actually did not consider a self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle based on the tank chassis a priority simply because the Luftwaffe was still a fearsome force. In the later years, with the increase of Allied dominance in the skies, the Germans would put much more effort into developing a dedicated anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis.

Flakpanzer-I
Flakpanzer I, Eastern Front, Flak Abteilung 614, 1941.
Flakpanzer-I
Same unit and location, winter 1941-42.

2cm Flak 38 Sf. Auf PzKpFw. I Ausf. A Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 4.02 m, 2.06 m, 1.97 m
Total weight, battle-ready 6.3 tonnes
Crew 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver and the radio operator)
Propulsion Krupp M 305 four cylinder 60 HP @ 2500 rpm
Speed 36 km/h
Range 145 km
Primary Armament 2 cm Flak 38
Elevation -20° to +90°
Armor 6-13 mm

Source:

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1941)
Self-propelled anti-tank- 174 anti-tank and 26 command vehicles

After the defeat of France in June 1940, the Germans captured huge stockpiles of British and French war materiel. Some of the greatest prizes were the large quantities of tanks of several different types, including the Renault R35. While the R35 was available in great numbers and had good armor for its time, it lacked firepower, speed and had only two crew members. While some would be used in their original tank configuration on less important fronts, the majority would be adapted for various other roles, such as artillery tractors or ammunition supply vehicles. Some 174 would be modified and used as anti-tank vehicles with an additional 24 (based on the same model) being used as command vehicles.

The 4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731. Source: https://www.armedconflicts.com/4-7-cm-PaK-t-Sfl-auf-Fgst-Pz-Kpfw-35-R-731-f-t6459

History

After the conclusion of the Western campaign, the Germans were in possession of nearly 800 R35 tanks. At the end of 1940, In 6 (the inspectorate for motorized and armored units) issued a request to Wa Prüf 6 for the development of an anti-tank vehicle based on the R35 tank. This vehicle was to be used to equip non-motorized Infantry Divisions. Prior to this request, the Germans had already tested the use of so-called Panzerjäger (anti-tank vehicles) during the Western campaign. These represented an attempt to increase the mobility of anti-tank guns by placing them on an obsolete tank chassis, like the Panzer I. The standard German anti-tank gun was the 3.7 cm PaK 36, which proved a good design in the Polish campaign, but was deemed insufficient for the task afterward. The Germans had in their inventory a good number of the more potent Czechoslovakian 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38 anti-tank guns, known as the 4.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 36 (t), or simply as 4.7 cm PaK (t). Due to its better firepower, the Germans decided to use this cannon to arm the first self-propelled anti-tank vehicle, known simply as the Panzerjäger I. It consisted of a Panzer I chassis on which the turret was replaced with a 4.7 cm PaK(t) mount and a three-sided shield. While this concept proved to have merit, as shown in France, it was far from perfect. Simply put, the chassis was insufficient for the task and was poorly protected.

The Panzerjager I, the first German self-propelled anti-tank gun, based on the Panzer I chassis and armed with a 47 mm gun. Source: Wiki

As the larger Panzer III and IV were better armed than the Panzer I, there was no point in using them for such modifications at this early stage of the war, as they were too valuable as tanks for the Panzer Divisions. The French R35, on the other hand, was available in great numbers, was better protected than the Panzer I and had a stronger chassis. Adding the potent 4.7 cm PaK(t) instead of the weak 3.7 cm main gun would have kept these vehicles relevant on the contemporary battlefields. These were probably the main reasons why the Germans decided to utilize the R35 chassis for this role.

The R35 in German service. These vehicles were mainly used for occupation and anti-partisan activities. Source: http://www.tankarchives.ca/
The R35 was commonly used as a towing vehicle for German heavy artillery. Source: http://www.tankarchives.ca/

For the development of such a vehicle, Wa Prüf 6 chose Alkett to build the first prototype. The soft steel prototype was completed during early February 1941. The conversion included removing the turret and replacing it with an open topped combat compartment armed with the 4.7 cm anti-tank gun. At the end of March, it was presented to Adolf Hitler. He approved the design and an order for 200 4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731, as it was known, was given, which was to be completed by August that year.

The R35

The Renault R35 was a French light tank developed during the early thirties to replace the aging FT tank. While the French Army tested other heavier designs (the Renault D1 and D2), a simpler and cheaper vehicle was deemed more desirable. Work on this tank began in 1933 at the French Army’s request for a new light tank design. Renault was quick to respond and presented its prototype to the France Army which, after a series of modifications (among which increasing the armor to 40 mm and improving the running gear), placed an order for over 1,600 tanks. While the R35 was well protected, with 40 mm-thick cast armor, it was plagued with problems such as weak firepower (it had the same 37 mm gun as the FT), just two crew members, a lack of radio and slow speed. During its service life, a number of further modifications and tests were carried out in order to improve its firepower and mobility, all with limited success. Regardless, it was the most numerous French tank during the German Invasion of 1940.

The R35 in French service. Source: http://www.warlordgames.com/new-french-renault-r35-tank/

Name

The designation of the German tank destroyer is slightly different depending on the source used. According to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 7-1), it is known as 4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731. Author D. Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Francuska) mentions it as the Selbstfahrlafette 4.7 cm PaK(t) auf PzKpfw 35 R (f). W.J. Spielberger (Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Deutschen Wehrmacht) names it the 4.7 cm PaK(t) auf Panzerkampfwagen 35 R(f) ohne turm. The precise name is also somewhat complicated by the Germans using both R35 and 35R in their documents.

This article, for the sake of simplicity, will use the simple and unofficial Panzerjäger 35R designation.

Design

Chassis and hull

The hull and superstructure were built using casting. The hull actually consisted of three cast parts that were bolted together. In the front part of the hull, the transmission was placed. Behind it was the crew compartment and, to the rear, separated by a firewall, was the engine compartment. On top of the chassis, a cast superstructure was added. It completely covered most of the vehicle, including the rear engine compartment. In front of the superstructure, a two-part hatch for the driver was located.

The R35 had a somewhat innovative cast hull and superstructure construction. Source: Pinterest

Armored crew compartment

For the construction of the Panzerjäger 35R, the Germans simply removed the R35’s turret and placed a box-shaped and open-topped armored compartment on top of the vehicle. To accommodate this new compartment, the Germans added a metal base that was extended over most of the upper part of the R35 superstructure.

The Panzerjager I was built using the R35 chassis without the turret. This particular R35 (on the left) is a perfect example of the chassis on which the German armored compartment would be added. Source: Unknown

The front rectangular plate of this compartment was placed at 30°. In the middle of it, an opening for the gun was placed. This opening was enclosed with an internal gun shield. On the gun’s left side, a hatch was placed. Its purpose was to cover the gun’s sight and had to be open when engaging enemy targets.

A view of the front plate, with the gun sight hatch closed on the left and open on the right vehicle. In addition, the right vehicle had metal bars welded to the top for better canvas support. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The compartment sides consisted of two armored plates. The smaller one, to the front, was slightly angled towards the front plate. The larger side armor had narrow rectangular hatches for the crew on both sides to the rear. On the left side, to the rear, an aerial antenna cubical mount base was installed.

Side view of the vehicle. The side doors are somewhat hard to spot, but they can be identified by the two hinges just behind the Balkenkreuz. In addition, note the antenna’s cubical mount. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No7.1
A close-up view of the Panyerjäger 35R’s interior, but with many parts (including the rear part) missing. Sources: http://ritastatusreport.blogspot.com/2015/04/47mm-gun-on-renault-r35-chassis-in-thun.html

The rear part of the compartment consisted of a storage area which was elevated above the engine compartment. This was supported by three metal poles. While all were open-topped, some vehicles had two metal bars welded to the top to provide a better base for the canvas cover.

Rear view of the tank-hunter. Two metal bars holding the rear part of the upper armored crew compartment are visible. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Suspension

The Panzerjäger 35R’s suspension was unchanged from the original French design and consisted of five road wheels, three return rollers, one idler and one drive sprocket. Of the five road wheels, four were suspended in pairs and one was independently mounted. The paired road wheels were mounted on bell cranks and suspended using rubber springs. The rear idler was put close to the ground.

A good view of the Panzerjäger 35R’s suspension. Source: Pinterest

Engine

This vehicle was powered by a Renault 4 cylinder engine giving out 85 hp @ 220 rpm. While the overall weight, due to the added extra armor, crew members, armament and ammunition, was increased to 11 tonnes (or 10 tonnes, depending on the source), the driving performance seems to be unchanged in the specifications in most sources. The maximum speed was 20 km/h, while the cross-country speed was only 12 km/h. The low speed was not that a great deficiency for this vehicle, as it was intended to support the non-motorised infantry units. The operational range was some 130 km, dropping down to 80 km cross-country.

To reduce the wear and tear on the suspension and engine, the Germans often employed trailers to transport their tanks. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Armor protection

The armor protection could be divided into two sections, the French R35 hull and superstructure, and the German-added top fighting compartment. The French R35 was relatively well protected for its day. Its front hull armor was 32 mm rounded armor. The sides were 40 mm thick, the rear also 40 mm, but placed at 35°, and the bottom was 14 mm thick. The superstructure front armor was 32 mm thick, the sides and rear were 40 mm placed at 10° and 11°. The top armor of the superstructure was 13 mm.

Being lightly armored, good camouflage was one way to increase its survivability in combat. Source: www.armedconflicts.com

The new fighting compartment was less armored. The front was 25 mm thick, placed at 30°. The sides were 20 mm thick at 10° and the flat rear was 20 mm thick. Older sources mention that the frontal armor was 20 mm thick and the sides and rear only 10 mm thick.

The Panzerjäger 35R’s armored crew compartment was only lightly protected, as evidenced by the door’s armor thickness. Source: Pinterest

Armament

The gun used to arm this vehicle was the captured Škoda 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38, known as the 4.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 36 (t), or simply as the 4.7 cm PaK (t) in German service. The standard armor-piercing Panzergranate 36 (t) had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s and a maximum effective range of 1.5 km. The armor penetration of this round was 48-59 mm at 500 m and 41 mm at 1 km.

In order to extend its operational effectiveness, a new Pzgr.Patr.40 tungsten round was developed (the muzzle velocity was 1,080 m/s). As the Germans lacked sufficient tungsten, this type of ammunition could not be produced in large quantities and its usage was rare. The 4.7 cm PaK (t) also fired high-explosive rounds (2.3 kg weight) with impact fuses to be used against light armor and infantry.

The Škoda 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38 Source: Wiki

The gun itself, without the wheels and the trail legs, was simply bolted on the front, where the R35’s turret ring was previously positioned. The 4.7 cm gun had an elevation of -8° to +10° and a traverse angle of 17.5° on each side. The elevation and traverse were controlled by two handwheels located on the gun’s left side. The main monocular gunsight was not changed. The total ammunition load is unknown. Seeing as the smaller Panzerjäger I was able to carry some 86 rounds, it would be logical to assume that the new Panzerjäger 35R’s ammunition load would be similar, if not slightly larger.

For crew protection, one MP38/40 submachine gun was carried inside. The ammunition load for it was 192 rounds. Being designed to cooperate with the infantry, the lack of a machine gun was not a major issue.

A close-up view of the 4.7 cm mount being bolted to the R35 tank. Source:https://imgur.com/a/vvL8xcN http://ritastatusreport.blogspot.com/2015/04/47mm-gun-on-renault-r35-chassis-in-thun.html
A dismantled 4.7 cm gun mount from a Panzerjäger I. The Panzerjäger 35R had the same design. Source: H. F. Duske, Panzerjager I, Nuts and Bolts

Crew

This vehicle had a crew of three, which included the commander, who was also the gunner, the loader and the driver. The driver’s position was on the left side of the vehicle. He entered his position through a two-part hatch with a visor. The remaining two crewmen were positioned in the new armored fighting compartment. The commander/gunner was positioned to the left of the gun, and the loader to the right of him. While not listed in the sources, it is likely that the loader would also act as the radio operator.

The Panzerjäger 35R had a crew of three. Source: Pinterest

Production

As already mentioned, the production order for this vehicle was awarded to Alkett. The preparation for production was to begin in February/March 1941, with some 30 vehicles per month. There would be some delays in production, so the quota of 30 vehicles was not always achieved. By May 1941, some 93 vehicles were completed, followed by 33 in June, only 5 in July, 22 in August, 28 in September and the final 19 vehicles in October 1941. Not all were built as anti-tank vehicles. Of the 200 vehicles, some 26 were constructed as command vehicles.

Organization

The first available vehicles were used to form three 30-vehicle strong Panzerjäger Abteilung – Pz.Jg.Abt (self-propelled anti-tank battalions), the 559th, 561st, and the 611th. Each of these battalions consisted of an HQ unit and three Kompanie (Companies). Each Company was divided into smaller three-vehicle strong Zuge (Platoons). There was an additional Company sent to the 43rd Battalion, supplied with a few vehicles, to act as a reserve and training unit. The remaining vehicles would be mainly distributed in smaller numbers to various Infantry Divisions.

Service

Failed actions in the East

The Panzerjäger 35Rs, like many other German armored vehicles, were mobilized for the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The 559th was allocated to Army Group North, while the 561st and 611th went to Army Group Center. For these vehicles, the war started pretty badly. Nearly all vehicles were out of action due to mechanical breakdowns just a few days after the start of the German attack. For example, in the case of the 611th Battalion, it lost all its vehicles on the first day of the attack. In desperation, the unit was instead equipped with the 3.7 cm PaK 36 towed gun and even some Soviet captured anti-tank guns. The 559th Battalion also had the same fate, replacing its vehicles with 3.7 cm PaK anti-tank guns. The 561st was pulled back from the front, temporarily waiting to replace the tank destroyers with towed anti-tank guns.

Another unit that was sent to the Soviet Union, probably in late 1941, was the 318th Company, which had ten 35R tank-hunters and 2 command vehicles. These performed poorly based on the unit report dated from February 1942. In this report, it was noted that these vehicles had poor engines, which were ill suited for the field conditions of the East. Bad weather and the poor road system prevented long road marches with this vehicle. Due to the low temperatures, the engines could not be started and even the road wheels would be blocked and unable to move because of this. After this poor performance, no more 35R anti-tank vehicles would be sent to the East. The fate of these vehicles is not clear in the sources.

A Panzerjäger passing a destroyed T-34 somewhere on the Eastern Front. Source: www.armedconflicts.com
The command version (easily identified by the lack of gun) based on the Panzerjäger 35R. Source: Pinterest

In the West

The remaining Panzerjäger 35Rs, some 148 vehicles in April 1942, would be stationed in the West, where the climate was more suitable for their use. In the West, these vehicles were not used in Battalion strength, but instead mostly allocated to a number of Infantry Divisions in small numbers. Some of these included 3 with the 100th Panzer Regiment, 2 in the 243rd Panzer Division, 11 in the 343rd Infantry Division, 10 in the 191st Reserve Division, etcetera. In December 1943, of 92 Panzerjäger 35Rs, some 88 were operational. Prior to the Allied invasion of France in 1944, some 110 vehicles of this type were available. Why this number is higher than the previous year is sadly not mentioned in the sources. Between 1942 and 1944, these vehicles were mainly used for occupation and patrol duties and crew training.

A Panzerjäger 35R during an exercise, possibly somewhere in France. Source: http://www.tankarchives.ca/

The available Panzerjäger 35Rs would meet the Allied invasion of occupied France. Unfortunately, the sources do not give much information about their actual combat service. Being based on a pre-war vehicle and armed with a weak 4.7 cm anti-tank gun (by 1944 standards), its effectiveness was limited at best. It is hard to know precisely, but probably all were lost in the first few months of combat in France.

An abandoned Panzerjäger 35R being inspected by American soldiers in late June 1944, at Littry. Source: www.armedconflicts.com

Modifications

Führungs-fahrzeuge auf Fgst.Kpfw.35 R 731(f)

The Führungs-fahrzeuge auf Fgst.Kpfw.35 R 731(f) (also known in sources as the Befehlspanzer fur 4.7 cm PaK(t) Einheiten auf Panzerkampfwagen 35 R) was a command vehicle based on the Panzerjäger 35R. It was built by removing the 4.7 cm anti-tank gun and replacing it with a ball mounted Kugelblende 30 MG 34 machine gun. Not all vehicles were actually equipped with the machine gun mount, as some were left without any armament. It was equipped with additional radio equipment and built in small numbers, some 26 vehicles in total.

Führungs-fahrzeuge auf Fgst.Kpfw.35 R 731(f). Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No7.1

The 5 cm Pak 38 auf R35(f) project

At the end of July 1941, Alkett was instructed by Wa Prüf 6 to design and produce a modified version of this vehicle armed with the 5 cm PaK 38. This vehicle was designated 5 cm PaK 38 auf R 35(f). Once adopted, it was to be allocated to anti-tank units of standard Infantry Divisions. Due to the addition of the larger gun, the weight of the vehicle would rise to 11.5 tonnes. Ultimately, while one vehicle was to be ready by August 1941, it is unlikely that this was ever achieved.

The 5 cm gun was a powerful weapon with much stronger recoil, and it is not clear if the R35 chassis could have successfully handled it without major mechanical problems. The poor performance of this chassis in the East probably also influenced the decision to drop this project.

Drawing of how the 5 cm PaK 38 R35(t) may have looked. Source: http://www.tankarchives.ca/2016/10/renault-r-35-in-german-service.html

In Hungarian Service

At least two of these vehicles were temporarily given to Hungarians to fight Soviet partisans. Sadly, not much is known about their use by the Hungarians.

One of the two Panzerjäger 35Rs temporarily given to the Hungarians by the Germans. Source: B. Adam, E. Miklos, S. Gyula, A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945

Surviving vehicle

Today, only one Panzerjäger 35R (with some parts missing) exists and can be seen at the Swiss military Museum at Thun.

The lone surviving Panzerjäger 35R Source: http://ritastatusreport.blogspot.com/2015/04/47mm-gun-on-renault-r35-chassis-in-thun.html

The Panzerjäger 35R shared a number of positive and negative characteristics with its cousin, the Panzerjäger I. It provided the German infantry with a more mobile anti-tank platform with a relatively good gun and somewhat better protection than the earlier Panzerjäger I. While it was slow, the infantry it was designed to provide cover for were themselves not a very mobile force, so it was not a major issue.

The problem with this vehicle was its mechanical unsuitability for the Eastern Front (a problem that most French vehicles had when they were used there by the Germans). The poor roads and cold climate prevented the Panzerjäger 35R from being of any use on this front. The armor protection, especially the all around (but open-top) crew compartment, was still weak by the standards of 1942. While the later Marder series was also poorly protected, they had the benefit of longer range guns, which this vehicle did not have. In any case, the Panzerjäger 35R was surely a good way of increasing the effectiveness of the obsolete R35 tank, but was let down by its basis.

The Renault R35s were given a new utility by mounting the Czech 4.7 cm gun on top. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731 specifications

Total weight, battle-ready 11 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander/Gunner, Loader and Driver)
Propulsion Renault 447 85hp engine
Speed 20 km/h, 12 km/h (cross country)
Operational range(cross country) 130 km/ 80 km
Primary Armament 4.7 cm PaK(t)(r)
Elevation -8° to +12°
Armor 20-45 mm

Source:

Categories
WW2 German SPGs

le.F.H.18/2 auf. Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.II (Sf) (Sd.Kfz.124) Wespe

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1943)
Self-propelled artillery- 662-753

The greatest strength of the German Panzer Divisions during World War II was their rapid speed and ability to engage the enemy with concentrated force. But, sometimes, this was not enough, and additional firepower was needed to soften designated targets. This was the job of the Panzer Division’s own towed artillery. This was not always possible, as the mechanized towed and horse-drawn artillery could not always keep up with the advancing Panzers. They also needed time to properly set up for firing and were prone to enemy return artillery fire.

The le.F.H.18/2 auf. Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.II (Sf) (Sd.Kfz.124). Source: warspot.ru

A more suitable solution was a tank-based self-propelled artillery vehicle. This was not possible to achieve in the early stages of the war, as the German tank industry was barely keeping up with the demand for tanks. It was not until 1942 that the first proper steps were undertaken in developing such vehicles. While initially, dedicated vehicle designs were considered, due to a lack of time, the Germans went for a stopgap solution. Originating from this, two different designs would emerge: the larger 15 cm armed Hummel and the smaller 10.5 cm armed Wespe. While intended as interim solutions, both would be built in relatively great numbers and used up to the end of the war.

History

During the early stages of World War II, German Army officials were aware that having mobile self-propelled artillery that could keep up and support the Panzer Divisions was desirable, but no major attempt was made in that direction. There were a number of reasons why this was never implemented during the first few years of the war or before it. One fact was that the German industry was unable to produce enough tanks, let alone have spare production capacity for other projects. The Luftwaffe provided the Panzer Divisions with adequate close operational fire support to compensate for the lack of a mobile artillery vehicle.

From 1940 to 1942, there were a number of different but limited attempts to build such vehicles. These included the Panzer I and Panzer II-based self-propelled vehicles equipped with the 15 cm sIG 33 infantry gun, which were built in small numbers. French captured tanks and tracked artillery tractors were also modified for this role. As these were built on captured chassis and without the possibility of mass-producing necessary parts, these would be built in smaller numbers and their use would be limited. Smaller numbers of British Vickers Light Tanks were modified with 10.5 cm guns and saw some use on the Eastern Front.

By 1942, it was obvious that the development of self-propelled artillery was urgent, as the Luftwaffe was losing control of the skies. For this reason, in the same year, Wa Prüf 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) issued requests for a new self-propelled artillery vehicle.

15 cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B, of which less than 40 would be built. This was one of the earliest German attempts at increasing the mobility of towed artillery. Source: Wiki

The initial request may have been somewhat overcomplicated, as it was requested that the new vehicle should have a full 360° firing arc (something that no other self-propelled artillery had during the war). The second major request was that it should have had the possibility of removing its main weapon and using it in a static emplacement. The Germans had a few such projects in development, like the ones based on the Panzer IV chassis (the Heuschrecke, for example). However, these would take too much valuable time to be properly developed and adopted for production. So, the German High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres-OKH) decided to proceed with a simpler solution for the time being. The so-called Zwischenlösung (interim solution) was to include chassis and other components that were already in production and available. After a short deliberation, in mid-July 1942, a decision was made by a Panzercommision to reuse the Panzer II Ausf. F chassis for this purpose. The Panzer II tank was already obsolete and used mostly in the reconnaissance role. Its chassis was also being reused for the Marder II anti-tank project.

To design this new vehicle, a contract was awarded to Rheinmetall-Borsig and Alkett. The Panzer II Ausf. F chassis had to be modified by moving the engine to the center of the vehicle, thus making room for a rear fighting compartment. It was to be lightly protected and armed with a 10.5 cm howitzer. When the vehicle was completed and tested, a report was presented to Hitler, in which it was noted that this modification was feasible to enter production by the end of July 1942.

The first Wespe prototype. It incorporated some elements, like the large muzzle brake, round-shaped driver compartment cover and one headlight, that would not be implemented on the production vehicles. Source: warspot.ru
Another view of the first prototype. Source: warspot.ru

Name

The first official name given to this vehicle was Leichte Feldhaubitze 18/2 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen II, dated from July 1943. During its service life, the vehicle received several slightly different designations. These included G.W. II ‘Wespe’ für le.FH 18/2 (Sf) auf Gw II from August 1943, Geschützwagen II in November 1943, leichte Panzerhaubitze auf Sd.Kfz.123 in May 1944, and le.F.H.18/2 auf. Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.II (Sf) (Sd.Kfz.124) in October 1944.

The name by which this vehicle is best known, Wespe (wasp), was actually only a suggestive name that was officially discontinued after February 1944. For the sake of simplicity only, this article will use the Wespe designation.

Production

For the production of the Wespe, FAMO (Fahrzeug und Motorenwerke GmbH) factories, located in Breslau, and the Ursus (which was also part of FAMO) ones from Warsaw were chosen. FAMO was already involved in Panzer II and Marder II production, so it possessed the production capabilities necessary for the new project. According to the German Army production plans for this project, some 1,000 vehicles were to be built by May 1944. After that, better designed mobile artillery was to replace it, something which never happened.

The first two production vehicles would be built by FAMO in February 1943. In order to speed up the production of the Wespe, the Marder II production would be terminated. The FAMO main production line at Breslau would be included in Wespe production up to August 1943, after which it was to focus solely on the production of the large Sd.Kfz.9 half-tracks. Following this decision, it was also decided to reduce the overall production order to 835 vehicles. With FAMO leaving the Wespe project, the only manufacturer remaining was Ursus. The total production price of each Wespe was 65,628 Reichsmarks (49,228 for the chassis and 16,400 for the gun).

Monthly production in 1943
February 2
March 40
April 136
May 37
June 34
July 59
August 57
September 49
October 37
November 38
December 38
Monthly production in 1944
January 37
February 33
March 35
April 19
May 20
June 19
Total 676

These production numbers are from T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle’s book, Panzer Tracts No.10-1 Artillerie Selbstfahrlafetten. As with many other German vehicles, production numbers differ between sources. Authors F. Koran and J. Starosta (Wespe in detail) list that 685 vehicles were built. According to author J. Engelmann (Wespe-Heuschrecke), 682 vehicles were built. Interestingly, author P. P. Battistelli (Panzer Divisions 1944-45) gives a production range between 662 and 753 being built.

The design

Hull

The Wespe was constructed using a heavily modified Panzer II chassis. Its hull consisted of the forward-mounted transmission, centrally positioned engine, and the rear fighting compartment for the crew and the main gun. The Wespe hull was slightly longer than the original Panzer II hull, by some 220 mm. Depending on the source, this lengthening was either introduced at the start of production or at some point in the later months of production.

An illustration of the Wespe’s internal components. Source: http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2020/05/wespe-105-cm-lefh-182-auf-gii-sdkfz-124.html

Suspension

The suspension of the Wespe was, in essence, the same as that of the original Panzer II, with some changes implemented during the production. It consisted of five large 550 x 98 x 455 mm road wheels (on each side) which had rubber rims. Above each wheel, on a rocker arm, a quarter elliptical leaf spring unit with a movable roller was placed. With the addition of the new gun, more crew members, ammunition, and such, it led to an increase of the weight from 9.5 to 11 tonnes. To cope with this extra weight, the Wespe suspension was additionally strengthened by widening the leaf springs above the wheels.

There was also a front-drive sprocket (with a diameter of 755 mm), a rear positioned idler (650 mm diameter), and four return rollers (220 mm x 105 mm) on each side. The track had a width of 300 mm and consisted of 108 links. The ground pressure was 0.76 kg per square centimeter.

The Wespe shared, with some changes, the same Panzer II suspension. Source: panzerserra.

The first Wespes produced had the same bump stops as the original Panzer II. After only a few months of production, new stronger bump stops with vertical volute springs were added on the first two wheels on both sides. The vehicles produced after November 1943 had one more bump stop added to the last wheel. This was one of the few modifications added to the Wespe vehicles during production.

During production, some changes were implemented, like adding two (and later one more) bump stops with vertical volute springs on the first two wheels per side. For some unknown reason, the last road wheel is lacking its rubber rim. Source: warspot.ru

Engine and transmission

The Wespe’s engine was positioned in the center of the Panzer II Ausf. F hull. This was done to provide more working space for the crew and provide better stability during the firing of the gun. The powerplant was unchanged, using the same Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cylinder water-cooled engine giving 140 [email protected] rpm. The two fuel tanks, with a total 170-liter capacity, were placed under the crew compartment. The maximum speed with this engine was 40 km/h and the cross-country speed was 20 km/h. The Wespe’s operational range was 140 km on good roads and 95 km cross-country. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a 12 mm thick protective firewall.

As the engine was moved to the center, the drive shaft that connected it to the forward-mounted transmission system was shortened. The Zahnradfabrik SSG 46 type transmission had six forward and one reverse gears.

Superstructure

On top of the modified Panzer II hull, a new superstructure was placed. The front part of it consisted of a simple armored plate placed at a steep angle. On the left side, a fully enclosed driver compartment was added. The original prototype had a more rounded driver compartment cover. The actual production vehicles had a simpler three-sided design with angled armor. Some sources indicate that, during the production, both models of driver compartment design were used. This is false, as the round-shaped driver compartment was used only on the prototype vehicle. Interestingly, the surviving prototype vehicle has the production version of this compartment, which means that, at some point, it was changed.

On the sides of the driver’s compartment were two (one on each side) vision slits. In front, there was a square-shaped hatch that could be opened up. When his hatch was closed, the driver would use the front-mounted slit. All the slits were protected by a thick armored glass block. On top of the driver compartment, a two-piece escape door was placed. To have some access to the transmission, a round-shaped hatch (held in place by two bolts) was placed on the right side of the front superstructure plate.

The top positioned two-piece escape door for the driver compartment is visible here. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
The top positioned two-piece escape door for the driver compartment is visible here. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The remainder of the superstructure covered the centrally positioned engine and served as a base for the rear crew compartment. On both sides, there were two cooling air grilles for the engines. The superstructure had mostly simple and flat sides. The central part of the superstructure sides curved slightly inward. Just behind the engine (toward the crew compartment to the rear), an opening for the gun mount was left.

The engine was provided with four cooling air grilles for better ventilation. The remainder of the rear positioned superstructure serves as the base for the new fighting compartment. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Fighting compartment

To the rear of the vehicle, a new open-top fighting compartment was placed. It consisted of several armored plates bolted together. The two front plates were angled toward the gun and were additionally reinforced by the gun shield. The height of the side armor plates lowered to the back, mostly to reduce weight. To the rear, a rectangular-shaped door was placed. It could be easily lowered to provide more working room and easy access to additional spare ammunition from auxiliary vehicles. Inside the crew compartment, on both sides, there were a number of brackets for various equipment, such as the radio, fire extinguisher, canvas cover, MP submachine guns and their ammunition, etcetera. The radio and its aerial antenna were positioned on the left side of the fighting compartment. Shells were stored to the rear and the propellant on the sides inside the fighting compartment.

The fighting compartment had a simple but cramped design. Source: Panzer.net
The rear door could be hinged down to provide additional working space, as here, during maintenance. Source: Panzer.net
Top view of the Wespe. The ammunition storage bins to the rear can be seen in the fighting compartment. Source: warspot.ru

Armor

The Wespe was only lightly protected, but this was intentionally done in order to reduce the overall weight and speed up the production as much as possible. The armor thickness was also limited in order to not adversely affect the vehicle’s overall driving performance, as this was the main point of this new vehicle. The use of the Panzer II light tank chassis was another reason why the armor thickness had to be kept minimal, as the added weight could significantly affect its performance.

The front armor of the hull was 30 mm thick and placed at a 75° vertical angle. The sides were 14.5 mm thick, the rear 14.5 mm at 10° horizontal and the bottom was only 5 mm thick. The front superstructure armor was 15 (or 20 mm) thick and placed at a 30° vertical angle. The sides and rear of the superstructure were 15 mm and the top 10 mm thick. The fighting compartment was protected by only 10 mm thick all-around armor. The front armor was placed at 66°, side 73°, and rear 74° vertical angle.

While good mobility was the Wespe’s greatest defense, once cornered, its armor offered no real protection against enemy fire. The Wespe in the foreground is completely destroyed, likely by a direct hit. Source: warspot.ru

The Wespe’s overall armor thickness was never intended to protect against direct hits, but mainly from small-caliber fire, shrapnel, etcetera. The Wespe’s greatest defense was its ability to quickly reposition to another firing position without any fear of returning enemy fire. A good camouflage was also handy for increasing its chances of surviving.

The crews would also camouflage their vehicles to avoid being spotted by the enemy. Source: http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2020/05/wespe-105-cm-lefh-182-auf-gii-sdkfz-124.html

Armament

For the main weapon of the Wespe, the proven 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2 field howitzer was chosen. This was the most common field artillery piece that the German employed during the war. It was designed by Rheinmetall and put into service in 1930. The 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18 had good overall performance, but the range was somewhat lacking. For this reason, it was improved during the war in order to increase its range, mobility, and ease of production.

The 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18 in its original configuration. Source: https://www.armedconflicts.com/10-5-cm-leFH-18-10-5-cm-light-field-howitzer-t678

For the installation of the 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2 in the Wespe, the wheels, trails, and the shield were removed. The 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2 was then placed in the center of the vehicle, on a specially designed mount. The main weapon had an elevation of -5° to +42° and a traverse of 20° in both directions (or 17°, depending on the source). The maximum firing range, of 10,650 m, could be achieved by using the 14.8 kg heavy high-explosive round. To help with the recoil, the 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2 was provided with a muzzle brake. The barrel had to be replaced after firing 10,000 rounds. The Wespe’s uncomplicated construction made such a replacement an easy job, which could be achieved with a simple crane. For aiming the 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2, the gunner would use the Rblf 36 gun sight. The recoil distance during firing was 1.15 m, with the maximum allowed being 1.17 m.

During long marches, the Wespe’s main gun could be locked in place by two travel locks. One was placed in front of the gun’s shield and one to the rear. The Wespe’s main weapon was flanked by two curved armored shields.

A close-up view of the Wespe’s modified mount. Source: warspot.ru
The front travel lock was located just outside of the gun’s shield. Source: Parada, M. Suliga and W. Hryniewicki Wespe Sd.Kfz 124, Kagero
As the Wespe was a simple vehicle, the replacement of damaged parts (like the main gun, in this case) was quite easy to achieve. Source: warspot.ru
A heavily camouflaged Wespe battery firing at designated targets. Note the main gun recoiling to the rear. Source: Unknown
This particular Wespe was completely destroyed, exposing the 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2, which stayed in its place. Source: pinterest

In some sources (like D. Nešić, “Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka”), the main weapon of the Wespe is described as the le.F.H. 18M. This was actually a slightly improved version of the 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18. The 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18M introduced an improved recoil system, had a muzzle brake, and had a new type of long-range shell, but otherwise, it was the same artillery piece. The modified main gun of the Wespe and the 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18M are quite similar due to the muzzle brake and could have been easily misidentified as the same weapon.

The improved 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18M howitzer. Source: WIki

The 10.5 cm le.F.H. 18/2’s two-part ammunition consisted of the shell and charge. There were three different types of shells that could be used. These included the standard High Explosive (HE), Armor Piercing (AP), and smoke rounds. The charges acted as the propellant for the shells, and there were six different types (marked as 1, 2, 3, etcetera), depending on the desired range.

Initially, the ammunition load consisted of 32 rounds and cartridges. This was officially changed to 30 rounds on 28th June 1943. Of these, 18 HE rounds had normal fuzes and 4 had double fuzes. The remaining 8 rounds were AP rounds. Regarding the charges, 45 were carried inside the vehicle. There were 30 cartridges in the 1-5 range and 15 additional 6 charge cartridges.

For close protection, the crew had at their disposal a 7.92 mm MG 34 or 42, and two 9 mm MP 38 submachine guns. But, given that these vehicles were supposed to act as artillery fire support vehicles from longer ranges, these would ideally be rarely used.

For self-defense, the crew could use either an MG 34 or 42 (mounted on the armored side of the crew compartment) or two MP submachine guns. As these vehicles were designed to provide firing support at longer ranges, it was rare that the crew had to use these in close combat. Source: Pinterest

Crew

The Wespe had a crew of five, which included the commander, gunner, loader, radio operator, and driver. The driver was positioned in the front hull and was the only crew member that had all-around protection. The remaining crew were positioned in the fighting compartment. The gunner was located to the left of the main gun, with the radio operator behind him. The radio equipment consisted of a FuG Spr transmitter and receiver. Interestingly, authors G. Parada, M. Suliga, and W. Hryniewicki (Wespe Sd.Kfz 124) note that the gunners (possibly referring to the gunner and loader) were additionally trained in driving and operating the radio equipment, so that, in case of emergency, if the driver or the radio operator were unable to perform their duties, the other crew members could temporarily take over their roles. To the right of the gun were positioned the commander and the loader.

Despite its small size, the Wespe had a crew of five. Source: https://imgur.com/a/1YTcyOy http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2020/05/wespe-105-cm-lefh-182-auf-gii-sdkfz-124.html

Due to the Wespe’s small size and cramped fighting compartment, the crews were left with no room to carry extra equipment and spare parts. There was not even room for their personal belongings. It was quite common to see external modifications, such as added storage boxes, spare tracks (although there were standard holders for spare track links on the lower front hull), road wheels, and all sorts of other equipment that the crew may have needed.

These vehicles had a wide selection of added storage boxes, spare wheels and other equipment, something that was quite common among Wespe crews. Source: Wiki

Organization

The Wespes were mainly issued to the Panzer or Panzer Grenadier Divisions of the German Army, but also in some quantities to the SS Panzer Divisions. Six artillery vehicles plus two ammunition Wespes were used to form a Batterie (Battery) which was allocated to the Artillery Regiment of the Panzer Divisions. On average, each Panzer Division would have 12 Wespes while, in rarer cases, some had 18 vehicles (for example, the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division). These would be further reinforced by a battery of six 15 cm Hummel self-propelled guns.

A Wespe battery consisted of six combat vehicles and two ammunition supply vehicles. As the ammunition supply vehicles were not presented from the start, other soft-skinned vehicles, like trucks, were probably used in the ammunition supply role. Source: Unknown

The first distribution to units

For the upcoming German Kursk Offensive, six divisions were to be equipped with Wespes by the end of May 1943. These included the 17th Panzer Division with 12 vehicles, the 3rd and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions, each with 18, Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland with 12, SS Das Reich with 12 and the LSSAH also with 12 Wespes. The following month, 9 more Divisions were supplied with Wespes. By the end of 1943, over 30 Armored Divisions would be equipped with Wespes, with the majority having 12 and, in rare cases, 6 or 18 vehicles.

In Combat

The Wespe first saw combat action during the German offensive at Kursk in 1943. As the German progress was slow, the Wespes were mostly employed as static artillery support elements. But, thanks to their mobility, they could easily avoid any return artillery fire and minimize their losses.

While not intended to engage tanks other than in an emergency, the Wespes could repel such an attack under ideal circumstances. Such a thing happened some 50 km northwest of Orel, when a group of 8 Soviet tanks tried to overrun a Wespe battery. The Wespe crews opened fire at ranges of over 1.5 km, targeting the Soviet tanks with a mix of AP and HE rounds. Due to the rapid artillery fire, the Soviet tanks decided to abort their attack and retreated without losses.

Not many problems were noted by the crews of the Wespes, with one of the few being the wear of the teeth in the steering gear. There were also problems with oil leaks in the drive housing unit. By the end of 1943, very few Wespes were lost in combat. Of the over 30 Divisions which employed them, only a few had less than 10 operational vehicles, with most being at full strength or close to it.

In Italy, the Wespe performed somewhat more poorly, but this was mainly due to the terrain. In a report made by an unnamed German officer, who was sent to Italy to examine the Wespe’s performance on this front, he noted that the terrain was the Wespe’s greatest enemy:

“….The planned employment of the Sfl.-Artillerie (self-propelled artillery) within a Panzer Division practically never occurred in Italy. This was due to the peculiarity of the terrain and the combat situation. In actual fact, the Sfl. were preponderantly employed in platoons or only as individual guns. Therefore, in no way were useful experiences obtained on the tactical employment of the Sfl. ..”

He also noted several problems with the Wespe that were a consequence of the difficult terrain. These included engines that were too weak and unable to effectively overcome the steep terrain, the final drive units often broke, and that there were a number of breakdowns of other parts like brakes, brake linings, etcetera. He also mentioned that the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division had 11 vehicles operational out of 18, while the 26th Panzer Division had only 2 operational out of 12. The Wespe would also participate in the battle for France in 1944. In March 1945, there were still some 307 operational Wespes.

A group of mixed German armored vehicles, including four Wespes, two Panzer IIIs, and four Tigers in the background during the Kursk Offensive. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
A Wespe battery ready to engage enemy positions. Source: Wiki
The Wespe would also see action against the Western Allies in France and Italy. Source: Wiki

Geschützwagen II für Munition

The lack of a tracked ammunition supply vehicle was something that the Germans never managed to solve completely. In the case of the Wespe (and the larger Hummel), they came up with a simple solution. What the Germans did was simply reuse the Wespe chassis by removing the gun to provide room for spare ammunition. The gun opening on the fighting compartment was simply covered with a sheet of metal. This modified vehicle was able to carry some 90 rounds of ammunition. These vehicles could be repurposed back into mobile artillery vehicles quite quickly. The crew consisted of a driver and two additional crew members responsible for ammunition resupply. Between June 1943 and June 1944, some 159 such vehicles would be built.

The ammunition carrier based on the Wespe could be easily identified by the lack of the main weapon and the sheet metal plate that replaced it. Source: warspot.ru

Surviving Wespes

Today, there are a few surviving Wespes in the world. There is one Wespe in the Munster Panzer Museum in Germany. This particular vehicle is actually the first prototype. Another one is in the Russian Patriot Park Museum and one more is at the Saumur Musée des Blindés in France.

The surviving Wespe at the Munster Panzer Museum in Germany. Source: WIki

There are also a number of Wespe wrecks, like the one at the Battle of Normandy Museum in France. In Germany, there is one at the Westwall Museum at Pirmasens. Two more are in Andre Becker’s private collection in Belgium.

Conclusion

Despite being designed as a temporary solution until properly designed self-propelled artillery vehicles would be introduced, the Wespe proved to be a successful vehicle. It provided the German armored units with a fire support vehicle that was able to keep pace with them. While less than 700 were produced, these were widely distributed to various armored Divisions. They were not perfect and had a number of issues, mostly related to their original intended design as a temporary solution and the use of an old lightweight chassis. As the Wespe was meant to be quickly pushed into production, some things, like the working room and armor, had to be sacrificed.

Wespe from the 2nd PanzerArtillerie Regiment, Russia, June 1944
Wespe from the 2nd Panzerartillerie Regiment, Russia, June 1944 – HD picture.
Wespe 146th Panzer Artillerie Regiment, Normandy.
Wespe from the 146th Panzer Artillerie Regiment, PanzerLehr Regiment, Normandy, summer 1944.
Wespe, 8th Panzerdivision, Ukraine, summer 1944
Wespe from the 1st Abteilung, Panzerartillerie regiment, 8th Panzerdivision, Ukraine, summer 1944.
Wespe, Italy, summer 1944.
Wespe from an unidentified unit, Italy, summer 1944.
Wespe, Hermann Göring Panzer Division, Anzio, January 22, 1944
Wespe from an unidentified Abteilung, perhaps part of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division, Anzio, January 22, 1944.
Wespe, Hungary, March 1945
Wespe of an unidentified unit, Hungary, March 1945.
Munitionschlepper auf Wespe
Munitionschlepper auf Wespe, Fallschrimpanzerdivision Hermann Göring, East Prussia, winter 1944-45.

le.F.H.18/2 auf. Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.II (Sf) (Sd.Kfz.124)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.81 m x 2.28 m x 2.3 m,
Total weight, battle-ready 11 tonnes
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader,Driver and Radio operator)
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 140 HP @ 3000 rpm
Speed (road/off-road) 40 km/h, 20 km/h
Range (road/off-road)-fuel 140 km, 95 km
Primary Armament Armament:10.5 cm le.F.H18/2
Secondary Armament One 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine guns
Elevation -5° to +42°
Armor 5 mm – 30 mm

Sources

Categories
Modern Serbian Armor

Milica

Serbia (2009)
Experimental Modular Robotic System Number – At least one prototype built

In the last few decades, all of the major armies around the world have shown an interest in the development of remote-controlled devices. These are meant to perform various tasks and intended to supplement or even replace human soldiers in dangerous situations, thus reducing the risk to human life. The tasks of these remote-controlled devices are many, ranging from reconnaissance, target identification, ammunition and other equipment resupply, transport, engaging and destroying designated targets, etc.

The Serbian Army, in a desire to follow international arms development trends in unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), began developing a series of its own vehicles. One of these project was the short range anti-tank system named simply Милица (Eng: Milica -a Serbian female name). It was, in essence, a small remotely-controlled tracked vehicle armed with two anti-tank launchers.

Milica Modular Robotic System. Source: www.indiedb.com

History

Jugoimport (Југоимпорт СДПР Ј.П) was founded back in 1949, with the intention of acquiring necessary military equipment for abroad for the JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, Yugoslav People’s Army). After 1953, Jugoimport expanded the scope of its business to the export of domestic military equipment. In 2006, Jugoimport was reorganized and became a Serbian state-owned public enterprise.

During the following years, Jugoimport would continue to work on improving the performance of a number of older projects developed during pre-Civil War Yugoslavia. It also began a series of experiments to develop new technologies and weapon systems, including self-propelled artillery vehicles, armored cars, APCs, and multiple launch rocket systems etc.

During the late 2000s, Jugoimport was also involved in the development of a number of remote-controlled systems meant to perform different tasks, ranging from reconnaissance to the anti-tank. These included the Vrabac (Sparrow) unmanned aircraft, APOS – automatizovani protiv tenkovski sistem (Eng: automated anti-tank system), DALOS – daljinski upravljanu laku modularnu osmatračko-borbenu stanicu (Eng: remotely controlled light modular observation-combat station), and the Milica – modularni robotički sistem (Eng: Modular Robotic System).

Milica was primarily intended to provide infantry with a remotely controlled anti-armor close support system that could engage modern MBTs (main battle tanks). It could also be used to engage and destroy enemy firing positions and fortifications. The Milica system was intended to be fully modular, which meant it could be adapted to fulfill various combat roles, but also secondary non-combat duties. Other roles included helping infantry with gathering intelligence, monitoring and observing areas that were not yet fully secured, transporting spare equipment, ammunition, and even transporting wounded soldiers.

Not much is listed in the sources about its development history. It was presented for the first time to the public at the military Partner 2009 fair held in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Design

Inspiration for the Milica’s overall design (like the hull, superstructure, and suspension) was taken directly from the BVP M-80 infantry fighting vehicle. Back in the 1960s, the JNA placed a request for a fully protected infantry fighting vehicle. From this, the BVP M-60 was developed. As it proved to be unsatisfactory, a new model, the BVP M-80, was therefore developed to replace it. It was a large improvement in contrast to the earlier model and was provided with a fully rotating turret and anti-tank rockets. From 1976 to 1988, around 658 M-80s were built. Despite their old age, a number of these vehicles are still in use with the Serbian Army.

The BVP M-80 infantry fighting vehicle served as the basis for the Milica’s overall design shape. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/m80/opis.htm

Hull

While there is limited information on its interior, based on the available pictures, it can be seen that the hull was divided into a few sections. The transmission was placed in the front of the hull, followed by the electric motor. The batteries and other equipment needed for controlling and powering the main weapon system were stored to the rear of the vehicle.

Superstructure

The Milica’s superstructure was taken more or less from the M-80. It had a very simple design, with a highly angled front plate, slightly less angled sides, and flat rear. There were a number of rectangular-shaped hatches placed in the superstructure to provide easy access to the different components stored inside.

In the front angled glacis, there was a hatch for access to the engine and the transmission. Three hatches were placed on top of the superstructure, with two in the front and to the rear. The last hatch was placed at the rear. Next to it, there was a round-shaped plug, possibly used for powering the main motor and system batteries. All of these hatches were held in place by simple screws, so removing them was quite easy.

The Milica’s superstructure was built using simple welded steel plates. The thickness of these plates is unknown, but probably only enough to provide protection from small-caliber weapons. Its greatest protection was its relatively small size. The Milica was 1.9 m long (1.72 m without the main armament), 0.77 m wide, and had a height of 0.77 m.

Front view of the Milica. Source: http://www.paluba.info
The three rectangular-shaped hatches on the top of the superstructure and the glacis are visible here. Source: www.paluba.info
A rear view of the Milica. The position of the cables indicates that the main control units were probably placed at the rear. Note the round red plug (above the right track) and the barely visible hatch to the left of it. Source: www.paluba.info

Suspension

The suspension was another element that is quite similar to that of the M-80, albeit with one more roadwheel. The suspension consisted of six small road wheels, which were independently suspended with torsion support units. In addition, there was a front-drive sprocket, rear idler, and three return rollers.

Comparison of the M-80 (upper) and Milica (lower) suspensions, which are quite similar. Source: Srpski.oklop

Engine

The sources do not provide information about the engine type or its power output. What is known is that an electrical motor was used. With a weight of 250 kg, its maximum speed is only 3 km/h. The effective operational autonomy was noted to be 2 to 4 hours. It can climb a 30° slope and is supposed to possess amphibious capabilities.

Armament

An ‘H’ shaped metal firing platform was bolted to the superstructure top. This is then used to house either the two 9 cm M79 OSA or a single 12 cm M91 anti-tank rocket launcher. The 9 cm M79 OSA anti-tank rocket launcher is in service with the Serbian Army and its purpose is to engage enemy armor and fortified positions. Its effective range is 350 m and the maximum effective range is 650 m. Armor penetration power is 400 mm of rolled homogeneous armor.

The 9 cm M79 OSA anti-tank launcher. Source: WIki

The elevation of the Milica weapon platform was -20° to +50° and the traverse was 350° (it could not rotate a full circle). Elevation speed was 3°/s, while the traverse speed was slightly faster, at 6°/s. The two launchers were fired independently. Once both tubes were fired, the Milica had to be driven back to a safe position to be reloaded.

The Milica is mostly seen armed with the two 9 cm M79 OSA anti-tank launchers but, if needed, another weapon system could simply replace these. Source: www.paluba.info

Depending on the combat requirement, the Milica could be armed with the 12 cm M91 rocket launcher for improved anti-tank capabilities. This is a disposable light shoulder-launched rocket launcher that is in the service of the Serbian Army. The M91 consists of two components, the launcher, and the shaped charge rocket projectile. The shaped charge warhead, containing an explosive filling of phlegmatized octagen and a contact-type electric superquick fuze. The M91’s main purpose is to engage modern MBTs at ranges up to 250 m. Its penetration power against rolled homogeneous armor is around 800 mm. Secondary targets, like fortified enemy positions, could be engaged at ranges up to 400 m. Currently, there is no picture of Milica being armed with this weapon.

The disposable M91 rocket launcher. Source: Wiki

While these two were intended to be the Milica’s primary armament, other weapon systems, depending on the field requirement, could be used instead. These options ranged from different types of machine guns, grenade launchers, to possibly even small-caliber cannons.

Control and optics

The Milica was a wireless remote-controlled system that was operated from a concealed command post. The effective wireless control range is around 500 meters. The command unit of the vehicle consists of a control system with telecommunication modules. In addition, there is also a laptop computer which is used for choosing the camera mode and for finding targets. The Milica’s movement and weapon system were controlled by a console with an alphanumeric monitor. The sources do not mention the precise number of operators that were needed to properly control the Milica.

For directly observing surroundings and possible targets, the Milica was provided with an all-weather, day and night, black and white IP (internet protocol) surveillance camera. This camera also possesses high sensitivity electrical and optical zoom. The camera itself was placed in a protective housing above the two rocket launchers.

The Milica was equipped with a black and white IP surveillance camera. Source: www.paluba.info

Operational use and fate

When the prototype was completed, it was tested at the Nikinci experimental military test range in November 2009. It underwent a number of firing tests and, while the sources do not go into much detail regarding these tests, they note that the Milica performed satisfactorily.

As mentioned earlier, it was presented for the first time to the public in 2009. In the following year, it was still presented at the military Parner fair held in Belgrade, in the hope of gaining some foreign interest.

It appears that the Milica was mostly used as an exhibit for potential foreign buyers after 2009. Source: laststandonzombieisland.com

It appears that the Milica was not adopted for service within Serbia nor anywhere else in the world. In recent years, the Serbian Army appears to have adopted (in limited numbers) another similar system. This is named the Miloš Remote Control Unmanned Platform (Милош ДУБП – Даљински Управљива Безпосадна Платформа). The precise number of Milica built beside the one prototype is not known.

The Miloš Remote Control Unmanned Platform Source: Wiki

Conclusion

The Milica was one of the first Modular Robotic Systems developed by the Serbian arms industry. It offered an alternative way of supporting infantry operations, minimizing the risk to the soldiers operating it. While it was not adopted for service, it provided Serbian engineers with valuable experience in designing and building such systems. This would lead to the development of newer systems that entered limited service in recent years.

Side profile of the Milica showing a similar profile to the BVP M-80 and the interesting camouflage. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 1.9 m, 0.77 m, 0.47 m
Weight 250 kg
Crew One or more remote operators
Propulsion Unknown
Speed 3 km/h
Operational autonomy 2 to 4 hours
Armament Two 9 cm M79 OSA or one 12 cm M91 anti-tank launcher
Traverse 350°
Elevation -20° to +50°
Armor unknown, but probably only lightly protected
Production At least one prototype

Source:

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

Panzerjäger Tiger (P) 8.8 cm Pak 43/2 L/71 “Ferdinand/Elefant” Sd.Kfz. 184

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1943)
Assault gun/Self-propelled anti-tank – 89 plus 2 prototypes

Following the cancelation of the Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s VK 45.01 (P) heavy tank project, the Germans were left with 100 built chassis, including several completed tanks. As these represented a huge material, financial, and time investment, a solution for reusing these in some way had to be found. One solution was to modify them as self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, which the Germans ultimately did. The majority of Dr. Porsche’s VK 45.01 (P) heavy tank chassis would be rebuilt for this purpose. These would be armed with the powerful 88 mm L/71 gun and protected with 200 mm of frontal armor, making them formidable adversaries on the battlefield at that time. Despite the small numbers built, these would see extensive combat use during the war, where their effectiveness was plagued with many mechanical and logistical problems.

The Ferdinand tank destroyer. Source: Panzernet.net

Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s heavy tanks projects

Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche began his engineering career in the early twentieth century when he showed great interest in developing hybrid (combination of electric and petrol) engines. He even built a few new automobile designs which incorporated hybrid engines. During the First World War, while working for the Austrian Daimler factory, he proposed an artillery tractor that would use this hybrid engine. Eventually, nothing came from this idea. In 1930, he founded his own company located in Stuttgart. Porsche’s new company was mainly engaged in developing various designs based on the request of the clients.

Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. Source: WIki

Dr. Porsche would also get a chance to participate in military tank design, as he was appointed chairman of the German Panzer Commission in September 1939. This Commission was composed of leading owners of major industrial plants and engineers. Their primary function was to give suggestions and new ideas for further or already existing tank designs. While working on a number of military design projects, Dr. Porsche would establish a good relationship with Adolf Hitler. This support gave Dr. Porsche’s work a huge advantage over the competition, despite generally creating either too complicated or too expensive designs.

By the end of 1939, Dr. Porsche began working on designing components for a new heavy tank project for the German Army. His approach was somewhat unorthodox, as he was not limited by any requirements or technical specifications. Dr. Porsche’s initial work was mainly focused on the development of engines and transmissions. In cooperation with Oberingenieur Karl Rabe, Dr. Porsche made his first plans and calculations for a new vehicle called Porsche Typ 100 in early December 1939. While the name of this vehicle would change several times, today it is best known as the VK 30.01 (P), given by Krupp in March 1941. The following year, in 1940, in a meeting with Wa Prüf 6 (automotive design office under the Waffenamt) officials, Dr. Porsche received proper specifications for the new tank and received the necessary funds to actually build the first prototype. The Typ 100 was to be powered by two air-cooled engines placed at the rear. Each of these two engines was then connected to an electrical generator. These were used to provide power to the two additional engines placed in the hull. These in turn were used to power the front-drive sprockets. The Typ 100 used new longitudinally mounted torsion bars suspension. The six road wheels were to be placed in pairs on the three torsion bar units on each unit. Eventually, due to urgent needs of the development of the Tiger program, and due to a number of problems identified (huge fuel consumption, suspension problems, etc.) on the Typ 100, the project was canceled. Only one (or two, depending on the source) soft steel operational prototypes would be built and used for testing.

Porsche’s first heavy tank prototype, known as the Typ 100. Source: http://www.tankarchives.ca/2018/06/porsches-leopard.html

By the end of May 1941, Hitler issued the requirements for the new heavy tank project. These included an increase in armor thickness (up to 100 mm maximum) and the use of an 88 mm gun. Dr. Porsche began working on this new design during July 1941, and two months later, the first drawings and calculations were ready. Similar to the previous vehicle, this project was initially designated as Typ 101, but the name changed several times during the span of a year. Today, it is generally known as the VK 45.01 (P) or Tiger (P). This vehicle had several changes to its design in comparison to its predecessor. To have a better distribution of weight, the turret was moved more to the front and the final drive unit was repositioned to the rear. The engine was replaced with a more powerful one. Additionally, there were many overall design changes to its chassis and superstructure design.

The Typ 101, also known as VK 45.01 (P). Despite being produced in a small series, only one vehicle in its original configuration was used in combat. Source: Panzernet.net

Construction of such a vehicle was given to Nibelungenwerk. The first prototype was completed in April 1942 and presented to Hitler on his birthday, 20th April. Hitler was impressed with it, as Dr. Porsche received a production order for 90 vehicles (plus 10 with hydraulic drive) in May 1942. A second prototype, which was built shortly after, was transported to the Army weapon test site at Kummersdorf in June 1942. There, the VK 45.01 (P) proved to be prone to malfunctions, especially with the new engine.

Porsche gets rejected

Following a number of rigorous tests, the VK 45.01 (P) proved to be a complicated and mechanically unreliable vehicle. The competing Henschel prototype was also prone to malfunctions but was nevertheless deemed to have a better overall design. At the end of August 1942, the Reichsminister (Minister of Armaments and War Production), Albert Speer, had the opportunity to examine Dr. Porsche’s work at Nibelungenwerke. Reichsminister Speer even had the chance to actually drive the VK 45.01 (P) prototype. However, this visit was quite unsuccessful for Dr. Porsche. Witnessing the overall performance of the VK 45.01 (P), Reichsminister Speer insisted that this project be canceled, despite having received great favor from Hitler himself. Due to the many mechanical problems and overcomplicated design, even Hitler agreed that the VK 45.01 (P) was a failure and, on 22nd November (or October, depending on the source) 1942, he officially ended Dr. Porsche’s heavy tank project. While less than 10 (out of an order of 100) VK 45.01 (P) would be fully completed as tanks, only one heavily modified vehicle would be ever used in combat during 1944, on the Eastern Front, as a command vehicle.

As these chassis were already produced, they presented a huge financial and resource investment that could not be simply discarded, so something had to be done on that matter. Wa Prüf 6 made proposals to mount 150, 170, or even 210 mm heavy caliber guns on them, but nothing came from these proposals. Hitler proposed for them to be modified and used as schwere Sturmgeschütz (heavy assault guns). The frontal armor was to be increased to 200 mm (from the original 100 mm) and to be armed with the newly developed 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 anti-tank gun. In the following months, the precise role that this vehicle would fulfill was changed a few times. Initially, it was allocated to the Artillery Army branch. The project officially got the green light by the direct order of Reichsminister Speer on 22nd September 1942.

Name

This vehicle was initially designated as Typ 130 by Alkett (who was responsible for the development of prototypes). During its early development phase, in late 1942, a number of different designations were allocated to it. One of these was Sturmgeschütz mit der 8.8 cm lang or Tiger Sturmgeschütz. At that time, the simpler Ferdinand name (given in honor of Dr. Porsche) was becoming more frequently used by the designers and, later, even by the troops.

During February 1943, Wa Prüf 6 issued a list of potential names for this vehicle. These included Sturmgeschütz auf Fahrgestell Porsche Tiger mit der langer 8.8, Panzerjäger Tiger (P) 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71 Sd.Kfz 184 or the similar 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 Sfl L/71 Panzerjäger Tiger (P) Sd. Kfz. 184. The simplest one was Panzejäger Tiger (P).

At the end of November 1943, Adolf Hitler gave a suggestion for a new name, Elefant (Elephant). The name was officially adopted during February 1944 and came to be implemented from May 1944 on. Despite the common misconception that this designation was applied to modified vehicles that were used from 1944 on, this was not the case (source T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.9 Jagdpanzer). For the Germans, the Ferdinand and Elefant were one and the same vehicle.

Production

The Ferdinand was initially designated to fulfill the role of an assault gun. The major manufacturer of such vehicles (primarily the Sturmgeschütz III, StuG III) was Alkett for most of the war. While Alkett possessed the necessary tools and manpower to complete the construction of the Ferdinand vehicles, it was decided by Wa Prüf 6 (during February 1943) that these were to be completed at Nibelungenwerke. On the other hand, Alkett (with the support of Dr. Porsche) would be involved in the construction of the first two prototype vehicles (chassis numbers 150010 and 150011 – depending on the source, the numbers are written with a space after the third number or without it). In general, Alkett was unable to proceed with the Ferdinand project. It was heavily involved with StuG III production and could not free up its production capacity to be involved in another project. There was also a general lack of proper rail transport units that were able to successfully carry the heavy weight of the Ferdinand’s larger components.

The Nibelungenwerke factory was located in the city of Sankt Valentin (near Steyr, in Austria) and was founded shortly after the German annexation of Austria. Initially, it was involved in production of Panzer IVs, which were then transported to Krupp-Gruson. Nibelungenwerke would be substantially enlarged so that it was capable of producing Panzer IV Ausf. F tanks. Its officials would also make an agreement with Dr. Porsche to develop his heavy tank projects. While it possessed production capabilities to conduct the construction process, Alkett provided Nibelungenwerke with a group of 120 skilled metalworkers to speed up the whole production process.

Alkett’s first blueprints of the Typ 130. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer

As the construction of the Ferdinand required extensive modifications to the VK 45.01 (P) chassis, other subcontractors would be needed. For example, Eisenwerke Oberdonau from Linz was responsible for making the necessary modifications to the hull. Siemens-Schuckert of Berlin was to provide the electrical motors and the generator. Krupp from Essen was responsible for producing the large casemates.

Due to some delays, the first 15 hulls were completed in January 1943. The remaining hulls would be ready by mid-April 1943 when they were transported to Nibelungenwerke for final assembly. Krupp was also involved in providing additional necessary parts. On 16th February 1943, the construction of the first vehicle (chassis number 150010) began. According to the original production plans, the last vehicle was to be completed by mid-May 1943.

The precise production run was slightly different depending on the source. For example, according to T. Melleman (Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I), production began in early 1943, when 15 vehicles were completed. These were followed by 26 vehicles in February, 37 in March, and, by May, all 90 were completed. Initially, four vehicles were used for training purposes.

According to T. Anderson (Ferdinand and Elefant tank destroyer), production was planned as 15 vehicles in February, 35 in March, and the final 40 in April. T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.23, Panzer production 1933-1945) state that 30 were built in April and the remaining 60 in May.

A row of Ferdinands under construction. Source: Panzernet.net
The last completed Ferdinand, chassis number 150100, containing various inscriptions added by the workers. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
The Ferdinand components were built by a number of different subcontractors. When completed, these were sent to Nibelungenwerke for final assembly. Source: J. Ledwoch Ferdinand/Elefant,

Initial testing

As the production of the first vehicles was going on, two Alkett prototype vehicles, chassis numbers 150010 and 150011, were transported to the weapon test site at Kummersdorf and Magdeburg by order of Wa Prüf 6 for testing and evaluation. These two can be easily identified by the rear positioned flexible fenders and protective covers for the forward-mounted headlights (both would be removed on the production vehicles). One of these vehicles would be presented to Hitler on 19th March 1943 during an exhibition of new vehicle prototypes at the Rugenwalde proving ground.

One of the two prototypes was presented to Hitler at the Rugenwalde proving ground on the 19th March 1943. Source; T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer
One of the first constructed Ferdinands (Chassis number 150011) at Kummersdorf during testing in mid-April 1943. Source: Vol.1 book

In a report dated 23rd February 1943, over a dozen or so deficiencies were listed for the second prototype (chassis number 150011). Some of these included that the fuel line from the left engine was positioned too close to the exhaust pipe, the electric-powered fuel pumps were unreliable, the fact that in order to drain the cooling liquid, nearly 50 screws had to be removed, checking the oil level in the air compressor was difficult, the short life of the cooling system drive belts, the hand brakes were too weak, the inadequate size of the towing hooks, and spring breakages on the running gears, among several others. In normal conditions, the Ferdinands would have probably spent months in the workshops, where designers and engineers would try to resolve these issues. But, in 1943, the German Army was preparing to commence a new offensive operation on the Eastern Front. The majority of the Ferdinands were already on their way to this front. The only real option was to provide the Ferdinand-equipped units with Formveräderungen (Modification kit equipment) to be implemented in the field.

The two prototype vehicles would be thoroughly tested during 1943, mainly focusing on their mechanical reliability. In the case of the prototype with chassis number 150011, by late August 1943, it was reported to have driven some 911 km. With a weight of 64.37 tonnes (without crew and ammunition), the fuel consumption was noted to be huge. On good roads, in order to cross 100 km, the Ferdinand needed 867.9 liters. Cross country, this reached up to 1,620 liters at the same range. Many defects with the engine design, huge fuel and oil consumption, problems with the suspension design, poor accessibility for maintenance etcetera were noted.

Specifications

The Ferdinand was, in essence, divided into two large sections. The hull contained the two front crew members, four engines, and generators. The enclosed casemate positioned at the rear held the 8.8 cm main gun, the ammunition, and the rest of the crew. Each of these components was built using welded armor plates with some elements being connected using bolts.

A cross-section showing Ferdinand’s interior. Source: butterfingeredmodelbuilder.wordpress.com

Lower Hull

The Ferdinand’s lower hull could be divided into four sections: the front driving compartment, the main engines positioned in the center, the lower rear electric engines, and the fighting compartment placed on top of it. The hull was constructed using welding, with the added frontal armor held in place by bolts.

Close-up view of a Ferdinand hull under construction. The original VK 45.01(P) rear engine compartment’s curved armor is evident here. Source: T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II,

Superstructure

On top of the Ferdinand lower hull was a fully enclosed superstructure which provided protection for the two crew members and the engines. It had a rather simple square design, with flat sides that angled inwards toward the front plate, while the rear part had a reverse angle.

The front part of the superstructure was where the driver and the radio operator were positioned. These two crewmembers entered their position through two hatches placed on top of the superstructure. The original VK 45.01 (P) round side doors intended for these two crew members were simply welded shut. The front driver visor and the machine gun ball mount were removed and replaced with a simple 100 mm thick armored plate. To provide the driver with a means to see where he was driving, a protected three-sided periscope was placed on top of his hatch door. In addition, there were two round-shaped visor ports (additionally protected with armored glass) placed on both sides of the inward-angling side armor. Next to the radio operator’s hatch on the vehicle’s right side was placed the antenna mount.

Close-up view of the driver’s hatch and the three periscopes. Source: J. Ledwoch Ferdinand/Elefant,

These two crew members were separated from the remaining rear-positioned crew members. The only way of communication with the commander was by using an intercom. It consisted of earphones and a throat microphone. In real combat conditions, this system proved to be prone to malfunctions. In an attempt to solve this issue, the Germans tried using light signals for communication between the driver and commander.

Behind these two crew members was placed the engine compartment, which was separated (on both sides) by a fire-resistant wall. It consisted of the two gasoline engines, electric generators, coolant radiators, and cooling fans, oil and fuel tanks. In order to put all these components into the engine compartment, they had to be placed close to each other, which caused many overheating problems and even cases of fire were not uncommon later during Ferdinand’s service life.

The top of this compartment was protected by an armored plate that was held in place by simple bolts. This way, it could be easily removed to facilitate necessary repairs. In the middle of this plate, a square armored grid cover was placed for the air intakes. On both sides of it, two rectangular grid hatches for the protection of the radiator’s air fan exhausts were placed. Close to the large casemate, there were three narrow hatches that covered most of the width of the engine compartment. They mainly served as engine access doors but, in the field, the crews would often leave them open for better ventilation. The engine exhaust pipes ran internally on both sides of the hull. They exited through a small opening which was located close to the fifth road wheel on both sides. While this arrangement provided protection for the exhaust pipes, the extensive heat rapidly deteriorated the grease lubricants on the fifth wheels. These affected their life expectancy and they had to be replaced often.

Behind the rear positioned engine firewall, two Siemens generators were placed. Atop them, the remaining crew members were stationed, protected by the large and well-protected casemate. While the original VK 45.01 (P) hull was reused for the Ferdinand vehicle, the rear part was changed. The two angled side plates were replaced with a flat one extended to the rear, which was more suited to carry the huge casemate.

A brand new Ferdinand. Note the small round-shaped visor port on the angled left side. Source: www.armedconflicts.com
Front view of the Ferdinand vehicle. The front armored plates were held in place by over 30 bolts. Source: Panzernet.net

The toolbox was placed on the superstructure’s right front side. This was not an ideal location, as it could be easily damaged during combat operations. So, it would be moved to the rear of the vehicles. The crews would also add additional spare boxes for various additional equipment.

Ferdinands had a spare toolbox placed on the superstructure’s right front side. This particular box is opened and the tools stored inside can be seen. Source: Pinterest

Casemate

The huge casemate positioned to the rear of the vehicle housed the 8.8 cm gun and four crew members. Its overall construction was simple, as it consisted of four armored plates plus the top one which were welded together. Viewed from the front, the casemate had a trapezoidal shape. While these plates were thick, they were also slightly sloped to provide additional protection. It was not actually welded to the superstructure but was instead held in place by bolts. Outside, close to the engine compartment, there was a small rectangular plate (with five bolts) that served as a reinforced connector between the superstructure and the casemate.

The front plate had a round-shaped opening in the middle for the gun ball mount. To avoid getting rainwater into the engine, some crews welded two diagonal improvised drains in front of the superstructure.

This vehicle is under repair and in the process of removing its large casemate. The small reinforced connector plate is actually removed for this purpose. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer
This vehicle had the improvised rain drains located just below the third bolt on the gun mantlet. The Source: Unknown

To the rear part of each side armor plate, a cone-shaped pistol port was placed. These were actually plugs that were connected to chains. When in use, the armored cover would simply be pushed out by one of the crew members. Once open, these would just hang on to the chains and could be closed back by dragging the chain back in. To the rear, in the middle of the casemate, a large round-shaped one-piece hatch was located. In the center of this door, a much smaller round-shaped hatch was located. Its main role was to act as another pistol port and to be used during the ammunition resupply. Two additional pistol ports were placed on both sides of this door.

The rear positioned round door with the smaller center-positioned hatch being open and used for ammunition resupply. Source: Pinterest

The top was not flat and was actually slightly angled toward the engine compartment. In front of it, the arc-shaped armored cover was used for the gunner’s periscope. To the right of it, the commander’s square-shaped two-piece hatch was located. Somewhat surprisingly for German standards, the commander was not provided with a command cupola and his view of the surroundings was quite limited. Further back, on the left side, the loader’s round-shaped two-part hatch was located. In the back corners, two round-shaped ports were used by the two loaders to see the surrounding with periscopes. In the middle, a ventilation port with protective sides was installed.

Due to its extreme weight, every bridge crossing was not to be taken lightly. If the bridge construction was not strong, there was a good chance to disintegrate and take the Ferdinand with it, like in this case. However, this provides us with a good view of the commander’s (to the right) hatch, gunner’s (to the left) curved periscope shield, and the ventilation port in the middle. The loader’s hatch and the two periscope ports are not visible here. Source: Pinterest
This particular Ferdinand is missing its rear hatch. The two pistol port cone-shaped covers were out hanging on the chains. Source: Warspor.ru
A dismantled casemate awaiting repair and later assembly. Source: https://mikesresearch.com/2020/05/24/ferdinands-elefants-on-the-eastern-front/

Suspension and Running Gear

The Ferdinand’s suspension consisted of six large road wheels, a front idler, and a rear drive sprocket on each side. The six road wheels were divided into pairs and were placed on bell cranks, which in turn were mounted on longitudinal torsion bar units. Each of these pairs of road wheels was actually suspended individually. Initially, Dr. Porsche’s design utilized rubber-rimmed wheels. As these were quickly worn out due to the extreme friction between the track and the wheels, Dr. Porsche designed a much simpler solution, using steel wheels with inbuilt spring units to help with shock absorption. The Germans, by this time, were having shortages of rare materials, including rubber, so this was a welcome innovation that would see use in later years on the Panther and the Tiger tanks. The road wheels had a diameter of 794 mm.

The Ferdinand, on paper, had a relatively simple suspension that consisted of six large road wheels. To save rubber and to extend their service life, they were made of steel with no rubber rim. Source: Pinterest

The shapes of the front idler and rear drive sprocket were visually almost identical. The main difference between these two was in their internal construction. They were identical to simplify the production of parts. But the main reason was to prevent the track from falling off the suspension due to the vehicle’s length and lack of any return rollers. Both the idler and the drive sprocket had a diameter of 920 mm and consisted of two toothed rings that had 19 teeth. The tracks used were 600 mm wide and were connected using single-pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 50 cm.

Close-up view of the longitudinal torsion bar units. Source: tank-photographs.s3

Dr. Porsche’s suspension design had positive and negative sides. The positive side was that the whole suspension system was completely external. This allowed him to lower the vehicle’s hull and provide more working space inside it. On the other hand, while the overall design was (at least in theory) simple, it was prone to malfunctions and breakdowns. Due to the vehicle’s extreme weight, replacing broken parts was difficult to achieve without proper equipment.

Engine and Transmission

As Dr. Porsche’s original VK 45.01 (P) dual-electrical engine system proved to be too complicated and unreliable, it was decided to replace these with a more orthodox power unit. Two Maybach HL 120 TRM gasoline engines giving out 265 [email protected] 2600 rpm were chosen instead. Each of these two engines was provided with a 74-octane gasoline fuel tank. The engine was water-cooled, with some 37 l placed in two coolant tanks. One cooling tank was placed on top of the generators, while the second was in front of the engine. Based on the experience the Germans gained during the previous two Russian winters, they paid great attention to providing Ferdinand’s oil radiator with a system that would enable it to start during cold weather. This was a simple system that redirected hot water from the cooling radiator to a small vessel placed next to the oil radiator, which in turn heated the oil. The engine’s gearbox had three forward and three reverse speeds. The engine compartment was designed rather hastily and the maintenance was not always easy to accomplish.

Each fuel tank could carry some 475 liters (950 l in total). The Ferdinand was, due to its weight, a heavy fuel consuming beast. It needed some 1,100 l for crossing 100 km of road. With the fuel load carried inside, the operational range was 150 km on good roads, while off-road, often the case on the Eastern Front, the operational range was reduced to only 95 km. The maximum speed for a vehicle weighing 65 tonnes was a solid 30 km/h, but it could be only achieved on good roads and for a short period of time. The maximum cross-country speed was only 10 km/h or even less.

The engines used to power the two Siemens Typ K58-8 generators. These two generators would in turn produce the necessary power for the two Siemens Typ 1495a direct current electric (230 kW each) motors. These two electric motors were positioned under the casemate. Each of them was responsible for providing power to one side of the vehicle, being connected to the rear positioned drive sprockets through electromechanical drives.

The rear positioned Siemens Typ 1495a direct current electric motors gave the necessary power to turn the two drive sprockets. Source: T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II
Top view of the engine compartment cover plate. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer
The position and the design of the engine compartment meant that any repair of this part of the vehicle was overcomplicated. Without proper tools and crane equipment, it was almost impossible. Source: Thoma

Armor Protection

The Ferdinand had formidable armor protection for its day. The upper front armor of the hull was 200 mm thick (at a 30-32° angle, depending on the source). This was not a single-piece armor plate, but instead two 100 mm thick plates (or 90 and 110 mm, depending on the source) joined together. These were held in place by 32 conical head bolts. Alkett initially proposed adding 80 mm of 55° angled armor to the front, but this was not implemented

The lower part of the hull was a single piece measuring 80 mm placed at an angle of 45° (42°). The top part of the lower hull was 60 mm at 78° (82°) angle. The flat hull side armor was 60 mm and the rear ranged from 40 (60 mm depending on the source) to 80 mm (at a 60° to 90° angle). The bottom armor was 20 mm thick. It is not clear in the sources if the previously positioned machine gun ball mount and the driver visor port openings were left empty or filled in with armor plates.

The superstructure frontal armor was 200 mm thick placed at a 9° (12°) angle. It too consisted of two separated armor plates held in place by a combination of welding and bolts. Some sources state both plates were 100 mm thick, while others claim they were 90 and 110 mm thick. The flat sides were 80 mm, rear 80 mm placed at a 40° angle, and 30 mm on the top.

This captured vehicle was used by the Russian as target practice. It has a hole where the machine gun ball mount was previously located. Source: Warspot.ru

The rear positioned casemate was protected with a single piece of 200 mm frontal armor plate placed at a 20° angle. The sides were 80 mm thick and placed at a 30° angle. The rear armor was the same armor thickness placed at a 20° angle. The top was much lighter, at 30 mm placed at an 86° angle.

The same vehicle as above. It had its casemate armor used as a firing target for a number of different weapons. While the Ferdinand’s front armor was formidable, the side and rear were still thick, but certainly not invincible. Source: Warspot.ru

Crew

The Ferdinand had a crew of six, which were separated into two groups. The first group consisted of the driver and the radio operator, who were placed in the front hull. For steering the Ferdinand, a standard lever arrangement was used. However, their operation was slightly different in comparison to other vehicles. Namely, by moving the steering levers, instead of controlling the two drive sprockets, on the Ferdinand, they actually controlled the two electric motors, each responsible for powering one side. In front of the driver, there were two pedals: one for acceleration and the second for activating the drum brake. There was also an auxiliary lever parking brake, which also served as a clutch.

The huge Ferdinand needed six crew members to be operated properly. Source: Panzernet.net

The radio operator’s job was to operate the Fu 5 radio set, which consisted of the transmitter and a receiver. The 2-meter aerial antenna was placed next to his hatch. An additional 1.8 m Sternantenne D antenna mount was placed on the rear right corner of the casemate. This antenna was used for the command vehicles which were equipped with Fu 8 radio, which had a stronger transmitter and receiver. The spare batteries for the radio were held under the radio operator’s seat.

The remainder of the crew, which included the commander, gunner, and two loaders were positioned in the rear casemate. The commander had only a limited view of the surroundings by using the Scherenfernrohr (scissor periscope), and only with the hatch open. The loaders had two Turmbeobachtungsfernrohr (observation periscopes).

Quite surprisingly, the Ferdinand did not have a commander’s cupola, which was quite a common sight on other German vehicles. The only way a commander could see potential targets was through a scissor periscope with a limited arc and with an open hatch. Source: K. Münch (2005) Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II,

Armament

The main armament of the Ferdinand was the 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71, probably the best anti-tank gun of the Second World War. It was, in essence, a modified version of the 8.8 cm Flak 41 anti-aircraft gun. During the war, the Germans developed and used two towed 8.8 cm anti-tank gun versions. The first one was the PaK 43, which was mounted on a four-wheel carriage, and the second was the PaK 43/41, placed on a mount with components from a few different artillery pieces (wheels from 15 cm s.FH.18 and the split trail legs from the 10.5 cm le.FH.18). The PaK 43/41 used a horizontal sliding block mechanism, while the Pak 43 had a vertical one. The PaK 43/41 was an effective anti-tank gun, being able to take out all of the Allied tanks, but was also too heavy.

The 88 mm PaK 43 and the 43/41 (in the picture) were some of the most effective anti-tank guns of the war. Their heavy weight, on the other hand, meant that they were difficult to transport or move by their crews. For this reason, they were jokingly known by their crews as the ‘barn doors’ (Scheunentor). Source: Wiki

For use on the Ferdinand (and, later, the Jagdpanther), the Germans introduced a slightly modified version, named 8.8 cm PaK 43/2, which was more suitable for installation into enclosed armored vehicles. It had a semi-automatic and vertical sliding block. It had an electrical trigger, with the firing trigger being placed on the elevation handwheel.

The gun itself was mounted on a cradle that stood on two runnions connected to two curved post arms. This installation was specially designed in order to reduce the stress acting on the elevation gears. The hydropneumatic buffer and the recuperator cylinders were placed on top of the gun.

The 8.8 cm gun had a traverse of 30° (15° on each side) and an elevation of -5° to +14° (or -8° to +18°, depending on the source). The traverse and elevation hand wheels were positioned on the left side of the gun and operated by the gunner.

After firing the gun, the spent case was caught by a canvas sleeve basket. Due to the 8.8 cm case’s large size, nearly a meter, not many could fit into this basket, so the loader had to frequently empty it. It also had a secondary role of measuring the recoil travel of the gun that had to be in the range of 550-580 mm. When on the move, the gun was held in place by a forward-positioned travel lock. Inside the casemate, there was another smaller ‘H’ shaped travel lock, located in the casemate ceiling.

A close-up look of an 8.8 cm mount, waiting to be assembled into a Ferdinand. The vertical sliding block and a part of the canvas sleeve basket are also visible. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer
The forward-positioned travel lock. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer

Despite being a huge vehicle, the total ammunition load was quite limited, with only 40 rounds. These were held in storage bins located inside the casemate sides. The Ferdinand crews would often use any available spare space to add additional rounds, reaching a total load of 50. Authors such as T. Melleman (Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I) mention that some crews managed to squeeze in up to 90 rounds!

When firing at longer ranges, the Ferdinand crews used the Sfl Zielfernrohr 1 a type telescopic sight. When engaging targets with direct fire, the Rundblickfernrohr 36 periscope sight was used. While the Ferdinand could be used as mobile artillery thanks to its armament’s range, sufficient elevation, and firepower, it was rarely used in this manner. The main problem would be the small ammunition load of high explosive rounds and the fact its main task was hunting tanks and other armored vehicles.

While the 8.8 cm gun could fire either armor-piercing or high-explosive rounds, the Ferdinands were initially to be armed with the armor-piercing only. Prior to their first engagement at Kursk, each Ferdinand was supplied with 20 two-part (propellant charge and explosive round) semi-fixed high-explosive (HE) rounds. These proved to be of poor quality and prone to jamming during extraction after firing. Another issue with the two-part rounds was their time fuse, which worked well for the original anti-aircraft use. On the Ferdinand, however, the significant forces exerted on the time fuse due to the high acceleration in the barrel could lead to premature explosions. These would later be replaced with better-designed rounds. The range of the HE rounds was around 5.4 km.

Regarding the armor-piercing (AP) rounds, there was a better choice, with a few different types available. These included the standard Pzgr.39-1 and the improved Pzgr.39/43 AP, which had a range of 4 km. The Pzgr. Patr 40 was a tungsten-cored armor-piercing shell with the same range of 4 km. Lastly, the Gr.Patr 39 H1 and Gr.Patr 39/43 H1 hollow charge rounds were available, which had a range of around 3 km.

When using the standard AP round, the gun could penetrate 182 mm of armor sloped at 30° at a range of 500 m. At 1,000 m this dropped to 167 mm, and at 2,000 m to 139 mm. The tungsten round, at the same ranges and angles, could penetrate 226 mm, 162 mm and 136 mm. As the Germans had problems with the supply of tungsten, this round was rarely used. The hollow charge round could penetrate 90 mm of armor inclined at 30° at any range. These hollow charge rounds were not well known for their precision and, when the target was hit, there was a good chance that the round would misfire.

The Ferdinands were equipped with a two-part, rectangular-shaped shield, which was bolted on the front part of the gun mantlet. Its purpose was to protect the main gun from any small-caliber rounds or shrapnel. Not all vehicles received these from the start, some were added later on (just prior to their combat use), while some never received them. During the later part of the Kursk Offensive, a number of crews improvised some by completely redesigning the gun shields, which could now be much easier replaced. After 1944, these became standard equipment and replaced the earlier design.

This vehicle is lacking the gun mantlet protective shield. Source: Worldwarphotos.com
This Ferdinand has the initial production gun mantlet protective shield, which proved too difficult to be taken off and would be replaced. Source: Warspot.ru
Later modified 1944 Ferdinand, with the shield initially used as an improvisation but that later saw widespread use. Source: Panzernet.ne

For protection against infantry attacks, the Ferdinand was equipped with an MG 34 machine gun with 600 rounds of ammunition that was stored inside the vehicle. In addition, there were two 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine guns.

Organization

The Oberkommando des Heeres OKH (German High Command) initially planned to form three Schwere Sturmgeschütz Abteilung – StuGAbt (Heavy Assault Gun Battalion). These included the 190th StuGAbt, which was to be reformed and renamed into the 654th Assault Gun Battalion, the 197th, renamed into the 653rd Assault Gun Battalion, and the newly formed 600th Assault Gun Battalion. Each was to be equipped with 30 vehicles divided into three 9 vehicle strong batteries. The remaining 3 vehicles were to be allocated to a HQ battery. Once ready on the front, each battery was to be separated from the main unit and used more as mobile close artillery support.

In March 1943, the organization and employment concepts were completely reworked. This was done by the General Inspector of the Armored Troops, General Heinz Guderian. He first reallocated the Ferdinands from the Sturmartillerie to the Panzerwaffe. This change also affected the unit organization and tactical use. The Ferdinands would be allocated to two battalions, the 653rd and 654th schwere (Heeres) Panzerjäger Abteilung – sPzJagAbt (Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion). These were, in turn, part of the 656th schwere Panzerjäger Regiment (Heavy Tank Destroyer Regiment). This unit, besides the two Ferdinand-equipped units, also had a third, Sturmpanzer Abteilung 216 (216th Tank Assault Battalion), equipped with 45 Sturmpanzer IV heavy assault vehicles (based on the Panzer IV chassis). Each battalion was divided into three companies, each equipped with 14 vehicles (further divided into three platoons each, with 4 vehicles and two command vehicles), plus a Battalion HQ with three vehicles, for a total 45 per battalion. Additional vehicles based on the Panzer II and III, and Sd.Kfz 250/5 and 251/8 half-tracks were given to these units, either as command vehicles, close support, medical support, or for artillery observation. The change in tactical doctrine referred to the concentration of all available vehicles while attacking designated targets instead of dividing them into smaller units.

The Regiment HQ was officially formed on 8th June 1943, mainly from reserve cadres of the 35th Panzer Regiment. Oberstleutnant Ernst Baron von Jungenfeld was chosen as the commander of this Regiment. The command of the 653rd Battalion was given to Major Steinwachs, that of the 654th Battalion to Hauptmann Karl-Heinz Noak, and that of the 216th Battalion to Major Bruno Kahl. The 653rd Battalion, during its reorganization, was stationed at Neusiedl-am-See in Austria and the 654th in Rouen in France. By late May, the 653rd Battalion was visited by Heinz Guderian, who observed the unit during training exercises. He was quite impressed with how the vehicles managed to get over 40 km to their base without any mechanical breakdowns.

Camouflage

When they left the German factories, the Ferdinands were painted in the standard Dunkelgelb (dark yellow). They also had three Balken Kreuzen painted on the hull sides and to the rear. Once on the front, the Ferdinands crews would use their ‘artistic soul’ to paint their own vehicles to try to blend as well as possible with the surroundings (being a huge vehicle, this was not an easy task).

Each Battalion used different types of camouflages. The 653rd employed large blotches of green paint applied with either brushes or sprayed. These were either round in shape or with more straight lines. A few vehicles had three-color schemes: a combination of green with brown outlines. The 654th crews did a number of different designs mostly using dark yellow and green combinations.

Vehicles from 653rd were painted with large blotches of green paint applied with either brushes or sprayed. Also, note the Balken Kreuzen painted on the hull side and to the rear. Source: T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I
A 654th sPzJagAbt Ferdinand with a different camouflage. Source: T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I

Markings and emblems

Once these vehicles were given to the 656th Regiment, they also received their proper unit markings. The marking system employed on the Ferdinands consisted of the standard three-digit numbers, but it was quite complicated. The 653rd and 654th Battalions were designated as the I and II Battalion of the 656th Regiment. These were then divided into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Companies of the I Battalion and the 5th, 6th, and 7th of the II Battalion. As mentioned earlier, each of these companies had 14 vehicles plus a Battalion HQ unit with 3 vehicles. Each company was divided into 3 Platoons, each with 4 vehicles, plus a Company HQ with 2 vehicles. It was common for the Germans to name the Company HQ as the 1st Platoon.

Of the three-digit markings, the first number represented the Company number. The number 4 was not used. The middle number indicated the Platoon. The Company HQ, which was listed as the 1st Platoon, would be marked as ‘0’. This also affected the markings of the remaining Platoons, as their number is actually smaller by one. For example, the 3rd Platoon would actually have the 2 number designation instead of 3. The last digit was used to designate individual vehicles in the Platoon. The odd numbers were used to mark the section commanders in each Platoon. As the Company HQ only had two vehicles, they were just marked as 1 or 2.

As an example, the vehicle with the number ‘721’ belonged to the 654th Battalion’s 7th Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st section command vehicle.

The smaller Battalion HQ, which had only 3 vehicles, was marked differently. It also consisted of a three-digit number, but the difference is that the first number represented the Battalion and was marked with a Roman numeral. The 653rd was marked as ‘I’ and the 654th as ‘II’. Being command vehicles, the second digit was 0, followed by the vehicle number from 1 to 3. For example, the IO3 was the 653rd Battalion HQ’s 3rd vehicle.

The two Battalions, while using the same three-digit system, painted these numbers differently. The ones on vehicles of the 653rd were white with black outlines, while the 654th used completely white numbers. These were painted on the vehicles’ sides and on the rear.

While it was somewhat common among the German armored units to have some unit emblems, this was not the case for the 656th Regiment. The 653rd Battalion simply adopted its original German Army eagle (from back when it was known as the 197th Assault Gun Battalion), but with the wings folded down and standing on two crossed guns.

The 653rd Battalion unit emblem. Source: K. Münch Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II

During the Kursk Offensive, the 653rd Battalion used an identification symbol that consisted of two smaller squares and a larger rectangle. The larger rectangle represented the Company, being marked with different colors. White was used for the 1st, yellow for the 2nd, and red for the 3rd Company. The exception was the 1st Company’s 3rd platoon, which had a red stripe, and the 4th Platoon, which had a red cross. The small square indicated the platoon in question, except for the 1st Platoon, which had none. The 2nd was indicated with the same rectangle color, the 3rd with no color but with white outline, and the 4th Platoon with Company color with white outline.

A completely blown up casemate due to an internal explosion. Note the rear positioned large 653rd Battalion identification symbol Source: Panzernet.net
Illustration of the 653rd Battalion’s identification symbols. Source: T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II

The 654th Battalion used less elaborate markings. These consisted of black rectangles with a white letter ‘N’, the initials of the unit commander, Karl Heinz Noak. The Company number would be added after the N, like N1, N2, and N3. In the case of the HQ, the letters ‘St’ (Stab – Command) would be added instead of the numbers. These were painted either on the glacis or left fender and on the rear left corner of the casemate. When this unit was later disbanded, all its surviving vehicles were given to the 653rd Battalion. These then received the 653rd’s markings and, in time, the camouflage scheme. When the first snow began to fall, all surviving Ferdinands received whitewash paint covering the whole vehicle, including the markings.

During the winter of 1943, all surviving Ferdinands received whitewash paint which covered all markings on them. Source: https://mikesresearch.com/2020/05/24/ferdinands-elefants-on-the-eastern-front/

The 656th Regiment officially received its own emblem, containing a shield with the silhouette of an exploding tank. Under the tank, the word ’Pampas’ was added. The precise meaning was sadly lost.

The 656th Regiment’s emblems, with the Pampas word written at the bottom. Different colors represented different Companies of the unit. https://mikesresearch.com/2020/05/24/ferdinands-elefants-on-the-eastern-front/

New marking and camouflage

The vehicles used in Italy in 1944 were painted in the same dark yellow and green combination. After 13th June, they received a new ‘U’ Gothic letter, usually at the rear end of the casemate. The precise meaning of this letter is not documented. Tactical markings were not used on the majority of the Elefants sent to Italy. A few vehicles would receive the three-digit numbers painted in white.

The vehicles that were not sent to Italy received a new emblem, the Sword of the Nibelungs which emerges from the Danube’s waves. It was usually painted in front and to the rear of the casemate, but some also had these painted on the hull sides.

The Sword of the Nibelungs emblem is visible in the right corner of the casemate. Source: Pinterest
An illustration of the Sword of the Nibelungs emblem with the company markings. Source: http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2014/05/bergepanther-mit-aufgesetztem-pzkpfw-iv.html

Service

Baptism of fire at Kursk

The 656th Regiment was transported to the Eastern Front during June 1943 for the upcoming German offensive against the Soviet Kursk Salient, Operation Citadel. The main base of operation for this Regiment was the Smiyevka train station, some 25 km south of Orel. Once the vehicles were unloaded, they were driven to their designated area of assembly. In the case of the 653rd Battalion, the 1st Company was at Kuliki, the 2nd at Gostinovo and the 3rd Company at Davidovo. By the end of June, the entirety of the 656th Regiment was at its designated initial positions. The few days before the offensive were used for training and for the vehicle commanders to get familiar with the surrounding terrain. Of the three Battalions, only the 653rd was fully equipped with 45 vehicles. The 654th had 44 and the 216th had 42 vehicles (but many sources disagree on the exact numbers).

The first Ferdinands arrive in the East. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

As the Ferdinands were intended to spearhead the German advance, they were to be reinforced with a remote-controlled tank company (equipped with Borgward B.IV Sd.Kfz. 301) for cleaning minefields. These small vehicles were equipped with detachable explosive charges designed to detonate mines in a wide area. They could be either remotely controlled or driven by a human driver.

The small Borgward B.IV. Source: pinterest

The 656th Regiment was part of the XXXXI Panzer Korps under the command of General Harpe. Its order of battle during the initial stages of the Kursk Offensive was as follows: The 653rd Battalion was to support the attack of the 86th and 292nd Infantry Divisions, while the 654th Battalion supported the 78th Infantry Division. The 216th Brigade was to follow up in the second wave, together with the 177th and 244th StuG Brigades. Their objective was a heavily fortified Soviet position around the Malo-Archangelsk and Olchovatka area, with its key position around Hill 257.7 (later known as Panzer or Tank Hill).

Prior to the start of the offensive, the Ferdinands were camouflaged to avoid Soviet aerial reconnaissance. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The attack on the first day by the 653rd Battalion pierced the first Soviet defenses and reached its target, destroying some 26 T-34 tanks and dozens of anti-tank guns in the process. Many of its Ferdinands were temporarily put out of action due to extensive Soviet minefields, which spanned extensive areas. To increase the lethality of their mines, the Soviets coupled them to artillery shells or even aircraft bombs. While they usually just blew up parts of the suspension, some were so strong that they would damage the hull, which could not be repaired on the front. The anti-mine auxiliary unit did its best to clear the minefields, but lost many of its vehicles in the process. The Soviet artillery also made mine clearing operations difficult. Places that were clear of mines and marked as such were usually shelled by the Soviet artillery. The advancing Ferdinand crews would lose sight of the clear paths and accidentally run into minefields that were not cleared. In total, on the first day, the 653rd Battalion lost 33 vehicles to mines. While most required only minimal repair works, their recovery proved to be difficult. In order to move one Ferdinand, at least 5 heavy Sd.Kfz. 9 half tracks were needed. Being unprotected, they often fell victim to Soviet artillery fire trying to prevent recovery of these vehicles. The 653rd Battalion would receive two new Bergepanthers (based on the Panther tank chassis), but even these proved to be inadequate. During the night, Soviet demolition teams would blow up any abandoned Ferdinands they could get to.

A destroyed Soviet anti-tank gun, claimed by the Ferdinands. Source: K. Münch Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II

The 654th Battalion, while advancing toward its objectives, Hill 238.1 and 253.5, also came across many minefields. Thanks to the remote controlled vehicles, clear roads were established with the loss of 10 of the Borgwards. Still, this was far from enough, leading to the loss of a large number of the 654th Battalion’s vehicles being damaged.

In a memorandum dated from 17th July 1943, Heinz Guderian described the 653rd Battalion’s combat operation. “….The very heavy artillery barrage (on the first day, 100 heavy and 172 light guns, 386 rocket launchers, and countless grenade launchers) smashed the attack by our infantry. The Ferdinands and Strumpanzers were not able to push their attack in the depths of the enemy positions, as the infantry had been halted. Thus, the tanks had to stop in the middle of the battlefield, attracting concentrated artillery fire. The enemy artillery always found time to regroup and to reinforce. The missing secondary armament on the tanks negatively affected the tanks in combat. Subsequently, losses were high”.

The experience of the Ferdinand crews is partly shown in the report to Generalmajor Hartmann written by Unteroffizier Böhm and dated from the 19th July 1943.

“…. On the first day of combat, we successfully defeated bunkers, infantry, artillery and anti-tank positions. Our guns were under artillery barrages for three hours and still maintained their ability to fire! Several [enemy] tanks were destroyed during the first night, and others fled. Artillery and anti-tank crews fled before our guns after we fired upon them repeatedly. In addition to many batteries, anti-tank guns and bunkers, our battalion destroyed 120 tanks during the first round of fighting. We suffered 60 casualties during the first few days, mostly from mines. ….. We also had bad luck. It was at the rail embankment when a Panzer III on the other side received a direct hit and flew through the air, landing on the front part of the Ferdinand. Wrecking the tube, aiming device and engine grating. …. We were more successful during the second operation defending east of Orel. Only two total losses. One gun under Leutnant Tariete destroyed 22 tanks in one engagement. The total number of tanks destroyed is high and the Ferdinand contributed substantially to the defence, just as with the penetration. One gun commander destroyed seven of nine American built-tanks that approached him. …… The Ferdinand has proved itself. They were decisive here, and we cannot go against the mass of enemy tanks today without a weapon of this type.”

On 8th July, a group of 4 Ferdinands and 20 Tigers were advancing toward the Soviet line. On the other side, some twelve SU-152’s under the command of Major Sankovsky were waiting in ambush. Once the German vehicles came to a distance of 500 m, the Soviet vehicles opened fire. In the following engagement, the range was even more reduced, just 300 m, where the Tigers suffered under the SU-152’s heavy large caliber rounds. The Ferdinands proved more resilient but after numerous hits they too would fall victims to the 152 mm guns at close range. At the end of this engagement, the Germans lost four (or three, depending on the source) Ferdinands and 8 Tigers, inflicting no losses on the Soviets.

By 11th July, some 19 Ferdinands were reported as complete losses. Of these, four vehicles were burned out due to engine accidents. The remaining were mostly destroyed by enemy artillery fire, which hit the less protected engine compartment top. In addition, some 40 vehicles were temporarily out of action and needed repairs. Half of those were brought back to action by 11th July.

On 14th July, any further salvage operations were abandoned and, instead, the surviving vehicles of the 653rd Battalion were redirected to support the German attempts to relieve the 36th Panzergrenadier Division, which was surrounded by nearly 400 tanks of the Soviet 3rd Tank Army. The Ferdinands, under the command of Lt. Heinrich Teriete, managed to drive them back, despite the small German armored numbers. Thanks to well-selected firing positions and the poor enemy reconnaissance, the Ferdinands took advantage of the 8.8 cm gun’s long-range firepower. During this engagement, Lt. Heinrich Teriete himself claimed to have destroyed 22 Soviet tanks, for which he would be awarded a Knight Cross later on. During the same day, some 60 Ferdinands (34 from the 653rd and 26 from the 654th Battalion) took defensive positions around the Shelyaburg-Tsarevka area.

During the period between 14th and 17th July, the German units at Kursk were faced with rapid Soviet counter-attacks. The 653rd and 654th Battalions, despite losses and mechanical breakdowns, participated in German defensive operations south of Orel. Their mission was to defend the heavily contested Orel-Kursk railway line. The already poor mechanical reliability of most Ferdinands was further worsened by constant skirmishes with the Soviets. The Regiment commander, Jungenfeld, reported his unit’s poor shape to the 2nd Army (elements of the 9th Army, including the two Ferdinand Battalions, were previously sent to assist this Army) in a report dated 24th July 1943.

“.. The Regiment has been permanently in combat since 5 July… The Ferdinand, as well as the Sturmpanzer, suffered numerous technical problems. Initially, it was planned to withdraw the tanks for 2-3 days after a 4-5 day commitment to undergo maintenance and repair work. This was not possible… All tanks now need an overhaul requiring 14 to 20 days.. I herewith report to the 2nd Army that, within a short time, the regiment will no longer be combat ready…”

At the end of July, due to constant Soviet pressure, it was decided by the 2nd Army that Orel had to be abandoned. At the start of August, the 653rd Battalion had 12 Ferdinands ready for action, some 17 in repair and 16 were reported as complete losses. The 654th Battalion, on the same day, had 13 operational, 6 in repair and 26 complete losses.

There was an interesting and somewhat unusual (to say at least) situation where a Ferdinand was lost, being hit by a ‘flying’ Panzer III. The strange situation occurred when a remote-controlled mine clearing vehicle was hit by Soviet artillery fire, detonating its 350 kg explosive charge. The following explosion threw into the sky many parts (including the chassis) of a nearby Panzer III command vehicle. A part of the chassis hit the engine compartment of a Ferdinand, setting it on fire.

The destroyed Panzer III that hit and heavily damaged the nearby Ferdinand vehicle. Source: K. Münch Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II
While the Soviets managed to either destroy or damage many Ferdinands, a few were captured in relatively good order. This particular vehicle (chassis number 150061) belonged to the 3rd Company of the 653rd Battalion. Source: Panzernet.net
Another captured example, belonging to the 1st Company of the 654th Battalion. While the burnt-down vehicle in the background was used as a firing practice target, the vehicle at the forefront has been preserved to this day. Source: Panzernet.net
A Ferdinand from the 653rd Battalion near Karachev. Source: Panzernet.net
A damaged Ferdinand from the 654th Battalion. While the frontal armor was almost immune to enemy fire, the sides were still vulnerable. Source: Panzernet.net
The ferocity of the fighting is evident on this vehicle, which received dozens of hits, but all failed to penetrate its armor. Source:T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer
The T-34, despite its angled armor, was vulnerable to Ferdinand’s 8.8 cm gun. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer

After Kursk

By mid-August 1943, the two Ferdinand Battalions were being pulled out of Orel to the rear for recuperation and much-needed repairs. While Ferdinand achieved great success in destroying enemy armor, many Ferdinands, which were irreplaceable, were lost. On 23rd August, all surviving vehicles from the 654th were given to the 653rd Battalion. The 654th Battalion was sent to Orleans in France for recuperation and refitting with the new Jagdpanther and Jagdpanzer IV.

Following this, the 653rd Battalion was pulled back from the front line and stationed at the Dnepropetrovsk industrial center. The damage on some vehicles was such that even this center lacked proper tooling and equipment for the job. Of 54 surviving vehicles, four could not be repaired. Of the remaining 50 vehicles, only 10 to 15 (depending on the source) were combat ready by mid-September. These, together with over 10 Sturmpanzer IVs, were used to form a Sinsatzgruppe (task force) and placed under command of Hauptman Baumunk. This group received orders to divide into two smaller units, with one was tasked with heading toward Sinelnikovo and the second to Pavlograd by rail. While the Soviets held part of the railway line, after a brief engagement, they retreated.

The Ferdinands would mostly be stationed in this area when, in late September, the unit was evacuated towards Zaporozhye. In early August, during a defensive operation at Krivoy Rog, the Ferdinands claimed to have destroyed 21 enemy tanks and 23 anti-tank guns.

On 10th November 1943, the Ferdinands were repositioned from Zaporozhye to positions south of Nikopol. The German positions at Nikopol were well defended and supported by the 24th Panzer Division, to which the Ferdinand Company was attached to. On 20th November, the Soviets managed to make an opening in the German defensive line, rushing in with large numbers of tanks in an attempt to exploit their breakthrough. This formation was successfully intercepted by the 24th Panzer Division and the Ferdinands.

A Ferdinand during the battle around Nikopol in November 1943. Source: Pinteres

At the end of November, during the battles around Kochasovka and Miropol, the Ferdinands inflicted great damage on the Soviets, claiming 54 tanks. Lt. Franz Kretschmer’s vehicle alone destroyed some 21 tanks. On the following day, the 653rd Battalion’s situation became untenable, having only 4 fully operational vehicles available. Besides these, of the 42 vehicles, some 8 needed some minor repairs, and the remaining needed major overhauls. The Battalion received orders to be transported to Sankt-Pölten on 10th December 1943. The withdrawal started six day later, but due to Soviet activity, this withdrawal lasted up to 10th January 1944.

In a German report dated from the 7th August 1943, the Ferdinands were credited with the destruction of 502 enemy tanks, of which 320 were achieved by the 653rd Battalion alone. An additional 100 artillery and 200 anti-tank guns destroyed were also reported by the German Army. Three months later, another report stated that they had destroyed 582 tanks, 3 self-propelled guns, 3 armored cars, 477 (or 377 depending on the source) anti-tank guns, 133 artillery guns, 103 anti-tank rifles, and 3 aircraft! It is not clear if these numbers correspond to reality or are just inflated propaganda numbers.

German post-combat analysis

Following Operation Citadel, the German after-action reports mended the overall performance of the Ferdinand vehicles. The most praised asset of the Ferdinand were its excellent anti-tank capabilities, demonstrated by the sheer number of destroyed tanks claimed. It had good accuracy, a long range and possessed great armor piercing capabilities. The more heavily protected Soviet KV-1 tanks could be effectively destroyed at ranges of 2 km. On average, 2 to 3 rounds were enough to completely destroy enemy tanks.

The ammunition, on the other hand, proved to be problematic, most noticeably in the case of the high-explosive rounds. The problem was mainly regarding the poor quality of the ammunition casing, which often led to the clogging of the gun chamber. The loaders were often forced to carry additional improvised equipment to try to eject the stuck spent rounds.

Another great issue was the lack of a machine gun mount that could be used for self-defence against enemy infantry attacks. While the crew had their own personal weapons and an MG 34 machine gun stored inside, these could not always be put to use against enemy infantry. There were four pistol ports, two on the sides and two to the rear, but none to the front. Some Ferdinand crews improvised by using their MG 34 machine gun to fire through the main gun barrel. The gun elevation and traverse were used to direct the firing arc of this machine gun.

Many crews used spent cases to make makeshift mounts to provide a more stable machine gun firing platform, in order to avoid damaging the rifling of the gun. Installing a machine gun mount on top of the armored casemate was also attempted but proved to be unpopular as the operator had to be exposed to enemy return fire and fragments. Installing an infantry platform to the rear of the casemate was tested. However, the supporting infantry riding on this were easy targets for enemy gunners, so this idea was shortly abandoned. To somewhat resolve this issue, the Ferdinand units were reinforced with 12 Panzer III tanks that were to act as a screen against enemy infantry and soft targets.

The armor protection was deemed sufficient. During the battle for Kursk, there were no reports of the front armor being penetrated. There were cases of the side armor being pierced by 76.2 cm rounds at closer ranges. While the front armor protection of the casemate was more or less invincible, at that time, it had one major issue. Enemy rounds or artillery fragments could ricochet into the insufficiently protected engine top cover. This would cause minor to significant damage to the engine, cooling system or fuel lines, to name a few. A number of vehicles were either immobilized or lost this way. For this reason, it was later requested to add 20 to 30 mm additional armor protection atop the engine compartment.

The cooling system was not up to the task, as there were cases of the engine compartment catching fire due to the engine overheating. At least one vehicle was completely lost during a recovery operation when it caught fire due to the engine overheating itself.

The Ferdinand was noted by its crews to lack sufficient visibility and had many blind spots and poor visibility in general. Radio equipment was often jammed due to Ferdinand’s electrical equipment. The temperature inside the casemate was high and there were cases of the signal flare ammunition blowing up. Despite its weight, the Ferdinand could relatively easily cross a 2.6 m wide trench. It also possessed a good climbing ability. However, their cross-country speed was noted to be only around 10 km/h.

Interestingly, the new gasoline-electric power train performed relatively well. Its power output was sometimes problematic, and some vehicles caught fire due to electric short-circuits. The suspension was deemed ineffective and prone to malfunctions. The narrow tracks, together with the weight, caused many vehicles to be bogged down. The lack of a proper recovery vehicle was also noted, with many vehicles having to be blown up because they could not be recovered.

Despite the long list of negative issues with Ferdinand, they showed that a well-protected and armed anti-tank vehicle had merits. They offered many advantages over the poorly armored and improvised anti-tank vehicles already in service (for example, the Marder series).

Back to Germany

Following the Eastern campaign, all surviving Ferdinands were brought back to Nibelungenwerke for a major overhaul. These included the 653rd Battalion’s 42 vehicles and a smaller number of vehicles that were recovered earlier during the Kursk operation and were sent back to Germany. In addition, the two Alkett prototypes were also sent to Nibelungenwerke.

An important note here, these vehicles were still named Ferdinands at this time. The Elefant designation was only implemented from February (or May) 1944 on. As mentioned earlier, the Elefant designation was never used by the Germans to separate the improved form from the initially produced vehicles. It was more a fulfillment of Hitler’s request to change the names of many vehicles to more aggressive animal names. As the Elefant designation was becoming official with the Germans during 1944, this article will use this name from this point onward.

Assembled vehicles awaiting repairs at Nibelungenwerke. Source; www.worldwarphotos.com

As these were being gathered at Nibelungenwerke, the workers and engineers set on repairing any major damage, but they were also working hard to address a number of noted shortcomings of the Elefant. This was mainly with regard to visibility, mobility, and anti-infantry weaponry. As this was not an easy task to achieve, the Vienna Arsenal was also included in the rebuild program. It is there that some 6 completely burned-out Elefants were brought back to life.

Modifications

In order to improve mobility, the Elefants were provided with wider tracks. For better visibility, in what was surprisingly not issued on the first production vehicles, the improved Elefant received a commander’s cupola very similar to that of the StuG III. This cupola had seven periscopes which provided the commander with a good all-around view. The commander’s hatch also had a small opening for the use of a periscope if needed, without exposing himself to enemy fire. The two small vision ports located on the superstructure’s front sides were welded shut. The driver’s periscope cover was also slightly improved by adding a plate to protect from the sun. A few vehicles were equipped with two-part round-shaped rear casemate doors instead of the single-piece one regularly used.

This vehicle was turned over by an aircraft bomb explosion. Thanks to this, we have a good view of the improved top. Source: T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II
Close-up view of the new commander’s cupola. Source; T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroye
Four vehicles received the new two-part hatches. The angled part on top of the doors was used for water drainage. Source: https://mikesresearch.com/2020/05/24/ferdinands-elefants-on-the-eastern-front/
Drawing of the two-part hatch. Source: https://mikesresearch.com/2020/05/24/ferdinands-elefants-on-the-eastern-front/

Visually, the most obvious change was the introduction of a machine gun ball mount (Kugelblende 100 or 80, depending on the source) placed on the right side of the superstructure. It was protected by an additional 100 mm of armored cover, with a small opening for the machine gun. This mount had an elevation of -10° to + 15° and a traverse of 5° in both directions. It was to be operated by the radio operator. The machine gun operator was provided with a 1.8x KFZ 2 optical sight.

The most obvious improvement was the introduction of the ball-mounted machine gun. Source: Panzernet

Why the machine gun mount was never installed in the original vehicles is not clear in the sources. There are a few different possibilities. While the original VK 45.01 (P) had a ball-mounted machine gun, this was not carried over to the later Ferdinand vehicles. One source gives information that this was done simply as the Krupp engineers lacked the men and skill to make an opening in the 200 mm thick plate. This explanation is somewhat problematic, because there were actually two 100 mm thick plates and that the German engineers already had some experience making the holes necessary for the installation of the ball mount. The second possible reason includes Alkett’s original proposal to mount additional angled armor plates in front of the vehicle. Adding a ball mount machine gun position would be much more difficult to achieve in this case. The main reason was probably that Nibelungenwerke’s engineers were forced to speed up the production and did not have the time nor tools to implement it. Also, the Ferdinand was initially intended to be used as an assault gun (like the StuG III), which themselves lacked a machine gun. The protection against enemy infantry was to be provided by the supporting infantry. Whatever the case may be, from early 1944 onward, the Elefant had better means of fighting off infantry attacks from the front.

The new machine gun ball mount was added starting from early 1944 on . Source: Ledwoch Ferdinand/Elefant

The lower hull armor of the driver’s compartment was increased by an additional 30 mm thick armor plate. The engine compartment top cover was slightly improved to provide better engine protection. The worn out engines were also replaced with brand new Maybach HL 120 models. Additional protection included Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste that was applied to roughly half the height of the vehicle.

The gun shield, previously more of a field modification, was now being used as standard. It was much easier to replace when damaged or during the change of the gun barrel. The ammunition load was increased to 55 rounds. The troublesome crew communication system was improved. With all these modifications, the overall weight of the vehicle rose to 70 tonnes.

The changes also included the appointment of a new 656th Regiment unit commander. The previous commander, Baron von Jungenfeld, was promoted to Colonel. In his place, Oberst Richard Schmitgen was appointed. Another change concluded the 656th Regiment’s fate. While on paper it still existed, in reality, its units were detached and sent to Italy in 1944, after which the 656th Regiment was never actually used at full regimental strength.

The overall repair process lasted from January to April (or March depending on the sources) 1944, with the first vehicles being combat ready by February 1944. During this time, some 47 vehicles and the 2 prototypes would be improved to the new standard.

Elefants in Italy

Following the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943 and, later, the American amphibious landing at Anzio in January 1944, the German High Command was forced to rapidly send more and more troops and equipment there. For this reason, elements of the 656th Regiment were also to be sent there. This included the 216th Assault Tank Battalion and at least one Elefant Company. Not many Elefants could be spared, as a large number of them were still in Nibelungenwerke’s workshop waiting to be repaired and modified. On 15th February 1944, the 653rd Battalion’s 1st Company, with 11 vehicles and one recovery vehicle under the command of Helmut Ulbrich, was ready to be transported to Italy. Initially, it was planned to send 14 vehicles, but the last three could not be repaired in time due to a lack of spare parts.

Elefant in Italy, 1944. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

All vehicles reached Rome by 24th February 1944. Once there, the 1st Company was attached to the 508th Heavy Tank Battalion equipped with Tiger tanks under the command of Major Hudel. At the end of February, under bad weather, the Elefants and Tigers were ordered to attack American positions. The Elefants were once again used in a role for which they were not designed for. This attack was to be conducted through marshes which were unsuitable for heavy vehicles. During this attack, while crossing a bridge, one Elefant was immobilized. After a number of failed recovery attempts, it was abandoned. The next day, another vehicle struck a German mine, and once again, due to the inability to tow it to safety, it was blown up by its own commander, Gustav Koss. Due to the loss of two vehicles in a short amount of time, the remaining vehicles were pulled back. They would be stationed in a more defensive role near the cities of Cisterna and Velletri for the next few months. Due to problems with the arrival of spare parts, their use after the initial action around Anzio was limited.

The second Elefant to be lost hit a mine and, as it was unable to be recovered, it was abandoned. Source: Pinterest

American sources give us some information on their engagements with the Elefants around Cisterna. In the report of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, while on the road to Cisterna, two M10 tank destroyers commanded by Sergeant Harry J. Ritchie and Sergeant John D. Christian came under fire from a group of Tigers and two Elefants at ranges just over 230 meters. The gunner of one M10, Corporal James F. Goldsmith later wrote.

“ Sgt Ritchie ordered me to pull into open view around the corner of the building, and from this exposed position, directed three hits onto the most exposed tank, it being about 550 yards (some 500 meters) up the road at that time, and knocked it out. We received heavy armor-piercing and high-explosive fire from the other tanks, shells barely missing our destroyer by a few feet and fragments hitting us. We were exposed for about five minutes. Sgt Ritchie ducked his head and shoulders below the turret and pulled back behind the house. When enemy fire ceased, Sgt. Ritchie had me pull out again, and from the same exposed position, directed two rounds of AP shells that hit and bounced off the front armor of the Ferdinand 250 yards (230 meters) east of us. We again received intensive fire from the enemy tanks and shells were landing so close that fragments were coming through the open turret, one slightly wounding our gunner in the head when it hit our tank and damaging the counter-balance and .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the edge of the turret. We were again exposed to enemy fire for about five minutes. He ducked into the tank and we pulled behind the house again. We continued to fight throughout the day with our damaged gun. ”

While Sergeant Ritchie’s vehicle was under fire, the second M10, commanded by Sergeant Christian, shot several rounds at the German vehicles, scoring two hits on a Tiger and two more on the Elefants. He reported that only two crew members from the hit vehicles managed to escape. Whatever damage he did to them, or whether his 76 mm gun managed to pierce the Elefant’s armor is not mentioned.

By 20th May 1944, the Elefants were mostly kept in reserve for maintenance and repairs. A few days later, the Allies made a breakthrough, so the Elefants were once more put into action. In the initial engagements, they destroyed 4 to 6 (depending on the source) enemy Shermans, with the loss of two vehicles. One had an engine malfunction and was burned down, the second was blown up by its crew when it became immobilized. Following this, the unit had to retreat back to Rome by June 1944. The enemy armor was not the only threat that the Elefants had to face. The extensive Allied air superiority caused the further loss of two more burned-down vehicles. One was hit by a P-47 bomb on 5th June, while on the Via Aurelia road. The second vehicle was lost five days later, near Orvieto.

The stream of bad luck did not end there. While crossing an old bridge, the bridge construction simply collapsed under the Elefant’s extreme weight, taking the vehicle with it. The vehicle commander was killed during this accident As there was no way to recover it, the crew had no choice but to destroy it.

At the start of July, the 1st Company of the 653rd had only 3 (or 4, depending on the source) vehicles with only 2 operational and one undergoing repairs. In addition, the unit still possessed the recovery Bergetiger (P). Though orders for the unit to pull back to Germany were given on 26th June, frontline developments prevented this from happening. The few Ferdinands would see more combat action up to early August when they were finally pulled out to the Vienna Arsenal. By that time, only three (or two, depending on the source) combat vehicles and the recovery vehicle survived.

Most Elefants that were sent to Italy were blown up by their own crews to avoid capture. Source: Vol.2 Ferdinand near Rome

Back to the East

Despite some misconceptions that the Elefant’s story ended in Italy, this was not the case. Those vehicles that were not involved in Italy were actually being prepared to once again face the Soviets. The 653rd Battalion was now under command by Rudolf Grillenberger, while the 2nd Company was commanded by Werner Salamon and the 3rd Company by Bernhard Konnak.

An Elefant and some of its crew in Poland, at Rabka, in early 1944. Source; T. Melleman Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II

While the German Army planned to send the Elefants to the East in March 1944, this was not possible. By late February, only 8 vehicles were fully operational, while the remaining were still under repair. Among other reasons, shortages of spare materials, workforce, and a lack of electricity further delayed the completion of the remaining vehicles. Delays were also caused by a lack of sufficient supply of soft-skinned vehicles.

On 8th April 1944, the Battalion reached Brzezany and was attached to the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen by mid-April. The 653rd Battalion had 30 operational Elefants, 2 Bergetiger (P), 1 Bergepanther and 2 Panzer III ammunition carriers. Additionally, one Elefant was still in Austria and was not available due to needing repairs. At this time, the problem with the acquisition of soft-skinned vehicles was not solved. In essence, the necessary ammunition, fuel, or supply operations could not be carried out.

The SS Panzer Division and the supporting units, including the Elefants, were intended to be used as a relief force for the trapped German units near Tarnopol. The bad weather caused huge logistical problems and greatly slowed down the 653rd Battalion’s attack, which led to the cancellation of an attack on the city of Siemakovce. On 24th April, another attack on Siemakovce was attempted. An advance unit consisting of German infantry and 9 Elefants managed to capture the city after two days of fighting. The next day, they crossed the Strype River and made a defensive line. After an engagement with the Soviets, the 2nd Company had two damaged vehicles, which were recovered, but the mechanics were not able to immediately repair them. Ultimately, the Germans failed their objective and were forced to retreat due to extensive Soviet attacks. The 2nd Company lost two more vehicles. Like many times before, they had to be blown up, being unable to be recovered. By late April, the 2nd Company was attacking Soviet positions at Siemienkowicz, but due to bad terrain, most vehicles were left temporarily disabled due to their engines being overheated.

By May 1944, the mechanical situation of all surviving Elefants was dire. Due to a lack of sufficient supply vehicles, the recovery vehicles had to be used in this role. Despite many tank destroyers being temporarily out of action due to a lack of much-needed repairs, the Elefants showed that they were still effective tank killers. The Elefant also gained a great reputation among the Russian but also the German ranks, but not all were impressed. In his memoirs, a Nashorn tank destroyer driver (from the 88th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion), Gefreiter Hoffmann, wrote.

“I never saw this Porsche-thing. Everybody on the front was talking of it, calling it a wonder-weapon, being better than the Tiger … My boss was very proud of our Hornisse with its long gun, we were pretty successful. He scoffed at this giant vehicle: “Too heavy to move, too clumsy to steer, what a dreck”, he said”

On 11th May, the Battalion was repositioned to Kozova and Zborev, which were only 15 km from their positions. The sources are not clear about the precise number of vehicles at this point. While T. Melleman (Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II) states that few vehicles had to be blown up, author T. Anderson (Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer), on the other hand, stated that by June, no complete loss was reported.

After this operation, the Battalion was pulled back to a resting position near Brzhezhany. During this time, this unit received at least 4 Elefants which had the new rear casemate two-piece hatches. It was also supplemented with some bizarre field modifications based on the Bergepanther and the Soviet T-34 tanks.

In mid-July 1944, the Soviets launched a huge offensive against the German North Ukraine Army. The Germans responded by sending the 653rd Battalion to this area. The Elefants were attached to the Eingreiftruppe Nordukraine, in essence, a ready deployment force. This mixed unit managed to achieve success against the enemy armor. However, the Soviets managed to break through other points of the German defense line. The deployment force and the Elefants were forced to retreat to Landeshut. On 20th July, the Soviets were trying to stop this retreat but were constantly kept at bay, with the loss of a number of Elefants in the process. These were mostly blown up by their crews, as their engines would often break down due to overheating. The 653rd Battalion would see extensive action up to 27th July, when it managed to complete its retreat thanks to its tenacious defense and the shift of the Soviet direction of attack. Heavy fighting during July cost the 653rd Battalion some 19 to 22 vehicles plus 2 recovery Bergetiger (P), the command Tiger (P), and some 4 ammunition supply tanks. While only a few were actually lost in combat, the majority had to be blown up by their crews due to a lack of fuel and breakdowns. The loss of crewmen was surprisingly low, with 19 wounded and only 5 dead.

An ISU-152 taken out by precise Elefant fire. The round hole atop the driver visor is actually the place where the 8.8 cm round penetrated the ISU’s armor. Source: T. Anderson Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer

At the start of August 1944, there were still more combat operations which cost the battalion a few more vehicles. On 4th August, the 653rd Battalion received orders to reposition to Krakow. Due to a lack of vehicles, the 3rd Company was disbanded and sent back to Germany to be armed with the new Jagdtigers. In addition, at this time, two of the surviving vehicles from Italy were used to reinforce the depleted 653rd Battalion.

One of the several Elefants that survived the retreat of July-August 1944. Source: K. Münch Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II, Stackpole Books.

In mid-December 1944, the 653rd Battalion was renamed to Heeres schwere Panzerjäger Kompanie 614 (614th Independent Tank Destroyer Company). It was then attached to the 4th Panzer Army near the Bodzentyn area on 22nd December. The 614th Company saw heavy action in combat south of Kielce, where it lost some 10 vehicles from 14th to 15th January 1945. Interestingly, even by this time, the Elefant’s front armor was almost invincible, even capable of resisting several hits from the IS-2’s 122 mm gun. By the end of January 1945, there were only four Elefants and one Bergepanther left. The unit was moved to Stahnsdorf for much-needed repairs in late February 1945. The mechanical condition of these vehicles was poor and they badly needed repairs. Luckily for them, there were still some resources available to put them back in action.

Once repaired, the unit was repositioned to Wünsdorf in April 1945. On 21st April, it was attached to Kampfgruppe Möws, which, with the 4 Elefants, was to support Kampfgruppe Ritter. During preparation for transport on rails at the Mittendorf station, one vehicle had to be left behind, as it broke down and could not be repaired. It would remain there up to 1947, before finally being towed away. The remaining three vehicles would be separated, with one left defending a position at Löpten, and the remaining two sent to defend Berlin. These took action near Karl-August Platz, where they would be captured by the Soviet Forces.

This picture is often described as the last Elefant in Berlin. Source: http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2014/05/bergepanther-mit-aufgesetztem-pzkpfw-iv.html

Bergepanzer Ferdinand and other improvised support vehicles

Prior to their engagement on the frontline, while used for crew training, the Ferdinands did not have many mechanical breakdowns that needed towing vehicles. Even if they did break down, there were Sd.Kfz. 9 vehicles available for towing to the repair workshops. The reality of frontline service, however, showed the need for a dedicated recovery vehicle. In the field, a great number of Ferdinands were immobilized. As the Germans lacked the required numbers of Sd.Kfz. 9 and tank-based recovery vehicles, the damaged Ferdinands were often blown up by their crews to avoid being captured.

To somewhat resolve this issue, three available Tiger (P) chassis were to be rebuilt as Bergepanzers (recovery tank). The modification included adding a new much smaller fully enclosed casemate to the rear. In front of it, a ball-mounted 7.92 mm MG-34 machine gun was placed, with two additional pistol ports on the sides. On top of this casemate, a round hatch door was installed, while to the rear, a two-piece hatch was placed, taken from a Panzer III turret. There were also three smaller slits on the front and sides of the crew compartment. The armor thickness of these vehicles was much lighter than the Ferdinand, with 100 mm to the front. The front casemate armor was 50 mm and 30 m on the side. A boom crane was placed on top of the vehicle’s superstructure. Another change was the use of longer tracks which, with the lower weight, provided them with better overall drive.

These three were completed by August 1943 and issued to the 653rd Battalion, with one vehicle per company. They solved the lack of towing vehicles and many Ferdinands were recovered thanks to their help.

Bergepanzer Ferdinand Source: Panzernet.net

Of special note, during 1944, the 653rd Battalion’s mechanics and engineers managed to build a number of improvised vehicles based on German and also captured vehicles. One such vehicle was created using a Panzer IV turret which was welded on a Bergepanther. Another example involved installing a 2 cm Flakvierling 38 on a second Bergepanther.

Soviet vehicles were also modified, with two receiving a new open-top turret armed with 2 cm Flakvierling 38 anti-aircraft guns, while two more were modified as ammunition carriers. One rare captured KV-85 had its gun removed and was used as a recovery vehicle. Finally, the 653rd Battalion was supplied with one Tiger (P) that was used by its commander as his personal command vehicle.

A Soviet T-34 armed with the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 placed in a new turret. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/
A few Bergepanthers were allocated to the Elefant units. Source: http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2014/05/bergepanther-mit-aufgesetztem-pzkpfw-iv.html
At the front is the only Porsche Tiger ever used in combat. Behind it is the strange Panzer IV/Panther hybrid vehicle. Source:https://forum.warthunder.com/index.php?/topic/321507-panzer-v-ausfuhrung-d1-mit-panzer-iv-h-turm-39panzer-viv39/
The 653rd Battalion managed to capture one rare KV-85 vehicle. This vehicle had its turret removed and was used as a recovery vehicle by this unit. Source: K. Münch Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II, Stackpole Books.

Surviving vehicles

Despite the small number built, today, there are two surviving vehicles left. One restored Elefant is located at the Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. This particular vehicle belonged to the 653rd Battalion and was captured in Italy by the Allies. The vehicle spent some time on loan at the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset, UK. The vehicle was displayed as part of the museum’s “Tiger Collection” display from April 2017 until January 2019, when it was returned to the United States. This display brought all the members of the Tiger family together in one place for the first time. The second vehicle is located at the Russian Patriot Park and was captured during the Battle of Kursk.

The surviving Elefant located at Fort Lee. Source www.Tank-Hunter.com
The Ferdinand at Kubinka, before being moved to Patriot Park. Source: Wiki

Conclusion

Many sources that do not go into much analysis of the Ferdinand’s state that they were a waste of resources and had a poor overall design. It is important to remember that the Germans had already built 100 Porsche Tiger chassis. A lot of resources and time had already been invested in a vehicle that was not going to be put into production. They simply had no other choice than to see proper use of these already built chassis. For the later assembly of Ferdinands, additional resources were needed. The Ferdinand was rather hastily designed, which is best seen in the lack of s commander cupola and machine gun in the hull. The engine compartment was inadequate and too cramped, which later caused problems with the engine overheating. Some of these would later be corrected. Ferdinands also required frequent repairs and maintenance, but nearly all WWII vehicles required such things to be effective in combat. The armament and the armor were some of the best for their day. The Ferdinand is also often seen as too heavy. At its 65 and later 70 tonnes, it was. While it could reach a top speed of 30 km/h, its actual cross-country speed was only 10 km/h. Thanks to their long length, they had a good climbing ability.

In combat, the Ferdinands gained an enviable reputation among the German and Soviet units for their deadly gun and strong armor. The Soviets, when engaging German tank destroyers, would often describe them as Ferdinands, even though they were usually other vehicles in the German inventory. The German propaganda machine also helped by portraying the Ferdinands as wonder weapons. Despite this, the Ferdinand’s success as a deadly tank destroyer is hard to deny. During Kursk alone, over 500 Soviet armored vehicles were claimed to have been destroyed by them. Even taking into account a 50% overclaim ratio (which is excessive), the numbers remaining are still very impressive.

In the end, the Ferdinand was a deadly tank hunter that was plagued by its rushed development and lack of numbers. While not a waste of resources, they were no wonder weapons and possessed quite a number of flaws.

The VK 45.01(P) or Tiger(P)
Porsche’s VK 45.01 prototype in 1942. It was given as a favorite before problems with the complex powerplant emerged.
Ferdinand
Early production Ferdinand, Panzerabteilung 653, summer 1943.
Ferdinand on the Eastern Front
653rd Panzer-Abteilung, Eastern front, winter 1943-44.
Ferdinand at Kursk
Ferdinand of the 654th Panzer-Abteilung, Kursk, summer 1943.
Another Ferdinand at Kursk
Ferdinand of the 654th PanzerJäger Abteilung, Kursk, Eastern front, 1943.
Elefant in Italy
Sd.Kfz.184 “Elefant” of the 1st company, 653rd Schwere Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung, Anzio-Nettuno, March 1944.
An Elephant fighting in Ukraine in 1944
Tiger(P) Elefant (late type) from the Abt.653 HQ Company, Brzherzhany, Ukraine, July 1944

Panzerjäger Tiger (P) 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71 “Ferdinand/Elefant” Sd.Kfz 184

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.14 m x 3.38 m x 2.97 m
Total weight, battle-ready 65-70 tonnes
Crew 6 (Commander, Gunner, Two Loaders, Driver and Radio operator)
Propulsion Two Maybach HL 120 TRM 265 [email protected] 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off-road) 30 km/h, 8-10 km/h
Range (road/off-road)-fuel 150 km, 90 km
Primary Armament 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71
Secondary Armament One 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine guns
Elevation -5° to +14°
Armor 20 mm – 200 mm

Source:

K. Münch (2005) Combat History of German Heavy Anti-tank unit 653 In World War II, Stackpole Books.
Terry J. G. (2004), Tanks in Detail JgdPz IV, V, VI and Hetzer, Ian Allan Publishing
T. Anderson (2015) Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer, Osprey Publishing
J. Ledwoch (2003) Ferdinand/Elefant, Militaria
R. Forczyk (2016) The Dnepr 1943, Osprey Publishing
V. Failmezger (2015) American Knights, Osprey Publishing
T. Melleman (2004) Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I, Aj.Press.
T. Melleman (2005) Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II, Aj.Press.
W.J. Spielberger (1967) Panzerjager Tiger (P) Elefant, Profile Publication.
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2004) Panzer Tracts No.9 Jagdpanzer
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2004) Panzer Tracts No.16 Bergepanzer 38 to Bergeanther
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2004) Panzer Tracts, Panzerkampfwagen VI P.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (20) Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer production from 1933 to 1945.
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon Books.
Lt. Co. L. Vysokoostrovsky (1943) The Field Artillery Journal

Categories
WW2 Italian Tanks

M15/42

Nation Flag IconKingdom of Italy, 1942-1945, Medium tank – 167 built

The Carro Armato M15/42 was the last variant of the Italian ‘M’ tank series. It was in service from late 1942 to 1945 in small numbers. For the most part, it was used by the Wehrmacht. Compared to its predecessors, the M13/40 and M14/41, it had a much more powerful engine and a gun with greater anti-tank performance.

The M15/42. Source: pinterest.com

Development of the M15/42

In order to discuss the M15/42, its predecessors must be taken into consideration. The ‘M’ series was born in 1938, with the M11/39 (Medium 11 tonnes, Model 1939), itself developed from the Carro di Rottura da 10t (Eng. 10-tonne Breakthrough Tank). This vehicle was, in turn, inspired by the two Vickers 6 ton tanks that the Regio Esercito purchased from Britain in 1932.

The Carro di Rottura da 10 t at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Imagining that a hypothetical future war would be fought like World War I in the mountainous terrain of northern Italy, the designers developed a very light vehicle. This was done in order for it to cross small bridges and traverse narrow mountain roads. It had the cannon in the casemate because it was deemed that it was less likely to be attacked from the side in the mountains.

The vehicle was still a long way away from the shape of the M15/42, but the lower hull and suspension were almost unchanged between the two vehicles.

The M11/39 was armed with a 37/40 Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. It had a limited traverse range. There was also a single-seat turret equipped with two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns. The vehicle, although modern, did not impress the Regio Esercito, which ordered only 100 units, produced between July 1939 and May 1940.

The M11/39, the first Italian medium tank to enter service. Source: italiantanktree.wordpress.com

Considering the limited firepower of the M11/39 and its ineffectiveness in facing other tanks, Ansaldo modified the vehicle by equipping it with a two-seat revolving turret armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon. The previous gun position in the hull was replaced with a ball mount for two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns.

The new M13/40 (Medio 13 tonnellate Modello 1940 – Medium 13 tonnes Model 1940) was presented in October 1939. After some modifications, it was accepted into production by the Regio Esercito. In November 1939, 400 units were ordered, with the first ones delivered only in July 1940.

The engine of the M13/40 was more powerful than the 105 hp FIAT SPA 8T of the M11/39. This improved power plant was the FIAT SPA 8T Mod. 1940 11,140 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 125 hp at 1,800 rpm, allowing a speed of 32 km/h for the M13/40. The tank had a weight of about 14 tonnes.

A first series M13/40 at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente. Source: Ansaldo Archives

In August 1941, the first M14/41 (Medio 14 tonnellate Modello 1941 – Medium 14 tonnes Model 1941) came off the assembly line. It differed from the M13/40 in having reinforced fenders, some small external modifications, and the new FIAT SPA 15T Mod. 1941 11,980 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 145 hp at 1,900 rpm.

The ammunition supply remained unchanged, with 87 rounds for both the M13/40 of the third series and for the M14/40. A total of 710 M13/40s were produced in three different series and 695 M14/41s in two different production series.

A fresh M14/41 in the Ansaldo-Fossati plant’s testing park. Source: pinterest.com

In the winter of 1940 and 1941, the Regio Esercito, in great difficulty due to the numerous defeats on the various war fronts, turned to its closest ally, Germany, placing an order for 800 French tanks captured during the French Campaign.

Given the German difficulties, the order was later reduced to 450 French tanks that arrived in even smaller numbers. 109 Renault R35s, out of 350 ordered, and 33 Somua S35s, out of 50 ordered, were received, while the 50 Char B1 heavy tanks were never delivered. The 142 vehicles were delivered in 1941, but the lack of spare parts and ammunition did not allow their use and the Regio Esercito was forced to look for another solution.

Another request for help was sent to Germany in June 1941, which responded by proposing that FIAT purchase the production license for the Panzer III, at that time the Wehrmacht’s leading tank. FIAT agreed in August, but a clause was added that armament and optics had to be purchased from Germany, as well as half of the raw materials needed to produce the vehicles.
These restrictions led to the cancellation of the contract, as FIAT convinced the High Command of the Royal Army that they should not allow Germany to interfere in the Italian industry.

Also in June 1941, the Regio Esercito tested the Czechoslovakian Skoda T-21 medium tank. Due to pressure from Ansaldo and FIAT, the Army was forced to give up on the evaluation and possible production.

In order to avoid losing the monopoly on the production of armament for the Regio Esercito, Ansaldo and FIAT announced in the summer of 1941 that they would be able to put the P26/40 tank into production by the spring of 1942. This was the same period foreseen for the production of the first Italian Panzer III or Skoda T-21 tanks under license.

However, the Royal Army needed a new tank. This time, it no longer relied on FIAT and Ansaldo, but tested foreign material. The two leading companies in the Italian sector set to work in order to distract the High Command of the Royal Army from its research into alternative vehicles.

The two companies began to work together on the Carro Armato Medio Celere (Eng. Fast Medium Tank) ordered by the Royal Army at the beginning of 1941. Until then, it had remained in an embryonic state.

In June 1941, Ansaldo presented the mock-up of the Carro Armato Medio Celere, now called Carro Armato Celere Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Fast Tank). This was produced in a hurry by mounting a wooden superstructure on an M14/41 hull.

The Carro Armato Medio Celere mock-up based on an M14/41 hull. Source: pinterest.com

The project was slowed down by the development of Christie suspension and the prototype was ready only in the spring of 1942. The tests lasted until 1943, showing that the vehicle was well designed, but it was too late. The North African Campaign was coming to an end and the vehicle lost its purpose.

Due to delays in the production of the vehicle, FIAT and Ansaldo had to devise a stratagem to prevent the Royal Army from canceling the contract in favor of a foreign vehicle. In fact, in February 1942, Germany once again proposed the production of the Panzer IV under license.

After August 1942, the official Regio Esercito nomenclature for tanks changed from vehicle type, weight in tonnes, and year of production to type and year of production. For example, the M13/40 became the M40, the M14/41 became the M41, and the M15/42 became the M42.

Thus, the correct name for this vehicle would be M42. However, it was still called the M15/42 by the crews, and many book sources and contemporary companies call it the M15/42. In keeping with the popular usage, this article will use the M15/42 designation from here on.

History of the Prototype

In 1941, a 47 mm L.40 cannon was mounted in the turret of an M14/41, but continuous delays slowed down the project. Finally, in 1942, with the experience gained with the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano that mounted the same gun, it was possible to modify the turret to resist the firing recoil.

The M14/41 hull was also modified by lengthening it to accommodate a new gasoline engine with greater power than the FIAT SPA 15T. The side access hatch was also moved to the right side of the vehicle. After testing, the first batch of the new M15/42 Tank (Medio 15 tonnellate Modello 1942 – Medium 15 tonnes Model 1942) was ordered in October 1942.

The M15/42 prototype during testing. The big triangular plate is the standard one used on prototypes. Source: reddit.com

Production

In October 1942, after tests, 280 units were ordered, stopping the production of the M14/41.

In 1943, however, with the planned start of production of the P26/40 and with the obvious backwardness of the ‘M’ series, the High Command of the Royal Army decided to rely only on heavy tanks and self-propelled vehicles. They cut the order of M15/42s to 220 in March 1943.

Entering production in autumn 1942, the first vehicle was registered on November 21st, 1942, with plate number R.E. 5022, and assigned to the Centro Carristi di Civitavecchia on November 28th in order to train new crews.

Another photo of the prototype after testing. Source: pinterest.com

The data on the production of the M15/42 are very discordant. Some sources claim numbers even beyond the two hundred units produced during the war.

An Ansaldo source states that the first batch of 103 vehicles was produced in 1942 and a second batch of 36 by March 1943. A third batch of 80 was due by December 1943 but was never fully completed.

The number of 103 vehicles produced between October and December 1942 seems slightly exaggerated given the short period of time and state of the Italian armament industry. According to this document, 139 M15/42 were produced by March 1943, plus another unspecified number between March and September, before the armistice.

After the armistice, 28 M15/42 were produced for the Germans in 1944. The total number of M15/42s produced should be at least 167, while the maximum number could be at most 248 (considering the entire last batch was finished in addition to the German vehicles).

Design

Hull

At the front, the rounded transmission cover had two hooks and a towing ring. There were also two inspection hatches above the clutch. The two hatches could be opened or closed from the inside of the vehicle even while driving by means of a lever located on the right side of the chassis. This allowed the driver to better cool the clutch while driving if needed and when not in combat.

View of the transmission and braking system of an ‘M’ series vehicle, with top armor plate removed. Source: pinterest.com

On the right side, the front superstructure had a ball mount armed with two machine guns. On the left side, there was a slot for the driver, who also had a hyposcope for use when the hatch was closed. For night driving, there were two headlights on the sides of the superstructure.

On the left side of the superstructure, there was a pistol port behind the headlight, used for close defense. Three canister holders were mounted on this side. These were used to carry fuel to increase the range of the vehicle. On the right side, there was a large hatch for crew access. It was also equipped with a pistol port for close defense.

On the rear side of the superstructure, there were two more pistol ports and an air intake. On the mudguards, behind the superstructure, were a glove box on each side and the mufflers behind. These were equipped with a heat sink.

In order to make room for the new engine, the engine compartment was lengthened by 14 centimeters (5.06 meters length compared to the 4.92 meters of the M13/40 and M14/41). Because of the lengthening, extra armor plates were added and the track tensioning system was modified. The engine deck received inspection hatches which could be opened at 45°. Cooling grills were added. Between the two inspection hatches there were the tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.

Back of the M15/42. One of the two pistol ports and the air intake on the back of the superstructure are visible. The storage box on the fender and the inspection hatch with the cooling grill can also be seen closer to the camera. Source: masterminiatures.it

The rear of the vehicle was completely redesigned compared to previous ‘M’ series tanks. The radiator cooling grills were much larger and the rear was much more sloped. The rear had a towing ring and two hooks, two spare wheels, and a license plate. There was a brake light on the left side.

During production, a smoke launcher was added to the rear. In order to make room for it, one of the two spare wheels was removed. The jack that was previously positioned on the back was moved to the front, on the left fender, in front of the superstructure. This was like on the M13/40 first Series.

Rear photo of an early production M15/42 in the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. The Regio Esercito plate is not yet painted. Source: worldwarphotos.com

Armor

The armor thickness was slightly increased compared to the previous models of the ‘M’ series. The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The frontal plate of the hull, inclined at 12°, was 42 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, inclined at 8°, were 25 mm thick. The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick, while the back of the hull was 20 mm thick.

The turret, on the other hand, had a maximum armor of 50 mm on the mantlet and 45 mm frontally inclined at 13°. The sides and the back were 25 mm inclined at 20°. The roof of the hull and of the turret and the engine deck had a thickness of 15 mm, while the floor of the hull had a thickness of only 6 mm.

The armor was bolted to an internal frame, making the structure more fragile but with faster replacement of damaged armor plates than models with welded or cast armor.

The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities of high-quality steel. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and the almost total isolation after 1940.

In fact, the Kingdom of Italy counted on the fact that, in case of entry into the war on the German side, their new allies would supply the majority of raw materials needed to produce high-quality steel. Obviously, starting in 1942, Germany could not supply these large quantities of raw materials since it had to replace its own losses.

Suspension

The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines. Due to the lengthening of the hull, one of the two suspension units was mounted a few inches back.

The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, 6 more than the other tanks of the ‘M’ series due to the hull lengthening. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers with modified track tension adjusters at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0.76 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.

M15/42 leaf spring boogie. Source: masterminiatures.it

Turret

The two-seat turret had a narrow mantlet armed with a 47 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun on the left. There was a turret basket attached to the turret, with a support connected to a circular platform above the transmission shaft. Two folding seats for the loader and the commander were welded on the same support.

In addition to the gun breech and the machine gun, the gunsight was on the right, while a small rack for 13 magazines for the machine gun was on the far left.

Interior photograph of the turret of a first series M13/40 taken at Ansaldo in October 1939. Apart from the absence of the bulge and the different breech, the interior of the M15/42 was the same. Source: Ansaldo Archives

On the roof of the turret, there was a rectangular split hatch, two panoramic monocular periscopes produced by the company San Giorgio, a bulge that allowed better depression for the cannon and a support for the anti-aircraft machine gun.

Panoramic Monocular Periscope for the M15/42. Source: pinterest.com

On the sides were two pistol ports for viewing the exterior and for close defense. At the back were stowed ready-to-use 47 mm rounds in two different racks.

Main armament

The main armament of the M15/42 was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the previous M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.

This cannon was also used on the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano. It was developed starting from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 in 1938 and was produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the M15/42 turret was +20° and the depression was -10°. The maximum firing rate, thanks to the semi-automatic breech, was 14 rounds per minute. Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in practice, this dropped to about 8-10 rounds per minute.

The cannon had a maximum range of about 9,000 m, but its effective anti-tank range was only 1,200 to 1,500 m.

In addition to the 38 cm longer barrel (1.88 meters compared to 1.5 meters), the breech was larger. This meant that it could fire round with a longer casing, increasing the muzzle velocity, the accuracy at long range, and penetration.

The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Secondary armament

The secondary armament consisted of four 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine guns, one mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun, two in the hull’s spherical mount, and a fourth which could be mounted on the anti-aircraft support on the turret roof.

These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.

The Breda Mod. 38 with its 24-round top curved magazine. Source: wikipedia.com

In 1943, smoke grenade launchers were introduced. Smoke grenades were stored in a box mounted on the right side of the rear of the engine compartment. A box for carrying smoke grenades was also mounted on the rear of the superstructure, above the protective plate of the air intake.

When activated, the box would drop a smoke grenade, masking the position of the vehicle. It is unclear how effective this rear-mounted system was, but it was fitted to all vehicles produced from 1943 onwards, including the last series of AB41 and AB43 armored cars.

Ammunition

The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 used the same ammunition as the previous Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun, but its cartridges were 10 centimeters (32,8 centimeters versus 22,7 centimeters) longer. This increased the muzzle velocity by 43%. This also increased precision and penetration.

The ammunition types consisted of:

Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35. High Explosive (HE) with percussion fuze mod. 35 or mod. 39.

Proietto Perforante mod. 35. Armor-Piercing – Tracer (AP-T) with percussion fuze mod. 09.

Proietto Perforante mod. 39. Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer (APCR-T) with percussion fuze mod. 1909.

Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round with internal fuze mod. 41, distributed after 1942.

Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) with IPEM front fuze, distributed in early 1943.

The advantage was that the new gun had a larger breech. This allowed the use of 328 mm long shell casings, instead of the 227 mm ones on the previous gun. The Proietto Perforante mod. 35. fired from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 630 m/s, while the same ammunition fired from the 47/40 Mod. 1938 gun had a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s.

The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1,000 m, instead of the 30 mm at 1,000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.

The M15/42 carried a total of 111 shells onboard in three different racks. The first two unprotected racks were in the turret and contained 9 rounds each. The third, containing 93 47 mm shells, was positioned on the bottom of the hull.

None of the racks were armored. Often, when the racks on the back of the turret were hit, the result was a catastrophic explosion that destroyed the machine. The same thing is true for the rack in the hull even if, because of its lower position, it was rarely hit.

For the Breda machine guns, there were 108 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 2,592 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition, with the same muzzle velocity, penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.

The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure, 54 on the left side and 41 on the right side, with 13 more carried in the turret.

Interior

At the front of the fighting compartment were the transmission and the braking system. On the left side of the superstructure was the driver’s seat, which has a folding backrest to facilitate access. In front of this position, the driver had a large slit with a lever used to open or close it. Above the slit was the hyposcope.

The driver also had two tillers to move the vehicle. The handbrake handle was on the left, while the gearshift was on the right. On the left side was the dashboard, a box with spare hyposcopes, and the pistol port. Behind the dashboard, there were racks for machine gun magazines.

Interior of a restored M15/42. The two seats for the two hull crew members are visible, of which the driver’s has the back folded. On the left side are the dashboard, the pistol port and the machine gun magazine racks. The transmission, the support for the two machine guns, the circular platform that serves as a floor for the crew members in the turret and the main rack for the 47 mm rounds (left side of the photo, behind the platform) are also visible. Source: pinterest.com

On the right-hand side was the machine gunner, who also sat on a folding seat. In front of the machine gunner were the machine guns while, on the right, there were some magazines for the two weapons and the radio.

In the middle of the right side was the access hatch. On the lower side was the storage place for the anti-aircraft machine gun, which was fixed to the hull with straps. In the middle of the vehicle was the transmission shaft, which was largely covered by the circular platform which served as a floor for the two crew members in the turret.

On the left side, at the bottom of the hull, was the largest 47 mm ammunition rack. The rear of the superstructure had two large cylindrical filters and the engine coolant tank. On the floor and on the sides of the superstructure were more racks for machine gun magazines.

View of the rear side of the superstructure. The pistol port, the filters, the water tank, the primary 47 mm ammunition rack, the turret platform, and the machine gun magazine racks are visible. Source: pinterest.com

Engine

The engine of the M15/42 medium tank was inherited from previous tanks of the ‘M’ series. However, in addition to the increase in displacement that increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline. The change of fuel from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were now almost completely exhausted.

The new FIAT-SPA T15B (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm. It was designed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). It gave the vehicle a maximum velocity of 38 km/h on-road and 20 km/h off-road. It had an on-road range of 220 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.

Thanks to the increased space in the engine compartment, the tank’s fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in the main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. The fuel consumption was almost two liters of gasoline per kilometer.

The engine was better suited to the new vehicle, with a power-to-weight ratio of just under 13 hp/tonne. It was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with five forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.

The FIAT-SPA T15B engine. Source: bnamodel.com

Crew

The crew was composed of four. A driver on the left side of the hull and machine-gunner/radio operator on his right. Behind them, sitting in the turret, were the tank commander/gunner on the right and the loader on the left.

The crew of 4 was insufficient. The tank commander had to perform too many tasks, having to give orders to the rest of the crew, examine the battlefield, find targets, aim at them, and fire.

Operational use

Regio Esercito

The Regio Esercito received about a hundred M42s by September 1943. However, the Army was never able to use these vehicles, except during the clashes against the Germans between September 8th and 11th 1943. In Sicily and Southern Italy, the M15/42 was never sent to fight the Allied troops. The Regio Esercito used them only for the training of the crews and in the new armored units it had created after the loss of Tunisia.

85 M42s were assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng. 135th Armored Division “Ariete II”) together with 12 M42 Centro Radio,164 other tanks (medium and light) and self-propelled guns, and 80 AB41 armored cars and AS42 and AS43 trucks. This unit was formed in July 1943 and was part of the Corpo d’Armata Motocorazzato (Eng. Armored Motor Corps). It was stationed in Rome.

Two Regio Esercito M42s during training in the summer of 1943. Source: pinterest.com

After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25th, 1943, at the behest of the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio was brought in to command the army. He continued the war on the side of the German allies but secretly tried to make contact with the Allied powers to surrender.

The Chief of Staff of the Royal Army, Vittorio Ambrosio, moved the Armored Corps to Rome for two reasons. The first was to defend the capital from a possible Allied landing. The second was to defend Rome from a possible coup attempt by the fascists still loyal to Benito Mussolini.

The Armored Motor Corps was formed from the 10ª Divisione fanteria “Piave” (Eng. 10th Infantry Division “Piave”), the 136ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro II” (Eng. 136th Armored Division “Centauro II”) (not considered loyal to the King, but to Mussolini) and the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division “Granatieri di Sardegna”). It was equipped with 11 self-propelled guns and 31 tanks of the ‘M’ series (probably including some M15/42s).

Obviously, there were other units in Rome, such as the 220ª and 221ª Divisioni della Difesa Costiera (Eng. 220th and 221st Coastal Defense Divisions), 103ª Divisione fanteria “Piacenza” (Eng. 103rd Infantry Division “Piacenza”), the X° Reggimento Arditi (Eng. 10th Regiment Arditi), as well as smaller units, such as those of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Eng. Royal Carabiners Corps), the Corpo della Regia Guardia di Finanza (Eng. Corps of the Royal Finance Guard) and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian African Police). This totaled 88,137 soldiers, 124 tanks, 257 self-propelled guns, 122 armored cars and trucks, and 615 cannons and howitzers in the capital.

M15/42s of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” during maneuvers in late 1943. Source: pinterest.com

The proclamation of the surrender was made by Pietro Badoglio on Radio Algiers at 0745 pm, on September 8th, 1943, catching the Italian troops unprepared, as they did not expect the surrender.

The Germans were, however, not unprepared for the Italian defection. They had already prepared Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis). In the north of Rome, they had at their disposal about 25,000 soldiers, 71 tanks, 54 self-propelled guns, 196 armored cars and 165 cannons.

Already by 1000 pm, the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” (Eng. 2nd Parachute Division “Ramke”) attacked the airport of Pratica di Mare, which was 30 km south of Rome. During the morning of September 9th, German units repeatedly attacked a stronghold of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II”. This position resisted throughout the day, losing 4 tanks and 20 soldiers.

Other units of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were in the area between Bracciano and Menziana. They blocked the 3. Panzergrenadier Division, which had to give up the attack against Rome, heading towards Naples.

The men of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division succeeded in forcing the Italian troops to retreat inside the city on September 9th and restarted the attack on September 10th. The 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” had established itself at Porta San Paolo, part of the ancient Roman walls, together with some groups of Allievi Carabinieri and other units of the Royal Army. They were also supported by several civilians who took to the streets either unarmed or armed with hunting weapons.

The 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division was slowed down significantly and, only at 1700 pm managed to penetrate the rather poorly organized Italian defenses.

Map showing the defense of Rome, September 8th-10th 1943. Source: o5m6.de

In the fight for the Porta San Paolo and in the defense of the nearby Forte Ostiense, some ‘M’ series tanks of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were damaged or destroyed by German troops. The numbers and the exact model of the vehicles are unknown, it can only be assumed that there were some M15/42s among them.

During the clashes of Porta San Paolo, a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger hit an ‘M’ tank of an unknown model. Only one member of the crew survived, saved by a young civilian woman who, under German fire, climbed into the vehicle, pulling him out of the turret and carrying him to safety.

At 1600 pm on September 10th, 1943, the Italian command proclaimed Rome an “Open City”, even if some Italian units fought until the evening. Most of the Italian soldiers surrendered to the Germans while others, along with civilians, fled the city to form the first partisan nuclei.

In the battle for Rome, 1,167 Italians died, of which between 200 and 400 were civilians. 597 Italians fell at Porta San Paolo, of which 414 military and 183 civilians.

The fate of the Italian vehicles present in Rome was threefold. Most were captured by the Germans or were handed over intact by the units that surrendered. Others were sabotaged by the crews before surrendering to the Germans. A small number were hidden from the Germans, waiting for the right time to use them.

Captured or abandoned M15/42s in Rome, during the days after the armistice. Source: beutepanzer.ru

In addition to Rome, the Regio Esercito defended itself also in Piombino, a Tuscan seaside town, where the Germans had landed on September 9th to occupy the city. The XIX Battaglione of the 31° Reggimento Carristi (Eng. 19th Battalion of the 31st Carristi Regiment), equipped with 20 tanks of the ‘M’ series (among which probably some M15/42s) and 18 M42 self-propelled guns contained the German troops until September 11th with heavy losses.

The CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M (Eng. 433rd Tank Complement Battalions ‘M’), which had training duties, was in Fidenza. After receiving news that the Germans were besieging Parma, at 0100 pm on September 9th, in the absence of orders, the unit unilaterally took the decision to support the troops in Parma. At 0530 PM, the unit left with 1 M15/42 tank, 7 Semoventi da 75/18 and 12 Autocannoni da 20/65 su SPA Dovunque.

Having had training duties, the vehicles had racks full of target practice rounds and had only 5 live rounds on board. The Germans discovered the column and organized an ambush outside Parma, knocking out 3 self-propelled guns and capturing another one.

The other vehicles managed to enter the city, creating a defensive perimeter until 0800 am, when the ammunition ran out and the CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M was forced to surrender after having sabotaged the vehicles.

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano

After the Armistice, the Fall Achse operation, which lasted until September 19th, 1943, resulted in the killing of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers and the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars, and 977 armored vehicles.

A small part of Italian soldiers immediately sided with the Germans but was deprived of their armored vehicles. The majority of Italian soldiers were captured and placed in prison or concentration camps until September 23rd, 1943, when Benito Mussolini returned to Italy after his release. He founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic) in Salò, in the province of Brescia.

Many Italian soldiers loyal to Mussolini and fascism adhered to the new republic, joining the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (Eng. National Republican Army). They were then released from prison and re-equipped.

Given previous events following the Armistice, the German soldiers did not trust the Italians and they re-equipped them with few Italian tanks, preferring to keep the captured tanks for themselves and, where possible, to replace their own losses.

The Italian soldiers were thus forced to re-equip themselves with the few armored vehicles not seized by the Germans, by looking for vehicles abandoned and hidden by the crews after September 8th or by repairing some damaged ones.

The Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” (Eng. Armored Group “Leoncello”) was established in September 1943 with the aim of defending the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Polpenazze del Garda, in the province of Brescia. It was commanded by Captain Gianluca Zuccaro.

Initially named Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (Eng. Tank Battalion of the Armored Group of the Armed Forces Ministry), it was established without the authorization of the Germans. The group recovered armored vehicles from almost everywhere in Lombardy, Veneto, and Piedmont.

At the end of 1944, it received 5 tanks of the “M” series from the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale (Eng. 27th Provincial Mixed Depot) of Verona. Four M13/40s and one M15/42s were used only in training and exercises until April 1945.

On the evening of April 24th, 1945, General Graziani himself called at Polpenazze del Garda and ordered the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), which had the 5 tanks of the “M” series, a Semovente da 105/25 M43 and some L3 light tanks, to move towards Milan.

During the night march, one of the five ‘M’ tanks was abandoned due to a breakdown following an Allied air attack (with only machine guns). In the morning, at Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze, the squadron received the order to surrender, managing to sabotage two ‘M’ tanks and the Semovente M43 before surrendering to the partisans.

It is not clear if the M15/42 was sabotaged or was hit by the aircraft, but the two vehicles captured by the partisans were M13/40s.

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana

For the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), the situation was more drastic, as the ENR, some soldiers in prison camps swore allegiance to Mussolini and Nazi Germany, and those who did not join the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano joined the GNR but only the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng. Armored Group “Leonessa”, not to be confused with “Leoncello”) was able to recover some ‘M’ series tanks.

Some were recovered from Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna. According to some German documents, about thirty ‘M’ tanks were recovered from a unit in Milan before being dismantled.

Of these thirty or so tanks recovered in Milan, at least five were put back into service, while the others were used for spare parts. In total, the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” had 33 tanks of the “M” series (of which only a small number were M15/42s) and two M42 command tanks.

The 33 tanks were deployed with the four companies of the unit located in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna.

Two photos showing some vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”. An L6/40, an M13/40, another M13/40 or M14/41, two M15/42s (recognizable by the longer barrel), and at least a pair of AB41s are visible. The photos were taken in Milan in 1944, in front of the building of the Ministry of Defense of the RSI. Source: pinterest.com

There is only one record about the M15/42s of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”, from December 16th 1944 in Milan. There, a large parade was held in honor of Benito Mussolini visiting the city. After the parade, Mussolini paid a visit to the Distaccamento di Milano (Eng. Milan Detachment) that had at least 2 M15/42s. He climbed on the turret of the M15/42 under the command of Vice Brigadier Donati, haranguing the gathered soldiers and people.

Benito Mussolini speaks on top of the turret of an M15/42, Milan. December 16th, 1944. Source: Istituto Luce

Wehrmacht

The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there.

The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.

Some M15/42 used by the Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944. During skirmishes against partisans, many M15/42s were also damaged or lost by anti-tank gunfire.

During the Battle for Belgrade, there was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.

One of the first combat use of the M15/42 in German service was to protect the important transport railways Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/Beutepanzer/italy/tanks/M13-15/M15_42-2.htm
A group of abandoned M15/42s near Belgrade. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
An M15/42 destroyed during the Battle for Belgrade. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defense line on the so-called Syrmian Front in the northern parts of Yugoslavia.

At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.

An M15/42 captured in Slovenia by the Partisans. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian-built vehicles. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian-built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit.

Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month.

The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, these would be simply cannibalized for spare parts.

The M15/42 in Yugoslavia often received a larger storage box located behind the turret. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Another unit that used M15/42s was the SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944.

At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defense of Frankfurt, it is unknown if by that time it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.

Yugoslav Partisan service

The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, was employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.

A Partisan captured M15/42 in a military parade at Kragujevac in May 1945. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Camouflage and Markings

The Italian Royal Army received most of its M15/42s in Kaki Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Khaki). Only in late 1943 did some M42s receive the Continental three-tone camouflage (Eng. Continental). This was a Kaki Sahariano base color with dark green and reddish-brown spots.

Some photos show an unusual two-tone camouflage, quite surely applied independently by some crews during training in Italy in the summer of 1943.

One of the two-tone camouflaged M15/42s. Source: pinterest.com

The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” were painted in standard Saharan khaki camouflage with the department’s coat of arms on the sides of the turret, a tricolor on the sides of the turret and on the front plate of the hull.

On one vehicle, on the front plate, the nickname “DERTHONA” (name of the Tortona soccer team) was painted in capital letters, along with the name Silvio Pelati, perhaps a dead comrade, a footballer or the name of the driver.

An M15/42 of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” during a crew training. Source: pinterest.com

The M15/42 and M42 command tanks of Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano with the symbol of the unit, a red M with the fascio littorio, symbol of Italian Fascism, and the inscription GNR until late 1944. After that, all vehicles were repainted with a three-tone camouflage called Continentale, in some cases covering the symbol of the department.

In the case of the M15/42 of the Distaccamento di Milano, in addition to the ‘M’, a white thunderbolt whose meaning is unknown was painted on the turret.

On the M15/42 in this photo, the three-tone camouflage is not apparent, but the thunderbolt and ‘M’ symbol of the unit are visible. Milan, December 16th, 1944. Source: Istituto Luce

Wehrmacht troops repainted captured vehicles in Saharan Khaki with two- or three-tone spot or line camouflage, depending on the unit employing them. The 28 vehicles produced for the Germans, on the other hand, received Continental camouflage at the factory. Pz.Abt.202 camouflaged its vehicles with dark green spots. This unit also received newly produced vehicles.

M15/42 of Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. Note the two-tone camouflage. Source: beutepanzr.ru

Variants

Carro centro radio

Like in previous versions, the M15/42 chassis was used for a modified command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank). For the modification, the turret was removed, the superstructure’s twin-machine guns were sometimes replaced with a 13 mm heavy machine gun, and, lastly, extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles had been built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control.

The command version based on the M15/42 had two radio antennas on the rear of the casemate. Source: Pinterest

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Based on the M15/42 chassis, the Italians built an experimental self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle. While most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged, it received an enlarged turret armed with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. Possibly one or two prototypes were built and their fate is not clear.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo prototype. Source: https://forum.warthunder.com

M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret

The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945.

The modified M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret. Note the large ‘U’ capital letter on the front part of the superstructure, which indicates that this vehicle was used by the Croats. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Semovente M42 da 75/18 and M42M da 75/34

Due to the general ineffectiveness of their tank designs, the Italians introduced a series of vehicles called Semovente. These used tank chassis (starting from the M13) by replacing the superstructure and turret with an enclosed casemate and a 75/18 mm gun. The M15/42 chassis was also used in this manner. By the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943, around 200 vehicles were built. Under German supervision, an additional 55 vehicles were built with the materials available on hand.
The Semovente based on the M15/42 was further improved by adding the longer 75/34 gun. By May 1943, some 60 vehicles would be completed by the Italians. An additional 80 new vehicles would be built by the Germans after the Italian Armistice.

The Semovente M42 da 75/18 based on the M15/42 tank chassis. Source: worldwarphotos.com
Semovente M42M (M – ‘modificato’ Eng. Modified) da 75/34 Source: Wiki

Surviving exemplars

In total, thirteen M15/42s have survived to this day. Only three are outside Italy.

One of those three is at the Musée des Blindés of Saumur, France. Another is exhibited in the Belgrade Military Museum, in not a great condition. The last M15/42 outside Italy is in a private collection in the San Marino Republic and is in running condition.

The M15/42 exhibited at the Musée des Blindés de Saumur. Source: pinterest.com

In Italy, of the ten vehicles that survived, eight are conserved in military barracks around Italy. One is at the Caserma “de Carli” of the 132º Reggimento carri in Cordenons, Friuli Venezia Giulia. One is at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, near Rome, and another one is in the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto, northern Italy.

The vehicle at the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto. Source: reddit.com

Conclusion

The M15/42 was built by the Italians as a makeshift solution to their need for a better tank design. While it offered some improvements over the previous M13/40 and M14/41 series, by the time it was ready for service, it was already obsolete. Its armor and firepower were simply insufficient in comparison to the enemy tanks that would be used against. While less than 200 would be built, ironically, their use by the Italians was minimal at best.

The Germans managed to get their hands on nearly all M15/42s. These were used against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Balkans. Their performance was limited, due to many factors, including a lack of spare parts and frequent breakdowns, which prevented many vehicles from being used in combat. They did achieve some success against poorly armed Partisans, who lacked proper anti-tank weapons. Once the Soviets started to closely support these fighters with modern tanks, the M15/42 was unable to do much.

In the end the M15/42 proved to be a quick solution to the Italian need for a proper tank, but it ultimately failed in this regard.

M15/42 as factory delivered in August 1943
M15/42 of the VII squadron, 1st platoon, Ariete II division near Rome, September 1943.
M15/42 of the 13th Armoured Regiment, 135th Cav. Div. Ariete II Rome Sept. 1943
M15/42 of Ariete II, showing its fuel jerrycans, September 1943
M15/42 of 1st Company, XVIth Batallion, Sardegna winter 1943
Carro Comando Semovente M42.
M15/42 Centro Radio, showing the antennae on the other side

Semovente da 75/18 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 15.5 tons battle ready
Crew 4 (Commander/gunner, loader, machine gunner and driver)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters
Speed 38 km/h
Range 220 km
Armament Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds and 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds
Armor From 42 mm to 20 mm
Total Production 167

Sources

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd
V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, New Vanguard
Pafi, Falessi e Fiore Corazzati Italiani Storia dei mezzi corazzati
N. Pignato, F. Cappellano. Gli Autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume secondo
L. Ceva and A. Curami (1989) La meccanizzazione dell’esercito italiano dalle origini al 1943, Volume 2″ from Stato maggiore dell’Esercito, Ufficio storico,
N. Pignato, (2004) Italian Armored Vehicles of World War Two, Squadron Signal publication.
C. Bishop (1998) The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes Book.
R. Riccio and N. Pignato (2010) Italian Truck-mounted Artillery in Action. Squadron Signal publication
Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA
I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
Italia 1943-45 I Mezzi delle Unità Cobelligeranti – Paolo Crippa, Luigi Manes

Categories
WW2 German Assault Guns

Sturmgeschutz L6 mit 47/32 770(i)

Nation Flag IconGermany 1943 – 1945, Light Self-Propelled Gun – 194 captured and produced

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. It entered service in 1942, immediately proving to be obsolete. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) used it until September 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, the Italian Royal Army was disbanded and the Italian peninsula not yet under Allied hands was occupied by the German troops.

After the armistice, from 1943 to 1945, all the surviving Semoventi (Italian world for self-propelled guns, Semovente singular) that were deployed, not only in Italy, but also in the Balkans, were captured by the armies or militias in the area.

The Semovente L40 da 47/32

The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Eng: Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s, but the first two prototypes were not accepted into service.

Another prototype development started in January 1941. On May 10th, it was presented to the Royal Army. After the tests, the Italian Royal Army High Command requested some changes to the prototype. It was renamed Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 or Semovente L40 da 47/32 (Eng: Lightweight Self-Propelled Gun Model 1942 armed with 47/32).

A total of 402 vehicles were produced under Italian and German control based on the hull of the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank.

German Operation Achse

After the arrest of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Partito Nazionale Fascista Italiano (Eng. Italian National Fascist Party), on July 25th 1943, the Germans had foreseen the Italian surrender. They planned Fall Achse (Eng: Operation Axis), which they launched on September 8th when the signing of the Armistice of Cassibile (which had been secretly signed on September 5th by the Italian Royal Army and Allied Forces) was made public. In 12 days, the German troops managed to occupy all the Italian command centers and divisions in Italy and in the other occupied territories.

The Germans captured all the Italian factories that produced armaments or military equipment. They also captured 977 Italian armored fighting vehicles, of which about 400 were tanks and self-propelled guns, 16,631 trucks, over 5,500 artillery pieces, 2,754 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, over 8,000 mortars, 1,285,000 rifles, 39,000 machine guns, and 13,000 submachine guns. They imprisoned 1,006,730 Italian soldiers stationed in Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and France.

By October 1st, 1943, Wehrmacht documentation stated that German units had captured 78 L40 da 47/32s in all occupied territories (including the 20 L40s produced before the Armistice and not delivered). In German service, this vehicle was known as the Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i). For this reason, some sources wrongly call it Semovente L6 or StuG L6.

In addition, many former Italian factories, such as FIAT, Lancia, Breda, and Ansaldo-Fossati, were also under German control. With this and with the acquisition of many spare parts and materials, it was possible to restart the production of nearly all Italian vehicles. This was the case with the Semovente L40 da 47/32, with the Germans producing 74 new Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i).

Under German control, another 46 Command and Radio Center vehicles on the L40 hull were produced, which brings the total number of L40 produced by the Germans to 120 units.

Operational service in Italy

While the Semovente L40 da 47/32s were available in some numbers, their use in Italy by the Germans was limited. The units that had this vehicle in Italy were the 305. and 356. Infanterie Divisionen, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590, 114. Jäger Division and the 20. Luftwaffe-Field-Division.

The 305. Infanterie Division fought between September 8th and 10th to occupy the port of La Spezia. It was transferred in the following weeks to near Rome, where it was supplied with some Italian vehicles, among which were some L40 from 47/32s.

The 305. Division then defended the Gothic Line and the Gustav Line before surrendering, together with most of the German divisions that remained after the Battle of Bologna, on the Po River.

The 356. Infanterie Division fought in anti-partisan actions between November 1943 and January 1944. It was transferred to Anzio and was provided with the self-propelled L40 vehicles along the way.

The unit fought fiercely for the defense of the region together with the Italian Republican National Army units until they were forced to retreat along the Gustav Line in March 1944. After the Gustav Line was broken through, the unit fought in Tuscany. retreating to the south of Florence in July 1944. In January 1945, it was transferred to Hungary but, according to the surviving documents, it was no longer equipped with Italian self-propelled vehicles.

The Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 was used from June 13th to September 14th, 1944 to secure central Italy. In order to perform this task, the unit was provided with some L40 self-propelled vehicles. From September 15th, 1944 to January 15th, 1945, the unit was involved in defensive combat in the Emilia-Romagna region.

Due to the scarcity of artillery towing vehicles and the obsolescence of the self-propelled L40 variants, many self-propelled vehicles were modified by removing the cannon to be used as artillery tractors.

From April 22nd to May 2nd, 1945, the unit was involved in the fighting retreat, desperately battling against the Allied forces.

The 114. Jäger Division was transferred to Italy from Yugoslavia in January 1944. It was supplied with material captured from the Italian Army, including some L40 self-propelled vehicles. After the Battle of Anzio, the unit was employed only in anti-partisan roles. It was responsible or co-responsible for three different massacres in the region of central Italy against innocent civilian victims. The unit was completely annihilated in April 1945 during fighting with Allied forces.

This Semovente L40 da 47/32 was used to tow a German 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

Panzer Ausbildung Abteilung Süd (a training tank battalion) was equipped with the Semoventi L40s, but these were used mainly for crew training. Organization Todt, which was present in Italy, operated an unknown number of L40 da 47/32s, but mostly as tractor vehicles without their guns.

In May 1944, the 20. Luftwaffe Field Division (20. LwFD), previously employed in Denmark, was sent to Italy, more precisely to Lazio. There, it was re-equipped with a number of Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and immediately participated in hard clashes with the U.S. Army units in the Terracina area. On June 1st, the unit assumed the designation of 20. Luftwaffen-Sturm-Division.

The division retreated to Tuscany and established defensive positions near Roccastrada. From there, at the end of June, it was again engaged in heavy clashes against U.S. forces.

After fighting house by house for the control of Siena against the units of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (Eng: French Expeditionary Force in Italy), in July 1944, the division withdrew to the area of Volterra. It was then withdrawn from the front to be sent to the rear to guard the coast between Viareggio and La Spezia, where it absorbed the remains of the 19. LwFD. In mid-September, the division received orders to move to the coast of the Adriatic Sea, facing the Commonwealth forces between Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna and then south of Cesena.

After the killing of their commander in Bologna by the partisans and further heavy losses in the fighting between Cesena and Forlì, the division was disbanded on November 28th, 1944 and its survivors were reassigned to other German units.

Some Semoventi L40 da 47/32s were used as training vehicles. These had their guns removed and a wooden shield added instead. This vehicle possibly belonged to the Panzer Ausbildung Abteilung Süd. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

Operational service in Balkans

In the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s saw extensive use against Yugoslav resistance movements. Several German units were equipped with them. Some of these were the 117. and 118. Jäger Divisionen, 11. Luftwaffe-Field-Division, and the 181., 264. and 297. Infanterie Divisionen. Many police units of different sizes (such as the 13. Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie, 14. Panzer Kompanie, 4. SS Polizei Division) were also equipped with this vehicle. Some smaller units were also supplied, such as SS Panzer Abteilung 105. and Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12.

In 1944, due to the availability of Italian armored vehicles, it was possible to resupply many German units which fought in Yugoslavia with them. The Germans did not form dedicated Panzer units with these vehicles. Instead, these vehicles were usually used to equip reconnaissance or anti-tank units (Aufkl. Abt and Pz.Jag. Abt.). By May 1944, German forces operating in Yugoslavia had at least 165 Semovente 47/32 vehicles.

By the end of 1943, Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12 had in its inventory 12 operational Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and 4 in repair. In early 1944, it received an additional 14 Semoventi da 47/32, one L6 light tank, and 4 M13/40s. By February 1944, there were only 2 operational Semoventi da 47/32 and 2 in repair. On March 1st, 1944, some 10 were operational and 3 in repairs. These were allocated to the 2nd Company, which took action against partisan units around the city of Kraljevo. In July, the number of Semoventi da 47/32 was increased to 15 vehicles. The reason for the large monthly oscillations in available numbers is not clear. It could be either a mistake in sources or, because of the poor mechanical reliability, some vehicles were simply not listed. By September and October 1944, while this unit still had 16 such vehicles, they were replaced in order to increase the number of M15 tanks.

The 14th Panzer Kompanie was another example of a German unit using the Semovente L40 da 47/32. This unit, which was active in Slovenia in September 1944, was reinforced with two 8 vehicle strong platoons equipped with the Semovente L40 da 47/32. One smaller unit with four such vehicles was kept in reserve.

While fighting the Partisans in the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s were usually dispersed and used in smaller groups. The usual tactical employment was that one vehicle would advance while the remaining vehicles provided cover.

By the end of 1944, on the Yugoslavian Front, the Germans and their allies had less than 80 Semoventi L40 da 47/32. Near the end of the war, in March 1945, the numbers were reduced to less than 40.

A column of armored vehicles belonging to the German 13th Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie. In the foreground is a Panzer IV Ausf. F followed by three Italian tank destroyers. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
A pair of Semovente L40 da 47/32s of the third series in German hands. Notice the addition of a machine gun and a gun shield on the roof of the vehicle. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

In German hands, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was modified in order to improve its performance. As the L40 da 47/32 was initially only armed with the main gun, it was less effective against infantry attacks. For this reason, the Germans added machine gun mounts that were protected with an armored shield at the front. The machine gun models used included the Breda Mod. 37 and Breda Mod. 38, both 8 mm caliber, and, in some cases, MG34s or Fiat-Revelli Mod. 14/35. Additional armor plates were added to the side of the superstructure, and in some cases, even on the top. Additional spare part boxes were also sometimes added.

Also, as previously noted, a significant number of these vehicles were modified to be used as towing tractors or as training vehicles. For these modifications, the main gun was removed. In the case of the training vehicles, a wooden shield was simply added where the gun was.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the second series in Baranja (Serbia) at the start of 1945. Interestingly, this vehicle appears to be armed with a German MG 34 machine gun. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

The SS Polizei-Regiment 18 Gebirgsjäger was equipped with two Italian armored cars and at least five Semoventi 47/32s when it was relocated from Greece to the northern regions of Serbia in October 1944. It was engaged in a failed German attempt to stop the advancing Soviet Forces in Vojvodina and suffered heavy losses, probably losing all its vehicles.

In general, the German view of the L40 was very negative. It was small and narrow and the cannon was not able to face the most modern opponent vehicles. In anti-partisan actions in Italy and in the Balkans, it proved relatively effective, as its small shape and weight allowed it to climb very steep mountain roads, where only mules could pass. The cannon, even if almost useless against the armor of Soviet or American tanks, had a good High Explosive round that was effective against infantry.

The Germans, as well as the Italians, realized that the vehicle was very vulnerable to ambushes. Consequently, German tankers learned to wear the Stahlhelm helmet and carry MP40s and hand grenades inside the vehicle for close defense.

Camouflage

The Germans repainted the L40s that they captured from the Italians or that they received after November 9th with a three-tone camouflage, depending on the unit that used them.

For example, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 repainted its L40 da 47/32s with dark green and dark brown stripes on a standard khaki base. SS Polizei-Regiment 18, stationed in Greece, repainted its vehicles in three-tone camouflage, dark green, and brown spots on standard khaki. The 20. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division, which used some L40s in anti-partisan duties in central-northern Italy, camouflaged its self-propelled guns vehicles with patches of green and dark brown.

Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the SS Polizei-Regiment 18 in Athens during a parade May 23rd, 1944. Note the three-tone camouflage pattern. Source: worldwarphotos.com
A Semovente L40 da 47/32 Platoon Command vehicle used by the 20. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division near Lucca, Italy Summer 1944. The original Regio Esercito plate (R.E. 5282) is clearly visible near the big Balkenkreuz, drawn to avoid friendly fire. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Conclusion

The Semovente L40 da 47/32, while cheap and small in size, was by 1943 standards generally an obsolete vehicle. For the Germans who were at this stage of war becoming ever more desperate to find any additional armored vehicle, it was a welcome addition. The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Germans in its original role against the Allied forces in Italy was limited. They did see service in other secondary roles for example crew training or as armored tractors. They were more deployed in combat against the Partisans especially in the Balkans where the enemy had limited anti-tank capabilities.

German StuG L6 mit 47/32 630(i), summer 1944. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

Semovente da 75/18 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 6.5 tons
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Propulsion Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
Speed (road) 42 km/h (off-road) 20/25 km/h
Range 200 km on-road
Armament Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, 70 rounds
Armor 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor
Total Production 74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 captured and 120 produced under German control in all variants

Sources

Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
T. L. Jentz (2008) Panzer Tracts No.19-2 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Light tanks 1919-45, New Vanguard
Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano – Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume secondo (1940-1945).
Filippo Cappellano – Le artiglierie del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Nicola Pignato – Armi della fanteria Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Olivio Gondim de Uzêda – Crônicas de Guerra

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

Jagdpanzer 38 (Hetzer)

nazi germany Germany (1944-45) Tank hunter – approx. 2,827 built

Introduction

The first issue to clear up is the fact that the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during the Second World War. Although most official wartime documents do not use the name Hetzer, a few did. Why this nickname has been associated with this tank hunter is investigated later in the article.

As the Second World War progressed, it turned into a numbers’ game. Germany needed more armored fighting vehicles that were cheaper to build and quicker to construct. They started using hulls of captured tanks and reliable but obsolete tanks, such as the Panzer 38(t), to mount anti-tank guns and artillery howitzers. This resulted in the production of the Marder series and Nashorn anti-tank self-propelled guns. They all carried powerful guns but had thin armor, an open-top fighting compartment, and a high profile which made them easy to spot on the battlefield. They could deal out punishment, but they could not take it.

Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter
German Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter self-propelled gun (UK School of Tank Technology)

The Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was designed to have a very low profile which made it hard to target and easy to conceal. It was only 2.10 m (6 ft 10.6 inches) high which was ideal for ambush tactics. It was armed with a powerful high velocity 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 gun that could knock-out most enemy tanks. It was cheaper and quicker to build than a Panzer IV, Panther or Tiger tank.

It was not designed to be a close combat vehicle, used at the head of an attack like a tank. It was a self-propelled anti-tank gun that was intended to be deployed on the flanks to stop counter-attacks. A pack of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters would hide in a wood or thick hedgerow and pick off enemy tanks at long range. The sloping front armor gave the crew reasonable protection from frontal attack. So long as the driver pointed the front of the vehicle at any threat, the crew could expect to survive a hit from an enemy armor-piercing shell. The thin armor on the sides of the vehicle and at the rear meant that there was a risk of being knocked out by flank and rear attacks with armor-piercing shells. If there was a danger of being outflanked, the driver had to change to a different location quickly.

In 1944, the Panzer 38(t) tank was considered outclassed and obsolete. It had been withdrawn from frontline units. The Jagdpanzer 38 utilized the tried and tested components of the Panzer 38(t) tank on a new wider hull. This meant that the Jagdpanzer 38 was relatively reliable, as all the early mechanical problems had been overcome. Because of this, production could start earlier than usual for a new armored fighting vehicle design, as most of the factory tooling for the manufacture of the Panzer 38(t) tank was still available. Due to the gun’s limited traverse, the driver had to continually change the vehicle’s orientation or move to engage new targets. This could reveal its location.

Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal

Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armor. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armor. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.

Romanian Mareșal tank hunter
The Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun (Romanian military archives)

Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. Other guns were looked at. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspension, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.

Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun
The Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun with the glacis plate removed. (Romanian military archives)

German officers were sent to inspect the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter. They were impressed with many aspects of the overall vehicle design and at one point considered it being used in the German Army, but there were too many practical issues that would have to be rectified before entering service. The external shape and some ideas were incorporated in the later Jagdpanzer 38 design. A Romanian Army report of the inspection of the Mareșal tank hunter by the German officers was found from the Romanian military archives in Bucharest. The Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. Their initial reactions are also recorded in the report. This document is covered in more detail later in this article when we cover the origins of the nickname ‘Hetzer.’

Mareșal tank hunter
A better view of the gunners position on the left of the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun (Romanian military archives)

Development

On 26 November 1943, the production of Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns at the Alkett company was severely interrupted when Allied bombers dropped a total of 1,424 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on their Berlin factory. Due to the damage, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) investigated the possibility of starting Sturmgeschütz III production at the Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (BMM) company in Prague. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, this factory used to be called Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) and built tanks for the Czechoslovakian Army.

On 6 December 1943, the OKH reported to Hitler that the BMM company was unable to carry out this type of production order, as it did not have the infrastructure to manufacture the 24-tonne StuG III. The factory cranes could not lift a completed vehicle. The BMM factory cranes could only lift 13 tonnes. It had spent most of the war constructing 9.8 tonnes Panzer 38(t) light tanks for the German Army.

Hitler gave orders that the BMM factory was to concentrate on producing the new lighter Sturmgeschütz. It was proposed this vehicle would have a top speed of 55 – 60 km/h (34 – 37 mph), weigh 13 tonnes, and, as a result, have thin but sloped frontal armor to keep the vehicle’s weight low. The side armor was only to be thick enough to provide protection from small arms fire and high explosive shell shrapnel.

On 17 December 1943, designs for the new vehicle based on the hull of the now obsolete Panzer 38(t) light tank and a new type of reconnaissance vehicle (Aufklärungsfahrzeug) were presented to Hitler. They were approved for production.

Development work was carried out quickly. On 8 January 1944, the drawings of the final version of the vehicle were finished. By 24 January 1944, a wooden 1:1 scale model had been built and, two days later, demonstrated to officers from the Heereswaffenamt (HWA), the Army weaponry research and development agency. The size of the fighting compartment on the wooden mock-up was shorter than on the production vehicle, and the engine compartment had a longer sloped cover. These features were changed to give the crew more room.

Wooden mock-up of the Jagdpanzer 38
Wooden mock-up of the Jagdpanzer 38 with muzzle brake. (German Federal archives)

There were plans to design and mount a 7.5 cm rücklauflose main gun in the production version of Jagdpanzer 38. A rücklauflose weapon featured a gun barrel fixed to the turret or casemate, which took on the full recoil of a shot. Development of the rücklauflose gun would take too long, so in the meantime, it was decided that a 7.5 cm Pak 39 (L/48) anti-tank gun would be installed in the Jagdpanzer 38. This gun was already in production and available for use. Oberst Thomale (Colonel Thomale) ordered three prototype Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters to be built and available for trials. It took less than four months from the initial design approval to the production of the first prototype.

Production

Once the final design of the production Jagdpanzer 38 was agreed upon, BMM was awarded a contract to produce 2,000 vehicles. More were needed, so the Czechoslovakian company Škoda was also awarded a contract to build 2,000 Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. Both factories suffered bombing raids.

Jagdpanzer 38 production
The Jagdpanzer 38 production line (German Federal Archives)

Both factories were supplied with components from subcontractors. Three hundred and sixteen such companies were based in Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Protectorate. A further one hundred and seventeen came from other occupied countries and Germany. Due to advancing Allied forces and the constant bombing, the source of parts for construction of the Jagdpanzer 38 changed repeatedly. This caused delays in supply which affected monthly production figures.

The armored hulls were produced in the steel factory in Vitkovice and by the Poldi steel mills in Kladno: both were in the Czech Protectorate. They were also supplied by two German steel-factories: Linke-Hoffman in Breslau and Ruhrstahl in Hattingen. The tracks were cast in the Czech Protectorate at the steel mills of Chomutov in north-west Bohemia and Královo Pole in Brno. The engines were manufactured by the Czech car manufacturer Praga, which also supplied the Wilson-type gearboxes.

A total of 2,827 Jagdpanzer 38 were produced by BMM and Škoda. About 2,612 were Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters, 14 were Jagdpanzer 38D Starr, 181 Bergepanzer 38 and 20 Flammpanzer.

Jagdpanzer 38 production

Month Completed by Škoda Completed by BMM
March 1944 0 3
April 1944 0 20
May 1944 0 50
June 1944 0 100
July 1944 10 100
August 1944 20 150
September 1944 30 190
October 1944 57 133
November 1944 89 298
December 1944 104 223
January 1945 145 289
February 1945 125 237
March 1945 153 148
April/May 1945 47 70
Total 780 2047
Note: The figures for BMM include Jagdpanzer 38 Starr and Bergepanzerwagen 38 (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Jagdpanzer 38 at Škoda Works
Jagdpanzer 38 at Škoda Works, Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Notice the three false vision ports painted around the driver’s position to confuse Soviet anti-tank rifle snipers. (German Federal archives)

Design

Due to the limited space inside the Jagdpanzer 38 and the desire to keep the profile of the vehicle low, the gun mount was not bolted to the floor of the vehicle. Instead, a gun cradle mount was fixed to the glacis plate. The gun had to be installed off-center, to the right of the vehicle. This enabled the driver, gunner, and loader‘s positions to be on the left side of the vehicle, in line, one behind the other. The commander sat on the right side of the vehicle, at the rear of the fighting compartment, directly behind the gun, with his hatch above him. He did not have access to an armored cupola.

The gun was mounted to the right of the vehicle. This restricted its traverse to only 5° left and 11° right. To engage targets outside this narrow 16° traverse range, the whole vehicle would have to be moved. The off-center gun meant that there was too much weight on the right track and suspension. To the vehicle did not tilt towards the right, 850 kg of crew and equipment had to be placed on the left side of the gun as a counterbalance.

If all the hatches were closed, the crew had limited visibility, especially to the side and rear of the vehicle. The driver had two angled periscopes that protruded out of the upper glacis plate under a protective armored cover. The gunner was provided with a forward-looking Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr 1a (Sfl.ZF 1a) periscope gun sight. The loader had a periscope to look out for threats on the left side of the vehicle. The roof machine gun was aimed by looking through a periscope. It could rotate 360°. The commander had access to a rearward-looking periscope. If the commander’s hatch was closed, he had no forward vision. It would only be kept closed in extreme emergencies, such as during an artillery or mortar barrage. Also available was a Scherenfernohrs 14Z (Sf.14Z) scissor telescope which poked out the top of the open roof hatch which had a magnification of 8 x 10.

Engine and Transmission

The Jagdpanzer 38 was powered by a Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 158 hp petrol engine. The Praga engine was very similar to the one used in the Panzer 38(t) tank but had been uprated. Instead of producing 129 hp, it now produced 158 hp. The engine was connected to a five-speed Praga-Wilson transmission which was in turn connected to a Planetary steering system. The vehicle had a top road speed of 40 km/h (24.9 mph). This was less than initially hoped for. The production vehicle weighed 16 tonnes rather than the proposed 13 tonnes, which affected the vehicle‘s speed.

The dome at the back of the tank is a simple cover for the hand crank. Although the Jagdpanzer 38 had an electrical starter, crews were instructed that the preferred method was to use the hand crank where possible, as the electrical starter was not robust and should only be used in emergencies. To the bottom right of the rear armor plate, there was a port to gain access to the cooling water heater. In severe weather conditions, the engine coolant would freeze. A blow lamp could be placed in this port to warm the coolant and defrost it before the engine was started.

When the left rear engine compartment hatch is opened, access can be gained to the fuel filler cap behind the 12V battery. The Jagdpanzer 38 had two interconnected fuel tanks. The fuel tank on the left held 220 liters while the fuel tank on the right held 100 liters. This would give an approximate operational range of 180 km (111 miles).

Cooling the engine was a problem, as it only had a small air intake vent on the rear deck. It required a powerful motor to drive the air intake fan, which reduced the overall performance of the vehicle because it took power from the engine.

Suspension

Although the hull, suspension, tracks, and road wheels look very similar to those used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, the vehicle was a new build. The hull was wider: the Panzer 38(t) tank was 2.13 m (7ft) wide, but the Jagdpanzer 38 was 2.63 m (8ft 7.5 in) wide. The road wheels were larger than those used on the Panzer 38(t) tanks: they were 82 cm diameter instead of the tank’s 77.7 cm (2 ft 7 in) diameter. The suspension has been made more durable than that used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, especially at the front of the vehicle, in order to cope with the extra weight. The tracks have been widened from 29 cm to 35 cm (11in to 1ft 2 in). The Jagdpanzer 38 was only provided with one track return roller, unlike the Panzer 38(t) that had two.

The Driver’s position

The Jagdpanzer 38 driver had a basic instrument panel in front of him. He steered the vehicle by using two hand tillers. Each one of these levers controlled one of the two tracks. The driver also had a handbrake. The foot pedals were not in the standard order that we have come to expect in a modern car. The accelerator was in the middle. The pedal on the right was the foot brake. The gear change pedal was on the far left.

The gearbox was to the right of the driver. It was a 5-speed Praga-Wilson preselector. The Wilson type was the same system used by the British and developed by the Wilson gearbox company. The driver did not change gear like you would in a modern car, where you put the clutch in first and then select the gear. Instead, while the engine was running, they had to choose the next gear first and then depress the gear change pedal, which acted like a clutch, and let it come back up, hence the name pre-selector. To stop the vehicle without stalling, the driver had to remember to select neutral first, then apply the brake and the gear change pedal at the same time.

Exhaust system

Early versions of the exhaust system at the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter had the pipe coming down the back of the vehicle into a tubular silencer box that ran along the top of the rear armor plate, mounted horizontally. This was changed to a single pipe going into a flame hider on the back of the vehicle.

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Front and rear view of captured Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters (US archives)

Main Armament

The 7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 (7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48) anti-tank gun was used to equip Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The German word ‘Panzerjägerkanone’ literally translates to ‘tank hunter gun’ (anti-tank gun) and is usually abbreviated to Pak, thus sharing the contraction of the more common ‘Panzerabwehrkanone’. It was an electrically fired weapon fitted with a semi-automatic breech mechanism and a 48 caliber long barrel (3615 mm or 11 ft 10.3 in). It could penetrate the armor of most common Allied tanks at ranges up to 1,000 meters as shown in the table below.

When travelling across rough ground, the gunner used the internal gun travel lock to minimize any damage to the gun. The Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight was fixed to the left side of the gun and protruded out of the roof in a semi-circular sliding section of the roof armor. It moved when the gun was moved. It did not rotate. The gunner had to change his body positions to follow the gun periscope as he searched to bring the gun onto the next target by turning the traverse wheel. He also had to avoid being hit in the head by the remote control machine gun handles above him.

The loader sat on the left side of the main gun, behind the gunner and driver. He had a very challenging job because the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 anti-tank gun had been designed to be loaded from the right side. The loader’s controls were on the wrong side. To open the breech, he had to lean across the gun to access the breech opening lever. The main weapon had a semi-automatic loading system: once the first round was loaded, every time the gun fired, the recoil ejected the shell casing, and the breech block remained down in the open position waiting for another shell to be loaded. The large recoil guard was to his right, and this got in the way when loading shells. Not all of the ammunition was stored near the loader on the left side of the vehicle. Sometimes, he would have to reach over the gun breach and the recoil guard to access the shells stowed on the right side of this cramped tank hunter. The commander had a safety lever near him that prevented the gun from being fired while the loader was servicing the gun. When he was clear of the gun mechanism and a shell was in the breech ready for firing, the commander released the lever to enable the gun to be fired.

Design work on the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 started in 1939, but it was manufactured from 1943 onwards by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG in Unterlüß and by Seitz-Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It used the same 75 x 495 mm R ammunition as the 7.5 cm KwK 40 of Panzer IV medium tank and 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun fitted on the later models of the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns. No towed version of the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 was manufactured.

It could fire three common types of ammunition: Panzergranatepatrone 39 (Pzgr.Patr. 39) armor-piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell, Sprenggranatepatrone 37 (Sprgr. Patr. 37) high explosive (HE) shell, and different versions of the Granatpatrone 38 HL (Gr. Patr. 38 HL) high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. The latter was an effective high-explosive anti-tank shell and could be used against soft-skinned targets as well as armored vehicles. Its armor penetration qualities were not as high as the Pzgr.Patr. 39 (APCBC) shell. When fired, the Panzergranatepatrone 39 shell had a muzzle velocity of 750 meters/second (2460 feet/second).

Depending on availability, a few rounds of Panzergranatepatrone 40 (Pzgr.Patr. 40) high velocity, sub-caliber, tungsten core armor-piercing rounds were carried in case the crew encountered heavily armored Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns. The supplies of tungsten were limited.

7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 anti-tank gun armor penetration

(The data was obtained on a firing range. The armor plate was laid back at a 30-degree angle)
Pzgr.Patr. 39 Pzgr.Patr. 40 Gr. Patr. 38 HL
Shell Weight 6.8 kg 4.1 kg 5 kg
Initial Velocity 750 m/s 930 m/s 450 m/s
Range
100 m 106 mm 143 mm 100 mm
500 m 96 mm 120 mm 100 mm
1000 m 85 mm 97 mm 100 mm
1500 m 74 mm 77 mm 100 mm
2000 m 64 mm 100 mm
(Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)

The initial design of the gun mantlet was 200 kg heavier than the later design. The early vehicle was nose heavy, and this put stress on the front suspension. By changing the mantlet to a lighter model, and making adjustments to the suspension, the maneuverability of the vehicle became tolerable.

Secondary Armament

The loader had the job of rearming and firing the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun. It was fired from inside the armored protection of the fighting compartment. A hinged gun shield could be fixed in place to protect the crewman when reloading the gun. It was aimed by looking through a periscope. Behind him, on the rear wall, there was the radio, usually a Fu5 and the on-off master power handle.

60 degrees swivelling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun
Top view of the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun (German Federal Archives)

Armor

The front upper glacis plate of the Jagdpanzer 38 was designed to be 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick, sloped at 30 degrees from the horizontal. This meant that an armor-piercing (AP) round fired straight at the front upper glacis plate would have to penetrate 120 mm (4.7 inches) of armor due to the angle. The steep slope would also help increase the chance that the round would ricochet. The feared Tiger 1 heavy tank only had 100 mm (3.93 inches) thick effective frontal hull armor. The front glacis armor plate had interlocking welded joints for added strength and security. Sloping the armor meant that the level of protection could be kept high, but the costs and complexity of manufacturing the armor could be kept low. The lower front glacis plate was 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick angled at 50 degrees. This would make the effective thickness of that armor plate 78 mm (3.07 inches).

From these statistics, it would appear that the front armor of the Jagdpanzer 38 was very strong. According to H.L.Doyle, these figures are deceptive because the armor plate used was of inferior quality to the face hardened armor used on the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The 60 mm armor on the upper and lower glacis was roughly equivalent to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) face hardened armor used on the Panzer III. It was manufactured to E22 specifications and had a hardness of 265 to 309 Brinell. However, Panzer Tracts no.9, by T.Jentz, states that the Jagdpanzer 38’s front armor was meant to be immune to most anti-tank guns, contradicting Doyle’s statements.

The upper side armor of 20 mm (0.78 inches) thickness was comparable to the 14.5 mm plate used on the front of a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. It was made from a low alloy Siemens-Marteneit (SM) steel. It had a hardness of 220 to 265 Brinell. The tolerances on armor production were quite wide. The thicknesses of four different Jagdpanzer 38 upper glacis plates’ 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick armor were measured. They all belonged to the Wheatcroft Collection. One was built in February 1945, but the other three were built after the war as part of the G-13 Swiss Contract. The thickness ranged from 62.2 mm to 64.8 mm (2.44 – 2.55 inches).

The lower hull side armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick and sloped inwards at an angle of 75o. The rear armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick angled at 75 degrees. The roof armor was 10 mm thick (0.39 inches). The belly armor was 8 mm thick (0.3 inches). The Schürzen side skirt armor was made from 5 mm steel plate. It was designed to protect the side 20 mm thick lower hull armor from the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles.

Modifications

As with all other German armored fighting vehicles, improvements were continuously introduced during production to improve the performance of the vehicle and increase the speed of manufacture through simplification of its design. Some changes had to be introduced due to the problems with the supply of parts or raw materials.

The idler wheel design went through several changes. In order to reduce the amount of time it took to manufacture the rear idler wheel with twelve holes, different designs were introduced in the following order.

1. Six holes in a flat disc
2. Welded spokes with eight holes on a smooth flat disc.
3. Stamped ribs with six holes on a dish-shaped disc.
4. Six holes on a smooth flat disc.
5. Four holes on a smooth flat disc.

When Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were damaged, the maintenance workshop would fit whatever replacement idler wheels were available in their stores. Sometimes, late version vehicles would be equipped with early version idler wheels with twelve holes. If only one idler wheel needed replacing, then there would be situations where a vehicle would have idler wheels of different types.

In April 1944, further changes were introduced. The ram’s-horn towing hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle were omitted. They were replaced by extending the side hull armor plates and drilling a hole into the metal. The flange around the gun mantlet helped transfer the weight of the gun to the upper hull glacis plate. The size of the flange was reduced to decrease the weight of the gun mantlet. The length of the rooftop 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun hinged shield was shortened to stop it from hitting the top of the Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight.

The design of the front track drive sprocket wheel was changed. To save production time, the holes were no longer drilled on the outer ring of the sprocket wheel. A different type of rear idler wheel was fitted. It had four large holes in the disk rather than twelve holes in the earlier version.

Starting in May and continuing into July 1944, more changes were ordered. To stop having to open large hatches on the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 to access the crew compartment, the commander was given a small hatch that opened to the rear. A hatch was added on the lower right to enable access to the radiator cooling fluid filling cap. Another hatch was added to the lower left to give access to the petrol fuel tank filling cap. The heat shield around the exhaust was no longer fitted. Three ‘mushroom’ short threaded cylinders were welded to the top of the Jagdpanzer 38 to enable a two-tonne temporary crane to be mounted to help with mechanical maintenance, replacement of heavy parts, and repairs.

Further changes were made in August 1944. As a result of a redesign of the metal used in the internal and external construction of the gun mantlet, the weight of the Jagdpanzer 38 was reduced by 200 kg. Road wheels with a larger diameter center disk with thinner rims were introduced. Initially, the rim was drilled for 32 bolts around the edge, but often only 16 bolts were fitted. To help the driver exit his seat quickly in case the vehicle was hit, two handles were welded above the driver’s seat.

Production line changes were introduced in September 1944. To protect the crew from Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles being fired at the lower hull armor, the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was fitted with Schürzen skirt armor plates. Crews found that these plates were ripped off as they brushed past bushes and trees. The front ends of the Schürtzen were bent in towards the hull to try and stop them from being torn off.

The front set of leaf springs experienced more stress than the rear set and often broke. The thickness of the front set of sixteen leaf springs was increased from 7 mm to 9 mm. The rear set of sixteen leaf springs remained 7 mm thick.

More design changes were implemented in October 1944. The design of the driver’s periscope mounting had to be altered after the early version acted as a ‘shell trap. When incoming armor-piercing shells hit the front upper glacis plate but failed to penetrate it, they would slide upwards and enter the crew compartment via the protruding cover over the driver’s periscopes, after getting caught on it. The armored cover was no longer fitted. Holes were cut flush with the glacis plate to hold the periscopes. A thin sheet metal dual-purpose sun and rain guard was installed over the holes. If a shell slid up the upper glacis plate and hit this guard, it would be ripped off but would not act as a ‘shell-trap.’

New road wheels were introduced that were riveted instead of being bolted. It had been found that some of the bolts on the earlier versions of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter’s road wheels came undone.

The red-hot glowing exhaust pipes and flames of a backfire can give away the position of the vehicle at dusk and during the night. This can result in it being spotted by an enemy artillery forward observer and calling in an artillery barrage. The cylindrical silencer was replaced with a Flamm-Vernichter (flame destroyer) exhaust.

Allied bombing disrupted the supply of ball bearings. The gun mount had to be changed. The ball bearings used in the gun mount were replaced with roller bearings. This necessitated the installation of a spring compensator to help with elevating the gun.

Filling the Jagdpanzer 38’s fuel tanks took a long time. To enable the tanks to be refilled faster, a larger nozzle with an overflow pan was fitted. Also, there had been reliability problems with the electric fuel pump, so a Solex-handpumpe manual hand pump was issued. The commander’s hatch was equipped with a head cushion.

As the cold weather arrived in November 1944, just in time for winter, a new heating plate was fitted to keep the battery from freezing. The heating inside the crew compartment was also upgraded. A better heat distribution vent was installed in the engine compartment firewall. It gave a more even heat distribution inside the vehicle. The water pump also upgraded to one that was more robust.

By changing the location of an internal stowage box to the right of the commander’s position, a further five 75 mm shells were able to be carried.

The last batch of changes started in January 1945. The Model 6 final drive had a gear ratio of 12:88. They suffered from mechanical failure due to the stresses put on them. The Jagdpanzer 38 was three tonnes over the initial design specifications. It was front heavy, and the driver regularly had to maneuver the whole vehicle to enable the gun to be aimed at a new target. In January 1945, a new more robust Model 6.75 final drive was fitted. It had a gear ratio of 10:80.

The Jagdpanzer 38 was an ambush vehicle and needed to hide. To make the crew’s task of fixing cut tree branches and bushes to the exterior of the vehicle easier, ‘U’ shaped brackets were welded to the upper front glacis plate and the side armor. Wire or string could be threaded through these ‘U’ shaped brackets and foliage tied onto it. The exact date in 1945 this feature started to be added onto vehicles under production is not known.

To strengthen the towing brackets on some vehicles, side supports were welded at the junction of the hull side armor and the front and rear armor plates. Others had the extended hull armor towing brackets removed and replaced with ‘U’ brackets welded onto the lower front glacis plate and the rear armor plate.

Did the Jagdpanzer 38 have a muzzle brake?

The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by directing some of the explosive force of the shell gasses sideways rather than just forward. The wooden mock-up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke, which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post-war Swiss G-13 version had a muzzle brake fitted.

agdpanzer 38 with muzzle brake
Early production Jagdpanzer 38 with muzzle brake. (German Federal Archives)

Camouflage

Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left the factory painted dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028). Camouflage patterns were painted onto the vehicle when it arrived at the unit it was assigned to. In October 1944, new Jagdpanzer 38s were painted in a camouflage pattern before they left the BMM factory. It had a base color of dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028) with stripes and patches of dark red-brown (Rotbraun RAL 8017) paint and dark olive green (Olivgrün RAL 6003). Black rectangular false vision ports were painted on the upper front glacis plate to try and draw the enemy’s fire away from the driver’s periscopes.

The vehicle’s designation

The Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. What follows is an investigation into why the Hetzer nickname is associated with this tank hunter. Many German armored fighting vehicles had very long official designations, so shorter nicknames were used to assist in recognition, for example, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf.E was called the Tiger. There are others, like the Ferdinand, Panther, Grille, Wespe, Hummel and many more. Some were official designations while others were unofficial and came from the soldiers using the vehicle. The German High Command even issued orders for vehicle names to be changed because they were deemed to be misleading or not suitable for a vehicle belonging to the German Army. Some of the names now used to describe Second World War German fighting vehicles arose after the war. A few were the invention of scale model kit companies.

Ein grosser Hetzer

A Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. They had come to inspect several vehicles including the Mareşal light tank hunter. Its design is believed to have influenced the final development of the Jagdpanzer 38. The comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann were recorded in the last paragraph on the first page. He said the Mareşal would make ‘ein grosser Hetzer’ (an impressive hunter). The German word “Gross” does not only translate to big as in size. It can also mean good or impressive (Großartig). He went on to say it would be a superior adversary against the Russians.

Romanian Army document dated 1944
This is a Romanian Army document dated 1944 that recorded the visit of two German officers to inspect the Mareşal light tank hunter. In the last paragraph, they describe it as, ‘ein grosser Hetzer.’ (Source: Romainain Military Archives, Bucharest)

The Jagdpanzer 38 had many different official names

The word ‘Hetzer’ has not been used during this article because it was not used officially by the German Army during WW2. It is a nickname used by some of the troops. The Jagdpanzer 38 was known by many different designations and abbreviations in official German Army and factory documents.

two monthly Heereswaffenamt (HWA - German Army Weapons Agency) reports
These are two monthly Heereswaffenamt (HWA – German Army Weapons Agency) reports: one is dated March 1944 and the other November 1944. It is one example of how the Jagdpanzer 38 underwent name changes. (Source: Steven Zaloga/NARA)

The following is an updated list of the different names and abbreviations given to the Jagdpanzer 38, followed by the source, and date of the document that was initially compiled by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle. The term ‘Hetzer’ was a nickname and not an official designation.

leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (7 January 1944)
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (28 February 1944)
Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (18 January 1944)
Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (16 April 1944)
Sturmgeschütz neuer Art Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944)
Le. Pz.Jäger (38t) Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944)
leichtes Sturmgeschütz auf 38(t) Führer Konferenz (28 January 1944)
Panzerjäger 38 für 7,5cm Pak 39 (L-/48) (Sd Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 January 1944)
le.Pz.Jg.38t Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (4 March to October 1944)
le.Pz.Jg.38t Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (3 August 1944)
7,5 cm Panzerjäger 38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 31 July 1944)
Stu.Gesch.38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 6 June 1944)
Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Waffen bzw.Geräte (March 1944)
Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres Chef.H.Rüst.u. BdE/Stab Rüst lil. (15 May to 15 October 1944)
Ie.Pz.Jäg.38(t) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (7 June to 30 July 1944)
Stu.Gesch.38(t) GenSTdH/Org.Abt. Bericht (12 June and 28 June 1944)
I.Pz.Jg.38(t) Wa Prüf 6 (23 June 1944)
Ie.Pz.Jg.38(t) mit 7,5cm Pak L/48 auf Fgst Pz 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944)
le. Panzerjäger 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Name of Troop – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf Name of regulations – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944)
Pz.-Jäger 38(t) (späterer Name wahrscheinlich Jagdpanzer) (probable later name Jagdpanzer) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (12 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (19 October 1944 to 6 April 1945)
Jagdpanzer 38 D652/63 (1 November 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 und Panzerjäger 38 (7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 November 1944)
Jagdpz. 38 this style of abbreviation was used in a list as part of a combat readiness report by the Panzergrenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”. None were shown on strength. (3 November 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38, Panzerjäger 38 (m 7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres, Chef H.Rüst u. BdE/Stab Rüst III. (15 November 1944 to 15 March 1945)
Jagdpanzer 38 WaA/Wa Prüf 6 (17 November and 19 December 1944)
Hetzer The origin of this name was explained in this document as coming from the troops to denote the Jagdpanzer 38 Gen. Insp.d.Pz.Tr. Guderian. (4 December 1944) (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Hetzer and Pz.Jg.38(T) IX.SS.Geb.A.K (19 December 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command telex (16 February 1945)
Jg.Pz.38 t SS-Sturmbannführer combat readiness report. (March 1945)
Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer SS-Sturmbannfüher combat readiness report. (March 1945)

The Project Hetzer E-10 prototype design confusion

‘Project Hetzer’ was the name used by the team tasked with designing a low-profile self-propelled tank hunter with a fast, powerful 400 hp engine that would give the vehicle a maximum road speed of 70 km/h (43.49 mph). It was an Entwicklungs-Serien (developmental series) 10-tonne vehicle that was allocated the designation ‘E-10.’It did not enter production. Weight designations in E-series were not very accurate. The E-10 was planned to weigh between 12-15 tonnes.

The plans for the Jagdpanzer 38 and E-10 were discussed at a concept design meeting between the German army ordnance officers from Wa Prüf 6, and the Czech Böhmisch-Märische Maschinenfabrik (B.M.M.) company. The language barrier may have led to a misunderstanding. It is assumed the Czech company officials believed the Germans were using the name ‘Hetzer‘ when talking about their Jagdpanzer 38 and not the rival company’s E-10 project. Thus, the nickname ‘Hetzer’ became connected to the Jagdpanzer 38 but not used as an official designation.
Military historian Herbert Ackermans found in the German Archives a report dated 21 January 1944, that detailed the items on the agenda and minutes of a number of meetings about the development and production of weapons and equipment, that took place with General Friedrich Fromm, German Army High Command (OKH), between April 1943 and 21 January 1944. (Archiv Signatur RH 10/37)

Klein-Panzerjäger
Klein-Panzerjäger (Source: Herbert Ackermans/Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv. Signatur RH 10/37)

Item 5 of the report dealt with Klein-Panzerjäger (small tank hunter). Major-General Beißwänger (General beim Chef der Heeresrüstung) remarked that the introduction of such designation (like ‘Klein-Panzerjäger’) was undesirable and that precise designations were required.

Oberst Crohn’s of Wa.Prüf. 6, informed those present at the meeting that the Romanian Maresal tank hunter was of no further interest to Germany as the production of the Jagdpanzer 38 has been decided upon. This also meant that Project Hetzer, Project Rutscher, and Project Sprengstoffträger mit Puppchen had been canceled.

This document provides evidence that the Jagdpanzer 38 and the Project Hetzer E-10 were treated as two separate vehicles.

The few wartime documents where the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used

Hetzer document No.1

On 31 July 1944, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (743rd Tank Hunter Battalion) reported having twenty-eight Hetzers available, with an additional fourteen Hetzers expected to arrive on 3 August 1944 when the battalion would be joined by the 3.Kompanie (3rd company) near Warsaw. On 3 August 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 submitted a ‘strength report‘ that listed how many vehicles were operational and how many were lost, damaged or needing mechanical repair. In this and later reports, the nickname Hetzer was not used. They were given the abbreviated designation of le.Pz.Jg.38t.

Hetzer document No.2

In a Führervortrag briefing sheet, dated 4 December 1944, from German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, Hitler is informed that the nickname Hetzer was used by the troops to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. Hilary Louis Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz mentions this in his Panzer Tracts book. (Found again by military historian Herbert Ackermans in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – NARA)

8.) Erklärung Ausdruck “Hetzer.” Der kommt aus der Truppe und bezeichnet damit den Jagdpanzer 38.

8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.

Führervortrag briefing sheet, showing the date 4 December 1944
This is the front page of the Führervortrag briefing sheet, showing the date 4 December 1944 (Source: Herbert Ackermans/NARA)

This is the second page of the same report.

second page of the Führervortrag briefing sheet.
This is the second page of the Führervortrag briefing sheet. The translation of the last point is “8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.” (Source: Herbert Ackermans/Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv.)

Hetzer document No.3

On 19 December 1944, a unit combat readiness report was submitted. It used both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer when collating the figures of combat-ready Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The 22 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had two Pz.Jg.38(T) available. The 8 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had three Hetzers available. The subordinated unit to the Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle stated they had three Hetzers available.

combat readiness report dated 19 December 1944
This unit combat readiness report dated 19 December 1944 uses both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer (Source Russian Archives CAMO 500-12472-383 War Diary of AOK 6, late 1944)

Hetzer document No.4

The fourth document was discovered by historian Herbert Ackerman in October 2020 as he was looking at documents in the Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv (German Military Archives). It is a telex from Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command addressed to the German High Command Panzertruppen Inspector. He asks when the Fallschirmjaeger Panzerjäger Abteilungen (airborne tank hunter battalion) are planned to be reequipped with Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer, what are the composition numbers and delivery dates. It was sent on 16 February 1945 and used the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer)

Wartime telex dated dated 16 February 1945 from Luftwaffe High Command
Wartime telex dated dated 16 February 1945 from Luftwaffe High Command to German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector where the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) was used.(Source Herbert Ackermans/Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv Signatur RH 10/123)

Hetzer document No.5

The fifth document was a unit combat readiness report for March 1945. In the eighth line down, under the heading Pz.Abt.17 (17th Panzer battalion) there is an entry, Jg.Pz. 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) listed one Jg.Pz. 38 t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunters belonging to the Pz.Jg.Abt.Nibelungen (Anti-tank battalion “Nibelungen”) as just Jg.Pz. 38 t and did not include the nickname “Hetzer”. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short-term repair, one in long-term repair, and one with transmission failure. (Source Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)

unit combat readiness report for March 1945
A unit combat readiness report for March 1945 that uses the term Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer. (Source: Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)

Hetzer document No.6

The sixth document is also a unit combat readiness report dated 7 March 1945 for the attention of the German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector from Kampfgruppe Panzer Korps “Feldherrnhalle”. In point 2, under the heading Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) there is an entry, (20 Hetzer) ready only after retraining of personnel on the Jg.Pz. 38. Earliest date 25 March 1945. Like some of the other documents it also uses both terms, Hetzer and Jg.Pz.38.

 Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) will have 20 Hetzers
This document shows that the Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) will have 20 Hetzers ready only after retraining of personnel (Source: Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)

How are the words ‘baiter and agitator’ connected with the Jagdpanzer 38?

During the Second World War and when hostilities had finished, German military prisoners, engineers, and factory workers were interviewed by Intelligence officers. The Allied translators chose to translate the German word ‘Hetzer’ when it was used by the person being interviewed to describe the Jagdpanzer 38, as ‘baiter’. These words appear in U.S. Soviet, British and Commonwealth reports. The interviews were recorded in German. They also noted that the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38 and some intelligence documents used the German word Hetzer rather than the English translation.

British M.I.10 intelligence source document
British M.I.10 intelligence source document noting that the Jagdpanzer 38 was also referred to as ‘Panzerjaeger 38’ and ‘Hetzer’ (Source Ed Webster/M.I.10)

Military Intelligence, Section 10 (M.I.10) was part of the British War Office, which would later become part of M.I.6. It was responsible for technical analysis of weapons. The original Secret documents were declassified on 22 November 1988. Multiple British army intelligence reports and English transcripts of German prisoner interrogations make use of the term ‘Baiter’ as an English translation for the German nickname ‘Hetzer’ when used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. These documents were collated and analyzed by M.I.10. The following extract is one such example.

he Allied translator has used the English word ‘baiter’ as a translation for the German word ‘hetzer’
British M.I.10 translation of an interview with Herr Mehlert about the Jagdpanzer 38. The Allied translator has used the English word ‘baiter’ as a translation for the German word ‘hetzer’. (Source Ed Webster/M.I.10)

In 1947, the M.I.10 used the name ‘Pz.Jäg. 38(t) – Hetzer’ under a photograph of a Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter in an official, secret, military reference book called ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, armored Fighting Vehicles.’ The publication was a summary of all the intelligence reports that M.I.10 had collected on German vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information in this document about the intelligence source on which naming the Jagdpanzer 38, ‘Hetzer’ was based.

Armoured Fighting Vehicles
This is a page from the British M.I.10 War Office 1947 publication Illustrated Record Of German Army Equipment 1939-1945 Volume III – Armoured Fighting Vehicles. It uses the nickname Hetzer (Source: Shrivenham Defence Academy/M.I.10)

Ralf Raths, the director of the German Tank Museum, whose first language is German, states that Hetzer is a German hunting term. ‘Hetzen” means to hunt your prey at high speed until it collapses or is caught. This is what wolves do in the wild. This would also cover hunting fox, deer, and hare with dogs and on horseback. The term Hetzer was applicable to the Project Hetzer E-10 fast tank hunter but not to the Jagdpanzer 38 which was a slow vehicle that only had a top maximum road speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). The popular modern phrase found on T-shirts, websites, and memes, ‘The Hetzer gonna Hetz’ is totally inaccurate. The Jagdpanzer 38 could not Hetz. It could not chase after its prey at speed. Its tactical deployment was as an ambush weapon.

Unfortunately, there is not a word in English that is a good translation of the German Word Hetzer. We have ‘hare coursing’, but ‘a coursing’ or ‘Project Coursing’ sounds wrong. There is not an overall general descriptive word in English that covers hunting fox/deer/hare/rabbit at high speed until it collapses. The verb ‘to harry’ is a hunting term but is associated with the bird of prey, the Harrier and the British fighter jet the Harrier: the ‘Harrier is gonna harry’. The ‘chaser’ would be the nearest accurate translation. ‘Project Chaser’ and ‘the Chaser’ sound correct in English: the ‘Chaser is gonna chase’. The problem with ‘chaser’ is that word does not always have a hunting association, unlike the German word Hetzer. The way a Jagdpanzer 38 operated in combat was the exact opposite of all these terms.

Many military history authors and magazine article writers translate the nickname ‘Hetzer’ as baiter or agitator. A dictionary definition of a ‘baiter’ is someone who ‘deliberately annoys or tauts another’. It is also defined as referring to a ‘malicious rabble-rousing agitator’ (This definition is where the word ‘agitator’ comes from). Both these explanations of the use of the word ‘baiter’ have caused confusion as it does not describe or hint at the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38.

There is another definition. A ‘baiter’ is a hunting term. It describes a hunter who baits a trap, lays in ambush hoping his prey takes the bait so that he can kill it. This describes the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38. They were given the job of protecting the flanks of an attack or defending a section of the front line. Crews were taught to camouflage their vehicles and hide on the edge of woodland. They would be deployed in a troop of three or more Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters and wait in ambush in a position where they had good visibility of advancing enemy units at a location they believed would be an Allied attack route.

Designation conclusion

To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer by the Germans during WW2. Although most official wartime documents do not use the nickname Hetzer, a few did.

Operational service

Starting from 20 June 1944, Panzerjäger Schulen (tank hunter training schools) started to receive Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles for crew training. A surviving Panzerjäger Schule Milowitz (Tank hunter training school at Milowitz) document showed that Jagdpanzer 38 crews were encouraged to find preselected firing positions, preferably behind an earth wall in cover, like at the edge of a wood. Once targets had been engaged and there were no more targets available, the commander was to direct the driver to change to a different location by reversing out of their current position, to avoid being hit by enemy artillery.

Jagdpanzer 38
Jagdpanzer 38 in Hungary. (German Federal Archives)

The Jagdpanzer 38s were assigned to independent Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Army Tank Hunter Battalions). They were to provide Infantry Divisions with a mobile anti-tank resource. When the infantry was under attack, they could be used as a resource to support the infantry’s counterattack. They were not intended to be used instead of a tank at the front of an attack in a major offensive. The guns’ limited traverse would make them liable to flank attacks.

Each of the Battalion’s three companies was given fourteen Jagdpanzer 38s, and three were allocated to the Abteilung Stab (Battalion headquarters). One vehicle per company and two of the headquarters’ vehicles were issued with long-range command and control Fu 8 radios. By February 1945, the authorized number of Jagdpanzer 38s per company was reduced from fourteen to ten. The Abteilung (battalion) approved total was reduced to thirty-eight from forty-five.

The Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 731 (731st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was formed on 2 November 1943 by Heeresgruppe Nord (Northern Army group). Between 4 and 13 July 1944, they were issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front.

Between 19 and 28 July 1944, Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 743 (743rd Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front with Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army group).

In September 1944, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 (741st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. One company was sent to the Eastern Front, but the other two were directed to the Arnhem sector in Holland.
In February 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 561 (561st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.

In March 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 744 (744th Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.

In December 1944 and January 1945, 295 Jagdpanzer 38s were used in the winter Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. The two companies of Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 and eighteen other Heeres Panzerjäger companies were deployed in the region. A Heeres Gruppe B (Army group B) ‘combat strength’ report dated 30 December 1944 stated that 131 Jagdpanzer 38s were still operational out of their initial strength of 190. Heeres Gruppe G (Army group G) reported that it had 38 Jagdpanzer 38s still functional out of an initial total of 67.

On 16 April 1945, during the attack on Bolatice in Northern Moravia by Soviet Forces, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the T-34-85 equipped 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from an area near Albertovec Farm. Two tanks were left behind just south of the farm to guard against a flanking attack. Corporal Ján Zámečník was the gunner in tank number 603. He fired on what he thought was a German machine gun nest on the edge of a wood. When it was neutralized, the crew went to examine the enemy position. They were shocked to find they had knocked out a very well camouflaged Jagdpanzer 38. The German crew had run out of fuel and main gun ammunition but had still decided to fight using the machine gun on the roof of their vehicle. The T-34-85 crew had not identified it as an enemy vehicle because it was so hard to see.

On 27 April 1945, eight T-34-85 tanks of the 3rd battalion, 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from the railway station at Dolni Lhota to Čavisov a village in Ostrava-City District, Moravian-Silesian Region. The attack halted as it encountered anti-tank obstacles. It was an ambush. Two tanks were knocked out, and a further three were damaged by a number of self-propelled anti-tank guns in concealed positions. The remaining tanks were forced to retreat. The Germans then made a tactical mistake. The crews of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters counter-attacked. They moved out of cover and into the village near the railroad station. One was knocked out before it reached the village and another was destroyed near the houses on the edge of the village. The others withdrew.

Jagdpanzer 38 driving
Jagdpanzer 38 driving over rubble in Prague 8 May 1945. (German Federal archives)

Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters

The first Jagdpanzer 38 came off the production line in March 1944. By the end of World War II, the Czech company BMM had built 2,047 of them and refurbished 173 that came back to the factory for repairs. Another Czech company called Škoda started manufacturing Jagdpanzer 38s and built a further 780 by the time of the German surrender.

Swiss Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank
Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunter

After the war ended, the Swiss were looking for new armored vehicles. They placed a contract with the Czechs. The first 10 that they received were German specification Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The rest were new-build vehicles for the Swiss contract. Some of them used World War Two parts that were readily available. Later vehicles had newly designed parts.

One hundred and fifty-eight Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters entered service with the Swiss army. Ninety-four of them were re-engined with diesel power packs. The last G13 left the Swiss army in 1970. Many were sold to museums and private collectors who converted them to externally look like Second World War German Jagdanzer 38 tank hunters.

The G-13 name

G-13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38 in the Škoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Škoda Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer was called a G-13 in the factory and on all internal documentation.
G = tank hunter, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3.
G-11 was Panzerjaeger I,
G-12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzle brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38 (t). The Škoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank hunter was known by the factory code G-13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38 or Hetzer name.

Variants

Jagdpanzer 38 Starr

The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. The diesel prototype remained the sole one to see combat and was used during the Prague uprising by both sides. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Jagdpanzer 38 after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.

Hitler inspecting the new Jagdpanzer 38
Hitler inspecting the new Jagdpanzer 38 Starr. (German Federal Archives)

Jagdpanzer 38(d)

This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), the same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine.

Flammpanzer 38

The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5 cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38 in an effort to confuse the enemy.

Bergepanzer 38

Bergepanzer 38
Bergepanzer 38 light recovery vehicle. (German Federal Archives)

A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks, and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.

Bergepanzer 38
Rearview of the Bergepanzer 38 light recovery vehicle with a dozer blade deployed at the back of the vehicle. (German Federal Archives)

Befehlspanzer 38

The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside.

Bergepanzer 38 mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun

A number of Bergepanzer 38 light armored recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft Flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.

Bergepanzer 38 with 30 mm MK 103
In the background, you can see a Bergepanzer 38 with a 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun with its gun raised.

This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz”. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support role against enemy troops and vehicles.

A Bergepanzer 38 with 0 mm MK 103 autocannon
A Bergepanzer 38 with 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun

Soviet Army capture the factories

When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia, they conducted a stocktake of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38 tank-destroyers “G-13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.

Czechoslovakian ST-1

The Czech Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.

agdpanzer 38 Hetzer
During the Prague uprising, 5th-9th May 1945, freedom fighters captured this German Jagdpanzer 38. It did not have a gun fitted but in its place, it was armed with a German anti-tank Panzerfaust. (photo capture taken from the film called ‘Květnová revoluce v Praze 1945’ held in the Národní filmový archive)

Foreign Users

Thanks to the great numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s built at the end of the war, it got to see service with a number of different armies during the war and after.

The only export user of the Jagdpanzer 38 was the Hungarian Army, which received about 85 vehicles between August 1944 and January 1945.

While the Soviets captured large numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s during their successful drive against the German armies, there is no evidence they put any into use. They did, however, supply some to their new allies, the Bulgarians (some 4 vehicles). Romania also captured a couple of Jagdpanzer 38s after switching sides and moving into Transylvania.

One of the most famous wartime Jagdpanzer 38s is Chwat, a single tank destroyer captured by the Poles during the Warsaw uprising that saw no combat use.

Another Jagdpanzer 38 was captured by Czechoslovakian rebels during the Prague uprising at the end of the war.

After the war, the Czechoslovakians had a number of Jagdpanzer 38s available to them left from production or abandoned on their soil. They produced 150 more and used them until at least the early 60s.

The Czechoslovaks also exported the Jagdpanzer 38 to Switzerland, which bought 158 vehicles that were in service until the 70s. Most of the current surviving Jagdpanzer 38s are actually Swiss G-13s.

Yugoslavia also captured some 20 tank destroyers from the retreating Germans, some captured and used during the war. They remained in service until about 1952.

Conclusion

Overall, the vehicle was successful. It was quick to build, and cheap compared with the cost of constructing a Tiger, King Tiger or Panther tank. It was mechanically reliable, easily concealed, hard-hitting, and when used right, a hard-to-kill vehicle. A company of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters working together, concealed in a good location, could damage or knock-out a considerable number of attacking enemy tanks.

Surviving Jagdpanzer 38

Currently, there are only 13 known surviving Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left. If the Jagdpanzer 38 you are looking at on display at a museum is not on this list of surviving vehicles then it is a post-war Swiss Contract G13 altered to resemble a wartime Jagdpanzer 38.
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Bruce Crompton Collection, UK
Rex and Rod Cadman Collection, UK
Private Collection, Germany
Panzermuseum, Thun, Switzerland
Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Army Technical Museum, Lešany, Czech Republic
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, VA, USA
Canadian Forces Base, Borden, Canada
Wheatcroft Collection, UK

Sources

Liechte Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer; 1944-45 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzerkampfwagen 38 Panzer Tracts No.18 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Box’ at the Tank Museum, Bovington Archives
Romanian Military Museum Archives, Bucharest
British War Office Military of Intelligence M.I.10 ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, Armoured Fighting Vehicles. ’
Hilary L. Doyle. Start from the 17 min time period https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG_mY-jSZzQ
Private correspondence with Mr. Hilary L. Doyle (1)
Herbert Ackermans document collection.

Jagdpanzer 38 specifications

Dimensions (L W H) 6.27 m x 2.63m x 2.10 m
20 ft 6.8 in x 8 ft 7.5 in x 6 ft 10.6 in
Total weight, battle-ready 16 tonnes
Armament 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) M.G.34, 1,200 rounds
Armor 8 to 60 mm (0.3 – 2.36 in)
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 160 hp @ 3000 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
Maximum Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Suspension Leaf springs
Range 180 km (111 miles)
Total production approx. 2,827

Romanian Maresal tank hunter
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38, the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38 “Chwat” (Brave) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Early type Jagdpanzer 38 “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, winter 1944-45.
Hungarian Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer 1944
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Unknown unit, Bohemia, spring 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38 of the 11th SS Panzerdivision “Nordland”, winter 1944-45.
Ambush camo
Jagdpanzer 38 with the spotted ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945.
Czech Hetzer
Czech Jagdpanzer 38, in service by May 1945 with the Russian Liberation Army (Русская освободительная армия)
Lake Balaton
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38 “Mokus” tank destroyer, Lake Balaton battle, 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hetzer captured by the Russian army, Czechoslovakia, 1945.
Hetzer Italy 1945
Jagdpanzer 38 of an unknown Panzerjäger unit in Italy, 1945
Czech insurgents Jagdpanzer
Jagdpanzer 38 captured by Czech insurgents, Prague, May 1945.
Bulgarian Jagdpanzer-38
Bulgarian Jagdpanzer 38, March 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Unknown unit, ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Unknown unit, Bohemia, 1945.

Variants

Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Befehlspanzerjäger 38, 741st Antitank Battalion, Eastern Front, 1944.
Flammpanzer 38(t)
Flammpanzer 38, 352nd Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie, Army Group G, Belgium, December 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38 Starr
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr (1945). Being rather disappointing, the six built of this much simplified versions were converted back as regular Hetzers.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Panzerjäger 38 mit 75 mm L/70.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Swiss G13 in 1960, notice the spare roadwheel should be on the other side. For identification only.

Derivatives

Bergepanzer 38
Bergepanzer 38.
Aufklarungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23
Another, more common type of Aufklärungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23.
Aufklarungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23
Jagdpanzer 38 mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23, Battle of the Bulge, winter 1944-1945.
Vollkettenaufklärer 38(t)/Kätzchen APC (1945)
Vollkettenaufklärer 38 prototype.

Categories
WW2 Italian Armored Cars

AB ‘Ferroviaria’

Italian Flag IconKingdom of Italy 1942-1945
Railway Armored Car – 20 Converted

The AB series armored cars were the main reconnaissance vehicles of the Italian Royal Army during the Second World War, with over 700 being produced between 1940 and 1945. Used on all the fronts of the war, after 1943, 120 were also used by the Germans and, after the war, by the Italian Army until 1954.

A total of 12 AB40 and AB41 armored cars were modified in 1942 to patrol the Yugoslav railways. This special version was called ‘Ferroviaria’ (Railway). After the war, another group of AB41 and AB43 vehicles were modified to be used to patrol the Italian railways.

AB40 “Ferroviaria” in the Balkans showing all the details specific to the railway armored cars. Source: wikipedia.com

History of the project

In an attempt to emulate the rapid German territorial expansion, Italy declared war on Greece in late October 1940. Due to unexpected Greek resistance, the Italian offensive was stopped and even reversed. The Italian situation in North Africa was also dire, and for these reasons, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler was not initially interested in the Mediterranean theater, being more preoccupied with the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But, worried by the possibility of a second front being opened to the south in Greece by the British while the German forces were assaulting the Soviet Union, he reluctantly decided to send German military aid to help the Italians. The Germans quickly made combat plans for the occupation of Greece, which counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia wanted to preserve neutrality and signed the Tripartite Treaty on 25th March 1941. Two days later, Air Force General Dušan Simović, with the support of other military officers staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the government. Hitler was furious about this event and ordered that Yugoslavia should also be occupied. This event would lead to the short so-called April War, during which Yugoslavia was defeated by a coalition of Axis forces which also included Italy. After this short war, the Yugoslavian territory was divided between different Axis forces. The Italians got part of Slovenia, Kosovo, part of Macedonia, Montenegro, and parts of the Adriatic coast.

While the war was over, the Axis withdrew most forces from this area, as it was thought to be pacified. However, two resistance movements, the Royalist Chetniks and the communist Partisans, would start a general uprising against the occupying forces only a few months later. In order to suppress these two resistance movements, the Germans and Italians began once again increasing their presence in Yugoslavia, which included armored vehicles.

The territories of Yugoslavia were divided between the Axis nations in 1941. Source wikipedia.com

The introduction of the AB40

After the occupation, the initial Italian armored force in Yugoslavia consisted of two groups of light tanks: the 1° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Giusto’ (Eng: 1st Light Tank Group) station in Karlovac and the 2° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Marco’ (Eng: 2nd Light Tank Group) stationed in Trebinje and Dubrovnik. These groups were each equipped with 4 squadrons, with a total of 61 L3 light tanks. In order to better protect their positions in Yugoslavia, in July 1941, the 31° Reggimento di Fanteria Carrista (Eng: Tank man Infantry Regiment), which also was equipped with the L3, was also sent to Yugoslavia. These units were mostly deployed to protect the Adriatic coast territories. Meanwhile, in Slovenia, the Italians initially did not expect any serious opposition. But, in June 1941, the communist movement began to be active even in Slovenia, which forced the Italians to pay attention to this part of the front as well. The Italian high command in Yugoslavia issued orders for the troops to arm and armor their trucks and to arm nearly all personnel.

In 1942, new armored equipment was brought to Yugoslavia by the Italians. This included the flamethrower version of the L3, the L3/38, and new types of armored cars, like the SPA-Viberti AS37, Fiat 626 and 665, and AB41.

The Italians employed a tactic of forming a large number of well-defended strong points. Their defenses often discouraged Partisans from attacking them. At the same time, they were left isolated and unable to efficiently coordinate attacks or defenses against the Partisans. This tactic led to an overextension of the supply lines. These strong points were also highly dependent on well-defended supply lines (like roads or rails), which were often prone to Partisan attacks. The rail tracks and trains were favorite targets of the resistance fighters. For the protection of these strong points, it was proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to be used in the occupied territories of Yugoslavia. Interestingly, the rare AB40 was also operated there by the Italians.

The sabotage carried out by Yugoslav partisans, which increasingly hit sensitive targets such as bridges, communication points, and railways considerably slowed down the convoys and supply columns directed to the strong points controlled by Italian soldiers. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) was forced to find a solution quickly. It was first proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to protect convoys heading for the Italian strong points, It was immediately clear that, although it was a good idea, building entire armored trains would take too long, and the army did not have the time necessary.

The order to build armored trains was given to Ansaldo, which began the development of new railway vehicles, while FIAT proposed to use the AB series armored cars, which were very useful for Italian soldiers to patrol the occupied territories.

In order to design this railway version, FIAT engineers asked for help from the experts of FIAT Ferroviaria, a subsidiary of FIAT which produced trains. After a very short time, it was decided to replace the tires of an AB40 with slightly modified steel wheels used by the Italian locomotives. Other minor modifications were made and, in January 1942, the AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ was presented to the High Command of the Italian Royal Army. A few days later, some vehicles were taken from the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo (Eng: Armored Car Training Centre) of Pinerolo and modified in the nearby FIAT factory of Turin. In total, in less than a month, 12 armored cars of the AB series were converted. These were eight AB40s that the Regio Esercito considered unsuitable for the reconnaissance role and were, in fact, used for training, and four AB41s that were used in armored car companies and command platoons.

In the months before the Armistice of September 1943, another order was placed for the conversion of 8 more AB41s.

Design

In the mid-30s, the Royal Italian Army realized that the Lancia 1ZM armored cars produced during the First World War were by now poorly armed, poorly protected, and performed poorly off-road. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, some Lancia 1ZMs were sent to Spain to support General Francisco Franco’s army. After their use in battle, it was clear to the Italian High Command that, although still efficient as support vehicles, they could no longer carry out reconnaissance activities. In late 1937, the Royal Army decided to issue an order for the development of a new armored car for long-range reconnaissance.

In the 1930s, the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (Eng: Italian Police in Africa), the police corps in charge of the security of the Italian colonies, still used the old Lancia 1ZMs, which were not very suitable for desert use, and also handcrafted armored cargo trucks to face the anti-imperialist resistance in Libya and Ethiopia. After testing light tanks with little success, in 1937, the PAI command autonomously requested the development of an armored car prototype for long-range reconnaissance.

FIAT and Ansaldo cooperated to produce two prototypes with many compatible parts that could meet the requirements of the Italian Royal Army and the Italian African Police. After almost two years of development, the two prototypes were presented in Turin on May 15, 1939. One of them was tested in East Africa, while the other one remained in Italy. For mass production, it was decided to unify the two vehicles, which later became the AutoBlinda Mod. 1940 (Eng: Armored Car Mod. 1940), more commonly known as the AB40.

Standard AB40 in service at the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo. Source: pinterest.com

From the beginning, the AB40 was evaluated as being poorly armed. When production began, it was decided to develop a version armed with a 20 mm cannon. 24 AB40s were produced until March/April 1941 plus 5 pre-series vehicles and two prototypes. The next version was the AB41 which had the same hull and the turret of the light tank L6/40. About 600 of this new version were produced for the rest of the war, until 1945.

The AB40 was designed for reconnaissance and not combat, so it had 9 mm armor all over the structure and turret. Another interesting feature were the dual driving controls, with one driver at the back and one at the front. This allowed the vehicle, in case of involvement in a firefight, to withdraw from combat without complicated maneuvers.

The crew consisted of four soldiers: front driver, vehicle commander/gunner, rear driver on the left and rear gunner on the right.

For the AB40, the armament was composed of two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns in the turret and another Breda Mod. 1938 mounted in a ball bearing on the rear plate. This latter gun was removable and usable on an anti-aircraft support which was not always supplied to the crews. The ammunition stack was 2,040 rounds in 85 magazines of 24 rounds each, kept in the racks on the sides of the hull.

The radio equipment of the first vehicles produced was unknown. In March 1941, the RF3M radio produced by Magneti Marelli began to be installed. The vehicles with the radio apparatus of the first type are recognizable because they had the radio antenna on the right side.

The suspension was quite advanced. The vehicle had four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, with independent shock absorbers on each wheel which gave excellent off-road mobility. The engine was a FIAT SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder water-cooled inline petrol engine developing 78 hp. This engine was designed by FIAT and produced by its subsidiary SPA in Turin. The AB40 had a speed of 80 km/h on road, while the range was about 400 km.

The AB41s received the new Mod. 1941 turret, armed with a 20/65 Breda Cannon Mod. 1935 caliber 20 mm and a Breda Mod. 38 coaxial machine gun and new racks that allowed the transport of 456 20 mm bullets. The last modification was the introduction, due to the weight increase from 6.8 to 7.4 tons, of a more powerful version of the SPA ABM 1 called ABM 2, which was able to deliver 88 hp of power.

Due to production problems of the new engine, many armored cars were equipped with ABM 1 engines and Mod. 1941 turrets, giving birth to AB40/41 hybrids. These armored cars, impossible to distinguish externally from the normal AB41, had a slightly lower top speed and range than the AB41 due to the lower engine power.

Standard AB41 armored car. Source: wikipedia.com

FIAT chose to keep the AB’s dual driving arrangement for the railway version, which allowed for a change of direction without turning the vehicle. Another vehicle of the type was the Autocarretta Ferroviaria Blindata Mod. 42 (Armored Railway Truck), based on the chassis of the Autocarretta OM 36 DM, a small truck suitable for the transport of about 900 kg of material, of which 20 were produced in late 1942. This particular vehicle did not have a double drive and, in order to drive at normal speeds backward, it needed to be lifted by a hydraulic jack and turned manually by the crew members. This was dangerous during possible ambushes by partisans.

The Littorina FS ALn 556 produced by FIAT. Source: worldpress.com

In the ‘Ferroviaria’ version, the armored car was only modified externally. First of all, the steel wheels of the FS ALn 556, an Italian locomotive produced by FIAT Ferroviaria that entered service in 1938, were adapted to the armored car. On each fender, a box full of sand connected to the armored car’s braking system by a ‘Bowden’ cable (the same used on bicycle brakes) was mounted. When the braking system was in operation, some sand was released through a tube coming out from under the box’s floor and flowed on the rails increasing the grip of the steel wheels on the rails.

AB40 of the Regio Esercito. The sandboxes, as well as the “Bowden” cables which come out of the headlights fairings and connect to the two boxes passing in front of the two tow hooks, are visible. Below, near the rails, the two skids meant to remove obstacles can be seen. Finally, the spare wheels supported by the cable fixed to the superstructure are also clearly visible. Source: tortellinux.it

Four slightly raised skids were mounted in front of the wheels to prevent small objects, such as stones and branches, from slipping between the wheels and derailing the vehicle.

Much importance was given to the possibility of patrolling both railways and roads. On the hubs that supported the two spare wheels on either side, three fixing pins were added to mount a second spare wheel on each side. A steel cable was mounted on the superstructure to prevent the wheels from freeing themselves from the supports due to strong jolts. The steel cable was hooked to the superstructure when not needed. In order to prevent the cable from cutting the tires due to the tension, a wooden wedge was put on the wheels.

Two drawings showing an AB40 with steel wheels on a rail and the same AB40 with road tires. Bowden cables and skates are not fitted. The drawing is probably of a prototype version of the AB Ferroviaria from the FIAT factory. The spare wheels, in addition to the fixing pins, were supported by a steel cable that was hooked to the superstructure when not needed. Source: web photos

Operational use

The modified AB40 and 41 armored cars were used to form platoons consisting of 5 vehicles. These were used by the 2° Raggruppamento Genio Ferrovieri Mobilitato (Eng: 2nd Group of Mobilized Railway Engineers) stationed at Sušak, east from the Croatian city of Rijeka. By mid-1942, the AB40s were operating in the area of Western Slovenia, Gorskog Kotara, Like, Krajine Primorske, and Dalmatia. These were used to protect the vital rail supply system. They were usually acting as train escort and support vehicles or for close proximity reconnaissance.

In July 1942, during the anti-partisan Operazione ‘Aurea’ (Eng: Operation ‘Golden’) near Biokov, the Italians also operated at least six AB armored cars (possibly the rail version).

The first AB41 “Ferroviaria” converted with an unusual camouflage pattern. Source: Pignato

In 1943, the Italians increased their presence in the area with more armored trains and by increasing the number of rail armored cars to 20 (which precise types were used is not clear). During the first half of 1943, the Litorina Blindata railway locomotive, with a diesel engine produced by Ansaldo and equipped with two M13/40 medium tank turrets armed with two 47 mm cannons, 6 machine guns, two 45 mm Brixia mortars and two flamethrowers Mod. 1940, was introduced. These were meant to support the units operating the AB rail armored cars stationed in Sušak. These were used to patrol areas in Slovenia and Croatia.

In the foreground, a Libli in front of an AB. In the background, another Libli derailed by a partisans mine near Ogulin in Croatia on February 12th, 1943. Source: pinterest.com

During 1943, the Partisans made over 120 attacks on the Sušak-Karlovci area. Of these, six attacks were aimed at the Italian armored trains. Interestingly, due to poor knowledge of the precise name of the AB 40/41 rail armored cars, in Partisans documents these were simply called small railroad armored cars. In late February 1943, one railroad armored car was reported to have struck a Partisan mine near Ogulin.

During the night of 22nd August 1943, due to a Partisan mine, No.3 armored train and an armored car (most likely an AB) were heavily damaged. The explosion was so powerful that the shockwave knocked off the rail track, the locomotive, several wagons, and the supporting armored car. The last use of the Italian armored formation (including 4 armored cars) in Slovenia was in early September 1943 against the Partisans in the area of Krvava Peč and Mačkovec. If the Germans operated the modified AB 40/41 in its rail protection role after 1943 is not clear. The German forces stationed in Slovenia in 1944 and 1945, due to increased Partisan activity, relied more and more on armored trains for troop and supply movements. It is possible that some ABs were still operational and used by the Germans at that time. In a Partisan attack on the German trains, one ‘rail tank’, which may have been an AB, was destroyed on 8th January 1945.

AB41 ‘Ferroviaria’ captured by German troops after September 8th, 1943. Source: beutepanzer.ru

After the capitulation of Italy, their units still located in Yugoslavia found themselves in a state of chaos, as all fighting sides were racing to capture their territories and weapons. The Germans were anticipating the Italian capitulation and launched Operation ‘Achse’ (Axis) to seize the Italian Balkan held territories as fast as possible. They managed to disarm 15 Italian divisions in Albania and Greece and 10 more in Yugoslavia. The Germans captured many Italian AB armored cars, which were usually given to reconnaissance units, like the Aufklärungs-Abteilung 171 (reconnaissance battalion) and some police units.

AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ captured by German troops in Yugoslavia, used to patrol a Yugoslav town. All details of the railway version have been removed. Source: beutepanzer.ru

The Yugoslav Communist Partisans were also quick to take advantage of the situation and captured a large number of Italian prisoners and weapons. During the period of 8th to 25th September 1943, the Partisans managed to capture at least over 7 armored cars. Sadly, it is difficult to determine the precise type of these cars, as the Partisans had trouble naming them properly in the sources, but we can assume that some were of the AB series. These armored cars were used against the Germans with some success until October, by which time most were either destroyed or hidden due to lack of fuel, spare parts, and ammunition. They also captured some Litorine Blindate, which were used to assault some Italians strongpoints before being destroyed by partisans to avoid being captured by the Germans.

Standard AB41 in service with the German Army after the Italian surrender, somewhere in Yugoslavia. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Even the forces of the German puppet state of the Independent State Croatia managed to capture some weapons from the Italians, which included 10 armored cars. Partisan reports stated that the Croatian capital Zagreb was defended, from late 1943, by units equipped with ‘special’ armored cars (with some 7 to 10). These were described as being able to be driven in either direction (backward or forward) and had a turret. By this description, it is highly likely that at least some were of the AB series. In addition, at least one AB41 was operated by the Croat forces around the city of Varaždin.

An AB41 “Ferroviaria” used by the Croatian ‘Poglavnikov Tjelesni Zdrug’ (an elite unit) in Varaždin in 1944. The wheels are not the usual “Artiglio” used by Regio Esercito vehicles. Note the lack of the engine compartment hatches and the rear sandboxes. Source: pinterest.com

After the end of the Second World War, the new Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) employed some AB “Ferroviaria” in its Railway Engineering units. These were an unknown number of AB41s and at least eight standard AB43s that were built after the war. These later vehicles had been taken from the army and modified in 1946, probably by the same FIAT plant (from Turin) that, four years earlier, had produced the ABs that went to fight in Yugoslavia.

These armored cars remained in service with the Italian Army until 1954 or 1955 and, like all the vehicles of the time, they were repainted in NATO Green and received new plates. One AB43 “Ferroviaria” survives and is preserved at the Museo della Motorizzazione in Cecchignola near Rome.

At least one AB rail armored car was operated after the war by the new Yugoslav People’s Army. The precise use and fate of this vehicle is unknown, but, by 1955, nearly all available captured armored vehicles were earmarked for scrapping. It is possible that the single AB was also scrapped at that time due to insufficient firepower and lack of spare parts.

The only surviving AB in the “Railway” version. This AB43 was used after the war by the Italian Army. The iron wheels were substituted by normal road tires. The skids were removed and the sand tube was cut. Source: docplayer.net

Conclusion

The AB ‘Ferroviaria’ vehicles were produced to make up for the lack of armored trains in service in the Italian Royal Army. Fundamental for the patrols of railroads, preventing sabotage, and avoiding ambushes on the Italian supply trains, these special armored cars were used extensively even after the armistice of September 1943 by the Germans, who also reused them as normal armored cars. They also saw service post-war with the new Italian Army.

An AB40 Ferroviaria version, with the road tires changed with the ones used for railways. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5,20 x 1,92 x 2,29 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, second driver and rear machine gunner)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA ABM1 6 cyl, 78 hp with 145 l tanks
Speed 80 km/h
Range 400 km
Armament three Breda 38 by 8 x 59mm machine guns with 2040 rounds
Armor 9 mm front, sides, and rear
Total Production 8 AB40, (surely) 4 AB41 and 8 AB43

Sources

Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
Bojan B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43. Nicola Pignato e Fabio D’Inzéo
Italian Armored & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-1945. Filippo Cappellano e Pier Paolo Battistelli
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano: Dalle origini fino al 1939. Volume II – Filippo Cappellano e Nicola Pignato

The article was written by Arturo Giusti, who wrote the parts concerning the design and operational service, and by Marko Pantelić, who wrote the parts concerning the introduction of the AB 40, history of the project and operational service.