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WW2 German Tank Destroyers

7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Sfl. Lorraine Schlepper ‘Marder I’ (Sd.KFz.135)

German Tanks of WW2 Nazi Germany (1942)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – 170 – 184 converted

Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). However, in the early years of the war, beside the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm, which was in essence just a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun mounted on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull, the Germans did little to develop such vehicles. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht encountered tanks which they had trouble dealing with effectively due to their thick armor (T-34 and KV series) and were forced to introduce a number of different hastily built and developed Panzerjäger based on any chassis that was available. From this, a series of vehicles generally known today as the ‘Marder’ (Marten) was created. The first such vehicle was built by using a captured French Lorraine 37L fully-tracked armored tractor and arming it with the German 7.5 PaK 40 anti-tank gun.

A brand new 7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Sfl.LrS Marder I. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

History

During Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer Divisions were once again spearheading the German advance, as in the previous year in the West. Initially, the lightly protected Soviet early tanks such as the BT series and the T-26 proved to be easy prey for the advancing German Panzers. However, the Panzer crews were shocked to discover that their guns were mostly ineffective against the armor of the newer T-34, the KV-1 and KV-2. German infantry units also discovered that their 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank towed guns were of little use against these. The stronger 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank towed gun was only effective at shorter distances and it had not been produced in great numbers by that time. Luckily for the Germans, the new Soviets tanks were plagued by a not-yet-matured design, inexperienced crews, a lack of spare parts and ammunition, and poor operational use. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in slowing down and eventually stopping the German assault in late 1941. In North Africa, the Germans also faced increasing numbers of Matilda tanks which also proved to be hard to knock out.

The experience gained during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union raised a red alert in the highest German military circles. One possible solution to this problem was the introduction of the new Rheinmetall 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. It was first issued in very limited numbers at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942. It became the standard German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 guns being built. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it was its heavyweight, making it somewhat difficult to deploy and hard to manhandle.

The solution to this problem was to mount the PaK 40 on available tank chassis. These new Panzerjäger vehicles followed the same pattern: most were open-topped, with limited gun traverse, and thin armor. They were, though, armed with an effective anti-tank gun, and usually with one machine gun. They were also cheap and easy to build. Panzerjägers were, in essence, improvised and temporary solutions, but effective ones nevertheless. Just as the name suggests (Panzerjäger means “tank hunter” in English), they were designed to engage enemy tanks at long ranges on open fields. Their primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, usually on the flanks. This mentality led to a series of such vehicles named Marder that was developed using many different armored vehicles as a basis.

The first series of Marder vehicles was based on captured French armored vehicles. While small series were built using tank chassis, the majority were built using captured Lorraine 37L fully-tracked armored tractors. The Lorraine 37L would be also converted into a self-propelled artillery gun. The man responsible for the creation of the first Marders was Major Alfred Becker. His design was presented to Adolf Hitler in May 1942, who immediately ordered that 100 armed with 10.5 cm and 15 cm artillery guns and 60 PaK 40 armed vehicles should be built. Due to the high demand for self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, the majority of the available captured Lorraine 37Ls would be converted into Marder I (as this vehicle would be known) vehicles.

Major Alfred Becker. Source: Wikimedia commons

The Lorraine 37L

After the First World War, the French Army had shown interest in developing a tracked armored supply vehicle. The first vehicle that was adopted for this role was the small Renault UE. During 1935, the Lorraine company began working on a faster alternative for this vehicle meant for the cavalry units. By 1937, the first prototype of the Lorraine 37L was completed. Its performance was deemed sufficient by the French Army and ordered into mass production. It was mainly used for the transport of ammunition, fuel and other supplies. There was also an infantry transport variant called Voiture blindée de chasseurs portés 38L, which can be identified by an added box-shaped armored superstructure mounted to the rear.

From 11th January 1939 to 16th May 1940, over four hundred Lorraine 37L armored supply vehicles were built. By the time of France’s capitulation, the Germans had managed to capture some 300 Lorraine 37L vehicles. In German service, these vehicles were known as the Lorraine Schlepper(f).

The Lorraine 37L in French service before the war. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

Name

During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. On 1st August 1942, it was known as the 7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Sfl.LrS. Sfl, which stands for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’, which can be translated as ‘self-propelled’, while LrS stands for Lorraine-Schlepper. In May 1943, the name was changed to 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 auf Sfl.Lorraine-Schlepper. In August 1943, it was again changed to Pz.Jaeg. LrS fuer 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 (Sd.Kfz.135). It received the Marder I name, by which it is best known today, due to Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943.

Production

Following the decision to adopt the Marder I into service on 9th June 1942, the German Waffenamt (Ordnance Department) laid out the plans for a number of vehicles to be built by the Becker Baukommando workshop located in Paris and the H.K.P Bielitz workshop. The main supplier of the Marder I components was Alkett. This firm was responsible for modifying the PaK 40’s lower carriage and gun shield, but also for the assembly of the upper superstructure for the Marder I vehicle.

The monthly production target in Paris was 20 vehicles in June 1942 and 78 in July, with an additional 30 in June and 50 in July from Bielitz. In total, 178 were planned to be converted. The actual production numbers were a bit lower, with 170 rebuilt vehicles completed. 104 were converted in July and the remaining 66 in August 1942.

Unfortunately, the exact number of rebuilt vehicles depends on the source. While the number of 170 is quite commonly found in the literature, there are still some disagreements between the sources. The previously mentioned production numbers were according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjäger). Author Walter J. Spielberger, in his book Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Deutschen Wehrmacht, mentions that 184 were planned but 170 were actually built. D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions 179 vehicles being built. Author A. Lüdeke (Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg) lists a number of 184 vehicles being built.

The Design

Suspension

The Marder I suspension consisted of six road wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on three bogies. Above each bogie, a leaf-spring unit was placed. There were also four return rollers, front-drive sprockets and an idler placed on each side at the rear. The transmission was placed in the front hull of the vehicle.

The Marder I’s suspension can be seen here. Source: ww2db.com

The Lorraine 37L suspension was a very robust and simple design. This was rather uncommon among pre-war French tank designs, which generally had overly complicated suspension systems. In its original role as an armored tractor, the Lorraine 37L had little problems following French tanks on good or muddy terrain. The German version had an increased weight of up to 8.5 tonnes (7.5 or 8 tonnes depending on the source), compared to the original 6 tonnes. While the Lorraine 37L suspension system was considered adequate in its original role, the added extra weight proved to be problematic, especially on the Eastern Front mostly due to low temperatures and muddy roads. In addition, vibrations caused by firing the main gun put enormous stress on the suspension, which increased the chance of malfunctions or damage.

The Engine

The Marder I engine type and its position were not changed from the original Lorraine 37L. The Delahaye Type 135 6-cylinder water-cooled 70 hp@2800 rpm engine was located in the center of the vehicle’s hull. While the maximum speed with this engine was a solid 35 km/h, the cross country speed was only 8 km/h. The operational range was also quite limited, with 120 km on good roads and 75 km cross country. The low speed on bad roads and the small operational radius is possibly the main reason why the Marder I was mostly allocated to Infantry Divisions. The exhaust pipe was located on the left side of the hull and was protected by a thin curved armored plate. The Marder I’s fuel capacity was 111 liters.

Superstructure

The Marder I was built using mostly unmodified Lorraine 37L chassis, by simply replacing the original rear positioned transport compartment with a new armored superstructure. The new armored superstructure had a relatively simple design, which consisted of rectangular armored plates welded together. These armored plates were angled in order to provide additional protection, as the armor thickness was quite low. The front of this armored superstructure was protected by the main gun’s enlarged gun shield. The Marder I was an open-top vehicle and, for this reason, a canvas cover was provided to protect the crew from bad weather. Of course, this offered no real protection during combat. The added superstructure served as the crew fighting compartment for operating the main gun. Due to the Marder I’s tiny size, the crew compartment offered a small working space.

The Marder I superstructure had a very simple design but offered the crews only limited protection. The large gun shield is also evident here. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com
As the Marder I was open-topped, a canvas cover was often installed over the fighting compartment and used to protect the crew from bad weather. However, it offered no real protection during combat. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Armor Thickness

The Lorraine 37L, being designed to fulfill the role of a supply vehicle, was only lightly armored. The front armor was 12 mm thick, while the top and bottom were only 6 mm thick.

The superstructure armor thickness, depending on the source, is usually noted to be around 10 to 11 mm all-around thick. Luckily, the Tank Encyclopedia team was given access to the Marder I auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) at the French Tank Museum in Saumur, France. A digital micrometer was used to measure the armor thickness of the upper superstructure. When books state that the armor thickness was 11 mm, this is the design thickness. In reality, the rolled armor plate used by the Germans was not of a precise thickness. It varied over the length of the plate within a certain tolerance range. It should be remembered that these measurements included the thickness of the primer base coat and final coat of paint.

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The Armament

The main gun chosen for the Marder I was the standard 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 L/46. This gun, with its slightly modified mount, was placed above the engine compartment. Its original two-part armored shield was replaced with a single enlarged shield covering the front of the superstructure. The elevation of the main gun was -8° to +10° (or -5° to +22° depending on the source) and the traverse: -20° to +20° (-16° to +16° depending on the source). The total ammunition load also differs depending on the source. According to authors H. Doyle (German Military Vehicles) and G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (Marder III), the Marder I could carry 40 rounds. Authors T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager) mentions a number of 48 rounds.

In order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives, a travel lock was added. Secondary armament consisted of one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun and possibly the crew’s personal weapons.

Interestingly, there is a photograph of a Marder I armed with the 5 cm PaK 38. More information on the circumstances under which this modification occurred is unfortunately lacking. It could have been either a field modification, which is very likely or a simple training vehicle. It could be also a post-war modification, possibly done by the French. What is interesting is the front gun shield had an added armor plate around the gun.

The Marder I had been armed with the effective 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. With this gun, it could destroy most Allied or Soviet tanks at long ranges up to the war’s end. Source: Bundesarchiv
The 5 cm PaK armed Marder I. The history of this vehicle is unknown. Source: Unknown

Crew members

According to the T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager), the Marder I had a crew of four which consisted of the commander, gunner, loader and the driver. Other sources, for example, G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (Marder III), give a number of five crew members. The reason why authors state different information regarding the number of crew members is not clear. To complicate matters further, there are old photographs of the Marder I with either three or four crew members in the rear fighting compartment (besides the driver, who was in his own compartment at the front).

This vehicle appears to have three crew members in the crew compartment. Source: Wikipedia Commons
This vehicle had four crew members in the fighting compartment. Two crew members had steel helmets (Stahlhelm) and one was armed with what appears to be a machine gun. Source: Pinterest

The driver was positioned inside the Marder I hull and was the only crew member that had all-around armor protection. To reach his own position inside the vehicle, a horizontally positioned two-part rectangular-shaped hatch was used. For observation, there were two simple vision slots on the front and one on each side. While these had a simple design, the Germans never replaced them, probably to save time or simply because they had nothing better at hand.

The driver‘s hatch is completely open in order to give him a much better view when driving out of combat. In addition, the armored slide that protects the gun sight can be observed. Source. Wikipedia Commons

The remaining crew members were placed in the armored superstructure compartment. The gunner would be positioned to the left of the gun. On the front of the gun shield, there was a small armored slide that could be opened for use of the gun sight. To the right of the gun was probably the position occupied by the commander and behind him was the loader. If there was a fifth crew member, he would likely have been a radio operator for the Fu 5 radio set or an assistant loader. If there were only four crew members, another crew member would have served as a radio operator.

Organization

The Marder I was used to equip smaller anti-tank companies (Panzerjäger Kompanie). These were allocated as reinforcement to the anti-tank battalions (Panzerjäger Abteilungen) mostly of Infantry and a few Panzer Divisions. The anti-tank companies were initially equipped with nine Marder I vehicles. From early 1943, the number of vehicles per company was usually increased by one more vehicle.

Use in combat

The Marder I would mostly see service in France, but also on the Eastern Front and in smaller numbers in North Africa.

In France

The majority of newly built Marder I vehicles would be used by units stationed in France. It was standard practice that the unit equipped with the Marder I would retain its vehicles until it was relocated to another front. When that happened, they would be supplied with another self-propelled anti-tank vehicle or with towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 guns. This was done mostly to ease maintenance and procurement of spare parts.

During late June 1942, the German High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) predicted that at least 20 Marder Is would be ready for operational field test trials by the end of July 1942. Two Panzer Divisions, the 14th and 16th, were initially chosen for this purpose. In July, the OKH decided that the first Marder I were instead to be given to the 15th, 17th, 106th and 167th Infantry Divisions and to the 26th Panzer Division once they were available in sufficient numbers.

The 15th Infantry Division received its 9 Marder I vehicles by late July 1942. On 21st January 1943, the 15th Infantry Division received an additional twelve Marder III vehicles based on the Panzer 38(t). Its Marder Is were then given to 158th Reserve Division.

The 17th Infantry Division received 9 Marder I by the end of July 1942. Their use by this unit was problematic from the start due to a lack of radio operators and mechanics. Additional problems were created by the inexperience of the driver with such fully tracked vehicles. The height of some of these drivers was also problematic, as they had issues entering their positions inside the Marder I hull. What was interesting was the fact that the driver would go out of the vehicle during the firing of the main gun. The capacity of the inboard batteries was too weak. For example, they would usually be discharged after only one hour of using the radio with the engine off. This would result in the batteries having no power to start the engine. Then, it had to be manually started by two crew members by using a hand crank, which in practice proved to be difficult to do. One more big flaw was noted during a long off-road marches, with the accumulating mud and earth that could lead to the loss of the rear idler wheels. At least two vehicles were reported to have lost the rear idler.

Marder I rearview. This particular vehicle belongs to the 15th Infantry Division stationed in France. Source. https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/marder/

The 106th Infantry Division operated an anti-tank company with 9 Marder I vehicles after late July 1942. One command vehicle based on the Panzer I and six ammunition transport vehicles based on the Panzer I were also available. In late February 1943, the 106th Infantry Division was repositioned to the Eastern Front and the Marder I vehicles of the anti-tank company were replaced with 9 towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns.

The 167th Infantry Division had 9 Marder I vehicles up to late January 1943. When it was sent to the Eastern Front in late February 1943, all the Marder Is were replaced with 9 towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns.

The 26th Panzer Division operated a company of Marder I vehicles for a short time from 1st January to 1st May 1943.

The same vehicle is seen from the side. Due to its weak armor protection, the Marder I’s best defense was a well selected and camouflaged combat position. Source: https://ww2db.com/image.php?image_id=14264

By the end of 1942, the 1st Panzer Division was repositioned to France for recuperation and refitting with new weapons and equipment. At this time, it was reinforced with one Marder I company. These vehicles would be replaced with Marder IIIs in late February 1943.

During 1943, many more units stationed in France would also be reinforced with Marder I vehicles before they were relocated to other fronts. The number of supplied Marder I vehicles varied between each division. For example, the 94th Infantry Division received 14, while the 348th Infantry Division received only 5. By the end of 1943, there were 94 Marder Is with 83 operational vehicles in Western Europe. In total, at the start of 1944, there were 131 Marder Is available. The last known unit that received a company of 10 vehicles was the 245th Infantry Division on 13th May 1944.

The Marder I would see extensive action during the Allied Normandy landings in June 1944. While they managed to achieve some success, nearly all were lost with the German defeat in France. The 719th Infantry Division was the last unit to still possess 7 (with 3 operational) Marder Is on 27th January 1945. Interestingly, at the end of the war, the Belgian resistance managed to capture one Marder I vehicle.

An abandoned Marder I somewhere on the Western Front 1944. Source: http://panzerserra.blogspot.com/2019/02/marder-i-auf-geschutzwagen-lorraine.html
Marder I was captured by the Belgian resistance. They painted a large white star on the side and, on the front, a Belgian flag. Source: Unknown

In the Soviet Union

As stated previously, OKH plans for the Marder I stated that it was to be used to equip units stationed in France in order to ease maintenance and procurement of spare parts. But, as the demand for such vehicles on the Eastern Front was great, the original plans had to be changed. Through direct orders from the OKH (dated from the 9th August 1942), six divisions from Heeresgruppe Mitte were to be equipped with Marder I anti-tank companies.

The 31st Infantry Division was reinforced with a Marder I anti-tank company on the 27th of August 1942. Due to harsh conditions and strong Soviet resistance, by the end of June 1943, this unit had only 4 Marder I left. By the end of October, the last three Marder I was given to Pz.Jg.Abt 743 (Panzerjäger Abteilung). At the start of 1944, none of these were still operational, with two requiring extensive repairs, while the third could not be repaired.

The 35th Infantry Division received its Marder Is by the start of September 1942. By the end of 1943, only two non-operational vehicles were available

The 36th Motorized Infantry Division was to be reinforced with a Marder I company that was initially attached to the 2nd Panzer Division. By the start of December 1942, all 9 vehicles were operational. The last Marder I vehicle was lost in July 1943.

The 72nd Infantry Division received 9 Marder I vehicles together with 6 Muni-Anhaenger (ammunition and supply wheel trailers) on 3rd September 1942. When the vehicles arrived, it was noted that there were issues with the breech block mechanism which had to be repaired. Additional problems with transmission breakdowns were also noted. What is interesting is that the Marder I company also had a Panzer 38(t) that probably acted as a command vehicle. By the end of June 1943, there were 7 Marder Is operational with the last vehicle being lost by the end of the year.

One Marder I company was to be allocated to the 206th Infantry Division, but this company was instead given to the 72nd Infantry Division. This caused a delay in the delivery of the first five Marder I vehicles up to the end of 1942, with the remaining arriving in January the following year. By the end of June, there were 8 vehicles with 5 operational. By the end of 1943, there were still 7 vehicles with only five operational.

Some Marder Is were equipped with Muni-Anhaenger trailers which provided additional spare ammunition. Source. Wikimedia Commons

The last unit on the Eastern Front that received the Marder I was the 256th Infantry Division. Initially, it had eight Marder I vehicles in its inventory, dated from 3rd November 1942. At the start of 1943, there were 9 Marder Is with eight operational. By the end of the year, the number of vehicles was reduced to 7 Marder Is, with only three operational. The 256th Infantry Division would be reinforced with three additional Marder Is vehicles in early 1944.

While the Marder I had sufficient firepower to destroy any enemy tank in 1942/43, the Soviet weather simply proved too much for the Lorraine 37L chassis. This can be seen in a combat report made by Pz.Jg.Abt 72 (belonging to the 72nd Infantry Division), which states: ‘as experience has shown, these (Marder I) don’t have any significant combat value because of their limited employability due to the weather’. In another report made by Pz.Jg.Abt 256, it is stated that: ‘with the exception of the Marder I, the other weapons and vehicles have been proven useful’. Due to bad weather, low numbers, problems with spare parts and others, not many Marder Is would be used on the Eastern Front and they would be replaced with Marder II and III vehicles which were built on more reliable chassis.

A Marder I on the Eastern Front painted in white camouflage. The harsh weather conditions proved to be too much for the French chassis and for this reason most remained in France. Source: Unknown

In North Africa

While the majority of the Marder Is would be used on the Western and Eastern fronts, few would also be found in North Africa. The 334th Infantry Division was to be resupplied with a Marder I company and, for this reason, the crewmen necessary to operate these vehicles were to be sent to the Sprember training center at the start of December 1942. After the completion of the crew training, which lasted two weeks, this company with 9 Marder I and 6 ammunition transport vehicles were to be transported from Naples to Tunisia by using the large Me 323 transport planes. By 1st March 1943, there were 8 vehicles operational with 4 under repair. Due to losses, this company was reinforced with Marder III vehicles based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis in early April 1943. Two Marder Is together with a group of Marder III participated in the defense of the Kairouan Line against Allied tanks. In the following engagement, seven enemy tanks were destroyed with the loss of one Marder I and five Marder III.

Surviving vehicles

While nearly two hundred vehicles were built, only one Marder I still exists and can be seen at the Musée des Blindés, Saumur (France).

Front view of the surviving Marder I vehicle. Source. Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

The Marder I tank hunter was an attempt to solve the problem of the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns, but it failed in many other aspects. The most obvious was the fact that it was built on a captured chassis which led to logistical problems, as spare parts for it would be difficult to find. The low armor thickness meant that, while it could engage enemy tanks at range, any kind of return fire would likely mean the destruction of this vehicle. The Marder I’s armor provided the crew with only a basic level of protection against rifle rounds or shrapnel. Its speed and operational range were also not too impressive. The suspension and the running gear were not adequate for the weather condition present on the Eastern Front.

In conclusion, the Marder I vehicle was far from perfect, but gave the German a means to increase the mobility of the effective PaK 40 anti-tank gun, thus giving them a chance to fight back against enemy armored formations.

Eastern Front, winter 1942
Marder I on the Eastern Front, winter 1942-43.
Marder I, Normandy 1944
7.5cm Pak 40/1 auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) Sd.Kfz.135 – Normandy, 1944.
Marder I in France
Marder I in France, September 1944. Notice the camouflage nets.
Inspiration for the illustrations: RPM, Ironsides model kits

Sources

Walter J. Spielberger (1989), Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Deutschen Wehrmacht. Motorbuch.
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books
G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (2002), Marder III, Kagero
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.
L. Ness (2002), World War II Tanks And Fighting Vehicles The Complete Guide, HarperCollins Publishers
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1971) German Army S.P. Weapons 1939-45, M.A.P. Publication.
P. Thomas (2017) Image Of War Hitler’s Tank Destroyers, Pen and Sword.
W.J.K. Davies (1979), Panzerjager German Anti-Tank Battalions of World War Two. Almark Publishing Co.Ltd.

Panzerjager LrS 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 (Sd.KFz.135) specifications

Dimensions 4.95 x 2.1 x 2.05 m
Total weight, battle ready 8.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (Commander, Gunner, Loader and Driver)
Propulsion Delahaye Type 135 70 hp @ 2800 rpm
Speed 35 km/h, 8 km/h (cross country)
Operational range 120 km, 75 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 L/46
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -20° to +20°
Traverse 25° to the right and 32° to the left
Armor Superstructure: 10-11 mm
Hull: 6-12 mm
Categories
Yugoslavian armor

ZSU-57-2 in Yugoslavian Service

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1963-2006)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle- 120-125

In a search to equip its army with modern anti-aircraft vehicles, the JNA (Jugoslovenska narodna armija, Yugoslav People’s Army) High Command decided to negotiate the purchase of over 100 copies of the Soviet ZSU-57-2. These vehicles arrived in the 1960s and would be used to equip armored and tank brigades. The ZSU-57-2 would see action during the chaotic Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. A few vehicles would remain in service up to 2005 in the Serbian Army (Vojska Srbije) and 2006 in the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Oružane snage Bosne i Hercegovine) before finally being retired from service.

History

After the Second World War, the long process of building and rearming the new Yugoslav People’s Army was underway. Despite attempts to develop domestic tanks, this was not possible, so the JNA was forced to acquire new equipment from abroad. Initially, the Soviet Union was the main supplier. However, during the so-called Tito-Stalin split that started in 1948, the JNA turned to Western countries and managed to sign the MDAP (Mutual Defence Aid Program) with the United States. Thanks to MDAP, the JNA received, during 1951-1958, plenty of new military equipment, including a small number of M15 anti-aircraft half-tracks. The JNA also made a few of its own anti-aircraft vehicles by mounting captured German anti-aircraft guns, mostly 20 mm ones, on any available trucks. While the M15 was a properly designed military vehicle, it was still outdated by the fifties. The truck versions were simple modifications and, in reality, of little combat value as they had no armor protection nor sophisticated tracking sights. The truck version appears to have been used only in military parades.

For nearly a decade, these vehicles were the only mobile anti-aircraft vehicles available in the JNA. For this reason, JNA officials were desperate to find more modern anti-aircraft vehicles. As the political tensions with the Soviet Union began to relax after Stalin’s death in 1953, the possibility of purchasing new Soviet military equipment emerged again. For this reason, during the early sixties, the JNA managed to buy over 100 Soviet ZSU-57-2 anti-aircraft vehicles. Ironically, in their desperation to find more modern anti-aircraft vehicles, the JNA actually bought a vehicle that was already becoming obsolete even during its introduction to the Soviet army.

A column of JNA trucks armed with pairs of 20 mm cannons. Source: Unknown
This version was equipped with a German 2 cm drilling MG 151. Source: Unknown
For some years, the M15 was the most ‘modern’ mobile AA vehicle in the JNA arsenal, until it was replaced with the Soviet ZSU-57-2. Source: https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/

Soviet ZSU-57-2

The ZSU-57-2 was designed by the artillery designer Vasiliy Grabin shortly after World War II. The first prototype was completed in the summer of 1950 and the production began in 1955. ZSU stands for Zenitnaya Samokhodnaya Ustanovka (anti-aircraft self-propelled mount) and 57-2 stands for the fact that it was armed with two 57 mm cannons. This vehicle was built using a modified chassis of the new T-54 tank. The modification of the chassis included reducing the road wheels per side to four and using lighter armor.

On top of the T-54 chassis, a new open-top turret was added. This turret was powered by an electric motor with hydraulic speed gears. The turret traverse speed was 36° per second. Inside this turret, two 57 mm S-68 cannons were mounted. Each cannon had a rate of fire of 240 rounds per minute. For these guns, both fragmentation and armor-piercing ammunition were available. The ammunition load was 300 rounds, with 176 rounds being stored inside the turret and the remaining in the hull. The effective range, when used against flying targets, was 6 km. To efficiently operate the vehicle, six crew members were needed: commander, gunner, loader, driver, and two sight adjusters.

The ZSU-57-2 was powered by a V-54 12-cylinder diesel engine providing 520 hp. Despite the weight of 28 tonnes, thanks to the strong engine, the maximum speed was 50 km/h. With a fuel load of 850 liters, the operational range was 420 km.

The ZSU-57-2 had serious firepower that could easily destroy any aerial target but had many issues. The greatest weaknesses were the lack of modern range-finding and radar equipment, the impossibility of engaging targets at night, the lack of protection for its crew (being open-topped), and low ammunition count. While many would be sold to other Warsaw Pact countries, like East Germany, Romania, and Poland, its service within the Soviet Army was limited. By the end of the fifties, it was mostly replaced with the ZSU-23-4.

The Soviet ZSU-57-2 Source: Wikimedia Commons

In JNA Service

In October 1962, a JNA military delegation was sent to the Soviet Union to negotiate the purchase of new military supplies and equipment. During this visit, the Soviets presented the ZSU-57-2 to the Yugoslav delegation. The delegation was highly interested in it and, during the following month, an agreement was reached for the purchase of 40 vehicles and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. The price for each vehicle, with two spare barrels, was US$80,000. By the end of 1963, the shipment of the first group was completed. The following year, 16 more vehicles were purchased, followed by 69 in 1965, for a total of 125 vehicles (or 120 depending on the source).

The Soviets were somewhat confused when the JNA delegation asked for more ZSU-57-2 vehicles during 1965. While the Soviets were willing to sell their older and obsolete equipment, there were no more ZSU-57-2s available. By that time, the majority of the ZSU-57-2s were either sold or given to the Warsaw Pact Allies, with a small number preserved for military parades.

This was the first vehicle supplied, which was used for evaluation testing. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html

Due to the small number acquired by the JNA, the ZSU-57-2 was used to equip Armored Brigades, Armored Regiments, and Tank Brigades with smaller numbers used as training vehicles. The Armored Brigades and Regiments were each equipped with six ZSU-57-2 and one M3A1 scout armored car that served as a command vehicle. Tank Brigades were equipped with two batteries of four vehicles each.

During the seventies, the JNA anti-aircraft units were equipped with more modern Strela-1M surface-to-air missile system vehicles. For this reason, new mixed anti-aircraft units were formed, which consisted of two 12 vehicle batteries of ZSU-57-2s and one 6-vehicle Strela-1M battery.

During its nearly 30-year long career in the JNA, no attempts were ever made to increase the effectiveness of this vehicle. While more modern equipment was eventually acquired (like 30 mm Praga vehicles), the ZSU-57-2 would be never truly replaced. While there were plans that by the year 2000, all available anti-aircraft vehicles would be replaced by 40 mm caliber weapon systems, due to a lack of funds and the breakup of Yugoslavia, this was never achieved. Prior to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the ZSU-57-2 was never used in any combat operations and was mostly used in military exercises and some parades.

ZSU-57-2 during firing exercises. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html
A trio of ZSU-57-2 during the military exercise in 1972. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html
A ZSU-57-2 at the Šepurine Military base. This picture was taken in 1972. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html
A ZSU-57-2 crossing a river. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html
Two ZSU-57-2 on a military parade in Belgrade Source: http://www.balkanwarhistory.com/2017/04/the-zsu-57-2-in-service-of-yugoslav.html

During the Yugoslav Wars

At the start of the Yugoslav war, in 1991, there were still 110 operational ZSU-57-2 vehicles. Due to their small numbers, they were quite uncommon on the battlefields. In most cases, individual vehicles were used in combat, while, in rarer cases, small units were formed as supporting elements for other units. As the usage of aviation in the Yugoslav war was limited on all sides, the ZSU-57-2 was often used in a fire support role. Thanks to its firepower and high elevation, it could be used effectively against enemy forces that were hiding in larger buildings during urban combat. The best example of this can be seen during the Croatian attempt to storm the JNA anti-aircraft school center in Zadar. The Croatian forces were taking firing positions in the surrounding buildings. Thanks to the ZSU-57-2’s high elevation, these could be quickly neutralized by short bursts. Another example was the use of the single ZSU-57-2, nicknamed by its crew ‘Strava’ (Eng: ‘horror’ or ‘dread’), belonging to the 2nd Ozren Brigade operating in the Krivaja valley. There, the ZSU-57-2 proved to be an excellent support vehicle in engaging the enemy forces in the hilly terrain. In July 1995, forces of Republica Srpska, with support of a few ZSU-57-2s, engaged the Bosnian 28th Division. One ZSU-57-2 was destroyed and one was captured and immediately put to use by the Bosnian forces against the former user.

While the majority of the ZSU-57-2 SPAAGs would be operated by the JNA and Republika Srpska armies, smaller numbers would be captured by Croatian and Slovenian forces as well. In an attempt to increase protection, at least one vehicle used by the army of the Republika Srpska was equipped with a top cover. In addition, this vehicle had several spare ammunition boxes added to the front glacis armor.

During the war, the Serbs force used a number of ZSU-57-2. On at least one vehicle, they added makeshift armor on the vehicle top. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After the war

After the war, the ZSU-57-2 was operated for a limited time by the former Yugoslav Republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia/Republika Srpska. After the withdrawal of the JNA forces from Slovenia, some 22 ZSU-57-2 SPAAGs were left behind. These remained in use by the Slovenian Army up to the end of the 1990s, when all were removed from service. The Croatians managed to capture a few ZSU-57-2s during the war, but their use after the war was probably limited. The Republika Srpska operated a small number of such vehicles. In 2006, the Army of Bosnia and Republika Srpska were united into a single Army force. At that time, there were 6 ZSU-57-2s which were withdrawn from service.

The ZSU-57-2 remained in use for the longest time within the new SRJ (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Savezna Republika Jugoslavija) Army. The depleted number of ZSU-57-2s would again see combat action during the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia in 1999. By that time only two units, the 36th and 252nd Armored Brigades, still operated the ZSU-57-2. The 36th Armored Brigade was tasked with defending a 70 km long defense line from any possible NATO advance through Hungary or Croatia. Its ZSU-57-2 was used in the anti-aircraft defense of Northern Serbia against the NATO bombing raids. Due to extensive NATO aviation operations in this area, the 36th Armored Brigade used a large number of dummy wooden mockups, false firing positions, tank engine temperature imitation techniques, or other improvisations in order to fool NATO forces. While the ZSU-57-2, due to their general obsolescence, did not have any success against NATO aviation, the 36th Armored Brigade did manage to preserve almost all of its equipment.

The second unit to use this vehicle was the 252nd Armored Brigade initially stationed at the city of Kraljevo. When NATO started a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia the 252nd Armored Brigade was surprisingly moved by train to Kosovo and Metohija. There the unit reported having problems with the equipment and vehicles that were previously placed in storage. By the end of the 1999 war, only one ZSU-57-2 was lost.

Some 32 vehicles were reported to be still operational by 2005. By that time, they were deemed obsolete and all were eventually scrapped.

ZSU-57-2 belonging to the 36th Armored Brigade during the 1999 Yugoslav war. Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html

Surviving vehicles

While over 100 were purchased from the Soviet Union, only a few have survived to this day. One can be found in the Bosnian Military Barracks in Banja Luka. At least two are in Slovenia, with one at the Pivka Military History Park. A ZSU-57-2 is in the Military Museum in Vukovar, Croatia. Remains of damaged ZSU-57-2s were located in Kosovo and Metohija.

The ZSU-57-2 from Banja Luka Source: http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html
The Croatian ZSU-57-2. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

Ironically, in the search for a modern anti-aircraft vehicle, the JNA actually obtained the obsolete ZSU-57-2. Until being supplemented by Praga anti-aircraft vehicles, the ZSU-57-2 represented the backbone of the JNA mobile anti-aircraft defense. Unfortunately, though intended to protect Yugoslavia from any external air force threats, it saw action against the people it was intended to defend. During the breakup of Yugoslavia, despite the small numbers available, the ZSU-57-2s would nevertheless see combat action in a new role of fire support vehicles. While of little combat value in contrast to other more modern and radar-equipped SPAAGs, it nevertheless had an exceptionally long career of over 40 years.

Croatian ZSU-57-2
Croatian ZSU-57-2, now preserved
ZSU-57-2
Serbian ZSU-57-2 in the 1990s. These were modified with extra storage acting as armour and fitted with a hard top made of armour plates.
ZSU-57-2
Slovenian ZSU-57-2

Source

M. Guardia (2015) Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns Of The Soviet Union, Osprey Publishing.
P. Trewhitt (1999) Armoured Fighting vehicles, Amber Books.
B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
B. B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
B. B. Dumitrijević (2015) Vek Srpske Protibbazdušne Odbrane, Odbrana.
Surviving ZSU-57-2 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns
Arsenal 81-90 Magazine 2014.
http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/zsu57/opis.html

ZSU-57-2 specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 8.5 x 3.23 x 2.75 m
Total weight, battle ready 28 tonnes
Crew 6 (commander, gunner, loader, driver and two sight adjusters)
Propulsion 520 HP V-54 twelve-cylinder diesel engine
Speed 50 km/h, 30 km/h (cross country)
Range 420 km, 320 km (cross country)
Armament 2 x 57 mm S68 autocannons
Elevation -5° to +80°
Traverse 360°
Armor Up to 15 mm
Total production 2020+
Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausführung D

Nazi Germany (1939)
Medium Support Tank – 229-232 plus 16 chassis

During the early development of the Panzer IV, nobody involved in the program knew that this vehicle, designed to serve as a support Panzer, would become the Wehrmacht’s backbone for a good deal of the war. While today the Tiger and Panther are better known, the Panzer IV was produced in the greatest numbers and served on all fronts in many bloody engagements throughout the war. In October 1939, the demands for an increasing number of support tanks would lead to the introduction of the Panzer IV Ausf. D version, of which over 200 would be built.

The Panzer Ausf. D. Source: https://warspot.net/24-pz-kpfw-iv-ausf-d-through-e

History

Following the adoption of the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C and high demand for support tanks, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) issued production orders for a new batch of 200 vehicles in July 1938. With the forming of new SS Standarten units at the insistence of Adolf Hitler himself, 48 additional vehicles were to be built. These were to be used to equip four SS Standarten with a mittlere Panzer Kompanie (medium tank company). As it turned out, these vehicles were instead given to Heer Panzer Divisions (units of the regular German Army). The SS Standarten units were instead to be equipped with StuG Batteries. While the Ausf. D was a further extension of the Panzer IV production and was quite similar to the previous versions, some changes were made nevertheless.

Production

Production of the Panzer IV Ausf. D was, like for previous models, carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. From October 1939 through October 1940, of the 248 ordered Panzer IV Ausf. D tanks, only 232 were built. The whole production process was very slow, with an average of 13 tanks being built every month. During 1940, the production numbers gradually increased to 20 tanks per month. The remaining 16 chassis were instead used as Brückenleger IV bridge carriers. According to K. Hjermstad (Panzer IV Squadron), some 229 vehicles were built until May 1941.

Specifications

While the Panzer IV Ausf. D was visually very similar to the previous build versions there were some differences.

The Superstructure

The Panzer IV Ausf. D superstructure had the same dimensions as the previous models (Ausf. B and C) which, besides some changes, would remain in use up to the war’s end. The difference was the reintroduction of the protruding driver plate and the ball mounted machine gun. The previously used pistol port proved difficult to properly use and was abandoned. While the protruding left side of the superstructure offered the driver with a better view to the front and sides, it also made the front plate more complicated to build. On the front of this plate, a protective Fahrersehklappe 30 sliding driver visor port was placed, which was provided with thick armored glass for extra protection. When the driver visor was closed (usually when in combat operations), the driver would then use the KFF binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. Many Panzer IV Ausf. D vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver visor. The side vision ports (on the superstructure and the turret) were 30 mm thick and additionally protected by 90 mm thick armored glass blocks.

Front view of the Panzer IV Ausf. D. A number of modifications introduced with this version can be seen, such as the added machine gun ball mount and the front armor plate. Source: Unknown

The Turret

The Panzer IV Ausf. D turret design was mostly unchanged. The only visible change was the introduction of new types of observation ports. The turret was, like the previous versions, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear from early 1941 on. Some vehicles had an unusual but simpler stowage box mounted to the rear of the turret, but otherwise performed the same role.

A Panzer IV Ausf. D seen from the top. Note the rectangular ventilation flap and the round signal port. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/
This vehicle was equipped with a non-standard stowage box. Source: http://panzermaenner.blogspot.com/2016/02/

Suspension and running gear

To somewhat improve the Panzer IV Ausf. D’s overall drive performance, five bump stops were added on each side. The last bogie assembly was provided with two bump stops, while the remaining three had only one (on each side). Smaller number of Ausf. D were also equipped with a slightly redesigned (same as on Ausf. E) drive sprocket and road wheel cover.

The Panzer IV Ausf. D used a new type of track which had the height of the track center guides increased. For this reason, the new tracks could not be used on earlier versions, but the Ausf. D could use, if necessary, older types of tracks without problems.

The Engine and Transmission

The Ausf. D was powered by the Maybach HL 120 TRM engine with 265 hp@2600 rpm. Despite the increase of weight to 20 tonnes, the maximum speed was 42 km/h, with 25 km/h cross-country. The operational range was 210 km on road and 130 km cross-country. The fuel load of 470 l was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the fighting compartment. The engine side air intakes were redesigned and simplified and consisted of a single horizontal bar.

The Panzer IV Ausf. D rear engine side air intakes were redesigned and simplified for production. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/

The Armor Protection

For the lower hull, the upper glacis armor plate thickness was 20 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower front glacis was 30 mm placed at a 14° angle. The last 68 produced vehicles had the lower plate thickness increased to 50 mm.

The central part of the side armor of the hull was 40 mm thick, built from two 20 mm plates, while the front part of the side armor (around the driver) was 20 mm thick. The rear engine compartment side armor was 20 mm. The rear armor was 20 mm thick but the lower bottom area was only 14.5 mm and the bottom was 10 mm thick.

The face-hardened front superstructure armor was 30 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 20 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 20 mm thick armor (at a 10° angle) at the sides and 20 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear.

The armor on the Panzer IV Ausf. D was increased after the campaign in the West. While the low velocity 3.7 cm tank guns proved useless against German armor, more modern 25-47 mm caliber anti-tank guns had no problem penetrating the Ausf. D’s 30 mm frontal armor. For this reason, from July 1940 onwards, an additional 30 mm applique armor plates were bolted or welded to the front hull and superstructure armor. The side armor was also increased with 20 mm additional armored plates.

The front turret armor was 30 mm thick (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 20 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). The new external gun mantlet armor was 35 mm thick. The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor, with the two hatch doors being 8 mm thick. The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous and rolled plates.

One of the last attempts to improve the Ausf. D’s armor protection was the introduction of a 20 mm thick applique Vorpanzer (forward armor) armored shield added to the front part of the turret. Interestingly, according to old photographs, while some vehicles had both turret and superstructure added armor protection, others had extra armor added to only one. In an attempt to increase overall protection from anti-tank rifles, some Ausf. D vehicles were later equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen). The Panzer IV Ausf. D, as nearly all German Panzers of that time, was equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system).

In an attempt to increase the Panzer IV Ausf. D’s armor protection, additional armor plates (20 to 30 mm thick) were added to the front and sides. Source: Pinterest
This vehicle had the added armor on the superstructure. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/
This vehicle has the turret extra armor but lacks the superstructure armor. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/

The Crew

The Panzer IV Ausf. D had, like its predecessors, a 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.

The crew positions in the Panzer IV Ausf. D (and in all Panzer IVs). Source: S.J. Zaloga Panzer IV vs. Char B1 Bis

The Armament

The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. D was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. The Panzer IV Ausf. B/C used an internal gun mantlet, which proved to be ineffective. The Ausf. D version had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that were outside of the turret were covered with a steel jacket and a deflector guard. Similar to earlier versions, the Ausf. D was also equipped with a ‘Y’ shaped metal rod antenna guide placed under the gun. Its purpose was to deflect the antenna and thus avoid damaging it during turret rotation.

The Panzer IV Ausf. D was the first version that was equipped with the external gun mantlet. Source: https://world-war-2.wikia.org/wiki/7.5_cm_KwK_37

Besides the main gun, the Panzer IV was provided with two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns for use against infantry. One machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. Another machine gun was positioned in the right side of the superstructure, and was operated by the radio operator. On the Ausf. D, a new type of the ball mount, Kugelblende 30, was used. The ammunition load for the two MG 34’s was 2.700 rounds.

The Ausf. D once more introduced the second machine gun, which would become standard on all subsequent Panzer IV vehicles. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/

Vehicles that were damaged and returned from the front line for repair from July 1942 onward were equipped with the longer KwK 40 guns. These vehicles were mostly used for crew training but also as replacement vehicles for active units.

This surviving Ausf. D was armed with the longer 7.5 cm gun. In addition, it is also equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) on the turret. These modified vehicles were mostly used for crew training, but some probably were used in combat. Source: https://warspot.net/24-pz-kpfw-iv-ausf-d-through-e

Organization and Tactics

Prior to the German invasion of Poland, the general organization of a Panzer Division consisted of two regiments each having two Panzer Battalions. These battalions were then divided into four companies. Although these units were meant to be equipped with modern Panzer III and IV tanks, due to the slow rate of production, this was not possible. For this reason, the earlier Panzer Divisions had to be equipped with weaker Panzer I and II tanks, and even captured and foreign vehicles such as the Panzer 35(t) and 38(t). In the case of the Panzer IV, the situation was so critical that each Panzer Division could only be equipped with 24 (on average) such vehicles. The few produced Panzer IVs were allocated to the so-called Heavy Companies, which were divided into two platoons, each with 3 vehicles.

The primary function of the Panzer IV was to provide covering and suppressing fire for the advancing Panzer units. While they were used in Heavy Companies in combat situations, the battalion commanders would often reallocate the Panzer IV to other companies. These mixed units offered better cooperation between different types of Panzers, as the identification of targets could be achieved easier. Then, the Panzer IV crews could direct their firepower to destroy the marked target much quicker.

The usual German Panzer tactic was the use of the ‘Keil’ (wedge) formation. The tip of this attack would be formed by the Panzer III and Panzer 35 (t) and 38 (t), while the Panzer I and II would advance on the flanks. The Panzer IVs were to follow up and would continue destroying any marked targets. The targets would usually be marked with tracer rounds or smoke marker shells. The Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm cannon was effective against all soft skin targets but was also effective against most tanks except for the better-armored ones, such as the French B1 bis or British Matilda and, later in 1941, against the Soviet T-34 and KV series.

Prior to Operation Barbarossa, Adolf Hitler ordered that the number of Panzer Division be doubled. While in theory this could be fairly easily achieved, in practice, due to a lack of tanks, the only solution possible was to reduce the number of tanks per Panzer Divisions. Each Panzer Division had only one regiment with two to three battalions. During the attack on the Soviet Union, each Panzer Division had on average 30 Panzer IV tanks.

In Combat

While the previous versions were used in Poland, due to its late introduction, the Ausf. D’s first combat action undertaken was in May 1940 during the German Invasion of the West. Depending on the source, between 278 and 296 (even up to 366) Panzer IV tanks were available. These were allocated to 10 Panzer Divisions. The 1st Panzer Division was provided with the largest number of Panzer IVs, with a total of 48, while the 9th Panzer Division had only 11. While primarily designed as a support tank, it was still equipped with armor-piercing ammunition in case of encountering enemy tanks.

Despite the quick defeat of the Allied forces in the West, the fighting was extensive and harsh. In order to protect the flanks of the German Sedan bridgeheads, Heinz Guderian ordered the 10th Panzer Division, supported by the Großdeutschland Infanterie Regiment, to capture Stonne in Northern France. The French 55e Division d’Infanterie, supported by FCM 36 tanks, was trying to counterattack the German units but was beaten back on 14th May. The French scouting force managed to dig in at Stonne and had at their disposal two 25 mm and one 47 anti-tank guns and two Panhard 178 armored cars. The German advancing column consisted of five Panzer IVs, which approached the village on 15th May. The French 25 mm gunners engaged the first Panzer IV Ausf. D, they fired several rounds until they were certain that the German tank was knocked out. They then engaged the second (with number 711) which was also knocked out and then the third which was completely blown up due to ammunition detonation. The French 25 mm gun crews retreated to the village followed by advancing German infantry and a few Panzer IIs. The French, despite having destroyed three Panzer IV, were forced to retreat with the loss of both vehicles, while the Germans lost one more Panzer II.

The French then counterattacked with 13 Hotchkiss H39 tanks. The crews of the damaged Panzer IV number 711 managed to destroy two H39 tanks, while the French managed to enter the village. Due to a lack of infantry support, they were once again forced to retreat. A second French counter-attack was led by Lt. Paul Caravé with three B1 bis tanks. They first engaged a group of German 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank guns. While they managed to destroy one gun and wound the crew of the second, the third gun managed to hit one of the B1 bis tanks on the side grill armor. The tank immediately caught fire and was lost. At the same time, one B1 bis, ‘Hautvillers’, was engaged by the disabled Panzer IV Ausf. D number 711, which managed to shoot 20 rounds against the frontal armor of the French tank without any success. But the Panzer IV managed to destroy the French tank’s track and render it immobile. At the same time, a second B1 bis, ‘Gaillac’, was engaged by the same Panzer IV. This time, due to a lucky hit, the German tank jammed the second French tank’s cupola. The Panzer IV managed to fire another round to the rear, and this time the 7.5 cm gun managed to penetrate the armor of the B1 bis which was blown up by an internal explosion. The crew of the ‘Hautvillers’ abandoned their vehicle and were captured.

The French attacked again with a few H39, FCM-36 and three B1 Bis and, after heavy fighting, managed to take over the village. On 16th May, the Germans finally managed to push back the French. Due to losses, the 10th Panzer Division had to be pulled out. By the end of the engagement, the losses were 25 German tanks and 33 French ones.

The Panzer IV Ausf. D lost during the first German drive toward Stonne. This particular engagement proved that the improved Panzer IV Ausf. D armor was still not enough. Source: Pinterest

During the campaign in the West, Panzer IVs even claimed to have achieved an incredible success like sinking a destroyer. This happened on 25th May 1940, when two Panzer IVs belonging to the 2nd Panzer Division, led by Oberleutnant von Jaworsk, entered Boulogne harbor. At the same time, an Allied destroyer which was transporting troops to defend Boulogne approached the harbor. After a fight that lasted some 10 minutes, the destroyer received severe damage from the Panzer IVs, sinking a few hours later.

Despite the quick defeat of the Allied forces in the West, the Germans lost many tanks. Regarding the Panzer IV, less than 100 were reported lost. While the sources are not clear, probably not all were written off, some were likely repaired and put back into action. In France, while the Panzer IV Ausf. D (and older versions) had a disadvantage in armor protection, they had the superiority in the proper use and concentration of numbers, radio equipment, and three-man tank turrets.

A Panzer IV Ausf. D somewhere in France, 1940. Source: https://www-d0.fnal.gov/~turcot/Armour/pz3.htm
Despite the German attempts to increase the armor protection of the Panzer IV, they were still susceptible to most French anti-tank guns. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv-tank/

There were initially 40 Panzer IVs (mainly Ausf.Ds) in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) in 1941. Due to combat attrition, the numbers dropped to 10 vehicles in early 1942. By May 1942, the number was increased to 41 vehicles. In North Africa, the Panzer IV Ausf. D’s performance was deemed insufficient and was eventually replaced with Panzer IVs armed with the stronger KwK 40 guns.

Panzer IV Ausf. D in Africa in 1941. Extra fuel or water cans were often carried due to the long distance from the supply bases. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-4/

The Panzer IV Ausf. D would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece. During the German Balkan campaign there were some 122 Panzer IV available.

By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517 (or 531 depending on the source), with each Panzer Division receiving, on average, 30 vehicles. While the Panzer IV proved to be effective against the lightly armored Soviet tanks (for example the T-26 or BT-series), the newer T-34 and KV-series proved to be too much for it. Due to attrition, lack of fuel and spare parts, by the end of 1941, there were only 75 operational and 136 Panzer IVs requiring short term repair in the inventory of the German Army groups Heeresgruppe Nord and Mitte. By 1st April 1942, the Germans managed to increase the number of Panzer IVs to 552 vehicles.

The Panzer IV would remain in use nearly up to the war’s end. As their numbers began to dwindle, most surviving vehicles would be used as training vehicles.

A Panzer IV Ausf. D driving on route to the frontline somewhere in the Soviet Union. Note the added fuel cans atop the vehicle turret. This was done by its crew to be able to sustain a long drive without the need for supporting fuel transport units. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/
This vehicle was probably moved out of the way into a ditch due to mechanical breakdown or combat damage. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-iv/
The Ausf. D would also see extensive combat use in the Soviet Union during 1941/42. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany

Other modifications

The Panzer IV Ausf. D chassis would be used for a number of modifications which include the Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät, Brückenleger, Tauchpanzer, Tropen and Fahrschulpanzer IV. Different equipment and armament variants were also tested.

Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät

An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf. D) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortar codenamed ‘Karlgerät’. The modification included removing the turret and installing a large crane in its place. Additionally, an ammunition compartment for four huge 2 tonnes shells was also added.

Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät. Source: Unknown

Brückenleger IV

Prior to the war, the German Army was interested in the idea of a bridge carrying Panzer. In 1939, Krupp developed and built six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis. As the Ausf. D chassis became available in sufficient numbers, they were also used. Some 16 Ausf. D chassis were used for this configuration. While these saw deployment on the front, their overall performance was deemed insufficient and the production order for 40 more vehicles was canceled. In August 1940, at least two Brückenleger IV were converted back to tank configuration. The remaining Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. D were also converted in May 1941. What is interesting is that one Brückenleger IV was modified (possibly by its crew) by replacing the bridging equipment with a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun.

Overall, sixteen Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. D chassis were built, but they performed unsatisfactorily. Source: Pinterest
A field conversion of one Brückenleger IV by replacing the bridging equipment with a 5 cm anti-tank gun. Source: Pinterest

Tauchpanzer IV

For the planned amphibious invasion of the United Kingdom (Operation Sea Lion) in July and August 1940, some 48 Panzer IV Ausf. Ds were modified to be used as Tauchpanzer (submersible tanks). These vehicles are easily identified by the added frame holder for the waterproof fabric on the front part of the turret and the hull positioned machine gun ball mount. As the invasion of the United Kingdom was postponed and then cancelled, these vehicles would see service on the Eastern Front with the 3rd and 18th Panzer Divisions.

Panzer IV Ausf.D with snow plough

Based on experience during the first Russian winter, in March 1942, Adolf Hitler proposed the installation of snow plough equipment on all Panzers serving on this front. The first testing of the snow plough began at the tank school in St. Johann (Austria). In April 1942, Hitler was informed that a small snow plough could be attached to the tank front. The first such equipment was available for front use in October 1942.

Panzer IV Ausf. D with snow plough. Source: Pinterest

Panzer IV Ausf.D mit 5 cm KwK 39 L/60

When the Germans encountered the Soviet T-34 and KV series, their tank guns proved to be ineffective. For this reason, Krupp was requested to experimentally arm one Panzer IV Ausf. D with the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60 gun. The prototype was to be completed by November 1941. This gun greatly improved the Panzer IV’s anti-tank firepower compared to the original short barrel 7.5 cm gun. While the installation of this gun proved to be feasible and there was a planned production run of 80 vehicles by the spring of 1942, the whole project was canceled. As even more powerful 7.5 cm long barrel versions were slowly entering production, the Germans instead decided to adopt it for the Panzer IV.

The single Panzer IV Ausf. D armed with the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60 gun. Source: https://console.worldoftanks.com/en/news/panzer-IV-variants
The modified Ausf. D together with other experimental tanks waiting for inspection by Adolf Hitler. Source: T. Anderson History of the Panzerwaffe Volume 2 1942-1945.

Panzer IV Ausf. D Tropen

After 1941, the Germans were sending armored forces to North Africa to help their Italian ally. Of course, due to the specific weather conditions, the tanks had to be modified in order to be used operationally. The Panzer IV Ausf. D were modified with an improved ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand getting into the engine. These vehicles were also painted with a sand color to help with camouflage. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Tropic). Some 30 Panzer IV Ausf. D were modified for this role.

In order to be used in North Africa, the Panzer IV (and all other armored vehicles) had to be modified with improved ventilation and installation of sand filters. Source: http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_panzer_IV_ausf_D.html

Munitionspanzer IV Ausf. D

During April-May 1943, six Panzer IV chassis (including at least one Ausf. D) were modified to be used as Munitionspanzer (ammunition supply tanks) for the Sturmpanzer IV. For these tanks, the turret and some parts of the interior were removed to make room for ammunition racks. The top of the Panzer IV, where the turret was originally located, was replaced by a sheet metal cover. These vehicles were also equipped with 5 mm thick armored Schürzen.

At least one Panzer IV Ausf. D chassis was used as an ammunition supply vehicle. Source: L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.8-1 Sturmpanzer

Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf. D

With the introduction of improved versions of the Panzer IV, some Ausf. D that were returned from the frontline and repaired were given to training tank schools. Visually, they were the same as ordinary tanks.

Surviving vehicles

Today, there are several surviving Panzer IV Ausf. D. These include one in the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, one at the Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, one Ausf. D armed with the KwK 40 in the Bovington Tank Museum in the UK and one turret at the Munster Panzer Museum in Germany. Interestingly, there are also two Panzer IVs that were restored after the war in Russia. They were restored by using many components of different Panzer IVs.

The Panzer IV Ausf. D in Australia. Source: Wiki
The Bovington Tank Museum Ausf. D armed with the KwK 40. Source: Wiki

Conclusion

The Panzer IV Ausf. D was developed and built due to the demand for more support tanks. It introduced some improvements regarding the armor, adding a new external gun mantlet, simplifying the side air intakes and other minor changes. Compared to the earlier versions, it was built in larger numbers and its chassis was even used for other purposes. It saw service with the Panzer Divisions up to late stages of the war.

Panzer IV Ausf.D, DAK

Panzer IV Ausf.D Tauchpanzer

Sources

K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1997) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2014) Panzer Tracts No.8-1 Sturmpanzer
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
B, Perrett (2007) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45, Osprey Publishing
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
S.J. Zaloga (2011) Panzer IV vs. Char B1 Bis, Osprey publishing
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.
H. Scheibert, Die Deutschen Panzer Des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Dörfler.
P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions: The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-40. Osprey Publishing
T. Anderson (2017) History of the Panzerwaffe Volume 2 1942-1945. Osprey Publishing

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 20 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)-fuel 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 30 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 20 and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor Front 30 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm and the top and bottom 10-11 mm
Categories
WW2 German Armored Cars

Maschinengewehrkraftwagen (Kfz. 13) and Funkkraftwagen (Kfz. 14)

Nazi Germany FlagNazi Germany Armored reconnaissance car/radio car
Number used: 116-147 Kfz. 13 and 30-40 Kfz. 14

1932-1941

In the early thirties, the German army showed interest in the adoption of new types of armored cars. At that time, the German economic situation was dire, having entered a crisis due to the Great Depression, and for this reason, a temporary and cheap solution was needed. This would eventually lead to the adoption of the Kfz. 13 and 14 as temporary solutions until properly designed armored cars could be produced in sufficient numbers. Nevertheless, due to a lack of more modern armored cars, the obsolete Kfz. 13 and 14 would see combat up to the end of 1941.

History

With the end of the First World War, Germany was in a state of chaos. The shattered German army (Reichswehr, as it was known after the war) was involved in preserving peace and suppressing various revolts. Externally, it was engaged to the east against Bolshevik forces. In both cases, the surviving World War One-era armored cars were used extensively. When, in 1920, the terms of the Versailles Treaty were implemented, the German army was reduced to only 100,000 men and the development of tanks and armored cars was forbidden.

Surprisingly, the Allies allowed the German police force (Schutzpolizei), which had 150,000 armed men under service, to be equipped with 1 armored personnel carrier per 1,000 men. The Germans exploited this exception made by the Allies and developed and built a few new armored cars (like the Ehrhardt/21 for example). These were designated Armed Police Special Purpose Vehicles (Schutzpolizei Sonderwagen). These vehicles were nominally given to and used by the police force, but the army also acquired and operated small numbers.

The Ehrhardt / 21 of the Schutzpolizei
The Ehrhardt / 21 of the Schutzpolizei. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The German army was generally unsatisfied with these ‘borrowed’ police armored cars, so during 1926-27, the Reichswehrministerium/Heereswaffenamt Wa. Pruf.6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) issued specifications for developing new armored personnel carriers (Gepanzerter Mannschaftstransportwagenen). The term armored personnel carrier was used in order to deceive the Allies about its true purpose.

The new armored car was to be built by using the chassis of commercial vehicles. This was done mostly in order to speed up its development and lower the cost, as well as because of a general lack of experience in designing such vehicles. The tender for this new armored car was issued to nearly all German automobile manufacturers, but, as great attention was given to keeping the whole project a secret, the firms which were not 100% German-owned (like Ford, for example) were to be excluded.

Great interest was given to developing an eight-wheeled armored car named ‘ARW’ and even a ten wheeled ‘ZRW’ chassis. While these vehicles would have excellent mobility compared to four-wheeled armored cars, due to their price, the German army simply could not afford them at that time. While eight-wheeled armored car designs would later be adopted for service, in the meantime, a simpler and cheaper solution was needed. For this reason, the development of new armored cars was focused on four-wheeled chassis. One of the first designs to be adopted in small numbers was the Adler armored car based on the Adler Standard 6. Small numbers would be built and used in the early thirties, but the German army would eventually adopt the Adler Kfz.13 and its radio variant, the Kfz.14.

Maschinengewehrkraftwagen Kfz. 13

The Kfz.13 machine gun vehicle (Maschinengewehrkraftwagen) was Daimler-Benz’s response to the German army request for an easy to build and cheap open-top armored car. To make the Kfz.13 as cheap as possible, the Adler Standard 6 4×2 Kublesitzer passenger car was used for its base. Other sources state that some vehicles may have been built using the Adler Standard 3U.

The Adler Standard 6 4x2 Kublesitzer passenger car
The Adler Standard 6 4×2 Kublesitzer passenger car. Source: https://vorkriegs-klassiker-rundschau.blog/2017/07/27/zeitlos-aktuell-adler-standard-6-allwetter-limousine/

The construction of the Kfz.13 consisted of a simple armored body placed on the civilian Adler Standard 6 chassis. The original curved mudguards were left unchanged. The top was left open, which enabled the crew to have an excellent view of the surroundings but left them highly vulnerable to enemy fire. As this vehicle was never intended to be used in real combat, this was not seen as an issue. The primary function of this vehicle was to provide German manufacturers with experience in designing and building armored cars. The German army also benefited from it, as it was able to gain an insight into how to properly use the armored cars in reconnaissance missions and also to train crews. For self-defense, a rotatable MG 13 machine gun protected by an armored shield was added. Besides its signal flags, the Kfz.13 had no other means of communication with other units. This was the job for the second version based on the Kfz.13, the radio-equipped Kfz.14.

The Kfz.13
The Kfz.13. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/auta/13.php

Kfz.14

In the German military doctrine of the time, the job of an armored car was to advance ahead of the main force, scout for enemy positions and report back. Their greatest assets were not their armor nor weapons, but instead their radio equipment and their mobility. For these reasons, the radio-equipped version of the Kfz. 13 would be built using the same chassis. The Kfz.14, as this version was known, was almost visually identical to the previous version. The only difference was the removal of the machine gun mount and the addition of a large frame antena. It was designed to supplement the Kfz.13’s lack of radio equipment. Otherwise, it was the same vehicle with no changes to its overall performance.

The Kfz. 14 radio version
The Kfz. 14 radio version. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/

Production

For the production of the Kfz.13 and Kfz.14, Daimler-Benz was chosen, while Deutschen Edelstahl was tasked with assembling and supplying the armored body. Production of the first vehicles began in the spring of 1933. By the end of August 1935, depending on the source, between 116 and 147 Kfz. 13 and 30 to 40 Kfz. 14 were built. During production, Daimler-Benz also built smaller numbers (14 Kfz. 13 and 4 Kfz. 14) using its own chassis as a base, which was slightly larger.

Name

It appears that the full name Maschinengewehrkraftwagen Kfz. 13 was too much, even for Germans soldiers, who simply referred to them as Adler Panzerspaehwagen (Adler armored reconnaissance car). Another name commonly used by the German troops, due to its overall open-topped shape, was bath-tub (Badewannen).

Technical characteristics

Chassis 

The majority of Kfz. 13 and 14 vehicles were built using the Adler Standard 6 civilian car. Of course, before it could be adopted for army use, some changes were necessary. These included reinforcing the axles and suspension. Each wheel was suspended using semi-elliptic springs. Additionally, several types of pneumatic bulletproof tires were used to increase cross country performance. Their dimensions were 6.00 x 20, but depending on the sources, other dimensions are also mentioned, which include 6.50 x 18 and7.00 x 20 pneumatic.

Close-up view of the Adler Standard 6 modified chassis
Close-up view of the Adler Standard 6  modified chassis. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/

Tire1Tire2Tire3
Examples of the different tires used on the Kfz. 13 and Kfz. 14. Source for all three: http://www.kfz13.pl/podwozie-i-uklad-napedowy/

Armored body

The Kfz.13’s armored body was made using face-hardened steel armor plates welded together. The armor thickness of these plates was only 8 mm. To somewhat increase protection, these armor plates were placed at an angle. The upper front plates were at 40°, while the lower ones were at 22°. The upper sides were at 15° and the lower at 5°. The rear upper and lower plates were placed at the same 22° angle. The Kfz.13 floor was 5 mm thick. While the frontal part of the engine was protected by a louvered grille, its sides were left unprotected.

The Kfz.13 was only protected from small-caliber weapons. While the front armor could withstand small-caliber armor-piercing rounds, the sides and rear could only protect against normal bullets. Two side doors were provided for the crew to enter the vehicle. Additional boxes for spare parts and crew equipment could be added around the armored body. As it was an open-top vehicle, a canvas cover was provided for the crew.

Front view of the Kfz. 13
Front view of the Kfz. 13. Note the engine’s protective louvered grill. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/
The Kfz. 13 and 14 side doors
The Kfz.13 and 14 had two side doors. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/
Kfz. 13 side view
Kfz. 13 side view. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/
A canvas cover
A canvas cover was provided for protection from the weather. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/nadwozie/wnetrze-tyl/

Engine

The Kfz.13 and 14 vehicles were powered by an Adler Standard 6A (or 6S, depending on the source) six-cylinder water-cooled 50 hp engine. While smaller numbers were built using a Daimler-Benz 50 hp engine, the overall performance was unchanged. With a weight of 2.05 tonnes (the Daimler-Benz version weighed 2.1 tonnes), the maximum speed on good roads was 70 km/h, while cross country it was only 20-25 km/h. The operational range while driving on good roads was 250-300 km and 150-200 km cross country. The front wheels were used for steering and the rear wheels provided drive. To cope with the extra weight, an improved cooling system was installed. The gearbox was modified to have 4 forward speeds and 1 reverse speed.

The Kfz. 13 and 14 engine compartment
The Kfz.13 and 14 engine compartment. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/
Kfz. chassis base
This vehicle is actually based on the Daimler-Benz chassis. Note the covering for the two engine ventilation ports. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/
The frontal shield
The frontal shield that protects the engine compartment is evident here.  Compared to the previous example, this vehicle has a different type of cover for the engine ventilation ports. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/adler-kfz-13/

Crew

Due to its small size, the Kfz.13 had a small crew of only two members. The driver was positioned at the front and behind him was the machine gun operator. The vehicle was open-topped and offered the crew excellent all-round visibility, which was important for a reconnaissance vehicle. But, in case of engagement with the enemy, two vision ports were provided for observation. One was positioned to the front for the driver and one to the rear. Additionally, some vehicles had dummy vision ports placed on the sides.

driver and machine gunner
The Kfz. 13 had two crew members: a driver and a machine gunner. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/geneza-powstania/

The Kfz.14 used the same armored body as the Kfz.13. As it was designed to be used as a radio support vehicle, the machine gunner was replaced with a radio operator. The difference was that the radio operator’s seat was facing to the rear. A third crew member could also be present when a message was to be sent through the radio. This would actually be a unit commander who was transported by another vehicle and did not use the Kfz.14 for transportation. It was the unit commander’s job to report back about the enemy positions and to receive future orders. Due to the added radio equipment and its small size, the interior was cramped.

Crew positions
Crew positions on the Kfz.14. Source: https://postimg.cc/p5Rcn1RT
vision port
A vision port was placed just above the rear spare wheel. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/auta/13.php

Armament 

The Kfz.13 was only lightly armed, with one pedestal-mounted 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun. For the protection of the gunner, a small 8 mm shield angled at 35° was provided. Elevation of this machine gun was -35° to +65° and the traverse was 360°. The machine gun mount with the gunner’s seat had simple spring units that allowed them to be raised. For lowering the machine gun, the gunner simply had to use his own body weight. The obsolescent MG 13 was replaced with a more modern MG 34 in later years. The ammunition load for the machine gun carried inside the vehicle was 1.000 or 2.000 rounds, depending on the source. The crews could also use their personal weapons, usually 9 mm submachine guns or pistols.

Upper view of MG 13
An upper view of the MG 13 mount. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/auta/13.php
Kfz. 13 machine gun elevation
The high elevation of the Kfz. 13’s machine gun is evident here. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/gallery/kfz13
MG 34 armament
This vehicle is armed with a more modern MG 34. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/
Close view of internal machine gun mount
Close view of the internal machine gun mount. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/

Radio equipment

The Kfz. 14 had an improved electrical generator which was able to produce 90 watts of electricity, necessary for the radio equipment to work. Inside the Kfz.14, a Fu9 SE 5 (5 watt) transmitter and receiver radio set was installed. The effective range of voice transmission with this equipment was 6 to 8 km while stationary. When on the move, this dropped to 3 to 4 km. When transmitting messages in morse code using telegraph keys, the range was 30 km while stationary and 20 km on the move. For the use of radio equipment, a large frame antenna could be raised or lowered depending on the need.

The seat positions of the driver (right) and the radio operator (left)
The seat positions of the driver (right) and the radio operator (left). Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/
A closer look at the Kfz. 14's radio equipment
A closer look at the Kfz.14’s radio equipment. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/nadwozie/wnetrze-przod/
While on the move, the Kfz. 14 antenna was lowered
While on the move, the Kfz. 14 antenna was lowered. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/

Organization

After 1935, the Kfz. 13 and 14 were used to equip Aufklärungs (reconnaissance) detachments of Reiter-Regiments (Cavalry units). Each unit was to be equipped with two Kfz.13 and one Kfz.14. As, in the following years, better designed armored cars were introduced into service with the German Army, the Kfz.13 and 14 were relocated, mostly to ordinary Infantry Divisions from 1938 on.

Kfz. 13 and 14 in the early German Army
Despite adopting improved armored cars, the Kfz. 13 and 14 would still see service with the German Army in the early years of the war. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/

In combat

Prior to the war, the Kfz.13 and 14 were quite common sights in the numerous military parades held in Germany. Their first use in foreign land was during the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939.

Despite their obvious obsolescence, the Kfz. 13 and 14 would see combat action during the war. Their first combat action was during the Polish campaign of 1939. They were part of the spearhead, along with other German reconnaissance armored cars. By the time Poland surrendered, some 23 Kfz.13 and 14 had been lost. Their weak armor proved no match for Polish anti-tank weapons. Another issue noted by troops was that the vehicle generally had poor performance on bad roads.  The extra added weight was too much for the chassis, which led to overheating problems.

Kfz. 13 armored cars in Prague, 1939
Kfz.13 armored cars in Prague, 1939. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/

The next engagements came during the German invasion of the West in 1940. The Kfz.13 and 14 armored cars were once again used in reconnaissance missions. While in France, they performed somewhat better thanks to the road network,  though there were still losses.

By 1941, despite their now desperate obsolescence, the Kfz.13 and 14 would see more combat during the Balkan and later Soviet invasions. It appears that all sent to the Soviet Union would be lost by the end of 1941. Any surviving vehicles were removed from operational service after 1941 and were instead given to second-line troops or used as training vehicles.

A destroyed Kfz.13 somewhere in Poland
A destroyed Kfz.13 somewhere in Poland. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/
A completely burned out Kfz.13
A completely burned out Kfz.13. As these were designed as temporary solutions and with minimal armor protection, their combat potential was quite low. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/armored_vehicles/kfz13/
A kfz.13 during the invasion of the West in 1940
A Kfz.13 during the invasion of the West in 1940. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/

Modified versions

Interestingly, at least one vehicle would survive up to the war’s end. There is a photograph that shows a modified Kfz.13 or 14 surrendering to the Allies in Prague in May 1945. It has a fully enclosed roof and what looks like a machine gun port placed to the right of the driver’s vision port. This was likely a field modification, but nothing else is known about it.

Field conversion of the aging Kfz.13
A very interesting field conversion of the aging Kfz.13. Just above the Balkenkreuz, an opening, possibly for a machine gun, is visible. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/kfz-14/

Replicas

Despite no Kfz.13 and 14 having survived to today, there are a few replicas that are used in war recreations. One of these belongs to a Historical Reconstruction Group of the 9th Cavalry Regiment from Poland.

Kfz. from the Historical Reconstruction Group in Poland
This Kfz. 13 replica belongs to the Historical Reconstruction Group in Poland. Source: http://www.kfz13.pl/geneza-powstania/

Conclusion

The Kfz. 13 and 14 were among the first armored cars adopted for German army service after the First World War. They were designed primarily to be used as training vehicles. As the German war industry was incapable of producing armored cars good enough to meet German Army requirements, as a temporary solution, the Kfz. 13 and 14 were used by the front line units. They performed poorly, simply as they were not designed for combat use. Nevertheless, they provided the Germans with valuable experience in how to properly design and use armored cars, and this was their greatest success.

Kfz.13 in 1936
Kfz.13, in prewar tri-tone livery, 1936 Werhmacht large scale exercises.
Kfz.13, Polish invasion
Adler Kfz.13 prior to the Polish invasion, in dunkergrau livery. Notice the simplified white Balkan cross, an obvious target.
Kfz.13 Leopard
Kfz.13 “Leopard”, Poland, September 1939.
Kfz.13, France
Kfz. 13, 1st Kav, 24th Panzer Division, France, May 1940.
Kfz.14 command car, Balkans, March 1941
Kfz.14 command car, Balkans, March 1941.

Maschinengewehrkraftwagen Kfz. 13 (Adler chassis) specifications

Dimensions Length 4.2 m, Width 1.7 m, Height 1.46 m
Weight 2.1 tonnes
Crew 2 (Driver and machine gunner)
Engine Adler Standard 6A six cylinder water cooled 50 hp engine
Speed 70 km/h,  20-25 km/h (cross country)
Range 250-300 km, 150-200 km (cross country)
Traverse 360°
Elevation -35° to +65°
Primary Armament one 7.92 mm MG 13
Armor 5-8 mm

Sources

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. PzKpfw.II(F) (Sfl.) (Sd.Kfz. 132) ‘Marder II’

German Tanks of WW2 Nazi Germany (1942)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – 202 converted

Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). However, in the early years of the war, beside the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm, which was in essence just a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun mounted on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull, the Germans did little to develop such vehicles. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht encountered the T-34 and KV series tanks, which they had trouble dealing with effectively. Fortunately for the Germans, they also managed to capture large numbers of the 7.62 cm field gun (M1936) which had good anti-tank firepower. This gun was immediately put to use by the German ground forces, but mobility was an issue, so an idea appeared to install this gun on the Panzer II tank chassis in order to increase its mobility. The new vehicle belonged to a series of vehicles generally known today as the ‘Marder’ (Marten).


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History

During Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer Divisions were once again spearheading the German advance, as in the previous year in the West. Initially, the lighty protected early Soviet tanks (like the BT series and the T-26) proved to be easy prey for the advancing German Panzers. However, the Panzer crews were shocked to discover that their guns were mostly ineffective against the armor of the newer T-34, KV-1 and KV-2. German infantry units also discovered that their 3.7 cm PaK 36 towed anti-tank guns were of little use against these tanks. The stronger 5 cm PaK 38 towed anti-tank gun was only effective at shorter distances and it had not been produced in great numbers by that time. Luckily for the Germans, the new Soviet tanks were immature designs, plagued by inexperienced crews, a lack of spare parts, ammunition and poor operational use. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in slowing down and eventually stopping the German assault in late 1941. In North Africa, the Germans also faced increasing numbers of Matilda tanks, which also proved to be hard to knock out.

The experience gained during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union raised a red alert in the highest German military circles. One possible solution to this problem was the introduction of the new Rheinmetall 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. This was first issued in very limited numbers at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942. While it would eventually become the standard German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, its initial production was slow and thus a temporary solution was needed. During Operation Barbarossa, the German ground forces managed to capture large numbers of field guns of different calibers. One of the guns captured was the 76.2 mm M1936 (F-22) divisional gun. After a brief assessment of the characteristics of this gun, the Germans were satisfied with its performance. The gun was given to the army for use under the name Feldkanone (FK) 296(r). It was at first used as a field gun, but very soon it became clear that it possessed great anti-tank capabilities. For this reason, the 7.62 cm M1936 gun was modified for use as an anti-tank weapon. The changes involved adding a muzzle brake (but not all guns were equipped with it), cutting the gun shield in half (the upper part was welded to the lower part of the shield in a similar fashion to the PaK 40 two-part shield), rechambering the gun to 7.5 cm caliber in order to use the standard German ammunition (same as the PaK 40) and moving the elevating handwheel to the left side. After these changes, the gun was renamed 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), and remained in use throughout WWII.

In late December 1941, Wa Prüf 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) gave instructions to the Alkett firm to design a new Panzerjäger mounting the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) on a modified Panzer II Flamm (which itself was based on the Panzer II Ausf. D and E) tank chassis. The Alkett designers and engineers threw themselves into the work of designing and building the first prototype. The prototype was built quickly, mainly due to its relatively simple construction. The Panzer II Flamm chassis was unchanged, but the majority of the superstructure (except for the front plate) and the turret were removed. On the back of the engine compartment a gun mount with the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), which had an enlarged shield, was placed. Additionally, the front and the sides were protected by extended armored plates. Its armor was designed to protect against small-caliber fire and shrapnel. As its primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, thick armor was not necessary, at least in theory.

Brand new Marder II.
Brand new Marder II. Source: Pinterest

Panzer II Ausf. D and E

The first German tank that was produced in great numbers was the Panzer I. As it was armed with only two machine guns and was lightly protected, its combat potential was quite limited. For these reasons, the Panzer II was developed to overcome the many shortcomings of the previous Panzer I model. Its main armament consisted of one 20 mm cannon and one machine gun. The maximum armor protection was initially only 14.5 mm, but it would be increased to 35 mm and even to 80 mm on later versions.

During 1938, new versions of the Panzer II, the Ausf. D and E, were developed and adopted for service. They had the same armament and turret but with a modified superstructure and most importantly used a new torsion bar suspension which ran on four larger road wheels without any return rollers. While the Panzer II Ausf. D and E did see combat action in Poland, due to their poor suspension performance, less than 50 vehicles would be built.

The short lived Panzer II Ausf.D/E.
The short lived Panzer II Ausf.D/E. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/tanky/pz2.php

In 1939, the German army was interested in the development of a flame-throwing Panzer to be used as an anti-bunker weapon. As the Panzer II Ausf. D and E were rejected from service, their chassis were chosen for this modification. The resulting vehicle was designated as the Panzer II Flamm Ausf. A und B, although today it is generally known as the ‘Flamingo’. By March 1942, around 150 had been produced, but their performance was deemed inadequate mostly due to weak armor and the poor performance of the flame projector system. As these Panzer II flamm were returned from the front lines and due to the high demand for mobile anti-tank vehicles, the Germans once again reused the chassis for this new role. Starting from April 1942, all available Panzer II flamm chassis would be reused for this purpose.

Panzer II Flamm during Operation Barbarossa.
Panzer II Flamm during Operation Barbarossa. Source: Pinterest

Name

During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. Upon its adoption on 1st April 1942, it was designated 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. PzKpfw.II(F) (Sfl.). In June 1942, this was changed to Pz.Sfl.1 fuer 7.62 cm PaK 36 (Sd.Kfz. 132); by September 1942, it had changed again to Pz.Sfl.1 (7.62 cm PaK 36) auf Fahrg.Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. D1 und D2. In September 1943, a much simpler name was given: 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Pz.Kpfw.II. The last change to the name was made on 18th March 1944, with the vehicle then being called Panzerjäger II fuer 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) (Sd.Kfz. 132).

The Marder II name, by which it is best known today, was actually Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943. For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the Marder II designation. Care should be taken not to mistake this vehicle with the other Marder II, the Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 ‘Marder II’ (Sd.Kfz.131).

Production

Due to the inadequate combat performance of the Panzer II flamm, the production of the second series of 150 vehicles was canceled. However, M.A.N (which was responsible for its production) was tasked with delivering these 150 chassis to Alkett for the construction of new Marder II vehicles. Alkett was ordered to produce the first 45 vehicles in April, followed by 75 in May and the last 30 in June 1942. Somewhat unusually for German production standards, all 150 vehicles were completed before the deadline, with 60 in April and the remaining 90 by mid-May.

Due to the availability of the Panzer II flamm chassis, a further order for 60 Marder II vehicles was placed. The completion of this production order was slow, as it was dependent on the available Panzer II flamm chassis. Only 52 Marder II would be completed this way, with 13 in June, 9 in July, 15 in September and 7 in October 1942. In 1943, 8 more Marder II vehicles would be built. These conversions would be carried out by Wegmann from Kassel.

It should be noted that the Marder II utilized both the Ausf. D1 and Ausf. D2 chassis. These had only minor differences, the main one being the drive sprocket, which had 11 spokes on the Ausf. D1 and 8 spokes on the Ausf. D2. It appears to be the case that all 150 of the new-build Marder IIs utilized the Ausf. D2 chassis, while those converted from older Panzer II flamm chassis were based upon the Ausf. D1 chassis.

The Design

Suspension

The suspension of the Marder II was the same as on the Panzer II Ausf. D and E. This version used a torsion bar suspension in contrast to the leaf spring suspension used on the majority of the Panzer IIs. In some sources (like Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch, Marder II), it is noted that the Marder II used the Christie type suspension system. This is false. The Christie suspension used large helical springs placed vertically or diagonally in the side of the hull, not torsion bars. The larger wheels had a diameter of 690 mm. There was also a front-drive sprocket and a rear positioned idler on each side, but no return rollers.

A good view of the Marder II suspension
A good view of the Marder II suspension. Source: https://warspot.ru/9099-marder-ii-lyogkiy-istrebitel

The engine

The Marder II was powered by a Maybach HL 62 TRM six-cylinder liquid-cooled engine positioned to the rear. This produced 140 hp @2600 rpm. The maximum speed with this engine was 55 km/h and the cross country speed was 20 km/h. The operational range was 200-220 km on good roads and 130-140 km cross country. The total fuel capacity for this vehicle was 200 liters. The Marder II crew compartment was separated from the engine by a 12 mm thick protective firewall.

Superstructure

The Marder II was built using the Panzer II Flamm chassis by simply removing the turret and most of the superstructure except for the front driver’s plate. Extended armor was added on top of the driver’s compartment and on the sides. These armored plates were slightly angled, for extra protection. To the rear, initially, a wire mesh frame was added, possibly to make the construction easier and to reduce weight. Its main purpose was to serve as a storage area for equipment and spent ammo cartridges. During the production run, this was replaced with armor plates. An extended armored shield was added around the gun, the design of which would be slightly changed during the production.

The Marder II was an open-top vehicle and, for this reason, a canvas cover was provided to protect the crew from bad weather. Of course, this offered no real protection during combat. It appears that some vehicles had a metal frame added to the gun compartment, possibly used to help hold down the canvas cover. Another possibility was that it served as an extra security measure for the crews lest they accidentally fall out of the vehicle. Due to the Panzer II’s relatively small size, the crew compartment was cramped and additional wooden storage boxes were often added by the crew for extra equipment.

This vehicle had a wire mesh rear frame that was used to store equipment and spent ammo cartridges.
This vehicle had a wire mesh rear frame that was used to store equipment and spent ammo cartridges. Due to the cramped interior, the crews of this vehicle attached all sorts of equipment to this wire mesh frame. Source: http://www.panzerdepot.com/Story.htm
This vehicle has had armor plates added instead of the wire mesh.
This vehicle has had armor plates added instead of the wire mesh. Also note the MG 34 mounted to the left side of the modified gun shield. Source: http://www.panther-panzer.de/Sonstige/MarderIILaS138.htm
This vehicle had a wire mesh rear frame that was used to store equipment and spent ammo cartridges.
This vehicle had a wire mesh rear frame that was used to store equipment and spent ammo cartridges. Due to the cramped interior, the crews of this vehicle attached all sorts of equipment to this wire mesh frame. Source: http://www.panzerdepot.com/Story.htm
Excellent view of the Marder II’s cramped rear gun crew compartment.
Excellent view of the Marder II’s cramped rear gun crew compartment. Here we can see the front travel lock, the big metal ring around the barrel. Source: https://warspot.ru/9099-marder-ii-lyogkiy-istrebitel

Armor thickness

The armor thickness of the Marder II hull was relatively thin by the standards of 1942. The maximum front hull armor was 35 mm, while the sides and rear were only 14.5 mm thick and the bottom was 5 mm thick. The driver’s front armor plate was 35 mm thick. The new superstructure was also only lightly protected, with 14.5 mm thick front and side armor, and later rear armor too. The gun was protected by a standard armor shield which was extended to cover the sides. Spare tracks could be added on the front armor plate to act as extra protection, but in reality, this offered only a limited improvement.

On the open steppes of the Soviet Union, good camouflage and a well-selected position were the Marder II’s best defense
On the open steppes of the Soviet Union, good camouflage and a well-selected position were the Marder II’s best defense. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/marder/
The tracks added to the front armor would primarily serve as spare equipment and offered only a limited increase in protection.
The tracks added to the front armor would primarily serve as spare equipment and offered only a limited increase in protection. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The armament

The main gun chosen for the Marder II was the modified ex-Soviet 7.62 cm PaK 36 (r) anti-tank gun. This gun, with its modified ‘T’ mount, was placed directly above the engine compartment. The elevation of the main gun was -5° to +16° and the traverse 25° to the left and to the right. The total ammunition load consisted of only 30 rounds, placed in ammunition bins located just below the gun, inside the Marder II hull. In order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives, two travel locks were added, one at the front and one to the rear.

Secondary armament consisted of one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun with 900 rounds of ammunition and one 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine gun. While most 7.62 cm PaK 36 (r) anti-tank guns were provided with a standard muzzle brake, there were a number of vehicles that did not have one. They were possibly either discarded by their crews, damaged or more likely never fitted due to the urgent need for such vehicles.

These Marder IIs are lacking the muzzle brake
These Marder IIs are lacking the muzzle brake. Source: Unknown
The German 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) gun in a well dug-in position
The German 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) gun in a well dug-in position. Source: http://acemodel.com.ua/en/model/685

Crew members

The Marder II had a crew of four men, which, according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle in Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager, consisted of the commander, gunner, loader, and the driver. Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch, in their Marder II book, mentions that the crew consisted of the commander, radio operator, loader, and driver. Taking T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle as the main source, it would mean that the commander was located in the vehicle’s hull, next to the driver, and he would also serve as the radio operator. On the other hand, according to Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch, the crew positioning would be different, with the commander serving as the gunner and placed left of the main gun.

While sources cite only four crew members, interestingly, Marder II photographs often show one more crew member present. This practice was initiated by field units emulating their Panzer cousins, as the extra crew member would help increase the vehicle’s overall performance by freeing up the commander from any other tasks.

The driver’s position was unchanged from the original Panzer II. He was positioned on the vehicle hull’s left side. On his right side was the radio operator. The radio equipment used was the FuG Spr d transmitter and receiver. For observing the surroundings, the crew positioned in the hull had two standard front vision ports. One of these two men would also have the task of releasing the forward travel lock. In addition, the crew positioned in the hull could also supply the gun operators with the ammunition rounds which were stored inside the hull.

In the rear gun compartment were the positions for the gunner and the loader. The gunner was positioned on the left and the loader to the right. The loader also operated the MG 34 used against enemy infantry and soft skin targets. To avoid being hit by enemy fire, crew in the gun compartment were sometimes provided with movable periscopes for observation. For crew communication, an internal telephone was used.

The Marder II, as standard, had four crew members. The small rectangular shaped object just above the gun shield is actually a movable periscope for observation.
The Marder II, as standard, had four crew members. The small rectangular shaped object just above the gun shield is actually a movable periscope for observation. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/marder/
This vehicle has five crew members.
This vehicle has five crew members. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/marder/
The front driver’s plate with its two vision ports is the only part of the original Panzer II Ausf.D and E that was left unchanged
The front driver’s plate with its two vision ports is the only part of the original Panzer II Ausf.D and E that was left unchanged. Source: https://warspot.ru/9099-marder-ii-lyogkiy-istrebitel
A Marder II during crew training. Note the two movable periscopes next to the crewmembers' heads.
A Marder II during crew training. Note the two movable periscopes next to the crewmembers’ heads. Source: https://warspot.ru/9099-marder-ii-lyogkiy-istrebitel

Organization and Distribution to Frontline Units

The Marder II was used to form 9 vehicle-strong anti-tank companies (Panzerjäger Kompanie). These were divided into 3 vehicle-strong platoons (Zuge). Each platoon was to have one Sd.Kfz. 10 half-track, an ammunition carrier version of the Panzer I and two trailers for ammunition and supply deliveries. Of course, due to a general lack of such supply vehicles, it is likely that this was never truly implemented.

The Marder II companies would mostly be used to equip Infantry Divisions, Infantry Motorised Divisions, SS Divisions, Panzer Divisions and to reinforce some self-propelled anti-tank battalions (Panzerjäger-Abteilungen). Interestingly, despite the fact that each anti-tank company was meant to have 9 vehicles, some were instead only equipped with 6.

The following units were equipped with Marder II vehicles from 9th March 1942 onwards: the Großdeutschland Infantry Division, 18th, 10th, 16th, 29th and the 60th Infantry Motorised Divisions with 12 each, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division with 18 and the SS Panzer Division Wiking with 12 vehicles. By the time of the German 1942 campaign on the Eastern Front, nearly all available Marder II vehicles (145 in total) were ready for service. In July 1942, there were plans to equip the 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions with Marder I (based on captured French fully tracked chassis) vehicles. Due to logistical problems, these were instead each issued with 6 Marder II.

In Combat

The Marder II would see action mostly on the Eastern Front, with smaller numbers positioned in the West. The majority of produced Marder IIs would be used in the German advance toward the oil-rich Caucasus and Stalingrad. Due to the disastrous German losses suffered by the end of 1942, the majority of Marder II tank destroyers would be lost, either to enemy fire or just being abandoned due to a lack of fuel or spare parts.

Due to extensive losses suffered the previous year, there were only small numbers available during the Battle of Kursk (Operation Zidatelle) in June of 1943. The units that still possessed operational Marder IIs were the 31st Infantry Division with 4, 4th and 6th Panzer Divisions with 1 each, the 525th self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 4, the 150th self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 3 (1 in repair), the 16th Panzer Grenadier Division with 7 and the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division and the SS Panzer Division Wiking with 1 vehicle each. In total, there were only 23 vehicles left on the Eastern Front. In the West, there were 7 vehicles with 1 in repair, operated by the Ersatz und Ausbildungs Regiment H.G., a training unit that was positioned in Holland.

A group of abandoned Marder IIs on the Eastern Front.
A group of abandoned Marder IIs on the Eastern Front. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/marder/

By August 1944, there were only two units equipped with the Marder II. These were the 1st self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 10 and the 8th self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 5 vehicles. By March 1945, the number of Marder IIs had dropped to only 6 vehicles.

While having weak armor, thanks to its gun, the Marder II could destroy any Soviet tank in 1942/43 with little problem. The effectiveness of the Marder II’s 7.62 cm gun was demonstrated by the 661st self-propelled anti-tank battalion, which, by mid-July 1942, claimed to have destroyed 17 Soviet tanks (4 KV-1, 11 T-34 and 2 Valentine Mark II). The 559th self-propelled anti-tank battalion reported similar successes (up to mid-July 1942), with 17 T-34, 4 KV-1 and 1 tank marked only as a T 8 (possibly a misprint) for the loss of only one Marder II. This unit also gave reports about the distances from which the Soviet tanks were destroyed. The T-34 were mainly engaged at ranges from 600 to 1000 meters, with the 7.62 cm gun having no problem penetrating the armor of this tank. Two T-34s were destroyed by side hits at ranges of 1.3 to 1.4 km. One KV-1 was reportedly destroyed when hit from the side at a range of 1.3 km. It is important to note that, due to the Marder II’s low ammunition storage, shooting at enemy tanks at distances greater than 1 km was generally avoided by the crews.

A Marder II somewhere on the Eastern Front, possibly in 1942.
A Marder II somewhere on the Eastern Front, possibly in 1942. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/
An interesting photograph that shows the two different types of vehicles used by the Germans to combat tanks.
An interesting photograph that shows the two different types of vehicles used by the Germans to combat tanks. To the left is the low, fully enclosed StuG III with the longer 7.5 cm gun, while on the right is the tall, lightly armored Marder II. Both vehicles were used as anti-tank vehicles, even though the StuG had a different doctrinal employment. Although the StuG III was better in every aspect, due to high demand for tank destroyers, the production of the Marder series would continue until almost the end of the war. Source: Unknown

Operational Experience

The Marder II’s general combat performance can be seen in a report made in July 1942 by the 661st self-propelled anti-tank battalion. In this report, the effectiveness of the 7.62 cm gun was deemed satisfactory as it was able to destroy a KV-1 from ranges of 1.2 to 1.4 km. The high-explosive rounds were also effective against enemy machine gun nests and even against earthen bunkers. However, firing the gun could create large dust clouds which made finding targets difficult. The Marder II was provided with two travel locks. While the rear one performed well, the front one was prone to malfunctions.

Cooperation with infantry formations proved to be problematic. The infantry commanders would often call for the Marder II to engage enemy tanks offensively in unfavorable situations, for example if the enemy tanks were dug in or on higher ground. The Marder IIs were not infantry support vehicles like the StuG III and thus should not have been used in this kind of combat.

The vehicle’s great height was a huge issue for the Marder II, as it was difficult to camouflage and was an easy target for enemy gunners. Interestingly, on some vehicles, the gun sunk down a bit, meaning that the gun could not be traversed. To solve this problem, a few millimeters of the side armor had to be cut off. The low ammunition load and the lack of more mobile machine gun mounts were another issue. The gas pedals were too weak and prone to malfunctions, so spare gas pedals were in great demand. Radio equipment was also of poor quality and improved models were requested. The Marder II also lacked space for the storage of spare parts and other equipment. Ingenious crews would often add wooden boxes to the rear. The lack of a command vehicle for the company commander was deemed problematic. Adding a fifth crew member to direct the operational employment was proven to have merit.

As the Marder II interior was cramped, crews would often add wooden boxes to the rear.
As the Marder II interior was cramped, crews would often add wooden boxes to the rear. Also note the fifth crew member in this photograph. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/marder/
Thanks to its simple construction, the Marder II’s overall maintenance and replacement of damaged parts could be done relatively easily.
Thanks to its simple construction, the Marder II’s overall maintenance and replacement of damaged parts could be done relatively easily. Source: https://warspot.ru/9099-marder-ii-lyogkiy-istrebitel

Conclusion

The Marder II tank destroyer was an attempt to solve the problem of the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns but, unfortunately for the Germans, it failed in many other aspects. The low armor thickness coupled with its large silhouette meant that, while it could engage enemy tanks at range, any kind of return fire would likely mean the destruction of this vehicle. The small ammunition load was also problematic for its crew. Even so, while the Marder II vehicles were not perfect, they gave the Germans a means to increase the mobility of the effective 7.62 cm anti-tank gun, thus giving them a chance to fight back against the numerous enemy armored formations.


Early version Marder II, North Africa, 1942
Marder II, early type vehicle , Afrika Korps Abteilung, Libya, fall 1942.
Marder II Ausf.D-1, Russia, 1942.
Marder II Ausf.D-1, Russia, fall 1942.
Marder II, Russia, fall 1942
Marder II Ausf.E, Russia, fall 1942.
Marder II, Kursk, 1943.
Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1 für 7.62 cm Pak 36(r) Ausf.D-2, Kursk, summer 1943.

7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. Pz.Kpfw.II(F) (Sfl.) specifications

Dimensions 5.65 x 2.3 x 2.6 m
Total weight, battle-ready 11.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (Commander, Gunner, Loader and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TRM 140 hp @ 2600 rpm six-cylinder liquid-cooled
Speed 55 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)
Operational range 200-220 km, 130-140 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 7.62 cm PaK 36 (r)
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -5° to +16°
Traverse -25° to +25°
Armor Superstructure: 5-14.5 mm
Hull: 14.5-30 mm
Gun Shield: 3-14.5 mm

Sources

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No.2-3 Panzerkampwagen II Ausf.D, E and F
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2011) Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books
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.
G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (2002), Marder III, Kagero
W.J. Gawrych Marder II, Armor PhotoGallery
Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (2004) Marder II, Militaria.
W.J.K. Davies (1979) Panzerjager, German anti-tank battalions of World War Two, Almark
W. Oswald (2004) Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer, Motorbuch Verlag.
R. Hutchins (2005) Tanks and other fighting vehicles, Bounty Book.

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. B & C

Nazi Germany (1937)
Medium Support Tank – 42 Ausf. B, 134 Ausf. C + 6 Chassis Built

During the early development of the Panzer IV, no one involved in the program knew that this vehicle, designed to serve as a support Panzer, would become the Wehrmacht’s backbone for a good deal of the war. While today the Tiger and Panther are better known, the Panzer IV was produced in the greatest numbers and served on all fronts in many bloody engagements throughout the war.

The development of this tank began in the mid-thirties, leading to the first version being built, the Panzer IV Ausf. A. Being the first version, there was still a lot of space for improvement. The improvement of the Panzer IV Ausf. A version would eventually lead to the development of two nearly identical versions, the Ausf. B and C.

History

Following the adoption of the Panzer IV Ausf. A, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) was interested in developing a version of this vehicle with minimal improvements. For this reason, in October 1937, Krupp-Gruson was tasked with increasing the frontal armor protection to be proof at least against 2 cm armor-piercing rounds and installing a stronger engine. This would lead to a small production run of the second Panzer IV version named Ausf. B.

While the development of the Panzer IV Ausf. B was underway, Wa Pruef 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) initiated the first steps in introducing standardization of German tank development. According to the Wa Pruef 6 plans, the Panzer IV, starting from the Ausf.C version, was to be built using the new Panzer III Ausf. E chassis which used torsion bar suspension. For this reason, at the start of June 1937, Krupp was informed to cease any further work on the Panzer IV chassis as soon as all Ausf. B vehicles had been built. As the development of the Panzer III Ausf. E chassis was running at a slow pace due to the introduction of a new torsion bar suspension and a new transmission; it was estimated that the first experimental chassis could not be built prior to April 1938. The slow Panzer III Ausf. E development also caused a huge eight-month idling period in Panzer IV production. As the demand for Panzer IV support tanks was great, in October 1937, Krupp was informed to prepare for the production of 140 new Panzer IV Ausf. C vehicles. As Krupp was still forbidden from further developing and improving the Panzer IV chassis, Krupp officials decided to simply copy the previously built version with minimal changes.

Wa Pruef 6’s decision to cease the development of the Panzer IV chassis and the high demand for such vehicles were the main reasons why the Ausf. B and C were identical. Another consequence of these decisions was the leaf spring suspension would be used on all Panzer IV until the end of the war, as the planned upgrade to torsion bars never took place.

The Panzer IV Ausf. B and C were identical except for a few minor changes. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Production

Production of the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C was carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. The Ausf. B was built in small numbers, with a total of 42 vehicles (chassis number 80201-80300) which were constructed in the period from May to October 1938. The production of the Ausf. C (chassis number 80301-80500) began in October 1938 and lasted until August 1939. The production run of this version was larger, consisting of 134 vehicles, plus six more chassis which were used as the basis for a bridge layer version.

Specifications

The Hull

The Panzer IV hull was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and enclosed driving compartment. In an emergency, the crew could use the round escape hatch door located beneath the radio operator’s seat. The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. To gain better access for repairs, a square-shaped transmission hatch was located in the middle of this plate and two rectangular steering brake inspection hatches were added.

The Superstructure

The superstructure was added atop the Panzer IV hull to provide sufficient working space for the crew members. As the frontal armor thickness of the tank was increased and in order to save weight, the superstructure was slightly smaller in comparison to the Ausf.A. To provide sufficient working space and ammunition storage, it was still wider than the hull. It consisted of four welded plates (one at the front, one on each side and one at the rear) and the armored roof plates. The front plate of the Ausf B. and C was completely flat, as opposed to the 3-part front plate of the Ausf.A. This made the front armor stronger structurally, but also made production somewhat easier. On the left side of this plate was placed a protective driver’s visor. On the Ausf. B and C, a new Fahrersehklappe 30 sliding driver’s visor was used.

The Panzer IV Ausf. B and C had a new single piece frontal armor plate without the usual machine gun ball mount. Source: unknown

The driver and all remaining vision ports (on the superstructure and the turret) were also protected by new 50 mm thick armored glass blocks. When the driver’s visor was closed (usually when in combat operations), the driver would then use the KFF binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. After the spring of 1939, the majority of Ausf. B and C vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver’s visor. To the right of the driver’s vision port was placed a smaller observation hatch for the radio operator. Just to the right of this hatch, a small submachine gun/pistol port with a conical cover was added instead of the standard ball mount for a machine gun.

The side armored plates were placed vertically and were curved inwards toward the front plate. A vision port was added on each side. On the left side, there was a ventilation opening for the steering brakes. To protect this vulnerable spot, an armored covering was added. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall.

After the spring of 1939, the majority of Ausf. B and C vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver’s vision port, which is visible here. Source: warspot.ru
A Panzer IV Ausf. B (to the left) next to the Ausf. A. Source: warspot.ru

The roof armor plate was mostly flat, aside from the front part (above the driver and radio operator), which was angled slightly downwards. To gain access to their position, the driver and the radio operator were each provided with hatches located on the front roof armor. The two-part hatches used on the previous version were replaced with one-piece hatches. Each of these hatches had a small round port for the use of signal flares.

The Turret

The Panzer IV turret had a front hexagonal-shaped armor plate with two small observation hatches placed on either side of the centrally positioned main gun. While the Ausf. A used simpler flat frontal observation hatches, the following versions, including the Ausf. B and C, had a pyramidal shape. Each of the turret sides had observation ports and a one-piece hatch for the crew. The left turret observation port did not have the small slit. On each of the two crew doors, additional pistol ports were added. For protection against infantry attacks from the rear, the turret had two round shaped pistol ports located on the rear curved armor plate.

To provide good ventilation for the extraction of propellant fumes, a ventilation flap was installed on the turret top. On the Ausf. B and C, the ventilation flap was protected by an armored guard placed around it. On the turret top, the left signal port received a new cone-shaped covering.

At the rear of the turret, a commander’s cupola was placed. The Ausf. A simple drum-shaped cupola was replaced with a new model. The new cupola was better protected and had five vision ports that were protected with sliding blocks. On top of the cupola, a two-piece hatch door was installed. Its purpose was to allow the commander to enter his position, but also to provide a good all-around view when not engaged in combat.

The Panzer IV had a turret ring with a diameter of 1680 mm. This turret ring was provided with ball bearings which would allow the turret to rotate freely. The small opening between the turret and the superstructure was protected with a new type of turret ring deflector. Inside the Panzer IV, an auxiliary DKW gasoline engine was provided to power the electric motor that was used to traverse the turret. A round fuel supply opening for the DKW engine was placed on the rear left of the superstructure roof. The turret was, from early 1941 on, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear.

The majority of the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C tanks received a large stowage box mounted to the turret rear from early 1941. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Suspension and Running Gear

The suspension consisted of eight small (470 x 75 x 660 mm) wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on four bogie assemblies. The small road wheels were suspended by leaf-spring units. The distance between each bogie shaft was 500 mm. There were also four return rollers (250 x 65 x 135 mm) on each side. At the front, two drive sprockets (with 18-teeth) were placed, and on the reinforced back hull two idlers were positioned. The tracks used on the initial production Panzer IVs were 360 mm wide and were connected using pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. For a vehicle weighing 18.5 tonnes, this suspension system was considered adequate but proved to be problematic later in the war due to the added weight of following upgrades.

Side view of a Panzer IV. Source: warspot.ru

The Engine and Transmission

The Ausf. A was powered by a Maybach HL 108TR which produced 230 hp@2600 rpm. With this engine, the maximum speed was 32 km/h, with only 10 km/h cross-country. In order to increase the speed on the Ausf. B, a new Maybach HL 120 TR engine giving out 265 hp@2600 rpm was installed. The Ausf. C was powered by the same engine (named HL 120 TRM) but modified with an improved ignition starter and a new mount. With this engine, maximum speed was increased to 42 km/h, with 25 km/h cross-country. The operational range was the same: 210 km on road and 130 km cross-country. The fuel load of 470 l was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the fighting compartment. If needed, there was a valve system that allowed the crew to use the fuel of each tank individually by closing the fuel supply from the other two.

The Panzer IV’s engine cooling system consisted of two coupled radiators placed at a 25° angle. The air was then sucked in by two large cooling fans which were driven by a ‘V’ shaped belt from the crankshaft. This cooling system was designed to provide effective cooling in temperatures of up to +30° Celsius. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. The crew could, if needed, gain access to the engine through a door placed in this firewall. The ‘Allklaunen SFG 75’ five-speed (and one reverse) transmission was replaced with a new SSG 76 six-speed (and one reverse) one. The steering mechanism used in the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C was of the ‘Wilson’ type, which was designed and produced by Krupp.

The Panzer IV turret was not centrally positioned and was actually offset to the left side of the superstructure by around 6.67 cm. The engine was also offset some 15 cm to the right. This arrangement was done so that the driveshaft did not interfere with the electrical supply system of the turret.

The Armor Protection

For the lower hull, the upper front armor plate thickness was increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower plate was 30 mm placed at a 14° angle. While the front armor of the lower hull of the Ausf. B/C was thickened, the side, rear and top armor remained the same. The side armor of the hull was 14.5 mm thick, the rear was 10-14.5 mm and the bottom was 8 mm.

The front superstructure armor was 30 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 14.5 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 10 mm thick armor (at a 35° angle) at the sides and 14.5 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear. From early 1941 onwards, an additional 30 mm armor plates were bolted to the front hull armor.

This vehicle received increased protection through the addition of 30 mm thick armored plates to the superstructure front. Source: Unknown

The front turret armor was 30 mm thick (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 14.5 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor, with the two hatch doors being 8 mm thick. The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous and rolled plates. While the increased frontal armor provided protection from 20 mm armor-piercing rounds, the sides were still vulnerable to anti-tank rifles. In an attempt to increase overall protection from anti-tank rifles, at least one Ausf.B or C vehicle was equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen).

A Panzer IV Ausf. B/C equipped with 5 mm thick Schürzen. Source: Pinterest

From August 1938 on, nearly all German Panzers were equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer IV’s commander. When activated, the Panzer would then drive back to the safety of the smokescreen. This system was not very effective and was replaced with turret-mounted smoke grenade launchers later in the war.

The Crew

The Panzer IV had a 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. This five-man crew configuration was a rarity at that time and provided the Germans with a huge advantage during the earlier stages of the war.

The Panzer IV commander (Kommandant) was positioned in the rear center of the turret. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a cupola. For crew communication, the commander was provided with an intercom system in the form of a laryngophone.

During the early testing with the Grosstraktor (held in Kazan in the Soviet Union), the Germans noted that the commander should not be involved in any duties beside his intended role, such as loading or firing the gun. If the commander was distracted, the overall performance of the tank would be greatly reduced, as he could not pay proper attention to his surroundings (for example the position of friendly or enemy units). For this reason, the commander was provided with a cupola that had an all-around view and was tasked with directing the whole crew. This simple design feature gave the Germans a huge tactical advantage in the early stages of the war. For example, French and Soviet tank commanders also had to perform other roles like serving the gun and even loading, which greatly diminished the performance of their tanks despite having better armor and weapons than the German ones.

The gunner (Richtkanonier) was positioned to the left while the loader (Ladekanonier) was to the right of the main gun. While not in combat, the loader could use a folding seat on the right side of the turret. Once in combat, in order to get to the stored ammunition, he would simply fold the seat to the side and then stand on the turret basket floor.

The driver’s position (Fahrer) was on the front left side of the hull. The last crew member was the radio operator (Funker), who was positioned on the front hull’s right side. His main job was to operate the Fu 5 and Fu 2 transmitter-receiver radio set, which had an effective range of about 2 km. This radio was mounted just above the transmission. A folding 2 m long antenna rod with its wooden protective rail was placed on the Panzer IV’s right superstructure side. The secondary duty of the radio operator was to use either a 7.92 mm MP38/40 submachine gun or a pistol, which he could fire through the small frontal pistol port.

The radio’s wooden protective rail is visible here, just behind the Balkenkreuz painted on the superstructure. Source: warspot.ru

The Armament

The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. B/C was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. KwK (Kampfwagenkanone), can be translated as combat vehicle cannon or, more simply, as tank gun. The short barrel had 28 grooves, each 0.85 mm deep. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be automatically ejected, thus increasing the overall rate of fire. The Panzer IV Ausf. B/C had an internal gun mantlet which was not too effective. Later Panzer IV versions had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that stood outside of the turret were covered by a steel jacket and a deflector guard. The Ausf.C version received an improved ‘V’ shaped gun mantlet to improve deflection. Additionally, the coaxial machine gun was also provided with a protecting mount. This is the only physical change in contrast to the Ausf. B. Despite this, identification is not always easy.

The Panzer Ausf. C’s new gun mantlet with the armored covering for the MG 34 is evident here. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

This gun had a muzzle velocity of 325 m/s and proved to have satisfactory precision in combat operations and was even used to arm the early series of the StuG III vehicles. The Panzer IV was primarily meant to destroy soft-skin targets, anti-tank positions and infantry emplacements and was thus mostly equipped with high explosive and smoke rounds. The armor-piercing (AP) round could penetrate 41 mm of armor sloped at 60° at 100 m. At ranges of 500 m, the penetration dropped to 38 mm. The elevation of this gun went from –10° to +20° (–10° to 30° depending on the source). The ammunition load on the Ausf. B and C was reduced from the previous 122 to only 80 rounds. This was done mostly to reduce the weight of the vehicle. The ammunition was stored in holding bins, with 26 stored in the superstructure and the remaining 54 in the chassis. For the gunner’s protection, a recoil shield was added to the rear of the gun. Most of the Ausf. B and C vehicles were equipped with a ‘Y’ shaped metal rod antenna guide placed under the gun. Its purpose was to deflect the antenna and thus avoid damaging it during turret rotation.

The 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with the external gun mantled added on the later versions of the Panzer IV. Source: world-war-2.wikia.org

This gun was equipped with a TZF5b ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. This sight had a magnification of 2.5 and a field view of 25°. For aiming at the target, this gun sight had two engraved reticles. In the center of the first engraved reticle there was one large aiming triangle with smaller ones on both sides. The gunner had to aim the larger triangle at the enemy target, while the purpose of the smaller ones was to help in determining the target’s speed. This gun-sight was quite complicated to use and required that the gunner be well trained. The second reticle was used to help the gunner adjust the main gun to the necessary range. In combat, the gunners learned to simply use the turret coaxial machine gun to determine the range to the target. The Panzer IV was also provided with a clinometer for indirect fire support.

Under the telescopic sight, there were two mechanical handwheels for elevation and traverse of the main gun. The trigger for the 7.5 cm gun was located on the traverse handwheel. The turret was traversed via an electric motor located on the left side of the turret. The minimum traverse speed was 0.14° while the maximum speed was 14° per second. When the gunner engaged the traverse, the turret moved abruptly, which made it somewhat difficult to track moving targets. If for some reason (either combat damage or mechanical breakdown), this motor stopped working, the turret could also be manually traversed. There was a selector lever that switched between these two systems depending on the needs. While the gunner would operate the manual traverse of the turret, there was a larger hand crank that the loader could use. By using manual traversing, the gunner could rotate the turret by 1.9° per turn and the loader by 2.6°.

Besides the main gun, the Panzer IV was provided with one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun for use against infantry. The machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. The ammunition load for the single MG 34 was held in 18 belt sacks, each with 150 rounds, for a total of 2,700 rounds.

Organization and Tactics

Prior to the German invasion of Poland, the general organization of a Panzer Division consisted of two regiments each having two Panzer Battalions. These battalions were then divided into four companies. Although these units were meant to be equipped with modern Panzer III and IV tanks, due to the slow rate of production, this was not possible. For this reason, the earlier Panzer Divisions had to be equipped with weaker Panzer I and II tanks, and even captured and foreign vehicles like the Panzer 35(t) and 38(t). In the case of the Panzer IV, the situation was so critical that each Panzer Division could only be equipped with 24 (on average) such vehicles. The few produced Panzer IVs were allocated to the so-called Heavy Companies, which were divided into two platoons, each with 3 vehicles.

The primary function of the Panzer IV was to provide covering and suppressing fire for the advancing Panzer units. While they were used in Heavy Companies in combat situations, the battalion commanders would often reallocate the Panzer IV to other companies. These mixed units offered better cooperation between different types of Panzers, as the identification of targets could be achieved easier. Then, the Panzer IV crews could direct their firepower to destroy the marked target much quicker.

The usual German Panzer tactic was the use of the ‘Keil’ (wedge) formation. The tip of this attack would be formed by the Panzer III and Panzer 35 and 38 (t), while the Panzer I and II would advance on the flanks. The Panzer IVs were to follow up and would continue destroying any marked targets. The targets would usually be marked with tracer rounds or smoke marker shells. The Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm cannon was effective against all soft skin targets but was also effective against most tanks except for the better-armored ones, like the French Char B1 bis or British Matilda II.

In Combat

Due to the low production capabilities of the German war industry up to the outbreak of the war, only 211 Panzer IVs were available in September 1939. At the end of the Polish campaign, 19 Panzer IVs had been destroyed with 50 more being damaged or out of action either due to mechanical breakdowns or enemy fire. In Poland, the Panzer IV, despite its low numbers, performed well thanks to its gun, as it could easily destroy any Polish armored vehicle. Experience gained in this campaign showed the Germans that the concept of a support tank had merit. But as the Panzer IV was only available in limited numbers, it was not possible to distribute them to the Panzer Divisions in adequate numbers.

Panzer IV Ausf. B/C prior the war. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Depending on the source, between 278 and 296 Panzer IV tanks were available for the German invasion of western Europe. These were allocated to 10 Panzer Divisions. The 1st Panzer Division was provided with the largest number of Panzer IVs, with a total of 48, while the 9th Panzer Division had only 11. Here too, the Panzer IV proved to be effective in destroying most Allied tanks except for the heavier ones. The B1 bis’ front armor proved to be impenetrable to the German 3.7 and 7.5 cm tank guns.

A column of Panzer IV Ausf B. Source: warspot.ru

The ineffectiveness of the German guns against the B1 bis can be seen during the fighting at the village of Stonne near Sedan on 16th May. During this engagement, one Panzer IV managed to shoot 20 rounds against the frontal armor of a B1 bis without any success. But the Panzer IV managed to destroy the French tank’s track and render it immobile. At the same time, a second B1 bis was engaged by the same Panzer IV, but this time due a lucky hit jammed the second French tank’s cupola. The Panzer IV managed to fire another round to the rear, and this time the 7.5 cm gun managed to penetrate the rear armor of the B1 bis. Total losses of Panzer IV tanks during the campaign in the West were around 98 tanks.

A Panzer IV Ausf B/C during the French campaign. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The Ausf. B and C would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece. By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517, with each Panzer Division receiving, on average, 30 vehicles. While the Panzer IV proved to be effective against the lightly armored Soviet tanks (for example the T-26 or BT-series), the newer T-34 and KV-series proved to be too much for it.

Despite having been built in relatively small numbers, both the Ausf. B and C versions would remain in active service up to 1943. By that time, their numbers were reduced due to attrition. The surviving vehicles were given to training units. In June 1944, during the Allied invasion in Normandy, a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. Bs would be used in front line action, where they were probably all lost.

Panzer IV Ausf. B or C (at the back) somewhere in the Soviet Union. Source: Unknown
A destroyed Panzer Ausf. B or C. The increase in frontal armor protection was still insufficient for frontline use, especially from 1941 on. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
A small number of Panzer IV Ausf. B tanks would see action during the German attempts to drive the Allies back to the sea in 1944. Source: warspot.ru

Other Modifications

The Panzer IV Ausf.C chassis would be used for testing different equipment and weapon systems. There were two versions with bridging equipment, a mobile rocket launcher, training vehicle, a mine roller and a proposed recoilless rifle-armed version.

Brückenleger IV

Prior to the war, the German army was interested in the idea of bridge carrying Panzers. In 1939, Krupp developed and built six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis. While these saw deployment on the front, their overall performance was deemed insufficient and no more Brückenleger based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis were ever built. At least three Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis would be rebuilt as standard tanks in July and August 1940, but using Ausf. E superstructures and Ausf. C turrets.

Overall, six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis were built, but their performance was unsatisfactory. Source: warspot.ru

Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer)

The Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer), also known (depending on the source) as the Infanterie Sturmsteg auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV, was the second version of a Panzer IV equipped with bridging equipment. In contrast to the previous version, instead of the bridges, this vehicle was equipped with ladders that could be extended. This vehicle, in essence, used slightly modified firefighting ladders to help infantrymen cross obstacles like rivers. Two or four (depending on the source) Panzer IV Ausf. C were modified for this purpose. The sources do not specify if these vehicles were modified from the original tanks or made using repaired vehicles.

Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer) which had lost much of its suspension, probably to an enemy mine. Source: unknown

Panzer IV Ausf. C Raketenwerfer

One Panzer IV Ausf.C would be used to test the possibility of using this tank as a mobile rocket launcher. The modification included the removal of the Panzer IV turret and replacing it with a new turret with a fully rotatable rocket launching system. This system consisted of four 280 mm rockets placed in a movable and protected frame. For raising and lowering the rocket’s frame, a hydraulic drive was used. In front of the rocket frame, a small armored cabin was placed, where the gunner would sit. This cabin was also provided with a ball mounted machine gun. After testing of this new weapon system, it was not adopted for service, probably due to the high demand for Panzer IV tanks.

Panzer IV Ausf. C raketenwerfer Source: theminiaturespage.com

Fahrschulpanzer IV

As the Panzer IV Ausf. B/C tanks were recalled from front line service, a number of vehicles were modified to be used as training vehicles. This involved the removal of the turret with its armament and of the ammunition racks. A rail was placed around the turret hole.

A training Panzer IV based on the Ausf. B or C chassis. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Panzer IV mit Minenrollern

One Panzer IV Ausf. C was used to test mine rollers. Two would be attached in front of the tracks and one to the rear to detonate mines which passed between the two front rollers. Due to problems with steering, it appears that these rollers were never adopted for service.

Panzer IV with experimental anti-mine rollers. Source: Pinterest

Panzer IV with 7.5 cm Recoilless Guns

During the war, there was a proposal to mount two 7.5 cm Rücklauflos Kanone 43 recoilless guns in the turret sides of a modified Panzer IV. Additionally, one more 3 cm MK 103 autocannon was to be used instead of the main 7.5 cm gun. The project led nowhere and only a wooden mockup was built. While the sources do not mention which precise Panzer IV version was to be used for this modification, the wooden mockup shows a Panzer IV Ausf. B or C hull and gun mantlet.

A wooden mockup of the unusual Panzer IV armed with recoilless rifles. It was based (at least this mockup) on the Panzer IV Ausf. B or C. Source: www.onthewaymodels.com

Conclusion

Viewed from today’s perspective, the development of two significantly different types of tanks which were to perform different roles on the battlefield seems odd at best. The development of one vehicle capable of performing both anti-tank and support roles (eventually two variants of the same vehicle) would have been a far easier solution. It would have made production faster and reduced the need for production of two types of spare parts.

Designed to improve the Panzer IV’s overall performance, the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C solved some shortcomings of the previous version, mostly in regard of their increased frontal armor protection and the installation of a stronger engine. Both versions served as an important element of the Panzer Divisions in the earlier war years. While nearly 200 of both versions were built, there was still room for future improvements and this would lead to the development of more Panzer IV versions.



A Panzer IV Ausf.B, possibly from 2.Kompanie 15.Panzer-Regiment, 5. Panzer-Division, Poland, September 1939. Notice the classical makeshift camouflage, with a hastily sprayed reddish-brown and yellow unit markings.


A Panzer IV Ausf.C, 8th Korps, IInd Abteilung, 35th Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzerdivision – France, May-June 1940.


A Panzer IV Ausf.B of the 21st Panzerdivision – Normandy, June 1944.

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 18 tonnes (39,683 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 108TR 230 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 32.4 km/h, 10 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 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 16 mm, sides 14.5 mm, rear 14.5 and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor front 10-14.5 mm, sides 10-14.5 mm, rear 14.5 mm and the top and bottom 8-10 mm.

Sources

K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1997) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
B, Perrett (2007) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45, Osprey Publishing
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
S.J. Zaloga (2011) Panzer IV vs. Char B1 Bis, Osprey publishing
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.
H. Scheibert, Die Deutschen Panzer Des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Dörfler.
P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions: The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-40. Osprey Publishing

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 ‘Marder II’ (Sd.KFz.131)

German Tanks of WW2 Nazi Germany (1942)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – 531-576, 68-75 Converted, 10 Field Conversions

Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). However, in the early years of the war, beside the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm, which was in essence just a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun mounted on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull, the Germans did little to develop such vehicles. During the Invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht encountered tanks which they had trouble dealing with effectively (T-34 and KV series) and were forced to introduce a number of different hastily built and developed Panzerjäger based on any chassis that was available. From this, a series of vehicles generally known today as the ‘Marder’ (Marten) was created.

History

During Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer Divisions were once again spearheading the German advance, as in the previous year in the West. Initially, the lightly protected Soviet early tanks (like the BT series and the T-26) proved to be easy prey for the advancing German Panzers. However, the Panzer crews were shocked to discover that their guns were mostly ineffective against the armor of the newer T-34, the KV-1 and KV-2. German infantry units also discovered that their 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank towed guns were of little use against these. The stronger 5 cm PaK 38 towed anti-tank gun was only effective at shorter distances and it had not been produced in great numbers by that time. Luckily for the Germans, the new Soviets tanks were immature designs, plagued by inexperienced crews, a lack of spare parts, ammunition and poor operational use. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in slowing down and eventually stopping the German assault in late 1941. In North Africa, the Germans also faced increasing numbers of Matilda tanks which also proved to be hard to knock out.

The experience gained during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union raised a red alert in the highest German military circles. One possible solution to this problem was the introduction of the new Rheinmetall 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. It was first issued in very limited numbers at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942. It became the standard German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 guns being built. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it was its heavy weight, making it somewhat difficult to deploy and hard to manhandle.

The solution to this problem was to mount the PaK 40 on available tank chassis. These new Panzerjäger vehicles followed the same pattern: most were open-topped, with limited gun traverse, and thin armor. Notwithstanding these limitations, they were armed with an effective anti-tank gun, and usually with one machine gun. They were also cheap and easy to build. Panzerjägers were, in essence, improvised and temporary solutions, but effective ones nevertheless. Just as the name suggests (Panzerjäger means “tank hunter” in English), they were designed to engage enemy tanks at long ranges on open fields. Their primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, usually on the flanks. This mentality led to a series of such vehicles named Marder that was developed using many different armored vehicles as a basis.

The first series of Marder vehicles was based on captured French armored vehicles. The second series of the Marder II would be produced using the Panzer II tank chassis. The first steps in the Marder II development were undertaken by the Minister of Armament, Albert Speer. On 13th May 1942, he informed Adolf Hitler about the current state of Panzer II production and the possibility of using this tank for the purpose of an anti-tank modification. Hitler was generally interested in this modification and gave a green light for its implementation. Several days later, Speer, with the approval of Hitler, gave instructions to the OKH (German Army High Command) to modify a Panzer II Ausf.F by arming it with the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun (order 6772/42). There was also a second version of the Marder II development earlier in April, but this version was based on the Panzer Ausf.D chassis and armed with the captured Soviet 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) guns.

After a brief period of consideration, Wa Pruef 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) officials chose Rheinmetall-Borsig, Alkett and M.A.N for this task. Rheinmetall-Borsig was charged with adapting the main gun, Alkett with constructing and designing the main superstructure and M.A.N was responsible for modifying the Panzer II chassis. The prototype was to be built by mid-June 1942. On 20th June 1942, a prototype vehicle was presented to the OKH, which proved to be satisfactory and thus it was adopted for production.

The Alkett Marder II prototype. Source: beyondthesprues.com

Panzer II

The first German tank that was produced in great numbers was the Panzer I. As it was armed only with two machine guns and was lightly protected, its combat potential was quite limited. For these reasons, the Panzer II was developed to overcome the many shortcomings of the previous Panzer I model. Its main armament consisted of one 20 mm main gun and one machine gun. The maximum armor protection was initially only 14.5 mm, but it would be increased to 35 mm and even to 80 mm on later versions. It would be produced in several versions with some differences like armor thickness and different suspension, but the armament would remain mostly the same. While its own combat potential was not that great, it was nevertheless used in great numbers (some 1067 were ready in July 1941), as the Germans were still struggling to mass-produce the better Panzer III and IV. By 1942, due to attrition and obsolescence, Panzer II numbers began to dwindle and the surviving vehicles were allocated to be reused for other purposes, most notably for the Marder II and Wespe self-propelled gun.

The Panzer II, despite having lackluster performance on paper, nevertheless represented the backbone of the German Panzer Divisions during the early years of the war. Source: armouredfightingvehicle.fandom.com

Name

During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. On 20th June 1942, it was known as the Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40. Sfl stands for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’, which can be translated as ‘self-propelled’. The next month, this was changed to 7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgest.Pz.Kpfw.II. In December 1942, this became 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 auf. Sfl.II. In July 1943, it was known as Panzerjäger II 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 (Sd.Kfz.131). The Marder II name, by which it is best known today, was actually Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943. In March 1944, the name was changed to Panz.Jaeger. II fuer 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 (Sd.Kfz. 131). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the Marder II designation.

Production

For the production of the Marder II, FAMO (Fahrzeug und Motorenwerke GmbH) factories located in Breslau and Warsaw were chosen. According to Panzer-Programm II Plan 14 (dated from the 11th July 1942), the production of the Marder II would commence in July with 30 vehicles. This would then be followed up by 50 in August and September, 57 in October and November, 67 in December, January and February and the last 68 in March 1943. Actual production numbers were much different: 18 in July 1942, 50 in August, 55 in September, 59 in October, 62 in November, 83 in December, 80 in January 1943 and 45 in February. After this, the ‘Wespe’ self-propelled artillery version also based on the Panzer II chassis received a higher priority and was produced on the same lines. In addition, there was a decision to increase the production of Marder III vehicles based on the Panzer 38(t). For these reasons, the production of Marder II was delayed by a few months. Production resumed in May at a reduced pace with 46 being built and with the last 33 being completed in June 1943.

As the Panzer II was considered obsolete by 1942, the Škoda, FAMO and M.A.N companies were contracted to convert any available vehicle (even older versions) into the Marder II. The conversion could be relatively easily carried out by simply removing the Panzer II turret and superstructure. How many were actually built this way is hard to say. The first converted vehicles were not recorded in these registries, as these were included in the standard monthly production. It appears that, from June 1943 to January 1944, less than 68 Panzer IIs were thus converted.

Interestingly, a small number of Marder II were actually built by front units. In late September 1942, the 4th Panzer Division tried to convert three Panzer II into Marder II, but due to lack of main guns, it was not possible. The 12th Panzer Division had more luck and, in June 1943, it transferred 10 Panzer II to the Pz.Inst.Abt. 559 station in the area of Smolensk to be rebuilt in the Marder II configuration.

Some 531 new Marder II tank destroyers were produced, 68 were converted from older vehicles and at least 10 were field conversions. In total, according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjäger), some 609 Marder II were built by FAMO, M.A.N., Daimler-Benz and Škoda.

The number of 531 newly built Marder IIs is also supported by Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (Marder II, Militaria), but they state that 75 vehicles were converted. Other sources, like D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) or D. Doyle (German military Vehicles) mention that 576 new vehicles and 75 converted vehicles were built.

Design

Suspension

The suspension of the Marder II was visually the same as on the Panzer II. It consisted of five large 550 x 98x 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. The added gun, ammunition, armor and other changes lead to an increase of weight from 9.5 to 11 tonnes. To successfully cope with this extra weight, the Panzer II suspension was additionally strengthened by widening the leaf springs above the wheels. In addition, vertical volute shock absorbers were added on the first, second, and last road wheels on each side. 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 with a length of 2400 mm. The total track weight was 400 kg.

While modified, the Marder II suspension was mostly visually the same as that of the Panzer II. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Engine

The Marder II engine and its positioning were the same as on the Panzer II Ausf.F. The Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cylinder water-cooled engine giving 140 hp@3000 rpm was located in the rear of the vehicle’s hull. The driveshaft went from the engine through the right side of the crew compartment and was connected to the forward-mounted transmission system. The maximum speed with this engine was 40 km/h and the cross country speed was 20 km/h. The operational range was 190 km on good roads and 125 km cross country. The total fuel capacity for this vehicle was 170 liters stored in two fuel tanks (102 + 68). The Marder II crew compartment was separated from the engine by a 12 mm thick protective firewall.

Superstructure

The Marder II was built using Panzer II Ausf.F (with smaller numbers of older versions) chassis by simply removing the turret and most of the superstructure except for the driver’s compartment. On top of the driver’s compartment, a specially designed mount for the main gun was welded to the hull. Around the gun, an armored superstructure with a relatively simple design was added for the crew protection. These armored plates were slightly angled, but the armor thickness was quite low. The Marder II was an open-top vehicle and, for this reason, a canvas cover was provided to protect the crew from bad weather. Of course, this offered no real protection during combat. Due to the Panzer II’s relatively small size, the crew compartment was cramped. To avoid being hit by enemy fire, the crews were sometimes provided with movable periscopes for observation. Extra equipment like shovels, cables, and spare tracks were usually stored outside the superstructure. Additional storage wooden boxes were often added by the crew for extra equipment.

A rear view of a Marder II crew compartment. Note the periscope behind the head of the crew member on the left. Source: www.armedconflicts.com
For bad weather, the crews were provided with a canvas cover. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
Close front view of the Marder II superstructure. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Armor

The armor thickness of the Marder II hull was relatively thin by the standards of 1942. The front hull armor was 35 mm, sides and rear were only 15 mm and the bottom was 10 mm thick. The driver’s front armor plate was 35 cm thick. The new superstructure was also only lightly protected, with a 10 mm thick front and side armor. The gun was protected by a standard armor shield which consisted of two 4 mm thick separated armored plates.

Armament

The main gun chosen for the Marder II was the standard 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 L/46. This gun, with its modified mount, was placed directly on the left side of the Panzer II hull. This was done in order to provide the loader with more working space. The elevation of the main gun was -8° to +10° and the traverse 32° to the left and 25° to the right. The total ammunition load consisted of 37 rounds placed in three ammunition bins located above the engine compartment. The largest, with 24 rounds, was placed on the left side. In the middle, there was space for 7 and the last 6 were in the right ammunition bin. In order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives, two travel locks were added, one at the front to support the barrel and one in the crew compartment. Secondary armament consisted of one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun with 600 rounds of ammunition and one 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine gun.

Beside the main gun, the crews had an MG 34 at their disposal, which could be mounted on the vehicle’s top right side. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
Above the engine compartment, three ammunition storage bins were added. The crew of this vehicle had added an additional wooden box, possibly for spare parts or even more ammunition, Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
Close up view of the largest ammunition bin. Source: www.armedconflicts.com
A travel lock was highly important in order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
The large size of the 7.5 cm PaK 40 ammunition is evident here. Source: www.armedconflicts.com

Crew

The Marder II had a crew of three men, which consisted of the commander/gunner, loader and the driver/radio operator, according to the T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager). Other sources, for example W.J.K. Davies (Panzerjager, German anti-tank battalions of World War Two), give a number of four crew members. W. Oswald (Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer) also noted that the crew count was four. Author R. Hutchins (Tanks and Other Fighting Vehicles) mentions that the Marder II could have 3 or 4 crew members. The reason why authors state different numbers of crew members is not clear. To complicate matters further, photographs of the Marder II with both two and three crew members in the rear fighting compartment exist (besides the driver, who was in his own compartment at the front).


This vehicle had two crew members in the fighting compartment. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The driver’s position was unchanged from the original Panzer II. He was the only crew member that was fully protected. The driver was positioned on the vehicle hull’s left side. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a standard front vision port with two additional smaller ones on each side. The driver could close the visor in combat situations. In this case, he could use the small twin periscope (type K.F.F.2) for observation. This periscope was completely removed from January 1943 on.

The driver could enter his position through the crew compartment or through a small rectangular hatch door in front of his post. He also had to manually release the front travel lock. Source: www.armedconflicts.com

Some vehicles were provided with a dummy front visor which was added right of the driver. Its purpose was to fool enemy gunners. The driver could enter his position from the crew compartment or through a small rectangular hatch door in front of him.

This vehicle and the ones in the front appear to have more than two crew members in the crew compartment. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
The fake driver vision port is visible here, on the right of the real driver’s visor. Source: warspot.ru

The driver was also the radio operator but, according to authors Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (Marder II, Militaria), this task was reassigned to the gunner during the war. The Marder II was provided with a transmitter and receiver radio set and, in addition, with an intercom set. The last but maybe the most important task of the driver was to manually release the forward travel lock. In an unexpected combat situation, this would mean that he had to expose himself to potential enemy fire. For driving at night, initially, two front-mounted headlights were used. Later in production, only one was kept. The commander, who was also the gunner if the crew was only composed of 3 soldiers, was positioned to the left of the main gun. To his right was the loader. The loader also operated the MG 34 used against enemy infantry and soft skin targets. The commander and the driver communicated by using an internal telephone.

Organization

Initially, the Marder II was used to equip smaller 9 vehicle-strong anti-tank companies (Panzerjäger Kompanie). These were divided into 3 vehicle-strong platoons (Zuge). By the end of 1942, the number of vehicles per company had increased by one more vehicle. The single added vehicle was used as a command unit (Gruppe Führer) which was also usually accompanied by a command vehicle based on an obsolete Panzer I. This was the case for normal companies attached to Infantry or Panzer Divisions.
In addition, independent army anti-tank battalions (Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen) were formed with 13 vehicles per company, which consisted of one command vehicle and three platoons with four vehicles each.

In June 1943, the anti-tank company’s size was increased to 14, with two vehicles given to the command platoon and four vehicles to each platoon. At the same time, the independent army anti-tank battalions received one more command vehicle and the overall strength was to reach 45 operational vehicles in theory. Of course, in reality, due to high demand, insufficient numbers built, and combat losses these numbers were never fully achieved. Due to increased losses and as more advanced anti-tank vehicles were introduced for service, the surviving Marder IIs were mostly allocated to Infantry and Grenadier Divisions in the later stages of the war.

Distribution to the Units

With the production of first Marder II, the OKH ordered the formation of the first anti-tank companies which were to be given to the 3rd, 9th, 13th and 24th Panzer Divisions during the period of July to August 1942. These plans would not materialize as planned and there were some delays in deliveries. Possibly due to lack of 7.5 cm armed Marder II, the 13th Panzer Division was instead supplied with six 7.62 cm armed Marder II vehicles based on Panzer II Ausf.D/E chassis. The 3rd Panzer Division received nine Marder II vehicles in August and three the following month. The 24th Panzer Division did not receive its promised Marder II vehicles until September.

Due to critical situations and high demand for effective anti-tank vehicles in mid-August 1942, a group of 72 Marder Is and IIs were allocated to the Heeresgruppe Mitte on the Eastern Front and distributed to various Infantry and Panzer Divisions. In October 1942, the OKH planned to increase the number of Marder IIs on the Eastern Front by creating four new 36-vehicle strong anti-tank battalions: the 521st, 559th, 611th and 670th. These units were to be formed by the end of 1942. The Soviet counteroffensive around Stalingrad stopped these plans. The Germans were forced to send all available Marder vehicles to reinforce as many SS and Panzer Divisions as possible. This decision meant that Marder II vehicles had to be sent in smaller numbers to equip as many units as possible, which diminished the effectiveness of the units equipped with them. For example, the SS Totenkopf Division had 9 Marder II, 6th Panzer Division had 10, 11th Panzer Division had 10, 17th Panzer Division had 6 and 20th Panzer Division had 13. Some Infantry Divisions were also supplied with Marder II vehicles, like the 206th, 306th and 336th.

During 1943, some fourteen Infantry and Panzer Divisions were supplied with Marder II vehicles, with numbers ranging from 1 to 14 per unit, some probably being reinforcements or replacements for lost vehicles. For example, just one Marder II was given to the 306th Infantry Division in June, 3 were given to the 17th Panzer Division and 14 to the 5th Panzer Division.

Interestingly, the 4th Panzer Division used 18 Marder IIs (out of their 27) to equip the 1st Abteilung of the 35th Panzer Regiment in February 1943. This was done due to a lack of Panzer IVs armed with the longer barreled gun. These Marder IIs would finally be replaced with Panzer IVs in May 1943.

Combat Experience

A report made by the 4th Panzer Division’s 49th anti-tank battalion, based on the experience gained while serving on the Eastern Front, gives a good insight into the Marder II’s general performance.

The main gun was described as having good stability during firing and was capable of penetrating the T-34 hull and turret armor without a problem. There were cases of penetrating the T-34’s turret side armor at a range of 1200 m, along with another case of destroying an American-supplied Lee tank at the same range.

On the negative side, the average rate of fire was only 5 rounds per minute due to the large size of the ammunition and the rear-positioned storage bin. In addition, firing more than 5 rounds caused the accumulation of a smoke cloud in front of the vehicle. Additional problems were the poor quality of the muzzle brake assembly which usually became loose after only 8 to 10 shots. The ammunition load was also noted to be insufficient. In combat situations, this load could be quite quickly spent. In that case, due to a lack of ammunition vehicles, the Marder II had to return to the rear. The recoil during firing the gun would sometimes cause the internal or external spare parts to knock away and the large number of damaged periscopes meant that spare periscopes were in high demand. A huge problem was the lack of armored or even soft skin ammunition and supply carriers.

The armor was weak overall and provided the crew with minimal forward and side protection. The canvas cover was also noted to be of poor quality and was not efficiently protecting the crew and more importantly the onboard equipment (radio etc.) from the weather, which could lead to its malfunctioning. For operations on the Eastern Front, where the weather was quite harsh, this was an important point.

Radio equipment problems were also noted. The main reason for the malfunctions of the radio equipment was the breaking of the sensitive vacuum tubes and other parts due to the strong gun recoil or simply by moving on uneven terrain. The range of the onboard radios was also noted to be insufficient and the installation of the Fu 5 sets was more desirable.

The increase of weight caused some problems with the engine overheating. Another issue was the lack of spare parts for the leaf spring units. The problem with the inadequate command vehicles based on the Panzer I was also noted.

In combat, it was often a practice (albeit unpopular among the Marder II crews) for the local commander to ask for the Marder IIs to be dispersed and used piecemeal in support of the infantry. This tactic was dangerous for the vehicle, as the tank destroyers functioned best working together to destroy enemy vehicles and provide mutual cover. Providing close fire support for infantry was the job of the StuG vehicles which were designed for this role. When used in the infantry support role, the Marder II would stay behind in a well-selected position and provide long-range fire against enemy armor only. It was open-topped, with thin armor and any close engagement could easily lead to losses. The Marder II, despite having a range of 2000 m, could not be used as an artillery weapon due to the small ammunition load which could be quickly expended.

When enemy vehicles were spotted, a Panzerjäger Kompanie’s primary duty was to engage them with any available vehicle. Despite the fact that the 7.5 cm gun could destroy Soviet tanks at great ranges, shooting at distances greater than 1 km was generally to be avoided due to the reduced chance of hitting the enemy and the small ammunition loads. During an attack, the job of the Marder II was to support the Panzers with covering fire from the flanks. It was also a practice for Panzer units to attach a number of light tanks to the Marder II units to act as a defence against possible enemy infantry counter-attacks. In addition, during such operations, attaching infantry support to the Marder IIs was also noted to be important.

When supporting defensive operations, the report mentions that Marder II should not be used as a normal anti-tank gun in a static defensive position. The commander of each company was tasked, in this situation, to make a detailed scouting of the position and indicate the possible directions from which the enemy tanks were likely to attack from. Once these were identified, the Marder IIs were to be used as a mobile reserve. If this was not done by regulation and the Marder IIs were put in front in a static defensive position, there was a huge chance that the enemy would detect them and destroy them from range.

Use in Combat

Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the sources do not provide precise information about the Marder II during combat operations. While over six hundred were built, the majority would be used on the Eastern front, with smaller numbers on the remaining fronts. During the German attack in the Kursk area, the Marder II distribution was as followed: Heeres Gruppe A had 25 operational vehicles, Heeres Gruppe Sud had 113 operational with 4 in repair, Heeres Gruppe Mitte had 172 operational with 5 in repair, and Heeres Gruppe Nord had 74 operational vehicles. By the end of 1943, the number of operational Marder II was reduced for Heeres Gruppe A to 9 vehicles, Heeres Gruppe Sud to 76 with 43 operational, Heeres Gruppe Mitte to 81 with 62 operational, and Heeres Gruppe Nord had 30 operational vehicles.

Smaller number of vehicles also found their way to the Western Front, with 8 vehicles being positioned in Denmark, 15 in France and 20 in the Netherlands. Smaller numbers were also used in Italy and North Africa.

One of the best known Marder IIs photographed, nicknamed ‘Kohlenklau’ (coal thief). This particular vehicle had an astonishing 20 kill rings painted on the gun barrel. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
Having only thin armor protection, a well selected position and camouflage were essential for the crew’s survival. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
A number of Marder II saw action in North Africa. Some vehicles were transported by using the large Me-323 Gigant transport planes. Source: www.armedconflicts.com
Due to its thin armor protection, the Marder II was an easy target for enemy gunners. Source: www.reddit.com

5 cm PaK 38 Marder II

Interestingly, beside the Marder II armed with the powerful 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, there was also a version armed with the weaker 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun. Sources disagree on whether this was a simple field conversion, a limited production series or a prototype vehicle. According to authors Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (Marder II, Militaria), a small series of 30 to 50 such vehicles was built in 1944. These vehicles were used on the Eastern Front. According to internet sources, only one field-built vehicle was made and used by Panzerjäger Abteilung 128 of the 23rd Panzer Division. Authors G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (Marder III, Kagero) note that the 5 cm armed version was built in small numbers due to the lack of stronger 7.5 cm guns.

Abandoned 5 cm PaK 38 (to the right) and a 7.5 cm PaK 40 Marder II (to the left), possibly on the Eastern Front. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
While its origin is unclear, this conversion had a much simpler superstructure design than the standard produced Marder II. Source: warspot.ru

Night Hunter Version

During 1943, at least one Marder II was used to test the Zielgeraet 1221 night vision equipment. This conversion and testing were carried out at the Army School at Fallingbostel. The night vision equipment consisted of one 500 W infrared reflector that illuminated possible targets with a beam of infrared radiation. The illuminated targets would then be observed by a ZG 1221 electro-optical converter. This system had an effective range of about 600 m. For the needed extra power, a GC 400 electric generator with a HS5F power supply unit was added. Whether this equipment was ever used in combat on a Marder II is unclear.

The Marder II equipped with the experimental night vision equipment. Source: Pinterest

Hungarian Marder II

In June 1941, the Hungarians joined their German allies during the Invasion of the Soviet Union. By 1942, their armored formations were decimated by the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. The Hungarians mostly fielded 37 to 40 mm gun-armed tanks (Turan I and 38M Toldi), which were of limited utility against the Soviet medium and heavy tanks. To help their desperate allies, during late 1941 and early 1942, the Germans provided them with 102 Panzer 38(t) and a smaller number of Panzer IV vehicles. In December 1942, five Marder II vehicles were also supplied.

These Marder II tank destroyers saw action against Soviet forces with some success. By 9th February 1943, due to extensive combat with the Soviets, only two Marder II vehicles were still operational. These vehicles would be returned to the Germans in the summer 1943. The Hungarians tried to build their own self-propelled anti-tank vehicle inspired by the Marder II. This vehicle was based on the Toldi I tank and armed with a German 7.5 cm PaK 40, but only one prototype was ever built.

Only five Marder II vehicles were supplied by the Germans by the end of 1942. The Hungarian Marder IIs managed to achieve limited success. Source: Pinterest

Surviving vehicles

Today, there are four surviving Marder II vehicles, with one at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum, Fort Benning (USA), one in Kubinka (Russia) and one at the Arsenalen Tank Museum Strängnäs (Sweden). Another Marder II that was in the US was given to the German Auto und Technik Museum in Sinsheim in 1989. The Swedish Marder II was acquired from Denmark late 1945 for evaluation. It is mostly intact but without the engine.

The Swedish Marder II. Source: http://tank-photographs.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/marder-II-german-ww2-self-propelled-gun-spg.html

Conclusion

The Marder II tank destroyer was an attempt to solve the problem of the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns, but it failed in many other aspects. The low armor thickness meant that, while it could engage enemy tanks at range, any kind of return fire would likely mean the destruction of this vehicle. The small ammunition load was also problematic for its crew. Even so, while the Marder II vehicles were not perfect, they gave the Germans a means to increase the mobility of the effective PaK 40 anti-tank gun, thus giving them a chance to fight back against the numerous enemy armored formations.



The famous “Kohlenkau”, 3/Pz.jg.Abt.561, Geschützfuhrer Uffz. Helmuth Kohlke, Russia, February 1943.


Marder II Ausf.C, Afrika Korps, Tunisia, 1943.


Marder II from the Panzejäger Abteilung 50, 9th Panzerdivision, Russia, winter 1942-1943.


Marder II Ausf.F from the Pz.jg.Abt.40 attached to the 24th Panzerdivision, Russia, 1944.


Hungarian Marder II Ausf.F, late 1944.

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Sd.Kfz. 131 specifications

Dimensions 6.36 x 2.28 x 2.2 meters (20,86 x 7.48 x 7.21 feet
Total weight, battle ready 11 tonnes (24250,8 lbs)
Crew 3 (Commander/Gunner, Loader and the Driver/Radio operator)
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 140 HP @ 3000 rpm
Speed 40 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)
Operational range 190 km, 125 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 L/46
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -8° to +10°
Traverse 25° to the right and 32° to the left
Armor Superstructure 4-10 mm (0.14 – 0.39 inches)
Hull 10-35mm (0.39 – 1.37 inches)

Sources

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books
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.
C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS
G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (2002), Marder III, Kagero
W.J. Gawrych Marder II, Armor PhotoGallery
Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (2004) Marder II, Militaria.
W.J.K. Davies (1979) Panzerjager, German anti-tank battalions of World War Two, Almark
W. Oswald (2004) Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer, Motorbuch Verlag.
R. Hutchins (2005) Tanks and other fighting vehicles, Bounty Book.


Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. A

Nazi Germany (1935)
Medium Support Tank – 35 built

During the early development of the Panzer IV, no one involved in the program knew that this vehicle, designed to serve as a support Panzer, would become the Wehrmacht’s backbone for a good deal of the war. While today the Tiger and Panther are better known, the Panzer IV was produced in the greatest numbers and served on all fronts in many bloody engagements throughout the war. The development of this tank began in the mid-thirties, leading to the first model, the Panzer IV Ausf. A, being built. While this version was built in small numbers, it was more important as a starting point for the German designers in gaining valuable experience with this kind of vehicle.

Initial German Tank Developments

During the twenties, the German army began showing interest in the development and construction of tanks (Panzer in German), despite such a thing being banned by the Treaty of Versailles. One of the earlier attempts was the Leichttraktor (light tractor) armed with a 37 mm anti-tank gun. Beside this project, there was also a series of so-called ‘Grosstraktor’ (large tractor) built and tested in the late twenties which were armed with larger 7.5 cm guns. Another example was the ‘Neubaufahrzeug’ (new construction vehicle) built in 1934. The names of these vehicles may seem a little odd at first, but they were given in order to deceive the Western Allies about their actual purpose. The Germans were at this time still forbidden from developing and producing tanks. These vehicles were built in small numbers only and were used primarily for testing and gaining valuable experience in tank construction.

The Grosstraktor was one of the earlier German attempts to domestically design and produce tanks. Few were built and they were used mostly for evaluation and initial crew training. Source: warspot.rui

One of the main problems encountered with the development of these earlier vehicles (especially the Neubaufahrzeug) was the use of modified aircraft engines. These engines produce very high torque at low speeds (1400 to 1600 rpm) which forced the Germans to use heavier drives than otherwise needed. Due to restrictions in weight (in order to cross bridges), the armor had to be thinner, the crew had to be smaller and the size of the gun was limited. Other issues included the overcomplicated suspension and the position of the drive sprocket.

In order to solve these issues, Wa Pruef 6 (the German armor design office which was part of the ordnance department) insisted that, for the new series of medium Panzers initially named ‘Verbesserten Neubau Fahrzeug’ (Improved New Construction Vehicle), a specially designed engine would be used. The well known Maybach factory was chosen as it had experience in engine development from its production of Zeppelin airship engines. In addition, great attention would also be given to the development of an improved suspension system. From these demands appeared the Begleitwagen, from which the future Panzer IV would eventually arise.

The Neubaufahrzeug, despite being built in small numbers (only five vehicles), still saw limited service within the German Army during the invasion of Norway in 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Name

‘Begleitwagen’, shortened B.W., can be translated as escort vehicle, or even as escort tank. Although it is quite common in modern sources to see B.W. being taken to mean ‘Bataillonfuehrerwagen’ (battalion commander’s vehicle), the use of this term dates from Rheinmetall wrongly designating the B.W. as ‘Bataillonwagen’ (battalion vehicle) in 1943. Post-war historians reused this term and added on the ‘fuehrer’ to create the incorrect ‘Bataillonfuehrerwagen’ designation. In any case, the initial use of the Begleitwagen designation was meant to hide the true purpose of this vehicle from the rest of the world, as the development of tanks was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

In March 1935, the German government officially decided to publicly renounce the Treaty of Versailles. For this reason, there was no more need to disguise the true nature of these vehicles. The initial name Begleitwagen would be replaced with Gesch.Kpfw. (75 mm) Vs.Kfz.618 (Geschütz Kampfwagen 75 mm Versuchs Kraftfahrzeug 618 – 75 mm Gun Tank Test Vehicle). On 3rd April 1936, the name was changed to Panzerkampfwagen IV (75 mm) Vs.Kfz.622. This vehicle would also receive the Ausführung (version or type) A (Ausf. A for short) suffix to distinguish it from later models. Most sources use the much simpler Panzer IV Ausf.A designation. This article will use this shorter term for the sake of simplicity.

Development of the Support Tank Concept

The development of the medium Panzers was already underway during the early thirties. In top military circles, which included Generalmajor Oswald Lutz and his Chief of Staff Oberstleutnant Heinz Guderian of In 6 (Inspektorat 6, the inspectorat for mechanization), two new Panzer concepts were being formed. One was to be developed to counter enemy tanks, named Z.W., ‘Zugführerwagen’ (platoon commander’s vehicle). Initially, this vehicle was to be armed with a 3.7 cm gun.

The second concept was to act as a support vehicle for the Z.W., with a larger caliber gun firing mostly high explosive ammunition. For this reason, the B.W. was to be equipped with one 7.5 cm gun which would enable it to destroy enemy bunkers, anti-tank guns and machine-gun nests. Additional requirements for the B.W. were an overall weight of 18 tons, armor thickness between 5 and 14.5 mm, being powered by a 320 hp engine, a top speed of at least 30 km/h, dimensions of around 5600 x 2900 x 2650 mm, the ability to cross 2.2 m-wide trenches and to climb a 30° slope. The last requirement regarded the ammunition capacity, calling forth 140 rounds for the main gun and 3000 rounds for the machine guns. The work on the B.W. was officially approved by In 6 on 25th February 1934. Two firms, Rheinmetall and Krupp, would compete to design this vehicle.

The Unsuccessful Rheinmetall Begleitwagen

Rheinmetall had been involved in the earlier Panzer development program and was, for unknown reasons, favored by Generalmajor Lutz. In 1932, he insisted that the development of Panzers should be given to one firm only: Rheinmetall. This company designed and built the Neubaufahrzeug, which proved to be an unsuccessful and outdated design. Despite this, Rheinmetall received a contract in February 1935 for building the first prototype for the new B.W. vehicle.

The resulting design weighed 18 tons, with 13 to 20 mm of armor. Its armament consisted of a 7.5 cm gun and two machine guns. With its 300 hp engine, the maximum speed was estimated to be around 35 km/h. This vehicle had a running gear which consisted of eight small road wheels connected in pairs, three return rollers (on each side), two front driver sprockets and two idlers. The suspension design was more or less taken from another Rheinmetall vehicle, the Neubaufahrzeug. One wooden model and one soft steel vehicle were built, but no production orders were given and the design was rejected.

While the German army initially showed interest in the Rheinmetall design, it was not accepted for service. Possibly to save time and resources, Rheinmetall simply reused the suspension of the earlier Neubaufahrzeug. Source: warspot.ru

The Krupp Design

The Krupp company was also involved in the initial steps of designing Panzers, but was also involved in designing and building the turret for the Rheinmetall Neubaufahrzeug. In later years, the Krupp company would be the chief turret designer for most German tanks during the war.

The B.W.I Kp prototype easily identified by its eight road wheels. Photo: valka.cz

During April 1934, Krupp offered the German army two different projects for the B.W. requirement. Both vehicles were to be armed with the same 7.5 cm main gun and two machine guns. The first was designed as a 17.2 ton tank with 20 mm of frontal and 14 mm of side armor. The second one was somewhat heavier (18.5 tons), having thicker 30 mm front and 20 mm side armor. There was also a proposal to add a secondary sub-turret (possibly armed with two machine guns), possibly on the right side of the superstructure, somewhat similar to the Rheinmetall prototype. Great attention was given to the development of the suspension and, after a series of trials, two models were proposed, using eight wheels or six larger ones.

While similar to the later Panzer IV Ausf.A, there were a number of changes that were made to the Krupp BW design seen here. The most obvious was the completely flat roof of the superstructure, while the Panzer IV had a sloping downwards design at the front, just above the driver and the radio-operator’s stations. Source: warspot.ru

In July of 1935, Krupp received an order to produce one B.W.I Kp (with eight road wheels) prototype vehicle. In October the same year, another order was given for the production of the B.W.II Kp (with six road wheels). In January of 1936, Krupp received orders for the production of the B.W. superstructure, main turret and smaller sub-turret.

A fully operational B.W.I Kp was completed by the end of April 1936. Shortly after, the B.W. II Kp prototype without the turret was also constructed. The fate of the sub-turret variant is not clear but it is possible that it was never implemented on any Krupp prototype. While neither of these two vehicles would enter serial production, the B.W.I Kp would, with a number of improvements and modifications, be used as base for the future Panzer IV. Both prototype vehicles would be used for testing and evaluation, including trials of bridge-laying equipment.

A side view of the unfinished B.W.I Kp prototype. Source: warspot.ru
The B.W. II Kp prototype can be easily identified by the six larger road wheels. While it was not accepted for service, it was still used for testing, including for bridge-laying equipment, as seen here. Source: Pinterest

Connection to the VK 20.01 Series

In some sources (like D. Nešić, Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, for example), it is noted that the Panzer IV was actually based on a series of experimental armored vehicles called VK 20.01 (VK is for Vollketten – fully tracked). It is important to note that this is not exactly true, mainly due to the fact that the VK 20.01 project was initiated in 1938 as a replacement for the Panzer III and IV. In addition, the aforementioned Rheinmetall B.W. prototype was never called VK 2001 (Rh) by the Germans at that time.

The Panzerkampfwagen IV

The German army officials were generally satisfied with Krupp’s B.W.I prototype and asked for a small series of improved ‘1.Serie/B.W.’ (1./B.W.) to be built. The new vehicle was visually the same as the B.W.I prototype, but with many improvements and modifications. Some of these included the almost complete use of welding for the armor, a different commander’s cupola, a modified superstructure, adding a stronger and larger 230 hp@ 2600 rpm Maybach HL108 TR engine, changing the shape of the drive sprocket and idler, and several other more minor adjustments.

A brand new Krupp-produced Panzer IV Ausf.A (chassis number 80113) in February 1938. Source: warspot.ru

Production

Production of the first Panzer IV was carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. It began in October 1937 and, by March (or June depending on the source) 1938, all 35 vehicles were completed. Despite the general misconception nowadays that the Germans had a well developed and advanced industry, in reality this was not exactly the case. The long time to build just 35 vehicles is proof of this, as Krupp simply had no capacity (at least prior to the war) for mass production of tanks. The chassis numbers of these vehicles run from 80101 to 80135.

Specifications

The Hull

The Panzer IV hull was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and enclosed driving compartment. The lower part of the hull had 10 different sizes of openings to allow easier maintenance for the crew. In the case of an emergency, the crew could use the round escape hatch door located beneath the radio operator’s seat. The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. To gain better access for repairs, a square-shaped transmission hatch located in the middle of this plate and two rectangular steering brake inspection hatches were added.

The Superstructure

The superstructure was added atop the Panzer IV hull to provide sufficient protection for the crew members. To provide sufficient working space and ammunition storage, it was wider than the hull. It consisted of four welded plates (one at the front, one on each side and one at the rear) and the armored roof plates. The front plate was not flat, with the driver plate protruding out. This was done to provide the driver with a better view to the front and sides when driving. On the front side of this plate, a protective driver’s visor port was placed, which was provided with thick armored glass for extra protection. When this visor was closed (usually when in combat operations), the driver would then use the KFF binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor port. On the right side of the protruding driver plate, an observation hatch with no visor was placed. In front of the radio operator’s position to the right of the front plate was a ball mount for a machine gun.

The side armored plates were placed vertically and were curved inwards toward the front plate. A visor port was added on each side. On the left side, there was a ventilation opening for the steering brakes. To protect this vulnerable spot, an armored covering was added. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall.

The roof armor plate was mostly flat, beside the front part (above the driver and radio operator), which was angled slightly downwards. To gain access to their position, the driver and the radio operator were each provided with a two-part hatch located on the front roof armor. Each of these hatch doors had a small round port for the use of signal flares.

Here we can observe the front superstructure with the machine gun ball mount and the open driver’s visor ports. Also we can also see the transmission and the two steering brake inspection hatches on the front hull. Source: unknown

Interestingly, the last five produced Panzer IV Ausf. A had a new redesigned Panzer IV Ausf. B hull, which had 30 mm of frontal armor. In February 1941, all surviving Panzer IV Ausf. As were reinforced with additional 30 mm thick front plate armor.

A wooden mockup of the redesigned superstructure that would be used on the last five Panzer IV Aus.A vehicles. Source: warspot.ru

The Turret

The Panzer IV Ausf.A turret had a front hexagonal-shaped armor plate with two small observation hatches placed on either side of the centrally positioned main gun. Each of the turret sides had observation vision ports and a one-piece hatch for the crew. For protection against infantry attack, the turret had two square shaped machine gun ports located on the rear curved armor plate. To provide a good ventilation for extraction of propellant fumes, a ventilation flap was installed on the turret top. Inside the Panzer IV Ausf. A, an auxiliary DKW gasoline engine was provided to power the electric engine that was used to traverse the turret. A round fuel supply opening for the DKW engine, was placed on the rear left of the superstructure roof. The turret was, from March 1941 on, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear.

At the rear of the turret, a commander’s cupola was placed. The commander’s cupola had a simple drum shape and eight small vision slits. These slits were protected with 12 mm thick armored glass which offered the commander limited protection from bullet splash. On top of the cupola, a two-piece hatch door was installed. Its purpose was to allow the commander to enter his position, but also to provide a good all-around view when not engaged in combat.

The Panzer IV Ausf.A had a turret ring with a diameter of 1680 mm. This turret ring was provided with ball bearings which would allow the turret to rotate freely. The small opening between the turret and the superstructure was protected with angular shaped deflectors.

Rear view of the Panzer IV turret, with the two machine gun ports. The simple drum shaped commander’s cupola is also easily visible. Source: warspot.ru

In order to implement a kind of standardisation between different Panzer vehicles, the Panzer IV Ausf.A used vision ports taken from the Panzer II Ausf.A. In addition, the commander’s cupola was taken from the Panzer III Ausf.B vehicle.

Suspension and Running Gear

During the development of the Krupp prototype that would eventually lead to the Panzer IV, at least five different suspension systems were tested, including a torsion bar suspension which was favored by some officials from the Wa Pruef 6. This suspension was tested on the B.W.II but proved to be a failure. The reason for this was the fact that each torsion bar had to be provided with a shock absorber. These absorbers were often prone to overheating, which led to problems with the suspension. For this reason, Krupp’s chief tank designer Ober.Ing. Woelfert insisted on using a self-dampening leaf spring suspension. While it was not perfect, it had a much simpler design and was easier to build. Another advantage of this leaf spring suspension was the ease of field repair in case of a malfunction or combat damage.

The suspension consisted of eight small (470 x 75 x 660 mm) wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on four bogie assemblies. The small road wheels were suspended by leaf-spring units. The distance between each bogie shaft was 500 mm. There were also four return rollers (250 x 65 x 135 mm) on each side. At the front, two drive sprockets (with 18-teeth) were placed, and on the reinforced back hull two idlers were positioned. The tracks used on the initial production Panzer IVs were 360 mm wide and were connected using pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. For a vehicle weighing 18 tonnes (or 17.3 tonnes depending on the source), this suspension system was considered adequate, but proved to be problematic later in the war due to the extra added weight of following upgrades.

The Panzer IV Ausf. A suspension can be clearly seen here. While not perfect, it was easy to build and to replace damaged parts. Source: warspot.ru

The Engine and Transmission

The engine used on this vehicle was the Maybach HL 108TR which produced 230 hp@2600 rpm. The maximum speed was 32 km/h (or 10 km/h cross-country) with an operational range of 210 km and 130 km cross country. The fuel load of 470 l (or 453 l or depending on the source) was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the crew fighting compartment. If needed, there was a valve system that allowed the crew to use the fuel of each tank individually by closing the fuel supply from the other two.

The Panzer IV’s engine cooling system consisted of two coupled radiators placed at a 25° angle. The air was then sucked in by two large cooling fans which were driven by a ‘V’ shaped belt from the crankshaft. This cooling system was designed to provide effective cooling in temperatures of up to +30° Celsius. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. The crew could, if needed, gain access to the engine through a door placed at this firewall.

The ‘Allklaunen SFG 75’ five-speed (and one reverse) transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism used in the Panzer IV Ausf. A was of the ‘Wilson’ type, which was designed and produced by Krupp.

The Panzer IV Ausf.A turret was not centrally positioned and was actually offset to the left side of the superstructure by around 6.67 cm. The engine was also offset some 15 cm to the right. This arrangement was done so that the driveshaft did not interfere with the electrical supply system of the turret.

The Armor Protection

The general armor protection of the first Panzer IV Ausf.A was rather weak, ranging between 8 to 16 mm. For the lower hull, the upper front armor plate was 10 mm thick at a 72° angle, and the lower plate was 14.5 mm placed at a 14° angle. The side armor was 14.5 mm thick, the rear was 10-14.5 mm and the bottom was 8 mm.

The front hull armor was 14.5 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 14.5 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 10 mm thick armor (at a 35° angle) at the sides and 14.5 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear.

The front turret armor was 16 mm (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 14.5 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). Depending on the source, the front armor thickness of the turret varies between 15 to 20 mm. The commander’s cupola had all-around 14.5 mm of armor, with the two hatch doors being 8 mm thick.

The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous and rolled plates. The Panzer IV Ausf.A armor was designed primarily to provide protection from 7.92 mm armor piercing bullets usually fired from anti-tank rifles. The anti-tank rifles were a typical infantry weapon to fight tanks in the thirties and in the earliest stages of the war. The Panzer IV Ausf.A armor provided almost no protection from any larger caliber anti-tank guns.

From August 1938 on, nearly all German Panzers were equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (a smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer IV’s commander. When activated, the Panzer would then drive backward to the safety of the smoke screen. This system was not very effective and was replaced with turret mounted smoke grenade launchers later in the war.

The rear hull mounted Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung smoke grenade rack, seen here mounted on a Panzer III. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

The Crew

The Panzer IV had a 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. This five man crew configuration was a rarity at that time and provided the Germans with a huge advantage during the earlier stages of the war.

The Panzer IV commander (Kommandant) was positioned in the rear center of the turret. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a cupola. For crew communication, the commander was provided with an intercom system in the form of a laryngophone.

During the early testing with the Grosstraktor (held in Kazan in the Soviet Union), the Germans noted that the commander should not be involved in any duties beside his intended role, such as loading or firing the gun. If the commander was distracted, the overall performance of the Panzer would be much reduced, as he could not pay proper attention to his surroundings (for example the position of friendly or enemy units.). For this reason, the commander was provided with a cupola that had an all-around view and was tasked with directing the whole crew. This simple innovation gave the Germans a huge tactical advantage in the earlier stages of the war. For example, French and Soviet tank commanders also had to perform other roles like serving the gun and even loading, which greatly diminished the performance of their tanks despite having better armor and weapons than the Germans.

All Panzer IVs had a crew of five, which provided the German Panzer units with a significant tactical advantage, as each crew member had a precise job to accomplish. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The gunner (Richtkanonier) was positioned to the left while the loader (Ladekanonier) was to the right of the main gun. While not in combat, the loader could use a folding seat on the right side of the turret. Once in combat, in order to get the stored ammunition, he would simply fold the seat to the side and then stand on the turret basket floor.

The driver’s position (Fahrer) was on the front left side of the hull. The last crew member was the radio operator (Funker), who was positioned on the front hull’s right side. His main job was to operate the Fu 6 and Fu 2 transmitter-receiver radio set, which had an effective range of about 2 km. This radio was mounted just above the transmission. A folding 2 m long antenna rod with its wooden protective rail was placed on the Panzer IV’s right superstructure side. The secondary duty of the radio operator was to use the hull mounted 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun.

The Armament

The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. A was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. KwK stands for ‘Kampfwagenkanone’ which could be translated as combat vehicle cannon or, more simply, as tank gun. The short barrel had 28 grooves, each 0.85 mm deep. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. The Panzer IV Ausf. A had an internal gun mantlet which was not too effective. Later Panzer IV versions had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that stood outside of the turret and the gun were covered by a steel jacket and a deflector guard. For the gunner’s protection, a recoil shield was added to the rear of the gun. On a number of Panzer IV Ausf. A (and even later models), a ‘Y’ shaped metal rod antenna guide was added under the gun. Its purpose was to deflect the antenna and thus avoid damaging it during turret rotation.

The 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with the external gun mantled added on the later versions of the Panzer IV. Source: world-war-2.wikia.org

This gun had a muzzle velocity of 325 m/s and proved to have satisfactory precision in combat operations and was even used to arm the early series of the StuG III vehicles. The Panzer IV Ausf.A was primarily meant to destroy soft skin targets, anti-tank positions etc. and was thus mostly equipped with high explosive and smoke rounds. The armor piercing (AP) round could penetrate 41 mm of armor sloped at 60° at 100 m. At ranges of 500 m, the penetration dropped to 38 mm. The elevation of this gun went from –10° to +20° (–10° to 30° depending on the source). Originally, the ammunition load consisted of 140 rounds but was reduced to 122 rounds from December 1938 on in order to reduce weight. The ammunition was stored in holding bins located on the hull sides and floor.

This vehicle had a metal antenna guide installed under the gun. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

This gun was equipped with a TZF5b ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. This sight had a magnification of 2.5 and a field view of 25°. For aiming at the target, this gun sight had two engraved reticles. In the centre of the first engraved reticle there was one large aiming triangle with smaller ones on both sides. The gunner had to aim the larger triangle at the enemy target, while the purpose of the smaller ones was to help in determining the target’s speed. This gun-sight was quite complicated to use, and required that the gunner be well trained. The second reticle was used to help the gunner adjust the main gun to the necessary range. In combat, the gunners learned to simply use the turret coaxial machine gun to determine the range to the target. The Panzer IV Ausf. A was also provided with a clinometer for indirect fire support.

Under the telescopic sight there were two mechanical hand wheels for elevation and traverse of the main gun. The trigger for the 7.5 cm gun was located on the traverse handwheel. The turret was traversed via an electric motor located on the left side of the turret. Minimum traverse speed was 0.14° while the maximum speed was 14° per second. When the gunner engaged the traverse, the turret moved abruptly, which made it somewhat difficult to track moving targets. If, for some reason (either combat damage or mechanical breakdown), this motor stopped working, the turret could also be manually traversed. There was a selector lever which switched between these two systems depending on the needs. While the gunner would operate the manual traverse of the turret, there was a larger hand crank that the loader could use. By using manual traversing, the gunner could rotate the turret by 1.9° and the loader 2.6° per turn.

Beside the main gun, the Panzer IV Ausf.A was provided with two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns for defense against infantry. One was mounted in a ball mount in the hull and was operated by the radio operator. The second machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. The ammunition load for the two MG 34’s was 3000 rounds. There was an option for installing an anti-aircraft machine gun mount on the Panzer IV Ausf.A, but its use was discarded in early 1938 and it was never used in combat.

Organization and Tactics

Prior to the German invasion of Poland, the general organization of a Panzer Division consisted of two regiments each having two Panzer Battalions. These battalions were then divided into four companies. Although these units were meant to be equipped with modern Panzer III and IV tanks, due to the slow rate of production, this was not possible. For this reason, the earlier Panzer Divisions had to be equipped with weaker Panzer I and II tanks, and even captured vehicles like the Panzer 35 and 38(t). In the case of the Panzer IV, the situation was so critical that each Panzer Division could only be equipped with 24 (on average) such vehicles. The few produced Panzer IV were allocated to the so-called Heavy companies, which were divided into two platoons each with 3 vehicles.

The primary function of the Panzer IV was to provide covering and suppressing fire for the advancing Panzer units. While they were used in Heavy companies in combat situations, the battalion commanders would often reallocate the Panzer IV to other companies. These mixed units offered better cooperation between different types of Panzers, as the identification of targets could be achieved easier. Then, the Panzer IV crews could direct their firepower to destroying the marked target much quicker.

The usual German Panzer tactic was the use of the ‘Keil’ (wedge) formation. The tip of this attack would be formed by the Panzer III and Panzer 35 and 38 (t), while the Panzer I and II would advance on the flanks. The Panzer IV were to follow up, and would continue destroying any marked targets. The targets would usually be marked with tracer rounds or smoke marker shells. The Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm cannon was effective against all soft skin targets, but was also effective against most tanks except for the better-armored ones like the French Char B1 or British Matilda II.

In Combat

The first two completed Panzer IV Ausf.A were given to the Waffenamt inspectors by the end of November 1937, with the last vehicle being accepted in June 1938. Before the war, the Panzer IV Ausf.A was used on military parades. They were also employed during the Anschluss of Austria and the occupation of Sudetenland.

Panzer IV Ausf.A on a pre-war military parade. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Due to the low production capabilities of the German war industry by the time of the outbreak of the war, only 211 Panzer IVs were available in September 1939, including 30 Ausf.A, the remaining 5 being used for testing. At the end of the Polish campaign, 19 Panzer IV had been destroyed with 50 more being damaged or out of action either due to mechanical breakdowns or enemy fire. In Poland, the Panzer IV Ausf. A, while effective in its original role, proved to be vulnerable to nearly all enemy anti-tank weapons because of its weak armor. On the other hand, the gun could easily destroy any Polish armored vehicle, being themselves only lightly armored.

The Panzer IV Ausf. A saw action in Norway and also participated during the German offensive in the West in May 1940. Here too, the Panzer IV Ausf. A proved to be effective in destroying most Allied tanks except for the heavier ones. The surviving Panzer IV Ausf. A remained in use up to the spring of 1941, when they were (mostly due to the very weak armor) removed from service and given to training units.

Panzer IV Ausf.A during the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Source: https: www.worldwarphotos.info
Due to its weak armor, the Panzer IV Ausf. A was easy prey to almost any anti-tank weapon. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Conclusion

Viewed from today’s perspective (with the hindsight of what happened during the war), the development of two significantly different types of tanks which were to perform different roles on the battlefield seems odd at best. The development of one vehicle capable of performing both anti-tank and support roles (eventually two variants of the same vehicle) would have been a much easier solution. It would have made production faster and reduced the need for production of two types of spare parts.

The development of a support tank led to the Panzer IV Ausf. A being built. While it was lightly armored, it had a five man crew, good mobility, solid firepower and, with modern tactics, showed that this concept had merit in the earlier years of the war. Despite the fact that the later versions of the Panzer IV would become capable of filling both roles, the first model Panzer IV Ausf. A was one of the earlier first steps in the development of the famous Panzer Formations.



A Panzer IV Ausf.A, Poland, 4th Company, 1st Abteilung, 1st Panzer Regiment, 1st Panzerdivision. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 18 tonnes (39,683 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 108TR 230 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 32.4 km/h, 10 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 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 16 mm, sides 14.5 mm, rear 14.5 and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor front 10-14.5 mm, sides 10-14.5 mm, rear 14.5 mm and the top and bottom 8-10 mm.

Sources

K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1997) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2001) Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
B, Perrett (2007) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45, Osprey Publishing
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
S.J. Zaloga (2011) Panzer IV vs. Char B1 Bis, Osprey publishing
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.

Categories
WW2 Czechoslovak Prototypes WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Škoda Š-I-j

Czechoslovakia/Yugoslavia (1938)
Tankette – 1 built

As the Yugoslav Royal Army was in a search of new armored equipment, the Czechoslovak Škoda company was more than willing to offer its armored vehicles products. During the thirties, a few tankettes were presented to the Yugoslav Royal Army but performed poorly on testing so a new vehicle was requested. The following Š-I-D tankette achieved some success and eight were bought, but even this vehicle was deemed insufficient and future improvements were requested. This would lead to the development of the Š-I-j, which was presented to the Yugoslav Royal Army but for unknown reasons was never adopted.

History

In the early 1930s, the Yugoslav Royal Army began a process of reforming and reinforcing with additional equipment and armor for its two cavalry divisions. Each cavalry division consisted of two to three cavalry brigades with two regiments, one artillery squadron, a cycling battalion and other supporting units. It was planned to attach a motorized regiment to each division, supported with armor like light tanks or tankettes.

From the start, there was an issue as to where to acquire this new equipment from. While France and Yugoslavia had good military cooperation, France was unwilling to sell its latest tanks, as it wanted to dispose of the older surplus models first. Through the French, Yugoslavia had at its disposal around 56 older Renault-Kegresse M-28 and FT tanks, some having been bought and some received as military aid in the 1920-30s. By April 1940, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia managed to acquire 54 relatively modern R35 light tanks from France. The Yugoslav Royal Army had even considered acquiring some Soviet tank designs, such as the T-26 or BT series. However, mostly due to political reasons, this was not possible.

Yugoslavia negotiated with Poland and Czechoslovakia about acquiring new equipment. The negotiations with Czechoslovakia were somewhat successful and delivery of only eight Škoda Š-I-D (T-32 in Yugoslav service) was agreed.

The Š-I-D (T-32 in Yugoslav service) on parade. This picture was taken in September 1940 during military exercise near the capital, Belgrade. Source: srpskioklop.paluba.info

The Š-I-D was perhaps the most modern armored vehicle in the Yugoslavian Royal Army. Its general performance, however, proved to be disappointing. While the 37 mm gun was one of the best for its time for its size, the running gear proved to be unreliable, with a poor design that needed constant repair and was easy to break. Another issue was its armor thickness, which the Yugoslav Royal Army never deemed sufficiently strong and required to be improved. For these reasons, the Yugoslav Royal Army officials demanded from Škoda a new tankette with improved running gear, armor and main weapon. Škoda developed a much improved Š-I-j tankette. The prototype, without the gun, was completed in May 1938.

Name

The Š-I-j designation is an abbreviation, with ‘Š’ standing for the manufacturer, Škoda, ‘I’ (Roman number for 1) represents the vehicle category (category I for tankettes, category II for ‘light’ tanks and the category III for ‘medium’ tanks) and ‘j stands for ‘jugoslávský’, Yugoslav. Depending on the source, it was also marked with a capital ‘J’. But, if we take into account that the previous Š-I-D prototype was also marked with a minuscule ‘d’, we can assume that the Š-I-j designation is correct.

Škoda began changing its naming system for its production vehicles in 1940 (or in 1939 depending on the sources) and this included the Š-I-j. There are some disagreements between different authors about its later designation. According to B. Nadoveza and N. Đokić (Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije), the name was changed in May 1939 to T-I-D, where the capital ‘D’ stands for Diesel. Author D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj), mentioned that the name was changed to T-3D. To complicate the matter more, authors H. C. Doyle and C. K. Kliment (Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945) state that the T-3D designation was used for the previously built Š-I-D tankette.

Technical Characteristics

The new Š-I-j tankette had many visual similarities with the previous built Š-I-D. The most obvious change was the redesigned and improved suspension, which had proved to be highly problematic on the previous version. It consisted of two pairs of larger road wheels (on each side), suspended by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total (with four on each side).

Drawings of the Š-I-j tankette. Source: www.palba.cz

The vehicle was equipped with (sources do not give us a precise type or name) a 3.77 liter diesel engine giving 44 kW (59 hp)@2200 rpm. The vehicle’s maximum speed was 31 km/h, but the cross-country performance is unknown. While tested with the Yugoslav Royal Army, the operational range was listed as 6 hours not in usual km.

The main armament was the Škoda A9J 47 mm gun with 42 rounds of ammunition. The gun could elevate between -10° to +25° and traverse 15° on both sides. The secondary weapon was a ZB vz.30J machine gun with 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Front view of the Š-I-j tankette. The 47 mm main gun and the machine gun next to it can be observed. The running gear was also improved, which had proved to be highly problematic on the previous version. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The superstructure consists of a simple rectangular armored casemate with a commander’s cupola on top. The armor plates were held in place with rivets. The front armor thickness was 30 mm, the sides 15 mm and the rear was 12 mm thick.

View of the rear side and the engine compartment of the Š-I-j. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The Š-I-j had two crew members: the driver who also used the machine gun, and the commander, who was at the same time the gunner and loader of the main gun. This was far from ideal, but for tankette standards of the era, it was completely normal. To gain access to their battle positions, the commander entered through the command cupola and the driver through the hatch next to it. The crew could observe the surroundings through two larger observation hatches in front, with an additional smaller one located on the driver side. For the commander, there was no need for a side observation hatch, as he had the cupola for all-around view of the surroundings.

Fate

The Š-I-j prototype was presented to a Yugoslav military delegation during March 1939. After examining the vehicle, the delegation had shown interest in the potential purchase of some 108 vehicles. By the end of 1939, the sole prototype was transported to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia for future examination. It is not clear what happened during the examination but no production orders were placed by the Yugoslav Royal Army. Possible reasons for this were that it was either deemed unsatisfactory or that more modifications were required, but the sources are not clear on the matter. It is also possible that the Yugoslav army officials simply lost interest in tankettes and wanted a ‘proper’ tank. In either case, the vehicle was returned to Škoda, where it was taken over by the Germans. Its final fate is unknown, but it can be assumed that it was probably scrapped during the war

Conclusion

While the new Š-I-j had many improvements regarding the armor, the armament, the running gear and the engine, for unknown reasons, it was never adopted by the Yugoslav Royal Army. Had it been put in service it may have been one of the best such very light vehicles in the world mainly due to its armor and armament, as most other similar vehicles were only lightly armored and armed with only machine guns.



Illustration of the Škoda Š-I-j produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.58 x 2.05 x 1.8 m
Total weight, battle ready 5.8 tons
Crew 2 (commander, driver)
Propulsion Unknown diesel type with 44 kW 2200 rpm, 3.77 liter
Speed 31 km/h
Armament 47 mm A-9J Gun
7.92 mm Vz.30J Machine Gun
.
Armor front plate 30 mm, sides 15 mm, rear 12 mm, floor 20 mm
Total Production 1

Sources

D. Babac (2008), Elitni vidovi jugoslovenske vojske u Aprilskom ratu. Evoluta
B. Nadoveza and N. Đokić (2014), Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije,
B. B.. Dimitrijević, (2011) Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
H.C.Doyle and C.K.Kliment (1979), Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945, Argus Books Ltd.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
srpskioklop.paluba.info
www.palba.cz

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Renault R35 tanks in Yugoslav Service

Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1940)
Light Tank – 54 Purchased

In the interwar period, the Yugoslav Royal Army made some attempts to acquire new armored vehicles. The country that offered the best chance to get this equipment was France for two reasons. First, the relatively good relations between these two countries and the fact that France had a large number of tanks available. Despite the French reluctance to sell newer designs, an agreement for the purchase of 54 Renault R35 tanks would eventually be made. These tanks would be the most numerous armored vehicles that the Yugoslav Royal Army managed to acquire before the Axis invasion in April 1941.

History

In the early 1930s, the Yugoslavian Royal Army began a process of reforming its two cavalry divisions with additional armor support in the hope of increasing its potential offensive capabilities. These two cavalry divisions consisted of two to three cavalry brigades with two regiments, one artillery squadron, a cycling battalion and other supporting units. It was planned to attach a motorized regiment to each division supported with armored vehicles like the light tanks or tankettes.

From the start, there was an issue with where to acquire this new equipment from. While France and Yugoslavia had good military cooperation, France was unwilling to sell its latest tanks and wanted to dispose of the older surplus models. Through the French, Yugoslavia had at its disposal around 56 older Renault-Kegresse M-28 and FT tanks, some having been bought and some received as military aid in the 1920-30s. Some of these FT tanks were possibly acquired from Poland.

With the outbreak of World War II, it was almost impossible for the Yugoslav Royal Army to acquire new armored equipment anywhere in Europe. But this did not discourage the Yugoslav Royal Army officials from continuing negotiations with the French Army about buying any available modern armor. The continuous insistence of the Yugoslav military delegations finally bore some fruit in early 1940, when the French Army agreed to sell 54 relatively modern R35 light tanks to Yugoslavia. These arrived in April 1940, just before the German invasion of the West which stopped any future hope of acquiring new vehicles from France.

The R35 tank

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 (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 French Army which, after a series of modifications (among which was increasing the armor to 40 mm and improving the running gear), placed an order for over 1600 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. After the defeat of France, the Germans captured many R35 tanks and put them in use in various roles, either unchanged or modified for specific purposes, such as ammunition carriers or anti-tank vehicles. The R35 was also exported to Poland, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

The R35 in France service. Source

R35 Unit Organization

Before the arrival of the R35 tanks, the Yugoslav Royal Army had at its disposal only one armored unit, simply called the Battalion of Fighting Vehicles (formed in 1936) equipped with FT and M-28 tanks. This unit is often mistakenly called the First Battalion. It is interesting to note that the Yugoslav Royal Army never adopted the term tank and instead referred to these vehicles simply as fighting vehicles (Борна Кола).

On May 3rd, 1940, the Battalion of Fighting Vehicles was reformed into the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Fighting Vehicles. The 1st Battalion was equipped with the older tanks while the 2nd was supplied with all the acquired R35 tanks. These two Battalions consisted of three companies, each with three platoons. Beside a number of motorized vehicles (for ammunition and spare parts transportation), no infantry, artillery or anti-tank support elements were provided for these units. The 2nd Battalion was commanded by Danilo Zobenica. Prior to the war, the R35 was often used in larger military exercises together with the T-32 tankettes.

The R35 in Yugoslav service were painted in the French dark green and marked with four-digit numbers. Later in service, it appears that single and double-digit numbers were used for special purposes.

In some sources, mostly internet websites, it is wrongly indicated that the R35 tanks were given to the 1st Battalion. The reason for this wrong identification is the small painted sign (a burning grenade with a number 1) located on a small spare box on the vehicle’s left side. This is actually an original French sign that was simply never repainted.

Left, the painted sign with the number 1, right above the first return roller. The person in the picture is the young King Petar II. Right, the French painted sign which is misinterpreted as the mark of the 1st Battalion. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.info
Camouflaged R35 followed by infantry on a military exercise near Belgrade in early 1940. The Frech sign is still visible here. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The R35 in a Military Coup, March 1941

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 happening. They were supported by the R35 tanks of the 2nd Battalion of Fighting Vehicles, which were deployed at key locations in the capital Belgrade. The coup was successful. The R35 did not fire a single round and were used more as a psychological weapon.

During this coup, some R35 tanks had political slogans painted on the turret, for example, ‘For King and Country’ (За Краља и Отаџбину). The success of the coup actually doomed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and, only a few weeks later, the Axis forces attacked.

One of the R35 tanks used during the coup on the 27th of March. This tank had a political slogan ‘For King and Country’ painted on the turret. Source
The same tank placed in front of the Army Ministry building. Source

During the April War

The new government formed following the coup anticipated a potential Axis attack and began preparing for mobilisation, which proved to be too slow and inefficient. Elements from the 1st Battalion of Fighting Vehicles, with older armored vehicles, were deployed defending larger cities such as Sarajevo and Zagreb. The 2nd Battalion of Fighting Vehicles was mainly positioned defending the capital Belgrade, with one company (which one precisely is not known, it could be either 1st or 3rd) positioned in the city of Skopje. The 2nd Battalion’s new commander at the outbreak of war was Major Danilo Zobenica.

A large group of Yugoslav R35 tanks prior the war. Source

When the Axis forces attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on the morning of 6th April 1941 (known today as the April War), the 2nd Battalion was ordered to move from Belgrade to Northern Croatia in hopes of preventing any possible enemy advance. They reached the Croation city of Đakovo on the 9th of April. Once there, this unit was mostly used to pacify Croatian rebels which were trying to disarm the Army unit stationed there. On the 10th of April, the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – NDH) was formed with the support of the Germans. This event deepened the already chaotic state of the Yugoslav Royal Army stationed in Croatia. It was already breaking down due to the desertion of Croat soldiers and rapid Axis advance. For this reason, some elements from the 2nd Battalion were quickly transferred via the Sava river to Bosnia.

On 13th April, parts of the 2nd Battalion reached Gračanica in order to support the 2nd Army stationed there. Once there, the high command of the 2nd Army ordered the formation of three motorized detachments equipped with 5 R35 tanks, 5 trucks and infantry support. Once formed, these units were to defend the area around Bosanska Posavina against Croatian rebels who were openly attacking the Yugoslav Royal Army. Due to general confusion and chaos, it appears that only one such unit with around 3 or 4 R35 tanks was formed. The unit was named the Fast Detachment of the Second Army and was commanded by Dragoljub Draža Mihailović (later commander of the Chetnik movement in Yugoslavia during the war). On the night of 13th/14th April, this unit began making its way from Gračanica to its designation area. On the road to Bosanska Posavina, they engaged Croat insurrectionist forces which were defeated. The Fast Detachment also engaged with smaller German forces with some success. This unit was lost in combat with the German forces near Sarajevo. The remnants of the 2nd Battalion stationed in Bosnia were destroyed or captured by the German 14th Panzer Division.

The 2nd Battalion company that was stationed in Macedonia was completely combat ready by the time of Axis attack. On the 6th of April, it was repositioned to Ježevo Polje in support of the Bregalnička Divizija. The following day, the Germans made an attack in this area but were repulsed. The same day, the 2nd Battalion company was ordered to withdraw toward Veles. Due to the heavy German offensive, all R35 tanks were lost or abandoned by their crews.

In Occupied Yugoslavia

During the period between April 1941 and May 1945, the R35 was used by all belligerent parties in occupied Yugoslavia, including the Germans, Croats and the two Yugoslav uprising groups, the Communist Partisans and Royal Chetniks, under different circumstances.

In German hands

After the April War, the Germans captured at least 78-80 Yugoslav armored fighting vehicles. These were to be transported out of occupied Yugoslavia by the end of 1941. Because of the emergence of the two resistance movements, these vehicles were instead distributed to German occupation units. At the end of June 1941, the R35 captured tanks were used to form the Panzer Kompanie zur besonderen Verwendung 12 (12th Tank Company for Special Purposes) reformed into Panzer Abteilung zb.V.12 in 1944. The R35 was actively used to combat the Yugoslavian resistance movements almost until the end of the war. Over the years, the numbers of R35 tanks dwindled due to losses and mechanical breakdowns. For example, Panzer Abteilung zb.V.12 had, at the end of October 1944, only six R35 tanks, with only a single vehicle being fully operational.

The Germans did some minor modifications on the R35 (and on other French tanks), such as removing the larger domed shape cupolas on top and replacing them with simpler split-hatch doors. It is also not clear if all the German-operated R35 tanks in Yugoslavia were ex-Yugoslav or also ones captured in France in 1940.

This vehicle had the German Balkenkreuz painted on the turret and the rear hull but retained the original Yugoslav four digit number marking. It also had the German split-hatch turret doors. Source
A German R35 during the battle of Kraljevo, 1941. Source
The split-hatch doors, which replaced the domed shape cupola, are clearly seen here. This German R35 tank was lost in the area of Konjic in 1943 while fighting the Partisans. Source

In NDH

After the April War, the Independent State of Croatia made many requests to the Germans in order to receive captured Yugoslav armor to reinforce its newly formed army. While the Germans provided them with other captured military equipment, such as rifles and machine guns, they were initially reluctant to supply the Croats with captured tanks. Nevertheless, at least one R35 tank and a company of older FT eventually found their way into the hands of the NDH forces.

There is a possibility that the Germans provided the NDH with a small number of R35 tanks in 1944, but sources are not clear on this matter.

Beside the NDH’s Panzer I’s, to the far right, one R35 can barely be seen. While the NDH forces operated a few R35 tanks, their use was probably limited at best. Source: Pinterest

Back in Yugoslav Hands

During September and October 1941, the Partisans managed to capture several enemy tanks in Serbia. The first tank was captured on 8th September near the village of Vraževšnice. Two German tanks were captured a week later around the area of the cities of Kragujevac and Gornji Milanovac. Two more were found deserted near Gornji Milanovac on 16th October. The precise types that were captured are not clear, but at least one was a R35 tank.

Prior to its capture, the German crew sabotaged the guns on at least two of the tanks (the condition of the remaining captured tanks is not clear). For this reason, these tanks were instead armed with machine guns and hand grenades. At least two tanks were to be used in a joint Partisans and Chetniks attempt to liberate the city of Kraljevo, held by the elements of the German 717th Infantry Division. The German defenders were supported by tanks from Panzer Kompanie zu b.V.12, but no instances of tank to tank action were recorded. Even if these had occurred, the Yugoslav resistance’s tanks would be powerless to adequately fight enemy armor, being unable to use their sabotaged guns.

The tank crews consisted of both Partisan and Chetnik fighters. The R35 was commanded by Lieutenant Žarko Borušić. The attempt to liberate Kraljevo was made by the end of October 1941. The tank’s crew managed to somehow fool the German defenders and enter the city unopposed. The advancing infantry support was however stopped by the Germans and was unable to support the two tanks. The tank crews eventually managed to successfully escape the city.

This failed attempt to take the city, together with differing political views, would eventually lead to an open war between the two resistance movements. The Chetniks took possession of these tanks and killed the Partisan commander Srećko Nikolić (who was a commander of one of these tanks). The Chetniks then used two (of which one might have been an R35) tanks against Partisan forces that were holding the city of Čačak in November 1941. The Partisans managed to capture at least one tank (unknown type) from the Chetniks, possibly in late August 1941. This was then used and lost against the Germans during the latter’s attack on the territories of the Republic of Užice (part of Yugoslavia liberated by the Partisans in late 1941). The Partisans managed, in the later stages of the war, to capture even more R35 tanks. These were used against the German forces but also on parades in liberated cities, including in Kragujevac in May 1945.

After the War

A small number of R35 tanks (maybe only a few) did survive the war, but in what shape it is not known. Due to the R35 tank’s weak armor and main gun, the lack of spare parts and general obsolescence, the tanks were of limited use at best for the newly formed Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Some were possibly used as training vehicles, but it is unlikely that they were in use for a long time after the war and were probably scrapped. Unfortunately, no Yugoslav R35 tank seems to have survived to this day.

Conclusion

While the R35 represented the backbone of the Yugoslav Royal Army armored force prior to WWII, due to their small numbers, wrong tactical usage and crew inexperience, they proved no match for the well trained German Panzer units. They were used by nearly all major sides during the liberation war in Yugoslavia. While, ironically, the majority were used by the Germans, it was the Partisans who used them in many fights to liberate Yugoslavia from the Axis powers in 1945.



One of the R35 tanks used during the coup on the 27th of March. This tank had a political slogan ‘For King and Country’ painted on the turret. This illustration was produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions 4.02 x 1.87 x 2.13 m (13.2 x 6.2 x 7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 10.6 metric tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Renault V-4 gasoline 48 hp, p/w ratio 8.0 hp/t
Speed 20 km/h (12 mph)
Suspension Horizontal rubber cylinder springs
Maximum range 130 km (80 mi)
Armament Main: 37 mm (1.46 in) L/21 SA18
Secondary: Châtellerault or Reibel MAC31 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine-gun
Maximum armor 43 mm (1.69 in)
Total Operated 54

Sources

D. Babac (2008), Elitni vidovi jugoslovenske vojske u Aprilskom ratu. Evoluta
B. Nadoveza and N. Đokić (2014), Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije,
B. B.. Dimitrijević, (2011) Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Francuska, Beograd
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
S. Zaloga (2014) French tanks of World War II (1), Osprey Publishing