During the 1960s, the Yugoslavian Navy (Jugoslovenska Ratna Mornarica) became interested in Soviet anti-ship missiles for installation on its ships. Based on experiences with these weapon systems, nearly two decades later, the Yugoslavian Navy acquired 10 4K51 ‘Rubezh’ coastal defense systems from the Soviet Union. These vehicles and their service in Yugoslavia are generally unknown and very poorly documented, even though they would see use for nearly three decades until finally being phased out of service in 2007.
The story of how the Yugoslav Navy got its first 4K51 Rubezh vehicles is actually related to the acquisition of 10 Project 205-type missile boats between 1965 and 1969. The armament of these vessels consisted of four 2.5 tonne Soviet P-15 ‘Termit’ anti-ship guided missiles. These carried a 454 kg hollow charge warhead out to a range of 40 kilometres. Additional Soviet naval missile launchers of this type would be purchased from 1976 to 1988 for the needs of Yugoslav Navy. They were mounted on ships like the Rade Končar-class.
Following the experience gained while operating those Soviet anti-ship missiles, the Yugoslav Navy military officials were becoming interested in acquiring a land-based system armed with the same missile. One reason was to supplement the firepower of the coastal artillery, which was mostly based on older Second World War artillery and anti-aircraft guns, such as the German 88 mm Flak. For this reason, in the late 1970s, a purchase agreement for 10 4K51 Rubezh vehicles was signed with the Soviets.
As these vehicles began to arrive, they received a five-digit designation. Somewhat confusingly, these five-digit designations were not given as the vehicles arrived, but instead by their year of production. For example, the vehicle that was built in 1978 was marked as 22764, while the ones built-in 1979 were 22761, 22762, and 22763. Vehicles built in 1980 were marked as 22765, 22766, and 22768. The one produced in 1981 was 22767, and the last two vehicles built in 1983 were marked as 22759 and 22760.
These vehicles were kept under high secrecy by the Yugoslavian Navy for some time. For these reasons, their use and pictures of them from this period are quite difficult to find. Their first public appearance was during the last Yugoslavian People Army parade held in Belgrade in 1985.
The last JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija) Parade in Belgrade 1985.
The Soviet 4K51 Rubezh
During the late 1960s, the Soviets had the coastal mobile missile system “Redut”. It was basically an 8×8 wheeled chassis armed with one P-35 anti-ship guided missile which carried a 1,000 kg warhead and had a maximum operational range of 450 km. This vehicle was intended to destroy enemy ships at long ranges. However, the Soviet Navy wanted a new missile system that would be capable of engaging enemy ships at closer ranges, but also be able to carry at least two missiles. The new armament of this new vehicle consisted of two P-15M ‘Termit’ tactical anti-ship missiles. The large 8×8 MAZ-543 truck chassis was chosen as the carrier of the system. This new vehicle received the 4K51 Rubezh designation. The 4K51 was adopted into service by the Soviet Navy in late 1970s. Despite being newly designed, it saw use with many Communist countries around the world (Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Cuba, etc.), including the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In Yugoslav service, the 4K51 Rubezh was generally known as BROM, Baterija Raketa Obala-More (English: Missile Battery Coast-Sea). This was actually the name given to the unit which operated these vehicles. Why this designation was used instead of the original one is unfortunately not mentioned in the sources.
The BROMs were intended to be used as a “deterrence of aggression”, as described by the Yugoslavian Navy. Their role was to act as a defense screen against any possible enemy invasion of the Adriatic coast.
The basic unit equipped with these vehicles was the Missile Battery. This battery consisted of only one vehicle, with two batteries forming a Missile Squadron, numbered from 201 to 205. These were then distributed to the islands and coastlines of the Adriatic sea in modern-day Croatia and Montenegro. The 201st was positioned on the isle of Mali Lošinj, 202nd on Visu, 203rd at Lastovu, and the last, the 204th, on Radovićima. The vehicles from the 205th Missile Squadron were stationed at Duvilama and were used for crew training and, if needed, as replacements.
The BROM was divided into a few different sections, which included the chassis, the command control cabin, and the rear positioned missile launcher.
The BROM was built using a modified chassis of the MAZ-543 (and the slightly improved MAZ-543M) 8×8 wheel truck. This vehicle had been developed by MAZ in the early 1960s and entered mass production in 1965. It was powered by a forward mounted 525 [email protected],100 rpm D12A-525A 38.9 liter V12 diesel engine. Despite its large size, the MAZ-543 had excellent off-road capabilities. It could reach a maximum speed of 60 to 65 km/h and 25-30 km/h cross-country. The operational range was some 625 to 635 km.
The main armament of the BROM consisted of two P-15M Termit missiles. These included the P-20 and P-21 sub-versions of the P-15M. The difference was that the P-20 was guided using radar, while the P-21 was guided using an infra-red signal. The BROM’s missiles had a length of 6.56 m, a diameter of 78 cm and a wingspan of 2.5 m. Their initial launch mass was some 2,523 kg.
During launch, the missiles were powered by a smaller auxiliary solid fuel rocket engine which had a thrust of 10 tons. After only 1.3 seconds, this auxiliary engine would be cast-off. The main engine of the P-15M missiles would begin to work half a second after launch. At the same time, two smaller wings would open. The main engine was fueled by a mix of TG-02 liquid fuel in combination with AK-20K nitric acid. The P-15M missiles could reach a maximum speed of 1,100 km/h (0.9 Mach). This speed could be achieved at a sea height of 25 to 50 m or 250 m over hard soil. The warhead consisted of 513 kg of explosives. The Soviets could also arm these missiles with a 15 kiloton nuclear warhead. The Yugoslavians did not have nuclear warheads. The missiles could be launched one after another, at an interval of between seven to nine seconds.
The maximum firing range of BROM missiles was about 80 km. This could be slightly increased up to 90 km with a reduced probability of hitting the target. The minimum operational range of these missiles depended on the altitude at which the BROM was located during firing. For example, at an altitude of 150 m, the minimum range was about 8 km. At 600 m, it was 18 km and at 800 m it was 22 km. Ideally, in order to achieve the best possible chance of hitting enemy targets, the BROM had to be as close to the coast as possible. If that was not the case for various reasons, the maximum distance from the coast had to be less than 19 km. The P-15M missiles could hit enemy targets with a speed of up to 80 knots and with a wind speed of 20 m/s.
Both missiles were stored in the large fully enclosed missile launcher bay (KT-161), which was placed to the rear of the vehicle. It consisted of two fully enclosed, pentagonal shaped launch bays. Inside of each of them, a ‘U’ shaped missile ramp was placed. In front and to the back of the launchers, four pyramid shaped cap covers were placed. During firing, these would be opened, moving to the top of the missile launcher compartment. In addition, there were several smaller inspection hatches across the launcher compartment. The firing missile point was actually located to the rear of the vehicle. When the vehicle was combat ready, depending on the combat situation, the missile launcher compartment could be rotated 110° either to the left or right side. The maximum elevation of this missile launcher was 20°. The dimension of the missile launcher bay length was 7 m, while the width was 1.8 m.
When reaching the designated area of deployment, the BROM needed some 2 to 5 minute to be combat ready. It depended on the experience training of the crew, but also on the geographical characteristics of the terrain.
Command control cabin
The command control cabin was located behind the front driver’s cabin. Four crew members were needed to effectively operate the missile system. They were tasked with operating a number of different systems, including pre-launch preparation, inspection of missile control systems, missile firing control, vehicle inclination measurement systems, communication equipment, etc.
For acquiring targets, the 3Ts-25 Harpun type radar was used. It was located above the command control room. When preparing for action, the radar antenna would be raised to a height of some 7.3 m with the help of a hydraulic arm. The maximum effective range of this radar was around 100 km when the vehicle was at an altitude of some 600 m. The BROM was fully capable of finding and firing at targets on its own. Depending on the combat situation, it could be linked to other external radar units.
Power to the command control cabin was provided by a 100 hp strong turbo gas engine. In addition, there were two 32 kW direct and one 22 kW alternating current generators. As a backup power source, there was an additional direct current generator. With these, the BROM could effectively work on its own power up to a maximum of two hours.
The BROM had a crew of five which consisted of the commander, the driver, who was also the launcher operator, the electrician, the radar operator and the radar technician. The precise crew positions inside the command control cabin are not mentioned in the sources.
Service during the Yugoslav Wars
During 1991, the disintegration of Yugoslavia was becoming a reality. In order to avoid losing the BROM vehicles, the Yugoslav Navy began an evacuation. The 201st and 205th Missile Squadrons were evacuated to Boka Kotorska (Montenegro) at the end of 1991. The 202nd and 203rd were evacuated during May 1992. The remaining 204th had been stationed in Montenegro prior to the war. One vehicle (22762) could not be recovered, as it was awaiting repairs at Šibenik at the time of the outbreak of the war and was captured by Croatian Forces. Luckily for the Yugoslavian Navy, its vital electronic components and weapons were not present when it was captured. Its electronic components were also relocated to Montenegro and served as spare parts for the remaining vehicles. The precise fate of the Croatian captured vehicle is sadly not clear. Once all nine vehicles were relocated to Montenegro, these protected the newly created Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s (Savezna Republika Jugoslavija) coastline from an anticipated NATO intervention that was expected to occur during summer of 1992, but which never came.
During 1994, the BROM units were reorganized, placing them all into the 110th Coast Missile Brigade (Obalska Raketna Brigada). The Brigade was divided into two Squadrons, with the first having five and the second four vehicles. In 1996, the BROMs were used during the ‘Laser 21’ military exercise. During these exercises, older torpedo boats were used as target practise.
Due to international military sanctions, the acquisition of new spare parts for the BROM was impossible. While smaller repairs could be done by the Brigade’s own mechanics, major overhauls had to be completed at the repair institute in Banja Luka. Some six vehicles received a major overhaul during 1998, with two more in early 1999.
During the 1999 war against NATO
In 1999, the tense situation in Kosovo and Metohija between the Serbian and Albanian population worsened to the point that the international community felt the need to intervene. The government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia refused to allow foreign soldiers onto its territory. A war between Yugoslavia and NATO officially started on 24th March 1999. NATO Air Forces began bombing military targets like airfields, barracks and industrial centers, but civilian objectives were also targeted.
During this war, 8 BROM vehicles were fully operational. The ninth vehicle was under maintenance, awaiting repairs to its engine. These 8 were divided into two combat groups, with the task of preventing any possible NATO amphibious assault. One group was tasked with defending the Luštica Peninsula and its surroundings. The second group defended Petrovac-Bar. Some vehicles from this group were pulled back further inland.
Any reconnaissance and use of radar equipment had to be undertaken with great care due to NATO Air Supremacy. In general, the NATO ships that were patrolling in the Mediterranean did not come closer to 100 km from the Yugoslav shore. There was only one incident, when a NATO ship approached the shore accompanying a large non-military tanker. The crews of the BROM did not fire their missiles in order to avoid hitting the civilian ship. Despite its large size and huge NATO aerial advantage, no BROM vehicle was lost during the 1999 war.
In the years after the 1999 war, the condition of the technical equipment of the Yugoslav Army was generally poor due to a lack of funds. The BROMs were gradually becoming a hindrance, slowly losing their military importance. In early 2004, Serbian and Montenegrin Army officials decided to maintain only four such vehicles in operational use for the defense of the Adriatic coast. The remaining five were to be temporarily stored. These four were allocated to the 108th Coast Defence Brigade. To compensate for the reduced number of operational BROMs, the 108th Coast Defence Brigade was reinforced with towed artillery. Due to the limited budget and huge maintenance cost, seven of the vehicles were declared surplus equipment.
In March of 2004, it was decided to sell all BROM vehicles abroad if possible. A firm called Cofis Export was responsible for organizing this sale. Shortly after that, a contract was concluded with the Egyptian Navy, which bought five fully repaired and equipped vehicles. These were shipped to Egypt the following year. This shipment also contained a number of spare P-20 and P-21 rockets.
By 2006, the remaining two operational BROMs, in addition to the two vehicles that were stored at that time, were retired from service. This was done mainly due to huge financial cuts to the Army’s budget. That same year, Serbia and Montenegro split up, which essentially meant the end of the coastal defence forces, as Serbia no longer had a coast. In 2007, the remaining two operational vehicles were also sold to Egypt. Only two non-operational vehicles (22767 and 22768) were left, which were placed in storage at Lepetinima. If they will ever be put on display in a museum or scrapped is unknown.
The Yugoslavian Army was always interested in acquiring new and modern equipment. While not always successful, they did manage to acquire the advanced BROM system in the late 1970s. They were kept under great secrecy. Following the collapse of Yugoslavia, they remained in service with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. While this was an obscure and less known vehicle operated by the Yugoslavian Navy, it nonetheless served for a long amount of time, covering the Adriatic coast from potential invasion.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||14.2 m, 2.97 m and 4.05 m|
|Total weight||40.1 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, driver/ launcher operator, electrician operator, radar operator and radar technician)|
|Propulsion||D12A-525A 520 hp engine|
|Speed (cross-country)||60-65 km/h, 25-30 km/h|
|Operational range||625-635 km|
|Armament||Two P-15M missile launchers|
- A. Radić (2014) Arsenal 86
- Bojan B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
In their search for an armored vehicle to equip their army, the Hungarians began looking for potential suppliers who were willing to sell such equipment. The Italians, who already had a good connection with the Hungarian Army, were more than willing to sell their CV series of fast tanks. Thanks to this generous offer, the Hungarians managed to obtain some 150 fast tanks. These would see service during the small conflict with Slovakia, with some success. By the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 though, they were completely outdated.
Context – Hungary’s Search for Tanks
After the defeat of the Central Powers during the First World War, a new Kingdom of Hungary was created. Its Army (Honved) was forbidden by the Treaty of Trianon (signed on 4th June 1920) from developing and using tanks and other armored vehicles. During the late 1920s, the Hungarian Army officials managed to acquire small numbers of armored vehicles bought from Italy and the United Kingdom. This was mainly done thanks to a mitigated ban on arms and weapons purchases, but also under the false pretext that these would be used by the police forces. These were mostly obsolete designs with limited combat value and thus were only used for training and police duties.
Hungarian Army officials wanted to expand their own armored forces and thus needed better equipment. Unfortunately for them, the choice of where to buy these vehicles was limited. For example, Germany was unwilling to sell their tanks, being themselves in great need of such vehicles. France and the Soviet Union, for political reasons, could not be approached, and negotiations with British weapons manufacturers led nowhere. Luckily for them, Italy was more than willing to make a business deal with the Hungarians.
In June 1934, the Hungarian Military Technical Institute tested one CV-33 tankette. After the conclusion of these tests, it gave a green light for the purchase of these vehicles. Soon after that, the Hungarian Army placed an order for some 150 tankettes. These vehicles began arriving during 1935, with the last one reaching Hungary at the end of 1936.
These received numbers H-100 to H-167 and H-169 to H-251. The Italians also provided them with one CV-33 (H-168) without any armament. This vehicle was used mainly for training. In addition, a flamethrower version of this fast tank (H-252) was also sent for trial. It was not adopted by the Hungarians but, for unknown reasons, the single-vehicle remained in Hungarian Army storage without being paid for.
In Hungarian service, these vehicles were known as the 35. M Fiat Ansaldo. A number of sources use different but similar variants of this, either 35M or 35 M Ansaldo. According to L. Ness (World War II Tanks), the CV 33 was known as the 35 M, and the CV 35 as the 37 M Ansaldo. For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the 35M designation.
During the late twenties, the Italian Army began negotiating with the British Vickers company for the acquisition of new vehicles. After some negotiations, a Carden-Loyd MK VI tankette was purchased for testing and evaluation. Following the successful completion of these tests, during 1929, 25 new vehicles were ordered. In Italian service, these vehicles would be known as Carro Veloce 29 (Eng. fast tank).
Based on the CV 29, the Ansaldo company began developing a new vehicle. While the prototype was completed in 1929, the Army was not impressed with it, mostly due to its weak and problematic suspension. The following year, the Italian Army requested a number of changes regarding its armor, size, and armament. Ansaldo constructed a few new prototypes with some differences in the suspension and even a tractor version, which were all presented to Italian Royal Army officials. The Army officials were satisfied with the improved prototypes and, in 1933, a production order for some 240 vehicles was placed. Next year, the first production vehicles, known as Carro Veloce 33, were ready for service. While, initially, this vehicle was equipped with one 6.5 mm FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 machine gun, from 1935 on, all vehicles would be rearmed with two 8 mm FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 machine guns.
In 1935, a slightly improved version, named Carro Veloce Ansaldo-Fiat tipo CV 35, was accepted for service. It was shorter, had a slightly redesigned superstructure, with some being constructed with bolted armor instead of rivets. In total, by 1936, some 2,800 CV fast tanks would be built. Of that number, large numbers were sold abroad, including to countries such as China, Brazil, and Bulgaria.
How many were actually acquired?
Regarding the precise numbers of CV tankettes operated by the Hungarians, the sources are somewhat contradictory and even confusing. The previously mentioned information about the year of adoption and numbers are mostly according to C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WWII). Other authors, like F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (Italian light tanks 1919-45), state that the Hungarians acquired from Italy and even produced under license some 104 tankettes. Author S. J. Zaloga states that, in 1934, 30 CV-33s were purchased from Italy. Additionally, 110 CV-35s were acquired in 1936 and a few more in later years, reaching a total number of 151 vehicles. L. Ness mentions that, in 1934, some 25 CV-33s were purchased, with many more in 1935.
Author P. Mujzer (Hungarian Armored Forces in World War II) mentions that the CV tankettes were put in use during 1935, and the last one arrived in December 1936. While the author gives a total number of 150 vehicles, in one part of the book, he is describing them as a CV-33 and in another part of the same book as CV-35.
Authors B. Adam, E. Miklos and S. Gyula (A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945) mention that 68 CV-35s were acquired in 1935 and the remaining 82 in 1936. Older and less reliable sources, like P. Chamberlain and C. Ellis (Axis Combat Vehicles), note that, between 1934 and 1938, some 60 to 70 tankettes were brought.
Initial Hungarian pre-war plans stated that each armored unit should have an independent mixed unit equipped with light tanks and tankettes. As these formations were never truly formed, the 35Ms were, for some time, stored in Army warehouses. Some 15 fast tanks were used for crew training at Örkénytábor and Hajmáskér.
During 1938, the reorganization of the Hungarian Army led to the creation of Motorized Armored Brigades. The 2nd Motorized Armored Brigade received one 35M company. The Cavalry Armored Brigades were also reinforced with a 35M company. Each 35M company was divided into three platoons. These platoons had 5 fast tanks plus one command vehicle equipped with a commander’s cupola.
During its service life, the Hungarians implemented some modifications to their 35M vehicles. The most obvious change was the modified armament. Initially, the Italian fast tanks received were armed with one machine gun (likely a 6.5 mm FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914). Their firepower would be increased by replacing this machine gun with two Hungarian-built 8 mm Gebauer 34AM and later 34M/37M machine guns. The installation of the new armament necessitated the modification of the machine gun mount by increasing its size. If all or just a part were modified with the new armament is not completely clear in the sources. For example, authors B. Adam, E. Miklos, and S. Gyula mention that some 45 vehicles were modified with the twin machine gun armament.
Besides the change in the machine gun mount and armament, the Hungarians added a new commander’s cupola. This cupola had a simple square shape with a hatch on the top. To see the surroundings, the commander could use 7 periscopes placed in this cupola. The armor thickness of this cupola is not listed in the sources, but was probably light. In total, some 45 cupolas were mounted on the 35Ms. These were allocated to the platoon commander vehicles.
The Hungarians had plans to equip the 35M with a fully rotating turret. This would necessitate many changes to the vehicle’s design and would lead to an increase in overall weight. As it was deemed too complicated to operate, this was abandoned with no prototypes being built.
After the Munich Agreement signed in 1938, the Germans managed to take parts of Czechoslovakia. Hungary, seeing a chance to get part of its pre-Great War territories back, began negotiations with Czechoslovakia to resolve this issue. As the talks led nowhere, both sides started preparing for a possible conflict. Thanks to the support of Germany and Italy, Hungary managed to peacefully take parts of southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia. The 35Ms were used as the vanguard for the Hungarian occupation units in these territories.
After this event, the relations between these two countries were on the verge of war. Small border skirmishes occurred on several occasions. In March of 1939, Czechoslovakia was completely taken over by the Germans, which created the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Slovakia, under German pressure, declared independence from Czechoslovakia. Wanting to gain more land, Hungarian officials demanded that Slovakia give away parts of Ruthenia. Elements of the Hungarian 2nd Motorized Brigade and 2nd Cavalry Brigade began advancing toward the disputed territories on 14th March. During this advance, the 35Ms belonging to the 12th Bicycle Battalion engaged a Slovakian unit stationed at the village of Orhegyalja. The defenders’ machine gun nest was taken out by a 35M commanded by Lieutenant Tamas Frater. The 35M fast tanks also participated in the defense of the Alsohalas village against the Slovakian forces. On the 24th, 35Ms from the 15th Bicycle Battalion also saw limited action in this area. On the 25th, due to German insistence, Slovakia ceded the disputed lands to the Hungarians. During this brief war, while no 35Ms were lost in combat, many were temporarily put out of action due to mechanical breakdowns and a lack of spare parts.
Parts of Czechoslovakia were not the only ones that the Hungarian government wanted back. Transylvania was also lost after the First World War, when it was given to Romania. In 1940, the Hungarian Army began preparing for a possible war with Romania. By July, some three armies were ready, together with almost all available armor. But, in reality, the Hungarian Army was far from prepared, lacking manpower, and in the case of the 35M, some 50 or more were under repair, awaiting necessary spare parts which would not be available until October 1940. As neither side was willing to enter a hastily prepared war, negotiations began to find a possible solution. Ultimately, at the end of August, Romania asked Germany to arbitrate the issue regarding the disputed territory. Hungary managed to get the northern part of Transylvania. While moving its army to the new borders, many vehicles broke down, either due to mechanical breakdowns or due to poor roads.
Hungary joined the Germans during the short war against Yugoslavia in April 1941. While the German attack began on the 6th, the Hungarians launched their own attack five days later. For this operation, the Hungarian Army mobilized its Fast Corp (Gyorshadtest), which consisted of the 1st and 2nd Motorized Brigades, together with the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade had three 35M companies, with 18 vehicles each. One 35M Company participated in engaging Yugoslavian defensive bunkers at Subotica. Besides that, they saw limited combat service. The whole Axis invasion ended on the 17th with the capitulation of Yugoslavia.
In the Soviet Union 1941
Initially, the Hungarians did not intend to wage war against the Soviets. But, on 26th June 1941, a group of Soviet bombers hit the town of Kassa. After this, the Hungarians retaliated with their own bombing raids toward Ukraine, at which point both countries were effectively at war. For this war, the Hungarians allocated an army formation named the Carpathian Group. It consisted of the VIII Corps and the Fast Corps. The Fast Corps was under the command of Major General Bela Miklos. It consisted of the 1st Cavalry Brigade and the 1st and 2nd Motorised Rifle Brigades. It was additionally reinforced with 3 artillery battalions, two bicycle battalions, signal and engineers battalions. The Hungarian combat operations were to start at the end of June, as there was too little time for proper mobilization. These units were understrength.
The 35Ms were allocated to the 1st Cavalry Armored Battalion, which had 36 such vehicles. These were divided into two companies (each with 18 vehicles), which were further divided into three six-vehicle strong platoons. Additionally, the 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th Bicycle Battalions each had a 35M platoon with 6 vehicles. In total, some 60 35M fast tanks were allocated for this invasion.
The Hungarians began combat operations on 30th June 1941. While the Soviet forces were already retreating, the Hungarians had trouble following them. The Soviets sabotaged or simply destroyed much of the infrastructure, which slowed the Hungarian advance. Additionally, the Hungarians were plagued by the poor mechanical reliability of their trucks, which were mostly civilian vehicles pressed into service.
On 9th July, the Carpathian Group was divided into two groups. While the VIII Corps was to remain in the rear to protect the supply lines, the Fast Corps was allocated to the German Army Group South. During their advance, the long drives and poor roads caused many mechanical breakdowns of the 35M fast tanks. On 17th July, some 30 35Ms were in desperate need of repair. The situation was so bad that the Hungarian Army had to organize additional civilian mechanics and move them to the front.
The 1st Cavalry Armored Battalion received orders to support the 2nd Motorised Rifle Brigade’s attack on the Soviet positions near Tulchin. On 27th July 1941, the Armored Battalion participated in the poorly organized Hungarian attack, which led to heavy losses. As the Armored Battalion was about to advance against the Soviet line at Gordievka, the unit’s Commander advised against such an attack, given the poor state of the surrounding ground. He was berated by his superiors and urged to begin the attack. The Armored Battalion commander allegedly replied, “Order confirmed. We are going to die”.
A 35M company began its attack on Gordievka, but due to bad road conditions, many vehicles were bogged down and unable to move. Those that were unable to move were simply shelled by the Soviet artillery. Some 35Ms had engine stalling problems, which forced their drivers to manually restart their engines. But to do so, they had to get out of the vehicle, which made them easy targets and many were killed. In this failed attack, the 1st Cavalry Armored Battalion lost 12 vehicles with their crews, including two platoon commanders. Only one platoon escaped destruction, as its commander ordered a retreat after seeing the carnage. The second 35M company also suffered losses and had only 6 operational fast tanks left.
This battle alone marked the end of large-scale 35M participation on this front. To somewhat reinforce the depleted units, a group of 5 fast tanks, 14 Toldi tanks, and 9 Csaba armored cars were sent from Hungary on 27th July, but these actually arrived on 7th October.
On 6th November, the Fast Corps received orders to pull back to Hungary. Nearly all the 35Ms were lost in combat. Given their poor performance, the available fast tanks were relocated to secondary roles.
Back to Hungary
The Hungarian 1941 campaign in the East showed without any doubt that the 35Ms were obsolete as fighting vehicles. In 1942, the surviving 35Ms were removed from frontline service and allocated to Police and Gendarmerie forces. The Police forces received 10 35Ms and a few Csaba armored cars in 1942. The main armament of the 35M was replaced with a single 31M machine gun. These were mainly used for the security of Budapest. The fate of these vehicles is not clear in the sources, but probably lost in the defense of Budapest by the war’s end.
In 1942, the Hungarians formed a Gendarmerie Battalion located at Galanta. The main purpose of this unit was to act as an anti-riot and possibly even in anti-partisan operations in Hungary. For this reason, it was supplied with 12 35M fast tanks. These were, in desperation, used against the Soviet forces during the Battle for Budapest in 1944/45.
35M Croatian service
The Independent State of Croatia was unable to acquire more armored vehicles (except a smaller number of Panzer Is and tank turrets which were mounted on trains) from Germany, despite being their puppet state. They instead turned to Hungary. In October 1942, a Croatian military delegation was sent to Hungary with the aim of reaching an agreement on the purchase of any available armored vehicle. The negotiations were successful and the Hungarians agreed to sell 10 (or up to 15) 35M fast tanks, including some 500,000 rounds of spare ammunition. In early November, these vehicles were handed over to Croatia, which used them (together with other Italian CV fast tanks) against the Partisan forces in Yugoslavia.
There are a few surviving 35M fast tanks today. One can be seen at the Belgrade Military Museum. While it is not completely clear, this vehicle may have been one of 10 sold to Croatia by the Hungarians. The second vehicle (H-153) is now located in the Russian museum at Kubinka. It was captured by the advancing Soviet forces at the Piliscsaba Hungarian military base.
During the mid-1930s, the Hungarian Army, due to a lack of better available vehicles, purchased over 100 Italian light fast tanks. Unfortunately for them, these were fairly obsolete as fighting vehicles even before the start of the war, as they lacked a turret, sufficient armor protection, and were weakly armed. These fast tanks helped with crew training and saw limited combat service in the pre-war skirmishes with Hungary’s neighbors. By 1941, when these were used against an enemy like the Soviet Union, which had plenty of tanks and anti-tank guns, the 35M was quickly shown to be completely useless in such a situation. It was not a surprise that the Hungarians relocated the surviving vehicles to secondary roles after 1941.
|Dimensions (L-w-h)||3.15 x 1.5 x 1.3 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||3.2 tonnes|
|Crew||2 (Commander/Gunner, Driver.)|
|Propulsion||SPA CV 3-005 43 hp @ 2,400 rpm|
|Speed (off road)||42 km/h, 15 km/h|
|Armament||Two 8 mm Gebauer 34AM|
|Number Operated||60 to 150|
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- P. Mujzer (2018) Operational History Of The Hungarian Armored Forces in World War II, Kagero
- P. Mujzer (2017) Hungarian Armored Forces in World War II, Kagero
During the 1960s, the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, JNA (Yugoslavian People Army, YPA) wanted to replace their aging Second World War reconnaissance armored cars. Given the good military cooperation between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, it was logical for the JNA military to ask the Soviets for such equipment. By the late 1960s, an agreement was sought for purchasing 63 PT-76B amphibious light tanks. These would be used to reinforce the reconnaissance elements of many armored units. During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, these would see action mostly as fire support vehicles.
The Need for a Reconnaissance Vehicle
In the years after the Second World War, the main reconnaissance vehicles of the JNA were the American-built M3A1 Scout Cars and M8 Armored Cars. These were clearly aging and outdated designs and not suited for more modern combat operations, having insufficient firepower and weak armor protection. On some occasions, Sherman or T-34-85 tanks were used to supplement the firepower of reconnaissance units. The JNA needed a more modern vehicle that had sufficient firepower and good speed to reinforce the reconnaissance elements of the armored formations.
In the 1960s, JNA Army officials began negotiating with the Soviet Union to resolve this issue. As a provisional solution, small numbers of BRDM-1 reconnaissance armored cars were acquired. However, this only temporarily solved the critical lack the suitable vehicles. In 1965, JNA Army officials decided to try to procure the PT-76 amphibious light tank. While the necessary funds were allocated for this project, the final decision was postponed for the next year.
In early 1966, a delegation led by the commander of the Yugoslavian Armored Formations, General Dušan Ćorković, arrived in the Soviet Union. In March 1966, another delegation arrived in the Soviet Union to finalize an agreement for the purchase of military equipment. Interestingly, during the initial negotiations, the Yugoslavian delegation showed interest in buying the new BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, but nothing came from this. Eventually, the deal was struck for the purchase of 600 T-34-85 and 67 PT-76B tanks, although the number of PT-76Bs was eventually reduced to 63. As these vehicles began to arrive in late 1967, they would be first transported to the military base at Pančevo, near the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade. Officially the PT-76Bs were accepted into service on 25th April 1968.
Work on a new Soviet amphibious light tank began shortly after the end of the Second World War. It was introduced to service in the early 1950s. The PT-76 had good amphibious capabilities. On the other hand, it was a relatively large target and had poor armor protection. Despite this, some 12,000 would be produced and would see widespread use in the Soviet Army (and later Russian army, up to 2006), as well as service aboard. During its service life, a number of modifications would be introduced in order to improve its overall performance and extend its operational service life. One of these included the PT-76B (original name PT-76 Model 1957), which incorporated changes such as an improved muzzle brake. This version would be exported to Yugoslavian Army.
Organization and distribution to first units
Once the PT-76Bs were available, they would be used to reinforce the reconnaissance companies of armored units. The basic unit was a Platoon that consisted of three PT-76Bs and was supported by a Platoon of BRDM-2 armored cars (also with three vehicles). These were mainly allocated to Armored Regiments in addition to the Armored and Mechanized Brigades. During its service life, the PT-76B was almost never issued in units greater than a Platoon. The only exception to this rule was the reconnaissance Battalion of the 7th Armored Division, which had in its inventory 7 PT-76B tanks. A few tanks were allocated to various training centers and schools.
The PT-76B in JNA service kept the original Soviet dark green camouflage. In addition, it received five-digit numbers painted in white. These were usually painted on the turret sides.
In order to train new crews, the first vehicles were allocated to various training schools. Initial training programs were carried out with the help of Soviet instructors from 15th May to 15th August 1968 at the main training center in Banjaluka. After some experience was gained with operating the PT-76B tanks, it was possible for further training to be conducted with JNA instructors. The first local training was carried out on the Sava river and later at a specially designed military range at Manjača.
The PT-76B was frequently used during military exercises during the 1970s and 1980s. It would be also used during one of the largest military maneuvers ever undertaken in Yugoslavia, named ‘Sloboda 71’ (English: ‘Freedom’). These lasted from 2nd to 9th October 1971, and some 40,000 regular and territorial defense soldiers were present, together with large quantities of newly acquired equipment. This maneuver also had a political background. After the Prague Uprising in 1968, political tension in Europe was high. At that time, there was even some political turmoil in Yugoslavia, especially in Croatia. This potential quelling of political instability has often been cited as one of the main reasons why the Sloboda 71 maneuvers were actually carried out. The PT-76Bs were also present on a number of military parades held in the Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade.
During the early 1990s, there was a huge military reorganization of the JNA known as Jedinstvo-2 (English: ‘Unity’). It was planned that the JNA would operate some 3,078 tanks during the following years, including 48 PT-76Bs.
During 1991, the tensions between the Yugoslavian Federal Republics worsened to the point that open conflict erupted. The JNA was initially involved in preventing any larger military uprisings, which it ultimately failed to prevent. During 1992, the JNA initiated a general evacuation of its personnel and equipment to Serbia. Many of its vehicles had to be left behind, and they were often captured and reused by the various military and paramilitary organizations which were present in Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The PT-76B, while a rare vehicle during this conflict due to the small number operated by the JNA, would be operated by all warring parties in Yugoslavia to a limited extent.
One of the first engagements of the PT-76B during the Yugoslav wars was as a part of the 1st Armored Brigade (which had three vehicles), which was stationed in Vrhnika, in Slovenia. A JNA armored column was advancing in the direction of Vrhnika-Ljubljana-Kranj at the end of June 1991. This group with three PT-76B was tasked with taking the Rateče border crossing and the Karavanke crossing. Shortly later, a brief engagement with the Slovenian territorial defence forces occurred at the Karavanke crossing. The PT-76B was used in this engagement. While one of them was hit (sources do not specify the weapon used), no damage was noted on it. After a few days, the JNA elements that participated in these operations surrendered to Slovenian forces and the three PT-76B were captured.
The Yugoslav collapse was chaotic in its nature, and this also reflected in the overall operation and use of equipment by the JNA. Despite being intended to fulfill the role of reconnaissance, during the Yugoslavian wars, the PT-76Bs were used in certain combat situations for which it was never indeed to. For example, the PT-76Bs were often used to spearhead attacks either in urban centers or against fortified positions. Being lightly armored, the choice of these vehicles to lead an assault verged on suicidal. On one such occasion, a PT-76B was destroyed during an attack on the village of Jankovci.
The use of large amounts of anti-tank weapons, close proximity to the frontline, and, in many cases, hilly terrain prevented the PT-76B from performing its original task as a reconnaissance vehicle. For these reasons, the PT-76B was mostly used as a fire support vehicle. It is also unknown if the PT-76B was ever used in any offensive amphibious assault during the war.
Anti-tank weapons, which were either captured from the JNA or even received from outside of Yugoslavia, caused huge problems to any armored vehicles. To protect themselves, crews of many tanks, including PT-76Bs, often added improvised additional armor. This basically consisted of whatever was at hand (storage boxes, spare tires, rubber, etc).
The majority of PT-76Bs would be used by the JNA and later the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Army. The Slovenian forces managed to capture some 3 vehicles. Croatian armored forces captured at least 10 such vehicles during 1991, which then saw action during the war. A few, possibly up to four, PT-76Bs were operated by the Army of the Srpska Krajina. Lastly, some 9 to 11 (depending on the source) vehicles were used by the Army of the Republika Srpska.
A video of the PT-76Bs of the Army of the Republika Srpska.
Following the conclusion of the Yugoslav wars, in 1996, an agreement for the reduction of arms and weapons was signed by all sides. With this agreement, most of the older equipment was declared surplus and, in many cases, scrapped. The new Yugoslavian Army still had over 30 PT-76B light tanks in its inventory. The majority of these, some 33, would be scrapped in 1997 (or 1996 depending on the source). The few vehicles in the Army of the Republika Srpska were also scrapped later in 2000. Croatian and Slovenian vehicles were also mostly removed from service by the war’s end.
A New Chance
The Army Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, while scrapping the majority of the PT-76Bs, preserved some turrets. Based on the experience from the Yugoslav wars, the Army wanted to develop and build a number of small fire support boats. These were to be armed with one PT-76B turret each. This plan never materialized, mostly due to a lack of funds and political will. In 1999 and 2000, there were new proposals to revive the project, but ultimately, nothing came from this, and the fate of these turrets is not clear. They were likely scrapped.
At least two PT-76s are now preserved in Serbia. Both are placed in Army storage, with one in Žarkovo and the second in Kačarevo. Another one is located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the Kozara museum. One more is located in the Slovenian Museum in Pivka and a few more are located in Croatia.
The PT-76B was operated by the JNA in quite small numbers compared with other tanks imported from the Soviet Union. By the time of the Yugoslavian 1990s wars, it was a rare vehicle and would see little use. It would mostly be employed as mobile artillery and never saw combat in its original intended role.
|Dimensions (L-w-h)||7.62 x 3.14 x 2.55 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||14.4 tonnes|
|Crew||3 (Commander, Loader, and Driver)|
|Propulsion||V-6, 6 cylinder in-line, 4-stroke, water-cooled diesel, outputting 240 [email protected] 1800 rpm|
|Speed||44 km/h, 10-12 km/h (cross country), 10-11 (on water)|
|Range||400 km, 100 km (on water)|
|Primary Armament||Armament: 76.2 mm D-56TM|
|Elevation Armament||7.62 mm SGMT|
- A. Radić (2014) Arsenal 83
- B. B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
- B. Gregurić and V. Jereb (2001) Croatian Army Vehicles 1991-1995, Sveučilišna Knjižnica Rijeka
- P. Trewhitt (1999) Armored Fighting Vehicles, Grange Book.
Following the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the early 90s, the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in 2003, its name was changed to Serbia and Montenegro and finally, in 2006, Serbia became an independent state) inherited a relatively huge stock of various armament, equipment and weapons. One of these was the Soviet 122 mm D-30 and the domestically modified D-30J (with improved ammunition) howitzer. As the Serbian Army lacked a more modern self-propelled artillery (beside the aging 2S1 Gvozdika), in 2004, an attempt was made to develop such a vehicle using a military truck chassis and arming it with a 122 mm D-30J gun.
During 2004, the military leadership of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro discussed the possibility of improving the performance of the 122 mm D-30J howitzer. This was, in essence, just a Soviet D-30 howitzer that was imported during the 70s. The main difference was the use of improved ammunition with stronger propellant charge, which increased the overall firing range of the howitzer. The military decided to develop a brand new self-propelled artillery vehicle equipped with this howitzer. This vehicle was to act as a mobile fire support element of infantry and armored brigades. Its main mission was to saturate enemy positions with artillery fire before changing position to avoid counter fire. Great emphasis was thus placed on good mobility and sufficient firepower.
The development of such vehicles could basically go in two directions. Either a fully tracked vehicle or a truck wheel chassis. Due to factors including cost, the possibility of using already existing production capabilities, and reducing development time, the officials of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro decided to proceed with the second option.
The official designation for this vehicle was Samohodna Haubica (self-propelled howitzer) 122 D-30/04 SORA (Serbian.- Самоходна Хаубица СОРА). In many sources, it is just mentioned as SORA (SORA-122 or 122 mm SORA are also used). This article will use this designation for the sake of simplicity.
The job for designing such a vehicle was given to the Vojno Tehnički Institut VTI (Војно Технички Институт). Work on the construction of the first operational prototype was given to the ‘14 Октобар’ (14th October) factory from Kruševac. The VTI decided to go with a simpler solution, possibly in hope of reducing the overall cost and time. The new vehicle consisted of a standard military truck with its cargo bay replaced with a new firing platform with the 122 mm D-30J howitzer. Initially, a KAMAZ truck was to be used as the main chassis, but this was changed to the FAP2026 BS/AB, which was already in use.
In 2006, after a referendum, Montenegro became an independent state, and the development of the SORA vehicle was left to the Serbian Army. During 2006, there were a number of changes in the leadership of this project (due to the retirement of people involved in it). The project was given to Colonel Novak Mitrović. He was chosen mostly due to his experience with designing such vehicles. Besides the SORA, Colonel Mitrović was also involved with the design work of another self-propelled project, the 152 mm NORA-B. Colonel Mitrović would be replaced as the head of the SORA project by Lieutenant Colonel Srboljub Ilić. He had worked earlier on the 100 mm TOPAZ anti-tank gun (which was based on the D-30J). He too would be replaced by Mihajlo Trailović in 2007 due to retirement.
In 2008, at the 14th October factory, the preparations for the final assembly of the SORA began. However, there were some issues with the design of the firing platform. For this reason, another factory, the Tehnički Remonti Zavod Čačak (TRZ Čačak) – Технички Ремонти Завод Чачак was included in the project. Its engineers managed to design the modified D-30J mounting, which they successfully placed on the FAP2026 BS/AB chassis.
The SORA vehicle was then sent back to the 14th October factory, where it was fully completed and given to the Army for field testing. The testing and evaluation of the vehicle proved to be generally positive after firing trials held in the Nikincima army test site. In 2011, it was presented to potential foreign buyers at the ‘Partner 2011’ (Партнер) Arms Fair held in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The first prototype failed to gain any foreign interest, nor did the Serbian Army adopt it. Despite this, work on improving its performance was carried on.
The improved version
Following the completion of the first prototype and its failure to gain any military contract, attempts were made to increase its overall performance. Sources are not clear if the second vehicle was just a modified first prototype or a completely new vehicle. The second prototype incorporated several new improvements which included: an automatic loading system, an improved fire control system, reducing the numbers of crew members, increasing ammunition load, and adding a close defense machine gun. It was presented for the first time for potential buyers at the ‘Partner 2013’ Arms Fair.
The basis of this vehicle was the FAP2026 BS/AB 6×6 all-terrain wheeled truck. This was a vehicle domestically developed and built by the FAP (Fabrika Automobila Priboj) factory beginning in the late 1970s. It was primarily designed to act as a towing vehicle for a number of artillery pieces. It could also be used to transport troops and materials, with up to 6 tonnes capacity. It was powered by a German Mercedes OM 402 engine giving 188 kW @ 2500 rpm. The maximum speed of this truck was 80 km/h and the operational range was 600 km.
For the SORA, the FAP2026 truck chassis had to be reinforced and strengthened to be able to withstand the firing recoil of the main gun. The weight of this new vehicle was 18 tonnes and the operational range was reduced to 500 km. The maximum speed was 80 km/h, dropping down cross country to 20 km/h. A spare wheel was positioned to the vehicle’s rear. To use this wheel, a mechanical crane was added, which, when activated, lowered the wheel to the ground.
The main weapon chosen for this vehicle was the 122 mm D-30J howitzer. This weapon was originally designed during the early ’60s in the Soviet Union. It was a somewhat unusual howitzer, mostly due to the design of its trail legs that, when fully deployed, enabled the gun to have a 360° traverse. During deployment, the rails of this howitzer are split into three different smaller legs, evenly separated. The wheels would be then raised from the ground up, thus creating a stable platform for the gun for firing in any direction. During transport, these three legs would be connected together and placed under the barrel. On the muzzle brake was a towing hook.
The original Soviet 122 mm D-30, with its nearly 22 kg round, had a range of some 15.4 km. The Yugoslav modified howitzer had a slightly longer range thanks to improved ammunition and larger propellant charge, reaching up to 17.5 km.
To make room for the D-30J howitzer and its mounting on the truck chassis, the rear positioned storage bin was removed. Instead of it, a new firing platform was placed to the rear. The howitzer, without its wheels and trail legs, was placed on a new round-shaped mount. Below this mount, a hydraulically operated support leg was to be lowered during firing. When ready for the firing mission, the main weapon was rotated to the rear. Despite the appearance of possessing an all-around firing arc, this was not the case.
During 2005, while still in the development phase, a number of experiments were done in order to test the durability of the front driver’s cabin during the firing of the main weapon to the front. As the tests showed that it lacked proper durability and general stability, instead the D-30J howitzer was pointed to the rear to avoid any damage to the driver cabin. Elevation of the D-30J howitzer was -5° to 70°, and the traverse was 25° in both directions. To help with absorbing recoil and providing a stable firing platform, two hydraulically operated supporting legs would be placed to the ground. When on the move, the D-30J howitzer was to be repositioned to the front and held in place at a 10° angle by a travel lock placed above the ammunition and crew housing. The SORA has an ammunition load of 24 rounds.
The SORA-122 D-30J howitzer had to be manually loaded and fired, which, given the lack of crew protection, made it quite vulnerable to enemy return fire. For this reason, following the completion of the first prototype, a new project was started with the aim of equipping the SORA with a more modern automatic loading and improved fire control systems. The new automatic loading system consisted of two round-shaped drums placed on both sides of the main gun. These were used to store six rounds of ammunition (placed in the right drum) together with six propellant charges (in the left drum). When these were all fired, they had to be manually reloaded.
When moving to the designated area of attack, this new configuration required some 3.5 minutes to deploy, fire six rounds, and disengage. Around 90 seconds were needed for the vehicle to be combat-ready for firing. The firing cycle of all six rounds was 1 minute. An additional minute was needed for the vehicle to prepare for moving again. The speed for redeployment after firing was desired to be as short as possible. It was estimated that enemy radar detectors would need at least 2 minutes to detect the SORA’s firing position after it fired, by which time it had already changed position to a new location. The whole process of deploying and redeploying was completely automated and easy to use.
On the improved prototype, the firing of the main weapon could effectively be done either from the vehicle itself or from a distance of 150 to 200 m (wired or wireless) from a mobile computer. The D-30J firing trigger was activated by a pneumatic cylinder. If, for some reason (malfunction or combat damage), the firing trigger failed, it could be operated manually by the crew members.
The new total ammunition load of the self-propelled guns would be 40 rounds, mainly located in the ammunition racks in the back of the cabin. The SORA could fire a number of domestically developed ammunition. These included the TF-462 with a range of 15.3 km, TF PD UD M10 with a range of 18.5 km, and the TF PD GG M10 with the greatest range, up to 21.5 km. The elevation and traverse were unchanged in comparison to the first prototype. The elevation and traverse speed ranged from 0.1 to 5 degrees per second.
For crew protection, beside their personal weapons, a 7.62 mm M84 machine gun was placed on top of the driver’s cabin. To use the machine gun, the crew were provided with a hatch.
The first prototype had at least four to five crew members (the sources do not specify the precise number). These were the commander, the driver, the gun operator, and loaders (one or more). The crew were seated inside the front cabin and in the rear positioned superstructure, which had two side doors.
The second prototype had only three crew members. It consisted of a commander, a driver, and a gun operator. While the sources do not specify it, one (or more) of these men also had to act as loaders for the drum magazine. In comparison to the previous model, the new one did not have the rear positioned crew compartment. This was instead replaced with added ammunition storage bins.
The SORA was not provided with any armor protection, neither for the front driver cabin nor for the gun operators (besides the small gun shield on the first prototype). The main reason for this was to reduce the cost and weight as much as possible. While the use of a protective armored cabin for the gun operators was considered, it was not adopted.
Fate of the project
The overall situation of the SORA within the Serbian Army is unclear. While, in the media and according to many statements of the Ministry of Defense over the years, one gets the impression that the SORA would be adopted, the project is nearly two decades old and still in the prototype phase. In addition, very recently, the Serbian Army stated that it is interested in upgrading its old 2S1 Gvozdika vehicles. The SORA also failed to gain any foreign interest despite its low price and simplicity. The Serbian Army appears to be focusing more attention in developing and introducing into service the much larger NORA B-52 and another 122 mm armed SOKO self-propelled artillery vehicle. Based on these factors, it is unlikely that it will be adopted for service within the Serbian Army in the near future, if ever.
The SORA is designed as a cheap and quick solution to the Serbian army’s lack of more modern self-propelled artillery. Despite achieving these goals, for unknown reasons, it is still not yet adopted for service. Despite its final fate, it provided the Serbian engineers with a good deal of experience in designing more modern vehicles.
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||7.72 x 2.5 m x 3.1 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||18 tonnes|
|Crew||3 (Commander, Gunner/Loader and the Driver)|
|Propulsion||Mercedes OM 402188 kW @ 2500 rpm|
|Speed (road/off-road)||80 km/h, 20 km/h (cross-country)|
|Range (road/off-road)||500 km|
|Primary Armament||122 mm D-30J howitzer|
|Secondary Armament||7.62 mm M84 machine gun|
|Elevation||-5° to +70°|
|Traverse||25° in both directions|
- B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
- M. Švedić (2008) Arsenal Specijalno Izdanje Magazina ODBRANA
- M. Švedić (2013) Arsenal Specijalno Izdanje Magazina ODBRANA 79..
- I. Hogg (2001) Twentieth-Century Artillery Amber Book.
- R. Phillips (2018) Artillery Of The Warsaw Pact
- M. Jadrić, Seventh Decade of the Military Technical Institute (1948-2013), Scientific Technical Review 2013
During the Second World War, the Germans operated great numbers of enemy combat vehicles that they had managed to capture. These were mostly French and Russian tanks. These were usually pressed into service in their original role or modified for other roles. For example, many were converted as ammunition transport vehicles or as self-propelled anti-tank guns. From their former ally Italy, the Germans also managed to capture a relatively huge stockpile of various war materials. This also included a number of tank designs, including the M15/42 medium tank. While this tank was already obsolete before its introduction, the German nevertheless put them to use against the Yugoslav Partisans. There, they would be used up to the war’s end.
Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened by some 15 cm compared to the M.13 Series tanks. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch was repositioned to the right side. A new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel was installed, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by that point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks. The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, this production order was never fully achieved. While some of them were issued to Italian troops, their operational service life with them was limited.
The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but it was generally outdated by the time it was put into service. Nevertheless, it would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with its new German owners, although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).
In German service, the M15/42 was known as the Beutepanzer M15 738(i) or Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 738(i). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the original M15/42 designation.
In German hands
In September 1943, due to the Allied invasion and internal pressure, Italy sought to negotiate peace with the Western Allied powers. The Germans were expecting this and sought to occupy as much of Italy as possible. With the occupation of most of Italy, the Germans came into possession of a number of armored vehicles, but also arms and weapon production facilities, with many vehicles that were awaiting assembly, from their former Ally.
The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there. Note that the number of M15/42 tanks is difficult to pinpoint precisely, as sources have different numbers. The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.
One of the first units to be equipped with the M15/42 tanks was Panzer Abteilung 202. This particular unit was formed in early 1941, mostly equipped with French captured tanks. In September 1941, it was relocated to the Balkans to fight the Partisans there. By early 1944, it was reinforced with Italian armored vehicles in order to replenish the older and worn-out French tanks. Elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944.
On September 10th, 1944, this unit was transported to Belgrade. Some elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were dispatched to the city of Valjevo, which was surrounded by the Partisans. They, together with other support units, managed to free the surrounded Germans. Two M15/42 tanks were damaged in the process, but recovered. Due to significant Partisan pressure, the Germans retreated to the north. On September 20th, some 15 tanks engaged with the Partisans near Šabac and Obrenovac, west of Belgrade. During the following skirmishes, one tank was destroyed and a second was damaged but later recovered by the Germans. The Germans managed to repel the Partisan attempts to liberate Šabac, as these were ill-prepared to engage tanks. Nevertheless, the Germans eventually abandoned Šabac in late October, moving with a group of 15 to 20 tanks north, toward Srem.
Other elements from Panzer Abteilung 202 were also engaged with Partisans forces in the area of Srem (north of Belgrade). At the start of October, at least three tanks of Panzer Abteilung 202 were attempting to repel the Partisans around Grabovci. The Partisans, using an anti-tank rifle, managed to destroy one of the three tanks. Two more tanks were lost in a Partisan ambush on October 11th.
Despite its obsolescence, the M15/42 could be used with some success against the Partisans, which often lacked proper anti-tank weapons. The situation for the Germans, who were holding the Yugoslavian capital Belgrade and eastern parts of the country, became desperate once the Soviet forces advanced to help the Partisans. During the Battle for Belgrade, which lasted from October 12th to 20th, 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202’s M15/42 tanks performed poorly against the Soviet T-34s (both 76 and 85 mm armed versions) and other armored vehicles. The M15/42’s armor was also noted to be unable to stop any Soviet anti-tank fire, including the anti-tank rifles. Many were lost during this battle, either destroyed in action or simply left behind. There was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.
From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defensive on the so called Syrmian Front in the northern part of Yugoslavia. By the end of 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202 had some 30 M15/42 tanks, of which only 18 were fully operational. Due to attrition, the number of available tanks was further diminished to 13 operational and 12 in repair. The effectiveness of these vehicles was greatly reduced due to heavy wear down and the increasing presence of Partisan anti-tank guns of various calibers. The lack of fuel and spare parts often meant that the M15/42s were of limited use and only on short distances. At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941 on. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian built vehicles. During this time, the first M15/42 tanks began to arrive. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit. An additional M15/42 tanks built by the Germans would be allocated to Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. During the summer of 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was moved to Serbia to reinforce the desperate attempts to keep the transit roads to Greece open. These roads and rails were vital for the evacuation of German forces stationed in Greece. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would not be used as a single unit, but instead would be divided into smaller groups and allocated to various German units stationed in Serbia at that time.
At the start of July 1944, the number of M15/42 tanks in this unit was increased to 59 vehicles, but only a third were fully operational. In October and November 1944, the unit saw extensive action against the Partisans, losing many vehicles in the process. For example, during the German defence of Niš, elements of Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 were present. The Germans were eventually forced to retreat, losing a number of tanks in the process, including at least one M15/42 which was captured by the Partisans. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would remain in Yugoslavia up to the start of 1945, when it was recalled to Germany. What was left of their equipment was given to Panzer Abteilung 202.
The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition, and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, they would be simply cannibalized for spare parts. The vehicles used in Yugoslavia often received a large storage box placed behind the turret. In addition, spare track links would often be placed around the vehicle to act as limited extra protection.
SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps, also operated the M15/42 tank in small numbers. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944. In May 1944, it participated in the German Operation Rösselsprung (Eng. Knight’s Move), an attempt to liquidate the Partisan leaders, including Josip Broz Tito, at Drvar. To help achieve this, smaller parts of Panzer Abteilung 202 were also present. There is a possibility that some M15/42 tanks were used during this operation. At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defence of Franfrukt, it is unknown if, by this time, it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.
The 12. verstärkte Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie, which was meant to be moved to Yugoslavia, had 14 tanks. At the end of 1944, it had some 8 M15/42 tanks, with only one operational. This police unit would be repositioned to Hungary from early 1945 onwards. It would be lost, with its equipment, during the siege of Budapest, fighting against the Soviets.
M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret
The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945. On one of few existing photographs of it, during what appears to be some kind of parade, it has the marking of the German puppet state of Croatia (large capital U, which was used for Ustaše Croatian units). The problem is that the Croat forces, while infrequently supplied by the Germans and Italians (and even Hungarians) with armored vehicles, never operated any M-series or Panzer 38(t) tanks. The Croatian Army possessed some limited industry, as they managed to locally build a small number of armored trucks. The relatively easy task of placing a new turret on a damaged M15/42 could be achieved. Another issue with this theory is the fact that the vehicle would be captured by the Yugoslav Partisans at the end of the war on a train together with other German-operated armored vehicles. There is a chance that the Germans may have supplied the Croats with these vehicles, but this seems unlikely. The Germans barely had spare parts and ammunition for the M15/42 for themselves, let alone sharing these with the Croats.
More likely, the creators of this modification were the Germans. Firstly, they used both M15/42 and Panzer 38(t) tanks. The M15/42 was used in its original configuration. The Panzer 38(t) tank, on the other hand, was mainly attached to armored trains by the Germans and rarely used outside of that. Two units that may have built this vehicle were either Panzer Abteilung 202 or Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. While, due to lack of information, it is almost impossible to determine the creator, it is likely that it was made or at least operated by Panzer Abteilung 202. The reason for this is that the captured train transporting these vehicles also transported a number of vehicles belonging to this unit. Of course, this by itself is not a direct proof of it, as a number of other vehicles not belonging to the Panzer Abteilung 202 area were present on this train.
Yugoslav Partisan service
The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, were employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.
By the time the M15/42 was developed and put into production, it was already an obsolete design. It had poor armor protection and insufficient firepower as a medium tank by late-war standards. For fighting the Partisans, which lacked tanks or even anti-tank guns, this was a good opportunity to use an otherwise useless vehicle and free up more important vehicles. The Germans were in desperate need to find a tank that was available in some numbers that could be used to replace the older and generally worn out French equipment. Unfortunately for them, the M15/42’s overall performance was poor, as the majority were mostly stored awaiting repairs. In addition, once the Soviet Army reached Yugoslavia, they had little chance against more modern armor. But, despite these drawbacks, the M15/42 was certainly a welcome addition for the desperate Germans, who, by this time, did not have the luxury of being too picky. Given the fact that nothing else was available, the M15/42 saw use until the end of the war.
Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 Fremdengerat 738(i), Gothic Line, winter 1944-45
Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738 (i) in Croatia, summer 1944
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||15.5 tonnes|
|Crew||4 (Commander/Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)|
|Propulsion||FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters|
|Primary Armament||Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds|
|Secondary Armament||3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds|
|Armor||42 mm to 20 mm|
- D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd
- V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.
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- Pafi, Falessi e Fiore Corazzati Italiani Storia dei mezzi corazzati
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- C. Bishop (1998) The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes Book.
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- Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
- N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA
- I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
- Italia 1943-45 I Mezzi delle Unità Cobelligeranti – Paolo Crippa, Luigi Manes
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2008) 19-2 Beutepanzerwagen
Following the completion of the first four Panzer III series, it was realized that they left much room for improvements and changes. The next version in line was the Panzer III Ausf. E, which introduced a number of improvements, like a necessary increase in armor protection. More importantly, it finally solved the significant issues with the problematic suspensions from the previous versions with the introduction of a simple torsion bar suspension design. The most important legacy of this vehicle was that it set the production standard for all later Panzer III versions to come. The Panzer III Ausf. E would prove itself as a good overall design for its day.
In March 1936, Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) issued an Entwicklung von Panzerkampfwagen (development of tanks) document, in which it described a possible further development and use of tanks. A great deal of it was dedicated to armor protection. At that time, the German Army had imposed a weight limit for its tanks, so that they were able to cross bridges without collapsing them. In the case of the Panzer III series, it was limited to 18 tonnes. This regulation, together with other factors (number of crewmen, armament, power output of the engine, etcetera) actually limited the effective armor thickness of the vehicles. Most German tanks were thus mostly lightly armored, as armor was intended to provide protection against small caliber rounds only. The new document put great emphasis on the fact that weapons like the French 25 mm rapid fire anti-tank gun could destroy the lightly armored German tanks without a problem.
The development of the Z.W.4 (Zugführerwagen, platoon commander’s vehicle, also marked sometime as Z.W.38), better known simply as the Panzer III Ausf. E, incorporated a number of suggestions from this document. The armor thickness was increased to 30 mm, providing better overall protection. It also incorporated some highly advanced features advocated by the chief engineer of Wa Prw 6, Kniepkamp. He intended to increase the maximum speed of the Panzer III to a staggering 70 km/h! This would be done by replacing the engine with a more powerful model, introducing a new 10-gear semi-automatic transmission and replacing the previously used complicated 8 small road wheel suspension with a torsion type. The larger wheels were chosen as they had a longer service life than smaller models. The use of lubricating tracks with rubber pads was also suggested. After some consideration, the problems with the quick wear of the suspension at speeds of 70 km/h was deemed unfeasible and the idea rejected. The maximum speed was limited to 40 km/h and the lubricated tracks were replaced with normal cast tracks.
Production orders for 96 Panzer III Ausf. E tanks would be placed by the Heeres Waffenamt. It was planned to complete the first vehicle in May 1938 and the last by September the same year. To fulfil the production quota and in order to include other manufactures into direct tank production, Daimler-Benz and M.A.N. Werk Nuernberg were included. Daimler-Benz was to build 41 (chassis number 60401 to 60441) and M.A.N the remaining 55 (chassis number 60442 to 60496) chassis.
As the German industry slowly began increasing production capabilities, these two simply could not produce all necessary parts. For this reason, the production of 90 turrets was given to Alkett and 6 more to Krupp. Many smaller subcontractors, including Werk Hannover, Eisen und Huettenwerk AG, Bochum, and several others, were also involved in the Panzer III project and were responsible for providing armor components. The engine was supplied by Maybach and the main armament by Rheinmetall.
Despite the plan to finish the production of the Ausf. E by September 1938, the actual first vehicles were completed by the end of 1938. The Daimler-Benz production run was delayed due to slow deliveries of necessary parts and components. By December 1938, only 9 vehicles were completed. An additional 9 were built in January 1939, 7 in February and only 2 in March. A short delay accrued due to shortages of transmissions. The production resumed in May, with the last vehicles being completed by July 1939. Production at M.A.N. was only fully completed by the end of 1939. Once the hulls were built, they would then be transported to Alkett to be fully assembled with their turrets. When Alkett actually completed these vehicles is unknown, as the documentation did not survive the war.
The Panzer III hull can be divided into three major sections. These were the forward-mounted transmission, central crew compartment and rear engine compartment. The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. The two square-shaped, two-part hatch brake inspection doors located on the front hull were still present on this version. The difference is that they now opened horizontally, in contrast to earlier versions, where they opened vertically. The two bolted square-shaped plates that were previously added on the front transmission armor were removed. Another change introduced was a significantly shorter hull length, at 5.38 m, while the older vehicles were 5.9 m long. Lastly, there were four towing couplings, with two placed in the front and two at the rear of the hull. The front hull also served as a base for the spare track links that were mounted on it. Some vehicles would receive armored ventilation ports for the steering brakes. These would be placed in the front glacis armor plate.
Unlike the larger Panzer IV, the Panzer III was not provided with driver and radio operator top hatches. These two crew members could instead use the front two-part brake inspection doors to enter or exit the vehicle. The Panzer III Ausf. E also received two small emergency escape doors placed on the hull sides, just behind the first return roller.
On top of the Panzer III Ausf. E hull, a fully enclosed and square-shaped superstructure was added. The superstructure had a very simple design, with mostly flat armored sides which were welded together, and bolted down to the hull. The position of the left driver visor and the machine ball mount next to it were unchanged. These were replaced with newer and improved models. In the case of the machine gun ball mount, this was the Kugelblende 30. The driver vision port was replaced with a Fahrersehklappe 30 model. This model consisted of two horizontal 30 mm thick plates. The upper plate could be raised, so that the driver had a direct vision, or lowered during combat situations. To further improve driver survivability, a 90 mm thick armored glass block was placed behind it. When the visor was closed, the driver would use a K.F.F.1 binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. This periscope had a 1.15 x magnification and a field of vision of 50°. The driver vision port was not completely waterproof and so a rain channel cover was placed atop of it during the production run.
The driver also had one smaller vision port (Sehklappe 30) placed on the left side of the superstructure. It was provided with a small 8 mm wide visor slit. It too had a 90 mm thick armored glass block for extra protection. Initially, the radio operator was not provided with a side vision port. During production, however, it would be added on some vehicles. Its design was the same as that of the driver’s side port
The Panzer III Ausf. E turret inherited the overall design from the previous versions, but there were still some modifications implemented on the Ausf. E. Firstly, the top turret plate was at a slightly different angle. The forward top plate was placed at 83° instead of the 81° used on the previous models. The rear top plate was completely flat now. Previously, it was placed at 91° from the vertical.
The gun mantlet also received some modifications, with added protective covers for the twin machine gun mount. The two mantlet observation hatches, located above the twin machine guns and to the left of the main gun, were slightly redesigned. The turret was also built using mostly welding and thus reducing the number of bolts used extensively on the previous versions.
Each of the turret sides received new pyramid-shaped observation vision ports. While the right visor port had an 8 mm wide slit, the left port did not have one. The visor ports were 30 mm thick and further protected by a 90 mm armored glass block. To the back, the simple one-piece doors were replaced by new two-piece doors. The forward door had an observation port, while the second door had a small pistol port. These doors could be locked in place with a gap of some 30 mm to provide the crew with additional ventilation. Above the doors, a rain drain guard was placed, which prevented rain weather from getting into the turret’s interior. In addition, the two square-shaped machine gun ports, located to the rear of the turret, were also replaced with new round-shaped covers.
The Panzer III Ausf. E commander’s cupola was bolted to the rear of the turret top. It had five vision slits, protected with sliding blocks. For extra protection, behind each vision slit, an armored glass block was added. The commander was also provided with a direction indicator placed on the front vision slit, and a graduated ring with markings from 1 to 12 to help him identify the direction in which the vehicle was going.
On top of the turret, two round shaped signal ports, just in front of the commander cupola, were placed. The left one was initially provided with a fake periscope cover, but this was quickly dropped during production. The signal ports were not completely closed. Instead, they had a 3 mm wide gap left in order to act as auxiliary ventilation ports for the turret crew. The main purpose of these signal ports (as their name suggests) was to be used by the commander to communicate or give order to other vehicles by using signal flags.
From late 1940 onwards, most Panzer IIIs received an additional and properly dedicated ventilation port placed on top of the turret. It was protected by a round shaped cover. Another addition to the turret was the rear positioned storage bin, which was added on most Panzer IIIs from April 1941 onwards.
Suspension and Running Gear
The Panzer III Ausf. E suspension consisted of six doubled road wheels on each side. These were suspended using a combination of individual swing axles together with torsion bars which were placed in the hull bottom. The upper movement of each wheel’s swing arm was limited by contact blocks covered in rubber. Additionally, the first and the last wheels were equipped with a hydraulic shock absorber. At the front, there was a 360 mm wide 21 tooth drive sprocket. On the back of the hull was the idler with adjustable crank arm. The number of return rolles was three per side.
The cast tracks were 380 mm wide. To help prevent the tracks from accidentally falling off, a 80 mm long cast tooth was placed in the middle of the track link. In order to improve passability on bad terrain, each track link had a gripper bar. There were some issues with how quick the rubber tires on the road wheels wore down when the driver was using 9th and 10th gears. To prevent this, the drivers were instructed to avoid driving above 40 km/h.
By the end of 1940, a number of improvements were introduced to Panzer III production. These included adding extra armor and better armament. To cope with the extra weight and prevent the loss of driving performance, the track was widened to 400 mm.
The Panzer III Ausf. E’s engine was placed at the rear of the hull, and was separated by a firewall from the central crew compartment. The firewall had a small door. Its purpose was to provide the crew member with access to the engine if needed.
To cope with the increase in weight (from 16 tonnes on the Ausf. D to 19.5 tonnes), a new, stronger engine was installed. This was a twelve-cylinder, water-cooled Maybach HL 120 TR which produced 265 [email protected] 2800 rpm. The engine was held in place by three rubber bushings. With this power unit, the Panzer III Ausf. E’s maximum speed was increased to 40 km/h, while the cross-country speed was 15 km/h. The fuel load of 310 liters was stored in two fuel tanks placed below the radiators in the engine compartment. With this fuel load, the Panzer III Ausf. E’s operational range was 165 km and 95 km cross-country. To avoid any accidental fires, these fuel tanks were protected by firewalls.
The engine compartment was protected by an enclosed superstructure. On top of this compartment, two two-part hatch doors for access to the engine were added. Further back, two smaller doors were added to provide the crew access to the fan drives. The air intakes were repositioned to the engine compartment sides and were protected with armor plates. A new type of exhaust was used on the Ausf. E.
The engine was started by an auxiliary electric motor starter. The power to this electrical starter was provided by two 12 volt Varta batteries which were in turn powered by a 12 volt Bosch generator. Some vehicles received improved starters that helped start the engine somewhat easier during early 1941.
The Panzer III Ausf. E was equipped with the ten-speed (and one reverse) Maybach Variotex SRG 32 8 145 semi-automatic transmission. The transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism used on the Panzer III was bolted to the hull. It was connected to the two final drives that were themselves bolted to the outside of the hull.
The Germans were a little carried away when they intended to use semi-automatic transmission in the hope of reaching speeds of up to 70 km/h. The semi-automatic transmission required frequent changes of the gears during driving. To change the gears, the driver first had to select one in advance and then the gear was actually changed once he pressed the clutch pedal. The frequent changing of the gears created friction that was passed on to the clutches. To prevent this, the inertia moment of the rotating parts had to be kept small. Using smaller, somewhat unproven and not properly tested transmissions caused significant mechanical breakdowns. To somewhat resolve this issue, an accelerator clutch would be installed. The problem still remained and the transmission would eventually be replaced with the older and properly tested SSG 76 on the Panzer III Ausf. H version.
The hull front armor was 30 mm thick, placed at a 21° angle. The upper hull front was 30 mm at 52°, while the lower front hull armor was 25 mm and placed at 75°. The glacis armor was 25 mm thick and placed at 87°. The flat side armor was 30 mm thick, the rear was 20 mm (at a 10° to 65° angle) and the bottom 16 mm. The Panzer III Ausf. E front armored plates were actually face-hardened, further increasing their protection against certain types of shells.
All-around, the superstructure armor was 30 mm thick. While the sides and rear were flat, the front plate placed almost vertical, at a 9° angle. The top armor plate was 16 mm thick. The rear engine compartment was protected with flat 30 mm side armor, while the rear one was placed at 30° and was slightly weaker, at 20 mm.
The front turret armor was 30 mm (at a 15° angle), while the sides and rear were 30 mm (at a 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at an 83-90° angle). The front gun mantlet was a 30 mm thick rounded armor plate. The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor. The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous rolled plates.
When the Germans were examining the proper armor thickness needed for the new Panzer III Ausf. E, they mainly focused on the French 25 mm quick firing anti-tank gun. They eventually decided that 30 mm of armor should be up to the task. The frontal armor plate was strong enough to resist the 25 mm rounds at ranges of over 500 mm at 30°.
The Panzer III Ausf. E was also equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system), placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer III’s commander.
At the end of 1940, most available Panzer IIIs, including the Ausf. E, were reinforced with additional 30 mm face hardened plates. These were added to the front hull and superstructure but also to the rear. It is worth mentioning that not all Panzer III actually received the extra protection, for various reasons, but mostly due to the slow production of necessary components.
The Panzer III Ausf. E had the same crew of five, which included the commander, gunner and loader, who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull. Their positions and their duties were the same as from the previous (but also future) versions.
The armament configuration of the Panzer III Ausf. E was unchanged from the previous versions. It consists of one MG 34 machine gun mounted in the superstructure and a combination of the 3.7 cm Kw.K. L/46.5 and two additional machine guns in the turret. The Panzer III’s main gun was equipped with a TZF5 ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. One change implemented was the repositioning of the left turret-mounted machine gun, which slightly protruded out. This was done to give the crew more working space for replacing the drum magazines.
On the left side of the gun, there were two mechanical handwheels for elevation and traverse. The gunner could traverse the turret by using the traverse handwheel at a speed of 2.2° per turn. For more precise aiming, the handwheel speed could be reduced to 1.5° per turn. The elevation speed by using the elevation handwheel was 2.5° per turn. On the right side of the turret was a second handwheel to allow the loader to assist with turret traverse.
In February 1940, the Panzer III’s were supplied with the 3.7 cm Spenggranatepartone 18 (high explosive round). In June 1940, a new Pzgr.Patr 40 (anti-armor tungsten core round) started to be issued for troop use.
The new superstructure Kugelblende 30 ball mounted machine gun, which was operated by the radio operator, consisted of two parts. The movable armor ball to which the machine gun was attached, and the external and fixed armor cover. This new type of ball mount offered a traverse left and right of 15°. It could be elevated to 20° and depressed to 15°. For spotting targets, a telescopic sight with an elevation of 18° and 1.8 x magnification was provided to it. While, initially, drum magazines were used for the machine guns, these would be replaced with belts from June 1940 onwards.
During the Panzer III’s early stages of development, the Germans were aware there was a possibility that the 3.7 cm gun may become obsolete. The lack of production capacities was the main reason for not installing a more potent gun from the start. This is the reason why they left the turret ring wide enough so that a larger caliber gun could be installed. In December 1940, the rearmament of the Panzer III Ausf. E (and all versions that followed it) with the 5 cm Kw.K L/42 semi-automatic gun began. With the new gun also came a new round-shaped and 35 mm thick gun external mantlet. Another change was the reduction of the number of machine guns in the turret to only one.
With the installation of the new gun, the ammunition load was reduced from the original 120 to 87 rounds (or 99, depending on the source). The removal of one machine gun led to the reduction of the machine gun ammunition carried inside to 3,750 rounds (from 4,500 previously). In addition to the new gun, new T.Z.F.5d gun sights were used. This sight had a magnification of 2.5x and a field view of 25°, which was 444 m wide at 1 km range. The gunsight reticle ranges were marked up to 1,500 m for the main gun and machine guns.
As the Panzer III Ausf. E vehicles became available, they would be initially issued to training units. The first operational use, in limited numbers, was during the German annexation of Czechoslovak territories during March 1939.
Prior to the Invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Germans had 148 Panzer III vehicles available (Ausf. A to E). Some 98 would be allocated for combat operations (only 87 of that number would actually be used in combat). The remaining were to be used as a reserve or given to training units. The majority of the committed Panzer III’s would be allocated to the 1st Panzer Division, which had only 26 such vehicles. The remaining vehicles were distributed to other armored units in limited numbers, but not to all. For example, the 4th Panzer Division did not have any Panzer III tanks. Only a small number of (probably not more than several vehicles) Panzer III Ausf. Es saw combat, with some not even managing to reach the front lines due to problems with their transmission.
By May 1940, the number of Panzer IIIs was increased to 349 vehicles which were distributed to seven Panzer Divisions. The disposition of Panzer III tanks was as follows. The 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions had 58 each, the 3rd 42, the 4th 40, the 5th 52, the 9th 41 and the 10th Panzer Division had 58 Panzer IIIs. By this time, the Panzer III Ausf. A to D were removed from front line service, as these were mainly given to training units.
The Panzer Divisions saw extensive combat operations against French armor. An example of this was the 4th Panzer Division which, with the 3rd Panzer Division, were part of the XVI Panzerkorps under the command of General Eric Hoeppner. The combined strength of these two divisions was over 670 tanks, with the majority being the Panzer I and II. Opposing them there was a force of 176 Somua S35 and 239 Hotchkiss tanks. In comparison to the Germans, the French redistributed their armor formation across the 35 km wide front. With this decision, they actually made any counterattack less likely to succeed in stopping the Germans.
During the drive toward the village of Hannut, the forward elements of the 4th Panzer Division, consisting of Panzer I and II tanks, managed to capture the village. The French made a counterattack with over 20 Hotchkiss tanks. While they managed to gain the upper hand against the Panzer II, once the Panzer IIIs arrived, the situation changed drastically in favor of the Germans. The French lost some 11 Hotchkiss tanks, most being credited to the Panzer IIIs, with some to the weaker Panzer II. Later that day, the German Panzers engaged a group of Somua S35 tanks. After losing four tanks, the French made another retreat. Eventually, with losses of some 160 tanks (the majority being the Panzer Is and IIs), the Germans broke through the French line, who lost 140 tanks and were forced to retreat. The Germans could recover many of their lost tanks and repair them, while the French were unable to do so. The Panzer IIIs were at a disadvantage against the larger B1 bis tanks. For example, during the battles around Sedan, a single B1 tank managed to destroy some 11 Panzer III tanks alone.
The combat experience in the West showed that, while the Panzer III were not protected against the French 47 mm gun, neither was their 3.7 cm gun effective. The Panzer III’s 3.7 cm gun was only effective against the Somua S35’s side armor from ranges of less than 200 m. Thanks to their speed, training, better tactics and use of radios, the German tanks could easily outmaneuver the enemy tanks and engage them from the more vulnerable rear and sides. The five-man crew proved to be superior in contrast to the French two to three crew tanks. In case of the Somua S35, the tank commander had to take several roles during the heat of battle, including loading and firing the gun, finding targets, and commanding the vehicle, overburdening him. On the other hand, in German vehicles, each crew member had a specific role to complete, which provided their tanks with a greater tactical advantage.
After the French campaign, the Germans tried to amend some of the shortcomings identified with the Panzer III, especially regarding its armor and firepower. The Panzer III would be rearmed with the 5 cm L/42 gun and receive additional 30 mm of frontal and rear armor. This included the Panzer III Ausf. E, but despite best attempts, not all tanks were modified by mid-1941.
The Panzer III Ausf. E likely saw use during the German operations in the Balkans. The use of Panzer III Ausf. Es in Africa is not completely clear. At the start of German operations, for example, the 5th Panzer Regiment had 61 (10 lost during the transport) Panzer IIIs armed with 3.7 cm guns and the 8th Panzer Regiment had 31. It is possible that some of these were of the Ausf. E version.
For the invasion of the Soviet Union, there were 350 3.7 cm and 1,090 5 cm armed Panzer IIIs. By this time, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint the precise version of the Panzer III used, as the sources rarely mention them. The identification of the precise version is not always possible, as the Ausf. F looked exactly the same as the Ausf. E. Like in the previous campaigns, the Panzer III was the backbone of the German armored thrust. The German tanks were able to quickly overcome the older Soviets models, like the T-26 and the BT series. The T-34 and KV vehicles proved to be almost invulnerable to the German tank guns. Following the harsh German losses in the Soviet Union, its likely that only a small number of Panzer III Ausf. Es would have survived 1941.
Variants based on the Panzer III Ausf. E
Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. E
The Panzer III Ausf. E was used for the Panzerbefehlswagen (tank command vehicle) configuration. This included a number of modifications, some of which were reducing the armament to only one machine gun (located in the turret) and using a dummy main gun (to hide its main purpose as a command vehicle), fixing the turret in place, replacing the gunner and the loader with one more radio operator and a commander adjutant, adding additional radio equipment, and, probably most noticeably, adding a large antenna to the rear of the turret. In total, some 45 such vehicles would be built by Daimler-Benz. These are not converted or rebuilt vehicles but instead completely new built vehicles.
Very few Panzer III Ausf. Es were modified to perform the role of target spotters for self-propelled artillery batteries. These vehicles were modified by removing the main gun and replacing it with a new gun mantle that had a wooden dummy gun and a ball mount placed in the centre of it. Additional scissor and tubular periscopes were also added for the crew.
The Panzer III Ausf. E received a number of modifications and improvements in comparison to the previous versions. Most noticeable were the added armor and the use of the new type of suspension, which was simpler and more efficient. On the other hand, the new transmission was problematic and not properly tested. In the early stages of the war, despite the somewhat weaker main armament, thanks to its speed, crew training and radio equipment, the Panzer III Ausf. E could easily outflank its opponents. Perhaps the greatest success of the Panzer III Ausf. E was that it provided the Germans with a good base for further modifications and improvements of a vehicle that would become the backbone of the Panzer Divisions in the first years of World War Two.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5.8 m x 2.91 m x 2.5 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||19.5 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 120TR 285 HP @ 2800 rpm|
|Speed (road/off road)||40 km/h, 15 km/h (cross country)|
|Range (road/off road)-fuel||165 km, 95 km (cross country)|
|Primary Armament||3.7 cm KwK L/46.5|
|Secondary Armament||Three 7.92 mm M.G.34|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Armor||10 mm – 30 mm.|
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No.3-4 Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D, E, H, J. und K.
W. Fleischner (2001) Panzerkampfwagen III Band 187, Podzun-Pallas-Verlag
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2011) Panzer Tracts No.3-5 Panzerkampfwagen Umbau
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2012) Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer production from 1933 to 1945
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2006) Panzer Tracts No.3-2 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. E, F, G, H.
P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions, The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-1940, Osprey publishing.
P. P. Battistelli (2006) Rommel’s Afrika Korps Osprey publishing.
D. Nešić, (2008) Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
H. Scheibert (1994) Panzer III, Schiffer Publishing
Walter J. Spielberger (2007) Panzer III and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
S. J. Zaloga (2014) Panzer III vs. Somua S 35 Osprey publishing
M. Harley (2008) The Campaigns in the West 1940, Ian Allan publishing
D. Doyle (2005) German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
G. Parada, S. Jablonski and W. hryniewicki, Panzer III Ausf.L/M. Kagero.
Walter J. Spielberger, AFV Panzerkampfwagen III, Profile Publications
B. Perret (1980) The Panzerkampfwagen III, Osprey Publishing
The Panzer IV Ausf. F was an important turning point for the whole further Panzer IV development for several reasons. Firstly, it reintroduced the single-piece straight front armor plate, which would become standard on all subsequent Panzer IV tanks. Secondly, it was the last version to be equipped with the short barreled 7.5 cm gun, after which the Germans decided to upgrade the vehicle with longer barreled guns for better anti-tank penetration. The Panzer IV Ausf. F was also supplied to the Hungarians in an attempt to rebuild their armored formations. Lastly, due to the large demands for more vehicles, the Panzer IV Ausf. F, would be also produced by Vomag and Nibelungenwerke beside Krupp-Grusonwerke, which was initially the only manufacturer of the Panzer IV.
By the time the Panzer IV Ausf. E was entering production, some deficiencies were noted for it and previous versions. The most noticeable was the relatively weak armor protection. While it was planned to provide the Ausf. E with 50 mm thick frontal armor, this was not implemented by the time of production. When the Ausf. F entered production in April 1941, it was possible to install the thicker, single-piece armor plates without the need to use two weaker armor plates like it was initially implemented on the previous version. Some structural changes on the superstructure and chassis were also to be implemented on the new Ausf. F. Other than these, the Ausf. F would serve the same purpose as a support tank. It would be allocated to Panzer Divisions as a replacement for the lost vehicles in the previous campaigns.
At the end of 1938, In 6 (Inspektorat 6, the inspectorate for mechanization) issued a request for the production of 129 Panzer IV Ausf. F tanks, which were to be built by Krupp-Grusonwerke. The outbreak of the war in September 1939 changed the initial production plans. Due to the great need for more modern Panzer IVs, the initial order was increased to 500 vehicles in November 1939
In order to increase the production speed, other manufacturers were to be included in the Panzer IV project. These include Vomag and Nibelungenwerk, both of which were to produce 100 new Panzer IV Ausf. F vehicles starting from June 1940. Due to the anticipated invasion of the Soviet Union, these production orders were once again changed to include 300 additional vehicles which were to be assembled at Krupp-Grusonwerke.
The Panzer IV Ausf. F production lasted from April (or May, depending on the source) 1941 to February 1942. By that time, Krupp-Grusonwerke managed to produce 393 tanks plus two chassis which were used as ammunition vehicles for the large Karlgerät. Vomag made 65 and Nibelungenwerk was able to produce only 13 Panzer IV tanks. In total, some 471 Panzer IV Ausf. F plus the two chassis were built. The main reason why the production goal was not reached was the sudden decision to drop the use of the shorter gun and focus on the production of the longer 7.5 cm gun.
While the Panzer IV Ausf. F represented a further development of the previous version, it incorporated a number of improvements.
While the Panzer IV Ausf. F had the same engine as the previous version, it received a much shorter exhaust muffler. To its left, a small auxiliary engine muffler was added. The engine top cover was also completely redesigned, adding two large radiator ventilation grilles.
The hull received some minor modifications. One of these was the installation of armored covers for the ventilation vents on the hull frontal brake access hatches. In order to increase the operational range and to reduce the dependency on auxiliary fuel supply vehicles, after April 1941, Panzer IV Ausf. F (like all other Panzer IVs) tanks were equipped with a tow hitch and fuel trailers. These were primarily used during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union but proved to be more of a hindrance and their use after that generally declined.
The Panzer IV Ausf. F’s superstructure reintroduced the completely straight front superstructure armor plate. The use of a single plate made the front armor stronger structurally, but also made production somewhat easier. This was not new, as it had been used on the Ausf. B and C versions, but had been discarded on the Ausf. D and Ausf. E versions. Other changes included the installation of the completely new and better machine gun ball-mount (Kugelblende 50). The driver visor port was replaced with a slightly thicker Fagrersehklappe 50 model.
The turret design on the Ausf. F received new two-part side doors taken from the Panzer III Ausf. E. The forward door had an observation port, while the second door had a small pistol port. The pistol and visor ports were also taken from the same Panzer III. The visor ports were 30 mm thick and further protected by a 90 mm armored glass block.
Suspension and Running Gear
The added armor protection and other changes lead to a slight increase in weight, from 22 to 22.3 tonnes. To prevent this from affecting the overall drive performance, some changes were implemented on the Panzer IV Ausf. F’s suspension. The tracks were widened to 40 mm, which necessitated the widening of the road wheels. The front-drive sprocket was slightly redesigned to be able to accommodate the wider tracks. The rear idler wheel was replaced with a new much simpler and easier to produce design.
The Polish and Western campaigns showed that the Panzer IV was not sufficiently protected. To resolve this issue, the Panzer IV Ausf. F was meant to have improved armor protection that would be able to frontally resist 3.7 cm anti-tank rounds. For this reason, the front hull, superstructure, and turret (including the gun mantlet) were reinforced. These were now 50 mm thick face hardened armor plates. In addition, the overall side armor was increased to 30 mm. During production, some vehicles received side armor plates that were also face-hardened.
The Panzer IV Ausf. F was also equipped with the smoke grenade rack system (Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung). This was discarded from use after 1942, being mostly replaced with a new one that was mounted on the turret sides. Some vehicles were equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the side of the vehicle. These served to protect the tank from Soviet anti-tank rifles.
A number of vehicles were equipped with the 20 mm thick front-spaced armor (Vorpanzer). Its primary function was to provide protection from tungsten and hollow-charge rounds. The crews would often add whatever they had to the tank for protection. This usually consisted of various track types (taken from other German or even captured vehicles), spare wheels, etcetera, in the hope to increase the survivability of their vehicles.
The main armament was unchanged and consisted of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with 80 rounds of ammunition. The secondary armament consisted of two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns. The ammunition load for these two machine guns was stored in 21 belt sacks, each with 150 rounds (with 3,150 rounds in total).
The 7.5 cm gun could fire high-explosive, smoke or anti-tank rounds. Experience during the first years in the Soviet Union had shown that the 7.5 cm was not up to the task of effectively countering enemy tanks. As a quick solution, in December 1941, Adolf Hitler issued an order that the production of the 7.5 cm GrPatr 38 (shaped-charge round) should begin as soon as possible. While this ammunition was developed in 1940, its actual production began only in early 1942. The 7.5 cm Gr.Patr. 38 could penetrate 75 mm of armor regardless of the combat range. It had a low velocity of 450 m/s, which greatly affected its precision. Another issue was that, when hitting enemy tanks, the shaped-charge would not always penetrate the enemy armor, as it would sometimes simply bounce off. Later models would greatly improve the overall performance.
Being produced after April 1941, the Panzer IV Ausf. F would mostly see action in the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, in North Africa. Some were used against the Yugoslav Partisans up to the war’s end.
In North Africa
In the North African theater of war, during 1941 and early 1942, the short-barreled Panzer IV would see service in small numbers. The more dominant German tank at that time was the Panzer III.
On 23rd August 1942, there were only 8 operational Panzer IVs available at El Alamein. There were initially 40 Panzer IVs in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) [Eng. German Africa Corps].
In the Soviet Union
By the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was around 517 (or 531 according to some sources). Each Panzer Division possessed in their inventory, on average, around 30 such vehicles. Of these, some 70 were the Ausf. F version. Sadly, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the precise combat operations of individual Panzer IV versions, as the sources do not distinguish between the short barrel versions. Those Panzer IV Ausf. Fs that were produced after June 1941 were usually distributed to various Panzer Divisions in smaller numbers to supplement their losses.
The overall performance of the Panzer IV Ausf. F was not that much different from the previous versions. Its gun was sufficient (despite originally not being intended to) and was quite effective against the lightly armored BT and T-26 series. Against the KVs and T-34s, the Panzer IV had much lower chances of success. The stronger 50 mm frontal armor could provide good protection against the 45 mm Soviet guns, but the stronger 76 mm could effectively pierce it.
The harsh winter, poor mechanical condition and stiff Soviet resistance led to huge tank losses by the end of 1941. The 5th Panzer Division, for example, had some 20 Panzer IVs in December 1941. This number fell to 14 Panzer IVs by February 1942. While some would survive up to 1943, their numbers would be greatly reduced.
In the Balkans
The Axis forces defeated Yugoslavia in April of 1941. The territory of Yugoslavia was then divided between Germany and its Allies. Due to their harsh occupation policy, two resistance movements emerged to resist the invaders. To counter these movements and to secure their vital supply lines to Greece, the Germans had to send additional forces and even some armored vehicles. These were mostly obsolete or even captured vehicles. In 1944, a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. Fs were allocated to the 13th Reinforced Police Tank Company (Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie). These were used in fighting against the communist partisans up to the war’s end.
The Panzer IV Ausf. F was used for several different test projects. These went into two different directions, either using the whole vehicle but with a different armament, or using the chassis for various modifications.
Panzer IV Ausf. G (F2)
In an attempt to counter the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks, in early 1942, the Germans began to up-gun their Panzer IVs with longer L/43 guns. These provided much better armor penetration. The Panzer IV Ausf. F was used as the base for this modification. In order to distinguish them from the short barrel armed vehicles, these were initially marked as Ausf. F2. After July 1942, these were all renamed Ausf. G. Some sources also note that some 25 newly produced Panzer IV Ausf. F tanks were rearmed with the longer gun, replacing the shorter barrel guns.
Panzer IV Ausf. F mit Waffe 0725
The Germans were experimenting with increasing the firepower of the Panzer IV. One such experiment included the installation of the Waffe 0725. This was actually an experimental taper-bore gun with a 75/55 mm caliber firing a tungsten round. Due to a shortage of tungsten, this particular gun was never introduced into service.
The Panzerfähre was a specially designed vehicle based on the Panzer IV Ausf. F chassis that was interned to transport German tanks over water. In theory, two Panzerfähre would be connected by a raft on which a tank or any other vehicle would be placed. Then, the two Panzerfähre basically acted as a ferry to transport the cargo from shore to shore. While not clear, it appears that, in practice, this did not work and no production orders were placed. Beside the two prototypes, no more were built.
Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät
An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf. F) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortars codenamed ‘Karlgerät’. Depending on the source, the number of modified Ausf. F chassis ranges between 2 and 13 vehicles.
Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf. E
Some Panzer IV Ausf. Fs were given to tank training schools. While new vehicles were certainly used, others may have been returned from the frontline for repairs and were reused for this purpose too.
Jagdpanzer IV wooden prototype
In May 1943, Vomag presented a wooden mock-up of the future Jagdpanzer IV to the German Army. This was based on the Panzer IV Ausf. F chassis.
Panzer IV Ausf. F Tropen
The Panzer IV Ausf. F, like all German tanks that were used in Africa, was modified by improving the ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand from getting into the engine. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Eng. Tropic).
In late 1944, a few Panzer IV Ausf. F chassis would be modified as Bergepanzers, essentially tank recovery vehicles. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and replaced with simple round wooden planks.
In order to help somewhat rebuild the shattered Hungarian Forces that would be needed in the 1942 offensive toward the Caucasus, the Germans provided them with large quantities of armored vehicles. These included some 22 Panzer IV Ausf. Fs. In 1942, these were the best tanks that the Hungarian Army operated on this front. By the end of 1943, due to heavy fighting, nearly all were lost.
Interestingly enough, the Soviets often managed to capture significant quantities of German military equipment that had been left abandoned. This included the Panzer IV Ausf. F, some of which were put into service, possibly as training vehicles.
Today, only one rebuilt Panzer IV Ausf. F exists. It was a restoration project which included a Panzer IV Ausf. F turret and a hull which was rebuilt using some original and some new parts. The vehicle is located at the Moscow Victory Park in Russia.
The Panzer IV Ausf. F was the last vehicle of the whole series to be equipped with the short 7.5 cm guns. It had improved armor protection compared to its predecessors. While certainly not special in its overall performance, it had a more important role, being used as a base for newer versions that would implement stronger armor and armament.
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.92 x 2.88 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)|
|Total weight, battle-ready||22.3 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator, and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 HP @ 2600 rpm|
|Speed (road/off-road)||42 km/h, 25 km/h (cross-country)|
|Range (road/off-road)||210 km, 130 km (cross-country)|
|Primary Armament||7.5 cm KwK L/24|
|Secondary Armament||Two 7.92 mm MG 34|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Turret Armor||Front 50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top 8-10 mm|
|Hull Armor||Front 30-50 mm, sides 20-30 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm, and the top and bottom 10-11 mm.|
- K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
- M. Kruk and R. Szewczyk (2011) 9th Panzer Division, Stratus
- F. Kurowski (2010) Das Afrika Korps Stackpole books.
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1997) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2004) Panzer Tracts No.16 Panzerkampfwagen IV Bergepanzer 38 to Bergepanther
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2014) Panzer Tracts No.8-1 Sturmpanzer
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- D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
- A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.
- H. Scheibert, Die Deutschen Panzer Des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Dörfler.
- T. Anderson (2017) History of the Panzerwaffe Volume 2 1942-1945. Osprey Publishing
- S. Becze (2007) Magyar Steel, Stratus
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- A. T. Jones (2017) The Panzer IV Pen and sword Military
Following the setbacks during the 1941 campaign in the Soviet Union, the Germans were in great need of finding a proper answer to the T-34 and the KV tanks. They decided to go with two different solutions. One was to simply upgun vehicles already in production, for example, the Panzer IV and the StuG III. The other solution involved more modifications, chief among which was removing the turret or parts of the superstructure and adding a new fighting compartment onto an older vehicle, usually equipped with different variants of the 7.5 cm anti-tank gun, and sometimes even using some captured weapons. One such project was based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis and armed with the StuG III’s L/43 gun.
The Panzer 38(t) or LT (‘Lehky Tank’, light tank) vz.38, as it was originally known, was a light tank developed by a Czechoslovakian company called ČKD (Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk) from Prague. This company was formed back in 1871 and was initially involved in the production of industrial machinery, while, in later years, it would begin to develop and produce military equipment and weapons. Just prior to the Second World War, ČKD managed to design and build a tank initially called TNH which, in early 1938, would be presented to the Czechoslovakian Army. The Army was impressed with its overall performance and placed an order for 150 such vehicles in 1938. The first series of 10 tanks was actually completed by the time of the German annexation of what was left of Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovakian Republic puppet states.
With the occupation of former Czechoslovakian territories, the Germans came into possession of the Škoda and ČKD factories. ČKD would be renamed to BMM (Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik) by the Germans. The new owners were highly impressed with the LT vz.38 design, so they not only completed the first series of 150 but continued producing more in the coming years. Under German use, the name of this vehicle was changed to Panzer 38(t).
Suffering from great shortages of tanks, the Germans employed the Panzer 38(t) during the Polish, Western, and even Balkan campaigns. The Panzer 38(t) to a great extent ended its carrier as a first-line combat tank in 1941, during the Invasion of the Soviet Union. While it would still be used in smaller numbers by the Germans on the front lines, its reliable chassis was instead massively reused for other projects during the war. These mostly consisted of anti-tank vehicles, but other configurations, such as self-propelled artillery or anti-aircraft guns, would also be developed.
During early March 1942, Adolf Hitler gave instructions that a Panzer 38(t) chassis was to be modified and equipped with the newly developed 7.5 cm Sturmkannone. This was a version of the German 7.5 cm PaK gun modified to be used on Sturmgeschütz vehicles. BMM began making the necessary preparations for this project once it received the instructions. The gun and the mount were to be provided by Rheinmetall-Borsig.
Unfortunately, the precise history of this vehicle is poorly documented in the sources. Actually, there is barely any information on it. What is known is that BMM managed to build one prototype or at least a partially built wooden mock-up which was placed on a Panzer 38(t) chassis.
Which version was used?
Unfortunately, the few available sources do not mention the precise type of Panzer 38(t) chassis used. Based on the few existing photographs, an educated guess can be made. This vehicle had a completely flat frontal superstructure armor. This was introduced during the production on the Ausf. E version, remaining on the Ausf. F, S and G. The Ausf. S can be ruled out however, as it had a completely different front visor port. The remaining three versions are almost identical and very difficult to distinguish. While the Ausf. E and F had two 25 mm thick frontal plates, the Ausf. G had a single 50 mm thick armored plate. Due to the photograph angles, it is difficult to observe this area and precisely make a judgment on the chassis version used. It appears that the vehicle used a single frontal piece armor plate, so it is probable that this was built on the Ausf. G chassis.
The Panzer 38(t) hull was divided into a few sections which included the forward-mounted transmission, central crew fighting compartment, and, to the rear, the engine compartment. The transmission and steering systems were placed at the front of the hull and were protected with a large angled armored plate. To allow better access for repairs, a rectangular-shaped transmission hatch was located in the middle of this plate. It was protected by an extended ‘U’-shaped splash ring.
The hull and the remaining parts of the Panzer 38(t) body were constructed using armored plates riveted to an armored frame. The armor plates that needed to be easily removable (like the upper horizontal plate in the hull for access to the gearbox, rear-engine plate, etcetera) were held in place by using bolts.
The original Panzer 38(t) superstructure was modified. The two front crew members and the ball mounted machine gun remained in their usual locations. Due to bad angles and the quality of available photographs, it is difficult to see if the two side observation ports are still present or not. The sides and top of the superstructure armor just behind the driver and radio operator positions were removed.
The Panzer 38(t) had a hatch door placed above the radio operator’s position. Based on the photograph of the 7.5 cm StuK prototype, it appears that this vehicle would have two larger hatches (one for the radio operator and one for the driver). This is reasonable, since the Panzer 38(t) was a small vehicle with a very cramped interior, making the emergency exit of the hull positioned crew members very difficult.
On top of the modified superstructure, a new rear opened fighting compartment was placed. The front part of this compartment was to be made using three plates with the opening in the centre for the main gun. The sides were to be also fully protected. The top plate actually curved down slightly, toward the front of the vehicle. On the top left front corner, there was an opening left for the gunner’s periscope sight. On the photographed vehicle, this fighting compartment appears to be a wooden mock-up.
Suspension and Running Gear
The 7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38 (t)’s suspension consisted of four large road wheels with split rubber tires. The use of large diameter wheels was meant to reduce wear on the rubber tires. These wheels were connected in pairs and were suspended using semi-elliptical leaf spring units. In addition, there was a front-drive sprocket, rear idler, and two return rollers per side.
The power unit of this new vehicle was a Praga TNHPS/II six-cylinder gasoline, 125 [email protected] rpm engine. With the added armor plates, ammunition, and the larger gun, the overall weight increased from 9.4 to 11 tonnes. While the original maximum speed was around 42 km/h, with the added weight, it was decreased to 35 km/h
The Armor Protection
Given that this vehicle was based on the Ausf. E or later versions, its frontal chassis armor was 50 mm thick. This was either made of two welded 25 mm plates or a single 50 mm plate. The sides were 15 or 30 mm, thick depending on the version chassis being used.
The new combat compartment’s armor protection is unknown, but it would probably have been only lightly protected in order to save weight. The sides and top armor would probably be around 10 mm thick, while the frontal armor would be either the same thickness or slightly thicker, possibly up to 30 mm.
The gun deflector guard (the thick trapezoidal part in front of the gun shield) was 50 mm thick. The sides were 30 mm and placed at 17°. The top and bottom were also 30 mm thick. The large gun shield was 50 mm thick.
The main armament of this vehicle was the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 gun. It was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krupp for use in Sturmgeschütz vehicles. This gun had a semi-automatic breech with a vertical sliding block and was electrically fired. The 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 could fire shells at a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s and could penetrate 82 mm of 30° angled armor at 1 km. In its original configuration on the StuG III, the elevation was -6° to +17°, while the traverse was 10° in both directions. For engaging direct targets, a Sf1.ZF1a gun sight was used. The recoil cylinders were placed above the gun and were protected by an armored deflector guard. To the rear of the breach, a protective recoil shield was placed. In addition, a canvas bag for spent ammunition was placed under the gun breach. Production started in March 1942, but it did not last long, as it would be replaced with the L/48 version.
The 7.5cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t) was to be armed with this gun together with the enclosed deflector guard. While the armor-piercing capabilities would remain the same, other characteristics, like the elevation or the quantity of ammunition, are unknown. Given that the center of mass for the gun was rather high and with the extra weight of the gun armored deflector guard, some stability issues might have been incurred. Probably in order to counter this, a large travel lock was provided.
Beside the main gun, the machine gun in the hull was unchanged. The 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37 ball-mounted machine was operated by the radio operator. It had a traverse of 35° to the right and 11° to the left, with an elevation of -14° to +25°. For aiming this machine gun, a telescopic sight with 2.6x magnification was provided.
The precise number of crewmen that the vehicle would have had is unknown. Similar vehicles developed during the war (the Marder series) had four crew members. This seems quite possible, as the hull positioned crew member (radio operator and driver) positions were unchanged. In the fighting compartment, the gunner would be positioned to the left of the main gun, and he would also probably be the vehicle commander. To his right would be the loader.
Once the produced prototype was examined, a production order was not given. While the sources do not provide any reason for it, they do offer some suggestions. Authors P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition), in the section that discusses the 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 Auf Panzer 38(t) Ausf. H, mentioned that, besides it, a second prototype armed with StuK 40 based on the Panzer 38(t) Ausf. G was also presented. This is interesting information, as both vehicles are quite similar in appearance, with some differences, like the armament and the armor’s overall design.
A possible reason why this project was rejected may lay in the main gun chosen for this vehicle. The Sturmgeschütz gun was probably unsuited for this vehicle. On the other hand, the slightly modified 7.5 cm PaK 40/3 offered much simpler installation, without the need for the deflector guard. The 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 gun was also a weapon that was built in small numbers and was phased out in favor of the longer barrel L/48 gun. We also do not know if this gun caused any mechanical difficulties or problems during the installation. The most logical conclusion is that this vehicle was rejected because other anti-tank Panzer 38(t) based vehicles had a much simpler design and could be produced easier and cheaper.
The generally unknown and poorly documented 7.5 cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t) was surely an interesting attempt made by the Germans to reuse available resources and production capabilities to quickly produce an anti-tank vehicle. The Panzer 38(t) chassis, for example, was well developed and quite mechanically reliable. Despite being not adopted for service, it was built on a concept used extensively by the Germans during the war (the Marder series, for example) by mounting a strong anti-tank gun on lightly protected tank chassis. While it would have had sufficient firepower to oppose Soviet armor, its own poor protection would offer limited survivability in case of enemy retaliation.
7.5cm StuK auf Panzer 38(t)
|Total weight, battle-ready||11 tonnes|
|Crew||Commander/Gunner, Loader, Driver and Radio operator|
|Propulsion||285 [email protected] 2800 rpm|
|Primary Armament||Armament: 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43|
|Secondary Armament||One 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37|
|Armor||10 mm – 50 mm|
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2007) Panzer Tracts No.18 Panzerkampfwagen 38 (t) Ausf.A to G and S
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2007) Panzer Tracts No. 7-2 .Panzejager
- W. J. Spielberger (1993) Sturmgeschütz and its variants, Schiffer Publisher
- 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.
- H. C. Doyle and C.K. Kliment (1979) Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945, Argus Books
The Panzer III Ausf. D was the last version of the experimental series developed starting from the Ausf. A. It incorporated a number of improvements, of which the most obvious was the redesign of the rear engine compartment and introduction of a slightly modified 8-wheel suspension. It was also different from the previous version by being built in somewhat larger (but still limited) numbers. The Panzer III Ausf. D also had the longest service life, soldiering on to 1941 and possibly even after that
Daimler-Benz, which was responsible for the construction of the Panzer III Ausf. A, was contacted by Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) to produce an additional number of experimental chassis to test new types of suspensions and other elements that could be further improved (like the commander’s cupola, engine compartment interior, etcetera). To fulfill the production orders, Daimler-Benz built the Versuchs-Fahrgestell (experimental chassis) Z.W.3 (Zugführerwagen platoon commander’s vehicle), which would lead to the Panzer III Ausf. B. The Z.W.4 would be used as the base of the Panzer III Ausf. C (marked as 3a. Serie Z.W.) and D (marked as 3b. Serie Z.W.).
The Heeres Waffenamt issued an order to Daimler-Benz to produce 25 Panzer III Ausf. D chassis. Other components, such as the turrets, were to be provided by Krupp-Gruson Werke and Alkett. The main guns were to be provided by Krupp-Essen and Rheinmetall. For the acquisition of necessary armored parts, numerous subcontractors, like AG Vochum, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke AG, etcetera were contracted. While the production of these vehicles began sometime in early 1938, it took several months to actually build them. The last of the 25 vehicles was completed either in July or September 1938. Five more chassis would be built by Daimler-Benz and merged with five Panzer III Ausf. B turrets during 1940.
Interestingly, according to H. Scheibert (Panzer III), 55 Panzer III Ausf. D were produced during 1938. If he includes the modified chassis and command vehicles based on the Panzer III Ausf. D in this counting is not clear.
The Panzer III Ausf. D received some modification to its overall design, in many aspects, like the armament and engine, it was virtually unchanged.
The engine compartment
While the engine type used was the same as on the previous versions, there were some changes and rearrangements of some elements of the engine compartment. The position of the two radiators was changed, as they were now placed completely vertical. They were previously in an angled position. In addition, these were provided with louvres which could be controlled by the crew (from the crew compartment) to provide a better flow of air, depending on the need. The previously used mechanical fuel pumps were replaced with electrically operated ones. Lastly, four smaller and armored fuel tanks (each could contain 75 liters) were placed under the engine in pairs.
The overall design of the engine compartment was changed due to the modifications of its interior. The rear part of the engine compartment was put at a steeper angle. Two cooling air grills were placed on each side of the engine compartment. While no additional ventilation ports were placed on the armor cover of the engine, the four hatches (two on top, and two more on the angled side) could be opened to act as improvised ventilation ports. The change in design of the engine compartment led to a slight extension of the whole Panzer III Ausf. D, from 5.66 m to 5.92 m.
Panzer IIIs from A to C incorporated a 5 speed transmission. The Ausf. D received an improved 6 speed SSG 76 type transmission. As the remaining components of the drivetrain were essentially unchanged, the drive performance was also left largely unchanged.
The Panzer III Ausf. D suspension was quite similar to the Ausf. C one in appearance and could sometimes be difficult to distinguish. The Ausf. D also employed the same 8 small road wheels. However, they were divided into three parts, with two pairs of double wheels placed in front and to the rear and four pairs in the middle. There were also three return rollers, one drive sprocket and one idler per side.
The change included the repositioning of the front and rear swing arms’ pivoting points. These were centrally placed. The leaf spring units’ positions on the first and last pairs of road wheels were placed diagonally in contrast to the vertical ones used previously. Lastly, two improved shock absorbers were placed on each suspension side. One was placed behind the drive sprocket and the second in front of the idler.
Regarding the precise armor thickness of the Panzer III Ausf. D, the sources are basically split into two camps. Authors such as D. Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka) and Walter J. Spielberger (Panzer III and its Variants) mention that the overall armor protection was increased to 30 mm (same as the later built Ausf. E). The increase in armor, together with other modifications, raised the Ausf. D’s weight to nearly 20 tonnes.
On the other hand, authors such as T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, und D) and P. Chamberlain (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition) note that the armor thickness was the same as on the previous versions, up to 14.5 mm. In addition, the overall weight of the Panzer III Ausf. D was, again like the previous versions, at 16 tonnes. The reason for this divergence of sources is unclear. One possible culprit for this may be the command vehicle that was developed based on the Panzer III Ausf. D, as it had 30 mm of armor.
When the war with Poland broke out in September 1939, the Germans had less than 98 Panzer III tanks. Of these, some 87 saw actual combat service, while the remaining were used as replacement and training vehicles. These were distributed to Panzer Regiments in limited numbers. The exceptions were the 1st Panzer Regiment, which had 20, and the 2nd which had 6 Panzer IIIs.
To determine the precise combat engagements of the Ausf. D (but also other older versions) is difficult. The issue is that the sources list them simply as Panzer IIIs, without mentioning the precise version in question. For example, Panzer IIIs from the 4th Panzer Regiment were ordered to take the Polish barracks and train station at Kamionka on 19th September. While the barracks were successfully stormed, the train managed to leave the station. What followed was a race between the German Panzer III and IV tanks and the elusive train. After sustaining heavy damage from German fire, the Panzers, reaching a speed of over 40 km/h, eventually managed to capture the train. The Germans lost some 30 Panzer IIIs during the entirety of the campaign, but most of these would be repaired and put back into use.
Following the completion of the Polish Campaign, the Germans initiated a slow withdrawal of the earlier types of the Panzer III, including the Ausf. D. This was mainly done as more advanced versions were developed and became available in sufficient numbers to replace the older experimental Panzer IIIs. From February 1940 onwards, all available Panzer Ausf. A to D tanks, after an extensive overhaul, were given to training units. This did not include the five modified Ausf. Ds that were equipped with Ausf. B turrets.
Variants based on the Panzer III Ausf. D
Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D1
The Panzer III Ausf. D was used for the Panzerbefehlswagen (tank command vehicle) configuration. This included a number of modifications, some of which were reducing the armament to only one machine gun (located in the turret), using a dummy main gun (to hide its main purpose as a command vehicle), fixing the turret in place, replacing the gunner and the loader with one more radio operator and a commander adjutant, adding additional radio equipment, and, probably most noticeably, adding a large antenna to the rear of the turret. Another large change was that the armor protection was reinforced with another 14.5 m of armor, raising the overall protection to 29 mm. The driver’s visor and the machine gun ball mount were also replaced with newer models. Daimler-Benz produced 26 brand new vehicles in 1938 and 4 more in 1939. This vehicle was designated as Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf. D1. These were used starting from Poland in 1939 up to possibly the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 or even after that.
Panzer III Ausf.D/B hybrid
During the late 1930s, the Germans were developing the Sturmgeschütz concept. For this purpose, some 5 Panzer III Ausf. B chassis were allocated to be rebuilt as Sturmgeschütz III test series. Not wanting to waste the turrets from these tanks, the Heeres Waffenamt gave Daimler-Benz instructions to build an additional five Ausf. D chassis to be merged with them. As these were never a huge priority, it took Daimler-Benz some two years (until October 1940) to actually complete these vehicles.
During their construction, Daimler-Benz introduced some improved components that were not present on the 25 original Panzer III Ausf. D vehicles. The best example is the use of the new Kugel Blende 30 type of machine ball mount. Additionally, these received a new idler and the position of the rear shock absorber was slightly lowered.
It is unclear how many, but likely all five were transported to Norway in the summer of 1941 and allocated to Panzer-Abteilung z.b.V. 40 (special assignment unit). These may have participated in the German combat operations in Finland during the Invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Panzer III Ausf. D would be a further improvement of the previously built Ausf. C. It would incorporate a majority of elements from this previous version, except for the suspension and some interior modifications. Following the completion of the Ausf. D series, Daimler-Benz and the German Army officials simply gave up on the idea of using the unnecessarily complicated 8 wheel suspension and instead developed a brand new torsion bar that would be used as standard from the Ausf. E onward.
The whole experimental Panzer III Ausf. A to D series, while not long in service, was vital for the Germans in gaining valuable experience in tank design, but also in training the Panzer crews. Given the fact that these were built by the yet underdeveloped German industry, they could be considered a success, as they paved the way for further Panzer development.
Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. D Specifications
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.92 m x 2.82 m x 2.41 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||16 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 108 TR 250 [email protected] 2800 rpm|
|Speed (road/off road)||35 km/h, 10-12 km/h (cross country)|
|Range (road/off road)||165 km, 95 km|
|Primary Armament||3.7 cm Kw.K. L/46.5|
|Secondary Armament||Three 7.92 mm MG 34|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
- D. Nešić, (2008) Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2006) Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A,B,C, und D.
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No.3-4 Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf. D1, E, H, J, und K.
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (20) Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer production from 1933 to 1945.
- P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
- D. Doyle (2005) German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
- G. Parada, S. Jablonski and W. hryniewicki, Panzer III Ausf.L/M. Kagero.
- Walter J. Spielberger (2007) Panzer III and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
- Walter J. Spieberger, AFV Panzerkampfwagen III, Profile Publications
- B. Perret (1980) The Panzerkampfwagen III, Osprey Publishing
- A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon Books.
- G. L. Rottman (2008) M3 Medium tank Vs Panzer III, Osprey Publishing
- H. Scheibert (1994) Panzer III, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
The Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo M43 da 105/25 was an Italian self-propelled gun developed by FIAT and Ansaldo. It was based on the M42 da 75/18 and used in limited numbers by the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) before the armistice of 8th September 1943. After the armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the center and northern parts of Italy by the Germans, the Semoventi were captured and used by the German Army and by the new Italian Collaborationist Army.
After the entry into service of the Semoventi (singular Semovente) armed with 75 mm L.18 cannons, based on the chassis of the tanks of the ‘M’ series (Medi, Eng. Medium), the M13/40 and M14/41, it was found that the vehicles were adequate for infantry support and anti-tank vehicles. However, the Regio Esercito needed something more heavily armed and armored to be able to fight against the more modern vehicles put into service by the Allies. By this point, the Italians were fighting the latest versions of M4 Sherman.
A specification was issued in mid-1942 for a Semovente that could support the infantry, but also fight against such modern threats using the heavy Italian Cannone da 105/23. At that time, Odero-Terni-Orlando (OTO) and the consortium Ansaldo-FIAT, two Italian tank manufacturers, proposed two different self-propelled gun prototypes. The OTO proposal was to mount the 105/23 cannon on the hull of the heavy tank P26/40, which was still under development and entered into service only after September 1943.
However, FIAT-Ansaldo could build a prototype of their vehicle faster because the project was based on the already under construction M15/42 Italian medium tank hull. This had already been tested in February-March 1943 and under construction since April of that same year.
At the same time, the FIAT-Ansaldo project was also chosen because the manufacturers had mastery over the components involved. It also required only small modifications to the assembly lines. This meant it could be put into production very quickly. The Italian Army evaluated it positively for two simple reasons. Firstly, because there were already existing courses for the training of new crews (and mechanics) of self-propelled guns on almost identical chassis. Secondly, because a self-propelled gun based on the modified M15/42 chassis was lighter than a self-propelled gun on the P26/40 hull, which meant that the FIAT-Ansaldo self-propelled gun needed a less powerful gasoline engine. This was a big advantage for the Italian Army that had to replace diesel engines with gasoline engines after 1942 due to the limited resources available.
A prototype was built between 16th and 28th January 1943 and was armed with a prototype of the 105/23 Mod.1943 cannon. It was first examined by the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (Eng. Inspectorate of Motorised and Armored Troops) and the Ispettorato dell’Arma d’Artiglieria (Eng. Inspectorate of the Artillery Corps) on 1st February. It was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Eng: Centre for Motorisation Studies) in Rome on 27th February for official testing. Early photos of the prototype show that the vehicle initially lacked a radio antenna, racks for the 20-liters cans, and headlights, which were fitted before the presentation in Rome. In particular, 6 racks were mounted on the prototype, two on the front, two on fenders, and two more on the rear of the vehicle.
The testing of the prototype took about a month. In the end, the Regio Esercito was very impressed by the firepower of the 105 mm cannon. On 29th March 1943, the High Command of the Regio Esercito ordered 130 vehicles divided into two batches, the first batch of 30 and a second of 100 self-propelled guns. It was now officially renamed as the ‘Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo su scafo M43 da 105/25’, abbreviated to ‘Semovente M43 da 105/25’ (Eng: Self-propelled gun FIAT-Ansaldo on hull M43 armed with a 105/25). It was nicknamed “Bassotto” (Eng: Dachshund) by the crews for its lower and larger profile.
In addition to the first order of 130 units placed in March 1943, the FIAT and Ansaldo consortium received new contracts from the Regio Esercito for the production of 105 mm-armed self-propelled guns. On 10th May 1943, the total order was increased to 200 vehicles, and then to 454 in June. Some sources mention 494 units ordered in July 1943, but this can not be confirmed due to the partial loss of the Ansaldo Archives following the armistice of September 1943.
The first vehicles produced in the gigantic Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, Northern Italy, were completed at the end of May 1943. They were delivered to the Regio Esercito at the beginning of July. According to the records, by 30th June, a total of 30 M43 105/25s had already been completed. After the Armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the central and northern parts of Italy by the Wehrmacht, production was initially interrupted. However, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng. Inspector General of the Armed Forces) quickly evaluated the self-propelled gun, and, judging it positively, production was restarted.
By the end of 1943, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa had produced another 24 M43 self-propelled 105/25 vehicles for the Germans. However, in 1944, only 67 more were produced due to bombing, lack of raw materials and strikes. The production was not continued in 1945 because of heavy Allied bombing that stopped the production of most of the plant and because the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, together with the Reichsministerium für Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion (Eng: Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production) in Berlin, had decided to discontinue production of all Italian vehicles except the Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i), Panzerspähwagen Lince 202(i) and the Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i) self-propelled vehicle which they considered adequate.
The total production of the Semovente М43 da 105/25 was 121 units between April 1943 and December 1944.
Design of the “Bassotto”
Hull and armor
The M42 hull was 14 cm longer than the previous M40 and M41 hulls. The new M43 hull (also called M42 ‘Lungo’ – Eng. ‘Long’) was even longer, with 4 cm more than the M42, reaching a length of 5.10 m (18 cm more than the M41), 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42) and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42). Finally, the flameproof armor plate separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the space for the crew. All these modifications brought the total weight of the vehicle to 15.8 tonnes battle-ready compared to the 15 tonnes of the M42.
This made the vehicle’s silhouette more elusive and also allowed the cannon to be positioned in the center of the superstructure, instead of being moved to the right, like on the previous chassis.
The armor was both bolted to an internal frame and partially welded (a great innovation for Italian vehicles) and had great thickness compared to Italian standards. The hull armor was 50 mm on top and 25 mm on the bottom. The superstructure had an armor plate 75 mm thick (some sources mention 70 mm) frontally, 45 mm on the sides, while the rear was protected by a plate 35 mm thick. A plate of the same thickness protected the back of the engine compartment.
The roof and floor of the vehicle were 15 mm thick. New to the vehicle were the side skirts that were divided into three parts. These were presumably 5 mm thick. They partially protected the sides of the vehicle. The side skirts had a hole in the back to allow the crew to be able to reach the track tension adjuster.
In general, the protection was increased compared to the 50 mm frontal, 35 mm side, and 20 mm on the rest of the frame of the previous M42, or the 50 mm frontal, 25 mm lateral, and 15 mm rear of the M41, even if the Italian industry was not able to provide ballistic steel of good quality. In fact, the Italian armor was fragile compared to the armor of equal thickness of other nations involved in the war. When an enemy round hit Italian armor, the armor often broke or splintered even without being penetrated, causing damage to the vehicle and/or crewmembers and leading to the need to send the vehicle to specialized workshops to replace the damaged armor plates.
On the roof, on the left side, there was the radio antenna, a fully rotatable periscope and an opening for the cannon. The commander was equipped with an optical sighting system produced by Ansaldo and weighing about 13 kg. On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. The engine deck had two large inspection hatches equipped with grills for engine cooling. Behind them were the fuel tank cap and two grills for radiator cooling. At the rear, there was a spare wheel, a hole for the engine crank, the towing hook and a smoke grenade launcher system consisting of a launcher and a rack carrying smoke grenades to reload the launcher.
On either side of the engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts. Six racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, three on each side, just like other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. In fact, from 1942 onward, the racks were factory fitted on all vehicles, as most would have gone to operate in Africa, where the cans would have increased the range of the vehicle. It should be noted, however, that in the majority of cases, on the Semoventi M43 da 105/25, the cans were not transported because, in Italy, it was not that difficult to find fuel.
The suspension was a semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire and mines.
The tank had 26 cm wide tracks, with 86 track links per side. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers and track tension adjusting mechanism were at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0,76 kg/cm² (to give an example, the Soviet SU-100 had 0,56 kg/cm² and the German StuH 42 0,92 kg/cm²), increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow or sand.
The main armament was a Cannone da 105/25 (sometimes also called Mod. S.F. ‘Serico’ for Spherical) produced by Ansaldo. It was developed on the basis of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942, a howitzer developed by OTO-Melara as a prototype for divisional artillery together with the Obice da 105/40 Mod. 1938.
Unfortunately, the two prototypes were produced and tested by the Regio Esercito too late. 600 of the Mod. 1938 were ordered, but only a few were delivered before the Armistice of Cassibile. The Mod. 1942 was not ordered in time.
At least two prototypes of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942 were produced. One, or perhaps more, were on a fielded carriage and one was on a spherical support meant for the prototype of the Semovente M43 da 105/25.
The field version of the gun had a maximum range of 13 km and a practical range of 2,000-2,500 m for anti-tank ammunition. It had a practical firing rate of 8 rounds per minute. Obviously, inside the narrow fighting compartment of the self-propelled gun, this dropped dramatically.
The gun weight is not given in the sources, but we can assume that it did not exceed one tonne together with its spherical support. The Cannone da 105/28 Mod. 1912, also produced by Ansaldo (and with which it shared the ammunition) had a barrel length of 2.987 m (compared to 2.6 m of the 105/25) and weighed 850 kg.
Thanks to the enlargement of the vehicle, the cannon’s spherical mount was centrally placed on the front plate. The gun had a horizontal traverse of 18° to the right and 18° to the left, as well as an elevation of +18° and a depression of -10°.
After the war, some 105/25 guns were used as anti-tank artillery in the bunkers of the fortification line called the “Alpine Wall”, on the border with Yugoslavia, in the early years of the Cold War.
No other data is available on this artillery piece due to the few units produced and their limited use.
The secondary armament consisted of a Breda Mod. 38 medium machine gun, a vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry. The machine gun weighed 15.4 kg and was chambered with the 8×59 RB Breda cartridge. It was specially developed for Italian machine guns in 1935 and had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s. The Breda Mod. 38 had a theoretical firing rate of 600 rounds per minute, which in practice dropped to about 350 rounds per minute. One of the advantages of this machine gun, in addition to its reliability, was its small size. In fact, the machine gun was only 89 cm long, taking up little space when stowed inside the vehicle.
Some sources claim that, due to the lack of Breda machine guns or for simple convenience, some German crews who received these self-propelled guns replaced the Breda Mod. 38 with German-made machine guns, such as the MG34 or MG42. This would have greatly increased the anti-aircraft firepower of the vehicle, but there is no photographic evidence or data confirming the use of Mauser machine guns on the self-propelled vehicles.
Although lacking interior space, the crew brought onboard the Semovente M43 their Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades or their German counterparts for close defense against enemy infantry.
The 105/25 Cannon could fire a wide range of projectiles:
Maximum Range (m)
Penetration at 1,000 m
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36
Proietto Perforante da 105
72 mm at 90°
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43
9,400, effective 2,000-2,500
120 mm at 90°
The Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32 and the Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36 were almost identical, but the Mod. 36 with ADE M32 or ADE M36 nose percussion fuze could detonate the ammunition on impact or in the air.
Information about the anti-tank ammunition is provided only by some accounts. The muzzle velocity of the Armor-Piercing, Capped – Tracer (APC-T) was 500 m/s and it could pierce a maximum of 90 mm of ballistic steel inclined at 90° at 100 meters, 80 mm at 500 meters and about 60 mm at 2,000 meters.
The penetration and muzzle velocity of the Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds are unknown. The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43 had a muzzle velocity of 510 m/s. It could pierce a 120 mm plate inclined at 90°. The maximum range was of 9,400 m with anti-tank effectiveness at a maximum distance of 2,000-2,500 m.
There were also smoke and incendiary projectiles developed for the field artillery version. These were apparently almost never used on the Semovente.
The Breda Mod. 38 machine gun was fed by top curved magazines with 24 bullets. This was not ideal, because it did not allow for continuous fire against aircraft or infantry.
The standard 8 mm ammunition had a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s and could penetrate a 11 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m.
Although hardly ever used on self-propelled guns, the machine gun could also fire M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) shells. The bullet weighed 12 grams and could penetrate an armor plate of 16 mm at 100 m.
In the wooden rack on the right of the vehicle, there were 864 shells, equivalent to 36 magazines.
Starting from the front of the vehicle, there was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from the outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner.
On the left was the driver’s position with the seat with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had the two steering tillers, an armored slot that could be closed with a lever and a hyposcope for driving with the slot closed. On the left was the control panel and, on the right, the gun breech.
Behind the driver, there was a box rack for twelve 105 mm rounds arranged in rows of 4 rounds, with a padding on top that also served as a seat for the loader. Behind this, there was a rack of 24 105 mm rounds, also arranged in rows of 4 rounds.
The loader had, on the left, the radio system and, above him, one of the two armored hatches. In case of an air attack, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the right side of the fighting compartment, there was the gunner’s/commander’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and swing handwheels. On the left was the gun breech. Interestingly, the lever for opening the breech was placed on the right side of the breech. This meant that, after firing, the gunner had to rotate his torso by about 90° (a very uncomfortable action in the narrow space) and open the breech.
On his right was the support for the anti-aircraft gun (when not in use), a maintenance kit and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for the ammunition of the machine gun. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain.
Behind the gunner/commander was the last ammunition rack with 12 105 mm rounds arranged in three rows of 4 rounds.
On the rear wall of the fighting compartment, there were four cumbersome filters for air, oil and two for the fuel. The engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, the batteries for engine ignition were also there, and the transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.
The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was the only self-propelled gun of World War II armed with a 105 mm gun, but with only 3 crew members. The driver was positioned on the left of the vehicle. On his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the vehicle and loader/radio operator on the left, behind the driver.
Some sources state that the Germans preferred to add a fourth crewman behind the gunner, who would load the gun. The loader’s seat would be occupied by the commander/radio operator and the gunner would perform only one function. Obviously, adding a fourth crewman meant reducing the quantity of 105 mm ammunition on board and, above all, operating in a fighting compartment that was already cramped with three men.
The engine of the Semovente M43 da 105/25 was inherited from the previous self-propelled guns on the M42 chassis, which in turn inherited it from the M15/42. This was the FIAT-SPA T15B. ‘B’ stood for ‘Benzina’ (Eng. Petrol). This was a petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developing 190 hp at 2400 rpm. It was developed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). Previously, on Italian vehicles such as the M11/39, M13/40 and M14/41 and the self-propelled guns on their chassis (M40 and M41), the engine was a diesel. Due to the scarcity of fuel as early as the beginning of 1942, the Royal Italian Army converted to gasoline with the M15/42. However, due to the size of the 307 liter gasoline tank (compared to 145 liters-tanks of the previous diesel engined tanks) and the fire extinguishing system, the chassis was lengthened by 14 cm (5.06 m compared to 4.92 m of previous models).
The engine was quite reliable, with a power-to-weight ratio of 12 hp/tonne and was connected to the Fiat 8 F2 transmission (the same as on the previous vehicles) with four forward gears and one reverse gear. This guaranteed a maximum speed of 35 km/h and a range of 180 km.
The radio onboard the Semovente was the standard Italian tank equipment, the Magneti Marelli RF1CA produced in Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. It had a weight of 13 kg. The transceiver had the possibility of adjusting the sensitivity of the amplifier by a two-position switch, ‘Vicino’ (Eng: near) for distances not exceeding 5 km and ‘Lontano’ (Eng: far) for distances between 5 and 12 km, the maximum range of the radio.
The equipment was placed on the left side of the hull, above the fender, under its standard 1.8 m high antenna that could be lowered 90° to the rear by means of a knob. The 8 watt radio transformer and four Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries were on the radio’s right. Further to the right was the driver’s instrument panel.
The first Semoventi M43 da 105/25 were completed at the beginning of May 1943. The first self-propelled gun, plate number ‘R.E. 5846’, was delivered on 2nd July 1943, after testing at the tank crew School of the Royal Army in Nettunia, about fifty kilometers from Rome.
It was foreseen by the Regio Esercito that these vehicles would be used in Gruppi Corazzati (ENG. Armored Groups) of 12 self-propelled guns, subdivided into 3 platoons of 4 vehicles. These would have the task of supporting the actions of the P26/40, then at the beginning of production, and of the P30/43, which was still under development.
Five Armored Groups were created by the Regio Esercito, the DC° Gruppo Corazzato, DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, DCII° Gruppo Corazzato, DCIV° Gruppo Corazzato and DCV° Gruppo Corazzato.
On 25th July 1943, Mussolini was arrested by order of the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, and the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo (Eng: Grand Council of Fascism). The new government, presided over by Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio, ordered the Army to continue to fight alongside the Axis powers even if, almost immediately, in secret, it tried to negotiate an armistice with the Allies.
This situation brought much confusion to the soldiers who, in many cases, were not even informed about what had really happened in Rome.
Only the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato and the DCII° Gruppo Corazzato stationed at Nettunia for crew training received all 12 vehicles.
From what is reported, the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (Eng. 135th Armored Division), was the only one to participate in military actions of the Regio Esercito, participating in the Defense of Rome on 9th September 1943.
As mentioned, Italian Prime Minister Badoglio tried to sign an armistice with the Allied powers and succeeded in his intent only on 3rd September 1943.
The official proclamation was made by U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower on Radio Algiers at 6.30 p.m. and then repeated by Pietro Badoglio in Italian on Radio EIAR at 7.42 p.m. on 8th September 1943.
Needless to say, this threw almost all units of the Royal Army into chaos, as they did not receive precise orders and were forced to act on their own initiative.
Immediately after the Armistice, the German command, which had foreseen the Italian defection, launched Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis), meant to take apart the Italian Royal Army.
On 9th September 1943, the morning after the radio announcement of the Armistice, the 135th Armored Division engaged German troops in the city of Cesano, and on the Via Ostiense leading to Rome.
It is not clear in which part of Rome they took part in the fighting, as the Armored Division fought in every neighborhood of Rome supporting the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division) at Porta San Paolo, the members of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian Police of Africa) and the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri (Eng. 18th Bersaglieri Regiment) near the Colosseum.
During the fighting, four Semoventi M43 da 105/25 of the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato were destroyed. It is not clear whether they were all destroyed by German weapons or whether some were sabotaged by the crews before escaping and joining the Italian partisan resistance or returning to their homes.
Immediately after the Armistice, the Germans launched Fall Achse, which lasted until 19th September 1943 and resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers, the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars and 977 armored vehicles.
Among the 977 captured armored vehicles were the 26 surviving Semoventi M43 da 105/25, which were later renamed Beutepanzer Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i) (Eng. Captured Assault Gun with 105/25 gun Italian).
For the duration of the war, the Germans received another 91 StuG M43 mit 105/25 853(i) produced after the Armistice. This means that the Wehrmacht used a total of 116 M43 mit 105/25.
While the Germans operated relatively large numbers of M-series tanks and some older Semovente in the Balkans for anti-partisan operations, the more modern Semovente M43 da 105/25 were only used in Italy. By the end of September 1943, the German units had around 221 (both 75 and 105 mm) Semovente at their disposal.
At the end of 1943, the 26th Panzer Division had 7, the 356th Infantry Division had 20 and the Panzer training unit Sued had two Semovente M43 da 105/25 vehicles. The greatest concentration of these vehicles was allocated to the SturmGeschütz Brigade 914 (Assault Gun Brigade) and SturmGeschütz Brigade 21. By February 1944, the 914th Brigade had some 31 Semovente da 105/25 in its inventory. The 21st Brigade continued to operate the Semovente da 105/25 up to the war’s end. By mid-March 1945, it had 56 such vehicles, three of which were given to this unit by the 356th Infantry Division.
The M43 da 105/25 was used by the German mainly in anti-tank roles when possible. The Italian vehicles, in general, were plagued by the lack of spare parts and ammunition. So the relatively large number of vehicles did not always necessarily mean that all were operational, as most would be often stored at the rear for much needed repairs. One occasion where the M43 da 105/25 was used was by Panzer Regiment 26 which attacked the Allied positions at Mozzagrogna at the end of November 1943. The attack was spearheaded by 6 Semovente (three 105 and three 75 mm) and five flame tanks (likely based on the CV series). The attack succeeded with the loss of one flame tank. The unit was later on attacked by Allied ground attack planes and decimated, with only one Semovente M43 da 105/25 managing to survive. The Germans were generally satisfied with the Semovente vehicles, but noted that these lacked proper observation sights, had insufficient frontal armor and a cramped crew compartment.
When production resumed, the Germans ordered the vehicles to be modified by adding four large teeth to the sprocket wheel, which decreased the risk of the tracks falling off or coming loose. Some sources also mention that the Germans had replaced the Italian radio system with a German one and also the machine guns, but there is no evidence of these changes.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
After 8th September 1943, the Germans freed Benito Mussolini and took him to Germany to discuss the continuation of the war alongside the Axis with Adolf Hitler. On 23rd September, he returned to Italy as ‘Duce’ and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic), a collaborationist state in the territories not yet occupied by the Allies. Some Italian prisoners who had remained loyal to Mussolini immediately joined the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, ENR (Eng. National Republican Army).
This new army was armed with few armored vehicles, artillery pieces and any other type of military equipment because, after the armistice, the German soldiers no longer trusted their Italian allies.
A good part of the units of the new army and of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), had to arm themselves as best they could. They produced several homemade vehicles or recovered abandoned vehicles in very bad condition from former Regio Esercito depots.
One of these units was the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (Eng. Armored Group) which, during the last two years of the war, was equipped with only 7 L3/35 light tanks, 1 L6/40 light tank, 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series (4 M13/40 and 1 M15/42) and a Semovente M43 da 105/25, the latter from February 1945.
It is not clear how the unit took possession of the self-propelled gun. It is supposed that it was one of the examples in service since February 1944 with the 1° Deposito Carristi (Eng: 1st Tanker Depot) in Verona, where it would have been used for the training of tankers. According to the Army Staff, this vehicle had damaged optics.
The vehicle, part of the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), received the nickname ‘Terremoto’ (Eng. Earthquake) painted in capital letters on the front plate. It also had an Italian tricolor and, on the sides, a lion holding between the paws the fascio littorio, symbol of the Partito Fascista Italiano (Eng: Italian Fascist Party) and Italian flags.
From January to the first days of April, the vehicle was not used in anti-partisan actions, but only for training and was stationed in Polpenazze sul Garda, 130 km east of Milan, at the headquarters of the Armored Group. In April 1945, when the situation was desperate, the Command Squadron was stationed in Milan, avoiding the popular strike and insurrection, but without the Semovente. On the night of 24th April 1945, the day of the partisan insurrection that, in a few days, would lead to the complete loss of the main cities of Northern Italy, such as Turin, Genoa and Milan, a unit formed of the five ‘M’ series tanks, some light tanks and the Semovente, under the orders of the Armored Group Commander Gianluca Zuccaro, moved towards Milan.
During the night, an Allied aircraft noticed the column and attacked the unit repeatedly, but only with machine guns. It disabled an ‘M’ tank that was abandoned on the roadside the morning of 25th April.
After receiving orders to surrender from the Armored Group Headquarters, the tank crews sabotaged the vehicles near Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze and surrendered to the partisans.
Semovente M43 da 75/34
This was a self-propelled gun built on the same hull, but with the Cannone da 75/34 cannon Mod. S.F., the same as on the Semoventi M42M da 75/34. Only 29 were built and they were only used by the Germans in tank destroyer Regiments in Italy and the Balkans. It had more internal space due to the smaller dimensions of the 75 mm cannon breech. The total number of rounds transported was 45, giving the crew more space.
Semovente M43 da 75/46
Developed in 1943, with heavy armament and armor, the main armament was a powerful Cannone da 75/46 C.A. Mod. 1934 and the welded armor had a maximum thickness of 100 mm on the frontal plate, the only Italian vehicle with this thickness. Eleven were built during 1944-1945 and only used by the German Army in one tank destroyer Regiment in the defence of the Gothic Line. One was captured by Brazilian soldiers in Piacenza and one was captured by partisans in Milan. None survived the war.
The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was produced in small numbers during the war and could make little contribution to the Axis forces during the war. Most were used by the Germans, but the lack of supplies and ammunition hindered their use. Their gun proved to be an excellent anti-tank artillery piece. Unfortunately, no M43 has survived to the present day.
Semovente M43 da 105/25 Specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5.10 x 2.40 x 1.75 m|
|Total weight, battle ready||15.8 t|
|Crew||3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader/radio operator)|
|Propulsion||Fiat-SPA 15TB petrol engine with 307 l tanks, 192 hp|
|Maximum speed||35 km/h on road; 10/12 km/h on various terrain|
|Main Armament||Cannone da 105/25 with 48 rounds|
|Secondary armament||Breda 38 8 mm machine gun with 864 rounds|
|Armor||75 mm front, 45 mm sides, 35 mm rear and 15 mm roof and floor|
|Total production||121 Semoventi used by the Regio Esercito (30), the Wehrmacht (112) and the ENR (1)|
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano (1940-1945) – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
I mezzi blindo-corazzati italiani 1923-1943 – Nicola Pignato
I reparti corazzati della Repubblica Sociale Italiana 1943/1945 –
I mezzi corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
T. J. Jentz and W. Regenberg (2008) Panzer Tracts No.19-1 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen
F. Cappellano and P.P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, Osprey Publishing
Kingdom of Italy, 1942-1945, Medium tank – 167 built
The Carro Armato M15/42 was the last variant of the Italian ‘M’ tank series. It was in service from late 1942 to 1945 in small numbers. For the most part, it was used by the Wehrmacht. Compared to its predecessors, the M13/40 and M14/41, it had a much more powerful engine and a gun with greater anti-tank performance.
Development of the M15/42
In order to discuss the M15/42, its predecessors must be taken into consideration. The ‘M’ series was born in 1938, with the M11/39 (Medium 11 tonnes, Model 1939), itself developed from the Carro di Rottura da 10t (Eng. 10-tonne Breakthrough Tank). This vehicle was, in turn, inspired by the two Vickers 6 ton tanks that the Regio Esercito purchased from Britain in 1932.
Imagining that a hypothetical future war would be fought like World War I in the mountainous terrain of northern Italy, the designers developed a very light vehicle. This was done in order for it to cross small bridges and traverse narrow mountain roads. It had the cannon in the casemate because it was deemed that it was less likely to be attacked from the side in the mountains.
The vehicle was still a long way away from the shape of the M15/42, but the lower hull and suspension were almost unchanged between the two vehicles.
The M11/39 was armed with a 37/40 Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. It had a limited traverse range. There was also a single-seat turret equipped with two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns. The vehicle, although modern, did not impress the Regio Esercito, which ordered only 100 units, produced between July 1939 and May 1940.
Considering the limited firepower of the M11/39 and its ineffectiveness in facing other tanks, Ansaldo modified the vehicle by equipping it with a two-seat revolving turret armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon. The previous gun position in the hull was replaced with a ball mount for two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns.
The new M13/40 (Medio 13 tonnellate Modello 1940 – Medium 13 tonnes Model 1940) was presented in October 1939. After some modifications, it was accepted into production by the Regio Esercito. In November 1939, 400 units were ordered, with the first ones delivered only in July 1940.
The engine of the M13/40 was more powerful than the 105 hp FIAT SPA 8T of the M11/39. This improved power plant was the FIAT SPA 8T Mod. 1940 11,140 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 125 hp at 1,800 rpm, allowing a speed of 32 km/h for the M13/40. The tank had a weight of about 14 tonnes.
In August 1941, the first M14/41 (Medio 14 tonnellate Modello 1941 – Medium 14 tonnes Model 1941) came off the assembly line. It differed from the M13/40 in having reinforced fenders, some small external modifications, and the new FIAT SPA 15T Mod. 1941 11,980 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 145 hp at 1,900 rpm.
The ammunition supply remained unchanged, with 87 rounds for both the M13/40 of the third series and for the M14/40. A total of 710 M13/40s were produced in three different series and 695 M14/41s in two different production series.
In the winter of 1940 and 1941, the Regio Esercito, in great difficulty due to the numerous defeats on the various war fronts, turned to its closest ally, Germany, placing an order for 800 French tanks captured during the French Campaign.
Given the German difficulties, the order was later reduced to 450 French tanks that arrived in even smaller numbers. 109 Renault R35s, out of 350 ordered, and 33 Somua S35s, out of 50 ordered, were received, while the 50 Char B1 heavy tanks were never delivered. The 142 vehicles were delivered in 1941, but the lack of spare parts and ammunition did not allow their use and the Regio Esercito was forced to look for another solution.
Another request for help was sent to Germany in June 1941, which responded by proposing that FIAT purchase the production license for the Panzer III, at that time the Wehrmacht’s leading tank. FIAT agreed in August, but a clause was added that armament and optics had to be purchased from Germany, as well as half of the raw materials needed to produce the vehicles.
These restrictions led to the cancellation of the contract, as FIAT convinced the High Command of the Royal Army that they should not allow Germany to interfere in the Italian industry.
Also in June 1941, the Regio Esercito tested the Czechoslovakian Skoda T-21 medium tank. Due to pressure from Ansaldo and FIAT, the Army was forced to give up on the evaluation and possible production.
In order to avoid losing the monopoly on the production of armament for the Regio Esercito, Ansaldo and FIAT announced in the summer of 1941 that they would be able to put the P26/40 tank into production by the spring of 1942. This was the same period foreseen for the production of the first Italian Panzer III or Skoda T-21 tanks under license.
However, the Royal Army needed a new tank. This time, it no longer relied on FIAT and Ansaldo, but tested foreign material. The two leading companies in the Italian sector set to work in order to distract the High Command of the Royal Army from its research into alternative vehicles.
The two companies began to work together on the Carro Armato Medio Celere (Eng. Fast Medium Tank) ordered by the Royal Army at the beginning of 1941. Until then, it had remained in an embryonic state.
In June 1941, Ansaldo presented the mock-up of the Carro Armato Medio Celere, now called Carro Armato Celere Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Fast Tank). This was produced in a hurry by mounting a wooden superstructure on an M14/41 hull.
The project was slowed down by the development of Christie suspension and the prototype was ready only in the spring of 1942. The tests lasted until 1943, showing that the vehicle was well designed, but it was too late. The North African Campaign was coming to an end and the vehicle lost its purpose.
Due to delays in the production of the vehicle, FIAT and Ansaldo had to devise a stratagem to prevent the Royal Army from canceling the contract in favor of a foreign vehicle. In fact, in February 1942, Germany once again proposed the production of the Panzer IV under license.
After August 1942, the official Regio Esercito nomenclature for tanks changed from vehicle type, weight in tonnes, and year of production to type and year of production. For example, the M13/40 became the M40, the M14/41 became the M41, and the M15/42 became the M42.
Thus, the correct name for this vehicle would be M42. However, it was still called the M15/42 by the crews, and many book sources and contemporary companies call it the M15/42. In keeping with the popular usage, this article will use the M15/42 designation from here on.
History of the Prototype
In 1941, a 47 mm L.40 cannon was mounted in the turret of an M14/41, but continuous delays slowed down the project. Finally, in 1942, with the experience gained with the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano that mounted the same gun, it was possible to modify the turret to resist the firing recoil.
The M14/41 hull was also modified by lengthening it to accommodate a new gasoline engine with greater power than the FIAT SPA 15T. The side access hatch was also moved to the right side of the vehicle. After testing, the first batch of the new M15/42 Tank (Medio 15 tonnellate Modello 1942 – Medium 15 tonnes Model 1942) was ordered in October 1942.
In October 1942, after tests, 280 units were ordered, stopping the production of the M14/41.
In 1943, however, with the planned start of production of the P26/40 and with the obvious backwardness of the ‘M’ series, the High Command of the Royal Army decided to rely only on heavy tanks and self-propelled vehicles. They cut the order of M15/42s to 220 in March 1943.
Entering production in autumn 1942, the first vehicle was registered on November 21st, 1942, with plate number R.E. 5022, and assigned to the Centro Carristi di Civitavecchia on November 28th in order to train new crews.
The data on the production of the M15/42 are very discordant. Some sources claim numbers even beyond the two hundred units produced during the war.
An Ansaldo source states that the first batch of 103 vehicles was produced in 1942 and a second batch of 36 by March 1943. A third batch of 80 was due by December 1943 but was never fully completed.
The number of 103 vehicles produced between October and December 1942 seems slightly exaggerated given the short period of time and state of the Italian armament industry. According to this document, 139 M15/42 were produced by March 1943, plus another unspecified number between March and September, before the armistice.
After the armistice, 28 M15/42 were produced for the Germans in 1944. The total number of M15/42s produced should be at least 167, while the maximum number could be at most 248 (considering the entire last batch was finished in addition to the German vehicles).
At the front, the rounded transmission cover had two hooks and a towing ring. There were also two inspection hatches above the clutch. The two hatches could be opened or closed from the inside of the vehicle even while driving by means of a lever located on the right side of the chassis. This allowed the driver to better cool the clutch while driving if needed and when not in combat.
On the right side, the front superstructure had a ball mount armed with two machine guns. On the left side, there was a slot for the driver, who also had a hyposcope for use when the hatch was closed. For night driving, there were two headlights on the sides of the superstructure.
On the left side of the superstructure, there was a pistol port behind the headlight, used for close defense. Three canister holders were mounted on this side. These were used to carry fuel to increase the range of the vehicle. On the right side, there was a large hatch for crew access. It was also equipped with a pistol port for close defense.
On the rear side of the superstructure, there were two more pistol ports and an air intake. On the mudguards, behind the superstructure, were a glove box on each side and the mufflers behind. These were equipped with a heat sink.
In order to make room for the new engine, the engine compartment was lengthened by 14 centimeters (5.06 meters length compared to the 4.92 meters of the M13/40 and M14/41). Because of the lengthening, extra armor plates were added and the track tensioning system was modified. The engine deck received inspection hatches which could be opened at 45°. Cooling grills were added. Between the two inspection hatches there were the tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.
The rear of the vehicle was completely redesigned compared to previous ‘M’ series tanks. The radiator cooling grills were much larger and the rear was much more sloped. The rear had a towing ring and two hooks, two spare wheels, and a license plate. There was a brake light on the left side.
During production, a smoke launcher was added to the rear. In order to make room for it, one of the two spare wheels was removed. The jack that was previously positioned on the back was moved to the front, on the left fender, in front of the superstructure. This was like on the M13/40 first Series.
The armor thickness was slightly increased compared to the previous models of the ‘M’ series. The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The frontal plate of the hull, inclined at 12°, was 42 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, inclined at 8°, were 25 mm thick. The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick, while the back of the hull was 20 mm thick.
The turret, on the other hand, had a maximum armor of 50 mm on the mantlet and 45 mm frontally inclined at 13°. The sides and the back were 25 mm inclined at 20°. The roof of the hull and of the turret and the engine deck had a thickness of 15 mm, while the floor of the hull had a thickness of only 6 mm.
The armor was bolted to an internal frame, making the structure more fragile but with faster replacement of damaged armor plates than models with welded or cast armor.
The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities of high-quality steel. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and the almost total isolation after 1940.
In fact, the Kingdom of Italy counted on the fact that, in case of entry into the war on the German side, their new allies would supply the majority of raw materials needed to produce high-quality steel. Obviously, starting in 1942, Germany could not supply these large quantities of raw materials since it had to replace its own losses.
The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines. Due to the lengthening of the hull, one of the two suspension units was mounted a few inches back.
The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, 6 more than the other tanks of the ‘M’ series due to the hull lengthening. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers with modified track tension adjusters at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0.76 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.
The two-seat turret had a narrow mantlet armed with a 47 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun on the left. There was a turret basket attached to the turret, with a support connected to a circular platform above the transmission shaft. Two folding seats for the loader and the commander were welded on the same support.
In addition to the gun breech and the machine gun, the gunsight was on the right, while a small rack for 13 magazines for the machine gun was on the far left.
On the roof of the turret, there was a rectangular split hatch, two panoramic monocular periscopes produced by the company San Giorgio, a bulge that allowed better depression for the cannon and a support for the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the sides were two pistol ports for viewing the exterior and for close defense. At the back were stowed ready-to-use 47 mm rounds in two different racks.
The main armament of the M15/42 was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the previous M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.
This cannon was also used on the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano. It was developed starting from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 in 1938 and was produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the M15/42 turret was +20° and the depression was -10°. The maximum firing rate, thanks to the semi-automatic breech, was 14 rounds per minute. Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in practice, this dropped to about 8-10 rounds per minute.
The cannon had a maximum range of about 9,000 m, but its effective anti-tank range was only 1,200 to 1,500 m.
In addition to the 38 cm longer barrel (1.88 meters compared to 1.5 meters), the breech was larger. This meant that it could fire round with a longer casing, increasing the muzzle velocity, the accuracy at long range, and penetration.
The secondary armament consisted of four 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine guns, one mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun, two in the hull’s spherical mount, and a fourth which could be mounted on the anti-aircraft support on the turret roof.
These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.
In 1943, smoke grenade launchers were introduced. Smoke grenades were stored in a box mounted on the right side of the rear of the engine compartment. A box for carrying smoke grenades was also mounted on the rear of the superstructure, above the protective plate of the air intake.
When activated, the box would drop a smoke grenade, masking the position of the vehicle. It is unclear how effective this rear-mounted system was, but it was fitted to all vehicles produced from 1943 onwards, including the last series of AB41 and AB43 armored cars.
The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 used the same ammunition as the previous Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun, but its cartridges were 10 centimeters (32,8 centimeters versus 22,7 centimeters) longer. This increased the muzzle velocity by 43%. This also increased precision and penetration.
The ammunition types consisted of:
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35. High Explosive (HE) with percussion fuze mod. 35 or mod. 39.
Proietto Perforante mod. 35. Armor-Piercing – Tracer (AP-T) with percussion fuze mod. 09.
Proietto Perforante mod. 39. Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer (APCR-T) with percussion fuze mod. 1909.
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round with internal fuze mod. 41, distributed after 1942.
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) with IPEM front fuze, distributed in early 1943.
The advantage was that the new gun had a larger breech. This allowed the use of 328 mm long shell casings, instead of the 227 mm ones on the previous gun. The Proietto Perforante mod. 35. fired from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 630 m/s, while the same ammunition fired from the 47/40 Mod. 1938 gun had a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s.
The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1,000 m, instead of the 30 mm at 1,000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.
The M15/42 carried a total of 111 shells onboard in three different racks. The first two unprotected racks were in the turret and contained 9 rounds each. The third, containing 93 47 mm shells, was positioned on the bottom of the hull.
None of the racks were armored. Often, when the racks on the back of the turret were hit, the result was a catastrophic explosion that destroyed the machine. The same thing is true for the rack in the hull even if, because of its lower position, it was rarely hit.
For the Breda machine guns, there were 108 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 2,592 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition, with the same muzzle velocity, penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.
The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure, 54 on the left side and 41 on the right side, with 13 more carried in the turret.
At the front of the fighting compartment were the transmission and the braking system. On the left side of the superstructure was the driver’s seat, which has a folding backrest to facilitate access. In front of this position, the driver had a large slit with a lever used to open or close it. Above the slit was the hyposcope.
The driver also had two tillers to move the vehicle. The handbrake handle was on the left, while the gearshift was on the right. On the left side was the dashboard, a box with spare hyposcopes, and the pistol port. Behind the dashboard, there were racks for machine gun magazines.
On the right-hand side was the machine gunner, who also sat on a folding seat. In front of the machine gunner were the machine guns while, on the right, there were some magazines for the two weapons and the radio.
In the middle of the right side was the access hatch. On the lower side was the storage place for the anti-aircraft machine gun, which was fixed to the hull with straps. In the middle of the vehicle was the transmission shaft, which was largely covered by the circular platform which served as a floor for the two crew members in the turret.
On the left side, at the bottom of the hull, was the largest 47 mm ammunition rack. The rear of the superstructure had two large cylindrical filters and the engine coolant tank. On the floor and on the sides of the superstructure were more racks for machine gun magazines.
The engine of the M15/42 medium tank was inherited from previous tanks of the ‘M’ series. However, in addition to the increase in displacement that increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline. The change of fuel from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were now almost completely exhausted.
The new FIAT-SPA T15B (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm. It was designed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). It gave the vehicle a maximum velocity of 38 km/h on-road and 20 km/h off-road. It had an on-road range of 220 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.
Thanks to the increased space in the engine compartment, the tank’s fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in the main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. The fuel consumption was almost two liters of gasoline per kilometer.
The engine was better suited to the new vehicle, with a power-to-weight ratio of just under 13 hp/tonne. It was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with five forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.
The crew was composed of four. A driver on the left side of the hull and machine-gunner/radio operator on his right. Behind them, sitting in the turret, were the tank commander/gunner on the right and the loader on the left.
The crew of 4 was insufficient. The tank commander had to perform too many tasks, having to give orders to the rest of the crew, examine the battlefield, find targets, aim at them, and fire.
The Regio Esercito received about a hundred M42s by September 1943. However, the Army was never able to use these vehicles, except during the clashes against the Germans between September 8th and 11th 1943. In Sicily and Southern Italy, the M15/42 was never sent to fight the Allied troops. The Regio Esercito used them only for the training of the crews and in the new armored units it had created after the loss of Tunisia.
85 M42s were assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng. 135th Armored Division “Ariete II”) together with 12 M42 Centro Radio,164 other tanks (medium and light) and self-propelled guns, and 80 AB41 armored cars and AS42 and AS43 trucks. This unit was formed in July 1943 and was part of the Corpo d’Armata Motocorazzato (Eng. Armored Motor Corps). It was stationed in Rome.
After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25th, 1943, at the behest of the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio was brought in to command the army. He continued the war on the side of the German allies but secretly tried to make contact with the Allied powers to surrender.
The Chief of Staff of the Royal Army, Vittorio Ambrosio, moved the Armored Corps to Rome for two reasons. The first was to defend the capital from a possible Allied landing. The second was to defend Rome from a possible coup attempt by the fascists still loyal to Benito Mussolini.
The Armored Motor Corps was formed from the 10ª Divisione fanteria “Piave” (Eng. 10th Infantry Division “Piave”), the 136ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro II” (Eng. 136th Armored Division “Centauro II”) (not considered loyal to the King, but to Mussolini) and the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division “Granatieri di Sardegna”). It was equipped with 11 self-propelled guns and 31 tanks of the ‘M’ series (probably including some M15/42s).
Obviously, there were other units in Rome, such as the 220ª and 221ª Divisioni della Difesa Costiera (Eng. 220th and 221st Coastal Defense Divisions), 103ª Divisione fanteria “Piacenza” (Eng. 103rd Infantry Division “Piacenza”), the X° Reggimento Arditi (Eng. 10th Regiment Arditi), as well as smaller units, such as those of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Eng. Royal Carabiners Corps), the Corpo della Regia Guardia di Finanza (Eng. Corps of the Royal Finance Guard) and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian African Police). This totaled 88,137 soldiers, 124 tanks, 257 self-propelled guns, 122 armored cars and trucks, and 615 cannons and howitzers in the capital.
The proclamation of the surrender was made by Pietro Badoglio on Radio Algiers at 0745 pm, on September 8th, 1943, catching the Italian troops unprepared, as they did not expect the surrender.
The Germans were, however, not unprepared for the Italian defection. They had already prepared Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis). In the north of Rome, they had at their disposal about 25,000 soldiers, 71 tanks, 54 self-propelled guns, 196 armored cars and 165 cannons.
Already by 1000 pm, the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” (Eng. 2nd Parachute Division “Ramke”) attacked the airport of Pratica di Mare, which was 30 km south of Rome. During the morning of September 9th, German units repeatedly attacked a stronghold of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II”. This position resisted throughout the day, losing 4 tanks and 20 soldiers.
Other units of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were in the area between Bracciano and Menziana. They blocked the 3. Panzergrenadier Division, which had to give up the attack against Rome, heading towards Naples.
The men of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division succeeded in forcing the Italian troops to retreat inside the city on September 9th and restarted the attack on September 10th. The 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” had established itself at Porta San Paolo, part of the ancient Roman walls, together with some groups of Allievi Carabinieri and other units of the Royal Army. They were also supported by several civilians who took to the streets either unarmed or armed with hunting weapons.
The 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division was slowed down significantly and, only at 1700 pm managed to penetrate the rather poorly organized Italian defenses.
In the fight for the Porta San Paolo and in the defense of the nearby Forte Ostiense, some ‘M’ series tanks of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were damaged or destroyed by German troops. The numbers and the exact model of the vehicles are unknown, it can only be assumed that there were some M15/42s among them.
During the clashes of Porta San Paolo, a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger hit an ‘M’ tank of an unknown model. Only one member of the crew survived, saved by a young civilian woman who, under German fire, climbed into the vehicle, pulling him out of the turret and carrying him to safety.
At 1600 pm on September 10th, 1943, the Italian command proclaimed Rome an “Open City”, even if some Italian units fought until the evening. Most of the Italian soldiers surrendered to the Germans while others, along with civilians, fled the city to form the first partisan nuclei.
In the battle for Rome, 1,167 Italians died, of which between 200 and 400 were civilians. 597 Italians fell at Porta San Paolo, of which 414 military and 183 civilians.
The fate of the Italian vehicles present in Rome was threefold. Most were captured by the Germans or were handed over intact by the units that surrendered. Others were sabotaged by the crews before surrendering to the Germans. A small number were hidden from the Germans, waiting for the right time to use them.
In addition to Rome, the Regio Esercito defended itself also in Piombino, a Tuscan seaside town, where the Germans had landed on September 9th to occupy the city. The XIX Battaglione of the 31° Reggimento Carristi (Eng. 19th Battalion of the 31st Carristi Regiment), equipped with 20 tanks of the ‘M’ series (among which probably some M15/42s) and 18 M42 self-propelled guns contained the German troops until September 11th with heavy losses.
The CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M (Eng. 433rd Tank Complement Battalions ‘M’), which had training duties, was in Fidenza. After receiving news that the Germans were besieging Parma, at 0100 pm on September 9th, in the absence of orders, the unit unilaterally took the decision to support the troops in Parma. At 0530 PM, the unit left with 1 M15/42 tank, 7 Semoventi da 75/18 and 12 Autocannoni da 20/65 su SPA Dovunque.
Having had training duties, the vehicles had racks full of target practice rounds and had only 5 live rounds on board. The Germans discovered the column and organized an ambush outside Parma, knocking out 3 self-propelled guns and capturing another one.
The other vehicles managed to enter the city, creating a defensive perimeter until 0800 am, when the ammunition ran out and the CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M was forced to surrender after having sabotaged the vehicles.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
After the Armistice, the Fall Achse operation, which lasted until September 19th, 1943, resulted in the killing of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers and the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars, and 977 armored vehicles.
A small part of Italian soldiers immediately sided with the Germans but was deprived of their armored vehicles. The majority of Italian soldiers were captured and placed in prison or concentration camps until September 23rd, 1943, when Benito Mussolini returned to Italy after his release. He founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic) in Salò, in the province of Brescia.
Many Italian soldiers loyal to Mussolini and fascism adhered to the new republic, joining the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (Eng. National Republican Army). They were then released from prison and re-equipped.
Given previous events following the Armistice, the German soldiers did not trust the Italians and they re-equipped them with few Italian tanks, preferring to keep the captured tanks for themselves and, where possible, to replace their own losses.
The Italian soldiers were thus forced to re-equip themselves with the few armored vehicles not seized by the Germans, by looking for vehicles abandoned and hidden by the crews after September 8th or by repairing some damaged ones.
The Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” (Eng. Armored Group “Leoncello”) was established in September 1943 with the aim of defending the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Polpenazze del Garda, in the province of Brescia. It was commanded by Captain Gianluca Zuccaro.
Initially named Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (Eng. Tank Battalion of the Armored Group of the Armed Forces Ministry), it was established without the authorization of the Germans. The group recovered armored vehicles from almost everywhere in Lombardy, Veneto, and Piedmont.
At the end of 1944, it received 5 tanks of the “M” series from the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale (Eng. 27th Provincial Mixed Depot) of Verona. Four M13/40s and one M15/42s were used only in training and exercises until April 1945.
On the evening of April 24th, 1945, General Graziani himself called at Polpenazze del Garda and ordered the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), which had the 5 tanks of the “M” series, a Semovente da 105/25 M43 and some L3 light tanks, to move towards Milan.
During the night march, one of the five ‘M’ tanks was abandoned due to a breakdown following an Allied air attack (with only machine guns). In the morning, at Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze, the squadron received the order to surrender, managing to sabotage two ‘M’ tanks and the Semovente M43 before surrendering to the partisans.
It is not clear if the M15/42 was sabotaged or was hit by the aircraft, but the two vehicles captured by the partisans were M13/40s.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana
For the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), the situation was more drastic, as the ENR, some soldiers in prison camps swore allegiance to Mussolini and Nazi Germany, and those who did not join the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano joined the GNR but only the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng. Armored Group “Leonessa”, not to be confused with “Leoncello”) was able to recover some ‘M’ series tanks.
Some were recovered from Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna. According to some German documents, about thirty ‘M’ tanks were recovered from a unit in Milan before being dismantled.
Of these thirty or so tanks recovered in Milan, at least five were put back into service, while the others were used for spare parts. In total, the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” had 33 tanks of the “M” series (of which only a small number were M15/42s) and two M42 command tanks.
The 33 tanks were deployed with the four companies of the unit located in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna.
There is only one record about the M15/42s of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”, from December 16th 1944 in Milan. There, a large parade was held in honor of Benito Mussolini visiting the city. After the parade, Mussolini paid a visit to the Distaccamento di Milano (Eng. Milan Detachment) that had at least 2 M15/42s. He climbed on the turret of the M15/42 under the command of Vice Brigadier Donati, haranguing the gathered soldiers and people.
The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there.
The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.
Some M15/42 used by the Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944. During skirmishes against partisans, many M15/42s were also damaged or lost by anti-tank gunfire.
During the Battle for Belgrade, there was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.
From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defense line on the so-called Syrmian Front in the northern parts of Yugoslavia.
At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian-built vehicles. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian-built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month.
The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, these would be simply cannibalized for spare parts.
Another unit that used M15/42s was the SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944.
At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defense of Frankfurt, it is unknown if by that time it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.
Yugoslav Partisan service
The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, was employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.
Camouflage and Markings
The Italian Royal Army received most of its M15/42s in Kaki Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Khaki). Only in late 1943 did some M42s receive the Continental three-tone camouflage (Eng. Continental). This was a Kaki Sahariano base color with dark green and reddish-brown spots.
Some photos show an unusual two-tone camouflage, quite surely applied independently by some crews during training in Italy in the summer of 1943.
The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” were painted in standard Saharan khaki camouflage with the department’s coat of arms on the sides of the turret, a tricolor on the sides of the turret and on the front plate of the hull.
On one vehicle, on the front plate, the nickname “DERTHONA” (name of the Tortona soccer team) was painted in capital letters, along with the name Silvio Pelati, perhaps a dead comrade, a footballer or the name of the driver.
The M15/42 and M42 command tanks of Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano with the symbol of the unit, a red M with the fascio littorio, symbol of Italian Fascism, and the inscription GNR until late 1944. After that, all vehicles were repainted with a three-tone camouflage called Continentale, in some cases covering the symbol of the department.
In the case of the M15/42 of the Distaccamento di Milano, in addition to the ‘M’, a white thunderbolt whose meaning is unknown was painted on the turret.
Wehrmacht troops repainted captured vehicles in Saharan Khaki with two- or three-tone spot or line camouflage, depending on the unit employing them. The 28 vehicles produced for the Germans, on the other hand, received Continental camouflage at the factory. Pz.Abt.202 camouflaged its vehicles with dark green spots. This unit also received newly produced vehicles.
Carro centro radio
Like in previous versions, the M15/42 chassis was used for a modified command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank). For the modification, the turret was removed, the superstructure’s twin-machine guns were sometimes replaced with a 13 mm heavy machine gun, and, lastly, extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles had been built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control.
Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo
Based on the M15/42 chassis, the Italians built an experimental self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle. While most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged, it received an enlarged turret armed with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. Possibly one or two prototypes were built and their fate is not clear.
M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret
The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945.
Semovente M42 da 75/18 and M42M da 75/34
Due to the general ineffectiveness of their tank designs, the Italians introduced a series of vehicles called Semovente. These used tank chassis (starting from the M13) by replacing the superstructure and turret with an enclosed casemate and a 75/18 mm gun. The M15/42 chassis was also used in this manner. By the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943, around 200 vehicles were built. Under German supervision, an additional 55 vehicles were built with the materials available on hand.
The Semovente based on the M15/42 was further improved by adding the longer 75/34 gun. By May 1943, some 60 vehicles would be completed by the Italians. An additional 80 new vehicles would be built by the Germans after the Italian Armistice.
In total, thirteen M15/42s have survived to this day. Only three are outside Italy.
One of those three is at the Musée des Blindés of Saumur, France. Another is exhibited in the Belgrade Military Museum, in not a great condition. The last M15/42 outside Italy is in a private collection in the San Marino Republic and is in running condition.
In Italy, of the ten vehicles that survived, eight are conserved in military barracks around Italy. One is at the Caserma “de Carli” of the 132º Reggimento carri in Cordenons, Friuli Venezia Giulia. One is at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, near Rome, and another one is in the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto, northern Italy.
The M15/42 was built by the Italians as a makeshift solution to their need for a better tank design. While it offered some improvements over the previous M13/40 and M14/41 series, by the time it was ready for service, it was already obsolete. Its armor and firepower were simply insufficient in comparison to the enemy tanks that would be used against. While less than 200 would be built, ironically, their use by the Italians was minimal at best.
The Germans managed to get their hands on nearly all M15/42s. These were used against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Balkans. Their performance was limited, due to many factors, including a lack of spare parts and frequent breakdowns, which prevented many vehicles from being used in combat. They did achieve some success against poorly armed Partisans, who lacked proper anti-tank weapons. Once the Soviets started to closely support these fighters with modern tanks, the M15/42 was unable to do much.
In the end the M15/42 proved to be a quick solution to the Italian need for a proper tank, but it ultimately failed in this regard.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||15.5 tons battle ready|
|Crew||4 (Commander/gunner, loader, machine gunner and driver)|
|Propulsion||FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters|
|Armament||Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds and 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds|
|Armor||From 42 mm to 20 mm|
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd
V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, New Vanguard
Pafi, Falessi e Fiore Corazzati Italiani Storia dei mezzi corazzati
N. Pignato, F. Cappellano. Gli Autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume secondo
L. Ceva and A. Curami (1989) La meccanizzazione dell’esercito italiano dalle origini al 1943, Volume 2″ from Stato maggiore dell’Esercito, Ufficio storico,
N. Pignato, (2004) Italian Armored Vehicles of World War Two, Squadron Signal publication.
C. Bishop (1998) The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes Book.
R. Riccio and N. Pignato (2010) Italian Truck-mounted Artillery in Action. Squadron Signal publication
Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA
I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
Italia 1943-45 I Mezzi delle Unità Cobelligeranti – Paolo Crippa, Luigi Manes
Germany 1943 – 1945, Light Self-Propelled Gun – 194 captured and produced
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. It entered service in 1942, immediately proving to be obsolete. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) used it until September 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, the Italian Royal Army was disbanded and the Italian peninsula not yet under Allied hands was occupied by the German troops.
After the armistice, from 1943 to 1945, all the surviving Semoventi (Italian world for self-propelled guns, Semovente singular) that were deployed, not only in Italy, but also in the Balkans, were captured by the armies or militias in the area.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32
The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Eng: Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s, but the first two prototypes were not accepted into service.
Another prototype development started in January 1941. On May 10th, it was presented to the Royal Army. After the tests, the Italian Royal Army High Command requested some changes to the prototype. It was renamed Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 or Semovente L40 da 47/32 (Eng: Lightweight Self-Propelled Gun Model 1942 armed with 47/32).
A total of 402 vehicles were produced under Italian and German control based on the hull of the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank.
German Operation Achse
After the arrest of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Partito Nazionale Fascista Italiano (Eng. Italian National Fascist Party), on July 25th 1943, the Germans had foreseen the Italian surrender. They planned Fall Achse (Eng: Operation Axis), which they launched on September 8th when the signing of the Armistice of Cassibile (which had been secretly signed on September 5th by the Italian Royal Army and Allied Forces) was made public. In 12 days, the German troops managed to occupy all the Italian command centers and divisions in Italy and in the other occupied territories.
The Germans captured all the Italian factories that produced armaments or military equipment. They also captured 977 Italian armored fighting vehicles, of which about 400 were tanks and self-propelled guns, 16,631 trucks, over 5,500 artillery pieces, 2,754 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, over 8,000 mortars, 1,285,000 rifles, 39,000 machine guns, and 13,000 submachine guns. They imprisoned 1,006,730 Italian soldiers stationed in Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and France.
By October 1st, 1943, Wehrmacht documentation stated that German units had captured 78 L40 da 47/32s in all occupied territories (including the 20 L40s produced before the Armistice and not delivered). In German service, this vehicle was known as the Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i). For this reason, some sources wrongly call it Semovente L6 or StuG L6.
In addition, many former Italian factories, such as FIAT, Lancia, Breda, and Ansaldo-Fossati, were also under German control. With this and with the acquisition of many spare parts and materials, it was possible to restart the production of nearly all Italian vehicles. This was the case with the Semovente L40 da 47/32, with the Germans producing 74 new Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i).
Under German control, another 46 Command and Radio Center vehicles on the L40 hull were produced, which brings the total number of L40 produced by the Germans to 120 units.
Operational service in Italy
While the Semovente L40 da 47/32s were available in some numbers, their use in Italy by the Germans was limited. The units that had this vehicle in Italy were the 305. and 356. Infanterie Divisionen, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590, 114. Jäger Division and the 20. Luftwaffe-Field-Division.
The 305. Infanterie Division fought between September 8th and 10th to occupy the port of La Spezia. It was transferred in the following weeks to near Rome, where it was supplied with some Italian vehicles, among which were some L40 from 47/32s.
The 305. Division then defended the Gothic Line and the Gustav Line before surrendering, together with most of the German divisions that remained after the Battle of Bologna, on the Po River.
The 356. Infanterie Division fought in anti-partisan actions between November 1943 and January 1944. It was transferred to Anzio and was provided with the self-propelled L40 vehicles along the way.
The unit fought fiercely for the defense of the region together with the Italian Republican National Army units until they were forced to retreat along the Gustav Line in March 1944. After the Gustav Line was broken through, the unit fought in Tuscany. retreating to the south of Florence in July 1944. In January 1945, it was transferred to Hungary but, according to the surviving documents, it was no longer equipped with Italian self-propelled vehicles.
The Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 was used from June 13th to September 14th, 1944 to secure central Italy. In order to perform this task, the unit was provided with some L40 self-propelled vehicles. From September 15th, 1944 to January 15th, 1945, the unit was involved in defensive combat in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Due to the scarcity of artillery towing vehicles and the obsolescence of the self-propelled L40 variants, many self-propelled vehicles were modified by removing the cannon to be used as artillery tractors.
From April 22nd to May 2nd, 1945, the unit was involved in the fighting retreat, desperately battling against the Allied forces.
The 114. Jäger Division was transferred to Italy from Yugoslavia in January 1944. It was supplied with material captured from the Italian Army, including some L40 self-propelled vehicles. After the Battle of Anzio, the unit was employed only in anti-partisan roles. It was responsible or co-responsible for three different massacres in the region of central Italy against innocent civilian victims. The unit was completely annihilated in April 1945 during fighting with Allied forces.
Panzer Ausbildung Abteilung Süd (a training tank battalion) was equipped with the Semoventi L40s, but these were used mainly for crew training. Organization Todt, which was present in Italy, operated an unknown number of L40 da 47/32s, but mostly as tractor vehicles without their guns.
In May 1944, the 20. Luftwaffe Field Division (20. LwFD), previously employed in Denmark, was sent to Italy, more precisely to Lazio. There, it was re-equipped with a number of Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and immediately participated in hard clashes with the U.S. Army units in the Terracina area. On June 1st, the unit assumed the designation of 20. Luftwaffen-Sturm-Division.
The division retreated to Tuscany and established defensive positions near Roccastrada. From there, at the end of June, it was again engaged in heavy clashes against U.S. forces.
After fighting house by house for the control of Siena against the units of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (Eng: French Expeditionary Force in Italy), in July 1944, the division withdrew to the area of Volterra. It was then withdrawn from the front to be sent to the rear to guard the coast between Viareggio and La Spezia, where it absorbed the remains of the 19. LwFD. In mid-September, the division received orders to move to the coast of the Adriatic Sea, facing the Commonwealth forces between Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna and then south of Cesena.
After the killing of their commander in Bologna by the partisans and further heavy losses in the fighting between Cesena and Forlì, the division was disbanded on November 28th, 1944 and its survivors were reassigned to other German units.
Operational service in Balkans
In the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s saw extensive use against Yugoslav resistance movements. Several German units were equipped with them. Some of these were the 117. and 118. Jäger Divisionen, 11. Luftwaffe-Field-Division, and the 181., 264. and 297. Infanterie Divisionen. Many police units of different sizes (such as the 13. Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie, 14. Panzer Kompanie, 4. SS Polizei Division) were also equipped with this vehicle. Some smaller units were also supplied, such as SS Panzer Abteilung 105. and Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12.
In 1944, due to the availability of Italian armored vehicles, it was possible to resupply many German units which fought in Yugoslavia with them. The Germans did not form dedicated Panzer units with these vehicles. Instead, these vehicles were usually used to equip reconnaissance or anti-tank units (Aufkl. Abt and Pz.Jag. Abt.). By May 1944, German forces operating in Yugoslavia had at least 165 Semovente 47/32 vehicles.
By the end of 1943, Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12 had in its inventory 12 operational Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and 4 in repair. In early 1944, it received an additional 14 Semoventi da 47/32, one L6 light tank, and 4 M13/40s. By February 1944, there were only 2 operational Semoventi da 47/32 and 2 in repair. On March 1st, 1944, some 10 were operational and 3 in repairs. These were allocated to the 2nd Company, which took action against partisan units around the city of Kraljevo. In July, the number of Semoventi da 47/32 was increased to 15 vehicles. The reason for the large monthly oscillations in available numbers is not clear. It could be either a mistake in sources or, because of the poor mechanical reliability, some vehicles were simply not listed. By September and October 1944, while this unit still had 16 such vehicles, they were replaced in order to increase the number of M15 tanks.
The 14th Panzer Kompanie was another example of a German unit using the Semovente L40 da 47/32. This unit, which was active in Slovenia in September 1944, was reinforced with two 8 vehicle strong platoons equipped with the Semovente L40 da 47/32. One smaller unit with four such vehicles was kept in reserve.
While fighting the Partisans in the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s were usually dispersed and used in smaller groups. The usual tactical employment was that one vehicle would advance while the remaining vehicles provided cover.
By the end of 1944, on the Yugoslavian Front, the Germans and their allies had less than 80 Semoventi L40 da 47/32. Near the end of the war, in March 1945, the numbers were reduced to less than 40.
In German hands, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was modified in order to improve its performance. As the L40 da 47/32 was initially only armed with the main gun, it was less effective against infantry attacks. For this reason, the Germans added machine gun mounts that were protected with an armored shield at the front. The machine gun models used included the Breda Mod. 37 and Breda Mod. 38, both 8 mm caliber, and, in some cases, MG34s or Fiat-Revelli Mod. 14/35. Additional armor plates were added to the side of the superstructure, and in some cases, even on the top. Additional spare part boxes were also sometimes added.
Also, as previously noted, a significant number of these vehicles were modified to be used as towing tractors or as training vehicles. For these modifications, the main gun was removed. In the case of the training vehicles, a wooden shield was simply added where the gun was.
The SS Polizei-Regiment 18 Gebirgsjäger was equipped with two Italian armored cars and at least five Semoventi 47/32s when it was relocated from Greece to the northern regions of Serbia in October 1944. It was engaged in a failed German attempt to stop the advancing Soviet Forces in Vojvodina and suffered heavy losses, probably losing all its vehicles.
In general, the German view of the L40 was very negative. It was small and narrow and the cannon was not able to face the most modern opponent vehicles. In anti-partisan actions in Italy and in the Balkans, it proved relatively effective, as its small shape and weight allowed it to climb very steep mountain roads, where only mules could pass. The cannon, even if almost useless against the armor of Soviet or American tanks, had a good High Explosive round that was effective against infantry.
The Germans, as well as the Italians, realized that the vehicle was very vulnerable to ambushes. Consequently, German tankers learned to wear the Stahlhelm helmet and carry MP40s and hand grenades inside the vehicle for close defense.
The Germans repainted the L40s that they captured from the Italians or that they received after November 9th with a three-tone camouflage, depending on the unit that used them.
For example, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 repainted its L40 da 47/32s with dark green and dark brown stripes on a standard khaki base. SS Polizei-Regiment 18, stationed in Greece, repainted its vehicles in three-tone camouflage, dark green, and brown spots on standard khaki. The 20. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division, which used some L40s in anti-partisan duties in central-northern Italy, camouflaged its self-propelled guns vehicles with patches of green and dark brown.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32, while cheap and small in size, was by 1943 standards generally an obsolete vehicle. For the Germans who were at this stage of war becoming ever more desperate to find any additional armored vehicle, it was a welcome addition. The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Germans in its original role against the Allied forces in Italy was limited. They did see service in other secondary roles for example crew training or as armored tractors. They were more deployed in combat against the Partisans especially in the Balkans where the enemy had limited anti-tank capabilities.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||6.5 tons|
|Crew||3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)|
|Propulsion||Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp|
|Speed||(road) 42 km/h (off-road) 20/25 km/h|
|Range||200 km on-road|
|Armament||Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, 70 rounds|
|Armor||30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor|
|Total Production||74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 captured and 120 produced under German control in all variants|
Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
T. L. Jentz (2008) Panzer Tracts No.19-2 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Light tanks 1919-45, New Vanguard
Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano – Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume secondo (1940-1945).
Filippo Cappellano – Le artiglierie del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Nicola Pignato – Armi della fanteria Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Olivio Gondim de Uzêda – Crônicas de Guerra
Germany (1944-45) Tank hunter – approx. 2,827 built
The first issue to clear up is the fact that the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during the Second World War. Although most official wartime documents do not use the name Hetzer, a few did. Why this nickname has been associated with this tank hunter is investigated later in the article.
As the Second World War progressed, it turned into a numbers’ game. Germany needed more armored fighting vehicles that were cheaper to build and quicker to construct. They started using hulls of captured tanks and reliable but obsolete tanks, such as the Panzer 38(t), to mount anti-tank guns and artillery howitzers. This resulted in the production of the Marder series and Nashorn anti-tank self-propelled guns. They all carried powerful guns but had thin armor, an open-top fighting compartment, and a high profile which made them easy to spot on the battlefield. They could deal out punishment, but they could not take it.
The Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was designed to have a very low profile which made it hard to target and easy to conceal. It was only 2.10 m (6 ft 10.6 inches) high which was ideal for ambush tactics. It was armed with a powerful high velocity 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 gun that could knock-out most enemy tanks. It was cheaper and quicker to build than a Panzer IV, Panther or Tiger tank.
It was not designed to be a close combat vehicle, used at the head of an attack like a tank. It was a self-propelled anti-tank gun that was intended to be deployed on the flanks to stop counter-attacks. A pack of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters would hide in a wood or thick hedgerow and pick off enemy tanks at long range. The sloping front armor gave the crew reasonable protection from frontal attack. So long as the driver pointed the front of the vehicle at any threat, the crew could expect to survive a hit from an enemy armor-piercing shell. The thin armor on the sides of the vehicle and at the rear meant that there was a risk of being knocked out by flank and rear attacks with armor-piercing shells. If there was a danger of being outflanked, the driver had to change to a different location quickly.
In 1944, the Panzer 38(t) tank was considered outclassed and obsolete. It had been withdrawn from frontline units. The Jagdpanzer 38 utilized the tried and tested components of the Panzer 38(t) tank on a new wider hull. This meant that the Jagdpanzer 38 was relatively reliable, as all the early mechanical problems had been overcome. Because of this, production could start earlier than usual for a new armored fighting vehicle design, as most of the factory tooling for the manufacture of the Panzer 38(t) tank was still available. Due to the gun’s limited traverse, the driver had to continually change the vehicle’s orientation or move to engage new targets. This could reveal its location.
Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal
Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armor. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armor. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.
Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. Other guns were looked at. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspension, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.
German officers were sent to inspect the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter. They were impressed with many aspects of the overall vehicle design and at one point considered it being used in the German Army, but there were too many practical issues that would have to be rectified before entering service. The external shape and some ideas were incorporated in the later Jagdpanzer 38 design. A Romanian Army report of the inspection of the Mareșal tank hunter by the German officers was found from the Romanian military archives in Bucharest. The Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. Their initial reactions are also recorded in the report. This document is covered in more detail later in this article when we cover the origins of the nickname ‘Hetzer.’
On 26 November 1943, the production of Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns at the Alkett company was severely interrupted when Allied bombers dropped a total of 1,424 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on their Berlin factory. Due to the damage, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) investigated the possibility of starting Sturmgeschütz III production at the Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (BMM) company in Prague. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, this factory used to be called Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) and built tanks for the Czechoslovakian Army.
On 6 December 1943, the OKH reported to Hitler that the BMM company was unable to carry out this type of production order, as it did not have the infrastructure to manufacture the 24-tonne StuG III. The factory cranes could not lift a completed vehicle. The BMM factory cranes could only lift 13 tonnes. It had spent most of the war constructing 9.8 tonnes Panzer 38(t) light tanks for the German Army.
Hitler gave orders that the BMM factory was to concentrate on producing the new lighter Sturmgeschütz. It was proposed this vehicle would have a top speed of 55 – 60 km/h (34 – 37 mph), weigh 13 tonnes, and, as a result, have thin but sloped frontal armor to keep the vehicle’s weight low. The side armor was only to be thick enough to provide protection from small arms fire and high explosive shell shrapnel.
On 17 December 1943, designs for the new vehicle based on the hull of the now obsolete Panzer 38(t) light tank and a new type of reconnaissance vehicle (Aufklärungsfahrzeug) were presented to Hitler. They were approved for production.
Development work was carried out quickly. On 8 January 1944, the drawings of the final version of the vehicle were finished. By 24 January 1944, a wooden 1:1 scale model had been built and, two days later, demonstrated to officers from the Heereswaffenamt (HWA), the Army weaponry research and development agency. The size of the fighting compartment on the wooden mock-up was shorter than on the production vehicle, and the engine compartment had a longer sloped cover. These features were changed to give the crew more room.
There were plans to design and mount a 7.5 cm rücklauflose main gun in the production version of Jagdpanzer 38. A rücklauflose weapon featured a gun barrel fixed to the turret or casemate, which took on the full recoil of a shot. Development of the rücklauflose gun would take too long, so in the meantime, it was decided that a 7.5 cm Pak 39 (L/48) anti-tank gun would be installed in the Jagdpanzer 38. This gun was already in production and available for use. Oberst Thomale (Colonel Thomale) ordered three prototype Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters to be built and available for trials. It took less than four months from the initial design approval to the production of the first prototype.
Once the final design of the production Jagdpanzer 38 was agreed upon, BMM was awarded a contract to produce 2,000 vehicles. More were needed, so the Czechoslovakian company Škoda was also awarded a contract to build 2,000 Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. Both factories suffered bombing raids.
Both factories were supplied with components from subcontractors. Three hundred and sixteen such companies were based in Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Protectorate. A further one hundred and seventeen came from other occupied countries and Germany. Due to advancing Allied forces and the constant bombing, the source of parts for construction of the Jagdpanzer 38 changed repeatedly. This caused delays in supply which affected monthly production figures.
The armored hulls were produced in the steel factory in Vitkovice and by the Poldi steel mills in Kladno: both were in the Czech Protectorate. They were also supplied by two German steel-factories: Linke-Hoffman in Breslau and Ruhrstahl in Hattingen. The tracks were cast in the Czech Protectorate at the steel mills of Chomutov in north-west Bohemia and Královo Pole in Brno. The engines were manufactured by the Czech car manufacturer Praga, which also supplied the Wilson-type gearboxes.
A total of 2,827 Jagdpanzer 38 were produced by BMM and Škoda. About 2,612 were Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters, 14 were Jagdpanzer 38D Starr, 181 Bergepanzer 38 and 20 Flammpanzer.
Jagdpanzer 38 production
|Month||Completed by Škoda||Completed by BMM|
|Note: The figures for BMM include Jagdpanzer 38 Starr and Bergepanzerwagen 38 (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)|
Due to the limited space inside the Jagdpanzer 38 and the desire to keep the profile of the vehicle low, the gun mount was not bolted to the floor of the vehicle. Instead, a gun cradle mount was fixed to the glacis plate. The gun had to be installed off-center, to the right of the vehicle. This enabled the driver, gunner, and loader‘s positions to be on the left side of the vehicle, in line, one behind the other. The commander sat on the right side of the vehicle, at the rear of the fighting compartment, directly behind the gun, with his hatch above him. He did not have access to an armored cupola.
The gun was mounted to the right of the vehicle. This restricted its traverse to only 5° left and 11° right. To engage targets outside this narrow 16° traverse range, the whole vehicle would have to be moved. The off-center gun meant that there was too much weight on the right track and suspension. To the vehicle did not tilt towards the right, 850 kg of crew and equipment had to be placed on the left side of the gun as a counterbalance.
If all the hatches were closed, the crew had limited visibility, especially to the side and rear of the vehicle. The driver had two angled periscopes that protruded out of the upper glacis plate under a protective armored cover. The gunner was provided with a forward-looking Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr 1a (Sfl.ZF 1a) periscope gun sight. The loader had a periscope to look out for threats on the left side of the vehicle. The roof machine gun was aimed by looking through a periscope. It could rotate 360°. The commander had access to a rearward-looking periscope. If the commander’s hatch was closed, he had no forward vision. It would only be kept closed in extreme emergencies, such as during an artillery or mortar barrage. Also available was a Scherenfernohrs 14Z (Sf.14Z) scissor telescope which poked out the top of the open roof hatch which had a magnification of 8 x 10.
Engine and Transmission
The Jagdpanzer 38 was powered by a Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 158 hp petrol engine. The Praga engine was very similar to the one used in the Panzer 38(t) tank but had been uprated. Instead of producing 129 hp, it now produced 158 hp. The engine was connected to a five-speed Praga-Wilson transmission which was in turn connected to a Planetary steering system. The vehicle had a top road speed of 40 km/h (24.9 mph). This was less than initially hoped for. The production vehicle weighed 16 tonnes rather than the proposed 13 tonnes, which affected the vehicle‘s speed.
The dome at the back of the tank is a simple cover for the hand crank. Although the Jagdpanzer 38 had an electrical starter, crews were instructed that the preferred method was to use the hand crank where possible, as the electrical starter was not robust and should only be used in emergencies. To the bottom right of the rear armor plate, there was a port to gain access to the cooling water heater. In severe weather conditions, the engine coolant would freeze. A blow lamp could be placed in this port to warm the coolant and defrost it before the engine was started.
When the left rear engine compartment hatch is opened, access can be gained to the fuel filler cap behind the 12V battery. The Jagdpanzer 38 had two interconnected fuel tanks. The fuel tank on the left held 220 liters while the fuel tank on the right held 100 liters. This would give an approximate operational range of 180 km (111 miles).
Cooling the engine was a problem, as it only had a small air intake vent on the rear deck. It required a powerful motor to drive the air intake fan, which reduced the overall performance of the vehicle because it took power from the engine.
Although the hull, suspension, tracks, and road wheels look very similar to those used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, the vehicle was a new build. The hull was wider: the Panzer 38(t) tank was 2.13 m (7ft) wide, but the Jagdpanzer 38 was 2.63 m (8ft 7.5 in) wide. The road wheels were larger than those used on the Panzer 38(t) tanks: they were 82 cm diameter instead of the tank’s 77.7 cm (2 ft 7 in) diameter. The suspension has been made more durable than that used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, especially at the front of the vehicle, in order to cope with the extra weight. The tracks have been widened from 29 cm to 35 cm (11in to 1ft 2 in). The Jagdpanzer 38 was only provided with one track return roller, unlike the Panzer 38(t) that had two.
The Driver’s position
The Jagdpanzer 38 driver had a basic instrument panel in front of him. He steered the vehicle by using two hand tillers. Each one of these levers controlled one of the two tracks. The driver also had a handbrake. The foot pedals were not in the standard order that we have come to expect in a modern car. The accelerator was in the middle. The pedal on the right was the foot brake. The gear change pedal was on the far left.
The gearbox was to the right of the driver. It was a 5-speed Praga-Wilson preselector. The Wilson type was the same system used by the British and developed by the Wilson gearbox company. The driver did not change gear like you would in a modern car, where you put the clutch in first and then select the gear. Instead, while the engine was running, they had to choose the next gear first and then depress the gear change pedal, which acted like a clutch, and let it come back up, hence the name pre-selector. To stop the vehicle without stalling, the driver had to remember to select neutral first, then apply the brake and the gear change pedal at the same time.
Early versions of the exhaust system at the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter had the pipe coming down the back of the vehicle into a tubular silencer box that ran along the top of the rear armor plate, mounted horizontally. This was changed to a single pipe going into a flame hider on the back of the vehicle.
The 7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 (7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48) anti-tank gun was used to equip Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The German word ‘Panzerjägerkanone’ literally translates to ‘tank hunter gun’ (anti-tank gun) and is usually abbreviated to Pak, thus sharing the contraction of the more common ‘Panzerabwehrkanone’. It was an electrically fired weapon fitted with a semi-automatic breech mechanism and a 48 caliber long barrel (3615 mm or 11 ft 10.3 in). It could penetrate the armor of most common Allied tanks at ranges up to 1,000 meters as shown in the table below.
When travelling across rough ground, the gunner used the internal gun travel lock to minimize any damage to the gun. The Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight was fixed to the left side of the gun and protruded out of the roof in a semi-circular sliding section of the roof armor. It moved when the gun was moved. It did not rotate. The gunner had to change his body positions to follow the gun periscope as he searched to bring the gun onto the next target by turning the traverse wheel. He also had to avoid being hit in the head by the remote control machine gun handles above him.
The loader sat on the left side of the main gun, behind the gunner and driver. He had a very challenging job because the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 anti-tank gun had been designed to be loaded from the right side. The loader’s controls were on the wrong side. To open the breech, he had to lean across the gun to access the breech opening lever. The main weapon had a semi-automatic loading system: once the first round was loaded, every time the gun fired, the recoil ejected the shell casing, and the breech block remained down in the open position waiting for another shell to be loaded. The large recoil guard was to his right, and this got in the way when loading shells. Not all of the ammunition was stored near the loader on the left side of the vehicle. Sometimes, he would have to reach over the gun breach and the recoil guard to access the shells stowed on the right side of this cramped tank hunter. The commander had a safety lever near him that prevented the gun from being fired while the loader was servicing the gun. When he was clear of the gun mechanism and a shell was in the breech ready for firing, the commander released the lever to enable the gun to be fired.
Design work on the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 started in 1939, but it was manufactured from 1943 onwards by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG in Unterlüß and by Seitz-Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It used the same 75 x 495 mm R ammunition as the 7.5 cm KwK 40 of Panzer IV medium tank and 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun fitted on the later models of the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns. No towed version of the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 was manufactured.
It could fire three common types of ammunition: Panzergranatepatrone 39 (Pzgr.Patr. 39) armor-piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell, Sprenggranatepatrone 37 (Sprgr. Patr. 37) high explosive (HE) shell, and different versions of the Granatpatrone 38 HL (Gr. Patr. 38 HL) high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. The latter was an effective high-explosive anti-tank shell and could be used against soft-skinned targets as well as armored vehicles. Its armor penetration qualities were not as high as the Pzgr.Patr. 39 (APCBC) shell. When fired, the Panzergranatepatrone 39 shell had a muzzle velocity of 750 meters/second (2460 feet/second).
Depending on availability, a few rounds of Panzergranatepatrone 40 (Pzgr.Patr. 40) high velocity, sub-caliber, tungsten core armor-piercing rounds were carried in case the crew encountered heavily armored Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns. The supplies of tungsten were limited.
7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 anti-tank gun armor penetration
|(The data was obtained on a firing range. The armor plate was laid back at a 30-degree angle)|
|Pzgr.Patr. 39||Pzgr.Patr. 40||Gr. Patr. 38 HL|
|Shell Weight||6.8 kg||4.1 kg||5 kg|
|Initial Velocity||750 m/s||930 m/s||450 m/s|
|100 m||106 mm||143 mm||100 mm|
|500 m||96 mm||120 mm||100 mm|
|1000 m||85 mm||97 mm||100 mm|
|1500 m||74 mm||77 mm||100 mm|
|2000 m||64 mm||100 mm|
|(Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)|
The initial design of the gun mantlet was 200 kg heavier than the later design. The early vehicle was nose heavy, and this put stress on the front suspension. By changing the mantlet to a lighter model, and making adjustments to the suspension, the maneuverability of the vehicle became tolerable.
The loader had the job of rearming and firing the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun. It was fired from inside the armored protection of the fighting compartment. A hinged gun shield could be fixed in place to protect the crewman when reloading the gun. It was aimed by looking through a periscope. Behind him, on the rear wall, there was the radio, usually a Fu5 and the on-off master power handle.
The front upper glacis plate of the Jagdpanzer 38 was designed to be 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick, sloped at 30 degrees from the horizontal. This meant that an armor-piercing (AP) round fired straight at the front upper glacis plate would have to penetrate 120 mm (4.7 inches) of armor due to the angle. The steep slope would also help increase the chance that the round would ricochet. The feared Tiger 1 heavy tank only had 100 mm (3.93 inches) thick effective frontal hull armor. The front glacis armor plate had interlocking welded joints for added strength and security. Sloping the armor meant that the level of protection could be kept high, but the costs and complexity of manufacturing the armor could be kept low. The lower front glacis plate was 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick angled at 50 degrees. This would make the effective thickness of that armor plate 78 mm (3.07 inches).
From these statistics, it would appear that the front armor of the Jagdpanzer 38 was very strong. According to H.L.Doyle, these figures are deceptive because the armor plate used was of inferior quality to the face hardened armor used on the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The 60 mm armor on the upper and lower glacis was roughly equivalent to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) face hardened armor used on the Panzer III. It was manufactured to E22 specifications and had a hardness of 265 to 309 Brinell. However, Panzer Tracts no.9, by T.Jentz, states that the Jagdpanzer 38’s front armor was meant to be immune to most anti-tank guns, contradicting Doyle’s statements.
The upper side armor of 20 mm (0.78 inches) thickness was comparable to the 14.5 mm plate used on the front of a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. It was made from a low alloy Siemens-Marteneit (SM) steel. It had a hardness of 220 to 265 Brinell. The tolerances on armor production were quite wide. The thicknesses of four different Jagdpanzer 38 upper glacis plates’ 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick armor were measured. They all belonged to the Wheatcroft Collection. One was built in February 1945, but the other three were built after the war as part of the G-13 Swiss Contract. The thickness ranged from 62.2 mm to 64.8 mm (2.44 – 2.55 inches).
The lower hull side armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick and sloped inwards at an angle of 75o. The rear armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick angled at 75 degrees. The roof armor was 10 mm thick (0.39 inches). The belly armor was 8 mm thick (0.3 inches). The Schürzen side skirt armor was made from 5 mm steel plate. It was designed to protect the side 20 mm thick lower hull armor from the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles.
As with all other German armored fighting vehicles, improvements were continuously introduced during production to improve the performance of the vehicle and increase the speed of manufacture through simplification of its design. Some changes had to be introduced due to the problems with the supply of parts or raw materials.
The idler wheel design went through several changes. In order to reduce the amount of time it took to manufacture the rear idler wheel with twelve holes, different designs were introduced in the following order.
1. Six holes in a flat disc
2. Welded spokes with eight holes on a smooth flat disc.
3. Stamped ribs with six holes on a dish-shaped disc.
4. Six holes on a smooth flat disc.
5. Four holes on a smooth flat disc.
When Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were damaged, the maintenance workshop would fit whatever replacement idler wheels were available in their stores. Sometimes, late version vehicles would be equipped with early version idler wheels with twelve holes. If only one idler wheel needed replacing, then there would be situations where a vehicle would have idler wheels of different types.
In April 1944, further changes were introduced. The ram’s-horn towing hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle were omitted. They were replaced by extending the side hull armor plates and drilling a hole into the metal. The flange around the gun mantlet helped transfer the weight of the gun to the upper hull glacis plate. The size of the flange was reduced to decrease the weight of the gun mantlet. The length of the rooftop 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun hinged shield was shortened to stop it from hitting the top of the Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight.
The design of the front track drive sprocket wheel was changed. To save production time, the holes were no longer drilled on the outer ring of the sprocket wheel. A different type of rear idler wheel was fitted. It had four large holes in the disk rather than twelve holes in the earlier version.
Starting in May and continuing into July 1944, more changes were ordered. To stop having to open large hatches on the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 to access the crew compartment, the commander was given a small hatch that opened to the rear. A hatch was added on the lower right to enable access to the radiator cooling fluid filling cap. Another hatch was added to the lower left to give access to the petrol fuel tank filling cap. The heat shield around the exhaust was no longer fitted. Three ‘mushroom’ short threaded cylinders were welded to the top of the Jagdpanzer 38 to enable a two-tonne temporary crane to be mounted to help with mechanical maintenance, replacement of heavy parts, and repairs.
Further changes were made in August 1944. As a result of a redesign of the metal used in the internal and external construction of the gun mantlet, the weight of the Jagdpanzer 38 was reduced by 200 kg. Road wheels with a larger diameter center disk with thinner rims were introduced. Initially, the rim was drilled for 32 bolts around the edge, but often only 16 bolts were fitted. To help the driver exit his seat quickly in case the vehicle was hit, two handles were welded above the driver’s seat.
Production line changes were introduced in September 1944. To protect the crew from Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles being fired at the lower hull armor, the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was fitted with Schürzen skirt armor plates. Crews found that these plates were ripped off as they brushed past bushes and trees. The front ends of the Schürtzen were bent in towards the hull to try and stop them from being torn off.
The front set of leaf springs experienced more stress than the rear set and often broke. The thickness of the front set of sixteen leaf springs was increased from 7 mm to 9 mm. The rear set of sixteen leaf springs remained 7 mm thick.
More design changes were implemented in October 1944. The design of the driver’s periscope mounting had to be altered after the early version acted as a ‘shell trap. When incoming armor-piercing shells hit the front upper glacis plate but failed to penetrate it, they would slide upwards and enter the crew compartment via the protruding cover over the driver’s periscopes, after getting caught on it. The armored cover was no longer fitted. Holes were cut flush with the glacis plate to hold the periscopes. A thin sheet metal dual-purpose sun and rain guard was installed over the holes. If a shell slid up the upper glacis plate and hit this guard, it would be ripped off but would not act as a ‘shell-trap.’
New road wheels were introduced that were riveted instead of being bolted. It had been found that some of the bolts on the earlier versions of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter’s road wheels came undone.
The red-hot glowing exhaust pipes and flames of a backfire can give away the position of the vehicle at dusk and during the night. This can result in it being spotted by an enemy artillery forward observer and calling in an artillery barrage. The cylindrical silencer was replaced with a Flamm-Vernichter (flame destroyer) exhaust.
Allied bombing disrupted the supply of ball bearings. The gun mount had to be changed. The ball bearings used in the gun mount were replaced with roller bearings. This necessitated the installation of a spring compensator to help with elevating the gun.
Filling the Jagdpanzer 38’s fuel tanks took a long time. To enable the tanks to be refilled faster, a larger nozzle with an overflow pan was fitted. Also, there had been reliability problems with the electric fuel pump, so a Solex-handpumpe manual hand pump was issued. The commander’s hatch was equipped with a head cushion.
As the cold weather arrived in November 1944, just in time for winter, a new heating plate was fitted to keep the battery from freezing. The heating inside the crew compartment was also upgraded. A better heat distribution vent was installed in the engine compartment firewall. It gave a more even heat distribution inside the vehicle. The water pump also upgraded to one that was more robust.
By changing the location of an internal stowage box to the right of the commander’s position, a further five 75 mm shells were able to be carried.
The last batch of changes started in January 1945. The Model 6 final drive had a gear ratio of 12:88. They suffered from mechanical failure due to the stresses put on them. The Jagdpanzer 38 was three tonnes over the initial design specifications. It was front heavy, and the driver regularly had to maneuver the whole vehicle to enable the gun to be aimed at a new target. In January 1945, a new more robust Model 6.75 final drive was fitted. It had a gear ratio of 10:80.
The Jagdpanzer 38 was an ambush vehicle and needed to hide. To make the crew’s task of fixing cut tree branches and bushes to the exterior of the vehicle easier, ‘U’ shaped brackets were welded to the upper front glacis plate and the side armor. Wire or string could be threaded through these ‘U’ shaped brackets and foliage tied onto it. The exact date in 1945 this feature started to be added onto vehicles under production is not known.
To strengthen the towing brackets on some vehicles, side supports were welded at the junction of the hull side armor and the front and rear armor plates. Others had the extended hull armor towing brackets removed and replaced with ‘U’ brackets welded onto the lower front glacis plate and the rear armor plate.
Did the Jagdpanzer 38 have a muzzle brake?
The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by directing some of the explosive force of the shell gasses sideways rather than just forward. The wooden mock-up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke, which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post-war Swiss G-13 version had a muzzle brake fitted.
Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left the factory painted dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028). Camouflage patterns were painted onto the vehicle when it arrived at the unit it was assigned to. In October 1944, new Jagdpanzer 38s were painted in a camouflage pattern before they left the BMM factory. It had a base color of dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028) with stripes and patches of dark red-brown (Rotbraun RAL 8017) paint and dark olive green (Olivgrün RAL 6003). Black rectangular false vision ports were painted on the upper front glacis plate to try and draw the enemy’s fire away from the driver’s periscopes.
The vehicle’s designation
The Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. What follows is an investigation into why the Hetzer nickname is associated with this tank hunter. Many German armored fighting vehicles had very long official designations, so shorter nicknames were used to assist in recognition, for example, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf.E was called the Tiger. There are others, like the Ferdinand, Panther, Grille, Wespe, Hummel and many more. Some were official designations while others were unofficial and came from the soldiers using the vehicle. The German High Command even issued orders for vehicle names to be changed because they were deemed to be misleading or not suitable for a vehicle belonging to the German Army. Some of the names now used to describe Second World War German fighting vehicles arose after the war. A few were the invention of scale model kit companies.
Ein grosser Hetzer
A Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. They had come to inspect several vehicles including the Mareşal light tank hunter. Its design is believed to have influenced the final development of the Jagdpanzer 38. The comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann were recorded in the last paragraph on the first page. He said the Mareşal would make ‘ein grosser Hetzer’ (an impressive hunter). The German word “Gross” does not only translate to big as in size. It can also mean good or impressive (Großartig). He went on to say it would be a superior adversary against the Russians.
The Jagdpanzer 38 had many different official names
The word ‘Hetzer’ has not been used during this article because it was not used officially by the German Army during WW2. It is a nickname used by some of the troops. The Jagdpanzer 38 was known by many different designations and abbreviations in official German Army and factory documents.
The following is an updated list of the different names and abbreviations given to the Jagdpanzer 38, followed by the source, and date of the document that was initially compiled by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle. The term ‘Hetzer’ was a nickname and not an official designation.
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (7 January 1944)
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (28 February 1944)
Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (18 January 1944)
Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (16 April 1944)
Sturmgeschütz neuer Art Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944)
Le. Pz.Jäger (38t) Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944)
leichtes Sturmgeschütz auf 38(t) Führer Konferenz (28 January 1944)
Panzerjäger 38 für 7,5cm Pak 39 (L-/48) (Sd Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 January 1944)
le.Pz.Jg.38t Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (4 March to October 1944)
le.Pz.Jg.38t Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (3 August 1944)
7,5 cm Panzerjäger 38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 31 July 1944)
Stu.Gesch.38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 6 June 1944)
Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Waffen bzw.Geräte (March 1944)
Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres Chef.H.Rüst.u. BdE/Stab Rüst lil. (15 May to 15 October 1944)
Ie.Pz.Jäg.38(t) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (7 June to 30 July 1944)
Stu.Gesch.38(t) GenSTdH/Org.Abt. Bericht (12 June and 28 June 1944)
I.Pz.Jg.38(t) Wa Prüf 6 (23 June 1944)
Ie.Pz.Jg.38(t) mit 7,5cm Pak L/48 auf Fgst Pz 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944)
le. Panzerjäger 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Name of Troop – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf Name of regulations – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944)
Pz.-Jäger 38(t) (späterer Name wahrscheinlich Jagdpanzer) (probable later name Jagdpanzer) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (12 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (19 October 1944 to 6 April 1945)
Jagdpanzer 38 D652/63 (1 November 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 und Panzerjäger 38 (7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 November 1944)
Jagdpz. 38 this style of abbreviation was used in a list as part of a combat readiness report by the Panzergrenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”. None were shown on strength. (3 November 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38, Panzerjäger 38 (m 7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres, Chef H.Rüst u. BdE/Stab Rüst III. (15 November 1944 to 15 March 1945)
Jagdpanzer 38 WaA/Wa Prüf 6 (17 November and 19 December 1944)
Hetzer The origin of this name was explained in this document as coming from the troops to denote the Jagdpanzer 38 Gen. Insp.d.Pz.Tr. Guderian. (4 December 1944) (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Hetzer and Pz.Jg.38(T) IX.SS.Geb.A.K (19 December 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command telex (16 February 1945)
Jg.Pz.38 t SS-Sturmbannführer combat readiness report. (March 1945)
Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer SS-Sturmbannfüher combat readiness report. (March 1945)
The Project Hetzer E-10 prototype design confusion
‘Project Hetzer’ was the name used by the team tasked with designing a low-profile self-propelled tank hunter with a fast, powerful 400 hp engine that would give the vehicle a maximum road speed of 70 km/h (43.49 mph). It was an Entwicklungs-Serien (developmental series) 10-tonne vehicle that was allocated the designation ‘E-10.’It did not enter production. Weight designations in E-series were not very accurate. The E-10 was planned to weigh between 12-15 tonnes.
The plans for the Jagdpanzer 38 and E-10 were discussed at a concept design meeting between the German army ordnance officers from Wa Prüf 6, and the Czech Böhmisch-Märische Maschinenfabrik (B.M.M.) company. The language barrier may have led to a misunderstanding. It is assumed the Czech company officials believed the Germans were using the name ‘Hetzer‘ when talking about their Jagdpanzer 38 and not the rival company’s E-10 project. Thus, the nickname ‘Hetzer’ became connected to the Jagdpanzer 38 but not used as an official designation.
Military historian Herbert Ackermans found in the German Archives a report dated 21 January 1944, that detailed the items on the agenda and minutes of a number of meetings about the development and production of weapons and equipment, that took place with General Friedrich Fromm, German Army High Command (OKH), between April 1943 and 21 January 1944. (Archiv Signatur RH 10/37)
Item 5 of the report dealt with Klein-Panzerjäger (small tank hunter). Major-General Beißwänger (General beim Chef der Heeresrüstung) remarked that the introduction of such designation (like ‘Klein-Panzerjäger’) was undesirable and that precise designations were required.
Oberst Crohn’s of Wa.Prüf. 6, informed those present at the meeting that the Romanian Maresal tank hunter was of no further interest to Germany as the production of the Jagdpanzer 38 has been decided upon. This also meant that Project Hetzer, Project Rutscher, and Project Sprengstoffträger mit Puppchen had been canceled.
This document provides evidence that the Jagdpanzer 38 and the Project Hetzer E-10 were treated as two separate vehicles.
The few wartime documents where the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used
Hetzer document No.1
On 31 July 1944, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (743rd Tank Hunter Battalion) reported having twenty-eight Hetzers available, with an additional fourteen Hetzers expected to arrive on 3 August 1944 when the battalion would be joined by the 3.Kompanie (3rd company) near Warsaw. On 3 August 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 submitted a ‘strength report‘ that listed how many vehicles were operational and how many were lost, damaged or needing mechanical repair. In this and later reports, the nickname Hetzer was not used. They were given the abbreviated designation of le.Pz.Jg.38t.
Hetzer document No.2
In a Führervortrag briefing sheet, dated 4 December 1944, from German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, Hitler is informed that the nickname Hetzer was used by the troops to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. Hilary Louis Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz mentions this in his Panzer Tracts book. (Found again by military historian Herbert Ackermans in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – NARA)
8.) Erklärung Ausdruck “Hetzer.” Der kommt aus der Truppe und bezeichnet damit den Jagdpanzer 38.
8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.
This is the second page of the same report.
Hetzer document No.3
On 19 December 1944, a unit combat readiness report was submitted. It used both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer when collating the figures of combat-ready Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The 22 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had two Pz.Jg.38(T) available. The 8 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had three Hetzers available. The subordinated unit to the Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle stated they had three Hetzers available.
Hetzer document No.4
The fourth document was discovered by historian Herbert Ackerman in October 2020 as he was looking at documents in the Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv (German Military Archives). It is a telex from Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command addressed to the German High Command Panzertruppen Inspector. He asks when the Fallschirmjaeger Panzerjäger Abteilungen (airborne tank hunter battalion) are planned to be reequipped with Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer, what are the composition numbers and delivery dates. It was sent on 16 February 1945 and used the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer)
Hetzer document No.5
The fifth document was a unit combat readiness report for March 1945. In the eighth line down, under the heading Pz.Abt.17 (17th Panzer battalion) there is an entry, Jg.Pz. 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) listed one Jg.Pz. 38 t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunters belonging to the Pz.Jg.Abt.Nibelungen (Anti-tank battalion “Nibelungen”) as just Jg.Pz. 38 t and did not include the nickname “Hetzer”. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short-term repair, one in long-term repair, and one with transmission failure. (Source Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)
Hetzer document No.6
The sixth document is also a unit combat readiness report dated 7 March 1945 for the attention of the German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector from Kampfgruppe Panzer Korps “Feldherrnhalle”. In point 2, under the heading Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) there is an entry, (20 Hetzer) ready only after retraining of personnel on the Jg.Pz. 38. Earliest date 25 March 1945. Like some of the other documents it also uses both terms, Hetzer and Jg.Pz.38.
How are the words ‘baiter and agitator’ connected with the Jagdpanzer 38?
During the Second World War and when hostilities had finished, German military prisoners, engineers, and factory workers were interviewed by Intelligence officers. The Allied translators chose to translate the German word ‘Hetzer’ when it was used by the person being interviewed to describe the Jagdpanzer 38, as ‘baiter’. These words appear in U.S. Soviet, British and Commonwealth reports. The interviews were recorded in German. They also noted that the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38 and some intelligence documents used the German word Hetzer rather than the English translation.
Military Intelligence, Section 10 (M.I.10) was part of the British War Office, which would later become part of M.I.6. It was responsible for technical analysis of weapons. The original Secret documents were declassified on 22 November 1988. Multiple British army intelligence reports and English transcripts of German prisoner interrogations make use of the term ‘Baiter’ as an English translation for the German nickname ‘Hetzer’ when used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. These documents were collated and analyzed by M.I.10. The following extract is one such example.
In 1947, the M.I.10 used the name ‘Pz.Jäg. 38(t) – Hetzer’ under a photograph of a Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter in an official, secret, military reference book called ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, armored Fighting Vehicles.’ The publication was a summary of all the intelligence reports that M.I.10 had collected on German vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information in this document about the intelligence source on which naming the Jagdpanzer 38, ‘Hetzer’ was based.
Ralf Raths, the director of the German Tank Museum, whose first language is German, states that Hetzer is a German hunting term. ‘Hetzen” means to hunt your prey at high speed until it collapses or is caught. This is what wolves do in the wild. This would also cover hunting fox, deer, and hare with dogs and on horseback. The term Hetzer was applicable to the Project Hetzer E-10 fast tank hunter but not to the Jagdpanzer 38 which was a slow vehicle that only had a top maximum road speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). The popular modern phrase found on T-shirts, websites, and memes, ‘The Hetzer gonna Hetz’ is totally inaccurate. The Jagdpanzer 38 could not Hetz. It could not chase after its prey at speed. Its tactical deployment was as an ambush weapon.
Unfortunately, there is not a word in English that is a good translation of the German Word Hetzer. We have ‘hare coursing’, but ‘a coursing’ or ‘Project Coursing’ sounds wrong. There is not an overall general descriptive word in English that covers hunting fox/deer/hare/rabbit at high speed until it collapses. The verb ‘to harry’ is a hunting term but is associated with the bird of prey, the Harrier and the British fighter jet the Harrier: the ‘Harrier is gonna harry’. The ‘chaser’ would be the nearest accurate translation. ‘Project Chaser’ and ‘the Chaser’ sound correct in English: the ‘Chaser is gonna chase’. The problem with ‘chaser’ is that word does not always have a hunting association, unlike the German word Hetzer. The way a Jagdpanzer 38 operated in combat was the exact opposite of all these terms.
Many military history authors and magazine article writers translate the nickname ‘Hetzer’ as baiter or agitator. A dictionary definition of a ‘baiter’ is someone who ‘deliberately annoys or tauts another’. It is also defined as referring to a ‘malicious rabble-rousing agitator’ (This definition is where the word ‘agitator’ comes from). Both these explanations of the use of the word ‘baiter’ have caused confusion as it does not describe or hint at the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38.
There is another definition. A ‘baiter’ is a hunting term. It describes a hunter who baits a trap, lays in ambush hoping his prey takes the bait so that he can kill it. This describes the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38. They were given the job of protecting the flanks of an attack or defending a section of the front line. Crews were taught to camouflage their vehicles and hide on the edge of woodland. They would be deployed in a troop of three or more Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters and wait in ambush in a position where they had good visibility of advancing enemy units at a location they believed would be an Allied attack route.
To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer by the Germans during WW2. Although most official wartime documents do not use the nickname Hetzer, a few did.
Starting from 20 June 1944, Panzerjäger Schulen (tank hunter training schools) started to receive Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles for crew training. A surviving Panzerjäger Schule Milowitz (Tank hunter training school at Milowitz) document showed that Jagdpanzer 38 crews were encouraged to find preselected firing positions, preferably behind an earth wall in cover, like at the edge of a wood. Once targets had been engaged and there were no more targets available, the commander was to direct the driver to change to a different location by reversing out of their current position, to avoid being hit by enemy artillery.
The Jagdpanzer 38s were assigned to independent Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Army Tank Hunter Battalions). They were to provide Infantry Divisions with a mobile anti-tank resource. When the infantry was under attack, they could be used as a resource to support the infantry’s counterattack. They were not intended to be used instead of a tank at the front of an attack in a major offensive. The guns’ limited traverse would make them liable to flank attacks.
Each of the Battalion’s three companies was given fourteen Jagdpanzer 38s, and three were allocated to the Abteilung Stab (Battalion headquarters). One vehicle per company and two of the headquarters’ vehicles were issued with long-range command and control Fu 8 radios. By February 1945, the authorized number of Jagdpanzer 38s per company was reduced from fourteen to ten. The Abteilung (battalion) approved total was reduced to thirty-eight from forty-five.
The Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 731 (731st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was formed on 2 November 1943 by Heeresgruppe Nord (Northern Army group). Between 4 and 13 July 1944, they were issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front.
Between 19 and 28 July 1944, Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 743 (743rd Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front with Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army group).
In September 1944, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 (741st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. One company was sent to the Eastern Front, but the other two were directed to the Arnhem sector in Holland.
In February 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 561 (561st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In March 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 744 (744th Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In December 1944 and January 1945, 295 Jagdpanzer 38s were used in the winter Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. The two companies of Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 and eighteen other Heeres Panzerjäger companies were deployed in the region. A Heeres Gruppe B (Army group B) ‘combat strength’ report dated 30 December 1944 stated that 131 Jagdpanzer 38s were still operational out of their initial strength of 190. Heeres Gruppe G (Army group G) reported that it had 38 Jagdpanzer 38s still functional out of an initial total of 67.
On 16 April 1945, during the attack on Bolatice in Northern Moravia by Soviet Forces, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the T-34-85 equipped 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from an area near Albertovec Farm. Two tanks were left behind just south of the farm to guard against a flanking attack. Corporal Ján Zámečník was the gunner in tank number 603. He fired on what he thought was a German machine gun nest on the edge of a wood. When it was neutralized, the crew went to examine the enemy position. They were shocked to find they had knocked out a very well camouflaged Jagdpanzer 38. The German crew had run out of fuel and main gun ammunition but had still decided to fight using the machine gun on the roof of their vehicle. The T-34-85 crew had not identified it as an enemy vehicle because it was so hard to see.
On 27 April 1945, eight T-34-85 tanks of the 3rd battalion, 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from the railway station at Dolni Lhota to Čavisov a village in Ostrava-City District, Moravian-Silesian Region. The attack halted as it encountered anti-tank obstacles. It was an ambush. Two tanks were knocked out, and a further three were damaged by a number of self-propelled anti-tank guns in concealed positions. The remaining tanks were forced to retreat. The Germans then made a tactical mistake. The crews of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters counter-attacked. They moved out of cover and into the village near the railroad station. One was knocked out before it reached the village and another was destroyed near the houses on the edge of the village. The others withdrew.
Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters
The first Jagdpanzer 38 came off the production line in March 1944. By the end of World War II, the Czech company BMM had built 2,047 of them and refurbished 173 that came back to the factory for repairs. Another Czech company called Škoda started manufacturing Jagdpanzer 38s and built a further 780 by the time of the German surrender.
After the war ended, the Swiss were looking for new armored vehicles. They placed a contract with the Czechs. The first 10 that they received were German specification Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The rest were new-build vehicles for the Swiss contract. Some of them used World War Two parts that were readily available. Later vehicles had newly designed parts.
One hundred and fifty-eight Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters entered service with the Swiss army. Ninety-four of them were re-engined with diesel power packs. The last G13 left the Swiss army in 1970. Many were sold to museums and private collectors who converted them to externally look like Second World War German Jagdanzer 38 tank hunters.
The G-13 name
G-13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38 in the Škoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Škoda Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer was called a G-13 in the factory and on all internal documentation.
G = tank hunter, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3.
G-11 was Panzerjaeger I,
G-12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzle brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38 (t). The Škoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank hunter was known by the factory code G-13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38 or Hetzer name.
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr
The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. The diesel prototype remained the sole one to see combat and was used during the Prague uprising by both sides. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Jagdpanzer 38 after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.
This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), the same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine.
The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5 cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38 in an effort to confuse the enemy.
A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks, and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.
The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside.
Bergepanzer 38 mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun
A number of Bergepanzer 38 light armored recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft Flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.
This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz”. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support role against enemy troops and vehicles.
Soviet Army capture the factories
When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia, they conducted a stocktake of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38 tank-destroyers “G-13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.
The Czech Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.
Thanks to the great numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s built at the end of the war, it got to see service with a number of different armies during the war and after.
The only export user of the Jagdpanzer 38 was the Hungarian Army, which received about 85 vehicles between August 1944 and January 1945.
While the Soviets captured large numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s during their successful drive against the German armies, there is no evidence they put any into use. They did, however, supply some to their new allies, the Bulgarians (some 4 vehicles). Romania also captured a couple of Jagdpanzer 38s after switching sides and moving into Transylvania.
One of the most famous wartime Jagdpanzer 38s is Chwat, a single tank destroyer captured by the Poles during the Warsaw uprising that saw no combat use.
Another Jagdpanzer 38 was captured by Czechoslovakian rebels during the Prague uprising at the end of the war.
After the war, the Czechoslovakians had a number of Jagdpanzer 38s available to them left from production or abandoned on their soil. They produced 150 more and used them until at least the early 60s.
The Czechoslovaks also exported the Jagdpanzer 38 to Switzerland, which bought 158 vehicles that were in service until the 70s. Most of the current surviving Jagdpanzer 38s are actually Swiss G-13s.
Yugoslavia also captured some 20 tank destroyers from the retreating Germans, some captured and used during the war. They remained in service until about 1952.
Overall, the vehicle was successful. It was quick to build, and cheap compared with the cost of constructing a Tiger, King Tiger or Panther tank. It was mechanically reliable, easily concealed, hard-hitting, and when used right, a hard-to-kill vehicle. A company of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters working together, concealed in a good location, could damage or knock-out a considerable number of attacking enemy tanks.
Surviving Jagdpanzer 38
Currently, there are only 13 known surviving Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left. If the Jagdpanzer 38 you are looking at on display at a museum is not on this list of surviving vehicles then it is a post-war Swiss Contract G13 altered to resemble a wartime Jagdpanzer 38.
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Bruce Crompton Collection, UK
Rex and Rod Cadman Collection, UK
Private Collection, Germany
Panzermuseum, Thun, Switzerland
Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Army Technical Museum, Lešany, Czech Republic
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, VA, USA
Canadian Forces Base, Borden, Canada
Wheatcroft Collection, UK
Liechte Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer; 1944-45 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzerkampfwagen 38 Panzer Tracts No.18 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Box’ at the Tank Museum, Bovington Archives
Romanian Military Museum Archives, Bucharest
British War Office Military of Intelligence M.I.10 ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, Armoured Fighting Vehicles. ’
Hilary L. Doyle. Start from the 17 min time period https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG_mY-jSZzQ
Private correspondence with Mr. Hilary L. Doyle (1)
Herbert Ackermans document collection.
Jagdpanzer 38 specifications
|Dimensions (L W H)||6.27 m x 2.63m x 2.10 m
20 ft 6.8 in x 8 ft 7.5 in x 6 ft 10.6 in
|Total weight, battle-ready||16 tonnes|
|Armament||7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) M.G.34, 1,200 rounds
|Armor||8 to 60 mm (0.3 – 2.36 in)|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 160 hp @ 3000 rpm petrol/gasoline engine|
|Maximum Road Speed||40 km/h (25 mph)|
|Range||180 km (111 miles)|
|Total production||approx. 2,827|
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer 38, the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer 38 “Chwat” (Brave) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Early type Jagdpanzer 38 “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, winter 1944-45.
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, 1945.
Unknown unit, Bohemia, spring 1945.
Jagdpanzer 38 of the 11th SS Panzerdivision “Nordland”, winter 1944-45.
Jagdpanzer 38 with the spotted ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945.
Czech Jagdpanzer 38, in service by May 1945 with the Russian Liberation Army (Русская освободительная армия)
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38 “Mokus” tank destroyer, Lake Balaton battle, 1945.
Hetzer captured by the Russian army, Czechoslovakia, 1945.
Jagdpanzer 38 of an unknown Panzerjäger unit in Italy, 1945
Jagdpanzer 38 captured by Czech insurgents, Prague, May 1945.
Bulgarian Jagdpanzer 38, March 1945.
Unknown unit, ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945
Unknown unit, Bohemia, 1945.
Befehlspanzerjäger 38, 741st Antitank Battalion, Eastern Front, 1944.
Flammpanzer 38, 352nd Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie, Army Group G, Belgium, December 1944.
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr (1945). Being rather disappointing, the six built of this much simplified versions were converted back as regular Hetzers.
Panzerjäger 38 mit 75 mm L/70.
Swiss G13 in 1960, notice the spare roadwheel should be on the other side. For identification only.
Another, more common type of Aufklärungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23.
Jagdpanzer 38 mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23, Battle of the Bulge, winter 1944-1945.
Vollkettenaufklärer 38 prototype.
Kingdom of Italy 1942-1945
Railway Armored Car – 20 Converted
The AB series armored cars were the main reconnaissance vehicles of the Italian Royal Army during the Second World War, with over 700 being produced between 1940 and 1945. Used on all the fronts of the war, after 1943, 120 were also used by the Germans and, after the war, by the Italian Army until 1954.
A total of 12 AB40 and AB41 armored cars were modified in 1942 to patrol the Yugoslav railways. This special version was called ‘Ferroviaria’ (Railway). After the war, another group of AB41 and AB43 vehicles were modified to be used to patrol the Italian railways.
History of the project
In an attempt to emulate the rapid German territorial expansion, Italy declared war on Greece in late October 1940. Due to unexpected Greek resistance, the Italian offensive was stopped and even reversed. The Italian situation in North Africa was also dire, and for these reasons, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler was not initially interested in the Mediterranean theater, being more preoccupied with the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But, worried by the possibility of a second front being opened to the south in Greece by the British while the German forces were assaulting the Soviet Union, he reluctantly decided to send German military aid to help the Italians. The Germans quickly made combat plans for the occupation of Greece, which counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia wanted to preserve neutrality and signed the Tripartite Treaty on 25th March 1941. Two days later, Air Force General Dušan Simović, with the support of other military officers staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the government. Hitler was furious about this event and ordered that Yugoslavia should also be occupied. This event would lead to the short so-called April War, during which Yugoslavia was defeated by a coalition of Axis forces which also included Italy. After this short war, the Yugoslavian territory was divided between different Axis forces. The Italians got part of Slovenia, Kosovo, part of Macedonia, Montenegro, and parts of the Adriatic coast.
While the war was over, the Axis withdrew most forces from this area, as it was thought to be pacified. However, two resistance movements, the Royalist Chetniks and the communist Partisans, would start a general uprising against the occupying forces only a few months later. In order to suppress these two resistance movements, the Germans and Italians began once again increasing their presence in Yugoslavia, which included armored vehicles.
The introduction of the AB40
After the occupation, the initial Italian armored force in Yugoslavia consisted of two groups of light tanks: the 1° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Giusto’ (Eng: 1st Light Tank Group) station in Karlovac and the 2° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Marco’ (Eng: 2nd Light Tank Group) stationed in Trebinje and Dubrovnik. These groups were each equipped with 4 squadrons, with a total of 61 L3 light tanks. In order to better protect their positions in Yugoslavia, in July 1941, the 31° Reggimento di Fanteria Carrista (Eng: Tank man Infantry Regiment), which also was equipped with the L3, was also sent to Yugoslavia. These units were mostly deployed to protect the Adriatic coast territories. Meanwhile, in Slovenia, the Italians initially did not expect any serious opposition. But, in June 1941, the communist movement began to be active even in Slovenia, which forced the Italians to pay attention to this part of the front as well. The Italian high command in Yugoslavia issued orders for the troops to arm and armor their trucks and to arm nearly all personnel.
In 1942, new armored equipment was brought to Yugoslavia by the Italians. This included the flamethrower version of the L3, the L3/38, and new types of armored cars, like the SPA-Viberti AS37, Fiat 626 and 665, and AB41.
The Italians employed a tactic of forming a large number of well-defended strong points. Their defenses often discouraged Partisans from attacking them. At the same time, they were left isolated and unable to efficiently coordinate attacks or defenses against the Partisans. This tactic led to an overextension of the supply lines. These strong points were also highly dependent on well-defended supply lines (like roads or rails), which were often prone to Partisan attacks. The rail tracks and trains were favorite targets of the resistance fighters. For the protection of these strong points, it was proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to be used in the occupied territories of Yugoslavia. Interestingly, the rare AB40 was also operated there by the Italians.
The sabotage carried out by Yugoslav partisans, which increasingly hit sensitive targets such as bridges, communication points, and railways considerably slowed down the convoys and supply columns directed to the strong points controlled by Italian soldiers. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) was forced to find a solution quickly. It was first proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to protect convoys heading for the Italian strong points, It was immediately clear that, although it was a good idea, building entire armored trains would take too long, and the army did not have the time necessary.
The order to build armored trains was given to Ansaldo, which began the development of new railway vehicles, while FIAT proposed to use the AB series armored cars, which were very useful for Italian soldiers to patrol the occupied territories.
In order to design this railway version, FIAT engineers asked for help from the experts of FIAT Ferroviaria, a subsidiary of FIAT which produced trains. After a very short time, it was decided to replace the tires of an AB40 with slightly modified steel wheels used by the Italian locomotives. Other minor modifications were made and, in January 1942, the AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ was presented to the High Command of the Italian Royal Army. A few days later, some vehicles were taken from the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo (Eng: Armored Car Training Centre) of Pinerolo and modified in the nearby FIAT factory of Turin. In total, in less than a month, 12 armored cars of the AB series were converted. These were eight AB40s that the Regio Esercito considered unsuitable for the reconnaissance role and were, in fact, used for training, and four AB41s that were used in armored car companies and command platoons.
In the months before the Armistice of September 1943, another order was placed for the conversion of 8 more AB41s.
In the mid-30s, the Royal Italian Army realized that the Lancia 1ZM armored cars produced during the First World War were by now poorly armed, poorly protected, and performed poorly off-road. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, some Lancia 1ZMs were sent to Spain to support General Francisco Franco’s army. After their use in battle, it was clear to the Italian High Command that, although still efficient as support vehicles, they could no longer carry out reconnaissance activities. In late 1937, the Royal Army decided to issue an order for the development of a new armored car for long-range reconnaissance.
In the 1930s, the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (Eng: Italian Police in Africa), the police corps in charge of the security of the Italian colonies, still used the old Lancia 1ZMs, which were not very suitable for desert use, and also handcrafted armored cargo trucks to face the anti-imperialist resistance in Libya and Ethiopia. After testing light tanks with little success, in 1937, the PAI command autonomously requested the development of an armored car prototype for long-range reconnaissance.
FIAT and Ansaldo cooperated to produce two prototypes with many compatible parts that could meet the requirements of the Italian Royal Army and the Italian African Police. After almost two years of development, the two prototypes were presented in Turin on May 15, 1939. One of them was tested in East Africa, while the other one remained in Italy. For mass production, it was decided to unify the two vehicles, which later became the AutoBlinda Mod. 1940 (Eng: Armored Car Mod. 1940), more commonly known as the AB40.
From the beginning, the AB40 was evaluated as being poorly armed. When production began, it was decided to develop a version armed with a 20 mm cannon. 24 AB40s were produced until March/April 1941 plus 5 pre-series vehicles and two prototypes. The next version was the AB41 which had the same hull and the turret of the light tank L6/40. About 600 of this new version were produced for the rest of the war, until 1945.
The AB40 was designed for reconnaissance and not combat, so it had 9 mm armor all over the structure and turret. Another interesting feature were the dual driving controls, with one driver at the back and one at the front. This allowed the vehicle, in case of involvement in a firefight, to withdraw from combat without complicated maneuvers.
The crew consisted of four soldiers: front driver, vehicle commander/gunner, rear driver on the left and rear gunner on the right.
For the AB40, the armament was composed of two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns in the turret and another Breda Mod. 1938 mounted in a ball bearing on the rear plate. This latter gun was removable and usable on an anti-aircraft support which was not always supplied to the crews. The ammunition stack was 2,040 rounds in 85 magazines of 24 rounds each, kept in the racks on the sides of the hull.
The radio equipment of the first vehicles produced was unknown. In March 1941, the RF3M radio produced by Magneti Marelli began to be installed. The vehicles with the radio apparatus of the first type are recognizable because they had the radio antenna on the right side.
The suspension was quite advanced. The vehicle had four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, with independent shock absorbers on each wheel which gave excellent off-road mobility. The engine was a FIAT SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder water-cooled inline petrol engine developing 78 hp. This engine was designed by FIAT and produced by its subsidiary SPA in Turin. The AB40 had a speed of 80 km/h on road, while the range was about 400 km.
The AB41s received the new Mod. 1941 turret, armed with a 20/65 Breda Cannon Mod. 1935 caliber 20 mm and a Breda Mod. 38 coaxial machine gun and new racks that allowed the transport of 456 20 mm bullets. The last modification was the introduction, due to the weight increase from 6.8 to 7.4 tons, of a more powerful version of the SPA ABM 1 called ABM 2, which was able to deliver 88 hp of power.
Due to production problems of the new engine, many armored cars were equipped with ABM 1 engines and Mod. 1941 turrets, giving birth to AB40/41 hybrids. These armored cars, impossible to distinguish externally from the normal AB41, had a slightly lower top speed and range than the AB41 due to the lower engine power.
FIAT chose to keep the AB’s dual driving arrangement for the railway version, which allowed for a change of direction without turning the vehicle. Another vehicle of the type was the Autocarretta Ferroviaria Blindata Mod. 42 (Armored Railway Truck), based on the chassis of the Autocarretta OM 36 DM, a small truck suitable for the transport of about 900 kg of material, of which 20 were produced in late 1942. This particular vehicle did not have a double drive and, in order to drive at normal speeds backward, it needed to be lifted by a hydraulic jack and turned manually by the crew members. This was dangerous during possible ambushes by partisans.
In the ‘Ferroviaria’ version, the armored car was only modified externally. First of all, the steel wheels of the FS ALn 556, an Italian locomotive produced by FIAT Ferroviaria that entered service in 1938, were adapted to the armored car. On each fender, a box full of sand connected to the armored car’s braking system by a ‘Bowden’ cable (the same used on bicycle brakes) was mounted. When the braking system was in operation, some sand was released through a tube coming out from under the box’s floor and flowed on the rails increasing the grip of the steel wheels on the rails.
Four slightly raised skids were mounted in front of the wheels to prevent small objects, such as stones and branches, from slipping between the wheels and derailing the vehicle.
Much importance was given to the possibility of patrolling both railways and roads. On the hubs that supported the two spare wheels on either side, three fixing pins were added to mount a second spare wheel on each side. A steel cable was mounted on the superstructure to prevent the wheels from freeing themselves from the supports due to strong jolts. The steel cable was hooked to the superstructure when not needed. In order to prevent the cable from cutting the tires due to the tension, a wooden wedge was put on the wheels.
The modified AB40 and 41 armored cars were used to form platoons consisting of 5 vehicles. These were used by the 2° Raggruppamento Genio Ferrovieri Mobilitato (Eng: 2nd Group of Mobilized Railway Engineers) stationed at Sušak, east from the Croatian city of Rijeka. By mid-1942, the AB40s were operating in the area of Western Slovenia, Gorskog Kotara, Like, Krajine Primorske, and Dalmatia. These were used to protect the vital rail supply system. They were usually acting as train escort and support vehicles or for close proximity reconnaissance.
In July 1942, during the anti-partisan Operazione ‘Aurea’ (Eng: Operation ‘Golden’) near Biokov, the Italians also operated at least six AB armored cars (possibly the rail version).
In 1943, the Italians increased their presence in the area with more armored trains and by increasing the number of rail armored cars to 20 (which precise types were used is not clear). During the first half of 1943, the Litorina Blindata railway locomotive, with a diesel engine produced by Ansaldo and equipped with two M13/40 medium tank turrets armed with two 47 mm cannons, 6 machine guns, two 45 mm Brixia mortars and two flamethrowers Mod. 1940, was introduced. These were meant to support the units operating the AB rail armored cars stationed in Sušak. These were used to patrol areas in Slovenia and Croatia.
During 1943, the Partisans made over 120 attacks on the Sušak-Karlovci area. Of these, six attacks were aimed at the Italian armored trains. Interestingly, due to poor knowledge of the precise name of the AB 40/41 rail armored cars, in Partisans documents these were simply called small railroad armored cars. In late February 1943, one railroad armored car was reported to have struck a Partisan mine near Ogulin.
During the night of 22nd August 1943, due to a Partisan mine, No.3 armored train and an armored car (most likely an AB) were heavily damaged. The explosion was so powerful that the shockwave knocked off the rail track, the locomotive, several wagons, and the supporting armored car. The last use of the Italian armored formation (including 4 armored cars) in Slovenia was in early September 1943 against the Partisans in the area of Krvava Peč and Mačkovec. If the Germans operated the modified AB 40/41 in its rail protection role after 1943 is not clear. The German forces stationed in Slovenia in 1944 and 1945, due to increased Partisan activity, relied more and more on armored trains for troop and supply movements. It is possible that some ABs were still operational and used by the Germans at that time. In a Partisan attack on the German trains, one ‘rail tank’, which may have been an AB, was destroyed on 8th January 1945.
After the capitulation of Italy, their units still located in Yugoslavia found themselves in a state of chaos, as all fighting sides were racing to capture their territories and weapons. The Germans were anticipating the Italian capitulation and launched Operation ‘Achse’ (Axis) to seize the Italian Balkan held territories as fast as possible. They managed to disarm 15 Italian divisions in Albania and Greece and 10 more in Yugoslavia. The Germans captured many Italian AB armored cars, which were usually given to reconnaissance units, like the Aufklärungs-Abteilung 171 (reconnaissance battalion) and some police units.
The Yugoslav Communist Partisans were also quick to take advantage of the situation and captured a large number of Italian prisoners and weapons. During the period of 8th to 25th September 1943, the Partisans managed to capture at least over 7 armored cars. Sadly, it is difficult to determine the precise type of these cars, as the Partisans had trouble naming them properly in the sources, but we can assume that some were of the AB series. These armored cars were used against the Germans with some success until October, by which time most were either destroyed or hidden due to lack of fuel, spare parts, and ammunition. They also captured some Litorine Blindate, which were used to assault some Italians strongpoints before being destroyed by partisans to avoid being captured by the Germans.
Even the forces of the German puppet state of the Independent State Croatia managed to capture some weapons from the Italians, which included 10 armored cars. Partisan reports stated that the Croatian capital Zagreb was defended, from late 1943, by units equipped with ‘special’ armored cars (with some 7 to 10). These were described as being able to be driven in either direction (backward or forward) and had a turret. By this description, it is highly likely that at least some were of the AB series. In addition, at least one AB41 was operated by the Croat forces around the city of Varaždin.
After the end of the Second World War, the new Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) employed some AB “Ferroviaria” in its Railway Engineering units. These were an unknown number of AB41s and at least eight standard AB43s that were built after the war. These later vehicles had been taken from the army and modified in 1946, probably by the same FIAT plant (from Turin) that, four years earlier, had produced the ABs that went to fight in Yugoslavia.
These armored cars remained in service with the Italian Army until 1954 or 1955 and, like all the vehicles of the time, they were repainted in NATO Green and received new plates. One AB43 “Ferroviaria” survives and is preserved at the Museo della Motorizzazione in Cecchignola near Rome.
At least one AB rail armored car was operated after the war by the new Yugoslav People’s Army. The precise use and fate of this vehicle is unknown, but, by 1955, nearly all available captured armored vehicles were earmarked for scrapping. It is possible that the single AB was also scrapped at that time due to insufficient firepower and lack of spare parts.
The AB ‘Ferroviaria’ vehicles were produced to make up for the lack of armored trains in service in the Italian Royal Army. Fundamental for the patrols of railroads, preventing sabotage, and avoiding ambushes on the Italian supply trains, these special armored cars were used extensively even after the armistice of September 1943 by the Germans, who also reused them as normal armored cars. They also saw service post-war with the new Italian Army.
AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5,20 x 1,92 x 2,29 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||7 tons|
|Crew||4 (driver, gunner, second driver and rear machine gunner)|
|Propulsion||FIAT-SPA ABM1 6 cyl, 78 hp with 145 l tanks|
|Armament||three Breda 38 by 8 x 59mm machine guns with 2040 rounds|
|Armor||9 mm front, sides, and rear|
|Total Production||8 AB40, (surely) 4 AB41 and 8 AB43|
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
Bojan B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43. Nicola Pignato e Fabio D’Inzéo
Italian Armored & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-1945. Filippo Cappellano e Pier Paolo Battistelli
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano: Dalle origini fino al 1939. Volume II – Filippo Cappellano e Nicola Pignato
The article was written by Arturo Giusti, who wrote the parts concerning the design and operational service, and by Marko Pantelić, who wrote the parts concerning the introduction of the AB 40, history of the project and operational service.