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WW2 German Tank Destroyers

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

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

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

The Ferdinand tank destroyer. Source: Panzernet.net

Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s heavy tanks projects

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

Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. Source: WIki

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porsche gets rejected

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

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

Name

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

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

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

Production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial testing

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Lower Hull

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

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

Superstructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casemate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspension and Running Gear

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

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

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

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

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

Engine and Transmission

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

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

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

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

Armor Protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crew

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

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

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

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

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

Armament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organization

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

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

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

Camouflage

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

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

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

Markings and emblems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New marking and camouflage

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

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

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

Service

Baptism of fire at Kursk

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

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

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

The small Borgward B.IV. Source: pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Kursk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German post-combat analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Germany

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

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

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

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

Modifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elefants in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bergepanzer Ferdinand and other improvised support vehicles

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

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

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

Bergepanzer Ferdinand Source: Panzernet.net

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

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

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

Surviving vehicles

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:

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

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. C

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1937)
Medium Tank – 15 built

The next in line in the Panzer III series after the Ausf. B was the Ausf. C. As the previous suspension used on Ausf. B still proved to be inadequate, the German engineers tried a new 8 wheel suspension. Another major change was the introduction of an improved commander cupola. Like the previous two versions, the Ausf. C would also be built in small series and used mainly for testing, but also saw limited combat action.

The Panzer III Ausf. C Source: axishistory.com

History

With the development of the first Panzer III Ausf. A, the German Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) contacted Daimler-Benz to build two additional experimental chassis. The first one was 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.). Both developments were carried out to attempt to find a solution to the Ausf. A’s problematic suspension.

Production

Daimler-Benz was tasked with assembling 15 Panzer III Ausf. C tanks. In the same way as the previously built vehicles, this included a number of different subcontractors. Some of these were Krupp, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke AG, and many more much smaller companies. By the end of 1937, all 15 vehicles were completed and given to the German Army for use.

Specifications

The Panzer III Ausf. C was simply an improved version of the Ausf. B. The two major modifications were the suspension and the commander’s cupola, with some other minor modifications. The weapons, engine, armor (except the cupola), and overall design were unchanged.

Hull

The hull of the Panzer III Ausf. C was the same with one exception. The two inspection access hatch doors to access the transmission located in the lower front plate were replaced by two square-shaped armored covers that were held in place by bolts. In front of the hull, two towing bracket pins and one to the rear were added.

The Panzer III Ausf. C had the same square-shaped armored covers placed in front of the hull as the Ausf. A vehicle. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.
The Panzer III Ausf. C (lower), in comparison to the previous Ausf. B (upper), had square-shaped armored covers which were held by bolts. Source: warspot.ru and T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.

Superstructure

The superstructure received only minor modifications, mostly in the rear side of the engine compartment. The flat rear side on the engine compartment used on the previous Ausf. B was replaced with a new angled plate. Another change was the use of improved vision ports that provided better protection from splash.

Turret

Changes on the turret included the replacement of the visor ports with improved models. The left vision port lacked the small visor slits that the right one had. The visor ports on the turret side doors were designed to be easily replaceable.

One of the few major improvements was a completely new and better-protected commander cupola. Its armor thickness was increased from 14.5 to 30 mm all around. The number of vision ports was reduced from eight to five. These were also better protected, with two-part hatches that could be fully or partially opened. In addition, much thicker 50 mm glass blocks replaced the 12 mm ones previously used.

The Panzer III Ausf. C had a completely new turret design which provided much better protection for the commander. The turret armor was 30 mm thick, in comparison to the vehicle’s maximal 16 mm armor. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.

Suspension

The Ausf. B incorporated a new 8 road wheel suspension. This also proved to be insufficient for the job, so the Germans replaced it with a new one. The Ausf. C suspension also had 8 smaller road wheels, but with a different arrangement. It was divided into three parts, with two pairs of double wheels placed in front and to the rear. The remaining four double wheels were placed in the middle. The smaller pairs, each with two double wheels, were suspended using a shortened leaf spring unit. In addition, these were also provided with a shock absorber. The four center-positioned wheels were suspended using a much longer leaf spring unit. The last change to the suspension was the new round cap held in place with four bolts for the rear idler.

The Panzer III Ausf. C was used to test the new 8 wheel suspension with a much different design. It would also prove to be insufficient, which would lead to the Ausf. D. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.

In Combat

The Panzer III Ausf. C, as the previously built versions, was allocated initially to training units. Once war with Poland broke out in September 1939, the Panzer III Ausf. C would also be pressed into combat service. The Panzer III had a good gun at the time and could destroy with ease any Polish armored vehicle. The Panzer IIIs were lightly armored and often fell victim to Polish anti-tank fire of any caliber. With the completion of the Polish campaign, the Germans initiated a slow withdrawal of the earlier types of the Panzer III. By February 1940, these, including the Ausf. C, were allocated to tank training schools.

This Panzer III Ausf. C received a number of hits from a Polish 3.7 mm anti-tank gun. Many Panzer IIIs that were damaged in Poland were recovered and repaired, after which they were usually given to training units. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.

Conclusion

The Panzer III Ausf. C was another attempt to find an adequate suspension solution for the Panzer III. While a new type of suspension was tested, it also proved to be insufficient for the job, so the work to solve this issue continued with the following Ausf. D vehicle.

The Panzer III Ausf.C, the third pre-series version. The most distinctive change is with regards to the suspension, although this one would not stick. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.66 x 2.81 x 2.36 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)-fuel 165 km, 95 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 3.7 cm KwK L/46.5
Secondary Armament Three 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Armor 5-30 mm

Source

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

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

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1937)
Medium Tank – 10 built plus 5 hulls

The introduction of the Panzer III Ausf. A into service provided the Germans with a base for the development of a good medium tank. While the Germans were generally satisfied with the overall concept and design, there was still a lot of room for improvements and modifications. The greatest issue with the Ausf. A was its weak suspension. Thus, the Germans introduced a new version, the Ausf. B, intended to improve the suspension and other minor elements of the vehicle.

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

Development

Following the introduction of the Panzer III Ausf. A, the Germans established a good design base that still offered a lot of space for improvements. As Daimler-Benz was finishing the first few Ausf. A test chassis in August 1935, Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) issued a new contract by which two additional experimental chassis were to be built. These were Versuchs-Fahrgestell (experimental chassis) Z.W.3 (Zugführerwagen platoon commander’s vehicle) and the Z.W.4. The Z.W.3 experimental vehicle would serve as the base for the development of the Panzer III Ausf. B, while the Z.W. 4 would become the Ausf. C and D. The development of the Ausf. B (and later C and D versions) was mainly focused on solving the issues regarding the Ausf. A’s problematic suspension.

Production

According to this contract, Daimler-Benz was to produce 15 Panzer III Ausf. B chassis and superstructures (not all would be completed as tanks) by the end of 1937. These had serial numbers ranging from 60201 to 60215. As the German industry was still not sufficiently developed for tank production, a number of subcontractors were also included in the Panzer III project. These included Krupp-Grusonwerk, producing 5 new turrets, Rheinmetall, building 5 of the 3.7 cm guns and Krupp (Essen) building another 10 turrets and 5 guns. Additionally, Stahlwerke Harkort-Eichen was to produce armor components for the needed turrets. Once all parts were completed, these were to be transported to Daimler-Benz for final assembly.

By early November 1937, 8 vehicles were completed and were mostly issued to training tank schools. The last two vehicles were completed and delivered by the start of December 1937.

Specifications

The Panzer III Ausf. B was, in essence, an attempt to improve a number of the previous Ausf. A’s shortcomings, mainly regarding its suspension.

Hull

The hull of the Panzer III Ausf. B had the same arrangement as its previous version, with the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment, and the forward-mounted transmission and enclosed driving compartment. The only visible change introduced on the Ausf. B’s hull was the use of two inspection round access hatch doors placed in front of the transmission. These were used for the crew to have better access to the transmission during repairs.

two round shaped access hatches

The two round-shaped access hatches are visible here. Source: warspot.ru

Superstructure

There were several changes incorporated into the new Ausf. B’s superstructure. The major one was the complete redesign of the rear engine compartment. It was enlarged and the two larger air intakes were replaced with four smaller ones placed on top of the engine compartment instead of the rear.

Panzer III Ausf. As
The two vehicles at the bottom of the picture are Panzer III Ausf. As and the front vehicle is the Ausf. B version, which had four smaller air intakes in the engine compartment. Source: Pinterest

On the left superstructure side, a triangular-shaped pivoting arm was added. Its main purpose was to serve as a machine gun mount (the machine gun had to be dismounted from the vehicle) for the crew to engage enemy aircraft. The vehicle had to be stationary, which somewhat limited its usefulness. The radio antenna and its wooden housing were moved further to the back, on the right side of the superstructure.

anti-aircraft machine gun mount
The anti-aircraft machine gun mount is visible, just behind the left driver vision port (which is open in this picture.) Source: warspot.ru

Turret

The Panzer III Ausf. B received a new commander’s cupola that was bolted to the rear of the top of the turret. It still had the same drum shape and eight small vision slits. In order to provide better protection for the commander from bullet splash, the internal armored slide slits were improved. These could be partly or completely open to provide the commander with a good view of the surroundings. The 12 mm thick glass blocks were also present on this cupola. The commander direction indicator was also kept unchanged. The most obvious change to the cupola was the introduction of new two-part hatch doors.

Panzer III Ausf. B
The Panzer III Ausf. B received a slightly improved commander cupola. The most obvious difference in comparison to the Ausf. A was the use of much-simplified hatch doors. The bundles of sticks on the side of the tank hull were to help the tank cross muddy ground. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.

Suspension and Running Gear

The major improvement in contrast to the Ausf. A version was the introduction of a completely new (and somewhat complicated) suspension. The Ausf. B suspension consisted of eight (400 mm in diameter) small road wheels. These were placed in pairs on double swing axles, which pivoted around a swing arm. This swing arm also pivoted on a pin that was held in position by a small metal box that was welded on the hull’s lower sides. Above each group of four wheels, a leaf spring unit was installed. In addition, there were also four shock absorbers placed on each side of the suspension. While the front-drive sprocket and the rear idler were unchanged, the Ausf. B had three return rollers in comparison to the two used on the Ausf. A.

Ausf. B introduced a new suspension with eight small road wheels
The Ausf. B introduced a new suspension with eight small road wheels and three return rollers. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.
ssssss
A view of the differences between the Panzer III Ausf. A (upper) and the Ausf. C (lower) suspension, which is quite evident here. Source: warspot.ru and Pinterest

Engine

The engine used on this vehicle was the same HL 108 TR which produced 250 [email protected] 2800 rpm, as on the Ausf. A. While the weight of the Ausf. B was increased by a tonne, its overall driving performance remained the same, with a maximum speed of 35 km/h (or 10-12 km/h cross country), an operational range of 165 km and 95 km cross-country. There were some internal engine modifications, like rearranging positions of the filler tanks to provide better cooling.

Armor Protection

The armor protection of the hull and the turret was also left unchanged. It still provided limited protection, as armor thickness ranged from 5 to 16 mm only.

Crew

The Panzer III Ausf. B also had a crew of five, which included the commander, gunner, and loader, who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull. Their positions were unchanged in comparison to the previous model.

Armament

The main armament of the Panzer III Ausf. B was also unchanged from the Ausf. A and it consisted of the 3.7 cm Kw.K. L/46.5 with 121 rounds of ammunition. The secondary armament consisted of three 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns, with two placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun, and one in the hull. The machine gun ammunition load was 4,500 rounds.

In Combat

The first 8 built Panzer III Ausf. Bs were ready for distribution by August of 1937. Six of these would be given to the Putlos tank training school. The remaining two would be given to the 5th Panzer Regiment. The last two vehicles built, when completed, were allocated to the 1st Panzer Regiment at the end of 1937.

Despite being built in small numbers, the Panzer III Ausf. B would see some action during the war. Due to the lack of more modern tanks, the Germans were forced to use some Panzer III Ausf. Bs for the invasion of Poland in 1939. The majority (if not all) Ausf. B vehicles that were damaged or required a major overhaul were retired from service and instead given to training units after February 1940.

A damaged Panzer III Ausf. B
A damaged Panzer III Ausf. B during the Polish campaign in 1939. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D.

Variants

While necessary components to complete 15 Panzer III Ausf. B vehicles were built, only 10 fully operational tanks were actually assembled. The remaining 5 turrets and chassis were actually reused for other purposes.

The 0-series Sturmgeschütz III

In June 1936, Inspektorat 4, which was in charge of artillery development, issued a request for the development of a self-propelled assault vehicle that was to support infantry formations. Krupp was charged with the development of the main weapon, while Daimler-Benz did the chassis (taken from the Panzer III Ausf. B) and superstructure. Five vehicles would be built using soft steel, but with fully operational weapons. Due to many delays in production, these would not be completed until October 1939. These would be used in the following years for testing and crew training. Eventually, these developments would give way to the famous StuG series.

0-series of the Sturmgeschütz III
The 0-series of the Sturmgeschütz III was mainly used for testing and training. It is easily identified by its 8 road wheels and the round access hatches. Source: warspot.ru

Panzer III Ausf.D/B hybrid

With the allocation of the five Panzer III Ausf. B chassis to the Sturmgeschütz III project, five turrets were left unused. In order not to waste them, Heeres Waffenamt gave Daimler-Benz instructions to build five Ausf. D chassis to be merged with the Ausf. B turrets. These were never a priority and Daimler-Benz concentrated on developing and building more improved versions of the Panzer III. It took some two years (until October 1940) to actually complete these vehicles. Some of these (possibly all) were transported to Norway in the summer of 1941 and allocated to the Panzer-Abteilung z.b.V. 40 (special assignment unit).

Panzer III Ausf. D/B hybrid
One of the Panzer III Ausf. D/B hybrid vehicles that were stationed in Norway from 1941 until the end of the war. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.3-1 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C, and D

Conclusion

The Panzer III Ausf. B was the first attempt to improve some shortcomings of the Ausf. A. While it introduced a new suspension, a weak point on the previous version, it also proved to be somewhat overcomplicated and unsuited for the job. Nevertheless, the Panzer III Ausf. B was still an important vehicle in German hands, as it provided them with a necessary increase of experience in tank design and, more importantly, in crew training.

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf.B (Sd.Kfz.141). Illustration by David Bocquelet

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. B specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.66 m x 2.81 m x 2.36 m
Total weight, battle-ready 16 tonnes
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator, and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 108TR 250 HP @ 2800 rpm
Speed (road/off-road) 35 km/h, 10-12 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off-road)-fuel 165 km, 95 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 3.7 cm Kw.K L/46.5
Secondary Armament Three 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine guns
Elevation -10° to +20°
Armor 5 mm – 14.5 mm

Sources

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 (20) Panzer Tracts No.8 Sturmgeschütz
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. Spielberger, 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

Categories
WW2 German Assault Guns

Sturmgeschütz IV für 7.5 cm Sturmkanone 40 (Sd.Kfz. 167)

German Tanks of WW2Germany (1943)
Assault gun – 1,141-1,500 built

When the Alkett factory was heavily bombed by the Allied Air Force in November 1943, the production of the StuG III was almost put to a halt. In an attempt to find a relatively easy solution, the Germans simply merged the Panzer IV chassis with a StuG III upper superstructure, creating a new vehicle, the StuG IV. Production was conducted relatively quickly, with 30 vehicles completed by December 1943 and, by April 1945, over 1,000 would be built. Like its StuG III cousin, the StuG IV was also an effective assault gun which would see service on all major fronts up to the end of the war.

The StuG IV. Source: www.panzernet.net

Sturmgeschütz concept

During the Great War, German (and many other nations) infantry formations were supported by towed artillery. For German Sturmtruppen (Eng. Stormtroopers) that depended on mobility. The necessary towed artillery proved to be slow and inadequate for the supporting task in taking more fortified enemy positions. Based on this experience, after the war, the great German Army tactician, General Erich von Manstein, proposed using highly mobile, well protected and armed self-propelled artillery. They were to provide infantry with mobile close fire support during combat operations. These were to be organic part of standard Infantry Divisions at a battalion strength of around 18 vehicles.

Due to Germany’s general lack of production industrial capacity during the 30’s, it would take years before the first prototypes were completed. The Germans were also forbidden by the Versailles Treaty to develop and produce tanks, which Hitler, when he came to power, publicly denounced. The development of these vehicles was also hindered by conflict in different branches of the Germany Armed Forces. Eventually, it was decided that these vehicles would be put under direct supervision of the Artillery. These vehicles would be known as Sturmgeschütz III (assault gun vehicles) but were generally known simply as StuG III.

To speed up the development, it was decided to reuse many elements of Panzer III vehicles. The design was very simple and consisted of a new superstructure armed with a short barrel 75 mm gun placed on the Panzer III chassis.While the first prototypes were completed in 1937, it was not until 1940 when the initially limited production actually started. Once pressed into service, the StuG III proved to be an excellent infantry support vehicle. When the Germans invaded Soviet Union in 1941, the Germans noticed that their available anti-tank weapons were almost useless against the Soviet modern tank designs (T-34 and KV’s). To address this problem, in 1942 the Germans introduced a new StuG III armed with the longer 75 mm gun that was more effective as a tank destroyer. As production of the StuG III shifted more towards the anti-tank role, the Infantry was left without a proper support vehicle. To address this, a new version of the StuG III armed with a 10.5 cm howitzer was introduced in 1943. Both versions would remain in production until the war ended with over 10,000 being produced, making them the most numerous German armored vehicle of the war.

The 75 mm L/24 short-barreled StuG III served as an excellent infantry support weapon during the war. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
To address the ever increased threat of more advanced enemy armor the Germans upgraded the StuG III with the longer L/43 and later L48 75 mm anti-tank guns. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The first StuG IV

In early 1943, Albert Speer approached Krupp officials with a suggestion for producing a new Sturmgeschütz. Soon after, Krupp began working on the first basic drawing of this vehicle, which was to incorporate a number of already produced components. These include a StuG III Ausf. F superstructure, Panzer IV Ausf. H chassis and a 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun. The superstructure of the StuG III Ausf. F was chosen as, at that time, Krupp did not possess the design plans for the newer Ausf. G version. Unlike the later produced Sturmgeschütz based on the Panzer IV that used the unchanged StuG III superstructure, the initial Krupp design was different. The front part of the superstructure incorporated a highly angled (50 mm thick) armor plate which would have provided excellent protection. Other changes included increasing the armor protection on the sides to 45 mm, compared to the original 30 mm, and the increase of the track’s width.

Drawing of Krupp’s initial project for the new StuG vehicle based on the Panzer IV chassis. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers

After the first drawing and calculation were completed, Krupp informed the Germany Army and Wa Pruf 6 officials that, although it was feasible, they did not recommend producing it. Despite removing the turret, the vehicle would have the same weight as an ordinary Panzer IV tank. In addition, the redesign and sloped armor would cause production delays which were not acceptable at that time, so the project was quickly abandoned.

A new start

While the idea for a new StuG vehicle based on the Panzer IV chassis was discarded, several months later, due to desperate necessity, it would come to life again. In November 1943, the Allies heavily bombed the Alkett factory which was instrumental for the overall StuG III production. As the production of vital StuG III vehicles was temporarily stopped, the Germans needed a new quick solution. At a military conference held in early December 1943, Adolf Hitler was informed that the StuG III Ausf. G superstructure could be, with minimal effort, mated with a Panzer IV Ausf. H or J chassis. This time, however, the new vehicle had to have minimal changes to the components used for its construction. The only major modification was the extension of the driver compartment. Hitler was impressed with this proposal, as it would be easy to implement due to available parts and production capabilities. Hitler also suggested giving this new vehicle to the Panzer Abteilungen, as it would facilitate maintenance and procurement of spare parts.

The negative side of this decision was the reduction of available chassis for the Panzer IV tank. But, as the production of the Panzer IV was to be terminated in favor of larger Panther tanks, this was not seen as a huge issue. The actual production of the Panzer IV, due to the high demands for tank vehicles, was never canceled and it lasted almost up to the end of war. As the need for the StuG III vehicles was great, Hitler gave a green light for the realisation of the project.

Production

According to Hitler’s initial orders, the StuG IV was to be produced in great numbers in a short period of time. Some 350 vehicles had to be built in December 1943 and an additional order of 500 to be built by the end of January 1944. Of course, this was impossible to achieve given Germany’s dire economical and industrial situation.

Despite these optimistic numbers given by Hitler, Krupp actually received orders to produce the first 10 trial vehicles at the end of 1943. Nevertheless, Krupp managed to quickly produce 30 vehicles by the end of December 1943. The production goal for January and February 1944 was 210, whereas Krupp managed to produce 214 vehicles. During 1944, monthly production goals were around 90, with the exception (beside January and February) of November, with 100, and December with 110 vehicles. Despite the bad economical situation and the Allied bombing raids, Krupp managed to obtain a relatively smooth production run. 87 vehicles were built in March, 91 in April, 90 in June and July, 70 in August, 56 in September, 84 in October, 80 in November, and 49 in December 1944. In 1945, the production numbers dropped down severely due to many factors, but probably most important were the Allied bombing raids and lack of resources. In January 1945, the number of produced StuG IVs was 46, 18 in February, 38 in March and the last 3 were completed in April. By the time the production run stopped in April, Krupp had managed to produce 1,111 Stug IV vehicles. Beside Krupp, Alkett also produced some 30 StuG IVs with the chassis provided by Nibelungwerke.

Of course, like many other German production numbers, there is some disagreement between authors. The previous mentioned numbers are according to T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle in Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 and Walter J. Spielberger in Sturmgeschütz and its Variants. A. Lüdeke (Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg) suggests 1,500 produced vehicles. On the other hand, D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) estimates that some 1,139 were built from December 1943 to March 1944 (this year is probably a print or author error). An interesting number is the 632 built vehicles speculated by B. Perrett (Sturmartillerie and Panzerjager 1939-45). This is almost less than half the numbers that all other sources give and it is likely incorrect.

While the final assembly, together with the manufacturing of chassis and running gears, was done by Krupp, all other necessary components were supplied by other companies. Additional frame chassis were supplied by Eisen Hüttenverein, Eisenwerke Oberdonau, Krupp (Essen) and Böhler. The guns were built by Škoda and Wimag. The StuG III superstructure was provided by Brandenburgische Eisenwerke.

One of the first produced StuG IVs at the end of 1943. Source: http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/stihace/stug4.php

Name

Being designed to supplement the StuG III, this vehicle also inherited its name of Sturmgeschütz IV für 7.5 cm Sturmkanone 40. In general, it was also simply known as StuG IV, which this article will use for the sake of simplicity.

Specifications

As previously mentioned, this vehicle was built using a combination of Panzer IV and StuG III elements. Thus, it was logical that the changes introduced on the StuG III were also implemented on the later StuG IV. The manufacturers of Panzer IV chassis were not always informed in advance for which role their chassis would be used (for ordinary tanks or assault guns). Many changes that were to be introduced to later built StuG IVs were not necessarily always applied to all vehicles.

The Hull

The StuG IV hull was built using surface-hardened steel plates which were welded together. It was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and the new enclosed driving compartment. While, originally, the Panzer IV hull had an emergency escape hatch door placed beneath the radio operator’s seat, it was removed on the StuG IV. This was done mainly due to changing the position of the radio equipment.

The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. To gain better access for repairs, a square-shaped transmission hatch located in the middle of this plate and two rectangular steering brakes inspection hatches with ventilation ports were added.

The Superstructure

The vehicle’s superstructure design was more or less a copy of that of the StuG III. It consisted of a box shaped base with angled frontal armor plates. The most obvious change was the introduction of a new box-shaped driver compartment which protruded to the front. On top of it there was a hatch door and two periscopes with armored covers. Initially, there was a problem with the hatch door accidentally closing back and potentially injuring the driver. Thus, it was changed to include a mechanism that locked the door in the open or closed position. Just above the driver compartment, during the production run, a rain guard was added to avoid water getting to the driver. In addition, as the Panzer IV chassis was longer, next to the new driver compartment, an armored plate was bolted down to fill the gap.

As the Panzer IV chassis was longer than the original StuG III, the opening next to the driver compartment was simply closed up using a bolted plate. This plate is visible just under the main gun. Source: J. Ledwoch Sturmgeschütz

On the top left of this superstructure, a command cupola was placed. On its hatch, there was a second smaller hatch which allowed the commander to use a periscope to observe possible targets. The design of the commander’s cupola changed during the production. Initially, welding was used during its construction while, later in the war, some elements were cast. While a rotary cupola was more desirable, due to production problems, it was only fit from August 1944 onwards. The frontal part of the cupola was reinforced with a protective deflector , which proved to be a weak spot on the earlier StuG III.

In front of the command cupola, there was a sliding plate which held the gunner’s retractable stereo telescope. On the superstructure’s right side, the loader’s two-part hatch was placed. This would be replaced by a single-piece hatch later in production.

Front view of the new box-shaped driver compartment, with its two protected sights. Just above the comparpent, the diagonal line is a rain guard. On top of the superstructure, the commander cupola was placed. Its hatch had an additional smaller hatch that the commander could use for his own telescopic periscope. Source: Walter J. Spielberger Sturmgeschütz and its Variants

From June 1944, the newly produced StuG IV received mounts placed on top of the superstructure. Their purpose was to be used to mount a fold-up crane with a lifting capacity of some 2 tonnes, to help with maintenance and repairs. The superstructure top was held in place by a simple bolt and, if needed (for example to change the gun), could be easily removed. On the rear flat armor of the superstructure, a ventilation port was added. It was protected by an armored cover.

The StuG IVs produced from mid-1944 on had an option to install a 2 tonne crane to help with the vehicle’s repairs and maintenance. Source: Walter J. Spielberger Sturmgeschütz and its Variants
The protective ventilation port is placed to the superstructure’s rear. Note this picture is from a StuG III but the superstructure was in essence the same. Source: Walter J. Spielberger Sturmgeschütz and its Variants

Suspension and running gear

The suspension consisted of eight small (470 x 75 x 660 mm) wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on four bogie assemblies. The small road wheels were suspended by leaf-spring units. The distance between each bogie shaft was 500 mm. There were also four return rollers (250 x 65 x 135 mm) on each side. While use of three return rollers per side was tested in June 1944, its implementation on StuG IV vehicles was delayed up to December 1944. Due to the shortage of rubber, steel return rolles were used instead on many vehicles. At the front, two drive sprockets were placed. To the rear, the two (650 mm) idlers had an adjustable track tensioning mechanism.

Close up view of the unchanged Panzer IV suspension. Source:https://imgur.com/a/4tamYs6 http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/stihace/stug4.php

The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. While the StuG IV used standard Panzer IV tracks, for operating in the East and during Winter, specially designed and wider Ostketten tracks would be employed.

This vehicle was equipped with enlarged Ostketten tracks. Additional track links were placed on the front of the hull to act as spare parts and improvised armor. Source: Worldwarphotos

The Engine and Transmission

The engine compartment was mostly left unchanged. The StuG IV was powered by a standard Maybach HL 120TRM, which produced 265 [email protected] rpm. With a weight of nearly 26 tonnes (or 23 depending on the source), the maximum speed was 38 km/h (or 20 km/h cross-country) with an operational range of 220 km and 130 km cross country. Some sources give a number of 320 km and 198 km cross country. The fuel load of 450 l (430 and 470 l capacities are also listed in different sources) was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the crew fighting compartment. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. This compartment was provided with an automatic fire extinguisher system. While the Ausf. H chassis used a canister shaped muffler, the later Ausf. J used two vertical Flammentöter mufflers.

The two vertical Flammentöter mufflers indicate that this is a Panzer IV Ausf. J chassis. Source: Pinterest

According to Wa Pruef 6’s instructions to Krupp beginning in March 1944, the auxiliary DKW gasoline engine that was originally used to provide traverse for the Panzer IV’s turret was to be removed from tanks. To use the extra available space, Krupp engineers added additional fuel tanks instead of the DKW engine. While using this as an auxiliary ammunition bin was briefly considered, it would require removing parts of the firewall, which only would delay and complicate production. This also carried over to the StuG IV.

The ZF SSG 75S six-speed (and one more for reverse) transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism was the same ‘Wilson’ type which was designed and produced by Krupp.

The Armor Protection

The frontal armor protection of the StuG IV was relatively good. The upper front glacis armor plate was 20 mm thick at a 70° angle, front glacis was 80 mm placed at a 12° angle and the lower glacis was 30 mm placed at a 60° angle. The side armor was 30 mm thick, the rear was 14.5-20 mm and the bottom was 10 mm.

The front superstructure armor was 80 mm thick, with the upper armor 30 mm placed at a 50° angle. The 80 mm thick frontal armor on some vehicles was increased with an additional 30 mm armor plate. The additional armor plate was held in place using six bolts. As this proved too difficult to be accomplished in the field, those that received the extra plate were instead connected using welding. The extended armor plate of the superstructure was 50 mm thick placed at 15° angle. The sides were 30 mm at a 10° angle.

The flat mantle was protected by 50 mm of armor. The rear part of the superstructure was 30 mm thick. The superstructure and engine compartment top parts were 10 mm thick. The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor. The new extended driver compartment was protected with 80 mm front and 30 mm side armor.

The StuG IV, similar to many other German vehicles, could be equipped with 5 mm thick side protective skirts, known in German as Schürtzen. The primary mission of these was to provide extra protection from Soviet anti-tank rifles. During rail transport, the protective skirts could easily be taken down and later put back on again. Some were also protected by Thoma Schürtzen wire mesh. While these were lighter and provided the same level of protection, their use was delayed due to problems with production. The use of Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine coating was quite common, though, by the end of September 1944, it was no longer applied to the StuG IV.

A brand new Stug IV with Schürtzen protective skirts. Source Pinterest

Crews would often make improvised attempts at uparmoring their vehicles, hoping to increase the combat survivability of the StuG IV. A somewhat common practise was adding layers of concrete (to a greater or lesser extent) on the front part of superstructure (this was also done on some other vehicles, such as the StuG III). This improvised concrete armor proved to be ineffective in combat. Even the General Artillery Inspector gave a report stating that this improvisation was almost useless. Nevertheless, many StuG IVs continued to receive ‘concrete armor’ up to the war’s end. Other crews added what they had at hand, ranging from captured enemy or own tracks, spare parts, such as road wheels, and some even added logs or ordinary wooden branches. Some vehicles were equipped with extra armor plates welded to the front and placed at great angles. The effectiveness of these improvised attempts was more psychological than realistic.

This vehicle had the usual concrete armor added to the front. The space between the vehicle superstructure and the Schürtzen was filled with wooden branches. Source:https://imgur.com/a/79uR9kG http://www.panzernet.net/panzernet/stranky/stihace/stug4.php
This vehicle had wooden logs put on the superstructure sides. The log may have been used for other purposes too, not just for protection. Source: Pinterest
Besides the concrete armor, the most common practice for the StuG IV (and on many other German vehicles) was to use spare tracks. Sometimes even those captured from the enemy. Source: worldwarphotos
The crew of this particular vehicle (left abandoned in Italy, 1944) added an extensive concrete layer on the driver compartment. In addition, tracks and two armor plates were also added. One extra armor plate was to the front and the second, somewhat unusually, atop the gun mantlet. and Source: J. Ledwoch Sturmgeschütz IV

The Crew and Radio

The StuG IV had a crew of four, which consisted of the commander, gunner, loader and driver. The driver was positioned to the vehicle’s left front side of the hull, in the box-shaped driver compartment. Just behind him was the gunner. To the rear of the gunner was the commander, who had a command cupola for better observation of the surroundings. The last crew member was the loader, who was placed alone on the right side of the vehicle. He was perhaps the most overburdened crew member. Beside his primary role of loading the main gun, he also operated the Fu 15 or 16 transmitter-receiver radio set. This equipment had an effective voice range of about 2 km. A 2 m long antenna rod was fitted on the superstructure. Beside the radio, the crew could use the Walther LP signal pistol to communicate with other vehicles. In addition, the loader was charged with using the machine gun placed on top of the vehicle and using the grenade throwing close defence weapon (if the vehicle had one).

StuG IV crew. Source: Worldwarphotos

The Armament

The main armament of the StuG IV was the 7.5 cm StuK (Sturmkanone – assault cannon) 40 L/48. This gun was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig especially for the StuG III and was, in essence, a modified 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. The length of the barrel was 3.6 m and had 32 grooves, each 7.8 mm deep and 6.05 mm wide. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. It was fired electrically.

This gun had a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s. The armor-piercing (Pz.Gr.39) round could penetrate 85 mm of armor (sloped at 30°) at 1 km. The maximum range of the high-explosive rounds was 3.3 km while, for armor-piercing, 1.4 to 2.3 km, depending on the type used. The gunner used the ‘Selbstfahrlafetten Zielfernrohr Sfl.Z.F.1a’ gun sight to acquire targets. This sight had a magnification of x5 and a field view of 8°.

The elevation of this gun went from –6° to +20° (or –5° to +15° depending on the source), while the traverse was 10° (or 20°, depending on the source) to both sides. The ammunition load, depending on the source, consisted of 61 to 63 rounds. The ammunition was stored in holding bins located mostly on the right side of the vehicle, with some placed under the gun or to the back. Krupp specially designed ammunition box containers that were to hold 8 rounds. These could be used on the StuG IV or Panzer IV tanks without problems.

While, initially, the gun was locked at a traverse angle of 0° during driving, this would be changed to 12° later on. The main reason why this was done was to provide the driver with a better view to his right during driving. In addition, a frontal travel lock would be added to a number of vehicles during production.

Behind the gun breach, a small metal shield was placed to provide protection for the gunner. In addition, a shell sack was added to the rear of the gun, which caught spent cartridges. While, initially, the first produced StuG IVs used the earlier box type mantle, this would be replaced by the new cast Saukopfblende (sow’s head mantle), generally known simply as Saukopf.

The dismounted 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun. Source: Walter J. Spielberger Sturmgeschütz and its Variants

The StuG IV’s secondary armament consisted of one (or two) 7.92 mm MG 34/42 machine guns with 500-600 rounds of ammunition. The MG was not fired from inside the vehicle, but instead was mounted with a protective shield on the superstructure’s top, on the right side. This protective shield could be folded down if needed. Additionally, there were also two different mounting brackets for the MG, depending on if it was used against ground or air targets.

The raised protective machine gun shield is clearly visible in this photograph. Source: worldwarphotos

Some vehicles were equipped with the Rundumfeuer machine gun mount that was operated from inside the vehicle. This mount provided an all-around firing arc. In addition, the operator did not have to expose himself to fire when he was using the machine gun. However, he still needed to go outside to manually load the machine gun. The installation of this machine gun required some changes to the loader’s escape hatch (it had to be rotated at a 90 degree) before being fit to the vehicle. The machine gun was protected by two small angled shields.

Some vehicles received the Rundumfeuer machine gun mount. With this mount, the machine gun operator could fire it without exposing himself to enemy return fire. Source: Pinterest

It is also mentioned that, on rare occasions, some vehicles did not receive the machine guns and were forced to use only high-explosive rounds against enemy infantry, while some vehicles received a coaxial machine gun that was fired by the gunner. The machine gun was fired through a hole that was cut in the gun mantle. This modification was implemented only from June to October 1944 and it is not clear how many vehicles were actually equipped with this machine gun configuration.

Smaller numbers of StuG IVs were equipped with the Nahverteidigungswaffe (close-quarters defense weapon). In essence, this was a close-range grenade thrower that was to be used against infantry. Due to shortages of this weapon, mass use on the StuG IV was not possible. The Nahverteidigungswaffe was placed in front of the loader’s escape hatch. When not installed, the hole was covered by an armored cover.

The close-quarters defense weapon mount was placed in front of the original machine gun mount (the gun itself is missing) on the vehicle superstructure’s top right side. Due to production problems, this weapon was not a common sight in the StuG IV vehicles. Also note that this vehicle had the Rundumfeuer machine gun mount, the installation of which necessitated the redesign of the loader hatch door, which now opened to the side (instead of the original forward and back). Source: worldwarphotos
A close-up view of the Nahverteidigungswaffe (Note that this particular one was used on the Panther tank) Source: S. J. Zaloga Bazooka Vs. Panzer IV

Besides all these, the crews also had their own personal weapons for protection. This usually consisted of one or two 9 mm MP 40 submachine guns and sometimes even a 7.92 mm MP 44 assault rifle.

Distribution to units

The StuG IVs were used to equip various German formations. They were used to supplement assault gun units equipped with StuG IIIs. Which precise assault gun units received the new StuG IV is difficult to pinpoint, as the German documents do not make a distinction between the Panzer III and IV-based vehicles. The first produced StuG IVs were given to the 311th StuG Brigade which operated on the Eastern Front.

By the later stages of the war, German Infantry Divisions were supplemented by a Panzer Jäger Abteilung that contained a company of the towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 guns (or self-propelled versions, if any was available) and one company of 14 assault vehicles. As the StuG IV became available in sufficient numbers, these were also allocated to Infantry Divisions. During 1944, the number of assault vehicles was reduced to only 10.

Other units, such as Panzer, Volksgrenadier, and Panzergrenadier Divisions also received a number of these vehicles. German Panzer Divisions in early 1943 were severely lacking tanks and, for temporary replacement purposes, StuG IIIs were used. By late 1944 and early 1945, for the same reasons, some Panzer Divisions were equipped with StuG IV vehicles as replacements for lost tanks, as there was nothing else available in sufficient numbers.

Lastly, during the summer of 1944, Waffen SS units received some 70 StuG IV vehicles. For example, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, due to an insufficient number of tanks, was instead reinforced with 42 StuG IVs.

Combat

The StuG IV, similar to later better-armed StuG III vehicles, were highly effective anti-tank vehicles. For example, the 394th StuG Brigade, which had two StuG IV-equipped batteries, fought the Allies on the Western Front. On 6th August, elements of these units destroyed 26 Allied tanks. The commander of the 3rd Battery claimed to have destroyed six Sherman tanks in combat with his StuG IV.

The previously mentioned 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, which had 42 StuG IVs, participated in the fighting against the Allies in France. In the following battle with the Allies, it was left with only 11 operational StuG IVs by early July 1944.

A destroyed StuG IV that belonged to the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division in France, 1944. Source: Pinterest

At the start of October 1944, during the German defense of Aachen against the Allied forces, the 12th Volksgrenadier Division had 10 StuG IV vehicles. These would be reallocated to the 49th Infantry Division several days later. During the Allied attack on Aachen that started on 7th December, they came under fire from the StuG IV vehicles. While the German defenses were breached near Alsdorf, the Allies lost 2 tanks. These were destroyed by Feldwebel Peter Klimas (a veteran with 22 destroyed enemy tanks). The following day, the Germans made a counterattack toward Alsdorf, supported by 6 StuG IVs. During the following engagement, one was lost due to a breakdown, three were lost due to enemy fire and only two managed to reach Alsdorf. These two surviving StuG IV vehicles (one was commanded by Feldwebel Peter Klimas) engaged the Allied forces that held the town. While the German vehicles were heavily involved in the ensuing fighting, the Germans lacked support to retake the town and had to withdraw. While both StuG IVs survived the defense of the Allied soldiers, some even armed with bazookas, they were damaged and Feldwebel Peter Klimas was wounded by enemy rifle fire.

Larger numbers of StuG IVs would see service on the Eastern Front. Some of these were part of the 236th StuG Brigade that fought against Polish Forces in the area of Niesky at the very end of the war in Europe. Another example was the 912th StuG Brigade, which had 30 StuG IV vehicles, all of which were lost by May 1945. Unfortunately, the sources do not give more precise information about the StuG IV’s combat operations in the East.

A StuG IV somewhere in Ukraine, 1944. Source: J. Ledwoch Sturmgeschütz IV

The StuG IV also served in smaller numbers on other fronts, such as Italy or the Balkans during 1944 and 1945. One such unit was the 914th StuG Brigade. Interestingly, this particular unit was supplemented with over 30 Semovente 105/25 M43 Italian assault vehicles.

Some StuG IVs would also be deployed in Greece during 1944. Source: J. Ledwoch Sturmgeschütz IV

One of the last combat actions of the StuG IV was during the defense of Berlin and its surroundings from the Soviets. There were some 29 StuG IVs with the Heeresgruppe Mitte and 20 with Heeresgruppe Weichsel. On 10th April 1945, there were still some 282 StuG IVs available on all fronts. There were 219 on the Eastern Front, 40 in the West, some 16 in Italy, and 7 in Denmark and Norway.

Other Operators

By the end of the war, the Soviets had managed to capture an unknown number of StuG IV vehicles. These vehicles were part of the 912th StuG Brigade which was originally equipped with 30 StuG IV vehicles. At least one was possibly operated by the 366th Guards Heavy Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment during the end of the war in Hungary.

A StuG IV operated by the Soviet Forces during 1945. Source: J. Ledwoch Sturmgeschütz IV

According to B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945), some StuG IVs were captured by Yugoslav Partisans and were used for a short time after the war. Their final fate is unknown as none were preserved, and they were probably scrapped.

Modifications

While, officially, there were no sub-versions of the StuG IV, there were still at least two adaptations of it for other roles. One of these consisted of a StuG IV (minus the weapons) that was equipped with a large fixed dozer blade. This vehicle, named in some sources as the Räumschaufel Panzer StuG IV, was to be used for helping rebuild bombed German cities during the war, by clearing up the remains of destroyed buildings. It is unclear how many were used for this role, but unlikely more than a few. The second version was probably a field conversion, possibly used as an ammunition carried vehicle. Its main gun was removed for some reason (possibly damaged) and replaced with a simple armored shield. How many besides the one photographed were converted is not known.

The StuG IV equipped with the large dozer blade. Source: https://imgur.com/a/yIzfcKD https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryPorn/comments/ia9yl2/sturmgesch%C3%BCtz_iv_with_dozer_blade_r%C3%A4umschaufel/
Possibly an ammunition supply vehicle field conversion. Source: Pinterest

Surviving vehicles

Despite over 1,000 vehicles being built, today, only a few StuG IVs exist. Two can be seen in Poland at the Armored Weapons Museum in Poznan and White Eagle Museum in the Skarżysko-Kamienna. One more is in the Russian Kubinka Museum. The last vehicle can be found at the Australian Armor and Artillery Museum.

A StuG IV located at the Armored Weapons Museum in Poznan, Poland. Source: Wiki

Conclusion

Despite having been designed as a temporary replacement for its StuG III cousin, the StuG IV was actually produced up to the war’s end. While the Germans also fielded the Jagdpanzer IV anti-tank vehicle also based on the Panzer IV, the StuG IV was much easier and cheaper to produce. It was, in general, a good design with low height, solid armor protection, and a good gun. The downsides of this vehicle were that it was not produced in sufficient numbers and was often used in lieu of other vehicles for roles it was not meant for.

StuG IV, Ukraine, 1943
Sd.Kfz.167 in Ukraine, December 1943.
StuG IV, Ukraine, 1944
StuG IV in Ukraine, early 1944.
StuG IV, Russia
Unknown unit with Schurzen, Russia, summer 1944.
StuG IV with Schurzen
Unknown unit with space armor, Russia, 1944.
StuG IV, Eastern Prussia
StuG IV in Eastern Prussia, September 1944.
StuG IV, Germany
Late production StuG IV in “ambush camouflage”, Germany, April 1945.

Specifications

Weight 25.9 tonnes
Dimensions Length 6.7 m, Width 2.95 m, Height 2.2 m
Crew 4 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 265 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off-road) 38 km/h, 15 km/h
Range (road/off-road) 220 km, 130 km/h
Primary Armament 7.5 cm StuK 40
Secondary Armament One 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -6° to +20°
Armor 10-80 mm
Total Built 1,141-1,500

Sources

Categories
WW2 German Prototypes

Panzerselbstfahrlafette 1a 5 cm PaK 38 auf Gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper

German Tanks of WW2Germany (1941)
Self-Propelled Anti-tank Gun – 2 prototypes built

During the Second World War, the German Army (Ger. Heer) saw a need to equip its Motorized Infantry and Airborne units with a cheap, light and mobile anti-tank vehicle. For this reason, Rheinmetall-Borsig was tasked with designing such a vehicle. While two would be built, there were delays in the production and the ineffectiveness as the main anti-tank weapon, the 5 cm PaK 38, eventually led to shutting down the entire project.

Panzerselbstfahrlafette 1a 5 cm PaK 38 auf Gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper
The Panzerselbstfahrlafette 1a 5 cm PaK 38 auf Gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper Source: Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.7-1 Panzerjaeger

History

In July 1940, In 6 issued orders to Wa Pruef to develop a completely new and relatively cheap 5 cm PaK 38 armed self-propelled anti-tank vehicle. This vehicle was to be issued for use by the Motorized Infantry Divisions and Airborne units and thus had to possess good mobility and light weight. These two conditions, in essence, limited its armor thickness that could be employed. To somewhat overcome this shortcoming, it should use spaced armor (Schützenpanzer).

Eventually, the Rheinmetall-Borsig company received the contract to design such a vehicle by installing the 5 cm PaK 38 on a Borgward VK 302 ammunition supply vehicle. The vehicle received the designation Panzerselbstfahrlafette 1a 5 cm PaK 38 auf Gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper or, in short, Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper. Initially, an order for two trial vehicles was given, which were to be ready by the second half of 1942. Rheinmetall-Borsig managed to build two vehicles by the start of July 1942.

The VK.302

Back in 1937, In 6 made a request for the design of a new fully tracked ammunition transport vehicle. It was to be capable of carrying 500 kg in a storage bin positioned to the rear part of the vehicle, with an additional 500 kg in a trailer. The final contract for designing and producing such a vehicle was eventually given to Borgward from Bremen. This would lead to the development of the small fully tracked Gepanzerter Munitions-Schlepper VK.301.

VK.301
The VK.302, a slightly improved version of the small fully tracked Gepanzerter Munitions-Schleppe VK.301, during winter field trials in 1943

In 6 was not satisfied with its performance and additional changes were requested, from which the improved VK.302 vehicle would emerge. This vehicle had a simple design with a fully protected two-man compartment and rear positioned open storage bin. Borgward was instructed to build 400 of these vehicles. This was never achieved and fewer than 50 vehicles were ever built. Most of these would be allocated to the 1st Infantry Division, who used them up to 1944, by which time all were lost in combat.

Production orders

Even before the previously mentioned two vehicles were built, during May 1941, it was planned to produce around 3,144 such self-propelled anti-tank vehicles. Somewhat strange was that the production run was to be quite slow, with the first series of 100 vehicles completed by April 1944, followed by a second series of 200 by April 1945.

Specification

Hull and the Superstructure

The Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper retained much of the original VK.302 hull design, with some changes. The most obvious change was the removal of the rear positioned storage bin, which was replaced by a new gun crew compartment. In addition, the two escape hatch doors which were located on the enclosed superstructure top were removed. Instead, on the left side, a large hatch door was added. The assistant, who, in the VK.302, was placed on the right side of the superstructure, was removed along with his small observation port.

The rear positioned gun crew compartment was built by using six armored plates (two per side and two to the rear) bolted together. The side armor consisted of a small rectangular-shaped plate that was slightly curved inward. This was followed by a larger one, also rectangular in shape. There were two additional plates placed behind each of the two crew seats. The compartment’s overall size was quite limited and the crew’s working space was thus highly cramped. While the original VK.302 was built using welded armor, the added armor plates were connected using mostly rivets. While the sources state a width of 1.82 m for this vehicle, other dimensions are not known precisely.

gun crew compartment
A good top view of the new gun crew compartment added for this modification. It was quite cramped, with limited free space. Source: panzernet.net
Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper
A rear view of the Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper. The added rear armor placed around the commander’s and loader’s seats can be seen. Source: Panzer Tracts No.7-1

Suspension

The suspension of this vehicle was unchanged from the VK.302. It consisted of four large road wheels (per side), suspended using a torsion bar system. There were also front-mounted drive sprockets and rear-positioned idlers. The rubber cushioned tracks had 45 links per side.

Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper
The torsion bar suspension of the Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper is evident in this photograph. Also, note the large driver hatch door which was specially added for this conversion. Source: Panzer Tracts No.7-1

Engine and the transmission

This vehicle was powered by the VK.302’s original Borgward 6 M 2.3 RTBV six-cylinder 55 hp @ 3600 rpm engine. The Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper had a maximum speed of 30 km/h. The fuel load was 95 l. Whilst the VK.302 ammunition vehicle had an operational range of 200 km, the precise operational range of the modified vehicle is unknown but probably slightly less than that number. With the added gun and ammunition, extra crew members, and other equipment, the weight was increased from 3.7 to 4.5 tonnes. The transmission unit was placed in the frontal lower part of the hull. For necessary repairs, the crew could use the larger rectangular-shaped hatch door placed on the upper glacis.

Armament

The Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper was armed with the 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun. This gun was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig back in 1938 as a replacement for the weaker 3.7 cm Pak 36, but it was not ready for service until 1940. The gun was fitted with a semi-automatic breech and had a muzzle brake. This gun had a practical rate of fire of 10 to 15 rounds per minute. Average penetration at 1,000 m (at 0°) was 61 mm (Panzergranate 39) and 84 mm by using the rare tungsten ammunition (Panzergranate 40). The maximum range of high explosive shells was around 2,500 to 2,650 m.

The gun’s main controls (traverse and elevation wheel, sights, etcetera) were located on the vehicle’s left side. The originally rear positioned recoil shield guard was retained. As the vehicle was lightly built, in order to help absorb some of the 5 cm PaK 38’s recoil during firing, a three-tube spade was lowered to the ground. While providing stability, this system somewhat limited the vehicle’s combat potency, as it would constantly need to be raised or lowered depending on the combat situation, which would take precious time. In order to hold the gun in place during long-distance drive, a rear travel lock was added.

gunner position
The gunner position on this vehicle. The small opening in the front of the gun shield was to be used for the gun sight. Source: Pinterest

The original PaK 38 gun shield was removed. It was instead replaced by a larger three-sided armored shield. While the side armor plates were placed flat, the frontal armor plates were angled to somewhat increase the overall protection. On the left front armor, there was a small opening for the gunner’s main sight. While the few photographs of these vehicles may give the impression that this gun shield was fixed, it was actually not. It had a 40° traverse and -10° to +20° elevation. To provide better stability during the traverse, the side shields were connected to small sliding rods.

The total ammunition load for the main gun is unfortunately not mentioned in the sources, but it would have been limited due to the vehicle’s small size. Another negative side effect of the vehicle’s small size was the insufficient room for ammunition in the rear positioned gun crew compartment. For this reason, the ammunition was actually stored in the hull compartment next to the driver. While not specified in the sources, the loader would probably have access to the stored ammunition through a small hatch door placed in front of him. If the driver would provide assistance from his position inside the armored hull is not known, but likely. Additional rounds may have been stored in the gun crew compartment.

loader’s position
The loader’s position on the right side. The front small door was probably used for him to gain access to the ammunition stored in the front superstructure. Just behind the gun, the rear positioned travel lock, which was, in this case, lowered down, could be seen. Source: Pinterest

Due to the vehicle’s small size, no secondary weapon (such as an MG 34) was carried inside. While this would make the crew vulnerable to enemy infantry attacks, they would probably respond with their personal weapons (pistols, hand grenades, or submachine guns).

Armor protection

The original VK.302 frontal and side hull was protected by an 8 mm (or 10 mm depending on the source) thickness armor plate. The upper glacis was 7.5 mm thick, while the frontal driver armor plate was 14.5 mm (placed at 20° angle), sides 10 mm with the roof armor being 6.5 mm thick.

The extended upper gun shield was only lightly armored. The frontal armor consisted of two spaced 4 mm armor plates. While the side armor which was also spaced consisted of two 3 mm thick armored places. The idea of using space armor was that the first armor plate would absorb some energy from the incoming around which was to be deflected by the second plate. For the rear side armor that was added to the crew compartment the sources do not mention its armor thickness, but probably consisted of two 3 mm thick armored plates. The lightly armored thickness of this vehicle only provided limited protection from rifle caliber ammunition.

Crew

The Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper had a crew of three, which included the commander, the loader, and the driver. The commander, who also served as the gunner, was positioned to the left side of the rear positioned crew compartment. Next to him was the loader. The only crew member that was fully protected was the driver. He was positioned to the vehicle’s left hull side. To see where he was driving, a vision port with two slits was added on the front armor plate. To enter his position, he was provided with a large hatch door. This door had a small observation hatch with a visor slit placed on it.

.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper with the driver’s observation hatch opened
Front view of the Pz.Sfl.Ia 5cm PaK 38 auf. gp.Mun.Schlepper with the driver’s observation hatch opened. Next to it, the VK.302’s former assistant observation hatch was removed. Source: catainium.blogspot

In combat

The two built vehicles were allocated to the 19th Panzer Division in August 1943 for troop trials. After one month of use, this unit made a combat report about their performance. Unfortunately, it has not been preserved and its contents are not known and lost to history. In addition, the final fate of these two trial vehicles is also unknown. They may have been lost in combat or sent back to Germany to be scrapped, but there is no proper information.

Conclusion

The use of cheap mobile anti-tank vehicles as a concept had its merits. This is especially important for airborne troops, which could put to good use a light armored vehicle that could be transported in transport planes. The negative side is the lack of armor and, by the time they could have been fielded in larger numbers, the 5 cm main gun was already insufficient for the job. In addition by 1943, the airborne units were used mainly as standard infantry units after the disaster in Crete, with no further major parachute operations planned. So this vehicle lost its intended role by that time. The Germans concentrated on the production of the larger 7.5 cm PaK 40 which had much more effective firepower. In the end, due to a lack of information about the field use of the prototypes, their overall performance cannot be known for certain.

The Panzerselbstfahrlafette 1a 5 cm PaK 38 auf Gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper, showing the relative size of the 5 cm gun compared to the diminutive chassis. Illustration by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Total weight, battle-ready 4.5 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander/Gunner, Loader, and Driver)
Propulsion Borgward 6 M 2.3 RTBV 55 hp @ 3600 rpm
Max. Road Speed 30 km/h
Operational range 200 km
Primary Armament 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun
Elevation -10° to +20°
Hull Armor 6.5-14.5 mm
Superstructure Armor 6-8 mm
Total Built 2 Prototypes

Sources

D. Doyle (2005). German Military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No.7-1 Panzerjager
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2009) Panzer Tracts No.17 Gepanzerte Hachshub Fahrzeuge
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Ian V.Hogg (1979) German Artillery of World War Two, Grenhill.


Categories
WW2 Soviet Fast Tanks

BT-2

Soviet Union Soviet Union (1931)
Fast Tank – 620 built

In 1928, the Soviet Union dispatched a military commission with the aim of finding an adequate and advanced foreign tank design. While visiting the USA, they came across the automotive designer J. W. Christie, who presented them with his own tank design. The Soviets were impressed, leading to the acquisition of two vehicles, followed up by a license for production of that design in the Soviet Union. The vehicle which was built in the Soviet Union was known as the BT-2 and, while not perfect, it would be built in relatively large numbers and serve as the basis for future more successful developments.

The BT-2 fast tank. Source: Pinterest

Why a fast tank?

The BT-series tanks have often been associated with the theory of Deep Operations. While BT tanks eventually found their place and role within the cutting-edge doctrine, the reasons why BT tanks were adopted into service with the RKKA (The Red Army of Workers and Peasants, Russian: Raboche Krestyanskaya Krasnaya Armiya) are much more complicated.

In the mid-twenties, the Soviet leadership found themselves in isolation aggravated by deteriorating international relations. At the time, Great Britain was considered the primary enemy of the young Socialist Republic.

Troubled with rising tensions with the international community, the Soviet leadership decided to inspect the RKKA and determine its readiness for a future war. On 26 December 1926, the General Staff of the Red Army prepared the report “The Defence of the USSR”. The results were disastrous. Presenting the report to the Soviet leaders, the Chief of Staff of the RKKA, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, admitted the unpleasant fact ‘Neither the Red Army nor the country are ready for war.

The consequences were twofold: firstly, the situation forced the Soviet leadership to pay attention to defense issues and urgently start a massive reorganization of the Red Army; secondly, the Soviets and Stalin himself, who, by that time, had increased his influence significantly, got an opportunity to use the ‘war scare’ as a part of internal policy, justifying the most extreme measures.

In December 1927, Tukhachevsky sent a memorandum to Voroshilov entitled “On the radical rearmament of the RKKA”. The document stressed the fundamental technical rearmament of the army as a key aspect of a successful defense policy. Later, that notion became more precisely formulated ‘to keep up with our enemies in the strength of the mobilized army and surpass them in materiel’.

Accordingly, the cornerstone of the technical rearmament of the Ground Forces was the plan to increase the level of mechanization dramatically. Eventually, technical rearmament and mechanization of the Red Army even got its own name and became known as tankization, or ‘tankizatsiya’ in Russian.

The first three-year plan presented in January 1927 anticipated producing only 150 tanks by 1930. The next plan, part of the first five-year plan, anticipated the growth of the tank fleet fifteen times compared to 1928/29. This was quite an ambitious rate considering the state of the economy and industrial development of the USSR at the time.

The plans for future production were based mostly on projections that clearly overestimated the industrial capacity and technological potential of the country. In reality, the Soviet tank program bumped into numerous difficulties with both development and production. The RKKA had only adopted into service its first indigenously developed tank, the T-18 (MS-1), in July 1927, and started its low-rate serial production in mid-1928, with only 30 tanks being built that year.

In 1928-29, production was moving slowly, experiencing constant delays of delivery and poor quality of production. For example, on 24 September 1929, the Ordnance-Arsenal Trust reported that the Bolshevik factory (No 174) would delay production for 1-2 months and the MMZ (Motovilikhinskii zavod No 172) for 8-10 months.

Additionally, in 1929, a new system of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of the RKKA was adopted. The document made the T-18 tank obsolete and envisaged the adoption of even more sophisticated armored vehicles in increasing numbers. Knowing these circumstances, the command of the RKKA and Tukhachevsky himself had every reason to question the ability of the Soviet industry to cope with the plan on its own and within an acceptable time frame. In November 1929, the Department of Mechanization and Motorization (Управление по механизации и моторизации, UMM) of the RKKA had to admit that ‘there is no certainty that the program will be completed’.

The remedy to this situation was quite obvious — to seek technological help abroad. The decision was made, and on 30 December 1929, the commission led by the head of the Directorate of Mechanization and Motorization of the RKKA (UMM RKKA), Innokentii Khalepskii, went abroad. The plan envisaged visiting the US, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, and Germany in order to purchase technologies and armaments.

It was a juxtaposition that the Soviets were determined to find help in hostile bourgeois countries (as they were presented by official propaganda) including Great Britain, the most likely enemy state in case of war. There was another significant point regarding the connection between the Deep Battle/Deep Operations doctrine and BT tanks. Despite the fact that some elements of the future doctrine were developed by Tukhachevsky back in 1926, he was not an active supporter of mechanization until 1928-29 and saw cavalry as a main maneuver element of the army. In May 1927, presenting the new plan of military development, Tukhachevski did not even mention armored forces or tanks at all.

Although Soviet advocates of mechanization were well aware of the technological and tactical developments in other countries, including British experiments with the Experimental Mechanized Force and convertible tanks, there were no fast tanks in the system of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of RKKA of 1929.

The system, however, included convertible tankettes with a maximum speed of 60 km/h on wheels and 40 km/h on tracks, but their tactical role was confined to reconnaissance, surprise assault, or anti-tank defense in a variant armed with a 37 mm gun. Obviously, not even close to the role of fast tank, which was a crucial part of the independently acting mechanized formations and the Deep Battle doctrine in general.

Eventually, having appreciated the advantages and high potential of the new combat vehicles acquired from the US, the Soviet military command began to see Christie tanks as a unified platform capable of performing different tasks. ‘This type could be used not only as a tank but as a troop, machine gun, artillery, and ammunition transporter, etc., also as an armored car for the motorization of the cavalry… it could be used as a platform for carrying AA-guns, machine guns, and searchlights. Field artillery could also be put on Christie’s chassis, which surely addresses the problem of the motorization of artillery… Chemical forces, signal, and technical troops could also use Christie’s vehicle’ said the note on the organization of armored forces abroad issued on 20 January 1930.

We can assume that combat vehicles with characteristics similar to Christie’s tanks were not considered in the early stages of working on the novel theory of Deep Operations. The adoption of the BT-2 tanks luckily coincided with the development of the theory in the early 1930s and the capabilities of the military equipment successfully corresponded with the needs of the innovative theory of Deep Battle.

American origin

During the Great War, Christie was involved in designing tracked self-propelled artillery vehicles. When the US Army obtained a number of French FT tanks, Christie noted that the tank, and especially its suspension, was prone to malfunctioning and breakdowns during long distance marches. The solution used at the time was to use trucks as transport vehicles to avoid unnecessary wear of tank engines and running gear. While quite effective, this way had also some drawbacks, such as the necessity to have a large fleet of trucks (also prone to breakdowns), hard limits on weight and dimensions, and a relatively low speed of movement.

John Walter Christie. Source: Wiki

During this time, Christie came up with a new concept for a convertible armored vehicle. He simply devised a plan of using a track suspension system that could, if needed, be easily modified and used as a normal wheeled vehicle by simply removing the tracks. His first tank prototype to use this kind of suspension was presented to the US Army in early 1921, named ‘M1919’. While the vehicle was trialed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), a number of problems were noted. For this reason, Christie spent some time modifying and improving his design, which he again presented to the Army in 1923.

Once again, this tank was rejected due to many flaws in the design. Once more, Christie completely redesigned his suspension system. This time, he incorporated four larger road wheels, with the idler in the front and the drive sprocket at the rear. The last road wheel was connected with a chain belt to the drive sprocket, and was used to provide drive power when the track links were removed. The front road wheels were used for steering. During 1928 (thus the name ‘M1928’), Christie himself made great efforts to advertise his vehicle, especially to the US Army, but also to customers abroad. He actually managed to gain attention from Poland and from Soviet Army representatives.

The Christie M1928 tank design. Source: Pinterest

At that time, the military and political relations between the US and the Soviet Union were almost non-existent, as the US did not even recognize the USSR as a state. Thus, any possible cooperation with Christie would be difficult to achieve.

At the time, the main base of operations for the Soviets in the US was the Amtorg Trading Corporation entrenched in New York. Amtorg was founded in 1924, with the official goal of facilitating trade operations between the Soviet Union and the United States and help with import-export operations as an intermediary. Additionally, the Soviets also used Amtorg as a cover for intelligence operations. Interestingly, Amtorg was an officially registered stock company embedded into the American market and legal system, meaning the Soviets could obtain valuable intelligence without any covert operations.

Amtorg could officially request information about any company registered in the USA on the grounds that they wanted to make a deal. Moreover, it was impossible to prevent them from doing this, since by submitting official requests, they did not go beyond the legal field, being an incorporated subject of economic activity. In this regard, federal officials called Amtorg a “bridgehead of Soviet espionage” and the oldest Soviet intelligence agency in the United States. Through Amtorg, the Soviets managed to acquire a number of technologies and, later, even weapons from the USA.

With the Amtorg Corporation, the Soviets had stationed a group of undercover military officers whose task was to try to obtain more modern military equipment under the guise of purchasing equipment for civilian purposes. While American authorities from the early twenties were strictly opposed to selling any kind of weapons or military equipment abroad, and especially to the Soviet Union, by the end of the decade, this attitude changed. To this end, at the end of 1929, Amtorg officials asked for permission to buy 50 Cunningham T1E2 light tanks (this tank never actually entered production beside the prototype), but nothing came from this, mostly as the Christie design looked more promising and was available.

The Soviets were initially interested in acquiring a number of Cunningham T1E2 tanks, but in the end nothing came from this. Source: Wiki

In 1930, a Soviet delegation led by I. Khalepskiy, who was in charge of the Red Army Mechanization and Motorization Directorate (UMM), and D.F. Budniak, the Defence Industry representative, visited a number of American weapons and arms manufacturers, including Christie’s own plant. The Soviets were highly impressed with the M1928 vehicle and, after they informed the People’s Commissar for Defence, Kliment Voroshilov, it was agreed to acquire two vehicles for testing and even to obtain a production licence.

In June 1930, after long and difficult negotiations, Christie signed a contract with the US Army to deliver one tank for $55,000, along with $7,000 allocated for trials and fine-tuning of the engine. In the meantime, he was approached by Amtorg representatives with their own proposal and also managed to sign a separate contract with Poland to deliver one M1940 tank for $30,000 along with spare parts worth $3,000 and the production licence for another $90,000.

Knowing the Soviet fears and unwillingness to allow Poland to get any advantage over the USSR in tank production, Walter Christie skillfully used the situation in his favor. By the end of April 1930, an agreement was signed between Christie and Amtorg for purchasing two vehicles at a total price of $60,000 (over $933,000 in 2020 values), spare parts worth $4,000, followed by an agreement for a licence production and technical support for another $100,000.

The total sum was high enough to cover the costs resulting from breaking the previous contract with Poland. At the same time, to better familiarize with the construction and design of the M1928, about 60 Soviet engineers spent nearly a year at Christie’s company.

Although the contract had already been concluded, the actual delivery of these vehicles, on the other hand, was slowed to a halt by the US government. At that time, US government officials were unanimous that no weapons of any kind should be allowed to be exported to the Soviet Union. At the end of 1930, American authorities tried to find out what happened to the two M1928 vehicles. They were probably shocked and agitated to discover that these had already been dispatched to the Soviet Union under disguise as ‘tractors’.

The first Christie tanks in the Soviet Union

The Christie tanks finally reached the Soviet Union in early 1931. These two were of the M1940 model (based on the M1931 model), which had a more simplified frontal hull design. In order to ship them to the Soviet Union, they were disguised as tractors by removing the turrets, which had to be left behind.

Consequently, the Soviets had to design and build their own turrets. One of the two vehicles was moved to the Nakhabino Proving Ground for operational trials. The second vehicle was moved to the Ordnance-Arsenal Trust (GKB-OAT) in Moscow. The testing of the M1940s was completed by May 1931 and production orders were placed shortly thereafter. During the testing phase, the M1940 showed itself to be an unrefined design, but was nevertheless put into production. One of the reasons for this somewhat hurried attempt to start production was based on the false and incomplete information that the Poles were trying to adopt the same vehicle. While the Poles had indeed expressed interest in Christie’s tanks and experimented on improving the tank design, with what would be known as the 10TP, only a single prototype would be built by 1939. The other reasons lay within industrial and economical aspects and will be discussed further. Interestingly enough, the Soviets also obtained one M1932 tank model for further testing.

The Poles tried to develop their own tank the 10TP, based on the Christie chassis. Source: Wiki

The Name

When the M1940 was adopted for production, it received the BT-2 (Bystrokhodny tank – ‘fast tank’) designation. As claimed by S. J. Zaloga, the BT-1 designation was not used, as this name was already taken for a failed GKB-OAT (Head Design Bureau of Ordnance-Arsenal Trust) design project dating back to 1927. According to other sources, such as T. Bean and W. Fowler (Russian Tanks of World War Two), the BT-1 name was actually used for a direct copy of the Christie vehicle armed with machine gun armament. These sources claim that it was built in small numbers. J. F. Milsom (Russian BT series), on the other hand, notes that the BT-1 designation was used for the first prototype armed with twin machine guns.

Russian sources are more certain. The two prototypes purchased in America were designated as Original-1 and Original-2 (‘Оригинал-1’ and ’Оригинал-2’ in Russian). Mikhail Svirin claims that, in 1930, the head of the UMM RKKA, Innokentii Khalepskii, rejected the idea to name the new tank in accordance with the standard Soviet designation, using the letter “T” and sequential numbering, as tanks of this type were not presented in the System of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of RKKA. Thus, he proposed to designate that type of combat vehicles as “ST” or “BT”, meaning skorokhodnii tank and bystrokhodnii tank in Russian. Both names could be translated as fast moving tank or simply – fast tank.

From February 1933, all tanks armed with 37 mm gun or twin-machine gun mount were officially designated as BT-2 tanks. Interestingly, according to the same author, the BT was also unofficially known by the nicknames ‘Tri Tankista’ (three tankers) and ‘Betka’, which he translates as beetle, even though this particular word does not mean anything in Russian. It was also known by other nicknames as ‘Bete’ (phonetic pronunciation from the Russian БТ, БэТэ – BeTe) or ‘Beteshka’ (little BT) by its crews.

Production

In the late 20s and early 30s, the Soviet industry was in a state of disorder and deep systemic crysis. There were many factors affecting the military industry and the rearmament, from political and administrative to a lack of technologies and experienced personnel.

The leaders of the Soviet Union wanted ‘too much too fast’ following their policy of the war scare emerging in 1927. Making things harder, the first five year plan (1928-1932) and, accordingly, the industrialization had just begun and had not produced any significant results yet. Simply put, the Soviet industry was not ready to meet the demands of the political and military leadership of the USSR within the acceptable time frame.

The proposed schedule was pretty tight even by contemporary standards: by 20 September 1931, the UMM RKKA wanted six prototype BT tanks to be ready; by 1 January 1932, the Kharkov Locomotive Factory (KhPZ) was to finish 25 BT tanks and 25 sets of spare parts, with another 25 tanks to be ready for acceptance trials. The first 100 BT tanks were to be ready no later than 15 February 1932.

By 1 December 1932, the Red Army expected to receive 2,000 BT tanks. Totally, by the end of the reorganization, the RKKA planned to have 4,497 BT tanks. This was quite an ambitious plan for a country which had started producing the indigenously developed T-18 tanks only in 1927 and, according to the previous plan of 1927/28, wanted 1,600 MS-1 tanks, 210 maneuver tanks and 1,640 Liliput tankettes by 1933.

As it was mentioned previously, there were no ‘fast tanks’ in the System of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of RKKA, which emerged in August 1929. Thus, the concept was completely new not only to the military, but also to the industry.

In order to start large scale production as quickly as possible, the Kharkov (KhPZ) locomotive plant was chosen. This choice was not random, as the KhPZ already had enough expertise in tank and tractor production and possessed almost all the necessary equipment to build M1940 Christie-type tanks.

On the other hand, KhPZ was already involved in the development and production of the T-24 medium tank and T-12 (A-12) ‘maneuver tank’ (manevrennii tank in Russian). Notably, the T-24 project was costly and progressed at snail speed, which was unacceptable for the senior leadership of the RKKA. Probably the main reason why the foreign project was chosen was its high readiness for serial production. The leaders of the UMM believed that putting Christie’s tank into production would be much faster, simpler and would not allow the management of the KhPZ to use deficiencies in the design as an excuse in case the factory would derail the production schedule.

Entrance to Kharkov Locomotive Factory (KhPZ) in 1940. Source: https://pastvu.com/p/359134

Needless to say, the management of the KhPZ was unhappy with the strict plans and, in fact, was wary of producing the new combat vehicle. Moreover, the director of the plant, Bondarenko, tried to stigmatize the tank by naming it ‘wrecking’. According to Gustav Bokis, at the time deputy chief of the UMM, “It took much effort, pushing and direct orders, up to the Government level, to force the KhPZ to build BT tanks and to make necessary amendments to the design in the course of manufacturing.”

To some degree, the concerns of the factory’s leadership were understandable. KhPZ was never designed for the mass production of tanks on such a large scale. The factory needed to expand, thus it needed new production facilities, workshops, raw materials, machine tools, and equipment which required resources and more importantly – time. Some machinery crucial for the production was not even available in the USSR and had to be ordered abroad from Germany, Switzerland, and the USA.

The BT tank project at KhPZ was entrusted to the special design bureau led by military engineer of the 2nd rank Nikolai Mikhailovich Toskin, beginning its involvement in the BT’s development on 25 May 1931. On 20 September 1931, KhPZ received the No. 70900311 order. According to the order, by 20 September 1931, the factory had to build six prototypes. Of them, only three tanks were ready by the deadline. The prototypes were to participate in the military parade in Moscow in November 1931, but only two of them actually made it. The third tank caught fire originating from the engine compartment before even entering the Red Square. According to Zaloga, these prototypes lacked any kind of weapons and were built using mild-steel plates.

Nikolai Mikhailovich Toskin. Source: KhKBM, 2007

The production moved slowly despite all the efforts being made. In addition to the issues mentioned before, the Izhorsky factory bumped into a series of problems producing armor plates for the hulls and turrets. By the end of the year, it had produced only three sets of armored hulls and turrets from a planned 50. Another source gave different numbers – the initial series of 13 hulls and 66 turrets were to be built using mild steel. Following all the unfortunate events, on 6 December 1933, Toskin was recalled back to Moscow and another engineer, Afanasii Firsov, took over the project.

Afanasii Osipovich Firsov, a talented Russian/Soviet engineer-mechanic. He studied at the Railway school in Russia, then continued his education at the Highest Technical School in Mittweida, Germany, and then at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. In 1930, he took a job at a “Russian Diesel” plant in Leningrad, where he was accused of being a wrecker (Wrecking or vreditel’stvo in Russian, which was a separate crime in the criminal code of law in the Stalin era. Unlike sabotage or diversions, wrecking meant deliberate acts of undermining or hampering the normal functioning of the State and its institutions. In practice, the definition was pretty vague, anyone could be accused of being a wrecker for any reason) and was arrested, eventually being sentenced to 5 years in a prison camp. On 18 September 1931, the Soviets decided that they needed a specialist with his knowledge and expertise and transferred him to Kharkov, where Firsov was assigned to the BT tank project. He was arrested again and executed in 1937. Source: Wiki

On 23 May 1931, the BT-2 was adopted into service with the RKKA and serial production began in the same year. The production plans for 1932 were overly optimistic, with an estimated production number of 900 vehicles. This number would be reduced to 482 vehicles, as it became obvious that the previous number would be impossible to achieve with the existing production capabilities.

On 3 October 1932, the chief of the Directorate of Military and Naval Inspection, Nikolai Kuibyshev, reported to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union, that on 1 September 1932, out of the 900 tanks envisioned with the initial plan and 482 according to the corrected plan, only 76 tanks were ready. Of these 76 tanks, 55 were manufactured in August. The reduced plan for September was also derailed with only 40 tanks out of 120 completed.

Kuibyshev believed it was a clear indication that the factory intentionally lowered the standards of quality control in order to commission as many tanks as possible so they could take part in the autumn maneuvers. He also stressed that the quality of the produced tanks was low. All the BTs went to the army units as training vehicles.

According to the available reports from the military maneuvers of the Belorussian Military District, on the first day of the maneuvers, half of the vehicles were out of order. After the fourth exercise (250-300 km long march), out of 28 tanks, only 7 remained operational. In 1932, some 35 BT-2 were given to the 5th Tank Battalion for testing, but 27 required extensive repairs at the end of the year. The overall attempts to increase the speed of production greatly affected the mechanical reliability of these vehicles and the quality of spare parts and components, such as tracks, engines, transmissions, gearboxes, and others.

By the end of 1933, some 620 were built with 3 being built in 1931, 393 in 1932, and the remaining 224 in 1933. D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-SSSR) mentions that 610 were built, but this does not correspond with the numbers in archive documents.

A report on all tanks received from industrial plants for the period from 1931 to March 1, 1940. See row No. 7, BT-2 tanks. Source: RGVA, F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1083

Design

The Hull and Superstructure

The BT-2 tank had a standard hull configuration, with a front crew compartment and a rear positioned engine, separated by a firewall with doors. The M-5 Liberty engine, an oil tank, radiators, and a battery were mounted in the engine compartment.

The hull had a simple box shape design with the front part having a wedge shape. While the original Christie vehicle was built using welded armor, the BT-2 was actually assembled using armored plates which were connected with rivets for ease of construction.

A front view of the BT-2. It had a simple box-shaped hull design with a pyramidal-shaped front where the driver was located. Source: wiki.wargaming.net

Suspension and Running Gear

Probably the main distinctive feature of the design was the ability to move on wheels or on tracks, which, in fact, predetermined many technical solutions of the future BT-series tanks.

The BT-2 used the Christie suspension system which consisted of four large road wheels on each side, one front idler, and rear positioned drive sprocket. Each road wheel was suspended with helical springs. The springs on the steering wheels were positioned horizontally and were installed inside the combat compartment. The rest of the springs were positioned vertically inside pipes and installed between the outer armor plate of the hull and the unarmored inner wall. The suspension allowed a road wheel vertical travel of up to 287 mm.

Illustration of the BT-2’s Christie suspension system, which used large helical springs. Source: Shmelev Igor. The History of a Tank (1919-1996) An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

While this suspension offered much better drive performance than previous ones, it had a huge disadvantage. It required a lot of space inside the hull. For this reason, the hull interior was cramped. Another huge issue was the maintenance and replacing of damaged or worn-out parts of the suspension.

Maintenance was, in fact, the most exhausting and time-consuming part of the crew routine, as BT-2 tanks required all the bearings of the roadwheel arms to be lubricated every 10 hours, and all bearings had to be lubricated every 30 hours of travel.

The design of the road wheels was changed during the BT-2’s service life. Originally, the front wheel had 12 small holes in it, while the remaining wheels had 6 spokes each. All four road wheels had rubber rims. The diameter of these wheels was 815 mm, while the width was around 200 mm. In later years, some vehicles were equipped with solid road wheels taken directly from the improved BT-5 vehicles. These wheels were slightly larger – 830 mm.

A BT-2 with the original large road wheel design. The road wheels with 12 holes (front) and cast spoked wheels are clearly visible. Source: windhund.fandom.com
A number of vehicles were equipped with solid press-formed road wheels also used with BT-5 and BT-7. These road wheels were a bit larger, at 830 mm versus the original’s 815 mm. This particular vehicle was captured by the Finns at Portinhoikka at the end of August 1941. Source: Sa-Kuva

The BT-2 could be driven using only the wheels by removing the tracks. In this case, the drive was provided to the rearmost road wheel, while the first set of road wheels was used for steering (similar to ordinary cars). The driver would use a standard clutch and brake system when driving with tracks, and a steering wheel when driving with the wheels. Once the tracks were mounted again, the steering wheel was stored inside the vehicle. Moving on wheels, the BT-2 could achieve much greater speeds on good roads. Another benefit of using the road wheels was lower fuel consumption.

A disadvantage of this system was the time needed (some 30 minutes) to remove or put back the tracks. The procedure was pretty laborious and challenging even for 3-men crews, not to say for two men. The weight of each track was about 345 kg. The crew had to remove the tracks, disassemble them into four parts and fasten them to the track shelves with belts. The problem was so acute that, in May 1932, UMM RKKA ordered to ‘Mechanize the removal and putting back of the tracks, as the time of 30-45 minutes required for removal and 15-30 minutes for putting back the track is extremely long.’ After changing from tracks to wheels, the crew had to adjust all the springs to align the vehicle and get the road clearance even at 350 mm.

The wheel configuration could only effectively be used on good roads, which were rare and far apart in the USSR during this period. Driving with them off-road was generally a bad idea. However, the wheeled set-up was in no way meant to be used anywhere near the front lines. When approaching the enemy, the tanks would change to tracked configuration before proceeding. Once removed, the tracks were usually placed atop the track guards.

Sometimes the BT-2 crews would use shortened tracks. This technique was pretty common and, in this particular case, turned a tracked BT-2 into a half-track. Source: Francis Pulham private collection
A front view of the BT-2-IS variant without its tracks. The steering front wheels are evident here. The same mechanism was present on the regular BT-2s. Source: wiki.wargaming.net

The tracks used were of the Christie type, which were 255 mm wide with 46 links (23 of them flat and 23 with grousers). As this track was produced in the Soviet Union, its quality was poor and was frequently prone to malfunctioning.

The Engine

The BT-2 tanks were powered by a 400 hp (294 kW) Liberty L-12 engine and its reverse-engineered Soviet copies produced under the name M-5. In its essence, it was a 12-cylinder V-shaped liquid-cooled carburetor aviation engine. With a full weight of 11 tonnes (the precise tonnage differs between the sources), the BT-2 had a power-to-weight ratio of 33.2 hp per tonne. Normally, the engine worked at 1,650 rpm. The engine could be started with two 1.3 hp ‘Mach’ (Russian “МАЧ”) starters or one 2 hp Scintilla electrical starter. There was also the possibility to start the engine with a hand-crank.

The BT-2 tanks were powered by an M-5 engine, which was a direct Soviet copy of the American Liberty L-12. Source: Wiki

According to official specifications, the serial BT-2 could reach a maximum speed of 70-72 km/h on a dry paved road (some sources even mention an astonishing 110 km/h, which sounds like an exaggeration). The maximum and average speeds in different road conditions are given in the table below:

Road conditions/Speed km/h On Tracks On Wheels
Dry paved road Maximum 50 70
Average 25-35 35-40
Unpaved back road Maximum 50 70
Average n/a n/a

Source: RGVA F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1141

When using tracks, the speed was a reduced, but still a respectable 50-52 km/h. Depending on the drive type (tracks or wheels), the operational range with a full fuel load of 360 liters ranged from 120 to 200 km. Older sources, such as J. F. Milsom (Russian BT series), give a range of 300 km, although this is doubtful. The gearbox had four forward and one reserve gears. The crew had to come out to switch from wheels to tracks or back. About 30 minutes was required to fulfill this operation.

Operational range of the BT-2 tank. On tracks – 120-160 km, on wheels – up to 200. Source: RGVA 31811, F 2, O 1141

On top of the engine compartment, a hatch door with a large air filter was placed. Originally, the BT-2 tanks were not provided with a protective mesh fence that protected the air intakes, but in later years, some vehicles were equipped with it. In addition, the large external mufflers would also be replaced with simpler twin exhaust pipes.

Capricious carburetor engines were prone to overheating, malfunctions, and even caused fires. While the Liberty L-12 and its M-5 copy were somewhat problematic, the main reasons for accidents were inexperienced crews and technical services, poor manufacturing quality, and even fire safety violations. Some Russian sources mention numerous accidents caused by the crews smoking near the fire-prone engines or while refueling.

On the other hand, the Head of the UMM RKKA, Khalepsky, in his report to Voroshilov on 29 April 1934, mentioned “…all BT tanks have Liberty-type aircraft engines purchased in America and partially M-5 engines transferred from aviation to industry for installation on BT tanks… Practical experience has established that these engines can operate in tanks 400-450 hours before overhaul…”. The number is quite remarkable on its own. Besides the fact that some BT-2 tanks survived to 1944 in the harsh conditions of the Northwestern Front, indicates that the engine itself was reliable enough when handled carefully, even taking into account that the Northwestern Front was quite static until 1944 and BT tanks were constrained to guard duties.

The Armor Protection

The BT-2 tank was relatively lightly armored. Initially, the UMM RKKA wanted the BT tank to have not less than 20 mm frontal armor, 13 mm side armor, and 6 mm armor for the roof and bottom.

Early production models were made of mark D armor plates and had armor thickness ranging from 6 mm to a 13 mm maximum. The hull’s frontal armor was 13 mm thick, sides 10 to 13 mm, while the rear was 13 mm. The top hull was 10 mm and the bottom was protected with 6 mm armor. The turret was protected by 13 mm all-around armor, while the roof was protected by 6 mm of armor.

BT-2 tanks of the later production batches had 13 mm thick front, side, and rear armor. The roof armor thickness was slightly increased from 6 mm to 10 mm. The turret was protected by 13 mm armor all around. After the Izhorsky plant started manufacturing the new type of armor named PI (Russian “ПИ”) in September 1932, the maximum thickness of the hull and turret increased to 15 mm.

The small frontal driver plate was positioned mostly at a 90° angle, with the rest of the front having a pyramidal shape placed at a 31° angle. Notably, the BT-2 tanks had no vision slits protected with ‘Triplex’ glass nor pistol ports protected with armored shutters.

The fragment of the document indicates the number of vision slits protected with triplex glass (none) and pistol ports with armored shutters (none). Source: RGVA 31811, F 2, O 1141

The Turret

The two Christie’s tanks purchased in America had no turrets at all. As the Soviet leadership wanted a tank armed with a gun, it was necessary to design a new turret from scratch.

According to Zaloga, the Soviets appointed engineer Anatoliy Kolesnikov to design a turret. Kolesnikov indeed worked at the KhPZ Design Bureau under the leadership of Afanasy Firsov. However, Kolesnikov finished his education at the Leningrad Tank Academy and joined the Design Bureau at KhPZ in 1931. Given the tight schedule (three prototypes should have been ready by 15 September 1931), it seems doubtful that the leadership could have entrusted the design of the turret to the young designer and without any supervision. It was most likely a team effort and Kolesnikov was part of the design group.

Anatoly Vasilyevich Kolesnikov, Russian engineer, and tank designer. He took part in numerous projects including BT-2, BT-5, BT-7, T-24, A-20, A-32, T-32, T-34 and T-44. Source: Wiki

Due to the importance of faster project implementation, the Soviet engineers chose to design a simple cylindrical turret. The armor plates were held in place with rivets. The top of this turret consisted of a flat rear part, where a square-shaped hatch door was placed. Additionally, there was a small hatch for flag signaling to the left of the hatch. The frontal half of the turret top was angled downward.

The early turret designs did not have the two additional square-shaped protective covers over the gun mantlet, which were added later for better protection. During production, the turret was also provided with small vision slits. Some turrets had pistol ports closed with armored plugs.

On the left is the early turret used on the BT-2. After the army requested a machine gun, a ball mount was added to it. The last picture presents the twin machine gun configuration that was used to equip tanks that lacked the 37 mm gun. Source: Бронеколлекция №1 1996. Легкие танки БТ-2 и БТ-5
Close view of a German captured BT-2 turret without its weapon. Also, note the open turret hatch door. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The Armament

Initially, the BT-2 tanks were to be armed with a 37 mm PS-2 gun developed by Petr Syachentov and a coaxial machine gun. This gun was actually a Soviet attempt to improve the performance of the French Hotchkiss 37 mm gun. This plan was discarded once the Soviets decided to adopt a copy of the German Rheinmetall 37 mm anti-tank gun instead, as it was a more modern design.

The Soviet-built K-1, which was a direct copy of the German 37 mm anti-tank gun, in some numbers before deciding to adopt the larger 45 mm anti-tank guns. Source: www.imfdb.org
37 mm AT-gun mod. 1930 (Rheinmetall). Source: TsAMO F.81, O. 12040, D. 372, Alex Tarasov’s collection

Based on the German gun, the Soviets developed a tank version named the 37 mm B-3 tank gun (factory designation 5K – K stands for the Kalinin plant where this gun was developed). In the summer of 1931, it was decided to adopt a mount with the 37 mm B-3 tank gun and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun as standard armament for the BT-2 tanks.

There are different interpretations of the decision:

According to Russian sources, GAU RKKA (Main Artillery Directorate) failed to design the prototype of the mount and, therefore, canceled its serial production. As a result, in the first quarter of 1932, the Izorsky plant had to alter the blueprints of the turret to accommodate two separate mounts (one for the 37 mm gun and the second for the machine gun) and then change the whole first batch of 60 already produced turrets.

After that, the Mariupol factory and Izhorsky plant produced the second batch of tank turrets, now redesigned for separate mounts. Each factory produced 120 turrets, 240 in total.

It was planned to switch to a new mount with a 45 mm 20K gun and coaxial DT machine gun, starting with the 301st tank. However, extensive testing revealed that the small size of the serial turret simply did not allow to do that. Instead, the Soviet engineers designed a new bigger unified turret which was subsequently used on T-26 and BT-5 tanks and on some armored cars, like the BA-3 and BA-6.

According to Zaloga, the initial batch of 60 turrets was designed for the canceled PS-2 Syachentov’s gun. As the B-3 gun was bigger, it was quickly realized that the turret’s design did not allow it to accommodate both the new gun and a coaxial machine gun. The Red Army’s command did not agree with the idea to omit the machine gun, thus the Izhorsky factory had to find another solution. Eventually, the first 60 turrets were altered to accommodate two separate mounts – the B-3 in a gun mount and DT machine gun in a ball mount to the right of the gun. To add more confusion, there are also different opinions on the adoption of twin-machine gun mounts as the main armament for BT-2 tanks.

According to the version given by Russian authors M. Pavlov, I. Pavlov, and I. Zheltov, Factory No. 8 was able to deliver only 190 B-3 guns to the KhPZ factory (Kharkov Locomotive Factory). As there were not enough tank guns, in May 1932, the Soviet leadership decided to arm the remaining BT-2 tanks with two 7.62 mm DT machine guns in twin-machine gun mounts named DA-2. The DA-2 was tested and adopted into service in the fourth quarter of 1933. Curiously enough, the DA-2 mounts were installed by the army repair services.

In turn, S. Zaloga sticks to the version that the Kalinin factory No.8 (which was the main production center of this gun) received orders to stop the production of the B-3 guns in 1931 due to the decision to switch production to the new 45 mm gun. At that time, only 352 B-3 guns were actually built.

Eventually, the solution to modify the BT-2 turret to be able to house the new 45 mm gun failed. Despite much testing and modification of the turret by adding a rear bustle, this was not possible, mostly due to the turret’s small size. Another suggestion was to reuse any available PS-1 guns, which were initially used to arm the obsolete T-18 tanks. This proposal was also rejected due to the PS-1’s poor armor-piercing performance.

As there were only enough B-3 guns to equip slightly more than half of the BT-2s, the remaining vehicles had to be left without any main armament, at least until another solution could be found. Despite lacking its weapons, some of these BT-2 were still used on military parades. As a result of all the given circumstances, BT-2 tanks had four different sets of armament:

1. Only a 37 mm gun
2. A 37 mm gun and a 7.62 mm DT machine gun in a ball mount
3. Two 7.62 mm DT machine guns in a twin-mount plus another 7.62 mm machine gun in a ball mount
4. Two 7.62 mm DT machine guns in a twin-mount and the third machine gun removed

The latter variant appeared for two reasons. Firstly, at some point, it became apparent that the commander was not able to operate two machine gun mounts efficiently at once, and secondly, the third machine gun took too much space in the already cramped turret. Therefore, a certain part (the precise number is currently unknown) of the BT-2 tanks armed with twin machine gun mounts had the ball mount removed, with an armored shutter being placed instead.

Armament Quantity of tanks
37 mm gun 65
37 mm gun + 1 x MG in a ball mount 115
Twin MG + 1 x MG in a ball mount 440
Twin MG mount unknown

Source: Soljankin, A.G., Pavlov, M.V., Pavlov, I.V., Zheltov, I.T. Tom 1. Otechestvennye bronirovannye mashiny. 1905–1941 gg. [Domestic Armoured Vehicles, vol. 1, 1905–1941.] M.: OOO Izdatel’skij centr ‘Eksprint’, 2005, Page 77.

 

This is how the armored shutter possibly looked like. Surviving BT-2 tank turret, now exhibited at the “Breakthrough of the Siege of Leningrad” Museum-Reserve at Kirovsk near St. Petersburg. Source: http://www.photo.aroundspb.ru/events/bt2/
A rare sight, the bottom of the surviving BT-2 turret. Note the details of the turret ring and the turret turning mechanism. Source: http://www.photo.aroundspb.ru/events/bt2/

However, a document dated 29 June 1939 indicated two variants of standard armament for BT-2 tanks — a 37 mm gun and one DT machine gun or three machine guns.

A BT-2 with a twin machine gun mount and possibly an armored shutter. It is also possible that the machine gun is temporarily removed from the ball mount. Source: Pavlov, M.V., Pavlov, I.V., Zheltov, I.T. BT Tanks , M. Eksprint, 2001 – 184 p. War Museum series
A BT-2 armed with three machine guns, two in a twin mount and the third in the ball mount to the right. Source: Pavlov, M.V., Pavlov, I.V., Zheltov, I.T. BT Tanks , M. Eksprint, 2001 – 184 p. War Museum series

The standard armor-piercing round for the B-3 37 mm tank gun had a weight of 0.66 kg and a muzzle velocity of 820 m/s. It could, at a range of some 500 m, penetrate 28 mm armor (at a 30° angle). The BT-2 was also provided with 0.645 kg high-explosive rounds.

PS-2 gun B-3 tank gun 45 mm tank gun
Full designation 37 mm gun PS-2 mod. 1930

(Russian – 37-мм пушка ПС-2 образца 1930 года)

37 mm gun B-3 mod. 1930

(Russian – 37-мм танковая пушка образца 1930 года Б-3)

45 mm tank gun mod. 1932/38

(Russian – 45-мм танковая пушка образца 1932/38 годов)

Origin Petr Syachentov Rheinmetall Factory No 8
Factory designation n/a * 5K 20K
Caliber, mm 37 37 45
Barrel length Unknown L45 L46
Rate of fire, rpm Unknown 10-15 12
Initial velocity, m/s Unknown 820 AP (Shirokorad)
825 HE (Shirokorad)
760 AP (RGVA)

335 HE (RGVA)

Weight, kg Unknown 150 313
Armor-piercing round B-160 BR-240
Weight, kg Unknown 0,66 1,425
Armor penetration at

300 m at 0 degrees

500 m at 0 degrees

500 m at 30 degrees

Unknown  

30 mm (Shirokorad)

35 mm
(Zaloga)

28 mm
(Zaloga)

 

 

 

38 mm

31 mm

HE round O-160 O-240
Weight, kg 0,645 2,15 (2,135 – RGVA)

* Was not approved for serial production.

Sources: S. J. Zaloga (2016) BT Fast Tank; RGVA F. 34014, O.2, D. 858; http://battlefield.ru/b3-1930.html ; А.Широкорад “Энциклопедия отечественной артиллерии”, 2000;

 

37 mm tank gun model 1930. Source: TsAMO, Alex Tarasov’s collection

The ammunition load for the main gun was 92 rounds stored in ammunition bins located in the hull. The elevation of the gun ranged from -5° to +21° (some sources mention -4° to +40°, but this seems unlikely).

The elevation and depression of the B-3 gun in the BT-2 turret. Source: RGVA 31811, F 2, O 1141

The secondary armament consisted of a 7.62 mm machine gun with 2,709 rounds of ammunition. BT-2 tanks armed with twin-machine guns had 5,166 ammo rounds. The machine gun ammo was stored in drums, with 63 rounds in a drum. BT-2 gun-armed tanks had 43 drums onboard and machine gun BT-2 tanks had 82 drums.

DA-2 twin machine gun mount with a mantlet sitting on its side. Source: M. Pavlov, I. Pavlov, M. Zheltov. BT Tanks. Source: (Павлов М. В., Желтов И. Г., Павлов И. В. Танки БТ. — М.: ООО «Издательский центр «Экспринт», 2001. — 184 с )

 

A close view of the BT-2’s 37 mm B-3 gun. This particular vehicle is lacking the ball-mounted machine gun. Source: Wiki
Unarmed BT-2 tanks during a military parade held in Leningrad in 1935. S. J. Zaloga (2016) BT Fast Tank.
A BT-2 armed with the DA-2 twin machine gun mount. The machine guns are missing on this vehicle, probably taken off by its crew before it was abandoned. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/ussr/tanks-2/bt-2-bt-5-bt-7-tank/

The Crew

The original Christie tank design included only two crew members, with one placed in the hull and the second in the turret. In Soviet service, the BT-2 employed both one and two-man turret configurations. As previously noted, due to shortages of proper guns, some vehicles had to be rearmed with twin-machine gun mounts. These vehicles had only two crew members, the driver and the overburdened commander, who had to also act as a gunner and loader in addition to his primary role.

The standard gun-armed vehicles had three crew members. The driver, the commander who was also the gunner, and the loader, who was also responsible for operating the turret machine gun. In this case, the third crew member had to be added as the commander would simply be too overburdened otherwise.

The driver’s position was in the front hull of the vehicle. To access his position, he had two rectangular hatches. The upper hatch had a small vision slit in it. The loader and commander (or only the commander in the machine gun variant) were placed in the turret. The commander was positioned on the left side of the turret, while the loader was behind him, to the right. On the turret top’s rear, they only had one small hatch.

As the BT-2 was not provided with radio equipment, the commander had, for communication between different vehicles, to use either a signal flag or a pistol flare. For internal communication, the crew members used light signals.

A front view of this abandoned vehicle clearly shows the driver’s hatch doors. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/ussr/tanks-2/bt-2-bt-5-bt-7-tank/
A schematic drawing of the BT-2 driver’s position. 1 — control panel, 2 – control levers for side clutches, 3 – steering wheel (in the folded position), 4 – pedal of the main clutch, 5 – brake pedal, 6 – accelerator pedal, 7 – coulisse mechanism lever (gate change gear lever?), 8 – frontal wheel springs, 9 – brackets for installation driver’s seat. Source: https://tech.wikireading.ru/7126

In combat

The BT-2 is often assumed to have been an unreliable vehicle during its use by the Soviet Army, but this is not entirely correct. The primary factors which caused frequent malfunctions and mechanical breakdowns were poor manufacturing quality, inexperienced personnel, and insufficient technical service. Thus, the problem could be considered typical for any Soviet material at the time. While some attempts were made to improve its performance, during the following years in service, it was replaced by the newer and improved BT-5 and BT-7 vehicles.

One of the first combat actions of the BT-2 was during the Soviet invasion of Poland, which started on 16 September 1939. As stated by Zaloga, of 1,764 BT tanks deployed in the campaign, 1,617 were newer BT-7 tanks and the remaining 147 were obsolete BT-2 and BT-5 tanks.

As Poland’s main defense focus was facing the Germans, there were only minor engagements involving Soviet armor. The losses were incurred mostly due to mechanical breakdowns.

A BT-2 during brief Soviet Invasion of Poland in 1939 Source: Francis Pulham private collection

Some were also used during the wars between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1940 and 1941. A large number of BT series tanks were used by the Soviets near Lake Ladoga. Due to nonexistent roads and poor terrain conditions, the BTs (and all other armored vehicles, for that matter) had limited mobility. The BT vehicles were more affected as, due to poor road conditions, they could not use their great speed and maneuverability as an advantage.

Another problem was a lack of spare parts which forced the Soviets to use them as static defense bunkers. Finnish soldiers managed to capture a number of BT-2s. These were not employed by their new Finnish owners. In 1943, there were some 15 BT-2s available in Finnish stocks. From 1944 onwards, some turrets were used as static defense emplacements. A few BT-2 turrets were even modified to be armed with the Finish 37 Psv.K/36 anti-tank gun.

An abandoned BT-2 vehicle during fighting in Finland in late August 1941. While difficult to see, this vehicle, for an unknown reason, had its turret machine gun ball mount removed and replaced with an armor plate. Source: SA-kuva
The surviving Finish modified BT-2 turret equipped with the 37 mm anti-tank gun. Source: https://www.finna.fi/Record/museovirasto.FF98EBF1647470782FCBD4C324A82A31

According to Zaloga, by the time of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, there were some 323 BT-2s in service within the Mechanized Corps. Russian archive sources suggest other numbers – 515 BT-2 tanks in May 1940, distributed to various units

The fragment of the document says ‘To use BT-2 tanks in the amount of 515 pieces as training vehicles until complete wear’. Source: Sistema vooruzhenij 1940 – Postanovlenija Glavnogo voennogo soveta RKKA o sistemah vooruzhenija RKKA [The system of armaments 1940 – Resolutions of the Main Military Council of the Red Army on systems of armaments of the Red Army]. RGVA, F. 4, O. 14, D. 2631, LL. 138–45. The document is dated 27 May 1940
During 1940 and 1941, Soviet tank formations were used mainly in infantry supporting roles. During the German invasion of the East, the BT-2, like other Soviet armored vehicles, were pressed into combat, where they were outmatched by their more tactically and technically superior German counterparts. While having good speed, the BT-2 tanks were plagued with mechanical unreliability, caused by general wear, poor mechanical maintenance, and lack of spare parts. By the end of 1941, the surviving BT-2 vehicles were mostly removed from the front line. However, some of the BT-2 tanks were actively used until mid-1942 and probably even until 1943.

It is worth noting that obsolete but still operational tanks, such as the BT vehicles, were often allocated to quieter sectors to perform guard or logistical duties or to the training units in the rear. Thus some of them survived even until 1943-44. Some turrets were used as static defense bunker emplacements

This document is an example of BT-2 tanks in service with the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. On 20th May 1942, the 71st Separate Tank Brigade still had eight BT-2s, two T-26 tanks, and one T-38 light tank. According to the report, all tanks were in serviceable condition and ready for action. Source: TsAMO, F. 229, O. 0000157, D. 0014, P 718
A group of five BT-2 tanks that were captured by the Germans during June or July 1941 at an unknown location. These particular BT-2 tanks are believed to be in process of decommissioning out of service and were to be either scrapped or converted as armored firing points. Source: https://imgur.com/a/H9BE8Ef Francis Pulham Private collection Source: Francis Pulham Private collection

The modifications of the BT-2

The Soviets tested a number of modifications based on the BT-2 chassis. These included an artillery support vehicle, a flamethrowing version, an engineer support variant, an amphibious tank, and various minor modifications.

The BT-3, BT-4, and BT-6 projects

From December 1931 to September 1932, the KhPZ Design Bureau led by Firsov developed the BT-3 tank. This was simply a serial BT-2 with all the measurements of the threads recalculated from inches to centimeters. In the RKKA, this modification retained its old designation, BT-2.

The BT-4 was developed in July 1932 by the same design team at KhPZ. The main difference of the project from the BT-2 and BT-3 tanks was the use of a welded hull instead of a riveted one. The BT-4 also got side towing hooks and a mechanism that allowed the driver to open and close engine louvers from his seat. Additionally, the engineers changed the design of the hull and running gear, allowing easy access to the side springs. In the autumn of 1932, three prototypes were built, but as opposed to the planned welded hull, they had a combined riveted-welded construction.

The BT-6 was another experimental model developed in 1932. It was mainly based on the BT-4 prototypes, but its turret and armament were taken from the BT-5. Other improvements included restoring the BT-2-like towing hooks and a different design of the driver’s hatch, which now had a lock and ensured protection from splinters. The BT-6 also had redesigned rear armor and the protection of the reduction gear. Work on the BT-6 was discontinued in late 1932.

All these experimental works were discontinued in 1932-33 due to the introduction of the improved version of the fast tank – the BT-5.

BT-6 tank without its main armament. Source: https://henk.fox3000.com/BT.htm

Artillery support tank project (D-38)

Following the introduction of the BT-2, several different projects were initiated with the aim of increasing its firepower. In 1931-33, a few design bureaus proposed designs with new armament and turret designs for the BT-2. These included the tank department of the KhPZ, NATI, the design bureau of the UMM RKKA led by Dyrenkov, the design bureau of the “Krasny Proletary” factory, and the design bureau of the “Krasny Putilovets” factory. Numerous variants of armament, including 37 mm, 45 mm, 76.2 mm Syachentov’s gun, and 76.2 mm Garford ‘anti-storm’ gun were suggested.

In 1931, Dyrenkov’s bureau proposed a variant armed with a 37 mm gun in a rotating turret and a 76.2 mm gun in the hull. The same idea was being utilized in the design of the French B1 tank. This design was rejected due to the insufficient space in the fighting compartment and the poor design of the transmission. As this was just a design proposal, no mock-ups or prototypes of this vehicle were built.

After the first design was rejected, Dyrenkov developed another one, which was more successful and subsequently was named D-38. In January 1932, the first prototype was built. This D-38 project had two variants of the turret. The first was welded, made of flat armor plates, whilst the second variant was cupola-shaped and made of pressed steel. Initially, Dyrenkov wanted to install two guns, a 76.2 mm ‘anti-storm’ Garford gun and a 37 mm tank gun, but then dropped that idea and used a PS-3 76.2 mm gun. Ultimately, the project was rejected and only one prototype was built.

A front view of the D-38 prototype vehicle with the welded turret. Source: unknown

Flamethrowing BT-2 (KhBT-2)

At least one BT-2 was tested with a flamethrowing system. The vehicle, known as KhBT-2 (Kh-Khimicheskiy means chemical), but also as KhBT-II and BKhM-2, had its main gun replaced with a KS-23 flamethrower. Possibly (but it is not clear in the sources) only one was built. At least one vehicle was also tested with smoke emitting equipment, but no production order was given. This flamethrowing idea was also trialed on the BT-5 and BT-7.

The BT-DT smoke creating tank prototype. Source: J. F. Milsom, Russian BT series, Profile Publication.

Amphibious tank project (PT-1)

During 1931-33, Soviet Army officials were interested in the idea of adapting the BT-2 tank as an amphibious vehicle and the industry responded. The first prototype, the PT-1 amphibious tank, was developed in 1931-32 at the technical department of the EKU OGPU (The Economic Directorate of the OGPU) and built at the ‘Krasny Proletary’ (Red Proletarian) factory. In Autumn 1932, the PT-1 was demonstrated to the Soviet leadership and Stalin himself, who approved the design, albeit admitted that it was quite unusual.

The second prototype, PT-1A (actually there were two of them, but the second prototype was never finished) was built and tested in 1934 at Kirov’s factory (No 185) in Leningrad. The PT tanks proved themselves surprisingly good. According to Russian sources, there existed plans to continue the development of the PT-1 in two directions — amphibious and non-amphibious tanks. Moreover, in 1933, there existed a plan to alter the system of armaments and replace older BT tanks with PT-1 tanks.

The project ended in 1935 when the USSR Council for Labor and Defence (STO – Sovet Truda i Oborony) decided to leave BT tanks in serial production.

The PT-1 amphibious tank prototype. Note the machine gun ball mounts in the turret and frontal glacis plate – the distinctive feature of the first prototype. The second prototype, PT-1A, had only one machine gun at the back of the turret. Source: Domestic Armoured Vehicles, vol. 1, 1905–1941
Front view of the PT-1 amphibious tank. Source: Domestic Armoured Vehicles, vol. 1, 1905–1941

Engineer version (SBT)

Probably the only successful adaptation of the BT-2 was the SBT (Saperniy bystrokhodnoy tank – engineering fast tank). During 1934, one BT-2 was modified by removing its turret and replacing it with an armored box-shaped casemate. Additional bridge-carrying equipment was also added to the hull.

First SBT prototype with a superstructure. Soljankin, A.G., Pavlov, M.V., Pavlov, I.V., Zheltov, I.T. Tom 1. Otechestvennye bronirovannye mashiny. 1905–1941 gg. [Domestic Armoured Vehicles, vol. 1, 1905–1941.] M.: OOO Izdatel’skij centr ‘Eksprint’, 2005, 448 s.: il.
In 1936, the project was modernized by adding a small turret, initially taken from the T-26 twin-turret version tank, which was replaced with a T-38 light tank turret. It also received improved bridge-caring equipment. According to S. J. Zaloga (BT Fast Tank), some 51 BT-2 tanks would be used in this configuration. But, according to Russian authors Solyankin, Pavlov and Zheltov, only two prototypes were ever built.

An SBT based on the BT-2 that had its turret replaced with a T-38 tank turret, second prototype. Source: Pinterest

BT-2 with underwater tank driving equipment (BT-2 PKh)

Generally, the BT-2 PKh (PKh or ПХ in Russian stands for ‘podvodnogo hozdeniya’) was not a modification of the serial BT-2 tank, but an experimental optionally mounted equipment which allowed for deep fording.

The BT-2 PKh was developed in 1933-34 at Factory No 183. The equipment was tested in the Belorussian military district. The testbed BT tank managed to cross a 4 m deep ford. It took 1.5 hours to prepare the tank for the deep fording by the crew of three.

The fording equipment was not adopted into service with the RKKA or approved for serial production. However, it was tested and served as a basis for future experiments with other models, such as the T-26, T-28, and others.

The BT-2 PKh tank differed from the serial BT-2 due to the special devices that ensured the hermetic sealing of the hull, as well as provided the air supply and the removal of exhaust gases.

BT-2 PKh from the left side. Note the tube on the turret, which was used for air intake, as well as a way for the crew to escape in case of sinking. Source: Domestic Armoured Vehicles, vol. 1, 1905–1941

BT-2-IS early prototype

In the spring of 1934, a group of enthusiastic engineers led by Nikolai Tsiganov started working on a new tank, the BT-2-IS (IS stood for Iosif Stalin). The major goals of the project were to improve its driving performance, survivability, and cross-country capability.

The main feature of the BT-2-IS tank was its completely redesigned running gear. The first pair of wheels remained steered, but the pairs from second to fourth became driving wheels. As a result, the turning radius was halved to 5-6 meters, and cross-country ability on wheels was increased four to five times. Only one prototype was built and tested in 1935, with generally positive results. Tsiganov continued to work on the BT-5-IS.

The BT-2-IS prototype. Source: http://icvi.at.ua/forum/763-407-1

Surviving tanks

Today, there are no complete BT-2 vehicles left. In Russia, there are at least three surviving turrets that were used as stationary bunker emplacements. One can be found in the Museum of Military Archeology Petrovsky Island at St. Petersburg. A second is at the Siege of Leningrad Museum. The third turret was placed on a BT-5 chassis and can be seen at the Kubinka Military Museum. Some 5 turrets that were used on the Finnish Salpa defense line, also surviving to this day.

One of the surviving BT-2 turrets was placed on a BT-5 chassis. Source: https://imgur.com/a/qxZtxkx http://tank-photographs.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/BT5-soviet-light-tank-ww2.html

Conclusion

The BT-2 is often criticized by historians for its poor design, mechanical unreliability, a multitude of technical deficiencies, and flawed performance on the battlefield. While the majority of these problems may seem really significant, historians frequently ignore the fact that the positive factors outweigh the negative ones.

First of all, the early BTs were an off-the-shelf weapon system ready to be quickly put into serial production. Secondly, the BT-2 became a valuable asset for the Red Army as a testbed for the new generation of Russian engineers and technicians. The experience gained while working on the BT-2 tanks was really invaluable. It gave the Soviet engineers the necessary experience in tank design, which would eventually lead to the development of far more sophisticated and successful models like the BT-5, BT-7, and T-34 series.

Moreover, having a relatively simple armored vehicle helped to train hundreds of Soviet tankers in the early 1930s. When the newer models started arriving in the Red Army in increasing numbers, there were trained instructors able to share their knowledge and experience.

Perhaps the most outstanding fact concerning the BT-2 is that an armored vehicle with such capabilities or ‘fast tank’ had not even been considered by Soviet theoreticians during the early stages of the Deep Battle doctrine evolution. Adoption of the BT-2 gave impetus to the further development of the Deep Battle. Eventually, combat units armed with fast moving tanks became striking arms of the large mechanized formations and, to some extent, could be considered as a benchmark of the novel Russian doctrine in general.

One could easily conclude that the BT-2 became one of the armored vehicles that determined the way Soviet and ultimately Russian tank-building schools developed, as well as the priceless part of the learning process for the whole army.

From its first actions in Poland in 1939 to fighting in fierce battles during the Great Patriotic War between 1941 and 1943, the BT-2 has proven itself as a versatile and effective weapon system that passed the test of time. Despite all the criticism coming from modern researchers, the BT-2 indeed has earned its place among other legendary armored combat vehicles of the Red Army.

Technical Specifications

All specifications are given for gun and machine gun versions of the BT-2 tank with a cylindrical turret (without a bustle) as of June 1939.

BT-2 specifications

Gun version Machine gun version
Dimensions (L-W-H), m 5.5 x 2.23 x 2.17
Full weight (combat ready), tons 11
Loading weight, tons, without crew, fuel, oil, water and ammunition 10.4
Road Clearance, m 0.35
Crew 3 2
Armament 1 x 37 mm gun;
1 x 7.62 mm DT machine gun in a ball mount;
2 x 7.62 mm DT machine guns in a twin-mount
1 x 7.62 mm DT machine gun in a ball mount;
Ammunition 92 AP and HE rounds, 2,709 rounds of MG ammunition in 82 drums 5,166 ammo rounds in 43 drums
Gun elevation -5° to +21°
Armor, mm Front, rear, sides, turret – 13
Roof – 10
Bottom – 6
Engine 400 hp (294 kW) 12 cylinder Liberty L-12 or M-5
Fuel capacity, liters 360 in two fuel tanks
Fuel consumption, kg / hour 30-60 depending on road conditions and type of terrain
Gearbox Christie type, 4 forward and one reverse gears
Maximum speed on tracks, km/h (road) 50
Maximum speed on wheels, km/h (road) 70

Sources

The Author of this article wants to thank the co-author Alex Tarasov, without whose help this article would have been impossible. Additional thanks to Patryk Cichy for some translation work and to Francis Pulham for allowing to use some of his BT-2 pictures.

BT-2 model 1932
BT-2 model 1932, 37 mm (1.46 in) gun only.
A BT-2 1932 model, twin machine-gun variant
A BT-2 1932 model, twin machine-gun variant.
BT-2 of the reserve force, 1940
BT-2 of the reserve force, 1940.
BT-2 in the Winter war, Karelian front in eastern Finland
Winter war, Karelian front in eastern Finland, December 1939.
A BT-2 during the battle of Moscow, winter 1941/42
A BT-2 during the battle of Moscow, winter 1941/42.

Books and Publications

  • S. J. Zaloga (2016) BT Fast Tank, Osprey Publishing.The Soviet-
  • Finnish War, 1939-1940 Getting the Doctrine Right, Monograph by Major Gregory J. Bozek (1993)
  • L. Ness (2002) World War Two Tanks, Harper Collins Publisher
  • D. V. Glantz (2005) Soviet Military Operation Art, Franck Cass.
  • M. Свирин (2008) Самоходки Сталина. История советской САУ 1919-1945, Эксмо
  • MAJ Nicholas J. Kane US Army, Tukhachevskii to Gerasimov:
  • The Evolution of the Russian Way of Warfare into the Information Age
  • J. F. Milsom, (1981) Russian BT series, Profile Publication.
  • S. J. Zaloga and J. Grandsmen (1984) The Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two.
  • Surviving BT series tanks, May 2020.
  • D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-SSSR, Beograd
  • T. Bean and W. Fowler (2002) Russian Tanks of World War Two, Ian Allan Pub
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  • G. Forty (2005/2007) The Illustrated Guide To Tanks Of The World, Annes Publishing.
  • Soljankin, A.G., Pavlov, M.V., Pavlov, I.V., Zheltov, I.G. Tom 1. Otechestvennye bronirovannye mashiny. 1905–1941 gg. [Domestic Armoured Vehicles, vol. 1, 1905–1941.] M.: OOO Izdatel’skij centr ‘Eksprint’, 200
  • Pavlov, M.V., Pavlov, I.V., Zheltov, I.T. BT Tanks , M. Eksprint, 2001 – 184 p. War Museum series.
  • Ken ON. Mobilization Planning and Political Decisions (late 1920 – mid-1930s). Sankt-Peterburg: Izd-vo Evropeiskogo universiteta v Sankt-Peterburge Publ.; 2002. 472 p. (In Russian)
  • Habeck, Mary R. Storm of Steel: The Development of Armor Doctrine in Germany and the Soviet Union, 1919–1939. Cornell University Press, 2003.
  • Hofmann G.F. A Yankee Inventor and the Military Establishment: The Christie Tank Controversy // Military Affairs. 1975, February. Vol. 39. № 1. P.
  • Mikhail Svirin, Tanks of the Stalin’s Era. Encyclopedia ‘The Golden Age of the Soviet Tank Building’, Moscow. Yauza, Eksmo, 2012, Page 108 [Russian: Танки Сталинской эпохи. Суперэнциклопедия. «Золотая эра советского танкостроения»]
  • A. Shirokorad. ‘Encyclopedia of the Domestic Artillery’, Minsk, Harvest, 2000
    Сборник – KhKBM, 2007
  • Magazine Bronekollektsiya No 1, 1996. Light tanks BT-2 and BT-5. [Russian: Бронеколлекция №1 1996. Легкие танки БТ-2 и БТ-5]
  • Igor Shmelev. The History of a Tank (1919-1996) An Illustrated Encyclopedia. [Russian: История танка. 1916-1996. Энциклопедия техники. Шмелев Игорь Павлович]

Archives

  • RGAE. F. 4372, Op. 91, D. 519, L. 67—42, 39. Signed copy.
  • RGAE. F. 2097, Op. 1, D. 1073, LL. 9—10 (with rev.). Original.
  • RGVA F. 31811, Op.1, D.1, ll. 11-12
  • RGVA, F. 31811, Op. 1, D. 7, LL. 1–2 s ob. Protokol #29, ‘O sisteme tanko-traktoro-avtobrone-vooruzhenija RKKA, 1 avgusta 1929 goda’ [Minute #29, ‘On the system of tank-tractor-auto-armoured weapons of RKKA’, 1 August 1929].
  • RGVA F 31811, O 1, D. 107, LL 5-7 [Russian: Справка об организации и применении высших механизированных соединений в армиях иностранных государств]
  • RGVA F. 31811, O. 1, D. 38, L. 236
  • RGVA F.4, O.1, d. 761, ll. 232-33, “Protokol No.16 zakrytogo zasedaniya RVS SSR”, 9 March 1928”
    GA RF. F. R-8418, Op. 6, D. 45. LL. 141—145. Original
  • RGVA F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1141
  • TsAMO F. 81, O. 12040, D. 372
  • RGVA F. 34014 O.2 D.858. Отчет по весовым данным танкового вооружения.
  • RGVA, F. 4, O. 14, D. 2631, LL. 138–45. Document is dated 27 May 1940. Sistema vooruzhenij 1940 – Postanovlenija Glavnogo voennogo soveta RKKA o sistemah vooruzhenija RKKA [The system of armaments 1940 – Resolutions of the Main Military Council of the Red Army on systems of armaments of the Red Army].
  • TsAMO, F. 229, O. 0000157, D. 0014, P 718
  • RGVA, F. 4, Op. 14, D. 628, LL. 8-16. Original. – 10 May 1932. — A Summary of the Headquarters of the Red Army based on the materials of the Directorate for Motorization and Mechanization of the Red Army on the progress of the implementation of the armored weapon system. [Russian: Заключение Штаба РККА по материалам Управления по моторизации и механизации РККА о ходе реализации бронетанковой системы вооружения]
  • RGVA, F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1083. A report on all tanks received from industrial plants for the period from 1931 to March 1, 1940

Internet Sources

Categories
WW2 Polish Other Vehicles

TKD

Poland (1932)
Light self-propelled gun – 4 rebuilt

Prior to the Second World War, the Polish Army was attempting to reinforce its Infantry and Cavalry units with a more mobile gun platform. For this reason, in 1932, a new vehicle based on the available TK-3 tankette and armed with a domestically built 4.7 cm wz.1925 gun was developed. While only a few were built, these would see extensive use during military exercises up to the start of the war.

TKD light self-propelled gun
The TKD. Source derela.pl

History

During the 1920s, a new concept of using tracked vehicles armed with infantry guns were being discussed in Polish military circles. Perhaps the biggest supporter of this concept was Major Marian Jurecki. During the 1930s, he wrote a article in military monthly magazine, Przegląd Piechoty (can be translated to ‘Infantry Review’). In it, he theorized in detail how the concept of a lightly armored self-propelled gun (up to 4 tonnes) should and could be realized and implemented.

There were a number of benefits that could be brought by such a vehicle. Of these, probably the most noticeable was the increased mobility for the infantry gun, thus being able to quickly respond to enemy activity. Major Jurecki’s work came to the attention of top Polish military officials, who approved this work and gave a green light for its implementation.

Initial projects

For this modification, a TK-3 tankette was chosen, as it was cheap and available in sufficient numbers. It was a small two-man tankette, lightly armored and armed with a single machine gun. Using it as a base for the new light self-propelled gun actually had some merits. It would increase the effectiveness of these vehicles and also reduce the overall costs and development time. It would also mean that this new vehicle would use the same parts as the TK-3, making maintenance easier. On the other hand, its small size would also limit the number of crew members and the amount of ammunition that could be carried.

During July 1931, initial work on the new vehicle included a proposal to mount a 13.2 mm Hotchkiss heavy machine gun into a TK-3 tankette. These vehicles were to form a Platoon which was to be attached to each Cavalry Regiment. Every fifth vehicle was to be supplied with armor-piercing ammunition to engage enemy armored vehicles that were to be encountered. This armament was ultimately abandoned due to the 13.2 mm gun’s insufficient armor-piercing capabilities. At a range of 200 m, it could penetrate 17 mm of armor placed at 25°.

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The 13.2 mm Hotchkiss heavy machine did see some use with the Polish Army, but was ultimately replaced by more potent anti-tank guns. Source:derela.pl

Another proposal included installing a French 37 mm Puteaux in the same tankette. This installation proved to be feasible, but this gun also lacked proper armor penetration power. While one vehicle was tested, no production orders were ever given.

3.7 cm gun armed tankette
The experimental 3.7 cm gun armed tankette. Source:derela.pl

By the end of 1931, the Wojskowy Instytut Badań Inżynierii Polish – WIBInż. (Military Institute of Engineering Research) began working on installing an experimental 4.7 cm wz.1925 ‘Pocisk’ infantry gun on a modified TK-3 chassis. This gun was developed by the Ammunition Plant ‘POCISK’ SA. The whole project was supervised by engineer J. Łapuszewski. The WIBInż. engineers implemented a number of modifications to the TK tankette in order to fit the main gun successfully. The suspension was reinforced and the track widened. The upper part of the superstructure was removed and the gun was placed in the centre of the vehicle. Following the examination of the first prototype, a production order for a small series was issued by the Polish Army.

Production

The first prototype was completed using a TK-3 tankette (serial number 1159) at the start of May 1932. By the end of that month, three additional vehicles were constructed (serial numbers 1156, 1157, and 1158). The price of each vehicle (without the gun) was 10,000 PLN. The modification project required some 3,103 man-hours to complete per vehicle.

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The production of the TKD was only limited to four experimental vehicles. Source: unknown

Name

These vehicles received the simple designation TKD. TK stands for the name of the tankette used for this modification (TK-3), while the D stands for Działko. A rough translation of this word to English would be a small caliber gun.

Pre-war operational use

Following the completion of the four TKD vehicles, there was great interest from the Polish Army for these to be tested in various roles and conditions. In June 1932, it was proposed by some from the Polish General Staff to equip each TK-3 tankette platoon with one TKD vehicle. The four TKDs which had been built were used to form an anti-tank platoon which was temporarily attached to the 2nd Cavalry Division during military exercises in the Bielsk Podlaski-Drohiczyn-Siedlce area during 19th and 20th August 1932.

The following year, the TKDs were extensively tested during the large military exercise in the Kazuń region, which lasted from 15th August to 11th September. This exercise was mainly focused on gaining valuable experience about the organization of armored and mechanized units and their operational use in the field. The TKDs were tested during these exercises in a few different roles. The TK tankettes and TKD self-propelled guns were used to test the cooperation between these two during reconnaissance operations in both mixed and in separated groups. Finally, the Army tested the idea of using them with other armored elements during an attack.

Following these exercises, the TKDs were temporarily put under the command of Armored Weapon Command. During September, the TKDs were used once again in a number of exercises. At that time, the Polish Infantry Army Branch also began showing interest in this vehicle. The commander of the 24th Infantry Division wrote a letter to the Polish General Staff, suggesting increasing the strength of the Infantry Division reconnaissance units by attaching additional elements (like a TK Company, Cavalry squadrons etc.), including at least a TKD Platoon. The main role of the TKD in this group would be to engage enemy armor.

The TKD would continue to be used in exercises in Pomerania during late August and early September 1934. There, these vehicles were used to test a mixed armored-motorized unit. This unit consisted of 12 TK tankettes, 4 TKDs, and 3 wz. 29 armored cars. During this exercise, the TKD proved that they were suitable for other roles than reconnaissance as well. One of the TKDs, which was part of ‘Bydgoszcz’ Cavalry Brigade, had an accident during which it was partially burned. The damage appears to have been minor as, the following day, it was fully operational again, after being repaired. The size of the TKD platoon was noted by Army Inspector Maj. Gen. Leon Berbecki to be too small and he proposed that it should be increased by two more vehicles.

Following the completion of the Pomeranian exercises, the Polish Army Tactical Study Team suggested that Cavalry Units should include armored and motorized elements. These included mixed tankette and TKD units, but also a separate TKD platoon for anti-tank purposes.

TKD during a parade
The TKD during a parade in Warsaw in 1934. Source: unknown

During these exercises, it was noted by the Polish Army that a vehicle like the TKD was desirable, although some shortcomings were also noted. Firstly, due to their small numbers, it was almost impossible precisely to determine the exact performance and potential effectiveness of these vehicles. Then, there were issues like insufficient protection and an overburdened crew. The gun itself was often criticized, having a low velocity and insufficient armor penetration for the standards of the mid-thirties.

Nevertheless, the TKDs were next assigned to the 1st Armored Battalion located in Poznań. In the following years, they would be used in various exercises. Interestingly, at the end of August 1937, the four TKDs were allocated to the Greater Poland Cavalry Brigade. During a military exercise, the TKDs were used to form a special Cavalry Platoon together with another Polish experimental self-propelled anti-tank vehicle, the TKS-D (armed with the 3.7 cm Bofors anti-tank gun and based on the C2P tractor). In mid-November, by order of the Minister of Military Affairs, a new mixed anti-tank squadron (4 TKDs and 2 TKS-Ds) was to be formed and attached to the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade.

TKS-D
The TKS-D was armed with the more powerful 3.7 cm Bofors anti-tank gun.source: derela.pl
A rear view of a camouflaged TKD during one of the many exercises of 1938. Source: derela.pl
A rear view of a camouflaged TKD during one of the many exercises of 1938. Source: derela.pl

The 4.7 cm wz.1925 infantry support gun

The story of this gun began back in 1923, when the 3rd Department of the Artillery and Armament of KSUS (Komitet do Spraw Uzbrojenia i Sprzętu – Eng: Armament and Equipment Committee) issued a competition for a new infantry support gun. To help speed up the development, foreign arms manufacturers across Europe and America were to be included. When the first proposals began to arrive, KSUS formed a commission that had the task of examining these projects but also to test them in comparison with the Polish 3.7 cm wz.1916 TR gun (which was actually a French canon d’Infanterie de 37 modèle 1916 TRP).

At the start of 1924, a new commission was formed by the Ministry of Military Affairs. The leader of this commision was Brigadier General Stanisław Wróblewski. The reason why a second commission was formed under this General was the disagreement between the Infantry and Artillery branch about who should design the infantry support gun. General Stanisław Wróblewski was against the KSUS requirements, as these completely ignored what the infantry actually wanted.

In early 1924, General Wróblewski issued a new request for an infantry support gun. The requirements were the following: the caliber of the gun was to be from 47 to 50 mm, the weight should not exceed 220 kg, it should be able to be dismantled into smaller parts and then carried by a group of 4 or 5 men, it should have a shield capable of resisting rifle caliber bullets at least from ranges of 300 m, an elevation ranging from -6° to + 45° and 80° of traverse horizontally, the armor penetration at 1 km was to be 20 mm, a 15 round per minute rate of fire, an effective range of some 2.5 km, and should be operated by a crew of two men.

French canon d'Infanterie de 37 modèle 1916 TRP
The French canon d’Infanterie de 37 modèle 1916 TRP was used by a number of armies around the world, including Poland, were it was known as 3.7 cm wz.1916 TR. Source: Wiki

In late April 1924, none of the presented projects met these requirements, so the commission led by General Wróblewski spent some time considering the acquisition of such a weapon from abroad. Several foreign projects were inspected, including the 44/60 mm double-barrelled Vickers cannon, the 47 mm Armstrong, 45 mm St. Chamond cannon, the 40 mm Beardmore, etcetera. None of these actually fulfilled the Polish requirements at this time.

These requirements would be changed during April 1924. Some of these changes included an armor penetration of some 35 mm at 300 m and that the gun should be able to be mounted on a Polish designed two-wheel carriage etc. Despite the attempts by the Poles to adopt one of the proposed projects, due to a bad financial situation, this was not possible in 1924.

In 1925, four different guns from Beardmore, Bofors, Driggs, and St.Chamond would be purchased. These guns would be tested during the same year, but the results were unsatisfactory, so none would be accepted for service. The lack of a proper infantry support gun was evident to the Polish Army Officials after the Wołyńskie maneuvers carried out in 1925. The only gun available at that time, in limited numbers, was the 3.7 cm wz.1916 TR. Beside the small numbers, this gun also had poor armor penetration power and lacked proper mobility. The Polish tried to solve this by using small caliber naval guns or mounting the 3.7 cm gun on artillery trailers, but nothing proved to be satisfactory.

As the foreign proposals and improvisations lead nowhere, Polish Army officials decided to take another way. If foreign designers could not fulfill what they wanted, maybe domestic designers would have more success. A number of companies, including Zakłady Modrzejewskie and Zakłady Ostrowieckie wanted to participate in this competition, but ultimately failed to achieve results. The only company that actually proposed a real design was the Zakłady Amunicyjne (ammunition plant) “POCISK” S.A. This company was responsible for the production of castings for artillery shells and other components and had no experience in arms design. For this reason, its engineers paid attention to the Polish Army’s requirement for such a gun. The POCISK design team was led by a former Lieutenant Colonel of the Austro-Hungarian artillery staff, Edmund Rógla. He worked on the well known 305 mm wz.11 mortar.

The gun itself was developed in only two months, with the first drawings ready by March 1925. Wanting to gain favor within the Polish Army and knowing its poor financial situation, POCISK offered to build the first guns for free. The Polish Army accepted this offer and, very shortly, two slightly different designs (different gun length and weight) would be presented. During September 1925, these two guns were used on firing trials, after which they were officially accepted for the competition. The Army requested some modifications to be done, like increasing the size of the armored shield, using larger wheels, and improving the gun stability. These guns would be designated as 4.7 cm wz.1925.

4.7 cm wz.1925
The 4.7 cm wz.1925 during field trials, Source: wiki

In May 1926, POCISK asked the Army for permission to build the first guns for field trials. It received an order to produce four 4.7 cm guns for a price of 40,000 PLN. In addition, some 590 armor-piercing, 530 high-explosive, and 240 canister rounds were also ordered. In total, the whole price for the guns and ammunition was around 206,450 PLN, with the whole order to be completed by late February 1928. Once completed, these were to be given to the Field Test Research Center in Rembertów.

During 1926, a number of guns from Beardmore, Bofors, Vickers, Driggs, and the two POCISK guns were used during firing trials at ranges from 500 to 1,000 m. In 1937, smaller numbers of Beardmore 4.7 cm and Driggs guns were bought for further testing. The firing trials set for 1928 and 1929, despite being planned in advance, had to be postponed. After two years, the firing tests were finally ready by April 1930. By this time, the POCISK gun had been built according to the Army’s previous recommendations. Tests were carried out from 2nd to 12th and 17th to 26th March at the Field Research Center in Rembertów, and from 25th June to 5th July at the Central Shooting School in Toruń. Of the four POCISK guns, two were chosen for the competition (number 1 and 4). The muzzle velocity of these two guns were 365 m/s and 363.8 m/s respectively. The guns performed satisfactorily, showing good stability and the barrels showed no deformation issues.

During firing trials, the Pocisk AP rounds proved to be somewhat problematic. Their fuses were not properly designed. After piercing 25 mm of armor at ranges of 750 mm, instead of exploding during the impact, it exploded after penetrating the target. The Pocisk guns also showed that they required a small crew to move it around.

On the other hand, it had a number of negative issues as well. It was relatively large and thus was more difficult to camouflage in comparison to the competition. Its breech mechanism was very sensitive to dust and required careful cleaning, which involved the removal of the barrel after it was exposed to dust. In addition, during firing, due to a premature explosion, gun number 1 was actually damaged.

During October 1930, the head of the Armament Materials Research Institute, Col. Eng. Niewiadomski, issued new requests for the infantry gun. One of these was the increase of the muzzle velocity up to 500 m/s. As the wz.25 lacked this performance, it was rejected and the four guns, along with the ammunition, were put into storage.

The next year, the Second Deputy Minister of Military Affairs requested that new trials be held. This time, the Polish Army was interested in testing the 4.7 cm gun against large caliber machine guns and cannons. The 2 cm Oerlikon cannon was put to a series of trials against the 4.7 cm wz.25 guns. During comparative trials in November, the 4.7 cm guns were unable to penetrate 30 mm of armor at 300 m. Due to its inadequate armor penetration by 1930s standards, on 9th February 1932, the 4.7 cm wz.25 project was officially cancelled. In total, between 6 and 10 4.7 cm wz.1925 guns were ever built.

2 cm cannons
The Poles decided to upgun smaller numbers of their tankettes using 2 cm cannons instead of the 4.7 cm caliber guns. Source:derela.pl

At the end of February 1932, there were brief talks of equipping infantry platoons with this gun for the anti-tank role but, ultimately, nothing came from this. During 1934, it was suggested by the Chief of the 3rd Division to the General Staff to use this gun as the main armament of the Vickers tanks. At the start of May, the Technical Department requested from POCISK company a drawing of the redesigned gun for this proposal but, ultimately, even this project would be cancelled.

Technical characteristics

Chassis

The TKD was based on modified TK-3 tankettes. The chassis’ overall design was unchanged, with the front mounted transmission, central crew compartment, and rear positioned engine.

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The TK-3 Polish tankette was used as the base of the TKD. In the process, the overall chassis design was mostly unchanged. Source:beutepanzer.ru

Superstructure

In order to provide proper working space for the crew, the TK-3’s superstructure was removed. It was replaced with a simpler four-sided and open-top superstructure. The front plate in the middle had a large opening that was covered with the gun shield. As the four TKDs which were built were to be used as testing vehicles, they were not provided with proper armored plates, but mild steel ones. This means that their armor would be virtually useless in a real combat situation.

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Rear view of the new open top superstructure. Source:derela.pl

On the front plate, there were two observation hatches, placed on either side of the gun. In addition, there was one more on each side plate. Being open topped, the crew had a good all-round view, but were left exposed to enemy fire. In reality, the TKD’s best defense was probably its small size, good camouflage, and a well chosen combat position. Being open top also exposed the crew to the weather and dust, so the main gun would sometimes be covered with canvas during long drives.

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A TKD during one of many exercises. The driver’s front and side hatches are open. Source:derela.pl

Engine

The TKD was powered by the same 40 hp four cylinder Ford Model A gasoline engine as on the TK-3. The TKD’s weight was increased by up to 3 tonnes. It appears that this increase in weight did not significantly decrease the vehicle’s mobility according to the specifications of most sources, but how accurate these are is arguable. The speed of the TK-3 was 46 km/h, with an operational range of 200 km and 110 km in cross country. Some sources note that the TKD’s maximum speed was around 36 km/h.

Suspension

The suspension was strengthened (in which way, the sources are not clear) to be able to cope with the increased weight of the TKD. Its overall design was unchanged from the original TK-3. It consisted of four road wheels placed in pairs on two bogies. These were then suspended on a semi-elliptical leaf spring unit. In addition, there was one front drive sprocket, one rear idler and four smaller return rollers. The first TKD built was actually equipped and tested with wider 170 mm wide tracks, in contrast to the original TK-3’s 140 mm wide tracks.

TKD
The TKD inherited the TK-3’s overall suspension design, which was reinforced to cope with the increased weight.

Armament

The TKDs were armed with the domestically designed and built 4.7 cm wz.1925 infantry gun. The gun was positioned in the centre of the vehicle’s front superstructure plate. Its mount was reinforced by two metal plates bolted to the front upper glacis.

The gun had an elevation range of -12° to +23° and a traverse range of 8°. The ammunition load is often described as consisting of 55 rounds. This is actually quite questionable due to the vehicle’s small size, as there would be no room for such a large amount of ammunition. For example, the much larger 7TP had 80 smaller 3.7 cm caliber rounds.

One possible solution is that this was actually the total allocated ammunition, some which was probably carried in an auxiliary towed trailer. While it is possible, there are no actual sources that mention the use of a trailer by this vehicle. On the other hand, the sources do not mention the precise location nor the size of the ammunition bins. Another information that is not given by the sources is if these four guns were newly built or reused already built prototypes. Beside the main gun, the crews would be probably provided with rifles or a machine gun for self defense.

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The TKDs were armed with the experimental 4.7 cm wz. 1925 infantry support gun. Source: derela.pl

Crew

The TKD had a crew of only two, which was the standard crew configuration for all Polish tankettes. The driver was positioned on the left side of the vehicle. The commander, who was also the gun operator, was positioned on the right side of the vehicles. Due to the small size, there was simply no more room for another crew member. These two were simply overburdened with the many tasks that they had to perform. The commander was in a particularly inconvenient situation as, besides his primary commanding role, he had to find targets, aim, shoot, and then reload the gun. This was a tedious and time-consuming process. However, on the other hand, being an open-topped and small vehicle, the crew could easily enter their positions.

TKD
The TKD’s small size is evident when they are compared to their crews standing next to them. The two crew members were insufficient to properly operate the vehicle. Source:derela.pl

Armor protection

The armor protection of the TKD hull was just 8 mm thick on the front and sides. The upper glacis was 6 mm thick, the same as the engine compartment. The new superstructure was constructed using mild steel and thus did not actually provide any kind of protection. While the sources do not mention its thickness, it was probably only a couple of millimetres thick. The only real crew protection was the larger gun shield itself. The armor thickness of this shield was probably around 20 mm of armor (or only 4 mm, depending on the source).

TKD
The TKD crews were mostly protected by the large gun shield. Source: derela.pl

The TKD with 4.7 cm Vickers gun

During early April 1936, the Polish Armored Weapons Technical Research Bureau issued a request to rearm one TKD (serial number 1159) with the Vickers 4.7 cm tank gun. The gun was probably removed from a Vickers tank that was in use with the Polish army in smaller numbers. The project was developed by PZInż, at a price of PLN 473.50 (in a bill which was issued by the Weapons Technical Research Bureau in September 1936).

Vickers 4.7 cm gun
The dismounted Vickers 4.7 cm gun. Source: derela.p

The vehicle was ready for testing by May 1936. In comparison to the original TKD, with its centrally positioned main armament, the new vehicle had the gun positioned on the right-hand side instead. This arrangement proved to be problematic from the start, as it overloaded (by adding the 140 kg weight of the gun and its mount) this part of the vehicle, causing it to drift to the right side during driving. The driver was forced to constantly use the left brake, which led to three fire accidents of the brake band at a distance of only 25 km.

The added extra weight on one side of the vehicle greatly affected the service life of the right suspension unit, and damage to the ball bearings was quite common. It also affected the overall driving performance, during the crossing of obstacles and ditches. The recoil of the gun during firing would often cause the whole vehicle to rotate to the right by a 5° angle.

Ultimately, this installation was unsuccessful and was abandoned. The fate of the vehicle is not known, but it was probably rearmed with the 4.7 cm wz.29 gun and reallocated to the single TKD platoon. Due to a lack of information, this is speculation at best.

In Combat

During 1938, the political situation between Poland and Czechoslovakia escalated around the disputed territory of Zaolzie. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, this territory had been taken over by the Polish but, during the Polish-Soviet War, Zaolzie was taken over by the Czechoslovakians. By 1938, as Czechoslovakia was torn to pieces by the Germans, the Polish government issued an ultimatum to their Czechoslovak counterparts to return this province to Poland at the end of September 1938.

Poland prepared its army in case the Czech government rejected this ultimatum. The 10th Cavalry Brigade, with three TKDs, was part of the Śląsk (Silesia) Independent Operational Group under gen. Władysław Bortnowski. This unit’s participation in this operation was limited at best, as the whole situation was resolved in Polish favor after only a few days.

TKS-D and TKDs during 1938
A mixed unit of TKS-D and TKDs during 1938. Source:derela.pl

The final fate of the TKD vehicles after 1938 is not known precisely. If these vehicles were used in combat during the German attack of Poland in September 1939 is unknown. There is a photograph of a single unarmed TKD left abandoned. It is possible that this vehicle (or even all of them) was used as ammunition or supply vehicles. As their main gun was not adopted for service, the availability of ammunition for this gun would be limited at best. It is possible that the Polish Army decided by late 1938 or during 1939 to modify them for other roles.

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The abandoned TKD during the German-Polish War in 1939. The gun is missing from this vehicle, and the reason why is unknown, unfortunately. Source:derela.pl
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Rearview of the same abandoned TKD vehicle. Next to it is a column of advancing German infantry. The vehicle appears to be undamaged and was probably abandoned either due to mechanical breakdown or to a lack of fuel. Source: brushesandbayonets.blogspot.com

There is also a possibility that this vehicle (in the photograph) simply broke down and the Poles removed the gun. Of course, due to a lack of documents and information, this is only speculation. Ultimately, their final fate is unknown, and if these four were captured by the Germans, they were likely scrapped during the war.

Conclusion

The TKD was a project that showed the Polish Army that the concept of highly mobile infantry support was desirable. The problem was the final realization. The Poles were somewhat limited by the financial and industrial situation, forcing them to reuse the smaller TK-3 tankette as the base for this modification. As a consequence of this decision, it was hampered by the lack of working space for the crew and limited armor protection (the small size somewhat compensated for this).

The gun itself, while good for the standard of twenties, was not up to the job by the mid-thirties. The development of the gun itself was also greatly influenced by the relatively poor financial situation of the Polish Army.

TKD tankette in a 3-tone livery
The TKD tankette in a 3-tone livery – Illustration by David Bocquelet

TKD specifications

Dimensions 2.58 x 1.78 x 1.255 m (8.46×5.84×4.35 ft)
Weight 3 tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion 40 hp four cylinder Ford Model A gasoline engine
Speed 46 km/h (29 mph)
Range (road/off-road) 200-110 km (124-62 mi)
Armament 47 mm wz.1925
Total production 4

Sources

J. Prenatt (2015) The Polish armor of the Blitzkrieg, Osprey Publishing
Działko piechoty 47mm wz.1925 “Pocisk” – Piotr Zarzycki Wielki Leksykon Uzbrojenia Wrzesień 1939 Volume 82. Edipresse Polska S.A. 2016
J. Korbal, Prototype self-propelled guns TKD – Nowa Technika Wojskowa – Numer Specjalny 5/2020
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon Books.
http://derela.republika.pl/armcarpl.htm

Categories
WW2 German Panzer IV

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. E

ww2 german tanks Germany (1940) – Medium Support Tank, 200 plus 6 chassis built

Following the victorious campaign in Poland, the German Army requested even more Panzer IV vehicles. This would lead to the Panzer IV Ausf. E, which was, in essence, just a slightly improved Ausf. D version. By the time the production run ended in April 1941, some 200 complete vehicles were built.

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

History

Following the introduction of the Panzer IV Ausf. D, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) issued orders for the development and production of the new Ausf. E version. This version was, in essence, just a copy of the previous one, with some minimal changes to it. One of the main changes that was originally planned was to use 50 mm thick frontal armor, but this was not implemented by the time of production.

Production

In July 1939, the OKH awarded a contract for producing 223 vehicles to Krupp-Grusonwerke. This contract would be reduced to 206 vehicles in March 1941. Eventually, during a production run that lasted from October 1940 to April 1941, some 200 vehicles were built. The remaining four chassis were to be converted to Bruckenleger IVc bridge carriers and two were tested with a new experimental suspension. According to military historian, K. Hjermstad, some 224 Ausf. E vehicles were built by April 1941.

Specifications

While the Panzer IV Ausf. E was visually very similar to the previous built Ausf. D version, there were some differences.

The Superstructure

The Panzer IV Ausf. E’s superstructure was identical to that of the previous Ausf. D. One of the few changes made was the introduction of a new driver pivoting visor, which would remain in use up to the end of war. Another change was the replacement of the hinge design of the glacis hatch doors, which increased protection.

The frontal side of the Panzer IV Ausf. E. Source: Warspot.
The Panzer IV Ausf. E (upper picture) introduced a new driver driver pivoting port in contrast to the earlier Ausf. D version (lower picture).

The Turret

The turret design on the Ausf. E was mostly unchanged in comparison to the earlier Ausf. D version. The commander’s cupola was redesigned and was better protected. It had five vision slits, each of which was protected by two (upper and lower) sliding armored covers.

In addition, the commander’s cupola was moved forward and was now located directly above the turret roof. Previously, it was slightly to the back, with one part protruding from the turret rear. An additional visual change was the addition of a fume ventilator, removing one and redesigning the second signal port’s protective cap shape. From March 1941 onward, all Ausf. E vehicles would be equipped with the storage bin placed on the turret’s rear.

A good view of the Ausf. E turret top. Note the new better protected commander’s cupola with five observation ports protected by sliding armored covers. Another change was the removal of one signal port cover and adding a ventilation port. Source: /www.worldwarphotos.

Suspension and running gear

This version introduced a new front drive sprocket design. In addition, the eight small road wheels received new cap covers. Beside these changes, nothing else was changed on the Panzer IV Ausf. E suspension and transmission.

While the suspension, in essence, was unchained, there were still some differences. Most notable was the change of the forward mounted drive sprocket wheels. In addition, the eight small road wheels received a new covering cap. Source: Walter J. Spielberger . Panzer IV and its Variants
Comparison between early type and Ausf. E type covering caps. Source: K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.

Armor Protection

During the Polish Campaign, the Germans noted that the enemy 37 mm guns could effectively destroy any tank that they had in their inventory, including the Panzer IV, without much trouble. This was mainly due to the weak armor of the German vehicles at that time. Based on this experience, the Panzer IV Ausf. E’s frontal superstructure armor was to be increased to 50 mm. Since this decision was taken too late, as the Panzer IV Ausf. E was under production, it was instead equipped with 30 mm of face-hardened frontal armor. As a temporary solution, additional 30 mm (Zusatplatten) applique armor plates were bolted to the superstructure front. Due to production delays, not all factory built vehicles were equipped with this extra armor, with some receiving it later in the field. Additional 20 mm of armor would also be placed on the turret front and superstructure sides on some of the Ausf. E vehicles. The armor of the commander cupola was increased to 95 mm. The Panzer IV Ausf. E also had a 50 mm thick lower frontal hull plate from the beginning of production. Other than that, the remaining armor thickness values were the same as on the Panzer Ausf. D.

The Panzer IV Ausf. E was also equipped with the smoke grenade rack system (Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung), but it was protected by an armored shield.

The majority of Panzer IV Ausf. E tanks were equipped with an additional 30 mm of armor placed on the superstructure front. Some vehicles were additionally protected by 20 mm side armor, which was usually just bolted to the superstructure. Some vehicles received extra turret armor. Source: www.panzernet.net

Crew

The Panzer IV Ausf. E had, like its predecessors, a crew of five, which included a commander, a gunner and a loader, who were positioned in the turret, and a driver and a radio operator in the hull.

Armament

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

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

In Combat

The Panzer IV Ausf. E performed the same firing support role as the previous version. Its short barrel gun (despite primarily not being designed for it) still had enough firepower to pose a danger to most lightly armored tanks during the first half of World War II. The Panzer IV Ausf. E would see action in the Balkans, Africa and more notably in Soviet Union.

In the Balkans

The Panzer IV Ausf. E would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. One of the armored units allocated for this operation was the 9th Panzer Division, which had 20 Panzer IV’s. On the 6th April 1941, it engaged the defending Yugoslav forces near the Kumanovo city in Macedonia. After an initial clash, the Yugoslav anti-tank units (equipped with the excellent Czechoslovakian 47 mm guns) managed to take out 4 German tanks, which forced the 9th Panzer division to call in Luftwaffe support. This prompted the Yugoslav defenders to abandon their positions, and the 9th Panzer Division continued the drive toward Kumanovo and Skopje. The following day, they engaged two Yugosav Infantry Regiments which lacked any anti-tank weapons and were quickly defeated. By 10th April, nearly all Yugoslav resistance in Macedonia was crushed.

On 12th April, the Germans engaged the Allied forces in Greece. The next day, elements of the 9th Panzer Division were confronted by British Cruiser Mk II (A10) tanks. In the following engagement, the British lost eight tanks and were forced to retreat. By the end of the Balkan Campaign on 26th April, the 9th Panzer Division had lost 2 more Panzer IVs in combat.

Panzer IV Ausf. E belonging to the 9th Panzer Division during the Balkan campaign In April 1941 Source: M. Kruk and R. Szewczyk 9th Panzer Division
A damaged Panzer IV Ausf. E which was ditched to the side of the road somewhere in the Balkans. Source: K. Hjermstad Panzer IV Squadron.

In Africa

There were initially 40 Panzer IVs (only 10 were Ausf. E) in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) [Eng. German Africa Corps] in 1941 but would see extensive action in this theater. During 11th April 1941, elements from the 5th Panzer Regiment were attempting to storm the city of Tobruk, but lost six Panzer IVs in the process. The small number of Panzer IV Ausf. E were all probably lost by the end of 1942.

The Panzer IV Ausf. E was a rare vehicle during the African campaign in 1941. Source:  F. Kurowski Das Afrika Korps

In the Soviet Union

By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517 (or 531 depending on the source), with each Panzer Division receiving, on average, 30 vehicles. For example, the 7th Panzer Division had 30 Panzer IV tanks, including some of the Ausf. E version.

A Panzer IV Ausf. E in Poland shortly before Operation Barbarossa. Additional spare track links were often added by the crew, which also provided a bit of extra protection (albeit quite limited). The box on the upper glacis was most probably just a tool box. Source: Pinterest

The Panzer IV could destroy lightly armored T-26 and BT series tanks. Against the T-34 and the KV series, on the other hand, they could do little. For example, the 7th Panzer Division encountered the T-34 from the start of the Operation Barbarossa, during the crossroad near Alytus, a small town in Russia. The positions of the 7th Panzer Division were attacked by a group of 44 T-34s. The Panzer IV’s guns could do little to stop the Soviet tanks. Luckily for the Germans, a nearby battery of 105 mm field howitzers helped defend their position while damaging many of the incoming Soviet tanks. In addition, the Soviet attack was poorly coordinated and the crew had very little training, which ultimately doomed the Soviet attempt to dislodge the Germans. Nevertheless, the Germans lost at least four Panzer IV, with at least one Ausf. E.

One of the four Panzer IV lost during the battle around Alytus. Source: Pinterest

Another example was the 9th Panzer Division which, after the victorious Balkan campaign, was allocated for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. It was attached to the XIV Motorised Army Corps of Army Group South. On 22nd June, this Division had 20 Panzer IVs in its inventory. By 11th July, it had lost three Panzer IVs. On 20th July, the 9th Panzer Division participated in the encirclement of some 25 Soviet Division of the so-called Uman Pocket. Their tanks were used to stop numerous Soviet infantry and tank counter attacks. Due to attrition and mechanical breakdowns, the number of operational Panzer IVs dropped down to only six vehicles by the beginning of October. Following the harsh Russian winter and enemy counter offensive, the Division suffered losses. During the most part of early 1942, it was subject to refitting and recovery. It would once again see action during Operation Blue, the German drive toward the oil rich Caucasus. When the operation began, the 9th Panzer Division still had 9 short barreled Panzer IVs, possibly some Ausf. E vehicles. By 15th July, five of these would be lost.

The Panzer IV Ausf. E would remain in use up to early 1944, by which time only few had survived.

A Panzer IV Ausf. E of the 9th Panzer Division being moved towards a repair shop by a half-track prime mover. The added track link to the front served as easily available spare parts but also as limited extra armor protection. Source: https://imgur.com/a/s8ijsrd M. Kruk and R. Szewczyk 9th Panzer Division
The Soviet 1941/42 winter hit hard the unprepared German soldiers. The tanks and other military vehicles also fell victim to the harsh winter conditions. Source: https://imgur.com/a/ap0bn68 www.worldwarphotos.info

Other modifications

The Panzer IV Ausf. E chassis would be used for a limited number of modifications, which include the Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät, Brückenleger, Tauchpanzer, Tropen, Fahrschulpanzer and to test an experimental new suspension system.

Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät

An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf. E) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortar codenamed ‘Karlgerät’.

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

Brückenleger IVc

Prior to the war, the German Army was interested in the idea of a bridge carrying Panzer. During 1941, at least four Panzer IV Ausf. E chassis were modified for this role.

Tauchpanzer IV

An unknown number of Panzer IV Ausf. Es would be modified to be used as submersible tanks (Tauchpanzer) for Operation Sealion. These vehicles are easily identified by the added frame holder for the waterproof fabric on the front part of the turret and the hull positioned machine gun ball mount. These vehicles were used mostly in Russia during 1941.

A Tauchpanzer IV based on the Ausf. E tank. Source: Pinterest

Panzer IV Ausf. E Tropen

In early 1941, around 10 Panzer IV Ausf. E were modified to be used on the North African Campaign . They were modified by improving the ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand getting into the engine. These vehicles were also painted with a sand color to help with camouflage. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Eng. Tropic).

Smaller numbers of Panzer IV Ausf. E would see service in North Africa. Source: www.worldwarphotos.

A new suspension

Two Panzer IV Ausf. E would be used to test a new type of interleaved suspension. While this suspension was tested, it was not adopted. It is unclear if it did not provide enough of an improvement or if they were meant just as test vehicles for the more advanced Panther and Tiger.

The modified Panzer IV Ausf. E could be seen to the left, just behind the Panzer 38(t). Source: unknown
Drawing of the Panzer IV Ausf.E with the new suspension. Source: warspot

Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf. E

Not all newly produced Ausf. E tanks were sent to front line units. Some were actually given to tank training schools. Some vehicles may have been returned from the frontline for repairs and were reused for this purpose too.

This vehicle served for crew training, somewhere in France, during 1941. Source: K. Hjermstad Panzer IV Squadron

Sturmpanzer IV

Damaged Panzer IV Ausf.E tanks that returned to Germany for repairs, would be reused for the Sturmpanzer IV. The precise number of modified chassis for this purpose is difficult to know precisely.

Unknown number of Panzer IV Ausf.E chassis were reused for the Strumpanzer IV modification. Source: T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.8-1 Sturmpanzer

Surviving vehicles

Today, only one Panzer IV Ausf. E survives. This particular vehicle can be seen at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Smithfield, Queensland.

The Surviving Panzer IV Ausf. E bearing the marking of the Afrika Korps. Source:  https://nikarios.livejournal.com/57735.html

Conclusion

The Panzer IV Ausf. E introduced some improvements by adding a new command cupola, increasing the armor protection and some other minor changes. In combat, it performed the same support combat role as all other Panzer IVs of that time. Due to attrition, their numbers would dwindle during the war, but some would remain in service up to 1944.

Panzer IV Ausf.E, DAK
Panzer IV Ausf.E of the Afrika Korps, 15th Panzerdivision, Libya, the fall of 1941.
Panzer IV Ausf.E
Panzer IV Ausf.E of the 11th Panzerdivision, April 1941, during the Yugoslavian campaign. Notice the bolted armor.

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 21-22 tonnes
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 42 km/h, 25 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 210 km, 130 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 7.5 cm KwK L/24
Secondary Armament Two 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Turret Armor front 30 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 20 and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor front 30-50 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm and the top and bottom 10-11 mm

Sources

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Italy Kingdom Of Italy (1943)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun – 1 or 2 built prototypes

During the Second World War, the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) lacked an anti-aircraft vehicle that could protect its armored formations from enemy air attack. Sometime in 1942-43, the Italian Royal Army began development of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the new M15/42 tank chassis. As its development began too late, only one or two prototypes would be built. Sadly, due to insufficient sources being available, very little is known about this vehicle.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo. Note that the sides of the turret are missing. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Development

During the fighting in North Africa, the Italian ground armored forces were often subject to Allied fighter and fighter-bomber attacks. The Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) lacked modern fighter designs and was thus unable to provide sufficient aerial protection. One solution was to mount anti-aircraft guns on a mobile chassis. There were some attempts to mount 20 mm anti-aircraft guns on available trucks. These proved to be insufficient due to many factors like poor mobility, weak firepower, and no armor protection for the men or vehicle.

One of the first attempts to use a truck chassis (the SPA Dovunque 35) for the role of a mobile anti-aircraft vehicle. Such vehicles were usually armed with a Breda 20 mm gun. Source: Pinteres

Due to the ineffectiveness of these truck-based vehicles, the Royal Army moved on to the idea of using a tank chassis for this role. With only limited time and resources, it was decided against developing a brand new chassis and to instead use the available tank production capacities. As the M15/42 was entering production during 1942, it was decided to use it for this modification. During early 1943, one prototype was completed and presented to the Royal Army. The only visible change in contrast to the original M15/42 was the introduction of a new polygonal turret equipped with four 20 mm Scotti cannons. According to D.Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija), this vehicle was built using the command version of the M15/42, which lacked the hull machine guns and had an extra radio set.

M15/42 tank

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 compared to the M.13 Series tanks by some 15 cm. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch door was repositioned to the right side. The removal of the anti-aircraft machine gun on the turret may appear odd given Allied air superiority of the time and the threat it posed, but a single 8 mm Breda machine gun was almost completely ineffective in the anti-aircraft role and was seen as a waste of resources and weight. Most noticeable for the M15/42 was the installation of a new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by this 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 most modern Italian tank available in 1942 was the M15/42. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

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, the order for 280 was reduced to 220 tanks. These were built by June 1943 and an additional 28 tanks would be built under German command after the September Armistice was signed with the Allies. The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but these tanks were generally outdated by the time they were put into service. Nevertheless, they would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with their new Germans owners (known as PzKpfw M15/42 738(i)), although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).

Just like the earlier M13 Series tanks, a command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank) of the M15/42 was developed. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and some were rearmed with 13 mm heavy machine guns instead of the two 8 mm machine guns and extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles were built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control. There were also a few different Semoventi vehicles based on the M15/42 built.

The command version based on the M15/42 (like all Italian command tanks) lacked the turret and had the two radio antennas on the rear of the casemate. Source: pinterest

Designation

Various sources give many different names for this vehicle, including: Semovente (self-propelled) M15/42 Antiaereo (anti-aircraft), Carro Armato Medio Antiaereo (anti-aircraft medium tank), M15/42 Antiaereo or Contraereo (M15/42 anti-aircraft), M15/42 “Quadruplo” (M15/42 Quad), Semovente Antiaereo M42 (self-propelled anti-aircraft gun M42), Semovente da 20/70 quadruplo, among others.

In Italian service

Not much is known of this vehicle’s development history. What is known is that the first prototype was completed sometime in early 1943. It was presented to the Italian Army at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Study Center of Motorization). If the Army showed any interest in it is unfortunately not known. In March 1943, the prototype was stationed in Cecchignola (Rome) and given to the VIII Reggimento Autieri (8th Driver Regiment), possibly to be used for evaluation.

Illustration of the M15/42 Antiaereo. Source: pinterest

Some sources (mostly on the internet) suggest that this vehicle was shipped to Tunisia for field combat tests and that it would remain there until the Axis surrender in May 1943. This seems highly unlikely, mainly due to the lack of evidence and photographs of it in the theater. If it was captured, its unusual construction would have certainly sparked some interest among the Allies and they would have certainly taken photographs or mentioned it in their documents. The more realistic fate of the M15 anti-aircraft vehicle (or vehicles) was that, after the Italian capitulation in September 1943, it was seized by the German forces.

Technical characteristics

Being an obscure vehicle and rarely mentioned in sources in more detail, the precise technical characteristics are hard to come by. What is known with certainty is that it was based on a slightly modified M15/42 tank or the command version of the same vehicle. Most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged. The only visible change to the hull was the removal of the two machine guns which were replaced with an armored cover. If the armor thickness was changed there is no information about it, but it seems likely that it remained the same in order to save development time.

The most obvious change was the introduction of a new turret equipped with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. The new turret had a polygonal shape and was made using a frame on which (unusual for the Italians) armor plates were welded.

The two obvious changes to the M15/42 tank were the introduction of a new turret and the removal of the two hull positioned machine guns. Source: https://forum.warthunder.com/index.php?/topic/390776-semovente-contraerei-2070-quadruplo-m1542-aaa/

For the main weapon, four Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/70 autocannons (generally known as Scotti, after their designer, Alfredo Scotti) were chosen. This type of gun was intended to be cheaper and easier to build compared to the Breda Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 modello 35. But, despite its simplicity, a higher rate of fire, and being lighter, its performance was not much better than its counterpart. In all, some 300 were built either as static emplacements or with a twin-wheel carriage. The Germans also managed to capture a number of these guns, where they were known as 2-cm Scotti(i). The Scotti had a 250 rpm rate of fire with a maximum range of 2,100-3,500 m (depending on the source). It had a barrel length of 1,540 mm and the muzzle velocity was 830 m/s. Elevation was -10° to +85°, with a rotation of 360°.

The Scotti during the African campaign. While it could be fed by using a drum magazine, it was usually fed by a 12 round strip. Source: Wiki

The Scotti anti-aircraft guns that survived the war would be used by the new Italian Army for some years on. These would mostly be used to equip navy ships. An unknown number of quadruple-gun systems would also be built after the war, with some even supplied to Israel in the late forties.

One Scotti quad system is preserved in the Santa Barbara barracks of Sabaudia. Source: warthunder.com

Prior to their installation into the new turret, the four Scotti cannons had to be modified and a specially designed mount had to be developed. The most obvious change to the cannons was the feed mechanism. This type of cannon had two feed options, by a clip or by drum magazine. Both of these were unusable due to the cramped space of the turret, and for this reason, a new type of fed system had to be adopted. The manufacturer of this cannon, Isotta Fraschini, developed a new ammunition supply system that consisted of a metal belt feed with disintegrating mesh which allegedly also increased the rate of fire up to 600 rpm per gun. The elevation of the new turret installation was -5° to + 90° with a full traverse of 360°. How the main armament was mounted inside the turret is, due to a lack of information, unknown. The armor thickness is also unknown, but would most likely have been very light, in order to provide protection at least from small-caliber weapons while keeping weight down.

Interestingly, in some photographs, the front part of the new turret is lacking armor plating. The reason why is not known. It could potentially be that it was not yet completed or due to some problems with the main weapon mount that required more working space.

The M15/42 Antiaereo’s four cannons placed at a high elevation. Thanks to its good elevation, it could cover a wide arc of fire, Source: Pinteres
Interior illustration of the M15/42 Antiaereo turret and main weapon. Source: warthunder.com

According to the few sources available, the crew consisted of three crew members. While they are not listed, an educated guess can be made. At least one crew member had to be the driver. The second crew member would be the commander who was probably also the gunner and his position would likely be behind the main gun installation. The last crew member was probably a radio operator (if a radio was ever to be used on this vehicle) or a loader.

The mobility of the M15/42 Antiaereo was probably similar to that of the original tank configuration. The new turret and weapons would have probably been similar to the weight of the previous turret and gun, giving a total weight in the vicinity of 15.5 tonnes. The speed and the operational range were probably also similar. Some of the dimensions, such as the length of 5.06 m and width of 2.28 m, were almost assuredly the same but the vehicle may have been somewhat higher than 2.4 m.

How many were built

The precise number of built vehicles is unfortunately not known. What is known with certainty is that at least one prototype was built and tested. According to the few available photos, there is a possibility that at least one more vehicle was built. This vehicle has German markings, camouflage paint, and lacks the frontal turret armor. Of course, there is the possibility that this was simply the first vehicle just slightly modified by the Germans. Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija) quotes that a few were built but does not mention how many precisely.

In German hands

The Germans managed to capture the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype during their occupation of Rome. Interestingly, in one photo, this vehicle is lacking some front turret armor plates, despite having pictures of it with them. This may be additional proof that at least another vehicle was built beside the one prototype.

What the Germans did with it is not completely clear. According to a few sources, it appears that the prototype was transported back to Germany for evaluation. It also allegedly saw service against the Soviet Forces in 1945 in the Teupitz area (Germany). At that time, it was supposedly attached to the 5th SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps (Mountain Armored Corps).

The prototype in the barracks of the VIII° Reggimento Autieri, at Cecchignola (Rome) which was seized by the Germans. The vehicle has camouflage paint on it, but it is not clear who applied it. Also, note the German Balkenkreuz on the turret side. Source: beutepanzer.com

The Germans did use large quantities of Italian captured weapons and thus had available spare parts and ammunition, making it plausible that this information has some merit. By 1945, the Germans were trying desperately to stop the Soviet offensive, and in their desperation they used any available weapons that they had on hand, perhaps including the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype. Of course, on the other hand, due to insufficient sources, the information about its use by the Germans could easily be incorrect or even fake.

After seizing a number of Italian production factories, the Germans produced small numbers of some Italian equipment, mostly self-propelled Semovente vehicles. Why the Germans did not bother producing more Antiaereo, even as they were themselves in great need of such a vehicle, is unknown.

Influence

It is relatively common to find claims that, after the M15/42 Antiaereo, was seized by the Germans, it influenced their development of anti-aircraft tanks like the Flakpanzer IV (2cm Flak 38 Vierling) ‘Wirbelwind’. Does this assumption have any merit? First, it must be taken into account the fact that this vehicle was completed in the first months of 1943 and captured by the Germans later that year, after the Italian capitulation. This meant that it would have been shipped out to Germany after September 1943.

The issue is that the German had already begun (in early 1943) to develop their own anti-aircraft tank based on the Panzer IV. This vehicle had a completely different design, simply installing the 2 cm Flakvierling anti-aircraft system on a Panzer IV chassis, protected by large metal plates that could be folded down during combat situations. As the 2 cm caliber was deemed weak by the Germans, it would be later replaced with the 3.7 cm gun and put into production as Flakpanzer IV (3.7cm Flak 43) “Möbelwagen”. Also, even earlier in the war, the Germans had tested the anti-aircraft tank concept on the Panzer I and later Panzer 38(t) chassis.

While not the first Flakpanzer, this Flakpanzer IV armed with four 2 cm cannons was the first serious attempt made by the Germans to develop an anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis. This vehicle (and the later Möbelwagen) was obviously not inspired by the Italian vehicle. Source: Panzernet

Conclusion

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo was certainly an interesting vehicle that was developed for the Italian army. It also represents a modern concept of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the tank chassis. The installation of its main weapon in a fully enclosed turret had important benefits, as it would provide sufficient protection for the crew. In practice, this was not easy to achieve and often came at the cost of reduced visibility, and not many anti-aircraft vehicles were built during the war that used an enclosed turret.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo, showing the new turret placed on the body of an M15/42. It would have been a potent SPAAG for its time, but very cramped. Illustration by Andrei Octo10 Kirushkin

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Dimensions 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.4 m
Total weight, battle ready ~15 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander/Gunner,Loader and Driver)
Propulsion 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB
Speed 38 km/h road, 20 km/h off-road
Operational ranger 200 km road, 130 km off-road
Armament 4x20mm Scotti-Isotta Fraschini M41 20/70 cannons
Armor 6-50 mm
Total production 1 to 2 prototypes
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Source:

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd

F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, New Vanguard

D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.

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,

V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.

N. Pignato, (2004) Italian Armored vehicles of World War Two, Squadron Signal publication.

A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books

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

N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA,

Categories
WW2 Japanese Light Tanks

Type 95 Ha-Go

Imperial japanese ArmyJapan (1933-1945)
Light tank – 1,100-2,375 built

During the early nineteen thirties, the continually growing Japanese military was in need of a new tank. This vehicle was to have good mobility with sufficient firepower to be able to follow and support infantry and cavalry units. From these requests, a new vehicle, named Type 95 Ha-Go, would emerge. While it was only lightly armored and armed, its mobility and simplicity would play a great role in the Japanese expansion during the first years of the war. By the war’s end, the Type 95 would be one of the most produced armored vehicles in Japanese inventory. It would also have the honor of being in service from the start of the Second World War until its end.

The Type 95 Ha-Go Source: Oruzhie.info

Origins of Japanese Armor

The Japanese Empire had no experience with tanks until 1918 when they imported a single Mk. IV Female tank from the United Kingdom. This was followed, in 1919, by thirteen French Renault FTs – the most common tank in the world at that time. In 1921, they purchased six British Medium Mk. A Whippet tanks. Later in the ‘20s, they also purchased the Renault NC 27, an updated version of the FT, named Otsu-Gata in Japanese service.

In 1927, the Japanese purchased a single Vickers Medium Mk. C from the United Kingdom, along with a small number of Vickers 6-Ton Mk. E light tanks. The Mk. C tank would form the catalyst of indigenous Japanese tank production and the last tank that the Japanese purchased from a foreign source before the end of WW2. This is because General Suzuki of the Army argued that, from this point forward, tanks should be built in Japan so they could grow their tank-building industry and knowledge. Japan’s first tank grew from this argument and was designated the Type 89 I-Go/Chi-Ro. Although built entirely in Japan, it was heavily inspired – almost a complete copy – of the Mk. C. It was the first in a long line of armored vehicles built by Japanese workers.

The Quest for Mobility

In 1933, at Kungchuling, Manchuria, Japan’s first mechanized corps was formed as an independent mixed brigade. The corps was based on forces emerging in Europe intended to operate independently or alongside larger forces. The corps whereas on tanks carrying mounted infantry, tractor-drawn artillery, and engineering vehicles. The infantry was to be transported via 6-wheel trucks with an average speed of 60 km/h, while field artillery was to be towed by 4-tonne tracked tractors with an average speed of 40 km/h.

The speeds of these vehicles highlighted an issue with the Type 89 tank. At maximum, this tank could travel at a speed of just 25 km/h. This did not fit in with the idea of a modern mechanized corps, whose strategic role was to exploit speed and maneuverability to overthrow an enemy position. The Type 89 was designed first and foremost to support infantry, but this was a role it would find hard to fulfill if it could not keep up with troop transports and artillery tractors.

Despite the Corps’ concerns, the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IJAs) High Command did not recognize the need for a new mobile tank. Slightly perturbed by this, the Army’s Technical Headquarters took on developing and designing a new tank independently of High Command.

Development history

Elsewhere in the world, fast tanks were developed that could travel on wheels or tracks. A prime example of this was the Soviet BT-5, based on American designer Walter Christie’s design. The Japanese, however, did not go down this route. They were confident that they could produce a fast tank that was and remained fully tracked. They had already achieved this with the Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha, a vehicle classed as a ‘Heavy Armored Car’ in Japan.

The Japanese Military wanted to elaborate on this in the design of a high-mobility infantry support tank. As such, the Military turned to Tomio Hara of the Army Technical Bureau. After gathering f Infantry and Cavalry units’ opinions, which set out the design requirements, Hara came up with a 7 tonnes design and had a top speed of 40 km/h. The opinion of the Cavalry was held above that of the infantry at this time, as it was projected that the Cavalry would be the dominant user.

Tomio Hara, 1895 – 1990. Hara is often credited as the father of Japanese tanks of the Second World War. He is most famous for his ‘bell-crank’ or ‘Hara’ suspension which was used on almost every Japanese tank from 1933 to 1945. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The tank’s general specifications were 4.38 meters long, 2.06 meters wide, and 2.13 meters tall. It was armed with a 37 mm main gun in a fully rotating turret with a 6.5 mm machine gun in the bow. Armor was to be at least 12 mm thick to counter 7.7 mm Armor-Piercing (AP) rounds. The power plant would consist of the same 120 hp Mitsubishi 6-cylinder diesel engine as the Type 89. Hara had already designed a new suspension system known as the ‘bell-crank’ suspension. It would have a three-man crew consisting of the driver, bow-gunner, and commander/gunner.

Prototype development process

The initial design work on the new tank began in mid-1933 and was undertaken by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The next year, in August (or in June, depending on the source), the prototype was completed. The prototype was then put through a series of tests ranging from 700 km endurance trials to gunnery trials. The tank was positively evaluated and praised as having excellent performance and sufficient durability. Initially, the prototype demonstrated a 43 km/h top speed, the ability to cross a 2-meter wide trench, and an operational range of 250 km.

The first prototype of the Type 95. Source: Pinterest

These were all well received, apart from the weight, which had crept up to 7.5 tonnes. After some alterations were made, this was reduced back down to 6.5 tonnes. The sources are not clear how they removed the extra one tonne but suggested that the armor thickness was reduced. Additionally, the quantity of ammunition stored inside was probably also reduced, and there were some changes to the suspension design.

Following these alterations, the tank was sent for retrial. An average top speed of 45 km/h was attained, and a 370 km operational trial was undertaken to confirm endurance.

The first prototype of the Ha-Go after changes were made in order to decrease weight. Note the flat sides. This would be changed on the production model to a rounded type that would provide more internal space for the crew. Source: www.warhistoryonline.com

In October 1934, the prototype was sent to the Cavalry School for practical tests. The Cavalry were extremely happy with the vehicle as a mobile and maneuverable light tank. They saw it as perfect for their needs. The Infantry, however, still wanted a tank that would provide support for them. They were not as pleased with the tank, stating that the 37mm gun was inadequate and that 12 mm of armor protection was not sufficient.

This disagreement between branches resulted in a further period of testing between late 1934 and early 1935. The testing would be undertaken in Northern Manchuria, during the cold season, and fell under the responsibility of an Independent Mixed Brigade of infantry and cavalry stationed in that area. Their report suggested that the tank was ready for service, and the authors were pleased with its cold-weather performance. The Mixed Brigade itself put forward a request to be equipped with the tank as soon as possible to replace the Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha armored car that they already had on order.

Name

After the tank was received and accepted, it was designated the Type 95 Ha-Go (Japanese: 九五式軽戦車 ハ号 kyūgo-shiki kei-sensha Ha-Gō). The number 95 was given after the Japanese Imperial Year (otherwise known as Kōki) 2595 (1935). Ha-Go stands for ‘third model’, but it is also known as ‘Ke-go’ which can be translated as the third light vehicle. In some sources, it is also marked as Kyu-Go. This article will refer to this vehicle as to the Type 95.

Entering Service & Further Modifications

With the success of the test trials and several requests from IJA units in the field, High Command finally recognized the tank’s value. They authorized the construction of a second prototype in June 1935 (or 1934, depending on the source), which was completed by that November.

One of the first things to change on the Type 95 was the crew compartment and the hull sides. The initial model had flat vertical sides, thus making it narrow internally. On the production model, the sides of the hull were rounded out, almost doubling the internal space, and allowing the crew to operate the vehicle a lot more comfortably. This modification is what gave the Type 95 its unique hull shape. On the other hand, the infantry units were still unhappy with the firepower of the Type 95. For this reason, a secondary 6.5 mm machine gun was added to the turret. With these modifications, the final version of the tank weighed 7.4 tonnes.

Production

Following the successful testing of the prototypes, a production order was placed. The production undertaken by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries began in 1936 at a slow pace, with only 31 vehicles being completed that year. A number of other companies and subcontractors were also involved in its production, including Niigata Tekko Sho, Dowa Jido Sho, Sagamu Arsenal, Ikegai Automobile Manufacturing Co, Ihesil Automobile, etc.

The mass production of the Type 95 actually kicked in only after 1938. From 1938 to 1943, some 2,269 would be built. These numbers differ depending on the source. The previously mentioned production numbers are according to S. J. Zaloga (Japanese Tanks 1939-45). According to A. Ludeke (Waffentechnik Im Zweiten Weltkrieg), some 2,375 were built.

According to P. Trewhitt (Armored Fighting Vehicles), some 1,100 vehicles were built, while D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Japan) gives a slightly larger number of 1,161 tanks. The reason for these smaller production numbers is unclear. Authors P. Chamberlain and C. Ellis (Light Tank Type 95 Kyu-go) give a number of 1,300 vehicles being built. The precise year when the production of the Type 95 stopped is also unclear. Some sources mention that production continued up to the war’s end in 1945.

Design

Hull and superstructure

The Type 95 light tank had a standard hull configuration, with a front-mounted transmission, a crew compartment in the center, and an engine in the rear separated from the crew space by a firewall. While the lower hull had a simple box shape design, the superstructure was built using angled and curved armor plates. The Type 95 was both riveted and welded in construction. Plates were riveted to an internal iron frame with welds securing curved areas. This tank was one of the first Japanese tanks to utilize welding in its construction.

Turret

The Type 95 had a rather small one-man turret with the main gun placed at the front and an additional machine gun placed at an unusual angle facing the 5 o’clock position to the rear right. The turret was constructed using a combination of welding and rivets.

The Type 95 had a command cupola with several vision slits (protected with armored glass) in it, and a two-piece hatch on top. There was also a small observation hatch placed to the rear of the turret. In addition, on the turret left front side, a small pistol port could be seen.

The two-part hatch on the commander cupola is evident here. Source: Wiki

Engine

The Type 95 was propelled by a 120 hp Mitsubishi 6-cylinder diesel engine. With a weight of 7.4 tonnes, the Type 95 could reach a top speed of 40 to 45 km/h (or up to 48 km/h, depending on the source). The fuel load consisted of 84 liters in the primary fuel tank plus an additional 22 liters in auxiliary reserve tanks (or 104 plus 27 l, depending on the source). The operational range of the Type 95 was 209 to 250 km, depending on the source.

The Japanese decision to use diesel engines in their tanks reportedly goes back to when the Army was testing British Vickers Mk. E light tanks. During a trial, one of these petrol-engined tanks burst into flames, killing the entire crew. The Type 95 engine was installed in the rear of the vehicle, slightly off to the right. Its exhaust protruded from the engine bay’s right, bent at a right angle, and was then fixed to the right rear fender. While the transmission was located at the front of the vehicle, along with the drive wheels.

This meant that a prop shaft extended through the crew compartment, protected by a simple hood. The commander would have to step over and try not to trip on it as he traversed the turret. The Type 95 used a sliding gear transmission system with four forward and one rear speed. The transmission was enclosed internally by a panel of asbestos. On the outside of the vehicle, there were two separate hatches on the upper glacis that granted access to the brakes and final drives.

Suspension and running gear

The Type 95 utilized a bell-crank suspension, one of Tomio Hara’s own designs. The bell-crank suspension consisted of bogies mounted on arms, which are connected to a long helical compression spring placed horizontally on the sides of the hull. The spring is protected by a long segment of piping, riveted to the hull-side. The bogies push against each other via this spring when passing over terrain, allowing the bogies to actuate. The Type 95 had four road wheels, with two large wheels per-bogie. There were advantages to the bell crank system. It was easy to produce and maintain. It was also mounted completely externally, meaning no internal space was taken up by the suspension system, unlike torsion bars or the Christie system. However, there were also downsides. The bogies had so much room to move that pitching was rather severe on the Type 95, producing an extremely rough ride over uneven terrain. If the tank went over too deep a hole, there was even a good chance it would get stuck. There were two return rollers, one above each bogie, and an idler wheel at the rear. The idler was held in place by a single unprotected bracket. While this allowed the crew to tighten the track tension easily, it also made it vulnerable to enemy fire. One report shows one Australian soldier managed to immobilize a Type 95 by hitting the idler mounting with his rifle bullet. The all-metal tracks were narrow, at just 25 cm across. There were around 98 links in total per-side.

This photo from post-war tests with the Type 95 shows how flexible the suspension was. Source: A. M. Tomczyk Japanese Armor vol.2 Aj-Press.

Despite being designed to provide good off-road drive, it was soon discovered that the Ha-Go suspension system was far from perfect. Troops in Manchuria were the first to be equipped with the Ha-Go, and the first to find issues with the suspension’s pitching problems. The Manchurian environment caused a unique problem to arise. It was found that, when crossing Kaoliang Fields (a staple crop in Manchuria), the sequence of furrows exactly matched the layout of the bogie wheels, resulting in severe pitching. This was fixed by the addition of small support rollers between the two larger wheels of the bogies. Because of where this modification was done, it became known as the ‘Manchu’ suspension. This feature was not required on Type 95s stationed in other theaters.

A Type 95 with the new Manchu suspension Source: https://warspot.ru/5908-manchzhurskiy-plennik
Close up view of the modified Manchu with the added small support roller between the bogies’ two larger wheels. Source: https://warspot.ru/5908-manchzhurskiy-plennik.

Armor Protection

The Type 95 was only lightly protected, with the armor thickness ranging from 6 to 12 mm. On the lower hull, the upper glacis armor plate thickness was 9 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower front was 12 mm placed at an 18° angle.

The front superstructure’s face-hardened armor was 12 mm thick, while the sides were 12 mm placed at a 34° angle. The rear engine compartment was protected by 6 to 12 mm thick armor (at a 26° angle). The roof and the floor were protected with 9 mm of armor. The turret had 12 mm of armor all around. The front armor was placed at 90°, side at 11°, and 90° angle to the rear. The roof of the turret was 9 mm thick as the hull. To increased protection by screening the tank from enemy fire, some Type 95s were provided with banks of turret-mounted smoke dischargers in rows of 4.

Smoke dischargers were added on some of the Type 95 turrets. Source: Pinterest

An innovative feature of the Type 95 was that the internal surfaces were covered in layers of asbestos. This served two purposes. As the tank would be operating in hot climates, asbestos’ insulating properties meant that it would help keep the tank and the crew inside cool. Secondly, it had the added bonus of providing some padding to the internal surfaces, giving the crew a little more comfort over rough terrain. The health issues caused by asbestos were not well known back then. It causes severe health issues for people exposed to asbestos dust.

Armament

The main armament of this vehicle was a 37 mm Type 94 L/36.7 gun. With a muzzle velocity of 575 m/sec, it could penetrate 35 mm of armor at 300 meters with Armor Piercing (AP) rounds. The gun could also fire High-Explosive (HE) rounds, although the effect of 37 mm HE was rather light. A semi-automatic sliding breechblock fed ammunition. Loading the gun would have been extremely easy to do one-handed, as the cartridges were rather small, at around 13 cm long and 4 cm in diameter. The ammunition load consisted of some 119 rounds (75 to 130 ammunition rounds are also mentioned in the sources), and it appears that there was no general rule on how many of which AP or HE rounds ratio were to be stored inside.

This gun was actually a slightly modified version of the same name’s 37 mm infantry anti-tank gun. For tank use, the gun was installed in a heavy-duty, non-geared mount. It was aimed manually by the commander, who would hold the weapon like a giant rifle, with his right hand on the grip and trigger, and his right shoulder pressed into a shoulder brace or ‘stock’. Thanks to this, the gun could be somewhat stabilized and fired on the move, although not very accurately. This mount also allowed around 10° of horizontal traverse left and right, independently of the turret, a feature carried over from the early French tanks that Japan had purchased. The turret was manually rotated by a hand-crank located to the right of the gun. The elevation range of this gun was between -15° to +25°.

Milne Bay, October 1, 1942. An Australian soldier displays the dismounted Type 94 gun of a Type 95 with a supply of 37 mm ammunition. This photo gives a good illustration of the size of the gun and its ammunition. Source: Pinterest
A close-up view of a dismounted Type 94 37 mm gun. Note the firing pistol grip handle and the shoulder-guard stock. Source: https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=100625

Small numbers of Type 95s are claimed to have been equipped with an additional 37 mm Type 94 placed instead of the hull positioned machine gun. The elevation of this gun was limited at 10°. Later produced models were rearmed with the slightly improved 37 mm Type 97 (in some sources marked as Type 98) gun with a muzzle velocity of 675 m/sec, while some vehicles were allegedly even equipped with 47 mm guns. No photographic evidence of any of these vehicles is currently known to exist.

The secondary armament consisted of one machine gun placed in the hull’s left side, with an additional machine gun was placed in the rear of the turret. Both machine guns were placed in ball-like mounts with a vertical and horizontal axis of traverse. Initially, the Type 95 was equipped with Type 91 6.5 mm machine guns. This was simply a modified version of the Type 11 machine gun, an infantry weapon that was air-cooled and fed via a side-mounted hopper. The Type 91 did away with the stock of the Type 11 and replaced it with an angled pistol grip so it was more maneuverable inside the tank. This machine gun was replaced by the Type 97 7.7 mm heavy ‘tank’ machine gun later during production. Again, this was an air-cooled gun, but it was fed from a top-loading magazine, similar to the British Bren gun. This machine gun was actually a Japanese version of the Czech ZB vz 26 machine gun. It was equipped with a stock that was angled off to the right, allowing the gunner to line his eye up with the sight. Both machine guns were mounted to the tank with an x1.5 telescopic sight which had a 30° field of view. The Type 97 was primarily a tank-based weapon, as its weight restricted its use by infantry. The hull-positioned machine gun had a traverse of 30°.

The turret-positioned machine gun was actually placed at a 120° angle (over the right shoulder of the commander) with respect to the main gun. This machine gun had a traverse of 25°. It was installed there so that, when the tank was in an infantry support role, the commander could traverse the turret around and just use the machine gun without the 37 mm. This unusual configuration had a negative side, as it prevented the Type 95 crew from using both weapons at a single target. This was somewhat compensated by the possibility of installing one of the two machine guns (usually the turret machine gun) on a mount on the turret top, facing forward. Both machine guns were also fitted with a removable armored cover that protected the external part of the barrel from shrapnel damage. The ammunition load for both machine guns was 2,940 to 3,300 rounds, depending on the source.

The Type 97 7.7 mm Heavy ‘tank Machine Gun. Note the top-loading magazine, x1.5 scope, and the armored barrel cover. Source: http://ww2f.com/threads/japanese-tanks-and-armored-vehicles.72238/
This vehicle had the second rear turret machine gun dismounted and placed at the front of the turret. Source; A. M. Tomczyk Japanese Armor vol.2

The Crew

The Type 95 was operated by a three-man crew, consisting of the driver, hull gunner, and commander/gunner. Interestingly, a number of sources mention that the Type 95 had a crew of four, which is incorrect.

The driver was located at the front-right of the tank. He operated the vehicle in the traditional method, using two tillers. The driver’s hatch was rounded and hood-like. It was located to his front. It was hinged at the top and opened out. The driver could see out of the hatch in three ways. For maximum protection, the hatch would be closed but there were three simple, narrow slits cut into it for limited vision. Unusually for the time, the vision slits were protected by reinforced glass that was placed in rubber mountings on the inside of the hatch. For slightly better vision but still protected, there was a smaller, square hatch in the center of the hood. In non-combat areas, the hood could, of course, be fully open when driving.

Close up view of the open (upward) driver’s hatch. Note the reinforced glass that was placed in rubber mountings inside of the hatch. The square port in the center of the driver’s hatch could be opened for a better view (than the small visor slits) when not in combat. Source: https://warspot.ru/5908-manchzhurskiy-plennik

Besides the standard driving controls, the driver was also provided with two small dashboards. The first dashboard was in front of him and contained a number of instruments like a speedometer, starter button, and a tachometer. The secondary dashboard was placed to his right. It contained an oil pressure gauge, ammeter, generator, and headlight switches.

Close up view of the driver’s post. Source: Japanese Tanks and Tactics, Military Intelligence Service.

On the driver’s left was the machine gun operator. His position was three-sided, with the machine gun mounted in the flat front. He had no hatch and would have to enter/exit the vehicle through the turret. He did have two small vision/pistol ports, one on his left and one on his right, cut into the angled areas of the semi-hexagonal structure.

The commander was located in the one-man conical turret, which was mounted slightly off to the left of the centerline. He was the most overworked of the crew, as he was in charge of commanding and directing the tank and also the other crew members. On top of this, he also had to act as the loader and gunner of the 37 mm and the rear positioned machine gun. For turret rotation, the commander was provided with a lever located on his left side. The commander had no internal radio to speak to the crew. Instead, he had a speaking tube that led to the driver and bow gunner.

Top view of the Type 95 turret’s cramped interior. The lever on the left side served to manually rotate the turret. Source Japanese Tanks and Tactics, Military Intelligence Service.

Unless it was a command vehicle, the Type 95 (or Japanese tanks in general) rarely carried a radio capable of outside broadcast. For the most part, commanders would have to rely on signal flags to communicate with other vehicles. The radio-equipped vehicles could be easily distinguished by the turret top mount round shape antenna.

Only a small number of Type 95 were ever equipped with short wave radios. Source: ww2f.com

A feature that highlights the original infantry support role of the Type 95 was the infantry buzzer on the back of the vehicle. This is an often overlooked feature of the Type 95. It consisted of a fake bolt head. Infantry outside the tank would use it to get the attention of the tank commander. The Type 95 was one of the first-ever tanks to have such a feature.

The black arrow indicates the hidden buzzer button that the infantry could use to establish a limited communication with the Type 95 crew. Source:warspot.ru

In combat

First experimental use in China (1937)

During the mid-’30s, the Japanese Imperial Army formed the so-called Mixed Mechanized Brigade. This unit consisted of a mechanized infantry regiment, a motorized artillery regiment, and, lastly, a tank regiment. The Mixed Mechanized Brigade was reinforced with a platoon of Type 95 light tanks in 1935. The same year, this unit was sent to the Great Khingan mountain range for detailed and rigorous bad weather testing. The Mixed Mechanized Brigade was then combat-tested during the Japanese invasion of the Shanxi Province, China. While the mechanized infantry elements of this unit did see some action, the light tank regiment was unable to see any major action. Inadequate performance of this unit would eventually lead to the disbandment of the Mixed Mechanized Brigade concept. After this, the tank units would be mainly used as support elements of Infantry Divisions.

While the war with China lasted up to 1945, the use of the Type 95 in this theater is not clear in the sources. It appears that, while a number of them were stationed in Manchuria and Northern China, most were used on the Pacific front until the end of the war.

Battle of Khalkhin Gol

The first time the Type 95 faced enemy armor was during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol (or the ‘Nomonhan Incident’, as it was known by the Japanese) in 1939. The Japanese armored force consisted of the 1st Tank Group commanded by General Masaomi Yosuoka, reinforced with the 3rd and 4th Tank Regiments. The armored strength consisted of 73 tanks and 14 tankettes. The 4th Tank Regiment, which was under the command of Colonel Yoshio Tamada, had 35 Type 95 tanks, with 8 Type 89 and 3 Type 94 tankettes. These were supplemented by an additional 50 armored cars and tankettes distributed amongst the infantry and cavalry units. The Soviet armored strength consisted of some 550 tanks (mostly BT series) and 450 armored cars.

The Japanese forces, which consisted of the 3rd Tank Regiment (41 tanks) and the 7th Infantry Division, attacked the positions of the Soviet 914th Motor Rifle Regiment and the 9th Mechanized Brigade on 2nd July 1939. With the support of the armored element, the Japanese managed to break through the Soviet defense line. In the following days, the Soviets counter-attacked, which led to heavy Japanese tank losses.

A captured Type 95 next to an artillery gun and a truck is examined by the victorious Soviet soldiers. While the Type 95 could effectively destroy Soviet tanks and armored cars, it was simply too lightly armored to withstand the 45 mm enemy guns. Source: Wiki

After the end of the hostilities, some 42 out of 73 tanks were reported to be lost, while around 13 would be recovered and repaired. The Japanese tankers managed to destroy some 32 Soviet tanks, with an additional 35 armored cars claimed. The Type 95 performed well and, with its 37 mm gun, could effectively destroy any Soviet armored vehicle due to their weak armor. The Type 95 armor was also an easy target for the Soviet gunners who outperformed their Japanese counterparts with their 45 mm guns. The loss of the battle of Khalkhin Gol and the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (between Germany and the Soviet Union) ultimately forced the Japanese to turn their attention to the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Towards the Pacific and Southeast Asia

Prior to 1941, the Japanese initiated a number of new projects with the aim of increasing the number of armored vehicles, improving the general performance, and changing the overall organization of these formations. While some goals would be achieved to some extent, like increasing the numbers of tanks or developing better guns, major expansion in armored vehicle distribution and development of advanced tanks was not possible due to limited Japanese industrial capabilities and the priority given to other military branches, like the Navy or Air Force.

Nevertheless, the Japanese Army managed to form a number of new tank regiments and to reinforce at least 10 Infantry Divisions with their own organic tank companies consisting of 9 Type 95 tanks. In total, by the start of the Southwest Pacific operations, the Japanese had around 2,200 tanks, with the majority being Type 95s.

War with the Allies

Following Japanese military actions in Asia and especially the occupation of French Indochina, the US government, in partnership with Canada and Great Britain, introduced economic sanctions against Japan. Of these, the oil sanctions hit Japan particularly hard, as it was heavily dependent on imported oil. It was this Allied action along with other pressures which would eventually lead to open war with Japan. The Allies were initially caught unprepared, believing that Japan could not muster a sufficiently strong force to attack several locations at once. The war with the US began just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The Japanese also undertook a major attempt to cripple the British navy that was operating in the Pacific. Following these events, the Japanese launched two major offensives with the aim of taking the Malayan Peninsula and the Philippines. For the upcoming invasions, the Japanese allocated the 1st, 6th, and 14th Tank Regiments for the conquest of Malaya. The 4th and 7th Tank Regiments were ready for the campaign in the Philippines. For the conquest of Burma, the 2nd Tank Regiment was allocated. In total, the Japanese mustered some 400 tanks for these operations.

Opposing the Japanese, the British and Dutch had only limited numbers of armored vehicles available by the end of 1941. These were mainly obsolete light tanks and armored cars, with smaller numbers of M3A1 tanks. American armored forces consisted of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions, with 108 M3 tanks and fifty 75 mm equipped self-propelled guns.

During the conquest of Malaya, which started in December 1941, each of the three Japanese Tank Regiments were equipped mainly with the 40 Type 97 Chi-Ha and 12 Type 95 Ha-Go. In total, there were some 211 tanks. The defending British forces did not expect any major use of armored vehicles due to the extremely poor terrain, with rare good roads. The mobility of Japanese tanks proved its worth here, as they were able to make good progress despite poor terrain, with the cooperation of the infantry. The Japanese tank forces made good progress, during which they were supported by bicycle infantry units. The Type 95, together with the Type 97, were vital against the Indian troops which were defending the important Alor Setar airbase. The speed of the Japanese tanks wreaked havoc among the Indians, who were pushed back in a panicked retreat. The next Japanese attack came toward the Allied Jitra defense line. Once again, the combination of the Japanese tanks and bicycle units broke the Allied line and forced some of their units to flee in panic.

A Type 95 during the conquest of Malaya. This particular vehicle received turret-mounted smoke dischargers. Source A. M. Tomczyk Japanese Armor vol.2

By early January, the Japanese reached one of the last defensive lines before the city of Singapore. While the first attack was repelled, Japanese soldiers found an unguarded abandoned road leading to the Allied defense line. Taking advantage of this, tanks and infantry units rush in to encircle the defending forces. By the end of January, after crossing some 900 km, the Japanese forces reached the suburbs of Singapore. The Allied defense force of Singapore numbered some 70,000 men, while the opposing Japanese force was only 30,000 strong. After heavy fighting, the Allies finally surrendered on 15th February 1942. The Japanese tanks, like the Type 95, played a great role in this operation. While their 37 mm gun proved inadequate against bunkers or fortified positions, their mobility and ease of repair made them great psychological weapons against the Allies soldiers who thought tanks could not be used in this theater.

Battle for the Philippines

The battle for the Philippines began on the night between the 8th and the 9th December 1941. For this operation, the Japanese had organized some 160 tanks, including a number of Type 95 tanks. The American armored force consisted of the 192nd and 194 Tank Battalions. The Japanese used around 100 tanks during the amphibious landings near Lingayen. Interestingly, the Japanese used specifically designed transport boats that had bow ramps, so that the tank could easily disembark and immediately engage enemy forces. On 22nd December, Japanese Type 95 tanks engaged a group of five M3 tanks near Damortis. In the short skirmish, one M3 was destroyed, with the remaining retreating back to their positions. On 31st December, the American M3 tanks managed to destroy 8 Type 95 tanks. By early January 1942, the advancing Japanese tanks and infantry forces captured Manila. The Americans responded by moving and fortifying Bataan with the two Tank Battalions. The task of destroying the American defenses was given to the 65th Infantry Division, supported by some 50 tanks. The Japanese tankers proved hard-pressed, as their main guns were less effective against the M3 tanks, and lost a number of tanks trying to engage the enemy armor. On the other hand, the Americans used the M3 in smaller units, which made them vulnerable to enemy concentrated Japanese anti-tank fire. The Japanese made several attacks supported by tanks but were initially unable to break the defensive line. To boost their force, the Japanese brought 45,000 new soldiers and, at the same time, the 4th Tank Regiment was evacuated for further campaigns. The American defenses were finally breached in early April. The M3 tanks were supporting the retreating infantry units while engaging the 7th Tank Regiment. In the following engagement, the two Tank Battalions were lost. The Japanese even managed to capture a few of them.

An advancing Type 95 somewhere in the Philippines. Source: A. M. Tomczyk Japanese Armor vol.2

Limited operational use in the Dutch East Indies

The conquest of the Dutch East Indies was undertaken with minimal engagement of Japanese armor due to the difficult terrain. The Type 95 did see limited action, mainly in infantry fire support roles.

Combat in Burma

The next Japanese target was Burma, for which the 1st, 2nd, and 14th Tank Regiment were assigned. On 21st January 1942, the Japanese used tanks for the first time in Burma, with great effect against the defending Allied soldiers at Sittang River. In February, the Allies were reinforced with two armored units, the 7th Armored Brigade, and the 7th Hussars equipped with American M3 light tanks. These two units were mainly used to support the Allied retreat and occasionally engaged with the Type 95 tanks. The Allies were even reinforced with the Chinese 200th Mechanized Division which was equipped with T-26 tanks. It is unknown if these ever engaged the Japanese armor in combat. The Burma campaign ended in one more Japanese success. While the tanks played a great role, many fell victim to the harsh terrain and lack of spare parts.

In North America

A generally less known fact is that the Japanese, with a few Type 95s, invaded Kiska Island near Alaska. The few Type 95s engaged in this operation belonged to the 11th Tank Regiment. The whole invasion was short-lived, as it lasted from early June 1942 until the American counter-attack in August the same year.

Toward Australia

In the following months, the Japanese made a new attack. By late August 1942, they were preparing an invasion of the Milne Bay (New Guinea) supported with Type 95 tanks. These offensives would be beaten back by the defending Australian forces. The Japanese lost a few Type 95 tanks in the process.

Combat use from 1943 to 1945

Despite these early successes, come 1942-43, the Type 95 tank was starting to become obsolete. In 1943, the United States Marine Corps, fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, began to field the M4 Sherman. With armor up to 90 mm (3.54 in) thick and a 75 mm main gun, the Type 95 was no match for it. In addition, American soldiers had at their disposal a number of anti-tank weapons, like 37 mm anti-tank guns and bazookas. As the war progressed and the Japanese began to fight a far more defensive campaign in the Pacific, the Type 95 began to see action as a defensive weapon on many Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. One example was the defense of Makin, where two Type 95s were stationed, but these did not see any combat during the Allied offensive in November 1943. Another example was the island of Biak (May 1944), defended by a group of six or seven Type 95s. These tanks were used in an attempt to dislodge the advancing American soldiers. Initially, four Type 95 supported by infantry attacked the enemy positions. The Americans were supported by two Sherman M4A1 tanks. The Sherman tanks fired using armor-piercing rounds which, at first glance, did not do any damage. In reality, these simply passed through the light Japanese tank armor. So, the American tank crews changed to high-explosive rounds with better results. The four Type 95 were all lost, despite managing to hit the Shermans without any real damage to them. A second wave with the remaining Type 95s followed soon, with the same result.

On the island of Eniwetok, several Type 95s were dug in and used as static coast bunkers. While they were successful in holding the Allied infantry back, once Sherman tanks landed at the beach, these defending Type 95 were all eliminated.

In the later stages of the war, the Japanese, due to the obsolescence of their tanks, simply reused them as static bunkers. This included the Type 95 tanks too. Source: Pinterest

A very interesting engagement occurred during the fighting for Betio island, between a Sherman M4A2 and a Type 95 tank. A lone Type 95 managed to hit a Sherman several times, damaging its gun and turret traverse. The Sherman commander decided to simply ram the Japanese tank, destroying it in the process.

While the Type 95 was crucial in many earlier Japanese victories, by mid-war, it had become obsolete. It proved incapable of threatening newer Allied tanks. Due to its weak armor, it could be destroyed by any Allied anti-tank weapon. The Sherman’s high-explosive rounds proved to be highly effective against them. Source: www.worldwarphotos.

One of the last engagements of the Japanese Type 95 in combat was during the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in August 1945. The Soviets amassed a vast armor formation of some 5,000 vehicles. The Japanese armored formations consisted of several hundred various armored vehicles. The engagements with Japanese armored vehicles were rare and most were simply captured by the Soviets. The Type 95, in particular, saw combat during the defense of the Shimushu Island (August 1945), where the 11th Tank Regiment was stationed. Some 25 Type 95 and 39 Type 97 tried to push back the Soviet amphibious landing forces. In the following battle that lasted some two hours, the Japanese lost 21 tanks. A few days later, the defending garrison finally surrendered to the Soviets, this battle marked the end of Japanese armored operations of the war.

Use by other nations

Thai service

Contrary to popular belief, the Ha-Go’s service did not end with Japan’s defeat. The Army of Thailand, which had effectively been press-ganged into supporting the Japanese Empire, purchased around 50 Ha-Gos in the early 1940s. There, they were operated under the designation of ‘Type 83’. Remarkably, after the end of the Second World War, the Thai army kept their Type 95’s in service until 1954. What is even more remarkable is that one of these is technically still in service with the Thai Army. It is kept as a show vehicle and is fully operational, making it one of only a small number of running vehicles remaining in the world.

The surviving Thai Type 95. Source: Alan Richardson private collection

French service

Reclaiming control of their Far-Eastern colonies after the war, the French military took control of whatever Japanese vehicles were still operational. In French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), this consisted of a few Type 95 tanks. Not much is known of them, barring a few photographs. These show some additional 10 mm armor plates added to the turret. The vehicles were apparently in operation until the late 1940s, around 1948.

A group of French Type 95 tanks. Note the added frontal armor, especially noticeable around the machine gun mount. Source: Pinterest

Chinese and North Korean service

China operated a number of Type 95s which were captured during the war or were supplied by the Soviets. By 1949, the Chinese had over three hundred Japanese vehicles, including some Type 95s mostly supplied by the Russians. The North Korean People’s Army also used smaller numbers of Type 95s, mainly for training.

Modifications based on the Type 95 tank

During the war, the Japanese tried to improve or reuse the Type 95 tank for a number of modifications, including an amphibious tank, a version armed with 37 to 57 mm calibers guns, self-propelled artillery, and an anti-tank vehicle.

Type 2 Ka-Mi

In the early 1940s, the Japanese Imperial Army showed interest in the development of amphibious tanks. During the war, based on a modified Type 95 chassis, the Japanese developed the Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tank. While it proved to be a good design, only less than 200 would be built during the war.

The successful Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tank. Source; WIki

Type 3 Ke-Ri

In an attempt to increase the firepower for infantry support operations, the Type 95 was rearmed with the 57 mm Type 90 gun. While the larger 57 mm caliber gun could fire a more potent high-explosive round than the old 37 mm gun, it could also fire HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) rounds. However, the installation of this gun in the Type 95 turret proved to be problematic and only a few vehicles of this version were built.

According to A. M. Tomczyk (Japanese Armor vol.9), it was actually equipped with a 37 or 47 mm gun placed in a newly designed turret. Sadly, there is no more information about it.

Drawing of the Type 3 Ke-Ri with either a 37 or 47 mm gun in a new turret. Source: A. M. Tomczyk Japanese Armor vol.9

Type 4 Ke-Nu

The Type 4 Ke-Nu was another attempt to rearm the Type 95 with a 57 mm gun. In order to accommodate this gun, a larger turret taken from the Chi-Ha tank was used for this modification. As the Type 97 Chi-Ha was being rearmed with a newer 47 mm gun, there were plenty of older 57 mm guns and turrets available. The production run was limited and precise numbers are not clear in the sources. These vehicles were used against the Soviet Force at the war’s end in 1945.

A surviving 57 mm armed Type 4 Ke-Nu support tank. Source: Wiki

Type 5 Ho-Ru

The Type 95 chassis was used for the experimental Type 5 Ho-Ru anti-tank version. On the chassis, what appears to be a fully enclosed superstructure was added. The main armament was changed to the standard 47 mm anti-tank gun. As the work on this project began in 1945, it is not clear if a working prototype was ever built.

A drawing of how the Type 5 Ho-Ru may have possibly looked. Source: www.ww2incolor.com/forum

Type 4 Ho-To

Little is said in the sources of this vehicle. The Type 4 Ho-To was built using the chassis of the Type 95 by mounting a new open-top superstructure. The main armament consisted of a 120 mm howitzer. While there is photographic evidence that showed a single prototype, there is no information of any more vehicles being built.

The little-known Type 4 Ho-to. Source: wiki

So-to

In 1940, a modified Type 95 chassis was extended by an additional road wheel and changing the position of the rear idler. Additional changes were the removal of large parts of the superstructure and replacing it with a 37 mm Type 94 infantry anti-tank gun on its wheel carriage. The hull-positioned machine gun was retained. It is not clear in the sources if this version was built in any number or if it remained only a prototype. The vehicle received the So-To designation, which could be translated as ‘Carrier-seven’.

Alleged drawing of the So-to vehicle. Note that the vehicle appears to have been drawn with the driver’s position moved to the left of the hull. Source: .wardrawings.be

Post-war modifications

Like many other Second World War vehicles, a number of surviving Type 95s would be modified for use in civilian and police service. While there is little information on these conversations, the civilian version had the superstructure and turret removed and replaced with a simple enclosed cabin. It also was equipped with a dozer blade. The police version received an enlarged cube-shaped superstructure.

The civilian version modified to be used as an improvised dozer. Source: Unknown
The police version. Note the Morris C8 Field Artillery Tractor ‘Quad’ behind the tank. Source: Unknown

Surviving vehicles

Being one of the most numerous built Japanese tanks, it is not surprising that some vehicles have survived to this day. There are at least several in Russia, one of which is in running condition. Several more are located in Thailand. A number of wrecks can also be seen around Southeast Asia. Some can also be seen in the USA, Australia, and the UK.

Bovington Tank Museum. Source: Mark Nash own
Battery Randolph US Army Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, USASource: http://tank-photographs.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/type-95-ha-go-Japanese-tank-bovington.html

Conclusion

In the west, Japanese tanks have never received much respect or admiration. Since the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific War, they have often been dismissed as poor tanks, with thin armor and weak firepower. This is a harsh assessment and one that is not accurate especially in this case with one of Imperial Japan’s first bespoke light tanks, the Type 95 Ha-Go.

In considering the Ha-Go, it must be remembered that it was an early 1930s design, aimed at supporting the infantry of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) in China during the Sino-Japanese war. In this theatre, it was an extremely effective tank, as it was facing an enemy without a large tank force or a significant number of anti-tank guns. It was only later, during the Pacific War in the mid-1940s, when these tanks faced tougher enemy armor, such as the American M4 Sherman, that the vehicles struggled. The Ha-Go and many of its Japanese contemporaries suffered greatly at the hands of the superior Shermans which outclassed the Ha-Go in all areas.

The Type 95 Ha-Go was one of Imperial Japan’s most produced tanks. By 1943, around 2,300 of these light tanks were built. They were reliable tanks and liked by their crews, their small size making them ideal for urban and jungle warfare. They would serve until the end of the Second World War (for Japan at least) through the colds of Northern China, the humid jungles of Burma, and the scorching, sunbaked islands of the Pacific.

Type 95 Ha-Go specifications

Dimensions 4.38 x 2.07 x 2.28 m (14.4 x 6.8 x 7.2 ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 7.4 tons
Crew 3 – Commander/Gunner, Loader, and Driver
Propulsion 120 hp Mitsubishi 6-cylinder diesel engine
Armament Main: 37 mm Type 94 gun
Secondary: 2 x Type 91 6.5 mm machine guns
Armor 6 to 12 mm
Top speed 45 km/h (28 mph)
Range 250 km (400 mi)
Total production 1,100 – 2,375

Source:


An early production Type 95 with the typical 1937 camouflage.

A Manchurian Ha-Go with the “Manchu” type suspension, 1940.

Ha-Go command tank with the “Manchu” suspension type, China, 1940.
Ha-Go Kwantung army
A Ha-Go from the Kwantung army, with a base three-tone camo and a brighter beige color later applied. Nomonhan (Battle of Khalkhin Gol), June 1939.

Another Ha-Go from the Kwantung army in 1939, with the “Manchu” type suspension. Notice the horizontal stripe.

Typical Ha-Go from a navy unit, involved in the amphibious operations in the south-western Pacific, fall 1941/early 1942.
Pilippine Campaign
Type 95 Ha-Go during the Philippine campaign, January 1942.
Ha-Go 1944
A Burma campaign Ha-Go, September 1944. This pattern of beige and blue-green was not unusual, as high contrast visual effects were sought for.
Type 95 Ha Go
A Ha-Go during the Saipan campaign, 1944.

Type 95 Ha-Go, late-production version, Indonesia, 1943.

Variants & derivatives

Type 4 Ke Nu
Type 4 Ke-Nu, an offspring reequipped with the early Type 97 Chi-Ha turret.
Type 3 ke-Ri
The Type 3 Ke-Ri, the designated replacement for the Ha-Go. It was basically the same chassis rearmed with a new turret housing a high velocity 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. Prototype on trials, Japan, fall 1944.
Type 5 Ho-Ru
Type 5 Ho-Ru. This was a projected tank-hunter based on the Ha-Go, with the same 45 mm (1.77 in) high velocity standard gun developed for the Shinhoto Chi-Ha. It is unknown if one prototype was built or only a mockup.

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

Jagdpanzer 38 (Hetzer)

nazi germany Germany (1944-45) Tank hunter – approx. 2,827 built

Introduction

The first issue to clear up is the fact that the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during the Second World War. Although most official wartime documents do not use the name Hetzer, a few did. Why this nickname has been associated with this tank hunter is investigated later in the article.

As the Second World War progressed, it turned into a numbers’ game. Germany needed more armored fighting vehicles that were cheaper to build and quicker to construct. They started using hulls of captured tanks and reliable but obsolete tanks, such as the Panzer 38(t), to mount anti-tank guns and artillery howitzers. This resulted in the production of the Marder series and Nashorn anti-tank self-propelled guns. They all carried powerful guns but had thin armor, an open-top fighting compartment, and a high profile which made them easy to spot on the battlefield. They could deal out punishment, but they could not take it.

Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter
German Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter self-propelled gun (UK School of Tank Technology)

The Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was designed to have a very low profile which made it hard to target and easy to conceal. It was only 2.10 m (6 ft 10.6 inches) high which was ideal for ambush tactics. It was armed with a powerful high velocity 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 gun that could knock-out most enemy tanks. It was cheaper and quicker to build than a Panzer IV, Panther or Tiger tank.

It was not designed to be a close combat vehicle, used at the head of an attack like a tank. It was a self-propelled anti-tank gun that was intended to be deployed on the flanks to stop counter-attacks. A pack of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters would hide in a wood or thick hedgerow and pick off enemy tanks at long range. The sloping front armor gave the crew reasonable protection from frontal attack. So long as the driver pointed the front of the vehicle at any threat, the crew could expect to survive a hit from an enemy armor-piercing shell. The thin armor on the sides of the vehicle and at the rear meant that there was a risk of being knocked out by flank and rear attacks with armor-piercing shells. If there was a danger of being outflanked, the driver had to change to a different location quickly.

In 1944, the Panzer 38(t) tank was considered outclassed and obsolete. It had been withdrawn from frontline units. The Jagdpanzer 38 utilized the tried and tested components of the Panzer 38(t) tank on a new wider hull. This meant that the Jagdpanzer 38 was relatively reliable, as all the early mechanical problems had been overcome. Because of this, production could start earlier than usual for a new armored fighting vehicle design, as most of the factory tooling for the manufacture of the Panzer 38(t) tank was still available. Due to the gun’s limited traverse, the driver had to continually change the vehicle’s orientation or move to engage new targets. This could reveal its location.

Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal

Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armor. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armor. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.

Romanian Mareșal tank hunter
The Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun (Romanian military archives)

Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. Other guns were looked at. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspension, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.

Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun
The Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun with the glacis plate removed. (Romanian military archives)

German officers were sent to inspect the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter. They were impressed with many aspects of the overall vehicle design and at one point considered it being used in the German Army, but there were too many practical issues that would have to be rectified before entering service. The external shape and some ideas were incorporated in the later Jagdpanzer 38 design. A Romanian Army report of the inspection of the Mareșal tank hunter by the German officers was found from the Romanian military archives in Bucharest. The Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. Their initial reactions are also recorded in the report. This document is covered in more detail later in this article when we cover the origins of the nickname ‘Hetzer.’

Mareșal tank hunter
A better view of the gunners position on the left of the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter self-propelled gun (Romanian military archives)

Development

On 26 November 1943, the production of Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns at the Alkett company was severely interrupted when Allied bombers dropped a total of 1,424 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on their Berlin factory. Due to the damage, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) investigated the possibility of starting Sturmgeschütz III production at the Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (BMM) company in Prague. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, this factory used to be called Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) and built tanks for the Czechoslovakian Army.

On 6 December 1943, the OKH reported to Hitler that the BMM company was unable to carry out this type of production order, as it did not have the infrastructure to manufacture the 24-tonne StuG III. The factory cranes could not lift a completed vehicle. The BMM factory cranes could only lift 13 tonnes. It had spent most of the war constructing 9.8 tonnes Panzer 38(t) light tanks for the German Army.

Hitler gave orders that the BMM factory was to concentrate on producing the new lighter Sturmgeschütz. It was proposed this vehicle would have a top speed of 55 – 60 km/h (34 – 37 mph), weigh 13 tonnes, and, as a result, have thin but sloped frontal armor to keep the vehicle’s weight low. The side armor was only to be thick enough to provide protection from small arms fire and high explosive shell shrapnel.

On 17 December 1943, designs for the new vehicle based on the hull of the now obsolete Panzer 38(t) light tank and a new type of reconnaissance vehicle (Aufklärungsfahrzeug) were presented to Hitler. They were approved for production.

Development work was carried out quickly. On 8 January 1944, the drawings of the final version of the vehicle were finished. By 24 January 1944, a wooden 1:1 scale model had been built and, two days later, demonstrated to officers from the Heereswaffenamt (HWA), the Army weaponry research and development agency. The size of the fighting compartment on the wooden mock-up was shorter than on the production vehicle, and the engine compartment had a longer sloped cover. These features were changed to give the crew more room.

Wooden mock-up of the Jagdpanzer 38
Wooden mock-up of the Jagdpanzer 38 with muzzle brake. (German Federal archives)

There were plans to design and mount a 7.5 cm rücklauflose main gun in the production version of Jagdpanzer 38. A rücklauflose weapon featured a gun barrel fixed to the turret or casemate, which took on the full recoil of a shot. Development of the rücklauflose gun would take too long, so in the meantime, it was decided that a 7.5 cm Pak 39 (L/48) anti-tank gun would be installed in the Jagdpanzer 38. This gun was already in production and available for use. Oberst Thomale (Colonel Thomale) ordered three prototype Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters to be built and available for trials. It took less than four months from the initial design approval to the production of the first prototype.

Production

Once the final design of the production Jagdpanzer 38 was agreed upon, BMM was awarded a contract to produce 2,000 vehicles. More were needed, so the Czechoslovakian company Škoda was also awarded a contract to build 2,000 Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. Both factories suffered bombing raids.

Jagdpanzer 38 production
The Jagdpanzer 38 production line (German Federal Archives)

Both factories were supplied with components from subcontractors. Three hundred and sixteen such companies were based in Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Protectorate. A further one hundred and seventeen came from other occupied countries and Germany. Due to advancing Allied forces and the constant bombing, the source of parts for construction of the Jagdpanzer 38 changed repeatedly. This caused delays in supply which affected monthly production figures.

The armored hulls were produced in the steel factory in Vitkovice and by the Poldi steel mills in Kladno: both were in the Czech Protectorate. They were also supplied by two German steel-factories: Linke-Hoffman in Breslau and Ruhrstahl in Hattingen. The tracks were cast in the Czech Protectorate at the steel mills of Chomutov in north-west Bohemia and Královo Pole in Brno. The engines were manufactured by the Czech car manufacturer Praga, which also supplied the Wilson-type gearboxes.

A total of 2,827 Jagdpanzer 38 were produced by BMM and Škoda. About 2,612 were Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters, 14 were Jagdpanzer 38D Starr, 181 Bergepanzer 38 and 20 Flammpanzer.

Jagdpanzer 38 production

Month Completed by Škoda Completed by BMM
March 1944 0 3
April 1944 0 20
May 1944 0 50
June 1944 0 100
July 1944 10 100
August 1944 20 150
September 1944 30 190
October 1944 57 133
November 1944 89 298
December 1944 104 223
January 1945 145 289
February 1945 125 237
March 1945 153 148
April/May 1945 47 70
Total 780 2047
Note: The figures for BMM include Jagdpanzer 38 Starr and Bergepanzerwagen 38 (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Jagdpanzer 38 at Škoda Works
Jagdpanzer 38 at Škoda Works, Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Notice the three false vision ports painted around the driver’s position to confuse Soviet anti-tank rifle snipers. (German Federal archives)

Design

Due to the limited space inside the Jagdpanzer 38 and the desire to keep the profile of the vehicle low, the gun mount was not bolted to the floor of the vehicle. Instead, a gun cradle mount was fixed to the glacis plate. The gun had to be installed off-center, to the right of the vehicle. This enabled the driver, gunner, and loader‘s positions to be on the left side of the vehicle, in line, one behind the other. The commander sat on the right side of the vehicle, at the rear of the fighting compartment, directly behind the gun, with his hatch above him. He did not have access to an armored cupola.

The gun was mounted to the right of the vehicle. This restricted its traverse to only 5° left and 11° right. To engage targets outside this narrow 16° traverse range, the whole vehicle would have to be moved. The off-center gun meant that there was too much weight on the right track and suspension. To the vehicle did not tilt towards the right, 850 kg of crew and equipment had to be placed on the left side of the gun as a counterbalance.

If all the hatches were closed, the crew had limited visibility, especially to the side and rear of the vehicle. The driver had two angled periscopes that protruded out of the upper glacis plate under a protective armored cover. The gunner was provided with a forward-looking Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr 1a (Sfl.ZF 1a) periscope gun sight. The loader had a periscope to look out for threats on the left side of the vehicle. The roof machine gun was aimed by looking through a periscope. It could rotate 360°. The commander had access to a rearward-looking periscope. If the commander’s hatch was closed, he had no forward vision. It would only be kept closed in extreme emergencies, such as during an artillery or mortar barrage. Also available was a Scherenfernohrs 14Z (Sf.14Z) scissor telescope which poked out the top of the open roof hatch which had a magnification of 8 x 10.

Engine and Transmission

The Jagdpanzer 38 was powered by a Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 158 hp petrol engine. The Praga engine was very similar to the one used in the Panzer 38(t) tank but had been uprated. Instead of producing 129 hp, it now produced 158 hp. The engine was connected to a five-speed Praga-Wilson transmission which was in turn connected to a Planetary steering system. The vehicle had a top road speed of 40 km/h (24.9 mph). This was less than initially hoped for. The production vehicle weighed 16 tonnes rather than the proposed 13 tonnes, which affected the vehicle‘s speed.

The dome at the back of the tank is a simple cover for the hand crank. Although the Jagdpanzer 38 had an electrical starter, crews were instructed that the preferred method was to use the hand crank where possible, as the electrical starter was not robust and should only be used in emergencies. To the bottom right of the rear armor plate, there was a port to gain access to the cooling water heater. In severe weather conditions, the engine coolant would freeze. A blow lamp could be placed in this port to warm the coolant and defrost it before the engine was started.

When the left rear engine compartment hatch is opened, access can be gained to the fuel filler cap behind the 12V battery. The Jagdpanzer 38 had two interconnected fuel tanks. The fuel tank on the left held 220 liters while the fuel tank on the right held 100 liters. This would give an approximate operational range of 180 km (111 miles).

Cooling the engine was a problem, as it only had a small air intake vent on the rear deck. It required a powerful motor to drive the air intake fan, which reduced the overall performance of the vehicle because it took power from the engine.

Suspension

Although the hull, suspension, tracks, and road wheels look very similar to those used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, the vehicle was a new build. The hull was wider: the Panzer 38(t) tank was 2.13 m (7ft) wide, but the Jagdpanzer 38 was 2.63 m (8ft 7.5 in) wide. The road wheels were larger than those used on the Panzer 38(t) tanks: they were 82 cm diameter instead of the tank’s 77.7 cm (2 ft 7 in) diameter. The suspension has been made more durable than that used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, especially at the front of the vehicle, in order to cope with the extra weight. The tracks have been widened from 29 cm to 35 cm (11in to 1ft 2 in). The Jagdpanzer 38 was only provided with one track return roller, unlike the Panzer 38(t) that had two.

The Driver’s position

The Jagdpanzer 38 driver had a basic instrument panel in front of him. He steered the vehicle by using two hand tillers. Each one of these levers controlled one of the two tracks. The driver also had a handbrake. The foot pedals were not in the standard order that we have come to expect in a modern car. The accelerator was in the middle. The pedal on the right was the foot brake. The gear change pedal was on the far left.

The gearbox was to the right of the driver. It was a 5-speed Praga-Wilson preselector. The Wilson type was the same system used by the British and developed by the Wilson gearbox company. The driver did not change gear like you would in a modern car, where you put the clutch in first and then select the gear. Instead, while the engine was running, they had to choose the next gear first and then depress the gear change pedal, which acted like a clutch, and let it come back up, hence the name pre-selector. To stop the vehicle without stalling, the driver had to remember to select neutral first, then apply the brake and the gear change pedal at the same time.

Exhaust system

Early versions of the exhaust system at the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter had the pipe coming down the back of the vehicle into a tubular silencer box that ran along the top of the rear armor plate, mounted horizontally. This was changed to a single pipe going into a flame hider on the back of the vehicle.

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Front and rear view of captured Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters (US archives)

Main Armament

The 7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 (7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48) anti-tank gun was used to equip Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The German word ‘Panzerjägerkanone’ literally translates to ‘tank hunter gun’ (anti-tank gun) and is usually abbreviated to Pak, thus sharing the contraction of the more common ‘Panzerabwehrkanone’. It was an electrically fired weapon fitted with a semi-automatic breech mechanism and a 48 caliber long barrel (3615 mm or 11 ft 10.3 in). It could penetrate the armor of most common Allied tanks at ranges up to 1,000 meters as shown in the table below.

When travelling across rough ground, the gunner used the internal gun travel lock to minimize any damage to the gun. The Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight was fixed to the left side of the gun and protruded out of the roof in a semi-circular sliding section of the roof armor. It moved when the gun was moved. It did not rotate. The gunner had to change his body positions to follow the gun periscope as he searched to bring the gun onto the next target by turning the traverse wheel. He also had to avoid being hit in the head by the remote control machine gun handles above him.

The loader sat on the left side of the main gun, behind the gunner and driver. He had a very challenging job because the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 anti-tank gun had been designed to be loaded from the right side. The loader’s controls were on the wrong side. To open the breech, he had to lean across the gun to access the breech opening lever. The main weapon had a semi-automatic loading system: once the first round was loaded, every time the gun fired, the recoil ejected the shell casing, and the breech block remained down in the open position waiting for another shell to be loaded. The large recoil guard was to his right, and this got in the way when loading shells. Not all of the ammunition was stored near the loader on the left side of the vehicle. Sometimes, he would have to reach over the gun breach and the recoil guard to access the shells stowed on the right side of this cramped tank hunter. The commander had a safety lever near him that prevented the gun from being fired while the loader was servicing the gun. When he was clear of the gun mechanism and a shell was in the breech ready for firing, the commander released the lever to enable the gun to be fired.

Design work on the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 started in 1939, but it was manufactured from 1943 onwards by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG in Unterlüß and by Seitz-Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It used the same 75 x 495 mm R ammunition as the 7.5 cm KwK 40 of Panzer IV medium tank and 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun fitted on the later models of the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns. No towed version of the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 was manufactured.

It could fire three common types of ammunition: Panzergranatepatrone 39 (Pzgr.Patr. 39) armor-piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell, Sprenggranatepatrone 37 (Sprgr. Patr. 37) high explosive (HE) shell, and different versions of the Granatpatrone 38 HL (Gr. Patr. 38 HL) high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. The latter was an effective high-explosive anti-tank shell and could be used against soft-skinned targets as well as armored vehicles. Its armor penetration qualities were not as high as the Pzgr.Patr. 39 (APCBC) shell. When fired, the Panzergranatepatrone 39 shell had a muzzle velocity of 750 meters/second (2460 feet/second).

Depending on availability, a few rounds of Panzergranatepatrone 40 (Pzgr.Patr. 40) high velocity, sub-caliber, tungsten core armor-piercing rounds were carried in case the crew encountered heavily armored Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns. The supplies of tungsten were limited.

7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 anti-tank gun armor penetration

(The data was obtained on a firing range. The armor plate was laid back at a 30-degree angle)
Pzgr.Patr. 39 Pzgr.Patr. 40 Gr. Patr. 38 HL
Shell Weight 6.8 kg 4.1 kg 5 kg
Initial Velocity 750 m/s 930 m/s 450 m/s
Range
100 m 106 mm 143 mm 100 mm
500 m 96 mm 120 mm 100 mm
1000 m 85 mm 97 mm 100 mm
1500 m 74 mm 77 mm 100 mm
2000 m 64 mm 100 mm
(Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)

The initial design of the gun mantlet was 200 kg heavier than the later design. The early vehicle was nose heavy, and this put stress on the front suspension. By changing the mantlet to a lighter model, and making adjustments to the suspension, the maneuverability of the vehicle became tolerable.

Secondary Armament

The loader had the job of rearming and firing the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun. It was fired from inside the armored protection of the fighting compartment. A hinged gun shield could be fixed in place to protect the crewman when reloading the gun. It was aimed by looking through a periscope. Behind him, on the rear wall, there was the radio, usually a Fu5 and the on-off master power handle.

60 degrees swivelling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun
Top view of the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun (German Federal Archives)

Armor

The front upper glacis plate of the Jagdpanzer 38 was designed to be 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick, sloped at 30 degrees from the horizontal. This meant that an armor-piercing (AP) round fired straight at the front upper glacis plate would have to penetrate 120 mm (4.7 inches) of armor due to the angle. The steep slope would also help increase the chance that the round would ricochet. The feared Tiger 1 heavy tank only had 100 mm (3.93 inches) thick effective frontal hull armor. The front glacis armor plate had interlocking welded joints for added strength and security. Sloping the armor meant that the level of protection could be kept high, but the costs and complexity of manufacturing the armor could be kept low. The lower front glacis plate was 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick angled at 50 degrees. This would make the effective thickness of that armor plate 78 mm (3.07 inches).

From these statistics, it would appear that the front armor of the Jagdpanzer 38 was very strong. According to H.L.Doyle, these figures are deceptive because the armor plate used was of inferior quality to the face hardened armor used on the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The 60 mm armor on the upper and lower glacis was roughly equivalent to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) face hardened armor used on the Panzer III. It was manufactured to E22 specifications and had a hardness of 265 to 309 Brinell. However, Panzer Tracts no.9, by T.Jentz, states that the Jagdpanzer 38’s front armor was meant to be immune to most anti-tank guns, contradicting Doyle’s statements.

The upper side armor of 20 mm (0.78 inches) thickness was comparable to the 14.5 mm plate used on the front of a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. It was made from a low alloy Siemens-Marteneit (SM) steel. It had a hardness of 220 to 265 Brinell. The tolerances on armor production were quite wide. The thicknesses of four different Jagdpanzer 38 upper glacis plates’ 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick armor were measured. They all belonged to the Wheatcroft Collection. One was built in February 1945, but the other three were built after the war as part of the G-13 Swiss Contract. The thickness ranged from 62.2 mm to 64.8 mm (2.44 – 2.55 inches).

The lower hull side armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick and sloped inwards at an angle of 75o. The rear armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick angled at 75 degrees. The roof armor was 10 mm thick (0.39 inches). The belly armor was 8 mm thick (0.3 inches). The Schürzen side skirt armor was made from 5 mm steel plate. It was designed to protect the side 20 mm thick lower hull armor from the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles.

Modifications

As with all other German armored fighting vehicles, improvements were continuously introduced during production to improve the performance of the vehicle and increase the speed of manufacture through simplification of its design. Some changes had to be introduced due to the problems with the supply of parts or raw materials.

The idler wheel design went through several changes. In order to reduce the amount of time it took to manufacture the rear idler wheel with twelve holes, different designs were introduced in the following order.

1. Six holes in a flat disc
2. Welded spokes with eight holes on a smooth flat disc.
3. Stamped ribs with six holes on a dish-shaped disc.
4. Six holes on a smooth flat disc.
5. Four holes on a smooth flat disc.

When Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were damaged, the maintenance workshop would fit whatever replacement idler wheels were available in their stores. Sometimes, late version vehicles would be equipped with early version idler wheels with twelve holes. If only one idler wheel needed replacing, then there would be situations where a vehicle would have idler wheels of different types.

In April 1944, further changes were introduced. The ram’s-horn towing hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle were omitted. They were replaced by extending the side hull armor plates and drilling a hole into the metal. The flange around the gun mantlet helped transfer the weight of the gun to the upper hull glacis plate. The size of the flange was reduced to decrease the weight of the gun mantlet. The length of the rooftop 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun hinged shield was shortened to stop it from hitting the top of the Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight.

The design of the front track drive sprocket wheel was changed. To save production time, the holes were no longer drilled on the outer ring of the sprocket wheel. A different type of rear idler wheel was fitted. It had four large holes in the disk rather than twelve holes in the earlier version.

Starting in May and continuing into July 1944, more changes were ordered. To stop having to open large hatches on the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 to access the crew compartment, the commander was given a small hatch that opened to the rear. A hatch was added on the lower right to enable access to the radiator cooling fluid filling cap. Another hatch was added to the lower left to give access to the petrol fuel tank filling cap. The heat shield around the exhaust was no longer fitted. Three ‘mushroom’ short threaded cylinders were welded to the top of the Jagdpanzer 38 to enable a two-tonne temporary crane to be mounted to help with mechanical maintenance, replacement of heavy parts, and repairs.

Further changes were made in August 1944. As a result of a redesign of the metal used in the internal and external construction of the gun mantlet, the weight of the Jagdpanzer 38 was reduced by 200 kg. Road wheels with a larger diameter center disk with thinner rims were introduced. Initially, the rim was drilled for 32 bolts around the edge, but often only 16 bolts were fitted. To help the driver exit his seat quickly in case the vehicle was hit, two handles were welded above the driver’s seat.

Production line changes were introduced in September 1944. To protect the crew from Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles being fired at the lower hull armor, the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was fitted with Schürzen skirt armor plates. Crews found that these plates were ripped off as they brushed past bushes and trees. The front ends of the Schürtzen were bent in towards the hull to try and stop them from being torn off.

The front set of leaf springs experienced more stress than the rear set and often broke. The thickness of the front set of sixteen leaf springs was increased from 7 mm to 9 mm. The rear set of sixteen leaf springs remained 7 mm thick.

More design changes were implemented in October 1944. The design of the driver’s periscope mounting had to be altered after the early version acted as a ‘shell trap. When incoming armor-piercing shells hit the front upper glacis plate but failed to penetrate it, they would slide upwards and enter the crew compartment via the protruding cover over the driver’s periscopes, after getting caught on it. The armored cover was no longer fitted. Holes were cut flush with the glacis plate to hold the periscopes. A thin sheet metal dual-purpose sun and rain guard was installed over the holes. If a shell slid up the upper glacis plate and hit this guard, it would be ripped off but would not act as a ‘shell-trap.’

New road wheels were introduced that were riveted instead of being bolted. It had been found that some of the bolts on the earlier versions of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter’s road wheels came undone.

The red-hot glowing exhaust pipes and flames of a backfire can give away the position of the vehicle at dusk and during the night. This can result in it being spotted by an enemy artillery forward observer and calling in an artillery barrage. The cylindrical silencer was replaced with a Flamm-Vernichter (flame destroyer) exhaust.

Allied bombing disrupted the supply of ball bearings. The gun mount had to be changed. The ball bearings used in the gun mount were replaced with roller bearings. This necessitated the installation of a spring compensator to help with elevating the gun.

Filling the Jagdpanzer 38’s fuel tanks took a long time. To enable the tanks to be refilled faster, a larger nozzle with an overflow pan was fitted. Also, there had been reliability problems with the electric fuel pump, so a Solex-handpumpe manual hand pump was issued. The commander’s hatch was equipped with a head cushion.

As the cold weather arrived in November 1944, just in time for winter, a new heating plate was fitted to keep the battery from freezing. The heating inside the crew compartment was also upgraded. A better heat distribution vent was installed in the engine compartment firewall. It gave a more even heat distribution inside the vehicle. The water pump also upgraded to one that was more robust.

By changing the location of an internal stowage box to the right of the commander’s position, a further five 75 mm shells were able to be carried.

The last batch of changes started in January 1945. The Model 6 final drive had a gear ratio of 12:88. They suffered from mechanical failure due to the stresses put on them. The Jagdpanzer 38 was three tonnes over the initial design specifications. It was front heavy, and the driver regularly had to maneuver the whole vehicle to enable the gun to be aimed at a new target. In January 1945, a new more robust Model 6.75 final drive was fitted. It had a gear ratio of 10:80.

The Jagdpanzer 38 was an ambush vehicle and needed to hide. To make the crew’s task of fixing cut tree branches and bushes to the exterior of the vehicle easier, ‘U’ shaped brackets were welded to the upper front glacis plate and the side armor. Wire or string could be threaded through these ‘U’ shaped brackets and foliage tied onto it. The exact date in 1945 this feature started to be added onto vehicles under production is not known.

To strengthen the towing brackets on some vehicles, side supports were welded at the junction of the hull side armor and the front and rear armor plates. Others had the extended hull armor towing brackets removed and replaced with ‘U’ brackets welded onto the lower front glacis plate and the rear armor plate.

Did the Jagdpanzer 38 have a muzzle brake?

The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by directing some of the explosive force of the shell gasses sideways rather than just forward. The wooden mock-up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke, which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post-war Swiss G-13 version had a muzzle brake fitted.

agdpanzer 38 with muzzle brake
Early production Jagdpanzer 38 with muzzle brake. (German Federal Archives)

Camouflage

Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left the factory painted dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028). Camouflage patterns were painted onto the vehicle when it arrived at the unit it was assigned to. In October 1944, new Jagdpanzer 38s were painted in a camouflage pattern before they left the BMM factory. It had a base color of dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028) with stripes and patches of dark red-brown (Rotbraun RAL 8017) paint and dark olive green (Olivgrün RAL 6003). Black rectangular false vision ports were painted on the upper front glacis plate to try and draw the enemy’s fire away from the driver’s periscopes.

The vehicle’s designation

The Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. What follows is an investigation into why the Hetzer nickname is associated with this tank hunter. Many German armored fighting vehicles had very long official designations, so shorter nicknames were used to assist in recognition, for example, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf.E was called the Tiger. There are others, like the Ferdinand, Panther, Grille, Wespe, Hummel and many more. Some were official designations while others were unofficial and came from the soldiers using the vehicle. The German High Command even issued orders for vehicle names to be changed because they were deemed to be misleading or not suitable for a vehicle belonging to the German Army. Some of the names now used to describe Second World War German fighting vehicles arose after the war. A few were the invention of scale model kit companies.

Ein grosser Hetzer

A Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. They had come to inspect several vehicles including the Mareşal light tank hunter. Its design is believed to have influenced the final development of the Jagdpanzer 38. The comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann were recorded in the last paragraph on the first page. He said the Mareşal would make ‘ein grosser Hetzer’ (an impressive hunter). The German word “Gross” does not only translate to big as in size. It can also mean good or impressive (Großartig). He went on to say it would be a superior adversary against the Russians.

Romanian Army document dated 1944
This is a Romanian Army document dated 1944 that recorded the visit of two German officers to inspect the Mareşal light tank hunter. In the last paragraph, they describe it as, ‘ein grosser Hetzer.’ (Source: Romainain Military Archives, Bucharest)

The Jagdpanzer 38 had many different official names

The word ‘Hetzer’ has not been used during this article because it was not used officially by the German Army during WW2. It is a nickname used by some of the troops. The Jagdpanzer 38 was known by many different designations and abbreviations in official German Army and factory documents.

two monthly Heereswaffenamt (HWA - German Army Weapons Agency) reports
These are two monthly Heereswaffenamt (HWA – German Army Weapons Agency) reports: one is dated March 1944 and the other November 1944. It is one example of how the Jagdpanzer 38 underwent name changes. (Source: Steven Zaloga/NARA)

The following is an updated list of the different names and abbreviations given to the Jagdpanzer 38, followed by the source, and date of the document that was initially compiled by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle. The term ‘Hetzer’ was a nickname and not an official designation.

leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (7 January 1944)
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (28 February 1944)
Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (18 January 1944)
Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (16 April 1944)
Sturmgeschütz neuer Art Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944)
Le. Pz.Jäger (38t) Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944)
leichtes Sturmgeschütz auf 38(t) Führer Konferenz (28 January 1944)
Panzerjäger 38 für 7,5cm Pak 39 (L-/48) (Sd Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 January 1944)
le.Pz.Jg.38t Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (4 March to October 1944)
le.Pz.Jg.38t Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (3 August 1944)
7,5 cm Panzerjäger 38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 31 July 1944)
Stu.Gesch.38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 6 June 1944)
Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Waffen bzw.Geräte (March 1944)
Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres Chef.H.Rüst.u. BdE/Stab Rüst lil. (15 May to 15 October 1944)
Ie.Pz.Jäg.38(t) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (7 June to 30 July 1944)
Stu.Gesch.38(t) GenSTdH/Org.Abt. Bericht (12 June and 28 June 1944)
I.Pz.Jg.38(t) Wa Prüf 6 (23 June 1944)
Ie.Pz.Jg.38(t) mit 7,5cm Pak L/48 auf Fgst Pz 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944)
le. Panzerjäger 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Name of Troop – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf Name of regulations – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944)
Pz.-Jäger 38(t) (späterer Name wahrscheinlich Jagdpanzer) (probable later name Jagdpanzer) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (12 September 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (19 October 1944 to 6 April 1945)
Jagdpanzer 38 D652/63 (1 November 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 und Panzerjäger 38 (7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 November 1944)
Jagdpz. 38 this style of abbreviation was used in a list as part of a combat readiness report by the Panzergrenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”. None were shown on strength. (3 November 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38, Panzerjäger 38 (m 7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres, Chef H.Rüst u. BdE/Stab Rüst III. (15 November 1944 to 15 March 1945)
Jagdpanzer 38 WaA/Wa Prüf 6 (17 November and 19 December 1944)
Hetzer The origin of this name was explained in this document as coming from the troops to denote the Jagdpanzer 38 Gen. Insp.d.Pz.Tr. Guderian. (4 December 1944) (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Hetzer and Pz.Jg.38(T) IX.SS.Geb.A.K (19 December 1944)
Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command telex (16 February 1945)
Jg.Pz.38 t SS-Sturmbannführer combat readiness report. (March 1945)
Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer SS-Sturmbannfüher combat readiness report. (March 1945)

The Project Hetzer E-10 prototype design confusion

‘Project Hetzer’ was the name used by the team tasked with designing a low-profile self-propelled tank hunter with a fast, powerful 400 hp engine that would give the vehicle a maximum road speed of 70 km/h (43.49 mph). It was an Entwicklungs-Serien (developmental series) 10-tonne vehicle that was allocated the designation ‘E-10.’It did not enter production. Weight designations in E-series were not very accurate. The E-10 was planned to weigh between 12-15 tonnes.

The plans for the Jagdpanzer 38 and E-10 were discussed at a concept design meeting between the German army ordnance officers from Wa Prüf 6, and the Czech Böhmisch-Märische Maschinenfabrik (B.M.M.) company. The language barrier may have led to a misunderstanding. It is assumed the Czech company officials believed the Germans were using the name ‘Hetzer‘ when talking about their Jagdpanzer 38 and not the rival company’s E-10 project. Thus, the nickname ‘Hetzer’ became connected to the Jagdpanzer 38 but not used as an official designation.
Military historian Herbert Ackermans found in the German Archives a report dated 21 January 1944, that detailed the items on the agenda and minutes of a number of meetings about the development and production of weapons and equipment, that took place with General Friedrich Fromm, German Army High Command (OKH), between April 1943 and 21 January 1944. (Archiv Signatur RH 10/37)

Klein-Panzerjäger
Klein-Panzerjäger (Source: Herbert Ackermans/Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv. Signatur RH 10/37)

Item 5 of the report dealt with Klein-Panzerjäger (small tank hunter). Major-General Beißwänger (General beim Chef der Heeresrüstung) remarked that the introduction of such designation (like ‘Klein-Panzerjäger’) was undesirable and that precise designations were required.

Oberst Crohn’s of Wa.Prüf. 6, informed those present at the meeting that the Romanian Maresal tank hunter was of no further interest to Germany as the production of the Jagdpanzer 38 has been decided upon. This also meant that Project Hetzer, Project Rutscher, and Project Sprengstoffträger mit Puppchen had been canceled.

This document provides evidence that the Jagdpanzer 38 and the Project Hetzer E-10 were treated as two separate vehicles.

The few wartime documents where the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used

Hetzer document No.1

On 31 July 1944, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (743rd Tank Hunter Battalion) reported having twenty-eight Hetzers available, with an additional fourteen Hetzers expected to arrive on 3 August 1944 when the battalion would be joined by the 3.Kompanie (3rd company) near Warsaw. On 3 August 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 submitted a ‘strength report‘ that listed how many vehicles were operational and how many were lost, damaged or needing mechanical repair. In this and later reports, the nickname Hetzer was not used. They were given the abbreviated designation of le.Pz.Jg.38t.

Hetzer document No.2

In a Führervortrag briefing sheet, dated 4 December 1944, from German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, Hitler is informed that the nickname Hetzer was used by the troops to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. Hilary Louis Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz mentions this in his Panzer Tracts book. (Found again by military historian Herbert Ackermans in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – NARA)

8.) Erklärung Ausdruck “Hetzer.” Der kommt aus der Truppe und bezeichnet damit den Jagdpanzer 38.

8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.

Führervortrag briefing sheet, showing the date 4 December 1944
This is the front page of the Führervortrag briefing sheet, showing the date 4 December 1944 (Source: Herbert Ackermans/NARA)

This is the second page of the same report.

second page of the Führervortrag briefing sheet.
This is the second page of the Führervortrag briefing sheet. The translation of the last point is “8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.” (Source: Herbert Ackermans/Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv.)

Hetzer document No.3

On 19 December 1944, a unit combat readiness report was submitted. It used both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer when collating the figures of combat-ready Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The 22 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had two Pz.Jg.38(T) available. The 8 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had three Hetzers available. The subordinated unit to the Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle stated they had three Hetzers available.

combat readiness report dated 19 December 1944
This unit combat readiness report dated 19 December 1944 uses both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer (Source Russian Archives CAMO 500-12472-383 War Diary of AOK 6, late 1944)

Hetzer document No.4

The fourth document was discovered by historian Herbert Ackerman in October 2020 as he was looking at documents in the Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv (German Military Archives). It is a telex from Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command addressed to the German High Command Panzertruppen Inspector. He asks when the Fallschirmjaeger Panzerjäger Abteilungen (airborne tank hunter battalion) are planned to be reequipped with Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer, what are the composition numbers and delivery dates. It was sent on 16 February 1945 and used the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer)

Wartime telex dated dated 16 February 1945 from Luftwaffe High Command
Wartime telex dated dated 16 February 1945 from Luftwaffe High Command to German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector where the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) was used.(Source Herbert Ackermans/Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv Signatur RH 10/123)

Hetzer document No.5

The fifth document was a unit combat readiness report for March 1945. In the eighth line down, under the heading Pz.Abt.17 (17th Panzer battalion) there is an entry, Jg.Pz. 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) listed one Jg.Pz. 38 t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunters belonging to the Pz.Jg.Abt.Nibelungen (Anti-tank battalion “Nibelungen”) as just Jg.Pz. 38 t and did not include the nickname “Hetzer”. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short-term repair, one in long-term repair, and one with transmission failure. (Source Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)

unit combat readiness report for March 1945
A unit combat readiness report for March 1945 that uses the term Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer. (Source: Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)

Hetzer document No.6

The sixth document is also a unit combat readiness report dated 7 March 1945 for the attention of the German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector from Kampfgruppe Panzer Korps “Feldherrnhalle”. In point 2, under the heading Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) there is an entry, (20 Hetzer) ready only after retraining of personnel on the Jg.Pz. 38. Earliest date 25 March 1945. Like some of the other documents it also uses both terms, Hetzer and Jg.Pz.38.

 Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) will have 20 Hetzers
This document shows that the Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) will have 20 Hetzers ready only after retraining of personnel (Source: Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)

How are the words ‘baiter and agitator’ connected with the Jagdpanzer 38?

During the Second World War and when hostilities had finished, German military prisoners, engineers, and factory workers were interviewed by Intelligence officers. The Allied translators chose to translate the German word ‘Hetzer’ when it was used by the person being interviewed to describe the Jagdpanzer 38, as ‘baiter’. These words appear in U.S. Soviet, British and Commonwealth reports. The interviews were recorded in German. They also noted that the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38 and some intelligence documents used the German word Hetzer rather than the English translation.

British M.I.10 intelligence source document
British M.I.10 intelligence source document noting that the Jagdpanzer 38 was also referred to as ‘Panzerjaeger 38’ and ‘Hetzer’ (Source Ed Webster/M.I.10)

Military Intelligence, Section 10 (M.I.10) was part of the British War Office, which would later become part of M.I.6. It was responsible for technical analysis of weapons. The original Secret documents were declassified on 22 November 1988. Multiple British army intelligence reports and English transcripts of German prisoner interrogations make use of the term ‘Baiter’ as an English translation for the German nickname ‘Hetzer’ when used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. These documents were collated and analyzed by M.I.10. The following extract is one such example.

he Allied translator has used the English word ‘baiter’ as a translation for the German word ‘hetzer’
British M.I.10 translation of an interview with Herr Mehlert about the Jagdpanzer 38. The Allied translator has used the English word ‘baiter’ as a translation for the German word ‘hetzer’. (Source Ed Webster/M.I.10)

In 1947, the M.I.10 used the name ‘Pz.Jäg. 38(t) – Hetzer’ under a photograph of a Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter in an official, secret, military reference book called ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, armored Fighting Vehicles.’ The publication was a summary of all the intelligence reports that M.I.10 had collected on German vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information in this document about the intelligence source on which naming the Jagdpanzer 38, ‘Hetzer’ was based.

Armoured Fighting Vehicles
This is a page from the British M.I.10 War Office 1947 publication Illustrated Record Of German Army Equipment 1939-1945 Volume III – Armoured Fighting Vehicles. It uses the nickname Hetzer (Source: Shrivenham Defence Academy/M.I.10)

Ralf Raths, the director of the German Tank Museum, whose first language is German, states that Hetzer is a German hunting term. ‘Hetzen” means to hunt your prey at high speed until it collapses or is caught. This is what wolves do in the wild. This would also cover hunting fox, deer, and hare with dogs and on horseback. The term Hetzer was applicable to the Project Hetzer E-10 fast tank hunter but not to the Jagdpanzer 38 which was a slow vehicle that only had a top maximum road speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). The popular modern phrase found on T-shirts, websites, and memes, ‘The Hetzer gonna Hetz’ is totally inaccurate. The Jagdpanzer 38 could not Hetz. It could not chase after its prey at speed. Its tactical deployment was as an ambush weapon.

Unfortunately, there is not a word in English that is a good translation of the German Word Hetzer. We have ‘hare coursing’, but ‘a coursing’ or ‘Project Coursing’ sounds wrong. There is not an overall general descriptive word in English that covers hunting fox/deer/hare/rabbit at high speed until it collapses. The verb ‘to harry’ is a hunting term but is associated with the bird of prey, the Harrier and the British fighter jet the Harrier: the ‘Harrier is gonna harry’. The ‘chaser’ would be the nearest accurate translation. ‘Project Chaser’ and ‘the Chaser’ sound correct in English: the ‘Chaser is gonna chase’. The problem with ‘chaser’ is that word does not always have a hunting association, unlike the German word Hetzer. The way a Jagdpanzer 38 operated in combat was the exact opposite of all these terms.

Many military history authors and magazine article writers translate the nickname ‘Hetzer’ as baiter or agitator. A dictionary definition of a ‘baiter’ is someone who ‘deliberately annoys or tauts another’. It is also defined as referring to a ‘malicious rabble-rousing agitator’ (This definition is where the word ‘agitator’ comes from). Both these explanations of the use of the word ‘baiter’ have caused confusion as it does not describe or hint at the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38.

There is another definition. A ‘baiter’ is a hunting term. It describes a hunter who baits a trap, lays in ambush hoping his prey takes the bait so that he can kill it. This describes the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38. They were given the job of protecting the flanks of an attack or defending a section of the front line. Crews were taught to camouflage their vehicles and hide on the edge of woodland. They would be deployed in a troop of three or more Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters and wait in ambush in a position where they had good visibility of advancing enemy units at a location they believed would be an Allied attack route.

Designation conclusion

To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer by the Germans during WW2. Although most official wartime documents do not use the nickname Hetzer, a few did.

Operational service

Starting from 20 June 1944, Panzerjäger Schulen (tank hunter training schools) started to receive Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles for crew training. A surviving Panzerjäger Schule Milowitz (Tank hunter training school at Milowitz) document showed that Jagdpanzer 38 crews were encouraged to find preselected firing positions, preferably behind an earth wall in cover, like at the edge of a wood. Once targets had been engaged and there were no more targets available, the commander was to direct the driver to change to a different location by reversing out of their current position, to avoid being hit by enemy artillery.

Jagdpanzer 38
Jagdpanzer 38 in Hungary. (German Federal Archives)

The Jagdpanzer 38s were assigned to independent Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Army Tank Hunter Battalions). They were to provide Infantry Divisions with a mobile anti-tank resource. When the infantry was under attack, they could be used as a resource to support the infantry’s counterattack. They were not intended to be used instead of a tank at the front of an attack in a major offensive. The guns’ limited traverse would make them liable to flank attacks.

Each of the Battalion’s three companies was given fourteen Jagdpanzer 38s, and three were allocated to the Abteilung Stab (Battalion headquarters). One vehicle per company and two of the headquarters’ vehicles were issued with long-range command and control Fu 8 radios. By February 1945, the authorized number of Jagdpanzer 38s per company was reduced from fourteen to ten. The Abteilung (battalion) approved total was reduced to thirty-eight from forty-five.

The Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 731 (731st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was formed on 2 November 1943 by Heeresgruppe Nord (Northern Army group). Between 4 and 13 July 1944, they were issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front.

Between 19 and 28 July 1944, Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 743 (743rd Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front with Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army group).

In September 1944, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 (741st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. One company was sent to the Eastern Front, but the other two were directed to the Arnhem sector in Holland.
In February 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 561 (561st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.

In March 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 744 (744th Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.

In December 1944 and January 1945, 295 Jagdpanzer 38s were used in the winter Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. The two companies of Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 and eighteen other Heeres Panzerjäger companies were deployed in the region. A Heeres Gruppe B (Army group B) ‘combat strength’ report dated 30 December 1944 stated that 131 Jagdpanzer 38s were still operational out of their initial strength of 190. Heeres Gruppe G (Army group G) reported that it had 38 Jagdpanzer 38s still functional out of an initial total of 67.

On 16 April 1945, during the attack on Bolatice in Northern Moravia by Soviet Forces, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the T-34-85 equipped 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from an area near Albertovec Farm. Two tanks were left behind just south of the farm to guard against a flanking attack. Corporal Ján Zámečník was the gunner in tank number 603. He fired on what he thought was a German machine gun nest on the edge of a wood. When it was neutralized, the crew went to examine the enemy position. They were shocked to find they had knocked out a very well camouflaged Jagdpanzer 38. The German crew had run out of fuel and main gun ammunition but had still decided to fight using the machine gun on the roof of their vehicle. The T-34-85 crew had not identified it as an enemy vehicle because it was so hard to see.

On 27 April 1945, eight T-34-85 tanks of the 3rd battalion, 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from the railway station at Dolni Lhota to Čavisov a village in Ostrava-City District, Moravian-Silesian Region. The attack halted as it encountered anti-tank obstacles. It was an ambush. Two tanks were knocked out, and a further three were damaged by a number of self-propelled anti-tank guns in concealed positions. The remaining tanks were forced to retreat. The Germans then made a tactical mistake. The crews of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters counter-attacked. They moved out of cover and into the village near the railroad station. One was knocked out before it reached the village and another was destroyed near the houses on the edge of the village. The others withdrew.

Jagdpanzer 38 driving
Jagdpanzer 38 driving over rubble in Prague 8 May 1945. (German Federal archives)

Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters

The first Jagdpanzer 38 came off the production line in March 1944. By the end of World War II, the Czech company BMM had built 2,047 of them and refurbished 173 that came back to the factory for repairs. Another Czech company called Škoda started manufacturing Jagdpanzer 38s and built a further 780 by the time of the German surrender.

Swiss Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank
Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunter

After the war ended, the Swiss were looking for new armored vehicles. They placed a contract with the Czechs. The first 10 that they received were German specification Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The rest were new-build vehicles for the Swiss contract. Some of them used World War Two parts that were readily available. Later vehicles had newly designed parts.

One hundred and fifty-eight Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters entered service with the Swiss army. Ninety-four of them were re-engined with diesel power packs. The last G13 left the Swiss army in 1970. Many were sold to museums and private collectors who converted them to externally look like Second World War German Jagdanzer 38 tank hunters.

The G-13 name

G-13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38 in the Škoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Škoda Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer was called a G-13 in the factory and on all internal documentation.
G = tank hunter, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3.
G-11 was Panzerjaeger I,
G-12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzle brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38 (t). The Škoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank hunter was known by the factory code G-13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38 or Hetzer name.

Variants

Jagdpanzer 38 Starr

The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. The diesel prototype remained the sole one to see combat and was used during the Prague uprising by both sides. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Jagdpanzer 38 after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.

Hitler inspecting the new Jagdpanzer 38
Hitler inspecting the new Jagdpanzer 38 Starr. (German Federal Archives)

Jagdpanzer 38(d)

This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), the same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine.

Flammpanzer 38

The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5 cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38 in an effort to confuse the enemy.

Bergepanzer 38

Bergepanzer 38
Bergepanzer 38 light recovery vehicle. (German Federal Archives)

A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks, and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.

Bergepanzer 38
Rearview of the Bergepanzer 38 light recovery vehicle with a dozer blade deployed at the back of the vehicle. (German Federal Archives)

Befehlspanzer 38

The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside.

Bergepanzer 38 mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun

A number of Bergepanzer 38 light armored recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft Flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.

Bergepanzer 38 with 30 mm MK 103
In the background, you can see a Bergepanzer 38 with a 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun with its gun raised.

This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz”. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support role against enemy troops and vehicles.

A Bergepanzer 38 with 0 mm MK 103 autocannon
A Bergepanzer 38 with 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun

Soviet Army capture the factories

When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia, they conducted a stocktake of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38 tank-destroyers “G-13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.

Czechoslovakian ST-1

The Czech Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.

agdpanzer 38 Hetzer
During the Prague uprising, 5th-9th May 1945, freedom fighters captured this German Jagdpanzer 38. It did not have a gun fitted but in its place, it was armed with a German anti-tank Panzerfaust. (photo capture taken from the film called ‘Květnová revoluce v Praze 1945’ held in the Národní filmový archive)

Foreign Users

Thanks to the great numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s built at the end of the war, it got to see service with a number of different armies during the war and after.

The only export user of the Jagdpanzer 38 was the Hungarian Army, which received about 85 vehicles between August 1944 and January 1945.

While the Soviets captured large numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s during their successful drive against the German armies, there is no evidence they put any into use. They did, however, supply some to their new allies, the Bulgarians (some 4 vehicles). Romania also captured a couple of Jagdpanzer 38s after switching sides and moving into Transylvania.

One of the most famous wartime Jagdpanzer 38s is Chwat, a single tank destroyer captured by the Poles during the Warsaw uprising that saw no combat use.

Another Jagdpanzer 38 was captured by Czechoslovakian rebels during the Prague uprising at the end of the war.

After the war, the Czechoslovakians had a number of Jagdpanzer 38s available to them left from production or abandoned on their soil. They produced 150 more and used them until at least the early 60s.

The Czechoslovaks also exported the Jagdpanzer 38 to Switzerland, which bought 158 vehicles that were in service until the 70s. Most of the current surviving Jagdpanzer 38s are actually Swiss G-13s.

Yugoslavia also captured some 20 tank destroyers from the retreating Germans, some captured and used during the war. They remained in service until about 1952.

Conclusion

Overall, the vehicle was successful. It was quick to build, and cheap compared with the cost of constructing a Tiger, King Tiger or Panther tank. It was mechanically reliable, easily concealed, hard-hitting, and when used right, a hard-to-kill vehicle. A company of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters working together, concealed in a good location, could damage or knock-out a considerable number of attacking enemy tanks.

Surviving Jagdpanzer 38

Currently, there are only 13 known surviving Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left. If the Jagdpanzer 38 you are looking at on display at a museum is not on this list of surviving vehicles then it is a post-war Swiss Contract G13 altered to resemble a wartime Jagdpanzer 38.
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Bruce Crompton Collection, UK
Rex and Rod Cadman Collection, UK
Private Collection, Germany
Panzermuseum, Thun, Switzerland
Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Army Technical Museum, Lešany, Czech Republic
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, VA, USA
Canadian Forces Base, Borden, Canada
Wheatcroft Collection, UK

Sources

Liechte Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer; 1944-45 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzerkampfwagen 38 Panzer Tracts No.18 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Box’ at the Tank Museum, Bovington Archives
Romanian Military Museum Archives, Bucharest
British War Office Military of Intelligence M.I.10 ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, Armoured Fighting Vehicles. ’
Hilary L. Doyle. Start from the 17 min time period https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG_mY-jSZzQ
Private correspondence with Mr. Hilary L. Doyle (1)
Herbert Ackermans document collection.

Jagdpanzer 38 specifications

Dimensions (L W H) 6.27 m x 2.63m x 2.10 m
20 ft 6.8 in x 8 ft 7.5 in x 6 ft 10.6 in
Total weight, battle-ready 16 tonnes
Armament 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) M.G.34, 1,200 rounds
Armor 8 to 60 mm (0.3 – 2.36 in)
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 160 hp @ 3000 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
Maximum Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Suspension Leaf springs
Range 180 km (111 miles)
Total production approx. 2,827

Romanian Maresal tank hunter
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38, the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38 “Chwat” (Brave) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Early type Jagdpanzer 38 “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, winter 1944-45.
Hungarian Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer 1944
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38, 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Unknown unit, Bohemia, spring 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Jagdpanzer 38 of the 11th SS Panzerdivision “Nordland”, winter 1944-45.
Ambush camo
Jagdpanzer 38 with the spotted ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945.
Czech Hetzer
Czech Jagdpanzer 38, in service by May 1945 with the Russian Liberation Army (Русская освободительная армия)
Lake Balaton
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38 “Mokus” tank destroyer, Lake Balaton battle, 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Hetzer captured by the Russian army, Czechoslovakia, 1945.
Hetzer Italy 1945
Jagdpanzer 38 of an unknown Panzerjäger unit in Italy, 1945
Czech insurgents Jagdpanzer
Jagdpanzer 38 captured by Czech insurgents, Prague, May 1945.
Bulgarian Jagdpanzer-38
Bulgarian Jagdpanzer 38, March 1945.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Unknown unit, ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Unknown unit, Bohemia, 1945.

Variants

Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Befehlspanzerjäger 38, 741st Antitank Battalion, Eastern Front, 1944.
Flammpanzer 38(t)
Flammpanzer 38, 352nd Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie, Army Group G, Belgium, December 1944.
Jagdpanzer-38 Starr
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr (1945). Being rather disappointing, the six built of this much simplified versions were converted back as regular Hetzers.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Panzerjäger 38 mit 75 mm L/70.
Jagdpanzer-38_Hetzer
Swiss G13 in 1960, notice the spare roadwheel should be on the other side. For identification only.

Derivatives

Bergepanzer 38
Bergepanzer 38.
Aufklarungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23
Another, more common type of Aufklärungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23.
Aufklarungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23
Jagdpanzer 38 mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23, Battle of the Bulge, winter 1944-1945.
Vollkettenaufklärer 38(t)/Kätzchen APC (1945)
Vollkettenaufklärer 38 prototype.

Categories
WW2 Italian Armored Cars

AB ‘Ferroviaria’

Italian Flag IconKingdom of Italy 1942-1945
Railway Armored Car – 20 Converted

The AB series armored cars were the main reconnaissance vehicles of the Italian Royal Army during the Second World War, with over 700 being produced between 1940 and 1945. Used on all the fronts of the war, after 1943, 120 were also used by the Germans and, after the war, by the Italian Army until 1954.

A total of 12 AB40 and AB41 armored cars were modified in 1942 to patrol the Yugoslav railways. This special version was called ‘Ferroviaria’ (Railway). After the war, another group of AB41 and AB43 vehicles were modified to be used to patrol the Italian railways.

AB40 “Ferroviaria” in the Balkans showing all the details specific to the railway armored cars. Source: wikipedia.com

History of the project

In an attempt to emulate the rapid German territorial expansion, Italy declared war on Greece in late October 1940. Due to unexpected Greek resistance, the Italian offensive was stopped and even reversed. The Italian situation in North Africa was also dire, and for these reasons, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler was not initially interested in the Mediterranean theater, being more preoccupied with the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But, worried by the possibility of a second front being opened to the south in Greece by the British while the German forces were assaulting the Soviet Union, he reluctantly decided to send German military aid to help the Italians. The Germans quickly made combat plans for the occupation of Greece, which counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia wanted to preserve neutrality and signed the Tripartite Treaty on 25th March 1941. Two days later, Air Force General Dušan Simović, with the support of other military officers staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the government. Hitler was furious about this event and ordered that Yugoslavia should also be occupied. This event would lead to the short so-called April War, during which Yugoslavia was defeated by a coalition of Axis forces which also included Italy. After this short war, the Yugoslavian territory was divided between different Axis forces. The Italians got part of Slovenia, Kosovo, part of Macedonia, Montenegro, and parts of the Adriatic coast.

While the war was over, the Axis withdrew most forces from this area, as it was thought to be pacified. However, two resistance movements, the Royalist Chetniks and the communist Partisans, would start a general uprising against the occupying forces only a few months later. In order to suppress these two resistance movements, the Germans and Italians began once again increasing their presence in Yugoslavia, which included armored vehicles.

The territories of Yugoslavia were divided between the Axis nations in 1941. Source wikipedia.com

The introduction of the AB40

After the occupation, the initial Italian armored force in Yugoslavia consisted of two groups of light tanks: the 1° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Giusto’ (Eng: 1st Light Tank Group) station in Karlovac and the 2° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Marco’ (Eng: 2nd Light Tank Group) stationed in Trebinje and Dubrovnik. These groups were each equipped with 4 squadrons, with a total of 61 L3 light tanks. In order to better protect their positions in Yugoslavia, in July 1941, the 31° Reggimento di Fanteria Carrista (Eng: Tank man Infantry Regiment), which also was equipped with the L3, was also sent to Yugoslavia. These units were mostly deployed to protect the Adriatic coast territories. Meanwhile, in Slovenia, the Italians initially did not expect any serious opposition. But, in June 1941, the communist movement began to be active even in Slovenia, which forced the Italians to pay attention to this part of the front as well. The Italian high command in Yugoslavia issued orders for the troops to arm and armor their trucks and to arm nearly all personnel.

In 1942, new armored equipment was brought to Yugoslavia by the Italians. This included the flamethrower version of the L3, the L3/38, and new types of armored cars, like the SPA-Viberti AS37, Fiat 626 and 665, and AB41.

The Italians employed a tactic of forming a large number of well-defended strong points. Their defenses often discouraged Partisans from attacking them. At the same time, they were left isolated and unable to efficiently coordinate attacks or defenses against the Partisans. This tactic led to an overextension of the supply lines. These strong points were also highly dependent on well-defended supply lines (like roads or rails), which were often prone to Partisan attacks. The rail tracks and trains were favorite targets of the resistance fighters. For the protection of these strong points, it was proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to be used in the occupied territories of Yugoslavia. Interestingly, the rare AB40 was also operated there by the Italians.

The sabotage carried out by Yugoslav partisans, which increasingly hit sensitive targets such as bridges, communication points, and railways considerably slowed down the convoys and supply columns directed to the strong points controlled by Italian soldiers. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) was forced to find a solution quickly. It was first proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to protect convoys heading for the Italian strong points, It was immediately clear that, although it was a good idea, building entire armored trains would take too long, and the army did not have the time necessary.

The order to build armored trains was given to Ansaldo, which began the development of new railway vehicles, while FIAT proposed to use the AB series armored cars, which were very useful for Italian soldiers to patrol the occupied territories.

In order to design this railway version, FIAT engineers asked for help from the experts of FIAT Ferroviaria, a subsidiary of FIAT which produced trains. After a very short time, it was decided to replace the tires of an AB40 with slightly modified steel wheels used by the Italian locomotives. Other minor modifications were made and, in January 1942, the AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ was presented to the High Command of the Italian Royal Army. A few days later, some vehicles were taken from the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo (Eng: Armored Car Training Centre) of Pinerolo and modified in the nearby FIAT factory of Turin. In total, in less than a month, 12 armored cars of the AB series were converted. These were eight AB40s that the Regio Esercito considered unsuitable for the reconnaissance role and were, in fact, used for training, and four AB41s that were used in armored car companies and command platoons.

In the months before the Armistice of September 1943, another order was placed for the conversion of 8 more AB41s.

Design

In the mid-30s, the Royal Italian Army realized that the Lancia 1ZM armored cars produced during the First World War were by now poorly armed, poorly protected, and performed poorly off-road. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, some Lancia 1ZMs were sent to Spain to support General Francisco Franco’s army. After their use in battle, it was clear to the Italian High Command that, although still efficient as support vehicles, they could no longer carry out reconnaissance activities. In late 1937, the Royal Army decided to issue an order for the development of a new armored car for long-range reconnaissance.

In the 1930s, the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (Eng: Italian Police in Africa), the police corps in charge of the security of the Italian colonies, still used the old Lancia 1ZMs, which were not very suitable for desert use, and also handcrafted armored cargo trucks to face the anti-imperialist resistance in Libya and Ethiopia. After testing light tanks with little success, in 1937, the PAI command autonomously requested the development of an armored car prototype for long-range reconnaissance.

FIAT and Ansaldo cooperated to produce two prototypes with many compatible parts that could meet the requirements of the Italian Royal Army and the Italian African Police. After almost two years of development, the two prototypes were presented in Turin on May 15, 1939. One of them was tested in East Africa, while the other one remained in Italy. For mass production, it was decided to unify the two vehicles, which later became the AutoBlinda Mod. 1940 (Eng: Armored Car Mod. 1940), more commonly known as the AB40.

Standard AB40 in service at the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo. Source: pinterest.com

From the beginning, the AB40 was evaluated as being poorly armed. When production began, it was decided to develop a version armed with a 20 mm cannon. 24 AB40s were produced until March/April 1941 plus 5 pre-series vehicles and two prototypes. The next version was the AB41 which had the same hull and the turret of the light tank L6/40. About 600 of this new version were produced for the rest of the war, until 1945.

The AB40 was designed for reconnaissance and not combat, so it had 9 mm armor all over the structure and turret. Another interesting feature were the dual driving controls, with one driver at the back and one at the front. This allowed the vehicle, in case of involvement in a firefight, to withdraw from combat without complicated maneuvers.

The crew consisted of four soldiers: front driver, vehicle commander/gunner, rear driver on the left and rear gunner on the right.

For the AB40, the armament was composed of two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns in the turret and another Breda Mod. 1938 mounted in a ball bearing on the rear plate. This latter gun was removable and usable on an anti-aircraft support which was not always supplied to the crews. The ammunition stack was 2,040 rounds in 85 magazines of 24 rounds each, kept in the racks on the sides of the hull.

The radio equipment of the first vehicles produced was unknown. In March 1941, the RF3M radio produced by Magneti Marelli began to be installed. The vehicles with the radio apparatus of the first type are recognizable because they had the radio antenna on the right side.

The suspension was quite advanced. The vehicle had four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, with independent shock absorbers on each wheel which gave excellent off-road mobility. The engine was a FIAT SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder water-cooled inline petrol engine developing 78 hp. This engine was designed by FIAT and produced by its subsidiary SPA in Turin. The AB40 had a speed of 80 km/h on road, while the range was about 400 km.

The AB41s received the new Mod. 1941 turret, armed with a 20/65 Breda Cannon Mod. 1935 caliber 20 mm and a Breda Mod. 38 coaxial machine gun and new racks that allowed the transport of 456 20 mm bullets. The last modification was the introduction, due to the weight increase from 6.8 to 7.4 tons, of a more powerful version of the SPA ABM 1 called ABM 2, which was able to deliver 88 hp of power.

Due to production problems of the new engine, many armored cars were equipped with ABM 1 engines and Mod. 1941 turrets, giving birth to AB40/41 hybrids. These armored cars, impossible to distinguish externally from the normal AB41, had a slightly lower top speed and range than the AB41 due to the lower engine power.

Standard AB41 armored car. Source: wikipedia.com

FIAT chose to keep the AB’s dual driving arrangement for the railway version, which allowed for a change of direction without turning the vehicle. Another vehicle of the type was the Autocarretta Ferroviaria Blindata Mod. 42 (Armored Railway Truck), based on the chassis of the Autocarretta OM 36 DM, a small truck suitable for the transport of about 900 kg of material, of which 20 were produced in late 1942. This particular vehicle did not have a double drive and, in order to drive at normal speeds backward, it needed to be lifted by a hydraulic jack and turned manually by the crew members. This was dangerous during possible ambushes by partisans.

The Littorina FS ALn 556 produced by FIAT. Source: worldpress.com

In the ‘Ferroviaria’ version, the armored car was only modified externally. First of all, the steel wheels of the FS ALn 556, an Italian locomotive produced by FIAT Ferroviaria that entered service in 1938, were adapted to the armored car. On each fender, a box full of sand connected to the armored car’s braking system by a ‘Bowden’ cable (the same used on bicycle brakes) was mounted. When the braking system was in operation, some sand was released through a tube coming out from under the box’s floor and flowed on the rails increasing the grip of the steel wheels on the rails.

AB40 of the Regio Esercito. The sandboxes, as well as the “Bowden” cables which come out of the headlights fairings and connect to the two boxes passing in front of the two tow hooks, are visible. Below, near the rails, the two skids meant to remove obstacles can be seen. Finally, the spare wheels supported by the cable fixed to the superstructure are also clearly visible. Source: tortellinux.it

Four slightly raised skids were mounted in front of the wheels to prevent small objects, such as stones and branches, from slipping between the wheels and derailing the vehicle.

Much importance was given to the possibility of patrolling both railways and roads. On the hubs that supported the two spare wheels on either side, three fixing pins were added to mount a second spare wheel on each side. A steel cable was mounted on the superstructure to prevent the wheels from freeing themselves from the supports due to strong jolts. The steel cable was hooked to the superstructure when not needed. In order to prevent the cable from cutting the tires due to the tension, a wooden wedge was put on the wheels.

Two drawings showing an AB40 with steel wheels on a rail and the same AB40 with road tires. Bowden cables and skates are not fitted. The drawing is probably of a prototype version of the AB Ferroviaria from the FIAT factory. The spare wheels, in addition to the fixing pins, were supported by a steel cable that was hooked to the superstructure when not needed. Source: web photos

Operational use

The modified AB40 and 41 armored cars were used to form platoons consisting of 5 vehicles. These were used by the 2° Raggruppamento Genio Ferrovieri Mobilitato (Eng: 2nd Group of Mobilized Railway Engineers) stationed at Sušak, east from the Croatian city of Rijeka. By mid-1942, the AB40s were operating in the area of Western Slovenia, Gorskog Kotara, Like, Krajine Primorske, and Dalmatia. These were used to protect the vital rail supply system. They were usually acting as train escort and support vehicles or for close proximity reconnaissance.

In July 1942, during the anti-partisan Operazione ‘Aurea’ (Eng: Operation ‘Golden’) near Biokov, the Italians also operated at least six AB armored cars (possibly the rail version).

The first AB41 “Ferroviaria” converted with an unusual camouflage pattern. Source: Pignato

In 1943, the Italians increased their presence in the area with more armored trains and by increasing the number of rail armored cars to 20 (which precise types were used is not clear). During the first half of 1943, the Litorina Blindata railway locomotive, with a diesel engine produced by Ansaldo and equipped with two M13/40 medium tank turrets armed with two 47 mm cannons, 6 machine guns, two 45 mm Brixia mortars and two flamethrowers Mod. 1940, was introduced. These were meant to support the units operating the AB rail armored cars stationed in Sušak. These were used to patrol areas in Slovenia and Croatia.

In the foreground, a Libli in front of an AB. In the background, another Libli derailed by a partisans mine near Ogulin in Croatia on February 12th, 1943. Source: pinterest.com

During 1943, the Partisans made over 120 attacks on the Sušak-Karlovci area. Of these, six attacks were aimed at the Italian armored trains. Interestingly, due to poor knowledge of the precise name of the AB 40/41 rail armored cars, in Partisans documents these were simply called small railroad armored cars. In late February 1943, one railroad armored car was reported to have struck a Partisan mine near Ogulin.

During the night of 22nd August 1943, due to a Partisan mine, No.3 armored train and an armored car (most likely an AB) were heavily damaged. The explosion was so powerful that the shockwave knocked off the rail track, the locomotive, several wagons, and the supporting armored car. The last use of the Italian armored formation (including 4 armored cars) in Slovenia was in early September 1943 against the Partisans in the area of Krvava Peč and Mačkovec. If the Germans operated the modified AB 40/41 in its rail protection role after 1943 is not clear. The German forces stationed in Slovenia in 1944 and 1945, due to increased Partisan activity, relied more and more on armored trains for troop and supply movements. It is possible that some ABs were still operational and used by the Germans at that time. In a Partisan attack on the German trains, one ‘rail tank’, which may have been an AB, was destroyed on 8th January 1945.

AB41 ‘Ferroviaria’ captured by German troops after September 8th, 1943. Source: beutepanzer.ru

After the capitulation of Italy, their units still located in Yugoslavia found themselves in a state of chaos, as all fighting sides were racing to capture their territories and weapons. The Germans were anticipating the Italian capitulation and launched Operation ‘Achse’ (Axis) to seize the Italian Balkan held territories as fast as possible. They managed to disarm 15 Italian divisions in Albania and Greece and 10 more in Yugoslavia. The Germans captured many Italian AB armored cars, which were usually given to reconnaissance units, like the Aufklärungs-Abteilung 171 (reconnaissance battalion) and some police units.

AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ captured by German troops in Yugoslavia, used to patrol a Yugoslav town. All details of the railway version have been removed. Source: beutepanzer.ru

The Yugoslav Communist Partisans were also quick to take advantage of the situation and captured a large number of Italian prisoners and weapons. During the period of 8th to 25th September 1943, the Partisans managed to capture at least over 7 armored cars. Sadly, it is difficult to determine the precise type of these cars, as the Partisans had trouble naming them properly in the sources, but we can assume that some were of the AB series. These armored cars were used against the Germans with some success until October, by which time most were either destroyed or hidden due to lack of fuel, spare parts, and ammunition. They also captured some Litorine Blindate, which were used to assault some Italians strongpoints before being destroyed by partisans to avoid being captured by the Germans.

Standard AB41 in service with the German Army after the Italian surrender, somewhere in Yugoslavia. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Even the forces of the German puppet state of the Independent State Croatia managed to capture some weapons from the Italians, which included 10 armored cars. Partisan reports stated that the Croatian capital Zagreb was defended, from late 1943, by units equipped with ‘special’ armored cars (with some 7 to 10). These were described as being able to be driven in either direction (backward or forward) and had a turret. By this description, it is highly likely that at least some were of the AB series. In addition, at least one AB41 was operated by the Croat forces around the city of Varaždin.

An AB41 “Ferroviaria” used by the Croatian ‘Poglavnikov Tjelesni Zdrug’ (an elite unit) in Varaždin in 1944. The wheels are not the usual “Artiglio” used by Regio Esercito vehicles. Note the lack of the engine compartment hatches and the rear sandboxes. Source: pinterest.com

After the end of the Second World War, the new Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) employed some AB “Ferroviaria” in its Railway Engineering units. These were an unknown number of AB41s and at least eight standard AB43s that were built after the war. These later vehicles had been taken from the army and modified in 1946, probably by the same FIAT plant (from Turin) that, four years earlier, had produced the ABs that went to fight in Yugoslavia.

These armored cars remained in service with the Italian Army until 1954 or 1955 and, like all the vehicles of the time, they were repainted in NATO Green and received new plates. One AB43 “Ferroviaria” survives and is preserved at the Museo della Motorizzazione in Cecchignola near Rome.

At least one AB rail armored car was operated after the war by the new Yugoslav People’s Army. The precise use and fate of this vehicle is unknown, but, by 1955, nearly all available captured armored vehicles were earmarked for scrapping. It is possible that the single AB was also scrapped at that time due to insufficient firepower and lack of spare parts.

The only surviving AB in the “Railway” version. This AB43 was used after the war by the Italian Army. The iron wheels were substituted by normal road tires. The skids were removed and the sand tube was cut. Source: docplayer.net

Conclusion

The AB ‘Ferroviaria’ vehicles were produced to make up for the lack of armored trains in service in the Italian Royal Army. Fundamental for the patrols of railroads, preventing sabotage, and avoiding ambushes on the Italian supply trains, these special armored cars were used extensively even after the armistice of September 1943 by the Germans, who also reused them as normal armored cars. They also saw service post-war with the new Italian Army.

An AB40 Ferroviaria version, with the road tires changed with the ones used for railways. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5,20 x 1,92 x 2,29 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, second driver and rear machine gunner)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA ABM1 6 cyl, 78 hp with 145 l tanks
Speed 80 km/h
Range 400 km
Armament three Breda 38 by 8 x 59mm machine guns with 2040 rounds
Armor 9 mm front, sides, and rear
Total Production 8 AB40, (surely) 4 AB41 and 8 AB43

Sources

Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
Bojan B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43. Nicola Pignato e Fabio D’Inzéo
Italian Armored & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-1945. Filippo Cappellano e Pier Paolo Battistelli
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano: Dalle origini fino al 1939. Volume II – Filippo Cappellano e Nicola Pignato

The article was written by Arturo Giusti, who wrote the parts concerning the design and operational service, and by Marko Pantelić, who wrote the parts concerning the introduction of the AB 40, history of the project and operational service.