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WW2 German Tank Destroyers

4,7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I (Sd.Kfz.101) ohne Turm, Panzerjäger I

Nazi Germany (1940)
Tank Destroyer – 202 Built

Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander, Heinz Guderian, had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). In March 1940, the first attempt to build such a vehicle was made. This was the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm. It was more or less a simple improvisation, made by using a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull and by mounting a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun with a small shield on it. This vehicle proved to be an effective anti-tank weapon in the early period of the war, with a few examples remaining in service up to 1943.

Birth of the First Panzerjäger

During the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the 3.7 cm PaK 36 was the main anti-tank gun in use by the Wehrmacht. This gun proved to be effective against Polish tanks and other armored vehicles, which were generally lightly armored. The PaK 36’s mobility and small size proved to have a number of advantages during combat situations, but the biggest problem was the poor penetration power. While in Poland it did the job, for the upcoming invasion of the West, a more powerful gun was desirable. The much stronger 5 cm PaK 38 was still in the development phase and it would not reach the troops in time, so another solution was needed. The Germans were lucky as, during the annexation of Czechoslovakia, they came into possession of fairly large numbers of competent 47 mm anti-guns.

Both the 37 and 47 mm guns were light and relatively easy to move around using trucks, horses or manpower, and, for infantry formations, this was not a great problem. For the Panzer units, a towed anti-tank gun was a problem due to the frequent position changes required by the rapid advance of the armored units. Wheeled trucks had great problems driving off-road. Half-tracks were more efficient in this regard, but there were never enough of them available. In a combat situation, once targets were spotted, the PaK gun had to be disconnected from the towing vehicle and moved by the crew to a designated firing position, which could take valuable and vital time. The PaK gun was also an easy target for the enemy once spotted, as it had only limited protection from the front. Mounting a sufficiently powerful PaK gun on a mobile chassis was more desirable, as it would allow the gun to follow the fast-moving units and to quickly change position to engage enemy targets.

For these reasons, after the Polish campaign, the Heereswaffenamt (ordnance department) made a proposal to mount the Czech 47 mm gun on a modified Panzer I Ausf B. tank chassis. The choice for the tank chassis was based on the obsolescence of the Panzer I as a front line tank and the fact that it was available in sufficient numbers. The Panzer II was still considered useful and effective and the Panzer III and IV were deemed too valuable (and scarce) for such a modification. The company that was chosen to undertake this modification, was Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenfabrik) from Berlin. During late 1939 and early 1940, Alkett made the first drawings of the future Panzerjäger. Very soon, a prototype was built and tested. The conversion proved to be feasible and easy to construct. This prototype was demonstrated to Adolf Hitler himself in February 1940. After this demonstration, an official order for around 132 vehicles was given to Alkett. These vehicles had to be ready by May 1940.

Front view of a Panzerjäger I designed and built by Alkett. Photo: www.drugisvetski.com

Name

The original designation for this vehicle was 4,7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I (Sd.Kfz.101) ohne Turm. Nowadays, this vehicle is mostly known as the Panzerjäger I. Whilst sources do not give precise information about the origin of this designation, for the sake of simplicity, this article will use this simpler designation.

The Modifications

For the Panzerjäger I conversion, the Panzer I Ausf.B chassis was used, as it had a more powerful engine and was longer than the Ausf.A. The Panzerjäger I’s suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer I Ausf.B, with no change to its construction. It consisted of five road wheels on both sides. The first wheel used a coil spring mount with an elastic shock absorber in order to prevent any outward bending. The remaining four wheels were mounted in pairs on a suspension cradle with leaf spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total (four on each side).

The main engine was the water-cooled 3.8 l Maybach NL 38 TR, giving out 100 hp at 3,000 rpm. Due to the extra equipment and larger weapon, the vehicle weight was increased to 6.4 tonnes. The added extra weight affected the crossroad performance but the maximum speed was unchanged at 40 km/h. The gearbox (ZF Aphon FG 31) had five forward and one reserve speeds.

The most obvious change was the removal of the tank turret and, in addition, the superstructure upper and rear armor were also removed. In place of the turret was a new gun mount for the 4.7 cm gun. For better stability, the gun mount was held in place by three metal bars. Two vertical bars were connected to the vehicle bottom and another larger one to the rear engine compartment. For this conversion, the gun wheels and trails were removed. In addition, the standard 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun shield was replaced with a smaller curved one. For the protection of the crew, the first series of Panzerjäger I had a five-sided armored compartment, the plates of which were 14.5 mm thick. This armored compartment was bolted to the vehicle hull, which made repairs much easier. The second series of produced vehicles had two additional (one on each side) armored plates added, which increase the directions from which the vehicle was protected. This armored compartment provided only limited protection from the front and sides due to weak armor thickness. This is one of the reasons that the crews of these vehicles used steel helmets. In a vague hope of increasing the armor protection, some crews added spare tracks to the vehicle’s front armor.

The gun used was the Skoda 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38, known as the 4.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 36 (t), or simply as 4.7 cm PaK (t) in German service. It was an effective weapon for its time. During the period of August 1939 to May 1941, some 566 4.7 cm PaK(t) were built by Škoda for the Germans. The standard Panzergranate Pz.Gr.36 (t) had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s and a maximum effective ranger range of 1.5 km. The armor penetration of this round was 48-59 mm at 500 m and 41 mm at 1 km range with the standard AP round. The 4.7 cm PaK (t) could effectively destroy most tanks of the time at long distances, with the exception of the British Matilda, French B1 and later T-34 and the KV-1. In order to extend its operational effectiveness, a new Pzgr.Patr.40 tungsten round was developed (muzzle velocity was 1080 m/s). As the Germans lacked sufficient tungsten, this type of ammunition could not be produced in larger quantities and their usage was rare. The 4.7 cm PaK (t) also fired high explosive rounds (2.3 kg weight) with impact fuses to be used against light armor and infantry targets. The 47 mm gun had an elevation of -8° to +10° (or +12° depending on the source) and a traverse angle of 17.5° on each side. Elevation and traverse were controlled by two handwheels located on the gun’s left side. The main weapon monocular gunsight was not changed.

The total ammunition load was 86 rounds carried inside the vehicle in five different ammunition boxes. Only 10 HE rounds were carried, located behind the loader on the vehicle’s right side. On the right side of the crew fighting compartment, where the loader was seated, there was another ammunition box with 34 AP rounds. Some 16 AP additional rounds were placed under the gun. The remaining rounds were located at the rear fighting compartment under the gunner’s and loader’s seats.

For crew protection against infantry attack, a MP 38/40 submachine gun was provided. The ammunition for this weapon was stored on the left and right sides of the armored crew compartment. The crews could also carry additional personal weapons depending on the combat situation.

As it had no machine gun mount for an MG 34, the crew was instead provided with an MP-38/40 submachine gun, which served for limited protection from infantry attacks. Photos: www.worldwarphotos.info

Adequate radio equipment was important and, thus, the vehicles were provided with the Fu 2 receiver. A flexible antenna (1.4 m high) from the original Panzer I was located to the right of the driver. Later vehicles were equipped with a receiver and a transmitter (Funksprechgerat A) for better communication. These models had the radio antenna relocated to the vehicle’s left rear side.

The Panzerjäger I was operated by three crew members, who, due to the lack of space, had to perform more than one role. The driver, who was located inside the vehicle, was also the radio operator. The commander, who also acted as the gunner, was located on the left side of the armored compartment. The last crew member was the loader, who was located to the right side, beside the commander. To avoid being affected by harsh weather, the crew was provided with a folding tarpaulin cover.

In order to carry additional crew equipment or for used ammunition casings, a welded metal or mesh wire basket was added to the rear, above the engine compartment. Sometimes additional storage boxes were placed on the fenders or to the vehicle rear.

Panzerjager I side view. The vehicle’s relatively small height and the five-sided armored shield for crew protection are observable. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info
A vehicle from the second production series, easily identified by the extra armor plate added to the rear. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info

Production

The Panzerjäger I was produced in two series during the war. The first series was assembled by Alkett and production lasted from March to May 1940. The guns were to be provided by Škoda, with Krupp-Essen providing 60 armored shields. Hannover-Linder also provided an additional 72 armored shields. The monthly production for this batch of vehicles was 30 in March, 60 in April and 30 in May. Due to a lack of guns, two vehicles could not be completed. These two would be completed in September 1940 and in July 1941.

Krupp-Essen was tasked with providing 70 new armored shields for the second production series starting on 19th September 1940. However, the production orders were changed and only 10 armored shields were to be shipped to Alkett. The remaining 60 vehicles were to be assembled by Kloeckner-Humboldt-Deutz A.G.. The first 10 were completed in November, followed by 30 in December and the last 30 in February 1941. In total, 142 vehicles were assembled by Alkett and 60 by Kloeckner-Humboldt-Deutz A.G. These numbers are according to T.L. Jentz’ and H.L. Doyle’s (2010) Panzer Tracts No.7-1 Panzerjäger.

Organization

The Panzerjäger I vehicles were used to equip the Panzerjäger Abteilung (Pz.Jg.Abt) motorisierte Selbstfahrlafette, in essence anti-tank (or tank hunter) battalions using guns on self-propelled carriages. Each Pz.Jg.Abt was composed of one Stab Pz.Jg.Abt, equipped with one Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B, and three Kompanie (companies). These Kompanie were equipped with 9 vehicles each. The Kompanie were again divided into Zuge (platoons), each with 3 vehicles and one Sd.Kfz.10 half-track for ammunition supply.

In combat

The Panzerjäger I would see its first combat action in 1940, during the attack on the West. While the majority were prepared for the invasion of the Soviet Union, small numbers were used in the Axis occupation of the Balkans and in the North African desert.

Attack on the West, May 1940

For the upcoming invasion of France, four Pz.Jg.Abt were to be engaged, but only Pz.Jg.Abt 521 was combat-ready from the start. Pz.Jg.Abt 521 was allocated to Gruppe von Kleist prior to the beginning of the campaign on 10th May. The remaining three units, the 616th, 643rd and 670th, were gradually sent to the front once they achieved full combat readiness. These were fully equipped with 27 vehicles each, with the exception of Pz.Jg.Abt 521, which had only 18 vehicles, with 6 in each Kompanie.

The Panzerjäger I proved to be an effective weapon during the French camping. The Panzerjäger I’s strongest point was its 4.7 cm gun, which could effectively penetrate the armor of most Allied tanks from over 500 to 600 m. While it was primarily designed to attack tanks, it was often used for attacking machine gun nests or similar targets. Machine gun positions could be effectively engaged from ranges of over 1 km. In a report from the 18th Infantry Division made after the defeat of France, the effectiveness of this vehicle is clear “… The 4.7 cm PaK auf.Sfl. has proven itself to be very effective against tanks and also against houses when fighting in towns. It had a very real effect as well as a demoralizing effect on the opponent…

However, during the French campaign, numerous flaws were also noted. Despite having much better mobility than the towed anti-tank guns, the Panzer I chassis proved to be prone to malfunctions. The Panzerjäger I was often plagued with suspension problems. Another grave issue was that the engine overheated. In hotter days, in order to avoid overheating the engine, the Panzerjäger I could not be driven at a speed higher than 30 km/h with a half an hour pause every 20 to 30 km.

The lack of proper telescopic sights made the observation of the surroundings very dangerous for the crews. There were numerous instances crew members were killed by headshots while observing their surroundings from above the shielded compartment. This often forced the Panzerjäger I commander to rely on the gun sight only, which could be problematic when the vehicle was on the move. Another problem was the lack of proper communication equipment between the commander and the driver. Sometimes, due to the noise of the engine, it was almost impossible for the driver to hear the commander.

Armor protection was minimal. The Panzer I’s maximal armor was only 13 mm thick, while the combat compartment’s armored shield was a bit thicker, at 14.5 mm. This armor only provided protection from small caliber rounds and was useless even against French 25 mm anti-tank guns. Being open-topped caused other issues, as the crew could be easily killed. The limited space inside the vehicle caused additional problems, as the crew often lacked space to carry extra equipment or personal belongings. For this reason, some vehicles were equipped with a large storage box place on the right fender.

These problems would never be fully solved and would remain throughout the Panzerjäger I’s whole carrier. The poor roads in Russia and the hot climate in North Africa caused huge stress on the Panzer I tank chassis.

A row of tank destroyers in La Rochelle, France. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info

Forming of New Units

With more vehicles being assembled in 1940 and early 1941, it was possible to form additional units. The first new unit was Pz.Jg.Abt. 169 (which was later renamed to 529). By the end of October 1940, Pz.Jg.Abt 605 was formed. Besides these, two Panzer-Jaeger-Kompanie (Panz.Jaeg.Kp) with 9 vehicles each were formed. The first, on 15th March 1941, was attached to Leibstandarte SS-Adolf Hitler. In April 1941, the second Kompanie was attached to the Lehr Brigade 900. Unknown numbers were allocated to the 4th Kompanie of the Panzerjäger Ersatz Abteilung 13, which was, in essence, a training unit at Magdeburg.

In the Balkans

For the conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, the Panzerjäger Is from Leibstandarte SS-Adolf Hitler saw some action. However, as the opposing forces lacked any larger armored formation engagements with tanks were probably rare if any took place at all.

Operation Barbarossa

For the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, five independent tank hunter battalions equipped with the Panzerjäger I were allocated to this front. These were the 521st, 529th, 616th, 643rd and 670th Pz.Jg.Abt, with a total of 135 vehicles. Pz.Jg.Abt 521 was allocated to the XXIV Mot.Korps Panzergruppe 2 H.Gr.Mitte, Pz.Jg.Abt 529 to VII. Korps 4th Armee H.Gr.Mitte, Pz.Jg.Abt 616 to Panzergruppe 4 H.Gr.Nord, Pz.Jg.Abt 643 to XXXIV Mot.Korps Panzergruppe 3 H.Gr.Mitte and Pz.Jg.Abt 670 to PanzerGruppe 1 H.Gr.Süd. There were other independent battalions (559th, 561st and 611th, for example) equipped with vehicles using the same gun but placed on the Pz.Kpfw. 35(f) tank chassis (captured in France).

Almost from the start, due to unexpected Soviet resistance, the losses among all German units began to mount. This was also the case with the independent tank hunter battalions equipped with the Panzerjäger I. For example, by late July 1941, Pz.Jg.Abt 529 lost four vehicles. By late November, the unit had only 16 vehicles (two were not operational) at its disposal.

Due to the weak armor, camouflage was essential for the vehicle’s survival. Source: Wikimedia Commons

During this campaign, the Panzerjäger I was also used to support the infantry. This was the case for Pz.Jg.Abt 521 while supporting the 3rd Panzer Division. Due to a lack of operational Soviet tanks, the Panzerjäger I were used for supporting infantry, operating similarly to the StuG III. The Panzerjäger I commanders, due to the light armor and smaller gun compared to the StuG III’s, opposed this deployment of their vehicles.

Despite their protest, the Panzerjäger Is of Pz.Jg.Abt 521 were extensively used in this role. While the 4.7 cm had an effective range of 1.5 km, the light armor of the vehicle made attacking any fortified position defended with anti-tank or artillery guns almost suicidal and lead to many losses. For example, during the attack on Soviet positions near Mogilev, Pz.Jg.Abt 521 lost 5 vehicles. Some did not even have a chance to fire at enemy positions before being destroyed. Despite its weak armor, the Panzerjäger I could be effective against enemy machine gun nest and for supporting infantry attacks if properly used and if the enemy had no artillery or other anti-tank weapons.

However, these actions were still dangerous for the crews due to the open-top nature of the vehicles. In addition, the lack of secondary support weapons, like MG-34 machine guns, meant the Panzerjäger Is were vulnerable to infantry attacks. The use of the Panzerjäger I in a support role against unarmored targets can be best described by the ammunition usage. From the start of Operation Barbarossa to the end of 1941, the Panzerjäger I units fired a total of 21,103 AP and 31,195 HE rounds of ammunition.

Engagements with enemy tanks also took place. A rather strange example comes from an action near Woronesh-Ost (Voronež) in August 1940, when one Panzerjäger I from Pz.Jg.Ab 521 engaged a Soviet BT tank. When the BT crew spotted the Panzerjäger I, the commander of the Soviet vehicle decided to ram the German tank destroyer. The Panzerjäger I managed to fire two shots at the incoming BT tank. After these hits, the BT tank caught fire but kept moving and rammed the Panzerjäger I.

The German losses by the end of 1941 were tremendous. In the case of the Panzerjägers armed with the 47 mm guns (both those based on the Panzer I and those based on the Renault R35), around 140 vehicles were lost. By 1942, most Panzerjager I units were being equipped with the better armed Marder III series. By May 1942, Pz.Jg.Abt 521 had only 8 operational Panzerjäger I vehicles. It was reinforced with Marder III vehicles with the 7.62 cm gun and with 12 ammunition carriers based on the Panzer I chassis. In 1942, Pz.Jg.Abt 670 operated one company of Panzerjäger I and two of Marders. Pz.Jg.Abt 529 had only two vehicles remaining when it was disbanded in late June 1942. Pz.Jg.Abt 616 managed to effectively maintain three Panzerjäger I Kompanies during this time.

While the Panzerjager I proved to be effective against the lighter armored Soviet tanks (T-26 or BT series), the newer T-34 and KV series proved to be problematic to the point that the 4.7 cm gun was deemed ineffective. This forced the Germans to look for larger caliber weapons. The surviving Panzerjäger I became obsolete by the standards of late 1942 and early 1943.

The low armor thickness of the Panzerjäger I could be easily pierced by any kind of gun larger than rifle caliber. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info
In the hope of increasing the armor protection, the crews would sometimes add tracks to the vehicle’s front. While this did little do increase armor protection, it at least provided spare track links if needed. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info

In Africa

Pz.Jg.Abt 605 was the only unit equipped with the Panzerjäger I to operate in North Africa. It was shipped to Africa from Italy and arrived in mid-March 1941. Pz.Jg.Abt 605, with its 27 operational Panzerjäger I, was allocated to the 5th Leichte Division. At the beginning of October 1940, in order to replace losses, a group of five Panzerjäger I were to be shipped to Africa but only three arrived. The remaining two were lost during the sea voyage.

By the time of Operation Crusader in November 1941, Pz.Jg.Abt 605 was in action and, on that occasion, lost 13 vehicles. In order to replenish the dwindling supply of spare parts for the Panzerjäger I, the Panzer I tanks of the German Afrika Korps were often cannibalized for the purpose, as they were obsolete or were put out of action. By the end of 1941, Pz.Jg.Abt. 605 had 14 operational Panzerjäger I remaining.

In January 1942, it was reinforced with four more vehicles, followed by three more in September and October 1942. In order to give Pz.Jg.Abt 605 much stronger firepower, in early 1942, the unit received improvised Sd.Kfz.6 half-tracks armed with the 7.62 cm gun, known as ‘Diana’. In mid-May 1942, Pz.Jg.Abt. 605 had around 17 operational vehicles. By the battle of El Alamein in October 1942, eleven vehicles were reported as operational. The last two replacement vehicles arrived in November 1942.

Panzerjäger I being unloaded from a ship in North Africa. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info

During the African campaign, the Panzerjäger I was plagued with the same problems like on the other fronts. The armor was too weak, the suspension was prone to breakdowns, there were problems with the radio’s operational range, the engine frequently overheated and others. On the other hand, the gun’s performance was deemed sufficient. There are reports of three destroyed Matilda tanks at 400 m range in one action by using the rare tungsten rounds.

Panzerjäger I during the African campaign, 1941/1942. Due to problems with supplies, the crews often carried additional canisters full of water or fuel. Photo: www.worldwarphotos.info

Surviving vehicles

Four vehicles were captured by the Allies. One was sent to Britain and one to America for evaluation. This last one would remain at the American Aberdeen Proving Grounds up to 1981, when it was gifted to Germany. After restoration, it was moved to the Wehrtechnische Dienstselle at Trier. The fate of the remaining captured vehicles is unknown.

The only surviving Panzerjäger I, at the Wehrtechnische Dienstselle. Photo: Craig Moore

Conclusion

The Panzerjäger I proved to be an effective vehicle but not without faults. The gun had a higher armor penetration power than the current German anti-tank guns in the first years of the war. The problems with this vehicle were numerous, including the low armor protection, engine problems, transmission breakdowns, small crew, etcetera. Despite these, it proved to be capable of destroying enemy tanks that were otherwise immune to the smaller caliber 3.7 cm PaK 36.

The Panzerjäger I’s greatest merit is that it showed that the self-propelled anti-tank weapon concept was feasible and effective. It allowed the German Army to gain important experience in this kind of warfare.



Panzerjäger I of the Panzerjäger Abteilung 521, France, May 1940. It was part of the only eighteen vehicles ready on time to take part in the opening hours of the operations. The other companies were still training and would be engaged later in the campaign.


A Panzerjäger I operating during the Balkan campaign, in Yugoslavia and Greece, April-May 1941.


A Panzerjäger I of the Afrika Korps, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 605 (605th Anti-tank Battalion), Gazala, February 1942. Only 27 vehicles were sent, plus some replacements. They were the only tank-hunters available to Rommel during the whole campaign, until El Alamein.

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

Panzerjäger I specifications

Dimensions 4.42 x 2.06 x 2.14 m (14.5×6.57×7.02 ft)
Total weight, battle-ready 6.4 tonnes
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, loader and the driver/radio operator)
Propulsion Maybach NL 38 TR
Speed 40 km/h, 25 km/h (cross country)
Range 170 km, 115 km (cross country)
Armament 4.7 cm PaK (t)
Traverse 17.5 °
Elevation -8° to +10°
Armor Hull 6 to 13 mm, Upper armored superstructure 14.5 mm
Total production 202

Sources

N. Askey (2014), Operation Barbarossa: The complete organisational and statistical analysis and military simulation Volume IIB, Lulu publisher.
P. Thomas (2017), Hitler Tank Destroyers 1940-45. Pen and Sword Military.
L.M. Franco (2005), Panzer I The beginning of a dynasty, Alcaniz Fresno’s SA.
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
P. Chamberlain and T.J. Gander (2005) Enzyklopadie Deutscher waffen 1939-1945 Handwaffen, Artilleries, Beutewaffen, Sonderwaffen, Motor buch Verlag.
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
P. P. Battistelli (2006), Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Osprey Publishing.
H.F. Duske (1997), Nuts and Bolts Vol.07 Panzerjäger I, Nuts & Bolts Books.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No.7-1 Panzerjäger


Categories
WW2 German prototypes

3.7 cm Flakzwilling auf Panther Fahrgestell “341”

Nazi Germany (1943)
SPAAG – 1 mock-up built

As the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) lost control over the skies over Germany in the second half of the Second World War, it could no longer provide sufficient protection against Allied aircraft. Panzer divisions were especially affected by the lack of cover from fighter aircraft because they were always at the center of the most intense fighting.
The Germans already had copious amounts of half-tracked Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAG) of different calibres and weights (Sd.Kfz.10/4, Sd.Kfz.6/2, Sd.Kfz.7/1, etc). As these vehicles had very limited or no armor, they were vulnerable to enemy fire either from ground or air. The crew needed better protection from small arms fire and artillery/mortar high explosive fragmentation shell shrapnel. A tank-based anti-aircraft vehicle (German: Flakpanzer) could solve this problem, as it would have sufficient armor to resist most ground attacks with the exception of larger caliber guns. They would also provide some protection against air attacks, but even tanks could be destroyed by air ground-attack fire.

Side view of the Flakpanzer 341. Source
Many designs based on different Panzer chassis and weapons were tested and built during the war. The most successful were the ones based on the Panzer IV chassis (Möbelwagen, Wirbelwind and Ostwind), which were built in some numbers but were too late to have a significant impact on the war. One of the major shortcomings of all German Flakpanzers was the lack of a fully enclosed fighting compartment. As all were open-topped (because of easier construction, easier exhaust of gun fumes and the need to produce them as fast as possible), the gun crews were exposed to air attacks.
By the end of the war, the Germans tried to solve this problem by designing and building new Flakpanzers with fully enclosed turrets. One of these was the Flakpanzer based on the Panther tank, best known today as the ‘Coelian’.

History

In May 1943, Oberleutnant Dipl.Ing von Glatter-Götz, responding to the orders of Inspectorate 6, initiated the development of a new series of Flakpanzers based on already existing chassis. The Panzer I and II were outdated or used for other purposes. The Panzer III tank chassis was used for the production of the StuG III and thus not available. The Panzer IV and the Panzer V Panther were considered next. The Panzer IV tank chassis was already in use for several German modifications, so it was decided to use it for the Flakpanzer program. The Panzer V Panther was considered in case even the Panzer IV chassis proved to be inadequate for the task.
The Germans formed a commission for the analysis of the effectiveness of enemy ground attack planes. The report (dated 31st June 1943) stated that, in the case of dive-bombing, the lowest point that the enemy plane reached was 1200 to 1500 m at an angle of 45-80°. Planes using larger caliber machine guns or cannons attacked at an altitude of around 150 to 300 m. The committee suggested that the best way to bring down enemy planes was using direct fire autocannons. To effectively fight the enemy planes, the future Flakpanzer would have to have a fully rotating turret with a high angle of fire and the caliber used should not be lower than 2 cm, with the more powerful 3.7 cm being preferred.
To give the crew the best protection possible and to meet any future Allied developments, the Panther-based Flakpanzer had to have a fully enclosed turret that could be armed with several different proposed weapon configurations. These included the 2 cm Flakvierling, 3.7 cm (either twin or triple configuration), 5.5 cm Flakzwilling and even an 88 mm caliber heavy flak gun. The first proposed design drawings (HSK 82827) were completed by Rheinmetall in late May 1943. The armament consisted of four 20 mm MG 151/20 mounted in a specially designed turret. The elevation of the four guns was -5° to +75°. This proposal was never implemented, mostly due to the weak armament by the standards of 1944.
On the 21st December 1943, a Panzerkommision was formed to examine the further development of a Flakpanzer based on the Panther tank chassis. It was decided that the main armament should consist of at least two 3.7 cm caliber anti-aircraft guns. This requirement was later revised to two 5.5 cm Gerät 58 guns. The development of this new weapon had begun in 1943, but due to its complicated design, problems developing the ammunition and the late start of the program, only 3 prototypes were completed by the war’s end.
For the construction of the new turret, Daimler-Benz was chosen. The new turret had to fulfill several set criteria like armor thickness and having an effective traversing mechanism. The armor protection of the turret was to be impressive, with 100 mm frontal armor and 40 mm on the sides. The turret was to be moved by using a hydraulic drive which was powered by the tank’s own engine. The new turret design was to be ready by the middle of 1944, but nothing came from this.

Rheinmetall’s proposed Flakpanzer turret armed with four 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. Source

The Rheinmetall-Borsig “341” design

Unfortunately, being more or less a project only, there is little known information about this Rheinmetall-Borsig design. What is known is that, by the end of 1943, Rheinmetall-Borsig (or its subsidiary, Vereingte Apparatebau AG, depending on the source) began working on its own design for the new Flakpanzer based on the Panther tank chassis. The first drawings of the new vehicle were completed by 23rd May, 1944. One mock-up turret was built and placed on a Panther D and presented to Wa Prüf 6 at Kummersdorf, possibly in early 1945. Due to many reasons, it never went into production and the whole 3.7 cm armed Flakpanzer based on the Panther tank chassis was cancelled in January 1945 in favour of the larger 5.5 cm weapons.

Only one mock-up with a wooden turret was ever built and presented to German army officials. It was never adopted for service, mostly due to the need to focus production on Panther tanks. Source

Name

Depending on the source, there are different designations for this vehicle armed with 3.7 cm anti-aircraft guns. These include Flakzwilling 3.7 cm auf Panzerkampfwagen Panther, 3.7 cm Flakzwilling auf Panther Fahrgestell “341” or, simply, Flakpanzer 341. The designation 341 stands for the two main 3.7 cm guns (Flak or Gerät 341). This article will use the Flakpanzer 341 designation for the sake of simplicity.
It is also best known today under the ‘Coelian’ name. Coelian is actually the third name of Oberleutnant Dipl.Ing von Glatter-Götz, who was greatly involved in the development of the German Flakpanzer program. It is important to note that the Coelian designation was never used by the Germans and was possibly added after the war, like many similar German armored vehicle designations.

Front view of the Flakpanzer 341. The simple flat face of the lower part of the front turret and the angled upper part can be seen. Source: Unknown


What-if illustration of how a Flakpanzer 341 prototype with the later turret design might have looked like. Illustrated by David Bocquelet.

Technical characteristics of the Flakpanzer 341

Due to a lack of information, the precise Flakpanzer 341 technical characteristics are not known in detail.
The Rheinmetall-Borsig Flakpanzer was meant to be built using a new turret designed by the company and mating it with a Panther tank chassis. While sources do not explicitly mention it, it is possible that the chassis used for the production would consist of damaged ones returning from the front for repairs or major overhauls (similar to the Wirbelwind and Sturmtiger) rather than using new ones. The armor of the Panther hull was 80 mm thick at the front and 40 mm on the side and rear. The overall Panther hull would most likely have had only some minor modifications in order to speed up production.
The lower front and side section of the turret had simple flat plates. The top armor was sloped, probably in order to increase protection against air attacks. The rear armor consisted of one large rounded plate. There were at least two hatches on the top and one on the turret rear. Additional ventilation ports would most likely have been added to avoid the accumulation of fumes from the guns. The turret armor thickness was 70 mm, the gun mantlet had 80 mm, while the sides and rear were 40 mm thick. This was less than the Daimler-Benz version with 100 mm of frontal armor. It is interesting to note that, on Hilary L. Doyle’s drawing from the book Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers (dated from May 1944), the turret has a much more angled front armor design. The built mock-up had flat front and side plates, probably as these were easier to build. The turret was to be operated by a hydraulic drive powered by the Panther’s own engine.
For the main armament, twin experimental 3.7 cm (L/77) Flak 341 guns were chosen. Some sources wrongly mention the 3.7 cm Flak 43 as the main armament. The 3.7 cm Flak 341 (3.7 cm Gerät 341) was an improved version of the same caliber anti-aircraft gun which was developed by Rheinmetall during 1944. The development process was too slow and only four prototypes were ever built. The Gerät 341 had a range of 4300 m, with a muzzle velocity of 1040 m per second and a rate of fire of 250 rounds per minute (or 400 to 500 depending on the source, but this was probably the maximum theoretical rate of fire of the two guns). The Flakpanzer 341 3.7 cm gun had a belt ammunition feed mechanism with some 1500 rounds of ammo for both guns. The ammunition would be stored beneath the turret, in the vehicle hull. The Flakpanzer 341 turret had a full 360° of traverse, and the gun could elevate between -5° and +90°. The total weight of the guns and the mount was around 470 kg. The secondary weapon would have been the radio operator’s ball-mounted MG 34 in the glacis plate, with one more possibly mounted on the turret roof.

The Flakpanzer 341 with the guns at high elevation. Source
The crew would consist of four to five crew members. While the sources do not specify the precise role of these crew members, we can assume that it would be more or less similar to other Flakpanzer vehicles. In the Panther hull, there were seats for the driver and radio operator / hull machine gun operator.
The two hatches on top of their positions were unchanged. The remaining crew members would be stationed in the new turret. One (or two) loaders would be positioned on either side of the guns. However, because these were belt-fed, their jobs were much easier than with the earlier magazine feed systems. The commander’s position was behind the gun, and he was also probably the gun operator.
The estimated combat weight was around 40 tonnes. The average weight of Panther tanks (depending on the model) was in the range of 44-45 tonnes. With its 700 hp strong Maybach engine, the Flakpanzer 341’s mobility would most likely have been better than that of the regular Panther tank.
The dimensions of the Flakpanzer 341 would also be similar to those of the regular Panther, with the same length of 6.87 m and width of 3.27 m. The height would be the only exception, at 2.8 m to the top of the turret.

The Daimler-Benz and Krupp Flakpanzer 44 design

During 1944, Daimler-Benz and Krupp were also working on a similar Panther-based Flakpanzer. Their turret design had 60 mm thick front armor. It was armed with two 3.7 cm Flak 44 anti-aircraft guns. This project is somewhat confusing for a few reasons. The existing drawings circulating online of the alleged Daimler-Benz and Krupp Flakpanzer 44 are actually of the Flakpanzer 341 according to Hilary L. Doyle. In addition, despite the best efforts of historians, no solid information about the existence of the above-mentioned Flak 44 anti-aircraft guns could be found. There were two different 3 cm Flak 44 projects, but they progressed very little. In addition, in some sources, the 3.7 cm Flakzwilling 43 is wrongly identified as the Flak 44. It is possible that this variation of the Flakpanzer 341 design was mistook after the war as a different project. Being developed during 1944/45, when Germany was in a state of chaos and due to the lack of documentation, the impression of another design having been developed could have formed easily. Of course, due to a lack of proper documentation, this is only an assumption at best.

This is the alleged drawing of the Flakpanzer 44. In fact, this is a Flakpanzer 341 with a modified turret. Source

Reasons for cancelling the project

While the idea of a Flakpanzer equipped with a fully enclosed turret, armed with two anti-aircraft guns, based on the Panther was certainly tempting, there were many reasons why this project would not have been very successful. A fully protected turret offered the crew much needed protection from ground and air fire but it also led to a number of issues that had to be resolved. These included potential problems with ammunition feed loading and removing the used shell cases at 90° angles. Due to the low quality of the German propellant in the late part of the war, during firing, a lot of powder smoke and fumes would be produced which could be dangerous for the crew. A dedicated and efficient ventilation system had to be installed.
The turret controls had to be designed and built to quickly respond to crew commands. The main armament was also problematic. Instead of using already produced weapons, the Rheinmetall-Borsig designers decided to use the experimental 3.7 cm Flak 341. which was never adopted for service. In January 1945, Wa Prüf 6 submitted a report in which the 3.7 cm caliber was deemed as insufficient for an anti-aircraft vehicle of the size of the Flakpanzer 341.
Another problem was the acquisition of air targets. In an open-topped turret, this could be easily achieved by the crew by simple observation. In a fully enclosed turret, a specially designed periscope and sights had to be added.
While the fully protected turret offered many potential advantages, it was not easy to successfully design and build one. While, during the war, the Allies used vehicles with fully enclosed turrets, most anti-aircraft vehicles built after the war were open-topped (like the ZSU-57-2 or M42 Duster).
The most obvious reason why the Flakpanzer 341 was canceled was the high demand for tanks on all fronts across Europe. Thus, sparing any Panther tank chassis for roles other than tank and anti-tank versions was out of the question for the Germans.

Conclusion

Despite this, the development of the Flakpanzer 341 continued up to the war’s end. It never received a high priority and only wooden mock-ups were ever built. Even if the war had continued for some time, there was a small chance (if any) that the Panther-based Flakpanzers would have ever been put into production.

This vehicle would have similar dimensions to those of the ordinary Panther tank. Source

Sources

Duško Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1982). Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft tanks, Bernard & Graefe
Walter J. Spielberger (1993), Panther and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing.
Thomas L.J. and Hilary L. D. (2002) Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers, Panzer Tract
Petr C. and Terry G. (2005) Enzyklopadie Deutscher waffen 1939-1945 Handwaffen, Artilleries, Beutewaffen, Sonderwaffen, Motor buch Verlag.
Hilary D. and Tom J. (1997) Panther Variants 1942-1945, Osprey Military
Werner Oswald (2004). Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer, der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr ab 1900, Motorbuch Verlag,

3.7 cm Flakzwilling auf Panther Fahrgestell “341” specifications

Dimensions 6.87 x 3.27 x 2.8 m
Total weight, battle ready Around 40 tons
Crew 4-5 (Gunner/commander, loaders, driver and radio operator)
Armament Two 3.7 cm Flak 341 guns with 360 degree traverse
Armor Hull front 80 mm, side and rear 40 mm,
Turret shield armor 80 mm, front armor front 70 mm side and rear 40 mm
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
WW2 German SPAAGs

Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV 3.7 cm Flak 43 “Ostwind”

Nazi Germany (1943)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun

As the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) lost control of the skies over Germany in the second half of the Second World War, it could no longer provide sufficient protection against Allied aircraft. Panzer divisions were especially affected by the lack of cover from fighter aircraft because they were always at the center of the most intense fighting.
The Germans already had copious amounts of half-tracked Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAG) of different calibers and weights (Sd.Kfz.10/4, Sd.Kfz.6/2, Sd.Kfz.7/1, etc.). As these vehicles had very limited or no armor, they were vulnerable to enemy fire either from the ground or the air. The crew needed better protection from small arms fire and shrapnel. A tank-based anti-aircraft vehicle, or Flakpanzer, could solve this problem, as it would have thick enough armor to resist most ground-based attacks with the exception of larger caliber guns. It would also provide some protection against air attacks, but even tanks could be destroyed by air ground-attack fire. An open-topped Flakpanzer’s best defense against air threats was its anti-aircraft gun.
The word “Flakpanzer” comes from combining the abbreviation for Fliegerabwehrkanone (literally Aircraft-Defense-Cannon) and Panzer (Tank).
The first attempt at producing such a vehicle was the Flakpanzer I, which was built only in limited numbers and was more of an improvisation rather than a purpose-built vehicle. The later 20 mm-armed Flakpanzer 38(t) had insufficient firepower and armor protection and was more of a temporary solution. Later, the Möbelwagen (based on the Panzer IV tank chassis) was armed with the more powerful 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-aircraft gun, which solved the problem with the weak main armament, but was not without its defects. The Möbelwagen needed too much time to set up for firing and was thus ineffective against a sudden enemy attack. A Flakpanzer that could respond without preparation was more desirable, and the first such vehicle was the Flakpanzer IV 2 cm Flak 38 Vierling, commonly known as the ‘Wirbelwind’. While it was produced in small numbers and was generally viewed as an effective vehicle, the 2 cm caliber was deemed too weak by the late stages of the war. For this reason, a much stronger 3.7 cm Flak 43 was installed in a new turret and the ‘Ostwind’ (Eastwind) was born.

Three Flakpanzers from the same family based on the Panzer IV chassis. From left to right, they are the Ostwind, Möbelwagen and the Wirbelwind. Source

History

By 1943, it had become apparent that the Luftwaffe was losing control of the skies, and that the need for a Flakpanzer was dire. For this reason, the German Heer (German Army) took the first steps in developing new Flakpanzer designs. Given the long development time necessary to bring a new chassis to maturity and the shortage of available production capacity, it was decided to amend existing designs to fulfill the Army’s needs. The simpler and more logical solution was to simply reuse already produced chassis. The Panzer I and II were outdated or used for other purposes. The Panzer 38(t) was used in small numbers as a temporary solution, but it was needed for anti-tank vehicles based on this chassis and, in any case, it was deemed inadequate for this task due to its small size.
The Panzer III tank chassis was used for the production of the StuG III and thus not available. The Panzer IV and the Panzer V Panther were considered next. The Panzer IV tank chassis was already in use for several German modifications, so it was decided to use it for the Flakpanzer program. The Panzer V Panther was, for a short time, considered to be used as a Flakpanzer armed with two 37 mm anti-aircraft guns, but mostly due to the high demand for tank hulls, the project never went beyond a wooden mock-up.
The first Flakpanzer based on the Panzer IV tank chassis was the 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV. It did not receive any production orders but the prototype was modified and upgraded with the larger 3.7 cm Flak 43 (known as the Möbelwagen to its crews) and around 240 of this version were produced. The Möbelwagen had sufficient firepower to destroy enemy planes and the crew was protected by armored plates on four sides, which needed to be dropped down to use the gun effectively. The Möbelwagen needed time to set up for action and was therefore not a success.
It was apparent that a Flakpanzer with a fully rotating turret, enclosed on all sides and open-topped, was needed. For this reason, in early 1944, Generaloberst Guderian, Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Inspector-General for Armored Troops), gave In 6 (Inspektion der Panzertruppen 6/ Armored Troops Inspection Office 6) direct orders to begin work on a new Flakpanzer.
The main requirements for such a vehicle were:

  • The turret should be fully traversable (360°)
  • The new turret should have three or four crew members
  • The crew operating the anti-aircraft gun should be well protected and it should be open-topped so as to give the crew a better view of the skies and because of the smoke produced by the guns
  • The turret traverse mechanism should be simple
    The main weapons (it had to have at least two guns) should have a minimum effective range of 2000 m, with enough ammunition to operate efficiently in a combat situation
  • The height must be lower than 3 m
  • Radio equipment was important
  • From this requirement, two new projects were developed: the Wirbelwind armed with four 2 cm guns and the later Ostwind, armed with one 3.7 cm gun.

Name

There are several names given to this vehicle, which include Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV 3.7 cm Flak 43, Leichte Flakpanzer mit 3.7 cm Flak 43 auf Panzerkampfwagen IV or, much simpler, Flakpanzer IV/3.7 cm. It is most well-known today under its Ostwind nickname and this is very common in many sources. The origin or even if it was an original German designation is not clear, as none of the sources give a specific explanation of the origin of this name. This article will use the Ostwind name mostly for simplicity but also because of its common use in the literature.

First Prototype

While the Wirbelwind was an effective vehicle, its main drawback was the lack of effective range and the limited destructive power of the smaller caliber 2 cm rounds. The 3.7 Flak 43 had much greater range and destructive firepower and, for this reason, a decision was made to begin developing a new Flakpanzer armed with this weapon. To speed up the development time, the Ostwind was constructed using the same principle as on the Wirbelwind. The gun, enclosed in an all-round protected (except the top) turret was added on a Panzer IV chassis (with some modifications). Originally, to save time, it was intended to reuse the Wirbelwind turret, but mounting the larger 3.7cm Flak 43 in it was not possible, so a new design had to be made.
The prototype was completed by Ostbau Sagan in July 1944. The man in charge of designing and building the Ostwind project was Lt. Graf von Seherr-Thoss. This man was also responsible for the Wirbelwind program development. At his disposal, he had a small team of 80 workers who were mostly recruited from Panzer-Ersatz und Ausbildungs-Abteilung 15. The Ostwind, similar to the Wirbelwind, was to be built by the German Army itself, without the inclusion of any commercial firms. Lt. Graf von Seherr-Thoss and his team reused an older refurbished Panzer IV Ausf. G chassis and added a simple new six-sided turret (made of mild steel) with 10 mm thick plates in which the 3.7 cm Flak 43 with its crew were placed.

The Ostwind prototype front view. The man in the picture is the Ostwind chief designer Lt. Graf von Seherr-Thoss. Source: Pinterest

The Ostwind prototype was built using an older Panzer IV Ausf.G tank chassis (Ser.Nr. 83898) and a mild-steel turret. This vehicle would actually see combat during late 1944. Source
The Ostwind prototype, together with the Wirbelwind, were transported in late July 1944 to Bad Kuhlungsborn on the Baltic Coast for live-firing tests of the guns. During these tests, only a limited number of shots were fired by the Ostwind, less than 130 rounds in total. Observers from In 6 reported positive results for both these two vehicles and that the whole construction was feasible and without major problems. The only modifications that were required for the Ostwind was an increase in the size of the turret and improving the traverse system.
Based on this report, on 16th August 1944, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian ordered the Army Ordnance Office Wa I Rü (WuG 6) to arrange the construction of 100 new Ostwinds. The chassis would be provided by Krupp-Grusonwerk, the turrets by Roehrenwerke and assembly would be carried out by Deutsche Eisenwerke AG-Werk Stahlindustrie. At the end of 1944, Ostbau Sagan also became involved in producing the Ostwind.
Due to the rapid Allied advance in France following D-Day, the development of the Ostwind was temporarily stopped and the prototype was sent to France in late September 1944. A few days later, it was reported to have successfully participated in combat despite its mild steel turret. Although the combat results were promising and there was an urgent need for such a vehicle, the development and production of the Ostwind were slow and, by the end of 1944, there was little to no progress. The reason for the slow development process was the deterioration of the German war industry due to Allied bombing actions. In late 1944, Deutsche Eisenwerke A.G. Werk Stahlindustrie came under heavy bomber attack by the Allies and had to be evacuated. This was also the case with Ostbau Sagan, which was relocated in January 1945. The production of the first Ostwind vehicles began at the end of 1944 or early 1945, depending on the source.

Construction

As already mentioned, the Ostwind prototype was built using a Panzer IV Ausf.G tank chassis. For the production version, it was decided to use new Panzer IV Ausf. J chassis provided by Krupp-Grusonwerk. Whether this plan was ever fully implemented or if reused damaged Panzer IV chassis were provided by Krupp-Grusonwerk instead is not known. In Ostbau Sagan, the Ostwinds were built using any available chassis returned from the front, due to the high demand for new Panzer vehicles from the German Army.
The suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to its construction. It consisted of eight pairs of small road wheels on each side, with each two pairs suspended by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and six to eight (depending on the model used) return rollers in total (three to four on each side). The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM that produced 265 hp at 2600 rpm, but, according to Panzer Tracts No.12, the engine was modified to put out 272 hp at 2800 rpm. The design of the engine compartment was unchanged. The maximum speed was 38 km/h and, with a fuel load of 470 l, the operational range was 200 km.
The upper tank hull was unchanged from the original Panzer IV. The driver’s front observation hatch and the ball-mounted hull machine gun remained the same as well. In some sources, it is mentioned that the Ostwind production model had a Tiger turret ring installed instead of the standard one. This information is also mentioned in the Panzer Tracts No.12 book, ‘Flak Selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer’ (H.L. Doyle and T. J. Jentz) from 1998. However, in the new version from 2010, it is mentioned that the Ostwind turret was placed on an unchanged Panzer IV tank chassis without mentioning the Tiger turret ring. In addition, author D. Terlisten stated that this was planned by the Germans but never implemented on any production vehicle. So it highly likely that the Ostwind was never equipped with the larger Tiger turret ring, and that the whole thing was misinterpreted by some author after the war. It is possible to understand why this confusion could arise as the Ostwind was built at the end of the war, a period from which much documentation is missing.
For the installation of the main weapon, two metal beams were welded inside the Panzer IV hull to make a stable platform on which the 3.7 cm Flak was placed. For crew protection, an open-topped turret was provided. The new turret had a much simpler design than that of the Wirbelwind, constructed using only 12 larger armored plates (in contrast to 16 used on the Wirbelwind). This made the new turret much easier and faster to produce. This six-sided turret received the Keksdose (cookie tin) nickname. The prototype used a smaller turret, but to provide the crew with more working space, a somewhat larger turret was to be used on the production vehicles. For turret movement, a simple mechanism was provided. A steering rod was used to connect the Flak 43 traversing mechanism and the Panzer IV turret ring. This allowed the crew to move the turret by using the gun traverse. While more precise details regarding the turret construction are not known due to a lack of information, we can assume that it used a ring-shaped turret base welded to the hull top, with added ball bearings to help with the rotation, similar to the Wirbelwind. On the production Ostwinds, the lower part of the turret front had an additional pyramid-shaped sheet of armor welded to it. Its purpose was to provide additional protection against any possible ricochet (from smaller caliber rounds) in the direction of the vehicle hull. The larger turret also had one drawback, as it made it difficult to open the engine compartment. To do so, the turret had to be rotated 90°.

The new turret provided the crew with sufficient protection against low caliber rounds. Being open-topped, it provided a good view of the surrounding area and the skies. Source
The maximum hull armor thickness was 80 mm thick on the front, the sides were 30 mm, the rear 20 mm and the bottom and top armor were only 10 mm thick. The armor thicknesses noted here are for the late-build Panzer IV versions. Due to a lack of proper information and the chaotic state that Germany was in during late-1944 and early-1945, it is possible that some older chassis were used for this modification too. The new turret was protected by 16 mm of armor all-round, placed at a 30° angle. A number of sources note that the armor thickness was 25 mm. According to W. J. Spielberger (Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft tanks) the armor thickness was originally 16 mm, but later, during production, it was increased to 25 mm.
The main weapon used was, as already stated, the 3.7 cm Flak 43. Although sharing the same 3.7 cm caliber as the earlier Flak 18, 36 and 37 models, the newer Flak 43 (built by Rheinmetall-Borsig) was a completely different weapon. The primary goal of this design was to be simple to operate and easy to produce. It had a new gas-operated breech mechanism which was loaded with a fixed loading tray with eight-round clips. There was also a Flakzwilling 43 version with two guns mounted on the same carriage. In order to be installed in the new turret, some modifications were needed. The lower part of the carriage and the original gun shield were removed. In addition, the spent ammo basket was smaller due to the turret size. Only the small rectangular shield in front of the gun was left in order to cover the front embrasure opening. The Flak 43 could rotate a full 360°, with a range of gun elevation between – 10° to + 90°. The maximum rate of fire was 250-300 rounds per minute, but 150-180 was the more practical rpm. It is not clear, but it is estimated that between 400 to 1,000 rounds of spare ammunition were carried inside the vehicle. With the muzzle velocity of 820 mps, the maximum effective ceiling was 4,800 m. The upper right front armor plate had a small hatch that could be opened to allow the gunner to see and engage ground targets. The spare barrel (or barrels) were kept in a box mounted on the right side of the vehicle’s hull. For self-defense, the crew could rely on the hull-mounted MG 34, retained from the Panzer IV design, and their personal weapons.

The Flakzwilling 43 had two 3.7 cm guns, but other than that it was the same as the single barrel version. Source
The crew consisted of the commander, gunner, radio operator, driver and the loader. But, according to Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 (2010), there were actually two gunners. The driver and radio operator were placed in the vehicle hull. For the radio operator, the Fu 5 and Fu 2 radio equipment were provided. In addition, he also operated the hull-mounted machine gun. The remaining three (or four) crew members serving the main weapon were placed inside the new cramped turret.
Due to changes made so that the gun could fit the turret, the gunner’s pedals had to be put far back. The gunner had to sit with his legs very close to his upper body. As the open-topped turret exposed the crew to the elements, a canvas cover was provided for protection.

In this view, the position of the crew in the turret is observable. To the gun’s right is the gunner, behind it, the commander, and to its left, the loader. Source: Pinterest


Illustration of the Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV 3.7 cm Flak 43 ‘Ostwind’ produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Production

In early September 1944, Deutsche Eisenwerke A.G. Werk Stahlindustrie (from Duisburg) received orders for the assembly of 100 Ostwind vehicles. The Panzer chassis were to be provided by Krupp-Grusonwerk, with 30 chassis each month. The first five chassis were to be ready no later than mid-October. The turrets were to be provided by Roehrenwerke with first 10 in September followed by 30 in each month until the end of the year. According to the initial plans, Ostwind production would begin in November with 35 vehicles, followed by 30 in December and 10 in January 1945.
Due to many delays (Stahlindustrie had to be relocated to the Sudetenland in late-1944, a lack of materials, and the Allied bombing campaign), the plans had to be changed and the order for production of 80 Ostwind was placed in late January 1945, with 30 in February, 40 in March and 10 in April. In February there were again changes to the production orders with 20 in February, 40 in March and 20 in April. Despite these plans for the production of 80 vehicles by March 1945, Stahlindustrie managed to complete only 7 vehicles. The total number of assembled Ostwinds by the Stahlindustrie was 22 vehicles. Because in late 1944, it was apparent that the Stahlindustrie could not reach the arranged Ostwind numbers, unknown numbers of turrets were also transported to Ostbau Sagan for assembly. The estimated production numbers of the Ostbau are 1 in December, 13 in January, 7 in February and 1 in March. Altogether, the production of the Ostwind (by both factories) is around 44 vehicles in addition to the prototype. This information is based on Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 – Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV and other Flakpanzer projects development and production from 1942 to 1945. This low number should not be surprising if we take into account the chaotic state that Germany was in 1945.
When the actual Ostwind production began and how many were built is unclear. The production could have started in late-1944 or early-1945, with sources disagreeing. The exact number of produced vehicles is difficult to determine as the various authors give different numbers. Beside the prototype, the number of produced vehicles goes from as little as 6 to over 40. For most sources, including authors A. Ludeke (Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg), D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) and W. J. Spielberger (Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft tanks), the number of completed Ostwinds is believed to be 43 vehicles. According to P. Chamberlain (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition) though, 36 were converted and 7 were new-build vehicles. H.L. Doyle (German Military Vehicles) gives a number of only 6 produced. D. Terlisten (Nuts and Bolts Vol.13 Flakpanzer, Wirbelwind and Ostwind) gives a number of 40 vehicles based on the information provided by Lt. Graf von Seherr-Thoss. In addition, he also notes that according to German Heereswaffenamt Wa I Rü document, 7 vehicles were built in March 1945. The number of 40 built vehicles is also noted by B. Perrett (Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-1945).

Organization

All Flakpanzers based on the Panzer IV chassis were used to form special anti-aircraft tank platoons (Panzer Flak Zuge). These were used primarily to equip Panzer Divisions of the Heer and Waffen SS, and in some cases given to special units. By the end of March 1945, there were plans to create mixed platoons equipped with the Ostwinds and other Flakpanzers. Depending on the source, they were either to be used in combination with six Kugelblitz
, six Ostwinds and four Wirbelwinds or with eight Ostwinds and three Sd. Kfz. 7/1 half-tracks. Due to the war’s end and the low number of Ostwinds built, this reorganization was never truly implemented.

In Combat

Only being completed in small numbers by the war’s end, the Ostwind’s operational combat use was limited. The prototype was, as mentioned earlier, used successfully during the Allied liberation of France. According to W. J. Spielberger, it was also used during the German Ardennes Offensive in late-1944. It managed to survive the defeat of the German Forces in France despite its turret being built only using mild steel. It was returned to Germany and its fate is not known.
By the time the first production Ostwinds were completed, the Allies and the Soviets were already rampaging through Germany. In the chaotic state that Germany was in, it is not clear how many or which units received Ostwind vehicles. There is an additional problem in the identification of which unit received Ostwinds due to the sources’ lack of distinction between Ostwinds and Möbelwagens.
One example that we know used Ostwinds was the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. This battalion had, by November 1944, lost all its anti-aircraft weapons and equipment. The surviving personnel of its anti-aircraft tank platoon (part of the 4th Kompanie) was moved from Wilhelmsdorf to Schwabhausen in Thuringia for resupply and training on the new Flakpanzers. By the end of December 1944, it was again moved to Bruggen, near Cologne, for further training.
While the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion was engaged in the Ardennes Offensive, due to being in the process of reforming, its anti-aircraft platoon was not able to participate in this German offensive. This unit was first equipped with four Wirbelwinds followed by four Ostwinds. The commanders of these Ostwinds were SS Oberscharführers Kastelik, Deitrich and Rätzer. The last Ostwind was commanded by a Luftwaffe officer who was not part of this unit. For the anti-aircraft tank platoon HQ, only two Schwimmwagens were provided.

It is difficult to notice, but the production vehicles were provided with an additional armored bulge on the lower part of the turret’s front. This was meant to prevent the possible deflection of small caliber fire into the hull top. The large box on the hull side is for the spare 3.7 cm barrel. Source

The same abandoned Ostwind, possibly somewhere in Germany. Note the different positions of the main gun and the turret in contrast to the previous picture. Source
By February 1945, the training process was complete and this platoon would take part in the upcoming Operation Southwind (Unternemen Südwind). This was a planned German offensive operation against the Soviet bridgehead in the Nitra region of Hungary that lasted from 17th to 24th February 1945. While the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion’s Tiger IIs were spearheading the attack, the Flakpanzers (Wirbelwinds and Ostwinds) followed up in a support role. They were, thanks to their speed and firepower, successfully able to engage and destroy enemy infantry, anti-tank and machine-gun positions while the Tiger tanks concentrated on enemy armor. With the capture of Kemend and Bina, the last Soviet resistance in this bridgehead was destroyed. Operation Southwind was one of the last successful German offensive actions on the Eastern Front. Only one Wirbelwind was lost during this operation.
The next occasion when the Ostwind would see action was the failed German offensive at Lake Balaton, Operation Spring Awakening (Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen), that lasted from 6th to 14th March 1945. The offensive began and, once again, the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion was spearheaded by its Tiger and Panther tanks and supported by the Flakpanzers. It is interesting to note that the Flakpanzers’ commanders received orders not to engage enemy aircraft but to preserve ammunition for use against ground targets and in support of the Tigers only. The Flakpanzer commander Oberscharführer Kurt Fickert later wrote “…We drove in open formation behind the Tigers and Panthers to subdue enemy infantry. I was instructed by Peiper to support our infantry in house-to-house fighting. Several Panthers followed us to destroy any enemy tanks that might appear …. Peiper forbade us to engage enemy aircraft, our infantry was to defend themselves and we were to conserve our ammunition for the ground battle.”
During the Soviet offensive at Veszprem in March 1945, the Germans were forced to pull back their forces. On 20th March 1945, the Leibstandarte division’s position east of Inóta-Bakonykuti was attacked by the Soviet 4th Army and 6th Guards Tank Army. To support the withdrawal of the German units, four Flakpanzers (two Ostwinds and two Wirbelwinds) commanded by Oberscharführer Fickert were positioned on a nearby hill at Várpalota, from where they engaged the advancing Soviet units.
By April 1945, the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion lost most of its armor and, without any hope for new replacements, the surviving crew members were gathered to form mixed infantry battle groups. This also included a number of surviving crew members from the anti-aircraft platoon and even their supporting repair workshop personnel. The final fate of the Ostwinds from that unit is not known, but they were all probably lost by the time of the German surrender in May 1945.
An interesting fact is that, on 15th March 1945, there were still around 159 operational Flakpanzers of all types. Most (97) were stationed on the Eastern Front, 41 in the West and 21 in Italy. In contrast to other Flakpanzers based on the Panzer IV chassis, no Ostwind vehicles survived the war.

Ostwind based on the Panzer III

As the new Flakpanzers were only provided to the Panzer divisions, the Sturmartillerie (Assault artillery) units were left without a proper defense against the Allied air forces. In order to provide their own units with adequate anti-aircraft protection, the Assault Artillery Generals demanded a similar vehicle be designed. As the assault artillery units mostly used StuG IIIs and because of the lack of spare Panzer IV chassis, this meant that only the Panzer III was available for this modification. The whole development process was slow and, in early 1945, a delegation lead by Baurat Becker was sent to Ostbau-Sagan for evaluation of possible turret installations. Ostbau Sagan lacked production capabilities and was barely managing to keep up with Flakpanzer production. For this reason, Assault Artillery officials had decided that the production of the Flakpanzer III could be carried out in other factories.
The Ostwind and Wirbelwind turret was deemed sufficient for the job and in March 1945 an order for 90 turrets was placed. The Waffenamt reluctantly gave only 18 turrets. How many were completed is not known but according to new information around 14 were built and given to Sturmgeschuetz Brigaden (Stu.G.Brig.). This includes the Stu.G.Brig. 341 with 5, Stu.G.Brig. 244 with 2, Stu.G.Brig.341 with 3 and Stu.G.Brig. 667 with 4 vehicles.

Ostwind II

This was a proposed improvement of the original Ostwind, armed with two 3.7cm Flak 43 guns mounted side by side in an enlarged turret and crewed with an additional loader. Some sources claim that one prototype was built by Ostbau-Sagan in January 1945 and sent to a training center at Ohrdruf. Peter C (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two), on the other hand, maintains that no such vehicle was completed.

Conclusion

The Ostwind was the German solution to the need for an effective Flakpanzer. It had strong firepower, relatively good protection, was easy and simple to build, its tracked Panzer IV chassis gave it the mobility to keep up with the Tigers and Panthers and, most importantly, it could immediately engage enemy aircraft. The greatest downside was that it was built too late into the war and in too small numbers (less than 50) to even have a theoretical chance of influencing the outcome of the war.

Specifications

Dimensions 5.92 x 2.9 x 2.9 meters
Total weight, battle-ready 22 tonnes
Crew 5-6 (1-2 gunners, commander, loader, driver and radio operator).
Armament 3.7 cm Flak 43
Elevation: -10 – +90 Degrees
Hull Armor Front 80 mm, side 30-20 mm, top and bottom 10 mm and rear 10-20 mm
Turret Armor 16 mm all-around – later increased to 25 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM
Suspension Leaf springs
Speed on road 38 km/h (24 mph)
Range (road/off road) 200 km (120 miles), 130 km (80 miles)
Total production 6-45

Source

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1982). Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft tanks, Bernard & Graefe
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
T. L.Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2002) Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers, Panzer Tract
P. Chamberlain and T.J. Gander (2005) Enzyklopadie Deutscher waffen 1939-1945 Handwaffen, Artilleries, Beutewaffen, Sonderwaffen, Motor buch Verlag.
W. Oswald (2004). Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer, der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr ab 1900, Motorbuch Verlag,
P. Agte (2006) Michael Wittmann and the Waffen SS Tiger Commanders of the Leibstandarte in WWII, Stackpole Books
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
B. Perrett (2008) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-1945, Osprey Publishing.
D. Terlisten (1999). Nuts and Bolts Vol.13 Flakpanzer, Wirbelwind and Ostwind,
Ian V.Hogg (1975). German Artillery of World War Two, Purnell Book Services Ltd.
T. L.Jentz (1998). Panzer Tracts No.12 Flak selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer
T. L.Jentz (2010). Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 – Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV and other Flakpanzer projects development and production from 1942 to 1945.
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Partizanski Tenk

Yugoslavian Partisans (1942)
Improvised Tank – 1 Built

During the war for the liberation of Yugoslavia, the Partisans were often forced to attack strong enemy positions due to the lack of proper weapons and equipment, which often lead to heavy losses. During the attack on the village of Srb, the Partisans came up with an idea to build an armored vehicle which would help them in the upcoming offensive. This vehicle was later known as a “Partizanski Tenk” (Partisan tank).

A side view of the Tenk. Its crude construction can be observed. Source: Prvi Tenkovski Bataljon

The Uprising in Lika

After the fall of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the Communist resistance movement spent the next few months gathering any available weapons its members could find. As the Germans began the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Yugoslav Communist leadership decided that it was time for the beginning of the liberation war against the occupying Axis forces. For this purpose, on the 27th of June 1941, they founded the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia known as ‘NOVJ’ (Narodnooslobodilačka vojska Jugoslavije), but otherwise known simply as the ‘Partisans’.
By the end of the year, many hard battles with the Axis forces had been fought across the Yugoslavian territories. Many territories were liberated but also lost in the following Axis counterattack. One such battle was fought for the liberation of the territory of Lika, near the Croatian Adriatic coast. Here, the Ustasha (Croatian military units) forces were committing crimes such as killing the local Serbian civilian population in June 1941. In response to this, in early July, the Partisans formed the Headquarters of Guerrilla Detachments (Štab Gerilskih Odreda) for Lika. Later that month, an uprising began against the Axis forces, positions, and installations in this area. It is here, in the small village of Nebljusime, that the story of the Partizan Tenk began.

Where the Idea Came From

With the fighting for the liberation of many towns and villages around Lika underway in late 1941 and early 1942, the Marko Orešković Battalion, with the support of other Partisan units, was given orders to expel the Italian garrison from the village of Srb. There are some disagreements in sources about the composition of the defending garrison, as it was allegedly supported by Ustasha and Chetniks forces. This assault would be no easy task though, as the defending garrison had time to fortify the larger buildings (school and municipal building) and houses into strong bunker positions. In addition, many smaller and larger bunkers were also constructed, armed with machine guns.
The Axis forces (especially the Italians) during the war tried to suppress and defend against Partisans attacks by concentrating garrison forces in many cities and villages. It was hoped that the Partisans would be discouraged from attacking positions with strong military forces present. Such scattering of their forces made many such positions an easy prey for the Partisans, as they simply could be isolated and destroyed one by one. As these positions lacked any mobile response forces, they could not help the besieged garrisons in most cases. The Partisans managed to surround and destroy many of them. The situation of Srb was different, as it was well fortified and an attack on it would lead to many losses.
During the preparations for an attack on Srb, the commander of the Marko Orešković Battalion, Đoko Jovanić, and the Political Commissar Milan Šijan came up with the idea to build an armored vehicle (better said a mobile bunker) which would help with taking Srb.

Work Began

The man responsible for the design and creation of the Partisan Tank was Stevo Brozović. He gathered a group of six engineers and blacksmiths (Ivan Razdrih, Milan Maričić, Rade Ljubojević, Nikola Maričić, Lajoš Bikvić, and Ivan Špacapan) and set a base for its construction in a forge belonging to Rade Ljubojević in the village of Nebljusime. First, they collected any useful material which could be found. They were lucky, as nearby there was an abandoned railroad station and train yard with plenty of building materials. Three wheels and axles were taken from a concrete mixer. A train fuel tank wagon was found abandoned near a train station at Loskun. Also near Loskun, on a railroad bridge, the Partisans found two large metal plates (8 x 1 m). These large plates were transported on a small railroad cart to Loskun and then, as there were no good roads to Nebljusime, they had to be manually carried with the help of 25 local inhabitants. As all materials were transported to the main base in Nebljusime, the work on the vehicle began immediately. After 21 (in March 1942) days and nights of hard work, the ‘tank’ was completed. This vehicle never received any special name during the war and it was simply called in the Partizanski Tenk in post war sources.

Design

The base for the Tenk was a reused train fuel tank. While the sources do not give precise information on its construction, it is very likely that the Partisans cut the fuel tank in half and used it as a base. This fuel tank had 6-8 mm thick steel walls and it was 1.25 m high and 1.7 m wide. This fuel tank was then covered all around (except the top and the bottom) with 4.5 mm thick steel plates. This improvised armor was tested with machine gun fire at ranges of 100 to 300 m, where the bullets had no problem to break through. As a result, in order to increase armor protection, another layer of 4.5 mm thick plate was added. The armor was held in place by welding and using bolt and rivets. Between these two plates, there was a space of 6-8 cm which was filled mostly with sand and textile materials. According to some sources, a third layer of metal plates was added to the vehicle. It is possible that these sources mistakenly consider the original fuel tank steel layer as the first armor layer, with the two added later making three in total.
It is unknown if the improved armor was enough to stop small-caliber rounds. Anti-tank and artillery guns would most likely easily have destroyed this vehicle, but these weapons were not present at Srb and, in general, were rare in 1942 in the region.
An extra three-sided 2 m long and 0.5 mm thick plate was added on the top front part. This metal plate may give the wrong impression that it was used as a firing position. This is not the case, as there was no door on top of the vehicle and the crew could not reach it from inside. This plate was actually used in combination with three dummy guns in the hope of confusing the enemy.
For movement, three metal wheels with a diameter of 0.5 m were installed, two to the rear and one in front. The front wheel could be controlled from inside the vehicle. It was protected with two metal plates on its sides. The rear two wheel’s axle was not provided with any armor. Above the rear right wheel, there was a metal lever that was used as a brake and was operated from outside the vehicle.
In front of the ‘tank’, there were four armored plates (0.7 x 0.44 mm size) that could be moved and used as firing ports. The main armament was composed by the crew’s personal weapons, like rifles and light machine guns.

A view of the rear door of the Tenk. Above the right wheel, the lever that served as a brake can be seen. Source: Hrvatski Ratnici Kroz Stoljeća 4
The crew consisted of eight men from the Marko Orešković Battalion. The commander was Milan Žeželj, his second in command Miloš Rastović. This vehicle was too small for all of them to fit in and had only four firing slots, so only four crew members were stationed inside the vehicle. The remaining four crew members, while not specified in the sources, would most likely help during the transport and act as a support unit in combat.
Due to the small size of the Tenk, the interior was very cramped and the crew members would have most likely had to stay in a bent-down position. The cramped interior would also have made the use of personal armament difficult. The only way for the crew to enter this vehicle was through a small rear door. Precise information about the interior of the vehicle is lacking.
The tank did not have any engine, but was instead moved by its crew or drove by horses. While there is no information about its precise weight, the Tenk would certainly have been quite difficult to move.


Illustration of the Partizanski Tenk (Partisan Tank) by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

In Combat

It is somewhat ironic that, by the time the Partisan Tenk was completed, the village of Srb was abandoned by the Italians and the Partisans took it without a fight. The Tenk was moved to Donjeg Lapca, where it remained until a large enemy offensive in mid-1942 when it had to be abandoned because of its heavy weight. It was later recovered and dug into the ground to be used as an air cover bunker by the Partisans. It would change hands many times during the war until the Partisan drove the Axis forces from this region in early 1945.
There is another version of the events that claims the vehicle was never used due to the capture of the first real tanks by the Partisans near Ljubovo in early 1942.

In 1946, the Tenk was donated to the Croatian History Museum, where it is still located. Its small size compared to the people next to it is apparent. The interior of this vehicle was surely cramped and hard to work in. Source.

In 1981, Postmark stamps with the Partisan Tenk were printed. Source.
The Tenk did survive the war and was donated in 1946 to the Croatian History Museum (Hrvatskom povijesnom muzeju) in Zagreb by one of the men who built it. There, it can be seen to this day outside the museum.

Conclusion

While, in theory, the Tenk could have helped the Partisans in overcoming enemy positions, in reality, it is unlikely that it would have been useful. While it proved that the Partisans had good intentions and the determination to prevent unnecessary losses, it was simply too crude of a design and lacked any means of moving itself around. Its armor may have been strong enough to stop small-caliber rounds, but against larger caliber rounds it would have been helpless.

Specifications

Crew 8 (4 in vehicle, 4 support)
Armament Crew’s personal weapons
Armor 15 – 17 mm

Sources

The author would like to thank Dori Bošković from the Croatian History Museum for providing the information necessary for writing this article.
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Velimir V. (2003), Tito’s Partisans 1941-45, Osprey publishing.
Pleše B. (1957) Kako je izrađen prvi partizanski tenk, Vesnik Vojnog muzeja Jugoslovenske narodne armije 4. Vojni muzej Jugoslovenske narodne armije, Beograd.
Tomislav A. and Višeslav A. (2011) Hrvatski Ratnici Kroz Stoljeća 4, Znaje, Zagreb.
Vujo V. (1988) Prvi Tenkovski Bataljon, Vojno izdavački i novinarski centar Beograd.
www.srpskioklop.paluba.info
znaci.net (1)
znaci.net (2)

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Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Jagdpanzer 38(t) in Yugoslav service

 

Yugoslavia (1944-1952)
Tank destroyer – 20+ captured

During the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia (1941-1945) and the struggle for liberation, the resistance movements employed a collection of different armored vehicles from the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Poland, Soviet Union, and Italy. The Yugoslav Communist partisans used tanks and other vehicles that were given to them by the Western Allies and the Soviets, but also managed to capture a number of different Axis armored vehicles. Among these was the Jagdpanzer 38(t) which the Germans were using by the end of the war in small numbers on this front. The captured Jagdpanzer 38(t) would be used during the war in limited numbers and would also serve after the war by the new JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) army.

The Jagdpanzer 38(t)

When the Germans occupied what remained of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, they came into possession of two well-known weapon manufacturers: CKD (Ceskomoravska-Kolben-Danek) and Škoda. The CKD factory (renamed BMM by the Germans) was tasked with the production of the Panzer 38(t) for the Germans. The production of this tank would be terminated during the second half of the war, as it proved to be ineffective as a combat vehicle by that stage of the war.
The BMM factory continued production of different combat designs (mostly anti-tank) based on the Panzer 38(t)’s chassis. By late 1943, the BMM factory was involved in designing and building a light and relatively cheap tank destroyer vehicle based on some components from the Panzer 38(t). The result of this work would be the Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyer. It was armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 39 and was fully enclosed and protected with well-angled 60 mm thick front armor. While not a perfect design, it would prove to be an effective anti-tank killer and during the war around 2,824 such vehicles were built by BMM and Škoda. It would be used on all fronts in Europe including in small numbers on the Balkans.

A brand new Jagdpanzer 38(t). Produced in August 1944 at the BMM factory. Source

In the Balkans

The quick defeat of Yugoslavia in April 1941 by the Axis forces created the wrong impression that there would be no more need for engagement of larger occupation force, but an uprising that began only a few months later forced the Germans to re-introduce some armored units in this region. At the start of the uprising, the Germans had only one armored company of old and captured tanks in the whole territory of occupied Yugoslavia. The Germans hastily rushed reinforcements including a tank battalion equipped with mostly captured French tanks ‘Beutepanzers’.
During the later part of the war, especially from 1943 onwards, the communist resistance movement, the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) (Народноослободилачка војска Југославије), known today as the ‘Partisans’, began to increase in numbers. This was possible due to cooperation with the Allies which began supplying them with weapons, equipment and personnel. To combat the ever-increasing Partisan movement, the Germans were forced to send any available reinforcements, including some armored elements.
As most modern German armored vehicles were produced in relatively small numbers (in comparison to the Western Allies and Soviets) and were deemed too valuable, usually only older or captured vehicles would be sent to Yugoslavia. These were mostly French but included some Italian, Soviet, and a few British vehicles also. By 1944/45, some relatively modern vehicles, such as the Jagdpanzer 38, in small numbers, were present on this front with different units, including the 181st and 41st Infantry Divisions, 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division, 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, and Panzer Abteilung 202.
The 181st Infantry Division was engaged fighting Partisan forces in Montenegro and Herzegovina during the second half of 1944. In October, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 222 was reinforced with 14 Jagdpanzer 38s and with another 10 in January 1945. During the German withdrawal from Yugoslavia in early Spring 1945, this Division would see some heavy action around Zagorje in Croatia. During the battle for the Sermian Front in early April 1945, the 41st Infantry Division was reinforced with 10 of these vehicles. Both these Division surrendered to the Partisans by 12th May 1945.
The 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division since November 1944 had operated 14 Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles. This unit was for a short time used to fight Yugoslav Partisans before being deployed to Hungary to fight the Soviets. The much depleted 14th SS Grenadier Division “Galizische” was used to fight the Partisans in Slovenia during March, but shortly afterward was pulled out from this front. Panzer Abteilung 202 had been engaged in heavy fighting in Yugoslavia for years, its combat strength on 1st April 1945 was reported to be 23 Italian tanks, 2 Semovente 75/18, and 10 Jagdpanzers 38.

In Partisans hands

Precise information regarding the circumstances of when or how the Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles were captured is hard to find. The problem with Partisan documentation is that due to the poor knowledge of precise military designation, too often, wrong names or just simply the term tank (without any context or explanation of the type) were used. Sometimes Partisans units that did manage to capture enemy vehicles immediately put them into their service without reporting them to the High Command. Due to this, it is difficult to determine which vehicles were captured or if they were used in combat.
One of the first Jagdpanzers 38(t)s captured was during the German unsuccessful offensive action near Baranya that lasted from 6th to 19th March 1945. During the heavy fighting, the Partisans forced the Germans to withdraw and on that occasion, an unknown number (possibly only one or two) of Jagdpanzers 38(t)s were captured. The following month, another one was captured near Našice in North-East Croatia. Additionally, a number of these vehicles were also captured as they were left behind by the fleeing German forces. This is the case of Panzer Abteilung 202, as nearly all its armored vehicles (Jagdpanzers 38(t), M.15/42, Sd. Kfz. 251, etcetera) were found abandoned loaded on a train on the railroad from Ljubljana to Kranj. On top of that, a few were captured during the liberation of Maribor from 10th to 15th May 1945. The majority of the Jagdpanzers 38(t)s were captured with the final surrender of the 181st and 41st Infantry Divisions in May 1945.
According to researcher Dragan Savić, who investigated the Partisan archive of captured vehicles and equipment, a total of around 20 Jagdpanzer 38(t)s in various conditions were captured. Due to the lack of proper documentation, this number may be higher but it is hard to tell.

This vehicle was captured by the 16th Vojvodina Division (Vojvođanska Divizija) near the region of Baranya in March of 1945. Source

Another (or the same vehicle) with the 16th Vojvodina Division near the region of Baranya. Source
The use of these vehicles by the Partisan during the war is not well known due to the lack of documentation. The vehicles captured in Vojvodina (where the Jagdpanzers 38s were used) were often employed in combat, but only in small numbers.
There is a possibility that some Jagdpanzer 38(t)s were used by the specially formed Partisan auto-school (school for armored vehicle crew training) near the capital city of Belgrade in late 1944. If this school was independent or part of the larger school (possibly located, but there is no documentation to prove this) in the city of Kragujevac (Serbia) is also unknown. Allegedly, the Belgrade school in May 1945 had in its inventory: four R35, two-to-three M.15/42, L.6, one Semovente (possibly 75/18), two Semovente 47/32, a Hotchkiss (unknown type and numbers, probably a H35) StuG III, one Ferdinand (possibly a Jagdpanzer 38(t)) and a few armored cars.


One of the Jagdpanzer 38(t)s captured by the Yugoslavians and put into service, during training exercises at Bela Crkva after the war. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Leander Jobse.

The name

During the war, the Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture a number of Axis armored combat vehicles. As the majority of the Partisan fighters who managed to capture these vehicles had no knowledge of the precise military designation for these vehicles, they called them by different and mostly wrong names. For example, the German-used T-34s (captured by the Soviet Union) were often called ‘Panther’, despite the fact that this vehicle was never used on this front.
The same is true in the case with the Jagdpanzer 38(t) (and, in some cases, for the StuG III, which also complicates the identification process), which was known under the name “Ferdinand” by some of its crew during and after the war. The origin of this name is not clear, but it is highly likely that name was taken from Soviet troops during the battle for Belgrade in late 1944.
After the war, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) never officially designated the Jagdpanzer 38(t) as Ferdinand. This is likely a result of the better understanding of the equipment captured during the war. In order to avoid any confusion and as the later JNA never gave any other designation, this article has and will use the original German designation for this vehicle.

After the war

The Jagdpanzers 38(t) in the JNA after the war were used mainly to equip combat units and as training vehicles. It was used for a short time to equip the 2nd Tank Brigade (equipped with the Soviet T-34-85) with two battalions of 8 Jagdpanzer 38(t)s during 1946. Some were given to the independent self-propelled anti-tank brigade.
A group of four or five such vehicles was given to the newly formed Tenkovsko Vojno Učilište (TVU) [Tank Military School] in November of 1945. The TVU was formed by the order of the Ministry of the National Committee in June 1945. The TVU had the aim to train a new generation of tank officers and was based on the Soviet model of schooling. It was first located at Banjica, but was relocated to Bela Crkva in 1946. In 1948, due to the Tito-Stalin split, Yugoslavia refused to join the Eastern communist bloc, and due to this decision, they were in real danger of a war with the Soviet Union. As the TVU was stationed near the Romanian border, it was put on high alert during this crisis. As this led to a slow crew training process, the TVU was again moved to Banja Luka far away from the eastern borders. From 1948 onwards, in the hope to keep the T-34-85s in good condition, the older and captured vehicles were mainly used for training.

A Jagdpanzer 38(t) during training exercises at Bela Crkva after the war. All captured vehicles received a three-digit label after the war. Source

Another photograph during training exercises after the war. Source
During its use as a training vehicle, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) was not much liked by its crews. There were a few reasons for this: cramped interior; unusual crew positions (with three crew member located on the right side); and during training, these vehicles were always marked as enemy vehicles, which was unpopular with its crews. The Jagdpanzer 38 would remain in operational service up to 1952 when the remaining vehicles were withdrawn from service as they were being replaced with more modern Western vehicles. Unfortunately, no Yugoslav Jagdpanzer 38(t) vehicles survive to this day.

Markings and paint scheme

After the war, there was no effective registration numbering system for the available armored vehicles of the JNA. Captured vehicles, regardless of origin, received a white three digits label which was simply painted with a paintbrush. The German vehicles were painted in the Dunkel Gelb with the combination of dark green and brown-red.

Yugoslav Jagdpanzer 38s in Albania

After the war, in Albania, a new communist regime established good but brief relations with Yugoslavia. As a result of these good relations, the JNA provided the Albanians with a number of different items of military equipment, supplies, personnel, and instructors. With training, a group of 21 tanks and other armored vehicles (including few Jagdpanzer 38(t)s) were also sent in September 1946. The instructors and other personnel were stationed there during 1947-48 and helped to train the Albanian crews.

Conclusion

The Jagdpanzer 38(t) did not have any influence on the future development of armored vehicles in JNA. It was important for two things: first, it helped build up the JNA strength after WWII at times the need for any armored vehicle was great, and it did help training first generations of new crew and officers.

Sources

Terry J. G. (2004), Tanks in Detail JgdPz IV, V, VI and Hetzer, Ian Allan Publishing
Duško Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Bojan B. D. (2010) Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Velimir V. (2003), Tito’s Partisans 1941-45, Osprey publishing.
Samuel W. and Mitcham J.R. (2007), The German Order Of The Battle, Stackpole Books.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/ratniplen/hetzer.htm
https://znaci.net/arhiv/odrednica/16-vojvodjanska-divizija-novj

Jagdpanzer 38(t) specifications

Dimensions 6.38 x 2.63 x 2.17 m
Total weight, battle-ready 15.7 tonnes
Crew 4 (Gunner, loader, driver and commander)
Propulsion Six-cylinder Praga AE water-cooled 150 hp
Speed 42 km/h, 15 km/h (cross-country)
Range 177 km
Armament 75 mm PaK 39 and one MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun
Armor 60-8 mm
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
German Improvized AFVs WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Sd.Kfz.250 mit 5 cm PaK 38


Nazi Germany/Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943-54)
Self Propelled Gun – 1 Built

During the Second World War, across the battlefields of Europe and North Africa, the German forces often made field modifications in the hope of improving their existing equipment or simply salvaging damaged ones. These modifications were often simple constructions consisting of putting different weapon systems on a tank or half-track. Examples of which include the “Oswald” and a Pzkpfw. KV-1B fitted with a 7.5 cm KwK 40.
Another such modification was the merging an Sd.Kfz.250 half-track troop carrier with a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun.

History

Historically, this vehicle is a mystery and unfortunately, there is no information about it available. Various sources, mostly on the internet, offer different interpretations of who built this and where the vehicle was used. These range from it being used on the Eastern Front to it seeing action during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. However, most of these versions are incorrect or misinterpreted.
Thanks to Dr. Mirko Peković (Museum Advisor), we know that the Belgrade Military Museum received this vehicle in 1954 from a military post, from Kragujevac (a city in Serbia). Unfortunately, the Museum does not possess information on its origin. It is known that the vehicle was captured by Partisans during the German withdrawal from Greece. More precise information is difficult to find as the Partisans kept poor records of most captured vehicles and weapons during the WW2. It is also not known what the Partisans (and later the JNA-Yugoslav People’s Army) did with this vehicle.
Thanks to its preservation at the Museum, the construction can be analyzed in detail. The first thing of notice is that this is a combination of a German Sd.Kfz.250 half-track and a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank weapon.

This vehicle can be seen at the Belgrade Military Museum located near the city center. Photo: Wikimedia

A fully restored and operational Sd.Kfz. 250 (Austria). On this photo, we can see the original appearance of the rear of this vehicle. Photo: SOURCE

Leihter Gepanzerter Mannschaftskraftwagen Sd. Kfz. 250

In 1939, the German Army made a request for a new light half-track troop carrier similar to the larger Sd.Kfz.251. The development of this project was handed over to Bussing-Nag (for the design of the main armored body) and Demag (for developing the chassis). For this purpose, the D7p chassis was used, a truncated version of the Sd.Kfz.10’s D7 chassis that featured only four road wheels on either side, instead of five. Due to many reasons (priority being given to the larger Sd.Kfz.251, slow adaptation for production, insufficient materials etc.), the development process and production were slow. The first production vehicles were not ready until 1941. From 1943 onwards, a new simplified armored body was used in the hope of speeding up the production. These were designated the Ausf. B in order to differentiate them from the more complex superstructures fitted to the Ausf. A. Over 6500 vehicles were produced in 12 variants until the end of the Second World War.

5 cm PaK 38

The 5 cm PaK 38 was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig in 1938 as a replacement for the weaker 3.7 cm Pak 36, but it was not ready for service until 1940. The PaK 38 carriage was a split trail design with tubular rear legs which helped absorb the recoil during firing. For mobility, two solid tired disk wheels were used, to which an additional third rear wheel could be added. The gun was fitted with a semi-automatic breech and had a muzzle brake. For crew protection, a double skin shield was provided. Stronger weapons would eventually supplant the PaK 38, but it was never completely replaced as it remained in use until the end of the war. Between 1939 and 1944, some 9,500 were produced.
The Pak 38’s basic characteristics were: practical rate of fire 10 to 15 rounds per minute, elevation -8° to + 27°, traverse 65°, and weight in action 986 kg. Average penetration at 1,000 m (at 0°) was 61mm (Panzergranate 39) and 84 mm by using the rare tungsten ammunition (Panzergranate 40). The maximum range of high explosive shells was 2,650 m (2,500 m depending on the sources).

Pak 38 in action. Photo: SOURCE

The Modification

By analyzing the modified half-track superstructure in detail, it can immediately be noticed that several interesting and unusual modifications were done. The most obvious is the unusual rear extension of the Sd.Kfz.250’s fighting compartment by nearly a meter. It is probable that the added rear ‘part’ was simply salvaged from another damaged Sd.Kfz.250 or even 251. A potential explanation for this is that, because of the installation of the new weapon, the crew needed extra room to use it efficiently. However, similar modifications had already been implemented, for example on the Sd. Kfz.250/8. It had an even larger caliber gun installed, but this did not require any major changes to the superstructure and which was not extended.
The rear left the sided door of the Sd.Kfz.250 with 5 cm Pak 38 gun was left unchanged but the door itself was missing. This vehicle surely had an operational real door (there was no real reason no to have one), but at some point, it was removed for unknown reasons. Since recently, the door has been restored and welded completely, so it is no longer possible to see the interior. Dimensions of this modified version are, according to the Museum’s own book-catalog: length 4.56 m, width 1.95 m, and height 1.66 m. Armor thickness ranges from 8 to 15 mm.

On closer inspection, the place where the extended armor was welded to the original one can be observed. Photo: Author’s own

The potentially damaged suspension with the missing wheels and parts can be seen here (right side of the vehicle). Photo: Author’s own

On the left side, this vehicle seems like it is completely intact. All German vehicles in the Belgrade Military Museum are painted in this camouflage. It has a more ‘decorative’ role and does not represent how the vehicle was painted in reality. Photo: Wikimedia
The suspension and running gear appear to have suffered some kind of damage at some point and were never truly repaired. On the vehicle’s right side, the outer two road wheels are missing, as are the front wheels mudguards, and other parts like the bolt that hold the wheels in place.

Armament

The main weapon was the 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun. The wheels and the two rear legs were removed. Besides this, it seems no other changes were done on the gun construction. The main weapon was held by two forward-pointed thick metal levers (one on each side). These were bolted to a metal construction which was added for this purpose. Traverse of the main weapon was quite limited, but the maximum elevation was high, but the exact numbers are not known.
Unfortunately, there is no information about the amount of ammunition carried inside. The similar Sd. Kfz. 250/8 carried around 20 (75 mm) rounds. As the 5 cm rounds were smaller, and with the extra rear space the possible minimum quantity could be at least 30 to 40 or much higher. According to the Museum own book-catalog, two secondary MG 34 or 42 machine-guns were also used. As there are no obvious mounts for them, it is possible that they were stored inside.


The Sd.Kfz.250 mit 5 cm PaK 38 in a dunkelgelb camouflage, as it might have looked if employed in the later part of the war. Observe the welded-on rear part of the hull. Illustration by Jaroslaw Jarja, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Crew

The crew would probably consist of the driver, gunner with a loader and a commander in order to efficiently operate this vehicle. The rest of the space was probably used for PaK ammunition, crew secondary weapons and equipment, and even more crew members or other passengers. According to the Museum own book-catalog, six crew members are listed but not marked who does what. What is possible is that this information is regarding the original Sd.Kfz.250 vehicle.

The top view, here we can see that by adding the sheet metal the gun was fixed in place. Photo: Author’s own

Roof

Another unusual feature of this vehicle is the covered top with sheet metal. At first glance it seems like an good idea, as this way the crew would be better protected. But if we examine the vehicle top, we can very easily detect a major problem. By adding this sheet metal, the gun was made completely useless and unusable. So the question is, why do it? The explanation is simple, it was added after the war, possibly by the JNA when it was given to the Belgrade Military Museum to keep the weather out of the vehicle for external display.

Side view of the vehicle top where we can see that it is covered with sheet metal to protect the vehicle from weather elements. It looks like the left side armor was damaged possibly by shrapnel. We can also see where the added rear part was welded to the vehicle superstructure. Photo: Author’s own
Unfortunately, nothing is left of the original interior. It seems that at some point, probably at the moment of handing over to the museum, the whole interior was removed. The Maybach HL42 TRKM engine, with the steering wheel and the control panel was also removed. It was probably estimated that it would be pointless to leave it, as it would be exposed to weather conditions. This is supported by the fact that no other exhibit vehicle of this Museum has a preserved interior.

Unfortunately today, nothing is left of the original interior apart from the gun. Photo: SOURCE
The vehicle weight is marked as 5.7 t, but it was probably more than 6 t (possibly up to 7 t) as we must take into account the gun plus the ammunition weight.

Who built it and why?

There are several different explanations about the origin of this vehicle. But since there are several different theories that be can found in different sources (most often on the Internet), it is appropriate to give explanation some of them and to explain why some of them are not true.
Modification built during the Yugoslav wars in the 90’s: We can immediately reject this theory for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason was the fact that this vehicle was placed in the Museum long before the conflicts even broke out.
Did the Partisans Build It: the Yugoslavian Partisans did modify a number of Allied supplied M3A3 tanks and equipped them with German captured weapons (7.5 cm PaK 40 and the 2 cm Flak 38 Flakvierling) in Šibenik workshop (1944/45). They certainly had the ability to make this modification. A number of 5 cm PaK 38 were captured from the Germans and used by the Partisans. They also captured and used in limited numbers some German half-track vehicles. But it is important to note that the main repair base (where the modifications on the M3 tanks were done- the city of Šibenik at the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945) was too far away from the estimated location where this vehicle was captured. It would be illogical to transport this vehicle to this location just to make the modification.
As the Sd.Kfz. 250 was a rare vehicle on this front, it does not make sense to modify it. The lack of any spare parts would make this vehicle useful only for only a short time until it broke down or was damaged. Also, there is no precise or valid information which can prove that they are creators of this modification. Partisan modification is, therefore, possible but not likely.
Did the Germans Build It: It is highly likely that it was built by the German, possibly somewhere in occupied Balkan. It is certain that it was made after 1943, as it had the new armored superstructure, which production began that year.
There are several reasons why we can say that it was German made: Booth the vehicle and the gun were of German origin, German soldiers did many similar modifications on the field so this would not be too big a problem for them, no other side used the Sd.Kfz. 250 in the Balkans except for Germans and most important (as already mentioned earlier) is the information that this vehicle was captured by the Partisans during the German withdrawal from Greece 1944 or 1945. But unfortunately, it is difficult to determine exactly where, when and which unit built it.
The question of why it was made, is also problematic, but it is possible to answer it. In essence, it could have been used as a training vehicle, but it is more likely that it was built to fight different Partisans groupings on Balkan. The Partisan way of fighting is usually by attacking in smaller groups different enemy targets (cities with small garrisons, patrols etc.) and then quickly retreat into the forests and hills. For the Germans (or any force on that matter) it was important to prevent these attacks in time before they cause damage, so mobility was important. Mobile artillery could give the Germans forces the more fire-power during the usually short engaging with the Partisans. Half-track vehicles had good mobility, better than trucks or cars, and in this case had sufficient armor to protect its crew from small arms fire. A high gun elevation would also help with fighting in hills or woods.
It is also possible that this modification was built during the fast and (somewhat) chaotic withdrawal of German forces from Greece, in the hope of better protecting the German withdrawal forces from possible Partisan attack. At some point, it was damaged (or abandoned) and then captured by the Yugoslav Partisans.
It is almost impossible to determine the exact creator unit of this modification. It could be any unit of the German Army Group E and F who were responsible for the defense of the Balkans from different Partisans faction and potential any Allied invasion in 1944/45.
Possible armored units from Greece were Panzer Auflkarungs Abteilung 122 or the Panzer Abteilung 212. Both units got orders for withdraw from Greece in late 1944 and to move mostly through the Yugoslavian territory. During these withdrawals, they often fought battles with Yugoslav Partisans and the Bulgarian forces that had earlier switched sides to the Allied side. There was heavy fighting in Macedonia and the southern parts of Serbia where this vehicle was probably captured.

In Partisan/JNA Service

If this vehicle was ever used by the Partisans and later JNA in any way (in war or as a training vehicle) it is not known. Mostly because of the inability to find new spare parts, there is a great chance that it has never been used operationally and was probably stored and later given to the Belgrade Military Museum.

The Name

There is also no information about the exact name for this vehicle, and whether the German (and later Partisans/JNA) even assigned an official name for it. In accordance with German army practice, the nomenclature and designation of such similar modifications the Sd. Kfz. 250 with (or ‘mit’ in German) 5 cm PaK 38 could be used.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, due to almost no information about this vehicle, we will never know it full operational history. It is very likely that it was built by the German forces in Balkans, possibly either to fight the Partisans or as protection for the withdrawing forces from Greece or even as a training vehicle. As there is no information available, it could be any or none of these. On the other hand, the Yugoslav Partisans did make some improvised vehicles by the end of 1944. But it is likely that they did not build this vehicle. Regardless of who made it or when and why, it is more important that it had survived the War, as many other similar modifications did not. In the end, it stands as proof of its maker skill and imagination of combining these two weapons.

The Belgrade Military Museum

This unusual vehicle can be seen in the Belgrade Military Museum exhibitions. The Museum was founded in August 1878, with the first permanent exhibition open in 1904. Over the course of more than a century of existence, it had accumulated a large amount of various military exhibits and weapons. Along with other interesting and rare World War Two era vehicles, like the German Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.F. and the Polish TKF tankette.
The author of this article would take this opportunity to thank the museum advisor Dr. Mirko Peković for helping with the research for this article.

Specifications

Dimensions L W H 3.62m x 1.91m x 1.63 m (11’10” x 6’3″ x 5’4″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 6 – 7 tonnes
Crew 2+4 4 (gunner, loader, driver, commander)
Propulsion Maybach 6-cyl. water-cooled HL42 TRKM petrol, 99 hp (74 kW)
Top speed 76 km/h (47 mph)
Maximum range (on/off road) 320/200 km (200/120 mi)
Armament 1x 5 cm PaK 38, possibly 2x 7.92 mm MG34 or MG42
Armor 8 – 15 mm
Production 1

Sources

Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke, Parragon.
Sd Kfz 250 Vol. I, Janusz Ledwoch, Warszawa 2003.
Artillery and armoured vehicles in exterior of the military museum, Mirko Peković and Ivan Mijatović
Encyclopedia of German tanks of world war two, Peter Chamberlain and Hilary L.Doyle.

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

8.8 cm PaK 43/1 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw III und IV (Sf) Sd.Kfz. 164 “Nashorn”

ww2 German Tanks Nazi Germany (1943)
Tank Hunter – 494 built

As the German armored forces advanced on all fronts in 1940 and 1941, they encountered many different enemy tank types that were almost immune to the guns of their Panzers. In France, these were the Char B1 bis and the British Matildas (both the A11 and A12 Matilda). When the Germans met the first Matildas at Arras, it was an unpleasant shock, although one that was overcome. In the Soviet Union were the famous T-34 and heavy KV-series, and in Africa, again, (in larger numbers) the A12 Matilda tank. While they were able to defeat these by various means, the Germans were pressed to find a better way to combat these threats.
The newly developed towed anti-tank guns (like the PaK 40, built in 1942 and the much stronger PaK 43 in 1943) could efficiently destroy these tanks, but they were not suitable for offensive operations due to their heavy weight. A logical solution was to try to mount these towed anti-tank guns on a tank chassis and thus solve problems of mobility, and so the new Panzerjäger’s were born.
These new vehicles followed a similar pattern: most were open-topped, with limited traverse, and thin armor. They were, though, armed with an effective anti-tank gun, and usually with one machine gun. They were also cheap and easier to build than ordinary Panzers. Panzerjäger’s were, in essence, improvised and temporary solutions, but effective ones nevertheless. Just as the name suggests, they were designed to hunt down enemy tanks at long range on open fields. Their primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, usually on the flanks.
In 1943, the development of an anti-tank gun version of the FlaK 41 was completed. As, at that time, there were no dedicated chassis’ designed to carry this gun and in order to increase the mobility of the towed version, a temporary self-propelled solution was needed. From this need, a new vehicle, well known as the Nashorn (Rhinoceros), would be designed and built based on a modified Panzer III/IV tank chassis.

History

The story of the Nashorn began in June 1942, when Hitler demanded that a new anti-tank gun should be developed based on the 88 mm Flak 41. Two famous German weapon manufacturers, the firms of Krupp and Rheinmetall, were tasked with its development. It was estimated that the development and production of some 300 to 500 guns would be ready by mid-1943. For this reason, it was proposed to also develop different towed carriages and self-propelled designs.
It was quickly noted that the new Selbstfahrlafette (self-propelled chassis) could not be completed by the time the new 88 mm gun was ready and so a new solution was needed to get the new weapon on the battlefield faster. In a Wa Pruef meeting held on 28th July 1943, it was decided to speed up the project by using already existing production capacities. An order was placed to the firm of Alkett-Borsigwalde to design and build a self-propelled chassis by using different components of the Panzer III and IV. Alkett was quick to make a soft steel metal prototype which was presented to Hitler in early October 1942. The new chassis was to be used for two different projects, one armed with the 88 mm gun and the second armed with 15 cm s.F.H 43 long-range artillery gun. Hitler was impressed with both designs and ordered a production run of 200 vehicles (100 of each).

An early production Nashorn. Its travel lock is missing. This vehicle was captured by the Soviets and tested at Kubinka. Source

Name

There were several different military designations for this vehicle, such as: Sfl. auf PzKpfw. III/IV Fahrgestell Hornisse mitt 8.8 cm PaK 43 from January 1943, Panzerjager III/IV “Hornisse” für 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 (Sd.Kfz.164) from August 1943, 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 Sfl. “Nashorn” from September 1944 and 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.III und IV (Sf) Sd.Kfz. 164.
Early on, it was also simply known as the Hornisse (Hornet). In late 1943, Hitler ordered to change the nickname to Nashorn (Rhinoceros). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the Nashorn name.

Specification

Despite its close resemblance to the ordinary Panzer IV tank chassis, the Nashorn was actually designed and built by combining elements and components from both the Panzer III and Panzer IV. The Nashorn hull was mostly the same as that of the Panzer IV, but with the width of a Panzer III. Most of the components of the drivetrain were taken also taken from the Panzer III, including the two front drive sprockets, the transmission, and the steering unit with the drive shaft. The suspension was taken directly from the Panzer IV and it consisted of eight small road wheels on each side, suspended in pairs by leaf-spring units, a rear idler and four return rollers on each side. The tracks were also taken from the Panzer IV, with 108 links in total. The distance between the rear road wheels and the idler was somewhat increased during the production. The Nashorn could be equipped with different track types depending on the combat need and availability, like the Winterketten or Osketten for example. Despite being produced up the end of the war, the number of return rollers was never reduced to three (per side) on Nashorns, in contrast to other Panzer IV-based based vehicles.
The engine compartment was moved to the vehicle’s reinforced center. This was mostly done in order to create enough room for the gun and the crew to operate efficiently at the back. The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM, taken together with the radiators, cooling fans, and muffler from the Panzer IV. The engine performance was more or less the same as on the Panzer IV, giving a maximum speed of 40 km/h. Due to the central engine position, in order to avoid engine overheating, two (on both lower hull sides) rectangular shape cooling ports were added. In addition, the Nashorn had a crew interior heater system despite being open-topped. The engine was started by using an electrical starter but, depending on the situation, could be started manually by a crank located in the crew compartment. The fuel load was around 600 l (or 470 l depending on the source) held in two fuel tanks placed below the fighting compartment. With these, the Nashorn had an operational range of 260 km (around 130 km cross country). The Nashorn also had a problem with frequent breakdowns of the engine, mostly due to overheating, which was never fully solved.

Side view of the Nashorn, with the engine cooling ports visible. Source
The front of the Nashorn was covered by a well-angled and simple armored plate. The driver compartment on the front left side was fully protected. The driver had three observation hatches, one for the front, and one on each side. On top of the driver’s enclosed compartment was a round hatch. The rear crew compartment was protected by armored slats, but was open from the top. To the rear was a two-part door, through which the crew members could access their positions. The new superstructure (both the front and the rear) had a very simple design but the armor was very light. The maximum armor was 30 mm around the driver compartment and the frontal glacis, the hull sides and rear were 20 mm and the bottom 10 mm. The superstructure armor was only 10 mm on all sides, the top was open. Originally, it was planned that the armor would be 20 mm on the superstructure and 50 mm in the hull, but these plans were dropped in order to save weight. The new superstructure was built by Witkowitzer Bergütte und Geschutzwerke from Witkowice Silesia, all being completed by the end of 1943.
The rear part of the vehicle was the combat compartment, which offered the crew more working space. Crew-necessary equipment, instruments, personal belongings, weapons and ammunition were also stored here. Most of these were stored on the compartment sides. On the right side were the mountings for an MG-34 machine gun (with 600 rounds of ammunition) and spare parts, gas mask box, radio equipment, and 88 mm round storage cases. On the opposite side there was another 88 mm round storage case, MG-34 mounting, signal pistol, hot air inlets from the engine, a lever for releasing the gun lock, and the gun sights mount with its box. At the rear were usually held the crew personal weapons (MP-38 for example) and ammunition. Other equipment that was stored included the tarpaulin for protection from bad weather, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and poles for determination of the direction of the firing axis (these were removed after March 1943) etc.
The crew consisted of five members, the commander, the gunner, the radio operator, the loader, and the driver. The driver and the radio operator were stationed in the front hull as on the Panzer IV (driver to the left and radio operator right) and were the only crew members that were fully protected. The driver controlled the vehicle by using levers and pedals that were positioned in front of the driver. Behind them, in the open combat compartment, were the remaining crew members. The gunner was stationed to the left of the gun, while the commander and the loader were behind him. For the crew, two internally mounted periscopes could be added for viewing the surrounding without being exposed to enemy fire.
In the case of Abteilung Stab Kompanie, additional radio equipment was provided (Fu 8) beside the standard radio. This caused some problems for the radio operator, as he was physically unable, due to different positions of the radio sets, to operate them both. The Nashorn equipped units often requested that an additional radio operator be provided to the Abteilung Stab. It is not clear if this was ever implemented, as the sources do not give more information on this matter.

The 88 mm PaK 43/41

During the war, Germans produced two anti-tank gun versions based on the 88 mm Flak 41. The first one was the PaK 43, which was mounted on a four-wheel carriage, and the second was the PaK 43/41 (also known as PaK 43/1 in some sources), 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 10.5 cm l.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. It was jokingly known by its crews as the ‘barn door’ (Scheunentor).

Side view of the 88 mm PaK 43/41. Note the Lorraine 37L-based SPG in the back. Source
The PaK 43/41 was chosen as the main armament of the Nashorn. The installation was done by placing the gun mount above the central engine compartment. During production, there were plans to replace it with the Pak 43 version, but this was never implemented. The new gun was more or less the same as the towed version, with minor modifications in order to install it inside a vehicle. The 88 mm gun had a traverse of 30° and elevation of -5° to +20° (or -5° to +35° depending on the source). The recoil cylinder was located under and the recuperator above the gun. There were also two counterbalance cylinders (one on each side).
For direct fire, the Zieleinrichtung 43 SVo (with 3x magnification and 8-degree field of view) gunsight was used. For indirect fire, it was the Zieleinrichtung 34. These two sights were installed on the first series of 50 vehicles, after which the Zieleinrichtung 37 (with Sfl. Z.F.1a periscope) was used. With the installation of the new gun sight, the open slot in the gun shield where the old sight was positioned was closed.
The Nashorn 88 mm gun could fire four different types of ammunition:

  • 88 mm Pzgr.39 (with a weight of 10 kg and muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s) AP round
  • 88 mm Sprgr. (with a weight of 9.4 kg and muzzle velocity of 700 m/s) HE round with a maximum range of 17,500 m
  • 88 mm Pzgr.40 (with a weight of 7.3 kg and muzzle velocity of 1,140 m/s), a tungsten-cored round, but it was rarely deployed due to general lack of this metal
  • 88 mm Gr.HL (with a weight of 7.62 kg and muzzle velocity of 600 m/s) hollow charge round


A loader of a Nashorn is preparing to load a new round into the gun. Despite the relatively spacious rear fighting compartment, the total ammunition load was small. Source.
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 and at 2000 m to 139 mm. The rare tungsten round, at the same ranges and angle, could penetrate 226 mm, 162 mm and 136 mm. The hollow charge round could penetrate 90 mm of armor inclined at 30° at any range.
Despite the larger crew compartment, due to the large ammunition size, only a small number of rounds was carried inside the Nashorn. The ammunition was stored in two (one on each side) ammunition bins with 16 rounds in total, with an additional 24 round that could be stored on the floor. Due to the small ammo stowage, a constant supply of ammunition was to be provided by using Maultier half-tracks, which could not be always successfully achieved on the battlefield. It is plausible that the crews would have stored additional rounds in any available free space inside the vehicle. There were some problems with a general lack of ammunition, which could not be produced in sufficient numbers.
Originally, early vehicles were equipped with the same travel lock as on the Hummel, probably in order to simplify production. This travel lock did the job of holding the gun in position, but it had a drawback. In order to free the gun, one of the crew had to go out and manually remove the bolt that held it in place. While this is not a big issue for the Hummel, a vehicle that was usually providing fire support (depending on the combat situation) kilometers away from the main front line, for the Nashorn, which was far closer to the front, this was a big issue. One of the crew members had to expose himself to possible enemy fire and the time lost could prove to be fatal The gun lock was later replaced with an improved one that could be controlled from inside the vehicle. There was also a rear gun position travel lock, but its use was discarded in later models. The gun shield would see some changes in design to better fit with the superstructure sidewalls.

Production

Two firms were selected for the production of the Nashorn: Alkett from Berlin and Stahlindustrie from Duisburg. Alkett was charged with series production of 10 vehicles in January, 20 in February, 30 in March and then at a rate of 30 vehicles per month until March 1944, producing a total of 420 vehicles. Stahlindustrie was tasked with a smaller production series of 5 in May, 10 in June, 15 in July and then 15 per month (also until March 1944), with a total production of only 150 vehicles.
Like nearly all German production plans, the one for the Nashorn did not go as intended. In early February, in a meeting between Hitler and Speer, it was decided to reduce the monthly production of the Nashorn from 45 to only 20 vehicles. This was done for two reasons. Firstly, the Nashorn was seen as a temporary solution and never intended for large mass production. Secondly, it was intended to increase the production of the more important Hummel SPG. Due to a lack of main guns, Stahlindustrie was not able to commence Nashorn production and instead began producing Hummels. In July 1943, the production numbers were once again changed to 500 vehicles. Plans for changing the main armament to a modified 88 mm PaK 43 were abandoned in the hope of increasing the numbers of PaK 43/41 guns available, in order to build all the 500 planned vehicles. Due to the Allied bombing campaign in late 1943, the production of the 88 mm Pak was significantly slowed down, which also influenced the production of Nashorn. By 4th November 1943, some 284 vehicles were completed, while the remaining 216 were to be built in a series of 40 vehicles until March 1944, with the last 16 the following month.
In late November, there were even talks of stopping the Nashorn production, but it was decided to go on with it until the Jagdpanther was ready in 1944. Also in November, Alkett was bombed, so Nashorn production had to be moved to Deutsche Eisenwerke A.G. which had assembly factories located in Teplitz-Schönau and Duisburg. By May 1944, Alkett stopped the production of the Nashorn and Deutsche Eisenwerke were tasked with series production of 100 vehicles from April to June 1944. The order was changed to 130 from April to September, but due to many delays (lack of engines, transmissions, etc.), the production continued at a slower pace until the end of the war. In total, 494 vehicles (chassis number 310001-310494) were built, with 345 in 1943, 133 in 1944 and the last 16 in 1945.
In March 1945, there were discussions to reuse Hummel chassis’ and re-equip them with 88 mm guns, but due to material shortages, the need of the mobile artillery and the close end of the war, nothing came of this proposal.

Production Changes

As the Nashorn was considered only a temporary solution, the Germans did not introduce many modifications during its production run. It would only receive these modifications in order to simplify construction. Because of these changes, there were some minor differences between the early and late produced vehicles. Officially, there was never a special designation change in order to identify the early or late produced vehicles.
The early production vehicles had two front Bosch headlights, rear fitted mufflers and two front-mounted wheels. The later built vehicles had only one headlight, on the vehicle’s left side. The rear exhaust muffler was removed and replaced with exhaust pipes located on both of the vehicle’s sides. The front two wheels were moved to the rear and the rear mudguards were removed.
The early vehicles were equipped with the Hummel travel lock, but later models would have a new travel lock, equipped with a very simple wire release system which could be used from inside the vehicle.

Front view of the Nashorn, showing the improved travel lock that was released by a cable from inside the vehicle. These Nashorn “crewmen” are actually British soldiers, as this vehicle was captured somewhere in Italy. Source: Wikimedia
The rear mudguards were removed on later-built vehicles. There were also minor changes in the design of the driver’s observation hatch cover. Two brake vents were placed in the lower part of the angled front armor. During production, the size and design of the brake vents was slightly changed.
A hole with a movable armor cover was added to the lower-left of the hull. Its purpose was to help with warming the engine coolant with a blowtorch in cold weather. Two towing hooks were welded to the rear hull.

A late production model, with the two spare wheels mounted on the lower hull rear. There the two welded towing hooks, and the removal of the rear fender is also visible: Source.
Interior differences were not recorded, but there is always a possibility that there were some minor changes. While the Hummel received a specially designed front hull crew compartment (driver and radio operator), this was never implemented on the Nashorn.
Other changes were connected to the running gear of the Panzer III and IV. The early production vehicles had drive sprocket taken from the Panzer III Ausf. E (type Z.W.38). The return rollers and the idlers were taken from Panzer IV Ausf.D and F. Later produced vehicles used the drive sprocket taken from Panzer III Ausf.H (or Ausf.J depending on the source). There is evidence that a number of vehicles were built using a combination of these components.
There were also field modifications. While most were minor, like adding an extra tool or supply box, others include additional frontal armor plates in hope of increasing the armor thickness.

Organization

The Germans originally planned to use the Nashorn equip the 10 vehicle-strong Kompanie in the Panzerjäger Abteilung of the Panzer Divisions. This was never implemented. Instead, Nashorns were given to independent Schwere (Heeres) Panzerjäger Abteilung (heavy anti-tank battalions) which were then, depending on the operational needs, temporarily attached to different Armee Korps. This was a standard German war practice with other rare armored vehicles (like Tiger or Ferdinands for example), who were also grouped into independent units. Only Corps and Army Headquarters had the authority to give such orders.
These Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung would be composed of 45 vehicles, divided into three Kompanie (companies) with 14 Nashorn each and a Stabskompanie with 3 vehicles. The Kompanies were again divided into Zuge (platoons), each with 4 vehicles and with 2 in the Command Platoon.

In combat

During the war, several Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung (short s.Pz.Jg.Abt) would be formed, including 560, 655, 525, 93, 88, 664, 519 and 424. Other smaller units were formed, including the Schwere Panzerjäger Ersatz 43 und Asbuildung Abteilung, s.Pz.Jg. Kompanie 669 and Panzerkompanie Kummersdorf. The only units to receive Nashorns were the 1st Panzer Division and possibly the Das Reich Division.

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 560

The forming of s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 and equipping it with the Nashorn was a slow process. The first six vehicles were received in February, followed by 24 in March, and the last 15 in May 1943. In preparation for the coming Kursk offensive, s.H.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 was to be transported to Kharkiv in late April 1943. By the beginning of May 1943, the transportation of the unit was almost complete. In June, it was part of the Panzer Gruppe “Kempf”, but due to many mechanical problems, this unit was not ready for combat. While this unit did not see action during the battle for Kursk, it was busy defending the XXXXII Armee Korps’ (In September renamed into the 8th Armee) flanks from July onwards.

This vehicle had an early type travel lock that had to be released from outside. This vehicle belonged to s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560. It is on a train, possibly headed for the Eastern front. Source.
Throughout August, this unit also supported the 39th, 161st, and 282nd Infanterie Divisions. During this time, 14 vehicles were lost. s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 would be used mostly in defending actions against Soviet attacks until the end of 1943.
Thanks to constant reinforcement (with 5 vehicles in September, October, November, and 4 in February 1944), s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 managed to maintain almost full combat strength throughout 1943, although not all the vehicle were always operational. For example, on 31st October 1943, there were 39 vehicles in the unit, with only 8 operational and the remaining in various state of repair. By the end of 1943, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 reported having destroyed around 251 enemy tanks.
In January 1944, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 participated in the German defense of the city of Kirovograd (currently known as Kropyvnytskyi). In early February, this unit began a slow withdrawal toward Mielau in order to be requipped with the new Jagdpanther. By March, it was still engaged on the Eastern front under the LVII Pz.Korps, losing 16 Nashorn. By this time, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 had only 4 operational and 10 non-operational vehicles remaining. In late April 1944, the withdrawal was completed and s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 was moved to Mielau.

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 655

Another unit equipped with Nashorns was s.Pz.Jg.Abt “Stalingrad”. In April 1943, this unit was renamed s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655. For the creation of this unit, the remaining elements from Panzerjäger Abteilungen 521, 611, and 670 were used. It is for this reason that its Kompanie were named after these Abteilungen instead of the ordinary 1st, 2nd, and 3rd designations.
In April 1944, these would be renamed to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Kompanie. In April 1943, this unit had 35 vehicles. The last 10 vehicles arrived in May. The unit assembly and training was carried out until June 1943. By the time of the Kursk offensive s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 was part of the Heeresgruppe mitte, but was not directly involved in combat. It would, however, be engaged with the Second Armee in trying to stop the Soviet attacks. This defense proved to be unsuccessful and the unit was forced to pull out in the direction of the Desna and Dnieper rivers. In a report dated 1st July, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 was noted to have lost eight vehicles: one to a mine, and the remaining seven during an air raid. All these were recovered and sent to Germany for repair. From November to the end of 1943, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 was mostly used in support of different Panzer Division, both in the attack and in the defense, around the Pripet Marshes.
The Nashorns proved to be effective, as can be seen in the report of Kompanie 521 during a combat operation defending Orel in mid July 1943, when following vehicles were claimed to have been destroyed: 1 x KV-2, 19 x KV-1s, 430 x T-34s, 1 x M3 Lee, 1 x T-60, 5 x T-70s, and 1 rocket launcher mounted on a tank chassis, with the loss of only two Nashorns. These numbers are just claims and were probably larger than reality.
s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 received around 33 Nashorns as replacements (8 in July, 5 in October, November and December, and the last 10 in March 1944). This unit was even above the official combat strength with 47 operational (and 1 in repair) vehicles during June-July 1944.
In February, it was stationed in Belorussia in support of the elements of the Second Armee. By the end of May 1944, this unit was transferred to the 4th Panzer Armee, and it would see action in Ukraine on the Vistula river and at Lublin. In August 1944, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655’s 1st and 2nd Kompanie were moved from Heeresgruppe Nord Ukraine to the training center at Mielau to be equipped with Jagdpanters and Jagdpanzer IVs.


Sd.Kfz.164 of the 2nd Kompanie of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 560, summer 1943.

Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 519, Group center, Vitebsk area, Russia, winter 1943-44.

Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 88, Russia.

Another Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 88, Russia, 1944.

Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 525 in Italy, summer 1944.

Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn in Italy, schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 525.

Schwere Panzerjäger Kompanie 669

The 3rd Kompanie of s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 was equipped with all remaining Nashorns (possibly around 24 vehicles). The unit was renamed to Einsatz Kompanie 655 and was stationed on the Eastern Front. It would remain on the Eastern Front supporting the 4th Panzer Armee near the Sandomierz bridgehead until late 1944. In November 1944, it was renamed to s.Pz.Jg.Kp 669. The combat strength of the s.Pz.Jg.Kp 669 was around 20 Nashorns (December 1944). During the Soviet offensive in January 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Kp 669 was part of 17th Panzer Division, suffering heavy losses during the battle for Kielce. In February 1945, it was reinforced with 13 new vehicles. The unit met its end during the battle for Prague in May 1945, when it surrendered to the Soviets.

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 525

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 525 was formed in August 1939 as Pz.Abw.Abt 525. During the attack on the West, this unit was equipped with 88 mm Flak 18 gun for use against tanks and bunkers. In France, it was used to attack parts of the Maginot line. Later, it would see action in the Balkans and in the Soviet Union. In late April 1943, it was ordered to reequip s.Pz.Jg.Kp 525 with Nashorns in a standard 45-vehicles organization. It was moved to Magdeburg where it was to be supplied with these vehicles, and by July 1943 the assembly of the 45 Nashorns was completed.
It was originally allocated to the 26th Panzer Division, but due to the need for crew training, the unit was only combat-ready by the beginning of August 1943. In preparation for the German occupation of Italy, s.Pz.Jg.Kp 525 was transported to northern Italy, but due to the Allied offensive, the unit was repositioned to the south. It was attached to different units (like the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division or 371 Infantry Division) and was mostly used for coastal defense. During December 1943, it was stationed near Rome as part of the 3rd Grenadier Division. From January 1944, it was engaged in defense of Cassino, where four Nashorns were destroyed and three damaged, but later repaired. Thanks to well selected and favorable combat positions, they managed to take advantage of their strong guns, even achieving a claimed kill from more than 2,800 m against an Allied Sherman tank. The 1st and 2nd Kompanie would see action during the Battle of Anzio in early 1944. In May, s.Pz.Jg.Kp 525 was again stationed around Cassino.
s.Pz.Jg.Kp 525 suffered losses during the Battle for Pontecorvo, where the Canadian Allied soldiers managed to capture one and destroy three vehicles. s.Pz.Jg.Kp 525 also saw action against Polish forces (part of the 2nd Corps) in August 1944, when one was captured and two destroyed.
On 31st August, s.Pz.Jg.Kp 525 was to be reinforced with Jagdpanthers and thus form a gemischte Jagdpanther-Abteilung. For this reason, the 1st Kompanie was sent to Mielau for rearming. The 1st Kompanie vehicles were given to the 2nd and 3rd Kompanies and these two would remain in Italy supporting the 10th Armee. In April 1945, what remained of the 2nd Kompanie was supporting the 26th Panzer Division and the 3rd Kompanie was supporting the 29th Grenadier Division. Many more vehicles were captured by the Allies during the German retreat across the River Po, as a number of Nashorns were abandoned by the Germans.
In late November 1944, the 1st Kompanie was in the process of reorganization, but due to the rapid development on the front, it was sent to reinforce Kapmfgruppe Fuehter-Begleit-Brigade. It was equipped with 10 Nashorns in late November 1944.

Schwere Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 93

The original name of this unit was Pz.Abw.Abt. 23 and it was formed in 1935. The name was changed to s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 in October 1942. It was part of the 26th Panzer Division, stationed in France for training and rest. In June 1943, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 was chosen to be equipped with 45 Nashorns, and this process was completed in the period from July to September 1943. As the 26th Panzer Division was needed on the Italian front and s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 was combat-ready, it was decided to detach it from this unit and attach it to the 7th Amree in Western France.
It was, from September 1943, engaged with Army Group “South” on the Eastern front for the support of the German retreat at the Dnieper River. and was used to support the German attack near Kryvyi Rog in late October. In early 1944, it supported the retreat of the 24th Division and the 6th Army. In early 1944, this part of the front was quiet, until 20th August when the Soviets launched a large offensive. Most elements of s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 were lost together with the 6th Army near Chișinău (Kishinev). The 2nd Kompanie would survive and would be used to support s.Pz.Jg.Abt 525 in defense of the Rhine river. The final fate of what remained of s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 is not clear.

Actions of the Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 93 and 525

s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 and 525 were sent to the Western Front in order to reinforce the German forces which were desperately trying to stop the Allied advance to the Rhine. s.Pz.Jg.Abt 525 (1st Kompanie) was, in November 1944, equipped with 10 Nashorns while s.Pz.Abt 93 (2nd Kompanie) was, by December, equipped with just 12 Nashorns.
Both Abteilung 525 and 93 were attached to the 106th Panzer Brigade and operated in the Kolmar pocket until late December 1944 while suffering no losses. On 29th (or 27th depending on the sources) December, both were used to support Jagdpanthers from s.Pz.Jg.Abt 654. Later in January, they were used to reinforce the StuG.Brigade 280 until February. By that time, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 525 had suffered such heavy losses, that what was left was incorporated into s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93. In February, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 93 was renamed to s.Pz.Jg. Kompanie 93 due to its small size. By the end of February 1945, the Kompanie had only 10 vehicles left and was supporting 106th Armored Brigade near Cologne. In March, one Nashorn managed to destroy the new American T26E3 (at a distance of 500 m) tank near the town of Niehl. The Kompanie finally met its fate in April 1945, when it surrendered in the Ruhr area.

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 519 and 664

Another unit to be equipped with Nashorns was s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519, which was formed in late August 1943. By November 1943, the last vehicle was received and the unit had 45 operational Nashorns. It was repositioned to the Eastern Front, where it supported the 3rd Panzer Armee. One of the first actions was the battle for Vitebsk, where the advancing Soviet forces were stopped. It would be stationed there from December 1943 to January 1944, during which time it helped repel many Soviet attacks. During the period from 10th December 1943 to 24th February 1944, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 claimed to have destroyed some 290 enemy tanks with the loss of only 6 vehicles, of which 4 were destroyed by their crews (due to a lack of towing vehicles).
From January to June, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 saw very few combat actions and was part of the 3rd Armee. From June 1944, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 was used to support the 4th Armee in Belorussia. By the end of June, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 claimed to have destroyed around 112 Soviet tanks with some losses. To replace the losses, this unit received 15 new vehicles (5 in March, April, and June). Due to the following fighting in July 1944, the unit lost many of its Nashorns. What was left of s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 was used to support the Panzerkampfgruppe Hoppe by the middle of July. By August 1944, like the previous units, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 was also sent to Mielau to be equipped with Jagdpanthers, but was also equipped with StuG III.

Late production version somewhere on the eastern front. The crew observe their surroundings for possible enemy targets. The Nashorn is positioned between the two wooden houses which serve as makeshift camouflage. This vehicle belongs to s.Pz.Jg.Ab 519’s commanding Kompanie. Source.
Its remaining vehicles were given to s.Pz.Jg.Abt 664 which was equipped with towed 88 mm PaK 43 guns. This unit never achieved a full combat strength, with only around 12 vehicles being used (October 1944). It was engaged with HeeresGruppe Mitte, but was lost in late January 1945 on the Eastern Front.
Interesting to note is that Nashorn crews from s.Pz.Jg.Abt 519 had a habit of naming their (and paining it on the vehicle) vehicles after East German cities (like Pommern) or animals (Puma, Tiger, etc).

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 88

s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 was originally formed in late October 1940, and by late 1943 was mostly engaged on the Eastern Front. In late November, it was moved to Mielau to be equipped with Nashorns and for crew training. The unit reaches its full combat strength by January 1944 but was not ready for combat operation until February 1944.
By early 1944, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 was part of the 1st Panzer Armee on the Eastern Front. s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 was heavily engaged during the battle of Kamienets-Podolsky. Later, in March/April 1944, this unit supported the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions. An interesting fact is that, in May 1944, one s.Pz.Jg.Kp 88 Nashorn managed to destroy a new Soviet tank IS-2 in somewhat comic circumstances. This vehicle had actually been captured by the Germans and was in the process of being towed to the rear when it was spotted by the Nashorns. They immediately destroyed it without knowing it was actually captured by their comrades, although it is unlikely that the soldiers towing their prize back were amused by this incident.
This unit suffered heavy losses during the support of the Army Group A, around Brody and Lvov. In order to replace the losses, it received 30 new vehicles in August 1944. The rest of the year, this unit was stationed near Miechow. From January 1945, it was engaged against the Soviets near Lisow and Kielce.
In late January, an unknown number of Nashorns from this unit were supporting the German defense of Preiswitz near the village of Gieraltowice. During these actions, some Nashorns from s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 were equipped with experimental night vision equipment, but in what numbers and how effective this system was is unknown. In March, the remnants of s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 supported the 17th Armored Division near Lauban. s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 would fight on until it surrendered in Prague in May 1945.

Schwere Panzerjäger Ersatz 43 and Asbuildung Abteilung

These two units were originally used for training and as reinforcements and were stationed at Spremberg. In desperation, both units were mobilized in the defense of the Oder River, where both would be lost. The number of vehicles that these units had is unknown.

The use of Nashorn in other units.

Panzerkompanie Kummersdorf was formed using the vehicle present at the Kummersdorf Weapons Testing Center, including at least one Nashorn. An unknown number of Nashorns were allocated to the 1st Panzer Division in December 1944. They were used to reinforce Pz.Jg.Abt 37, which had lost most of its Marder anti-tank vehicles. By April 1945, there was still an unknown number of Nashorns operational with this unit. It is possible that at least 12 Nashorns were given to the Das Reich Division in late December 1944, but precise information is not available.
By the end of 1944, there were still some 130-165 operational Nashorns in total (depending on the source). Most were located on the Eastern front, with smaller numbers to the West.

Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung/Kompanie 424

The origin of this unit is not clear, and depending on the sources it is either marked as an Abteilung or a Kompanie. What is known is that s.Pz.Jg.Ab 424 was mostly destroyed in early 1945 near the Kielce area. The remaining elements of this unit (with only two Nashorns) were used to defend the Order river.

Combat effectiveness

The Nashorn, due to its powerful gun, could engage any Allied or Soviet tank at great ranges. The best tactics when employing Nashorns was to select a good and well-camouflaged combat position some distance behind the main front line and with a good field of visibility. From such positions, its gun could destroy enemy armored vehicles with less danger from retaliation fire. Of course, this was the best-case scenario, which could not always be implemented due to many factors like terrain or inadequate leadership.
As the Nashorns would be thrown into areas with expected heavy clashes, the local commanders would sometimes used them in a role or in a way for which these vehicles were not designed and suitable for. This inevitably led to unnecessary losses. In order to provide many German units with strong anti-tank firepower, the Nashorn units were sometimes divided into smaller groups which reduced their combat potential. This also caused logistical and communication problems which could not be easily solved. Another problem was the positioning of these vehicles too close to the front or the inadequate scouting of enemy forces.
To address potential misuse of the Nashorn, instruction sheets were given to the troops (at the battalion level) of the 3rd Armee. These sheets included instructions on how to properly use the new Nashorns. It indicated that s.Pz.Jg.Ab was to be used as mobile defense units against mass enemy armor. They should be used as Abteilung or Kompanie strength, and to avoid distribution in smaller groups. This could cause many potential communication, ammunition and maintenance problems. Due to its weak armor, the enemy should be engaged at ranges greater than 1 km, and the Nashorn should never be used as an assault weapon (like StuG III for example). The Nashorn should attack enemy vehicles from well-camouflaged positions. The local commander should receive advice from the Nashorn commanders on the proper use of the vehicle.
Good cooperation between Nashorn units and the units they were attached to wasn’t always possible. There were situations when Nashorn commanders refused to execute the orders given to them by local commanders. This was the case of the Kompanie 521 (part of s.Pz.Jg.Ab 655), which refused to attack a well-defended position (with 20 to 30 tanks) while advancing over 2 km of open ground. The proper use of the Nashorns was demonstrated by the Zug from Kompanie 521, when on 3rd July, 12 KV-1s and 4 T-34s were destroyed with the loss of only one Nashorn. The Nashorns were well positioned and camouflaged, which played a great part in this action.

Due to its weak armor, the Nashorn provided only limited protection and could be easily destroyed by enemy fire. Source: Pinterest

The Nashorn’s best defense was a well-selected combat position and good camouflage. This vehicle belongs to s.Pz.Jg.Ab 525 (February 1944). Source.
Scouting was also essential for the Nashorn units, as they lacked any proper vehicles to do the job. Usually, the Nashorn commanders would go on foot to the designated area of attack. What is interesting is that (depending on the combat situation), the commanders of the Nashorn vehicles would give orders to their crew from outside the vehicle during a combat operation. This was done so that the Nashorn commander could have a better understanding on the current combat situation, in this instance, a key importance was that the commander had to be in close proximity of his vehicle. As the Nashorns were used mostly as fire support from the distance this was possible to be achieved without any major problems.
Thanks to its deadly gun, the Nashorn could effectively destroy enemy tanks from ranges above 2 km. In one case, it was reported that a T-34 was destroyed from a range of 4.2 km! It is important to note that the Nashorn would rarely engage at ranges greater of 2 km for several reasons. While the gun was powerful enough, there was a problem with potentially wasting precious ammunition, as the hit probability was significantly lower at such distances. Ammunition production could not reach the demands and the general low ammo count that could be carried inside the vehicle compounded this issue. Another problem was that the sights would be slightly knocked out of alignment during driving, which would affect the precision of the gun, especially at longer ranges. There are other facts that also had to be taken into account like the wind, the quality of ammunition, and a bit of luck etc. Hitting enemy vehicles at ranges of over 3 km was an exception rather than a rule, and in most cases, crews avoided shooting at these ranges.
One of the best known Nashorn aces was Lieutenant Albert Ernst who served with s.Pz.Jag.Abt.519. During the fighting on 19th December 1943, he and his crew managed to destroy 8 Soviet T-34s. Later that month, they destroyed another 14 T-34s tanks with just 21 rounds of ammunition. By 7th February 1944, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross for destroying 25 enemy tanks and many anti-tank guns. In the summer of 1944, he was transferred to s.Pz.Jg.Abt 654.

Conclusion

With the creation of the independent Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung equipped with Nashorns, the Germans had units that could provide support and increase the offensive capabilities of any units attached to them. This also created some issues, the most common of which was the misuse of these vehicles by the local commanders.
During its operational use, the Nashorn proved to be an effective anti-tank vehicle with an excellent gun, but it was not perfect. The main drawback (like all similar German open-topped tank destroyers) was the lack of armor. It was also a relatively large vehicle and thus difficult to camouflage properly and suffered from a low ammunition count, and a small traverse arc. Another significant issue was constituted by the great number of engine breakdowns due to overheating.

Surviving vehicles

Today, there are only three surviving Nashorn vehicles. One is located in the Kubinka Museum in Russia and another one is at the U.S. Army Center of Military History Storage Facility. The third vehicle is a part of a private collection in the Netherlands. It was a fully operational vehicle, but was badly damaged in a fire in 2019, and is currently under restoration.

8.8 cm PaK 43/1 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw III und IV (Sf) Sd.Kfz. 16 specifications

Dimensions Length 8.44 m, Width 2.95 m, Height 2.94 m
Weight 24 tonnes
Armor Hull front 30 mm, side and rear 20 mm, top and bottom 10 mm,
Superstructure 10 mm all around and the gun shield 10 mm.
Crew 5 (Gunner, loader, driver, radio operator and commander)
Propulsion Maybach HL120TRM
Speed 40 km/h, 15-28 km/h (cross country)
Range 260 km, 130 km (cross country)
Armament 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 L/71
Gun Traverse 30°
Elevation -5° to +20°
Total production 394

Sources

Thomas L.J and Hilary L.D. (2006), Panzer Tracts No.7-3, Panzerjager Panzer Tracts
David Doyle (2005), German Military Vehicles, KP Books
Alexander Ludeke, Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books
Duško Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Tony G. and Detlev T. (2000) Nashorn 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 (L/71) auf Fgst.Pz.kpfw.III/IV (Sf), Nuts and bolt Vol. 14
Janusz L. (2010) Nashorn, Tank power Vol. XCIII, Wudawnictwo Militaria.
Ian V. Hogg (1975). German Artillery of World War Two, Purnell Book Services Ltd.
Peter C. and Terry G. (2008) Enzyklopadie Deutscher waffen 1939-1945 Handwaffen, Artilleries, Beutewaffen, Sonderwaffen.

Pictures:


Crew working inside the Nashorn. The crew member on the right, behind the gun, is the gunner. Behind him, on the left of the image, are the commander and, in the foreground, is the loader. The 88 mm horizontal sliding block mechanism is seen here. Source.

The large size of the 88 mm ammunition is evident here. Source.

When not expecting to go into action, the gun opening was covered in order to avoid getting dust into the chamber. Source.

Rearview of an earlier production vehicle. The large wheel inside the crew compartment was a part of the rear travel lock mechanism. Later built vehicles did not have this system. Source.

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Light Tank M3A1/A3 in Yugoslav service

Yugoslav Communist Partisans /Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (1944-1960)
Light Tank – Number supplied: 56-100+

The Yugoslav communist Partisans, or National Liberation Army, were one of the largest resistance movements against Germany in occupied Europe, fighting many hard battles against the Axis forces during WWII. The Allies, seeing the importance of this struggle (as large number of Axis troops were sent to the Balkans to quell the Partisans), decided to supply the Partisans with a number of American Stuart light tanks and other military equipment, such as armored cars, trucks, military uniforms, and small arms etc. These Stuart light tanks were not first to be operated by the Partisans (they had used tanks such as the Italian L3 or the French Hotchkiss H35 and SOMUA S35 tanks among others) but were provided in enough numbers to equip a Tank Brigade. This Brigade would see heavy fighting from late 1944 until the end of the war in Yugoslavia in May 1945. The Stuart tanks were important not just for the Partisans, but they represented the nucleus from which the future JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) armored force would be created. The Stuart tanks would remain in operational service into the beginning of the 1960s.

Prelude

After the Italian defeats in North Africa and Greece, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler, unwillingly, decided to send German military aid to help the Italian conquest of Greece. For the planned occupation of Greece, Hitler counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact of Germany, Italy, and Japan 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 (and the Regent Prince Paul) which had intended to join the Axis forces. The new government under Simović did not ratify the Tripartite Pact and commenced negotiations with Britain and the USSR. Due to these events, and in preparation for the attack on Greece and the Soviet Union, the German High Command decided to occupy Yugoslavia and create a safe environment for further operations. Thus began the ‘April War’ (codenamed Directive 25); the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 6th April 1941.
After the end of the April War, Yugoslavia was divided amongst the Axis forces. Mostly because of the brutality of the occupying forces, the discontent of the occupied nations grew more and more. Very quickly in the territory of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia, two liberation movements were formed, the Royalist Chetniks (Četnici/Четници) and the communist Partisans (Partizani/Партизани). The communist side would form the NOV (National Liberation Army) (Narodno-oslobodilačka Armija/Народно-ослободилачка Армија) but are more commonly and simply known as the ‘Partisans’.
These two groups at first cooperated together against the common enemy. In October 1941, joint Partisan and Chetnik forces attacked (with some captured German Beutepanzer SOMUA S35, Renault R35, and Hotchkiss H35/39 ) the city of Kraljevo (in southern-central modern-day Serbia). This attack failed and soon after, conflicting ideology would lead the former partners into an open civil war which would last until the end of WWII.

Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. The Axis forces used the southern parts of Yugoslavia, to quickly attack Greek positions. Source: Wikipedia

Forming of the First Tank Brigade

1943 was an important year for the Partisan movement for several reasons. Italy capitulated and the south of the country was occupied by the Allies. After the capitulation and withdrawal of Italian forces in September 1943, large parts of what was once Italian occupied Yugoslav territory were left undefended and abandoned. Partisans succeeded in capturing large quantities of weapons, including Italian tanks, self-propelled guns, armored vehicles, and trucks. The withdrawal of the Italians directly influenced the increase in the number of people who joined the Partisan side.
The communication and supply link between the German forces in Greece with the rest of Germany came under risk. The Germans were forced to send a large number of troops (14 division and 2 partly equipped divisions). The remaining German allies, the Hungarians and Bulgarians, were also heavily involved, with a total of 9 Divisions and 2 corps, with all available NDH forces (Independent State of Croatia/Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) and a number of Chetniks and Serbian collaborationist units also committed. In total, this combined force numbered some 1.1 million men (soldiers, support units and others).
Due to the fact that the Partisan movement was increasing in size and was tying down such a large number of enemy soldiers and equipment, they became an important factor in any future Allied war planning for this theatre of Europe. This was one of the many reasons why by the end of 1943 and early 1944, the Allies decided to support the Partisan movement only. Although they had also helped Chetniks in the past, due to the lack of Chetnik actions against the Axis forces in the Balkans (and many other factors which are under contentious and heated debate even to this day), they stopped any further assistance to this group. Thanks to the fact that the southern part of Italy was under Allied control, the possibility of closer cooperation with the Partisans opened up.
From 1943 and 1944 onwards, the Partisans liberated large territories that now had to be defended from any Axis attack. This led to the change of guerrilla-style fighting to a more direct one, but due to the increasing number of Axis forces, and more importantly the lack of a sufficient number of heavier equipment, these open battles were costly and not always successful.
The Allies decided to help the Partisans by training them and equipping them with much needed heavy weapons, such as tanks and aircraft. Many Partisan fighters that had some experience with this kind of equipment were transported to Italy to be used to form future training camps and centers. For the creation of the first tank unit with Allied equipment, 94 soldiers and officers in total from the 4th Tank Battalion (a unit that had been operating in Croatia and was equipped with captured Italian light tanks) were used. In April 1944, this group was transported by the Allies by sea to El Katadba in Egypt (near the city of Cairo). This group was reinforced with some 200 members of the Royal Yugoslav Army in Africa. This number would increase to 1,200, as most soldiers of the Royal Yugoslav Army would join this unit. By May 1944, it was moved to Chenifa (a training camp in Egypt), where the training of the crews would commence. The training was mostly carried out by British instructors and great attention was given to driving and firing. For training purpose, Stuart tanks and AEC armored cars were used. After some demanding and exhausting exercises, the training process was considered complete, and by late June, the unit was shipped to Italy once more. There, at Gravina Di Puglia (a village near the city of Bari), the First Tank Brigade was formed on 16th July 1944.
The British provided all the necessary materials needed to equip this brigade. At the very beginning, the Brigade had only 10 Stuart tanks. The British were at first reluctant to supply more tanks, as they did not believe that the Partisans could efficiently operate and maintain a larger number of armored vehicles. There were no more tanks available and the British could not provide personnel for maintenance of these vehicles. In order to discuss this issue, a meeting between the Supreme Allied Commander for the Mediterranean, General Sir Henry ‘Jumbo’ Wilson, and Josip Broz Tito (leader of the Partisans) took place on 10th August 1944. These negotiations were successful for the Partisan side and an agreement was made to supply a sufficient amount of armored vehicles to equip at least one tank brigade.

Stuart tanks and their crews prior to their transportation to Yugoslavia. The photograph was taken at Gravina Di Puglia in 1944. Source

Brigade organization

The original planned organization structure of this brigade was the following: It consisted of a headquarter company (with additional support staff), an ambulance company, four tank battalions, an engineering battalion, a company of armored cars, a mechanics company, and a unit for crew training (this unit was removed from the brigade very early on). Each of these four tank battalions was further divided into two tank companies (there is no precise information on how many tanks each had), an anti-tank battery, and a rear support company.
The Brigade unit’s fighting strength consisted of 56 light tanks, mostly M3A3 Stuarts (though there were a small number of M3A1’s and possibly even few M5’s), 24 AEC Mk. II Armored Cars, and two M3A1 ‘White’ Scout Cars (to be used as command vehicles). Support elements consisted of 21 Ford 3t trucks, 21 Chevrolet 3t trucks, 2 1.5t trucks, 8 Jeeps, 6 fuel trucks, two unidentified tracked vehicles, and 9 motorcycles. There is a chance that other vehicles were included, but these are not listed in the sources. This speculation is based on the fact that when the Brigade was transported to Yugoslavia it had 59 tanks, more than the official documented (which also complicates the task of determining the exact number of tanks used).
As there were not enough tanks to equip all four tank battalions, a decision was made to use only three tank battalions and one armored car battalion. This armored car battalion was never used as a whole unit, but was instead divided into smaller groups and given to the tank battalions to be mostly used in an anti-tank role, as the QF 6-pdr (57 mm) gun on the AEC provided strong firepower.
The anti-tank battery was equipped with towed 6-pdr AT guns, which was the same gun as on the AEC Mk.II Armored Car, allowing for ammunition crossover. For the purpose of towing these guns, trucks and two unidentified tracked vehicles (possibly Bren Gun Carriers) were used. The engineering battalion was only mechanized after the Partisans captured a number of vehicles, mostly German.
For supplies necessary for the functioning of the Brigade, the Allies supplied the Partisans with 29,000 liters of fuel (with additional 35,000 liters requested by the Partisans official), 12,000 liters of oil, 19,000 rounds for the 37 mm and 6-pdr guns, and some 220,000 machine gun rounds.
In total, the Brigade had some 1,619 men. The remaining soldiers that were not included in the Brigade were instead sent to the Soviet Union to be a part of the Second Tank Brigade.

The Light Tank M3 ‘Stuart’

The M3 light tank was designed in 1940 to replace the older and outdated M2 tanks that were in service with the American armored forces. The M3 had many improvements over the M2, including thicker armor, stronger (due to the increase in weight) vertical volute spring suspension with a rear idler wheel, increased speed, and improved firepower consisting of four .30 machineguns and a 37 mm cannon. The first series was powered by the gasoline-fueled (petrol) Continental seven-cylinder four-cycle radial aircraft engine, but after 1942, a new four-stroke diesel radial Guiberson A-1020 engine was used. It had a crew of four (driver, driver assistant, gunner, and commander). From March 1941 to August 1942, some 5,811 Stuart (with petrol engine) and 1,285 (diesel engine) were built.
The much improved M3A1 version was produced from April 1942 onwards. The first batches of M3A1 tanks were built by using riveted armor, but later models had welded armor. The changes that were made were: improved turret design (the small commander cupola was removed) with two hatch doors, reducing the number of machine guns to three on later built vehicles, and the addition of a turret basket. Some 4,621 M3A1 tanks were produced by February 1943, including a small number of diesel-powered tanks (around 211).
Soon after the M3A1, a new model, the M3A3, was made (the M3A2 was only a paper project) as a result of poorly designed frontal armor and small fuel capacity. The front and side armor of the Stuart M3A3 was angled and the front viewing hatch for the driver and his assistant were replaced by new overhead ones. The radio was moved from the hull to the turret rear. Due to extra space that the Stuart M3A3 now had, it was possible to increase the fuel capacity. This version was produced until August 1943 (when the production of the Stuart was finally canceled) with a total of 3,427 vehicles being built.
The Stuart series saw extensive operational service throughout the war on many different fronts. The USA supplied the Stuart series to other nations through Lend-Lease, including 5,532 (of all variants) to the British Empire, 1,676 to the USSR, 427 to Brazil, with several other hundreds going to China, France, the Netherlands, and many Latin American nations. Britain would subsequently give some of their Stuart’s to Yugoslav Partisans. By 1943, however, the M3 was already outdated, due to its weak gun and feeble armor.

Partisan Stuart tanks in combat

Author’s note: as the sources often do not specify the exact model of M3 tank used by the Partisans (it could be either M3A1 or M3A3 or even M5), this article will use the Stuart designation for the sake of simplicity, unless the sources specify which model or version. Also, note that the Partisans and later in JNA documents designation Stuart was wrongly written as ’Styart’ or ‘Stuard’.
The Brigade was transported by British ships to the island of Vis (off the Yugoslav Adriatic coast) in early September 1944. This operation was successfully completed by October. Immediately after, all elements of the Brigade were transported onto Yugoslavian mainland and were divided into two groups: Northern and Southern.

The Northern Group

The Northern Group (the 2nd Tank Battalion and half of the 3rd Tank Battalion, in addition to AEC Mk.II armored cars which were equally divided to reinforce the 3rd Battalion in both groups) was tasked with helping other Partisan units in fighting and expelling the German (118th Jagerdivision) near the island of Brač (in the south of modern day Croatia). For this operation, 34 Stuart tanks and 12 AEC Mk.II armored cars were chosen. The transportation process on behalf of the British was slow, and by the time the 2nd Battalion was ready for action, the Germans forces had been driven-off. The next step was to transport these units to the mainland, but there was a problem due to the insufficient number of adequate Partisans transport ships. The British refused to help because of enemy coastal artillery. The Partisans however, decide to attempt to land by using all ships they could find. By late October, most tanks were transported onto the mainland, with only one tank being lost as a consequence of heavy German artillery fire. This group, along with other Partisans forces, pursued the retreating German forces. The progress was slow due to obstacles and mines which had been placed by the Germans. By late October, Partisans broke through the German defense line (Solin-Kaštel-Sučurac). In the night of 27th-28th October, a group of four Stuart tanks were sent to attack retreating enemy forces, but in this attack one Stuart tank was lost to enemy fire.

Transportation of a M3A3 tank by a British ships. Source: https://www.znaci.net/arhiv/fotografija/12063
After securing the coastline, the Northern group was moved toward the city of Šibenik (in central Dalmatia). It was planned by the Partisan high command to attack the city from two sides. Expecting a larger attack on the city, the German began withdrawing their forces (there was some number of Chetnik forces helping defend the city). During the advance on the city, elements of the Second Battalion unexpectedly came across a German force, and after some fierce fighting, lost four Stuart tanks with most of their crews being killed. The Germans had a battery of 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns which could easily destroy Stuart tanks. There were other skirmishes with both German and Chetnik forces. A group of Chetniks came across a column of Stuart tanks, incorrectly thinking they were German tanks. The Partisan tanks immediately opened fire, killing many while the rest surrendered. Some German forces were left behind during the retreat and were surrounded. All available tanks and armored cars in the region were sent to destroy this group, but after some intense fighting, they failed and lost four tanks in the process, with one falling off a cliff. Consequently, the Germans managed to fight through the Partisans lines and escape. Regardless of this, the city of Šibenik was captured on 3rd November 1944.
Before the war, Šibenik had been a large naval shipyard and possessed a number of workshops. For this reason, the Partisans (despite some heavy sabotage made by the German) chose to make a repair and maintenance facility there. The Partisans managed to salvage some facilities and trained personnel in repairs and maintenance. As there was no reserve of new tanks, all tanks were considered important. Vehicles which had been destroyed or damaged were transported to Šibenik (how this was done is unknown, though possibly other tanks were used for towing) to be repaired if possible or to be used for spare parts. Those with turrets damaged beyond repair were used for different modifications equipped with captured German weapons. Šibenik would remain the main base for repairs and maintenance until the end of the war. In November, a tank school was moved to Šibenik from Gravine in the south of Italy to train new personnel. Training was mostly carried out on captured vehicles such as French and Italian tanks.

Šibenik was an important repair facility for the Partisans. Here we can see an M3A3 being repaired. As a number had lost their turret, they were reused for mounting captured German guns. The photographed vehicle could be one of those. Source

Collection of tanks of the Northern group at Šibenik, Winter of 1944/1945. Source
The next vital city to capture was Knin (on the Zagreb-Split road in inner Dalmatia). It was defended by a large force of entrenched German troops supported by Croatian Ustasha (Ustaše/Усташе), and Chetnik units, consisting of some 20,000 men, 20 tanks ( French Hotchkiss H35/39 and Italian FIAT (possibly) L6/40 tanks – under German flag). The Brigade’s Northern group was tasked in supporting other Partisan units (26th and 19th Divisions) in taking this city. The Brigade was further divided, with 13 tanks and 6 armored cars being assigned to the 26th Division and 12 tanks and 5 armored cars being assigned to the 19th Division. On 25th November, the first attacks using tanks and armored cars were unsuccessful, resulting in the loss of one tank and one armored car. The Brigade’s vehicles were not used as a single entity, but were instead divided into even smaller combat groups to support infantry units, which limited their offensive power. Furthermore, due to their tactical usage, the vehicles were easy targets for the defending forces. The armored vehicles were withdrawn and sent to support the attack of the 1st Dalmatian Proletarian Brigade on the city. The attack began on 2nd December, and after some heavy fighting, the Partisans managed to break the German resistance, which forced them to abandon Knin. By 4th December, all retreating German forces were destroyed or forced to surrender. The battle for Knin had been bitter and bloody, with the Partisans losing four Stuart tanks and one AEC armored car.

Actions of the Southern Group

The second Southern group (1st Battalion and the remaining elements of the 3rd Battalion) was tasked with the liberation of the Mostar region, which was vital to the Germans, as this was the main line of retreat for their remaining forces in Greece. Prior to the arrival of the Stuart tanks, Partisan forces had been stopped at the village of Buna (modern-day Bosnia). It was well defended, and the Neretva River flew through it, giving an extra obstacle that the Partisans had to overcome. Partisans with support of Stuart tanks and anti-tank guns attacked these positions but were not able to break through. The Stuart crews had great problems with the unknown terrain, with two being bogged down and a third falling on its side, forcing the crews to abandon the vehicles. Even though there was a danger that the Germans would destroy them, the Partisans went to great effort to salvage them. The Germans then launched a counterattack using Italian tanks which drove the Partisans back and brought a local Partisan hospital into danger. To save the situation, a tank company was quickly sent to try to stop the German advance. The counterattack was successful and drove the German back, with the loss of a single Stuart tank.
The next Partisan move was to attack the city of Široki Breg, which was a strong forward defense position defending Mostar. For this attack, 3 Stuarts and 3 AECs were chosen. But this attack proved unsuccessful, as the commander of the leading tank ran into (what he assumed was) a minefield. Instead of moving to another position, the commander decided to wait for infantry to clear the way for him. His tank was spotted by the Germans who immediately opened fire, hitting the tank, which caught fire, forcing the rest to withdraw. The next attack was also unsuccessful.
Using another similar force, the Partisans attacked another strong point at Nevesinje. The attack began on 30th November with three Stuart tanks and one AEC armored car with infantry support. The attack started well, but it was stopped as the Germans had six tank (four Italian, and two German tanks which the Partisans identified as ’Panthers’) and a number of Flak 3.7 cm guns. In the following battle, the Stuarts proved to be no match against the German tanks and one was lost, with one AEC receiving three direct hits, but miraculously, despite the damage, managing to pull back. The Germans lost one of their Fiat tanks. These actions were mostly unsuccessful due to the inexperience of the crews and commanding officers, poor positioning, insufficient scouting, and the use of tanks individually in a fire support role.
The fighting for Mostar continued until January 1945, when the Germans and their allied Croatian forces launched attacks on two bridges over the Neretva river in the hope that their destruction would slow down any future Partisan attack. One bridge near the city of Čapljina was briefly captured, only to be recaptured by Partisan forces with the help of several Stuart tanks (the bridge was damaged but still in use). Three Stuarts were damaged, though the Germans claimed five or more had been damaged. Two were captured by the Germans and used against the Partisans, with one later being destroyed in February and the second being recaptured. This indicates that the Partisans lost more than three tanks.

Unification of the Two Groups

As the Southern group alone proved insufficient to take down Mostar, the Northern group was called in to help in the upcoming planned offensive. Total Partisan strength was around 40,000 men, while the Germans (with Chetnik, Ustasha and a small numbers of Italians) had some 20,000. The Northern group made a 186 km long journey to reach its destination. On this journey, five Stuart tanks had to be abandoned due to mechanical breakdowns but would later be recovered.
At this time, the Brigade was reformed. As both groups had used the armored cars to reinforce the split 3rd Battalion, the Brigade HQ made the decision to rename the 3rd (Northern Group) into the 4th Battalion, as it was deemed that its dissolution would affect the battalion’s efficiency given that it had proved to be an effective force. As there were no spare British vehicles to equip this unit, enemy captured vehicles were used (exact models are unknown but possibly French – one Panhard 178 was used – or Italian).
The first attack with the reunited Brigade was launched against Široki Breg (6th February 1945), which was defended by a force of between 6,000 and 7,000 men equipped with different caliber anti-tank guns (37 mm to 75 mm). The attack was led by a group of Stuart tanks, while the AEC armored cars provided fire support against pillboxes and anti-tank guns, both being supported by Partisan artillery fire. But there was confusion as to how to proceed when the leading tanks ran into a minefield. Five tanks were lost to enemy fire and the attack was called off. All tanks were recovered, but at a great loss of life (eight killed and twenty-two wounded). Partisan high command decided to attack from the south with the 3rd Tank Battalion. Fortunately for them, due to the uneven terrain, this part of the defensive front was poorly defended and there were fewer mines and anti-tank guns. The attack was successful, which led to Germans leaving the first line of defense and pulling back into Mostar. A number of enemy armored vehicles were captured (at least one Somua S35 and one Semovente 47/32).

One Stuart M3A3 during the fight for Široki Breg in 1945. Source
The main attack began on 13th February with the support from the tanks from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. After some fighting and navigation through bad terrain, they finally managed to cross three bridges and enter the city. Partisans also attacked from Nevesinje, with progress being slow due to the terrain, but they eventually managed to enter the city. German forces managed to escape toward Sarajevo, but with great losses. The Brigade had only lost one Stuart in addition to four damaged tanks.

At the battle for Široki Breg, even the Stuart M3A3 armed with the German 7.5 cm PaK 40 was used. Source: https://znaci.net/arhiv/fotografija/14367
The First Tank Brigade was later involved in supporting a large Partisan force of some 70,000 men against German and Croatian forces (20,000 men and 20 tanks) located in western Bosnia and the Croatian coast. The Brigade was again divided into two groups: the 1st and 3rd Battalions were given to the 26th Division and 2nd and 4th Battalions to the 19th Division. This was done by the Partisan HQ due to previous experience and cooperation of these forces. The 19th Division was tasked with capturing the city of Bihać (modern-day northern Bosnia). This Division was supported by Stuart tanks which made good progress, and after a few days of fighting, forced the German to pull back to the city. Two tanks were damaged, one by mine and one by a grenade. The advance was temporarily stopped as the Germans placed many mines and obstacles in the way, so the tanks had to wait for pioneers to clear the way. After the road was cleared, the advance carried on. As they approached the city, two AEC armored cars were sent to capture an intact bridge, but as they were crossing it, the Germans blew it up. One AEC dropped into the river, with the second one being destroyed by the Germans. The Germans, not willing to lose the city, sent reinforcements. To counter this, the 1st and the 2nd Tank Battalions were sent into the fight. The enemy was stopped at the cost of two Stuarts from the 2nd Tank Battalion. The 1st Battalion engaged heavy enemy resistance and lost 3 Stuarts with an additional one being damaged. As the battle was turning against them, the German and Croatians began a withdrawal. During the battle and retreat, they lost nearly 14,000 men. The First Tank Brigade suffered heavy losses. Out of the original 43 tanks, 8 Stuarts and 2 AEC’s were lost with an additional 7 Stuarts being damaged. Partisan mechanics worked day and night to repair as many of them as they could.
The Partisans continued to move towards the west, reaching the city of Gospić in what is today southern Croatia. On 4th April, the attack lead by the First Tank Brigade and five infantry divisions began. To counter this advance, the German sent 10 tanks (Italian L6-40). The Germans lost two tanks and had to pull back. After that the German defense was breached, they began to withdraw. One Stuart was destroyed and another damaged by enemy anti-tank fire. German and Croatian forces sent to stop them were beaten back. The Germans and the Croatian allies lost some 4,000 men, 40 guns and 20 armored vehicles.
The 2nd Tank Battalion was sent to capture Tounj (a small town southwest of Zagreb). Capturing this city would prevent German withdrawal from western Bosnia. The attack began on 13th April, and after a few days of heavy fighting, it was captured. Only one Stuart was damaged. Allegedly, one ‘Panther’ tank was destroyed by two AEC armored cars. This vehicle was proven later to be in fact a StuG III.
The final operations were the battles for Rijeka and Trieste, in the very west of Yugoslavia. The German positions were heavily defended with three defense lines consisting of a large number of old and new bunkers with 88,000 men, 338 guns, 60 tanks and 15 armored cars defending it, supported by Italian, Croatian and Chetnik forces. The total strength of the Partisan 4th Army (which had charged name before the attack) was 90,000 men, 366 guns, and 80 armored vehicles, counting with the support of the British RAF. The 4th Tank Battalion was the first to see action (17th April) in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue the defenders of the city of Sušak. The tanks proved useless in the attack on the well-defended city. The city was liberated on 21st April. In following days, two Stuarts were destroyed in addition to another one being damaged. By end of April, four Stuart tanks were cut-off and surrounded by German forces. The crews dismounted their tanks and used the Stuart’s machine guns to make a defensive perimeter whilst the gunners fired the main guns in support. The next day, Partisan infantry broke the German line and the Stuarts were saved. Due to bad terrain, tank use was limited, and one Stuart was lost on 28th April. Finally, by 3rd May, the line was broken and the city Rijeka was taken.
The city of Trieste was one of the last German resistance lines in this region. For its taking, the 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions were chosen to support the infantry divisions. The attack was carried out in two directions (each supported with one Tank Battalion). The 4th Battalion advance was successful, which led to the capturing of large stockpiles of ammunition and other war materiel near the village of Sežana. The second column was stopped as the bridge leading to Škofije was destroyed. This column was instead moved to Sežana to join forces with the 4th Battalion. This force managed to destroy many German units which were retreating in that direction. The battle for Trieste began on 30th April. German resistance was heavy and the first Partisan attack was repelled. On the same day, the 2nd Tank Battalion fought for the village of Basovizza, which was defended by 12 German tanks (including unknown numbers of captured Soviet T-34/76’s). During the following skirmishing, the Germans lost two tanks, with one T-34/76 being destroyed by an AEC armored car.

Advance on Trogiro of the First Tank Brigade in 1945. Source
The war for the Germans was all but lost. They continued to fight stubbornly to defend their last defense line at Trieste. The 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions were involved in liberating Trieste. As the Partisan attack was too strong, many Germans tried to flee by boat to Venice. Most boats were sunk by the guns of the Stuart tanks. By 2nd May, the battle was mostly won bar a few pockets of German resistance, which, with the help of the Stuart tanks were eliminated. By 3rd May, the last German resistance was crushed.
The last action of the First Tank Brigade was at the city of Rijeka, near Trieste, where large numbers of Germans were retreating to Austria. The 1st Tank Battalion was the only battalion available, but its tank forces had been depleted. The first attack on the German positions was unsuccessful, with the loss of four Stuart tanks. The Partisan HQ’s, after the capture of Trieste, moved large forces to this area. By this time, the 1st Tank Battalion had only a few operational tanks, and was not able to stop the German advancing forces. The 2nd and the 4th Tank Battalions arrived, but even they were hard pressed by the now desperate Germans. Two Stuart were lost on the night of 6th-7th May. Seeing that there was no hope of breaking out, the German Commander, General Kibler, unconditionally surrendered to the Partisans.


Small numbers of the obsolete M3A1 Stuart light tank were sent to the Yugoslav Partisans.
Most of the Stuarts supplied to the Partisans were the improved M3A3 version with sloped armor.illustration of the M3A3 Flakvierling
One M3A3 Light Tank which had a damaged turret had it replaced with a 20 mm Flakvierling.
Another M3A3 Light Tank that had its turret or its armament damaged was modified to carry the potent 75 mm Pak 40 AT gun.
Fictional illustration of a Partisan 15 cm sIG 33 gun mounted on an M3A3 chassis. Such a vehicle was allegedly converted, but there is no proof to back this claim.

Fictional illustration of a Partisan M3A3 Stuart armed with a 120 mm Granatwerfer 42 mortar. While some sources claim this vehicle exists, there is no proof to back its existence.
Illustrations by David Bocquelet with modifications by Leander Jobse.

Even though most tank used by the 1st Tank Brigade were M3A3’s, smaller numbers of older M3A1 (second tank in the column) were also used. This photograph was taken near Molmino in early 1945. Source

Total losses and reasons for them

By the end of the war, the First Tank Brigade had suffered heavy losses, with 33 tanks and 5 armored cars being destroyed, with a further 31 tanks and 2 armored cars being damaged. The Partisan tank losses were high as the Germans were using well-trained infantry (especially in the use of anti-tank weapons, such as the Panzerfaust and explosives), a lack of coordination with infantry, the inexperience of the crews, lack of adequate scouting, and difficult terrain. Poor and inadequate coordination with infantry were the reason why many tanks were lost. The infantry often lied to the Stuart tank crews of the presence of German anti-tank positions. They were hoping that the tank crews would somehow spot enemy anti-tank weapons and destroy them. This practice forced the Partisan High Command to give special orders forbidding this kind of actions. Another problem was lack of reconnaissance, as the ordinary infantry reports were not always the most reliable as seen earlier.

After the war

In June 1946, the total number of Stuart tanks was 54 (two of which were locally converted Flak Stuart’s). The First Tank Brigade was (from 1946) equipped with Soviet T-34/85 tanks and the Stuart were passed on to the 6th Tank Brigade. In later years, they were used mostly in military parades or as training vehicles. They remained in use by the Yugoslav People’s Army until 1960.
When they were finally withdrawn from operational use most were scrapped. Because of the historical significance these tanks had for the JNA, it was decided to preserve a certain number of them. Two Stuarts (one M3A1, serial number ‘8770’, and one M3A3, serial number ‘8776’ ) were placed at the Belgrade Military Museum (Serbia). One was placed as a monument in the Serbian city of Kraljevo. Three can be found in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): one M3A1 in Sarajevo and two (M3A1 and M3A3) in Banja Luka. Two others (M3A1 and M3A3) are in Slovenian Military Museum in Pivka. The M3A1 in Pivka was bought from the Brazilian Army by a private collector before being given to the museum in 2008.

The M3A1 at the Belgrade Military Museum Source: Wikipedia

The M3A3 at the Belgrade Military Museum Source: Wikipedia

The M3A3 in Kraljevo. Source
The M3A1 (serial number ‘6739’) from the Sarajevo (BiH) National Museum. Source

The M3A3 in Banja Luka. Source

The M3A1 and M3A3 in the Pivka Museum Slovenia. The M3A1 (to the left) was originally in the Brazilian army. Source

Color and Markings

The Stuart tanks supplied to this Brigade had the original British continental green color, though a small number of tanks were painted in desert yellow or even combinations of both camouflage schemes.
Marking-wise, all tanks had the Yugoslavian tricolor Flag (red, white and blue) with a red star in the middle painted on the hull side. Sometimes, a small red star was also painted on the turret. Political slogans (Za Zagreb-toward Zagreb) and the names of some cities (Beograd-Београд, Ljubljana-Љубљана etc.) were often written on the tanks, especially towards the end of the war.

How Many Were Supplied?

Although at first glance it seems that the number of Stuarts supplied can easily be determined, this is not the case. What is known with certainty is the fact that the British forces during the foundation of the First Tank Brigade supplied it with 56 M3A1/A3 tanks. It is possible that a few M5 were also included in this, but there is little or no evidence of this.
Authors Bojan B.D. and Dragan S. cited that on 6th March 1945, additional 36, mostly older, M3A1’s were supplied to the Partisans, with a few more in April. Additionally, three more tanks (abandoned by the Allies) were repaired by members of this brigade before their shipment to Yugoslavia.
According to Aleksandar R., some 51 tanks were supplied to replace the damaged and destroyed during the war. It is a possibility that an unknown number of tanks were supplied in small quantities by the end of the war.
The author Dinko P. presents several interesting facts:

  • When the Brigade was transported to the island of Vis, it had 59 tanks (here he agrees with Bojan B.D. and Dragan S.).
  • He also found information for additional M3A1/A3 tanks supplied on several occasions in Yugoslav official documents, but the exact number of vehicles are not mentioned.
  • The author was able to talk to a soldier from the First Tank Brigade (who had been part of it since the very beginning of the Brigade). According to him (the name of this soldier is not mentioned), all vehicles that were given by the Allies were operated in this unit, including the ones used for training. These (that were used for training) were transported by Partisan ships after the original transfer (by the Allies) of the Brigade to the territory of Yugoslavia. Also, an unknown number of tanks were ’obtained’ in various (and suspicious) ways, aka they stole them intact or slightly damaged from Allied army depots. In these cases, the Allies decided to turn a blind eye and did not prevent the Partisans from doing this.
  • On 31st January 1945, the total number of M3A1/A3 is listed to be 60 tanks, which is a bit more than the original number of 56 tanks.
  • Registration numbers and British labels (which were not removed in most cases) on a number of tanks give some indications that these vehicles were not originally intended to be supplied to the Partisans, but somehow these tanks found themselves in Yugoslavia.

According to Leland N., the British had supplied the Partisans with 52 M3A3 tanks with an additional 40 in the first half of 1945. Author Steven J, Zaloga writes that one M3A1 and 56 M3A3 were supplied.
Determining the exact number of supplied vehicles is more complicated given the fact that a fairly large number of damaged tanks were salvaged and put back into action. These vehicles could possibly be mistaken as newly supplied ones, and thus give a wrong impression of the total numbers. So, according to these facts, the total number may range from the original 56 to 100, or even more.

Partisan Stuart modifications

During the heavy fighting for the liberation of Yugoslavia, several Stuart tanks were damaged. Given that the caliber of the main gun on the Stuart tank was inadequate for a successful anti-tank role, the partisans decided to try to mount some captured German weapons in order to increase their firepower.
By the end of 1944, in Šibenik, the Partisans set up a workshop to repair their vehicles. In addition to the workshop, a collection office (also located in Šibenik) for captured, damaged, and destroyed vehicles was set, which also served as a source of spare parts. There, damaged M3A3 tanks were modified and armed with German weapons, such as the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling. It is also alleged that the Partisans rebuilt two more tanks and armed one with a mortar and the other with a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry artillery gun, but the existence of either of these vehicles cannot be ascertained at this time. It is also worth mentioning that a single Somua S35 was rearmed with the 6-pdr gun taken from a damaged AEC armored car.
A final note is that most, if not all, British supplied Stuart tanks had track mudguards. The Partisan tank crews began removing them early on as they were a hindrance during tracks repairs.

Light Tank M3A3 with 7.5 cm PaK 40

As the 37 mm main gun was almost useless against stronger armored vehicles, the powerful 75 mm PaK 40 was installed on three Stuart tanks. The upper structure mounted the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with its twin layer gun shield of 4 mm (0.16 in.) thick steel and a small armor plate between the gun and the tank hull in addition of two side armored plates.
One such armed Stuart managed to destroy a German T-34/76 in April 1945. Installing this gun made these vehicles capable of destroying any tank on this front. Drawbacks of these modifications include, among several others: slim armor, high recoil when firing the gun, low ammunition capacity.

One 75mm PaK 40 armed Stuart during the Battles for Trieste and its surroundings in May 1945. Source 

Light Tank M3A3 with 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling

On two damaged M3A3 tanks, the German 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun was installed. The only armor protection for the gun operators was the front gun shield, with no side or rear armor. This vehicle would be mainly used in the role of fire support for ground troops. The immense rate of fire of their Flakvierling armament was used to suppress enemy infantry, unarmored vehicles, and anti-tank positions.
The reasons for building these two modifications are not clear, as there were only a limited number of German and their allied planes flying over Yugoslavia by the end of 1944 and in early 1945. Both vehicles survived the war and continued in use for some time, possibly as long as up until the sixties.

Two Stuarts were armed with German 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. They were possibly used in combat but there is no information about their actions. Both vehicles would survive the war. Source

M3A1/A3 Mortar

Allegedly, during the war, one or two mortars were mounted on a Stuart chassis. The caliber of these mortars could be either 81 mm or 120 mm. One of the main ‘culprits’ for this confusion is a picture published (possibly after the war or just before its end) that shows Partisan crews using a vehicle which is assumed to be an M3A1/A3 as the base armed with two 120 mm mortars. However, this is not true, as the vehicle was, in fact, a German Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf. D half-track armed with twin 120 mm Granatwerfer 42 (which is basically a direct copy of the Soviet M1938 without any changes to it). It is not known whether it was a Partisan modification or if they had captured this vehicle from the Germans (the second option is the most likely). So it is very likely that such a vehicle based on the M3A1/A3 did not exist.

Both pictures are taken in Šibenik. The first allegedly shows the M3A1 armed with two mortars, while the second picture shows that it is actually a German Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf.D half-track. Source

M3A1/A3 with 15 cm schweres Infanterie-Geschütz 33 (15 cm sIG 33)

The existence of the 15 cm schweres Infanterie-Geschütz 33 (15 cm sIG 33) armed version, sometimes (mostly online) called SO-150, is also under question. There are only a few mentions (in different mostly online sources) of an M3A1/A3 being modified with such a weapon It was allegedly destroyed in its first combat mission. In addition, there is no information on its exact characteristics. It is unknown if the whole gun (with wheels or without them) was used, and there is no known pictures or document that exist to prove it. This modification was probably impractical, because it would have put a lot of stress on the tank’s chassis, especially when firing, but also because of the weight of the gun itself. Limited ammunition storage in this vehicle would also be a problem. The biggest drawback though would be the low-level protection for its crew, an important fact as this vehicle was supposed to be involved in close combat operations. If it ever existed, this vehicle could very likely have similar characteristics and problems as the similar German vehicle based on the Panzer I Ausf. B.

Conclusion

The Stuart was rated as a good vehicle compared to other captured enemy vehicles used by the Yugoslav Partisans. The positive side was the availability of a more than adequate number of spare parts (and there were enough numbers of Stuart tanks that could in case of necessity, be reused for spare parts) and ammunition. In contrast, captured tanks were available in smaller quantities or even only as individual examples, which complicated the maintenance and ammunition logistics. Availability of at least 59 Stuart tank offered great offensive punch, but in most occasions, Partisans used them in smaller groups and often supporting infantry in attack, reducing their offensive power. The 37 mm main gun was by 1944-1945 standards obsolete, and ineffective in its role as an anti-tank weapon. But as on the Yugoslav Front most enemy tanks were older types (such as the L6/40 and H35/39), it was not that much of a problem. But on several occasion, modern German tanks (and self-propelled vehicles) were almost immune to this gun, which forced Partisans to use the 6-pdr gun of the AEC armored cars. This was the main reason why the Partisans modified a number of damaged Stuarts and armed them with German captured weapons in an attempt to increase their firepower, proving they had the skill and imagination necessary to do such modifications effectively so that they could be used in combat. The Stuart proved to be very important to the Partisans and was involved in many hard-fought battles for the liberation of Yugoslavia.

A column of Stuart tanks preparing for an attack on Mostar in 1945. Source

Light Tank, M3A3 Specifications

Dimensions Length 5.03 m, Width 2.52 m, Height 2.57 m,
Total weight, battle ready 14.7 t
Crew 4 (driver, driver’s assistant, gunner and commander)
Propulsion Continental W-670
Speed 58 km/h, 32 km/h (cross-country)
Range 217 km
Armament 37 mm M6 gun, with three 7.62 mm machine guns
Armor 10-44.5 mm

Sources

The Stuart light tank series, Bryan Perrett, Osprey Publishing London.
Tanks of the world, George Forty, Hermes House,
Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o Narodnooslobodilačkom ratu naroda Jugoslavije, Beograd 1975.
Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, part I, Allied armored vehicles, Dinko Predoević, Digital Point Rijeka 2002,
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles, Leland Ness, HarperCollins Publishers 2002.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/m3/opis.htm
Magazine Arsenal No. 15, Aleksandar Radić, Beograd 2008,
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-USA, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008.
https://www.znaci.net/arhiv/fotografije?slika_po_strani=50&fraza=&stranica=3
https://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_M3_M3A1_Stuarts.pdf

Sources

https://henk.fox3000.com/251.htm
https://sh.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prva_tenkovska_brigada_NOVJ
https://www.znaci.net/arhiv/fotografije?slika_po_strani=50&fraza=&stranica=76

Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

Panzer IV/70 (V)

Nazi Germany (1944)
Tank Destroyer – 930-950 built

During the Second World War, the Germans developed a large number of different Jagdpanzer designs. Some of these were hastily designed and made, some were temporary solutions, and there were also those which were specifically designed for the role of Jagdpanzer. The latter is the case with the late-war Panzer IV/70 (V). It was well protected, armed with a powerful gun and, with a low profile, it proved to be a deadly weapon. However, the effect of this vehicle on the battlefields of Europe in 1944 was limited, as production began late that year and very few reached the front lines.

First Jagdpanzer Designs

Even before the war, the famous German commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). The terms Jagdpanzer and Panzerjäger were, according to Germany military terminology and concepts, essentially one and the same. After the war, however, the Jagdpanzer term would be used to describe the fully enclosed tank destroyers while the Panzerjäger would be used for the open-topped tank destroyer vehicles.
In March of 1940, the first attempt to build such a vehicle was made. This was the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I, generally known today simply as the Panzerjäger I. It was more or less a simple improvisation, made by using a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull and by mounting a 4.7 cm PaK (t) with a small shield on it. Later, during the attack on the Soviet Union and the battles in North Africa, the need for effective anti-tank vehicles became of greater importance for the Germans. The appearance of the towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 in increasing numbers somewhat solved this problem, but the main issue with this gun was its lack of mobility.
The need for a mobile anti-tank vehicle would lead to the development of the “Marder” series, which was based on several different tank chassis and armed with powerful and efficient anti-tank guns. Captured tanks and other vehicles would also be reused for this purpose. In 1944, the Nashorn, armed with the excellent 88 mm Pak 43, was put into production. But most of these vehicles were hastily designed and built and, while they did the job, they were far from perfect. These vehicles were built by using different tank chassis and installing a gun with a limited traverse in an open-topped superstructure. The two main issues were the great height, which made them extremely difficult to camouflage, and the general lack of an effective armor design.
The German infantry support self-propelled assault gun, the Sturmgeschütz, or simply StuG, (based on the Panzer III) proved to have great potential when used as Jagdpanzers. They had relatively good armor, a low profile, and could be armed with the longer barrelled 7.5 cm gun. The mass-produced StuG III Ausf.G armed with the longer 7.5 cm gun (L/48) was able to efficiently fight almost any Allied tank up to the end of the war. The StuG vehicles were also much easier to build than any German tank. In 1942, the first plans to equip the StuG with a stronger gun and armor were made. These would eventually lead to the development of the Panzer IV/70 (V) in late 1944.

Early Development of the Jagdpanzer IV

The story of the Panzer IV/70 (V) actually began in September 1942, when the Waffenamt issued a request for developing a new design of Sturmgeschütz – the Neuer Sturmgeschütze (or ‘Sturmgeschütze neue Art’ depending on the source) series. It was to be armed with the 7.5 cm KwK L/70 gun and protected with 100 mm frontal and 40 to 50 mm of side armor. It was intended to have the lowest possible height, a top speed of 25 km/h and a weight of up to 26-tonnes. According to original plans, a completely new chassis was to be developed but, due to the lack of industrial capacity, the Panzer IV tank chassis was chosen instead. During 1942, there were many tests of different designs for the new Jagdpanzer based on the StuG III design. At the same time, the firm of Alkett tested the installation of the StuG III superstructure on the Panzer IV tank chassis armed with the 7.5 cm L/70 gun (Gerät No.820). One was also fitted with a 10.5 cm gun and there was even a proposal to test the installation of an 88 mm gun. As this modification proved to be somewhat complicated and was not feasible for production in the near future, a new solution was needed. There were also proposals to combine some components from the Panzer III, IV, and the VK16.02 ‘Leopard’, but nothing came of this.
More extensive work on a new vehicle (based on the Panzer IV Ausf. H tank chassis) was carried out by the Vogtlandische Maschinenfabrik AG of Plauen (VOMAG) in early 1943, under the designation Gerät No.821. The wooden mockup was completed by May 1943 and the final prototype was ready by end of the same year. Adolf Hitler liked the new Jagdpanzer IV design and ordered that mass production should begin as soon as possible.
As already mentioned, the Jagdpanzer IV was based on the Panzer IV tank chassis with the turret and the top of the hull removed and replaced with a simple, easy to build, but highly-angled armored hull. The rear engine compartment was almost the same with minimal changes (the engine was also the same) but the original plans for the armament and armor had to be changed. There were inadequate numbers of the 7.5 cm L/70 guns available for the design, so the shorter L/48 had to be used instead. The maximum front armor was 60 mm instead of 100 mm but placed at a high angle which provided good protection.
In general, this vehicle had more or less the same operational combat characteristics as the already produced StuG III anti-tank version. Both had the same gun, but the Jagdpanzer IV had a more effective and much simpler armor design. While an effective tank destroyer, it could be considered a waste of time and resources as the StuG III did the same job and was already in production. Even the Inspector-General of the Panzertruppen, Heinz Guderian, was against the new Jagdpanzer IV vehicle from the start, due to it being so similar to the StuG III and as it was draining significant and necessary resources needed for the Panzer IV production.

The Jagdpanzer IV was armed with a 7.5 cm PaK 39 L/48 and protected with 60 mm frontal armor. Source
The Jagdpanzer IV would be produced from January to August of 1944 with some 769 to 784 vehicles built. The production was stopped in August as the new better armed and armored Panzer IV/70 (V) version was ready for production.

The Development History of the Panzer IV/70 (V)

In a conference held in late January 1944, Hitler himself urged for future development and rearmament of the Jagdpanzer IV with the more powerful 7.5 cm L/70 gun. Vomag was responsible for the implementation and realization of this task. One Jagdpanzer IV prototype (serial num. 320162) was rearmed with the 7.5 cm L/70 StuK 42 (SturmKanone) (also known as Pak 42 (PanzerabwehrKanone) gun) and had its frontal armor increased from 60 mm to 80 mm for testing in early 1944. These tests proved that the installation of the new gun in the Jagdpanzer IV was feasible and without major complications.
Photographs of this prototype were presented to Hitler in early April 1944, and the prototype vehicle was demonstrated to him on 20th April 1944 (his birthday). Hitler was excited about this vehicle and immediately ordered the beginning of mass production with some 800 Panzer IV/70 (V) vehicles per month. These numbers were never achieved, and the greatest monthly production reached just 185 vehicles.

This is the Panzer IV/70 (V) prototype (Fgst.Nr. 320162), it can be identified by its front rubber wheels, different gun mantlet design and by the added welded round armor plate over the left mounted machine gun port. The Panzer IV/70 (V) prototype at first did not have the gun travel lock but, due to the gun weight, it was later added. Source
At the same time, Alkett made attempts to increase the number of produced vehicles by making the whole superstructure design simpler and easier for production. This vehicle was known under the designation Panzer IV/70 (A), but only 278 would be built.
In July 1944, Hitler gave orders to terminate the Panzer IV production in favor of the Panzer IV/70 (V) and Panzer IV/70 (A) based on the fact that the Panzer IV was reaching its developmental peak and had few options available for improving its overall performance. The whole conversion process was to be completed by February 1945. As the German army was lacking sufficient numbers of operational tanks, this order was never fully implemented and the Panzer IV remained in production until the end of the war.

The Panzer IV/70 (V) was essentially the same vehicle as the Jagdpanzer IV but had thicker frontal armor and was armed with the longer gun. Source

Origin of the Panzer IV/70 (V) Name

By Hitler’s direct orders from 18th July 1944, this vehicle was officially designated as Panzer IV lang (V). The capital letter ‘V’ is for the vehicle’s manufacturer and designer, Vomag. In order to avoid any confusion with Panzer IV tanks and the previous L/48 tank hunter version, the German troops on the front referred to this vehicle as Panzer IV/70 (V) (the number 70 stood for the barrel length) and this designation was even officially adopted by the Heeres Waffenamt in November 1944. In some sources, this vehicle is also known as Jagdpanzer IV/70 (V). According to some sources, due to the vehicle’s slower speed and movement, the crews gave this vehicle the nickname “Guderian Ente” (Guderian’s Duck). It should be noted that, in German, ‘Ente’ not only means duck, but also urine bottle, which is also claimed to have been the reason the Panzer IV/70V received the name “Guderian Ente”.

Specification

Visually, the Panzer IV/70(V) was almost the same as the previous Jagdpanzer IV version, the most obvious difference being the length of the main gun and the added travel-lock. The Panzer IV/70(V) was built by using the Panzer IV tank chassis (some Ausf. H but mostly Ausf. J), which was, for the most part, unchanged.
The lower front hull was redesigned and had a more sharply angled shape. The transmission and the two steering brake inspection hatches remained, but the brake inspection hatches were square shaped and smaller than on the Panzer IV tank. During the Panzer IV/70 (V) production run the air intake vents on the brake inspection hatches were removed.
The suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to their construction. They consisted of eight small road wheels (on each side) suspended in four pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total. The numbers of return rollers was reduced to three per side later in the production run and replaced with steel ones. As the vehicle proved to be nose-heavy, the front two road wheels were prone to being rapidly worn out or, in some cases, they even malfunctioned. To solve this problem, most vehicles were to be equipped with two (or more) steel-tired and internally sprung wheels, from September 1944 onwards. From February/March 1945, on some vehicles, the rear idler was replaced with a cast one which was easier to make. The ground clearance was increased to 40 cm. If needed, the normal tracks could be replaced with wider ‘East tracks’ (Ostketten).
The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM which produced 265 hp@2600 rpm. The design of the engine compartment was unchanged. Maximum speed was 35 km/h (16 km/h cross country) with an operational range (with 470 l fuel) of 210 km. From September 1944 on, these vehicles were fitted with new flame dampening exhausts and mufflers (flammentoeter). The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. In order to avoid any fire accidents, an automatic fire extinguisher system was installed in the engine compartment.
The Panzer IV/70 (V)’s new superstructure was well protected with its angled, thick and simple armor design. The angled shape of the superstructure provided thicker nominal armor and also increased the chance of deflecting enemy shots. This way, the need for more carefully machined armored plates (like on Panzer III or IV) was unnecessary. Also, by using larger one-piece metal plates, the structure avoided a lot of welding making it much stronger and also easier for production. The Panzer IV/70 (V) upper hull was built out of surface-hardened steel plates (Type E 22) manufactured by Witkowitzer Bergbau und Eisenhütten.
The Panzer IV/70 (V) upper front hull armor plate was 80 mm thick at a 45° angle, and the lower plate was 50 mm at a 55° angle. The side armor was 30 mm, the rear 20 mm and the bottom was 10 mm. The hull crew compartment had 20 mm of bottom armor. The upper superstructure frontal armor was 80 mm at a 50° angle (or 40° according to some sources), the sides were 40 mm at a 60° angle, the rear armor was 30 mm, and the top was 20 mm. The engine compartment design and armor was unchanged with 20 mm all around and 10 mm of top armor. Additional 5 mm thick armor plates were also provided for extra protection of the engine compartment sides.
The Panzer IV/70 (V) could be equipped with additional 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the side of the vehicle. In practice though, these would rarely last long and would simply fall off the vehicle during combat operations. Due to material shortages, by late 1944, stiff wire mesh panels (Thoma Schürzen) were used instead of the armor plates. These were much lighter and easier to make and most sources claim that it provided the same level of protection as the solid type. It is often mentioned that Schürzen were designed as protection against shape-charged weapons but they were actually designed to counter Soviet anti-tank rifle projectiles. Moreover, Steven Zaloga points out in ‘Bazooka vs. Panzer’ that a unit from the American 1st Armored Group in the Sarrebourg area tested the Bazooka against one Panzer IV equipped with stiff wire mesh panels similar to the Thoma Schürzen. The tests showed that the wire mesh panels did not offer any protection against shape-charged weapons.
One more line of protection was the possible application of Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste to counter magnetic anti-tank mines, but the use of this paste would be abandoned in the late stages of the war.

The Schürzen side plates, added for extra protection, can be observed in this photo, as well as the vehicle’s small size. The gun lock, in this case made out of solid metal, is also noticeable. Source
The Panzer IV/70 (V) tank destroyer’s main armament was the 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 cannon, also known as the 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70. This gun was more or less the same one used on the German Panther tank. The elevation of the 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 was from –5° to +15° and the traverse was 20°. The main gun was not placed at the vehicle’s centre, but was instead moved some 20 cm to the right side. One 80 mm thick cast gun mantlet acted as extra protection for the gun. The main weapon was produced by Gustloff-Werke (Weimar) and Škoda (Pilsen). A hydro-pneumatic equilibrator was provided for better gun balance and one iron counter-weight was added at the end of the recoil guard. To avoid damaging the main gun when on the move, a heavy travel-lock was provided. In order to free the gun, the gun operator had only to elevate the gun a bit and the travel lock would fall down. This allowed for a quick combat response but also avoided the need for a crew member to exit the vehicle in order to do it manually.
The main gun was not equipped with a muzzle brake. The first Jagdpanzer IV produced were equipped with muzzle brakes but, during combat action, the crews often removed them due to the dust clouds created during firing. This reduced the visibility but more importantly gave away the vehicle’s position to the enemy. From May 1944 on, the muzzle brake was removed from production and this would be also carried on with the later Panzer IV/70 (V). As this gun required a large amount of room and the use of large one-piece ammunition, the Panzer IV/70 (V) interior was very cramped and the ammunition capacity was only 55 rounds (or 60 depending on the source). Around 34 were armor-piercing (AP) (PzGr 39/42 or 40/42), while the remaining 21 were high-explosive (HE) (SpGr 42). The ammunition was stored along both wall sides and held in ammunitions racks.
The secondary weapon used was the MG 42 machine gun with some 1,200 rounds of ammunition. Unlike most other German vehicles, a ball mount was not used on this vehicle. The machine gun port was instead protected with a movable hemispherical-shaped armored cover. The machine gun mount was located to the vehicle’s right side. The Panzer IV/70 (V) was also equipped with the Nahverteidigungswaffe (close defense weapon) with some 40 or more rounds of ammunition, located on the vehicle top and covered with a round armored cover.
Unknown numbers of late built vehicles were equipped with the ‘Vorsatz P’ curved muzzle attachment for the MP 43/44 (7.92 mm) assault rifles. The mounting for this weapon was placed on the loader’s hatch door and was operated by him. The last line of defense was the crew’s personal weapons.

The Vorsatz P curved muzzle attachment for the MP 43/44. Source
The four-man crew consisted of the commander, gunner, loader/radio operator, and the driver. The driver’s position was on the vehicle left front side but his view of the surrounding area was limited as he only had a front mounted periscope and a small periscope pointing to the right to see out of. Behind him was the gunner’s position, which was provided with an Sfl.ZF 1a gun sight for acquiring targets. This sight was linked to an Azimuth indicator, the purpose of which was to tell the gunner the precise and current position of the gun. When in use, the sight was projected through the sliding armored cover on the vehicle’s top armor. For operating the gun, there were two traverse hand wheels. The lower wheel was for the traverse and the upper one for the elevation. The gunner was also provided with a recoil shield, while the loader was not.
Behind these two was the commander’s position, which had a rotating periscope located in the escape hatch and one pointing to the left. The commander had a small additional hatch door for the use of a retractable Sfl.4Z telescope. The commander was also responsible for providing the loader with the ammunition located on the left side wall.
The last crew member was the loader, who was positioned on the vehicle’s right side. He operated the radio (Fu 5 radio set) which was located to the right rear and he also doubled as the MG 42 machine gun operator. There was a small opening located above the machine gun which provided the gun operator with a limited view of the front. When not in use, the machine gun could be pulled into a small travel lock which was connected to the vehicle’s roof. In that case, the machine gun port could be closed by pivoting the hemispherical-shaped armor cover. The use of this machine gun type is strange, as the usual hull mounted machine gun in all German armored vehicles was the MG 34. Nearly all periscopes were protected with an armored flap cover.
The crew could enter the vehicle through two hatches located at the top of the vehicle. There was an additional floor escape hatch door that could be used in case of emergency.
In the hope of removing any extra weight at the front, most spare parts and ancillary equipment were moved to the rear engine compartment. These included things such as spare tracks, wheels, repair tools, the fire extinguisher and crew extra equipment. Some vehicles had an armored and welded base for a 2-tonne crane added on the superstructure roof. The rear tow bars were changed with vertically positioned ones.
The dimensions were: length 8.5 m, width 3.2 m, and height 2 m (or length 8.58 m, width 3.17 m, and height 1.85 m according to other sources). Total combat weight was around 25.8 metric tons.


Two Panzer IV/70 (V) abandoned on the battlefield. The one in the background has a white sheet hanging from the gun. Source

Panzer IV/70 (V) Befehlswagen

An unknown number of Panzer IV/70 (V) were modified to be used as Befehlswagen (command vehicles). These vehicles had additional radio equipment installed, the FuG 8 30 radio station (30 W power) with an operational range of 80 km. The extra equipment was positioned behind the loader and was to be operated by an extra crew member (but some sources do not mention the fifth crew member). The Befehlswagen would also use a Sternantenne (star radio antenna) which was 1.4 m long and located on the left side of the engine compartment.

Production

Production was carried out by Vomag and, from November 1944 through April 1945, some 930 vehicles were built. Maximum production was achieved in January 1945, with 185 completed vehicles that month. Due to the bad situation in Germany, the production dropped rapidly in February to 135 vehicles, and dropped further to only 50 vehicles produced in March. The last 10 vehicles were to be completed in April, but it is possible that this was never achieved.
Like many other German military vehicles, authors cannot agree on precise production numbers. Most quote the figure of 930, while some, like Hilary Louis Doyle, quote 950 produced vehicles. According to Duško Nešić, some 940 were built, whereas Krzysztof M. and George P. estimate that between 930 to 940 vehicles were produced.

Organization

The Panzer IV/70 (V) would be used to equip many different German units. For Panzer and Panzer Grenadier Divisions, they were grouped into Panzerjäger Abteilungs. The Panzerjäger Abteilung usually had two Panzerjäger Companies. These Panzerjäger Companies were to be equipped with 10 to 14 Panzer IV/70 divided into three Platoons, with one to three vehicles assigned to the Company HQ. As the Panzer IV/70 did not reach the front in great numbers, these units were often below the officially prescribed combat strength.
The Panzer IV/70 (V) was also used to equip Kampfgruppen (Combat/battle groups). As ordered by Adolf Hitler (on July 2nd, 1944), small armored Kampfgruppe were to be formed. These would later be renamed to Panzer Brigaden. These groups were to be equipped with 30 to 40 tanks and self-propelled guns. As the Panzer IV/70 began to become available in sufficient numbers, it was also included in these units.

Although these vehicles were designed as tank destroyers with thick armor, their best defense was a well-selected and camouflaged position. Source

Jagdpanzer tactics

The term Jagdpanzer could be somewhat misleading. Despite the good frontal protection and the strong gun (in the case of this vehicle), its job was not to go on offensive hunts, either in the open or in urban areas, for enemy tanks. The Jagdpanzers were more of a defensive weapon concept, and their primary mission was to engage (if possible in great numbers) enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long ranges from carefully selected and well-camouflaged combat positions, usually on the flanks.
In offensive operations, they would support Panzer units from a safe distance and on the flanks. If the attack was successful, they were to move to new combat positions. In case of a failed attack or even in false retreat, they were to form a firing line in order to trap and destroy any enemy advancing armor units.

This vehicle, belonging to the 1st Panzerjäger Abteilung (1st Panzer Division), was pictured on the Western front in late 1944. Source
In support of the infantry, once the objective was captured, they were to remain there until that location was secure from any imminent enemy counterattack. After this was achieved, they were to return to the rear and wait for future orders. In the case of enemy attacks, they were to provide long-range support fire against enemy heavy armor. In retreats, the Jagdpanzers would be used to form defensive positions in the new rear lines.
Engagement with enemy tanks at close range (especially from the sides) was very dangerous for such vehicles, as they lacked a fully traversing turret, meaning they could not quickly respond to enemy movements. For example, in urban (especially in destroyed cities) areas, the lack of a fully traversing turret could prevent them from engaging enemy armor that got too close, as these hostile tanks had a clear advantage with their turret. Despite the Panzer IV/70 (V)’s excellent frontal armor, the sides and rear were weak. The greatest defense was a well-selected combat position, which any good Jagdpanzer commander had to learn to take advantage of.

A heavily destroyed Panzer IV/70 (V). This was likely the result of an internal explosion. Source

In combat

The first units to be equipped with the new Panzer IV/70 (V) were the 105th and 106th Panzer Brigades in early August 1944. These two units were engaged against Allied forces on the Western Front. These were followed (also in August) by the 11.Abt. Panzer Regiment “Großdeutschland” Führer Begleit Brigade, 107th Panzer Brigade, Führer Grenadier Brigade, 109th Panzer Brigade. 110th Panzer Brigade, each equipped with 11 Panzer/70 (V) vehicles.
Despite the production of nearly 1000 vehicles, the distribution process to the front line units was too slow. This was mostly due to the increased number of Allied bombing and ground attack actions in Germany, which caused huge problems for transporting these vehicles (and any other) to the front. The Panzer IV/70 (V) began to reach front line units in great numbers only from January 1945 on, and by that time, it was too late. The largest concentration of Panzer IV/70 (V) (137 vehicles) for one combat action was during the last German offensive operation on the Western front, during the fighting in the Ardennes in December of 1944.
While the Panzer IV/70 (V) was a tank destroyer, it was also sometimes used in other roles, such as an assault gun. When acting in this role without infantry support, it proved to be an easy target for enemy anti-tank (bazooka armed) teams, as shown during an attack on the Krinkelt-Rocherath villages. The Panzer IV/70 (V) from the 12th SS Panzerjäger Abteilung (12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend”) were used to attack elements from the American 2nd Infantry Division which was defending the Krinkelt-Rocherath villages and the Lausdell crossroads. The first attacks on the American position at Lausdell crossroads were made with the support of two Panzer IV/70 (V) companies on 17th December 1944. The Americans had no armor available at this point, but had artillery support and placed large numbers of anti-tank mines. During the attack on the Lausdell crossroads, several Panzer IV/70 (V) (from the 2nd Company) were leading the attack supported by small Panzergrenadier infantry groups, which were hiding on the Panzer IV/70 (V) engine decks. Once the German vehicles were spotted, they were immediately bombarded by the American artillery. One vehicle was destroyed by an artillery hit, and two were immobilized by mines. One immobilized vehicle was firing at the American positions, but was eventually destroyed with a combination of thermite grenades and a fuel canister. Two more Panzer IV/70 (V) were destroyed by bazooka teams. After regrouping, the Germans repeated the attack later that day but it was met with heavy artillery fire and between four to seven armored vehicles (of an unknown type) were reported destroyed. One last attack attempt was made at 22.30 hrs, but with the support of artillery, this attack was also repulsed.
The following day, the Germans attacked the Krinkelt-Rocherath villages with elements from the 12th SS Panzerjäger Abteilung 2nd company with the support of SS Panzergrenadier 25th Regiment. The American positions guarding the first line defense trenches were overrun. The Panzer IV/70 (V) that entered the village managed to destroy three M4 tanks. There was heavy fighting that lasted the whole day, but the Germans withdrew the next morning expecting reinforcements and supplies. The next day they continued with the attacks, but, in the end, they could not breach this line and suffered heavy losses (one Panzer IV/70 (V) was lost together with several Panzer IV and Panther tanks). The 12th SS Panzerjäger Abteilung, at the start of the Ardennes offensive, had 22 Panzer IV/70 (V) but had lost three vehicles with seven damaged, although they were subsequently recovered and repaired.

Behind the left Panther we can see a Panzer IV/70 (V) lost during the battle for the Krinkelt-Rocherath villages. Source

The Americans used a captured Panzer IV/70 (V) during the winter of 1944/45 to test the effectiveness of bazookas. While the front armor proved impervious, the sides and the rear were vulnerable to this weapon.
The Panzer IV/70 (V) also saw some heavy action on the Eastern Front, where it also proved to be an effective tank destroyer, as in the case of schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 563. The schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 563 received 18 Jagdpanthers and 22 Panzer IV/70 (V) divided into two companies on 20th January 1945. The next day, this unit was sent to Allenstain in Poland. The 563rd participated in heavy fighting in Poland, where it claimed to have destroyed some 58 enemy tanks with the loss of four Panzer IV/70 (V) and one Jagdpanther during a period of 10 days. By the beginning of February 1945, this unit was a mere shadow of its former strength with only 5 Jagdpanthers and 3 Panzer IV/70 (V) left. All remaining vehicles had to be abandoned or destroyed by their crews due to a lack of fuel, spare parts and the muddy terrain.
Over thirty different German units were equipped, usually with about 11 such vehicles each. These would be used to support many German front line Divisions, including 2nd SS Panzer Division, 1st SS Panzer Division, 7th, 8th, 13th, and 21st Panzer Divisions, 20th Panzergrenadier Division, Panzer Abteilung “Jüteborg”, 510th Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung and others.
Some StuG-equipped units (Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung) were reinforced with IV/70 (V) vehicles, like the 226th and 210th Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung. There was also a last-ditch attempt to form a mixed company equipped with Panzer IV/70 (V) and (A) prototypes at Kümmersdorf on 15th February 1945. One of the last units to receive 10 new built Panzer IV/70 (V) was the 33rd Panzer Regiment from the 9th Panzer Division on 17th April 1945.
By early April 1945, the German Army had around 285 operational Panzer IV/70 (V). Nearly all were stationed on the Eastern Front (274), while only small numbers were stationed on the Western Front (8) and only three in Italy.
By late 1944, there was a general lack of Panzers, so the Germans were forced to use the Jagdpanzers as replacement vehicles instead. The Panzer IV/70 (V) suffered losses as it was often used in the role of Panzer, a role for which it was not suited nor designed for. But as there were no other solutions, something was better than nothing.

A Soviet T-34-85 passes by a destroyed Panzer IV/70 (V) somewhere on the Eastern Front in March 1945. Source

Other IV/70 (V) operators

The Bulgarians, after changing sides in September of 1944, immediately began attacking their former German ally. In March 1945, their armored force was supplemented with one captured Panzer IV/70 (V) (Ser. Num. 320662) supplied by the Soviets. In Bulgarian service, this vehicle was known under the Maybach T-IV name. This vehicle still exists to this day and can be seen at the National Museum of Military History in Sofia.
Unknown numbers of captured Panzer IV/70 (V) were supplied to the Romanian army by the Soviet Union (possibly after the war). In Romanian service, they were known under the TA T-4 designation and remained in service until 1950, when they were replaced with more modern Soviet equipment. TA was an abbreviation for ‘Tun de Asalt,’ (Assault Gun) and T-4 was the Romanian designation for the Panzer IV.
After the war, Syria received a number of older German captured armored vehicles including unknown numbers of Panzer IV/70 (V) and Jagdpanzer IV. These were supplied by the Soviets and they saw action during the Six Day War.

One Panzer IV/70 (V) was given to the Bulgarians by the Soviets. In Bulgarian service, this vehicle was known under the Maybach T-IV name. Source: Matev

Surviving vehicles

A small number of Panzer IV/70 (V) survive to this day and can be seen in several museums around the world. One can be found in the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia, one in Shrivenham in the UK, two in the USA (Patton Museum and Aberdeen Proving Grounds), one in Canada (Ottawa), and one at Kubinka (Russia). One more can be found in Syria.

Conclusion

Despite the issue with its weight, the Panzer IV/70 (V) proved to be a dangerous and effective anti-tank weapon as it could destroy all Allied armored vehicles from great ranges. It had a very low profile which made camouflaging it a very easy task. The strong frontal 80 mm angled armor provided efficient protection from enemy fire, especially from a distance.
But, on the other hand, it was built too late and in insufficient numbers to have any large impact on the War. The late introduction and long development time of this vehicle also disrupted the production of the much needed Panzer IV tank, which the Panzer IV/70(V) was sometimes forced to replace in combat, being used as a tank despite being unsuitable for the purpose.

Another destroyed Panzer IV/70 (V) somewhere on the Western Front. Source

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.5 x 3.2 x 2 meters
Total weight, battle ready 25.8 tonnes
Armament 7.5 cm StuK 42/ PaK 42 L/70 and one 7.92 mm MG 42
Armor Hull front 80 mm, side 30 mm, rear 20 mm and bottom 10-20 mm
Superstructure front 80 mm, side 40 mm top and rear 20 mm
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM, 300 hp (221 kW), 11.63 hp/ton
Speed 35 km/hr, 15-18 km/hr (cross country)
Suspension Leaf springs
Operational range 210 km (130 mi)
Total production 930 – 950

Source

David Doyle (2005), German military Vehicles, Kp Books
Janusz L. (2002) Panzer IV/70 (V), Militaria.
Krzysztof M. and George P. (2001), Jagdpanzer IV L/48, Kagero Lublin
Alexander Ludeke, Waffentechnik im Zeiten Weltrieg, Parragon books
Duško Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
Thomas L. Jentz (1997), Panzer Tracts No.9 Jagdpanzer, Darlington Production Inc.
Bryan P. (2003) Sturmartillerie and Panzerjäger 1939-45, Osprey Publishing
Terry J. G. (2004), Tanks in Detail JgdPz IV, V, VI and Hetzer, Ian Allan Publishing
Surviving Pz.IV Variants (2018)
Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Warmachines No. 17 Jagdpanzer IV/70 Military Photo File, Verlinder Publications
Steven Z. (2016) Bazooka Vs. Panzers Battle for the Bulge, Osprey Publishing
Thomas L. Jentz (2005) Panzer Tracts No.9-3 Jagdpanther, Panzer Tracts publications
Adrian S. Gheorghe B. (2010) Artileria Română în date și imagini, Editura Centrului Tehnic-Editorial al Armatei.
Matev, K. (2000). Bulgarian Armored Vehicles 1935-1945. Angela Publishing.



Late-type Panzer IV/70(V) based on the Panzer IV Ausf.H, 13th Panzer Division, Hungary, January 1945.


Early type Panzer IV/70(V) in winter camouflage, Hungary, possibly January 1945.


Panzer IV/70(V), late version, 1st SS Panzer Division, Hungary, 1945.


Panzer IV/70(V), late version, 13th Panzer Division, Hungary, January 1945.