Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1980s)
Movie Prop Tank – 1 Tank Modified For The Role
Movies and TV series that represented the fight against the Axis powers during the Second World War were very popular in Yugoslavia. For filming these, a large variety of supporting props, such as weapons, uniforms, and other equipment were used. In some instances, armored vehicles were employed for the best possible visual effects. These were vehicles taken from the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija (JNA) (English: Yugoslav People’s Army). In most cases, these were used in their original form, only receiving some German markings. In rarer cases, the whole vehicle would be modified to closely resemble a German tank. For this purpose, one M-60 armored personnel carrier (APC) was modeled to look like a German Panzer III tank.
Yugoslav Props Tanks
The Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija (SFRJ) (Eng. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), that existed between 1945 and 1992, was heavily influenced by the heritage of the Communist resistance movement. Its influence was reflected in various aspects of public life, including literature, art, and film. As such, movies and TV series often portrayed the struggles and sacrifices of the Yugoslav Partisans, who fought against Fascism and occupation during the Second World War.
Films such as the Užička Republika (Eng. Republic of Užice) (1974) tell the story of the establishment of the first liberated territory in Yugoslavia during the war. The movie Sutjeska (1973) portrays the Battle of Sutjeska, which was one of the most significant battles fought by the Partisans during the war. Bitka na Neretvi (Eng. Battle of Neretva) (1969) depicts one of the largest battles fought in Yugoslavia during the war.
These movies and TV series were not only popular in Yugoslavia but also gained international recognition and acclaim. They were a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of the Partisans and served as a reminder of the importance of resistance against Fascism and oppression.
Creating such movies and TV series that depicted historical periods often required the use of props. The JNA had access to a range of equipment and weapons that could be used, including iconic German firearms such as the MP 40 submachine gun, MG 34 and 42 machine guns, Mauser 98K rifles, and others.
The JNA had in its inventory a wide selection of captured armored vehicles. Some of these vehicles were pressed into service in the early years after the war. It is not uncommon for captured or older vehicles to be used in such a manner, especially when resources are limited. However, as these vehicles aged and spare parts became scarce, maintenance was complicated, and, as result, many of them fell into disrepair. While these vehicles were original and saw combat in Yugoslavia, their use was not without its own set of challenges. For example, filmmakers may have struggled to find working examples of these vehicles that could be used on camera. Additionally, even if a vehicle appeared to be in good condition, it may not have been safe to operate. As a result, filmmakers may have had to use replicas or special effects to recreate these vehicles on screen.
The JNA operated large numbers of armored vehicles supplied by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. These were in more workable conditions, and, more importantly, safer to use. Both the T-34-85 and the Sherman tanks saw wide use in this role. In most cases, they received only simple German markings or some random number designation. In rarer cases, such as the filming of Bitka na Neretvi, some T-34-85 were modified more extensively to resemble the German Tiger tanks. In other cases, some fully-tracked tractors were modified to resemble enemy tanks. In 1980, one M-60 armored personnel carrier (APC) would be modified to resemble a German Panzer III tank.
The Panzer III in Yugoslavia
The development of the tank that would later be known as the Panzer III was officially approved in a meeting of the German General Staff held in January 1934. Its proposed use in combat would be to engage and destroy enemy armor. To conceal its true purpose, it was initially designated as Zugführerwagen (Eng. Platoon commander’s vehicle). After years spent preparing the production facilities and improving the design, this vehicle finally entered mass production just before the outbreak of the war. In the early years of the war, the Panzer III was the backbone of the early panzer divisions. Inadequate armament was one of the major issues faced by the early Panzer III models, which led to the incorporation of a more powerful gun in later models. Despite many challenges, the Panzer III remained an important part of the German armored divisions until its replacement with the Panzer IV after 1942. Some Panzer III tanks even remained in use until the end of the war, indicating the durability and effectiveness of the design.
The Panzer III would see service in Yugoslavia during the war. Some 270 such vehicles were operated by the 2nd and 12th Army Groups tasked with conquering Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. The whole operation was initiated by Mussolini’s failure to defeat Greece in October 1940. Greek forces managed to stop the Italian attack and even went on their counter-offensive. With this setback, together with the losses suffered in North Africa, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler was not very interested in the Mediterranean theater, being more preoccupied with the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But, worried by the possibility of a second front being opened to the south in Greece by the British, while the German forces were assaulting the Soviet Union, he reluctantly decided to send German military aid to help the Italians. For the planned occupation of Greece, Hitler counted on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia either joining the Axis or at least remaining neutral. Initially, the Yugoslavian government agreed to join the Axis, but a pro-West military coup ultimately led to a German invasion that started on 6th April 1941. The German armored forces had little trouble dealing with the disorganized Yugoslavian defenders, and by 17th April, the war was lost. Following the conclusion of this campaign, the German armored formations were sent back to Germany in anticipation for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The emergence of resistance groups in Yugoslavia during the war was a significant challenge for the German military. The harsh treatment of the Yugoslav people by the occupying forces fueled resentment and resistance, leading to the formation of two main groups: the Communist Partisans and the Royalist Chetniks. The resistance groups used guerrilla tactics to engage the German forces, attacking isolated posts, communication and supply lines, and other vital targets. The German response was to send any available armored vehicles to Yugoslavia, but as most of their units were engaged on the Eastern Front, only obsolete and captured vehicles were available. The situation became more desperate for the Germans in 1944, as they lost their Italian ally and had to send additional forces to Yugoslavia. These forces included a small number of Panzer III vehicles, which remained in use up to the end of the war.
During the war, some Panzer III tanks were captured by the Partisans, and these tanks remained in use for a few years after the war. However, due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition, their service was limited. Unfortunately, because of poor record-keeping from this period, not much is known about the precise number or version of these captured Panzer III tanks. The Partisans and later the JNA did not keep accurate records of their older equipment, which makes it difficult to know the exact number of tanks captured and their specific models.
These captured tanks were likely used for training purposes or as a source of spare parts for other vehicles. Some of them may have also been used in parades or as static displays in museums. However, without more detailed records, it is difficult to know for sure how these captured Panzer III tanks were used after the war.
The M-60 as a Panzer III
The M-60 was the first Yugoslavian domestically developed and built APC. In general, it was characterized to be a poor design, with weak armor, an underpowered engine, obsolete suspension, drive components, etc. Despite this rather poor service history, the JNA was forced to keep it in service, as nothing else was available. The production of fully operational vehicles began in late 1965 and lasted up to 1979. By that time, some 790 M-60 vehicles of all versions were built. As a result, it was available at hand and was likely cheaper to use than an actual tank.
The M-60, like many other JNA military vehicles, has a distinctive appearance and can easily be modified to resemble other vehicles. It is not uncommon for filmmakers to use military vehicles as props in war movies to add authenticity to the scenes. The whole modification was rather simple. A mock-up of a Panzer III turret was placed on the top of its superstructure. Additionally, some minor alterations were made to the front of the superstructure and the mudguards. It would be used to represent a German vehicle in the movie Doviđenja u sledećem ratu (Eng. See You in the Next War) released in 1980.
It also was used in the TV series Nepokoreni Grad (Eng. Unconquered City). In this case, it was used as a Croatian vehicle. During the war, the Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (NDH) (Eng. Independent State of Croatia) was a German puppet state, created after the invasion and breakup of Yugoslavia in 1941. As part of its collaboration with Nazi Germany, the NDH was allowed to establish a small armored force to help combat resistance movements in Yugoslavia. However, due to limited resources and a lack of industrial capacity, the NDH was forced to rely mainly on obsolete armored vehicles acquired from the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia and their Axis allies, such as Italy and Germany. The NDH’s armored forces were mostly composed of light tanks, armored cars, and self-propelled guns, which were often poorly maintained and lacked spare parts. Despite these limitations, the NDH armored units saw extensive actions in the fighting against resistance forces.
Some sources mentioned that in late 1944, the Germans provided the NDH with 20 Panzer III Ausf.Ns, 10 Panzer IV Ausf.Fs, and 5 Panzer IV Ausf.Hs. While some Croatian crew members were, at that time, sent to Germany to be trained to operate these vehicles, there is no proof that these were ever actually delivered or used by the NDH.
The M-60’s suspension was based on the Soviet SU-76, which was developed during the Second World War. The Yugoslav engineers who worked on the M-60 project reused the SU-76’s suspension, but made several modifications to it, such as reducing the number of road wheels to five per side and changing the front drive sprocket.
On the other hand, the Panzer III’s suspension consisted of six small road wheels in addition to a front-drive sprocket and rear-positioned idler. Both suspensions used three return rollers per side. To someone unfamiliar with these vehicles, their suspensions may appear the same. However, historians and armor enthusiasts can spot many differences. For a start, the Panzer III employed a much larger front driver sprocket and idler. In addition, the Panzer III used six road wheels which were positioned closer to each other. The M-60 road wheels on the other hand, had a larger space between them, and there were only five of them. Lastly, while not present on all vehicles, early Panzer IIIs had the hull-side escape hatches for the crews. While the M-60 and Panzer III shared some similarities in their use of a torsion bar suspension, their specific designs and modifications were unique to each vehicle.
Realistically, nothing could be changed to the M-60’s suspension to resemble a Panzer III’s. Trying to add a sixth road wheel would be expensive and pointless. It could only have damaged the vehicle and prevented its use as a military vehicle. It is also understandable that the JNA would not want to discard vehicles that, while obsolete, were still useful in some capacity. The JNA simply did not have anything better in sufficient numbers to carelessly discard its vehicles.
Some minor attempts to slightly change the suspension appearance were made, by adding larger and crudely made mudguards. The M-60 was equipped with round-shaped or flat forward and rear mudguards. The vehicle adopted as the German tank had completely different front and side mudguards. The front part appeared to be slightly longer and more crudely made.
While there are some similarities regarding suspension parts, the superstructure is completely different. It is important to acknowledge that the two vehicles were designed in different eras with different technological capabilities and design priorities. The Panzer III was designed as a tank, while the M-60 was used to transport infantry squads.
The Panzer III used a simple square-shaped superstructure with no hatches. Contrary, the M-60 had a slightly larger superstructure with many hatches, either on top or rear of the vehicle. Despite this, some minor attempts were made to at least resemble (with lots of imagination) a Panzer III’s superstructure. The M-60’s trim vane connected to the lower superstructure armor was removed. Ironically, the M-60, due to many design flaws, did not have amphibious capabilities, so the trim vane was pretty much useless. Instead, a mock-up front aperture was added. It had a machine gun port and a fake driver vision port.
Whoever worked on this vehicle, did an excellent job with the mock-up turret. Many quite well-made details, such as the side two-part hatches, pistol ports, and side vision ports were replicated. The mock-up turret was not just placed on the M-60’s top. Instead, what appears to be a round base was used to connect these two. Further, the turret appears not to be fixed in place. There are scenes where the turret moved slightly to the sides. While there is no information on how it was built, it is possible that a ring-shaped turret base with added ball bearings to help with the rotation was used.
The German Panzer III tank went through several modifications during its production run, with different versions featuring different turret designs and components. This makes it challenging to identify the precise version of the turret design, even on an original German Panzer III. Additionally, due to the nature of war and the need for field repairs, it was not uncommon for vehicles to be equipped with older or newer components, depending on availability and the urgency of the situation. As a result, tanks with mixed components were not a rare sight, even within the same unit. This further complicates the identification of the exact version of the replicated turret’s design.
For a start, the gun depicted is a 5 cm L/42. This gun was intended as a replacement for the outdated 3.7 cm gun that was originally used on the Panzer III. While the overall gun and its mantle mock-up were quite well done, there are some mistakes. The 5 cm L/42 gun is missing some key elements of the original design, such as the round-shaped gun mantle, protected machine gun port, and pyramidal-shaped hatches. Additionally, the gun protective recoil cylinder steel jacket and deflector guard are not centered correctly. Instead, the older version’s internal mantlet was copied, but this too lacks the two machine gun mounts on the right side of the turret. Lastly, the gun’s protective gun recoil cylinder steel jacket and a deflector guard were not fully centered, but were slightly off to the right side. The original Panzer III’s gun was positioned in the center of the deflector guard.
The command cupola of the prop Panzer III was taken from the Ausf.G version. In this case, it was an exact copy of it. It had a two-part hatch that could be opened or closed. Other elements of the turrets were also well-made, starting with the rear-positioned two machine gun ports. On the sides, the two-part hatches were also well made with some minor details lacking. In the TV show, actors can be seen entering the turret via the commander’s cupola.
The top of the mock-up turret was also basically the same as on a Panzer III. In general, the early Panzer III, besides the signal ports, had quite a simple top turret design.
In contrast to other Yugoslav films, where tanks and other armored vehicles were shown destroying buildings or participating in fighting, the M-60 prop had a rather unimpressive role. In episode six of Nepokoreni Grad, the tank was undergoing repairs at a workshop where a group of Partisans constantly sabotage attempts to repair tanks. The M-60 is shown leaving the workshop and driving through the city before being forced to stop, as one of the Partisan mechanics had thrown a bag of sugar into the fuel tank. In Doviđenja u sledećem ratu it appears in a few scenes driving through a village.
The Yugoslav movie industry often used tanks and other armored vehicles to represent enemy vehicles. In most cases, these only received enemy markings with no attempts to modify them to share some similarities with those vehicles used during the war. In the case of the M-60 adaptation of a Panzer III, things were a little different. Those who made it did an excellent job to copy some elements of the Panzer III, namely the turret. The M-60’s superstructure was way different from that used on the Panzer III, so even with the best aspects considered, they would never look alike. The use of modified vehicles for movie productions highlights the importance of realism in creating effective and engaging films. It is impressive to see the level of creativity and resourcefulness in adapting existing vehicles for these purposes.
German Reich (1944)
Tank Destroyer – 930 to 940 Built
The further development of the StuG series led to the introduction of the Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyer. The Jagdpanzer IV was initially meant to be armed with the long 7.5 cm L/70 gun. As this gun was not available in sufficient numbers, as a temporary solution, the vehicle was armed with the shorter L/48 gun instead. In early 1944, the production of the long gun was finally increased and it could be used for this purpose. This would lead to the introduction of a slightly modified Jagdpanzer IV which was renamed Panzer IV/70(V). Production started in August 1944 and, by March 1945, some 930 to 940 vehicles were built.
The introduction of the Jagdpanzer IV into service provided the German Army with an effective anti-tank vehicle that had a small silhouette, was well-protected, and had a good gun. Work on such a vehicle was initiated by Waffenamt (Eng. Army Weapon’s Office) in September 1942. Initially designated Sturmgeschütze Neue Art (Eng. New Type Assault Gun), the new vehicle 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, 500 mm ground clearance, and a weight of up to 26 tonnes. It is somewhat ironic that this vehicle, initially intended as a replacement for the StuG III, ended up being hijacked by the Panzer branch.
However, the initial plans to use the 7.5 cm L/70 gun could not be fulfilled, as its production was limited and reserved for the Panther tank program. While the short-barrelled Jagdpanzer IV was slowly entering production in January 1944, a meeting was held to discuss the use of the larger gun. For this reason, one prototype was to be built and tested to establish the feasibility of the concept once enough guns were available.
The prototype of this new vehicle was completed in early April 1944. It was, in essence, just a modified Jagdpanzer IV (chassis number 320162) armed with the long gun. Of course, some internal structural changes had to be made in order to fit the larger gun. The new vehicle was presented to Hitler on 20th April 1944. Hitler was impressed and insisted on a monthly production order of 800 such vehicles. The Waffenamt was slightly more realistic and issued a production quota of 2020 vehicles (both the L/48 and L/70 versions) to be completed by the end of April 1945, closer to 160 vehicles per month.
Throughout its development and service life, the new tank hunter received several different designations. This was nothing unusual by German standards. The initial designation for it was Sturmgeschütz auf Pz.Kpfw.IV. This name derived from its original purpose as a replacement vehicle for the StuG III. On Hitler’s own personal insistence, this vehicle was to be renamed to Panzer IV lang (V). The V stood for the manufacturer, Vogtlandische Maschinenfabrik AG (Vomag), while the word lang (Eng. Long) referred to the L/70 gun. This order was issued on 18th July 1944.
In October 1944, this designation was slightly changed to Panzer IV lang (V) mit 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70. Starting from November 1944, it was referred to as Panzer IV/70(V) – Panzerwagen 604/10 (V) mit 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70. Lastly, in January 1945, the term Jagdpanzer was once again used. The full designation was Jagdpanzer IV lang (V) (Sd.Kfz.162). To avoid confusion with the previous model and to be consistent with most sources, this article will refer to the vehicle as the Panzer IV/70(V).
This vehicle is also known by the nickname ‘Guderian Ente’ (Eng. Guderian’s Duck) given to it by its crews. This is often described as being related to its slower speed and reduced mobility in the sources. According to W. J. Spielberger (Military Vehicle Prints), this nickname was translated as ‘Guderian’s Hoax’ and is related to his refusal to accept this project. The word Ente in German (and in some other languages) can refer to as false news, hence Spielberger’s interpretation of this term.
Given that Vomag was already involved in the Jagdpanzer IV’s production, it was logical that this company would produce the new Panzer IV/70 (V). Production plans were quite ambitious, especially taking into account that this occurred in late 1944, when the Allied bombing campaign had slowly grinded down the German industry to literal dust. The lack of resources and a logistical collapse were also notorious during this late part of the war. Many newly built vehicles never reached the front. Nevertheless, despite all the hardship, Vomag managed to keep up with the planned production, as can be seen in the following production table from T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.9-2 Jagdpanzer IV).
The month of production
Planned production quota
Actual production numbers
Up to March 1945, the production numbers were often reached and sometimes even exceeded the planned quotas. Production dropped in March 1945 before ultimately stopping. That month, Vomag’s facilities were completely devastated by an Allied bombing raid. Given the chaotic state of Germany at that time, there was no time nor resources to restart production. While the production could not be restarted, there were some 30 hulls and 10 superstructures left available. Some of these were completed likely in April and issued for frontline use. It is possible that at least 10 more vehicles were completed.
In July 1944, Adolf Hitler insisted that production of the Panzer IV was to be terminated in February 1945 at the latest. Instead, the companies that were initially involved in the Panzer IV production were to focus on the Panzer IV/70 tank hunter. Given the insufficient production numbers of tanks such as the Panther and the Tiger II, the Panzer IV could simply not be phased out. This order was never implemented in reality.
The Panzer IV/70(V) inherited the Jagdpanzer IV’s overall design. In essence, it was the same vehicle with better armament. Still, some modifications were necessary in order to fit the larger gun, while other changes were implemented in order to reduce production costs or to reduce the usage for materials that were in short supply. The Panzer IV/70(V) was built using chassis taken from Panzer IV Ausf.H and Panzer IV Ausf.J tanks.
The overall hull design was mostly unchanged from its predecessor. Some minor modifications were introduced during the production run. For example, the air intake vents on the brake inspection hatches were replaced with simple handles. They had become unnecessary, as the Germans had added ducts that extracted the smoke to the ventilation ports of the engine compartment. Their locking mechanism was also altered slightly. Another small modification was adding a vertical towing bracket which was welded to the rear part of the hull. This was a late introduction, first appearing in December 1944.
Suspension and Running Gear
Given the added extra weight of the gun and armor, the Panzer IV/70(V)’s suspension became overburdened and thus prone to breakdowns. The rubber rims on the two front wheels wore out quickly. In addition, steering the vehicle on the uneven ground became problematic.
The problem with the suspension was already an issue with the slightly lighter Jagdpanzer IV, but became a serious problem for the later vehicle. One of the earliest attempts to resolve this issue was a proposal to move the road wheels’ positions to the front by 10 cm. It was hoped that this would shift the center of gravity a bit. This idea was flawed from the start, as the front road wheels were already too close to the drive sprocket. It would also necessitate huge changes to the hull design. In turn, this would cause delays in production, and thus it was never implemented.
The only real attempt that gave some positive results regarding the overburden suspension was the introduction of steel-tired road wheels. The two front road wheels were replaced with this new model. In addition, lighter tracks were to replace the ones in use. Both of these measures were introduced starting in September 1944. Of course, the older vehicles were at some point likewise provided with these reinforced wheels to help cope with the added weight.
The number of return rollers would be reduced to three. In addition, these were made of steel due to the lack of rubber. Lastly, different types of idlers were used depending on the availability of spare parts.
The engine compartment received no major modifications. It was still powered by the Maybach HL 120 TRM which produced 265 hp @ 2,600 rpm. Given the increase in weight from 24 to 25.8 tonnes, the overall drive performance dropped significantly. The maximum speed was reduced from 40 km/h to 35 km/h. The cross-country speed remained the same, at around 15-18 km/h. While this decrease in maximum speed does not appear as much at the first glance, the Panzer IV/7(V) became difficult to steer and the added weight caused huge stress on the engine itself. With a fuel load of some 470 liters, the operational range was 210 km.
The cylindrical exhaust muffler was replaced with two upright-positioned Flammentoeter (English: flame exhaust mufflers). These were implemented on vehicles produced starting from November 1944. Chain links were attached to the cooling air intake and flap so that they could be manually opened or closed depending on the need.
The upper superstructure design was mostly the same, except for one major difference which is not obvious and somewhat illogical. The superstructure’s top, despite the use of a larger gun which would require more working space inside the vehicle, was actually lowered by some 30 mm. While not a huge difference, the reason why this was implemented is unknown.
Besides that, other minor improvements were also introduced, mostly near the end of the war. Some vehicles received rain channels which were positioned under the commander and the loader’s hatches. The Panzer IV/70(V) was meant to receive a jib boom crane installation. This required adding five sockets that needed to be welded to its top superstructure. This crane would provide the crews with a means to easily remove heavier components, such as the engine. This was rarely added to the vehicles and appears to be mainly present on vehicles produced near the end of the war.
The design of the sliding gun sight cover was also slightly changed to make it easier to build. Initially, it consisted of two curved single-piece sliding rods. These would be replaced with sliding rods that consisted of many smaller parts.
Some vehicles had spare track link holders added to the sides of the superstructure. It is not clear if these were introduced during production or added by some of the crews as an improvisation.
Armor and Protection
The Panzer IV/70(V)’s armor was the same as on its predecessor. It was well protected, with thick and well-angled armor plates. For the lower hull, the upper front 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 thick, the rear 20 mm, and the bottom 10 mm. The hull crew compartment had 20 mm of bottom armor.
The upper superstructure frontal armor was 80 mm at a 50° angle, the sides were 40 mm at a 30° angle, the rear armor was 30 mm, and the top was 20 mm. The engine compartment design and armor were unchanged from the Panzer IV, with 20 mm all around and 10 mm of top armor.
The 80 mm of front armor was introduced on the Jagdpanzer IV series in May 1944. The later version incorporated a larger gun which led to an increase in weight. Thus, in August 1944, it was proposed to once again use weaker 60 mm thick frontal armor. Even Hitler agreed that the superstructure frontal armor needed to be reduced in thickness in order to save some weight. For unknown reasons, this decision was never implemented.
The Panzer IV/70(V) was initially provided with Zimmerit anti-magnetic coating, but after September 1944, its use was abandoned. Additional 5 mm thick armor plates were also provided for extra protection of the engine compartment’s sides. The Panzer IV/70 (V) could be equipped with additional 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the sides of the vehicle. They served mainly to protect against Soviet anti-tank rifles. In rarer cases, at the end of the war, these were replaced with Thoma Schürtzen wire mesh. While these were lighter and provided the same level of protection, their use was delayed due to problems with production.
The crews of some vehicles often added all kinds of improvised armor. These were often reused spare parts, such as tracks and road wheels. Some of the crews added concrete to the front armor plates. The effectiveness of this improvised armor was dubious at best, but these improvised up-armoring jobs were relatively common on other German vehicles, such as the StuG III series.
The Panzer IV/70(V) was rearmed with the stronger 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70 (sometimes referred to as 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70) gun. The position of the gun was unchanged, as it was placed slightly off-center to the right. Given that it was a much larger gun with stronger recoil forces, some structural changes were needed. For example, the gun mantlet was redesigned in order to save weight. In addition, a hydro-pneumatic equilibrator was installed on the right side of the gun. To provide better gun balance, an iron counterweight was added at the end of the recoil guard. Despite being a considerably longer gun and using stronger rounds, the recoil was only 42 cm. The total weight of the gun itself was 2.2 tonnes. Surprisingly, no ventilation fan was present in the crew compartment. Instead, an air blast mechanism was meant to blow fumes created after firing the gun out the barrel.
Given the longer length of the gun barrel, an external travel lock had to be provided. Its purpose was to help stabilize the gun during traveling. This in turn would help avoid damaging or even misaligning the gun sight. When connected to the travel lock, the gun was raised up at a 13° angle. This was necessary in order to avoid accidentally hitting the ground when driving on uneven ground. While this seems unlikely to happen, the Panzer IV/70(V)’s lower height and longer barrel meant that this was a real possibility. The prototype was initially not provided with a travel lock, but it quickly became apparent that such a device would be needed. In order to free the gun, the gun operator only had 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 shape of the travel lock was changed during production. Initially, these had a large opening in them. Later built travel locks did not have this opening.
The elevation of the main gun was –6° to +15° and the traverse was 24°. Here it is important to note that these numbers differ greatly in the sources. These particular numbers were taken from T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.9-2 Jagdpanzer IV). A muzzle brake would not be added to the gun, as it would create a lot of dust during firing and also increase the cost of construction slightly. Some guns had threaded ends on the barrel for the installation of a muzzle brake. As this was a labor-intensive task, most were likely not provided with such a feature.
The 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 could fire a few different types of rounds, including armor-piercing (PzGr 39/42 or 40/42), high-explosive (SpGr 42), and armor-piercing tungsten rounds. While the latter had superb anti-armor penetration power, due to the scarcity of tungsten, these rounds were rarely employed.
Standard Armor-piercing round
Armor-piercing tungsten round
Thanks to this firepower, this gun could effectively engage most Allied tanks up to the war’s end. The maximum firing range of the high-explosive rounds was 5.1 km, while the armor-piercing range was 3 km.
The 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70 Armor penetration (maximum range) table against enemy tanks. Source: T.L. Jentz (Germany’s Panther Tank)
The ammunition load consisted of 55 rounds, but this would be increased to 60. Usually, around 34 were armor-piercing, while the remaining 21 were high-explosive. This could differ depending on the combat need or availability of ammunition.
The 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70 gun used a Sfl.Z.F.1a gun sight which had a magnification of x5 and a field of view of 8°. On some vehicles, the gunner sight was encased into protective covers. Starting from November 1944, one-third of the produced Panzer IV/70(V) were meant to receive the SF 14 Z scissor periscope. In addition, these were also to incorporate the use of an Entfernungs-Messer 0.9 m (Eng. Range finder). Three small connecting points were welded around the commander’s hatch for the installation of this range finder. Due to delays with the delivery of such equipment, the first vehicles mounting this were supplied in March 1945.
As a secondary weapon, the MG 42 machine gun was retained. The ammunition load for it consisted of 1,950 rounds. In addition, at least one 9 mm submachine gun MP 40 or a later 7.92 mm MP 44 assault rifle was carried inside for crew protection.
Some vehicles were equipped with the Rundumfeuer machine gun mount that was operated from inside the vehicle. This mount provided an all-around firing arc. In addition, the operator did not have to expose himself to fire when he was using the machine gun. However, he still needed to go outside to manually load the machine gun. While this installation was tested on the prototype, it did not see wide use on the Panzer IV/70(V).
The Panzer IV/70(V) was also equipped with the Nahverteidigungswaffe (Eng. close defense grenade launcher), with some 40 rounds of ammunition (high explosive and smoke rounds), placed on the vehicle’s top. Due to the general lack of resources though, not all vehicles were provided with this weapon. In such cases, the Nahverteidigungswaffe’s opening hole was closed off with a round plate.
For defense against infantry that got too close, an unusual weapon attachment named Vorsatz P was provided. This was a curved muzzle attachment for the MP 43/44 assault rifles. With this curved barrel, the loader (who was to be equipped with this weapon attachment) could engage enemy infantry from inside the vehicle without exposing himself. The Vorsatz P barrel was angled at 90°. For installation on armored vehicles, such as the Panzer IV/70(V), a small ball mount was developed. It was to be attached to the top superstructure hatches. For combat use, the assault rifles were to be attached to this ball mount vertically, pointing up. With the extended curved barrel, the maximum firing range was around 15 m. Despite its odd appearance, the system actually worked. This weapon system was introduced too late and was only issued in limited numbers in 1945.
The crew number and position remained unchanged. It consisted of the commander, the gunner, the loader/radio operator, and the driver. The loader’s position was to the left while the remaining three crew members were placed opposite him.
Organization and Distribution to Units
In July 1944, Hitler came up with the idea of using smaller mobile armored formations. Their purpose would be to act as a quick response to enemy attacks. These were the so-called Panzer Brigaden (Eng. Tank Brigades). They were to consist of three 11-vehicle-strong Panther companies and one 11-strong Panzer IV/70(V) company. In addition, they were to be protected by at least 4 anti-aircraft vehicles. Guderian was against the formation of such small units, as they diverted vital resources of men and materiel that were desperately needed by the Panzer Divisions. Regardless, Hitler persisted and some 10 such units were to be formed. A few additional brigades were equipped mainly with Panzer IVs.
The first units to be equipped with a Panzer IV/70(V) company were the 105th and 106th Panzer Brigades in August 1944. A month later, five more such units were formed. These were the 107th, 108th, 109th, 110th, and the Führer Grenadier Brigade. The whole Brigade concept was quickly abandoned and, by November 1944, nearly all such units were absorbed by the existing Panzer Divisions.
Besides these short-lived brigades, the Panzer IV/70(V)s were issued to 10-vehicle strong Panzerjäger Kompanie (Eng. Anti-tank company). Other units, such as the Panzer Grenadier Divisions and schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Eng. Heavy anti-tank battalions) were to be slightly stronger, at 14 vehicles. It is worth pointing out that not all units received these in the prescribed number strength. There were often variations in the delivered number of vehicles Besides forming new units, the Panzer IV/70 (V) was also issued as a replacement vehicle to existing formations.
The 24th and 116th Panzer Divisions each received 10 vehicles during September and October 1944. As the Eastern Front came under pressure from the Soviets, more Panzer IV/70(V)s were rushed there. The 7th, 13th, and 17th Panzer Divisions each received 21 vehicles, while the 24th Panzer Division received 19 vehicles.
At the start of 1945, the quick collapse of all fronts meant that the Panzer IV/70(V) was issued to frontline units without much training. The numbers allocated to different units were also dependent on the available vehicles. For example, the 563rd Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion received 31 vehicles in January 1945. It was probably the strongest single unit supplied with this vehicle. On the other hand, others were less lucky, receiving only 10 vehicles, such as the 510th Anti-Tank Battalion in February 1945.
After March 1945, the situation became even more chaotic. Any form of organization was discarded, and instead, vehicles were sent to various units as they arrived at the front. For example, in late March and early April 1945, the Panzer Lehr Division received 12, 114th Panzer Division 5, and the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division 21 vehicles. Even some assault gun brigades received Panzer IV/70(V)s during this period. These units finally received the vehicle that was initially designed for them way back in 1942.
The same month, out of desperation, the Germans tried to mobilize some 711 armored vehicles that were used for training. While this seems like a huge number, most of these vehicles were either obsolete older equipment or had been stored and not operational. At least two Panzer IV/70(V)s were used in this manner. One of them was likely the first prototype built.
The Panzer IV/70(V)’s late production start meant that it took some time to actually deliver these vehicles to the frontlines. Crew training was also an important part, as it also required much-needed time. The German logistical infrastructure had been ravaged by Allied bombing runs. As the Allies liberated France, it was possible to build new air bases closer to Germany itself. Roads and railroads were under constant threat of enemy air attacks. This meant that vital supply transportation lines were often targeted. Transportation of new vehicles to the frontline became dangerous and, in many cases, they failed to reach their destinations.
Ardennes Offensive and the End of the War in Western Europe
The Panzer IV/70(V) began to reach frontline units in significant numbers only at the end of 1944 and the start of 1945. The first vehicles were concentrated for the German Ardennes offensive in late 1944. At that time, the Germans mustered some 210 vehicles of this type. An additional 90 were to be used as reinforcements and replacements. The precise numbers of Panzer IV/70(V)s used during the Ardennes offensive differ between sources. The previously mentioned number is according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.9-2 Jagdpanzer IV), while K. Mucha and G. Parada (Jagdpanzer IV) give a much smaller number of 135 vehicles.
A well-recorded action where the Panzer IV/70(V) saw combat action was during the battles around the Belgian Krinkelt-Rocherath villages at the end of 1944. This was part of a German attack spearheaded by elements from the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. This Division’s 12th SS Panzerjäger Abteilung had Panzer IV/70(V)s in its inventory. The attack was also accompanied by infantry support from the SS Panzergreandier Regiment 25. It is worth mentioning that, by this point of the war, the German soldiers were mostly inexperienced and poorly trained.
As the Germans advanced, they threatened to surround two Allied infantry divisions. In order to prevent this, the 9th Infantry Regiment, together with various elements from the retreating Allied soldiers were gathered to form a defense line at the Krinkelt-Rocherath villages and the Lausdell crossroads. Interestingly, the commander of the 9th Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel William Dawes McKinley, favored the use of bazookas over towed 57 mm anti-tank guns. Both struggled to do damage to the front armor of some of the better German armored vehicles. Still, a team armed with bazookas could be effective, especially from concealed positions.
German infantry, supported by two Panzer IV/70(V) companies, attacked the Allied positions on 17th December 1944. The defenders did not have any armor support at this point, but they laid a huge number of mines. Several Panzer IV/70(V)s from the 2nd Company led the attack, supported by small Panzergrenadier infantry groups, some of them hiding on the Panzer IV/70(V)’s engine decks. The remaining infantry followed up from behind.
Once the German vehicles were spotted, they were immediately bombarded by American artillery. One vehicle was destroyed by an artillery hit, and two were immobilized by mines. Two more were destroyed by the Allied’s bazooka teams. Later that day, despite heavy losses and pressure from the Allies’ artillery, the Germans made another attack. They were supported by the fire of one immobilized Panzer IV/70(V). This vehicle would be destroyed with thermite grenades and a fuel canister. At least one more was destroyed in this attack.
At the same time as the attack on the Lausdell crossroads was carried out, the Germans also attacked the Allied’s positions at the Krinkelt-Rocherath villages. At least three Panzer IV/70(V)s led the attack and managed to penetrate into the villages. The M4 tanks sent against the Germans were quickly taken out. There was heavy fighting that lasted the whole day, but the Germans withdrew the next morning, expecting reinforcements and supplies. On the 18th, the Germans attacked again, this time advancing with Panther tanks in the direction of Rocherath. Two leading Panthers would be taken out, blocking the road to the village, forcing the remaining vehicles to try to go around them. Around one hour later, one Panzer IV/70(V) came to the place where the two Panthers were lost. This vehicle was quickly taken out by bazooka fire.
The precise losses suffered by both sides are not well documented. The defenders lost some 11 tanks, 2 M10 tank destroyers, and a large number of anti-tank guns. The Allies reported the destruction of over 40 German armored vehicles, including 5 Tigers. These reports were not correct, as no Tiger was used during this battle. In addition, the precise number of destroyed German vehicles was likely less than mentioned above, as many vehicles would be recovered.
Interestingly, the Allies 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.
At the end of December 1944, some Panzer IV/70(V)s participated in the last large German offensive in the West, Operation Northwind. The operation ended in another German failure by late January 1945, further depleting the strength of its armored units.
After the last offensive against the Western Allies, the German armored formations in this part of Europe were dangerously depleted. There were only six surviving anti-tank battalions equipped with Panzer IV/70 vehicles. By mid-March, the Germans had only 77 Panzer IV/70s vehicles on this front, with only 33 operational. This number likely included both the Vomag and Alkett versions.
The Panzer IV/70(V) also saw heavy action on the Eastern Front. For example, on 16th March 1945, at the Oder River near Stettin, in north Poland, a platoon leader of the 6th Company from the 9th Panzer Regiment noted the following:
“ … About 900 hours, we learned that Ivan had positioned many tanks ready to attack in front of our infantry’s defensive positions. After signaling the Abteilung and Regiment by radio, we learned from an infantry messenger that the rest of our Kompanie and Abteilung must already be advancing. Their progress was delayed by the plowed up terrain caused by the heavy artillery barrage. At exactly 1100 hours, the artillery fire stopped. It was still deadly all around us. Then, from the deep holes and machinegun nests, signal flares were fired – Enemy attack! The first Russian T-34-85 and SU-85 rolled into the field of view of our Jagdpanzers which were in defiladed positions. Quickly, flashes appeared from hits on two of the forward T-34s, then they started were smoking. Thereafter, a further five to eight enemy tanks quickly appeared beside and behind these. They burnt just as fast. So it went for most of the other enemy tanks that continued to appear in advancing tank squadrons. Every shot from our gun was now a hit. Our knowledgeable and experienced gunners, who were the oldest corporals and sergeants in the Abteilung, could hardly miss their targets. After about a 30 minute fight, a strong formation of T-34s attempted to bypass the right flank of our position. We had fired almost all of our ammunition when behind and beside us additional guns opened fire. The rest of the Abteilung had arrived and supported our bitter defensive battle against the overwhelming Red tank formations.’’
Unfortunately, the report does not mention the precise Soviet armor losses, but these were possibly heavy. The report was meant to highlight the effectiveness and experience of the German gunners. This may somewhat be misleading, as the number of experienced German gunners and crews by the end of the war was greatly reduced due to attrition. The majority would be replaced with inexperienced and poorly trained crew members. Not surprisingly, their performance would be greatly diminished. In any case, the particular Panzer IV/70(V) mentioned in the report would be immobilized by a hit from a T-34-85 to the rear.
Another example would be the 563rd Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion, which saw extensive combat action against the advancing Soviet forces in early 1945. This unit was in the process of reorganization and was supplied with one Jagdpanther company and two Panzer IV/70(V) companies. The total combat strength was 18 Jagdpanther and 24 Panzer IV/70(V). The crew of these vehicles had been previously used as standard infantry and were quite exhausted from heavy fighting with the Soviets. As there was no time for recuperation, on 21st January 1945, they advanced toward the enemy. The unit reached Wormditt that day, where heavy fighting with the enemy occurred. Thanks to their superior firepower and experience, the German vehicles managed to inflict severe losses to the enemy. During a period of 10 days, some 58 enemy tanks were reported destroyed. The Germans only lost one Jagdpanther and four Panzer IV/70(V)s. The remaining vehicles had to be blown up to prevent being captured due to a lack of fuel or spare parts.
The IV SS-Panzer Corps, which engaged the Soviets in a desperate attempt to reach the besieged Budapest, had in its inventory some 55 Jagdpanzer IV and Panzer IV/70(V) tank destroyers. Some would also see service at the last major German armored offensive in the East at Lake Balaton during March 1945. By mid-March, the German Army on this front had some 357 vehicles in its inventory, of which 189 were operational.
The Panzer IV/70(V) saw limited use in this part of Europe. Newly produced vehicles were rushed to either the Eastern or Western Fronts. The hilly terrain in Northern Italy would likely have led to overheating and transmission problems. Thus, by April 1945, only three such vehicles were present on this front.
Jagdpanzer IV Versions
Panzer IV/70(V) Befehlswagen
An unknown number of Panzer IV/70(V)s were modified to be used as Befehlswagen (Eng. command vehicles). These vehicles had additional radio equipment installed, namely 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. The Befehlswagen would also use a Sternantenne (English: star radio antenna) which was 1.4 m long and located on the left side of the engine compartment.
After the war, some surviving Panzer IV/70s would see service with a few different armies.
The Bulgarians, who were allied to the Germans, switched sides in late 1944. They joined the Soviet Union in the fight against Germany. In March 1945, the Bulgarian armored force was supplemented with one captured Panzer IV/70(V) (chassis number 320662) supplied by the Soviets. In Bulgarian service, this vehicle was known under the Maybach T-IV designation. This vehicle still exists to this day and can be seen at the National Museum of Military History in Sofia.
An unknown numbers of captured Panzer IV/70(V)s were supplied to the Romanian Army by the Soviet Union (possibly after the war). In Romanian service, they were known under the TAs T-4 designation. The TAs was an abbreviation for Tun de Asalt (Eng. Assault Gun) and T-4 was the Romanian designation for the Panzer IV.
Around five to six vehicles (both L/48 and L/70 armed versions) were given to Syria in 1950 by the French, although, depending on the sources, it is possible that the Soviets actually supplied them. During combat with Israeli forces in 1967 during the Six-Day War, one Jagdpanzer IV was lost when it was hit by a tank round. The remaining were withdrawn from the front and probably stored in reserve. These Jagdpanzer IVs were still listed in the Syrian Army inventory during 1990-1991. What became of them is, unfortunately, not currently known.
At least several Panzer IV/70(V) vehicles are known to have survived the war. They can be seen in museums around the world. The National Armor and Cavalry Museum Fort Benning in the US has one vehicle. Another US vehicle can be seen at the Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen Proving Ground. One can be seen at the Bulgarian National Museum of Military History in the capital, Sofia. Another vehicle is located at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The well-known military museum at Kubinka also has one vehicle in its collection.
The Panzer IV/70(V) was the final result of the German attempts to create a new and better-armed assault gun to replace the StuG III. Ironically, some Sturmartillarie units only received these vehicles near the end of the war. The Panzer IV/70(V) would remain primarily a dedicated anti-tank vehicle. It possessed strong armament, was well protected, and was a small target. On paper, it met nearly all the requirements that were often associated with an effective anti-tank vehicle for Second World War standards at least. But it was far from perfect, as the added weight led to the chassis being overburdened, which resulted in reduced maximum speed, reliability, and mobility issues.
Despite being produced in relatively large numbers (for German standards), not all of these ever reach the frontline units. The German logistic supply lines were all but destroyed by the end of 1944. The Panzer IV/70(V)s were not concentrated in numbers but instead given in smaller groups to fill the gaps created on the fronts. Thus, their effectiveness was greatly reduced. 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.
In the end, the Panzer IV/70 (V) was a sound design that exploited the old Panzer IV chassis that was reaching the end of its development limits. Its effectiveness was hampered due to its late introduction in the war, when it could do little to change the final outcome.
8.5. x 3.17 x 1.85 m
Total weight, battle-ready
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Maybach HL 120 TRM, 265 hp @ 2,800 rpm
35 km/h 15-18 km/h (cross-country)
210 km, 130 km (cross-country)
12° right and 12° left
-6° to +15°
7.5 cm (2.95 in) PaK 42 L/70 (55-60 rounds)
7.9 mm (0.31 in) MG 42, 1200 rounds
Front 80 mm, sides 40 mm, rear 30 mm and top 20 mm
German Reich (1944)
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) – 205-250 Built
As the Second World War progressed, it was becoming obvious to the German tank force that the Luftwaffe (English German Air Force) was slowly losing control of the skies over Europe. In order to protect themselves from enemy ground attack aircraft, a series of self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG) based on tank chassis were proposed in 1942. None of these early designs would be adopted, given the severe capacity limitations of the German war industry. As a temporary solution, the Panzer IV chassis was chosen for this use, being initially armed with the 2 cm Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. The whole concept was deemed worthwhile, but the armament was seen as too weak. In early 1944, a slightly improved model armed with the stronger 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-aircraft gun would be adopted for service as the first of the Flakpanzer IVs.
A New Flakpanzer IV
The early German attempts to create an effective SPAAG based on a tank chassis were rather unsuccessful. The problem with these early proposals was that they were based on tank chassis that were yet to enter production, and none of these actually did so in any significant numbers, so these AA projects had to be quickly abandoned. By the later stages of the war, the overburdened German industry was simply unable to provide resources and production facilities for yet another new vehicle type.
During May 1943, various German Army commissions, including those concerned with armaments and tanks, met to discuss a proper solution to the general lack of anti-aircraft protection for the panzer divisions. After a series of discussions, it was agreed that the best solution was to reuse the Panzer IV chassis for the new SPAAG. The contract for this project was officially awarded on 8th June 1943. In order to speed up the development and production process, the whole design was to be as simple as possible. As a temporary solution, the armament would consist of the 2 cm Flakvierling. This anti-aircraft gun and its crew were to be protected by four-hinged armored walls. The firm responsible for the realization of this project was Krupp. Once the prototype was completed, it was presented to a Luftwaffe delegation for inspection on 3rd October 1943. The delegation did not have any objections and the prototype was to be used for initial testing and evaluation. The overall results were promising and a monthly production run of 20 vehicles was to begin starting in April 1944.
This was not to be, as, on 21st December 1943, it was decided to instead rearm this vehicle with the more powerful 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-aircraft gun. The Germans were becoming aware that their 2 cm anti-aircraft gun was slowly losing its effectiveness against enemy aircraft at heights greater than 1 km. While it had a much lower firing rate, the larger 3.7 cm round offered a much greater punch. On the 3rd of January 1944, a meeting was once again held between various army branches, including some prominent figures such as Heinz Guderian, General Von Renz (anti-aircraft branch), Hitler, and Albert Speer. Hitler himself agreed to the notion that the Panzer IV chassis should be used as a temporary solution and that the second version (armed with the 3.7 cm gun) should be adopted. A production order for 20 such vehicles was issued. These were to be completed in February 1944. After that, a monthly production rate of 20 vehicles was to be carried out. The initial order included 100 such vehicles. Deutsche Eisenwerke AG was responsible for the delivery of the guns. These were to be placed on the chassis completed by Krupp.
With this, the 3.7 cm armed Flakpanzer IV project received a green light. A prototype vehicle was quickly built. This was actually the same prototype, just rearmed with the larger gun. After a brief examination, some minor changes were requested. mostly in regard to the weapon mount and the redesign of its gun shield.
The first Flakpanzer IV, together with other anti-aircraft vehicles (not specified which ones in the sources), were transported near Oksbol in occupied Denmark for firing trials. The 3.7 cm Flak 43 worked without any problem. The main issue noticed was the extensive exhaust gasses and the long flame tongues that exited from the gun breech. Both of these were not related to the design of the gun, but to the lower quality of the gunpowder used at this stage of the war.
The new vehicle received the quite simple designation Flkakpanzerkampfwagen IV (or simply Flakpanzer IV). In order to help distinguish it from other similar vehicles based on the Panzer IV chassis, the armament caliber and name are often added to its designation. The vehicle itself is possibly best known by the name given mockingly by the troops that operated it. They referred to it as the Möbelwagen (English: Furniture van).
While initial plans predicted that the first group of 20 vehicles would be built in February 1944, this did not happen. The actual production began in March 1944. The production went relatively smoothly, with the 20 vehicles per month quota being achieved and sometimes even surpassed. The production of this vehicle was to be terminated in October 1944. It was to be replaced by the Ostwind, which was expected to enter serial production in November 1944. As this did not occur, the production of the Flakpanzer IV continued up to April 1945, with some 240 vehicles being built in total by that point. The production number may have been slightly larger, as the documents from the Stahlindustrie (Eng. Metal Industry), which were recovered after the war, mention that 243 vehicles were completed.
While most sources agree that 240 such vehicles were produced, there are some that offer different production numbers. For example, author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) gives a figure of 250 vehicles having been built. Author B. Perrett (Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-1945) states a total of 211, while Walter J. Spielberger (Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft Tanks) only mentions 205 vehicles being built. The most likely correct production numbers are 240 vehicles, as mentioned by T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 – Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV), given that they are supported by German documentation.
The new Flakpanzer IV shared most of its components (besides the obvious difference in the main armament) with its Flakvierling-armed predecessor on which it was based. Still, some modifications and improvements were introduced, either at the start of or during production. The Flakpanzer IV was built using Panzer IV Ausf.H and Panzer IV Ausf.J chassis.
Suspension and Running Gear
The Flakpanzer IV suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to the overall construction. They consisted of eight small doubled road wheels on each side, suspended in pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front-drive sprockets, two rear idlers, and eight return rollers in total. Usually, the return rollers were rubber rimmed, but by 1944, shortages of this material meant that they had to be replaced with metal return rollers.
Hull and the Engine Compartment
The original Panzer IV hull design did not receive any major change. The Flakpanzer IV utilized the Maybach HL 120 TRM engine but was slightly modified to give out 272 [email protected],800 rpm instead of the usual 265 [email protected],600 rpm.
The new Flakpanzer IV retained the large rectangular-shaped superstructure. In order to reduce production costs, the machine gun ball mount was replaced with a much simpler machine gun firing port. This port was protected by a round cone-shaped cap. It was like a plug, connected to a chain, and when in use, the armored cover would simply be pushed out by one of the crew members. The Panzer IV driver’s observation port remained unchanged. To the left of the driver vision port, a metal bar with a round hole inside it was welded to the front plate. Its purpose was to prevent the front folding wall from completely falling down and thus covering the driver’s view.
On top of this superstructure, a platform was added to provide the necessary room for the installation of the main armament and for the crew to work with it. In order to have access to their positions, the driver and the radio operator had two hatches, which were positioned at the front of the superstructure. In comparison to the predecessor, these were slightly enlarged.
In order to reduce the vehicle height as much as possible, the gun platform was actually lowered down inside the Panzer IV hull. Lastly, to the rear, close to the engine compartment, two additional hatches served as access points to the ammunition storage.
The 3.7 cm Flakpanzer IV which entered production inherited most components and the overall design from the previous prototype, with some changes. The position of the main armament remained in the center of the superstructure top. Around it, there was enough room for four (or more) crew members. Some minor changes were needed to provide the necessary installation of the larger armament.
The folding walls received a number of changes to their overall design. The first Flakpanzer IV prototype had higher side walls, which were angled inward. The angled plates served to provide an additional level of protection against aerial attacks. On the 3.7 cm Flakpanzer IV, the side armor plates’ height was reduced by about 25 cm. The first 45 produced vehicles retained this slightly curved side armor. After that point, they were replaced with simpler flat armor plates. They were easier to produce and, realistically, the angled armor offered no real extra level of protection. Another interesting feature of the Flakpanzer IV were the two (one on each side) small round-shaped firing ports. One additional port was placed on the rear wall.
Whilst driving, these walls were fully raised. In a combat situation, these would be slightly lowered to engage low-flying targets or fully lowered to provide a full-around firing arc. The front and rear plates also had two small hinged parts. These could be swung outwards and allowed for the side plates to be fixed at an outward angle. This was done to allow more space for the crew during an aerial engagement while still providing protection from ground fire. In order to reduce the deployment time, the rear armor wall could be completely lowered while the remaining three were partially raised.
In order to increase the destructive power and range of the SPAAG, the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 was replaced with a 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-aircraft gun. 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 vehicle, some modifications were needed. The lower part of the carriage and the original gun shield were removed. In addition, the spent ammunition basket was smaller due to the smaller working space. 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. With a muzzle velocity of 820 mps, the maximum effective ceiling was 4,800 m.
The 3.7 cm Flak 43 was positioned on a specially designed round-shaped mount. While on this mount, it retained its 360° firing arc but the elevation was slightly reduced from –10° to –7°. With the original gun shield, the gun could not be fully rotated, even with the side wall lowered. To overcome this issue, parts of the gun shield were cut off. In order to further provide a better firing arc, the sides of this gun shield could be folded behind it. The ammunition load consisted of 400 rounds. This included 320 high-explosive and 80 armor-piercing rounds.
The first prototype armed with a 2 cm Flak gun had one major flaw. In order for the gun to fit inside the fighting compartment, parts of its gun shield had to be cut off. This meant that the gun was fixed and could not be moved until the side armor wall was partially or fully lowered. In theory, the engagement of ground targets could be done in an emergency by lowering the front wall. However, the gun would have no possibility to traverse and the driver had to move the whole vehicle to hit moving targets. The 3.7 cm armed Flakpanzer IV resolved this issue to some extent. The gun could be used to engage forward targets if only the front wall was partially or fully lowered. The firing angle would be limited when used in this role, and the crew would be exposed to return fire. Starting from around vehicle 201 (the precise vehicle is not clear), the central part of the front wall was cut off. This way, the gun could be used more effectively against ground targets. Given its late introduction, only a smaller number of vehicles would receive this modification.
The secondary armament consisted of two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns and at least one 9 mm MP submachine gun.
There is an old photograph that shows a Flakpanzer IV being armed with what appears to be a 3.7 cm Flak 18. The photograph itself is not clear enough to help identify the gun itself. The Flak 18 was the first German 3.7 cm anti-aircraft gun to be introduced to service in 1935. Its production and service were limited due to it being an overly complicated design. Why would the Germans use this obsolete weapon for the Flakpanzer IV is unclear. It was possible that this was used as a training vehicle, or the crew replaced the original gun with what they had on hand. At this stage in the war, the Germans were using all available resources to fight back against the Allies. The usage of two-part armored walls indicated that this was an early-produced vehicle.
The Flakpanzer IV’s frontal armor hull protection was 80 mm thick. The sides were 30 mm and the rear was only 20 mm thick. The superstructure frontal armor was 50 mm thick and its remaining sides were 30 mm thick.
The armor thickness of the four sidewalls was changed three times. The first group of 20 vehicles had sidewall armor that consisted of two spaced (55 mm apart) 12 mm thick plates. The next 25 vehicles still had the space armor, but the thickness was reduced to 10 mm. The idea behind using two-spaced armor plates was that the first would absorb most of the impact and the second plate would stop the round completely. Of course, due to the low armor thickness of these two plates, it could only effectively work against small-caliber bullets and shrapnel. Anti-tank weapons could easily pierce this armor. Another downside was that it greatly complicated the overall production, as more time was needed to build these. What is unclear in the sources is if all four walls consisted of two-piece armor plates. The photographs of this vehicle obviously show that the rear and front folding walls (on the vehicles that were produced with them) were made of spaced armor plates. The side walls, on the other hand, appear to be thinner and possibly not using the spaced armor design.
After these 45 vehicles were built, someone on the German side realized that using space armor generally offered no major improvement. So its use was discarded and replaced with four single-piece 25 mm thick armor plates. In addition, the upper angled armor on the side wall was also removed from production. The sides were thoroughly flat.
In some sources, there is disagreement about the thickness of the armor side walls. To some extent, this is quite understandable if we take into account the marginal difference between the first 12 mm plates and the later 10 mm. The previous information comes from authors such as T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 – Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV). Author Walter J. Spielberger (Gepard: The History of German Anti-Aircraft Tanks) mentions that the later vehicles used 20 mm thick armor plates and not 25 mm.
The crew of the 3.7 cm Flakpanzer IV consisted of six, namely the commander, two gunners, a radio operator, the loader, and the driver. The radio operator and the driver were positioned inside the hull and were fully protected. The remaining crewmembers were positioned inside the fighting compartment. The gun was operated by two gunners positioned on the right side. Opposite the gunners was the loader. Behind them sat the commander. Besides his main role of commanding the whole vehicle, he also acted as an extra spotter and helped to identify targets.
Some authors, such as Walter J. Spielberger, mention that the number of the crewmembers varied between 6 to 7. This is not surprising, as this was the case with some other German combat vehicles which sometimes had more crewmembers than were officially assigned. The reasons for this may vary depending on the need or the combat situation of the unit itself. Some units may have noted that having an extra loader or spotter could help with the vehicle in combat. It could also be possible that some unit lost some vehicles and redistributed the surviving crewmembers between surviving vehicles.
As the first vehicles were completed, they were allocated for the training of the initial groups of crews. These would then be used to equip and form 8-vehicle strong Panzer Flak Zuge (English: Tank anti-aircraft platoons).
During June and July 1944, the first such units were attached to the 9th, 11th, and 116th Panzer Divisions which served on the Western Front and 6th and 19th on the Eastern Front. In the following two months, reduced strength units (with only four vehicles) were issued to 10 different Panzer Brigades serving on both fronts. After that, mixed units were formed, equipped with four Flakpanzer IVs and four Wirbelwinds (2 cm Flakvierling armed Panzer IV). It is important to note that these were theoretical strengths as, due to production limitations or logistical reasons, not all 8 vehicles would be always issued. Despite their rather small production number, slightly less than 30 anti-aircraft platoons would be formed during the war.
Despite a large number of surviving photographs of the Flakpanzer IV being used in combat, the sources frustratingly rarely mention this vehicle’s operational service in more detail. To some extent, this is not surprising given their late introduction and low production numbers.
On 2nd October 1944, US P-47s from the 389th Fighter Squadron commanded by Lt William Grounds undertook a reconnaissance mission over Vortum Mullem in the Netherlands. They were meant to support the advance of the 7th Armored Divisions against the positions held by the 107th Panzer Brigade. This unit had the 3.7 cm Flakpanzer IV in its inventory. During an aerial attack run led by Lt William Grounds, his aircraft would be hit by a 3.7 cm round. The hit was fatal, as it destroyed the control cables located near the aircraft’s tail.
In December 1944, Flakpanzer IVs participated in the last large German offensive in the West, known as Operation Northwind. Panzer Abteilung 5 (5th Tank Battalion) had in its inventory six Panthers, five Jagdpanzer IVs, and 3 Flakpanzer IVs. Given the rather poor weather conditions, it is unlikely that they saw much use against enemy aerial targets during this offensive.
The Flakpanzer IV also saw action in the East. For example, the 20th Panzer Division, which saw heavy action in Hungary in early 1945, had 4 Flakpanzer IVs in its inventory. Some were even used in defense of Budapest before being lost.
Given the rather small production run, it is no surprise that only a few 3.7 cm Flakpanzer IVs have survived to this day. One can be seen at the French Musée des Blindés at Saumur. The second vehicle, which was initially stored at the Aberdeen US Army Ordnance Museum, was given back to Germany in 1970. It can now be seen at the Auto-Technik Museum in Sinsheim. The original 3.7 cm gun is currently not on display. Instead, a 4 cm Bofors gun has been placed on top.
The first Flakpanzer IV that entered production was a mixed bag. On one hand, it finally provided the panzer units with a vehicle that was protected (in contrast to the half-tracks, on which only the cabin was protected in the best case scenario) and had the firepower to bring down most late-war enemy aerial targets. On the other hand, its overall design was somewhat crude and ineffective. The folding walls were used intentionally in order to provide the crew with a good enough view of the surroundings to spot aerial targets before they could be engaged and with enough space to operate the gun. In theory, this would provide sufficient time to set up the 3.7 cm Flakpanzer IV and prepare for combat. The German tank branch of the army was far from satisfied with this vehicle but, given that nothing else was available, they could do little but to accept it for service.
Flakpanzer IV Technical Specifications
5-6 (Commander, two gunners, loader, radio operator, and driver)
Length 5.92, Width 2.95, Height 3.25 m
Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 hp @ 2,600 rpm
42 km/h, 25 km/h (cross-country)
210 km, 130 km (cross-country)
3.7 cm Flak 43
Two 7.92 mm MG 34
-10° to +100°
2×12 mm / 2x 10 mm or 25 mm
front 50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top 8-10 mm
front 50 or 80 mm, sides 20-30 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm, and the top and bottom 10-11 mm
K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
Engelmann-Scheibert, H. A. Koch, O. W. v. (1978) Renz Flak Auf Dem Gefechtsfeld Podzun-Palla-Verlag
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
Ian V. Hogg (1975) German Artillery of World War Two, Purnell Book Services Ltd.
T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (1998) Panzer Tracts No.12 Flak selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer
T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (2010) Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 – Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV and other Flakpanzer projects development and production from 1942 to 1945.
T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (2002) Panzer Tracts No. 20-2 Paper Panzers
Walter J. Spielberger (1993) Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
D. Doyle (2005) German military Vehicles, Krause Publications
J. Bernstein (2021) P-47 Vs German Flak Defenders, Osprey publishing
S. J. Zaloga (2010) Operation Nordwind 1945, Osprey publishing
B. Perrett (2007) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-1945, New Vanguard
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1960s)
Movie Prop Tank – 3 To 4 Tanks Modified For The Role
Movies that represented the fight against the Axis powers during the Second World War were very popular in the communist parts of Europe, such as Yugoslavia. The Germans, not surprisingly, were always portrayed as the bad guys, who brought death, oppression, and destruction with them. They were presented as having vast manpower and armament superiority. Opposite them were the people, fighting with courage and determination in the hope of liberation and, of course, for the party. Many battles were recreated, reinterpreted, filmed, and turned into movies. For this, producers needed all kinds of supporting props, such as weapons, uniforms, and other equipment. However, for the best possible visual effects, they needed actual tanks. On that matter, they did not need anything else, but the mighty Tiger. Of course, the Yugoslavs never had such a vehicle. Instead, they disguised a few T-34-85s for this purpose, and these were successful mock-ups for the period.
After the war, the newly created Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija SFRJ (English: Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was heavily influenced by the heritage of the Communist resistance movement in many areas. This was present in almost all spheres of public life, from monuments dedicated to fallen fighters, which were common sights in towns or small villages, or other important events in both literature and art. This was probably best represented in the TV series and movies filmed up to the start of the 1990s. These often portrayed tales of smaller groups of Partisans or the much larger battles that occurred during the war. The most prominent movies of that time were Užička Republika (English: Republic of Užice), Sutjetka (English: Battle of Sutjeska), Valter Brani Sarajevo (English: Walter Defends Sarajevo), and the Bitka na Neretvi (English: Battle of Neretva), to name a few.
When it comes to films with a historical theme, of course, it is necessary to use props that are reminiscent of the period depicted. This was not too big of a problem for Yugoslav cinematography. Although fighting in Yugoslavia may not have been as intense in terms of the number of soldiers and equipment as on other fronts in Europe, great battles were fought nevertheless. This was especially the case between 1944 and 1945, when fairly large engagements took place. During these, the Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture huge stockpiles of enemy weapons and vehicles of all kinds, including tanks. Many of these weapons would serve as a foundation for the creation of the new Jugoslovenske Narodne Armije JNA (English: Yugoslav People’s Army). Iconic German weapons, such as MP 40 submachine guns, MG 34 and 42 machine guns, Mauser 98K rifles, and others were captured in sufficient quantities to be issued for army use until replaced with more modern designs. Thus, during the filming of larger and more important movies, the JNA was often called to provide the necessary equipment and men. Partisan uniforms were also easy to come by, as they had often used various military outfits or simple civilian clothes during the war.
Tanks and other armored vehicles which were captured during the war saw limited use in the early years of the JNA. The Germans and their allies had used various types of vehicles in their attempt to suppress the Yugoslav resistance movements. These mostly included older or captured vehicles, as the Germans could not afford to send more modern designs. There were some modern vehicles, such as the StuG III, Panzer IV, and the Soviet T-34s in the area, but these were issued in limited quantities. Not surprisingly, many of them quickly fell into disrepair after the war given their age and lack of spare parts, So, by the time the Partisan-themed movies were filmed, none of these could be reused. Even if some were still in running condition, it is unlikely that they would be used. The JNA did have in its inventory vehicles that were used by the Allies, which were present in large numbers and in a more workable condition, such as the T-34-85 and Sherman tanks, both of which saw use in this manner.
In Yugoslav cinematography, Bitka na Neretvi was the most expensive movie ever made. It was filmed in 1969 and directed by Veljko Bulajić. It was famous for starring foreign actors, such as Yul Brynner, Orson Welles, and Franco Nero. Another interesting fact was that Pablo Picasso did the movie poster intended for the world premiere. This movie initially had a huge budget of over US$4.5 million and was supported by over 10,000 JNA “volunteers”. It was shown in cinemas around the world and was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. This movie follows the plot of a series of events in Bosnia during 1943, as the Axis forces tried to isolate and destroy a large contingent of Partisans forces. Not surprisingly, the Axis forces were clearly presented as possessing superior weaponry, including tanks and aircraft. The Partisans, on the other hand, had to fight with courage and faith in the Communist Party, with some help from captured weapons. Of course, the movie itself does not depict the war as it was in reality. This can be seen in the scenes where the Germans simply stumble and fall like flies under Partisan fire, Partisans who are mowed down by enemy fire take a few minutes to die, and in other scenes where the Communist struggle for liberation is magnified. But, despite this, the movie itself is a treasure for all historical enthusiasts of this period. Many original hand-held weapons and guns can be seen in it.
When depicting enemy tank formations, JNA tanks and other vehicles were reused. In Bitka na Neretvi, over a dozen or so tanks were used. These were mostly T-34-85s with some minor cosmetic changes, such as adding German markings. Some vehicles were modified more extensively to resemble the German Tiger tanks. Of course, it has to be taken into account that, when these films were shot, the availability of quality literature that dealt with the topic of armored vehicles was generally rare, at least in Yugoslavia. Thus, to some extent, it can be understood that using improvised tanks to represent German designs was completely irrelevant to an audience of that time. This is likely the case even today, as most audiences would not see it as a major issue, while tank enthusiasts might ‘scream internally’. In the movie, some imitations of other armored vehicles were also present, including Italian light tanks.
A Brief History of T-34 Tanks in Yugoslavia
In order to fight the ever-increasing Yugoslav resistance, the Germans operated a number of mostly obsolete and captured foreign tanks. During the summer of 1944, the SS Polizei Regiment 10 (English: 10th SS Police Regiment) was transferred from Ukraine to Trieste in Northern Italy. Once there, it was tasked with defending the vital transport lines against the Partisans. In its inventory, this unit had around 10 T-34-76 tanks of various types. They would see action in the last days of the war against the Partisans, when all T-34 tanks were either destroyed or captured.
The improved T-34 armed with an 85 mm gun placed in an enlarged turret would also see service in this theater of war. These were initially used by the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front, which supported the Yugoslav Communist Partisan’s attempts to liberate Serbia from the Axis forces in the autumn of 1944. This Soviet drive was supported by some 50 T-34-76 and 110 T-34-85 tanks. After successfully defeating the Germans in Serbia, the Soviets moved north, toward Hungary.
This was not the only support that the Soviets provided to the Yugoslav Partisans. On Stalin’s own orders, a unit, later named Second Tank Brigade, was to be formed. It was meant to be equipped with 65 T-34/85 tanks which were manned by Communist Partisan soldiers. After successful training in the Soviet Union, the whole unit was transported to Yugoslavia in late March 1945. Despite its late arrival, the unit saw action against the remaining Axis forces in occupied Croatia and Slovenia.
After the war, the surviving T-34 tanks would be used as the main fighting force of the newly created JNA. In later years, the JNA would acquire over 1,000 such tanks, which, despite their age, represented a huge part of its armored force. Given their sheer numbers, the JNA never managed to fully replace them with something better. The T-34-85 would see extensive action during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. Following the conclusion of these wars, all surviving T-34-85 were removed from service and mostly scrapped.
The Yugoslav Tigers
Generally speaking, finding original World War Two weapons was not a problem. The JNA had in its inventory all kinds of stockpiles of captured weapons. Various and sometimes rare German tanks and other armored vehicles were put to use by the JNA after the war. Of course, the Tiger was never used in this part of Europe. Such rare beasts would have never been effective in hunting small Partisan units in hilly terrain. Their job was to spearhead German assaults and decimate enemy armored forces. Using it in any other role was simply a waste of the resources invested in this tank. Given its general effectiveness, it became one of the most iconic tanks in history.
As the JNA did not have such tanks, the easiest way was to recreate them using what they had at hand. The producers of the Bitka na Neretvi movie went for imposing visual effects more than any historical accuracy. Using such a known tank as the Tiger in a movie where it can be seen destroyed by a much-weaker opponent could be seen as a symbolic act of bravery and the inevitable demise of the German force. The best-suited tank that could be reused for this purpose was the T-34-85. It was available in huge numbers and, with some improvisation and modifications, it was the closest thing that could resemble a Tiger tank. The T-34-85 already had a movie career in Yugoslavia, often being portrayed as a German tank in many old Partisan movies. They were often used without any cosmetic changes, simply adding German markings. In rarer cases, some minor changes were made by adding some modifications to the turrets or hulls.
Yugoslav film workers who worked on visual effects, possibly assisted by some elements from the JNA, managed to build a decent Tiger replica. It was not just merely adding some cosmetic changes, as they actually put some extensive effort into making it resemble a Tiger tank.
Sadly, precise information on how these vehicles were assembled are hard to come by. It is likely that nobody at that time gave any thought to writing articles or even mentioning them in books or any other publication. The whole extended frames that were placed around the turret and the superstructure were possibly made of wood or metal plates. In any case, what is certain is that the overall construction had to be robust enough to withstand stress and vibrations caused by the vehicle moving. It certainly would not be visually appealing if, during the filming, some parts fell off.
The T-34-85 and the Tiger used quite different suspension designs. The Tiger tank used torsion bar suspension with eight large overlapping wheels. While offering excellent drive performance, it was difficult to maintain and repair, labor-intensive, and expensive to build. The T-34-85, on the other hand, used a Christie coil spring suspension. It was mechanically more robust but required a lot of space inside the hull sides. In contrast to the Tiger, the Soviet tank only had five road wheels.
Visually, from a distance, these two shared some similarities, at least to someone who is not familiar with either the history or the design of these vehicles. Both used large road wheels, without return rollers. Given their similarity, it was logical to reuse the T-34-85 for this purpose. Other tanks in JNA inventory, such as the Shermans or the M47, used a suspension that was obviously quite different in every aspect.
Another quite recognizable detail of the German Tiger was its simple box-shaped superstructure that covered the upper part of the vehicle. The driver vision port and the machine gun ball mount were placed on the front armor plate. Above them, two round-shaped hatches served as the entry points to the hull-positioned crew members. The Tiger hull was fairly large, being 8.45 m long and 3.23 m wide.
In contrast, the T-34-85’s superstructure design was quite different, incorporating highly angled armor plates. Similarly to the German vehicle, this tank had a forward-mounted machine gun ball mount and a driver vision port which acted as an entry hatch. Unlike the Tiger, however, the T-34-85 was not provided with an upper hatch for the hull-positioned crew members. It was also slightly smaller in dimensions, 6.68 m long and 3 m wide.
The people responsible for the creation of these vehicles had to make a number of changes to adapt the T-34-85 in order to resemble the Tiger as closely as possible. They did not have to change the overall dimensions of the vehicle, as obviously, no one was going to use a measuring tape to actually measure. Luckily for them, the Tiger superstructure’s simplicity offered a quite straightforward solution, which essentially was the installation of a box-shape frame around the T-34-85’s body. While not perfect, and to some extent disproportionate, it provided a relatively good resemblance to the Tiger. As the final touch, a driver vision port and a machine gun ball-mount replica were added, but these were obviously not precise copies of the real ones. Lastly, in order to not interfere with the engine ventilation ports, the upper parts of the engine compartment were left open.
Once again, the turret was another major difference between these two vehicles. Luckily for the Yugoslavs, the Tiger’s turret also had a simple design that made it relatively easy to replicate. The turret’s construction concept was basically the same as with the tank’s superstructure. The T-34-85’s turret was encased with a frame that imitated a Tiger’s turret. While not an exact copy, it was quite similar to the original. The Yugoslav Tiger did have a commander’s cupola, but its quality was rather poor. Another small detail added to the turret was the rear-positioned imitation of the storage boxes.
The last part that needed to be adapted was the main gun itself. Both the Tiger and the T-34-85 used similar caliber guns, with the first being 88 mm and the latter 85 mm. The Tiger’s gun was much more complex in design, as it consisted of a large mantlet, a two-part barrel, and a muzzle brake. In contrast, the 85 mm gun used a smaller gun mantlet and a single-piece barrel without a muzzle brake. These prop tanks were never going to use actual live ammunition besides simple blanks. Therefore, a mock-up mask could be placed above the original guns without fear of potentially damaging them.
How Many Were Converted?
How many tanks were modified for this proposal is not clear. Given a large amount of available resources, there was no major reason to not convert at least a few of them. The T-34-85s were taken from the 329th Armored Brigade. According to author B. B. Dimitrijević (Modernizacija i Intervencija Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006), four tanks were adapted for use in Bitka na Neretvi. This author does not go into detail if these four are ones that were used as modified Tigers, but this seems very likely. In the movies, at least three Tigers can often be seen engaging the Partisans. That does not necessarily mean that only three were converted. Additional tanks may have been stored as available replacements if something went wrong with other vehicles.
In the Movies
The purpose of Bitka na Neretvi was not necessarily historical accuracy. The plot of this movie is more focused on the emotions and strength of the Partisan fighters. It depicts their struggle, where despite all circumstances, the Partisans fight on. To some, this may appear as a Communist propaganda tool, in which their struggle and success were greatly exaggerated, which was certainly true. However, it must not be forgotten that the Yugoslav Partisan fighters suffered a lot of hardship in their fight against a militarily superior enemy, who was often brutal and without mercy. It would take years of heavy fighting and sacrifice to finally see the enemy defeated and liberate their homeland. Such movies, with this kind of storytelling which is common across many war movies from all countries, are maybe not for everyone, but at least they serve as a tribute to honor the service and sacrifices made during the war.
Of course, considering the main purpose of this kind of movie, tactics and proper use of armored vehicles were completely unimportant. They served simply to imply the enemy’s superiority in every aspect, which makes the Partisan victory and struggles even greater. The Germans never used such modern vehicles (by World War Two standards) in Yugoslavia in any noticeable numbers, let alone in huge concentrations. The tanks that saw service were much smaller and less imposing. But still, to a poorly trained Partisan, even these may have appeared as invincible weapons.
Thus, the fake Tigers and ordinary T-34-85s could be seen in huge columns supported by the German infantry. During action scenes, they usually simply rushed forward, blowing up houses and other structures before being taken out by the Partisans. They are portrayed doing so in various ways, including using captured anti-tank guns, such as the 5 cm PaK 38 and the larger 7.5 cm PaK 40. Both of these guns were used in Yugoslavia by the Germans, but were generally rare sights. They were more commonly used in action close to the end of the war, way beyond 1943, when the events of this movie took place. The 7.5 cm gun had sufficient firepower to destroy a Tiger, but the smaller PaK 38 would have had major trouble doing anything against the Tiger’s heavy armor. Molotov cocktails were another famous tool used in these Partisan themed movies. They could be effective, but getting close to an enemy tank was not an easy task and success was not always guaranteed. In any case, in these movies, after the enemy attacked, they would usually be beaten back, with the tank slowly going forward in a somewhat chaotic manner.
These Tigers would be again used in another major Partisan movie, the Sutjetska, filmed in 1973. The plot is similar to the Bitka na Neretvi, where the Partisans try to escape a massive Axis envelopment. In this movie, the fake Tigers appear to be further improved to resemble a Tiger in more detail, such as adding a new command cupola, pistol ports, smoke dischargers, and other equipment. Once more, Orson Wells was involved in the film, this time as one of the writers. Renowned Welsh actor Richard Burton stars in the lead role of Josip Broz Tito.
These three Tigers could be seen at the end of the movie advancing toward the Partisan’s positions. They would be ambushed by a Czechoslovak 3,7 cm KPÚV vz. 34 or 37 anti-tank gun operated by two Partisan fighters. This gun was another weapon used during the Second World War in Yugoslavia, so it is another small historical touch. At close range, the Tigers were taken out one by one, with each being destroyed by a single round. While this surely leaves a great visual impact on the viewer, in reality, this anti-tank gun would have been useless against the 100 mm thick frontal armor of the Tiger tank and would have struggled even against the 60-80 mm thick sides, even at point blank range.
Although perhaps less well known in the world today, during the 1960s, Yugoslav cinema entered its golden age. Thanks to the participation in several different foreign film productions, a series of well-known movies were filmed in Yugoslavia or had Yugoslav actors in them. For example, Winnetou and the Crossbreed, a 1966 Western was filmed in Yugoslavia. War-related movies were also filmed, probably the best known being Kelly’s Heroes (1970) starring Clint Eastwood. The movie’s plot revolves around the Allied liberation of France in 1944. The main protagonist is an American soldier named Kelly, who comes across information about German gold held in a bank behind enemy lines. He gathers a group of soldiers and a few Sherman tanks in an attempt to ‘liberate’ the gold for themselves. They finally manage to locate the bank where the gold is stored but find out that it was guarded by three German Tiger tanks. These tanks were likely the same ones used during the filming of the Yugoslav movies. Of course, given that this was a cooperation between the American and Yugoslavian film industries, the visual effects were much improved, and these are best seen on the tank themselves. The quality of the detail added to the tanks is extraordinary and resembles a real Tiger quite well. In the movie itself, the overall combat action is more realistic, to some extent. The downside is that they still portrayed some myths, such as that the Tiger armor was weakest at the back, which it was not (80 mm thick rear, 80 mm thick upper sides, 60 mm thick lower sides). The Americans used a Sherman armed with a long 76 mm gun, which could have easily penetrated a Tiger’s armor at the ranges presented in the movie.
The fate of the mock-ups is generally unknown, but they were probably given back to the army and converted back into regular tanks. These may have then been scrapped or they may have even seen service in the Yugoslav wars that followed.
In the world of cinema, tanks such as the T-34-85 were often used to portray German tanks. In many cases, no changes were made, while sometimes, attempts were made to adapt them to resemble a Tiger or other German tanks. Yugoslavian filmmakers, with the support of the JNA, made quite convincing replicas of the Tiger tanks, which saw use in a number of domestic films, and even in Kelly’s Heroes.
German Reich (1943-1945)
Self-Propelled Assault Gun – 123 Captured and 55 Built
After the Armistice the Regno d’Italia (English: Kingdom of Italy) had signed with the Allied forces on 8th September 1943 was made public, what was left of the Italian war industry and armament of the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) were taken over by the Germans. In terms of armored vehicles, most were obsolete designs that were put to use only as nothing else was available. The Semoventi (English: Self-Propelled Guns), on the other hand, were of more use, and some 123 Semoventi M41 da 75/18 and Semoventi M42 da 75/18 (English: 75 mm L/18 Self-Propelled Guns on M41 and M42 chassis) were captured. The Germans renamed the captured vehicles Beute Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 cm Kampfwagenkanone L/18 850 (italienisch) (English: Captured Assault Gun with 7.5 cm Tank Cannon Coded 850 [italian]). These were mainly used in Italy, while a few saw service in the Balkans, Hungary, and in Germany as the Second World War drew to a close.
The Italian Semoventi da 75/18
The Semoventi da 75/18 (English: 75 mm L/18 Self-Propelled Guns) were a series of Italian self-propelled guns based on the Serie M (English: M Series) medium tanks. Production started with the Semovente M40 da 75/18 (English: 75 mm L/18 M40 Self-Propelled Gun), which was built using the chassis of the Carro Armato M13/40 (English: M13/40 Tank). The second model was the Semovente M41 da 75/18, based on the chassis of the Carro Armato M14/41. The two models differed only by a different diesel engine. The third and last model was the Semovente M42 da 75/18, based on the chassis of the Carro Armato M15/42. This model differed from the previous two semoventi da 75/18 by its new engine compartment fitted with a powerful petrol engine.
From late April 1941, 60 Semovente M40 da 75/18 were built, before the superior-engined Semovente M41 da 75/18, of which 162 were produced until November 1942, substituted them on the assembly line. The first Semovente M42 da 75/18 was finished on 21st November 1942, even though the self-propelled gun was officially adopted on 9th December 1942. In total, by the end of July 1943, 190 Semoventi M42 da 75/18 were produced. An unknown number of other M42s were produced between 1st August and 8th September 1943.
The Semovente M40 da 75/18 was powered by a V-shaped, 8-cylinder, liquid-cooled FIAT-SPA 8T Modello 1940 diesel engine with a maximum power output of 125 hp at 1,800 rpm, giving the vehicle a maximum speed of 31.8 km/h.
It was not a very reliable engine. In fact, it was developed for 8-tonne vehicles, while the Semovente M40 da 75/18 weighed 13.1 tonnes. The Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1934) was located in the front of the vehicle, slightly to the right, in a ball mount support that allowed a notable 36° of the traverse, 20° on the left and 16° on the right, and an elevation from -12° to +22°. Anti-aircraft defense was ensured by a Fucile Mitragliatore Breda Modello 1930 (English: Light Machine Gun Breda Model 1930) mounted on the vehicle’s roof, with a reserve of 600 rounds on board.
The Semovente M41 da 75/18 was powered by the powerful FIAT-SPA 15T Modello 1941 8-cylinder V-shaped diesel engine, producing 145 hp at 1,900 rpm, increasing the maximum speed to 33.3 km/h. The anti-aircraft machine gun was substituted by a powerful Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 (English: Medium Machine Gun Breda Model 1938) with 1,104 rounds on board.
The Semovente M42 da 75/18 was powered by the petrol version of the FIAT-SPA 15T Modello 1941, the new FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’ – Petrol) Modello 1942 petrol 12-cylinder V-shaped water-cooled engine that produced 190 hp at 2,400 rpm. In order to accommodate the new petrol engine, increased fuel tanks and new fire extinguisher system, the chassis of the vehicle was lengthened from 4.92 m to 5.06 m. Apart from these modifications, the M42 was identical in structure and armament to the M41.
The armor of the Semoventi da 75/18 was 30 mm thick on the transmission cover plate, which was rounded. The upper armored plate that covered the transmission was 25 mm thick and angled at 80°. The superstructure had a 50 mm thick front plate angled at 5°. The Semovente M41 and M42 da 75/18, was composed of two 25 mm armored plates bolted together to increase protection. The angled plate that connected the upper glacis plate of the transmission cover and the front plate was 30 mm at 65°.
The sides were 25 mm for the hull and casemate, with the only difference being that the casemate’s sides, which were angled at 8°. The rear casemate was protected by a 25 mm thick armored plate. The rear of the engine compartment was 25 mm thick and angled at 20°. The roof was 15 mm thin, horizontal in the first section and then angled at 85°. On the sides of the roof, other 15 mm plates were angled at 65° on the right and to 70° on the left side.
The engine compartment roof was 10 mm and angled at 74°. The inspection hatches of the engine compartment had the same thickness. The brake inspection hatches were 25 mm thick, while the driver port on the front armored plate was 50 mm thick.
After the Armistice
In September 1943, due to the Allied invasion of Sicily and internal pressure, Italy sought to negotiate peace with the Western Allied powers. The Germans were expecting this and planned to occupy as much of Italy as possible. With the occupation of most of Italy, the Germans came into possession of a number of armored vehicles, but also weapon-producing facilities, along with many vehicles that were awaiting assembly for their former ally.
On 1st October 1943, the Germans declared to have captured a total of 123 Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18. The number did not account for the Semovente M40 da 75/18 because all the 60 vehicles delivered to the Regio Esercito in 1941 were lost in North Africa. The Germans renamed the Semovente M41 da 75/18 as the Beute Sturmgeschütz M41 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/18 850(i) (which stands for Italienisch (English: Italian)), while the Semovente M42 da 75/18 was renamed Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/18 850(i). German sources also referred to them as StuG M41 mit 75/18 850(i) or StuG M42 mit 75/18 850(i) as abbreviations. Sometimes, German official documents did not mention the chassis model. For the sake of simplicity, this article will refer to them simply as StuG M41 or StuG M42.
Evaluation by the Germans
After the Armistice, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: Inspector General of the Armed Forces) of the German Army began analyzing the vehicles produced in the various Italian factories. The Inspectorate considered the StuG M42 as an underpowered vehicle, but there were enough parts available for an additional 55 vehicles. The production of the better-armed semoventi, such as the Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i) (German for the Semovente M42M da 75/34) and the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i) (German for the Semovente M43 da 105/25) continued at a slow pace. The final report of the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen about the Italian Beute Sturmgeschütz was that they had a low profile and low weight, but cramped fighting compartments, limited visibility, and thin frontal armor, all of which were unsatisfactory.
After the assignment of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW (English: Upper Command of the Armed Forces) and Heereswaffenamt Italien (English: Army Weapons Agency of Italy), the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen took over previous Regio Esercito contracts since components were available. The German order of 5th October 1943 was for 55 Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/18 850(i), 80 Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i), and 60 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i).
On 5th October 1943, contracts were signed between Ansaldo and the Germans for the delivery of new Italian self-propelled guns with some modifications. The German modifications concerned the addition of 4 bigger teeth on the sprocket wheel. These were intended to prevent the track from slipping from the wheels while driving in muddy or snowy terrain. Another modification requested by the Germans was to substitute the right roof hatch with one openable in two parts for better ventilation of the fighting compartment. Some Stahlhelm supports for the crewmembers were also added on some vehicles on the roof.
At the end of 1943, the German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen had planned to equip the German divisions with some 143 medium tanks of the Serie M, 83 StuG M42 mit 75/18, and 109 StuG M42M mit 75/34. This meant that they needed to order Italian companies to produce 28 medium tanks of the Serie M, 82 StuG M42 mit 75/18, and a total of 200 StuG M42M mit 75/34 (including reserves). Of these new armored vehicles ordered, the Germans planned to put 32 tanks of the Serie M, 130 StuG M42 mit 75/18, and 119 StuG M42M mit 75/34 in reserve, while the others would be delivered to first line units or to training schools.
After the Armistice, the Germans planned to produce a new vehicle, the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i), aka the Semovente M43 da 75/46, armed with a Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/46 Anti-Aircraft Cannon Model 1934).
In 1944, the Germans produced the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i) and adopted the powerful Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 as a tank gun, named by the Germans as Kampfwagenkanone 75/46 (English: 75 mm L/46 Tank Cannon). The Germans hoped to equip all Italian self-propelled guns in production with this powerful gun. This meant that all the Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/18 850(i) had to be modified, but it seems that this project would never be started because the production rate of the Kampfwagenkanone 75/46 was one or two guns per month.
Another German plan was to modify the Kampfwagenkanone 75/46 breech to fire the same ammunition as the 7,5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40 or PaK 40 anti-tank cannon, in Italy known under the designation Cannone da 75/43 Modello 1940 (English: 75 mm L/43 Cannon Model 1940). It is not clear if the Germans reached the goal of modifying the Italian guns to fire German ammunition, but the modifications would have forced a slow process to modify the guns, maybe explaining why there was an average production of 1.5 guns per month.
The Germans also briefly played with the idea of mounting the 7,5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40 on the M43 self-propelled gun’s chassis to ease the gun production, but, by the end of the war, nothing was decided.
In the late war, the German Army wanted to save on raw materials, producing only the most powerful and reliable vehicles. This was done in Germany and also in Italy. It was planned to cancel the production of all the Italian vehicles apart from the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i), the Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i), and the Panzerkampfwagen P40 737(i). On 20th February 1945, the German Army planned to equip 4 infantry divisions with such vehicles.
The Aufstellungsstab Sued was in favor of a production contract extension with the Italian factories. They essentially wanted to have all the Italian armored vehicle factories still capable of producing vehicles convert their production lines to the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i) and the Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i) (no mention of the Beute Panzerkampfwagen P40 737(i)), with a production estimated on 50 StuGs and 50 Pz.Sp.Wg. per month. The new production schedule for the Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, where all the semoventi were produced, was of 116 Semoventi M43, 51 Carri Armati P26/40, and 22 command tanks to be produced by August 1945. Due to Allied bombings of the Italian factories that produced semoventi and other armored vehicles, the production rate was slower. In early 1945, the Germans moved part of the production and assembly of armored vehicles from Genoa and Turin to Milan and Novara.
At the same time as the capitulation of its former ally, Italy, the German Army undertook structural changes in order to increase the number of panzer divisions. Over a dozen new panzer grenadier divisions and a few more SS formations were to be formed. This, in turn, required an increased number of tanks, which the German industry was incapable of producing. To overcome this, panzer divisions were to receive an anti-tank battalion armed with 45 StuG IIIs. Not surprisingly, even this was impossible to achieve. Luckily for the Germans, the captured Italian equipment became available. As the Italian command did, the German forces assigned the semoventi to former artillerymen (obviously trained to man self-propelled guns) and not to tank crews.
Already on 20th September 1943, the German High Command ordered the delivery to infanterie-divisionen (English: infantry divisions) of: 11 Carri Armati M15/42, 3 command tanks, and 80 Semoventi M42 da 75/18 and M42M da 75/34. At the end of September 1943, another 6 Carri Armati M15/42, 4 Command Tanks on M42 chassis, 6 Semoventi M42 da 75/18, 5 Semoventi M42M da 75/34, and 14 Semoventi M43 da 105/35 were delivered to German infantry divisions.
From the stockpiles of captured StuG M41/42s, together with other Italian vehicles, the Germans re-equipped some units, such as the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division (English: 90th Mechanized Division). Others were allocated to various infantry divisions, such as the 44. Infanterie-Division, 65. Infanterie-Division, 71. Infanterie-Division, 305. Infanterie-Division, and 334. Infanterie-Division. These numbers would be expanded in 1944. Note that these units also received the improved semoventi vehicle, which is not always specified in the sources. While this helped rearm the units, in reality, it also caused huge logistical problems. For example, the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division had in its inventory Panzer IVs, StuG IIIs, and Italian StuG M41/42s.
In late 1943 to early 1944, the Germans started to train some new tank crewmembers on Italian armored vehicles, with some training schools in northern Italy. These units trained with former Regio Esercito vehicles but were mainly equipped with post-Armistice production self-propelled guns and tanks.
The 26. Panzer-Division (English: 26th Armored Division) was equipped with Italian tanks and self-propelled guns. Even the Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1. “Hermann Göring” (English: 1st Paratrooper Tank Division) of the Luftwaffe (English: Air Force) was equipped with Italian captured tanks and SPGs.
In 1944, Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 210. and Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 914. of the Luftwaffe, which were equipped with Italian tanks and semoventi, were brought to brigade level, even if, in practice, only a few new Italian vehicles were assigned to them. Each of the 2 Sturmgeschütz-Abteilungen had 3 batteries with 14 semoventi and a command battery with 2 Italian command tanks.
In 1944, for the German infantry divisions created in Italy, Panzerjäger-Abteilungen were created. These armored battalions would be equipped with 3 companies, even if, due to the low number of vehicles, some were equipped with only 2 companies. One company was usually equipped with 6 StuG M41 or StuG M42, 8 StuG M42M mit 75/34, and one command vehicle. Later, the majority of the companies also received 4 StuG M43 mit 105/25 and another command tank. Of course, depending on the combat situation, availability, or logistical transportation, these numbers were different between units. The M41/42 would see some service in Italy, but their general use was hampered with mechanical and logistical problems.
In May 1944, a German report claimed that there were 85 Italian StuGs in service in German hands on the Italian peninsula, of which 29 were deployed against the Allies in Anzio and Nettuno. In July 1944, another 28 Italian StuGs were delivered to German divisions to replace part of the losses suffered on the Gustav Line.
German Service in Italy
71. Infanterie Division
In January 1944, the 71. Infanterie Division (English: 71st Infantry Division) was deployed in the Montecassino area to fight the Allied forces. Together with the infantry and artillery regiments, the division had in its ranks the Panzerjäger-Abteilung .171 (English: 171st Tank Destroyer Battalion) equipped with Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/18 850(i), Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i), and German vehicles.
The division fought in the Monte Cassino area until May 1944 and then retreated after a Free French Forces offensive, maintaining new defensive positions until September 1944.
65. Infanterie Division
The 65. Infanterie Division was in La Spezia when the order to disarm the Italian soldiers was received on 9th September 1943. They quickly reached Genoa and Sestri Ponente, where the semoventi were produced, and captured a great number of not yet delivered Italian vehicles.
In October 1943, the 65. Infanterie Division, with its Panzerjäger Abteilung 165. with Italian StuGs, was moved to Ortona and then to Orsogna, where it maintained positions after fierce fighting with the 8th Indian Division and 2nd New Zealand Division. During the fighting, the armored vehicles losses were limited compared to the infantry’s ones. The division then fought in Anzio and Firenze, losing all its armored vehicles.
Between late August to early November 1944, in fighting on the Gothic Line, the Germans lost a total of 62 StuG mit 75/18, 43 StuG M42M mit 75/34, 35 StuG M43 mit 105/25, and 5 command tanks. At the end of 1944, there were some 92 75 mm-armed Semoventi in German service.
278. Infanterie Division
Beginning in May 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung .278 deployed their Stug M42s in Ancona, where it fought fiercely against the 2nd Polish Army Corps that entered Ancona on 18th July 1944. After that, it lost all the Italian vehicles in the Gothic Line.
German Assessment of the Beute Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 cm KwK L/18 850(i) in Italy
The general performance of the StuG M41/42 seems to have been rather poor based on reports of some units that operated them in Italy. For example, the 278. Infanterie-Division, which had Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/18 850(i) and Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i), reported that these had little combat value, to the point of being completely useless.
Similar complaints were made by the 29. Panzergrenadier-Division, which noted problems with the automotive components. This unit especially emphasized that Italian self-propelled guns were not a proper replacement for the StuG IIIs. The 356. Infanterie-Division reported that only the 105 mm-armed Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i) could be used in an anti-tank role, while short barreled 7.5 cm-armed semoventi could not. These were instead used as mobile artillery. The Panzerjäger-Abteilung .356 of the 356. Infanterie-Division was also the unit that came up with the idea of improving the armor of Italian self-propelled guns.
The German frontline combat units appreciated the Semoventi’s lightweight and small dimensions. The Italian self-propelled guns were easy to transport on a railway or towed by trailers. In many cases, the German troops that deployed them against the Allied forces on the Italian peninsula preferred the Italian self-propelled guns to ambush or fight the Allies troops in urban fighting. In fact, due to their limited weight, they could be easily deployed on mountainous terrain, where Allied and German medium tanks had difficulty climbing, or on city streets.
German Service in Yugoslavia
While the majority of StuG M41/42s would see action in Italy, some would find their way to occupied Yugoslavia. There, the Axis forces were battling an ever-growing Partisan movement. The number of Yugoslav Partisans and equipment began to rise, especially in 1944, thanks to support provided mostly by the Western Allies and, later, the Soviet Union. Germany, due to a lack of anything better, mostly used captured armored vehicles in Yugoslavia. After 1943, most older French tanks were replaced with Italian equipment, including the Beute Sturmgeschütz M41 or M42 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/18 850(i), but also more numerous smaller Beute Sturmgeschütz L6 47/32 630(i) (German for the Semoventi L40 da 47/32) cousins armed with the 47 mm gun. Sources often do not make a differentiation between them, so identifying precise versions is not always possible.
In Yugoslavia, the Panzer-Abteilung 202 (English: 202nd Tank Battalion) is known to have used StuG M41/42 vehicles. In April 1944, this unit was to be supplied with two StuG M41/42s and other Italian equipment. As these were not available, it had to be postponed. It was not until April 1945 that this unit received 2 StuG M41 vehicles. During their retreat from Yugoslavia in May 1945, some of the equipment, including the StuG M41/42s, was captured by the Partisans.
The Skanderbeg Panzer-Abteilung (English: Skanderbeg Tank Battalion) received a new contingent of Italian captured equipment in August 1944, including 2 StuG M41s. These were noted to be in poor mechanical condition, possibly even beyond repair. Their use, if at all, was thus likely limited.
The German-operated StuG M41/42s saw combat use during the battle for the Yugoslavian capital Belgrade, which lasted from 15th September to 24th November 1944. The Germans were hard-pressed by the Soviets, who agreed to help the Partisans during this fight. Ultimately, they were driven out, and the city was liberated. In the process, the Germans lost at least one StuG M41/42.
In Yugoslav Partisan Hands
The Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture some StuG M41/42s from the Germans during 1944/45. At least one such vehicle was used by a tank crew training school that the Partisans opened in freed Serbia in late 1944. A few more were captured during the liberation of Belgrade and some in the final days of the war. While these survived the war, given their obsolescence and lack of spare parts, their use was limited. Their fate in Yugoslavian service post-war is unclear, but they were likely scrapped at some point, as none of them survived until today.
The StuG M41/42 vehicles saw extensive use with the Germans compared to other captured vehicles. However, the Italian vehicles’ service was affected by a lack of spare parts and ammunition. Their overall numbers were also rather small, as the production of new vehicles was limited. Thus, employing them on a large scale, such as had been the case with the Panzer 38(t) (and the later versions based on its chassis), was not possible. Given the rather obsolete pool of Italian weapons, the Semoventi were the best available vehicles that the Germans could reuse.
Beute Sturmgeschütz M41 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/18 850(i) Technical Specification
3 (commander/gunner, loader, and driver)
Length 4.915 m, Width 2.200 m, Height 1.850 m
FIAT-SPA 15T Modello 1941 diesel, 11,980 cm³ producing 145 hp at 1,900 rpm.
33 km/h, 15 km/h (cross-country)
Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 and a Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938
German Reich (1945)
Improvised Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – At Least One Built
In the final months of the war, the Germans were losing men and materials on all fronts. Out of desperation, all kinds of improvised vehicles, mostly based on obsolete vehicles or simply whatever was at hand, were rushed into service. One such vehicle was built using a Panzer I Ausf.B chassis on top of which a 7.5 cm StuK 40 was placed, for use in the futile defense of Berlin in 1945
By 1945, the German Army and its industry were in ruins. The Allied bombing campaigns, lack of resources, and the rapid advances of Germany’s enemies on their own soil made the production of new vehicles difficult. Despite this, the German war industry was desperately hanging on, producing limited quantities of new vehicles. By this point, these efforts were hopelessly insufficient to rearm the depleted German military formations. In desperation, some improvised vehicles were created by using all kinds of available chassis, ranging from experimental, obsolete, or even training vehicles, and adding whatever weapons were at hand.
Vehicles such as the Panzer I were reused in this manner, creating unusual and rare improvised fighting vehicles. The Panzer I Ausf.A and B were introduced as the first real German serially-produced tank in 1935. Even though it was obsolete by 1939, it still saw service throughout the war. After 1941, these were retired from service as combat tanks, but their chassis were reused for other purposes, mostly as training or ammunition supply roles. By 1945, their numbers were greatly diminished due to many factors, such as combat losses.
Using such a vehicle as an improvised fighting platform speaks for itself in regard to German desperation at this point. Thanks to a surviving photograph, we know that at least one Panzer I Ausf.B was modified by removing the turret and parts of the superstructure and adding a 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun taken from a StuG III. Who exactly built it and when is unknown. What is known is that it was used during the defense of Berlin in 1945.
Given its improvised construction, this vehicle likely never received any form of proper designation. This article will use Panzer I Ausf.B mit (English: with) 7.5 cm StuK 40 for the sake of simplicity.
The overall design of this vehicle is unfortunately not documented in any sources. Based on the only known photograph, several educated guesses about its overall construction.
The Panzer I hull appears to have been left unchanged. Like all German tanks, it could be divided into three sections: the front part where the transmission was placed, the central crew compartment, and the rear-positioned engine. The overall construction was made out of several armor plates welded together, with a firewall separating the engine compartment and the crew compartment.
The suspension is another element that remained unchanged. It consisted of five road wheels per side. The first wheel used a coil spring mount design 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 was a front drive sprocket, rear idler, and four small return rollers.
The Panzer I Ausf.B was never fully reliable, especially when the chassis was converted for other purposes, such as the 15 cm sIG 33 auf Panzerkampfwagen I ohne Aufbau (English: Without a superstructure). Given the added weight of the 15 cm sIG 33 gun, the suspension was very prone to malfunctions and breakdowns.
This was likely also the case with the 7.5 cm L/48 gun, as the weight and recoil force when firing would likely cause damage to the suspension, as its design was never intended to be able to resist such stress.
The Panzer I Ausf.B was powered by a water-cooled Maybach NL 38 Tr, which was able to supply 100 hp at 3,000 rpm. The maximum speed with this engine was 40 km/h and only 15 km/h cross-country. The added weight of the gun, ammunition, and likely additional crew members on the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 would have led to an overall weight increase of possibly up to 2 tonnes, if not more. This would greatly affect the engine’s overall performance, although to what extent is unknown. The standard Panzer I fuel load capacity was around 144 liters, which provided an operational range of up to 170 km. By 1945, fuel was a scarce commodity for the Germans, so regardless, it is unlikely that this vehicle ever received any large enough quantities of fuel to go anywhere besides its station point.
The superstructure of this vehicle received a series of modifications that were necessary in order to install the large gun. The upper armor and the turret were removed. Parts of the rear armor appear to have been slightly cut down.
Two interesting features can be noticed on the right side of the superstructure. Firstly, there is an unidentified round-shaped object that casts a shadow on the superstructure. It is possible that this was a seat added for the loader, although it could also simply be an extended plate to provide the loader with more working space. In front of it, a larger flat plate with a handle can be seen. It appears not to be an original part of the Panzer I, as it is on the side that did not have any hatch. This part could also be intended to be lowered and provide the loader with more working space. In either case, due to a lack of information, we cannot be sure. Interestingly, on top of the frontsuperstructure, a small shield was added to cover the space between the gun shield and the mount.
The armor of the Panzer I Ausf.A and B was quite thin. The Panzer I’s front hull armor ranged from 8 to 13 mm. The side armor was 13 mm, the bottom 5 mm, and the rear 13 mm. The armor was made of rolled homogenous hardened plates with a Brinell hardness of 850. It was welded and formed the body of the superstructure and hull. Whilst insufficient to protect against tank and anti-tank gunfire, this armor was still adequate to provide protection from enemy small arms.
The crew operating the gun was only protected by the gun shield. The armor thickness of it is unknown, but it was likely only a few millimeters thick. Given the small working space for the gun operator and the loader, both would be quite exposed to the enemy’s small arms fire. Light armor does not necessarily mean that the vehicle was useless, thanks to its gun it could still fire at great ranges and from well-selected positions.
On the other hand, this was neither 1942 nor 1943, when German guns had a huge advantage over Soviet armored vehicles. By 1945, the Soviets employed tanks such as the T-34-85 and the IS-2, which had enough firepower to deal with German Tiger and Panther tanks at a distance, so a lightly protected Panzer I was surely no problem for them. It is also noteworthy that as this vehicle was used in the defense of Berlin, combat action was likely to occur at close ranges, making this vehicle quite exposed.
The main armament of this modified vehicle was the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun, which was probably taken from a damaged StuG III assault gun. This gun was developed by Krupp and Rheinmetall in 1942. It was initially used with a barrel length of L/43, although later that year it was increased to L/48. Both versions of the gun had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. It was fired electrically. When mounted on StuG III vehicles, the elevation of this gun went from –6° to +20°, while the traverse was 10° to either side. The elevation, depression, and traverse limits for this gun as mounted on the modified Panzer I are unknown.
Armor-piercing shells fired from this gun had a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s. The armor-piercing (Pz.Gr.39) round could penetrate 85 mm of armor (sloped at 30°) at 1 km. The maximum range of the high-explosive rounds was 3.3 km while, for armor-piercing, 1.4 to 2.3 km, depending on the type used. The gunner used the Selbstfahrlafetten Zielfernrohr Sfl.Z.F.1a gun sight to acquire direct targets. For indirect targets, on the other hand, either the Rundblickfernrohr 32 or 36 were used, which had a magnification of 5x and a field of view of 8°.
In order to install this gun on the Panzer I’s hull, some modifications were needed. First, a stable platform base had to be placed inside the hull. On top of it, the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 with its mount was placed. The protective recoil cylinder mantlet was not used on this vehicle. Given the gun’s weight, the Germans added a large travel lock in front of the gun. The whole gun installation would take up most of the Panzer I’s interior, making room for spare ammunition difficult. The only possible location where the ammunition would have been located was atop of the engine compartment. A minor change to the gun was the lack of the spent cartridge bag.
Normally, a vehicle like this modified Panzer I would have needed at least three crew members to be fully effective. A driver located inside the vehicle would have been the only crew member fully protected by armor, a gunner who would possibly have also acted as the commander positioned to the left of the gun, and a loader positioned opposite the gunner. The two gun operators would have had quite limited space to effectively operate this vehicle. Based on the German’s lack of manpower by 1945, it is also probable that this vehicle may have had an even smaller crew of possibly two. This meant that these two had to perform other tasks too, in addition to their original ones.
Was the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 Used in Combat?
Nothing is known about the history of this vehicle. Based on the available photograph, we can assume that it was modified in and saw service in Berlin. A detail that helps us identify where the photo of the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 was taken is the command tower that can be seen in the background. Berlin was defended by three immense Flakturme (English: Flak towers): Flakturm Humboldhain, Flakturm Tiergarten, and Volkspark Friedrichshain. These were basically massive, reinforced concrete bunkers equipped with several larger-caliber anti-aircraft guns. Each gun tower was provided with more minor but still huge command towers. Their purpose was to relay information about enemy air activity.
Flakturm Humboldhain was placed on a small hill that does not appear in the photograph, so it can be excluded. The command tower for ‘Zoo-bunker’ lacked some features, such as the four round-shaped concrete platforms located on the tower’s top, that the tower in the picture has. The most probable explanation is that the tower in the background belongs to the Volkspark Friedrichshain tower. The design of the command tower is similar and also there are buildings to the left of the Panzer I’s position which match those in the photo.
The missing track links may indicate that this vehicle was not fully operational and was instead towed to its defense point. Given that the picture of it was taken in an open space and the Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40’s weak protection, this would be an illogical thing to do. It is possible that by the time the photograph was taken, it was already in the process of being salvaged for scrap. On the other hand, it may have been in the process of being towed before being abandoned in a rush.
Another possibility is that this vehicle was at some point converted to this gun configuration to be used as a training vehicle with the gun not actually intended to be fired. While this at first seems logical, given the weight of the gun which would have put too much stress on the chassis, this seems highly unlikely.
In any case, the fate of this vehicle is unknown, but it was likely scrapped after the war by the Soviets.
Placing a large gun such as the 7,5 cm StuK 40 on a chassis weak and prone to malfunctions difficult to understand. Even in desperation, whoever built it must have known that the recoil force of the gun was simply too much for the Panzer I’s chassis to handle. Firing could have easily led to the breakdown of some components of the suspension or the engine. Armor protection was almost non-existent. Even using it as a static emplacement would be suicidal, as the vehicle’s height would not have allowed for it to be easily camouflaged.
Panzer I Ausf.B mit 7.5 cm StuK 40 Technical specification
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1956-1991)
Armored Personnel Carrier – 790 Built
During the late 1950s, the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija (JNA, English: Yugoslavian People’s Army) became aware of the fact that its inventory lacked an armored personnel carrier (APC) able to effectively transport the supporting infantry of armored formations. In 1956, a project, initially known as M-590, began. Its development would lead to the creation of the first Yugoslavian APC, designated as M-60. Despite huge expectations, this vehicle would prove to be a rather poor and outdated design. While the whole project was problematic from the start, the M-60 would actually, to some extent, outlive its creator.
Need for an APC
The JNA, like many other modern armies in the world, was aware that, in order to fully exploit a tank offensive, they needed adequate infantry support. This concept was especially proven during the Second World War with the rapid German panzer division offensives, which were supported by mechanized infantry formations. They employed specially designed half-track vehicles to provide the necessary mobility for their infantry. Using a combination of tracks and wheels increased their mobility greatly. While effective in their role, these vehicles were not perfect, as they were too expensive to make.
After the war, thanks to technological advancements, it was possible to use fully-tracked vehicles that were relatively cheap and had good drive performance. These early designs followed the same concept of placing a simple box-shaped superstructure on a tracked chassis. These were lightly protected and had an armament that usually consisted of a few machine guns. US APCs, such as the M59, are probably the best-known designs of this era.
Back in Europe, after the war, the JNA possessed some captured German half-tracks, which saw limited use. Given the lack of spare parts, their practical use beyond training and exercises was out of the question. As nothing else was available, JNA infantry units that were meant to support tank formations had to rely on trucks for transport. While trucks provided an increase in mobility, they simply could not keep up with tanks on rough terrain, which meant that the infantry could not follow up. In addition, the trucks themselves did not have any kind of armor protection, exposing the infantry to enemy fire. Thus, a need for a tracked and fully protected APC arose during the late 1950s. Inspiration for this project was more or less taken from the American M59 and M113 APCs. This may seem surprising at first, but at that time, despite being a Communist state, Yugoslavia had good political and military cooperation with the United States for some time.
At the end of 1956, representatives from all military branches that were interested in this project held a meeting to discuss the performance and characteristics that the new APC should have. The project was viewed as quite ambitious and many different solutions were proposed. For example, the infantry branch wanted a vehicle that could transport 20 soldiers and armed with either a 12.7 mm machine gun or a recoilless gun. Another proposal was that its chassis be reused for various self-propelled configurations armed with different caliber weapons, ranging from 40 to 105 mm. A tractor version with a capacity of 9 tonnes was also proposed. By April 1957, the final design was agreed upon. It was to be amphibious, the transport capacity was to include 10 soldiers, the armament should consist of one heavy machine gun, it would have a fully enclosed compartment, etc.
Initially, the project was designated as Object M-590. The first prototype was completed in 1958 and, the following year, it was used for various testing runs. While the overall design of the upper superstructure was influenced by the M59 APC, the hull and the suspension unit were taken from the obsolete SU-76M. Why the Yugoslavian engineers decided to reuse this outdated chassis is unknown. The JNA had in its inventory some 87 aging SU-76Ms, which were, at this point, obsolete and put into storage. Yugoslavian engineers had worked on several different domestic tank projects with limited success by this point. The decision to reuse the SU-76 chassis was possibly made in order to speed up development time, reusing components that were available. In either case, this decision would have huge long-term negative consequences for the whole project.
Following the introduction of the first prototype, five more vehicles were to be completed by the end of 1960. Some 10 additional prototype vehicles were ordered, and these were to be completed by April 1961. Even before the testing trials were completed, the JNA officials tasked FAMOS, a vehicle manufacturer, with the first serial production order of 46 vehicles. These were to be completed by 1963. This order was further expanded by a yearly production quota of 50 vehicles during the period of 1964 to 1976. After that, the yearly production was to increase up to 100 vehicles. As it turns out, these plans were a bit overly ambitious given the fact that the whole project was, at that point, in an early stage of development.
More extensive testing of the prototypes was carried out from October to November 1960. During this period, three prototypes were used to cross a distance of 2,200 km. This trial showed the many deficiencies in the SU-76’s suspension. Torsion bar breakdowns were frequent and there were even cases of the road wheels’ rubber rims falling off. From January to February 1961, more tests were carried out on all six available prototypes. A shorter distance of 1,000 km was chosen for these trials. The M-590’s 140 hp engine showed to be too weak and prone to overheating. The clutch steering units proved to be ineffective, and the amphibious properties were inadequate, as the vehicle was difficult to control during river crossings. Despite all shortcomings, this project received a green light from the JNA officials.
In its early prototype stage, this project received the Oklopni transporter (English: Armored personnel carrier) M-590 designation. When the vehicle entered service with the JNA, the name was changed to M-60.
Futile Improvement Attempts
Following the completion of the first prototypes, it quickly became apparent that the new M-60 would need to receive extensive modifications before it was put into service. There was a fear that, even with these modifications, the M-60 would lose its amphibious properties, something which actually occurred with the newly built prototypes. To avoid this, it was proposed to increase the M-60’s overall size, but at the same time, reduce its weight. Other proposed changes included installing a stronger engine and using a better-quality transmission. Constant changes to the M-60’s overall design only led to confusion and delays in production. In addition, the Yugoslavian industry was unable to produce some necessary components, such as radios, night vision equipment, etc. This meant that some prototypes could not be fully equipped and, as a result, properly tested.
In April 1961, six more prototypes were delivered. These were given to the school teaching center for armored units. In the same year, an improved prototype was developed under the M-590-1 designation. It incorporated some modifications, such as an improved control system, using a dual differential, extending the vehicle by 17 cm, etc. In turn, these changes led to more problems than they solved. The M-590-1’s weight was increased from the original 9.5 to 10.7 tonnes, which greatly affected its overall drive performance, reducing the maximum speed from 45 km/h to 37 km/h. Once again, the amphibious properties were lost. The work on M-590-1 would be finally discontinued in 1963. By that point, a decision was made to focus solely on the regular M-60, despite its flaws. Due to M-60’s unsatisfactory performance by this point, another APC project was initiated As it would take years before it was ready, as a temporary solution, the M-60 was to be produced in a small series. In 1963 and 1964, a production of 60 M-60s was expected.
In the meantime, the production of the pre-series ran into serious delays. There were huge issues with the delivery of necessary armor plates. This was not the only problem, as many of these plates had to be discarded due to poor production quality. Bureaucratic delays and lack of technical documentation did not help either. While these were supposed to be built in 1962, they would not be delivered until 1964. Fearing that these problems would only lead to further delays in production, the JNA officials decided to go on with the manufacturing of the M-60 operational vehicles. At this point, the 0-series was not yet completed, let alone properly tested. Once again, the Yugoslav industry failed to deliver the promised vehicles. The Yugoslavian military industry could not provide the necessary parts, such as the armament and the radio equipment. Not surprisingly, the acquisition and production of the suspension caused additional delays. What is surprising is that the necessary parts of the relatively simple SU-76 suspension were difficult to reproduce. The newly delivered parts, such as the tracks or the road wheels, were often not interchangeable. To resolve this issue somewhat, spare parts for the suspension had to be imported from Hungary. Given the old age of the SU-76s and that it was no longer produced, the available spare parts imported from Hungary were probably of dubious quality.
Testing the 0-series
The 30 0-series vehicles were finally ready for testing in 1964. Part of them was transported to Čapljine and Nevesinje for testing and evaluation, while some were given to FAMOS, where the serial production was expected to commence. A number of them were also allocated to the 329th Armored Brigade for troop trials. For the anticipated victory parade that was held in May, some of these vehicles were prepared to be used. During the preparation and rehearsals for the parade, a number of defects were discovered on these vehicles, such as broken water pumps and oil coolers.
The 329th Armored Brigade issued a report where the M-60’s overall performance was noted as being rather poor. A frequent complaint by this point was the weak engine. Overheating was a quite regular occurrence during M-60 driving. Accumulating mud on the suspension was another problem that could lead to track breakdowns. The machine gun was described as being difficult to use in a horizontal position, which sometimes led to the crew being injured during firing. The commander’s vision was limited when his hatch was closed, the transmission problems persisted, etc. The 329th Armored Brigade requested that all 12 vehicles that were in their inventory be moved to FAMOS for necessary modifications and improvements to be implemented. As FAMOS simply lacked production capacity, this could not be achieved.
Despite the obvious flaws of the M-60, the JNA officials insisted that its production should commence as soon as possible. As has been seen before, there were numerous delays in the actual start of the production. The JNA placed a new order to FAMOS for the first series of 60 M-60s, which was to be completed by mid-December 1965. It was requested that the problems with the 0-series be resolved by the time of the M-60’s production, something to which the FAMOS officials agreed. Astonishingly, the JNA had plans to produce nearly 2,000 M-60 vehicles. This number was far from reality as, by 1967, when the production stopped, only 180 M-60s were built. The production of the latter M-60P and M-60PB would continue until 1979, by which time 790 vehicles were built in total. The production of these was carried out by FAMOS too.
The M-60 hull could be divided into a few different sections. These included: the front-mounted transmission, followed by the crew compartment, the centrally placed engine, and the rear-positioned passenger compartment.
The M-60 was powered by a FTR six-cylinder 140 hp @2,000 rpm diesel engine. On good roads, its consumption was 85 (D-2 diesel) liters of fuel and 0.85 liters of oil for a 100 km distance. Off-road driving increased consumption to 140 liters of fuel and 1.65 liters of oil over the same distance. Two fuel tanks (each with 185 liters) were placed to the rear, in the passenger compartment, and under the stationary seats. The engine itself was accessible from inside the vehicle and through a hatch located on top of the superstructure. The M-60 was equipped with the 5GFTR five-speed (and one reverse) transmission.
With a weight of 10.7 tonnes, the M-60 was capable of achieving a maximum speed of 43 km/h. This dropped to only 20 km/h off-road. The M-60 was quite a slow vehicle, as there were problems with the drive unit and engine overheating, additionally limiting its maximum drive speed. The maximum operational range was 400 km. It was capable of crossing a 2 m wide trench, and driving over vertical obstacles up to 0.6 m.
Possibly to help reduce the development time, it was decided to reuse the obsolete SU-76M torsion bar suspension with some modifications. This included reducing the number of road wheels to five per side, changing the front drive sprocket, and using new tracks. The number of return rollers remained the same, with three per side. Two types of tracks were used, either a 350 mm wide one with 92 to 94 tack links or a slightly wider 400 mm one with 93 to 96 tack links While simple, this suspension proved prone to breakdowns, and acquiring spare parts was not always easy.
The M-60 was provided with a simple superstructure. The front consisted of two angled armor plates. A trim vane was connected to the lower plate. Given that the M-60 lost its amphibious properties at the prototype stage due to the added weight, this was quite pointless. This trim vane did not have any major purpose but was not removed. On the right upper side of this plate, a small machine gun port was placed. On the upper front plate, two hatches for the radio operator and the driver were placed. Each of these and the commander’s hatch were provided with an M-61 type periscope. Given the lack of a proper command cupola, the commander’s field of vision was quite limited when his hatch was closed. Between these two hatches were the night vision headlights. These were part of the IC type M63 night vision device.
The superstructure sides were also divided, with the lower plate being flat and the upper one slightly curved inward. In order to provide the commander and the gunner with more working space, the superstructure in these areas was extended outwards. There were no side vision ports, but the rear-positioned passengers could use six (three on each side) firing ports. To the rear, a large two-part hatch with two firing ports was located.
The top armor was completely flat. To the left of the vehicle’s top was the commander’s hatch. On the opposite side, the mount for the heavy machine gun and the gunner’s hatch were placed. Between them was the ventilation hatch for the engine. To the rear part of the top, there were three additional round-shaped hatches. These were to be used by the passengers for either exiting the vehicle or, in cases of emergency, used to fire at aerial targets.
The M-60 was lightly armored. The front armor plate was 15 mm thick. The upper angled plate, with the two hatches for the driver and the machine gunner, was only 9 mm thick. The flat sides were 13 mm thick, while the upper angled one was 10 mm thick. The rear armor was 10 mm thick.
Armament consisted of one 12.7 mm PAM (Protiv-avionski mitraljez – anti-aircraft machine gun) heavy machine gun (basically an M2 Browning) and one 7.92 mm M-53 (a copy of the German MG 42). The heavy machine gun was positioned on a mount providing 360º fire on the top right side of the superstructure. No protective gun shield was provided for its gunner. This heavy machine gun had sufficient firepower to engage unprotected targets (soft-skin vehicles, for example) up to 1 km. It also could be used to engage lightly protected targets up to 500 m. In order to avoid potentially injuring a crew member, a spent ammunition cartridge bag was attached to this machine gun. Given its large caliber, the gunner could choose between several different types of ammunition depending on the combat needs. These included the M2 standard round, M2 armor-piercing round, M8 armor-piercing incendiary round, M1 and M25 incendiary rounds, and lastly, M20 armor-piercing incendiary tracer round.
Secondary armament consisted of an M-53 machine gun. This was positioned on the lower right side of the superstructure. It was operated by a radio operator. The M-53 was to be used against infantry formations up to 1.5 km distance. If needed, it could be dismounted and placed on top of the M-60 to act as an auxiliary light anti-aircraft gun. In this configuration, aerial targets could be engaged at a distance of up to 1 km. The M-53 was fed by a 50-round drum magazine. Two types of rounds were used for this machine gun, consisting of a standard M-49 type round and a tracer round.
Besides these, the M-60’s firepower was further augmented by the personal weapons of the passengers. These initially included rifles and semi-automatic rifles, but would be replaced with submachine guns. In addition, at least two more M-53 machine guns were also carried by the dismounted unit. Some of these could be fired from the eight firing ports. The two extra M-53s were usually placed on each side of the vehicle.
Crew and Infantry Dismount
The crew of this vehicle could be divided into two groups. The first included the driver, who was positioned on the left side, and the radio operator placed on the other side of him. The radio equipment consisted of a R-113 and R-120 intercom radio set. It used a rod antenna located just right of the radio operator. In rarer cases, a 2.5-wire antenna could also be used. The radio had an effective range of up to 20 km when the vehicle was stationary. During movement, this was reduced to 1 to 2.5 km. The radio operator was also tasked with operating the hull-positioned machine gun. The driver was trained to act as a mechanic.
Behind them, the PAM heavy machine gun’s operator was placed on the right and opposite him was the commander position. If, for some reason, the commander was unable to perform his task (being injured or, in the worst-case scenario, killed), the heavy machine gun operator was to take charge of the vehicle.
The passenger compartment was able to accommodate a squad of between 8 to 9 soldiers. While maintenance was the primary responsibility of the vehicle’s crews, the remaining passengers were tasked with providing necessary assistance during such operations, despite not always being trained to do so.
Modernizations and Versions
Further Improved: M-60P
Given the M-60’s poor performance, the JNA was unwilling to put more time and resources into this project. So, after the initial 180 vehicles were completed, production was stopped. The available vehicles were put into service. JNA commanders hoped that further APC development would lead to the quick introduction of a much-improved vehicle. Unfortunately for them, this did not materialize, and, at the start of the 1970s, most of the available M-60s were in a state of disrepair. As the production had been basically canceled, the availability of spare parts was limited. This was especially true for vital automotive components. Units that used them urged for the delivery of necessary parts and requested that a major overhaul be done on all available vehicles. The JNA was left with a dilemma about what to do next. The development of the new APC would not be completed for years to come but, on the other hand, the M-60 did not meet expectations and had many flaws. The dilemma, in truth, had only one solution and that was to somehow improve the overall characteristics of the M-60. The alternative was that the JNA would be forced to use trucks for transporting their mechanized infantry, which was deemed unacceptable.
Luckily for them, FAMOS was already working on a new steering (planetary/epicyclic gearing) system, which was tested in 1970. It was tested on one vehicle, which was designated as M-60P. The P stands for either Poboljšan (English: Improved) or Planetarni (English: Planetary). Before this change was implemented, the Uprava Oklopnih Jedinica (English: Armored Unit Administration) proposed that it should be examined and tested in detail on a few more prototypes. While the new steering unit proved promising, it was far from perfect and breakdowns were frequently reported. Given the great need for such vehicles and the lack of anything better, it was decided to upgrade all remaining (less than 180 vehicles, at that point) M-60s to the M-60P standard as soon as possible. Production of brand-new vehicles of the M-60P series began in 1973. Visually, these two vehicles were identical, as most modifications were mainly done regarding the steering unit.
Increasing firepower was another point that the Yugoslav engineers wanted to achieve. The heavy machine gun was enough to deal with lightly armored targets, but against better-protected vehicles, it could do little. It could also not offer explosive support against dug-in infantry or fortified positions. Of course, adding any larger armament was out of the question due to weight limitations. The easiest solution was simply to use two 82 mm M-60 recoilless guns. The project was initiated in 1972, with the completion of two prototypes. These were built using two modified M-60P vehicles. The main armament was placed on a specially designed mount. To house this mount, the rear part of the top part of the crew compartment was modified. While the main armament was retained, some structural changes were necessary. For example, the number of passengers was reduced to 7 (commander and six soldiers). The number of crew was not increased and included the driver, radio operator, 12.7 mm machine gun operator, and the recoilless gun operator. Technically speaking, the number of crew was reduced, as one of them had to take the role of the dismount’s commander.
By 1973, three such prototypes were used to test if the whole concept had any merit. Initial testing was carried out at the military training ground in Moljača. After these were successfully completed, the three vehicles were given to the 329th Armored Brigade for troop trials. Production was approved in 1973. Unfortunately, sources do not provide us with a precise number built of this version. Like its predecessors, this version was also built by FAMOS.
The superstructure was redesigned to only two rear top hatches. The left one was where the gun main was placed and was used by the gunner. Next to it was another hatch placed which was to be used during gun reloading. The two M-60 recoilless guns were placed on a simple mount, with the barrels placed on either side of the operator. This new armament installation was flawed in its design. The gunner had to completely expose himself during the aiming and firing of the two recoilless guns. The rate of fire was between 4 to 5 rounds per minute. The elevation angles were quite modest, with -4° to +6°. It was possibly restricted by the huge backlash created during the firing of these guns. While it technically had a full 360º firing angle, the position of the forward-mounted machine gun prevented this gun from firing in this direction. As the operator required extra working space, the rear part of the upper superstructure had to be redesigned. The gunner’s position was extended with a bulged armor plate, the same as done with the forward gunner and the commander’s positions. In addition, the installation of this position led to the deletion of the last firing port. The added firepower was seen as an improvement and thus it was adopted for service as the M-60PB, with the B standing either for Bestrzajni (English: Recoilless) or Bojni (English: Combat), depending on the source.
There is an unconfirmed story that Josip Broz Tito himself proposed that such a version be developed. Allegedly, during the inspection of armored vehicles used during the Sloboda 71 military exercise, he came across the M-60P. After inspecting it, Tito was satisfied with this vehicle but asked that it should have anti-tank weapons.
Another version that was introduced into service was a command version equipped with additional radio equipment (R-123 and R-112) designated as M-60PK – Komandni (English Command). No production number for these versions is given, but it is likely that, depending on the need, ordinary vehicles were converted for this role.
Other Proposals and Projects
There were also numerous additional proposals for M-60 design improvements, such as using new tracks, removing the trim vane, new handles for the hatches, adding an 82 mm mortar or a 2 cm cannon, etc,. All these implemented or proposed modifications were a mixed bag. All the new changes extended the M-60’s operational service life, but on the other hand, the overall performance was still poor. Adding new modifications led only to a rise in production and maintenance costs without offering any major advantage over the basic version, so many of these would not be introduced.
There were also a few proposed versions, such as ammunition transport or medical versions, but these remained at the prototype stage.
In Use with the JNA
The first few produced M-60 prototypes were presented to the Yugoslav public in 1962, during a May military parade held in the capital, Belgrade. The first 80 production vehicles were distributed to the following units:
Unit – Armored Brigade
After only two years in service, two M-60s had to be written off. In the following years, the M-60s were used in various military parades and exercises. The poor mechanical reliability and lack of spare parts greatly affected their performance. For example, during the military exercise Pčinja 72 (in 1972), of 30 vehicles from the 243rd Armored Brigade, 14 broke down due to problems with the running gear. The later version M-60P proved to be less unreliable, but far from a perfect solution.
Just before the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, the JNA had in its inventory 551 M-60P and PBs. The JNA had planned just before the war to reduce this number to around 398 M-60s, but this never occurred. During its use by the JNA, the M-60 received the mocking nickname Peglica (English: An iron), a Yugoslavian name often also given to the small FIAT 126 car.
The M-60 was to be replaced with a much more advanced M-80 APC. The M-80 was larger, was better armed and protected, and most importantly had an engine that was mechanically reliable. The later APC was introduced to service in 1976 but was not produced in sufficient numbers to fully replace the obsolete M-60.
In The Yugoslav Police Service
In 1975, some M-60s were allocated to Yugoslav Police units, with the Army providing the necessary training. In contrast to those used by the JNA, the Police M-60s were completely painted in blue. At least 21 M-60s remained in use with the Serbian police forces in the cities of Kraljevo and Niš up to 2004.
The Yugoslav Civil Wars
The political and economical crisis of the late 1980s, together with ever-rising nationalism in all federal entities in Yugoslavia, would ultimately lead to a bloody and costly civil war. These events are still politically and historically controversial, especially in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. The reasons why it started, who started it, when, and even its name are still ferociously debated to this day. Unfortunately, the war was accompanied by great suffering and crimes committed by all warring parties.
The outbreak of the Yugoslavian Civil war was chaotic in nature. Various paramilitary forces began to appear in the western part of Yugoslavia, especially in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The JNA initially tried to subdue these, but various factors (desertions, chaotic organization, poor morale, and rushed decisions) lead to unnecessary losses in men and material.
One of the first combat usages of the M-60 happened on 2nd July 1991 in Slovenia. On that day, elements of a JNA armored column clashed with Slovenian forces near Prilep. At least four M-60s were reported damaged.
In 1992, the JNA initiated a general evacuation of its personnel and equipment to Serbia. Many of its vehicles had to be left behind, and they were often captured and reused by the various military and paramilitary organizations which were present in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. After this point, the M-60 saw service with all warring parties in various roles. When used in direct combat, the M-60 generally performed poorly due to its weak armor. The use of portable anti-tank weapons (often imported despite the military embargo placed on Yugoslavia) was quite common, so armored vehicle losses were rather high during the war. A lightly protected M-60 stood little chance of survival when engaged with modern anti-tank weapons.
As the direct use of the M-60 in combat was rather dangerous, many were converted to perform various other roles. These included modifying the interior so that they could be reused as transport or medical vehicles. Croatian forces modified a few M-60s by extending their rear crew compartment, creating mobile ambulances for evacuating wounded soldiers and civilians. Other than that, some M-60s received various weapon upgrades. One such vehicle received an aircraft rocket pod, intended to be used as an improvised artillery support vehicle.
After the War
After the war, nearly all warring sides during this conflict had in their inventory some M-60s. Given the agreement of disarmament signed after the war, many armored vehicles were sent to be scrapped, as they were obsolete, or worn out. This was the fate of the M-60, many of which were scrapped.
Despite their obsolescence, the new Savezna Republika Jugoslavija (English: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) Army had over 120 M-60s in its inventory. Given their obsolescence, it was decided to, if possible, sell these vehicles abroad and, if not, scrap them. The 1996 Agreement on Sub-Regional Arms Control, part of the Dayton Accords, actually offered this possibility. They were presented to various East European countries but no agreement was made. In 2004, it was proposed to donate some of them to the new Iraqi government, but nothing came from this. Eventually, they were mostly scrapped.
In Iraqi Service
In 1975, Iraqi leader Sadam Husein visited Yugoslavia. This visit had the goal to establish political as well as potential military cooperation. It succeeded in this, as the following year, Josip Broz Tito visited Iraq. Several agreements for military cooperation were signed including the construction of secret and well-dug-in underground facilities. This agreement also included the shipment of weapons. Surprisingly, despite its poor design, Yugoslavia managed to sell 190 M-60s to the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi forces used a 12.7 mm Soviet DSK heavy machine gun instead of the original Browning. They saw action during the long Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The M-60 was noted to be an almost unusable vehicle, being poorly protected and susceptible to engine overheating. There is an alleged story that, when the Yugoslavian delegation asked the Iraqi about the M-60’s performance, the Iraqis responded with “If you want us to remain friends, better not ask us”.
In the Role of a “German Tank”
In Yugoslavia, World War Two-themed movies and TV shows were quite popular. The JNA often provided necessary props, such as uniforms, weapons, volunteers, and sometimes even tanks. For the filming of the TV show Nepokoreni Grad (English: Unconquered City) in 1981, an M-60 was modified by receiving a fake (possibly even a real) Panzer III turret.
Today, there are a dozen or so surviving M-60s spread around the former Yugoslavia. While most are stored or put on exhibit, some are in working condition, modified to be used for various civilian or military purposes.
The M-60’s development was plagued from the start by miscalculations, poor decision-making, and bad mechanical solutions, such as using a weak engine, light armor, etc. Adopting the obsolete SU-76’s suspension caused huge logistical problems, as this vehicle was long out of production, thus making the acquisition of spare parts difficult. Adding weight beyond the initial calculations made the M-60 lose its amphibious characteristics, which limited its combat effectiveness. Frequent changes to the design lead to delays in production. Using a weak engine limited the overall speed and was prone to overheating. The armor proved almost to be useless when it was used in combat.
In essence, the M-60 can be considered a failed project that did not live up to meet the expectations that were required of it. Probably the only positive thing that could be said about this vehicle is that it provided Yugoslav engineers with experience in designing such a vehicle, which would lead to the creation of a much better design, the M-80. It also served to give the troops a vehicle that was at least better than ordinary trucks used up to that point.
During the war, the Yugoslavian communist Partisans were often faced with shortages of war materiel, especially in regard to anti-tank weapons and tanks. Luckily for them, after 1943, the Western Allies decided to send large quantities of all kinds of war material, including M3A1/A3 light tanks. While these tanks were a welcome addition in the Partisan’s fight for the liberation of occupied Yugoslavia, their guns were not up to the date and lacked serious firepower. By the end of 1944, the Partisans simply decided to resolve this issue by mounting a captured German 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on a few M3A3 tanks. While not perfect, these at least gave them a much needed increase in firepower, effectively being a weapon that could destroy any vehicle on this front.
The M3 light tanks in the Balkans
Following the quick conquest of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the April War (that lasted from 6th to 18th April 1941), its territories were divided between the victorious Axis forces. Due to the harsh and brutal occupation by the Axis troops stationed in Yugoslavia, by the second half of 1941, two resistance groups started a rebellion against the occupiers. These were the Royalist Chetniks and Communist Partisans. Although, at the beginning these two groups worked together in the fight against the occupying Axis forces, a conflict between these two forces in late 1941 would break out into an open civil war. This lasted until the end of the war and the victory of the Partisans.
By the end of 1943 and start of 1944, the Communist Partisans movements were heavily involved in organising a number of attacks on German and their allies vital communication and supply lines, military bases and airfields, and other targets , inflicting increasing losses in men and materials. While, initially, the Western Allies mainly supported the Chetnik movement, due to various reasons (including a lack of major military action against the Germans or even open cooperation with them), this attitude changed drastically from 1943 onwards. The Allies instead focus on supporting the ever increasing Partisan movement by supplying them with ammunition and equipment but also special personnel to help train the Partisan ground forces.
Beside these, Allied High Command made an agreement with the leader of the Partisans, Josip Broz Tito, to form a tank brigade that was to be equipped with Allied tanks and armored cars. The unit, named First Tank Brigade, would be formed on 16th July 1944. The British supplied some 56 M3A1/A3 tanks, 24 AEC Mk.II armored cars and two M3A1 scout cars. The Partisan crews were previously sent to Italy in order to be trained in operating these vehicles. They also managed to salvage a few more damaged tanks from Allies repair facilities.
The First Tank Brigade would see extensive action against the Germans and their allies until the end of the war in May 1945. Due to a high attrition rate, a great number of M3A1/A3 tanks were either lost or heavily damaged. Given the general lack of replacements, these had to be repaired in order to keep the whole unit operational. Some damaged vehicles had their turrets removed and replaced with captured weapons. One such modification included installing a captured 7.5 cm PaK 40 on top of an M3A3 tank, creating a bizarre vehicle somewhat similar to the German Marder tank hunter series.
The M3 Light Tank
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 (VVSS) with a bigger rear idler wheel, increased speed, and improved firepower consisting of four 7.62 mm machine guns and a 3.7 cm cannon. The first series was powered by the gasoline-fueled (petrol) Continental seven-cylinder four-cycle radial aircraft engine. 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 Stuarts with petrol engines and 1,285 with diesel engines 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 an 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.
Soon after the M3A1, a new model, the M3A3, was made as a result of the poorly designed frontal armor and small fuel capacity of the first versions. The front and side armor of the Stuart M3A3 were angled and the front hatches for the driver and his assistant were replaced by new overhead ones. 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, with a total of some 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 the British Empire, USSR, Brazil, China, France, the Netherlands, and many other Latin American nations. Britain would subsequently give some of their Stuarts to the Yugoslav Partisans. By 1943, however, the M3 was already outdated, due to its weak gun and feeble armor.
Repair Facilities at Šibenik
The Partisan First Tank Brigade, after some heavy fighting with the Germans, managed to push them out of the city of Šibenik (located on the Adriatic coast of modern Croatia), which was captured on 3rd November 1944. Prior to the war, Šibenik had been a large naval shipyard and possessed a number of workshops. Despite many of them being sabotaged by the retreating Germans, there was still sufficient working equipment and materials left to meet the needs of the Partisan mechanics, who were somewhat in great need of such tools. Namely, the fighting with the Germans had led to heavy tank losses. As there was no way to replenish lost tanks, the Partisans were forced to try to salvage and repair damaged vehicles. Even those that were damaged beyond repair were reused for spare parts. Enemy vehicles and equipment captured by that time were also transported to Šibenik in hope of repairing them or, if this was not possible, to be cannibalized for spare parts. Šibenik would remain the Partisans’ main base for repairs and maintenance until the end of the war. In addition, it also served as a vital training ground for new Partisan tank crews from November 1944 onwards. The Partisan repair work was actually supervised and assisted by British Major Peterson supported by an unnamed Sergeant.
Modification of the M3A3
While the Partisans were surely grateful to the Allies for the Stuart tanks, they were, to say the least, quite disappointed with their firepower. The Stuart was armed with a 37 mm gun which was quite inadequate for anti-tank duties in 1944/45. While the enemy tanks which operated in Yugoslavia were mostly obsolete French and Italian tanks, a number of them were more modern (Panzer III, Panzer IV, StuG III, or even captured T-34s), against which the 37 mm gun could do little. Another issue with the Stuart’s gun was that it was noted to be generally ineffective against well fortified enemy positions. The Partisans, to some extent, resolved these issues by utilizing the AEC Mk. II (due to its better firepower, the 6 pounder – 5.7 cm gun) as anti-tank vehicles. This, in turn, led to another problem. The armored cars, which were intended to perform reconnaissance, were instead reused for the anti-tank role. This forced the Partisans to use ordinary infantry for reconnaissance, which was not always effective or even reliable and often led to great losses.
Rearming the already existing tanks seemed one possible solution. One attempt was arming a Somua S35 with a 5.7 cm gun placed in a modified turret. This vehicle was lost on its first combat missions and appears to have been quite ineffective in design. Given the general improvised nature, this should not come as a big surprise
By the end of 1944, at ‘La Dalmatien’ workshop in Šibenik, a number of Stuarts with damaged turrets that were probably beyond repair were present. A decision was made by the Partisan authorities stationed in Šibenik to try and install a number of German captured weapons in hope of increasing their combat effectiveness. While a number of sources claim that four different such modifications were made, based on the information and evidence available, only two of these can actually be confirmed. At least one was armed with a German 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and a second vehicle was armed with the 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun.
General information about these two vehicles are scarce and difficult to find, mainly as the Partisans kept a poor record of them. What is known is that these were likely hasty improvisations with little to no testing done prior to their completion. The work on these modifications began sometime at the end of 1944 and was completed by early 1945.
Sadly, there are no available sources that mention the precise names of these vehicles. It is also unknown if the Partisans ever actually bothered to give them any designation or even a nickname. Sometimes, it is simply referred to as the M3A3 with 7.5 cm PaK 40. This article will use the simple PaK Stuart designation for the sake of simplicity only. It is important to note that this is purely a modern designation.
For this modification, damaged Stuarts M3A3s were used (as they were present in greater numbers). Instead of the original tank turret, a simple three-sided shield and a 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun were placed. This is where the sources effectively stop describing the overall PaK Stuart design. More information can be obtained based on analysis of available photographs and educated guesses.
The Gun Mount
The general decision to use the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun can be explained simply by the fact that it was the best anti-tank weapon in Yugoslavia. Also, the Partisans captured a number of these guns, so they used what they had.
Precisely how the Partisans mounted the 7.5 cm anti-tank gun is unknown. Given the general urgent need for a vehicle with increased firepower and in order to reduce the overall construction time needed, the Partisans would most likely have gone for the simplest working solution. One possible solution is that the Partisans first install a reinforced (likely using metal bars) base, on which they mounted the gun with its cradle mount. In order to save weight and space, the 7.5 cm PaK 40 wheels and trailing legs were removed. The gun would be placed on the previously mentioned base and held in place either by being welded in place or by bolts. Thus, the gun’s original elevation (-5° to +22°) and traverse (65°) would likely remain the same. While no front gun travel lock was installed, there is a photograph of such a vehicle being under construction with what appears to be a rear positioned travel lock. This had a simple design, using two bars in a reverse ‘V’-shape. On the other hand, given the lack of a better view of this position, the part believed to be a V-shaped travel lock could also be (at least in this case) a simple tool that was used during the mounting of the gun. Either way, the use of a travel lock on a long gun like the PaK 40 was quite essential. For example, driving over rough terrain without one could potentially damage the gun mount or even affect its overall precision.
The added gun, armor plates and ammunition certainly raised the vehicle’s overall weight, but to what extent is unknown. It is also unknown how the whole modification affected the M3A3’s overall driving performance.
This vehicle was armed with the excellent 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. It was more than well suited to successfully engage any tank in the Yugoslav theatre of operation until the end of the war. Beside installing this gun onto the Stuart tank, the Partisans would also face problems with where to store the relatively large PaK 40 ammunition. While the sources do not provide us with an explanation, there are quite few solutions to this issue. One possible solution is that the Partisan crews stored spare ammunition inside the vehicle. Given the small size of the vehicle, only a limited amount of ammunition could be stored this way. How these would be given to the gun crews is questionable. If the new gun mount installation left no opening for the ammunition to be taken from inside the tank, the driver or his assistant had to provide them. This would leave them open to enemy fire and this was, in general, quite an ineffective method.
Another solution was that spare ammunition was stored in the fighting compartment and in easy reach of the gun crews. Due to the small size of this fighting compartment, only a few spare rounds could be carried. The last solution may be that the vehicle was used to engage targets at greater ranges and the ammunition was instead carried by another vehicle (likely an ammunition supply truck). Given the general lack of information about such a vehicle, this seems unlikely but not impossible.
The secondary armament consisted of the original hull mounted Browning 7.62 mm machine gun. Interestingly, some vehicles appear to lack the hull positioned machine gun. The reason for this is unknown, but possibly done to make more room inside the vehicle, or they were simply removed for maintenance or ammunition reasons. On some photographs, a second Browning machine gun can be seen placed on top of the gun shield or behind it, but the photographs are not clear enough.
The armor protection of this vehicle (with the exception of the original Stuart hull) is unknown. The gun keeped its own twin layer gun shield (each plate was 4 mm thick with 25 mm of free space between them). On both sides of the vehicle’s new fighting compartment, there were simple angled armored plates. These were made from salvaged German vehicles that were too damaged to be repaired. Interestingly, on the rear bottom of the side armor plates, there are what appear to be small hatches that had no obvious reason to be there. One possible solution is that this was actually part of the original salvage metal plates that the Partisans did not bother to remove.
To fill the gap between the gun and the hull, an armored plate was added. The top and the back of this fighting compartment were completely open, exposing the crew to the elements and enemy fire. In principle, the armor of the upper modified gun platform at best offered only limited protection for its crew, mostly from small caliber bullets and shrapnel.
While the Stuart turret was removed, the rest of the vehicle appears to have been unchanged. On the Flak armed Stuart version, the two hull hatches were redesigned to be opened forwards. This was done to provide a better firing angle for the main weapon. On the PaK armed version, this was not the case. Given the fact that the gun itself was higher up, there was still plenty of room to use the hatches in their original configuration.
While there is no certain information, the crew of this vehicle likely consisted of four. These include a driver and an assistant, who was also the machine gun operator, which were located in the hull. The gun loader, who was probably the commander, and the gunner were positioned in the small open fighting compartment. While the hull crew were fully protected, the gun operators were completely exposed to weather and had only limited protection from enemy fire.
The number of PaK Stuarts built is unknown. It is generally believed that at least three vehicles were constructed. One such source is the book written by authors B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945). Various internet websites mention a number of 5, which seems to be unlikely. What is particularly strange is that this conversion always appears alone in contemporary photographs, so it is possible that only a single vehicle conversion was ever carried out.
Author D. Predoević (Armored Units and Vehicles in Croatia during WWII, Part I, Allied Armored Vehicles) also agrees that three vehicles were modified in this manner. He also gives an explanation about the production number mystery. He claims that, in Partisan documents regarding the 4th Army (dated from April 1945), they mentioned the use of four Stuart self-propelled guns. These, in fact, were Howitzer Motor Carriage M8s armed with the 75 mm howitzer developed and built by the Americans. Between 7 and 9 such vehicles were supplied to the Partisans during April 1945. These vehicles may be the main culprits for the overall confusion about the precise number of PaK Stuarts built. The same caliber being present on both vehicles may have led to some sources wrongly describing them as the anti-tank vehicles developed by the Partisans.
Once the PaK Stuarts were ready, during early 1945, they were initially used for training the crews in order to effectively operate these modified vehicles. During late March, these vehicles were dispatched to the front line and saw action against the Germans until the end of war.
There is little information on the usage in action and losses of the Partisan Stuart PaK version. What is known from contemporary photographic evidence is that they were used in combat. There are only a few documented actions in which these tanks were used. The modified PaK Stuart vehicle (or vehicles) were used in battles near cities like Mostar, Bihać, and Drenovača during February/March 1945. Besides a few photographs, their precise usage during these battles is unknown.
At the end of April, they were engaged in heavy fighting with the Germans near Ilirska Bistrica. On 28th April 1945, the Germans, supported by captured T-34s and vehicles described as ‘Panthers’ managed to push back the Partisans. While the precise vehicle types used are unknown (as no real Panther were used in Yugoslavia during the war), it is possible that these were in fact StuG IIIs. The Partisans made a counter-attack and pushed the Germans back. During this offensive, during a short engagement, a modified Stuart managed to destroy a German T-34 tank. While its general performance is unknown due to a lack of information, what is known is that the gun recoil during firing would cause the whole vehicle to be pushed back several meters. Firing of the gun probably also put enormous stress on the M3A3 chassis. The modified Stuarts (the PaK and Flak versions) participated in the liberation of Trieste near the end of the war, in May 1945.
While the modified Flak Stuart did survive the war and was in service for some time after that, the precise fate of the PaK Stuarts is unclear. Authors B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945) gives some clues, as they mention that the PaK Stuart survived the war but do not go into detail about its potential usage or even its final fate. If these survived the war, they were not preserved in any museum and were likely scrapped.
The M3A3 armed with the 7.5 cm anti-tank gun was a Partisan attempt to quickly build a vehicle capable of effectively destroying any enemy target. While in this they succeeded, the overall performance of the vehicle was most likely quite disappointing. While its new gun gave it huge firepower, it was also its Achilles’ heel. The gun’s tremendous recoil during firing was simply too much for the small Stuart. The small and poorly protected fighting compartment was also a huge issue. The small ammunition load would also limit its effectiveness in prolonged combat missions. While the Partisans managed to destroy a number of enemy tanks with it, this modified M3A3 was simply a hastily improvisation using any available resources at hand. Despite its somewhat poor design, it certainly served as a reminder of the harsh battles fought in Yugoslavia and the ingenuity of the Partisans fighting there.
4 (Gunner/ commander, loader, driver and driver assistance)
Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
7.5 cm PaK 40 Anti-Tank Gun
From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)
B. B. Dimitrijević, (2011) Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
B. Perrett (1980) The Stuart light tank series, Osprey Publishing
M. Babić (1986) oklopne Jedinice u NOR-u 1941-1945, Vojnoizdavački i Novinarski Centar
I. V.Hogg (1997) German Artillery of World War Two,
D. Predoević (2002) Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, part I, Allied armored vehicles, Digital Point Rijeka
United States of America (1937)
Light Tank – 89 Built
In the years prior to the Second World War, the US was in the process of forming its first armored formations. Their tank-producing industry was greatly hampered by a lack of funds, the US’ isolationist policy, the lack of foresight of many of the Army’s military top brass, etcetera. By the early 1930s, the US Cavalry wanted its own tank that would provide highly mobile fire support to its units. This would lead to the creation of the M1 Combat Car, which would become a forerunner of the famous American light tank series extensively used during the Second World War.
Cavalry Combat Car Development
Following the outbreak of the First World War in Europe, the US was at that period trying to be neutral. In early 1917, this changed mostly due to Germany’s submarine action against US shipping. As the inexperienced US soldiers were slowly sent to the Western Front, they came across the new Allied tanks. In the years after this war, the US Army undertook a series of experimental developments with different tank designs. For a variety of reasons, the whole development process was rather slow. Among them, to name a few, limited funds, the inexperience of the designers, and beliefs that American troops would no longer take part in wars like the First World War. Probably the most important reason was the disbandment of the Tank Corps in 1919. At that time, the Infantry’s commanders simply did not see an urgent need for such vehicles, instead prioritizing their own formations. The following year, the National Defense Act of 1920 (N.D.A., 1920) put the responsibility for the development of such vehicles solely on the Infantry. The Infantry branch would lay down basic requirements to the US Army General Staff. While this was done, the General Staff would then make a final decision about the realization and issue an order for either discarding the project or accepting it. Similarly, like in most modern armies, the tank was seen as an infantry support weapon, and thus not expected to be a war-winning weapon on its own. In this sense, as the US Army’s main concerns were guarding its existing borders, tanks were seen as less important weapons.
This attitude persisted up to the end of the 1920s. In 1928, while visiting Britain, the US Secretary of War, D. F. Davis, participated in a demonstration of an experimental British armored brigade. This experimental unit consisted of a series of light and medium tanks supported by motorized infantry and artillery. Once back in the US, Secretary Davis urged for the development of similar units. This change in attitude was further fostered by the newly appointed Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, in 1931. MacArthur argued that tanks had greater offensive potential than acting merely as infantry support weapons, thus supporting their development. The early attempts in designing and building tanks would lead to the creation of the T2 tanks.
During the 1930s, the US Infantry branch was solely responsible for developing tanks. Nonetheless, the Cavalry branch wanted to increase its firepower by adding armored vehicles to its inventory. Due to legislative limitations (N.D.A., 1920), the Cavalry was forbidden from developing its own tanks. They bypassed this by simply designating them as ‘combat cars’ instead. Their attempts to ‘hide’ their purpose were somewhat ironic, as both the Cavalry and Infantry designs were developed and built at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.
Combat cars were essentially tanks used by the US Cavalry units. They were to perform the same support role as the Infantry’s tanks. The main difference was, at least in the early stages of tank development in the US, that the Cavalry branch put great emphasis on these vehicles having a fully rotating turret. This somewhat ‘petty’ debate was not unique to the US during this period. At the same time, the cavalry branches in France and Japan developed the AMR 33 and Type 92 Heavy Armored Car respectively. All these were referred to as “cars” even if they were tanks just because they were used by the cavalry branch.
In 1933, the development of a new design was initiated. It was to incorporate a weight of around 6.3 tonnes, armor that was resistant to small-caliber rounds, and armed with a single 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and two 7.62 mm machine guns. In addition, the maximum speed was set at 48 km, with an operational range of 160 km. The use of a wheel-only mode tested on some earlier US designs was discarded. While this vehicle would share a number of features with the infantry Light Tank T2 to save development time and resources, the primary difference was the choice of suspension units used.
The Infantry’s T2 Light Tank used a suspension influenced by British Vickers Mark. E (also referred to sometimes as Vickers 6-ton) designs. The Cavalry’s T5 Combat Car, on the other hand, used a newly developed volute spring suspension. Another innovation was the introduction of a rubber block track that had rubber bushings. On 9th August 1933, the War Department gave the green light for the implementation of this project.
In its early stage of development, the T5 Combat Car project initially incorporated the use of two separate turrets. The first prototype was presented at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds (A.P.G.) in late April 1934. For potential use by the Infantry, the T5 Combat Car was modified by replacing the two turrets with a new large and fixed superstructure, resulting in the T5E1. While this may have suited the needs of the Infantry, the Cavalry wanted a tank equipped with a fully rotating turret. This led to the creation of the T5E2 version equipped with a turret taken from the T4E1 vehicle. Following a successful trial, this vehicle would be adopted for service under the designation Combat Car, M1.
This vehicle was intended to be used by the Cavalry, which designated it the ‘Combat Car, M1’. In 1940, the US created its first Armored Force, which basically combined the Infantry and Cavalry tanks into a single organizational structure. This organizational change was deemed necessary, especially after the quick German victory over the Western Allies in 1940. Using tanks as a support element of either infantry or cavalry was obviously shown to be a flawed concept. Instead, these were to be integrated into single armored formations.
Interestingly, and somewhat confusingly, according to S. J. Zaloga (Early US Armor 1916 to 1940), in July 1940, after the consolidation of Army and Cavalry, the ‘Combat Car, M2’ was renamed ‘Light Tank, M1A1’, while the ‘Combat Car, M1’ was renamed ‘Light Tank, M1A2’. The Combat Car, M2 was a similar vehicle project that ran parallel with the original M1. The precise name designation is somewhat confusing in the sources. On the other hand, B. Perrett (Stuart Light Tank Series) mentioned that the M1 became M1A1 while the M2 became M1A2. Ellis and Chamberlain (Light Tanks M1-M5) state that the use of the term ‘combat cars’ began to disappear much earlier, starting from 1937.
The M1 had a rather simple hull design which was divided into a few compartments. The front-drive compartment, where the drive units and the transmission were located, was the first. It was protected by an angled upper glacis plate. On its left side, a round-shaped opening for the hull machine gun ball mount was placed. In the center of the hull was the fully protected crew compartment with the turret on top. Lastly, to the rear, was the engine compartment.
The M1 was powered by a series of modified and improved engines, including the Continental R-670-3M, R-670-3C, R-670-5, and W670-7 engines. The power available from these engines ranged from 235 to 250 [email protected],400 rpm. With a fuel load of 190 liters and a weight of slightly more than 8.5 tonnes, the M1 Combat Car’s operational range was 190 km on roads and 100 km cross-country. The engine compartment was enclosed and the rear part was covered by a large ventilation grid. The maximum speed of the M1 was an excellent 72 km/h, while the cross-country speed was lower, at 32 km/h.
The M1 used a relatively new volute type of spring suspension (VVSS). This consisted of two bogies with two doubled wheels per side. These were suspended using vertical volute springs. It also consisted of the front-drive sprocket, three return rollers, and the rear-positioned idler. The front-drive sprocket had 14 track guiding teeth. The tracks were 295 mm wide and had a ground contact length of around 2.9 m.
The M1’s superstructure had a simple box-shaped design. Both the superstructure and turret armor were constructed using face-hardened steel and connected using rivets. The front driver’s plate had a single two-piece rectangular-shaped hatch which also acted as the driver’s vision port. On the right side, next to it, the driver’s assistant was also provided with a larger rectangular-shaped vision port. The front driver’s plate actually protruded slightly out of the rest of the superstructure. This allowed the addition of two smaller vision ports on both sides of the vehicle. The superstructure sides were usually used to store various tools and equipment.
The M1’s turret design was reused from the earlier T4E1 project. It was D-shaped, with a flat side and rear armor, while the front plate was angled backward. There were two observation ports placed on each side, with one more to the rear. The machine guns were positioned in the front openings. To the rear of the turret, an anti-aircraft machine gun mount was placed. No commander’s cupola was provided to these vehicles. On the top, a large hatch for the turret crew was located to the rear. The turret ring diameter was 1,210 mm.
The last 30 vehicles received a simplified 8-sided turret. This was primarily meant to reduce costs and simplify the whole production. The production of curved armored plates was deemed unnecessarily complex and costly to do.
Nominally, the M1’s armament consisted of a single 12.7 mm M2 heavy machine gun and three 7.62 mm machine guns. The heavy machine gun was placed on the left side of the turret, while one 7.62 mm machine gun was on the right side. One machine gun was located on the right side of the hull, with one more stored inside, which could be used for anti-aircraft duties.
Depending on the need, this configuration and the type of machine guns and mounts used could change. For example, the heavy machine gun could be removed or replaced with a 7.62 mm machine gun. For the hull ball mount, both the M2 or M1919A4 7.62 mm type machine guns could be used. In addition, one .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun was provided for the crew’s protection. The ammunition load consisted of 1,100 rounds for the 12.7 mm, 6,700 for the 7.62 mm, and 500 rounds for the Thomson.
For engaging targets, an M5 or M1918A2 telescopic sight could be used.
The M1’s frontal hull armor was 16 mm thick, with the upper glacis placed at a 69º angle. The driver’s plate was also 16 mm thick and placed at a 17º angle. The hull and superstructure side armor was the same, at 13 mm, while the bottom, rear, and top armor were only 6 mm thick. The turret had all-around armor of 16 mm, with a steeply angled front at 30º. The roof was only 6 mm thick.
The M1 had a crew of four: commander, gunner, driver, and driver’s assistant. The commander and the gunner were positioned in the turret. The remaining two crew were placed inside the vehicle, with the driver to the left and the driver’s assistant to his right. The driver assistant’s role was to act as a replacement if the main driver was disabled or, in the worst case, killed. Besides that, he was to operate the hull-positioned machine gun.
Further Development of the M1
In 1936, the T5 Combat Car was tested with a new engine. Its Continental gasoline engine was replaced with an air-cooled Guiberson T-1020 model radial diesel engine. This engine produced 220 [email protected],200rpm. Some three M1 tanks would be modified and re-equipped with this new engine. These received M1E1 (T5E3) designations and would be used for testing at Fort Knox in early 1937.
In summer 1937, further tests and modifications were carried out on the M1 tanks. One tank was extensively modified, receiving a completely redesigned rear engine compartment. This was mainly done to provide the crews with easier access to the engine. In addition, the fuel load was also increased. Another major change was the use of a redesigned suspension to reduce wobbling. The rear idler was moved further to the back. The distance between the two boogies was increased. In addition, the number of return rollers was reduced to two. This experimental model received the M1E2 designation. Interestingly, given its experimental nature, the modified engine compartment was made by using simple soft steel plates.
Once ready, this vehicle was sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds to be tested. The tests were carried out from 3rd August to 5th October 1937. It was noted that the modified suspension offered better stability during firing and overall driving. The negative aspect was that it required a slight increase in steering effort. The modification to the engine compartment was also seen as an improvement, as it offered easier access for repairs. Once the test was completed, the single vehicle was modified back to the M1’s original configuration.
This improvement attempt was deemed successful, and the decision was made in 1938 that additional vehicles would be built using these improvements. Some 24 to 34 such vehicles would be built under the M1A1 designation. These were equipped with eight-sided turrets. In addition, at least 7 vehicles known as M1A1E1 were equipped with Guiberson engines.
The M1A1 Combat Car would later be redesignated as the M1A1 Light Tank. This version formed the basis for the later and T7 Combat Car.
In late 1938, the M1E3 vehicle was tested. This was basically an M1 with a modified suspension in order to use T27 rubber band tracks. In addition, there were improvements to the transmission, and lowering of the drive shaft. The lower-positioned drive shaft was desirable and was decided to be implemented in vehicles built in 1940. As this would cause huge delays in production, it was decided to temporarily not adopt this feature. By that time, the M2 Light Tank version was being adopted for service in ever-increasing numbers due to the ongoing war in Europe. There were plans to modernize the available M1 tanks to the M2 standard and be designated as M1A2 Combat Cars. Interestingly, the M1E3 prototype was to be used as a base for a self-propelled artillery vehicle armed with a 75 mm howitzer. The project HMC T17, as it was known, never materialized beyond the drawing board.
In 1940, due to development in Europe and demands for more tanks, some attempts were made to further increase the performance of tanks such as the M1. According to the Protective Mobilization Plan, it was recommended that some 88 M1 tanks had to be reequipped with new turrets, which were to be provided with protective periscopes that were to replace vision slots. Due to a lack of funds, this was never implemented.
Another T5 project, known as T5E4, was used to test the modified suspension in late 1937. The rear volute bogie was replaced with a new torsion bar unit. In addition, the rear idler was replaced with a new trailing idler which was placed on the ground. This helped reduce the overall ground pressure. Testing was conducted in early 1938. The results were positive, as the new idler provided better stability during the firing of the gun and driving. The torsion bar unit was also deemed positive, but the main problem was its durability, and as a result was not suggested for production. The engine was replaced with a 150 hp T-570-1 and later with a W-670. This vehicle was not provided with a turret during testing.
The production of the M1 was carried out by Rock Island Arsenal. In the sources there are slight disagrement about the precise production numbers and the dates.
Year of production *
According to R. P. Hunnicutt (Stuart A History of the American Light Tank)
It began in 1935, with 38 vehicles being built that year. In 1936, only 16 were made, while in 1937, when the production ended, a further 32 were built. In total, M1 Combat Cars would be built, according to
Year of production *
According to S. J. Zaloga (Early US Armor 1916 to 1940)
D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-SAD) mentions that, while 89 were built, production began in 1935 and lasted until 1937.
In 1937 and 1938, a small production run of the slightly improved M1A1 was carried out. In total, for this version, only 24 to 34 vehicles were built.
The first Combat Car, M1s would be allocated to the 1st Cavalry Division. These would be used during the second Army summer maneuvers in 1936. One of the largest such military exercises was the Louisiana Maneuvers held in 1941. The M1 tanks would not be used in any combat action. Instead, they would mainly perform the role of training vehicles up to 1942, before finally being removed from service.
The M1 was one of the first successful American light tank designs that were put into production in some numbers. While not perfect, it, together with the later M2 Light Tank, would eventually lead to the creation of the M3 and M5 light tank series. Besides its importance as the first stepping stone in light tank development, the M1 played an important role in providing US tank crews with the necessary training for their overseas deployment during WW2.
M1 Light Tank Technical specifications
Commander, gunner, driver, and driver Assistant
Length 4.14, Width 2.4, Height 2.26 m
Different types of power ranging from 235 to 250 hp@ 2,400 rpm
Republic of Serbia (2009)
Self-Propelled Howitzer – Possibly Only 1 Prototype Built
After Serbia became independent in 2006, its Army inherited stocks of various equipment and weapons left over from Yugoslavia. These included older artillery pieces, such as the 105 mm M-56 howitzer. Given the availability of this howitzer, the engineers from the Serbian Yugoimport company tried to develop a self-propelled vehicle equipped with this gun. In order to make the whole project as cheap to develop as possible, this howitzer was simply placed on a modified military truck chassis. This created a vehicle known as the M09 105 mm armored truck-mounted howitzer.
History and Context of the Project
During the mid-2000s, the Serbian Army began to be interested in the development of cheap self-propelled vehicles that could be built using available components, such as the chassis and the main weapon. The Yugoimport company began building and developing a series of such vehicles. Yugoimport (Југоимпорт СДПР Ј.П) was founded back in 1949, with the intention of acquiring the necessary military equipment for the JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, Yugoslav People’s Army) from abroad. After 1953, Jugoimport expanded the scope of its business to the export of domestic military equipment. In 2006, Jugoimport was reorganized and became a Serbian state-owned public enterprise.
One of their projects included installing the aging 105 mm M56/33 howitzer on a 6×6 truck chassis. While using a tracked chassis would provide better off-road driving capabilities, it would also raise the price and prolong the development time needed to build such a vehicle. A truck chassis, on the other hand, was quite cheap and could be easily adapted for this role. The gun choice mainly lay in its availability and, while it lacked sufficient firepower, it was hoped that its rate of fire would make up for this shortcoming.
The official designation for this vehicle was the M09 105 mm armored truck-mounted howitzer. For the sake of simplicity, this article will refer to it as simply M09.
Development of the M09
Unfortunately, the M09 is quite poorly documented, especially regarding its development history. It appears to have been a private venture of Yugoimport as an attempt to create a cheap self-propelled vehicle. The M09 was intended to provide fast mobile fire support to rapid deployment forces of different unit strengths, from brigade to battalion level. Thanks to its small caliber and large ammunition storage, it was meant to saturate the designated target with sufficient firepower before retreating to avoid any potential counter-response from the enemy. Another interesting feature is that its low overall weight allowed it to be transported by air. The sources do not specify the precise time during which the whole project was carried out. This vehicle name M09 gives an indication that its development likely began sometime at the end of the 2000s.
One of the first public appearances of the M09 was during the ‘Partner 2011’ (Партнер) Arms Fair held in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. While some sources mention that the M09 was first publicly shown during the military fair in 2013, this is not true, as there are photographs of it from 2011.
The truck chassis which was used for this vehicle is not listed in the sources (as are, in general, all other major details). Given its appearance, it was likely based on the FAP2026 BS/AB 6×6 all-terrain wheeled truck. This was a vehicle domestically developed and built by the FAP (Fabrika Automobila Priboj) factory beginning in the late 1970s. It was primarily designed to act as a towing vehicle for a number of artillery pieces. It could also be used to transport troops and materials, with up to 6 tonnes capacity. The M09 could be customized to use on any available 6×6 military truck chassis for potential buyers.
The M09 chassis was probably reinforced and strengthened in order to withstand the firing recoil of the main gun. The M09 was a light vehicle, at only 12 tonnes. Its maximum speed was 90 km/h, while the operational range was 450 km.
The main armament chosen for this vehicle was the 105 mm M-56 howitzer. This weapon was domestically produced during the 1950s in Yugoslavia. It was developed mostly using components from the German 10.5 cm leFH 18/40 but also modified to be able to use ammunition from the American M2 howitzer. Some of these survived up to the 2000s, when they were modernized, receiving new ammunition, a longer barrel, and modifications to breach lock and muzzle brake. The maximum firing range, depending on the ammunition used, was from nearly 12 km to 18.1 km. The modified howitzer was designated the M-56/33.
During the installation of the M-56/33 howitzer on the M09, its wheels and trail legs were removed. The main weapon was placed to the rear of the truck chassis, where the previous flatbed was replaced with a simple flat firing platform. The howitzer was then placed on a simple round-shaped mount which allowed full rotation of this weapon. The gun and its crew were protected by an enlarged gun shield that fully protected them from the front and sides.
The elevation of the M09 main gun was -10° to +62°. While the M09’s main gun could make a 360° turn, its firing arc was actually facing to the rear. Firing to the sides or front (over the crew compartment) could potentially overturn the vehicle. As there was no automated loading system, each round had to be loaded manually. The firing speed was 6 to 7 rounds per minute.
The ammunition load consisted of 60 rounds. These were stored in two storage bins located just below the armored crew compartment. During traveling, the gun would be positioned between the two ammunition storage bins.
Given its relatively small weight, in order to provide stability during firing, two manually operated support legs had to be lowered. In addition, there are two small stabilizers located to the rear, and these too had to be manually lowered. Despite this, with a skilled crew, the M09 needed some 2 minutes to deploy. The reverse process was a bit longer, at 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The manual lowering/raising of the support legs left the crew exposed from potential enemy counter-fire.
For self-defense, the M09 was provided with a small manually rotating turret armed with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun which was mounted on top of the crew compartment. This small turet was protected from the front and back and had open sides and top. Based on the photographs during its development, two types of turrets were employed. Initially, the front of this turret was protected by angled two-piece armor. The later version had a much simpler one-piece angled armor. The armament itself was also changed. Initially, a 12.7 mm Browning was used, later being replaced by a domestically produced M87 of the same caliber. Besides the heavy machine gun, the crew was also armed with their personal weapons.
The M09’s main driver compartment was protected from 7.62 x 51 mm NATO caliber rounds and shrapnel. The gun and the gun operators were protected by a larger gun shield. The M09 was quite lightly armored, its speed and mobility being its best defense.
The M09 crew compartment was placed at the front of the vehicle and it also covered the whole engine compartment. The crew compartment had a simple box shape, with the top slightly curving inwards. This area also received a number of modifications during the vehicle’s development history. Initially, the front armor plate was placed at a high angle, which offered better protection. This design was not accepted for some reason, as it was replaced with a more box-shaped front. There were two doors on opposite sides for the crews to access it. Besides the larger two-piece windshield, there were also four smaller windows placed in pairs on each side, two of which were on the doors. Behind the crew compartment, two ammunition storage bins were placed.
The M09 had a crew of five. However, sadly, the sources do not specify the precise role of each one. The roles likely included a commander, a gunner, a driver, a loader, and a gunner assistant. These would be seated inside the front protected cabin when driving. The rear gun compartment had room for three crew members. The gunner was positioned to the left of the gun, with the gunner assistant on the right and behind them the loader. The gunner assistant manually opened and closed the breechblock and may have also helped the loader. The gunner assistant could fire the gun. The gun platform was quite cramped, with limited room for the operators. They were placed on two seats that were connected with the whole gun mount, so they rotated with it. The commander and the driver would remain in the crew compartment. The commander probably was the one that operates the top-mounted machine gun.
The Fate of the Project
How many M09s were built is unknown, but likely only a single prototype was constructed. The M09 was presented on numerous military fairs and exhibitions after 2011 but failed to gain any foreign interest. The Serbian Army also did not adopt it, mainly because it was more focused on the larger and more advanced NORA self-propelled series. One of the recent events where the M09 was presented was during a visit by a military delegation from the Kingdom of Bahrain held in Serbia in April 2021. As the M09 did not gain any foreign interest and it appears that it will not be adopted by the Serbian Army, its final fate currently is unknown, but it is likely that it will be abandoned.
The M09, while being designed to be cheap and simple to operate, did not manage to gain any foreign interest. Given that it uses an outdated and generally weak main gun, this is not surprising. While it is not uncommon to find manually loaded self-propelled guns, modern armies have gravitated more and more towards much more sophisticated weapon systems than the M09. Armies that have smaller budgets may find the M09 appealing, but for now, none have actually shown interest in it. While its final fate is uncertain, it is likely that it will remain just a simple proposal and testbed for the Serbian engineers.
M09 Technical specification
Commander, gunner, gunner assistant, loader, and the driver