In 2016, a bundle of plans and documents went on sale at an auction house. They appeared to show previously unseen ‘blueprints’ for a German one-man light tank design that had been submitted during WW2 to Albert Speer, the German Minister for Armaments and War Production, by a German officer. As no supporting documents that mentioned this tank had been found in the archives, these documents were viewed as possibly fake.
In November 2019, C & T Auctioneers and Valuers Ltd., based in Ashford, Kent, uploaded photographs on their website of plans, sketches, and official documents relating to the same one-man light tank that were to be sold on 11 December 2019 at their auction room. They put a value on them at £200 to £500. These were not the same documents that had been offered for sale in 2016.
Military historians from Germany, America, the Netherlands, and Britain started to take more interest in this tank design. It was discovered that the style of words used on the tank plans were written in was an old German dialect called Sütterlinschrift. The Sütterlin handwritten scripts were introduced in Prussia in 1915. The Nazi Party banned Sütterlin typefaces in 1941, as they were seen as chaotic, and replaced them with Latin-type letters, like Antiqua. However, many German speakers brought up with this writing system continued to use it well into the post-war period. Sütterlin was taught in some German schools until the 1970s, but no longer as the primary script.
The tank design was submitted by Leutnant Franz-Georg Gmelin. The officer’s name was written in the old way with the surname first. The address he gave was full of abbreviations: Issing b. Landsberg a.L. (Issing near the town of Landsberg at the River Lech). Issing is now part of the town of Landsberg, which is 37 miles (59 km) west of Munich. It is not known why he was staying at home in Issing. He may have been injured and recovering from wounds. In the documentation, this address was referred to as his wife’s address and not his ‘field’ address.
On the plans, the tank was called ‘Entwurf zum 1 Mann – KleinpanzerKampfwagen,’ which translates to ‘Designed for a one-man – small armored combat vehicle.’ A better translation would be a ‘one-man light tank’. On the typed documents, the tank was called ‘1 – Mann – KleinpanzerKampfwagen – Maus.’ The word ‘Maus’ is German for ‘mouse’. This could cause confusion, as the German army already had a super-heavy tank design ironically called the ‘Maus’.
The tank’s dimensions were going to be 3.0 m (9 ft 10 in) long, 1.9 m (6 ft 2.8 in) wide, and 1.3 m (4 ft 1.8 in) high. The tank’s armor would range from 10 mm – 38 mm (0.39 – 1.49 in), angled at 14 – 45 degrees. The total combat-ready weight was designed to be 2.7 tonnes, with a ground pressure reading of 0.4 kg/cm2. An exact engine is not specified. The document states that a commercially available truck engine should be used. It was hoped that the top road speed would be 60 km/h (37.28 mph).
On the matter of the tank’s armament, the information in the documentation was not specific. It stated that it could be armed with fully automatic weapons up to 2 cm and semi-automatic weapons up to 3.7 cm. It went on to state that future planned versions could be armed with grenades, a flamethrower, smoke dischargers, a Panzer-Büchse (heavy anti-tank rifle), a Panzerschreck (hand-held shoulder-launched rocket launcher used as an anti-tank weapon), or a Panzerfaust, (hand-held single shot, recoilless anti-tank weapon).
The tank did not have a turret, but the crewman appears to have a cupola with three vision slits, out of which he had to see where he was going and look out for threats and targets. The domed cupola was not circular and did not move. It appears to be made of cast metal. The rest of the armor would be cut from flat sections of rolled armor plates. An armored cover appears to project out of the cupola to protect the gun sight periscope. Two guns were to be mounted next to each other in ball mounts and projected out of the nose of the tank. It appears from the drawings that the gun on the right has a longer barrel, suggesting that it was a more powerful weapon perhaps in a similar arrangement to that seen on the Panzer II. The documentation states the guns would have a limited traverse arc of 30 degrees.
The crewman sat in the center of the tank. The engine was at the rear of the tank, behind the crewman’s seat. It powered the final drive and track drive sprocket wheel at the rear of the tank. This was an unusual configuration, as most Second World War German tanks had the track drive sprocket wheels at the front of the tank. The idler wheel was at the front and there were two large road wheels behind it. They were the same diameter as the track drive sprocket wheel. The tank was not fitted with track return rollers.
The tank tracks did not project in front of the two-gun barrels. In most circumstances, this was not a problem, as obstacles like a bank of earth, a rock, or tree trunk could be driven over. The problem would come when the tank was driven down the side of a steep embankment, trench, or shell crater. There would be a danger that the front of the gun barrels would dig into the earth and get damaged.
Leutnant Franz-Georg Gmelin received a proposal rejection letter, dated 13 November 1944, from the Ministry for Armaments and War Production at his home address in Bavaria. They thanked him for his detailed proposal and mentioned that they had returned his plans and documents.
One of the main reasons for the rejection of his idea was that the Schützenpanzerwagen – Sd.Kfz.251 armored infantry half-track had proven itself for years accompanying Panzergrenadiers into battle, so there was no tactical need to move from that vehicle to a one-man light tank.
Leutnant Franz-Georg Gmelin was probably an injured infantry officer convalescing at home. He had time to think about the problems he and his men had had to deal with on the battlefield and possible solutions. Apart from bombing, long-range enemy artillery, and mortar shelling, machine guns were the main problem for the infantry. His one-man light tank design would enable a single soldier to get close to enemy fortified machine-gun posts and knock them out. What Leutnant Franz-Georg Gmelin would not be aware of was the dwindling German war machine production capacity and access to raw materials in late 1944. Tooling up a factory to produce a new tank design would be costly and take too long. The introduction of a new vehicle would cause an additional burden on the thinly stretched logistics supply line as it would have to supply spare parts.
Leutnant Gmelin’s one-man tank was intended just to engage the enemy’s machine-gun posts, and any other target of opportunity, by driving straight at them and firing its guns. Germany was being attacked from the west, east, and south. It needed light vehicles that could perform numerous different roles and be able to be adapted to new situations as they arose. A small one-man operated tank would be a liability in combat. The crewman had too much to do: drive, assess the terrain he was traveling over, search for targets, load, aim and fire the two main guns, concentrate on not exposing his vehicle and becoming a target, liaising with infantry units and making sure he did not fire on friendly troops.
The infantry already had armored vehicles that could be called upon to deal with enemy machine-gun posts. Leutnant Gmelin’s one-man tank design was not providing a radical new answer to a battlefield problem. It would also cause logistics and manufacturing problems therefore it was rejected.
Improvised Light Tank – 1 built
The German occupation troops in the Balkans and in the rest of Europe did not have the first pick when it came to equipment. They usually received obsolete hand-me-downs from more important units of the army or captured vehicles that no one else wanted. Thus, these troops, which were fighting against determined and organized resistance movements, were forced to improvise and improve what they had within their means.
Such might have been the case for a curious vehicle that recently appeared in a number of photographs online. This vehicle consists of a German Panzer I turret mounted on top of the cargo area of a French Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor. Unfortunately, no information is available regarding this vehicle, its role, or its usage, but it can be hypothesized that it was meant as an escort vehicle against partisan attacks or maybe for training.
The Lorraine 37L
During WW1, the armies involved on the Western Front needed a way to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line. Men and horses were getting killed and injured from small arms fire and exploding shell fragments. For this reason, tracked armored supply vehicles were designed. The Tracteur de ravitaillement pour chars 1937 L armored tracked supply vehicle, better known as the Lorraine 37L, was developed by the Lorraine Company in 1937. It was meant to supply the cavalry units of the French army, being larger and faster than the Renault UE that was meant to supply the infantry units. The Lorraine 37L could transport a heavier load and keep up with the fast cavalry divisions. Production began in January 1939.
By the time of the armistice in 1940, a total of 432 Lorraine 37L armored supply tractors had been produced. The victorious German forces captured many Lorraine 37L vehicles, of which 300 to 360 (depending on the source) were repaired and pressed back into service. They used them in their original role as Gefechtsfeld-Versorgungsfahrzeug (Eng: supply carriers) and Munitionstransportkraftwagen (Eng: ammunition carriers). After finding out that the suspension system was robust and reliable, many were also converted into 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 Marder I tank destroyers or self-propelled artillery guns.
The regular version of the Lorraine 37L had six large road wheels in three pairs of bogies on each side. This gave the vehicle a low ground pressure and good weight distribution. Each bogie could move up and down independently. It was sprung by an inverted leaf spring system located just below the upper track run: three assemblies were placed between the four top rollers. The tracks were 22 cm wide and it was powered by a 70 hp Delahaye type 135 engine. The transmission was in the front of the vehicle driving the tracks via the drive sprockets located at the front.
The driver and commander sat in the middle of the vehicle, having all-around protection from most rifle-caliber weaponry due to the 6 to 12 mm of armor. At the back, there was a small open-topped cargo space.
Panzer I turret
Work on what would become the Panzer I tank started in 1930, 3 years before the rise of Hitler to power and while the Treaty of Versailles was still officially observed by the German government.
As produced, the Panzer I mounted a single-man turret sporting two coaxial 7.92 mm magazine-fed MG13 machine-guns. Aiming was done using a telescopic sight between the two machine-guns or could be done by eye through two apertures that could be covered by armored shutter when not in use.
A large forward-opening hatch on top of the turret allowed access for the commander and also allowed him to observe his surroundings while not under fire. Four more shutters were available around the turret sides, two of which had slits built into them. These could be used for observation or used as pistol ports in case enemy infantry got too close. The armor ranged from 7 to 15 mm. Traverse of the turret was done by hand using a gear drive. This drive could also be decoupled and the turret could then be turned by the commander physically rotating it using his body.
Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)
Photographs have been found showing that a Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor was modified into a light tank by fitting a Panzer I tank turret over the cargo bay at the rear of the vehicle. The turret is missing its main armament in two of the photos available, while in the third one it is hard to judge if the armament is present.
In two of the photos, the vehicle seems to be undergoing mobility tests going up and down an embankment, with various military officials and civilians watching the trials. In one of these, an Italian TL-37 artillery tractor is in the foreground with a German soldier on the back appearing to take a photo or some kind of measurements. The presence of the Italian truck under German control means that these photographs were taken after the September 1943 Italian Armistice and were probably taken somewhere in Yugoslavia.
In the last photo, the vehicle is part of a military column along with two passenger cars and a truck. The forward-most passenger car has a Wehrmacht identification plate.
The crew consisted of three men, a commander in the turret in the new combat compartment, and two men in the front of the vehicle, one being the driver of the vehicle. The vehicle is painted in a single color scheme with a single Balkenkreuz visible on the transmission housing at the front.
Given the low height of the cargo space, it is likely that anyone in the turret would have to be sat in the cargo space in order to be ‘closed-down’ in the turret. This would have seriously hampered any combat ability of the vehicle, especially when it comes to traversing the turret and firing. It is notable that in the known pictures of the vehicle the turret is always facing ahead. Further, two of the three images show a man standing in the turret, and, from his height, the ‘floor’ level of the cargo bay can be ascertained.
Unfortunately, the few photos available do not allow identification of the location this vehicle was used in, as they could be anywhere in Europe. In the lack of new evidence, the best hope to find the location would probably be to identify the buildings visible in one of the photos. Commentators online have claimed that this vehicle was used in Croatia or that it was built by Baukommando Becker (Eng: Construction Unit Becker, responsible for many conversions of the Lorraine 37L, such as the Marder I) in France. However, neither of these hypotheses is supported by any concrete evidence.
The role this vehicle was meant to fulfill is also unknown. It is possible that this vehicle might have been meant to be used as a tank against the resistance forces which would generally lack any anti-armor armament that could take it out. Its twin machine-guns would be enough firepower for such a task. If this vehicle was indeed meant to be used in combat, its performance would have been poor at the very least. The armament would have been restricted in depression over the forward firing arc, as the hull itself would have come in the way. Also, due to the low height of the combat compartment and lack of a turret basket, rotating the turret would have been difficult if not dangerous. Further, there was a significant distance between the gunner in the turret and the driver in the front compartment, making communication and coordination between them difficult. For combat purposes, the vehicle would probably have been little less than a mobile machine-gun nest able to protect static major objectives and to intimidate enemies that were lacking anti-tank firepower.
Alternatively, it could also have been meant to be used for escorting supply columns from the hit-and-run attacks of resistance forces. However, in this case, the slower nature of the tracked Lorraine 37L tractor (not taking into account the extra weight of the turret) would either have severely restricted the speed of the convoy or would have made the vehicle incapable of keeping up.
It is also possible that this vehicle might have been meant as a training vehicle, helping to train drivers, gunners, and vehicle commanders, which might explain the lack of armament. Finally, it might have been used to familiarize infantry with tanks and how to deal with them.
However, without further information being obtained, there is no way to say for certain where this vehicle was built, with what intent, and how it was used.
The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) is a mystery vehicle that is known only from a couple of photographs. It is not known where it was built or for what purpose. Only one was probably converted. It is not known what happened to it during or after the war. It was most probably cut up for scrap metal.
4.2 m x 1.57 m x 2 m
13ft 9in x 5ft 2in x 6ft 7in
Total weight, battle-ready
Type 135 Delahaye 6 cylinder inline petrol/gasoline 70 hp
On 6 June 1944, Allied troops landed on the coast of Normandy, France on D-Day. The German 2.Panzer Division was ordered to advance towards the Allied invasion force and push them back into the sea. This was incredibly difficult as they were outnumbered and did not have the same resources the Allies had. The Normandy bocage landscape and the lack of air support caused problems for the Germans who had been used to fighting on the open farmland of the Eastern Front. They had to quickly change tactics.
The Allies captured and translated a German battlefield report written by Lieutenant-General Freiherr (Baron) von Lüttwitz, the commander of the 2nd Panzer Division. This report was dated 14 July 1944 and covered the fighting in Normandy between 17 June – 7 July 1944. His unit was being relieved by the 362nd Infantry Division and he was required to inform its commanding officer of what the situation was like on the front line. The translated report was then circulated to Allied units in a document called Weekly Intelligence Summary No.42. As it is a primary source document written during the battle for Normandy from the German point of view, this document provides a fascinating insight into how the Germans saw the situation and their mindset.
Account of 2 Pz Div Operations
17 Jun – 7 Jul 44
362 Inf Div
Ops No.2044/44 Most Secret
Div Battle HQ, 17 Jul 44
Ref: 2 Pz Div Ops No.675/44 Most Secret, dated 14 July 44 (only to Div)
17 copies, copy No.4
Extract from battle experiences from recent operations
by 2 Pz Div whose sector is being taken over by 362 Inf Div
The fighting of the Div on the invasion front is characterised by
(a) the special nature of the country of Normandy.
(b) the great material superiority of the enemy, even on so-called quiet fronts.
(a) The country in which the fighting is taking place consists of meadow and brush land enclosed squarely by hedges, with embankments and sunken roads. This does not lend itself to engagements over large areas. All engagements soon resolve themselves into shock-troop and individual engagements. The possession of ‘dominating heights’ is often not as decisive as the possession of traffic junctions. Often, the former cannot be exploited because hedges and trees limit visibility and field of fire, whereas road traffic arteries are essential since it is only by roads that the heavier weapons, artillery and tanks can be brought forward. Nevertheless, certain features always retain their dominating role, whereas, conversely, some traffic junctions can be dispensed with.
(b) The incredibly heavy artillery and mortar fire (of the enemy) is something new, both for the seasoned veterans of the Eastern Front and the new arrivals from reinforcement units. Whereas the veterans get used to it comparatively quickly, the inexperienced reinforcements require several days or so, after which they become acclimatised. The average rate of fire on the Divisional sector per day is 4,000 artillery rounds and 5,000 mortar rounds. This is multiplied many times before an enemy attack, however small. For instance, on one occasion, when the British made an attack on a sector of only two companies, they expended 3,500 rounds in two hours. The Allies are waging war regardless of expense. In addition to this, the enemy has complete mastery of the air. They bomb and strafe every movement, even single vehicles and individuals. They recce our area constantly and direct their artillery fire. Against all this, the German Air Force is conspicuous by its complete absence. During the last four weeks, the total number of German aircraft over the Division’s area was six.
From the operations point of view, our own offensive operations by day, after completed assembly etc. – i.e. attacks prepared all ‘according to the book’, have little chance of succeeding. The assembling of troops is spotted immediately by enemy recce aircraft, and smashed by bombers, fighter-bombers and artillery directed by aircraft; and if, nevertheless, the attacking troops go forward, they become involved in such dense artillery and mortar fire, that high casualties ensue and the attack peters out within the first few hundred metres. The losses suffered by the infantry are then so heavy that the impetus necessary to renew the attack is spent.
Better results have been obtained by attacks prepared down to the last detail by assault detachments operating by night on a broad front. These penetrate the enemy positions noiselessly and in each individual case surprise and overcome the enemy, without the enemy artillery or air force having a chance to intervene.
The primary condition for this is that each individual assault detachment be fully acquainted with its task and knows what to do in various circumstances, is in close liaison with its neighbours, and that the heavy weapons and artillery know exactly when to come into operation (usually only in the case of local failure when the element of surprise has not been achieved). The direction of such operations is less a question of large-scale elaborate planning than that of practical instruction and reminders. The mere fact that ‘assembly has been completed’ before the attack begins is of less importance than the fact that every company and platoon commander has thought of everything necessary to ensure the success of the operation of his assault detachment. It is an essential duty of the staff planning the operation to put everyone, down to the lowest ranking commander, completely in the picture. An attack of this nature attains no far-distant objective, but proceeds only by small stages, night after night. But in the end, it reaches its objective without paying a high toll in manpower. The more cunning and variable the fighting, the more successful the operation. This ‘infiltration’ has proved its worth in every case hitherto, as far as this Division is concerned.
The fact that a modern equipped Panzer Division with two tank battalions and two infantry battalions with armored half-tracked vehicles is not necessary for such fighting methods is another question.
In defence, we must reckon with the fact that the attacking enemy simply smashes down the forward battle area with his massed artillery fire and aircraft. Hitherto, the enemy has always succeeded, usually after a very short time, in occupying our main line of defence after a heavy barrage of this kind. It is, therefore, essential to maintain reserves in at least every battalion sector, which come forward immediately after the barrage has ended. Large masses of troops are not needed for this, but only a few assault detachments. The enemy infantryman is no fighter in our sense of the term, and consequently only a few machine guns are necessary to hold him – but these must be there at the right time. The Divisional reserves must be employed immediately without waiting for the ‘All Clear’ in order to throw back the enemy, assault troop fashion, in immediate counterattack. In any case, when the enemy is firing a lot of smoke from weapons of all calibres, everything is hidden in a blinding pall, and a clear picture is impossible. But once the enemy has brought up his anti-tank guns and forward observation officers and dug himself in, it is usually too late. Then the only remedy is to infiltrate on the following night. After several abortive attempts, the British become cautious and finally discontinue the attacks.
1. Panzer Grenadiers.
The Panzer Grenadiers must be able to withstand the heavy artillery fire of the enemy. This is the decisive factor. They must, therefore, be dug-in deeply. Since the enemy uses a very sensitive fuse, overhead protection is necessary against shells which explode on striking trees. During the barrage, the weapons must also remain under cover, or else they get clogged with mud and rendered useless.
Our soldiers enter battle in low spirits at the thought of the enemy’s enormous material superiority. They are always asking, ‘Where is the German Air Force?’. The feeling of helplessness against enemy aircraft operating without any hindrance has a paralysing effect, and during the barrage, this effect on the inexperienced troops is literally ‘soul-shattering’ and it must be borne in mind that four-engine bombers have not yet taken part in attacking ground targets in this Division’s area. It is, therefore, essential for troops to be lifted out of this state of distress the moment a counterattack begins. The best results have been obtained by the platoon and section commanders leaping forward uttering a good old fashioned ‘hurrah’, which spurs on the inexperienced troops and carries them along. The revival of the practice of sounding a bugle call for the attack has been found to answer the purpose, and this has been made a Divisional order. Moreover, the use of the bugle in territory where visibility is restricted enables the troops to know when and where the attack is taking place. An attack launched in this manner is an experience which troops will never forget and stimulates them into action again.
The Panzer Grenadiers fight as assault detachments, in this more depends on the NCOs than ever before. Only an energetic commander will get his men to go forward. For weaklings, there is every inducement and opportunity to hide in the hedge. Close-combat weapons (flame throwers, anti-tank close-combat weapons, mines and explosive charges) are especially effective in country of this nature. In defence, it may be expedient to deplete the front line in order to maintain sufficient reserves for counterattack. Specially efficient NCOs would be selected for this.
The battle outposts and outlying picquets of all kinds must change their positions frequently and at irregular intervals. The enemy, especially the Americans, are experts in creeping up under cover of the hedges and making frequent attempts to dislodge our picquets. They then cover their withdrawal with heavy mortar and artillery defensive fire.
The heavy weapons are compelled by the heavy fire to change their positions frequently. The enemy got their range very soon. It is not unusual to change positions ten times during the day. Therefore, heavy and light infantry guns use only their roving guns. (see para 4.) The evaluation and employment of enemy tactics has proved profitable. In one instance, a counterattacking company succeeded in turning the enemy mortars and firing smoke on the enemy, with the result that the enemy was misled into believing that a penetration had been achieved on the breadth of the front covered by smoke, and brought down artillery fire on his own troops.
There is no question of tank employment in the true sense of the term. They can only be employed to accompany infantry. Their mobility is limited by the sunken roads and hedges. They can only penetrate the square areas enclosed by hedges at certain points, and these points are registered by the enemy anti-tank guns. Therefore, the anti-tank weapon must be neutralised before the tanks advance again. Since the country favours close anti-tank combat, each single tank must have a strong flank protection. It is unprofitable to employ more than one troop of tanks at the time. On sunken roads, which are often the only places where tanks can move, the first and last tanks of the column get knocked out and those in between are wedged in. Therefore, the tanks must work in the closest cooperation with their infantry. The tanks must give high explosive HE and machine gun covering fire along the ridge of the hedgerow until the infantry have reached it by passing along the hedgerow running at right angles to it. The infantry then mop up, and then the tanks make another bound forward to the next hedgerow and the process is repeated. In this case, the actual punch is delivered by the infantry and the fire power supplied by the tanks, and thus the control of the operation lies with the infantry.
(a) SP. The employment of self-propelled anti-tank guns is extremely limited in country of this kind. Their low structure is a disadvantage, and in many cases, they are unable to shoot over hedges and walls. Since the turret cannot be traversed, self-propelled anti-tank guns are completely helpless on sunken roads. The best method of employing them is to have them in a concealed position at the side of the main roads. Therefore, self-propelled anti-tank guns should be kept back in reserves in order to intercept enemy thrusts along the main roads in the event of an armored break-through.
(b) Tractor drawn. There are not enough of these available. If it were possible to employ these regardless of loss, they would be the best weapon in the main defensive line, since they can be properly camouflaged and dug in and can destroy enemy tanks at the closest range and inflict severe casualties on the enemy infantry in the hedgerows by high explosive HE fire. But they cannot get away again, and their loss has to be reckoned with as a matter of course. Losses and damage inflicted by enemy artillery fire must also be taken into account. The enemy uses his anti-tank guns in this way, but the Germans can no longer afford to do so. Therefore, tractor-drawn anti-tank guns have been withdrawn and placed in depth in the main battle area, where they form the backbone of the main defence zone. The only available anti-tank weapons in the front line proper are the close-combat weapons.
The highest demands are made on the elastic use of artillery. Since our own artillery can only fire one tenth of the amount fired by the enemy, success can only be achieved by closest cooperation and best possible ground observation, therefore, forward observers must be placed well forward. Ample provision of means of communications are essential. Even in counterattack, the forward observers must be well forward. It is essential to maintain ample reserves of forward observers in order to avoid loss of all forward observers and their equipment during the enemy barrage. The allotment of ‘SOS’ tasks which can be brought down automatically during any enemy attack has proved profitable. The artillery must change its positions frequently, since it is spotted very rapidly and engaged with the aid of observation from the air. Good results have been achieved by ‘roving’ artillery troops and ‘roving’ guns which mislead the enemy as to the siting and strength of our own guns. Every attempt at harassing fire on the part of our artillery is promptly repaid many times over by the enemy. The artillery must take up different positions by day and night. Here on the Western front, too, the siting of the artillery for all-round defence is the chief support for the main battle area.
The anti-aircraft (AA) guns cannot protect everything. It is better to concentrate all the light and heavy AA troops on the point of main effort instead of scattering over the whole Divisional area in troops and sections. In bad weather, the AA can be used successfully in an artillery role. In this case, but in this case, only, they are placed under the command of the artillery. The siting of light AA troops in concealed positions close behind the main line of defence with the sole task of engaging artillery spotting aircraft. By this means the Division succeeded in shooting down two enemy aircraft in the course of a few days, and now the enemy spotting aircraft keep a safe distance of approximately 3 km (1.9 miles) from the main line of defence, whereas formerly they used to fly right over it.
The Engineers have been particularly successful in an infantry role in this terrain, thanks to their good training in assault and close combat methods. Since they are limited in their employment as infantry, they must, however, be restricted to exceptional cases, since, owing to their numerical inferiority in this close country, their technical engineering tasks in front of and in the main defensive area, and the consolidation of positions in the rear, is of special importance. The commander of the engineers must exercise control over all engineers employed, including all engineer platoons. Owing to the limited means available, this is the only way whereby points of main effort on the part of the engineers can be created. Since the whole operation in this territory demands special skill, the construction of obstacles must be carried out with resource and variety. In this cut-up territory, it is impossible to construct a continuous line of obstacles which can be covered by our own fire from medium and long range. The improvised anti-personnel mine S.150 issued to the engineers has proved unsatisfactory since the chemical igniter is unreliable. In order not to waste the effort of the engineers in purely labour tasks the Division has combed out all surplus personnel from support columns to provide labour for consolidating the main battle area and rear positions. This method, adopted from the Eastern front, has proved successful here.
This is performed exclusively as battle recce. The best results are achieved by bringing back prisoners of war, even if these scarcely disclose anything. Signals interception within the Divisional area scarcely provides any results, since the enemy hardly carries on any wireless telecommunication traffic, and if he does, it is impossible to determine if this is taking place in front of our own sector. Listening has so far produced no results. It is only done for monitoring our own traffic.
The principle remains the same. The Division avoids wireless telecommunication traffic as far as possible. No enemy attempts at direction-finding have yet been confirmed, but this must still be reckoned with. There are signs that the enemy is monitoring our wireless telecommunication traffic.
The entire supply system, including the receiving, works by night. The time is very short, with the results that losses are constantly incurred due to journeys made in the daytime (also by moonlight). The supply of ammunition is insufficient. Hitherto, it has been out of the question to engage the enemy artillery. The enemy, too, is gradually realising this, and is, therefore, moving up closer and closer in order to take full advantage of the range to disrupt our columns in the rear. Consequently, our supply lines are under constant artillery fire, even at night. Our supplies of fuel, oils and lubricants are adequate, since the Division is in fixed position, The use of mechanical transport traffic is reduced to a minimum. The supplies of food obtained from the land are very good, but those obtained through supply channels are mediocre.
The question of spare parts and tyres is a serious problem. The Division has to fetch everything over distances of hundreds of kilometres so that, in spite of the Division being engaged in static warfare, its mobility gradually becomes less and less. The enemy’s air superiority presents an almost insolvable problem with regards to supplies.
Signed Freiherr (Baron) von Lüttwitz
Generalleutnant Diepold George Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz was commanding officer of the 2nd Panzer Division from 27 May 1944 to 31 August 1944. He was born on 6 December 1896 and died on 9 October 1969. His family were members of the landed nobility of Prussia. He served in both World Wars. He competed as part of the German Olympic equestrian team in the 1936 Summer games but failed to obtain an Olympic medal which did not go down too well with the Nazi regime. He later went on to command the XLVII Panzer Corps (47th Panzer Corps) during the Battle of the Bulge which included 2 Panzer Division during December 1944 – January 1945. He is perhaps best known for requesting the surrender of the 101St Airborne Regiment in Bastogne, and received the reply back, “Nuts”.
The 2nd Panzer Division was sent to Verrieres ridge area southwest of Caen after it had been relieved by the 326th Infantry Division. Some of its units took part in Operation Spring but the Division was later moved west to try and halt the American Operation Cobra breakout in Normandy. This failed and they withdrew towards Falaise after taking part in Operation Luttich, a unsuccessful German counter-attack near Mortain. Although encircled in the Falaise Pocket they managed to fight their way through, but with heavy losses of manpower and vehicles.
The Division was refitted in Germany and then took part in the German offensive in the Luxembourg and Belgium Ardennes in December 1944. They were forced to retreat in late December by the US 2nd Armoured Division and the British 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. In the Spring of 1945, they were tasked with stopping the Allied crossing of the River Rhine. Their last combat engagement was in April 1945 near the city of Fulda. On 7 May 1945, the 2nd Panzer Division surrendered to US Forces in north-west Czechoslovakia and Saxony.
Germany (1944-45) Tank hunter – approx. 2,827 built
The first issue to clear up is the fact that the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during the Second World War. Although most official wartime documents do not use the name Hetzer, a few did. Why this nickname has been associated with this tank hunter is investigated later in the article.
As the Second World War progressed, it turned into a numbers’ game. Germany needed more armored fighting vehicles that were cheaper to build and quicker to construct. They started using hulls of captured tanks and reliable but obsolete tanks, such as the Panzer 38(t), to mount anti-tank guns and artillery howitzers. This resulted in the production of the Marder series and Nashorn anti-tank self-propelled guns. They all carried powerful guns but had thin armor, an open-top fighting compartment, and a high profile which made them easy to spot on the battlefield. They could deal out punishment, but they could not take it.
The Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was designed to have a very low profile which made it hard to target and easy to conceal. It was only 2.10 m (6 ft 10.6 inches) high which was ideal for ambush tactics. It was armed with a powerful high velocity 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 gun that could knock-out most enemy tanks. It was cheaper and quicker to build than a Panzer IV, Panther or Tiger tank.
It was not designed to be a close combat vehicle, used at the head of an attack like a tank. It was a self-propelled anti-tank gun that was intended to be deployed on the flanks to stop counter-attacks. A pack of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters would hide in a wood or thick hedgerow and pick off enemy tanks at long range. The sloping front armor gave the crew reasonable protection from frontal attack. So long as the driver pointed the front of the vehicle at any threat, the crew could expect to survive a hit from an enemy armor-piercing shell. The thin armor on the sides of the vehicle and at the rear meant that there was a risk of being knocked out by flank and rear attacks with armor-piercing shells. If there was a danger of being outflanked, the driver had to change to a different location quickly.
In 1944, the Panzer 38(t) tank was considered outclassed and obsolete. It had been withdrawn from frontline units. The Jagdpanzer 38 utilized the tried and tested components of the Panzer 38(t) tank on a new wider hull. This meant that the Jagdpanzer 38 was relatively reliable, as all the early mechanical problems had been overcome. Because of this, production could start earlier than usual for a new armored fighting vehicle design, as most of the factory tooling for the manufacture of the Panzer 38(t) tank was still available. Due to the gun’s limited traverse, the driver had to continually change the vehicle’s orientation or move to engage new targets. This could reveal its location.
Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal
Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armor. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armor. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.
Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. Other guns were looked at. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspension, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.
German officers were sent to inspect the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter. They were impressed with many aspects of the overall vehicle design and at one point considered it being used in the German Army, but there were too many practical issues that would have to be rectified before entering service. The external shape and some ideas were incorporated in the later Jagdpanzer 38 design. Tanks Encyclopedia manager Lucian Stan found a Romainina Army report of the inspection of the Mareșal tank hunter by the German officers in the Romanian military archives in Bucharest. The Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. Their initial reactions are also recorded in the report. This document is covered in more detail later in this article when we cover the origins of the nickname ‘Hetzer.’
On 26 November 1943, the production of Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns at the Alkett company was severely interrupted when Allied bombers dropped a total of 1,424 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on their Berlin factory. Due to the damage, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) investigated the possibility of starting Sturmgeschütz III production at the Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (BMM) company in Prague. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, this factory used to be called Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) and built tanks for the Czechoslovakian Army.
On 6 December 1943, the OKH reported to Hitler that the BMM company was unable to carry out this type of production order, as it did not have the infrastructure to manufacture the 24-tonne StuG III. The factory cranes could not lift a completed vehicle. The BMM factory cranes could only lift 13 tonnes. It had spent most of the war constructing 9.8 tonnes Panzer 38(t) light tanks for the German Army.
Hitler gave orders that the BMM factory was to concentrate on producing the new lighter Sturmgeschütz. It was proposed this vehicle would have a top speed of 55 – 60 km/h (34 – 37 mph), weigh 13 tonnes, and, as a result, have thin but sloped frontal armor to keep the vehicle’s weight low. The side armor was only to be thick enough to provide protection from small arms fire and high explosive shell shrapnel.
Development work was carried out quickly. On 8 January 1944, the drawings of the final version of the vehicle were finished. By 24 January 1944, a wooden 1:1 scale model had been built and, two days later, demonstrated to officers from the Heereswaffenamt (HWA), the Army weaponry research and development agency. The size of the fighting compartment on the wooden mock-up was shorter than on the production vehicle, and the engine compartment had a longer sloped cover. These features were changed to give the crew more room.
There were plans to design and mount a 7.5 cm rücklauflose main gun in the production version of Jagdpanzer 38. A rücklauflose weapon featured a gun barrel fixed to the turret or casemate, which took on the full recoil of a shot. Development of the rücklauflose gun would take too long, so in the meantime, it was decided that a 7.5 cm Pak 39 (L/48) anti-tank gun would be installed in the Jagdpanzer 38. This gun was already in production and available for use. Oberst Thomale (Colonel Thomale) ordered three prototype Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters to be built and available for trials. It took less than four months from the initial design approval to the production of the first prototype.
Once the final design of the production Jagdpanzer 38 was agreed upon, BMM was awarded a contract to produce 2,000 vehicles. More were needed, so the Czechoslovakian company Škoda was also awarded a contract to build 2,000 Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. Both factories suffered bombing raids.
Both factories were supplied with components from subcontractors. Three hundred and sixteen such companies were based in Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Protectorate. A further one hundred and seventeen came from other occupied countries and Germany. Due to advancing Allied forces and the constant bombing, the source of parts for construction of the Jagdpanzer 38 changed repeatedly. This caused delays in supply which affected monthly production figures.
The armored hulls were produced in the steel factory in Vitkovice and by the Poldi steel mills in Kladno: both were in the Czech Protectorate. They were also supplied by two German steel-factories: Linke-Hoffman in Breslau and Ruhrstahl in Hattingen. The tracks were cast in the Czech Protectorate at the steel mills of Chomutov in north-west Bohemia and Královo Pole in Brno. The engines were manufactured by the Czech car manufacturer Praga, which also supplied the Wilson-type gearboxes.
A total of 2,827 Jagdpanzer 38 were produced by BMM and Škoda. About 2,612 were Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters, 14 were Jagdpanzer 38D Starr, 181 Bergepanzer 38 and 20 Flammpanzer.
Jagdpanzer 38 production
Completed by Škoda
Completed by BMM
Note: The figures for BMM include Jagdpanzer 38 Starr and Bergepanzerwagen 38 (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Due to the limited space inside the Jagdpanzer 38 and the desire to keep the profile of the vehicle low, the gun mount was not bolted to the floor of the vehicle. Instead, a gun cradle mount was fixed to the glacis plate. The gun had to be installed off-center, to the right of the vehicle. This enabled the driver, gunner, and loader‘s positions to be on the left side of the vehicle, in line, one behind the other. The commander sat on the right side of the vehicle, at the rear of the fighting compartment, directly behind the gun, with his hatch above him. He did not have access to an armored cupola.
The gun was mounted to the right of the vehicle. This restricted its traverse to only 5° left and 11° right. To engage targets outside this narrow 16° traverse range, the whole vehicle would have to be moved. The off-center gun meant that there was too much weight on the right track and suspension. To the vehicle did not tilt towards the right, 850 kg of crew and equipment had to be placed on the left side of the gun as a counterbalance.
If all the hatches were closed, the crew had limited visibility, especially to the side and rear of the vehicle. The driver had two angled periscopes that protruded out of the upper glacis plate under a protective armored cover. The gunner was provided with a forward-looking Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr 1a (Sfl.ZF 1a) periscope gun sight. The loader had a periscope to look out for threats on the left side of the vehicle. The roof machine gun was aimed by looking through a periscope. It could rotate 360°. The commander had access to a rearward-looking periscope. If the commander’s hatch was closed, he had no forward vision. It would only be kept closed in extreme emergencies, such as during an artillery or mortar barrage. Also available was a Scherenfernohrs 14Z (Sf.14Z) scissor telescope which poked out the top of the open roof hatch which had a magnification of 8 x 10.
Engine and Transmission
The Jagdpanzer 38 was powered by a Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 158 hp petrol engine. The Praga engine was very similar to the one used in the Panzer 38(t) tank but had been uprated. Instead of producing 129 hp, it now produced 158 hp. The engine was connected to a five-speed Praga-Wilson transmission which was in turn connected to a Planetary steering system. The vehicle had a top road speed of 40 km/h (24.9 mph). This was less than initially hoped for. The production vehicle weighed 16 tonnes rather than the proposed 13 tonnes, which affected the vehicle‘s speed.
The dome at the back of the tank is a simple cover for the hand crank. Although the Jagdpanzer 38 had an electrical starter, crews were instructed that the preferred method was to use the hand crank where possible, as the electrical starter was not robust and should only be used in emergencies. To the bottom right of the rear armor plate, there was a port to gain access to the cooling water heater. In severe weather conditions, the engine coolant would freeze. A blow lamp could be placed in this port to warm the coolant and defrost it before the engine was started.
When the left rear engine compartment hatch is opened, access can be gained to the fuel filler cap behind the 12V battery. The Jagdpanzer 38 had two interconnected fuel tanks. The fuel tank on the left held 220 liters while the fuel tank on the right held 100 liters. This would give an approximate operational range of 180 km (111 miles).
Cooling the engine was a problem, as it only had a small air intake vent on the rear deck. It required a powerful motor to drive the air intake fan, which reduced the overall performance of the vehicle because it took power from the engine.
Although the hull, suspension, tracks, and road wheels look very similar to those used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, the vehicle was a new build. The hull was wider: the Panzer 38(t) tank was 2.13 m (7ft) wide, but the Jagdpanzer 38 was 2.63 m (8ft 7.5 in) wide. The road wheels were larger than those used on the Panzer 38(t) tanks: they were 82 cm diameter instead of the tank’s 77.7 cm (2 ft 7 in) diameter. The suspension has been made more durable than that used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, especially at the front of the vehicle, in order to cope with the extra weight. The tracks have been widened from 29 cm to 35 cm (11in to 1ft 2 in). The Jagdpanzer 38 was only provided with one track return roller, unlike the Panzer 38(t) that had two.
The Driver’s position
The Jagdpanzer 38 driver had a basic instrument panel in front of him. He steered the vehicle by using two hand tillers. Each one of these levers controlled one of the two tracks. The driver also had a handbrake. The foot pedals were not in the standard order that we have come to expect in a modern car. The accelerator was in the middle. The pedal on the right was the foot brake. The gear change pedal was on the far left.
The gearbox was to the right of the driver. It was a 5-speed Praga-Wilson preselector. The Wilson type was the same system used by the British and developed by the Wilson gearbox company. The driver did not change gear like you would in a modern car, where you put the clutch in first and then select the gear. Instead, while the engine was running, they had to choose the next gear first and then depress the gear change pedal, which acted like a clutch, and let it come back up, hence the name pre-selector. To stop the vehicle without stalling, the driver had to remember to select neutral first, then apply the brake and the gear change pedal at the same time.
Early versions of the exhaust system at the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter had the pipe coming down the back of the vehicle into a tubular silencer box that ran along the top of the rear armor plate, mounted horizontally. This was changed to a single pipe going into a flame hider on the back of the vehicle.
The 7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 (7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48) anti-tank gun was used to equip Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The German word ‘Panzerjägerkanone’ literally translates to ‘tank hunter gun’ (anti-tank gun) and is usually abbreviated to Pak, thus sharing the contraction of the more common ‘Panzerabwehrkanone’. It was an electrically fired weapon fitted with a semi-automatic breech mechanism and a 48 caliber long barrel (3615 mm or 11 ft 10.3 in). It could penetrate the armor of most common Allied tanks at ranges up to 1,000 meters as shown in the table below.
When travelling across rough ground, the gunner used the internal gun travel lock to minimize any damage to the gun. The Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight was fixed to the left side of the gun and protruded out of the roof in a semi-circular sliding section of the roof armor. It moved when the gun was moved. It did not rotate. The gunner had to change his body positions to follow the gun periscope as he searched to bring the gun onto the next target by turning the traverse wheel. He also had to avoid being hit in the head by the remote control machine gun handles above him.
The loader sat on the left side of the main gun, behind the gunner and driver. He had a very challenging job because the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 anti-tank gun had been designed to be loaded from the right side. The loader’s controls were on the wrong side. To open the breech, he had to lean across the gun to access the breech opening lever. The main weapon had a semi-automatic loading system: once the first round was loaded, every time the gun fired, the recoil ejected the shell casing, and the breech block remained down in the open position waiting for another shell to be loaded. The large recoil guard was to his right, and this got in the way when loading shells. Not all of the ammunition was stored near the loader on the left side of the vehicle. Sometimes, he would have to reach over the gun breach and the recoil guard to access the shells stowed on the right side of this cramped tank hunter. The commander had a safety lever near him that prevented the gun from being fired while the loader was servicing the gun. When he was clear of the gun mechanism and a shell was in the breech ready for firing, the commander released the lever to enable the gun to be fired.
Design work on the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 started in 1939, but it was manufactured from 1943 onwards by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG in Unterlüß and by Seitz-Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It used the same 75 x 495 mm R ammunition as the 7.5 cm KwK 40 of Panzer IV medium tank and 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun fitted on the later models of the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns. No towed version of the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 was manufactured.
It could fire three common types of ammunition: Panzergranatepatrone 39 (Pzgr.Patr. 39) armor-piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell, Sprenggranatepatrone 37 (Sprgr. Patr. 37) high explosive (HE) shell, and different versions of the Granatpatrone 38 HL (Gr. Patr. 38 HL) high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. The latter was an effective high-explosive anti-tank shell and could be used against soft-skinned targets as well as armored vehicles. Its armor penetration qualities were not as high as the Pzgr.Patr. 39 (APCBC) shell. When fired, the Panzergranatepatrone 39 shell had a muzzle velocity of 750 meters/second (2460 feet/second).
Depending on availability, a few rounds of Panzergranatepatrone 40 (Pzgr.Patr. 40) high velocity, sub-caliber, tungsten core armor-piercing rounds were carried in case the crew encountered heavily armored Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns. The supplies of tungsten were limited.
7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 anti-tank gun armor penetration
(The data was obtained on a firing range. The armor plate was laid back at a 30-degree angle)
Gr. Patr. 38 HL
(Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
The initial design of the gun mantlet was 200 kg heavier than the later design. The early vehicle was nose heavy, and this put stress on the front suspension. By changing the mantlet to a lighter model, and making adjustments to the suspension, the maneuverability of the vehicle became tolerable.
The loader had the job of rearming and firing the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun. It was fired from inside the armored protection of the fighting compartment. A hinged gun shield could be fixed in place to protect the crewman when reloading the gun. It was aimed by looking through a periscope. Behind him, on the rear wall, there was the radio, usually a Fu5 and the on-off master power handle.
The front upper glacis plate of the Jagdpanzer 38 was designed to be 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick, sloped at 30 degrees from the horizontal. This meant that an armor-piercing (AP) round fired straight at the front upper glacis plate would have to penetrate 120 mm (4.7 inches) of armor due to the angle. The steep slope would also help increase the chance that the round would ricochet. The feared Tiger 1 heavy tank only had 100 mm (3.93 inches) thick effective frontal hull armor. The front glacis armor plate had interlocking welded joints for added strength and security. Sloping the armor meant that the level of protection could be kept high, but the costs and complexity of manufacturing the armor could be kept low. The lower front glacis plate was 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick angled at 50 degrees. This would make the effective thickness of that armor plate 78 mm (3.07 inches).
From these statistics, it would appear that the front armor of the Jagdpanzer 38 was very strong. According to H.L.Doyle, these figures are deceptive because the armor plate used was of inferior quality to the face hardened armor used on the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The 60 mm armor on the upper and lower glacis was roughly equivalent to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) face hardened armor used on the Panzer III. It was manufactured to E22 specifications and had a hardness of 265 to 309 Brinell. However, Panzer Tracts no.9, by T.Jentz, states that the Jagdpanzer 38’s front armor was meant to be immune to most anti-tank guns, contradicting Doyle’s statements.
The upper side armor of 20 mm (0.78 inches) thickness was comparable to the 14.5 mm plate used on the front of a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. It was made from a low alloy Siemens-Marteneit (SM) steel. It had a hardness of 220 to 265 Brinell. The tolerances on armor production were quite wide. The thicknesses of four different Jagdpanzer 38 upper glacis plates’ 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick armor were measured. They all belonged to the Wheatcroft Collection. One was built in February 1945, but the other three were built after the war as part of the G-13 Swiss Contract. The thickness ranged from 62.2 mm to 64.8 mm (2.44 – 2.55 inches).
The lower hull side armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick and sloped inwards at an angle of 75o. The rear armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick angled at 75 degrees. The roof armor was 10 mm thick (0.39 inches). The belly armor was 8 mm thick (0.3 inches). The Schürzen side skirt armor was made from 5 mm steel plate. It was designed to protect the side 20 mm thick lower hull armor from the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles.
As with all other German armored fighting vehicles, improvements were continuously introduced during production to improve the performance of the vehicle and increase the speed of manufacture through simplification of its design. Some changes had to be introduced due to the problems with the supply of parts or raw materials.
The idler wheel design went through several changes. In order to reduce the amount of time it took to manufacture the rear idler wheel with twelve holes, different designs were introduced in the following order.
1. Six holes in a flat disc
2. Welded spokes with eight holes on a smooth flat disc.
3. Stamped ribs with six holes on a dish-shaped disc.
4. Six holes on a smooth flat disc.
5. Four holes on a smooth flat disc.
When Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were damaged, the maintenance workshop would fit whatever replacement idler wheels were available in their stores. Sometimes, late version vehicles would be equipped with early version idler wheels with twelve holes. If only one idler wheel needed replacing, then there would be situations where a vehicle would have idler wheels of different types.
In April 1944, further changes were introduced. The ram’s-horn towing hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle were omitted. They were replaced by extending the side hull armor plates and drilling a hole into the metal. The flange around the gun mantlet helped transfer the weight of the gun to the upper hull glacis plate. The size of the flange was reduced to decrease the weight of the gun mantlet. The length of the rooftop 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun hinged shield was shortened to stop it from hitting the top of the Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight.
The design of the front track drive sprocket wheel was changed. To save production time, the holes were no longer drilled on the outer ring of the sprocket wheel. A different type of rear idler wheel was fitted. It had four large holes in the disk rather than twelve holes in the earlier version.
Starting in May and continuing into July 1944, more changes were ordered. To stop having to open large hatches on the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 to access the crew compartment, the commander was given a small hatch that opened to the rear. A hatch was added on the lower right to enable access to the radiator cooling fluid filling cap. Another hatch was added to the lower left to give access to the petrol fuel tank filling cap. The heat shield around the exhaust was no longer fitted. Three ‘mushroom’ short threaded cylinders were welded to the top of the Jagdpanzer 38 to enable a two-tonne temporary crane to be mounted to help with mechanical maintenance, replacement of heavy parts, and repairs.
Further changes were made in August 1944. As a result of a redesign of the metal used in the internal and external construction of the gun mantlet, the weight of the Jagdpanzer 38 was reduced by 200 kg. Road wheels with a larger diameter center disk with thinner rims were introduced. Initially, the rim was drilled for 32 bolts around the edge, but often only 16 bolts were fitted. To help the driver exit his seat quickly in case the vehicle was hit, two handles were welded above the driver’s seat.
Production line changes were introduced in September 1944. To protect the crew from Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles being fired at the lower hull armor, the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was fitted with Schürzen skirt armor plates. Crews found that these plates were ripped off as they brushed past bushes and trees. The front ends of the Schürtzen were bent in towards the hull to try and stop them from being torn off.
The front set of leaf springs experienced more stress than the rear set and often broke. The thickness of the front set of sixteen leaf springs was increased from 7 mm to 9 mm. The rear set of sixteen leaf springs remained 7 mm thick.
More design changes were implemented in October 1944. The design of the driver’s periscope mounting had to be altered after the early version acted as a ‘shell trap. When incoming armor-piercing shells hit the front upper glacis plate but failed to penetrate it, they would slide upwards and enter the crew compartment via the protruding cover over the driver’s periscopes, after getting caught on it. The armored cover was no longer fitted. Holes were cut flush with the glacis plate to hold the periscopes. A thin sheet metal dual-purpose sun and rain guard was installed over the holes. If a shell slid up the upper glacis plate and hit this guard, it would be ripped off but would not act as a ‘shell-trap.’
New road wheels were introduced that were riveted instead of being bolted. It had been found that some of the bolts on the earlier versions of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter’s road wheels came undone.
The red-hot glowing exhaust pipes and flames of a backfire can give away the position of the vehicle at dusk and during the night. This can result in it being spotted by an enemy artillery forward observer and calling in an artillery barrage. The cylindrical silencer was replaced with a Flamm-Vernichter (flame destroyer) exhaust.
Allied bombing disrupted the supply of ball bearings. The gun mount had to be changed. The ball bearings used in the gun mount were replaced with roller bearings. This necessitated the installation of a spring compensator to help with elevating the gun.
Filling the Jagdpanzer 38’s fuel tanks took a long time. To enable the tanks to be refilled faster, a larger nozzle with an overflow pan was fitted. Also, there had been reliability problems with the electric fuel pump, so a Solex-handpumpe manual hand pump was issued. The commander’s hatch was equipped with a head cushion.
As the cold weather arrived in November 1944, just in time for winter, a new heating plate was fitted to keep the battery from freezing. The heating inside the crew compartment was also upgraded. A better heat distribution vent was installed in the engine compartment firewall. It gave a more even heat distribution inside the vehicle. The water pump also upgraded to one that was more robust.
By changing the location of an internal stowage box to the right of the commander’s position, a further five 75 mm shells were able to be carried.
The last batch of changes started in January 1945. The Model 6 final drive had a gear ratio of 12:88. They suffered from mechanical failure due to the stresses put on them. The Jagdpanzer 38 was three tonnes over the initial design specifications. It was front heavy, and the driver regularly had to maneuver the whole vehicle to enable the gun to be aimed at a new target. In January 1945, a new more robust Model 6.75 final drive was fitted. It had a gear ratio of 10:80.
The Jagdpanzer 38 was an ambush vehicle and needed to hide. To make the crew’s task of fixing cut tree branches and bushes to the exterior of the vehicle easier, ‘U’ shaped brackets were welded to the upper front glacis plate and the side armor. Wire or string could be threaded through these ‘U’ shaped brackets and foliage tied onto it. The exact date in 1945 this feature started to be added onto vehicles under production is not known.
To strengthen the towing brackets on some vehicles, side supports were welded at the junction of the hull side armor and the front and rear armor plates. Others had the extended hull armor towing brackets removed and replaced with ‘U’ brackets welded onto the lower front glacis plate and the rear armor plate.
Did the Jagdpanzer 38 have a muzzle brake?
The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by directing some of the explosive force of the shell gasses sideways rather than just forward. The wooden mock-up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke, which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post-war Swiss G-13 version had a muzzle brake fitted.
Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left the factory painted dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028). Camouflage patterns were painted onto the vehicle when it arrived at the unit it was assigned to. In October 1944, new Jagdpanzer 38s were painted in a camouflage pattern before they left the BMM factory. It had a base color of dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028) with stripes and patches of dark red-brown (Rotbraun RAL 8017) paint and dark olive green (Olivgrün RAL 6003). Black rectangular false vision ports were painted on the upper front glacis plate to try and draw the enemy’s fire away from the driver’s periscopes.
The vehicle’s designation
The Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. What follows is an investigation into why the Hetzer nickname is associated with this tank hunter. Many German armored fighting vehicles had very long official designations, so shorter nicknames were used to assist in recognition, for example, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf.E was called the Tiger. There are others, like the Ferdinand, Panther, Grille, Wespe, Hummel and many more. Some were official designations while others were unofficial and came from the soldiers using the vehicle. The German High Command even issued orders for vehicle names to be changed because they were deemed to be misleading or not suitable for a vehicle belonging to the German Army. Some of the names now used to describe Second World War German fighting vehicles arose after the war. A few were the invention of scale model kit companies.
Ein grosser Hetzer
A Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. They had come to inspect several vehicles including the Mareşal light tank hunter. Its design is believed to have influenced the final development of the Jagdpanzer 38. The comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann were recorded in the last paragraph on the first page. He said the Mareşal would make ‘ein grosser Hetzer’ (an impressive hunter). The German word “Gross” does not only translate to big as in size. It can also mean good or impressive (Großartig). He went on to say it would be a superior adversary against the Russians.
The Jagdpanzer 38 had many different official names
The word ‘Hetzer’ has not been used during this article because it was not used officially by the German Army during WW2. It is a nickname used by some of the troops. The Jagdpanzer 38 was known by many different designations and abbreviations in official German Army and factory documents.
The following is an updated list of the different names and abbreviations given to the Jagdpanzer 38, followed by the source, and date of the document that was initially compiled by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle. The term ‘Hetzer’ was a nickname and not an official designation.
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (7 January 1944) leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (28 February 1944) Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (18 January 1944) Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (16 April 1944) Sturmgeschütz neuer Art Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944) Le. Pz.Jäger (38t) Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944) leichtes Sturmgeschütz auf 38(t) Führer Konferenz (28 January 1944) Panzerjäger 38 für 7,5cm Pak 39 (L-/48) (Sd Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 January 1944) le.Pz.Jg.38t Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (4 March to October 1944) le.Pz.Jg.38t Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (3 August 1944) 7,5 cm Panzerjäger 38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 31 July 1944) Stu.Gesch.38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 6 June 1944) Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Waffen bzw.Geräte (March 1944) Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres Chef.H.Rüst.u. BdE/Stab Rüst lil. (15 May to 15 October 1944) Ie.Pz.Jäg.38(t) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (7 June to 30 July 1944) Stu.Gesch.38(t) GenSTdH/Org.Abt. Bericht (12 June and 28 June 1944) I.Pz.Jg.38(t) Wa Prüf 6 (23 June 1944) Ie.Pz.Jg.38(t) mit 7,5cm Pak L/48 auf Fgst Pz 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944) le. Panzerjäger 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Name of Troop – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf Name of regulations – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944) Pz.-Jäger 38(t) (späterer Name wahrscheinlich Jagdpanzer) (probable later name Jagdpanzer) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (12 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (19 October 1944 to 6 April 1945) Jagdpanzer 38 D652/63 (1 November 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 und Panzerjäger 38 (7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 November 1944) Jagdpz. 38 this style of abbreviation was used in a list as part of a combat readiness report by the Panzergrenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”. None were shown on strength. (3 November 1944) Jagdpanzer 38, Panzerjäger 38 (m 7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres, Chef H.Rüst u. BdE/Stab Rüst III. (15 November 1944 to 15 March 1945) Jagdpanzer 38 WaA/Wa Prüf 6 (17 November and 19 December 1944) Hetzer The origin of this name was explained in this document as coming from the troops to denote the Jagdpanzer 38 Gen. Insp.d.Pz.Tr. Guderian. (4 December 1944) (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle) Hetzer and Pz.Jg.38(T) IX.SS.Geb.A.K (19 December 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command telex (16 February 1945) Jg.Pz.38 t SS-Sturmbannführer combat readiness report. (March 1945) Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer SS-Sturmbannfüher combat readiness report. (March 1945)
The Project Hetzer E-10 prototype design confusion
‘Project Hetzer’ was the name used by the team tasked with designing a low-profile self-propelled tank hunter with a fast, powerful 400 hp engine that would give the vehicle a maximum road speed of 70 km/h (43.49 mph). It was an Entwicklungs-Serien (developmental series) 10-tonne vehicle that was allocated the designation ‘E-10.’It did not enter production. Weight designations in E-series were not very accurate. The E-10 was planned to weigh between 12-15 tonnes.
The plans for the Jagdpanzer 38 and E-10 were discussed at a concept design meeting between the German army ordnance officers from Wa Prüf 6, and the Czech Böhmisch-Märische Maschinenfabrik (B.M.M.) company. The language barrier may have led to a misunderstanding. It is assumed the Czech company officials believed the Germans were using the name ‘Hetzer‘ when talking about their Jagdpanzer 38 and not the rival company’s E-10 project. Thus, the nickname ‘Hetzer’ became connected to the Jagdpanzer 38 but not used as an official designation.
Military historian Herbert Ackermans found in the German Archives a report dated 21 January 1944, that detailed the items on the agenda and minutes of a number of meetings about the development and production of weapons and equipment, that took place with General Friedrich Fromm, German Army High Command (OKH), between April 1943 and 21 January 1944. (Archiv Signatur RH 10/37)
Item 5 of the report dealt with Klein-Panzerjäger (small tank hunter). Major-General Beißwänger (General beim Chef der Heeresrüstung) remarked that the introduction of such designation (like ‘Klein-Panzerjäger’) was undesirable and that precise designations were required.
Oberst Crohn’s of Wa.Prüf. 6, informed those present at the meeting that the Romanian Maresal tank hunter was of no further interest to Germany as the production of the Jagdpanzer 38 has been decided upon. This also meant that Project Hetzer, Project Rutscher, and Project Sprengstoffträger mit Puppchen had been canceled.
This document provides evidence that the Jagdpanzer 38 and the Project Hetzer E-10 were treated as two separate vehicles.
The few wartime documents where the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used
Hetzer document No.1
On 31 July 1944, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (743rd Tank Hunter Battalion) reported having twenty-eight Hetzers available, with an additional fourteen Hetzers expected to arrive on 3 August 1944 when the battalion would be joined by the 3.Kompanie (3rd company) near Warsaw. On 3 August 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 submitted a ‘strength report‘ that listed how many vehicles were operational and how many were lost, damaged or needing mechanical repair. In this and later reports, the nickname Hetzer was not used. They were given the abbreviated designation of le.Pz.Jg.38t.
Hetzer document No.2
In a Führervortrag briefing sheet, dated 4 December 1944, from German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, Hitler is informed that the nickname Hetzer was used by the troops to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. Hilary Louis Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz mentions this in his Panzer Tracts book. (Found again by military historian Herbert Ackermans in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – NARA)
8.) Erklärung Ausdruck “Hetzer.” Der kommt aus der Truppe und bezeichnet damit den Jagdpanzer 38.
8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.
This is the second page of the same report.
Hetzer document No.3
On 19 December 1944, a unit combat readiness report was submitted. It used both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer when collating the figures of combat-ready Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The 22 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had two Pz.Jg.38(T) available. The 8 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had three Hetzers available. The subordinated unit to the Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle stated they had three Hetzers available.
Hetzer document No.4
The fourth document was discovered by historian Herbert Ackerman in October 2020 as he was looking at documents in the Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv (German Military Archives). It is a telex from Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command addressed to the German High Command Panzertruppen Inspector. He asks when the Fallschirmjaeger Panzerjäger Abteilungen (airborne tank hunter battalion) are planned to be reequipped with Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer, what are the composition numbers and delivery dates. It was sent on 16 February 1945 and used the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer)
Hetzer document No.5
The fifth document was a unit combat readiness report for March 1945. In the eighth line down, under the heading Pz.Abt.17 (17th Panzer battalion) there is an entry, Jg.Pz. 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) listed one Jg.Pz. 38 t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunters belonging to the Pz.Jg.Abt.Nibelungen (Anti-tank battalion “Nibelungen”) as just Jg.Pz. 38 t and did not include the nickname “Hetzer”. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short-term repair, one in long-term repair, and one with transmission failure. (Source Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)
Hetzer document No.6
The sixth document is also a unit combat readiness report dated 7 March 1945 for the attention of the German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector from Kampfgruppe Panzer Korps “Feldherrnhalle”. In point 2, under the heading Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) there is an entry, (20 Hetzer) ready only after retraining of personnel on the Jg.Pz. 38. Earliest date 25 March 1945. Like some of the other documents it also uses both terms, Hetzer and Jg.Pz.38.
How are the words ‘baiter and agitator’ connected with the Jagdpanzer 38?
During the Second World War and when hostilities had finished, German military prisoners, engineers, and factory workers were interviewed by Intelligence officers. The Allied translators chose to translate the German word ‘Hetzer’ when it was used by the person being interviewed to describe the Jagdpanzer 38, as ‘baiter’. These words appear in U.S. Soviet, British and Commonwealth reports. The interviews were recorded in German. They also noted that the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38 and some intelligence documents used the German word Hetzer rather than the English translation.
Military Intelligence, Section 10 (M.I.10) was part of the British War Office, which would later become part of M.I.6. It was responsible for technical analysis of weapons. The original Secret documents were declassified on 22 November 1988. Multiple British army intelligence reports and English transcripts of German prisoner interrogations make use of the term ‘Baiter’ as an English translation for the German nickname ‘Hetzer’ when used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. These documents were collated and analyzed by M.I.10. The following extract is one such example.
In 1947, the M.I.10 used the name ‘Pz.Jäg. 38(t) – Hetzer’ under a photograph of a Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter in an official, secret, military reference book called ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, armored Fighting Vehicles.’ The publication was a summary of all the intelligence reports that M.I.10 had collected on German vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information in this document about the intelligence source on which naming the Jagdpanzer 38, ‘Hetzer’ was based.
Ralf Raths, the director of the German Tank Museum, whose first language is German, states that Hetzer is a German hunting term. ‘Hetzen” means to hunt your prey at high speed until it collapses or is caught. This is what wolves do in the wild. This would also cover hunting fox, deer, and hare with dogs and on horseback. The term Hetzer was applicable to the Project Hetzer E-10 fast tank hunter but not to the Jagdpanzer 38 which was a slow vehicle that only had a top maximum road speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). The popular modern phrase found on T-shirts, websites, and memes, ‘The Hetzer gonna Hetz’ is totally inaccurate. The Jagdpanzer 38 could not Hetz. It could not chase after its prey at speed. Its tactical deployment was as an ambush weapon.
Unfortunately, there is not a word in English that is a good translation of the German Word Hetzer. We have ‘hare coursing’, but ‘a coursing’ or ‘Project Coursing’ sounds wrong. There is not an overall general descriptive word in English that covers hunting fox/deer/hare/rabbit at high speed until it collapses. The verb ‘to harry’ is a hunting term but is associated with the bird of prey, the Harrier and the British fighter jet the Harrier: the ‘Harrier is gonna harry’. The ‘chaser’ would be the nearest accurate translation. ‘Project Chaser’ and ‘the Chaser’ sound correct in English: the ‘Chaser is gonna chase’. The problem with ‘chaser’ is that word does not always have a hunting association, unlike the German word Hetzer. The way a Jagdpanzer 38 operated in combat was the exact opposite of all these terms.
Many military history authors and magazine article writers translate the nickname ‘Hetzer’ as baiter or agitator. A dictionary definition of a ‘baiter’ is someone who ‘deliberately annoys or tauts another’. It is also defined as referring to a ‘malicious rabble-rousing agitator’ (This definition is where the word ‘agitator’ comes from). Both these explanations of the use of the word ‘baiter’ have caused confusion as it does not describe or hint at the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38.
There is another definition. A ‘baiter’ is a hunting term. It describes a hunter who baits a trap, lays in ambush hoping his prey takes the bait so that he can kill it. This describes the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38. They were given the job of protecting the flanks of an attack or defending a section of the front line. Crews were taught to camouflage their vehicles and hide on the edge of woodland. They would be deployed in a troop of three or more Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters and wait in ambush in a position where they had good visibility of advancing enemy units at a location they believed would be an Allied attack route.
To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer by the Germans during WW2. Although most official wartime documents do not use the nickname Hetzer, a few did.
Starting from 20 June 1944, Panzerjäger Schulen (tank hunter training schools) started to receive Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles for crew training. A surviving Panzerjäger Schule Milowitz (Tank hunter training school at Milowitz) document showed that Jagdpanzer 38 crews were encouraged to find preselected firing positions, preferably behind an earth wall in cover, like at the edge of a wood. Once targets had been engaged and there were no more targets available, the commander was to direct the driver to change to a different location by reversing out of their current position, to avoid being hit by enemy artillery.
The Jagdpanzer 38s were assigned to independent Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Army Tank Hunter Battalions). They were to provide Infantry Divisions with a mobile anti-tank resource. When the infantry was under attack, they could be used as a resource to support the infantry’s counterattack. They were not intended to be used instead of a tank at the front of an attack in a major offensive. The guns’ limited traverse would make them liable to flank attacks.
Each of the Battalion’s three companies was given fourteen Jagdpanzer 38s, and three were allocated to the Abteilung Stab (Battalion headquarters). One vehicle per company and two of the headquarters’ vehicles were issued with long-range command and control Fu 8 radios. By February 1945, the authorized number of Jagdpanzer 38s per company was reduced from fourteen to ten. The Abteilung (battalion) approved total was reduced to thirty-eight from forty-five.
The Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 731 (731st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was formed on 2 November 1943 by Heeresgruppe Nord (Northern Army group). Between 4 and 13 July 1944, they were issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front.
Between 19 and 28 July 1944, Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 743 (743rd Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front with Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army group).
In September 1944, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 (741st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. One company was sent to the Eastern Front, but the other two were directed to the Arnhem sector in Holland.
In February 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 561 (561st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In March 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 744 (744th Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In December 1944 and January 1945, 295 Jagdpanzer 38s were used in the winter Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. The two companies of Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 and eighteen other Heeres Panzerjäger companies were deployed in the region. A Heeres Gruppe B (Army group B) ‘combat strength’ report dated 30 December 1944 stated that 131 Jagdpanzer 38s were still operational out of their initial strength of 190. Heeres Gruppe G (Army group G) reported that it had 38 Jagdpanzer 38s still functional out of an initial total of 67.
On 16 April 1945, during the attack on Bolatice in Northern Moravia by Soviet Forces, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the T-34-85 equipped 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from an area near Albertovec Farm. Two tanks were left behind just south of the farm to guard against a flanking attack. Corporal Ján Zámečník was the gunner in tank number 603. He fired on what he thought was a German machine gun nest on the edge of a wood. When it was neutralized, the crew went to examine the enemy position. They were shocked to find they had knocked out a very well camouflaged Jagdpanzer 38. The German crew had run out of fuel and main gun ammunition but had still decided to fight using the machine gun on the roof of their vehicle. The T-34-85 crew had not identified it as an enemy vehicle because it was so hard to see.
On 27 April 1945, eight T-34-85 tanks of the 3rd battalion, 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from the railway station at Dolni Lhota to Čavisov a village in Ostrava-City District, Moravian-Silesian Region. The attack halted as it encountered anti-tank obstacles. It was an ambush. Two tanks were knocked out, and a further three were damaged by a number of self-propelled anti-tank guns in concealed positions. The remaining tanks were forced to retreat. The Germans then made a tactical mistake. The crews of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters counter-attacked. They moved out of cover and into the village near the railroad station. One was knocked out before it reached the village and another was destroyed near the houses on the edge of the village. The others withdrew.
Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters
The first Jagdpanzer 38 came off the production line in March 1944. By the end of World War II, the Czech company BMM had built 2,047 of them and refurbished 173 that came back to the factory for repairs. Another Czech company called Škoda started manufacturing Jagdpanzer 38s and built a further 780 by the time of the German surrender.
After the war ended, the Swiss were looking for new armored vehicles. They placed a contract with the Czechs. The first 10 that they received were German specification Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The rest were new-build vehicles for the Swiss contract. Some of them used World War Two parts that were readily available. Later vehicles had newly designed parts.
One hundred and fifty-eight Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters entered service with the Swiss army. Ninety-four of them were re-engined with diesel power packs. The last G13 left the Swiss army in 1970. Many were sold to museums and private collectors who converted them to externally look like Second World War German Jagdanzer 38 tank hunters.
The G-13 name
G-13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38 in the Škoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Škoda Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer was called a G-13 in the factory and on all internal documentation. G = tank hunter, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3. G-11 was Panzerjaeger I, G-12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzle brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38 (t). The Škoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank hunter was known by the factory code G-13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38 or Hetzer name.
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr
The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. The diesel prototype remained the sole one to see combat and was used during the Prague uprising by both sides. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Jagdpanzer 38 after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.
This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), the same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine.
The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5 cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38 in an effort to confuse the enemy.
A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks, and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.
The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside.
Bergepanzer 38 mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun
A number of Bergepanzer 38 light armored recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft Flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.
This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz”. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support role against enemy troops and vehicles.
Soviet Army capture the factories
When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia, they conducted a stocktake of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38 tank-destroyers “G-13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.
The Czech Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.
Thanks to the great numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s built at the end of the war, it got to see service with a number of different armies during the war and after.
The only export user of the Jagdpanzer 38 was the Hungarian Army, which received about 85 vehicles between August 1944 and January 1945.
While the Soviets captured large numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s during their successful drive against the German armies, there is no evidence they put any into use. They did, however, supply some to their new allies, the Bulgarians (some 4 vehicles). Romania also captured a couple of Jagdpanzer 38s after switching sides and moving into Transylvania.
One of the most famous wartime Jagdpanzer 38s is Chwat, a single tank destroyer captured by the Poles during the Warsaw uprising that saw no combat use.
Another Jagdpanzer 38 was captured by Czechoslovakian rebels during the Prague uprising at the end of the war.
After the war, the Czechoslovakians had a number of Jagdpanzer 38s available to them left from production or abandoned on their soil. They produced 150 more and used them until at least the early 60s.
The Czechoslovaks also exported the Jagdpanzer 38 to Switzerland, which bought 158 vehicles that were in service until the 70s. Most of the current surviving Jagdpanzer 38s are actually Swiss G-13s.
Overall, the vehicle was successful. It was quick to build, and cheap compared with the cost of constructing a Tiger, King Tiger or Panther tank. It was mechanically reliable, easily concealed, hard-hitting, and when used right, a hard-to-kill vehicle. A company of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters working together, concealed in a good location, could damage or knock-out a considerable number of attacking enemy tanks.
Surviving Jagdpanzer 38
Currently, there are only 13 known surviving Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left. If the Jagdpanzer 38 you are looking at on display at a museum is not on this list of surviving vehicles then it is a post-war Swiss Contract G13 altered to resemble a wartime Jagdpanzer 38.
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Bruce Crompton Collection, UK
Rex and Rod Cadman Collection, UK
Private Collection, Germany
Panzermuseum, Thun, Switzerland
Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Army Technical Museum, Lešany, Czech Republic
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, VA, USA
Canadian Forces Base, Borden, Canada
Wheatcroft Collection, UK
Liechte Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer; 1944-45 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzerkampfwagen 38 Panzer Tracts No.18 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Box’ at the Tank Museum, Bovington Archives
Romanian Military Museum Archives, Bucharest
British War Office Military of Intelligence M.I.10 ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, Armoured Fighting Vehicles. ’
Hilary L. Doyle. Start from the 17 min time period https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG_mY-jSZzQ
Private correspondence with Mr. Hilary L. Doyle (1)
Herbert Ackermans document collection.
Jagdpanzer 38 specifications
Dimensions (L W H)
6.27 m x 2.63m x 2.10 m
20 ft 6.8 in x 8 ft 7.5 in x 6 ft 10.6 in
Total weight, battle-ready
7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) M.G.34, 1,200 rounds
8 to 60 mm (0.3 – 2.36 in)
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 160 hp @ 3000 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
Maximum Road Speed
40 km/h (25 mph)
180 km (111 miles)
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer 38, the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer 38 “Chwat” (Brave) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Early type Jagdpanzer 38 “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
The German delays in developing their own tanks were due to a report following the examination of a knocked out Mk.II tank in 1917. The British Mk.II tank had been built as a training vehicle with a soft-metal armor plate. Nevertheless, instructions were given for them to be transported to the battlefield and used in combat. The Germans conducted firing trials on this tank and concluded that it was not a serious threat, because the armor could be penetrated by machine-gun fire, artillery, and direct fire from anti-aircraft and field guns. The advances made at Cambrai with the fully armored Mk.IV tank changed their appraisal of the usefulness of the tank. The Germans started a process of recovering as many Mk.IV tanks as possible, rearming them with German guns and using them against their previous owners. They also built twenty Sturmpanzerwagen A7V break-through tanks. German designers realized they needed a more agile light tank to perform a cavalry role. Work started on designing a Leichter Kampfwagen, a light tank.
Did the Germans copy the British Whippet?
There is no documentary evidence to suggest that the Germans knew about the design and construction of the British Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’ light tank in 1917. The fact that the German Leichter Kampfwagen II (LKII) light tank looked very similar to the British Whippet is just a coincidence due to similar requirements.
The German words ‘Leichter Kampfwagen’ literally translates to ‘light combat vehicle.’ A better translation would be ‘light tank.’ The tank was also known as the LK.II. It had a top road speed of 16 km/h (10 mph). Although they were designed in 1917 and manufactured in 1918, they never saw combat with the Imperial German Army during WW1. After the war, some were sold to Sweden and Hungary. The Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum has three surviving vehicles and a fourth can be seen at the German Tank Museum at Munster.
Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen I (LK.I) light tank
In May 1917, German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank designer Joseph Vollmer became interested in developing a light tank, as he was disillusioned with the slow cumbersome, heavier tank designs. It needed to be constructed quickly, and the best way to do that was to use existing engines, transmissions, and other mechanical parts.
Joseph Vollmer submitted a light tank proposal to the German Supreme Command (Oberste Heeresleitung – OHL). In September 1917, a research project was authorized by the OHL that included the construction of a prototype. In the Autumn of 1917, tank production was not a priority for the OHL. They had seen the limited success of earlier British and French tank attacks that had been stopped by artillery and the muddy conditions of the churned-up battlefield scarred by deep shell craters. The OHL believed that further enemy advances with tanks could be stopped with the resources they already had. This view changed after the Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917. The temporarily substantial advances achieved in one day using combined arms tactics and the mass tank attacks shocked the senior German officers.
In March 1918, the first tracked light tank chassis, with a working engine and transmission, was ready for trials (this was the same month the British Whippet went into action for the first time). The trial results were disappointing, as the maximum speed obtained was only 18 km/h (11 mph). On 7 April 1918, when the armored superstructure and turret were bolted onto the chassis, this top speed was reduced to 16 km/h (10 mph). It was soon found that the 14 cm (5.5 inches) wide tracks were too thin. New 25 cm (9.45 inches) wide tracks were ordered to be fabricated. This caused a delay, as they did not arrive until 20 April 1918. However, work started on producing an alternate design to this first version of the Leichter Kampfwagen.
Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen II (LK.II) light tank
At the same time, Joseph Vollmer had been working on a second design that would become the Leichter Kampfwagen II (LK.II). The original Leichter Kampfwagen was now given the designation LK.I. The new tank design had thicker armor than the LK.I, making it heavier. The tracks were the new 25 cm (9.45 inches) wider version.
On 26 April 1918, German intelligence sources reported to the OHL that the French were mass-producing their own 5-6 tonnes light tank, the Renault FT. On 13 June 1918, Joseph Vollmer demonstrated the LK.I prototype to Lieutenant-Colonel Max Bauer, head of OHL operations section II at the Krupp proving ground. In June 1918, the first LK.II prototype was finished.
On 17 July 1918, after further meetings, the OHL placed an initial order for 670 LK.II tanks, with the option of increasing that to 2,000 tanks by 30 June 1919 and a further 2,000 to be finished by December 1919, bringing the total to 4,000. The first production LK.II left the production line on 10 October 1918. The order was canceled the following month when the First World War ended.
The following sections will describe the design of the machine-gun armed variant of the Leichter Kampfwagen II, of which at least 24 vehicles were built.
The LK.I and LK.II light tanks were developed independently but roughly at the same time. The main difference was the length of the tracks. The LK.I prototype had a long protruding track frame at the front of the tank meant to make crossing trenches and getting up the far side of shell craters easier. This apparent sensible design feature was abandoned for a more compact frame. They found that there was too much track in contact with the ground. This made the tank very hard to steer and turn.
The British tank designers had found the same problem when they lengthened the frame of their Mk.V tank by six feet (1.82 m). This tank was called the Mk.V* tank (it was pronounced mark five star tank). The Mark V tank could turn very well, but the Mk.V* had great difficulty turning tight corners. The British designers corrected this fault on the Mk.V** (‘double star’) by making the bottom of the track frame more curved to reduce the amount of track in contact with the ground on solid terrain. The Mk.V** did not enter mass production due to the First World War ending.
There is a lot less track in contact with the ground on the LK.II light tank compared with the LK.I. The front of the track still juts out in front of the tank body, so it is the first thing to make contact with the far side of an enemy trench or shell crater, but not as much as the track system on the LK.I light tank.
The German light tank designers did not fall into the same poorly designed track system seen on the British Lincoln No.1 Machine, the French Schneider tank, the French St Chamond tank, and the German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank. The bodies of these four tanks were in front of the tracks and came in contact with the mud first. This caused the tanks to get stuck in the sludge of trench walls and shell crater earth banks.
Reducing the length of the tracks at the front of the tank on the LK.II light tank did away with the need for a strengthening metal frame having to be installed between the two tracks, as on the LK.I light tank. That frame would have dug into the mud and hindered the tank from climbing out of a ditch.
During trials, it was found that the engine overheated. Conditions inside the fighting compartment were also uncomfortable due to the heat, fumes, and noise. The louvered grill at the front of the tank and those on the side did not ventilate the engine compartment sufficiently. In October 1918, the solution was found. A big fan was fitted next to a large radiator in front of the engine. This required a redesign to the front of the tank. The louvered grill was removed and replaced with a solid sheet of armor that sloped in the opposite direction to that of the grill on the LK.I tank. It was hinged at the bottom to enable the protective metal armored plate to swing down to allow access to the radiator and fan for maintenance. The angling of the armored plate increased the amount of metal an enemy’s armor-piercing bullet would have to pass through. It would also increase the chance of bullets ricocheting and aid the tank to slide up the muddy bank of a trench or shell crater. The protruding tracks would bite into the mud first, but the mud between the tracks needed to slide off the tank’s body, not dig into the mud wall.
On the LK.I light tank, the track frame, road wheels, drive sprocket, and idler wheel were all protected by slab-sided armor plates. This caused problems with a build-up of mud. On the production version of the LK.II light tank, two long mud shoots were built into the top of the armored track cover.
The road wheels on the LK.II light tank were all sprung. They were not on large springs, but they did have a small range of movement that helped give a smoother ride. Each wheel was attached to a ‘bogie’ suspension unit. There were four road wheels attached to each unit. Each one of these units had an additional amount of rotation to help the tank get over small obstacles and rough ground.
The track tensioning system was exposed and looked very similar to the system used on British tanks. To make an adjustment, a crew member would loosen the hexagonal locking nut on the outside of the tank track suspension protective armor at the front. He would then use a spanner to change the settings on the tensioner rod that could be accessed via a rectangular panel and then tighten the locking nut again.
The tank chassis was riveted. Welding was not used in manufacturing during the First World War. The superstructure was bolted onto a metal frame. The front radiator armored plate was 14 mm (0.55 inch) thick and angled. It was hinged to allow access to the engine compartment for maintenance. The bolts that kept the armored plate in place had conical tops to protect them from damage. The front, side, and rear armor ranged in thickness between 12 mm (0.47 inch) and 14 mm (0.55 inch). The armor on the top of the superstructure and turret was 8 mm (0.31 inch) thick. The belly armor was only 3 mm (0.12 inch) thick.
The LK II was powered by a German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 55-60 hp petrol engine. It had two, 2-cylinder banks that were bolted onto the same crankshaft. A wide leather belt came off the crankshaft and turned the fan blades for the large single radiator. The engine compartment was separated from the fighting compartment by a firewall that was mainly made of wood. It did not entirely seal around the edge of the compartment frame, as there were gaps that allowed airflow, flames, toxic and flammable gases to pass along the outer skin of the vehicle with ease. The wooden firewall would provide a few additional vital minutes to allow the crew to escape the tank in the event of an engine fire. A wooden firewall is not ideal but any firewall is better than nothing and wood is cheap, easy to put in place, and repair.
The fuel tanks were on each side of the engine compartment. To fill them, a crew member would have to open the engine hatch and undo the filling cap. He would then have to use a hose or long funnel to pour fuel into the tank. An external filling cap was not fitted. He would have to repeat this process to fill the fuel tank on the other side of the engine.
To start the tank, the crew had to turn the hand crank at the front of the vehicle. This was very hazardous in a combat situation. In 1929, an internal engine crank handle and an electric starter were fitted to the upgraded Swedish Army version of the LK.II, the Stridsvagn m/21-29 tank.
Both the LK.I and LK.II light tanks were armed with a 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun in a fully rotating turret. The 57 mm gun version did not have a turret. The machine gun was water-cooled and was fitted with a large protective metal tubular jacket around it. It was fixed into position on a ball mount that had some spring stabilization. There were additional pistol ports on each side of the turret. If for some reason, the turret ring got jammed, the commander could fire his personal issue PO8 Luger out through these holes. They could also be used as vision ports.
To traverse the tank turret, the commander had to grab two handles, brace his back against two pads at the back of the turret and use his legs and arms to physically move the turret by brute force. There was no electric turret traverse motor or a manual handle attached to a geared wheel. The commander had vision slits in the side of the turret and in the cupola. These were not protected by blocks of thick bulletproof glass. If they were hit by an enemy bullet while the commander was looking through them, he would receive eye and facial injuries.
What looks like a fire extinguisher at the back of the turret is, in fact, a small fuel tank for the internal lighting system. There were no electrical lights inside the tank. The tank commander could enter and leave the tank via a large rear hull door.
Towing and Recovery
The LK.II light tank had a large ‘A’ frame at the rear of the tank, below the door. It was designed to be used to tow artillery pieces, trailers and recover disabled tanks or be used to be towed if it suffered a mechanical breakdown. The chain was stowed above the rear door on the left. It just hung down and was attached to the rear ‘A’ frame towing bracket with a D-shaped lock. It must have made a very loud noise going over rough ground as it constantly banged against the side of the tank. Next to the chain, fixed to the rear hull to the left of the door, was a long metal ‘tankerbar’.
Additional Machine Guns
Although the tank could be operated by two crewmen, the driver and the commander/gunner, there were four additional machine gun mounts built into the LK.II tank hull. There was one in the front of the hull superstructure, on the left of the driver’s position. There was one built into the back door and one on each side of the hull. These could not all be manned at the same time due to a lack of space, and whoever operated the extra machine gun would have had to change position depending on where the threat came from.
The additional machine gun would be stowed inside the tank and only fitted in the gun mounts when required. The Swedish Army operated these tanks with four crew members. The two additional members manned the side machine guns. It is not known how many men the Imperial German Army would have assigned to these tanks if they had been used in combat.
The Driver’s Position
The LK.II tanks sold to Sweden were converted to be right-hand drive vehicles. Prior to 3 September 1967, traffic in Sweden drove on the left side of the road and all vehicles were right-hand drive. The German, Berlin-based, company Steffen and Heymann sold the LK.II as a “heavy tractor.” This company did not build the vehicles. They acted as intermediaries and negotiated contracts. Photographic evidence suggests that the conversion of the driving position to the right-hand drive of tanks being shipped to Sweden was done in Germany prior to transportation.
The driver had a forward-looking vision slit and two more to his left and right. These vision slits were built into hatches that could be opened and removed when not in a combat zone, to give better visibility. To the right and left of the driver were access/escape doors. The foot controls were not in the order seen on modern cars, with the clutch on the left, brake in the center, and accelerator on the right. For this vehicle, the clutch pedal was on the left, the accelerator in the middle, and the brake on the right. As the driver put his foot on the brake, the clutch pedal automatically depressed. This reduced the chance of stalling the engine.
The driver steered the tank with two tillers: the lever on the left controlled the left track and the one on the right controlled the right track. As the tiller moved back, it disengaged the clutch on one side and engaged the brake. The four-speed gearbox control lever was on the right of the driver. There was no speedometer. The only instrument dial that the driver had to monitor was the oil pressure gauge.
On 30 August 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen light tank prototype was transported to a military training ground near Saarburg, near the Luxembourg border. The German Army Group Herzog Albrecht was given the job of appraising the tank and using it in training exercises. It is not known if this tank was a LK.I light tank, a LK.II armed with a 57 mm gun or a LK.II machine gun light tank.
On 7 September 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen light tank was recorded as being present with a Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank and taking part in a demonstration exercise. It is not known what type of Leichter Kampfwagen tank took part.
So far, no records have been found stating that production LK II tanks were issued to military units. No LK.II light tanks took part in active combat operations with the German Army.
Export sales of the Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tank
Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was not allowed to build or use tanks. It secretly sold its stock of LK.II tanks to Sweden and Hungary. The Hungarians were also on the losing side of the First World War and their purchase and ownership of military weapons was severely controlled by the same treaty conditions. Nevertheless, in early 1920, the Hungarian Government purchased one machine gun-armed LK.II light tank from Germany. They then bought a second, followed by a final order for twelve more.
The Hungarian Government had witnessed the German Revolutions that followed the Armistice and seen the use of armored cars and tanks on the streets of Germany. They had also suffered invasion by their neighbors, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, all with French support. The Hungarian Government wanted to be prepared for any further civil unrest or confrontations with its neighbors. All fourteen LK.II light tanks were to be issued to the Hungarian Police training school (RUISK) based in Budapest. But when they arrived, the Treaty of Trianon was in effect banning the Hungarians rearming, so they had to be hidden from the Treaty inspectors and were taken apart. The hulls were hidden in country estates of trusted farmers, disguised as ‘agricultural tractors’. The armored bodies were put inside cattle wagons and kept moving around the country. The Treaty Inspection Committee, on one occasion, visited a train station where there were some railway cattle wagons containing LK.II tank bodies, but they were not discovered.
In March 1927, Hungary was no longer subject to rearmament inspections. The first tank company was formed in 1928. In April 1930, after careful inspection of the condition of the disassembled LK.II hulls and bodies, they assembled 6 tanks and started using them for crew training, until more modern vehicles became available. The new Italian FIAT 3000 light tanks were purchased and used by the 1st Training Company and five of the LK.II tanks were used by the 2nd Training Company. The other hulls were kept for driver and maintenance training.
During the second half of the 1930s, the LK.II tanks were seen as obsolete and scrapped by the garrison. Two turrets were used later for an armored train. In 1939, one LK.II tank was found hidden in a closed shed within the garrison grounds. As that tank did not exist in the official records and was deemed obsolete, it was sold for scrap metal.
In 1921, the Swedish Government purchased ten machine gun-armed Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks. They were given the name Stridsvagn m/21 and issued to the Army in 1922. Five of the tanks were upgraded in 1929 and given the new designation Stridsvagn m/21-29. Sweden was also interested in buying the Renault FT light tank and had one on trial but they were too expensive. Sweden paid one third the price for an LK II compared to the cost of a Renault FT in 1921. So in other words, Sweden would have only got three French-built Renault FT light tanks for the cost of nine German LK II light tanks.
How many Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tanks were produced?
It is not known exactly how many Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks were manufactured. It can be confirmed that ten were sold to Sweden and fourteen to Hungary. This makes a total of twenty-four completed production tanks. There may have been others but, so far, no photographs or documentary proof has been found.
Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank
On 13 June 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen I light tank prototype was driven around the proving ground at Krupp’s factory premises, near Berlin, to demonstrate its abilities to members of a military conference. Ten days later, on 23 June 1918, the OHL placed orders for the LK.II light tank. At the same time, trials started on a prototype gun tank based on the LK.I light tank hull. Initially, instructions were given that this tank should be armed with a 57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun, as used on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank.
The gun was designed and built in 1887 by the British Maxim-Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company for the Belgium War Ministry. It was a short-barrelled 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) 26 caliber gun made of steel, with a vertical sliding-block breech. It was initially used to arm the Belgium fortresses of Liege and Namur. In 1914, the German Army captured a large number of these guns. It could fire high explosive 57 x 224R Fixed QF ammunition at an effective range of 2.7 km (1.7 mi). The shell weighed 2.7 kg (5 lb 15 oz).
The gun would be too large to fit into the revolving turret used on the machine gun armed LK.I and LK.II light tanks, so a decision was made to construct a rigid casemate at the rear of the tank that could accommodate the size of the cannon.
An initial look at the drawings and photographs of the prototype gun tank may make it appear that it was based on the LK.I tank because of the front armored louvered radiation grill. This is confusing. When the construction of two gun tank prototypes was authorized, the designers chose to use LK.II tank hulls but included some of the superstructure features of the LK.I light tank.
On 20 August 1918, it was reported that the LK.II tank was found to be too small and light to handle the recoil of the 57 mm gun during firing trials. It was also discovered that the extra weight at the rear of the tank made the tank difficult to steer, as it was tail heavy. It made the tracks at the front of the tank have problems gripping as the tank was driven cross-country because there was not enough weight above them.
On 30 September 1918, the OHL instructed that Krupp’s new 37 mm gun was to replace the 57 mm gun and the ratio of gun and machine gun armed tank orders should be two-thirds armed with a 37 mm gun and one third were to be armed with a machine gun in a revolving turret. By the end of the war in November 1918, no Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks armed with a 37 mm gun had been produced. This may have been due to the fact that the Krupp 37 mm gun was still in development and had not been produced in enough numbers for production to start.
The Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank
Just before the end of the war, tank designer Joseph Vollmer submitted a proposal for the Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank. The LK.II hull, track and suspension system would be used. The engine and gearbox would be placed in a compartment at the rear of the tank instead of at the front, as found in the LK.I and LK.II tanks. The engine would be kept cool by a large armored louvered grill on the back of the tank and two vents on the side of the engine compartment.
The driver’s position at the front of the tank would enable him to have better vision than being sat at the rear of the tank and having to peer over a long engine bonnet, as in the LK.II tank. During combat conditions, he would look through vision slits in armored hatches in the front and side of the upper superstructure. Just behind him, on the left and right sides of the tank, there were large escape hatches that swung out forwards. This configuration of the door would give the crew some armored protection as they left the tank if it was on fire, ditched or knocked out on the battlefield. These hatches could be opened outside of a combat area to give the driver better vision and increase the airflow inside the fighting compartment.
The turret was above and behind the driver’s position. It would have had vision slits, side pistol ports, and a hatch on the top. This layout was very similar to the French Renault FT and modern tanks.
Although, initially, it was intended to arm the tank with the same 57 mm gun used on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank, firing trials with the 57 mm armed LK.II prototype tanks had found that the LK.II hull and suspension system were too frail. It was found that, when the 57 mm gun was fired, the vehicle could not cope with the stresses of the recoil. The production gun version of the LK.II tank was going to be armed with the new lighter Krupp 37 mm gun. It would be safe to assume that the same decision would apply to the LK.III tank, as it used the same LK.II hull and suspension system. The OHL had given instructions that one 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun armed LK.II tank was to be built for every two 37 mm gun armed LK.II tanks built. These same ratios might have been applied to the production order of the LK.III. The Treaty of Versailles banned Germany from building tanks after 1918. No Leichter Kampfwagen III light tanks were ever built.
The Leichte-Zugmaschiene (Krupp Light Prime Mover)
On 22 May 1918, the German manufacturing company Krupp submitted a proposal to build a lightly armored, armed artillery prime mover to tow field howitzers, based on the LK.II hull and suspension system. It was called the ‘Leichte-Zugmaschiene’ (English: light train machine) or ‘Kraftprotzen’ (English: mechanized limber). This was done on the instructions of Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Max Bauer, head of OHL, Section II, who was concerned about the lack of horses available to move artillery guns on the battlefield. Krupp’s design did not have a turret. The 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun was fixed in place in a casement tower at the rear of the vehicle. The armor was not as thick as that on the LK.II. It would only protect the crew from small arms fire, not armor-penetrating bullets.
The proposal was rejected in favor of mass-producing the LK.II light tank. The Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, made a compromise to gain the support of Oberstleutnant Bauer for the LK.II light tank project. He instructed that all LK.II tanks would be fitted with strong towing hooks at the rear of the tank.
The Kleiner Sturmwagen
On 13 June 1918, at a meeting held in Krupp’s office in Essen, Germany, tank designer Vollmer and the Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, demonstrated the prototype Leichter Kampfwagen I light tank by having it drive around the company’s proving ground in front of a specially invited audience of Government ministers and Army officers. Krupp took the opportunity to show the plans for a new tank called the ‘Kleiner Sturmwagen’ (English literal translation: ‘Small assault vehicle’, although a better translation would be ‘Light assault tank’). It was larger than the Leichter Kampfwagen II. There would be two versions: one armed with a 7.92 MG 08 machine gun and the other with a 52 mm gun. These plans have not survived. On 23 July 1918, the Krupp and Daimler manufacturing companies formally submitted a joint proposal for the Kleiner Sturmwagen light assault tank. The proposal was eventually rejected, as the decision was made to produce the Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks.
Surviving Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tanks
There are four surviving German-built LK.II light tanks. Only one survives in the original 1918 specifications. It is on display at the Arsenalen Tank Museum, 645 91 Strängnäs, Sweden. The Swedish Army called it the Stridsvagn m/21 tank. The other three surviving LK.II light tanks were upgraded and were re-designated Stridsvagn m/21-29 Tank. Two are at the Arsenalen Tank Museum in Sweden. The third is on display at the Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster, Germany.
The German design took too long and was objectively not much better than the British Whippet Medium Tank. The failure to have light tanks available to exploit the German breakthrough during the spring 1918 Kaiserschlacht was a severe failure, however, it is unlikely that the Germans would have won the war even if these were available.
Leichter Kampfwagen LK II specifications
Machine-gun armed LKII
Length 5.1 m (16ft 9in)
Width 1.9 m (6ft 3in)
Height 2.5 m (8ft 2in)
Length 5.1 m (16ft 9in)
Width 1.9 m (6ft 3in)
Height 2.5 m (8ft 2in)
Total Weight, Battle Ready
Not known but in excess of 8.5 tons
German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 60hp petrol engine
Cone clutch to four-speed and reverse gearbox to worm reduction and bevel drive, chain loop to drive sprocket, one for each track
Maximum road Speed
14-16 km/h (8.69 – 9.41 mph)
300 litres in two 150 liter fuel tanks
Around 60 – 70 km (37.28 – 43.5 miles)
3.04m (10 ft)
7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun (s)
57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun (fitted to prototype)
37 mm Krupp gun (propose production gun)
Armor, front, sides and rear
12 mm – 14 mm
Total Known Production
“Die technische Entwicklung der deutschen Kampfwagen im Weltkriege 1914-18” by Erich Petter, Berlin 1932.
“Die deutschen Kampfwagen” by Alfred Krüger, published in “Militärwissenschaftliche und technische Mitteilungen”, Vienna, volumes 1/2 1924 and 3/4 1924
Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum
German Tank Museum, Munster
Thorleif Olsson ‘Tank Hunter World War One.’ By Craig Moore
German Empire (1917-18)
Pioneering Vehicle – 1 Built
Only 20 A7V German tanks were built during World War One but a lot more chassis were constructed. Some were turned into tracked supply vehicles called A7V-Geländewagen and three were used as A7V-Flakpanzer prototype test vehicles. The Germans purchased two standard length Holt caterpillar-tractor chassis at the beginning of their A7V tank development but found they gave poor trench crossing capability so they lengthened one and used that as their A7V tank tracked chassis. All future A7V tracked chassis were built to this extended chassis specifications.
The standard length Holt caterpillar-tractor chassis that remained was converted into a prototype tracked trench digging vehicle. It is believed only one vehicle was produced.
It was used behind the front line to cut trenches. It was not armored in any way so it could not be used anywhere near the enemy. The crew and the vehicle would have no protection from small arms fire and artillery shells. It, therefore, had limited use. It was ideal for cutting defensive frontline trenches and rear communication trenches on pre-planned lines of withdrawal away from enemy fire.
German Pioniertruppe (Pioneer troops) would have used this machine. They were already involved in planning, strengthening and excavating trench systems. This earth digging and moving machine would have made their work easier and got the job done quicker.
The German engineering company Lübecker Maschinenbaugesellschaft (LMG) based in Lubeck in northern Germany was known for building Grabenbaggern earth excavation machines for laying pipes and digging drainage ditches. They mounted their equipment on the Holt caterpillar-tractor A7V tank chassis.
Development of the A7V Chassis
The situation in 1915 – 1916 was dire, as Germany, Britain and France had settled into a stalemate. In order to solve the ‘bloody equation’ formed by the artillery, barbed wire and machine gun combination, both Britain and France began development on a vehicle that had the ability to cross trenches with ease and be able to withstand enemy machine gun fire. This tracked vehicle would eventually revolutionize the battlefield. Thus the tank was born.
Although the tanks suffered from mechanical failures and inadequate crew training they had a major psychological impact on the German soldiers. German intelligence subsequently submitted reports to the Oberste Heeresleitung (German supreme command or OHL for short), which then lobbied the war ministry for an equivalent. However, some of the senior officers of the time were more focused on artillery and infantry tactics rather than the development of the tank or similar armored vehicles.
The committee, headed by chief designer Joseph Vollmer, rejected the trench crossing rhomboid shape track system as used on the British tanks because they wanted to build a chassis that could be used on a tank and a ‘prime mover’ heavy artillery gun tractor. This approach lead to problems.
Two Caterpillar-Holt tractors were obtained and adapted to build a working prototype. It had a better speed than the very slow British tanks but its trench crossing abilities were not as good.
Eventually, the Heeresleitung got some funding from the war ministry to make an equivalent. After months of testing and building, they came up with the A7V. The OHL ordered 100 chassis to be built. The rest were used to develop several A7V variants including the Überlandwagen and an Anti Aircraft version, called the Flakpanzer A7V.
Germany only produced 20 A7V tanks in World War One. Britain and France built over 8,000 tanks between 1916 – 1918. In the battles of 1918 the German Army used more captured British tanks than they did tanks built in Germany.
The Germans were not very imaginative when they gave a name to their first tank. The letters A7V stand for the committee of the Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen (Department 7, Transport) of the Prussian War Office.
Originally published Dec. 2016
Illustration of the A7V Schützengrabenbagger LMG Trench Digger produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Despite being famous for its tanks during World War II, Germany never had enough of them to go around. Less important units, such as those fighting partisans in the Balkans had a very low priority as far as Armored Fighting Vehicle allocation was concerned. They received old, obsolete or captured vehicles that the main units deemed useless.
This led some of the units in the theater to get creative, as was probably the case with the Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo light tank.
Three photographs have shown that at least one Famo Boxer was converted into a light tank. It is not known by whom or the exact dates involved. The engine was protected by armor plate and the front section elongated to act as a counterweight. It had an armored louvered grill at the front to assist ventilation and help protect the engine and radiator. The lower glacis plate was angled to help it slide up muddy slopes.
The rear of the tractor was extended so the commander had somewhere to stand. In front of him was the driver. Both crewmen were protected by an armored superstructure. The thickness of the armor is not known but it would have been thin and only stopped small arms fire. It was angled and the domed turret was curved which would have helped with bullet deflection.
The Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo (Light tracked tractor built by Famo) improvised tank was built on an agricultural tracked tractor. It was armed with a 7.92 mm machine-gun in a 360-degree rotating turret. It had a 5.0 liter 4-cylinder 45 hp engine. The transmission had three forward gears and one reverse.
It is believed to have been operated in the Independent State of Croatia and used in a security role to prevent attacks by partisans. It does not display the Croatian Army markings of a red and white checkerboard shield. It has the German Army Balkenkreuz cross on the side. Therefore, it may be assumed that the vehicle was operated by a German Army tank crew in Croatia.
The tractor, on which this vehicle was based, was produced in 1932 and called the LHB Boxer. In 1934, Linke-Hofmann-Busch Werke AG was divided into several companies. On 15th November 1935, the vehicle manufacturing part of the company was taken over by Junkers. It continued to build wheeled and tracked tractors plus diesel engines under the new name Fahrzeug und Motoren-Werke GmbH (FAMO). They also developed and manufactured the very large heavy 18 ton half-track vehicle (Sd. Kfz. 9) for the Wehrmacht.
FAMO continued the production of the LHB Boxer but it was now advertised for sale as the FAMO Boxer. The German Wehrmacht purchased them for use as towing vehicles. Their official designation was Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo, Typ Boxer.
The operational history of this vehicle is, sadly, unknown. It is also not known what happened to the vehicle. It is possible it was destroyed by the partisans, captured after the war and scrapped or simply dismantled and returned to its role as a tractor.
Illustration of the Leichter Raupenschlepper Famo produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
The Latil TAR 4WD was a popular French lorry and known for its very good off-road capability, which made it an excellent choice for the French Army. It had very good ground clearance that helped the lorry negotiate undulating ground and obstacles like rocks, building rubble, and tree branches. It still occasionally got stuck in the mud as it tried to get supplies and weapons to the front across the battle-scarred French countryside.
The Latil company saw the need to build an all-terrain supply vehicle that could negotiate shell craters, ditches, debris from damaged buildings and trenches. Their design team looked at various ways of using caterpillar tracks on the axles of their lorries.
This photograph was taken in 1919 and shows a fully tracked Latil TAR 4WD lorry in French Army service. The wheels have been removed and replaced with four tracked units to help it negotiate muddy undulating rough terrain. These are the later version of the ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ track units as they are more triangular in shape. This gave the lorry higher ground clearance. (Photo Avant-Train-Latil.com)
The Latil Company
The French vehicle manufacturing company called Latil designed and built the first French four-wheel-drive trucks at the end of the 19th century. Auguste Joseph Frederic Georges Latil patented the system in 1897. In 1903, the company moved to Levallois-Perret and, in 1908, it was renamed and became “Compagnie Française de Mécanique et d’Automobile – Avant-Train Latil”. They started to build 4×4 trucks with the ability to pull or carry a 3-tonne load. They were called Tracteur d’Artillerie Roulante, which is abbreviated to TAR. (the word roulante translates to rolling)
After World War I, Latil began to build tractors for the agriculture and forestry industry and trucks for civil engineering. In 1955, Latil merged with the vehicle manufacturers Somua and ‘Renault truck and bus’.
The Latil TAR
Prior to the outbreak of WW1, in 1913, Latil began manufacturing trucks that were designed to be used as tractors to tow heavy artillery guns. The Latil TAR used a 4-cylinder, 4,200 cc, 30 hp petrol engine. Only heavy guns were moved by mechanical vehicles, as lighter field artillery and other guns under 6-tonnes were still moved by teams of six or eight horses. Mechanically powered vehicles still required roads that were in good condition or firm ground.
A Latil 4×4 TAR tractor had some advantages over horse-towed guns: it was significantly faster than horses, it also took up less space than a team of horses, shortening transport columns, fewer soldiers were needed to transport the guns, and they could cover longer distances. The Latil 4×4 TAR was used to pull guns such as the 155 mm Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) mle.1917, the 220 mm Schneider mle. 1917 cannon and the 280 mm Schneider mle. 1914 mortar. The French abbreviation ‘mle’ is for the French word ‘Modèle’. In English that would translate to model but a better translation would be type or version. Latil trucks were also used by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during WW1. The French Army kept them in service up until the start of WW2.
In order to use its maximum traction force on good ground, the tractor had to be loaded with 2-tonnes. It was particularly suited for service with artillery units because of its pulling power. The company claimed that, on firm ground, it could tow 20-tonnes on a 15% gradient slope (9 Degrees), 25-tonnes on a 12% gradient slope (7 Degrees) and 35-tonnes on an 8% gradient slope (5 Degrees).
The French Army Latil TAR 4×4 lorry could climb up a steep incline. (Photo Avant-Train-Latil.com)
The clutch was of the inverted leather cone type. It had five forward gears and one reverse gear. The engine, clutch, gearbox, and front differential assembly formed a single block, connected to the chassis at three points: a ball joint at the front and two spring tabs at the rear.
The transmission of the engine power to the wheels was done by side gimbals that terminated the transverse shafts of the two differentials by a ball joint whose center was on the axis of the steering pivot. The movement was transmitted to the wheels via a straight crown and a pinion. Differentials could be locked to improve traction on soft ground. Steering, by screw and nut, controlled the front wheels and a longitudinal shaft transmitted the same movement to the rear wheels and thus allowed for fast turning. It had a minimum turning diameter of 8.50 m.
The French Army Latil TAR 4×4 lorry was powerful enough to tow a tank transportation trailer loaded with a Renault FT tank. (Photo Avant-Train-Latil.com)
The chassis frame was made of 200 mm high stamped sheet metal with a profile of equal strength. It had a ground clearance height of 0.45 m. The stamped soft steel axles were connected to the chassis by the springs, which were, in turn, terminated by clevises which, engaging in special supports, allowed them to oscillate relative to the frame. The towing hook was combined with a spring giving a particularly flexible hitch, which reduced the jolts from the trailer.
The engine cover has a very distinctive rounded and narrow shape. This was specific to French automotive designs of the time, also being found on the Renault 60CV truck and a couple of cars, such as the Renault AG1. The front is quite distinctive in not having a radiator grille. The radiator air intakes were at the rear of the bonnet, on the sides. A large Latil badge usually adorned the front of the bonnet. There was a hand crank in the lower frontal part to start the engine manually. The crew compartment was open, with only a tarpaulin cover to protect from most of the elements, and a bench for seating. Two lights were mounted just in front of the crew cab, one on each side, close to the posts supporting the tarpaulin cover structure. Another larger light was sometimes present at the front on the left side. Interestingly, the steering wheels and controls were on the right-hand side.
The wheels were made of cast steel, and rotated to allow the use of twinned rubber tires. All four wheels were interchangeable. In 1913, the list price of the Latil 4×4 TAR without the bodywork was 35,000 francs. More than 3000 copies were built in total by the factory at Levallois-Perret between 1913 and 1922.
Latil TAR tractor fitted with the early version of the Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’. Illustrated by Jaroslaw ‘Jarja’ Janas, funded by our Patreon campaign.
The Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ Tracked Units
The tracked vehicle used a standard Latil TAR truck with a differential that could be locked when required. Each wheel was removed and the track unit was fitted to the axle. The first version of the track unit was an elongated oval shape. The next version, seen photographed on a vehicle in 1919, was more triangular in shape. It gave the vehicle increased ground clearance. It is not known how many track units were built and supplied to the Army.
The standard French Army Latil TAR 4×4 lorry would have difficulty driving over this muddy landscape but, when fitted with Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ track units on each axle, it could successfully negotiate water-filled shell holes and embankments. (Photo Avant-Train-Latil.com)
The first version of the Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ track units. (Photo Avant-Train-Latil.com)
The track units were designed and built by the Delahaye factory. They submitted a patent for the invention in 1915 under the name ‘Mécanisme de Chenille Delahaye’. The French Delahaye automotive manufacturing company, founded by Émile Delahaye in 1894, is more famous for their cars rather than agricultural equipment. The man responsible for its development was Paul Morane who had owned the Delahaye company since the founder Émile Delahaye sold his company in 1898. The official name for the tracked units was ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’.
Each unit consisted of a drive sprocket, an idler wheel and three roadwheels. The drive sprocket was connected by a chain to a smaller sprocket on the hull. The track links were from pressed steel with a raised lip on the rear in order to gain traction on soft ground.
A restored Latil TAR 4×4 lorry part of a private collection on display at a motor vehicle show in France. (Photo – TautauduO2)
A restored French Army 1918 Latil TAR 4×4 being used to tow a tank transportation trailer loaded with a Renault FT tank. (Unknown photographer)
Sources & Acknowledgements
Automobiles Industriels LATIL
French Tank Museum (Musée des Blindés)
This article was written by Queensland Museum, in partnership with Craig Moore. This Australian museum holds ‘Mephisto’, the only surviving A7V in the world.
The Rarest Tank in the World: 506 ‘Mephisto’
A mere twenty German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tanks were built during the First World War, in three production runs of 5, 5, and 10 vehicles, respectively. Fitted with either Röchling or Krupp armor plate, the first vehicle rolled off the assembly line in October 1917. Only one of these twenty tanks has survived, the vehicle bearing chassis number 506 named Mephisto.
The only surviving Sturmpanzerwagen A7V, Mephisto, as it stands today in the Queensland museum. A part of the armament and the markings are clearly visible in this photo, including the red devil carrying a British rhomboidal tank on the front. Source: Gregory Czechura, Queensland Museum
This A7V, which was captured and later recovered in the dead of night by Australian soldiers of the 26th Battalion during July 1918, survived thanks to its unlikely journey to Brisbane, Australia. 506 Mephisto is not only an incredibly rare tank but a significant artifact of the First World War. The centenaries of Mephisto’s operations on the Western Front and its eventual capture and retrieval (which commenced the tank’s connection to Queensland and Australia) were marked between March and July 2018.
After capture, Sturmpanzerwagen A7V 506 ‘Mephisto’ was painted with a British Imperial Lion putting its large paw on top of a German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank (Photo: Queensland Museum)
Mephisto being restored in Australia. (Photo: Queensland Museum)
Tanks were developed as a weapon to break the defensive trench warfare that had prevailed on the Western Front since 1914. The Allies were the first to develop, produce and deploy tanks beginning in 1916 (Great Britain) and 1917 (France). The German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V represented a reply to the ever-increasing numbers of Allied tanks, but it suffered from being too few in number and too late in entering service to have any decisive impact on the outcome of the final battles of the war. Indeed, most of the tank force fielded by the Germans during the last years of the war was composed of captured Allied, mainly British, models.
The German A7V was essentially an armored box mounted on a tracked chassis that was powered by two water-cooled, 100-horsepower petrol engines. Although a fully operational A7V weighed around 30-tonnes, it was capable of reaching speeds of up to 10 km/h. Armament consisted of eight 7.92 mm MG 08 machine guns (females) or a 57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt main gun and six MG 08 machine guns (males). The short combat career of the German A7V was due, in part, to lengthy bureaucratic delays and approvals, as well as correction of several crucial design flaws that resulted from the tank having to be built on an all-purpose chassis. The driver’s position, high atop the vehicle, compromised visibility and produced a blind spot directly in front of the driver’s field of vision, which resulted in individual A7Vs being driven into pits, quarries and, in one case, a village pond.
Mephisto in the garden of the Queensland museum next to some similar sized dinosaur models. Source: Queensland museum.
Like all First World War tanks, A7Vs were dogged by mechanical problems (especially overheating and transmission failures), as well as design problems such as low ground clearance, low track height and a chassis that flexed when the tank was in motion. These issues contributed to A7Vs suffering breakdowns and incapacitation by barbed wire and uneven ground in action and training. Modifications were carried out in the field and on the factory floor to rectify some of these problems. Despite these issues, the A7V proved superior to its counterparts, such as the British Mark IV, in both speed and firepower, especially when deployed on firm, even terrain, although when they met in combat for the first time at Villers-Brettoneux in April 1918, it was the British tank which triumphed.
Vehicle 506 was one of the first five A7Vs to be built as part of what is known as the First Lot (Röchling) production run. It was assigned to the first of three A7V detachments (Abteilungen) during December 1917-early January 1918 but did not reach Abteilung 1 at Beuveille until 20 January 1918. Features, including field modifications, of the first A7V production run can be seen on 506 Mephisto. These include a cupola with a single hatch for the driver and the commander, single sheet side armor, and a Blocklafette gun mount with open sights, among others.
Inside the front section of the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank 506 Mephisto. The 57 mm gun can be seen on the right and the machine gun mount on the left of the door. (Photo: Queensland Museum)
The History of ‘Mephisto’
A7Vs made their combat debut at St Quentin on 21 March 1918 during the 1918 German Spring Offensives. Five A7Vs were assigned to provide close support for infantry assaults on British positions south of St Quentin. Only two of the tanks were able to participate, a female (501) and 506, which was gun-armed. German and British accounts attest to the effectiveness of the gun-armed tank, in neutralizing strongpoints and concentrations of infantry. The A7Vs were then returned to their base near Charleroi for repair and maintenance. At this point, 506 was transferred to Abteilung 3, where it was repainted and named Mephisto after the Devil in the Faustus legend (another A7V, 503, was named Faust).
Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Mephisto after it has arrived at the Queensland museum. The original paint scheme and the imperial lion can still be seen. Source: Queensland Museum, The Gregory Czechura collection
In late March and early April 1918, the Germans attacked the small, strategically placed town of Villers-Bretonneux, France in an effort to capture or neutralize the vital Allied transport hub of Amiens. Villers-Bretonneux was held after a successful Allied counter-attack led by Australian troops from 9th Brigade. The Germans staged a second attack on Villers-Bretonneux on 24 April 1918 that included three groups of A7Vs. 506 Mephisto was assigned to the second group of A7Vs, consisting of six tanks, given the objective of taking objectives (Monument Farm, Monument Wood, and the Bois d’Aquenne) immediately to the south of Villers-Bretonneux. The German attack on the first day was successful and during the battle, the first tank versus tank battle was fought between elements of the third group of A7Vs and British medium and heavy tanks operating near Cachy to the southwest of Villers-Bretonneux. During the fighting around Monument Farm, Mephisto became stranded when the edge of a shell crater it was passing over collapsed under its weight.
Mephisto was abandoned by its German crew but not before being stripped of its machine guns, the gun’s breechblock and other essential items according to standard operational practice. Mephisto lay in No Man’s Land for three months before its capture by the 26th Battalion AIF (commanded by Major, later Lieutenant-Colonel, James Robinson) on the night of 17/18 July 1918 and its subsequent recovery, with the assistance of the British 1st Gun Carrier Company, from under the noses of the German troops opposing them on the night of 22-23 July 1918. The dangerous retrieval operation was carried out under fire on the very night that the Germans unleashed a heavy poison-gas barrage on the Villers-Bretonneux area. Most of the Australian and British soldiers involved in the recovery became gas casualties, but the operation was nonetheless successfully completed. The war prize Mephisto was now securely in Allied hands and quickly moved under cover in the nearby Bois l’Abbé.
Mephisto being moved into the Queensland museum yard. The two steamrollers used to tow it can be seen in the photo. Source: Queensland museum.
Mephisto was then moved to the British 5th Tank Brigade’s Training Ground at Vaux-en-Amienois where it became an object of curiosity and ‘canvas’ for soldier art, including that of a British lion resting its paw on an A7V. Among the soldiers who visited Mephisto were the six ‘TANK BOYS’, who left their names hammered into the rear armor of Mephisto. They were not participants in the capture and recovery of Mephisto but were part of the Australian contingent training and preparing to work with British tanks and crews in the planned Battle of Amiens and other Allied offensives along the Western Front in the last 100 days of the war.
A Home Down-Under
From Vaux-en-Amienois, Mephisto was moved to London via Dunkirk before being shipped to Brisbane on the SS Armagh, leaving England on April 2, 1919, and arriving in Brisbane on the June 2. It remained at the wharves for six months before being moved to the Queensland Museum, Fortitude Valley, on 23 August 1919. It was an eleven-hour operation which required the use of two Brisbane City Council steamrollers to tow Mephisto to its new home. It was initially placed on display outside, exposed to the elements in the gardens of the museum, where it remained as an iconic object greeting visitors for over sixty years.
Front view of the Mephisto at the Queensland museum. The top compartment, which housed the driver and the commander, is visible on top, along with their viewports. The wedge shape of the front armor is also apparent, used decades before the Soviet IS-3. Source: Gregory Czechura, Queensland Museum
In 1986, Mephisto was moved to Queensland Museum’s new location at South Brisbane where it remained until it sustained minor damage in the 2011 Brisbane floods when water reached the level of its tracks. Mephisto has undergone extensive conservation and restoration treatment during its time with the Queensland Museum, even at one time being preserved in a climate-controlled plastic bubble at the Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich. Between 2015 and 2017, Mephisto was loaned to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra as part of the Centenary of the First World War.
After being held in the Workshops Rail Museum, Mephisto finally returned to the Queensland Museum, South Brisbane in late 2018. The tank now features as a major interpretative and commemorative element of the Queensland Museum’s new Anzac Legacy Gallery that opened to mark the centenary of the Armistice on Remembrance Day 2018.
To commemorate the centenary anniversary of A7V Mephisto’s capture and recovery, Queensland Museum has released a fully illustrated reference guide to the tank’s history and its journey to Australia. Mephisto: Technology, War, and Remembrance by Jeff Hopkins-Weise and Gregory Czechura includes detailed diagrams, technical schematics, damage reports, and photographs of Mephisto as it was during the First World War, and as it is found today. Mephisto details the history of this primitive armored vehicle against the backdrop of the industrial innovations and societal changes of the First World War.
The Queensland Museum has published a Mephisto discovery guide book covering the history of the tank. This is the front cover. (Photo: Queensland Museum) Mephisto: Technology, War and Remembrance book is available now through the Queensland Museum Shop website HERE.
To see the single surviving Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank in the world in person, entry is free to the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum, Brisbane, Australia.
Grey St & Melbourne St
South Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Illustration of the Sturmpanzer A7V number 506 ‘Mephisto’ in its original markings. Colors based on the restored version presently at the Queensland Museum, Australia. Illustrated by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #1 Republished
The first issue of the Tank Encyclopedia Magazine has been remastered and rereleased. It covers vehicles ranging from the French WWI Frot-Turmel-Laffly Armoured Road Roller up to the Salvadoran Cold War Marenco M114 converted vehicles. The star of this issue is a full article on the Improved Protection version of the famous M1 Abrams – the M1IP.
Our Archive section covers the history of the Mephisto A7V tank, the only one of its kind that still survives to this day in Queensland museum in Australia.
It also contains a modeling article on how to create Weathering and Mud Effects. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of the Sikorsky S-70C-2 Black Hawk in Chinese service!
All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you! Buy this magazine on Payhip!
Germany/Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1940) Light Tank – 4 Prototypes Built
On 15 September 1939, the German Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office – HwaA) issued new specifications for a fast, more heavily armored scout reconnaissance tank with 30 mm front armor, a 2 cm or 3.7 cm main gun and a top speed of 50 km/h. These were originally sent to the German firm MAN but, on 31 July 1940, they were also sent to two other companies, Škoda and BMM (the former Czechoslovak CKD).
The prototype Panzer T-15 light tank looks like an improved Panzer II tank but there were many differences. Its factory designation was the Škoda T-15. The first two prototypes were only built in mild structural steel.
The Panzer Späh Wagen II Ausführung Škoda, previously designated the Škoda T-15. Photo: Bundesarchiv
A German Wa Prüf 6 (the German design office for armored vehicles and motorized equipment under the Heereswaffenamt – Army Ordnance Department) document dated 5 March 1942 shows the factory name Škoda T-15 being scratched through and the name Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda (Armored Scout Car II version Škoda – Pz.Sp.Wg II Ausf.Skoda) written in its place.
German Wa.Prüf. 6 original document notes that show the change of name. Photo: Herbert Ackermann
The company Škoda-Werke’s T 15 design had welded armor, an improvement over the Czechoslovak built Panzer 38(t) tank’s bolted and riveted armor. The armor on the front of the turret and hull was 30 mm thick and the sides were 25 mm thick. The turret had a new curved shape with a commander’s cupola. The main gun fitted on the prototypes was the 3.7 cm Škoda A11 anti-tank gun (German designation 3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47). It could fire armor-piercing (AP) shells and high explosive (HE) fragmentation shells.
On 4 January 1943, the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda prototype was shown to Hitler and senior German officers. Photo: Bundesarchiv
There was no hull machine gun. A 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun was mounted in the turret. The driver and radio/operator were positioned at the front of the tank. Both had armored vision ports like the later Panzer II tanks.
The tank was powered by a Škoda water-cooled V8 10.8 liter 245 hp gasoline/petrol engine. The transmission had 6 forward gears and one reverse.
The suspension was different from other tanks under construction at that time. It had four pairs of large road wheels on semi-elliptic leaf springs. There were three pairs of smaller track return rollers. The drive wheel was at the rear while the idler was at the front.
Rear view of the Škoda, looking at the engine bay. The Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda prototype had four pairs of large road wheels on semi-elliptic leaf springs and three pairs of track return rollers. Photo: SOURCE
The first prototype T-15 was built in October 1941, and the second in December 1941. Tests were conducted during March and June of 1942. Further tests were completed between July and October at Kummersdorf, 25 km south of Berlin.
German Wa.Prüf. 6 original document that shows some of the vehicle’s specifications. Photo: Herbert Ackermann
Illustration of the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Škoda, also known as the Škoda T-15. Produced by Mr. Adrielcz, funded by our Patreon Campaign
Alterations were made to the original design on the later prototypes. The turret shape was changed. The side armor was curved differently. An armoured driver’s vision port was fitted to the side of the chassis. The commander’s cupola was also completely redesigned. Instead of the Czech ZB.37 machine gun a German 7.92 mm MG.34 was installed. The 37mm A11 gun remained in place, but Škoda’s engineers also provided for the possibility of arming the tank with a 47 mm gun. The same Wa Prüf 6 document dated 5 March 1942 mentioned earlier showed that it was intended to mount a 5 cm PaK 39 L/60 on the production tank in a Daimler-Benz built turret.
Škoda-Werke’s redesign of the T 15 prototype wooden mockup, with improved sloping frontal hull armor, smaller turret and relocated exhaust. Photo: Yuri Pasholok
Škoda had signed a contract to build five prototypes but only built four. Construction of the fifth was stopped in early 1944 as the Panzer II Ausf.L Luchs (Lynx) was already in mass production.
Škoda completed the construction of the fifth prototype in May 1945, having restarted work in January. After the war finished, it was shown to the new Czechoslovak Army in July 1946 but no orders were placed. The Škoda tank design department used the chassis to develop different light tank projects which they called the T 15A, T 15S and T 16. They stayed as drawings. No prototypes were built.
The Pz.Sp.Wg II Ausf.Skoda prototype tank undergoing trials. There appears to be a build up of mud between the road wheels. A platform has been constructed on the right side of the turret for testing staff to have somewhere to sit as they observe what is happening. Photo: Bundesarchiv
4.58 x 2.17 x 2.16 meters
Total weight, battle ready
4 (commander, gunner, radio operator, driver)
Skoda T-15 8-cylinder, petrol 220 hp
semi-elliptic leaf springs
3.7 cm Skoda A11 (3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47), 7.92 mm MG34
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