Germany 1943 – 1945, Light Self-Propelled Gun – 194 captured and produced
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. It entered service in 1942, immediately proving to be obsolete. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) used it until September 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, the Italian Royal Army was disbanded and the Italian peninsula not yet under Allied hands was occupied by the German troops.
After the armistice, from 1943 to 1945, all the surviving Semoventi (Italian world for self-propelled guns, Semovente singular) that were deployed, not only in Italy, but also in the Balkans, were captured by the armies or militias in the area.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32
The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Eng: Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s, but the first two prototypes were not accepted into service.
Another prototype development started in January 1941. On May 10th, it was presented to the Royal Army. After the tests, the Italian Royal Army High Command requested some changes to the prototype. It was renamed Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 or Semovente L40 da 47/32 (Eng: Lightweight Self-Propelled Gun Model 1942 armed with 47/32).
A total of 402 vehicles were produced under Italian and German control based on the hull of the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank.
German Operation Achse
After the arrest of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Partito Nazionale Fascista Italiano (Eng. Italian National Fascist Party), on July 25th 1943, the Germans had foreseen the Italian surrender. They planned Fall Achse (Eng: Operation Axis), which they launched on September 8th when the signing of the Armistice of Cassibile (which had been secretly signed on September 5th by the Italian Royal Army and Allied Forces) was made public. In 12 days, the German troops managed to occupy all the Italian command centers and divisions in Italy and in the other occupied territories.
The Germans captured all the Italian factories that produced armaments or military equipment. They also captured 977 Italian armored fighting vehicles, of which about 400 were tanks and self-propelled guns, 16,631 trucks, over 5,500 artillery pieces, 2,754 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, over 8,000 mortars, 1,285,000 rifles, 39,000 machine guns, and 13,000 submachine guns. They imprisoned 1,006,730 Italian soldiers stationed in Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and France.
By October 1st, 1943, Wehrmacht documentation stated that German units had captured 78 L40 da 47/32s in all occupied territories (including the 20 L40s produced before the Armistice and not delivered). In German service, this vehicle was known as the Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i). For this reason, some sources wrongly call it Semovente L6 or StuG L6.
In addition, many former Italian factories, such as FIAT, Lancia, Breda, and Ansaldo-Fossati, were also under German control. With this and with the acquisition of many spare parts and materials, it was possible to restart the production of nearly all Italian vehicles. This was the case with the Semovente L40 da 47/32, with the Germans producing 74 new Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i).
Under German control, another 46 Command and Radio Center vehicles on the L40 hull were produced, which brings the total number of L40 produced by the Germans to 120 units.
Operational service in Italy
While the Semovente L40 da 47/32s were available in some numbers, their use in Italy by the Germans was limited. The units that had this vehicle in Italy were the 305. and 356. Infanterie Divisionen, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590, 114. Jäger Division and the 20. Luftwaffe-Field-Division.
The 305. Infanterie Division fought between September 8th and 10th to occupy the port of La Spezia. It was transferred in the following weeks to near Rome, where it was supplied with some Italian vehicles, among which were some L40 from 47/32s.
The 305. Division then defended the Gothic Line and the Gustav Line before surrendering, together with most of the German divisions that remained after the Battle of Bologna, on the Po River.
The 356. Infanterie Division fought in anti-partisan actions between November 1943 and January 1944. It was transferred to Anzio and was provided with the self-propelled L40 vehicles along the way.
The unit fought fiercely for the defense of the region together with the Italian Republican National Army units until they were forced to retreat along the Gustav Line in March 1944. After the Gustav Line was broken through, the unit fought in Tuscany. retreating to the south of Florence in July 1944. In January 1945, it was transferred to Hungary but, according to the surviving documents, it was no longer equipped with Italian self-propelled vehicles.
The Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 was used from June 13th to September 14th, 1944 to secure central Italy. In order to perform this task, the unit was provided with some L40 self-propelled vehicles. From September 15th, 1944 to January 15th, 1945, the unit was involved in defensive combat in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Due to the scarcity of artillery towing vehicles and the obsolescence of the self-propelled L40 variants, many self-propelled vehicles were modified by removing the cannon to be used as artillery tractors.
From April 22nd to May 2nd, 1945, the unit was involved in the fighting retreat, desperately battling against the Allied forces.
The 114. Jäger Division was transferred to Italy from Yugoslavia in January 1944. It was supplied with material captured from the Italian Army, including some L40 self-propelled vehicles. After the Battle of Anzio, the unit was employed only in anti-partisan roles. It was responsible or co-responsible for three different massacres in the region of central Italy against innocent civilian victims. The unit was completely annihilated in April 1945 during fighting with Allied forces.
Panzer Ausbildung Abteilung Süd (a training tank battalion) was equipped with the Semoventi L40s, but these were used mainly for crew training. Organization Todt, which was present in Italy, operated an unknown number of L40 da 47/32s, but mostly as tractor vehicles without their guns.
In May 1944, the 20. Luftwaffe Field Division (20. LwFD), previously employed in Denmark, was sent to Italy, more precisely to Lazio. There, it was re-equipped with a number of Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and immediately participated in hard clashes with the U.S. Army units in the Terracina area. On June 1st, the unit assumed the designation of 20. Luftwaffen-Sturm-Division.
The division retreated to Tuscany and established defensive positions near Roccastrada. From there, at the end of June, it was again engaged in heavy clashes against U.S. forces.
After fighting house by house for the control of Siena against the units of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (Eng: French Expeditionary Force in Italy), in July 1944, the division withdrew to the area of Volterra. It was then withdrawn from the front to be sent to the rear to guard the coast between Viareggio and La Spezia, where it absorbed the remains of the 19. LwFD. In mid-September, the division received orders to move to the coast of the Adriatic Sea, facing the Commonwealth forces between Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna and then south of Cesena.
After the killing of their commander in Bologna by the partisans and further heavy losses in the fighting between Cesena and Forlì, the division was disbanded on November 28th, 1944 and its survivors were reassigned to other German units.
Operational service in Balkans
In the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s saw extensive use against Yugoslav resistance movements. Several German units were equipped with them. Some of these were the 117. and 118. Jäger Divisionen, 11. Luftwaffe-Field-Division, and the 181., 264. and 297. Infanterie Divisionen. Many police units of different sizes (such as the 13. Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie, 14. Panzer Kompanie, 4. SS Polizei Division) were also equipped with this vehicle. Some smaller units were also supplied, such as SS Panzer Abteilung 105. and Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12.
In 1944, due to the availability of Italian armored vehicles, it was possible to resupply many German units which fought in Yugoslavia with them. The Germans did not form dedicated Panzer units with these vehicles. Instead, these vehicles were usually used to equip reconnaissance or anti-tank units (Aufkl. Abt and Pz.Jag. Abt.). By May 1944, German forces operating in Yugoslavia had at least 165 Semovente 47/32 vehicles.
By the end of 1943, Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12 had in its inventory 12 operational Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and 4 in repair. In early 1944, it received an additional 14 Semoventi da 47/32, one L6 light tank, and 4 M13/40s. By February 1944, there were only 2 operational Semoventi da 47/32 and 2 in repair. On March 1st, 1944, some 10 were operational and 3 in repairs. These were allocated to the 2nd Company, which took action against partisan units around the city of Kraljevo. In July, the number of Semoventi da 47/32 was increased to 15 vehicles. The reason for the large monthly oscillations in available numbers is not clear. It could be either a mistake in sources or, because of the poor mechanical reliability, some vehicles were simply not listed. By September and October 1944, while this unit still had 16 such vehicles, they were replaced in order to increase the number of M15 tanks.
The 14th Panzer Kompanie was another example of a German unit using the Semovente L40 da 47/32. This unit, which was active in Slovenia in September 1944, was reinforced with two 8 vehicle strong platoons equipped with the Semovente L40 da 47/32. One smaller unit with four such vehicles was kept in reserve.
While fighting the Partisans in the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s were usually dispersed and used in smaller groups. The usual tactical employment was that one vehicle would advance while the remaining vehicles provided cover.
By the end of 1944, on the Yugoslavian Front, the Germans and their allies had less than 80 Semoventi L40 da 47/32. Near the end of the war, in March 1945, the numbers were reduced to less than 40.
In German hands, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was modified in order to improve its performance. As the L40 da 47/32 was initially only armed with the main gun, it was less effective against infantry attacks. For this reason, the Germans added machine gun mounts that were protected with an armored shield at the front. The machine gun models used included the Breda Mod. 37 and Breda Mod. 38, both 8 mm caliber, and, in some cases, MG34s or Fiat-Revelli Mod. 14/35. Additional armor plates were added to the side of the superstructure, and in some cases, even on the top. Additional spare part boxes were also sometimes added.
Also, as previously noted, a significant number of these vehicles were modified to be used as towing tractors or as training vehicles. For these modifications, the main gun was removed. In the case of the training vehicles, a wooden shield was simply added where the gun was.
The SS Polizei-Regiment 18 Gebirgsjäger was equipped with two Italian armored cars and at least five Semoventi 47/32s when it was relocated from Greece to the northern regions of Serbia in October 1944. It was engaged in a failed German attempt to stop the advancing Soviet Forces in Vojvodina and suffered heavy losses, probably losing all its vehicles.
In general, the German view of the L40 was very negative. It was small and narrow and the cannon was not able to face the most modern opponent vehicles. In anti-partisan actions in Italy and in the Balkans, it proved relatively effective, as its small shape and weight allowed it to climb very steep mountain roads, where only mules could pass. The cannon, even if almost useless against the armor of Soviet or American tanks, had a good High Explosive round that was effective against infantry.
The Germans, as well as the Italians, realized that the vehicle was very vulnerable to ambushes. Consequently, German tankers learned to wear the Stahlhelm helmet and carry MP40s and hand grenades inside the vehicle for close defense.
The Germans repainted the L40s that they captured from the Italians or that they received after November 9th with a three-tone camouflage, depending on the unit that used them.
For example, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 repainted its L40 da 47/32s with dark green and dark brown stripes on a standard khaki base. SS Polizei-Regiment 18, stationed in Greece, repainted its vehicles in three-tone camouflage, dark green, and brown spots on standard khaki. The 20. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division, which used some L40s in anti-partisan duties in central-northern Italy, camouflaged its self-propelled guns vehicles with patches of green and dark brown.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32, while cheap and small in size, was by 1943 standards generally an obsolete vehicle. For the Germans who were at this stage of war becoming ever more desperate to find any additional armored vehicle, it was a welcome addition. The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Germans in its original role against the Allied forces in Italy was limited. They did see service in other secondary roles for example crew training or as armored tractors. They were more deployed in combat against the Partisans especially in the Balkans where the enemy had limited anti-tank capabilities.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
(road) 42 km/h (off-road) 20/25 km/h
200 km on-road
Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, 70 rounds
30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor
74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 captured and 120 produced under German control in all variants
When the Alkett factory was heavily bombed by the Allied Air Force in November 1943, the production of the StuG III was almost put to a halt. In an attempt to find a relatively easy solution, the Germans simply merged the Panzer IV chassis with a StuG III upper superstructure, creating a new vehicle, the StuG IV. Production was conducted relatively quickly, with 30 vehicles completed by December 1943 and, by April 1945, over 1,000 would be built. Like its StuG III cousin, the StuG IV was also an effective assault gun which would see service on all major fronts up to the end of the war.
During the Great War, German (and many other nations) infantry formations were supported by towed artillery. For German Sturmtruppen (Eng. Stormtroopers) that depended on mobility. The necessary towed artillery proved to be slow and inadequate for the supporting task in taking more fortified enemy positions. Based on this experience, after the war, the great German Army tactician, General Erich von Manstein, proposed using highly mobile, well protected and armed self-propelled artillery. They were to provide infantry with mobile close fire support during combat operations. These were to be organic part of standard Infantry Divisions at a battalion strength of around 18 vehicles.
Due to Germany’s general lack of production industrial capacity during the 30’s, it would take years before the first prototypes were completed. The Germans were also forbidden by the Versailles Treaty to develop and produce tanks, which Hitler, when he came to power, publicly denounced. The development of these vehicles was also hindered by conflict in different branches of the Germany Armed Forces. Eventually, it was decided that these vehicles would be put under direct supervision of the Artillery. These vehicles would be known as Sturmgeschütz III (assault gun vehicles) but were generally known simply as StuG III.
To speed up the development, it was decided to reuse many elements of Panzer III vehicles. The design was very simple and consisted of a new superstructure armed with a short barrel 75 mm gun placed on the Panzer III chassis.While the first prototypes were completed in 1937, it was not until 1940 when the initially limited production actually started. Once pressed into service, the StuG III proved to be an excellent infantry support vehicle. When the Germans invaded Soviet Union in 1941, the Germans noticed that their available anti-tank weapons were almost useless against the Soviet modern tank designs (T-34 and KV’s). To address this problem, in 1942 the Germans introduced a new StuG III armed with the longer 75 mm gun that was more effective as a tank destroyer. As production of the StuG III shifted more towards the anti-tank role, the Infantry was left without a proper support vehicle. To address this, a new version of the StuG III armed with a 10.5 cm howitzer was introduced in 1943. Both versions would remain in production until the war ended with over 10,000 being produced, making them the most numerous German armored vehicle of the war.
The first StuG IV
In early 1943, Albert Speer approached Krupp officials with a suggestion for producing a new Sturmgeschütz. Soon after, Krupp began working on the first basic drawing of this vehicle, which was to incorporate a number of already produced components. These include a StuG III Ausf. F superstructure, Panzer IV Ausf. H chassis and a 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun. The superstructure of the StuG III Ausf. F was chosen as, at that time, Krupp did not possess the design plans for the newer Ausf. G version. Unlike the later produced Sturmgeschütz based on the Panzer IV that used the unchanged StuG III superstructure, the initial Krupp design was different. The front part of the superstructure incorporated a highly angled (50 mm thick) armor plate which would have provided excellent protection. Other changes included increasing the armor protection on the sides to 45 mm, compared to the original 30 mm, and the increase of the track’s width.
After the first drawing and calculation were completed, Krupp informed the Germany Army and Wa Pruf 6 officials that, although it was feasible, they did not recommend producing it. Despite removing the turret, the vehicle would have the same weight as an ordinary Panzer IV tank. In addition, the redesign and sloped armor would cause production delays which were not acceptable at that time, so the project was quickly abandoned.
A new start
While the idea for a new StuG vehicle based on the Panzer IV chassis was discarded, several months later, due to desperate necessity, it would come to life again. In November 1943, the Allies heavily bombed the Alkett factory which was instrumental for the overall StuG III production. As the production of vital StuG III vehicles was temporarily stopped, the Germans needed a new quick solution. At a military conference held in early December 1943, Adolf Hitler was informed that the StuG III Ausf. G superstructure could be, with minimal effort, mated with a Panzer IV Ausf. H or J chassis. This time, however, the new vehicle had to have minimal changes to the components used for its construction. The only major modification was the extension of the driver compartment. Hitler was impressed with this proposal, as it would be easy to implement due to available parts and production capabilities. Hitler also suggested giving this new vehicle to the Panzer Abteilungen, as it would facilitate maintenance and procurement of spare parts.
The negative side of this decision was the reduction of available chassis for the Panzer IV tank. But, as the production of the Panzer IV was to be terminated in favor of larger Panther tanks, this was not seen as a huge issue. The actual production of the Panzer IV, due to the high demands for tank vehicles, was never canceled and it lasted almost up to the end of war. As the need for the StuG III vehicles was great, Hitler gave a green light for the realisation of the project.
According to Hitler’s initial orders, the StuG IV was to be produced in great numbers in a short period of time. Some 350 vehicles had to be built in December 1943 and an additional order of 500 to be built by the end of January 1944. Of course, this was impossible to achieve given Germany’s dire economical and industrial situation.
Despite these optimistic numbers given by Hitler, Krupp actually received orders to produce the first 10 trial vehicles at the end of 1943. Nevertheless, Krupp managed to quickly produce 30 vehicles by the end of December 1943. The production goal for January and February 1944 was 210, whereas Krupp managed to produce 214 vehicles. During 1944, monthly production goals were around 90, with the exception (beside January and February) of November, with 100, and December with 110 vehicles. Despite the bad economical situation and the Allied bombing raids, Krupp managed to obtain a relatively smooth production run. 87 vehicles were built in March, 91 in April, 90 in June and July, 70 in August, 56 in September, 84 in October, 80 in November, and 49 in December 1944. In 1945, the production numbers dropped down severely due to many factors, but probably most important were the Allied bombing raids and lack of resources. In January 1945, the number of produced StuG IVs was 46, 18 in February, 38 in March and the last 3 were completed in April. By the time the production run stopped in April, Krupp had managed to produce 1,111 Stug IV vehicles. Beside Krupp, Alkett also produced some 30 StuG IVs with the chassis provided by Nibelungwerke.
Of course, like many other German production numbers, there is some disagreement between authors. The previous mentioned numbers are according to T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle in Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 and Walter J. Spielberger in Sturmgeschütz and its Variants. A. Lüdeke (Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg) suggests 1,500 produced vehicles. On the other hand, D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) estimates that some 1,139 were built from December 1943 to March 1944 (this year is probably a print or author error). An interesting number is the 632 built vehicles speculated by B. Perrett (Sturmartillerie and Panzerjager 1939-45). This is almost less than half the numbers that all other sources give and it is likely incorrect.
While the final assembly, together with the manufacturing of chassis and running gears, was done by Krupp, all other necessary components were supplied by other companies. Additional frame chassis were supplied by Eisen Hüttenverein, Eisenwerke Oberdonau, Krupp (Essen) and Böhler. The guns were built by Škoda and Wimag. The StuG III superstructure was provided by Brandenburgische Eisenwerke.
Being designed to supplement the StuG III, this vehicle also inherited its name of Sturmgeschütz IV für 7.5 cm Sturmkanone 40. In general, it was also simply known as StuG IV, which this article will use for the sake of simplicity.
As previously mentioned, this vehicle was built using a combination of Panzer IV and StuG III elements. Thus, it was logical that the changes introduced on the StuG III were also implemented on the later StuG IV. The manufacturers of Panzer IV chassis were not always informed in advance for which role their chassis would be used (for ordinary tanks or assault guns). Many changes that were to be introduced to later built StuG IVs were not necessarily always applied to all vehicles.
The StuG IV hull was built using surface-hardened steel plates which were welded together. It was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and the new enclosed driving compartment. While, originally, the Panzer IV hull had an emergency escape hatch door placed beneath the radio operator’s seat, it was removed on the StuG IV. This was done mainly due to changing the position of the radio equipment.
The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. To gain better access for repairs, a square-shaped transmission hatch located in the middle of this plate and two rectangular steering brakes inspection hatches with ventilation ports were added.
The vehicle’s superstructure design was more or less a copy of that of the StuG III. It consisted of a box shaped base with angled frontal armor plates. The most obvious change was the introduction of a new box-shaped driver compartment which protruded to the front. On top of it there was a hatch door and two periscopes with armored covers. Initially, there was a problem with the hatch door accidentally closing back and potentially injuring the driver. Thus, it was changed to include a mechanism that locked the door in the open or closed position. Just above the driver compartment, during the production run, a rain guard was added to avoid water getting to the driver. In addition, as the Panzer IV chassis was longer, next to the new driver compartment, an armored plate was bolted down to fill the gap.
On the top left of this superstructure, a command cupola was placed. On its hatch, there was a second smaller hatch which allowed the commander to use a periscope to observe possible targets. The design of the commander’s cupola changed during the production. Initially, welding was used during its construction while, later in the war, some elements were cast. While a rotary cupola was more desirable, due to production problems, it was only fit from August 1944 onwards. The frontal part of the cupola was reinforced with a protective deflector , which proved to be a weak spot on the earlier StuG III.
In front of the command cupola, there was a sliding plate which held the gunner’s retractable stereo telescope. On the superstructure’s right side, the loader’s two-part hatch was placed. This would be replaced by a single-piece hatch later in production.
From June 1944, the newly produced StuG IV received mounts placed on top of the superstructure. Their purpose was to be used to mount a fold-up crane with a lifting capacity of some 2 tonnes, to help with maintenance and repairs. The superstructure top was held in place by a simple bolt and, if needed (for example to change the gun), could be easily removed. On the rear flat armor of the superstructure, a ventilation port was added. It was protected by an armored cover.
Suspension and running gear
The suspension consisted of eight small (470 x 75 x 660 mm) wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on four bogie assemblies. The small road wheels were suspended by leaf-spring units. The distance between each bogie shaft was 500 mm. There were also four return rollers (250 x 65 x 135 mm) on each side. While use of three return rollers per side was tested in June 1944, its implementation on StuG IV vehicles was delayed up to December 1944. Due to the shortage of rubber, steel return rolles were used instead on many vehicles. At the front, two drive sprockets were placed. To the rear, the two (650 mm) idlers had an adjustable track tensioning mechanism.
The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. While the StuG IV used standard Panzer IV tracks, for operating in the East and during Winter, specially designed and wider Ostketten tracks would be employed.
The Engine and Transmission
The engine compartment was mostly left unchanged. The StuG IV was powered by a standard Maybach HL 120TRM, which produced 265 [email protected] rpm. With a weight of nearly 26 tonnes (or 23 depending on the source), the maximum speed was 38 km/h (or 20 km/h cross-country) with an operational range of 220 km and 130 km cross country. Some sources give a number of 320 km and 198 km cross country. The fuel load of 450 l (430 and 470 l capacities are also listed in different sources) was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the crew fighting compartment. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. This compartment was provided with an automatic fire extinguisher system. While the Ausf. H chassis used a canister shaped muffler, the later Ausf. J used two vertical Flammentöter mufflers.
According to Wa Pruef 6’s instructions to Krupp beginning in March 1944, the auxiliary DKW gasoline engine that was originally used to provide traverse for the Panzer IV’s turret was to be removed from tanks. To use the extra available space, Krupp engineers added additional fuel tanks instead of the DKW engine. While using this as an auxiliary ammunition bin was briefly considered, it would require removing parts of the firewall, which only would delay and complicate production. This also carried over to the StuG IV.
The ZF SSG 75S six-speed (and one more for reverse) transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism was the same ‘Wilson’ type which was designed and produced by Krupp.
The Armor Protection
The frontal armor protection of the StuG IV was relatively good. The upper front glacis armor plate was 20 mm thick at a 70° angle, front glacis was 80 mm placed at a 12° angle and the lower glacis was 30 mm placed at a 60° angle. The side armor was 30 mm thick, the rear was 14.5-20 mm and the bottom was 10 mm.
The front superstructure armor was 80 mm thick, with the upper armor 30 mm placed at a 50° angle. The 80 mm thick frontal armor on some vehicles was increased with an additional 30 mm armor plate. The additional armor plate was held in place using six bolts. As this proved too difficult to be accomplished in the field, those that received the extra plate were instead connected using welding. The extended armor plate of the superstructure was 50 mm thick placed at 15° angle. The sides were 30 mm at a 10° angle.
The flat mantle was protected by 50 mm of armor. The rear part of the superstructure was 30 mm thick. The superstructure and engine compartment top parts were 10 mm thick. The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor. The new extended driver compartment was protected with 80 mm front and 30 mm side armor.
The StuG IV, similar to many other German vehicles, could be equipped with 5 mm thick side protective skirts, known in German as Schürtzen. The primary mission of these was to provide extra protection from Soviet anti-tank rifles. During rail transport, the protective skirts could easily be taken down and later put back on again. Some were also protected by Thoma Schürtzen wire mesh. While these were lighter and provided the same level of protection, their use was delayed due to problems with production. The use of Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine coating was quite common, though, by the end of September 1944, it was no longer applied to the StuG IV.
Crews would often make improvised attempts at uparmoring their vehicles, hoping to increase the combat survivability of the StuG IV. A somewhat common practise was adding layers of concrete (to a greater or lesser extent) on the front part of superstructure (this was also done on some other vehicles, such as the StuG III). This improvised concrete armor proved to be ineffective in combat. Even the General Artillery Inspector gave a report stating that this improvisation was almost useless. Nevertheless, many StuG IVs continued to receive ‘concrete armor’ up to the war’s end. Other crews added what they had at hand, ranging from captured enemy or own tracks, spare parts, such as road wheels, and some even added logs or ordinary wooden branches. Some vehicles were equipped with extra armor plates welded to the front and placed at great angles. The effectiveness of these improvised attempts was more psychological than realistic.
The Crew and Radio
The StuG IV had a crew of four, which consisted of the commander, gunner, loader and driver. The driver was positioned to the vehicle’s left front side of the hull, in the box-shaped driver compartment. Just behind him was the gunner. To the rear of the gunner was the commander, who had a command cupola for better observation of the surroundings. The last crew member was the loader, who was placed alone on the right side of the vehicle. He was perhaps the most overburdened crew member. Beside his primary role of loading the main gun, he also operated the Fu 15 or 16 transmitter-receiver radio set. This equipment had an effective voice range of about 2 km. A 2 m long antenna rod was fitted on the superstructure. Beside the radio, the crew could use the Walther LP signal pistol to communicate with other vehicles. In addition, the loader was charged with using the machine gun placed on top of the vehicle and using the grenade throwing close defence weapon (if the vehicle had one).
The main armament of the StuG IV was the 7.5 cm StuK (Sturmkanone – assault cannon) 40 L/48. This gun was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig especially for the StuG III and was, in essence, a modified 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. The length of the barrel was 3.6 m and had 32 grooves, each 7.8 mm deep and 6.05 mm wide. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. It was fired electrically.
This gun had a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s. The armor-piercing (Pz.Gr.39) round could penetrate 85 mm of armor (sloped at 30°) at 1 km. The maximum range of the high-explosive rounds was 3.3 km while, for armor-piercing, 1.4 to 2.3 km, depending on the type used. The gunner used the ‘Selbstfahrlafetten Zielfernrohr Sfl.Z.F.1a’ gun sight to acquire targets. This sight had a magnification of x5 and a field view of 8°.
The elevation of this gun went from –6° to +20° (or –5° to +15° depending on the source), while the traverse was 10° (or 20°, depending on the source) to both sides. The ammunition load, depending on the source, consisted of 61 to 63 rounds. The ammunition was stored in holding bins located mostly on the right side of the vehicle, with some placed under the gun or to the back. Krupp specially designed ammunition box containers that were to hold 8 rounds. These could be used on the StuG IV or Panzer IV tanks without problems.
While, initially, the gun was locked at a traverse angle of 0° during driving, this would be changed to 12° later on. The main reason why this was done was to provide the driver with a better view to his right during driving. In addition, a frontal travel lock would be added to a number of vehicles during production.
Behind the gun breach, a small metal shield was placed to provide protection for the gunner. In addition, a shell sack was added to the rear of the gun, which caught spent cartridges. While, initially, the first produced StuG IVs used the earlier box type mantle, this would be replaced by the new cast Saukopfblende (sow’s head mantle), generally known simply as Saukopf.
The StuG IV’s secondary armament consisted of one (or two) 7.92 mm MG 34/42 machine guns with 500-600 rounds of ammunition. The MG was not fired from inside the vehicle, but instead was mounted with a protective shield on the superstructure’s top, on the right side. This protective shield could be folded down if needed. Additionally, there were also two different mounting brackets for the MG, depending on if it was used against ground or air targets.
Some vehicles were equipped with the Rundumfeuer machine gun mount that was operated from inside the vehicle. This mount provided an all-around firing arc. In addition, the operator did not have to expose himself to fire when he was using the machine gun. However, he still needed to go outside to manually load the machine gun. The installation of this machine gun required some changes to the loader’s escape hatch (it had to be rotated at a 90 degree) before being fit to the vehicle. The machine gun was protected by two small angled shields.
It is also mentioned that, on rare occasions, some vehicles did not receive the machine guns and were forced to use only high-explosive rounds against enemy infantry, while some vehicles received a coaxial machine gun that was fired by the gunner. The machine gun was fired through a hole that was cut in the gun mantle. This modification was implemented only from June to October 1944 and it is not clear how many vehicles were actually equipped with this machine gun configuration.
Smaller numbers of StuG IVs were equipped with the Nahverteidigungswaffe (close-quarters defense weapon). In essence, this was a close-range grenade thrower that was to be used against infantry. Due to shortages of this weapon, mass use on the StuG IV was not possible. The Nahverteidigungswaffe was placed in front of the loader’s escape hatch. When not installed, the hole was covered by an armored cover.
Besides all these, the crews also had their own personal weapons for protection. This usually consisted of one or two 9 mm MP 40 submachine guns and sometimes even a 7.92 mm MP 44 assault rifle.
Distribution to units
The StuG IVs were used to equip various German formations. They were used to supplement assault gun units equipped with StuG IIIs. Which precise assault gun units received the new StuG IV is difficult to pinpoint, as the German documents do not make a distinction between the Panzer III and IV-based vehicles. The first produced StuG IVs were given to the 311th StuG Brigade which operated on the Eastern Front.
By the later stages of the war, German Infantry Divisions were supplemented by a Panzer Jäger Abteilung that contained a company of the towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 guns (or self-propelled versions, if any was available) and one company of 14 assault vehicles. As the StuG IV became available in sufficient numbers, these were also allocated to Infantry Divisions. During 1944, the number of assault vehicles was reduced to only 10.
Other units, such as Panzer, Volksgrenadier, and Panzergrenadier Divisions also received a number of these vehicles. German Panzer Divisions in early 1943 were severely lacking tanks and, for temporary replacement purposes, StuG IIIs were used. By late 1944 and early 1945, for the same reasons, some Panzer Divisions were equipped with StuG IV vehicles as replacements for lost tanks, as there was nothing else available in sufficient numbers.
Lastly, during the summer of 1944, Waffen SS units received some 70 StuG IV vehicles. For example, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, due to an insufficient number of tanks, was instead reinforced with 42 StuG IVs.
The StuG IV, similar to later better-armed StuG III vehicles, were highly effective anti-tank vehicles. For example, the 394th StuG Brigade, which had two StuG IV-equipped batteries, fought the Allies on the Western Front. On 6th August, elements of these units destroyed 26 Allied tanks. The commander of the 3rd Battery claimed to have destroyed six Sherman tanks in combat with his StuG IV.
The previously mentioned 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, which had 42 StuG IVs, participated in the fighting against the Allies in France. In the following battle with the Allies, it was left with only 11 operational StuG IVs by early July 1944.
At the start of October 1944, during the German defense of Aachen against the Allied forces, the 12th Volksgrenadier Division had 10 StuG IV vehicles. These would be reallocated to the 49th Infantry Division several days later. During the Allied attack on Aachen that started on 7th December, they came under fire from the StuG IV vehicles. While the German defenses were breached near Alsdorf, the Allies lost 2 tanks. These were destroyed by Feldwebel Peter Klimas (a veteran with 22 destroyed enemy tanks). The following day, the Germans made a counterattack toward Alsdorf, supported by 6 StuG IVs. During the following engagement, one was lost due to a breakdown, three were lost due to enemy fire and only two managed to reach Alsdorf. These two surviving StuG IV vehicles (one was commanded by Feldwebel Peter Klimas) engaged the Allied forces that held the town. While the German vehicles were heavily involved in the ensuing fighting, the Germans lacked support to retake the town and had to withdraw. While both StuG IVs survived the defense of the Allied soldiers, some even armed with bazookas, they were damaged and Feldwebel Peter Klimas was wounded by enemy rifle fire.
Larger numbers of StuG IVs would see service on the Eastern Front. Some of these were part of the 236th StuG Brigade that fought against Polish Forces in the area of Niesky at the very end of the war in Europe. Another example was the 912th StuG Brigade, which had 30 StuG IV vehicles, all of which were lost by May 1945. Unfortunately, the sources do not give more precise information about the StuG IV’s combat operations in the East.
The StuG IV also served in smaller numbers on other fronts, such as Italy or the Balkans during 1944 and 1945. One such unit was the 914th StuG Brigade. Interestingly, this particular unit was supplemented with over 30 Semovente 105/25 M43 Italian assault vehicles.
One of the last combat actions of the StuG IV was during the defense of Berlin and its surroundings from the Soviets. There were some 29 StuG IVs with the Heeresgruppe Mitte and 20 with Heeresgruppe Weichsel. On 10th April 1945, there were still some 282 StuG IVs available on all fronts. There were 219 on the Eastern Front, 40 in the West, some 16 in Italy, and 7 in Denmark and Norway.
By the end of the war, the Soviets had managed to capture an unknown number of StuG IV vehicles. These vehicles were part of the 912th StuG Brigade which was originally equipped with 30 StuG IV vehicles. At least one was possibly operated by the 366th Guards Heavy Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment during the end of the war in Hungary.
According to B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945), some StuG IVs were captured by Yugoslav Partisans and were used for a short time after the war. Their final fate is unknown as none were preserved, and they were probably scrapped.
While, officially, there were no sub-versions of the StuG IV, there were still at least two adaptations of it for other roles. One of these consisted of a StuG IV (minus the weapons) that was equipped with a large fixed dozer blade. This vehicle, named in some sources as the Räumschaufel Panzer StuG IV, was to be used for helping rebuild bombed German cities during the war, by clearing up the remains of destroyed buildings. It is unclear how many were used for this role, but unlikely more than a few. The second version was probably a field conversion, possibly used as an ammunition carried vehicle. Its main gun was removed for some reason (possibly damaged) and replaced with a simple armored shield. How many besides the one photographed were converted is not known.
Despite over 1,000 vehicles being built, today, only a few StuG IVs exist. Two can be seen in Poland at the Armored Weapons Museum in Poznan and White Eagle Museum in the Skarżysko-Kamienna. One more is in the Russian Kubinka Museum. The last vehicle can be found at the Australian Armor and Artillery Museum.
Despite having been designed as a temporary replacement for its StuG III cousin, the StuG IV was actually produced up to the war’s end. While the Germans also fielded the Jagdpanzer IV anti-tank vehicle also based on the Panzer IV, the StuG IV was much easier and cheaper to produce. It was, in general, a good design with low height, solid armor protection, and a good gun. The downsides of this vehicle were that it was not produced in sufficient numbers and was often used in lieu of other vehicles for roles it was not meant for.
Sd.Kfz.167 in Ukraine, December 1943.
StuG IV in Ukraine, early 1944.
Unknown unit with Schurzen, Russia, summer 1944.
Unknown unit with space armor, Russia, 1944.
StuG IV in Eastern Prussia, September 1944.
Late production StuG IV in “ambush camouflage”, Germany, April 1945.
Of all of the heavy tank projects from Germany in WW2, one vehicle stands out as something very different from the others and drew significant curiosity from the Allies when they first encountered it. A vehicle combining the armor of a heavy tank with a weapon never fitted to an armored fighting vehicle before, a 38 cm mortar. This incredible vehicle was developed for a specific purpose, urban combat. In such a situation, a huge shell could demolish whole buildings and defensive structures. It could deliver a huge explosive shell at close quarters or be used for long range shelling of an enemy position. That vehicle was the German Sturmtiger.
The origins of the Sturmtiger, or, more correctly, the ‘38cm RW61 auf Sturmmörser Tiger’, started with a call from the German Army (Heer) for a heavy howitzer specifically to help in urban combat, where a well-defended building could hold up an attack or otherwise be resilient against even ‘normal’ caliber artillery fire. What was needed was a gun capable of firing a large explosive shell both directly and indirectly and to have it mounted on a heavily protected chassis. This call was put into reality by Hitler on 5th August 1943, following the failure of other ideas for high-angle guns mounted on tank chassis.
Prototype to production
Despite Hitler’s order to develop a vehicle being issued in August 1943, only one prototype was initially ordered, possibly indicating how much confidence there actually was for such a weapon. Nonetheless, a vehicle was put together based on the chassis of a Tiger tank by the firm of Alkett in Spandau, using an armored superstructure built and assembled by the Brandenburg Iron Works (Brandenburger Eisenwerke) at Kirchmöser. The vehicle was ready and was shown to Hitler at the Ayrs Training Camp in East Prussia on 20th October 1943, an impressive turn-around time of under 3 months.
Despite the impressively rapid construction of a prototype, mass production was severely hampered by the slow rate of manufacturing of Tiger I tanks and was not due to start until mid-1944. Any production of Sturmtigers alongside the Tiger I would have impeded Tiger I production. Since priority was clearly given to the Tiger I tank, the Sturmtiger had to wait. In the meantime, the prototype was undergoing testing and trials.
Prototype Sturmtiger with rubber-tired road wheels. Note: this vehicle is in the possession of the Russian collection at Kubinka with steel-rimmed wheels and the steel counterbalance on the muzzle of the mortar – two later modifications, although it retains the uparmored lower front hull. Source Spielberger. The top image has been colorized by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.
By May 1944, the Sturmtiger prototype had been kept busy with trials and firing tests for the development of range tables, but production had still not started and the concept was likely to be scrapped. Rather than ditch the idea though, Hitler ordered that, instead of interrupting the production of the Tiger I, the Sturmtigers would be built on the chassis of Tiger I tanks which had already been in action and suffered serious damage. These were being sent back to the factory for rebuilding rather than just for repair. Twelve Sturmtiger units were to be prepared. A Tiger I cost RM250,800 (Reichsmarks) each to build, but as these Sturmtigers were made from rebuilds, it is not possible to calculate the cost of the rebuilding of each hull as each vehicle used had suffered a different amount of the damage. Even so, the cost of building a Sturmtiger was estimated at RM53,000, which, if added to the RM250,000, means that each one constituted an investment of over RM300,000 (approximately US$4,255,264 in 2015 values). This was an enormous sum of money considering it cost just RM117,100 (approximately US$1,660,971 in 2015 values) for a Panther tank.* *RM to US$ exchange values conducted using Historical Statistics
Twelve Sturmtigers were built which, with the prototype, makes thirteen Sturmtigers finished by the end of September 1944. Five more were ordered by Hitler on 23rd September 1944. Those additional five vehicles were all finished by the end of December 1944, followed by orders for more, although these were never produced. In total, 18 Sturmtigers were built.
The running gear for the Sturmtiger was identical to that of the Tiger I with the exception that only the prototype had the rubber-tired wheels. The production Sturmtigers were supposed to be fitted with the rubber-tired road wheels to help manage the additional 8-tonne load of the Sturmtiger over that of the Tiger I, but they all are seen with the steel-rimmed wheels common to late Tigers. The rubber-tired wheels are one of the identification features of the original prototype Sturmtiger, even though even these were later changed to the steel-rimmed wheels. The engine remained the same as on the Tiger I, a Maybach HL 230 TRM P45 and, with the additional weight, the Sturmtiger was markedly slower and less maneuverable than the Tiger I. If a later production damaged Tiger I tank was used to build a Sturmtiger it would be powered by the more powerful Maybach HL 230 TRM P45 V-12 700 hp petrol engine.
Armor and Optics
The lower hull of the Sturmtiger was that of the Tiger I and remained unchanged. Nominally, the armor on the Tiger I consisted of a lower front hull plate 100 mm thick, a short glacis 60 mm thick and a reclined driver’s plate 100 mm thick. The sides were a uniform 80 mm thick and vertical on both lower and upper section, and 80 mm thick on the back. Due to manufacturing tolerance allowance of 0 to +5%, many of these plates ended up being recorded as slightly thicker i.e. 102 mm instead of 100 mm.
For the Sturmtiger, the turret was removed, as was the roof of the hull over the fighting compartment. Further, the driver’s plate was mostly gone, with the top half of it cut-off across the full width. Replacing all of this was a large flat-sided box containing all the crew and the main gun. The front of this box was made from a single slab of armor plate 150 mm thick angled back at 45 degrees which extended down to a point about halfway along the length of the glacis. It was held to the front of the hull by two substantial armor plates bolted over the joint. In the front of the plate was a large, armored ball-mount 69 mm thick for the 38 cm mortar and a small ball-mount for the forward-firing M.G.34 machine gun. The gun and mount were also protected by a 150 mm thick mantlet. On the left of the gun was a rectangular opening which took the aiming telescope and, below this, a pair of small visors under a small cowl were placed for the driver. The sides and rear were made from slabs of armor 80 mm thick but angled inwards towards the roof, which was 40 mm thick. On the prototype, an additional 50 mm thick slab of armor was bolted to the lower front hull of the Sturmtiger, but this feature was dropped from production vehicles, presumably to save weight.
Armor scheme for the Sturmtiger which omits the remnants of the bottom half of the driver’s plate and top part of the glacis which would lie just behind the bottom edge of the 150 mm thick front plate on the Sturmtiger. This scheme also omits the armored mantlet around the gun barrel. Source: Wikipedia
View of the driver’s station at the front-left of the Sturmtiger clearly shows both his vision optics but also that the original glacis was left intact and the original driver’s plate was simply cut off lengthwise for the new front plate. Source: Schneider
Seen from the outside, it is clear that the new front plate significantly overlaps the old armor on the front of the Tiger. The thick block of armor on the corner is there to cover the overlap between the new casemate and the hull. The bolts on the side indicate a reinforcing plate added on the inside joining the two sections together. Source: Schneider
Sighting for the mortar was by means of a Kugeloptik ZF3 x8 sight using the aperture to the left of the main gun and a KgZF2 sight. Other features included the pistol ports on both sides, perhaps more useful for aiding vision than the original intention for them.
Overhead view of a Sturmtiger showing the large rectangular roof hatch used for reloading. Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington
Originally, the request from the Army called for a 210 mm howitzer but, with no suitable options, they turned to Rheinmetall-Borsig for their Raketenwerfer 61 L/5.4 (Gerat 562 – Sturmmörserwagen 606/4). The gun itself existed in two iterations at the time. One, the R.aG 43 (Raketenabschussgerät 43), was a ship-mounted anti-aircraft weapon used for firing a cable-spooled parachute-anchor creating a hazard for aircraft. The second, the RTG38 (Raketen Tauch Geschoss 38), was a land-based system. Both systems had been made by Rheinmetall-Borsig, in Dusseldorf, but had been designed by MOHRA Gerätebau Aktiengesellschaft Bautsch of Ostsudeten. It was the RTG38 which formed the basis of the weapon in the Sturmtiger. With a range of 3,000 m, it had originally been planned for use in coastal installations by the Kriegsmarine firing depth-charges against submarines. For use in a vehicle, it was to find use as a demolition gun and had to be modified for that role. This modification work was carried out by Rheinmetall at their Sommerda works.
In its coastal defense role against submarines, it was not an effective weapon, and only 12 were made, of which 3 were tested in 4th April 1944 at Trondheimsfjord, Norway. The result was that problems were identified with the fuzing and the rounds failed to achieve the ranges (up to 3,000 m) desired. A second test firing, held on 20th April 1944, revealed an 18% failure rate, likely due to problems encountered when the shell hit the water. Instead, the weapon was selected for use against surface targets and they were based in positions at Fanø Island, Denmark (1 weapon based on the Marine Küsten Batterie Gneisenau) and at batteries at Alta, Agdenes, and Trondheim in Norway (unknown numbers). Two of these weapons are preserved in museums in Copenhagen (Denmark), and Tromsø (Norway), respectively.
R.aG43 at the Tøjhusmuseet in Copenhagen, Denmark, marked ‘bwo 38cm R.ag.M43 Nr.10’ (left). Unconfirmed RTG38 (possibly a modified RaG43) at the Narvik War Museum (right), the example in Norway appears unmarked or illegible. Source: Massimo Foto on Landships (left) and Yetdark on Flickr (right) Further research on these guns is needed.
Believed to be a R.aG43 on a land mount for coastal defence in Denmark or Norway. Source: Axishistoryforum.com
Modified for use in a vehicle, the recoil from the modified rocket-mortar was enormous, about 40-tonnes, and this meant that only a heavy chassis could be used to mount the gun. The only suitable vehicle in Autumn 1943 was the Tiger I.
Some of the gun barrels were modified during production with a heavy steel ring around the muzzle as a counterweight to make elevation easier but, other than the mounting, the gun was effectively the same principle as before. The shells for the weapon were extremely heavy, far too heavy for a man to load manually, at 330 kg each. As a result, each of them had to be carried by means of a ceiling-mounted trolley from their rack to a roller-mounted tray at the breech. Once on the tray, four soldiers could then push it into the breech to load it. The whole process took 10 minutes per shot from loading, aiming, elevating to firing.
Breach of the RW61 with shell absent (left) and being loaded, providing a good view of the vents on the bottom of each shell (right). Source: Schneider (left), Navweaps (right)
The rounds were huge and only 12 rounds could be carried internally on the 6 racks provided, stacked three high and two deep on each side. No special resupply vehicle was provided to carry additional shells but additional shells could be carried in trucks by the unit, which would allow the Sturmtiger to be reloaded having withdrawn from combat. Reloading of these huge shells was carried out by means of a roof-mounted (temporary) crane which was erected on the back of the cab and lowered shells through a removable hatch in the roof of the casemate and down onto the stowage racks.
Reloading process for the Sturmtiger was laborious but straightforward. 1) Unpacking the shell after rolling it into place on a pair of wooden rails. 2) Attaching the clamp for the crane to lift the shell. 3) Hoisting the shell up with crew to keep it steady. 4) Lowering the shell through the roof hatch to be racked inside. Source: Schneider.
Rebuilt for the Wehrmacht, the mortar was named the 38cm Rocket Launcher RW61 (RW – Raketenwerfer) and fired two types of shell, an explosive shell (Raketen Sprenggranate 4581) for general use, and a hollow-charge shell (Raketen Hohlladungsgranate 4592) specifically for targeting reinforced concrete structures, as the warhead could penetrate up to 2.5 m of reinforced concrete. The range, however, was dependent on temperature ranging from a maximum range of 4,200m at -40 C to 5,900m at 50 C, and 6,650m at 15 C. This very large difference in shell performance was because it used a combustion process of propellant as the rocket was fired which was slower-burning in cold weather – the result were very lengthy range/temperature tables for the crew to use in order to accurately lay the gun. Not only was the range affected by temperature but so was shell flight and accuracy. To account for these discrepancies temperature measurement was important in the vehicle and the crew was provided with details range tables listing the elevation, range and temperature in order to maintain accuracy. The minimum range for firing from the tables was just 50 m.
Each shell came in two parts: a case about 550 mm long holding 40.1 kg of diglycol powder (rod form) as the propellant, and the H.E. shell itself carrying 122.5 kg of Amatol 50/50 high-explosive (with six P.E.T.N. pellets acting as the exploders), forming a complete 1,489 mm long (1,440 mm shell and case plus 49 mm fuze) long. Each shell used the same Treibsatz 4581 rocket motor and each case was thin-walled with 32 venturi holes in the bottom to vent out the propellant gases. The venturi holes were angled at 14 degrees to the axis of the rocket, and together with the splines which went into the rifling of the gun caused the shell to rotate clockwise in flight for stability.
Following examination of the records at the Sommerda factories in 1945, it was determined that there were two types of fuzes produced for the Sturmtiger shells. The first was the A.Z.KM 8m.r. (or K.N.9) direct action and delay fuze (percussion fuze with an optional delay of 0.12 seconds) for the High Explosive Shell (4581), and the A.Z.KM.10 hollow charge fuze (nose percussion with no delay) for the hollow charge shell (4592). The delay fuse was found to sometimes malfunction when striking a target at an angle of less than 14 degrees requiring multiple impacts before it would function. When striking a hard target at a steep angle, therefore, the round could actually break up without detonating so the delay on the fuze was not used when firing against hard targets or when the ground was very hard.
38cm Raketen-Sprenggranate 4581 (High Explosive) (left) and 38cm Raketen-Hohlladungsgranate 4592 (right). Source: War Office(UK) 1945 (left) and Navweaps (right)
The disassembled 38cm Raketen-Sprenggranate 4581 (High Explosive) shell with the HE containing section at the front. Source: US Army Catalog of Enemy Ordnance
Elevation was by means of a crank at the left of the mounting and could elevate the gun between 0 and 85 degrees with a traverse-crank over the barrel controlling side-to-side movement. This traverse movement allowed firing up to 10 degrees each way.
The barrel was radically different in design to other guns, with a cast outer body and a liner inside made from steel about 12 mm thick. Into this liner were cut nine rifling grooves into which splines on the rocket would sit and then rotate during firing. During firing, the gases produced were vented through the gap between the inner barrel and the outer barrel sheath. The two pieces of the barrel were held together at the breech and muzzle with steel rings and by drilling 32 holes the gases from combustion could be vented forwards keeping the gas out of the crew space and reducing the recoil of the gun.
Dunkelgelb-camouflaged Sturmtiger used during the Warsaw Uprising.
Sturmtiger in a late-war “ambush” camouflage, Reichswald, Germany, February-March 1945.
Illustration of a Sturmtiger receiving ammo. This was a tough job, in which the whole crew was involved due to the sheer weight of the shells.
Sixteen of the eighteen Sturmtigers were issued to Sturmmorser Companies 1000, 1001, and 1002 for the defense of the German homeland in 1944. These companies, known as Panzer Sturmmörser Kompanien (Pz.Stu.Mör.Kp.), were originally intended to be issued with 14 vehicles each but, in the end, unit 1000 received just 4 Sturmtigers and 1001 and 1002 received 6 each (16 vehicles). In unit organization, Sturmtigers were paired up, with two vehicles forming a Zug (Platoon).
Pz.Stu.Mör.Kp.1000 was formed from two Zugs for a total of 4 vehicles. It was officially formed on 13th August 1944 and the day after formation, the unit was ordered to form part of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Mitte) and a force of two vehicles (with personnel from Alkett) was sent (15th to 18th August) to quell the Warsaw Uprising. After this, there were plans to send them to Bratislava (Pressburg) to quell the September 1944 Slovak Uprising, but that rebellion petered out before the unit was sent.
The second Zug of two Sturmtigers was sent to France by the end of August 1944. The first Zug was then sent to Hungary, where it was attached to Panzer-Brigade 109 by the middle of September 1944. By the end of October, the second Zug was withdrawn back to Warsaw and then sent back to Sennelager in Germany for refitting. In December 1944, Pz.Stu.Mör.Kp.1000 had been attached to 15th Armee as part of 6th SS-Panzer-Armee but only had 3 operational vehicles in time for Operation Wacht Am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine) in the Ardennes. As a result of problems with transportation though, these vehicles never reached the starting points for the operation and took no part in the offensive. By the end of January 1945, this unit had been redesignated as an Artillery unit and the strength had been increased to 3 Zugs comprising 6 vehicles.
A record of the use of the Sturmtiger by this unit in combat comes from the unit history for the US 113th Cavalry Group, which recorded that, on 5th February 1945, they were shelled by ten ‘rocket-type’ projectiles which produced huge explosions, followed by two more rounds against the town of Pier. This is believed to be an attack by Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000 and, when the 113th Cavalry captured the town of Bedburg, they found an abandoned Sturmtiger which is what they ascribed that shelling by rocket-projectiles too. The 737th US Tank Battalion, during actions around the town of Menden, also reported being attacked by a Sturmtiger thought to be from this unit.
Still from a video of the Sturmtiger in combat 1944. Source: Spielberger
Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 did not fare much better. Officially formed on 23rd September 1944, the first Zug was not ready until the end of September, followed in the first week of October by the second Zug, but was not combat ready until the end of the month. On 10th November 1944, both Zugs were sent to Oberbefehlshaber West. Just like Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000, this unit was also deployed for Operation Wacht Am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine) and was also assigned to 15th Armee as a part of the 6th SS-Panzer Armee, again with just 3 vehicles. Unlike Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000 which did not reach its starting point for the operation, the 3 vehicles of Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 did get to the start point. The Operation had called for (amongst other things), the capture of the Belgian city of Liege in the Northern sector of operations. It was for this task that both Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000 and 1001 were originally intended. As it was, the German forces never got close to Liege and only Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 even got to the theatre. Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000 did not see action during the operation, but Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 did, albeit not for its original target of Liege.
Instead, Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 saw action around Duren and Euskirchen just before the New Year, covering the retreat of German forces. Just like Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000, Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 was reassigned and, by the end of January, along with Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000, was redesignated as an Artillery unit with a strength set to be 3 Zugs (6 vehicles).
During action at Duren on 26th February 1945, one Sturmtiger was knocked out when the driver got the vehicle stuck in a ditch along the roadside during the withdrawal from the town. Immobilised, it was shot at least three times in the rear by a Sherman tank of C Company, 743rd Tank Battalion, which was supporting the attack by the 117th Infantry, part of the US 30th Division. With the 80 mm thick rear armor penetrated and the vehicle stuck, the crew bailed out, all had survived these multiple strikes but one crew member was shot and killed by the infantry as they fled. This vehicle was recovered in March 1945 by the 464th Ordnance Evacuation Company and shipped to Great Britain for evaluation. The vehicle was later scrapped but the gun remains on display at the Tank Museum, Bovington.
This Sturmtiger of Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001, immobilized in a ditch, was hit repeatedly by a Sherman of 743rd Tank Battalion causing the crew to evacuate. Source: Zaloga
The final action of Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1001 took place in the defense of Drohlshagen to the East of Bonn in Spring 1945. Shortly after, with just 3 Sturmtigers left and with serious problems with maintenance, the vehicles were destroyed by the crews prior to capture.
The final company, Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1002, was formed in October 1944 and was sent, in December 1944, to be a part of Oberbefehlshaber West. Just like Pz.St.Mör.Kp.1000 and 1001, it was redesignated as an Artillery unit at the end of January 1945 and was supposed to be increased to a strength of 3 Zugs (6 vehicles). Its combat history started at the battle of the Reichswald followed, in March 1945, by action at Kirschellen. Further actions followed at Polsum, Marl, and Datteln. By the middle of March 1945, the unit had exhausted its supplies and the last two vehicles were blown up by their crews.
Sturmtiger firing one of its 38cm rockets. Source: Spielberger
The Sturmtiger was, in one way, a very clever way of reusing a damaged Tiger-tank hull. The hulls were expensive to make and anything that kept the investment of the Reich in service against the Allies was a good move resource-wise. The logic of the weapon system though is less clear, as by the time they were built they effectively had no role. These might have found in a role in a battle for a city such as at Stalingrad, but that was over well before the first Sturmtiger ever saw service.
The combination of a unique weapons system with very limited utility, on a heavily armored platform was not really what Germany was needing at the time. Better use might have been to consider simply mounting an effective anti-tank gun into that casemate instead, as vehicles like the StuG III had proven their utility as cheap and effective tank destroyers. Even a short-barrelled howitzer of some description might have found a role for infantry support and both ideas would surely have been a better use of those valuable hulls. As a vehicle for assaulting a heavily urban area, when by this time the urban fighting was defensive, it simply had little use. This is proven out by the actual combat history of the Sturmtiger, where it simply failed to find a clear role in the later war, an interesting but essentially useless weapon considering the resources poured into it.
Surviving Vehicles and Guns
Chassis Number 250174 – Deutsches Panzermuseum in Munster (German Tank Museum)
Chassis Number 250043 – Patriot Park, Kubinka, Russia
Sturmtiger 380mm Mortar (no vehicle) – The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
R.aG43 – Tøjhusmuseet, Copenhagen, Denmark
Unconfirmed RTG38 (possibly a modified RaG43) – Narvik War Museum, Norway
Surviving Sturmtiger at the Deutsches Panzermuseum. Photo: wikimedia
6.28 x 3.57 x 2.85 m
Total weight, battle ready
5 (Commander, Driver, Gunner, 2 Loaders)
Maybach HL 210 TRM P45 21-litre V-12 petrol engine producing 650 hp at 3000 rpm or
Maybach HL 230 TRM P45 V-12 700 hp petrol engine (later production vehicles)
38cm RW61 L/5.4 (12 rounds)
MG 34 machine-gun
Casemate front: 150mm @ 47 deg.
Sides and rear: 82mm @ 20 deg.
Roof 40mm @ 0 deg.
Prototype had additional 50mm plate on the lower front of the hull
Video of the Sturmtiger featuring footage of it firing
Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #2
The second issue of the Tank Encyclopedia magazine covers the fascinating history of armored fighting vehicles from their beginnings before the First World War up to this day! This issue covers vehicles such as the awe-inspiring rocket-firing German Sturmtiger, the Soviet SMK Heavy Tank, the construction of a replica Italian Fiat 2000 heavy tank and many more. It also contains a modeling section and a feature article from our friends at Plane Encyclopedia cover the Arado Ar 233 amphibious transport plane! All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and period photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you! Buy this magazine on Payhip!
Nazi Germany (1943) Heavy assault gun – 303-316 built
Development of the Sd.Kfz.166
In 1942, Albert Speer placed an order for a howitzer mounted on a tank chassis to keep up with the Panzer Divisions. Alkett received the order to design the new vehicle, which would be known as the Sd.Kfz.166, Sturmpanzer, or Sturmpanzer 43. Although commonly referred to as the Brummbär, this was the nickname given to the Sturmpanzer 43 by Allied intelligence, not by the Germans. They referred to it casually as the Stupa 43.
Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
The chassis was the one of the reliable, mass-produced Panzer IV. Above it, Alkett fitted a massive 15 cm (5.9 in) Sturmhaubitze (StuH) 43 L/12 developed by Škoda, which had common ammunition with the standard siG 33 howitzer in German service. 38 rounds with their separate propellant cartridges were carried, stored in the casemate and the hull. However, these massive rounds had a combined weight of 46 kg (38 kg/84 lb for the High Explosive shell itself and 8 kg/18 lb for its propellant cartridge), which made manual loading especially arduous on some elevations. The gunner set up the trajectory and aimed the gun using a Sfl.Zf. 1a sight.
Hello, dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
The howitzer was protected by a casemate with sloped sides and thick armor plates. Indeed, this thickness was 100 mm (3.93 in) at a 40° angle on the front, 40 mm/12° (1.57 in) for the front hull, 50 mm/15° (1.97 in) for the side superstructure, 30 mm (1.18 in) for the side of the hull and 30 mm /25°/0° (1.18 in) for the rear of the casemate and 20 mm /10° (0.79 in) for the back of the hull. The top and bottom were protected by 10 mm (0.39 in) of armor at 90°. Outside the main howitzer, a single MG 34 machine gun could be fastened to the open gunner’s hatch, in the same way as for the Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.G. In addition, early vehicles carried a MP 40 sub-machine gun intended to be fired through the two firing ports on each side of the superstructure.
The driver was located forward, slightly in front of the casemate, and was given the Tiger I Fahrersehklappe 80 sight. Ventilation of the casemate’s fumes and heat was provided by natural convection, exiting through two armored covers at the back of the roof. By the time these vehicles were ready, spaced armor became the norm and Schürzen plates were factory-fitted. The first production vehicles proved their superstructure was way too heavy for the chassis, and experienced breakdowns of suspension elements or the transmission. The second series corrected this issue with a newly shaped, lighter casemate. The decision was taken in October 1943 and after the redesign, 800 kg (1,800 lb) of steel were spared, including from the gun mount itself on the third series. This new series was named StuH 43/1. Also, the Zimmerit anti-magnetic coating was factory-applied until September 1944.
Production & variants
Sources conflict as to how many were built, either 306 or 313. There were four series built as follows, all using variants of the Panzer IV chassis. – Series 1: April 1943 60 built by Vienna Arsenal, with 52 using Panzer IV Ausf.G and 8 using rebuilt Ausf.E chassis. – Series 2: December 1943-March 1944 60 built at the Vienna Arsenal using Ausf.J chassis. – Series 3: March-June 1944 Built at Vienna Arsenal. – Series 4: June 1944-March 1945 Built at the Deutsche Eisenwerke on Ausf.J chassis.
Because of the weight of the gun, there were problems with the suspension of the Brummbär. With Series 4 a new, lighter gun eased the problem considerably; in addition, a MG 34 was mounted for close defense. Previous models had a MG 34 mounted on the commander’s cupola.
The only variant of the Brummbär was a command vehicle, Befehlsturmpanzer IV. It had extra radio capacity. Krupp also built one prototype of a proposed Jagdpanzer IV with a 8.8 cm Pak 43 L/71.
The Sturmpanzer IV in action
The Brummbär primarily saw service in 4 battalions, Sturmpanzer-Abteilungen 216, 217, 218, and 219.
Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 216 first saw action at Kursk, when it formed the 4th battalion of Panzerjaeger 656, where it got as far as Ponyri. Afterwards, it withdrew to defensive positions to repel the Soviet offensive around Orel. As an independent battalion, it next saw service at Anzio in Italy, and from then to the end of the war it withdrew north until the battalion was forced to destroy its remaining vehicles and surrender in the Po valley.
Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 218, raised in August 1944, fought against the Warsaw Uprising, then remained on the Eastern Front until destroyed in East Prussia, in April 1945.
Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 219 fought against the Soviets in the Budapest area. At least two companies of Brummbär-equipped units are known: Sturmpanzer -Kompanie z.d.V. 218 took part in crushing the Warsaw uprising, then incorporated into the Sturmpanzer Abteilungen noted above. Sturmpanzer-kompanie Z.B.V. 2.-/218 was transferred to the Paris area on August 20th 1944, nothing more is known of this unit.
During the battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944, short barrelled 15 cm Sturmpanzer IV ‘Brumbärs’ (Sd.Kfz. 166) were deployed to assist in street fighting in the villages and deal with enemy units in fortified locations. They were part of the 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung (assault tank battalion). It was formed of three companies of fourteen Sturmpanzer IVs and three additional vehicles used by the command company.
On 24 June 1944 it was ordered to move from Grafenwöhr in Germany to Normandy. On 18 July 1944 the battalion reported that it had reached the area of Condé-sur-Noireau/Le Bény-Bocage and Vire in Normandy. Not all of the Sturmpanzer IVs had completed the journey. Some had suffered mechanical problems.
On 23 July 1944 the 2nd Company was attached to the 21.Panzer-Division. It reported it had eleven working vehicles with two being repaired. On 29 July 1944 it was transferred to the II.SS-Panzer-Division LAH and the next day reported that it now only had nine working vehicles with two in repair.
The 3rd Company had been attached to the II.SS-Panzer Korps. On 30 July 1944, the 3rd Company was transferred to the LXXIV Korps.
On 6 August 1944, Thirteen Sturmpanzer IVs from the 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung were reported to be supporting the 89.Infantry-Division. Things changed because on 9 August 1944 ten of these Sturmpanzer IVs were in action with the SS-Panzer-Divison Hitlerjugend on only one was left with the 89.Infanterie-Division.
Some wrecked Sturmpanzer IVs locations were noted following Operation Totalize 8/9th August around the Normandy village of Cintheaux on the Caen-Falaise main road. One was found 1.5 km north west of Cintheaux in the field south east of the junction of the D23 with the road, now track, called La Maisonnette by the cross roads. Two were found near each about 750 m south west of Cintheaux along a track that runs south west from the town limits sign on the D183. A fourth was reported in a field to the west of the D167 about 1 km south south west of Cintheaux.
On 10 August 1944, only five of the ten vehicles were reported in a working condition. The situation was the same the next day. On 11 August 1944 the 1st Company, 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung was reported attached to the 271.Infanterie-Division.
On 16 August 1944 the 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung reported that between 1 to 15 August 1944 the battalion had lost ten men killed, twelve were missing and thirty-five were wounded. Only seventeen Sturmpanzer IVs were combat ready. Fourteen were under repair and predicted to be ready in less than three weeks.
The Battalion’s remaining Sturmpanzer IVs continued to see action supporting the SS-Panzer-Divison Hitlerjugend and the 89.Infanterie-Division. Both units fought on the same front in Normandy.
Those that escaped the Falase pocket were reformed and saw action during the battle of the bulge, Ardennes offensive. It reached St. Vith, but got no further. The unit was finally captured in the Rhur pocket in April 1945.
Production data does not lie. Although quite underrated by Allied intelligence during WW2 and still somewhat underestimated today, the StuG III was, nonetheless, the most produced tracked German AFV during the conflict. Its evolution mirrored that of the more famous Panzer IV. At first, the StuG was a simple derivative of the Panzer III for infantry support only, but ended as one of the most important German vehicles of the war. With its low-profile and low-cost, it was the real battlehorse of the Wehrmacht, shifting from a close support vehicle to a tank-hunter of first magnitude, soldiering without interruption anywhere from North Africa to Europe and Russia. The crews loved it because of its low profile and good armor, and the infantry it was supporting was grateful for its firepower and availability.
Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!
Early production: The s.Pak to the StuG III
In January 1940, the first official production version appeared. The name was altered on 7 February to “7.5 cm Kanone (Pz.Sfl)” and on 28 March to Sturmgeschütz, literally “assault gun”. The full Waffenamt designation was painted on the serial number plates as “Gepanzerte Selbfahrlafette für Sturmegschütz 7,5 cm Kanone (Sd.Kfz.142)” and abbreviated as gp.Sfl.f.Stu.G. 7.5 cm K.
Design of the StuG III
The first production version was based on the Panzer III Ausf.F chassis, and had the frontal armor raised to 50 mm (1.97 in), instead of the 30 mm (1.18 in) of the original pre-series. In detail, the 50 mm (1.97 in) thick driver front plate was inclined to 9°, the hull nose was inclined to 30° and 50°, also 50 mm (1.97 in) thick. The superstructure and hull sides were 30 mm (1.18 in) thick, vertical, while the tail plates, also 30 mm (1.18 in), were inclined at 10 and 30°. The roof was almost horizontal, 10 mm (0.39 in) thick. The rear engine deck was 16 mm (0.63 in), while the belly plate measured 15 mm (0.59 in). The gun mantlet and recuperator were 50 mm (1.97 in) thick. Later, the superstructures sides received 8 mm (0.31 in) additional plates inclined at 30°, and aimed at defeating the French tungsten-core AP shells.
The armored casemate was short and large, covering part of the mudguards after the addition of 8 mm (0.31 in) side slopes. There was a large opening on the front, for the bulky main gun mounting. The frontal double slope was heavily armored, up to 50 mm (1.97 in) on the Ausf.A. There were two small two-piece hatches for the driver at the front, two larger two-pieces hatches for the crew on the casemate rear, and open space at the left for the commander’s periscope. The engine could be accessed through two large two-piece and two smaller one-piece hatches on the rear deck. The driver had a reinforced vision slit and a binocular sight. Throughout the evolution of the StuG, this frontal part was up-armored, while the up-gunned version had two kind of mountings, the regular one on the Ausf.F and the “pig nose” for the largely overhauled Ausf.G, which helps distinguish between the two models.
Crew positions & equipment
Because of its small height, access was easy through the roof’s hatches. Three were posted directly above the driver (left), gunner (right) and commander’s (left) seats. In addition, if the tank toppled over or if the hatch was obstructed, the driver could still escape through the steering brake inspection hatch in the glacis plate. The driver was given a visor mounted in the front plate and could use the KFF2 periscopes in fully protected mode. He had a fixed sight slit in the superstructure left wall, but was blind on the right. The commander and gunner’s hatches were of equal size, and hinged to the sides. The gunner had a Sfl.ZF periscopic gun sight at his disposal, with an aperture on the superstructure front. The commander had a SF.14Z scissors periscope that protruded from the opened hatch in raised position. Otherwise it was folded down, the binocular being strapped on the left wall. His seat was spring loaded and could be raised while buttoned up, and was adjustable in height, locked into position with a foot pedal. This allowed a fully raised position for direct observation, or with the periscopes. The seat was hinged on the left wall and could be folded out of the way. However, the gunner’s seat was fixed to the gun mount, a common artillery practice.
The main gun was the Krupp 7,5 cm Kanone L/24 (24 caliber long). This was basically a short barrel gun tailored to fire HE rounds at fortifications and enemy positions. It was an adaptation of the 7,5 cm KwK L/24 tank gun originally designed for the Panzer IV. It was well capable of destroying blockhauses and pillboxes at short, medium or even long ranges when in maximal elevation. The 7.5 cm Kampfwagenkanone-37 L/24 was given several types of ammunition during the war. The K.Gr.rot.Pz. was an armor piercing capped shell, the Kt.Kw.K. was a canister, anti-personal shot, the Nbgr.Kw.K. was a smoke round, the Gr.38 Hl/A was the main early High Explosive Anti-Tank round, as well as the /B and /C models. Last but not least was the standard HE round, the 7.5 cm Sprgr.34, which was the heaviest of all (7-8 kg).
The HEAT rounds, especially useful due to the gun’s low velocity (385 m/s), were capable of defeating between 39 and 41 mm (1.54-1.61 in) of armor between 100 and 500 m (110-550 yd), whereas at 2000 m (1.24 mi) it fell to 30 mm (1.18 in) with low hit probability. Normal provision was 54 rounds.
With the arrival of the longer Stu.K. L/40, penetrating ability of the rounds was improved, and a battery of tests followed. As a result, the total load was reduced to 44, and the round proportions were changed. 12% of the shells were K.Gr.rot. Pz (armor piercing, capped, with tracer and explosive filler), 65% were HE rounds, or Sprenggranaten, and 23% smoke shells, or Nebelgranaten. Eventually, a fourth type was introduced, with increased efficiency against armor, thanks to the shaped charge principle. This was the HEAT or Gr.38 HL round. It was designed for excellent fragmentation performance, but was still very effective against softskin targets. The initial design was less successful than the K.Gr.rot. But, after the introduction of the HL/A & B, the numbers supplied to frontline units steadily grew. As an indication, an Ausf.D was captured in North Africa crammed with 88 rounds, including 20 HL/As and 35 K.Gr.rot., signalling an increase in tank to tank use.
Initially, there was no secondary machine-gun, the tank relying solely on accompanying infantry for close quarter defense, which made sense when its tactical use was first envisioned. By the time of the up-gunned G version, however (December 1942), a single Maschinengewehr 34 protected by a mask was mounted on top of the superstructure. Personal weapons included, generally, a MP 38 light machine-gun and several P 38 automatic pistols. For maximal “safe” fire, indirect targeting was used, but at the expense of accuracy. Better accuracy was reached at short range (less than 500 m/550 yd), due to the low velocity of the projectile and possible errors when adjusting the proper arc.
In this matter, the quality of optical instrumentation was paramount. With the Ausf.C, D and E, a new ZF1 targeting sight was introduced, with a reticle pattern including seven triangles separated by four mils. The distances between triangles was used for aiming at moving targets. Their separation and height helped the gunner to estimate the range, marked by 100 m intervals out of a range of 1500 m, with a secondary scale for 6000 m range. Due to the limited arc of 24° (12° on each side), the whole tank had to be moved frequently to deal with relatively close moving targets.
The engine was the mass-produced, dependable Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 gasoline, giving around 300 PS (296 hp or 221 kW) and a power/weight ratio of 12.6 hp/tonne, connected to a driving six-speed transmission. The wheeltrain comprised six paired rubberized roadwheels mated on torsion arms, and three double return rollers per side. The drive sprockets were at the front, whereas the idlers were at the rear. The tracks were made of mild steel and identical to the Panzer III model.
Performances, facts & figures
Here are the extended specs for the Ausf.D (1941).
Top speed: 40 km/h (25 mph)
Maximal sustained top speed on road: 24 km/h (15 mph)
Cross-country speed: 10-12 km/h (6-7 mph)
Range (roads): 155 km (96 mi)
Range (cross country): 95 km (60 mi)
Trench crossing: 2.5 m (8 ft)
Fording: 0.8 m (2ft7in)
Step climbing: 0.6 m (1ft11in)
Gradient climbing: 30°
Ground clearance: 0.39 m (1ft3in)
Ground pressure: 0.9 kg/cm2
Power to weight ratio: 13.5 metric hp/ton
Combat weight: 20.7 metric tons
Dimensions (short barrel): 5.40 x 2.92 x 1.95 m (17ft8 x 9ft6 x 6ft4)
The “short barrel” series, Ausf.A to E
These versions were known by the Waffenamt as the Sd.Kfz.142.
-Only 36 Ausf.As were produced by Daimler-Benz AG between January and May 1940. The first were delivered in September 1939 and the whole series completed in April 1940. The last six were based on the Panzer III Ausf.G chassis. However, due to numerous production faults, only four batteries (15 vehicles) were sent in France by May 1940. -The Ausf.B saw a much larger production (300), this time by Alkett, between June 1940 and May 1941. They were nearly identical to the Ausf.A, if not for the slightly larger tracks (380 mm instead of 360 mm). Standard roadwheels were interlocked with external 520x95mm ruberrized roadwheels and both were interchangeable. The early 10-speed transmission, which proved troublesome, was replaced by a 6-speed one. To reduce chances of the tracks being thrown off during tight turns, the forward return rollers were re-positioned even further forward. -The Ausf.C was only produced for a single month, in April 1941, with 50 vehicles coming out of the factory. Nearly identical to previous versions, they had the main gunner’s forward view port eliminated (it was seen as a shot trap) and replaced by a relocated periscope in the front left of the casemate. The idler was also new. The campaign of France had shown the value of the StuG, and 150 Ausf.Ds were ordered, followed by 500 Ausf.Es. -The Ausf.D was virtually identical, only receiving an on-board intercom. 150 were delivered between May and September 1941. It was simply an upgrade of the C on the production line. There was, however, a dip in effective deliveries due to the shortage of Maybach HL 120 TRM engines, which were being sent as replacements to the Eastern front depots. -The Ausf.E replaced the previous version on the production line, with 284 delivered until February 1942. The side superstructure received rectangular armored boxes for extra radio equipment and storing six more rounds (reaching a total of 50), while a MG 34 with 7 drum-type magazines was installed on the right rear side of the casemate for close defense. The commander vehicles were given SF14Z stereoscopic scissor periscopes.
The “long barrel” series, Ausf.F and F8
These series were known by the Waffenamt as the Sd.Kfz.142/1. -The Ausf.F was an all-out improvement dictated by war experience against Russian tanks and the urgent need for high velocity guns on every platform available. It appeared on the production line in March 1942. The gun was the new 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43. This 3.3 m long barrel was a real game-changer, with a muzzle velocity of 740 m/s when fed with the armor-piercing Panzergranat-Patrone 39. The Pzgr.Ptr.39 was indeed proven to defeat 99 mm (3.9 in) of sloped armor at point-blank range (100 m), and still 63 mm (2.48 in) at 2000 m. The optimal engagement range was 500 m, due to the lack of a turret, were it could pierce through 91 mm (3.58 in) of armor at a 30° angle slope. This was proven enough to destroy the most common T-34 tanks and saw the role of the StuG shifting from an infantry support vehicle to an ubiquitous tank-hunter. Another change was the exhaust fan added to the rooftop. By June 1942, with the production rate increasing, 30 mm (1.18 in) appliqué armor was bolted to the lower frontal plate, while the gun was upgraded to the StuK 40 L/48. In total, 366 were produced until September 1942. -The Ausf.F8
This version appeared in September 1942 and 250 vehicles were built up to December. The name was derived from the chassis version of the Panzer III it was based on, the 8th, or Ausf.J/L, which had increased rear armor. The hull was characterized by towing hook holes extended from the side walls. It was armed, from the beginning, with the new 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48, which could defeat 96 mm (3.78 in) of angled armor at 500 m, and 85 mm (3.35 in) at 1000 m (30° slope). With the same ammunition, the 3.6 m long barrel had better muzzle velocity, reaching 760 m/s for the Pzgr.Ptr.39. After October, 30 mm (1.18 in) of appliqué armor were bolted on to the front during the production run. Some were later retrofitted with side skirt armor.
The Ausführung G stood apart from the other production versions. It was, in essence, the main production run for the entire StuG series, with more than 8400 rolling of the line from December 1942 to April 1945, equivalent to the total production of all Panzer IV types combined. This tremendous effort was due to a complete reorganization (by Albert Speer) of the production, spread between other manufacturers like MIAG (in 1943) and many suppliers. This was done in order to avoid disruptions caused by the increasingly efficient Allied bombing campaigns. It was, of course, further increased by the gradual replacement of the Panzer III with the StuG III on the same production lines.
Simplification and standardization helped to further reduce costs and delays. The main superstructure was simplified. The side sloped armored boxes were eliminated, and the casemate sides were extended half-through the mudguard width. This extra storage allowed to store even more rounds. The engine/fighting compartment rear wall was strengthened, the ventilation fan relocated further back and appliqué armor was standardized. Furthermore, the upper MG 34 was factory-fitted, protected by a squared mask.
By March 1943, simplification pushed to drop the driver’s periscope. Metal return rollers were also required due to the lack of rubber. Rubber saving road wheels had been already tested briefly in November 1942, but not adopted. By May 1943, Alkett started fitting Schurzen (spaced armored side skirts), but it was rushed out and the fixations were later proven inadequate at Kursk (this was corrected in March 1944). 80 mm (3.15 in) armor plates were used instead of appliqué armor. The main gun was unchanged, but characterized by its cast rounded topfblende pot mantlet after November 1943. Postwar, it was called “pig-head” (Saukopf or Saukopfblende). There was no coaxial mount, and the mantlet was 45 mm to 50 mm (1.77-1.97 in) thick. By June 1944, this mantlet was in short supply and the traditional trapezoid-shape mantlet reappeared alongside. In June 1944, it received a coaxial MG 34. Another big change was the adoption of a rotating cupola with periscopes, later replaced by a fixed, welded one, because of the sudden shortage of ball bearings. These had shot deflectors generalized by February 1944. Zimmerit anti-magnetic coating was factory applied for just a year, from September 1943 to September 1944.
In all, Alkett was responsible for delivering 7500 StuGs, while MIAG built 2586. The former also carried out the conversion of 173 older Panzer IIIs to the StuG III Ausf.G standard, and 142 were based on the late Panzer III Ausf.M chassis. The massive bombing raids of November 1943 let Krupp devise a substitute based on their Panzer IV chassis, which was presented and accepted by Hitler in December. This model was known as the Sturmeschütz IV and overall 1140 were built, using a modified StuG III superstructure. Until the end of the war, numerous “field” modifications appeared, as older Ausf.C/Ds were retrofitted with the long KwK 40 L/48 gun, vehicles were repaired and fitted with the Panzer IV cupola, coaxial MG 34s were fitted and some vehicles even had their front supestructure cement-plastered for added protection, while saving steel. There was even a Soviet model built on captured StuG III and Panzer III chassis’ (chiefly at Stalingrad), called the SU-76i, and armed with a Soviet 76.2 mm (3 in) S-1 AT gun, with added protection. No less than 201 were delivered by Zavod 37 at Sverdlovsk, including 20 commander variants. Delivery started in the autumn of 1943, but, in the fall of 1944, they were withdrawn and used for training.
The StuH 42
In 1942, a variant of the Ausf.F received a 4.1 in (105 mm) howitzer under the ordnance name Sturmhaubitze 42, Sd.Kfz.142/2. It was a late reversion to the close infantry support rôle, but with a more modern chassis, as more Ausf.F/8s (long) and Ausf.Gs were used for the antitank rôle. The howitzer was derived from a 10.5 cm leFH 18 with electric fire and a muzzle brake, although the latter was often omitted due to the lack of materials. About 1300 vehicles were built by Alkett from March 1943 to March 1945, after an initial delivery of 12 vehicles tested from repaired F and F/8s between the fall of 1942 and January 1943.
StuG III (Flamm)
In 1943, ten early versions, stored in depots, were chosen to be modified, the main gun being replaced by a Schwade flamethrower. Their operational use however is dubious, as no report stated their use in combat and in 1944 they were returned to the depot.
As early as 1941, the StuG III chassis was chosen to carry the heavy 15 cm sIG 33 howitzer for close infantry support. Development took time however, and in the end, twenty-four vehicles were so converted and all delivered in October 1942. Twelve of them were diverted to the battle of Stalingrad with the StuG Abteilung 177, and arrived on 8 November 1942, in order to offer an efficient way to to deal with this urban environment. It was already too little too late. All were lost in combat or captured, while the other half was sent to the 23rd Panzer Division. The 15 cm howitzer was the same already used on a Panzer I chassis in 1940, and the Panzer II based “15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)” in North Africa. The price tag for the StuIG 33b was 20,450 DM. Thirty rounds were carried in two parts, shells and cartridges, partly stored inside the large bins installed behind the casemate, over the engine deck. The casemate itself was 10 mm (0.39 in) thick, with an extra layer of appliqué armor at the front (20 mm/0.79 in), and entirely enclosed except for the rear, to allow easy access to the ammunition.
The manual Instruction of the employment of Sturmartillerie was first published in May 1940 and updated and re-printed in April 1942. By that time, limited war experience permeated the document in a few tactical re-adjustments, whereas advances in technology were more present. Both documents were combined for the second edition, with the contradictions duly noted. It is recalled that due to its nature, infantry support was the vehicle’s chief rôle, with the accompanying morale effect. It was also dependent on infantry in close combat due to its own vulnerabilities: Weak sides, roof and rear armor, lack of visibility, weak arc of fire and, moreover, no close defense system. It is stated that it can be used on the battlefield in the same way as the Panzer IV, and could deal even more successfully with AT guns due to its low profile and thick frontal armor. It could be only “infrequently” used as divisional artillery if the supplies allowed it. It could be attached, however, to theses organic units for special tasks requiring its mobility. It is recalled that it is not to be used for anti-tank tasks, only in case of self-defense. The edition of 1942, due to the improvements in shaped-charge rounds, states that this anti-tank rôle should be plainly approved.
The Sturmartillerie Abteilung, or StuG battalion, comprised a headquarter and three Sturmbatteries, each with six vehicles (three platoons of two StuGs). Revised in 1942, this is raised to seven vehicles, the extra StuG being given to the battalion commander. The Sturmartillerie Abteilungs were independent and only under the High Command authority, but, in some cases, a provisional organic inclusion in Divisions was allowed for special tasks. However, these units were rarely put under the command of an artillery commander. Efficient communication had to be ensured to allow a rapid redeployment of the Abteilung in support of various units inside the Division.
The manual states that the firing positions must be chosen with care, and well camouflaged to hide them from ground, but also air observation. A warning is issued not to split any platoons into smaller units in order to keep some amount of firepower, and only reserve this practice for exceptional short-duration support missions. Security missions, urban combat or night missions were also disapproved. It was recommended to gradually withdraw these platoons for refuelling and re-supply operations at the rear and, in any case, the vehicles had to be thoroughly serviced after 4/5 days of mission. Due to their lack of vision, close infantry cooperation was required to prevent any encounter with obstacles and mines. The rôle of infantry is especially crucial when dealing with possible side and rear enemy infantry attacks. The manual also strongly recommended surprise at any level of the engagement to ensure maximal lethality. Careful pre-positioning, camouflage, sufficient frontal arc of vision and firing without warning were all considered essential. Planning a safe retreat path, without obstacles to safely withdraw for refuelling and rearm is also noted. Smoke ammunition was to be used in this case and to blind the enemy flanking attacks. But, in the 1942 revision, the total allocated for smoke rounds was reduced to 10% of the total.
As breakthrough operations went, the Sturmartillerie Abteilungs only intervened after the breakthrough was done, but right after the first wave of battle tanks, and way before the arrival of tracked artillery and infantry. They were to secure the flanks, like the Panzer IV, of any anti-tank positions, and to prepare the terrain for infantry to follow, destroying fortified positions, especially concrete bunkers. Close cooperation with flame-thrower carrying assault engineers ensured maximal efficiency. It was recalled that only in the case of very close and very strong infantry support should these tanks be used in urban or forested areas.
On the move, it was considered essential for the StuGs to not run at more than 25 km/h (15.5 mph) with large gaps between vehicles and “leap-frog” their way to the objective, allowing the infantry to catch-up and stay close. Crossing bridges had to be carefully handled, at no more than 8 km/h (5 mph) with 30 m intervals. In any case, fording was preferable whenever possible. When operating with an infantry division, the division commander retained the unit as long as possible under his own direct control. They were to be used in the interval between the advanced spearhead and the main body, and only in rare cases on the first line. On the march, they were placed under the column commander authority. With armored divisions they could also find themselves in the advanced guard.
In attack, Sturm. Abt. units were attached to infantry regiments. The manual made it clear that it is questionable to use StuGs for battery tasks on fixed targets, that could be instead disposed of by divisional artillery. The StuGs were best employed to deal with previously unknown enemy positions and nests of resistance, assisting the infantry to carve its way through deep enemy defensive lines, but with a backup of heavy infantry weapons or divisional artillery. In all cases, detailing attack procedures stated that the StuGs had to be ready to intervene after the infantry started the attack, or held in reserve after enemy positions were duly identified. In both cases, never spearheading an assault. The platoon commander was encouraged to constantly cooperate with the most advanced infantry platoons and never be put in control of an artillery commander.
When attacking, their chief targets were enemy AT guns, then fortifications. The initial formation helped make observation easier and favored rapid reaction against any spotted AT position. In case of a defensive action, StuGs were only to be used as a secondary resource, after the AT guns had been decimated or overrun. In that case, the StuGs were to advance to the shortest distance of fire, helped by their low stature. The 1942 manual recommended that 15% of the ammunition had to be AP rounds, instead of the 12% previously mentioned. In pursuit, StuGs had to be kept close to their infantry support at all times, in order to be aware of unseen enemy positions and deal with any resistance. In fighting withdrawal, StuGs were allotted to infantry units and could be used in rear guard actions in support of tanks. Organisational structure: A Sturmbatterie originally comprised six StuGs -three platoons of two-, five Sd.Kfz.253 light observation halftracks for platoon leaders and battery commanders, six Sd.Kfz.252 light armored ammo carrier halftracks (decreased in 1940 to three each) and three Sd.Kfz.251 Hanomag medium halftracks for the replacement crews. Due to initial production delays, Panzer I, Sd.Kfz.265 recce and Sd.Kfz.111 supply vehicles were used instead. By 7 February 1941, the Sturmbatterie Abteilungs were renamed “Sturmgeschütz Abteilungs” with several “Sturmgeschütz batteries”.
The StuG in action
The StuGs were the unsung heroes of the German defense from 1943 to 1945, with more kills than the Panthers and Tigers altogether (20,000 claimed just in 1944). Their career as support tanks spanned for longer, but they were found efficient against lightly armored vehicles even with HE rounds. Sturmgeschütz crews were artillery men, but considered themselves as an elite, an image reinforced by the propaganda newsreels. Due to its availability, the StuG was used on every single front the Wehrmacht was committed to, from the shores of France and Norway to the Volga in the east, and Africa from the gates of Egypt to the Tunisian hills, and it was also generously distributed along Germany’s allies.
The French campaign
The first Sturmbatterie, 640, was created on 1st November 1939, followed by the 659, 660, and 665 in April and May 1940. The first action came for the 16th Sturmbatterie, with the Grossdeutschland division under Gen. Guderian’s command, during the Sedan breakthrough. This unit attacked Villiers and met heavy resistance from an entrenched French cavalry unit. It attacked the following day towards Mellier, and nullified an enemy infantry unit in the direction of Suxy. A French reconnaissance battalion was destroyed in the process of taking several fortified buildings. After other engagements near the Belgian border, the StuG Abteilungs secured a strong foothold on the other side of the Meuse at Sedan. The first reports of these engagements written by infantry officers were dithyrambic and the StuG secured its place into the Wehrmacht arsenal.
Between August 1940 and January 1942, 18 Sturmgeschütz Abteilungs were formed, just before the production shifted to the new Sturmkanone L/43 in March. A fully independent unit, the Sturgeschütz-lehr batterie 900 was formed in March and three batteries were attached organically to the SS divisions “Das Reich”, “Totenkopf” and “Wiking”. These were the first to have a seventh StuG per battery for the commander, and to have extra radio sets for one in two vehicles for the platoon commander. By April 1941, these units were supplemented with sidecars for dismounted platoon leaders, and trucks replaced the Sd.Kfz.10/11. This was extended to all units on 18 April 1941. This new disposition was operational for the start of Operation Barbarossa for all but a few Sturmbatteries. During the Balkan campaign, the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 184, 190 & 191 and 16 were in action together with the Sturmbatterie/Infantrie Regiment “Grossdeutschland” in Greece and Yugoslavia.
The Russian campaign (1941-42)
In its first 15 days of operation, Oberleuntnant Pelikan’s StuG unit destroyed 91 tanks and captured 23, destroyed 23 bunkers, ten armored trains and disrupted convoys, claiming hundreds of trucks. After a first engagement at Bialystock, the StuG Abt.285 fought on and built a significant experience on the roads of Leningrad between June and December 1941. Reorganization of the platoons occurred due to the lack of vehicles (only one StuG per platoon) towards the end of the year. The command vehicle was now a Sd.Kfz.253 instead of an open car. It was usual of the StuGs to identify the targets far away first, due to better optical instruments, the infantry providing side and rear close visual cover. In tank-to-tank combat, the StuG III proved superior to any Soviet tank encountered (T-26s and BT-5/7s for the most) until late 1941, when more encounters with the KV-1 drove concerns.
Due to the harsh conditions during the fall of that year, many breakdowns occurred even before the first snow fell, because of the soaked muddy terrain that took its toll in over-stressing the transmission. After that, with the cold sitting down, problems started appearing with the starters, broken torsion bars and broken or torn tracks. The culprit was the snow that, mixed with mud and gravels, froze up each night. Crowbars were used frantically by an exhausted crew each evening and each morning to keep the tank in running order, trying to eliminate the frozen dirt that clogged everything. In this regard, the StuGs did not fare better than the other Panzers, sharing the same mechanical parts on the chassis and narrow tracks more suited for the moderate climate of the west. With such a regime, the Abteilung was left with only ten StuGs operational on 10 December, the situation being even worse for other units. By the 31, the Abteilung 185 lost 6 StuGs in exchange for silencing or capturing 130 artillery pieces, 39 infantry guns, 34 mortars, 79 AT guns, 45 AA guns, 314 MGs, 91 tanks. The unit also spent nearly 60,000 rounds of 75 mm (2.95 in) ordnance of all types.
Form February to March 1942, Abteilung 185 was resupplied with better HEAT ordnance and claimed more difficult targets, 29 KV-1s, 27 T-34s and 2 KV-2s, but took eight losses. These claims only concerned irreversible losses, like hulls left burning or blatantly destroyed and not lightly damaged tanks that barely lost a track or had a damaged drivetrain. As reported, ammo expenditure was divided into 12,370 HE, 5120 AP, and 1360 HEAT rounds. This figure reflected the success of other StuG Abteilungs in operation on the Eastern Front. Despite having the short barrel, the early StuG Ausf.A to E succeeded in destroying more T-34s than taking losses themselves. But a revolution was brewing, as the new F series was intended to carry the long barrel Stu.K.40 L/43.
The long barrel
Krupp already started worked on the s.Pak L/42 from January 1940, and the project evolved until March 1941. It was then shown to Hitler and an optimistic spring 1942 target was set for production. However, Wa Prüef 4 was ordered to cease work on the new gun design as the OKW, after evaluating the reports from losses due to T-34s and KV-1s, realized that not only protection needed to be increased, but the long barrel gun had to have an even greater muzzle velocity. Wa Prüef 4 then used this letter to require Rheinmetall to design a new gun with a 770 m/s muzzle velocity (with HE) and penetration of 80 mm/30° (3.15 in) at 1000 m. At first, Rheinmetall considered truncating the towed 7.5 cm Pak 40 L/46, born from similar specs. It had to be adapted to be fitted in the StuG casemate, posed recoil problems (90 cm were required) and the rounds were too long (969 mm long). The loading chamber was remodeled and shortened, while the rifled barrel chamber was kept intact. This resulted in the Kanone 40 7.5 cm L/43, complete with new compact shells. The high explosive filler was reduced in size, preventing the shell from breaking up during penetration. The Pz.Granate 39 had an armor piercing cap to prevent shattering on impact and a ballistic cap to reduce air friction, ensuring better velocity. Trials ended in February and production started in March, with 51 deliveries, and 66 in May, before a radical increase. In addition, a removable double chamber muzzle brake with four side ports was added to reduce recoil.
The Sturmgeschutz-Abteilung GrossDeutschland and the LSSAH were the first to receive 22 of the new Ausf.F in operations, built since March-April 1942. At the start of the summer offensive on the Eastern front, there were about 210 Ausf.Fs in operation (18 units). By November 1942, 448 Ausf.F/Gs served with 22 units. By the time Kharkov was retaken in February 1943, GrossDeutschland Division’s StuG units claimed 44 T-34s (whereas the Tigers only destroyed 30). Around Leningrad, the Abteilung 226, with its 41 StuGs (including replacements), claimed an impressive score of 221 T-34s and KV-1s among others, for 13 losses. By March 1943, Abteilung battery composition was changed and increased. By the time the summer offensive started, all 26 units were replenished with new StuG Ausf.Gs, for a total of 727 right before “Zitadelle” took place.
Reports in September showed that, in general, the StuGs fared extremely well (especially compared to the poor performances of the Tiger, Elefant and Panthers), probably giving the best performance so far in combat for any given German AFV. Interogations of captured Russian tank crews revealed that all units were given strict orders to not engage any combat with the StuGs. However, the German losses were attributed to better AT guns served by skillful crews, mines and even better AT rifles that could penetrate the commander cupola. Reports also stated that the regular tanks, like the Panzer IV, were not at ease in this kind of offensive due to their preference for mobility. With less refined optics, a high silhouette and poor cooperation with infantry, they were found less efficient in every way. So much so that it was reported from an anonymous tank commander “I would rather have one StuG Abteilung rather than an entire Panzerdivision”. A total of 423 confirmed kills were reported by the 11 Abteilungen engaged in August 1943, for the loss of only eight vehicles.
During and after the battle, reports also shown the good practice of using Schürzen (spaced) armor, that saved many StuGs from the numerous, well hidden AT rifles and light AT guns the Red Army deployed in prepared positions. Problems were reported with the lightly armored commander cupola and the ineffectiveness of the loader’s machine gun, but also with the engine and transmission. Helped by the flat landscape, the onboard 30-watt radio proved invaluable, with an effective range of 150 km, although sometimes 200 km and more were attained. By February 1944 the former Abteilungen were renamed Sturmgeschütz brigades, 31 vehicles strong each, whereas the Special Brigades 259, 278, 303 and 341 were authorized to have a total of 45 tanks each (14 per battery). In total, since 1940, 57 StuG Abteilungen (Brigades) were formed alongside twelve independent units, and acquired a great deal of experience, showing great versatility with the same success against both infantry and tanks. This was reflected in a very diverse ammo supply. In practice, due to their moral boost effect on the battlefield and to avoid withdrawing to resupply, crews usually preferred cramming extra rounds wherever possible.
According to another report of Hauptmann Markowsky from the III/Panzer-regiment 24, 24th Panzer Division at Krivoi-Rog, the mix of Panzer IV and StuG IIIs also gave excellent results, the StuGs being used like the Panzers, without any form of protection against infantry, and some were detached in the division as an ad-hoc tank-hunter unit. After nine days of heavy fighting, the regiment claimed 184 enemy tanks (mostly T-34s), 87 AT guns and 26 artillery pieces, for only four losses. Results were attributed to excellent training, experience and concentration on the German side. In fact, the attrition rate was mostly attributed to breakdowns. But the Hauptmann insisted that the unit strength was not diminished, but on the contrary, it increased, as instead of 10-15 vehicles per unit, 22 would be preferable.
In December 1943, another report from the III/Panzer regiment 36 stated that at least four scenarios of attack could be successful using StuGs in conjunction with Panzer IVs. One of them was a first wave attack, favored by the StuG low silhouette, spearheading the attack, while the Panzer IVs, with their revolving turret, provided side cover. This was an imperative condition, because if the StuGs were left to simultaneously engage a great number of targets at diverse azimuths, especially on a muddy/snowy terrain, that imposed frequent turns of the chassis and overtaxed the transmission, causing even more breakdowns. It was also noted that the lack of suitable protection for the machine-gun was critical when assaulting enemy infantry positions, due to AT rifle fire. It was also noted that, by far, engagement in close cooperation with Panzer-grenadiers was the most efficient way to deal with enemy infantry positions, both providing a mutual, almost symbiotic protection that worked wonders. In defense, they were also in their element. With their low profile, easy to camouflage, and excellent long-range sights, they could inflict tank damage at a distance without maneuvering, and then retire safely. However, compared results showed the superiority of the Panzer IVs on the offensive. From October to December, 17 Panzer IVs, on average, destroyed 136 enemy tanks, while the 13 StuGs claimed only 75. However, 20 Panzer IVs were complete write-offs compared to only 16 StuGs after 16 days of combat.
North African campaign
The Sonderverband 288 deployed four StuG Ausf.Ds (short barrel version), which participated in the Gazala campaign with Kampfgruppe Menton. One was lost in Piraeus Harbor, and one captured by British armored cars en route. The two surviving were apparently in action at El Alamein (2nd battle). One was apparently used with the 90th Light Division until the surrender in Tunis. When reinforcements arrived in Tunisia, six F/8s from the 1./Sturmgeschütz-Abt. 242 were sent to serve with the Xth Pz. Div., but only four survived the crossing. These were placed with the Fallschirm Regiment Barenthin and Fallschirm Brigade Ramcke and lost in May 1943. StuGs were a rarity in North Africa, contrary to other theaters of operations.
Normandy summer 1944
Among the units which served there was the StuG Brigade 341, which fought at Brecey, Southern Avranches/Pontaubault in late July and Chartres in August. It had Ausf.Gs, as well as a few StuH 42s. Others were the StuG Brigade 394 and 243, the SS-StuG.abt.2, the Panzer Jäger Abteilung 130 and the 902 Sturmgeschütz Abteilung. These were helped, again, by their low profile and, of course, the hedgerow configuration. Also, the 2./Pz.Jg.Abt.331 saw action in the early summer as well as the PzAbt(Fkl)301. As an anecdote, StuG IVs of the 17th SS Pz.Grenadier division “Goetz von Berlichingen” also saw action in the early summer 1944. One was photographed disabled by US. Capt. Taynton after June 15, 1944.
StuH 42s were used by the FschPzDiv “Hermann Goering” in 1944, and the Ausf.Gs of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division served in Sicily in the fall of 1943 and Italy in 1944. The Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 107 was active with the XIII SS Corps, 1st Army, Army Group G in northern Italy in 1945. The Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 242 was transferred in Italy in May 1943 and served later with the OB Süd reserve, based in Liguria in 1945. The Sturmgeschütz-Batterie 247 was formed in March 1943, served in Italy and later Sardinia, then Corsica. In October, it was sent back to Jüterborg and disbanded. Formed in January 1944, the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 907 was already sent in Italy, reinforced in Ferentino, and soldiered at Anzio and Monte Cassino. In February 1945 it was based in Liguria. Another “Italian” StuG unit, the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 914, was also formed in January and sent to Verona, before being renamed Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 720. It soldiered on with 10th Army in early 1945, then passed into Liguria with the LI Corps, 14th Army and mixed forces also comprising StuH 42s. An independent unit, the Fallschirm-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade Schmitz, was formed in Italy in January 1945 and soldiered on with the I Parachute Corps, 10th Army in Liguria. It was then known as the Fallschirm-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 210. One of the shortest-lived units was the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 107, formed in March 1945 from the remnants of several units and attached to the XIII SS Corps, 1st Army, Army Group G.
The most incredible score was registered by an Ausf.F from the Stug.Abt.244 in Stalingrad in early September of 1942. It was commanded by Oberwachtmeister Kurt Pfreundtner and destroyed nine Soviet tanks in 20 minutes, which earned him the Knights Cross. Wachtmeister Kurt Kirchner (Stug.Abt.667) also succeeded in destroying 30 Soviet tanks in a few days by February 1942 (Northern Russia). Hauptmann Peter Franz, another “Knights Crosser” with the Stug.Abt. “Grossdeutschland”, destroyed 43 T-34/76s at the Battle for Borissovka (March, 14, 1943). Unteroffizier Horst Naumann (Stug.Abt.184) destroyed 12 tanks in a single action in January 1943 in the Demyansk area, and 27 enemy tanks in all. The Stug.Abt.667 was a reserve of talents, like Oberfeldwebel Rudolf Jaenicke (who destroyed 12 BT-2s loaded on rail platforms in July 1941). Von Malachowski and overall Oberwachtmeister Hugo Primozic also had enviable hunting records. Waffen SS StuG ace Walter Kniep, (2nd StuG.Abt., 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich”) claimed 129 Soviet tanks for his unit between July and December 1943, for only two losses.
Little known were the Luftwaffe independent field units, the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 1 der Luftwaffe (formed in January 1944 for the I Fallschirm-Korps), at first partly equipped with Semovente M/42s. It saw action near Nancy (Eastern France) and the Ardennes in the winter 1944-45. The Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 2 der Luftwaffe was formed in March 1944 and soldiered in Normandy, wiped out at the Falaise pocket and later rebuilt in September in Köln-Wahn. It fought at Arnhem and Amersfoot and in February 1945 at the Reichswald battle.
The German allies, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and Finland, also operated StuG IIIs.
According to Osprey NV StuG III-IV, page 42, three StuG Ausf.Gs were given to the Italian Army in May 1943. Their combat records are unknown. Photos of these are even rarer and did not help to determine their location or type.
When the situation was desperate, 55 early type StuG III Ausf.Gs were sent to the Bulgarian ally, between February and December 1943, forming the bulk of the Bulgarian Armoured Division, along with Panzer IVs. At first, two self-propelled gun battalions were created (Sofia and Plovdiv). These were rapidly deployed and fought hard in Hungary in 1945, the survivors being kept into service until the mid-1950s. Photos shown some late Gs with the cast mantlets.
By June 1944, the 2nd Hungarian Armored Division received 10 StuG III Gs of the late type. Between August to November, Hungary received 40 StuGs to complement the few 43M Zrinyi. The German vehicles were allocated to tank hunter battalions of three batteries each with 10 vehicles. 130 Hetzers were also given in addition, to equip the newly form battalions. The 1st and 10th were equipped with Zrinyis, and the 1st battalion (7th) was equipped with StuGs and the remainder with Hetzers. According to the “Balaton book” these were of the early, mid and late Ausf.G type and some StuH 42s.
The latter were given in 1943-44 (59 in all) and served against the USSR with great efficiency (the first 30 destroyed 87 Soviet tanks for only 8 losses). 30 were received in 1943 and 29 in 1944. The second batch saw limited if no action. After the war, the StuGs remained frontline in the Finnish Army until better tanks were provided in the early 1960s.
100 StuGs were delivered in the autumn of 1943 to bolster the Romanian defense, after the crippling losses following the battle around Stalingrad. Officially, these were known as TAs, more precisely TAs T3 (to avoid confusion with the Panzer IV, which were named T4s). By February 1945, only thirteen were left after combat, with the 2nd Armoured Regiment in early 1945, but all were destroyed afterwards. 31 TAs were in inventory in November 1947. They were not survivors, but captured models supplied by the Red Army or damaged and repaired vehicles captured by the Romanian Army. They joined the scrapyard in 1954, due to a decision to use exclusively Soviet equipment.
The Soviets used a few captured units, with specific paintings and large spotting markings. Also, using repaired and captured hulls, they managed to build another 300 SU-76i self-propelled guns and tank hunters, equipped with standard Soviet 76 mm (3 in) guns in 1943-44. A derivative of the latter was the SG-122 “Artsturm”, as nicknamed by the Germans, housing the Soviet 122 mm (4.8 in) standard heavy howitzer. Only a handful (10) were so converted, but the conversion process did not go further, the result being judged unsatisfactory and hard to maintain.
Norway captured many StuGs in 1945, and Sweden tested the type in 1947, received from Norway. It inspired models like the Strv 103. The Norwegian StuGs were kept in service until 1951 and the ten Spanish vehicles until 1954.
After the war, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Syria also received StuGs.
Due to the inadequacy of Spanish tanks in modern warfare, Franco’s Azul Division was given German Panzer IV E/F8 medium tanks, grouped inside the Tank Hunter Battalion 250. The unit was first blooded in October 1941, but the tanks soldiered on until February. The remnants fought a quite extraordinary defensive battle at Krasny Bor on February, 10, 1943, the armor being entrenched and protected. The “blue” division took 75% casualties in the course of the battle, but held its ground and inflicted around 11,000 casualties among Russian attackers.
Other attacks were repulsed later, but the lines became static for months. By October 1943, the Division was eventually replaced by the 81st Infanterie-Division and the 123rd Infanterie-Division, and was retired to Volosovo. In November 1943, a total of ten StuG III Ausf.Gs* were sent to replace part of the losses. But the unit was afterwards convoyed back to Spain, so battle records are unknown for these. (* Osprey NV StuG III-IV, page 42).
These were captured by Partisans and used sometimes on both sides (Ustachis alike). They survived the war and were kept in the new Yugoslav People’s Army for years.
Czechoslovakian Army StuGs
The post WW2 CS Army upgraded the Sturmgeschütz they had in their possession. They added a new shield for machine gun DŠK that was used on the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer. They were given the following designation Sh PTK 40/75N (years 1946-1949) and SD 75/40N (years 1949-1960). 40 were sold to Syria.
The Syrian army purchased StuGs from France and Czechoslovakia. In 1956 they were deployed alongside Panzer IVs and T-34/85s, reinforced with extra steel plates. By the war of 1967, all were scrapped or stripped for spare parts, the remainder being used in dug-out positions and static pillboxes on the Golan heights. At least one was captured by Israel and is now displayed at Yad-la-Shiron Museum near Tel Aviv.
SG-122 Artsturm, conversion of the SU-76i as a howitzer SPG, 1945 (not to scale).
Video about German assault guns
Lieutenant Walther Oberloskamp, Zugführer (platoon leader) in the Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 667, proudly showing his 40 victory rings on his personal StuG III. He was awarded, on 10 May 1943, the Knight’s Cross. This photo says scores about the average kill ratio of Sturmgeschutz units in operations – Credits: Histomil.com. Ausf.G in the Serbian military museum of Belgrade, 2008 – Credits: Slaven Radovic. Ausf G in the Serbian military museum of Belgrade, 2008. Ausf.G in Helsinki. StuG III Ausf.G destroyed in Normandy, summer 1944, perhaps in the Falaise Pocket. Germans Tanks of ww2
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.