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WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. B & C

Nazi Germany (1937)
Medium Support Tank – 42 Ausf. B, 134 Ausf. C + 6 Chassis Built

During the early development of the Panzer IV, no one involved in the program knew that this vehicle, designed to serve as a support Panzer, would become the Wehrmacht’s backbone for a good deal of the war. While today the Tiger and Panther are better known, the Panzer IV was produced in the greatest numbers and served on all fronts in many bloody engagements throughout the war.

The development of this tank began in the mid-thirties, leading to the first version being built, the Panzer IV Ausf. A. Being the first version, there was still a lot of space for improvement. The improvement of the Panzer IV Ausf. A version would eventually lead to the development of two nearly identical versions, the Ausf. B and C.

History

Following the adoption of the Panzer IV Ausf. A, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) was interested in developing a version of this vehicle with minimal improvements. For this reason, in October 1937, Krupp-Gruson was tasked with increasing the frontal armor protection to be proof at least against 2 cm armor-piercing rounds and installing a stronger engine. This would lead to a small production run of the second Panzer IV version named Ausf. B.

While the development of the Panzer IV Ausf. B was underway, Wa Pruef 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) initiated the first steps in introducing standardization of German tank development. According to the Wa Pruef 6 plans, the Panzer IV, starting from the Ausf.C version, was to be built using the new Panzer III Ausf. E chassis which used torsion bar suspension. For this reason, at the start of June 1937, Krupp was informed to cease any further work on the Panzer IV chassis as soon as all Ausf. B vehicles had been built. As the development of the Panzer III Ausf. E chassis was running at a slow pace due to the introduction of a new torsion bar suspension and a new transmission; it was estimated that the first experimental chassis could not be built prior to April 1938. The slow Panzer III Ausf. E development also caused a huge eight-month idling period in Panzer IV production. As the demand for Panzer IV support tanks was great, in October 1937, Krupp was informed to prepare for the production of 140 new Panzer IV Ausf. C vehicles. As Krupp was still forbidden from further developing and improving the Panzer IV chassis, Krupp officials decided to simply copy the previously built version with minimal changes.

Wa Pruef 6’s decision to cease the development of the Panzer IV chassis and the high demand for such vehicles were the main reasons why the Ausf. B and C were identical. Another consequence of these decisions was the leaf spring suspension would be used on all Panzer IV until the end of the war, as the planned upgrade to torsion bars never took place.

The Panzer IV Ausf. B and C were identical except for a few minor changes. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Production

Production of the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C was carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. The Ausf. B was built in small numbers, with a total of 42 vehicles (chassis number 80201-80300) which were constructed in the period from May to October 1938. The production of the Ausf. C (chassis number 80301-80500) began in October 1938 and lasted until August 1939. The production run of this version was larger, consisting of 134 vehicles, plus six more chassis which were used as the basis for a bridge layer version.

Specifications

The Hull

The Panzer IV hull was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and enclosed driving compartment. In an emergency, the crew could use the round escape hatch door located beneath the radio operator’s seat. 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 was located in the middle of this plate and two rectangular steering brake inspection hatches were added.

The Superstructure

The superstructure was added atop the Panzer IV hull to provide sufficient working space for the crew members. As the frontal armor thickness of the tank was increased and in order to save weight, the superstructure was slightly smaller in comparison to the Ausf.A. To provide sufficient working space and ammunition storage, it was still wider than the hull. It consisted of four welded plates (one at the front, one on each side and one at the rear) and the armored roof plates. The front plate of the Ausf B. and C was completely flat, as opposed to the 3-part front plate of the Ausf.A. This made the front armor stronger structurally, but also made production somewhat easier. On the left side of this plate was placed a protective driver’s visor. On the Ausf. B and C, a new Fahrersehklappe 30 sliding driver’s visor was used.

The Panzer IV Ausf. B and C had a new single piece frontal armor plate without the usual machine gun ball mount. Source: unknown

The driver and all remaining vision ports (on the superstructure and the turret) were also protected by new 50 mm thick armored glass blocks. When the driver’s visor was closed (usually when in combat operations), the driver would then use the KFF binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. After the spring of 1939, the majority of Ausf. B and C vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver’s visor. To the right of the driver’s vision port was placed a smaller observation hatch for the radio operator. Just to the right of this hatch, a small submachine gun/pistol port with a conical cover was added instead of the standard ball mount for a machine gun.

The side armored plates were placed vertically and were curved inwards toward the front plate. A vision port was added on each side. On the left side, there was a ventilation opening for the steering brakes. To protect this vulnerable spot, an armored covering was added. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall.

After the spring of 1939, the majority of Ausf. B and C vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver’s vision port, which is visible here. Source: warspot.ru
A Panzer IV Ausf. B (to the left) next to the Ausf. A. Source: warspot.ru

The roof armor plate was mostly flat, aside from the front part (above the driver and radio operator), which was angled slightly downwards. To gain access to their position, the driver and the radio operator were each provided with hatches located on the front roof armor. The two-part hatches used on the previous version were replaced with one-piece hatches. Each of these hatches had a small round port for the use of signal flares.

The Turret

The Panzer IV turret had a front hexagonal-shaped armor plate with two small observation hatches placed on either side of the centrally positioned main gun. While the Ausf. A used simpler flat frontal observation hatches, the following versions, including the Ausf. B and C, had a pyramidal shape. Each of the turret sides had observation ports and a one-piece hatch for the crew. The left turret observation port did not have the small slit. On each of the two crew doors, additional pistol ports were added. For protection against infantry attacks from the rear, the turret had two round shaped pistol ports located on the rear curved armor plate.

To provide good ventilation for the extraction of propellant fumes, a ventilation flap was installed on the turret top. On the Ausf. B and C, the ventilation flap was protected by an armored guard placed around it. On the turret top, the left signal port received a new cone-shaped covering.

At the rear of the turret, a commander’s cupola was placed. The Ausf. A simple drum-shaped cupola was replaced with a new model. The new cupola was better protected and had five vision ports that were protected with sliding blocks. On top of the cupola, a two-piece hatch door was installed. Its purpose was to allow the commander to enter his position, but also to provide a good all-around view when not engaged in combat.

The Panzer IV had a turret ring with a diameter of 1680 mm. This turret ring was provided with ball bearings which would allow the turret to rotate freely. The small opening between the turret and the superstructure was protected with a new type of turret ring deflector. Inside the Panzer IV, an auxiliary DKW gasoline engine was provided to power the electric motor that was used to traverse the turret. A round fuel supply opening for the DKW engine was placed on the rear left of the superstructure roof. The turret was, from early 1941 on, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear.

The majority of the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C tanks received a large stowage box mounted to the turret rear from early 1941. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

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. At the front, two drive sprockets (with 18-teeth) were placed, and on the reinforced back hull two idlers were positioned. The tracks used on the initial production Panzer IVs were 360 mm wide and were connected using pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. For a vehicle weighing 18.5 tonnes, this suspension system was considered adequate but proved to be problematic later in the war due to the added weight of following upgrades.

Side view of a Panzer IV. Source: warspot.ru

The Engine and Transmission

The Ausf. A was powered by a Maybach HL 108TR which produced 230 hp@2600 rpm. With this engine, the maximum speed was 32 km/h, with only 10 km/h cross-country. In order to increase the speed on the Ausf. B, a new Maybach HL 120 TR engine giving out 265 hp@2600 rpm was installed. The Ausf. C was powered by the same engine (named HL 120 TRM) but modified with an improved ignition starter and a new mount. With this engine, maximum speed was increased to 42 km/h, with 25 km/h cross-country. The operational range was the same: 210 km on road and 130 km cross-country. The fuel load of 470 l was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the fighting compartment. If needed, there was a valve system that allowed the crew to use the fuel of each tank individually by closing the fuel supply from the other two.

The Panzer IV’s engine cooling system consisted of two coupled radiators placed at a 25° angle. The air was then sucked in by two large cooling fans which were driven by a ‘V’ shaped belt from the crankshaft. This cooling system was designed to provide effective cooling in temperatures of up to +30° Celsius. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. The crew could, if needed, gain access to the engine through a door placed in this firewall. The ‘Allklaunen SFG 75’ five-speed (and one reverse) transmission was replaced with a new SSG 76 six-speed (and one reverse) one. The steering mechanism used in the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C was of the ‘Wilson’ type, which was designed and produced by Krupp.

The Panzer IV turret was not centrally positioned and was actually offset to the left side of the superstructure by around 6.67 cm. The engine was also offset some 15 cm to the right. This arrangement was done so that the driveshaft did not interfere with the electrical supply system of the turret.

The Armor Protection

For the lower hull, the upper front armor plate thickness was increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower plate was 30 mm placed at a 14° angle. While the front armor of the lower hull of the Ausf. B/C was thickened, the side, rear and top armor remained the same. The side armor of the hull was 14.5 mm thick, the rear was 10-14.5 mm and the bottom was 8 mm.

The front superstructure armor was 30 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 14.5 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 10 mm thick armor (at a 35° angle) at the sides and 14.5 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear. From early 1941 onwards, an additional 30 mm armor plates were bolted to the front hull armor.

This vehicle received increased protection through the addition of 30 mm thick armored plates to the superstructure front. Source: Unknown

The front turret armor was 30 mm thick (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 14.5 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor, with the two hatch doors being 8 mm thick. The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous and rolled plates. While the increased frontal armor provided protection from 20 mm armor-piercing rounds, the sides were still vulnerable to anti-tank rifles. In an attempt to increase overall protection from anti-tank rifles, at least one Ausf.B or C vehicle was equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen).

A Panzer IV Ausf. B/C equipped with 5 mm thick Schürzen. Source: Pinterest

From August 1938 on, nearly all German Panzers were equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer IV’s commander. When activated, the Panzer would then drive back to the safety of the smokescreen. This system was not very effective and was replaced with turret-mounted smoke grenade launchers later in the war.

The Crew

The Panzer IV had a crew of five which included the commander, gunner and loader who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull. This five-man crew configuration was a rarity at that time and provided the Germans with a huge advantage during the earlier stages of the war.

The Panzer IV commander (Kommandant) was positioned in the rear center of the turret. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a cupola. For crew communication, the commander was provided with an intercom system in the form of a laryngophone.

During the early testing with the Grosstraktor (held in Kazan in the Soviet Union), the Germans noted that the commander should not be involved in any duties beside his intended role, such as loading or firing the gun. If the commander was distracted, the overall performance of the tank would be greatly reduced, as he could not pay proper attention to his surroundings (for example the position of friendly or enemy units). For this reason, the commander was provided with a cupola that had an all-around view and was tasked with directing the whole crew. This simple design feature gave the Germans a huge tactical advantage in the early stages of the war. For example, French and Soviet tank commanders also had to perform other roles like serving the gun and even loading, which greatly diminished the performance of their tanks despite having better armor and weapons than the German ones.

The gunner (Richtkanonier) was positioned to the left while the loader (Ladekanonier) was to the right of the main gun. While not in combat, the loader could use a folding seat on the right side of the turret. Once in combat, in order to get to the stored ammunition, he would simply fold the seat to the side and then stand on the turret basket floor.

The driver’s position (Fahrer) was on the front left side of the hull. The last crew member was the radio operator (Funker), who was positioned on the front hull’s right side. His main job was to operate the Fu 5 and Fu 2 transmitter-receiver radio set, which had an effective range of about 2 km. This radio was mounted just above the transmission. A folding 2 m long antenna rod with its wooden protective rail was placed on the Panzer IV’s right superstructure side. The secondary duty of the radio operator was to use either a 7.92 mm MP38/40 submachine gun or a pistol, which he could fire through the small frontal pistol port.

The radio’s wooden protective rail is visible here, just behind the Balkenkreuz painted on the superstructure. Source: warspot.ru

The Armament

The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. B/C was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. KwK (Kampfwagenkanone), can be translated as combat vehicle cannon or, more simply, as tank gun. The short barrel had 28 grooves, each 0.85 mm deep. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be automatically ejected, thus increasing the overall rate of fire. The Panzer IV Ausf. B/C had an internal gun mantlet which was not too effective. Later Panzer IV versions had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that stood outside of the turret were covered by a steel jacket and a deflector guard. The Ausf.C version received an improved ‘V’ shaped gun mantlet to improve deflection. Additionally, the coaxial machine gun was also provided with a protecting mount. This is the only physical change in contrast to the Ausf. B. Despite this, identification is not always easy.

The Panzer Ausf. C’s new gun mantlet with the armored covering for the MG 34 is evident here. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

This gun had a muzzle velocity of 325 m/s and proved to have satisfactory precision in combat operations and was even used to arm the early series of the StuG III vehicles. The Panzer IV was primarily meant to destroy soft-skin targets, anti-tank positions and infantry emplacements and was thus mostly equipped with high explosive and smoke rounds. The armor-piercing (AP) round could penetrate 41 mm of armor sloped at 60° at 100 m. At ranges of 500 m, the penetration dropped to 38 mm. The elevation of this gun went from –10° to +20° (–10° to 30° depending on the source). The ammunition load on the Ausf. B and C was reduced from the previous 122 to only 80 rounds. This was done mostly to reduce the weight of the vehicle. The ammunition was stored in holding bins, with 26 stored in the superstructure and the remaining 54 in the chassis. For the gunner’s protection, a recoil shield was added to the rear of the gun. Most of the Ausf. B and C vehicles were equipped with a ‘Y’ shaped metal rod antenna guide placed under the gun. Its purpose was to deflect the antenna and thus avoid damaging it during turret rotation.

The 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with the external gun mantled added on the later versions of the Panzer IV. Source: world-war-2.wikia.org

This gun was equipped with a TZF5b ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. This sight had a magnification of 2.5 and a field view of 25°. For aiming at the target, this gun sight had two engraved reticles. In the center of the first engraved reticle there was one large aiming triangle with smaller ones on both sides. The gunner had to aim the larger triangle at the enemy target, while the purpose of the smaller ones was to help in determining the target’s speed. This gun-sight was quite complicated to use and required that the gunner be well trained. The second reticle was used to help the gunner adjust the main gun to the necessary range. In combat, the gunners learned to simply use the turret coaxial machine gun to determine the range to the target. The Panzer IV was also provided with a clinometer for indirect fire support.

Under the telescopic sight, there were two mechanical handwheels for elevation and traverse of the main gun. The trigger for the 7.5 cm gun was located on the traverse handwheel. The turret was traversed via an electric motor located on the left side of the turret. The minimum traverse speed was 0.14° while the maximum speed was 14° per second. When the gunner engaged the traverse, the turret moved abruptly, which made it somewhat difficult to track moving targets. If for some reason (either combat damage or mechanical breakdown), this motor stopped working, the turret could also be manually traversed. There was a selector lever that switched between these two systems depending on the needs. While the gunner would operate the manual traverse of the turret, there was a larger hand crank that the loader could use. By using manual traversing, the gunner could rotate the turret by 1.9° per turn and the loader by 2.6°.

Besides the main gun, the Panzer IV was provided with one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun for use against infantry. The machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. The ammunition load for the single MG 34 was held in 18 belt sacks, each with 150 rounds, for a total of 2,700 rounds.

Organization and Tactics

Prior to the German invasion of Poland, the general organization of a Panzer Division consisted of two regiments each having two Panzer Battalions. These battalions were then divided into four companies. Although these units were meant to be equipped with modern Panzer III and IV tanks, due to the slow rate of production, this was not possible. For this reason, the earlier Panzer Divisions had to be equipped with weaker Panzer I and II tanks, and even captured and foreign vehicles like the Panzer 35(t) and 38(t). In the case of the Panzer IV, the situation was so critical that each Panzer Division could only be equipped with 24 (on average) such vehicles. The few produced Panzer IVs were allocated to the so-called Heavy Companies, which were divided into two platoons, each with 3 vehicles.

The primary function of the Panzer IV was to provide covering and suppressing fire for the advancing Panzer units. While they were used in Heavy Companies in combat situations, the battalion commanders would often reallocate the Panzer IV to other companies. These mixed units offered better cooperation between different types of Panzers, as the identification of targets could be achieved easier. Then, the Panzer IV crews could direct their firepower to destroy the marked target much quicker.

The usual German Panzer tactic was the use of the ‘Keil’ (wedge) formation. The tip of this attack would be formed by the Panzer III and Panzer 35 and 38 (t), while the Panzer I and II would advance on the flanks. The Panzer IVs were to follow up and would continue destroying any marked targets. The targets would usually be marked with tracer rounds or smoke marker shells. The Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm cannon was effective against all soft skin targets but was also effective against most tanks except for the better-armored ones, like the French Char B1 bis or British Matilda II.

In Combat

Due to the low production capabilities of the German war industry up to the outbreak of the war, only 211 Panzer IVs were available in September 1939. At the end of the Polish campaign, 19 Panzer IVs had been destroyed with 50 more being damaged or out of action either due to mechanical breakdowns or enemy fire. In Poland, the Panzer IV, despite its low numbers, performed well thanks to its gun, as it could easily destroy any Polish armored vehicle. Experience gained in this campaign showed the Germans that the concept of a support tank had merit. But as the Panzer IV was only available in limited numbers, it was not possible to distribute them to the Panzer Divisions in adequate numbers.

Panzer IV Ausf. B/C prior the war. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Depending on the source, between 278 and 296 Panzer IV tanks were available for the German invasion of western Europe. These were allocated to 10 Panzer Divisions. The 1st Panzer Division was provided with the largest number of Panzer IVs, with a total of 48, while the 9th Panzer Division had only 11. Here too, the Panzer IV proved to be effective in destroying most Allied tanks except for the heavier ones. The B1 bis’ front armor proved to be impenetrable to the German 3.7 and 7.5 cm tank guns.

A column of Panzer IV Ausf B. Source: warspot.ru

The ineffectiveness of the German guns against the B1 bis can be seen during the fighting at the village of Stonne near Sedan on 16th May. During this engagement, one Panzer IV managed to shoot 20 rounds against the frontal armor of a B1 bis without any success. But the Panzer IV managed to destroy the French tank’s track and render it immobile. At the same time, a second B1 bis was engaged by the same Panzer IV, but this time due a lucky hit jammed the second French tank’s cupola. The Panzer IV managed to fire another round to the rear, and this time the 7.5 cm gun managed to penetrate the rear armor of the B1 bis. Total losses of Panzer IV tanks during the campaign in the West were around 98 tanks.

A Panzer IV Ausf B/C during the French campaign. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The Ausf. B and C would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece. By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517, with each Panzer Division receiving, on average, 30 vehicles. While the Panzer IV proved to be effective against the lightly armored Soviet tanks (for example the T-26 or BT-series), the newer T-34 and KV-series proved to be too much for it.

Despite having been built in relatively small numbers, both the Ausf. B and C versions would remain in active service up to 1943. By that time, their numbers were reduced due to attrition. The surviving vehicles were given to training units. In June 1944, during the Allied invasion in Normandy, a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. Bs would be used in front line action, where they were probably all lost.

Panzer IV Ausf. B or C (at the back) somewhere in the Soviet Union. Source: Unknown
A destroyed Panzer Ausf. B or C. The increase in frontal armor protection was still insufficient for frontline use, especially from 1941 on. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
A small number of Panzer IV Ausf. B tanks would see action during the German attempts to drive the Allies back to the sea in 1944. Source: warspot.ru

Other Modifications

The Panzer IV Ausf.C chassis would be used for testing different equipment and weapon systems. There were two versions with bridging equipment, a mobile rocket launcher, training vehicle, a mine roller and a proposed recoilless rifle-armed version.

Brückenleger IV

Prior to the war, the German army was interested in the idea of bridge carrying Panzers. In 1939, Krupp developed and built six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis. While these saw deployment on the front, their overall performance was deemed insufficient and no more Brückenleger based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis were ever built. At least three Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis would be rebuilt as standard tanks in July and August 1940, but using Ausf. E superstructures and Ausf. C turrets.

Overall, six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis were built, but their performance was unsatisfactory. Source: warspot.ru

Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer)

The Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer), also known (depending on the source) as the Infanterie Sturmsteg auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV, was the second version of a Panzer IV equipped with bridging equipment. In contrast to the previous version, instead of the bridges, this vehicle was equipped with ladders that could be extended. This vehicle, in essence, used slightly modified firefighting ladders to help infantrymen cross obstacles like rivers. Two or four (depending on the source) Panzer IV Ausf. C were modified for this purpose. The sources do not specify if these vehicles were modified from the original tanks or made using repaired vehicles.

Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer) which had lost much of its suspension, probably to an enemy mine. Source: unknown

Panzer IV Ausf. C Raketenwerfer

One Panzer IV Ausf.C would be used to test the possibility of using this tank as a mobile rocket launcher. The modification included the removal of the Panzer IV turret and replacing it with a new turret with a fully rotatable rocket launching system. This system consisted of four 280 mm rockets placed in a movable and protected frame. For raising and lowering the rocket’s frame, a hydraulic drive was used. In front of the rocket frame, a small armored cabin was placed, where the gunner would sit. This cabin was also provided with a ball mounted machine gun. After testing of this new weapon system, it was not adopted for service, probably due to the high demand for Panzer IV tanks.

Panzer IV Ausf. C raketenwerfer Source: theminiaturespage.com

Fahrschulpanzer IV

As the Panzer IV Ausf. B/C tanks were recalled from front line service, a number of vehicles were modified to be used as training vehicles. This involved the removal of the turret with its armament and of the ammunition racks. A rail was placed around the turret hole.

A training Panzer IV based on the Ausf. B or C chassis. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Panzer IV mit Minenrollern

One Panzer IV Ausf. C was used to test mine rollers. Two would be attached in front of the tracks and one to the rear to detonate mines which passed between the two front rollers. Due to problems with steering, it appears that these rollers were never adopted for service.

Panzer IV with experimental anti-mine rollers. Source: Pinterest

Panzer IV with 7.5 cm Recoilless Guns

During the war, there was a proposal to mount two 7.5 cm Rücklauflos Kanone 43 recoilless guns in the turret sides of a modified Panzer IV. Additionally, one more 3 cm MK 103 autocannon was to be used instead of the main 7.5 cm gun. The project led nowhere and only a wooden mockup was built. While the sources do not mention which precise Panzer IV version was to be used for this modification, the wooden mockup shows a Panzer IV Ausf. B or C hull and gun mantlet.

A wooden mockup of the unusual Panzer IV armed with recoilless rifles. It was based (at least this mockup) on the Panzer IV Ausf. B or C. Source: www.onthewaymodels.com

Conclusion

Viewed from today’s perspective, the development of two significantly different types of tanks which were to perform different roles on the battlefield seems odd at best. The development of one vehicle capable of performing both anti-tank and support roles (eventually two variants of the same vehicle) would have been a far easier solution. It would have made production faster and reduced the need for production of two types of spare parts.

Designed to improve the Panzer IV’s overall performance, the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C solved some shortcomings of the previous version, mostly in regard of their increased frontal armor protection and the installation of a stronger engine. Both versions served as an important element of the Panzer Divisions in the earlier war years. While nearly 200 of both versions were built, there was still room for future improvements and this would lead to the development of more Panzer IV versions.



A Panzer IV Ausf.B, possibly from 2.Kompanie 15.Panzer-Regiment, 5. Panzer-Division, Poland, September 1939. Notice the classical makeshift camouflage, with a hastily sprayed reddish-brown and yellow unit markings.


A Panzer IV Ausf.C, 8th Korps, IInd Abteilung, 35th Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzerdivision – France, May-June 1940.


A Panzer IV Ausf.B of the 21st Panzerdivision – Normandy, June 1944.

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

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 18 tonnes (39,683 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 108TR 230 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 32.4 km/h, 10 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 210 km, 130 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 7.5 cm KwK L/24
Secondary Armament Two 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Turret Armor front 16 mm, sides 14.5 mm, rear 14.5 and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor front 10-14.5 mm, sides 10-14.5 mm, rear 14.5 mm and the top and bottom 8-10 mm.

Sources

K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1997) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
B, Perrett (2007) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45, Osprey Publishing
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
S.J. Zaloga (2011) Panzer IV vs. Char B1 Bis, Osprey publishing
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.
H. Scheibert, Die Deutschen Panzer Des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Dörfler.
P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions: The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-40. Osprey Publishing

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. A

Nazi Germany (1935)
Medium Support Tank – 35 built

During the early development of the Panzer IV, no one involved in the program knew that this vehicle, designed to serve as a support Panzer, would become the Wehrmacht’s backbone for a good deal of the war. While today the Tiger and Panther are better known, the Panzer IV was produced in the greatest numbers and served on all fronts in many bloody engagements throughout the war. The development of this tank began in the mid-thirties, leading to the first model, the Panzer IV Ausf. A, being built. While this version was built in small numbers, it was more important as a starting point for the German designers in gaining valuable experience with this kind of vehicle.

Initial German Tank Developments

During the twenties, the German army began showing interest in the development and construction of tanks (Panzer in German), despite such a thing being banned by the Treaty of Versailles. One of the earlier attempts was the Leichttraktor (light tractor) armed with a 37 mm anti-tank gun. Beside this project, there was also a series of so-called ‘Grosstraktor’ (large tractor) built and tested in the late twenties which were armed with larger 7.5 cm guns. Another example was the ‘Neubaufahrzeug’ (new construction vehicle) built in 1934. The names of these vehicles may seem a little odd at first, but they were given in order to deceive the Western Allies about their actual purpose. The Germans were at this time still forbidden from developing and producing tanks. These vehicles were built in small numbers only and were used primarily for testing and gaining valuable experience in tank construction.

The Grosstraktor was one of the earlier German attempts to domestically design and produce tanks. Few were built and they were used mostly for evaluation and initial crew training. Source: warspot.rui

One of the main problems encountered with the development of these earlier vehicles (especially the Neubaufahrzeug) was the use of modified aircraft engines. These engines produce very high torque at low speeds (1400 to 1600 rpm) which forced the Germans to use heavier drives than otherwise needed. Due to restrictions in weight (in order to cross bridges), the armor had to be thinner, the crew had to be smaller and the size of the gun was limited. Other issues included the overcomplicated suspension and the position of the drive sprocket.

In order to solve these issues, Wa Pruef 6 (the German armor design office which was part of the ordnance department) insisted that, for the new series of medium Panzers initially named ‘Verbesserten Neubau Fahrzeug’ (Improved New Construction Vehicle), a specially designed engine would be used. The well known Maybach factory was chosen as it had experience in engine development from its production of Zeppelin airship engines. In addition, great attention would also be given to the development of an improved suspension system. From these demands appeared the Begleitwagen, from which the future Panzer IV would eventually arise.

The Neubaufahrzeug, despite being built in small numbers (only five vehicles), still saw limited service within the German Army during the invasion of Norway in 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Name

‘Begleitwagen’, shortened B.W., can be translated as escort vehicle, or even as escort tank. Although it is quite common in modern sources to see B.W. being taken to mean ‘Bataillonfuehrerwagen’ (battalion commander’s vehicle), the use of this term dates from Rheinmetall wrongly designating the B.W. as ‘Bataillonwagen’ (battalion vehicle) in 1943. Post-war historians reused this term and added on the ‘fuehrer’ to create the incorrect ‘Bataillonfuehrerwagen’ designation. In any case, the initial use of the Begleitwagen designation was meant to hide the true purpose of this vehicle from the rest of the world, as the development of tanks was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

In March 1935, the German government officially decided to publicly renounce the Treaty of Versailles. For this reason, there was no more need to disguise the true nature of these vehicles. The initial name Begleitwagen would be replaced with Gesch.Kpfw. (75 mm) Vs.Kfz.618 (Geschütz Kampfwagen 75 mm Versuchs Kraftfahrzeug 618 – 75 mm Gun Tank Test Vehicle). On 3rd April 1936, the name was changed to Panzerkampfwagen IV (75 mm) Vs.Kfz.622. This vehicle would also receive the Ausführung (version or type) A (Ausf. A for short) suffix to distinguish it from later models. Most sources use the much simpler Panzer IV Ausf.A designation. This article will use this shorter term for the sake of simplicity.

Development of the Support Tank Concept

The development of the medium Panzers was already underway during the early thirties. In top military circles, which included Generalmajor Oswald Lutz and his Chief of Staff Oberstleutnant Heinz Guderian of In 6 (Inspektorat 6, the inspectorat for mechanization), two new Panzer concepts were being formed. One was to be developed to counter enemy tanks, named Z.W., ‘Zugführerwagen’ (platoon commander’s vehicle). Initially, this vehicle was to be armed with a 3.7 cm gun.

The second concept was to act as a support vehicle for the Z.W., with a larger caliber gun firing mostly high explosive ammunition. For this reason, the B.W. was to be equipped with one 7.5 cm gun which would enable it to destroy enemy bunkers, anti-tank guns and machine-gun nests. Additional requirements for the B.W. were an overall weight of 18 tons, armor thickness between 5 and 14.5 mm, being powered by a 320 hp engine, a top speed of at least 30 km/h, dimensions of around 5600 x 2900 x 2650 mm, the ability to cross 2.2 m-wide trenches and to climb a 30° slope. The last requirement regarded the ammunition capacity, calling forth 140 rounds for the main gun and 3000 rounds for the machine guns. The work on the B.W. was officially approved by In 6 on 25th February 1934. Two firms, Rheinmetall and Krupp, would compete to design this vehicle.

The Unsuccessful Rheinmetall Begleitwagen

Rheinmetall had been involved in the earlier Panzer development program and was, for unknown reasons, favored by Generalmajor Lutz. In 1932, he insisted that the development of Panzers should be given to one firm only: Rheinmetall. This company designed and built the Neubaufahrzeug, which proved to be an unsuccessful and outdated design. Despite this, Rheinmetall received a contract in February 1935 for building the first prototype for the new B.W. vehicle.

The resulting design weighed 18 tons, with 13 to 20 mm of armor. Its armament consisted of a 7.5 cm gun and two machine guns. With its 300 hp engine, the maximum speed was estimated to be around 35 km/h. This vehicle had a running gear which consisted of eight small road wheels connected in pairs, three return rollers (on each side), two front driver sprockets and two idlers. The suspension design was more or less taken from another Rheinmetall vehicle, the Neubaufahrzeug. One wooden model and one soft steel vehicle were built, but no production orders were given and the design was rejected.

While the German army initially showed interest in the Rheinmetall design, it was not accepted for service. Possibly to save time and resources, Rheinmetall simply reused the suspension of the earlier Neubaufahrzeug. Source: warspot.ru

The Krupp Design

The Krupp company was also involved in the initial steps of designing Panzers, but was also involved in designing and building the turret for the Rheinmetall Neubaufahrzeug. In later years, the Krupp company would be the chief turret designer for most German tanks during the war.

The B.W.I Kp prototype easily identified by its eight road wheels. Photo: valka.cz

During April 1934, Krupp offered the German army two different projects for the B.W. requirement. Both vehicles were to be armed with the same 7.5 cm main gun and two machine guns. The first was designed as a 17.2 ton tank with 20 mm of frontal and 14 mm of side armor. The second one was somewhat heavier (18.5 tons), having thicker 30 mm front and 20 mm side armor. There was also a proposal to add a secondary sub-turret (possibly armed with two machine guns), possibly on the right side of the superstructure, somewhat similar to the Rheinmetall prototype. Great attention was given to the development of the suspension and, after a series of trials, two models were proposed, using eight wheels or six larger ones.

While similar to the later Panzer IV Ausf.A, there were a number of changes that were made to the Krupp BW design seen here. The most obvious was the completely flat roof of the superstructure, while the Panzer IV had a sloping downwards design at the front, just above the driver and the radio-operator’s stations. Source: warspot.ru

In July of 1935, Krupp received an order to produce one B.W.I Kp (with eight road wheels) prototype vehicle. In October the same year, another order was given for the production of the B.W.II Kp (with six road wheels). In January of 1936, Krupp received orders for the production of the B.W. superstructure, main turret and smaller sub-turret.

A fully operational B.W.I Kp was completed by the end of April 1936. Shortly after, the B.W. II Kp prototype without the turret was also constructed. The fate of the sub-turret variant is not clear but it is possible that it was never implemented on any Krupp prototype. While neither of these two vehicles would enter serial production, the B.W.I Kp would, with a number of improvements and modifications, be used as base for the future Panzer IV. Both prototype vehicles would be used for testing and evaluation, including trials of bridge-laying equipment.

A side view of the unfinished B.W.I Kp prototype. Source: warspot.ru
The B.W. II Kp prototype can be easily identified by the six larger road wheels. While it was not accepted for service, it was still used for testing, including for bridge-laying equipment, as seen here. Source: Pinterest

Connection to the VK 20.01 Series

In some sources (like D. Nešić, Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, for example), it is noted that the Panzer IV was actually based on a series of experimental armored vehicles called VK 20.01 (VK is for Vollketten – fully tracked). It is important to note that this is not exactly true, mainly due to the fact that the VK 20.01 project was initiated in 1938 as a replacement for the Panzer III and IV. In addition, the aforementioned Rheinmetall B.W. prototype was never called VK 2001 (Rh) by the Germans at that time.

The Panzerkampfwagen IV

The German army officials were generally satisfied with Krupp’s B.W.I prototype and asked for a small series of improved ‘1.Serie/B.W.’ (1./B.W.) to be built. The new vehicle was visually the same as the B.W.I prototype, but with many improvements and modifications. Some of these included the almost complete use of welding for the armor, a different commander’s cupola, a modified superstructure, adding a stronger and larger 230 hp@ 2600 rpm Maybach HL108 TR engine, changing the shape of the drive sprocket and idler, and several other more minor adjustments.

A brand new Krupp-produced Panzer IV Ausf.A (chassis number 80113) in February 1938. Source: warspot.ru

Production

Production of the first Panzer IV was carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. It began in October 1937 and, by March (or June depending on the source) 1938, all 35 vehicles were completed. Despite the general misconception nowadays that the Germans had a well developed and advanced industry, in reality this was not exactly the case. The long time to build just 35 vehicles is proof of this, as Krupp simply had no capacity (at least prior to the war) for mass production of tanks. The chassis numbers of these vehicles run from 80101 to 80135.

Specifications

The Hull

The Panzer IV hull was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and enclosed driving compartment. The lower part of the hull had 10 different sizes of openings to allow easier maintenance for the crew. In the case of an emergency, the crew could use the round escape hatch door located beneath the radio operator’s seat. 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 brake inspection hatches were added.

The Superstructure

The superstructure was added atop the Panzer IV hull to provide sufficient protection for the crew members. To provide sufficient working space and ammunition storage, it was wider than the hull. It consisted of four welded plates (one at the front, one on each side and one at the rear) and the armored roof plates. The front plate was not flat, with the driver plate protruding out. This was done to provide the driver with a better view to the front and sides when driving. On the front side of this plate, a protective driver’s visor port was placed, which was provided with thick armored glass for extra protection. When this visor was closed (usually when in combat operations), the driver would then use the KFF binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor port. On the right side of the protruding driver plate, an observation hatch with no visor was placed. In front of the radio operator’s position to the right of the front plate was a ball mount for a machine gun.

The side armored plates were placed vertically and were curved inwards toward the front plate. A visor port was added on each side. On the left side, there was a ventilation opening for the steering brakes. To protect this vulnerable spot, an armored covering was added. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall.

The roof armor plate was mostly flat, beside the front part (above the driver and radio operator), which was angled slightly downwards. To gain access to their position, the driver and the radio operator were each provided with a two-part hatch located on the front roof armor. Each of these hatch doors had a small round port for the use of signal flares.

Here we can observe the front superstructure with the machine gun ball mount and the open driver’s visor ports. Also we can also see the transmission and the two steering brake inspection hatches on the front hull. Source: unknown

Interestingly, the last five produced Panzer IV Ausf. A had a new redesigned Panzer IV Ausf. B hull, which had 30 mm of frontal armor. In February 1941, all surviving Panzer IV Ausf. As were reinforced with additional 30 mm thick front plate armor.

A wooden mockup of the redesigned superstructure that would be used on the last five Panzer IV Aus.A vehicles. Source: warspot.ru

The Turret

The Panzer IV Ausf.A turret had a front hexagonal-shaped armor plate with two small observation hatches placed on either side of the centrally positioned main gun. Each of the turret sides had observation vision ports and a one-piece hatch for the crew. For protection against infantry attack, the turret had two square shaped machine gun ports located on the rear curved armor plate. To provide a good ventilation for extraction of propellant fumes, a ventilation flap was installed on the turret top. Inside the Panzer IV Ausf. A, an auxiliary DKW gasoline engine was provided to power the electric engine that was used to traverse the turret. A round fuel supply opening for the DKW engine, was placed on the rear left of the superstructure roof. The turret was, from March 1941 on, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear.

At the rear of the turret, a commander’s cupola was placed. The commander’s cupola had a simple drum shape and eight small vision slits. These slits were protected with 12 mm thick armored glass which offered the commander limited protection from bullet splash. On top of the cupola, a two-piece hatch door was installed. Its purpose was to allow the commander to enter his position, but also to provide a good all-around view when not engaged in combat.

The Panzer IV Ausf.A had a turret ring with a diameter of 1680 mm. This turret ring was provided with ball bearings which would allow the turret to rotate freely. The small opening between the turret and the superstructure was protected with angular shaped deflectors.

Rear view of the Panzer IV turret, with the two machine gun ports. The simple drum shaped commander’s cupola is also easily visible. Source: warspot.ru

In order to implement a kind of standardisation between different Panzer vehicles, the Panzer IV Ausf.A used vision ports taken from the Panzer II Ausf.A. In addition, the commander’s cupola was taken from the Panzer III Ausf.B vehicle.

Suspension and Running Gear

During the development of the Krupp prototype that would eventually lead to the Panzer IV, at least five different suspension systems were tested, including a torsion bar suspension which was favored by some officials from the Wa Pruef 6. This suspension was tested on the B.W.II but proved to be a failure. The reason for this was the fact that each torsion bar had to be provided with a shock absorber. These absorbers were often prone to overheating, which led to problems with the suspension. For this reason, Krupp’s chief tank designer Ober.Ing. Woelfert insisted on using a self-dampening leaf spring suspension. While it was not perfect, it had a much simpler design and was easier to build. Another advantage of this leaf spring suspension was the ease of field repair in case of a malfunction or combat damage.

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. At the front, two drive sprockets (with 18-teeth) were placed, and on the reinforced back hull two idlers were positioned. The tracks used on the initial production Panzer IVs were 360 mm wide and were connected using pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. For a vehicle weighing 18 tonnes (or 17.3 tonnes depending on the source), this suspension system was considered adequate, but proved to be problematic later in the war due to the extra added weight of following upgrades.

The Panzer IV Ausf. A suspension can be clearly seen here. While not perfect, it was easy to build and to replace damaged parts. Source: warspot.ru

The Engine and Transmission

The engine used on this vehicle was the Maybach HL 108TR which produced 230 hp@2600 rpm. The maximum speed was 32 km/h (or 10 km/h cross-country) with an operational range of 210 km and 130 km cross country. The fuel load of 470 l (or 453 l or depending on the source) was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the crew fighting compartment. If needed, there was a valve system that allowed the crew to use the fuel of each tank individually by closing the fuel supply from the other two.

The Panzer IV’s engine cooling system consisted of two coupled radiators placed at a 25° angle. The air was then sucked in by two large cooling fans which were driven by a ‘V’ shaped belt from the crankshaft. This cooling system was designed to provide effective cooling in temperatures of up to +30° Celsius. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. The crew could, if needed, gain access to the engine through a door placed at this firewall.

The ‘Allklaunen SFG 75’ five-speed (and one reverse) transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism used in the Panzer IV Ausf. A was of the ‘Wilson’ type, which was designed and produced by Krupp.

The Panzer IV Ausf.A turret was not centrally positioned and was actually offset to the left side of the superstructure by around 6.67 cm. The engine was also offset some 15 cm to the right. This arrangement was done so that the driveshaft did not interfere with the electrical supply system of the turret.

The Armor Protection

The general armor protection of the first Panzer IV Ausf.A was rather weak, ranging between 8 to 16 mm. For the lower hull, the upper front armor plate was 10 mm thick at a 72° angle, and the lower plate was 14.5 mm placed at a 14° angle. The side armor was 14.5 mm thick, the rear was 10-14.5 mm and the bottom was 8 mm.

The front hull armor was 14.5 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 14.5 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 10 mm thick armor (at a 35° angle) at the sides and 14.5 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear.

The front turret armor was 16 mm (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 14.5 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). Depending on the source, the front armor thickness of the turret varies between 15 to 20 mm. The commander’s cupola had all-around 14.5 mm of armor, with the two hatch doors being 8 mm thick.

The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous and rolled plates. The Panzer IV Ausf.A armor was designed primarily to provide protection from 7.92 mm armor piercing bullets usually fired from anti-tank rifles. The anti-tank rifles were a typical infantry weapon to fight tanks in the thirties and in the earliest stages of the war. The Panzer IV Ausf.A armor provided almost no protection from any larger caliber anti-tank guns.

From August 1938 on, nearly all German Panzers were equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (a smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer IV’s commander. When activated, the Panzer would then drive backward to the safety of the smoke screen. This system was not very effective and was replaced with turret mounted smoke grenade launchers later in the war.

The rear hull mounted Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung smoke grenade rack, seen here mounted on a Panzer III. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

The Crew

The Panzer IV had a crew of five which included the commander, gunner and loader who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull. This five man crew configuration was a rarity at that time and provided the Germans with a huge advantage during the earlier stages of the war.

The Panzer IV commander (Kommandant) was positioned in the rear center of the turret. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a cupola. For crew communication, the commander was provided with an intercom system in the form of a laryngophone.

During the early testing with the Grosstraktor (held in Kazan in the Soviet Union), the Germans noted that the commander should not be involved in any duties beside his intended role, such as loading or firing the gun. If the commander was distracted, the overall performance of the Panzer would be much reduced, as he could not pay proper attention to his surroundings (for example the position of friendly or enemy units.). For this reason, the commander was provided with a cupola that had an all-around view and was tasked with directing the whole crew. This simple innovation gave the Germans a huge tactical advantage in the earlier stages of the war. For example, French and Soviet tank commanders also had to perform other roles like serving the gun and even loading, which greatly diminished the performance of their tanks despite having better armor and weapons than the Germans.

All Panzer IVs had a crew of five, which provided the German Panzer units with a significant tactical advantage, as each crew member had a precise job to accomplish. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The gunner (Richtkanonier) was positioned to the left while the loader (Ladekanonier) was to the right of the main gun. While not in combat, the loader could use a folding seat on the right side of the turret. Once in combat, in order to get the stored ammunition, he would simply fold the seat to the side and then stand on the turret basket floor.

The driver’s position (Fahrer) was on the front left side of the hull. The last crew member was the radio operator (Funker), who was positioned on the front hull’s right side. His main job was to operate the Fu 6 and Fu 2 transmitter-receiver radio set, which had an effective range of about 2 km. This radio was mounted just above the transmission. A folding 2 m long antenna rod with its wooden protective rail was placed on the Panzer IV’s right superstructure side. The secondary duty of the radio operator was to use the hull mounted 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun.

The Armament

The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. A was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. KwK stands for ‘Kampfwagenkanone’ which could be translated as combat vehicle cannon or, more simply, as tank gun. The short barrel had 28 grooves, each 0.85 mm deep. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. The Panzer IV Ausf. A had an internal gun mantlet which was not too effective. Later Panzer IV versions had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that stood outside of the turret and the gun were covered by a steel jacket and a deflector guard. For the gunner’s protection, a recoil shield was added to the rear of the gun. On a number of Panzer IV Ausf. A (and even later models), a ‘Y’ shaped metal rod antenna guide was added under the gun. Its purpose was to deflect the antenna and thus avoid damaging it during turret rotation.

The 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with the external gun mantled added on the later versions of the Panzer IV. Source: world-war-2.wikia.org

This gun had a muzzle velocity of 325 m/s and proved to have satisfactory precision in combat operations and was even used to arm the early series of the StuG III vehicles. The Panzer IV Ausf.A was primarily meant to destroy soft skin targets, anti-tank positions etc. and was thus mostly equipped with high explosive and smoke rounds. The armor piercing (AP) round could penetrate 41 mm of armor sloped at 60° at 100 m. At ranges of 500 m, the penetration dropped to 38 mm. The elevation of this gun went from –10° to +20° (–10° to 30° depending on the source). Originally, the ammunition load consisted of 140 rounds but was reduced to 122 rounds from December 1938 on in order to reduce weight. The ammunition was stored in holding bins located on the hull sides and floor.

This vehicle had a metal antenna guide installed under the gun. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

This gun was equipped with a TZF5b ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. This sight had a magnification of 2.5 and a field view of 25°. For aiming at the target, this gun sight had two engraved reticles. In the centre of the first engraved reticle there was one large aiming triangle with smaller ones on both sides. The gunner had to aim the larger triangle at the enemy target, while the purpose of the smaller ones was to help in determining the target’s speed. This gun-sight was quite complicated to use, and required that the gunner be well trained. The second reticle was used to help the gunner adjust the main gun to the necessary range. In combat, the gunners learned to simply use the turret coaxial machine gun to determine the range to the target. The Panzer IV Ausf. A was also provided with a clinometer for indirect fire support.

Under the telescopic sight there were two mechanical hand wheels for elevation and traverse of the main gun. The trigger for the 7.5 cm gun was located on the traverse handwheel. The turret was traversed via an electric motor located on the left side of the turret. Minimum traverse speed was 0.14° while the maximum speed was 14° per second. When the gunner engaged the traverse, the turret moved abruptly, which made it somewhat difficult to track moving targets. If, for some reason (either combat damage or mechanical breakdown), this motor stopped working, the turret could also be manually traversed. There was a selector lever which switched between these two systems depending on the needs. While the gunner would operate the manual traverse of the turret, there was a larger hand crank that the loader could use. By using manual traversing, the gunner could rotate the turret by 1.9° and the loader 2.6° per turn.

Beside the main gun, the Panzer IV Ausf.A was provided with two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns for defense against infantry. One was mounted in a ball mount in the hull and was operated by the radio operator. The second machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. The ammunition load for the two MG 34’s was 3000 rounds. There was an option for installing an anti-aircraft machine gun mount on the Panzer IV Ausf.A, but its use was discarded in early 1938 and it was never used in combat.

Organization and Tactics

Prior to the German invasion of Poland, the general organization of a Panzer Division consisted of two regiments each having two Panzer Battalions. These battalions were then divided into four companies. Although these units were meant to be equipped with modern Panzer III and IV tanks, due to the slow rate of production, this was not possible. For this reason, the earlier Panzer Divisions had to be equipped with weaker Panzer I and II tanks, and even captured vehicles like the Panzer 35 and 38(t). In the case of the Panzer IV, the situation was so critical that each Panzer Division could only be equipped with 24 (on average) such vehicles. The few produced Panzer IV were allocated to the so-called Heavy companies, which were divided into two platoons each with 3 vehicles.

The primary function of the Panzer IV was to provide covering and suppressing fire for the advancing Panzer units. While they were used in Heavy companies in combat situations, the battalion commanders would often reallocate the Panzer IV to other companies. These mixed units offered better cooperation between different types of Panzers, as the identification of targets could be achieved easier. Then, the Panzer IV crews could direct their firepower to destroying the marked target much quicker.

The usual German Panzer tactic was the use of the ‘Keil’ (wedge) formation. The tip of this attack would be formed by the Panzer III and Panzer 35 and 38 (t), while the Panzer I and II would advance on the flanks. The Panzer IV were to follow up, and would continue destroying any marked targets. The targets would usually be marked with tracer rounds or smoke marker shells. The Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm cannon was effective against all soft skin targets, but was also effective against most tanks except for the better-armored ones like the French Char B1 or British Matilda II.

In Combat

The first two completed Panzer IV Ausf.A were given to the Waffenamt inspectors by the end of November 1937, with the last vehicle being accepted in June 1938. Before the war, the Panzer IV Ausf.A was used on military parades. They were also employed during the Anschluss of Austria and the occupation of Sudetenland.

Panzer IV Ausf.A on a pre-war military parade. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Due to the low production capabilities of the German war industry by the time of the outbreak of the war, only 211 Panzer IVs were available in September 1939, including 30 Ausf.A, the remaining 5 being used for testing. At the end of the Polish campaign, 19 Panzer IV had been destroyed with 50 more being damaged or out of action either due to mechanical breakdowns or enemy fire. In Poland, the Panzer IV Ausf. A, while effective in its original role, proved to be vulnerable to nearly all enemy anti-tank weapons because of its weak armor. On the other hand, the gun could easily destroy any Polish armored vehicle, being themselves only lightly armored.

The Panzer IV Ausf. A saw action in Norway and also participated during the German offensive in the West in May 1940. Here too, the Panzer IV Ausf. A proved to be effective in destroying most Allied tanks except for the heavier ones. The surviving Panzer IV Ausf. A remained in use up to the spring of 1941, when they were (mostly due to the very weak armor) removed from service and given to training units.

Panzer IV Ausf.A during the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Source: https: www.worldwarphotos.info
Due to its weak armor, the Panzer IV Ausf. A was easy prey to almost any anti-tank weapon. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Conclusion

Viewed from today’s perspective (with the hindsight of what happened during the war), the development of two significantly different types of tanks which were to perform different roles on the battlefield seems odd at best. The development of one vehicle capable of performing both anti-tank and support roles (eventually two variants of the same vehicle) would have been a much easier solution. It would have made production faster and reduced the need for production of two types of spare parts.

The development of a support tank led to the Panzer IV Ausf. A being built. While it was lightly armored, it had a five man crew, good mobility, solid firepower and, with modern tactics, showed that this concept had merit in the earlier years of the war. Despite the fact that the later versions of the Panzer IV would become capable of filling both roles, the first model Panzer IV Ausf. A was one of the earlier first steps in the development of the famous Panzer Formations.



A Panzer IV Ausf.A, Poland, 4th Company, 1st Abteilung, 1st Panzer Regiment, 1st Panzerdivision. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 18 tonnes (39,683 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion Maybach HL 108TR 230 HP @ 2600 rpm
Speed (road/off road) 32.4 km/h, 10 km/h (cross country)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 210 km, 130 km (cross country)
Primary Armament 7.5 cm KwK L/24
Secondary Armament Two 7.92 mm MG 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Turret Armor front 16 mm, sides 14.5 mm, rear 14.5 and top 8-10 mm
Hull Armor front 10-14.5 mm, sides 10-14.5 mm, rear 14.5 mm and the top and bottom 8-10 mm.

Sources

K. Hjermstad (2000), Panzer IV Squadron/Signal Publication.
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1997) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2001) Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
B, Perrett (2007) Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45, Osprey Publishing
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
Walter J. Spielberger (1993). Panzer IV and its Variants, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
S.J. Zaloga (2011) Panzer IV vs. Char B1 Bis, Osprey publishing
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F (Sd.Kfz.171)

Nazi Germany (1945)
Medium tank – Small number of unfinished hulls and turrets. At least one F/G hybrid.

As early as 1943, the Germans sought to design a new turret for the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther (Sd.Kfz.171). The Rheinmetall-designed turret that the Panther was equipped with was considered to be an inefficient design with various flaws. Wa Prüf 6, a department of the Waffenamt tasked with designing and testing armored vehicles, presumably thought that Rheinmetall could redeem themselves by redesigning the new turret. Wa Prüf 6 required that the new turret was to have a smaller visible frontal area, elimination or reduction of the mantlet’s shot trap from the original Panther turret (which tended to deflect rounds into the hull), increase in armor protection, and internally mount a stereoscopic rangefinder, while weighing no more than the original Panther turret.

On March 1, 1943, Rheinmetall created conceptual turret design drawing, H-Sk 88517, otherwise known as the ‘Turm-Panther (schmale Blende)’ (English: ‘Turret-Panther (narrow mantlet)’) under these requirements. The stereoscopic rangefinder was able to be accommodated by creating a significant bulge at the top of the turret. In addition, a periscopic gun sight was considered over a standard telescopic gun sight. The frontal turret armor had a thickness of 120mm set at an angle of 12 degrees, a thickness of 60mm at the sides and rear set at an angle of 25 degrees, and a thickness of 40mm set at an angle of 17 and 7 degrees on the turret roof. With these changes in mind, everything else was to be the same as the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.A’s turret.

The schmale Blende seems to be some sort of adaption of Rheinmetall’s H-SKA 86176 otherwise known as ‘Turm Panther 2 (schmale Blendenausführung)’ (English: ‘Turret Panther 2 (narrow mantlet variant)’) which the drawing dates back to November 7, 1943. The turret served as one of several proposals for the Panzerkampfwagen Panther II. It lacked the triangular roof line which accommodated the rangefinder, the rangefinder itself, and the armored guard underneath the mantlet which was designed to prevent shot traps. It is unclear if the schmale Blende is a parallel development to schmale Blendenausführung or a way for Rheinmetall to salvage the design after the cancellation of the Panzerkampfwagen Panther II in May, 1944.

Drawings of Rheinmetall’s schmale Blende redesigned Panther turret. Source: Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy

Wa Prüf 6 was dissatisfied with Rheinmetall’s design for reasons unknown and, thus, in Spring of 1944, they handed the responsibility over to Daimler-Benz. Wa Prüf 6 gave a new set of requirements, most of which were the same as the original. The exceptions were exchanging the co-axial M.G.34 with the M.G.42, minimizing of the production cost, ability to be quickly converted into a Befehlswagen Panther (commander’s tank version of the Panther), and ability to use infrared night vision equipment.

Under these new specifications, the Schmalturm (English: ‘narrow turret’) was born. It did everything it was required to do and then some. It weighed less than the original Panther turret (from 7665 kg to 7565 kg) and made the area of the frontal armor smaller while not affecting the internal crew space. It also reduced the production time by about 30-40%. The new turret shared little to no relation to the original Panther turret, unlike its Rheinmetall predecessor.
It was then decided that the genesis of the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausführung F (Sd.Kfz.171) would be determined by mounting the Schmalturm on a slightly modified Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G hull.

Prototypes

Several Schmalturm prototypes, dubbed ‘Versuchs-Schmalturm’ (English: ‘experimental narrow turret’), are known to have been built for Wa Prüf 6. These were essentially experimental Schmalturm turrets on a Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G hull, effectively making them Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F prototypes.

The first Versuchs-Schmalturm, completed by August 20, 1944. It was mounted on Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G chassis number 120413, which was built by M.A.N. and was originally intended for combat. The chassis was instead used as a test bed. It featured a loader’s periscope on the turret roof which ended up being removed and the hole left from the installation was filled with a welded armor plug. A hole at the front of the turret was created for a telescopic gun sight, presumably a monocular version of the articulating T.Z.F.13 gun sight and an unspecified periscopic gun sight. ‘T.Z.F.’ stood for ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ (English: ‘turret gun sight’). The redesigned cupola had a hole to extend a T.S.R.1 observation periscope without opening the hatch.

Semple Tank undergoing trials
Front and side shot of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G. mounting the first Versuchs-Schmalturm. Source: Panzer Tracts

The second Versuchs-Schmalturm was built by January 4, 1945 and also mounted on a Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G, chassis number 120413 (according to a different source), which might suggest that the same chassis was used for both Versuchs-Schmalturm turrets. The new turret featured a S.Z.F.1 stabilized periscopic gun sight, but no hole for a telescopic gun sight. The hull was also photographed with ‘Schürzen’ side skirts and with the rain and debris guard band on top of the mantlet omitted. The muzzle brake was most likely omitted on this iteration.


Front photograph of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G mounting the second Versuchs-Schmalturm. Source: Panzer Tracts

Vision

One of the defining features of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F was the inclusion of a rangefinder. The E.M.1.32 m stereoscopic rangefinder was under development by Zeiss of Jena, Germany. ‘E.M.’ is an acronym for Entfernungsmesser (English: ‘rangefinder’) and ‘1.32 m’ stood for the length of the rangefinder. It has a magnification of 15x and a field of view of four degrees. However, no example of this rangefinder would ever be built. Development would end in April of 1945 and mass production was meant to begin in July of 1945. In order to accommodate the rangefinder, it was located near the front top of the Schmalturm. Two spherical bulges were created to properly accommodate the piece of equipment on both upper front sides of the turret.

Initially, the monocular, articulated telescopic T.Z.F.13 was the intended gun sight for the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F, developed by Leitz of Wetzlar, Germany. An aperture at the front of the turret would need to be created to accommodate the sight, a feature that the first Versuchs-Schmalturm possessed. The T.Z.F.13 had a selectable magnification of 2.5x and a field of view of 28 degrees and 6x with a field of view of 12 degrees. An order of 4208 T.Z.F.13 gun sights was placed from Leitz which only ended with the dismal production of two gun sights, one in October of 1944 and the other in January of 1945.

A general view of the binocular version of the T.Z.F.13 gun sight. Source: Walter J. Spielberger

It appears that the T.Z.F.13 and S.Z.F.1 gun sights were going to compliment each other with S.Z.F.1 acting as a supplement. However, the S.Z.F.1 ended up being chosen, seeing as a periscopic stabilized device was desired for series production of the Schmalturm turret. Ten trial series S.Z.F.1s were ordered from Leitz in 1944 which seemed to have resulted in the production of five examples from September to December, 1944. One thousand more production versions were ordered in January of 1945. Meanwhile, four S.Z.F.1b modified gun sights were produced in January and February 1945.

According to the President of the Panzer Kommission Stiele von Heydekampf, they became interested in stabilizing both guns and gun sights after the discovery of the Medium Tank, M3’s stabilizers during the North Africa Campaign. Heydekampf claimed that they had managed to build an experimental gun and gun sight stabilizers for the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther. However, he refused to give any additional details other than claim that the experiments were promising.

The optical parts of the S.Z.F.1 sight were built by Leitz of Weltzar, but the gyroscopic parts for vertically stabilizing the sight were provided by Fa. Kreiselgerate of Berlin.  Ernst Haas from the Berlin firm was credited as the inventor and designer. Haas claims that he invented the equipment prior to the Second World War and offered his patents to the American Sperry Gyroscope Company. The company offered him too little for his patents and thus Haas refused their offer. However, his claims contradict the claims of Ludwig Leitz, head of development at Leitz. A less refined sight similar to the S.Z.F.1 sight was found in the Leitz plant. Ludwig Leitz claims that the sight was captured on the Eastern Front. He also goes on to claims that the sight was being refined and copied by both Leitz and Kreiselgerate together.

The original precursor to the S.Z.F.1 sight lacked the ability to fire accurately while on the move. While the sight was stabilized in the vertical plane, the gun was not. This meant that one could easily use the sight for observation, but could not be used to accurately fire while the vehicle was moving. However, the inclusion of a “pre-ignition device”, as Haas called it, allowed it to fire with a degree of accuracy while the vehicle was moving. The “pre-ignition device” was, in reality, a gyroscopic rate-of-turn indicator that measured the rate of angular motion in the vertical plane. With this device, when the unstabilized gun and stabilized gun sight aligned at the right moment when moving, the gun would fire after the gunner has triggered the firing of the gun. There would thus be a delay until the gun and sight align. This effectively gave the tank the ability to fire accurately while driving albeit only when the inconsistent alignment occurred.

The S.Z.F.1 periscopic sight consists of the periscope, control box, and motor-generator. The control box sits at a “comfortable” proximity to the gunner. It features switches for correcting the optical sighting axis by elevating or lowering it, for power supply, lighting, and firing, and for the “arresting device”. The sight had a magnification of 3x and 6x with “clean” observation up to 6000 m, elevation/depression of ±18, and the gyros rotated at 28000 RPM. The device consumed 120 watts on the direct current side.

The S.Z.F.1 was seen as a very rugged and sturdy design which “works without the least failure” even beyond the elevation of the sight because of the “good arrangements of the gyros”. Trials showed a mean value of 10 rounds which each deviated ±0.5 m from a target 1000 meters away, which corresponded with the angular value of 0.5 milliradians.

It is not confirmed if the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F would have had the ability to fire on the move. It is known that the S.Z.F.1 was intended for the vehicle and that the second Versuchs-Schmalturm also equipped with it. The information on the performance and characteristics is based on Ernst Haas claims albeit in great detail. Without solid documentary evidence, this information should be used cautiously. The documentation doesn’t explicitly mention the S.Z.F.1, but it does provide photographs of the S.Z.F.1 implying that is what is being referred to. Speculatively, it could be possible that the S.Z.F.1b was the variant with the pre-ignition device equipped which would allow it to fire on the move accurately while the S.Z.F.1 was the original precursor that did not have this ability. Both sights were known to have been built.



Top: general view of the S.Z.F.1 motor generator (left) and control box (right). Bottom: general view of the S.Z.F.1 periscopic gun sight. Source: Stabilized Optical Sight for German Tank Guns

The loader’s periscope from the previous Panther turrets was carried over to the first Versuchs-Schmalturm and production Schmalturm turrets. However, a design change omitting the loader’s periscope occurred after production of the Schmalturm turret commenced. The hole for the loader’s periscope was plugged by a welded armor plug.

Compared to the earlier Panther cupolas, the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F tank’s cast cupola was lower in height and, as a result, presented a smaller target. It featured seven slots for easily replaceable watertight and bullet resistant periscopes. A traversable ring was mounted internally at the top of the cupola, where a V-shaped rangefinder, scissor telescope, FG 1250 infrared night vision device (of which can be screwed on easily), and an anti-aircraft machine gun mount could be mounted. Internally, a cupola azimuth indicator was located near the bottom of the cupola. The azimuth indicator showed the commander and the gunner the relative position of the turret to the hull and consisted of a “clock dial drive”, comprised of ring connected via a gear train to the turret.

Protection

The Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F featured overall improved armor on the turret and even the hull (although to a lesser extent) compared to previous Panthers. The armor plates were made from E22 alloy. Armor plates that ranged from 16-30mm thick had a Brinell hardness of 309 to 353, 278-324 for 35-50mm plates, and 265-309 for 55-80mm plates. Armor plate thickness were allowed to deviate 0% to 5% from the intended specifications. The cast armor portions were made from alloy ‘B’ and had a Brinell hardness of 220 to 336. Brinell scale is a standardized method of characterizing the hardness of a certain material.


Drawing of a production series Schmalturm for the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F. Both the telescopic and periscopic gun sights are drawn. Source: Panzer Tracts

The frontal turret armor plate thickness consisted of 120mm at 20 degrees, 60mm on the sides and rear at 25 degrees, 40mm flat on the roof, and 150mm of cast armor on the ‘Saukopf’ (English: pig’s head) style mantlet. The hull’s armor was largely the same as the Ausf.G, with the differences lying on the hull’s roof. With the hull’s armor being entirely made out of armor plating, the frontal upper glacis plate consisted of 80mm thick plate at 55 degrees, 50mm at 55 degrees for the frontal lower glacis, 50mm at 29 degrees for the upper side hull, 40mm vertically flat for the lower side hull, 40mm at 30 degrees at the rear, 40-25mm horizontally flat for the hull roof (compared to the Ausf.G’s 40-16mm), 16mm horizontally flat on the engine deck, 16mm horizontally flat on the panniers (plate protecting the bottom of the hull superstructure overhang above the tracks), 25mm flat at the frontward belly, and 16mm horizontally flat at the rearward belly.


An alternative or replacement Schmalturm design dating back to September 30, 1944 from Daimler-Benz for the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F shows it with 100mm thick frontal armor, 50mm thick sides and rear, and 30mm thick turret roof. It also lacks a periscopic gun sight and has a telescopic gun sight. Source: Panzer Tracts

The Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F was equipped with a Nahverteidigungswaffe (English: close defense weapon). The Nahverteidigungswaffe consisted of a circular plate bolted down with a 92mm launch tube angled at 39 degrees. It primarily fired Schnellnebelkerze 39 (English: ‘quick smokescreen’) smoke candles for concealment.


Drawings of the Nahverteidigungswaffe as shown in Panther and Tiger II manuals. Source: custermen.net

The new ventilator’s position for the fighting compartment made it more economic in armor parts. The ventilator was now mounted on the right front of the turret reinforcement ring and the ventilator’s fan also saw use as an extractor of fumes from firing the gun. Greater efficiency was gained by swapping the flexible ducting from the previous Panthers with a thin metal tubing.

Firepower

The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F tank’s main armament consisted of the 7.5cm Kw.K.44/1 L/70 developed by Skodawerke of Pilsen, Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren (English: ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’) (German-occupied Czechoslovakia), with the assistance of Krupp. The gun was essentially a 7.5cm Kw.K.42 L/70, but modified to be more compact by placing the buffer and recuperator below the gun instead of either side as on the 7.5cm Kw.K.42 L/70. The gun cradle was now welded and the air compressor set for the fume extractor was now replaced by an air pump cylinder by surrounding the recuperator with a single additional cylinder. The air pump cylinder activated once 420mm of recoil was reached. The muzzle brake was removed which caused the recoil force to increase from 12 to 18 tonnes, however, this omission was probably necessary to reach the 420mm of recoil. Few early 7.5cm Kw.K.44/1 L/70s were fitted with muzzle brakes and an example can be seen on the first Versuchs-Schmalturm. The Kw.K.44/1 weighed 1920 kg and had a muzzle kinetic energy of 285 tonnes.


Side shot of the 7.5cm Kw.K.44/1 L/70 with its mantlet. Source: Walter J. Spielberger

The 7.5cm Kw.K.44/2 L/70 was a further development of the 7.5cm Kw.K.44/1 L/70. Essentially, it was a Kw.K.44/1 with a mechanical rapid reload device weighing 3400 kg with the gun. The device consisted of a large structure to the right of the gun carriage which held 4 rounds This device, when activated by the recoil of the gun, would lift up a round onto a holder at the end of a pivoting arm. After the breech opened and ejected the spent casing, it stayed open and the holder would move downwards and a tension spring guide would insert the round into the breech. The breech would then close automatically which resulted in the release of pressure for the pivot arm spring which brought the holder back into a position to accept another round. When the gun fired the newly inserted round, the tension spring guide would reset and thus the process repeated. Three examples of the 7.5cm Kw.K.44/2 L/70 were built and sent to Unterlüß, Germany at the Rheinmetall-Borsig test range. The device gave the gun an impressive rate of fire of 40 rounds per minute albeit with only four rounds to fire. However, it would take a significant amount of space in the Schmalturm. Nevertheless, steps were taken to mount it in the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F.

All 82 rounds were stored in the hull, likely in the same fashion as the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G. carrying mostly Pzgr.39 (APCBC), Sprgr. (HE), and possibly a few Pzgr.40 (APCR) shells.

Due to the cancellation of production of the armored M.G.34, the M.G.42 was chosen as the replacement for the coaxial machine gun. A new mounting was designed in order to receive the M.G.42. The mounting was attached to the gun cradle and comprised of a front support with locking clamps, rear support, recoil spring, and a mechanism to adjust the gun. Two ammunition bags were positioned below the mounting. One for live ammunition and the other for spent casings.

On the rear turret plate, a pistol port was created in order to defend against enemy soldiers from climbing over the rear of the vehicle. In addition, the M.G.34 bow machine gun for the radio operator was replaced by a St.G.44.

Mobility and Maneuverability

Most if not all the automotives of the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F were the same as on the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.G.
The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F was propelled by a V12, watercooled, Maybach HL 230 P30 engine generating 600 hp @ 2500 rpm. The Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F had a combat weight of 45.5 tonnes which gave it a power-to-weight ratio of 13.2 horsepower per tonne. Coupled with a ZF A.K.7/200 transmission (located at the front), the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F could reach 3.4 km/h in the first gear, 6.8 km/h in the second gear, 10.9 km/h in the third gear, 17 km/h in the fourth gear, 24.6 km/h in the fifth gear, 34.7 km/h in the sixth gear, 45.8 km/h in the seventh gear, and 3.3 km/h in the reverse gear. It had a maximum speed of 46 km/h, average road speed of 30-35 km/h, and a cross country speed of 20 km/h. It carried 700 liters of fuel which gave it a range of 200 km on road and 100 km on cross country.

The Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F was 8.86 m long (with gun), 6.866 m long (without gun), 3.42 m wide (with Schürzen, and 2.917 m tall. It had a ground pressure of 0.88 kg/cm^2, could climb slopes of 35 degrees, a ground clearance of 540mm, was able to ford depths of up to 1.9 m, could climb steps of up to 900mm, and cross trenches of up to 2.45 m wide. It also had a steering radius of 9.4 m and a steering ratio of 1.5.
The suspension consisted of 8 overlapping road wheels on each side with 860/100 rubber tires connected to torsion bars. The drive sprockets were located at the front and the idler wheels at the rear. Eighty-seven dry pin Kgs 64/660/150 track links were located on both sides. ‘Kgs’ is code used to describe the characteristics of the tracks. ‘K’ stands for ‘rapid tracks for vehicles’, ‘g’ stands for ‘cast steel all alloys’, and ‘s’ stands for ‘floating pins’. ‘64’ stands for the design of the track, ‘660’ stands for the width of the tracks in millimeters, and ‘150’ stands for the pitch of tracks in millimeters.


Illustration of the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F (Sd.Kfz.171).


Illustration of the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.G (Sd.Kfz.171) mounting the first Versuchs-Schmalturm.


Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.A (Sd.Kfz.171) equipped with Rheinmetall’s schmale Blende.

These three illustrations are by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patron Golum through our Patreon Campaign.


Maybach HL 230 P30 engine schematics.

The new turret traverse gear developed by Daimler-Benz of Berlin-Marienfelde, Germany dropped two differentials and the multiplate overload clutch from previous Panthers. This resulted in it being cheaper, lighter, and smaller. The traverse gear was fixed in place to the turret ring and “driven from the main transmission shaft through a hydraulic motor”. The hydraulic motor developed by Böhringer GmbH produced 6 hp at 800-4200 rpm. Normal turret traverse and precise horizontal gun sight aiming were both done by the hydraulic motor. Accurate control of the turret traverse, instead of the gunner’s feet as on previous Panther variants, was now done by hand. In addition to the gunner, the commander was also able to directly manipulate the turret traverse because of a linkage to the hydraulic motor. However, the commander wasn’t able to precisely traverse the turret needed for good aiming of the gun. The maximum 360 degrees turret traverse time via hydraulic power was 30 seconds.

Traversing the turret by hand took four minutes for a full 360-degree traverse. One full turn of the handwheel equaled 0.405 degrees of turret traverse. If the tank were to tilt to one side, the loader had an auxiliary turret traverse handwheel to help the gunner traverse the turret.
Elevating the main gun and coaxial machine gun was also made lighter, cheaper, and more compact with the new elevation mechanism. The mechanism consisted of a screw and nut which were connected by universal joints from the turret turntable to one end and the other end of the gun cradle. Elevating the gun was done by a handwheel on the turret traverse gearbox casing which used a carden shaft and beveling gear to connect to the screw and nut mechanism. To dampen shocks from the movement of the vehicle, a ring spring was installed. The gun was able to elevate up to 20 degrees and depress down to 8 degrees. A full rotation of the hand wheel equated to 4 degrees of elevation.

Crew

The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F carried over the five-man crew, three in the turret and two in the hull. In the hull, the driver was seated on the left front and the right radio operator was located on the right next to the driver with the St.G.44 hull machine gun under his control. In the turret, the gunner sat to the right of the gun and the loader on the left. The commander was located behind the gunner.

Miscellaneous

The deep groove type turret ball race had the same internal diameter as the previous Panther turret. Additionally, instead of being separate as on previous Panthers, the inner race was integral with the traversing rack.

The turret basket was connected to the inner turret ball race which used a tubular frame to connect with the turret floor. The tubular frame carried the hydraulic turret traverse motor, gun elevating gear, and a compartment for spent cartridge casings. Removable and adjustable leather cushioned with “rubber hair filler” seats for the gunner and loader were mounted on upper left and upper longerons (longitudinal bar added to provide rigidity), respectively. 20 “belt sacks” on the longeron, a container for a spare M.G.42 barrel, two containers for breathing tubes, and a container for a spare periscope are located in the turret basket. The rest of the equipment was put away behind a guard on the turret reinforcement ring.
For communication between vehicles, the Fu 2 and Fu 5 intercoms were used. Other changes include modification of the driver’s periscope mount and new hatches for the driver and radio operator. In order to open the new hatches, the hatch would be raised slightly and “move to the side”, presumably as opposed to swiveling away as on previous Panther iterations.

A Befehlswagen Panther configuration could be easily achieved by personnel in the field. The FuG5 ultra-short wave radio set was mounted on the hull and the Fu 8 long range radio was mounted in the turret. An armored encasement besides the cupola located on top of the turret shields the insulator below the antenna for the Fu 8 radio.

There were two types of methods the upper front plate and side plate interlocked with each other on the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F. The side hull plate interlocked with the front hull plate in two different methods. The side plate either locked with the front plate perpendicularly or horizontally.


Frontal portion of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F hull showing the two methods for the upper front plate and side plate can interlock. Source: Panzer Tracts

The rear turret escape hatch was made out of the leftovers from cutting the rear turret plate.

Production

Production of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F was to start in early 1945 and done by Krupp-Gruson in April, M.A.N. in April, Daimler-Benz in March, M.N.H. in May, and Nibelungenwerk in April. To Krupp-Gruson and Nibelungenwerk, the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F was to be their first Panthers produced while for M.A.N. production would have started with Panther number 2229, Daimler-Benz with Panther number 2621, and M.N.H. with Panther number 2303.

Semple Tank undergoing trials
Unfinished Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F hulls on a welding jig. Source: Panzer Tracts

The sought after production goal of all the German firms combined was 2,940 Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.Fs in 1945. Most of the firms were to share the production load about equally together with Krupp-Gruson and initially Nibelungenwerk doing the least, presumably due to their lack of experience in building Panthers.

Due to numerous delays and setbacks, the planned production schedule was never achieved. Krupp-Gruson was to build their first two Panthers in May and Nibelungenwerk was to build their first two Panthers in August.


The second, third, and fifth unfinished hulls are Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F hulls mixed in with Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G hulls. Source: Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy

According to M.A.N. representatives, M.A.N. was unable to finish any Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.Fs, although they claim that Daimler-Benz was able to finish a Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F chassis outfitted with a Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G turret and “steel tire, rubber cushioned” road wheels. Even if the turret ring sizes were the same between the Ausf.G and Ausf.F, significant changes were going to be needed in order to mount an Ausf.G turret on an Ausf.F hull as the turret race and turret traverse gear were incompatible.

It seems that only a few Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F. hulls were completed with a couple of mostly finished Schmalturm turrets (although they lacked some essential equipment such as the gun sights and range finder). Some Schmalturm examples were captured and sent to the United States, specifically the Aberdeen Proving Ground and the United Kingdom for analysis.


A Schmalturm, missing its gun, that was sent to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the United States. Take note that the turret lacks a periscopic gun sight, but has a hole for a telescopic gun sight perhaps suggesting that this Schmalturm is an early example. Source: Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy

Semple Tank undergoing trials
Two front photographs of a production Schmalturm sent to the United Kingdom. Take note that it lacks a hole for a telescopic gun sight, but has an armored guard for the periscopic gun sight suggesting that this Schmalturm was produced later. Also take notice of the rings on both sides of the turret for mounting camouflage and the turret basket present on the left image. Source: Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy

Service

The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F, in its completed state, never saw service as the turrets were never completed. If a few Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F. managed to be completed by 20-23 of April 1945, they would have immediately seen combat defending Berlin with the II Abteilung/Panzer Regiment 2 (2nd battalion of the 2nd Panzer Regiment). However, at least one Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F mounting a Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.G. turret was seen defending Berlin in 1945 and subsequently moved into some sort of tank dump next to a Tiger I and Tiger II. This is most likely the Daimler-Benz-made Pz.Kpfw. Panther F/G hybrid M.A.N. representatives mentioned.


Semple Tank undergoing trials
Three different images of the same Pz.Kpfw. Ausf.F/G hybrid knocked out in Berlin. It seems to have been knocked out from a round hitting the barrel near the mantlet, fracturing the barrel, and thus being abandoned by its crew. The hull was identified as Ausf.F hull by examining the interlocking plates. The side superstructure plate interlocks with the front upper plate horizontally, which means it is a Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F hull.


Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F/G hybrid at an unidentified tank dump after being knocked out in the streets of Berlin. This hybrid is the same as the one in Berlin due to the mud guards being bent the same way. A Tiger II and Tiger can be seen in the background. Source: Unknown

Conclusion

The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F was the right upgrade at the wrong time. The Schmalturm was a significant improvement over the previous turret, however, it was far too late. By the time the vehicle entered production, Germany’s fate was sealed. The Allies were closing in and by the time they reached the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F’s production facilities, what they found were a couple of unfinished hulls and turrets. What is left of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F is a fractured Schmalturm that was used as a range target at The Tank Museum, Bovington.

Semple Tank undergoing trials
Two more photographs showing the left side and rear of the Schmalturm that was sent to the U.K. Source: Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy


This Schmalturm was the one that was sent to the United Kingdom. The last remaining relic of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F at The Tank Museum. Source: Mark Nash


Krupp’s design to mount an 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 onto a Panther based on the Schmalturm. Source: Panzer Tracts

Side Note: Panther’s Designation

It is important to note that the designations, ‘Panzerkampfwagen V Panther’ and ‘Panzerkampfwagen Panther’ are both correct for the same family of vehicles. It is also important to note that the designation ‘Panzerkampfwagen V Panther’ did not receive an Ausführung letter modifier, however ‘Panzerkampfwagen Panther’ did.

For example, it is incorrect to say ‘Panzerkampfwagen V Panther Ausf.G’ (or any other Ausführung letter modifier). On the other hand, it is correct to say ‘Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.G’.

Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausführung F (Sd.kfz.171) specifications

Dimensions Length: 8.86 m
Length (without gun): 6.866 m
Width (with Schürzen): 3.42 m
Height: 2.917 m
Weight, combat loaded 45.5 tonnes
Crew 5 men (commander, gunner, loader, radio operator, and driver)
Propulsion Water-cooled, gasoline Maybach HL 230 P30 V12 motor producing 600 hp @ 2500 rpm
coupled to a ZF A.K.7/200 transmission
Suspension Torsion bars
Top speed 46 km/h (28.6 mph)
Range (road) On road: 200km
Cross Country: 100km
Armament 7.5cm Kw.K.44/1 L/70
Secondary armament 1x coaxial 7.92mm M.G.42
1x St.G.44 bow machine gun
Armor Hull
80mm (55 degrees) upper frontal hull
55mm (55 degrees) lower frontal hull
50mm (29 degrees) upper side hull
40 (vertically flat) lower side hull
40mm (30 degrees) rear hull
40-25mm (horizontally flat) roof
16mm (horizontally flat) engine deck
25mm (horizontally flat) frontward belly
16mm (horizontally flat) rearward belly
16mm (horizontally flat) pannier
Turret
150mm (pot shaped) cast mantlet
120mm (20 degrees) turret front
60mm (25 degrees) turret sides and rear
40mm (horizontally flat) roof
Total built Few unfinished hulls and turrets. At least one Ausf.F/G hybrid

Sources

Jentz, T.L. & Doyle, H.L. 2006. Panther Tracts No. 5-4: Panzerkampfwagen Panther II and Panther Ausfuehrung F. 1st ed. Boyds, Maryland: Panzer Tracts
Jentz, T.L. 1995. Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy. 1st ed. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Spielberger, W.J. 1993. Panther & Its Variants. 1st ed. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History.
Doyle, H.L. & Jentz, T.L. Panther Variants 1942-1945. 1st ed. London, England: Osprey
The Custermen Division. 2001. Nahverteidigungswaffe. https://www.custermen.net/nahvert/nah.htm Date of access: 6 Feb. 2018.
CIOS XXXII-33 Tank Development at the Daimler-Benz Factory Berlin-Marienfelde
Stabilized Optical Sight for German Tank Guns (S.Z.F.1 document)
The author would like to extend his gratitude to Harold Biondo for providing sources.

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzer V Panther

Nazi Germany Nazi Germany (1943) Medium tank: between 5,984 – 6,003 built

Introduction

Panther tanks first saw action on the Eastern fronts. They were also used in Italy, France, Belgium and Holland. They took part in the Ardennes offensive, the battle of the Bulge plus the defence of Germany. It had better cross-country mobility than the Tiger tank and had the same if not more hitting power, with its 7.5 cm Kw.K 42 L/70 long barrelled high velocity anti-tank gun. Around 6,000 were produced.
The use of sloped armor kept the weight of the tank down but maintained its protection level. The angled front 80 mm armor glacis plate gave more protection than the Tiger tank’s 100 mm vertical armour plate. This fact is not often mentioned. An enemy’s standard armour piercing round fired from directly in front of the tank hitting the glacis plate in a straight line had to penetrate 139 mm (5.4 inches) of armor due to the angle of the armour. If the enemy tank was firing at the front of a Panther tank but at a 45 degree angle to it, the shell would have to pass through 197 mm (7.7 inches) of armor.
Enemy tank crews always tried to out flank Panther tanks to fire at its more vulnerable side or rear armor. German Panther tank crew’s tactics involved presenting their frontal armour towards enemy tanks as much as possible.

The Panther was born out of the shock of combat on the Eastern Front during the 1941 Operation Barbarossa. There, German units first met the T-34 and KV-1 tanks which posed significant problems to the German tank and anti-tank cannons.

This led to the start of development of the VK30.01(D) and VK30.02(M), the two designs that would compete to become the Panzerkampfwagen V. The MAN design would go on to be selected and rushed into production.

The Panzer V Ausf.D

The first production Panther tank was the Ausf.D not the Ausf.A. This confuses many people. In the past German tank versions started with the letter A and then went on to B, C, D etc. In January 1943 M.A.N produced the first production series Panther Ausf.D tank. ‘Ausf’ is an abbreviation for the German word ‘Ausfuehrung’ which means version. The Panzer V Ausf.D Panther tank Fahrgestell-Nummer Serie chassis numbers range from 210001 to 210254 and 211001 to 213220.

The Main Gun

The Panther Tank was armed with a long barrelled high velocity 7.5 cm Kampfwagenkanone (KwK) 42 L/70 gun that could knock out most Allied and Soviet tanks at long distances. It had an effective direct fire range of 1.1 km – 1.3 km. With a good gun crew it could fire six rounds a minute. The barrel length including the muzzle brake was 5535 mm (5225 mm without the muzzle brake). It had an elevation range of -8 degrees to +20 degrees. It was fitted with a Turmzielfernrohr 12 binocular gun sight. Seventy nine rounds of 75 mm ammunition could be stored inside the tank. There was a coaxial 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun next to it.

Armor

To defeat uncapped armor piercing shells the front, side and rear chassis armour plates were face-hardened. The external armor plate used a tenon joint arrangement. It was found this gave the welds added strength.
The upper front glacis plate armour was 80 mm thick angled at 55o. This meant that an enemy shell firing directly at the Panther from a head on position would have to penetrate 139 mm of armour plate due to the angle of the armour. The Tiger I tank only had 100 mm of armour. This is a little understood fact.
The bottom of the Ausf.D chassis was made out of a single sheet of 16 mm thick armor plate. This would change on later versions of the Ausf.D: some were constructed of two 16 mm plates and others of three 16 mm plates. The thickness of these belly plates would be increased in the later Panther Ausf.A to help the tank cope with anti-tank mine explosions.
Most tanks of this period in time had vertical armored sides and thin metal track guards that came out at a right angle from the hull side. They were used to store tools and stowage boxes. Using sloping armor on the upper sides of the Panther tank chassis, that covered the top of the tracks, was a clever idea. It formed an internal triangular ‘pannier’ stowage area over the tracks. It gave more room inside the tank. Angled armor means that there is more metal for incoming enemy armor piercing rounds to penetrate and there is a higher chance of the shot ricocheting.
The chassis hull front glacis plate was 80 mm thick and fitted at 55 degrees. The Lower front plate was 60 mm thick and at an angle of 55 degrees. Both had a Brinell Hardness rating of 265-309.
The armour used on the lower hull side was 40 mm thick and vertical. The sloped upper side armor was also 40 mm thick but at an angle of 40 degrees. They had a Brinell Hardness rating of 278-324.
The top deck of the panther chassis and the belly armor were both 16 mm thick. The top of the turret was also 16 mm thick. They had a Brinell Hardness rating of 309-353.
The sides and rear armor of the Panther tank’s turret was 45 mm thick fitted at an angle of 25 degrees. It had a Brinell Hardness of 278-324.
The turret front and rounded gun mantle was made of armor 100 mm thick. The turret front armor was mounted at an angle of 12 degrees. It had a Brinell Hardness rating of 235-276.
The bottom section of the rounded gun mantle acted as a ‘shot trap’ that deflected incoming armor piercing shells downwards into the thin 16 mm thick chassis decking, killing the driver or bow machine gunner. This is why on the late production turret of the King Tiger tank the front of the turret and the gun mantle are nearly vertical to overcome this problem. The King Tiger’s early production turret had the same design defect as the Panther. On the Ausf.G Panther tank a revised gun mantel design was introduced that had a ‘chin’ guard to stop the ricochet problem.
To maintain the strength of the face-hardened armor plate, components were not welded onto its surface. Instead metal strips were used to hold and attach fastenings for tools, stowage boxes and spare parts. They were welded to the underneath of the side panniers and onto the top of chassis roof at the front near the driver and radio operator’s positions. The only exception to this was the cylindrical tube that contained the main gun cleaning rods. It was not part of the original design. It was an oversight, so was welded onto the outside of the pannier just under the turret. Spare track hangers were bolted onto the rear-deck, but the spare track hung over the sides of the pannier at the rear of the tank.

Panzerschuerzen – Skirt Armor

The German designers added protective skirt armor made from 4 mm soft steel to protect the visible 40 mm chassis side armor visible between the top of the track and below the pannier. It was believed this area would be vulnerable to penetration at close range by Soviet anti-tank rifles. The Schuerzen protective skirt armor was added starting in April 1943.

Zimmerit

The Germans had developed magnetic anti-tank mines for use by their infantry. They believed the Soviets would soon equip all their infantry units with a similar device. Starting in late August/early September 1943 the factories started to apply Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste on all upright surfaces of the Panther tanks on the production line. The paste was rippled to increase the distance to the tank’s surface.

Headlights

Two Bosch Tarnlampe headlights with black out covers were fixed onto the armor of the front glacis plate, one above each track guard. Starting in July 1943 only one was installed on the left side of the glacis plate.

The driver’s vision port

On the early Panzer V Ausf.D tanks a rectangular hole was cut out of the front armor on the left side of the tank and covered with an armored vision port. The driver could open this hinged port when not in a combat zone. This was perceived as a weak spot and was also a feature that took time to fabricate. To stream line production, to enable more tanks to be built quickly, the driver’s vision port was not fitted on later models. He could only see where he was driving by looking through two fixed armored periscopes and later only one swivelling periscope, that projected out of the chassis roof.

Hull machine gun

The early Panzer V Panther tanks were not fitted with an armoured ball mount for the 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun. A rectangular ‘letterbox’ slit was cut into the front sloping glacis plate to enable the radio operator to fire his machine gun when necessary. A small armoured door covered this opening. He had two periscopes fixed to the roof of the chassis: one faced forward and the other to the right side of the tank.

Suspension

The tank’s suspension system consisted of a front drive sprocket wheel that powered the track, a rear idler wheel and eight large double-interleaved rubber-rimmed steel road wheels on either side of the chassis.
Many tanks during World War Two had suspension units bolted onto the outside of the tank hull. When they were damaged by mines they were easily replaced with a new one. The Panther’s suspension system was not as easily to repair. When the torsion bars were damaged it sometimes needed a welder’s torch to cut them out.
The large interleaved road wheels caused problems for the crew when they had to replace a damaged internal wheel. They had to unbolt several wheels to get at the broken one. This was time consuming. Ice, mud and rocks could clog the interleaved wheels. In the severe winter weather on the Eastern Front they could freeze solid overnight.
These problems were considered acceptable because the dual torsion bar system allowed for relatively high-speed travel for such a heavy vehicle over undulating terrain. The extra wheels did provide better flotation and stability by allowing wider tracks to be fitted, and they also provided more armour protection for the tank’s hull sides. Each road wheel had sixteen bolts around the rim. This was increased to twenty-four rim bolt road wheels in later production models of the Ausf.D.

Tracks

Its wide tracks and large interleaved road wheels resulted in lower ground pressure. This helped it traverse waterlogged, or deep-snow covered rough terrain, providing better traction and mobility.
The Panther Tank’s track was a ‘Trockenbolzen-Scharnierkette’ (dry single-pin track). There were 87 track links per side kept together with a dry ungreased metal rod. It had a cap on the inside section and a split ring in a groove on the outside. The track was in contact with the ground for a length of 3.92 m. The tracks gave the tank a ground pressure reading of 0.88 kp/cm² on the Panther Ausf.D and Ausf.A and 0.89 kp/cm² on the Panther Ausf.G, which was good for such a large heavy vehicle. A complete length of track weighed 2,050 kg.
The track was called Kgs 64/660/150. The number 660 means the width of the tracks (660 mm). The number 150 is the ‘chain pitch’ (150 mm). The chain pitch was the distance between one drive sprocket tooth to the next. The letter ‘K’ was an abbreviation for ‘Schnelllauffähige Kette für Kraftfahrzeuge’ (fast running track for motor vehicles – unlike agricultural tractors). The letter ‘g’ was the code for ‘Stahlguß aller Legierungen’ (steel castings of all alloys) and the letter ‘s’ was short for ‘schwimmende Bolzen’ (swimming/rotating bolt).
Because of reported problems of tanks slipping the track link was redesigned. Starting in July 1943 new track links were cast with six chevrons on each track face.

Engine

A Maybach HL 210 P30 petrol V12 water-cooled 650 hp engine was installed in the first 250 Ausf.D tanks. This was later replaced with the more powerful Maybach HL 230 petrol V12 water-cooled 700 hp engine. The HL 230 engine’s crankcase and block were made of grey cast iron and the cylinder heads from cast iron.

Transmission (gearbox)

It was fitted with a ZF A.K.7/200 transmission, which was produced by the German ZF Friedrichshafen engineering company. The letters ‘ZF’ are an abbreviation for the German word “Zahnradfabrik” which translates to gear factory. It had seven forward gears and one reverse. The following is the official recommended maximum road speed for each gear: 1st gear 4.1 km/h; 2nd gear 8.2 km/h; 3rd gear 13.1 km/h; 4th gear 20.4 km/h; 5th gear 29.5 km/h; 6th gear 41.6 km/hr and 7th gear 54.9 km/h. The tank could be drive in reverse gear at a maximum road speed of 4 km/h.

Turret

On early Panther turrets there was a circular side communication hatch. It could be used for loading shells and throwing out used shell casings. The commander’s cupola was drum shaped and had six viewing ports of 90 mm thick bullet proof glass. There was a circular escape hatch at the rear of the turret with a handle above it. Starting on 1 August 1943 an anti-aircraft machine gun mount was added to the cupola.
There were three pistol ports in the sides of the turret armour: one on each side and one at the rear. The circular cover at the front of the turret roof was to protect the gun gasses exhaust fan. There were two brackets at the front of the turret attached to the roof, one on either side, to mount Nebelwurfgerät smoke grenade dischargers.
Starting in June 1943 they were no longer fitted. A Tiger tank crew battlefield report, dated February 1943, recorded the self-ignition of nebelkerzen smoke rounds inside the Nebelwurfgerät smoke grenade discharger, when hit by small arms fire. Wind conditions were calm and this resulted in a fog around the tank, incapacitating the crew, as well as restricting vision of potential threats and targets.
At the same time a rain guard was welded over the top of the two binocular gun sight apertures on the gun mantel and a gun laying vane was welded onto the turret roof in front of the commander’s cupola. Later production turrets had semi-circular rain guards welded above each pistol port opening, communication hatch and escape hatch.

Crew

The Panther tank had a five-man crew. The turret was large enough for three people: the commander, gunner, and loader. The driver sat on the left-hand side of the tank chassis at the front and next to him on the right-hand side was the hull machine gunner who also operated the radio.

Radio

The Panther tank was fitted with a FuG 5 radio and an intercom system. The prefix FuG is an abbreviation for ‘Funkgerät’ meaning ‘radio device’. The Funkgerät 5 radio was a high-band HF/low-band VHF transceiver. It operated in the 27,000 to 33,3000 kHz (27-33.3 MHz) frequency range with a transmit power of 10 Watts. This equipment provided for 125 radio channels at 50 kHz channel spacing. It was fitted in many German tanks and in other vehicles. The FuG 5 was designed to be used for tank-to-tank communication within platoons and companies. It had a range of approximately 2 km to 3 km when using the AM voice frequency and 3 km to 4 km when using CW (continuous wave) frequency.
If the Panther tank was used by a company commander a second radio was fitted called a Funkgerät 2 (FuG 2). This radio was a high-band HF/low-band VHF receiver (not a transmitter). It operated in the 27,000 to 33,3000 kHz (27-33.3 MHz) range. The FuG 2 was never used on its own but as an additional receiver. It allowed tank commanders to listen on one frequency while transmitting and receiving on the FuG 5. It used the same band as the FuG 5 radio set. This meant that the commander could listen to the regimental command net while talking to other tanks at the same time. This radio receiver could listen into a total of 125 channels, at 50 kHz channel steps in the 27.0 to 33.3 MHz range.

Camouflage

When the first batch of Panthers left the factory they were painted Dunkelgrau dark grey. In February 1943 all factories were instructed to paint all German armoured fighting vehicles Dunkelgelb, a dark sandy yellow. Each individual Panzer unit then applied its own individual camouflage pattern. They were issued with Olivegruen olive-green and Rotbraun reddy-brown paint. In the winter a covering of white wash was applied to the tanks.

Panther Ausf.D specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.86 m x 3.27 m x 2.99 m
(29ft 1in x 10ft 9in x 9ft 10in)
Total weight, battle ready 44.8 tonnes
Main Armament Main: 7.5 cm Kw.K.42 L/70, 82 rounds
Secondary Armament 2x 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns
Armor 16 to 80 mm (Turret front 100-110 mm)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, radioman/machine gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 210 (or 230) V12 water cooled 650hp gasoline/petrol engine
Transmission ZF AK 7-200 7-forward/1-reverse gearbox
Suspensions Double torsion bars and interleaved wheels
Max Road Speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Operational range 200 km (124 miles)
Production 842 approx.

The Panzer V Ausf.A Panther

It can be difficult to identify the Ausfuehrung version of a Panzer V Panther tank without knowing its Fahrgestell-Nummer (Fgst.Nr.) chassis number. Many features of the Ausf.D like the drum-shaped commander’s cupola and the thin rectangular ‘letterbox’ hull machine gun port were still present on early production Ausf.A Panthers produced between July to December 1943. They only changed mid production and not at the same time. Other modifications were introduced during the production run. Ausf.D and Ausf.A tanks were also upgraded with different features once they had been issued to a Panzer Division when they went to a maintenance or repair unit.
The long name for this tank was Panzerkampfwagen ‘Panther’ (7.5 cm Kw.K L/70) (Sd.Kfz.171) Ausfuehrung A. The chassis used for the early production Panzer V Ausf.A was exactly the same as that used for the Ausf.D. This new batch of Panther tanks was given a new version designation, Ausf.A, because they were fitted with an improved turret.
The tank chassis were produced at four different locations: Daimler-Benz produced Fgst.Nr. 151901 to 152575; Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen Hannover (MNH) produced Fgst.Nr. 154801 to 155630; Demag-Benrath produced 158101 to 158150 and Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nuernberg (M.A.N.) produced 210255 to 210899.

The Turret

The new Ausf.A turret, like the chassis, underwent changes during its production. The 7.5 cm Kw.K.42 L/70 gun was the same and so was the binocular T.Z.F.12 gun sight. The external shape of the new turret looked very similar to the older Ausf.D turret but there were some subtle changes. The gun mantle on the Ausf.A turret was wider than the one fitted to the older Ausf.D. Directly behind the gun mantle, the shape of the cast turret side had changed to a dish shape protrusion to fit the new seal for the gun mantle.
On the older Ausf.D turret the front and side armour plate used a ‘dovetail’ angled carpentry style welded joint. The new Ausf.A turret plates were welded together using an interlocking squared-off joint, with the top and bottom cut parallel to the turret base.
The loader had a periscope mounted in the turret roof. The powder gas extractor for the gun (Rohrausblasevorrichtung) was improved. The Ausf.D turret had a single speed power traverse system. A new variable-speed unit was fitted to the Ausf.A. To prevent water entering into the tank during fording a new spring-compressed sealing ring was fitted to the turret ring.
Early production Ausf.A Panthers were fitted with the Ausf.D round drum like commander’s cupola. A new dome shaped cast armor commander’s cupola was gradually introduced. It had seven periscopes with armored protective cowlings. It was fitted with a 1 o’clock to 12 o’clock azimuth indicator ring which moved with the turret. The gunner also had a 1 o’clock to 12 o’clock azimuth indicator mounted to his left. This helped with target acquisition communication. The commander could shout, ‘enemy tanks 7 o’clock’, and the gunner would know where to look. On 1 August 1943 a ring was mounted on the commander’s cupola to enable an anti-aircraft machine gun to be mounted.
The early production Ausf.A turrets had three pistol ports: one on each side and one on the rear. To make production simpler and the armor stronger, the pistol ports were dropped from late production Ausf.A turrets. Instead a Nahverteidgungswaffe close defence weapon was fitted to the roof of the tank to the right of the commander’s cupola. It could fire a high explosive grenade in the direction of attacking infantry. The crew were safe from the shrapnel inside the tank but the enemy soldiers would be exposed. The Nahverteidgungswaffe could also be used to fire smoke grenades and signal flares. It looked like a large flare pistol.
The early production Ausf.A turrets had the same gunner’s binocular T.Z.F.12 gun sight with a rain guard over the two lenses, that were fitted on the earlier Ausf.D turrets. This was changed to a monocular T.Z.F.12a gun sight starting in late November 1943. There was now only one hole on the gunner’s side at the front of the turret not two. The design of the gun mantle had to be changed to accommodate this new single lens gun sight. A smaller semi-circular rain guard was added to the design.
These changes to the turret design were not introduced at the same time. You can see photographs of Ausf.A turrets with the new commander’s domed shaped cupola but the sides still had pistol ports and the binocular gun sight mounted in the gun mantle.

Belly and deck armor

The production drawings have shown that the construction of the Panther Ausf.A chassis belly armor was not consistent. Some chassis belly armor was made from one sheet of 16 mm armor. Others were constructed in two parts with the front part being 30 mm thick to help cope with the damage caused by anti-tank mines. The third variation was formed of three separate armor plates. The front two were 30 mm thick and the rear one was 16 mm thick. It is not known exactly when these changes were introduced or what factory followed which authorised plans.
The construction of the deck armor was also not consistent. Some chassis deck armor was built from a single piece of 16 mm armored plate. Others were formed by welding three different pieces of 16 mm thick armored plate.

Side armor

The eight large double-interleaved rubber-rimmed steel road wheels on either side of the chassis provided more armored protection for the thin 40 mm thick hull sides than the smaller wheel used on the Panzer III and IV. The gap between the top of the wheels and the panniers was covered by plates of skirt armor designed to stop Soviet anti-tank rifle rounds.

Hull machine gun

Early production Ausf.A tanks had the same rectangular ‘letter box’ pistol port in the front glacis plate, out of which the radio operator could fire a machine gun. In late November 1943 a ball mount (Kugelblende) with a spherical armoured guard was introduced. The radio operator could now see forward through the machine gun sight. The forward-facing periscope was no longer fitted. His side periscope was repositioned 25 mm further to the right.

Side straps

Most metal straps for holding tools, spare parts and stowage boxes were welded or bolted to the top of the chassis or under the pannier, just above the track. Panthers built by Demag-Benrath were the exception. They welded the spare track hangers, base-bar directly to the hull side.

Suspension

The Panzer V Ausf.A chassis used the same dual torsion bar suspension system used on the earlier Ausf.D, but numerous changes were introduced during the production run at different times and locations. In August 1943 the road wheels were strengthened with twenty-four outer rim bolts, but road wheels with sixteen rim bolts were still being fitted to some panthers as late as March 1944. When new wheels were damaged there would be a chance that they could be replaced with the older 16 rim bolt wheels at the maintenance yard. Some had locking rectangular tabs on the inner face of replacement production series road wheels.
The design of the armor casing for the final drive housing was altered during the production run of Ausf.A Panthers. The armoured hub cap that went over the centre of the drive sprocket was also changed midway through production. Not all Panzer V Ausf.A Panther tanks looked the same.

Exhaust pipes

The early production Panther Ausf.A had the same layout as on the Ausf.D tank with two vertical exhaust pipes sticking out of individual curved armored guards at the rear of the tank. The red convoy light was fixed below the left pannier above the track.
Later the left side pipe was altered. Two cooling pipes were added. Now three long vertical pipes came out of a modified armored curved cover. There was still only one exhaust pipe coming out of the armored cover on the right side of the tank. The red convoy light was moved from over the left track to the immediate left side of the left exhaust armored cover at the rear of the tank.

Panther Ausf.A specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.86 m x 3.42 m x 3.10 m
(29ft 1in x 11ft 3in x 10ft 2in)
Total weight, battle ready 45.5 tonnes
Main Armament Main: 7.5 cm Kw.K.42 L/70, 79 rounds
Secondary Armament 2x 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns
Armor 16 to 80 mm (Turret front 100-110 mm)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, radioman/machine gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 230 P30 V12 water cooled 700hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Operational range 200 km (124 miles)
Production 2,200

The Panzer V Ausf. G (September 1943 – May 1945)

The Panzer V Panther tank was given the Ausf.G version designation to indicate this production run of tanks used a different redesigned chassis. The turret and 7.5cm Kw.K L/70 gun was the same one used on the earlier Ausf.A.
On 4 May 1944, during a meeting at the M.A.N. company, a decision was made to design a new Panther tank chassis. Work had already started on developing a new version of the Panther tank called Panther II but that was far from completion. Some of the lessons learnt from that design process were used in formulating the plans for the Ausf.G tank chassis.
The side pannier armor that covered the top of the tracks on both sides of the tank was angled at 40 degrees on the Ausf.D and Ausf.A tank chassis. The new chassis pannier side armor was sloped at 29 degrees. The thickness in the armor was increased from 40 mm to 50 mm. This increased the weight of the tank by 305 Kg.
To compensate for this increase in weight the designers looked for areas where the thickness of the armor could be reduced. They chose to use 50 mm armor plate on the lower front hull instead of the normal 60 mm. This saved 150 kg. The forward belly plates were reduced to 25 mm from 30 mm. The front two belly plates were 25 mm thick and the rear plate was 16 mm thick. This saved a further 100 kg in weight. The rear side armor wedges at the end of the superstructure were not part of the new design. The floor of the pannier was now a straight line. These weight reduction changes meant that the increase in side armor thickness did not result in an increase in weight of the Ausf.G tank chassis compared with the older chassis.
As the bottom of the pannier was now 50 mm nearer to the top of the track no weld seams or stowage straps were fixed there. This was to stop them coming into contact with the track as the tank drove fast over undulating ground. Instead the stowage straps were welded to the side of the pannier armor.
There were many other minor changes but the overall thinking behind the design was to simplify the construction process to enable more tanks to be built as fast as possible. For example, the ventilation systems for the transmission, brakes, engine and exhaust were redesigned. This meant that the two additional parallel vertical pipes that came out of the left armoured exhaust cover at the rear of the tank on the late production Ausf.A tank chassis were no longer needed. Starting in May 1944, cast armor exhaust guards gradually replaced welded ones. To help reduce the red glow given off by the exhaust pipes at night, as a temporary solution, sheet metal covers were gradually introduced starting in June 1944. Starting in October 1944 these were replaced gradually with purpose build Flammenvernichter flame suppressor exhaust mufflers. When additional supplies became available they were back-fitted to other Panther tanks.
Another simplification of the production process was to introduce less complicated hinged hatches above the heads of the driver and radio operator. It was found during trials that the performance of the cross-country ride of the tank with or without the rear shock absorber was practically the same. Starting from 7 October 1944 the factories were ordered to stop fitting them to help simplify production.
Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nuernberg (M.A.N.) started producing Panzer V Ausf.G Panther tanks from Fahrgestell-Nummer Serie chassis number 120301: Daimler-Benz from chassis number 124301 and Maschinenfabrik Neidersachsen Hannover (M.N.H.) from chassis number 128301.

The Driver’s position

A perceived weak spot was the driver’s armored vision port cut into the front glacis plate. This was deleted in the design of the Ausf.G chassis. The driver was provided with a single pivoting traversable periscope that was mounted in the roof of the chassis covered by an armored rain shield. (Starting in August 1944 it was covered by a larger hood rain shield.) This change in design helped simplify construction. When building the older Ausf.A chassis three features had to be built: the driver’s armored vision port plus the forward and side periscopes. Now only one periscope had to be fitted.

Schuerzen side skirt armour and headlight

When looking at the side of the Panther Ausf.G chassis it appears that the track guard, is jutting out of the steeper angled pannier side armor along the whole length of the tank. This is an optical illusion. It is a fender, introduced on this chassis, to enable the Schuerzen side skirt armor plates to be hung in the correct position. They were designed to protect the thinner 40 mm chassis hull side armour, visible above the top of the road wheels and under the pannier, from Soviet anti-tank rifles. It meets the front track fender. The single headlight on the Ausf.A chassis was mounted on the left side of the upper glacis plate. To make fitting the headlight easier it was moved to the top of the left fender on the Ausf.G chassis.

Ammunition stowage and machine gun ball mount

Two 4 mm thick dust cover sliding doors were introduced to close off the sponson ammunition racks. Starting in September 1944, these were no longer installed as it was found they got in the way of ammunition handling. The ammunition stowage area was changed so the tank could now carry eighty-two 7.5 cm main gun rounds. There was now a distinct ‘step’ around the 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun ball mount. This was to reduce enemy bullet splash entering the mount’s aperture. The machine gun ball mount was considered a weak spot by enemy infantry and was often targeted. If a bullet hit the sloped glacis plate below the mount it would ricochet upwards. The ‘step’ helped reduce the damage they could do.

Radio

Most Panther Ausf.G tanks were fitted with a Fug 5 radio set and an internal intercom. It had a usable range of around 4 km to 6 km depending on the atmospheric conditions and location of the tank. Hills reduced the radio’s range. Platoon leaders and company HQ tanks were fitted with an additional FuG 2 radio for a command channel.

Production

On 3 April 1944, M.A.N. reported that it had successfully completed trial production runs of the new Ausf.G chassis. M.A.N. built about 1143 Panther Ausf.G tanks between March 1944 and April 1945. Between July 1944 to March 1945 M.N.H. constructed 806 Panther Ausf.G tanks. Daimler-Benz finished 1004 Panther Ausf.G tanks between May 1944 and April 1945.
There were some minor differences between factory built tanks. M.N.H. fitted a cast steel Gleitschuh skid shoes instead of a rubber tire return roller behind the front track drive sprocket. The other two factories continued to fit rubber rimmed return rollers.
Starting in September 1944, M.A.N. replaced the road wheels on a few Panther Ausf.G tanks, with smaller 800 mm diameter steel tire, rubber cushioned, road wheels similar to the ones used on all Tiger II tanks and some Tiger I tanks. Although this saved on the amount of rubber required to build a new Panther tank it had the disadvantage of reducing the vehicle’s ground clearance by 30 mm. The slightly larger rubber rimmed tires were 860 mm diameter wheels. A few tanks built in April 1945 had rubber rimmed road wheels except for the one next to the idler wheel at the rear of the turret. That was a fitted with a smaller steel tire road wheel. It is not known why.
Starting in October 1944 a larger diameter self-cleaning idler wheel was fitted. This new idler wheel was introduced to held elevate the problems caused by the build-up of mud and ice.
During the production run some of the components of the suspension system changed like the swing arms and bump stops.
Ausf.G leaving the factory

Camouflage

Early production Panther Ausf.G were delivered to the front line painted in Dunkelgelb dark sandy yellow on top of the anti-magnetic mine Zimmerit coating. Each individual Panzer unit then applied their own camouflage design. On 19 August 1944 and order was issued to the factories that the tanks should be painted in a new camouflage pattern known as ‘Ambush’. Patches of Rotbraun, a reddy-brown colour and Olivgruen olive-green were spray painted over the Dunkelgelb base coat. Because of Allied and Soviet air supremacy in the later part of the war, Panther tank crews tried to hide their tanks under trees where possible. Dots of Dunkelgelb were applied to the olive-green and reddy-brown patches to simulate light coming through a tree canopy. Darker dots were applied to the Dunkelgelb base coat.
On 9 September 1944, because of reports that Zimmerit had caused tank fires and the lack of evidence of magnetic mine use by the Soviets and Allies, the factories were ordered to stop applying Zimmerit. Panther Ausf.G tanks now left the factory painted in a base coat of red oxide primer. They were only sparingly painted in camouflage patterns using Dunkelgelb in patches. Paint supplies were getting low and the need to get as many tanks to the front line as fast as possible was urgent.
On 31 October additional instructions were received at the factories. The inside of the Panther Ausf.G tanks were no longer to be painted a light colour. They were just painted in red oxide primer to save time. This would make the inside of the tank a very dark working environment. The outside could be sparingly painted in patches of reddy-brown Rotbraun, dark sandy yellow Dunkelgrau and olive-green Olivgruen. If supplies of Dunkelgrau had run out the factories were authorised to use Dunkelgrau dark grey instead. On 15 February 1945 the factories were ordered to paint the inside of the turrets Elfenbein ivory white again.

The Turret

A few minor changes were made to the turret during the production run. The most visible was the introduction of a handle on the circular hatch at the rear of the turret and one above it. A thin rectangular metal sheet was welded across the gap between the front of the turret and the top of the gun mantel to help stop debris entering the gap and jamming the gun elevation. A lengthened rain guard over the gun sight aperture was added starting in September 1944.
An armor piercing shells ricocheting off the bottom of the mantel and penetrating the roof of the chassis and killing the driver or radio operator
An armor piercing shell ricocheted off the bottom of the mantel and penetrating the roof of the chassis and killing the driver or radio operator
At the same time a new gun mantle was gradually introduced. It had a ‘chin’ guard to stop enemy armor piercing shells ricocheting off the bottom of the mantel and penetrating the roof of the chassis and killing the driver or radio operator. When allied troops inspected the M.N.H. Panther production factory at the end of the war they found turrets still being produced with the older curved gun mantel with out the ‘chin’ guard.
Ausf.G mantlet
Panther Ausf.G gun mantlet with chin guard, elongated rain guard over gun sight and debris guard on top of the gap between the gun mantel and front of the turret.
Starting in January 1945 five metal loops were welded to each turret side. Rope or wire was run between these loops to help hold in place branches from trees and bushes used as camouflage.

The Infrared Searchlight and Scope.

To be able to see the enemy at night was a tank commander’s dream. To be able to point the tank’s gun at a target with the correct elevation as well was cutting edge technology in late 1944.
Starting in September 1944 a few Panzer V Ausf.G Panther tanks had a F.G.1250 Ziel und Kommandanten-Optic fuer Panther infrared search light and Scope mounted on the commander’s cupola. When he moved the scope up and down an attached steel band, that had been fed through a hole in the turret roof, connected with a new indicator that showed the gunner the correct elevation. The 200-watt screened infrared light and receiver gun sight optic had a range of 600 m in clear weather.
It is not known exactly how many Panther tanks were fitted with this device or used on the battlefield. On 5 October 1944 M.N.H. reported that it had fitted twenty Panther tanks with the new infrared equipment during September. Another thirty were scheduled to be completed in October and a further thirty in December 1944. On 15 January 1945 M.N.H. were instructed to fit them to all their current order for Panther Ausf.G tanks. It cannot be confirmed if this was done.

Panther Ausf.G specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.86 m x 3.42 m x 3.10 m
(29ft 1in x 11ft 3in x 10ft 2in)
Total weight, battle ready 45.5 tonnes
Main Armament Main: 7.5 cm Kw.K.42 L/70, 82 rounds
Secondary Armament 2x 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns
Armor 16 to 80 mm (Turret front 100-110 mm)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, radioman/machine gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 230 P30 V12 water cooled 600hp gasoline/petrol engine
Transmission ZF AK 7-200 7-forward/1-reverse gearbox
Suspensions Double torsion bars and interleaved wheels
Max Road Speed 46 km/h (28.5 mph)
Operational range 200 km (124 miles)
Production 2961 approx.

Panzer V Ausf.F Panther

In November 1943, Rheinmetall designed a new turret with a narrow front plate 120 mm (4.72 in) thick. The narrow turret presented a smaller target and spared weight as well. The design was refined in March 1944, under the name of Schmale Blende Turm-Panther. This was one of several designs later collectively called “Schmallturm” (narrow turret). Several of these turrets, housing an adapted 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 42 L/70, were tested until the end of the war.

The Panther II

The Ausf.G was, however, not the last Panther version. Two major overhauls were attempted, the Panther II and the Ausf.F. The most distinctive feature of the latter was the new Schmallturm narrow turret and improved gun. None ever saw action before the end of the war. It should be noted that two features of the Ausf.G were well ahead of their time. Night infrared targeting systems and poison gas protection (a forerunner of NBC protections) were characteristics of the MBTs of the fifties and sixties.

E 50

The E 50 program inherited most of the ideas concerning the Panther II. The E series made good use of industrial commonality between models, for the sake of mass-production. The E 50 corresponded to the 50 ton class medium tank, and was scheduled to replace the original Panther. The plans for a prototype built by MAN included a Tiger II-like hull and mechanical parts, including the drivetrain and new steel-rimmed wheels, paired and not interleaved. No plans regarding the turret or gun were found, but it is commonly assumed that it would’ve sported the Schmallturm and the Tiger II‘s 88 mm (3.46 in).

Bergepanther

The idea emerged in 1943, due to problems in recovering heavy and medium tanks with usual methods. Previous recovery vehicles (like the Sd.Kfz.9) were rarely able to salvage a Panther or a Tiger. Plus, it was strictly forbidden for a Tiger to attempt salvaging another one, due to the risk of loosing both in breakdowns. The development was carried out by MAN. After the Tiger was seen as not meeting the desired requirements, the Panther was chosen instead. First Bergepanthers were completed on Panther Ausf.D chassis, in which only the turret was removed by the manufacturer.
By the end of 1944, the more reliable Ausf.Gs were used for these conversions. The crew consisted of at least three soldiers, the towing apparatus was operated by two soldiers in the vehicle. They sat in the central tower, a square wooden and metal structure, with longitudinal tensile reinforcements for 40 tons embedded in the chassis. A large earth spade at the rear served to support traction. In addition, the simple crane boom had a 1.5 tons loading capacity. The Bergepanther was quite reliable and could be used in enemy territory, receiving a single MG 34 or 42 for self-defense at the front, or a Buglafette for a 20 mm (0.79 in) cannon. Its towing capacity allowed to salvage Tigers and even heavier vehicles. From 1943 to 1945, approximately 339 Bergepanthers of all versions were delivered by MAN, Henschel, Daimler-Benz (Berlin plant-Marie Felde) and Demag.

Jagdpanther

The Panzerjäger V Panther, also known as “Jagdpanther”, was the main derivative of the Panther. Official designation was 8.8 cm (3.46 in) Pak 43/3 auf Panzerjäger Panther, and it was based on the upgraded Panther Ausf.G. Thus, it was reliable mechanically and even more agile than the regular Panther, while being able to destroy any single Allied tank of the time. Only 415 were built by MIAG, MNH and MBA until 1945.

FlakPanzer Coelian

The idea was to put the most powerful AA system on the Panther chassis, to provide each Abteilung with its anti-air defense, when it was needed most. By the fall of 1944, Allied air superiority over Europe was a constant threat to any operation. Rheinmetall proposed a special twin 3.7 cm (1.46 in) FlaK 43 fully enclosed turret to be adapted on a regular Panther chassis. The first prototype was not even built when the war ended. A single unit was captured, a Panther.D chassis with a mock-up turret mounted on it. Other Rheinmetall paper projects, also called “Coelian”, had four 20 mm (0.79 in) MG 151/20 guns, or a combination of a QF 55 mm (2.17 in) with twin 37 mm (1.46 in).

Production Numbers

The amount of Panzer V Panther tanks produced was recorded by chassis number (Fgst.Nr.) for each Ausfuehrung (version) and from factory monthly completion figures. The factory completion figures did not record the Ausfuehrung information. Panther tank production occurred at factories belonging to the following companies: Daimler-Benz, M.A.N., Henschel and MNH. A few were built by Demag. As you can see the figures do not match.
Total number produced using Chassis Number data (Fgst.Nr.)
Panzer V ‘Panther’ Ausf.D (Sd.Kfz.171): Total 842
Panzer V ‘Panther’ Ausf.A (Sd.Kfz.171): Total 2,200
Panzer V ‘Panther’ Ausf.G (Sd.Kfz.171): Approx. total 2961
Grand total 6,003
Total produced using monthly factory completion data
1943 Total 1768
1944 Total 3777
1945 Total 439
Grand total 5,984

Sources

Panzer Tracts No.5 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
Panzer Tracts No.5-2 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
Panzer Tracts No.5-3 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
Panzer Tracts No.5-4 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
Panther and its variants by Walter J.Spielberger
Ed Webster – Armor calculations

Panzer V Ausf. D

Panzer V Panther Ausf.D-1
Panzer V Panther Ausf. D-1 at the end of the battle of Kursk, July 1943. Despite the shortcomings of the earliest series, once corrected, the few Panthers that saw action there in the latter part of the battle did very well. Also, notice the early KwK 42 L/70 gun, which presented a rounded muzzle brake and was slightly shorter.
Panther Ausf.D-1 Turm IV-H
Panzer V Panther Ausf.D-1 mit PzKpfw IV H Turm, Schwere Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 653, Russia, early 1944. It was one of the many field conversions using surplus Panzer IV Ausf.H turrets and serving as command tanks.
Panther Ausf.D-2
Panther Ausf.D-2 at Kursk, July 1943. This one was part of the batch which returned to the battle with many modifications, including the new KwK 43 gun.
Panther Ausf.D-2
Panzer V Panther Ausf.D, regimental vehicle from Panzer Abteilung 51, one of the very first units equipped with Panthers. Central front, August 1943, in the aftermath of the battle of Kursk.
Panther Ausf.D, Kursk
Panther Ausf.D from the Panzer Abteilung 51, 1st Company, battle of Kursk, summer 1943.
Panther Ausf.D-2, Russia, 1943
Ausf.D, Panzer 6th Company, Abteilung 52, 39th Panzer-Regiment, Central front, summer 1943.
Panther Ausf.D in Normandy
Panther Ausf.D, late production from the 24th Panzer Regiment in Normandy, June 1944.
Panther Ausf.D, 11th Panzer Division
Panther Ausf.D, 2nd Kompanie, 15th Panzerregiment, 11th Panzerdivision, Russia, fall 1943.
Panther Befehlswagen
Stabs-Panzerbefehlswagen, 8th Kompanie, 5th Pz.Rgt, 5th SS PzDiv. Wiking, Russia, winter 1943/44.
Panther Ausf.D, 2nd SS Panzerdivision
Ausf.D, 2nd SS Panzerdivision, Eastern Front, fall 1943.


Panzer V Ausf.A

Early Panzer V Panther Ausf.A
Panzer V Panther Ausf.A. The second version produced, up-armored. This was also the heaviest Panther, weighing 48 tons, the original planned weight of the Tiger. This one is an early production model from the 1st Panzer Abteilung, 4th Panzer-Regiment, at Anzio, Italy, 1944.
Panther Ausf.A
Panther Ausf.A from the 1st Battalion Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland, Eastern front, fall 1944.
Panther Ausf.A, 12th SS Panzerdivision - HitlerJügend
Ausf.A, 12th SS Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend, Falaise gap, Normandy, France, August 1944.
Panther Ausf.A, Wiking
Ausf.A from the 5th Kompanie, 5th SS-Panzer Regiment, 5th SS-Panzerdivision Wiking – Kovel area, March-April 1944.
Barkmann's Panther Ausf.A, Barkmann's corner
Personal Panther of SS-Oberscharführer Ernst Barkmann, 2nd SS-Panzer Regiment “Das Reich”. Barkmann, a veteran tank gunner of the 1939-40 campaigns, was credited to be an excellent shot. After being wounded during Operation Barbarossa, he returned on the Eastern Front in 1942, then became Sergeant and, as a tank commander, he participated in the battle of Kharkov. He distinguished himself at Prokhorovka and during the aftermath of the Kursk battle, on a Panzer IV. The “Das Reich” Panzerdivision was withdrawn into reserve in August, and, later, Barkmann was given a new Panther Ausf.D, just in time for the defensive battles of the Southern Front. In January 1944, he was transferred in France and, after being given a new Ausf.A, was stationed near Bordeaux. In June, his fourth company was committed in action near St Lô. Here, he accumulated a string of kills which created a legend (the famous “Barkmann’s Corner” near Le Neufbourg and Le Lorey on 27 July, 1944 in Normandy), confirmed later by a Knight’s Cross and the promotion as senior commander. Later on, during the Ardennes offensive, he spearheaded his unit against the US 2nd Armored Division. By March 1945, he was defending against a Russian offensive near Stuhlweissenburg (Székesfehérvár) in Hungary, scoring many hits on T-34s. He remains one of the greatest “Tank Aces” of the war, and perhaps the most famous Panther tank commander.
Panther Ausf.A, Poland
Ausf.A, mid-production, autumn 1944. This one belongs to the 2nd platoon, 4th Company, of an unknown Panzerdivision, during a fighting retreat in Poland and eastern Prussia.
Late Panther Ausf.A, Romania
Ausf.A, late production, Stabskompanie, PzRgt. “GrossDeutschland”, Romania, spring 1944.
Panther Ausf.A, winter 1943-44
Ausf.A in winter livery, Eastern Front, winter 1943/44.
Captured Russian Ausf.A
Captured Russian Ausf.A, Southern front, spring 1944. At least a dozen Panthers and Tigers were captured intact by Soviet troops during the German retreat on the Eastern Front, in late 1943-mid 1944. They were generally painted dark green with white stars or, in some cases, only dark rectangles with a Soviet red star painted in, directly upon the former identifications numbers. These tanks were used until they were worn out, because of the lack of spare parts and complexity.
Late Panther Ausf.A, GrossDeutschland
Ausf.A, late production vehicle, 3rd Kompanie, 2nd SS Panzer Regiment GrossDeutschland Division, Eastern Front, 1944.
Panther Ausf.A, Poland, 1944
Late Ausf.A, 35th Panzer-Regiment, 4th Panzerdivision, Poland, June 1944.
Panzerbefehlswagen
Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf.A, Eastern front, April 1944.
Late Panther Ausf.A, Totenkopf
Late Ausf.A, 38th Panzer-Regiment, 3rd SS Panzerdivision “Totenkopf”, Poland, summer 1944.
Panzerbefelhswagen V Ausf.APanzerbefelhswagen V Ausf.A, Panzer-Grenadier Division GrossDeutschland, Lithuania, summer 1944.


Panzer V Ausf. G

Panther Ausf.G
Ausf.G, early production vehicle, Panzer-Regiment 27, 19th Panzerdivision, Warsaw, Poland, September 1944.
Panther disguised as a M10 Tank Destroyer
Ersatz M10, a Panther disguised as a M10 Tank Destroyer, operation Greif, Belgium, December 1944. These were converted by welding additional metal sheets to the turret and hull. Of course, the wheeltrain had nothing to do with the standard VVSS type, and they hardly fooled anyone for long. Around ten Ersatz M10 auf Panther Ausf.Gs composed Skorzeny’s special Panzer Brigade 150 during the early phase of the Battle of the Bulge.
Panther Ausf.G, Paris, 1944
Panther Ausf.G early type, 1st SS Panzerdivision, Paris, mid-1944.
Captured Panther Cuckoo
Ausf.G early version, “Cuckoo” (captured), 4th Battalion of the 6th Coldstream Guards Tank Brigade, North-Western Europe, 1944/45.
Early Panther Ausf.G, Belgium
Panzer V Panther Ausf.G early, Stoumont, Belgium, December 1944 (battle of the Bulge).
Panther, Kampfgruppe Peiper
Early type Ausf.G, Kampfgruppe Peiper, 1st SS Panzerdivision, La Gleize, Belgium, January 1945.
Panther Ausf.G, Czechoslovakia, 1945
9th Panzer-Regiment, 25th Panzer Division, Czechoslovakia, April 1945.
Panther Ausf.G early
Pz.Rgt.31, 5th Panzerdivision, East Prussia, October 1944.
Panther Ausf.G, Berlin, 1945
Early Ausf.G, Kampf-Gruppe Monhke, Berlin area, May 1945.
Late Panther Ausf.G
Early Ausf.G, unknown unit, eastern Germany, March 1945.
Late Panther Ausf.G Hungary 1945
Late Ausf.G, Hungary, early 1945. Notice the winter paint, washed in stripes.
Panther Ausf.G
Unknown unit, Czechoslovakia, April 1945.
Panther Ausf.G with chin mantlet
Another late Ausf.G (with the chin mantlet), Czechoslovakia, April 1945.
Panther Ausf.G, Prussia
Ausf.G, Fsch. PzDiv. I, Eastern Prussia, fall 1944.
Panther Ausf.G
Ausf.G, unknown unit, Weissenburg, January 1945.
Panther Ausf.G, Ardennes
Ausf.G, 1st SS Panzerdivision, Ardennes, December 1944.
Panther Ausf.G, Poland
Ausf.G (late), with a splinter camouflage, Poland, autumn 1944.
Captured Panther Ausf.G
Captured Ausf.G with Russian markings.
Panther Ausf.G with IR system
Ausf. G (late), ambush camouflage pattern and IR sight system, western Germany, March 1945
Panther Ausf.G, Ruhr pocket
Panzer V Panther Ausf.G, 9th Panzer-Division – Ruhr Pocket, Germany, spring 1945.
Panther Ausf.G with steel wheel rimmed
Ausf.G, late type with steel-rimmed wheels and ambush pattern, Eastern Prussia, March 1945.
Pantherturm
Pantherturm III – Betonsockel Ausf. G, Siegfried line, March 1945.


Prototypes

Panther II

Panther II, possible appearance according to technical sketches.

E 50
The E 50. Here is a prospective view of the E 50 in service. No plans regarding the E 50 turret have been found to date. The turret presented here is based on the assumption that the Schmalturm turret and the 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 would have been used.

Variants & Conversions

Beobachtungspanzer V Panther Ausf.D
Beobachtungspanzer V Panther Ausf.D mit FuG-5 & FuG-8, artillery observation vehicle.
Bergepanther Panther Ausf.D
Bergepanther auf Panzer V Ausfuehrung D, Eastern front, 1944.
Befehslpanzer V Panther
Bergepanther mit Aufgesetztem PzKfw.IV Turm als Befehlspanzer, a Bergepanther retro-fitted command version, equipped here with a spare Panzer IV F-2 turret.
Jagdpanther
Panzerjäger V Panther. Also known as the Jagdpanther.

Gallery

Panther manufacture.
Panthers being turned out from various manufacturers.
Panther Ausg.G at Bovington
Ausf.G at Bovington.
WWII color photo of a PantherPanther with Vampir IR devicePanzerturmTwo Panthers in NormandyPanther on the Eastern Front

One of the best tanks of WW2

Military historians still debate about which was the best tank of the Second World War, but for all the polls and spec comparisons, the Panzer V Panther is always one of the contenders. Given its speed and off-road capabilities, tremendous firepower, protection, sophisticated targeting sights, use of equipment far ahead of its time (like infrared vision) and, last but not least, the more than 6000 machines built, the Panther can be compared to a main battle tank, years before the British Centurion appeared. Being one the best-balanced designs of WWII, it performed accordingly, with a fear capital almost rivaling that of the Tiger.

The Eastern Front 1941

In June 1941, during a seemingly unstoppable advance, the first encounters with T-34s really shook the General Staff, as more and more reports signaled that a Russian tank was found superior to both the upgraded Panzer III and the Panzer IV. After many had been captured in relatively good order, Heinz Guderian ordered a full report to be drawn by a Panzerkommision, dispatched to assess the T-34. It was noted that the combination of thick, well-sloped armor, a very effective 76.2 mm (3 in) gun and good power-to-weight ratio combined with large tracks meant that the Russian tank almost reached the “impossible triangle” that characterized a perfect medium tank. This was unmatched in the German arsenal, raising concerns, which in turn needed prompt reactions. As soon as April 1942, both Daimler Benz and MAN AG were charged to design the VK 30.02, a 30-35 ton tank incorporating all the aspects underlined by the report.
Albert Speer inspects a T-34

DB and MAN designs

Daimler-Benz’s design sported a well-sloped low hull, permitted by a well-proven, although “old school” solution with leaf spring suspensions combined with large doubled roadwheels and no return rollers. This gave the tank a low silhouette and narrow hull, and thus kept the weight under the allocated limit. At the same time, this restricted the turret ring diameter, which in turn limited the turret size. Like on the T-34, the drive sprockets were at the rear and the turret was placed forward. The engine was a diesel. Even with a three-man turret, the internal space was cramped, and mounting the planned high velocity L/70 75 mm (2.95 in) gun proved very difficult.
On the other hand, MAN presented a much larger vehicle, with the transmission and drive sprockets at the front, a larger, roomier turret moved backwards and a gasoline engine. The torsion bar suspension required more internal space, a larger hull and tracks. For the suspension, MAN took inspiration from Henschel’s Tiger design, with pairs of large interleaved wheels, which gave a lower ground pressure, better traction and mobility. This configuration also provided extra protection to the weaker lower hull sides.
Versucht Panther V2 (Fgst nr.V2), fall 1942
Versucht Panther V2 (Fgst nr.V2), pre-production prototype, fall 1942.
From January until March 1942, these two prototypes were tested. Fritz Todt and, later, Albert Speer, replacing the former, both warmly recommended the DB design to Adolf Hitler. In the meantime, DB had reviewed its design in order to match the MAN proposal, and added the already existing Rheinmetall-Borsig turret, which allowed immediate production. MAN produced a mild steel prototype in September 1942, which started a new series of trials at Kummersdorf. These showed far superior mobility, even compared to the Panzer IV. The engine, for the sake of standardization, was shared with the Tiger, but the Panther weighed 20 tons less. Two final pre-production prototypes were also delivered in November (V1 and V2). Production swiftly followed, at MAN and DB (hull and assembly), Rheinmetall-Borsig (turret), later extended to Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen-Hannover (MNH) and Henschel & Sohn in Kassel.

Production of the Panzer V

The delivery orders were rushed, asking for a first batch by December. However, the specialized tooling for this new model was far from ready and designed in haste. The order for 1000 to be delivered in early 1943 proved over-optimistic, and a first pre-series of 20 was built. These were called Null-series, Ausfuehrung A (different from the later series), equipped with the early 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 42 L/70 gun. Later, these were called D-1, and the large-scale series was named Ausf.D.
As a consequence of this rush, the first series of the Ausf.D had reliability problems. Speer set a 250 vehicles/month objective, modified in January 1943 to 300 per month. By 1944, increasing Allied bombings and industrial bottlenecks meant that only a feeble percentage of this figure was reached. 143 were built per month on average in 1943, but with new simplified models and production spread out throughout Germany, this rose to 315 in 1944 and even 380 in March 1945, with a total production reaching 6000. This figure was still far away from those of the T-34 and Sherman, but the Panther became the third most produced German AFV, after the Panzer IV and the StuG III. Its unit cost was only marginally higher, despite the technological gap. 117,100 RM compared to the 103,462 RM of the late Panzer IV, mostly thanks to streamlined production methods, but, still, far less than the same generation Tiger (250,000 RM).
At some point, deliveries of hulls exceeded those of engines. The Maybach factory was pounded mercilessly, and even came to a complete halt for five months. The Auto-Union plant at Siegmar also started to build the engines from May 1944. Rheinmetall-Borsig, however, never suffered such gaps in production, and there was constantly an excess of Panther turrets. Many of these were turned into AT pillboxes, defensive fortifications which played their part in Italy, in Northern Europe and the Siegfried line. The biggest problem suffered by the Panther production was the lack of spare parts, which dropped to only 8% of tank production at the end of 1944. By then, field workshops had to cannibalize existing tanks to repair others, further hampering the operational availability of these tanks in the crucial years of 1944-45.
Ausf.D turret

Design of the Panther

Hull & armor

The T-34’s main feature, its well sloped armor, was used with great attention by the MAN and DB designers. However, to increase internal space, the MAN designers, who created the V1 and V2 prototypes, choose to increase the engine compartment by creating a rear inverted slope. They also used moderately sloped flanks, without mudguards, as the flanks themselves formed them. This was also a welcome simplification in design, but required numerous straps to fix spare elements and steel towing cables. The frontal glacis was the thickest, forming a beak nose, with a 60 mm (2.36 in) upper plate (90 mm/3.54 in equivalent armor), and a lower 50 mm (1.97 in) plate.
Later, on Hitler’s orders, the upper plate was increased to 80 mm (3.15 in) and the lower to 60 mm (2.36 in). The frontal equivalent armor became 120 mm (4.72 in), enough to withstand most Allied and Russian AT guns of the time. The lower and upper hull sides were both 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. The upper side hull was sloped to a 50° angle, later raised to 50 mm (1.97 in) at 60° on the Ausf.G. The lower hull was also protected by the interleaved wheels and, later, added 10 mm (0.39 in) side skirts. The rear was sloped at 60°, 40 mm (1.57 in) thick.
The Rheinmetall-Borsig turret was also well-sloped and roomy. The front had, at first, 80 mm (3.15 in) of armor at 78°, then 110 mm (4.33 in) (Ausf.A), then 100 mm (3.94 in) at 80° on the Ausf.G. The sides were angled at 65° and 45 mm (1.77 in) thick, and the top, almost flat, was 15 mm (0.59 in), then 30 mm (1.18 in) on the Ausf.G. The gun mantlet, made of cast armor, was 120 mm (4.72 in) thick and rounded. This part also serves to help distinguish between versions, the later versions being fitted with a flattened, “chin” model, to avoid the “shot-trap” effect of this configuration.
The armor itself was at first face-hardened, but with the generalization of armor-piercing capped rounds, a March 1943 note dropped this specification in favor of a simpler homogeneous steel glacis plate. The turret sides also proved relatively weak and an alternative turret, the Schmalturm, was soon studied. A forged cupola replaced the cast one in earlier models. On the D-2, the commander cupola was cast instead of drum-type and side armor skirts became standard.
These plates were welded and interlocked for extra strength. The mantlet didn’t prove immune to the late 75 mm (2.95 in) M1A1 (late Sherman versions), Russian IS-2 122 mm (4.8 in), and British 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in). The side armor was not sufficient to deal with flanking attacks by most Allied tanks, contrary to the Tiger. Different tactics and 5 mm (0.2 in) side skirts (Schürzen) were applied. Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste was applied relatively early, on the late Ausf.D, but dropped in September 1944 due to unverified rumors claiming this paste caught fire. Because of incessant Allied bombings, some precious alloys became hard to acquire. The production of composite armor was thus problematic, the lack of molybdenum, in particular, causing late armor plates to crack easily when hit.
Ausf.A side view

Engine, steering & drivetrain

The prototypes and first 250 Ausf.Ds delivered were fitted with a V12 Maybach HL 210 P30, giving 650 hp (484.9 kW) at 3500 rpm. By May, it was replaced by the more powerful 23.1 liter Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12, 690 hp (514.74 kW), which made the late Ausf.D the fastest of the entire series, and prompted an armor upgrade on the Ausf.A. The light alloy block was replaced by a cast iron one and two multistage “cyclone” air filters added, but the engine output was reduced by the low quality gasoline. Average operational range was around 97-130 km (60-80 miles), reduced to 60-80 km (40-50 miles) cross-country. The Maybach P30 was compact, with a seven disc crankshaft, and the two series of cylinders were not offset. However, this tight connecting rod space caused teething problems, like blown head gaskets, and the bearings failed early on.
To avoid overheating, an engine governor was also fitted in November 1943, as well as an eight disc crankshaft, improved bearings and seals. The engine compartment was watertight, but this caused concerns of poor ventilation and overheating. This, added to early non-isolated fuel connectors, caused leakages and the engine to catch fire. The fighting compartment was well separated, these issues being addressed later by better isolation and cooling. With all these measures, the reliability grew steadily until the end of the war. There was also an automatic fire extinguisher, which experienced early malfunctions.
Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen made the seven-speed AK 7-200 synchromesh gearbox, coupled with a MAN single radius steering system, operated by levers. The fixed turning radius of the last, 7th gear, was 80 meters (262 ft). The choice was left to the visual appreciation of the driver, which could also engage to brakes to turn more sharply. This simpler system, compared to the Tiger steering, was thought to be more reliable. However, the final drive units proved a major issue, caused by the original epicyclic gearing, which had to be greatly simplified under the supervision of Chief Director of Armament and War Production.
The double spur gears chosen, combined with lower quality tempered steel, proved to be a burden due to the high torque of the Panther and enormous stress, even more complicated by the tight space allocated. The situation was such that these fragile parts had a life expectancy of 150 km (93.2 mi) on average. This issue was partly addressed by a stronger gear housing, but the complete replacement of the system was not planned before the next Panther II, later abandoned. Planners devised special training for careful handling. Most of the time, the Panthers were carried by rail next to their immediate deployment zone.
Drive sprocket detail

Turret traverse

The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor Curator Charles R. Lemons ran a comparison of the turret traverse speeds of the German Panther tank and the Allied Sherman Tank. He found that the Panther had a travers speed of 10 degrees per second which was a lot slower than the 20 degrees a second produced by the US electro-hydraulic powered traverse motors fitted to the Sherman Turrets. The Panther’s travers speed depended on the main engine for pumping power. This slow speed could help a fast Allied tank avoid getting hit in Urban situations.

Suspension

One of the most striking features of this 2nd generation German tank, compared to previous models, was the adoption of a Schachtellaufwerk wheeltrain. It was already pioneered on several AFVs and also adopted by the Tiger, and suspended by dual torsion bars. This system was invented by prof. Ernst Lehr, and was known for its wide travel stroke and rapid oscillations, plus overall reliability, being designed both for high speed and bad terrain. In case of damage, the torsion bars could be removed and replaced easily on the spot. However, the interleaved wheel system rendered all replacements and maintenance time-consuming, due to difficult access to the internal wheels and weight of individual roadwheels. A complexity which remained properly German and was never adopted elsewhere. In bad weather, they had a tendency to clog with mud, rocks, snow and ice, which proved problematic on the Eastern Front. In March 1945, MAN converted a few chassis to interleaved, but non overlapping wheels and, from the fall of 1944 to early 1945, sleeve bearings were also tried, with mixed success, but not further developed.
Roadwheel replacement
Roadwheel replacement in Northern France – Credits: Bundesarchiv.

Armament of the Panther

The Rheinmetall-Borsig KwK 42 (L/70) was the high-velocity gun planned and integrated in the Panther turret. It was a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun with 79 to 82 HE, APCBC-HE, and APCR rounds, often in low availability. Despite the moderate caliber, the large propellant charge and long barrel contributed to making this gun a very efficient armor-piercing weapon. The shell had even more penetrating power than the 88 mm (3.46 in) of the Tiger. Secondary armament comprised, typically, of one coaxial MG 34 machine gun and one hull MG 34, usually fired by the radio operator. The latter was, at first, operated through a “letter box” flap covering the vertical firing aperture. Later, on the late Ausf.A and on the Ausf.G, a more conventional ballmount was fitted, coupled with a K.Z.F.2 sight. Spent shells fell into a box, and the hatch covering it automatically closed while exhaust fumes were extracted outside via hoses.
Panther gun
75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 42 L70.

A Panther unleashed on the battlefield

Eastern Front

“Operation Zitadelle”
On January 9, 1943, in preparation for the great summer offensive on the Eastern front, the first unit ever supplied with the Panther was Panzer-Abteilung 51, followed by Pz.Abt. 52 in February 1943 (96 tanks, four companies each), plus HQ Panzer Regiment Stab 39. Training started immediately, but the vehicles were soon found to be plagued by mechanical failures, which led to a major reconstruction at Falkensee and Nuernberg in March to May 1943. However, the program failed to correct all detected problems, still present when the units were first committed in action (eventually, only 40 of the 196 were serviceable).
At the insistence of Guderian, a second program was initiated at Gafenwoehr. With all these interruptions, training quality was degraded. By mid June, the two Panzer-Abteilung, plus PzAbt.28, were sent back on the Eastern front, under the command of Von Lauchert. His units were part of the XLVIII Panzer-Korps, 4th Panzerarmee, Herresgruppe Sud. On the 5th of July, it was attached to the Panzer Grenadier Division GrossDeutschland (200 Panthers). Operations ceased on the 20th of July with just 41 Panthers operational (43 in August), and a report by Lauchert, underlining many problems, notably the fuel pump deficiencies (56 burned out beyond repairs).
Disabled Ausf.D at Kursk
Disabled Ausf.D at Kursk
The report, endorsed by Gen. Guderian, presented excellent fighting performances nonetheless, the crews claiming 267 kills. These vehicles could destroy any Soviet AFV beyond reach. However, they only accounted for a small percentage (7%) of all German armor committed in the offensive (2400-2700). There was a reinforcement of 12 Ausf.Ds, but losses rose again with the Soviet counter-attack, many Panthers being abandoned and never recovered. By the 11th of August, 156 were total write offs.
Soviet counter-offensive
On the 26th of August 1943, the former Pz Abt.52 was consolidated into the 1st Abteilung/Pz.Rgt 15, with all recovered and repaired Panthers. Pz.Abt 51 received a new shipment of 96 vehicles, still remaining attached to “GrossDeutschland”. During the counter-offensive, they lost 36 of them (total write offs). Only 15 were serviceable and 45 needed repairs. The same month, a new unit arrived, the 2nd Abteilung/SS Pz.Rgt 2 attached to “Das Reich” with only 71 Panthers. Later, in September, this unit had only 21 Panthers left, with 40 needing repairs. A fourth unit joined in, the 2nd Pz.Abt./Pz.Rgt 23 (96 Panthers), and a fifth, 1st Abt./Pz.Rgt 2, mostly with Ausf.As, which soldiered on until late October.
Northern Front
After another report, still showing mechanical unreliability, Hitler took action. He ordered, in November, that 60 Panthers without engines or transmissions be sent on the Leningrad Front (Heeresgruppe North). They were dug-in on the opposite bank of Konstadt, supported by AT guns and infantry, with the 10 more reliable machines left in a mobile reserve, forming the Ist Abt./Pz.Rgt 29. Two other Abteilungs arrived the same month on the Northern front, for the L Armee Korp. By December, the last unit for a long time arrived in this area, 1st Abt/Pz.Rgt31. Indeed, new faults have been found with the HL 230 engine which needed corrections and no Panther was sent on the Eastern front for months. By the end of December, 624 Panthers had been lost as total write offs, on the Central and Northern front, for 841 shipped in total. After improvements, Guderian would state in January 1944 that “the Panther is at last front ripe”.
Central Front, summer 1944
Before the start of operation Bagration, the Germans had considerably reinforced their strength. 31 Abteilungen were converted to Panthers, and new ones sent on the Central front. Their average complement was 79, but some counted 60 units, and Panzerbrigades had only 36. Mixed units like the I/Pz.Rgt Brandenburg assigned to the Panzergrenadier Division Kurmark, had 45 vehicles, while Pz.Rgt 29 (Pz. Div. Münchenberg) counted only 21 Panthers. Ausf.As formed the bulk of these, completed with early Ausf.Gs.
Aftermath (July-December 1944)
Shortly after the Russians succeed in creating a gap on the Central front, 14 Panzer-Brigades were hastily reorganized, but only half were sent to the Eastern Front, the others being gathered to counter the Allied push from Normandy in August. By that time, Allied bombings severely hampered the production capacity, which needed drastic reorganization. Under severe shortages, reduced Abteilungs were now committed into action, at least until the end of the year.
By September 1944, 522 were listed in service at the same time in operational units. The bulk of the Panthers produced was found on the Eastern Front, with as many as 740 in March 1945.
Most successful operational units comprised the 23rd and 26th Independent Panzer Regiments, 2nd Das Reich and 1st Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Panzer-Divisions.
Operations in January-March 1945 (Poland, eastern Prussia)
By February 1945, following the failure of the Western offensive, eight divisions (1, 2, 9, 10, 12 SS, 21st Pzd. and 28th PzGd, and the Fuehrer Grenadier Division) were sent back to the Eastern front, with some reinforcements (275 Panthers). By March 1945, experimental units started using night attack tactics, equipped with FG1250/1251 infrared illuminators. Following this success, five other units were equipped with these systems, all on the Eastern front. Against all odds, combining an absence of notable breakdowns, operational readiness reached its all-time highest and various units gained local victories which diverted considerable resources from the enemy. In January 1945, production also reached its historical highest.
Ausf.G in operations
Panther Ausf.G in operations.

Western Europe

Normandy was the playground for the new Ausf.A. By D-Day, only two Panzer regiments on the Western Front were equipped with the Panther (156 in all). With reinforcements, this figure rose to 432 by July. Six Abteilungen (counting 79-89 Panthers each) were attached to the 1st, 2nd, 9th, and 12th SS Panzerdivisions operating in this area, as well as the 2nd PzD and Panzerlehr divisions. Most of the teething problems found on the D1-D2 had been solved and reliability, as well as tactical deployment, allowed this up-armored version to show its full and formidable potential. Guderian still complained about the life expectancy of the final drives, and, still, some engines caught fire.
The majority soldiered around Caen, pinning down the Anglo-Canadian forces of the 21st Army Group on open ground and retreating under the cover of the bocage, woods and buildings. However, the British 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in) claimed many of these machines on the same grounds, which rendered counter-offensives perilous, not mentioning the always present air threat. Reinforcements and replacements arrived in the end of June, but, by September, only three regiments were left, crippled after operation Cobra. Most had been wiped out at the Falaise gap. After this, many inexperienced units were sent to “plug the gap”, with mixed success, during the retreat from France.
Engine replacement in the field
Engine replacement in the field.
As Gen. Fritz Bayerlein of the Panzer Lehr division mentioned, the Panther was not at an advantage in the hedgerows. The long barrel and overall width reduced its maneuverability on the narrow roads. More so, it was front heavy, tall and lacked lateral vision, which rendered the crew almost blind to sneaking antitank infantry squads and close-quarter attacks. In September-October 1944, brand-new Panzerbrigades were sent to block the path of Gen. Patton, but the young and poorly trained crews couldn’t cope with well seasoned US crews, and their new tactics involving the M4(75)W, M10 and M36 tank-hunters. Losses were appalling. After this, the bulk of the new Panther Ausf.A-G were kept until the Ardennes counter-offensive (“Wacht am Rhein”). However, in the hands of a few veterans and tank aces, the last upgraded Ausf.Gs performed quite impressively.
British Pz.Kpfw.V Panther Ausf.G Cuckoo from the 4th Battalion of the 6th Coldstream Guards Tank Brigade, North-West Europe, 1944/45.
British Pz.Kpfw.V Panther Ausf.G Cuckoo from the 4th Battalion of the 6th Coldstream Guards Tank Brigade, North-West Europe, 1944/45.
During the battle of the Bulge, around 400 Panthers were listed in the units participating in the offensive, while 471 were listed in all for all the Western front. They were not at their advantage in the forest, but once again proved deadly on open ground. However, when supporting troops assaulting small villages, they took heavy losses due to Bazookas and PIATs manned by Allied infantry inside the narrow streets.
A special unit, the Panzerbrigade 150, included five Panthers disguised as M10 tank destroyers for Operation Greif, a “fifth column” commando which created havoc behind US lines. However, the disguise did not trick US forces for long, and the five vehicles were ultimately destroyed.
By January 1945, only 97 were left from the Bulge Furnace. The bulk of the new Panzerbattalions were sent in the East, and only four regiments were kept on the Western front. Late versions saw an array of modifications, allowing night attacks in coordination with special versions of the Sd.Kfz.251 with long-range infrared illuminators, and completed by assault troops using Vampir-modified Sturmgewehr guns. Until the end of the war, new rounds with enhanced AP characteristics were also issued, although in limited quantities. For example, the Panzergranät 40 was able to penetrate 194 mm (7.64 in) or armor at short range and 106 mm (4.17 in) at 2000 m (6561 ft).
The Panther’s thick frontal armor and long range gun were considerable assets on the battlefield, but the sides were vulnerable. So, the drivers developed a habit of retreating in reverse speed instead on turning the vehicle when under attack, always presenting the front. Despite of this, Allied crews became experts in out-flanking maneuvers, but the Panther could still count on better mobility than the Tiger, which in turn, compensated by its stronger side armor.
Ausf.G IR system
Ausf.G IR (Infrared) vision system.

Italy

Contrary to the Tiger, no Panther was ever sent in Tunisia. Despite of this, some Abteilungen saw action throughout Italy, until March 1945. At the same time, more and more “Panther-pillboxes”, spread out in defensive open fields, turned to be highly effective. The first batch arrived in August 1943, with 71 Ausf.D tanks of the 1st SS Panzer Division. They returned to Germany by October, never to see action there. However, the 1st Abteilung, 4th Pzr-Regt first engaged US forces in February as reinforcements at Anzio. However, by the end of May, most had been lost in action, some destroyed by ship artillery. By mid-June, only 11 were reported operational. However, 38 were shipped by rail, reinforced later by two batches of 20 and 10 in replacements in October. This unit stayed as a tactical reserve until the end of the war.
The mountainous terrain favored the Panther when well placed, and greatly complicated flanking attacks by Allied forces. However, the British had more and more 17-pounders engaged in action, and many Panthers were also disabled by indirect fire (Allied SPGs were massively employed) due to poor upper protection.

Variants, projects and derivatives

Panther II

The Panther II, later abandoned and merged with the E 50 program, was initially the result of Hitler’s insistence for an up-armored Panther, and to raise the commonality between the Panther and Tiger II, then in development. In April 1943, this was materialized in the Panther II program, basically a standard Panther hull with a glacis 100 mm (3.94 in) thick, 60 mm (2.36 in) of side armor and 30 mm (1.18 in) top. An initial plan asked for a production schedule by September 1943. The new tank would have also been equipped with the same 75 mm (2.95 in) L/70 KwK 42 gun as the normal Panther.
MAN was asked to deliver a prototype in August 1943, equipped with the latest Maybach HL 234 fuel-injected engine, capable of delivering 900 hp (671.4 hp) coupled with the GT 101 gas turbine. However, by the summer of 1943, these concerns were dropped and all efforts focused on the Panther itself. Although it is unclear if there was any official cancellation, US forces eventually captured one Panther II prototype, fitted with an Ausf.G turret in 1945 (now displayed at Fort Knox).

Panzer V Panther Ausf.D with Panzer IV Ausf H turret

Panzer V Panther Ausf.D with Panzer IV Ausf H turret
This Panzer V Ausf.D Panther tank hull was fitted with a Panzer IV Ausf.H turret as part of a battlefield conversion. It was used as a Command tank, The turret was fixed, just polted down to the hull. The Panzer IV and Panther have different sized turret rings. It is believed to be part of 635 schw.Pz.Jg.abt. (635 heavy tank hunter battalion).

American built wooden Panzer V Panther

The American Army built a full size wooden replica Panther tank to help train its troops in target recognition.
Wooden mock-up of the Panzer V Panther tank
Side view of the US wooden mock-up of the Panzer V Panther tank showing the overlapping large road wheels(ebay)
front view of the Wooden mock-up of the Panzer V Panther tank
Front view of the American wooden mock-up of the Panzer V Panther tank showing the sloping glacis plates and large tracks. (ebay)
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzer IV Ausf.D-J

Nazi Germany (1937)
Medium tank – 8,544 built

The warhorse of the German army

When the Krupp factory’s Versuchs-Kraftfahrzeug 622 (Trial Vehicle 622) went into production as the Panzerkampfwagen-IV Ausf. A in November 1937, probably nobody realized that they had developed a vehicle what would become the mainstay of the German Panzerwaffe (Armoured Corps) well into the Second World War. It replaced the Panzer III as the most numerous German battle tank and fought alongside the later Panther, Tiger and Königstiger tanks until the end of the war.
The overall design of this tank dated back to November 1934 when the Wa.Prw.6, a section of the Heeres-Waffenamt (Army Procurement Agency), demanded a support tank, later to become the Pzkpfw. IV, and a battle tank, later to become the Pzkpfw. III.

Overall Layout

Although in production for 8 years and modified during every production run, the overall layout and appearance of the Pzkpfw. IV never changed. The engine was located in the rear of the vehicle, connected to a drive shaft which itself was attached to the transmission in the front.
One unique feature of the Pzkpfw. IV was the asymmetrical hull to connect the turret raze to the transmission to allow the turret to be traversed faster. To accomplish this, the turret was offset 6.50 cm (2.62 in) to the left and the engine 15 cm (6 in) to the right. The drive shaft itself was mounted on the chassis floor below the turret basket. The driver (Fahrer) sat on the front left of the tank with a large square hatch above its head and driver’s visor in front of him. The driver’s visor was protected by 50 mm thick bullet-proof glass and could be closed with an armoured cover during combat. When under small arms fire the driver used a binocular periscope with two small openings just above the driver’s visor supported by another visor to his left in the side of the upper structure.
He steered the vehicle with 2 steering brakes which worked on a conventional Krupp clutch-steering. On his left sat the radio-operator (Funker) below a identical square hatch in charge of an AM-radio with an effective range of up to 2 km. He had a forward mounted close-defence weapon (either a MG or a submachine gun depending on the variant) with a limited pivoting range mounted either in a armored ball mount or just stuck through a armored opening.
The radio operator had a very limited field of view. He could look through the aiming device of the ball mount (or just through the opening if no ball mount was installed) or a visor to his right in the side of the upper structure.
Behind the driver and radio-operator was the fully traversable turret with the 75 mm main gun and co-axial 7.92mm machine gun mounted in the turret front. The gunner (Richtschuetze) was located on the left of the gun, resting on a seat and aiming through a telescopic sight in front of him. To find any targets more easily, a small visor with a armored flap was attached next to the small opening for the gunsight.
The vehicle was equipped with an electrical turret traverse powered by a 2-cylinder DKW PZW-600 petrol engine, providing quick target acquisition and supporting the traverse of the turret in an oblique position. In case of a breakdown of the electrical turret traverse the gunner could operate a lever to switch over to traverse the turret manually. To traverse the turret full 360 degrees, the gunner had to turn the hand wheel 188 times.
The loader (Ladeschuetze) on the right of the turret was responsible for loading and maintaining the main gun and co-axial MG. The ammunition for the maingun and machine gun was dispersed in special containers all over the vehicle interior. For observation purposes he had a visor on his side of the turret front identical to that of the gunner.
The commander (Kommandant) was located right behind the gun breech, observing the battlefield through 5 armoured visors mounted around a tube-shaped commander’s cupola. While the gunner and commander sat on seats to offer them at least a minimum of comfort in the cramped turret, the loader could fold his seat up to stand besides the gun during the reloading procedure in combat situations.
A hatch was mounted in each side of the turret for easy access of the gunner and loader. A additional armored visor was installed in front of each hatch, offering additional but limited observation capacity. Two armored close defence openings were located in the rear of the turret to fend of enemy soldiers with pistols or submachine guns supplied to each tank crew.
The armor of the tank consisted of homogenous, nickel-free armor-steel PP694 of ever increasing thickness through production. The gasoline/petrol engine in the back of the chassis was supplied via 3 different fuel tanks (I, II, III). Fuel tank I and III were filled externally via fillers while fuel tank II was filled at the same time as III through a connecting hose which also vented the tank during filling. Fuel tank I contained approx. 140 litres of gasoline/petrol, fuel tank II approx. 110 litres and fuel tank III approx. 220 litres for a total of approx. 470 litres. The Pzkpfw. IVs had non-lubricated tracks consisting of 101 track links per side connected via bolts giving the tank a specific ground-pressure of 0.68kg/cm².

Armament and Ammunition

The main gun of the Pzkpfw. IV Ausf. A to F was the 7.5cm KwK (abbreviation for KampfWagenKanone = Combat Vehicle Tank Gun) 37 L/24. It was a howitzer type weapon with very short barrel just 1.7 m long, mounted in the front of the turret. The gun barrel was mounted in a jacket cradle with the recoil mechanism and recuperator located to its left and right side. It had a semi automatic gun breech at its rear. The gun fired high explosive (HE), armor piercing (AP) and shaped-charge anti-tank rounds (HEAT – high explosive anti-tank) as well as smoke and grapeshot/cannister rounds.
The usual anti-tank armor piercing round was the Kanonengranate rot (Leuchtspur) Panzer(brechend mit Schutzkappe) K. Gr. Rot Pz (Capped anti-tank round with tracer) or better known as Panzergranatpatrone-39 with a weight of 6.8 kg. It had a muzzle velocity of 385m/sec. and able to penetrate 41 mm of rolled homogenous steel plating at an angle of 30 degrees at a distance of 100 m. Three different shaped-charge anti-tank rounds came into use with the KwK 37 during the war, the Granate 1938 mit Hohlladung, Ausf. HL/A, HL/B und HL/C (HEAT round 1938 A, B, C) or just Gr. 38HL/A to C with a weight between 4.5 kg and 4.8 kg with a muzzle velocity of 450m/sec.
The short 75 mm main gun proved adequate against most light tanks fielded by the invaded nations like the French Renault R35 or Soviet T-26, but after facing the well armored Soviet T-34 medium tank and KV-1 plus KV-2 heavy tanks at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, and the French heavy tank Char B1 bis even earlier, the German Panzerwaffe demanded not only more effective tank guns but better ammunition as well.
Production of the HL/A round started on 12 December 1941 while the B followed in September 1942. From the HL/A to the HL/C, the armor piercing capabilities of the rounds was increased from 70 mm at any ranges to 75 mm to a total of 100 mm at any ranges.
A shaped-charge used a conical or hemispherical metal insert with forward facing opening surrounded by a extremely explosive blasting agent to shape a thin jet of cold-formed metal moving with very high speed to pierce through armor plating. One disadvantage of this ammunition was its dispersion because the armor piercing capability of the cold-formed metal jet was reverse proportional to the rotating speed of the round. Its effectiveness and dispersion was crucially reduced when fired by long barreled high velocity guns due to the high angular acceleration of the projectile. However as the intended role of the Pzkpfw. IV was to support the Pzkpfw. III and engage bunkers and field fortifications with the short barreled 75 mm gun, the main ammunition type used was the 7.5 cm Sprenggranate-34 or just 7.5 cm Sprg. 34, a 5.75kg heavy round with a high explosive charge of 0.66kg. These rounds proved very effective against unarmoured vehicles, bunkers and enemy infantry.
The secondary armament of the PzKpfw. IV consisted of a MG-34 mounted on the right hand side of the main gun and, depending on the version, a bow mounted MG-34 Panzerlauf (armoured barrel) operated by the radio operator. Not every versions of the early Pzkpfw. IV featured a ball mount for the bow mounted MG-34, some had just an armored flap through which the radio operator fired either with a MG-34 or a submachine gun. The MG-34 Panzerlauf featured an armored barrel cover with a lot fewer of the distinctive ventilation holes of the standard MG-34.
To make it easier to use the machine gun inside the cramped space of the tank, the weapon was used without the wooden butt-stock, but could equipped with one if necessary and a forward mounted bipod and a sight for use outside of the tank. The MG-34 machine gun had a calibre of 7.92 mm chambered for the 7.92 x 57 mm round and had a theoretical rate of fire of 800-900 rounds per minute and a muzzle velocity of 765 m/sec.

Paint and camouflage

When completed at the factories, German tanks received a basecoat of RAL-8012 (RAL-Reichsausschuss fuer Lieferbedingungen = Committee for Delivery Conditions) Rotbraun (Red Oxide Primer) over which the official camouflage pattern had to be applied.
This changed on 2 November 1938. Heeresmitteilung Nr. 687 (Army Announcement number 687) ordered all vehicles repainted in RAL-7021 Dunkelgrau (dark grey) and RAL-7017 Dunkelbraun (dark brown) at a rate of 2/3 to 1/3.
On July 31st 1940, another Heeresmitteilung, Nr. 854, ordered all vehicles to be repainted in just RAL-7021 Dunkelgrau (dark grey) and ordered this pattern as the standard base color for the Wehrmacht.
How long the 2-tone camouflage pattern of grey an brown, from 1938 was used is unclear, especially due to the fact that most pictures from this time are just black and white, but it seems it was more widely distributed than is wrongly assumed.
Over the course of the war, especially at the eastern front, German Panzer crews started to use not only additional paints but also mud and dirt to try and disrupt the visual silhouette of their vehicles. During Winter, the vehicles had to be white washed with either in water dissolved chalk or with a petrol-soluble paste delivered to the front lines. White bedsheets or other white cloth were used when the chalk or white paste was not available.
Vehicles sent to hot climates like Northern Africa in 1941 received a basecoat of RAL-8020 Sandgelb (sand yellow) over the original dark grey paint. Another specification from 1942 ordered the vehicles sent to Northern Africa coated in 2/3 of RAL-8020 Sandgelb and 1/3 of RAL-7027 Sandgrau (sand grey). The Deutsches Afrikakorps fighting in North Africa suffered almost from the beginning of the fighting their from overstretched supply lines and allied attacks on the shipping lines in the Mediterranean and was forced to use even stocks of british paint captured during the initial successes.
When the base color of German vehicles was changed to RAL-7028 Dunkelgelb in February 1943 vehicles in the old Dunkelgrau livery had to be repainted in the new colour by the units themselves, during larger repairs behind the frontlines or in factories when sent back for factory refit.
To increase the effect of the camouflage, additional petrol-soluble pastes of RAL-6003 Olivgruen (dark olive green) and RAL-8017 Rotbraun (dark chocolate brown) were delivered to the frontline units. The emerging multi-tone camouflage patterns varied from unit to unit and depended on the availability of the pastes, the time to apply them on the vehicles and orders given by commanders of certain units. These factors effected the camouflage patterns that much, that they could even vary from platoon to platoon or company to company. The paste was thinned with petrol and could be applied by paint spray guns, brushes or even brooms.

Panzer IV Ausf.D (Sd.Kfz.161)

The long version of this tanks name is Panzerkampfwagen-IV (7,5cm) (Sd. Kfz. 161) Ausfuehrung D, (4. und 5./B.W.) Of the 248 ordered Panzer IV Ausf.D tanks, a total of 231 were completed between October 1938 and October 1939. The order for the first 200 were called series 4 (4. /B.W.) and the further 48 were called series 5 (5. /B.W.). Both series 4 and 5 /BW where of the same design.
Some of the remaining nineteen chassis were used for special version: sixteen were used to construct Bruckenleger IV tanks (Armored-vehicle bridge laying tanks); two for the 10,5cm K18 Sf. IV a Dicker Max self-propelled gun and one as ammunition carrier for the Karl-Gerät, a super-heavy Mortar. One tank was used in the trials to up-gun the Pzkpfw. IV with high-velocity guns. It was equipped with a 5cm KwK39 L/60.
Panzer IV Ausf.D on trials, 1940
A front hull armoured ball mounted 7.92 mm MG-34 machine gun was reintroduced. The driver’s front was stepped forwards, similar to the Panzer IV Ausf.A, with a circular visor/pistol port added in the resulting central corner. This gave the driver more vision to his right.
The 7.5cm Kw.K L/24 main gun mantlet was reinforced with a slightly curved armour plate of 35 mm thickness. The side and rear armour of the Ausf.D was increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm, somewhat improving its survivability.
The front hull and superstructure was built with 30 mm thick face-hardened armour. In February 1940, 30 mm thick applique armour plates were bolted or welded to the front superstructure and hull bringing the armour protection up to 60 mm thick in these areas. Also 20 mm applique armour plates were also bolted or welded to the sides increasing the side armour in the centre to 40 mm thick. The last 68 Panzer IV Ausf.D tanks had 50 mm thick front hull armour instead of the original 30 mm. The increased thickness of the armour increased the weight of the Panzer IV Ausf.D to 20 tonnes.

Panzer IV Ausf.D specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 5.92 m x 2.84 m x 2.68 m
(19ft 5in x 9ft 4in x 8ft 5in)
Total weight 20 tonnes
Crew 5
Armament 7.5 cm Kw.K 37 L/24 gun
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun
Armor From 10 mm to 50 mm (30+30 mm on hull front)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 265hp gasoline engine
Top road speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Max. road range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production 229 Oct 1939 – May 1941

Panzer IV Ausf.E (Sd.Kfz.161)

The full name of this version of the Panzer IV was Panzerkampfwagen-IV (7,5cm) (Sd.Kfz. 161) Ausfuehrung E, (6./B.W.) Of the 206 Panzer IV Ausf.E medium tanks ordered, a total of 200 were completed between October 1940 and April 1941. Of the six remaining vehicles, four chassis were used for to construct armoured vehicle-launched bridge tanks (AVLB) and the two others were modified with a Schachtellaufwerk (box running gear) and participated in extensive trials.
A new drive sprocket without side-holes and improved roadwheels with new hubcabs for improved lubrication were mounted on the Ausf. E. The two hatches offering entrance to the steering brakes in the vehicle front were embedded in the armor plating. While the driver’s front remained the same as on the previous Panzer IV Ausf.D, the Fahrersehklappe-30 drivers visor was changed to the version already used on the Panzer III Ausf.G. An armored smoke grenade launcher was mounted on the left side of the rear enginedeck. A new, better armoured split-hatch commander’s cupola with five vision slits, the same as already used on the Pzkpfw. III Ausf. G, was mounted on the turretroof.
The turret rear was changed to a single plate without the overhang of the previous versions. It had a single circular signal gun barrel opening on the left side of the turret roof. An exhaust fan with an armored cover that had been located on the right of the turret roof was now moved further towards the main gun.
The frontal armor of the Ausf.E was increased to 50 mm and many but not all Ausf. E tanks were up-armored with additional 30 mm applique armor bolted or welded to the driver’s front and vehicle bow. Some had 20 mm applique armor bolted or welded to the sides. The improvements added to the Ausf.E increased the vehicle‘s weight of 22 tons.

Panzer IV Ausf.E specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 5.92 m x 2.84 m x 2.68 m
(19ft 5in x 9ft 4in x 8ft 5in)
Total weight 22 tonnes
Crew 5
Armament 7.5 cm Kw.K 37 L/24 gun
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun
Armor From 10 mm to 50 mm (30+30 mm on hull front)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 265hp gasoline engine
Top road speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Max. road range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production 223 Sept 1940 – April 1941

The Ausf.F (Ausf.F1), the last “short version”

The Ausf.F was a landmark in the Panzer IV evolution and development. The early model, “F”, called “F1” when the next model appeared, was the last of the “short” versions. The front bow plate appliqué was now replaced by a full 50 mm (1.97 in) thick armored plate. Side armor and turret thickness were raised to 30 mm (1.18 in). Total weight rose to more than 22 tons, which triggered other modifications, like larger track links (from 380 to 400 mm) to reduce ground pressure, and both the idler wheel and front drive sprockets were modified in turn. The F1 was produced to an extent of 464 units, until its replacement in March 1942. The last 42 were modified to the new F2 standard.

Panzer IV Ausf.F specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 5.92 m x 2.88 m x 2.68 m
(19ft 5in x 9ft 5in x 8ft 5in)
Total weight 22.3 tonnes
Crew 5
Armament 7.5 cm Kw.K 37 L/24 gun
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun
Armor From 10 mm to 50 mm (50 mm on hull front)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 265hp gasoline engine
Top road speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Max. road range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production 462 April 1941 – March 1942 (L/24 gun)
175+25 March 1942 – July 1942 (L/43 gun)

The Ausf.G (Ausf.F2), the first “long”

Even equipped with the AP Panzergranate, the low-velocity gun of the Panzer IV was inadequate against well-armored tanks. In the context of the upcoming campaign in Russia, some decision had to be made, which also concerned the long-awaited major upgrade of the Panzer III. The now largely available Pak 38 L/60, which had been already proved lethal, was supposed to be mounted in the turret of the Panzer IV by Krupp. In November 1941, the prototype was ready, and production was scheduled to start on the F2 standard. But, with the first encounters of Russian KV-1s and T-34s, the 50 mm (1.97 in) gun, also produced for the Panzer III, was dropped in favor to a new, more powerful model, built by Rheinmetall, based on the 7.5 cm Pak 40 L/46 (2.95 in). This led to the KwK 40 L/43, a relatively long caliber gun, fitted with a muzzle-brake, which reduced its recoil. Muzzle velocity, with the Panzergranade 39, topped at 990 m/sec (3250 ft/sec). It could penetrate 77 mm (3.03 in) of armor up to 1850 m (6000 ft). After the first prototype was produced by Krupp, in February 1942, production of the F2 started. By July 1942, 175 had been delivered. However, in June 1942, the F2 was renamed Ausf.G, and further modifications were applied on the production line, but both types were known to the Waffenamt as the Sd.Kfz.161/1. Some nomenclatures and reports also speak of it as the F2/G version.

Panzer IV Ausf.G specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 6.63 m x 2.88 m x 2.68 m
(21ft 9in x 9ft 5in x 8ft 5in)
Total weight 23.6 tonnes
Crew 5
Armament 7.5 cm Kw.K 40 L/43 gun
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun
Armor From 10 mm to 50 mm (30+50 mm on hull front)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 265hp gasoline engine
Top road speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Max. road range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production 1687 May 1942 – June 1943

Scaled-up production

Production figures for the Panzer IV had been relatively small in size until 1942. From the Ausf.A to F2, only 1209 Panzer IVs (of the “short type”) had been delivered to the Wehrmacht. Subsequently, they served primarily in the infantry support role. However, the bulk of the production (around 7500) was spread in only three variants, The Ausf.G, H and J. These remained relatively unchanged until 1945, despite simplifications of the design. As the Panzer III‘s 50 mm (1.97 in) gun was not up to the task against the best Russian mediums and heavies, the main model, carrying the bulk of any Panzerdivision, became the Panzer IV. The former was progressively phased out, and replaced on the production line by cheaper SPGs, like the StuG III.

Panzer IV Ausf.G: The transitional model

The G was an improved F2, with armor modifications, including a weight saving solution, consisting of a progressive glacis side armor, thicker at the base. The frontal glacis received a new 30 mm (1.18 in) appliqué plate, giving a total of 80 mm (3.15 in). This was largely sufficient against the Russian medium-velocity 76 mm (3 in) gun and the fearful 76.2 mm anti-tank gun. At first, it was decided to bring only half production to this standard, but Adolf Hitler personally ordered, in January 1943, that the full production would be upgraded, a decision well-received by the crews. However, the weight rose to 23.6 tons, further stressing the limited capacity of the chassis and transmission. Both unit reports and mass-production requirements commanded further modifications. The turret vision port slits were eliminated, the engine ventilation and ignition at low temperatures were improved, and additional racks were fitted for spare road wheels and brackets for track links on the glacis. These acted as makeshift protection as well. A new headlight was installed and the commander cupola was up-armored and modified. The late production versions, in March-April 1943, saw the introduction of side skirt armor (Schürzen) to the sides and turret, the latter equipped with smoke grenade launchers. Most importantly, they received the new KwK 40 L/48, with greater penetration power. After 1275 had been delivered by Krupp-Gruson, Vomag and Nibelungenwerke, plus 412 of the upgunned type, the production shifted towards the Ausf.H.

Panzer IV Ausf.H: The main version

The Ausf.H was equipped with the new long caliber KwK 40 L/48, and was subsequently registered as the Sd.Kfz. 161/2 by the ordnance department. Other modifications included simplifications to ease production, like the removal of the hull side vision ports, and, later, part sharing with the Panzer III. This was by far the biggest production of the type, with a total of 3774 machines, until its replacement by the Ausf.J, in June 1944. Krupp had received a request, in December 1942, for a new version featuring all-sloped armor, which would have also required a new chassis, transmission and probably engine as well, due to the added weight. However, production started with an upgraded version of the Ausf.G instead. A new headlight was set, a new Zahnradfabrik ZF SSG-76 transmission, new set of radios (FU2 and 5, and intercom). This was necessary in order to cope with the full glacis protection raised to 80 mm (3.15 in), with no appliqué parts. The H now stood at 25 tons in battle order, and maximum speed fell to 38 km/h (24 mph), but only 25 km/h (16 mph) in real combat conditions, and far less on rough terrain. By the end of 1943, Zimmerit paste was factory-applied, new air filters were fitted, along with a turret anti-aircraft mount for an extra MG 34 (Fliegerbeschussgerat), as well as modifications to the commander cupola. Side and turret spaced armor was also factory-mounted.

Panzer IV Ausf.H specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 7.02 m x 2.88 m x 2.68 m
(23ft x 9ft 5in x 8ft 5in)
Total weight 25 tonnes
Crew 5
Armament 7.5 cm Kw.K 40 L/48 gun
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun
Armor From 10 mm to 80 mm (80 mm on hull front)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 265hp gasoline engine
Top road speed 35 km/h (23.6 mph)
Max. road range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production 3774 April 1943 – July 1944

Panzer IV Ausf.J: The late, simplified version

Panzer IV Ausf.J at the Parola Museum
The last type, the Ausf.J, began to roll of the factory line at Nibelungenwerke (at St Valentin, Austria) and Vomag, as Krupp was now involved with other tasks, and incorporated more mass-production oriented simplifications, rarely welcomed by the crews. A first example was the removal of the electric turret drive, traversing being done manually, sacrificed for an additional 200 liters of fuel capacity, raising the operational range to 300 km (186 mi), a lesson hard learnt from the Russian campaign. Other modifications included the removal of the turret visor, pistol ports and turret AA mount in favor of a Naehverteidigungswaffe mount. Zimmerit was not applied anymore, nor was the Schurzen, replaced by cheaper Thoma type wire-mesh panels. The engine’s radiator housing was also simplified. The drive train lost one return roller, and two Flammentoeter (flame-suppressing) mufflers were installed, as well as Pilze 2-ton crane mount sockets. More critically, the late Panzer III SSG 77 transmission was mounted, despite it being clearly overloaded. Despite these sacrifices, the type J monthly deliveries were increasingly threatened by Allied bombings and the shortages caused, and only a total of 2970 were built until the last days of March 1945, Compare that to the total planned of 5,000, including modified models sporting the Panther turret. All prototypes developed by 1942 were dropped, in favor of the Panther. The chassis was also used for some variants.

Panzer IV Ausf.J specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 7.02 m x 2.88 m x 2.68 m
(23ft x 9ft 5in x 8ft 5in)
Total weight 25 tonnes
Crew 5
Armament 7.5 cm Kw.K 40 L/48 gun
Secondary Armament 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun
Armor From 10 mm to 80 mm (80 mm on hull front)
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 265hp gasoline engine
Top road speed 38 km/h (23.6 mph)
Max. road range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production 1758 June 1944 – March 1945-0

Panzer IV Ausf.D, DAK
A Panzer IV Ausf.D, DAK (Deutsche Afrika Korps) of the XVth Panzerdivision, El Agheila, December 1941.
Panzer IV Ausf.D Tauchpanzer
Tauchpanzer IV Ausf.D, provisioned for operation Seelöwe (or Sealion, prospected landings in Britain). It was theoretically capable of fording the Channel in shallow waters and sandbanks (6 to 15 meters/20-50 ft). Tests were also conducted with the Panzer III and II, but remained inconclusive. All apertures were carefully blocked and an auto-adaptive submarine type schnorchel mast was mounted on the turret, both for engine air feeding and exhaust. A total of 43 were converted by August-September 1940. Later on, 168 Panzer IIIs of various versions were also converted for Operation Barbarossa, to ford large rivers.
Panzer IV Ausf.E, DAK
Panzer IV Ausf.E of the Afrika Korps, 15th Panzerdivision, Libya, the fall of 1941.
Panzer IV Ausf.E
Panzer IV Ausf.E of the 11th Panzerdivision, April 1941, during the Yugoslavian campaign. Notice the bolted armor.
Panzer IV Ausf.F1
Panzer IV Ausf.F1 of the 5th Panzerdivision, Group Center, Russia, January 1942.
Panzer IV Ausf.F1
Vorpanzer F1, with extra bolted appliqué armor on the sides, gun mantlet and frontal glacis, with the 5th Panzerdivision, Group Center, Russia, winter 1941-1942.
Panzer IV Ausf.F1, DAK
Panzer IV Ausf.F1 of the 5th Panzerregiment, 5th Leichtes Panzerdivision, Tobruk, Libya, March 1941. The camouflage was sand (Gelb braun) and degraded sand over the usual Dunkelgrau basis, forming Grau-Grün patches.
Panzer IV Ausf.F2/G
Panzer IV Ausf.F2/G of the 1st Infantry Division (motorized) “Grossdeutschland”, Voronezh, Russia, June 1942. Improvised pattern of sprayed brownish sand over standard factory dunkelgrau.
Panzer IV Ausf.F2, LSSAH, France 1942
Ausf.F2, 1st SS Panzer battalion, SS Division LSSAH in France, which took part to “Case Anton” (invasion and occupation of Vichy French zone), November 1942.
Panzer IV Ausf.F2, Egypt, 1942
Ausf.F2, 4th Kompanie, 1st Abteilung, VIIIth Panzer-Regiment, XVth Panzerdivision, DAK, El Alamein (Egypt), October 1942.
Panzer IV Ausf.F2, Russia, 1942
Ausf.F2, 36th Panzer Regiment, XIVth Panzerdivision, Army Group South, Russia, summer 1942.
Bulgarian Panzer IV Ausf.F2/G
Bulgarian Maybach T4G (Ausf.F2/G), 13th unit, Russian border, winter 1942. Early production transitional model.
Panzer IV Ausf.G, Tunisia, 1943
Ausf.G, XVth Panzerdivision, Tunisia, spring 1943. This is a late production vehicle, up-gunned with the new KwK 40 L/48 gun.
Panzer IV Ausf.G
Panzer IV Ausf.G of the IVth Panzerdivision, battle of Orel, Russia, early 1943.
Panzer IV Ausf.G, winter 1942
Panzer IV Ausf.G late production vehicle, XIVth Panzerdivision, Stalingrad, winter 1942/43.
Panzer IV Ausf.G, summer 1943, Kursk
Panzer IV Ausf.G, XXth Panzer Division, Kursk, Russia, summer 1943.

Italeri Panzer IV Ausf.F1/F2/G kit No.6514 construction and review by the Tank Encyclopedia team
Panzer IV Ausf.F/G, Stalingrad, 1942
Ausf.F/G upgraded to the H standard, with full Schurzen armor – XVIth Panzerdivision, Russia, southern sector, summer 1943.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, Kursk, 1943
Ausf.H – XVIth Panzerdivision, Kursk, July 1943. The H were equipped with the new 7.5 cm Kampfwagenkanone 40 L48 (3.61 m/11.8 ft barrel) high velocity gun, along with the Pzgr.Patr.40 APCR, with a 990 m/sec muzzle velocity, capable of piercing 80 mm (3.15 in) of armor at 2000 m.
Bulgarian Panzer IV Ausf.H
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 1st Armored Division, Bulgarian army, Hungary, winter 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, IInd Panzerdivision
Ausf.H of the IInd Panzerdivision, France, June 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 35th Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzerdivision
Ausf.H of the 35th Panzer Regiment of the IVrd Panzerdivision, Bobruysk, December 1943.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 4th Panzerdivision
Ausf.H of the 35th Panzer Regiment of the IVth Panzerdivision, Kowel, Poland, early 1944. The 35th Regiment inflicted heavy losses on the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps at the Battle of Wołomin (part of operation Bagration). Its symbol was the “Grizlibär”, a menacing brown bear.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, IXth Panzerdivision
Panzer IV Ausf.H, IXth SS Panzer Division, France, summer 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, PanzerLehr
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 3rd Company, 130th Regiment of the 1st Panzerdivision, PanzerLehr, France, summer 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 9th Panzerdivision
Ausf.H, 9th Panzerdivision, Central Germany, April 1945. Notice the “ambush” type spotted camouflage and turret Schurzen armor open panels.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 1st SS Panzerdivision Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler
Panzer IV Ausf.H, 1st SS Panzerdivision Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, France, summer 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.H, SS Hitlerjugend
Ausf.J, 12th Panzerdivision SS “Hitlerjugend”, Normandy, France, June 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.J
Panzer IV Ausf.J early production (unknown unit), Russia, summer 1944.
Panzer IV Ausf.J, central Germany
Panzer IV Ausf.J, central Germany, March 1945. Notice the wire-mesh side-skirts armor and complex “ambush pattern” camouflage.
Panzer IV Ausf.J, 12th Panzerdivision
Ausf.J, 12th Panzerdivision, Northern Russia, early 1944. Notice the long range radio equipment and ring mount for an AA MG 34.
Panzer IV Ausf.J, Ardennes
Panzer IV Ausf.J, IXth Panzerdivision, Ardennes, Belgium, December 1944. This is an early production model, with zimmerit on the entire hull and spaced armor.

History of the Panzer IV

Panzer IV variants

Jagdpanzer IV

Probably the best and most feared of these versions, this low and very efficient tank hunter was particularly at ease in Italy and Normandy. No less than 1980 were built in all, starting in 1943.

Sturmgeschütz IV

1140 of these excellent support assault tanks were quickly built, sporting the already proven Sturmgeschütz III superstructure and main armament.

Panzerbefehlswagen IV

The command version, equipped with a powerful set of radios, complete electrical equipment and corresponding wiring. These tanks were used to coordinate artillery support, infantry, as well as air support with Panzerdivisions. Roomy and dependable, it was probably the best German command tank of the war.

Panzerbeobachtungswagen IV

A well equipped artillery observation vehicle, working alongside with and coordinating Wespe and Hummel SPGs.

Sturmpanzer IV Brummbär

One of the most impressive German SPGs, the Brümmbar boasted a 150 mm (5.9 in) gun, and led to the Heuschrecke and Dicker Max prototypes.

Flakpanzer IV Möbelwagen

240 were built for AA support, with a single 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, produced in 1944-45, to compensate for the loss of air superiority, notably in Europe.

Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind

Perhaps more famous, this AA support variant was equipped with the very effective quad 20 mm (0.79 in) Flakvierling. 100+ delivered. Using the same chassis and turret, 66 more were equipped with a single 37 mm gun (1.46 in), known as the Ostwind.

Geschützwagen III/IV Hummel

An artillery SPG built on a Panzer IV chassis and with Panzer III parts. Over 666 were built during the course of the war, and was one of the most successful German SPGs ever.

Panzerjäger III/IV Nashorn

A highly successful tank hunter, equipped with the legendary 88 mm (3.46 in) gun. It was less expensive than the Tiger. 473 were delivered overall.

Geschützwagen III/IV Schlepper

Using the same arrangement, 150 ammunition carriers were built.

Bergepanzer IV

A German ARV (Armored Recovery Vehicle), more powerful than previous versions based on the Panzer III. Mostly used on the Eastern Front. Perhaps 21 or 22 were converted using repaired tanks, without a turret and with a 2-ton crane supported with rigid towing bars. Modified amphibious Panzerfahre (2 prototypes) and Landwasserschlepper were also produced in limited quantities.

Bruckenleger IV

One of the earliest Panzer IV based variants, this was a bridgelayer vehicle. The unfolded bridge was 56 m (183 ft) long. 24 vehicles were produced prior to the campaign of France. 4 modified versions served in Russia with the 3rd Panzer Division, and 20 more with the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 10th Panzer Divisions in May 1940.
With increasing losses, makeshift repairs, upgrades to new standards, and cannibalization of all kind of versions, it was difficult by late 1944 to distinguish the J from the H or even G types. Almost any tank was a sub-version in itself. When turretless variants were produced, many surplus turrets were used in armored trains, anti-tank rail cars or fixed concrete antitank positions.

Panzer IV conceptual variants

PzKpfw IV mit Schmalturm

This was intended to be the “final form” of the Panzer IV. It was an attempt to mount the Schmalturm “narrow-turret”, already under development for the Panther II project, on the chassis of a late model Panzer IV H. With the turret came a better gun. Specifically the 75 mm (2.95 in) L/70 tank gun from Rheinmetall. The project, having never left the drawing board, was cancelled as it was soon found that the Panzer IV chassis had hit it’s weight and modifiable limits.

Panzer IV mit Hydrostatischem Antrieb

In 1944 an attempt was made to install a Hydrostatic Drive into the Panzer IV. It gave hydraulic power to both the turret rotation mechanism and steering. The Drive was added into the rear of the tank, under a large sloping engine cover, culminating in 2 smaller drive wheels. Just one prototype was produced and was sent back to the United States after the war for assessment. The vehicle now sits in the US Army Museum, Maryland.

Flakpanzer IV Kugelblitz

The “Lightning Ball” was a late war prototype for a SPAA, intended to be a replacement for the Wirblewind and Ostwind models. It was one of the first tanks to feature a type of oscillating-turret, which was fully enclosed unlike most SPAAs of the era. This ball like turret was mounted with Zwillingsflak “twin-flak” 30mm MK 103 twin anti-aircraft cannons. These cannons fired at an impressive 450 rounds per-minute. A pilot run of 5 hulls and turrets to match is all that was produced by the time the war came to an end, but these were never mated.

Operational Use in World War II

The Pzkpfw. IV participated in the Second World War in ever increasing numbers right from the beginning. Starting with 198 (out of 211 produced) Pzkpfw. IV tanks were used in the attack on Poland in September 1939. A total of 279 were used during the attack on the Netherlands, France and Belgium in May 1940. On June 22nd 1941, the day the Wehrmacht started Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union, German Divisions reported a strength of 441 Pzkpfw. IV among a total of aprox. 3,500 tanks participating in the attack.
The number of Pzkpfw. IV tanks used by the Deutsches Afrika Korps (German Africa Corps) in Northern Africa against Commonwealth Forces between 1941 and 1943 was never that high as the number of Pzkpfw. III tanks although the later, long barreled versions were feared by their counterparts despite their limited numbers.
When more modern tank designs like the Tiger and upgraded versions of the Pzkpfw. IV with the high velocity long barreled 75 mm gun reached the frontlines starting in summer 1942, an ever dwindling number of early short barreled Pzkpfw. IVs soldiered on through the remaining war, either heavily modified, uparmed and armored or unaltered due to various reasons.
When Allied forces landed in Italy in September 1943, they faced the German 26. Panzerdivision, fielding a mix of Pzkpw. III, long barreled Pzkpfw. IV and at least 17 older short barreld Pzkpfw. IV tanks. The 21. Panzerdivision, newly established in France after it was destroyed during the final battles in Northern Africa, had to rely initially on a mix of very old and captured equipment.
Although reinforced with a wide array of custom built vehicles based on obsolete French tanks and modern long barreled Pzkpfw. IVs when the allies landed in the Normandy in July 1944, the Division still employed 6 unmodified early short barreled Pzkpfw. IV of unknown versions. Photographs taken prior to D-Day and afterwards show at least two Panzer IV Ausf. B or C tanks being deployed.
The 116. Panzerdivision, dispatched to the Normandy late in July 1944, fielded a total of 86 Pzkpfw. IV including 3 early short barreled versions. The II./Pz.Rgt.29 of 12. Panzerdivision fighting Soviet forces in the Kurland-Pocket in early March 1945 reported one Pzkpfw. IV L/24 operational besides 61 Pzkpfw. IV L/48 and some Pzkpfw. III on March 1 1945. The l./PzArt.Rgt.2 of the same Division had another Pzkpfw. IV L/24 in use at the same time.
Official German loss-reports from December 1st 1943 to October 31st 1944 accounted for a total of 30 lost Pzkpfw. IV L/24 at the eastern front, plus 12 more lost in the west between September 1 1944 and November 30 1944. Its well accepted that the earlier, short barreled Pzkpfw. IV tanks were sent to the tank driving schools or secondline-units to guard the hinterland when larger numbers of the more effective long barreled Pzkpfw. IVs became available.
These figures also show that a smaller number were retained in service well over their time due to a lack of more modern tanks or other reasons. The 13. verstärkte Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie (13th reinforced Police Tank Company) of the regular German police force was such a unit and deployed a platoon of four Pzkpfw. IV Ausf. F(1) to fight partisans after its formation in February 1943.

Panzer IVs into the Cold War

It must be said that the large provision of surviving Panzer IV tanks were not lost or scrapped, but saw service, like under Bulgarian colors in Europe, until 1989, or under Syrian colors in the Middle East. There, provisions of ex-French and ex-Spanish models were purchased, some equipped with a new Soviet 12.7 mm (0.5 in) heavy machine gun. They took part in the fight for the Golan Heights during the War of 1965, and the Six-Days War of 1967. Their opponents were much more recent Israeli Centurions and rearmed, upgraded Shermans. Some of them are part of the numerous machines still in existence in many museums and private collections around the globe, with perhaps a dozen in running condition.

Panzerkampfwagen IV production numbers and dates

The following figures were obtained from Waffenamt production statistics enhanced and verified by assembly plant reports and Fgst.Nr (chassis number) analysis by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle.
Ausf A = 35 October 1937 – March 1938
Ausf B = 42 April 1938 – September 1938
Ausf C = 134 September 1938 – August 1939
Ausf D – 229 October 1939 – Mary 1941
Ausf E = 223 September 1940 – April 1941
Ausf F = 462 April 1941 – March 1942 (7.5cm Kpfwg.K. 37 L/24 gun)
Ausf F = 175+25 March 1942 – July 1942 (7.5cm Kpfwg.K. 40 L/43 gun)
Ausf G = 1687 May 1942 – June 1943
Ausf H = 3774 April 1943 – July 1944
Ausf J = 1758 June 1944 – March 1945

Source

Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle.
Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle.
Panzer IV und seine Abarten by Walter J.Spielberger, Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle.
Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf.G, H and J 1942-45 (New Vanguard)
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2
Poster Panzer IV C French campaign 1940
Poster Panzer IV Ausf C, French campaign June 1940


German Panzer IV Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

German Panzer IV Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

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Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzer III

Nazi Germany Nazi Germany (1937)
Medium tank – 5774 built

1936, the first German medium tank

Planned since the beginning of the thirties, with the rejection of the Versailles treaty, the Panzer III was a medium tank project, destined to comprise the bulk of the German armored forces. However, by 1933, German industry was still unable to produce such a tank, and the Panzer I and II were intended to improve industrial skills and methods, as well as to train crews for the future medium tanks to come. The Panzer III’s godfather was Heinz Guderian, a prolific armored warfare writer and theoretician, who envisioned an ideal design for the task of both dealing with other tanks and providing infantry support.
His plans were submitted to the the Inspector for Mechanized Troops in 1934, under the name of Versuchkraftfahrzeug 619. However, it as not approved by the Waffenamt (ordnance department), because of the choice of a 50 mm (1.97 in) gun. The ordnance department was indeed satisfied with the 37 mm (1.46 in) Pak 36, of which large numbers were already in stock. It was already the main infantry support gun, allowing easy ammunition management and standardization. This short-sighted view proved a major blunder. Numerous pre-series versions appeared, in the quest of a suitable suspension. The Panzer Ausf.A to C proved underarmed and underarmored. After Guderian met Hitler in 1939 about his concerns, the 50 mm (1.97 in) upgrade was again put on the table before the Waffenamt, now supported by the Führer. Nevertheless, the Waffenamt simply ignored the orders and delayed the upgrade until the Ausf.J appeared in 1941.
Four companies (Daimler-Benz, Krupp, MAN, and Rheinmetall) were chosen to produce a prototype each, which were ready by 1936. The Daimler-Benz model was finally chosen after intensive trials, and the production of the first series took place in 1937. The Daimler-Benz prototype incorporated a three seat turret, with an intercom system. Both proved very innovative features, the latter being well ahead of its time. Radio was also part of the equipment from the start, and the commander was directly informed by the platoon commander, also easing coordination with other Panzers. At the same time, most of the armored forces in the world used maneuver signal flags, the sole radio-equipped vehicles being the commander tanks. This feature alone was perfectly suited for Blitzkrieg style combined-arms tactics, and allowed tactical superiority. Later on, Allied tank designs also adopted the three-man turret configuration.

The test-series: Ausf.A to D

The easiest way to tell the difference between a Panzerkampfwagen Mark III and a Mark IV is to count the road wheels. The Mk III has six pairs of road wheels each side and the longer Mk IV has eight. Unfortunatly this simple guide does not take into account the early experimental trial versions that were used to test different track and suspension systems among other features. The Panzer III was the main battle tank of the German army during the early years of the Second World War. It would later be replaced by the Panzer IV, Panther and Tiger tank.
On 27 January 1934 authorisation was given to develop a 10 ton tank with a 3.7 cm cannon L/45 in the turret, code-named Zugfuehrerwagen (platoon leader’s tank) abbreviated to Z.W. Two trial tank chassis were ordered from Daimler-Benz and one from M.A.N. Two trial turrets were commissioned from Krupp and one from Rheinmetall. These orders were increased.
Each side of the Panzer III Ausf.A (Z.W.1) had five large road wheels with coil spring suspension and two track return rollers. Each side of the Panzer III Ausf.B (Z.W.3) had eight smaller road wheels with leaf spring suspension in two groups and three track return rollers. Each side of the Panzer III Ausf.C and D (Z.W.4) had eight road wheels with leaf spring suspension in three groups and three track return rollers. The configuration of the leaf spring suspension was different of the Ausf.C and Ausf.D. They were all powered by a Maybach HL 108 TR 250 hp engine but had different transmission gearboxes.
The armour on the front, sides and rear of the tank chassis was 14.5 mm thick. The turret sides and rear were also 14.5 mm thick. The gun mantle and front were 16 mm thick. They saw combat during the invasion of Poland and Norway. As newer, more heavily armoured versions of the Panzer III arrived in Panzer Regiments as replacements the surviving tanks were sent to tank crew training schools.
Panzer III Ausf.A
A Panzer III Ausf.A, one of the very first delivered, in 1937. This one was part of the Polish campaign in September. Early versions were converted to command tanks or, as they were outnumbered by lighter models, Zugfuhrerwagen or platoon commanders.

Panzer III Ausf.A specifications

Dimensions 5.80 m x 2.81 m x 2.36 m
(19ft x 9ft 3in x 7ft 10in)
Armament 1 × 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 5 mm – 16 mm
Weight 15 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 108 TR V-12 250hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 35 km/h (21.7 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 10

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

Panzer III Ausf.B specifications

Dimensions 5.66 m x 2.81 m x 2.38 m
(18ft 7in x 9ft 3in x 7ft 10in)
Armament 1 × 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 5 mm – 16 mm
Weight 16 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 108 TR V-12 250hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 35 km/h (21.7 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 15

Panzer III Ausf C
A Panzer III Ausf.C, Poland, September 1939.

Panzer III Ausf.C specifications

Dimensions 5.85 m x 2.82 m x 2.41 m
(19ft 2in x 9ft 3in x 7ft 11in)
Armament 1 × 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 5 mm – 16 mm
Weight 16 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 108 TR V-12 250hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 35 km/h (21.7 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 15

Panzer III Ausf.D
Panzer III Ausf.D, the last and biggest pre-production series. These were the testbeds for the mass-production Ausf.E. This one served in Norway, near Lillehamer in February 1940. The ochre camouflage, applied directly on the usual feldgrau livery, was customary in operations.

Panzer III Ausf.D specifications

Dimensions 5.92 m x 2.82 m x 2.41 m
(19ft 5in x 9ft 3in x 7ft 11in)
Armament 1 × 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 5 mm – 16 mm
Weight 16 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 108 TR V-12 250hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 35 km/h (21.7 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 30

Panzer III Ausf.E

The Ausf.E was the first version of the mass produced Panzer III tanks and was very similar to the Ausf.F and Ausf.G which differed in minor specifications. The previous versions had been used to test different suspension systems and other features. The Panzer III Ausf.E was fitted with torsion bar suspension with six roadwheels on individual swing axles. Three track return rollers were positioned above the road wheels.
The slightly more powerful 265 hp Maybach HL 120 TR engine was used in the Panzer III Ausf.E from earlier versions. The Ausf.F and Ausf.G were fitted with the 285 hp HL 120 TRM version which had a different magneto and modified cooling system.
The armor on this batch of Panzer III tanks was thickened to 30 mm on the turret front, rear and sides. The armor on the front and sides of the hull were also 30 mm thick. The angled front glacis and lower hull plates were 25 mm thick. The hull rear was 20 mm thick.
The 3.7 cm KampfwagonKanone (Kw.K – tank gun) has a length of 1716 mm (L/46.5) from the muzzle to the back of the breech. It had a rate of fire of up to 20 rounds per minute. This was achieved by having a semi-automatic breech which opens shortly before the end of the recoil and the spent casing ejected. The breech must be opened by hand prior to the first shot, but it closes by itself when a round is loaded. Its PzGr.18 AP shells could penetrate 34 mm thick armour laid at a 30 degree angle at a range of 100 m, 29 mm at 500 m and 22 mm at 1km. This was adequate to deal with the threats it faced in 1939.
A few Panzer III Ausf.E saw combat in Poland in 1939. They were used in the invasion of Holland, Belgium and France in May 1940. These tanks were upgraded during their combat life with different guns (5 cm Kw.K 38 L/42) turrets and more armour. They were used on the Eastern Front and in North Africa.

Panzer III Ausf E North Africa
Panzer III Ausf E Poland
Panzer II Ausf E France 1940
Panzer III Ausf E Russia

Panzer III Ausf.E specifications

Dimensions 5.38 m x 2.91 m x 2.50 m
(17ft 8in x 9ft 6in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5 or
5 cm KwK 38 L/42
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
(The 5 cm gun turret only had one coaxial machine gun not two)
Armor 10 mm – 30 mm
(additional 30mm plate added later)
Weight 19.5 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TR V-12 265hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 96

Panzer III Ausf.F

The Panzer III Ausf.F tank was very similar to the Ausf.E and Ausf.G. The previous versions had been used to test different suspension systems and other features. The Panzer III Ausf.E was fitted with torsion bar suspension with six roadwheels on individual swing axles. Three track return rollers were positioned above the road wheels.
A turret ring deflector guard was added to the front of the hull superstructure. The dummy periscope designed to draw sniper fire was removed from in front of the commanders cupola on later built turrets. Some early ones still had it. A smoke grenade launcher was added to the rear of the tank chassis. Two armoured brake vents were fitted to the front upper glacis plate.
It was fitted with the 285 hp HL 120 TRM petrol/gasoline engine which had a different magneto and modified cooling system than the HL 120 TR 250 hp engine fitted on the Ausf.E.
The armor on the Ausf.E to G was thickened to 30 mm on the turret front, rear and sides. The armor on the front and sides of the hull were also 30 mm thick. The angled front glacis and lower hull plates were 25 mm thick. The hull rear was 20 mm thick.
The 3.7 cm KampfwagonKanone (Kw.K – tank gun) has a length of 1716 mm (L/46.5) from the muzzle to the back of the breech. It had a rate of fire of up to 20 rounds per minute. This was achieved by having a semi-automatic breech which opens shortly before the end of the recoil and the spent casing ejected.
The factory painted dark grey (dunkelgrau RAL 46) and dark brown (dunkelbraun RAL 45) camouflage pattern was discontinued by order dated 31 July 1940. They were just painted dunkelgrau after that date. Most were used in the invasion of Holland, Belgium and France in May 1940. These tanks were upgraded during their combat life with different guns, turrets and more armour.
Later Panzer III Ausf.F were fitted with 5 cm Kw.K 38 L/42 guns. An armoured vent was fitted to the roof of the turret and rear engine deck to enable it to cope with the dust and heat of the North African desert. It was paint it in dark yellow (dunkelgelb). They were used on the Eastern Front.

Panzer III ausf F
Early production Panzer III Ausf.F
Panzer III Ausf F
Mid production Panzer III Ausf.F with false gunsight removed from the top of the turret.
Panzer III Ausf F North Africa
Panzer III Ausf F

Panzer III Ausf.F specifications

Dimensions 5.38 m x 2.91 m x 2.50 m
(17ft 8in x 9ft 6in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5 or
5 cm KwK 38 L/42
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
(The 5 cm gun turret only had one coaxial machine gun not two)
Weight 19.5 tons
Armor 10 mm – 30 mm
(additional 30mm plate added later)
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 285hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 636

Panzer III Ausf.G

The Panzer III Ausf.G was produced between March 1940 and early 1941. It was very similar to the Ausf.E and Ausf.F with minor differences in specifications. The previous versions had been used to test different suspension systems and other features. The Panzer III Ausf.G was fitted with torsion bar suspension with six roadwheels on individual swing axles. Three track return rollers were positioned above the road wheels.
It was fitted with the 285 hp HL 120 TRM petrol/gasoline engine which had a different magneto and modified cooling system than the HL 120 TR 250 hp engine fitted on the Ausf.E.
The armor on the Panzer III Ausf.E – Ausf.F tanks was thickened to 30 mm on the turret front, rear and sides. The armor on the front and sides of the hull were also 30 mm thick. The angled front glacis and lower hull plates were 25 mm thick. The hull rear was 30 mm thick on the Ausf.G.
A turret ring deflector guard was added to the front of the hull superstructure. The dummy periscope designed to draw sniper fire was removed from in front of the commander’s cupola on later built turrets. Some early ones still had it. A smoke grenade launcher was added to the rear of the tank chassis. Two armored brake vents were fitted to the front upper glacis plate. Armored vents were added to the turret roof and to the rear of the engine deck.
The first Ausf.G tanks were armed with 3.7 cm Kw.K L/46.5 tank gun. Some took part in the invasion of Holland, Belgium and France in May 1940. After experiences during the battle of France later versions were armed with the 5 cm Kw.K 38 L/42 gun. They were used on the Eastern Front and in North Africa. These tanks were upgraded during their combat life with different guns, turrets and more armour. Rear turret stowage boxes were sometimes fitted later.
The factory painted dark grey (dunkelgrau RAL 46) and dark brown (dunkelbraun RAL 45) camouflage pattern was discontinued by order dated 31 July 1940. They were just painted dunkelgrau after that date. Those going to North African were painted dark yellow (dunkelgelb).

Panzer III Ausf G
Panzer III Ausf G
Panzer III Ausf G
Panzer III Ausf G

Panzer III Ausf.G specifications

Dimensions 5.38 m x 2.91 m x 2.50 m
(17ft 8in x 9ft 6in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/46.5 or
5 cm KwK 38 L/42
Machine Guns 3 × 7.92 mm MG34
(The 5 cm gun turret only had one coaxial machine gun not two)
Armor 10 mm – 30 mm
(additional 30mm plate added later)
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 285hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 950

Panzer III Ausf.H

The Panzer III Ausf.H was the first version of the tank to be designed with a turret fitted with the 5 cm Kw.K 38 L/42 tank gun and with 60 mm of frontal armour, rather than having these specifications added later in an upgrade program. They started to be delivered in late 1940 and early 1941.
The 5 cm Kampfwagenkanone L/42 tank gun was semi-automatic: the breech block remained open after firing to enable the next round to be loaded quicker. Its standard armour piercing AP shell could penetrate or 55 mm of armour laid at an angle of 30 degrees at a range of 100 m, 46 mm at 500 m and 36 mm at a range of 1 km. The turret only had one coaxial 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun, another MG34 was mounted in the hull.
The tank was still powered by the Maybach HL 120 TRM 285 hp petrol/gasoline which gave it a top road speed of 42 km/h (26 mph). Two armoured brake vents were fitted to the front of the hull armour.
The 60 mm thick armor on the hull front, upper hull front and rear was constructed by welding two 30 mm armor plates together. The side armour was 30 mm thick and the angled front glacis and lower hull front plate was 25 mm thick. The angled armor on the front rear and sides of the turret was 30 mm thick. The curved gun mantle was 35 mm thick. The turret had an armored ventilation fan. Tanks going to North Africa were fitted with armored vents on the engine deck. Rear turret stowage bins were fitted later.
Because of the increase in weight wider wheels and tracks were introduced. New front drive wheels and rear idler wheels were fitted as well as a different shock absorber. Because of supply problems, some of the early Ausf.H tanks were fitted with shock absorbers and wheels used on the Ausf.G.

Panzer III Ausf H
Panzer III Ausf H
Panzer III Ausf H
Panzer III Ausf H

Panzer III Ausf.H specifications

Dimensions 5.38 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(17ft 8in x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 5 cm KwK 38 L/42
Machine Guns 2 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 10 mm – 60mm
Weight 21.5 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TR V-12 265hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Range 165 km (102 miles)
Total built 500

Panzer III Ausf.J & Ausf.L

The Panzer III Ausf.J was very similar to the Panzer.III Ausf.G. It was built with a turret fitted with a 5 cm Kw.K 38 L/42 tank gun. It had similar armor thickness and was powered by the same Maybach HL 120 TRM petrol/gasoline 285 hp engine.
The basic armor thickness at the hull front, upper hull front and rear of the tank was now 50 mm. The front glacis was 25 mm thick. 30 mm armour was used on the hull sides, lower hull rear and front. The armor on the front, sides and rear of the turret was 30 mm thick. The rounded gun mantle was 50 mm thick. In the spring of 1941, additional armor plate was added internally to the front of the turret increasing it to a maximum of 57 mm in places.
The chassis was lengthened to create better engine compartment ventilation and tow eyes. The design of the armored front brake vents was changed. The turret was fitted with an armoured extractor fan on the roof.
The 5 cm KampfwagonKanone (Kw.K – tank gun) had a length of 2100 mm (L/42) from the muzzle to the back of the breech. It had a rate of fire of up to 20 rounds per minute. This was achieved by having a semi-automatic breech which opened before the end of the recoil, ejected the spent casing and allowed for the quick loading of the next shell.
From December 1941 the 5 cm Kw.K L/60 tank gun had a length of 3000 mm. It started to be fitted instead of the 5 cm Kw.K L/42 gun, as stocks arrived in factories. They were renamed Panzer III Ausf.L. Tanks sent to North Africa had armoured vents fitted on the rear engine deck. In April 1941 stowage bins started to be fitted to the rear of the turret.
Using the appearance of spaced armor on Panzer III tanks is not a reliable way of identifying the different Ausf version. Late production Ausf.J tanks had 20 mm spaced armor fitted to the front of the turret and the hull. Some older tanks had it back fitted later.
Panzer III Ausf J
The Ausf.J was a real step forward because of its new, slightly larger and redesigned hull, with increased armor up to 50 mm (1.97 in) at the front, and the J1 variant received the 50 mm (1.97 in) KwK 38 L42 gun right from the start, with a new mantlet. The hull machine gun received a ball mount and the visor was also new. This early Ausf.J (482 built in 1941) fought with the Vth Division in Kuban, Ukraine, March 1942. The short barrel 50 mm (1.97 in) was replaced by the long barrel version. By 1943, only a handful had survived.
Panzer III Ausf J
Although nearly all Panzer IIIs were upgraded with the L42 gun, this medium barrel never gave satisfaction against the superior armor of the Russian KV-1 and thick sloped armor of the T-34. The introduction of the new gun emerged from to the will of Hitler after the fall of France, but this weapon was available in short numbers, so the Waffenamt postponed its use nearly one year and a half. The late J came just in time for the depleted German Panzerdivisions, which had already lost most of their combat effectiveness. The gun also used longer ammunition, thus reducing their storage from 90 to 84. Most served until 1944.
Panzer III Ausf J
Panzer III Ausf J

Panzer III Ausf.J & Ausf.L specifications

Dimensions Ausf.J 5.49 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(18ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
Dimensions Ausf.L 6.41 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(21ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
Armament Ausf.J 5 cm Kw.K 38 L/42
Armament Ausf.L 5 cm Kw.K L/60
Machine Guns 2 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 10 mm – 50mm (later 57mm)
Weight Ausf.J 21.6 tonnes
Weight Ausf.L 25.5 tonnes
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 285hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Range 155 km (96.31 miles)
Total built about 1521 L/42 (about 1021 L/60)

Panzer III Ausf.K

The Ausf.K was a command tank (Befehlspanzer) version of the Ausf.J, but different from the former Befehlspanzer versions, as their armament was real and not a dummy gun. The contract for these vehicles was cancelled.

Panzer III Ausf.M

Contracts were placed for the Panzer III Ausf.M in February 1942. They had the same features as the Ausf.L but they were fitted with deep-wading equipment. It was armed with the same 5 cm Kampfwagenkanone 39 L/60 (5 cm KwK 39 L/60) tank gun had a length of 3000 mm, as used on the Ausf.L. The longer barrel gave the gun a higher velocity and penetration power over the shorter 5 cm Kw.K L/42 but it had problems penetrating the frontal armour of the T-34 and KV-1 at long range.

Starting in May 1943 Schürzen 5 mm skirt armour plates were mounted on the hull side and 10 mm plates on the turret, to prevent the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifle penetrating the side armour of the Panzer III. Draftgeflecht metal mesh screens were also trialled. They were both as effective as each other, but the Schürzen skirt armour plates entered production as it would have taken too long to develop the support hangers for the metal mesh screens.
Panzer III Ausf M
Panzer III Ausf M

Panzer III Ausf.M specifications

Dimensions 6.41 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(21ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 5 cm Kw.K L/60
Machine Guns 2 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 16 mm – 60 mm
Weight 22.5 tonnes
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 285hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Range 155 km (96 miles)
Total built 250 approx.

Panzer III Ausf.N

The Ausf.N, mounted a short-barrel 7.5 cm Kampfwagenkanone 37 L/24 (7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24) tank gun, previously used on the Panzer IV. It was a low-velocity tank gun that was designed to fire mainly high explosive shells. If it had to engage armoured vehicles in combat it could fire the Panzergranate armour-piercing AP shell, but it was only effective at short ranges. Later on in the war, crews had the option to load the new 7.5 cm HL-granaten 39 hollow-charge high-explosive anti-tank HEAT projectiles which had a greater effect against tank armour. The Panzer III Ausf.N was increasingly used in the infantry support role once the 75 mm long barrelled Panzer IV, Panther and 88mm armed Tiger tank entered service.
Starting in May 1943 Schürzen 5 mm skirt armour plates were mounted on the hull side and 10 mm plates on the turret, to prevent the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifle penetrating the side armour of the Panzer III. Draftgeflecht metal mesh screens were also trialed. They were both as effective as each other but the Schürzen skirt armour plates entered production as it would have taken too long to develop the support hangers for the metal mesh screens.
Panzer III Ausf N
PAnzer III Ausf N

Panzer III Ausf.N specifications

Dimensions 5.49 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(18ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
Armament 75 cm Kw.K L/24
Machine Guns 2 × 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 16 mm – 60 mm
Weight 23 tonnes
Crew 5
Propulsion Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12 285hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Speed 40 km/h (24.85 mph)
Range 155 km (96 miles)
Total built 614 – 750 approx.

Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf.K
In October 1941, it was decided to use the standard Panzer III Ausf.J to accommodate a new, smaller radio, without giving up their main gun and firepower, but sacrificing one ammunition rack. 300 of these Panzerbefehlswagen Ausf.K mit 5cm KwK L/42 command tanks were converted and gradually introduced on the front in 1943. Since the L60 gun fielded by the Ausf.L and M had a far better muzzle velocity, 50 of these upgunned types were to be chosen for the same task, and equipped with new long, medium and short range radio sets. The custom-built Ausf.K arrived in late 1942/early 1943. Most were given to SS Panzerdivisions fighting on the Eastern front, like this one.
Early Panzer III Ausf.L, Tunisia, March 1943
Panzer III Ausf.L TP early production vehicle (1942), a transition model equipped with the Ausf.J turret, the standard long barrel 50 mm (1.97 in) KwK 38 L60, and specialized equipment for desert warfare (hence the name TP, “Tropisch”), essentially additional air filters and new cooling ratio. Facing mostly light Stuarts, Crusaders and half-tracks, the late Panzer IIIs ruled the Tunisian battlefield despite inferior numbers. Their only valuable opponent was the M3 Lee/Grant, which was outclassed by the Ausf.L.
Ausf L Pak 38 1943
A prototype based on the Ausf L, in a fictional livery, with the muzzle brake still fitted on the KwK 39. The KwK 39 was basically a Pak 38 without a muzzle brake and modified to be fitted in the Panzer III turret. Notice the protective panels around the turret, to deal with the AP rifles of the Russian infantry.

Pz.Kpfw.III variants

Besides the famous StuG, or Sturmgeschütz III, family (9500 built) based on the Panzer III chassis, suspensions, tracks and engine, almost a dozen specially modified versions were produced. Adding the 1024 Sturmhaubitze 42 (StuH 42), the Panzer III was by far the most widely used of all Axis chassis.
One of the first derivatives was the Tauchpanzer III, an improvised “submarine version” designed for operation Sea Lion (invasion of Great Britain) in August 1940. Modifications included a complete waterproof hull, new exhaust, schnorchel-like tubes and periscope. The total number of these “dive Panzers”, designed to cross the Channel under 20 feet (6 m) of water, amounted to just a few tested machines. The mass-conversion program never materialized, as the invasion was postponed.
The Panzerbefehlswagen III command tanks were converted from all versions after the Ausf.E (roughly one for twelve), and were characterized by powerful radios and a new redesigned, roomier turret interior. They had a dummy gun until the specialized Ausf.K, and this was often an issue in the heat of battle.
The Artillerie-Panzerbeobachtungswagen III was an advanced artillery observation model of which 262 were produced, appearing on the Russian front in 1943.
The Sturm-Infanteriegeschütz 33B (or sIG-33B) was a 1941-42 conversion of regular Panzer III, done by Alkett, into self-propelled chassis for the massive 150 mm (5.9 in) field gun. They found themselves far more suited for this role than the earlier sIG 33s based on the Panzer I Ausf B. However, only 24 were produced.
The Flammpanzer III Ausf.M(Fl) was an Ausf.M-based flamethrower version, of which 100 were derived and used mostly on the Eastern Front, starting from 1942.
The Berganpanzer III recovery tank was a late (1944) version affected to the Eastern Front, mostly to Tiger units.

Panzer III operational history

Invasion of Poland, September 1939

The Panzer III remains famous in tank history, less for its prowess, partly for its own advanced conception, despite being too lightly armed and protected in its early versions, but above all because it is associated with the first four years of successes of the German army. It remains, to this day, a symbol of the Blitzkrieg. In Poland, the Ausf.A to D pre-series were engaged in combat, but the burden fell mostly to the Ausf.E and F, alongside the numerous and lighter Panzer I and II, and a very few Panzer IVs, all split into six Panzerdivisions, with 2400 tanks in all. Because most serious opposition should have been wiped out by the Luftwaffe, these tanks were supposed to deal only with ill-prepared second-line infantry and convoys. Of course, it was not the case, and if the 37 mm (1.46 in) was sufficient against nearly all Polish tanks, their armor was certainly not impregnable to even basic antitank bullets and weaponry, and these proved deadly. The Czech licence-built 47 mm (1.85 in) gun, the UR anti tank rifles, the local-built Solothurn 20 mm (0.79 in) in fixed positions or on TKS tankettes, or the 7TP main gun, all knocked out Panzer IIIs during the conflict. Even the low velocity Renault FT and R35 37 mm (1.46 in) gun was effective at short range, in ambushes. But, above all, the anti-aircraft Bofors 37 mm (1.46 in), chiefly deployed as AA defense, turned out to be, in the heat of battle, a lethal antitank weapon on its own. In all, the Germans had more than 16,000 casualties, and lost 217 tanks (the official figure), but many more were disabled and later repaired.

Norway: April-June 1940

During the so called “phoney war”, there were two major hotspots, in Scandinavia. To the east, Russia attacked Finland. The Panzer III played no part in it, but some Finnish contacts gave some details to German agents about some of the latest Soviet tanks engaged in operations. The real deal was in Norway, were Operation Weserübung took place. Both Allies and Germany competed to cut-or keep the raw iron supply lines, vital for the German war industry. A detachment of about 30 Panzer III Ausf.C and Ds were sent there, camouflaged with maroon stripes. Most of the Panzers deployed there were smaller Panzer I and IIs. These were sufficient, as there was no real opposition from the Norwegian army, despite some antiquated antitank guns. Denmark, also quickly invaded, was no match for the Werhmacht, and the Panzer III never encountered real opposition. In Norway, the French and British expeditionary forces had almost no tank support, and the Luftwaffe once again paid off. Also, the landscape was totally different from the broad, flat plains of north-eastern Europe, not really adapted to rapid movement, and the tanks were used chiefly as close infantry support, and retired early on.

War on the West: May-June 1940

On May, 9, hell broke loose for the west, after a long, idle waiting, during which both sides built up their forces, with a clear advantage to the Germans. The French, despaired of the state of their air force in particular, rushed rearmament programs and bought quantities of modern fighters and bombers from the USA. However, the French armored forces, with the added weight of the well-trained and well-equipped BEF (British Expeditionary Forces), were more than a match for the Wehrmacht. The first assault was conducted against Luxembourg, almost without opposition. Then, the small Belgian and Dutch armies were quickly overrun. The Belgian armored forces mostly consisted of small, light tanks, derived from licence-built Vickers tankettes. Some French light tanks had been bought, the most potent of which were a small batch of Renault AMC-35s equipped with medium-velocity, AP guns. Eben-Emael, the key of the Belgian defense, fell to glider and paratrooper commandos, allowing German armored forces to rush towards the coast and the French border. They faced a courageous, but weightless opposition. The Netherlands, on the other hand, was ill-equipped. Its armored forces comprised of only 39 armored cars and five tankettes. They had almost no antitank guns and weak aircraft support. Despite flooded lands and some improvised barrages and hopeless infantry opposition, the German advance was swift and brutal, and on the 14th of May, this was all over. Belgium, despite resolute opposition, capitulated on the 28th of May.

The battle of France

The French apparently superior forces made the international press have confidence once again that the Allies will contain the German onslaught. Gamelin’s grand plans were unlikely focused on the northern sector defense, showed many weaknesses, of which we should mention the poor or nonexistent communication network and the last minute neutrality of the Low Countries, which prevented an early, efficient deployment in Belgium. The German generals with traditional strategical views were not especially confident of the countries’ capabilities against the French, but the “Blitzkrieg advocates” led by Guderian, thought otherwise. They were the original brains behind Fall Gelb, Case Yellow, also called the “falx plan”, a surprise attack through the thick Ardennes forest, the weakest point of the French defense. German armored forces were instrumental in it, well served by a good road network and air superiority. Panzer IIIs engaged there were all Ausf.E, F and Gs armed with 37 mm (1.46 in) guns. Only a handful of 75 mm (2.95 in) armed Panzer IVs were available, a few for each Panzerdivision. Facing this, the Allied armored forces had better protected tanks, almost impregnable except at short range. Two of them were impregnable to all available German weapons except the 88 mm (3.46 in). These were the French B1 and the British Matilda. During the six weeks of fighting, the Panzer III prevailed through its own qualities. They benefited from excellent communication and coordination, well served by their three-man turret, flexible tactics, speed, and constant cover by the Luftwaffe. However, the Germans suffered 160,000 casualties and 795 tanks were lost of all types, a significant number which highlighted the weaknesses of the same Panzer III, namely the lack of penetrating power of their main KwK 36, and insufficient protection.

War in Africa (1941-1943)

During almost a year, the Third Reich, now master of all of Europe, prepared for even more ambitious operations. The war industry delivered new batches of the improved Ausf.G and H, and a major upgunning plan was on the move, with the new 50 mm (1.97 in) KwK 38 L42. 1941 was, however, not a quiet year. Since the fall of 1940, the disastrous Italian offensives in Greece and later in Egypt, led to a critical situation for the Axis in Africa. Hitler, waging war against the British Empire, could not afford to see their positions threatened in the Mediterranean theater. In January 1941, an expeditionary force led by the already famous gen. Erwin Rommel landed in Libya, with provisions of Panzer III Ausf.F and Gs, which constituted the backbone of his forces. Against the British tanks, besides the Matildas, they had some success, but proved easy targets for the famous six-pounder. They fought well in the desert, were their speed, combined with the tactical genius of the “Desert Fox”, proved invaluable. But constant losses and few replacements led to a growing mixed-equipped force, comprising many captured Allied models, and the Panzer III might was gradually weakened in these operations. After El Alamein in June 1942, the Afrika Korps was in a dangerous position, but the arrival of new forces under the command of gen. Kesselring in Tunisia in 1943, seemed to bring new hope for the Axis. Alongside came a few Tigers and the new Panzer III Ausf.L and M, better armored and equipped with an effective high velocity KwK 38 L60 gun. These, along with cunning counterattacks, US bad preparation and bad weather ensured most of the Axis forces held on, then evacuated to Sicily, a prelude to a long and bloody defensive war in the so-called “soft underbelly of Europe” (Sir W. Churchill).

In the Russian steppes (1941-1943)

Operation Barbarossa was a major undertaking and echoed Napoleon attempt, after his failure to land in Britain, to turn against Russia. Hitler was aware that the Soviets were a strong enemy, but also that the internal disorders of the regime would cause, in case of a quick offensive, a total collapse from the interior. The other motivation, in Hitler’s personal mythology, was to grab considerable lands for the “master race” (Lebensräum). In July 1941, a considerable effort was made by the Germany war industry, and invasion forces were divided between three large armored corps, North, Center and South. These consisted of many new Panzerdivisions, in fact, made from split former units. These forces mostly counted on Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs, with many Panzer I and IIs in flanking and scouting units. All Panzer IIIs were now upgunned to the J1 standard, with a KwK 38 L42 50 mm (1.97 in) gun. This gun was sufficient against the tens of thousands of BT-7s and T-26s which constituted the bulk of the Russian armored forces. However, the German crews son discovered that both the KV-1 and and the T-34 were immune to their weaponry, even at short range. Later on, the northern offensive ground to a halt around Leningrad. The central offensive, after weeks of struggle in the mud, froze just miles from Moscow. The southern offensive was kept busy in Crimea. The following year, in 1942, a large Soviet counter-offensive repulsed the Center Army Group, and the southern army was mostly destroyed and captured at Stalingrad. The extremes of the Russian weather brought considerable turmoil to the crews and support troops, showing that the Panzer III was not adapted to very low temperatures or to the deep mud of the Russian bad roads. All hopes to regain control were lost at Kursk in the summer of 1943, were many modernized Ausf.Js (with the L60 long barrel), Ls and Ms, equipped with added protection (Schürzen), faced overwhelming swarms of T-34/76s.

The defensive war (1944-1945)

The last versions of the Panzer III, the Ausf.M and N, had improved protection, better guns and AP ammunition, which were conceived to deal with the latest Russian tanks on the Eastern Front. They were used in successive defensive lines, facing overwhelming forces, until the fall of 1944. The L60 used by the Ausf.L and M proved insufficient, but the idea of adapting directly the Panzer IV turret to the Panzer III chassis failed. However, Daimler-Benz engineers succeed in mounting the 75 mm (2.95 in) low velocity gun on the N version, the very last of a long and famous lineage. Production ended in August 1943. By then, these versions were affected to heavy tank companies, which at full strength contained ten Panzer III Ausf.Ns for nine Tigers. By then, older surviving Ausf.J to M tanks joined the Italian front, together with other veteran models, some having fought on since 1941 in Africa. The long barrel, high muzzle velocity guns, combined with improved AP charges like tungsten rounds, good use of the rugged terrain and camouflage by hardened veterans, pinned down Allied assaults in Italy until the end of 1944.
A few, improved Ausf.J to M fought in limited numbers in Normandy, but their movements were constrained because of Allied air supremacy. However, once again, a good use of the bocage proved that the Panzer III was still a match for most Allied tanks. By the end of 1944 the regular Panzer III were no longer the bulk of the German armored forces. They were spread into composite small defensive units. And as the production had stopped earlier, their numbers decreased even more, and by fall of 1944, they were perhaps 80 still operational on the Eastern Front. By then, new generations of US, British and Soviet tanks had nailed their coffin. This type had reached its limits, its former advanced features were now commonly used, and no further up-gunning was possible. However, the Panzer III will remain iconic in the German military of WWII, along with the Messerschmidt Bf-109 and the versatile 88 mm (3.46 in) gun.

Surviving Panzer IIIs

The last Panzer IIIs fought in the Low Countries (Market Garden), Northern Italy (Gothic line), and in eastern Prussia. Perhaps a handful still operational were spread between desperately weakened companies in March-April 1945, like the Steiner Brigade. Others were kept inactive, in operational reserves, in quiet sectors like Norway or Holland, until the capitulation. The remaining were abandoned, disabled and captured. They ended in many museums throughout the world, like the US Army Ordnance museum, Bovington, Saumur and the Deutsches Panzermuseum, among others. It is still possible today to find some wrecks in remote areas, because of the sheer geographic scale of its deployment, including three continents. More information and a gallery of surviving Panzer IIIs.

Sources

Panzer Tracks No.3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 3-4 and 3-5 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
The Panzer III on Wikipedia
The Panzerkampfwagen III on Achtungpanzer

History of the Panzer III video


Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2