WW2 German Medium Tanks


German Reich (1934)
Medium Tank – 5 Built (2 Soft Steel Prototypes + 3 Production Vehicles)

Years prior to the start of the Second World War, the German Army experimented with different tank designs. Early attempts lead to the introduction of a small series of experimental prototypes. In those early days of German tank development, these vehicles were intended to deal with two major threats: enemy tanks and fortified positions. In time, these two jobs would be carried out by the Panzer III and Panzer IV vehicles. But the German Army thought that combining these two concepts into a single vehicle could offer a much simpler solution. For this purpose, a small series of five experimental multi-turret tanks, known as Neubaufahrzeug, would be built and tested during the mid-1930s.

The multi-turret Neubaufahrzeug. Source:

A New Tank

In the years leading up to the Second World War, the Reichswehr (Eng. German Army as it was known prior to 1935, when the name was changed to Wehrmacht) was experimenting with tank designs and concepts. During the Interwar period, the concept of tanks was indeed relatively new, and various doctrines regarding their design and usage were being explored by different armed forces. The prevailing opinion during this time was that tanks would primarily serve as infantry support weapons. The experience of the First World War, when tanks were initially introduced, had a significant impact on the development of tank doctrine. However, due to technological limitations and tactical challenges, tanks were not yet fully integrated into combined arms warfare.

There were also other emerging doctrines and experiments regarding tank usage. Some military thinkers, particularly in Germany, were exploring the concept of using tanks in more independent and decisive roles, envisioning large armored formations capable of conducting independent operations. But years prior to the formation of the Panzer Divisions, Reichwehr officials were not sure what the best tank design was or its precise role in combat. The early attempts were aimed at addressing two primary challenges: dealing with enemy tanks and attacking fortified positions.

In the late 1920s, the Reichswehr began exploring the development of tanks to gain valuable experience and test various proposals, mechanical components, armor, and armament. The primary objective was to develop a military capability that could be utilized in case the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles were lifted or evaded. Under the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans were actually forbidden from developing such technologies. Nevertheless, Germany sought ways to bypass these restrictions and secretly initiated the development of armored vehicles for potential future use. One of the first projects was the lightly 3.7 cm armed Leichttraktor (Eng. Light tractor).

Following the Leichttraktor, the Germans continued their tank development program and produced several versions of a larger tank known as the Grosstraktor (Eng. large tractor). These tanks were armed with a 7.5 cm cannon and were used to further test and refine the design, mechanical components, and tactical use of armored vehicles.

The use of the “tractor” designation for these tanks was an attempt to deceive the Western powers and circumvent the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. By using the term “tractor”, the Germans aimed to create the impression that these vehicles were merely agricultural or utility vehicles rather than offensive military weapons.

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:

While no final decision about combat doctrine was made at that time, the use of two different calibers basically defined their specific roles. The 3.7 cm gun (which was initially only issued with anti-armor ammunition) was intended to deal with enemy armor. On the other hand, the larger 7.5 cm gun fired high-explosive rounds, meant to deal with fortified positions. These early experiments laid the groundwork for the development of the renowned Panzer series of tanks, specifically the Panzer III and IV.

But besides these two different tank use concepts, attempts were made of creating a new vehicle that combined the firepower of both tank designs. On paper, this made sense, as it would eliminate the need to build two different vehicles that had to perform opposite combat roles. In 1932, the development of one such vehicle was initiated by the Heereswaffenamt (HWa – Army Weapons Department). This vehicle was initially designated as mittlerer Traktor oder Grosstraktor (Neubau) (medium or large tractor [new build]). While the basic overall design was similar to the previous design, the new vehicle was to have three turrets and a total weight of 15 tonnes. The general idea was that, thanks to these various armaments, it would be well-equipped to deal with any threat from any side.


Over its brief service life, this vehicle received several different designations. These included: Grosstraktor Nachbau (Eng. Large Tractor New Construction), mittlerer Traktor Neubau (Eng. New Type Medium Tractor), and Grosstraktor Neubau (Eng. New Type Large Tractor). The designation was finally standardized as Neubaufahrzeug (Eng. New Construction Vehicle or, shortly, NbFz) by WaPrüf 6 in October 1933. This article will be referring to it by its shorter name for the sake of simplicity.

Work on the First Prototypes

WaPrüf 6 awarded production contracts for the first prototypes to two companies: Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krupp. Given their relative success with the earlier Grosstraktor design, Rheinmetall-Borsig was responsible for designing and building the chassis and turret, while Krupp received an order for the turret only.

In 1933, both companies presented their final drawings for the multi-turret tank. The main armament of this tank included a 7.5 cm L/24 gun and a coaxial 3.7 cm KwK 36 L/24 gun. Additionally, two smaller turrets were positioned opposite each other to provide close fire support. Rheinmetall-Borsig’s prototype was presented the following year, featuring an unconventional weapon configuration, with the guns placed vertically, one above the other. On the other hand, Krupp’s prototype, completed in 1935, had a turret with simplified construction and two guns placed side-by-side.

Given their experimental nature, both were built using soft steel. After analyzing these two vehicles, the Krupp turret design was deemed better. In 1935, WaPrüf 6 issued production orders for three additional vehicles using the Rheinmetall-Borsig’s chassis and Krupp’s turrets. These were to be fully functional vehicles protected with proper armor plates. The two smaller turrets were redesigned by an unspecified company.

Rheinmetall-Borsig prototype under construction. Source:
The Rheinmetall-Borsig prototype was used as a podium for General Brauchtischduring during his speech in front of Rheinmetall factory workers on May 10th, 1938. The occasion was the celebration of the creation of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront or DAF (Eng. German Labour Front). Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
Following the examination of the first two experimental prototypes, a production order for three more vehicles was issued. Source: Wikipedia

Other German Multi-Turret Tanks

Besides the Grosstraktor and the Neubaufahrzeug, the Germans built and tested a few other multi-turret tank designs. One of them was Rheinmetall’s Begleitwagen (Eng. Escort tank). It was intended to compete for the contract to create a new support tank armed with a 7.5 cm gun. This vehicle featured an additional turret that was equipped with a machine gun. However, after evaluating various designs, Krupp’s prototype, which later became the Panzer IV, was selected as the superior option. Rheinmetall only built one soft-steel prototype before the project was canceled.

While not always immediately apparent, the early Grosstraktors had a rear-positioned auxiliary turret armed with a single machine gun. Source:
Rheinmetall’s unsuccessful Begleitwagen prototype. The auxiliary machine gun turret was meant to be positioned on the vehicle’s right hull side. The few surviving photographs of this vehicle indicate that it was never actually fitted. Source:

The second vehicle was the Panzerkampfawgen VII, also known as VK65.01. This vehicle was ordered by Wa Prüf 6 in 1939. It was intended as a 65 tonne heavy tank with different proposed armaments. Besides the main turret, it was to have a second smaller turret positioned in front of the vehicle superstructure. Krupp completed one soft-steel prototype but the project was canceled in 1942 and this vehicle and all parts were scrapped.

Despite one experimental model being built, no known photograph of this vehicle appears to have survived. Source: T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers



The NbFz’s spacious hull basically consisted of two components. The engine and the transmission compartments were placed to the rear. The rest of the vehicle’s hull was used for the crew compartment. On the hull’s right side, two hatches were placed (one rectangular and one oval-shaped). There was one more on the left and one on the rear of the engine compartments. In addition, the hull sides and parts of the suspension were protected by spaced armor plates which were bolted down to the hull sides.


The large NbFz utilized coil spring suspension. On each side, there were five two-wheel boogies placed on pivoting arms. These were cushioned with vertical coil springs. In addition, there was a single road wheel placed close to the front idler. To the rear was a large drive sprocket. Lastly, there were four return rollers. The tracks were 380 mm wide.

While the suspension had a simple design in general, it was not without flaws. The main issue was that the track often fell off. After an investigation, it was determined that the problem was the position of the drive sprocket. Given the experience with this design, the Germans later only employed front-drive sprockets on their tanks.

The NbFz utilized a unique coil spring suspension. While simple, this type of suspension would not be adopted for use on later German tanks. Source: T. Anderson Panzer IV
The position of the rear drive sprocket caused problems, with the track often falling off. This vehicle was one of the main reasons why the Germans never employed this configuration on the later-built Panzer series. Source: T. Anderson The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1


This vehicle was powered by a BMW Va six-cylinder liquid-cooled engine giving out 290 hp@ 1,400 rpm. With this engine and a weight of 23 tonnes, the maximum speed was 30 km/h. The fuel load was 457 liters, which provided an operational range on good roads of around 120 km. The engine was connected to a rear-positioned ZF SSG 280-type 6-gear (plus reverse) transmission. The engine was fully enclosed in the engine compartment.

Some noticeable features of this part of the tank were the large encased ventilation port and the two long exhaust pipes located on the right rear fender. On the rear part of the engine compartment armor plate, German engineers added one large oval plate (with a hatch) that was connected to the hull with bolts. It served to provide easy access to the transmission for maintenance. Lastly, the second auxiliary machine gun turret was positioned next to the engine itself.

Rear view that gives a good look at its engine compartment. The large bolted armor plate could be removed and thus provide access to the engine and suspension in case of repairs or maintenance. Source:

At the time when this vehicle was developed, the Germans lacked the means to build a dedicated and sufficiently strong engine for tank use. Instead, modified aircraft engines had to be used. These engines produce very high torque at low speeds (1,400 rpm), which forced the Germans to use heavier drives than otherwise needed, which were not suited for tank use. The engine itself was fairly large, so it took up extensive space inside this tank.


In contrast to other German tank designs, the NbFz did not have a large superstructure. This consisted of the small raised superstructure platform for the front machine gun turret and the second section that acted as a platform to hold the main turret, with an extension that covered the driver’s compartment. It was mostly round-shaped, with two small observation ports on each side. The driver’s compartment had a simple box shape. On each of the front and left sides, an observation port with vision slits was installed. This provided the driver with a view of these two sides. The position of the machine gun turret on his right created a blind spot for the driver in this direction. The slightly angled top of this compartment housed a hatch, which the driver used to enter his position.

A good view of the vehicle front and part of the rather small superstructure. The right machine gun turret had to be slightly elevated in order to have a better angle of fire. Opposite it, the driver’s compartment can be seen. With the two observation ports, the driver had a relatively good view to the front and left sides. Source:
The superstructure more or less acted as a platform for the main turret. It was round-shaped with two small observation ports located on each side. Source: J. Ledwoch Neubaufahrzeuge


The NbFz employed two different main and auxiliary turret designs. The first turret model was developed by Rheinmetall and had a rounded shape. It featured an opening on the front for the main armament, with both gun barrels exposed and the recoil cylinders covered in armored jackets. The gun mantlet was box-shaped. Additionally, a machine gun ball mount protruded slightly from the turret, located to the right of the two guns. On the left side of the guns, a rectangular-shaped small hatch was added.

The turret had two large crew hatches on the sides, which opened to the rear. This design choice was somewhat unusual, as it could potentially allow enemy rounds or shrapnel to bounce inside the turret when the hatches were open. A smaller observation port was present on the rear armor of the turret. On top of the turret, there was a commander’s cupola with seven small vision slits. The Rheinmetall turret had a slight bulge on top, intentionally designed to provide a slightly better depression angle for the main gun. At some point, this turret model was modified by adding a large radio frame antenna, which visually resembled the style used on Soviet tanks.

The Rheinmetall turret had a rounded shape which was a bit more complicated to build. In addition, note the box-shaped gun mantlet and the protruding machine gun ball mount. Source: J. Ledwoch Neubaufahrzeuge

The auxiliary turrets, while not specified in the sources, were most likely also designed by Rheinmetall. These were similar in appearance to the turret used on the Panzer I, with some differences. The most obvious one was the use of only one machine gun. It also employed a large angled machine gun mantlet not used on the Panzer I turret. These turrets were provided with four observation ports. The rear ones would almost always be facing the NbFz superstructure, thus restricting the machine gun operator’s view in this direction. Lastly, one hatch acted as an entry point for the machine gun operator.

The two soft-steel vehicles used quite different auxiliary turret designs. These used four observation ports and an angled front mantle. Both features would be dropped on the later-built vehicles. Source:
The front view of a Rheinmetall vehicle gives a good look at the position of the main armament. In contrast to Krupp’s design, Rheinmetall left the gun barrels exposed. The main turret-positioned machine gun was able to engage targets independently of the main armament. Lastly, note the angled armor plate of the front machine gun turret. Source: M. Sowodny German Armored Rarities 1935-1945

Krupp engineers, on the other hand, went for a simpler overall turret design. It incorporated a turret made of several armor plates which were welded together. The two guns were covered with a protective jacket. In addition, the gun mantlet had a much simpler round design.

The machine gun ball mount was quite different too. It was built into the front turret plate. In contrast to Rheinmetall’s design, the Krupp machine gun ball mount was fixed in traverse. This meant that it could only be elevated up or down. The right observation hatch was retained. The whole front gun plate was bolted down and, if needed, could be removed for maintenance quite easily.

Side crew hatches were used on Krupp’s turret too, but these opened to the front. This provided the crew with some level of protection when open. The commander’s cupola was similar to that of the Rheinmetall vehicle, but Krupp used a two-part hatch.

The Krupp turret utilized a metal protective jacket for the two gun barrels and the recoil cylinders. The ball machine gun mount, on the other hand, was coupled to the main armament in traverse, meaning that it always pointed at the target that was engaged with the main armament. Lastly, the whole front gun assembly was bolted down and could be removed in case of repair relatively easily. The front turret is of a late type which lacks the front-angled mantlet. Source: J. Ledwoch Neubaufahrzeuge

Following the production order for three more vehicles, it was requested that the design of the two smaller turrets be changed. An unspecified company reused and modified the Panzer I turret for this purpose. The armament remained the same, but the turret design was simplified. The number of observation ports was halved and the larger hatch was replaced with a smaller-two-part hatch.

The second vehicle that was tested with a Krupp turret also utilized the two auxiliary turrets shared with the first prototype. Here, the rear observation port of the small turret can be seen. Its purpose was rather limited. Source:
The Krupp commander’s cupola used a two-part hatch, in contrast to Rheinmetall’s, which used a single-piece one. Source: T. Anderson The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1

Similar to the armament, sources are somewhat conflicting about how many turrets were built by which company. Author M. Sowodny mentions that two turrets were built by Rheinmetall, while the remaining three were completed by Krupp. Other authors, such as T. Anderson, T. L.Jentz, and H. L. Doyle, only credit Rheinmetall with one turret built.


The NbFz was rather poorly protected for its size. For late 1930s German armor protection standards, this was in line with other Panzer vehicles that were in service at that time. Starting from the hull, the lower glacis was protected by 16 mm of armor placed at a 50° angle. The upper glacis armor consisted of two plates. The first was 20 mm thick and angled at 50° and the second was 13 mm but placed at a 75° angle. The side and rear measured 13 mm and the bottom was 8 mm thick. The spaced armor that protected the suspension was 13 mm thick.

The driver’s compartment was frontally protected by 20 mm of armor, the sides 13 mm, and the top 10 mm. The superstructure was 13 mm thick on all sides. The main turret’s frontal armor was 15 mm, while the rear and sides were slightly weaker at 13 mm. The gun mantlet was 15 mm thick. The three smaller turrets had 13 mm thick all-around armor.

This low armor thickness and the vehicle’s generally large size meant that it would have been an easy target for enemy gunners. Luckily for those tank crews that operated the few available NbFz, they did not see any major engagement.

The crew of this vehicle was obviously aware of the NbFz’s weak protection, as they added improvised auxiliary armor. Basically, they stole bricks and added them to some parts of the front armor. Source: Digital Collection of Armin Freitag
The same vehicle, but this time with a hole in the machine gun turret front. The front armor of the small turret was pierced, possibly by an anti-tank rifle. Source:


There are some discrepancies in the sources regarding the armament of this vehicle. For example, author M. Sowodny (German Armored Rarities 1935-1945) mentions that Krupp was tasked with developing a turret armed with two different caliber guns. The first was a 10.5 cm and the second was a 3.7 cm gun. Instead of a 10.5 cm gun, Rheinmetall was instructed to install a 7.5 cm gun. Other authors, such as T. Anderson (The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1) and T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV) do not mention the 10.5 cm armament ever being used. Thanks to the surviving photographs, it can be said with certainty that the NbFz was never equipped with a 10.5 cm gun. In either case, the main armament’s positions differed between the two turret designs. Rheinmetall used vertically positioned guns, with the 3.7 cm placed above the 7.5 cm gun. As only one such turret was built, this indicates that there were some issues with this arrangement, and it was not adopted. Krupp’s turret used a side-by-side configuration which was easier to load. In both cases, the main armament had an elevation of -10° to +22°. The ammunition load for these two guns was 80 for the 7.5 cm and 50 for the 3.7 cm gun. While the 7.5 cm gun could use various types of ammunition (high-explosive, armor-piercing, and smoke rounds), the latter was provided only with armor-piercing rounds.

The secondary armament consisted of three 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns with a total ammunition load of 6,000 rounds. One machine gun was located in a machine gun ball mount to the right of the main armament. The remaining two were used to arm the smaller turrets. These had a traverse of around 230° and elevation of -10° to +20°.

While multi-turret tanks were not new, using two guns inside one turret was a rather unusual configuration. In theory, a vehicle armed with both guns was able to deal with any encountered threat, either tank or defended position. In practice, this would have caused more problems than it was worth. It would only complicate the overall design and made the loader’s life much more difficult. Source: Facebook group Panzerwaffe German Armored Force in WW2


The crew of the NbFz consisted of six, including the commander, a gunner, a driver, a loader, and two machine gun operators. The driver was seated on the left side of the front hull. Opposite him, the first machine gun operator was seated.

Inside the main turret, three crew members were located. The gunner, as on most German tanks, was positioned to the left of the main armament. The loader was right next to him. The loader was probably the most overburdened crew member, as he had to load both guns and operate the turret-positioned machine gun. The commander was seated in his cupola which protruded out of the turret. Lastly, the remaining machine gun operator was positioned on the rear left side of the vehicle. While this vehicle was provided with radio equipment, the sources do not specify which crew member was responsible for operating it.

Six crew members were needed to fully operate the large NbFz. Source:

What Was It Intended For?

Once the three additional fully functional vehicles were built, these were used for various trials. Given that no further production orders were issued, the Germans were not satisfied with the design or concept. Unfortunately, no German document that goes into detail about why the work on the NbFz was abandoned has survived. It is likely that the Germans saw the downsides of the whole NbFz design. It was large and, together with its weak armor, would be an easy target for enemy gunners. It required a large crew and was likely not cheap nor easy to build. Most importantly, the Germans focused instead on other projects, such as the Panzer III and IV.

Another mystery regarding this vehicle that is not immediately apparent was its precise role that was to be fulfilled on the battlefield. The sources do not specify in detail its role or type. Depending on the source, it is described as either multipurpose, breakthrough, medium, or heavy. The most probable explanation is that it was an experimental concept that the German Army wanted to test. This was not a new concept, as such multi-turret tanks saw testing with the British and even served with the Soviet Union armies, albeit with limited success.

In either case, the Germans invested time and resources in order to build these five vehicles. At that time, the German Army lacked tank numbers, so these could not be simply discarded. Instead, they were allocated for crew training.

The few built NbFz were mostly used as training vehicles. This picture was taken at the tank training center in Putlos in April 1940. Source: T. Anderson Panzer IV

First And Only Combat Service

Following the victory in Poland, the German leadership had to decide how to deal with the Western Allies. While Hitler insisted that an attack be launched as soon as possible, the approaching winter put those plans on hold. In addition, the German units were slowly returning from Poland and needed time for recuperation and reorganization. This gave the German leadership time to analyze the overall situation in Europe. While the attack in the West was expected, the situation in the northern part of Europe was far from perfect. The Germans were heavily relying on ore shipments from Sweden. While neutral, there were fears that it may turn over to the Allied side at any point. There was also a chance that France and Britain could land forces in Norway, cutting off the vital supply lines to Sweden. To prevent this, the Germans decided to launch their own offensive with the aim of capturing Denmark and Norway. This operation would be known as Unternehmen Weserübung.

The attack on Demark began on the 4th April 1940. The Danish Army did not offer much resistance and the country was occupied by the 10th. On the 7th of April, the Germans began amphibious and airborne operations with the aim of capturing major Norwegian city centers, such as Narvik and Oslo.

Given the limited resources available and the hilly terrain in Norway, no major tank force was used during this operation. The exception was a small unit known as Panzerzabteilung (zbV) 40 (Eng. Tank Battalion). zbV stood for zur besonderen Verwendung, meaning for special duties. It consisted of three light companies. Its total combat strength was 29 Panzer Is, 18 Panzer IIs, and 3 NbFz, including four command tanks based on the Panzer I chassis. No better design was allocated to this front, as all available Panzer III and IV tanks were in short supply and needed for the upcoming invasion of the West. In addition, the Germans did not expect any major resistance from the Norwegians. The hilly terrain of Norway also played a huge part in this. In contrast to Poland, where the Panzer Divisions were used as the main spearheads of the attack, in Norway, the tanks were dispatched in smaller groups to provide firing support to the infantry.

An NbFz being unloaded from a transport ship in Oslo during the invasion in April 1940. Source: T. Anderson The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1

The NbFz was often used for propaganda purposes while in Norway. It must be remembered that the three vehicles sent were fully combat-ready vehicles. These were used in real combat situations fighting the Allied forces at Andalsnes on the 17th of April 1940. One vehicle would be completely destroyed during this short campaign. The remaining vehicles were stationed at Akershus fortress in Oslo through 1940.

The remains of the only vehicle lost in Norway. Source: J. Ledwoch Neubaufahrzeuge

Following the successful conclusion of this campaign, the commander of zbV 40 later wrote about the NbFz’s performance:

“… The Neubaufahrzeuge were deployed with great success even in the mountains. Despite warnings in many official reports, all bridges, even those with limitations of less than 5 tons, could be crossed without problems. Also, the tanks could move through very narrow streets … In most cases where Neubaufahrzeuge were sent forward, our artillery could not be deployed. The tanks, however, were able to fully compensate for the missing artillery… Effective fire was opened with the 7.5 cm gun, overpowering any enemy. While the 2 cm gun was effective, the 7.5 cm high-explosive (HE) round had a truly destructive impact… Firing of smoke shells, only possible by the 7.5 cm gun of the Neubaufahrzeug, was absolutely necessary to ‘blind’ the enemy and to impede the use of his own weapons. For this reason, the tank was essential for combat in mountainous terrain. The fact that the tanks were widely spread out among varying combat groups made supply with special ammunition (2 cm, 7.5 cm and tracer), and also with special rations [Schokakola, a chocolate/caffeine-based energy food] difficult… “

This vehicle was either damaged or had a mechanical breakdown and was left abandoned. Source: T. Anderson The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1
A NbFz advancing toward Oslo during the German attack. Source: Wikipedia

What happened to the four remaining vehicles after the German victory in 1940 is unclear. Sources give different accounts about their final fate. It is often mentioned that they were given back to training schools. This makes sense as, while they were not suited for modern combat (especially the soft-steel prototypes), they still could be still used for crew training. The downside is that, due to limited production, spare parts would have been rare. This meant that, at some point late in the war, they were most likely scrapped. The first prototype did survive at least up to 1942 given photographic evidence.

The first prototype undergoing a major overhaul at Krupp in 1942. Source: Wikipedia

According to M. Sowodny, the surviving vehicles were used during the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. These were allegedly part of the Panzer Group I and participated in the attack on Dubno, where they were lost on the 28th June 1941. It is hard to tell if there is any truth to this claim.

A NbFz next to a French Renault UE ammunition carrier. This small vehicle was captured by the Germans in huge numbers and saw wide service with the new owners. This vehicle indicates that this picture was taken after June 1940, when the French Army was defeated. Source:

Surviving Vehicle

Given the limited number built and their unknown fate, no vehicle is known to have survived. However, some parts of the suspension, possibly taken from the destroyed vehicle, can be seen at the Gudbrandsdal Krigsminnesamling Museum at Kvam (Norway).

A few NbFz surviving suspension parts can be seen at the Gudbrandsdal Krigsminnesamling Museum. Source:


In the 1930s, the German Army conducted experiments and developed prototypes in an effort to design effective tanks. One of these experimental projects was the Nbfz. The intention was to provide the tank with increased firepower and the ability to engage both enemy tanks and fortified positions effectively.

The Nbfz faced several challenges. It was a cumbersome vehicle, its complex design likely made it difficult to manufacture and maintain, and there were a number of issues with its poor-performing engine and suspension. These factors, combined with the rapidly evolving nature of tank warfare, eventually led to the discontinuation of the Nbfz project.

Instead, the German Army focused on developing and producing the Panzer III and IV tanks, which were better suited for the roles of engaging enemy tanks and fortifications, respectively. These tanks became the backbone of the German armored forces during the early stages of the war. The Nbfz, though ultimately unsuccessful, remains an interesting chapter in the development of German tanks, showcasing the experimentation and innovation that took place during the pre-war period.

Neubaufahrzeug with Krupp turret. Illustration by Pavel Alexe.
Neubaufahrzeug with Krupp turret. Illustration by Pavel Alexe.
Neubaufahrzeug with Rheinmetall turret. Illustration by Pavel Alexe.
Neubaufahrzeug with Rheinmetall turret. Illustration by Pavel Alexe.

Neubaufahrzeug Technical specifications

Crew Commander, gunner, loader, driver, and two machine gun operators
Weight 23 tonnes
Dimensions Length 6.65 m, Width 2.9 m, Height 2.9 m
Engine BMW Va six-cylinder liquid-cooled 290 hp@ 1,400 rpm
Speed 30 km/h
Range 120 km
Primary Armament 7.5 cm L/24 and 3.7 cm Kw.K. L/46.5
Secondary Armament Three 7.92 mm M.G. 34
Elevation -10° to +20°
Armor 8-20 mm


M. Sowodny (1998) German Armored Rarities 1935-1945, Schiffer Military
T. Anderson (2015), The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1 Osprey Publishing
T. Anderson (2021), Panzer IV Osprey Publishing
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (1998) Panzer Tracts No.4 Panzerkampfwagen IV
D. Nešić, (2008) Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
T. L. Jentz and H. L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers
J. Ledwoch (1997) Neubaufahrzeuge, Militaria

WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738(i)

German Reich (1943-1945)
Medium Tank – Over 100 Operated

During the Second World War, the Germans operated great numbers of enemy combat vehicles that they had managed to capture. These were mostly French and Russian tanks. These were usually pressed into service in their original role or modified for other roles. For example, many were converted as ammunition transport vehicles or as self-propelled anti-tank guns. From their former ally Italy, the Germans also managed to capture a relatively huge stockpile of various war materials. This also included a number of tank designs, including the M15/42 medium tank. While this tank was already obsolete before its introduction, the German nevertheless put them to use against the Yugoslav Partisans. There, they would be used up to the war’s end.

The Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 738(i). Source/

M15/42 tank

Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened by some 15 cm compared to the M13 Series tanks. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch was repositioned to the right side. A new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel was installed, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by that point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks. The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, this production order was never fully achieved. While some of them were issued to Italian troops, their operational service life with them was limited.

The Italian M15/42 Source: Wiki

The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but it was generally outdated by the time it was put into service. Nevertheless, it would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with its new German owners, although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).

In German service, the M15/42 was known as the Beutepanzer M15 738(i) or Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 738(i). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the original M15/42 designation.

In German hands

In September 1943, due to the Allied invasion and internal pressure, Italy sought to negotiate peace with the Western Allied powers. The Germans were expecting this and sought to occupy as much of Italy as possible. With the occupation of most of Italy, the Germans came into possession of a number of armored vehicles, but also arms and weapon production facilities, with many vehicles that were awaiting assembly, from their former Ally.

The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there. Note that the number of M15/42 tanks is difficult to pinpoint precisely, as sources have different numbers. The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.

Combat use

One of the first units to be equipped with the M15/42 tanks was Panzer Abteilung 202. This particular unit was formed in early 1941, mostly equipped with French captured tanks. In September 1941, it was relocated to the Balkans to fight the Partisans there. By early 1944, it was reinforced with Italian armored vehicles in order to replenish the older and worn-out French tanks. Elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944.

One of the first combat uses of the M15/42 in German service was to protect the important transport railways. Source:

On September 10th, 1944, this unit was transported to Belgrade. Some elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were dispatched to the city of Valjevo, which was surrounded by the Partisans. They, together with other support units, managed to free the surrounded Germans. Two M15/42 tanks were damaged in the process, but recovered. Due to significant Partisan pressure, the Germans retreated to the north. On September 20th, some 15 tanks engaged with the Partisans near Šabac and Obrenovac, west of Belgrade. During the following skirmishes, one tank was destroyed and a second was damaged but later recovered by the Germans. The Germans managed to repel the Partisan attempts to liberate Šabac, as these were ill-prepared to engage tanks. Nevertheless, the Germans eventually abandoned Šabac in late October, moving with a group of 15 to 20 tanks north, toward Srem.

Other elements from Panzer Abteilung 202 were also engaged with Partisans forces in the area of Srem (north of Belgrade). At the start of October, at least three tanks of Panzer Abteilung 202 were attempting to repel the Partisans around Grabovci. The Partisans, using an anti-tank rifle, managed to destroy one of the three tanks. Two more tanks were lost in a Partisan ambush on October 11th.

Two M15/42 tanks destroyed by the Partisans in Srem during October 1944. Source; Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Despite its obsolescence, the M15/42 could be used with some success against the Partisans, which often lacked proper anti-tank weapons. The situation for the Germans, who were holding the Yugoslavian capital Belgrade and eastern parts of the country, became desperate once the Soviet forces advanced to help the Partisans. During the Battle for Belgrade, which lasted from October 12th to 20th, 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202’s M15/42 tanks performed poorly against the Soviet T-34s (both 76 and 85 mm armed versions) and other armored vehicles. The M15/42’s armor was also noted to be unable to stop any Soviet anti-tank fire, including the anti-tank rifles. Many were lost during this battle, either destroyed in action or simply left behind. There was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.

A group of abandoned M15/42s near Belgrade. Source: h Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
An M15/42 destroyed during the battle for Belgrade. Source:

From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defensive on the so called Syrmian Front in the northern part of Yugoslavia. By the end of 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202 had some 30 M15/42 tanks, of which only 18 were fully operational. Due to attrition, the number of available tanks was further diminished to 13 operational and 12 in repair. The effectiveness of these vehicles was greatly reduced due to heavy wear down and the increasing presence of Partisan anti-tank guns of various calibers. The lack of fuel and spare parts often meant that the M15/42s were of limited use and only on short distances. At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.

An M15/42 captured in Slovenia by the Partisans. Source: O Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941 on. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian built vehicles. During this time, the first M15/42 tanks began to arrive. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit. An additional M15/42 tanks built by the Germans would be allocated to Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. During the summer of 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was moved to Serbia to reinforce the desperate attempts to keep the transit roads to Greece open. These roads and rails were vital for the evacuation of German forces stationed in Greece. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would not be used as a single unit, but instead would be divided into smaller groups and allocated to various German units stationed in Serbia at that time.

At the start of July 1944, the number of M15/42 tanks in this unit was increased to 59 vehicles, but only a third were fully operational. In October and November 1944, the unit saw extensive action against the Partisans, losing many vehicles in the process. For example, during the German defence of Niš, elements of Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 were present. The Germans were eventually forced to retreat, losing a number of tanks in the process, including at least one M15/42 which was captured by the Partisans. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would remain in Yugoslavia up to the start of 1945, when it was recalled to Germany. What was left of their equipment was given to Panzer Abteilung 202.

At least one M15/42 was captured in the city of Niš. Interestingly, it is missing the 47 mm main gun. It was either lost in combat or, more likely, sabotaged by the Germans. Source:

The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition, and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, they would be simply cannibalized for spare parts. The vehicles used in Yugoslavia often received a large storage box placed behind the turret. In addition, spare track links would often be placed around the vehicle to act as limited extra protection.

The M15/42s in Yugoslavia often received a larger storage box located behind the turret. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
Spare track links were often added by the crews to act as easily available spare parts and also to provide minimal (if any) increase in protection. Source:

SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps, also operated the M15/42 tank in small numbers. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944. In May 1944, it participated in the German Operation Rösselsprung (Eng. Knight’s Move), an attempt to liquidate the Partisan leaders, including Josip Broz Tito, at Drvar. To help achieve this, smaller parts of Panzer Abteilung 202 were also present. There is a possibility that some M15/42 tanks were used during this operation. At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defence of Franfrukt, it is unknown if, by this time, it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.

Photographs of M15/42s allegedly during the German Operation Rösselsprung. Source:

The 12. verstärkte Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie, which was meant to be moved to Yugoslavia, had 14 tanks. At the end of 1944, it had some 8 M15/42 tanks, with only one operational. This police unit would be repositioned to Hungary from early 1945 onwards. It would be lost, with its equipment, during the siege of Budapest, fighting against the Soviets.

A destroyed M15/42 tank during the siege of Budapest. Source:

M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret

The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945. On one of few existing photographs of it, during what appears to be some kind of parade, it has the marking of the German puppet state of Croatia (large capital U, which was used for Ustaše Croatian units). The problem is that the Croat forces, while infrequently supplied by the Germans and Italians (and even Hungarians) with armored vehicles, never operated any M-series or Panzer 38(t) tanks. The Croatian Army possessed some limited industry, as they managed to locally build a small number of armored trucks. The relatively easy task of placing a new turret on a damaged M15/42 could be achieved. Another issue with this theory is the fact that the vehicle would be captured by the Yugoslav Partisans at the end of the war on a train together with other German-operated armored vehicles. There is a chance that the Germans may have supplied the Croats with these vehicles, but this seems unlikely. The Germans barely had spare parts and ammunition for the M15/42 for themselves, let alone sharing these with the Croats.

The modified M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret. Note the large ‘U’ capital letter on the front part of the superstructure, which indicates that this vehicle was used by the Croats. Source:

More likely, the creators of this modification were the Germans. Firstly, they used both M15/42 and Panzer 38(t) tanks. The M15/42 was used in its original configuration. The Panzer 38(t) tank, on the other hand, was mainly attached to armored trains by the Germans and rarely used outside of that. Two units that may have built this vehicle were either Panzer Abteilung 202 or Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. While, due to lack of information, it is almost impossible to determine the creator, it is likely that it was made or at least operated by Panzer Abteilung 202. The reason for this is that the captured train transporting these vehicles also transported a number of vehicles belonging to this unit. Of course, this by itself is not a direct proof of it, as a number of other vehicles not belonging to the Panzer Abteilung 202 area were present on this train.

The M15 with the Panzer 38(t) turret could be seen in the middle, between the two StuG IIIs. This modified vehicle would be captured together with other German vehicles by the advancing Yugoslav Partisans at the end of the war. The fate of this vehicle after that is sadly unknown. Source:

Yugoslav Partisan service

The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, were employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.

A Partisan captured M15/42 during a military parade at Kragujevac in May 1945. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
Yugoslav Partisans next to an abandoned M15/42. Source:
The preserved M15/42 in the Belgrade Military Museum. Source:


By the time the M15/42 was developed and put into production, it was already an obsolete design. It had poor armor protection and insufficient firepower as a medium tank by late-war standards. For fighting the Partisans, which lacked tanks or even anti-tank guns, this was a good opportunity to use an otherwise useless vehicle and free up more important vehicles. The Germans were in desperate need to find a tank that was available in some numbers that could be used to replace the older and generally worn out French equipment. Unfortunately for them, the M15/42’s overall performance was poor, as the majority were mostly stored awaiting repairs. In addition, once the Soviet Army reached Yugoslavia, they had little chance against more modern armor. But, despite these drawbacks, the M15/42 was certainly a welcome addition for the desperate Germans, who, by this time, did not have the luxury of being too picky. Given the fact that nothing else was available, the M15/42 saw use until the end of the war.

Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738(i), Gothic Line, winter 1944-45.
Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738(i) in Croatia, summer 1944.
M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret. Illustrations by David Bocquelet


Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m
Total weight, battle-ready 15.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (Commander/Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters
Speed 38 km/h
Range 220 km
Primary Armament Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds
Secondary Armament 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds
 Armor 42 mm to 20 mm
Production >167