The Panzerbeobachtungswagen III (German: armored-observation-vehicle), also known as Sd.Kfz.143, was one of the variants of the common Panzer III medium tank. Although the conversion was fairly simple, it was one of the most specialized vehicles in this tank family. The Sd.Kfz.143 was designed for the artillery observers assigned to self-propelled batteries to better record the fall of shot and adjust fire effectively.
Development and production
The Pz.Beob.Wg.III project started at the end of 1942, after the great successes of the German offensives ended. The German army needed observation vehicles for the Hummel and Wespe mobile artillery units. These observation vehicles had to be within visual range of the artillery target and help correct the artillery fire. The new vehicle had to have the ability to survive on the frontline (like tanks or assault guns) and to communicate with unit commanders or other armored vehicles that worked behind the frontline. Using a tank for this was the best solution, as it had good off-road properties, strong armor and carried a radio set. The first project for such a vehicle was based on the Pz.Kpfw.V Panther, the Pz.Beob.Wg.V. However, the production of the Panzer V was delayed, so engineers chose another tank as a basis – the Pz.Kpfw.III (Sd.Kfz.141).
The previous observation vehicles were very diverse. Sometimes, this role had been done by unarmored vehicles or command tanks (like the Sd.Kfz.265 or Pz.Bef.Wg.III) or reconnaissance armored cars. The only specialized vehicles which were serially produced were the Sd.Kfz.253 and Sd.Kfz.250/5. However, these half-tracks were mainly used with Sturmgeschütz units. Improvised artillery observation vehicles, like the Pz.Beob.Wg.II, were also built.
By 1942, the Panzer III was starting to become outdated. Its armament was inadequate to take on the more recent Allied tanks and its armor was inadequate against enemy anti-tank fire. However, it had a simple, proven, and reliable chassis on which to build conversions. Thus, it was a good choice at this point, as it gave the crew decent protection from enemy fire and was similar in construction to the other vehicles based on the Pz.Kpfw.III (like the StuG III or Bergepanzer III). It would also use the same spare parts as the other vehicles in the family.
The prototype of the Pz.Beob.Wg.III was ready before January 1943, when production started, and the first tanks were in use in June the same year. By April 1944, 262 had been built (however, a figure of 270 is also mentioned) at Deutsche Eisenwerke, in Duisberg. The main variants used for the conversion were obsolescent variants of Panzer III – from Ausf.E to J. However, later, the Ausf.L and M versions were converted as well. As a result, the Pz.Beob.Wg.III inherited a number of sub-variants depending on the parent chassis.
The Panzer III Ausf.E was fitted with torsion bar suspension with six road wheels on individual swing axles. Three track return rollers were positioned above the road wheels. The engine was placed in the back of the hull, while the gearbox was in the front (between the seat of the driver and the seat of the radio-operator). All subsequent variants of the Panzer III (as well as all vehicles based on it) kept the same arrangement. However, a lot of other things were changed in later variants – like in the Ausf.G, where the tracks were extended – and the wheels were adapted to it. Also, a lot of details (like armor, driver’s viewfinders or engine) were improved in the Ausf.F-L variants.
Modifications: a tank that did not fight
The main visual differences between Pz.Kpfw.III and Pz.Beob.Wg.III were contained in the turret and especially noticeable on the front. The cannon was removed and replaced with a ball mount for a machine gun. On the right side of the mantlet, a dummy cannon was installed – a simple aluminum tube masquerading as the 50 mm KwK 38 gun. Interestingly, the earlier Pz.Bef.Wg.III tanks had a more realistic dummy. Moreover, the front armor was increased to 50 mm in vehicles based on early variants of the Panzer III (the Ausf.E-G had only 30 mm of front armor)
The roof of the turret was also altered. The TBF-2 periscope (Turmbeobachtungsfernrohr 2, turret observation periscope) was placed on the right side, looking towards the front of the turret. On the left side of the turret roof, the Pz.Beob.Wg.III got a second retractable periscope, called TSR 1 Sehstab (TSR – Turm-Sehrohr, this 1.5 meter periscope was also used in the Panthers). The retractable rangefinder, called SF 14Z, was also mounted in the turret. The turret retained its traverse and was not fixed in place.
The hull was mostly unchanged. The PzKpfw.III’s hull-mounted MG34 was removed, though the ball mount was retained as a pistol port for the crew’s personal weapons. The Pz.Beob.Wg.III also got the sternantenne (the antenna for the Fu 8 radio, with a ‘star-like’ end) at the back of the hull, just like the newer variants of Pz.Bef.Wg.III – a command tank also based on the Panzer III.
Internally, all the ammunition storage racks were removed and this, added to the internal space gained by removing the hull machine gun, allowed the Pz.Beob.Wg.III to carry its most important systems, a comprehensive set of radios. The Pz.Beob.Wg.III used a Fu 8 (20 km range), a Fu 4, a Fu.Spr.Ger.f (to communicate with the commander of the artillery; 4-5 km range), a Fu.Spr.Ger. (intercom), and a handheld Tornisterfunkgerat “t”.
The crew consisted of five persons: driver, observer and assistant observer, and two radio operators. This squad emphasizes the role of the Beobachtungswagen well – there was no gunner in the crew because there was no offensive armament.
Pz.Beob.Wg.IIIs were used on the front line alongside the fighting tanks (like the Panzer IV or Tiger). From this position, its crew could observe the battlefield and command artillery fire.
All Panzer III observation tanks were used in Wespe or Hummel-equipped self-propelled artillery units – according to the tables of organization released at the end of 1943, two tanks of this type were attached to each Wespe division, while three were attached per Hummel division. However, it was also sometimes used in assault artillery (StuG) units. The Pz.Beob.Wg.III was in service up to the end of the war. Unfortunately, none of this type of vehicle survives to the present day – only one turret can be viewed in Wehrtechnische Dienststelle Meppen.
The Panzerbeobachtungswagen III was an important vehicle in German combined-arms warfare and its role was crucial for the accurate deployment of artillery fire against enemy targets.
This modification was also a good use of an outdated tank that had lost all effectiveness on the battlefield. Because its role on the front line did not involve direct combat and the vehicle was purposefully made to look like a standard Panzer III (artillery observer vehicles are, understandably, a primary target to an enemy), the Pz.Beob.Wg.III is largely forgotten and its importance is underestimated.
Red Army Auxiliary Armoured Vehicles, 1930–1945 (Images of War), by Alex Tarasov
If you ever wanted to learn about probably the most obscure parts of the Soviet tank forces during the Interwar and WW2 – this book is for you.
The book tells the story of the Soviet auxiliary armor, from the conceptual and doctrinal developments of the 1930s to the fierce battles of the Great Patriotic War.
The author not only pays attention to the technical side, but also examines organizational and doctrinal questions, as well as the role and place of the auxiliary armor, as it was seen by the Soviet pioneers of armored warfare Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Vladimir Triandafillov and Konstantin Kalinovsky.
A significant part of the book is dedicated to real battlefield experiences taken from Soviet combat reports. The author analyses the question of how the lack of auxiliary armor affected the combat efficacy of the Soviet tank troops during the most significant operations of the Great Patriotic War, including:
– the South-Western Front, January 1942
– the 3rd Guards Tank Army in the battles for Kharkov in December 1942–March 1943
– the 2nd Tank Army in January–February 1944, during the battles of the Zhitomir–Berdichev offensive
– the 6th Guards Tank Army in the Manchurian operation in August–September 1945
The book also explores the question of engineering support from 1930 to the Battle of Berlin. The research is based mainly on archival documents never published before and it will be very useful for scholars and researchers. Buy this book on Amazon!
The Tiger tank is undoubtedly one of the most famous tanks to have ever existed, with dozens of books on the topic covering development, production, and combat. Yet, despite the fame and a lot of hyperbole related to the combat performance, in particular, there is still plenty of misinformation about the tank and its variants, one of which is the existence of a ‘Bergetiger’ or Recovery Tiger variant.
In early summer 1944, a peculiar Tiger tank was captured by the Allied forces in Italy. Missing its main armament and sporting a winch and crane on top of the turret. A British intelligence summary did a short analysis of the vehicle, speculating it may have been some kind of ARV, an assumption which was taken as fact by many persons since.
The German military in WW2 was short of specialized recovery vehicles, often having to rely upon a team of half-tracks coupled together to recover a fallen, crashed, or mud-bound tank. This problem was exacerbated by the introduction of the heavy Tiger tank to combat in August 1942. Right from the first combat action on the Eastern Front, the combination of intense enemy fire breaking tracks and soft ground lead to tanks being crippled or stuck in the mud. With a series of serious mechanical reliability problems to add into the mix, the history of the Tiger is replete with examples of vehicles breaking down or being crippled, but otherwise recoverable. Recoverable, that is, save for the lack of a dedicated recovery vehicle.
The Tiger was a formidable tank and the most powerful tank in the German arsenal at the time, so abandoning vehicles was the last resort entailing a huge price in both combat power for a unit and also in the loss of the Reichsmarks invested in the production and delivery of it. It was also imperative to try and keep this new weapon system out of enemy hands, so much so that orders published in July 1943 expressly forbade allowing the enemy to capture a Tiger tank. Crews were expected to destroy the vehicle rather than let it fall into enemy hands and self-destruct equipment (Sprengpatronen Z85) was issued from February 1943 for just this purpose. What the German armored forces needed was a dedicated heavy armored recovery vehicle – what they did not get, however, was a Bergetiger, a recovery vehicle based on the Tiger I. There was a recovery vehicle produced from the left-over hulls of the VK45.01(P) known as the Bergetiger, but that is effectively an ARV based on the chassis of the Ferdinand tank destroyer, not that of a Tiger I.
Later, the Germans produced an ARV based on the Panther tank, known as the Bergepanther, but the numbers produced were well below what was actually needed. In the absence of such vehicle, crews would often use captured enemy vehicles such as the M4 Sherman, numerous examples of which were captured, or their own tanks, to try to tow a stuck or broken-down vehicle to a place of safety. Once recovered, it could go back into action or be repaired. However, this maneuver could also be a gamble resulting in the recovering vehicle becoming stuck as well.
Recovery was, and still is, always preferable to abandoning or destroying your own tank, but the absence of a heavy recovery vehicle was a serious handicap to German tank forces during the war and this was a fact not lost on the Allies, a background which may help to explain why the fake ‘Bergetiger’ was ‘misidentified’.
Evidence for this vehicle comes from only two places. The first comes from the unit diary for s.Pz.Abt.508 which records that, in late February 1944, the unit moved against the Allied beachhead at Isola Bella, Italy.
An account of the action given by members of Tiger crews that day gives a sense of the sort of combat undertaken and the problems of recovering a broken down Tiger.
“Our artillery began firing at 0500 hours. At 0700 hours we moved out of the assembly area, single file on a muddy road past Cisterna in the direction of Isola Bella… The lead tank, commanded by Oberfähnrich Harder, ran over a mine. While the tank track withstood the shock, the leading road wheel’s torsion bar was broken. The tank had to be towed away. The entire column came to a halt since none of the other vehicle could pass in that marshy area. What to do? Engineers were called up to clear the mines, but for the time being we had to wait. And then it began. The enemy artillery began ranging in on us”
“The artillery fire became heavier by the minute. The rounds were bursting quite close to us. Shrapnel struck our vehicle. One burst shredded two road wheels on the right side, and a fragment pierced the stowage box on the back of the turret. By that time it was noon. A suspicious house about 1,500 metres in front of us was peppered with high-explosive rounds. Enemy infantry ran away.”
“14:00 hours: The enemy fire was unbroken. Then, suddenly, we were hit twice on the rear of the turret; four or five hits more followed. Two Sherman tanks were firing at us from the right. We immediately returned fire; one Sherman began to burn; the other ran for it.”
“Enemy artillery gave us no rest. The [US] artillery spotter directed the salvoes closer and closer to us. Then my commander decided to change position. We pulled off the road past the trail vehicle. Bang! Another mine exploded and blew off a torsion bar. The vehicle was disabled. A dreadful feeling to be sitting in a minefield like that. It was obvious that we were not going to reach our objective. We would have to wait for night before we could have the damaged vehicles withdrew toward the outskirts of Cisterna, from where they could cover the disabled vehicles. Luckily, at that point, the enemy artillery abated.”
“During the next five days, the battalion recovered all of the disabled Tigers, usually at night and under constant artillery fire. Four Tigers were so badly damaged that they were beyond repair. All of the disabled Tigers were under direct observation from Allied forces, so the unarmoured German recovery vehicles were useless, and only Tigers were used to tow the disabled vehicles”
During this action then, the unit received heavy artillery bombardment and several vehicles had struck land mines. One vehicle, which had been leaking fuel was, at least partially, set on fire by white phosphorus rounds fired by American artillery, but all of the tanks were recovered; three of them though were deemed to be unrepairable. It is one of those three tanks in which the diary records was converted into the role of a demolition charge carrier or ‘Ladungsleger’.
“1st to 5th March 1944: All the tanks are recovered, but 3 are not repairable. 1 is converted into a demolition charge carrier”
The second source states that the vehicle was abandoned and captured by the Allies, possibly broken down, in the early summer of 1944. A white mark on the bottom right-hand corner of the turret is a possible indication of a fire. When it was found, the appearance of the vehicle with the fittings on the turret, such as the winch, jib, and hull tow ring, lead the initial assessment team to conclude was that it was some kind of recovery vehicle. The details are recorded in the British Technical Intelligence Summary No.135 from 19th July 1944 based on photographs from Italy. In the report, the vehicle is described as:
“It appears to consist of a normal Pz Kpfw Tiger modified by the removal of the 88 mm gun and the mounting of a winch and derrick on the turret. The winch is arranged high up at the rear of the turret, and what appears to be a socket for the derrick is provided in the centre of the turret roof near the front and facing forwards. The derrick itself is not shown in the photographs. Although the gun and barrel sleeve have been removed, the mantlet is retained, the opening in its centre being covered by a roughly circular plate with a central aperture for the muzzle of an M.G.”
A final additional piece of information followed on 1st August 1944 stating:
“Reference Summary 135 para.8, it is now learned that the Pz Kpfw Tiger Recovery Vehicle recently examined in Italy was not a standard German equipment, but a local improvisation”
With only one such vehicle recovered, the reports on it seem to have gained no particular attention and the initial idea that this was for recovery has been left essentially unchallenged until recently.
The vehicle can be seen in photographs to retain traces of Zimmerit, indicating the vehicle was produced after August 1943, but the first pattern of rubber-tired road wheels indicates it was produced before January 1944. As a further complication, the turret has the rear escape hatch, meaning it was made after December 1942, but also the cast commander’s cupola with AA machine gun-ring which was added in July 1943. Putting this together, it appears that the modified vehicle was manufactured sometime between July 1943 and January 1944, meaning a chassis number between 250405 and 250911. The turret is dateable too, as photos of the rear show that it had the pistol port (MP-Klappe) in the back left welded shut. On turrets made prior to July 1943, this port was covered with a large armored cover, but from July 1943, this was replaced with a simpler hold and plug (on a chain). The same is true of the commander’s cupola. The original ‘drum-style’ cupola was replaced with the cast cupola seen on the vehicle starting in July 1943. The turret, therefore, was made post-July 1943.
The vehicle has one more secret too. It is not a standard Tiger hull which was modified, but a former command version; a ‘Befehlstiger’. This can be proven by the small bracket on the right-hand-side of the turret, between the viewport and mantlet, which was used to mount an Fkl radio antenna. Further, the right-hand-side of the hull shows the remains of two mountings for a radio mast. On the rear right-hand-side deck roof near to the engine grilles, there is also the remains of the base mount which formerly took a Sternantenna. This feature was not found on standard Tigers unless they have been converted back from a Befehlstiger to normal use.
It is the modifications and fittings on the vehicle which led both to the initial idea that it was for some kind of recovery and, subsequently, to model-making companies, in particular, repeating this assumption. This is exactly what it was though, an assumption. One made during the war without a technical examination or testing and then left for time to inflate into a thing it was not.
‘Recovery Vehicle’ Assessment
Upon initial glance, it is reasonable to assume some kind of recovery or workshop nature to the tank, but, as an ARV, this vehicle was less than ideal. The heavy turret remained, which, even without the gun, was several tonnes of unnecessary weight. The only logical reason to retain a turret would be to allow for the rotation of something like a jib. Indeed, the design retained a winch and a jib, and when recovered, the turret was notably turned to the rear. If the turret was retained for armor protection, then the winch was useless anyway, as it left the crew members operating it totally exposed to enemy fire stood on top of a huge tank. Most recovery simply required towing, so a turret-mounted winch was simply not required. On top of this issue is the fact that the winch itself was extremely light, perhaps with a load of a couple of tonnes at most based on the ability of the man/men cranking it and the thin steel cable. Certainly, this was enough to lift the heavy engine deck armor plates or perhaps as much as an engine, but certainly no use for towing a 58-tonne Tiger tank even on a flat, level surface for recovery.
Above the mantlet is the bottom end of the jib consisting of what appears to be not much more than a section of steel pipe. Into this would go the arm of the crane which would have a block and tackle of some kind attached. The limit of the lifting ability of this system was, therefore, subject not just to the ability of the crew to winch it, the strength of the pawls in the ratchet on the winch to hold the weight, or the cable, but also on the bending strength of the arm and strength of the tackle. The entire system was only as strong as the weakest part.
Analysis of the photos clearly shows that this arm and winch system were a simple affair that were elevated or lowered only by the winch with the fulcrum of the arm located at the base of the ‘pipe’ as a pin welded to a bracket on the turret roof. On the face of the mantlet, a small bracket was welded to the cover-plate which is assumed to have taken a support, probably a hydraulic strut to support the arm.
Seen from the front, with the turret traversed, the vehicle can be seen to have two towing eyes attached to the front along with either a tow-bar across the glacis or part of the crane-arm. Directly in the center of the hull on the nose is a welded bracket with some kind of fitting, the purpose for which is unclear, but this presumably was for retaining the cable, chain, and block on the end of the crane-arm when not in use. It would not be of any use for towing a Tiger tank and the entire load on the towed vehicle would end up being borne only by the strength of the welds on this small fitting.
It is possible and even probable that the crane and winch found use during maintenance of vehicles. This would have been a very useful tool to have at the disposal of the unit, able to lift engine plates, damaged sections of track, sprockets, or even the engine. Certainly, it is not strong enough or even tall enough to lift the turret off a tank, so despite how useful it may be, it would not help with a transmission change as this required removal of the turret.
Other ideas have in the past been suggested for this vehicle, including obstacle clearance and moving unexploded ordnance. Neither of these ideas makes sense in practical terms, as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) is not that great of a concern to a unit that they would sacrifice a precious heavy tank to help clear it. Anywhere outside a key strategic point like a bridge, explosives could simply be blown up in situ. As for obstacle clearing, this makes even less sense as the vehicle lacks a bulldozer blade to move rubble or obstacles, there is no way of using the winch to secure an obstacle under fire to haul it away and the weight limit of this small jib would mean that any obstacles would only be lighter ones anyway – the sort which could equally be cleared by a tank crushing them or troops dynamiting them. Mine clearance is another consideration for the tank to address. Landmines had, as shown in the February action at the beachhead for s.Pz.Abt.508, caused them a lot of problems. The mine-sweeper suggestion is based on the idea that the tank could lower a charge over a mine and then withdraw detonate it and then go back and repeat the process to clear a path. This idea seems wholly impractical due to having to either load up with charges with a man exposed on the back to operate the winch under fire or to withdraw far enough for safety which would be far too low to be of effective combat value. No part of that idea covers how a mine would be found in the first place nor why infantry would clear them manually ahead of an armored assault in the first place.
The primary evidence for use as a charge layer comes from the unit records for the s.Pz.Abt.508, which records one of three damaged Tigers being converted to fulfill this charge-layer role. The circumstantial evidence against is based only on a look at the equipment fitted but there is another key piece of evidence to consider, s.Pz.Abt.508 was equipped with Borgward demolition vehicles. Commanded by means of radio control, these small, lightly armored tracked vehicles were guided to a target and detonated, causing an enormously effective blast for clearing concrete bunkers or defended positions like buildings.
The Borgwards though were uncrewed, and the Tiger-based vehicle clearly was not subject to the major modifications required to switch from a manual driver to a series of control so was not going to be detonated. Further, at least one other crewman (other than the driver) was required inside the turret in order to operate the traverse.
The means of use for the vehicle to lay demolition charges can only be theorized with the evidence of video, manuals or testimony which given the unique status of this vehicle and no living eyewitnesses, is not going to be available. Combining the retention of the turret and the winch/crane system to lay a demolition charge might go as a follows:
use of crane to lift up explosive charge in a safe location for the exposed winch-handler
movement of the charge to the rear by means of turret rotation in order to protect it from enemy fire
advancing to the enemy
rotation of the turret and charging to the front
use of a simple release wire to the winch to release the ratchet
dropping the demolition charge
According to the British report on the vehicle, there was a machine gun fitted inside the turret. Facing forwards through a small hole in the cover plate over the hole in the mantlet formerly occupied by the 8.8 cm L/56 gun, the existence of the machine gun as described appears to be based only upon what appears to be the small device just visible within the hole. A machine gun was a reasonable assumption, but with the end of the barrel that far back it is entirely unclear how it could be depressed or elevated. A fixed (although it could rotate with the turret) machine gun is almost useless.
Also, normally, an M.G.34 was mounted in the front right of the hull and the available photographs show the ball mount still in place but no machine gun. This does not mean that there was not one, rather it was likely removed before or after capture. Retaining this machine gun would be easier than actually removing it and having to plate over a hole in the armor, but with a hull machine gun would a second (and fixed) machine gun in the turret have any value?
More likely, therefore, given the purpose described in the unit diary, is that this was simply some kind of tube through which a wire could be passed to the explosive charge. Assuming this charge to be the same as from the Borgward IV vehicles operated by the unit, this would be a 450 kg charge of Ecrasite (trinitrocresol), an ammonia-based explosive insensitive to shock impacts like those from bullets.
Although the British examination is a primary source, it has to be countered with another primary source in the form of the unit war diary. With no reason to lie about such a thing and the technical assessment of the vehicle as an ARV in mind, it can be said that the vehicle was not a dedicated ARV but instead was a charge laying vehicle. The success of the vehicle as a charge-layer may not be known and whilst it is certainly possible, or even probable that with a handle winch and light crane available it was used for some maintenance operations in the unit, this does not make it an ARV.
Illustration of the Panzerkampfwagen VI – Ladungsleger Tiger produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Tank Driving School Vehicles – Unknown Number Built
The German Army needed vehicles to train tank crew drivers but the big problem was fuel. Diesel and gasoline (petrol) was required for front line vehicles and there was a massive shortage with no solution in sight. German engineers looked for an alternative fuel source. They came up with two solutions. One was a device that burnt wood and produced combustible gas that could power an engine. The other was to use compressed gas bottles that contained gas similar to that supplied to homes in Germany for cooking.
These vehicles were called “Fahrschulwanne”. This is a term used by those who were trained on these vehicles and a combination of “Fahrschule” (Driving school) and the German term “Wanne”. This does not mean the lower hull of a tank but is malapropism (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect) of the term “Badewanne” (Bathtub).
It is a German Army tradition to use nicknames or funny designations for any kind of vehicle. The modern German Army still does this. It calls their Amphibious-Company M3 Amphibious Rigs “Wasser-Bus”, which means water-bus. The term ‘Fahrschulpanzer’ translates to ‘Driving School Tank’. Fahrschulepanzerjäger means Tank-Destroyer-Training-school-vehicle.
A number of books and websites have miss-identified these vehicles as battlefield smoke generators because of the similarity to the Allied smoke generators.
Wood Gas powered tanks – Holzgas
The commercial term for a wood gas generator, or Holzkohevergaser in German, was the Imbert-holz-gas system which then was shortened to Holzgas. The gas was used to fuel vehicle engines thus saving on petrol/gasoline and diesel. The Imbert system is a closed external combustion system designed to produce gas that can be cooled and used in an internal combustion engine.
The Imbert system uses wood pellets and the gas produced needs cleaning and cooling prior to passing to the cylinders of the vehicle, otherwise it would choke up with residue. During the production process, biomass or other carbon-containing materials are gasified within the oxygen-limited closed environment of a wood gas generator to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
These gases can then be burnt as a fuel within an oxygen rich environment to produce carbon dioxide, water and heat. In Germany, around 500,000 gas powered vehicles were in use at the end of the war due to the lack of petroleum.
Holzgas wood gas burner diagram
Town Gas powered tanks – Stadtgas
As WWII progressed, gasoline / petrol and diesel became increasingly scarce in Germany. In order to save precious fuel, the Panzer driving schools (Panzer Fahrschule) frequently used vehicles equipped with Stadtgas (city gas) in the form of LPG compressed gas bottles fixed to the outside of the tank chassis for safety reasons. A German fuel shortage in World War 2, caused largely by Germany’s small natural oil reserves, was a factor in the German defeat. The Allied bombing program also depleted urgently needed stocks of fuel.
Prior to WW2 Germany, was heavily dependent on foreign fuel imports. It consumed 44.6 million barrels of oil annually and only produced 12.8 million barrels of domestic oil and synthetic oil. Germany did have a large deposit of coal and lignite which enabled them to increase the amount of synthetic fuel produced but it was never enough. This was one of the reasons Hitler decided to open up the Eastern front, in order to capture oil production plants.
German towns used coal gas sometimes called town gas or Stadtgas for heating, lighting and cooking. It was made by blowing air through an incandescent fuel bed (commonly coke or coal) in a gas producer. The reaction of fuel with insufficient air for total combustion produces carbon monoxide (CO); this reaction is exothermic and self-sustaining. It was discovered that adding steam to the input air of a gas producer would increase the calorific value of the fuel gas by enriching it with CO and hydrogen (H2) produced by water gas reactions.
Luckily, Town gas or Stadtgas can be bottled. When mildly compressed it easily changes to a liquid state. This allows a large amount of gas (stored energy) to be contained in a relatively small space. The reverse process is just as fortunate – if decompressed (allowed to escape the pressure vessel) the liquid gas will quickly revert to its gaseous state (vaporize).
One of the first tanks to be used as a turretless driving school vehicle was the Panzer I. At first, the fuel shortage problems had not been realized, and these vehicles did not need Holzgas or Stadtgas. The tank school was still using petrol to fuel their vehicles. This soon changed and they were quickly converted. Some were powered by a Holzgas wood burner and others by compressed Stadtgas in high-pressure bottles.
The first Panzer I batches were delivered without superstructure or turret, to be used as driver training vehicles.
These vehicles were named Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A
Another image of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A, at work in a winter scenery.
A group of Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.As fording a shallow lake or river.
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.B with what looks like a Stadgas generator.
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen I Ausf.A with an experimental Festbettvergaser Holzgas generator
The rear of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen I with Holzgas generator
Several Holzgas Fahrschulpanzer Is were modified to resemble tanks and used to train the Volkssturm in 1945.
This Panzer I Ausf.A chassis is powered by a wood gas burner and is fitted with a Panzer III turret. It was used for turret crew training.
German tank school wood gas powered Fahrschulpanzer I Ausf.A chassis and a Panzer III turret armed with 3.7 cm (1.46 in) gun used for teaching three-man turret crew procedures.
After the invasion of France in May 1940, the Panzer II light tank was considered obsolete and was withdrawn from front line service. Some were issued to Panzer schools. Some were also fitted with a tall wood burning gasifier combustion chamber of the Holzgas system standing erect, fixed to the rear of the tank. The long tubes were used to store and cool the gas down before it was piped into the engine.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen II with Imbert Holzvergasser wood gas burner with tanks from Pz.Abt 202, at Sentvid, Medvode near Ljubljana, Yugoslavia
A Fahrschulepanzerwagen II being transported by rail, next to an Italian M15/42 with an added rear bustle.
Another Fahrschulepanzerwagen II. These photographs were taken in 1945 Yugoslavia and had been captured by Soviet forces along with some Italian tanks.
Another view of the same Fahrschulepanzerwagen II.
The Panzer III tank was the main battle tank of the German army from mid-1940 to 1943. Tank crews needed to be trained on that vehicle type. They could not be expected to learn how to drive a tank in a light tank, like a Panzer I or Panzer II, and directly master a much heavier and bigger machine.
Special versions of the Panzer III tank were built without a turret. They had a large open central area which held the students and the instructor.
This Fahrschulpanzer III was powered by gasoline (petrol). This photo was taken early on in the war.
Notice that there are only five track road wheels on this Fahrschulepanzerwagen III, and not the normal six wheels. This tank is a rare example of a Panzer III Ausf.A, the first version of the Panzer III that entered service with the German Army. They were first delivered in 1937. The wheels are bigger than the wheels used in later versions.
This Fahrschulpanzer III was converted to run on compressed Stadgas. Four large gas bottles were strapped to the top of the track guard, two on each side.
The Panzer IV tank chassis was also used for tank driver training. Some had the turret removed and Stadtgas bottles fitted at the rear of the vehicle. A special boxed container was mounted in a frame at the end of the engine compartment. The gas cylinders were placed vertically inside the box.
A good side view of a Fahrschulepanzer IV and its Stadtgas cylinders.
The front part of the Stadgas cylinder holder. Some piping can be seen, which probably took the gas from the containers to the engine.
A better view of the cylinders from the rear.
A turreted Panzer IV with the gas cylinders fixed in a horizontal position on the outside of the tank at the rear.
Another turreted Panzer IV, but with the gas cylinders fixed vertically at the rear. Also, notice the full Schurzens.
Fahrschulpanzer I, petrol powered
Fahrschulpanzer I petrol powered tank with raised rear for students
Fahrschulpanzer I Holzgas with a mock-up turret. It was meant to simulate an enemy tank during the training of Volkssturm troops
Fahrschulpanzer II Holzgas
Fahrschulpanzer Sd.Kfz.251/1 Ausf.C
Sd.Kfz.251/1 Red Cross ambulance powered by Stadtgas
Fahrschulpanzer V Panther
The Fahrschule Panther used six Stadtgas bottles, three on each side, in brackets attached to a platform. A system of conduits and nozzles ran over the engine deck to connect the bottles to the Panther’s fuel system. Because of the obvious safety risks vehicles with Stadtgas were only used for training and didn’t see combat.
Stadtgas Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther Ausf.D with its crew in front of it
Another photo of a Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther powered by Stadtgas cylinders. The image is obviously overexposed.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen V Panther powered by Stadtgas cylinders. Notice that the hull machine-gun flap is closed.
Fahrschulpanzer VI Tiger
Many people may be shocked to discover that the feared German Army Tiger tank was also modified to run on cooking gas and wood gas. They were not used in combat on the front line. They were used as Fahrschulpanzer Tiger tanks (driving school Tiger tanks). The first photograph shows
A Tiger tank chassis converted to run on the Holzgas system. The wood burner combustion unit is in the middle at the rear and it is flanked on each side by the vertical gas storage and cooling cylinders.
Tiger tanks that were converted to be powered by Stadtgas. The four compressed gas cylinders were fixed to the rear of the vehicle, two on each side.
Notice that the cylinder mounting is different from the previous photograph. That had the top of the gas cylinder pointing towards the front of the vehicle at a downwards angle, while this vehicle other has it pointing to the rear of the tank.
Fahrschulepanzerwagen VI Tiger tank with mechanical problems. The Stadtgas cylinders can be seen at the back.
This photo shows the way the Stadtgas cylinders were fitted at the rear of the tank school Tigers.
Stadtgas powered German tank school Tiger on parade. The gas cylinders are at the back.
German tank driving school lesson gone wrong – Credits: Micro antic
Stadtgas powered German tank school Tiger on heathland. The gas cylinders are at the back.
Fahrschulpanzer Beutepanzer M14/41
Turretless Beutepanzer captured Italian M14/41 tank powered by Holzgas used to train drivers. It has a Balkenkreuz cross on the superstructure. It could be a Semovente M42 75/18 SPG. It is hard to tell as they use the same chassis.
Fahrschulpanzer Marder III
Self-propelled anti-tank gun crews also had to learn how to drive their vehicles. This is a photograph of a Marder III Ausf.M converted into a Fahrschulpanzer Marder III tank driving school vehicle. As the vehicle was smaller than the tank chassis used in driver training, only two gas cylinders could be fitted to the outside on the Marder III.
Fahrschulepanzerjäger 38(t) Ausf.M Marder III Holzgasantrieb
The Czechoslovakian built Panzer 38(t) tank chassis was used as a basis to manufacture tank hunters like the Hetzer and self-propelled anti-tank and artillery guns. It was also used to make wood gas powered German tank driving school vehicles.
The tall towers fixed to the rear of the vehicle are the wood burning gasifier Holzgas combustion unit. It was an airtight vessel into which was introduced a charge of wood, charcoal, or anthracite coal. The fuel was heated either internally or externally in order to initiate a self-sustaining gasification of the fuel in an oxygen deprived environment.
The precipitation tank is on the side, behind the three long gas cooling and storage pipes affixed to both sides of the tank chassis.
Four Fahrschulpanzer 38(t) vehicles in a line in a post-WW2 scrap yard, waiting to be cut up.
Fahrschulpanzer Sd.Kfz.251/1 Halftrack
German military driving schools also converted Sd.Kfz.251 half tracks to run on wood gas Holzgas burners as well as compressed Stadtgas. The half-tracks that were fitted with a wood burner, like in the first photograph below, had the gas from the burner piped into the reservoir, and then into the modified engine carburetor. Wood-gas modified vehicles were therefore technically a dual fuel vehicle. The self-sustaining gasification of the wood charcoal or coal required another fuel to start the process.
Gas reservoir sizes depended upon the vehicle, engine, and gasifier size. The gas storage containers were smaller on the half-tracks, as they had an engine with a better fuel consumption rate compared with the very thirst tank engines. In the case of small engines, like on the Kubelwagen car, the wood gas was piped directly into the modified engine carburetor.
You can see the Holzgas wood burner on the back of this half-track
Schützenpanzerwagen Sd.Kfz.251/1 Ausf.B Stadtgas
This Stadtgas powered half-track has been used as a battlefield ambulance.
This wood gas powered German half-track has a lower profile burner at the back.
German Supply vehicles
Many German supply vehicles that operated behind the front-line were fitted with wood gas Holzgas burners because of fuel shortages.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.