Self-propelled anti-tank- 174 anti-tank and 26 command vehicles
After the defeat of France in June 1940, the Germans captured huge stockpiles of British and French war materiel. Some of the greatest prizes were the large quantities of tanks of several different types, including the Renault R35. While the R35 was available in great numbers and had good armor for its time, it lacked firepower, speed and had only two crew members. While some would be used in their original tank configuration on less important fronts, the majority would be adapted for various other roles, such as artillery tractors or ammunition supply vehicles. Some 174 would be modified and used as anti-tank vehicles with an additional 24 (based on the same model) being used as command vehicles.
After the conclusion of the Western campaign, the Germans were in possession of nearly 800 R35 tanks. At the end of 1940, In 6 (the inspectorate for motorized and armored units) issued a request to Wa Prüf 6 for the development of an anti-tank vehicle based on the R35 tank. This vehicle was to be used to equip non-motorized Infantry Divisions. Prior to this request, the Germans had already tested the use of so-called Panzerjäger (anti-tank vehicles) during the Western campaign. These represented an attempt to increase the mobility of anti-tank guns by placing them on an obsolete tank chassis, like the Panzer I. The standard German anti-tank gun was the 3.7 cm PaK 36, which proved a good design in the Polish campaign, but was deemed insufficient for the task afterward. The Germans had in their inventory a good number of the more potent Czechoslovakian 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38 anti-tank guns, known as the 4.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 36 (t), or simply as 4.7 cm PaK (t). Due to its better firepower, the Germans decided to use this cannon to arm the first self-propelled anti-tank vehicle, known simply as the Panzerjäger I. It consisted of a Panzer I chassis on which the turret was replaced with a 4.7 cm PaK(t) mount and a three-sided shield. While this concept proved to have merit, as shown in France, it was far from perfect. Simply put, the chassis was insufficient for the task and was poorly protected.
As the larger Panzer III and IV were better armed than the Panzer I, there was no point in using them for such modifications at this early stage of the war, as they were too valuable as tanks for the Panzer Divisions. The French R35, on the other hand, was available in great numbers, was better protected than the Panzer I and had a stronger chassis. Adding the potent 4.7 cm PaK(t) instead of the weak 3.7 cm main gun would have kept these vehicles relevant on the contemporary battlefields. These were probably the main reasons why the Germans decided to utilize the R35 chassis for this role.
For the development of such a vehicle, Wa Prüf 6 chose Alkett to build the first prototype. The soft steel prototype was completed during early February 1941. The conversion included removing the turret and replacing it with an open topped combat compartment armed with the 4.7 cm anti-tank gun. At the end of March, it was presented to Adolf Hitler. He approved the design and an order for 200 4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731, as it was known, was given, which was to be completed by August that year.
The Renault R35 was a French light tank developed during the early thirties to replace the aging FT tank. While the French Army tested other heavier designs (the Renault D1 and D2), a simpler and cheaper vehicle was deemed more desirable. Work on this tank began in 1933 at the French Army’s request for a new light tank design. Renault was quick to respond and presented its prototype to the France Army which, after a series of modifications (among which increasing the armor to 40 mm and improving the running gear), placed an order for over 1,600 tanks. While the R35 was well protected, with 40 mm-thick cast armor, it was plagued with problems such as weak firepower (it had the same 37 mm gun as the FT), just two crew members, a lack of radio and slow speed. During its service life, a number of further modifications and tests were carried out in order to improve its firepower and mobility, all with limited success. Regardless, it was the most numerous French tank during the German Invasion of 1940.
The designation of the German tank destroyer is slightly different depending on the source used. According to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 7-1), it is known as 4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731. Author D. Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Francuska) mentions it as the Selbstfahrlafette 4.7 cm PaK(t) auf PzKpfw 35 R (f). W.J. Spielberger (Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Deutschen Wehrmacht) names it the 4.7 cm PaK(t) auf Panzerkampfwagen 35 R(f) ohne turm. The precise name is also somewhat complicated by the Germans using both R35 and 35R in their documents.
This article, for the sake of simplicity, will use the simple and unofficial Panzerjäger 35R designation.
Chassis and hull
The hull and superstructure were built using casting. The hull actually consisted of three cast parts that were bolted together. In the front part of the hull, the transmission was placed. Behind it was the crew compartment and, to the rear, separated by a firewall, was the engine compartment. On top of the chassis, a cast superstructure was added. It completely covered most of the vehicle, including the rear engine compartment. In front of the superstructure, a two-part hatch for the driver was located.
Armored crew compartment
For the construction of the Panzerjäger 35R, the Germans simply removed the R35’s turret and placed a box-shaped and open-topped armored compartment on top of the vehicle. To accommodate this new compartment, the Germans added a metal base that was extended over most of the upper part of the R35 superstructure.
The front rectangular plate of this compartment was placed at 30°. In the middle of it, an opening for the gun was placed. This opening was enclosed with an internal gun shield. On the gun’s left side, a hatch was placed. Its purpose was to cover the gun’s sight and had to be open when engaging enemy targets.
The compartment sides consisted of two armored plates. The smaller one, to the front, was slightly angled towards the front plate. The larger side armor had narrow rectangular hatches for the crew on both sides to the rear. On the left side, to the rear, an aerial antenna cubical mount base was installed.
The rear part of the compartment consisted of a storage area which was elevated above the engine compartment. This was supported by three metal poles. While all were open-topped, some vehicles had two metal bars welded to the top to provide a better base for the canvas cover.
The Panzerjäger 35R’s suspension was unchanged from the original French design and consisted of five road wheels, three return rollers, one idler and one drive sprocket. Of the five road wheels, four were suspended in pairs and one was independently mounted. The paired road wheels were mounted on bell cranks and suspended using rubber springs. The rear idler was put close to the ground.
This vehicle was powered by a Renault 4 cylinder engine giving out 85 hp @ 220 rpm. While the overall weight, due to the added extra armor, crew members, armament and ammunition, was increased to 11 tonnes (or 10 tonnes, depending on the source), the driving performance seems to be unchanged in the specifications in most sources. The maximum speed was 20 km/h, while the cross-country speed was only 12 km/h. The low speed was not that a great deficiency for this vehicle, as it was intended to support the non-motorised infantry units. The operational range was some 130 km, dropping down to 80 km cross-country.
The armor protection could be divided into two sections, the French R35 hull and superstructure, and the German-added top fighting compartment. The French R35 was relatively well protected for its day. Its front hull armor was 32 mm rounded armor. The sides were 40 mm thick, the rear also 40 mm, but placed at 35°, and the bottom was 14 mm thick. The superstructure front armor was 32 mm thick, the sides and rear were 40 mm placed at 10° and 11°. The top armor of the superstructure was 13 mm.
The new fighting compartment was less armored. The front was 25 mm thick, placed at 30°. The sides were 20 mm thick at 10° and the flat rear was 20 mm thick. Older sources mention that the frontal armor was 20 mm thick and the sides and rear only 10 mm thick.
The gun used to arm this vehicle was the captured Škoda 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38, known as the 4.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 36 (t), or simply as the 4.7 cm PaK (t) in German service. The standard armor-piercing Panzergranate 36 (t) had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s and a maximum effective range of 1.5 km. The armor penetration of this round was 48-59 mm at 500 m and 41 mm at 1 km.
In order to extend its operational effectiveness, a new Pzgr.Patr.40 tungsten round was developed (the muzzle velocity was 1,080 m/s). As the Germans lacked sufficient tungsten, this type of ammunition could not be produced in large quantities and its usage was rare. The 4.7 cm PaK (t) also fired high-explosive rounds (2.3 kg weight) with impact fuses to be used against light armor and infantry.
The gun itself, without the wheels and the trail legs, was simply bolted on the front, where the R35’s turret ring was previously positioned. The 4.7 cm gun had an elevation of -8° to +10° and a traverse angle of 17.5° on each side. The elevation and traverse were controlled by two handwheels located on the gun’s left side. The main monocular gunsight was not changed. The total ammunition load is unknown. Seeing as the smaller Panzerjäger I was able to carry some 86 rounds, it would be logical to assume that the new Panzerjäger 35R’s ammunition load would be similar, if not slightly larger.
For crew protection, one MP38/40 submachine gun was carried inside. The ammunition load for it was 192 rounds. Being designed to cooperate with the infantry, the lack of a machine gun was not a major issue.
This vehicle had a crew of three, which included the commander, who was also the gunner, the loader and the driver. The driver’s position was on the left side of the vehicle. He entered his position through a two-part hatch with a visor. The remaining two crewmen were positioned in the new armored fighting compartment. The commander/gunner was positioned to the left of the gun, and the loader to the right of him. While not listed in the sources, it is likely that the loader would also act as the radio operator.
As already mentioned, the production order for this vehicle was awarded to Alkett. The preparation for production was to begin in February/March 1941, with some 30 vehicles per month. There would be some delays in production, so the quota of 30 vehicles was not always achieved. By May 1941, some 93 vehicles were completed, followed by 33 in June, only 5 in July, 22 in August, 28 in September and the final 19 vehicles in October 1941. Not all were built as anti-tank vehicles. Of the 200 vehicles, some 26 were constructed as command vehicles.
The first available vehicles were used to form three 30-vehicle strong Panzerjäger Abteilung – Pz.Jg.Abt (self-propelled anti-tank battalions), the 559th, 561st, and the 611th. Each of these battalions consisted of an HQ unit and three Kompanie (Companies). Each Company was divided into smaller three-vehicle strong Zuge (Platoons). There was an additional Company sent to the 43rd Battalion, supplied with a few vehicles, to act as a reserve and training unit. The remaining vehicles would be mainly distributed in smaller numbers to various Infantry Divisions.
Failed actions in the East
The Panzerjäger 35Rs, like many other German armored vehicles, were mobilized for the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The 559th was allocated to Army Group North, while the 561st and 611th went to Army Group Center. For these vehicles, the war started pretty badly. Nearly all vehicles were out of action due to mechanical breakdowns just a few days after the start of the German attack. For example, in the case of the 611th Battalion, it lost all its vehicles on the first day of the attack. In desperation, the unit was instead equipped with the 3.7 cm PaK 36 towed gun and even some Soviet captured anti-tank guns. The 559th Battalion also had the same fate, replacing its vehicles with 3.7 cm PaK anti-tank guns. The 561st was pulled back from the front, temporarily waiting to replace the tank destroyers with towed anti-tank guns.
Another unit that was sent to the Soviet Union, probably in late 1941, was the 318th Company, which had ten 35R tank-hunters and 2 command vehicles. These performed poorly based on the unit report dated from February 1942. In this report, it was noted that these vehicles had poor engines, which were ill suited for the field conditions of the East. Bad weather and the poor road system prevented long road marches with this vehicle. Due to the low temperatures, the engines could not be started and even the road wheels would be blocked and unable to move because of this. After this poor performance, no more 35R anti-tank vehicles would be sent to the East. The fate of these vehicles is not clear in the sources.
In the West
The remaining Panzerjäger 35Rs, some 148 vehicles in April 1942, would be stationed in the West, where the climate was more suitable for their use. In the West, these vehicles were not used in Battalion strength, but instead mostly allocated to a number of Infantry Divisions in small numbers. Some of these included 3 with the 100th Panzer Regiment, 2 in the 243rd Panzer Division, 11 in the 343rd Infantry Division, 10 in the 191st Reserve Division, etcetera. In December 1943, of 92 Panzerjäger 35Rs, some 88 were operational. Prior to the Allied invasion of France in 1944, some 110 vehicles of this type were available. Why this number is higher than the previous year is sadly not mentioned in the sources. Between 1942 and 1944, these vehicles were mainly used for occupation and patrol duties and crew training.
The available Panzerjäger 35Rs would meet the Allied invasion of occupied France. Unfortunately, the sources do not give much information about their actual combat service. Being based on a pre-war vehicle and armed with a weak 4.7 cm anti-tank gun (by 1944 standards), its effectiveness was limited at best. It is hard to know precisely, but probably all were lost in the first few months of combat in France.
Führungs-fahrzeuge auf Fgst.Kpfw.35 R 731(f)
The Führungs-fahrzeuge auf Fgst.Kpfw.35 R 731(f) (also known in sources as the Befehlspanzer fur 4.7 cm PaK(t) Einheiten auf Panzerkampfwagen 35 R) was a command vehicle based on the Panzerjäger 35R. It was built by removing the 4.7 cm anti-tank gun and replacing it with a ball mounted Kugelblende 30 MG 34 machine gun. Not all vehicles were actually equipped with the machine gun mount, as some were left without any armament. It was equipped with additional radio equipment and built in small numbers, some 26 vehicles in total.
The 5 cm Pak 38 auf R35(f) project
At the end of July 1941, Alkett was instructed by Wa Prüf 6 to design and produce a modified version of this vehicle armed with the 5 cm PaK 38. This vehicle was designated 5 cm PaK 38 auf R 35(f). Once adopted, it was to be allocated to anti-tank units of standard Infantry Divisions. Due to the addition of the larger gun, the weight of the vehicle would rise to 11.5 tonnes. Ultimately, while one vehicle was to be ready by August 1941, it is unlikely that this was ever achieved.
The 5 cm gun was a powerful weapon with much stronger recoil, and it is not clear if the R35 chassis could have successfully handled it without major mechanical problems. The poor performance of this chassis in the East probably also influenced the decision to drop this project.
In Hungarian Service
At least two of these vehicles were temporarily given to Hungarians to fight Soviet partisans. Sadly, not much is known about their use by the Hungarians.
Today, only one Panzerjäger 35R (with some parts missing) exists and can be seen at the Swiss military Museum at Thun.
The Panzerjäger 35R shared a number of positive and negative characteristics with its cousin, the Panzerjäger I. It provided the German infantry with a more mobile anti-tank platform with a relatively good gun and somewhat better protection than the earlier Panzerjäger I. While it was slow, the infantry it was designed to provide cover for were themselves not a very mobile force, so it was not a major issue.
The problem with this vehicle was its mechanical unsuitability for the Eastern Front (a problem that most French vehicles had when they were used there by the Germans). The poor roads and cold climate prevented the Panzerjäger 35R from being of any use on this front. The armor protection, especially the all around (but open-top) crew compartment, was still weak by the standards of 1942. While the later Marder series was also poorly protected, they had the benefit of longer range guns, which this vehicle did not have. In any case, the Panzerjäger 35R was surely a good way of increasing the effectiveness of the obsolete R35 tank, but was let down by its basis.
4.7 cm PaK(t) (Sfl.) auf Fgst.Pz.Kpfw.35 R 731 specifications
Assault gun/Self-propelled anti-tank – 89 plus 2 prototypes
Following the cancelation of the Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s VK 45.01 (P) heavy tank project, the Germans were left with 100 built chassis, including several completed tanks. As these represented a huge material, financial, and time investment, a solution for reusing these in some way had to be found. One solution was to modify them as self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, which the Germans ultimately did. The majority of Dr. Porsche’s VK 45.01 (P) heavy tank chassis would be rebuilt for this purpose. These would be armed with the powerful 88 mm L/71 gun and protected with 200 mm of frontal armor, making them formidable adversaries on the battlefield at that time. Despite the small numbers built, these would see extensive combat use during the war, where their effectiveness was plagued with many mechanical and logistical problems.
Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s heavy tanks projects
Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche began his engineering career in the early twentieth century when he showed great interest in developing hybrid (combination of electric and petrol) engines. He even built a few new automobile designs which incorporated hybrid engines. During the First World War, while working for the Austrian Daimler factory, he proposed an artillery tractor that would use this hybrid engine. Eventually, nothing came from this idea. In 1930, he founded his own company located in Stuttgart. Porsche’s new company was mainly engaged in developing various designs based on the request of the clients.
Dr. Porsche would also get a chance to participate in military tank design, as he was appointed chairman of the German Panzer Commission in September 1939. This Commission was composed of leading owners of major industrial plants and engineers. Their primary function was to give suggestions and new ideas for further or already existing tank designs. While working on a number of military design projects, Dr. Porsche would establish a good relationship with Adolf Hitler. This support gave Dr. Porsche’s work a huge advantage over the competition, despite generally creating either too complicated or too expensive designs.
By the end of 1939, Dr. Porsche began working on designing components for a new heavy tank project for the German Army. His approach was somewhat unorthodox, as he was not limited by any requirements or technical specifications. Dr. Porsche’s initial work was mainly focused on the development of engines and transmissions. In cooperation with Oberingenieur Karl Rabe, Dr. Porsche made his first plans and calculations for a new vehicle called Porsche Typ 100 in early December 1939. While the name of this vehicle would change several times, today it is best known as the VK 30.01 (P), given by Krupp in March 1941. The following year, in 1940, in a meeting with Wa Prüf 6 (automotive design office under the Waffenamt) officials, Dr. Porsche received proper specifications for the new tank and received the necessary funds to actually build the first prototype. The Typ 100 was to be powered by two air-cooled engines placed at the rear. Each of these two engines was then connected to an electrical generator. These were used to provide power to the two additional engines placed in the hull. These in turn were used to power the front-drive sprockets. The Typ 100 used new longitudinally mounted torsion bars suspension. The six road wheels were to be placed in pairs on the three torsion bar units on each unit. Eventually, due to urgent needs of the development of the Tiger program, and due to a number of problems identified (huge fuel consumption, suspension problems, etc.) on the Typ 100, the project was canceled. Only one (or two, depending on the source) soft steel operational prototypes would be built and used for testing.
By the end of May 1941, Hitler issued the requirements for the new heavy tank project. These included an increase in armor thickness (up to 100 mm maximum) and the use of an 88 mm gun. Dr. Porsche began working on this new design during July 1941, and two months later, the first drawings and calculations were ready. Similar to the previous vehicle, this project was initially designated as Typ 101, but the name changed several times during the span of a year. Today, it is generally known as the VK 45.01 (P) or Tiger (P). This vehicle had several changes to its design in comparison to its predecessor. To have a better distribution of weight, the turret was moved more to the front and the final drive unit was repositioned to the rear. The engine was replaced with a more powerful one. Additionally, there were many overall design changes to its chassis and superstructure design.
Construction of such a vehicle was given to Nibelungenwerk. The first prototype was completed in April 1942 and presented to Hitler on his birthday, 20th April. Hitler was impressed with it, as Dr. Porsche received a production order for 90 vehicles (plus 10 with hydraulic drive) in May 1942. A second prototype, which was built shortly after, was transported to the Army weapon test site at Kummersdorf in June 1942. There, the VK 45.01 (P) proved to be prone to malfunctions, especially with the new engine.
Porsche gets rejected
Following a number of rigorous tests, the VK 45.01 (P) proved to be a complicated and mechanically unreliable vehicle. The competing Henschel prototype was also prone to malfunctions but was nevertheless deemed to have a better overall design. At the end of August 1942, the Reichsminister (Minister of Armaments and War Production), Albert Speer, had the opportunity to examine Dr. Porsche’s work at Nibelungenwerke. Reichsminister Speer even had the chance to actually drive the VK 45.01 (P) prototype. However, this visit was quite unsuccessful for Dr. Porsche. Witnessing the overall performance of the VK 45.01 (P), Reichsminister Speer insisted that this project be canceled, despite having received great favor from Hitler himself. Due to the many mechanical problems and overcomplicated design, even Hitler agreed that the VK 45.01 (P) was a failure and, on 22nd November (or October, depending on the source) 1942, he officially ended Dr. Porsche’s heavy tank project. While less than 10 (out of an order of 100) VK 45.01 (P) would be fully completed as tanks, only one heavily modified vehicle would be ever used in combat during 1944, on the Eastern Front, as a command vehicle.
As these chassis were already produced, they presented a huge financial and resource investment that could not be simply discarded, so something had to be done on that matter. Wa Prüf 6 made proposals to mount 150, 170, or even 210 mm heavy caliber guns on them, but nothing came from these proposals. Hitler proposed for them to be modified and used as schwere Sturmgeschütz (heavy assault guns). The frontal armor was to be increased to 200 mm (from the original 100 mm) and to be armed with the newly developed 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 anti-tank gun. In the following months, the precise role that this vehicle would fulfill was changed a few times. Initially, it was allocated to the Artillery Army branch. The project officially got the green light by the direct order of Reichsminister Speer on 22nd September 1942.
This vehicle was initially designated as Typ 130 by Alkett (who was responsible for the development of prototypes). During its early development phase, in late 1942, a number of different designations were allocated to it. One of these was Sturmgeschütz mit der 8.8 cm lang or Tiger Sturmgeschütz. At that time, the simpler Ferdinand name (given in honor of Dr. Porsche) was becoming more frequently used by the designers and, later, even by the troops.
During February 1943, Wa Prüf 6 issued a list of potential names for this vehicle. These included Sturmgeschütz auf Fahrgestell Porsche Tiger mit der langer 8.8, Panzerjäger Tiger (P) 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71 Sd.Kfz 184 or the similar 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 Sfl L/71 Panzerjäger Tiger (P) Sd. Kfz. 184. The simplest one was Panzejäger Tiger (P).
At the end of November 1943, Adolf Hitler gave a suggestion for a new name, Elefant (Elephant). The name was officially adopted during February 1944 and came to be implemented from May 1944 on. Despite the common misconception that this designation was applied to modified vehicles that were used from 1944 on, this was not the case (source T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle Panzer Tracts No.9 Jagdpanzer). For the Germans, the Ferdinand and Elefant were one and the same vehicle.
The Ferdinand was initially designated to fulfill the role of an assault gun. The major manufacturer of such vehicles (primarily the Sturmgeschütz III, StuG III) was Alkett for most of the war. While Alkett possessed the necessary tools and manpower to complete the construction of the Ferdinand vehicles, it was decided by Wa Prüf 6 (during February 1943) that these were to be completed at Nibelungenwerke. On the other hand, Alkett (with the support of Dr. Porsche) would be involved in the construction of the first two prototype vehicles (chassis numbers 150010 and 150011 – depending on the source, the numbers are written with a space after the third number or without it). In general, Alkett was unable to proceed with the Ferdinand project. It was heavily involved with StuG III production and could not free up its production capacity to be involved in another project. There was also a general lack of proper rail transport units that were able to successfully carry the heavy weight of the Ferdinand’s larger components.
The Nibelungenwerke factory was located in the city of Sankt Valentin (near Steyr, in Austria) and was founded shortly after the German annexation of Austria. Initially, it was involved in production of Panzer IVs, which were then transported to Krupp-Gruson. Nibelungenwerke would be substantially enlarged so that it was capable of producing Panzer IV Ausf. F tanks. Its officials would also make an agreement with Dr. Porsche to develop his heavy tank projects. While it possessed production capabilities to conduct the construction process, Alkett provided Nibelungenwerke with a group of 120 skilled metalworkers to speed up the whole production process.
As the construction of the Ferdinand required extensive modifications to the VK 45.01 (P) chassis, other subcontractors would be needed. For example, Eisenwerke Oberdonau from Linz was responsible for making the necessary modifications to the hull. Siemens-Schuckert of Berlin was to provide the electrical motors and the generator. Krupp from Essen was responsible for producing the large casemates.
Due to some delays, the first 15 hulls were completed in January 1943. The remaining hulls would be ready by mid-April 1943 when they were transported to Nibelungenwerke for final assembly. Krupp was also involved in providing additional necessary parts. On 16th February 1943, the construction of the first vehicle (chassis number 150010) began. According to the original production plans, the last vehicle was to be completed by mid-May 1943.
The precise production run was slightly different depending on the source. For example, according to T. Melleman (Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I), production began in early 1943, when 15 vehicles were completed. These were followed by 26 vehicles in February, 37 in March, and, by May, all 90 were completed. Initially, four vehicles were used for training purposes.
According to T. Anderson (Ferdinand and Elefant tank destroyer), production was planned as 15 vehicles in February, 35 in March, and the final 40 in April. T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.23, Panzer production 1933-1945) state that 30 were built in April and the remaining 60 in May.
As the production of the first vehicles was going on, two Alkett prototype vehicles, chassis numbers 150010 and 150011, were transported to the weapon test site at Kummersdorf and Magdeburg by order of Wa Prüf 6 for testing and evaluation. These two can be easily identified by the rear positioned flexible fenders and protective covers for the forward-mounted headlights (both would be removed on the production vehicles). One of these vehicles would be presented to Hitler on 19th March 1943 during an exhibition of new vehicle prototypes at the Rugenwalde proving ground.
In a report dated 23rd February 1943, over a dozen or so deficiencies were listed for the second prototype (chassis number 150011). Some of these included that the fuel line from the left engine was positioned too close to the exhaust pipe, the electric-powered fuel pumps were unreliable, the fact that in order to drain the cooling liquid, nearly 50 screws had to be removed, checking the oil level in the air compressor was difficult, the short life of the cooling system drive belts, the hand brakes were too weak, the inadequate size of the towing hooks, and spring breakages on the running gears, among several others. In normal conditions, the Ferdinands would have probably spent months in the workshops, where designers and engineers would try to resolve these issues. But, in 1943, the German Army was preparing to commence a new offensive operation on the Eastern Front. The majority of the Ferdinands were already on their way to this front. The only real option was to provide the Ferdinand-equipped units with Formveräderungen (Modification kit equipment) to be implemented in the field.
The two prototype vehicles would be thoroughly tested during 1943, mainly focusing on their mechanical reliability. In the case of the prototype with chassis number 150011, by late August 1943, it was reported to have driven some 911 km. With a weight of 64.37 tonnes (without crew and ammunition), the fuel consumption was noted to be huge. On good roads, in order to cross 100 km, the Ferdinand needed 867.9 liters. Cross country, this reached up to 1,620 liters at the same range. Many defects with the engine design, huge fuel and oil consumption, problems with the suspension design, poor accessibility for maintenance etcetera were noted.
The Ferdinand was, in essence, divided into two large sections. The hull contained the two front crew members, four engines, and generators. The enclosed casemate positioned at the rear held the 8.8 cm main gun, the ammunition, and the rest of the crew. Each of these components was built using welded armor plates with some elements being connected using bolts.
The Ferdinand’s lower hull could be divided into four sections: the front driving compartment, the main engines positioned in the center, the lower rear electric engines, and the fighting compartment placed on top of it. The hull was constructed using welding, with the added frontal armor held in place by bolts.
On top of the Ferdinand lower hull was a fully enclosed superstructure which provided protection for the two crew members and the engines. It had a rather simple square design, with flat sides that angled inwards toward the front plate, while the rear part had a reverse angle.
The front part of the superstructure was where the driver and the radio operator were positioned. These two crewmembers entered their position through two hatches placed on top of the superstructure. The original VK 45.01 (P) round side doors intended for these two crew members were simply welded shut. The front driver visor and the machine gun ball mount were removed and replaced with a simple 100 mm thick armored plate. To provide the driver with a means to see where he was driving, a protected three-sided periscope was placed on top of his hatch door. In addition, there were two round-shaped visor ports (additionally protected with armored glass) placed on both sides of the inward-angling side armor. Next to the radio operator’s hatch on the vehicle’s right side was placed the antenna mount.
These two crew members were separated from the remaining rear-positioned crew members. The only way of communication with the commander was by using an intercom. It consisted of earphones and a throat microphone. In real combat conditions, this system proved to be prone to malfunctions. In an attempt to solve this issue, the Germans tried using light signals for communication between the driver and commander.
Behind these two crew members was placed the engine compartment, which was separated (on both sides) by a fire-resistant wall. It consisted of the two gasoline engines, electric generators, coolant radiators, and cooling fans, oil and fuel tanks. In order to put all these components into the engine compartment, they had to be placed close to each other, which caused many overheating problems and even cases of fire were not uncommon later during Ferdinand’s service life.
The top of this compartment was protected by an armored plate that was held in place by simple bolts. This way, it could be easily removed to facilitate necessary repairs. In the middle of this plate, a square armored grid cover was placed for the air intakes. On both sides of it, two rectangular grid hatches for the protection of the radiator’s air fan exhausts were placed. Close to the large casemate, there were three narrow hatches that covered most of the width of the engine compartment. They mainly served as engine access doors but, in the field, the crews would often leave them open for better ventilation. The engine exhaust pipes ran internally on both sides of the hull. They exited through a small opening which was located close to the fifth road wheel on both sides. While this arrangement provided protection for the exhaust pipes, the extensive heat rapidly deteriorated the grease lubricants on the fifth wheels. These affected their life expectancy and they had to be replaced often.
Behind the rear positioned engine firewall, two Siemens generators were placed. Atop them, the remaining crew members were stationed, protected by the large and well-protected casemate. While the original VK 45.01 (P) hull was reused for the Ferdinand vehicle, the rear part was changed. The two angled side plates were replaced with a flat one extended to the rear, which was more suited to carry the huge casemate.
The toolbox was placed on the superstructure’s right front side. This was not an ideal location, as it could be easily damaged during combat operations. So, it would be moved to the rear of the vehicles. The crews would also add additional spare boxes for various additional equipment.
The huge casemate positioned to the rear of the vehicle housed the 8.8 cm gun and four crew members. Its overall construction was simple, as it consisted of four armored plates plus the top one which were welded together. Viewed from the front, the casemate had a trapezoidal shape. While these plates were thick, they were also slightly sloped to provide additional protection. It was not actually welded to the superstructure but was instead held in place by bolts. Outside, close to the engine compartment, there was a small rectangular plate (with five bolts) that served as a reinforced connector between the superstructure and the casemate.
The front plate had a round-shaped opening in the middle for the gun ball mount. To avoid getting rainwater into the engine, some crews welded two diagonal improvised drains in front of the superstructure.
To the rear part of each side armor plate, a cone-shaped pistol port was placed. These were actually plugs that were connected to chains. When in use, the armored cover would simply be pushed out by one of the crew members. Once open, these would just hang on to the chains and could be closed back by dragging the chain back in. To the rear, in the middle of the casemate, a large round-shaped one-piece hatch was located. In the center of this door, a much smaller round-shaped hatch was located. Its main role was to act as another pistol port and to be used during the ammunition resupply. Two additional pistol ports were placed on both sides of this door.
The top was not flat and was actually slightly angled toward the engine compartment. In front of it, the arc-shaped armored cover was used for the gunner’s periscope. To the right of it, the commander’s square-shaped two-piece hatch was located. Somewhat surprisingly for German standards, the commander was not provided with a command cupola and his view of the surroundings was quite limited. Further back, on the left side, the loader’s round-shaped two-part hatch was located. In the back corners, two round-shaped ports were used by the two loaders to see the surrounding with periscopes. In the middle, a ventilation port with protective sides was installed.
Suspension and Running Gear
The Ferdinand’s suspension consisted of six large road wheels, a front idler, and a rear drive sprocket on each side. The six road wheels were divided into pairs and were placed on bell cranks, which in turn were mounted on longitudinal torsion bar units. Each of these pairs of road wheels was actually suspended individually. Initially, Dr. Porsche’s design utilized rubber-rimmed wheels. As these were quickly worn out due to the extreme friction between the track and the wheels, Dr. Porsche designed a much simpler solution, using steel wheels with inbuilt spring units to help with shock absorption. The Germans, by this time, were having shortages of rare materials, including rubber, so this was a welcome innovation that would see use in later years on the Panther and the Tiger tanks. The road wheels had a diameter of 794 mm.
The shapes of the front idler and rear drive sprocket were visually almost identical. The main difference between these two was in their internal construction. They were identical to simplify the production of parts. But the main reason was to prevent the track from falling off the suspension due to the vehicle’s length and lack of any return rollers. Both the idler and the drive sprocket had a diameter of 920 mm and consisted of two toothed rings that had 19 teeth. The tracks used were 600 mm wide and were connected using single-pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 50 cm.
Dr. Porsche’s suspension design had positive and negative sides. The positive side was that the whole suspension system was completely external. This allowed him to lower the vehicle’s hull and provide more working space inside it. On the other hand, while the overall design was (at least in theory) simple, it was prone to malfunctions and breakdowns. Due to the vehicle’s extreme weight, replacing broken parts was difficult to achieve without proper equipment.
Engine and Transmission
As Dr. Porsche’s original VK 45.01 (P) dual-electrical engine system proved to be too complicated and unreliable, it was decided to replace these with a more orthodox power unit. Two Maybach HL 120 TRM gasoline engines giving out 265 [email protected] 2600 rpm were chosen instead. Each of these two engines was provided with a 74-octane gasoline fuel tank. The engine was water-cooled, with some 37 l placed in two coolant tanks. One cooling tank was placed on top of the generators, while the second was in front of the engine. Based on the experience the Germans gained during the previous two Russian winters, they paid great attention to providing Ferdinand’s oil radiator with a system that would enable it to start during cold weather. This was a simple system that redirected hot water from the cooling radiator to a small vessel placed next to the oil radiator, which in turn heated the oil. The engine’s gearbox had three forward and three reverse speeds. The engine compartment was designed rather hastily and the maintenance was not always easy to accomplish.
Each fuel tank could carry some 475 liters (950 l in total). The Ferdinand was, due to its weight, a heavy fuel consuming beast. It needed some 1,100 l for crossing 100 km of road. With the fuel load carried inside, the operational range was 150 km on good roads, while off-road, often the case on the Eastern Front, the operational range was reduced to only 95 km. The maximum speed for a vehicle weighing 65 tonnes was a solid 30 km/h, but it could be only achieved on good roads and for a short period of time. The maximum cross-country speed was only 10 km/h or even less.
The engines used to power the two Siemens Typ K58-8 generators. These two generators would in turn produce the necessary power for the two Siemens Typ 1495a direct current electric (230 kW each) motors. These two electric motors were positioned under the casemate. Each of them was responsible for providing power to one side of the vehicle, being connected to the rear positioned drive sprockets through electromechanical drives.
The Ferdinand had formidable armor protection for its day. The upper front armor of the hull was 200 mm thick (at a 30-32° angle, depending on the source). This was not a single-piece armor plate, but instead two 100 mm thick plates (or 90 and 110 mm, depending on the source) joined together. These were held in place by 32 conical head bolts. Alkett initially proposed adding 80 mm of 55° angled armor to the front, but this was not implemented
The lower part of the hull was a single piece measuring 80 mm placed at an angle of 45° (42°). The top part of the lower hull was 60 mm at 78° (82°) angle. The flat hull side armor was 60 mm and the rear ranged from 40 (60 mm depending on the source) to 80 mm (at a 60° to 90° angle). The bottom armor was 20 mm thick. It is not clear in the sources if the previously positioned machine gun ball mount and the driver visor port openings were left empty or filled in with armor plates.
The superstructure frontal armor was 200 mm thick placed at a 9° (12°) angle. It too consisted of two separated armor plates held in place by a combination of welding and bolts. Some sources state both plates were 100 mm thick, while others claim they were 90 and 110 mm thick. The flat sides were 80 mm, rear 80 mm placed at a 40° angle, and 30 mm on the top.
The rear positioned casemate was protected with a single piece of 200 mm frontal armor plate placed at a 20° angle. The sides were 80 mm thick and placed at a 30° angle. The rear armor was the same armor thickness placed at a 20° angle. The top was much lighter, at 30 mm placed at an 86° angle.
The Ferdinand had a crew of six, which were separated into two groups. The first group consisted of the driver and the radio operator, who were placed in the front hull. For steering the Ferdinand, a standard lever arrangement was used. However, their operation was slightly different in comparison to other vehicles. Namely, by moving the steering levers, instead of controlling the two drive sprockets, on the Ferdinand, they actually controlled the two electric motors, each responsible for powering one side. In front of the driver, there were two pedals: one for acceleration and the second for activating the drum brake. There was also an auxiliary lever parking brake, which also served as a clutch.
The radio operator’s job was to operate the Fu 5 radio set, which consisted of the transmitter and a receiver. The 2-meter aerial antenna was placed next to his hatch. An additional 1.8 m Sternantenne D antenna mount was placed on the rear right corner of the casemate. This antenna was used for the command vehicles which were equipped with Fu 8 radio, which had a stronger transmitter and receiver. The spare batteries for the radio were held under the radio operator’s seat.
The remainder of the crew, which included the commander, gunner, and two loaders were positioned in the rear casemate. The commander had only a limited view of the surroundings by using the Scherenfernrohr (scissor periscope), and only with the hatch open. The loaders had two Turmbeobachtungsfernrohr (observation periscopes).
The main armament of the Ferdinand was the 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71, probably the best anti-tank gun of the Second World War. It was, in essence, a modified version of the 8.8 cm Flak 41 anti-aircraft gun. During the war, the Germans developed and used two towed 8.8 cm anti-tank gun versions. The first one was the PaK 43, which was mounted on a four-wheel carriage, and the second was the PaK 43/41, placed on a mount with components from a few different artillery pieces (wheels from 15 cm s.FH.18 and the split trail legs from the 10.5 cm le.FH.18). The PaK 43/41 used a horizontal sliding block mechanism, while the Pak 43 had a vertical one. The PaK 43/41 was an effective anti-tank gun, being able to take out all of the Allied tanks, but was also too heavy.
For use on the Ferdinand (and, later, the Jagdpanther), the Germans introduced a slightly modified version, named 8.8 cm PaK 43/2, which was more suitable for installation into enclosed armored vehicles. It had a semi-automatic and vertical sliding block. It had an electrical trigger, with the firing trigger being placed on the elevation handwheel.
The gun itself was mounted on a cradle that stood on two runnions connected to two curved post arms. This installation was specially designed in order to reduce the stress acting on the elevation gears. The hydropneumatic buffer and the recuperator cylinders were placed on top of the gun.
The 8.8 cm gun had a traverse of 30° (15° on each side) and an elevation of -5° to +14° (or -8° to +18°, depending on the source). The traverse and elevation hand wheels were positioned on the left side of the gun and operated by the gunner.
After firing the gun, the spent case was caught by a canvas sleeve basket. Due to the 8.8 cm case’s large size, nearly a meter, not many could fit into this basket, so the loader had to frequently empty it. It also had a secondary role of measuring the recoil travel of the gun that had to be in the range of 550-580 mm. When on the move, the gun was held in place by a forward-positioned travel lock. Inside the casemate, there was another smaller ‘H’ shaped travel lock, located in the casemate ceiling.
Despite being a huge vehicle, the total ammunition load was quite limited, with only 40 rounds. These were held in storage bins located inside the casemate sides. The Ferdinand crews would often use any available spare space to add additional rounds, reaching a total load of 50. Authors such as T. Melleman (Ferdinand Elefant Vol.I) mention that some crews managed to squeeze in up to 90 rounds!
When firing at longer ranges, the Ferdinand crews used the Sfl Zielfernrohr 1 a type telescopic sight. When engaging targets with direct fire, the Rundblickfernrohr 36 periscope sight was used. While the Ferdinand could be used as mobile artillery thanks to its armament’s range, sufficient elevation, and firepower, it was rarely used in this manner. The main problem would be the small ammunition load of high explosive rounds and the fact its main task was hunting tanks and other armored vehicles.
While the 8.8 cm gun could fire either armor-piercing or high-explosive rounds, the Ferdinands were initially to be armed with the armor-piercing only. Prior to their first engagement at Kursk, each Ferdinand was supplied with 20 two-part (propellant charge and explosive round) semi-fixed high-explosive (HE) rounds. These proved to be of poor quality and prone to jamming during extraction after firing. Another issue with the two-part rounds was their time fuse, which worked well for the original anti-aircraft use. On the Ferdinand, however, the significant forces exerted on the time fuse due to the high acceleration in the barrel could lead to premature explosions. These would later be replaced with better-designed rounds. The range of the HE rounds was around 5.4 km.
Regarding the armor-piercing (AP) rounds, there was a better choice, with a few different types available. These included the standard Pzgr.39-1 and the improved Pzgr.39/43 AP, which had a range of 4 km. The Pzgr. Patr 40 was a tungsten-cored armor-piercing shell with the same range of 4 km. Lastly, the Gr.Patr 39 H1 and Gr.Patr 39/43 H1 hollow charge rounds were available, which had a range of around 3 km.
When using the standard AP round, the gun could penetrate 182 mm of armor sloped at 30° at a range of 500 m. At 1,000 m this dropped to 167 mm, and at 2,000 m to 139 mm. The tungsten round, at the same ranges and angles, could penetrate 226 mm, 162 mm and 136 mm. As the Germans had problems with the supply of tungsten, this round was rarely used. The hollow charge round could penetrate 90 mm of armor inclined at 30° at any range. These hollow charge rounds were not well known for their precision and, when the target was hit, there was a good chance that the round would misfire.
The Ferdinands were equipped with a two-part, rectangular-shaped shield, which was bolted on the front part of the gun mantlet. Its purpose was to protect the main gun from any small-caliber rounds or shrapnel. Not all vehicles received these from the start, some were added later on (just prior to their combat use), while some never received them. During the later part of the Kursk Offensive, a number of crews improvised some by completely redesigning the gun shields, which could now be much easier replaced. After 1944, these became standard equipment and replaced the earlier design.
For protection against infantry attacks, the Ferdinand was equipped with an MG 34 machine gun with 600 rounds of ammunition that was stored inside the vehicle. In addition, there were two 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine guns.
The Oberkommando des Heeres OKH (German High Command) initially planned to form three Schwere Sturmgeschütz Abteilung – StuGAbt (Heavy Assault Gun Battalion). These included the 190th StuGAbt, which was to be reformed and renamed into the 654th Assault Gun Battalion, the 197th, renamed into the 653rd Assault Gun Battalion, and the newly formed 600th Assault Gun Battalion. Each was to be equipped with 30 vehicles divided into three 9 vehicle strong batteries. The remaining 3 vehicles were to be allocated to a HQ battery. Once ready on the front, each battery was to be separated from the main unit and used more as mobile close artillery support.
In March 1943, the organization and employment concepts were completely reworked. This was done by the General Inspector of the Armored Troops, General Heinz Guderian. He first reallocated the Ferdinands from the Sturmartillerie to the Panzerwaffe. This change also affected the unit organization and tactical use. The Ferdinands would be allocated to two battalions, the 653rd and 654th schwere (Heeres) Panzerjäger Abteilung – sPzJagAbt (Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion). These were, in turn, part of the 656th schwere Panzerjäger Regiment (Heavy Tank Destroyer Regiment). This unit, besides the two Ferdinand-equipped units, also had a third, Sturmpanzer Abteilung 216 (216th Tank Assault Battalion), equipped with 45 Sturmpanzer IV heavy assault vehicles (based on the Panzer IV chassis). Each battalion was divided into three companies, each equipped with 14 vehicles (further divided into three platoons each, with 4 vehicles and two command vehicles), plus a Battalion HQ with three vehicles, for a total 45 per battalion. Additional vehicles based on the Panzer II and III, and Sd.Kfz 250/5 and 251/8 half-tracks were given to these units, either as command vehicles, close support, medical support, or for artillery observation. The change in tactical doctrine referred to the concentration of all available vehicles while attacking designated targets instead of dividing them into smaller units.
The Regiment HQ was officially formed on 8th June 1943, mainly from reserve cadres of the 35th Panzer Regiment. Oberstleutnant Ernst Baron von Jungenfeld was chosen as the commander of this Regiment. The command of the 653rd Battalion was given to Major Steinwachs, that of the 654th Battalion to Hauptmann Karl-Heinz Noak, and that of the 216th Battalion to Major Bruno Kahl. The 653rd Battalion, during its reorganization, was stationed at Neusiedl-am-See in Austria and the 654th in Rouen in France. By late May, the 653rd Battalion was visited by Heinz Guderian, who observed the unit during training exercises. He was quite impressed with how the vehicles managed to get over 40 km to their base without any mechanical breakdowns.
When they left the German factories, the Ferdinands were painted in the standard Dunkelgelb (dark yellow). They also had three Balken Kreuzen painted on the hull sides and to the rear. Once on the front, the Ferdinands crews would use their ‘artistic soul’ to paint their own vehicles to try to blend as well as possible with the surroundings (being a huge vehicle, this was not an easy task).
Each Battalion used different types of camouflages. The 653rd employed large blotches of green paint applied with either brushes or sprayed. These were either round in shape or with more straight lines. A few vehicles had three-color schemes: a combination of green with brown outlines. The 654th crews did a number of different designs mostly using dark yellow and green combinations.
Markings and emblems
Once these vehicles were given to the 656th Regiment, they also received their proper unit markings. The marking system employed on the Ferdinands consisted of the standard three-digit numbers, but it was quite complicated. The 653rd and 654th Battalions were designated as the I and II Battalion of the 656th Regiment. These were then divided into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Companies of the I Battalion and the 5th, 6th, and 7th of the II Battalion. As mentioned earlier, each of these companies had 14 vehicles plus a Battalion HQ unit with 3 vehicles. Each company was divided into 3 Platoons, each with 4 vehicles, plus a Company HQ with 2 vehicles. It was common for the Germans to name the Company HQ as the 1st Platoon.
Of the three-digit markings, the first number represented the Company number. The number 4 was not used. The middle number indicated the Platoon. The Company HQ, which was listed as the 1st Platoon, would be marked as ‘0’. This also affected the markings of the remaining Platoons, as their number is actually smaller by one. For example, the 3rd Platoon would actually have the 2 number designation instead of 3. The last digit was used to designate individual vehicles in the Platoon. The odd numbers were used to mark the section commanders in each Platoon. As the Company HQ only had two vehicles, they were just marked as 1 or 2.
As an example, the vehicle with the number ‘721’ belonged to the 654th Battalion’s 7th Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st section command vehicle.
The smaller Battalion HQ, which had only 3 vehicles, was marked differently. It also consisted of a three-digit number, but the difference is that the first number represented the Battalion and was marked with a Roman numeral. The 653rd was marked as ‘I’ and the 654th as ‘II’. Being command vehicles, the second digit was 0, followed by the vehicle number from 1 to 3. For example, the IO3 was the 653rd Battalion HQ’s 3rd vehicle.
The two Battalions, while using the same three-digit system, painted these numbers differently. The ones on vehicles of the 653rd were white with black outlines, while the 654th used completely white numbers. These were painted on the vehicles’ sides and on the rear.
While it was somewhat common among the German armored units to have some unit emblems, this was not the case for the 656th Regiment. The 653rd Battalion simply adopted its original German Army eagle (from back when it was known as the 197th Assault Gun Battalion), but with the wings folded down and standing on two crossed guns.
During the Kursk Offensive, the 653rd Battalion used an identification symbol that consisted of two smaller squares and a larger rectangle. The larger rectangle represented the Company, being marked with different colors. White was used for the 1st, yellow for the 2nd, and red for the 3rd Company. The exception was the 1st Company’s 3rd platoon, which had a red stripe, and the 4th Platoon, which had a red cross. The small square indicated the platoon in question, except for the 1st Platoon, which had none. The 2nd was indicated with the same rectangle color, the 3rd with no color but with white outline, and the 4th Platoon with Company color with white outline.
The 654th Battalion used less elaborate markings. These consisted of black rectangles with a white letter ‘N’, the initials of the unit commander, Karl Heinz Noak. The Company number would be added after the N, like N1, N2, and N3. In the case of the HQ, the letters ‘St’ (Stab – Command) would be added instead of the numbers. These were painted either on the glacis or left fender and on the rear left corner of the casemate. When this unit was later disbanded, all its surviving vehicles were given to the 653rd Battalion. These then received the 653rd’s markings and, in time, the camouflage scheme. When the first snow began to fall, all surviving Ferdinands received whitewash paint covering the whole vehicle, including the markings.
The 656th Regiment officially received its own emblem, containing a shield with the silhouette of an exploding tank. Under the tank, the word ’Pampas’ was added. The precise meaning was sadly lost.
New marking and camouflage
The vehicles used in Italy in 1944 were painted in the same dark yellow and green combination. After 13th June, they received a new ‘U’ Gothic letter, usually at the rear end of the casemate. The precise meaning of this letter is not documented. Tactical markings were not used on the majority of the Elefants sent to Italy. A few vehicles would receive the three-digit numbers painted in white.
The vehicles that were not sent to Italy received a new emblem, the Sword of the Nibelungs which emerges from the Danube’s waves. It was usually painted in front and to the rear of the casemate, but some also had these painted on the hull sides.
Baptism of fire at Kursk
The 656th Regiment was transported to the Eastern Front during June 1943 for the upcoming German offensive against the Soviet Kursk Salient, Operation Citadel. The main base of operation for this Regiment was the Smiyevka train station, some 25 km south of Orel. Once the vehicles were unloaded, they were driven to their designated area of assembly. In the case of the 653rd Battalion, the 1st Company was at Kuliki, the 2nd at Gostinovo and the 3rd Company at Davidovo. By the end of June, the entirety of the 656th Regiment was at its designated initial positions. The few days before the offensive were used for training and for the vehicle commanders to get familiar with the surrounding terrain. Of the three Battalions, only the 653rd was fully equipped with 45 vehicles. The 654th had 44 and the 216th had 42 vehicles (but many sources disagree on the exact numbers).
As the Ferdinands were intended to spearhead the German advance, they were to be reinforced with a remote-controlled tank company (equipped with Borgward B.IV Sd.Kfz. 301) for cleaning minefields. These small vehicles were equipped with detachable explosive charges designed to detonate mines in a wide area. They could be either remotely controlled or driven by a human driver.
The 656th Regiment was part of the XXXXI Panzer Korps under the command of General Harpe. Its order of battle during the initial stages of the Kursk Offensive was as follows: The 653rd Battalion was to support the attack of the 86th and 292nd Infantry Divisions, while the 654th Battalion supported the 78th Infantry Division. The 216th Brigade was to follow up in the second wave, together with the 177th and 244th StuG Brigades. Their objective was a heavily fortified Soviet position around the Malo-Archangelsk and Olchovatka area, with its key position around Hill 257.7 (later known as Panzer or Tank Hill).
The attack on the first day by the 653rd Battalion pierced the first Soviet defenses and reached its target, destroying some 26 T-34 tanks and dozens of anti-tank guns in the process. Many of its Ferdinands were temporarily put out of action due to extensive Soviet minefields, which spanned extensive areas. To increase the lethality of their mines, the Soviets coupled them to artillery shells or even aircraft bombs. While they usually just blew up parts of the suspension, some were so strong that they would damage the hull, which could not be repaired on the front. The anti-mine auxiliary unit did its best to clear the minefields, but lost many of its vehicles in the process. The Soviet artillery also made mine clearing operations difficult. Places that were clear of mines and marked as such were usually shelled by the Soviet artillery. The advancing Ferdinand crews would lose sight of the clear paths and accidentally run into minefields that were not cleared. In total, on the first day, the 653rd Battalion lost 33 vehicles to mines. While most required only minimal repair works, their recovery proved to be difficult. In order to move one Ferdinand, at least 5 heavy Sd.Kfz. 9 half tracks were needed. Being unprotected, they often fell victim to Soviet artillery fire trying to prevent recovery of these vehicles. The 653rd Battalion would receive two new Bergepanthers (based on the Panther tank chassis), but even these proved to be inadequate. During the night, Soviet demolition teams would blow up any abandoned Ferdinands they could get to.
The 654th Battalion, while advancing toward its objectives, Hill 238.1 and 253.5, also came across many minefields. Thanks to the remote controlled vehicles, clear roads were established with the loss of 10 of the Borgwards. Still, this was far from enough, leading to the loss of a large number of the 654th Battalion’s vehicles being damaged.
In a memorandum dated from 17th July 1943, Heinz Guderian described the 653rd Battalion’s combat operation. “….The very heavy artillery barrage (on the first day, 100 heavy and 172 light guns, 386 rocket launchers, and countless grenade launchers) smashed the attack by our infantry. The Ferdinands and Strumpanzers were not able to push their attack in the depths of the enemy positions, as the infantry had been halted. Thus, the tanks had to stop in the middle of the battlefield, attracting concentrated artillery fire. The enemy artillery always found time to regroup and to reinforce. The missing secondary armament on the tanks negatively affected the tanks in combat. Subsequently, losses were high”.
The experience of the Ferdinand crews is partly shown in the report to Generalmajor Hartmann written by Unteroffizier Böhm and dated from the 19th July 1943.
“…. On the first day of combat, we successfully defeated bunkers, infantry, artillery and anti-tank positions. Our guns were under artillery barrages for three hours and still maintained their ability to fire! Several [enemy] tanks were destroyed during the first night, and others fled. Artillery and anti-tank crews fled before our guns after we fired upon them repeatedly. In addition to many batteries, anti-tank guns and bunkers, our battalion destroyed 120 tanks during the first round of fighting. We suffered 60 casualties during the first few days, mostly from mines. ….. We also had bad luck. It was at the rail embankment when a Panzer III on the other side received a direct hit and flew through the air, landing on the front part of the Ferdinand. Wrecking the tube, aiming device and engine grating. …. We were more successful during the second operation defending east of Orel. Only two total losses. One gun under Leutnant Tariete destroyed 22 tanks in one engagement. The total number of tanks destroyed is high and the Ferdinand contributed substantially to the defence, just as with the penetration. One gun commander destroyed seven of nine American built-tanks that approached him. …… The Ferdinand has proved itself. They were decisive here, and we cannot go against the mass of enemy tanks today without a weapon of this type.”
On 8th July, a group of 4 Ferdinands and 20 Tigers were advancing toward the Soviet line. On the other side, some twelve SU-152’s under the command of Major Sankovsky were waiting in ambush. Once the German vehicles came to a distance of 500 m, the Soviet vehicles opened fire. In the following engagement, the range was even more reduced, just 300 m, where the Tigers suffered under the SU-152’s heavy large caliber rounds. The Ferdinands proved more resilient but after numerous hits they too would fall victims to the 152 mm guns at close range. At the end of this engagement, the Germans lost four (or three, depending on the source) Ferdinands and 8 Tigers, inflicting no losses on the Soviets.
By 11th July, some 19 Ferdinands were reported as complete losses. Of these, four vehicles were burned out due to engine accidents. The remaining were mostly destroyed by enemy artillery fire, which hit the less protected engine compartment top. In addition, some 40 vehicles were temporarily out of action and needed repairs. Half of those were brought back to action by 11th July.
On 14th July, any further salvage operations were abandoned and, instead, the surviving vehicles of the 653rd Battalion were redirected to support the German attempts to relieve the 36th Panzergrenadier Division, which was surrounded by nearly 400 tanks of the Soviet 3rd Tank Army. The Ferdinands, under the command of Lt. Heinrich Teriete, managed to drive them back, despite the small German armored numbers. Thanks to well-selected firing positions and the poor enemy reconnaissance, the Ferdinands took advantage of the 8.8 cm gun’s long-range firepower. During this engagement, Lt. Heinrich Teriete himself claimed to have destroyed 22 Soviet tanks, for which he would be awarded a Knight Cross later on. During the same day, some 60 Ferdinands (34 from the 653rd and 26 from the 654th Battalion) took defensive positions around the Shelyaburg-Tsarevka area.
During the period between 14th and 17th July, the German units at Kursk were faced with rapid Soviet counter-attacks. The 653rd and 654th Battalions, despite losses and mechanical breakdowns, participated in German defensive operations south of Orel. Their mission was to defend the heavily contested Orel-Kursk railway line. The already poor mechanical reliability of most Ferdinands was further worsened by constant skirmishes with the Soviets. The Regiment commander, Jungenfeld, reported his unit’s poor shape to the 2nd Army (elements of the 9th Army, including the two Ferdinand Battalions, were previously sent to assist this Army) in a report dated 24th July 1943.
“.. The Regiment has been permanently in combat since 5 July… The Ferdinand, as well as the Sturmpanzer, suffered numerous technical problems. Initially, it was planned to withdraw the tanks for 2-3 days after a 4-5 day commitment to undergo maintenance and repair work. This was not possible… All tanks now need an overhaul requiring 14 to 20 days.. I herewith report to the 2nd Army that, within a short time, the regiment will no longer be combat ready…”
At the end of July, due to constant Soviet pressure, it was decided by the 2nd Army that Orel had to be abandoned. At the start of August, the 653rd Battalion had 12 Ferdinands ready for action, some 17 in repair and 16 were reported as complete losses. The 654th Battalion, on the same day, had 13 operational, 6 in repair and 26 complete losses.
There was an interesting and somewhat unusual (to say at least) situation where a Ferdinand was lost, being hit by a ‘flying’ Panzer III. The strange situation occurred when a remote-controlled mine clearing vehicle was hit by Soviet artillery fire, detonating its 350 kg explosive charge. The following explosion threw into the sky many parts (including the chassis) of a nearby Panzer III command vehicle. A part of the chassis hit the engine compartment of a Ferdinand, setting it on fire.
By mid-August 1943, the two Ferdinand Battalions were being pulled out of Orel to the rear for recuperation and much-needed repairs. While Ferdinand achieved great success in destroying enemy armor, many Ferdinands, which were irreplaceable, were lost. On 23rd August, all surviving vehicles from the 654th were given to the 653rd Battalion. The 654th Battalion was sent to Orleans in France for recuperation and refitting with the new Jagdpanther and Jagdpanzer IV.
Following this, the 653rd Battalion was pulled back from the front line and stationed at the Dnepropetrovsk industrial center. The damage on some vehicles was such that even this center lacked proper tooling and equipment for the job. Of 54 surviving vehicles, four could not be repaired. Of the remaining 50 vehicles, only 10 to 15 (depending on the source) were combat ready by mid-September. These, together with over 10 Sturmpanzer IVs, were used to form a Sinsatzgruppe (task force) and placed under command of Hauptman Baumunk. This group received orders to divide into two smaller units, with one was tasked with heading toward Sinelnikovo and the second to Pavlograd by rail. While the Soviets held part of the railway line, after a brief engagement, they retreated.
The Ferdinands would mostly be stationed in this area when, in late September, the unit was evacuated towards Zaporozhye. In early August, during a defensive operation at Krivoy Rog, the Ferdinands claimed to have destroyed 21 enemy tanks and 23 anti-tank guns.
On 10th November 1943, the Ferdinands were repositioned from Zaporozhye to positions south of Nikopol. The German positions at Nikopol were well defended and supported by the 24th Panzer Division, to which the Ferdinand Company was attached to. On 20th November, the Soviets managed to make an opening in the German defensive line, rushing in with large numbers of tanks in an attempt to exploit their breakthrough. This formation was successfully intercepted by the 24th Panzer Division and the Ferdinands.
At the end of November, during the battles around Kochasovka and Miropol, the Ferdinands inflicted great damage on the Soviets, claiming 54 tanks. Lt. Franz Kretschmer’s vehicle alone destroyed some 21 tanks. On the following day, the 653rd Battalion’s situation became untenable, having only 4 fully operational vehicles available. Besides these, of the 42 vehicles, some 8 needed some minor repairs, and the remaining needed major overhauls. The Battalion received orders to be transported to Sankt-Pölten on 10th December 1943. The withdrawal started six day later, but due to Soviet activity, this withdrawal lasted up to 10th January 1944.
In a German report dated from the 7th August 1943, the Ferdinands were credited with the destruction of 502 enemy tanks, of which 320 were achieved by the 653rd Battalion alone. An additional 100 artillery and 200 anti-tank guns destroyed were also reported by the German Army. Three months later, another report stated that they had destroyed 582 tanks, 3 self-propelled guns, 3 armored cars, 477 (or 377 depending on the source) anti-tank guns, 133 artillery guns, 103 anti-tank rifles, and 3 aircraft! It is not clear if these numbers correspond to reality or are just inflated propaganda numbers.
German post-combat analysis
Following Operation Citadel, the German after-action reports mended the overall performance of the Ferdinand vehicles. The most praised asset of the Ferdinand were its excellent anti-tank capabilities, demonstrated by the sheer number of destroyed tanks claimed. It had good accuracy, a long range and possessed great armor piercing capabilities. The more heavily protected Soviet KV-1 tanks could be effectively destroyed at ranges of 2 km. On average, 2 to 3 rounds were enough to completely destroy enemy tanks.
The ammunition, on the other hand, proved to be problematic, most noticeably in the case of the high-explosive rounds. The problem was mainly regarding the poor quality of the ammunition casing, which often led to the clogging of the gun chamber. The loaders were often forced to carry additional improvised equipment to try to eject the stuck spent rounds.
Another great issue was the lack of a machine gun mount that could be used for self-defence against enemy infantry attacks. While the crew had their own personal weapons and an MG 34 machine gun stored inside, these could not always be put to use against enemy infantry. There were four pistol ports, two on the sides and two to the rear, but none to the front. Some Ferdinand crews improvised by using their MG 34 machine gun to fire through the main gun barrel. The gun elevation and traverse were used to direct the firing arc of this machine gun.
Many crews used spent cases to make makeshift mounts to provide a more stable machine gun firing platform, in order to avoid damaging the rifling of the gun. Installing a machine gun mount on top of the armored casemate was also attempted but proved to be unpopular as the operator had to be exposed to enemy return fire and fragments. Installing an infantry platform to the rear of the casemate was tested. However, the supporting infantry riding on this were easy targets for enemy gunners, so this idea was shortly abandoned. To somewhat resolve this issue, the Ferdinand units were reinforced with 12 Panzer III tanks that were to act as a screen against enemy infantry and soft targets.
The armor protection was deemed sufficient. During the battle for Kursk, there were no reports of the front armor being penetrated. There were cases of the side armor being pierced by 76.2 cm rounds at closer ranges. While the front armor protection of the casemate was more or less invincible, at that time, it had one major issue. Enemy rounds or artillery fragments could ricochet into the insufficiently protected engine top cover. This would cause minor to significant damage to the engine, cooling system or fuel lines, to name a few. A number of vehicles were either immobilized or lost this way. For this reason, it was later requested to add 20 to 30 mm additional armor protection atop the engine compartment.
The cooling system was not up to the task, as there were cases of the engine compartment catching fire due to the engine overheating. At least one vehicle was completely lost during a recovery operation when it caught fire due to the engine overheating itself.
The Ferdinand was noted by its crews to lack sufficient visibility and had many blind spots and poor visibility in general. Radio equipment was often jammed due to Ferdinand’s electrical equipment. The temperature inside the casemate was high and there were cases of the signal flare ammunition blowing up. Despite its weight, the Ferdinand could relatively easily cross a 2.6 m wide trench. It also possessed a good climbing ability. However, their cross-country speed was noted to be only around 10 km/h.
Interestingly, the new gasoline-electric power train performed relatively well. Its power output was sometimes problematic, and some vehicles caught fire due to electric short-circuits. The suspension was deemed ineffective and prone to malfunctions. The narrow tracks, together with the weight, caused many vehicles to be bogged down. The lack of a proper recovery vehicle was also noted, with many vehicles having to be blown up because they could not be recovered.
Despite the long list of negative issues with Ferdinand, they showed that a well-protected and armed anti-tank vehicle had merits. They offered many advantages over the poorly armored and improvised anti-tank vehicles already in service (for example, the Marder series).
Back to Germany
Following the Eastern campaign, all surviving Ferdinands were brought back to Nibelungenwerke for a major overhaul. These included the 653rd Battalion’s 42 vehicles and a smaller number of vehicles that were recovered earlier during the Kursk operation and were sent back to Germany. In addition, the two Alkett prototypes were also sent to Nibelungenwerke.
An important note here, these vehicles were still named Ferdinands at this time. The Elefant designation was only implemented from February (or May) 1944 on. As mentioned earlier, the Elefant designation was never used by the Germans to separate the improved form from the initially produced vehicles. It was more a fulfillment of Hitler’s request to change the names of many vehicles to more aggressive animal names. As the Elefant designation was becoming official with the Germans during 1944, this article will use this name from this point onward.
As these were being gathered at Nibelungenwerke, the workers and engineers set on repairing any major damage, but they were also working hard to address a number of noted shortcomings of the Elefant. This was mainly with regard to visibility, mobility, and anti-infantry weaponry. As this was not an easy task to achieve, the Vienna Arsenal was also included in the rebuild program. It is there that some 6 completely burned-out Elefants were brought back to life.
In order to improve mobility, the Elefants were provided with wider tracks. For better visibility, in what was surprisingly not issued on the first production vehicles, the improved Elefant received a commander’s cupola very similar to that of the StuG III. This cupola had seven periscopes which provided the commander with a good all-around view. The commander’s hatch also had a small opening for the use of a periscope if needed, without exposing himself to enemy fire. The two small vision ports located on the superstructure’s front sides were welded shut. The driver’s periscope cover was also slightly improved by adding a plate to protect from the sun. A few vehicles were equipped with two-part round-shaped rear casemate doors instead of the single-piece one regularly used.
Visually, the most obvious change was the introduction of a machine gun ball mount (Kugelblende 100 or 80, depending on the source) placed on the right side of the superstructure. It was protected by an additional 100 mm of armored cover, with a small opening for the machine gun. This mount had an elevation of -10° to + 15° and a traverse of 5° in both directions. It was to be operated by the radio operator. The machine gun operator was provided with a 1.8x KFZ 2 optical sight.
Why the machine gun mount was never installed in the original vehicles is not clear in the sources. There are a few different possibilities. While the original VK 45.01 (P) had a ball-mounted machine gun, this was not carried over to the later Ferdinand vehicles. One source gives information that this was done simply as the Krupp engineers lacked the men and skill to make an opening in the 200 mm thick plate. This explanation is somewhat problematic, because there were actually two 100 mm thick plates and that the German engineers already had some experience making the holes necessary for the installation of the ball mount. The second possible reason includes Alkett’s original proposal to mount additional angled armor plates in front of the vehicle. Adding a ball mount machine gun position would be much more difficult to achieve in this case. The main reason was probably that Nibelungenwerke’s engineers were forced to speed up the production and did not have the time nor tools to implement it. Also, the Ferdinand was initially intended to be used as an assault gun (like the StuG III), which themselves lacked a machine gun. The protection against enemy infantry was to be provided by the supporting infantry. Whatever the case may be, from early 1944 onward, the Elefant had better means of fighting off infantry attacks from the front.
The lower hull armor of the driver’s compartment was increased by an additional 30 mm thick armor plate. The engine compartment top cover was slightly improved to provide better engine protection. The worn out engines were also replaced with brand new Maybach HL 120 models. Additional protection included Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste that was applied to roughly half the height of the vehicle.
The gun shield, previously more of a field modification, was now being used as standard. It was much easier to replace when damaged or during the change of the gun barrel. The ammunition load was increased to 55 rounds. The troublesome crew communication system was improved. With all these modifications, the overall weight of the vehicle rose to 70 tonnes.
The changes also included the appointment of a new 656th Regiment unit commander. The previous commander, Baron von Jungenfeld, was promoted to Colonel. In his place, Oberst Richard Schmitgen was appointed. Another change concluded the 656th Regiment’s fate. While on paper it still existed, in reality, its units were detached and sent to Italy in 1944, after which the 656th Regiment was never actually used at full regimental strength.
The overall repair process lasted from January to April (or March depending on the sources) 1944, with the first vehicles being combat ready by February 1944. During this time, some 47 vehicles and the 2 prototypes would be improved to the new standard.
Elefants in Italy
Following the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943 and, later, the American amphibious landing at Anzio in January 1944, the German High Command was forced to rapidly send more and more troops and equipment there. For this reason, elements of the 656th Regiment were also to be sent there. This included the 216th Assault Tank Battalion and at least one Elefant Company. Not many Elefants could be spared, as a large number of them were still in Nibelungenwerke’s workshop waiting to be repaired and modified. On 15th February 1944, the 653rd Battalion’s 1st Company, with 11 vehicles and one recovery vehicle under the command of Helmut Ulbrich, was ready to be transported to Italy. Initially, it was planned to send 14 vehicles, but the last three could not be repaired in time due to a lack of spare parts.
All vehicles reached Rome by 24th February 1944. Once there, the 1st Company was attached to the 508th Heavy Tank Battalion equipped with Tiger tanks under the command of Major Hudel. At the end of February, under bad weather, the Elefants and Tigers were ordered to attack American positions. The Elefants were once again used in a role for which they were not designed for. This attack was to be conducted through marshes which were unsuitable for heavy vehicles. During this attack, while crossing a bridge, one Elefant was immobilized. After a number of failed recovery attempts, it was abandoned. The next day, another vehicle struck a German mine, and once again, due to the inability to tow it to safety, it was blown up by its own commander, Gustav Koss. Due to the loss of two vehicles in a short amount of time, the remaining vehicles were pulled back. They would be stationed in a more defensive role near the cities of Cisterna and Velletri for the next few months. Due to problems with the arrival of spare parts, their use after the initial action around Anzio was limited.
American sources give us some information on their engagements with the Elefants around Cisterna. In the report of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, while on the road to Cisterna, two M10 tank destroyers commanded by Sergeant Harry J. Ritchie and Sergeant John D. Christian came under fire from a group of Tigers and two Elefants at ranges just over 230 meters. The gunner of one M10, Corporal James F. Goldsmith later wrote.
“ Sgt Ritchie ordered me to pull into open view around the corner of the building, and from this exposed position, directed three hits onto the most exposed tank, it being about 550 yards (some 500 meters) up the road at that time, and knocked it out. We received heavy armor-piercing and high-explosive fire from the other tanks, shells barely missing our destroyer by a few feet and fragments hitting us. We were exposed for about five minutes. Sgt Ritchie ducked his head and shoulders below the turret and pulled back behind the house. When enemy fire ceased, Sgt. Ritchie had me pull out again, and from the same exposed position, directed two rounds of AP shells that hit and bounced off the front armor of the Ferdinand 250 yards (230 meters) east of us. We again received intensive fire from the enemy tanks and shells were landing so close that fragments were coming through the open turret, one slightly wounding our gunner in the head when it hit our tank and damaging the counter-balance and .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the edge of the turret. We were again exposed to enemy fire for about five minutes. He ducked into the tank and we pulled behind the house again. We continued to fight throughout the day with our damaged gun. ”
While Sergeant Ritchie’s vehicle was under fire, the second M10, commanded by Sergeant Christian, shot several rounds at the German vehicles, scoring two hits on a Tiger and two more on the Elefants. He reported that only two crew members from the hit vehicles managed to escape. Whatever damage he did to them, or whether his 76 mm gun managed to pierce the Elefant’s armor is not mentioned.
By 20th May 1944, the Elefants were mostly kept in reserve for maintenance and repairs. A few days later, the Allies made a breakthrough, so the Elefants were once more put into action. In the initial engagements, they destroyed 4 to 6 (depending on the source) enemy Shermans, with the loss of two vehicles. One had an engine malfunction and was burned down, the second was blown up by its crew when it became immobilized. Following this, the unit had to retreat back to Rome by June 1944. The enemy armor was not the only threat that the Elefants had to face. The extensive Allied air superiority caused the further loss of two more burned-down vehicles. One was hit by a P-47 bomb on 5th June, while on the Via Aurelia road. The second vehicle was lost five days later, near Orvieto.
The stream of bad luck did not end there. While crossing an old bridge, the bridge construction simply collapsed under the Elefant’s extreme weight, taking the vehicle with it. The vehicle commander was killed during this accident As there was no way to recover it, the crew had no choice but to destroy it.
At the start of July, the 1st Company of the 653rd had only 3 (or 4, depending on the source) vehicles with only 2 operational and one undergoing repairs. In addition, the unit still possessed the recovery Bergetiger (P). Though orders for the unit to pull back to Germany were given on 26th June, frontline developments prevented this from happening. The few Ferdinands would see more combat action up to early August when they were finally pulled out to the Vienna Arsenal. By that time, only three (or two, depending on the source) combat vehicles and the recovery vehicle survived.
Back to the East
Despite some misconceptions that the Elefant’s story ended in Italy, this was not the case. Those vehicles that were not involved in Italy were actually being prepared to once again face the Soviets. The 653rd Battalion was now under command by Rudolf Grillenberger, while the 2nd Company was commanded by Werner Salamon and the 3rd Company by Bernhard Konnak.
While the German Army planned to send the Elefants to the East in March 1944, this was not possible. By late February, only 8 vehicles were fully operational, while the remaining were still under repair. Among other reasons, shortages of spare materials, workforce, and a lack of electricity further delayed the completion of the remaining vehicles. Delays were also caused by a lack of sufficient supply of soft-skinned vehicles.
On 8th April 1944, the Battalion reached Brzezany and was attached to the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen by mid-April. The 653rd Battalion had 30 operational Elefants, 2 Bergetiger (P), 1 Bergepanther and 2 Panzer III ammunition carriers. Additionally, one Elefant was still in Austria and was not available due to needing repairs. At this time, the problem with the acquisition of soft-skinned vehicles was not solved. In essence, the necessary ammunition, fuel, or supply operations could not be carried out.
The SS Panzer Division and the supporting units, including the Elefants, were intended to be used as a relief force for the trapped German units near Tarnopol. The bad weather caused huge logistical problems and greatly slowed down the 653rd Battalion’s attack, which led to the cancellation of an attack on the city of Siemakovce. On 24th April, another attack on Siemakovce was attempted. An advance unit consisting of German infantry and 9 Elefants managed to capture the city after two days of fighting. The next day, they crossed the Strype River and made a defensive line. After an engagement with the Soviets, the 2nd Company had two damaged vehicles, which were recovered, but the mechanics were not able to immediately repair them. Ultimately, the Germans failed their objective and were forced to retreat due to extensive Soviet attacks. The 2nd Company lost two more vehicles. Like many times before, they had to be blown up, being unable to be recovered. By late April, the 2nd Company was attacking Soviet positions at Siemienkowicz, but due to bad terrain, most vehicles were left temporarily disabled due to their engines being overheated.
By May 1944, the mechanical situation of all surviving Elefants was dire. Due to a lack of sufficient supply vehicles, the recovery vehicles had to be used in this role. Despite many tank destroyers being temporarily out of action due to a lack of much-needed repairs, the Elefants showed that they were still effective tank killers. The Elefant also gained a great reputation among the Russian but also the German ranks, but not all were impressed. In his memoirs, a Nashorn tank destroyer driver (from the 88th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion), Gefreiter Hoffmann, wrote.
“I never saw this Porsche-thing. Everybody on the front was talking of it, calling it a wonder-weapon, being better than the Tiger … My boss was very proud of our Hornisse with its long gun, we were pretty successful. He scoffed at this giant vehicle: “Too heavy to move, too clumsy to steer, what a dreck”, he said”
On 11th May, the Battalion was repositioned to Kozova and Zborev, which were only 15 km from their positions. The sources are not clear about the precise number of vehicles at this point. While T. Melleman (Ferdinand Elefant Vol.II) states that few vehicles had to be blown up, author T. Anderson (Ferdinand and Elefant tank Destroyer), on the other hand, stated that by June, no complete loss was reported.
After this operation, the Battalion was pulled back to a resting position near Brzhezhany. During this time, this unit received at least 4 Elefants which had the new rear casemate two-piece hatches. It was also supplemented with some bizarre field modifications based on the Bergepanther and the Soviet T-34 tanks.
In mid-July 1944, the Soviets launched a huge offensive against the German North Ukraine Army. The Germans responded by sending the 653rd Battalion to this area. The Elefants were attached to the Eingreiftruppe Nordukraine, in essence, a ready deployment force. This mixed unit managed to achieve success against the enemy armor. However, the Soviets managed to break through other points of the German defense line. The deployment force and the Elefants were forced to retreat to Landeshut. On 20th July, the Soviets were trying to stop this retreat but were constantly kept at bay, with the loss of a number of Elefants in the process. These were mostly blown up by their crews, as their engines would often break down due to overheating. The 653rd Battalion would see extensive action up to 27th July, when it managed to complete its retreat thanks to its tenacious defense and the shift of the Soviet direction of attack. Heavy fighting during July cost the 653rd Battalion some 19 to 22 vehicles plus 2 recovery Bergetiger (P), the command Tiger (P), and some 4 ammunition supply tanks. While only a few were actually lost in combat, the majority had to be blown up by their crews due to a lack of fuel and breakdowns. The loss of crewmen was surprisingly low, with 19 wounded and only 5 dead.
At the start of August 1944, there were still more combat operations which cost the battalion a few more vehicles. On 4th August, the 653rd Battalion received orders to reposition to Krakow. Due to a lack of vehicles, the 3rd Company was disbanded and sent back to Germany to be armed with the new Jagdtigers. In addition, at this time, two of the surviving vehicles from Italy were used to reinforce the depleted 653rd Battalion.
In mid-December 1944, the 653rd Battalion was renamed to Heeres schwere Panzerjäger Kompanie 614 (614th Independent Tank Destroyer Company). It was then attached to the 4th Panzer Army near the Bodzentyn area on 22nd December. The 614th Company saw heavy action in combat south of Kielce, where it lost some 10 vehicles from 14th to 15th January 1945. Interestingly, even by this time, the Elefant’s front armor was almost invincible, even capable of resisting several hits from the IS-2’s 122 mm gun. By the end of January 1945, there were only four Elefants and one Bergepanther left. The unit was moved to Stahnsdorf for much-needed repairs in late February 1945. The mechanical condition of these vehicles was poor and they badly needed repairs. Luckily for them, there were still some resources available to put them back in action.
Once repaired, the unit was repositioned to Wünsdorf in April 1945. On 21st April, it was attached to Kampfgruppe Möws, which, with the 4 Elefants, was to support Kampfgruppe Ritter. During preparation for transport on rails at the Mittendorf station, one vehicle had to be left behind, as it broke down and could not be repaired. It would remain there up to 1947, before finally being towed away. The remaining three vehicles would be separated, with one left defending a position at Löpten, and the remaining two sent to defend Berlin. These took action near Karl-August Platz, where they would be captured by the Soviet Forces.
Bergepanzer Ferdinand and other improvised support vehicles
Prior to their engagement on the frontline, while used for crew training, the Ferdinands did not have many mechanical breakdowns that needed towing vehicles. Even if they did break down, there were Sd.Kfz. 9 vehicles available for towing to the repair workshops. The reality of frontline service, however, showed the need for a dedicated recovery vehicle. In the field, a great number of Ferdinands were immobilized. As the Germans lacked the required numbers of Sd.Kfz. 9 and tank-based recovery vehicles, the damaged Ferdinands were often blown up by their crews to avoid being captured.
To somewhat resolve this issue, three available Tiger (P) chassis were to be rebuilt as Bergepanzers (recovery tank). The modification included adding a new much smaller fully enclosed casemate to the rear. In front of it, a ball-mounted 7.92 mm MG-34 machine gun was placed, with two additional pistol ports on the sides. On top of this casemate, a round hatch door was installed, while to the rear, a two-piece hatch was placed, taken from a Panzer III turret. There were also three smaller slits on the front and sides of the crew compartment. The armor thickness of these vehicles was much lighter than the Ferdinand, with 100 mm to the front. The front casemate armor was 50 mm and 30 m on the side. A boom crane was placed on top of the vehicle’s superstructure. Another change was the use of longer tracks which, with the lower weight, provided them with better overall drive.
These three were completed by August 1943 and issued to the 653rd Battalion, with one vehicle per company. They solved the lack of towing vehicles and many Ferdinands were recovered thanks to their help.
Of special note, during 1944, the 653rd Battalion’s mechanics and engineers managed to build a number of improvised vehicles based on German and also captured vehicles. One such vehicle was created using a Panzer IV turret which was welded on a Bergepanther. Another example involved installing a 2 cm Flakvierling 38 on a second Bergepanther.
Soviet vehicles were also modified, with two receiving a new open-top turret armed with 2 cm Flakvierling 38 anti-aircraft guns, while two more were modified as ammunition carriers. One rare captured KV-85 had its gun removed and was used as a recovery vehicle. Finally, the 653rd Battalion was supplied with one Tiger (P) that was used by its commander as his personal command vehicle.
Despite the small number built, today, there are two surviving vehicles left. One restored Elefant is located at the Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. This particular vehicle belonged to the 653rd Battalion and was captured in Italy by the Allies. The vehicle spent some time on loan at the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset, UK. The vehicle was displayed as part of the museum’s “Tiger Collection” display from April 2017 until January 2019, when it was returned to the United States. This display brought all the members of the Tiger family together in one place for the first time. The second vehicle is located at the Russian Patriot Park and was captured during the Battle of Kursk.
Many sources that do not go into much analysis of the Ferdinand’s state that they were a waste of resources and had a poor overall design. It is important to remember that the Germans had already built 100 Porsche Tiger chassis. A lot of resources and time had already been invested in a vehicle that was not going to be put into production. They simply had no other choice than to see proper use of these already built chassis. For the later assembly of Ferdinands, additional resources were needed. The Ferdinand was rather hastily designed, which is best seen in the lack of s commander cupola and machine gun in the hull. The engine compartment was inadequate and too cramped, which later caused problems with the engine overheating. Some of these would later be corrected. Ferdinands also required frequent repairs and maintenance, but nearly all WWII vehicles required such things to be effective in combat. The armament and the armor were some of the best for their day. The Ferdinand is also often seen as too heavy. At its 65 and later 70 tonnes, it was. While it could reach a top speed of 30 km/h, its actual cross-country speed was only 10 km/h. Thanks to their long length, they had a good climbing ability.
In combat, the Ferdinands gained an enviable reputation among the German and Soviet units for their deadly gun and strong armor. The Soviets, when engaging German tank destroyers, would often describe them as Ferdinands, even though they were usually other vehicles in the German inventory. The German propaganda machine also helped by portraying the Ferdinands as wonder weapons. Despite this, the Ferdinand’s success as a deadly tank destroyer is hard to deny. During Kursk alone, over 500 Soviet armored vehicles were claimed to have been destroyed by them. Even taking into account a 50% overclaim ratio (which is excessive), the numbers remaining are still very impressive.
In the end, the Ferdinand was a deadly tank hunter that was plagued by its rushed development and lack of numbers. While not a waste of resources, they were no wonder weapons and possessed quite a number of flaws.
Porsche’s VK 45.01 prototype in 1942. It was given as a favorite before problems with the complex powerplant emerged.
Early production Ferdinand, Panzerabteilung 653, summer 1943.
Ferdinand of the 654th Panzer-Abteilung, Kursk, summer 1943.
Ferdinand of the 654th PanzerJäger Abteilung, Kursk, Eastern front, 1943. Sd.Kfz.184 “Elefant” of the 1st company, 653rd Schwere Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung, Anzio-Nettuno, March 1944. Tiger(P) Elefant (late type) from the Abt.653 HQ Company, Brzherzhany, Ukraine, July 1944
Panzerjäger Tiger (P) 8.8 cm PaK 43/2 L/71 “Ferdinand/Elefant” Sd.Kfz 184
8.14 m x 3.38 m x 2.97 m
Total weight, battle-ready
6 (Commander, Gunner, Two Loaders, Driver and Radio operator)
Germany (1944-45) Tank hunter – approx. 2,827 built
The first issue to clear up is the fact that the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during the Second World War. Although most official wartime documents do not use the name Hetzer, a few did. Why this nickname has been associated with this tank hunter is investigated later in the article.
As the Second World War progressed, it turned into a numbers’ game. Germany needed more armored fighting vehicles that were cheaper to build and quicker to construct. They started using hulls of captured tanks and reliable but obsolete tanks, such as the Panzer 38(t), to mount anti-tank guns and artillery howitzers. This resulted in the production of the Marder series and Nashorn anti-tank self-propelled guns. They all carried powerful guns but had thin armor, an open-top fighting compartment, and a high profile which made them easy to spot on the battlefield. They could deal out punishment, but they could not take it.
The Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was designed to have a very low profile which made it hard to target and easy to conceal. It was only 2.10 m (6 ft 10.6 inches) high which was ideal for ambush tactics. It was armed with a powerful high velocity 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 gun that could knock-out most enemy tanks. It was cheaper and quicker to build than a Panzer IV, Panther or Tiger tank.
It was not designed to be a close combat vehicle, used at the head of an attack like a tank. It was a self-propelled anti-tank gun that was intended to be deployed on the flanks to stop counter-attacks. A pack of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters would hide in a wood or thick hedgerow and pick off enemy tanks at long range. The sloping front armor gave the crew reasonable protection from frontal attack. So long as the driver pointed the front of the vehicle at any threat, the crew could expect to survive a hit from an enemy armor-piercing shell. The thin armor on the sides of the vehicle and at the rear meant that there was a risk of being knocked out by flank and rear attacks with armor-piercing shells. If there was a danger of being outflanked, the driver had to change to a different location quickly.
In 1944, the Panzer 38(t) tank was considered outclassed and obsolete. It had been withdrawn from frontline units. The Jagdpanzer 38 utilized the tried and tested components of the Panzer 38(t) tank on a new wider hull. This meant that the Jagdpanzer 38 was relatively reliable, as all the early mechanical problems had been overcome. Because of this, production could start earlier than usual for a new armored fighting vehicle design, as most of the factory tooling for the manufacture of the Panzer 38(t) tank was still available. Due to the gun’s limited traverse, the driver had to continually change the vehicle’s orientation or move to engage new targets. This could reveal its location.
Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal
Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armor. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armor. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.
Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. Other guns were looked at. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspension, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.
German officers were sent to inspect the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter. They were impressed with many aspects of the overall vehicle design and at one point considered it being used in the German Army, but there were too many practical issues that would have to be rectified before entering service. The external shape and some ideas were incorporated in the later Jagdpanzer 38 design. A Romanian Army report of the inspection of the Mareșal tank hunter by the German officers was found from the Romanian military archives in Bucharest. The Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. Their initial reactions are also recorded in the report. This document is covered in more detail later in this article when we cover the origins of the nickname ‘Hetzer.’
On 26 November 1943, the production of Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns at the Alkett company was severely interrupted when Allied bombers dropped a total of 1,424 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on their Berlin factory. Due to the damage, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) investigated the possibility of starting Sturmgeschütz III production at the Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (BMM) company in Prague. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, this factory used to be called Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) and built tanks for the Czechoslovakian Army.
On 6 December 1943, the OKH reported to Hitler that the BMM company was unable to carry out this type of production order, as it did not have the infrastructure to manufacture the 24-tonne StuG III. The factory cranes could not lift a completed vehicle. The BMM factory cranes could only lift 13 tonnes. It had spent most of the war constructing 9.8 tonnes Panzer 38(t) light tanks for the German Army.
Hitler gave orders that the BMM factory was to concentrate on producing the new lighter Sturmgeschütz. It was proposed this vehicle would have a top speed of 55 – 60 km/h (34 – 37 mph), weigh 13 tonnes, and, as a result, have thin but sloped frontal armor to keep the vehicle’s weight low. The side armor was only to be thick enough to provide protection from small arms fire and high explosive shell shrapnel.
Development work was carried out quickly. On 8 January 1944, the drawings of the final version of the vehicle were finished. By 24 January 1944, a wooden 1:1 scale model had been built and, two days later, demonstrated to officers from the Heereswaffenamt (HWA), the Army weaponry research and development agency. The size of the fighting compartment on the wooden mock-up was shorter than on the production vehicle, and the engine compartment had a longer sloped cover. These features were changed to give the crew more room.
There were plans to design and mount a 7.5 cm rücklauflose main gun in the production version of Jagdpanzer 38. A rücklauflose weapon featured a gun barrel fixed to the turret or casemate, which took on the full recoil of a shot. Development of the rücklauflose gun would take too long, so in the meantime, it was decided that a 7.5 cm Pak 39 (L/48) anti-tank gun would be installed in the Jagdpanzer 38. This gun was already in production and available for use. Oberst Thomale (Colonel Thomale) ordered three prototype Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters to be built and available for trials. It took less than four months from the initial design approval to the production of the first prototype.
Once the final design of the production Jagdpanzer 38 was agreed upon, BMM was awarded a contract to produce 2,000 vehicles. More were needed, so the Czechoslovakian company Škoda was also awarded a contract to build 2,000 Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. Both factories suffered bombing raids.
Both factories were supplied with components from subcontractors. Three hundred and sixteen such companies were based in Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Protectorate. A further one hundred and seventeen came from other occupied countries and Germany. Due to advancing Allied forces and the constant bombing, the source of parts for construction of the Jagdpanzer 38 changed repeatedly. This caused delays in supply which affected monthly production figures.
The armored hulls were produced in the steel factory in Vitkovice and by the Poldi steel mills in Kladno: both were in the Czech Protectorate. They were also supplied by two German steel-factories: Linke-Hoffman in Breslau and Ruhrstahl in Hattingen. The tracks were cast in the Czech Protectorate at the steel mills of Chomutov in north-west Bohemia and Královo Pole in Brno. The engines were manufactured by the Czech car manufacturer Praga, which also supplied the Wilson-type gearboxes.
A total of 2,827 Jagdpanzer 38 were produced by BMM and Škoda. About 2,612 were Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters, 14 were Jagdpanzer 38D Starr, 181 Bergepanzer 38 and 20 Flammpanzer.
Jagdpanzer 38 production
Completed by Škoda
Completed by BMM
Note: The figures for BMM include Jagdpanzer 38 Starr and Bergepanzerwagen 38 (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Due to the limited space inside the Jagdpanzer 38 and the desire to keep the profile of the vehicle low, the gun mount was not bolted to the floor of the vehicle. Instead, a gun cradle mount was fixed to the glacis plate. The gun had to be installed off-center, to the right of the vehicle. This enabled the driver, gunner, and loader‘s positions to be on the left side of the vehicle, in line, one behind the other. The commander sat on the right side of the vehicle, at the rear of the fighting compartment, directly behind the gun, with his hatch above him. He did not have access to an armored cupola.
The gun was mounted to the right of the vehicle. This restricted its traverse to only 5° left and 11° right. To engage targets outside this narrow 16° traverse range, the whole vehicle would have to be moved. The off-center gun meant that there was too much weight on the right track and suspension. To the vehicle did not tilt towards the right, 850 kg of crew and equipment had to be placed on the left side of the gun as a counterbalance.
If all the hatches were closed, the crew had limited visibility, especially to the side and rear of the vehicle. The driver had two angled periscopes that protruded out of the upper glacis plate under a protective armored cover. The gunner was provided with a forward-looking Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr 1a (Sfl.ZF 1a) periscope gun sight. The loader had a periscope to look out for threats on the left side of the vehicle. The roof machine gun was aimed by looking through a periscope. It could rotate 360°. The commander had access to a rearward-looking periscope. If the commander’s hatch was closed, he had no forward vision. It would only be kept closed in extreme emergencies, such as during an artillery or mortar barrage. Also available was a Scherenfernohrs 14Z (Sf.14Z) scissor telescope which poked out the top of the open roof hatch which had a magnification of 8 x 10.
Engine and Transmission
The Jagdpanzer 38 was powered by a Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 158 hp petrol engine. The Praga engine was very similar to the one used in the Panzer 38(t) tank but had been uprated. Instead of producing 129 hp, it now produced 158 hp. The engine was connected to a five-speed Praga-Wilson transmission which was in turn connected to a Planetary steering system. The vehicle had a top road speed of 40 km/h (24.9 mph). This was less than initially hoped for. The production vehicle weighed 16 tonnes rather than the proposed 13 tonnes, which affected the vehicle‘s speed.
The dome at the back of the tank is a simple cover for the hand crank. Although the Jagdpanzer 38 had an electrical starter, crews were instructed that the preferred method was to use the hand crank where possible, as the electrical starter was not robust and should only be used in emergencies. To the bottom right of the rear armor plate, there was a port to gain access to the cooling water heater. In severe weather conditions, the engine coolant would freeze. A blow lamp could be placed in this port to warm the coolant and defrost it before the engine was started.
When the left rear engine compartment hatch is opened, access can be gained to the fuel filler cap behind the 12V battery. The Jagdpanzer 38 had two interconnected fuel tanks. The fuel tank on the left held 220 liters while the fuel tank on the right held 100 liters. This would give an approximate operational range of 180 km (111 miles).
Cooling the engine was a problem, as it only had a small air intake vent on the rear deck. It required a powerful motor to drive the air intake fan, which reduced the overall performance of the vehicle because it took power from the engine.
Although the hull, suspension, tracks, and road wheels look very similar to those used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, the vehicle was a new build. The hull was wider: the Panzer 38(t) tank was 2.13 m (7ft) wide, but the Jagdpanzer 38 was 2.63 m (8ft 7.5 in) wide. The road wheels were larger than those used on the Panzer 38(t) tanks: they were 82 cm diameter instead of the tank’s 77.7 cm (2 ft 7 in) diameter. The suspension has been made more durable than that used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, especially at the front of the vehicle, in order to cope with the extra weight. The tracks have been widened from 29 cm to 35 cm (11in to 1ft 2 in). The Jagdpanzer 38 was only provided with one track return roller, unlike the Panzer 38(t) that had two.
The Driver’s position
The Jagdpanzer 38 driver had a basic instrument panel in front of him. He steered the vehicle by using two hand tillers. Each one of these levers controlled one of the two tracks. The driver also had a handbrake. The foot pedals were not in the standard order that we have come to expect in a modern car. The accelerator was in the middle. The pedal on the right was the foot brake. The gear change pedal was on the far left.
The gearbox was to the right of the driver. It was a 5-speed Praga-Wilson preselector. The Wilson type was the same system used by the British and developed by the Wilson gearbox company. The driver did not change gear like you would in a modern car, where you put the clutch in first and then select the gear. Instead, while the engine was running, they had to choose the next gear first and then depress the gear change pedal, which acted like a clutch, and let it come back up, hence the name pre-selector. To stop the vehicle without stalling, the driver had to remember to select neutral first, then apply the brake and the gear change pedal at the same time.
Early versions of the exhaust system at the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter had the pipe coming down the back of the vehicle into a tubular silencer box that ran along the top of the rear armor plate, mounted horizontally. This was changed to a single pipe going into a flame hider on the back of the vehicle.
The 7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 (7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48) anti-tank gun was used to equip Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The German word ‘Panzerjägerkanone’ literally translates to ‘tank hunter gun’ (anti-tank gun) and is usually abbreviated to Pak, thus sharing the contraction of the more common ‘Panzerabwehrkanone’. It was an electrically fired weapon fitted with a semi-automatic breech mechanism and a 48 caliber long barrel (3615 mm or 11 ft 10.3 in). It could penetrate the armor of most common Allied tanks at ranges up to 1,000 meters as shown in the table below.
When travelling across rough ground, the gunner used the internal gun travel lock to minimize any damage to the gun. The Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight was fixed to the left side of the gun and protruded out of the roof in a semi-circular sliding section of the roof armor. It moved when the gun was moved. It did not rotate. The gunner had to change his body positions to follow the gun periscope as he searched to bring the gun onto the next target by turning the traverse wheel. He also had to avoid being hit in the head by the remote control machine gun handles above him.
The loader sat on the left side of the main gun, behind the gunner and driver. He had a very challenging job because the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 anti-tank gun had been designed to be loaded from the right side. The loader’s controls were on the wrong side. To open the breech, he had to lean across the gun to access the breech opening lever. The main weapon had a semi-automatic loading system: once the first round was loaded, every time the gun fired, the recoil ejected the shell casing, and the breech block remained down in the open position waiting for another shell to be loaded. The large recoil guard was to his right, and this got in the way when loading shells. Not all of the ammunition was stored near the loader on the left side of the vehicle. Sometimes, he would have to reach over the gun breach and the recoil guard to access the shells stowed on the right side of this cramped tank hunter. The commander had a safety lever near him that prevented the gun from being fired while the loader was servicing the gun. When he was clear of the gun mechanism and a shell was in the breech ready for firing, the commander released the lever to enable the gun to be fired.
Design work on the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 started in 1939, but it was manufactured from 1943 onwards by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG in Unterlüß and by Seitz-Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It used the same 75 x 495 mm R ammunition as the 7.5 cm KwK 40 of Panzer IV medium tank and 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun fitted on the later models of the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns. No towed version of the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 was manufactured.
It could fire three common types of ammunition: Panzergranatepatrone 39 (Pzgr.Patr. 39) armor-piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell, Sprenggranatepatrone 37 (Sprgr. Patr. 37) high explosive (HE) shell, and different versions of the Granatpatrone 38 HL (Gr. Patr. 38 HL) high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. The latter was an effective high-explosive anti-tank shell and could be used against soft-skinned targets as well as armored vehicles. Its armor penetration qualities were not as high as the Pzgr.Patr. 39 (APCBC) shell. When fired, the Panzergranatepatrone 39 shell had a muzzle velocity of 750 meters/second (2460 feet/second).
Depending on availability, a few rounds of Panzergranatepatrone 40 (Pzgr.Patr. 40) high velocity, sub-caliber, tungsten core armor-piercing rounds were carried in case the crew encountered heavily armored Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns. The supplies of tungsten were limited.
7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 anti-tank gun armor penetration
(The data was obtained on a firing range. The armor plate was laid back at a 30-degree angle)
Gr. Patr. 38 HL
(Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
The initial design of the gun mantlet was 200 kg heavier than the later design. The early vehicle was nose heavy, and this put stress on the front suspension. By changing the mantlet to a lighter model, and making adjustments to the suspension, the maneuverability of the vehicle became tolerable.
The loader had the job of rearming and firing the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun. It was fired from inside the armored protection of the fighting compartment. A hinged gun shield could be fixed in place to protect the crewman when reloading the gun. It was aimed by looking through a periscope. Behind him, on the rear wall, there was the radio, usually a Fu5 and the on-off master power handle.
The front upper glacis plate of the Jagdpanzer 38 was designed to be 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick, sloped at 30 degrees from the horizontal. This meant that an armor-piercing (AP) round fired straight at the front upper glacis plate would have to penetrate 120 mm (4.7 inches) of armor due to the angle. The steep slope would also help increase the chance that the round would ricochet. The feared Tiger 1 heavy tank only had 100 mm (3.93 inches) thick effective frontal hull armor. The front glacis armor plate had interlocking welded joints for added strength and security. Sloping the armor meant that the level of protection could be kept high, but the costs and complexity of manufacturing the armor could be kept low. The lower front glacis plate was 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick angled at 50 degrees. This would make the effective thickness of that armor plate 78 mm (3.07 inches).
From these statistics, it would appear that the front armor of the Jagdpanzer 38 was very strong. According to H.L.Doyle, these figures are deceptive because the armor plate used was of inferior quality to the face hardened armor used on the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The 60 mm armor on the upper and lower glacis was roughly equivalent to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) face hardened armor used on the Panzer III. It was manufactured to E22 specifications and had a hardness of 265 to 309 Brinell. However, Panzer Tracts no.9, by T.Jentz, states that the Jagdpanzer 38’s front armor was meant to be immune to most anti-tank guns, contradicting Doyle’s statements.
The upper side armor of 20 mm (0.78 inches) thickness was comparable to the 14.5 mm plate used on the front of a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. It was made from a low alloy Siemens-Marteneit (SM) steel. It had a hardness of 220 to 265 Brinell. The tolerances on armor production were quite wide. The thicknesses of four different Jagdpanzer 38 upper glacis plates’ 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick armor were measured. They all belonged to the Wheatcroft Collection. One was built in February 1945, but the other three were built after the war as part of the G-13 Swiss Contract. The thickness ranged from 62.2 mm to 64.8 mm (2.44 – 2.55 inches).
The lower hull side armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick and sloped inwards at an angle of 75o. The rear armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick angled at 75 degrees. The roof armor was 10 mm thick (0.39 inches). The belly armor was 8 mm thick (0.3 inches). The Schürzen side skirt armor was made from 5 mm steel plate. It was designed to protect the side 20 mm thick lower hull armor from the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles.
As with all other German armored fighting vehicles, improvements were continuously introduced during production to improve the performance of the vehicle and increase the speed of manufacture through simplification of its design. Some changes had to be introduced due to the problems with the supply of parts or raw materials.
The idler wheel design went through several changes. In order to reduce the amount of time it took to manufacture the rear idler wheel with twelve holes, different designs were introduced in the following order.
1. Six holes in a flat disc
2. Welded spokes with eight holes on a smooth flat disc.
3. Stamped ribs with six holes on a dish-shaped disc.
4. Six holes on a smooth flat disc.
5. Four holes on a smooth flat disc.
When Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were damaged, the maintenance workshop would fit whatever replacement idler wheels were available in their stores. Sometimes, late version vehicles would be equipped with early version idler wheels with twelve holes. If only one idler wheel needed replacing, then there would be situations where a vehicle would have idler wheels of different types.
In April 1944, further changes were introduced. The ram’s-horn towing hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle were omitted. They were replaced by extending the side hull armor plates and drilling a hole into the metal. The flange around the gun mantlet helped transfer the weight of the gun to the upper hull glacis plate. The size of the flange was reduced to decrease the weight of the gun mantlet. The length of the rooftop 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun hinged shield was shortened to stop it from hitting the top of the Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight.
The design of the front track drive sprocket wheel was changed. To save production time, the holes were no longer drilled on the outer ring of the sprocket wheel. A different type of rear idler wheel was fitted. It had four large holes in the disk rather than twelve holes in the earlier version.
Starting in May and continuing into July 1944, more changes were ordered. To stop having to open large hatches on the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 to access the crew compartment, the commander was given a small hatch that opened to the rear. A hatch was added on the lower right to enable access to the radiator cooling fluid filling cap. Another hatch was added to the lower left to give access to the petrol fuel tank filling cap. The heat shield around the exhaust was no longer fitted. Three ‘mushroom’ short threaded cylinders were welded to the top of the Jagdpanzer 38 to enable a two-tonne temporary crane to be mounted to help with mechanical maintenance, replacement of heavy parts, and repairs.
Further changes were made in August 1944. As a result of a redesign of the metal used in the internal and external construction of the gun mantlet, the weight of the Jagdpanzer 38 was reduced by 200 kg. Road wheels with a larger diameter center disk with thinner rims were introduced. Initially, the rim was drilled for 32 bolts around the edge, but often only 16 bolts were fitted. To help the driver exit his seat quickly in case the vehicle was hit, two handles were welded above the driver’s seat.
Production line changes were introduced in September 1944. To protect the crew from Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles being fired at the lower hull armor, the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was fitted with Schürzen skirt armor plates. Crews found that these plates were ripped off as they brushed past bushes and trees. The front ends of the Schürtzen were bent in towards the hull to try and stop them from being torn off.
The front set of leaf springs experienced more stress than the rear set and often broke. The thickness of the front set of sixteen leaf springs was increased from 7 mm to 9 mm. The rear set of sixteen leaf springs remained 7 mm thick.
More design changes were implemented in October 1944. The design of the driver’s periscope mounting had to be altered after the early version acted as a ‘shell trap. When incoming armor-piercing shells hit the front upper glacis plate but failed to penetrate it, they would slide upwards and enter the crew compartment via the protruding cover over the driver’s periscopes, after getting caught on it. The armored cover was no longer fitted. Holes were cut flush with the glacis plate to hold the periscopes. A thin sheet metal dual-purpose sun and rain guard was installed over the holes. If a shell slid up the upper glacis plate and hit this guard, it would be ripped off but would not act as a ‘shell-trap.’
New road wheels were introduced that were riveted instead of being bolted. It had been found that some of the bolts on the earlier versions of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter’s road wheels came undone.
The red-hot glowing exhaust pipes and flames of a backfire can give away the position of the vehicle at dusk and during the night. This can result in it being spotted by an enemy artillery forward observer and calling in an artillery barrage. The cylindrical silencer was replaced with a Flamm-Vernichter (flame destroyer) exhaust.
Allied bombing disrupted the supply of ball bearings. The gun mount had to be changed. The ball bearings used in the gun mount were replaced with roller bearings. This necessitated the installation of a spring compensator to help with elevating the gun.
Filling the Jagdpanzer 38’s fuel tanks took a long time. To enable the tanks to be refilled faster, a larger nozzle with an overflow pan was fitted. Also, there had been reliability problems with the electric fuel pump, so a Solex-handpumpe manual hand pump was issued. The commander’s hatch was equipped with a head cushion.
As the cold weather arrived in November 1944, just in time for winter, a new heating plate was fitted to keep the battery from freezing. The heating inside the crew compartment was also upgraded. A better heat distribution vent was installed in the engine compartment firewall. It gave a more even heat distribution inside the vehicle. The water pump also upgraded to one that was more robust.
By changing the location of an internal stowage box to the right of the commander’s position, a further five 75 mm shells were able to be carried.
The last batch of changes started in January 1945. The Model 6 final drive had a gear ratio of 12:88. They suffered from mechanical failure due to the stresses put on them. The Jagdpanzer 38 was three tonnes over the initial design specifications. It was front heavy, and the driver regularly had to maneuver the whole vehicle to enable the gun to be aimed at a new target. In January 1945, a new more robust Model 6.75 final drive was fitted. It had a gear ratio of 10:80.
The Jagdpanzer 38 was an ambush vehicle and needed to hide. To make the crew’s task of fixing cut tree branches and bushes to the exterior of the vehicle easier, ‘U’ shaped brackets were welded to the upper front glacis plate and the side armor. Wire or string could be threaded through these ‘U’ shaped brackets and foliage tied onto it. The exact date in 1945 this feature started to be added onto vehicles under production is not known.
To strengthen the towing brackets on some vehicles, side supports were welded at the junction of the hull side armor and the front and rear armor plates. Others had the extended hull armor towing brackets removed and replaced with ‘U’ brackets welded onto the lower front glacis plate and the rear armor plate.
Did the Jagdpanzer 38 have a muzzle brake?
The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by directing some of the explosive force of the shell gasses sideways rather than just forward. The wooden mock-up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke, which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post-war Swiss G-13 version had a muzzle brake fitted.
Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left the factory painted dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028). Camouflage patterns were painted onto the vehicle when it arrived at the unit it was assigned to. In October 1944, new Jagdpanzer 38s were painted in a camouflage pattern before they left the BMM factory. It had a base color of dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028) with stripes and patches of dark red-brown (Rotbraun RAL 8017) paint and dark olive green (Olivgrün RAL 6003). Black rectangular false vision ports were painted on the upper front glacis plate to try and draw the enemy’s fire away from the driver’s periscopes.
The vehicle’s designation
The Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. What follows is an investigation into why the Hetzer nickname is associated with this tank hunter. Many German armored fighting vehicles had very long official designations, so shorter nicknames were used to assist in recognition, for example, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf.E was called the Tiger. There are others, like the Ferdinand, Panther, Grille, Wespe, Hummel and many more. Some were official designations while others were unofficial and came from the soldiers using the vehicle. The German High Command even issued orders for vehicle names to be changed because they were deemed to be misleading or not suitable for a vehicle belonging to the German Army. Some of the names now used to describe Second World War German fighting vehicles arose after the war. A few were the invention of scale model kit companies.
Ein grosser Hetzer
A Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. They had come to inspect several vehicles including the Mareşal light tank hunter. Its design is believed to have influenced the final development of the Jagdpanzer 38. The comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann were recorded in the last paragraph on the first page. He said the Mareşal would make ‘ein grosser Hetzer’ (an impressive hunter). The German word “Gross” does not only translate to big as in size. It can also mean good or impressive (Großartig). He went on to say it would be a superior adversary against the Russians.
The Jagdpanzer 38 had many different official names
The word ‘Hetzer’ has not been used during this article because it was not used officially by the German Army during WW2. It is a nickname used by some of the troops. The Jagdpanzer 38 was known by many different designations and abbreviations in official German Army and factory documents.
The following is an updated list of the different names and abbreviations given to the Jagdpanzer 38, followed by the source, and date of the document that was initially compiled by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle. The term ‘Hetzer’ was a nickname and not an official designation.
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (7 January 1944) leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (28 February 1944) Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (18 January 1944) Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (16 April 1944) Sturmgeschütz neuer Art Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944) Le. Pz.Jäger (38t) Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944) leichtes Sturmgeschütz auf 38(t) Führer Konferenz (28 January 1944) Panzerjäger 38 für 7,5cm Pak 39 (L-/48) (Sd Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 January 1944) le.Pz.Jg.38t Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (4 March to October 1944) le.Pz.Jg.38t Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (3 August 1944) 7,5 cm Panzerjäger 38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 31 July 1944) Stu.Gesch.38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 6 June 1944) Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Waffen bzw.Geräte (March 1944) Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres Chef.H.Rüst.u. BdE/Stab Rüst lil. (15 May to 15 October 1944) Ie.Pz.Jäg.38(t) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (7 June to 30 July 1944) Stu.Gesch.38(t) GenSTdH/Org.Abt. Bericht (12 June and 28 June 1944) I.Pz.Jg.38(t) Wa Prüf 6 (23 June 1944) Ie.Pz.Jg.38(t) mit 7,5cm Pak L/48 auf Fgst Pz 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944) le. Panzerjäger 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Name of Troop – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf Name of regulations – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944) Pz.-Jäger 38(t) (späterer Name wahrscheinlich Jagdpanzer) (probable later name Jagdpanzer) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (12 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (19 October 1944 to 6 April 1945) Jagdpanzer 38 D652/63 (1 November 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 und Panzerjäger 38 (7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 November 1944) Jagdpz. 38 this style of abbreviation was used in a list as part of a combat readiness report by the Panzergrenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”. None were shown on strength. (3 November 1944) Jagdpanzer 38, Panzerjäger 38 (m 7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres, Chef H.Rüst u. BdE/Stab Rüst III. (15 November 1944 to 15 March 1945) Jagdpanzer 38 WaA/Wa Prüf 6 (17 November and 19 December 1944) Hetzer The origin of this name was explained in this document as coming from the troops to denote the Jagdpanzer 38 Gen. Insp.d.Pz.Tr. Guderian. (4 December 1944) (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle) Hetzer and Pz.Jg.38(T) IX.SS.Geb.A.K (19 December 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command telex (16 February 1945) Jg.Pz.38 t SS-Sturmbannführer combat readiness report. (March 1945) Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer SS-Sturmbannfüher combat readiness report. (March 1945)
The Project Hetzer E-10 prototype design confusion
‘Project Hetzer’ was the name used by the team tasked with designing a low-profile self-propelled tank hunter with a fast, powerful 400 hp engine that would give the vehicle a maximum road speed of 70 km/h (43.49 mph). It was an Entwicklungs-Serien (developmental series) 10-tonne vehicle that was allocated the designation ‘E-10.’It did not enter production. Weight designations in E-series were not very accurate. The E-10 was planned to weigh between 12-15 tonnes.
The plans for the Jagdpanzer 38 and E-10 were discussed at a concept design meeting between the German army ordnance officers from Wa Prüf 6, and the Czech Böhmisch-Märische Maschinenfabrik (B.M.M.) company. The language barrier may have led to a misunderstanding. It is assumed the Czech company officials believed the Germans were using the name ‘Hetzer‘ when talking about their Jagdpanzer 38 and not the rival company’s E-10 project. Thus, the nickname ‘Hetzer’ became connected to the Jagdpanzer 38 but not used as an official designation.
Military historian Herbert Ackermans found in the German Archives a report dated 21 January 1944, that detailed the items on the agenda and minutes of a number of meetings about the development and production of weapons and equipment, that took place with General Friedrich Fromm, German Army High Command (OKH), between April 1943 and 21 January 1944. (Archiv Signatur RH 10/37)
Item 5 of the report dealt with Klein-Panzerjäger (small tank hunter). Major-General Beißwänger (General beim Chef der Heeresrüstung) remarked that the introduction of such designation (like ‘Klein-Panzerjäger’) was undesirable and that precise designations were required.
Oberst Crohn’s of Wa.Prüf. 6, informed those present at the meeting that the Romanian Maresal tank hunter was of no further interest to Germany as the production of the Jagdpanzer 38 has been decided upon. This also meant that Project Hetzer, Project Rutscher, and Project Sprengstoffträger mit Puppchen had been canceled.
This document provides evidence that the Jagdpanzer 38 and the Project Hetzer E-10 were treated as two separate vehicles.
The few wartime documents where the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used
Hetzer document No.1
On 31 July 1944, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (743rd Tank Hunter Battalion) reported having twenty-eight Hetzers available, with an additional fourteen Hetzers expected to arrive on 3 August 1944 when the battalion would be joined by the 3.Kompanie (3rd company) near Warsaw. On 3 August 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 submitted a ‘strength report‘ that listed how many vehicles were operational and how many were lost, damaged or needing mechanical repair. In this and later reports, the nickname Hetzer was not used. They were given the abbreviated designation of le.Pz.Jg.38t.
Hetzer document No.2
In a Führervortrag briefing sheet, dated 4 December 1944, from German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, Hitler is informed that the nickname Hetzer was used by the troops to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. Hilary Louis Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz mentions this in his Panzer Tracts book. (Found again by military historian Herbert Ackermans in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – NARA)
8.) Erklärung Ausdruck “Hetzer.” Der kommt aus der Truppe und bezeichnet damit den Jagdpanzer 38.
8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.
This is the second page of the same report.
Hetzer document No.3
On 19 December 1944, a unit combat readiness report was submitted. It used both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer when collating the figures of combat-ready Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The 22 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had two Pz.Jg.38(T) available. The 8 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had three Hetzers available. The subordinated unit to the Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle stated they had three Hetzers available.
Hetzer document No.4
The fourth document was discovered by historian Herbert Ackerman in October 2020 as he was looking at documents in the Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv (German Military Archives). It is a telex from Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command addressed to the German High Command Panzertruppen Inspector. He asks when the Fallschirmjaeger Panzerjäger Abteilungen (airborne tank hunter battalion) are planned to be reequipped with Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer, what are the composition numbers and delivery dates. It was sent on 16 February 1945 and used the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer)
Hetzer document No.5
The fifth document was a unit combat readiness report for March 1945. In the eighth line down, under the heading Pz.Abt.17 (17th Panzer battalion) there is an entry, Jg.Pz. 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) listed one Jg.Pz. 38 t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunters belonging to the Pz.Jg.Abt.Nibelungen (Anti-tank battalion “Nibelungen”) as just Jg.Pz. 38 t and did not include the nickname “Hetzer”. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short-term repair, one in long-term repair, and one with transmission failure. (Source Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)
Hetzer document No.6
The sixth document is also a unit combat readiness report dated 7 March 1945 for the attention of the German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector from Kampfgruppe Panzer Korps “Feldherrnhalle”. In point 2, under the heading Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) there is an entry, (20 Hetzer) ready only after retraining of personnel on the Jg.Pz. 38. Earliest date 25 March 1945. Like some of the other documents it also uses both terms, Hetzer and Jg.Pz.38.
How are the words ‘baiter and agitator’ connected with the Jagdpanzer 38?
During the Second World War and when hostilities had finished, German military prisoners, engineers, and factory workers were interviewed by Intelligence officers. The Allied translators chose to translate the German word ‘Hetzer’ when it was used by the person being interviewed to describe the Jagdpanzer 38, as ‘baiter’. These words appear in U.S. Soviet, British and Commonwealth reports. The interviews were recorded in German. They also noted that the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38 and some intelligence documents used the German word Hetzer rather than the English translation.
Military Intelligence, Section 10 (M.I.10) was part of the British War Office, which would later become part of M.I.6. It was responsible for technical analysis of weapons. The original Secret documents were declassified on 22 November 1988. Multiple British army intelligence reports and English transcripts of German prisoner interrogations make use of the term ‘Baiter’ as an English translation for the German nickname ‘Hetzer’ when used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. These documents were collated and analyzed by M.I.10. The following extract is one such example.
In 1947, the M.I.10 used the name ‘Pz.Jäg. 38(t) – Hetzer’ under a photograph of a Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter in an official, secret, military reference book called ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, armored Fighting Vehicles.’ The publication was a summary of all the intelligence reports that M.I.10 had collected on German vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information in this document about the intelligence source on which naming the Jagdpanzer 38, ‘Hetzer’ was based.
Ralf Raths, the director of the German Tank Museum, whose first language is German, states that Hetzer is a German hunting term. ‘Hetzen” means to hunt your prey at high speed until it collapses or is caught. This is what wolves do in the wild. This would also cover hunting fox, deer, and hare with dogs and on horseback. The term Hetzer was applicable to the Project Hetzer E-10 fast tank hunter but not to the Jagdpanzer 38 which was a slow vehicle that only had a top maximum road speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). The popular modern phrase found on T-shirts, websites, and memes, ‘The Hetzer gonna Hetz’ is totally inaccurate. The Jagdpanzer 38 could not Hetz. It could not chase after its prey at speed. Its tactical deployment was as an ambush weapon.
Unfortunately, there is not a word in English that is a good translation of the German Word Hetzer. We have ‘hare coursing’, but ‘a coursing’ or ‘Project Coursing’ sounds wrong. There is not an overall general descriptive word in English that covers hunting fox/deer/hare/rabbit at high speed until it collapses. The verb ‘to harry’ is a hunting term but is associated with the bird of prey, the Harrier and the British fighter jet the Harrier: the ‘Harrier is gonna harry’. The ‘chaser’ would be the nearest accurate translation. ‘Project Chaser’ and ‘the Chaser’ sound correct in English: the ‘Chaser is gonna chase’. The problem with ‘chaser’ is that word does not always have a hunting association, unlike the German word Hetzer. The way a Jagdpanzer 38 operated in combat was the exact opposite of all these terms.
Many military history authors and magazine article writers translate the nickname ‘Hetzer’ as baiter or agitator. A dictionary definition of a ‘baiter’ is someone who ‘deliberately annoys or tauts another’. It is also defined as referring to a ‘malicious rabble-rousing agitator’ (This definition is where the word ‘agitator’ comes from). Both these explanations of the use of the word ‘baiter’ have caused confusion as it does not describe or hint at the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38.
There is another definition. A ‘baiter’ is a hunting term. It describes a hunter who baits a trap, lays in ambush hoping his prey takes the bait so that he can kill it. This describes the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38. They were given the job of protecting the flanks of an attack or defending a section of the front line. Crews were taught to camouflage their vehicles and hide on the edge of woodland. They would be deployed in a troop of three or more Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters and wait in ambush in a position where they had good visibility of advancing enemy units at a location they believed would be an Allied attack route.
To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer by the Germans during WW2. Although most official wartime documents do not use the nickname Hetzer, a few did.
Starting from 20 June 1944, Panzerjäger Schulen (tank hunter training schools) started to receive Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles for crew training. A surviving Panzerjäger Schule Milowitz (Tank hunter training school at Milowitz) document showed that Jagdpanzer 38 crews were encouraged to find preselected firing positions, preferably behind an earth wall in cover, like at the edge of a wood. Once targets had been engaged and there were no more targets available, the commander was to direct the driver to change to a different location by reversing out of their current position, to avoid being hit by enemy artillery.
The Jagdpanzer 38s were assigned to independent Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Army Tank Hunter Battalions). They were to provide Infantry Divisions with a mobile anti-tank resource. When the infantry was under attack, they could be used as a resource to support the infantry’s counterattack. They were not intended to be used instead of a tank at the front of an attack in a major offensive. The guns’ limited traverse would make them liable to flank attacks.
Each of the Battalion’s three companies was given fourteen Jagdpanzer 38s, and three were allocated to the Abteilung Stab (Battalion headquarters). One vehicle per company and two of the headquarters’ vehicles were issued with long-range command and control Fu 8 radios. By February 1945, the authorized number of Jagdpanzer 38s per company was reduced from fourteen to ten. The Abteilung (battalion) approved total was reduced to thirty-eight from forty-five.
The Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 731 (731st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was formed on 2 November 1943 by Heeresgruppe Nord (Northern Army group). Between 4 and 13 July 1944, they were issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front.
Between 19 and 28 July 1944, Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 743 (743rd Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front with Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army group).
In September 1944, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 (741st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. One company was sent to the Eastern Front, but the other two were directed to the Arnhem sector in Holland.
In February 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 561 (561st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In March 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 744 (744th Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In December 1944 and January 1945, 295 Jagdpanzer 38s were used in the winter Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. The two companies of Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 and eighteen other Heeres Panzerjäger companies were deployed in the region. A Heeres Gruppe B (Army group B) ‘combat strength’ report dated 30 December 1944 stated that 131 Jagdpanzer 38s were still operational out of their initial strength of 190. Heeres Gruppe G (Army group G) reported that it had 38 Jagdpanzer 38s still functional out of an initial total of 67.
On 16 April 1945, during the attack on Bolatice in Northern Moravia by Soviet Forces, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the T-34-85 equipped 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from an area near Albertovec Farm. Two tanks were left behind just south of the farm to guard against a flanking attack. Corporal Ján Zámečník was the gunner in tank number 603. He fired on what he thought was a German machine gun nest on the edge of a wood. When it was neutralized, the crew went to examine the enemy position. They were shocked to find they had knocked out a very well camouflaged Jagdpanzer 38. The German crew had run out of fuel and main gun ammunition but had still decided to fight using the machine gun on the roof of their vehicle. The T-34-85 crew had not identified it as an enemy vehicle because it was so hard to see.
On 27 April 1945, eight T-34-85 tanks of the 3rd battalion, 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from the railway station at Dolni Lhota to Čavisov a village in Ostrava-City District, Moravian-Silesian Region. The attack halted as it encountered anti-tank obstacles. It was an ambush. Two tanks were knocked out, and a further three were damaged by a number of self-propelled anti-tank guns in concealed positions. The remaining tanks were forced to retreat. The Germans then made a tactical mistake. The crews of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters counter-attacked. They moved out of cover and into the village near the railroad station. One was knocked out before it reached the village and another was destroyed near the houses on the edge of the village. The others withdrew.
Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters
The first Jagdpanzer 38 came off the production line in March 1944. By the end of World War II, the Czech company BMM had built 2,047 of them and refurbished 173 that came back to the factory for repairs. Another Czech company called Škoda started manufacturing Jagdpanzer 38s and built a further 780 by the time of the German surrender.
After the war ended, the Swiss were looking for new armored vehicles. They placed a contract with the Czechs. The first 10 that they received were German specification Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The rest were new-build vehicles for the Swiss contract. Some of them used World War Two parts that were readily available. Later vehicles had newly designed parts.
One hundred and fifty-eight Swiss contract Jagdpanzer 38 G-13 tank hunters entered service with the Swiss army. Ninety-four of them were re-engined with diesel power packs. The last G13 left the Swiss army in 1970. Many were sold to museums and private collectors who converted them to externally look like Second World War German Jagdanzer 38 tank hunters.
The G-13 name
G-13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38 in the Škoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Škoda Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer was called a G-13 in the factory and on all internal documentation. G = tank hunter, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3. G-11 was Panzerjaeger I, G-12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzle brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38 (t). The Škoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank hunter was known by the factory code G-13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38 or Hetzer name.
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr
The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. The diesel prototype remained the sole one to see combat and was used during the Prague uprising by both sides. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Jagdpanzer 38 after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.
This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), the same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine.
The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5 cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38 in an effort to confuse the enemy.
A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks, and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.
The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside.
Bergepanzer 38 mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun
A number of Bergepanzer 38 light armored recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft Flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.
This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz”. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support role against enemy troops and vehicles.
Soviet Army capture the factories
When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia, they conducted a stocktake of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38 tank-destroyers “G-13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.
The Czech Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.
Thanks to the great numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s built at the end of the war, it got to see service with a number of different armies during the war and after.
The only export user of the Jagdpanzer 38 was the Hungarian Army, which received about 85 vehicles between August 1944 and January 1945.
While the Soviets captured large numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s during their successful drive against the German armies, there is no evidence they put any into use. They did, however, supply some to their new allies, the Bulgarians (some 4 vehicles). Romania also captured a couple of Jagdpanzer 38s after switching sides and moving into Transylvania.
One of the most famous wartime Jagdpanzer 38s is Chwat, a single tank destroyer captured by the Poles during the Warsaw uprising that saw no combat use.
Another Jagdpanzer 38 was captured by Czechoslovakian rebels during the Prague uprising at the end of the war.
After the war, the Czechoslovakians had a number of Jagdpanzer 38s available to them left from production or abandoned on their soil. They produced 150 more and used them until at least the early 60s.
The Czechoslovaks also exported the Jagdpanzer 38 to Switzerland, which bought 158 vehicles that were in service until the 70s. Most of the current surviving Jagdpanzer 38s are actually Swiss G-13s.
Overall, the vehicle was successful. It was quick to build, and cheap compared with the cost of constructing a Tiger, King Tiger or Panther tank. It was mechanically reliable, easily concealed, hard-hitting, and when used right, a hard-to-kill vehicle. A company of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters working together, concealed in a good location, could damage or knock-out a considerable number of attacking enemy tanks.
Surviving Jagdpanzer 38
Currently, there are only 13 known surviving Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left. If the Jagdpanzer 38 you are looking at on display at a museum is not on this list of surviving vehicles then it is a post-war Swiss Contract G13 altered to resemble a wartime Jagdpanzer 38.
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Bruce Crompton Collection, UK
Rex and Rod Cadman Collection, UK
Private Collection, Germany
Panzermuseum, Thun, Switzerland
Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Army Technical Museum, Lešany, Czech Republic
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, VA, USA
Canadian Forces Base, Borden, Canada
Wheatcroft Collection, UK
Liechte Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer; 1944-45 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzerkampfwagen 38 Panzer Tracts No.18 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Box’ at the Tank Museum, Bovington Archives
Romanian Military Museum Archives, Bucharest
British War Office Military of Intelligence M.I.10 ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, Armoured Fighting Vehicles. ’
Hilary L. Doyle. Start from the 17 min time period https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG_mY-jSZzQ
Private correspondence with Mr. Hilary L. Doyle (1)
Herbert Ackermans document collection.
Jagdpanzer 38 specifications
Dimensions (L W H)
6.27 m x 2.63m x 2.10 m
20 ft 6.8 in x 8 ft 7.5 in x 6 ft 10.6 in
Total weight, battle-ready
7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) M.G.34, 1,200 rounds
8 to 60 mm (0.3 – 2.36 in)
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 160 hp @ 3000 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
Maximum Road Speed
40 km/h (25 mph)
180 km (111 miles)
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer 38, the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer 38 “Chwat” (Brave) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Early type Jagdpanzer 38 “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). However, in the early years of the war, beside the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm, which was in essence just a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun mounted on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull, the Germans did little to develop such vehicles. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht encountered tanks which they had trouble dealing with effectively due to their thick armor (T-34 and KV series) and were forced to introduce a number of different hastily built and developed Panzerjäger based on any chassis that was available. From this, a series of vehicles generally known today as the ‘Marder’ (Marten) was created. The first such vehicle was built by using a captured French Lorraine 37L fully-tracked armored tractor and arming it with the German 7.5 PaK 40 anti-tank gun.
During Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer Divisions were once again spearheading the German advance, as in the previous year in the West. Initially, the lightly protected Soviet early tanks such as the BT series and the T-26 proved to be easy prey for the advancing German Panzers. However, the Panzer crews were shocked to discover that their guns were mostly ineffective against the armor of the newer T-34, the KV-1 and KV-2. German infantry units also discovered that their 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank towed guns were of little use against these. The stronger 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank towed gun was only effective at shorter distances and it had not been produced in great numbers by that time. Luckily for the Germans, the new Soviets tanks were plagued by a not-yet-matured design, inexperienced crews, a lack of spare parts and ammunition, and poor operational use. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in slowing down and eventually stopping the German assault in late 1941. In North Africa, the Germans also faced increasing numbers of Matilda tanks which also proved to be hard to knock out.
The experience gained during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union raised a red alert in the highest German military circles. One possible solution to this problem was the introduction of the new Rheinmetall 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. It was first issued in very limited numbers at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942. It became the standard German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 guns being built. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it was its heavyweight, making it somewhat difficult to deploy and hard to manhandle.
The solution to this problem was to mount the PaK 40 on available tank chassis. These new Panzerjäger vehicles followed the same pattern: most were open-topped, with limited gun traverse, and thin armor. They were, though, armed with an effective anti-tank gun, and usually with one machine gun. They were also cheap and easy to build. Panzerjägers were, in essence, improvised and temporary solutions, but effective ones nevertheless. Just as the name suggests (Panzerjäger means “tank hunter” in English), they were designed to engage enemy tanks at long ranges on open fields. Their primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, usually on the flanks. This mentality led to a series of such vehicles named Marder that was developed using many different armored vehicles as a basis.
The first series of Marder vehicles was based on captured French armored vehicles. While small series were built using tank chassis, the majority were built using captured Lorraine 37L fully-tracked armored tractors. The Lorraine 37L would be also converted into a self-propelled artillery gun. The man responsible for the creation of the first Marders was Major Alfred Becker. His design was presented to Adolf Hitler in May 1942, who immediately ordered that 100 armed with 10.5 cm and 15 cm artillery guns and 60 PaK 40 armed vehicles should be built. Due to the high demand for self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, the majority of the available captured Lorraine 37Ls would be converted into Marder I (as this vehicle would be known) vehicles.
The Lorraine 37L
After the First World War, the French Army had shown interest in developing a tracked armored supply vehicle. The first vehicle that was adopted for this role was the small Renault UE. During 1935, the Lorraine company began working on a faster alternative for this vehicle meant for the cavalry units. By 1937, the first prototype of the Lorraine 37L was completed. Its performance was deemed sufficient by the French Army and ordered into mass production. It was mainly used for the transport of ammunition, fuel and other supplies. There was also an infantry transport variant called Voiture blindée de chasseurs portés 38L, which can be identified by an added box-shaped armored superstructure mounted to the rear.
From 11th January 1939 to 16th May 1940, over four hundred Lorraine 37L armored supply vehicles were built. By the time of France’s capitulation, the Germans had managed to capture some 300 Lorraine 37L vehicles. In German service, these vehicles were known as the Lorraine Schlepper(f).
During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. On 1st August 1942, it was known as the 7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Sfl.LrS. Sfl, which stands for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’, which can be translated as ‘self-propelled’, while LrS stands for Lorraine-Schlepper. In May 1943, the name was changed to 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 auf Sfl.Lorraine-Schlepper. In August 1943, it was again changed to Pz.Jaeg. LrS fuer 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 (Sd.Kfz.135). It received the Marder I name, by which it is best known today, due to Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943.
Following the decision to adopt the Marder I into service on 9th June 1942, the German Waffenamt (Ordnance Department) laid out the plans for a number of vehicles to be built by the Becker Baukommando workshop located in Paris and the H.K.P Bielitz workshop. The main supplier of the Marder I components was Alkett. This firm was responsible for modifying the PaK 40’s lower carriage and gun shield, but also for the assembly of the upper superstructure for the Marder I vehicle.
The monthly production target in Paris was 20 vehicles in June 1942 and 78 in July, with an additional 30 in June and 50 in July from Bielitz. In total, 178 were planned to be converted. The actual production numbers were a bit lower, with 170 rebuilt vehicles completed. 104 were converted in July and the remaining 66 in August 1942.
Unfortunately, the exact number of rebuilt vehicles depends on the source. While the number of 170 is quite commonly found in the literature, there are still some disagreements between the sources. The previously mentioned production numbers were according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjäger). Author Walter J. Spielberger, in his book Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Deutschen Wehrmacht, mentions that 184 were planned but 170 were actually built. D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions 179 vehicles being built. Author A. Lüdeke (Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg) lists a number of 184 vehicles being built.
The Marder I suspension consisted of six road wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on three bogies. Above each bogie, a leaf-spring unit was placed. There were also four return rollers, front-drive sprockets and an idler placed on each side at the rear. The transmission was placed in the front hull of the vehicle.
The Lorraine 37L suspension was a very robust and simple design. This was rather uncommon among pre-war French tank designs, which generally had overly complicated suspension systems. In its original role as an armored tractor, the Lorraine 37L had little problems following French tanks on good or muddy terrain. The German version had an increased weight of up to 8.5 tonnes (7.5 or 8 tonnes depending on the source), compared to the original 6 tonnes. While the Lorraine 37L suspension system was considered adequate in its original role, the added extra weight proved to be problematic, especially on the Eastern Front mostly due to low temperatures and muddy roads. In addition, vibrations caused by firing the main gun put enormous stress on the suspension, which increased the chance of malfunctions or damage.
The Marder I engine type and its position were not changed from the original Lorraine 37L. The Delahaye Type 135 6-cylinder water-cooled 70 [email protected] rpm engine was located in the center of the vehicle’s hull. While the maximum speed with this engine was a solid 35 km/h, the cross country speed was only 8 km/h. The operational range was also quite limited, with 120 km on good roads and 75 km cross country. The low speed on bad roads and the small operational radius is possibly the main reason why the Marder I was mostly allocated to Infantry Divisions. The exhaust pipe was located on the left side of the hull and was protected by a thin curved armored plate. The Marder I’s fuel capacity was 111 liters.
The Marder I was built using mostly unmodified Lorraine 37L chassis, by simply replacing the original rear positioned transport compartment with a new armored superstructure. The new armored superstructure had a relatively simple design, which consisted of rectangular armored plates welded together. These armored plates were angled in order to provide additional protection, as the armor thickness was quite low. The front of this armored superstructure was protected by the main gun’s enlarged gun shield. The Marder I was an open-top vehicle and, for this reason, a canvas cover was provided to protect the crew from bad weather. Of course, this offered no real protection during combat. The added superstructure served as the crew fighting compartment for operating the main gun. Due to the Marder I’s tiny size, the crew compartment offered a small working space.
The Lorraine 37L, being designed to fulfill the role of a supply vehicle, was only lightly armored. The front armor was 12 mm thick, while the top and bottom were only 6 mm thick.
The superstructure armor thickness, depending on the source, is usually noted to be around 10 to 11 mm all-around thick. Luckily, the Tank Encyclopedia team was given access to the Marder I auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) at the French Tank Museum in Saumur, France. A digital micrometer was used to measure the armor thickness of the upper superstructure. When books state that the armor thickness was 11 mm, this is the design thickness. In reality, the rolled armor plate used by the Germans was not of a precise thickness. It varied over the length of the plate within a certain tolerance range. It should be remembered that these measurements included the thickness of the primer base coat and final coat of paint.
The main gun chosen for the Marder I was the standard 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 L/46. This gun, with its slightly modified mount, was placed above the engine compartment. Its original two-part armored shield was replaced with a single enlarged shield covering the front of the superstructure. The elevation of the main gun was -8° to +10° (or -5° to +22° depending on the source) and the traverse: -20° to +20° (-16° to +16° depending on the source). The total ammunition load also differs depending on the source. According to authors H. Doyle (German Military Vehicles) and G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (Marder III), the Marder I could carry 40 rounds. Authors T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager) mentions a number of 48 rounds.
In order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives, a travel lock was added. Secondary armament consisted of one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun and possibly the crew’s personal weapons.
Interestingly, there is a photograph of a Marder I armed with the 5 cm PaK 38. More information on the circumstances under which this modification occurred is unfortunately lacking. It could have been either a field modification, which is very likely or a simple training vehicle. It could be also a post-war modification, possibly done by the French. What is interesting is the front gun shield had an added armor plate around the gun.
According to the T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager), the Marder I had a crew of four which consisted of the commander, gunner, loader and the driver. Other sources, for example, G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (Marder III), give a number of five crew members. The reason why authors state different information regarding the number of crew members is not clear. To complicate matters further, there are old photographs of the Marder I with either three or four crew members in the rear fighting compartment (besides the driver, who was in his own compartment at the front).
The driver was positioned inside the Marder I hull and was the only crew member that had all-around armor protection. To reach his own position inside the vehicle, a horizontally positioned two-part rectangular-shaped hatch was used. For observation, there were two simple vision slots on the front and one on each side. While these had a simple design, the Germans never replaced them, probably to save time or simply because they had nothing better at hand.
The remaining crew members were placed in the armored superstructure compartment. The gunner would be positioned to the left of the gun. On the front of the gun shield, there was a small armored slide that could be opened for use of the gun sight. To the right of the gun was probably the position occupied by the commander and behind him was the loader. If there was a fifth crew member, he would likely have been a radio operator for the Fu 5 radio set or an assistant loader. If there were only four crew members, another crew member would have served as a radio operator.
The Marder I was used to equip smaller anti-tank companies (Panzerjäger Kompanie). These were allocated as reinforcement to the anti-tank battalions (Panzerjäger Abteilungen) mostly of Infantry and a few Panzer Divisions. The anti-tank companies were initially equipped with nine Marder I vehicles. From early 1943, the number of vehicles per company was usually increased by one more vehicle.
Use in combat
The Marder I would mostly see service in France, but also on the Eastern Front and in smaller numbers in North Africa.
The majority of newly built Marder I vehicles would be used by units stationed in France. It was standard practice that the unit equipped with the Marder I would retain its vehicles until it was relocated to another front. When that happened, they would be supplied with another self-propelled anti-tank vehicle or with towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 guns. This was done mostly to ease maintenance and procurement of spare parts.
During late June 1942, the German High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) predicted that at least 20 Marder Is would be ready for operational field test trials by the end of July 1942. Two Panzer Divisions, the 14th and 16th, were initially chosen for this purpose. In July, the OKH decided that the first Marder I were instead to be given to the 15th, 17th, 106th and 167th Infantry Divisions and to the 26th Panzer Division once they were available in sufficient numbers.
The 15th Infantry Division received its 9 Marder I vehicles by late July 1942. On 21st January 1943, the 15th Infantry Division received an additional twelve Marder III vehicles based on the Panzer 38(t). Its Marder Is were then given to 158th Reserve Division.
The 17th Infantry Division received 9 Marder I by the end of July 1942. Their use by this unit was problematic from the start due to a lack of radio operators and mechanics. Additional problems were created by the inexperience of the driver with such fully tracked vehicles. The height of some of these drivers was also problematic, as they had issues entering their positions inside the Marder I hull. What was interesting was the fact that the driver would go out of the vehicle during the firing of the main gun. The capacity of the inboard batteries was too weak. For example, they would usually be discharged after only one hour of using the radio with the engine off. This would result in the batteries having no power to start the engine. Then, it had to be manually started by two crew members by using a hand crank, which in practice proved to be difficult to do. One more big flaw was noted during a long off-road marches, with the accumulating mud and earth that could lead to the loss of the rear idler wheels. At least two vehicles were reported to have lost the rear idler.
The 106th Infantry Division operated an anti-tank company with 9 Marder I vehicles after late July 1942. One command vehicle based on the Panzer I and six ammunition transport vehicles based on the Panzer I were also available. In late February 1943, the 106th Infantry Division was repositioned to the Eastern Front and the Marder I vehicles of the anti-tank company were replaced with 9 towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns.
The 167th Infantry Division had 9 Marder I vehicles up to late January 1943. When it was sent to the Eastern Front in late February 1943, all the Marder Is were replaced with 9 towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns.
The 26th Panzer Division operated a company of Marder I vehicles for a short time from 1st January to 1st May 1943.
By the end of 1942, the 1st Panzer Division was repositioned to France for recuperation and refitting with new weapons and equipment. At this time, it was reinforced with one Marder I company. These vehicles would be replaced with Marder IIIs in late February 1943.
During 1943, many more units stationed in France would also be reinforced with Marder I vehicles before they were relocated to other fronts. The number of supplied Marder I vehicles varied between each division. For example, the 94th Infantry Division received 14, while the 348th Infantry Division received only 5. By the end of 1943, there were 94 Marder Is with 83 operational vehicles in Western Europe. In total, at the start of 1944, there were 131 Marder Is available. The last known unit that received a company of 10 vehicles was the 245th Infantry Division on 13th May 1944.
The Marder I would see extensive action during the Allied Normandy landings in June 1944. While they managed to achieve some success, nearly all were lost with the German defeat in France. The 719th Infantry Division was the last unit to still possess 7 (with 3 operational) Marder Is on 27th January 1945. Interestingly, at the end of the war, the Belgian resistance managed to capture one Marder I vehicle.
In the Soviet Union
As stated previously, OKH plans for the Marder I stated that it was to be used to equip units stationed in France in order to ease maintenance and procurement of spare parts. But, as the demand for such vehicles on the Eastern Front was great, the original plans had to be changed. Through direct orders from the OKH (dated from the 9th August 1942), six divisions from Heeresgruppe Mitte were to be equipped with Marder I anti-tank companies.
The 31st Infantry Division was reinforced with a Marder I anti-tank company on the 27th of August 1942. Due to harsh conditions and strong Soviet resistance, by the end of June 1943, this unit had only 4 Marder I left. By the end of October, the last three Marder I was given to Pz.Jg.Abt 743 (Panzerjäger Abteilung). At the start of 1944, none of these were still operational, with two requiring extensive repairs, while the third could not be repaired.
The 35th Infantry Division received its Marder Is by the start of September 1942. By the end of 1943, only two non-operational vehicles were available
The 36th Motorized Infantry Division was to be reinforced with a Marder I company that was initially attached to the 2nd Panzer Division. By the start of December 1942, all 9 vehicles were operational. The last Marder I vehicle was lost in July 1943.
The 72nd Infantry Division received 9 Marder I vehicles together with 6 Muni-Anhaenger (ammunition and supply wheel trailers) on 3rd September 1942. When the vehicles arrived, it was noted that there were issues with the breech block mechanism which had to be repaired. Additional problems with transmission breakdowns were also noted. What is interesting is that the Marder I company also had a Panzer 38(t) that probably acted as a command vehicle. By the end of June 1943, there were 7 Marder Is operational with the last vehicle being lost by the end of the year.
One Marder I company was to be allocated to the 206th Infantry Division, but this company was instead given to the 72nd Infantry Division. This caused a delay in the delivery of the first five Marder I vehicles up to the end of 1942, with the remaining arriving in January the following year. By the end of June, there were 8 vehicles with 5 operational. By the end of 1943, there were still 7 vehicles with only five operational.
The last unit on the Eastern Front that received the Marder I was the 256th Infantry Division. Initially, it had eight Marder I vehicles in its inventory, dated from 3rd November 1942. At the start of 1943, there were 9 Marder Is with eight operational. By the end of the year, the number of vehicles was reduced to 7 Marder Is, with only three operational. The 256th Infantry Division would be reinforced with three additional Marder Is vehicles in early 1944.
While the Marder I had sufficient firepower to destroy any enemy tank in 1942/43, the Soviet weather simply proved too much for the Lorraine 37L chassis. This can be seen in a combat report made by Pz.Jg.Abt 72 (belonging to the 72nd Infantry Division), which states: ‘as experience has shown, these (Marder I) don’t have any significant combat value because of their limited employability due to the weather’. In another report made by Pz.Jg.Abt 256, it is stated that: ‘with the exception of the Marder I, the other weapons and vehicles have been proven useful’. Due to bad weather, low numbers, problems with spare parts and others, not many Marder Is would be used on the Eastern Front and they would be replaced with Marder II and III vehicles which were built on more reliable chassis.
In North Africa
While the majority of the Marder Is would be used on the Western and Eastern fronts, few would also be found in North Africa. The 334th Infantry Division was to be resupplied with a Marder I company and, for this reason, the crewmen necessary to operate these vehicles were to be sent to the Sprember training center at the start of December 1942. After the completion of the crew training, which lasted two weeks, this company with 9 Marder I and 6 ammunition transport vehicles were to be transported from Naples to Tunisia by using the large Me 323 transport planes. By 1st March 1943, there were 8 vehicles operational with 4 under repair. Due to losses, this company was reinforced with Marder III vehicles based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis in early April 1943. Two Marder Is together with a group of Marder III participated in the defense of the Kairouan Line against Allied tanks. In the following engagement, seven enemy tanks were destroyed with the loss of one Marder I and five Marder III.
While nearly two hundred vehicles were built, only one Marder I still exists and can be seen at the Musée des Blindés, Saumur (France).
The Marder I tank hunter was an attempt to solve the problem of the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns, but it failed in many other aspects. The most obvious was the fact that it was built on a captured chassis which led to logistical problems, as spare parts for it would be difficult to find. The low armor thickness meant that, while it could engage enemy tanks at range, any kind of return fire would likely mean the destruction of this vehicle. The Marder I’s armor provided the crew with only a basic level of protection against rifle rounds or shrapnel. Its speed and operational range were also not too impressive. The suspension and the running gear were not adequate for the weather condition present on the Eastern Front.
In conclusion, the Marder I vehicle was far from perfect, but gave the German a means to increase the mobility of the effective PaK 40 anti-tank gun, thus giving them a chance to fight back against enemy armored formations.
Marder I on the Eastern Front, winter 1942-43.
7.5cm Pak 40/1 auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) Sd.Kfz.135 – Normandy, 1944.
Marder I in France, September 1944. Notice the camouflage nets. Inspiration for the illustrations: RPM, Ironsides model kits
Nazi Germany (1942)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – 202 converted
Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). However, in the early years of the war, beside the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm, which was in essence just a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun mounted on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull, the Germans did little to develop such vehicles. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht encountered the T-34 and KV series tanks, which they had trouble dealing with effectively. Fortunately for the Germans, they also managed to capture large numbers of the 7.62 cm field gun (M1936) which had good anti-tank firepower. This gun was immediately put to use by the German ground forces, but mobility was an issue, so an idea appeared to install this gun on the Panzer II tank chassis in order to increase its mobility. The new vehicle belonged to a series of vehicles generally known today as the ‘Marder’ (Marten).
During Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer Divisions were once again spearheading the German advance, as in the previous year in the West. Initially, the lighty protected early Soviet tanks (like the BT series and the T-26) proved to be easy prey for the advancing German Panzers. However, the Panzer crews were shocked to discover that their guns were mostly ineffective against the armor of the newer T-34, KV-1 and KV-2. German infantry units also discovered that their 3.7 cm PaK 36 towed anti-tank guns were of little use against these tanks. The stronger 5 cm PaK 38 towed anti-tank gun was only effective at shorter distances and it had not been produced in great numbers by that time. Luckily for the Germans, the new Soviet tanks were immature designs, plagued by inexperienced crews, a lack of spare parts, ammunition and poor operational use. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in slowing down and eventually stopping the German assault in late 1941. In North Africa, the Germans also faced increasing numbers of Matilda tanks, which also proved to be hard to knock out.
The experience gained during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union raised a red alert in the highest German military circles. One possible solution to this problem was the introduction of the new Rheinmetall 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. This was first issued in very limited numbers at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942. While it would eventually become the standard German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, its initial production was slow and thus a temporary solution was needed. During Operation Barbarossa, the German ground forces managed to capture large numbers of field guns of different calibers. One of the guns captured was the 76.2 mm M1936 (F-22) divisional gun. After a brief assessment of the characteristics of this gun, the Germans were satisfied with its performance. The gun was given to the army for use under the name Feldkanone (FK) 296(r). It was at first used as a field gun, but very soon it became clear that it possessed great anti-tank capabilities. For this reason, the 7.62 cm M1936 gun was modified for use as an anti-tank weapon. The changes involved adding a muzzle brake (but not all guns were equipped with it), cutting the gun shield in half (the upper part was welded to the lower part of the shield in a similar fashion to the PaK 40 two-part shield), rechambering the gun to 7.5 cm caliber in order to use the standard German ammunition (same as the PaK 40) and moving the elevating handwheel to the left side. After these changes, the gun was renamed 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), and remained in use throughout WWII.
In late December 1941, Wa Prüf 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) gave instructions to the Alkett firm to design a new Panzerjäger mounting the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) on a modified Panzer II Flamm (which itself was based on the Panzer II Ausf. D and E) tank chassis. The Alkett designers and engineers threw themselves into the work of designing and building the first prototype. The prototype was built quickly, mainly due to its relatively simple construction. The Panzer II Flamm chassis was unchanged, but the majority of the superstructure (except for the front plate) and the turret were removed. On the back of the engine compartment a gun mount with the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), which had an enlarged shield, was placed. Additionally, the front and the sides were protected by extended armored plates. Its armor was designed to protect against small-caliber fire and shrapnel. As its primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, thick armor was not necessary, at least in theory.
Panzer II Ausf. D and E
The first German tank that was produced in great numbers was the Panzer I. As it was armed with only two machine guns and was lightly protected, its combat potential was quite limited. For these reasons, the Panzer II was developed to overcome the many shortcomings of the previous Panzer I model. Its main armament consisted of one 20 mm cannon and one machine gun. The maximum armor protection was initially only 14.5 mm, but it would be increased to 35 mm and even to 80 mm on later versions.
During 1938, new versions of the Panzer II, the Ausf. D and E, were developed and adopted for service. They had the same armament and turret but with a modified superstructure and most importantly used a new torsion bar suspension which ran on four larger road wheels without any return rollers. While the Panzer II Ausf. D and E did see combat action in Poland, due to their poor suspension performance, less than 50 vehicles would be built.
In 1939, the German army was interested in the development of a flame-throwing Panzer to be used as an anti-bunker weapon. As the Panzer II Ausf. D and E were rejected from service, their chassis were chosen for this modification. The resulting vehicle was designated as the Panzer II Flamm Ausf. A und B, although today it is generally known as the ‘Flamingo’. By March 1942, around 150 had been produced, but their performance was deemed inadequate mostly due to weak armor and the poor performance of the flame projector system. As these Panzer II flamm were returned from the front lines and due to the high demand for mobile anti-tank vehicles, the Germans once again reused the chassis for this new role. Starting from April 1942, all available Panzer II flamm chassis would be reused for this purpose.
During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. Upon its adoption on 1st April 1942, it was designated 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. PzKpfw.II(F) (Sfl.). In June 1942, this was changed to Pz.Sfl.1 fuer 7.62 cm PaK 36 (Sd.Kfz. 132); by September 1942, it had changed again to Pz.Sfl.1 (7.62 cm PaK 36) auf Fahrg.Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. D1 und D2. In September 1943, a much simpler name was given: 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Pz.Kpfw.II. The last change to the name was made on 18th March 1944, with the vehicle then being called Panzerjäger II fuer 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) (Sd.Kfz. 132).
The Marder II name, by which it is best known today, was actually Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943. For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the Marder II designation. Care should be taken not to mistake this vehicle with the other Marder II, the Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 ‘Marder II’ (Sd.Kfz.131).
Due to the inadequate combat performance of the Panzer II flamm, the production of the second series of 150 vehicles was canceled. However, M.A.N (which was responsible for its production) was tasked with delivering these 150 chassis to Alkett for the construction of new Marder II vehicles. Alkett was ordered to produce the first 45 vehicles in April, followed by 75 in May and the last 30 in June 1942. Somewhat unusually for German production standards, all 150 vehicles were completed before the deadline, with 60 in April and the remaining 90 by mid-May.
Due to the availability of the Panzer II flamm chassis, a further order for 60 Marder II vehicles was placed. The completion of this production order was slow, as it was dependent on the available Panzer II flamm chassis. Only 52 Marder II would be completed this way, with 13 in June, 9 in July, 15 in September and 7 in October 1942. In 1943, 8 more Marder II vehicles would be built. These conversions would be carried out by Wegmann from Kassel.
It should be noted that the Marder II utilized both the Ausf. D1 and Ausf. D2 chassis. These had only minor differences, the main one being the drive sprocket, which had 11 spokes on the Ausf. D1 and 8 spokes on the Ausf. D2. It appears to be the case that all 150 of the new-build Marder IIs utilized the Ausf. D2 chassis, while those converted from older Panzer II flamm chassis were based upon the Ausf. D1 chassis.
The suspension of the Marder II was the same as on the Panzer II Ausf. D and E. This version used a torsion bar suspension in contrast to the leaf spring suspension used on the majority of the Panzer IIs. In some sources (like Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch, Marder II), it is noted that the Marder II used the Christie type suspension system. This is false. The Christie suspension used large helical springs placed vertically or diagonally in the side of the hull, not torsion bars. The larger wheels had a diameter of 690 mm. There was also a front-drive sprocket and a rear positioned idler on each side, but no return rollers.
The Marder II was powered by a Maybach HL 62 TRM six-cylinder liquid-cooled engine positioned to the rear. This produced 140 hp @2600 rpm. The maximum speed with this engine was 55 km/h and the cross country speed was 20 km/h. The operational range was 200-220 km on good roads and 130-140 km cross country. The total fuel capacity for this vehicle was 200 liters. The Marder II crew compartment was separated from the engine by a 12 mm thick protective firewall.
The Marder II was built using the Panzer II Flamm chassis by simply removing the turret and most of the superstructure except for the front driver’s plate. Extended armor was added on top of the driver’s compartment and on the sides. These armored plates were slightly angled, for extra protection. To the rear, initially, a wire mesh frame was added, possibly to make the construction easier and to reduce weight. Its main purpose was to serve as a storage area for equipment and spent ammo cartridges. During the production run, this was replaced with armor plates. An extended armored shield was added around the gun, the design of which would be slightly changed during the production.
The Marder II was an open-top vehicle and, for this reason, a canvas cover was provided to protect the crew from bad weather. Of course, this offered no real protection during combat. It appears that some vehicles had a metal frame added to the gun compartment, possibly used to help hold down the canvas cover. Another possibility was that it served as an extra security measure for the crews lest they accidentally fall out of the vehicle. Due to the Panzer II’s relatively small size, the crew compartment was cramped and additional wooden storage boxes were often added by the crew for extra equipment.
The armor thickness of the Marder II hull was relatively thin by the standards of 1942. The maximum front hull armor was 35 mm, while the sides and rear were only 14.5 mm thick and the bottom was 5 mm thick. The driver’s front armor plate was 35 mm thick. The new superstructure was also only lightly protected, with 14.5 mm thick front and side armor, and later rear armor too. The gun was protected by a standard armor shield which was extended to cover the sides. Spare tracks could be added on the front armor plate to act as extra protection, but in reality, this offered only a limited improvement.
The main gun chosen for the Marder II was the modified ex-Soviet 7.62 cm PaK 36 (r) anti-tank gun. This gun, with its modified ‘T’ mount, was placed directly above the engine compartment. The elevation of the main gun was -5° to +16° and the traverse 25° to the left and to the right. The total ammunition load consisted of only 30 rounds, placed in ammunition bins located just below the gun, inside the Marder II hull. In order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives, two travel locks were added, one at the front and one to the rear.
Secondary armament consisted of one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun with 900 rounds of ammunition and one 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine gun. While most 7.62 cm PaK 36 (r) anti-tank guns were provided with a standard muzzle brake, there were a number of vehicles that did not have one. They were possibly either discarded by their crews, damaged or more likely never fitted due to the urgent need for such vehicles.
The Marder II had a crew of four men, which, according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle in Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager, consisted of the commander, gunner, loader, and the driver. Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch, in their Marder II book, mentions that the crew consisted of the commander, radio operator, loader, and driver. Taking T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle as the main source, it would mean that the commander was located in the vehicle’s hull, next to the driver, and he would also serve as the radio operator. On the other hand, according to Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch, the crew positioning would be different, with the commander serving as the gunner and placed left of the main gun.
While sources cite only four crew members, interestingly, Marder II photographs often show one more crew member present. This practice was initiated by field units emulating their Panzer cousins, as the extra crew member would help increase the vehicle’s overall performance by freeing up the commander from any other tasks.
The driver’s position was unchanged from the original Panzer II. He was positioned on the vehicle hull’s left side. On his right side was the radio operator. The radio equipment used was the FuG Spr d transmitter and receiver. For observing the surroundings, the crew positioned in the hull had two standard front vision ports. One of these two men would also have the task of releasing the forward travel lock. In addition, the crew positioned in the hull could also supply the gun operators with the ammunition rounds which were stored inside the hull.
In the rear gun compartment were the positions for the gunner and the loader. The gunner was positioned on the left and the loader to the right. The loader also operated the MG 34 used against enemy infantry and soft skin targets. To avoid being hit by enemy fire, crew in the gun compartment were sometimes provided with movable periscopes for observation. For crew communication, an internal telephone was used.
Organization and Distribution to Frontline Units
The Marder II was used to form 9 vehicle-strong anti-tank companies (Panzerjäger Kompanie). These were divided into 3 vehicle-strong platoons (Zuge). Each platoon was to have one Sd.Kfz. 10 half-track, an ammunition carrier version of the Panzer I and two trailers for ammunition and supply deliveries. Of course, due to a general lack of such supply vehicles, it is likely that this was never truly implemented.
The Marder II companies would mostly be used to equip Infantry Divisions, Infantry Motorised Divisions, SS Divisions, Panzer Divisions and to reinforce some self-propelled anti-tank battalions (Panzerjäger-Abteilungen). Interestingly, despite the fact that each anti-tank company was meant to have 9 vehicles, some were instead only equipped with 6.
The following units were equipped with Marder II vehicles from 9th March 1942 onwards: the Großdeutschland Infantry Division, 18th, 10th, 16th, 29th and the 60th Infantry Motorised Divisions with 12 each, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division with 18 and the SS Panzer Division Wiking with 12 vehicles. By the time of the German 1942 campaign on the Eastern Front, nearly all available Marder II vehicles (145 in total) were ready for service. In July 1942, there were plans to equip the 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions with Marder I (based on captured French fully tracked chassis) vehicles. Due to logistical problems, these were instead each issued with 6 Marder II.
The Marder II would see action mostly on the Eastern Front, with smaller numbers positioned in the West. The majority of produced Marder IIs would be used in the German advance toward the oil-rich Caucasus and Stalingrad. Due to the disastrous German losses suffered by the end of 1942, the majority of Marder II tank destroyers would be lost, either to enemy fire or just being abandoned due to a lack of fuel or spare parts.
Due to extensive losses suffered the previous year, there were only small numbers available during the Battle of Kursk (Operation Zidatelle) in June of 1943. The units that still possessed operational Marder IIs were the 31st Infantry Division with 4, 4th and 6th Panzer Divisions with 1 each, the 525th self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 4, the 150th self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 3 (1 in repair), the 16th Panzer Grenadier Division with 7 and the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division and the SS Panzer Division Wiking with 1 vehicle each. In total, there were only 23 vehicles left on the Eastern Front. In the West, there were 7 vehicles with 1 in repair, operated by the Ersatz und Ausbildungs Regiment H.G., a training unit that was positioned in Holland.
By August 1944, there were only two units equipped with the Marder II. These were the 1st self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 10 and the 8th self-propelled anti-tank battalion with 5 vehicles. By March 1945, the number of Marder IIs had dropped to only 6 vehicles.
While having weak armor, thanks to its gun, the Marder II could destroy any Soviet tank in 1942/43 with little problem. The effectiveness of the Marder II’s 7.62 cm gun was demonstrated by the 661st self-propelled anti-tank battalion, which, by mid-July 1942, claimed to have destroyed 17 Soviet tanks (4 KV-1, 11 T-34 and 2 Valentine Mark II). The 559th self-propelled anti-tank battalion reported similar successes (up to mid-July 1942), with 17 T-34, 4 KV-1 and 1 tank marked only as a T 8 (possibly a misprint) for the loss of only one Marder II. This unit also gave reports about the distances from which the Soviet tanks were destroyed. The T-34 were mainly engaged at ranges from 600 to 1000 meters, with the 7.62 cm gun having no problem penetrating the armor of this tank. Two T-34s were destroyed by side hits at ranges of 1.3 to 1.4 km. One KV-1 was reportedly destroyed when hit from the side at a range of 1.3 km. It is important to note that, due to the Marder II’s low ammunition storage, shooting at enemy tanks at distances greater than 1 km was generally avoided by the crews.
The Marder II’s general combat performance can be seen in a report made in July 1942 by the 661st self-propelled anti-tank battalion. In this report, the effectiveness of the 7.62 cm gun was deemed satisfactory as it was able to destroy a KV-1 from ranges of 1.2 to 1.4 km. The high-explosive rounds were also effective against enemy machine gun nests and even against earthen bunkers. However, firing the gun could create large dust clouds which made finding targets difficult. The Marder II was provided with two travel locks. While the rear one performed well, the front one was prone to malfunctions.
Cooperation with infantry formations proved to be problematic. The infantry commanders would often call for the Marder II to engage enemy tanks offensively in unfavorable situations, for example if the enemy tanks were dug in or on higher ground. The Marder IIs were not infantry support vehicles like the StuG III and thus should not have been used in this kind of combat.
The vehicle’s great height was a huge issue for the Marder II, as it was difficult to camouflage and was an easy target for enemy gunners. Interestingly, on some vehicles, the gun sunk down a bit, meaning that the gun could not be traversed. To solve this problem, a few millimeters of the side armor had to be cut off. The low ammunition load and the lack of more mobile machine gun mounts were another issue. The gas pedals were too weak and prone to malfunctions, so spare gas pedals were in great demand. Radio equipment was also of poor quality and improved models were requested. The Marder II also lacked space for the storage of spare parts and other equipment. Ingenious crews would often add wooden boxes to the rear. The lack of a command vehicle for the company commander was deemed problematic. Adding a fifth crew member to direct the operational employment was proven to have merit.
The Marder II tank destroyer was an attempt to solve the problem of the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns but, unfortunately for the Germans, it failed in many other aspects. The low armor thickness coupled with its large silhouette meant that, while it could engage enemy tanks at range, any kind of return fire would likely mean the destruction of this vehicle. The small ammunition load was also problematic for its crew. Even so, while the Marder II vehicles were not perfect, they gave the Germans a means to increase the mobility of the effective 7.62 cm anti-tank gun, thus giving them a chance to fight back against the numerous enemy armored formations.
Marder II, early type vehicle , Afrika Korps Abteilung, Libya, fall 1942.
Marder II Ausf.D-1, Russia, fall 1942.
Marder II Ausf.E, Russia, fall 1942.
Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1 für 7.62 cm Pak 36(r) Ausf.D-2, Kursk, summer 1943.
7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. Pz.Kpfw.II(F) (Sfl.) specifications
Nazi Germany (1942)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – 531-576, 68-75 Converted, 10 Field Conversions
Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). However, in the early years of the war, beside the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm, which was in essence just a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun mounted on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull, the Germans did little to develop such vehicles. During the Invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht encountered tanks which they had trouble dealing with effectively (T-34 and KV series) and were forced to introduce a number of different hastily built and developed Panzerjäger based on any chassis that was available. From this, a series of vehicles generally known today as the ‘Marder’ (Marten) was created.
During Operation Barbarossa, the Panzer Divisions were once again spearheading the German advance, as in the previous year in the West. Initially, the lightly protected Soviet early tanks (like the BT series and the T-26) proved to be easy prey for the advancing German Panzers. However, the Panzer crews were shocked to discover that their guns were mostly ineffective against the armor of the newer T-34, the KV-1 and KV-2. German infantry units also discovered that their 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank towed guns were of little use against these. The stronger 5 cm PaK 38 towed anti-tank gun was only effective at shorter distances and it had not been produced in great numbers by that time. Luckily for the Germans, the new Soviets tanks were immature designs, plagued by inexperienced crews, a lack of spare parts, ammunition and poor operational use. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in slowing down and eventually stopping the German assault in late 1941. In North Africa, the Germans also faced increasing numbers of Matilda tanks which also proved to be hard to knock out.
The experience gained during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union raised a red alert in the highest German military circles. One possible solution to this problem was the introduction of the new Rheinmetall 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. It was first issued in very limited numbers at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942. It became the standard German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 guns being built. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it was its heavy weight, making it somewhat difficult to deploy and hard to manhandle.
The solution to this problem was to mount the PaK 40 on available tank chassis. These new Panzerjäger vehicles followed the same pattern: most were open-topped, with limited gun traverse, and thin armor. Notwithstanding these limitations, they were armed with an effective anti-tank gun, and usually with one machine gun. They were also cheap and easy to build. Panzerjägers were, in essence, improvised and temporary solutions, but effective ones nevertheless. Just as the name suggests (Panzerjäger means “tank hunter” in English), they were designed to engage enemy tanks at long ranges on open fields. Their primary mission was to engage enemy tanks and to act as fire support at long range from carefully selected combat positions, usually on the flanks. This mentality led to a series of such vehicles named Marder that was developed using many different armored vehicles as a basis.
The first series of Marder vehicles was based on captured French armored vehicles. The second series of the Marder II would be produced using the Panzer II tank chassis. The first steps in the Marder II development were undertaken by the Minister of Armament, Albert Speer. On 13th May 1942, he informed Adolf Hitler about the current state of Panzer II production and the possibility of using this tank for the purpose of an anti-tank modification. Hitler was generally interested in this modification and gave a green light for its implementation. Several days later, Speer, with the approval of Hitler, gave instructions to the OKH (German Army High Command) to modify a Panzer II Ausf.F by arming it with the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun (order 6772/42). There was also a second version of the Marder II development earlier in April, but this version was based on the Panzer Ausf.D chassis and armed with the captured Soviet 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) guns.
After a brief period of consideration, Wa Pruef 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) officials chose Rheinmetall-Borsig, Alkett and M.A.N for this task. Rheinmetall-Borsig was charged with adapting the main gun, Alkett with constructing and designing the main superstructure and M.A.N was responsible for modifying the Panzer II chassis. The prototype was to be built by mid-June 1942. On 20th June 1942, a prototype vehicle was presented to the OKH, which proved to be satisfactory and thus it was adopted for production.
The first German tank that was produced in great numbers was the Panzer I. As it was armed only with two machine guns and was lightly protected, its combat potential was quite limited. For these reasons, the Panzer II was developed to overcome the many shortcomings of the previous Panzer I model. Its main armament consisted of one 20 mm main gun and one machine gun. The maximum armor protection was initially only 14.5 mm, but it would be increased to 35 mm and even to 80 mm on later versions. It would be produced in several versions with some differences like armor thickness and different suspension, but the armament would remain mostly the same. While its own combat potential was not that great, it was nevertheless used in great numbers (some 1067 were ready in July 1941), as the Germans were still struggling to mass-produce the better Panzer III and IV. By 1942, due to attrition and obsolescence, Panzer II numbers began to dwindle and the surviving vehicles were allocated to be reused for other purposes, most notably for the Marder II and Wespe self-propelled gun.
During its service life, this self-propelled anti-tank gun was known under several different names. On 20th June 1942, it was known as the Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40. Sfl stands for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’, which can be translated as ‘self-propelled’. The next month, this was changed to 7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgest.Pz.Kpfw.II. In December 1942, this became 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 auf. Sfl.II. In July 1943, it was known as Panzerjäger II 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 (Sd.Kfz.131). The Marder II name, by which it is best known today, was actually Adolf Hitler’s personal suggestion made at the end of November 1943. In March 1944, the name was changed to Panz.Jaeger. II fuer 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 (Sd.Kfz. 131). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the Marder II designation.
For the production of the Marder II, FAMO (Fahrzeug und Motorenwerke GmbH) factories located in Breslau and Warsaw were chosen. According to Panzer-Programm II Plan 14 (dated from the 11th July 1942), the production of the Marder II would commence in July with 30 vehicles. This would then be followed up by 50 in August and September, 57 in October and November, 67 in December, January and February and the last 68 in March 1943. Actual production numbers were much different: 18 in July 1942, 50 in August, 55 in September, 59 in October, 62 in November, 83 in December, 80 in January 1943 and 45 in February. After this, the ‘Wespe’ self-propelled artillery version also based on the Panzer II chassis received a higher priority and was produced on the same lines. In addition, there was a decision to increase the production of Marder III vehicles based on the Panzer 38(t). For these reasons, the production of Marder II was delayed by a few months. Production resumed in May at a reduced pace with 46 being built and with the last 33 being completed in June 1943.
As the Panzer II was considered obsolete by 1942, the Škoda, FAMO and M.A.N companies were contracted to convert any available vehicle (even older versions) into the Marder II. The conversion could be relatively easily carried out by simply removing the Panzer II turret and superstructure. How many were actually built this way is hard to say. The first converted vehicles were not recorded in these registries, as these were included in the standard monthly production. It appears that, from June 1943 to January 1944, less than 68 Panzer IIs were thus converted.
Interestingly, a small number of Marder II were actually built by front units. In late September 1942, the 4th Panzer Division tried to convert three Panzer II into Marder II, but due to lack of main guns, it was not possible. The 12th Panzer Division had more luck and, in June 1943, it transferred 10 Panzer II to the Pz.Inst.Abt. 559 station in the area of Smolensk to be rebuilt in the Marder II configuration.
Some 531 new Marder II tank destroyers were produced, 68 were converted from older vehicles and at least 10 were field conversions. In total, according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjäger), some 609 Marder II were built by FAMO, M.A.N., Daimler-Benz and Škoda.
The number of 531 newly built Marder IIs is also supported by Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (Marder II, Militaria), but they state that 75 vehicles were converted. Other sources, like D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) or D. Doyle (German military Vehicles) mention that 576 new vehicles and 75 converted vehicles were built.
The suspension of the Marder II was visually the same as on the Panzer II. It consisted of five large 550 x 98x 455 mm road wheels (on each side) which had rubber rims. Above each wheel, on a rocker arm, a quarter elliptical leaf spring unit with a movable roller was placed. The added gun, ammunition, armor and other changes lead to an increase of weight from 9.5 to 11 tonnes. To successfully cope with this extra weight, the Panzer II suspension was additionally strengthened by widening the leaf springs above the wheels. In addition, vertical volute shock absorbers were added on the first, second, and last road wheels on each side. There was also a front drive sprocket (with a diameter of 755 mm), a rear positioned idler (650 mm diameter) and four return rollers (220 mm x 105 mm) on each side. The track had a width of 300 mm with a length of 2400 mm. The total track weight was 400 kg.
The Marder II engine and its positioning were the same as on the Panzer II Ausf.F. The Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cylinder water-cooled engine giving 140 [email protected] rpm was located in the rear of the vehicle’s hull. The driveshaft went from the engine through the right side of the crew compartment and was connected to the forward-mounted transmission system. The maximum speed with this engine was 40 km/h and the cross country speed was 20 km/h. The operational range was 190 km on good roads and 125 km cross country. The total fuel capacity for this vehicle was 170 liters stored in two fuel tanks (102 + 68). The Marder II crew compartment was separated from the engine by a 12 mm thick protective firewall.
The Marder II was built using Panzer II Ausf.F (with smaller numbers of older versions) chassis by simply removing the turret and most of the superstructure except for the driver’s compartment. On top of the driver’s compartment, a specially designed mount for the main gun was welded to the hull. Around the gun, an armored superstructure with a relatively simple design was added for the crew protection. These armored plates were slightly angled, but the armor thickness was quite low. The Marder II was an open-top vehicle and, for this reason, a canvas cover was provided to protect the crew from bad weather. Of course, this offered no real protection during combat. Due to the Panzer II’s relatively small size, the crew compartment was cramped. To avoid being hit by enemy fire, the crews were sometimes provided with movable periscopes for observation. Extra equipment like shovels, cables, and spare tracks were usually stored outside the superstructure. Additional storage wooden boxes were often added by the crew for extra equipment.
The armor thickness of the Marder II hull was relatively thin by the standards of 1942. The front hull armor was 35 mm, sides and rear were only 15 mm and the bottom was 10 mm thick. The driver’s front armor plate was 35 cm thick. The new superstructure was also only lightly protected, with a 10 mm thick front and side armor. The gun was protected by a standard armor shield which consisted of two 4 mm thick separated armored plates.
The main gun chosen for the Marder II was the standard 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 L/46. This gun, with its modified mount, was placed directly on the left side of the Panzer II hull. This was done in order to provide the loader with more working space. The elevation of the main gun was -8° to +10° and the traverse 32° to the left and 25° to the right. The total ammunition load consisted of 37 rounds placed in three ammunition bins located above the engine compartment. The largest, with 24 rounds, was placed on the left side. In the middle, there was space for 7 and the last 6 were in the right ammunition bin. In order to relieve the stress on the elevation and traverse mechanisms during long drives, two travel locks were added, one at the front to support the barrel and one in the crew compartment. Secondary armament consisted of one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun with 600 rounds of ammunition and one 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine gun.
The Marder II had a crew of three men, which consisted of the commander/gunner, loader and the driver/radio operator, according to the T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager). Other sources, for example W.J.K. Davies (Panzerjager, German anti-tank battalions of World War Two), give a number of four crew members. W. Oswald (Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer) also noted that the crew count was four. Author R. Hutchins (Tanks and Other Fighting Vehicles) mentions that the Marder II could have 3 or 4 crew members. The reason why authors state different numbers of crew members is not clear. To complicate matters further, photographs of the Marder II with both two and three crew members in the rear fighting compartment exist (besides the driver, who was in his own compartment at the front).
The driver’s position was unchanged from the original Panzer II. He was the only crew member that was fully protected. The driver was positioned on the vehicle hull’s left side. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a standard front vision port with two additional smaller ones on each side. The driver could close the visor in combat situations. In this case, he could use the small twin periscope (type K.F.F.2) for observation. This periscope was completely removed from January 1943 on.
Some vehicles were provided with a dummy front visor which was added right of the driver. Its purpose was to fool enemy gunners. The driver could enter his position from the crew compartment or through a small rectangular hatch door in front of him.
The driver was also the radio operator but, according to authors Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (Marder II, Militaria), this task was reassigned to the gunner during the war. The Marder II was provided with a transmitter and receiver radio set and, in addition, with an intercom set. The last but maybe the most important task of the driver was to manually release the forward travel lock. In an unexpected combat situation, this would mean that he had to expose himself to potential enemy fire. For driving at night, initially, two front-mounted headlights were used. Later in production, only one was kept. The commander, who was also the gunner if the crew was only composed of 3 soldiers, was positioned to the left of the main gun. To his right was the loader. The loader also operated the MG 34 used against enemy infantry and soft skin targets. The commander and the driver communicated by using an internal telephone.
Initially, the Marder II was used to equip smaller 9 vehicle-strong anti-tank companies (Panzerjäger Kompanie). These were divided into 3 vehicle-strong platoons (Zuge). By the end of 1942, the number of vehicles per company had increased by one more vehicle. The single added vehicle was used as a command unit (Gruppe Führer) which was also usually accompanied by a command vehicle based on an obsolete Panzer I. This was the case for normal companies attached to Infantry or Panzer Divisions.
In addition, independent army anti-tank battalions (Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen) were formed with 13 vehicles per company, which consisted of one command vehicle and three platoons with four vehicles each.
In June 1943, the anti-tank company’s size was increased to 14, with two vehicles given to the command platoon and four vehicles to each platoon. At the same time, the independent army anti-tank battalions received one more command vehicle and the overall strength was to reach 45 operational vehicles in theory. Of course, in reality, due to high demand, insufficient numbers built, and combat losses these numbers were never fully achieved. Due to increased losses and as more advanced anti-tank vehicles were introduced for service, the surviving Marder IIs were mostly allocated to Infantry and Grenadier Divisions in the later stages of the war.
Distribution to the Units
With the production of first Marder II, the OKH ordered the formation of the first anti-tank companies which were to be given to the 3rd, 9th, 13th and 24th Panzer Divisions during the period of July to August 1942. These plans would not materialize as planned and there were some delays in deliveries. Possibly due to lack of 7.5 cm armed Marder II, the 13th Panzer Division was instead supplied with six 7.62 cm armed Marder II vehicles based on Panzer II Ausf.D/E chassis. The 3rd Panzer Division received nine Marder II vehicles in August and three the following month. The 24th Panzer Division did not receive its promised Marder II vehicles until September.
Due to critical situations and high demand for effective anti-tank vehicles in mid-August 1942, a group of 72 Marder Is and IIs were allocated to the Heeresgruppe Mitte on the Eastern Front and distributed to various Infantry and Panzer Divisions. In October 1942, the OKH planned to increase the number of Marder IIs on the Eastern Front by creating four new 36-vehicle strong anti-tank battalions: the 521st, 559th, 611th and 670th. These units were to be formed by the end of 1942. The Soviet counteroffensive around Stalingrad stopped these plans. The Germans were forced to send all available Marder vehicles to reinforce as many SS and Panzer Divisions as possible. This decision meant that Marder II vehicles had to be sent in smaller numbers to equip as many units as possible, which diminished the effectiveness of the units equipped with them. For example, the SS Totenkopf Division had 9 Marder II, 6th Panzer Division had 10, 11th Panzer Division had 10, 17th Panzer Division had 6 and 20th Panzer Division had 13. Some Infantry Divisions were also supplied with Marder II vehicles, like the 206th, 306th and 336th.
During 1943, some fourteen Infantry and Panzer Divisions were supplied with Marder II vehicles, with numbers ranging from 1 to 14 per unit, some probably being reinforcements or replacements for lost vehicles. For example, just one Marder II was given to the 306th Infantry Division in June, 3 were given to the 17th Panzer Division and 14 to the 5th Panzer Division.
Interestingly, the 4th Panzer Division used 18 Marder IIs (out of their 27) to equip the 1st Abteilung of the 35th Panzer Regiment in February 1943. This was done due to a lack of Panzer IVs armed with the longer barreled gun. These Marder IIs would finally be replaced with Panzer IVs in May 1943.
A report made by the 4th Panzer Division’s 49th anti-tank battalion, based on the experience gained while serving on the Eastern Front, gives a good insight into the Marder II’s general performance.
The main gun was described as having good stability during firing and was capable of penetrating the T-34 hull and turret armor without a problem. There were cases of penetrating the T-34’s turret side armor at a range of 1200 m, along with another case of destroying an American-supplied Lee tank at the same range.
On the negative side, the average rate of fire was only 5 rounds per minute due to the large size of the ammunition and the rear-positioned storage bin. In addition, firing more than 5 rounds caused the accumulation of a smoke cloud in front of the vehicle. Additional problems were the poor quality of the muzzle brake assembly which usually became loose after only 8 to 10 shots. The ammunition load was also noted to be insufficient. In combat situations, this load could be quite quickly spent. In that case, due to a lack of ammunition vehicles, the Marder II had to return to the rear. The recoil during firing the gun would sometimes cause the internal or external spare parts to knock away and the large number of damaged periscopes meant that spare periscopes were in high demand. A huge problem was the lack of armored or even soft skin ammunition and supply carriers.
The armor was weak overall and provided the crew with minimal forward and side protection. The canvas cover was also noted to be of poor quality and was not efficiently protecting the crew and more importantly the onboard equipment (radio etc.) from the weather, which could lead to its malfunctioning. For operations on the Eastern Front, where the weather was quite harsh, this was an important point.
Radio equipment problems were also noted. The main reason for the malfunctions of the radio equipment was the breaking of the sensitive vacuum tubes and other parts due to the strong gun recoil or simply by moving on uneven terrain. The range of the onboard radios was also noted to be insufficient and the installation of the Fu 5 sets was more desirable.
The increase of weight caused some problems with the engine overheating. Another issue was the lack of spare parts for the leaf spring units. The problem with the inadequate command vehicles based on the Panzer I was also noted.
In combat, it was often a practice (albeit unpopular among the Marder II crews) for the local commander to ask for the Marder IIs to be dispersed and used piecemeal in support of the infantry. This tactic was dangerous for the vehicle, as the tank destroyers functioned best working together to destroy enemy vehicles and provide mutual cover. Providing close fire support for infantry was the job of the StuG vehicles which were designed for this role. When used in the infantry support role, the Marder II would stay behind in a well-selected position and provide long-range fire against enemy armor only. It was open-topped, with thin armor and any close engagement could easily lead to losses. The Marder II, despite having a range of 2000 m, could not be used as an artillery weapon due to the small ammunition load which could be quickly expended.
When enemy vehicles were spotted, a Panzerjäger Kompanie’s primary duty was to engage them with any available vehicle. Despite the fact that the 7.5 cm gun could destroy Soviet tanks at great ranges, shooting at distances greater than 1 km was generally to be avoided due to the reduced chance of hitting the enemy and the small ammunition loads. During an attack, the job of the Marder II was to support the Panzers with covering fire from the flanks. It was also a practice for Panzer units to attach a number of light tanks to the Marder II units to act as a defence against possible enemy infantry counter-attacks. In addition, during such operations, attaching infantry support to the Marder IIs was also noted to be important.
When supporting defensive operations, the report mentions that Marder II should not be used as a normal anti-tank gun in a static defensive position. The commander of each company was tasked, in this situation, to make a detailed scouting of the position and indicate the possible directions from which the enemy tanks were likely to attack from. Once these were identified, the Marder IIs were to be used as a mobile reserve. If this was not done by regulation and the Marder IIs were put in front in a static defensive position, there was a huge chance that the enemy would detect them and destroy them from range.
Use in Combat
Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the sources do not provide precise information about the Marder II during combat operations. While over six hundred were built, the majority would be used on the Eastern front, with smaller numbers on the remaining fronts. During the German attack in the Kursk area, the Marder II distribution was as followed: Heeres Gruppe A had 25 operational vehicles, Heeres Gruppe Sud had 113 operational with 4 in repair, Heeres Gruppe Mitte had 172 operational with 5 in repair, and Heeres Gruppe Nord had 74 operational vehicles. By the end of 1943, the number of operational Marder II was reduced for Heeres Gruppe A to 9 vehicles, Heeres Gruppe Sud to 76 with 43 operational, Heeres Gruppe Mitte to 81 with 62 operational, and Heeres Gruppe Nord had 30 operational vehicles.
Smaller number of vehicles also found their way to the Western Front, with 8 vehicles being positioned in Denmark, 15 in France and 20 in the Netherlands. Smaller numbers were also used in Italy and North Africa.
5 cm PaK 38 Marder II
Interestingly, beside the Marder II armed with the powerful 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, there was also a version armed with the weaker 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun. Sources disagree on whether this was a simple field conversion, a limited production series or a prototype vehicle. According to authors Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (Marder II, Militaria), a small series of 30 to 50 such vehicles was built in 1944. These vehicles were used on the Eastern Front. According to internet sources, only one field-built vehicle was made and used by Panzerjäger Abteilung 128 of the 23rd Panzer Division. Authors G. Parada, W. Styrna and S. Jablonski (Marder III, Kagero) note that the 5 cm armed version was built in small numbers due to the lack of stronger 7.5 cm guns.
Night Hunter Version
During 1943, at least one Marder II was used to test the Zielgeraet 1221 night vision equipment. This conversion and testing were carried out at the Army School at Fallingbostel. The night vision equipment consisted of one 500 W infrared reflector that illuminated possible targets with a beam of infrared radiation. The illuminated targets would then be observed by a ZG 1221 electro-optical converter. This system had an effective range of about 600 m. For the needed extra power, a GC 400 electric generator with a HS5F power supply unit was added. Whether this equipment was ever used in combat on a Marder II is unclear.
Hungarian Marder II
In June 1941, the Hungarians joined their German allies during the Invasion of the Soviet Union. By 1942, their armored formations were decimated by the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. The Hungarians mostly fielded 37 to 40 mm gun-armed tanks (Turan I and 38M Toldi), which were of limited utility against the Soviet medium and heavy tanks. To help their desperate allies, during late 1941 and early 1942, the Germans provided them with 102 Panzer 38(t) and a smaller number of Panzer IV vehicles. In December 1942, five Marder II vehicles were also supplied.
Today, there are four surviving Marder II vehicles, with one at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum, Fort Benning (USA), one in Kubinka (Russia) and one at the Arsenalen Tank Museum Strängnäs (Sweden). Another Marder II that was in the US was given to the German Auto und Technik Museum in Sinsheim in 1989. The Swedish Marder II was acquired from Denmark late 1945 for evaluation.
The Marder II tank destroyer was an attempt to solve the problem of the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns, but it failed in many other aspects. The low armor thickness meant that, while it could engage enemy tanks at range, any kind of return fire would likely mean the destruction of this vehicle. The small ammunition load was also problematic for its crew. Even so, while the Marder II vehicles were not perfect, they gave the Germans a means to increase the mobility of the effective PaK 40 anti-tank gun, thus giving them a chance to fight back against the numerous enemy armored formations.
The famous “Kohlenkau”, 3/Pz.jg.Abt.561, Geschützfuhrer Uffz. Helmuth Kohlke, Russia, February 1943.
Marder II Ausf.C, Afrika Korps, Tunisia, 1943.
Marder II from the Panzejäger Abteilung 50, 9th Panzerdivision, Russia, winter 1942-1943.
Marder II Ausf.F from the Pz.jg.Abt.40 attached to the 24th Panzerdivision, Russia, 1944.
Hungarian Marder II Ausf.F, late 1944.
These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet
Sd.Kfz. 131 specifications
6.36 x 2.28 x 2.2 meters (20,86 x 7.48 x 7.21 feet
Total weight, battle ready
11 tonnes (24250,8 lbs)
3 (Commander/Gunner, Loader and the Driver/Radio operator)
The Jagdtiger was the heaviest armored vehicle to see service in World War Two, yet paradoxically, the vehicle has remained somewhat enigmatic with confusion over its development, production and role. The design process started out with a demand for a heavy assault gun back in 1942 when the war was still in Germany’s favor and the army needed a heavily armored and armed vehicle to smash enemy fortifications. However, by the time the Jagdtiger, based on the Tiger II tank, came along two years later, the original need for the vehicle had vanished and it was put to work as a heavy tank destroyer instead. Despite its huge size, impressive armor and powerful main gun, the Jagdtiger failed to live up to expectations.
Tank Destroyer or Assault Gun
The majority of people looking at the Jagdtiger (English: ‘Hunting Tiger’) would conclude that the use of the vehicle, the ‘hunting’ part of its name and the shape of it would undoubtedly make it a tank destroyer. Nonetheless, it was actually originally conceived as an assault gun to support the infantry. The combination of heavy armor and a powerful cannon equally adept at penetrating enemy strong points, delivering high explosive, and defeating enemy armored vehicles was the priority, with the speed seen as less important. The range of fire of the Jagdtiger’s 12.8 cm gun could classify the vehicle as a self-propelled gun (indirect fire capability had been an original requirement but was subsequently dropped), and the confusion over name and role resulted in an argument within the German military over who controlled them. If the vehicle was designated as a Sturmgeschütz (Eng. Assault Gun), it would belong to the artillery but, if it was designated as a Panzerjäger (Eng. Tank Destroyer), it would belong to the tank destroyers. The StuG. argument was bolstered by Hitler and the Inspector-General of the Panzer Troops in late March 1944. On 13th July 1944, the squabble over the name was seemingly put to rest by Heinz Guderian, Chief of the Army General Staff (who was also the General of Artillery), when he listed the vehicle as “Panzerjäger with 12.8cm Pak. L/55 on Tiger II chassis” or ‘Jagdtiger’.
The Call For a 12.8 cm Gun
As far back as spring 1942, the German Army General Staff were requesting a 12.8 cm gun mounted on a self-propelled chassis as a ‘heavy assault gun’ capable of both supporting the infantry against armored targets (such as tanks and bunkers) as well as unarmored ones. By May 1942, Hitler was ordering a rifled anti-tank gun of that caliber and, in a letter from Wa Pruef 4 (German design office for artillery) to Friedrich Krupp of Essen on 2nd February 1943, the 12.8 cm Jagdpanzer concept was born. The letter set out the idea of mounting of a 12.8 cm Stu.K. (Sturm Kanone – Assault gun) on a modified Tiger H3. The ‘Tiger H3’ concerned was the Tiger II, which was not named as such until March 1943, following the abandonment of the the VK45.02(H) project, which was known at the time as Tiger II.
The requirements for the modifications meant moving the engine forwards on the chassis with the firm of Henschel und Sohn of Kassel responsible for that part of the project. The 12.8 cm gun in question was at the time intended to be taken, along with the gun gear such as brake and recuperator, completely unchanged from the Pz.Kpfw.VIII Maus – the 12.8 cm Kw.K. L/55 (Kw.K. – Kampfwagen Kanone – Fighting vehicle gun). Strong emphasis was also placed on the removal of the muzzle brake as this allowed the use of Treibspiegel (Sabot) shells for heavy anti-armor work. Developed by Krupp as the Treibspiegel-Geschoss mit H-Kern for the 12.8 cm gun on the Maus, these were high-velocity shells with a sub-calibre core made from an 8.8 cm Pz.Gr.40. Travelling at about 1,260 m/s, they were estimated to be able to penetrate 245 mm of armor at 30 degrees from 1,000 metres away. Although this shell was not developed to the point of service and issue for the Jagdtiger, the result was that the 12.8 cm gun could not have a muzzle brake for this would have adversely affected the sabot coming off the core as it left the barrel. Not using a brake, however, meant a lot more recoil energy needed to be dealt with on the mountings for the gun.
From Early Work to the Prototype
By the end of March 1943, the chassis destined for this 12.8 cm gun was going to be either from the Panther or Tiger II. A mockup was prepared on the hull of a Panther, but this was quickly discarded as being unsuitable. Drawings from Henschel for the alternative design on a Tiger II chassis were therefore to be ready by June 1943 and, initially, Dr. Erwin Aders (design lead at Henschel) was considering armor for the design to be up to 200 mm thick on the front and up to 100 mm on the sides, although this was to be subject to change in order to keep the weight to 70-tonnes or less.
Rival Tigerjäger Designs
On 12th April 1943, Henschel presented two designs for the vehicle which was being referred to as the Tigerjäger. The first design (Design A) disregarded the plan to move the engine to the front and kept the engine at the back, but even so, the hull still had to be lengthened by 300 mm. The frontal armor for this vehicle is described by Spielberger, Jentz, and Doyle (2007) as being 150 mm at 40 degrees and 200 mm thick on the 60 degree sloping part. The side armor had been reduced though, from the 100 mm desired in March to 80 mm in order to keep the weight down.
The width of the fighting compartment for the tank had been reduced too by 40 mm, as it would otherwise be too large to be shipped by rail. With an agreement on 14th April on the new design of the gun and the adoption of two-piece ammunition which simplified stowage, the whole gun and mounting could be moved 200 mm further back on the hull thus improving the center of gravity and taking off a lot of the load on the front wheels. Reducing the rail profile and keeping the heavy armor meant the movement of the gun was slightly restricted and reduced the depression available by 1 degree (from -8 to -7). A final modification was the lowering of the driver’s seat by 100 mm which lowered the plate over his head. This cover was designed to be a large plate encompassing both of the forward crew hatches (driver and radio operator) and was removable by a series of set-screws attaching it to the roof plate of the lower hull, allowing for the transmission to be removed. “This design choice was in response to lessons learned on the Tiger I and VK45.02(H) projects”. Neither of these had a removable cover and extracting the transmission for repairs involved first lifting the turret out of the hull! The Tiger II had a removable cover, though the turret had to be turned to allow full access. The cover did not solve the problems for this Tigerjäger design as even though there was no turret,the overhang of the gun prevented transmission removal; it therefore required the gun to be withdrawn from the casemate to do this task, no small job.
The second design (Design B) for a Tigerjäger followed the original requirement for the engine moved into the front but had significant drawbacks, not least that the vehicle was too large to ship by rail. The desired -8 gun depression could also not be achieved because with the engine and ancillaries in front of the casemate, it raised the hull roof. The gun would also have impeded maintenance of the engine whilst offering no substantial advantages over Design A. Design B, despite being the initial design demanded, was dropped. The Jagdtiger would follow the layout of Tigerjäger Design A.
The 12.8 cm Panzerjäger
By 5th May 1943, the vehicle, now being referred to as the ‘12.8 cm Panzerjäger’, was determined to weigh 75 tonnes. It was to have the field of motion for the 12.8 cm gun widened from 15 degrees each way to 18 degrees, but still wanting +15 to -8 for elevation. Based on the Tiger II, the armor was this new vehicle determined to be 200 mm thick on the front of the body, 80mm on the sides and back, and 30 mm on the roof. This roof thickness was an obvious compromise considering the Tiger I and Tiger II were to have 40 mm thick rooves to protect from plunging shell fire and aircraft attack. The 12.8 cm Panzerjäger dimensions were roughly fixed too: about 10 m long, 3.59 m wide and 3.47 m high. Fitted with the same 800 mm wide tracks as the Tiger II, this vehicle had a longer ground-contact length of 4.635 m resulting in a ground pressure of just 1.01 kg/cm2. Based upon these dimensions and the decided layout, a wooden mockup was ordered, although the design of the gun was not going to be finished by Krupp until 1st July 1943 and design changes were still taking place.
Henschel, to simplify production, had requested that the hulls be made separately to the casemate, but this was rejected as it made fire and waterproofing harder, and a rectangular hatch (700 mm x 600 mm) was added in the rear of the casemate for removal of the gun. The requirements set in May had slipped by June that year when Wa Pruef 6 agreed to allow just 10 degrees of traverse each side and -7.5 degrees of depression.
Around May 1943, Henschel had determined that as a result of design changes, the weight had been brought down to 70 tonnes complete (the hull alone weighing 43-tonnes) with 200 mm thick frontal armor, 80 mm on the sides and rear, and a casemate roof now 40 mm thick. Drawings for this vehicle were to be finished and submitted to Wa Pruef 6 by 15th June with the expectation that a prototype would be finished in December.
The wooden mockup of the vehicle referred to as the ‘12.8 cm Tiger-Jaeger’ was ready in September, as it was inspected on 28th September by Colonel Crohn (Wa Pruef 6) and Major Weiche (Inspector-General Armoured Troops), who recommended the elimination of aiming spot lamps, firing ports and the gunner’s hatch. Other changes included the enlargement of the commander’s hatch and rearrangement of the periscopes. The relatively small changes to the roof were added to a decision to increase the upper front plate from 200 mm to 250 mm and to make the hull roof 40 mm thick.
The amended and full-size wooden mockup was then shown off to Hitler on 20th October 1943 at the troop training centre at Ayrs, East Prussia, identified as ‘heavy Panzerjäger with 12.8 cm L/55 on Tiger II chassis.’
Production was approved for this 12.8 cm Panzerjäger and the first production vehicle was ready on 6th April 1944.
Layout and Crew
Having considered both the Panther and Tiger hulls for the mount for the 12.8 cm gun, the vehicle selected for use was the Tiger II which was, at the time, still on the drawing board at Henschel. In order to fit the gun onto the chassis of the Tiger II, the chassis had to be lengthened by 260 mm and on top of this hull was placed a large flat-sided casmate for housing the main gun and four of the crew. The engine remained at the back and the transmission at the front, as on the Tiger II, and the hull crew positions were also retained. Inside this giant casemate would fit the no-less enormous 12.8 cm gun breech. In essence, this was the layout of the Jagdtiger, a box with a gun in the front of it sat on top of a Tiger II chassis.
The Jagdtiger had a crew of six men. The crew in the hull retained their role and positions from the Tiger II, with the driver located in the front left and the radio operator in the front right. This radio operator also had control over the secondary armament, a machine gun located in a mount in the glacis to his front. In the casemate were the remaining 4 crew. This crew consisted of a commander (front right), the gunner (front left), and two loaders located in the rear of the casemate. By 1945, with severe pressures on training caused by the war, some tank crews were even sent directly to the Nibelungen works to help with the production of the tanks they were to crew, both as a means to help familiarise them with the vehicles but also to help with production.
Just as with Henschel, where the bodies of the Tiger and Tiger II were made by Krupp and then shipped to them for finishing and fitting into a fighting tank, the same is true of the Jagdtiger. The Nibelungen works did the construction, fitting, and assembly of components including the gun, but the basic armored hull was made at a different site, namely the Eisenwerke Oberdonau (Oberdonau Iron Works) in Linz, modern-day Austria.
The first prototype vehicle was assembled in Workshop VIII at the Nibelungen plant in Autumn 1943 but was fitted with a trial superstructure, Porsche suspension, and no armament. The hole in the glacis for the machine gun mount was blanked off and the vehicle was used for running trials. The second prototype was not finished until the new year and both prototypes (305001 with Porsche suspension and 305002 with Henschel suspension) were then delivered to the Army Ordnance Office for testing in February 1944.
Despite the delivery of 15 hulls from Eisenwerke Oberdonau in April, 12 more in May, and 10 more in June 1944, production of further vehicles did not begin until June 1944, with just a single vehicle complete as production problems, including the preparation of machinery and rails inside the plant, were being resolved. Firstly, the Nibelungen works had to make changes to the production line in order to accomodate the fact that after the first batch of vehicles (10)* fitted with Porsche suspension had been finished, all future vehicles were going to have Henschel suspension. That was not the only production issue either. Eisenwerke Oberdonau had some production problems of their own which then caused knock-on problems for the Nibelungen works, not least of which affected quality. Vehicle 3005005, a Porsche suspension Jagdtiger, had such defects with the construction of the armor at the front that it was unfit for service and relegated to homeland use. The protracted development of the gun and mount had caused problems too which now became apparent. The Nibelungen works had to grind off up to 40 mm of steel from the inside walls of the casemate in places to allow the gun to traverse fully, and the cradle for the gun was a problem too. It was being made larger than it was designed to be and thus fouling on the front plate. This meant it had to be moved forward slightly with the outcome that it now fouled on the hull roof, restricting depression to just 6.5 degrees. With little option but to approve this 0.5 degree loss of depression, Wa Pruef 6 agreed to the changes but wanted them fixed as production went forward.
*Including the prototype this means 11 Jagdtigers were built with Porsche suspension: chassis numbers 305001, 305003-305012
Other changes of a minor nature were made internally to the gun elevation mechanism, gun bridge, ammunition racks, and gunner’s seat. Externally, throughout production only five things were changed of consequence: the omission of sheet-metal shields over the exhausts (July 1944); the addition of a barrel brace (gun crutch) (August 1944); the addition of Zimmerit (from September 1944); the fitting of external hooks on the casemate sides for spare track links (December 1944); and the addition of ‘mushrooms’ (Pilzen) on the upper edges of the side and rear plates which were mountings for attaching a small crane.
Following a 12th October 1944 discussion with Hitler, it was planned to produce just 150 of these vehicles after which production would be switched over to the Panther. The planned 150 was broken down to an estimated rate of 30 Jagdtigers per month, a figure based on the availability of the 12.8 cm gun barrels, although 50 vehicles per month were demanded of the plant at Nibelungen which was building them.
Thirty guns a month would mean a complete production run of 5 months, and fifty vehicles a month would have reduced this to just 3 months worth of production. By 25th October 1944, with delays in the production of the Jagdtiger not meeting the numbers demanded, Hitler ordered that 53 12.8 cm anti tank guns from the Jagdtiger program should be mounted on captured Russian or French carriages to fulfill the needs of the army in the short-term.
The original order for 150 Jagdtigers was increased on 3rd January 1945 by Hitler, who demanded the continuation of production even though the production of the 12.8 cm gun barrels was a significant bottleneck in production. By the end of 1944, just 49 Jagdtigers plus the two prototypes had been finished, well behind the original schedule. Production was therefore scheduled to run through April 1945 with another 100 Jagdtigers planned, after which production would switch to the Tiger II instead. The Jagdtiger was not to be terminated however; production would simply switch to the firm of Jung in Jungenthal instead, with the first 5 planned to be ready in May 1945, 15 in June, and then 25 per month through to the end of the year.
On 25th February 1945, ‘extreme measures’ were ordered by Hitler to increase production of the Jagdtiger, which included the temporary expedient of fitting an 8.8 cm gun (the 8.8 cm KwK. Pak. 43/3) in lieu of the 12.8 cm piece if there were insufficient 12.8 cm guns available. During this period, by way of context, production of the Tiger II which had started in September 1943 was supposed to be reaching 50 vehicles a month from April through June 1944 (150 vehicles), but only 53 vehicles were completed during that period. By February 1945, when the ‘extreme measures’ were ordered to produce the Jagdtiger, production of the Tiger II was supposed to be 150 units a month but had only managed 42.
Neither the rate of 30 per month (gun production) or 50 per month (vehicle production) were ever actually met, with monthly production in the region of 20 or fewer each month due to shortages of materials and labor combined with the effects of Allied bombing.
By the end of February 1945, just 74 vehicles (chassis number 305001 to 305075*) were completed. Along with the original prototype vehicle, this meant that production reached just 50% of the original requirement.
The official production number of Jagdtigers is usually quoted as running from serial number 305001 to 305075, meaning a total production of 74 vehicles. Chamberlain and Doyle (1997), state that chassis numbers went from 305001 to 305077 which would mean 76 vehicles. Winninger (2013) provides a production table from the factory showing serial 305075 was a March production serial number and that March production was to run from 305075 to 305081, with seven vehicles listed as delivered. April production lists serial number 305082 to 305088, another 7 vehicles, and then 305089 to 305098 (10 vehicles), with just 3 delivered. Some of these were supposed to be fitted with the 8.8 cm gun under Sonderkraftfahrzeug number Sd.Kfz.185 and some were built but not accepted, meaning the exact number of 12.8 cm armed Jagdtiger produced cannot be accurately determined.
The Jagdtiger, as can be expected of an assault gun, had the bulk of its armor at the front, with armor 250 mm thick on the front of the casemate, 150 mm thick on the glacis, and 100 mm thick on the lower front. The forward part of the hull had a 50 mm thick roof, although the rest of the roof over the casemate and engine deck was 40 mm thick. Of note here is that the roof of the casemate was not welded into place like the roof of the Tiger or Tiger II, but was actually bolted onto the superstructure.
The lower hull sides were 80 mm thick and so were the upper hull sides, but these were also sloped inwards at 25 degrees affording the crew inside a good deal of protection from enemy fire as long as they remained facing the enemy or at an oblique angle.
Even the rear of the Jagdtiger had 80 mm thick plates including the pair of large gas-tight doors at the back. The thinnest parts of the armor were under the sponsons over the tracks which were just 25 mm thick, and under the engine which was also 25 mm thick. The forward part of the lower hull was 40 mm thick providing good protection for the crew from mines. One final note on the armor is that was it not face-hardened, but rolled homogenous plate.
Gun, Ammunition, and Performance
In February 1943, the letter from Wa Pruef 4 made it clear that the 12.8 cm gun for the vehicle was to be the same type as the one for the Pz.Kpfw. Maus: a 12.8 cm Kw.K. L/55 with the same gun gear and no muzzle brake. The elevation limits demanded were +15 to -8 degrees with a traversing field of 15 degrees each side. A design of this 12.8 cm gun was therefore requested to be ready by 10th March 1943, and after Krupp handed in the design for the 12.8 cm Stu.K on 28th April 1943, Henschel submitted its own FK-based design which moved the pivot point of the gun 120 mm further back. This moving of the gun’s pivot point allowed a depression of -7.5 degrees to where the gun met the roof, which despite a desire to lower it by 100 mm, could only be lowered by 50 mm instead.
Alone, this gun weighed 5,500 kg, with the cradle adding a further 1,000 kg. The reason for the delay in designing the mounting seems to stem from these issues over gun balance, as the designers at Henschel wanted the gun mounted further back in order to improve weight distribution,and as a result, a model of the gun was not ready from Krupp until 1st July that year. Development of the 12.8 cm gun though was slow, and the first 12.8 cm gun was not ready until the middle of August 1944. When first shown, the gun was mounted on a captured Soviet 152 mm M37 433(r) mount and later on a captured French 155 mm GBF-T cannon 419(f). It should be borne in mind too that the gun was not specifically designed for the Jagdtiger, the firm of Krupp had originally started developing this gun before the Jagdtiger was even planned.
On 15th May 1942 Hitler had expanded development of a 12.8 cm gun to include Rheinmetall-Borsig of Düsseldorf, and Skoda-Werke Pilsen and Aktiengesellschaft (A.G.) to assist Krupp in order to get the gun into production as soon as possible.
First firing trials of a 12.8 cm gun with Armor Piercing ammunition took place at Meppen in October 1943.
Even with their assistance, the work was slow. Rheinmetall’s design for the 12.8 cm gun reached the stage of several prototypes but was not approved, while the design from Skoda-Werke never left the drawing board. As such, only the Krupp 12.8 cm gun (made by Krupp at the Bertawerke in Breslau and at the Krupp plant in Essen) was ever mounted in the Jagdtiger and only about 160 of these guns were ever made.
Despite some commentary on the internet to the contrary, this 12.8 cm had nothing to do with the entirely different 12.8 cm Flak 40 anti-aircraft gun which ended up being mounted on the two VK30.01(H) Tiger chassis, popularly know as Sturer Emil. What is more, the antiaircraft 12.8 cm was a two-piece barrel design, whereas the Pak. 12.8 cm was a single-piece barrel. Moreover, the ammunition for the anti-aircraft gun was unitary, whereas on this 12.8 cm it was to be a two-piece design to save internal space.
Once finished, this new Krupp gun was designated the 12.8 cm Pak. 44 L/55 (Pak – Panzerabwehrkanone) and later redesignated as the 12.8 cm Pak. 80. This gun was big and heavy; the barrel alone weighed 2.2 tonnes and was 7.02 metres long (rifling extended for 6.61 m of this) meaning that two barrel supports were needed for when the vehicle was travelling, one on the front glacis of the tank and a second internally within the casemate.
Despite the delay in development and delivery of this gun, Colonel Crohn wrote to Krupp on 24th September 1943 suggesting an improvement to the firepower before the first 12.8 cm L/55 was even finished. This new gun suggested was a 12.8 cm Kw.K. L/70 which could fit into the original and unmodified Krupp-mount for the L/55. Krupp replied to that idea on 21st October 1943, stating that it had completed a drawing of this plan and that with the 12.8 cm L/70 fitted, the centre-of-gravity of the vehicle was seriously affected, making it significantly nose-heavy and causing the gun to overhang the front by about 4.9 m. The solution offered by Krupp to this problem was to suggest an alternative scheme with the casemate moved once more to the rear with the engine-forwards, just like the Tigerjäger Design B. The idea for this longer 12.8 cm gun was then discontinued and the focus returned to the 12.8 cm L/55 instead.
The ‘extreme measures’ ordered by Hitler on 25th February 1945 to increase Jagdtiger production had included the possibility of substituting an 8.8 cm gun in lieu of the 12.8 cm piece to increase the speed of production. The fitting, or otherwise of this gun has been subject to a lot of confusion but it never entered service and in the end, these measures proved unproductive.
The original specifications called for a gun with a range of up to 21 km but a weight of less than 6.5 tonnes. This requirement would indicate that the gun for the Jagdtiger (an assault gun) was for use as artillery indirect-fire as much as it was for direct-fire. Traverse for the gun was limited to 10 degrees left and 10 degrees right with elevation ranging from -7 to +10 degrees. Direct-fire sighting from the telescopes ranged the gun for targets up to 4 km for the Panzergranate 43 Armor Piercing High Explosive (APCBC-HE) shell and 8 km for the Sp.Gr. L/50 high explosive shell.
Despite the original consideration of a special high-velocity anti-armor shell with a sub-caliber core, no such shell was deployed on the Jagdtiger. These shells known as Treibspiegel-Geschoss mit H-Kern used the 8.8 cm Pz.Gr.40 as the armor piercing core of the shell and were being developed for the Maus program at the time the gun was selected for modification into the Jagdtiger program. With the arrival of the Pz.Gr.43 and the significant increase it brought in terms of penetrating armor, the experimental and expensive idea for these sub-calibre rounds was effectively redundant. They have been included in the following table for the purposes of reference only.
Looking at the performance data from the various sources for the performance of the Pz.Gr.39 and Pz.Gr.43 provides a great deal of confusion, and not just in modern scholarship. A British intelligence report from 1944 quoting figures from a captured German document provided identical performance for the Pz.Gr.43 to that usually quoted in modern literature for the Pz.Gr.39. Contemporary documents from Germany also show a Pz.Gr.39 as Capped (APC) and not Ballistic Capped (APCBC) with those figures. What is unusual about the British intelligence document is that it quotes both the Pz.39 and the Pz.Gr.43 together, whereas other sources usually reference just the Pz.Gr.39 and omit Pz.Gr.43 performance. The question therefore is which is right and which is wrong. A table (below) is provided for comparison.
Secondary armament for the Jagdtiger consisted of a single MG.34 mounted in the front-right of the hull. For this machine gun, 1,500 rounds of ammunition were carried.
The huge gun left little space for ammunition stowage. Ammunition was stored in the floor and side walls of the casemate and, even using two-piece ammunition, the Jagdtiger could carry just 40 rounds of ammunition. It is not known how many 8.8 cm rounds could have been carried for the vehicles (if any) which were fitted with that caliber gun, although it may not have been many more, as the 8.8 cm ammunition was single piece, which would have made stowage harder and less efficient. One final note on 12.8 cm armament is that at some point another gun between the 12.8 cm L/55 and the L/70 was contemplated. This was also a 12.8 cm gun but had a barrel length of L/66. It was not just the gun which changed either; the entire structure was lower by about 20 cm because of adjustments to the mounts for the gun. With the L/66, the gun projected 4.4 m from the front of the tank but still provided an elevation range of +15 to -7.5.
Sadly there is no information about this proposed modification, but based on the discussion over improving the performance of the L/55, it would likely date to the end of 1943, although some unverified information suggests it was considered as late as November 1944. One additional feature other than the gun and lower casemate is the large box-structure at the back over the engine deck. Unfortunately only this side view is available, so the shape of this box is debatable. From the drawing, it does appear that the engine deck may be slightly shorter than on the production Jagdtiger, although this may simply be a mistake on the drawing as the dimensions are primarily concerned with the front end and not the back.
There is no point in having either a large gun or an effective shell if you cannot get the gun on target and get the shell to hit said target, and with a rate of fire of just 3 rounds per minute, the Jagdtiger was significantly slower to fire than other tanks, meaning it was all the more important that what was fired hit the target. One problem was the lack of a turret, which hindered all-round observation, and as a result, the Jagdtiger was fitted with a rotating hatch for the commander on the front right of the casemate with a periscope integrated into it. In front of this periscope was a rectangular flap within the hatch which could be opened separately. Through that hatch-within-a-hatch, the commander could insert a stereoscopic rangefinder. The commander was also provided with a single fixed periscope facing to the right.
The gunner of the Jagdtiger, who was sat in the front left, did not have a roof hatch, but instead, had a large curved sliding cover through which a Winkelzielfernrohr (WZF) 2/1 10x magnification aiming telescope projected out. Behind this cover, on the roof, was a further periscope in a rotating mount and two more fixed periscopes pointed diagonally backwards from the rear corner at each side of the casemate.
In February 1943, it was decided that optics for the main gun were to consist of an Sfl.Z.F.5 and Rbl.F36 sight for both direct and indirect fire. Using the WZF 2/1 angled periscope, the vehicle could deliver accurate fire out to 4km with the Pz.Gr.43 and 8km with the Spr.Gr. L/5.0, although the original plan for indirect fire had been dropped along the way. The Jagdtiger was now just a direct-fire vehicle. Production vehicles were fitted with the Sfl.14Z and WZF 217 sights for the primary armament. Test firings of the 12.8cm gun showed the accuracy to be excellent with the Pz.Gr.43 achieving hits within 50% of the width and height of the target between 46cm and 86cm of the centre at 1000m, and between 90 cm and 118 cm at 2000 m. This was slightly worse for the standard AP shell with an accuracy of 128 cm to 134 cm of the centre of the target at 2000 m.
Other than extending the hull, the suspension and running gear of the Jagdtiger was essentially unchanged from the Tiger II. It consisted of full width torsion bars for each of the nine wheel stations fitted with 800 mm diameter steel wheels running over 80 mm wide tracks with 95 links per side and a ground clearance of 460 mm.
One curiosity for many is that two early Jagdtigers (hulls 1 and 4) were fitted with the Porsche running gear from the Elefant for the purposes of evaluation after Dr. Porsche had convinced Hitler of the benefits of his suspension in January 1944. Consisting of four wheel-units made from a pair of 700 mm diameter steel road wheels on each side, the Porsche system offered a production advantage over the Henschel running gear. Porsche promised than it took a third less time to produce than Henschel’s system, reduced the hull construction time as well as machining time, required less maintenance, and could actually be completely replaced in the field without removing other parts and without the use of a jack.
Despite the use of Porsche suspension, the system still used torsion bars – 1,077 mm long bars – but these were mounted longitudinally rather than transversely across the hull, and had pairs of wheels connected on a bogie attached to the bar. This reduced the number of bars to just 4 with two pairs of wheels on each bar, and in so doing, saved about 1,200 kg in weight, 450 man-hours of work time, gained 100 mm more ground clearance, and saved RM 404,000 (Reichsmarks) in cost. Much more importantly though, the use of this suspension freed up space inside the vehicle, an entire cubic metre extra in fact.
However, this Porsche system was not adopted and only ten of the chassis were ever fitted with this system. The promise it held for improvements were simply not borne out by trials held in May 1944, and it failed to live up to the desired performance. In particular, it resulted in a lot of shaking on a hard road when driven at 14-15 km/h. Initially, this was blamed on the Type Gg 24/800/300 tracks, and as a result, these were switched for the Type Kgs 64/640/130 tracks from the Elefant, but to no avail. With testing behind it having proven unsuccessful, the Porsche system was abandoned and the Henschel system was retained instead. As a result, by September 1944, only production of the Henschel suspension Jagdtigers was underway.
The transmission for the Jagdtiger was the same standard gearbox as on the Tiger II, a Maybach eight-speed OLVAR OG40-1216B (made by Adlerwerke of Frankfurt and Zahnradfabrik of Friedrichshafen) connected to the same Maybach HL 230 P30 TRM as fitted to the Tiger II and Panther. This engine was simply underpowered for a vehicle of the bulk of the Tiger II, let alone this even heavier Jagdtiger. One option which was still at the planning stage by the end of the war was the replacement of that Maybach engine with a 16-cylinder X engine made by Simmering-Pauker.
Delivering up to 800 horsepower*, this 36.5 litre* engine would have provided a significant performance boost for the Jagdtiger, and for that matter, potentially for the Tiger II and Panther as well. The engine had the added advantage that it was more compact than the HL230 and well suited to the tight confines of a tank’s engine bay. The most noticeable change adding this engine to the Jagdtiger would have made would have been seen at the back with the exhaust near to the top of the back plate. The engine was never fitted and how far along plans were to incorporate it into production is unknown.
*some sources provide data for the X16 engine as 36.5 litre producing up to 760 hp and there is also an 18 cylinder version although data on both is often contradictory.
From the end of 1944 onwards, the exteriors of Jagdtigers produced at Nibelungen were painted in a red anti-corrosion primer which was then painted over in varying quality with dark yellow and green. The interiors which had previously been painted an ivory colour were left in the red primer colour instead to save time. Camouflage was left to units to apply in the field once they had received their vehicles.
The first user of the Jagdtiger was supposed to be 3rd Company Panzerjäger Training Abteilung 130, which was scheduled to receive 14 vehicles in March 1944, with two assigned to company staff and the three platoons receiving four each. Due to delays in production, that plan did not materialize and instead, the first user became Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653 (s.Pz. Jg.Abt. 653), which had previously been operating the Elefant. By the end of November 1944, this unit had received 16 Jagdtigers.
1st Company s.Pz.Jg.Abt.653 took 14 Jagdtigers to the Western Front in December 1944 for the planned offensive in the Ardennes. Back on 3rd November 1944, these 14 Jagdtigers had been earmarked to form part of 3rd Company s.SS.Pz.Abt.501, but this was revoked by Hitler the next day. As it was, the 14 Jagdtigers were sent, but due to rail transportation issues resulting from Allied bombing, only 6 Jagdtigers managed to get to a staging area behind the lines at Blankenheim and took no part in the offensive. On 23rd December 1944, they were withdrawn as the entire s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 was being redeployed in order to take part in Operation Nordwind (Eng: Northwind).
On New Years Eve 1944, three Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 under the command of Commander Major Fromme and subordinated to the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division ‘Gotz von Berlichingen’, 1st Army of Army Group G, took part in the operation. This unit saw sporadic action against American forces in the Schwenningen-Chiemsee area of Southern Germany but the successes were minor and after just a few days the unit was disbanded. At around this time, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 had a listed strength of just six Jagdtigers on 4th January 1945. By 9th January 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 was down to just two Jagdtigers in operational condition in the area of Boppard, where there was a repair depot, albeit without cranes. Of note on maintenance is that in the period from 30th December 1944 to 26th April 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 had a peak of 41 Jagdtigers with a peak operational readiness of 38 out of 41 on 15th March 1945 and its lowest operational readiness on 22nd March with just 2 out of 33 Jagdtigers operational.
Two Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 took part in combat near to an enemy bunker line adjacent to the German town of Auenheim on 17th January 1945. Attached to XIV SS Army Corps, they were used for fire support for an infantry attack. The next day, they were in action again against American forces and the German report on their action showed that their accuracy at 1,000 m against the enemy bunker was excellent, and after just two shots, the armored cupola of the bunker was burning. When the Americans counterattacked with tanks, one Sherman was hit and knocked out by means of a high explosive shell. In total, these two Jagdtigers fired 56 shells (46 HE and 10 Anti-tank) and suffered no losses to enemy fire. The unit did lose at least one Jagdtiger in this period though; it was later captured by US forces after having been abandoned in working order.
On 5th February 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 had 22 Jagdtigers ready for action and a further 19 under repair when it supported the left flank of First Army of Army Group G in action in the region of the Drusenheimer Forest near to the French/German border. Whatever tactical successes the unit may have had however were at odds with the totally hopeless strategic position, and on 5th May 1945, the remaining Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 surrendered to Allied forces near Amstetten, where Soviet and American forces had met. One Jagdtiger surrendered here was subsequently taken back to the Soviet Union and remains in the collection at Kubinka.
The other user of the Jagdtiger was s.Pz.Abt.512, formed 11th February 1945 at Paderborn from the remnants of s.Pz.Abt.424 (formerly s.Pz.Abt.501) and with troops from s.Pz.Abt.511. Forty-two Jagdtigers were destined for this unit consisting of 10 for each of three companies (30), one for each of the company commanders (3), and one for each platoon commander (9), and it was expected to be fully operational by the beginning of March 1945.
1st company s.Pzj. Abt. 512 under the command of Oberleutnant Ernst had only half its nominal complement of 12 Jagdtigers when it engaged US forces at the Remagen bridgehead. These six tanks first retreated to the area of Siegen and then on through the Ludenscheid-Hagen area to the Ergste region, and then once more to relieve German forces at Unna.
2nd Company, under the Command of Oberleutnant Carius, was shipped by rail to the area of Siegburg where it fought alongside LIII Panzer Corps. Two vehicles were lost and 2nd Company retreated along the Sieg when two more were lost to enemy air attacks. There were two further losses in combat around Siegen and Weidenau to mechanical failure.
On 11th April 1945, 2nd Company, which had only been cleared for combat on 30th March, was involved in the defence of Unna against the 1st and 9th US Armies advancing on Paderborn. The five Jagdtigers of the unit stood no chance of halting the American advance. 2nd Company was at a strength of just 7 Jagdtigers by the time of its surrender on 15th April. The 1st and 3rd Companies of s.Pzj. Abt. 512 fared no better and surrendered on 16th April at Iserlohn. In its short existence the unit had achieved relatively little, although 1st Company was credited with the destruction of 16 enemy tanks in the region south of Unna alone, meaning in one way that these vehicles were eclipsing their Allied rivals, albeit too little and far too late for Germany.
Nine Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt.512 remained in Austria though and were put to use by the 6th SS Panzer Army. On 9th May 1945, they engaged Soviet tank forces and destroyed several enemy tanks before they abandoned their last two serviceable vehicles and retreated towards the Americans to surrender to them rather than the Soviets. An unknown number of Jagdtigers were also used in the region of the Harz Mountains at the end of the war.
The fate of many Jagdtigers was simply to be abandoned or blown up by their own crews. Maintenance was a huge issue as the already overstressed components intended for the Tiger II were stretched yet further with the additional 10 tonnes from this vehicle. A lack of spare parts, a lack of maintenance equipment such a heavy recovery vehicles, cranes, and specialist tools combined with inexperienced crews (especially drivers) meant that the Jagdtiger never reached its potential on the battlefield. The value of the vehicle is also questionable. Big, heavy, and labor intensive, the Jagdtiger cost the equivalent of two Panzer IVs to construct and on the battlefield they failed to provide a return on this enormous investment worthy of their cost. The consideration of bigger guns like the L/70 when the L/55 was sufficient for the work at hand, the changing between suspension types at the start of production, and the rush to get the Jagdtiger into service stand in contrast to what it achieved. The largest and heaviest tank to see service in WW2 simply failed to perform. The expectations placed upon it as some kind of panacea to fundamental failings in German military strategy, where bigger and heavier tanks with bigger and more powerful guns could stem the tide of Allied armor attacking Germany from both sides, were misplaced. Worse still, the resources it consumed were actually counterproductive to Germany’s war aims. Nonetheless, the Jagdtiger remains a powerful symbol of both the technical advances and also the limits on German industry in a wartime economy.
Jagdtiger #305004 fitted with Porsche suspension – The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Jagdtiger #305020 fitted with Henschel suspension – Fort Benning, Georgia, USA
Jagdtiger #305083 fitted with Henschel suspension – Kubinka Tank Museum, Kubinka
Jagdtiger in a ‘Dunkelgelb’ scheme.
Jagdtiger in a 3-tone camoflauge scheme
Jagdtiger 331 of 3rd Kompanie, Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, Germany, March 1945
Jagdtiger 102, Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, Germany, March 1945
These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
The third issue covers WW1 armored vehicles — Hotchkiss Htk46 and Schneider CA and CD in Italian Service. WW2 section contains two splendid stories of the US and German ‘Heavy Armor’ — T29 Heavy Tank and Jagdtiger.
Our Archive section covers the history of early requirements for the Soviet heavy (large) tank. Worth mentioning, that the article is based on documents never published before.
It also contains a modeling article on how to create a terrain for diorama. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of Northrop’s Early LRI Contenders — N-126 Delta Scorpion, N-144 and N-149!
All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you! Buy this magazine on Payhip!
Nazi Germany (1943)
Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun – 750-800 built
During the war, the German Army faced increasing numbers of enemy tanks. As the German industry lacked the capacity to produce large quantities of tanks, another solution was urgently needed. The most obvious solution was to produce anti-tank destroyers which were cheaper, easier to conceal, and could carry larger guns. The German already had the excellent StuG III, which managed to destroy enemy vehicles in the thousands. But, in 1943, work began on a new vehicle based on the Panzer IV tank chassis, later known as Jagpanzer IV.
First Jagdpanzer Designs
Even before the war, the famous German commander General Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as ‘Panzerjäger’ or ‘Jagdpanzer’ (tank destroyer or hunter). The terms ‘Jagdpanzer’ and ‘Panzerjäger’ were, according to Germany military terminology and concepts, essentially one and the same. After the war, however, the ‘Jagdpanzer’ term would be used to describe the fully enclosed tank destroyers, while ‘Panzerjäger’ would be used for the open-topped vehicles.
In March of 1940, the first attempt to build such a vehicle was made. This was the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I, generally known today as the ‘Panzerjäger I’. It was more or less a simple improvisation, made by using a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull and mounting a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun (a captured Czechoslavkian 4.7 cm gun – hence the ‘t’ for ‘Tschechoslowakei’ after the name) with a small protective shield fitted to it. Later, during the attack on the Soviet Union and the battles in North Africa, the need for effective anti-tank vehicles became of greater importance for the Germans. The appearance of the towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 in increasing numbers somewhat solved this problem, but the main issue with this gun was its lack of mobility.
The need for mobile anti-tank vehicles would lead to the development of the ‘Marder’ series, which was based on several different tank chassis and armed with powerful and efficient anti-tank guns. Captured tanks and other vehicles were also reused for this purpose. In 1944, the Nashorn, armed with the excellent 88 mm Pak 43, was put into production. However, most of these types of vehicles were hastily designed and built and, while they did the job, they were far from perfect.
These vehicles were built by using different tank chassis and installing a gun with limited traverse in an open-topped superstructure. The two main issues were the great height, which made them difficult to camouflage, and the general lack of effective armor.
The German infantry support self-propelled assault gun, the Sturmgeschütz, or simply ‘StuG’ (based on the Panzer III), proved to have great potential when used as a tank hunter. It had relatively good armor, a low profile, and could be armed with the longer barrelled L/48 7.5 cm gun. The mass-produced StuG III Ausf.G armed with the longer 7.5 cm gun (L/48) was able to efficiently fight almost all Allied tanks (except for the heaviest) up to the end of the war. The StuG vehicles were also much easier, quicker, and cheaper to build than their tank equivalent.
In 1942, the first plans to equip the StuG with a stronger gun and armor were made. These would eventually lead to the development of a series of three different Jagdpanzer designs based on the Panzer IV tank chassis. Despite the initials plans to equip the first Jagdpanzer IV with the longer 7.5 cm L/70 gun, due to insufficient stocks, the 7.5 cm gun L/48 had to be used instead and thus the Jagdpanzer IV was created.
The story of the Jagpanzer IV began in September 1942, when the Waffenamt issued a request for the development of a new design of Sturmgeschütz – the ‘Sturmgeschütze neue Art’ (Stu.Gesch.n.A.) series. The new vehicle was to be armed with the 7.5 cm KwK L/70 gun and protected with 100 mm frontal and 40 to 50 mm of side armor. It was intended to have the lowest possible height, a top speed of 25 km/h and a weight of up to 26-tonnes.
The manufacturer Alkett was one of the first to present a project of such vehicle based on the Panzer IV chassis that could be armed either with a 7.5 cm L/70 (Gerät No.822) or 10.5 cm (Gerät No.823) gun. In late October 1942, a scale model was even presented to Adolf Hitler. While Hitler was satisfied with this proposal, for unknown reasons, the Alkett vehicle was never accepted. The future development of the Sturmgeschütze neue Art was to include components of the Panzer III tanks. Due to the high demand of StuG III, which was based on the Panzer III chassis, this was not possible. In addition, there was a proposal to design and build a completely new chassis. Due to the general lack of industrial capacity and time, this was not possible either. So, the most obvious solution was the Panzer IV chassis, as it was available in sufficient numbers. Krupp proposes its own Jagdpanzer (Panzerjäger IVb E39) project, based on the Geschützwagen IVb with six larger road wheels per side, but nothing came from this. Another change to the initials plans was the choice main gun, as the longer 7.5 cm L/70 gun was needed for the Panther tank and the 7.5 cm gun L/48 had to be used instead.
Vogtlandische Maschinenfabrik AG (Vomag) proposed its own project to the German Army, the Gerät No.821. The wooden mockup was completed by May 1943, when it was presented to Adolf Hitler. This wooden mockup was different from the later-built vehicles as it was based on an unchanged Panzer IV Ausf.F tank chassis. After the presentation of the new Jagdpanzer IV, Adolf Hitler was satisfied and ordered that its development should continue. A working prototype made of soft steel and was presented to Hitler in late 1943. This vehicle was similar to the wooden mockup by having the rounded front corners but the Panzer IV’s front hull was heavily modified with new angled armor plates. In addition, on the Jagdpanzer IV’s superstructure sides, firing ports for a 9 mm MP-38/40 submachine gun were placed (one on each side). Both of these features would be dropped on the production vehicles in favour of a simpler armor design and deletion of the side firing ports. Depending on the source, a small number (probably a few) of the 0-series were built and used only for training.
While the Jagdpanzer IV’s development history seems straightforward at first glance, it was actually followed by a fight between the German artillery and tank branches. Initially, the Jagdpanzer IV’s development was initiated by the artillery branch in the hope of improving its Sturmgeschütz (StuG III) vehicles with a new design known as the Sturmgeschütze neue Art. But, during its development, General Heinz Guderian insisted that it should be reclassified as a Panzerjäger and assigned to the Panzer units. In the end, Guderian won and the Jagdpanzer IV was allocated to existing Panzerjäger units (which were part of Panzer and Panzer Grenadier Divisions) instead of the Sturmartillerie (assault artillery) units. This led to the consequence that the new Jagdpanzer IV was allocated to units that had little prior experience with this kind of vehicle. At the same time, the Sturmartillerie units which had experience operating such vehicles were denied a weapon that could have potentially increased their effectiveness.
To complicate the whole situation further, sources are not clear about the influence that Guderian had on the Jagdpanzer IV development. According to some sources, Guderian was against the new Jagdpanzer IV project from the start, as its development and production would put enormous stress on the Panzer IV production. Whatever the case, what is certain is that Adolf Hitler liked this idea and asked for the start of production and, later in the war, he asked for the Jagdpanzer IV to replace the Panzer IV tank on the production lines.
This vehicle had several different designations assigned to it during the war, including Klein Panzerjäger der Firma Vomag (May 1943), Stu.Gesch.n.A. auf Pz.IV (December 1943), Panzerjäger IV (March 1944), Jagdpanzer IV Ausf.F (September 1944) and Jagdpanzer IV (November 1944). As today it is generally best known under the Jagdpanzer IV designation, this article will use this name throughout.
The Jagdpanzer IV was built by using the chassis of the Panzer IV Ausf.H tank, which was, for the most part, unchanged. The most obvious change was the new angled superstructure and the redesigned sharply angled lower front hull.
Suspension and Running Gear
The suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to their construction. They consisted of eight small double road wheels (on each side) suspended in four pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total. The standard Panzer IV’s return rollers were, later during the production, replaced with ones made of steel due to the lack of rubber. In addition, by the end of production, some vehicles had only three return rollers on each side. The ground clearance was also increased to 40 cm. Depending on the need or availability, wider (Ostketten) tracks could be used instead of regular tracks in order to increase driving performance in mud or snow.
The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM which produced 265 hp at 2600 rpm. The maximum speed was 40 km/h (15-18 km/h cross-country) with an operational range (with 470 l fuel) of 210 km. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. In order to avoid any fire accidents, an automatic fire extinguisher system was installed in the engine compartment. The original position of the Panzer IV fuel tanks (located under the turret) had to be changed in order to lower the vehicle’s height. Two fuel tanks were placed under the gun and a third smaller one in the engine compartment. In order to refuel the front tanks, two (once on each side) fuel filler pipes were located behind the front drive sprockets.
The new superstructure was well protected with its angled, thick and simple armor design. The angled shape of the superstructure provided thicker nominal armor and also increased the chance of deflecting enemy shots. This way, the need for more carefully machined armored plates (like on Panzer III or IV) was unnecessary. Also, by using larger one-piece metal plates, the structure avoided a lot of welding, making it much stronger and also easier to produce. The upper hull was built out of surface-hardened steel plates (Type E 22) manufactured by Witkowitzer Bergbau und Eisenhütten.
For the lower hull, the upper front armor plate was 60 mm thick at a 45° angle, and the lower plate was 50 mm at a 55° angle. The side armor was 30 mm thick, the rear 20 mm and the bottom was 10 mm. The hull crew compartment had 20 mm of bottom armor.
The new upper superstructure frontal armor was 60 mm at a 50° angle, the sides were 40 mm at a 30° angle, the rear armor was 30 mm, and the top was 20 mm. The engine compartment design and armor were unchanged with 20 mm all around and 10 mm of top armor. In May 1944, in the hope of improving the vehicle’s survivability, the front armor thickness of the hull and the superstructure was increased to 80 mm. The Jagpanzers IV were also provided with Zimmerit anti-magnetic coating, but in the late stages of the war, its use was abandoned. Additional 5 mm thick armor plates were also provided for extra protection of the engine compartment’s sides. The Jagdpanzer IV could be equipped with additional 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the side of the vehicle. In practice though, these would rarely last long and would simply fall off the vehicle during combat operations.
The tank destroyer’s main armament was the 7.5 cm PaK 39 L/48 cannon produced by Rheinmetall-Borsig. In essence, this was the same weapon as the 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun used on the StuG, but slightly modified to be mounted on the new vehicle. The elevation of this gun went from –8° to +15° (–5° to +15° or –6° to +20° depending on the source) and the traverse was 15° to right and 12° left. The main gun was not placed at the vehicle’s centre but was instead moved some 20 cm to the right side, mainly because of the gun sights. The gun was protected by the round-shaped Topfblende gun mantlet. The ammunition supply for the main gun was 79 rounds. Usually, half were armor-piercing (7.5 cm Pzgr.) and the other half high explosive rounds (7.5 cm Sprgr.). This was not always the case as, depending on the combat situations and needs, the ammunition load could be changed. According to some sources, the first few pre-production vehicles were armed with the 7.5 cm L/43 gun.
Initially, the Jagdpanzer IV vehicles produced were equipped with a muzzle brake. However, firing trials held in April 1944 showed that the gun could be fired successfully without the gun muzzle brake. The introduction of an improved recoil cylinder also affected the decision of not installing the muzzle brake anymore. In the field, Jagdpanzer IV crews often removed the muzzle brake due to the dust clouds created during firing. This reduced visibility but more importantly, gave away the vehicle’s position to the enemy.
The later-produced vehicles did not have the threaded ends on the barrel, as they were no longer needed. There were also experiments with fixed non-recoiling mounts, known as ‘neur Art Starr’. Two Jagdpanzers IV were modified for this purpose in September 1944, though this was unsuccessful and soon abandoned, but continued on the Jagdpanzer 38(t).
The secondary weapon used was the 7.92 mm MG 42 machine gun with some 1,200 rounds of ammunition. Unlike most other German vehicles, a ball mount was not used on this vehicle. Instead, the machine gun could be fired from two front gun ports (located on the left and right of the main gun), which were 13 cm wide. These two machine gun ports were protected with hemispherical-shaped armored covers. After March 1944, the left machine gun port was removed because it was difficult to use.
An additional machine gun mount (Rundumsfeuer) could be placed on top of the superstructure. It could be fired from inside the vehicle. However, the use of the Rundumsfeuer machine gun mount was also deleted early in the production run. The Jagdpanzer IV was also equipped with the Nahverteidigungswaffe (close defense grenade launcher), with some 16 rounds of ammunition (high explosive and smoke rounds), located on the vehicle top. But, due to the general lack of resources, not all vehicles were provided with this weapon. In such cases, the Nahverteidigungswaffe opening hole was closed off with a round plate.
The four-man crew consisted of the commander, gunner, loader/radio operator, and the driver. The driver’s position was on the front left side, but his view of the surrounding area was limited, as he only had a front-mounted periscope. Behind him was the gunner’s position, who was provided with a Sfl.Z.F.1a gun sight for acquiring targets. When in use, the sight was projected through the sliding armored cover on the vehicle’s top armor. Behind these two was the commander’s position, who had a rotating periscope located in the escape hatch and one pointing to the left. The commander had a small additional hatch door for the use of a retractable Sf.14Z telescope. The commander was also responsible for providing the loader with the ammunition located on the left sidewall.
The last crew member was the loader, who was positioned on the vehicle’s right side. He operated the radio (Fu 5 radio set) which was located to the right rear and he also doubled as the 7.92 mm MG 42 machine gun operator. There was a small opening located above the machine gun which provided the gun operator with a limited view of the front. When not in use, the machine gun could be pulled into a small travel lock which was connected to the vehicle’s roof. In this case, the machine gun port could be closed by pivoting the armor cover. The use of this machine gun type is strange, as the usual hull-mounted machine gun in all German armored vehicles was the 7.92 mm MG 34. Nearly all periscopes were protected with an armored flap cover. The crew could enter the vehicle through two hatches located on the top of the vehicle. There was an additional floor escape hatch door in the center of the vehicle that could be used in the case of an emergency.
In order to remove any extra weight from the front, most spare parts and auxiliary equipment were moved to the rear engine compartment later during the production. This included things such as spare tracks, wheels, repair tools, fire extinguisher, and the crew’s equipment.
Jagdpanzer IV Befehlswagen
An unknown number of Jagdpanzer IV were modified to be used as Befehlswagen (command vehicles). These vehicles had an additional FuG 8 radio station installed in addition to one extra crew member. The Befehlswagen can be easily identified by the added second radio antenna located on the rear left side.
From the very start, the new Jagdpanzer IV project was intended to be armed with the longer 7.5 cm L/70 gun. As these were not available in sufficient numbers, this was initially not possible. Once the 7.5 cm L/70 gun production was increased so that sufficient numbers could be spared for the Jagdpanzer IV project, work on an improved Jagdpanzer IV armed with this gun was immediately started. After a period of modification and testing in the first half of 1944, production of a new Jagdpanzer IV version armed with the long 7.5 cm gun finally begun in November 1944. The new vehicle was named Panzer IV/70 (V) and by the time war ended, under 1,000 had been produced.
Due to the obsolescence of the Panzer IV, further attempts were made to find a way of arming it with the long 7.5 cm gun. As installation in the turret was not possible, the only practical and real solution was a self-propelled configuration. In order to speed up the development on an unchanged Panzer IV tank chassis, a slightly modified Panzer IV/70 (V) superstructure (same as the Jagdpanzer IV but modified to be able to carry the long 7.5 cm gun) was placed. The new vehicle was named Panzer IV/70 (A). While intended to be easily constructed, by the end of the war only 278 were actually built
The production of the Jagdpanzer IV was meant to commence with the first 10 vehicles in September 1943. The planned production numbers were then meant to be gradually increased by 10 more vehicles each month. The estimated serial production for 1943 was to be 10 in September, 20 in October, 30 in November and 40 in December.
However, due to many delays, mostly due to the poor quality of the supplied armored superstructures by Witkowitz and the lack of gun mounts, only 10 vehicles were completed in December 1943. By the end of January 1944, only 30 were completed and issued to the German Army. From May 1944, Vomag stopped producing the Panzer IV tank and concentrated on the production of the Jagdpanzer IV vehicle instead. By the time the production of the Jagdpanzer IV stopped in November 1944, some 750 vehicles had been built by Vomag. Monthly production (besides the first 30 vehicles) was 45 in February, 75 in March, 106 in April, 90 in May, 120 in June, 125 in July, 92 in August, 19 in September, 46 in October and the last two in November 1944. The sudden drop in numbers in September was due to the Allied bombing of the Vomag factory.
Of course, like many other German vehicles, the exact production numbers are different depending on the author. The previously mentioned numbers are according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 9-2 Jagdpanzer IV). Author T. J Gander (Tanks in Detail: JgdPz IV, V, VI and Hetzer), gives a number of 769 build vehicles. This number is confirmed by P. Chamberlain (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition), who also states that 26 more chassis were also built. Authors K. Mucha and G. Parada (Jagdpanzer IV L/48), give an estimation of 769 to 784 of produced vehicles. Author P. Thomas (Images of war: Hitler’s Tank Destroyers) mentions that some 800 were built.
The Jagdpanzer IV was used to equip Panzerjäger Abteilungen of Panzer and Panzer Grenadier Divisions. The Panzerjäger Abteilungen that were assigned to Panzer Divisions had two companies with 10 vehicles each and another vehicle for the commander of the unit. The Panzer Grenadier Panzerjäger Abteilungen were larger, with 14 vehicles in each company and three command vehicles. Of course, depending on the availability and combat situation, the number of given vehicles per Panzerjäger Abteilungen was sometimes below or above the official nominal strength of the unit. For example, the Panzer Lehr Abteilung had around 31 vehicles.
The Jagdpanzer IV had all the characteristics needed to be an excellent tank hunter (good speed, armor protection, firepower, small size). It would see action on nearly all fronts the German Army fought on at the time, in the East, in the West and on the Italian front.
During the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, there were only 62 Jagdpanzer ready for operational service. These were allocated to the Panzer Lehr Division (31), 2nd Panzer Division (21) and the last 10 to the 12th SS Panzer Division. The Panzer Lehr Division was actually the first German unit to be equipped with these vehicles. The 12th SS Panzer Division was to be equipped with 11 additional vehicles, but these did not reach the front until 22nd June. The fighting in France was taking a heavy toll on the few Jagdpanzer IV and, for example, by 1st July, the Panzer Lehr Division still had 28 vehicles, but only 9 were fully operational. While Jagdpanzer IV saw extensive service during the Liberation of France, their impact was minimal due to the small numbers available. In the following months, six more divisions had Abteilungen equipped with Jagdpanzer IVs (17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, 9th, 11th and 116th Panzer Divisions and the 10th SS Panzer Division).
During the Ardennes Offensive in December 1944, there were some 92 Jagdpanzer IV ready for action. Maybe the best known Jagdpanzer IV ace was SS Oberscharfuhrer Roy, who managed to destroy around 36 enemy tanks from D-Day until he was killed in late December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.
In Italy, there were 83 Jagdpanzer IV within the German armored formations. The first unit to use the Jagdpanzer IV in combat there was the Fallschirm Panzer Division ‘Hermann Göring’. In April 1944, ‘Hermann Göring’ was equipped with 21 vehicles. The 3rd and the 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions were equipped with 31 vehicles each.
The majority of the produced Jagdpanzer IVs were deployed on the Eastern Front in an attempt to stop the Soviet advance. They saw heavy action there, but also be used in the role of tanks or assault guns, roles for which it was not designed for. For example, while attacking Soviet lines at Homok (Hungary) on the 19th December 1944, the Panzerjäger Abteilung 43 lost three out of four Jagdpanzer IV.
By the end of 1944, there were some 311 (209 operational) Jagdpanzer IVs on the Eastern Front, 87 (59 operational) on the Western Front and only 8 (6 operational) on the Italian Front.
After the War
Strangely, the Jagdpanzer IV would see limited combat action after the war. Around five vehicles were given to Syria in 1950 by the French, though depending on the sources, it is possible that the Soviets supplied them with these vehicles. During the combat with the Israeli forces in 1967 during the 6 Days War, one Jagdpanzer IV was lost when it was hit by a tank round. The remaining were withdrawn from the front and probably placed in reserve or even stored. These Jagdpanzers IV were still listed in the Syrian army inventory during 1990-1991. What became of them is, unfortunately, it is not known.
As Bulgaria was part of the Axis alliance during World War II, it was supplied with German equipment, including some StuG III, Panzer III and IV and small numbers of Jagdpanzer IV’s. During the Cold War (Bulgaria was now part of the Eastern Communist Bloc) in order to protect its border with Turkey, the older German supplied armored vehicles were used as static bunkers including the Jagdpanzer IV. After the collapse of the Soviet Union these vehicles were abandoned by the Bulgarian army. They would remain there until 2007 when the Bulgarian army made extensive recovering operation in order to salvage these vehicles. One of the salvaged vehicles was a Jagdpanzer IV.
The wrecks recovered by the Bulgarian Army can be seen on this video.
Today, several vehicles have survived the war around the world. One Jagdanzer IV can be found in the Bulgarian Museum of Glory in Yambol. There were three vehicles, including one of the 0-series located in France, at the Saumur Armor Museum. The 0-series vehicle was given to Germany and can be seen in the Panzermuseum Munster together with another Jagdpanzer IV that was already there. One more can be seen in Switzerland at the Panzermuseum Thun. There is also one located in Syria.
The Jagdpanzer IV was initially designed to replace the mass-produced StuG III. This was never implemented and, instead of Sturmartillerie units, it was allocated to Panzer units. In general, the Jagdpanzer IV had more or less the same operational combat characteristics as the StuG III. Both had the same gun, but the Jagdpanzer IV had a more effective and much simpler armor design. While an effective tank destroyer, it could be considered a waste of time and resources as the Panzer IV was already in production, had the same gun but mounted in a turret, increasing its effectiveness. The Jagdpanzer IV was draining significant and necessary resources needed for the Panzer IV production. It was built too late and in too few numbers to really have any impact on the whole war.
Early production Jagdpanzer IV.
Jagdpanzer IV, Kampfgruppe Von Luck, Normandy, June 1944.
Jagdpanzer IV lost in France in 1944 and photographed by Sergeant Walther Shrek of the 3rd Armored Division.
Captured Russian Jagdpanzer IV, 3rd Ukrainian Front, Hungary, March 1945.
Jagdpanzer IV L/48, Germany, April 1945.
Jagdpanzer IV L/48 in winter camouflage, 53rd Panzerjäger Abteilung, 5th Panzer Division, East Prussia, January 1945.
Jagdpanzer IV L/48, 3rd SS Panzerjäger Abteilung, 3rd SS Panzer Division, Hungary, March 1945.
6.85 x 3.17 x 1.86 m
Total weight, battle-ready
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Maybach HL 120 TRM, 272 hp @ 2800 rpm
40 km/h (25 mph), 15-18 km/h (cross country)
210 km, 130 km (cross country)
15° right and 12° left
-8° to +15°
7.5 cm (2.95 in) Pak 39 L/48 (79 rounds)
7.9 mm (0.31 in) MG 42, 1200 rounds
Front 60 mm, sides 40 mm, rear 30 mm and top 20 mm
The Panzer IV/70 (A) was born from earlier German attempts to place the 7.5 cm L/70 into a Panzer IV turret. As this was not possible, another solution was proposed by the firm of Alkett. Their design simply reused a modified Vomag Panzer IV/70 (V) superstructure (armed with the 7.5 cm L/70 gun) and placed it on a standard Panzer IV tank chassis. The result was a much taller and heavier vehicle than the Panzer IV/70 (V) version. In theory, this would have sped up the whole production process, but in reality, only a small number were built by the end of the war.
First Jagdpanzer Designs
Even before the war, the famous German commander General Heinz Guderian had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as ‘Panzerjäger’ or ‘Jagdpanzer’ (tank destroyer or hunter). The terms ‘Jagdpanzer’ and ‘Panzerjäger’ were, according to Germany military terminology and concepts, essentially one and the same. After the war, however, the ‘Jagdpanzer’ term would be used to describe the fully enclosed tank destroyers, while ‘Panzerjäger’ would be used for the open-topped vehicles.
In March of 1940, the first attempt to build such a vehicle was made. This was the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I, generally known today as the ‘Panzerjäger I’. It was more or less a simple improvisation, made by using a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull and mounting a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun (a captured Czechoslavkian 4.7 cm gun – hence the ‘t’ for ‘Tschechoslowakei’ after the name) with a small protective shield fitted to it. Later, during the attack on the Soviet Union and the battles in North Africa, the need for effective anti-tank vehicles became of greater importance for the Germans. The appearance of the towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 in increasing numbers somewhat solved this problem, but the main issue with this gun was its lack of mobility.
The need for mobile anti-tank vehicles would lead to the development of the ‘Marder’ series, which was based on several different tank chassis and armed with powerful and efficient anti-tank guns. Captured tanks and other vehicles were also reused for this purpose. In 1943, the Nashorn (then called the Hornisse), armed with the excellent 88 mm Pak 43, was put into production. However, most of these types of vehicles were hastily designed and built and, while they did the job, they were far from perfect.
These vehicles were built by using different tank chassis and installing a gun with limited traverse in an open-topped superstructure. The two main issues were the great height, which made them difficult to camouflage, and the general lack of effective armor.
The German infantry support self-propelled assault gun, the Sturmgeschütz, or simply ‘StuG’, (based on the Panzer III) proved to have great potential when used as a tank hunter. It had relatively good armor, a low profile, and could be armed with the longer barrelled L/48 7.5 cm gun. The mass-produced StuG III Ausf.G armed with the longer 7.5 cm gun (L/48) was able to efficiently fight almost all Allied tanks (except for the heaviest) up to the end of the war. The StuG vehicles were also much easier, quicker, and cheaper to build than their tank equivalent.
In 1942, the first plans to equip the StuG with a stronger gun and armor were made. These would eventually lead to the development of a series of three different Jagdpanzer designs based on the Panzer IV tank chassis. Despite the initials plans to equip the first Jagdpanzer IV with the longer 7.5 cm L/70 gun, due to insufficient stocks, the 7.5 cm gun L/48 had to be used instead. When the 7.5 cm L/70 gun became available in sufficient numbers, the production of the Panzer IV/70 (V) version began in late 1944. The last version, known as Panzer IV/70 (A), was an attempt to mount the 7.5 cm L/70 on an unmodified Panzer IV tank chassis.
In mid-1944, the German Herres Waffenamt (army ordnance department) personnel conducted a series of investigation to test the Panzer IV’s combat performance. The results were disappointing but, in a way, also somewhat to be expected. The newest enemy tank designs (like the Soviet IS-2 and T-34-85, and the later version or Shermans, M26, etc.) possessed far better combat characteristics, like having stronger armor or firepower than the Panzer IV. While still a threat to the enemy tanks, the Panzer IV was reaching the limit of its development life. Its 7.5 cm L/48 gun was still a potent weapon for its time, however, a stronger gun with much better firepower was more desirable. This was one of the reasons why Adolf Hitler demanded that the production of the Panzer IV tanks should be phased out in favor of the new Panzer IV/70 (V) anti-tank vehicles. As the production of the Panzer IV/70 (V) was too slow and there were urgent demands for increasing numbers of tanks, another solution to use the 7.5 cm L/70 on a Panzer IV vehicle was needed. For this reason, the Alkett factory received orders from the German Army in late June 1944 to test the installation of the 7.5 cm L/70 long gun on the Panzer IV chassis.
The installation of this gun in the Panzer IV turret had already been tested previous year and proved to be impractical, so the only way to mount this gun was in a self-propelled configuration. Due to a lack of time, resources, and production capacities, Alkett engineers proposed a very simple solution. A redesigned superstructure taken from the Panzer IV/70 (V) would be placed on an unmodified Panzer IV chassis. This would increase the vehicle weight and height but, on the other hand, it would make production far simpler (at least in theory). This project was designated by Alkett as ‘Gerät 558’. It is often marked in post-war sources as Zwischenlösung (interim solution), but this term was never used by the Germans for this vehicles during the war.
This project received a green light from the German Army officials and the first prototype (made by Alkett) was quickly built. It was demonstrated to Adolf Hitler in early July 1944 at Berghof. Hitler was impressed with it and immediately ordered it to be put into production as soon as possible.
The initial designation for this vehicle was ‘Sturmgeschütz auf Pz.Kpfw.IV Fahrgestell’. This designation was changed by Adolf Hitler himself on 18th July 1944 to the much simpler Panzer IV lang (long) (A). The capital ‘A’ stood for the Alkett company that was responsible for its development. During its service life, other designations were also used, like Panzer IV/L (A) from August 1944, Panzer IV lang (A) 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70 from October 1944 and finally Panzer IV/70 (A) from November 1944. The Panzer IV/70 (A) designation is the most commonly used in the literature today. For this reason and for the sake of simplicity, this article will use this designation.
The Panzer IV/70 (A) was designed to have minimal modifications to the Panzer IV Ausf. J tank chassis. For this reason, the turret and the top of the hull were removed and, in their place, a new superstructure housing the gun was added on top. Visually, the Panzer IV/70(A) was different in comparison to the other Jagpanzers based on the Panzer IV. The most obvious difference is the overall shape of the new superstructure added atop the Panzer IV hull.
The suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to their construction. This consisted, on each side, of eight small double road wheels suspended in four pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers, and eight return rollers in total. The number of return rollers was reduced to three per side later in the production run. However, despite this, some late produced vehicles still had four return rollers. Similar to the Panzer IV/70 (V) model, this vehicle was also nose-heavy due to the added weight. For this reason, the front road wheels were prone to being rapidly worn out. In an attempt to solve this problem, most vehicles were to be equipped with four (on both sides) steel-tired and internally sprung wheels from September 1944 onwards.
The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM which produced 265 hp at 2,600 rpm but, according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2012) in Panzer Tracts No.9-2 Jagdpanzer IV, the engine produced 272 hp at 2,800 rpm. The design of the engine compartment was unchanged. The maximum speed was 37 km/h (15-18 km/h cross country) with an operational range (with 470 liters fuel) of 200 km. These vehicles were fitted with new flame dampening exhausts and mufflers (flammentoeter). The engine and the crew compartments were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall.
In order to speed up the development process and make the production as simple as possible, the Alkett engineers decided to reuse many elements from the already existing Panzer IV/70 (V) superstructure. While similar in many things (like armor thickness, roof design, gun shield etc.) there were a number of changes that had to be done before the adoption for production. The first thing was the increase in height of the superstructure, which was now 1 m tall in comparison to the original Panzer IV/70 (V), which was 64 cm tall. The side armor angles had to be lower and the added frontal plate had the original Panzer IV driver visor placed on the vehicle left side. The prototype vehicle had a slightly different superstructure design with vertical lower superstructure sides. The production models had the sides angled at 20°.
The Panzer IV/70 (V) superstructure had to be redesigned for two reasons. Firstly, the Panzer IV’s fuel tanks were located beneath the turret. This meant that the installation of the long gun required the raising of the superstructure. The second reason was a problem noted on the Panzer IV/70 (V), namely that, when on the move on rough terrain, the longer gun (if not held in position by the travel lock) occasionally hit the ground (barrel strike) which could cause damage to the elevation mechanism of the gun.
Despite the extra height, the Panzer IV/70 (A)’s superstructure was well protected with its angled and thick armor and had a relatively simple design. The angled shape of the superstructure provided thicker nominal armor and also increased the chance of deflecting enemy shots. This way, the need for more carefully machined armored plates was unnecessary. Also, by using larger one-piece metal plates, the structure avoided, a lot of welding making it much stronger and also easier for production.
The Panzer IV/70 (A)’s upper front hull armor plate was 80 mm thick. The side armor was 30 mm, the rear 20 mm and the bottom was 10 mm. The engine compartment design and armor were unchanged, with 20 mm all around and 10 mm of top armor. The upper superstructure frontal armor was 80 mm at a 50° angle, the sides were 40 mm at a 19° angle, the rear armor was 30 mm, and the top was 20 mm. The front driver plate was 80 mm thick and placed at a 9° angle.
The Panzer IV/70 (A) could be equipped with an additional 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the sides of the vehicle. In practice though, these would rarely last long and would simply fall off the vehicle during combat operations. Due to material shortages, by late 1944, stiff wire mesh panels (Thoma Schürzen) were used instead of the armor plates. These were much lighter and most sources claim that they provided the same level of protection as the solid type. It is often mentioned that Schürzen were designed as a protection against shape-charged weapons, but they were actually designed to counter Soviet anti-tank rifle projectiles. One more line of protection was the possible application of Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste to counter magnetic anti-tank mines, but the use of this paste would be abandoned in the late stages of the war.
In the hope of removing any extra weight at the front, most spare parts and ancillary equipment were moved to the rear engine compartment. These included things such as spare tracks, wheels, repair tools, the fire extinguisher, and the crew’s equipment. Some vehicles had an armored and welded base for a 2-tonne crane added on the superstructure roof.
The Panzer IV/70 (A) tank destroyer’s main armament was the 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 cannon, also known as the 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70. This gun was more or less the same one used on the German Panther tank. The elevation of the 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 was from –6° to +15° and the traverse was 12° on both sides. Due to the increased internal size, the Panzer IV/70 (A) could carry more spare ammunition than its predecessors. Older sources noted that the total ammunition count was 60 rounds, while newer ones give a number of 90 rounds. The main gun was not placed at the vehicle’s center but was instead moved 20 cm to the right side because of the position of the gun sights
The 80 mm thick cast gun mantlet acted as extra protection for the gun. A hydro-pneumatic equilibrator was provided for better gun balance and an iron counter-weight was added at the end of the recoil guard. To avoid damaging the main gun when on the move, a heavy travel-lock was provided. In order to free the gun, the gun operator had only to elevate the gun a bit and the travel lock would fall down. This allowed for a quick combat response and also avoided the need for a crew member to exit the vehicle in order to do it manually.
The secondary support weapons consisted of a 7.92 mm MG 42 machine gun with some 1,200 rounds of ammunition, a 9 mm MP 40 submachine gun and a 7.92 mm MP 43/44 assault rifle. Unlike most other German vehicles, a ball mount was not used on this vehicle. The machine gun port was instead protected by a movable armored cover. The machine gun mount was located to the vehicle’s right side. The Panzer IV/70 (A) vehicles were usually equipped with the ‘Vorsatz P’ curved muzzle attachment for the MP 43/44 (7.92 mm) assault rifles. The mounting for this weapon was placed on the loader’s hatch door and was operated by him.
The four-man crew consisted of the commander, the gunner, the loader/radio operator, and the driver. The driver’s position was on the vehicle’s left front side. Behind him was the gunner’s position, which was provided with an Sfl.Z.F. 1a gun sight for acquiring targets. This sight was linked to an azimuth indicator, the purpose of which was to tell the gunner the precise current position of the gun. When in use, the sight was projected through the sliding armored cover on the vehicle’s top armor. For operating the gun, there were two handwheels. The lower wheel was for the traverse and the upper one for the elevation. The gunner was also provided with a recoil shield, while the loader was not. Behind these two was the commander’s position, which had a rotating periscope located in the escape hatch and one pointing to the left. The commander had a small additional hatch door for the use of a retractable Sfl.4Z telescope. The commander was also responsible for providing the loader with the ammunition located on the left sidewall. The last crew member was the loader, who was positioned on the vehicle’s right side. He operated the radio (Fu 5 radio set) which was located to the right rear and he also doubled as the MG 42 machine gun operator. There was a small opening located above the machine gun which provided the gun operator with a limited view of the front. When not in use, the machine gun could be pulled into a small travel lock which was connected to the vehicle’s roof. In that case, the machine gun port could be closed by pivoting the armor cover. The crew could enter the vehicle through two hatches located at the top of the vehicle. There was an additional floor escape hatch door that could be used in case of an emergency.
By the orders of Adolf Hitler himself, the production of the Panzer IV/70 (A) was to begin immediately, with an initial order of 350 vehicles. The first 50 were to be built in August 1944, 100 in September, and then 50 vehicles each month until February 1945. However, for unknown reasons, these production orders were never fully implemented by the Waffenamt. The Waffenamt instead issued, on 21st June 1944, new production orders for 50 vehicles in August, 100 in September, 150 in October, 200 in November, 250 in December, and the last 300 in January. Yet very shortly thereafter, new production orders were issued for 50 in August, 100 in September, 150 in October and November, and only 100 December. In early August 1944, the production orders were once again changed to 50 in August, followed by a monthly production of 100 vehicles from October to January 1945. The last changes to the production occurred by the end of January 1945, when the monthly production was to be around 60 vehicles with the last 8 in June.
In the end, these production numbers were never reached due to the chaotic state in Germany in late 1944. Constant changes in the production orders also lead to confusion and delays in production. Besides the prototype, only 277 vehicles were ever built by Nibelungenwerk from Austria, with a monthly production of 3 in August 1944, 60 in September, 43 in October, 25 in November, 75 in December, 50 in January 1945, 20 in February, and the last one in March 1945.
The Panzer IV/70 (A) was to be allocated to units equipped with ordinary Panzer IV tanks, with the intent of increasing their firepower at longer ranges. According to initials plans, the first group of 68 vehicles was to be transported to the Eastern Front and then distributed to Panzer IV equipped units. As only five vehicles were actually ready by September 1944, these were instead given to the Führer Begleit Brigade together with a group of 17 Panzer IV tanks. The second group of 17 vehicles was to be dispatched to the Eastern Front, but it actually arrived in mid-October 1944. By the end of October, units that received the Panzer IV/70 (A) were the 3rd Panzer Division, 17th Panzer Division and 25th Panzer Division, which had 17 vehicles each, while the 24th Panzer Division had 13, and the 13th Panzer Division had only 4 vehicles.
In response to the invasion in the West, in late 1944, two Abteilung with 45 vehicles each were formed and attached to the Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland and the 2nd Panzer Regiment. The Panzer IV/70 (A) Abteilung should have had 45 vehicles divided into three companies, each equipped with 14 vehicles, with three additional in the Command Abteilung. These two units were never fully formed due to the general lack of Panzer IV/70 (A) vehicles. The 2nd Panzer Regiment was supplied with 11 and Grossdeutschland with 38 Panzer IV/70 (A) vehicles.
By the end of 1944, Panzer Abteilung 208 was formed. It was supplied with 14 Panzer IV/70 (A) and 31 Panzer IV tanks. It was organized in three companies, one of which was fully equipped with the Panzer IV/70 (A). At this time, 10 Panzer IV/70 (A) were also allocated to the 7th Panzer Division. In January 1945, the last Panzer units to receive 14 Panzer IV/70 (A) vehicles were the 24th Panzer Division and the Panzer Brigade 103.
From January 1945 onwards, the Panzer IV/70 (A) were allocated to Sturmgeschütz units only, mainly in the hope of increasing their firepower against enemy armored vehicles. Around thirteen Sturmgeschuetz Brigades (Stu.G.Brig.) were equipped with 3 vehicles each (for example 341, 394, 190, 276 etc.), while fewer (210, 244, 300 and 311) had four vehicles. Only two Stu.G.Brig. received larger numbers. The Sturm Artillerie Lehr Brigade 111 had 16 vehicles and the Stu.G.Brig. Grossdeutschland had 31.
Thanks to its thick front armor and strong gun, the Panzer IV/70 (A) could be an effective weapon. An example of this comes from Stu.G.Brig. 311. During a Soviet attack on Breslau (mid-April 1945), Stu.G.Brig. 311, three StuG III and one Panzer IV/70 (A) managed to destroy around 10 ISU-152 vehicles. The next day, Stu.G.Brig. 311 again engaged the Soviet armored advance. On this occasion, the Soviets lost 25 armored vehicles, of which 13 were reported to be destroyed by the lone Panzer IV/70 (A). It is unclear if these values and those following are just claimed kills or verified kills.
Another example comes from Panzer Abteilung 208, which was heavily engaged in Hungary from early January 1945 on. On the 1st day of 1945, Panzer-Abteilung 208’s combat strength was 25 Panzer IV (with 21 combat-ready) and 10 Panzer IV/70 (A) (with 7 fully operational). During the heavy Soviet assault (8th January) on the German position around village Izsa (located in Slovakia near the Hungarian border), Panzer Abteilung 208 managed to destroy 24 enemy tanks, of which 7 were credited to the Panzer IV/70 (A), with the loss of three Panzer IV and one Panzer IV/70 (A). The next day, four more Soviet tanks were destroyed, followed by seven more (five were reported to be destroyed by the Panzer IV/70 (A) in the Panzer Abteilung 208’s counter-attack). On 17th January, 11 more Soviet tanks were destroyed by Panzer Abteilung 208, of which four by the Panzer IV/70 (A) near Szentjánospuszta. On 22nd January, Panzer Abteilung 208, with a force of 25 Panzers and Panzer IV/70 (A), made a counter-attack against the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army, where the enemy lost nine tanks. Panzer Abteilung 208 lost most of its equipment during the failed attack on Kéménd on 19th February 1945. Of course, there is always a chance that in both cases these numbers were exaggerated for propaganda purposes.
The few produced Panzer IV/70 (A) that did reach the front line were simply overrun by the vast numbers of enemy tanks. Most were simply abandoned or destroyed by their crew due to the general lack of fuel and spare parts. The German army was not overly satisfied with the Panzer IV/70 (A)’s performance. In a report made on 15th January 1945 by the Generalinspekteur der Panzer truppen (Inspector General for Panzer units), the Panzer IV/70 (A) was deemed as ‘not combat serviceable’ and that the Panzer IV tank production should be increased.
Today, only one Panzer IV/70 (A) (serial number 120539) is known to have survived the war and can be found at the French Musée des Blindes at Saumur. It was hit and damaged by Sherman tank fire at close range, but was still in running condition when it was captured by the French resistance army.
While the Panzer IV/70 (A) had the potential to be an effective anti-tank weapon thanks to its good firepower and strong frontal armor, it was built in too few numbers. Another problem was weight distribution and the increase of height which made it difficult to camouflage. This made them easier targets for enemy gunners. The introduction of yet another design put even more stress on the already desperate German industry.
In the end, the Panzer IV/70 (A) did not influence on the course of the war, as it was built in small numbers and too late, but it was nevertheless a potent tank destroyer.
Illustration of the Panzer IV/70 (A), produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet
Jagdpanzer IV/70(A) used in support of the 352nd Volksgrenadier division, Ardennes, 1944.
Jagdpanzer IV/70(A) from the 116th Panzer Division, Compogne, Belgium, fall 1944.
8.87 x 2.9 x 2.2 meters
Total weight, battle ready
7.5cm PaK 42 L/70 and one 7.92 mm MG 42
Hull front 80 mm, side 30 mm, rear 20 mm and bottom 10-20 mm
Superstructure front 80 mm, side 40 mm top and rear 20 mm
Even before the Second World War, the famous German tank commander, Heinz Guderian, had predicted the need for highly mobile self-propelled anti-tank vehicles, later known as Panzerjäger or Jagdpanzer (tank destroyer or hunter). In March 1940, the first attempt to build such a vehicle was made. This was the 4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I ohne turm. It was more or less a simple improvisation, made by using a modified Panzer I Ausf.B tank hull and by mounting a 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun with a small shield on it. This vehicle proved to be an effective anti-tank weapon in the early period of the war, with a few examples remaining in service up to 1943.
Birth of the First Panzerjäger
During the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the 3.7 cm PaK 36 was the main anti-tank gun in use by the Wehrmacht. This gun proved to be effective against Polish tanks and other armored vehicles, which were generally lightly armored. The PaK 36’s mobility and small size proved to have a number of advantages during combat situations, but the biggest problem was the poor penetration power. While in Poland it did the job, for the upcoming invasion of the West, a more powerful gun was desirable. The much stronger 5 cm PaK 38 was still in the development phase and it would not reach the troops in time, so another solution was needed. The Germans were lucky as, during the annexation of Czechoslovakia, they came into possession of fairly large numbers of competent 47 mm anti-guns.
Both the 37 and 47 mm guns were light and relatively easy to move around using trucks, horses or manpower, and, for infantry formations, this was not a great problem. For the Panzer units, a towed anti-tank gun was a problem due to the frequent position changes required by the rapid advance of the armored units. Wheeled trucks had great problems driving off-road. Half-tracks were more efficient in this regard, but there were never enough of them available. In a combat situation, once targets were spotted, the PaK gun had to be disconnected from the towing vehicle and moved by the crew to a designated firing position, which could take valuable and vital time. The PaK gun was also an easy target for the enemy once spotted, as it had only limited protection from the front. Mounting a sufficiently powerful PaK gun on a mobile chassis was more desirable, as it would allow the gun to follow the fast-moving units and to quickly change position to engage enemy targets.
For these reasons, after the Polish campaign, the Heereswaffenamt (ordnance department) made a proposal to mount the Czech 47 mm gun on a modified Panzer I Ausf.B. tank chassis. The choice for the tank chassis was based on the obsolescence of the Panzer I as a front line tank and the fact that it was available in sufficient numbers. The Panzer II was still considered useful and effective and the Panzer III and IV were deemed too valuable (and scarce) for such a modification. The company that was chosen to undertake this modification, was Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenfabrik) from Berlin. During late 1939 and early 1940, Alkett made the first drawings of the future Panzerjäger. Very soon, a prototype was built and tested. The conversion proved to be feasible and easy to construct. This prototype was demonstrated to Adolf Hitler himself in February 1940. After this demonstration, an official order for around 132 vehicles was given to Alkett. These vehicles had to be ready by May 1940.
The original designation for this vehicle was 4,7 cm PaK (t) (Sfl) auf Pz.Kpfw. I (Sd.Kfz.101) ohne Turm. Nowadays, this vehicle is mostly known as the Panzerjäger I. Whilst sources do not give precise information about the origin of this designation, for the sake of simplicity, this article will use this simpler designation.
For the Panzerjäger I conversion, the Panzer I Ausf.B chassis was used, as it had a more powerful engine and was longer than the Ausf.A. The Panzerjäger I’s suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer I Ausf.B, with no change to its construction. It consisted of five road wheels on both sides. The first wheel used a coil spring mount with an elastic shock absorber in order to prevent any outward bending. The remaining four wheels were mounted in pairs on a suspension cradle with leaf spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total (four on each side).
The main engine was the water-cooled 3.8 l Maybach NL 38 TR, giving out 100 hp at 3,000 rpm. Due to the extra equipment and larger weapon, the vehicle weight was increased to 6.4 tonnes. The added extra weight affected the crossroad performance but the maximum speed was unchanged at 40 km/h. The gearbox (ZF Aphon FG 31) had five forward and one reserve speeds.
The most obvious change was the removal of the tank turret and, in addition, the superstructure upper and rear armor were also removed. In place of the turret was a new gun mount for the 4.7 cm gun. For better stability, the gun mount was held in place by three metal bars. Two vertical bars were connected to the vehicle bottom and another larger one to the rear engine compartment. For this conversion, the gun wheels and trails were removed. In addition, the standard 4.7 cm PaK (t) gun shield was replaced with a smaller curved one. For the protection of the crew, the first series of Panzerjäger I had a five-sided armored compartment, the plates of which were 14.5 mm thick. This armored compartment was bolted to the vehicle hull, which made repairs much easier. The second series of produced vehicles had two additional (one on each side) armored plates added, which increase the directions from which the vehicle was protected. This armored compartment provided only limited protection from the front and sides due to weak armor thickness. This is one of the reasons that the crews of these vehicles used steel helmets. In a vague hope of increasing the armor protection, some crews added spare tracks to the vehicle’s front armor.
The gun used was the Skoda 47 mm Kanon P.U.V.vz.38, known as the 4.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 36 (t), or simply as 4.7 cm PaK (t) in German service. It was an effective weapon for its time. During the period of August 1939 to May 1941, some 566 4.7 cm PaK(t) were built by Škoda for the Germans. The standard Panzergranate Pz.Gr.36 (t) had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s and a maximum effective ranger range of 1.5 km. The armor penetration of this round was 48-59 mm at 500 m and 41 mm at 1 km range with the standard AP round. The 4.7 cm PaK (t) could effectively destroy most tanks of the time at long distances, with the exception of the British Matilda, French B1 and later T-34 and the KV-1. In order to extend its operational effectiveness, a new Pzgr.Patr.40 tungsten round was developed (muzzle velocity was 1080 m/s). As the Germans lacked sufficient tungsten, this type of ammunition could not be produced in larger quantities and their usage was rare. The 4.7 cm PaK (t) also fired high explosive rounds (2.3 kg weight) with impact fuses to be used against light armor and infantry targets. The 47 mm gun had an elevation of -8° to +10° (or +12° depending on the source) and a traverse angle of 17.5° on each side. Elevation and traverse were controlled by two handwheels located on the gun’s left side. The main weapon monocular gunsight was not changed.
The total ammunition load was 86 rounds carried inside the vehicle in five different ammunition boxes. Only 10 HE rounds were carried, located behind the loader on the vehicle’s right side. On the right side of the crew fighting compartment, where the loader was seated, there was another ammunition box with 34 AP rounds. Some 16 AP additional rounds were placed under the gun. The remaining rounds were located at the rear fighting compartment under the gunner’s and loader’s seats.
For crew protection against infantry attack, a MP 38/40 submachine gun was provided. The ammunition for this weapon was stored on the left and right sides of the armored crew compartment. The crews could also carry additional personal weapons depending on the combat situation.
Adequate radio equipment was important and, thus, the vehicles were provided with the Fu 2 receiver. A flexible antenna (1.4 m high) from the original Panzer I was located to the right of the driver. Later vehicles were equipped with a receiver and a transmitter (Funksprechgerat A) for better communication. These models had the radio antenna relocated to the vehicle’s left rear side.
The Panzerjäger I was operated by three crew members, who, due to the lack of space, had to perform more than one role. The driver, who was located inside the vehicle, was also the radio operator. The commander, who also acted as the gunner, was located on the left side of the armored compartment. The last crew member was the loader, who was located to the right side, beside the commander. To avoid being affected by harsh weather, the crew was provided with a folding tarpaulin cover.
In order to carry additional crew equipment or for used ammunition casings, a welded metal or mesh wire basket was added to the rear, above the engine compartment. Sometimes additional storage boxes were placed on the fenders or to the vehicle rear.
The Panzerjäger I was produced in two series during the war. The first series was assembled by Alkett and production lasted from March to May 1940. The guns were to be provided by Škoda, with Krupp-Essen providing 60 armored shields. Hannover-Linder also provided an additional 72 armored shields. The monthly production for this batch of vehicles was 30 in March, 60 in April and 30 in May. Due to a lack of guns, two vehicles could not be completed. These two would be completed in September 1940 and in July 1941.
Krupp-Essen was tasked with providing 70 new armored shields for the second production series starting on 19th September 1940. However, the production orders were changed and only 10 armored shields were to be shipped to Alkett. The remaining 60 vehicles were to be assembled by Kloeckner-Humboldt-Deutz A.G.. The first 10 were completed in November, followed by 30 in December and the last 30 in February 1941. In total, 142 vehicles were assembled by Alkett and 60 by Kloeckner-Humboldt-Deutz A.G. These numbers are according to T.L. Jentz’ and H.L. Doyle’s (2010) Panzer Tracts No.7-1 Panzerjäger.
The Panzerjäger I vehicles were used to equip the Panzerjäger Abteilung (Pz.Jg.Abt) motorisierte Selbstfahrlafette, in essence anti-tank (or tank hunter) battalions using guns on self-propelled carriages. Each Pz.Jg.Abt was composed of one Stab Pz.Jg.Abt, equipped with one Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B, and three Kompanie (companies). These Kompanie were equipped with 9 vehicles each. The Kompanie were again divided into Zuge (platoons), each with 3 vehicles and one Sd.Kfz.10 half-track for ammunition supply.
The Panzerjäger I would see its first combat action in 1940, during the attack on the West. While the majority were prepared for the invasion of the Soviet Union, small numbers were used in the Axis occupation of the Balkans and in the North African desert.
Attack on the West, May 1940
For the upcoming invasion of France, four Pz.Jg.Abt were to be engaged, but only Pz.Jg.Abt 521 was combat-ready from the start. Pz.Jg.Abt 521 was allocated to Gruppe von Kleist prior to the beginning of the campaign on 10th May. The remaining three units, the 616th, 643rd and 670th, were gradually sent to the front once they achieved full combat readiness. These were fully equipped with 27 vehicles each, with the exception of Pz.Jg.Abt 521, which had only 18 vehicles, with 6 in each Kompanie.
The Panzerjäger I proved to be an effective weapon during the French camping. The Panzerjäger I’s strongest point was its 4.7 cm gun, which could effectively penetrate the armor of most Allied tanks from over 500 to 600 m. While it was primarily designed to attack tanks, it was often used for attacking machine gun nests or similar targets. Machine gun positions could be effectively engaged from ranges of over 1 km. In a report from the 18th Infantry Division made after the defeat of France, the effectiveness of this vehicle is clear “… The 4.7 cm PaK auf.Sfl. has proven itself to be very effective against tanks and also against houses when fighting in towns. It had a very real effect as well as a demoralizing effect on the opponent…”
However, during the French campaign, numerous flaws were also noted. Despite having much better mobility than the towed anti-tank guns, the Panzer I chassis proved to be prone to malfunctions. The Panzerjäger I was often plagued with suspension problems. Another grave issue was that the engine overheated. In hotter days, in order to avoid overheating the engine, the Panzerjäger I could not be driven at a speed higher than 30 km/h with a half an hour pause every 20 to 30 km.
The lack of proper telescopic sights made the observation of the surroundings very dangerous for the crews. There were numerous instances crew members were killed by headshots while observing their surroundings from above the shielded compartment. This often forced the Panzerjäger I commander to rely on the gun sight only, which could be problematic when the vehicle was on the move. Another problem was the lack of proper communication equipment between the commander and the driver. Sometimes, due to the noise of the engine, it was almost impossible for the driver to hear the commander.
Armor protection was minimal. The Panzer I’s maximal armor was only 13 mm thick, while the combat compartment’s armored shield was a bit thicker, at 14.5 mm. This armor only provided protection from small caliber rounds and was useless even against French 25 mm anti-tank guns. Being open-topped caused other issues, as the crew could be easily killed. The limited space inside the vehicle caused additional problems, as the crew often lacked space to carry extra equipment or personal belongings. For this reason, some vehicles were equipped with a large storage box place on the right fender.
These problems would never be fully solved and would remain throughout the Panzerjäger I’s whole carrier. The poor roads in Russia and the hot climate in North Africa caused huge stress on the Panzer I tank chassis.
Forming of New Units
With more vehicles being assembled in 1940 and early 1941, it was possible to form additional units. The first new unit was Pz.Jg.Abt. 169 (which was later renamed to 529). By the end of October 1940, Pz.Jg.Abt 605 was formed. Besides these, two Panzer-Jaeger-Kompanie (Panz.Jaeg.Kp) with 9 vehicles each were formed. The first, on 15th March 1941, was attached to Leibstandarte SS-Adolf Hitler. In April 1941, the second Kompanie was attached to the Lehr Brigade 900. Unknown numbers were allocated to the 4th Kompanie of the Panzerjäger Ersatz Abteilung 13, which was, in essence, a training unit at Magdeburg.
In the Balkans
For the conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, the Panzerjäger Is from Leibstandarte SS-Adolf Hitler saw some action. However, as the opposing forces lacked any larger armored formation engagements with tanks were probably rare if any took place at all.
For the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, five independent tank hunter battalions equipped with the Panzerjäger I were allocated to this front. These were the 521st, 529th, 616th, 643rd and 670th Pz.Jg.Abt, with a total of 135 vehicles. Pz.Jg.Abt 521 was allocated to the XXIV Mot.Korps Panzergruppe 2 H.Gr.Mitte, Pz.Jg.Abt 529 to VII. Korps 4th Armee H.Gr.Mitte, Pz.Jg.Abt 616 to Panzergruppe 4 H.Gr.Nord, Pz.Jg.Abt 643 to XXXIV Mot.Korps Panzergruppe 3 H.Gr.Mitte and Pz.Jg.Abt 670 to PanzerGruppe 1 H.Gr.Süd. There were other independent battalions (559th, 561st and 611th, for example) equipped with vehicles using the same gun but placed on the Pz.Kpfw. 35(f) tank chassis (captured in France).
Almost from the start, due to unexpected Soviet resistance, the losses among all German units began to mount. This was also the case with the independent tank hunter battalions equipped with the Panzerjäger I. For example, by late July 1941, Pz.Jg.Abt 529 lost four vehicles. By late November, the unit had only 16 vehicles (two were not operational) at its disposal.
During this campaign, the Panzerjäger I was also used to support the infantry. This was the case for Pz.Jg.Abt 521 while supporting the 3rd Panzer Division. Due to a lack of operational Soviet tanks, the Panzerjäger I were used for supporting infantry, operating similarly to the StuG III. The Panzerjäger I commanders, due to the light armor and smaller gun compared to the StuG III’s, opposed this deployment of their vehicles.
Despite their protest, the Panzerjäger Is of Pz.Jg.Abt 521 were extensively used in this role. While the 4.7 cm had an effective range of 1.5 km, the light armor of the vehicle made attacking any fortified position defended with anti-tank or artillery guns almost suicidal and lead to many losses. For example, during the attack on Soviet positions near Mogilev, Pz.Jg.Abt 521 lost 5 vehicles. Some did not even have a chance to fire at enemy positions before being destroyed. Despite its weak armor, the Panzerjäger I could be effective against enemy machine gun nest and for supporting infantry attacks if properly used and if the enemy had no artillery or other anti-tank weapons.
However, these actions were still dangerous for the crews due to the open-top nature of the vehicles. In addition, the lack of secondary support weapons, like MG-34 machine guns, meant the Panzerjäger Is were vulnerable to infantry attacks. The use of the Panzerjäger I in a support role against unarmored targets can be best described by the ammunition usage. From the start of Operation Barbarossa to the end of 1941, the Panzerjäger I units fired a total of 21,103 AP and 31,195 HE rounds of ammunition.
Engagements with enemy tanks also took place. A rather strange example comes from an action near Woronesh-Ost (Voronež) in August 1940, when one Panzerjäger I from Pz.Jg.Ab 521 engaged a Soviet BT tank. When the BT crew spotted the Panzerjäger I, the commander of the Soviet vehicle decided to ram the German tank destroyer. The Panzerjäger I managed to fire two shots at the incoming BT tank. After these hits, the BT tank caught fire but kept moving and rammed the Panzerjäger I.
The German losses by the end of 1941 were tremendous. In the case of the Panzerjägers armed with the 47 mm guns (both those based on the Panzer I and those based on the Renault R35), around 140 vehicles were lost. By 1942, most Panzerjager I units were being equipped with the better armed Marder III series. By May 1942, Pz.Jg.Abt 521 had only 8 operational Panzerjäger I vehicles. It was reinforced with Marder III vehicles with the 7.62 cm gun and with 12 ammunition carriers based on the Panzer I chassis. In 1942, Pz.Jg.Abt 670 operated one company of Panzerjäger I and two of Marders. Pz.Jg.Abt 529 had only two vehicles remaining when it was disbanded in late June 1942. Pz.Jg.Abt 616 managed to effectively maintain three Panzerjäger I Kompanies during this time.
While the Panzerjager I proved to be effective against the lighter armored Soviet tanks (T-26 or BT series), the newer T-34 and KV series proved to be problematic to the point that the 4.7 cm gun was deemed ineffective. This forced the Germans to look for larger caliber weapons. The surviving Panzerjäger I became obsolete by the standards of late 1942 and early 1943.
Pz.Jg.Abt 605 was the only unit equipped with the Panzerjäger I to operate in North Africa. It was shipped to Africa from Italy and arrived in mid-March 1941. Pz.Jg.Abt 605, with its 27 operational Panzerjäger I, was allocated to the 5th Leichte Division. At the beginning of October 1940, in order to replace losses, a group of five Panzerjäger I were to be shipped to Africa but only three arrived. The remaining two were lost during the sea voyage.
By the time of Operation Crusader in November 1941, Pz.Jg.Abt 605 was in action and, on that occasion, lost 13 vehicles. In order to replenish the dwindling supply of spare parts for the Panzerjäger I, the Panzer I tanks of the German Afrika Korps were often cannibalized for the purpose, as they were obsolete or were put out of action. By the end of 1941, Pz.Jg.Abt. 605 had 14 operational Panzerjäger I remaining.
In January 1942, it was reinforced with four more vehicles, followed by three more in September and October 1942. In order to give Pz.Jg.Abt 605 much stronger firepower, in early 1942, the unit received improvised Sd.Kfz.6 half-tracks armed with the 7.62 cm gun, known as ‘Diana’. In mid-May 1942, Pz.Jg.Abt. 605 had around 17 operational vehicles. By the battle of El Alamein in October 1942, eleven vehicles were reported as operational. The last two replacement vehicles arrived in November 1942.
During the African campaign, the Panzerjäger I was plagued with the same problems like on the other fronts. The armor was too weak, the suspension was prone to breakdowns, there were problems with the radio’s operational range, the engine frequently overheated and others. On the other hand, the gun’s performance was deemed sufficient. There are reports of three destroyed Matilda tanks at 400 m range in one action by using the rare tungsten rounds.
Four vehicles were captured by the Allies. One was sent to Britain and one to America for evaluation. This last one would remain at the American Aberdeen Proving Grounds up to 1981, when it was gifted to Germany. After restoration, it was moved to the Wehrtechnische Dienstselle at Trier. The fate of the remaining captured vehicles is unknown.
The Panzerjäger I proved to be an effective vehicle but not without faults. The gun had a higher armor penetration power than the current German anti-tank guns in the first years of the war. The problems with this vehicle were numerous, including the low armor protection, engine problems, transmission breakdowns, small crew, etcetera. Despite these, it proved to be capable of destroying enemy tanks that were otherwise immune to the smaller caliber 3.7 cm PaK 36.
The Panzerjäger I’s greatest merit is that it showed that the self-propelled anti-tank weapon concept was feasible and effective. It allowed the German Army to gain important experience in this kind of warfare.
Panzerjäger I of the Panzerjäger Abteilung 521, France, May 1940. It was part of the only eighteen vehicles ready on time to take part in the opening hours of the operations. The other companies were still training and would be engaged later in the campaign.
A Panzerjäger I operating during the Balkan campaign, in Yugoslavia and Greece, April-May 1941.
A Panzerjäger I of the Afrika Korps, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 605 (605th Anti-tank Battalion), Gazala, February 1942. Only 27 vehicles were sent, plus some replacements. They were the only tank-hunters available to Rommel during the whole campaign, until El Alamein.
These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Panzerjäger I specifications
4.42 x 2.06 x 2.14 m (14.5×6.57×7.02 ft)
Total weight, battle-ready
3 (commander/gunner, loader and the driver/radio operator)
Maybach NL 38 TR
40 km/h, 25 km/h (cross country)
170 km, 115 km (cross country)
4.7 cm PaK (t)
-8° to +10°
Hull 6 to 13 mm, Upper armored superstructure 14.5 mm
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