The small and cheap Jagdpanzer 38(t) proved to be an effective tank destroyer. The main problem with it was that BMM and Škoda who made the vehicles simply could not keep up with the demand. In the hope of getting its production repositioned to Germany in late 1944, Alktett was instructed to oversee the projected construction of a new vehicle, later designated as Jagdpanzer 38 D. While the work continued until the end of the war, only two prototypes were completed.
A brief history of the Jagdpanzer 38(t)
When the Germans occupied what remained of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, they came into possession of two well-known weapon manufacturers: ČKD (Ceskomoravska-Kolben-Danek) and Škoda. The ČKD factory was renamed Böhmish-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (abbreviated to BMM) by the Germans were tasked with the production of the Panzer 38(t) for the Germans. The production of this tank would be terminated during the second half of the war, as it proved to be ineffective as a combat vehicle by that stage of the war.
The BMM factory continued production of different combat designs (mostly anti-tank vehicles) based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis. By late 1943, the BMM factory was involved in designing and building light and relatively cheap tank destroyers based on some components from the Panzer 38(t). The result of this work would be the Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyer. It was armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 39 and was fully enclosed and protected with well-angled 60 mm thick front armor. While not a perfect design, it would prove to be an effective anti-tank weapon. During the war, around 2,824 such vehicles were built by BMM and Škoda.
History of the German Jagdpanzer 38
The Jagdpanzer38(t) that was produced by Škoda and BMM proved to be an effective and cheap anti-tank vehicle. In the later stages of the war, these two companies could not keep up with the production demands imposed by the Germans. For example, the production quota for February 1944 was set at 4,000 vehicles, but such a production rate was never achieved. Something had to be done to increase the overall production. While cheap, the production could not be carried out by any German weapon manufacturer, as it would take too much time to manufacture and adopt the necessary machine tooling needed for production in Germany.
Nevertheless, on the 26th of September 1944, the Oberkommando des Heeres OKH (English: German High Command) issued orders to make the first steps in preparing to produce a highly modified Jagdpanzer 38(t) in one of the many German companies. The task for this was given to Alkett, who was already involved in the production of similar vehicles based on the Panzer III and IV chassis. As with many other German projects at this late stage of the war, the unrealistic production goal was set at 1,000 vehicles per month. This proved to be an impossible task given the shortages of many things, including time. Nevertheless, the work slowly progressed.
On 4th October 1944, due to the deteriorating German industrial and logistical infrastructure, a Panzerkommission (English: Panzer Commission) was formed to determine the next steps to be undertaken in the hope of somewhat stabilizing the war efforts. Their conclusion was that, in order to increase the production of armored vehicles, a rationalization of vehicle chassis had to be implemented. The only chassis that would remain in production was the Panther, Tiger, and the small Panzer 38(t). That same month, Wa Prüf 6, the German armor design office which was part of the ordnance department, pointed out the great setback in the delivery of new Jagdpanzer 38(t) by the Checkoslovakian companies. Both of these facts played positively for the German-made Jagdpanzer 38(t) project.
As the project began to develop, it was initially designated as Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Reich’. On the 20th of November 1944, General der Artillerie changed the name to Jagdpanzer 38D (sometimes referred to as Jagdpanzer 38d as well). The sources are not completely clear what the latter D presented, but it is likely to stand for Deutschland (English: Germany), as opposed to the letter ‘t’, which stood for Tschech (Czech).
Work on the Jagdpanzer 38D
The chief designer for this project at Alkett was an engineer named Michael (last name unknown). In order to facilitate production and to improve the overall design, some modifications would be needed. These mostly involved simplifying the chassis and improving the drive components. The work on the vehicles dragged on into 1945. In late January 1945, engineer Michael stated that additional changes were needed to the engine compartment in order to fit the Tatra engine. By the end of January, the overall design calculations and plans were ready. The first production order for two prototypes was given to Alkett during this time.
On the 30th of January, Alkett received a production schedule for the Jagdpanzer 38 D. The first five vehicles were to be completed by March 1945. After that, Alkett was instructed to slowly increase its monthly production. The final goal was to reach a monthly production of 800 vehicles by the end of the year. To further boost these numbers, Vomag was also chosen for the Jagdpanzer 38 D production. It was to construct the first five vehicles by July and then reach a monthly production of 300 by the end of the year.
It is important to note that. due to its late introduction and the scarcity of sources, which do not include even one picture, very little is known about this vehicle. Given its similarities to the Jagdpanzer 38(t), it can be assumed that most components would have been reused or even more simplified.
The hull of the new Jagdpanzer 38 D was to be greatly redesigned in contrast to the original vehicle. The Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyer’s lower hull sides were angled producing a slight ‘V’ shape. This provided additional protection for the crew and the vehicle itself. The negative side was that it somewhat complicated production and limited internal space. In order to reduce cost and make production easier, the hull sides were made vertical on this vehicle.
The suspension was visually quite similar to the one used on Jagpanzer 38(t), but there were a number of differences. The obvious change was the introduction of new vertical volute spring units that replaced the horizontal leaf spring units. The road wheels were widened to 60 cm and the track width was increased from 350 mm to 460 mm. The estimated Jagdpanzer 38 D weight was to be around 16.7 tonnes, but the improved suspension could easily sustain up to 20 tonnes.
A new engine was to be used for this vehicle. This was the air-cooled V-12 Tatra Diesel engine which produced up to 200 hp@2,000 rpm. The estimated maximum speed that the Jagdpanzer 38 D could achieve with this engine was 40 km/h. The engine was connected to the front-mounted AK 5-80 (or 5-55) transmission. The transmission, in turn, was connected to a much improved and reinforced steering unit and the final drives. The fuel load consisted of 380 liters, giving it an operational range of 500 km on good roads, and 300 km off-road.
The rear engine compartment was also slightly redesigned. Besides the obvious change in the engine compartment sides, the large round-shaped hatch (where the manual hand crank was positioned) was replaced with an off-center and simpler hatch. The top engine compartment doors were also replaced with a single hatch located on the left side. The muffler was repositioned to the right side. Lastly, the commander’s rear periscope was to be removed.
The Jagdpanzer 38 D’s superstructure consisted of four angled plates and a flat top. The front plate had an opening to the right, where the gun and its protective cover were placed. Left of it was a small visor for the driver. The simple side plates did not receive any ports or hatches. The rear plate had only one large hatch that could be used by the crew to gain access to the engine. The top plate had the standard sliding armored cover for the gunner’s sight. Behind it, the remote control machine gun mount was installed. Next to it was a simple round shape escape hatch. Completely to the rear right was a single-piece hatch door. This was the commander’s hatch. It had a small opening in the middle that the commander would use to put his periscope up so that he could find targets without exposing himself to enemy fire.
When the project was initiated, its primary armament was to consist of one 7.5 cm PaK 39 L/48. The ammunition load was to consist of 68 rounds. This was a slightly enlarged ammunition load in comparison to the 40 to 45 rounds usually carried inside a Jagdpanzer 38(t). The gun position was unchanged, on the right side of the vehicle. This limited its traverse to 8° on both sides. The elevation was -8 to +15°.
Other armaments were also proposed. To increase its effectiveness against new enemy armor, the 7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70 was to be used. The weight of the new gun with its ammunition was estimated to add an additional 500 to 600 kg. Lastly, as the Panzer III chassis was to be abandoned from 1945 on (including the StuH 42 armed with a 10.5 cm gun), the German infantry would have been left without a support vehicle. Thus, the Jagdpanzer 38 D was to fulfill this role as well, some being armed with the 10.5 cm Sturmhaubitze 42/2.
While the installation of the shorter 10.5 howitzers was likely possible, how the Germans planned to do the same with the long 7.5 cm L/70 gun is questionable. Their attempt to mount this gun on a slightly larger StuG III chassis was unsuccessful.
The secondary armament was to consist of one 7.92 mm machine gun (either an MG 34 or 42). It was placed on a specially designed gun mount (Rundumsfeuer) that could be fired from inside the vehicle.
Authors T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 20-1 Paper Panzer Panzerkampfwagen, Sturmgeschütz and Jagdpanzer) only mention that its frontal armor was 60 mm thick. Older books, like that of P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two), give different but more detailed information. The front hull armor was 60 mm thick and placed at a 40° angle. The side was 20 mm, the rear also 20 mm but placed at a 12° angle while the bottom was 8 mm. The superstructure front armor was highly angled at 60° and was 80 mm thick. The sides were 20 mm thick and placed at 55°, while the rear and top were only 8 mm thick. The protective gun mantlet was 60 mm thick.
The number of the crew would most likely have been four. These included the commander, the driver, the gunner, and the loader. The driver was positioned on the left front side of the vehicle. Behind him were the gunner and the loader even further back. The commander was positioned on the right side of the vehicle, just behind the gun.
Other Projects Based on the Jagdpanzer 38 D
Despite not yet being put into production, the German army officials planned to use its chassis for other purposes. These included the Bergepanzer 38 D, Aufklärer 38 D, anti-aircraft version, 12 cm mortar carrier, and armored personnel carrier. Besides the last versions, which likely remain only paper concepts, some work was dedicated to the first three mentioned proposals.
Bergepanzer 38 D
While not much is known about it, although it appears that this vehicle would more or less be a copy of the Bergepanzer 38(t). The gun and the upper superstructure would be removed and additional towing equipment placed inside of its compartment. None were ever constructed.
Aufklärer 38 D
Surprisingly, this was to use a slightly longer body than the Jagdpanzer 38 D. The armament was to consist of a 2 cm cannon and a machine gun placed in a turret taken from the Sd. Kfz. 222 armored car. This turret was commonly used on other German reconnaissance vehicles. The second proposal was to use a 7.5 cm L/48 gun placed in a fixed amount. Due to urgent demand for anti-tank vehicles, the development of this version was abandoned in March 1945.
In late 1944, BMM and Škoda attempted to mount the twin 3 cm armed Kugelblitz turret on a Jagdpanzer 38(t) chassis. They appeared to have achieved some success, as this design was submitted. Given the lower production numbers of the Jagdpanzer 38(t), it was instead proposed to use the newer Jagdpanzer 38D chassis instead. Despite production orders, the importance of this project was deemed low. Instead of the production of new vehicles, recovered vehicles were to be reused for this project. As the Jagdpanzer 38 D never entered production, none would be built.
Another proposal made by Rheinmetall included a 3.7 cm Flakzwilling 44 placed on top of the Jagdpanzer 38 D by using a Panzer IV turret ring. This project was abandoned as no Jagdpanzer 38 D was ever available.
The Fate of the Project
In March 1945, it was decided by the Generalinspector der Panzertruppen, Heinz Guderian, that the production version of the Jagdpanzer 38 D was to be armed with a 7.5 cm PaK L/70 gun. The ammunition load for this vehicle was to be 50 rounds. To cope with the increased weight, the front armor thickness was reduced to 50 mm.
Despite the general chaotic state of Germany in early 1945, the work on the two prototypes went nearly as planned. By late March 1945, two prototypes were reported to be almost completed. The only missing components were their transmissions, which were estimated to arrive by early April 1945. Once completed, the prototypes were to be demonstrated to Adolf Hitler on the 20th of April 1945. If the necessary components ever arrived or if the vehicles were fully completed is unknown, as the Alkett records and documents regarding these two prototypes were destroyed.
In contrast to many German late-war projects, the Jagdpanzer 38 D seems like a reasonable design. As the Czechoslovakian factories could barely keep up with the demands for armored vehicles, switching the production of this vehicle to Germany was another sound proposal. This would also cut the dependence on foreign companies. The Germans would have introduced a lot of simplified components to further ease the production. The decision to use the longer 7.5 guns was dubious at best. The installation of such a large gun on a small chassis would likely have proven troublesome. If introduced earlier, the Jagdpanzer 38 D may have been produced in greater numbers and provided the Germans with a much-needed tank destroyer. However, the Jagdpanzer 38 D would never be put into production and it would remain one of many unfulfilled German projects.
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||16.7 tonnes|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||200 hp@ 2,000 rpm Tatra Diesel engine|
|Range (road/off road)-fuel||500 km, 300 km (cross country)|
|Primary Armament||7.5 cm PaK 42 L/70|
|Secondary Armament||One 7.92 mm machine gun|
|Armor||up to 60 mm|
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2001) Panzer Tracts No. 20-1 Paper Panzer Panzerkampfwagen, Sturmgeschütz and Jagdpanzer
- T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2002) Panzer Tracts No. 20-2 Paper Panzer Reconnaissance, Observation and Anti-aircraft
- W. J. Spielberger (1982) Gepard The History of German Anti-Aircraft tanks, Bernard and Graefe
- T. J. Gander (2004) Tanks in detail Jagdpanzer, Ian Allan
- D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
- P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.