Norway was left battered and bruised by a 5-year long German occupation (April 1940 – May 1945) that only ended with the capitulation of German forces at the end of the Second World War in Europe. Retreating German forces left a large quantity of equipment in their wake. Rifles, machine guns, anti-tank guns, tools, and even some aircraft were left behind and claimed by the now free and rebuilding Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”). Many armored vehicles were also left behind, mostly consisting of various types of the Panzerkampfwagen III medium tanks (both long-barrelled 50 mm and short-barreled 75 mm gun-armed models) and a few Sturmgeschütz III assault guns.
Eager to protect their newfound freedom, the Forsvaret adopted these surplus vehicles. They would sit in storage for a few years until 1948 , when the Norwegian Military – preparing for a possible Soviet invasion – devised a defensive plan for Norway’s strategic airfields. Not wanting to relegate their small M24 Chaffee force to guard duty, the Army activated the obsolete Panzers.
The ex-Wehrmacht Panzers and StuGs, which were renamed Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III respectively, filled this role until the early 1950s, when they started to be replaced by an increasing number of M24 Chaffees donated by the United States.
Stridsvogn KW-III (Panzer III)
The Panzerkampfwagen III (Sd.Kfz. 141) medium tank was developed in the mid-1930s and was designed to fight enemy tanks alongside its larger brother, the Panzer IV, which was originally intended to support the Panzer III and friendly infantry.
The Panzer III had very good mobility for its time. It was powered by a 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM 300 PS, producing 296 hp. This propelled the 23-tonne vehicle to a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). A running gear consisting of 6-road wheels per side supported the tank’s weight. The road wheels were attached to a torsion bar suspension. The drive sprocket was at the front, while the idler was at the rear. The return of the track was supported by 3-rollers.
The tank was operated by a 5-man crew consisting of a Commander, Gunner, and Loader in the turret, with the Driver and Radio Operator/Bow Machine Gunner in the hull.
Two main types of Panzer III were left behind and reused by the Norwegians. These were both later model Panzers, being the Ausführung N and mix of Ausführung J, L, & Ms. The N was the last model of Panzer III. Armed with a short 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 gun, it was intended to act as an infantry support vehicle firing mostly High-Explosive (HE) shells. It could also fire Armor Piercing (AP), High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and Smoke shells. The Ausf. J, L, and Ms were all armed with the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60. This was a tank-killing gun, and could penetrate up to 130 mm (5.11 in) of armor firing an Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) shell. All of these variants were equipped with a coaxial and bow-mounted 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun.
As later model Panzer IIIs, the majority of the tanks were equipped with an add-on armor kit known as ‘Vorpanzer’. This consisted of armor plates being added on the upper hull plate and gun mantlet. This boosted the original armor thickness of 15 mm to 50 mm. A few of the vehicles were also equipped with Schürzen add-on armor on the turret and hull sides.
Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III)
The Sturmgeschütz were a series of assault guns that found a successful role as tank destroyers. The StuG IIIs were based on the chassis of the Panzerkampfwagen III medium tank. The Panzer III’s turret and superstructure were removed from the hull and were replaced with an armored casemate. Armor on the vehicle was 16 to 80 mm (.62 to 3.15 in) thick.
The StuG was powered by the same 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM as the Panzer III, which propelled the 24-tonne (26 ton) vehicle to 25 mph (40 km/h). The StuG was manned by a crew of 4, consisting of a Commander, Gunner, Loader, and Driver.
At least 2 types of StuG III were reused by the Norwegians. These were the Ausführung F/8 and the Ausführung G. There were only minor differences between the two, with the Ausf. G being based on Panzer III Ausf. M hull with a redesigned (and widened) superstructure. Both StuGs were armed with the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 (an anti-tank gun derived from the PaK 40). This was a powerful anti-tank gun, with a maximum penetration of 176 mm (6.9 in) firing an APCR shell.
The first Panzer IIIs to see deployment in Norway were from the Panzer-Abteilung z.b.V. 40. This unit had been originally created for the invasion of Norway and was originally equipped with Panzer I, Panzer II, and Neubaufahrzeug tanks. However, during the invasion, it lost several tanks during the fighting against the Norwegian and British forces, including multiple Panzer Is and one of the Neubaufahrzeugs. To replace these losses, the last five production Panzer III Ausf. Ds were sent from Germany. Later on, the unit was further reinforced with around 15 more Panzer IIIs of Ausf. G and Ausf. H variety. These tanks arrived after the Invasion of Norway and didn’t partake in any fighting. They did, however, get their baptism of fire in June 1941 when the Pz.Abt.z.b.V. 40 was sent to secure the Finnish Lapland front as the Continuation War began with German and Finnish Forces fighting against the Soviets.
The Pz.Abt did not leave Finland until December of 1942, when they were re-deployed in Norway, leaving some of their obsolete equipment behind. Amongst other things, 16 Panzer Is and the three remaining Panzer III Ausf. Ds were left in Finland for the newly formed Panzer-kompanie 40 to use. Pz.Abt. z.b.V. 40 itself saw no further action and was disbanded on June 10th, 1943. It is then believed that its remaining equipment and personnel were passed on to the 25th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht) which was, at the time, based in Oslo.
The 25th Panzer Division had originally been formed as the “Schützenverband Oslo”. Early on, it operated mainly captured French Somua S35 and Hotchkiss H35 tanks but later received Panzer III and IV tanks as well as a few StuG III assault guns. Its original intended purpose was to serve as a potential rapid response force for the invasion of Sweden. However, as the war with the Soviet Union dragged on, it was decided that most of the 25th Panzer division would depart from Norway in the fall of 1943 and be moved to the Eastern Front. Those parts of the 25th that would stay in Norway would form a new unit called the “Panzer Division Norway ”. This arrangement, however, would not last for long as, in May 1944, it was transferred to Denmark in order to reinforce the 25th Pz. division. What remained in Norway was briefly reorganized into the Panzerabteilung Norwegen. This however, would also not last long as the unit again went through several restructurings before finally ending up as the Panzerbrigade Norwegen. The unit remained in this form until the end of the war. At the moment of its surrender to the British forces in May 1945, it had 25 Panzer IIIs with the 5 cm KwK 39, 36 Panzer III Ausf. Ns, and 10 StuG III assault guns of Ausf. F/8 and Ausf.G variety. How most of these tanks ended up in Norway is, however, a bit of a mystery.
Fahrgestell Numbers – meaning chassis numbers – help us track the unique history of German vehicles. Thanks to these, we know the specific history of 4 Panzer IIIs, as they survive today in Norway. These are Fahrgestell 66158, 73651, 74352 and 76219. 66158 was an Ausf. H, built by Motorenwerke Augsburg Nuremberg (MAN) in 1941 and would have been equipped with the short 5 cm KwK 39 L/42 gun. At some point, however, its turret was replaced with an Ausf. N or M turret with the short 75 mm. 73651 is an Ausf. J, originally built by Henschel und Sohn in May, 1941 before being upgraded. 74352 had an interesting history. It served with the infamous SS Division “Das Reich” between 1942 and 1943 in France and on the Eastern Front. Lastly, 76219 was built by MAN in 1943. It was part of one of the first batches of Ausf. Ms produced and was deployed by Panzer-Grenadier Division “Grossdeutschland” on the Eastern Front in 1943. The number 76149 is also recorded in relation to one of the Pz.Kpfw III, Fgst.Nr 73651. This has led to some confusion as 76149 is actually one of the StuGs, an Ausführung G.
Thanks to the Fahrgestell numbers, this information is known to us, but quite how these things ended up in Norway by the war’s end is currently a mystery. After 1943, many of these units were re-equipped with more powerful and newer tanks, so it is possible that these tanks were sent to Norway as it was a less crucial part of Germany’s war effort, ergo, units stationed there were not in need of the latest armored vehicles. It is also possible that these vehicles were damaged during fighting, sent back to Germany for capital repair and refurbishment and then allocated to quieter sectors. This would explain the fact that some of the known vehicles are older models that had been upgraded.
The origin of the StuGs is less well documented, unfortunately. It is unknown how many of the 10 StuGs remained operable, and what their origins were. At least 4 StuG III Ausf. F/8s were operated in Norway during the War by Panzerjäger-Abteilungen 14, 14th Luftwaffen-Felddivision, so this may be where at least 4 came from. There were at least two Ausf. Gs handed over, but their origins are unknown.
Adoption by Norway
The Panzers that were adopted into the Norwegian Army were of varying quality, some of them had even been sabotaged by the Allies. Like the majority of Panzer IIIs that were still in service at war’s end, many of them were upgraded older models, having been upgunned or up-armored. Many were also equipped with Schürzen armor and/or Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste. A vast majority of them were handed over as the Germans surrendered. For example, at least 15 Panzer IIIs of various types were handed over with the surrender of Panzer-Brigade “Norwegen” at Trandum, southeast Norway, in May 1945.
With the mysterious origin of the StuG, it is unclear as to what condition the vehicles were in upon adoption. Assuming 4 Ausf. F/8s came from Pz.Jg.Abt 14, and taking into account the two known Ausf. Gs, that accounts for 6 StuGs. The stories of the 4 outstanding vehicles are unknown also, though, as with the Panzers, it is possible that these were simply kept as donors for spare parts.
With the end of the Second World War, Norway was once again facing the possibility of invasion, this time from the Soviet Union with which it shared a northern border. In 1945, Norway began to receive aid under the US-led ‘MAP’. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. In the case of Norway, this meant the delivery of the M24 Chaffee light tank, starting in 1946. The Chaffee would give the military their first taste of operating a relatively modern armored vehicle, having not had a tank since the L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ of the late 1930s.
In 1948, with the perceived threat from the USSR, the Norwegian Military decided that it was crucial to keep its major air bases protected. It was decided that the most important of these were Gardermoen, Eggemoen, Sola, Fornebu, Værnes, and Bardufoss. To give an idea of the strategic importance of some of these airports, Gardermoen was located near Oslo, the capital of Norway, and was the main base of the Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Airforce). Sola, located on Norway’s south-eastern coast, was an important link with the western Allies. Værnes, located roughly in central Norway, allowed transit to the North and South of the country.
It was decided that each airport would need its own unit consisting of armored vehicles and platoons of troops. At this time, however, Norway only had 17 Chaffees to its name, and the Army was not going to allocate its only ‘modern’ tank to guard duty. With the surplus Panzers in storage, it was decided that it was time for them to fill a role.
Only around 25 of the Panzers IIIs were in operable condition. The remaining 36 vehicles were mostly used as donors for spare parts. The best of these were themselves repaired and rearmed as best as possible. This work was carried out at Trandum, an Army base just north-east of Oslo. It is unknown how many of the Panzer IIIs with the short 7.5 cm KwK 37 guns were true Ausf. Ns. With the recycling of various parts from the stock of spare tanks, it is highly likely that many of them were artificial, being older models with later guns. This may also be true for some of the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60 gun-armed tanks. One detail to mention is that the Norwegian crews kept an MG42 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on the Commander’s cupola. Another unknown is if the tanks were re-painted, and if so, what color. At this time, the tanks would have remained in their original, Wehrmacht colors.
Understanding fully that the Panzers and StuGs – now renamed the Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III, respectively – were all but obsolete at this point, they were not going to field them as front line tanks, but rather keep them as defensive vehicles. The 25 Strv KW-IIIs and 10 Stkn KW-IIIs were divided between the newly created Airport Defense regiments. These regiments were raised between November and December 1948. They consisted of the 1st Dragoon Regiment (raised at Akershus) stationed at Sola and Fornebu, the 2nd Dragoon Regiment (raised at Oppland) assigned to Gardermoen and Eggemoen, and the 3rd Dragoon Regiment (raised at Trøndelag) assigned to Værnes and Bardufoss. The Norwegian army found the 5 cm gun of the Strvs to be lacking in tank-killing power, so each unit was equipped with at least one StKn KW-III or a towed 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. These guns also came from ex-Wehrmacht stocks adopted at the end of WW2. In October 1949, the Dragoon Regiments officially began to garrison the airports. The tank crews consisted of 22 men. Also at their disposal were motorcycles, Willys Jeeps, and Fordson ¾-ton (.68 tonne) trucks.
Also in 1949, Norway and the west became an even more united front. In April, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born with Norway a founding member. As it shared a border with the USSR, it was seen as a crucial partner. Thanks to this, Norway began to receive more military aid, and the number of M24 Chaffees available to the Army vastly increased. By 1951, the entire KW-III force had been replaced by the 125 Chaffees Norway now had. By 1949, it would appear, the vehicles seem to have been painted in the same basic olive green used on the Chaffees. For winter, they were covered in a rough white-wash haphazardly lashed on by hand. This method of whitewashing lasted into the 1980s.
With more Chaffees at their disposal, the Army began to phase out the recycled KW-IIIs. Both the Stridsvogn and the Stormkanon stayed on in service at Bardufoss as training vehicles for future Norwegian tankers. We know that Fgst.Nr 74352 – known as ‘Yellow 3’, Fgst.Nr 66158 – known as ‘Yellow 2’, and Fgst.Nr 76219 – known as ‘Yellow 1’ were among them*. The tanks served here until 1953, when the Army found a rather unique role for them to fill…
*These tanks are known by these names due to the fact that they had large yellow numbers painted on the sides of their turrets. The function of these numbers is unknown, however.
In 1953, the garrison of Bardufoss Airfield began to dig their 7.5 cm gun-armed Stridsvogns into static defensive positions connected to Fort Bjørnåsen, ‘Yellow 3’, ‘2’, and ‘1’ amongst them. This fort was located in the grounds of the airfield, and was a system of former Luftwaffe bunkers built during WW2. For the defense of the airfield, the Norwegians expanded upon it. The purpose of the bunker and the static tanks was to cover the airfield from as many angles as possible, should an enemy attempt to storm it. The priority target of the 7.5 cm guns would be any aircraft that attempted to land. The tanks were dug into pits roughly 4 meters (13.1 ft) wide, 5.5 meters (18 ft) long with a 3.25 meter ramp, and 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) deep, leaving just their turrets above the ground. A simple wooden shelter was constructed over them. Inside, the tanks were completely stripped. The engine, transmission, driveshaft and other components housed in the hull were completely removed. With all power-providing components removed, the turrets would have been traversed manually. A hole was cut into the hull of the tanks, to which a concrete tunnel was connected, which allowed direct access to the fort, provided a protected entranceway for the crew, and allowed a direct means of ammunition resupply.
The KW-III turrets remained in place into the 1960s, by which time they became obsolete. The turrets were replaced with 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. For these, new concrete emplacements were built beside the buried tanks. A new hole was cut into the side of the buried tanks to connect them to the new structures to allow the use of the old ammunition tunnels. Earth was then built up around the new emplacements, completely burying the tanks.
Rather frustratingly, despite extensive searches and inquiries by both writers, no pictures can currently be found of the Panzer turrets in situ during their time in operation.
The majority of the Stridsvogn and Stormkanon KW-III fleet was retired by 1953. Much of the fleet was scrapped with the rest ‘sentenced to death’ as targets on various ranges. The Strvs that were dug into the bunker complex at Fort Bjørnåsen were simply forgotten once they were buried.
From 1943, Finland, Norway’s eastern Scandinavian Neighbour, had operated a fleet of StuG IIIs. These were initially bought from Nazi Germany, but they remained in service post-war. By the late 1950s, however, there was a severe spare parts shortage. In 1958, the inspector of the Finnish Army’s tank section and member of the Ordnance Division, Aaro Manskinen, traveled to the Norwegian Fjords on leave. While there, he by chance happened upon a stock pile of Panzers in various states of disrepair. It soon became clear that the Norwegian Ministry of Defense was looking to sell this pile of – what was then considered – scrap. After some initial troubles due to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty – which blocked Finland from purchasing equipment from or of German origin – a deal was agreed. 20 Panzer IIIs, 1 StuG, 10 Maybach engines, and a pile of spare parts were sold to Finland. Upon arriving in Finland, the tanks were disassembled and all useful parts were stored for later use. This kept Finland’s StuG fleet in operation well into the 1960s.
It wasn’t until November 2007 that the first Fort Bjørnåsen Panzers (Fgst.Nr 74352, 66158, 76219) began to be excavated, with a second two being uncovered in August 2007.
Today, just 7 of the Panzer IIIs (of various types) and 2 of the StuG III Ausf. Gs survive. Panzer IIIs Fgst.Nr 74352 (‘Yellow 3’), Fgst.Nr 66158 (‘Yellow 2’), and Fgst.Nr 76219 (‘Yellow 1’) are among them. ‘Yellow 3’ currently resides at Troms Forsvarsmuseum, Setermoen, awaiting restoration. ‘Yellow 2’ is currently undergoing full-scale restoration at Muzeum Broni Pancernej, Poznań in Poland, where it has been since 2013. ‘Yellow 1’ was transferred to Finland in 2013.
Fgst.Nr 73651, a Panzer III Ausf. J, was put into storage at the Oslo Defence Museum in 1964. In 1988, it was loaned to Memorial de Caen, Normandy. It was recently returned to Norway. A ‘Tankenstein’ Panzer III consisting of a Ausf. G/H hull and an Ausf. N turret can be found at the André Becker Collection in Belgium. The vehicle left Norway in the late 1940s and was located in Sweden until the 1980s. The others, an Ausf. N and an Ausf. M, can be found at Rena Military Camp, Norway, and the Wheatcroft Collection, UK, respectively.
As for the two StuG III Gs, Fgst.Nr 76149 has been cosmetically restored and currently resides in storage at the Forsvarsmuseet, Trandum. Another, which is simply the remains of a rusting hulk, can be found at Rogaland Krigshistorisk Museum.
Norway’s use of the Panzer III and StuG III is a prime example of ‘make do and mend’. Eager to defend themselves from the increasingly threatening Soviet Union, they activated equipment that was obsolete years before the Second World came to an end. What effect these vehicles could have had on Soviet Tanks is debatable. This, however, was not their intended role. Being assigned to airport garrison forces, their primary role was to engage troops and aircraft attempting to land.
The use of the Panzers and StuGs allowed the recovering Norwegian army to train their first batch of tank crews and allowed them to practise and train on a scale that would have been impossible with only the initial number of M24s. This allowed Norway to build up its fleet of more modern M24 Chaffees, and save them for active duty in a combat scenario, should the need have arisen.
An article by Mark Nash and Konsta Pylkkönen.
Illustration of Stridsvogn KW-III ‘Yellow 1’ (Fgst.Nr 76219). Originally built as an Ausf. M, it was later brought to Ausf. N standard and fitted with the short 7.5cm KwK 37. ‘Yellow 1’ was also one of the tanks buried at Bardufoss airfield.
Illustration of one of the 10 Stormkanon KW-IIIs (StuG IIIs) operated by Norway, this example being a StuG III Ausf. F/8. The vehicle is covered in the roughly painted white-wash camouflage pattern. This type of winter camouflage was used by the Norwegian Army well into the 1980s.
These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Stridsvogn KW-III (Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. N)
|Dimensions||5.49 m x 2.95 m x 2.50 m
(18ft x 9ft 8in x 8ft 2in)
|Armament||7.5 cm KwK 37|
|Machine Guns||2 × 7.92 mm MG34|
|Armor||Up to 50mm (2 in)|
|Crew||5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator/bow machine-gunner)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 120 TR V-12 265hp gasoline/petrol engine|
|Max Speed||40 km/h (24.85 mph)|
Stormkanon KW-III (StuG III Ausf. G)
|4.95m x 2.97m x 2.16m (22ft 6in x 9ft 9in x 7ft 1in)|
|Track width||41 cm|
|Track length||12.5 cm|
|Total weight, battle ready||Aprx. 24 tonnes|
|Armament||7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48|
|Armor||Up to 80mm (3.1 in)|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL120TRM V-12 watercooled gasoline, 300 bhp (221 kW)|
|Speed||40 km/h (25 mph)|
|Operated||6 – 10|
Dick Taylor & Mike Hayton, Panzer III: Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A to N (Sd.Kfz. 141), Haynes Publishing/The Tank Museum
Thomas Jentz, Hilary Doyle, Panzer Tracts No. 3 – 1: Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, B, C & D
Parola Tank Museum, Finland
Pz III in Norway, Facebook
www.kystfort.com (1) (2)
tv.nrk.no (1) (2) (3)
the.shadock.free.fr (Surviving StuGs)
the.shadock.free.fr (Surviving Pz IIIs)