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.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||8.87 x 2.9 x 2.2 meters|
|Total weight, battle ready||28 tonnes|
|Armament||7.5cm PaK 42 L/70 and one 7.92 mm MG 42|
|Armor||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
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 120 TRM, 300 hp (221 kW), 11.63 hp/ton|
|Speed||37 km/h, 15-18 km/h (cross country)|
|Operational range||200 km, 130 km (cross country)|
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