During the early development of the Panzer IV, nobody involved in the program knew that this vehicle, designed to serve as a support Panzer, would become the Wehrmacht’s backbone for a good deal of the war. While today the Tiger and Panther are better known, the Panzer IV was produced in the greatest numbers and served on all fronts in many bloody engagements throughout the war. In October 1939, the demands for an increasing number of support tanks would lead to the introduction of the Panzer IV Ausf.D version, of which over 200 would be built.
Following the adoption of the Panzer IV Ausf.B and C and high demand for support tanks, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) issued production orders for a new batch of 200 vehicles in July 1938. With the forming of new SS Standarten units at the insistence of Adolf Hitler himself, 48 additional vehicles were to be built. These were to be used to equip four SS Standarten with a mittlere Panzer Kompanie (medium tank company). As it turned out, these vehicles were instead given to Heer Panzer Divisions (units of the regular German Army). The SS Standarten units were instead to be equipped with StuG Batteries. While the Ausf.D was a further extension of the Panzer IV production and was quite similar to the previous versions, some changes were made nevertheless.
Production of the Panzer IV Ausf.D was, like for previous models, carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. From October 1939 through October 1940, of the 248 ordered Panzer IV Ausf.D tanks, only 232 were built. The whole production process was very slow, with an average of 13 tanks being built every month. During 1940, the production numbers gradually increased to 20 tanks per month. The remaining 16 chassis were instead used as Brückenleger IV bridge carriers. According to K. Hjermstad (Panzer IV Squadron), some 229 vehicles were built until May 1941.
While the Panzer IV Ausf.D was visually very similar to the previous build versions there were some differences.
The Panzer IV Ausf.D superstructure had the same dimensions as the previous models (Ausf.B and C) which, besides some changes, would remain in use up to the war’s end. The difference was the reintroduction of the protruding driver plate and the ball mounted machine gun. The previously used pistol port proved difficult to properly use and was abandoned. While the protruding left side of the superstructure offered the driver with a better view to the front and sides, it also made the front plate more complicated to build. On the front of this plate, a protective Fahrersehklappe 30 sliding driver visor port was placed, which was provided with thick armored glass for extra protection. When the driver visor was closed (usually when in combat operations), the driver would then use the KFF binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. Many Panzer IV Ausf.D vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver visor. The side vision ports (on the superstructure and the turret) were 30 mm thick and additionally protected by 90 mm thick armored glass blocks.
The Panzer IV Ausf.D turret design was mostly unchanged. The only visible change was the introduction of new types of observation ports. The turret was, like the previous versions, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear from early 1941 on. Some vehicles had an unusual but simpler stowage box mounted to the rear of the turret, but otherwise performed the same role.
Suspension and running gear
To somewhat improve the Panzer IV Ausf.D’s overall drive performance, five bump stops were added on each side. The last bogie assembly was provided with two bump stops, while the remaining three had only one (on each side). Smaller number of Ausf.D were also equipped with a slightly redesigned (same as on Ausf.E) drive sprocket and road wheel cover.
The Panzer IV Ausf.D used a new type of track which had the height of the track center guides increased. For this reason, the new tracks could not be used on earlier versions, but the Ausf.D could use, if necessary, older types of tracks without problems.
The Engine and Transmission
The Ausf.D was powered by the Maybach HL 120 TRM engine with 265 hp@2600 rpm. Despite the increase of weight to 20 tonnes, the maximum speed was 42 km/h, with 25 km/h cross-country. The operational range was 210 km on road and 130 km cross-country. The fuel load of 470 l was stored in three fuel tanks placed under the fighting compartment. The engine side air intakes were redesigned and simplified and consisted of a single horizontal bar.
The Armor Protection
For the lower hull, the upper glacis armor plate thickness was 20 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower front glacis was 30 mm placed at a 14° angle. The last 68 produced vehicles had the lower plate thickness increased to 50 mm.
The central part of the side armor of the hull was 40 mm thick, built from two 20 mm plates, while the front part of the side armor (around the driver) was 20 mm thick. The rear engine compartment side armor was 20 mm. The rear armor was 20 mm thick but the lower bottom area was only 14.5 mm and the bottom was 10 mm thick.
The face-hardened front superstructure armor was 30 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 20 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 20 mm thick armor (at a 10° angle) at the sides and 20 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear.
The armor on the Panzer IV Ausf.D was increased after the campaign in the West. While the low velocity 3.7 cm tank guns proved useless against German armor, more modern 25-47 mm caliber anti-tank guns had no problem penetrating the Ausf.D’s 30 mm frontal armor. For this reason, from July 1940 onwards, an additional 30 mm applique armor plates were bolted or welded to the front hull and superstructure armor. The side armor was also increased with 20 mm additional armored plates.
The front turret armor was 30 mm thick (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 20 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). The new external gun mantlet armor was 35 mm thick. The commander’s cupola had all-around 30 mm of armor, with the two hatch doors being 8 mm thick. The armor plates were made using nickel-free homogeneous and rolled plates.
One of the last attempts to improve the Ausf.D’s armor protection was the introduction of a 20 mm thick applique Vorpanzer (forward armor) armored shield added to the front part of the turret. Interestingly, according to old photographs, while some vehicles had both turret and superstructure added armor protection, others had extra armor added to only one. In an attempt to increase overall protection from anti-tank rifles, some Ausf.D vehicles were later equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen). The Panzer IV Ausf.D, as nearly all German Panzers of that time, was equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system).
The Panzer IV Ausf.D had, like its predecessors, a crew of five, which included the commander, gunner and loader who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull.
The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf.D was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. The Panzer IV Ausf.B/C used an internal gun mantlet, which proved to be ineffective. The Ausf.D version had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that were outside of the turret were covered with a steel jacket and a deflector guard. Similar to earlier versions, the Ausf.D was also equipped with a ‘Y’ shaped metal rod antenna guide placed under the gun. Its purpose was to deflect the antenna and thus avoid damaging it during turret rotation.
Besides the main gun, the Panzer IV was provided with two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns for use against infantry. One machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. Another machine gun was positioned in the right side of the superstructure, and was operated by the radio operator. On the Ausf.D, a new type of the ball mount, Kugelblende 30, was used. The ammunition load for the two MG 34’s was 2.700 rounds.
Vehicles that were damaged and returned from the front line for repair from July 1942 onward were equipped with the longer KwK 40 guns. These vehicles were mostly used for crew training but also as replacement vehicles for active units.
Organization and Tactics
Prior to the German invasion of Poland, the general organization of a Panzer Division consisted of two regiments each having two Panzer Battalions. These battalions were then divided into four companies. Although these units were meant to be equipped with modern Panzer III and IV tanks, due to the slow rate of production, this was not possible. For this reason, the earlier Panzer Divisions had to be equipped with weaker Panzer I and II tanks, and even captured and foreign vehicles such as the Panzer 35(t) and 38(t). In the case of the Panzer IV, the situation was so critical that each Panzer Division could only be equipped with 24 (on average) such vehicles. The few produced Panzer IVs were allocated to the so-called Heavy Companies, which were divided into two platoons, each with 3 vehicles.
The primary function of the Panzer IV was to provide covering and suppressing fire for the advancing Panzer units. While they were used in Heavy Companies in combat situations, the battalion commanders would often reallocate the Panzer IV to other companies. These mixed units offered better cooperation between different types of Panzers, as the identification of targets could be achieved easier. Then, the Panzer IV crews could direct their firepower to destroy the marked target much quicker.
The usual German Panzer tactic was the use of the ‘Keil’ (wedge) formation. The tip of this attack would be formed by the Panzer III and Panzer 35 (t) and 38 (t), while the Panzer I and II would advance on the flanks. The Panzer IVs were to follow up and would continue destroying any marked targets. The targets would usually be marked with tracer rounds or smoke marker shells. The Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm cannon was effective against all soft skin targets but was also effective against most tanks except for the better-armored ones, such as the French B1 bis or British Matilda and, later in 1941, against the Soviet T-34 and KV series.
Prior to Operation Barbarossa, Adolf Hitler ordered that the number of Panzer Division be doubled. While in theory this could be fairly easily achieved, in practice, due to a lack of tanks, the only solution possible was to reduce the number of tanks per Panzer Divisions. Each Panzer Division had only one regiment with two to three battalions. During the attack on the Soviet Union, each Panzer Division had on average 30 Panzer IV tanks.
While the previous versions were used in Poland, due to its late introduction, the Ausf.D’s first combat action undertaken was in May 1940 during the German Invasion of the West. Depending on the source, between 278 and 296 (even up to 366) Panzer IV tanks were available. These were allocated to 10 Panzer Divisions. The 1st Panzer Division was provided with the largest number of Panzer IVs, with a total of 48, while the 9th Panzer Division had only 11. While primarily designed as a support tank, it was still equipped with armor-piercing ammunition in case of encountering enemy tanks.
Despite the quick defeat of the Allied forces in the West, the fighting was extensive and harsh. In order to protect the flanks of the German Sedan bridgeheads, Heinz Guderian ordered the 10th Panzer Division, supported by the Großdeutschland Infanterie Regiment, to capture Stonne in Northern France. The French 55e Division d’Infanterie, supported by FCM 36 tanks, was trying to counterattack the German units but was beaten back on 14th May. The French scouting force managed to dig in at Stonne and had at their disposal two 25 mm and one 47 anti-tank guns and two Panhard 178 armored cars. The German advancing column consisted of five Panzer IVs, which approached the village on 15th May. The French 25 mm gunners engaged the first Panzer IV Ausf.D, they fired several rounds until they were certain that the German tank was knocked out. They then engaged the second (with number 711) which was also knocked out and then the third which was completely blown up due to ammunition detonation. The French 25 mm gun crews retreated to the village followed by advancing German infantry and a few Panzer IIs. The French, despite having destroyed three Panzer IV, were forced to retreat with the loss of both vehicles, while the Germans lost one more Panzer II.
The French then counterattacked with 13 Hotchkiss H39 tanks. The crews of the damaged Panzer IV number 711 managed to destroy two H39 tanks, while the French managed to enter the village. Due to a lack of infantry support, they were once again forced to retreat. A second French counter-attack was led by Lt. Paul Caravé with three B1 bis tanks. They first engaged a group of German 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank guns. While they managed to destroy one gun and wound the crew of the second, the third gun managed to hit one of the B1 bis tanks on the side grill armor. The tank immediately caught fire and was lost. At the same time, one B1 bis, ‘Hautvillers’, was engaged by the disabled Panzer IV Ausf.D number 711, which managed to shoot 20 rounds against the frontal armor of the French tank without any success. But the Panzer IV managed to destroy the French tank’s track and render it immobile. At the same time, a second B1 bis, ‘Gaillac’, was engaged by the same Panzer IV. This time, due to a lucky hit, the German tank jammed the second French tank’s cupola. The Panzer IV managed to fire another round to the rear, and this time the 7.5 cm gun managed to penetrate the armor of the B1 bis which was blown up by an internal explosion. The crew of the ‘Hautvillers’ abandoned their vehicle and were captured.
The French attacked again with a few H39, FCM-36 and three B1 Bis and, after heavy fighting, managed to take over the village. On 16th May, the Germans finally managed to push back the French. Due to losses, the 10th Panzer Division had to be pulled out. By the end of the engagement, the losses were 25 German tanks and 33 French ones.
During the campaign in the West, Panzer IVs even claimed to have achieved an incredible success like sinking a destroyer. This happened on 25th May 1940, when two Panzer IVs belonging to the 2nd Panzer Division, led by Oberleutnant von Jaworsk, entered Boulogne harbor. At the same time, an Allied destroyer which was transporting troops to defend Boulogne approached the harbor. After a fight that lasted some 10 minutes, the destroyer received severe damage from the Panzer IVs, sinking a few hours later.
Despite the quick defeat of the Allied forces in the West, the Germans lost many tanks. Regarding the Panzer IV, less than 100 were reported lost. While the sources are not clear, probably not all were written off, some were likely repaired and put back into action. In France, while the Panzer IV Ausf.D (and older versions) had a disadvantage in armor protection, they had the superiority in the proper use and concentration of numbers, radio equipment, and three-man tank turrets.
There were initially 40 Panzer IVs (mainly Ausf.Ds) in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) in 1941. Due to combat attrition, the numbers dropped to 10 vehicles in early 1942. By May 1942, the number was increased to 41 vehicles. In North Africa, the Panzer IV Ausf.D’s performance was deemed insufficient and was eventually replaced with Panzer IVs armed with the stronger KwK 40 guns.
The Panzer IV Ausf.D would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece. During the German Balkan campaign there were some 122 Panzer IV available.
By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517 (or 531 depending on the source), with each Panzer Division receiving, on average, 30 vehicles. While the Panzer IV proved to be effective against the lightly armored Soviet tanks (for example the T-26 or BT-series), the newer T-34 and KV-series proved to be too much for it. Due to attrition, lack of fuel and spare parts, by the end of 1941, there were only 75 operational and 136 Panzer IVs requiring short term repair in the inventory of the German Army groups Heeresgruppe Nord and Mitte. By 1st April 1942, the Germans managed to increase the number of Panzer IVs to 552 vehicles.
The Panzer IV would remain in use nearly up to the war’s end. As their numbers began to dwindle, most surviving vehicles would be used as training vehicles.
The Panzer IV Ausf.D chassis would be used for a number of modifications which include the Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät, Brückenleger, Tauchpanzer, Tropen and Fahrschulpanzer IV. Different equipment and armament variants were also tested.
Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät
An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf.D) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortar codenamed ‘Karlgerät’. The modification included removing the turret and installing a large crane in its place. Additionally, an ammunition compartment for four huge 2 tonnes shells was also added.
Prior to the war, the German Army was interested in the idea of a bridge carrying Panzer. In 1939, Krupp developed and built six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf.C chassis. As the Ausf.D chassis became available in sufficient numbers, they were also used. Some 16 Ausf.D chassis were used for this configuration. While these saw deployment on the front, their overall performance was deemed insufficient and the production order for 40 more vehicles was canceled. In August 1940, at least two Brückenleger IV were converted back to tank configuration. The remaining Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf.D were also converted in May 1941. What is interesting is that one Brückenleger IV was modified (possibly by its crew) by replacing the bridging equipment with a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun.
For the planned amphibious invasion of the United Kingdom (Operation Sea Lion) in July and August 1940, some 48 Panzer IV Ausf.Ds were modified to be used as Tauchpanzer (submersible tanks). These vehicles are easily identified by the added frame holder for the waterproof fabric on the front part of the turret and the hull positioned machine gun ball mount. As the invasion of the United Kingdom was postponed and then cancelled, these vehicles would see service on the Eastern Front with the 3rd and 18th Panzer Divisions.
Panzer IV Ausf.D with snow plough
Based on experience during the first Russian winter, in March 1942, Adolf Hitler proposed the installation of snow plough equipment on all Panzers serving on this front. The first testing of the snow plough began at the tank school in St. Johann (Austria). In April 1942, Hitler was informed that a small snow plough could be attached to the tank front. The first such equipment was available for front use in October 1942.
Panzer IV Ausf.D mit 5 cm KwK 39 L/60
When the Germans encountered the Soviet T-34 and KV series, their tank guns proved to be ineffective. For this reason, Krupp was requested to experimentally arm one Panzer IV Ausf.D with the 5 cm KwK 39 L/60 gun. The prototype was to be completed by November 1941. This gun greatly improved the Panzer IV’s anti-tank firepower compared to the original short barrel 7.5 cm gun. While the installation of this gun proved to be feasible and there was a planned production run of 80 vehicles by the spring of 1942, the whole project was canceled. As even more powerful 7.5 cm long barrel versions were slowly entering production, the Germans instead decided to adopt it for the Panzer IV.
Panzer IV Ausf.D Tropen
After 1941, the Germans were sending armored forces to North Africa to help their Italian ally. Of course, due to the specific weather conditions, the tanks had to be modified in order to be used operationally. The Panzer IV Ausf.D were modified with an improved ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand getting into the engine. These vehicles were also painted with a sand color to help with camouflage. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Tropic). Some 30 Panzer IV Ausf.D were modified for this role.
Munitionspanzer IV Ausf.D
During April-May 1943, six Panzer IV chassis (including at least one Ausf.D) were modified to be used as Munitionspanzer (ammunition supply tanks) for the Sturmpanzer IV. For these tanks, the turret and some parts of the interior were removed to make room for ammunition racks. The top of the Panzer IV, where the turret was originally located, was replaced by a sheet metal cover. These vehicles were also equipped with 5 mm thick armored Schürzen.
Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf.D
With the introduction of improved versions of the Panzer IV, some Ausf.D that were returned from the frontline and repaired were given to training tank schools. Visually, they were the same as ordinary tanks.
Today, there are several surviving Panzer IV Ausf.D. These include one in the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, one at the Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, one Ausf.D armed with the KwK 40 in the Bovington Tank Museum in the UK and one turret at the Munster Panzer Museum in Germany. Interestingly, there are also two Panzer IVs that were restored after the war in Russia. They were restored by using many components of different Panzer IVs.
The Panzer IV Ausf.D was developed and built due to the demand for more support tanks. It introduced some improvements regarding the armor, adding a new external gun mantlet, simplifying the side air intakes and other minor changes. Compared to the earlier versions, it was built in larger numbers and its chassis was even used for other purposes. It saw service with the Panzer Divisions up to late stages of the war.
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|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.92 x 2.83 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)|
|Total weight, battle-ready||20 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 hp @ 2600 rpm|
|Speed (road/off road)||42 km/h, 25 km/h (cross country)|
|Range (road/off road)-fuel||210 km, 130 km (cross country)|
|Primary Armament||7.5 cm KwK L/24|
|Secondary Armament||Two 7.92 mm MG 34|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Turret Armor||Front 30 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 20 and top 8-10 mm|
|Hull Armor||Front 30 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm and the top and bottom 10-11 mm|