As the German armored forces advanced on all fronts in 1940 and 1941, they encountered many different enemy tank types that were almost immune to guns of their Panzers. In France it was the B1 bis and the British Matilda (when the Germans met the first Matildas at Arras, it was a very unpleasant shock), in the Soviet Union were the famous the T-34 and the heavy KV-series, and in Africa again (in larger numbers) the Matilda tank. While they were able to defeat these by various means, the Germans were pressed to find a better way to combat these threats. The newly developed towed anti-tank guns (like the PaK 40 built in 1942) could efficiently destroy these tanks, but they were not suitable for offensive operations. A logical solution was to try to mount these towed anti-tank guns on a tank chassis and thus solve problem of mobility, and so the new Panzerjäger’s were born.
These new vehicles followed the same pattern: most were open-topped, with limited 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. Panzerjäger’s were, in essence, improvised and temporary solutions, but effective ones nevertheless. Just as the name suggests (tank hunter), they were designed to hunt down enemy tanks at long range 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 base.
A canvas cover was often installed over the fighting compartment and used to protect the crew from bad weather. It offered no real protection during combat. Source:www.worldwarphotos.info
The TNH – LT vz.38 tank was developed and built by the Czech ČKD company (Českomoravska Kolben Danek) in the second half of the nineteen-thirties. Production of the vz. 38 began in late 1938 but, by the time of the German annexation of Czech territory, not a single tank was handed over to the Czech army. Germany captured many brand new vz.38 tanks and, in May 1939, a delegation was sent to the ČKD factory to examine their operational potential. The Germans were so impressed with this tank that they were quickly introduced into Wehrmacht service under the name Pz.Kpfw.38(t) or simply Panzer 38(t). The ČKD factory was completely taken over for the needs of the German army under the new name BMM (Bohmisch-Mahrische Maschinenfabrik).
The Panzer 38(t) was built in relatively large numbers, saw combat action from Poland to the end of the war and was considered an effective tank for its class. But, from late 1941 on, it became obvious that it was becoming obsolete as a first line combat tank. The Panzer 38(t) chassis, on the other hand, was mechanically reliable and was highly suitable for use for other purposes, a fact which the German exploited to the maximum. Many different armored vehicles were built using the Panzer 38(t) chassis including many Panzerjager versions, like the Marder III armed with a modified Russian 7.62 cm field gun (M1936).
Heavy camouflage and a well selected combat position was necessary for the crew’s survival. Source:www.worldwarphotos.info
Panzerjäger 38(t) für 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) ‘Marder III’ (Sd.Kfz.139)
The need for such a vehicle became obvious during the first year of Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion on the Soviet Union), when German ground forces encountered the T-34 and the KV tanks. Fortunately for the Germans, they captured 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 tank chassis in order to increase its mobility.
The Panzer 38(t) armed with this Soviet gun was named 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) Pz.Kpfw.38(t) ‘Marder III’ Sd.Kfz.139 or Panzerjager 38(t) fur 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) Sd.Kfz.139 ‘Marder III’ depending on the source.
The Panzer 38(t) chassis and the running gear were almost unchanged. The suspension was also the same as the original, consisting of four large road wheels (connected in pairs to a central horizontal spring). There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers, and four return rollers in total (two on each side).
The design of the engine compartment was also unchanged. The first series of Marder III built were based on the Ausf.G tank chassis and were equipped with the Praga EPA (125 hp) six cylinder engine, but later models (built using the Ausf.H tank chassis) had a stronger Praga AC (150 hp) six cylinder engine. Both engines were connected to a transmission that had five forward and one reverse gears. Two starters were installed, one was electric and the second was an inertial starter located in the rear of the vehicle. Top speed was around 42 to 47 km/h and some 20 km/h on cross country. Two double skin fuel tanks with some 200 l in total were mounted on both engine sides. The operational range was around 185 km on good roads.
The tank hull was somewhat different from the original one used on the Panzer 38(t). In order to install the new weapon mount, it was necessary to remove the turret, the top part of the hull armor and the ammo storage for the old gun. The front and side hull armor with the three observation hatches (two on front and one on the right side) and the hull machine gun were unchanged. The front hull armor was 50 mm thick, while the sides and rear were 15 mm thick.
On top of the hull, the new armored (open from top and rear) superstructure with the main gun was installed. On the upper part of the hull, about where the turret ring was, a ‘T’ shape gun mount was bolted in. The main gun and the gun crew were protected with an enlarged armored shield which consisted of six armored plates bolted together over the original gun shield. This armored shield offered the gun crew some protection from the front and sides, while the top and the rear were open. The thickness of the new modified gun shield was around 14.5 mm plus the armor from the original gun shield, and 10 mm on the sides.
The rest of this vehicle was covered in armored plates with different shapes and different angles, on top and over the tank hull (some 15 mm thick). The engine compartment was also protected from the sides with two armored plates.
Due to being an open-topped vehicle with low thickness armor and high silhouette, crew protection was on a very low level. Camouflage and a well-selected field position were essential for survival. As an open topped vehicle, the crew was also exposed to weather conditions. A canvas cover could be placed over the vehicle but it limited the crew’s view of the surroundings.
The main gun, as previously noted was the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), with some 30 rounds of ammunition. Most rounds were placed below the gun mount, with three rounds mounted on the left and right side below the gun shield. In practice, crews would store many more rounds in any available free space inside or outside the vehicle. Due to the gun weight, installation of a heavy travel lock was necessary, in order to avoid damaging the main gun when on the move. At first, a simple steel tube shape travel lock was used, but during the war it was replaced with a strengthened triangle shaped one filled with sheet steel.
The elevation of the Pak 36 was -7° to +16° with a traverse of 50°. The maximum rate of fire was 10-12 rounds per minute. Armor penetration with the standard AP round from the range of 1000 m (at 0° angled armor) was around 108 mm. By using the much better (but rare) tungsten round (7.62 cm Pzar. Patr. 40), the armor penetration increased up to 130 mm at the same range.
The secondary weapon was the original Czech 7.92 mm ZB-53 (named MG-37(t) in German use) with some 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The crew would also carry their personal weapons for self defense.
The Marder III crew consisted of the commander/gunner, loader, driver and radio operator. The driver and the radio operator were positioned inside the vehicle, the same as on the Panzer 38(t). Two (modified) front hatch doors were located at the front top of the new armored superstructure, just beneath the main gun. These doors were used by the driver and the radio operator to enter or exit their positions. The driver was located on the right side and had two observation hatches (in front and on the right side). The radio operator (and also the hull ball mounted machine gun operator) was located to the left with his radio instruments (Fu 5 SE 10 U). The commander/gunner and the loader were located behind the new gun shield in the upper part of the vehicle. On the left side was the gun operator and the loader was on the right side. They only had a limited amount of space behind the gun shield. Used rounds and other equipment, spare parts or supplies were usually carried in the rear mesh wire basket.
Total weight was some 10.67 t. The length was 5.85 m, width 2.16 m and the height was 2.5 m.
Organization of the self-propelled anti-tank battalions
Special self-propelled anti-tank battalions (Panzerjäger-Abteilungen Sfl.) were formed and equipped with the new Marder III. Both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS fielded such battalions. Later during the war, as more and better self-propelled anti-tank were built, the surviving Marder IIIs were given to infantry (motorized) divisions or returned to Germany to be used as training vehicles.
Self-propelled anti-tank battalions were supposed to be equipped with 45 Marder III vehicles. Three were used as command vehicles (Stabskompanies) and 12 vehicles were positioned in each of the three Panzerjäger-Kompanien. The Panzerjäger-Kompanien were divided into three platoons, each with four vehicles. The rest were used to equipped HQ section (Gruppe Fuhrer) with two vehicles in each Kompanie.
These anti-tank battalions were equipped with other vehicles necessary for their successful operation: over 20 motorcycles (half were with sidecars), 45 cars, more than 60 trucks, some 13 half-track of different types (four Sd.Kfz.10, six Sd.Kfz.7 and three Sd.Kfz.8) and one Sd.Kfz.251. Sometimes, modified ammunition Panzers were used, but this was rare. In total, Self-propelled anti-tank battalions had around 650 men.
It is important to note that this information and the numbers presented were, in the best case, purely theoretical, for several reasons: because of the losses during the war, not many Marders were produced to equip all units. Also, there were insufficient men and materials, many vehicles were often on repairs etc.
The majority of the Marder III tank hunters were sent to the Eastern Front, where such a vehicle was desperately needed by the German forces. Almost a third of the produced Marder IIIs would be sent to North Africa, helping the DAK (Deutsches Afrikakorps) fighting against British and later even American tanks.
In North Africa
After the failed Italian attack on the British positions in Egypt, Mussolini was desperate to convince Hitler to send military aid to his shattered forces in Africa. Initially, Hitler was not interested in the Mediterranean. He reluctantly decided to help his ally and sent an armored force under the leadership of Erwin Rommel.
The Germans quickly found out that, beside the famous ‘88’ (88 mm Flak gun), the standard 3.7 cm and short 5 cm anti-tank weapons struggled against the well armored British Matilda tank. A number of captured and modified 7.62 mm PaK 36(r) guns were also sent to the North African front. One great issue with this weapons was the low mobility on a front were speed was essential for success. Several solutions to this problem were tested, like the Sd.Kfz.6 armed with the 7.62 mm PaK 36(r) in a box shape casemate and the experimental half-tracks armed with the 7.5 cm L/41 gun.
Before sending the new Marder to Africa, it was necessary to adapt them for service in the African desert. In March 1942, one Marder III was equipped and tested with sand filters. The tests were successful and later vehicles sent to Africa would have these filters. The number of vehicles sent ranges from 66 to 117 (depending on the sources).
The first Marder IIIs (6 vehicles) arrived to North Africa in May 1942, with the last one arriving in November 1942. The freshly arrived Marder IIIs were used to reinforce and equip anti-tank battalions of the 15th and 21th Panzer Divisions.
By late October 1942, the 15th Panzer Division had at its disposal some 16 Marder III vehicles. All were allocated to the 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion, together with a number of towed 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank guns. After the British attack at El Alamein at the end of October 1942, the 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion was under a heavy attack. It managed to inflict some heavy damage to the British advance units but it also suffered losses. Almost all the Marder IIIs were lost, except one.
In September 1942, the 39th Anti-Tank Battalion of the 21st Panzer Division had around 17 PaK 38 guns and 18 Marder IIIs divided between two Kompanien (1st and the 2nd). There is little information on this unit’s participation in the Battle for Alam Halfa (October-September 1942). In late October 1942, during the British counterattack at El Alamein, all 18 Marder III vehicles were reported to be still operational. By the 25th of October, this unit was pulled out into reserve. The next day, the 2nd Kompanie was sent to the north to help stop a British attack while the 1st Kompanie was located to the south.
By the end of October, the 39th Anti-Tank Battalion was heavily involved in fighting, trying to free some encircled units of the 164th Light Division. On the 4th of November, the surviving German forces were forced to retreat. The 39th Anti-Tank Battalion lost all its Marder IIIs and had only a few 5 cm PaK’s left. By December, the 21st Panzer Division had only two Marders III, which were not even fit for action.
In March 1943, after some resting time, the 39th Anti-Tank Battalion was reformed and reinforced. The 1st Kompanie received 9 Marder IIIs and the 2nd Kompanie received Marder III Ausf.H (version armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 40). They fought in Tunisia until the Axis surrender in May.
The 10th Panzer Division was pulled out from the Eastern Front and after some time resting was reinforced with 9 Marders III in July 1942 (90th Anti-Tank Battalion). The 10th Panzer Division was sent to the North African front in November 1942. In Africa, this unit was engaged in many battles against the British and newly-arrived American forces and the losses were heavy. The last Marder III was reported lost in March 1943.
The 190th Anti-Tank Battalion and the 605th Anti-Tank Battalion were supposed to be equipped with Marder IIIs, but there is little evidence that this ever happened.
The British tank crews learned to fear the Marder’s firepower at long ranges. When the British first learned about this new German tank hunter they assumed that was armed with the famous ‘88’ gun.
Marder III, captured by the Allies in North Africa. Source: Pininterest
A Marder III of the 49th Panzerjäger-Abteilung of the 4th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front, 1943.
A Marder III with a three-tone camouflage in Russia, 1943. Note the kill rings.
A Marder III captured by Soviet Troops in 1944. Note the crossed-out Balkenkreuz.
Marder III of the Deutsche Afrika Korps in July 1942. This vehicle belonged to the 15th Panzer Division.
The 1st Panzer division was heavily engaged in Russia during the first year of German invasion. In May 1942, it was reinforced with six Marder IIIs which were used to equip the 37th anti-tank battalion. This unit’s first action was during the German attack (July 1942) on the Soviet positions around Belyj and Szytschewka south of city Rzhev (some 230 km west from Moscow). By September 1942, this unit was credited with destroying some 99 Soviet tanks. By the end of November and beginning of December, it was engaged in defensive operations in the region of southwest of Bjeloj (Tver Oblast near Moscow). Due to the long and difficult fighting, this unit was exhausted, so it was sent to France (end of December) for rest and relaxation. The surviving Marders were left behind, but there is no information about which units received them.
The next unit to receive the Marder III was the 38th anti-tank battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division. In May 1942, the 38th anti-tank battalion was reinforced with 9 Marder IIIs, one Panzer II Ausf.B Befehlspanzer and a few Panzer I Ausf.B modified into ammunition tanks. This unit was not immediately sent to the front, but instead spent the next few months in training. It was ready for active duty in July 1942, and was immediately involved in heavy fighting around Bjeloj. As it was the only unit to have enough firepower to destroy Soviet heavy tanks at long ranges (the first new Panzer IVs with the longer guns would arrive in this division in August 1942), it managed to claim 14 Soviet T-34 tanks with no losses. On the 11th August, the 2nd Panzer Division managed to destroy 20 enemy tanks, but most were destroyed by the Marders. In December 1942, the 38th anti-tank battalion received a few Marder III Ausf.H (7.5 cm PaK 40). From August 1942 to March 1943, the 38th anti-tank battalion was heavily engaged in many combat operations on the Eastern front. Few were lost due to enemy fire, but many were lost due mechanical breakdowns. From March to April 1943, this unit was sent to the rear for rest. In March, it was again reinforced with 9 new Marder III Ausf.H. This unit did not see action again until July 1943. Due the standardization of weapons within anti-tank battalions in late 1943, the 38th anti-tank battalion was forced to give up all its remaining Marder IIIs to the 616th anti-tank battalion by the end of June 1943.
The SS units were also given a number of Marder III vehicles as they were seen as elite fighting forces and deserved only the best available equipment. The 2nd SS Anti-Tank Battalion of the SS ‘Das Reich’ Panzer division received 9 Marder IIIs in May or June 1942. The first combat action of this unit was in February 1943 on the Eastern Front near Khrakov (in Ukraine). At first, not many vehicles were operational due to the low temperature which caused problems with frozen condensed water gathering at the bottom of the two fuel tanks. In late February, the 2nd SS Anti-Tank Battalion was reinforced with (unknown number) the Panzer II based Marder IIs. During the Operation Zitadelle, the 2nd SS Anti-Tank Battalion saw some heavy action. By the end of summer 1943, the 2nd SS anti-tank battalion was so depleted that this unit was disbanded, and the soldiers who survived were sent as replacement to other SS Stu.G. Abt. DR (units equipped with StuG vehicles). An interesting fact about the 2nd SS Anti-Tank Battalion is that captured and reused several T-34 tanks without the turret as ammunition tanks.
The Marder III fought until the end of the war and, on the 22nd of January 1945, a dozen or more were reported present (around 60 vehicles in various conditions) in several Panzer and infantry divisions.
Beside these Panzer divisions, many more units received Marder III anti-tank vehicles: The 5th (12), 6th (9), 7th (47), 8th (12), 17th (6), 18th (6), 19th (16), 20th (24) and the 22nd (6) Panzer Divisions. As more advanced tank hunters were built, the Marder III was used to equip several infantry and infantry motorized divisions. 18th Inf. Mot. div. received 6, the 20th Inf. Mot. div. received 15, the 29th Inf. Mot.div. received 6, and the 35th Infantry division received only 2 vehicles.
It is important to note that, besides these divisions, many more received the Marder III, but it is difficult to find the exact numbers. In addition, some vehicles were used as training vehicles, which also complicates the total count.
In order to start the production of the new Marder III as quick as possible, BMM was ordered by the German military officials to reuse the existing Panzer 38(t) production line, and thus save time. It was necessary to make certain changes to the production line and adapt it for the needs of the new Marder. Because of this decision, the production of the original Panzer 38(t) was reduced to a minimum and, at the beginning of June 1942, completely stopped in favor of the new tank hunter.
Production of this vehicle began in April of 1942. Monthly production was: April 38, May 82, June 23, July 50, August 51, September 50, and October 50, in total 344 vehicles. From April to July, the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.G tank chassis was used, and from July to the end of the production run in October, the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.H tank chassis with a stronger engine was used.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Marder III
The Marder III tank hunter solved the problem with the low mobility of towed anti-tank guns. It could quickly respond to any threat and quickly disengage and retreat to safety if necessary. The Panzer 38(t) chassis was mechanically reliable and was adequate for this modification. The Marder III was fairly fast, especially on the march and the steering was easy for the driver to handle.
The main gun had enough firepower to destroy any tank at that time at great distance. This was especially evident during the battles in open field in Africa and Russia. It was also a great morale booster for the infantry when they fought together.
The high profile was a big problem for the Marder III, making it a good target for enemy gunners. The armor was also quite light and offered only limited protection from small arms fire and shrapnel. Heavy camouflage and a good selected combat position were necessary for the crew’s survival, but this was not always possible or easy to achieve successfully (for example, in open fields and deserts).
The Marder’s high profile is evident here. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
The firing position had to be changed often in order to avoid enemy return fire. By doing this, it was necessary to rise (or lower) the travel gun lock, which could take time as a crew member had to get out and do it manually. This had to be done so as not to cause damage to the gun or affect the gun calbration.
Major mechanical failures were rare, but due to the high centre of gravity, the suspension spring bolts were under high stress and they often broke. Supplies of new spare spring bolts were often not available, and this forced many vehicles to be out of use for some time.
The ground pressure was very high, if the driver did not pay attention to the environment, he could easily get the vehicle stuck in the mud. The low ammo capacity was a big issue, especially during prolonged fights as the crew could quickly run out of ammunition. A problem was also the fact that there was no adequate vehicle for the delivery of additional ammunition. Half tracks were often used for this role, but there were never enough of them available. Ammunition carriers based on tank chassis were preferred however they were used in limited numbers by the Germans during WWII.
Getting stuck in the mud was easy thanks to the high ground pressure, as shown by this Marder somewhere on the Eastern Front, 1943. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info
7.62 cm PaK 36(r)
During Operation Barbarossa, the German ground forces managed to captured large numbers of field guns of different calibers. One of the gun captured was the 76.2 mm M1936 (F-22) divisional gun. After a brief assessment of the characteristics of this gun, the German were satisfied with its performance. The gun was given to the army for use under the name 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.
7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was used by the Germans in fairly large numbers during the war. Source: Axishistory
When the German army came across the new Soviet T-34 and the KV-1 and KV-2 tanks, the 37 mm PaK 36/37 did not prove up to the task and the PaK 38 was available only in small numbers. Thus, a temporary solution had to be found and quickly. The 7.62 cm M1936 gun was modified for use as an anti-tank weapon. The changes involved adding a muzzle brake, the gun shield was cut in half and the upper part was welded to the lower part of the shield (similar to the PaK 40 two part shield), reaming-out the gun chamber to 7.5 cm caliber in order to use the standard German ammunition (same as PaK 40) and the elevating handwheel was moved to the left side. After these changes, the gun was renamed 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), and remained in use throughout WWII.
7.62 cm PaK 36(r) Pz.Kpfw.38(t) ‘Marder III’ Sd.Kfz.139 specifications
|Dimensions||5.85 m x 2.16 m x 2.5 m|
|Total weight, battle ready||10.67 tons|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Praga EPA six cylinder|
|Top Speed||42-47 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)|
|Max Operational Range||185/140 km|
|Armament||7.62 cm PaK(r) L/54.8
one 7.92 mm MG 37(t)
|Armor||Front 30 mm (1.18 in)
Sides 14.5 mm (0.57 in)
Rear 14.5 mm (0.57 in)
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Panzer 38(t), Steven J. Zaloga, New Vanguard 215.
Marder III Nuts and Bolts 15, Volker Andorfer, Martin Block and Jonh Nelson.
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-Germany, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008.
Waffentechnik im Zeiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke, Parragon books.
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr ab 1900, Werner Oswald 2004.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Sturmartillerie and Panzerjager 1939-1945, Bryan Perrett.
German Army S.P Weapons 1939-45 Part 2, Handbook No., P/Chamberlain and H.L. Doyle.
Fighting men of WWII, Axis Forces, David Miller, Chartwell Books 2011.