The next in line in the Panzer III series after the Ausf.B was the Ausf.C. As the previous suspension used on Ausf.B still proved to be inadequate, the German engineers tried a new 8 wheel suspension. Another major change was the introduction of an improved commander cupola. Like the previous two versions, the Ausf.C would also be built in small series and used mainly for testing, but also saw limited combat action.
With the development of the first Panzer III Ausf.A, the German Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6 – the automotive design office of the German Army) contacted Daimler-Benz to build two additional experimental chassis. The first one was the Versuchs-Fahrgestell (experimental chassis) Z.W.3 (Zugführerwagen platoon commander’s vehicle) which would lead to the Panzer III Ausf.B. The Z.W.4 would be used as the base of the Panzer III Ausf.C (marked as 3a. Serie Z.W.) and D (marked as 3b. Serie Z.W.). Both developments were carried out to attempt to find a solution to the Ausf.A’s problematic suspension.
Daimler-Benz was tasked with assembling 15 Panzer III Ausf.C tanks. In the same way as the previously built vehicles, this included a number of different subcontractors. Some of these were Krupp, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke AG, and many more much smaller companies. By the end of 1937, all 15 vehicles were completed and given to the German Army for use.
The Panzer III Ausf.C was simply an improved version of the Ausf.B. The two major modifications were the suspension and the commander’s cupola, with some other minor modifications. The weapons, engine, armor (except the cupola), and overall design were unchanged.
The hull of the Panzer III Ausf.C was the same with one exception. The two inspection access hatch doors to access the transmission located in the lower front plate were replaced by two square-shaped armored covers that were held in place by bolts. In front of the hull, two towing bracket pins and one to the rear were added.
The superstructure received only minor modifications, mostly in the rear side of the engine compartment. The flat rear side on the engine compartment used on the previous Ausf.B was replaced with a new angled plate. Another change was the use of improved vision ports that provided better protection from splash.
Changes on the turret included the replacement of the visor ports with improved models. The left vision port lacked the small visor slits that the right one had. The visor ports on the turret side doors were designed to be easily replaceable.
One of the few major improvements was a completely new and better-protected commander cupola. Its armor thickness was increased from 14.5 to 30 mm all around. The number of vision ports was reduced from eight to five. These were also better protected, with two-part hatches that could be fully or partially opened. In addition, much thicker 50 mm glass blocks replaced the 12 mm ones previously used.
The Ausf.B incorporated a new 8 road wheel suspension. This also proved to be insufficient for the job, so the Germans replaced it with a new one. The Ausf.C suspension also had 8 smaller road wheels, but with a different arrangement. It was divided into three parts, with two pairs of double wheels placed in front and to the rear. The remaining four double wheels were placed in the middle. The smaller pairs, each with two double wheels, were suspended using a shortened leaf spring unit. In addition, these were also provided with a shock absorber. The four center-positioned wheels were suspended using a much longer leaf spring unit. The last change to the suspension was the new round cap held in place with four bolts for the rear idler.
The Panzer III Ausf.C, as the previously built versions, was allocated initially to training units. Once war with Poland broke out in September 1939, the Panzer III Ausf.C would also be pressed into combat service. The Panzer III had a good gun at the time and could destroy with ease any Polish armored vehicle. The Panzer IIIs were lightly armored and often fell victim to Polish anti-tank fire of any caliber. With the completion of the Polish campaign, the Germans initiated a slow withdrawal of the earlier types of the Panzer III. By February 1940, these, including the Ausf.C, were allocated to tank training schools.
The Panzer III Ausf.C was another attempt to find an adequate suspension solution for the Panzer III. While a new type of suspension was tested, it also proved to be insufficient for the job, so the work to solve this issue continued with the following Ausf.D vehicle.
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.66 x 2.81 x 2.36 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||16 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator, and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 108 TR 250 [email protected] 2800 rpm|
|Speed (road/off-road)||35 km/h, 10-12 km/h (cross country)|
|Range (road/off-road)-fuel||165 km, 95 km (cross country)|
|Primary Armament||3.7 cm KwK L/46.5|
|Secondary Armament||Three 7.92 mm MG 34|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
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