The Panzer IV Ausf.F was an important turning point for the whole further Panzer IV development for several reasons. Firstly, it reintroduced the single-piece straight front armor plate, which would become standard on all subsequent Panzer IV tanks. Secondly, it was the last version to be equipped with the short barreled 7.5 cm gun, after which the Germans decided to upgrade the vehicle with longer barreled guns for better anti-tank penetration. The Panzer IV Ausf.F was also supplied to the Hungarians in an attempt to rebuild their armored formations. Lastly, due to the large demands for more vehicles, the Panzer IV Ausf.F, would be also produced by Vomag and Nibelungenwerke beside Krupp-Grusonwerke, which was initially the only manufacturer of the Panzer IV.
By the time the Panzer IV Ausf.E was entering production, some deficiencies were noted for it and previous versions. The most noticeable was the relatively weak armor protection. While it was planned to provide the Ausf.E with 50 mm thick frontal armor, this was not implemented by the time of production. When the Ausf.F entered production in April 1941, it was possible to install the thicker, single-piece armor plates without the need to use two weaker armor plates like it was initially implemented on the previous version. Some structural changes on the superstructure and chassis were also to be implemented on the new Ausf.F. Other than these, the Ausf.F would serve the same purpose as a support tank. It would be allocated to Panzer Divisions as a replacement for the lost vehicles in the previous campaigns.
At the end of 1938, In 6 (Inspektorat 6, the inspectorate for mechanization) issued a request for the production of 129 Panzer IV Ausf.F tanks, which were to be built by Krupp-Grusonwerke. The outbreak of the war in September 1939 changed the initial production plans. Due to the great need for more modern Panzer IVs, the initial order was increased to 500 vehicles in November 1939
In order to increase the production speed, other manufacturers were to be included in the Panzer IV project. These include Vomag and Nibelungenwerk, both of which were to produce 100 new Panzer IV Ausf.F vehicles starting from June 1940. Due to the anticipated invasion of the Soviet Union, these production orders were once again changed to include 300 additional vehicles which were to be assembled at Krupp-Grusonwerke.
The Panzer IV Ausf.F production lasted from April (or May, depending on the source) 1941 to February 1942. By that time, Krupp-Grusonwerke managed to produce 393 tanks plus two chassis which were used as ammunition vehicles for the large Karlgerät. Vomag made 65 and Nibelungenwerk was able to produce only 13 Panzer IV tanks. In total, some 471 Panzer IV Ausf.F plus the two chassis were built. The main reason why the production goal was not reached was the sudden decision to drop the use of the shorter gun and focus on the production of the longer 7.5 cm gun.
While the Panzer IV Ausf.F represented a further development of the previous version, it incorporated a number of improvements.
While the Panzer IV Ausf.F had the same engine as the previous version, it received a much shorter exhaust muffler. To its left, a small auxiliary engine muffler was added. The engine top cover was also completely redesigned, adding two large radiator ventilation grilles.
The hull received some minor modifications. One of these was the installation of armored covers for the ventilation vents on the hull frontal brake access hatches. In order to increase the operational range and to reduce the dependency on auxiliary fuel supply vehicles, after April 1941, Panzer IV Ausf.F (like all other Panzer IVs) tanks were equipped with a tow hitch and fuel trailers. These were primarily used during the first year of the invasion of the Soviet Union but proved to be more of a hindrance and their use after that generally declined.
The Panzer IV Ausf.F’s superstructure reintroduced the completely straight front superstructure armor plate. The use of a single plate made the front armor stronger structurally, but also made production somewhat easier. This was not new, as it had been used on the Ausf.B and C versions, but had been discarded on the Ausf.D and Ausf.E versions. Other changes included the installation of the completely new and better machine gun ball-mount (Kugelblende 50). The driver visor port was replaced with a slightly thicker Fagrersehklappe 50 model.
The turret design on the Ausf.F received new two-part side doors taken from the Panzer III Ausf.E. The forward door had an observation port, while the second door had a small pistol port. The pistol and visor ports were also taken from the same Panzer III. The visor ports were 30 mm thick and further protected by a 90 mm armored glass block.
Suspension and Running Gear
The added armor protection and other changes lead to a slight increase in weight, from 22 to 22.3 tonnes. To prevent this from affecting the overall drive performance, some changes were implemented on the Panzer IV Ausf.F’s suspension. The tracks were widened to 40 mm, which necessitated the widening of the road wheels. The front-drive sprocket was slightly redesigned to be able to accommodate the wider tracks. The rear idler wheel was replaced with a new much simpler and easier to produce design.
The Polish and Western campaigns showed that the Panzer IV was not sufficiently protected. To resolve this issue, the Panzer IV Ausf.F was meant to have improved armor protection that would be able to frontally resist 3.7 cm anti-tank rounds. For this reason, the front hull, superstructure, and turret (including the gun mantlet) were reinforced. These were now 50 mm thick face hardened armor plates. In addition, the overall side armor was increased to 30 mm. During production, some vehicles received side armor plates that were also face-hardened.
The Panzer IV Ausf.F was also equipped with the smoke grenade rack system (Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung). This was discarded from use after 1942, being mostly replaced with a new one that was mounted on the turret sides. Some vehicles were equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen) covering the side of the vehicle. These served to protect the tank from Soviet anti-tank rifles.
A number of vehicles were equipped with the 20 mm thick front-spaced armor (Vorpanzer). Its primary function was to provide protection from tungsten and hollow-charge rounds. The crews would often add whatever they had to the tank for protection. This usually consisted of various track types (taken from other German or even captured vehicles), spare wheels, etcetera, in the hope to increase the survivability of their vehicles.
The main armament was unchanged and consisted of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 with 80 rounds of ammunition. The secondary armament consisted of two 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns. The ammunition load for these two machine guns was stored in 21 belt sacks, each with 150 rounds (with 3,150 rounds in total).
The 7.5 cm gun could fire high-explosive, smoke or anti-tank rounds. Experience during the first years in the Soviet Union had shown that the 7.5 cm was not up to the task of effectively countering enemy tanks. As a quick solution, in December 1941, Adolf Hitler issued an order that the production of the 7.5 cm GrPatr 38 (shaped-charge round) should begin as soon as possible. While this ammunition was developed in 1940, its actual production began only in early 1942. The 7.5 cm Gr.Patr. 38 could penetrate 75 mm of armor regardless of the combat range. It had a low velocity of 450 m/s, which greatly affected its precision. Another issue was that, when hitting enemy tanks, the shaped-charge would not always penetrate the enemy armor, as it would sometimes simply bounce off. Later models would greatly improve the overall performance.
Being produced after April 1941, the Panzer IV Ausf.F would mostly see action in the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, in North Africa. Some were used against the Yugoslav Partisans up to the war’s end.
In North Africa
In the North African theater of war, during 1941 and early 1942, the short-barreled Panzer IV would see service in small numbers. The more dominant German tank at that time was the Panzer III.
On 23rd August 1942, there were only 8 operational Panzer IVs available at El Alamein. There were initially 40 Panzer IVs in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) [Eng. German Africa Corps].
In the Soviet Union
By the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was around 517 (or 531 according to some sources). Each Panzer Division possessed in their inventory, on average, around 30 such vehicles. Of these, some 70 were the Ausf.F version. Sadly, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the precise combat operations of individual Panzer IV versions, as the sources do not distinguish between the short barrel versions. Those Panzer IV Ausf.Fs that were produced after June 1941 were usually distributed to various Panzer Divisions in smaller numbers to supplement their losses.
The overall performance of the Panzer IV Ausf.F was not that much different from the previous versions. Its gun was sufficient (despite originally not being intended to) and was quite effective against the lightly armored BT and T-26 series. Against the KVs and T-34s, the Panzer IV had much lower chances of success. The stronger 50 mm frontal armor could provide good protection against the 45 mm Soviet guns, but the stronger 76 mm could effectively pierce it.
The harsh winter, poor mechanical condition and stiff Soviet resistance led to huge tank losses by the end of 1941. The 5th Panzer Division, for example, had some 20 Panzer IVs in December 1941. This number fell to 14 Panzer IVs by February 1942. While some would survive up to 1943, their numbers would be greatly reduced.
In the Balkans
The Axis forces defeated Yugoslavia in April of 1941. The territory of Yugoslavia was then divided between Germany and its Allies. Due to their harsh occupation policy, two resistance movements emerged to resist the invaders. To counter these movements and to secure their vital supply lines to Greece, the Germans had to send additional forces and even some armored vehicles. These were mostly obsolete or even captured vehicles. In 1944, a small number of Panzer IV Ausf.Fs were allocated to the 13th Reinforced Police Tank Company (Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie). These were used in fighting against the communist partisans up to the war’s end.
The Panzer IV Ausf.F was used for several different test projects. These went into two different directions, either using the whole vehicle but with a different armament, or using the chassis for various modifications.
Panzer IV Ausf.G (F2)
In an attempt to counter the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks, in early 1942, the Germans began to up-gun their Panzer IVs with longer L/43 guns. These provided much better armor penetration. The Panzer IV Ausf.F was used as the base for this modification. In order to distinguish them from the short barrel armed vehicles, these were initially marked as Ausf.F2. After July 1942, these were all renamed Ausf.G. Some sources also note that some 25 newly produced Panzer IV Ausf.F tanks were rearmed with the longer gun, replacing the shorter barrel guns.
Panzer IV Ausf.F mit Waffe 0725
The Germans were experimenting with increasing the firepower of the Panzer IV. One such experiment included the installation of the Waffe 0725. This was actually an experimental taper-bore gun with a 75/55 mm caliber firing a tungsten round. Due to a shortage of tungsten, this particular gun was never introduced into service.
The Panzerfähre was a specially designed vehicle based on the Panzer IV Ausf.F chassis that was interned to transport German tanks over water. In theory, two Panzerfähre would be connected by a raft on which a tank or any other vehicle would be placed. Then, the two Panzerfähre basically acted as a ferry to transport the cargo from shore to shore. While not clear, it appears that, in practice, this did not work and no production orders were placed. Beside the two prototypes, no more were built.
Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät
An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf.F) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortars codenamed ‘Karlgerät’. Depending on the source, the number of modified Ausf.F chassis ranges between 2 and 13 vehicles.
Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf.E
Some Panzer IV Ausf.Fs were given to tank training schools. While new vehicles were certainly used, others may have been returned from the frontline for repairs and were reused for this purpose too.
Jagdpanzer IV wooden prototype
In May 1943, Vomag presented a wooden mock-up of the future Jagdpanzer IV to the German Army. This was based on the Panzer IV Ausf.F chassis.
Panzer IV Ausf.F Tropen
The Panzer IV Ausf.F, like all German tanks that were used in Africa, was modified by improving the ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand from getting into the engine. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Eng. Tropic).
In late 1944, a few Panzer IV Ausf.F chassis would be modified as Bergepanzers, essentially tank recovery vehicles. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and replaced with simple round wooden planks.
In order to help somewhat rebuild the shattered Hungarian Forces that would be needed in the 1942 offensive toward the Caucasus, the Germans provided them with large quantities of armored vehicles. These included some 22 Panzer IV Ausf.Fs. In 1942, these were the best tanks that the Hungarian Army operated on this front. By the end of 1943, due to heavy fighting, nearly all were lost.
Interestingly enough, the Soviets often managed to capture significant quantities of German military equipment that had been left abandoned. This included the Panzer IV Ausf.F, some of which were put into service, possibly as training vehicles.
Today, only one rebuilt Panzer IV Ausf.F exists. It was a restoration project which included a Panzer IV Ausf.F turret and a hull which was rebuilt using some original and some new parts. The vehicle is located at the Moscow Victory Park in Russia.
The Panzer IV Ausf.F was the last vehicle of the whole series to be equipped with the short 7.5 cm guns. It had improved armor protection compared to its predecessors. While certainly not special in its overall performance, it had a more important role, being used as a base for newer versions that would implement stronger armor and armament.
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||5.92 x 2.88 x 2.68 m (17.7 x 6.11, 8.7 in)|
|Total weight, battle-ready||22.3 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)||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 50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top 8-10 mm|
|Hull Armor||Front 30-50 mm, sides 20-30 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm, and the top and bottom 10-11 mm.|
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