The introduction of the longer 7.5 cm gun-armed Panzer IV Ausf.G changed the role of the Panzer IV tank-type significantly within the German Wehrmacht. The 7.5 cm L/43 guns were more than capable of dealing with most tanks on the battlefield in 1942. Given its excellent performance, more better-armed Panzer IVs were requested. This would lead to the introduction of the Ausf.H version. It was in essence the same vehicle as the Ausf.G with some minor modifications to facilitate easier production. Thanks to its larger production, firepower, and improved armor, the Panzer IV Ausf.H would become the backbone of the Panzer divisions from 1943 until the end of the war.
A New Form
Installing the longer 7.5 cm guns on the Panzer IV greatly improved its anti-tank capabilities. The superstructure design and armor were deemed insufficient and warranted some changes to improve the overall performance. The experience gained fighting the Soviet T-34 tanks showed that angled armor offered advantages with regard to protection. Angled plates could be built using thinner armor plates and thus save on costs and production. It also offered an increased chance for the enemy round to ricochet off. Flat plates were easier to work with and provided additional internal space, but had to be steadily increased in thickness to cope with new enemy anti-tank weapons.
The German High Command was quite interested in adding a new angled superstructure on the Panzer IV. One such design was offered by Krupp engineers under the drawing ‘W 1462’. At the end of 1942, the project was initiated and Wa Prüf 6 instructed Krupp to proceed with its construction. The new superstructure frontal armor was to be highly sloped and 80 mm thick. The angled glacis armor was somewhat weaker, but still respectable at 50 mm. The front armor protection would offer immunity from most anti-tank weapons employed at that time. Consideration was given to further increase the turret side armor up to 45 mm. The weight of the superstructure was calculated to add nearly 900 kg. In order to preserve the overall drive characteristics, wider tracks were to be used. In addition, during this time, experimentation on a new suspension consisting of 6 larger road wheels was being undertaken.
The whole project was short-lived and almost doomed from the start. In February 1943, Krupp engineers calculated that the total weight, with the extra armor and wider tracks, would be around 28.2 tonnes. Even the ordinary Panzer IV Ausf.G version, with the added weight of the gun and armor, was nearing the limits of the chassis and suspension. A weight of 28.2 tonnes would cause huge stress on the suspension, leading to potential breakdowns and its service life is greatly reduced. Another nail to the coffin for this project was Adolf Hitler’s order that the Panzer IV production had to be doubled. Adding the new superstructure and potentially even a new suspension would lead to huge delays which the Germans could not afford. In the end, this project would have likely caused more problems than it was worth and, thus, it was quickly discarded with no prototype ever being built.
The Real Panzer IV Ausf.H
By 1943, Adolf Hitler and his commanding officers were quite aware of the huge tank losses suffered in the previous years, mostly while fighting in the Soviet Union. In order to hopefully increase the overall production of tanks, at the start of 1943, Adolf Hitler appointed Albert Speer, the German Minister of Armament, to supervise the entire war production. At that time, other tank projects, such as the Tiger and Panther, were underway. These inevitably affected the production of other vehicles, including the Panzer IV. Speer soon informed Hitler that an increase in production was only possible if it focused on the Panzer IV and StuG III. Attempts to increase production showed some results. For example, Nibelungnwerke increased its Panzer IV output by 20 vehicles per month during March 1943. On the other hand, problems with deliveries of necessary parts were becoming an ever-present threat to the German tank program, which would only worsen as the years passed.
In March, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, the Inspector General of the Armored Troops, informed Hitler that the Panzer division’s strength could be reinforced only by focusing on the production of Panzer IV tanks. In addition, he argued that the Panzer IV had to remain in production for the next two years. While Hitler agreed, this decision would often be ignored and bypassed, reducing the Panzer IV production in favor of anti-tank and assault gun versions based on its chassis. Considerable resources also went into the development and production of the larger Tiger and Panther tanks.
The further development of the Panzer IV led to the introduction of the Ausf.H version. There is a common misconception about the difference between it and the previous Ausf.G, which is commonly attributed to the barrel length. In reality, the latter built Ausf.Gs received the same L/48 long gun as employed on the Ausf.H. These two tank versions were the same, to the point one may even ask why even bother giving a new designation.
The Ausf.H was initially meant to have a new hydraulically operated turret. And in order to implement rationalization and ease production, this turret was to be completely compatible with both the Panzer III and IV. In the end, nothing came of this proposal and the vehicles instead would be equipped with a Panzer IV Ausf.G turret with an increased roof thickness
Interestingly, another attempt at improving the tank was made in 1944, when Krupp proposed a new Panzer IV turret designated as Vereinfachten Turm (Eng. Simplified turret). It did not have visor ports, nor a command cupola, the right side hatch was removed. The front armor was 80 mm thick and the side and rear were 42 mm placed at 25º. Despite this, by mid-1944, the decision was already made to slowly terminate Panzer IV production in favor of the anti-tank version based on its chassis. Investing in a new turret, despite some benefits, seemed redundant and nothing came of it.
While the proposed turret projects led nowhere, the improvement of the front-drive elements was seen as highly important. Steps were made to quickly develop and implement a much more durable drive. Aside from the small changes, the Panzer IV Ausf.H was virtually identical to the previous version of the vehicle.
The German attempts to increase overall tank production truly kicked in with the Panzer IV Ausf.H during 1943. In previous years, for various reasons, the Panzer IV production was rather low. The Ausf.H reached a monthly production of almost 300, with a maximum of 354 tanks built in December 1943. In comparison, some early Panzer IV versions needed over a year to produce such quantities. For example, during 1941, on average, the monthly Panzer IV production was around 40 tanks.
The Panzer Ausf.H was produced by Krupp, Vomag, and Nibelungenwerke. Over 100 companies of various sizes would be included in its overall production. Huge production orders were given to Krupp and Vomag to produce 1,400 tanks each, and Nibelungenwerke a further 1,900. Despite being heavily involved in the Panzer IV production, Krupp produced only 381 Ausf.H vehicles by December 1943. During 1943, Krupp was in a somewhat chaotic state due to constant changes in the production orders. For example, in April 1943, Krupp was ordered to completely abandon production of the Panzer IV in favor of the Panther I and II. In August, this was changed again, with Krupp receiving orders to manufacture some 150 Panzer IVs. In late August, this order was once again changed to 100 vehicles per month. In the end, the Panzer IV production was abandoned by Krupp in favor of the StuG IV assault gun.
The Vomag production numbers were higher, at 693. Finally, by the time the production ended in February 1944, Nibelungenwerke managed to build 1,250 Panzer IV Ausf.H. An additional 90 chassis built at Nibelungenwerke were reused for the StuG IV (30) and Sturmpanzer IV (60). During the period from May 1943 to February 1944, in total, some 2,322 Panzer IV Ausf.Hs would be built.
However, like so many German production numbers, there are some disagreements between sources. For example, K. Hjermstad (Panzer IV) and D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) give a much greater number of 3,774 built in the period from April 1943 through to July 1944. Author A. T. Jones (Images of War Special The Panzer IV Hitler’s Rock) states that, in total, 3,935 Panzer IV chassis were built, with 130 used for the Sturmpanzer IV and 30 for StuG IV, and the remaining chassis were used in standard tank configuration. Author B. Perrett (Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45) mentions only that some 3,000 were built during 1943.
The hull received only a few minor modifications. The most important of which was the introduction of an interlocking front glacis and superstructure armor with the sides of the vehicle for better rigidity starting from December 1943.
Suspension and Running Gear
The overall design of the suspension remained the same. The difference was the reduction to three return rollers. In order to save rubber, these were made completely out of metal. In addition, the welded rear idler would be replaced from October 1943 by a new cast one starting. Some sources also mentioned that a new SSG 77 six-speed transmission was used on the Ausf.H. This seems to be some misidentification in the sources, as the Ausf.G also utilized this transmission.
In order to further simplify suspension production, some other minor changes were introduced. For example, the cast bump stop mountings were replaced with new welded mounts. The road wheels’ cast caps were replaced with slightly redesigned forged caps. It is important to note that not all vehicles received these modifications and that some continued to use older components.
The Panzer IV Ausf.H used the same engine as the previous version, the Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 hp @ 2,600 rpm. One major change was the introduction of an improved final drive. Given the constant increase of weight, this was necessary as the extra weight had been causing severe stress on the front-drive components. Its overall design was changed, with most of the reduction gear being relocated to the external part of the casing of the front-drive unit. The new drive had a higher gear ratio and this, together with increased weight, led to a slight reduction of speed to 38 km/h. The first 30 newly produced Panzer IV Ausf.Hs did not receive the improved front-drive unit due to problems with the production of necessary parts. Despite these changes, its operational range was the same, at 210 km on a good road and 130 km cross-country. The fuel load of 470 liters was also unchanged.
The superstructure design remained unchanged. The front 80 mm plate was interlocked with side armor for improved durability. The driver compartment received a heater. Lastly, an air pre-cleaning system was placed on the superstructure’s right side. The use of this system would be discarded near the end of the war.
Like the Ausf.G, this version also lacked a turret visor. In addition, the rear positioned pistol ports were removed together with the signal port. Aside from this, the turret on the Panzer IV Ausf.H remained unchanged from previous Panzer IVs.
The overall armor protection was quite similar to the previous Ausf.G version, with some exceptions, mainly regarding its front and top armor. Previous versions had maximum frontal protection that consisted of a single 50 mm thick face-hardened armor plate. As this was deemed insufficient, additional 30 mm plates were either welded or sometimes even bolted to the frontal hull and superstructure armor plate.
The Panzer IV Ausf.H was meant to use a single 80 mm thick face-hardened armor plate for the protection of the front hull and superstructure. This was agreed to by Wa Prüwf 6 and three major amor component suppliers, Krupp, Bohler-Kapfenberg, and Eisenwerk Oberdonau, just before the Panzer IV Ausf.H production began. The single-piece armor plates were easier to work with, offered better protection, and did not need holes for the bolts, thus saving time. However, this was not possible at that time and, as a temporary solution, two-piece armor plates had to be used for a brief period. During the production, most vehicles would be equipped with single-piece frontal armor. It was not uncommon to see vehicles that had a combination of a single piece and bolted armor.
This improved frontal armor provided sufficient protection against the T-34’s 76.2 cm and Sherman’s 75 mm guns. Later improved Allied armament, such as the Soviet 85 mm gun, could penetrate the Panzer IV’s frontal armor. The side armor was much weaker and could be penetrated by rounds larger than 2 cm in caliber.
Another change was the improved top turret armor, which ranged from 16 to 25 mm in comparison to the 10 mm used previously. The armor of command cupola armor was also slightly increased by 5 mm.
Like many German armored vehicles, from May 1943 onward, the Panzer IV Ausf.H began to receive 5 mm thick skirts, known as Schürzen. Their primary purpose was to provide protection from Soviet anti-tank rifles. The Panzer IV hull was covered by six such skirts on each side. The turret was almost completely covered by these plates, leaving only the front open for the main gun. On the sides, two two-piece doors were placed for the turret crewmembers. As these were relatively loosely connected, they tended to be quickly lost during combat. This was something that the tank crews often complained about. In hope of improving their overall design, some changes to the mounting system were implemented starting in October 1943. The side rail bins that held the shields were modified to include triangular-shaped holders. The side skirts received ‘U’ brackets that were to be connected with these triangles and positioned at an angle toward the wheels. This modification somewhat improved the handling of the side skirts but still, they could be easily thrown off by the rapid movement of the tanks.
Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste was used on the Panzer IV Ausf.H. While originally, it was to be applied mostly on the tank’s flat surfaces, some more imaginative crews simply put the paste over the whole tank. While newly produced tanks would receive it at the factory, tank units were supplied with the necessary kit to do it in the field as well.
The Panzer IV Ausf.H was equipped with the 7.5 cm Kw.K. L/48 long gun. The longer barrel, compared to the L/43 used on early Ausf.Gs, offered slightly improved anti-tank capabilities. At a 1 km range, the 7.5 cm Kw.K. L/48 gun could penetrate around 85 mm of armor angled at 30° using standard armor-piercing rounds. The rare tungsten round increased the penetration at the same distance and angle up to 97 mm. A third option consisted of a hollow charge round that could penetrate 100 mm of armor regardless of the range but had a slow velocity of only 450 m/s compared to 750 m/s of the standard anti-tank round. The usual ammunition load consisted of 87 rounds, usually almost equal numbers of AP and HE rounds. When available, tungsten AP rounds would also be stored in limited numbers and used against the best-armored targets. The hollow charge rounds were sometimes used instead of the HE rounds.
The secondary armament was unchanged and 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 ( 3,150 rounds in total). A third machine gun could be placed on a Fligerbeschussgerat 43 type anti-aircraft mount located on top of the command cupola.
Lastly, many armored vehicles that were produced in the later stages of the war were meant to receive the Nahverteidigungswaffe (Eng. close-range defense weapon), basically a small grenade thrower. It was mounted on top of the turret. Due to the general lack of availability, it was rarely issued prior to the start of 1944. Those vehicles that did not receive it had the turret opening covered with a round plate.
Starting from June 1943, the Germans introduced some structural changes to their armored units operating in the East. The Panzer Divisions’ Panzerregiments (Eng. Tank Regiments) were divided into two Abteilungen (Eng. Battalions). Each battalion would have 96 Panzer tanks. Battalions were further divided into four mittlere Panzer Kompanie (Eng. medium tank companies) that each would have 22 tanks. Additional units, such as the command sections for the battalion and company elements, were also included. Older light companies used in previous years were disbanded. Ideally, the new Panzer Divisions of early 1943 were to be equipped mostly with Panzer IV tanks, but given the lack of numbers, Panzer IIIs armed with the long 5 cm gun were often used instead, even though these were no longer produced. The newly developed Panther tank was to be added to each panzer division, as well. Due to its slow delivery pace, it would take time before it was actually issued for frontline use in any sufficient numbers.
While this organizational change would be implemented by the end of 1943, there were never enough tanks to equip all units. For example, some Abteilungen could be equipped with 17 tanks per company, instead of the original 22. There were some exceptions, such as Abteilung ‘Feldherrnhalle’, which had only three 14 vehicle strong companies. Other units, such as the 3rd Abteilung from the 24th Panzer Regiment, were supplemented by two 22 vehicles strong StuG III companies instead of tank ones.
Additionally, while this structural change was initiated in early 1943, it would take almost a year or so to fully implement it. The units that fought in the East in 1943 used older structural organizations, including other tanks than the intended Panzer IV.
From May 1943 onwards, the German panzer divisions were slowly being equipped with the new Panzer IV Ausf.H. Unfortunately, identification of the precise version of Panzer IVs mentioned in the sources is not always easy. The main problem is that most sources simply refer to them as Panzer IVs, without any explanation of which precise version was in question. In addition, the general similarity of the versions also complicates the matter. It is also important to note that many vehicles that were returned to Germany for repairs or otherwise survived to the later stages of the war were often equipped with components taken from the newer models. This makes the identification of precise vehicle versions quite difficult, but also creates ‘hybrids’ with different components taken from various versions.
In the Soviet Union
In July 1943, the Germans launched Operation Citadel with the aim of crushing the Soviet positions at Kursk. For this operation, the Germans managed to gather some 583 L/43 and 302 L/48 armed Panzer IV tanks. Surprisingly, there were still some 56 to 58 older Panzer IVs armed with the short barrel gun. The number of available Panzer IV tanks differs slightly between sources, as author T. Anderson lists that 682 such vehicles were present by 5th July 1943. It is curious that the Panzer III, in spite of no longer being produced and its combat effectiveness was greatly reduced and overshadowed by the newer German designs, was available in much greater numbers. Some 1,013 Panzer IIIs were armed with the short and long 5 cm guns. Some of the new Panzer III Ausf.N version rearmed with the short 7.5 cm gun was also present. Their presence in such large numbers demonstrated the lack of production capabilities of the German industry to keep up with the demand of new vehicles.
The Panzer III, despite becoming obsolete as a frontline battle tank, had to be used as there were not enough Panzer IVs in operation. For example, the 16th Panzer Battalion from the 16 Panzer Grenadier Division had 37 Panzer IIIs and only 11 Panzer IVs. In a report written in early 1944 that included the combat performance of this unit from Kursk to January 1944, it was listed that it claimed to have destroyed 239 tanks and 12 self-propelled guns, 34 trucks, and over 250 artillery and anti-tank guns. It lost 37 tanks in the process, including 7 Panzer IVs. The Panzer IVs likely greatly contributed to the Soviet losses.
After Kursk, the Soviets pushed further into the German defensive lines. Despite being beaten at Kursk, the Panzer Divisions would still fight on. For example, during battles near Krivoy Rog, the 24th Panzer Division, which was equipped with Panzer IV and StuG III vehicles, claimed to have destroyed 184 (mostly T-34) tanks, 87 anti-tank guns, and 26 artillery guns during a period of 9 days. During this time, it only lost four tanks. Another example was the 36th Panzer Regiment, which fought in the East from late October 1943 until the start of December 1943. It was equipped with a mix of 49 Panzer IVs and 44 StuG IIIs. During its service in the East, this unit claimed to have destroyed 211 tanks and 230 artillery and anti-tank guns, although it lost 20 Panzer IVs and 16 StuG IIIs.
Axis forces set up defensive positions in Sicily in April 1943, preparing for the anticipated Allied landings. German armored formations were present in small numbers, including the Panzer IV. Some 32 Panzer IVs were part of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division and a further 17 in the 504th Panzer Battalion. In July, the Allies began their landing operations. The first Panzer IV was lost when it was hit by a naval gun on 12th July 1943. Two days later, two more Panzer IVs were lost to enemy anti-tank guns. On 15th July, the German armored units, supported by infantry, managed to retake Height 398 from the enemy. The Allies launched two counterattacks, but both were repulsed. The Allies lost 12 tanks, 3 armored cars, and 2 anti-tank guns. The German losses included two tanks, one of which was a Panzer IV. On 27th July, two Shermans were destroyed near Gerbini. On 31st July and 1st August, heavy fighting occurred, during which the Germans inflicted 8 tank losses to the enemy near Sferro. By 17th August, Sicily was in Allied hands. The Germans lost 52 Panzer IV tanks during this operation.
The Allied conquest of Sicily forced the Germans to send substantial armored formations to Italy. By August 1943, there were some 773 armored vehicles, including 318 Panzer IVs, stationed in Italy. The Allied advance was severely contested by the Germans, especially along the Gustav defense line. Due to the hilly terrain of the Italian peninsula, the use of tanks, especially heavy tanks, was quite difficult and sometimes almost impossible. Fast movement of such vehicles, like on other fronts, was not possible.
The 26th Panzer Regiment from the 26th Panzer Division, for example, had 36 Panzer IVs armed with the L/48 gun and, surprisingly, 17 older versions armed with the shorter gun. Its tanks saw action against the Allies at the start of December 1943. Five Panzer IV tanks armed with long guns were sent on a reconnaissance mission toward Castelfrentano but saw no enemy movement. On 31st November 1943, 6 long-barreled Panzer IVs and 2 older versions attacked the Allied positions at Lanciano. In the following battle, one Sherman and two Churchill tanks were destroyed. Later that day, one Panzer IV and two Panzer IIIs provided supporting fire during the extraction of a damaged Panzer. This tank was successfully recovered despite heavy Allied artillery and anti-tank fire. On 6th December, at least four Panzer IVs were lost in an ambush near Ruatti.
By June 1944, there were 210 operational Panzer IVs on this front, with 62 more needing repairs. By April 1945, the number was reduced to only 131 Panzer IVs.
At the start of the Allied liberation of France, in June 1944, the Germans could muster some 863 Panzer IVs split into 11 panzer divisions. The authorized strength of these units was 965 tanks.
The Panzer Lehr Division, which fought in Normandy, had one battalion equipped with 98 Panzer IV Ausf.H. It saw heavy action fighting the British forces at Caen. By late June, it had only 26 operational tanks left. During this time, they claimed to have inflicted the loss of 85 tanks with 18 self-propelled guns. Some 15 Panzer IVs from this Division supported Michael Wittmann’s attack at Villers-Bocage. Following the Allied advance, elements of the Panzer Lehr Division attempted to make a counterattack near Le Dezert on 11th July. The German attack was repulsed with the loss of 8 Panzer IV Ausf.H tanks. In late July, the Allies launched Operation Cobra with the aim of destroying most German defenses in western France. The Allied attack was spearheaded by massive air bombing raids, which caused destruction and huge communication problems for the Germans. The Allies made a rapid advance, piercing the German line. In the confusion, some German units were not even aware that the Allies had made significant progress. On one occasion, a single Panzer IV that was advancing toward the frontline unexpectedly ran into an Allied truck column. The tank commander possibly misidentified the Allied trucks for German vehicles. Once the confused German crew realized that they ran into the enemy, they tried desperately to escape by blowing up a truck with a hand grenade and running over a Jeep. Another confusing event happened when another Panzer spotted an Allied convoy, mistaking it for friendly troops. The Allied military police that were present simply signaled it to move to the front of the column, after which it was hit by an M4 tank.
Another armored unit that was active in Normandy was the 2nd SS Panzer Division. It was stationed near Toulouse for recuperation after being recalled from the East in April 1944. This Division had 79 Panzer IV tanks in its inventory. It was engaged initially around Caen from late June to early July 1944, during which time it lost 37 tanks. By late July, this Division was reduced to 37 operational Panzer IVs.
The 12th SS Panzer Division tried to contest the initial Allied landing by attacking the Allied positions near Caen. During the attack, four Panzer IVs were lost. In another attempt to flank the Allied positions, an attack was launched near Mathieu. Here too the German tanks came under heavy fire from enemy anti-tank weapons. Six Panzer IVs would be lost while destroying one enemy anti-tank gun. On 7th June, the Panzer IVs had more success. Around Authie, the Germans ran into a column of Sherman tanks and a fierce skirmish occurred. By the time it ended, the Germans destroyed more than 10 Shermans, losing five tanks in the process.
While it appears that the Allies had the upper hand thanks to their superior firepower both on the ground and in the air, the German defensive line at Caen was strong and not easy to dislodge. On 11th June, the Allies launched an attack on the German positions near Le Mesnil-Patry. The area was defended by three tanks, possibly Panzer IVs. They managed to ambush a group of Sherman tanks, destroying at least 8 in the process but losing one tank to enemy anti-tank fire. Nearby Germans holding positions close to Brouay and Cristot were attacked too. In the ongoing battle, the Allies lost over 37 Sherman tanks.
In the Balkans
During the second half of 1943, in occupied Serbia, the Germans formed Kampschulle Niš (Eng. training school Niš). It served as a base for training Bulgarian crews which were meant to be equipped with German armored vehicles. The school remained in use during 1944, before being disbanded due to the Allied advance. At Crete, the 212th Panzer Battalion had 10 Panzer IVs in its inventory.
Modified Panzer IV Ausf.Hs
While this project mostly reused damaged vehicles and ones returned from the front, some 60 newly built Panzer IV Ausf.H chassis was also used in the Sturmpanzer IV program. The Sturmpanzer was an armored infantry support gun armed with the 15 cm StuH 43 L/12. Over 300 were produced between 1943 and 1945.
A number of refurbished Panzer IV Ausf.H chassis would be reused for different Flakpanzer IV projects, including the Flakpanzer IV “Möbelwagen”, Wirbelwind, and Ostwind. As a number of damaged tanks returned to Germany for repairs from all fronts, some were converted for other roles, so it is sometimes difficult to know the precise numbers of chassis used of each type.
In early 1944, Untersturmführer Karl Wilhelm Krause (commander of the Flakabteilung of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment, part of the ‘Hitlerjugend’ Division) issued orders for his men to mount a 2 cm Flak 38 Flakvierling on a Panzer IV tank (possibly an Ausf.H) chassis. The tank turret was removed and, in its place, a 2 cm Flak 38 Flakvierling was installed. The original gun shield was removed but later built vehicles had a newly modified three-sided gun shield. This vehicle was used against the Allies during the fighting in France in 1944. This vehicle would serve as a base for what would become the Wirbelwind.
Sturmgeschütz IV für 7.5 cm Sturmkanone 40
At least 30 Panzer IV chassis were specifically reallocated for the Sturmgeschütz IV für 7.5 cm Sturmkanone 40 project, also known simply as the StuG IV. The StuG IV was developed in response to Alkett’s temporary cessation of StuG III production, due to heavy Allied bombing of the factory. Despite being designed as a temporary stopgap solution, they would remain in production up to the end of the war with over 1,100 being built. They proved to be as effective as their StuG III counterparts.
From early 1944, some Panzer IV Ausf.Hs would be modified as command tanks. These were equipped with the Fu 8 (medium wave receiver) and Fu 5 (ultra short wave receiver) radio equipment. A Sternantenne D (star aerial) for the Fu 8 was mounted on the rear of the hull, while the classic 2 m antennae for the Fu 5 was mounted in place of the Nahverteidigungswaffe on the roof of the turret. A T.S.R.1 observation periscope and an SF14Z periscope scissor were also mounted. In addition, the ammunition load was reduced from 87 to 72, and the turret-mounted machine gun was removed.
In November 1944, Krupp presented a project that involved placing a Panther turret armed with a 7.5 cm L/70 gun on a Panzer IV chassis. Not surprisingly, this installation would be impossible given the extra weight of the new turret and the gun, which would greatly affect the already overburdened chassis. Krupp even made a wooden mock-up of this proposal, but it was quickly discarded.
According to some authors, such as D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka), one Panzer IV Ausf.H hull was tested by adding a turret taken from a Panther Ausf.F which was armed with the 7.5 cm L/70 gun.
By 1944, after terrible losses in the Eastern Front supporting their German allies, almost all of the Hungarian armored vehicles were obsolete. Despite this, their 2nd Armored Division managed to destroy nearly 30 Soviet tanks during battles in eastern Galicia in April 1944. Their valor and resistance were noted by General Walter Model. On his insistence, the Hungarian 2nd Armored Division was reinforced with 10 to 12 (depending on the source) Panzer IV Ausf.H, a smaller number of StuG IIIs, and even with a group of Tiger tanks. These would have fought alongside the retreating Hungarians until the Battle of Budapest between the end of 1944 and February 1945.
The Romanians, another of Germany’s allies, were also supplied with nearly 130 Panzer IV tanks of various versions. These arrived in a period from November 1943 through to August 1944. In Romanian service, these were known simply as T-4 and were distributed to the 1st Armored Division. This unit saw action against the Soviets in 1944. In late August, the Romanians changed sides and joined the advancing Soviet Army in their fight against the Germans. Those Panzer IVs that survived the war remained in service up to 1953.
Another German ally, Bulgaria, was supplied with a large number of Panzer IVs, some of which were of the Ausf.H version, but precise identification is complicated. Bulgaria never used these tanks against the Soviets. In September 1944, Bulgaria changed sides and began attacking German forces in the occupied Balkans, using the Panzer IVs in the process.
Their initial operation was aimed at attacking the German forces in Serbia. The Bulgarian Armored Brigade, which was equipped with Panzer IV, Panzer 35(t), and 38(t) tanks, was moving out of Pirot to engage German positions near Bela Palanka on 17th September. While on the road, they came under fire from a lone 8.8 cm Flak gun. It destroyed the leading tank and followed up shortly after with the last one. The remaining tanks were, at this point, sitting ducks, unable to do anything, mostly due to panic and the inexperience of the Bulgarian crews, before they were all destroyed. By the end of the short engagement, all 10 tanks (the majority being Panzer IVs) and 41 crew members were lost. After the war, the Bulgarians used the Panzer IV for some time before being modified as static defense points on the Turkish border.
In late 1942 and early 1943, after the Allied landings in North Africa, Spain negotiated a deal to buy German armament to defend Spain from a possible invasion. Germany also needed the deal, as it continued to depend on Spanish minerals, especially tungsten, and wanted to ensure Spain would not facilitate an Allied landing on continental Europe. After some fruitless negotiations, a compromise was reached in May 1943, though negotiations stalled until the summer.
In total, Spain received 25 aircraft, 6 S-Boots, several hundred motorcycles, 150 Soviet 122 mm M1931/37 (A-19) guns, 88 8.8 cm Flak 36 anti-aircraft guns, 120 20 mm Oerlikon autocannons, 150 25 mm Hotchkiss anti-tank guns, 150 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns, 20 Panzer IV Ausf.H medium tanks, and 10 Stug III Ausf.G assault guns, in addition to multiple radios, radars, replacement parts, and ammunition.
The 20 Panzer IV Ausf.H medium tanks and the 10 Stug III Ausf.G assault guns would prove a significant improvement over the existing Spanish tanks but were available only in small numbers.
In Spain, they were nicknamed ‘Maybachs’ after their engine. They were replaced by US-supplied M47s in the 1950s, though some remained in service in Spanish North Africa until 1957. A total of 17 were sold to Syria in 1965, with the remaining three surviving as gate guardians and museum pieces.
Independent State of Croatia
The armored forces of the German puppet Independent State of Croatia allegedly received up to 5 Panzer IV Ausf.Hs during July 1944. This is quite unlikely, as the Croatian forces mostly operated older equipment. The misconception probably came from a few pictures of Croatian tank crews being trained by the Germans from Panzer Einsatz Kp. 3. The Germans did employ some of the later versions of the Panzer IV in Yugoslavia, and these may have been misinterpreted as Croatian vehicles.
After the war, a number of countries in Europe continued operating the Panzer IV for a brief period. France’s armored forces managed to acquire and use some 60 Panzer IVs, which were probably abandoned across the country by the retreating Germans. These were mostly stored and were not used. France would also sell some of its Panzer IVs to Syria in the early 1950s.
Czechoslovakia was another operator of the Panzer IV. These were leftover by the Germans after the war. This included some 150 Panzer IVs of various versions, the majority being later Ausf.Js. Some must have been of the Ausf.H version as well. When these were replaced with new Soviet equipment, the remaining Panzer IVs would be sold to Syria.
Syria obtained over 100 Panzer IVs, including many Ausf.Hs from Czechoslovakia, France, and Spain during the 1950s and 1960s. These were used against the Israelis in the Water War of 1964 to 1967 and the Six Days War of June 1967. Israel captured many Panzer IVs during the Six Days War and has displayed them in museums. Allegedly, some Syrian Panzer IVs even survived as static firing positions all the way up to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Syrian Panzer IVs received some minor modifications, including the addition of a 12.7mm DShK heavy machine gun on top of the turret.
After the end of the Second World War, the new Jugoslav People’s Army would also operate an unknown number of long gun versions of the Panzer IV, including some Ausf.Hs. These were mostly used for training in the first years after the war, but when sufficient Soviet and Western equipment was acquired, these were replaced.
Today, there are a dozen or so surviving Panzer IV Ausf.Hs around the world. Many museums have one specimen in their collection, including the Musée des Blindés Saumur in France, the André Becker Collection in Belgium, Militärhistorisches Museum Dresden in Germany, Yad la-Shiryon Museum in Israel, and Vojni Muzej Kalemegdan in Serbia. Interestingly, many sources mention that the one in Serbia is an Ausf.H version, while the museum’s own publication mentions that it is an Ausf.F. Some Bulgarian modified Panzer IV that were used as static emplacements and rearmed with a 7.62 cm gun survived too.
While the Panzer IV Ausf.H started out and was, in essence, the same as its predecessor, it nevertheless made a name for itself. It offered excellent firepower which was able to defeat nearly all Allied tanks up to the end of the war. Its primary importance for the panzer divisions was not in its effectiveness but, more importantly, that it was produced in relatively high numbers by German standards. Thanks to this, it helped greatly replenish the depleted panzer divisions of 1942.
Despite Guderian’s attempts to increase the production of Panzer IV, it was constantly undermined by many, including Hitler, who instead urged for the development of all kinds of armored vehicles which were more often than not a major waste of resources that were much needed for the Panzer IV. Furthermore, the Germans did not know what they wanted in regard to vehicles. In the end, this led to a continuation of the Panzer IV development and production, but at a much slower pace and in smaller quantities in contrast to what could have been achieved if all production capabilities were focused on its production.
|Dimensions (l-w-h)||7.02 x 2.88 x 2.68 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||25 tonnes|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator, and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 120 TR(M) 265 HP @ 2600 rpm|
|Speed (road/off-road)||38 km/h, 25 km/h (cross-country)|
|Range (road/off-road)||210 km, 130 km (cross-country)|
|Primary Armament||7.5 cm KwK 40 L/48|
|Secondary Armament||Two 7.92 mm MG 34|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Turret Armor||Front 80 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top up to 25 mm|
|Hull Armor||Front 80 mm, sides 20-30 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm, and the top and bottom 10-11 mm|
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