During the early development of the Panzer IV, no one 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.
The development of this tank began in the mid-thirties, leading to the first version being built, the Panzer IV Ausf. A. Being the first version, there was still a lot of space for improvement. The improvement of the Panzer IV Ausf. A version would eventually lead to the development of two nearly identical versions, the Ausf. B and C.
Following the adoption of the Panzer IV Ausf. A, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) was interested in developing a version of this vehicle with minimal improvements. For this reason, in October 1937, Krupp-Gruson was tasked with increasing the frontal armor protection to be proof at least against 2 cm armor-piercing rounds and installing a stronger engine. This would lead to a small production run of the second Panzer IV version named Ausf. B.
While the development of the Panzer IV Ausf. B was underway, Wa Pruef 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) initiated the first steps in introducing standardization of German tank development. According to the Wa Pruef 6 plans, the Panzer IV, starting from the Ausf.C version, was to be built using the new Panzer III Ausf. E chassis which used torsion bar suspension. For this reason, at the start of June 1937, Krupp was informed to cease any further work on the Panzer IV chassis as soon as all Ausf. B vehicles had been built. As the development of the Panzer III Ausf. E chassis was running at a slow pace due to the introduction of a new torsion bar suspension and a new transmission; it was estimated that the first experimental chassis could not be built prior to April 1938. The slow Panzer III Ausf. E development also caused a huge eight-month idling period in Panzer IV production. As the demand for Panzer IV support tanks was great, in October 1937, Krupp was informed to prepare for the production of 140 new Panzer IV Ausf. C vehicles. As Krupp was still forbidden from further developing and improving the Panzer IV chassis, Krupp officials decided to simply copy the previously built version with minimal changes.
Wa Pruef 6’s decision to cease the development of the Panzer IV chassis and the high demand for such vehicles were the main reasons why the Ausf. B and C were identical. Another consequence of these decisions was the leaf spring suspension would be used on all Panzer IV until the end of the war, as the planned upgrade to torsion bars never took place.
Production of the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C was carried out by Krupp-Grusonwerk from Magdeburg-Buckau. The Ausf. B was built in small numbers, with a total of 42 vehicles (chassis number 80201-80300) which were constructed in the period from May to October 1938. The production of the Ausf. C (chassis number 80301-80500) began in October 1938 and lasted until August 1939. The production run of this version was larger, consisting of 134 vehicles, plus six more chassis which were used as the basis for a bridge layer version.
The Panzer IV hull was divided into the rear engine compartment, the central crew compartment and the forward-mounted transmission and enclosed driving compartment. In an emergency, the crew could use the round escape hatch door located beneath the radio operator’s seat. The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and was protected with an angled armor plate. To gain better access for repairs, a square-shaped transmission hatch was located in the middle of this plate and two rectangular steering brake inspection hatches were added.
The superstructure was added atop the Panzer IV hull to provide sufficient working space for the crew members. As the frontal armor thickness of the tank was increased and in order to save weight, the superstructure was slightly smaller in comparison to the Ausf.A. To provide sufficient working space and ammunition storage, it was still wider than the hull. It consisted of four welded plates (one at the front, one on each side and one at the rear) and the armored roof plates. The front plate of the Ausf B. and C was completely flat, as opposed to the 3-part front plate of the Ausf.A. This made the front armor stronger structurally, but also made production somewhat easier. On the left side of this plate was placed a protective driver’s visor. On the Ausf. B and C, a new Fahrersehklappe 30 sliding driver’s visor was used.
The driver and all remaining vision ports (on the superstructure and the turret) were also protected by new 50 mm thick armored glass blocks. When the driver’s 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. After the spring of 1939, the majority of Ausf. B and C vehicles had a welded rain guard placed over the driver’s visor. To the right of the driver’s vision port was placed a smaller observation hatch for the radio operator. Just to the right of this hatch, a small submachine gun/pistol port with a conical cover was added instead of the standard ball mount for a machine gun.
The side armored plates were placed vertically and were curved inwards toward the front plate. A vision port was added on each side. On the left side, there was a ventilation opening for the steering brakes. To protect this vulnerable spot, an armored covering was added. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall.
The roof armor plate was mostly flat, aside from the front part (above the driver and radio operator), which was angled slightly downwards. To gain access to their position, the driver and the radio operator were each provided with hatches located on the front roof armor. The two-part hatches used on the previous version were replaced with one-piece hatches. Each of these hatches had a small round port for the use of signal flares.
The Panzer IV turret had a front hexagonal-shaped armor plate with two small observation hatches placed on either side of the centrally positioned main gun. While the Ausf. A used simpler flat frontal observation hatches, the following versions, including the Ausf. B and C, had a pyramidal shape. Each of the turret sides had observation ports and a one-piece hatch for the crew. The left turret observation port did not have the small slit. On each of the two crew doors, additional pistol ports were added. For protection against infantry attacks from the rear, the turret had two round shaped pistol ports located on the rear curved armor plate.
To provide good ventilation for the extraction of propellant fumes, a ventilation flap was installed on the turret top. On the Ausf. B and C, the ventilation flap was protected by an armored guard placed around it. On the turret top, the left signal port received a new cone-shaped covering.
At the rear of the turret, a commander’s cupola was placed. The Ausf. A simple drum-shaped cupola was replaced with a new model. The new cupola was better protected and had five vision ports that were protected with sliding blocks. On top of the cupola, a two-piece hatch door was installed. Its purpose was to allow the commander to enter his position, but also to provide a good all-around view when not engaged in combat.
The Panzer IV had a turret ring with a diameter of 1680 mm. This turret ring was provided with ball bearings which would allow the turret to rotate freely. The small opening between the turret and the superstructure was protected with a new type of turret ring deflector. Inside the Panzer IV, an auxiliary DKW gasoline engine was provided to power the electric motor that was used to traverse the turret. A round fuel supply opening for the DKW engine was placed on the rear left of the superstructure roof. The turret was, from early 1941 on, provided with a large stowage box mounted on its rear.
Suspension and Running Gear
The suspension consisted of eight small (470 x 75 x 660 mm) wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs and placed on four bogie assemblies. The small road wheels were suspended by leaf-spring units. The distance between each bogie shaft was 500 mm. There were also four return rollers (250 x 65 x 135 mm) on each side. At the front, two drive sprockets (with 18-teeth) were placed, and on the reinforced back hull two idlers were positioned. The tracks used on the initial production Panzer IVs were 360 mm wide and were connected using pins. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. For a vehicle weighing 18.5 tonnes, this suspension system was considered adequate but proved to be problematic later in the war due to the added weight of following upgrades.
The Engine and Transmission
The Ausf. A was powered by a Maybach HL 108TR which produced 230 [email protected] rpm. With this engine, the maximum speed was 32 km/h, with only 10 km/h cross-country. In order to increase the speed on the Ausf. B, a new Maybach HL 120 TR engine giving out 265 [email protected] rpm was installed. The Ausf. C was powered by the same engine (named HL 120 TRM) but modified with an improved ignition starter and a new mount. With this engine, maximum speed was increased to 42 km/h, with 25 km/h cross-country. The operational range was the same: 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. If needed, there was a valve system that allowed the crew to use the fuel of each tank individually by closing the fuel supply from the other two.
The Panzer IV’s engine cooling system consisted of two coupled radiators placed at a 25° angle. The air was then sucked in by two large cooling fans which were driven by a ‘V’ shaped belt from the crankshaft. This cooling system was designed to provide effective cooling in temperatures of up to +30° Celsius. The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. The crew could, if needed, gain access to the engine through a door placed in this firewall. The ‘Allklaunen SFG 75’ five-speed (and one reverse) transmission was replaced with a new SSG 76 six-speed (and one reverse) one. The steering mechanism used in the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C was of the ‘Wilson’ type, which was designed and produced by Krupp.
The Panzer IV turret was not centrally positioned and was actually offset to the left side of the superstructure by around 6.67 cm. The engine was also offset some 15 cm to the right. This arrangement was done so that the driveshaft did not interfere with the electrical supply system of the turret.
The Armor Protection
For the lower hull, the upper front armor plate thickness was increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm at a 72° angle, and the lower plate was 30 mm placed at a 14° angle. While the front armor of the lower hull of the Ausf. B/C was thickened, the side, rear and top armor remained the same. The side armor of the hull was 14.5 mm thick, the rear was 10-14.5 mm and the bottom was 8 mm.
The front superstructure armor was 30 mm placed at a 9° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 14.5 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 10 mm thick armor (at a 35° angle) at the sides and 14.5 mm (at 10° angle) to the rear. From early 1941 onwards, an additional 30 mm armor plates were bolted to the front hull armor.
The front turret armor was 30 mm thick (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 14.5 mm (at 25° angle) and the top was 10 mm (at 83-90° angle). 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. While the increased frontal armor provided protection from 20 mm armor-piercing rounds, the sides were still vulnerable to anti-tank rifles. In an attempt to increase overall protection from anti-tank rifles, at least one Ausf.B or C vehicle was equipped with 5 mm thick armor plates (Schürzen).
From August 1938 on, nearly all German Panzers were equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. This rack contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer IV’s commander. When activated, the Panzer would then drive back to the safety of the smokescreen. This system was not very effective and was replaced with turret-mounted smoke grenade launchers later in the war.
The Panzer IV had 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. This five-man crew configuration was a rarity at that time and provided the Germans with a huge advantage during the earlier stages of the war.
The Panzer IV commander (Kommandant) was positioned in the rear center of the turret. For observing the surroundings, he was provided with a cupola. For crew communication, the commander was provided with an intercom system in the form of a laryngophone.
During the early testing with the Grosstraktor (held in Kazan in the Soviet Union), the Germans noted that the commander should not be involved in any duties beside his intended role, such as loading or firing the gun. If the commander was distracted, the overall performance of the tank would be greatly reduced, as he could not pay proper attention to his surroundings (for example the position of friendly or enemy units). For this reason, the commander was provided with a cupola that had an all-around view and was tasked with directing the whole crew. This simple design feature gave the Germans a huge tactical advantage in the early stages of the war. For example, French and Soviet tank commanders also had to perform other roles like serving the gun and even loading, which greatly diminished the performance of their tanks despite having better armor and weapons than the German ones.
The gunner (Richtkanonier) was positioned to the left while the loader (Ladekanonier) was to the right of the main gun. While not in combat, the loader could use a folding seat on the right side of the turret. Once in combat, in order to get to the stored ammunition, he would simply fold the seat to the side and then stand on the turret basket floor.
The driver’s position (Fahrer) was on the front left side of the hull. The last crew member was the radio operator (Funker), who was positioned on the front hull’s right side. His main job was to operate the Fu 5 and Fu 2 transmitter-receiver radio set, which had an effective range of about 2 km. This radio was mounted just above the transmission. A folding 2 m long antenna rod with its wooden protective rail was placed on the Panzer IV’s right superstructure side. The secondary duty of the radio operator was to use either a 7.92 mm MP38/40 submachine gun or a pistol, which he could fire through the small frontal pistol port.
The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. B/C was the 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. KwK (Kampfwagenkanone), can be translated as combat vehicle cannon or, more simply, as tank gun. The short barrel had 28 grooves, each 0.85 mm deep. It had a semi-automatic breech, which means that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be automatically ejected, thus increasing the overall rate of fire. The Panzer IV Ausf. B/C had an internal gun mantlet which was not too effective. Later Panzer IV versions had an external mantlet which provided better protection. The gun recoil cylinders that stood outside of the turret were covered by a steel jacket and a deflector guard. The Ausf.C version received an improved ‘V’ shaped gun mantlet to improve deflection. Additionally, the coaxial machine gun was also provided with a protecting mount. This is the only physical change in contrast to the Ausf. B. Despite this, identification is not always easy.
This gun had a muzzle velocity of 325 m/s and proved to have satisfactory precision in combat operations and was even used to arm the early series of the StuG III vehicles. The Panzer IV was primarily meant to destroy soft-skin targets, anti-tank positions and infantry emplacements and was thus mostly equipped with high explosive and smoke rounds. The armor-piercing (AP) round could penetrate 41 mm of armor sloped at 60° at 100 m. At ranges of 500 m, the penetration dropped to 38 mm. The elevation of this gun went from –10° to +20° (–10° to 30° depending on the source). The ammunition load on the Ausf. B and C was reduced from the previous 122 to only 80 rounds. This was done mostly to reduce the weight of the vehicle. The ammunition was stored in holding bins, with 26 stored in the superstructure and the remaining 54 in the chassis. For the gunner’s protection, a recoil shield was added to the rear of the gun. Most of the Ausf. B and C vehicles were 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.
This gun was equipped with a TZF5b ‘Turmzielfernrohr’ monocular telescopic gun-sight. This sight had a magnification of 2.5 and a field view of 25°. For aiming at the target, this gun sight had two engraved reticles. In the center of the first engraved reticle there was one large aiming triangle with smaller ones on both sides. The gunner had to aim the larger triangle at the enemy target, while the purpose of the smaller ones was to help in determining the target’s speed. This gun-sight was quite complicated to use and required that the gunner be well trained. The second reticle was used to help the gunner adjust the main gun to the necessary range. In combat, the gunners learned to simply use the turret coaxial machine gun to determine the range to the target. The Panzer IV was also provided with a clinometer for indirect fire support.
Under the telescopic sight, there were two mechanical handwheels for elevation and traverse of the main gun. The trigger for the 7.5 cm gun was located on the traverse handwheel. The turret was traversed via an electric motor located on the left side of the turret. The minimum traverse speed was 0.14° while the maximum speed was 14° per second. When the gunner engaged the traverse, the turret moved abruptly, which made it somewhat difficult to track moving targets. If for some reason (either combat damage or mechanical breakdown), this motor stopped working, the turret could also be manually traversed. There was a selector lever that switched between these two systems depending on the needs. While the gunner would operate the manual traverse of the turret, there was a larger hand crank that the loader could use. By using manual traversing, the gunner could rotate the turret by 1.9° per turn and the loader by 2.6°.
Besides the main gun, the Panzer IV was provided with one 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun for use against infantry. The machine gun was placed in a coaxial configuration with the main gun and was fired by the gunner. The ammunition load for the single MG 34 was held in 18 belt sacks, each with 150 rounds, for a total of 2,700 rounds.
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 like 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 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, like the French Char B1 bis or British Matilda II.
Due to the low production capabilities of the German war industry up to the outbreak of the war, only 211 Panzer IVs were available in September 1939. At the end of the Polish campaign, 19 Panzer IVs had been destroyed with 50 more being damaged or out of action either due to mechanical breakdowns or enemy fire. In Poland, the Panzer IV, despite its low numbers, performed well thanks to its gun, as it could easily destroy any Polish armored vehicle. Experience gained in this campaign showed the Germans that the concept of a support tank had merit. But as the Panzer IV was only available in limited numbers, it was not possible to distribute them to the Panzer Divisions in adequate numbers.
Depending on the source, between 278 and 296 Panzer IV tanks were available for the German invasion of western Europe. 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. Here too, the Panzer IV proved to be effective in destroying most Allied tanks except for the heavier ones. The B1 bis’ front armor proved to be impenetrable to the German 3.7 and 7.5 cm tank guns.
The ineffectiveness of the German guns against the B1 bis can be seen during the fighting at the village of Stonne near Sedan on 16th May. During this engagement, one Panzer IV managed to shoot 20 rounds against the frontal armor of a B1 bis 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 was engaged by the same Panzer IV, but this time due a lucky hit 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 rear armor of the B1 bis. Total losses of Panzer IV tanks during the campaign in the West were around 98 tanks.
The Ausf. B and C would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece. By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517, 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.
Despite having been built in relatively small numbers, both the Ausf. B and C versions would remain in active service up to 1943. By that time, their numbers were reduced due to attrition. The surviving vehicles were given to training units. In June 1944, during the Allied invasion in Normandy, a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. Bs would be used in front line action, where they were probably all lost.
The Panzer IV Ausf.C chassis would be used for testing different equipment and weapon systems. There were two versions with bridging equipment, a mobile rocket launcher, training vehicle, a mine roller and a proposed recoilless rifle-armed version.
Prior to the war, the German army was interested in the idea of bridge carrying Panzers. In 1939, Krupp developed and built six Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis. While these saw deployment on the front, their overall performance was deemed insufficient and no more Brückenleger based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis were ever built. At least three Brückenleger IV based on the Panzer IV Ausf. C chassis would be rebuilt as standard tanks in July and August 1940, but using Ausf. E superstructures and Ausf. C turrets.
Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer)
The Brückenleger IV s (Sturmstegpanzer), also known (depending on the source) as the Infanterie Sturmsteg auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen IV, was the second version of a Panzer IV equipped with bridging equipment. In contrast to the previous version, instead of the bridges, this vehicle was equipped with ladders that could be extended. This vehicle, in essence, used slightly modified firefighting ladders to help infantrymen cross obstacles like rivers. Two or four (depending on the source) Panzer IV Ausf. C were modified for this purpose. The sources do not specify if these vehicles were modified from the original tanks or made using repaired vehicles.
Panzer IV Ausf. C Raketenwerfer
One Panzer IV Ausf.C would be used to test the possibility of using this tank as a mobile rocket launcher. The modification included the removal of the Panzer IV turret and replacing it with a new turret with a fully rotatable rocket launching system. This system consisted of four 280 mm rockets placed in a movable and protected frame. For raising and lowering the rocket’s frame, a hydraulic drive was used. In front of the rocket frame, a small armored cabin was placed, where the gunner would sit. This cabin was also provided with a ball mounted machine gun. After testing of this new weapon system, it was not adopted for service, probably due to the high demand for Panzer IV tanks.
As the Panzer IV Ausf. B/C tanks were recalled from front line service, a number of vehicles were modified to be used as training vehicles. This involved the removal of the turret with its armament and of the ammunition racks. A rail was placed around the turret hole.
Panzer IV mit Minenrollern
One Panzer IV Ausf. C was used to test mine rollers. Two would be attached in front of the tracks and one to the rear to detonate mines which passed between the two front rollers. Due to problems with steering, it appears that these rollers were never adopted for service.
Panzer IV with 7.5 cm Recoilless Guns
During the war, there was a proposal to mount two 7.5 cm Rückstoßfreie Kanone 43 recoilless guns in the turret sides of a modified Panzer IV. Additionally, one more 3 cm MK 103 autocannon was to be used instead of the main 7.5 cm gun. The project led nowhere and only a wooden mockup was built. While the sources do not mention which precise Panzer IV version was to be used for this modification, the wooden mockup shows a Panzer IV Ausf. B or C hull and gun mantlet.
Viewed from today’s perspective, the development of two significantly different types of tanks which were to perform different roles on the battlefield seems odd at best. The development of one vehicle capable of performing both anti-tank and support roles (eventually two variants of the same vehicle) would have been a far easier solution. It would have made production faster and reduced the need for production of two types of spare parts.
Designed to improve the Panzer IV’s overall performance, the Panzer IV Ausf. B and C solved some shortcomings of the previous version, mostly in regard of their increased frontal armor protection and the installation of a stronger engine. Both versions served as an important element of the Panzer Divisions in the earlier war years. While nearly 200 of both versions were built, there was still room for future improvements and this would lead to the development of more Panzer IV versions.
A Panzer IV Ausf.B, possibly from 2.Kompanie 15.Panzer-Regiment, 5. Panzer-Division, Poland, September 1939. Notice the classical makeshift camouflage, with a hastily sprayed reddish-brown and yellow unit markings.
A Panzer IV Ausf.C, 8th Korps, IInd Abteilung, 35th Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzerdivision – France, May-June 1940.
A Panzer IV Ausf.B of the 21st Panzerdivision – Normandy, June 1944.
These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
|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||18 tonnes (39,683 lbs)|
|Crew||5 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 108TR 230 HP @ 2600 rpm|
|Speed (road/off road)||32.4 km/h, 10 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 16 mm, sides 14.5 mm, rear 14.5 and top 8-10 mm|
|Hull Armor||front 10-14.5 mm, sides 10-14.5 mm, rear 14.5 mm and the top and bottom 8-10 mm.|
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