Following the victorious campaign in Poland, the German Army requested even more Panzer IV vehicles. This would lead to the Panzer IV Ausf.E, which was, in essence, just a slightly improved Ausf.D version. By the time the production run ended in April 1941, some 200 complete vehicles were built.
Following the introduction of the Panzer IV Ausf.D, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH) issued orders for the development and production of the new Ausf.E version. This version was, in essence, just a copy of the previous one, with some minimal changes to it. One of the main changes that was originally planned was to use 50 mm thick frontal armor, but this was not implemented by the time of production.
In July 1939, the OKH awarded a contract for producing 223 vehicles to Krupp-Grusonwerke. This contract would be reduced to 206 vehicles in March 1941. Eventually, during a production run that lasted from October 1940 to April 1941, some 200 vehicles were built. The remaining four chassis were to be converted to Bruckenleger IVc bridge carriers and two were tested with a new experimental suspension. According to military historian, K. Hjermstad, some 224 Ausf.E vehicles were built by April 1941.
While the Panzer IV Ausf.E was visually very similar to the previous built Ausf.D version, there were some differences.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E’s superstructure was identical to that of the previous Ausf.D. One of the few changes made was the introduction of a new driver pivoting visor, which would remain in use up to the end of war. Another change was the replacement of the hinge design of the glacis hatch doors, which increased protection.
The turret design on the Ausf.E was mostly unchanged in comparison to the earlier Ausf.D version. The commander’s cupola was redesigned and was better protected. It had five vision slits, each of which was protected by two (upper and lower) sliding armored covers.
In addition, the commander’s cupola was moved forward and was now located directly above the turret roof. Previously, it was slightly to the back, with one part protruding from the turret rear. An additional visual change was the addition of a fume ventilator, removing one and redesigning the second signal port’s protective cap shape. From March 1941 onward, all Ausf.E vehicles would be equipped with the storage bin placed on the turret’s rear.
Suspension and running gear
This version introduced a new front drive sprocket design. In addition, the eight small road wheels received new cap covers. Beside these changes, nothing else was changed on the Panzer IV Ausf.E suspension and transmission.
During the Polish Campaign, the Germans noted that the enemy 37 mm guns could effectively destroy any tank that they had in their inventory, including the Panzer IV, without much trouble. This was mainly due to the weak armor of the German vehicles at that time. Based on this experience, the Panzer IV Ausf.E’s frontal superstructure armor was to be increased to 50 mm. Since this decision was taken too late, as the Panzer IV Ausf.E was under production, it was instead equipped with 30 mm of face-hardened frontal armor. As a temporary solution, additional 30 mm (Zusatplatten) applique armor plates were bolted to the superstructure front. Due to production delays, not all factory built vehicles were equipped with this extra armor, with some receiving it later in the field. Additional 20 mm of armor would also be placed on the turret front and superstructure sides on some of the Ausf.E vehicles. The armor of the commander cupola was increased to 95 mm. The Panzer IV Ausf.E also had a 50 mm thick lower frontal hull plate from the beginning of production. Other than that, the remaining armor thickness values were the same as on the Panzer Ausf.D.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E was also equipped with the smoke grenade rack system (Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung), but it was protected by an armored shield.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E had, like its predecessors, a crew of five, which included a commander, a gunner and a loader, who were positioned in the turret, and a driver and a radio operator in the hull.
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).
Vehicles that were damaged and returned from the front line for repairs were equipped with the longer KwK 40 guns. These vehicles were mostly used for crew training but also as replacement vehicles for active frontline units.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E performed the same firing support role as the previous version. Its short barrel gun (despite primarily not being designed for it) still had enough firepower to pose a danger to most lightly armored tanks during the first half of World War II. The Panzer IV Ausf.E would see action in the Balkans, Africa and more notably in Soviet Union.
In the Balkans
The Panzer IV Ausf.E would see service in the occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. One of the armored units allocated for this operation was the 9th Panzer Division, which had 20 Panzer IV’s. On the 6th April 1941, it engaged the defending Yugoslav forces near the Kumanovo city in Macedonia. After an initial clash, the Yugoslav anti-tank units (equipped with the excellent Czechoslovakian 47 mm guns) managed to take out 4 German tanks, which forced the 9th Panzer division to call in Luftwaffe support. This prompted the Yugoslav defenders to abandon their positions, and the 9th Panzer Division continued the drive toward Kumanovo and Skopje. The following day, they engaged two Yugosav Infantry Regiments which lacked any anti-tank weapons and were quickly defeated. By 10th April, nearly all Yugoslav resistance in Macedonia was crushed.
On 12th April, the Germans engaged the Allied forces in Greece. The next day, elements of the 9th Panzer Division were confronted by British Cruiser Mk II (A10) tanks. In the following engagement, the British lost eight tanks and were forced to retreat. By the end of the Balkan Campaign on 26th April, the 9th Panzer Division had lost 2 more Panzer IVs in combat.
There were initially 40 Panzer IVs (only 10 were Ausf.E) in service with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) [Eng. German Africa Corps] in 1941 but would see extensive action in this theater. During 11th April 1941, elements from the 5th Panzer Regiment were attempting to storm the city of Tobruk, but lost six Panzer IVs in the process. The small number of Panzer IV Ausf.E were all probably lost by the end of 1942.
In the Soviet Union
By the time of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of Panzer IVs was increased to 517 (or 531 depending on the source), with each Panzer Division receiving, on average, 30 vehicles. For example, the 7th Panzer Division had 30 Panzer IV tanks, including some of the Ausf.E version.
The Panzer IV could destroy lightly armored T-26 and BT series tanks. Against the T-34 and the KV series, on the other hand, they could do little. For example, the 7th Panzer Division encountered the T-34 from the start of the Operation Barbarossa, during the crossroad near Alytus, a small town in Russia. The positions of the 7th Panzer Division were attacked by a group of 44 T-34s. The Panzer IV’s guns could do little to stop the Soviet tanks. Luckily for the Germans, a nearby battery of 105 mm field howitzers helped defend their position while damaging many of the incoming Soviet tanks. In addition, the Soviet attack was poorly coordinated and the crew had very little training, which ultimately doomed the Soviet attempt to dislodge the Germans. Nevertheless, the Germans lost at least four Panzer IV, with at least one Ausf.E.
Another example was the 9th Panzer Division which, after the victorious Balkan campaign, was allocated for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. It was attached to the XIV Motorised Army Corps of Army Group South. On 22nd June, this Division had 20 Panzer IVs in its inventory. By 11th July, it had lost three Panzer IVs. On 20th July, the 9th Panzer Division participated in the encirclement of some 25 Soviet Division of the so-called Uman Pocket. Their tanks were used to stop numerous Soviet infantry and tank counter attacks. Due to attrition and mechanical breakdowns, the number of operational Panzer IVs dropped down to only six vehicles by the beginning of October. Following the harsh Russian winter and enemy counter offensive, the Division suffered losses. During the most part of early 1942, it was subject to refitting and recovery. It would once again see action during Operation Blue, the German drive toward the oil rich Caucasus. When the operation began, the 9th Panzer Division still had 9 short barreled Panzer IVs, possibly some Ausf.E vehicles. By 15th July, five of these would be lost.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E would remain in use up to early 1944, by which time only few had survived.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E chassis would be used for a limited number of modifications, which include the Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät, Brückenleger, Tauchpanzer, Tropen, Fahrschulpanzer and to test an experimental new suspension system.
Munitionsschlepper für Karlgerät
An unknown number of different Panzer IV chassis (including the Ausf.E) were modified to be used as ammunition supply vehicles for the huge self-propelled siege mortar codenamed ‘Karlgerät’.
Prior to the war, the German Army was interested in the idea of a bridge carrying Panzer. During 1941, at least four Panzer IV Ausf.E chassis were modified for this role.
An unknown number of Panzer IV Ausf.Es would be modified to be used as submersible tanks (Tauchpanzer) for Operation Sealion. These vehicles are easily identified by the added frame holder for the waterproof fabric on the front part of the turret and the hull positioned machine gun ball mount. These vehicles were used mostly in Russia during 1941.
Panzer IV Ausf.E Tropen
In early 1941, around 10 Panzer IV Ausf.E were modified to be used on the North African Campaign . They were modified by improving the ventilation system to cope with the high temperatures. In addition, sand filters were also added to prevent sand getting into the engine. These vehicles were also painted with a sand color to help with camouflage. These vehicles were given a special designation Tr., which stands for Tropen (Eng. Tropic).
A new suspension
Two Panzer IV Ausf.E would be used to test a new type of interleaved suspension. While this suspension was tested, it was not adopted. It is unclear if it did not provide enough of an improvement or if they were meant just as test vehicles for the more advanced Panther and Tiger.
Fahrschulpanzer IV Ausf.E
Not all newly produced Ausf.E tanks were sent to front line units. Some were actually given to tank training schools. Some vehicles may have been returned from the frontline for repairs and were reused for this purpose too.
Damaged Panzer IV Ausf.E tanks that returned to Germany for repairs, would be reused for the Sturmpanzer IV. The precise number of modified chassis for this purpose is difficult to know precisely.
Today, only one Panzer IV Ausf.E survives. This particular vehicle can be seen at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Smithfield, Queensland.
The Panzer IV Ausf.E introduced some improvements by adding a new command cupola, increasing the armor protection and some other minor changes. In combat, it performed the same support combat role as all other Panzer IVs of that time. Due to attrition, their numbers would dwindle during the war, but some would remain in service up to 1944.
|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||21-22 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)-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 30 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 20 and top 8-10 mm|
|Hull Armor||front 30-50 mm, sides 20 mm, rear 14.5-20 mm and the top and bottom 10-11 mm|
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