The success of the whole StuG III series led to further demand for more vehicles to be delivered. This resulted in the introduction of the slightly improved Ausf.E version, of which some 500 were ordered. Such a production order was never fully completed, as the request was made to rearm the StuG III with a long gun to deal with the ever-increasing numbers of enemy armored vehicles. The StuG III Ausf.E would be the last StuG III vehicle to be armed with the short barrel gun. It also introduced a series of internal changes that would be further improved in later versions.
The Purpose of the Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.E
Following the introduction of the StuG III Ausf.A into service, a series of versions were developed to further improve the overall design and combat effectiveness of this vehicle. These were mainly focused on improving mobility and overall reliability. One of the problems noted with the StuG III was the lack of a command vehicle that would have more specialized radio equipment. This is somewhat unusual for the Germans, who especially valued the importance of communication equipment for their armored units. While the existing StuG IIIs were equipped with radio receivers, they could not store additional equipment needed for the unit’s commander. They instead had to rely on Sd.Kfz.253 half-tracks. While these had enough interior space for the radio equipment, which consisted of two receivers and one transmitter, they lacked proper protection. Due to the Sd.Kfz.253’s insufficient protection, it could not be used at the frontline, where the commander would have good situational awareness of what transpired. This, in turn, would interfere with his commanding abilities.
The StuG III vehicles were not known for their large interior, so, in order to accommodate additional radio equipment, some modifications to the superstructure were needed. This was done by increasing the sides of the superstructure paniers, which provided additional external space. It is important to note that not all produced StuG III Ausf.E would be used as command vehicles. Some would be instead allocated as replacement vehicles without the extra radio equipment.
Another shortcoming of the early StuG IIIs was their lack of a machine gun for protection against enemy infantry. The purpose of the vehicles was to provide the German infantry with close support, so the idea was that the infantry was to cover them against the opposing enemy infantry. In practice, this was not always the case, so it was requested to add one machine gun.
Initially, a production order for 500 Stug III Ausf.Es was given. Production began in September 1941. After some 284 (chassis number 90751-91034) vehicles were built, the original production numbers were canceled in February 1942. Priority was given to the longer barrel gun equipped StuG Ausf.F, so the remaining chassis were to be reused for the new version instead.
The StuG III Ausf.E’s hull was mostly unchanged from the previous StuG IIIs. It had the same front-mounted drive unit, central crew compartment, and rear-positioned engine. One of the few changes was the replacement of the large cast hinges of the two glacis hatches with new smaller ones. In addition, a bar with 11 spare links was added in front of the lower hull. Lastly, a minor change was made to the two spare wheels, which were placed on both sides of the rear fenders.
Suspension and Running Gear
The torsion bar suspension remained the same as on the StuG III Ausf.D and other earlier models. It consisted of six small road wheels, three return rollers, the front drive wheel, and the rear-positioned idler. Starting from Ausf.E, new torsion bars were used. The first three were 55 mm in diameter, while the remaining three were 52 mm.
The StuG III Ausf.E was powered by a twelve-cylinder, water-cooled Maybach HL 120 TRM engine providing 265 hp @ 2,600 rpm engine. The maximum speed with this engine was 40 km/h, while the cross-country speed was 20 km/h. The fuel load of 310 liters was stored in two fuel tanks placed below the radiators in the engine compartment. With this fuel load, the StuG III Ausf.E’s operational range was 160 km on roads and 100 km cross-country.
The StuG III Ausf.E’s superstructure design received a number of structural changes, which easily distinguish it from the previous versions. The most obvious change was the deletion of the angled side-spaced armor plates. These served to provide additional protection, prematurely detonating enemy rounds or at least slowing them down. In practice, this likely proved to be ineffective and was removed from the Ausf.E version completely.
The early StuG III vehicles were initially equipped with the Fu 15 receiver unit. Battlefield experience quickly showed that commanding vehicles needed better radio equipment. For this reason, the original left armored storage box was slightly elongated. On the opposite side, another armored storage box was added. These were used to store additional radio equipment. The Fu 16 10 watt transmitter was kept in the left armored storage space. Opposite it, two Fu 15 receivers were added. Lastly, a loudspeaker was installed next to the gunner. The vehicles that were equipped with extra radios had two large adjustable antennas. These had to be raised up when the radio was used.
The StuG III Ausf.E’s armor protection remained the same as in the previous version. It had 50 mm thick frontal armor. The sides and rear were somewhat thinner, at 30 mm. The crews would add all kinds of stuff that they could get their hands on to their vehicles in the hope of further increasing the protection, for example, some crews added to concrete.
The main armament remained the same as on the previous StuG III version, a 7.5 cm StuK 37 L/24. It was primarily designed to engage fortified positions using the 7.5 cm Gr Patr high-explosive round. Another round used was the 7.5 cm PzGr Patr armor-piercing round, with a muzzle velocity of 385 m/s, which could pierce around 39 mm of 30° angled armor at a distance of 500 m. The elevation of the gun was -10° to +20°, while the traverse was limited to 12° per side.
Not all StuG III Ausf.Es were provided with additional radio equipment. This meant that there was extra free interior room that could be reused for other purposes. These vehicles were instead provided with six additional rounds, giving a total load of 50. If needed, these vehicles could be quite easily modified to add radio equipment.
The StuG III Ausf.E was also provided with a 7.92 mm MG 34 that was operated by the gunner. The gunner was not provided with a protective shield. When using this machine gun, he was completely exposed to enemy fire. The ammunition load for this machine gun consisted of seven 75-round drum magazines. In addition, two MP38/MP40 submachine guns were provided for crew protection.
The crew of these vehicles consisted of four: commander, driver, loader, and gunner. The loader was positioned to the right of the gun and the remaining crewmembers were placed opposite. The driver was positioned on the left front side of the hull. Just behind the driver was the gunner, and right behind, the commander.
Distribution to the Units
The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 initially proved promising. The Germans managed to inflict heavy losses on the Soviets. However, the ever-increasing enemy resistance, in combination with the supply problems, the slow disintegration of their own forces, and the weather, prevented the Germans from achieving their goal of capturing Moscow. By the end of 1941, the German forces were greatly depleted, having suffered extensive losses. The StuG III units were not an exception. For example, the 185th Battalion had only one operational StuG III out of a reglementary strength of 24. Only one was lost to direct enemy action. Fifteen had to be sent back to Germany for extensive repairs or they had to be destroyed to prevent capture. The remaining vehicles were under repair and were not ready for service until mid-January 1942.
Given the rather late start of production (which began in September 1941), the StuG III Ausf.E would not be present in the Soviet Union in significant numbers until early 1942. It is possible that smaller numbers were used by the end of 1941. Given the chaotic state of German supply lines in the Soviet Union at that time, the delivery of replacement vehicles took a long time. For example, in order to supplement the losses, the 185th Battalion received a number of StuG III Ausf.E vehicles in April 1942.
Pin-pointing the precise distribution or usage of the StuG III versions in the sources is difficult given the lack of mention of the precise variants used by the Germans. Another problem is that most sources mainly focus on the long-barrelled StuG III from 1942 onwards.
The StuG III saw extensive use in the Eastern Front. Given the losses, lack of armored vehicles, and the increasing number of new Soviet tanks (T-34 and the KV-1), the StuG III was often used as an anti-tank vehicle despite not being designed for this role. During the German attempt to capture Crimea in March 1942, the StuG IIIs from the 197th Battalion were used to battle Soviet Armor. From 13th to 19th March, they claimed to have destroyed 70 Soviet tanks, including KV-1s. The after-combat report in April 1942 noted the following:
“ … The Russian T-34 can fire one round with poor accuracy, while a Sturmgeschütz can fire three to four rounds in the same time. If a Sturmgeschütz comes under fire from a T-34 or a super-heavy tank, a change of position using smoke cover has proved to be successful. If possible, another Sturmgeschütz will continue the combat…
During massed tank attacks, fire was normally opened at a range of 600 m. Occasionally, the Russian tanks stopped at ranges of 1,000 to 1,200 m to open fire. Quite naturally, in such situations, any approach by a Sturmgeschütz in open terrain was impossible… We attacked the T-34s by bracketing them with HE rounds first. Fire for effect was then opened with GrPatr 38 (shape-charge round) at 600 to 800 m. Effect: Total destruction of the running gear and fire in the tank’s interior, which caused the death of the crew… Attacking a Soviet superheavy tank at a range of 1,200 m caused some damage but did not immobilize it… Ammunition consumption was very high, since there is enemy infantry to target, also anti-tank and artillery guns to be eliminated. After each commitment, the Abteilung’s last surviving SdKfz 252 was constantly on the move supplying ammunition… In most cases, even a massed enemy tank attack can be repulsed by a platoon of three Sturmgeschütz, but this required careful tactical leadership and a sufficient ammunition supply. ”
Given the extensive Soviet threat to the German operations in Crimea, Generaloberst von Manstein (Commander of the German forces there) launched his own offensive, named Trappenjagd (English: Bustard Hunt). The main spearhead of this operation consisted of the newly arrived 22nd Panzer Division, supported by the 197th Battalion equipped with StuG IIIs.
The attack would prove to be highly successful, and the StuG IIIs distinguished themselves well in combat. They provided the necessary infantry support. But, yet again, due to the lack of infantry anti-tank guns, the StuG III was used in anti-tank roles. The German operation lasted from 8th to 20th May 1942. During that time, the 22nd Panzer Division and the 197th Battalion managed to destroy 250 Soviet tanks with the loss of only 3 StuG IIIs and 8 Panzers. Somewhat confusingly, in the after-combat report of the 197th Battalion, the use of 7.5 cm L/41 guns is mentioned. It is not clear what this referred to, as the newer StuG III Ausf.F armed with the 7.5 cm L/43 guns did not yet reach this unit. Interestingly the German firm Krupp did actually develop such a gun. It was fitted to an experimental StuG III. While this project was canceled, at least one built vehicle was given for troop trials, but its fate or its use is unknown. Thus it is unclear if this may actually refer to this vehicle or if this is just a simple typo by the author of this after-combat report.
The 245th Battalion, equipped with some StuG III Ausf.Es, was sent to the Eastern Front to participate in the German drive toward the Caucasus in June 1942. It participated in heavy fighting north of Stalingrad at the end of 1942. It still had a number of StuG III Ausf.Es during 1943.
In the years following the invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of short barrel StuG IIIs dwindled due to losses and being reallocated to training units, such as Sturmgeschütz Ersatz und Ausbildung Abteilung (Eng. Replacement and Training Battalion).
StuG III Ausf.D/E Hybrids
In a few instances, due to delays in production, some StuG III vehicles were completed using materials and parts that were available at hand. One of the first cases of this was the small production run (between 6 to 20) StuG III Ausf.As, equipped with a superstructure took from the Ausf.B version. This was also the case with a few Ausf.Es that received the superstructure of the earlier Ausf.D version. Such modified vehicles, as the StuG III Ausf.D/E Hybrids were mostly reused as training vehicles.
An unknown number of StuG III Ausf.Es were used as training vehicles. Their role was highly important, as an inexperienced and untrained crew had little combat potential on the battlefields. Some of these vehicles may have received long guns.
Due to the need to fight the well-entrenched Soviet positions at Stalingrad, the Germans hastily modified some 24 StuG III vehicles for this role. The modification was simple, as the original StuG III superstructure was replaced with a new box-shaped one armed with a 150 mm gun. At least a few StuG III Ausf.E chassis were reused during the construction of the 24 rebuilt Sturminfanteriegeschütz 33 (English: assault infantry gun).
A few StuG III Ausf.Es were reused as test vehicles for the installation of new guns, including the 10.5 cm howitzer and the longer 7.5 cm L/43 guns. In both cases, the overall design would be approved, followed by production orders. This would lead to the creation of the 10.5 cm StuG 42 and the long 7.5 cm armed StuG III Ausf.F.
The only fully surviving StuG III Ausf.E can now be seen at the Motor Technica Museum, Bad Oeynhausen, in Germany. This particular vehicle was recovered from a lake near Saint Petersburg in 1990.
The StuG III Ausf.E introduced a new slightly modified upper superstructure which provided a somewhat larger working space inside the vehicle. It enabled the use of additional radio equipment which the previous versions lacked. With this, it was finally possible to supply the unit commanders with their own fighting vehicles, greatly increasing the combat effectiveness of the whole unit. Like its predecessors, while not designed to fight enemy tanks, due to urgent combat necessity, it was sometimes pressed into the role of an anti-tank vehicle. While performing generally adequately in this role, it was far from perfect due to its low-velocity gun, something that would be addressed to great effect in later versions.
Gepanzerten Selbstfahrlafette für Sturmgeschütz 75 mm Kanone Ausführung E Technical specification
|Crew||4 (commander, gunner, loader, and driver)|
|Dimensions||Length 5.38 m, Width 2.92 m, Height 1.95 m|
|Engine||Maybach 120 TRM 265 hp @ 200 rpm|
|Speed||40 km/h, 20 km/h (cross-country)|
|Range||160 km, 100 km (cross-country)|
|Primary Armament||7.5 cm L/24|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Superstructure armor||front 50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top 10-16 mm|
|Hull armor||front 50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30 mm, and the top and bottom 15 mm|
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