Following the success of the StuG III Ausf.F, the Germans introduced yet another slightly improved version in September 1942. While, in most regards, the new version was a direct copy of its predecessor, the main difference was the use of the extended hull taken from the late production Panzer III series. This led to the introduction of the StuG III Ausf.F/8 vehicle. While not many would be produced, it was the last stepping stone before the introduction of the later mass-produced StuG III Ausf.G.
During the first year of fighting on the Eastern Front, the Germans found out that their anti-tank weapons lacked potency against Soviet armor. This issue was finally resolved with the introduction of long barreled 7.5 cm guns, either in a vehicle or towed configuration. The first model (7.5 cm L/43) of such a gun was installed inside the Panzer IV turret and in StuG III vehicles. The StuG Ausf.F particularly proved to be a deadly vehicle, being fully protected, with a low silhouette and highly trained crews. As it was based on the Panzer III chassis, it was logical that any larger improvement and modification of the base chassis would also be implemented on the StuG III. This led to the creation of the Ausf.F/8. It was simply a further extended production order of the previous version, but with an improved hull and a number of minor changes.
Regarding its designation, this version was a bit of an outsider. It received the Ausführung F/8 designation, which referred to the base chassis of the Panzer III Ausf.J, or 8.Serie/Z.W.. It is unusual that the Germans did not give it the Ausf.G designation regardless of the implemented changes. For example, the Ausf.C and D were almost identical, and the latter was just an extended order, still receiving different capital letter designations.
The production of the Ausf.F/8 began in September and ended in December 1942. By that time, some 250 (chassis number 91401 to 91650) vehicles were built by Alkett. Of course, like with many other German vehicles, its production numbers differ between sources. The previously mentioned number of 250 built vehicles is most commonly used in the sources, one example being Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945. On the other hand, some authors, such as D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka), mention the number of 334 vehicles being built. This number is also listed in the older book written by P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition) way back in 1978. It is highly likely that this number is outdated and, thanks to more recent research, it has become obsolete.
The StuG III Ausf.F/8 hull was greatly redesigned, being further extended to the back. This was done to provide better ventilation to the engine compartment and, to some extent, facilitate the overall production. The rear part was simplified and protected with two armored plates. The upper plate had a small round port that could be used to manually start the engine. The previously used bolted towing brackets were removed. Instead, the towing bracket holes were drilled into the hull.
The two upper glacis two-part hatches were replaced with larger single-piece hatches. In November 1942, this decision was reversed, once again using two-piece hatches. Lastly, the two front hull-mounted headlights were replaced by a single Notek headlight. It was placed at the center of the upper hull armor.
Suspension and Running Gear
While the hull was changed, the suspension remained the same. It consisted of six small road wheels, three return rollers, the front drive wheel, and the rear-positioned idler. During the first winter on the Eastern Front, the Germans found out that, due to the rather short track width on their tanks and other tracked vehicles, they could easily bog down in muddy and snowy terrain. A simple solution was to introduce specially designed winter tracks which were much wider than normal tracks. According to the Germans, it was estimated that, by 1943, nearly 75% of the StuG IIIs operating in the East during winter would be equipped with these. They were mainly allocated to units to Heeres Gruppe Nord and Mitee (English: Army Groups North and Center). One additional but minor modification included reducing the length of the front fenders, which became fixed.
The StuG III Ausf.F/8, like its predecessor, was powered by a twelve-cylinder, water-cooled Maybach HL 120 TRM engine providing 265 hp @ 2,600 rpm. Its overall drive performance remained basically the same, with a maximum speed of 40 km/h and a range of 160 km (on good roads). The Ausf.F/8 introduced an improved ventilation system, using larger engine compartment hatches with protected cowlings. Due to extreme and cold Soviet winters, the Germans faced a problem in 1941, with the engines not being able to start working. The oil and water would often freeze. To prevent this, in October 1942, a warm water transfer system with a conector was installed in the StuG III vehicles, including the Ausf.F/8.
Overall, the superstructure’s design remained basically the same as on the Ausf.F version. The majority of the Ausf.F/8 built had the angle of the upper plate above the driver (and opposite of him) increased. This provided better protection, but also strengthened the whole construction. The opening for the periscope sight was slightly redesigned, and some vehicles received a mesh cage. Its purpose was to protect the crew from enemy hand grenades or other projectiles aimed at this opening. Realistically, this offered limited protection at best. The folding radio antennas were replaced with a fixed mount, located on either side of the vehicle’s superstructure.
The Ausf.F/8 was meant to have 80 mm thick frontal armor protection. As such thick single armor plates were not yet available, as a temporary replacement, additional 30 mm plates were welded, or more commonly, just bolted to the front 50 mm usual plate. The sides were 30 mm thick, top 10 mm, and the engine top was 16 mm thick. The rear part of the engine compartment received better armor protection, with the lower plate being 50 mm thick and placed at 10°, while the smaller upper one was placed at 30°.
To protect against Soviet anti-tank rifles, the StuG III Ausf.F/8 received 5 mm thick Schürzen (English: armor plates) covering the side of the vehicle. These were mainly supplied after May 1943.
While the StuG III Ausf.F was equipped with the 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 and L/48 guns, the Ausf.F/8 was mostly armed with the latter. In rarer cases, some were equipped with a shorter gun. The L/48 had a semi-automatic breech, which meant that, after firing, the spent cartridge would be self-ejected, thus increasing the overall firing rate. It was fired electrically. The elevation of this gun went from –6° to +20°, while the traverse was 10° to both sides. Given that this vehicle used the L/48 gun, it was meant to be provided with the new double-chambered muzzle brake. As these were rather expensive to build, demand often outpaced production, so some vehicles were instead supplied with the older ball-shaped muzzle brake.
This gun had a muzzle velocity of 790 m/s. The armor-piercing (Pz.Gr.39) round could penetrate 85 mm of armor (sloped at 30°) at 1 km. The maximum range of the high-explosive rounds was 3.3 km while, for armor-piercing, 1.4 to 2.3 km, depending on the type used. The gunner used the Selbstfahrlafetten Zielfernrohr Sfl.Z.F.1a gun sight to acquire direct targets. For indirect targets, either the Rundblickfernrohr 32 or 36 was to be used. This sight had a magnification of x5 and a field of view of 8°.
The ammunition load, depending on the source, consisted of 44 rounds, later increased to 54. Ammunition was stored in holding bins located mostly on the right side of the vehicle, with some placed behind the commander.
For self-defense, the Ausf.F/8 was provided with an MG 34 machine gun, which was operated by the loader. The ammunition load for the MG 34 was 600 rounds. Initially, the machine gun operator was not provided with a shield. This caused problems, as the operator was completely exposed to enemy fire. To resolve this, in December 1942, a square-shaped machine gun shield was tested, located in front of the loader’s hatch. It had a small opening in the center for the machine gun to be placed. On top of it, there was a small anti-aircraft mount for the same machine gun. This mount was designed to be used in anti-aircraft roles by the gunner. While a 7.92 mm caliber machine gun could do little against flying targets, it was enough to disturb the enemy pilot and force him to pick easier targets. This was far from perfect, but still better than nothing. The shield would have the option to be folded down when not in use. While it is not common to see it on the StuG III Ausf.F/8, it would see extensive use on the next version, the AusF.G. In addition, two submachine guns and hand grenades were also carried inside.
The crew of these vehicles consisted of four: commander, driver, loader, and gunner. While the loader was positioned to the right of the gun, the remaining crew was 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.
Differences between the F and F/8 versions
The StuG III Ausf.F and F/8 were, in many regards, almost identical, and without a proper angle, almost impossible to distinguish between. The main problem with identification is that some changes that were introduced on new versions were also implemented on the older versions that were returned to Germany for repairs. This was something that the Germans often did to improve the performance of older vehicles. A good example is the Panzer IV Ausf.G to J versions, which were in some cases impossible to distinguish from each other without having access to the chassis code.
There are a number of indicators already mentioned that can help identify if the vehicle was a StuG III Ausf.F or F/8. The best way to do so is to observe the rear engine compartment. The Ausf.F/8 used an extended engine compartment with a larger armor plate that had a round shape cover for the engine starter. It is also very important to mention that, even in sources (such as books), wrong identification may occur due to the similar appearance of the two versions.
The shortened front fenders are another clear identification mark that can be used to identify a precise version. In addition, the Ausf.F/8 used a single Notek headlight placed at the center of the upper center of the front hull armor. It is important to note that some late-built vehicles of the StuG III Ausf.F received the single Notek headlight too.
The front upper superstructure design is also an indicator that must be taken into account when determining the precise version. The upper superstructure plates on the Ausf.F/8 were placed at a high angle, starting at the front driver plate and raised up to the superstructure top. While this was used on the Ausf.F/8, it was not always present, and older superstructures may also be seen on this version. In addition, the crews often added concrete filing on this part of the armor, which greatly complicates the identification process.
Lastly, but probably the most important part, was the main armament itself. While the Ausf.F is often associated with the 7.5 cm L/43 and Ausf.F/8 with the L/48 gun, this is not completely true. The Ausf.F used both guns during its production run, while the latter was mostly armed with the L/48 gun. In addition, the Ausf.F/8 guns were sometimes equipped with the older gun and the ball-shaped muzzle brake, as seen in some pictures.
Initially, the StuG III was issued in 6 vehicle-strong Sturmartillerie Batterie (Eng. assault gun battery). These were divided into three Zuge (Eng. platoons), each equipped with only two vehicles. In time, as more StuG IIIs became available, their unit strength was increased to Abteilungen (Eng. battalion) strength of 18 vehicles. These battalions were divided into three batteries, each 6 vehicles strong. These would be further reinforced by three additional vehicles which were allocated to the platoon commanders. By late 1942, in order to further increase the effectiveness of the StuG III battalions, the strength of each battery was increased to 10 vehicles. The strength of the battalions was to be 31 vehicles (including a command vehicle).
The Germans rarely fully supplied new equipment directly to frontline units. Instead, they focused first on equipping newly created units at home or replenishing those units that were sent back for recuperation. The frontline units were instead supplied in smaller quantities, mostly as replacements for lost vehicles. This was also partly done due to problems with the transportation of replacement vehicles directly to their designated unit for various reasons (either due to poor logistics or enemy activity). So, basically, it would take some time before the operational strength of frontline battalions was increased to 10 vehicles per battery.
Another vital change was that the StuG III was slowly being integrated into other military branches, not only infantry. The SS formations already used the StuG III as part of their divisions. For example, the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler was sent back to Germany for recuperation and rearmament in July 1942. Its StuG III Battalion was to be equipped with 22 vehicles. It was rushed to the East in early 1943 at Kharkov. In October 1942, the LuftwaffeFeldeinheiten (English: air force ground troops) received four StuG IIIs for their Panzerjäger-Kompanien (English: Anti-tank company). The Hermann Göring Division received a StuG III Battalion.
The Panzer Divisions also received StuG IIIs starting from October 1942. The 6th, 7th, and 19th Panzer Divisions were to each receive a StuG III battalion. Vehicles and manpower were to be provided by the 209th StuG III Battalion. In later years, the StuG III would become quite an important anti-tank element of many panzer divisions.
As the production of the new Ausf.F/8 began in September 1942, they would see their first action at the end of that year, mostly in the area of Stalingrad, as the Germans made progress toward this important city and the resource-rich Caucasus. They ran into several series of problems. Their supply lines and forces were overstretched. The flanks were guarded by their understrength Romanian allies, which had to cover immense frontlines with insufficient and poorly equipped forces. Furthermore, the Soviets had several bridgeheads across the Don, from which they started their offensive. The weak Romanian and German troops in the area failed to successfully repel the rapid Soviet advance. This led to the encirclement of German forces in Stalingrad. Several StuG III battalions (such as the 177th, 203rd, 243rd, 244th, and 245th) would see extensive combat here, but in the end, the Germans were forced to abandon their rescue operations. The 243rd, 244th, and 245th battalions were almost destroyed in the process. What was left of them was sent back to Germany to be reformed and reequipped with new vehicles.
Despite this setback, other StuG III units would still have great successes against enemy armor, like the case of the 202nd Battalion. At the end of November 1942, the 202nd Battalion, equipped with 21 StuG IIIs, participated in the defensive operation of the 9th Army in the area of Rschew (Rzhev).
On 29th November, elements from this unit participated in the destruction of some 5 Cossack cavalry battalions at Lopotek. Later that day, the StuG IIIs managed to destroy three Soviet tanks. The next day, they claimed to have destroyed additional enemy armor, including 6 light tanks (possibly T-60s or T-70s), 6 T-34s, and one KV-1 heavy tank. Three more tanks were reported destroyed but not confirmed. While the Germans did not have any losses, one needed extensive repair while five more needed smaller repairs. A lack of ammunition was a serious issue, as there were some 212 rounds left. While 3,873 spare rounds were on the way, this was far from enough. During the two days of combat, the 202nd Battalion used some 5,512 rounds in total. On the morning of 30th November, four StuG IIIs supporting German infantry managed to destroy three Soviet 7.62 cm guns. These four were then redirected to support the attack of the Kampfgruppe Kohler (English: battle group) on a gathering point of the Soviet forces close to Mal. After outflanking the unsuspecting enemy, the Germans managed to inflict severe losses to them. The Germans reported destroying 14 T-34s, 2 T-60s, 7 anti-tank and 2 anti-aircraft guns, some 40 trucks, and 250 to 300 enemy soldiers killed but losing one StuG III in the process. At the start of December 1942, three more Soviet armored vehicles were destroyed. By this point, the StuG IIIs of the 202nd Battalion were severely depleted. Of 22 (at some point, the Battalion was reinforced) vehicles, only 13 were operational, while the remaining ones were in various states of repair. The 4th of December was quite successful for this unit, claiming to have taken out 25 Soviet armored vehicles, spending 250 rounds to do so.
During the fighting in this area, the commanding officers of one of the StuG IIIs, Fritz Amling, with the support of another vehicle, engaged 20 Soviet tanks. He alone claimed to have managed to destroy 10 of these, surviving despite the enemy’s numerical advantage. Another commander, Tantius, claimed to have managed to take out 15 enemy armored vehicles in three days of fighting.
An army combat report dated 3rd January 1943 listed the total number of enemy armored vehicle losses from the period of 25th November 1942 to 17th December 1942: The 202nd Battalion was credited with the destruction of 195 and the 667th Battalion with 109 armored vehicles destroyed. In the case of the 202nd, this number included 180 tanks, with 15 T-26s, 61 T-60s and T-70s, 94 T-34s and, lastly, 10 KV-1s.
In March 1943, the StuG III would see extensive combat action around the important city of Kharkov. During the fighting that lasted from 7th to 20th March, the Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland inflicted heavy tank losses on the Soviets. Of some 247 destroyed tanks, the StuG III Ausf.F/8 alone was credited with the destruction of 41.
Near Leningrad, at the same time, another StuG unit was causing havoc on Soviet armor. This was the 226th Battalion, which claimed to have destroyed 210 enemy tanks by this point, albeit at a loss of 13 of its own vehicles.
On Other Fronts
StuG III vehicles were generally a rare sight in North Africa. The first StuG IIIs that were used on this front were three Ausf.D. These were allocated to Sonderverband 288 (Eng. Detachment for special employment) in early 1942. The first long barrel version to reach this front was the StuG III Ausf.F/8 from the 242nd Battalion. This unit was specially created to support the Axis forces there. But, as it turned out, only a single battery with four (two more were sunk during transport) vehicles was sent to Africa. According to T. Anderson (Sturmartillerie Spearhead of the Infantry), this battery had 10 vehicles and he does not mention any of them being lost in transport. This battery was renamed the 90th Battery and was attached to the 10th Panzer Division at the start of 1943. Some of them would survive until the Axis forces surrendered in May 1943.
Occupied Yugoslavia was another front where the StuG III Ausf.F/8 would see service. Given the lack of and sometimes confusing sources regarding armored vehicles used in this theater of war, pinpointing the precise use of this particular version is unclear. But, given that one such vehicle was captured by the Yugoslav Partisans indicates that at least a few StuG III Ausf.F/8s saw service there. Some StuG III Ausf.F/8s were also stationed in Greece during 1943.
The StuG III Ausf.F/8 would also see action against the Allies in Italy and likely in the West. The Hermann Göring Panzer Division had at least 30 StuG IIIs in its inventory, including some Ausf.F/8s. These were stationed in Sicily and unsuccessfully tried to turn the Allies back. Some StuG III Ausf.F/8s even saw service in Finland in 1944.
Sturmgeschütz III Flammenwerfer
In 1943, some 10 StuG IIIs were armed with flame-throwing weapons. Based on a few existing photographs, at least one was built on the StuG III Ausf.F/8 chassis. While little is known about them, some if not all were rebuilt back to their original configuration and none saw action.
Some StuG III Ausf.F/8s were allocated to training centers, such as the one in Jüterbog. They would be used in this manner up to the end of the war.
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. Some 24 Sturminfanteriegeschütz 33 (English: assault infantry gun) were built. For this modification, some 12 Ausf.F/8 chassis were reused.
The StuG 42 Modifications
At the end of 1942 and the start of 1943, at least four StuG III Ausf.F/8 were modified to be used as test vehicles for the anticipated new series of 10.5 cm howitzer-armed StuGs. Some of these were issued to the 185th Battalion wich saw service near Leningrad.
Today, a few StuG III Ausf.F/8s are known to have survived the war and can be seen in museums. These included museums such as Kubinka in Russia, the already mentioned Military Museum in Belgrade, and the Bastogne Barracks in Belgium.
Once they reached the frontline, the StuG III Ausf.F/8s performed excellently, managing to easily deal with enemy armor. The Ausf.F/8 design did offer some minor improvements, mostly in regard to the engine ventilation and overall hull structure. But, otherwise, it was the same as its predecessor. Both of them fulfilled their designated role but left much room for improvement. Further development and refinement would lead to the introduction of the mass-produced StuG III Ausf.G vehicle that would become the most important armored vehicle of the German Army from 1943 onward. This was the main reason why only 250 Ausf.F/8 were ever built and not due to any design fault.
StuG III Ausf.F/8 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||140 km, 85 km (cross-country)|
|Primary Armament||7.5 cm L/43 or 48|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Superstructure armor||front 30+50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30, and top 10-16 mm|
|Hull armor||front 30+50 mm, sides 30 mm, rear 30 mm, and the top and bottom 15 mm|
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