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Military


Tank Design and Construction

YearPanzer KampfwagenDesignertonsGununits
1929Leihttraktor mm1
1926GrosstraktorRheinmetall + Krupp + Daimler1675-mm6
1932NeubaufahrzeugRheinmetall + Krupp1575-mm6
1934PzKpfw ILASKrupp6.57.92 mm1,493
1934PzKpfw IIMAN9.520-mm1,884
1934PzKpfw35(t)Skoda1037-mm517
1935PzKpfw38(t)Skoda1137-mm4,113
1938PzKpfw IIIDaimler-Benz2037-mm5,644
1936PzKpfw IVKrupp2375-mm10,807
1942PzKpfw VPantherDaimler-Benz4375-mm5,980
1942PzKpfw VITigerHens.& Pors.6088-mm1,916
1942PzKpfw VIILweKrupp90100-mm-
1945PzKpfw VIIIMausPorsche 207150-mm-
-E 100Krokodil Adler124128-mm--
-P 1000Ratte Krupp1,0002 x 280-mm--
yearTank destroyerstonsgununits
19__Panzerjger Imm
19__SdKfz 132 Marder I mm
19__SdKfz 131 Marder II mm
19__SdKfz 138 Marder III mm
19__SdKfz 138/2 Jagdpanzer 38(t) "Hetzer" mm
19__SdKfz 162 Jagdpanzer IV mm
19__SdKfz 164 Nashorn mm
19__SdKfz 173 Jagdpanzer V "Jagdpanther" mm
19__SdKfz 184 Panzerjger Tiger (P) Elefantmm
19__SdKfz 186 Jagdpanzer VI "Jagdtiger" mm
yearSelf-propelled gunstonsgununits
19__SdKfz 165 Hummel mm
19__SdKfz 138/1 Grille I/II mm
19__SdKfz 124 Wespe mm
19__SdKfz 4/1 "Maultier"150mm

Like mercury spilling on a laboratory floor, the tanks and other armored forces of Germany rolled across the plains of Poland in 1939 and again in 1940 rifled through the fortified hills and panoplied valleys of France. Like acid, this armored force dissolved, so to speak, the best armament Poland, France, England, Yugoslavia and Greece could produce. The countries of the world looked on, at first with incredulity, and then with alarm approaching panic. Passive, static and cordon defense had failed to halt or stop the tank supported by planes and infantry. German armor was uncontained.

In the late 1920s German tank theory was pioneered by General Oswald Lutz and his chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Guderian. Of the two, Guderian became the more influential and his ideas were widely publicized. Like his contemporary Sir Percy Hobart, Guderian initially envisioned an armored corps (panzerkorps) composed of several types of tanks. This included a slow infantry tank, armed with a small-caliber cannon and machine guns. The infantry tank, according to Guderian, was to be heavily armored to defend against enemy anti-tank guns and artillery. He also envisioned a fast breakthrough tank, similar to the British cruiser tank, which was to be armored against enemy anti-tank weapons and have a large 75-millimeter (2.95 in) main gun. Lastly, Germany would need a heavy tank, armed with a massive 150-millimeter (5.9 in) cannon to defeat enemy fortifications, and even stronger armor. Such a tank would require a weight of 70 to 100 tonnes and was completely impractical given the manufacturing capabilities of the day.

Soon after rising to power in Germany, Adolf Hitler approved the creation of Germanys first panzer divisions. Simplifying an earlier proposal, Guderian suggested the design of a main combat vehicle which would later be developed into the Panzer III, and a breakthrough tank, the Panzer IV. No existing design appealed to Guderian and so, as a stopgap, the German Army ordered a preliminary design for a vehicle with which to train German tank crews. This became the Panzer I.

In total, just over 50,000 tanks and self-propelled guns were manufactured over 11 years in Germany, while in the USSR only during the Second World War - 109,100 tanks and self-propelled guns, in the USA - 135,100, in the UK - 24,800 tanks and self-propelled guns [five times fewer than their main opponents]. Germany was able to create such tank forces that during all the years of the war, right up to its last days, they were able to deliver powerful blows. It suffices to recall the counterattack of the German troops in the Ardennes and in the area of Lake Balaton in the winter of 1945. In both cases, having absolutely no superiority in the tanks on either the Western or Eastern fronts, the Germans managed to achieve it in the directions of the main attacks, the reflection of which demanded enormous exertion from the Red Army and allied forces.

Pz.Kpfw. is the German abbreviation for Panzer Kampfwagen, meaning armored fighting vehicle or tank. Three groups of panzer vehicles were produced and used during the war: tanks, assault guns and self-propelled guns. The tank group included eight types, each of which was produced in a number of models. Five of the eight types were developed before the war. Of these, three were light tanks; the Mark I, Mark II, and the 38 t. This last was a Czech design and was produced only in Czechoslovakia. Two were medium tanks, the Mark III and the Mark IV. The three types developed in the course of the war were heavy tanks; the Panther, Tiger I, and Tiger II.

All tanks entered service with the Wehrmacht received the letter abbreviation Pz.Kpfw (abbreviated from Panzerkampfwagen - armored fighting vehicle) and a serial number. Modifications were denoted by the letters of the German alphabet in order and abbreviated word Ausfuhrung - model, performance, version. Along with this, the pass-through notation system for all Wehrmacht mobiles was adopted: Kraftfahrzeuge Nummersystem der Wermacht. According to this system, a significant part (but not all!) Of German tanks, self-propelled guns, lightly armored vehicles and tractors received the designation abbreviated as Sd.Kfz. (abbreviated from Sonderkraftfahrzeug is a special purpose vehicle) and a serial number. As a result, the full designation of the German tank looked as follows: Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.A. (Sd.Kfz. 101). However, to simplify, both in the German army and in the literature on tank technology, the simpler designation Pz.IA, or Pz.I Ausf.A.

The German tank (Panzerkampfwagen, or Pz.Kpfw.) was made in six series, I, II, III, IV, Panther, and Tiger. The Germans abandoned the older abbreviation Pz.Kw., because of possible confusion with the abbreviation for Personenkraftwagen (Pkw.). The Pz.Kpfw. I is obsolete and the Pz.Kpfw. II nearly so. The Pz.Kpfw. III had been the principal tank of the panzer regiment of the panzer division, but there was a trend to replace the Pz.Kpfw. III and even the Pz.Kpfw. IV with the Pz.Kpfw. Panther and Tiger as these later models become available.

Assault guns, also called tank destroyers, consist of a heavy gun mounted on a standard, but somewhat modified tank chassis. It is therefore essentially a turretless tank with its main gun mounted in the front of a low covered superstructure and with both its hull and superstructure more heavily armored than in the case of the corresponding tank. It is slower and less maneuverable than the tank and has a lower silhouette than either the tank or ordinary self-propelled. The first assault guns, built in 1940, consisted of a 7.5 cm gun mounted on the modified chassis of a Mark III or IV tank. This chassis continued to be used for most of the assault guns produced during the war, although newer and heavier guns were mounted. In the later years of the war, assault guns were also built on the chassis of the 38 t, the Panther and Tiger tanks. These were called variously the Jagd 38, the Jagd Panther and the Jagd Tiger.

The third group of panzer vehicles, self-propelled guns, consisted of a standard field, medium, or anti-tank gun mounted on a standard, unmodified tank chassis. Unlike assault guns, they were not specially designed and were not necessarily produced by serial methods in major tank assembly plants. The chassis was usually that of an obsolete tank; most of these vehicles, first produced in 1942, used the unmodified chassis of the light Mark II and 38 t tank, although some in 1944 employed the Mark III or IV chassis.

The first two tanks the Wehrmacht received from Krupp, the Mark I (six tons and armed with machine guns) and the Mark II (ten tons and armed with a 20mm cannon), were already obsolete when they entered serial production in 1934. Not until 1938, with the arrival of the first Mark IIIs (initially armed only with a 37mm cannon) and Mark IVs (armed with a 75mm low-velocity gun), did the Germans possess their first modern tanks. Nevertheless, even in 1940 the great majority of the armys armored fighting vehicles would be Mark Is and Mark IIs, while in 1941 obsolete Mark IIs and Czech tanks made up a substantial portion of the panzer divisions equipment in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

German tank development began in 1934, ostensibly at the same time as the rest of the rearmament program, but there is no doubt that considerable thought and experimentation had been devoted to the subject before then. By 1939 the Germans had evolved four types of tanks: the Pz.Kpfw. I, II, III, and IV, with wehich the Blitzkrieg campaigns were conducted.

There is evidence that larger tanks were being developed in 1939, and specimens of what are assumed to have been a Pz.Kpfw. V and a Pz.Kpfw. VI in an experimental stage were employed in the invasion of Norway. These, however, must have proved unsatisfactory, since they were dropped, and the present Pz.Kpfw. V (Panther) and Pz. Kpfw. VI (Tiger) have no connection with them. Meamwhile, the Pz.Kpfw. I and II gradually became obsolescent, first being relegated to reconnaissance roles and then finally disappearing in 1943 from the Table of Equipment of the Panzer regiment. The heavier tanks, Pz.Kpfw. III and IV, which had proven satisfactory under fire, were modified to meet new conditions by thicker armor and more effective guns.

In 1942, the Pz.Kpfw. VI, or Tiger, appeared in Russia, and later in Africa. The Tiger was designed in the direct German tradition, and simply was armed more heavily and armored more thickly than its predecessors. It appeared out of its proper order in the line of succession, for the Pz.Kpfw. V, or Panther, did not appear until nearly a year later.

Fall Gelb illustrated the shortcomings of Germany's poor logistical tail and the limited range of the panzers. Several times during the French campaign, panzers had to be airdropped fuel to continue operations. With Barbarossa the range problem became even more apparent. Despite this, the Heereswaffenamt still favored a conservative approach to tank design. The Tiger was born in this mentality as a breakthrough tank in which performance was more important than fuel economy.

Hitler directed that the next generation of medium tanks should have diesel engines. But German industry was not up to the task of retooling production. Speer ignored Hitler's directives to expand diesel production as disruptive to existing production. The Daimler Benz design (VK 3002[DB]) for what became the Panther had a diesel engine, and was heavily influenced by the T-34. However, the Heereswaffenamt opted for the gasoline-powered MAN design and informed Hitler that the Daimler Benz design could not be produced in the numbers the Germans needed.

If the Sherman received an undeserved poor reputation, it was the German PzKpfw VI, the Tiger, that received just the opposite reaction. Possibly the best known tank of World War II, the Tiger's armor was impenetrable by the US 75mm frontally and the 88mm gun could defeat any US or British tank at great range. The 88mm gained a healthy respect from the Allies when mounted on the Tiger. However, it was few in number and mechanically unreliable, restricting its use on the battlefield.

The main limitation was that there was a universal and persistent shortage of spare parts. Because Hitler was entranced with numbers, German armament production officials gave absolute priority to building complete tanks. That focus on the end item meant a low priority on repair parts, and tank unit readiness suffered accordingly.

In the Battle of France the overall tank strength of the Wehrmachts panzer divisions was 2,439 tanks 523 Mark Is, 955 Mark IIs, 106 Czech 35 (t)s, 228 Czech 38 (t)s, 349 Mark IIIs, and 278 Mark IVs. Opposing themwere 674 modern French tanks (in most respects superior to the German Mark IIIs and IVs), with a further 2,535 French tanks, the capabilities of which were similar to the more obsolete tanks in the German inventory. In addition, the British brought an additional 310 armored fighting vehicles to the fight, all of which were superior to the Mark Is and IIs in virtually every aspect from armor to fire power. Thus, the Western allies possessed an advantage of over 1,000 tanks when the 1940 campaign began.

The disparity in tank strength in 1941 between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army was even greater. Against a Soviet tank fleet that consisted in excess of 20,000 armored fighting vehicles, including the awesome T-34, the Wehrmachts panzer divisions possessed only 3,255 tanks. Of the German tanks, 281 were Mark Is; 743 Mark IIs, 157 Czech 35(t)s, 651 Czech 38(t)s, 979 Mark IIIs, and 444 Mark IVs.16 Thus, over 50 percent of the armored inventory in June 1941 still consisted of obsolete armored fighting vehicles.

strengthPz.IPz.IIPz.35Pz.38Pz.IIIPz.IVPz.VPz.VI
01 Jan 1936 720-------
01 Jan 1937 1,493-------
01 Jan 1938 1,469314--233--
01 Jan 1939 1,4451,22320278 98211--
01 Jan 1940 1,3051,155195143219237--
01 Jan 1941 1,079955173468918419--
01 Jan 1942 723837-3731,808513--
01 Jan 1943 -997-2872,9441,077-65
01 Jan 1944 -399-2279201,6681,177409
01 Jan 1945 ----5341,6842,151295



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