Tank Design and Construction

Panzer Kampfwagen Designer Year Weight Gun
PzKpfw I LAS Krupp 1934 6.5 7.92 mm
PzKpfw II MAN 1934 9.5 20-mm
PzKpfw 38(t) Skoda 1935 11 37-mm
PzKpfw III Daimler-Benz 1938 20 37-mm
PzKpfw IV Krupp 1936 23 75-mm
PzKpfw V Panther Daimler-Benz 1942 43 75-mm
PzKpfw VI Tiger Henschel & Porsche 1942 60 88-mm
PzKpfw VII Löwe Krupp 1942 90 100mm
PzKpfw VIII Maus Porsche 1945 207 150-mm
P 1000 Ratte Krupp -- 1,000 2 x 280mm

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.

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 I is obsolete and the Pz.Kpfw.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 army’s armored fighting vehicleswould 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 Wehrmacht’s 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 waseven greater. Against a Soviet tank park that consisted in excess of 20,000 armored fighting vehicles, including the awesome T-34, the Wehrmacht’s 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.

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