German combat vehicles of World War II

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The German Wehrmacht used an extensive variety of combat vehicles during the Second World War. This article is a summary of those vehicles.

Panther tank production line

Contents

Tanks

Leichttraktor

The V.K.31 was an experimental German light fighting tank developed in the 1920s with only four produced and used in the late 1930s for training purposes.

Panzer I

Also known as: PzKpfw I, 'Panzer I', Sd. Kfz. 101
The Panzer I was not intended as a combat vehicle, but more to familiarise industry and the army with tanks. By the time production had ended in 1937, a total of 1867 Pz I hulls had been produced, of which 1493 were fitted with turrets, and the rest used as command or training vehicles.

Variants:

Panzer II

Also known as: PzKpfw II, 'Panzer II', Sd. Kfz. 121
The Panzer II was a heavier vehicle, designed to replace the Panzer I. It was armed with a 20 mm cannon which had some anti-armour capability. Before the war started, 1223 had been built.

Variants:

Panzer 35(t)

Also known as PzKpfw 35(t) In March 1939 Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia and took over the Czech arms manufacturing industries. The LT-35 tank was renamed to Panzer 35(t) with "t" standing for tschechisch, the German word for Czech.

Panzer 38(t)

Also known as: PzKpfw 38(t), 'Panzer 38(t)', Sd. Kfz. 140
In March 1939 Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia and took over the Czech arms manufacturing industries. The LT-38 tank, then in production, was renamed to Panzer 38(t) (with "t" standing for tschechisch, German for Czech). Prior to the start of the war, 78 Panzer 38(t) tanks had been produced.

Germany continued producing the Panzer 38(t) during the war. By early 1942, it was clearly obsolete. However, the production lines were already running, the vehicle was mechanically reliable, and the factory would have had difficulty moving over to larger tanks, so it was decided to find other uses for the Panzer 38(t) chassis.

Variants:

Panzer III

Also known as: PzKpfw III, 'Panzer III', Sd. Kfz. 141
The Panzer III was designed as a medium tank, with a high-velocity 37 mm gun. Pre-war production was 98 vehicles. During the war, the Pz III was upgunned to a 50 mm L/42 gun, then to an even higher velocity 50 mm L/60 gun, in order to improve its anti-tank performance. A low-velocity 75 mm gun was also fitted (using the same mount as the early Panzer IV), but since the tank was not large enough to fit a high-velocity 75 mm gun, production was halted mid-war, although the chassis continued to be used to build assault guns.

The Panzer III was the first tank to have a 3-man turret: the commander did not have to double up as a loader or a gunner, so he could concentrate on commanding the tank.

Variants:

Panzer IV

Also known as: PzKpfw IV, 'Panzer IV', Sd. Kfz. 161
The Panzer IV was designed alongside the Panzer III. The Panzer IV was a slightly larger and heavier tank, and with its large calibre low velocity gun, it was designed to break through enemy positions. Pre-war production was 211 tanks. Originally armed with a low-velocity 75 mm L/24 gun, in 1942 this was upgraded to a 75 mm L/43 gun, and 1943 to a 75 mm L/48 gun.

Variants:

Panzerkampfwagen V "Panther"

Also known as: PzKpfw V, 'Panzer V', Panther, Sd. Kfz. 171
The Panther was a medium tank of the German Army in World War II. Until 1944 it was designated as the PzKpfw V Panther. The production Panther was a direct response to the Soviet T-34, after encountering difficulties fighting the Soviet T-34, Colonel General Heinz Guderian (Inspector of Panzer Troops) suggested simply copying the T-34; although the report of the enquiry recommended that the main attributes of the T-34 - armament, sloped armor and suspension - be incorporated into a new German Medium weight tank. Two proposals made by Daimler-Benz and by MAN Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg. Both early named VK30.02.

Variants:

Panzer VI Ausf. E "Tiger"

Also known as: PzKpfw VIE, 'Panzer VIE', Tiger I, Sd. Kfz. 181
The Tiger I (Panzer VIE) was armed with an 88 mm L/56 gun. On May 26, 1941 Hitler ordered the Henschel and Porsche firms to design a new heavy tank. Franz Xaver Reimspiess developed the Panzer Tiger. Reimspiess was the leader of the Nibelungen Panzer factory in Upper Austria. The Henschel design won the competition and became the Tiger; However, Henschel was unable to make the 88 mm main gun fit in a turret, and used Porsche's turret design on all of their tigers. A few Porsche Tigers were made, with a different chassis, but these were not as reliable as the Henschel model. Many of the Porsche chassis were converted into tank destroyers, known as Elefant.

Variant:

Panzer VI Ausf. B "Königstiger"

Also known as: PzKpfw VIB, 'Panzer VIB', Tiger II, King Tiger, Royal Tiger, Sd. Kfz. 182
The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II Ausf. B "Königstiger" (Sd. Kfz.182) / VK4503(H) was a heavy tank in the later half of World War II. Armed with an 88 mm L/71 gun the vehicle could perform well in the defensive role on the eastern and western fronts but was an expensive failure for Nazi Germany when used in an offensive role as a main battle tank. The Tiger II combined one of the most capable AT guns of the period with heavy armour, but had an over-burdened engine and lacked reliability.

Variant:

Self-propelled artillery

Wespe

105 mm howitzer built on Panzer II chassis

Grille

150 mm heavy infantry gun built on Panzer 38(t) chassis, sometimes wrongly named "Bison"

Hummel

The Hummel was a self-propelled artillery piece fielding a 150 mm howitzer on a chassis that combined features of both the Panzer III and Panzer IV. Some 666 Hummels plus 150 Hummel ammunition carriers were built from 1943 to 1944.

Heuschrecke

The Heuschrecke was a self-propelled artillery piece with a 105 millimetre leFH 18/1 L/28 on a Panzer IV chassis.

Assault guns

An assault gun is an armoured fighting vehicle similar to a tank, but typically does not have a traversable turret, and may have an open roof. The removal of the turret allows for a much larger gun to be carried on a smaller chassis. They are not intended to fight other AFVs, but instead directly support infantry during assaults on prepared positions. However they were still often fitted with AT guns to destroy AFVs.

During World War II Germany built many more assault guns than tanks, because of their relative cheapness and simplicity.

Sturmgeschütz III

(built on the Panzer III chassis)

Sturmgeschütz IV

(built on the Panzer IV chassis)

Sturmpanzer IV ("Brummbär")

(built on the Panzer IV chassis)

Sturmtiger

(built on the Tiger I chassis)

Tank destroyers

Panzerjäger I

(built on the Panzer I chassis)

Jagdpanzer 38(t) "Hetzer"

(built on the Panzer 38(t) chassis)

Jagdpanzer IV

(built on the Panzer IV chassis)

Jagdpanther

(built on the Panzer V chassis)

Marder series

Nashorn

Jagdtiger

(based on the Tiger II)

Elefant

The Elefant (Sd. Kfz. 184) used the chassis of Porsche's losing entry for the Tiger I competition. On top of this chassis, a forward-facing 88 mm L/71 gun was mounted. A total of 90 Elefants were produced, all in 1943. Early production models of Elefant were also known as the Ferdinand, after its designer, Dr Ferdinand Porsche.

Half-tracks

Armoured cars

Other types

Sd. Kfz. numbers

SdKfz stood for Sonder Kraftfahrzeug or ‘special-purpose vehicle'. SdKfz designations were assigned to armoured vehicles and other vehicles put in military service for a specific purpose. The system was used by Germany prior to and throughout World War II.

Country codes for adopted foreign equipment

See also

External links