Tuesday, September 6, 2011

German Tanks of WW2

Hunting Tiger (SdKfz 186 Jagdtiger)

The Jagdtiger was an optimistic - yet powerful - design that ultimately was a limited battlefield component.

The SdKfz 186 Jagdtiger was a further development of the mammoth and powerful Tiger II heavy tank and was an optimistic - yet effective - design at best. Though blessed with a powerful main armament and thick frontal armor, the Jagdtiger brought along with it the same deficiencies present in the Tiger II design, the most notable of them being the sheer weight of the system, high fuel consumption and unreliable engine.

The Jagdtiger first appeared as two prototypes design by Porsche and Henschel respectively with the major difference bring in the number of road wheels used. These were designated as Jagdtiger VI but later renamed to the more common designation of SdKfz 186. The tank destroyer featured the most powerful anti-tank gun of the war in the 128mm PaK L/55 - an armament that could quite literally shoot and defeat enemy armor before they were ever in range to fire back - and was fixed into position in the upper hull. Frontal armor took precedence and was nearly 10 inches thick. A crew of five to 6 personnel was needed to man the machine.

Unfortunately for its designers, the Jagdtiger suffered from some serious battlefield setbacks. The heavy armor - particularly in front - made the vehicle very heavy and unwieldy while exposing the thin side and rear armor to well placed enemy fire. The weight of the vehicle (some sources state 79.4 tons) forced the structure to take on a tremendous amount of stress in movement and recoil while forcing the gasoline engine to use up an inordinate amount of fuel. The main gun, as powerful as it was, required the charge and munition to be loaded individually each and every time the gun was fired and only 40 of the large projectiles could be carried.

In the end, the Jagdtiger was anything but the tank hunter that it was advertised to be. The system ended up fairing better as a stationary artillery platform, offering up infantry support or holding ground as a sort of armored and mobile bunker, than it was at chasing down and destroying the faster-moving American, British and Soviet designs. Though no Allied armor could withstand the might of the 128mm projectile of the Jagdtiger's main gun, the Allies still held the advantage of being on the offensive by the time the Jagdtiger was ready for action.

Designation: SdKfz 186 Jagdtiger (Hunting Tiger)
Classification Type: Tank Destroyer
Contractor: Nibelungen Works / Porsche / Henschel - Germany
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1944
Number Built: 74

Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer

The Jagdpanzer Hetzer was one of the more successful conversions of the Czech 38(t) chassis.

The Jagdpanzer 38(t) fur 7.5-cm PaK 39 "Hetzer" (meaning "baiter") was yet another in the long line of Nazi Germany conversions of the successful Czech-designed 38(t) tank chassis. The Hetzer was easily identifiable by its hull-mounted main gun, low profile and large road wheels. Up to this design, previous conversions yielded a high profile, making them easy targets on the battlefield. The Hetzer design was a departure from this norm and produced one of the most highly regarded Panzerjager systems of the war - a system that would see production in the post-war years as well, this time for the Czech Army.

The Hetzer was fitted with the powerful PaK 39 artillery gun, already a proven weapon in other platforms. Where the Hetzer shined was in the use of the Czech 38(t) chassis, a mobile, small yet reliable system that, when mated to the PaK 39, produced equal successful results. The Hetzer shown impressive road speed for a vehicle of this time. The armor protection was more than adequate for the crew of four, making the Hetzer itself a tough vehicle to knock out. The top hull was mated over the 38(t) chassis and featured sloping sides for increased deflection capability. A single MG 34 or MG42 machine gun was fitted to the top of the hull for anti-infantry defense. The powerful PaK 39 gun was capable of knocking out any known Allied armor.

The Hetzer became one of those German weapons that would see entire production lines dedicated to itself. Such was the potency of the weapon that the need outweighed actual production allotment with just 1,577 units by 1944. In the end, the Hetzer was done in only by the advancement of Allied ground forces into Germany. Other than that, there was very little working against this powerful little system.

Designation: Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer
Classification Type: Tank Destroyer
Contractor: BMM / Skoda - Germany
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1943
Number Built: 1,500

SdKfz 142 StuG III (Sturmgeshutz)

The StuG III series proved a pivotal battlefield element for the German Army, up through the closing months of World War 2.

The StuG III was a well known German assault gun of World War 2. The system stemmed from a German Army need to supply ground troops with a mobile artillery system when traditional armor units such as tanks were not notmade available. The system would have to mount formidable firepower in its design and provide a mechanized element to advancing fronts in order to keep up with the requirements inherent in the Blitzkrieg concept. The resulting system - though at the time deemed an interim solution - became the Sturmgeshutz (StuG) III, which utilized the existing Panzer III tank hull and sported a 75mm main gun in a fixed position on the superstructure.

The StuG III entered production in January of 1940. The system mounted a powerful 75mm main gun into a turretless all-hull design (the 75mm gun was simply too long to fit into Panzer III turrets). This, coupled with the use of existing Panzer III hulls, cut down on production costs and time.

However, the major drawback of this turretless design however lay in the fact that the entire tank had to be turned to target and fire on an enemy. Later models would add self-defense 7.92mm machine guns for crew protection. Crew accommodations amounted to four personnel. Externally, the design of
the StuG III was characterized by the small six road wheels, low profile and, in some models from 1943 onwards, side skirting for additional armor protection for the crew.

The StuG III appeared in a few variants with earlier ones mounting the StuK 37 L-24 main gun. The definitive StuG III came in the form of the Ausf F model which sported an StuK 40 L/43 main gun. This model's designation changed slightly to showcase the difference from previous ones and became the SdKfz 142/1 and would sometimes be known as the StuG 40 from that point on. Additionally frontal armor protection was further addressed and continued to be so in future variants.

Production of the StuG series numbered in the thousands with a majority of production facilities concentrating on StuG IIIs by war's end. The system proved so effective and vital that even captured Soviet versions turned up with the Red Army sporting a variety of Soviet main armaments. Finland was also the other major user of the StuG III. Easy to build and relatively inexpensive when compared to other German systems, the StuG III series became a pivotal battlefield component of the German Army up through the closing months of the world conflict.

Designation: SdKfz 142 StuG III (Sturmgeshutz)
Classification Type: Assault Gun / Tank Destroyer
Contractor: Daimler-Benz / Alkett - Germany
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1940
Number Built: 9,642

SdKfz 138 Marder III (Marten III)

A Marder III Auf M - the final incarnation of the Marder series - with turret moved to the rear.

Marder III systems was yet another hastily modified conversion model of existing Panzer II tank chassis overstock. With the Panzer II system as a whole virtually obsolete on the changing battlefields of World War 2 and the production lines of the Panzer II chassis still warm and ready to churn out new models, it was seen fit to add a static superstructure to the Panzer 38(t) (Panzer II) chassis to create a formidable mobile heavy gun platform (Panzerjager). The result was yet another capable self-propelled gun and tank destroyer capable of meeting the armor of Allied forces of the time. The Marder III series would be the most-produced model of the Marder family which had the Marder I and Marder II precede it.

Design varied from Marder-class to Marder-class and the Marder III was no different. The III series featured a more refined purpose-driven look with a stable chassis mounting four road wheels to a side. The main gun sat fixed in the superstructure which was opened on top and the rear, exposing the gun crew to grenade attack, small arms, shrapnel and the elements while at the same time saving on weight and improving speed. The Marder III first appeared in March of 1942 as the Panzerjager 38(t) Sd.Kfz 139, Marder III fitted with captured specimens of the Soviet-built 7.62-cm main gun. Some 340 examples of this type were produced. The follow-up version became the Panzerjager 38(t) Sd.Kfz 138, Marder III Ausf H, this one fitted with the 3" 7.5-cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with a better armored sloping shield superstructure. The final main version became the Panzerjager 38(t) Sd.Kfz 138, Marder III Ausf M. This model saw a major revision to the Marder III's layout in that the engine was moved closer to the middle of the hull and the superstructure was mounted further aft to balance the vehicle out more efficiently. A newer engine provided for a greater output of 150 horsepower over the original types. Production lasted up until 1944 to which over 800 Ausf H and Ausf M models were produced alone to the tune of 1,143 Marder III's altogether. Defensive armament was two 7.92mm MG34 or MG42 machine guns – one in a trainable (yet exposed) mounting in the upper superstructure and the other in a fixed position in the bow.

Like the Marder models before it, the Marder III was primarily concentrated to the East Front, though the weapon could be found everywhere German infantry forces operated. The Marder III's proved just as resilient as her predecessors and the main gun could face off against any of the Allied armor with the exception of the Soviet heavy tank systems. The exposed crew in the tall superstructure and light armoring along the sides meant that the vehicle was not without weakness. An additional factor was that, with the static superstructure being fitted to the chassis, the entire vehicle had to be positioned to the direction of desired fire. This made the Marder III adequate in an ambush role, fixed defensive role or calibrated offensive artillery role from a distance but a liability in a moving or close-in standup fight. In any case, her main armament was respected and feared alike and her proper use and ease of production ensured her a mention in any listing of World War 2 mobile artillery systems.

Designation: SdKfz 138 Marder III (Marten III)
Classification Type: Tank Destroyer
Contractor: BMM - Germany
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1942
Number Built: 1,143

SdKfz 173 Jagdpanther (Panzerjager V Jagdpanther)

The Jagdpanther was a superb purpose-built tank destroyer built on speed and firepower.

The Jagdpanther was the missing link to complete battlefield domination for the Germany Army. Already having the well-established Tiger II and Panther series of tanks, the Jagdpanther tank destroyer would have been a formidable addition to any tank group if estimated production totals during the war were ever met. As it was, the Jagdpanther was a formidable vehicle and quite possibly the best tank design of the war, done in only by the constant Allied bombardment of crucial assembly plants.

Well noted for its 8.8 centimeter main gun fixed into the hull, the Jagdpanther looked the part. The sloping front armor gave the appearance of a slow and stout machine, though this was far from the truth. The Jagdpanther was actually one of those creations where all the vital components of a successful killing machine come together - for it fielded a package of speed, mobility, firepower and protection unlike any other vehicle of the war. The main gun alone was powerful enough to remove any Allied armor from the playing field.

The Jagdpanther came about at a time when most tank destroyers were built upon existing chassis, featuring make-shift combinations of main guns and hulls. What made this new German creation unique was that the Jagdpanther was a purpose-built tank-killer so specifications for such a system were full met. The system was displayed for Adolph Hitler in 1943 - and much impressed the dictator that the prototype name of "Panzerjager Panther" was soon changed to the more recognizable "Jagdpanther". The vehicle would appear on frontlines in early 1944, with Hitler himself a having personal involvement in its development.

On the battlefield, the Jagdpanther earned its keep, appearing in limited quantities but changing the tide of engagements nonetheless. Allied armor was an issue already with the M4 Shermans, Matildas, Valentines and Cromwells and the major punch of the 8.8 centimeter main gun of the Jagdpanther would only exacerbate the problem. On the East Front, the Russians could contend with the Jagdpanther up to a point with their mighty IS-2 systems. Jagdpanthers could engage an armored target some 500 yards away and penetrate with lethal efficiency.

By 1945, only some 382 Jagdpanthers had been produced. As the Allies progressed, closing more and more of the German production facilities, the terror of the Jagdpanther became less and less. In any case, the Jagdpanther was a system to be reckoned with and - had it seen higher production totals - would have certainly continued to give the Allied commanders something more to think about.

Designation: SdKfz 173 Jagdpanther (Panzerjager V Jagdpanther)
Classification Type: Tank Destroyer
Contractor: MIAG / Brandenburg Eisenwerk - Germany
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1944
Number Built: 382

SdKfz 182 Panzerkampfwagen VIB Tiger II (PzKpfw VIB)

The Tiger II was the definitive battlefield presence and the pinnacle of German Panzer tank design by the end of the war.

Even with the formidable Tiger I heavy tank series already hitting the production lines, it was envisioned that the system could be made into a more powerful class of tank. This decision leaned heavily on counteracting any new heavy tanks as developed by the Soviet Union and would be the ultimate in the Panzer evolution.

The resulting system - christened the "Tiger II" (or known in some circles as the "King Tiger", "Royal Tiger" and or the German "Konigstiger") - would be feature the awesome tank-killing 88mm main gun and armor as much as 4 inches at its thickest. Fortunately for the Allies, production of the complicated system was slow and petrol for the retreating Germans was at a premium. Additionally, the heavy tank proved somewhat unwieldy, slow and unreliable despite the sheer power inherent in the design.

The Tiger II design centered around the powerful 88mm main gun of which some 84 projectiles were carried aboard. The system was crewed by five personnel and an additional 2 x 7.92mm machine guns were added for self-defense. Power was derived from a single Maybach HL 230 P 30 12-cylinder petrol engine developing in the area of 700 horsepower. The sheer weight of the vehicle did not lend itself favorably to the design at some 153,660 pounds, most attributed to the added armor and heavy main gun. Road speed was limited to 24 miles per hour and much less than that off road. Range amounted to a mere 68 miles.

Production of the mammoth tank began in December of 1943 with the system seeing first action in May of 1944. Tiger II's would also be present at Normandy to which the invading Allies would see first hand the power of the "King Tiger". In essence, the Tiger II was more similar to the Panther tank than the Tiger I as the Tiger II utilized similar engines, cupola and wheels. If anything, the Tiger II could be considered more of an up-gunned Panther tank than an improved Tiger I model.

The Tiger II appeared with a variety of turrets by various manufacturers throughout its production run. The initial 50 production models were fitted with a Wegmann turret while later models were seen with Krupps, Porsche and Henschel designed turrets. The similarity between the Panther and Tiger II lines helped keep these two tanks in production up into 1945, though two Panthers could be constructed for every one Tiger II.

In the end, fuel shortages did most of the Tiger II systems in as their armor was able to withstand most any direct shot from Allied tanks. Many a Tiger II crew simply abandoned their systems on the battlefield when out of gas. The Tiger II chassis went on to become the basis for the equally formidable Jagdtiger B tank destroyers while Tiger II production totaled some 485 examples. Top production equaled 84 in the month of August (1944) alone, never meeting the ambitious expectation of 145 per month.

Classification Type: Heavy Tank
Contractor: Henschel / Porsche - Germany
Country of Origin: Nazi Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1944
Number Built: 485


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