WORLD WAR TWO. ARMOURED FIGHTING VEHICLES & SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY
Probably the best tank destroyer in any World War Two army was the Jagdpanther (SdKfz 173). The low, sleek silhouette, excellent performance and lethal 8.8cm PaK 43/3 L/71 gun made it a first class tank killer. (TM)
Just under 300 of the infantry assault gun Brummbär (Grizzly Bear) were manufactured between 1943 and 1945 with a few more being converted from gun tanks. This version of the StuG IV mounted a 15cm Stu43 L/12 short barrelled assault howitzer in a box-like superstructure, weighed some 28.2tons, carried a crew of live and had a top speed of 25mph. It first saw action at Kursk, Russia but was then deployed on most fronts, including Italy. The howitzer had a maximum range of about 6400 metres and a total of thirty-eight rounds of ammunition were carried.
The Hummel had a lengthened PzKpfw IV chassis modified to mount a 15cm sFH 18/1 L/30 heavy howitzer centrally in an open-topped, box-like turret. The resulting vehicle weighed 24tons and carried a crew of six. Only eighteen rounds of ammunition could be carried, further supplies being transported in a Munitionspanzer built on the same PzKpfw IV chassis. About 100 self-propelled guns and 150 munitions carriers were built and issued to artillery formations, especially on the Eastern front. The gun had fifteen degrees of traverse each side of centre, a maximum elevation of forty two degrees and a range of 12,550 metres. Further experimental work was also carried out. resulting in three light SP held howitzers, all mounting the same 10.5cm leFH18 howitzer. None-entered production.
There were four Flakpanzer IV which saw service in World War Two, two with the name of Möbelwagen (Furniture Van) one version mounting the four-barrelled 2cm FlaKvierling 38 gun, the other a 3.7cm FlaKvierling 43.
Thirty-six PzKpfw IV were converted into FlaKpanzers. They mounted the 3.7cm FlaK 43/1 and was known as Ostwind (East Wind). I7M)
Badly damaged, this 65-ton Elefant (Elephant) heavy assault gun, stands in a shattered Italian town's main street it's 8.8cm gun silent forever. (GF)
Both had all round traverse and could be elevated to ninety degrees. When the vehicle was moving the folding sides enclosed both the gun and gun crew, but were dropped to a horizontal position when preparing for action, thus extending the fighting platform, Wirbelwind (Whirlwind) mounted the four-barrelled 2cm FlaKvierling 38 in an open-topped octagonal revolving turret, whilst Ostwind (Eastwind) had a 3.7cm FlaK 43/1 gun in a six-sided open topped turret. In total, under 400 Flakpanzers of all four types were produced or converted, main production version was the 3.7cm FlaK Möbelwagen of which 240 were produced between 1944 and 1945. Just before the war ended, a satisfactory light Flakpanzer, known as Kugelblitz (Ball Lightning) was designed and built, but production never started due to the cancellation of PzKpfw IV production in mid 1945. Only two prototypes were ever built, both mounting twin 3cm guns in a round turret.
Mention must also be made of perhaps the strangest adaptation of a PzKpfw IV in the ammunition carrying role, which was as the carrier for Karlgerät the massive 124 ton tracked siege mortar (see later). The Munitonsschlepper für Karlgerät could carry only four of the 60cm rounds, each weighing around 2 tons, stored in racks mounted around the engine compartment. The vehicle was also fitted with a crane to lift the shells. Only twelve PzKpfw IV Ausf F1 were converted in 1941.
Largest and most powerfully armed fighting vehicle of World War Two to see operational service was the 70-ton Jagdtiger (SdKfz 186), which could easily knock-out any enemy tank with its 12.8cm PaK44 L/55 gun, whilst the 250mm thick front glacis made it relatively invulnerable to enemy fire. (TM)
Jagdpanzer (Hunting Panther) was without doubt one of the most successful conversions of any standard tank chassis into a heavy tank destroyer, (the 8.8cm PaK 43/3 L/71 gun having a formidable offensive capability) on what was a streamlined, well-armoured chassis powered by an excellent engine. Only 392 of these superior vehicles were produced from January 1944 onwards and first saw action in June 1944. They were organised as a troop in heavy anti-tank battalions, which comprised three companies each of fourteen vehicles, with three more in battalion headquarters.
According to the official German handbook, Jagdpanzer was designed as the Schwerpunkt weapon for the destruction of enemy attacks. To achieve this role they had to remain constantly mobile and not be committed as static anti-tank guns except in a dire emergency. Alter completing their mission, they were to be withdrawn for repair and maintenance, then held ready for the next emergency. The 33ft long (including gun) Jagdpanzer was 11ft 5ins wide and only just over 9ft high - nearly 12ins shorter than Panther. The 46-ton vehicle had a crew of five, armour up to 100mm thick, a top speed of just under 30mph and a range of 125miles.
The massive Tiger chassis was used for three very different weapon systems, the first being Tiger-Marser a heavy assault mortar; the second a heavy assault gun/tank destroyer adapted from one of the failed Tiger prototypes (Tiger (P)) known as both Elefant and Ferdinand. Lastly the Jagdtiger, the heaviest most powerfully armed tank destroyer to see action in World War Two.
Only eighteen Sturmmörser Tiger were ever built, these mounted a 38cm StuM RW61 L/5.4 assault rocket mortar (Raketenwerfer 61), which had been developed for the German Navy by Rheinmetall-Borsig for use in antisubmarine warfare. The mortar was housed in a large box-like structure, with armour up to 150mm thick. The breech-loading weapon was slightly offset to the right and could traverse only ten degrees either side of its centreline. Elevation was up to eighty-five degrees and. although range varied very much with charge temperature, maximum attainable range was around 5900 metres. There was a seven-man crew for the 65-ton Sturmmörser Tiger, a commander, a forward observer, a driver and the four-man mortar crew. Designed to fill a requirement for infantry support in street fighting, they were used mainly in the defence of Germany.
The Tiger-Mörser mounted a massive 38cm mortar and weighed 65 tons. Only eighteen were ever converted from Tiger 1's during 1944 It fired rocket-assisted, mortar ammunition originally developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig for the German Navy to be used in antisubmarine warfare. (TM)
During the development of Tiger, both Henschel and Porsche produced their prototypes of the VK4501 and it was the Henschel VK4501(H) that was chosen. However, a production order was already well advanced for ninety VK4501(P) also called Tiger(P) - at Nibclungwerke, Linz. Austria. It was decided to make gopd use of most of these chassis by fitting new superstructures, more armour and the long-barrelled 8.8cm PaK 43/2 L/71 anti-tank gun 1 his work was carried out by the Alkett works at Berlin-Spandau, Germany. In order to mount the gun properly it had to be fitted on the rear of the chassis in a large fixed turret. The resulting StuG mil 8.8cm PaK 43/2 (SdKfz 184) also had its original Porsche engines replaced by two production Maybach HL 120TRM tank engines. Known initially as Ferdinand (presumably after its designer Dr Ferdinand Porsche) it was later called Elefant (Elephant) - an apt name for a vehicle weighing 65tons, with armour 200mm thick on its hull front. It first saw action at Kursk in May 1943 and quickly gained a reputation for its lethal firepower.
|Length:||32ft 10½ins||22ft 11ins||34ft 11½in|
|Width:||10ft 11ins||1ft 1in||12ft 1in|
|Height:||9ft 1in||9ft 10ins||9ft 5ins|
|Armament||8.8cm PaK 43/3 L/71||8.8cm PaK 42/2 L/71||12.8cm PaK 44 L/55|
Most formidable of all tank destroyers used in World War Two was the 70-ton Jagdtiger, which used the chassis of the Tiger II rather than the Tiger I to mount a massive 12.8cm PaK 44 L/55 gun. Firing APCBC, the gun could penetrate 178mm of armour plate at 1800 metres, Armour was up to 250mm thick on the front plate of the fixed turret. The gun had a small amount of traverse - ten degrees each way and could elevate from minus seven and a half degrees to plus fifteen degrees. Entry for the six-man crew was at the rear, through a hatch with double doors. The main drawback was its powerplant, the same 700hp May bach HL230 as used in both Panther and Jagdpanther, Whilst this excellent engine gave both lighter AFVs a good performance, it was underpowered for a TP some 27tons heavier, especially when travelling cross-country. Seventy-seven Jagdtigers were produced between July 1944 and March 1945. Due to a shortage of 12.8cm guns, some had to be fitted with the same 8.8cm gun as Jagdpanzer. Issued to only two combat units, it saw service in the Ardennes and in the defence of Germany.
The Germans mounted a range of anti-tank and self-propelled artillery on some of the chassis captured by them early in the war.
|Lorraine tractor 37L||7.5cm||PaK 40/1 anti-tank gun|
|10.5cm||le FH18(Sf) field howitzer|
|15 cms||FH13/1(Sf) field howitzer|
|PCM 36 light tank||7.5cm||PaK 40/1 anti-tank gun|
|10.5cm||le FH18(Sf) field howitzer|
|Hotchkiss light tank||7.5cm||PaK 40 (St) anti-tank gun|
|10.5cm||le FH18 (Si) field howitzer|
|Renault light tank||4.7cm||PaK(t) anti-tank gun|
|Char B1bis heavy tank||10.5cm||le FH18/3(Sf) field howitzer|
|Bren Carrier||3.7cm||PaK anti-tank gun three 8.8cm anti-tank rockets|
|Light Tank Mk VI 7||10.5cm||le FH16(St) field howitzer|
|Matilda Mk II||5cm||KwKL/42(St) gun|
|Sf - Selbstfahrlafette - self-propelled gun mount|
|KwK - Kampfwagen Kanone - tank gun|
In addition to the specialised ammunition carriers (Munitionsschlepper) which have already been covered (Wespe, Grille and Karlgerät), there were a number of other general ammunition carriers based on various tanks chassis from PzKpfw I to PzKpfw III. They included for example, the Munitionsschlepper auf PzKpfw I Ausf A, which was a PzKpfw I without a turret, the resulting circular hole being covered with armour plating (segmented) so as to provide overhead cover for the driver and his load. Fifty were converted in early September 1939 and used by supply companies of Panzer units in both Poland and France.
Next came the Munitionsschlepper Ausf PzKpfw la und 1b, which was an obsolete PzKpfw I with a large steel box (complete with a canvas cover) replacing the turret. The turrets from these and all the other Munitionsschlepper were not wasted, some were used on permanent fortifications. Several hundred of these small, but most valuable ammunition carriers were issued to Panzer divisions from 1942. The Czech built PzKpfw 38(t) was similarly converted and from 1942 onwards, over 400 of these extremely useful load carriers being made available as the Munitionsschlepper auf Fahrgestell PzKpfw 38(1). Old PzKpfw III were used in the same way (as well as being converted into fitters vehicles, artillery OP and command vehicles, the resulting Munitionspanzer III then being issued to Panzer supply units.
Finally, mention must be made of the conversion of a number of StuG III later in the war, between 1944 and 1945. which had the main armament removed and the open front plate covered with additional armour, and designated Munitionspanzer auf Fahrgestell StuG III Ausf G:
Goliath SdKfz 303 leichter Ladungsträger was a remotely controlled, expendable tracked demolition charge vehicle, of which there were two types, this is the heavier version. For long-distance transportation it could be carried on a purpose built two-wheeled trailer. (TM)
SdKfz 301 schwerer Ladungsträger Ausf A/B was much larger than Goliath, weighing 3.6 tons. It was designed to be driven to a target where the demolition charge (on the front of the vehicle) could be dropped, the vehicle withdrawn and the charge remotely exploded. (TM)
Some of the smallest tracked vehicles in the Wehrmacht fall into these two very similar categories, Minenraumwagen and Ladunsträger both of which were given the same prefix letter (B) in OKH nomenclature. The SdKfz 300 unmanned, Minenraumwagen was an expendable, remotely-controlled mine-clearing vehicle built by Borgward from 1939 to 1940 and weighed 1.5tons. There were two versions, known as BI and BII, the earlier model towing a number of rollers, each weighing 301bs, intended to detonate mines. There was also an amphibious version called Ewe (Duck) but it never progressed beyong the experimental stage. Fifty of both BI and BII were produced but none saw combat service, all being replaced by Goliath.
There were two versions of the leichter Ladunsträger Goliath, the first being the SdKfz 302, which was 6ft long, 2ft 8ins wide and 2ft high. It weighed 816lbs and was powered by- two electric motors, (one to run each track) propelling it at speeds of up to 6mph with a range of around 1600 metres. It was steered by two strands of a three-strand cable, the remaining strand was for detonating the 332lbs explosive charge it carried. Over 2600 were built between 1942 and 1943.
The second model (SdKfz303) weighed 948lbs and carried 220lbs of explosive. Powered by a 703cc motorcycle engine, it could travel at speeds of up to 7.5mph and bad a range of over 12,000 metres. It was a great improvement on the earlier model and over 4,900 were produced.
Next in size and weight came the mittlerer Ladungsträger (SdKfz 304) Springer produced by NSU, some fifty were built between late 1944 and early 1945. It weighed 2.4 tons was 10ft long and had a crew of one. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder Opel Olympia petrol engine gave it a top speed of 26mph and a range of 125 miles. It could carry 728lbs of explosive. The technique was for the crew to drive the Springer, as near as possible to the target then dismount, close down the turret to protect the radio receiver which was then used to guide the vehicle to its target and also to detonate the explosive.
Heaviest of the three types was the schwerer Ladungsträger (SdKfz 301), built by Borgward between 1942 and 1944. A total of 570 of the Ausf A, B & C being produced, of which the Ausf C was the heaviest (4.8tons), most numerous and had the most powerful engine. All could carry 1,100lbs of explosive, a crew of one had a (op speed of 25mph and a range of 132 miles. The Ausf C was just over thirteen feet long while the earlier, lighter (3.4 tons) models were shorter. All were radio-controlled and used in much the same way as the Springer.
From the smallest tracked vehicle in service to the largest, Karlgerät the self-propelled heavy seige mortar of which one prototype and six production models were built. Weighing 124 tons, it measured 38ft long, 10ft 6ins wide and nearly 16ft high. It mounted either a 60cm Gerät 040 L/8.44 mortar or a 54cm Gerät 041 L/11.5 mortar (the latter had almost double the range - 12,500 metres as opposed to 6,675 metres). They fired either concrete-piercing or high explosive shells. The mortar was mounted on a tracked chassis with eleven road- wheels and powered by a 44.5-litre Daimler Benz engine which gave it a top speed of just over 6mph. Built in the period 1940 to 1941 and given the name Karl (after General Karl Becker of the Artillery who was involved with its development), they saw action on the Eastern Front, most notably at Sevastopol, Lvov and Brest-Litiovsk. Two were captured by the US Army in Bavaria. The six production Karlgeräts were named: Adam und Eve, Thor und Odin, and lastly Loki und Ziu.
The other type of mortar barrel fitted was the 54cm Gerät 041 L/11.5. Both the 54 and 60cm barrels were interchangeable. Only seven guns in total (including one prototype) were built and at least four were used on active service. (TM)
Karlgerät was a large self- propelled heavy siege mortar, weighing around 125 tons. It mounted a 60cm Gerät 040 L/8.44 mortar, which could be fired at a maximum rate of six rounds per hour. (TM)