German Tanks In World War 2, Panzer

Panzers, the German tanks which stormed all of Europe in World War 2

In the years after World War I, Heinz Guderian, a German officer who was interested in tanks and read British literature about them, developed and presented new ideas about using tanks for mobile warfare. Initially he was blocked by conservatism, but in 1933,when Adolf Hitler saw his demonstration of mobile tank warfare, he understood the potential of the tanks and Guderian's ideas were given high priority. Under Guderian's leadership, Germany built a powerful "Panzer" (armor) force that was, together with strong air support tactics, the basis for its overwhelming Blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactic.

Between 1933 and 1945, the German industry developed and produced a series of tank types which were called "Panzerkampfwagen" which means "Armored Fighting Vehicle". In short they were called "Panzer" (armor).

German tank types

Panzer I

A very small light tank (6 tons) with a crew of two, driver and commander, armed with two light 0.3" machine guns (with 1500 rounds), which was produced in the mid 1930s as a training tank. Over 800 tanks were produced in 1935, and the tank was used by the German forces which participated in the Spanish civil war.

When World War 2 started the German army had nearly 1500 Panzer I tanks. They participated in the Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland in 1939, although it was known that they are not suitable for front line fighting because of their lack of firepower and very thin armor. In the Blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940 only 500 of them participated. The others remained in Germany and Poland.

By the end of 1941 they were no longer used in front line service, except a command tank version, which contained a small map table and extra radio equipment for use by Panzer unit commanders. The chassis of the obsolete tanks was converted for carrying ammunition or an anti-tank gun, but these also became obsolete and were phased out.

Panzer II

A light tank (10 tons) with a crew of three, developed in the mid 1930s as an interim until the arrival of the Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks. Despite being primarily intended as a training tank, it was the main tank in the Blitzkrieg invasions of Poland and France, where about 1000 Panzer IIs participated. It also participated in the invasion of Russia in 1941, although it was already obsolete, and lacked armor and firepower. It was armed with a 20mm gun (with 180 rounds) and a coaxial 0.3" machine gun.

The Panzer II was also the basis for several special tank types: a fast recon tank, an amphibious tank, equipped with a propeller, developed for the intended invasion of England in 1940, and a flamethrower tank ( called Flammpanzer II ) equipped with two flamethrowers (100 were in service by 1942).

When the Panzer II tank became obsolete, it was converted to a self-propelled anti-tank gun, using captured Russian 76mm guns ( called Marder I ) and German 75mm guns ( Marder II ). A self-propelled 105mm artillery gun version ( called Wespe ) was produced in occupied Poland.

Panzer III

A medium tank (22 tons) with a crew of five, the main German tank in 1940-1942. Initially it had a 37mm gun (and two machine guns), but was planned for future use of bigger guns. It participated in small numbers in the invasion of Poland, but mass production began after the beginning of World War 2, with a 50mm gun . Since the new gun was too weak against Russian T-34 tanks, a more powerful 50mm gun was installed. Later types had an even bigger 75mm gun, same as that of the Panzer IV, with 64 rounds. Production ended in mid 1943, but production of a self-propelled gun version continued until the end of the war. There were also a command tank version and other versions. A total of 15,000 were produced.

Panzer IV

A medium tank (25 tons) with a crew of five, which was produced since 1936 and until the end of the war, and became the main German tank. It carried a short-barreled 75mm gun, later replaced by a stronger long-barreled 75mm gun (with 87 rounds), and two machine guns (one coaxial and one anti-aircraft on top, with 3000 rounds). Its excellent chassis remained unchanged despite many modifications and additions of extra armor, and was also the base for many variants, such as tank destroyers ( Jagdpanzer IV ), self-propelled guns and anti-aircraft guns, and others.

9,000 Panzer IV's were produced, and more would have been produced as Guderian recommended, if it was not for Hitler's obsession for complex and very expensive advanced weapons, the Panther, Tiger, and King Tiger heavy tanks in that case, which reduced the production of the Panzer IV even before they were fully developed and tested.

Panther

The Panther ( Panzer V ) was a heavy tank (45 tons) with a crew of four, which was designed to counter the excellent Russian T-34 tank. It had a sloped armor (for better protection) and carried a long-barreled 75mm gun (with 79 rounds) and two machine guns (one coaxial and one anti-aircraft on top). Production began at the end of 1942 . The plan was to produce 600 Panthers per month, but its complexity (there were hundreds of production sub-contractors) and the allied bombing campaign against the German industry cut production to half of that, and even less. A total of just 4,800 were produced. It was rushed into production without proper trials, and as a result more Panthers were initially lost to mechanical problems than to enemy action.

The problems were later fixed, and the Panther is considered the best German tank of the war. The Panther tank initially fought in the battle of Kursk in July 1943, the greatest tank battle of the war, and served in all fronts until the end of the war. It was widely used in Normandy after D-Day .

Variants of the Panther included a mobile observation post, a tank destroyer, and a command tank.

Tiger , King Tiger

The most formidable and famous German tank, the Tiger and its later version the King Tiger are detailed in a separate page.

Czech-made Panzers

The occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 provided the German military with large amounts of high quality weapons at no cost, from the arsenal of the Czech military. There was enough equipment for about 40 army divisions. Furthermore, the Czech industry, mainly the Skoda factories, became part of the German military production machine and continued to produce tanks and other weapons for Germany.

So a year later, when Germany invaded France, three full German Panzer divisions were equipped with Czech tanks. One division was equipped with the Czech type 35 light tank (10 tons) which was renamed Panzer 35, and two divisions were equipped with the type 38 light tank (10 tons) which was renamed Panzer 38.

The Panzer 35 had a crew of four and carried a Czech 37mm gun (with 72 rounds) and two machine guns, one coaxial and one in the front (with 1800 rounds). It remained in front line service until 1942, when they were converted for other roles.

The Panzer 38 had a crew of four and carried a Czech 37mm gun (with 90 rounds) and two machine guns, one coaxial and one in the front (with 2550 rounds). It was developed as the successor of the type 35 but did not yet enter service when the Germans invaded. 1400 tanks were produced for the German army in 1939-1942. When it became obsolete as a tank, it was used as a recon vehicle. There were many other variants which used its excellent chassis, including the Hetzer, an excellent tank destroyer with a 75mm gun, which remained in production even after the war, for the new Czech military, and was even exported to the Swiss army where it remained in service until the late 1960s !

Related essays:
Blitzkrieg
The Battle of Kursk
T-34 Tank
Tiger tank , King Tiger
German Secret Weapons

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