Panzer 38 t
Selected Foreign Light Tanks in German Service
The Germans were quick to appreciate the outstanding design features of the Panzer 38 t and ordered its continued production in May 1939. It would remain in production under German supervision until October 1941, with more than 1,400 units built. The Panzer 38 t saw service in the German army during the invasions of Poland, France, and the Soviet Union before it was classified as an obsolete gun-armed tank.
The Germans used the Panzer 38 t chassis for a wide range of different battlefield roles. One of the best-known gun-armed conversions was the light tank destroyer called Panzerjaeger 38 t.
The Panzerjaeger 38 t, also called the Marder III, was fitted with a captured Soviet 76.2-mm gun in a limited-traverse mount. The enemy gun was merely placed on the open-topped Panzer 38 t chassis and protected by a thin, three-sided armored superstructure. This was the same arrangement found on the German conversion of the obsolete Panzer II into the Marder II.
Within a short time span the Germans put 383 units of the Panzerjaeger 38 t into service. When the supply of captured Soviet guns ran short, the Germans further modified the chassis to accept their own 75-mm antitank gun. This configuration was designated Panzerjaeger 38 t Ausf H. German industry produced 275 units between November 1942 and April 1943.
Unhappy with the placement of the antitank guns on the first two versions of the Panzerjaeger 38 t, the Germans moved the power pack to the front of the hull. This allowed the gun to be placed at the rear of the vehicle for better crew access. Production of the revised vehicle—now designated Panzerjaeger 38 t Ausf M—started in April 1943 and ended in May 1944 with a total of 942 units built.
Another well-known variant, the Jagdpanzer 38 t, is better known by its unofficial nickname, the Hetzer (Hunting Dog). The Hetzer was a major modification of the 38 t, replacing the entire superstructure. As a purpose-built tank destroyer, it boasted a low-slung, well-sloped armored superstructure that supported a four-man crew and a 75-mm gun. This powerful gun could destroy almost all enemy tanks it might encounter. A roof-mounted, 7.92-mm remote-control machine gun served as the secondary armament.
Due to its excellent mobility and low height (6 feet, 10.7 inches), the Hetzer was a difficult target for enemy German tanks. Its combination of firepower, armor, and mobility made it highly demanded by the German military in the last two years of the war. However, Hetzer crews disliked the vehicle's limited-traverse main gun and the cramped and awkwardly arranged crew stations. Czech factories produced 3,019 Hetzers between April 1944 and May 1945.
The chassis of the Panzer 38 t was also modified to accept a 150-mm howitzer in a limited-traverse mount. In this configuration, the vehicle was commonly known as the Grille (Cricket). There were two versions of the Cricket, designated Ausf H and Ausf K. The main difference between the two versions was the location of the weapon. The weapon was mounted near the center of the hull in the rear-engine Ausf H. The front-engine Ausf К allowed mounting of the howitzer at the rear of the hull. In both versions, the gun crew was protected on the front and sides by an open-topped, thin-armor steel superstructure. Czech factories, under German control, constructed a total of 392 Grilles between February 1943 and September 1944.
After the successful invasion of France in May 1940, the German army had control of the French army tanks. Due to various design faults, including one-man turrets, the Germans considered the French vehicles generally unsuitable for front-line service and banished them to rear area security missions.
One of the French tanks to see service with the German army was the Hotchkiss H-35 light tank. It was a two-man tank powered by a gasoline engine and armed with a turret-mounted 37-mm antitank gun. The German army acquired over 800 Hotchkiss H-35s and placed them into service as the Panzer 38H 735(f).
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