Panzer IV, Panzer III
Selected Panzer IV Variants (continuation)
Besides using the Panzer IV as a chassis for self-propelled artillery, the German army also used it as the basic for a Panzerjaeger called the Hor-nisse (Hornet) that carried their famous 88-mm gun in a limited-traverse mount. The Hornisse was fielded in late 1943. On Hitler's personal order, the Hornisse was renamed the Nashorn (Rhinoceros) to suit its more aggressive role on the battlefield. German industry built 494 Hornisse/Nashorn vehicles between February 1943 and March 1945.
Like other early-model German Panzer-jaegers, the Hornisse/Nashorn was rushed into service with thin armor plates on the front and sides of the 88-mm gun. The vehicle's large size and height, combined with inadequate armor protection, made it an easy target for almost any enemy weapon.
Among the vehicle's weak points, stated by a British army report issued in October 1944, were frequent breakdowns because the vehicle's chassis was both underpowered and unreliable, with a limited endurance of only 950 miles before a major overhaul was needed. The fact that the gun crew on the vehicle, except for the loader, were all highly trained specialists with extensive training meant any casualties could severely degrade the weapon's effectiveness.
On the positive side, the strong points of the Nashorn, stated by the report, included its very effective gun and ammunition. Every hit with the vehicle's 88-mm gun on an enemy tank meant a penetration. The high-explosive (HE) round fired from the gun had a very good fragmentation effect. In a pinch, the gun could also be used as an artillery piece up to an effective range of 11,000 yards.
In late 1943, the German army fielded the 24-ton purpose-built Jagdpanzer IV armed with a lim-ited-traverse 75-mm gun. It was crewed by four men and consisted of a low-slung armored superstructure fitted to the top of a Panzer IV chassis.
The height of the vehicle was only 6 feet 5.2 inches. Its low silhouette and well-sloped armor made it a tough target for Allied tankers. An example of how hard it was to kill a Jagdpanzer IV was given by an American lieutenant in a late-war interview. His platoon of five M-4 Sherman tanks fired 27 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition at a Jagdpanzer IV and failed to penetrate its frontal armor. German industry would build 1,725 Jagdpanzer IVs between January 1944 and March 1945.
After laying the groundwork for the design of the Panzer IV medium tank in 1934, German tanks designers discovered that French heavy tank armor was able to defeat both the 20-mm gun in the Panzer II light tank and the 75-mm howitzer mounted in the Panzer IV medium support tank. In response, the German army introduced the Panzer III medium tank in 1935. It resembled a slightly scaled-down version of the Panzer IV, with the same crew layout of five men.
The Panzer III was 17 feet 8 inches long, 9 feet 9 inches wide, and 8 feet 3 inches high. The suspension system on all but the earliest versions consisted of 12 small, road wheels, six on either side of the hull. The road wheels were sprung by torsion bars. There were also three small return rollers on either side of the hull.
A Maybach 12-cylinder engine produced about 300 horsepower, which gave most versions of the Panzer III a top road speed of about 25 miles per hour. Early versions of the Panzer III weighed in at roughly 13 tons. Later versions were fitted with additional armor protection that nearly doubled the weight. Primarily because the chassis could not handle the extra weight, the Panzer III was a design dead end and remained in production for only 6 years. Although it was not as successful in service as the more numerous Mark IVs, the Panzer III tank proved very effective against the poorly designed British army early-war tanks during the fighting in North Africa between 1941 and 1942.
Panzer III Ausf А, В, C, and D were trial versions for purposes of refining the final production configuration. Panzer III Ausf E was the first version produced in volume. Ausf F through Ausf N upgrades quickly followed. The most common Panzer III version was the Ausf J with 1,549 units built between March 1941 and July 1942.
The most prominent difference between the various versions of the Panzer III was the main armament Ausf A through Ausf G were armed with a 37-mm gun. This was a version of the German army is standard pre-World War II towed antitank gun. Combat experience would soon show that this weapon was unable to penetrate the armor of enemy tanks.
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