The Tank Museum presents another installment of “tank chats.” This episode features museum curator David Willey describing the late model Panzer III tank that resides at the Tank Museum. For more information on this vehicle, we recommend the recently released Haynes Manual on the Panzer III by Dick Taylor.
Haynes Publishing has released a new entry in their Owners’ Workshop Manual series for the WWII era German Panzer III tank. Titled Panzer III: Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A to N (SdKfz 141) (Owners’ Workshop Manual), this book is authored by Dick Taylor and Michael Hayton. This book follows the same format as previous books in this series, being a 160 page hard cover volume with plenty of photos and full color illustrations and charts.
When Hitler unleashed Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in June 1941, the 23-tonne Panzer III was in the vanguard of the German assault. The German Panzer III tank (official designation Panzerkampfwagen III, Sd Kfz 141, abbreviated to PzKpfw III) saw widespread use during the Second World War campaigns in Poland, France, the Soviet Union and the Balkans, and in North Africa with the famous Afrika Korps. A small number were still in use in Normandy (1944), at Anzio (1943), in Norway and Finland and in Operation Market Garden (1944). Some 5,774 were built between 1937 and 1943. Although the Panzer III was conceived to operate alongside the infantry-supporting Panzer IV to fight other tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, the roles were reversed when the German Army came up against the formidable Soviet T-34 tank. A tank with a more powerful anti-tank gun was needed so the Panzer IV with its larger turret ring and long-barrelled 7.5cm KwK 40 gun was used in tank-versus-tank battles, with the Panzer III being redeployed in the infantry support role. Production of the Panzer III ended in 1943, although its dependable chassis provided hulls for the Sturmgeschutz III (StuG III) assault gun, one of the most successful of the war, until the end of the war. Centrepiece of the Haynes Panzer III Tank Manual is the Bovington Tank Museum’s PzKpfw III Ausf L, which has been restored to running condition. This tank belonged to the same battalion as the museum’s famous Tiger I (the 501st (Heavy) Panzer Abteilung) and is an early production Ausf L, modified for tropical service. It was shipped via Naples to Benghazi in Libya in July 1942 and was issued to the 8th Panzer Regiment, part of the 15th Panzer Division and probably fought in the Battle of Alam Halfa. It was subsequently captured by the British Army and shipped to the UK.The Tank Museum has restored the tank to running order, has repainted it in its original camouflage and markings and is currently replacing many of the ancillary tools and equipment that it carried.
It’s time to take a look at some of the recent Russian language tank articles translated into English over at the Archive Awareness blog. Click on the headline to read the full article.
The mittlerer Traktor (m.Tr., medium tractor), given the more widely known index Neubau Fahrzeug (Nb.Fz., newly designed vehicle) on October 3rd, 1933, began trials in 1933. The tank, an evolution of the Grosstraktor concept (Gr.Tr., large tractor) was supposed to become Germany’s medium tank. However, even as the tank began its trials, it was clear that the German military missed its mark. While the Grosstraktor was overcomplicated over its five years of development by three companies (it’s enough to say that it was also amphibious), the Nb.Fz. was in an even bigger hole.
In December of 1936, the German military signed a contract with the Krupp conglomerate for a batch of 35 Begleitwagen tanks. This tank was designed to fight as a direct fire support tank, as its name suggests. The tank’s main targets were going to be enemy infantry and light fortifications. Ironically, this vehicle became Germany’s most numerous medium tank by the start of WWII. Later, the PzIII became more numerous, but only for a short time. By 1943, the Begleitwagen, known as the PzIV, retook the lead. The Pz.Kpfw. IV was the only German pre-war tank that never went through a radical chassis modernization.
The German army entered WWII with a rather strange system of armament. The PzIII medium tank, which was built as Germany’s main tank, ended up being the least numerous in the Wehrmacht. As for the other medium tank, the PzIV, it was designed as a support tank, but ended up outnumbering the PzIII four to one. German industry could only equalize the number of both tanks by the end of 1939. By then, a new version of the support tank was in production, the PzIV Ausf. D, which was in a way a return to the original concept.
The appearance of John Walter Christie’s Medium Tank M1931 caused a revolution in tank building worldwide. A new type of tank appeared: the fast tank. Thanks to their speed, these tanks could carry out a number of other tasks in addition to infantry support. Many countries began working on conceptually similar tanks. The PzIII, Germany’s main tank in 1940-43 could be considered one of these tanks. What is the history of its creation?
The PzIII, the main German tank for the first half of WWII, was at the same time its most problematic tank. Even though the PzII also had problems with its suspension, it was only seriously redesigned once. The PzIII, on the other hand, used five (!) different types of suspension, all of which went into production. Today, we will focus on the “intermediate” PzIII Ausf. B, C, and D. Even though none of these tanks were made in large numbers, they managed to see battle, and some of them remained on the front lines for a long time.
In the late 1930s, Czechoslovakia was the second largest exporter of tanks in the world. A small Eastern European country that only obtained independence in 1918 began to catch up with Great Britain, the world leader in arms exports. Of course, such impressive leaps in only 20 years of independence didn’t start with nothing. The first steps were made with inspiration from the British and German tank building schools. This experience resulted in a series of experimental vehicles and the mass produced LT vz. 34 light tank.
By the middle of the 1920s, the British army received a new generation of medium tanks that served for a long time. The Medium Tank Mk.I and Medium Tank Mk.II became the first turreted medium tanks in the world. A good design and high reliability guaranteed a long life for these tanks, but by 1926, the British military was already thinking about their replacement. A Vickers design, the Medium Tank Mk.III, was suitable for the job. Even though the rather interesting design became the ancestor of a series of later tanks, including Soviet and German ones, its life in the British army was a difficult one.
By November of 1942, the 5th Tank Army walked a long and not so successful road. It began in the summer, when the newly formed army was sent to attack the flank and rear of the German forces rushing towards Voronezh. Due to poor reconnaissance and incorrect evaluation of the enemy’s goals, our tankers were instead forces to engage the enemy tanks head on and took heavy losses.
The name Nikolai Pavlovich Simonyak is closely connected with the Red Army’s successes in the Battle of Leningrad. In the winter of 1943, when the blockade was punctured, his 136th Rifle Division was fighting in the main assault, and its actions brought greatest success to the Red Army on January 12th. Here is where N.P. Simonyak earned the nickname “General Breakthrough”.
In the winter of 1942, a noose tightened around over 200,000 men in the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. Hermann Goering, the commander of the Luftwaffe, beat his chest promising that aircraft could provide everything the encircled soldiers needed. However, German generals were not as optimistic. Too many men needed food, ammunition, and other necessities. Many kilometers of snowy steppe separated the airstrip at Morozovsk and Tatsinskiya from Stalingrad proper.
The following charts are taken from the document Terminal ballistic data, volume II, artillery fire released August 1944. These charts (pages 31 -51 in the report) show what the US Army thought at the time regarding the effectiveness of their tank and anti-tank guns versus German armor (Panzer III, IV and Tiger I). It is worth noting that according to the report, this data was gained by firing US projectiles at captured German tanks. They note that “the plates in many cases were completely defeated and whole sections dropped out of the tank. This was caused by failure of welds and cracking and spalling of the plate. Thus, many plates failed under the impact shock of the hit, as well as from actual penetration.”