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The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa: Soviet versus German Armour on the Eastern Front

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When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the Red Army had four times as many tanks as the Wehrmacht and their tanks were seemingly superior, yet the Wehrmacht won the border battles with extraordinary ease the Red Armys tank force was pushed aside and for the most part annihilated. How was this victory achieved, and were the Soviet tanks really as well designed as is often believed? These are the basic questions Boris Kavalerchik answers in this absorbing study of the tanks and the tank tactics of the two armies that confronted each other at the start of the war on the Eastern Front. Drawing on technical and operational documents from Russian archives, many of which were classified until recently and are unknown to Western readers, he compares the strengths and weakness of the tanks and the different ways in which they were used by the opposing armies. His work will be essential reading for military historians who are interested in the development of armoured warfare and in this aspect of the struggle on the Eastern Front.
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The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa

The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa
Soviet versus German Armour on the Eastern Front
Boris Kavalerchik
Translated by Stuart Britton

First published in Great Britain in 2018
by Pen & Sword Military
An imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited
47 Church Street
South Yorkshire
S70 2AS
Copyright © Boris Kavalerchik 2018
ISBN 978 1 47388 680 3
eISBN 978 1 47388 682 7
Mobi ISBN 978 1 47388 681 0
The right of Boris Kavalerchik to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is
available from the British Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical
including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the Publisher in writing.
Illustrations by Yuri Kavalerchik.
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Chapter 1

The Main Factors that Determine the Design of Tanks

Chapter 2

The Role of Tanks

Chapter 3

Germany’s Panzer Forces

Chapter 4

The Wehrmacht’s Panzers

Chapter 5

German Panzers in Combat

Chapter 6

Soviet Armoured Forces

Chapter 7

The History of Tanks in the Red Army

Chapter 8

Pre-War Soviet Tanks

Chapter 9

Qualitative Characteristics of the Tanks

Chapter 10

The Survivabili; ty of Tanks and Crews

Chapter 11

The Tank Battle at Raseiniai, Lithuania, 1941

Chapter 12

The Results of the Initial Fighting

Appendix I: Report on Long-Range Test March of Three T-34 Tanks
Appendix II: Tactical and Technical Specifications of Soviet and German Tanks in the Initial
Period of the Great Patriotic War
Appendix III: Dimensions and Cross-country Performance Specifications of Soviet and German
Tanks in the Initial Period of the Great Patriotic War
Appendix IV: Armaments of Soviet and German Tanks in the Initial Period of the Great Patriotic



anks brought about a revolution in military affairs and in a fundamental fashion changed the nature of
conducting warfare. From the moment of their first appearance on the fields of battle, they attracted
the interest of a multitude of people and continue to do so. However, to a great extent due to such
elevated, general interest, numerous myths and legends have grown up around these combat vehicles,
which often hinder a view of their genuine essence. In the mental image of some people, tanks have
turned into a form of wonder-weapon, capable of independently deciding the outcome of any battle.
In this connection the answer to a long, painful question is interesting: what then caused the Red
Army’s catastrophe in the border battles of 1941? Alternative explanations have appeared in
response to this question, and new ones continue to appear. In the list of its main reasons, Soviet
official historiography cited the numerical superiority of the Wehrmacht in tanks. Stalin set the tone
for this when he declared in a report to a session of the Moscow City Council on 6 November 1941:
‘… the reason for the temporary setbacks of our army consists in our lack of tanks and partially of
aircraft. … Our tanks are superior to the German tanks in quality, and our glorious tankers and
artillerymen have more than once put the much-vaunted German troops with their multitude of tanks to
flight. Even so, we have several times fewer tanks. In this lies the secret of the German army’s
temporary successes.’1 At the time the Leader was openly dissembling, trying to excuse his own
miscalculations and blunders, but his argument was then picked up and broadly circulated by the
numerous Soviet propagandists. During the war, which was also waged on the ideological front, this
was to a certain degree justified. However, even after it ended, Stalin’s point of view continued for a
long time to be generally accepted in the USSR. For its proof a double ledger was shamelessly used,
where all of Germany’s available armoured fighting vehicles were totalled, while for the USSR only
the new types of heavy and medium tanks, the KV tank and the T-34, were counted. At the same time,
the latter tanks were called unequivocally the best tanks in the world, much superior to their German
counterparts according to every criterion. In contrast, with one stroke of the pen all of the Red Army’s
other tanks were dismissed as light and outdated models that had extreme limitations due to the short
operating lifetime of their engines, which were also prone to catch fire. On this basis they were
usually not even included in the calculations, as if they had no sort of combat value.
Meanwhile, facts that directly contradicted such humiliating characteristics of the pre-war Soviet
armour were deliberately hushed up. For example, the hundreds of medium T-28 tanks available in
the war, the serial production of which ended only a year before the beginning of the Great Patriotic
War (the war on the Eastern Front), were for that reason undeservedly forgotten. It wasn’t mentioned
that the majority of these supposedly ‘outdated’ tanks were not more than five years old. What then
made them outdated and prevented them from being used to carry out basic combat assignments? This
reasonable question, for understandable reasons, remained unanswered. The situation with the
wearing-out of the tanks was also far from simple. Supporters of the official Soviet version were
intentionally or unwittingly ignoring the system of conserving the service lives of combat vehicles that

was adopted and implemented in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army (RKKA) long before the
war. In fact the main culprit in the frequent breakdowns of the Soviet tanks early in the war was not
their short service life, but their low reliability from the outset, the main reasons for which were
engineering flaws, the poor quality of production and the unsatisfactory technical service. Moreover
this related to all of them, and not only to tanks of older types, but we’ll discuss this in more detail
later. We’ll also discuss the tendency of the tanks to catch fire, but here we’ll only note that all of the
serially produced German tanks of the Second World War, without exception, were equipped with
carburettor engines that operated on petrol. In this respect they were just as prone to fires as the older
models of Soviet tanks.
History has repeatedly shown that even a substantial numerical superiority in force and means far
from always guarantees a victory in armed struggle. A lot depends on the correlation of qualitative
characteristics of the opposing forces. This is just as true in the case of tanks. Various, often directly
contradictory, opinions exist as to whose tanks were better in the initial phase of the Great Patriotic
War, German or Soviet. In order to answer this difficult question correctly, it is necessary to take
proper consideration of what the tanks of the Wehrmacht and Red Army were really like; why they
were made that way; how many there were; when the formations that were equipped with them
appeared and how they evolved; the history of their use in wars and armed conflicts on the eve of the
Great Patriotic War; how to compare them properly; and what factors had a decisive influence on the
results of their combat use. This book is dedicated to answering these questions.

Chapter 1
The Main Factors that Determine the Design of Tanks


ne of the most widespread mistakes is the tendency to look at tanks from former years from a
contemporary standpoint and to evaluate them using modern criteria. Such an approach has its
attractions: in the first place, it is simple, and secondly, it allows us to sense our superiority over the
people of the past, who created and used those tanks, in which today we see so many imperfections
and flaws. At the same time often the blaming of one or another detail of a tank for its shortcomings is
in fact a result of the elementary misunderstanding of how, why and for what purpose each detail was
made part of it from the beginning. It often isn’t simple to determine the real plusses and minuses of
one or another. Moreover, one and the same feature might in one case be a strong point, and in another
case a shortcoming. The main point is that it must never be forgotten that every tank of all eras and
nations without exception had both their positive and negative sides. Thus one mustn’t issue snap
judgements, only viewing the tanks from one side while putting some of them on a pedestal and
tossing others into a waste bin entirely on the basis of some particular features that are taken out of
context. It is much harder to look into the actual qualities and inadequacies of specific tank types, but
also more interesting and useful for understanding them.
First of all it is necessary to conceptualize the role of tanks. They weren’t some inherently abstract
things, but represented working tools, used in order to resolve concrete problems. As a rule, teams of
engineers design them according to the technical specifications formulated by armies, which use them
to achieve objectives they’ve been given or future goals. That is why solitary geniuses, who worked
in fits and starts according to their own comprehensions and insights, despite all their efforts and
individual stellar accomplishments, rarely achieved substantive successes. This isn’t surprising: most
of all they were hindered by an elementary misapprehension or even lack of desire to grasp what their
potential customers really required. However, it mustn’t be forgotten that the tasks of tanks vary in
different countries and in different periods, and moreover they change with the passage of time. Thus
it is necessary to shed light on what those tasks were at the time each tank was created, and which
they were intended to meet. Without this understanding it is impossible to grasp why one particular
tank was designed in one way and not another. In this connection it should be noted that the success or
failure of various models of tanks is determined to a great extent by their capability to be adapted in a
timely manner to the constantly changing tactical demands throughout their service life. In other
words, the length of the career of many tanks depended directly on their ability to be updated; i.e.,
whether or not they had sufficient spare internal space and allowance for extra weight. This
permitted, in the event of necessity, the enhancing of their combat qualities, principally in firepower
and armour strength, while preserving adequate mobility and conditions for the crew.
There is one more important category that influenced the design of tanks – the level of modern
technology, not only at the abstract worldwide level, but in the manufacturing capabilities of each
specific factory that planned to produce them. This also includes the number and qualifications of its

workers; the presence and capabilities of its manufacturing equipment; its financial resources; the
availability of time, raw materials and component parts; the possibility of cooperating with other
factories, etc. It was no less important to know the planned programme of tank production and the
amount of time allowed for carrying it out.
Only a consideration of the influence of all these factors makes it possible to understand the real
reasons for using one or another technical decision applied to the design of combat vehicles. At the
same time it makes clear why one and the same decision might be optimal for one specific factory at
one period of time, but impractical for the same factory at a different time. Moreover it might be
unsuitable for different factories in the same country, and even more so for the industry of other
countries. What is more, even the very best and leading design, if it proved impossible to manufacture
in sufficient quantities within the necessary time using the available resources, would in essence be
only a senseless waste of time, materials and funds.
Finally, the third group of characteristics that is directly reflected in the design of any tank is
connected with its forthcoming use by troops. This relates to the average level of qualification and
training of tank crews; problems with maintaining and repairing it; keeping it supplied with fuel,
lubricants, ammunition and spare parts; its proposed period of service; the expected conditions in
which the tank would be used and its reliability and durability influenced by them; the serviceability
of the tank as well as its systems and components; the standardization of its parts, and so on. These
features also frequently vary widely according to the country, the people and the period of time, and
accordingly relate substantially to the understanding of ‘what is good and what is bad’ in the design
of tanks for the concrete situation of their use.
It is easy to note that the deeper we delve into the study of the factors that influenced the design and
manufacturing of tanks, the more quickly the number of factors grows and the more complicated it
becomes. Therefore, let’s take a look at the above cited factors and figure out how they operated in
practice. We’ll look first of all at the role of tanks.

Chapter 2
The Role of Tanks


anks first appeared at the height of the First World War. They were born out of the ‘trench stalemate’
in which the participants unexpectedly found themselves. Soon after the war started, noman’s land,
entangled with dense rows of barbed wire swept by countless machine guns and field guns, became
an impenetrable barrier in the path of the attacking troops. The front lines became essentially frozen
in place for their entire extent over hundreds of kilometres. Back then, no one actually knew how to
properly break through a defence that was saturated to the extreme with firing positions. According to
the military theory that predominated at that time, a series of attacks should be conducted one after the
other with powerful artillery support in order to resolve this problem. However, in practice, over the
time it took to conduct repeated attacks, the enemy invariably managed to bring up fresh reserves to
the battlefield and to seal off local penetrations. Further offensives, as a rule, led to the agonizing
process of frontal attacks to force the enemy out of their next line of occupied trenches until the
attacking side’s strength was completely exhausted. In the best case it resulted in a limited success in
the form of seizing an insignificant sector of ground, which had to be paid for with extremely heavy
losses in men and materiel. Such a price was unacceptable for the combatants, and thus they began
actively searching for a qualitatively new, effective instrument for breaking through a defence.
For the armies of the Entente, tanks became this instrument. They protected the attacking infantry
from enemy bullets with their armour, laid down a path for them through the rolls of barbed wire, and
destroyed with fire and their tracks those enemy weapons that survived the artillery preparation.
Thus, the main role for tanks from the outset was the direct support of infantry when breaking through
an enemy defence. For this reason they didn’t need high speed, because the infantryman burdened with
his gear and weapons could only advance at an average speed of 4–7 kilometres per hour.
Direct support of infantry for a long time remained the priority for tanks in the majority of armies
that possessed them. In 1920 in France and the United States the armoured forces were deprived of an
independent role and became subordinate to the infantry. It isn’t a coincidence that the French
‘Regulations for the use of tanks’ that came out in the early 1920s give them the following definition:
Armoured vehicles with mechanized propulsion are called tanks, the role of which is to
facilitate the advance of infantry, crushing the stationary obstacles and the enemy’s active
resistance on the field of battle.
They are only a powerful support means in the infantry’s possession. Tanks should coordinate
their combat work of manoeuvre and fire with the actions of the infantry.1

A draft of the 1939 Field Manual of the Red Army (FM-39) postulated the very same: ‘The primary
task of tanks consists in directly supporting the infantry and in clearing a path for it during an

offensive.’ Only subsequently did it mention other tasks:
Given the successful development of the offensive and in mobile combat tanks might be used for
a deeper strike at the enemy’s combat formations with the aim of destroying his artillery,
reserves and headquarters. In this case they might play a decisive role in encircling and
destroying the enemy. Tanks are an effective means for combating enemy tanks. On the
defensive, tanks are a powerful means of counterattack.
Even after the beginning of the Second World War, a textbook for cadets in the Red Army’s military
academies still stated: ‘The main role of the tank forces amounts to constant and comprehensive
assistance to the infantry (or the cavalry) in the most rapid fulfilment of its combat assignments with
the least losses.’2
In order to fulfil these main tasks, the first generation of tanks were equipped with armour that
protected them from bullets and correspondingly armed with machine guns and cannons with a calibre
from 37mm to 57mm. Guns of a larger calibre at that time were not often mounted on tanks. But when
they were, short-barrelled cannons or howitzers were used, with a low initial muzzle velocity that
was fully adequate for combating enemy infantry, its weapons and light field fortifications. In order to
increase the density of the tanks’ fire, sometimes they were made with multiple turrets, and the turrets
were occasionally placed side by side. This arrangement allowed all of the tank’s fire to be
concentrated in front of it when on the attack, and while crossing an enemy trench to ‘comb through’ it
with machine-gun fire simultaneously from both sides. Such tanks at that time were called ‘trench
sweepers’. Here is what the future Soviet Marshal M.N. Tukhachevsky, who at the time was
occupying the post of Chief of Armaments of the Red Army, wrote about them:
Concerning the British Vickers tank that was recently examined by me, I found it suitable like
nothing else to the task of escort when attacking enemy trenches. … The positioning of the turrets
side by side allows the tank quite advantageously to develop strong flanking fire when crossing
dug-in positions and trenches … against which the breastwork offers no protection. …
At this critical moment, as can be seen, the tank lacks one more firing point in the form of a
machine gun or light cannon, directed towards the front when moving in order to knock out
targets (like a machine gun or cannon) of the second line of defence. …
It isn’t difficult to grasp why the British then adopted the twin-turreted and triple-turreted
scheme, which is very farsighted and more advantageous for overcoming an enemy defence
when among their own infantry.3

Tukhachevsky was talking about the twin-turreted Vickers Mark E 6-ton tank, which was being
produced in the USSR by licence under the designation T-26, and the triple-turreted Vickers Mk. III
16-ton tank, which became the prototype for the Soviet T-28 (see Chapter 7).
In our time many people, when comparing tanks of past times among themselves, evaluate them first
of all from the point of view of their capability to combat enemy tanks. Such an approach is
fundamentally incorrect, because before the Second World War, in the majority of the world’s armies
this assignment was given primarily to anti-tank artillery. Meanwhile tanks had their primary roles, as

formulated in the Soviet textbook Tactics of armoured forces:
Armoured forces in the system of contemporary combined-arms battle are:
1) the best means for outflanking or enveloping an enemy defensive position detected or formed when
penetrating flanks;
2) one of the most powerful means for breaking through an enemy line;
3) together with artillery and aviation are one of the means of simultaneously suppressing the tactical
depth of the enemy’s defence; and
4) an active part of the anti-tank defence of the infantry’s (the cavalry’s) attacking combat formation.4

Thus, tanks were authorized to engage enemy combat vehicles last and only in those cases when it
was unavoidable. German tankers at the beginning of the war behaved in just that manner. Here is
how Directive No. 0127 ‘On the shortcomings in the use and actions of tanks together with the
combined-arms formations and measures to eliminate them’ from the Commander of the Soviet
Northwestern Front on 5 August 1941 characterized their actions: ‘Enemy tanks, as a rule, refuse
open combat with our mechanized formations, instead striving to bring our tanks under the fire of antitank artillery and large-calibre artillery.’ 5 The ‘Instructions on the use of a tank brigade in the main
types of combat’ issued to the troops of the Soviet Western Front on 27 September 1941 stated, ‘The
experience of combat operations demonstrates that German tanks, when our attacking tanks appear,
fall back behind the combat positions of their infantry, which have organized an anti-tank defence.’6
At the same time the Soviet tankers, who had a high combat morale but insufficient tactical training,
seized any opportunity to clash with the German tankers, forgetting in the process about carrying out
their main assignments. This tendency, which jeopardized the success of the overall cause, was noted
in People’s Commissar of Defence Order No. 325 from 16 October 1942 ‘On the combat use of tank
and mechanized units and formations’, which was developed under Stalin’s personal direction.7
There, in particular, it indicated:
Tanks, operating jointly with infantry, have as their primary mission the destruction of enemy
infantry and should not be separated from their own infantry by more than 200–400 metres.
In battle the tank commander organizes observation of the battle formations of the infantry. If
the infantry has gone to ground and is not advancing behind the tanks, the commander of the tank
unit allots some of the tanks to destroy the enemy firing positions which are preventing the
advance of our infantry.
If enemy tanks appear on the battlefield, the artillery conducts the primary fight against them.
Tanks engage enemy tanks only in the case of a clear superiority of forces and an advantageous
The [tank] corps should not engage in tank battles with enemy tanks if there is no clear
superiority over the enemy. When encountering large enemy tank units, the corps designates antitank artillery and some of the tanks against the enemy tanks; the infantry for its part moves up its
anti-tank artillery, and the corps, protected by all these means, with its main forces bypasses the

enemy tanks and strikes at the enemy infantry with the aim of separating it from the enemy tanks
and paralysing the actions of the enemy tanks. The main mission of the tank corps is the
destruction of enemy infantry.8
Before the Second World War only the British considered the main task of their tanks was to combat
enemy tanks, and therefore armed them chiefly with 40mm guns, while their ammunition consisted
only of armour-piercing shells. At the same time some of the pre-war British tanks were equipped
with 76mm howitzers. These were supposed to support the others, firing high-explosive fragmentation
shells and smoke shells.
However, the war made its own laws, and in the course of it tactics often had to be changed. The
growing numbers of armoured vehicles in the armies of all the fighting sides led increasingly to their
direct combat contact, which was now difficult to avoid. Therefore tanks had to be adapted urgently
for tank versus tank actions, primarily by increasing their firepower by equipping them with longbarrelled guns that fired shells with a high muzzle velocity. For the German tanks, starting in the
middle of the war, the main task became finding ways to counter the quickly increasing number of
constantly improving enemy tanks. Accordingly, their designs changed fundamentally. However, this
happened after the period described in this book. At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, there
were different qualitative criteria for tanks.

Chapter 3
Germany’s Panzer Forces


etermining the primary tasks of tanks and their tactics on the battlefield was important, but even more
important was the correct strategy for the armoured forces. In Germany in the period between the
world wars the question of how best to use tanks in future conflicts was given the most serious
attention, and the panzer forces were granted an independent role. The German Field Manual
Truppenführung (Handling of Troop Formations), which came out in 1933, postulated: ‘Close
support for the infantry deprives tanks of their advantage in speed and in some circumstances can
doom them to be sacrificed on the enemy’s defence.’ 1 The 1933 Field Manual didn’t renounce the
need to support the infantry with tanks, but at the same time it unequivocally rejected the option of
making tanks directly subordinate to the infantry. According to it, tanks could attack either together
with the infantry, or from a different direction, without losing speed; however, they should break into
the enemy positions simultaneously with the infantry.
The Reichswehr’s first training panzer unit appeared in Zossen on 1 November 1933, nine months
after Hitler assumed power. It numbered just eight tanks and six unarmed tracked carriages, and its
size didn’t exceed that of a company; in order to keep it secret it was initially called ‘a motorized
training command’. The ‘command’ rose like leavened bread and by 1 October of the following year
it had become a tank regiment with a two-battalion composition. By the same time a second such
regiment was formed. In order to equip the panzer units, the serial production of tanks began in
Germany in July 1934. However, the tanks didn’t go to reinforce the infantry, as happened in other
countries. The bulk of them from the very beginning went to independent mobile formations – panzer
and leichte (light) divisions. These formations were given the decisive role for achieving victory in
the future blitzkriegs. The first German panzer division began to be formed immediately after the
public disclosure of Germany’s broad programme of militarization at the beginning of 1935. Its core
became the panzer brigade that consisted of the two already existing panzer regiments. In August of
the same year a newly minted experimental panzer division successfully held its first large-scale
manoeuvres, in which 12,953 men, 4,025 wheeled vehicles and 481 tracked vehicles took part. The
new and never-before-tested mobile formation convincingly demonstrated its right to exist, and on 15
October 1935 its presence was officially announced in the Wehrmacht, and two more panzer
divisions began to be formed.2
In addition to the panzers, which provided the main shock force of these divisions, their roster of
units included organic infantry, engineers and artillery, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery.
Their importance and the need for them were at times underappreciated, and all the attention was
focused on the panzers. It was to their detriment, because alongside their doubtless merits, the tanks
had many shortcomings that hampered their independent operational success. For example, the
panzers ran into various natural obstacles – wide canals, ravines, hills, forests, deep snow and soft
ground, not to mention rivers and lakes, swamps, and mountains – and man-made anti-tank obstacles

that made the ground impassable for them. Tanks might be able to place accurate direct fire, but they
were poorly adapted for combat against distant targets, especially beyond the field of vision; for
destroying powerful fortifications; or for conducting plunging fire. Tanks were practically
defenceless against enemy aircraft and were very vulnerable in close combat, especially in built-up
areas and close terrain. They were capable of seizing ground, but were unable to mop up enemy from
the gained territory completely and then hold it. From these considerations it is understandable why
the effectiveness of tanks increased manifold when the panzer divisions began to include sappers who
could lay down a path for them across natural obstructions and through enemy obstacles, artillerymen
who could support them with fire, anti-aircraft gunners to give them air cover, and infantry that would
unswervingly escort them into battle.
Anti-tank units were an inseparable part of the Wehrmacht’s panzer divisions. It was they who
were directly intended to counter enemy combat vehicles and allow their panzers the opportunity to
pursue their main tasks, like launching paralysing strikes against vulnerable points in the enemy’s
dispositions, penetrating the defences and rampaging through the enemy’s rear; or bypassing,
enveloping and encircling enemy troops. It was very important for the infantry and supply columns of
a panzer division to be transported in lorries, and for its artillery to have mechanized tow. Thereby
all of the units and elements that were part of this mobile formation wouldn’t become separated from
their panzers when marching on roads. This allowed the panzer division to operate autonomously, to
conduct swift and deep manoeuvres, and to enter combat immediately at full strength. All this
happened very quickly; for example, according to the norms, a German panzer regiment should be
able to deploy into combat formation from its march columns in less than 25 minutes.3
In order to improve the coordination of the panzer division’s artillery with its panzers, the forward
artillery observers received special combat vehicles like outdated command tanks or armoured
halftracks. The protective armour allowed them to move right behind the attacking panzers and to spot
targets and threats on the battlefield in a timely manner. The forward observers quickly called down
the artillery’s fire on the most important targets and corrected the resulting fire. At the same time in
the Wehrmacht target indication and the correction of artillery fire were frequently conducted not only
from the ground but also from the air. Soviet front-line veterans especially recalled the silhouette of
the German twin-engine, twin-boom tactical reconnaissance and artillery spotter plane, the FockeWulf 189 Uhu (‘Eagle Owl’), which they called the Rama (‘Window Frame’) due to its distinctive
quadrangular shape in the sky. Its appearance overhead, as a rule, was the harbinger of deadly
artillery barrages, which were not conducted as area fire, but, being corrected from above, were
much more accurate and dangerous.
The cooperation of the Luftwaffe with the ground troops was not at all restricted to artillery
spotting. In the Wehrmacht, there existed a widely used and repeatedly tested system of direct support
of ground troops from the air. Aviation liaison officers as a rule took personal part in an offensive,
located in the second echelon of the attackers in armoured combat vehicles that were equipped with
radio sets, which allowed them to maintain contact with both ground and air force commanders, as
well as with directly supporting aircraft. In case of necessity they called for air support, and before
the mission had provided the pilots with detailed information about the location and nature of targets,
orienting landmarks, weather conditions and possible enemy countermeasures. Immediately after

take-off, the pilots established direct two-way contact with the forward air controllers and followed
their guidance towards the targets. The German aircraft, as a rule, appeared above the battlefield
within minutes of being summoned and operated with great effectiveness. This especially related to
the Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers, which were capable of pinpoint strikes. The forward air controllers
were Luftwaffe officers and knew full well the capabilities of the aircraft and the specifics of
employing it for air strikes. In essence, the Luftwaffe support given to the German panzer divisions
served the role of long-range, self-propelled artillery.
Luftwaffe aircraft did not only destroy enemy troop concentrations and strongpoints that were
blocking the ground force’s advance. They also gave air cover to the German units and flew longrange reconnaissance missions, providing the army command with the most valuable information
about the location, size and composition of enemy forces. No less important, especially for the
forward units, was information about the condition of the terrain, roads and bridges over which they
had to pass. In order to scout in tactical depth, the German panzer divisions and army corps were
given reconnaissance squadrons that were directly subordinate to them. Before the start of Operation
Barbarossa, these squadrons numbered 416 reconnaissance aircraft, of which 358 were operational.4
In addition to radio communications, a system of code signals was widely used in the Wehrmacht
in order to accelerate the transmission of information, which pilots efficiently used from the air to
signal the ground troops with the help of flares of different colours. For example, a red flare meant
the detection of enemy anti-tank positions, while a violet flare warned of the appearance of enemy
tanks. In order to signal the dropping of a written message, the pilots would fire a green flare. This
might be simply notes, or maps on which the crews had just drawn the operational situation. They
were placed into special cylindrical containers that emitted a yellow smoke when dropped, enabling
the ground troops to find them quickly. By the same means, aerial reconnaissance photographs that
had just been developed back at base were passed to the ground officers. These images were
delivered en route by the same reconnaissance aircraft that were heading out on their next mission. In
addition, pilots used smoke grenades to mark enemy positions they had just detected that might be
difficult to spot from the ground. Forward German elements often received intelligence from their
aircraft earlier and in fuller volume than the headquarters of their units and formations. Indeed, this
was fully justified: the information went directly first to those who were in the most immediate need
of it, with no delays by middlemen.
For their own part, German ground troops also had a system of code signals for the Luftwaffe. First
of all, they had to designate their own positions in order not to be attacked by mistake by their own
aircraft. For this purpose they used flags and large strips of white material that were easily
distinguishable from the air. Special combinations of these strips signalled the need for the urgent
delivery by air of weapons, ammunition, fuel, food, spare parts or equipment. As a rule, such requests
were quickly carried out, although loads dropped by parachute didn’t always reach the intended
recipient because of the rapid shifting of lines and positions in the conditions of manoeuvre warfare.
Ground reconnaissance in the Wehrmacht’s panzer divisions was implemented by an organic
subunit – the panzer reconnaissance battalion. This usually moved in the division’s vanguard, sending
out combat patrols on motorcycles or in cars, armoured cars or armoured halftracks far in front or to
the sides. The main tasks of the reconnaissance troops were to reveal the enemy; find vulnerable

places in the enemy’s defences; search for routes to bypass or envelop enemy positions; and seize
bridges or important road hubs and hold them until the arrival of the main forces. Thus, the Germans
actively and constantly conducted reconnaissance, both from the air and on the ground. The timely
received and reliable information about the enemy and the terrain lying ahead allowed the German
commanders to avoid venturing forward blindly, which their Soviet opponents often had to do,
especially at the beginning of the war, and to make decisions that were based on real knowledge not
only regarding their own troops but also regarding the enemy forces and the ground on which the
combat actions would unfold. This enabled them to achieve maximal results with the fewest losses in
a rapidly changing combat situation. At the same time, in order to ensure effective cooperation
between combat vehicles, elements, units and formations, the Wehrmacht had an adequate amount of
communication means, including radio sets.
The organization of the German panzer formations was constantly improved with respect to combat
experience, and by the beginning of the Great Patriotic War was close to optimal for this period. It is
interesting to trace the dynamics of its development. On the eve of the Second World War the five
Wehrmacht panzer divisions each had on average 340 panzers. During the campaign in the West in the
spring of 1940 the average number in the ten panzer divisions that took part fell by 24 per cent, to 258
combat vehicles. From August 1940 until January 1941 the Germans implemented a radical reform of
their mobile forces. The number of panzer divisions was doubled up to twenty, but in the process the
total number of tanks in them didn’t increase significantly. Therefore, before the invasion of the USSR
the average number of tanks in the seventeen German panzer divisions of the field army dropped by
another 20 per cent, to 206.
One often comes across the opinion that the shock force of the Wehrmacht’s panzer divisions
thereby proved to be significantly undermined, and the only reason for this was the lack of tanks. Of
course, the Germans were never supplied with enough updated panzer models. Therefore they had to
use in the front line even the Pz.Kpfw.I and Pz.Kpfw.II light tanks that had become totally outdated by
that time, as well as Czech-manufactured Pz.Kpfw.35(t) and Pz.Kpfw.38(t). As a result, at a
conference with the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres, or Army High Command) on 26 August 1940,
Hitler agreed to leave one panzer regiment in the panzer division exclusively as a temporary measure.
In the future he intended to increase the pace of tank production sharply, in order to bring the numbers
in the Wehrmacht by the end of 1944 up to 26,700 combat vehicles and to restore the second panzer
regiment in the panzer divisions.5 This plan became the Führer’s next utopian idea, but the temporary
decision to decrease the number of combat vehicles in the panzer divisions was justified in practice.
Moreover, as combat experience demonstrated, it was an extremely successful solution.
It mustn’t be forgotten that this decision wasn’t made out of thin air. The main argument for the
possibility of such a reform was the results of a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the combat
experience of the use of mobile forces in Poland and in France. This experience showed that the
initial organization of a panzer division was overloaded with panzers and suffered from a lack of the
infantry needed to support them in combat. In addition, the mass arrival in the forces of the latest
medium Pz.Kpfw.III and Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks, which gradually replaced the light tanks with their weak
armour and armament, allowed the possibility of substantially enhancing the shock force of a panzer
division even if it had fewer tanks. Having reduced the authorized panzer strength in the panzer

divisions, the Germans successfully stumbled upon the optimal correlation between the number of
tanks and the amount of motorized infantry in these divisions. This allowed them to be used more
effectively. It is significant that by the middle of the war, both the USSR and its Western allies had
come to a similar correlation of tanks and infantry in their armoured formations and retained it until
the end of the war, even though they had many more tanks available to them than the Germans.
One more positive result of the centralized use of tanks was a reduction in their irrecoverable
combat losses. The point is that the tank is a heavy and complex combat vehicle that needs constant
resupply with ammunition, fuel and lubricants, and spare parts; constant maintenance and mechanical
service; and timely evacuation and repair in the event of mechanical breakdowns or combat damage.
Where tanks were dispersed over a large area into small groups or solitary vehicles, then in the
conditions of intense combat operations the repair teams and evacuation personnel often didn’t have
the time or opportunity to reach many knocked-out, broken-down or simply bogged vehicles. As a
result, tanks that became immobilized for any reason and couldn’t be repaired by the crews
themselves were irrecoverably lost. Given the concentrated use of tanks as part of the panzer
divisions, as a rule they didn’t become widely separated from their mobile supply dumps and could
quickly receive the help of repair teams.
The personnel of the German panzer forces underwent comprehensive training, and the majority of
them by 1941 had fresh combat experience. It is important to note that the Germans ordered only as
many panzers for the Wehrmacht as could be supplied with trained crews to operate them. All of their
panzer elements, units and divisions had formed close collaboration in training manoeuvres and in
combat, and had worked out tight cooperation both within their own units and in larger formations. In
order to enhance the shock power of the panzer divisions, they were merged into motorized corps
(Armeekorps (mot)), which included motorized divisions. These divisions at the time weren’t
equipped with tanks, but thanks to their full provisioning with motorized transport and prime movers,
they weren’t inferior to the panzer divisions in mobility and were capable of closely cooperating with
them. Finally, in order to conduct Operation Barbarossa, four panzer groups were formed out of the
motorized corps, at the head of which stood experienced, aggressive, decisive military commanders,
who most importantly had been tested in recent fighting.
The flexibility of the organizational structure of Germany’s panzer forces was also of no little
significance. In the course of combat operations their composition changed according to the tasks they
were carrying out. Various kampfgruppen (combat groups) that differed in complement and strength
were smoothly formed within panzer units and formations. One or another sub-unit or unit was
assigned to them according to need. At the same time the thorough training and the previously
acquired practice of cooperation enabled them to function successfully together, on the fly.
Thus, the high level of organization, training, equipping and command and control made the
Wehrmacht’s panzer forces an extremely serious and dangerous adversary. They were essential for
further German successes.

Chapter 4
The Wehrmacht’s Panzers


he panzers that armed the Wehrmacht by the start of the fighting against the USSR fully corresponded
to the German conception of their proper use at the time. When creating the first combat vehicles in
Germany, their mobility and firepower were points of emphasis. It was considered that the thickness
of the armour would be fully adequate if it made the tank invulnerable to armour-piercing bullets fired
from machine guns that had a standard rifle calibre. It was just such machine guns that primarily made
the front static in the First World War. In the opinion of military theoreticians at the time, protection
against bullets should restore to the troops their lost mobility. Anti-tank guns didn’t seem to be a
special problem, because after all they were substantially inferior to machine guns in numbers and
their rate of fire. Theoretical calculations demonstrated that a German battalion numbering 100 tanks,
attacking on a front of 500 metres, was capable of breaking through the defence of a contemporary
French infantry division armed with 72 anti-tank guns. This was the case even if it was allowed that
each shot by the French anti-tank gun crews struck a target. The calculated loss of 50 per cent of the
vehicles in such a scenario was believed to be fully acceptable. Plainly, the bloody experience of the
First World War hung above the men who came to such a conclusion, when even a 90 per cent loss
rate didn’t seem excessive in order to achieve a strategic breakthrough of a front.1
The 171st Article of the Versailles Pact that had been signed by Germany after its defeat in the
First World War forbade it from producing or importing armoured cars, tanks or similar combat
equipment. However, as early as 1925 the Germans began secretly to violate this restriction, having
initiated work on a project under the code name ‘Großtraktor’ (large tractor). Six tanks, which had
been assembled by the summer of 1929, were the result. These were purely experimental vehicles,
built out of soft steel plate at the Daimler-Benz, Rheinmetall and Krupp companies, two each. It was
impossible to conduct their trials in Germany, so at the end of June of the same year the Germans sent
them to the USSR, where on the basis of the Moscow Agreement signed on 2 October 1926 a secret
‘Kama’ tank school was organized near Kazan. Officers who were trained there later made up the
basis of the teaching staff of the Wehrmacht’s panzer courses created in 1935 in Zossen. 2 In addition
to training Soviet and German cadets, comprehensive trials of the first German tanks of the interwar
period were conducted in the school. In June 1930 four more tanks arrived there, built by the Krupp
and Rheinmetall companies within the framework of the ‘Leichttraktor’ (light tractor) project. The
Germans thoroughly analysed the results of these trials and came to very important conclusions that
touched upon not only technical but also tactical aspects of their future combat vehicles. Their main
conclusions were the following:
1. The tank commander should be fully freed from all functions other than command. In the
‘Leichttraktor’ the commander simultaneously carried out the duties of the loader. This led to a
slower rate of fire and to difficulty in spotting targets and threats on the battlefield, as well as to





loss of cooperation with other tanks.
For observation of the surrounding terrain, the tank commander should be provided with a cupola
that offered a 360 degree field of vision. Furnishing him with an ordinary periscope was
It was necessary to equip the turret with a floor on which the loader could stand, which would
rotate together with the turret. This was especially necessary when using a power-assisted
traversing mechanism, which significantly boosted the turret’s rotation.
It was important to position the gunner’s seat as close as possible to the tank’s centre of gravity.
This reduced the shaking of his body during the movement of the vehicle and gave him optimal
conditions for observing the battlefield and taking aim at targets.
The tank’s interior should be adequately roomy for its crew, significantly enhancing their
effectiveness and reducing their fatigue.3

All of these conclusions lay at the basis of the designs of subsequent models of German medium and
heavy panzers and contributed greatly to their future successes. Upon the termination of the work of
the ‘Kama’ school in 1933, the tanks returned to Germany, but their story didn’t end there. The four
Grosstraktors produced by Krupp and Rheinmetall, as well as all of the Leichttraktors, were
renovated and in the future used not only for training tankers, but also for working out new tactical
and technical ideas. For example, after 1933 individual spring suspension for road wheels of a larger
diameter was tested on one of the Rheinmetall Leichttraktors; it became the prototype for the
suspension on the first Pz.Kpfw.III tanks.4
The first mass-produced German Pz.Kpfw.I light tanks were created above all to prepare the
industry and country’s armed forces to manufacture and use the future generations of more powerful
tanks. The simplicity and inexpensiveness of their design allowed the Germans to get their serial
production up and running quickly, although the path to it wasn’t simple. The design of a new tank
under the code name ‘Kleintraktor’ (‘Small Tractor’) began in 1930. The chassis were ordered from
the Krupp company. In order to accelerate the work, it was decided to copy the advanced suspension
system of that time, as found on the British Carden-Loyd tankettes. For this purpose, on 12 November
1931 three Carden-Loyd chassis were ordered in the United Kingdom from Vickers-Armstrongs
through a middleman. The first of them arrived in Germany in January 1932, and the next two in
October of the same year. However, Krupp’s engineers didn’t wait for their arrival, and began
working out the design of the suspension on their own, using only photographs and sketches of the
British tankette. The manufacturing of a prototype was delayed because of the raging global economic
crisis, which hindered the Krupp factory from working rhythmically. The production of the prototypes
of the chassis ended, finally, only on 29 July 1932, and they were shown to officers of the German
Army Weapons Agency. At comparison trials conducted on the proving ground at Kummersdorf, the
‘Kleintraktor’ demonstrated superiority over the Carden-Loyd. The trials were held over a fourmonth period, during which the chassis travelled 1800 kilometres and were subject to numerous
revisions. After the trials ended on 20 March 1933, Krupp received a contract for one chassis, and
another contract for four more on 10 May 1933. They were all turned over to the purchaser in JulyAugust of that same year. Only one of them was manufactured from hardened steel armour, and this

one was subjected to test firing with 7.92mm armour-piercing bullets from a range of 30 metres. The
rest, in order to economize and accelerate the manufacturing process, were made from soft steel plate
and were intended only for troop trials. In the spring of 1933 the question of equipping the
‘Kleintraktor’ chassis with torsion bar suspension came up repeatedly, but the discussions came to
nothing. In July 1933 the Weapons Agency ordered the first series of 150 chassis, which received the
code name ‘Landwirtschaftliche Schlepper’ (‘Agricultural tractor’), or La.S., and lacked turrets or
weapons. Among the troops, however, it was called the Krupp Traktor after the name of its main
producer. Germany at the time was still trying to conceal its violations of the Versailles Agreement,
which had strictly forbidden the building of tanks. Interestingly, in addition to Krupp, five more
companies (the Krupp branch business Grusonwerk, M.A.N., Rheinmetall, Henschel and DaimlerBenz) each received an order for three chassis. The Nazis, who had just assumed power, covertly
began to prepare Germany’s industry to produce the tanks that they needed for their future conquests.
The production of the first series ended in October 1934. All these vehicles were sent to panzer
schools and were used for a long time to train the future drivers of German panzers.5 Skipping
somewhat ahead, it should be noted that in addition to them, for the same purpose another 442
turretless training La.S. were built in 1937–1938.6
Alongside the development of chassis went the design of superstructures with weapons. Options
were being developed with a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, a 37mm anti-tank gun, and a mortar, but none of
these variants progressed beyond the stage of a preliminary design. In June 1932 the Krupp and
Daimler-Benz companies began work on a competitive basis on a turret with a twin-barrelled
machine gun of a standard calibre. The Weapons Agency was totally unable to come to a final
decision regarding its design and constantly changed its requirements. Finally, in July 1933 Krupp
received an order for 150 turrets and turret platforms for the first-series vehicles. This company had
acquired vast experience in producing armour of both large and medium thickness for the German
Navy and fortifications, but the manufacture of curved, welded armour plates of 13mm hardened steel
turned out to be a difficult problem for it. Tests conducted on 22 January 1935 at the Kummersdorf
proving grounds revealed that the armour didn’t meet the military’s requirements: it proved to be too
brittle and cracks developed in it from the strike of bullets. Therefore in February 1935 the order was
cancelled. Nevertheless, the Krupp company was instructed to produce out of soft steel plate 20 more
turret assemblies and turret platforms for training tanks. As a result, the ‘Krupp-Traktor’ was never in
fact armed. In addition, in contrast to all the other German tanks, these chassis were never equipped
with radio sets.7
However, for the Wehrmacht’s planned panzer divisions at least some sort of materiel was
urgently required. In January 1934 it was proposed to order 200 La.S. of the second series from the
Krupp company, which finally received its combat designation – the Panzerkampfwagen I
(Pz.Kpfw.I), which means an armoured combat vehicle of the first model (see Plate 1). Then it was
planned to switch to the production of the La.S 100 – the future Pz.Kpfw.II. However, its
development experienced delays, and the German Army didn’t want to wait any longer, so in July
1934 it simultaneously ordered 1,000 Pz.Kpfw.I tanks. The turrets for them, armed with twin machine
guns of 7.92mm calibre, were being manufactured by the Daimler-Benz company. With such
armament, the Pz.Kpfw.I was unsuitable for an anti-tank role, but it was fully satisfactory for taking

on enemy personnel and soft vehicles. The 13mm of hardened, homogeneous armour reliably
protected it from armour-piercing bullets fired by rifles and machine guns of standard calibre. The
German Minister of War V. von Blomberg assigned the highest priority to this order over all others.
In addition to Krupp, the M.A.N., Rheinmetall, Henschel and Daimler-Benz companies were building
these tanks. The monthly output amounted to 60 tanks in 1935 and around 70 tanks in 1936, which can
be considered a fairly good accomplishment, considering that not one of these companies had
previously serially produced combat vehicles. By 1 August 1935, 318 Pz.Kpfw.I tanks were ready,
and by the end of the year this figure stood at 720; by 1 October 1936 it was 1,160.8 The brand new
Pz.Kpfw.I tanks quickly began to arm the German panzer divisions, the open formation of which
began on 15 October 1935. The first two panzer divisions were to reach the level of combat
readiness by 1 April 1936, and just six months later a third panzer division joined them.9
Subsequently the Pz.Kpfw.I went through a significant modification. The need for this was
prompted first of all by its inadequate power-to-weight ratio – just 11 horsepower per ton of weight.
The Maybach company managed to create a 6-cylinder, 100 horsepower engine, which together with
its radiator and exhaust fan was able to fit inside the Pz.Kpfw.I tank’s existing engine compartment.
This replaced the previous 4-cylinder, 60 horsepower engine. In addition, an idler wheel was added
to the tank’s suspension, the function of which was previously carried out by the last road wheel of a
larger diameter. The new model received the designation Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B and went into production
in the summer of 1936. The manufacture of the Pz.Kpfw.I was finally terminated in June 1937, after
the assembly of 1,175 Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.A and 399 Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B.10
By the end of 1933 it had become obvious to the German leadership that the planned arrival of
medium tanks, which were to comprise the majority of the Wehrmacht’s combat vehicles, was being
hopelessly delayed. In these circumstances, there could be only one possible decision that would
avoid any interruption in the schedule for the appearance of the new German panzer formations and
their preparation for a future war. This was the next temporary measure – the creation of another light
tank, the Pz.Kpfw.II. In the first half of 1934 the German Army Weapons Agency simultaneously
instructed several companies to begin work on the development of the new tank. The next year Krupp
and Henschel each presented two chassis to the Army, again built out of soft steel plate. The chassis
built by the M.A.N. company competed with them. Daimler-Benz designed the turret with a weapon
and turret platform for all of them. As a result of trials on the proving grounds in Kummersdorf, the
military’s choice fell on the chassis built by M.A.N. At the same time Daimler-Benz’s design for the
turret was approved, and in October 1935 the first test series of 75 tanks, which were produced by
the M.A.N. company in three batches of 25 each, was ordered. In comparison with the Pz.Kpfw.I, the
new light tank was larger and correspondingly heavier. The vehicles of the first series kept the 13mm
armour of the Pz.Kpfw.I, but later it was increased to 14.5mm of armour, having somewhat reduced
its hardness (which made the armour too brittle) and increased its malleability, while preserving its
level of ballistic protection.11 The main feature of the Pz.Kpfw.II was its automatic 20mm cannon, the
Kw.K.30, which replaced the left-side machine gun as its main weapon and substantially increased
its firepower. An attempt had been made to equip the Pz.Kpfw.I tank with these cannon back in June
1931, but it cramped the turret excessively. However, it fitted the larger turret of the Pz.Kpfw.II tank
splendidly. Based on the high-powered anti-aircraft gun, the cannon was an efficient weapon for its

calibre. Its effective range of fire reached 1,200 metres, while its rate of fire was 280 rounds per
Such a weapon was chosen not just to give the Pz.Kpfw.II the ability to take on enemy tanks,
although this was one of its roles. The shields of anti-tank artillery guns were defenceless against its
shells. It was precisely these weapons, especially the light, rapid-firing anti-tank guns, that were
justifiably considered to be the most numerous and dangerous adversary of the tanks of the period. In
addition, the 20mm fragmentation shells were substantially superior to regular bullets in effectiveness
when firing at infantry, lightly armoured equipment and residential buildings.
The first five vehicles were ready by 1 October 1936 after a delay of six months, but this didn’t
prevent the German Army Weapons Agency from placing an additional order for another 460
Pz.Kpfw.II tanks at the end of September. However, the fulfilment of these orders didn’t go well. By
1 October 1937, in addition to the first 75 Pz.Kpfw.II, the army had received only 175 tanks of the
second and third series. The average rate of output over this period didn’t exceed 20–25 tanks a
month. In essence, they were all pre-production prototypes, used for debugging the production
machinery and eliminating the design shortcomings which appeared in the course of producing and
testing these combat vehicles. The army’s main complaints were prompted by the Pz.Kpfw.II’s
plainly outdated dependent suspension. Because of it, the tanks’ speed suffered, especially in difficult
terrain, since the suspension didn’t allow them to make full use of their horsepower, which was 1.5
times greater than that of the Pz.Kpfw.I tank. In consequence, the last 75 tanks of the second and third
series received an improved independent suspension using quarter-elliptic leaf springs. With this
modification, the Pz.Kpfw.II entered serial production (see Plate 2). It began in the summer of 1937
and continued until April 1940. Over this time the M.A.N., Henschel, Alkett, M.I.A.G. and F.A.M.O.
companies built 958 such tanks in four series, of which 210 were Ausf.A, 384 were Ausf.B, and 364
were Ausf.C.13
Between October 1938 and April 1939 the M.A.N. company produced 43 Pz.Kpfw.II of the next
(Ausf.D) design, with a new hull, independent torsion-bar suspension and larger diameter road
wheels, which increased the tank’s top speed from 40 to 55 km/hr. However, immediately after their
dispatch to the troops, these tanks were recalled to the factory and rebuilt into flame-throwing tanks,
designated the Pz.Kpfw.II (Flamm) Ausf.A. To them were added 46 incomplete chassis of the 8th
series, which were also modified for this project. Thus, from January 1940 to February 1941 the
Wegmann company produced 89 such tanks. In March 1941 the final modification of the Pz.Kpfw.II,
the Ausf.F, which was equipped with the earlier leaf spring suspension, entered the Wehrmacht’s
panzer forces. Until the end of June of the same year, the Ursus and F.A.M.O. factories managed to
produce 49 of the Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.F.14
The Pz.Kpfw.II wasn’t distinguished by any original technical solutions that had influence on
world-wide tank design, nor did it attract any particular attention or popularity. However, during
Germany’s campaigns against Poland and especially France in 1939 and 1940 it was the Pz.Kpfw.II
that became the most numerous German panzer on the battlefields and served as the work horse for
the Wehrmacht’s tankers. So this rather mediocre tank nevertheless managed to play a leading role in
theatre of combat operations and as far as it was capable compensated for the German lack of
medium tanks. It then gradually departed from the stage …

In early 1934 the German Army Weapons Agency invited the Daimler-Benz, Krupp, M.A.N. and
Rheinmetall companies to take part in a competition for the best design of a 10-ton tank, armed with a
37mm cannon. Initially this received the code name ‘Z.W.’, or in full ‘Zugführerwagen’, which
translates as ‘Platoon commander’s vehicle’. After evaluating the preliminary designs, at the end of
the year Daimler-Benz received an order for two tested chassis and subsequently another order for
two more. The M.A.N. company also received an order for chassis, but for only one. Meanwhile
Krupp and Rheinmetall were commissioned to build respectively one and two experimental turrets
for them. In December 1935 Daimler-Benz won a contract for an initial series of ten tanks, equipped
with Krupp turrets. On 3 April 1936 it received the designation ‘Panzerkampfwagen III’. However,
the large-series production of these panzers was held up by the need to correct serious design flaws.
As a result almost three years was required for the production of four series of 60 panzers and their
subsequent upgrades. The armament of the Pz.Kpfw.III had an interesting feature: two co-axial
machine guns in the turret with the 37mm cannon, and a third machine gun positioned in the forward
hull. Such an unusual combination was retained right up to the tank’s re-arming with 50mm cannon,
with only one co-axial machine gun. At the same time the first panzers had, as before, only 14.5mm of
homogeneous armour that offered protection against bullets, and they lacked high mobility, primarily
because of faulty suspension. With each modification of the Pz.Kpfw.III, the Germans continued to
search for its optimal variant, suitable for large-scale production.15
Finally, in December 1938 the first vehicles of a successful modification, the Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.E,
passed military acceptance. They were assembled at the Daimler-Benz and M.A.N. factories, then
subsequently at the Alkett, F.A.M.O., Henschel, M.I.A.G. and M.N.H. factories. The main features of
the new model were a 300 horsepower engine, a 10-speed semi-automatic transmission and a new
independent torsion bar suspension, which allowed the panzer’s top speed to increase to 67 km/hr.
The compact running gear provided the opportunity to free up space on the sides of the tank for
additional hatches, through which the driver and radio operator could abandon the tank if it became
necessary. An additional most important novelty of the Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.E was the 30mm of facehardened armour on the front and sides of the hull and on all sides of the turret. Its outer surface was
extremely hard and, in combination with its strong and malleable core and inner surface, gave the tank
a qualitative leap in its level of protection. It couldn’t be penetrated by large-calibre bullets fired by
machine guns and anti-tank rifles, nor by small-calibre shells, including those fired by France’s most
numerous 25mm anti-tank cannon. The thinner armour plates had through hardening. This modification
became the basis for all further production series of this tank, but their output began with more than a
year of delay because of the extensive difficulties with debugging a number of advanced technical
decisions used in its design. The first 603 Pz.Kpfw.III, beginning with Ausf.E, kept the 37mm cannon
as its main weapon, but in July 1940, in the course of producing the next model, the Ausf.G, a switch
was made to the much more powerful 50mm L/42 gun. This was able to penetrate the 40mm armour of
the French tanks at an angle of 30º at a normal range of 700 metres, at which the majority of fighting
in central Europe took place, without protruding beyond the forward hull. Its ammunition included an
effective high-explosive shell, which easily compensated for the absence of the second turret machine
gun. Over the year that remained before the invasion of the USSR, 1,154 Pz.Kpfw.III were produced
in Germany with this main gun (see Plate 3).

In October 1940 the 10-speed semi-automatic transmission was rejected, even though by this time
it had been placed in almost 1,400 tanks, and the main problems with its reliability had been
successfully resolved. The main reason for this decision was the human factor. The gear shifts in it
were done in a rather original fashion. The driver initially moved a manual lever into the required
position, and only then switched to the previously selected gear by pressing on a clutch foot pedal that
was connected to a vacuum actuator. The process of switching gear happened noticeably faster than
usual, and correspondingly reduced the loss of the tank’s speed prompted by the interruption in the
torque transfer to the drive sprockets. It was believed that such a system would accelerate the training
and ease the tankers’ work, but in reality it often confused them. The main problem was the need to
retrain the men, who were used to the customary means of switching gear on regular training vehicles,
where gear shifts were made by the corresponding lever after stepping on the clutch pedal. In
addition, constant difficulty was observed with crews’ transfer from the Pz.Kpfw.III to other panzer
types and back again, because after all it isn’t easy for a human to change acquired habits abruptly.
As a result, there were quite a few breakdowns and crashes, when the driver by habit pressed the
clutch, expecting the engine to be disengaged from the transmission, but instead of this a gear was
suddenly shifted. Moreover practice demonstrated that movement at high speed was leading to
damage to the rubber rims of the road wheels as a result of their overheating, so the drivers were
strictly prohibited from exceeding 40 km/hr when driving in higher gears. Indeed, combat experience
by this time showed that in real fighting conditions a tank rarely had to accelerate to its top speed, and
for a more satisfactory range of speeds a fewer number of gears was fully sufficient. Therefore, the
Pz.Kpfw.III, beginning with the Ausf.H model, had a much simpler 6-speed transmission, adopted
from the Pz.Kpfw.IV with a few changes. As a result the top speed fell to the same 42 km/hr at which
the tank was used earlier, but on the other hand its manufacture became easier and less costly.16
Between May 1937 and July 1941 the Daimler-Benz, M.A.N., M.N.H., Henschel, Alkett, M.I.A.G
and F.A.M.O. companies managed to produce 1,822 Pz.Kpfw.III of the following modifications: 10
Ausf.A, 15 Ausf.B, 15 Ausf.C, 25 Ausf.D, 96 Ausf.E, 435 Ausf.F, 600 Ausf.G, 286 Ausf.H and 340
In the USSR they became closely acquainted with the latest German tanks for the first time in
September 1939. Back then, during the campaign in Poland, Red Army soldiers near Lvov managed to
snatch from no-man’s land two tanks that had been knocked out by the Poles: a Pz.Kpfw.II and a
Pz.Kpfw.III. They were both transported back to the Soviet Union and were analysed at the armour
research and test proving ground in Kubinka. The first of them, as might be expected, made no
particular impression, although the analysts noted it had good armour and took a close look at the
engine design, the transmission and the cooling system. However, the second acquisition proved much
more useful. Judging by its description, this was a Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.E, at the time the most up-to-date
model. It was disassembled, painstakingly examined by proving ground experts, and earned their
highest assessment. They especially liked its optical gear, particularly its commander’s cupola, the
compact engine with its efficient fuel and cooling systems, its transmission, and even its lifting jack.
They were unable to test its performance because the engine had been badly damaged and part of the
tracks had been lost.
In 1940 the Soviet military and tank designers were presented with an even better opportunity to

study the Wehrmacht’s materiel. According to an economic agreement between the two countries
signed on 11 February 1940, the Soviet Union was able to purchase German industrial equipment and
military items. Among other things a Pz.Kpfw.III tank was ordered. From the previously studied
model it was distinguished only by a more powerful 50mm cannon and stronger frontal armour with a
thickness of 60mm. From all the available evidence, this was one of the recently updated models, the
Ausf.F or Ausf.G with appliqué armour plating in front. In the period from August to November 1940
it underwent joint testing together with Soviet tanks on the proving ground at Kubinka. On the
measured kilometre, this combat vehicle exceeded, although not by much, its official top speed,
having accelerated to 69.7 km/hr. The fastest Soviet tank was of course the BT-7, but even on wheels
it managed to reach only 68.1 km/hr. The T-34 at the time was only able to achieve 48.2 km/hr. Even
before the testing ended, on 13 September 1940 the head of the Red Army’s Automotive-ArmouredTank Directorate Fedorenko proposed to Voroshilov in a letter that the most successful engineering
solutions of the Pz.Kpfw.III tank should be introduced into the design of new Soviet tanks, including a
commander’s cupola, evacuation hatches, the isolation of the fuel tanks and engine from the crew
behind a sealed bulkhead, the arrangement of the engine cooling system, the transmission design, and
the placement of a radio set in the hull.18
The further development of the Großtraktor line led to the appearance of the Pz.Kpfw.IV medium
tank in Germany. However, before this, from 1934 to 1936 the Rheinmetall and Krupp companies
produced a small series of tanks with three turrets, called the ‘Neubau Fahrzeug’ (‘Vehicles of new
construction’). As a result of the tests conducted on the Soviet proving ground near Kazan in October
1932 the Germans worked out the main requirements for a medium tank with a weight of 15 tons,
which was initially called the ‘Mittlere Traktor’ (Medium tractor). Subsequently the weight of the
vehicles rose to 18 tons. The Rheinmetall and Krupp companies were instructed to develop it. The
former constructed a chassis and rounded turret with two guns – a 75mm main gun with a 37mm gun
above it, while the latter built an angular turret with the same guns positioned side by side. As a
result, between 1934 and 1936 five Neubau Fahrzeug tanks were built, with the hull and turret of the
first two of them fabricated out of soft steel plate (see Plate 4).19
The other three, built out of genuine armour and with Krupp turrets, took part in the fighting against
the British in Norway in April 1940 as a platoon attached to Separate Panzer Battalion z.b.V.40. In
his report about their use, the commander of this panzer battalion, E. Folkheim, commented positively
on their capability of firing at several different targets simultaneously thanks to the presence of the
two additional machine-gun turrets, one in the front and one in the back. One of the Neubau Fahrzeug
once bogged down in marshy ground and hopelessly broke down during the attempt to haul it out of
the muck. The Germans hadn’t found any sufficiently powerful prime movers in order to free the tank,
and it had to be blown up. In order to replace it, one of the remaining Neubau Fahrzeug tanks, built
out of soft steel plate, was shipped to Norway.20 However, by this time the combat operations in
Norway had come to an end, so the Neubau Fahrzeug tanks were used primarily for propaganda.
Photographs of them systematically appeared in the German press, in order to create the illusion of
numerous heavy tanks in the Wehrmacht. Photographs of their factory production were also published
frequently. The deception worked: both Soviet and American intelligence agents in 1941, with no
coordination between them, reported to their leadership about the serial production of heavy tanks in

Germany: the 36-ton Pz.Kpfw.V and the 45-ton Pz.Kpfw.VI.21 In reality nothing of the sort existed
back then; they were simply using the Neubau Fahrzeug tanks with different turret arrangements – the
Rheinmetall and Krupp variants – for them. The famous Pz.Kpfw.V Panther and Pz.Kpfw.VI Tiger
appeared much later and didn’t have anything in common with them, other than the code designations.
The results of the tests of the Neubau Fahrzeug didn’t satisfy the German Army Weapons Agency,
so the requirements for the next tank were radically reworked. First of all, it was decided to abandon
the use of the low-speed aircraft engines which equipped the Grosstraktor and Neubau Fahrzeug, and
instead to construct a special tank engine that would be light, compact, reliable and economical. The
figure for its top RPMs was doubled in order to save transmission weight. The Maybach company
received the contract for designing it. The final result of its work became a 12-cylinder carburettor
engine with water cooling, the HL 100 TR, which had a maximum of 300 horsepower with 3,000
RPMs. It was this engine and its closest offshoots that became the most widely used engines of the
German medium tanks and self-propelled guns of the Second World War.22
The second fundamental change in the design was the shifting of the drive sprocket to the front of
the tank. Such a decision had its disadvantages, because it made the sprocket more vulnerable to
enemy fire, while the transmission for it had to run through the entire tank, making it heavier and
taking up useful space in the fighting compartment and driver’s compartment. In addition, the
operation of the transmission frequently created noise, vibration and fumes around it, thereby
reducing the comfort of the tank crew. However, the German engineers that the following merits of
such an arrangement more than offset its disadvantages:

1. The track, after separating from the ground and prior to its engagement to the drive sprocket, runs
along the entire length of the tank, vibrating and shaking off loose small debris, mud and dirt. As a
result, the drive sprocket suffers less wear and doesn’t get jammed with mud and stones.
2. The upper track run, being under tension from the drive sprocket, flops around less while moving,
and thus the tank is less likely to throw a track. Meanwhile the lower track running under no
tension adapts itself better to uneven surfaces, although the rolling resistance at the same time
rises insignificantly.
3. The task of shifting gears becomes substantially easier, since all the transmission’s major
components are in direct proximity to the driver. The lengthy actuating rods, linking him with the
transmission’s mechanism when it is placed in the rear of the tank, become unnecessary. The
chafing between these rods and their guiding devices, as well as the unavoidable play in their
joints, leads to the need for their regular adjustment, and increases the effort required to shift the
transmission, thereby increasing the driver’s fatigue.
4. The placement of the heavy components of the transmission in the nose of the tank shifts its centre o
gravity forward and makes it possible to position the turret in the centre of the tank. This
decreases the range of its sway when moving and improves the condition of the crew’s work, as
well as making it easier to place hatches for the driver and radio operator/gunner in the forward
part of the hull’s roof, without weakening its frontal armour with cutouts. Moreover, as a result of
placing the turret further back, the main gun when pointed forward doesn’t protrude as far beyond
the tank, thereby improving its manoeuvrability in tight spaces.

Initially the new tank received the code designation ‘B.W.’, or Begleitwagen, which in translation
means ‘escort vehicle’. Already from this name it is obvious that it was created in order to support
the light Pz.Kpfw.I and Pz.Kpfw.II tanks, as well as the medium Pz.Kpfw.III tanks in battle, and
therefore it was accordingly equipped with the corresponding armament, consisting of a shortbarrelled 75mm L/24 main gun and two machine guns. For those times the gun had a large calibre and
could successfully handle firing missions that were beyond the scope of the machine guns and smallcalibre cannons that armed the other German panzers: to suppress dug-in enemy infantry and their
weapons; to destroy enemy artillery, especially anti-tank artillery; and to demolish light field
fortifications. The low muzzle velocity of its shell in this case was not a shortcoming; on the contrary,
it contributed to its effectiveness. The low loads on the shell in the process of firing made it possible
to make it thin-walled and to increase its explosive charge. Thus, its high-explosive force and
fragmentation effect increased significantly. An armour-piercing shell was also produced for this gun.
Even though it had a relatively low armour penetration capability, it was sufficient to combat the
tanks of those times successfully, the majority of which offered protection only against bullets. On 3
April 1936 the tank was officially designated the Panzerkampfwagen IV (see Plate 5).23
Initially it was intended for equipping a company of medium tanks, planned for forming the future
panzer battalions. This combat vehicle remained in production throughout the entire Second World
War and became the most numerous German panzer in history. The old rival companies Rheinmetall
and Krupp once again competed for the contract. The engineers of Rheinmetall went down the path of
least resistance and used a complicated and expensive suspension system taken from the Neubau
Fahrzeug. Meanwhile Krupp designed a new, original chassis, but also didn’t forget about
standardization: it used the electric traversing mechanism for the turret from the same Neubau
Fahrzeug, and borrowed the shape of the turret, commander’s cupola and hatches from the
Pz.Kpfw.III. Its initial design included an additional machine-gun turret on the right-hand side of the
front of the tank, but this was quickly rejected in favour of a typical ball-mount machine gun, which
was also copied from the Pz.Kpfw.III. Krupp won the contract, and on 30 April 1936 its first
prototype was ready for trials.24
On 1 June 1937 the German Army Weapons Agency gave the Krupp company a directive to
implement a deep standardization of their Pz.Kpfw.IV with the Pz.Kpfw.III built by the Daimler-Benz
company. Both tanks were produced simultaneously, were in the same weight class, and were
equipped with one and the same engine, so naturally the question arose about standardizing their
chassis. Krupp received an order to cease all work on the further development of the hull, power
plant and suspension of the Pz.Kpfw.IV and to wrap up the production of the second series of these
tanks – the Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.B – which it had already started. For the next modification, the Ausf.C, it
was intended to use the chassis of the fourth series Pz.Kpfw.III – its Ausf.E model. However,
everything turned out to be more difficult, since the debugging of the numerous novelties embedded in
these chassis didn’t go as quickly as the Third Reich’s leadership would have liked. In order to await
results appropriate for practical use, the output of the Pz.Kpfw.IV would have to be interrupted by
eight months. However, at this same time Germany was preparing for war at full speed, and such
production losses of tanks that were so important for the future blitzkriegs were unacceptable.
Therefore on 21 June 1937 the Weapons Agency instructed the Krupp company to begin production of

the next series of Pz.Kpfw.IV immediately after wrapping up the current series.25 The Second World
War had already started, forcing the German engineers to work feverishly, first of all to strengthen the
tanks’ armour and armament, and to increase their production. As a result, the Germans never had a
chance to improve the suspension system of the Pz.Kpfw. IV, and in fact it remained archaic for the
entire extent of the war. This example plainly shows that it was not only objective factors that had a
decisive influence on the design of tanks at times, but also subjective ones.
The Pz.Kpfw.IV splendidly recommended itself on the battlefields in Poland and France, but there
were plainly not enough of them. Even after the Second World War started, the production of these
tanks went too slowly; over the entire year of 1940 only 268 of them were built in Germany. This was
far from sufficient for satisfying Hitler’s growing appetite, so on 20 August 1940 he issued a special
order to switch the production of Pz.Kpfw.III, Pz.Kpfw.IV and commanders’ tanks to a special
priority level of importance. Despite this measure, over the first half of 1941 only 188 Pz.Kpfw.IV
were manufactured. The average monthly growth in production in comparison with 1940 amounted to
40 per cent, but all the same it didn’t allow the Germans in the short term to bring the number of their
panzer divisions to 36 according to Hitler’s desire, which he expressed on 18 July 1941. Given a
two-regiment composition, in order to equip so many divisions it would be necessary to have 2,160
Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks in formation; however, fortunately these plans were never realized. Between
November 1937 and the end of June 1941 the Krupp company produced 35 Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.A, 42
Ausf.B, 134 Ausf.C, 232 Ausf.D, 202 Ausf.E, and 67 Ausf.F, for a total of 712 tanks of this type.26
German panzer commanders had at their disposal special command tanks. The first 15 of them
were built on the basis of the Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.A back in the summer of 1935. In place of a pivoting
machine-gun turret, they were equipped with a small stationary superstructure and radio transmitters,
capable of working over a wider range of radio waves than those that were mounted in ordinary
tanks. However, despite their lack of a weapon, these two-seat tanks proved to be cramped and
uncomfortable, while the commanders who used them had to be constantly diverted from their duties
in order to work at the radio set. Therefore between the summer of 1936 and the end of 1937, 184
new command tanks designated as the Kl.Pz.Bef.Wg were produced on the basis of the next model,
the Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B (see Plate 6). In their spacious superstructure there was room for an additional
crew member (a radio operator), and for a machine gun in a ball mount. The commanders of all
German panzer battalions and panzer regiments, and their deputies, as well as the headquarters of the
panzer brigades and panzer divisions, received such tanks.27
In the fourth quarter of 1938 the first Pz.Bef.Wg command tanks based on the Pz.Kpfw.III entered
service. In contrast to the ordinary tanks, their turrets were tightly bolted to the hulls and couldn’t
turn, and in place of a gun and one of the turret machine guns they had dummy barrels. These served
only concealment purposes, preventing the enemy from spotting the command tanks and targeting them
first for destruction. At the same time these command tanks were given away by a sizeable antenna
that was mounted behind the turret. The room freed up by the elimination of weapons and on-board
ammunition was used for a powerful, supplementary radio set. Before the beginning of the Great
Patriotic War, Germany managed to produce 205 Pz.Bef.Wg in various modifications: 30 Ausf. D1,
45 Ausf.E and 130 Ausf.H.28 The majority of the Kl.Pz.Bef.Wg command tanks, in pace with their
replacement by the Pz.Bef.Wg, were sent to the artillery regiments of the panzer divisions as combat

vehicles for artillery spotters even before the victory over France.
The Wehrmacht didn’t have any infantry support tanks at all, but in order to aid their soldiers on the
attack, Germany created a totally new means of conducting battle – self-propelled ‘assault guns’.
Their originator was Colonel von Manstein, the future Feldmarschall, who advanced this idea of a
new weapon back in 1935, and who conceived the name for them that was more suitable than all
others – Sturmgeschütz, or assault gun (it officially acquired this name on 28 March 1940). Later, in a
memorandum addressed to L. Beck, Chief of Staff of the OKH, on 8 June 1936, he proposed
introducing a three-battery battalion of armoured assault guns in each infantry division, which would
be responsible for offering direct support for the infantry, and at the same time formulated a
fundamental difference in their tactics from the tactics of the panzers: ‘… the Sturmartillerie should
not be utilized in the sphere of armour units, but rather in that of the normal Infantry Division. A clean
separation of the two branches is necessary if the two do not want to operate according to the
improper doctrine. The Sturmartillerie is to be trained as Artillery units and will have to learn their
mission as escort batteries in the environment of the Infanterie.’29
Their low profile made the assault guns hard to spot on the battlefield, while their full armour –
significantly thick for the time – made them difficult targets to knock out. Taken together, this enabled
them to operate effectively at the spearhead of the attack, and, in the event of necessity, to perform in
an anti-tank role. The main gun of their first modifications was the short-barrelled 75mm L/24
cannon, analogous in ballistics to the main gun that equipped the Pz.Kpfw.IV medium tank. Its shells
were sufficiently effective to combat not only enemy infantry and their weapons but also
contemporary tanks, the majority of which were lightly armoured. Von Manstein’s sensible idea was
welcomed, and within a week after the aforementioned memorandum, the fruits of his inspiration
were officially ordered. The Krupp company was given the responsibility to develop the gun, while
Daimler-Benz was to build chassis on the basis of its Pz.Kpfw. III tank with a new superstructure. A
test batch of five vehicles was to come out in the following year. The first four of them (with wooden
superstructures and without weapons) were supposed to appear in April and May, and the last, fully
armoured and with a cannon, in July 1937. However, because of known problems with the base-type,
the production and finishing of the new combat vehicles were repeatedly postponed for a long time.
As a result, only in October 1939 did Daimler-Benz complete the assembly of the pilot batch that had
been ordered, with superstructures made from soft steel plate on the basis of the Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.B.
None of these first five assault guns ever saw a battlefield, but all were used only for testing, as well
as for instruction and training the crews. Finally, on 13 October 1939, Daimler-Benz received an
order for a series of 30 vehicles, which were delivered between December 1939 and April 1940.
The first four batteries, consisting of six assault guns each, participated in the French campaign of
1940. The last six assault guns of the first series went to the SS Regiment Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler,
but they didn’t have enough time to take part in the fighting before the campaign ended.30
The subsequent series of assault guns were ordered from the Alkett company, since Daimler-Benz
was totally consumed with the production of tanks. Up to the end of June 1941 it managed to produce
another 20 assault guns of modifications Ausf.A, 300 Ausf.B, 50 Ausf.C and 59 Ausf.D (see Plate
In essence, the German assault guns were turretless tanks, and not simply guns on self-propelled

carriages. Because of the lack of a pivoting turret, they didn’t of course possess such quick weapon
manoeuvrability as the tanks had, but they weren’t inferior to them in mobility and were superior to
them in protection, having a compact silhouette and 50mm of frontal armour from the very outset of
their production. In terms of the firepower of their main gun, the assault guns assuredly surpassed the
Pz.Kpfw.III on which their production had been based, but were about 20 per cent cheaper to
produce. During a prolonged war of attrition, their low cost was a very important advantage, so the
output of assault guns in Germany continually grew and in 1945 even exceeded the production of
In the course of the victorious campaigns in 1939–1940, the Germans managed to capture an
enormous amount of war booty, including thousands of combat vehicles. However, only a very
insignificant portion of them went to arm the Wehrmacht. The legitimate question inevitably arises:
Why did such efficient stewards as the Germans not make full use of these spoils of war? There were
important reasons for this. We’ll begin with the fact that the Wehrmacht had to acquire most of these
vehicles through combat, so a significant number of them were damaged or had been completely
destroyed. For example, of all the British and French tanks that were activated for the campaign in the
West in May–June 1940, only a little more than half acquired by the Germans were suitable for use.32
Let’s attempt to take a more detailed look into how many and where the captured Polish, French and
British tanks were used in the Wehrmacht in reality.
In Poland the Germans obtained 111 tanks and tankettes that were suitable for repair. Eight
Pz.Kpfw.(3.7cm)(p) – former Polish 7TP tanks – for a certain amount of time served in German
panzer divisions: three in the 1st Panzer Division, three in the 4th Panzer Division, and two in the 6th
Panzer Division. The ‘Warsaw’ Company that was equipped with these tanks and TKS tankettes on
12 June 1940, on 3 September of the same year was relabelled as the light Panzer Company ‘Ost’,
and on 6 October it took part in a commemorative parade in the Polish capital that was occupied by
the Germans. Another company consisting of 21 Pz.Kpfw.(3.7cm)(p) tanks was formed by an order
dated 12 May 1941 and included in the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon (Führer Escort Battalion). However,
just days before the start of Operation Barbarossa, all of its Polish tanks were sent to a military
stockpile in Magdeburg, having been replaced by Czech Pz.Kpfw.38(t). Only the Polish tankettes
throughout the war served in rear units and Luftwaffe security forces on Polish territory.33
In the West the Germans captured a total of 4,930 tracked combat vehicles of various types,
including prime movers, that were suitable for use and got a programme up and running in order to
restore them to operating condition and convert them to their needs. The lion’s share of this equipment
was of French manufacture. According to contemporary assessments, approximately 500 Renault FT17/18, 800 Renault R-35/40, 600 Hotchkiss H-35/39, 50 FCM-36, 300 Samua S-35, and 160 Renault
B1 and B1bis tanks fell into the German hands.34 Of this total, by the beginning of 1942
approximately 500 FT-17/18, 125 R-35, 200 H-35/39 and 20 S-35 tanks had been repaired, and
around another 400 H-35/39 and 120 S-35 tanks were equipped with German radio sets and split
hatches for their commanders. In addition, a German commander’s cupola was added to some of the
S-35 tanks.35 Between May and October 1941, 200 R-35 tanks were converted into anti-tank selfpropelled guns by means of replacing their turrets with 47mm Czech cannons protected by front and
side shields.36

Initially, the impressive piles of captured French weapons and combat vehicles gave rise to
Hitler’s brightest hopes. As early as 30 August 1940 General-Major Walther Buhle brought Hitler’s
demand to the attention of Germany’s Chief of the OKH Staff Halder: ‘Equip four panzer divisions
with captured French tanks for carrying out occupation tasks.’37 However, the matter never reached
this level and the real scale of Germany’s use of captured tanks in their designated role was far more
restricted. This was in fact natural, because after all it isn’t as simple to use foreign tanks as it might
seem at first glance. For example, it is necessary to ensure their constant resupply with special
ammunition, spare parts, tools, accessories, and the appropriate fuel and lubricants, which often
differed from those used in Germany. At the same time it is necessary to create a system of service,
maintenance and repair for the captured tanks; train their crews and mechanics in the proper manner;
teach the troops to recognize them quickly from a distance without mistake; and so on. In addition to
all these factors, the majority of combat vehicles of foreign manufacture didn’t meet the German
tactical requirements. Their modification to bring them up to the Wehrmacht’s standards required a
large expenditure of time and resources, so therefore they were used primarily as chassis for selfpropelled guns and rocket launchers, prime movers, and ammunition carriers.
Captured tanks were used at times when building armoured trains. They were placed on railway
platform cars, turning them in this manner into armoured gun mounts, which had the possibility of
driving off the platform car onto the ground in order to support the actions of disembarking infantry.
At the end of May 1941 Armoured Trains Nos.26, 27 and 28 each received three French S-35 tanks,
while Armoured Trains Nos.29, 30 and 31 received two each. All took part in the fighting on the
Eastern Front from the very beginning of the war.38 Sometimes captured tanks were encountered in
permanent fortifications as fixed firing positions. However, most of them were simply shot up on
firing grounds as targets for the training of German artillery gunners, tankers and pilots.
The Germans turned over an insignificant number of these captured tanks to their allies. For
example, Italy in 1940 received 109 French R-35 tanks, and the following year 32 S-35.39 After
Bulgaria joined the Tripartite Pact on 23 April 1941 the Germans gave it 40 R-35, and an additional
1 9 H-39 tanks in March 1944.40 In 1943 Hungary acquired 2 S-35 and 15 H-39 in Germany.
According to some evidence, several H-39 tanks reached Croatia.41 That, respectively, was all.
Germany’s Romanian allies in September 1939 interned 34 French-built R-35 tanks, which had
crossed its border after the defeat of the Polish Army. Previously Romania had had time to import 41
such tanks from France of the 200 they had ordered, but after the war started these deliveries
ceased.42 The use of the French tanks by the Romanians during the Second World War did not go
beyond these vehicles.
The Germans used only a limited number of captured tanks in their designated role, preferring to
use them for auxiliary functions. For example, before November 1941, 250 former French FT-17/18,
30 R-35 and 60 H-35/39 tanks arrived to arm SS security units. In February 1941 I/Panzer Regiment
202 was equipped with 18 S-35 and 41 H-38, and, after the crews mastered the new equipment, in
September of the same year they were sent to Yugoslavia in order to fight the partisans. Four months
earlier 30 FT-17/18 had been sent to the same place for the same purpose. In May 1941 the training
of 100 crews of these tanks began in order to guard important military factories in Germany and
Czechoslovakia. Another 100 FT-17/18 at the same time were designated to defend the English

Channel coastline against invasion forces, but their hulls and turrets were soon used to build
stationary coastal fortifications. The next 100 FT-17/18 armed with machine guns in the same month
of May 1941 were handed over to the Luftwaffe; in March 1943, 25 of them were serving in Holland,
30 in Belgium and northern France and 45 more in western France. They did not only guard airfields,
but were also put to work as snowploughs in the winter to clear the runways. Initially 20 FT-17 and
10 H-35/39 were designated for occupation service in Crete, but in the autumn of 1941 the 212th
Separate Panzer Battalion, which was equipped with 5 S-35 and 15 H-38, was shipped to the island
instead of them.43
One can cite more examples of the use of captured French armour in the Wehrmacht, but even
without them it is clear that it was of an extremely limited and primarily auxiliary nature. It is
interesting that the Germans made the broadest use of the French FT-17/18 tanks, which had been
produced during the First World War. However, even these hopelessly outdated veterans were
suitable to carry out the simple and unimportant tasks they were given. In addition, the FT-17/18 tanks
were extremely easy to repair and operate, and their small size and low weight allowed them to be
transported in heavy lorries in order to prolong their service life.
Perhaps the best known example of the German use of captured tanks in Operation Barbarossa was
the conversion of 60 French B1 and B1bis tanks into flame-throwing tanks. In the process of
modifying them, the 75mm gun in the hull was replaced by a flamethrower, capable of spraying 80
bursts of flammable oil of 2–3 seconds’ duration to a range of up to 30 metres. As part of 102nd
Separate Flammpanzer Battalion, 24 of these flame-throwing tanks, together with six of their ordinary
types, which received the designation Pz.Kpfw.B2 in the Wehrmacht, took part in the breakthrough of
the Rava-Russky Fortified Sector 70 kilometres northwest of Lvov. However, they didn’t serve in
combat for very long. As early as 17 July an order came out about disbanding this battalion, and by 8
August this process was complete. Apparently the German command didn’t consider the battalion’s
actions to be very successful. This should have been expected, because it had received its tanks only
on 20 June and just three days later arrived at the front. The tankers, of course, didn’t have enough
time to master the unfamiliar vehicles and to acquire experience in servicing them. As a result, they
frequently broke down due to mechanical problems. In addition, half of the tanks, which had been
converted in great haste, didn’t have radio communication. Moreover their flamethrowers, as it turned
out, left much to be desired, so they were quickly replaced by other flamethrowers which had 1.5
times more range and a 2.5 times larger reserve of incendiary fuel.44 For the record, the flamethrowing Pz.Kpfw.B2, as well as the German-produced Pz.Kpfw. II (Flamm), were considered by the
Germans not as tanks but as specialized combat vehicles, and so they weren’t part of their panzer
Only in the North did the Wehrmacht make an exception to the general rule: there German panzers
fought not as divisions but as two separate panzer battalions, 40th and 211th. This was determined by
the specific conditions of the northern theatre of operations, its remoteness and the hardship of using
large masses of panzers because most of the terrain was impassable for tanks, and the unfavourable
weather conditions. The 211th Panzer Battalion was armed with captured French tanks.45 In the
course of the war, in connection with the heavy losses in armour, the Germans resumed attempts to
use French combat vehicles, but only in insignificant numbers and on secondary sectors of the front.

In May-June 1940 the Germans captured approximately 345 operational British tanks.46 However,
whereas the repair of the Polish and French combat vehicles and the production of spare parts for
them could still somehow be resumed in the captured factories in these countries, this wasn’t a
possibility for the captured British tanks. Ammunition for them was particularly lacking. Therefore
after testing to reveal their combat capabilities, they were used primarily as teaching aids in anti-tank
gunners’ schools or as targets on firing ranges. On the Eastern Front only a single company of British
A13 Cruiser tanks, consisting of nine vehicles, fought as part of the 100th Separate Flammpanzer
Battalion. They lasted for less than three weeks of fighting, after which they were written off as total
Other than panzers of German production, only Czech-manufactured tanks were widely used in the
Wehrmacht, so it is therefore necessary to dwell on them. It is known that even before and during the
First World War Czech factories were the main weapons manufacturers of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. Heavy siege guns, produced in the Czech Škoda factory, took part in shelling Belgian forts
and the French fortress of Verdun. Before the Second World War Škoda was the second-leading
producer of weapons in Europe. The Czechs had a lengthy and well deserved reputation as producers
of high-quality armaments – rifles, artillery and armoured fighting vehicles – which they then sol