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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 Survivability 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 War



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 wearingout 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
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
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, shortbarrelled 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 anti-tank 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 position.
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 anti-tank 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
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 neverbefore-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
Focke-Wulf 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, selfpropelled 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 long-range 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
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 armourpiercing 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
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.
2. 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 inadequate.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 CardenLoyd 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 four-month 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 armourpiercing 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 Daimler-Benz) 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 6cylinder, 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 minute.12
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
face-hardened 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 Ausf.J.17
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-Armoured-Tank 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
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
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
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
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 of 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 small-calibre 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
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
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 7).31
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 FT-17/18, 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 self-propelled 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 self-propelled 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 19 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
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 FT17/18 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 flame-throwing 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 losses.47
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 t