Panzer IV with KwK 7.5cm L/24

Panzer IV Aus F with schurzen Kursk 1943

The Panzer IV would remain in production throughout the war. The most numerous and the most versatile tank the Wehrmacht developed, it is also usually considered one of the world’s classic armored vehicles, a strong contender for Top Ten status in any comparative listing. Its origins were unpretentious. The Weapons Office wanted armaments firms to gain experience designing and producing heavy tanks. Lutz and Guderian had from early days seen the need for a support tank. The result was a project for a “battalion commander’s vehicle” of 24 tons—the bridge weight limit—mounting a 75mm gun, which was really a howitzer, only 24 calibers long. Dubbed by its crews as the “cigar butt” and other, cruder names involving length, its high-explosive and smoke shells were intended to provide for close support—not only for tanks but for their accompanying infantry. In the war’s early years, however, a three-inch shell exploding on or near a tank could do significant damage—not least to crew morale. The Panzer IV would acquire from its early days an enduring reputation as a formidable opponent.

The Panzer IV suffered from an embryonic armament industry’s lack of experience producing even moderately large tanks, and from an increasingly overstrained manufacturing capacity. Only about 200 were on inventory by September 1, 1939. That was enough, however, to begin allocating a company to each battalion, and to test the three-to-one combination initially proposed by Lutz and Guderian. The design withstood prototype testing admirably. The Panzer IV’s suspension matched its eventual 20-ton weight, and was so reliable it became standard for all the later versions. Its superstructure was proportioned generously enough to allow for up-gunning. Its turret was electrically powered, improving exponentially the chances of getting off the first shot so often decisive in mobile war. Add standard frontal armor of up to 50mm, with 20mm on the sides and rear, plus a reliable Maybach engine giving a top speed of 20 miles per hour and a 100-mile range, and the Panzer IV was a crew’s delight when it began entering unit service in 1938.

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf D (Sd Kfz 161)

History: In January 1938, Krupp-Gruson received an order to produce 200 in the 4th Series BW and 48 in the 5th Series. Of this total, only 229 were completed as gun-armed Pz Kpfw. The other 19 chassis were utilized to produce 16 bridge-laying tanks, 2 self-propelled guns and a Munitionsschlepper for Karl. Later in 1941, in an endeavour to seek a more powerful armament, an Ausf D was rebuilt with a 5cm KwK39 L/60.

Specific features: The main improvements incorporated in the Ausf D were the increase in the side and rear armour from 15 to 20mm, and the provision of an external mantlet for the 7.5cm KwK. The superstructure front was stepped so that the plate in front of the radio operator was farther back than that in front of the driver. The driver had a pistol port to the right front, and the hull MG was reintroduced in front of the radio-operator. Ausf D, produced late in the series, had additional 30mm plates bolted and welded to the superstructure and hull front, and 20mm plates bolted to the hull and superstructure sides. Later, in 1943, several Ausf D were refitted with 7.5cm KwK L/48 for use with training and replacement units.

Combat service: By May 1940, Pz Kpfw production had been sufficient for every tank detachment to have a medium tank company of from six to eleven Pz Kpfw IV. On 10 May 1940, at the start of the campaign in France, there were 280 Ausf A, B, C and D in the Panzer divisions. The Ausf D saw service in France, the Balkans, Africa and Russia. The last few were phased out by attrition early in 1944.

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf E (Sd Kfz 161)

History: In January 1938, the order for 223 6th Series BW was issued to Krupp-Gruson, and this total was completed.

Specific features: The main improvements introduced with the Ausf E were a new cupola design, modifications to the turret, and increased armour protection. The turret now had a single bent plate for the turret rear, and an exhaust fan to extract gun fumes. While all Ausf E had a 50mm hull front and 20mm plate bolted to the hull and superstructure sides, several of the early Ausf E were minus the extra 30mm plate on the superstructure front. Minor modifications included a simplified sprocket design, glacis hatches countersunk level with surface of glacis, new design of driver’s visor (pivoting), single signal post on turret roof and an armoured cover for the smoke-candle rack.

Combat service: With the continued production of the Ausf D, and the completion of the Ausf E, sufficient Pz Kpfw IV became available to furnish each medium tank company with ten Pz Kpfw IV for the campaigns in the Balkans, North Africa and Russia. Forty Ausf D and E were taken to North Africa with the 5th and 8th Panzer Regiments, and 438 Ausf B-F were with the seventeen Panzer divisions which attacked the Russians in June 1941. The last Ausf E were phased out by attrition early in 1944.

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf F (Sd Kfz 161)

The initial Ausf F order was given to Krupp-Gruson for 500 in the 7th Series BW. This was later increased when Vomag received an order to produce 100 and Nibelungenwerke, 25. Before these series were completed the OKH issued an order to mount the 7.5cm KwK40 L/43 as quickly as possible, resulting in each series being completed as Ausf F2. Twenty-five of the Ausf F1, which had been fitted originally with the short 7.5cm KwK37, were converted to Ausf F2 by mounting the 7.5cm KwK40 L/43, before being issued to the troops.

The major improvement with the Ausf F was the increase of the armour thickness on most surfaces. Minor improvements included 40cm wide tracks with the accompanying dished sprocket and tubular idler, air-intake cowl on the glacis hatches to cool the steering brakes, and new muffler designs for the main and auxiliary engines. The vision ports, pistol ports, driver’s visor, hull machine-gun mount and turret doors were all changed from previous models because of the increased armour thicknesses.

The Ausf F1, which equipped several new units and refitted the 2nd and 5th Panzer Divisions, was mainly issued piecemeal to units at the front, to replace losses. About 208 Ausf B to F1 were available with units in Russia when the summer offensive started in June 1942. This was reduced to 60 available on the entire Eastern front at the time of the offensive at Kursk in July 1943.

Vorpanzer F1, with extra bolted appliqué armour on the sides, gun mantlet and frontal glacis, with the 5th Panzerdivision, Group Center, Russia, winter 1941-1942.

There is a photo of two Pz. IV with Vorpanzers, and the first has the name “Hansi” painted on it. There is no other markings to distinguish which unit it is. But by the overall look of the rest of the vehicles it looks like that it is a Pz Ausb Abt.

Vorpanzer for the Pz.IV Ausf F1

The most complete story of the Vorpanzer for the Pz IV Ausf.F is in the Band 5 (Neu), Begleitwagen, Panzer IV by W. Spielberger.

Here’s a summary:

Conference 7.7.41- The Führer has been informed that in the battles in North Africa that armour-piercing rounds are becoming a problem from English tanks. The Führer asks that new production Panzer be equipped w/ spaced armour in front of the main armour.

Conference 29.11.41- the Fuhrer intends for all unit to be equipped with the new Vorpanzer.

Report from Krupp-Essen, 24.12.41- There is a shortage of material for the Vorpanzer… Due to the situation delivery of the first Vorpanzer is expected on Feb 1, 1942. There is a question, should the turrets be delivered w/ the Vorpanzer or not, that hasn’t been made very clear.

There is more text but is doesn’t mention about shipping of the Vorpanzer to combat units. The idea was dropped with the production of the Ausf.G with the longer 7.5-cm KwK. There is a photo of 2 Pz IV with Vorpanzer, and the first has the name “Hansi” painted on it. There is no other markings to distinguish which unit it is. But by the overall look of the rest of the vehicles it looks like that it is a PzAusbAbt.

Panzer IV in Afrika

The two-year seesaw conflict across North Africa has been so often described in so much detail that it is easy to exaggerate its actual impact on Hitler’s panzers. The campaign involved only three mobile divisions and never more than around 300 tanks at any one time. Technically the Germans maintained a consistent, though not overwhelming, superiority—reflecting as much the flaws in British tank design as the qualities of the German vehicles. The Panzer III, especially the L version with the 50mm/62-caliber gun, was the backbone of Rommel’s armor, admirably complemented by the Panzer IV, whose 75mm shells were highly effective against both unarmored “soft-skinned” vehicles and unsupported infantry, even when dug in.

The Sherman’s mid-velocity 75mm gun, able to fire both armor piercing and high-explosive rounds, made it the best tank in North Africa—except possibly for the later marks of Panzer IV, who brought their even higher velocity 75mm gun on line in numbers too small—never more than three dozen—to make a difference.

Panzer IV D, E, F1, F2 and G models were present. As the campaign went on the later models started arriving like the Pz IV specials with long barrels, version F2 and G’s.

  Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf D

  Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf. D/E Composite Variant

  Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf. E

  Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf. F1 Early, Middle, and Late ‘Typs’

  Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf. F2 Early, Middle, and Late ‘Typs’

  Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf. G Early and Middle ‘Typs’

The German Afrika Korps only started to receive Panzer IV with the L/48 75mm gun, arriving in front line units (in small numbers) for the battle of Alam Halfa 30 August 1942 (although by 1st Alamein their numbers had increased dramatically).

From early 1941, when the embryonic DAK armoured units first arrived in North Africa, they were equipped with the Panzer IV, Ausf C and D and then later, the Ausf E and F1, which were equipped with the 75mm KwK L/24 gun, which fired exactly the same HE projectile as the Panzer IV, Ausf F2, (referred to as the “special” by the British) which was equipped with the 75mm L/43.

Panzerkampfwagen IVs, which were sent to North Africa (1941-43), were equipped with additional tropical filters (Tp) and improved ventilation system.

Actually there weren’t that many Pz IVs with the DAK, short-barrelled or otherwise. The four Panzer Abteilungen with the DAK’s two Panzer Regiments were organized along traditional mid-war lines, with one medium company (usually with L24 equipped Pz IVs) and three light companies with Pz III (either L42 or L60) At theoretical max strength – never attained for the DAK as far as I know – and allowing all DAK Pz IVs as F1s, that would still only account for a max of 88 Pz IVs with the DAK.

Chamberlain and Doyle state in their much-maligned book that the majority of Pz IV F1s were used to re-equip the 2nd and 5th Panzer Divisions, units which were never sent to North Africa.

However, additional L24 equipped Pz IVs formed part of the 10th Panzer Division shipped to Tunis as part of 5th Panzer Army. It’s more probable that these tanks were F1s because the DAK was in North Africa before the first Pz IV F1s rolled off the production lines. All told, theoretical max Pz IV F1 strength of the 5th Panzer Army comes up to 45 tanks with the 10th PD, Pz. Abt. 190 and s. Pz. Abts. 501 and 504, not counting tanks which ended at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

I can trace 45 PzKpfw IV armed with KwK 7.5cm L/24 in North Africa in 1941. Most of these were Ausf D & E.

10 Pz.IV F2 delivered May 1942 actually 9, one broke down in Italy and came later.

18 More arrived in January 1942, these would have been of a higher proportion of Ausf F than in 1941.

22 Arrived in February 1942.

9 in April, but some would have been Ausf G

10 in May, but some/most/all would have been Ausf G

20 Arrived in Tripoli in August 1942.

12 Arrived in Tripoli in September 1942.